Parashat Emor -- Leviticus 21:1-24:23
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Questions for Young Children
• There are separate rules for the leaders of the Israelites, the kohanim. Do you think leaders should have to follow more rules?
• When the Israelites give God a gift, a sacrifice, it has to be perfect. Why do you think they couldn’t give an imperfect animal? How would you feel if someone gave you a birthday gift that was broken?
• In the Torah it says, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” If someone hits you on the playground, what do your parents tell you to do? Why? If you could change this rule, how would you change it?

Questions for Older Children
• How do you know if you are a kohen? Do kohanim still have any special rules to follow?  Why or why not?
• In the list of holidays in chapter 23, which holiday comes first? Next? In the Torah which month is called the first month? In today’s Hebrew calendar which is the first month? Any idea why Tishrei is not the first month but Abib (Nisan) is? For you, which month feels like the start of a new year?
• At the end of the chapter Moshe says to the Israelites, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Do you think this is a fair law? The rabbis later amended the punishment so that if you knocked out the tooth of someone, you paid damages. Why do you think the rabbis decided that?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• In chapter 21 the Torah prescribes tougher rules and regulations for kohanim than the other Israelites. For example, a kohen can’t marry a divorcé or a widow. Do you think religious leaders should be held to a higher standard? What about secular leaders?
• Do you think there should still be distinctions between kohanim and other Jews? Why or why not?
• Why do you think there is such an emphasis on celebrating the holidays on a specific date? What if it’s not convenient?
Lex talionis, “an eye for an eye,” is translated in Hebrew as middah k’neged middah (measure for measure). How do you think this Israelite law stacked up to other ancient law codes like Hammurabi’s?
For reference, see  Check Johns’s article, paragraph 42 for the answer although I suggest you scan the entire code just to see the other parallels to Israelite law.

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To enhance the Hodu (India, thanks) theme, here’s a completely Indian Shabbat menu adjusted for Minnesota tastes. You can search the web for these recipes or scan an Indian cookbook. For a meat meal, you'll have to forego the yogurt and ghee. I substitute Tofu Sour for yogurt and canola oil for ghee.

Hodu to the Cooks in your Household for the Shabbat Dinner from Hodu Menu

Spicy and Quick Indian Tomato Soup
Dal with Spinach
Carrot and Coconut Salad
Green Salad
Curried Chicken with Blackberry Chutney
Blackened Green Beans
Northern Indian Potatoes
Apple Crisp (There is nothing Indian about this—we just like it.)
Tropical Fruit and an array of toppings

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Parashat Emor brings us back to instructions and laws for the kohanim in chapters 21 and 22. Chapter 23 reviews the calendar of festivals including Shabbat and chapter 24 features a potpourri of laws including case laws—instances where a law is broken and then judgment is rendered. Lex talionis (reciprocal justice), “an eye for an eye,” is possibly the most famous of the laws in Emor and perhaps the most problematic. The food connects to the verse through word play. Focus on the root of the word todah (thanksgiving) to see if you can figure out the connection.

Find the food connection…

וְכִי-תִזְבְּחוּ זֶבַח-תּוֹדָה

When you sacrifice a thanksgiving offering to God…

---Leviticus 22:29a

Indian food! Todah and Hodo look like they share the same root.

The Side Dish

There are verses in this parasha that a 21st century Jew might find appalling. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” seems fair if you’re a toddler, but it’s the kind of argument we reject from children. “He hit me so I hit him back.” And parents’ reply might be “Did you tell a teacher?” and not “Good for you—you followed lex talionis from Vayikra!” We try not to teach our children that we respond to violence with violence, to injury with injury. I discovered as I studied the Torah that the rabbis were also a bit perturbed by this law. There is an extended discussion in the Talmud (see Baba Kamma 83b). The internet offers you complete access to the Talmud. ( ) The rabbis find a way to interpret the verse as meaning one must pay compensation for the injury. If you have lawyers at your table, it might be interesting to talk about the history of corporal punishment, when courts began to assess monetary damages for an injury, and how judges determine the correct amount of compensation for an injury. What do your Shabbat guests feel is fair? How has the concept of fairness changed over milennia?





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A Dash of Hebrew Names
Most of us can recognize a Kohen from names like Cohen or Kahn. My mom’s family name, Katz, usually denotes a kohen. Katz is the Hebrew abbreviation for Kohen Tzedek.

Since my grandfather’s last name was Katz, few gabbaim in the synagogues he visited would believe him when he said he was not a kohen, but a yisrael. How did he get a name signifying kohen status? His father (my great-grandfather Sol) was adopted by a childless Katz family in Russia in the 1800s so that he could be an only child and avoid the dreaded 25 year draft into the Tsar’s Russian Army. So my great-grandfather lost his family name of Godofsky, escaped the army, and he and his descendants lived to explain why they are not kohanim.

A Dash of Calendar information
In Parashat Emor, you’ll find holidays designated by their month and date. You may have noticed that the months are not named, but indicated by ordinal numbers, i.e. the first month, the seventh month. There are other places in the Torah where four months are named: Aviv, Ziv, Eitanim, and Bul. Clearly, they are no longer on a Hebrew calendar. So where did the names of the months in the Hebrew calendar come to be called Tishrei, Heshvan, Kislev, etc.
After 516 BCE when Jews were permitted to return to Eretz Yisrael from Babylonia, they brought back Babylonian month names. Some of these names are derived from Babylonian gods just as January comes from the Roman god Janus. To date, the oldest calendar found in Israel is the Gezer calendar from the 10th century BCE. It lists months and the associated agricultural activities, e.g. one month of barley harvest (now called Iyar).

A Dash of Upcoming Reading
Don’t dash too quickly through chapter 23 or you’ll miss a few hidden mitzvot that might surprise you. For example in 23:22, the Torah interrupts its description of the sacrifices for Shavuot to remind farmers not to harvest all the way to the edges of the field and not to pick up the dropped gleanings. “You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” On Shavuot we’ll be reading the Book of Ruth where we see this law in action. In fact, the proving ground for the hesed (lovingkindness) of both Ruth and Boaz is Boaz’s field. The Book of Ruth assumes the reader is familiar with Vayikra 23:22 and we find out that not all farmers treat the poor and the stranger with equal kindness when they come to reap the corners and the leftovers. Vayikra tells us the law, the Book of Ruth tells us in what spirit the law should be followed.

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Spicy and Quick Indian Bean-Tomato Soup
Pareve and vegan--serves 4 to 6
Ingredients                                                       rsz 08 emor indian bean and tomato soup copy copy

  • 1 Tbsp. oil
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped onions  
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1 or 2 finely chopped green chilies like jalapeno or Thai
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 15 oz. can peeled plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped with liquid
  • 4 cups cooked beans plus 2 cups cooking liquid (cannellini or chickpeas work well)
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • Cilantro sprigs, pita chips for garnish


  1. Heat oil in a 4 qt. pot over medium heat.
  2. Sauté onions and garlic until onions are softened and golden, about 8 min.
  3. Add ginger, chopped chilies, and spices.
  4. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 min.
  5. Stir in tomatoes and their liquid, beans and their liquid, and salt.
  6. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thickened, about 10 min.
  7. Coarsely mash about 1/3 of the beans in the pot with a potato masher or an immersion blender.
  8. Top with cilantro and pita chips.

If you have a dairy meal, use plain yogurt as a garnish. For a pareve addition, try Tofu Sour.

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