The Priests Learn Power Dressing
a.k.a. Parshat Tetzaveh
God told Moses to get the people to bring him pure, beaten olive oil so that a lamp
could burn continuously in the sanctuary. Aaron and his sons would tend the lamp from evening until morning.
Aaron and his sons were designated priests of the tabernacle, for which task Aaron was to be given holy
garments to wear. The garments would be decorated with gold, blue, purple and red features, and fine, twined
linen. The garments were made up of a breastplate, an ephod (an apron), a robe, a checkered coat, a turban
and a girdle. The ephod was to have two shoulder pieces on which were set two onyx stones, each containing
the names of six tribes of Israel engraved in gold.
In the sanctuary, Aaron would wear a Breastplate of Judgment. Four rows of precious
stones would adorn it, and represent the tribes of Israel. A
aron’s robe would be blue and would be
decorated with golden bells and pomegranates. Aaron’s entry into and exit from the sanctuary would be
signalled by the sounds of bells. This would protect him from death!
On his forehead Aaron would wear a golden head-plate bearing the words, “Holy
to the Lord”. This would enable him to bear the guilt of others when they made their sacred offerings. He would
thus facilitate their forgiveness.
Aaron’s sons would gain status and dignity by wearing tunics, sashes and turbans of
fine linen. Aaron and his sons were to be consecrated in a ceremony involving the offering of a young bull
and two rams, and matzah bread and cakes. They would bathe, dress in their holy garb and Aaron would be
anointed with oil. Aaron and his sons had to hold the bull while it was slaughtered and daub the corners of
the altar with its blood. Parts of the bull would be burnt at the altar and other parts would be burnt in a
fire outside the camp. This was to be an offering for sin. The blood of a slaughtered ram was to be put on
the robes of Aaron and his sons as well as on specific ears, thumbs and toes. The newly consecrated priests
would also take parts of the ram and pieces of matzah and wave these in what was termed a “wave offering”.
Another ram was to be cooked and eaten by Aaron and his sons. The altar was to be consecrated over a
God told Moses he would meet with the people of Israel at the Tent of Appointed
Meetings at times of His choosing. God would live in the midst of the people and they would experience His
presence. Finally, the people were to make an altar upon which they would burn incense. Precise
specifications for its construction were given. Incense had to be burnt upon it every morning and evening.
Once a year, Aaron had to make atonement for sins upon the altar. This atonement would be considered a most
Commentary on the 20th parsha (portion of the Torah). The Torah consists of the five books of
Moses, the first part of the Old Testament.
To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews
Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism
and how we got where we are.
He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.
MS: You again! It’s really
not a convenient time!
SAS: Why? Oh I see – you’re
about to sacrifice a poor, defenceless animal. I certainly don’t want to see that happen, so perhaps I’ll
come back later.
MS: You eat meat, so don’t be
self-righteous! At least I am prepared to look in the eye the animals I kill and eat. You get others to do it
for you, and you pretend it doesn’t happen – the meat miraculously appears on your
SAS: I concede you have a
point there. But the idea of putting animal blood on the altar and on priests’ robes seems barbaric to me,
let alone unclean. Are we a bunch of blood worshippers or death worshippers?
MS: Of course not! We are a
religion born in tough, primitive conditions and we have for aeons lived in the blood-and-guts realm of real
life. Our rituals, our tabernacle, our sacrifices and our lives are not sweetly sanitized and cosseted from
everyday realities, of which animal slaughter is an unavoidable part.
SAS: But what’s the point of
MS: Can’t you read? It’s to
sanctify the priests and the altar. The lifeblood of the animal is a symbol of the lifeblood of all things,
and especially the lifeblood of our holy, consecrated community. These are acts of ritual sanctification
sealed in the blood of the sacrificial creature.
SAS: I don’t see the point in
any kind of religious consecration and I certainly don’t like the idea of blood sacrifices in a religious
context. Some religions, as you will know, have included human sacrifices in their rituals, which we have
never done. The idea that the blood of a human, even an innocent one, can atone for the sins of others is a
barbaric notion as I’m sure you’ll agree.
MS: Of course I do! The one true God would never accept a human sacrifice,
given that He made man in his own image.
SAS: Well, there is a
religion called Christianity, which has as its cornerstone the idea that one man died for the sins of all
mankind. He was the one and only human sacrifice. Christians have entirely done away with any kind of blood
sacrifice as a result.
MS: Well, we would never
accept any kind of human sacrifice. We value human life too highly.
SAS: Now it’s you who are
getting sanctimonious. Your God is quite happy to command our people to kill people of other tribes. If
that’s not human sacrifice, what is it?
MS: It’s called
SAS: I see. Now this lighting
of the holy lamp, the menorah – what’s that all about?
MS: The menorah is symbolic
of the Torah, our perennial source of divine wisdom. The lighting of the menorah comes first in this passage
because it is a holy duty set apart from all others. The requirement that the olive oil be pure and beaten
shows that it was hand-pressed oil and so required effort and dedication to produce. This is symbolic of our
devotion to Torah.
SAS: I like the idea of a
lamp as a beacon of hope and solidarity for a people. I don’t see much value in its claimed signification of
the Torah. Your book is a great literary treasure, no doubt, but the lamp should surely stand for more
important things, like reason, knowledge, truthfulness and the common bond uniting all
MS: But the Torah is the font
of all our wisdom and truth.
SAS: No, it is merely a
symbol of our cultic past in all its checkered imperfection.
MS: Well there we disagree
and most fundamentally too.
SAS: Well, here’s another
point of challenge. I think that God’s stipulations about the ornamental garb of Aaron’s sons, the Kohanim, are excessive and vainly so. Twined linen, onyx stones, gold
engravings, bells and pomegranates? Again, your God is showing his aesthetic taste and the picture is a
bizarre one. All this ostentation stamps him as a very picky God. And he’s obviously someone who craves all
the trappings of ritual adornment for his unceasing adoration.
MS: Serving God is no small
thing. How would you want the priests to appear before Him? In their underwear? Aaron, and to a lesser extent
the other Kohanim, had to be dressed in a way that indicated to
the people that God was to be worshipped in a precise, elaborate and utterly respectful way. The holy
garments also established the authority of the priests before the people.
SAS: Ah yes, of course
that was the real reason for the pomp and ceremony. It was to establish their religious mystique and
their sacerdotal power so that nobody would challenge their power or their priestly bona fides. All authority
has to have a uniform, and the more gilded the better. This was all about securing their role within the
community for time immemorial. And tell me, does this mean that there is a caste structure among Jews? Not
all Jews are equal when it comes to religious practices and responsibilities? Well, it’s worked well
MS: Of course it has. So does
everything God plans. Now can you help me hold these hind legs steady while I get this ram ready for the
SAS: I’ve just remembered
there’s an urgent article I have to write. I’ll see you again shortly.
MS: No hurry. I have plenty
here to keep me busy.
The Parsha we have just read comes from the five books of Moses, the Torah. The
dialogues between Sigmund Albert Spinoza and Methuselah Solomon are about the meaning of the
What we know about Jewish
History, however, is based in fact, and on historical records.
If you’d like to know more about the real history of our
extended Jewish family, read on.
Dreyfus and French anti-Semitism and Herzl and
Anti-Semitism in France in the 1890s led to the infamous Dreyfus Affair. Captain
Alfred Dreyfus, an artillery officer, was one of several Jewish officers in the French army. He was a
graduate of both the Ecole Polytechnique and the Ecole Superieure de Guerre, and had a promising career ahead of him.
However, in October 1894, he was arrested and charged with passing military secrets to the Germany embassy in
The charges were based on a note found in a wastepaper basket by a cleaning lady
working at the German embassy. The list identified French secret documents that could be provided to the
Germans; it included information relating to new artillery technology. Dreyfus was identified as the likely
traitor on circumstantial evidence that was weak and misconstrued. It was later discovered that the note had
been written by a French officer, Major Count Walsin-Esterhazy.
Dreyfus’s court martial trial was hastily convened because the French high command
feared a backlash from anti-Semitic journalists if it didn’t proceed quickly against the prime suspect.
Evidence was lacking and proper procedures were not followed. Dreyfus was found guilty of espionage and
sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island, off the coast of French Guiana. He was subjected to the
supreme indignity of being publicly degraded, with his rank insignia stripped off and his sword broken.
Dreyfus shouted out his innocence.
The case against Dreyfus unravelled over the next few years amidst outcry at the
injustice perpetrated. In January 1898 the famous French writer Emile Zola brought the matter into the public
sphere when he penned his open letter – accompanied by the headline “J’accuse!” – to the French President.
The letter appeared in the first edition of the newspaper L’Aurore (The Dawn) and caused so much fuss that
Zola was convicted of libel and had to flee to England until the winds of opinion shifted – which they
Pressure from the so-called Dreyfusards led
to the case being reopened in June 1899. A court overturned Dreyfus’s conviction and ordered a new court
martial. This second court martial again found Dreyfus guilty, this time with extenuating circumstances, and
he was sentenced to 10 years in jail. However, French President Emile Loubet pardoned him. At last, on 12
July 1906, he was exonerated and he was allowed to recommence his career in the military. He was given the
rank of Major and was made a knight of the Legion d’Honneur.
Dreyfus served as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the artillery during World War 1.
The Dreyfus affair had a major impact upon Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian Jewish
journalist. Herzl covered the Dreyfus trial for his newspaper and saw for himself the vitriolic temper of
mass anti-Semitic rallies in Paris. Herzl decided that it was futile to combat anti-Semitism. He believed,
instead, that Jewish interests would best be served by the establishment of a Jewish state.
The Dreyfus Affair played a significant role in galvanizing the ambition of Zionists,
most notably that of Herzl, their leader and founder.
Here follows a discussion on this historical segment by Dad, Chaya and
BEN: And French people are
still desecrating Jewish graves today. That country has a shocking record of
DAD: Don’t overstate the
case, Ben. Things were actually a lot worse for Jews in many other countries at the time of the Dreyfus
Affair, and don’t forget that there were a number of Jewish career officers in the French army at the time.
Yes, there were strong anti-Jewish factions inside and outside the army – there was an Anti-Semitic League of
France and a Patriots League that promoted a France unified under the banner of Catholicism. However, the
forces of sanity prevailed and in 1905 the Law on the Separation of the Church and State laid the basis for
modern secularist France. There was widespread anti-militarism and anti-clericalism in the wake of the
CHAYA: Let’s not forget the
earlier influence of the French Revolution and the Code Napoleon. There was a constitutional template in
place to secure the rights of all French citizens. Anti-Semitism might have been rife within powerful
quarters of the country but these factions did not prevail. The desecration of Jewish graves today is the
work of a small minority of ignorant, ideologically enslaved people.
BEN: Don’t understate
anti-Semitism in France. Remember that the Vichy Regime that helped Hitler rule France was comprised of many
anti-Dreyfusards of the old school. These people didn’t go away.
Today, their children, grandchildren and other supporters are still there, working quietly to reassert their
right-wing agendas and stigmatise Jews whenever possible.
DAD: You have evidence for
this? No, let’s not get carried away, Ben. No one doubts that anti-Semitism exists in France, as it does all
over Europe, but it’s unfair to say that France is especially culpable.
BEN: Is it? I have been
reading that attacks against Jews in France have escalated quite dramatically recently, and that much of the
ill-feeling stems from North African immigrants. Many of them
are poverty-stricken and they are angry with the French state as well as the Jews, whom they see as wealthy
and well-entrenched in society.
CHAYA: That’s interesting, if
what you say is accurate. It means that there is a second front for French anti-Semitism – not your old-style
conservatives wanting a purified, Catholic France, but disaffiliated immigrants loyal to their former
countries and to Islam. The irony is that one group is fiercely patriotic about France and the other group
isn’t. Yet both view the Jews as a common enemy. Here we are, caught in the middle of a Christian-Muslim wave
of hatred again.
DAD: I still suspect you’re
over-egging the case, Ben, although I’m going to do some more reading about anti-Semitism in France. One
thing I want to say, though, is that it’s extremely ironic how the anti-Semitists indirectly inspired the
founding of Zionism and the establishment of the state of Israel.
CHAYA: You mean anti-Semitism revealed by the Dreyfus Affair motivated Herzl and
this led to Zionism?
DAD: Not quite in those
simple terms, but – yes – it’s surely true that anti-Jewish forces did a lot to motivate Jews to protect and
advance their interests.
BEN: I agree. That’s how life
works. No one motivates one as much as one’s opponents.
DAD: Ah, so the stronger our
enemies, the stronger we become?
CHAYA: Spare me this sophistry! You’ll soon be arguing that the tougher our
enemies, the better Jews we’ll be, Ben.
DAD: Let’s hope we all live
to see a world in which neither our friends nor our enemies pay us undue attention. That, for me, would mean
we’d arrived in the Land of Milk and Honey.
Every Shabbat we read five short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and
humour, insightful reflections on this life of ours.
Here are tonight’s sayings:
· Some scholars study so much that they don’t leave themselves time to
· If you can’t give money, at least give a sympathetic sigh
· Oedipus, shmedipus! As long as he loves his mother.
· A big blow from a stranger hurts less than a small blow from a
· To a wedding you walk; to a divorce you run.
Celebration of Great Lives
Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing
to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around
Steinem, Gloria (1934 - )
This American journalist and feminist gained prominence as a spokeswoman for women’s rights through
lectures, and television appearances. She helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus (1971), the Women’s
Action Alliance (1971), and the Coalition of Labor Union Women (1974). She was also the founding editor (1972) of
Ms., a feminist magazine, remaining actively involved until its closing (1987) and becoming a consulting
editor upon its revival (1990). Her books include Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983), a
biography of Marilyn Monroe (1986), Revolution from Within (1992),
and the essay collection Moving beyond Words (1993).
Ernst Chain (1906 –
This famous biochemist was born in Berlin where he later studied and worked on the
optical specificity of esterases in enzymes. He went to England in 1933 and from 1935 to 1939 he worked on
snake venoms, tumour metabolism, the mechanism of lysozyme action and the invention and development of
methods for biochemical microanalysis. In 1939 he began a systematic study of antibacterial substances
produced by micro-organisms. This led to his best known work which involved the reinvestigation of penicillin
(which had been described by Sir Alexander Fleming nine years earlier). Working together with Fleming and
Howard Florey, he wrote about the discovery of its chemotherapeutic action. He then turned his attention to
the industrial development of penicillin All three received the Nobel Prize in 1945 for their efforts. Later
he worked on the isolation and elucidation of the chemical structure of penicillin and other natural
antibiotics. Chain authored or co-authored many scientific papers and contributed to important monographs on
penicillin and antibiotics. Penicillin is considered to be one of the greatest weapons against infection ever
We will now sing a traditional song to conclude our Shabbat celebration. You have a
copy of the words, so please join in as we sing.
The song is sung
Farewell and an Invitation
Thank you for coming together to share our Shabbat. May you go out into the new week
with renewed strength, confidence and happiness.
We now cordially invite you to join us for some coffee and cake.