Tazria-Metzora – one of those parshiot (weekly Torah portions) that we either skip over or read with some sort of “yuk” factor interest. It’s all about skin diseases, impurities of the body and building (read the part about a home getting diseased), and isn’t very pleasing to read.
But something did catch my eye this time.
“If however, her means do not suffice for a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering.” (Lev 13:8) and later on we read, ”If however he is poor, and his means are insufficient…” (Lev 14:21), and then again, “He shall then offer one of the turtledoves or pigeons, depending on his means, whichever he can afford, …” (Lev 14:31)
The instances for which these particular offerings are quite different – the first is for a woman who has just given birth, and the second and third for a skin condition, needing to be deemed “cleansed” by the priest. But both have a caveat of affordability. A lamb was more expensive to the individual than a pigeon, and in other cases we read that if even the pigeon is beyond one’s means, a simple flour/meal offering will suffice.
It’s expensive to be Jewish.
Well, that is, if you choose to “do” Jewish in a traditional way – separate dishes, bigger kitchens for storage of those dishes, buying only kosher products, kosher meat, restricting errands to certain days (“but the sale ends on Saturday!”), membership, donations, and more and more. Don’t get me started about day school. It shouldn’t be like this. Living an actively identified Jewish life shouldn’t make you feel like bankruptcy is around the corner, or that this is a club that’s only for the wealthy.
The Torah is telling us it shouldn’t be like this, either. The text is quite aware of taking one’s means into consideration when fulfilling a mitzvah, that it shouldn’t break the bank to be deemed “holy” or “acceptable” or even just part of the community.
Last month, as I stood in line at the kosher butcher to buy some food for Passover, the woman in front of me rang up a $1,000 bill for kosher meat. A thousand dollars. For a week’s worth of meat. I’ve heard this before from others, and it leaves me speechless. Far from judging what she serves her family, I’m more astounded at the expectations the community seems to have developed for what constitutes a proper observance of the holiday. I hope she’s got the money to spare; if so, good for her, but if not, I’m more concerned that she feels she has to over-extend to celebrate “the right way.”
I can’t control day school tuition, but I do know people are responding to the cost with their feet – lower enrollment. Our community, on a macro and micro level, needs to take long hard looks at the “cost” of being Jewish, and find the awareness that the Torah already has found. Inclusion in our community can’t be based on what you can afford.