Those of you who know me well know that I have a penchant for working to redeem the so-called irredeemable texts. The misogynist, bloody, and questionably unethical texts abound in our sacred literature.
In my musing for this parasha in 5758, I wrote in part:
"Childbirth. Leprosy. Male Discharges. Menstruation. OY! If nothing else, I'll say this-our ancestors did take on some common, everyday issues. The way they approached them may seem alien and strange to us, but surely it is a sign of a healthy society that they could talk about these things. Imagine the outcry today if you wanted to publicly talk about these issues. Although in recent decades our society has loosened up somewhat, we still have a lot of taboos against discussing things like sex, bodily functions, etc. openly and publicly. So while we may view these rituals and proscriptions in Tazria-Metzora with disdain and confusion, I ask - who is the healthier society: the one in which a mother talks to her daughter about "their friend" coming to visit them each month, or the one in which subjects like menstruation, discharges and leprosy are dealt with openly?"
So I find it somewhat ironic that I, who has always openly taught the text to even the youngest students as straightforwardly as possible suddenly found myself unsure how to address the contents of Tazria-Metzora with students this week.
This led to a conversation with a friend about writing songs for Jewish occasions that no one particularly wants to sing about, like divorce, circumcision, agunah, pidyon haben, the assorted killing and ritual sacrifices in the text, etc. And this conversation ultimately led back to a discussion of songs about difficult texts in the Torah like Tazria-Metzora. (Difficult, that is, when weighed on the modern scale of relevancy to contemporary life. Of course, as I have often argued, this may not be the best scale to use.)
So we both played around with a simplistic way of writing a quick parody song about Tazria-Metzora suitable for youngsters and tweens.
We started with this version:
(All sung to the tune of "Sing a Song of Sixpence") Sing a song of leprosy, Illness in the air. Sing a song of leprosy, Spots are everywhere. Sing a song of leprosy, Here the people cry: "What did I say that's so bad? And why ME, Gd, oh why?"
Well, would these kids understand what leprosy is without an explanation more graphic than I wished to use? So we tried again:
Tazria, Metzora Illness in the air. On the skin and on house walls Lesions everywhere. Tazria, Metzora Here the people cry: What did I say that's so bad? And why ME, Gd, oh why?"
Now that's ALMOST an actually usable song! But again, will the students know what a lesion is? So we prettied it up a bit more:
Tazria, Metzora Sickness of the spirit. On the skin and on house walls Marks that do reveal it. Tazria, Metzora Tell the people this: 'Twas something that they said or did That brought them all this tzuris!
Well, ALMOST, we thought. But tzuris might not be in their vocabulary. So once again we edit:
Tazria, Metzora Spiritual rot On the skin and on house walls Look what we have got Tazria, Metzora Let the people know 'Twas something that they said or did Makes spots as white as snow!
Hmm. That one was perhaps a step backwards. But it does convey the essential message we're trying to get across here-that one interpretation is that tzara'at is really a physical manifestation of inner problems of faith, behavior, lashon hara, self-discomfort with one's behavior, etc.
We've finally settled on this version which we'll be using:
Tazria, Metzora, Sickness of the spirit. On the skin and on house walls, White spots do reveal it. Tazria, Metzora, Hear the people cry: What did I say that's so bad? And why ME, Gd, oh why?
Now, this was a fun exercise. But I'm ignoring the essential question. Why is it that I feel I have to couch the reality of parashiot Tazria-Metzora in this way? Is there some reason I feel uncomfortable just saying "this parasha talks about menstruation and childbirth, and how they render a woman unclean for a time, the rituals involved when people developed some kind of odd eruption on their skin, or when houses developed similar infections on their walls, and the ritual for rendering the people and houses clean again."
Is it locale? At the day school where I taught last year, was I more willing to be frank and open, believing the students could handle it because of their constant exposure to the text? Do I fear the student in my current Reform supplemental school setting know less and can therefore handle less? I'd like to think that's not the case, as I had quite a mix of students from different movements at the day school. So whence my sensitivity?
I have no quick and easy answers. Perhaps I'll delve into the text some more and see if I can find some. Because if I don't identify and treat whatever it is that's nagging at me about how I'm teaching these parashiot this year, then I might wind up with my own tzara'at.
Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to try and prevent that. May you find the time for your own catharsis and avoid your external manifestations of your self-discomfort!
©2002 by Adrian A. Durlester
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