Posts Tagged ‘Leviticus’

Casting Our Sins In To The e-Wilderness

August 29, 2013

This article was first published in Haaretz.


SAN FRANCISCO – If you keep an eye out, you’ll notice a goat wandering around the Internet.

This being the Jewish season of repentance, it isn’t just any goat. It’s an electronic scapegoat onto which computer and smart phone users are unloading their sins in a virtual reenactment of the ancient Yom Kippur ritual described in Chapter 16 of Leviticus.

“I’m too often grateful to get to work and away from my spouse and kid,” confesses one person. “I sexted my ex,” admits someone else. Another individual divulges that they “once ate bacon before the rabbi came over.” One parent apparently only “go[es] cycling with my kids just to get a tan.”

While we may be reluctant to own up to our misdoings, it seems that eScapegoat, a new web app from G-dcast, a fast-growing San Francisco-based Jewish educational media production company, is helping some of us overcome our sheepishness. G-dcast makes self-reflection easy. If you can tweet, then you can atone.

All you need to do is go to and read short texts on the biblical scapegoat story and how it relates to today’s observance of Yom Kippur. Then you enter your maximum 120 character-long confession and post it anonymously. You just type and click your way through the initial stage of atonement. “It’s just like the bible, only nerdier,” the on-screen text tells us.

There is, however, one major difference between then and now. In biblical times, the sins cast onto the scapegoat only went as far as the animal made it in the desert before dying. With this cyberspace-dwelling cartoon goat, our sins could live on forever, having been broadcast out to the world through eScapegoat’s (lightly moderated)@SinfulGoat Twitter feed.

Click here to read more.

@ 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


Building A Love Of Torah

November 10, 2010

I trained and worked as a teacher of Bible.

My house is filled with LEGO.

I never really thought that these two things had anything to do with one another…until now. Thanks to’s daily “Jewniverse” newsletter that I look forward to waking up and reading on my iPhone every weekday morning, I am now aware of The Brick Testament.

My son is pretty sure that is Dumbledore on Mount Sinai.

The Brick Testament’s creator, The Reverend Brendan Powell Smith (he’s apparently not really a reverend, but just likes the honorific and admits to being “widely regarded as being both highly presumptuous and extremely vain”) has reportedly spend 4 years and in the environs of $10,000 creating a highly detailed LEGO dioramic interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and parts of the New Testament.

Smith claims that everything he used, other than the sky background, is LEGO – and my LEGO-crazed 9 year-old son vouched for that. In fact, my son is pretty sure he recognized the Dumbledore mini-figure head from the LEGO Harry Potter set being used as Moses’s face.

I am especially impressed that Smith did not shy away from the more arcane, archaic and downright bizarre sections of Leviticus (which he refers to as “The Law”). Check out the R-rated scenes in “Sexual Discharges,” “Bestiality,” “Homosexuality,” and “Incest.” And you will not want to miss “When to Stone Your Children,” “When to Marry Your Sister-in-Law,” “When to Stone Your Whole Family,” and “How Long to Hang Someone.”

But lest you think think that The Brick Testament is not for the kids, rest assured that there are plenty of sections that you can look at together with your children at home or use as teaching aids in your religious studies classroom. In fact, this may be a great way to get kids engaged or re-engaged with Bible study. For creative engineering-type kids like my son, this may indeed by the best way to build a love of Torah.

By the way, it looks like I am late to jump on The Brick Testament bandwagon. Click here to read LOTS more about the project.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


Draining Blood

January 29, 2010

Looks like the Torah and the Rabbis have something to say about President Obama’s recent SOTU.

There has been some pointed talk in the last couple of days about President Obama’s criticizing the Justices of the SCOTUS for their recent ruling on Citizens United while they sat there in the House of Representatives the other night as a courtesy to him. It seems that the President has committed the aveirah (transgression) of shaming a person in public. The Hebrew expression for this is to “whiten a person’s face” in public, conjuring the image of the blood draining from the shamed person’s face.

The Justices of the SCOTUS

In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today, Georgetown Law Center professor Randy E. Barnett claims that it is perfectly acceptable to criticize the Justices, but it is not all right to do so to their faces, especially if they have not been given warning of it.

“This is not to deny that the Supreme Court may be criticized. I do it myself regularly in class, op-eds, blog posts, and in the pages of law reviews. So too should the president when he thinks the Court is wrong. But not when the justices are in attendance as a courtesy to him, seated as a captive audience on national television, while surrounded by hundreds of his political partisans…Judge not the words themselves, but their effect on the audience. The president fully expected that his hundreds of supporters in the legislative branch would stand and cheer, while the justices remained seated and silent, unable to respond even afterward.”

Barnett also says that what Obama, in his haste to strike a populist tone, said about the ruling during the SOTU was actually erroneous, but that is a topic for another post.


The point of this post is that there is something for the President and all of us to learn from Jewish teachings. Yes, Leviticus 19:17 tells us that it is our responsibility to tell someone when they are doing something wrong (“You shall surely rebuke thy neighbour, and not bear sin because of him”), but the Rabbis expounded that “Whoever shames his fellow-person in public has no share in the world to come. He is one of those who will go down to Gehinnom and never come up again.” Rashi interpreted the verse from Leviticus as meaning that we are commanded to take a stand against sin, but at the same time not to embarrass the sinner. We can look to biblical figures like Tamar and Joseph for examples of how to successfully accomplish this balancing act:

“Tamar, who had the goods on her father-in-law after he visited her sexually, never named him as the offender, but only indicated what pledge he left with her, so that he could identify himself without being made ashamed. Joseph cleared the room before he disclosed himself to his brothers so that they might not be put to shame in the presence of the Egyptian court.” (Arnold Jacob Wolf, Sh’ma 4/77, September 20, 1974)

Bruria, the wife of Rabbi Meir of the Mishna, is also a good role model in this regard. In Brachot 10a she reminds her husband that it is imperative to distinguish between evil and the evil doer:

There was an outlaw living in the neighborhood of Rabbi Meir who used to persecute him. Rabbi Meir wanted to pray that he should die. “What are you thinking?” his wife Bruria asked. “Because it is written, ‘and all the wickedness shall be consumed from the earth’ (Psalms 104:35). Is it written ‘wicked’? The word ‘wickedness’ is written. Furthermore, look at the end of the verse, ‘and the evil-doers will be no more.’ Since wickedness will cease, then evildoers will be no more. You should pray that he repent.” Rabbi Meir prayed for him, and he repented.

In no way were the President’s remarks evil, nor will he be going to hell for them (and in any case, I think that “will go down to Gehinnom and never come up again,” is not intended to be understood literally, but rather is meant as a warning that one who whitens a person’s face in public is pushing himself down a slippery slope of immoral behavior from which he or she will be unable to climb up again). But it does look like he owes the Justices an apology…and they shouldn’t have to wait until next Yom Kippur for it.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.