The great Bible scholar and translator Robert Alter, became famous decades ago with two classic books: The Art of Biblical Narrative and The Art of Biblical Poetry. He has never written a book called “The Art of Priestly Legal Minutiae.” And that is unfortunate.
As we come to the end of Sefer Vayikra, Leviticus, perhaps we should consider the question of the place of this book in the literary anthology we call the TaNaKH, the Hebrew Bible. It has almost no narrative, and is overwhelmingly a legal compendium, dealing with sacrifice and holiness as defined by an ancient Israel deeply influenced by its priestly caste. But as Richard Friedman writes, we ignore its literary value at great cost.
Friedman further argues that Leviticus, different as it might be from the other books of the Bible, is very much connected to the story of ancient Israel, and has elements that make it a literary treasure in its own right. Can you think of ways that this is so? On Friday evening during services, I’ll share Friedman’s closing comments on Leviticus, and leave us with food for thought about the underappreciated book of the Torah.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,