Thursday, May 07, 2015

Torah Priests and Cultural Priests

By Moshe Feiglin

When the people at 929 called to ask me to write something for Leviticus chapter8, I immediately agreed. But when I opened the Tanach to the relevant chapter, I remained clueless. The entire chapter is about the priests in the Temple, the animal sacrifices and ceremonies that do not even leave a small crack through which modern mentality may peek.
But one verse reminded me of an amazing book that has recently been published, making my short article something between literary critique, literature and something that is informed by Leviticus Chapter 8 and its meaning.
Andrew Cohen, the main character of Reuven Namdar’s widely acclaimed book, The Ruined House, (winner of the prestigious Sapir Prize for Literature) is a modern New York icon. Cohen (52) is a charismatic, popular professor of modern comparative cultures. Living high-style and high society, Cohen is a sought-after guest at cocktail parties of the wealthy. He lives with a young American  woman in her twenties in a studio apartment overlooking Central Park – nothing can be higher on the Western scale of success .
In his desperate search for meaning, in the incomprehensible race for the next must-have, Andrew is the High Priest. Andrew Cohen purifies the impure and infuses senseless behaviors and items with significance.
Shrouded in his sanctuary – his ultra-modern kitchen – Cohen purifies himself and ascends to the spiritual experience of the day: Preparing meat that he has carefully chosen for a feast for his lucky guests. With his  right thumb, the Priest mixes the mixture of blood and rare wine and sniffs. A mystical, sensual hunger pushes the professor to smear the blood on his right ear lobe and his right big-toe.
“And he slaughtered and Moses took of its blood and put it on Aaron’s right ear lobe and on his right thumb and on his right big toe.” (Leviticus 8:23)
And so Namdar does the impossible and draws a bond between the priests who could not be farther in time, place and mentality.
It is difficult not to be perplexed by the incomprehensibility – or even the seeming pseudo-pagan strangeness – that is reflected in the above verse. But Andrew is the priest of our times and the incomprehensibility of the cultural ceremonies and prevailing mentality is no different than the incomprehensibility of ceremonies and cultures that preceded us. Except for the temporary banality that quickly fades, only to be replaced by the next priest and the next fad – as opposed to the one, unique ceremony, which precisely includes the only combination possible for opening the sanctuary on the way to the truly authentic experience.

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