Aharei Mot- K'doshim--Leviticus 16:1-20:26
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Questions for Young Children

• What are some things the kohen gadol does to get ready for Yom Kippur? Do you do anything special to get ready for special occasions?
• God tells the Israelites to be holy. The first law repeated after that is that we should respect our parents. Why is that law so important?
• God tells the Israelites they have to take care of poor people. What are some ways you and your family help out people who need help?
• What’s a law you would make to help people? With the help of the other people at your Shabbat table, check the parasha to see if your idea for a law is part of the double parasha.

Questions for Older Children
• Do you know what a scapegoat is? Have you heard the term at school?
• In this parasha, the Yom Kippur ritual that’s described is sending a scapegoat (a live goat) into the wilderness. How will that help people get rid of their sins?
• Chapter 17 prohibits the Israelites from consuming the blood of an animal. The prohibition is repeated which means it’s important. Why allow people to eat meat, but not blood? What’s the Torah’s reason? What other reasons can you think of?
• Vayikra 19:18 includes the phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” What do you think that phrase means and why do you think “love your neighbor” is followed by the sentence, “I am the Lord?”

Questions for Teens and Adults
• This parasha contains what scholars term “rites of riddance.” What do you think that means and why do you think it is such an important part of the Israelite religion? Can you think of other "rites of riddance?"
• Are there thoughts or feeling you need to get rid of before you begin Shabbat?
• From 16:20-22, the parasha describes the ritual of the scapegoat. What was the ritual? What was its purpose?
• What psychological function do you think the scapegoat served?
• How is the word scapegoat used today? Is it an accurate representation of the parasha’s use of the term?

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An Around the World Shabbat Dinner

  • Feature foods from around the world at your Shabbat table and talk about the Jewish communities that lived across the globe. 
  • Discuss--Does adopting local cuisine mean assimilating?  Where does one draw the line to preserve Judaism and live wherever one finds oneself in the world?
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Although we’re in the midst of counting the omer, the Aharei-Mot is focused on Yom Kippur and the rituals associated with the special Yom Kippur sacrifice. Parts of the parasha may be familiar to you from the Mahzor (High Holyday prayerbook). Vayikra (Leviticus) chapters 17-26 are often called the “Holiness Code,” a term coined in the late 19th century by a Lutheran theologian. Although most laws of holiness are addressed to all the Israelites, Aharei Mot relates primarily to the kohanim. One of the most intriguing section deals with the Kohen Gadol’s dispatch of a scapegoat (a real, live goat) into the wilderness. Aharei Mot concludes with a strong prohibition against eating blood or carrion and the laws of sexual purity.
K’doshim seems at first glance like a seamless continuation of Aharei Mot but the difference becomes apparent in 19:2. These instructions are not directed at the kohanim alone, but to the whole Israelite community. Holiness is not delegated to a few, but belongs to all the Israelites. The reason that Israelites will be holy is because God is holy, an idea known as imitatio dei. That idea is first broached in Genesis chapter one which states that humans are created in God’s image. Now we are told, we need to behave like God by following the commandments in this parasha. While it might be difficult for 21st century Jews to relate to the priestly laws of purity, many of these laws embody ethical imperatives we strive to incorporate in our own lives like loving your neighbor as yourself and caring for the less fortunate among us. To see how one verse can be the foundation for an ethical discussion, see Erica Brown's most recent blog, http://www.ericabrown.com/new-blog-1 entitled "Precision," and notice how she references Vayikra 19:35-36.  

Find the Food Connection

כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ-מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם-בָּהּ, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ; וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ-כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ, וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם, לֹא תֵלֵכוּ

 You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws.
-Leviticus 18:3

 Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Meyer Lemon! (see The Side Dish to understand the tenuous connection between the recipe and the verse)


The Side Dish
Why Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Meyer Lemon which seems to have nothing to do with the verse I quoted or the parasha? Read on for the two reasons for this delicious chicken recipe.

This double parasha underscores God’s commandments to the Israelites to set themselves apart from the other nations with which they have contact. In the Sinai desert, this is problematic, but God references the time in Egypt and the upcoming entrance to Eretz Yisrael. Will the Israelites lose their identity and their q’dusha (holiness or separateness) when they begin to experience other customs? This is an ongoing Jewish dilemma—when do we draw the line and hold fast to our differences, when do we assimilate other customs into our own, and when do we adapt to the other cultures we’ve encountered?

One example of assimilating other customs into our own, is Jewish cuisine. Joan Nathan has written a new cookbook, King Solomon’s Table, that both traces our culinary connections to the cultures we’ve encountered and presents recipes that celebrate global connections. We’ve managed to be Jews and follow Torah whether our favorite homemade soup is borscht or chamusta.

As we’re reminded in this parasha, we can’t simply eat anything and everything. Life blood is forbidden (Vayikra 17:10-14,19:26, 20:25). It was only two weeks ago when we read Parashat Sh’mini that the Torah presented the list of permitted animals and the law not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk. French Jews like Rashi may have adopted French cuisine, but they used almond milk instead of dairy products when preparing a meat meal.

This parasha is replete with other commandments regarding food. We are commanded to share our food with the hungry (Vayikra 19:9-10), to not eat fruit from a newly planted tree for five years (Vayikra 19:23-25),and even to eat leftovers from a sacrifice by the end of the second day (Vayikra 19: 6-8).

This week’s recipe with a Moroccan flair highlights the local spices and ingredients like preserved lemons. Moroccan Jews used the ingredients and the cooking techniques of their adopted home, but remained steadfast in their commitment to Judaism. The community's roots are ancient; some historians believe Jews may have settled there even before 586 BCE. The greatest migration followed the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Jews lived everywhere in Morocco—from the Atlas Mountains to the bustling cities and created vibrant Jewish communities. (For more on Morrocan Jewish history, see http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/morocco-virtual-jewish-history-tour.

And reason number two for featuring this recipe this week is that I promised when I introduced the recipe for preserving lemons three months ago that I’d post a recipe with preserved lemons this week. If you’re a procrastinator, no worries. Mark Bittman explains how to make preserved lemons in 3 hours. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/20/dining/20mini.html?_r=1&ref=dining

With the description of the Yom Kippur sacrifice and the commandment to set aside the 10th day of the 7th month as Shabbat Shabbaton to “purify you of all your sins” in Vayikra 16:29-31, I couldn’t help but think about Kol Nidre and the importance of keeping promises. Many of you may know that the Kol Nidre prayer and the connection between vows and Yom Kippur was not part of the liturgy until the 10th century when it appeared in the Seder Rav Amram Gaon.

But that’s another tangent for another time. This Shabbat is the 10th of Iyar so Yom Kippur is still five months in the future. Enjoy your Shabbat dinner.

(Some of you may have discerned a third connection between the recipe that includes preserved lemons and preserving our separateness. The Hebrew root sh-m-r merits its own discussion).

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A Dash of Israel
This website will lead you to Israel’s National Food Bank website and their weekly parasha summary and recipe. Don’t worry, I haven’t been copying. You can check the site weekly for ideas for more discussion topics. You can also sign up for their weekly newsletter to appear in your email. Their parasha summaries are thought provoking. And it’s all in English although you can change the language to practice your Hebrew if you like. Surf the website to see how Israelis handle the food crisis that exists even in the land of milk and honey. This week's double parasha enjoins us to ensure those without resources have food.

A Dash of History
Ironically, Jews were often scapegoated close to the same time this parasha is read—before Pesah and close to Easter. The wild accusations that began in 1144 that Jews baked matzah with the blood of Christians is known as a blood libel. The accusation often led to physical attacks against the Jewish community. The Fixer by Bernard Malamud is a fictionalized account of the 1911 Beilis blood libel that occurred in the Ukraine. The Fixer allows the reader to feel the fear and pain of the scapegoated Yakov Bok.  Not what the Torah had in mind at all with the ritual of the scapegoat.
For more historical information on the blood libel, see the ADL’s website:

A Dash of Feminist Commentary
The Ritual of the Scapegoat

Dinah the Wounded One declares:

Imagine how liberating it would be to exorcise the stereotype of the JAP(Jewish American Princess) from popular culture.

Or our own internalized anti-Semitism, which makes us hate our own bodies, our names, our men and ourselves.

How healthy it would be to drive these demons off a nearby cliff. (p. 173)

From The Five Books of Miriam by Ellen Frankel. San Francisco: Harper, 1998.

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Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Meyer Lemon

Serves 4 and easy to double or triple.  

(Read to the end to see how to adapt this recipe for vegans).     rsz moroccan preserved meyer lemon copy


  • 4 boneless chicken breast halves
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, sliced 1” thick
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 preserved Meyer lemon, pulp removed and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 16 pitted olives—green or kalamata
  • cilantro for garnish


  1. Brush chicken lightly with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and broil on both sides until browned but not quite cooked through. 
  2. Hold chicken until sauce is ready or make the sauce first and the chicken later.
  3. Add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to skillet and cook garlic and onion over moderate heat until lightly browned.
  4. Add turmeric, cumin, pepper, and cook another minute.
  5. Scrape pulp from the preserved lemon. Cut rind into thin slices and add to onions along with broth, wine and olives.
  6. Pour sauce over the pre-broiled chicken and bake @325º 20-25 min.
  7. Serve with cilantro garnish.

For vegans:

Reserve some of the  Meyer lemon sauce and serve over tofu or grilled portabella mushrooms.

What to do with the reserved pulp from the lemons?  I chopped the pulp and used it as a topping for roasted vegetables along with a drizzle of olive oil.

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