From reading this week’s parshas we learn about the disease of leprosy and being unclean. The ancient disease of leprosy is always somewhat scary – even for today’s Jews. The idea of getting this disease and the physical disfiguring that it can cause is something that all of us would rather stay away from. We don’t hear much about leprosy today, but is there a modern lesson from these parshas regarding separation and being considered unclean?
Leprosy (or Hansen’s Disease) is still around today with approximately 200,000 chronic cases and 230,000 new cases each year. Even the US has about 200 new cases per year. The good news is that those numbers are significantly less than the 1980’s where there were about 5.2 million annual chronic cases – mostly in India. Medical science has made great strides in curing and reducing the number of leprosy cases. Over 16 million cases of leprosy have been cured over the last twenty years due to advances in research.
For modern Jews, we know that the Torah was written when there was very little knowledge of medical science. Separating those with leprosy outside the community (which is not done today) in Biblical times may have seemed like the right thing to do, but it was not correct. In modern times we don’t separate Jews from the community for leprosy, but we do for other forms of being “unclean.” We separate Jews who fall in love with non-Jews as being unclean. We separate Jews whose birth parent doesn’t come from the correct gender from other Jews. We separate Jews who have chosen to be Jews from ‘born’ Jews. We have many different versions of what it is to be “unclean” in our community – all of which have no more validity than any other arbitrary separation.
The modern Jew embraces all of those who identify as Jewish with equal respect. We welcome all non-Jews to our family through marriage and give them the same respect as well. We do not inspect your lineage or ancestors to make sure you are really ‘Jewish’ based on some ancient bloodline. Whether paternal, maternal, by choice or simply marrying a Jew, we will not separate anyone from our community of Jews. If you love Israel, love the Jewish people, and consider yourself part of our community – we will never separate you from us.
We welcome you into our inclusive tribe.