Introduction to Judaism and Disability: Portrayals in Ancient Texts from the Tanach through the Bavli continued . . .

Idolatry was, of course, practiced in other cultures besides Mesopotamia. Roman and Greek gods were served in solemn, yet joyful, rituals. Sacrificial animals were offered up and the smoke went to the gods while the celebrants and others ate the animal's flesh. "Scraps from the meal were left on the altar and beggars spirited them away. When sacrifice was made not on a household altar but at a temple, the custom was to pay for the priests' services by leaving them a set portion of the sacrificial animal; temples earned money by selling this meat to butchers" (Veyne 1987, 196). Indeed, Judaism adapted idolatrous rites in the Temple service to God. Priests in the Temple cult were given an allotment of the sacrificial meat and worshipers came to the Temple with sacrifices in joyful gratitude as well as to atone for sins. The sacrificial animal's blood could, in an atonement sacrifice, metaphorically take the place of the sinner's. The symbols of the sacrificial cult-the offered animal, the incense, the physically perfect priest of unblemished lineage in his special garb, and the dangerous sense of holiness and the concomitant restricted access to the inner precincts of the Temple-formed a coherent system of meaning. Life in its purest form, symbolized by (1) an absence of the taint of death (i.e., ritual impurity), (2) the embodiment of perfect human life (the blemishless priest), (3) perfect animal life (the likewise blemishless sacrificial animal), and (4) senses fully stimulated by incense, bells, loaves, and so forth, was at the heart of the Temple's ritual system (Haran 1985, 216). It was believed that a congregation of angels gathered in a heavenly Temple during the earthly sacrificial rites. As pure a reflection as possible of the heavenly spheres was needed in the corporeal world to ensure that the sacrifices were acceptable above (Nickelsburg 1981, 123). These requirements of perfection applied to the Temple cult and the people who performed its rites, but not to the general population.

For the priesthood, particularly in the Temple, ritual purity, or taharah, was a necessity; tum'ah (impurity) was forbidden in the holy domain. These words have nothing to do with cleanliness and everything to do with the boundaries between life and death and the assurance that (despite their ambiguities) those boundaries are clearly distinguished. Only whole, complete items-not incomplete or broken items-can become impure. So, for example, a piece of pottery could become ritually impure but the shards of a broken piece of pottery could not. As we encounter these terms in our sources, it may be most productive to think about them as ways of considering embodiment, the soul, and wholeness rather than as pertaining to dirt or defilement.

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