The Book of Vayikra (Leviticus), also known as Torat Kohanim — the Laws of the Priests — deals largely with the korbanot (offerings) brought in the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting). The first group of offerings is called korban olah, a burnt offering. The animal is brought to the Mishkan's entrance. For cattle, the one bringing the offering sets his hands on the animal. Afterwards it is slaughtered and the kohen sprinkles its blood on the altar. The animal is skinned and cut into pieces. The pieces are arranged, washed and burned on the altar. A similar process is described involving burnt offerings of other animals and birds. The various meal offerings are described. Part of the meal offering is burned on the altar, and the remaining parteaten by the kohanim. Mixing leaven or honey into the offerings is prohibited. The peace offering, part of which is burnt on the altar and part is eaten, can be either from cattle, sheep or goats. The Torah prohibits eating blood or chelev (certain fats in animals). The offerings that atone for inadvertent sins committed by the Kohen Gadol, by the entire community, by the prince and by the average citizen are detailed. Laws of the guilt-offering, which atones for certain verbal transgressions and for transgressing laws of ritual purity, are listed. The meal offering for those who cannot afford the normal guilt offering, the offering to atone for misusing sanctified property, laws of the "questionable guilt" offering, and offerings for dishonesty are detailed.
Nowadays if you mention the words “religious court” to many people, a picture of a cabal of fanatical ayatollahs will come floating in to their minds. Indeed, political parties in Israel have been founded and thrive on no broader a mandate than the promise of the limitation and eventual destruction of the “religious coercion” that these courts represent to them.
From the religious viewpoint, however, the opponents of this “coercion” are creating a crisis in Jewish marriage and divorce. In the wider Jewish community we are witnessing a mushrooming problem of non-halachic divorces. A Jewish wife who receives a non-halachic divorce from her Jewish spouse is still considered to be married to her husband. If she then re-marries, the children of that union may be prohibited from marrying virtually all of their fellow Jews. And this prohibition applies not only to them, but their offspring down the generations. While everyone has the right to make his own life-choices, there must be a realization that these choices have the potential to impact generations yet unborn. And very often, Jews seeking secular divorce are left uninformed as to the potential consequences by their Reform and Conservative rabbis. There are more than a few heart-breaking cases of young men and women from secular families who have returned to Torah Judaism only to discover that one of them was halachically ineligible to marry the partner of their choice.
The rejection and resentment of rabbinic authority is a classic symptom of our galut — exile.
The Sages derive that “the entire assembly of Yisrael” refers here to the Great Sanhedrin of seventy-one Sages that resided in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin was the supreme legislative organ of the Jewish People. The Jewish People’s classic view of their Sages is an expression of the people themselves. The Great Sanhedrin is the entire assembly of Yisrael; its aspirations are identical with those of the people. The word for assembly here, eidah, is related to the word meaning “an ornament.”
The Sanhedrin was our precious jewel. It gave splendor and glory to the Jewish People. If we reject the counsel of the great Sages who are always in our midst, if we no longer choose to wear the vestige of those beautiful adornments, can there be any surer sign that we are deep in exile?
We await the day when for our precious jewels will be dusted off and brought out to shine in a better world.
- Based on the Sifra and Ha’Ktav V’haKabbalah