For those who may not know, I have the honor of serving as an officer for the National Association for Temple Administration (NATA). It is incredibly meaningful work for me, sharing and learning with my colleagues and making a difference in our movement. As an officer, my portfolio consists of overseeing professional development for the organization which has turned out to be a major priority as the world of synagogue administration has shifted in many ways in the past two decades. At our board retreat, just a few weeks ago, we began a deep dive into all aspects of professional development, including the very much beloved NATA Institute, a weeklong intensive seminar focusing on eight areas of study and examination that lead to senior status in NATA. We study topics such as communications, governance, and budgeting as well as a host of Judaic studies. Most of my colleagues rave about the experience and still consider their classmates some of their closest confidants. But there has been a critique of the Judaic studies components, and the typical response has been, “How does this apply to our jobs?” If I wanted to be a member of the clergy, I would have enrolled at Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, not Spertus or even National Louis University. Just to give a quick picture, there was an in-depth look and the liturgical stylings of the Reform movement from its inception and how our siddurim have changed to follow its evolution. For those I haven’t lost yet, the Reform movement has gone from being “Protestant-like” with services almost entirely in the vernacular and organ/choir music (the complete opposite of the Hasidim of the 18th century) to what you experience in worship today. Our Reform prayer book has evolved the same way, starting out as very secular in nature. As you might imagine I was dumbfounded by all of this. I revisited the materials today and could barely recall what I learned. 

I bring up my experience with the NATA Institute because I have a similar reaction to the third book of the Torah, Leviticus. In his weekly commentary on ReformJudaism.org, Rabbi Lance Sussman refers to Leviticus as a place “between a rock and a hard place.”  

If we were to compare the Book of Exodus to a “rock” (as in Mt. Sinai) and the Book of Numbers to a “hard place” (as in the “wilderness”), then the Book of Leviticus would be somewhere “between a rock and a hard place.” My sense is that for most Reform Jews, reading the third book of the Torah, Leviticus, is more a function of calendar than choice: a tough, unavoidable literary landscape with only a few rest stops or scenic overlooks. It’s just a territory we must traverse in order to get to the next major site on our annual pilgrimage through the Five Books of Moses. 

The book of Leviticus is referred to as “the Priests Manual.” It focuses on the laws of the priestly cult including the sacrificial system, laws of impurity, and the holiness codes. I, like many, find these to be tedious topics that have little to no relevance to my daily life. I cannot tell you the last time I was asked to secure a goat for Rabbi Cohen to sacrifice on the bima or a congregant has come to me suffering from leprosy (I am being completely facetious here). We are taught to connect the teachings of our Torah to our lives in order to find meaning. It is close to impossible to do this with Leviticus.   

I always walk away from my NATA experiences feeling great about the courses on management and new trends. This is what I do and understand. But liturgy, customs, and Jewish History are not in my wheelhouse.  I recall one of the instructors at the Institute making a great point before I boarded the bus to return home. She stated, “It’s very likely you’ll file all of the Jewish studies course material deep in your head. There will be a day when someone comes to you with a challenge that you will need to use something you learned while here.” She is completely correct. Everything we learned at the training will eventually become more relevant. Leviticus similarly, with all of its laws and talk of sacrifice and skin disease, can become relevant to us. Look past the grossness and you’ll find great nuggets about inclusion and how we can incorporate people into our community. The Torah is a living document that refers to a time in our history that, even though we might not live like that now, can offer insight into our modern times.