Seder Toharot (Ritual Purities)

Laws regarding purity and impurity may seem obscure to modern Jews, but the concepts give us a glimpse into a world where manifestations of death within life are not sanitized away.

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Finally, Toharot depicts a society much more comfortable with the manifestations of death in life than sanitized modern societies that raise artificial walls to avoid contact with death. By honoring the unknown through the category of impurity in a tangible, ritual manner, the Mishnah allows life a far richer and complex expression. What the contemporary reader might first mistake for an obsession with cleanliness, order, and separation is best understood as a complex system of meaning--one that honors the sacredness and mystery inherent in the cyclical interplay between beginnings and endings, and in the junctures of life and death.

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Stephen H. Arnoff

Stephen Hazan Arnoff is the executive director of the 14th Street Y. He was previously the managing editor of Zeek and the director of Artists Networks and Programming at the Makor/Steinhardt Center of the 92nd Street Y.