Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Heirs of the Tribe of Levi, in a manner of speaking?

In my previous post, I speculated that perhaps the point of a priestly and "priests'-assistants" class (in Jewish tradition, Kohanim and Leviim, all members of the Tribe of Levi,) was to remove a certain number of men from the jobs pool and give them dignified but non-productive work so as to enable others to make a living.  This approach may have worked quite well in the days when society consisted largely of farmers and shepherds fighting (among themselves and/or with one another) over limited land.  It certainly doesn't work now, when relatively few people "live off the land" and most individuals must support themselves by other means, as unskilled laborers, skilled tradespeople, "service" workers (such as restaurant employees), office workers, businesspeople, technicians, professionals, etc.

But the idea that some people should be set aside for holy purposes has persisted to this day.  In both Western and Eastern religions, some men and women become priests, monks, or nuns.  In the Jewish community, some men (and, among the non-Orthodox, some women, as well), become rabbis and/or cantors.

In addition, among the Orthodox (and to some extent among the non-Orthodox), men (and, more recently, women as well, I'm happy to say) study long-term in institutions of higher Jewish education known variously as Yeshivot G'vahot/Yeshivot G'dolot/Advanced Yeshivot for men (please correct my transliteration if my grammar is incorrect), Midrashot for women (such as Drisha, Midreshet Lindenbaum, and Nishmat), and Kollelim.  Non-Orthodox Yeshivot G'dolot/Midrashot offering long-term study programs include, for example, Yeshivat Hadar and Pardes.

Rabbis, cantors, and those teaching in community kollelim have roles similar in some ways to the role of the Tribe of Levi in the wilderness and Temple times.  Serving community institutions is their long-term career, and they receive salaries from community institutions in return.

Those who study in kollel for life in non-community kollelim have a role that resembles that of the Tribe of Levi in ancient days, in that their studies are life-long, but, if I understand correctly, their role is different in that they provide little or no tangible service to the community, functioning more as perpetual students than as community scholars or leaders.  Unfortunately, the economy as it currently (mal)functions simply cannot support massive numbers of people who spend their entire adult lives learning rather than earning.  The days of the Kohanim and Leviim living off of tithes are gone, and even they, as Temple functionaries, worked for a living.


Blogger Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

But you do realize that Kohanim and Levi'im only worked in the Temple 2 weeks a years, right? The rest of the year they were back home working like everyone else.
Yes they had no tribal inheritance but they were granted 48 cities throughout Israel with surrounding land which they had to tend.
So yes, they functioned as teachers but also led productive lives.

Thu Jun 07, 03:37:00 PM 2012  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Garnel, I honestly don't know how much land surrounding the Levitical cities the Tribe of Levi was given. I assume that they did subsistence farming, and probably worked as merchants and/or tradespeople for more cash. (If I'm wrong and/or if you have further information, please post it.)

What the Tribe of Levi *didn't* get was a large chunk of contiguous land. In that regard, they were removed from the agricultural and/or shepherding labor, being quite restricted in how much land was available to them.

I see rabbis, cantors, and community-kollel folks as leading productive lives, in that their work contributes to the community. I may be wrong, but I don't see the life-term kollel students as people who contribute to the community, but rather, as ivory-tower students with only a limited idea of what's going on even in their own Jewish communities, more less other Jewish communities, much less the world at large.

Thu Jun 07, 07:32:00 PM 2012  
Blogger Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

First, the Torah states that all Levite cites have 2000-3000 (depends who you ask) cubits of land around the city for parks and agriculture. Further, they were not the only tribe to not have contiguous territory. Shimon received a smattering of cities within Yehudah but no distinct area of their own.
As for kollel students, look: go to the average university. There are lots of ivory tower people there who spend their entire lives in "research projects" but never actually get in touch with the society around them. But they are small in number and generally don't set the agenda for society at large. The kollel system needs to be adjusted to be like this: small number of dedicated learners who expand Torah knowledge while the vast majority actually work for a living.

Sun Jun 10, 02:41:00 PM 2012  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

How'd Shimon come up empty? Was that tribe so small?

Okay, having done an Internet search for "cubit," I now have the honor of trying to picture roughly how much land 3,000 lengths-of-a-forearm would be. Wish me luck. :)

Garnel, I agree with you that some people whose long-term career is that of a university researcher are as much "ivory-tower" people as are life-time kollel students, and also that society can only support a limited number of such people.

Sun Jun 10, 09:29:00 PM 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shimon and Levi were both Disowned by Jacob.

God picked up Levi, in exchange for the first born of the other tribes, but not Shimon.

Tue Jun 12, 09:49:00 AM 2012  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Indeed, Yaakov seems to have disowned Shim'on and Levi, who were "merely" defending the honor of their raped sister when their father didn't seem inclined to do so. (Not that anyone asked *her* what she wanted done.) But violence in the service of *G-d,* as when the Leviim attached the golden-calf worshippers, seems to have been a sure way to receive a reward. I'm not too happy about Pinchas, either.

Tue Jun 12, 11:22:00 AM 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although the Pinchas story contains the answer to question of why God elevated Levi and not Shim'on. The fact that it was a Shimonite Prince that entered into relations with the Moabite woman, and Pinchas, the levite, who skewered them strikes me as a retroactive judgement of Shim'on and Levi's motives - namely, that Levi was acting for his sister's (and his family's) honor, but Shim'on was just succumbing to his yetzer.

As for the problem of being rewarded for violence in the service of God, better that, than violence in the service of their fancy, I think. Both God's drawing the Levites near, and giving Pinchas his "covenant of peace" are a bit like the teacher who draws the problem pupil near to him, the better to manage his behavior.

Tue Jun 12, 09:25:00 PM 2012  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

That assumes that you accept the idea that "Levi was acting for his sister's (and his family's) honor, but Shim'on was just succumbing to his yetzer." I strongly prefer textual proof for interpretations such as this one.

"Both God's drawing the Levites near, and giving Pinchas his "covenant of peace" are a bit like the teacher who draws the problem pupil near to him, the better to manage his behavior." That's an interesting perspective.

Wed Jun 13, 05:46:00 PM 2012  

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