Kosher Queers

31 — Bamidbar: Misparim

May 21, 2020 Jaz Twersky and Lulav Arnow
Kosher Queers
31 — Bamidbar: Misparim
Kosher Queers
31 — Bamidbar: Misparim
May 21, 2020
Jaz Twersky and Lulav Arnow

This week, we discuss the ethics of counting, come up with some alternatives for the English word "tribe," and discover that the Torah believes in West Coast, Best Coast. Plus, we decide that two leaders are boyfriends just because.

Full transcript here.

You can buy Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde from your local independent bookstore. The etymology for the word "tribe" can be found here. You can also check out this report on nuclear waste signage. Also, we reference the Shrieking Shack briefly; they're "a Harry Potter re-read podcast for lapsed fans," which include us, as people who grew up with the books and the fandom and also cannot stand JK Rowling for many reasons (not least of which is the transmisogyny). Anyway, here's the episode we referenced. On a more serious note, you can also check out the results from the 2015 US Trans Survey, and the open letter from the National Center for Trans Equality's former staff on why they left.

Support us on Patreon! Send us questions or comments at, follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers, and like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers. Our music is by the band Brivele. This week, our audio was edited by Lulav Arnow and our transcript written by DiCo and Jaz. Our logo is by Lior Gross, and we are not endorsed by or affiliated with the Orthodox Union.

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Show Notes Transcript

This week, we discuss the ethics of counting, come up with some alternatives for the English word "tribe," and discover that the Torah believes in West Coast, Best Coast. Plus, we decide that two leaders are boyfriends just because.

Full transcript here.

You can buy Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde from your local independent bookstore. The etymology for the word "tribe" can be found here. You can also check out this report on nuclear waste signage. Also, we reference the Shrieking Shack briefly; they're "a Harry Potter re-read podcast for lapsed fans," which include us, as people who grew up with the books and the fandom and also cannot stand JK Rowling for many reasons (not least of which is the transmisogyny). Anyway, here's the episode we referenced. On a more serious note, you can also check out the results from the 2015 US Trans Survey, and the open letter from the National Center for Trans Equality's former staff on why they left.

Support us on Patreon! Send us questions or comments at, follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers, and like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers. Our music is by the band Brivele. This week, our audio was edited by Lulav Arnow and our transcript written by DiCo and Jaz. Our logo is by Lior Gross, and we are not endorsed by or affiliated with the Orthodox Union.

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Lulav: Hi Jaz.

Jaz: Hey Lulav. What cool or queer or Jewish things have you been up to this week?

Lulav: Oh no, I forgot to think about that.

(both laugh)

Lulav: What have I done this week? (Jaz laughs) Why don’t you tell me what cool or queer or Jewish things have happened to you this week first?

Jaz: (laughing) Okay I did think about this. I spent a good chunk of yesterday thinking about it in the afternoon — 

Lulav: Yeah? 

Jaz: Because I was like, I don’t know what I’m going to say. (Lulav laughs) What did I even do this week? What is time? But I do have an answer which is that I have sort of accidentally cultivated a group of friends in my life — 

Lulav: Yeah? 

Jaz: such that I now on Friday afternoons have a bunch of people who wish me Shabbat Shalom

Lulav: Aww. 

Jaz: So it’s like, a really nice way of marking time as I go about my life. And I have a group of friends who we have a little pre-Shabbat get together over Zoom, and yesterday, I facilitated a game like a trivia Kahoot for all of us, (Lulav giggles) where I put the trivia questions up on our shared screens and people pressed answers from their phones, and I had made a trivia about our friend group so it was things like, “Where did Alison go to college?”

Lulav: Oh, that’s cute.

Jaz: And “What’s Tori’s middle name?” and “Does Riki really like drinking tea? This one’s a true/false.” (Lulav laughs) It was really great and really fun and my group of friends is pretty Jewish and pretty queer so it was like, a nice thing.

Lulav: Cool.

Jaz: I have one more thing to mention, I guess, which is that I’ve started reading Audre Lorde recently.

Lulav: Oooh fun. I don’t know about fun but. (chuckles)

Jaz: Well, I’ve never read any of her writing before and I meant to read some of it earlier this year, and then life kind of caught up with me and anyway, so I’m starting it now. And yesterday there was like a kind of lovely synergy becasue earlier in the day, I wrote some gay poetry and then later in the day I picked up the book and the next essay in Sister Outsider was an essay called “Poetry is Not a Luxury.”

Lulav: Awww.

Jaz: It’s really beautiful and lovely and I recommend that essay to anybody.

Lulav: Cool, can you give the thesis of it basically?

Jaz: Yeah, it’s about how poetry is a way to capture feelings and the heart of yourself and how — 

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: white male society has prioritized this idea of I think, therefore I am, and she put it some other beautiful way. I meant to have the quote here in front of me and don't — one second. Yeah, so the quote goes, "The white fathers told us: 'I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free.' Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom.”

Lulav: Cool.

Jaz: Yeah, it was lovely.

Lulav: Yeah, the thing about poetry expressing true things that might not otherwise be expressed — I got sent an erotic Shakespearean sonnet recently and the way that it was phrased, even though I had talked to this person quite a lot, the way that it was phrased revealed some new perspectives on some interactions that we have that was really touching, so I know how that goes.

Jaz: That sounds like a lovely experience.

Lulav: It was great. Thank you for sharing.

Jaz: Your turn.

Lulav: Yeah, you know how Shabbat involves sundown?

Jaz: Uh huh.

Lulav: Well on Thursday, which is not the day that leads into Shabbat, I had a date with my partner Tova and we were gonna try and watch the sunset off of the same bridge that we watched the sunrise the first night we got together. It was going to be all romantic and stuff, but then we just took a while getting back to my place, and so by the time we were out on the bridge, it was already sundown, (Jaz chuckles) but it was nice to just sit and recenter ourselves from being distant to being very close physically and just like, look at the arc of our relationship and have a nice night together, so.

Jaz: Sweet.

Lulav: That was really fun. Yeah, I haven't really gone outside for anything else, tThough Xava, from Xai, How are You, is hosting a beit midrash on Sunday that I hopefully will be able to attend.

Jaz: Yeah, me too. I was saying to Xava yesterday that I keep texting my friends as if I'm going to run into them (Lulav chuckles) to be like, hey, are you also coming to Xava's thing? (laughs)

Lulav: Good.

Jaz: So maybe we'll talk about that next week, after we've actually, you know, gone to it.

Lulav: Yeah! Thank you for making me one of those friends, because otherwise I would have executive dysfunctioned out of doing it or even knowing that it was a thing that I could do.

Jaz: Yeah. So, real excited.

Lulav: Yeah. Do you want to get started?

Jaz: Yes, I do (laughs)

[Brivele theme music]

Lulav: Welcome to Kosher Queers, a podcast with at least two Jews and generally more than three opinions. Each week we bring you queer takes on Torah. They're Jaz.

Jaz: And she's Lulav.

Lulav: And today we're going to talk about Bamidbar.

Jaz: Or, the wilderness. Or, Numbers, if you gotta speak English.

Lulav: Ugh. (Jaz laughs) I mean, there are a lot of numbers.

Jaz: (laughs) There are a lot of numbers. (Lulav chuckles) I appreciate a little bit that like, the Jewish interpreters of this were like, well, it's about their time wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and also wilderness is one of the first few words, so that's what we're going to call it, and the Christians were like, man, there sure are a lot of numbers huh? (both laugh)

Lulav: Good.

Jaz: Anyway. So we're starting a new book.

Lulav: Yeah! How many seconds do you want on the timer?

Jaz: Um, looking at my summary, I didn't check how long this was going to be.

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: I don't know. Try 30 seconds?

Lulav: Okay. 3, 2, 1, go.

Jaz: G-d has Moshe take a census that’s also a draft, by tribe, and apparently all the tribes come in neat exact groups of 50. (Lulav laughs) There are so many people from the tribe of Judah. Then we count them again, to group the tribes into four big groups, North, South, East, and West. The Levites are Avatar of all four locations, and aren’t part of the draft, so they have a separate census, where they do not come in neat groups of 50 and also it turns out that there’s way fewer of them. There’s a breakdown within the Levites of who belongs to which family and has which super holy or less holy roles. Moshe pays G-d some cash and cattle because there’s not quite enough Levites, and we end with yet another census and the Kohathites play a fun game of “don’t touch the holy object or you’ll die.” Done.

Lulav: So that was 10 seconds over. (laughs)

Jaz: Oh my G-d. Yeah. I was like, I guess there's not a timer ringing? Weird.

Lulav: Yeah, because of different technological stuff, now that Jaz is at their mothers' house, we have to do this over the phone and so my headphones are plugged into my phone and I'm the only one who heard the timer. (laughs)

Jaz: Ohh. Got it, okay.

Lulav: But yeah, valiant effort. You got it under 45, which is what we were doing for most of Vayikra.

Jaz: (laughs) Anyway.

Lulav: And uh, yeah that's a good summary! It hits a lot of the things that I want to zoom in on. So why don't you get us started?

Jaz: Okay. We have this beginning. G-d speaks to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai and says to take a census. My translation renders it as "take a census of the whole Israelite community" and then parenthetically "of fighters" by the clans of its ancestral houses.

Lulav: That's fair. I think that's editorializing?

Jaz: Well, so they note why they have it like that.

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: Which is that the word there that they're translating as company is edah and in some places, that's translated as community but can also be translated in a whole bunch of different contexts as assembly, company, band, or faction.

Lulav: Mmm.

Jaz: And they wanted to be clear that here, where it notes that they only want men over the age of 20 who are able to bear arms, that it's a little bit more precise to refer to it in slightly more military terminology.

Lulav: Oh, okay, so this is "kol edah b'nai ysrael?"

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: That totally makes sense, especially because I wanted to talk about the word that we generally render as “tribe,” but I don't like that, for several reasons.

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: So yeah, I wanted to talk about how we could translate it better.

Jaz: Hmm. Can you talk about why you don't like it?

Lulav: Yeah! So it comes via Latin and it means, like, a three-parted being, potentially? Basically one of the three political or ethnic divisions of the original Roman state. So there's the fact that it's a Latin word —

Jaz: Lots of words in English are Latin words!

Lulav: I know, I know, that's not the entire thing. If it were just that, I would probably be fine. But there's also the fact that tribe is usually a word used to refer to like, groups of people who you think are inferior? Etymonline has a quote from the 1590s that says it's a "a division of a barbarous race of people, usually distinguishable in some way from their congeners, united into a community under a recognized head or chief." So like —

Jaz: Yeeess, but it also notes that the place we got tribe from is here, “one of the twelve divisions of the ancient Hebrews.”

Lulav: In English!

Jaz: Yeah, in English.

Lulav: And I think that's fair, but the way that, if there are natives of a place, they have “tribes”, they don't have like, “clans” or “states” or whatever.

Jaz: Mm. You think it starts overlapping with ideas of indigeneity?

Lulav: With ideas of colonialism… 

Jaz: Mm.

Lulav: I mean, the entire thing is that these are words we are using in English which have been translated through a bunch of different languages. It's like, as far as I can tell, the way that Christians, like old French Christians and English Christians were talking about the big ancestral houses of Israel.

Jaz: Mm. As opposed to Jews specifically.

Lulav: As opposed to a word that we as Jews figured out in English.

Jaz: Fair enough. And that they applied it to ancient Jewish peoples and then also to the peoples that they colonized.

Lulav: Yeah. That's just the problem that I have with it.

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: So I was looking at the Hebrew because I am not nearly as good at it as you are and I found that tribe is the word “mateh,” which I think is translated as staff, like the staff that a shepherd would carry.

Jaz: Hmm. Sorry, where did you find that?

Lulav: I was looking at the places where the word tribe is used specifically in the English translation, which is line 4 of Bamidbar 1, and… ah, line 16. And so I just read through those entire things and figured out where a similar word was being used and in both cases it was some conjugations of mateh, so I looked up mateh and it said that means staff in like, one or two Google previews that I could see.

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: And then, there's another word used for the staves of Israel, which translates to rod, like the rod that shepherds use.

Jaz: Mm hmm.

Lulav: I think a lot of this is just like, these are the shepherding groups or like, they are led by a nasi who holds a rod to guide people? I'm not sure what's going on here.

Jaz: Mm.

Lulav: How would you want to say what traditionally in English gets translated as tribe?

Jaz: That's a good question.

Lulav: And it's okay if you say you just want to do it as “tribe.”

Jaz: You know, I have some attachment — not strongly, I'd be open to thinking about it more and coming to a different conclusion for a different word — but I have some instinctive attachment to the word tribe, especially as it conveys this idea of groups of people who are organized more by familial connection and relationship and with some amount of inherited position, that it is explicitly not a nation-state and that it is explicitly not just a family, it's also a political unit, so thinking of it as a unit that is many different things makes sense to me.

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: But I also do have here, once we move on to talking about the groups themselves, the 12 of them, they do refer to them they refer to the whole of the people as b'nei Ysrael and then for each group, you have basically like, b’nai Gad or b'nai Rueben.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Descendents of, or the children of, the person who began their group, and so you could use that type of terminology too, and that seems right to me also.

Lulav: Yeah. So the segue I took to get here was off of you talking about how community is used in a particularly military sense.

Jaz: Mm hmm.

Lulav: The sense that I am getting is that mateh is a word only used in military contexts and that ancestral house, beit av, is what's actually the group of extended families that all are wandering together, and there's some stuff later when talking about Levites that confuses that a little bit, (page turning noise) but my impression, juts from how this travels, is take a census of the whole fighting community of Israel. You'll record them by their groups, all those who are able to bear arms, and then associated with you shall be a man from each of these staffs, each one the head of his ancestral house.

Jaz: Mm. That is actually fairly close to how my translation renders it. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: That we have this note of like, you're counting all of them, each of them has a representative and we get their names, like, it says, "From Reuben, Elizer son of Shadur" and that sort of thing and then when we get to like, 1:16, my translation renders that line as "Those are the elected of the assembly, the chieftains of their ancestral tribes: they are the heads of the contigents of Israel." So it does use the word tribe here, but I think your point stands.

Lulav: Yeah. I think what they're doing here, the reason we're going into all this is we're making a military gathering and the way that we are splitting that up is by the ancestral houses that you're in.

Jaz: Mm. Okay. 

Lulav: If that is not your interpretation, that's cool. 

Jaz: Oh, I do think we're making a military gathering, Like, explicitly.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: I think they're like and this one's going to be the left flank and this one’s going to be the right flank. But first we have to count how many people are in each one, so that we can divide it up. Because we get two counts, right. So first, we get this bit where they do "of the houses of Simeon,” they list all these people and say there is 59,300 people.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: And then you have the ones of Gad and then there's 45,650 people. We go through 11 of these (Lulav chuckles) with specific numbers, and the numbers do vary. Like, all of the groups are not the same size.  

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: Judah is big, with 74,600 and then I think the smallest one of these 11 is Menasse. 

Lulav: Oh. 

Jaz: with 32,200. 

Lulav: Oh, who's one of the brothers. 

Jaz: Yeah. But Ephraim is the other brother, and he's got 8,000 more. 

Lulav: Yeah. Though it's interesting, because this is all coming from the same level of descent, so Yosef has like 72.700 descendents, which is only trumped by Judah. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: So, a question I have here is are there 13, what we've traditionally called tribes? 

Jaz: 12. There's 12. 

Lulav: Okay. 

Jaz: You said 13! 

Lulav: So, hmm. When we talk about 13, are the Levites part of that? 

Jaz: Yeah! Look, we have Simeon, Gad, Judah, Issachar, Zebulon —

Lulav: Oh, you skipped Reuben.  

Jaz: I did. Okay. Wait. One two three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Hmm. This is a really good question. I counted them earlier (Lulav laughs) but I counted them maybe wrong so. 

Lulav: Yeah there are definitely 12 divisions here.

Jaz: Mm hmm.

Lulav: And I think that’s the word I’m going to use — divisions —  

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: Because it’s literally being divided or whatever.

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: So when we’re talking about ancestral houses, is Levi included in that as one of like 13 ancestral houses or is Yosef’s family just again being twice blessed the way that Yosef was through like the entirety of Shemot?

Jaz: Pitch me that one again. I don’t understand the question.

Lulav: Okay, you know how Yosef got preferential treatment like all the time?

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: Is this another thing where he’s getting preferential treatment, like there are two divisions from his descendants? 

Jaz: (laughs) Maybe? I’m going to have to take a little bit of your usual cynicism here and be like, maybe they just split later.

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: I don’t know history that tracks that but I wonder — the Levites are definitely kept separate from everybody else because they don’t fight. When there are marching orders, everyone else is in their division, and the Levites are not one of them, so it does feel a little bit like they get a special role, but not so much the descendants of Joseph get a special role, you know?

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: They just have two groups instead of one, and I guess that’s a special thing, but they’re not set apart for any special duties in a way that the Levites are.

Lulav: Okay so three more questions on this part and then that’s most of the questions I have for this entire parsha. 

Jaz: Okay, that’s most of the parsha too. (Lulav laughs) Because once they’ve said how many people are like b’nei Gad, b’nei Ephraim, then we just do a repetition again, but this time by military units, so. 

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: These three groups went together, and these three groups went together, and these were the south troops, and this was the west troop and so we just get some grouping after that.

Lulav: Yeah, so my first question is do you think Elishama son of Ammihud and Gamaliel son of Pedahzur are boyfriends?

Jaz: What? I’m down but why?

Lulav: There’s no textual basis for this whatsoever, (Jaz laughs) But also what are the reasons that there is a division between the Ephramites and the Manassites might be that like they didn’t just want one of them - it was like no we have to both go, because we are slightly competitive boyfriends.

Jaz: Oh my G-d, that’s very cute.

Lulav: Absolutely no textual basis for this.

Jaz: They are pretty small groups, they could have been just one group.

Lulav: So my second question is, I know there’s Rabban Gamaliel, but do you know of anyone else who has been named in the last 1500 years after these chieftains or their dad?

Jaz: Uh, this is like a really good question. There’s a lot of chieftains here. (Lulav laughs) I did note there’s this one over here — Nachshon from Judah —  

Lulav: Yeah!

Jaz: I don’t know if that’s the same Nachshon who is like the first person to the sea but maybe and if so, it seems possible there have been other people named Nachshon because that was like a — 

Lulav: Oh yeah, that’s fair.

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: And that was my third question. Is it THAT Nachshon? (laughs).

Jaz: I don’t know but there seems to be no reason it couldn’t be? 

Lulav: Yeah. This is the same generation.

Jaz: It’s the same generation; these are the people who went through the sea. They only went through it like a year ago. (Lulav laughs) And this Nachshon is a leader. Actually the first time we get the name Nachshon in the text 

Lulav: Oh!

Jaz: So Nafschon, the story we know about him as stepping first in the sea, comes from later. It’s a midrashic story.

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: The midrash might have gotten it from here. They might have wanted somebody who was explicitly linked with Judah.

Lulav: Yeah, because in Ysrael’s deathbed poem right? He promised that Yehudah would be the brave one with all the accolades.

Jaz: Well, and then most of later Jewish history is connected to this particular group because ten of them are destroyed out of these ancestral houses.

Lulav: Oh. Wait really?

Jaz: Post-Torah

Lulav: Wild. So that was all three of my questions about this particular part. WHere do you want to pick up again?

Jaz: Okay, so after they've all been divided into groups, there's this note about the LEvites were not recorded among this particular censuses because G-d had given Moshe particular instructions about how the Levites will be responsible, instead, for the mishkan.

Lulav: Mm hmm

Jaz: And whenever the whole company is moving, the Levites are responsible for moving the mishkan and nobody else is allowed in. They camp encircled around it and everybody else is in their own troupe. Unclear to me a little bit if it's by ancestral house or like, by the north-south-east-west division. Maybe both. (page turning noises)

Lulav: So, it says under the banners of their ancestral house, so I think the divisions are camping and then you group it together, three divisions to each side.

Jaz: Yeah. They also, of note, do have flags. They march under their own flags.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: The midrash suggests that the flags were embroidered and the midrash also believed that other nations learned of the institution of colored flags from Israel, which is very funny. (Lulav laughs) Like, we invited flags. I don't know if they had any evidence to make this assertion, but they did believe it.

Lulav: Amazing.

Jaz: Yeah, it's very cute. And then there's more instructions specific to the priests. THere's like a side note about Nadab and Abihu would have been priests but they died (Lulav laughs) so it was their younger brothers, Elazar and Ithamar, who became priests.

Lulav: Mm hmm. So, pause and rewind a little bit.

Jaz: K.

Lulav: When we look at the sons of each of these flanks, the front flank, which is going to hit combat first, is Yehuda, Issachar and Zebulon, and they have the largest flank by tens of thousands of dudes and then the one on the est, which is the tiniest is Binyamin and the two sons of Yosef, (Jaz chuckles) so... favoritism! Love it!

Jaz: The Torah believes in West Coast, Best Coast?

(Lulav chokes dramatically and Jaz laughs)

Lulav: I think we have previously shared that my perspective on the favoristm is that there's actually no reason for it. (Jaz laughs) Midwest, mid-best. (Jaz laughs) Okay.

Jaz: Nice try.

Lulav: (laughs) Yeah. So that was just an interesting thing with the numbers.

Jaz: Yeah. The other thing that is worth noting a little bit is they do all give the numbers of how many people there are in units of 100 or at most 50.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: It looks like they rounded it. (Lulav laughs) You know? Which is a very fair thing to do, but it does give the numbers like that, which is very funny, later on, because then we get to the Levites and G-d says this thing about what the Levites are going to do. They're going to work in the mishkan and they're going to be sort of symbolically dedicated to G-d the way that one might have traditionally thought of the first-borns as dedicated to G-d.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: And so G-d asks (echoing voice), "Check how many there are," and within Levi, there’s these other sub-houses of Gershon, Kohath, and Merari and then they list their children. There's like, lots of little subdivisions within here and they, a bunch of them have different roles, like some of them are taking care of the ark and the table and the lampstand and the altars —

Lulav: And those hooks, those silver hooks.

Jaz: Uh huh. And they note there are 22,000 Levite males. This isn't a military one, so it's not over the age of 20, it's any boy over the age of one month old.

Lulav: Yeah. So that's miniscule.

Jaz: It's tiny. They're so small as a group. (Lulav laughs) Everybody else is much larger. Sorry, no, I said that wrong. They have 22,000 exactly, those people, then they go and count all of the first borns and they get a different specific number, not a rounded number and that number is 22,273.

Lulav: Yeah. So then we have a little bit of extra accounting here that talks about the redemption price. Jaz, do you remember when G-d was like, all the first born are mine?

Jaz: Yes?

Lulav: I incorrectly remembered it as all the first born are mine but the human first born you just don't do anything with, but apparently what it is is Exodus 13:13, the latter half of the line, every firstborn male among your children you shall redeem.

Jaz: Mm hmm.

Lulav: So apparently that means you traded sheep for your first born.

Jaz: You pay G-d.

Lulav: What's up?

Jaz: You pay G-d for the use of your first born.

Lulav: Yeah. Which I had been missing this entire time.

Jaz: I don't think it's come up much before.

Lulav: Yeah, fair. (laughs0 And so the Levites are the payment to G-d in exchange for all of the first born, right?

Jaz: Yes. But there's not quite enough of them (Lulav chuckles) because all of the first borns in total are this 22,273 and the Levites only have 22,000 flat, so they're a couple hundred short, (Lulav chuckles) and so they have to pay extra for those extra couple hundred.

Lulav: Yeah, just a little bit of extra money for the priesthood.

Jaz: Yeah, this is very funny because it suggests that all of those other numbers, that we were like, “those are probably rounded,” were exact numbers.

Lulav: (gasps) It does! Jaz! Oh no!

Jaz: Why did they have exact numbers like? That's so weird. Right, and then they give specific instructions for a separate census of this group, the Kohaites, among the Levites, who do extra tasks (Lulav chuckles) and their extra tasks are specifically the most sacred objects which nobody else can handle and even then they don't come in direct contact with it. They have to pick them up through things, like that cursed object in Harry Potter which if you touch it, you die.

Lulav: Oh....

Jaz: Sorry! (Lulav sighs heavily) That is the parallel!

Lulav: (sarcastically) Thanks. We have as always been listening to the Shrieking Shack and that was five episodes ago I think?

Jaz: Yeah! That's why it's on my mind.

Lulav: So thanks for this curse, Jaz. (laughs)

Jaz: Anyway, if you touch the cursed thing, or in this case the blessed thing (Lulav laughs) you die, so you have to touch in indirectly and that way it won't kill you.

Lulav: But then, also the wild thing is the last line of this parsha. Can you read that for us?

Jaz: Uh huh. The last line is "But let not the Kohathites go inside and witness the dismantling of the sanctuary lest they die.”

Lulav: So the people who are supposed to carry all of the sacred objects can't watch the sacred objects being covered. They have to trust their cousins to wrap it up all correct.

Jaz: Yes.

Lulav: And then they carry it.

Jaz: Yes.

Lulav: Is there anything that we as learners can take from this remove?

Jaz: Well (sigh)... 

Lulav: Are you not sensing anything? Because I'm not sensing anything.

Jaz: I don't know. I mean, I would love to hear more interpretations and see what's been said about it. I think there's something to be said about you hold a huge amount of respect for powerful things within your midst, that you treat them really carefully

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: And also figure out how to best divide up work in a safe way. I guess this is not like, a holy point, but it does remind me a little bit of how people have tried to set up signs for nuclear waste.

Lulav: (chuckles) Nothing of honor is buried here. (laughs)

Jaz: Yeah, like what it means to try to communicate that.

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: And to try to communicate this is really dangerous, please be careful with it. ANd I guess the other thing it reminds me of is valuing different people’s skills. Like, they divide up the different types of tasks because they're a community and communities are inter-reliant on each other and they can't —

Lulav: (gasps) Ooh, yeah. That's a really good point. Thank you.

Jaz: Do you have anything else?

Lulav: No, I think we're good.

Jaz: Well, before we wrap up, I actually wanted to sort of do a side note, because this parsha is so much about the census.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: And we're in a census year. Lulav, how do you feel about censuses?

Lulav: So, really paranoid.

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: Especially because we are living in a horrifying fascist regime.

Jaz: Mm hmm.

Lulav: Wait, sorry, were you asking me about censuses in general, or the US census?

Jaz: Ah, both of those things.

Lulav: Okay. So, apparently it is illegal for anybody who isn't immediately involved in the census to access census data, so the fact that they're explicitly recording where everybody lives and what ethnicity they are — I have gotten okay enough with it that I filled out the census, is what I will say about that, but I still do worry that explicit information about people can be used to bad ends by bad actors in power.

Jaz: Mm.

Lulav: How do I feel about censuses generally... It's nice to know how many people there are and who needs help, based on the number of people there are? What are your thoughts, Jaz?

Jaz: I think in general, one of the things I appreciate about this parsha is it has this emphasis on the census and this stand up and be counted type of thing, because I do think being counted is really important, and I do think that censuses can be really important.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: And by default, my attitude towards the census is pretty positive, in that I think the way that we back up the things we might know as a community but only have anecdotal data for is to be able to have hard data and numbers —

Lulav: Yeah

Jaz: to back stuff up and there's value in being able to say, hey, this is a predominantly Black neighborhood and it's a predominantly lower income neighborhood, and see, we can point to the data on this one. Or hey, this is how many trans people there are, this is our average rate of education, you know, like, this bill would impact x number of people probably, and that's why it's worth putting money into. 


Lulav: I don't remember being asked a question about —

Jaz: It's not.

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: You were about to say there's not a trans question on the US census?

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: There isn't one. Yeah, You are correct.

Lulav: (laughs) Oh, hot tip for anybody who is submitting things for the census and is nonbinary, you can skip any question by pressing the submit answer button twice.

Jaz: Oh, that's fun.

Lulav: Cuz like, based solely on the UI, it looks like you have to answer male or female, and that is not actually true.

Jaz: Got it. The US census is also currently set up with binary options, which is also, like, a whole mess legally, because there are states that recognize —

Lulav: Yup!

Jaz: Like, there are legally nonbinary people also (Lulav chuckles) who couldn't even be counted, should they want to be. So, I think that the census could do a lot of good and I am really in favor of having a lot of information. I also know of a huge number of problems with it, with the US one in particular, ranging from, yeah, look at how it handles gender to do we trust the government with different information to do you know that it counts incarcerated people in the place where they're incarcerated and not the place where they came from?
National Center for Transgender Equality
Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: Which is bad, because it gives more power to the people who are incarcerating them? Anyway, there was a survey about five years ago.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: The US transgender survey, which was intended to be like a census of the US trans population.

Lulav: Oh yeah.

Jaz: Really cool. I'll link to some of the things that they found. They had thousands of participants and lots of really interesting information. And there was supposed to be a second one in 2020, to be even more extensive and with a follow up and whatever.

Lulav: Cool!

Jaz: It was really cool. I was very excited about it. (Lulav chuckles) The organization organizing it kind of fell apart?

Lulav: Oh no.

Jaz: It was organized by the National Center for Transgender Equality, and in 2019, while they were definitely well in the process of organizing this 2020 survey, the organization kind of fell apart because of the racism of its leaders and like 2/3rds of its staff left and they published like an open letter to leadership saying they were doing really good work but the leadership needed to go, and anyway, so there probably isn't going to be one. It looks like they've taken down all mention of a 2020 survey.

Lulav: Okay. 

Jaz: But it did seem like a very cool project and I hope that something like it comes back eventually.

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: I would love to see a follow up in maybe, you know, 2025, ten years after the previous one.

Lulav: Yeah, that would be cool. With, you know, less racist organizers.

Jaz: Yeah, yeah. The staff seemed rad.

Lulav: Thanks for talking about that.

Jaz: Yeah. Are we ready to rate the parsha?

Lulav: Oh right, we’re supposed to do that! Yes!

Jaz: So welcome to Rating G-d’s Writing, the segment where we pick two scales and we rate the parsha on it.  Lulav out of 2,000 — nope. out of 22,000 — 

Lulav: There you go.

Jaz: - Holy priests, many priests would you rate this parsha? Some of the priests can be infants.

Lulav: Hmm, I would rate this parsha 19,549 to a) indicate that there are some rounding errors in the total that you gave me and b) it was militarily focused parsha which as somebody who has grown up with a bunch of strategy games, my like, gamer brain logs on and that’s fun to read about but also they’re getting ready to slaughter a bunch of people and take their land, so that sucks.

Jaz: These people aren’t, to be fair. These people just got out of Egypt and will be in the desert for another 38 years.

(Lulav laughs)

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: But yeah they are setting up systems to — yeah.

Lulav: So yeah there was a lot to talk about and it was interesting seeing the divisions of mishpacha and beit av and mateh like what all those divisions meant with respect to each other. So yeah 19,549 is I think how many bois I rated this parsha.

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: Jaz, out of 603,550 bois, which is all of them, how much would you rate this parsha?

Jaz: I would rate this parsha —  

Lulav: I was going to ask you how old is your son who got counted for the census, but that’s too abstract. (laughs)

Jaz: Thank you. Have you ever shown restraint before?

(Lulav laughs)

Jaz: This is a nice scale that I can deal with. Okay. I would give it 36,000, I felt only fine about it. It was fine.

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: There’s good stuff in it 

Lulav: So just to clarify, you are rating this like 5%?

Jaz: Oh, I meant to do it higher than that.

Lulav: 360,000?

Jaz: Thank you. 

Lulav: Okay

Jaz: Sure. So I didn’t have a strong orientation towards strategy games. I don’t love war-oriented things and I also don't love — like, I think that numbers and data can be like, really important but that’s not how I process moral leadership.

Lulav: Fair.

Jaz: And how I think about the right way to make decisions, and so I’m down with what it’s doing here, but I was frustrated with it that that’s all that’s happening.

Lulav: So, Jaz, would you like to mosey on over to The Continuity Corner?

Jaz: Yes, but before we do, I just remembered a thing that I meant to say earlier.

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: Which is the reason that they count people at one month and up?

Lulav: Infant mortality?

Jaz: No, it’s because they’re not people until then. I mean, this may be related to infant mortality, (Lulav chuckles) and therefore, they’re just not considered people yet unless they make it which I think must be a thing that switches around later because we start getting you know different covenantal stuff and things around being eight days old and whatever, but there is this note about Christianity likes to interpret things like “You’re alive from conception” and this one is like, listen, you're not even alive when you’re born.

Lulav: Yeah, I think that’s when you start to consider someone a person rather than just alive. Is that a fair distinction, do you think?

Jaz: Yes, yeah.

Lulav: So.

Jaz: Yeah, so in episode 27, we had a note about the crimson stuff. Lulav, do you remember the context in which we were talking about the crimson stuff?

Lulav: Yeah, when you’re making bird bouquets, one of the things you need is crimson stuff, “the crimson” basically. 

Jaz: Right. 

Lulav: And I thought that meant crimson roving. 

Jaz: Yes, so DiCo went back to see if “the crimson” was the same as “the red stuff” that Jacob sells to Esau for his birthright. 

Lulav: (Redneck voice) “Give me some of that red stuff!”

Jaz: Right. But it’s not the same thing, they’re different colors. But he looked into it further and said that Rashi has a comment on this verse “vishnei tola’at azuv” “and crimson and hyssop” — what is the remedy that he should use that he may be healed? Is the translation there.  And Rashi is suggesting that instead you read “tola’at,” crimson, as a worm, and you read the verse kind of as, “Let this person, abandoning pride, regard themselves as lowly as a worm and as hyssop.” So you have that combination instead

Lulav: Wonderful. And then the truly wild stuff

Jaz: And then DiCo was like, I’m going to run with that! And gave us a whole new take on t which I’m really enjoying. He goes, “So my question is, is it really possible that it wasn’t to bring “crimson stuff” at all but was to bring a worm? I kind of like the idea of dipping a live worm in bird’s blood.” (Lulav laughs) Because often a live bird sheds a worm’s blood. It’s like acting out the circle of life backwards to dip a worm in bird’s blood. And actually if it is a worm, that makes the other two items make more sense, too. Cedar wood is where the bird lives, hyssop is where the bird looks for food (according to Google, birds eat seeds left on hyssop stalks) and worms are what the bird ate directly. This is like a this-is-your-life ritual for the dead bird.”

Lulav: (laughs) Amazing. Thank you so much, DiCo. Jaz, can you take us to the close?

Jaz: Yeah, thanks for listening to Kosher Queers! If you like what you’ve heard, you can support us on Patreon at, which will give you bonus content and help us keep making this for you. You can also follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers or like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers, or email us your questions, comments, and concerns at, and please spread the word about our podcast! Our artwork is by the talented Lior Gross. Our music is courtesy of the fabulous band Brivele, whose work you can find on Bandcamp. Go buy their album, they’re great. Our sound production this week is done by my lovely co-host, Lulav Arnow.

Lulav: You must construct additional pylons. Our full transcripts, as with every episode, are done by DiCo and Jaz and definitely accessible through our episode descriptions on Buzzsprout!

Jaz: I’m Jaz Twersky and you can find me @WordNerdKnitter on Twitter. I recorded this audio on the traditional lands of the Ohlone people. 

Lulav: I’m Lulav Arnow and you can find me @spacetrucksix on Twitter, or yell at me @palmliker! I recorded this audio on the traditional lands of the Wahpékute and Anishinaabeg.

Jaz and Lulav: Have a lovely queer Jewish day!

[Brivele outro music]

Jaz: This week's gender is: an insufficient number of radio buttons.

Lulav: This week's pronouns are: not applicable.