shemini atseres


Shemini, Sh’mini, or Shmini (שמיני — Hebrew for "eighth,” the third word, and the first distinctive word, in the parshah) is the 26th weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the third in the book of Leviticus. It constitutes Leviticus 9:1–11:47. Jews in the Diaspora read it the 25th or 26th Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in late March or April.

The parshah tells of the consecration of the Tabernacle, the death of Nadab and Abihu, and the dietary laws of kashrut.


God Consecrated the Tabernacle

On the eighth day of the ceremony to ordain the priests and consecrate the Tabernacle, Moses instructed Aaron to assemble calves, rams, a goat, a lamb, an ox, and a meal offering as sacrifices (called korbanot in Hebrew) to God, saying: “Today the Lord will appear to you." (Lev. 9:1–4.) They brought the korbanot to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and the Israelites assembled there. (Lev. 9:5.) Aaron offered the korbanot as Moses had commanded. (Lev. 9:8–21.) Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. (Lev. 9:22.) Moses and Aaron then went inside the Tent of Meeting, and when they came out, they blessed the people again. (Lev. 9:23.) Then the Presence of the Lord appeared to all the people and fire came forth and consumed the korbanot on the altar. (Lev. 9:23–24.) And the people shouted and fell on their faces. (Lev. 9:24.)

Nadab and Abihu

Acting on their own, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, laid incense on it, and offered alien fire, which God had not commanded. (Lev. 10:1.) And God sent fire to consume them, and they died. (Lev. 10:2.) Moses told Aaron, "This is what the Lord meant when He said: ‘Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people,’" and Aaron remained silent. (Lev. 10:3.) Moses called Aaron’s cousins Mishael and Elzaphan to carry away Nadab’s and Abihu’s bodies to a place outside the camp. (Lev. 10:4.) Moses instructed Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar not to mourn Nadab and Abihu and not to go outside the Tent of Meeting. (Lev. 10:6–7.)

And God told Aaron that he and his sons must not drink wine or other intoxicants when they entered the Tent of Meeting, so as to distinguish between the sacred and the profane. (Lev. 10:8–11.)

Moses directed Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar to eat the remaining meal offering beside the altar, designating it most holy and the priests’ due. (Lev. 10:12–13.) And Moses told them that their families could eat the breast of the elevation offering and the thigh of the gift offering in any clean place. (Lev. 10:14.)

Then Moses inquired about the goat of sin offering, and was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar when he learned that it had already been burned and not eaten in the sacred area. (Lev. 10:16–18.) Aaron answered Moses: "See, this day they brought their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord, and such things have befallen me! Had I eaten sin offering today, would the Lord have approved?" (Lev. 10:19.) And when Moses heard this, he approved. (Lev. 10:20.)

Dietary Laws

God then instructed Moses and Aaron in the dietary laws of kashrut (Lev. 11), saying: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:45.)

In early nonrabbinic interpretation

Leviticus chapter 10

Philo interpreted to teach that because Nadab and Abihu fearlessly and fervently proceeded rapidly to the altar, an imperishable light dissolved them into ethereal beams like a whole burnt-offering and took them up to heaven. (On Dreams 2:9:67.)

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Leviticus chapter 9

Rabbi Helbo taught that after ministered in the office of High Priest for the seven days of consecration, Moses imagined that the office was his, but on the seventh day (as indicated by ) God told Moses that the office belonged not to Moses but to his brother Aaron. (Leviticus Rabbah 11:6.)

Rabbi Tanhum taught in the name of Rabbi Judan that the words “for to-day the Lord appears to you” in indicated that God’s presence, the Shekhinah, did not come to abide in the Tabernacle all the seven days of consecration when Moses ministered in the office of High Priest, but the Shekhinah appeared when Aaron put on the High Priest's robes. (Leviticus Rabbah 11:6.)

Leviticus chapter 10

Bar Kappara said in the name of Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar that Nadab and Abihu died because of four things: (1) for drawing too near to the holy place, (2) for offering a sacrifice that they had not been commanded to offer, (3) for the strange fire that they brought in from the kitchen, and (4) for not having taken counsel from each other, as says “Each of them his censer,” implying that each acted on his own initiative. (Leviticus Rabbah 20:8.)

Leviticus chapter 11

Tractate Chullin in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Talmud interpreted the laws of kashrut in (Mishnah Chullin 1:1–12:5; Tosefta Chullin 1:1–10:16; Babylonian Talmud Chullin 2a–142a.)

A Midrash taught that Adam offered an ox as a sacrifice, anticipating the laws of clean animals in (Leviticus Rabbah 2:10.)


According to Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are 6 positive and 11 negative commandments in the parshah:

  • A Kohen must not enter the Temple with long hair.
  • A Kohen must not enter the Temple with torn clothes.
  • A Kohen must not leave the Temple during service.
  • A Kohen must not enter the Temple intoxicated.
  • To examine the signs of animals to distinguish between kosher and non-kosher
  • Not to eat non-kosher animals
  • To examine the signs of fish to distinguish between kosher and non-kosher
  • Not to eat non-kosher fish
  • Not to eat non-kosher fowl
  • To examine the signs of locusts to distinguish between kosher and non-kosher
  • To observe the laws of impurity caused by the eight insects
  • To observe the laws of impurity concerning liquid and solid foods
  • To observe the laws of impurity caused by a dead beast
  • Not to eat non-kosher creatures that crawl on land
  • Not to eat worms found in fruit on the ground
  • Not to eat creatures that live in water other than fish
  • Not to eat non-kosher maggots

(Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 2:131–99. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1984. ISBN 0-87306-296-5.)


The haftarah for the parshah is:

Both the parshah and the haftarah report efforts to consecrate the holy space followed by tragic incidents connected with inappropriate proximity to the holy space. In the parshah, Moses consecrated the Tabernacle, the home of the Ark of the Covenant while in the haftarah, David set out to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. Then in the parshah, God killed Nadab and Abihu “when they drew near” to the Ark while in the haftarah, God killed Uzzah when he “put forth his hand to the Ark.”

On Shabbat Parah

When the parshah coincides with Shabbat Parah (the special Sabbath prior to Passover — as it does in 2008, 2011, and 2014), the haftarah is:

  • for Ashkenazi Jews:
  • for Sephardi Jews:

On Shabbat Parah, the Sabbath of the red heifer, Jews read Numbers 19:1–22, which describes the rites of purification using the red heifer (parah adumah). Similarly, the haftarah in Ezekiel 36 also describes purification. In both the special reading and the haftarah in Ezekiel 36, sprinkled water cleansed the Israelites. ()

On Shabbat Machar Chodesh

When the parshah coincides with Shabbat Machar Chodesh (as it does in 2012 and 2015), the haftarah is

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:

  • (Nadab and Abihu).
  • Numbers 3:4 (Nadab and Abihu); 26:61 (Nadab and Abihu).
  • Deuteronomy 14:3–21 (kashrut).
  • Psalms 58:9 (snail); 102:7 (pelican).
  • Philo. Allegorical Interpretation 2:15:57–58, 26:104–05; 3:47:139–48:141, 49:144, 50:147; On Husbandry 30:131–35; On Drunkenness 32:126–27, 35:140–41; On the Migration of Abraham 12:64–69; Who Is the Heir of Divine Things? 49:238–40, 51:249–51; On Flight and Finding 11:59, 28:157; On Dreams, That They Are God-Sent 2:9:67; The Special Laws 2:8:33; 4:18:105–06, 20:110, 21:113–22:118, 36:191.Alexandria, Egypt, early 1st Century C.E.. Reprinted in, e.g., The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition. Translated by Charles Duke Yonge, 44, 49, 66–67, 185, 218–19, 259, 296, 298, 326, 335, 392, 571, 626–27, 635. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 1993. ISBN 0-943575-93-1.
  • Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 3:8:6–7; 8:8:4. Circa 93–94. Reprinted in, e.g., The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition. Translated by William Whiston, 92, 229. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 1987. ISBN 0-913573-86-8.
  • Mishnah: Sheviit 5:9, 7:4; Bikkurim 2:7, 11; Sotah 5:2; Menachot 5:6; Chullin 1:1–12:5. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 81, 84, 171–72, 455, 743, 765–87. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Tosefta: Berakhot 4:17; Demai 2:7; Sotah 5:13; Zevachim 8:25; Chullin 1:1–10:16; Parah 1:5. Land of Israel, circa 300 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:26, 85, 853; 2:1347, 1371–1405, 1746. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
  • Sifra 99:1–121:2:13. Land of Israel, 4th Century C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Sifra: An Analytical Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 2:121–229. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988. ISBN 1-55540-206-2.
  • Jerusalem Talmud: Peah 12b; Sheviit 55b. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vols. 3, 6b. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.
  • Leviticus Rabbah 1:8; 2:10; 10:4; 11:1–14:1; 20:4–5, 8–10; 26:1. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Leviticus. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, 4:12, 29, 125, 135–79, 257–62, 325. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Babylonian Talmud: Berakhot 53b, 61a; Shabbat 12a, 27a, 63b–64a, 83b–84a, 87b, 90b, 95b, 107a, 123b, 125a, 136a–b; Eruvin 13b, 28a, 63a, 87b, 104b; Pesachim 14a, 16a, 18a–b, 20b, 23a–b, 24b, 49b, 67b, 82b–83a, 91b; Yoma 2b–4a, 5b, 21b, 39a, 53a, 73b, 76b, 80a–b, 87a; Sukkah 25b; Beitzah 6b, 19a, 20a; Rosh Hashanah 16b; Taanit 15b, 17b, 26b; Megillah 9b, 10b, 18a; Moed Katan 2a, 13a–b, 14b–15b, 19b, 24a, 28b; Chagigah 11a, 19a, 22b, 24a, 26b; Yevamot 20b, 40a, 43a, 54a–b, 74b–75a, 87a, 114a; Ketubot 15a, 50a, 60a; Nazir 4a, 38a, 52a, 64a; Sotah 27b, 29a–b, 38a–b, 47a; Gittin 60a, 61b–62a, 68b; Kiddushin 30a, 59b, 80a; Bava Kamma 2a–b, 16a, 25b, 38a, 54a–b, 62b–63a, 64b, 76b–77a, 78a, 81a; Bava Metzia 22a, 61b, 90b; Bava Batra 9b, 66b, 80a, 91a, 97a; Sanhedrin 5b, 17a, 22b, 52a, 70b–71a, 83b, 107b, 108b; Makkot 3b, 11a, 13a, 16b; Shevuot 5a, 7a, 9b–10b, 14b, 18b, 23a, 36b; Avodah Zarah 40a, 47b, 68b; Horayot 4a; Zevachim 3a–b, 10b, 17b, 25b, 28a, 34a, 55a, 60a, 61b, 69b, 82a–b, 99b, 100b–01b, 105a, 115b; Menachot 23a, 29a, 39b, 59a, 62a, 70b, 93b, 96b, 101b; Chullin 2a–142a; Bekhorot 6a–7b, 9b, 15b, 16a, 38a, 45b, 51a; Keritot 4b, 13b, 15b, 21a, 22a; Meilah 16a–17b; Tamid 33b; Niddah 18a, 19b, 21a, 42b, 51a–b, 55b, 56a. Babylonia, 6th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.
  • Saadia Gaon. The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 10:15. Baghdad, Babylonia, 933. Translated by Samuel Rosenblatt, 396. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1948. ISBN 0-300-04490-9.
  • Judah Halevi. Kuzari. 3:31. Toledo, Spain, 1130–1140. Reprinted in, e.g., Jehuda Halevi. Kuzari: An Argument for the Faith of Israel. Intro. by Henry Slonimsky, 165. New York: Schocken, 1964. ISBN 0-8052-0075-4.
  • Maimonides. Guide for the Perplexed, 1:37; 3:46, 47, 48. Cairo, Egypt, 1190. Reprinted in, e.g., Moses Maimonides. The Guide for the Perplexed. Translated by Michael Friedländer, 53, 364, 367–68, 370. New York: Dover Publications, 1956. ISBN 0-486-20351-4.
  • Zohar 1:54a, 73b, 167b; 2:11b, 26b, 67a, 124b, 193a, 219b; 3:24b, 31b, 33a, 35a–42a, 127a, 190b. Spain, late 13th Century.
  • Louis Ginzberg. Legends of the Jews, 3:179–92. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1911.
  • Thomas Mann. Joseph and His Brothers. Translated by John E. Woods, 256–57, 348. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-4001-9. Originally published as Joseph und seine Brüder. Stockholm: Bermann-Fischer Verlag, 1943.
  • Jacob Milgrom. Leviticus 1-16, 3:569–742. New York: Anchor Bible, 1998. ISBN 0-385-11434-6.

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