The People of the Book

This month on the 20th of Teves was the anniversary of the printing of the first volume of the Talmud, and also marks about a year from the last celebration, siyum, of the completion of the study of the Talmud by Daf Yomi (a folio a day).  One of the hallmarks of Jewish life throughout the ages has been a passion for study.  This characteristic is so marked that for ...

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The Siege of Jerusalem

The Jewish calendar includes six days of fasting.  Four of these days are linked to the destruction of the Temples and the exile of the Jewish people.  These will be the focus of the following chapter.  The other two, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, and the Fast of Esther, Ta’anit Esther, will be considered along with the holidays to which they are closely related: Yom Kippur with the High ...

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Ideological Warfare

I would like to address an aspect of Chanukah which I think is a little misunderstood. Chanukah is very popular, and I think this popularity is due to many people having a misconception about it. They look at it as some type of 4th of July, some type of fight or struggle to Jewish independence, or a struggle for the Jewish people to have a freedom, and so on and ...

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The Spiritual Battle

The underlying theme of the conflict between the Jews and the Greeks is the clash between two diametrically opposed worldviews.  [In the Jewish view of reality, everything in the physical world is a reflection of the spiritual.  A physical conflict is a superficial manifestation of a deeper spiritual conflict.]  There are, of course, many points of contention between Jewish tradition and Greek philosophy.  The spiritual essence of the Judeo-Greek conflict ...

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Chanukah Background

Chanukah begins in a short time so here is a little historical introduction to the Chanukah festival, to which we will hopefully add some spiritual insights in the coming weeks. Approximately 200 years before the events of Chanukah, hundreds of thousands of Jews returned from the Babylonian exile to the Land of Israel.  In time, they rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem and established an independent Jewish monarchy.  Meanwhile in Greece, after ...

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The Tragedy of Translation

As we enter the month of Kislev, and the weather turns colder, we start thinking about Chanukah, menorahs, latkes and donuts.  Some of us, of the more nerdy variety, start to think of Philo Judeaus, the Septuagint, Alexandria and Greek tragedies.  One aspect of the Greek opposition to Torah was their objection to the idea that any one people could be “chosen” or have a Divine revelation.  Their campaign against ...

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It’s Night and Day

With the long winter nights now starting so early, I have started to think about day and night and their significance in Jewish thought.  We know that in secular law, the calendar day starts and ends at midnight, however, in Jewish tradition the day starts the evening beforehand. So for example, Shabbat, starts Friday evening around sunset and it ends on Saturday night when the stars come out. So both ...

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The Honor of the Dead

The Jewish community and the entire world recently lost living Torahs, Rav Dovid Feinstein and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. This week’s Torah reading Chayei Sarah discusses the first ever Jewish burial and Avaraham’s care for his deceased wife, Sarah.  I believe that it is appropriate to discuss the mitzvah of burial and respect for the deceased.  The earliest mention of burial is found in Genesis, when G-d speaks to Adam: ...

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Jewish Beauty

Sarah is described by the Torah as being beautiful. (Bereshis 12:11) What is beauty?  According to the Getty Museum ancient sculptors used canons—sets of “perfect” mathematical ratios and proportions—to depict the human form. The earliest known canons were developed by the Egyptians, whose grid-based proportions influenced Greek sculptors in the archaic period (700–480 B.C.). Over time, sculptors and painters sought to create a canon that would allow them to depict ...

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The Heritage of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs

Abraham and Sarah, the parents of the Jewish people were renowned for their kindness and hospitality and indeed their children have, for thousands of years, also been noted for their philanthropy.  Every Jewish community in the world, no matter how small or poor, has always had charitable societies and funds. A typical example was the Jewish community of Rome in the 17th century.  Although numbering only a few thousand, they ...

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