Every year camp counselors confront a dilemma: what content is appropriate for Tisha B’Av when this fast day occurs during the camp season. Should the campers be expected to fast? The counselors? In many cases, commemorating Tisha B’Av is reduced to cancelling swimming or programming an activity related to the rabbinic midrash of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza on the destruction of the Temple. What indeed is Tisha B’Av’s place in contemporary society?
The recent Pew Survey on Israel, conducted from fall 2014-Spring 2015 examined the religious identity of Israelis. The survey was comprehensive in scope – beyond any previous survey of this type. Over 5,500 Israelis were interviewed face to face, some 3,800 Jews and 1,700 non-Jews.
At the outset, I would like to stress the importance of the laws of Tisha B’av. On the one hand, I believe that it is very important to fast on Tisha B’av and to remember the Destruction in our day, even after the rebirth of the State of Israel and the reunification of Jerusalem. On the hand, there are many stringencies connected to “the three weeks” between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, which were added in the Middle Ages by Aveilei Tziyon [= Mourners of Zion] and Ashkenazic rabbis, which have no Talmudic basis and which, in my opinion, there is no reason to observe.
In addition to providing the origin of this specific custom, I will give the sources for the custom of sprinkling or spilling drops of wine while reciting the Ten Plagues, the reasons that have been given for the custom, and the various permutations of the custom.
The following are the early sources that I have found regarding eating dairy on the holiday of Shavuot, based on the Bibliography below. The earliest source I have found is Rabbi Avigdor Tzarfati’s commentary on the Torah (Jerusalem, 1996, p. 478) written ca.1270 in France.
In one part of the military cemetery in Jerusalem stands a lone and unusual gravestone, marking the grave of David Raziel, Commander of Etzel (also known as the Irgun, a Zionistparamilitary organization that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948). Not many are aware that this is Raziel’s third resting spot, after he was first interred in a British military cemetery in Iraq and later moved to a Jewish cemetery in Cyprus.
Did the story of the exodus really happen? Did the entire Israelite people suffer slavery in Egypt before arriving in the land of Canaan? Many historians question this. They point to the lack of solid archeological evidence. More traditional scholars argue that the lack of evidence is an argument from silence. It is only natural that the Egyptian kings and scribes would fail to document the humiliating story of the Israelite rebellion and exodus. There is, however, a third alternative to the question of the exodus’ historicity.
Purim is a holiday whose meaning is shrouded in mystery. The only clear element is what we are commanded to do on Purim as set forth at the end of the Scroll of Esther: read the Megilla, hold a festive meal, and give gifts to the poor. This last mitzvah is not an administrative detail of a system of social justice. Yes, the Jewish people are commanded to pay a tax of half a shekel, as we read onShabbat Shekalim, the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar. But gifts to the poor are another matter; giving charity is an expression of the direct, mutual economic responsibility between people.
This Hebrew year consists of thirteen months rather than twelve. Jews throughout the world will add (“intercalate”) a second month of Adar this year, in order to insure that Passover falls in the spring. Although we think of it as the Jewish calendar, the calendar of twelve “lunations”, 29 or 30 day months corresponding to the cycle of the moon – whose 354-day years are adjusted to the solar year of 365 days by intercalating a thirteenth month every two or three years – was the most common calendar in the ancient world.
The splitting of the Red Sea and the Children of Israel’s rescue from Egypt in Exodus 13-16 is the climax and conclusion of the long episode of the Exodus from Egypt that starts in Exodus 4. The Children of Israel’s escape from the Egyptians is described as a double miracle – God “split” the sea to enable the Children of Israel to cross it and then brought the waters down to finish off the Egyptians. The Children of Israel are commanded to observe this double miracle in order to testify to future generations about the Divine salvation they were privileged to experience. They respond to the event by singing the “Song of the Sea”, which expresses the greatness of the miracle, the survivors’ joy and the praise for God in their hearts. Jewish, Christian and Muslim artists throughout history dealt with the splitting of the Red Sea. The great interest in this episode surely stems from its inherent drama and visual elements. But as we will see below, artists interpret the event very differently emphasizing various themes.