This week in Parshat Terumah Moses and the Israelites are given detailed instructions on how to construct the Tabernacle in the wilderness. How do we make sense of this detailed blueprint: “Make five posts of acacia wood for the screen and overlay them with gold—their hooks being of gold—and cast for them five sockets of copper?” Dr. Paul Mandel, senior lecturer in Midrash at The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, offers an intriguing explanation for the uses of different materials in the construction of the tabernacle and the special dividing curtain.
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 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.
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.
Indeed, this is a prevalent custom nowadays, mentioned in many books devoted to the Jewish festivals (see the Bibliography at the end of this responsum). Recently, a lovely catalogue with pictures of seventy flags dating from 1864 until ca. 1985 was published (see Behroozi Baroz).
Asked by Rabbi Rachel Schwartz on the behalf of a pupil at a Hebrew school in the United States: Why is the kittel worn on the High Holy Days? When were Torah scrolls first dressed in white for the High Holy Days and what prompted this change?
Erev Yom Kippur, minutes before the storm. A point of time in the regular weekday that is nonetheless all holiness. It is the moment of awe as the Day of Judgment approaches, the eleventh hour, our last chance. Yom Kippur itself is a time of forgiveness, but what is the role of the day before?
The first to mention this custom was the Maharil, Rabbi Yaakov Mollin (d. 1427), who is the source for many Ashkenazic customs:
It is customary to spread on the floor of the synagogue spices of grasses [i.e., sweet-smelling grasses] and shoshanim [i.e., lilies] to rejoice in the Pilgrim Festival. And when Shavuot falls on Sunday, Mahari Segal [the Maharil] instituted to spread the grasses on Friday (Minhagei Maharil, ed. Spitzer, p. 160).