What are the cultural-evolutionary origins of our Holiday of Lights? To be sure, the rabbis of the Talmud tell us in Tractate Shabbat 21a that the miracle of Hanukkah is what we teach our children, and perhaps why we eat latkes and jelly doughnuts, all laden with (way too much) oil. However other accounts of the story, including one other rabbinic source – the Al Ha’Nissim paragraph added to the Amida and Birkat Hamazon during the holiday – make no mention of this miracle.
Why Abraham? In Parshat Lech Lecha God appoints Abraham to be the leader of nations. What made Abraham stand out? While on a trip to Italy, Dr. Paul Mandel, Senior Lecturer in Midrash and Aggadah, saw an ancient building that reminded him of a rabbinic parable where Abraham witnesses a building burning. With all the terrible things occurring in the world who will put out the flames? Find out how Abraham responded.
The great classical Land of Israel liturgist, R. Eleazar Birbi Killir (7th c.), composed a number of piyyutim (hymns) in honor of the Giving of the Torah. The liturgical poems introducing the Kedushah (Doxology) on Shavuot, known as kedushtaot, are among his greatest poetic works.
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.
Within ancient Hebrew manuscripts, scattered among libraries throughout the world, one can find some surprising treasures, like previously unknown and unpublished pieces of writing. The unusual midrash we will examine here is one of these. It appears in a manuscript that is part of the Firkovich collection, which resides in the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg.
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.
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?
Jewish sources posit different dates and meaning to the Jewish New Year.
The verses of the Rosh Hashanah Torah reading force us to ask ourselves how to define the essence of this day. Leviticus 23 tells us, “… In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation. You shall do no manner of servile work; and you shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD.” In Numbers 29 it is written, “And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation: you shall do no manner of servile work; it is a day of blowing the horn unto you.” These two descriptions, referring to a memorial and a blast of horns, are a far cry from the holiday we know as Rosh Hashanah. How did a day of rest and blast of horns become the day to mark the new year, and why on the first day of the seventh month?
One of the most curious phenomena associated with the rituals of the Second Temple Judaism is the water libation offered at the Temple on Sukkot. The Torah prescribes a very strict and detailed regime of sacrifices: these include offerings of incense and livestock; grain in various forms, sometimes mixed with oil and frankincense; and libations of wine upon the altar. The exact composition of the offering appropriate for each occasion is strictly regulated; violation of these strictures, and the unauthorized offering of sacrifices on the Temple altar, are considered serious offenses.
As a Driven Leaf by Rabbi Milton Steinberg is one of the most successful Jewish historical novels ever published in English and certainly the most successful novel related to the Talmudic period. It has been a best-seller since 1940. For the past five years I have been editing a Hebrew translation entitled K’aleh Nidaf, which was co-published in May by the Schechter Institute and Yediot Sefarim and is now on sale at all major book stores in Israel. The Hebrew version contains a forty-page Appendix in which I tried to provide all of the sources quoted or hinted at in the book and explain the historical background.