Counting the Weeks: A Farmer’s Almanac

According to the Rabbis, Shavuot, like the other festivals of the Jewish year, has a specific date on the calendar; it is celebrated each year on the sixth day of Sivan. However, a cursory glance at the table of festivals in Leviticus chapter 23 reveals that Shavuot stands out from the other festivals ordained in that chapter – Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot:

Torah Study vs. Acts of Loving Kindness: Which is More Important? Responsa in a Moment: Volume 8, Issue No. 3, December 2013

We are all very busy and very pressed for time. If we only have a few hours a week of free time, should we devote it to Torah study or to gemilut hassadim [acts of loving kindness]? Similarly, is it more important to teach children and young adults Torah or to take them out into the field in order to practice gemilut hassadim?

From the Plague of Fish (דג) to the Plague of Blood (דם)

Everyone knows that the first of the ten plagues sent to afflict the Egyptians was the plague of blood. The story in Exodus 7:4—24 expresses this clearly, as do the references to the plague in Psalms 78:44 and 105:29. And yet, there is some subtle but convincing evidence that suggests that in the earliest form of the story, the water of the Nile did not turn to blood. This is a secondary motif that was added to the story at a relatively early period in the development of the biblical text. We may refer to this plague, in its original form, as The Plague of Fish (מכת הדג) rather than The Plague of Blood (מכת הדם). Indeed, blood has little in common with the subsequent plagues of frogs and lice, while fish fit in with the next plagues quite naturally.

The Yetser Hatov in Rabbinic Thought

The rabbinic notion of two inclinations – good and evil – vying for domination in each human heart is first mentioned and best known from a homily on Deuteronomy 6:5, the second verse in theShema, which begins “ve’ahavta et hashem elokekha bekhol levavkha…”. Commenting on the use of the variant form levavkha, with double bet, for “your heart”, instead of libkha with one bet, thedarshan explains that you are expected to love God with both your inclinations, the good and the evil: “bishney yetsarekha, yetser hatov viyetser hara”. Versions of this homily are found in Mishnah Berakhot 9:5, Sifre Deuteronomy 32 and Tosefta Berakhot 6:7. In the Tosefta this darshan is identified as the second century tannaRabbi Meir, the primary teacher of RabbiJudah the Patriarch, editor of the Mishnah.

The Song of Songs and the Story of the Exodus from Egypt

It is customary to read the Song of Songs on Pesach. Some read it at night after completing the Haggadah; some read it in synagogue on Shabbat of Hol Hamoed. The springtime atmosphere of bloom and blossoming described in the Song of Songs provides a natural link to the holiday of Spring, but a look at the Rabbinic sources teaches us that the association between the Song of Songs and the Exodus goes much deeper.

The Blood is Still Seething : A Message for Tish’a B’Av 5771

One of the strangest tales told about the destruction of Jerusalem, its Temple and its inhabitants is to be found in the Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 57b; Sanhedrin 96b) concerning an encounter between Nebuzaradan and Zechariah Ben Yehoyadah. Though these two Biblical personages lived two and a half centuries apart, according to the Talmud they “met” on the Temple Mount during its destruction in the year 586 BCE.

Ascribing New Meaning to Hanukkah after the Destruction of the Temple

The regulations for lighting the Hanukkah lamp are found in neither the Mishnah nor the Tosefta, the corpora reflecting halakhic practice in the land of Israel in the years immediately following the destruction of the Second Temple. The main source for the rabbinic laws of Hanukkah is a series of passages in the Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 21a-24b. These passages contain much material attributed to sages from the land of Israel, but the fact that there is no comprehensive discussion of the laws of Hanukkah in tannaitic or amoraic literature from the land of Israel itself led Louis Ginzberg to doubt the attribution of some of the material in the Babylonian corpus.