Sexual assault survivor, cancer survivor, liver transplant recipient. Diagnosed high functioning Schizoaffective Disorder. Uses Zen Buddhism, poetry and essay writing, researching ancient history, literature, myth & folklore as coping strategies.
Imagine if a white American guy tortured and murdered a black woman, first beating her up and kicking her while shouting “white power!” and then throwing her out the window to her death. This would, of course be all over the Western media as an example of a racist crime. And imagine further that the murderer gets off completely because the courts find that before the murder he’d smoked marijuana, so he wasn’t responsible for his deed. Now that would, rightly, be a national scandal, all over the media of all stripes.
Now imagine instead that the murderer was an anti-Semitic Muslim who did the same thing to an Orthodox Jewish French woman who was his neighbor, crying “Allahu akbar,” uttering Muslim prayers, and then torturing her before throwing her out the window to her death. And then the courts let him off because he was high on weed.
Traditionally, the Torah has been seen either as a document that was entirely revealed to Moses by God on Mount Sinai (along with the whole of the Oral Torah, i.e. the Mishnah and other works of Rabbinic literature which build upon the written Torah) or that Moses completed the Torah during the trek through the wilderness (including what was revealed on Mount Sinai). Historians and literary critics, noting historical inaccuracies and duplications that indicate a composite text have suggested that the Torah includes sources from the period of King David and King Solomon (around 1000 BCE), from the seventh century BCE during the reign of King Josiah, and from the sixth century BCE during the Babylonian exile.
For Jews, the concept of “Torah ” is much broader than the books themselves, the delimited concept of the Torah. “Torah” can refer to all of traditional Jewish learning, but “the Torah” usually refers to the Torah she’bi’ktav, the written Torah, also known as the chumash (the five volumes or Pentateuch, sometimes referred to as the Five Books of Moses).
The Torah, Prophets (Nevi’im) and the Writings (Ketuvim) collectively make up The Hebrew Bible (what Christians refer to as the Old Testament). The Bible is often referred to by the Hebrew acronym TaNaKh (usually spelled Tanakh, or Tanach ). Numerous editions and translations of the Bible and the Chumash (the text of the Torah) can be purchased online. However, you can also read (and search) the entire Bible (along with many other major Jewish texts) in Hebrew and English translation free of charge on Sefaria.
Readings from the Torah, which are divided into 54 weekly Torah portions are the centerpiece of the Sabbath morning service. During the Torah service, the Torah scroll is taken out and the weekly portion chanted or read aloud. The Torah scroll, also known as a sefer Torah, is hand-written on parchment according to numerous specifications by a sofer (scribe), a specially trained individual.
The Torah’s stories, laws and poetry stand at the center of Jewish culture. They chronicle God’s creation of the world, the selection and growth of the family of Abraham and Sarah in relationship to God in the land of Canaan, the exile and redemption from Egypt of that “family-become-nation” known as Israel, and their travels through the desert until they return to the land of Canaan. Along the way, Israel enters into a covenanted relationship with God, and God reveals many of the rules for governing a just society and for establishing appropriate worship.
The English names for each of the Torah’s five book are actually Greek, and like the Rabbinic names for the books, they describe the contents. The common names for the books come from a significant word in the beginning verses of the book. The following are the names of the five books and a brief summary of each:
Genesis (“Origins”)/Bereishit (“In the Beginning”)
Genesis tells the story of creation, Noah and the flood, and the selection of Abraham and Sarah and their family as the bearers of God’s covenant. Stories of sibling conflict and the long narratives of Jacob and his favorite son Joseph conclude with the family dwelling in Egypt.
Exodus (“The Road Out”)/Shemot (“Names”)
Exodus tells of how the family of Jacob grew and then was enslaved in Egypt. The baby Moses, born of Israelites but adopted by Pharaoh, becomes God’s prophet who, after bringing 10 plagues down upon Egypt, leads the Israelites through the Red Sea to freedom and to the revelation at Mount Sinai. The story of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, which follows soon after the revelation at Mount Sinai, is almost obscured by lengthy materials on the building of a sanctuary (tabernacle) in the wilderness.
Leviticus (“Laws of the Levites”)/Vayikra (“And God Called”)
Leviticus deals mostly with laws of Israelite sacrificial worship. Related rules include the basis for Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) and issues of purity and impurity. The holiness code, which describes a sanctified communal life, is a highlight of the book.
Numbers (“The Census”)/Bamidbar (“In the Wilderness”)
Numbers begins with a census of the Israelites and the tribe of Levi. A group of Israelites spy out the land of Canaan; their discouraging report sends them back into the desert for an additional 38 years, during which the Israelites continue to behave badly, rebelling against the authority of Moses and his brother Aaron, and having illicit relations with Moabite women.
Deuteronomy (“Second Law”)/Devarim (“Words”)
Deuteronomy is Moses’ final message to the people of Israel before they cross over the Jordan River into Israel. Moses reminds the people of how God has redeemed the people from Egypt and of the details of the covenant between Israel and God. In stark language, Moses describes the rewards for observance of the laws of the covenant and the punishment for disobedience. Finally, Moses passes along his authority to Joshua who will lead the people into the land.
Sources: Essential Judaism, Unearthing the Bible, myjewishlearning.com, Chabad.org
“In Jewish religious thought Genesis is not regarded as meant for a literal reading, and Jewish tradition has not usually read it so.”
~ Steven Katz, founding director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies
In the Middle Ages, Saadia Gaon argued that a biblical passage should not be interpreted literally if that made a passage mean something contrary to the senses or reason (or, as we would say, science; Emunot ve-Deot, chapter 7). Maimonides applied this principle to theories about creation. He held that if the eternity of the universe (what we would call the Steady State theory) could be proven by logic (science) then the biblical passages speaking about creation at a point in time could and should be interpreted figuratively in a way that is compatible with the eternity of the universe.
It is only because the eternity of the universe has not been proven that he interpreted the verses about creation at a point in time literally, but he still insisted that the creation story as a whole was written metaphorically.
To Saadia and Maimonides, belief in the truth of the Torah does not require a denial of science (“reason,” “logic”) when the two seem to conflict. These philosophers imply that questions of science should be left to scientists and scientific method. In fact, Maimonides quotes a passage in the Talmud in which Jewish scholars abandoned an astronomical theory of their own in favor of a theory of gentile scholars (Pesahim 94b).
Maimonides approved of their action, saying that “speculative matters everyone treats according to the results of his own study, and everyone accepts that which appears to him established by proof.” To him, clearly, Science is a matter of speculation and is not the field in which the Torah seeks to be decisive.
In more recent times Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook held that scientific ideas which seem to conflict with the Torah need not necessarily be opposed, but can serve as stimuli to delve more deeply into the Torah and discover more profound meaning in it.
The approach of these thinkers is one that Fritz Rothschild has described as a guiding principle of Jewish biblical exegesis:
“The view that the Torah contains God’s message to man has led to ever new interpretations, since it constantly forced believing readers of the Torah to reconcile the words of the sacred text with whatever they held to be true on the basis of their own experience, the canons of logic, contemporary science, and their moral insights…. The traditionalist will always feel called upon to interpret the text so that it reflects not ancient error but the highest standards of trustworthy knowledge and insight of his own time.” (Rothschild, “Truth and Metaphor in the Torah”)
This approach urges us to probe more deeply into the biblical accounts of creation and to search for the intention of the Torah’s compilers in presenting these accounts. By compilers I mean those who gathered all the sources and books together and produced the Torah in the form in which it was canonized in classical Judaism. In critical terms these are the redactors of the Torah; in Franz Rosenzweig’s terms, rabboteinu (our rabbis).
Whatever the intention of the individual accounts of creation may have been, it is clear from the Torah as a whole that its compilers were not overly concerned with the details of the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. They incorporated several accounts of creation in the Torah even though no two accounts agree in detail with Genesis 1 or with each other. Genesis 1 describes the creation of the world in six days. The second account of creation is the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2).
Several other accounts are found in poetic form in Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. Genesis 1 says that man was the last living creature created; Genesis 2 says that he was the first. Genesis 1 speaks of the prehistoric waters in purely naturalistic terms and says that God merely commanded them to gather in a single spot so that dry land could appear.
But in poetic passages the ancient waters are personified as rebellious sea monsters which threatened to swamp the dry land, until God subdued them and created the seashore as a boundary which they were prohibited from crossing.
The most notable difference between Genesis and all the other accounts is that none of the others mentions the idea that the world was created in six days. This idea–which is the centerpiece of the whole creationist movement–was apparently not considered important enough in the Torah to be repeated in other accounts of creation.
The fact that so many differing accounts were all accepted in the Torah shows that its compilers were not concerned about these details. They undoubtedly assumed that the differences could be reconciled, but they left this task to the ingenuity of exegetes. This virtually assured that different reconciliations would be proposed and some of the passages would have to be interpreted non-literally.
What the Torah as a whole insists on is not these details, but only what the stories have in common. In other words, these stories are regarded as poetic statements of certain basic truths, not as literally scientific accounts of how the universe developed.
What matters in Judaism are the concepts shared by all these stories: that the world was created by God, that He planned it carefully and designed it to be hospitable to man. These are the very conclusions to which astronomy now points. The other details of the biblical accounts should not be taken literally, but metaphorically or poetically.
To give just one example: the six days of creation culminating in the Sabbath on the seventh day symbolize how God guided the development of the world stage by stage according to a well-thought-out plan. The process is described as taking place over a period of seven days because seven was regarded in the ancient world as the number of perfection and seven days were regarded as the ideal length of a process. The unit of “seven days” is more a statement about the perfection of the process than a chronological statistic.
Thus a literal reading of the Torah, on which “creation science” implicitly insists, misses the point of the Torah itself, which seems uninterested in literal interpretation. Like poetry and certain kinds of prose, which sometimes speak in metaphors and symbols, the Torah as a whole does not intend these stories to be taken literally.
Literalism is not only misleading but is also a disservice to the cause of the Torah itself. It forces the Torah to compete as science, and in such a competition it cannot win. In a scientific age such as ours the Torah will never be accepted as science by educated people.
What is more, attempting to secure acceptance for it as science is hardly worthwhile, for this would divert attention away from the Torah’s religious message to details which from a religious point of view are trivial.
The religious message is precisely the realm in which science cannot compete, and those devoted to the cause of the Torah would do far better service to their cause by stressing its unique religious message. To the religious person it makes little difference whether the world was created in six days or several billion years.
What counts is the deeper message of the biblical account of creation: The world was made by a wise Creator who seeks man’s welfare, who created the world carefully with man’s benefit in mind, who created man with Godlike qualities and commanded him to administer the world wisely.
Though we observe the Sabbath every seven days, it is this deeper message which we celebrate each week. The current views of modern science deepen our understanding of this message and renew our confidence in it.
The Conservative movement is the second largest of the three main religious denominations within American Judaism, claiming 18 percent of American Jews, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center. Historically it has occupied a sort of middle ground between Reform and Orthodox, maintaining (unlike Reform) that Jewish law remains binding on modern Jews, but affording far greater leeway than Orthodoxy in adapting those laws to reflect modern realities.
• The movement tolerates a range of religious practice in its commitment to halachic pluralism — the idea that multiple (and opposing) opinions concerning the requirements of Jewish law can be considered equally legitimate.
• Most (but not all) Conservative synagogues are egalitarian on gender issues, and the movement has endorsed religious rulings both in favor of and opposed to same-sex marriage.
• While its rabbis are not permitted to officiate at interfaith weddings, the movement has in recent years made a greater effort to welcome interfaith couples and families into its congregations. One of its mottos has been “Tradition and Change.”
• In the mid-20th century, the Conservative movement was the dominant stream of American Judaism. In some years in the 1950s, the movement was adding 100 new affiliate congregations annually. But by the end of the century, the movement was in serious decline, with some fretting openly that Conservative Judaism was on the road to oblivion.
The movement began as an effort to “conserve” traditional Judaism in the face of the liberalizing tendencies of Reform leaders in the late 19th century. One critical moment of division is often said to be the Reform movement’s famous 1883 “trefa banquet,” when non-kosher foods were served at a dinner honoring the first rabbis ordained through the Reform seminary Hebrew Union College. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which would become the flagship institution of the Conservative movement, was founded in 1886 — one year after Reform adopted its Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, which explicitly rejected Jewish practices it viewed as inconsistent with modern ideas.
The movement has been defined by its official commitment to Jewish law (halacha ), even as it has staked out positions that entail substantial departures from what was long considered normative Jewish practice. In 1983, the movement began ordaining women rabbis, which prompted some JTS faculty to quit the school in protest. In 1998, the movement’s updated prayer book, Sim Shalom, contained an alternative Amidah text that included the names of the matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah alongside the names of the patriarchs. Some of the God language in the book replaced gendered language such as “King” and “Father” with more gender-neutral terms, like Sovereign and Guardian.
One of the movement’s most significant — some would say fateful — innovations was the 1950 ruling permitting worshippers to drive to synagogue (but nowhere else) on Shabbat. Amid the rapid suburbanization of postwar America, this change enabled many to attend synagogue who would otherwise be unable to get there on the Jewish Sabbath, when driving is traditionally prohibited. However, some critics would later point to this shift as undermining the movement’s stated commitment to Jewish law.
In the 21st century, the movement’s long-term viability has continued to be drawn into question. The percentage of Jewish households that identified as Conservative dropped by 10 points — from 43 to 33 percent — between 1990 and 2000, according to surveys of the American Jewish population conducted in those years. By 2013, a Pew survey found only 18 percent of American Jews identified as Conservative, roughly half the number that called themselves Reform. The movement’s synagogue umbrella group, the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, also experienced a significant drop-off in affiliated congregations.
The decline is attributed to various factors, chief among them intermarriage. A majority of intermarried Jews who were raised Conservative no longer identify as such as adults, according to sociologist Steven M. Cohen. At least some of those Jews have gravitated toward the Reform movement, which has traditionally been more welcoming of intermarried couples. Others have pointed to the movement’s liberalization over the years, which has turned off more traditionally minded Jews, as well as to the rise of independent minyans, which have attracted many graduates of Conservative day schools and summer camps. Still others have fingered geographic mobility as the culprit — the relocation of American Jews from areas where the Conservative movement historically had a strong presence (the northeast and the Midwest), to areas where Reform congregations predominated (the South and the West).
But according to Cohen, there remain some encouraging signs for the movement in recent studies showing that among those who do identify as Conservative, metrics of Jewish engagement remain strong. “What Conservative institutions like camps and day schools have been doing is working to build a core group with relatively high levels of Jewish observance, engagement and literacy,” Cohen wrote in a 2015 op-ed for JTA. “If they keep doing so, the evidence suggests that while the overall number of Conservative Jews may still decline, this dedicated core will continue to sustain what was once America’s largest Jewish denomination.”
By 2017, a Pew survey found only 14 percent of American Jews identified as Conservative, roughly half the number (28 percent) that called themselves Reform. To understand that in a broader context thirty-seven percent identified as “just Jewish” with no formal affiliation with any of the big three denominations (big four if you consider reconstructionist).
Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people… So he made his chariot ready and took his people with him… and he chased after the sons of Israel (Exodus 14:5-8).
Pharaoh Amenhotep II reigned over Egypt beginning in about 1450 BC during the powerful 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom. His monuments and inscriptions indicate that he was one of the most boastful pharaohs of ancient Egypt, claiming such feats as being able to shoot arrows through a copper target a palm thick, rowing a ship by himself faster and farther than 200 Egyptian sailors, singlehandedly killing 7 prince warriors of Kadesh, having the kings of Babylon, the Hittites, and Mitanni all come to pay tribute to him, and supposedly conducting the largest slave raid in Egyptian history.
According to a match of chronological information from Egyptian king lists and the Bible, Amenhotep II was probably also the pharaoh of the Exodus, which occurred in approximately 1446 BC. One of the most significant artifacts relating to the circumstantial evidence for Amenhotep II being the pharaoh of the Exodus is a stele that he commissioned to commemorate one of his campaigns.
While earlier in the 18th Dynasty the Egyptians had a powerful military, especially during the reign of Thutmose III, who conducted 17 known military campaigns, after the beginning of the reign of Amenhotep II there is a steep decline. In fact, Amenhotep II had only two confirmed campaigns during his reign—the first took place prior to the Exodus, while the second was primarily a slave raid that occurred soon after the Exodus and was recorded on the Elephantine Stele.
This monumental stone inscription with its accompanying artwork was originally erected at the southern city of Elephantine, and it records the campaign of Amenhotep II to Canaan in which he claims to have brought back over 101,128 captives to be used as slaves.31 In comparison, other Egyptian military campaigns of the period brought back nowhere near the amount of captives, with the largest total being only 5,903, and as a result most scholars consider the number of slaves captured by Amenhotep II in this text to be a massive exaggeration. Because this happened right after the Exodus, perhaps it is indicative of an urgent need to replace the lost slave population in Egypt, or purely as propaganda making it appear that the pharaoh had recovered or replenished the slaves lost during the Hebrew Exodus.
Additional indicators include that the pharaoh preceding the Exodus must have had a reign of over 40 years, since Moses killed an Egyptian and fled to Midian for 40 years until the pharaoh who knew him had died. Thutmose III, the father and predecessor of Amenhotep II, reigned for 54 years and is the only pharaoh in the dynasty with a reign of 40 or more years. The Exodus pharaoh must also have recently begun his reign, since Moses returned and confronted the Exodus pharaoh soon after the previous pharaoh died, and Amenhotep II took the throne only about four years or less prior to the Exodus.
The first campaign of Amenhotep II was launched in his third year, or approximately 1448 BC. The second campaign, to Canaan, occurred in his seventh year, approximately 1444 BC, which seems to have been only one or two years after the Exodus.
Sources: Essential Judaism, Unearthing the Bible, myjewishlearning.com, Chabad.org
I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned to blood…and the blood was through all the land of Egypt (Exodus 7:17,21).
An ancient Egyptian text, written by a man named Ipuwer and referred to as the Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage, was a poetic lamentation addressed to the “All Lord,” who is typically understood to be the sun god Ra. The poem describes a time in which the natural order in Egypt was severely disrupted by death, destruction, and plagues.
The only surviving copy of the papyrus dates to the 13th century BCE, perhaps as early as 1300 BCE. While most scholars suggest it was originally written in the Second Intermediate Period due to content, the linguistics of the text and the date of the copy indicate that it was composed during the 18th Dynasty around the 16th–14th centuries BCE.
The name Ipuwer is also know from inscriptions of the 18th Dynasty, and in particular one from the time of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III just prior to the Exodus. Any historical events mentioned in the text must have occurred prior to the 13th century BCE and possibly in the 18th Dynasty. If the Admonitions describes events similar to the plagues recorded in Exodus, and the Egyptian account was composed in the same general time period as the events of the Exodus, then it is plausible that the two documents contain independent accounts of the identical episode in history but from different perspectives.
Passages in the poem, such as the river being blood, blood everywhere, plague and pestilence throughout the land, the grain being destroyed, disease causing physical disfigurement, the prevalence of death, mourning throughout the land, rebellion against Ra the sun god, the death of children, the authority of the pharaoh being lost, the gods of Egypt being ineffective and losing a battle, and jewelry now being in the possession of the slaves, are all occurrences in common with the Exodus story.
Thematic and even linguistic links between the Admonitions and the plagues of Exodus have been recognized by scholars, but typically these connections are discounted on the presupposition that neither the book of Exodus nor the Admonitions of Ipuwer describe historical events, and that even if they did, the two texts would be too far separated in time from one another.
However, since the chronology may overlap, and the match in specificity of many of the events suggests the possibility that the documents are describing the same general events and period of hardship in Egypt, the Admonitions could be an Egyptian remembrance and near contemporary account of the time of the Exodus plagues.
Sources: Essential Judaism, Unearthing the Bible, myjewishlearning.com, Chabad.org.
1 medium eggplant, peeled and then cut into cubes or thin slices
1/4 cup diced green pepper
11 oz tomato-mushroom sauce (or any jarred Kosher for Passover sauce you want)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 cups matzah farfel *
Saute onions in oil until tender. Combine onions, eggplant, green pepper, tomato-mushroom sauce, and seasoning. Cook, covered, for 15 min or until eggplant is tender. Stir in tomatoes. Alternately layer vegetable mixture and farfel, beginning and ending with the vegetable mixture in a 2 quart baking dish (9 x 13 size).
Bake at 350 uncovered for 25 min.
* Farfel is small pellet- or flake-shaped pasta used in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. It is made from an egg noodle dough and is frequently toasted before being cooked. It can be served in soups or as a side dish. In the United States, it can also be found pre-packaged as egg barley.
Matzah farfel is simply matzah broken into small pieces. The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Hasidic movement, ate farfel every Friday night because the word was similar to the word farfaln which means “wiped out, over and finished”.
1. Before you try tying tzitzit to your tallit, it is advisable to practice with twine or heavy string looped around a chair leg.
2. Although you can spin or devise your own tzitzit strands, it is easier to buy a tzitzit pack, which is available at most Hebrew bookstores.
3. There will be 16 strands in the pack–4 long ones and 12 short ones. Separate these into four groups with one long and three short in each.
4. The longer strand is called the shamash [or helper] and is the one used for the winding.
5. Even up the four strands at one end and push the group through one of the corner holes in the tallit.
6. Even up seven of the eight strands (the four being doubled) and leave the extra length of the shamash hanging to one side.
7. With four strands in one hand and the other four in the other hand, make a double knot near the edge of the material. Take the shamash and wind it around the other seven strands in a spiral–seven turns. Be sure you end the winding where you began–otherwise you may end up with 7 1/2 or 6 1/2 winds. Make another double knot at this point (four over four).
8. Spiral the shamash eight times around. Double knot. Spiral the shamash 11 times around. Double knot. Spiral the shamash 13 times around. Final double knot.
This is the common, and halakhically [according to Jewish law] precise type of tying. There are, however, two variations on this:
1. A Sephardic tying adds another dimension to the pattern: each time the shamash is brought around, take it under the previous wind before winding it further. This will produce a curving ridge around the tzitzit. This, too, should be practiced before trying it on the tallit.
2. Although not in strict accordance with the halakhah, some tie the tzitzit with the shamash spiraling 10-5-6-5 times respectively.
Tzitzit (tseet-tseet or TSIT-sis) are the strings, or fringes, tied to each of the four corners of a tallit, or prayer shawl. They are widely considered a reminder, not unlike a string around one’s finger, to think of God at all times.
Tzitzit fulfill the following commandment in Numbers 37, in the Torah portion called Parshat Shlah:
Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the LORD and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God.
The commandment to wear tzitzit is repeated in the V’ahavta section of the Shema prayer.
While traditional Jewish law says one must have these tzitzit on every four-cornered garment one wears, today most clothing doesn’t have corners. Instead, the tzitzit are on the prayer shawl and on a special small tallit , called a tallit katan, that some traditional Jews wear under their clothes. Some traditional Jews let the tzitzit from their tallit katan hang out, while others tuck them in.
The tzitzit are attached to the corners and knotted according to a specific pattern.