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Cartoon Saloon and the New Golden Age of Animation – The New Yorker

Though the movies budget was small by mainstream standards, it was significant for a tiny studio; at the peak of production, Cartoon Saloon employed eighty-five animators in Kilkenny. Luckily, Young had reserves of entrepreneurial charm. (Brother Aidans look was inspired by Young, Moore told me.) At an industry forum, he buttonholed Didier Brunner, the founder of a French studio called Les Armateurs, which ended up co-producing the film and helped it secure international distribution. Critics loved the movie, and it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It lost to Pixars Up, which had a budget many times as large.

Pete Docter, the director of Up, told me that when he first saw The Secret of Kells he was struck by how it defied prevailing trends. At the time, he said, it was all about 3-D, and Cartoon Saloon were instead embracing the graphic. They were embracing flatnessnot only the flatness of an animation tradition, but also of Celtic design, and merging these things together in ways that were really unexpected but also very sophisticated. In the studios approach to the form, he said, he recognized a countercultural force.

No one expected a childrens film about manuscript-making monks to be the next Lion King, and no one was disappointed when it wasnt. (The studio told me that the movie made around two million dollars.) After it was finished, Cartoon Saloon shrank to twelve people in a single office. Stewart went to Laika Studios, a stop-motion outfit near Portland, Oregon, which also released its dbut feature in 2009, the Oscar-nominated Coraline. Moore told me that everyone at Cartoon Saloon could have got on a flight to L.A. and walked into a job at a major studio; for a time, he thought about doing so. But, after the Oscars, I started to meet people who worked at Pixar and places like that, he said. And they were, like, Man, you guys are living the dream! Youre doing what everybody wishes they could do, making your own films in your own way.

It wasnt easy. The studio had no other projects far enough along in development to attract funding; Young, Moore, and Twomey all had to take out personal loans to keep the company afloat. But Moore had an idea, which had come to him while Kells was still in production. On a holiday in County Kerry, he was sketching on the beach with his son, who had recently turned ten, when they saw what appeared to be large rocks. As they got closer, they realized these were seals that had been clubbed to death. Ben was devastated. The family was renting a cottage from a local woman, who explained that fishermen blamed seals for the declining fish population. The real culprit was overfishing. In the old days, she said, it would have been considered bad luck to kill a seal.

The remark reminded Moore of stories hed heard as a child about selkies, mythical creatures who changed from human to seal form and back again. When people believed in those stories, there was a better, more pantheistic way of looking at the world, he told me, rather than just simplifying everything down to the very commercial logic of The seals are eating the fish, were losing money, kill the seals. With the Irish screenwriter Will Collins, he wrote a story about a ten-year-old boy named Ben, who lives on the coast with his father, a lighthouse keeper named Conor, and his mute and seemingly haunted little sister, Saoirse. Their mother has disappeared. Conor, lost in grief, sends the children to live with their overbearing grandmother in Dublin. Saoirse becomes ill: she and her mother, Ben discovers, are selkies. Saoirse and Ben journey back to the coast, and on the way they encounter a group of fairy folk and a sinister owl-witch named Macha, who steals emotions and keeps them in jars.

Ive watched Song of the Sea with my seven-year-old more than once. His cousin has a small but pivotal role in the filmwhen Saoirse finally sings the titular song, the voice you hear belongs to my niece, Lucy OConnellbut my son is indifferent to her star turn. He reacts strongly, on the other hand, to a scene in which Ben confronts Macha, who has taken Saoirse captive. Youre so full of emotions! Macha says. I can see them in your face. Nasty, terrible things! Macha is voiced by the great Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan, who also provides the voice of the grandmother, and there is an uncanniness to the character, at once predatory and maternal. She gazes at Ben with fiery raptors eyes and strokes his face with hands both soft and lethally taloned. All this seems to overwhelm my son in a way that most of the cartoons he watches never do, because they are precisely calibrated not to. Song of the Sea holds his attention but doesnt condescend to it; the movie is more expertly paced than Kells, but stretches of it are quiet and elegiac.

If you go back and watch Bambi, its very slow and lyrical, Moore told me. Its a little tone poem of a film, compared to what Disney would do now, with their story science, where like every ten minutes something happens that moves the character on to the next bit. Theres a really clear formula for keeping kids engaged now. Cartoon Saloon doesnt exactly ignore this formulathe studio makes adventure stories with child heroes who follow clear narrative arcs. But its movies allow the viewer space to dream and to wander.

Song of the Sea earned Cartoon Saloon its second Oscar nomination, and made more than twice as much at the box office as Kells did. This time, there was streaming money, too. We had Amazon writing a big check, without us having to do much of that work at all in terms of distribution, Gerry Shirren, a onetime Sullivan Bluth production employee who is now Cartoon Saloons managing director, told me. Days before the Oscar nomination was announced, the studio released its second TV series, Puffin Rock, created by Moore and Young with Lily Bernard, then a background artist at the studio. A peaceful show about a puffin named Oona and her gentle adventures on a little island, it became a surprise hit on the Chinese streaming platform Tencent Video, where it was watched fifty-five million times in its first six weeks. It ran for two seasons, was nominated for an Emmy, and is now on Netflix. After sixteen years, Cartoon Saloon had chanced upon something like commercial stability.

This past summer, shortly after Irelands internal travel restrictions were lifted, I met Paul Young, now a bespectacled fortysomething with a neat red beard, at one of the studios three offices in Kilkenny. It was nearly emptyalmost all the animators were still working from home. As we walked through the I.T. department, Young plucked a stuffed animal from a shelf. It was Oona; a line of plush toys will go into production next year, to coincide with the release of a Puffin Rock movie. Young made a point of saying that the prototypes manufacturer had strict standards for sustainability and fair trade. Later, Moore told me the same thing, but he was plainly ambivalent about the prospect of commercial diversification. I used to sort of buy into that whole sustainable-consumption model, he said, but I dont see it that way anymore. You know, No ethical consumption under capitalism, and all that.

Moore originally imagined Cartoon Saloon as a kind of artists coperative. Its actual structure is more corporate than thatlargely, Moore said, because people prefer a regular paycheck and a gaffer they can complain about over pints on a Friday. There is necessarily some tension between the commercial possibilities offered by a successful studio and the vision that drew Moore to the work in the first place.

That hoped-for spirit does live on, everyone told me, in the culture of the studio. Louise Bagnall, who went to work there eight years ago, in her late twenties, said that, almost as soon as she was hired, she was encouraged to pitch ideas for things she wanted to make. Moore and his co-founders didnt want Cartoon Saloon to employ the industrial approach hed seen at Sullivan Bluth. Bagnall worked on the animation for Song of the Sea, and then on Cartoon Saloons third feature, The Breadwinner, which was directed by Twomey. Set in Kabul in 2001 and based on a young-adult novel by the Canadian writer Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner is about an Afghan girl who is forced to earn a living when her father is imprisoned by the Taliban. An elegantly structured film, aimed at an older audience than the studios other features, it also has a distinct visual language, with clean-lined characters and a more realist style. The movie garnered the studio its third straight Oscar nod. Bagnall got a nomination the following year, for a short film she directed, called Late Afternoon.

While Moore, as a director, develops the art and the story for his films hand in hand, Twomey, Bagnall learned, focusses first on the narrative. She spends a lot of time, when directing, on whats called the animaticthe rough storyboard that is used for editing before the animation proper begins. She obsessively tweaks the narrative, doing many of the voices herself. Midway through production of The Breadwinner, she was diagnosed as having breast cancer; she would go in for chemo on a Friday, and feel well enough by Tuesday to get back to work. Work gave me some sense of normality, she said. I could look at a scene of animation, and if there was a problem with it I could fix it.

Shes now working on an adaptation of My Fathers Dragon, a childrens book from 1948 by the American author Ruth Stiles Gannett. It will be released by Netflix and will have the studios largest budget to date. Bagnall is the assistant director. Twomey, whose husband also worked in animation at Cartoon Saloon before becoming a stay-at-home dad, told me that the studio has begun to be shaped by a younger generation of animators, whose sensibilities were informed, in some cases, by watching The Secret of Kells as kids. Theres kind of a weird circular thing going on now, where they were influenced by us early on, and then in the meantime theyve taken on board lots of other influences and become themselves, and then were influenced by them in turn, she said. These days, one of the founders primary ambitions is that the studio outlive, and outgrow, their own involvement with it.

When the pandemic hit Ireland, in the spring, Wolfwalkers was in the final stages of production. Cartoon Saloons hand-drawn animation was mostly complete, and a skeleton crew in Kilkenny completed the visual effects. The films score was in the can; vocal tracks were recorded by singers in their own homes. The studios staff in Ireland had been working with overseas partners since the beginning, so Zoom was familiar to them long before it became the predominant global mode of workplace chatter.

Late in the summer, I finally met Moore in person, for lunch at an otherwise empty restaurant a short walk from one of the studios offices. Hed grown an impressive lockdown beard since I last saw his face on my laptop. As I studied the menu, he pointed to a subheading below the vegetarian section: Inspired by Cartoon Saloon. The company has more non-meat-eating staff than your typical Kilkenny business, he explained. Hed just returned from putting the finishing touches on Wolfwalkers, with Stewart, at a partner studio, in Paris. His fingernails had been painted matte graythe work of his granddaughter, he told me. Two years ago, Ben had a daughter, and Moore, at forty, became a grandfather. This clearly brought him great joy, but at first, he told me, hed found it difficult to accept that his son was about to have all the responsibilities of fatherhood. Various strands of anxiety, personal and political, became entangled: hed wake in the night terrified about climate change and capitalism and the kind of world that awaited his granddaughter. Shirren eventually took him aside, he said, and gave him a gentle pep talk about the negativity he was bringing to the office.

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Cartoon Saloon and the New Golden Age of Animation - The New Yorker

Commentary: Hanukkah celebrates a Jewish victory, but this year the rebuilding matters more – Bend Bulletin

What is (the miracle of) Hanukkah? the rabbis of the Talmud ask, then answer: First, the Hasmonean Jews won a battle they were slated to lose. And then, while the besieged Jews had only enough oil to keep the Temple Menorah lit for one day, the oil nevertheless lasted for eight. We celebrate those days with praise and thanksgiving, the Talmud teaches, with joyous singing and festive parties. Its the archetype for most Jewish holidays, as the old saw goes: They tried to kill us. We won. Lets eat.

Most years, Im all in for merriment and oily foods. But this year, a different part of the Hanukkah story resonates most deeply, one Id never paid much heed to. Its not the military victory of the few over the many (though for that I am grateful) or the oil (which must have been a comfort to a battle-weary people). Its about that moment immediately after the Jews won when, surveying the damage in their country and among their people, they realized how much work there was still to be done, and then chose to get up and start doing it. It is, in other words, the perfect allegory for America 2020.

After the Jews finally vanquished King Antiochus and his Seleucid armies some 2,200 years ago, they didnt immediately experience euphoria and jubilation, according to I Maccabees. They walked into the Jerusalem Temple, dispirited from all the losses over the previous few years. They found the sanctuary desolate, the altar desecrated, the gates burnt, the priests chambers demolished, scripture says. They mourned the loss of their holiest places, donning sackcloth and ashes, tearing their clothes. Some parts of the Temple, such as the altar, were so violated that they had to be discarded and rebuilt entirely. Meanwhile, the Jews themselves were deeply divided to the point of civil war, assimilationists battling with self-proclaimed zealots who wanted nothing to do with secular culture.

America, too, has come through hell. In the past year alone, we have lost hundreds of thousands to COVID-19, not to mention the deaths of civil rights icons Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis. Fires have decimated parts of the West, with 2020 on track to become the hottest year on record. The slayings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many others again reveal brutality in our policing system. Weve seen hate-filled Twitter rants and a rise in hate crimes. An impeachment. A bruising electoral battle for the soul of our nation . It is too much, sometimes, to absorb.

The Hasmoneans found their answer to national trauma: They got to work, and they started again. First they appointed leaders devoted to the law to help restore the sanctuarys holiness. Sacred tools were refurbished. Only after community members had faced their ordeal its causes and its consequences did they celebrate.

We, too, can choose to face our own reckoning. What is the story we want history to tell about us? These last years have revealed competing visions: Should we be a country that grapples with its past or one that buries its original sins? Are we a nation of immigrants or a nation of isolationists? Are we individualists or can we recognize that we are all connected that even our bodily health depends on the precautions of people in our community? We have the choice.

What is the miracle of 2020? our descendants may ask. And hopefully they will answer: Americans were being decimated by a virus, but then decided to take responsibility for each other and defeat it by wearing masks, staying home when necessary and listening to science. Or: Our own leaders tried to suppress our right to vote, but we responded with organizing, legislation and court decisions that ensured every Americans voice. Or: Our seas were rising and ice caps melting, but businesses and individuals committed to changing their practices to conserve our precious Earth.

Alternately, of course, our descendants could tell another story. A few hundred years after the Jewish victory basically a minute in Jewish time the corrupt Hasmonean dynasty fell to Rome, and the Jews were sent into exile. Its a tale of victory and of caution at the same time. Some of the most hateful forces in the United States have suffered a setback, but the danger is not, and will not soon be, gone.

The miracle of Hanukkah this year is not in the war but in its aftermath, not in the cruse of oil itself but in the Jews decision to light the menorah at all, to rededicate our religious and political center and to make it holy, to choose to rebuild a nation even after recognizing how much work there was still to be done. They cleared out the trash, cleaned the Temple, and Hanukkah they tried again. Bayamim Hahem Bazman hazeh, we say in the Hanukkah blessings: In those days and in this time, as well. So may it be.

Shira Stutman is the senior rabbi at Sixth & I, a synagogue and community center in Washington, D.C.

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Commentary: Hanukkah celebrates a Jewish victory, but this year the rebuilding matters more - Bend Bulletin

Why it’s kosher to go a little wild with the Hanukkah swag – Los Angeles Times

In October 2018 I received a letter from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of blessed memory. My dear Rabbi: she wrote, Thank you for todays surprise, a scrunchie I will wear not only at Hanukkah, but year round.

In addition to being an ordained rabbi, I design fashionable, Hanukkah-themed accessories. I had created a Hanukkah scrunchie to honor Justice Ginsburg, a known fan of the hair tie. Of course, I sent her one.

Early on during my forays in Hanukkah retail, I wondered if it was kosher to contribute to the commercialization of the holiday. When I first saw one of my creations (the Hanukkah nail decals) on display at Bloomingdales, it was definitely a moment for shehecheyanu, the Jewish blessing of thanks for new experiences. But was it the right track for a rabbi? More importantly, was it the right direction for this holiday?

I did a bit of digging and discovered that Hanukkah has always needed a marketing boost, for lack of a better term. The Talmud tells us the story of when the ancient Temple in Jerusalem was rededicated, after being desecrated by the Greeks, and only one flask of proper oil remained. This tiny amount of oil miraculously powered the Temples menorah for eight days.

Now, on each night of Hanukkah, Jews light the menorah to recall that miracle. And it is considered a mitzvah a religious duty to place the menorah where it can be seen by others, whether outside or in a prominent window. This embodies the idea of the Aramaic phrase pirsumei nisa, often used in the Talmud, which means publicizing the miracle.

Finding creative ways to showcase Hanukkah felt like a modern extension of this Talmudic principle and my rabbinic work. I soon discovered I was part of a long line of Jewish entrepreneurs who were boosters of Hanukkah, which is considered a minor Jewish holiday.

A century ago, Jewish immigrants arriving in America could never have fathomed the multitude of Hanukkah products now for sale. In The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1880-1950, Jenna Weissman Joselit explains that during the early 1900s there was little demand for Jewish products here, as most families brought the ritual objects they needed including menorahs from the Old Country.

Still, by the time these Jewish immigrants arrived in this country, Christmas already outstripped all other events as a time for merchandising, according to Leigh Eric Schmidt, author of Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays. If Hanukkah were to thrive and catch up with Christmas it needed to reinvent itself in the U.S.

In the 1920s, under the guidance of Jewish advertisers, ads were placed in Yiddish newspapers urging Jews to buy gifts and toys for Hanukkah. Yiddish ads also promoted the use of American ingredients to prepare Hanukkah meals to create authentic American Hanukkah experiences. Hanukkah-themed chocolate coins, known as gelt, were first produced in the 1920s. A 1932 Jack Frost Sugar ad exclaimed in Yiddish: Its the sugar on the latke that gives it the Hanukkah spirit.

By the 1940s, new Hanukkah-branded products were arriving on the scene, including the first Hallmark Hanukkah greeting cards. The next 50 years saw significant growth in the market including the popularity of musical menorahs of the 1950s which played fragments of Hatikvah (Israels national anthem) or Rock of Ages and electric menorahs in the 1960s.

The next few decades also saw a sharp rise in Hanukkah toys, including sticker books and gelt-filled dreidels. By the 90s, Hanukkah products had gone national, appearing on the shelves of many mainstream department stores.

Online shopping spurred the Hanukkah apparel category including ugly-chic Hanukkah sweaters, echoing the Christmas sweater trend. The Hanukkah market now features gifts for pets (apparently, even dogs and cats have Christmas envy).

Have there been excesses along the way? Absolutely (see Hanukkah for pets, above). And yet I think that the overindulgence has heightened the public celebration of Hanukkah.

This year we could use a little extra Hanukkah spirit. The holiday has always been home-centric, focused on menorah lighting, latke making, and gift giving. When in-person communal gatherings are limited in size or supplanted by virtual ones Hanukkah swag can enhance our enjoyment of the holiday. Wearing dreidel leggings may not exactly fulfill the Talmudic principle of publicizing the miracle. But they can add some zing to a Hanukkah Zoom party.

Rabbi Yael Buechler is the Lower School Rabbi at The Leffell School in Westchester, N.Y., and founder of MidrashManicures.com.

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Why it's kosher to go a little wild with the Hanukkah swag - Los Angeles Times

Is the Menorah Hidden in the Vatican? – Chabad.org

There is much controversy and misinformationsurrounding this question, so lets begin by clarifying the facts of the story.

After laying siege to Jerusalem, the Romans, led byTitus, finally breached the walls of Jerusalem, and on the 9th of the Jewishmonth of Av, in the year 69 CE, destroyed theHoly Temple and plundered it.

In the year 81 CE, shortly after the death of his olderbrother Titus, the emperor Domitian had an archbuilt depicting the triumphal procession after Tituss victory over Jerusalem. The Arch of Titus, which stands in Rometo this very day, depicts the procession carrying a number of items plunderedfrom the Jewish Temple, including the silver trumpets, the Table of theShowbread, and most prominently the golden Menorah.

Thetreasures plundered from Jerusalem were housed and displayed in the so-calledPeace Gardens of Rome, which were built using the booty acquired through thesacking of Jerusalem.

Thestory is told in the Talmud of how Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Yossi, together with Rabbi Shimonbar Yochai and other sages, went to Rome to try to rescind some of the harshdecrees against the Jews. While in Rome, they were miraculously given theopportunity to heal the caesar's daughter, who had fallen ill. Aftersuccessfully healing her, they were given the opportunity to see some of Rome'streasures. These sageslater testified to seeing various items looted from the Holy Temple, including the goldentzitz (golden band worn by the high priest), Parochet (Curtain)and the Menorah.

Basedon these stories, one can understand why many claim that the Menorah, as wellas other items plundered from the Temple, was taken to Rome and may be foundthere to this very day.

However,as we examine this theory, things get a bit murkier.

Theso-called Peace Gardens of Rome were damaged or destroyed a number of times,including in a fire in the year 191 CE. While the garden was subsequentlyrestored, it is not clear if the vessels remained there or perhaps were takento some other place in Rome.

Additionally,Rome itself was sacked and plundered many times, including in 410 CE, by the Visigoths under Alaric I, andmore significantly in 455 CE by the Vandals and Moors under King Genseric, whospent 14 days looting Rome of its treasures.

Sowhat happened to the Menorah?

Someclaim that the Menorah may have been hidden or lost in the Tiber River in Romeduring one of the sackings. Some claim that the Menorah may have eventuallybeen melted down for the gold. Others say that, according to legend, when King Alaric of the Visigoths died shortlyafter the sacking of Rome in 410 CE, the Visigoths buried him togetherwith the Menorah they looted.

Yet others opine that the Menorah was taken from Rome by the Vandals inthe more significant sacking of 455 CE and taken to Carthage (modern-dayTunisia). When Carthage itself was sacked, it ended up in the hands of theByzantine Empire. However, Emperor Justinian, due to the superstition that theMenorah was cursed, sent it off to Jerusalem, where it disappeared (destroyedor stolen) when the Persians captured Jerusalem in the 7th century CE.

And then, of course, there is the claim, mentioned at the beginning ofthis article, that the Menorah has remained in Rome and is currently hiddenaway somewhere deep in the Vatican. Indeed, over the years, various people haveclaimed to have seen various Temple vessels in the Vatican.

Allof the above theories, however, are based on the claim that the Temple Menorahwas brought to Rome in the first place.

Althoughwe have cited the depiction of the Menorah in the Arch of Titus as well asRabbi Shimon Bar Yochais testimony as evidence of the Menorah having beentaken to Rome, these proofs in and of themselves are questionable.

Onthe Arch of Titus, although the upper half of the Menorah can arguably be adepiction of the actual Temple Menorah,the bottom half is not. It depicts the Menorahs base as being similar to a two-tiered cake, while the TempleMenorah had a tripod base. Andthe Menorah on the Arch is decorated with images of eagles, a sea lion andmythological creatures, including a dragon, while the Temple Menorah didnthave any of these images (some argue that the base itself may have been damagedand replaced).

Based on this, some explain that either the Menorah brought to Rome was,in fact, one of the other lamps in the Temple, or the depiction was based off aMenorah that was made to resemble the Temple Menorah.

Similarly, the sages disagree with Rabbi Eliezers description of thedesign of the tzitz, implying that hedid not see the actual tzitz, or atleast it was a tzitz that wasnt madein the usual manner. Thus,the testimony of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai regarding the Menorah may bequestionable as well.

Although there is much ado about the Menorah possibly having beenbrought to Rome, it is important to keep things in perspective.

The Midrash lists the Temple Menorahwhich was originally made by Mosesfor the Mishkanas oneof a handful of vessels of the Holy Temple that were hidden by the Jews beforethe destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians.

Later, during the Second Temple, the Menorah went through a number ofdifferent iterations. In the words of the Talmud:

[In the time of the Hasmoneans, theMenorah was fashioned from] spits [shappudim]of iron, and they covered them with tin. Later, when they grew richer, theyfashioned a Menorah out of silver. And when they again grew richer, theyfashioned the Menorah from gold.

Thus, even if the Menorah was indeed taken to Rome, ultimately thatMenorah isnt the one we need for the Third Holy Temple. As the Midrashregarding the hiding of the Menorah concludes, ultimately, when Gd will turnHis mercy to build His Temple, He will also restore the vessels that werehidden (including the Menorah) to their place and cause Jerusalem to rejoice.May it be speedily in our days!

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Is the Menorah Hidden in the Vatican? - Chabad.org

Men have dominated Jewish texts for most of history. These women are trying to change that. – JTA News – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

(JTA) When Danielle Kranjec committed to using only Jewish texts written by women and queer people in the classes she taught for Hillel Internationals Springboard Fellowship, a program that places recent college graduates in positions at college campus Hillels across the country, she knew she was taking on a challenging task.

After all, for most of Jewish history, women werent encouraged to take on religious leadership roles or write commentaries on the Torah or Talmud.

But Kranjec knew that elevating the work of women would be worth the effort, both because doing so would communicate the value of womens insights to her students and she believes the mismatch between the diversity of the people teaching Torah today and the sources they teach had grown too great. Also, as a Jewish educator and trained historian, she knew there were a plethora of texts that might not be considered Torah in the traditional sense but could serve as rich source material.

Much of the time, those who assemble materials for Jewish study sessions commonly known as source sheets start with the Torah text, working their way to the rabbinic texts, the Mishna and Talmud, followed by commentaries on texts written over a span of more than a thousand years. Men wrote the vast majority of those texts.

Im trying to do something different, to start in the lives of women and then follow the Torah that emerges from that, Kranjec said, noting her love for the memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln, a 17th century Jewish woman whose autobiography is an important primary text for Jewish historians.

Two years later, Kranjecs name is now synonymous with a growing movement to advance womens voices in Jewish text study. The Kranjec Test, coined by her colleagues at Hillel International, calls on educators to include a text written by someone who is not male on any source sheet including at least two Jewish texts.

Along with other initiatives to encourage more women to publish Jewish religious writing, the test is shaking up the world of Jewish study and calling attention to the ways in which women are still not equally represented in positions of authority in the world of Jewish text study.

The Kranjec Test is inspired by the Bechdel test, in which a work of fiction or film passes if it includes a conversation between two female characters about something other than a man. That test has become well known after being invented by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985, though according to The Hollywood Reporter, approximately half of the top-grossing 25 movies that came out in 2016 did not pass the test.

But the Kranjec Test is perhaps more challenging because unlike fiction and film, Jewish study largely revolves around texts written long before the modern feminist movement.

Still, in recent years, traditional text study has ceased to be the exclusive domain of men. Women have taken their place among the most well known and respected Torah teachers today, teachers and activists for feminist causes in the Jewish world say, leaving the texts themselves as the next frontier. So in addition to focusing on the people who are visible in positions of authority today, Jewish educators are going to the source material, trying to right the balance between representation of men and women in the texts they are teaching.

If the leadership and the no more manels is top down, this is more grassroots, Kranjec said.

The test has adherents among Hillel educators and is spreading among educators at pluralistic institutions of Jewish learning. Its recently been the subject of debate among Jewish educators on listservs and in heated social media discussions.

Holding oneself accountable for including womens work even in traditionally male domains such as halacha, or Jewish law, carries a benefit, according to Elana Stein Hain, scholar in residence and director of faculty at the Shalom Hartman Institute, where she leads a research group that focuses on issues of gender and leadership in the Jewish community. By bringing in sources written by women that are less directly related to the subject being taught, what youve done is actually elucidated and expanded the way we understand these earlier ideas, she said.

But not everyone who wants to see more womens voices in Jewish text study believes the test is a good idea.

Itll create a sort of impression that a woman who finds her way onto a source sheet hasnt done so because she is brilliant and erudite and profound but because of this positive discrimination, said Gila Fine, editor in chief of Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers in Jerusalem.

The Kranjec Test was named for Danielle Kranjec who took upon herself to teach only sources written by women and queer people. (Courtesy of Danielle Kranjec)

Fine said she almost always includes women on her source sheets in teaching at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem but thats because doing so is relatively easy in the subject she teaches, aggadah, which includes stories from the Talmud.

Women have earned their place fair and square in the world of aggadah, Fine said. Theyre two steps behind in the world of halacha, and theyll get there, but creating that shortcut will hurt them in the long run.

In a blog post from September, Rabbi Michael Rosenberg, a professor of rabbinics at Hebrew College, wrote about his own difficulty in finding a suitable woman-authored text to use in a class centered on a rabbinic text. Rosenberg eventually included a piece by the modern poet Mary Oliver and wrote that it brought new meaning and depth to the source that he would not have found had he limited his sources to premodern ones.

The historical exclusion of women from Torah study was not only hurtful to women (though that would be enough reason to want to remedy it); it also hurt Torah, he wrote. Because of the loss of people with different experiences and perspectives, the Torah is haseirah, its lacking, its not its full self.

To Fine, whats needed are more and more diverse religious texts written by women. Maggid has made publishing books by women teachers a priority, she said, and in recent years has brought to print books by Erica Brown, a popular lecturer and a professor at George Washington University; Rachel Berkovits, a lecturer at the Pardes Institute; and Nechama Price, the director of Yeshiva Universitys graduate program in Talmud for women. In the past few years, three books of traditional halachic responsa, answers to Jewish legal questions, written by women have been published, including one by Maggid, constituting what Fine calls a huge step in the right direction for women.

But Fine said she often finds herself having to convince women teachers that their work is good enough to publish or that they are ready.

I will get many, many manuscripts by a man in his 20s who has written a book about Genesis or Maimonides, something as grandiose as that, Fine said. Conversely when I have actively approached women who are established and brilliant and profound and nuanced in the Torah that they do and I say I think youre great and should be writing a book, more often than not the response I get is I dont think Im quite ready.

Users of Sefaria, an online database of Jewish texts that allows one to see hyperlinks between texts in a side-by-side format, also want to see more texts by women. Sara Wolkenfeld, Sefarias director of learning, said its not uncommon for users to complain that there arent enough texts written by women in the sites database.

Thats not a Sefaria problem, Wolkenfeld said. Thats an issue with the history of Jewish texts.

The site is taking steps to change that history. Along with Yeshivat Maharat, a Modern Orthodox yeshiva in New York City that ordains women, Sefaria is launching a fellowship to encourage Jewish women to put their ideas onto the page. The program will provide training and stipends to 12 women who will each write an article, book chapter, legal opinion or other form of Torah text.

We want to create a space for women to say, no, I do have something to contribute and I can do that work and I can put it out there, Wolkenfeld said.

Fine said the initiative is a welcome addition to a space that is slowly but surely beginning to change in ways that could reshape the idea of who gets to create Torah.

Its still individual attempts, Fine said, adding that with time, these trickles will become a current.

Several women advocating for increasing representation of women in Jewish text study have struggled with the idea that Torah texts written by women would be inherently different from those written by men. Even so, Stein Hain argued, it would be worth including them to expand the quantity of texts available to learn from.

Im not sold on the idea that a womans take is going to be different but I am sold on the idea that we shouldnt be limiting the voices to male voices, said Stein Hain. Youre missing out on more people having good ideas about Torah.

Efforts to increase the volume of texts by women that are part of the Jewish library may never lead to actual parity theres only so much that can be accomplished by modern women adding their own scholarship to the collected works of thousands of years of male scholars.

On the mikraot gedolot page, were always going to have the same people, Kranjec said of the classic medieval rabbinic commentaries traditionally printed alongside the text of the Torah. Thats not really going to change because of our extensive, beautiful, wonderful long, complicated, patriarchal textual tradition.

But if they cant catch up, Kranjec argued, modern teachers have to make space for them on the pages of their source sheets, both through newly published scholarship and by mining the tradition for places where womens voices have shone through.

I need us to learn Gluckel in conversation with 17th century Jewish thought, I need us to read other early modern poets I need all of that to be a part of the conversation and modern writers, too, she said.

In summary, she added, I want all of it.

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Men have dominated Jewish texts for most of history. These women are trying to change that. - JTA News - Jewish Telegraphic Agency

/ What do we do with Hanukah? Jewschool – Jewschool

What to do with Hanukah? (Spoiler alertits actually about Diaspora.)

Hanukah lives in the sweet spot where there is one story which claims that it is historically true and yet there is very little contemporary evidence to back this upthe earliest account being written generations after the eventsand there is another story, a miracle story whose earliest recording is centuries after its supposed occurrence. Yet, we go with the miracle story.

There was no love lost between the Rabbis and the Hasmoneans. There are several legends about Rabbis (i.e. Shimon ben Shatah) confronting the Hasmonean king Yannai. (e.g. Sanhedrin 19a-b), and Yannai killing Sages (Kidushin 66a). So it is not surprising that the Rabbis did not glorify the Hasmonean victory, and chose to center a different legend which seems to have arisen in the first centuries of the common era. The additional prayer (called al hanisim) that is added to the central prayer does not mention the miracle of the oil. The earliest mention of the miracle of the oil is in the commentary (the scholion) to a first century list of holidays called Megillat Taanit. This commentary is not mentioned in the Palestinian Talmud. Its first appearance is in the Babylonian Talmud many centuries later.

While this may point to a choice for the miracle story over the martial story, the martial story did not fade away. It arose from time to time, gaining full rehabilitation with the birth of the Zionist movement whose adherents looked to the Maccabees for ancestral precedent.

However, this is not my point.

The earliest rabbinic legal discussion of the obligations of Hanukkah (as opposed to mentioning Hanukkah in passing) is not in the Palestinian Mishnah. It is in a supposed Palestinian baraitta quoted in the Babylonian Talmud and not in the Palestinian Talmud. This is the famous debate between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai as to whether one lights one candle on the first night and then adds a candle each night (Hillel); or conversely one lights eight candles on the first night and then subtracts a candle each night (Shammai). This is followed by the obligation to light the candelabrum in the doorway, outside, or if one lived on an upper floor, in the window.

These are the earliest legal discussions of Hanukkah. There are others. The salient point is that many of the laws have to do with the placement of the candelabrum in order to publicize the miracle (pirsumei nisa). One might have thought that a holiday whose legend included the purification of the Temple would have had a Temple-like ritual at its center (compare the (not) eating of the Passover on Pesach). Instead, even the candelabrum does not replicate the seven branched Temple candelabrum. The focus of the holiday obligations are marking Jewish space. Facing outward at the exact moment that people return from the market. If one has two entrances, the Talmud asks, does one have to light in both places?

Hanukah is a diasporic holiday which celebrates place. This place where we are now is the place in which we announce the miracle. This is not a second rate reminder of a ritual whose better form would have been and will be ensconced in the Temple. It is a diasporic ritual which lays claim to diasporic Jewish space.

This places Hanukkah on the same axis as Purim, again a holiday which is about and in diaspora, and would not make sense in the Land of Israel. However, the difference is that Purim posits that redemption is impossible, and that as long as the King is maliciously or foolishly evil there will be a never-ending drama in which first Haman succeeds and then Mordecai succeeds. Hanukkah celebrates the fact of being here. Light in whatever many religious or secular metaphors it is clothed is brought into these Jewish spaces. The reason that is ascribed to the House of Hillel for the custom that we follow in lighting the candles is just that we go upwards in holiness and not the opposite. We light the candles and increase the holiness. Here.

Hanukkah is a diasporic holiday in that is portable. The celebration of Hanukah defines the space that is celebrated as a Jewish spacelike a mezuzah on a door post, or an eruv boundary in a city. Like these other markers it creates Jewish space which is non-exclusive. Jewish space which has permeable boundaries. Jewish space which lives in proximity to others, despite the fact that this proximity is risky. From the start, the halakhah of Hanukah decided that in a time of danger one need not light the candelabrum on the outside or facing out, rather one may light inside on a table.

When we light candles today, we again announce that we live in Jewish spaces which are proximate to other spaces, and while we embrace this proximity we are aware that it is risky, and yet still we increase the holiness, the light, from day to day. Here, in this time, and in this place.

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/ What do we do with Hanukah? Jewschool - Jewschool

I knew Hanukkah celebrated defeating the Greeks. Then I moved to Athens and the story got complicated. – JTA News – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

ATHENS, Greece (JTA) When my wife and I arrived in this capital city on Sept. 1 to serve as rabbinical emissaries to the Jewish community, I have to admit I was very excited about what the prospect of spending Hanukkah in Greece might be like. With nearly 90% of the Jewish Greek population wiped out during the Holocaust, the majority of survivors returned to settle in Athens, which now boasts close to 3,000 members in a warm and special community.

My experiences here so far, while smaller and more limited due to coronavirus restrictions, have provided me with a remarkable new understanding of the history of that period one that is very different from what many of us are familiar with.

Growing up as a child in Israel, the narrative of the Jewish victory over the mighty and wicked Greeks is one that we learned from the youngest ages. That story, of course, created a certain sense of mystery and perhaps even anger toward the Greek nation.

But upon arrival in Greece, I quickly came to appreciate that the history is far more complex and that Hanukkah is commemorated very differently here as a result.

The Jewish community of modern-day Greece largely belongs to the Romaniote heritage, known to be one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. Historians debate whether the community dates back to the fourth-century BCE or only the second century. Either way, these are a people with an ancient history and deep-rooted traditions. Part of that tradition is their identity as Greeks, which is at least as strong as their identity as Jews. For obvious reasons, the Jews of Greece feel no small degree of discomfort at their people being labeled as the evildoers in the Hanukkah story.

But the Greeks of the story are not the same as the Greeks of today. The regime that ruled over the Land of Israel and terrorized the Jewish people until the Maccabean revolt was the Seleucid Empire. Their territory stretched from the Mediterranean region (including Greece) and well eastward into Persia. Most of the empires soldiers were mercenaries or slaves from the countries they occupied.

The major cities of the empire were not centered in Greece but in Syria and Iraq. Its capital was the city of Antioch, located in modern-day Turkey. The Antiochus we know from the Hanukkah story, Antiochus IV, only received his Greek citizenship in his 30s. The early high commander sent to quash the Maccabean revolt was of Syrian origin, not Greek.

Greek Jews are deeply committed to embracing the more historically accurate version of the story. There are very practical implications of this shift. In many local prayer books, the term Yavan (Greece) is omitted from Al Hanisim, part of the Hanukkah prayers. Similarly, the local version of the song Maoz Tzur, which is recited alongside the lighting of the menorah, replaces Greeks with Syrians as the force that ganged up against the Maccabees.

I have yet to determine exactly when these traditions began, but they are certainly ancient. The Talmud references several locations in the Syrian state (Aram Tzuba) that places them within the Seleucid Empire. These discoveries reflect how Jewish traditions can differ greatly from place to place particularly in relation to how the Jewish community perceives the nation in which it is located.

Being part of a network of Orthodox emissaries spread out around the Jewish Diaspora, my wife and I have gained incredible insight into local cultures and traditions, bringing richness, understanding and new meaning into our holiday celebrations. This year, in addition to our traditional potato latkes, we will be making the special Greek Hanukkah doughnuts with honey, loukoumades.

As I look forward to this Hanukkah, which I know will be unique in so many ways, I welcome the chance to embrace a new perspective on a story that I thought I had always known. This year, Ill be rejoicing not about a victory over the Greeks, but about the enduring and resilient triumphs of the Jews over darkness no matter our adversaries.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.

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I knew Hanukkah celebrated defeating the Greeks. Then I moved to Athens and the story got complicated. - JTA News - Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Bursting the bubble: Even the Rabbis perpetuated a "hoax!" – jewishpresspinellas

Authors caution: if you are of the absolute belief that the teachings of the rabbis as recorded in the Talmud have the imprimatur of divine authority and cannot be questioned, please be advised that you may find what follows to be somewhat heretical!

It is almost the 25th of Kislev. We anxiously await the arrival of the years shortest days and longest nights, when we shall illumine our homes and (for some of us, our Zoom) windows with the display of hanukkiot (Hanukkah menorahs) advertising the great miracle(s) of ages past. Our children and grandchildren know the brachot and the songs. The aromas of latkes and sufganiot will soon fill the air. The dreidel will spin, and the letters on its four sides will proclaim: Nes gadol hayah sham a great miracle happened there. And when asked what was the miracle, we answer: It was the miracle of the oil. There was only enough oil for one days celebration of the rededication of the Temple, but God miraculously ensured that the menorah could burn for all eight days.

What is the source of this account? Where do we read about this miracle? Do we know if it is true? The story of Hanukkah comes to us from the Books of the Maccabees. They are part of the post-canonical biblical literature called the Apocrypha. Maccabees tells the historical account of ancient Israel governed by oppressive rulers from Syria whose policies of Hellenization threatened the survival of our unique identity as Jews. In these accounts we read of how Jew struggled with Jew because different parts of the community had different attitudes toward the assimilationist tendencies of the ruling foreign influences. The High Priesthood had been corrupted, and the High Priest was little more than a pawn in the grander political machinations between ruler and subject. But nowhere in the tale of Judah Maccabees heroic military victory over the much stronger Syrian army is there any mention of this miracle of the oil.

That miracle story appears for the first time in the Talmud in the rabbinic texts that are written between 200 and 600 years after the events of 165 BCE. The miracle of the oil is the way that the rabbis uncovered Gods role in this miraculous slice of history, emphasizing a theological lesson instead of the nationalist celebration of courage, strength and revolutionary action. Even in Zachariah, the text chosen by the rabbis for the Haftarah on the Shabbat in Hanukkah, the message resounds: Not by might, not by power, but My Spirit alone, shall we all live in peace.

The rabbis may have been motivated by any number of concerns as they dealt with interpreting the events of ages past and developing the rituals to commemorate them. Certainly, they were aware of the danger of celebrating a national uprising against a foreign ruler whilst they lived under the control of the Roman Empire. Surely, they understood the value of emphasizing the theological message rather than the military victory. There is no doubt that, for the rabbis, it must have been comforting to discover Gods true presence in the midst of these events which are so inspiring and motivational.

Notwithstanding such source-critical analyses, we all know that our children (sooner rather than later) start to ask if these things really happened. They use the power of their intellect, and the critical thinking skills we demand our schools teach them. They apply the powerful forces of rational analysis and post-modern intellectual inquiry. And they start to doubt the veracity of the legend that attributes a miracle to God as the core component of our Hanukkah celebration. How can we respond?

Here is what we ought not do.

Do not

1. Stick your head in the sand and pretend they are not asking;

2. Offer them facile explanations that ask them to put aside their questions.

What can we do? We help them grow in faith and deepen their sense of purpose by offering more adequate ways to own the Hanukkah stories and celebrations.

The Number Nine

1. The Kabbalists suggest that the words Nes Gadol (A Great Miracle), through gematria, add up to 9 (the total sum of the letters is 153, then the sum of those digits is 9).

2. Nine is also truth (emet), whose numerical equivalent is 441, the sum of the digits again being 9.

3. So where is the truth of the great miracle if it is possible that it didnt exactly happen the way the rabbis suggest in the Talmud?

We need to help our communities and our children understand that there are different kinds of truth. Historicity, verifiable fact, reality as it is lived, experienced and reported upon is only one kind of truth. There are also eternal truths, truths the heart knows best, ways of understanding our relationship to each other, our world and God that go beyond the simplistic question of Did it really happen that way?

One approach understands that the miracle of seeing the oil burning was not in itself, on any individual day, a miracle. Only the knowledge that the oil had burned the day before and the day before that makes the miracle of today become evident. It can be said that miracles happen as they continue each day to be renewed and reaffirmed.

There is truth in the miracle of the oil when we open our eyes, we can see the constant unfolding of Gods miraculous presence in our lives and in our world. We encounter the Holy in the everyday when we affirm the blessing of waking up to a new day, of seeing the sun rise again, of watching the gardens bloom, of hearing the laughter of children, of watching justice be affirmed for those who need it most, of knowing that the hungry can be fed and the naked can be clothed. The miracles of Gods presence are all around us if we but open our eyes and become Gods partner. This is the only Truth that I really know!

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press or the Board of Rabbis.

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Bursting the bubble: Even the Rabbis perpetuated a "hoax!" - jewishpresspinellas

Five Brave Men and One Brave Woman – Judah the Maccabee and his siblings – Chabad.org

If youve been through Hebrew school, you most likely learned about Judah the Maccabee, son of Matityahu, the courageous warrior who routed out the Seleucid Greeks from the Holy Land in the miraculous chain of events that we celebrate every year on Chanukah.

But what do we really know about Judah, or his four brothers? The Talmud gives us no information, leaving us to comb through various texts dating back to the Second Temple era, when the Maccabean revolt took place.

This account is mainly based on Megillat Antiochus, a text that was preserved within the Jewish community and which some even read every year on Chanukah. At times it has been supplemented with information found in the books of Maccabees, Josephus and other sources, as indicated in the footnotes.

However, it should be noted that many of these events have been obscured by the sands of time, and that no texts known to us can be believed to be entirely accurate portrayals of what took place.

Section from handwritten Aramaic Megillat Antiochus, from an old Yemenite siddur (Credits: Davidbena at en.wikipedia.org)

Yehudah was the eldest of the band of brothers, known for being the leader of the Jewish revolt and the mightiest of them all. His father compared him to the original Yehudah, the mighty son of Jacob, who was himself compared to a fierce lion. While he is commonly described as the triumphant warrior who liberated Jerusalem and restored Jewish rule, according to Megillat Antiochus he was actually killed quite early in the war, even before his father passed away.

The Megillah recounts that the brothers came home to Matityahu, declaring that they could not continue to fight because Yehudah was killedthat since he was as strong as all of them combined, they would not be able to succeed without their older brother and leader. With no alternative, old Matityahu took his sons place and led his sons into battle.

However, according to the books of Maccabees and Josephus, Yehudah carried on, leading his brothers in battle, rededicating the Holy Temple, and leading the Jewish people both militarily and spiritually as the high priest. This continued for about three years, until his untimely death in the battle of Elasah.

He was succeeded by his younger brother Yonatan, who took over his positions and led the Jewish people in his stead.

It is quite interesting that even while being so celebrated in secular texts, he is not mentioned even once in the Mishnah or the Talmud, or even in the special Chanukah additions to the prayers. The only rabbinical mention of him is in the brief passages about him in Megillat Antiochus.

That being said, Yehudah HaMakabi is known, and rightfully so, as an outstanding Jewish hero, a champion who fought for Judaism, Jews, and the right to serve Gd without any intrusions from our oppressors. He is believed to have been the one to initially led his brothers in battle until his untimely death, and will forever have our admiration as Judah the Maccabee.

Yehuda leading the Maccabees in battle (Gustave Dore)

Shimon was the second of the band of brothers; he is known for outliving all his brothers, eventually assuming leadership of the Jewish people and becoming the progenitor of the Hasmonean royal dynasty.

His father compared him to the original Shimon, the son of Jacob, who avenged his sisters honor and destroyed the city of Shechem.

The book of Maccabees relates that Shimon was chosen by his father before his death to take his place as the social and ethical leader of the people, leaving the military and political control to Yehudah. As Matityahu said, "Listen to Shimon, your brother, for he is wise and sensible, and he will be to you as a father."

Shimon stood by his brother Yehudah in battle, and after Yehudahs death, he stood by his brother Yonatan as well. After both were ultimately killed, Shimon took control of the military leadership of the Jewish people.

Shimon handled the political upheavals that were happening in and around the land of Judea, striking deals, taking sides and maneuvering the stormy seas of diplomacy efficiently. Shimons reign lasted about nine years.

Shimons demise is a sad story. Shimons son-in-law Ptolemy (Talmai) plotted to overthrow Shimon and his sons, giving himself free rein in Judea. Ptolemy invited his father-in-law, together with the whole family, to the Duk fortress for a holiday celebration; amid the festivities, he had Shimon and two of his sons killed, and other family members were taken hostage. Messengers were sent to kill another son, Yochanan Hyrcanus, who was not at the party.

Yochanan Hyrcanus gathered his troops and fought back, laying siege to Ptolemy and his forces. Ptolemy, trying to fend him off, threatened and then killed his mother-in-law and another remaining brother, until he ultimately escaped, leaving the control of Judea in Yochanan Hyrcanuss hands. Yochanan Hyrcanus followed in his fathers ways and successfully led the Jewish people for about 30 years.

It should be noted that many of the subsequent members of the Hasmonean dynasty were far from righteous. They were often antagonistic to the Torah sages, at times going so far as to ruthlessly persecute and murder them.

Yochanan was the third of the band of brothers; he is often seen as the least prominent of his brothers, since he was neither the official leader of the Jewish people nor died a spectacular, heroic death (see Elazar).

Yet in Megillat Antiochus he is hailed as the hero of the story. He is the only one of the brothers who has any identifying details told about him: he is referred to as a kohen gadol (high priest), and the whole Chanukah story begins in the Megillah with Yochanan:

General Nikanor, sent by Antiochus to tyrannize the Jewish people, arrived at the Holy Temple. After murdering a great many Jews, he set up an idolatrous altar there and then slaughtered a swine on it, bringing its blood into the holy site. Yochanan heard about what had happened, and he set out to avenge the Temples defilement and the persecution of his brethren. He fashioned himself a long thin sword and hid it under his garments. He came to the Temples gates, demanding an audience with Nikanor, who granted his request.

Nikanor greeted him fiercely: You must be one of those who rebelled against the king and are opposed to him.

Yochanan replied, Sir, that is me, but I have come here now before you, and I will do whatever you command me.

Nikanor was satisfied with this reply, and offered Yochanan the kings protection if he were just to offer a swine on the altar.

Yochanan responded: I would do so, but I worry that if my fellow Jews find out, they will surely kill me. If you send everyone out, and leave me here on my own, then I will not hesitate to do as you command. Nikanor obliged, and the two were left alone.

Yochanan whispered a silent prayer, took three steps, and stabbed Nikanor in the heart with the weapon he had hidden.

Yochanan then arose, rallied his people, and fought back against Nikanors legion triumphantly, winning them a great, but only temporary, victory.

He returned and built a pillar, naming it after himself, Maccabee, slayer of the mighty.

This, of course, angered Antiochus terribly, and one thing led to the next, resulting in the Chanukah story.

Yochanan was compared by his father to Avner ben Ner, a great and mighty warrior, the general of the Jewish army during King Sauls reign.

In the Book of Maccabees he is mentioned a few times as leading different legions in battle. His life ended when he attempted to entrust a large fortune that he was carrying to the Nabataean tribe, and was captured and killed by the sons of Jambri. His surviving brothers Yonatan and Shimon avenged his death by attacking the Jambris during a wedding celebration, killing hundreds and reclaiming the fortune.

An illustration of Hashmonen martyrdom (Woodcut, Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1860).

Yonatan was the fourth of the band of brothers; he is known for assuming Yehudahs position after his death and leading the Jewish people for nearly two decades, transforming the Jews from a band of rebels into a power to be reckoned with.

Yonatan was compared by his father to the original Yonatan, the son of King Saul, who successfully fought against the Philistines, protecting the Jewish people.

The book of Maccabees relates that Yonatan and Shimon often worked as a team throughout the ongoing battles. After Yehudahs death, when the mantle of leadership was passed to Yonatan, Shimon stayed by his side.

Yonatan was a brave and skilled leader. He successfully pulled through the many battles and political turbulence, while uprooting all pagan and Hellenistic influences in Judea.

Ultimately the Seleucids opted to make peace with him, granting him control of the region, at first unofficially, and eventually with open and official peace. At this point Yonatan reclaimed the position of high priest as well.

Unfortunately, this blissful situation did not last long. After a military uprising in the Seleucid Empire, Yonatan was once again at war. Things did not play out in his favor, and he was taken hostage by the Seleucid general Tryphon (the leader of the revolt). Tryphon demanded ransom money and family members as collateral, and although Shimon complied, Tryphon did not hold back his attack on Judea, and he had Yonatan killed.

Yonatan and his army destroying a pagan temple (Gustave Dore, 1866)

Elazar was the fifth and youngest of the band of brothers; he is known primarily for the heroic feat of killing a war elephant and the high-ranking general mounted upon it.

Elazar was compared by his father to the famed zealot and priest Pinchas, the son of Elazar, who stood up against the desecration of Judaism and morality brought on by the Moabite women, slaying the primary sinners, avenging Gds honor, and thereby saving the Jewish people from a plague.

Elazars valiant death has been glamorized throughout history as the epitome of a heroic death and self-sacrifice. His death has been portrayed in many famous secular and Christian paintings throughout the Middle Ages.

The story of his death is commonly told as follows: At the battle of Beit Zechariah, Elazar saw a high-ranking military leader atop a mighty war elephant; he courageously approached and stabbed the elephant, causing it to fall and die, crushing him under its weight. However, in Megillat Antiochus the story is recounted in a more harrowing fashion with a little less background; it relates that Elazar sank in the elephants excrement while attempting to kill the ferocious beast. Also, according to the Megillah, this incident happened before the miracle of the oil and the rededication of the Temple, while Maccabees places this battle later.

Artist's impression of the heroic death of Elazar (Gustave Dore, 1866)

Behind every great man stands a great woman. In the case of these five men, it was their sister Chanah, who, after being expected to go through an offensive and inappropriate experience, put her foot down, urging and encouraging her brothers to protect her honor and the honor of all Jewish women.

The law at the time required every Jewish woman to spend her first night as a married woman with the Greek governor. This decree went on for a while, causing many women to either not marry or to endure this horrible violation. On Chanahs wedding night, she spiritedly persuaded her brothers to stand up for justice and to rid themselves of the depraved governor.

The Maccabees resolved to take on the Greeks, stormed the governors palace, killed him and wreaked havoc in his camp. This incident served as another spark that catapulted the already unsteady military situation into a full-on war.

In addition to Yehudit (who may or may not have been a relative as well), Chanah is referred to as one of the heroines of Chanukah story, with some rabbinical sources even attributing the entire miracle to her.

For more on this story, read: Chabad.org: Woman at War

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Five Brave Men and One Brave Woman - Judah the Maccabee and his siblings - Chabad.org

Hanukkah in Fall River Zooming live courtesy of Temple Beth El – Fall River Herald News

Charles Winokoor|The Herald News

FALL RIVER The Jewish Festival of Lights is about to become part of the COVID-19 Zoom generation.

Cantor Shoshana Brown of Fall Rivers Temple Beth El says she came up with the idea of sharing the tradition of lighting the candles, reciting a prayer and singing a song or two with her congregants.

The Hanukkah (sometimes spelled Chanukah) Zoom will be transmitted at 5:30 p.m. the first and last nights of the eight-night and eight-day holiday which according to Jewish law marks the rededication in 165 BCE of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

The first night of Hanukkah is this Thursday, Dec. 10; the last night will be the following Thursday on Dec. 17.

Brown and her husband Rabbi Mark Elber have conducted services for Temple Beth El since July 2013.

It will be short, maybe 20 minutes with two or three songs, Brown said.

She said the last time members of the congregation were allowed inside the temple to attend services was in September during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Special precautionary measures at the time were in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Brown says theres a good reason that weekly, religious services on the mornings of Monday and Thursday, as well as every Friday evening and Saturday morning, have been held remotely.

The median age of our congregation is about 80. Its not worth the risk to our community, she said.

The night-to-night lighting of candles of one through eight each of which is placed ina menorah -- is meant to symbolize a miracle of sorts.

According to the Hebrew Talmud, following the battle victory of the Maccabees over a Greek Seleucid Empire militia, it was discovered there was only enough sacred olive oil left to burn in the menorah for a single night.

The miracle was that it lasted eight nights, which Brown says represents the continuation of the Jewish people.

Its a very minor holiday, compared to other religious holidays on the Jewish calendar, Brown said, but one that engenders celebration and optimism.

Brown said Hanukkah, which usually occurs in December and often includes the exchange of cards and gifts, has come to represent an equivalent of sorts to Christmas in the minds of many Christians.

Rabbi Elber said he hopes the Hanukkah Zoom version helps fill a void created by the current coronavirus, which so far has led to the deaths of around 285,000 Americans.

In more than one previous year, Elber said, a Klezmer band was hired to play Eastern European Jewish dance music in the temple for one of the days of Hanukkah.

Weve always had an afternoon party with music and food, he said, adding that the Zoom version is a great way to keep it alive and vibrant.

Elber said invitations to take part in the Hanukkah Zoom are limited to temple members to prevent anyone from hacking in and making anti-Semitic remarks.

He said he conducts all Zoom prayer services from his home as opposed to inside the temple building.

Temple Beth El president Steve Silverman said sharing the holiday remotely is the best alternative we have and a great choice for people to see each other.

Cantor Brown said the only conceivable silver lining in terms of the pandemic, as far as Zoom prayer services is concerned, is that some former congregants who no longer live in the area are able to partake using their home computers.

She cited the examples of one woman in her 90s living in a New Jersey assisted living facility and another elderly woman who resides in Chestnut Hill.

Rabbi Elber said Hanukkah traditionally starts as the moon wanes and concludes with a move towards new light.

Placed in the context of the current pandemic, Elber said that lunar progression is probably an apt metaphor for the much-anticipated arrival of an effective COVID-19 vaccine.

God willing, as they say, and with good science, he said.

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Perseverence Vs. Perfection – An Essay on Vayigash – Kabbalah, Chassidism and Jewish Mysticism – Chabad.org

Parshat Vayigash deals primarily with the events surroundingJacobs arrival in Egypt. After many tribulations, Joseph reconciles with hisbrothers, Jacob arrives in Egypt and finally reunites with Joseph, and thestory comes to a close. By the time we reach Parshat Vayechi, we arealready dealing with Jacobs death and his final reckoning with his sons.

Asa rule, the haftarahtraditionally associated with each parshah emphasizes the central elements of that parshah asunderstood by our sages, and in effect constitutes a form of interpretation ofthe entire parshah.Sometimes the connection between the haftarah and parshah is clear and obvious, and sometimes it is soremote that, in order to understand why the sages paired a particular haftarahwith a particular parshah,one must sit down and think. In the case of the haftarah associated with Parshat Noach, for example, the only similarity to the parshahseems to be the appearance of the words the waters of Noah.When there are divergent opinions and customs regarding which haftarah weread as in the cases of Parshat Vayishlachor Parshat Vayeitzei,for example these disputes usually revolve around the question ofwhat the parshahsessential point is.

Theessence of ParshatVayigash would appear to be the descent to Egypt, but the haftarah,which relates Ezekiels prophecy of the stick of Judah and the stick ofEphraim, shifts the focus away from this subject to the meeting, or perhapsclash, of Joseph and Judah. This, according to the haftarah, is the essence ofthe parshah;everything else is ancillary material.

The Joseph-Judah relationship and the points atwhich their paths converge continue throughout history. From the sale of Josephonward, Judah and Joseph constantly interact with each other, and their relationshipcontinues in various forms. Here, in Parshat Vayigash, their interaction is a confrontation,as the Midrash comments, Then Judah went up to him advancingto battle. TheMidrash views this confrontation as a momentous event, adding, For lo, thekings converged thisrefers to Judah and Joseph; they grew angry together thisone was filled with anger for that one, and that one was filled with anger forthis one.This is an epic clash between two kings, one that continues to occur in variousforms throughout history.

Thereare times and places where the Joseph-Judah relationship is one of cooperationand even love. In the battle against Amalek, the leadership of the People ofIsrael consists of Moses, Aaron, and two other people: Chur, a member of the tribe ofJudah, stands by Moses side opposite Aaron, while Joshua, from the tribe ofJoseph, leads the actual war. This connection appears again in the story of thespies, where Joshua and Caleb are the only two spies who refrain fromspreading calumnies about the land.Moses himself is connected by blood to the tribe of Judah (Aaron married thesister of the tribes prince, Nachshonthe son of Aminadav, and Miriam, Chursmother, was married to Caleb the son of Yefuneh). On the other hand,Joshua of the tribe of Joseph is his close disciple.

Thisduality does not end there but continues through the generations. The ShilohTabernacle stood in the territory of Ephraim for over 300 years, whereas theTemple was built in Jerusalem, on the border of the territories of Judah andBenjamin.The dirges of Ezekielfeature the sisters Ohola and Oholiva, who correspond to the kingdoms of Judahand Israel: Ohola is Samaria, and Oholiva is Jerusalem.In the royal house, although Saul is not from a tribe of Joseph, he is adescendant of Josephs mother Rachel, while David is from the tribe of Judah.The encounter between them is one of antagonism, but, as if to balance out thatanimosity, we read of a parallel and opposite relationship: the friendship andlove between Jonathan and David. There is Joshua and there is Caleb; the tribeof Judah and the tribes of Joseph; the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom ofIsrael; David and Jonathan. We see that this duality is woven throughout ourhistory, to the point that we ourselves are an example of it: The Jewish peopletoday consists solely of descendants of Judah and Benjamin.

Thiscomplicated relationship between Joseph and Judah, in all its manifestations,continues to persist, and will continue until the end of days: Even oureschatological texts describe a division between the Messiah son of David andthe Messiah son of Joseph.

The meeting of Joseph and Judah in Parshat Vayigashilluminates one aspect of their relationship. On the larger historical plane,Joseph possesses an aspect of glory that Judah lacks, in the real sense and inthe esoteric sense. At their first meeting, members of the tribe of Josephalmost always overshadow members of Judah. Even from birth, Joseph has anadvantage: He is smarter, more handsome, more successful, and more loved. Inthis respect he lives up to his characterization as the sun in his famousdream, in that he is far more lustrous than his peers, while Judah appearsinferior from the very beginning.

Thisparadigm follows here as well. How do they meet? Joseph, unofficially the kingof Egypt, meets with Judah, a peasant shepherd from some remote place. Josephstands there in all his glory, and facing him, Judah went up to him.

What,in comparison to Joseph, does Judah have to offer? What is unique about him? Itappears that Judahs unique point is continuity and endurance. Judahperseveres, as he did when he admitted his responsibility to Tamar, and this isa point that can be observed in the cases of many other members of his tribe.Joseph outshines Judah with respect to glory, but as for perseverance andstaying power and the eternityrefers to Jerusalem Joseph,for all his nobility, does not measure up.

Judahperseveres because he has the advantage of being able to fall, as it says,Though he may fall, he is not utterly cast down.When Judah falls, he is able to get up again. This is Judahs special quality;it is part of his essence.

Thepoint of Judah went up to him is that Judah, in spite of being a person ofminor importance the contrast between his and Josephs appearancemust have been striking nevertheless dares to approach the king. Tosome extent, this evokes the way in which Saul meets with David. Saul is theking, and David is a youth brought in from tending the flock to entertain Saul.

Intrinsicto Joseph and his descendants is a sort of perfection, but this perfection isvery fragile: When something breaks, they are unable to fix it. For Joseph,every situation is all or nothing, whereas Judah is adept at raising himself upagain.

Foran example of this dichotomy, one must look no further than Saul and David.Saul and David both sinned. The difference between them is the following: AfterSaul breaks once, he breaks again a second time and a third time. Though Saulcame from a distinguished family and was considered of greater stature thanall the people acourageous warrior; a humble, modest, and worthy individual; a puresoul when he falls, he is unable to get up. When Saul sins, hereaches a state in which he is ready to die and is also willing to accept theentire punishment he deserves. In contrast, when David sins, he draws newwisdom and maturity from the experience, penning the book of Psalms in itswake. This is quite an accomplishment! King David can sink low, but he canchannel that low point in his life into real spiritual growth. This is somethingthat Joseph, by his very nature, cannot do.

Thisdifference surfaces again when the Kingdom of Israel is divided in two, withthe House of Joseph and the House of Judah going separate ways. Upon readingthe assessment of the midrashim of the characters involved, it is clear whomour sages favored.

Yerovamis an exalted and impressive figure, a man chosen by God to rule over the tentribes of Israel. No matter what we think of him, he is certainly anextraordinary personality, as demonstrated by a series of talmudic anecdotes:He is capable of rebuking King Solomon when the latter is at the height of hisglory. When Yerovam is together with Achiyahthe Shilonite, all the wise men are like the grass of the field in comparisonwith them, andGod says to Yerovam, Repent, and then I and you and the son of Jesse willstroll together in the Garden of Eden.

FacingYerovam is Rechavam.Who is Rechavam?On the whole, he is a man who is a bit confused, who does not know what to doexactly with the fairly large kingdom that he inherited and which, throughill-advised harshness and imprudent softness, he manages to lose. Besides this,we are told little of Rechavam.

Nevertheless,Yerovam who certainly was a great man and a far greater scholarthan Rechavam isamong those who have no share in the World to Come. He sinned and caused othersto sin, and there is no way to atone for this. Rechavam may not have been arighteous king or an especially significant king, but he carried on the line ofthe House of David. No royal line of the kings of Joseph manages to last morethan a few generations. By contrast, the kings of the House ofDavid who certainly count some wicked men in their number areable to build a stable dynasty, and are able, ultimately, to persevere.

Elishab. Avuyah, the tannaitic apostate known as Acher (literally, Other), wassimilar to Yerovam in this sense. He was perhaps the most brilliant man of hisgeneration and was younger than all the other scholars with whom he wouldconfer. According to his own account,Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Eliezer attended his circumcision; thus, they werealready scholars when he was born. But Elisha b. Avuyah could not toleratea world that lacked perfection, and when he discovers that there are problemsin the world, he begins to fall apart. And when he falls apart, he cannotrecover from the fall.

Thisconception of perfection is reflected in a saying of his: One who learns whenyoung, to what may he be compared? To ink written on fresh paper. But one wholearns when old, to what may he be compared? To ink written on paper that hasbeen erased.Elisha b. Avuyah does not want to write on erased paper; he wants ink writtenon fresh paper. He is saying and this is part of hispersonality that since he has been erased once, he cannot rewritehimself. By contrast, Rabbi Akiva is like Judah, a peasant from anundistinguished family. Unlike Elisha b. Avuya, who came from one of theprominent families of Jerusalem, Rabbi Akiva was the son of converts.Throughout his life, Rabbi Akiva broke not just once but several times,including during difficult events in his personal life, yet he always overcamehis setbacks.

Joseph was a true tzaddik. Sometimes thisidentity is apparent in a persons character from birth, and it is immediatelyclear that this person is innately good. There is a type of personality forwhom perfection is innate. Jonathan, Sauls son, seems to fit thischaracterization he is a person with no apparent defects.

Letus note, however, that such a person a man who bears an aspect ofperfection by his very nature, who was born with all the great gifts and whoexercises them in perfect fashion must be judged by his ability toremain at this level. Possessing all the virtues is not enough if he is unableto rectify himself the moment he becomes flawed.

In nature, too, there are structures that do not reachperfection by way of development but, rather, emerge perfect from the outset.The Talmudmentions the possibility of using an egg to support the leg of a bed. Thistalmudic statement is strange and surprising. After all, even if this werepossible, who would use an egg to support the leg of a bed? But the truth isthat from a physical standpoint, an egg is one of the most perfect structuresin existence. The only problem is that an eggs strength depends on itscomplete integrity. It is like a dome: The moment one stone falls, the wholestructure collapses. This is often the nature of this kind of perfection: Itcan last only as long as there is no flaw.

Inthis sense as is evident from their interaction before and afterthis point the relationship of Joseph and Judah is that of a tzaddik anda baal teshuva.The story of Judah and Tamar compared to the story of Joseph and Potifars wifeis a striking example of this relationship.

Judahscharacter seems to deteriorate. He sells Joseph, which is a particularlydespicable act. His conduct with Tamar demonstrates a moral deficiency as well.Nevertheless, he is also capable of confronting Joseph Judah wentup to him. Here is a person who has quite a few matters on his conscience andan unsavory past. We might have expected him to sit quietly on the sidelines,but as we see, he takes action instead.

Judahnot only puts his life on the line but is also willing to face up to his pastactions. The wide gulf between those actions and his present conduct isprecisely what defines Judahs essence. The Midrashcomments that Joseph attempted rightfully to silenceJudah, asking him, Why are you speaking up? You are neither the eldest nor thefirstborn. So what are you doing? Let your eldest brother Reuben speak. Why doyou even have the right to open your mouth? Yet Judah, despite all hisbaggage, rises anew, ready to come to grips with whatever he must face. That isJudahs strength. By contrast, Joseph by nature and as a matter ofprinciple cannot change, cannot be flexible. He is a perfectionist,and this is precisely what breaks him.

TheTalmudrecounts an interesting conversation between Elisha b. Avuyah and Rabbi Meir.Elisha b. Avuyah asks Rabbi Meir to interpret the verse, Gold and glass cannotmatch its value, nor can vessels of fine gold be exchanged for it.Rabbi Meir responds, This refers to Torah matters, which, like vessels ofgold, are hard to acquire, but like vessels of glass are easily lost. Elishab. Avuyah says to him, Rabbi Akiva, your master, did not interpret that way,but, rather, Both vessels of gold and vessels of glass, if broken, can berepaired. One can melt them and form them anew. But there are vessels such as those of clay, mother of pearl, or even diamond that, afterbeing broken, remain forever broken. One cannot do anything about it; thedefect remains a defect.

Weread in MegillatEsther, But Mordechai neither bowed down nor prostrated himself.On the one hand, this conduct reflects his strength and glory; but on the otherhand, it gets him into trouble: According to the Talmud,the Jews became furious with him for not acquiescing to Hamans demands. Whydid you get us into all of this trouble? they cried. Bow down! Mordechai iscast in the same mold as his ancestors Saul and Joseph before him. He is calledMordechai the tzaddik,and tzaddikimoften cannot abide even the slightest flaw. Mordechais essential naturerequires that he be perfect.

Beforegoing out to his last battle, Saul knows that he and his sons are going to die,and he does not care. An aspect of strength and idealism accompanies this manthroughout his life even at his fall. Just like Elisha b. Avuyah,Saul does not act in half measures; if his flaws cannot be correctedcompletely, then he does not want them corrected at all. He aims for thehighest heights, but if he cannot achieve this, he will consign himself to thelowest depths. To go halfway is not an option.

Bycontrast, for someone like Judah the true baal teshuva theexistence of flaws is intrinsic to him and to his personality. If he did nothave flaws, he would not be who he is. The baal teshuva thrives on hisability to deconstruct his personality in order to reshape it in another form,to make changes within himself.

Judahbegins entirely from below. Like David, he comes from following the flock;he begins from nothing. Judah is neither the firstborn nor the most physicallyimposing of Jacobs children. However, he prevailed over his brothers (I Chr. 5:2), and hecontinuously perseveres, generation after generation.

Joshua and Caleb seem similar, to a large degree.However, though the Talmud likens Joshua to Moses, saying, Moses countenancewas like that of the sun; Joshuas countenance was like that of the moon, Joshua hadno children. Caleb had a son and a brother he had successors,generation after generation. Not all of his descendants were important orsignificant people, and most certainly did not measure up to his eminence, butCalebs essence lived on. When Joshua died, however, only a tombstone remained.After the tribes of Joseph were smashed and exiled, they did not return home.We who are basically the Kingdom of Judah had our firstTemple destroyed, but we built the Second Temple. We were exiled again for aperiod of time, but once again, we are returning.

WhereverJudah and Joseph interact, it is a meeting between perfection and adaptability.Throughout history, Joseph represents splendor, even heroism. In contrast,Judah is flawed and beleaguered, beset with difficulties; but in the end, Judahalways prevails.

At the end of the parshah, there is a sectionthat the commentators discuss extensively, even though it seems to have littleto do with the main theme of the parshah, and is connected to a different aspectof the relationship between Judah and Joseph.

Theentire final section of Parshat Vayigash is the story of how Joseph handlesEgyptian politics for Pharaoh and how he governs the Egyptians. That Joseph wasa powerful ruler over the entire land has already been stated, but here we finda whole story about how Joseph interacts with the Egyptians.

Shortlybefore this story, the Torah states, And he [Jacob] sent Judah before him untoJoseph, to show the way before him unto Goshen.Where do Judah and Joseph stand at this juncture?

Incontrast to Judah, Joseph is practically a king. He speaks seventy languages,while Judah no doubt stammers in the only language he knows. But that is notthe point. Here we see that Joseph acts not only in his own interest; rather,he tries to rectify the world. Joseph endeavors on behalf of the entire countryand puts it back on its feet. While Joseph is saving the country, Judah bringsthe family to the land of Goshen, where they organize themselves in their ownmatters. While Joseph is engaged in a great undertaking, Judah deals with thesmall matters: his flock, his herd, and the question of how to support thefamily.

Theinterpretation by our sagesthat Jacob sent Judah in order to establish a house of study does not affectthe analysis. The same conclusion emerges: Joseph is not just the mostsuccessful son in his family. He is a man who concerns himself with the wholeworld, while Judah concerns himself with parochial Jewish pursuits. WhereasJoseph is universal, Judah is only a Jew, engaging in his own pursuits and hisown matters.

Onthe surface it appears that Joseph, the man of the world, is the hero of thisnarrative, while Judah is of minor importance. Precisely here, the haftarahplays a crucial role, presenting the differences in the nature and character ofJudah and Joseph as fundamental distinctions between two parallel worlds. Whenthe Judah-Joseph duality is viewed under a different light, as it is in the haftarah,we see the world of Joseph who transcends his own individuality andrepresents a whole way of being and a world of Judah, whose essenceis that he begins from below, from crisis, from distress, and from the minutiaeof life.

WhatJoseph does almost instantly takes Judah several generations to accomplish.Even when Judah builds, the building is not straight; his progress ischaracterized by ups and downs. But which is the ideal path, the worldview thatwe should adopt and strive for? Neither the book of Genesis nor the Torah as awhole presents a clear answer to this question.

WhenJacob blesses his sons before his death and gives Judah and Joseph the biggestand most significant blessings, they are on equal ground, one facing the other.Evident in the blessings to Joseph is not just greater love for this son; theyare blessings of tremendous scope Jacob grants him heaven andearth: May your fathers blessing add to the blessing of my parents, to theutmost bounds of the everlasting hills. May they rest on Josephs head, on thebrow of the elect of his brothers.He gives him everything that can possibly be given. Correspondingly, Judahreceives eternity: The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the rulersstaff from between his feet.Joseph is given grandeur, while Judah is given eternity.

Theconclusion is not found in this parshah, nor in the book of Genesis, nor anywhere in theentire Torah. The final reckoning is that of the Messiah: Who will be the trueMessiah? Since this reckoning moves back and forth over the generations, it isclear that Joseph and Judah are equals: It is the ultimate conflict between theperfect and the imperfect, between those who begin with a stacked deck andthose who forge themselves.

The haftarah presents Judah and Joseph as two branches, andthe conflict between them is not personal but, rather, a conflict betweenessential natures. It is very difficult for them to join together, because theyare two different character types that cannot be integrated.

Thehaftarahconcludes that in this disagreement, although from time to time the scales tipto the stick of Judah or the stick of Joseph, it is impossible to truly favorone side or the other. According to the haftarah, ideally the twoaspects should be able to work together, as the Likkutei Torah writesregarding the verse, We will add circlets of gold to your points of silver.

Inall the texts that deal with this subject, it is clear that there will be nosolution to this question until the end of days. This conflict, like thedispute for the sake of Heaven of Shammai and Hillel,will ultimately endure.

Whenwe say that these two aspects should go together, the meaning is not that theyshould be joined together like two planks, forcing each to adapt to the natureof the other. When the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph join together,they should each exist independently, but side by side, in the perfect harmonyof a string quartet. Judah and Joseph represent two different elements, each ofwhich retains its distinctness. The inevitable internal conflict in thiscoexistence is the very thing that creates the beauty.

InJosephs case, there is an element of great tragedy. People who possess thecharacter traits of Joseph are incomparable in their splendor and virtualperfection. They are radiant suns, but they have no way of recovering from afall. Must it always be that those of us who approach closest to perfection arealso the most fragile among us? Will the spiritual descendants of Joseph neverbe able to lift themselves up and repair themselves?

Apparently,until the end of time, these two types will remain: one who is characterized bywholeness and perfection, and one who is characterized by fault and repair; onewho draws his strength from his perfection, and the other, from the power ofrenewal. These two will never completely unite, but together they comprise thetension that makes our lives so vibrant. We live between Judah and Joseph, andwhen the two elements work in perfect tandem, the symphony of life is formed.

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Perseverence Vs. Perfection - An Essay on Vayigash - Kabbalah, Chassidism and Jewish Mysticism - Chabad.org

You Take Christmas, I’ll Take Hanukkah | Michael Harvey | The Blogs – The Times of Israel

An unfortunate side-effect of Hanukkah approaching is the all too familiar flurry of posts by Christians on social media which include posting Hanukkah Menorahs with Christian messages, adding Yeshua and other messianic themes to Hanukkah items, and articles about why Christians should also celebrate the festival of lights. Regarding the latter, the most notable arguments from Christians is their idea of 400 years of silence, summed up perfectly by a tweet and blogpost authored by Michelle Van Loon:

Ive heard preachers say there were 400 years of silence between the last Old Testament prophet and the advent of Jesus as recorded in the N.T. gospels. Chanukah, which begins this Thursday at sundown, reminds us that this is stinkin thinkin.

Van Loon surmises, as do many Christians, that the salvation narrative is that and then there was 400 years of silence from God between the conclusion of the Old Testament prophet Malachis ministry until the birth of Jesus.

Van Loon argues that the silence was actually broken by the story of Hanukkah, within the books of Maccabees and discussed later in John10:22. However, Van Loon makes a critical error, as do any Christians that embrace this salvation narrative. The distinction between the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and Old Testament is paramount, and lost among far too many of our Christian colleagues. Straight to the point, Malachi is not the last book of the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, the final books of the Tanakh are 1st and 2nd Chronicles. When the Old Testament was translated from a Hebrew manuscript to Greek, the Church leaders rearranged the books of the Bible to fit their theological message, meaning that the prophets were moved to the end to create a smooth transition to their new prophet, Jesus. However, rearranging books does not change history. If we suppose that Malachi was written sometime in the 5th century BCE, and that Jesus was born in beginning of the 1st century CE, that does leave roughly 600 years of silence. Except, of course, that a great deal occurred between the 5th century BCE and the 1st century CE, including Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and Daniel, to name a few.

While it is also true that the books of Maccabees were written in between these years of silence, the book itself carries with it no stories of miracles, most notably the miracle of the oil lasting 8 days. The imagery of the Hanukkiah, the Hanukkah menorah, was invented by the sages of the Talmud, Shabbat 21b, as the story of Hanukkah within Maccabees (a book not included in the Hebrew Bible canon) was not Godly enough. One should then remember that the Talmud was deemed anti-Christian and burned by Christians after the 5th century. It seems questionable, then, why Christians would seek to embrace a story written in a book they condemn, in order to connect to a story about Jews fighting against assimilation.

In this holiday season when Christmas is all anyone can see, with Hanukkah nativity scenes, Hanukkah Christmas ornaments, messianic invasions and co-opting, it would be wonderful if Christians could focus on their holiday of joy, Christmas, rather than our minor holiday of Hanukkah. The story of the rebellion against the Seleucids and the victory of the Hasmoneans has nothing to do with Jesus, Christmas, or prophets. It is yet another story of Jews fighting off those who would seek to convert us. Unfortunately, the irony is lost upon the Christians who wish to take our side and find themselves in the story of the Maccabees, considering the first 1600 years of Christianitys existence was filled with genocide, torture, forced conversions, and exile for Jews.

For all these reasons, and more, I urge our Christian friends to just let Hanukkah be. You take Christmas, well take Hanukkah. Theres plenty of presents and food to go around.

Rabbi Michael Harvey was ordained by the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in 2015, and earned a Masters degree in Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion and a Bachelors degree in psychology from Boston University. Enrolled at Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, within the Doctor of Science in Jewish Studies program. Founder of "Teach Me Judaism": educational and animated Jewish lessons on scholarship: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4vNAB0lVE4munW_znGdEtQ

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You Take Christmas, I'll Take Hanukkah | Michael Harvey | The Blogs - The Times of Israel

All up in lights – The River Reporter

By RABBI LAWRENCE S. ZIERLER

According to many historical sources, Chanukah represents the first battle for religious freedom after the Syrian Greeks tried to deny the small second Judean commonwealth its rights to practice and uphold Jewish life. This culminated in the success of the Maccabean military campaign in 168 BCE.

As part of restoring the sanctity of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which had been defiled by the enemy forces, the menorah (a seven-branched candelabra, a central religious symbol of that religious sanctuary) was rekindled with a remaining small cruse of sanctified oil. While appearing to be sufficient for only one day, it miraculously burned for eight, long enough to prepare more during the succeeding eight days of the temples rededication.

This then poses the question as to why on Chanukah the Jewish people light an eight-branched menorah, the Chanukiah, instead of the traditional seven-branched one. One Rabbinic source notes that, after entering the destroyed holy space and reclaiming its sanctity, the Jewish people celebrated with a torch-lit procession using eight iron spears that were found on the Temple grounds. Implements of war were converted into symbols of spiritual strength and light. This custom prevailed until the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE, after which the Jewish people would experience a 2,000-year period of exile from their homeland. Living among cultures often hostile to public religious expression, the Jewish people reduced and compacted the torch-lit parade of the past into a home-based ritual of lighting, using a much smaller but symbolic eight-branched menorah. Hence the custom and ritual that we are familiar with today.

In the principal text on this observancefound in the Talmud, tractate Shabbat 21bthe Rabbis debate the correct manner in which to light the Chanukiah during the eight-day holiday. The School of Shammai maintains that it should be lit in descending order, beginning with eight lights on the first night and decreasing by one on the subsequent seven days. The School of Hillel asserts that it be lit in ascending orderin Hebrew, moseif vholaychbeginning with one and adding one each day until there are eight lights aglow on the final day of the festival. The latter opinion prevailed and thus became the normative practice that still endures. This is also in keeping with the Jewish spiritual and legal concept that, in acts of holiness, we must strive to add to their measure. We endeavor to raise ourselves to greater spiritual heights and ritual holiness. We are challenged to increase our levels of cultural and social growth.

The implications of such an approach are no less relevant and compelling today than they were in Talmudic times when this ruling was made. In these trying and troubling times, when darkness abounds on account of any number of social illsnot the least of which is the current pandemic and its challenging demands on our global societythe concept of increasing growth in goodness is all the more beckoning and necessary. In one sense, such thinking might be seen as counterintuitive. After all, so many of our national and cultural celebrations begin on a high note and then diminish and disappearenjoyed in the moment before leaving us bereft of that spirit and excitement, but briefly experienced.

Instead, we might be better served by an attitude and worldview that can take a small light or ember and increase its strength and impact on life. The call to service and commitment to the wellbeing of society begins with simple steps and small acts of kindness. The concept of social justice and communal concern should be seen as a work in progress. The belief in a better world becomes more possible when we look upon it as a process. It is not a zero-sum game but rather an aspirational approach that celebrates possibilities even amid what could otherwise be social blindness and human darkness.

The small flask of oil that lasted for eight days instead of the anticipated one was discovered by an unidentified, anonymous Kohein, or priest, serving in the temple. His willingness to light the lamp despite a paucity of fuel speaks to an awareness that improvement, healing and help need not wait for ideal circumstances to occur but can take root in smaller efforts that can and will grow over time. Each of us can be moseif vholaych and bring greater light to life, hope and encouragement to those who hurt, as we step out of what are too often crippling comfort zones and away from our limited horizons.

Chanukahs message through the manner of the Chanukiahs kindling is to start small but think big. It encourages an expansiveness of heart and greatness of spirit. According to Jewish mystical thought, the number seven represents nature while eight stands for that which is beyond the usual and customary.

So, we start with one small light and add each day to its warmth and radiance. Instead of dwindling down in devotion and burning out of betterment, we build on our base. Perhaps these sentiments can best be captured in the simple but often ignored lesson that life is best experienced in tending to the fire rather than worshipping the ashes. May growth in goodness shine forth from our ever-increasing lamps of love for life and liberty, generously shared and nobly experienced.

Rabbi Lawrence S. Zierler is the president and CEO of Sayva Associates, an elder-care practice based in Sullivan County. He has served as a pulpit rabbi, hospital and hospice chaplain, Jewish educator and communal executive.

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All up in lights - The River Reporter

Hanukkah This year and next – Forward

Hanukkah begins on Thursday nightand not a minute too soon.

At noon on Tuesday, every cellphone in Southern California buzzed with an emergency alert from the state office of emergency services: New public health stay at home order in your area. COVID-19 is spreading rapidly. Stay home except for essential activity. Wear a mask. Keep your distance.

There is darknessand we need light. There is worryand we need calm. There is isolationand we need community. There is an enemyand we need a miracle to overcome it.

Two thousand and fifty-five years ago, a small band of zealous Jews also faced darkness, worry, isolation, and a seemingly intractable enemy. The Syrian-Greek overlords had desecrated the holy Temple in Jerusalem, capturing the menorah, rendering the sanctuary dark. Mattathias and his five sons worried that some Jews were losing their religion by assimilating into the attractive Hellenistic culture. The Maccabees, isolated in Modiin, embarked on a seemingly quixotic guerilla war, overmatched and unlikely to succeed.

Miraculously, they defeated the Selucid army, entered Jerusalem in triumph and reclaimed the Temple. They relit the menorah and celebrated for eight days. Why eight? It was likely a kind of late Sukkot. Yet, the Hasmonean dynasty lasted less than two hundred years, falling to the Roman Empire which burned the Temple and Jerusalem to the ground in the year 70 C.E.

Although dispersed and defeated, the survivors nevertheless celebrated the triumph of the Maccabees, the memory of that improbable victory remained fresh in the popular imagination. They lit candles for eight nights in Kislev, the darkest month of the year. probably borrowing from other cultures that fought the darkness with light. The rabbis, uneasy with a celebration of militarism that ultimately led to disaster, sought to reinvent the reason for the holiday by asking a startling question in the Talmud: Mai Hanukkah? literally Why Hanukkah? The underlying question was: Whats the deal with this Hanukkah business? Unable to dissuade people from celebrating, they set about giving the holiday a new meaning, making God, not the Maccabees, the hero of the story and adding the miracle of a single vial of oil lasting eight days.

We need to reinvent Hanukkah again.

In every age, a hero or sage, came to our aid, the old Hanukkah song teaches. Who will our heroes be in this age? The frontline health professionals, the epidemiologists, the inventors of vaccines? The lights of Hanukkah, whether you believe in miracles or not, illuminate the darkest days of winter, a kind of shot in the arm. Couldnt we all use a shot in the arm right about now?

Light and dark a dialectic that defines the experience of life. On the very same day our phones lit up with a dark warning, they also broadcast V-Day in the United Kingdom, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Moncef Slaoui, director of the unprecedented rush to develop multiple vaccines, proclaimed theres a light at the end of the tunnel.

Yet, his counterpart in the U.K., Dr. Stephen Powis, warned of the rollout: its a marathon, not a sprint. It will take many months to fully inoculate the population. In the meantime, we will need to keep our distance and wear our masks, possibly until Hanukkah 2021.

Hope and fear another dialectic that defines the experience of life. In a famous Talmudic passage, a rabbi named Rava postulates that when we arrive in heaven, we are asked questions about how we lived our lives on earth. In my book The Seven Questions Youre Asked in Heaven (Jewish Lights Publishing), I explore these questions. One of my favorites is tzipita lishuah, literally did you hope for salvation? The key word is hope. Did you live your life in hopeor in fear? Theres a thin line between the two. But, throughout our history, we have chosen hope. The national anthem of the Jewish people is Ha-tikva the hope. We end our Passover Seder with words of hope: Next Year in Jerusalem.

God willing, next year on Hanukkah, we can gather again in our synagogues to celebrate the miracles of hope and resilience, of victory over this invisible enemy. I recently learned that many Black churches of the South mount an annual homecoming event inviting people to gather for a reunion. There is song, ritual and a meal. It is not just for the current members of the church; a special effort is made to welcome back former members. No questions asked just come on home. There is no denying the pandemic has caused a decline in synagogue membership, even in many of our largest congregations. On this Hanukkah, lets begin planning our homecomings for the next.

I get goosebumps just imagining these celebrations. We will turn on the lights of our darkened sanctuaries. We will fill the seats with young and old, raising our voices once again in a chorus of thanksgiving, unfettered by masks. We will be unafraid to touch, to hug, to kiss. We will light the hanukkiyah. We will experience a true hanukkah, a physical rededication of our sacred gathering places. We will praise the first responders, the doctors, the scientists, and all those who brought us through the pandemic. We will pray ancient words that have a new meaning: Praised are You, our God, sovereign of the universe, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in those ancient days at this season.

On Hanukkah this year, may God bless all those who shine light in the darkness, instilling hope in our hearts, bringing us to our next Hanukkah in joy, in happiness, in health.

Dr. Ron Wolfson is the Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles. He is the author of Hanukkah: The Family Guide to Spiritual Celebration and Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community (both Jewish Lights Publishing).

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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Hanukkah This year and next - Forward

Adin Steinsaltz: Rabbi who brought the Talmud within reach of millions – The Independent

Adin Steinsaltz was an Israeli rabbi who devoted nearly a half-century to translating the Talmud for modern readers, an epic undertaking that unlocked for millions of people a foundational but often impenetrable Jewish text.

He died on 7 August in Jerusalem. He was 83. His death was announced by the Steinsaltz Centre in Israel, which describes as its mission making a world of Jewish knowledge accessible to all, and was reported in publications including the Jerusalem Post, which said the rabbi had been hospitalised for a lung infection. In 2016 he had a stroke that left him unable to speak.

One of the most famous passages in the Old Testament arises in the book of Exodus, when Moses, leader of the enslaved Israelites and their defender before the pharaoh, demands that he let my people go. Rabbi Steinsaltz, as one of the most prominent intellectuals in modern Judaism, adopted a wry take on that ancient cri de coeur: Let my people know.

He was a genius, Walter Reich, a professor at George Washington University and frequent commentator on Jewish thought and affairs, wrote in an email, describing the rabbi as one of the greatest and most consequential scholars of the past thousand years of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Steinsaltz wrote dozens of books, including a seminal volume on Jewish mysticism, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, and commentaries on subjects ranging from philosophy to biblical zoology. In addition to his centre in Jerusalem, he founded religious schools in Israel and the former Soviet Union. He dabbled in science fiction and detective stories, an indulgence allowed, perhaps, by his propensity for 16-hour workdays.

But he was best known for the project that he took on in 1965, when he was in his late twenties and brought his encyclopedic knowledge to bear on an encyclopedic text the Talmud. Its 2,700 folio pages record centuries of rabbinical discourse on a universe of topics relating to ancient Jewish life, from observance of the Sabbath and Kosher dietary laws to agriculture in the Holy Land, civil and criminal law, family relations and Jewish beliefs on the betterment of the world.

Along with the Torah, the Talmud is one of the seminal texts of Judaism. Written in rabbinical Hebrew and Aramaic, it is also deeply arcane, intimidating to nearly all but the most learned scholars, who may devote a lifetime to the study of the Talmud and still consider their understanding of it incomplete. Even translations Rabbi Steinsaltzs was not the first failed to render readily comprehensible the pages that brim to the margins with rabbinical commentaries upon commentaries.

One could not possibly open the Talmud 50 years ago and just start reading it, Lewis Glinert, a professor of Hebrew studies at Dartmouth College, said in an interview. It was in every respect a closed book.

The task that Rabbi Steinsaltz set out for himself was not only to translate the Talmud into modern Hebrew but also to make it user friendly, Glinert said. He added modern punctuation, paragraph divisions, illustrations and extensive background material engendering fury among purists but thrill among uninitiated readers.

This was a way of opening up the Talmud to I wont say the average person, but to Jews and Gentiles who were prepared to invest time and energy into it, Glinert said. For them, it was opening up this whole world ... opening up the ancient Jewish treasures to whoever wants to come and learn.

Rabbi Steinsaltz employed a team of translators who laboured over the task through interruptions including several Middle East wars; a modern Hebrew edition was completed in 2010. The Steinsaltz Talmud (or portions thereof) was translated into several other languages, including English. A volume in Russian was released in 1996.

The Talmud is the central pillar of Jewish knowledge, important for the overall understanding of what is Jewish, Rabbi Steinsaltz once told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. But it is a book that Jews cannot understand. This is a dangerous situation, like a collective amnesia. I tried to make pathways through which people will be able to enter the Talmud without encountering impassable barriers. Its something that will always be a challenge, but I tried to make it at least possible.

Detractors accused Rabbi Steinsaltz of simplifying a text whose wisdom was revealed through the laborious process of deciphering it. Reading the Steinsaltz Talmud in English is like trying to understand what a crossword puzzle is when the words have been filled in, Arthur Samuelson, a reviewer, wrote in The Nation. You get the idea but you miss the point: process is everything.

But even his fiercest critics, according to Reich, are said to hide their copies of the Steinsaltz volumes in brown paper wrappers.

Some American critics, themselves relatively innocent of serious and sustained Talmudic study but moved nonetheless to offer themselves as defenders of the Talmuds purity, have decried Steinsaltzs English edition as false, superficial and a mimicry of the real thing, Reich wrote in 1990.

To say that, however, is to misunderstand the value and purpose of his achievement, the review continued. Whatever simplifications he introduces are more than balanced by the advantages they confer to the student who would otherwise find himself unable to even begin Talmud study.

In 2010, when Rabbi Steinsaltz completed the last of the 45 volumes of his translation, The New York Times reported that 3 million copies had been sold around the world.

According to the Times, Rabbi Steinsaltz was born on 11 July 1937, in Jerusalem, in what was then the British mandate of Palestine. His father, a socialist, fought with the Republicans against Francisco Francos fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War. The intellectuals most venerated in their household were not rabbis but rather Marx, Lenin and Freud.

Nonetheless, Rabbi Steinsaltzs father engaged a Talmudic tutor for him when he was 10 years old. I dont mind about your behaviour or your beliefs, but nobody in our family will be an ignoramus, he recalled his father saying. That exposure to Judaism, along with what Rabbi Steinsaltz described as his innate scepticism towards atheism, led him to Orthodox Judaism.

I came to the point, he told the Times, where the world could not contain my desire for truth. He later became a follower of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Hasidism. Under the guidance of the movements longtime leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, he adopted the Hebraicised surname Even-Israel.

Known throughout his life for his unbridled intellectual curiosity, Rabbi Steinsaltz studied mathematics and physics at university. He worked as a teacher and a principal before devoting himself to his translation of the Talmud.

Since I started the work at a relatively young age, obviously I didnt take into account the immense effort it requires, which includes not only the work of researching and writing, but also many logistical problems, Rabbi Steinsaltz told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in 2009.

But sometimes, when a person knows too much, it causes him to do nothing, he continued, observing that it seems its better, sometimes, for man, as for humanity, not to know too much about the difficulties and believe more in the possibilities.

Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, rabbi, born 11 July 1937, died 7 August 2020

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Adin Steinsaltz: Rabbi who brought the Talmud within reach of millions - The Independent

Our highest obligation: Strive to be a ‘mench’ – The Jewish Star

By Rabbi Binny Freedman

Iremember the first Mishnah I ever learned, and it wasnt in a classroom.

The synagogue we attended when I was five years old had a strict decorum, and I recall the challenges this presented to my parents; vague images of my red-faced and embarrassed father carrying me out of synagogue kicking and screaming come to mind.

I had succeeded in escaping from the seat next to my father and ran up to the front of the synagogue. Rabbi Dr. Simon Greenberg, who was a talmid chacham, had an honored place in the front row, and I can still remember his piercing eyes and warm smile. He had the largest hands I had ever seen, and somehow, he succeeded in getting hold of me (I was not easy to catch) and hoisting me up to sit on his lap.

I can still remember the sefer he was holding, and his query as to whether I knew what it was. And I even remember the text of the Mishnah, which he proceeded to teach me in its entirety. Most people, catching hold of a rambunctious five-year-old shouting and yelling in synagogue, usually head for either their parents or the door. But he chose instead to teach me the entire first Mishnah of the Talmud in its entirety, right there on his knees.

Most of all, I still remember how important I felt as a five year old, to be sitting on this great rabbis lap, all the way in the front of the synagogue with, so it seemed to me, nothing more important to him than our conversation. Looking back, those few moments must have had a strong impact on me, as I still remember not only the text he taught me, but the entire conversation as well.

Mentsch is a hard word to translate. It refers not to a persons wisdom, or brilliance, but to the pure human decency such wisdom is meant to produce. It would be safe to say that my path to teaching began not from some brilliant insight full of wisdom but rather from a simple moment filled with a Torah scholars willingness to spend time on a text even with a noisy five year old boy.

We are in the midst of preparing for Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. On Yom Kippur we will beat our breast and cry out our regrets over the missed opportunities and mistakes of the last year. Most people spend time considering the actions we regret, but very little focus on whether our character needs refining, as well. What of the less measurable challenge of being, generally, a fine human being? Is there a mitzvah to be a mentsch?

At the beginning of this weeks portion, Ki Tavoh, we read:

Yekimchah Hashem Lo leam kadosh, ki tishmor et mitzvoth Hashem Elokechah vehalachta beDeracahav (Hashem will raise you to Him as a holy nation when (because) you will fulfill the mitzvoth of Hashem your G-d, and walk in His ways) (Devarim 28:9).

All of the blessings we hope to receive as a people seem to be based on this clause, VeHalachta BeDeracahav (and walk in His ways). But what does this mean?

Maimonides lists this particular phrase as a separate mitzvah, in his Sefer HaMitzvoth (Positive Commandment 8), implying that there is a specific mitzvah we are expected to fulfill. Maimonides actually spells this out in his Hilchot Deot, the laws of character development. In his magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, where the Rambam delineates and organizes the entirety of Jewish law, the second set of laws, right at the beginning of the first of his 14 books, concern the Jewish recipe for becoming a mentsch. Second only to the laws of the foundations of Torah (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, the basic principles of faith in Judaism), Maimonides believed Judaism begins with the challenge of becoming a mentsch.

And the basis for his insistence that adherence to a Torah lifestyle begins with the obligation to become a good person is our verse, VeHalachta BeDeracahav.

In other words, it is not just commendable when a person becomes a mentsch, it is an obligation, without which we are not fulfilling one of the basic ingredients of Judaism. A closer look at Maimonides Hilchot Deot reveals that a person who is too angry or too stingy, too greedy or too lazy, is transgressing (or at least not fulfilling) one of Judaisms basic mitzvoth. In fact, the context in which this mitzvah appears here in the Torah, suggests that it is a far more important mitzvah to develop ones character than putting on tefillin, or even refraining from eating pork!

Indeed, the Rambam points out that not only are we obligated to refine our character, but also indeed we have to do teshuvah for our lacking in these areas. The teshuvah process we seek to achieve in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah is not just about our mistaken actions, but our incomplete character traits as well (Hilchot Teshuvah or Laws of Repentance 7:3). We have to repent, says the Rambam, for every moment of anger, jealousy, hatred, greed, arrogance and pride.

In fact, this is the true meaning of the verse in Isaiah read on the afternoon of community fast days: Yaazov rasha darko, veish aven machshevotav (Let the wicked leave his path, and the man of iniquity his thoughts) (Yishayahu 55:7).

Preparations for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur begin with our determination to make ourselves into better human beings.

Rav Kook (in his Arpelei Tohar) suggests that all of a persons problems and all the baggage we carry in life, stem from ones relationship with Hashem. If my relationship with and perception of G-d is skewered, then I will be skewered as well.

If my G-d is an angry G-d, then on a certain level, I will be an angry person, and if my G-d is only a G-d of judgment, then I will be a person filled with judgment. But even more, if I cannot see the piece of G-d inside every human being, beginning with myself, then I have an incomplete and skewered perception of G-d.

A version of this column appeared in 2012.

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Our highest obligation: Strive to be a 'mench' - The Jewish Star

Ambassador Michael Oren on His New Book and the Presidential Election – Algemeiner

Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren. Photo: The Israel Project.

Michael Oren is no longer Israels ambassador in Washington or a member of the Knesset.

But hes managing to keep busy, Oren assures me in a phone interview to promote The Night Archer, his new book of short stories.

He has a novel, To All Who Call in Truth, coming out in November. Hes working on another collection of short stories. Hes an informal foreign policy adviser to a number of political figures. Hes raising money to finish a nonfiction book called Creation, about Israels founding and 1948 War of Independence. Hes coordinating Israel 2048, a manifesto outlining a vision for what Israel should look like on its 100th birthday. Hes learning French, keeping up with the Daf Yomi program of a page a day of Talmud study and enjoying five grandchildren.

Theres no boredom here, Oren says.

September 2, 2020 2:08 pm

The Night Archeris full of things that might be a bit surprising coming from a diplomat. Theres a Passover afikomen hunt that includes a searcher stumbling on his fathers porn stash. Theres a Holocaust survivor-turned-commercially-successful-writer-and-frequent-honorary-doctorate-recipient, having an affair with an unpaid intern young enough to be his granddaughter.

Theres another story about a Philip-Roth-like character in paradise. Did I have fun writingthat, Oren says, acknowledging with a laugh that many stories in the book would seem undiplomatic. He emphasizes, in response to my question, that the Holocaust survivor character was not based on any one real individual but was rather a composite.

I had fun reading these stories.

In a brief, erudite introduction to the short stories, and in our phone call, Oren says that the short story, imagination constrained by the structure of brevity, is a characteristically Jewish combination of freedom and discipline.

The freedom-limit paradox can be confounding but also intoxicating, Oren writes in the introduction, telling the story of a friend who was born Jewish but hated his heritage.

The friend accompanied Oren to synagogue for Simchat Torah, the holiday when Jews dance and sing while embracing the scrolls.

The friend, Oren writes, was flummoxed. Theyre celebrating a book that tells them all these things they cant do?

Reports Oren, unable to grasp the contradiction, the friend finally, in desperationbegan to study the Bible and then the Talmud, and eventually became observant.

Before Oren rings off, I ask him, as the former ambassador and the author of Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide, how he views the upcoming American election and its potential effects on USIsrael relations.

Both candidates running are very pro-Israel, Oren says. A Biden administration might bring policy differences over the Palestinian issue, West Bank settlements and the Iran nuclear deal, Oren points out. He notes, though, that Trump has also offered to negotiate a deal with Iran. Oren suggests that Israel could help by spelling out clearly what would be a good deal with Iran.

The bigger picture, he says, is that Israel depends on a strong and self-confident America.

It was concerning instead to see what appeared like a superpower that is not quite certain how to police itself, much less police the world, Oren adds.

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Ambassador Michael Oren on His New Book and the Presidential Election - Algemeiner

Let’s marginalize the bigots | OP / ED | thesuburban.com – The Suburban Newspaper

On September 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I addressed the Canadian Club of Montreal to recruit Quebeckers to fight antisemitism and all forms of hatred.

What inspired me to speak at that podium on that day was not some of the dangerously crazy conspiracy theories related to 9/11 although I tackled them; it was the major spike in antisemitic incidents in this country that took place in the Spring of 2004. Bnai Brith Canadas League for Human Rights catalogued 857 incidents that year, making 2004 the worst-ever year up to that point for antisemitic activity in Canada.

Early one Monday morning, while I was shaving before heading off to work at BMO, my wife Elizabeth expressed alarm at the cowardly hate-filled firebombing of the library at the United Talmud Torah school in Montreal and a weekend-long rampage of tombstone-toppling and swastika-painting in Toronto. She said, Tony, we need to do something about it. While she was right, at the time, we were not quite sure just what that something should be.

After speaking with friends in the Jewish community and giving it considerable thought, we concluded that this was not an issue for the Jewish community to solve. It was indeed an issue for all of us to solve. So, we assembled a coalition of leading Canadian business and community leaders who were pointedly not Jewish to stand up and speak out against antisemitism. This group included Laurent Beaudoin, Andr Desmarais, Claude Lessard, Ral Raymond, and Marc Tellier. We took out full page ads in newspapers across the country. We called this initiative FAST, which stands for Fighting Antisemitism Together.

Elizabeth, who had taught Grade Four at the Beth Rivkah Academy for Girls when we were first married and living in Montreal, knew that hate was all too often learned at the parental knee. She believed that the best way to reach and open up young hearts and minds was through education. With the help of leading educators in planning the curriculum and Montreal-born Ben Mulroney in providing an introduction that spoke to kids, we launched two curriculum-based programs to help teachers. Choose Your Voice is for children in grades 6, 7 and 8 and Voices into Action is for students in high school and CEGEP. Since their inception, more than 667,000 students at 4450 schools across Quebec have been through these programs.

Fifteen years ago, the founders of FAST declared that the time has long since passed for silence in the face of antisemitism and other forms of hatred, bigotry and racism. While there is no question that FASTs educational initiatives have had a positive impact, sadly, we cannot declare mission accomplished. Last year, there were 2,207 antisemitic incidents in Canada or an eye-popping average of 6 incidents per day, with online harassment up 11 per cent, according to BNai Brith.

Having turned 75 this year, in the middle of a pandemic, and wanting to ensure that FAST continues its unique and important mission, I transitioned the leadership of FAST to Dr. Catherine Chatterley, a brilliant University of Chicago-trained historian, who is a leading global expert in the study of antisemitism.

With COVID-19, the 2020-2021 school year is going to be a challenging one for teachers, students, and parents. As Quebec teachers prepare their lesson plans, I hope they will avail themselves of our free curriculum-based resources (chooseyourvoice.ca and voicesintoaction.ca), which have won the Canadian Race Relations Foundation Award of Excellence, and are available in both English and French.

As Canadians, we are long past the point where we should permit the bigots to spread their poison unscathed. Let us dedicate this school year to emboldening and encouraging those young and still open hearts and minds to stand up and speak out against discrimination, wherever and however it rears its ugly head. Lets marginalize the bullies and bigots, strip them of their influence, and take away their power to intimidate. Lets take direct aim at antisemitism, racism and all the other ugly isms that pollute our world. Canada is the greatest country on earth, and we all have a responsibility to ensuring that everyone feels safe, secure and free to be who they are.

Tony Comper is co-founder of FAST and was president and chief executive officer of BMO Financial Group

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Let's marginalize the bigots | OP / ED | thesuburban.com - The Suburban Newspaper

End this year, with its curses! | Yaakov Jaffe | The Blogs – The Times of Israel

This Shabbat at Maimonides, we will have the unusual experience of reading 147 curses as part of our Shabbat morning Torah reading.

Ever since our shul reopened to read Parshat Bamidbar, following our shut-down in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been reading two Torah readings each week, and this week we finally come full circle reading the regular weekly parsha, Ki Tavo, along with our final make-up parsha, Bechukotai.

Following the ruling of Rabbi Hershel Schachter and others, and in recognition of the teachings of our founder, the Rav zl (Sheiurei Ha-Rav Tefilah #38) and his teachers teacher the Vilna Gaon we have been careful to read every Parsha this Jewish calendar year proudly affirming that for whatever COVID has taken from us, it has not deprived us of the opportunity to read the entirety of Hashems Torah together as a community.

Were doing so on behalf of the entire greater New England community. Since its founding in 1937, Maimonides has always been the central, premier Torah institution in all of New England, and more Torah is studied daily in our Yeshivah than in any other building in Massachusetts. It is because of our intense passion for Torah study, that it is fitting that we have been making up each of the Parshiot that might have been lost.

And so, this week, our two Parsha readings both feature curses Ki Tavo features the 98 curses of Moses just prior to his passing, and Bechukotai the 49 curses given Har Sinai, for a total of 147 curses read in a marathon Torah reading this Shabbat. The two sets of curses are often juxtaposed and compared: narrative voice (Megillah 31b), severity (Bava Batra 88b, Rashi Devarim 28:23), and length (Midrash Tanchumah Nitzavim 1).

One of the oldest rules of setting the Torah reading schedule, appearing in the Talmud (Megilah 31b) and attributed to Ezra and the early second temple period, is that the curses are to be read in the penultimate week of the year, to convey a sense May the year end with its curses. We ironically read the harsh predictions of what might happen to the Jewish people not with a sense of anxiety or sadness, but with an optimistic view that perhaps all these curses are part of the destiny of last year, now beyond us. Perhaps for the upcoming year Begin the new year with its blessings!

5780 was a difficult people for all of us, in the Jewish people and in the entire world, and it is important to engage in a symbolic act to hope that the worst has passed us, so we can focus about renewed beginning and the blessings of a new year. We are hopeful that the year soon-to-begin will carry with it vaccines, cures, and health for all of humanity.

This week we will scream Chazak, Chazak, Ve-Nitchazek: Be strong! We have finally concluded are reading of Vayikra, we have finally complete this years Torah reading and may we be strong moving forward into next year!

In the merit of the sense of completion and finally closing the circle of Torah readings, may the curses of the past year end, and may the new year bring for us only blessings.

Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Jaffe is the Rabbi of the Maimonides Kehillah, and the Dean of Judaic Studies at the Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass.

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End this year, with its curses! | Yaakov Jaffe | The Blogs - The Times of Israel

Holy Witnesses – Torah Insights – Parshah – Chabad.org

Witnesses are an important part of every judicialsystem. Yet, as is often the case, Judaism presents a deeper dimension andperspective on the function and purpose of witnesses.

According to the Talmud, there are two categories ofwitnesses, clarifying witnesses and establishing witnesses. Clarifyingwitnesses are witnesses in the conventional sense. They observe an event andlater testify that the event indeed occurred; for example, witnesses cantestify that a man borrowed one hundred dollars from his friend. The witnesses,however, have no part in the transaction; the borrower is morally obligated torepay the loan whether or not the witnesses testify. It is the loan that obligateshim, not the witnesses.

The second category, establishing witnesses, isentirely different. According to Jewish law, there are events that have nolegal significance unless there are witnesses present. For example, thewitnesses at a wedding ceremony not only attest that the wedding took place,but actually establish the marriage itself. Without proper witnesses, themarriage would have no legal significance.

In other words, the clarifying witnesses reveal thelegal reality, and the establishing witnesses actively participate increating a legal reality. But these two categories of witnesses are not justlegal definitions; theyre relevant to the inner, spiritual dimension of theTorah.

The prophet Isaiah tells us: You are My witnesses, says the Lrd.We are the witnesses charged with the responsibility to testify and revealthe truth of Gd throughout the earth.Our spiritual task as witnesses contains both dimensions, clarifying andestablishing, We serve as clarifying witnesses when we recognize the presenceof Gd in the magnificent universe He created. When we remind ourselves andothers of the good inherent in the world and within people.

Yet merely observing, appreciating and sharing doesnot capture the full potential and greatness of the Jew, for the Jew is awitness to a marriage, the marriage between Creator and creation, between theGd and the Jewish people, between heaven and earth. As previously explained,the witnesses of a marriage are establishing witnesses, part of the creationand establishment of the marriage.

To be a witness to the marriage of heaven and earth,the Jew must do more than appreciate and focus on the inherent Gdliness foundon earth. The Jew must partner with Gd in creation. The Jew actively improvesand elevates the world around him. He transforms the mundane by imbuing it withmeaning and holiness. The Jew doesn't just tell a story, the Jew seeks toactively create it.

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