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Category Archives: Talmud

The Joys of Learning Talmud Bavli And Yerushalmi –

Posted: April 23, 2021 at 12:42 pm

All those who are learning Daf Yomi just completed Maseches Shekolim, the only volume included in the cycle from Talmud Yerushalmi. Some of the participants breathed a sigh of relief as we returned to the more familiar territory of Talmud Bavli with the study of Yoma. However, for others, their appetite was whetted for new vistas in the land of Yerushalmi. Not too long ago, the Gerrer Rebbe spearheaded a Daf Yomi for Yerushalmi and ArtScroll has been regularly issuing volumes in the English and Hebrew translations of this often unexplored Torah adventure.

Why, indeed, are there two different Talmuds and what distinguishes one from the other?

Furthermore, how did it happen that almost all scholars study Talmud Bavli and only rarely do we encounter even a great talmid chochom who is proficient in Yerushalmi?

The answers are fascinating and often lead to further commitment to the study of the Jerusalem Talmud.

First of all, what about the language and its apparent difficulty? Is it only our lack of familiarity or is there actually a reason we often simply dont know whats happening? Rav Yaakov Emden (Zohorei Yaavetz, page 123) writes that the lofty level of the Yerushalmi and the incredible light that shines from it motivated its editors and organizers, our sages, to present it in a difficult language that keeps the populace from understanding its depths. The language of the Bavli is clear and accessible, as opposed to the Yerushalmi, which is quite strange and almost incomprehensible. The reason for this discrepancy is so that the Yerushalmi would be inscrutable to the nations and evil people would have no access to its riches. There is no question that this was done deliberately with great wisdom, as all the decisions made by our sages.

The Netziv (Haamek Dovor, Shemos 34a) is even more specific in delineating the distinctions between Bavli and Yerushalmi. He likens the Yerushalmi to the first Luchos, which were given to us before we sinned with the Eigel. The sanctity of the first, he writes, was greater than the second. Had the first set not been broken, it would have been [relatively] easy to arrive at final decisions by logical means and comparisons. However, once we sinned, we required greater effort and analysis of the Torah. For this, the second Luchos were preferable. This dichotomy was similar to that of the two Talmudim. The Yerushalmis sanctity is greater than that of the Bavli in that the Amoraim [who compiled it] were earlier (Shabbos 134b), which led them closer to the truth. To this end, the fact that it was compiled in the Holy Land elevated this Talmud to the level of the first Luchos. This approach is reflected in Chazal, who say (Medrash Haneelam Eichah, Uzechor es borecha) that the word light always refers to Talmud Yerushalmi.

Rav Moshe Zechus (commentary to Rav Chaim Vitals Mevo Hashearim) adds another appellation. He reveals that the essence of Talmud Yerushalmi is rooted in Leah Imeinu and Talmud Bavli in Rochel Imeinu. At the beginning of the exile, not so many of the sparks (nitzotzos) were hidden very deeply and the righteous were able to retrieve them in the spirit of Leah However, later, when the pain of the exile deepened, the secrets could not be brought forth on the same level, leading to the statement of the Talmud Bavli itself (Sanhedrin 24a) that the posuk in Eichah of He placed me in darkness refers to Talmud Bavli.

Now, while all of this is beyond my understanding, it seems clear that the Yerushalmi retains secrets of the Torah beyond those permitted to Talmud Bavli. The Chidah (Midbar Kadomos, ches, No. 2) adds that the earlier generations were comprised of more elevated souls who were able to plumb the depths without tremendous debate and argumentation. The Chidah elsewhere (Sheim Hagedolim, seforim taf, No. 56) attributes the Rambams lofty soul to his connection to the Talmud Yerushalmi. Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson (commentary to Aggados, Yoma 9a) also understands the darkness of Talmud Bavli as resulting from the doubts that emerge from pilpul and much machlokes, unlike the majority of the Yerushalmi.

All of this reminds us that our primary learning must be in Talmud Bavli, because this is closer to our level of understanding. On the hand, as the Gerrer Rebbe reminded us, there is much to be gained from allocating some time to the grand holiness and esoteric secrets of Talmud Yerushalmi as well. May we merit mastering both Talmudim, im yirtzeh Hashem.

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Rabbinate is overstepping its boundaries on conversion, divorces -opinion – The Jerusalem Post

Posted: at 12:42 pm

It was with profound sadness as well as angry consternation that I read of the recent decision by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate stating that all the conversions and divorces performed in Orthodox rabbinical courts outside of Israel must be approved by the Chief Rabbinates Department for Marriage and Conversion. I believe the Israeli Rabbinate is overstepping their boundaries especially in two areas dependent upon a personal relationship: between a rabbi and convert, and a congregant seeking a divorce.

Moreover, the glory of our Talmudic literature is that it is profoundly pluralistic, encouraging dissent and respectful of different traditions as long as the disputants have the proper intellectual credentials and accept the overall system of Halacha (Jewish law) and lifestyle. Witness the following Talmudic passage:

Rabbi Abba said in the name of Shmuel: For three years the academy of Shammai and the academy of Hillel disputed. These said, The Halacha is like we [declare it to be] and those said, The Halacha is like we [declare it to be]. A small Divine voice descended [from heaven] and said, These and those are the words of the Living God, and the Halacha is in accordance with the academy of Hillel. But if these and those are the words of the living God, why did the academy of Hillel merit the law to be established in accordance with its positions? Because they are gentle and tolerant and study their own opinions as well as the opinions of the academy of Shammai, and they even cite the opinions of the Academy of Shammai before their own opinions. (Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 13b)

According to this source, in the rabbinical disputes between the disciples of Hillel and Shammai, both sides represent the words of God and both sides express an absolute truth of Divine origin. God Himself, as it were, provided for alternate possibilities depending upon the circumstances, the temper of the times, and the individuals in question. Pluralism, at least in terms of differences of opinion in the realm of Jewish law, is built into the very fabric of our system and appears to be a necessary expression of Divine will.

The overwhelming majority of Talmudic sources confirm this open view of pluralism the idea that these and those are the words of the Living God. In fact, this phrase appears many more times in the Babylonian Talmud (e.g., Gittin 6b and Rosh Hashanah 14b). The Babylonian Talmud in Hagiga 3b says, Those who declare impure and those who declare pure... were each given their view from [the] one Shepherd.

If the exigencies of the time and/or the situation demand it, it is certainly permissible for a religio-legal authority (posek) to resolve a halachic problem in accordance with a minority decision. So teaches the Tosefta in the beginning of the Tractate Eduyot, and this is the accepted procedure in normative Halacha. (See my book The Living Tree, Studies in Modern Orthodoxy, Maggid Books pp. 9-30.)

As you can see, our halachic structure is hardly monolithic, and allows different communities to have individual rabbinical authorities who are sensitive to the background of the questioner as well as being thoroughly knowledgeable in the law at hand. Specifically issues of divorce and conversions, the very issues which the Chief Rabbinate insist on reviewing, require the local rav to be familiar with the individual case, especially if it be a woman seeking a divorce from an unwilling husband or a convert who will always require rabbinic strengthening and follow-up after the conversion. A rav in Jerusalem cannot decide on the sincerity of a convert in New York!

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A popular haredi (ultra-Orthodox) magazine at the time, Yom HaShishi, made the huppah at the Wall their cover story, with the screaming headline; The Rabbi of Efrat married a kohen to a divorce (needless to say ,without bothering to learn any of the details or even calling me to determine the true facts of the case). Rav Mordechai Eliyahu was then the Rishon Lezion chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel, and he and his rabbanit had spent a Shabbat with us in our developing community in Efrat. He had also given a lecture at our yeshiva high school and kollel, the earliest of our Ohr Torah institutions.

Since no one in Efrat in those early days read Yom HaShishi, and since I hadnt received any negative feedback from anyone, I paid no attention to the article. But to my great surprise and eternal gratitude, the Rishon Lezion Rav himself called my home. He introduced himself on the phone only as Mordechai Eliyahu, said that he hears that some people are shedding my blood, and that he would like to hear about the reported incident of the Kohen and divorce from me the following day in his office.

At our meeting, after he warmly greeted me, I explained that the Kohen was a long-time baal tshuva (returnee to Judaism) of mine, and that the only source for his status as a kohen was his father and grandfather, who had both been treif butchers and Shabbat desecrators. And so, according to a written responsum of Rav Moshe Feinstein, given the wandering status of the Jews during the last centuries, such Jews could not be considered reliable witnesses for establishing a kohen status (See Igrot Moshe, Even HaEzer 4:11).

The Rishon Lezion Rav then told me that although most halachic decisors in Israel would not accept this particular decision of Rav Moshe about the kohen status, since I was a qualified and certified Orthodox rav, I had every right to decide the issue in accordance with Rav Moshe. After all, these and those [Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, rabbinical authorities in Israel and rabbinical authorities abroad] all speak the words of our living God.

It is to be hoped that the Chief Rabbinate today would learn this lesson, especially in the two areas that they insist on controlling: conversion and divorces. As we have seen, these are specifically the areas that are most sensitive to having local religious courts making the final decision and assuming the halachic responsibility.

The writer is the founding rabbi of Efrat, and the founder and rosh yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone.

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Rabbinate is overstepping its boundaries on conversion, divorces -opinion - The Jerusalem Post

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Talmud Torah: Jewish group will be studying ancient texts in Edinburgh – Edinburgh News

Posted: at 12:42 pm

Let us know what you think and join the conversation at the bottom of this article.

Being the first ever organisation to offer deep inclusive Jewish text learning in Scotland, Azara will begin with a month-long summer programme in Edinburgh next year.

The group aims to work across sectarian divisions in order to change the face of the Jewish community, as there are currently very few places in Scotland teaching how to read ancient texts written in Hebrew and Aramaic.

Talmud Torah, known as text study, is one of the pillars in Judaism that many Jews will set aside time each day to learn, yet the only previous place of Jewish learning in Scotland was the Glasgow Yeshiva, only open to teenage boys.

This place of learning was also closed many years ago. Previously, Scottish Jews who wanted to study this type of ancient text often find themselves going abroad to do so, but Azara plans to teach anyone regardless of age, gender or background. This will also help the emigration that has plagued the community, which has quartered in size since the mid-20th century.

The summer programme in Edinburgh invites students from across Scotland, the UK and Europe to learn together, connecting visitors and locals in attempts of being a gathering place for the whole community, as Azara will also be in conjunction with other Scottish Jewish organisations. Furthermore, there will be the option of attending for a day, an evening, or even a class, if those wanting to attend cannot for the whole month.

Jessica Spencer, a Scottish student Rabbi and co-founder of Azara, said: Classical Jewish texts are full of thoughtful debate about just the sort of questions that we ask today: how to build a just society, how to make life meaningful, how to cultivate connection?

"By bringing this kind of learning back into the Scottish community and inviting visitors to share with locals in the project, were hoping to show the world how vibrant Jewish life in Scotland can be.

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For #Metoo Transgressors, the Only Cure is Banishment – Jewish Exponent

Posted: at 12:42 pm

Avigayl Halpern

By Avigayl Halpern

In the years following the reckonings with sexual harassment and assault prompted by the #MeToo movement, there has been debate over the correct communal response to those accused of sexual misconduct and whether perpetrators should be pushed to the edges of a community.

Questions of sin, quarantine and repentance are central to last weeks Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora, prompted by the rules surrounding the metzora, a person afflicted with tzaraat. Sometimes translated as leprosy, tzaraat is a skin disease that, per the description, can also affect houses and clothing. After an inspection by a priest, a person who is found to have tzaraat must tear their clothes and leave the camp until they are found to be pure by a second inspection, and they must cry out Impure! Impure! as they walk.

The rabbis suggest that tzaraat is not simply a random occurrence. Instead they cast it as a punishment, most famously associating tzaraat with lashon hara, cruel speech, but the Talmud in Arakhin offers seven sins that would cause a person to be afflicted with tzaraat: For malicious speech, for bloodshed, for an oath taken in vain, for forbidden sexual relations, for arrogance, for theft and for stinginess.

Today we know to avoid framing illness or bodily differences as signs of moral degradation. But the commands given to the metzora can be understood in another way: not as a response to a bodily condition, but as a model for repairing the damage caused by misdeeds.

The debate over how to repair such damage was reignited in recent weeks when it came to light that Jewish studies scholars and community leaders had been participating in closed-door, invitation-only conversations convened by a group that included Steven M. Cohen, a prominent Jewish sociologist accused of making both verbal and physical advances on junior women colleagues and subsequently resigned from his major academic positions.

Hundreds of Jewish leaders, rabbis and rabbinical students have pushed back against these recent gatherings in public letters, arguing that Cohen had not demonstrated the kind of repentance necessary for such acts of public rehabilitation.

As Jewish clergy, reads a letter signed by more than 500 rabbis and cantors, we know that actively participating in the rehabilitation of unrepentant abusers is not value neutral, and we know that lifting up the work of unrepentant abusers is not value neutral.

I was involved in drafting a similar letter from rabbinical and cantorial students.

In social media conversations and elsewhere, this has raised conversations about how far might be too far in socially sanctioning those who have committed sexual harassment and assault. Is it really fair to push someone fully out of the camp?

When the Talmud in Arakhin goes through its list of sins that cause tzaraat in more depth, the prooftext it offers for sexual misbehavior comes from Genesis, citing the episode when Pharaoh kidnaps Abrahams wife, Sarah, and is punished by God with great afflictions. The Hebrew word for afflictions is negaim, the same word used in Tazria-Metzora to describe the marks of tzaraat.

This is a striking example for the rabbis to choose. This is not a verse about run-of-the-mill sexual misbehavior, like adultery. This is a reference to a story about sexual violence and power. Pharaoh, who holds all the cards, takes Sarah to his palace simply because he wants to. Some commentators also hold Abraham responsible for standing by and allowing this to happen he had claimed Sarah was his sister in hopes that Pharaoh would not harm him when taking her away. While many commentators excuse Abrahams lie, the medieval commentator Nachmanides is critical of Abrahams decision to expose his wife to sexual sin.

By invoking this story in the context of tzaraat, the rabbis offer us an opportunity to understand the biblical processes for responding to tzaraat as a mode for responding to sexual violence. Banishing someone outside the camp is a key part of a communitys response to such behavior. Time away is necessary, and it is the responsibility of the culpable party to keep others safe, to prioritize their needs over his or hers. The person with tzaraat is commanded to warn passersby of their state.

In a dvar Torah, Dr. Rachel Rosenthal, a Talmud professor, writes: Often, it is difficult to acknowledge our own weaknesses and failings. We excuse behaviors in ourselves that we condemn in others, justifying our actions even as we are uncomfortably aware that we do not really believe we are doing the right thing. Imagine if, every time we wronged ourselves and others, we were forced to stand up and admit it.

Rosenthal challenges us to embrace the mode of the metzora, to see the value in making public our wrongs. Rosenthals words are directed at individuals: We must all own our misdeeds and take time to contemplate them. But her words also offer wisdom as we as a community consider what is moral and right: Rather than hiding behind excuses, we would be forced to stand before the world and say, Look, this is who I am, both for good and for bad. And while this might cause us to be temporarily separated from our communities, ultimately it would have the potential to bring us back in, presenting a more honest and more righteous version of ourselves, scars and all.

Time outside the camp and public communication about misdeeds are key parts of healing, both for individuals and a community. The case of the metzora teaches that for someone not to be welcomed in communal spaces after they do harm is necessary and important. Without it, there can be no moving forward.

Avigayil Halpern is studying for rabbinic ordination at the Hadar Institute in New York, and can be found on Twitter at @avigayiln.

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Faculty of Arts and Sciences scholars named to endowed professorships – Yale News

Posted: at 12:42 pm

Eight members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) have recently been named to endowed professorships by vote of Yales Board of Trustees.

They are:

Keith Baker, a particle physicist known for his contributions to the discovery of the Higgs boson and his work on dark matter, has been appointed the D. Allan Bromley Professor of Physics.Read more

Menachem Elimelech, who researches physical and chemical processes at the nexus of water and energy, has been appointed the Sterling Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering.Read more

Christine Hayes, a scholar of classical rabbinic Judaism specializing in Talmudic-midrashic studies and Jewish law in late antiquity, has been appointed the Sterling Professor of Religious Studies.Read more

L.A. Paul, whose research examines metaphysics, cognitive science, and the philosophy of the mind, has been appointed the Millstone Family Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Cognitive Science.Read more

Laurie Santos, whose contributions to psychology and the science of well-being will have an enduring positive impact on people around the world, has been appointed the Chandrika and Ranjan Tandon Professor of Psychology.Read more

Jasjeet Sekhon, who conducts research on causal inference, machine learning, and experimental design, has been named the Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and of Statistics and Data Science.Read more

Michael E. Veal, whose scholarship and teaching address musical topics as well as themes of aesthetics, technology, and politics within the cultural sphere of Africa and the African diaspora, has been appointed the Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Music.Read more

Kurt Zilm, a world recognized leader in the field of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, has been named the William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Chemistry.Read more

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How a Youth Program is Engaging the Next Generation of Jewish Philanthropy – Inside Philanthropy

Posted: at 12:42 pm

Philanthropist Ricky Shechtel used to wonder who would replace her when she could no longer serve the Jewish community the way she does now.

I was on all these boards, sitting around all these tables, and Im in my 40s, Im in my 50s and Im thinking, whos going to be sitting at this table in 20 or 30 years? Whos going to care about the stuff that we care about?

Nowadays, Shechtel feels relatively confident that younger Jews will take up the mantle. Thats largely because of the work of organizations like Honeycomb, a program of the Jewish Funders Network, which she co-founded in 2006.

For the past 14 years, Honeycomb, formerly the Jewish Teen Funders Network until its recent rebranding, has been bringing philanthropy education and experiences to Jewish youth around the globe. With the hiring of a new executive director, Wayne Green, the network is expanding its offerings to include new trainings, resources and consulting services, and breaking new ground by creating models for teaching younger children about philanthropy.

Youth philanthropy offers teens the experience of taking a hands-on approach to using real dollars to make changes in the world, Green says. Its an opportunity to take issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health, Black Lives Matter, the environment, gun control, womens issues and to really think about them in a strategic way and about how they can influence change by using philanthropic dollars.

At the same time, Honeycomb offers deep exploration of Jewish values and mitzvot (principles), which connect and strengthen Jewish identity, says Green, who explains that teens can participate regardless of their financial resources.

We provide all the educational resources, and we develop and deliver training to professionals in the field that they can use with kids, says Green. Currently, Honeycomb provides programming in more than 100 communities in the United States, Canada, Israel and Australia.

A typical Honeycomb program based at a Jewish community center might include 70 teens broken up into three groups, Green says. The three groups all receive the same instruction about philanthropy, but each group applies what they learn to an issue they have collectively chosen to fund. For example, Green says, Group 1 may have decided on substance abuse, and Group 2 may have decided on education and literacy and, Group 3 may have decided on Israel.

The teens learn as much as they can about their issue and familiarize themselves with the nonprofit organizations working in that field. Together, they develop a call for proposals, which is sent to those nonprofits. The organizations can then apply for the grants the teens are funding. Once the grant applications are received, the teens review the proposals as a group, and through consensus, the proposals are narrowed down, Green says. Then the teens do site visits and then they decide based on the funding theyve raised how they will allocate out. Each year, they may have one, two or sometimes three organizations they may allocate to.

Shechtel says youth philanthropy is a critical part of keeping young Jews engaged in Judaism after they complete their bar and bat mitzvah studies.

When people talk about [ways to build childrens] Jewish identity, they sometimes talk about the pillarsJewish day school, Jewish summer camp, Birthright Israel [trips]. Most kids, between bar mitzvah and Hillel [a Jewish college organization], if they dont go to some sort of Hebrew school program that their parents make them go to, its a wasteland. Theres nothing.

Shechtel believes that involvement in Jewish teen philanthropy empowers young people and is a great vehicle for delivering continuing Jewish education.

There are lots of charitable people in the world and theyre not all Jews, says Shechtel. But the way we think about philanthropy is very specific. And its based on the teachings from Maimonides, from the Talmud, from the Torah. And I want these kids to be proud. I want them to understand it. And I love the idea that you dont have to be a wealthy person to give back. According to the Torah, it is incumbent on even the poorest person to give charity because were all here to help one another.

Like Shechtel, Laura Lauder, cofounder of the Laura and Gary Lauder Family Venture Philanthropy Fund and cofounder of the Jewish Teen Funders Network Foundation Board, Incubator believes that all Jewish teens should have the opportunity to learn about philanthropy. Lauders Foundation Board Incubator, in partnership with Maimonides Fund, provides seed money to fund Jewish youth philanthropy programs around the world.. The money is used to hire and train leaders who will teach teens about Jewish philanthropy. Lauder says good training and talented leaders are the key to making youth philanthropy programs successful.

Not everyone can inspire teens to want to do this, Lauder says. So one of the things Wayne Green and the whole team at Honeycomb and the Jewish Funders Network did is, they created a kind of handbook for the communities that we give this money to, to find and hire and train the right kind of people to do this work. And then we convene those people and train them as well.

Lauder is especially pleased that her incubator funds youth philanthropy programs in Israel, where the culture of charitable giving is still emerging. And what we found out was, if we can get the kids interested, they could teach the parents. What is amazing is that, when you give kids these life experiences, they live up to it later in life.

Green says that teens who resist being involved with other Jewish programming often respond positively to Jewish philanthropy programs.

[Honeycombs] programs are pluralistic, and theyre designed specifically for teens to experience Judaism in a way that they can grapple with, that they can connect to, because it is about understanding what are your personal values. Teens care about the environment, they care about gun control, theyve seen the marches. This provides them a real platform to engage in a program that teaches them strategically about making change and infusing the Jewish experience into that, but not making it religious, Green says.

We did a study that found that participating in these programs helps to strengthen their Jewish identity, helps to connect them back to their Jewish community. And for us, thats really critical to the experience of trying to support the infrastructure of Jewish communal life.

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Does the Kinneret hold the secret of a 3,500 year old Canaanite murder? – The Jerusalem Post

Posted: at 12:42 pm

A submerged monument in the Kinneret may offer proof that a 3,500-year-old murder considered a legend by most was inspired by real events, two Israeli researchers have suggested.

I thought it was interesting, but there was nothing more to do with it, Freikman told The Jerusalem Post.

Later on, however, he became interested in the Ugaritic language, an idiom spoken in the Canaanite city-state of Ugarit, located in modern-day northern Syria. One of the most famous Ugaritic texts is the one that describes the myth of Aqhat.

According to the legend, Danel, one of the heroes of the story, prays to the gods to give him a son. Eventually his prayers are fulfilled. The child who is born to him, Aqhat, receives a magical bow and becomes a famous hunter. But he excites the envy of the goddess Anat, who asks him to give her his weapon, promising fabulous rewards. When Aqhat refuses, Anat hires a mercenary to kill him.

When Danel hears that his son has been killed far away, he starts traveling to different places, and this is the part of the story relevant to our research, Freikman said. Two seas are described in the text, and if one is clearly the Mediterranean Sea, the other one can only be the Kinneret. Eventually he finds Aqhats body, and he buries him.

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Studying several papers dealing with the geographic aspects of the myth and written before the submerged monument was discovered, Freikman came to the conclusion that the structure might represent the burial place described in the story.

The most important problem is that even today it would be impossible to build this 60,000-ton installation some 12 meters deep in the water, he said. However, by measuring the mud surrounding the monument, we know that the installation is at least 4,000 years old, possibly even older.

We know that around the third millennium BCE there was a period of terrible drought and desertification in the Middle East, and the Kinneret significantly shrunk. Therefore, when the installation was built, the area was probably dry.

The Ugaritic text describing the myth of Aqhat dates back to the 14th century BCE, several centuries after the structure was built.

However, it is not uncommon for traditions and stories to be inspired by, or to explain, more ancient phenomena, Freikman said.

Over the centuries, several Jewish scholars spotted the monument at the bottom of the Kinneret and identified it as the well mentioned in the Torah in the Book of Numbers, he said. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, after the Israelites entered the land, it was set permanently at the bottom of the Kinneret, he added.

For instance, in the sixth century AD Rabbi Tanhuma who was swimming in the lake happened to accidentally find the well of Miriam (Midrash Rabah Vaikrah 22: 4), and in the 16th century Rabbi HaAri showed Rabbi Vital the location of the well in the depth of the sea against the walls of the old synagogue, Freikman wrote in the paper.

In the future, we intend to conduct the underwater research, including precise mapping and ultrasound scanning of the monument to determine whether it conceals a chamber inside and possibly excavate it, he said.

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Jewish law: May parents waive childrens obligation to mourn for them? – The Jerusalem Post

Posted: April 2, 2021 at 10:33 am

In popular mindset, the 12-month mourning period (avelut in Hebrew) is about the mourner who is obligated to observe the customs and prohibitions of the period. It might therefore surprise people that Jewish law permits parents to request that their children not observe these prohibitions after the initial 30-day period.The basis for this ruling is a discussion in the Talmud whether a person may demand not to be interred. Jewish law rules that we do not respect this request because the commandment to be buried relates to ones inherent dignity, rooted in being created in Gods image, that cannot be simply waived. In contrast, mourning rituals done for the deceaseds benefit or honor may be waived in ones lifetime. Requests for no eulogies or modest writings on headstones must be respected since they are intended to praise the deceased, who may choose to give up on these honors.

The Talmud, however, did not address questions relating to avelut itself, such as shiva and shloshim, the seven- and 30-day periods of mourning observed for ones immediate relatives. In the 16th century, rabbis Yaakov Reischer and David Oppenheim ruled that we respect the wishes for a person who request that his or her loved ones not observe avelut. The case, perhaps not surprisingly, dealt with someone who was on their death bed in the period immediately before their childs wedding date and wished that the ceremony should still take place. Rabbis Reischer and Oppenheim asserted that mourning rituals are done for the sake of the honor of the deceased and therefore their wishes should be respected.

This ruling, however, was in opposition to the position of Rabbi Moshe Isserles, who followed Rabbi Yaakov Weil (15th century, Germany) in asserting that one could not waive these periods of avelut. This was either because they were concerned that mourning is ultimately for the sake of the mourners, or that these periods are a bona-fide obligation that, whatever their rationale, may not be waived. The generally accepted position affirms that these initial periods of avelut must be observed.

This disagreement was only regarding the shiva and shloshim periods, which are standard in all cases of mourning. What about the extended 12-month period, which exclusively marks the passing of ones mother or father? In this circumstance, Rabbi Weil asserts that parents may waive this requirement since the extended period of mourning is only done out of a sense of honor for them (kibbud av vaem). This position is approved by Rabbi Yoel Sirkes and subsequently by all other decisors, such as rabbis Yehiel Epstein, Chaim Medini, Avraham Danzig, Ovadia Yosef, and many others.

To appreciate the widespread acceptance of the parental ability to waive the 12-month avelut period, it pays to compare it with the various rabbinic positions taken to a similar question. Can a parent request a child not to recite kaddish for them? The mourners kaddish emerged in the 12th century as a form of intercessory prayer that would help atone for the sins of the deceased and reduce their suffering in the afterlife. One might assert the deceased should be able to waive recitation of kaddish since this is for their benefit, like a eulogy. While this conclusion was accepted by a few decisors, including Rabbi Yekutiel Greenwald and Rabbi Feivel Cohen, it was rejected by a significant majority of decisors, for a variety of reasons.

These include: 1) concerns that not reciting kaddish might create the mistaken impression that the children was of illegitimate origins or not actually his seed, thereby impugning on his reputation; 2) the parents potential motivation to want to avoid imposing on the child to regularly attend services; since a child must try to attend synagogue anyway, this is not a sufficient justification; 3) most fundamentally, in light of the great benefit the deceased receives from the kaddish recitation on his behalf, the deceased would certainly regret this decision. Given its spiritual benefits, a person simply does not have the ability to waive such lofty assistance, and therefore children should ignore this request and recite kaddish. As such, one does not see the option of waiving kaddish in contemporary handbooks of halachic literature. Decisors do not respect the potential motivation nor do they think that it is in the best interests of the deceased. This is in contrast with waiving the 12-month avelut requirement, which was widely accepted.

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Interestingly, two prominent legal decisors, rabbis Eliezer Waldenberg and Yosef Elyashiv, innovatively asserted that even if the deceased did not expressly waive the mourning requirement, we can assume that he would in cases when it is clear to the mourners that their parents would have clearly desired for their children to participate in a family celebration, such as the wedding of a grandchild. Not all decisors, including Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, agree with this suggestion of simply assuming this is the case.

Fascinatingly, one lesser-known scholar, Rabbi Gershon Ephraim Marber (Warsaw/Antwerp, 18721941) suggested that parents should explicitly waive the extended 12-month period so that children will not fail in the difficult obligations imposed in this period, especially when it comes to family celebrations.

Is this a good idea? In the most recent issue of the journal Hakirah, I expound at great length on the wisdom of this suggestion to encourage waiving the avelut requirement. It should be clear, however, that the prerogative of a parent to choose, on their own initiative, to waive avelut for their children after the 30-day mourning period remains entirely acceptable.

The writer is co-dean of the Tikvah Online Academy and a post-doctoral fellow at Bar-Ilan University Law School. His book, A Guide to the Complex: Contemporary Halakhic Debates, received a National Jewish Book Award.


Jewish law: May parents waive childrens obligation to mourn for them? - The Jerusalem Post

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This Passover, Im contemplating the plague of ageism – Forward

Posted: at 10:33 am

I used to think old people were either cute or sad.

The cute ones were Kirk Douglas or Ruth Bader Ginsburg doing push-ups, and gray-haired couples animatedly talking to each other or walking hand in hand in the park.

The sad ones were stooped, infirm, inept, crotchety, disheveled, occasionally incoherent, and mostly invisible.

I used to laugh when comedians mocked elderly men who still flirt when a pretty girl passes by, and 80-something women who still dress with panache and take pains with their make-up as if they had a prayer of attracting the male gaze. In other words, having absorbed from the world around me its negative stereotypes of seniors, and its cultish adoration of youth, Id succumbed to the plague of ageism.

Since turning 60, then 70, then, incredibly, 80, Ive cringed at age-related stereotypes and raged not just at the dying of the lightDylan Thomas immortal phrase for mortality tremorsbut at the maddening societal attitudes that dismiss my cohort as over the hill has-beens.

In 2017, Americas seniors totaled more than 46 million, a number expected to nearly double over the next 30 years. Yet children and young people are still being indoctrinated with the same disparaging images and demeaning mindsets about age and aging that I grew up with.

Jewish tradition, though more balanced, sends mixed messages. On the one hand, our liturgy and sacred texts constantly refer to elders as repositories of wisdom, compassion, experience, understanding, judgement, and insight. The Torah reminds us that Moses was 80 and Aaron was 83 when they made their demand on Pharaoh, an act of immense courage and chutzpah. The Talmud calls 80 the age of strength. Proverbs describes a hoary head, (gray hair) as a crown of glory, implying that longevity is the reward for a life of righteousness.

On the other hand, we also encounter descriptions in granular detail of the depredations and burdens of agedimmed vision, physical weakness, mental confusionand perplexing paradoxes. Leviticus commands, You must rise up before the aged and honor the face of the older person; you must fear your God, aligning the will of the deity with the dignity of the aged and suggesting that Adonai stands ready to police ageism.

Yet during the High Holy Days, Shema Koleinu has us reciting the Psalmists plea, Do not cast us off in old age; when our strength fails, do not forsake us. Surely, Im not the only one who hears those words as an indirect expression of, dare I say it, the divinitys occasional slide into ageism. Why else would God require an explicit request to not abandon those who are weaker than they once were.

Just as our inherited tradition tries to reconcile these contradictions, so should we tackle the scourge of age-bias and confront the idolatrous worship of youth. We must assume the best (imputing to older people personal value, continuing capacities and aspirations), while accommodating to the worst (the inevitable depletions of age) by providing care and kindness until the end of life. Anything less will be a plague on humanity and a shanda for our people.

This piece was produced in partnership with Jewish Book Councilas a part of a Passover supplement for Dwelling in a Time of Plagues. To download the full Passover supplement, which includes ten authors and ten artists responding to ten modern plagues, please click here.

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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This Passover, Im contemplating the plague of ageism - Forward

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Virtually no more Jews left in Iraq, only empty buildings | | AW – The Arab Weekly

Posted: at 10:33 am

BAGHDAD--The death of Dhafer Eliyahu hit Iraq hard, not only because the doctor treated the neediest for free, but because with his passing, only four Jews now remain in the country.

At the Habibiya Jewish cemetery in the capital Baghdad, wedged between the Martyr Monument erected by ex-dictator Saddam Hussein and the restive Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, an aged Muslim man still tends to the graves, but visitors are rare.

The day of Eliyahus burial, it was me who prayed over his grave, the doctors sister said.

There were friends of other faiths who prayed too, each in their own way, she added, refusing to give her name.

To hear Jewish prayer out in the open is rare now in Baghdad, where there is but one synagogue that only opens occasionally and no rabbis.

But Jewish roots in Iraq go back some 2,600 years.

According to biblical tradition, they arrived in 586 BC as prisoners of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II after he destroyed Solomons Temple in Jerusalem.

In Iraq, they wrote the Babylonian Talmud on the very land where the patriarch Abraham was born and where the Garden of Eden is considered by some to have been located, in the heart of the Mesopotamian marshlands.

More than 2,500 years later, in Ottoman-ruled Baghdad, Jews were the second largest community in the city, making up 40 percent of its inhabitants.

Some were very prominent members of society like Sassoon Eskell, Iraqs first ever finance minister in 1920, who made a big impression on British adventurer and writer Gertrude Bell.

Turning point

At the start of the last century, the day of rest and prayer was Saturday, as per the Jewish tradition, not Islams Friday, as it is today.

Today, one prays at home, said a Baghdad resident knowledgeable of the citys Jewish community, who also chose to remain anonymous.

And when people with a Jewish name deal with the administration they will not be well received, he added.

According to Edwin Shuker, a Jew born in Iraq in 1955 and exiled in Britain since he was 16, there are only four Jews with Iraqi nationality who are descendant of Jewish parents left in the country, not including the autonomous Kurdish region.

A turning point for Jewish history in Iraq came with the first pogroms in the mid-20th century. In June 1941, the Farhud pogrom in Baghdad left more than 100 Jews dead, properties looted and homes destroyed.

In 1948, Israel was created amid a war with an Arab military coalition that included Iraq.

Almost all of Iraqs 150,000 Jews went into exile in the ensuing years.

Their identity cards were taken away and replaced by documents that made them targets wherever they showed them.

The majority preferred to sign documents saying they would voluntarily leave and renounce their nationality and property.

Still today, Shuker said, Iraqi law forbids the restoration of their citizenship.

By 1951, 96 percent of the community had left.

Almost all the rest followed after the public hangings of Israeli spies in 1969 by the Baath party, which had just come to power off the back of a coup.

Promotion of Zionism was punishable by death and that legislation has remained unchanged.

Continued haemorrhage

Decades of conflict and instability with the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait, an international embargo, the 2003 American invasion and the ensuing violence completed the erosion of the Jewish community.

By the end of 2009, only eight members remained, according to a US diplomatic cable.

And the haemorrhage didnt end there.

A jeweller threatened by militiamen who coveted his goldsmiths work went into exile, followed by Amer Moussa Nassim, grand nephew of author and renowned economist Mir Basri, in 2011.

At 38, Nassim told AFP he left Baghdad to finally live a normal life and get married, as the only remaining Jewish women in the city of millions of people were two elderly ladies.

Six months ago, one of the two, known as Sitt (lady in Arabic) Marcelle, a tireless advocate of the community, passed away.

And on March 15, she was followed by Elyahu, aged 61.

Israel, on the other hand, is now home to 219,000 Jews of Iraqi origin.

They left behind in Iraq homes and synagogues, which, up until 2003, were in perfect condition and each owner identifiable, Shuker said.

All it takes is a vote in parliament to return everything to the families.

But today, the buildings still stand empty, padlocked and crumbling from neglect, carrion for war profiteers in a country where corruption and mismanagement reign.


Virtually no more Jews left in Iraq, only empty buildings | | AW - The Arab Weekly

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