Category Archives: Talmud

When King Louis IX Burned the Talmud – Aish

Posted: July 5, 2020 at 10:25 am

A thousand years ago, King Louis IX ordered the Talmud burned in Paris.

O (Talmud), that has been consumed by fire, seek the welfare of those who mourn for you

These searing words were written by Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (1215-1293), a brilliant Jewish student whod recently travelled from his home in northern Germany to Paris to study a renown yeshiva there, after he witnessed the mass burning of the Talmud in Paris in 1240 on the orders of King Louis IX. A peripatetic king, Louis IX was one of the few Medieval Christian thinkers to willingly engage in debate with Jews - but his legacy is one of pain and suffering for thousands of Jews in France.

He was a splendid knight whose kindness and engaging manner made him popular, the Encyclopedia Britannica describes King Louis IX. Crowned at the age of twelve in 1226, King Louis IX instituted legal reforms across France and often personally judged cases in his magnificent Great Hall in the Palais de la Cite in Paris, where he handed out judgments and punishments to his subjects. A staunchly religious Catholic, King Louis IX was seemingly preoccupied by Jews. He issued the Ordinance of Melun in 1230, forcing Jewish into honest jobs - in reality manual labor. (Forbidden from virtually all professions by the Lateran Council of 1215, life for Frances Jews became more difficult than ever.) He also had an appetite for debating Jews about religion and Judaisms holiest texts.

In the 1230s, King Louis IX finally got his chance to show off his powers of argument and his piety and debate Jews about the very validity of the Jewish faith.

In 1236, Nicholas Donin, a Parisian Jew who had turned his back on the Jewish community and publicly embraced Catholicism, penned a damning letter to Pope Gregory IX. In it, Donin attacked the Talmud, the written discussions of the Oral Law that was given to Moses on Mount Sinai along with the Written Law that makes up the Five Books of Moses. He enumerated 35 complaints about the Talmud, including that it attacked the Catholic Church. If there were no more Talmud, Donin asserted, then Jews would be more likely to abandon their Jewish faith and convert to Christianity, as he himself had done.

Pope Gregory IX took Donins letter seriously, and he sent a letter to all Catholic institutions in France demanding that they seize copies of the Talmud from Jewish communities in their midst. Similar letters were sent to Catholic leaders in Italy, Spain and Portugal. The Talmud was going to be put on trial, the Pope announced, and all copies had to be confiscated before this began.

King Louis IX

The date for taking the precious Talmud volumes from synagogues, homes and Jewish schools was set for Shabbat, March 3, 1240. On that day, officials burst into synagogues across Europe where Jews were gathered for Shabbat services, loading volumes of the Talmud that had been painstakingly written by hand, as well as other Jewish books, away. Any Jew who tried to prevent his or her holy books could be killed with impunity.

Two months later, the Talmud was put on trial. King Louis IX oversaw the arrangements: the proceedings were to be public, and he personally promised to guarantee the personal safety of the Jews who were to be charged with defending the Talmud. However, there were strict ground rules that any Jew defending the Talmud had to adhere to: they could not criticize Christianity in any way. Nothing derogative about Christians or Christian belief could be uttered. Blasphemy, as defined by the Catholic Church, would not be tolerated. The conclusion of this infamous trial, or disputation, was a foregone conclusion.

King Louis IX ordered four prominent rabbis to defend the Talmud: Rabbi Yechiel of Paris, Rabbi Moses of Coucy, Rabbi Judah of Melum and Rabbi Samuel ben Solomon of Chateau-Thierry. They faced off against Nicholas Donin, the Christian convert whod initiated the entire dispute.

The trial raged for days. Rabbi Yechiel led the Jewish team, and even his opponents agreed that he argued brilliantly, given the strict limitations on what he was allowed to say. When Donin accused the Talmud of treating Christian figures less than kindly, Rabbi Yechiel responded that it was possible that two people might have the same name, pointing out that not every Louis born in France is king. His flattery seemed designed to sooth the mercurial monarch, who watched every stage of the debate with great interest.

At one point King Louis IXs temper got the better of him as he followed the intricate arguments. Rabbi Yechiel advanced a particularly effective argument and Louis IX became enraged, shouting that instead of discussing matters of faith with a Jew, a good Christian should plunge his sword into him instead. So much for assurances that the rabbis would be safe. Rabbi Yechiel fled for his life, and the three other rabbis continued the dispute without him. Despite the rabbis best efforts, the trial had been decided before it began. The Talmud was found guilty and condemned to be burned.

King Louis IX oversaw the sentence two years later, in 1242. Officials throughout France had scoured the countryside looking for copies of the Talmud and other Hebrew books, taking them by force from Jews across France. Not a single volume of the Talmud remained in Jewish hands. On the morning of June 17, 1242, 24 wagons piled to the top with thousands of volumes of the Talmud and other Jewish books made their way slowly through Paris to the Place de Greve, near Notre Dame Cathedral. The collection was enormous. At a time when every book was painstakingly written by hand, this represented generations of Jewish learning and work. Its estimated that the wagons held about 10,000 books.

One by one, each of the two dozen wagons disgorged their books, dropping the precious texts onto the ground. By the end of the day, an enormous pile of Jewish writings covered the plaza. A crowd gathered to watch the conflagration as Louis IXs officials set the books on fire.

My tears formed a river that reached to the Sinai desert and to the graves of Moshe and Aharon, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, who was present at the scene, recalled later about that day. Is there another Torah to replace the Torah which you have taken from us? Sages designated a minor fast day in memory of this tragedy: the Friday before the Torah Portion Chukat is read in synagogue. This years fast day in memory of the Talmuds burning is Friday, July 3, 2020.

The Apotheosis of St. Louis, which stands in front of the St. Louis Art Museum, memorializes the city's namesake.

The fast day this year comes amid renewed attention about King Louis IX. After his death, he became a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. The city of St. Louis is named after him and some people are protesting his statue in that city. In addition to putting the Talmud on trial, King Louis IX also signed legislation to expel Jews from France (this was carried out by his successor King Phillip IV) and led the Seventh and Eighth Crusades, which also targeted Jewish communities. His legacy is a complex one.

Yet, as many people around the world debate Louis IXs legacy, some Jews will recall his reign in a much more personal way, fasting and praying and recalling the Trial of the Talmud that he oversaw, and the incalculable loss of Jewish scholarship that resulted.

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How to beat the virus? It’s in the Talmud – Jewish News

Posted: at 10:25 am

Right, we have a problem; 500 of us have died of the virus and thats considerably more than should have. Why the disaster, with 500 families in mourning.? The classic Jewish answer is to ask a rabbi; you get an answer a responsa and the rabbi might well quote a Rabbi who died a thousand years ago. there is no time limit to a responsa in Judaism.

So where do we look for an answer to todays problem? How about the 6th century Talmud. You think Im joking. How can a body of laws, 1,500 years old, have relevance today, when were dealing with a previously unknown virus?

Well, we have something like 600 plus laws and over 200 of them are to do with medicine. The Egyptians, the Romans and the heathens believed that if you caught a disease, it was the punishment of the gods and nothing could be done about it. The Biblical Jew, though, set out to find cures and a lot of the doctors were rabbis. Good Queen Bess had three Jewish doctors and popes, emperors and kings followed suit over the years.

How good were they?If you look up the book of Samuel youll find that the Jews were warned that the plague which was hitting the Philistines, was being brought by the rats; they didnt know that in Britain till the early 20th century.

So what are we told to do to avoid something like this virus?

First of all we are told to wash our hands. Sounds familiar? Remember Seder night? Well, were supposed to wash our hands pretty regularly. Most people didnt wash. There was one bathroom and two toilets in the whole of Louis XIVs Palace of Versailles. The Rothschilds had a bath and used to lend it to Kings in Germany, having it trundled through the streets to everybodys surprise. Mostly, though, nobody washed

You could still get a nasty virus. What to do then? The Talmud is clear; you isolate the patient. Sounds familiar again? Isolate them and theres a good chance they wont pass it on to somebody else. Well never know how our 500 victims caught coronavirus, but somebody had to give it to them. Today you can get a test if you have any kind of coronavirus symptom. Do what the Talmud says.

Then there are two further relevant laws in the Talmud. One is dina de malchuta dina. That means that the law of the country in which we Iive is to be the law of the Jews. The government didnt make it a law that everybody should stay home to avoid the R level going over one, but we should have done it because it was as near a law as they could make it.

There is one more law in the Talmud which is particularly valid in the present crisis. Thats pekuach nefesh. That you can break any Jewish law if there is a danger to life. Those people who are taking part in services in the hotel in Bournemouth are breaking pekuach nefesh.

Maybe it wont result in fatalities. Please G-d that will be the case. It might not be, however. Those 500 fatalities caught coronavirus from somebody. If theyd stayed home, they might well have still been with us.

As Jews, weve been accused over the centuries of bringing the plague because we often didnt get it as badly as the neighbours. Jewish houses had to be scrupulously clean; look at getting rid of the hometz before Passover.

As many as 50,000 Brits will have died from this pandemic and, percentagewise, weve lost more of the community than our numbers justify. Is there any doubt that if wed followed the laws in the Talmud we would have done better.

It isnt about what kind of Jew you are; from Charedi to Liberal. Its about a lot of very clever ancestors who came up with the right answers. They went so far as to make it a law that every Biblical Jewish soldier had to be given a spade to bury their effluent. We will not go into what happened at the Palace of Versailles. At Balmoral after the First World War, the Prince of Wales didnt have a bathroom.

Im staying locked down until the virus has disappeared. The vast majority of the Jewish fatalities were over 65.

Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book

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Is it Permissible to Study Mishneh Torah as a Stand-Alone Work? – Mishneh Torah In-Depth, Article 1 – Introduction to Mishneh Torah –

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The Talmud in Tractate Sotah, asinterpreted by Rashi, makes a startling statement:

It was stated, one who readScripture and studied Mishnah, but did not serve Torah sages, he didnot spend time amongst the scholars in order to decipher the reasoning behindthe commandments. Rabbi Elazar says thathe is considered an ignoramus. Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmeni says that he is a boor, an individual inferior to anignoramus.

Rashi comments:

Did not serve Torah sages: Hedid not study the Talmud, which explains the rationale of the Mishnah. Thisindividual is considered wicked, since his learning is not thorough. One mustnot study from such an individual, since it is specifically the reasoning [thatgives one the ability] to discern what is prohibited and what ispermitted . . . This person is considered bare.

What seems clear is that one mustnot study halachah in a vacuum. Theevolution and rationale of the law are not merely added elements; they areintegral to understanding the law itself. One who studies halachah in isolation will likely err.

Shortly after the completion ofMaimonides Mishneh Torah in 1180,Maimonides faced a wave of criticism on these very grounds. In creating aclear, systematic and comprehensive code of halachah,he seems to be in violation of the Talmud above. He specifically did not wantto confuse or distract his reader with the minutiae of discussion leading tothe final law. He included nothing more and nothing less than clear,straightforward law. As he articulates clearly in his introduction to Mishneh Torah:

I, Moses,the son of Maimon, of Spain . . . contemplated all these textsand sought to compose [a work which would include the conclusions] derived fromall these texts regarding the forbidden and the permitted, the impure and thepure, and the remainder of the Torah's laws, all in clear and concise terms, sothat the entire Oral Law could be organized in each person's mouth withoutquestions or objections.

Instead of[arguments], this one claiming such and another such, [this text will allowfor] clear and correct statements based on the judgments that result from allthe texts and explanations mentioned above . . .

A personwill not need another text at all with regard to any Jewish law. Rather, thistext will be a compilation of the entire Oral Law . . . a personshould first study the Written Law, and then study this text and comprehend theentire Oral Law from it, without having to study any other text between thetwo.

Maimonides' code, as pure,unadulterated law, is seemingly exactly what the Talmud cautioned against.According to Rashi's interpretation of the Talmud, Mishneh Torahwhen studied as intended by the authorwould do moreharm than good.

Indeed, this concern of the Talmud(as understood by Rashi) surfaced a generation later, as evidenced in theresponsa of Rabbeinu Asher, the Rosh. He was responding to a rabbiwho had written to him regarding a mikvahthat had been filled using a questionable technique.

The law is that water used to fill amikvah must be naturally flowing,either rainwater that falls directly into the mikvah or aspring that flows into the mikvah. Inthis case, a mikvah had beenconstructed alongside a spring. In order to fill it, water was added to thespring, causing it to overflow into the mikvah.

The rabbi writing to the Roshassumed that this mikveh was nowinvalid. He based this assumption on (amongst other sources) the followingstatement of Maimonides in Mishneh Torah:When one digs at the side of a spring, as long as the water emerges because ofthe spring, even though at times, its flow is interrupted, but then it flowsagain, it is considered as a spring (i.e., a kosher mikvah). If, however, it ceased flowing entirely, it is consideredas water collected in a pit.

The assumption of the questioningrabbi was that once the water pooled in the mikvah,it would be considered as if it had ceased flowing and therefore beclassified as water collected in a pit and invalid for use as a mikvah.

The Rosh rejects this, pointing outthat this extrapolation stems from a misunderstanding of Maimonides. Maimonides,explains the Rosh, is actually quoting a section of Tosefta. Seeing the full context of the quote precludes theunderstanding of the Roshs questioner.

The Tosefta is discussing the differences between various categories ofwater that may be used as a mikvah.One difference mentioned by the Tosefta isbetween water pooled in a pit and flowing rainwater. Both are kosher, but waterpooled in a pit is of an inferior level and has certain restrictions regardingits use.

With this context in mind, we canunderstand the error called out by the Rosh. When the water is actively flowingto and from the spring, it is considered to be an extension of the spring. If,however, the water pools in a pit, it is now considered pooled water (notflowing rainwater and not an extension of the spring). This is not to say the mikvah is invalid; it is simply aninferior category, but still a kosher mikvah.

Thus, we have clear, documentedevidence of the Talmuds concern: studying laws bereft of their context leadsto mistaken conclusions. This leads the Rosh to caution against deriving anylaw from the text of Mishneh Torah:

Therefore,all who decide law from the Mishneh Torah,without thorough knowledge of the background, are in error. They make what isforbidden permitted and what is permitted forbidden. This is because Maimonidesdid not follow the convention [established by] all other authors, who citeproofs and sources for their conclusions.

This begs the question, who iscorrect? Do we follow the advice of Maimonides in his introduction, where heencourages one to simply read the Written Torah and then move straight to his Mishneh Torah, or do we follow theopinion of the Rosh, who strongly opposed such an approach?

To demystify this, we must firstresolve an apparent difficulty in the Laws of Torah Study, from the Code ofJewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) by RabbiSchneur Zalman of Liadi.

Initially, he seems to side clearlywith the Rosh:

If one doesnot understand the reasoning behind the law, then he will not be able to fullycomprehend the law. He is called a boor.Therefore, there is a prohibition against deciding law, even for oneself,from halachot without the reasoningincluded [alongside.]

However, later in that same chapterhe encourages individuals who have mastered practical halachah, i.e, they are knowledgeable and fluent in halachah pertinent today, to dedicatetime to study areas of laws not applicable today, such as the laws of thesacrifices. And if, he adds, there is insufficient time to master these areasby first studying the Talmud and its commentaries, then one should study thebasic laws as articulated in the mishnayotand in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah.

Now, if we take into account whatwas quoted earlier, we seem to have a problem. Rabbi Schneur Zalman wrote thatif one does not study the reasoning behind the law, he will not be able tofully comprehend the law. He is called a boor.So what is the point? Why study in such a manner if the study is in vain due toa lack of understanding? Surely it would be preferable to study at a slowerpace while incorporating the background of the law, which would enable a properunderstanding?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in a talkcommemorating the passing of both Maimonides (on the 20th of Tevet) and ofRabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (on the 24th of Tevet), addressed this issue. Basedon a close analysis of the exact wording used by Rabbi Schneur Zalman, which isbased on the Sefer Mitzvot Hagadol, hedraws a distinction between two elements within the obligation to study andknow Torah (yediat haTorah). Oneelement of this obligation is to study the mitzvahs in order to acquire thepractical knowledge necessary to fulfill Torahs precepts correctly. A vastamount of knowledge is needed to properly navigate the complexities ofday-to-day halachah. This elementpertains only to the mitzvahs that have a practical application nowadays.

But there is a second element to themitzvah of yediat haTorah: one mustattain the ability to observe all613 mitzvahs in ones heart. One is obligated to acquire the knowledgenecessary to fulfill even mitzvahs that are not applicable nowadays, withoutthe Temple standing in Jerusalem.

With this distinction, we can betterunderstand why Rabbi Schneur Zalman advises that an individual study mishnayot and Mishneh Torah, even if these works do not articulate the reasoningbehind the law. True, such study is not advisable when it serves as the basefor the practical application of law. However, one is also obligated to knowTorah as it pertains to the mitzvahs that have no practical application today.For this study, it is reasonable that a lighter study course is followed, onethat enables the individual to cover all themitzvahs, albeit on a basic level. Since one is not studying to practicallyobserve these mitzvahs, this study is purely theoretical and we are notconcerned about any erroneous application of law.

Earlier, when Rabbi Schneur Zalmanchastised individuals who study the halachotwithout first exploring the relevant sources in the Talmud and itscommentaries, he was referring to a study that would lead to a practicalapplication of law. In such a case, the Roshs concern is valid; an incorrectruling may well be the result. However, when studying for knowledge alone, toobserve the mitzvahs in ones heart, it is preferable to cover allmitzvahsalbeit on a more basic levelthan to study a few in depth. For suchstudy, Mishneh Torah is ideal.

So while Maimonides failed toactualize the complete replacement of the evolutionary processes of halachah as he envisioned in hisintroduction, Mishneh Torah doesserve an extremely valuable purpose as a work to be studied independently. Itis the only comprehensive and approachable work that covers every single areaof halachah. Thus, it is the workfavored for providing a birds-eye view of all areas of Torah law, a keycomponent of the mitzvah to know Torah.

Learn about the Rebbes initiative encouraging all Jews to studyMishneh Torah dailly.

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A treasure trove of LGBTQ texts from two millennia of Jewish history – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted: at 10:25 am

A year before Noam Sienna, 30, earned his Ph.D. in Jewish history at the University of Minnesota last month, he had already published a groundbreaking book. A Rainbow Thread: An Anthology of Queer Jewish Texts from the First Century to 1969 collects primary sources by and about queer Jews dating back much further than most people would have thought possible. Some are legal documents, others are poetry. They range from shocking to moving. And many have never been published before.

Sienna, who lives in Minneapolis, will discuss the book on July 6 at a virtual event sponsored by the Jewish Community Library, Afikomen Judaica and Congregation Shaar Zahav.

J.: Why this book, and why now?

Noam Sienna: I wish I had published this book 20 years ago, so I could have read it when I was a kid. I loved learning about Jewish history and Torah and Talmud, but as I got older and increasingly understood myself as a queer person, I felt alienated from the Jewish textual tradition. I hope this book is opening a door for Jewish LGBTQ people to connect to the Jewish tradition in some way. Its not a narrative that you read cover to cover. Its a tool box that people can open to find pieces that will help them understand themselves within Jewish history.

You exclude biblical texts because theyve already been extensively mined for queerness. The texts you do include are all over the map poetry, Talmud, journalism, personal diaries and many of them have never gotten attention before. How did you find them?

Some of these sources are very well known Talmud, Maimonides, certain literary texts. But those texts havent always been read through the lens of the LGBTQ experience, so Im inviting people to read them in a new way.

Some texts are documentary sources that have been excavated by scholars of queer history, but havent yet been seen for their relevance in Jewish history. For example, the first gay bar in Paris was run by an Algerian Jew. French historians dug up that story, and what they all note in a small way is that the owner of the bar was a Jew. But theyre not Jewish historians, so they didnt stop to think what it tells us about Jewish history. The end of his story is tragic, as I discovered: In the late 30s he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz where he was murdered. I was in contact with a French historian who was working on this, and he had no idea that he was murdered in Auschwitz. He had never thought to ask, whats the end of that story of a Jew in France at that time.

There are also sources from within the Jewish community talking to the Jewish community, and those have only started to be looked at in the last 10 or 15 years. For example, sources on Jewish same-sex relationships in the Ottoman Empire. Ive tried to take these sources and present them in an accessible English translation that is open to anyone someone in eighth grade in Omaha could pick this up and read the text and feel invited into this history.

About one-third of the sources in this book have never appeared in English before. So thats exciting to me to say, heres raw historical material that is now open for engagement and analysis for people who arent going through original archives themselves. Its collating work by myself and other scholars and putting it in one place for the general public.

Who is this book for?

Its already being used in a number of college classes on gender, sex, religion and Jewish studies. A number of high school teachers have been working with it, and synagogue and camp educators are working with the material. And the texts are also being used by Jewish artists and thinkers as jumping-off points for their own creative work. The play Indecent, which has won numerous awards, is based on the Yiddish play God of Vengeance, which is excerpted in this book. It excites modern audiences, but its based on a historical story on the intersection of Jewish and LGBTQ identities. I think there are more Broadway plays to come from this book. Or graphic novels or PJ Library books or contemporary dance. And I hope theres more of that.

Whats one example of a text that really surprised you?

The story of Ben Rosenstein, a Jewish immigrant who comes to the U.S. in the early 20th century and works in a factory on the Lower East Side, and he marries another Jewish immigrant, Pauline up to that point its a very typical immigrant story. But he gets tuberculosis and a HIAS doctor comes to see him and discovers that he was born and raised as a woman but was now living as a man. He died shortly after. The story was leaked to the papers, and it was front-page news in Chicago in 1915. I was able to find corroborating documents, including Ben Rosensteins death certificate, which lists him under his birth name as female, but his census record from 1910 lists him as male and married to a woman. Finding that census record, it was a huge relief because I was so moved to know that this person had chosen a way to live that felt right to them and they stuck to it. If the doctor hadnt taken his story to the paper, this person might have had a long life as a man, and just slipped through history without leaving a record of their life. How many more people lived like this?

Why the time frame of the first century to 1969?

I started with Hellenistic Jewish literature, written in Greek around the 1st century C.E. its a black hole of Jewish history that people forget about. People jump from the Bible to the Talmud, forgetting that there are five centuries in between. The very first source is a literary text that compares a homoerotic poem by Sappho to the Torah. In the first century, Jews are reading this homoerotic poetry and appreciating it in the same breath with the Torah!

I wanted to end with 1969 because of Stonewall, which is often seen as the catalyst for the gay rights movement; people start the story of LGBTQ issues there, as if in 1969 gay people were invented and Jews tried to figure out what to do with them. But I knew there was material to show Jewish LGBTQ life from before 1969. So the last text is actually about Sappho! It is by this German Jewish classicist named Vera Lachmann. In 1967, she goes on this pilgrimage to the island of Lesbos, the birthplace of Sappho and the origin of the word lesbian. She later published some poetry about her trip. So I wanted to end with this Jew writing about Sappho, just as we started with a Jew writing about Sappho.

I assume theres some Bay Area-relevant material in the book?

Oh yes. For example, in 1961 Rabbi Alvin Fine at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco, a Reform rabbi, appeared on TV and made the following statement: Judaism today takes a different view from its Biblical and post-Biblical edicts on homosexuals Such persons are not criminals and should not have punitive action as atonement Judaism believes that the psychological approach is the answer. In 1961, no American rabbi had made anything close to this public statement. It was so radical that it immediately provoked an official response from the Reform movement emphasizing that Rabbi Fine was not speaking as a representative of the Reform movement.

What will people hear about if they tune into your July 6 discussion?

Well look at and read some of these texts and see what they can bring to contemporary LGBTQ Jewish life, and well have an opportunity to put the texts from the book to work and chew over where do we go from here.

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What is the Book of Esther really about? – San Diego Jewish World

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By Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin

BOCA RATON, Florida Maggid Books has just published an excellent comprehensive 493-page study of the biblical Book of Esther called Esther: Power, Fate, and Fragility in Exile by Erica Brown, Ph.D, an award-winning author of many books, lecturer, and Jewish teacher. Brown tells readers exactly what the Bible text is saying, not what people read into it. She does so in clear, easy to read language. She writes that power, fate, and fragility are represented in every chapter, and she shows how it is done. Esther is part of a series of Maggid Books, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem, that uses an interdisciplinary approach incorporating traditional rabbinic interpretations with scholarly literary techniques to explore the characters, themes, and text of the Hebrew Bible.

Brown mentions many sources for her interpretations, Jewish and non-Jewish. She tells us that an opinion in the Babylonian Talmud Megilla 7a states that the Book of Esther was composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Many people are convinced that the events recorded in Esther actually happened. However, the philosopher Joseph ibn Kaspi views the Esther story as an allegory that shows how human beings can overcome unfavorable situations.

The Book of Esther is praised by lots of people because of its happy ending. However, people like the Protestant leader Martin Luther and other Christian scholars were hostile to the book because of its sour attitude toward gentiles, and its primal emotions of anger and revenge. The scholar B. W. Anderson wrote, The story unveils the dark passions of the human heart: envy, hatred, fear, anger, vindictiveness, pride. He advised fellow Christians to stay away from Esther. The scholar C. A. Moore wrote in his Anchor Bible commentary on Esther that Maimonides (1138-1204) rated it favorably, after the Pentateuch, but, That Esther was able to conceal her Jewishness, that is, her adherence to the Jewish religion, clearly indicates that she did not observe all of the Jewish dietary laws.

Many Jews around 200 BCE were also dissatisfied with the book because it fails to mention that Esther observed Jewish law and that it was God who brought the salvation. Brown comments that accordingly they added 107 verses that they wanted the book to have, verses that are in the apocrypha today. Two Aramaic translations of the book were composed that had similar additions. Many Jewish commentators read what was missing in the books words. For example, Saadia Gaon (882-942) claims that there is information in the book that only God could have known.

The book is preoccupied with royalty. The root mlk (king, rule) occurs over 250 times in the 167 verses of Esther. Similarly, the term mishteh (a wine festival) appears twenty times even though there are only twenty-four additional mentions in the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Esther has the longest verse in the Hebrew Bible, 43 Hebrew words. The feasts in Esther come in couplets. There are constant reversal of fortunes to each of the books major characters.

The long list of questions that I derived from Erica Browns book and outlined below show why we need a good commentary to understand this biblical book, a book that some mistakenly think is a simple story.

People Why was Ahasueruss punishment of his wife Vashti justified? Who was Ahasuerus? Was he foolish, evil, or wise? How do we interpret his constant anger? Who was Vashti? Is Vashti the patron saint of equal rights? Should Esther have preferred death rather than marrying a pagan king? Is the Jewish Bible and Talmud commentator Rashi correct when he justified Esthers sleeping with the king as a wrongdoing for the sake of heaven, and because it is for the greater collective good? Or is he incorrect because Esther could have had no idea that matters would turn out as they did? Why was Esthers initial reaction to Mordecais request that she petition the king a refusal? Why do some Jewish commentators say that Esther and Mordecai were married when the text does not indicate this and the women chosen for the king had to be virgins? Why did Mordechai tell Esther not to reveal that she is Jewish? How did she hide it? Why was Haman angry at Mordechai?

Events Does it make sense that women were doused in perfume for a year before being brought to the king? How are women treated in this work? Why didnt Mordechai show Haman respect? The patriarch Jacobs sons even bowed to the viceroy of Egypt, not knowing he was their brother Joseph. Clothing is mentioned frequently in the book, such as in Mordechais rise to prominence, why is it used? Should we see a connection to clothing in many other biblical events as in the story of Adam and Eve and the tale of Jacob giving his son Joseph a special garment and in the garments worn by priests? Why didnt Mordecai turn to God when he heard Jews would be killed and instead put on torn garments?

The Book What is the significance of the minor characters in the book such as Hamans wife and Esthers servant? Why is the book named after Esther? Was Mordechai the bigger hero? Is one of the purposes of the book to show Jews how to live in exile? Why are some events in the book told briefly while other appear at length and others such as why Haman was elevated by the king not explained at all? Is Hamans decision to kill all Jews the only example of discrimination in the Bible? Why is the holiday called Purim which is not a Hebrew word, but Persian, and why is it in the plural form?

*Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin is a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Army chaplains corps and the author of more than 50 books.

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Why the Menorah Is the Most Enduring of All Jewish Symbols – Flux Magazine

Posted: at 10:25 am

words Alexa Wang

Like other cultures and faiths, Jewish people have developed a rich religious and cultural heritage before four thousand years ago.

All the cultures have their own significant symbols and Judaism has too, such as a tallit, tefillin, kippah, seder plate, kiddush cup, Shabbat candles, etc. Menorah is one of these oldest and recognized symbols of Jewish culture and rituals.

It was a seven-branched candelabrum and constructed with pure gold. According to the bible, after the Israelite left Egypt G-d has spoken to Moses to build menorah and use it in the Tabernacle and Miskhan to worship G-d. the priest lit the menorah with pure olive oil everyday. Later, in the temple of Jerusalem, priests start lighting the menorah during worship services.

As first mentioned in the biblical book, the design of the lampwas revealed by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai.The design of the lamp was forged out of a single piece of the gold shaft andthree branches on each side, totaling six branches. The central gold shaft wasflanked by three lights on each side to signify the Sabbath. Its shape wassuggested to build to signify the tree of life and first it was put in theTabernacle.

The temple of Solomon had ten golden branched candelabras and thesecond temple which was built after the Jews left Egypt has introduced 7 branchedmenorahs. In the 70s century during the destruction of the second temple,menorah disappeared.

The Talmud has reconstructed it in the Jerusalem temple and considers it as the mostuniversal symbol of Judaism. During the early modern times, this most popularsymbol has given way to Star of David but in the 19th century, it wasconsidered as the symbol of Zionists. In the 20th century, it has become theofficial symbol of the state of Israel.

So many myths about seven branches of the menorah. According tothe most popular one, the central light represents the Sabbath and its sixbranches symbolize the world created in seven days.

According to Jewish community the menorah spread the light of G-d. Lets look more into the history and myths of the menorah.

Hanukkah menorah:

Hanukkah is one of the Jewish holidays and some of the mythsalso associate with Hanukkah. When the desecration happened in the Jerusalem temple, they hadonly few quantity of olive oil to burn the flames of the temple. By miracle,the flames burned for eight days with such a less quantity of olive oil and thusthey got time to make new pure oil.

The Talmud states to the Jewish community that it is prohibitedto use seven-branched menorah and raised nine-branched Hanukkah menorah. Talmudsymbolized the central shaft as the Shamash light and used it to kindle theother eight branches of the Hanukkah menorah.

Themodern Jewish menorah!

In the earlier period of modern times, the synagogues hascontinually lit seven-branched menorah and named it as ner tamid. Many of thesynagogues have displayed artistic menorah, appearing in the coat of arms inthe state of Israel.When the menorah symbolized as the symbol of the State of Israel, the Jewishcommunity started lighting 7 branched menorahs in the temples.

For the Jewish people, it is not only a symbol of faith in Godbut they consider it as the lamp ofthe jews. The menorah has both religious and secular roots.Jewish people used to consider olive oil as the purest oil and thats why allthe traditional foods are fried by olive oil in the Jewish community.

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Why the Menorah Is the Most Enduring of All Jewish Symbols - Flux Magazine

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Where There’s a Will There’s a Why –

Posted: at 10:25 am

Why do certain people find satisfaction in Judaism while others are bored stiff? Why is faith exciting for some and irrelevant for others, a joy for one guy and an absolute burden for the next? One fellow cannot imagine going to work without first putting on histefillinand the other hasn't seen histefillinsince hisbar mitzvah40 years ago. This woman can't wait to get toshuland the other can't wait to get out. Why?

This week we read about the ultimatemitzvahof faith, the Red Heifer. It is a statutory commandment whose reason still remains a mystery. I must admit, to take the ashes of a red heifer and sprinkle them on a person so he may attain spiritual purification is, indeed, rather mind-boggling.

According to theMidrash, the Almighty promisedMosesthat to him He would reveal the secret meaning of this mitzvah, but only after Moses would initially accept it as a Divine decree. If he would first take it on faith, thereafter rational understanding would follow.

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The truth is that there are answers to virtually every question people may have about Judaism. Intelligent skeptics I meet are often amazed that what they had long written off as empty ritual is actually philosophically profound, with rich symbolic meaning. But the skeptic has to be ready to listen. You can hear the most eloquent, intellectual explanation but if you are not mentally prepared to accept that listening may in fact be a worthwhile exercise, chances are you won't be impressed. Once we stop resisting and accept that there is inherent validity, suddenly Judaism makes all the sense in the world.

It is a psychological fact that we can grasp that which we sincerely desire to understand. But if there is a subject in which we have no interest, we will walk into mental blockades regularly. Thesixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, RabbiYosefYitzchakSchneerson, says this explains why some very astute businessman may sit at aTalmudclass and find himself struggling to grasp basic principles of rabbinic reasoning. Why is it that the same person who can concoct brilliant schemes in the boardroom fails to follow straightforward logic in the Talmud class? The answer, says theRebbe, is that this businessman is really not that interested in the subject. But if it was half as important to him as making money, he might well become arosh yeshiva!

So, in the same way thatGdtold Moses that he could come to comprehend the meaning of the Red Heifer but only after he accepted it, similarly today, those who genuinely wish to understand Judaism will succeed, but only if they buy into the product on some level first.

When I was studying inyeshiva, I would always try to attend the annual "Encounter withChabad" weekends for university students. These were organized to expose Jewish students to Judaism over aShabbatand there were lectures by leading Rabbis and religious academics. Once a young man shouted back at the lecturer, "How can you expect me to put ontefillinif I don't believe in Gd?!" The speaker calmly replied, "First put ontefillin, and I promise you will see that you really do believe in Gd."

We all have a Gdly faith inside us. It just needs to be revealed. As illogical as it may sound, if we start by observing a mitzvah, we find that our faith will follow through and begin to blossom. It has been shown to be true again and again. If we are not interested, no answer will be good enough. If we are genuinely searching for truth and we are objective, there are ample and meaningful answers.

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Why Isn’t Poultry and Dairy Kosher? – Kosher –

Posted: at 10:25 am

This prohibition of separating milk and meat is derived from the verse "Do not cook a kid (gedi) in its mother's milk, which is repeated three times in the Torah. The sages explain that the repetition of the verse teaches us that not only is one forbidden to cook meat and milk together, but one is also forbidden to eat or derive benefit from such a mixture.

Although the verse uses the Hebrew word gedi, which is usually literally translated as kid goat, in this context, the word actually means any young domestic animal. The sages explain that the Torah simply gives an example of a "kid in its mother's milk" because that was common practice in ancient times. In fact, at other times, when the Torah wants to specify a young goat specifically, it uses the term gedi izim,kid of the goats. This implies that at times when the word gedi is used by itself, it does not necessarily refer to just a kid of the goat species.

But what about chicken and other fowl?

As mentioned, "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk is repeated three times in the Torah. According to one tradition in the Talmud, the reason for the repetition is to include three types of creatures: 1) domesticated animals; 2) non-domesticated animals; and 3) birds.

According to this opinion, cooking or eating birds with dairy is included in the biblical prohibition.

Others, however, are of the opinion that birds are not included. The law follows this tradition but concludes that birds and dairy are nevertheless rabbinically prohibited.

Contrary to popular misconception, the rabbis were not afraid that a piece of chicken has the same appearance as a piece of meat and that people who observe chicken being consumed with milk may think that the people are eating meat.

Rather, their concern was that the kosher dietary laws regarding the preparation of fowl (but not fish) is the same as red meat. Both must be slaughtered and salted properly before they may be eaten.

In light of their similarity in Jewish law, the rabbis were concerned that people may draw wrong conclusions. Here is how Maimonides paints a picture of what these mistakes may look like if chicken and dairy would be permitted:

People may say: Eating the meat of fowl cooked in milk is permitted, because it is not explicitly forbidden by the Torah. Similarly, the meat of a wild animal cooked in milk is permitted, because it is also not explicitly forbidden.

And another may come and say: Even the meat of a domesticated animal cooked in milk is permitted with the exception of a goat.

And another will come and say: Even the meat of a goat is permitted when cooked in the milk of a cow or a sheep. For the verse mentions only its mother, i.e., an animal from the same species.

And still another will come and say: Even the meat of a goat is permitted when cooked in goat's milk as long the milk is not from the kid's mother, for the verse says: its mother.

For these reasons, Maimonides concludes, the sages forbid all meat cooked in milk, even meat from fowl, in order to safeguard the Torahs laws.

If chicken and dairy is forbidden, is there any practical difference whether the prohibition is of rabbinic or biblical origin?

The differentiation would only come into play when deriving benefit from such a mixture. So for example, if one accidentally cooked meat and milk together, he may not even derive benefit from the mixture (so he would not be allowed to feed it to his dog or sell it to a non-Jew). However, if one accidentally cooked (or bought) poultry mixed with dairy, after the fact, he is permitted to derive benefit from it and can feed it to his pet. As always, one should consult with a rabbi regarding any issues of mixtures between meat or fowl and dairy.

Once something was decreed by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish High Court) and accepted as Jewish law, it attained the binding status of a biblical commandment. For the Torah says concerning rabbinic rulings,You are to act according to the word that they tell you from that place that Gd will have chosen; and you are to be careful to fulfill exactly as they instruct you.

The Zohar explains that the same negative spiritual impact that is caused by mixing meat and dairy is also caused by mixing poultry and dairy. The Zohar then goes on to describe the great merit of being careful with the kosher dietary laws in general, and specifically the laws surrounding mixing meat (or poultry) with dairy. It was in this merit that Daniel was saved when he was thrown in the lion's den and Chanayah, Mishael and Azariah where saved when they were thrown into the fiery furnace, as told in the Book of Daniel.

At a time when we need extra protection, taking care to observe the kosher dietary laws is especially pertinent. In this merit, may we all be protected until the time when peace will reign upon the land with the coming of Moshiach. May it be speedily in our days!

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3-week-old baby hospitalized with brain infection after brit gone wrong – The Jerusalem Post

Posted: at 10:25 am

A three-weeks-old baby is currently in serious condition at the Bnei Zion Medical Center in Haifa due to a herpetic infection, which began in the genital area and has spread to the brain, leading to convulsions and seizures.

Laboratory tests found that the infant likely contracted the Type 1 herpes virus during his brit, directly from the mohel, who performed the ceremony using the controversial Orthodox method of blood cleaning known as "Metzitzah B'Peh," or oral suction.

Director of Pediatrics at Bnei Zion Medical Center, Prof. Itzhak Sarugo, said that "the baby was hospitalized in serious condition, with a visible inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) accompanied by prolonged convulsions and a severe skin infection that started in the groin area where the circumcision was performed."

The baby was rushed to Bnei Zion Hospital by his parents immediately after they noticed a large infection in the genital area following the brit.

During hospitalization in the pediatric ward, the herpes virus was discovered in both the cerebrospinal fluid and in the lesions that were on the baby's skin.

During the first three days of hospitalization the infant suffered from numerous seizures despite receiving treatment both for seizures and the virus.

Sarugo said that "the antiviral treatment he received is aimed at destroying the virus in the brain and preventing the inflammation of the nervous system. The baby will have to receive this treatment for the next six months."

"The herpes virus can cause a skin infection, which can spread to the brain and cause severe inflammation of the brain and even death," Sarugo said.

The neonatal herpes virus can also be transmitted while a baby passes through the birth canal, though not through the placenta, often leading to preventative C-section surgeries.

However, in adults, the virus is most often spread through saliva, sexual contact or blood transfusions.

Bnei Zion Medical Center further stated that "the nature of the lesions' diffusion and onset in the groin area and the continued spread of the lesions imply infection during the brit in the sucking stage when there is contact between the mohel's mouth and the baby's blood."

The Talmud writes that a "Mohel (Circumciser) who does not suck creates a danger, and should be dismissed from practice." Rashi, commenting on that Talmudic passage, explains that the purpose of this step is to draw some blood from deep inside the wound, to prevent danger to the baby.

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