A Blight on Humanity

Antisemitism has plagued the Jewish people for thousands of years and during that time it has been a scourge upon humanity. Nations, organizations, groups, and political entities have perpetrated horrific crimes in the name of ridding the world of a supposedly evil religion, race, and culture that has according to them been a blight upon the globe. While not every individual has partaken in the crimes against humanity many have stood silent as the horrors have ensued. Why has this enduring hate lasted for so long? Why has it been so violent? Why have so many innocents been suppressed, persecuted, and killed? Why have so many people remained idly by as these horrors have reaped immeasurable misery on its victims? More significantly why in this modern day and age has antisemitism continued? Will this hatred ever cease?

The antisemitism equation in scope attempts to answer the question of why is antisemitism such a long unrelenting hatred that has spanned almost the entire course of Jewish history. It specifically focuses on antisemitism that has presented itself through legal policy, persecution, and genocide. It analyzes the history and sociology of this rooted animosity to the Jewish people as a religion, race, ethnicity, culture, and nation. There are four factors that when multiplied together form the antisemitism equation. They are the non-Jewish Dynamics, the Jewish Canvas, the antisemitic aresenal, and accessibility. If anyone of these four components are not realized then a program of antisemitism cannot come to fruition. On the flip side the more fully these elements are expressed the more virulent the antisemitism will be.

To learn more about The Antisemitism Equation you can register at www.caje-co.org/register or join us tomorrow from noon-1 pm at Temple Emanuel to try it out. Space is limited.

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Do we need Prayer?

Prayer is a corner stone of the Jewish religion as we know of it today. Yet, before the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE and definitely before the destruction of the 1st Temple in 586 BCE, prayer was relegated to the personal sphere of an individual’s life. In fact Hannah, in her moment of private prayer was reprimanded by the priest Eli for her perceived drunken behavior. Nevertheless, that moment of intimacy between Hannah and God became the example of how to engage in the act of prayer for the Jewish people.

During the age of the Rabbis the rabbinic echelon of society recognized the need for a connection to God in place of the sacrifices at the Temple; as well as the need to foster community in order to maintain the survival of the Jewish people post Temple destruction. Without an individual’s relationship to God and the connection to others like him or herself Judaism would have disappeared. The Rabbis however, recognized these basic needs and established not only prayer with a Minyan (a quorum of 10 men) but also began to establish fixed prayers and strict rules. With the script in hand and the limitations in place Jews could live in various communities which were neither united by language or space and still maintain a unity as a people.

Today many Jews do not feel that they need fixed prayer or if they do recite the common prayers that they do not need to know what they are saying. This of course begs many questions namely do we need to know what we say and should we be saying it in the choreographed method that has been handed down through the generations? One might answer that prayer is a glue that holds our people together and gives us a definition of who we are through our set of beliefs and our collective memory.

What do you think?

Posted in: Adult Education, CAJE Melton

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The End of the Torah

Divine revelation is an integral part of the Jewish psyche. As a collective Judaism believes that God delivered the words of the Torah to Moses who wrote them down and passed them to the Hebrews. The authorship of the last 8 verses however, are disputed. Did Moses write them while blending his tears and the words, for he was describing his own death and after or did Joshua scribe the final 8 verses?

The question of authorship of these last 8 verses becomes even more convoluted when adding into the mix the concept that God did not give the Torah in its entirety to Moses. Scholars claim, rather that the Torah was written over centuries by a number of individuals. These sources were later compiled by a redactor into one book. This begs the question are the last 8 verses different from other parts of Deuteronomy or the rest of the Torah.

Scholars have hypothesized that Deuteronomy can in fact be divided into various sources with the central core being chapters 12-26, known as the Deuteronomic Code. This code is the oldest part dating to around Josiah’s time (late 7th century) or earlier, and everything else about this book rose around it. Eventually the book was enlarged to include two introductions and the conclusion which most likely is the last 8 verses of the Book of Deuteronomy. Ultimately two poems: The Song of Moses and The Blessing of Moses were redacted into the last book of the Torah.

Whether you believe in Divine revelation, Divine inspiration, or a man created Torah it would seem that there is something unique to the last 8 verses of Deuteronomy.

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Should We or Shouldn’t We?

On Chanukah we celebrate the miracle of the oil light. This miracle in the eyes of Judaism is so significant that we commemorate it year after year for generations by lighting, many times in our windows, the Chanukiah for 8 nights. The lighting of the Chanukiah is so important in Judaism that each person is to light their own and must have paid for their candles that they are using to remember this holy experience. This ritual, like many others, exemplifies so much of Judaism and how we as Jews practice. Jewish memory is passed on to children and to their children via meticulous traditions that have been preserved across social strata and political boundaries.

One of the most significant ways that we as Jews remember where we came from and what our people have lived through is through symbolic readings of holy books from the Tanakh. During each holiday there are specific readings, whether they come from the Torah, the Nach, the Megilot, we have preserved our evolution as a people through the sacred pages. Yet, Chanukah, unlike the other Chagim, does not have required readings. The absence of a reading is even more striking considering the telling of the Chanukah story does exist, in the Book of Maccabees. This book along with the other Books of Maccabees, however, were specifically left out of the Jewish biblical canon.

The books, unlike the miracle of Chanukah, focus on the military victory of the Maccabees and their rise to power and reign which includes significant abuses of power and ultimate Hellenistic assimilation of the Hasmonean dynasty. Thus although the initial victory is amazing the later trials and history of the Maccabee family leaves much to be desired. Therefore, rather than turn to a family that betrayed its original intent we turn to the Miracle of God on these eight nights.

What do you think, should we read from the Book of Maccabees on Chanukah?

 

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Are We Our Brother’s Keeper

In the last number of days sexual abuse in the ultra-orthodox world has come to light with the publishing of numerous articles. This issue in the ultra-orthodox world is not new, in fact whisperings of this tragedy and if you will shandah (Yiddish for embarrassment) have come out every year or so.

The question is: do we as a Jewish community in the non-ultra-orthodox world have a responsibility to fight this horrendous abuse? After all, it is so easy to say it isn’t my community, therefore, it isn’t my issue. However, if the Jewish community is in reality one, a Klal Yisrael, then can we really say it isn’t ours?

Since the publishing of these articles, I have seen many Jews, both secular and religious, comment with disgust and horror. It seems, based off of these responses that even if we ourselves do not belong to these groups that we do at least see a connection between the Judaism we practice and the Judaism “they” practice, and see in fact a collective whole.

Of course the problem isn’t that simple because for so long many in the ultra-orthodox world have decried the status of Jews and Judaism that do not fit their definition. Many Jews in popular denominations have been called not Halachically Jewish and have even been told they aren’t Jewish at all. This inevitably leads to mistrust and disassociation with the ultra-orthodox and makes it even easier for some to claim there is no responsibility on our part to do anything about this disturbing abuse.

At the end of the day are we our brother’s keeper and if so, what should we as a community do?

Posted in: Adult Education, CAJE Melton

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Pro or Anti Thanksgivukkah?

As the two holidays, Thanksgiving and Chanukah, come ever closer Facebook and the internet in general have become full of articles, recipes, jokes, and excitement about this once in a lifetime event. After all, it clearly isn’t every day or even every year that one gets to merge two such fun holidays. However, like everything, there are those detractors of the concept of a Thanksgivukkah, they say there are two holidays that on one hand we have Thanksgiving and on the other we have Chanukah and that although the two are happening at the same time that doesn’t mean they are merging into one.

The question is which way do we lean, should we have excitement about a merger between Americanism and Judaism or should they remain separate even though it is fun?

At the heart of both of these holidays there is a profound sense of identity. In fact, one could argue that there is no holiday more quintessentially American than Thanksgiving. This holiday truly embodies the enduring character of the American people. Individuals from all walks of American life get together on this same day to say thanks and experience being American.

Chanukah, although a minor holiday, is in its essence very Jewish. Even though in recent decades the holiday has become associated with hallmark and a desire to comfort Jewish kids that wouldn’t get copious amounts of gifts otherwise, Chanukah is in fact anti-assimilationist. The whole point behind the holiday is that during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes in the 160’s BCE the Jewish people managed to fight the tide of assimilation and persecution in order to retain a Jewish identity and maintain the covenant between God and the Jewish people.

Thus on one hand you have a festival that represents being an American and on the other hand a holiday that represents being Jewish. Thanksgivukkah therefore, essentially, combines the essence of both of these identities into one package. The question is: should they be combined?

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I am that I am…Is that all?

Last week during the Purposes curriculum students explored God. One of the texts comes from the book of Shemot (Exodus) where it states: Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, God’s answer to Moses’ question of what is God’s name. This term is traditionally translated into English as I am that I am. This static translation fails to bring out the tremendous power and possibilities that the Hebrew term embodies.

Eheyh is the first person imperfect form of the verb to be. Even more fascinating is the fact that the Hebrew imperfect verb form can be in the past, present, future, or even all simultaneously. Therefore, the translation can be any or all of the following:

  1. I was that I was
  2. I was that I am
  3. I was that I will be
  4. I am that I was
  5. I am that I am
  6. I am that I will be
  7. I will be that I was
  8. I will be that I am
  9. I will be that I will be

Through this much more fleshed out translation you can see that God becomes a timeless deity that can encompass everything. This impossible to render in a line of Tanakh translation expounds upon the power and dimensions of God.

Students in the Denver evening class asked how many times the name is found in the bible. Although Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh is unique, Ehyeh alone occurs 43 times in the Tanakh.

If you would like questions answered or a topic explored more in our weekly blog please contact Yael Weinstein at yweinstein@caje-co.org.

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Two Creations? A Rabbinic Response

In this past week students across the state learned about Humankind from the perspective of Judaism, starting with the biblical rendition of the creation of man. While reading the biblical stories it becomes apparent that there are in fact two creation accounts, one in Genesis 1 and the other in Genesis 2. When we are young we are taught the creation story as though they are one together, that essentially we learn that in 6 days God created the world, we learn that man was created via having the breath blown into his nostrils, that woman was created from the rib of man, and that then on the 7th day God rested. The fascinating thing about this retell is that the order is off. In fact the correct order is the 6 days of creation, with humankind being made male and female in the image of God, the 7th day, and then a new story that tells of the creation of man, then the Garden of Eden, the animals, and finally woman.

For the modern thinker this can be a jarring discovery. After all, what does it mean that there are two creation stories, and what does this mean that there potentially are these two Adams. Biblical secular scholars use these two accounts as proof of multiple sources within the bible, however, this explanation goes against the very heart of divine authorship. How did the Rabbis throughout the centuries reconcile the two stories? Rashi represents perfectly the voice of the Rabbis where in the second creation story his commentaries place in context each component of this recount into the original story. Thus the second creation story merely describes in detail the first creation story. Hence, the way we are taught as children reflects the way the Rabbis dealt with the duplication.

To see indepth how Rashi reconciles these two stories go to the following website for the full Rashi Commentary with the Tanakh in English and choose to show the commentary and go to Chapter 2 of Genesis.

http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm

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The Rabbis and the 2nd Temple Era

Judaism has always been rife with multiple view points and has given birth to various denominations and schismatic movements. One of the most significant has led to the birth of the Judaism we follow today: Rabbinic Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism is a direct descendent of the Pharisaic movement during the time of the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem before the fall in 70 CE.

The Pharisees were one of two major denominations during the 2nd Temple and were directly opposed to the priestly movement of the Sadducees. The Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, believed not only in the centrality of the Temple but the sole legitimacy of the Temple services and life. The Pharisees on the other hand recognized that if another exile were to occur as the one in 586 BCE that Jewish life would be unable to thrive without the alteration of Judaism as they knew it. Thus the first Rabbis were born. These Rabbis began to evolve the Biblical laws as decreed in the Tanakh into an Oral compendium which took the ideals of the Torah and made them relevant for a dispersed decentralized population. Their ultimate goal was to ensure the continued commitment to the covenant between the Children of Israel and God but on a viable model that would not disband without a central Temple.

The Rabbis essentially were involved in a conflict that would determine the course of Jewish history as we know it today. Had they failed to evolve the Jewish religion there most likely would not have been a Judaism that would have survived. Through their flexibility Judaism had the ability to morph into a religion that could withstand hardship, dispersion of its population, and the threat of assimilation through millennium.

For more information on the origin of the Pharisees go to https://bible.org/seriespage/pharisees

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A Short History of Tefillin

In this past week’s lesson in the Melton curriculum, core students across Colorado, learned that tefillin act as a sign to remember the Exodus from Egypt. Theologically this is significant, but our Ft. Collins students wanted to dig deeper into the history and evolution of tefillin. After all, the word tefillin is never specifically used in the biblical sources and isn’t used until the rabbinic time period in the Targumim (1st century CE) and Peshitta (100 BCE-100 CE). Before this they are referred to as totafot which possibly combines two foreign words of Tot meaning two and Fot meaning two, therefore two and two, possibly elucidating to the fact that there are four compartments in the head box of tefillin.

The boxes as we know them today come from the word Tefillah which means prayer, hence tefillin. The English translation of phylacteries however comes from the Greek New Testament and is derived from the Greek word of “defenses” and later “amulets”. Nevertheless, this is a misnomer of the intention of tefillin which was to act as a sign and a constant reminder to the Jewish people of their commitment to God rather than a ward against evil.

By the Talmudic era tefillin had become a custom that was not metaphoric in nature, but a physical injunction. However, even before the Talmudic times sects of Judaism had taken on the mitzvah of wearing tefillin. In fact tefillin were found in Qumran with the Dead Sea Scrolls. These tefillin as pictured below do not look like the modern day boxes found across the globe. Thus there has been a clear evolution to the standard we hold now. In fact in the Cairo Genizah, an archeological treasure trove of the Jewish community during the Middle Ages, numerous forms of tefillin were found which included, cylindrical and gold plated ones.

 

For a complete recount of sources pertaining to tefillin check this out!   qumrantefillin

Tefillin from the Qumran Community

genizahtefillinTefillin from the Cairo Genizah

 wearingtefillin

Wearing Tefillin

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