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?
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?
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?
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:
- I was that I was
- I was that I am
- I was that I will be
- I am that I was
- I am that I am
- I am that I will be
- I will be that I was
- I will be that I am
- 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 email@example.com.
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.
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
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!
Tefillin from the Qumran Community
Tefillin from the Cairo Genizah
A common refrain amongst Jews is that the third book of the Torah, Leviticus, is a boring and tedious book to get through. It is after all the book smack dab in the middle of the more interesting books that are full of great narratives and exciting passages. Leviticus on the other hand is full of laws and regulations with very little story to it.
So aside from reading Leviticus weekly during the middle of the year, why should we as the Jewish people study this intense book? One could argue that the relevance it is of utmost importance. This book can in fact be described as the heart of the Jewish experience. After all it is in this book that we learn as a people what it means to be a Kehillah (community). More importantly it teaches us how we are supposed to worship and uphold our covenant, the very foundation of Jewish life, with God.
To learn more about our relationship with God join us in the Core Melton Program, it isn’t too late to register.
To learn more about this often ignored book of the Torah join Rabbi Zwerin for Holy Smoke!
We have just started anew in reading the Torah, where we hear the first line: Bereshit bara Elokim et hashamayim ve’et ha’arets. In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth. This yearly reframe ushers in a new cycle of the Torah portions, which we listen to and engage in on a weekly basis. However, this is not the only beginning that we experience in Judaism. In fact Judaism contains 4 new years: the one we think of usually, Rosh Hashana, which actually falls in the 7th month of the Jewish calendar; the new year which begins on Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar which followed the counting of the reigns of the kings in ancient Israel; the first of Elul which according to the Mishnah was the first of the year for the animal tithes; and the 15th of Shevat which marks the new year for the trees.
Judaism is full of opportunities for new beginnings, we have the Jubilee year, the shmita year, our new years, Rosh Chodesh, Shabbat, and our daily cycle of praying. Thus there are opportunities every 50 years, every seven years, every year, every month, every week, every day, and even every few hours.
There is never a point in Judaism when one cannot begin again, we do not have to wait for a specific time to experience a rebirth, we just need to choose a time and begin from that moment forward.
To experience a new beginning with CAJE Adult Education join us starting this week for all of our fantastic classes.* www.caje-co.org/adult-education.
*Certain classes begin later in October.
Here in Colorado we have just received record breaking rain fall, causing floods and scenes that are not typical of the dry Colorado climate. This rain fall has come right before the holiday of Sukkot and with it Shemini Atzeret. This significance is huge for although many people have been thinking about the story of Noah and the flood that covered the land in the bible, one can also turn to the Mussaf Amidah which changes ever so slightly on Shemini Atzeret. It is on this day of the year that we begin to recite the line “He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall”.
If you look at these words they are not so much a blessing as a statement. He, being G-d, causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall. Right before this line it says, “You are eternally mighty, my lord the Revivifier of the dead You are; abundantly able to save.” Right after the line regarding rain, it states, “Who sustains the living with kindness, revivifies the dead with abundant mercy, supports the fallen, heals the sick, releases the confined and maintains His faith to those asleep in the dust.”
During this time of great trial in Colorado it is worth considering the juxtaposition of these three sentiments in the Amidah. What does it mean for a G-d to cause the rain to fall while simultaneously taking care of his people?
If you would like to make a donation to help those effected by the flood please contact Federation at 303-321-3399.