Guest Posts

Jacob’s Sigh

Prof Shlomo Karni / Of the three Patriarchs, Jacob had arguably the harshest life, as a fighter and a survivor. When he pleads with God, “…with my staff alone I crossed this Jordan…” (Gen. 32:11), we hear the anguish and pain that accompanied all his ordeals with Laban and with Esau. In a similar way, we read the story of the end of his life. On his deathbed, Jacob speaks his last words to each of his twelve sons. He addresses first Reuben, then Simon and Levy, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, and Dan.

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Each River and its Channel: Halakhic Attitudes Toward Liturgy

R Dr Seth Kadish / A few months ago I arranged source-sheets for an evening of study with Israeli adults on a topic that would seem to be entirely unrelated to Jewish liturgy, namely the Rambam’s views on the afterlife and the resurrection of the dead. This was part of a year-long course of study meant to cover the “big issues” in Jewish philosophy, primarily by taking the Rambam and contrasting him to the alternative outlooks of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi in the Kuzari and others. In this case it meant studying the Rambam along with the sharp criticism of his eschatology by the Ramban in Sha`ar ha-Gemul. The Rambam’s openly stated view was that the term Olam ha-Ba (“The World to Come”) as used by Ḥazal refers to the eternal life of the soul (or the intellect) after death without the body, while Teḥiyyat ha-Metim (the resurrection of the dead) refers to a one-time miracle in which the human being as a whole will live again in a body. This is a very straightforward and appealing view, and is probably the way most Jews understand those terms today, both due to its innate appeal and to the Rambam’s powerful influence. As always, the Rambam’s view on this issue is clearly and forcefully stated (though perhaps more stridently and apologetically than usual in Ma’amar Teḥiyyat ha-Metim), and can be read together with his general philosophical views in fascinating ways on both exoteric and esoteric levels.

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Vampires and Witches in Sefer Hasidim

Guest post by R. Eli D. Clark Rabbi Eli D. Clark lives in Bet Shemesh, Israel. He served as Halakha editor of the Koren Sacks Siddur and also practices international tax law. Halloween is a pagan holiday, and knowledgeable Jews rightly view Halloween as alien to the Torah way of life. (Admission: I confess to watching, as a child, a ...

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These Are A Few Of My Favorite ‘Hapaxes’

Prof Shlomo Karni / Of the some 1,500 ‘hapax legomena’ in the Tanach, here are but a few. Each entry lists the word (in Hebrew), followed by the source (in Hebrew); the English translation of King James’ Version (AV); the English translation of the Jewish Publications Society Of America, 1967 (JPS); the current meaning(s) in Hebrew, with appropriate comments.

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Celebrate With Gilad Like There’s No Tomorrow

R Elli Fischer / Human beings have an amazing capacity to block out life’s travails during the course of a celebration. Couples get married and nations declare independence in the midst of wars. We celebrate a year’s harvest not knowing whether next year’s crop will be thin or blighted. We enjoy life, despite the inevitability of death. Jewish celebrations are no exception. We celebrate Purim even though we remained Persian subjects in the aftermath of its miraculous salvation. The miracle of Chanukah is celebrated even though it took place during a lull in the middle of a war, and even though the independence wrought was short-lived. On Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, we celebrate Israel’s independence even though it transformed a local conflict into a multinational one.

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The Wrong Changes in Jewish Liturgy

R Aryeh Frimer / The prolific R. Prof. Daniel Sperber has published yet another masterful book—this time “On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations” (henceforth, “Liturgy”)—in which the erudite author surveys the evolution of Jewish liturgy over a period of two and a half millennia. As with Prof. Sperber’s other books, this one too is enjoyable, edifying and breathtaking in its depth and breadth. There is a lot of action in the footnotes and appendices that will keep scholars happily diverted. Prof. Sperber outlines how the prayer text has evolved into a variety of nusha’ot and a plethora of sub-nusha’ot—such that no two Hassidishe shtibelakh daven exactly the same, nor do Yemenite batei kenesset. If one follows the prayer book from the time of the Geonim and the early Cairo Geniza manuscripts, through the Hassidei Ashkenaz, the Ari, and students of the Besht, down to the modern period—it becomes eminently obvious that there have been extensive additions of new prayers to the liturgy, and modifications in the text of the shemone esrei.

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Rosh Hashana: The Introduction of Bold Ideas

R Nathan Lopes Cardozo / Rosh Hashana is a day to contemplate the need for great Jewish Ideas. A day to think big. To get out of our compartmentalized boxes. Hayom Harat Olam: Today the world is born. On Rosh Hashana the world should be newly created. This is specifically important for the future of Judaism. Most religious Jews are not aware that Judaism has become passé. They believe that Judaism is doing great. After all, we have more learning, more Jewish schools, more yeshivot, women’s seminaries, outreach programs and books on Judaism than ever before. Despite this, Judaism suffers from a major malady. In truth, it is not only Judaism that suffers from this disease, but the whole world. We lack great bold ideas.

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Singles And A Morally Oriented Judaism

R Yonatan Kaganoff / I would like to describe particular phenomena within Orthodox Jewish communities, not to be pessimistic or alarming but rather to bring a significant problem to the attention of those who have the necessary skills, talents and experience to address these concerns. I have a friend with whom I studied in Yeshiva who, after years of struggle and study, concluded that he no longer believe in the fundamentals of Orthodox Judaism and decided to no longer keep its commandments. However, as tragic as this may be, most singles are unlike him. They do not wake up one morning or one month and decide to abandon their previous lifestyle and its values. Rather, they have a long slow slide into a sluggish desertion of their former way of life.

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Bereishit and Allegory

R Eli Clark / Is it possible that science and Torah do not conflict, for the simple reason that they do not discuss the same issues? Can we say that science addresses only the physical world, while Torah deals with the metaphysical? Regarding the age of the universe, two recent Hirhurim posts addressed the apparent conflict between Torah sources and modern science. One poster (link) assumed that the conflict is real and cannot be resolved; therefore, he concludes that scientific cosmology must be rejected in favor of his reading of Torah sources. The other poster (link) asserted that there is authoritative precedent for interpreting Torah sources in accordance with the conclusions of modern science, thus eliminating any apparent conflict.

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Biblical Hebrew, Then and Now

Prof Shlomo Karni / As slaves in Egypt, did the children of Israel enjoy watermelons? Did young David go into a decisive battle carrying a school bag? Was there electricity in ancient Babylonia, during the exile and the time of the prophet Ezekiel? Curious? Read on. Scholars of the Hebrew language discovered that some 80% of Modern Hebrew is based on biblical Hebrew. Imagine, for a moment, that a time- machine could transport King David to today’s Jerusalem — a time span of some 3,000 years. He would manage quite well, thank you, with his Hebrew.

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