Ha’azinu – Succot

Ha’azinu – Succot

THOUGHTS ON SUKKOT SUKKOT – THE DUAL FESTIVAL More than any other festival, Sukkot represents the dual character of Jewish faith. We believe in the universality of God together with the particularity of Jewish history and identity. All nations need rain. We are all part of nature. We are all dependent on the complex ecology of the created world. We are all threatened by climate change, global warming, the destruction of rain forests, the overexploitation of non-renewable energy sources and the mass extinction of species. But each nation is different. As Jews we are heirs to a history unlike that...

Vayelech

Vayelech

WHAT CHAPTER WILL WE WRITE IN THE BOOK OF LIFE? Judaism takes the simple things of life and makes them holy. Kashrut makes eating holy. Kiddush makes drinking holy. The laws of family purity make the physical relationship between husband and wife holy. Study sanctifies the intellect. Prayer reconfigures the mind. Constant acts of generosity and care sharpen our emotional intelligence, honing our skills of empathy. Judaism, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik put it, sees creativity as the essence of humanity, and our greatest creation is our self. We forge our life in the fire of love: love of G-d, the...

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah

FROM THE INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW KOREN MACHZOR The ten days that begin on Rosh HaShana and culminate in Yom Kippur are the holy of holies of Jewish time. The atmosphere in the synagogue is intense. You can almost touch the Divine Presence. Isaiah said: “Seek God where He is to be found, call on Him when He is close” (Is. 55:6). The rabbis wrestled with this verse. What could it mean? God is the God of everywhere and all time. He is always to be found, always close. The verse seemed to make no sense at all. This was...

Nitzavim

Nitzavim

THE FOURTEENTH PRINCIPLE OF FAITH The thirteen principles of the Jewish faith were enumerated by Moses Maimonides. They are probably most familiar to us in their poetic form in the hymn, Yigdal. Scholars of Maimonides are puzzled why he opts for thirteen principles of faith. If one were ever to talk about Maimonides favourite number, it would be fourteen, rather than thirteen! Maimonides classifies his classic code of Jewish law, the Mishne Torah, into fourteen books, representing fourteen categories of commandments. In his philosophical work, Guide for the Perplexed, he has a different, fourteen-fold, classification of the commandments. In his...

Ki Tavo

Ki Tavo

JUDAISM IN THE ‘NEWS’  In his speech to the Jewish people summarizing the Torah, Moses says, in this week’s portion:  “On this day, the L-d your G-d commands you to perform all these statutes and the laws, to guard them and to fulfil them with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Devarim 26:16)  Our commentators ask, in what sense did G-d command the people ‘on this day’ as opposed to any other day? Rashi (d. 1105) explains with a principle that applies to all of Jewish life. ‘On this day’ does not refer to a particular moment in history. Rather, he says: “every day, you must...

Ki Tetze

Ki Tetze

RUNNING-MATES “You shall not plough with an ox and a donkey together.” [Devarim22:10] Whilst this commandment forms one of the hukim, or statutes for which there is no clear rational reason, many commentators, over the ages, have given insights into the significance of this mitzvah. Moses Maimonides in the Guide for the Perplexed relates the prohibition to that against the interbreeding of species. He says that not only the ox and donkey, but associating any two species for any work is forbidden to guard against interbreeding. The Torah mentions the ox and donkey as these were most often encountered. The...

Shoftim

Shoftim

A FAIR TRIAL “By the testimony of two or three witnesses shall the condemned person be put to death; he shall not be put to death by the testimony of a single witness.” The notion of fair and transparent judicial procedures has been accepted as a fundamental basis of civilised societies. Both the beginning of the Bible and this week’s portion provide firm basis for this requirement. In an old English judgement R. v. University of Cambridge, one of the judges observed that before Adam was expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating from the tree of knowledge, he...

Re’eh

Re’eh

SHECHITA “You may slaughter from your cattle and sheep…as I have commanded you.” (Devarim 12:21) Shechita is the Jewish religious, humane method of slaughtering permitted animals and poultry for food. It is mandated in the Torah – the source of all Jewish Law. It is the only method of producing kosher meat and poultry allowed by Jewish law. The source is the above verse in this week’s portion. The precise method has been handed done, by Oral Tradition, since Moses, as conveyed in the above verse. Shechita is performed by a highly trained Shochet. The procedure consists of a rapid...

Ekev

Ekev

ISRAEL’S EMBASSIES This week’s portion includes the passage well-known to us from the siddur: the second paragraph of the Shema. The conclusion of this passage seems difficult to accept at face value: “so that your days will be lengthened on the land which the L-d promised to your ancestors, to give to them.” The Torah promises longevity in the land of Israel for those who fulfil the previously mentioned commandments, such as Tefilin, Mezuzah and Torah study. The Talmud (Berachot 8a) states that the Palestinian Amora, R Yochanan expressed surprise that there should be elderly people in Babylon seeing as...

Va’etchanan

Va’etchanan

TAKING RISKS The temptation to get that perfect selfie can have tragic consequences. More than 250 people have lost their lives picturing themselves at a toxic lake in Siberia. The Torah’s advice is enunciated in a verse in this week’s portion: Venishmartem me’od lenafshoteichem, which Rav Hirsch translates as: “You shall take very good care of yourselves.” [Devarim 4:15] Later in the Torah, in parshat Ki Teitzei, we will read of the requirement to build a fence or a parapet for the roof of a house that is accessible for use. Our Sages extended this commandment to all cases of...

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