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Why Was the Talmud Called Gemara? – Talmud –

Posted By on January 20, 2020

Talmud (study) is the name for the vastcollection of texts that covers the full gamut of Jewish law and tradition,compiled and edited between the third and fifth centuries.

Thereare two parts of the Talmud: the Mishnah, a collection of terse teachingswritten in Hebrew, redacted by Rabbi Judah the Prince; and a second part thatincludes elaborations on the Mishnah, citing many teachings, traditions andexplanations of the rabbis (read the full historyof the Talmud here). This commentary onthe Mishnah is labeled Gemara in classic editions of the Talmud, but thisdoes not seem to have always been the case.

Furthermore,in many instances, the word talmud itselfwas removed from the text of the Talmud and replaced with gemara.Apparently, this was to avoid Christian censors, who hated the Talmud, whichthey perceived as a threat to their traditions.

Whywas the word gemara used, and whatdoes it mean?

TheTalmud tells us that the word gemararefers to oral traditionsand studyRabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi (1040-1105), explains that it connotesthe teachings provided by later sages to elucidate and clarify the words ofearlier sages.Elsewhere, he explains that it refers to the principles and underlyingreasoning of the Mishnah and halachah,and how to resolve seeming contradictions in the Mishnah.

Thereseems to be only one clear instance in the Babylonian Talmud (and none in theJerusalem Talmud) where the term gemarais used to refer to the body of the Talmud in general as it is used today.

Atthe conclusion of an incident in which a group of rabbis were discussing thelaws of an eruv placed under a tree,the Talmud states:

Rav Nachman said tothem: Correct, and so said Shmuel.

[The rabbis] said tohim, Did you analyze the Mishnah so thoroughly?!

The Talmud explains: Whywere they so amazed [that he studied thoroughly]? They too subjected theMishnah to rigorous scrutiny. Rather, this is what they said to him: Did youestablish it in the gemara?

[To which] Rav Nachmanreplied, Yes, [I did].

Althoughthe term gemara seems to be used herein the conventional sense, it needs to be stressed that the Talmud had not yetbeen written at the time of this exchange. Rather, as Rabbi Sherira Gaon (c.906-1006) explains in his famous epistle, during the generations of theTalmudic sages, when a teaching had become unclear due to the diminishingcapacity of the students, they would establish the exact wording in carefullykept official oral records, which was called the gemara and later recorded as the Talmud. Thus, the gemara was the official interpretationof the Mishnah accepted and sanctioned by the Talmudic academies of the time.However, the teachings and learning was all done orally. It was only later thatit was all written down, as was done with the Mishnah years earlier.

Thisfurther supports the understanding that gemaraoriginally referred to oral traditions and the act of repeating andlearning them, not a written body of text.

Someexplain that the word gemara isrelated to the Hebrew word gemar,which means finished or conclusion, since it is the conclusion of thewriting of the Oral Torah.

Ona deeper level, some explain that the term gemarais rooted in the phrase gumra deasha,a fiery coal.For when one learns Torah purely in order to serve Gd, he ignites withinhimself a fiery passion.

RabbiChaim Lowe (brother of the famed Maharal of Prague) explains that Talmud studyis a form of spiritual protection. This is alluded to by the word gemara, which is an acronym for the fourhosts of angels, each one headed by the archangels, whosing Gds praise and surround the person to save him from harm:

Gabriel Michael Raphael Uriel

Maythe merit of our Torah learning protect us all!

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Why Was the Talmud Called Gemara? - Talmud -

First-of-its-kind event shows Talmud learning is for women, too – St. Louis Jewish Light

Posted By on January 20, 2020

JERUSALEM What does one wear to the worlds first womens Siyum HaShas?

The question I posed on social media was a joke, a play on the idea of worrying about surface appearances at any event celebrating womens achievements. But it also wasnt a joke. What does one wear to the first major celebration of womens achievements in Talmud learning, a before and after moment that will affect our community for ages to come?

A Siyum HaShas celebrates the conclusion of a cycle of Daf Yomi literally a daily page of Talmud, which was instituted in 1923 by Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin and brings lomdim (those who study) through the entire Talmud in 7 years and 5 months.

It is true that completing a page of Talmud a day does not a Torah scholar make. And it is true that we are blessed with female Torah scholars whose knowledge of the Talmud, halacha and other areas of Jewish learning is deep and well beyond a daf a day. Yet, Daf Yomi and the Siyum HaShas has always been nearly an exclusively male experience. An event in Jerusalem marking womens completion en masse is simply unprecedented.

In response to my question of what to wear, one person responded: Not a wig!

But in fact, as we stood in line with hundreds of other women (and some men) in the frigid Jerusalem air on Sunday, we saw wigs, falls, hats, scarves, berets and some with no head coverings at all. The event didnt belong to any one segment or denomination of women it belonged to us all.

Through chattering teeth, women discussed things they had cancelled, ignored or asked their husbands to deal with so that they could attend the event. The atmosphere among the attendees was one of excitement and anticipation; we were taking part in a seminal event for women and the entire Jewish community.

As an activist for women in Orthodoxy, Im often witness to where women are excluded, sidelined and shut out. I know women harmed by the system, treated horribly by those meant to aid them, and I regularly see women erased. Being here, where women carved a space for themselves, created a platform and taught and learned Talmud, was perhaps more gratifying to me than most. Here, I was seeing the future, the way things could be, the way things should be.

Women well into their eighties joined babies, teenagers and over 1,100 midrasha (gap year yeshivot for young women) students who were there to witness their teachers and friends celebrate their achievements. About 150 men joined as well, knowing that learning Torah is always something to celebrate.

When Rabbanit Michelle Farber, who has taught a daily Daf Yomi class for women for the past 7-plus years, took the stage, a roaring standing ovation filled the hall. Farber had done something no other woman in history had done, and with her, she brought thousands upon thousands of women and men across the Jewish world along for the ride.

Every female scholar that took the stage or was shown in a video clip was met with cheering generally reserved for rock stars, mainly led by the hundreds of teenagers in the balcony.

Tears fell from my eyes as I realized that far from screaming for Justin Bieber, these young women were cheering in awe off their female role models the women who taught them that the Torah is theirs and that they can achieve, embrace and own Torah scholarship.

Rabbanit Esty Roseberg began her remarks by thanking her father, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein of blessed memory and her grandfather Rav Yosef Solovetchik of blessed memory for opening the doors for womens learning.

When my father and grandfather opened up Torah to women, I dont think it was so much because of what they thought about women, but about what they thought about Torah. They couldnt imagine life without it.

The lone man to take the stage was Rav Benny Lau, and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks sent in a video of congratulations. The rest of the evening featured a veritable whos who of female Torah scholars, and each was greeted with thunderous cheers and applause.

While celebrating, there was no talk of equality, status, leadership or titles. The featured speakers didnt talk about leadership they modeled it. Every speaker was impressive, each one a role model.

When I congratulated Rabbanit Farber, I asked her if she understood that she changed the world for women and girls in Torah learning. She told me that it hadnt sunk in yet.

Perhaps from her view on stage, she couldnt see the reactions of the audience, the tears in the eyes of the women who for so long had felt so left out. Perhaps she couldnt distinguish the younger girls cheering for each scholar among the roars of the audience. And clearly, she couldnt see our hearts bursting with pride. I hope that she reads the posts, the articles and the messages that have flooded social media.

From them, its clear to see that the event showed the world that womens scholarship is real and adds immensely to the Jewish world.

As we left the hall, the young women streamed down from the balcony into the stairwell and broke out into spontaneous singing and dancing on the landing. They danced for Torah, they danced for the women who achieved and they danced for themselves for the bright and open future they now face.

As more and more women master Torah and halacha, the problems we face will be addressed differently. For while learning Torah should always be about learning Torah, it must also be about improving our community.

What should one wear to the womens Siyum HaShas? The crown of Torah, of course.

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a writer and co-founder of Chochmat Nashim, fighting extremism and raising the voices of women in the Jewish conversation.

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First-of-its-kind event shows Talmud learning is for women, too - St. Louis Jewish Light

The amazing experience of completing the 7+ year study of the Talmud – Jewish Community Voice

Posted By on January 20, 2020

Studying the Daf Yomi (daily page of Talmud) together were (from left), Hila Schlakman, her father, her brother, and her grandfather. JTA photo courtesy of Hila Schlakman.

EFRAT, West Bank I didnt start learning the Talmud to take a stand or voice an opinion. When I started learning a page of Talmud per day (Daf Yomi) at age 10, I didnt realize that anyone would even notice. To me, it was just something I did, a part of my day that was dedicated to learning Torah with my brother and father.

At ages 9 and 10 respectively, my brother and I had no idea what the commitment really meant. I knew that our being so young was pretty unusual. When my older brother had finished the Daf Yomi cycle at 17 years old, it was considered a big deal. But other than that, studying Talmud daily seemed very normal to me. I wasnt even aware that the fact that I am a girl was a factor to consider.

The Daf Yomi has been a part of my home for as long as I can remember. My father and my older brother, Ari, first finished Shas (the 2,711 page Babylonian Talmud) in 2012. They had started learning Talmud together in 2005 when I was three years old. I always saw them learning and bonding together. It seemed very natural, meaningful and important to me, but not out of the ordinary.

As a new cycle was approaching, my younger brother Yosi said he wanted to begin learning with my dad as well. I was 10 at the time and looking for a project that I could take on for my Bat Mitzvah, so I decided to join. A few years later my younger sister, Bracha, joined as well. And ever since my grandparents moved to Israel, Ive had the privilege of learning with my grandfather too.

In my experience, the hardest part of learning the Daf is starting the practice. Deciding to learn every day for seven and a half years is an intimidating goal. Luckily, my dad was very determined, so once we decided we were starting, that was it. There were no exceptions: If you missed a Daf, you had to make it up another day. It can be hard at times, but thats part of the beauty of itthe Torah is always a part of our lives, no matter what else we are doing.

It wasnt always easy. Not every Daf is interesting (although my dad might say otherwise), and with everything going on in our lives, it can be hard to find the time for learning. Thankfully, I had tons of support. My father always took time out of his day to learn with us, make sure that we understood the page, point out all of the interesting details and encourage us to develop our own thoughts and opinions. My family and friends were always there for me, displaying patience, understanding and encouragement.

The experience has taught me many things. I now have an understanding of what our religion is based onthe concepts and ideas that go beyond mere technical points of Jewish law. I enjoyed reading the stories about Jews who lived during Talmudic times, the way our ancestors thought and how they shaped our religion and practice. These things have changed the way I think about Judaism and life in general.

Often, I found that what I learned in the Daf was directly connected to my life at the time. I think that anyone can relate to the Gemara (Talmud) and that it affects each person differently, depending on who they are and how they think.

The rabbis in the Gemara challenged every imaginable idea, but always with the understanding of the importance of Torah and belief in God. Respect was always maintained for the generations that came before, even as halacha (Jewish law) was applied to new situations that arose.

I learned how to follow complicated discussions and seek deeper meaning in topics I would otherwise never have thought relevant to my daily life. I learned that its okay to be wrong or to admit what you do not know. I learned that one should stand up for their opinion, but that the real challenge is to truly listen and learn from what others have to say.

One of the truly remarkable things about the great rabbis in the Gemara is that most of them had other jobs. Learning Torah was of central importance, but they understood how Torah was to be integrated into peoples lives. My goal in studying the Daf was never to decide on intricacies of Jewish law, but to similarly integrate Torah into my daily life as a Jewish woman.

This Siyum HaShasor celebration of the completion of the 7 1/2 year reading of the Talmud a page per daywas a very proud moment, as three generations of our family finished the Talmud Bavli together in our home in Israel. I could not imagine a more special family experience.

This chapter of learning, at times leaning on my fathers shoulder with my brother on his other side, later to be joined by my younger sister and my Zaidy, has now ended. As I prepare to finish high school and move on to the next chapter of my life, I cant imagine a better experience to have bonded me to my family and to prepare me for a life of continued learning and new experiences.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.

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The amazing experience of completing the 7+ year study of the Talmud - Jewish Community Voice

The nunber of tzadikim in the land of Israel – Arutz Sheva

Posted By on January 20, 2020

Eretz Yisrael Yomi Eretz Yisrael Yomi was established with the goal of recharging the love for Eretz Yisrael and reinvigorating the idealism of living in Eretz Yisrael based on sources from the Torah and Chazal. Dvar Torah written by Nachshon Vered, presented byAvrum Leeder

'' ''...'''' - .. '' '' - " . " " , : '' ' ''- " ; : .

And I bought her for me for fifteen pieces of silver, and a omer of barley and a lethech of barley. Pieces of silver: these are the righteous And a omer of barley and a lethech (half a omer) of barley: these are the forty-five righteous men on account of whom the world continues to exist. But I know not whether thirty of them are here (in Babylon) and fifteen in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), or thirty in Eretz Yisrael and fifteen here; but when the verse says. And I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them into the treasury, in the house of the Lord, I know that thirty are in Eretz Yisrael and fifteen here. Abayye said:Most of them are to be found in at the back of the synagogue. [Gemara (Talmud) Hullin 92b]

Explanation of the Gemara

The Gemara elucidates the verse in Hoshea to teach that there are always at least forty-five tzadikim who maintain the world.[1]Since the verse in Hoshea presents omer (equal to thirty seah) and lethech (fifteen seah) separately, the Gemara understood the forty-five tzadikim to be divided into a group of thirty and a group of fifteen.

Furthermore, the Gemara understood the two groups to be separated geographically, one in Eretz Yisrael, the other in Babylonia. The verse from Zachariah, referring to thirty pieces of silver is understood to refer to the group of thirty tzadikim who are cast into the house of the Lord, the Temple, teaching that it is the thirty who are in Eretz Yisrael, leaving the remaining fifteen in the Diaspora.

Abayye adds that the forty tzadikim of the Land are to be found at the back of the synagogue. Rabbi Yosef ayyim of Bagdad (1835 1909) in his book Ben Yehoyada explains that Abayyes intention is that we not think that the forty tzadikim of the Land are well-known; quite the contrary, they are primarily completely unknown, and one who searches for them must look at the back of the synagogue, the place where simple members of the congregation are seated.

We raise two questions about the Gemara statement:

1. What is symbolized by the number forty-five, which represents the total number of tzadikim?

2. Why are the tzadikim divided into two groups of thirty and fifteen and why is the larger group in Eretz Yisrael?

Fifteen The Ultimate Level

The number forty-five factors as three times fifteen. Maharal explains that fifteen represents the highest level; thus Am Israel was redeemed (from Egyptian subjugation) on the fifteenth of the month of Nissan, a time when the moon is full. Since Israels destiny is to achieve the highest level of any nation, it is appropriate that they were redeemed on the fifteenth of the month.

Also, in the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) there were fifteen stairs which ascended from the Courtyard of the Israelites to the Nikanor Gate, the entrance to the Courtyard of the Kohanim. In addition, the Divine name Yah has the gematriya (numeric equivalent) of fifteen. All these points indicate that the number fifteen represents the highest level.

Three the Straight Path

Maharal explains that the number three represents Israel, which is a three-fold nation. Apparently, Maharal refers to the Talmudic statement:

'' ( ) ( ) (- ) () ().''

Blessed be the Merciful One who gave a three-fold Torah (Torah, Prophets and Writings) to a three-fold People (Kohanim, Leviim and Yisraelim) through a third born (Moses) on the third day (of separation between men and women, Exodus 19:15) in the third month (Sivan, the third month from Nissan, the month of the Exodus).[Gemara Shabbat 88a]

Maharal understands the Talmudic statement as a reference to the straight path, the middle path which runs straight between the extremes and represents harmony. Thus, the number three itself represents harmony and being straightforward.

Based upon this, we can say that the number forty-five tzadikim represents the perfection of three times fifteen. Obviously, dividing forty-five by three yields an odd number; why does the Land receive thirty and the Diaspora fifteen?

The Importance of the Tzadikim in Eretz Yisrael

Rabbi Avraham Azulai (1569 1643) in his work essed lAvraham states that Eretz Yisrael is the heart of the world, the heart of all lands. Just as the heart pumps blood and vitality to all organs and is the source of life for the entire body, so too Eretz Yisrael is the source of vitality for the entire world. For the heart to work properly it must be healthy; similarly, when the Land is healthy with tzadikim dwelling within her, her health will spread to the entire world. The health of the heart of the world is a function of the presence within her of tzadikim, who bring Divine abundance down to the Land and through her to the rest of the world.

Tzadikim in Israel: A Positive Sign for the World

The Gemara Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) presents a similar version to the Gemara Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) which we quoted, yet with a number of differences:

"And they weighed out my wages: thirty pieces of silver. these are the thirty tzadikim who are never lacking in the world, as Rabbi Naman said in the name of Rabbi Mana: The world cannot be without thirty tzadikim like Avraham our father. And what is the reason? Avraham will certainly become (hayo yihyeh), the gematriya of yihyeh is thirty. At times the majority are in Babylonia and the minority in Eretz Yisrael, at others it is the opposite. And it a good sign for the world when the majority are in Eretz Israel.

While the Babylonian Gemara speaks of forty-five tzadikim, the Jerusalem edition speaks of thirty. On the simple level we may suggest that the two versions speak of different levels of tzadikim, with the Jerusalem edition speaking of tzadikim on the level of Avraham. This suggestion would explain as well the fact that the two versions cite different Biblical sources. Furthermore, the Jerusalem Gemara does not fix the division of tzadikim between Israel and the Diaspora, but merely states that it is a good sign for the world when the majority is in Israel. Pnei Moshe explains the reasoning of the Jerusalem Gemara:

'' ' ''

Since the eyes of God are constantly upon the Land (based upon Deuteronomy 11:12), when the majority of tzadikim are within the Land, God is pleased and they protect the entire world.

Pnei Moshes comment is consistent with that of essed lAvraham: the presence of tzadikim specifically in the Land spreads life and enlightenment throughout the world.

Alternately, we may suggest that the two editions of the Gemara deal with the same tzadikim, but what then accounts for their differing comments? Recalling Abayyes remark that the tzadikim of the Land are hidden, perhaps the Jerusalem Gemara chose to conceal the existence of these hidden tzadikim in the Land, and therefore at the outset refers only to thirty tzadikim who are divided between Eretz Yisrael and Babylonia. This is the significant addition of Abayye to understanding the Talmudic statements.


We saw the statement of the Babylonian Gemara that there are forty-five tzadikim in the world, thirty of them in Eretz Yisrael, the remaining fifteen in the Diaspora.

We saw the comments of Maharal, who notes that forty-five is factored as three times fifteen, and each of these numbers carries the symbolism of the highest level of perfection.

In addition we quoted essed lAvrahams comments that Eretz Yisrael influences all lands through the work of the tzadikim within it. By way of analogy, we can say that the tzadikim are the laborers who irrigate the entire world with spring water, while the spring is the Land.

Finally, we saw the version of the Jerusalem Gemara and attempted to explain the numeric discrepancy between it and the version of the Babylonian Gemara, based upon Abayyes comment that the tzadikim of the Land are hidden, and therefore the Jerusalem exegete wished to conceal their existence.

Thank God, in our days we are witness to a unique Divine reality. Since the establishment of the State and the return of Jews to their Land, the world is in an unprecedented economic prosperity. Wars are still a daily reality and there are still poor countries, but the world is in a more balanced situation. The world population has increased three-fold in the seventy years of the States existence. Sophisticated medical systems grant greater longevity, which was merely a dream a century ago. Life itself has become more comfortable, and the average citizen has a higher standard of living.

Indeed, many tzadikim, known and unknown are found in the Land and it is truly a blessing for the world.


[1]Our Talmudic statement should not be confused with the one mentioned in Sota [45b] that the world has at least thirty-six tzadikim who greet the Shechina on a daily basis. Apparently there is a difference between the tzadikim who maintain the world and those who greet the Shechina.

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The nunber of tzadikim in the land of Israel - Arutz Sheva

Ethics and justice in killing Soleimani – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on January 20, 2020

United States President and Commander-in-Chief Donald J. Trump was justified in targeting Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Unequivocally, unquestionably justified.Discussions after US drones killed the Iranian general dealt with the potential ramifications of eliminating a high-ranking Iranian general, a person regarded so highly by the supreme leader. Commentators painted doomsday scenarios of a threatening backlash against the West and of facilitating the creation of an Iranian martyr, a hero around whom the people could unite. Of course, they also asked whether it was wise move, a sound decision. These discussions are still ongoing and they are all valid and important.For me, the most important discussions are those asking the big question: Was the targeting of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani ethically correct. And to that, I say: Yes. Without a doubt or hesitation, yes. On the question of justice, however, the United States was on shaky ground.Justice and ethics are kissing cousins, but they are not one and the same. Justice requires a trial in a court and a sentence. Ethics is right versus wrong behavior. And there is no better place to discuss Jewish ethics and the Jewish ethics of war than on the opinion page of The Jerusalem Post.On the justice front, the United States did not act on strong ethical footing. A military strike against an enemy who successfully murdered and maimed hundreds of people is not justice it is revenge. Revenge is not justified, not ethically and not Jewishly. Revenge is forbidden. That does not mean that there have not been instances in which countries and individuals even Israel and Jews have justified the tracking down and killing of evil people.We need look no further than the aftermath of the Holocaust. There were plans to pursue Nazi war criminals and to kill them. In fact, one example that is not often spoken of is a plan that the great Abba Kovner, one of the leaders of the Kovno Ghetto partisans, had to poison the water source of a major German city as an act of revenge. In the end it did not happen, and Kovner went on to become the highly respected founder of the Education Corps of the Israeli Army.And after the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, the Olympics in which Israeli athletes were cold-bloodedly massacred by Palestinians, Israel activated assassination teams to exact revenge on the perpetrators and planners of the murders.THESE ACTS were not justified either ethically or Jewishly because they were, purely and exclusively, pursuing revenge. Because justice requires a court, if a country wants justice, it must go through the proper process. It must arrest, capture, even kidnap the person it is pursing and place that person on trial. That is what Israel did when it captured, kidnapped, arrested and brought Adolf Eichmann to trial.So how can the targeting of Soleimani be ethically and even Jewishly permitted?It was an act of self-defense. The job description of General Qasem Soleimani within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was to plan attacks against targets outside of Iran. And he did his job very, very well. He planned and supervised these attacks for decades. He trained Iranian allies and proxies. He armed them and he followed up on their activities. And this is the crucial part he was actively engaged in planning future attacks.The US administration maintains that they have information that Soleimani was planning specific attacks. That is what makes targeting and killing him ethical. It was an act of self-defense taken by the United States in defense of its army, its citizens and its Western allies. The targeting of Soleimani would have been on shaky ground if he was retired and no longer operating. That was not at all the case.There is a principle in tractate Sandherin of the Talmud that teaches: Haba lhargacha, hashkem lehargo. If a murderer comes to kill you, wake up earlier and kill them first. In modern parlance, we call this a preemptive strike. Preemptive strikes are 100% justified as ethical. One need not wait to be hit first in order to defend oneself.It is a principle Israel employed in the Six Day War. It is the principle Israel uses in the calculus when deciding whether or not to assassinate a terrorist leader. Are they actively planning new operations?Israel and the United States hold themselves up to high ethical standards. They hold their military to high levels of ethics. They value ethical behavior. The Israeli Army is called the Israel Defense Forces the IDF for that very reason. Its purpose sine qua non is defense. The IDF has extremely high standards and speaks of the concept of tohar neshek, the purity of arms. Weapons are pure only when used to protect not to abuse.There are exceptions, but not this time. The killing of Qasem Soleimani is a perfect example of the United States acting ethically to defend itself and its allies. And for that bold act, we should say thank you.The writer is a columnist and a social and political commentator.

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Ethics and justice in killing Soleimani - The Jerusalem Post

What is a bar mitzvah? – The Conversation US

Posted By on January 20, 2020

It is a common scene on many a Saturday morning in cities and towns across the United States to see seventh- and eighth-grade boys and girls, a few not Jewish at all, gather in synagogues and temples to watch a classmates bar mitzvah.

This coming-of-age ritual marks a 13-year-old mans assumption of religious and legal obligations under Jewish law.

In my experience, many modern-day teens who gather for this ceremony have no idea what the word bar mitzvah means, nor how the ceremony they have come to observe evolved.

The roots of the bar mitzvah, which literally means son of the commandments, are obscure. The term never once appears in the Hebrew Bible.

Ancient rabbis, writing in the compendium of Jewish law known as the Talmud, did declare that boys are obligated to fulfill the mitzvot the commandments of Jewish law beginning at the age of 13. But as an historian of Judaism, I know that rabbis and commentators have struggled with the question of why the age of 13 was actually chosen.

After some debate, these Jewish scholars concluded by the 11th century that it must have been an orally transmitted requirement handed down to Moses when he stood atop Mount Sinai. There, Moses received not just the Ten Commandments but also, according to Jewish tradition, all Jewish law, both written and spoken.

The first use of bar mitzvah for the Jewish coming-of-age ritual seems to date to a 15th-century rabbi named Menahem Ziyyoni.

The bar mitzvah ceremony at that time was a modest affair with two or three major components. First, was an aliyah. This meant that the bar mitzvah boy was, for the very first time in his life, called up to make a blessing over the public readings from the Torah, the sacred handwritten scroll containing the Five Books of Moses. In addition, the bar mitzvah boy often delivered his first public discourse, teaching the community and offering thanks to his parents and visiting guests.

The bar mitzvah boy, however, was not expected to read from the Torah, chant the Prophetic portion associated with it, known as the Haftarah, or lead any part of the prayer service, as so many do today.

Those elements came later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the bar mitzvah grew in importance for the Jewish communities of Europe, North America and the Caribbean. As traditional Jewish communal authority weakened during the Enlightenment period, newly emancipated Jews across the globe became citizens with civil and political rights.

Anxious parents wondered whether their sons would carry on ancestral traditions such as observing Jewish law, studying Jewish texts, marrying within the faith and raising their own children Jewish. The more they worried, the more they focused on the bar mitzvah the last religious rite of passage they could control.

By the early 20th century, many bar mitzvah boys publicly pledged to love, honor and keep the Holy Torah. The 20th century also witnessed the spread of a parallel ceremony for girls, known as the bat mitzvah, meaning daughter of the commandments.

In lands where Jewish life was changing rapidly, families seemingly sought to stave off fears of the morrow. Parents strove, at least momentarily, perhaps for one fine Saturday morning, to reassure themselves and the community that Jewish learning and life would continue despite the lure of modernity and its many seductions.

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Rosensweig: The failure of Holocaust education – Canadian Jewish News

Posted By on January 20, 2020

The Jewish people are learned Jews all over the world just completed a seven and a half year daf yomi cycle, which involves studying a page of the Talmud every day. We are innovative the best example of that is the establishment of the State of Israel and, more recently, the launch of more Israeli startups than all the countries in the European Union combined. Yet, while we are special, we also have our foibles.

One of them is the lack of courage and a willingness to be activists on the part of Diaspora Jews. Most of us were not taught to defend ourselves. Therefore, when we are challenged by outside aggression, our first response is often immobility and a passing off of our responsibilities. This, I believe, stems from the fact that many of us were born following the Holocaust, which was a quieter moment in history for the Jewish people, a time when we could pursue a gentle approach to life.

Most Jews are not activists fighting on behalf of ourselves or others. This, I think, emanates from a current weakness in Holocaust education. Holocaust education has for decades encouraged us to simply remember the atrocities committed against our people. We did this by regularly attending movies like Schindlers List, reading books about survivors and attending lectures by Holocaust experts to hear the reasons for such things as the Allies lack of will to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz.

For years, weve sat in halls packed to the rafters with people listening to the Holocaust educators every word. Then we exited the place feeling awful about anti-Semitism and what was done to us. But very few of us did something valuable and necessary for the Jewish people and that was aligning our remembrance with a commitment to act.

We were satisfied with reading articles and bemoaning our fate, instead of taking our angst and turning it into a process of developing a Diaspora army of sorts, one that would do such things as walk the streets of Toronto and Montreal, to protect our brothers and sisters going to shul on Shabbat, like Shomrim in the U.K.

Holocaust education began failing us at some point. While it gave our people a chance to mourn and embrace the survivors, it did not live up to our commitment of Never Again that if we were to see an injustice happening to the Jewish people, or others, we would actively fight against it.


I love the Jewish people with all my heart. I am therefore very worried about anti-Semitism and our response to it. I am also anxious because our communitys focus on remembering has left us without an inclusive, well-thought-out plan to deal with modern-day anti-Semitism. And if there is such a plan, very few members of our community know of it and feel safer because of it.

Simply put, we are not ready to fight the anti-Semites, the awful, hateful people who recognize our weakness our inability to fight back. They are not afraid of us at least not yet.

I call upon our rabbis, organizational workers and every single Jew to emulate the bravery of the little boy who climbed over the Warsaw Ghetto walls to find bread for his starving family not just to remember him. I encourage you to look at your own response to the Holocaust and ask yourself if you are prepared to be a Jewish soldier and live up to your commitment of Never Again.

Enough of just remembering. Activism is what will protect us and sustain us. Am Yisrael Chai!

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Rosensweig: The failure of Holocaust education - Canadian Jewish News

Budapest Celebrates the Siyum HaShas of the Daf HaYomi –

Posted By on January 20, 2020


Sunday, January 19, 2020 at 7:30 pm | ""

Last week Sunday the Chabad community celebrated the Siyum HaShas, learned every morning at the Shas Chevra Lubavitch shul. In honor of the Torah and its scholars, a large crowd, about 100 people, gathered and rejoiced together in the simchah of the Torah.

In his hadran, the Maggid Shiur, Harav Boruch Oberlander Chabad shliach, who serves as Av Beis Din of the citys Kehillos Hachareidim also told about the studying in the past of Daf HaYomi in Budapest during the second cycle, 5691-5698 (1931-1938).

Among other places, there were great shiurim in the Shas Chevrah shul and also at the famous Chassidic Polisher Shul on Kiraly Street (where the Divrei Chaim of Tzanz prayed when he was in town). When they celebarated the Siyum in 1938, Rabbi Yosef Grossberg declared, It is not only the simchah of Lublin but also the joy of Hungarian Jewry, which is the joy of all the Jewish people!

Daf HaYomi lessons continued in Hungary until the Holocaust in 1944, when a large part of the learners perished al kiddush Hashem, Hyd.

To our delight in the 13th cycle, Hungary returned to take its place alongside the rest of the Jewish communities, and the voice of the Torah was heard in this country once more. In Budapest they learned daily Daf HaYomi until the present Siyum; with this the Chabad community returned the glory to its old place.

A new Daf Yomi shiur was announced in the Obuda shul for Hungarian speakers. The Maggid Shiur is Rabbi Shlomo Koves, who is the Rav of the shul, which about 40 people attend daily.

Each participant in the daily Daf Yomi class said a dvar Torah in thanksgiving to Hashem, that they where zoche to be students of the beit midrash, and that they finished all the Talmud Bavli. In praying for the future, they asked for siyatta diShmaya that they should be able to study and finish the next cycle as well.

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Budapest Celebrates the Siyum HaShas of the Daf HaYomi -

DNA ties Ashkenazi Jews to group of just 330 people from …

Posted By on January 20, 2020

All of the Ashkenazi Jews alive today can trace their roots to a group of about 330 people who lived 600 to 800 years ago.

So says a new study in the journal Nature Communications. An international team of scientists sequenced the complete genomes of 128 healthy Ashkenazi Jews and compared each of those sequences with the others, as well as with with the DNA of 26 Flemish people from Belgium. Their analysis allowed them to trace the genetic roots of this population to a founding group in the Middle Ages.

Ashkenaz in Hebrew refers to Germany, and Ashkenazi Jews are those who originated in Eastern Europe. (Sephardic Jews, by contrast, are from the areas around the Mediterranean Sea, including Portugal, Spain, the Middle East and Northern Africa.) About 80% of modern Jews have Ashkenazi ancestry, according to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Albert Einstein was an Ashkenazi Jew, as were Gertrude Stein and Carl Sagan. Steven Spielberg and Scarlett Johansson are also Ashkenazi Jews, along with three current members of the U.S. Supreme Court (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan).

Despite their close ties with Europe, no more than half of their DNA comes from ancient Europeans, the researchers found. Only 46% to 50% of the DNA in the 128 samples originated with the group of people who were also the ancestors of the Flemish people in the study. Those ancient people split off from the ancestors of todays Middle Easterners more than 20,000 years ago, with a founding group of about 3,500 to 3,900 people, according to the study.

The rest of the Ashkenazi genome comes from the Middle East, the researchers reported. This founding group fused with the European founding group to create a population of 250 to 420 individuals. These people lived 25 to 32 generations ago, and their descendants grew at a rate of 16% to 53% per generation, the researchers calculated.

Today there are more than 10 million Ashkenazi Jews around the world, including 2.8 million in Israel, according to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The authors of the new study come from nearly two dozen research groups in New York City, Belgium and Israel. Many of the co-authors are not Jewish, but they are interested in studying this group because it is genetically isolated (since Jews have historically married within their faith, their gene pool is closed). That makes it easier to identify genes linked to specific diseases, like Parkinsons and cancer, links that could well apply to non-Jews as well.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, along with several private foundations.

Fascinated by genetics? Follow me on Twitter @LATkarenkaplan and like Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.

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DNA ties Ashkenazi Jews to group of just 330 people from ...

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Dreams Of A Better Conversation About Race – Atlanta Jewish Times

Posted By on January 20, 2020

When Shekhiynah Larks runs an ethnic diversity training program for a Jewish community organization or school, theres one question that never fails to make people uncomfortable. What race are you? she will ask the program participants point blank.

Sometimes theres nervous laughter, or averted glances, or awkward shifting in seats. Its uncomfortable, says Larks, 22, a black Jewish educator and program coordinator forBechol Lashon(In Every Tongue), an organization that promotes ethnic diversity within the Jewish community. Thats why most people step away from the conversation. There are so many incentives not to talk about race.

For the first time this year, Bechol Lashon has releasedspecial educational resources for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, observed in the United States on the third Monday in January, in order to encourage more Jewish groups to start talking about race.

The purpose of the curriculum, explained Bechol Lashons founding director Diane Tobin, is to move away from a superficial celebration of equality and dive into difficult and charged conversations surrounding race.

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People are afraid to say the wrong thing. Its awkward. So people just dont talk about it, said Tobin.

This conversation on many levels is an uncomfortable conversation, Larks added. People would rather not have this conversation. And were all going to make mistakes and continue to make mistakes.

Shekhiynah Larks, pictured here in 2019, is a program coordinator at Bechol Lashon. (Courtesy Shekhiynah Larks/via Times of Israel)

Exacerbating the reluctance to start the race conversation is the complicated Jewish identity, Tobin said.

If youre talking about the history of Jews in America, after World War II, Jews suddenly became white, said Tobin. Jews dont want to think of ourselves as racist, as weve been persecuted ourselves. Its a complex conversation to understand that the persecution is real, that some Jews do not identify as white, and yet yes, some of us do benefit from white privilege. You have to hold both conversations.

Bechol Lashons MLK curriculum approaches the question of race through the telling of stories. The curriculum encourages people to tell stories of their own traditions, culture, and roots, and then read the personal stories of a variety of Jewish leaders and educators who come from diverse backgrounds and countries.

Especially in the age of social media when information moves so quickly, many people are reluctant to even start talking about race issues because they are paralyzed by fear that they might say the wrong thing, unintentionally offending someone or causing others to think that they are racist, Larks said. However, she said, mistakes and misunderstandings will inevitably happen especially when trying to determine the language and labels to use when discussing different racial groups.

I like to tell people that my bad goes a long way, said Larks. Owning your mistake means a lot.

A lot of people need to become more comfortable being uncomfortable, she added. Thats one of the biggest barriers.

Larks, who is from Oakland, California, knew from age 12 that she wanted to convert to Judaism. I grew up in a Pentecostal family with a deep connection with the divine, and they always said to put yourself where you hear God, so I did, she said. Larks said her own story proves that Jewish identities dont necessarily come with a prescribed skin tone. I identify as an Ashkenazi Jew, because those are my traditions and melodies.

Diane Tobin and her son, Jonah Tobin, pictured in 2017. Tobin and her late husband started Bechol Lashon in 2000 to connect with other diverse Jewish families. (Courtesy Diane Tobin/via Times of Israel)

Tobin and her late husband Gary started Bechol Lashon in 2000 after adopting a son, Jonah, who is black. They wanted more resources and connection with other Jews of color, including Jews who are adopted or converted, and Jews who trace their roots to countries other than Eastern Europe.

Bechol Lashon started as a research initiative to document Jews of color, and, with the years, morphed into an advocacy organization educating the larger, mostly Ashkenazi American Jewish community about the diversity of Jewish identities. In the early 2000s, the organization estimated that around 20 percent of American Jews are ethnically and racially diverse, a statistic that also includes Mizrahi/North African Jews and Latino Jews.

The organization runs a summer camp for Jewish children who come from diverse backgrounds, as well as a monthly Family Circle to connect diverse Jewish families with resources and support. Larks said that while she was on her conversion journey, some rabbis assumed she would feel uncomfortable at their synagogue because she didnt match the stereotypical appearance of American Jews. One of the purposes of the summer camp and Family Circle is to connect kids with other Jewish kids who look like them, or at least look different from the so-called typical Jewish look, to stress the idea that Jews come in all shapes and colors.

Bechol Lashons curriculum is aimed particularly at American Jewish communities, because race is so specific to each country. In America, the conversation about race is rooted in slavery, while in Israel racism is much more connected to immigration, said Tobin. Originally, Bechol Lashon tried to expand its resources to support international Jewish communities. But the race conversation in Capetown, South Africa is vastly different from the race conversation in Beersheba, Israel, or Chicago, USA. Today, the organization concentrates its advocacy and education efforts on the United States, while offering other types of support to international Jewish communities in places such as Uganda.

Bechol Lashons two-week overnight summer camp aims to help Jewish kids from diverse backgrounds connect with other kids who dont fit the stereotypical image of what an American Jew looks like. Participants are pictured canoeing during the 2019 summer session. (Courtesy Bechol Lashon/via Times of Israel)

Today, Bechol Lashon works with American Jewish federations, day schools, Hebrew schools, and synagogues implementing their Passports to Peoplehood curriculum. Although the organization has been involved in racial identity and Judaism since 2000, there has been a huge increase in the number of Jewish organizations seeking out Bechol Lashons diversity training since 2016. This echoes a national trend of people being more open to discussing racial issues in the political climate around the election of US President Donald Trump, and the emergence of social movements such as Black Lives Matter.

Tobin said the Martin Luther King, Jr. curriculum is meant to be a jumping-off point, but these conversations require longer periods of time to truly effect change in how people understand race.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (second from right), marches at Selma with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Bunche, Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Rev. C.T. Vivian. (Courtesy of Susannah Heschel/via Times of Israel)

One of the main points of the Passports to Peoplehood program is highlighting the fact that Jews come from all over the world. This is clear to Israelis, where the hodgepodge of Jewish identities from places such as Iraq, Libya, and Iran have influenced all parts of society. But it is less obvious in America, where the vast majority of Jews are Ashkenazi and trace their roots to Eastern Europe and Russia.

Once they see it, they say, Oh yes, of course, there are Jews all over the world, said Tobin. Starting the larger race conversation by learning about diverse Jewish customs is one of the easiest ways to enter the conversation about race. No one objects to Moroccan cooking, said Tobin.

Its the first time theyve considered it of course there are Jews in all different countries and of course they dont look like the Jews in America, said Larks.

The recent deadly anti-Semitic attacks inNew YorkandNew Jerseyhave further complicated racial politics for black Jews, Larks said. In New Jersey, the perpetratorsclaimed an association with the Black Hebrew Israelites, a movement that has many different sects. Larks said sometimes black people assume she is a member of this group, which is not considered Jewish, and both Jews and non-Jews are surprised to hear that she is a convert.

Since the spate of attacks, some of which were carried out by black people, Larks says some American Jews are increasingly wary of her being present in Jewish spaces because she is black. Or people ask me, Why are black people killing Jews? and they assume I have the answers, and I dont, said Larks.

She hopes the Martin Luther King Jr. curriculum will be a springboard for Jewish communities to start having difficult conversations about race, both within the Jewish community and in other parts of society.

This is ultimately atikkun olam[repairing the world] project, said Larks. That was everything King stood for: creating a just world. And we cant do that if we constantly avoid conversations about injustices in society.

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On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Dreams Of A Better Conversation About Race - Atlanta Jewish Times

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