Judaism

Enslavement, Redemption, and the Arab World: A Passover Unlike All Others

04/07/2011
Special to the Jewish Week

Each and every year, at precisely this time of year, I find myself struggling with the question of who owns Jewish history.

It sounds like an odd question, I know. In a sense, it is. But what I mean is that there are some chapters of our history that are so imprinted on the broader consciousness of western civilization that it often feels as if we have handed over our historical experience to the rest of the world, to use as it pleases.

Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik

Alternatives to Incarceration: A Jewish Approach

04/07/2011
Special to the Jewish Week

 Many  prisoners keep knives in body cavities, an ex-convict explained to me last week, to ensure they can protect themselves from brutal prison violence and rape. This horrific description haunts me.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

Journal Watch

04/05/2011

Of all the arcana of Jewish life, that most universal instrument, the Jewish calendar, is one of the more enigmatic. Solar? Lunar? Length of month? Two days of a holiday, or one? What about the “leap month”? And whence derives our calendar? Ancient Judaea/Palestine? Babylonia? The Tanakh? The Talmud?

Judaism For The Star-Struck

Can the zodiac be integrated into the Jewish tradition?

04/05/2011

When my great-nephew Owen arrived in the world in January, there was a collective spate of “Your constellation is good!” OK, we shortened the sentiment to “mazal tov!” but the meaning was the same. We were congratulating the new parents on their mazal (from Akkadian, “location of a star”), luck that’s credited to the stars and has nothing to do with merit. Which begs the question: Is there mazal for Jews?

Zodiac painting from the ceiling of the Bialystoker Synagogue, New York. 	PHOTO BY MICHAEL DATIKASH

Good Samaritans

Israel’s smallest religious minority offers Jews a glimpse of what might have been.

04/05/2011

What would the Jews look like had they not been exiled to the four corners of the earth, had they gone untainted — but also unenriched — by the cultures in which they tarried? Imagine Jews who retained their fierce attachment to the Torah and the faith of their fathers, but without the rabbinic response to displacement.

Over The Moon

Rosh Hodesh, Susan B. Anthony and the teenage girl.

04/05/2011

I recently attended my daughter’s fifth grade American Heritage Ceremony. The students researched how various important documents from American history were created and then wrote and performed in skits about what they learned. One group was assigned the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Ancient Jewish Computers

In perfecting Judaism’s complex, lunisolar calendar, the Rabbis likely relied on advanced mathematics.

04/05/2011

Passover, the Bible tells us (Exodus 34:18), is Hag Hamatzot (Holiday of The Matzot) whose time is Mo’ed HaAviv, a spring festival, that begins on the 15th day of Nisan, on the night of a full moon after the vernal equinox (“Tekufat HaShana”), following the Passover sacrifice on the 14th.

It’s an unusually precise specification. To ensure that Passover did not start before spring, the tradition in ancient Israel held that the first day of Nisan would not start until the barley is ripe, that being the test for the onset of spring.

DAVID FRIEDMAN, Numbers, 2011, 	acrylic and ink on paper 11”x 14.”

Saving The Dates

Elisheva Carlebach rediscovers the lost art of ‘sifrei evronot,’ Jewish calendar booklets.

04/05/2011

Tucked into a corner of the Columbia University campus at the end of a long hallway, Elisheva Carlebach’s book-lined office is as quiet and serene as a library. But as soon as she begins to speak about her new book, “Palaces of Time” (Harvard), we’re transported to a world where few things are fixed or organized — not even the concept of time.

Sefer evronot, 1717. Cincinnati, Klau Library, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

And The Seasons They Go ‘Round And ‘Round

Seeking a coherent life with the holiday cycle as our compass.

04/05/2011

When I was a child, the Jewish holidays burst upon my days with no discernible pattern or connection. In St. Louis, as a young girl, I am a Megillah, parading around United Hebrew Temple, my skinny 9-year-old self sandwiched between two yellow poster boards with “The Story of Queen Esther” glued and glittered on the front. And then, some weeks later, returning home from services with my mom and my sister — dad was at work — we ate our Passover feast: crunchy sheaves of matzah slathered with cream cheese and Welch’s grape jelly.

TANYA FREDMAN, Midbar (Desert), 2010, oil and fabric on canvas, 30” x 30”.

Let Us Eat Cake

There’s only one biblical birthday bash.

04/05/2011

Sunday, Oct. 28 was Bess’s first birthday. The festivities began two weeks earlier with a collective party for my local moms’ group’s entire brood — Bess won our first annual crawling race by a mile! — and culminated with an immediate-family-only party featuring homemade frosted pomegranate layer cake. (Rimona, Bess’s middle and Hebrew name, is the feminized form of rimon, or pomegranate.)

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