8/27/2015

Shabbat Ki Teytzey

Candles Friday 28th 7:15pm
Havdalah 29th 8:08pm

This weeks reading continues the recapitulation of the biblical laws first given in Exodus. But whereas last week’s dealt mainly with government and social affairs, this week we deal mainly with personal morality. How the individual should behave rather than the state.

The most important underlying themes are that there are consequences! If you marry for the wrong reason you produce unhappy families. Unhappy families produce unhappy kids. People who are badly brought up are more likely to commit crimes. And the Torah goes in to list the sorts of crimes it feels strongly about. Treating parents, women, workers, the poor and animals cruelly, violently or harshly. And yet the famous principle this week is that “fathers do not die for sons, sons do not die for fathers, a person dies for his own crimes” (27.16).

I wonder if there isn’t an interesting lesson. Some people are givers, charitable, caring for the welfare of others. But some are takers, only seeking gratification for themselves. When it says in Exodus that “the bad actions of fathers are visited onto the next generation” it doesn't mean punishment. But it does mean that there are consequences. I wonder if it all has anything to with family values! And yet I know so many cases where the sons behave so much better than their fathers. We have the freedom to make better choices.

8/21/2015

Shabbat Shoftim

Candles 7:26pm
Havdalah 8:19pm

This week’s reading from the Torah is one if the most important from a legal point of view. Like the Doomsday Book or indeed the American Constitution, it is the basis of Jewish law in terms of principles and foundations. Of course over thousands of years like all other systems it has advanced and developed.

The first principle (Deut.16.18) is that one needs an enforceable legal system open to everyone. No one, neither religious nor political should ever be above the law. This is particularly true of such phenomena as revenge killing and vendettas and honor killings (19) all have continued to plague society long, long after the Torah was given.

The Judicial system requires honesty, (16.19) the honesty the Judges, the system and at least of two witnesses (no circumstantial evidence unlike the USA). Something that is still far from universal today.

Any system requires a process of appeal and a framework for change (17.8)

Torah also deals with international affairs, that one must always pursue peace before going to war as a last resort (20.10).

Society has to accept responsibility for its failures. An unsolved crime becomes the responsibility of everyone (21).

The Torah is not only concerned with religious ritual but life in general.

8/13/2015

Shabbat Re’ey

Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Ellul
Candles Friday 14th 7:36pm
Havdalah 15th at 8:29pm

Mazal Tov to the Hazzan Uriel Suliman his wife and family family for the birth of their second daughter.

The Torah here in this week’s reading, mandates a specific “place” where the Israelites were to sacrifice to God. Originally whenever anyone wanted to eat meat they had to bring it to the sanctuary where it was sacrificed, its blood, fats and inedible parts removed and then divided up between the owners and the priests.

During the wilderness period the sanctuary was collapsible and moved with the people. After the death of Moshe in the Land of Israel the tabernacle continued to move for some two hundred years from Gilgal to Shiloh and to Nov with interludes where the enemy captured it. According to the Mishna in Zevahim for much of this period, people also sacrificed (killed for food) on Bamot, High places that were also associated with pagan worship. It was not until Solomon’s reign that the Temple was built and a single permanent “ place” became established in Jerusalem.

When the Northern Kingdom split after Solomon’s death two temples were built at Dan and Bethel and once again pagan practices became widespread.

The Samaritans established their Temple on Mount Gerzim. They argued that mounts Gerizim and Eyyval (near Nablus today) were specifically mentioned in the Torah whereas Jerusalem and Mount Zion were not. To this day there is here they worship and sacrifice. The Samaritans also reject the innovations of Rabbinic Judaism. There are very few of them left now, caught between Islam and Judaism. But in a way they were right. Jerusalem was not mandated in the Torah. It was established much later and reinforced by rabbinic tradition.

People often ask why, if Judaism has changed Judaism so much, do we have to abide by all their additional laws interpretations. But it is obvious that the genius of the rabbis was to know what it required to keep us alive in exile as a people and would enable us to reach the miraculous stage of re-establishing ourselves in our homeland.

Where as those who rejected rabbinic Judaism, whether they were Samaritans, Kaarites or indeed reformers? They flourished for a while but eventually failed to become the dominant force in Judaism. In the long term the rabbis ensured our survival.

8/06/2015

Shabbat Eykev

Mevarchin Rosh Hodesh Ellul
Candles Friday 7th 7:45pm
Havdalah 8th 8:38pm

There are many problematic sentences in the early chapters of Devarim where Moshe, forty years after the events took place gives a slightly different perspective. For example in Bamidbar it is God who commands them to send spies into Canaan. Here in Deuteronomy it is the people who come to Moshe and ask for it.

But there is also a contrast in Devarim itself in regard to the Canaanites. On the one hand in Chapter 7 it says that the Israelites must destroy the Seven Canaanite nations completely and not intermarry with them. Well, if you destroy them then of course you cannot intermarry. But then in Chapter8 Moshe says that God will not let them be driven out right away. It will take time. Because otherwise, if you depopulate the countryside, it will go to waste. One had to be realistic. Nevertheless, the goal should remain even if it was and is impractical.

From this it is possible to learn that the Torah did not expect a mass slaughter. But rather the commands were meant as warnings that we would be surrounded by very bad influences morally. It would be a priority to avoid them as much as possible. The Torah often uses hyperbole to stress how dangerous something is. Historically we know the Israelites never succeeded completely in removing them.

And so today, there is much that goes on in the world we live in here and Israel that is bad and morally dangerous. But there are very obvious reasons why we cannot just destroy what we disapprove of. We often have to live with it and find ways of toleration and accommodation. That is why the Torah says the commandments are to help us live, not die by them.