Friday February 28, 2014
It's been a busy month, and I want to throw out an apology for not having more content available this month! I would love to know any questions or topics you'd like to see covered here on About.com's Judaism page, because the more I know you the more I know what will be interesting for you to read about!
This month was a bit of a hodge-podge of topics that flew off the top of my head.
For starters, there are the 613 commandments. Although most are aware of the 10 commandments in Judaism and Christianity, you might not be aware that for Jews there are 603 other commandments that we find in the Torah. An interesting note: The major difference between Judaism's and Christianity's understandings of the 10 commandments relates to commandment number eight. Judaism sees it as "Thou shall not kill" and Christianity views the commandment as "Thou shall not murder." Do you see the difference?
Next up we have the Jewish divorce, also known as the get (pronounced geht as opposed to git). Having gone through a Jewish divorce myself, it's a fascinating topic that has caused a lot of controversy publicly in recent years. With many men not providing their wives with the necessary religious divorce, there has been a growing concern about agunot, or women whose husbands won't give them a get.
For those interested in the environment, there's a new article up. In "Judaism and the Environment," I discuss the basics of Judaism's approach to the environment, which, as you might have guessed, is one deeply rooted in the Torah. From eco-kashrut to the handful of Jewish holidays that celebrate the environment's creatively plotted harvest cycle, Judaism is a very earth-friendly religion.
Lastly we have an article up on the difference between the chanukiyah and the menorah. Didn't know there was a difference? No worries! You're not alone. Nowadays, menorah has replaced most terminology in common speech for any type of candelabra used in Judaism. There is, however, a stark difference between the two words and the two pieces of Judaica. Read more about it!
Let me know if there's something you'd like to see and I'll do my best to make it happen.
Thursday January 30, 2014
Judaism is chock full of fast days, where Jews are commanded to abstain from work and "afflict" themselves. Most are tied to the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the Second Temple in 70 CE, so why do we continue fasting today? Are we being punished for the stubbornness that led to the destruction of each Temple?
The fast days you'll find in the Jewish calendar are:
- Fast of Gedaliah (3 Tishrei/Late Summer or Early Winter)
- Yom Kippur (10 Tishrei/Late Summer or Early Winter)
- Asarah B'Tevet (10 Tevet/Winter)
- Fast of Esther (13 Adar/Winter)
- Ta'anit Bechorot (14 Nissan/Spring)
- Tzom Tammuz (17 Tammuz/Summer)
- Tisha b'Av (9 Av/Summer)
That might seem like a lot of fasting, but, believe it or not, once upon a time fasting was more regular and the reasons varied. The primary call for fasting was to gain God's compassion and avert disaster. However, fasting also was involved in the Temple service and was initiated at the death of some national leaders. In some cases, fasting was used as a means of obtaining forgiveness from God, such as when Ezra fasted for the "faithlessness" of the people.
Nowadays, most fasting in the Jewish calendar is tied to the destruction of one or both of the temples in Jerusalem. The Fast of Esther and Ta'anit Bechorot (fast of the first born) aren't tied to the Temple, and are both considered minor fasts.
So why are Jews suffering for the stubborn people who refused to listen to the prophets in order to mend their ways and prevent the fall of the temples so long ago? The rabbis explain in the Talmud :
Every generation for which the Temple is not rebuilt is as though the Temple was destroyed for that generation. (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1a)
It's heavy stuff, but the point here is that Jews aren't meant to look at the fast day as a day of suffering per se, but rather as a day of opportunity to not be stubborn and mend our own ways. For an Orthodox Jew that might mean crossing the bridge and exploring what it means to be a Reform Jew today, or it might mean mending ties with a sibling or parent after years of strife. Maybe it's planting a tree or taking up composting, or you might find yourself volunteering to tutor a child in math.
The abundance of fast days in Judaism is about afflicting yourself, but not with 40 lashes and severe dehydration. Rather, it's about undoing and learning from the mistakes of past generations in order to better our own lives and the world around us. It's sort of like building your own personal Beit HaMikdash. The idea is for Jews to reflect, rebuild, and recommit to Judaism with intense focus.
So what's a fasting person to do? Luckily, there are minor fast days and primary fast days, meaning that there are loads of different levels of observance to accommodate pregnant women, the elderly, children, sick people, and believe it or not those who just don't fast well. That being said, days on which the leniencies are not very lenient are Tisha b'Av and Yom Kippur, meaning that you have to speak to your local rabbi about whether or not and how to fast. In the end, however, you really need to trust your gut when it comes to fasting and not push yourself too hard for too long.
After all, Leviticus 18:5 says,
"You shall keep my statutes and ordinances; if a person does them, he will live by them: I am the Lord."
The understanding of this verse, which also shows up in Ezekiel 20:11 and Nehemiah 9:29, is that Jews should live by Torah law, not die because of it. This is why you'll find the mention of pikuach nefesh -- literally "saving a life" -- around Yom Kippur and Tisha b'Av when it comes to intense fasting.
How do you handle fast days and what does fasting mean to you -- if anything at all?
Thursday January 16, 2014
One of four new years festivals in the Jewish calendar, Tu B'Shvat is a celebration of the trees. On this holiday, Jews take part in special seder meals and eat special foods grown on trees like olives, figs, grapes, honey, carob, and pomegranates. The holiday is prime for children's activities, as Tu B'Shvat evokes colors, creativity, crafts, and delicious food!
There are plenty of ways to celebrate the holiday in crafty and creative ways, and here are just a few.
Dried Fruit Centerpiece: Gather up your favorite dried fruits and your kids can create delicious and festive table toppers.
An Ice Cream Seder: Perfect for all ages, why not get crafty with your own sweet seder?
Making Toffee Flowers: An easy and tasty activity, kids can create their own beautiful garden of flowers.
Interactive Online Games: TorahTots has a word find, coloring pages, e-cards you can send, and more.
Handprint Tree: It might be messy, but the work of art will last a lifetime and serve as a fitting tribute to the new year for the trees.
A Seder for Tots: If you have a 3-5 year old, this is a great option to keep the kids involved if you're having a Tu B'Shvat seder.
Grow Your Own: With some creativity, a few sponges, and some gras seed, kids can become quick architects and landscapers, building their own ecosystem in a snap.
Online Scavenger Hunt: Using provided websites, kids can find answers to fun new year's questions!
Coloring Book: An oldie but a goodie, sometimes breaking out the crayons and markers is the best way to keep your little ones busy on the holidays.
For more ways to celebrate Tu B'Shvat with your kids, check out PJLibrary.org. It's also not too early to start planning for Passover! Check out Passover Fun for Kids, too.
Do you have a favorite Tu B'Shvat craft or activity you'd like to share?
Thursday October 18, 2012
Though Halloween isn't a Jewish holiday, with all the spooky fun going on in October now seems the perfect time to learn about Jewish mythical beasts and superstitions. First up: the Behemoth.
The Behemoth is a legendary creature that's mentioned in Job 40:15-24. Here the text tells us that the Behemoth is an ox-like creature that feeds on grass, yet is so large that his tail is the size of a ceder tree. The passage also names the Behemoth "first among the works of God," a statement that has led some to believe that the Behemoth was the first creature that God created.
According to the 2nd century B.C.E. Book of Enoch, the Behemoth still lives in the desert "east of the garden where the elect and the righteous dwell" (1 Enoch 60:7-8). There he awaits the end of days, when he will engage the Leviathan in a battle to the death.
Learn more about the Behemoth in: The Behemoth in Jewish Mythology
Image credit: "Behemoth and Leviathan" by William Blake, from his Illustrations of the Book of Job.