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.
Thursday October 11, 2012
It's October and as far as emails in my inbox go, that always means one thing: lots of questions about Halloween and whether or not it is OK for Jews to celebrate the holiday. :)
Over the past few years Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser has written two formal responses to this question about American Jews celebrating Halloween. In both instances he traces the origins of Halloween, noting that what began as a Celtic holiday celebrating the harvest is now a secular holiday that is usually observed by dressing up in costume, giving out candy and going "Trick-Or-Treating." As a result, he concludes that - so long as festivities are not taken to excess - celebrating Halloween should be no more problematic for Jews than observing Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July.
Read Rabbi Goldwasser's answers in the following articles:
Image credit: Getty Images
Monday October 8, 2012
Simchat Torah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the completion of the annual Torah reading cycle. During the year, a specific portion of the Torah is read every week and on Simchat Torah the final portion is completed with the last verses of Deuteronomy. Directly afterwards, we read the first few lines of Genesis and begin the reading cycle again.
In Hebrew "Simchat Torah" literally means "Rejoicing in the Law," and indeed it is a joyous holiday that includes marching the Torah scrolls around the synagogue, singing and dancing.
Simchat Torah begins this evening and if you'd like a quick refresher you can learn more about the holiday and how it is celebrated in these About Judaism articles:
Image credit: Getty Images/Steve McAlister
Friday October 5, 2012
There are three major traditions associated with the celebration of Sukkot: building a sukkah, eating in the sukkah and waving the lulav and etrog. The lulav and etrog are actually four different kinds of plants (called the "Four Kinds" or "Four Species") that are brought together and waved while reciting blessings. They include a citron, a palm branch, three myrtle twigs and two willow branches.
But have you ever wondered why we wave the lulav and etrog? According to Rabbi Alfred Kolatch, the tradition of waving an item during worship can be traced back to Leviticus 7:34 and Leviticus 14:12. Here the act of waving is interpreted as bringing the offerer of a sacrifice closer to God, perhaps because the smoke from the burnt offering was being fanned towards the heavens. In Talmudic times, some rabbinic authorities also believed that the act of waving would shoo away evil spirits.
You can learn more about the Four Species and how to wave the lulav and etrog in these About Judaism articles:
Reference: "The Jewish Book of Why." Rabbi Alfred Kolatch. Jonathan David Publishers, Inc.: New York, 1981. pg.150.