Theological Method Jewish Theology Pt. VIII Last in Series – Patheos (blog)

LISTENING TO THE WORLD JUDAISM AS PHENOMENOLOGY

From a Jewish perspective, the foundation of spirituality is the human capacity of being called by something beyond ourselves, something that both speaks to our nature and is yet embedded there. In moments of quiet honesty, we find ourselves with a given orientation and that orientation offers itself up as an approach to our better selves it is the voice of our own objective nature calling us toward fulfillment. We understand this urging of our own nature as the foundation of morality and religious practice.

Listen! God speaks to us through the world through the burning bush and the quiet voice on the wind.

Human fulfillment requires alignment with this voice calling out from reality/nature, including our own human nature.The insights for living a meaningful and good life arise from a reasoned, teleological reflection on our own nature and our relationships to others. This vision offers a formal framework within which to conduct our theological and moral reasoning.

The goal of Jewish practice and observance is Shalom a holistic sense of peace and wholeness. Jewish spiritual practice teaches us to be good listeners to hear the voice calling us to strive for wholeness and help others obtain the same. By doing so, we heal ourselves and our world and achieve our evolutionary and Torah-based primary directive thrive and flourish!

SPIRITUALITY & TRUTH

The Jewish vision is that it is fundamental to human nature to seek the truth about the world and ourselves, attempting to find meaning in our lives. Genuine spirituality is centered on the truth not elaborate, ungrounded theology or grand speculation without foundation.

Truth is the adequate correspondence of human judgments to reality itself. Human knowledge is fallible, but generally reliable, and is verified in relation to reality. Reasoned human discourse functions along these lines when people make claims, they ought to be able to provide some justification for those claims justification involves offering evidence based in reality this is how human communities gain wisdom and make progress.

The Jewish search for meaning is approached from the vantage point of spiritual realism. Spiritual realism operates from an epistemological conservatism humbly seeking to understand reality and trying to offer some explanation for events and circumstances. Jewish history has provided ample experience of tragedy that tempers any inclination to lofty, unjustified saccharine theologies.

Therefore, the spiritually grounded person is the one who listens to and sees reality as it truly is waking up to the world as it is in itself. (Texts, teachers, and traditions can help us in this task, but these are fingers pointing to the moon, not the moon itself, as a Buddhist saying goes.)

The notion of listening is employed metaphorically the goal being to strip away the unnecessary filters that block more accurate perceptions of nature, including our own human nature. Awakening to the world as it really is and living accordingly is the heart of Jewish spiritual realism.

AWE & PATTERNS

We should stand in awe at the splendor of reality. And this awe, if carefully cultivated, reveals more than can be sustained by a mere mechanistic or materialistic vantage point that necessarily ascribes an accidental nature to everything that is.

Within the complex matrix of sufficient reason, causation, emergence, teleological thinking, and the nature of time we begin to glimpse some sense of the multiple layers of contingency of the universe contingency on some emergent cause that prompts the original expansion of singularity, the contingency on inherent principles that guide the ordered emergence of matter and energy, and the contingency on the regularity, continued existence, and direction of the unfolding.

Despite the protests of many, the universe appears to have an internal logic that inevitably drives matter from nonliving to living, from simple to complex, from inert to consciousness in a seemingly clear direction toward life and increasing complexity for the sake of survival. (Protests abound, in part, because science cannot properly detect or evaluate meaning, purpose, or value.)

We may dismiss the above as poetry, but the proper response to some of lifes mysteries are reflection and meditation. Science solves problems. Religion plumbs the depth of mysteries. Wisdom is knowing the difference between a problem and a mystery. Mystery does not cry out for solutions or answers it finds its resolution in awe and wonder and a willingness to engage its depths.

Jewish tradition understands that the purpose of theology isnt to intervene in science over questions that science is much better prepared to address, but to relate the material universe studied by science to questions of ultimate concernof value, meaning and purposewhich science cant address and are instead the proper sphere of religion.

Cultivating this sense of awe and reverence is the purpose of spirituality in general, and Judaism in particular. Such an enterprise is pivotal in undoing the unfortunate effects of secularization the tendencies toward nihilism and dehumanization and provides an Archimedean point from which our culture can be renewed.

THE LOGIC OF MERCY AND TEXTUAL ANALYSIS

Jewish theology is the result of ongoing engagement with its sacred texts and the primary rule is to always read the texts with an attitude of compassion looking for mercy in the texts at all times.

The two great literary works of the Jewish people are the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament) and the Talmud. Most people are familiar with the Hebrew Bible, even if they dont read it. Its served as a foundational text for Western culture. Its myths and narratives are still invoked. Most Christians read it or have it read to them at least weekly.

The Talmud is less known and less read, even among Jews. Many people assume its a large volume of writings. But as my extremely kind friend who recently gave me, and thus carried the texts to my home, will attest the English translation of the Talmud is 28 volumes, each individual text comprised of a 200-350 pages, or more. Its massive.

What exactly is the Talmud?

The Talmud is a set of written teachings and commentary, related to the scriptures, and addressing aspects of Jewish law and tradition. The Rabbis began writing it down in the first century CE. And finished writing the initial version about 600 years later.

Each volume deals with general topics in Jewish life and poses questions, offers answers, debates the answers, clarifies scripture, and adds understanding to each issue.

Now, for the part about Jewish logic of mercy. Jews dont relate to their law the same way as do Christians. Linear logic is not the logic of the early Jewish Rabbis. Their logic is more circular, organic, more conversational, more dialectical, and more phenomenological and always an attempt to find mercy in the text.

Each issue in the Talmud begins with a short quote from the Mishnah a statement of law and/or practice often derived from the Bible. The statement is then debated and commented on for years, decades, centuries, by multiple authors, calling upon various sources, sometimes quoting teachers long gone and dead, but assuming to know what they would say.

Its like having Abraham Lincoln engaged in conversation with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and John Kennedy about the Constitution. Conclusions are few. The conversation is riveting. You learn tons.

But when youre done, youre not really done.

There often isnt a conclusion or definitive answer to the questions raised. First, the intention was that the conversation and debate would go on into the future, so that even Jews today would add their insights, their answers, and their thoughts for the generations to come. Second, its not part of Jewish logic that firm answers always exist to complex questions and issues. Some things seem settled and have a strong majority opinion, some issues are grayer, requiring further analysis.

Jewish theology always says lets talk we have time.

Where does all of this get us? Especially in terms of Jewish logic of mercy?

Consider the Biblical commandment to stone a woman found guilty of committing adultery. The scriptures call for the woman to be stoned in front of her fathers house. The command appears in scripture at least twice.

The Rabbis raise the question in the Talmud and then begin applying their logic. What is adultery? How do we find someone guilty? How many witnesses are required? Why stone her in front of her fathers house?

By the time the commentary and analysis is done, it would be nearly impossible to stone any woman for adultery the bar for conviction, the requirement of witnesses, the urging for mercy, the twists and turns of Jewish logic always opting for compassion, justice, kindness, and forgiveness. Granted, adultery is never approved of, never condoned, but mercy prevails.

Can such conversation sound legalistic? Sure. Is such conversation motivated by legalism? Not at all. The motivation of even the ancient Rabbis was mercy and love. The entire enterprise of Talmud is one of gentleness and a move toward affirming human dignity.

Talmud, and thus Jewish law, understands that conversation isnt over. The Talmud isnt finished. And the logic toward mercy, love, and freedom is still alive and dominant in Jewish theology.

Christians often say that Jews are under the law and that Christianity is about mercy and freedom from the law. Are Jews under the law? Well, it depends on how you define law? And what exactly do you mean by under? And what would Rabbi Akivah say about that? How about Hillel? And here in Torah it says we are all free

Pull up a chair. Have a glass of wine. This will take some time.

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Theological Method Jewish Theology Pt. VIII Last in Series – Patheos (blog)

What’s Good About Failing? – Chabad.org (blog)

Dear Readers,

I remember when my young daughter willfully did something against my explicit instruction. She averted her gaze trying to deny her act, or perhaps trying to take it back. She feared anger, rejection and disappointment. But most of all, she feared that this small misdeed would create a separation between usan end to the loving relationship she cherished.

So we sat down and talked about mistakes, about owning up to them and moving forward. We discussed how perfection is an impossible goal, and how she is so much more than the sum total of her choices.

And then we talked about our relationship, and how my love for her is not dependent on her actions. The love is constant, unconditional. Even when Im displeased, the love may be hidden, but it is just as strong. Most importantly, we spoke about how facing mistakes together helps us grow closer.

In this weeks Torah portion, Ki Tissa, the Jewish people commit the grave sin of worshipping the Golden Calf after having witnessed Gds greatest revelations at Sinai.

Moses turned and descended from the mountain with the two Tablets of Testimony in his hands. As he drew near the camp, he saw the calf and the dances. Moses anger burned, he threw down the Tablets from his hands and shattered them . . . (Ex. 32:19)

Only after Mosess excessive supplications and the nations repentance was he commanded to carve out the second set of tablets. So serious was the Jewish peoples transgression that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102) declares: There is no misfortune that doesnt have in it something of the Golden Calf.

Yet, the name of this portion, Ki Tissa, literally means when you raise up (referring to a census of raising heads), implying that the Jewish people were actually elevated through this episode.

How is it possible for a grave sin to elevate?

The Rebbe explains that the paradox of sin is that teshuvah, repentance, makes it possible to forge a greater connection with Gd.

Before sinning, our relationship with Gd need only be strong enough to keep us on track. After we sin, we realize that the enticement of sin meant more to us than our commitment. We then must search deep within ourselves to develop a stronger relationship with Gd where He means more to us than our indulgence.

Through teshuvah, our failings can be exploited and redirected positively.

The Talmud (Nedarim 22b) states: Had Israel not sinned with the Golden Calf, they would have received only the Five Books of Moses and the book of Joshua. Why? Because Much wisdom comes through much grief. (Ecc. 1:18)

Though we strive to have a relationship with Gd where we do not fail, mistakes are inevitable. Lets use our mistakes to to raise ourselves up and develop an even deeper connection with Gd.

The sin of the Golden Calf teaches us that mistakeswith Gd and with our loved onescan be opportunities to carve out second tablets, second chances, replete with even greater potential.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW

Original post:
What’s Good About Failing? – Chabad.org (blog)

Tetzaveh: Hard Work – Arutz Sheva

Olive oil jar 8,000 years old

Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The Reward A little girl complained to her father that her chores are too difficult. The father, a chef, invited her to the kitchen and put up three pots to boil. In the first he placed a potato, in the second an egg and in the third, a coffee bean. Twenty minutes later, he showed his daughter his handiwork. You see, said the father, hard work raises your temperature, but it all depends on how you react. The potato goes in hard, but comes out shriveled and soft. The egg goes in soft, but changes into something brittle and hard. The coffee is unique. It doesnt change. On the contrary, it changes the water to create something better.

The Talmud describes the painstaking process of producing oil for the Temples candelabra. Only the first drop of oil could be used from each olive because only the purest oil was permitted. However, oil used for the meal offerings did not need to be as pure. It was permissible to use the first drop, but not necessary. One was also permitted to use the second or third drop.[1]

Producing a full cup of oil from the first drop is hard work, but good people dont shy away from hard work. It is only through hard work that we find ourselves; that we discover who we really are. It is easier to take the soft path, but the challenging path is more rewarding. The hard path gives us a chance to make something better of ourselves. It allows us to become pure.

A man once asked G-d to tell him his purpose in life. G-d replied that his purpose was to push a mountain. After months of pushing the man complained that it was a fools errand, the mountain had yet to move. G-d explained, I never told you to move the mountain, I only told you to push it. Look at how much stronger you have grown in the past few months as you exercised your muscles and pushed the mountain.

Hard work is not a means to an end. Hard work is the end.

The Talmud teaches us not to believe someone, who claims to have worked hard to no avail. [2] Many have wondered why such a claim isnt believable. Isnt it possible to fail even if we work hard? Some explain that if you failed, you didnt work hard enough. Others say the reason is much simpler. Hard work is its own reward. If you have worked hard, you are already a success. Whether you achieved or failed, you have succeeded.

Runners know that tacking on an extra minute to the end of their run is harder than the entire run put together. Do you know how they know this? Because they have tried it, again and again. If it is so hard, why do they keep doing it? Because they know that this extra minute is worth more in character and muscle building than the entire run put together.

Means and End This raises a question. If hard work is self rewarding, why do we consider the workaholic syndrome unhealthy?

The answer is as direct as it is simple. When work is a means to an end, the hard work has no value in if the end can be achieved without hard work. If the purpose of work is to earn money and one can earn enough without excessively hard work, it is wiser to work less and spend more time with family. The inability to bring oneself to do that is indicative of an obsession or illness.

But hard work that is not a means, but an end to itself, is its own reward. When it comes to Torah and G-dliness, no amount of toil is excessive because the labor is not a means to an end, the toil is its own end. When it comes to earning a living, too much toil is excessive if you can make do with less.

This is the deeper reason for why only the first drop can be used for the candelabra, but that the oil for the meal offerings can be comprised of the second and third drops too. The candelabra represents Torah and Mitzvah and you cant have a connection with G-d until you have paired down your ego and that is achieved through hard work. The harder we work, the more we pair down our ego and the closer we get to G-d. There is therefore no limit on how much hard work is enough.

Meal offerings, which represent our earning capacity and economic abilities dont have to entail hard work. If we can make enough money without working hard, it does us no good to work hard. It is permissible to work hard if it is necessary, but it is unwise to work hard if it is unnecessary. Better to use the extra time for more important things.

Learning and Learning A student once told his teacher that he learned the entire Torah. The teacher congratulated the student, but asked a probing question. I understand that you learned the Torah, but what did you learn from the Torah? What did the Torah teach you?

One can master the entire Torah and fail to be mastered by it. Fail to turn into something better. This is because the student did not apply himself to his studies. He failed to probe the personally relevant meanings and find the self-help techniques embedded in each verse. When I was a child, my teacher told us that one should bend over the Talmud, not let the Talmud bend over him. Dont sit back and tilt the large book toward you. Sit forward and lean into the book.

Leaning into the book means that we mold ourselves to the Torah rather than mold the Torah to us. We humble ourselves and become the Torahs student. We seek to be mastered by the Torah rather than become its master. We work hard and apply ourselves and then the Torah will help us grow.

True Torah scholars are devoted to their studies. Nothing is more important to them. They constantly push themselves to study more, to apply themselves more. Each day a little more than yesterday because as it is with runners, so it is with Torahthe more you push yourself beyond your norm, the more personal barriers you will break and the more you will release your true potential.

We dont emerge from the hard work of Torah study hardened and brittle. We dont emerge from the hard work of Mitzvah observance, broken and soft. We emerge with joy and alacrity prepared to make this world a purer, holier and better place.[3]

[1] Babylonian Talmud,Menachos 86a & 86b.

[2] Babylonian Talmud, Megilah 6b.

[3] This essay is culled from commentary by LTorah Ulmoadim by Rabbi Yosef Zevin on Exodus 27:20.

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Tetzaveh: Hard Work – Arutz Sheva

Adam Kirsch – Tablet Magazine

Literary criticAdam Kirschis readinga page of Talmuda day, along with Jews around the world.

In last weeks column, we saw that Chapter Three of Tractate Bava Batra deals with disputes over real estate. The Talmud lays down a rule that anyone who works a plot of land continuously for three years is presumed to be its legal owner. But what happens in a case where two people claim to be the owner of the same piece of land, and neither of them can bring legal proof that he has worked it for three years? That is the situation the Gemara addresses in Bava Batra 34b, which Daf Yomi readers studied this week. In such a dispute, each party bases his claim to ownership on inheritance: This one says: It belonged to my ancestors and that one says: It belonged to my ancestors. How can the court decide between them, if neither one has documentary proof or witnesses?

The principle in such cases, the Gemara explains, was established in an analogous dispute over the ownership of a boat. In that case, the rule was that the court takes no action at all: We do not seize property in a case where ownership is uncertain, and where it was seized, we do not release it. Then how does the dispute get resolved? The Talmud answers with an ambiguous formula: Whoever is stronger prevails. In other words, the parties fight it out, and whoever manages to seize the property keeps it. This is a troubling saying, because it seems to represent an abdication of the whole responsibility of the judges. If the stronger party prevails, then might makes right, and there is no reason to have laws or judges in the first place.

The Koren Talmud explains, in its notes, that commentators have disagreed over just what whoever is stronger prevails is supposed to mean. Is it a legal principle, meaning that whoever physically wins control of a piece of property is its rightful owner? If this were the case, then the rabbis would seem to envision the parties in the dispute fighting once and for all. Whoever won the boat, or the land, in the initial fight would thereupon become its legal owner. The rival claimant could not then return latersay, with a group of strong friendsand wrest the boat back, because that would constitute stealing.

Other interpreters of the Talmud, however, have opined that whoever is stronger prevails is not a legal dictum, but simply a pragmatic observation. When judges cant honestly decide between two claims, because no evidence is available, then in practice the stronger party will take hold of the property. But this does not mean that he has legal title to it; and if the rival claimant manages to seize it back at some later date, so be it. If whoever is stronger prevails means no more than this, then the two parties have a strong inducement to settle the case to avoid a perpetual feud that would effectively deprive both of them of secure ownership.

Indeed, a little later on, in Bava Batra 35b, the Gemara asks what happens if two parties are fighting over the same piece of property, and the court rules that whoever is stronger prevails, and then a third party comes and takes it away from both claimants. Does this qualify as a theft? The answer appears to be no, since a robber of the public is not called a robber. In other words, it is impossible to steal a boat that doesnt belong to anyone. Since neither of the initial claimants could prove ownership, neither has the right to demand the return of the boat if it is taken. This seems to let the third party off the hook a little too easily, and Rav Ashi adds a qualification: Actually, he is called a robber, and the property he steals should be taken back from him by the court. But there is still an ambiguity,because the robber would ordinarily have to make atonement to the person he stole from, and in this case he cant know who deserves reparations.

If the principle of whoever is stronger prevails leaves both claimants in a legal limbo, why doesnt the court simply force the parties to settle? After all, the Gemara observes, that is the procedure followed in similar situations. In what way is this case different, the rabbis ask, from the case where two people produce two deeds of sale that are issued on one day? If two parties each have a deed bearing the same date, then the original owner must have fraudulently sold the property twice. In that case, the law holds that the parties divide the property (according to Rav), or else that the judges divide it at their discretion (according to Shmuel). Why not do the same in a case where neither party has any deed to show?

However, the Gemara rejects the analogy. In a case where both parties have a deed bearing the same date, it will not be possible for the court to clarify the matter. Because the deeds cancel one another out, no further information could ever be found to make the decision easier. (Even if a witness emerged saying that one deed was written a few hours earlier in the day, it might not make a difference, since according to some authorities the date is what governs the contract, not the time.) So the court might as well enforce a judgment based on its present knowledge.

But in a case where neither party can show a deed of sale, it is theoretically possible that at some time in the future, a document or a witness will emerge to prove one claim and refute the other. To make a judgment now, based on inadequate information, might mean committing an injustice. Better for the court to do nothing, the Talmud suggests, then to put an unjust decision on the record.

***

Adam Kirsch embarked on theDaf Yomicycle of daily Talmud study inAugust2012. To catch up on Tablets complete archive ofmore than four years ofcolumns,click here.

Adam Kirsch is the director of the MA program in Jewish Studies at Columbia University and the author, most recently, of The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature.

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Adam Kirsch – Tablet Magazine

Nonprofit offers Jewish texts in English online for free – The Oakland Press

JERUSALEM For some, the notion of delving into the Talmud in English for free with the click of a mouse was something they could only dream of.

But now that dream is becoming a reality.

Earlier this month, Sefaria, a nonprofit organization devoted to Jewish text learning, announced it had uploaded 22 tractates of the renowned Steinsaltz English-language edition of the Babylonian Talmud and will post the remainder as they are translated and annotated.

The Hebrew version of the Talmud will begin going online by the end of the year at Sefaria.org.

Advertisement

The Talmud, considered the canon of Jewish law, is central to rabbinic Judaism but has mostly been the purview of rabbis and scholars, in part because it is written in Aramaic, and in part because it encompasses multiple volumes.

Ninety percent of the worlds Jews speak Hebrew and English, said Daniel Septimus, Sefarias executive director. The Talmud is in Aramaic. From an accessibility point of view, its a game changer.

Although there are other online Talmud editions, they are not in English or cost hundreds of dollars to access. Sefarias edition has a Creative Commons noncommercial license, meaning anyone can use it as part of the public domain for noncommercial purposes.

Known as the William Davidson Talmud, the new online edition offers parallel translations linked to major commentaries, biblical citations, midrash (ancient rabbinic literature) and halakhah (Jewish law and jurisprudence).

The project is funded by the William Davidson Foundation in cooperation with its publishers, Milta and Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

Septimus said the project, which required the efforts of 15 engineers and countless scholars and translators, has been a labor of love.

For the Jewish people, our texts are our collective inheritance, he said. They belong to everyone and Sefaria wants them to be available to everyone.

Michele Chabin is RNS Jerusalem correspondent.

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Nonprofit offers Jewish texts in English online for free – The Oakland Press

Nonprofit offers Jewish texts in English online for free – The Daily Tribune

JERUSALEM For some, the notion of delving into the Talmud in English for free with the click of a mouse was something they could only dream of.

But now that dream is becoming a reality.

Earlier this month, Sefaria, a nonprofit organization devoted to Jewish text learning, announced it had uploaded 22 tractates of the renowned Steinsaltz English-language edition of the Babylonian Talmud and will post the remainder as they are translated and annotated.

The Hebrew version of the Talmud will begin going online by the end of the year at Sefaria.org.

Advertisement

The Talmud, considered the canon of Jewish law, is central to rabbinic Judaism but has mostly been the purview of rabbis and scholars, in part because it is written in Aramaic, and in part because it encompasses multiple volumes.

Ninety percent of the worlds Jews speak Hebrew and English, said Daniel Septimus, Sefarias executive director. The Talmud is in Aramaic. From an accessibility point of view, its a game changer.

Although there are other online Talmud editions, they are not in English or cost hundreds of dollars to access. Sefarias edition has a Creative Commons noncommercial license, meaning anyone can use it as part of the public domain for noncommercial purposes.

Known as the William Davidson Talmud, the new online edition offers parallel translations linked to major commentaries, biblical citations, midrash (ancient rabbinic literature) and halakhah (Jewish law and jurisprudence).

The project is funded by the William Davidson Foundation in cooperation with its publishers, Milta and Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

Septimus said the project, which required the efforts of 15 engineers and countless scholars and translators, has been a labor of love.

For the Jewish people, our texts are our collective inheritance, he said. They belong to everyone and Sefaria wants them to be available to everyone.

Michele Chabin is RNS Jerusalem correspondent.

Read the original here:
Nonprofit offers Jewish texts in English online for free – The Daily Tribune

Your Talmudic advice column | The Jewish Standard – The Jewish Standard

Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

Im getting a little dizzy trying to figure out when to schedule my bat mitzvah. My synagogue recommends that both boys and girls celebrate their bar and bat mitzvahs at age 13. Id like to celebrate it when I am 12. I am ready for it. My parents support me. What should I do?

Coming of Age in Clifton

Dear Coming of Age,

Its probable from what you say that the tasks of preparing for the chanting of the Torah and haftarah in the synagogue likely are not what is making you dizzy. Planning and deciding on all the related logistics for your bat mitzvah day are challenges to young and old alike. You appear to be involved in the ordeals of scheduling and negotiations, perhaps with your parents, siblings, and friends, and with the calendars of your synagogue and the demands of caterers, DJs, and wardrobe, just to list the most obvious factors that come into play in approaching a bat mitzvah.

Do not fret. Yes indeed, you can get spun around trying to sort out the best practices and options for our major Jewish rituals and observances. True, many of our religious actions are rigorously defined and there is nothing to think about. But in the case of bat mitzvah, the rules are less clear and hence the choices are more complex.

Why is this ritual different from many of our other rituals? Lets review just a bit of background about the origins of the bar and bat mitzvah, because that will help you understand why the instructions are less well defined for those practices.

Its commonly accepted that the dos and donts of Judaism, the rituals and restrictions, are mandatory for adults and optional for children. By a longstanding convention, the rabbis of the Talmud decided that the automatic age of majority is 13 for boys and 12 for girls. But there is no recorded discussion back in ancient talmudic times of any major public ritual or celebration of this transition.

Lets look for a moment at the larger world, beyond our Jewish communities. Anthropologists call those human activities marking personal life cycle transitions rites of passage. They recognize the four major ones, marking birth, coming of age, marriage, and death.

In many world cultures and religions, there is a fixed set of activities to demonstrate the coming of age passage. In some native American cultures, there is a rite of puberty to mark girls first menstruation, which may occur when they are about 12. In some cultures in Africa and the South Pacific, boys are initiated into manhood by performing acts of bravery, survival, or athleticism. Malaysian Muslim girls recite from the Koran at the mosque at 11 to mark their maturation. That seems somewhat akin to our Jewish bat mitzvah practice.

In the recent past American teens have marked the passage to adulthood more informally, with sweet sixteen parties, with taking their driving tests, and perhaps with getting a new car.

Your dizziness over what to do probably revolves around the two elements of our current bat mitzvah practices. First you need to know when you should have the synagogue part of the rite. Thats for you and your family and community to mark your maturity in religious terms. And second you need to plan for your party, the time that you and your friends get together for a formal social celebration of your coming of age.

As I suggested, itd be easier if the rules were hard and fast, as they are for many of our ritual observances in Judaism. Yes, you have found out that there is more flexibility in the scheduling of a bat mitzvah than you might have expected.

The laws are not so rigid for these mitzvahs partly because the bar mitzvah concept was developed in the middle ages. At that time, it began to be the custom that as soon as a boy turned 13 he was called to the Torah in the synagogue to mark his maturation.

And the bat mitzvah for girls is a later development. Some historians of Judaism trace its origin to American rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplans celebration of the bat mitzvah of his daughter almost a century ago. On March 18, 1922, Judith Kaplan was called to the Torah at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in Manhattan. In Reform Judaism in Europe and America decades earlier, girls and boys were confirmed in the temple; bar and bat mitzvah milestones were not celebrated.

If you and your family are members of a Conservative synagogue where egalitarianism is an important concern, then the aim sometimes is that boys and girls have equal rights and equal rites and celebrate coming of age at 13. But some Conservative families, as well as Orthodox families who celebrate bat mitzvah, do so at age 12.

This past year I attended my granddaughters bat mitzvah celebration party in Israel, which took place a few weeks before she turned 12 to allow her friends to attend and celebrate with her before the summer school break.

So dizziness at some point becomes a likely possibility when you are trying to please everyone involved, family, friends and community.

My advice dont agonize too long over this. Decide what you want. Listen to what your parents want. Find out what your synagogue wants and offers. Availability there for events may be tightly contested and restricted.

If you cannot get your first choice of a date for your bat mitzvah, be prepared with alternatives. Remember that this should be a joyous occasion, and do not let the constraints of others diminish that happiness.

Indeed, you show your bravery and maturity as a young adult when you manage to navigate through the ordeals and the choppy seas of your bat mitzvah selections and decisions. Mazal tov to you in advance on this important milestone.

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I am a practicing Conservative Jew who was brought up in the Orthodox tradition. Im thinking of buying an aboveground crypt in a Jewish mausoleum so that I can be laid to rest there after I die. It makes sense to me, but I know that it diverges from the age-old Jewish practice to be buried in the ground. What is your advice for me?

Above Ground in Boca

Dear Above Ground,

It sounds to me like you prefer to arrange for a mausoleum, but are willing to go along with the Jewish funeral traditions of in-ground burial.

Thats good. As I noted above for the previous question, there are four essential rites of passage in Judaism. Our marriage and funeral practices are without doubt old and venerable.

Some background related to your question may help you think further about this important end of life choice.

The Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement issued an opinion in 1983 that opened the door to mausoleum use with this somewhat wavering message. It starts: Although there does not seem to be any impediment in Jewish law to using a mausoleum for burial, it should not be encouraged. Indeed, it should be actively discouraged since it is an obvious change from methods universally accepted today and its general publicized approval may create confusion.

Then the opinion continues with permissions and qualifications: While it should be discouraged, we must recognize that it is permitted and that a rabbi may therefore officiate at an interment in a mausoleum. Although a mausoleum is halakhically permissible, certain restrictions applicable to a cemetery should be applied to the mausoleum. The mausoleum should be used exclusively for those of the Jewish faith. If a non-sectarian mausoleum is used, definite and easily recognizable demarcations should be imposed, such as its own central hall and entrance, clearly indicating its Jewish nature.

In contrast, Orthodox practice is clear on this. Chabad for instance has stated an unwavering Orthodox view: Jewish law is unequivocal in establishing absolutely, and uncompromisingly, that the dead must be buried in the earth.

As best as I can tell, Reform Jews have no official objection to mausoleum use.

Given these variations in American Judaism, you should choose with a main principle of Conservative ideology in mind namely do what makes you comfortable within the parameters of what is permissible.

Perhaps you are okay with a mausoleum, but you imagine that your Orthodox relatives would be offended by that choice and would not visit your crypt. If that is important to you, then you ought to choose the most traditional option, in-ground burial.

Meanwhile, I extend to you the traditional hope and blessing that you may live to be 120 years old, giving you plenty of time to mull over your decision.

Tzvee Zahavy received his Ph.D. from Brown University and his rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author of many books about Judaism, including Jewish Magic. The Book of Jewish Prayers in English, Gods Favorite Prayers and Talmudic Advice from Dear Rabbi which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.

The Dear Rabbi Zahavy column offers mindful advice based on talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally open and meaningful to all the varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Please email your questions to zahavy@gmail.com

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Your Talmudic advice column | The Jewish Standard – The Jewish Standard

The Jewish Chronicle – Online Talmud the next great technological … – thejewishchronicle.net

When the history of Jewish texts comes to be written, Feb. 7, 2017, will likely be regarded as an important turning point.

Why? Heres what happened.

For the first time, the extraordinary Steinsaltz English translation and its interpretation of the Talmud was made available to all. Online. Free. In print, it costs hundreds to buy the Steinsaltz volumes. The Steinsaltz English translation is an up-to-date (some volumes are still to be released) and easily understood aid to Talmud study for English speakers.

But wait, theres more: Multiple commentaries are now just a click or a touch away and the ability to see where biblical texts appear in the Talmud has been added, and so much more. Effectively, the linked, interconnected nature of Jewish texts has now been brought to life online with a dynamism and an immediacy that will change the frame of Jewish learning. The implications for Jewish life going forward will likely be substantial.

To understand the significance of the moment, a little history is in order. Human communications technology began with the invention of pictorial writing, 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. It was the genesis of civilization.

Later, the creation of alphabets around 4,000 years ago gave rise to the potential for literacy, knowledge and citizenship. Hebrew was one of the earliest alphabets, and Jews were the first to insist that the education that alphabets made possible had to permeate every household in society. Over time, the written word became so central to Jews that even our oral transmissions were enshrined on clay or parchment. Texts became our hallmark. What other people insists that a piece of learned writing must be attached to every significant doorpost?

But writing had its limits: Scribal work was laborious and time-consuming. Scrolls were expensive treasures. Hand-written texts were hard to produce, hard to obtain, hard to replicate with precision and hard to preserve.

Only in the middle of the 15th century, with the arrival of the printing press, did texts and books and newspapers truly become available to all. It was a revolution that changed the world. Indeed, the printing press led directly to what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks describes as the collapse of strictly hierarchical societies in which only a few were literate and had access to texts.

The printing press, in short, changed the human landscape not only externally but internally, he wrote. More than any other invention it paved the way for the transition from the medieval to the modern age.

For Jews, the printing press made prayer books and commentaries widely available. It also gave rise to the arrangement of the classic Talmudic page, a unique compilation of texts spanning two millennia that has come to be the core focal point of Jewish learning.

Given this history, it is remarkable to realize that we are now living through the rise of the fourth great transformation in communication technology. The advent of the Internet represents a transition that will have even more profound implications than those initiated by the printing press.

Already in the 1990s, Jewish texts quickly migrated online and static versions of many sources were to be found on multiple websites. But that just mimicked the printed page in a virtual environment.

The game-changer came with the launch of the Sefaria website (and app) in 2013. Sefaria (from the Hebrew root sefer, book) began to collect all the significant Jewish texts in a common format in one searchable location. They started to link the texts, and they opened the site for Jewish educators to create and share instructional worksheets.

As the founders of Sefaria explained it, Judaisms core texts grew out of millennia-long conversations and arguments across generations. More than a collection of books on a shelf, the Jewish canon is a giant corpus of interconnected texts that speak to each other. Sefaria is making it easier than ever to explore the conversations of the past, while also creating a space for ancient conversations to continue in new ways, with new participants, new questions and new layers of dialogue.

This month, Sefaria became richer and deeper and more significant than ever before. It took Jewish texts to the next level the moment when they began to utilize fully the features of the online environment. Our texts have always operated in a cross-referenced fashion. Now, the hyperlinked technology allows that reality to become apparent and useful in an unprecedented way. Now, textual sharing, collaboration, mobility and availability are becoming universal.

Our scribes and scrolls will always be precious to us. But making the Talmud and the great Jewish sources accessible and translated everywhere at all time, with a facility for instantly searching across sources, is an invaluable leap. There can be little doubt that this is an important turning point indeed.

All Jews should have the Sefaria app on their phone or tablet. Even if consulted infrequently, it should be part of a learned Jewish identity to have all the core Jewish sources at ones fingertips. And together, we can now hold all the centuries of Jewish learning literally in our collective hands.

Rabbi Danny Schiff is the Jewish Community Foundation Scholar at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

See the original post:
The Jewish Chronicle – Online Talmud the next great technological … – thejewishchronicle.net

Online Talmud the next great technological innovation – thejewishchronicle.net

When the history of Jewish texts comes to be written, Feb. 7, 2017, will likely be regarded as an important turning point.

Why? Heres what happened.

For the first time, the extraordinary Steinsaltz English translation and its interpretation of the Talmud was made available to all. Online. Free. In print, it costs hundreds to buy the Steinsaltz volumes. The Steinsaltz English translation is an up-to-date (some volumes are still to be released) and easily understood aid to Talmud study for English speakers.

But wait, theres more: Multiple commentaries are now just a click or a touch away and the ability to see where biblical texts appear in the Talmud has been added, and so much more. Effectively, the linked, interconnected nature of Jewish texts has now been brought to life online with a dynamism and an immediacy that will change the frame of Jewish learning. The implications for Jewish life going forward will likely be substantial.

To understand the significance of the moment, a little history is in order. Human communications technology began with the invention of pictorial writing, 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. It was the genesis of civilization.

Later, the creation of alphabets around 4,000 years ago gave rise to the potential for literacy, knowledge and citizenship. Hebrew was one of the earliest alphabets, and Jews were the first to insist that the education that alphabets made possible had to permeate every household in society. Over time, the written word became so central to Jews that even our oral transmissions were enshrined on clay or parchment. Texts became our hallmark. What other people insists that a piece of learned writing must be attached to every significant doorpost?

But writing had its limits: Scribal work was laborious and time-consuming. Scrolls were expensive treasures. Hand-written texts were hard to produce, hard to obtain, hard to replicate with precision and hard to preserve.

Only in the middle of the 15th century, with the arrival of the printing press, did texts and books and newspapers truly become available to all. It was a revolution that changed the world. Indeed, the printing press led directly to what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks describes as the collapse of strictly hierarchical societies in which only a few were literate and had access to texts.

The printing press, in short, changed the human landscape not only externally but internally, he wrote. More than any other invention it paved the way for the transition from the medieval to the modern age.

For Jews, the printing press made prayer books and commentaries widely available. It also gave rise to the arrangement of the classic Talmudic page, a unique compilation of texts spanning two millennia that has come to be the core focal point of Jewish learning.

Given this history, it is remarkable to realize that we are now living through the rise of the fourth great transformation in communication technology. The advent of the Internet represents a transition that will have even more profound implications than those initiated by the printing press.

Already in the 1990s, Jewish texts quickly migrated online and static versions of many sources were to be found on multiple websites. But that just mimicked the printed page in a virtual environment.

The game-changer came with the launch of the Sefaria website (and app) in 2013. Sefaria (from the Hebrew root sefer, book) began to collect all the significant Jewish texts in a common format in one searchable location. They started to link the texts, and they opened the site for Jewish educators to create and share instructional worksheets.

As the founders of Sefaria explained it, Judaisms core texts grew out of millennia-long conversations and arguments across generations. More than a collection of books on a shelf, the Jewish canon is a giant corpus of interconnected texts that speak to each other. Sefaria is making it easier than ever to explore the conversations of the past, while also creating a space for ancient conversations to continue in new ways, with new participants, new questions and new layers of dialogue.

This month, Sefaria became richer and deeper and more significant than ever before. It took Jewish texts to the next level the moment when they began to utilize fully the features of the online environment. Our texts have always operated in a cross-referenced fashion. Now, the hyperlinked technology allows that reality to become apparent and useful in an unprecedented way. Now, textual sharing, collaboration, mobility and availability are becoming universal.

Our scribes and scrolls will always be precious to us. But making the Talmud and the great Jewish sources accessible and translated everywhere at all time, with a facility for instantly searching across sources, is an invaluable leap. There can be little doubt that this is an important turning point indeed.

All Jews should have the Sefaria app on their phone or tablet. Even if consulted infrequently, it should be part of a learned Jewish identity to have all the core Jewish sources at ones fingertips. And together, we can now hold all the centuries of Jewish learning literally in our collective hands.

Rabbi Danny Schiff is the Jewish Community Foundation Scholar at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

See the original post here:
Online Talmud the next great technological innovation – thejewishchronicle.net

Young Israel Of Memphis Celebrates Talmud And Torah – The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com

Photo Credit: .

On Shabbos morning, January 21, the congregants of Young Israel of Memphis (YIOM) was excited to celebrate with Michael and Alison Novich, as Michael marked his second cycle of completing the study of the entire Babylonian Talmud with a joy-filled Siyum HaShas and gala Kiddush. YIOM President Jonathan Kaplan commented, Our community is incredibly impressed with Michaels monumental accomplishment. His commitment to consistently study Torah on a daily basis inspires each of us to carve out time in our own busy lives for daily Torah study.

Michael and Alison also arranged for their former rabbi Rabbi Allen Schwartz (together with his wife Alisa and two of their children) of New York Citys Congregation Ohab Zedek to join them for this special weekend. During his stay in Memphis, Rabbi Schwartz shared six well-attended intriguing Torah presentations with the community.

Rabbi Schwartz was as impressed with our Memphis Jewish community as we were with him. At several points over the course of Shabbos he remarked how important it was for him and his wife to see and experience our terrific community first-hand. Many young couples they interact with are looking for more affordable Jewish communities. Rabbi Schwartz told us he would readily suggest Memphis as an option for those interested in relocating.

Excerpt from:
Young Israel Of Memphis Celebrates Talmud And Torah – The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com

Public Schools, Bibi, and Sports: Letters to the Editor Tablet … – Tablet Magazine

In response to Talmud to Betsy DeVos: Yes, We Need Public Schools by Adam Kirsch:

I am a big fan of Adam Kirschs Talmud column, and usually enjoy readings views on this monumental and highly complex work that has kept our people preoccupied for over a 1,000 years. Even if his views are cursory, they are fresh and I think positive. This week, however, was exceptional.

The Talmuds says clearly that, as Kirsch quotes, if not for Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla, Torah would have been forgotten from the Jewish people. In short, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamlas work had nothing at all to do with public schools because he was interested in only one thing: ensuring a Torah education. Without his institution, too many children in that era would have been lost to our heritage and we would not be here to talk about the Talmud today. When Agudath Israel and other Orthodox organization take a strong stance pro vouchers, they are fully following in the footsteps of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla. They are fighting the battle to ensure that it is not difficult for any parent to make the choice to send their child for a Torah education. Just as Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla knew that expecting parents to send children away from home for education would make the burden of education too great, these organizations know that school choice and vouchers will lighten the burden of a Torah education and ensure that many parents will now be freer to make such a choice.

Does Adam Kirsch honestly believe that the Talmud or Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla, with their single minded and heroic efforts to ensure Jewish continuity through Torah learning and Torah education, would approve of Jews fighting again Jewish groups trying to get whatever help they can for Torah education, in the name of helping public schools? If anything the Rabbis would bemoan that a man as intelligent and capable as Kirsch, without a complete Jewish education, can only read his peoples most sacred works in a foreign and often shallow translation, without the life, complexity and deep analysis that a nine year old yeshiva kid who delves in the sea that is the Talmud.

As an aside to the debate, I weigh in by opining that the Jewish people are suffering an onslaught of assimilation and loosing the vast majority of unaffiliated Jews and even reform Jewish youth due to their complete lack of Jewish education. As noble as the ideals of caring about society is, and as free as any Jew is to take that stand, the Talmud certainly cannot be brought as weighing in on the side of restricting tax money that Jewish day school parents pay from going to their own schools. Too many Jews take the concerns of every group around them to their hearts. This is commendable, but let us not forget that if we Jews are not their for our own brother, our own education, our own continuity, no one will be and we will disappear from history. Let us not forget that before Hillel says, If I am for myself, what am I? he states clearly, If I am not for myself, who will be?

R. Adler

In response to Whats Mine is Mine by Alana Newhouse:

Well said!

Al Averbach, San Francisco

In response toAn Open Letter to Robert Kraft by Matthew Fishbane:

Many thanks for your excellent letter to Mr. Kraft. We hope that it goes from your pen to Mr. Krafts ears and to his heart and mind! Todah rabah!

Phyllis and Archie Nahman

In response to The Arab-ization of American Politics byLee Smith:

In my opinion, the Womens March comes out of this tradition and cannot be relegated as Mr. Smith alludes, to as 60s nostalgia. Jews have often held rallies for their politically/culturally-specific causes like the rallies during the 1930s (and protest theatre once again as in Ben Hechts pageants in New York, Chicago and Boston and performative events) that were against Hitlers rise in Germany, along with the Free Soviet Jewry rallies in the 60s and 70s, and the rally that drew I believe (needs research) about 250,000 to D.C. in the 80s when Reagan brought Gorbachev to meet and Elie Wiesel made it a cause to support (as he had done earlier in his career).

Also, in a way that may not be intendedfrom the title to the content I think the article as it is written is a form of demonization. I have read articles by Mr. Smith before and though I often dont often agree with him, but I have respect for his broad knowledge that he brings to his chosen subjects. But demonizing Arabs, unintended or not, is both unseemly and even racist. In todays toxic environment around identity and politics it is a volatile mix. I have found myself more towards Mr. Smith in his most recent articles on Trump and I think he is a valuable voice providing other viewpoints than mine and providing some balance.

I respect Tablet and all you do and your inclusive approach to this intercultural world that we live in.

David Y. Chack, Chicago, IL

In response toTheo Epsteins Cubs Recognized as Champions at the White House by Jonathan Zalman

This article begins with a thinly-veild swipe at outgoing President Barack Obama. While the observances at end of Obamas tenure may be seemingly endless to the writer, that is not the case for many. As this snide comment is not particularly relevant to the otherwise interesting article, I question the authors motivation.

If it was meant humorously, Im sorry that I dont find it funny enough to merit its inclusion. Was Mr. Zalman so bored by these last few weeks and so eager to vent his anger about it that he simply could not remain civil? Is it possible that he was oblivious to his insult? I would very much like to understand.

I wanted to shared this piece on various social media outlets, as I often do with Tablet articles. Unfortunately, this rude comment did not meet my standards for what I can endorse. And I dont think my standards are all that high or anything to brag about! If someone with my admittedly low expectations found this objectionable, who else is also annoyed? Or was the intent to make the slap so oblique that few would notice?

Sincerely,

Daniel Kasnitz, Vermont

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Public Schools, Bibi, and Sports: Letters to the Editor Tablet … – Tablet Magazine

Talmud, The – Jewish Knowledge Base – Chabad.org

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Talmud, The: the basic compendium of Jewish law and thought; its tractates mainly comprise the discussions collectively known as the Gemara, which elucidate the germinal statements of law (mishnayot) collectively known as the Mishnah; when unspecified refers to the Talmud Bavli, the edition developed in Babylonia, and edited at the end of the fifth century C.E.; the Talmud Yerushalmi is the edition compiled in the Land of Israel at the end of the fourth century C.E.

Classes, in-depth lectures, overviews and more on the Mishnah and Gemara

The Talmud is the mainstay of the Jewish oral tradition. Explore this important area of Jewish scholarship with our array of classes, in depth-lectures, overviews and more on the Mishnah and Gemara

Introductory Text-based Talmud Study

By Eliezer Wolf

These Talmud classes will be studying and analyzing the third chapter of tractate Bava Metzia, which presents the Jewish approach in many matters of civil law, particularly vis–vis the different degrees of liability assumed by guardians, renters and bor…

How deep can Talmud go?

By Tzvi Freeman

Quantum logic helps explain a halachic ruling of Maimonides, a puzzling story of the Talmud, a Midrash about the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, and a rabbinic teaching about the relationship between Torah and existence.

An Introduction to Talmud

By Eliezer Wolf

This introductory class to Talmud explores the rich history of the Oral Tradition, explains the structure of the Talmud, introduces some of its famed personalities and presents the layout of the Talmud page.

By Yehuda Leib Schapiro

This class clarifies what the Talmud consists of, its function and how it embodies the entire Oral Torah.

By Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz)

Rabbi Steinsaltz introduces the “Oral Law” (the Talmud and associated works) and contrasts it with the “Written Law” (the Bible). He discusses some of the features that make the Talmud a unique work and suggests that it can only be understood properly if …

By Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz)

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Even-Israel provides an introduction to the Jewish Oral Law as a preface to his discussion on the Jewish perspective to medical ethics.

A Text-Based, Skills-Building Talmud Class

By Mendel Kaplan

Learn how to study Talmud line-by-line and word-by-word. In this intermediate level class you will learn to understand the unique give-and-take style of Talmudic argument.

Scroll Down – Part 7

By Michael Chighel

Since the redaction of the Talmud around the year 500, no single text apart from the Torah itself has played a more vital role in the preservation and development of Jewish education. What is the Talmud?

How and why was the Oral Torah written?

By Yehuda Shurpin

The Talmud is a collection of writings that covers the full gamut of Jewish law and tradition

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Talmud, The – Jewish Knowledge Base – Chabad.org

Nonprofit offers online English-language translation of the Talmud … – Colorado Springs Gazette

A feature of Sefaria.org visualizing connections between the Talmud and Tanakh. Image from screenshot JERUSALEM (RNS) For some, the notion of delving into the Talmud in English for free with the click of a mouse was something they could only dream of. But now that dream is becoming a reality.

On Tuesday (Feb. 7) Sefaria, a nonprofit organization devoted to Jewish text learning, announced it had uploaded 22 tractates of the renowned Steinsaltz English-language edition of the Babylonian Talmud and will post the remainder as they are translated and annotated.

The Hebrew version of the Talmud will begin going online by the end of the year.

The Talmud, considered the canon of Jewish law, is central to rabbinic Judaism but has mostly been the purview of rabbis and scholars, in part because it is written in Aramaic, and in part because it encompasses multiple volumes.

Ninety percent of the worlds Jews speak Hebrew and English, said Daniel Septimus, Sefarias executive director. The Talmud is in Aramaic. From an accessibility point of view, its a game changer.

Although there are other online Talmud editions, they are not in English or cost hundreds of dollars to access. Sefarias edition has a Creative Commons noncommercial license, meaning anyone can use it as part of the public domain for noncommercial purposes.

Known as the William Davidson Talmud, the new online edition offers parallel translations linked to major commentaries, biblical citations, midrash (ancient rabbinic literature) and halakhah (Jewish law and jurisprudence).

The project is funded by the William Davidson Foundation in cooperation with its publishers, Milta and Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

Septimus said the project, which required the efforts of 15 engineers and countless scholars and translators, has been a labor of love.

For the Jewish people, our texts are our collective inheritance, he said. They belong to everyone and Sefaria wants them to be available to everyone.

(Michele Chabin is RNS Jerusalem correspondent)

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Nonprofit offers online English-language translation of the Talmud … – Colorado Springs Gazette

A Not-To-Be-Missed Opportunity: ArtScroll’s Talmud and Mishnah Sale – Yeshiva World News

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The Schottenstein Edition Mishnah Elucidated: Featuring a flowing translation and concise elucidation in the format of the Schottenstein Talmud, this edition is perfect for yahrzeits and sheloshim, for beginners, students, and anyone seeking a clear, basic understanding of the Mishnah. It also includes in-depth notes for a deeper understanding, as well as the commentary of Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenura.

The Ryzman Edition Hebrew Mishnah A multi-level Hebrew-language elucidation of Mishnah, enabling readers to learn at the level of their choice. Each volume contains the full text of the Mishnah, the commentary of Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura, a phrase-by-phrase translation and elucidation in readable Hebrew, as well as expanded explanations of the Mishnah for a greater understanding of the pshat.

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A Not-To-Be-Missed Opportunity: ArtScroll’s Talmud and Mishnah Sale – Yeshiva World News

Sefaria Puts Talmud into Public Domain – News Forward.com – Forward

Given that its is one if not the most essential Jewish texts, the Talmud can be surprisingly hard to come by. But not anymore: The Jewish start-up Sefaria just released a free digital version into the public domain.

The William Davidson Talmud is an edition of the Babylonian Talmud with parallel translations into English and Modern Hebrew.

The interactive online version of the text is also interlinked to major commentaries, biblical citations, Midrash, Kabbalah, Halakhah, and an ever-growing library of Jewish texts.

And you can also use it beyond Sefarias website. The Talmud was published with a Creative Commons non-commercial license, which means that it is part of the public domain and everyone can use and re-use it, as long as you dont make money from it.

Sefaria

Experts weve talked to believe this is the most significant work of intellectual property ever transferred into the creative commons philanthropically, he added.

The whole project was years in the making.

Sefaria is a non profit that was started in 2011 by author, Joshua Foer, and Google alum Brett Lockspeiser, with a mission of putting the entire Jewish canon online. (The name Sefaria is a play on the Hebrew word for library, sifria.)

The two childhood friends had lost touch for many years, but reconnected over a shared frustration that the Talmud and other important Jewish texts were not accessible online.

At that point, if you were to google the English Talmud, you would find pdfs from the Soncino edition published in England, you would get an anti-Semitic website and you would get a partial 1918 translation, Foer told the Forward. That by itself was kind off pathetic.

So they quickly got to work, and have since amassed almost 1,600 Jewish texts and commentaries that are all available online.

But we always knew the linchpin of the whole project would be whether we could get an English translation of the Talmud, Foer said.

Currently, there exist only three English translations in the world. After years of negotiations Sefaria (with a grant from the William Davidson Foundation) bought the rights to one of them – from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.

Steinsaltz, a rabbi from Israel, spent 45 years of his life translating the Talmud from Ancient Aramaic to modern Hebrew and English.

Edgar Asher

Literary Discipline: Working on the Talmud has kept his writing and intellect grounded, Steinsaltz says.

He was only 27 when the project began, and finished in 2010, after releasing a new section of the translation approximately once per year.

I did it because it is necessary, Steinsaltz told Israels Army Radio in 2010. The Talmud is the spine of our culture I wanted to restore to the Jewish people their heritage.

As of now, Sefaria published 22 Talmud tractates in English (Berakhot to Bava Batra) online. The Modern Hebrew translations will start appearing online later this year, and the remaining English tractates will follow as soon as their are finished.

We think that the Talmud is not just the life blood of the Jewish people, but one of the great works of Western civilization that has basically been inaccessible to a large number of people, Foer told the Forward.

His co-founder, Brett Lockspeiser, who runs Sefarias technological operations, called the online release fantastic.

Its a real accomplishment for us, and the Jewish people in the world to now be able to access this, Lockspeiser told the Forward.

All the texts on Sefaria are not only texts, they are also interconnected data with lots of fancy features and visualization tools.

The Jewish canon is not really a collection of books on a book shelf, its like this gigantic un-ending conversation, Foer told the Forward. We wanted to return that text to the original modality of being fully interconnected and in conversation with each other.

And in doing in way, that you can take the conversation form text to text to text, from commentator to commentator to commentator, Foer said.

A team of 15 engineers works daily to create new ways to create these interconnections – for example to show the connections between Tanakh and Talmud or to highlight all the times that text is being repeated in the Jewish canon.

Users can create their own source sheets to collect and connect texts, sort of like a Torah mixtape. So far 60,000 users created sheets – many of them students.

If possible, all the texts on Sefaria have a public domain license.

For the Jewish people, our texts are our collective inheritance, said Sefaria CEO Daniel Septimus. They belong to everyone and Sefaria wants them to be available to everyone,

Lilly Maier is a news intern at the Forward. Reach her at maier@forward.com or on Twitter at @lillymmaier

Link:
Sefaria Puts Talmud into Public Domain – News Forward.com – Forward

Leading Talmud translation goes free online with Sefaria – The Jewish Standard

The following message appeared on Sefarias blog to announce the addition:

More than fifty years ago, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Even-Israel took it upon himself to make the Talmud, the central text of Jewish life, available to all. In 1965, he began translating the 37 tractates of the Talmud from ancient Aramaic into Modern Hebrew, with an English translation published in the Koren Talmud Bavli NoEdition. Ninety percent of the worlds Jewish population speaks English or Hebrew as a first language, so making the Talmud intelligible in these two languages is a colossal achievement, but until now, this precious content was only available to those with access to a physical volume.

Today, Sefaria is excited and humbled to announce the release of The William Davidson Talmud, a free digital edition of the Babylonian Talmud with parallel translations, interlinked to major commentaries, biblical citations, Midrash, Kabbalah, Halakhah, and an ever-growing library of Jewish texts.

The William Davidson Talmud will continually evolve as we add additional commentaries and connections, and will ultimately include Rabbi Steinsaltzs complete Modern Hebrew and English translations. You can already access 22 tractates in English (Berakhot to Bava Batra) online on our website. The Modern Hebrew translations will start appearing online later this year, and the remaining English tractates will follow.

For the Jewish people, our texts are our collective inheritance. They belong to everyone and Sefaria wants them to be available to everyone, with free and open public licenses. Through the generous support of The William Davidson Foundation, Rabbi Steinsaltzs English and Hebrew translations and interpolated textual explanations will be available with a Creative Commons Non-Commercial license, making them free for use and re-use even beyond Sefaria.

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Leading Talmud translation goes free online with Sefaria – The Jewish Standard

Can one compel another to build a wall, or to pay for its construction? – Tablet Magazine

Literary criticAdam Kirschis readinga page of Talmuda day, along with Jews around the world.

In a week dominated by news of President Donald Trumps planned border wall, the ethics of walls have been much debated. Good fences make good neighbors, the saying goes; but Robert Frost thought otherwise. In his poem Mending Wall, he describes walking the length of a stone wall that divides his land from his neighbors. The neighbor is a stickler, insisting that the wall be solid, but the poet is doubtful: Something there is that doesnt love a wall, he observes, noting the tendency of walls to topple over, as if Nature wants us to live together, not apart. Walls are made for privacy, and for private property; but what if privacy is not a right, as we like to think? What if it is just a mean kind of anxiety, which keeps us from genuine connection with others? Before I built a wall Id ask to know/ What I was walling in or walling out, Frost writes.

This week, Daf Yomi readers began a new tractate, Bava Batra, which begins by considering these same questions about walls. Who builds them, who is responsible for them, and what purpose do they serve? Bava Batra, the last gate, is the third tractate in the series that began with Bava Kamma, the first gate, and Bava Metzia, the middle gate. Originally all three formed a single super-tractate, before being divided for conveniences sake, and together they cover the subject of damages, or nezikin, which is the title of the seder in which they appear. Bava Kamma focused on personal injury, while Bava Metzia dealt with laws governing property and contract disputes.

Now Bava Batra comes to complete the exposition of laws about property ownership and the responsibilities it entails. The introduction to this tractate in the Koren Talmud, which, as always, I am reading in English, explains that Bava Batra differs from its predecessors in one crucial respect. While the earlier tractates based their extensive regulations on biblical commandmentssuch as the law against theftor enjoining prompt payment of wagesBava Batra is composed mainly of original rabbinic legislation. The rabbis try to solve disputes based on their intuitions about fairness and justice, and on established custom in the Jewish community.

How this happens can be seen in the first mishna of the tractate. Say two people jointly own a courtyard, and they decide to divide it by building a partition. In accordance with basic fairness, the rabbis say that they should divide the land equally, building the wall right down the middle, so that each partner gives up the same amount of land for the wall to stand on. As for what the wall should be made of, here the rabbis leave it up to precedent: Everything is in accordance with the regional custom, says the mishna in Bava Batra 2a. They prescribe different thicknesses depending on the building material: The wall should be six-handbreadths wide if it is made of ordinary stones, while it can be just three-handbreadths wide if it is made of closely joined bricks. Each partner is responsible for contributing half the building material.

So far, matters are entirely straightforward. The difficulty, and the source of legal interest, arises when one partner wants to build a wall and the other partner does not. Can one compel the other to build the wall, or to pay for its construction? The Gemara points out that what is at stake here is whether there is such a thing as a right to privacy. Does one neighbor have the right to be shielded from the observation of the other neighbor? If he does, then he can force the latter to build a wall, even against his will?

Can one compel another to build a wall, or to pay for its construction?

Of course, the Talmud does not use the language of rights, which belongs to another era. Instead, it characteristically reduces an abstract concept to a concrete physical problem: Is damage caused by sight called damage? That is, can I claim that being observed in my courtyard against my will is a form of injury, which demands redress? The Gemara offers arguments on both sides of the proposition. According to Rav, It is prohibited for a person to stand in anothers field and look at his crop while the grain is standing. The reason for this is that the rabbis believed very seriously in the evil eye, a Jewish folk belief that persists to the present day. An envious look cast at a neighbors flourishing crop might cause it to wither. By this logic, there is such a thing as damage caused by sight, and so one neighbor can compel another to build a wall.

But, the Gemara asks, does the logic that applies to a field also apply to a garden, which is used not for growing crops but for recreation? One possible answer comes by analogy with another law, which states that neighbors can compel one another to build a joint gatehouse to a public courtyard, to prevent it from lying open to the gaze of passers-by. If so, it stands to reason that damage caused by sight is damage: People have an interest in not being observed. But, the Gemara asks, are the cases really analogous? Maybe there is a difference between the gaze of the general public and the gaze of one neighborthe former could be considered damage, while the latter could not.

Then the Gemara tries a different tack. There is a law that one cannot build a house in such a way that its windows are directly level with the windows of the house next door: The new windows must be four cubits away in any direction. Clearly, the rationale here is to prevent people from being observed inside their own home, so apparently, damage caused by sight is damage. But again, the rabbis raise the possibility that a house is different. Perhaps there is an expectation of privacy inside a house that does not apply outside, in a garden. Each assertion is met with a rebuttal, and in the end, it is not clear which side the law takes.

The question of whether neighbors must accommodate one another returns a little later in Bava Batra 7a, where the Gemara raises the case of a two-story house that begins to sink. This clearly affects the owner of the ground floor, who will find the ceiling descending on him, but it doesnt immediately bother the owner of the top floor, whose living space is unaffected. Can the owner of the ground floor compel his upstairs neighbor to demolish the building and rebuild it on a secure foundation? Or can the upstairs neighbor simply say that it is not his problem?

The answer is that even if the downstairsneighbor offers to assume all the expenses of the construction, and even if he offers to pay for the upstairs neighbor to rent a new house while the construction goes on, the upstairs neighbor does not have to accept the offer. He can coldly reply, Crawl on your stomach to go in, and crawl on your stomach to go out. This would be cruel, but not illegal, according to Rav Huna. But this is only true when the beams supporting the second story have not reached lower than 10 handbreadths of the ground. If the second story has sunk to within 10 handbreadths of the ground, it has encroached on the domain of the owner of the first floor, and so the latter has the right to demolish the building. This is one of those cases where good fencesor, perhaps, good foundationsdo make good neighbors.

***

Adam Kirsch embarked on theDaf Yomicycle of daily Talmud study inAugust, 2012. To catch up on Tablets complete archive ofmore than four years ofcolumns,click here.

Adam Kirsch is the director of the MA program in Jewish Studies at Columbia University and the author, most recently, of The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature.

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Can one compel another to build a wall, or to pay for its construction? – Tablet Magazine

On Western and other walls – Arutz Sheva

Priestly Blessings at the Western Wall

Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

Interestingly and fascinatingly enough the Talmud tractate of Baba Basra discusses in part in the daf yomi (daily page of Talmud studied all over the Jewish world) forthis week the matter of building walls and who has the obligation to pay for such a necessary and protective wall around a city or a property. The tractate that we began to once again study about ten days ago is about real estate, properties, partnerships and the inevitable disputes that result. And wouldnt you know it and who could have hypothesized that one of the earliest subjects to be tackled is about building walls to protect people and their land and who is required to pay.

In fact as you know, erecting barriers and building walls to protect us is very much in the news these days. President Trump has been talking about building a wall on this countries southern border with Mexico for quite some time. More controversial than the pressing need for such a wall to keep out drug dealers and other criminal types is the matter—as addressed by the Talmudin a somewhat different circumstance—the matter of who is going to pay (isnt that always the problem?)

Last week somehow, Israels Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu became embroiled in the US-Mexico diplomatic tug of war when he chimed in that he was in favor of the Trump southern border wall which to put it mildly, incensed Mexican officials. It all started when President Trump told Sean Hannity on Fox News last week that a border wall is good for the heart of the nation because people want protection and a wall protects. All you have to do is ask Israel, he said.

Then the President added:They [the Israelis] were having a total disastercoming across and [then] they had a wall; it is 99.9% stoppage; a proper wall, not a wall that is this high like they [US border authorities] have right now; they have little toy walls… I am talking about a real wall. And even that, of course, will have people violate it, but we will have people waiting for them when they do.

Walter Bingham

That was all fine and good until over last weekend Mr. Netanyahu added to the ongoing conflagration by telling a reporter that he agreed with Mr. Trump. And then it was learned that an Israel company that builds precisely these types of tall impenetrable walls is the frontrunner in the bid to build the wall between the US and Mexico that the cost of such a project can run as much as $10 billion.

And that wasnt Israels only wall problem this week. Sixteen members of Israels religious parties in the Knesset have offered up legislation that wants to eliminate the possibility that the government will set aside any area at the Western Wall for egalitarian services which in other words means that a section of the Wall will be set aside where Jewish denominations—Conservative and Reform Jews—can hold services that include men and women praying together.

The new law if passed would prevent any religious practices that offend worshippers at the place. This means it would continuethe Orthodox Chief Rabbinate and Israels rabbinical court’ssole jurisdiction over the Western Wall. Violators of the new law would face heavy sanctions including six months in prison and a 10,000 shekel fine.

If this legislation passes it would signal a major defeat for the Conservative and Reform movements in Israel. Even though this struggle and debate has been going on for years with the group Women of the Wall leading the way there is still no organized mixed prayer services at the Wall. Over the last several years there have been unofficial mixed prayer groups holding services at the upper plaza where many thousands of tourists and locals gather on a daily basis. The new legislation would outlaw these informal groups of non-Orthodox Jews who prefer a mixed prayer service from doing so on the lower plaza.

Hadas Parush/Flash 90

The new bill was initiated by Shas, the ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi party. It was signed not only by all the members of the two harediparties in the Knesset Shas and United Torah Judaism but also by three members of the Likud, Oren Hazan, David Amsalem and Miki Zohar, and by three members of the religious Zionist pro-settler Habayit Hayehudi, Bezalel Smotrich, Motti Yogev and Nissan Smoliansky.

Another dimension of this Western Wall issue that may be reaching its zenith is that it serves to alienate large numbers of American Jews in particular who do not identify with Orthodox Judaism. While this overwhelming majority of non-Orthodox American Jews are significant economic supporters of various projects in the state of Israel, this kind of legislation potentially jeopardizes that vital financial support for the Jewish state.

While Prime Minister Netanyahu would like to tip toe around this wall issue, he is not faring much better than he has over the last week with the wall going up someday at the US southern border with Mexico. The Prime Minister is walking a fine line here as he needs the support of the religious parties in the Knesset but at the same time does not want to insult or offend millions of American Jews and Jews in other countries as well, no doubt.

And Israels wall problems did not conclude with the above issues this week. For some reason the new Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guteres, said last week that in his estimation or his opinion or maybe its a matter of history, the ancient Jewish Temple that we know as the Bet Hamikdash once stood on the area above the Western Wall known as the Temple Mount or Har Habayit.

And all this after UNESCO declared both The Temple Mount and the Wall below as Islamic religious sites which was just another way of communicating to the world that todays Israel is not only a military occupier but also a force and a presence illegally sitting atop Muslim holy sites. Most reasonable and honest people understand and know well that there is an irrefutable connection between these sites, the city of Jerusalem overall and the Jewish people. But when we refer to the Palestinian Arabsand their leadership in particular the idea of honesty unfortunately does not enter into the equation.

Its not a secret that President Trump has an affinity for Bibi Netanyahu and the state of Israel. The President respects and admires success more than anything else. When it comes to Israel and for that matter myriad other issues, the President is philosophically the polar opposite of Barrack Obama. So, therefore, it is not a surprise that while Obama had little else but hostility for Bibi and Israel, the Trump team will represent direct opposite and very warm and cordial feelings.

Which brings us back to the other wall issue right here in the US. Both sides agree that a wall extended over a more than 1,000 mile border between the US and Mexico will benefit both countries with the point of contention being who is going to pay for the darn thing. The US needs the wall to stem the tide of illegal migrants who indulge in criminal activities and transport drugs across the border. Mexico can benefit from the construction if Mr. Trump decides that it will be okay to use Mexican cement for the wall construction as one of the largest cement companies in the world—Cemex—is located just inside Mexico. It is estimated that over 2.4 million tons of cement will be needed to get the job done.

The Talmudin the first few pages of Baba Basra makes it clear that those who benefit from a wall should be the people who pay for it. The question is how do you define benefit and if one party benefits more than the other is there a sliding scale for payment and so on. Talmudic logic would seem to indicate that the way out of this silly back and forth between Mr. Trump and President Pena Nieto of Mexico is to just split the cost down the middle. I dont know why that has not been offered or suggested yet by any of the parties.

In the meantime Israel continues to do battle about partitions, dividers, barriers and even ancient stone construction that people travel to from around the wall to stand in silent prayer if only for a few moments. Whether it is the nemesis posed by the womens group, the UNESCO position on the holy sites, new construction in the Old City of Jerusalem, or the Mexican Presidents and the Talmudic position on who should pay one thing is clear—Israel seems to be over its head with wall to wall headaches, some real and important, others frivolous and imaginary.

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On Western and other walls – Arutz Sheva

Patriots Owner Robert Kraft Preparing for the Super Bowl Is Like Studying Talmud – Forward

What do preparing for the Super Bowl and rabbinic literature have in common? More than you would think, according to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

As Tom Brady and company get ready to face the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl on Sunday, February 5, Kraft spoke with the Forward about his religious upbringing, his relationship with Israel, and what it takes to prepare for the biggest stage in one of the most complicated, strategic sports.

We try to prepare very hard, study very hard, said Kraft, who grew up in a strictly observant Jewish home and studied Pirkei Avot Ethics of our Fathers every Saturday afternoon with his father. You know, its like studying Talmud or Torah its not just simplistic, its deep. We prepare as a team very well, we practice hard.

That rigorous attention to detail is one reason that the Patriots are preparing to play in a record eighth Super Bowl since Kraft, a Brookline, Massachusetts, native, purchased the team in 1994.

The other key to New Englands success is the teams culture an aura often referred to as the Patriot Way. Under Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick, the organizational philosophy has been that the team is greater than the sum of its parts; everyone from the superstar quarterback to the benchwarmer is held accountable.

To be successful in football, you have to do things that put the team first, Kraft explained. Everyone has to play their role, and if they dont do it, youre not going to win. Its not the great stars that win; its the great teams that win. Its the teams that subjugate their ego to the team and put the team first.

Kraft used the word team three times in one sentence, and he unwittingly did so again a few minutes later when talking about Israel. Without explicitly referencing the Patriot Way, Kraft credited a similar check-your-ego-at-the-door, team-first mentality for the State of Israels ability to thrive in a hostile region.

That whole concept of team and teamwork and team first thats how Israel, in my opinion, has survived in the Middle East, he said. Everyone has different opinions, and everyone is a hakham [a wise man], except in times of stress and, unfortunately, war, where everyone bands together and puts the team first.

The Kraft familys relationship with Israel is well documented. Over the years, Robert Kraft has taken dozens of players, coaches and friends on yearly trips to a country that he called a modern-day miracle. In 2006 he took Brady to an Israel Defense Forces firing range. On another visit, he brought along the Vince Lombardi Trophy, stopping by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharons office for a photo shoot. Two years ago, 19 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame made the journey.

They came back to America and explained that it was the greatest experience of their life, Kraft said of the Hall of Famers. Some of them were men that had won Super Bowls, and they said that being baptized in the Sea of Galilee or visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre changed their life.

Kraft and his late wife, Myra Hiatt Kraft, have also done more than anyone to bring the American game over to Israel. The couple have supported and funded a womens flag football league. In Jerusalem, American football is played at the Kraft Family Stadium.

He acknowledged that soccer and basketball are more popular, but he believes that football will catch on. We think that once Israelis understand the game, theyll be big supporters of it, Kraft said.

In the meantime, the New England-Atlanta matchup marks the first time since 2012 that two teams with Jewish owners have met in the Super Bowl. The four-time Super Bowl champion downplayed the Jewish connection, but said that Falcons owner Arthur Blank is like a brother.

Hes a very good friend, Kraft said. Only one of us is going to win next Sunday, but I have great respect and affection for him.

Jane Eisner contributed reporting.

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Patriots Owner Robert Kraft Preparing for the Super Bowl Is Like Studying Talmud – Forward