Sunday, 26 June 2022

388) The Sword of Moshe: Adjuring “אהיו פסקתיה”



This article, based extensively on the research by Professor Yuval Harari from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, examines the book Charva de Moshe (Sword of Moses), one of two ancient magical works[1] to have survived from antiquity.[2] It is based on the notion that Moshe brought a sword down from heaven and is said to have used its ‘magic’ to accomplish supernatural deeds. This work gives a fascinating insight into how people believed the structure of the heavenly realms operated, and more importantly, how they could be easily manipulated by a skilful practitioner.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

387) The Apocalyptists and the rise of a supernatural Messiah

The small dagger known as a sica.


This article is based on the research by Professor Solomon (Shneur Zalman) Zeitlin (1886-1976) considered to have been a leading authority on the Second Temple period.[1] Although a sequel to the previous article, it can be read independently. We trace the origins of the idea of a supernatural Messiah within Judaism. A supernatural Messiah is only mentioned for the first time in the late Apocalyptic literature[2] of the Second Temple period, and in the New Testament (Zeitlin 1979:103). Both these works of literature are far from normative rabbinic Judaism, so how, then, did the idea of a supernatural Messiah become so entrenched within Judaism? To answer this question, we must look to the political and spiritual conditions during and just after the Second Temple period.

Sunday, 12 June 2022

386) The difference between Mashiach then and Mashiach now.

A fragment of Ben Sira as found in the Cairo Geniza

This article attempts to understand whether the idea of the Messiah as it originated in early biblical times, differs from its current conception. I have drawn extensively from the research by Professor Solomon (Shneur Zalman) Zeitlin (1886-1976) considered to have been a leading authority on the Second Temple period.[1]

NOTE TO READER: The Mashiach concept is always a very emotive and sensitive issue. If, like me, you were raised in the belief that Mashiach, as we understand the popularist concept today, has always been part of Judaism since time immemorial, you might find this article disquieting. I am fascinated by the robust approach of scholars (which whom I may, or may not, always agree with) to try and understand the fundamentals of our faith, history and hashkafa  - but I know this approach is not for everyone.

Monday, 6 June 2022

385) Civil Infrastructure and a Torah State


How should a Jewish state manage the mundane tasks involved with administering daily life?

This article also appeared on the B'chol D'rachecha publication

For any complex modern society, keeping the lights on and the chaos at bay is no simple job. Imagining how the Torah would expect us to handle things is not only an interesting daydream, but a question of immediate and practical concern for many growing communities - especially in Israel.

Sunday, 29 May 2022

384) A rare glimpse into the critical mind of a Chassidic Rebbe – Yitzchak Nachum Twersky.


R. Yitzchak Nachum Twersky of Shpikov (1888-1942)

Samson Kemelmakher - SHTETELE BELTZ - Yiddish Song - Bing video


R. Yitzchak Nachum Twersky of Shpikov (1888-1942) from the Chassidic lineage of Chernobyl, had an unusual critical perspective of the Chassidic world during the early 20th century. Shpikov is now known as Shpykiv, in present-day Ukraine. I have drawn extensively from the work of Professor David Asaf[1] who has researched a letter written by R. Yitzchak Nachum Twersky, which has become a most compelling document in Chassidic history.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

383) Traces of a messianic feminist revolution in Chabad ideology



This article, based extensively on the research by Professor Ada Rapoport-Albert (1945-2020)[1] traces the evolution of women within Chabad thought. While some leaders within the contemporary Chareidi and Chassidic world are not permitting women to drive, and are obscuring women’s faces in media publications, the views emanating from the last Chabad Rebbe are rather enlightening.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

382) Is "holy sin" a bad theology?


Yitav Lev is an acronym for Yekutiel Yehudah (Zalman Leib) Teitelbaum of Sziget, known as the  (1808–83). 


This article, based extensively on the research by Professor Benjamin Brown[1] deals with the paradoxical idea of “holy sin” or “aveirah lishma”- where sometimes it is considered a mitzvah to sin - as found in some kabbalistic and Chassidic thought.

Sunday, 8 May 2022

381) Midrashic sources referring to the actual sacrifice of Isaac?


The reader is cautioned not to regard this article as historiography but rather as an analysis of various modern and ancient readings of the biblical story of the Akeidah, where Abraham was ‘tested’ to see if he was willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to G-d. We shall investigate two very different, if not antithetical systems of biblical study - one the modern Documentary Hypothesis also known as Biblical Criticism, and the other, certain older traditional Midrashic sources. Surprisingly we find some degree of synergy between these disparate systems when it comes to the question of what happened to Isaac after the Akeidah.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

380) Appropriating penitence?



This article, based extensively on the research by Professor Talya Fishman,[1] explores the origins of the extreme teshuvah, or penitential practices of the Chassidei Ashkenaz (also known as the German=Ashkenaz Pietists). This intensely ascetic, pietist and mystical movement was founded by R. Yehuda HeChassid and flourished in Germany and France during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Were some of their self-punishing penitential practices appropriated from the surrounding Christian culture or were they purely of Jewish origin - or somewhere in between?

Sunday, 10 April 2022

379) Dealing with a Talmudic view that there is “No Messiah for Israel”


The Babylonian Talmud, particularly, is authoritatively quoted as the foundational text to support and bolster almost any argument within Jewish law and theology. But what happens when a talmudic view seems to fly in the face of principles that are held as true, fundamental and essential to the very faith itself? A case in point is the statement by R. Hillel that “There is no Messiah for Israel”:

R. Hillel says: ‘There is no Messiah [coming] for Israel, as they [the prophesies relating to the Messiah] were already fulfilled during the days of Hezekiah’. Said R. Joseph [in response]: 'May R. Hillel's Master forgive him! When did Hezekiah live? In the time of the first Temple. Yet Zechariah, prophesying during the time of the second Temple, said: "Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion, shout, daughter of Jerusalem; behold, your king comes unto you”’[1]  (b. Sanhedrin 99a).

Sunday, 3 April 2022

378) The first Yiddish translation of Rashi’s Commentary – outreach, business venture, or disingenuous?


Sanvi, Sansanvi, and Semangelaf in Rashi?


In 1560, a Yiddish Chumash (liturgical Hebrew Bible) was printed in Cremona, Italy, the city later to become famous for its Stradivarius violins. The edition was produced by Yehuda ben Moshe Naftali, known as Leb Bresch, and it included the first published Yiddish translation of Rashi’s Torah commentary. Yiddish Chumashim were known as “Teitch[1] Chumashim”. I draw extensively on the research by Professor Edward Fram from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Sunday, 27 March 2022

377) Early Jewish Messiahs and their movements

Rambam's Letter to Yemen

In this article, we look at some of the early Jewish messianic claimants and their movements, of which there have been many throughout history.

Judaism is well-known for its rejection of the Christian Messiah, yet it embraced numerous other messianic claimants and developed an intricate and complicated relationship with messianism. With the current resurge in messianism in the Jewish world in general and in movements like Chabad in particular, it may come as a surprise that this rejuvenation is nothing new. We see that throughout Jewish history there has always been the belief held by significant numbers of the population, that we were on the cusp of the great eschatological event heralding the imminent arrival of an identifiable and righteous Messiah.