The Ten Days of Teshuvah

The Ten Days of Teshuvah

The following Sicha is about the difficulties of translation itself. The act of translation assumes that for every word in one language, equivalents can be found in another. But this may be untrue, especially when we are dealing with ideas that are central and unique to Judaism. We may then fall into the error of equating a Jewish idea with one drawn from another culture when the two are in fact dissimilar, even opposite. This is the case with the three words constantly on our minds during the Ten Days of Teshuvah. In English they are repentance, prayer and charity. How far these differ from their Jewish counterparts—teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah—the Rebbe emphatically explains.

1. The Service of the Ten Days

We express the hope that on Rosh Hashanah G-d blessed us with a “good and sweet year” to come, a year made fruitful by children, health and sustenance.

But there is no limit to goodness and blessing. Thus, during the Ten Days of Teshuvah we have the opportunity through our service, to cause G-d to grant us yet greater benefits from His “full and expansive hand.”

What is this service? It is, as we say in our prayers, “repentance, prayer and charity” which avert evil and bring the good. But the words “repentance, prayer and charity” are misleading. By thus translating the Hebrew terms teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah, we are led into a false comparison of these three elements of the religious life as they exist in Judaism and outside it.

In fact, there are crucial differences. Teshuvah is not repentance. Tefillah is not prayer. And tzedakah is not charity.

2. Teshuvah and Repentance

“Repentance” in Hebrew is not teshuvah but charatah. Not only are these two terms not synonymous. They are opposites.

Charatah implies remorse or a feeling of guilt about the past and an intention to behave in a completely new way in the future. The person decides to become “a new man.” But teshuvah means “returning” to the old, to one’s original nature. Underlying the concept of teshuvah is the fact that the Jew is, in essence, good. Desires or temptations may deflect him temporarily from being himself, being true to his essence. But the bad that he does is not part of, nor does it affect, his real nature. Teshuvah is a return to the self. While repentance involves dismissing the past and starting anew, teshuvah means going back to one’s roots in G-d and exposing them as one’s true character.

For this reason, while the righteous have no need to repent, and the wicked may be unable to, both may do teshuvah.1 The righteous, though they have never sinned, have constantly to strive to return to their innermost. And the wicked, however distant they are from G-d, can always return, for teshuvah does not involve creating anything new, only rediscovering the good that was always within them.

3. Tefillah and Prayer

“Prayer” in Hebrew is not tefillah but bakashah. And again these terms are opposites. Bakashah means to pray, request, beseech. But tefillah means, to attach oneself.2

In bakashah the person asks G-d to provide him, from above, with what he lacks. Therefore when he is not in need of anything, or feels no desire for a gift from above, bakashah becomes redundant.

But in tefillah the person seeks to attach himself to G-d. It is a movement from below, from man, reaching towards G-d. And this is something appropriate to everyone and at every time.

The Jewish soul has a bond with G-d. But it also inhabits a body, whose preoccupation with the material world may attenuate that bond. So it has constantly to be strengthened and renewed. This is the function of tefillah. And it is necessary for every Jew. For while there may be those who do not lack anything and thus have nothing to request of G-d, there is no-one who does not need to attach himself to the source of all life.

4. Tzedakah and Charity

The Hebrew for “charity” is not tzedakah but chessed. And again these two words have opposite meanings.

Chessed, charity, implies that the recipient has no right to the gift and that the donor is under no obligation to give it. He gives it gratuitously, from the goodness of his heart. His act is a virtue rather than a duty.

On the other hand tzedakah means righteousness or justice. The implication is that the donor gives because it is his duty. For, firstly, everything in the world belongs ultimately to G-d. A man’s possessions are not his by right. Rather, they are entrusted to him by G-d, and one of the conditions of that trust is that he should give to those who are in need. Secondly, a man has a duty to act towards others as he asks G-d to act towards him. And as we ask G-d for His blessings though He owes us nothing and is under no obligation, so we are bound in justice to give to those who ask us, even though we are in no way in their debt. In this way we are rewarded: Measure for measure. Because we give freely, G-d gives freely to us.

This applies in particular to the tzedakah which is given to support the institutions of Torah learning. For everyone who is educated in these institutions is a future foundation of a house in Israel, and a future guide to the coming generation. This will be the product of his tzedakah—and his act is the measure of his reward.

5. Three Paths

These are the three paths which lead to a year “written and sealed” for good.

By returning to one’s innermost self (teshuvah), by attaching oneself to G-d (tefillah) and by distributing one’s possessions with righteousness (tzedakah), one turns the promise of Rosh Hashanah into the abundant fulfillment of Yom Kippur: A year of sweetness and plenty.

(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. II pp. 409-411)

1. Cf. Kuntres Bikkur Chicago, p. 23.
2. Cf. Rashi, Bereishit 30:8; Or Hatorah, Vayechi, 380a.

The Challenge of Jewish Repentance

The Challenge of Jewish Repentance

 The Ten Days of Repentance are the holy of holies of Jewish time. They begin this Wednesday evening with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and culminate 10 days later with Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement. At no other time do I feel so close to God, and I suspect the same is true for most Jews.

These days constitute a courtroom drama like no other. The judge is God himself, and we are on trial for our lives. It begins on Rosh Hashanah, with the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn, announcing that the court is in session. The Book of Life, in which our fate will be inscribed, now lies open. As we say in prayer, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, who will live and who will die.” At home, we eat an apple dipped in honey as a symbol of our hope for a sweet new year.

On Yom Kippur, the atmosphere reaches a peak of intensity in a day of fasting and prayer. Repeatedly we confess our sins, whole alphabetical litanies of them, including ones we probably had neither the time nor the imagination to commit. We throw ourselves on the mercy of the court, which is to say, on God himself. Write us, we say, in the Book of Life.

And at the end of a long and wrenching day, we finish as we began 10 days earlier, with the sound of the ram’s horn—this time not with tears and fears but with cautious yet confident hope. We have admitted the worst about ourselves and survived.

Beneath the surface of this long religious ritual lies one of the more transformative stories of the human spirit. The sociologist Philip Rieff pointed out that the movement from paganism to monotheism was a transition from fate to faith. By this he meant that in the world of myth, people were pitted against powerful, capricious forces personified as gods who were at best indifferent, at worst hostile, to humankind. All you could do was try to propitiate, battle or outwit them. This was a culture of character and fate, and its noblest expression was the literature of Greek tragedy.

Jews came to see the world in a completely different way. The book of Genesis opens with God making humans “in his image and likeness.” This phrase has become so familiar to us that we forget how paradoxical it is, since for the Hebrew Bible, God has no image and likeness. As the narrative quickly makes clear, what humans have in common with God is freedom and moral responsibility.

The Jewish drama is less about character and fate than about will and choice. To the monotheistic mind, the real battles are not “out there,” against external forces of darkness, but “in here,” between the bad and better angels of our nature. As the religion writer Jack Miles once pointed out, you can see the difference in the contrast between Sophocles and Shakespeare. For Sophocles, Oedipus must battle against blind, inexorable fate. For Shakespeare, writing in a monotheistic age, the drama of “Hamlet” lies within, between “the native hue of resolution” and “the pale cast of thought.”

The trouble is, of course, that faced with choice, we often make the wrong one. Given a second chance, Adam and Eve would probably pass on the fruit. Cain might work a little harder on his anger management. And there is a straight line from these biblical episodes to the destruction left by Homo sapiens: war, murder, human devastation and environmental destruction.

That is still our world today. The key fact about us, according to the Bible, is that uniquely in an otherwise law-governed universe, we are able to break the law—a power that we too often relish exercising.

This raises an acute theological dilemma. How are we to reconcile God’s high hopes for humanity with our shabby and threadbare moral record? The short answer is forgiveness.

God wrote forgiveness into the script. He always gives us a second chance, and more. All we have to do is to acknowledge our wrongs, apologize, make amends and resolve to behave better, and God forgives. It allows us to hold simultaneously to the highest moral aspirations while admitting honestly our deepest moral failings. That is the drama of the Jewish High Holy Days.

At the heart of this vision is what the post-Holocaust writer Viktor Frankl called our “search for meaning.” The great institutions of modernity were not constructed to provide meaning. Science tells us how the world came to be but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot tell us how to use it. The market gives us choices but no guidance as to which choices to make. Modern democracies give us a maximum of personal freedom but a minimum of shared morality. You can acknowledge the beauty of all these institutions, yet most of us seek something more.

Meaning comes not from systems of thought but from stories, and the Jewish story is among the most unusual of all. It tells us that God sought to make us His partners in the work of creation, but we repeatedly disappointed Him. Yet He never gives up. He forgives us time and again. The real religious mystery for Judaism is not our faith in God but God’s faith in us.

This is not, as atheists and skeptics sometimes claim, a comforting fiction but quite the opposite. Judaism is God’s call to human responsibility, to create a world that is a worthy home for His presence. That is why Jews are so often to be found as doctors fighting disease, economists fighting poverty, lawyers fighting injustice, teachers fighting ignorance and therapists fighting depression and despair.

Judaism is a supremely activist faith for which the greatest religious challenge is to heal some of the wounds of our deeply fractured world. As Frankl put it: The real question is not what do we want from life but what does life want from us.

That is the question we are asked on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As we ask God to write us in the Book of Life, he asks us, what have you done with your life thus far? Have you thought about others or only about yourself? Have you brought healing to a place of human pain or hope where you found despair? You may have been a success, but have you also been a blessing? Have you written other people in the Book of Life?

To ask these questions once a year in the company of others publicly willing to confess their faults, lifted by the words and music of ancient prayers, knowing that God forgives every failure we acknowledge as a failure, and that He has faith in us even when we lose faith in ourselves, can be a life-changing experience. That is when we discover that, even in a secular age, God is still there, open to us whenever we are willing to open ourselves to Him.

This article was first published in The Wall Street Journal on 16 September 2017.

Cuatro razones por las que se compara el shabat con una novia y una reina

Por Yehuda Shurpin









En el himno al shabat del siglo XVI “Lejá dodí” (“Ven, mi amada…”), le damos la bienvenida al shabat como a una novia y como a una reina.

Este concepto se remonta al Talmud, donde leemos que rabí Janina solía llevar sus prendas especiales en la víspera de shabat y decía: “Ven, y saldremos a saludar al shabat, la reina”. Otro sabio, rabí Ianai, vestía sus prendas en la víspera de shabat y decía: “Entra, oh, novia. Entra, oh, novia”.1

Entonces, ¿Qué es el shabat? ¿Una novia o una reina? ¿Y quién es su esposo?

1. Casada con Israel

Rabí Shmuel Eidels, conocido como el Maharsha (1555-1631), explica que esto se basa en la enseñanza midráshica2 de que cuando Di-s creó el mundo, el shabat le rogó a Di-s y le dijo: “Todos los demás tienen una pareja (por ejemplo, el domingo tiene al lunes como pareja, el martes tiene al miércoles, etc.), pero ¡yo no tengo a nadie!”. Di-s respondió: “La comunidad de Israel será tu pareja”.

Años más tarde, cuando Israel estuvo de pie frente al Sinaí, Di-s dijo: “Recuerda que le he dicho al shabat que la comunidad de Israel es su pareja. Esto es lo que significa el versículo ‘Acuérdate del shabat para santificarlo’”.3 La palabra hebrea para “santificar” también denota el concepto de matrimonio. Entonces, es como si Di-s dijera: “Acuérdate de mi promesa al shabat, y asegúrate de casarte con ella”.

Luego explica que el momento en el que se consuma este matrimonio es cuando el sol se pone en la tarde del viernes. Como el pueblo judío es considerado “hijo de la realeza”,4 al shabat se le llama reina, por ser la novia de un rey.5

2. La novia de Di-s

El versículo de Bereshit dice: “Y en el séptimo día completó Di-s la obra que había hecho, y reposó en el día séptimo de toda la obra que había hecho”.6 El Midrash señala que este versículo parece contradictorio. ¿Di-s terminó su trabajo en el séptimo día? ¿O ya descansaba, luego de haber terminado su trabajo antes del comienzo del séptimo día?

El Midrash explica que el shabat, el día de descanso, fue en sí mismo la creación del séptimo día. En palabras del Midrash: “Esto es comparable con un rey que ya ha preparado la cámara nupcial pero al que le falta una novia. De manera similar, al mundo le faltaba el shabat”.7

Una explicación para este Midrash es que el propósito de celebrar shabat es recordar siempre que Di-s, el Rey, es el Creador del mundo. Él creó el mundo en seis días y descansó durante el séptimo. Al celebrar shabat, recordamos que Di-s es el Creador.

3. Nos convertimos en la novia

Rabí Iehuda Loewe, conocido como el Maharal de Praga (1525-1609), explica que los tres términos, “shabat”, “novia” y “reina”, representan tres maneras diferentes de honrar el shabat:

● Descansamos del trabajo. La palabra shabat significa “descanso”.

● Con prendas especiales, así como una novia se viste de gala para la boda.

● Permisivos respecto de delicias especiales y actividades placenteras, como la realeza.8

Según esta explicación, parece como si nosotros mismos nos convirtiéramos en la novia durante el shabat.

4. La reina cabalística

Los cabalistas explican que los siete días de la semana corresponden a los siete atributos de Di-s: jesed (la bondad), guevurá (la severidad), tiferet (la armonía), nétzaj (la perseverancia) hod (la humildad), iesod (el fundamento) y maljut(la realeza). Entonces, al shabat le corresponde el último atributo: la realeza.

Así como usamos los seis días de la semana para prepararnos para el shabat, la maljut recibe su energía de las seis sefirotanteriores.

Piensa durante un momento en la realeza. Es cierto, son beneficiarios, por haber recibido de sus súbditos el mandato de gobernar (y la riqueza). Pero también deben dar: conducir, guiar e inspirar a su pueblo.

Se puede decir lo mismo del shabat. Pasamos seis días de preparativos para el shabat, pero él luego nos da la vitalidad para sobrevivir y prosperar durante la semana siguiente.

El atributo de maljut también se conoce como la shejiná, el aspecto femenino de Di-s, lo que puede explicar por qué el shabat es una reina y no un rey.9

Nuestros sabios nos dicen que si todos nosotros cumplimos al menos con un shabat, mereceremos la redención definitiva, una era a la que se hace referencia como el shabat eterno. ¡Que suceda pronto, en nuestros días!

1. Talmud, Shabat 119a y Bava Kama 32a.
2. Bereishit Rabá 11:8.
3. Shemot 20:8.
4. Ver, por ejemplo, Talmud Bava Metzia 113b.

5. Maharsha, Jidushei Agadot sobre el Talmud, Bava Kama 32a.

Sobre esta base podemos apreciar una diferencia interesante entre la costumbre de rabí Janina, que “salía a saludar a la reina del shabat”, y rabí Ianai, que se quedaba donde fuera que estuviera y le daba la bienvenida al shabat con “Entra, oh, novia, oh, novia”.
Según rabí Janina: así como es costumbre para un novio salir a saludar a la novia antes de la ceremonia de casamiento, nosotros también deberíamos salir a saludar a nuestra novia, la reina del shabat, durante la tarde del viernes.
Rabí Ianai, sin embargo, saludaba a la novia shabat desde donde estuviera, porque el shabat ya estaba comenzando. Porque esto es lo que hace una novia: luego de casarse, va desde la casa de su padre hasta la casa del novio. Por esta razón, rabí Ianai da la bienvenida dos veces: “Entra, oh, novia. Entra, oh, novia”: una vez a la jupá (el palio nupcial) y una vez a la casa de su esposo.
6. Bereshit 2:2.
7. Bereshit Rabá 10:9.
8. Maharal, Jidushei Agadot sobre el Talmud, Bava Kamma 32a.
9. Ver Zohar 3:272b, y Séfer ha-Maamarim 5689, p. 89 (Maamar Leja Dodi).
Según tomado de, el viernes, 15 de sept. de 2017

Why Do We Sometimes Read a Double Torah Portion?

And when do we double them up?

The Torah is split into 54 Torah portions (Parshiyot), and we usually read one Torah portion each Shabbat. However, there are 14 Parshiyot that, depending on the year, can potentially be paired together, so two Torah portions would be read on that Shabbat.

The seven pairs are as follows:

  1. Vayakhel-Pekudei
  2. Tazria-Metzora
  3. Acharei-Kedoshim
  4. Behar-Bechukotai
  5. Chukat-Balak (only outside of Israel)
  6. Matot-Massei
  7. Nitzavim-Vayelech

[It should be noted that technically there are really only 53 Parshiyot, with one portion (according to many, Nitzavim-Vayelech) being split into two.1 However, that is beyond the scope of this article, which is focused on how the Torah is currently divided and read. Hence, we will refer to them as 54 separate Torah portions.]

There are a number of reasons why Parshiyot are doubled up, and some reasons specifically apply to certain pairings. Bear with me, because this explanation will get a bit technical.

Not Enough Weeks

The basic issue is that although we split the Torah into 54 portions (or Parshiyot), a regular Jewish year has 353–355 days. That leaves us with 50–51 Shabbats on which to read the Torah portion. Additionally, when a Jewish holiday coincides with Shabbat, we read the special holiday reading instead of the weekly Torah portion. This leaves us with a maximum of 48 (but often fewer) weeks in a regular year in which to read the 54 Torah portions.

[Technically we only need 53 Shabbats, since the last portion, Vezot Hab’rachah, is traditionally read on Simchat Torah, which generally (and outside Israel, always) occurs on a weekday.]

In order to reconcile the weekly cycle of Parshiyot with the number of Shabbats available, we need to double up some of the Parshiyot.

In a Jewish leap year, we add an extra month consisting of 30 days, which includes four more Shabbats (or five, depending on the day of the week the new month starts—we will get to this later). Thus, in a leap year we have a lot fewer double Torah portions.

The first four possible pairings are made only in regular years. Since a leap year is four weeks longer, by reading these portions separately we have an extra month’s worth of readings.

The Regular-Year-Only Couplings:

  1. Vayakhel-Pekudei2
  2. Tazria-Metzora
  3. Acharei-Kedoshim
  4. Behar-Bechukotai

Matot-Massei are always read together, even in a leap year, unless it is a leap year and one of the following two scenarios apply:

  1. Rosh Hashanah of the leap year falls out on Thursday, which means the extra month of the leap year will have five Shabbats instead of the usual four. (Since the new month has 30 days, it can include five Shabbats.)
  2. If Acharon Shel Pesach (the eighth day of Passover) falls out on Shabbat, then in Israel we would read Matot and Masseion two separate Shabbats, while outside of Israel we would still combine the two. In such a year the Torah readings in Israel and the Diaspora will be out of sync for three months, from Passover until when Matot-Massei are read during the Three Weeks.

Although the main reason why we double up Torah portions has to do with leap years, there are additional reasons for pairing them up as well.

Extra Day of Yom Tov

Outside of Israel we add an extra day to the holidays of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret. If the extra day of Passover or Shavuot3 falls out on a Shabbat, then outside of Israel the special holiday reading is read, while in Israel, since it is a regular Shabbat, the weekly Torah portion is read.

In order to to get the Torah readings of the Diaspora back in sync with those of Israel, if Acharon Shel Pesach falls out on Shabbat, then in a regular (non-leap) year, outside of Israel we double up Behar and Bechukotai, while in Israel they are read separately. (In a leap year, we do this instead with the portions of Matot and Massei, as described above.)

If the second day of Shavuot falls out on Shabbat, then in the Diaspora we double up the portions of Chukat and Balak. Thus, Chukat and Balak are only ever paired up outside the land of Israel.

[It should be noted that although we have explained this reason as “synchronizing the reading of the Diaspora with that of Israel,” in truth it is clear, from the very fact that we sometimes wait three months to synchronize the two, that this disparity isn’t really a concern. The real issue is that the Diaspora ends up having one less Shabbat than Israel to read the Torah, and we need to make it up. However, for simplicity’s sake, it is presented as a disparity between Israel and the Diaspora.]

Shabbats Between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot (Nitzavim-Vayelech)

As a rule, the Torah portion of Nitzavim needs to be read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashanah (we will get to the reason for this rule soon). This means that there are only three Torah portions left in the weekly cycle. As mentioned, the Parshah of Vezot Hab’rachah is read on Simchat Torah, leaving the Parshah of Haazinu to be read on a regular Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot. If there is more than one non-holiday Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, then, and only then, are the Torah portions of Nitzavim and Vayelech separated.4

Why the Lopsided Pairing?

If you’ve been following the schedule of the pairings up until now, you may have noticed a number of interesting anomalies. For instance, in some years we would combine the portions of Matot and Massei, creating the longest Torah reading—a whopping 244 verses!—and yet at the same time we would separate the two shortest portions, Nitzavim and Vayelech—a total of only 70 combined!

Another anomaly is that in leap years when Acharon Shel Pesach falls out on Shabbat, instead of synchronizing the readings of the Diaspora and Israel at the first available opportunity, at Behar and Bechukotai, we wait over three months to synchronize at Matot-Massei.

While this isn’t the place to elaborate on all the intricate rules, we will touch on some of them to help give us an understanding of why the Torah portions are paired up in this specific way.

Before getting to the rules, it is important to point out that the Torah portions aren’t just haphazardly combined. The portions that are chosen to be combined together generally share a theme, although some are more closely related than others.

General Rules

  • In a regular year, we always read the Torah portion of Tzav on the Shabbat before Passover.
  • In a leap year, we read the portion of Metzora before Passover—unless Rosh Hashanah was on Thursday (and Simchat Torah, Friday), in which case we read the portion of Acharei Mot on the Shabbat before Passover.
  • The portion of Bamidbar is always read before Shavuot (usually the week before, but some years it is read two weeks prior).
  • The portion of Va’etchanan is always read the Shabbat after the 9th of Av.5
  • The portion of Nitzavim is always read before Rosh Hashanah.

Additionally, we usually double up Torah portions close to benchmarks on the Jewish calendar (e.g., Passover, Shavuot, etc.).

What are the reasons for these rules? Let’s explore.

Rebuke Before the New Year

The Talmud records that Ezra the Scribe enacted that the “rebuke in Leviticus” (the portion of Bechukotai) should be read before Shavuot, and the “rebuke in Deuteronomy” (the portion of Ki Tavo) should be read before Rosh Hashanah.6

The Talmud goes on to explain that this is “in order to end the year together with its curses,” because “Shavuot is the beginning of a new year.” As the Mishnah explains, “The world is judged on Shavuot for fruit.”

Tosafot explains that although we read the curses before the new year, we nevertheless don’t want to go straight from curses into the new year, so we have a buffer. As a rule, we always read Nitzavim before Rosh Hashanah, and the portion of Bamidbar is always read before Shavuot.7

Based on this, we can understand that simply combining the two smallest portions of Nitzavim and Vayelech is not always an option, as it can cause Nitzavim to be read after Rosh Hashanah.

While this answers why we can’t always just combine the two shortest Torah portions of Nitzavim and Vayelech, we are still left with the question why in some years we wait a whole three months to get the Diaspora in sync with Israel. The question is compounded by the fact that we actually skip some possible opportunities of reconciling the two (such as combining the portions of Chukat and Balak, as we sometimes do) and instead wait until Matot-Massei.

Hope in the Saddest of Times

To answer this, we need to explain one more rule: we always read the Torah portion of Va’etchanan on the Shabbat following the fast of the 9th of Av.8

Based on this, on a simple level, some explain that since the two portions that are the most commonly read together are Matot and Massei, if we are faced with a choice of combining two portions, we just pick these two most common ones. Indeed, these two portions fit together better than many of the other pairs, since both talk about dividing and inheriting the land of Israel.9

Others explain that there is a much deeper reason for this.

Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Shapiro of Dinov explains that we try to read the Torah portions dealing with dividing the land of Israel during the Three Weeks, when we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple(from the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th of Av). Thus, the portions of Matot and Massei, which include this theme, are always read during the Three Weeks. The portion of Pinchas also discusses dividing the land of Israel. Therefore, although there are (rare) times that we need to separate Matot and Massei, and read Pinchas before the Three Weeks (namely, in a leap year when there aren’t enough portions to go around), when possible, preference is given to combining Matot and Massei (over other Torah portions such as Chukat and Balak) so that Pinchas too is read during the Three Weeks.

Reading these three Torah portions at the time we mourn the destruction of the Temple and the exile from the land of Israel gives us hope that we will ultimately return and redivide the land with the ingathering of the exiles and the coming of Moshiach.10 May it be speedily in our days!

1. See Zohar 1:104b, Tikkunei Zohar 29b (tikkun 13); Siddur of Rabbi Saadiah Gaon, Keriat ha-Torah; Abudraham, Seder ha-Parshiyot. See also Likkutei Sichot, vol. 19, p. 298.
2. There is one scenario in which Vayakhel and Pekudei are read separately in a regular year: in a year in which Rosh Hashanah falls on Thursday and Passover on Sunday.
3. The extra day of Shemini Atzeret—called Simchat Torah—is not an issue in this regard, since it can never fall on Shabbat.
4. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 428:4.
5. According to some, the rule is that “the portion of Devarim is always read before the fast of the 9th of Av.” Practically, however, it is the same rule.
6. Talmud, Megillah 31b.
7. Tosafot on Talmud, Megillah 31b.
8. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 428:4.
9. Responsum of Maharit 2:4, cited in Magen Avraham on Shulchan Aruch 428:6.
10. Bnei Yissaschar, Chodshei Tammuz-Av, Maamar Beit.
As taken from,  September 14, 2017

Why Be Jewish?

In the last days of his life Moses renews the covenant between God and Israel. The entire book of Devarim has been an account of the covenant – how it came about, what its terms and conditions are, why it is the core of Israel’s identity as an am kadosh, a holy people, and so on. Now comes the moment of renewal itself, a kind of national referendum as it were.

Moses, however, is careful not to limit his words to those who are actually present. About to die, he wants to ensure that no future generation can say, “Moses made a covenant with our ancestors but not with us. We didn’t give our consent. We are not bound.” To preclude this he says these words:

“It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.” (Deut. 29:13-14)

As the commentators point out, the phrase “whoever is not here” cannot refer to Israelites alive at the time who happened to be somewhere else. That cannot be since the entire nation was assembled there. It can only mean “generations not yet born.” The covenant bound all Jews from that day to this. As the Talmud says: we are all mushba ve-omed me-har Sinai, foresworn from Sinai (Yoma 73b, Nedarim 8a). By agreeing to be God’s people, subject to God’s laws, our ancestors obligated us.

Hence one of the most fundamental facts about Judaism. Converts excepted, we do not choose to be Jews. We are born as Jews. We become legal adults, subject to the commands and responsible for our actions, at the age of twelve for girls, thirteen for boys. But we are part of the covenant from birth. A bat or bar mitzvah is not a “confirmation.” It involves no voluntary acceptance of Jewish identity. That choice took place more than three thousand years ago when Moses said “It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with … whoever is not here with us today,” meaning all future generations including us.

But how can this be so? Surely a fundamental principle of Judaism is that there is no obligation without consent. How can we be bound by an agreement to which we were not parties? How can we be subject to a covenant on the basis of a decision taken long ago and far away by our distant ancestors?

The sages, after all, raised a similar question about the wilderness generation in the days of Moses who were actually there and did give their assent. The Talmud suggests that they were not entirely free to say No. “The Holy One blessed be He suspended the mountain over them like a barrel and said: If you say Yes, all will be well, but if you say No, this will be your burial-place” (Shabbat 88b). On this, R. Acha bar Yaakov said: “This constitutes a fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of the covenant.” The Talmud replies that even though the agreement may not have been entirely free at the time, Jews asserted their consent voluntarily in the days of Ahasuerus, as suggested by the book of Esther.

This is not the place to discuss this particular passage, but the essential point is clear. The sages believed with great force that an agreement must be free to be binding. Yet we did not agree to be Jews. We were, most of us, born Jews. We were not there in Moses’ day when the agreement was made. We did not yet exist. How then can we be bound by the covenant?

This is not a small question. It is the question on which all others turn. How can Jewish identity be passed on from parent to child? If Jewish identity were merely racial or ethnic, we could understand it. We inherit many things from our parents – most obviously our genes. But being Jewish is not a genetic condition, it is a set of religious obligations. There is a halakhic principle, zakhin le-adam shelo be-fanav: “You can confer a benefit on someone else without their knowledge or consent.” And though it is doubtless a benefit to be a Jew, it is also in some sense a liability, a restriction on our range of legitimate choices. Had we not been Jewish, we could have worked on Shabbat, eaten non-kosher food, and so on. You can confer a benefit, but not a liability, on someone without their consent.

In short, this is the question of questions of Jewish identity. How can we be bound by Jewish law, without our choice, merely because our ancestors agreed on our behalf?

In my book Radical Then, Radical Now (published in America as A Letter in the Scroll) I pointed out how fascinating it is to trace exactly when and where this question was asked. Despite the fact that everything else depends on it, it was not asked often. For the most part, Jews did not ask the question, ‘Why be Jewish?’ The answer was obvious. My parents are Jewish. My grandparents were Jewish. So I am Jewish. Identity is something most people in most ages take for granted.

It did, however, become an issue during the Babylonian exile. The prophet Ezekiel says, “What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.’” (Ez. 20:32). This is the first reference to Jews actively seeking to abandon their identity.

It happened again in rabbinic times. We know that in the second century BCE there were Jews who Hellenised, seeking to become Greek rather than Jewish. There were others who, under Roman rule, sought to become Roman. Some even underwent an operation known as epispasm to reverse the effects of circumcision (in Hebrew they were known as meshukhim) to hide the fact that they were Jews.[1]

The third time was in Spain in the fifteenth century. That is where we find two Bible commentators, R. Isaac Arama and R. Isaac Abarbanel, raising precisely the question we have raised about how the covenant can bind Jews today. The reason they ask it while earlier commentators did not was that in their time – between 1391 and 1492 – there was immense pressure on Spanish Jews to convert to Christianity, and as many as a third may have done so (they were known in Hebrew as the anusim, in Spanish as the conversos, and derogatively as marranos, “swine”). The question “Why stay Jewish?” was real.

The answers given were different at different times. Ezekiel’s answer was blunt: “As I live, declares the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you.” In other words, Jews might try to escape their destiny but they will fail. Even against their will they would be known as Jews. That, tragically, is what happened during the two great ages of assimilation, fifteenth century Spain and nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe. In both cases, racial antisemitism persisted, and Jews continued to be persecuted.

The sages answered the question mystically. They said, even the souls of Jews not yet born were present at Sinai and ratified the covenant (Exodus Rabbah 28:6). Every Jew, in other words, did give his or her consent in the days of Moses even though they had not yet been born. Demystifying this, perhaps the sages meant that in his or her innermost heart even the most assimilated Jew knew that he or she was still a Jew. That seems to have been the case with figures like Heinrich Heine and Benjamin Disraeli, who lived as Christians but often wrote and thought as Jews.

The fifteenth century Spanish commentators found this answer problematic. As Arama said, we are each of us both body and soul. How then is it sufficient to say that our soul was present at Sinai? How can the soul obligate the body? Of course the soul agrees to the covenant. Spiritually, to be a Jew is a privilege, and you can confer a privilege on someone without their consent. But for the body, the covenant is a burden. It involves all sorts of restrictions on physical pleasures. Therefore if the souls of future generations were present but not their bodies, this would not constitute consent.

Radical Then, Radical Now is my answer to this question. But perhaps there is a simpler one. Not every obligation that binds us is one to which we have freely given our assent. There are obligations that come with birth. The classic example is a crown prince. To be the heir to a throne involves a set of duties and a life of service to others. It is possible to neglect these duties. In extreme circumstances it is even possible for a monarch to abdicate. But no one chooses to be heir to a throne. That is a fate, a destiny, that comes with birth.

The people of whom God himself said, “My child, my firstborn, Israel” (Ex. 4:22) knows itself to be royalty. That may be a privilege. It may be a burden. It may be both. It is a peculiar post-Enlightenment delusion to think that the only significant things about us are those we choose. For the truth is some of the most important facts about us, we did not choose. We did not choose to be born. We did not choose our parents. We did not choose the time and place of our birth. Yet each of these affects who we are and what we are called on to do.

We are part of a story that began long before we were born and will continue long after we are no longer here, and the question for all of us is: will we continue the story? The hopes of a hundred generations of our ancestors rest on our willingness to do so. Deep in our collective memory the words of Moses continue to resonate. “It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with … whoever is not here with us today.” We are part of that story. We can live it. We can abandon it. But it is a choice we cannot avoid and it has immense consequences. The future of the covenant rests with us.

As taken from,

September 13, 2017.

Book Review: ‘Chabad’s Secret’

Book Review: ‘Chabad’s Secret’


Fred Reiss, Ed.DBy Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

WINCHESTER, California — Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, universally known as the Baal Shem Tov, is considered the founder of Chassidism, when in 1734, in the city of Mezibush, Ukraine, he began preaching its overarching message: the Torah belongs to all Jews, not just to scholars, and a true love for the community of Israel is demonstrated by a willingness to subordinate oneself for the good of another Jew. Sincere worship, d’vekut, he lectured, is the path to God and the earnestness of prayer must be so strong that one’s soul is able to rise up and join with the divine. Whenever this state is achieved, the soul is happy and there is love for fulfilling the mitzvot and expressing care for one’s neighbor.


Many Torah scholars flocked to Mezibush, including Rabbi Dov Ber of Meseritch, the Baal Shem Tov’s successor and teacher of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Ladi. These and other trained rabbis spread out across Poland and surrounding territories carrying the wisdom of Chassidism. However, its message met with strong resistance among a number of important rabbis who felt that Chassidism represented an offshoot of the failed and devastating messianic movement of Shabbatai Tzvi, which had essentially played out between 1648 and 1666, and the Frankists, whose members accepted the messianic claims of Jacob Frank, in eighteenth century Poland, that he was the reincarnation of Shabbatai Tzvi.WINCHESTER, California — Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, universally known as the Baal Shem Tov, is considered the founder of Chassidism, when in 1734, in the city of Mezibush, Ukraine, he began preaching its overarching message: the Torah belongs to all Jews, not just to scholars, and a true love for the community of Israel is demonstrated by a willingness to subordinate oneself for the good of another Jew. Sincere worship, d’vekut, he lectured, is the path to God and the earnestness of prayer must be so strong that one’s soul is able to rise up and join with the divine. Whenever this state is achieved, the soul is happy and there is love for fulfilling the mitzvot and expressing care for one’s neighbor.

Chabad Chassidism (also known as Chabad-Lubavitch), a large Orthodox Jewish, dynastic-leadership movement, embodies the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov as interpreted by the writings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the most important of which is his 1796 opus, Tanya.

Chaim Dalfin, a rabbinic counselor, author, teacher of Jewish mysticism, and a life-long member of Chabad tells an insider’s story of the growth and success of the movement. He begins with a number of core beliefs and practices, which he attributes to Chabad’s success, including unconditional love and a nonjudgmental view of people, especially Jews who neglect fulfilling the mitzvot.

Chabad’s accomplishments and triumphs emerge from creative decisions, beginning with Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, the great-great-grandson of Schneur Zalman, around the turn of the twentieth century and continuing with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh and final successor to Rabbi Zalman, in the mid to late twentieth century.

In the late nineteenth century, Eastern Europe’s Jewish community experienced threats of assimilation from such non-religious beliefs as secularism, communism, and the Enlightenment. Although many yeshivotshuttered because young Jews were choosing these non-Torah paths, Schneersohn opened his school, a Chabad-centered yeshivaTomchei Temimim, “Supporters of the Pure Ones,” in 1897.

Tomchei Temimim succeeded, and Dalfin emphasizes that empowering the students led to its success. Schneersohn’s “empowerment was firstly to open a school with young minds. His focus was the youth…. [Secondly, Schneersohn] harnessed the youth by empowering with knowledge and responsibility… preparing the world for the Messiah.”

Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Rebbe, understanding the inevitable evolution of religious movements, continuously spoke of “new approaches in order reach everyone.” Like missionaries of the Church of Latter-day Saints, volunteers, young men and women in their late teens and early twenties, who proselytize, perform church services, provide humanitarian aid and community service, and like Seventh-day Adventist Church missionaries, volunteers who fulfill Jesus’ words, “Go and make followers of all people in the world” (Matthew 28:19), the Rebbe, choosing quantity over quality, urged Chabad’s members to go into the world as Jewish messengers, emissaries of the Chabad Movement. “His emissaries, followers, and people throughout the world who respect him did exactly that. They allowed themselves to be empowered and took the initiative. The result… is Chabad’s unprecedented success.”

The first Chabad House opened in the early 1970s, and since then, “the word on the street has been that Chabad Houses receive financial assistance from Chabad’s central headquarters in Brooklyn, the Merkos organization. This is not true.” Each emissary is responsible for raising any needed funds to support his programs, which is quite a feat, considering that there are no membership fees whatsoever at Chabad Houses.

Money, however, is donated directly to Chabad by very wealthy people. “I’m not just talking about people with millions, but billions…. Their donations are part of the answer to this book’s question, ‘What is Chabad’s secret to its unprecedented success?’” This money is used for, among other things, large worldwide building projects. Dalfin, who asserts that Chabad dedicates much time and resources catering to them, suggests that this method would work in other organizations, if they adopted Chabad’s outreach model.

In Chabad’s Secret, Dalfin explains how Chabad’s innovative educational and global initiatives have added to its growth. These include, Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, Chabad’s central educational organization, Chabad Houses, Jewish Learning Institutes, Roving Rabbis, Passover and summer programs, CTEEN, a College Campus program, and Internet resources and iphone/ipad apps. Dalfin assures us that Chabad’s innovative leaders, and the volunteers who support them, significantly contribute to Chabad’s success.

Another of Chabad’s successful initiatives is the National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education (NCFJE), initially established in the early 1940s by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson to provide New York’s Jewish public school students with a free Jewish education through the Jewish Released Time program, which takes Jewish students to a local synagogue the last hour of public school, one day per week. Today, NCFJE is a multi-faceted charity that protects, feeds, in addition to educating thousands of Jewish children throughout the New York metropolitan area and around the nation. The Chabad on Campus International Foundation, which maintains the network of Chabad Jewish Student Centers on college campuses throughout the world, has grown significantly since the first one opened in the early 1980s.

Chabad’s Secret closes with a look at the relative success between Chabad and other Chasidics sects, between Chabad and the conservative and reform movements, and between Chabad and alternative Jewish movements. Intended or not, the non-Chasidic reader comes away with a most interesting perspective of the historical infighting among the various sects and movements.

Dalfin is a cheerleader for Chabad, and rightly so. Its achievement in attracting followers, providing services for and reaching out to the greater Jewish community is unmatched by any other Jewish body. Whether you rejoice in their accomplishments or not, Chabad is a success and so is Chabad’s Secret.


Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil Calendars;Ancient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and a fiction book, Reclaiming the Messiah. You may comment directly to the author at, or post your comment on this website provided that the rules below are observed.

As taken from,  on  September 10, 2017.

Between Jerusalem and Rome Reflections on 50 Years of Nostra Aetate

Between Jerusalem and Rome

Reflections on 50 Years of Nostra Aetate


In the biblical account of creation, God fashions a single human being as the progenitor of all humanity. Thus, the Bible’s unmistakable message is that all human beings are members of a single family. And after the deluge of Noah, this message is reinforced when the new phase of history is once again inaugurated by a single family. In the beginning, God’s providence is exercised over a universal, undifferentiated humanity.

As God chose Avraham, and subsequently Yitzchak and Yaakov, He entrusted them with a dual mission: to found the nation of Israel that would inherit, settle and establish a model society in the holy, promised land of Israel, all while serving as a source of light for all mankind.

Ever since, particularly in the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. by the Romans, we Jews encountered persecution after exile after persecution. And yet, the Eternal One of Israel does not lie,1 and His eternal covenant with the nation of Israel manifested itself time and again: despite the greatest adversities, our nation has endured.2 After the darkest hour since the destruction of our holy Temple in Jerusalem, when six million of our brethren were viciously murdered and the embers of their bones were smoldering in the shadows of the Nazi crematoria, God’s eternal covenant was once again manifest, as the remnants of Israel gathered their strength and enacted a miraculous reawakening of Jewish consciousness. Communities were reestablished throughout the Diaspora, and many Jews responded to the clarion call to return to Eretz Yisrael, where a sovereign Jewish state arose.

The Jewish people’s dual obligations – to be a light unto the nations3 and to secure its own future despite the world’s hatred and violence – have been overwhelmingly difficult to fulfill. Despite innumerable obstacles, the Jewish nation has bequeathed many blessings upon mankind, both in the realms of the sciences, culture, philosophy, literature, technology and commerce, and in the realms of faith, spirituality, ethics and morality. These, too, are a manifestation of God’s eternal covenant with the Jewish people.

Undoubtedly, the Shoah constitutes the historical nadir of the relations between Jews and our non-Jewish neighbors in Europe. Out of the continent nurtured by Christianity for over a millennium, a bitter and evil shoot sprouted forth, murdering six million of our brethren with industrial precision, including one and a half million children. Many of those who participated in this most heinous crime, exterminating entire families and communities, had been nurtured in Christian families and communities.4

At the same time, throughout that millennium, even in very dark times, heroic individuals arose – sons and daughters of the Catholic Church, both laymen and leaders – who fought against the persecution of Jews, helping them in the darkest of times.5

With the close of World War II, a new era of peaceful coexistence and acceptance began to emerge in Western European countries, and an era of bridge-building and tolerance took hold in many Christian denominations. Faith communities reevaluated their historical rejections of others, and decades of fruitful interaction and cooperation began. Moreover, though we Jews had achieved political emancipation a century or two before, we were not yet truly accepted as equal, full-fledged members of the nations in which we lived. Following the Shoah, Jewish emancipation in the Diaspora, as well as the right of the Jewish people to live as a sovereign nation in our own land, finally became obvious and natural.

During the ensuing seven decades, Jewish communities and spiritual leaders gradually reassessed Judaism’s relationship with the members and leaders of other faith communities.

Turnaround – Nostra Aetate

Fifty years ago, twenty years after the Shoah, with its declaration Nostra Aetate (No. 4),6 the Catholic Church began a process of introspection that increasingly led to any hostility toward Jews being expurgated from Church doctrine, enabling trust and confidence to grow between our respective faith communities.

In this regard, Pope John XXIII was a transformative figure in Jewish-Catholic relations no less than in the history of the Church itself. He played a courageous role in rescuing Jews during the Holocaust, and it was his recognition of the need to revise “the teaching of contempt” that helped overcome resistance to change and ultimately facilitated the adoption of Nostra Aetate (no. 4).

In its most focused, concrete, and, for the Church, most dramatic7 assertion, Nostra Aetaterecognized that any Jew who was not directly and personally involved in the Crucifixion did not bear any responsibility for it.8 Pope Benedict XVI’s elaborations and explications of this theme are particularly noteworthy.9

In addition, basing itself on Christian Scriptures, Nostra Aetate asserted that the Divine election of Israel, which it calls “the gift of God,” will not be revoked, stating, “God … does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues.” It issued the injunction that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God.” Later, in 2013, Pope Francis elaborated upon this theme in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with His word.”10

Nostra Aetate also paved the way for the Vatican’s 1993 establishment of full diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. Through the establishment of this relationship, the Catholic Church showed how it had truly repudiated its portrayal of the Jewish people as a nation condemned to wander until the final advent. This historic moment facilitated Pope John Paul II’s pilgrimage to Israel in 2000, which served as another powerful demonstration of a new era in Catholic-Jewish relations. Since then, the last two popes have also made similar state visits.

Nostra Aetate strongly “decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone” as a matter of religious duty. Accordingly, Pope John Paul II repeatedly affirmed that anti-Semitism is “a sin against God and humanity.” At the Western Wall in Jerusalem, he recited the following prayer: “God of our fathers, You chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the Nations. We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.”

Pope Francis recently recognized a new, pervasive and even fashionable form of anti-Semitism, when he told a World Jewish Congress delegation: “To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”11

Finally, Nostra Aetate called for fostering “mutual understanding and respect,” and for conducting “fraternal dialogues.” In 1974, Pope Paul VI heeded this call by creating the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews; the Jewish community, in response to this call, has met regularly with Church representatives.

We applaud the work of popes, church leaders, and scholars who passionately contributed to these developments, including the strong-willed proponents of Catholic-Jewish dialogue at the end of World War II, whose collective work was a leading impetus for Nostra Aetate. The most important milestones were the Second Vatican Council, the establishment of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, the recognition of Judaism as a living religion with an eternal covenant, the appreciation of the significance of the Shoah and its antecedents, and the establishment of diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. The theological writings of the heads of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews have contributed much to the Church documents which followed Nostra Aetate, as have the writings of numerous other theologians.

In its recent reflections on Nostra Aetate, “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable,” the Pontifical Commission unambiguously endorsed the notion that Jews are participants in God’s salvation, calling this idea “an unfathomable divine mystery.”12 It further proclaimed that “the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”13 Though the Catholic Church has not disavowed witnessing to Jews, it has nonetheless shown understanding and sensitivity towards deeply held Jewish sensibilities, and distanced itself from active mission to Jews.

The transformation of the attitude of the Church toward the Jewish community is strikingly exemplified by the recent visit of Pope Francis to a synagogue, which renders him the third Pope to make this highly significant gesture. We echo his comment, “From enemies and strangers we have become friends and brothers. It is my hope that closeness, mutual understanding and respect between our two communities continue to grow.”

These welcoming attitudes and actions stand in stark contrast with centuries of teachings of contempt and of pervasive hostility, and herald a most encouraging chapter in an epic process of societal transformation.

Evaluation and Reevaluation

Initially, many Jewish leaders14 were skeptical of the sincerity of the Church’s overtures to the Jewish community, due to the long history of Christian anti-Judaism. Over time, it has become clear that the transformations in the Church’s attitudes and teachings are not only sincere but also increasingly profound, and that we are entering an era of growing tolerance, mutual respect, and solidarity between members of our respective faiths.

Orthodox Judaism – through the American Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America – had already been a part of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) set up in the late sixties, as the official Jewish representative for relations with the Vatican. A new page in the relations of Orthodox Judaism with the Catholic Church was turned with the establishment of the bilateral committee of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel with the Vatican, commencing in 2002 under the chairmanship of ׁׁthe chief rabbi of Haifa Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen. The published declarations from the thirteen meetings of this bilateral commission (alternating annually between Rome and Jerusalem) carefully avoid matters pertaining to fundamentals of faith, but rather address a broad spectrum of contemporary social and scientific challenges, highlighting shared values while respecting the differences between the two faith traditions.

We acknowledge that this fraternity cannot sweep away our doctrinal differences; it does, rather, reinforce genuine mutual positive dispositions towards fundamental values that we share, including but not limited to reverence for the Hebrew Bible.15

The theological differences between Judaism and Christianity are profound. The core beliefs of Christianity that center on the person of “Jesus as the Messiah and the embodiment of the “second person of a triune God” create an irreconcilable separation from Judaism. The history of Jewish martyrdom in Christian Europe serves as tragic testimony to the devotion and tenacity with which Jews resisted beliefs incompatible with their ancient and eternal faith, which requires absolute fidelity to both the Written and Oral Torah. Despite those profound differences, some of Judaism’s highest authorities have asserted that Christians maintain a special status because they worship the Creator of Heaven and Earth Who liberated the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage and Who exercises providence over all creation.16

The doctrinal differences are essential and cannot be debated or negotiated; their meaning and importance belong to the internal deliberations of the respective faith communities. Judaism, drawing its particularity from its received Tradition, going back to the days of its glorious prophets and particularly to the Revelation at Sinai, will forever remain loyal to its principles, laws and eternal teachings. Furthermore, our interfaith discussions are informed by the profound insights of such great Jewish thinkers as Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik,17 Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits,18 and many others, who eloquently argued that the religious experience is a private one which can often only be truly understood within the framework of its own faith community.

However, doctrinal differences do not and may not stand in the way of our peaceful collaboration for the betterment of our shared world and the lives of the children of Noah. To further this end, it is crucial that our faith communities continue to encounter and grow acquainted with one another, and earn each other’s trust.

The Road Forward

Despite the irreconcilable theological differences, we Jews view Catholics as our partners, close allies, friends and brothers in our mutual quest for a better world blessed with peace, social justice and security.19

We understand our mission to be a light unto the nations, which obliges us to contribute to humanity’s appreciation for holiness, morality and piety. As the Western world grows more and more secular, it abandons many of the moral values shared by Jews and Christians. Religious freedom is thus increasingly threatened by the forces of both secularism and religious extremism. We therefore seek the partnership of the Catholic community in particular, and other faith communities in general, to assure the future of religious freedom, to foster the moral principles of our faiths, particularly the sanctity of life and the significance of the traditional family, and “to cultivate the moral and religious conscience of society.”20

One of the lessons of the Shoah is the obligations, for Jews as well as gentiles, to combat antisemitism in particular, especially in light of once again growing antisemiitism. These lessons have to be expressed both in the educational and in the legal spheres of all nations, without compromise.

Furthermore, as a people who suffered from persecution and genocide throughout our history, we are all too aware of the very real danger facing many Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere as they are persecuted and menaced by violence and death at the hands of those who invoke God’s Name in vain through violence and terror.

We condemn hereby any and all violence against any person on account of his beliefs or his religion. We similarly condemn all acts of vandalism, wanton destruction and / or desecration of the hallowed places of all religions.

We call upon the Church to join us in deepening our combat against our generation’s new barbarism, namely the radical offshoots of Islam, which endanger our global society and do not spare the very numerous moderate Muslims. They threaten world peace in general and the Christian and Jewish communities in particular. We call on all people of good will to join forces to fight this evil.

Despite profound theological differences, Catholics and Jews share common beliefs in the Divine origin of the Torah and in the idea of an ultimate redemption, and now, also, in the affirmation that religions must use moral behavior and religious education — not war, coercion, or social pressure — to influence and inspire.

We ordinarily refrain from expressing expectations regarding other faith communities’ doctrines. However, certain kinds of doctrines cause real suffering; those Christian doctrines, rituals and teachings that express negative attitudes toward Jews and Judaism do inspire and nurture anti-Semitism. Therefore, to extend the amicable relations and common causes cultivated between Catholics and Jews as a result of Nostra Aetate, we call upon all Christian denominations that have not yet done so to follow the example of the Catholic Church and excise anti-Semitism from their liturgy and doctrines, to end the active mission to Jews, and to work towards a better world hand-in-hand with us, the Jewish people.

We seek to deepen our dialogue and partnership with the Church in order to foster our mutual understanding and to advance the goals outlined above. We seek to find additional ways that will enable us, together, to improve the world: to go in God’s ways, feed the hungry and dress the naked, give joy to widows and orphans, provide refuge to the persecuted and the oppressed, and thus merit His blessings.

Rosh Chodesh Adar I, 5776

S igned Signed Signed

For the CER Chief Rabbi Ratzon Arusi For the RCA

Chairman, Commission of the

Chief Rabbinate of Israel for

Interreligious Affairs

About the CER:

The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) is the primary rabbinical alliance in Europe.  It unites more than 700 religious leaders of the mainstream synagogue communities in Europe.  The conference is designed to maintain and defend the religious rights of Jews in Europe and has become the voice of Judaism for the European continent.

About the Chief Rabbinate of Israel:

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is recognized by Israeli law as the head of religious law and spiritual authority for the Jewish people in Israel. A Chief Rabbinate Council assists the two chief rabbis, who alternate in its presidency. It has legal and administrative authority to organize religious arrangements for Israel’s Jews. It also responds to halakhic questions submitted by Jewish public bodies in the Diaspora. By law, the chief rabbinate has jurisdiction over marriage and divorce, burials of Jews, conversion to Judaism, establishing Jewish identity, supervision of the rabbinical courts system, kosher certification and supervision of holy sites.

About the RCA:

The Rabbinical Council of America, with national headquarters in New York City, is a professional organization serving more than 1000 Orthodox Rabbis in the United States of America, Canada, Israel, and around the world. Membership is comprised of duly ordained Orthodox Rabbis who serve in positions of the congregational rabbinate, Jewish education, chaplaincies, and other allied fields of Jewish communal work.

1I Samuel 15:29

2Cf. Genesis 17:7 & 17:19, Leviticus 26:42-45, Deuteronomy 20:3-5, etc.

3Isaiah 49:6

4Pope John Paul II wrote: “It is appropriate that, as the Second Millennium of Christianity draws to a close, the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children …” (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 10 November 1994, 33: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 87 (1995), 25.)

The Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews wrote: “The fact that the Shoah took place in Europe, that is, in countries of long-standing Christian civilization, raises the question of the relation between the Nazi persecution and the attitudes down the centuries of Christians towards the Jews.” (We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah, 16 March 1998)

5Two examples among the many such heroes of history are the abbot Bernard of Clairvaux during the Crusades and Jules-Géraud Cardinal Saliège of Toulouse during World War II. When, during the Crusades, a fellow Cistercian monk began exhorting Germans to destroy the Jews before waging war on the Muslims, Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux went personally to put a stop to it. As Rabbi Efraim of Bonn wrote:

One decent priest by the name of Bernard, a great figure and master of all the priests, who knew and understood their religion, said to them: … “My disciple who preached that the Jews should be destroyed spoke improperly, for it is written of them in the Book of Psalms, ‘Do not kill them lest my people forget.’” All the people regarded this priest as one of their saints, and our investigation did not indicate that he took bribes for speaking well of Israel. When they heard this, many of them stopped their efforts to bring about our deathsץ (Sefer Zekhirah, ed. by A. M. Haberman, p. 18).

Jules-Géraud Saliège (February 24, 1870—November 5, 1956) was the Catholic Archbishop of Toulouse from 1928 until his death, and was a significant figure in Catholic resistance to the pro-Nazis regime in France. He was made cardinal in 1946 by Pope Pius XII. Yad Vashem recognized him as a Righteous among the Nations for his efforts to protect Jews during the Shoah.

6The main subject of this section is Nostra Aetate‘s fourth section, which deals particularly with the Catholic Church’s relationship to the Jews. So as to read less tediously, henceforth reference will be made to just Nostra Aetate, however, throughout our document, it is particularly section 4 that we refer to.

7Nostra Aetate‘s assertion is rooted in earlier church teachings, such as the Catechism of the Council of Trent, from 1566. Article 4 of that document’s section entitled The Creed, relativizes the Jews’ imputed guilt by proclaiming that the sinfulness of Christians contributed even more to the crucifixion. Nonetheless, accusations of deicide towards Jews continued for several more centuries. If the accusations became dulled over time, it was more likely on account of the Enlightenment, during which Jew-hatred lost some of its religious character in Europe. Nostra Aetate, on the other hand, coming on the heels of a Western desire to disavow the kinds of intense Jew-hatred that contributed to the Shoah, was nothing less than revolutionary in bringing about meaningful change in the Catholic Church in this regard.

8The degree to which even first-century Jews played a role in the crucifixion of Jesus is itself a matter of scholarly controversy, but in terms of internal Christian doctrine, we recognize that absolving all other Jews from any responsibility for the crucifixion is an extremely significant step for the Church.

9In his book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, 2011

10Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, Vatican 2013, §247, §249

12The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable, Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, 2015 , §36-§39.

13Ibid. §40

14See for example Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Responsa Iggerot MoshheYoreh De’ah Vol. 3, §43, as well as French Chief Rabbi Jacob Kaplan in his remarks cited in Droit et liberté, December 1964, and in Hamodia, 16th of September 1965. Each identified areas where skepticism was warranted.

15Commentary to Song of Songs (attributed to Nahmanides), in Kitve ha-Ramban, ed. Chavel, vol. II, pgs. 502-503; Ralbag, Milhamot, ed. Leipzig, pg. 356 and Commentary to the Torah, ed. Venice, pg. 2.

16Tosafot Sanhedrin 63b, s.v. Asur; Rabbenu Yeruham ben Meshullam, Toledot Adam ve-Havvah17:5; R. Moses Isserles to Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 156:2; R. Moses Rivkes, Be’er ha-Golah to Shulhan Arukh Hoshen Mishpat 226:1 & 425:5; R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, Principles of Education, “Talmudic Judaism and Society,” pgs. 225-227.

17Most notably in his essay “Confrontation,” Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought. 6.2 (1964).

18See, for example, his “The Timely and the Timeless,” London 1977, pgs. 119-121.

19The press statement issued at the fourth bilateral meeting between the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See, in Grottaferrata (Rome, October 17-19, 2004) is particularly notable in this regard . It stated: “Conscious of the fact that there is not wide enough awareness in our respective communities of the momentous change that has taken place in the relationship between Catholics and Jews; and in light of our own committee’s work and our current discussions on a shared vision for a just and ethical society; we declare: We are not enemies, but unequivocal partners in articulating the essential moral values for the survival and welfare of human society.”

20As formulated in Jacobovitz, ibid.

As taken from, on September 4, 2017.

Is There a Jewish Superstition Not to Go Barefoot?

Aron Moss, author


My grandmother always told me not to walk around the house in just socks and no shoes. Is there anything to this or is it an old wives tale?


There is no law that forbids you to walk around in socks. But our sages teach us to never ignore the sayings of our grandmothers, for there is always some wisdom in them. Indeed, your grandmother’s aversion to shoelessness does have some basis.

Jewish law states that one who is mourning the loss of a loved one removes their shoes. Thus walking around in socks makes you look like a mourner, and we don’t even want to look like a mourner. This is part of a general Jewish attitude to death. We don’t like it. We do whatever we can to stay away from it.

There are many Jewish customs that stem from the desire to avoid anything associated with death. Some people don’t sleep with their feet facing the door, because that is how a corpse lies before burial. We don’t speak about what will happen when someone dies, but rather what will happen “after 120 years.” We wash our hands after attending a funeral, to rid ourselves of the impurity of the cemetery.

This dislike of death is not so much a superstition as an allergy. Our tradition trains us to love life and be allergic to death. Unlike some traditions that venerate death as an ideal and view life as a wretched curse, the Jewish tradition cherishes life as a blessing. Through customs that distance us from death and its trappings, the Jewish people has inculcated a worldview that is life-affirming and this-world focused.

Your grandmother had a point. Death is a part of life. But it need not be given any more space than necessary. Keep your shoes on.

As taken from, on September 2, 2017.

The Basel Congress’ unexpected result, 120 years later

The Basel Congress’ unexpected result, 120 years later


One hundred and twenty years ago, on Sept. 3, 1897, a Viennese journalist named Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary: “In Basel I founded the Jewish state.” He then added a curious note: “If I were to say this out loud today, everybody would laugh at me. In five years, perhaps, but certainly in fifty, everybody will agree.”

This was two days after he returned from Basel, Switzerland, where, against all odds, he managed to put together the First Zionist Congress — the event that symbolizes the Jewish claim to self-determination.

Herzl had good reasons to feel elated about Basel: 208 delegates from 17 countries, the elite of European press, all dressed in solemn tuxedos, packed Basel’s casino to discuss his proposed solution to the “Jewish Problem.”

For three days, delegates listened to fiery speeches, debated and finally came up with as clear a definition of Zionism as one can possibly articulate: “Zionism seeks to establish for the Jewish people a publically recognized, legally secured homeland in Palestine.”

Sure enough, upon returning to his office at the Neue Freie Presse newspaper in Vienna, Herzl’s co-workers greeted him with obvious mockery, as the “future head of state.” But that was the least of the problems Herzl had to face; skepticism, sarcasm and opposition loomed all over the world. The Vatican issued a letter protesting the “projected occupation of the Holy Places by the Jews.” (Sound familiar?)

The Ottoman authorities had their suspicions aroused and began to restrict the manner in which Jews were acquiring land in Palestine, especially near Jerusalem.

But the worst opposition came from fellow Jews. Orthodox rabbis condemned Herzl’s attempt to hasten God’s plan of redemption, while Reform rabbis saw it as interference with their vision of becoming a moral light unto the nations by mingling among those nations.

Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the French philanthropist who supported Jewish agricultural communities in Palestine since the 1880s, was adamantly against efforts to obtain international legitimization of Jewish national claims. He feared (justifiably) that such efforts would lead to tougher Ottoman restrictions, and that Jews like him would be subject to charges of dual loyalty.

Ahad Ha’am, the most influential Jewish intellectual of the time, wrote about his time in Basel that he felt  “like a mourner at a wedding feast.” His motto was, “Israel will not be redeemed by diplomats, but by prophets.” He could not forgive Herzl for luring the world jury with false hopes of a diplomatic solution.

But the cleavage between Herzl and Ahad Ha’am was much deeper. Ahad Ha’am claimed it is futile and possibly harmful to argue the Jewish case in diplomatic courts when the Jewish people are spiritually unprepared for the task. What must be done first, he wrote, is “to liberate our people from its inner slavery, from the meekness of the spirit that assimilation has brought upon us.”

Herzl, on the other hand, understood that the very act of bringing the Jewish question to the international arena, regardless of its outcome, would change the cultural ills of the Jewish masses and rally them to the cause.

In retrospect, he was right. There were several forerunners of Jewish self-determination (for example, Moses Hess, Yehuda Alkalai, Leon Pinsker, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and Ahad Ha’am himself), but their writings were directed inward,  toward the intellectual cliques in the Jewish shtetl; their overall impact was therefore meager.

Bringing the Jewish claim to an international court created the cultural transformation that Ahad Ha’am yearned for — the shtetl Jew began to take his own problem seriously and the Zionist program became one of his viable options.

History books make a special point of noting that Herzl’s predictions were miraculously accurate. Israel was declared a state on May 14, 1948, 50 years and eight months after Herzl wrote: “In Basel I founded the Jewish state.”

However, I believe Herzl in effect founded the Jewish state much earlier. True, Herzl’s specific plan to persuade the Ottoman sultan to allocate land for a Jewish state was sheer lunacy and led to painful disappointments. But transforming Jewish statehood into an item on the international political agenda was a monumental achievement — it maintains this position today.

Moreover, the idea that Jews are reclaiming sovereignty by right, not for favor, completely changed the way Jews began to view their standing in the cosmos. It transformed the Jew from an object of history to a shaper of history.

This new self-image was the engine that propelled history toward a Jewish statehood already in the early 1900s. The 40,000 Jews who made up the Second Aliyah (1904-1914) were different in spirit and determination from the 35,000 Jews who came earlier with the First Aliyah (1882-1903). At their core, they knew they were building a model sovereign nation and that Zionism is the most just and noble endeavor in human history. They established kibbutzim, formed self-defense organizations, founded the town of Tel Aviv and turned Hebrew into a practical spoken language. This spirit of hope, purpose and immediacy emanated from the Basel Congress, not from the utopian “in time to come” Zionism of Ahad Ha’am.

The diplomatic efforts that led to the Balfour Declaration and the subsequent ideological immigration of the Third Aliyah (1919-1923) all were direct products of the Zionist movement and made statehood practically inevitable.

The miracle of Israel was planted indeed in 1897.

If I had to choose the single most significant impact that the Basel Congress has had on our lives here, in 2017 Los Angeles, I would name one forgotten statement that Herzl made in his first speech at the Basel Congress. On the morning of Aug. 29, 1897, after 15 minutes of wild cheering, Herzl took the stage and said, “Zionism is a homecoming to the Jewish fold even before it becomes a homecoming to the Jewish land.”

As I observe how the miracle of Israel is becoming the most powerful uniting force among our divided communities, and as I witness the excitement of our children, grandchildren and college students as they internalize the relevance of Israel to their identity as Jews, Herzl’s statement about “homecoming to the Jewish fold“ stands out perhaps as more visionary than his prediction about Israeli statehood. It was the future of the Jewish people, not just of Israel, that was forged there in Basel, 120 years ago.

JUDEA PEARL is Chancellor’s Professor of Computer Science and Statistics at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

As taken from,