The History of the Land Is Jewish, Not Palestinian

By Dr. Yechiel Shabiy

Ancient synagogue in Gamla in the Golan Heights, built during the Second Temple period in the first century CE, photo via Wikimedia Commons

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The claim by the elected representatives of the Israeli Arab public that they are the original owners of the land while the Jewish citizens of Israel (and, by implication, the State of Israel itself) are “colonialist invaders” is a complete inversion of historical reality. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration about the legality of the West Bank’s Jewish communities, along with President Trump’s peace plan based on that principle, offers a unique opportunity to correct that mistaken notion by applying sovereignty to all Israeli West Bank communities.

The elected representatives of Israel’s Arab community claim that the Palestinians are the original owners of the land—an indigenous minority disinherited by foreign invaders. According to this notion, which is aimed at undermining the Zionist narrative about the Jewish people’s return to its historical homeland, the Arabs of the Land of Israel—like the Indians in America, the aborigines in Australia, and the Zulu tribes in South Africa—are victims of European imperialism/colonialism, which turned them into a disenfranchised and oppressed minority in their own land. From this standpoint, Zionism is a crude perversion of Judaism because the Jews do not constitute a people but only a religious community with no national attributes or aspirations, let alone any right to a state of their own in even a tiny part of the Islamic-Arab-Palestinian patrimony.

That thesis is not only baseless but a complete inversion of the historical truth.

It was Arab/Muslim invaders who came to the Land of Israel as an ascendant imperialist force in the decade after the Prophet Muhammad’s death and laid the groundwork for the colonization of this land by a long string of Muslim empires up to the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI. During this lengthy era, the non-Jewish and non-Christian residents of the land identified themselves as Muslims—not as Arabs, and certainly not as Palestinians—until WWI, when the idea of Arab nationalism gathered steam with the help of British imperialism.

One need only look at common family names among the Palestinians to see their colonialist origins: Hijazi, from the Hijaz in the Arabian Peninsula, from which the original invaders came; Bosniak, from Bosnia; Turk, from Turkey; Halabi, from Syria; Hindi, from India; Yemeni, from Yemen; Masarwa/Masri, from Egypt; Mughrabi, from the Maghreb, and so on.

In contrast, countless place names in the Land of Israel testify to a Jewish presence over thousands of years. Take, for example, the Narbeta River in northern Samaria. Narbeta, which is the Aramaic pronunciation of Arubot, the biblical city in which one of King Solomon’s 12 governors lived, ruled the whole region of northern Samaria. In Narbeta, as Yosef ben Matityahu (Josephus) recounts, the Romans slaughtered thousands of Jews during the Great Revolt (66-73 CE). The area teems with archaeological relics from the Second Temple, Mishnaic, and Talmudic eras.

The Jewish population did not take to Roman-Byzantine rule and over the centuries rebelled against it repeatedly. The Great Revolt considerably depleted the Jewish population, but it was the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-35) and the subsequent religious and economic decrees that devastated the population, particularly in the Judea region. Harsh taxes were levied on the owners of Jewish estates and on farmers, and those who were struggling sought respite in nearby lands, especially Syria.

Concerned about the Jewish character and demography of the Land of Israel, the sages promised life in the next world to those who dwelt in the land and even for those who simply walked four cubits in it. In the words of Rabbi Meir: “Whoever raises his children in the Land of Israel is promised a place in the World to Come.” Settlement flourished, particularly in the Galilee, Samaria, and the South Hebron Hills. Dozens of communities developed, among them Tiberias, Baram, Gush Halav, Yota, Eshtemoa, Halhoul, Kfar Kanna, Arraba, and Sakhni.

With the Christian conquest of the Roman Empire, the Jews’ lot worsened. Whole populations of Jews and non-Jews converted to Christianity and the Jewish presence dwindled greatly. Not for nothing did the Jews of the Land of Israel play a major role in helping the Persian conquerors in 614.

In 628, Byzantine Emperor Heraclius defeated the Persians. Though he had promised the Jews and their leader Benjamin of Tiberias that if they laid down their arms nothing would befall them, he quickly broke his promise and murdered thousands of Jews.

Less than a decade later the Muslims conquered the land, with the help of the Jewish population. Although, during Muslim rule, the agricultural and urban Jewish population remained in good condition, it was hit hard by the Crusader conquest and the subsequent Mamluk conquest.

As evidenced by descriptions of Jewish and Christian pilgrims, Jews lived in Jewish villages in the Galilee such as Kfar Hanania, Parod, Baram, Alma, Ein Zeitim, Kfar Kanna, and others until the 18th and 19th centuries. It was the Ottoman Turks who forced the Jewish villagers to leave their homes, either by expelling them, discriminating against them, persecuting them, or increasing their taxes, causing Jews to migrate to the cities of Safed, Tiberias, Acre, Haifa, and even Tyre and Sidon.

In the northern Samaria region, Jews lived in Anin, near Umm al-Fahm, growing citrons for trade, until the Turks settled Yemenite Arabs there. In addition, the community of Bitra (Bitron in Aramaic) became Barta’a. In this village and its vicinity the large Kaba clan, a branch of the Banu-Hilal tribe of Saudi Arabia, came to settle, as did the Masarwa clan from Egypt.

The northern Samarian mountains are strewn with thousands of relics of winepresses and of terraces that served as vineyards for the Jewish and Samaritan residents of the region. As the Muslim population took over, the wine industry collapsed and was replaced by olive and carob cultivation.

The land speaks Hebrew. The names of the communities have a linguistic meaning in Hebrew: Jaffa = yafeh (beautiful), Haifa = hofa shel ihr (shore of a city), Shikmona = shkamim (sycamores), Nazareth = notzeret/shomeret (guardian), Beit Guvrin = ihr hag’varim/hat’kifim (city of the strong), and so on. When the Arabs conquered these places, they pronounced the names in their own way, distorting them and changing their meaning: thus Shfaram (meaning “a people whose luck has improved”) became Shfa’amr, Ganim became Jenin, Bitra became Barta’a, Ashdod became Isdud, Tur Karem (meaning “mountain of the vineyards”) became Tulkarem, and Jordan became Urdan—names with no linguistic meaning in Arabic.

As Israeli military and political leader Yigal Allon said, a people that does not know its past has a meager present and an unknown future. When Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli Arab member of Knesset, protested to President Reuven Rivlin that the Arabs of the Land of Israel are the land’s indigenous residents and hence its masters, the president should have answered him appropriately, as in the dictum of the Jewish sages: know how to answer an ignoramus.

Today the wineries and vineyards have returned to the mountains of Samaria, and on the holiday of Tu Bishvat more and more grapevines will be planted. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration about the legality of Jewish communities in the West Bank, along with President Trump’s peace plan based on that principle, offers a unique opportunity to apply sovereignty to all of the Israeli West Bank communities, including those in northern Samaria where the Narbeta River flows.

As taken from,

What Kind of a Jew Was Freud?

Image result for Freud
by Harold Brackman

Sigmund Freud described himself as a “Godless Jew.” Freud made heroes of “Semitic conquerors” like Carthaginian general Hannibal. Speaking before Vienna’s B’nai B’rith Lodge in 1926, Freud attributed his special gifts to two Jewish traits: freedom “from many prejudices that hampered others” and a willingness “to take my place on the side of the opposition.”

Then why did Freud downplay his parents’ Judaism, and obscure his own knowledge of Hebrew? I believe it was to reinforce his claim that psychoanalytic science owed no debts to religion.

Freud’s family arrived in Vienna from Galicia in the eastand like many Jews, were despised by Viennese antisemites. Freud wanted to ensure the safety of his own child — psychoanalysis — from antisemitic slanders. To protect his movement, Freud recruited prestigious non-Jew Carl Jung. But Freud’s perceived betrayal by Jung was traumatic; it cured him of “my last predilection for the Aryan cause.” In an intimate letter, Freud wrote, “We are Jews and remain Jews” because men like Jung “will never understand or appreciate us.”

Freud’s American Jewish admirers were legion. Some may have been predisposed to psychoanalysis by A Bintel Brief in the Forvertz, the popular column that read almost like a Yiddish version of Freud’s “talking cure.”

When visiting the US for the only time in 1909, Freud was ambivalent. He appreciated Americans’ “open-mindedness,” but criticized America as uncivilized with indigestible food, insufficient hotel lavatories, young women who were too bold, and young men who dared to call him by his first name.

Yet with the blessing of Harvard philosopher William James and the dedication of Jewish popularizers including Isador H. Coriat and Adam A. Brill, Freud became an American icon. During World War I, some Americans criticized psychoanalysis as Austrian or German “devil worship”; but the US Army used psychoanalysts to treat “shell-shock.”

Post-World War I, Jazz Age youth adopted Freud’s gospel of sexual liberation, and his cause was also embraced in Hollywood. Freud died in London in 1939 a refugee from Hitler, but psychoanalysis’ influence did not fade despite attacks on Freud’s “Viennese Talmudic” methods.

After World War II, Jewish Freudians such as Rabbi Joshua L. Liebman offered grief counseling to soldiers’ widows, as well as Holocaust survivors. Popular books combined Freudian concepts with Hasidic tales. Elie Wiesel and Martin Buber both became best-sellers.

Since the 1960s, Freud’s influence has been challenged by Eastern mysticism, behaviorist critiques, and new drug therapies. But in contrast, there has been a boomlet in studies of Freud’s Jewishness and psychoanalysis’ Kabbalistic roots. Now the question is being asked: Can the rediscovery of this “Jewish Freud” help to revitalize 21st century Jewish identity?

Wary of a modern Jewish state in Palestine sparking Arab-Jewish violence, Freud nevertheless told Hans Herzl: “Your father is one of those people who have turned dreams into reality.” Freud accepted election as a Board Member of the Hebrew University. He remembered a dream in which Theodor Herzl (with whom he corresponded) told him of “the necessity of immediate action” to save the Jewish people.

Did psychoanalysis have “a hidden Zionist theme” as claimed by psycho-historian Peter Loewenberg? And what would Freud have done if he had lived until 1948?

Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, 2015).

As taken from,

Todo listo para la apertura de los archivos del controvertido papa Pío XII en el Vaticano

Los miembros de los Archivos Apostólicos del Vaticano hablan sobre la próxima apertura de la documentación sobre el pontificado de Pío XII el 20 de febrero de 2020
Los miembros de los Archivos Apostólicos del Vaticano hablan sobre la próxima apertura de la documentación sobre el pontificado de Pío XII el 20 de febrero de 2020 AFP

por Ciudad del Vaticano (AFP)

Más de 200 historiadores se preparan para examinar los archivos que el Vaticano abrirá el 2 de marzo sobre Pío XII, el papa más controvertido de la Historia, criticado por no haber condenado públicamente el Holocausto nazi.

Se trata de un momento “decisivo para la historia contemporánea de la Iglesia y del mundo”, explicó este jueves el cardenal Tolentino de Mendonça, bibliotecario de la Santa Iglesia Romana.

El prelado esperaba que la atención no sólo se concentrara en el Holocausto, sino también en “el tumultuoso período de la posguerra”.

Anunciada hace un año, la apertura de esa inmensa documentación permitirá responder a la controversia iniciada hace medio siglo sobre el pontificado de Pío XII (1939-1958).

Numerosos investigadores exigen desde hace años el acceso a esos documentos para examinar por qué Pío XII no se manifestó acerca del exterminio de judíos durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, un silencio que organizaciones judías consideran una forma de complicidad pasiva.

¿Podría haber influido en el curso de la historia y de la Iglesia católica alemana una condena pública y explícita de las acciones de los nazis?

Según sus defensores, evitó declaraciones estruendosas para no poner en peligro a los católicos de la Europa ocupada por los nazis y el fascismo.

El tema ha dado lugar a docenas de libros, incluidos devastadoras obras que llegaron a hablar del “Papa de Hitler” (John Cornwell en 1999).

– Una “historia gris” –

Para el rabino jefe de Roma, Riccardo di Segni, “la historia de Pío XII no es ‘una leyenda negra’, sino gris”.

En un artículo publicado por la prensa italiana, el rabino sostiene que “los historiadores van a tener que trabajar como si estuvieran en una habitación estéril y aislada, libre de prejuicios e influencias”.

Una utopía, reconoce el mismo Di Segni, ya que una brecha divide a los defensores a toda costa de Pío XII de los acusadores inflexibles de “sus silencios”.

La historiadora italiana Ana Foa “no se espera nada espectacular” de los archivos, pero sí detalles y confirmaciones.

“Si hay documentos que justifican la acción del papa ya habrían salido, si hay cosas terribles, ya fueron ocultadas”, comentó a la AFP.

Unos 150 investigadores de todo el mundo han solicitado acceso a los “archivos apostólicos” centrales del Vaticano, contó monseñor Sergio Pagano, a cargo de esa sección que cuenta con 121 colecciones de documentos y 20.000 fascículos sobre Pío XII.

Los primeros que tendrán acceso son los expertos del museo estadounidense dedicado a la memoria del Holocausto y la comunidad judía de Roma, según precisó.

Pero otras decenas de especialistas consultarán otros archivos significativos, como los de la Congregación para la Doctrina de la Fe.

Según el archivero Alejandro Cifres Giménez, en 200 metros de estanterías se albergan 1.749 ficheros dedicados a los 19 años de pontificado de Pío XII.

Johan Ickx, de los archivos históricos de la Secretaría de Estado de la Santa Sede, anunció que se podrá contar con “1,3 millones de documentos digitalizados e indexados, para ayudar a los investigadores a moverse rápidamente”, toda una novedad.

“Hay datos muy candentes”, dijo.

Los historiadores, por ejemplo, podrán encontrar documentos sobre los contactos entre el nuncio (embajador de la Santa Sede) en Berlín y las autoridades alemanas.

“Tomará años examinar todos esos archivos y hacer un juicio histórico”, reconoció el obispo Pagano.

El Vaticano exige que algunos documentos permanezcan en secreto, como los archivos que documentan el cónclave y la elección del Papa.

Según tomado de,

How to Argue, Discuss, and Disagree… in a Jewish Way

argument stock image
by Rabbi Jonathan Prosnit

Hillel and Shammai were two schools of ancient Jewish scholars named after the sages who founded them. The two schools are famous for their vigorous debates on topics concerning Jewish law, ritual, and belief – debates so prolific that the Mishnah, the first major work of rabbinic literature from the year 200, records more than 300 disagreements between the two schools.

One of their famous debates is the one about how to light the menorah on Hanukkah. Beit Shammai (House of Shammai) says you start with a full menorah and each day reduce the light until Hanukkah ends; Beit Hillel (House of Hillel) says you add light to your menorah until Hanukkah ends. As you may know, the house of Hillel proved more persuasive – and each night of Hanukkah, we add light to our menorah

Here’s another one: If you forget to say Birkat HaMazon, the prayer after finishing a meal, should you return to the place you ate the meal to recite the prayer, or should you recite the prayer at the place where you remember? Jewish law sides with Beit Hillel, advising to recite the Birkat HaMazon when and where you remember. 

Another: On a bride’s wedding day, should you tell her she’s beautiful, no matter what? Beit Shammai says to praise the bride as she is, beautiful or otherwise; Beit Hillel says to greet each bride with, “Kallah nana v’hamudah,” “She is a beautiful and gracious bride.”

With hundreds of disagreements, you might think the two scholarly houses would’ve detested one another – the Montagues and Capulets of rabbinic literature. Not the case.

Although they disagreed often and even contentiously, the two houses got along and even admired each other. The Talmud says:

“Although Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel are in disagreement on the questions of rivals, sisters, marriage, divorce, money, valuables, and more…Beit Shammai did not, nevertheless, abstain from marrying women of the families of Beit Hillel, nor did Beit Hillel refrain from marrying those of Beit Shammai…This is to teach you that they showed love and friendship towards one another, thus putting into practice the Scriptural text, ‘Love, truth and peace.’” (Yevamot 14) 

The debates were intense, the issues fierce, but despite it all, the houses came together. They didn’t let their debates cause a breach between the community, which could have led to their division from one another. 

It’s even taught in rabbinic literature that the arguments between the houses are considered arguments machlochet l’shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven.

Our sages speak of two kinds of controversy: Arguments l’shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven, are positive, enriching, and life-affirming, like the debates of Hillel and Shammai. The other type of controversies are lo l’shem shamayim, not for the sake of heaven – those that are divisive, turf-driven, with no negotiation or dialogue, those in which others aren’t treated with respect and dignity.

Rabbi Leora Kaye writes that an argument for the sake of heaven demands profound respect for other human beings, even if their viewpoints are fundamentally and unequivocally the polar opposite of our own. The beauty of this idea is that our tradition encourages us to engage. After all, “Two Jews, three opinions” isn’t an expression from out of the blue!

Jewish tradition – and much of Jewish life – is built on argumentation and disagreement. We’re supposed to dive into the deepest issues of our day. And while they might feel archaic or petty or silly to us today, the arguments of Hillel and Shammai were indeed crucial for the society in which they lived. Their debates were crucial, relevant, legal, political, and personal.

And today? Well, I wish we could celebrate debate within society today, insisting that the tone and arguments be carried out in a passionate, thoughtful, and civil manner. We should insist that every discourse be done with respect and a sense that compromise is no vice; that changing one’s mind because of new information is not a failure or flip-flop.

We should not seek to demean those who disagree with us. We should not sling mud at good individuals simply because they have a worldview different than our own. And, while we might not select our politicians for how they treat others, the moral standard of our elected officials sets the tone for the behavior and dialogue for all of us.

Perhaps the best way to impact the national discourse is for each of us to hold up our disagreements in the manner of a macholchet b’shem shamayim. As we think about our holiday tables – sometimes places of disagreement – how can we aspire to be models of arguments for the sake of heaven?

1. Anavah / Humility

When we argue, do so not only with respect, but also with humility, using “I believe” and “I feel” statements and not presuming to tell other people what they are thinking.

If others tell you, try to avoid a knee-jerk reaction, recognizing instead that you may need to ponder their view to clarify your own. When presented in a constructive way, hearing divergent viewpoints can help everyone learn and grow.

2. Kavod / Honor

When in a disagreement, remember that it often takes risk to disagree with people. We should strive to honor their courage, especially when they’ve put themselves in a vulnerable place.

If you’ve ever been the only voice thinking one way in a room of people who think another, you know how difficult this position can be – and yet, we should hold the right for all opinions, even when we disagree.

3. Kedusha / Holiness

Judaism teaches that each person has a spark of holiness within them. Rabbi Eugene Borowitz taught about sitting on the New York City subway, looking at all the people and whispering to himself “image of God, image of God, image of God.”

If he was able to find holiness in each and every person on the subway, certainly we can find the holiness in the people with whom we disagree.

4. M’pnei Darchei Shalom / For the Sake of Peace

We don’t need to pick every battle – and sometimes it’s OK not to engage. In the debate about the bride, Beit Hillel decided that there are some topics simply not worth arguing about. The values of shalom (peace) or shalom bayit (peace in the home) are important ones, and it’s OK to say, “This time, I’m not going to engage.”

Our speech matters! About this, our tradition is firm. We are taught that our tongues should be as honest as our scales. May all our endeavors strive to be for the sake of heaven.

As taken from,

Talmud, every day

by Yardaena Osband

Moses discovered early how necessary the Oral Law is to understand the Torah — it’s one reason I believe everyone should try learning Daf Yomi (Yitro

Jethro advising Moses, Jan van Bronchorst, 1659. (Wikimedia Commons)

Jethro advising Moses, Jan van Bronchorst, 1659. (Wikimedia Commons)

Moses has the almost impossible task of being the sole judge of this newly formed nation and It takes Jethro to explain to his son-in-law that he will not be able to uphold God’s law without help, for no one person can possibly teach, explain, and adjudicate. Indeed, Jethro devises a judicial system, and Moses listens to the older man, appointing capable men over the people to help judge.

There is a problem, however. The Torah has not yet been given! The story of the giving of the Torah appears in chapter 19 — after the visit from Jethro in chapter 18. Commentators argue that chapter 18 must have taken place after the giving of the Torah, and the question is why the text is presented out of chronological order.  

I believe this shift in the text teaches a valuable lesson about the Torah itself. Namely, the Torah explains the system of the Oral Law, Torah SheB’eal Peh, before the actual account of the Torah being given on Sinai as way of showing how essential that system of commentary and interpretation is to the preservation and practice of the Written Torah. Without the Oral Law, the Written Law cannot be implemented. 

* * *

Just over 40 days ago, the Jewish world started a new cycle of “Daf Yomi” — the daily initiative to learn one folio page of Talmud until that massive compendium is completed — it takes nearly seven-and-a-half years (and is then often begun again). Even before the new cycle began, it was a project that attracted multitudes of the Jewish learning community, and the new cycle has attracted what is surely thousands of additional learners. I am one of them, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.

About a month before the previous cycle of Daf Yomi was completed, I came to Israel with my 13-year-old son, to join another 14 parent-child team finalists for the first International Talmud Contest, on December 15th, via the Talmud Israeli organization — none too different from the Bible contest every Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.

One of the goals of Talmud Israeli is to make Talmud accessible to children and adults and to encourage families and friends to make time to learn together — and it is an effective program to that end. The contest was a truly thrilling and emotional experience and for me personally and as a parent, a culmination of my education and ability to learn Talmud and teach it to my children and to others. After months of preparation with my son in New York, being on stage with him in Jerusalem for a televised competition shown to all of Israel and the world felt like a dream.

Friends and family were excited to share this adventure with my son and me. Our mother-and-son team also seemed to strike a chord with people, reflecting how much has changed over the last 100 years since Sarah Schenirer, arguably the founder of modern Jewish education for women, taught her first class in 1917. The contest saw four teams of fathers and daughters, and one mother-daughter team. One of my proudest moments was when an Israeli news reporter interviewed my son and asked him whether it was strange for him that he had prepared for the context with his mother, since it is usually the father who learns Gemara. My son replied nonchalantly that it was not weird, for his Gemara teacher at school is also a woman.

Beyond the marvel that was the trip, I want to share my reflections from my experience of the Talmud contest and preparing for it — if for no other reason that the fact that I think everyone should try to learn Talmud, whether via the Daf Yomi schedule (the 14th cycle began on January 5th, and there’s still time to catch up), or via other means. 

* * *

The sages of the Talmud (the Tannaim and Amoraim) struggled with many of the same issues we do today and their stories and wisdom are still relevant today.

Each page of Talmud therefore has ethical and moral teachings for the contemporary learner. Often, people think that Talmud is a dry, boring back and forth with opinions that are hair-splitting a particular issue. A different approach to learning Talmud (and one I learned from my father, Michael Osband z”l) is to focus on the personalities of the Mishnah and Talmud, their lives and challenges. Many of the stories in the Talmud and even the Halacha teach values that resonate in our modern world. Issues of social justice, societal change, and relationships are some of the many areas where the Talmud is instructive and challenging, which also makes Talmud a great springboard for family learning.

Although completing a daf is admirable, I encourage people to even consider learning just a section of each daf every day and discover one new idea. The Talmud Israeli material presented a small section of each daf in accessible way for adults and children of all educational backgrounds. The Talmud is our Jewish heritage and everyone has a right to it — and deserves to learn it.

I have read many articles in the last six weeks or so by women who never learned Talmud, whether for lack of interest or few opportunities. Many of them are now inspired to start a new journey with a commitment to Talmud study.  I watched the Hadran Women’s Siyum in Jerusalem with excitement and awe, and was grateful that my daughter had the opportunity to attend (she is currently studying in a midrasha that was founded by the granddaughter of the rabbi who was responsible for my own strong Jewish education). 

I knew I wanted to try to commit to the new cycle of Daf Yomi. But my recent experiences and the changes I see in the Jewish world of learning have pushed me beyond my initial goals.

* * *

That is, I do have a new project that goes beyond my own learning Talmud every day. Together with my long-time friend and now-havruta, Anne Gordon, I am hosting the podcast, Talking Talmud. We’re reflecting on an idea or two from the daily daf — from the global Daf Yomi. It’s brief (15-20 minutes per day) — to offer insight into what’s going on, or some of what’s going on, with each daf.

We’re here to have a conversation — and to engage our listeners (I say, our “co-learners, because that’s really what we are) in conversation. Behind the scenes, Anne and I are learning the daf of the day… And then she and I meet virtually, via the wonders of technology to converse about what we’ve learned.  We’re “Talking Talmud” to bring you a thought, an idea, a point to ponder that we found in the day’s daf. And I will surely test my belief that the Gemara can be accessible — that there is always something interesting to find — but so far, early in the seven-and-a-half years of study, it’s true.

Granted, our podcast doesn’t expect our listeners have to have learned the daf beforehand — we’ll give you a taste of what’s on the daf. And if you are learning the daf in total yourself, we’re aiming to offer you food for thought too. Anne and I are “talking Talmud” because we know the Gemara to be the foundational text of Jewish life. Torah SheBeal Peh, the Oral Law, is what makes Jews Jews — different from other “peoples of the Book.” Shouldn’t it be learned by everyone?

מה אהבתי תורתך, כל היום היא שיחתי

How I love Your Torah; all the day, it is my conversation. 

As taken from,

Why the Giving of the Torah is a Turning Point in History

by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein

What are the key turning points in history? What are the events that changed the world beyond recognition and whose impact was felt by everyone, everywhere? You could talk about the invention of the electric light bulb, or Gutenberg’s printing press. You could mention the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, which set off World War I, and led to World War II, or the French and American Revolutions, or the fall of the Berlin Wall. More recent examples could be 9/11 or the 2008 Crash or the invention of the Internet.

But, in this week’s parsha, Yitro, we encounter history’s single biggest turning point, a moment that changed everything, for everyone, forever: the giving of the Torah by God to Moses and the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. From this moment onwards, nothing would be the same. The Torah had entered the world.

But, what is the Torah really? And why is its impact so powerful and far-reaching? We know that the Torah comprises 613 distinct commandments – the mitzvot – but what is their meaning and purpose?

The starting point is to understand that the Torah’s total focus is the human being. This is expressed most vividly in the Talmud (Shabbat 88b), which records how, when Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah from God, the angels vehemently protested, asking how God could consider giving away His most treasured possession – the Torah – to a creature of flesh and blood. God told Moses to answer the angels, and Moses proceeded to list the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God, Who took you out of Egypt”; “Honour your father and your mother”; “Don’t murder”; “Don’t steal”; “Don’t commit adultery”. “Do you have a father and mother?” Moses asked the angels. “Have you been enslaved in Egypt? Have you passion or jealousy or greed, or any evil inclination?” In so doing, Moses clearly demonstrated that the Torah was intended for human beings. Or, put another way, human beings are created in order to fulfil the mitzvot of the Torah.

But, how do the mitzvot work?

The Torah calls the first human being Adam, which comes from the Hebrew word adama, meaning “earth” or “ground”. What is the connection between the two? The Maharal explains that humans are similar to the ground in one essential respect: they are both pure potential. Whether or not a piece of land will produce fruit depends on what is done with it. Even the most fertile piece of land will not produce fruit if it is left to lie fallow; it needs to be ploughed, fertilised and cultivated. So too, the human being is pure potential, and to live a fruitful, productive life requires great and continuous efforts. We arrive in this world as pure potential and, through the process of life, we actualise that potential. And it’s up to us. We have been given free choice to turn that potential into personal growth and spiritual greatness, into becoming refined, elevated, moral and holy – but we can also choose to squander it and simply let it lie dormant.

The Maharal (Tiferet Yisrael, chapters 6-8) says the 613 mitzvot are a blueprint for us to “create ourselves” – to access and actualise our Godly potential. The mitzvot have been specifically designed by our Creator to catalyse our latent spiritual energy. At its heart, this process of self-actualisation – of converting potential into actuality through performing the mitzvot – is an act of sublime creativity.

What are the mechanics here? How exactly do the mitzvot unleash our Divine potential? The Maharal explains that the mitzvot have been formulated by the Creator of everything, and therefore have the spiritual energy to develop the full potential of the human being. There is a natural bridge between Torah and the soul. With every new mitzvah we perform, we create a corresponding extra dimension within our soul. In essence, by living in tune with Torah, we live in tune with our soul; by living a true Torah life, we nurture and expand our spiritual selves.

Living in harmony with the soul brings with it a deep sense of spiritual connection and tranquillity of spirit. Indeed, the Midrash says the union between body and soul is fraught with tension. These two constituent parts of the human being come from different worlds, and have different needs. The Midrash illustrates this with the analogy of a marriage between a farmer and a princess; the farmer brings the princess all of the produce from the field that is so precious to him, but which is meaningless to her. So too, the body brings the soul all of the physical pleasures of this world, but the soul remains empty and unsatisfied. The soul originates from the palace of God and requires the goods of the spiritual world to feel satisfied and fulfilled. It requires a life of meaning and good deeds, and a connection to God, which the Torah provides. This is what gives us satisfaction and pleasure at a deep level.

There are many ways to demonstrate this. For example, we’ve all experienced the warm glow of satisfaction that comes from giving to others. A recent research project conducted by Michael Norton of Harvard Business School found that, regardless of income level, those people who spent money on others reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the feeling of guilt – the deep sense of spiritual unease we experience – when we do things that are not in harmony with the soul.

Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, known as the Ramban, explores another way the mitzvot are catalysts to unleash the full potential of a person. He emphasises that the mitzvot are not for God’s benefit, even though He commanded us to perform them. He says God gave us the mitzvot for our own sakes – to mould us into better people. According to the Ramban, each mitzvah refines us in a particular way. He gives the example of the mitzvah to send away the mother bird before taking the chicks or the eggs from the nest, and how this helps us cultivate the quality of compassion. He also refers to the mitzvot of commemorating the great miracles of Jewish history. These are not, he says, for glorifying God, but rather for our own sake, so we should understand and appreciate these formative moments of our people, and so we can reinforce our faith and clarify our worldview.

According to this, the mitzvot are a comprehensive programme of thought and action designed by God to help us become wise, compassionate, refined, loving, idealistic, giving, courageous, spiritual, ethical and holy. To help us become better people in every conceivable way.

So, from the moment in history when we received the Torah, life would never be the same. From that moment on, we had a blueprint for how to live life, how to love life, and how to fulfil our awesome potential.

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein

The writer, who has a PhD. in Human Rights Law, is the chief rabbi of South Africa

As taken from,

La envidia

por Rab Eliezer Shemtov

Una de las grandes causas de la angustia es la envidia. Cuando uno mide su éxito y valor en base a lo que tiene, es muy difícil estar feliz y contento, ya que siempre habrá quien tiene más, y por ende implica que uno no vale tanto.

¿Cómo se hace para combatir esa tendencia? ¿Cómo hace uno para estar feliz con su vida cuando ve —si no personalmente, por Facebook o Instagram— los éxitos y la felicidad de los demás que a él o a ella lo eluden?

Y debe haber una manera de lograrlo. En los propios Diez Mandamientos sobre los cuales leemos en la lectura de esta semana, Itró 1 , nos dice claramente que no debemos codiciar. Si Di-s nos dice que no debemos codiciar, debe haber una manera de poder ponerlo en práctica. ¿Cómo se hace?

Hay quienes explican que la llave está en el propio mandamiento2 : “No codicies la casa de tu prójimo. No codicies la esposa de tu prójimo, su siervo, su sierva, su toro, su burro, ni todo lo que pertenezca a tu prójimo.”

Si uno analiza el versículo salta a la vista una pregunta bastante obvia: dado que concluye diciendo que uno no debe codiciar “ni todo lo que pertenezca a tu prójimo”, o sea uno no debe codiciar nada de lo que le pertenece al prójimo, ¿por qué listar unas cosas específicas? ¿No estarán ya incluidas en “todo lo que pertenezca a tu prójimo”?

Una explicación que escuché hace mucho es que la manera de dejar de envidiar a alguien por algo que tiene es poner las cosas en perspectiva. ¿Te gustaría tener todo lo que tiene? Sí, puede que lo que ves sea envidiable, pero ¿qué sabes de las cosas de su vida que no están a la vista?

Me imagino cuánta gente le tenía envidia a Kobe Bryant por su helicóptero, hasta que vieron el final de la película….

De hecho, hay dos clases de envidia, una positiva y la otra negativa.

La envidia que te empuja a superarte para lograr y tener lo mismo que tiene el otro está bien. “Los celos entre los sabios aumenta la sabiduría,” dice el Talmud3 . La envidia que te aplasta porque te sentís como un fracaso al no ser como fulano que tiene tal o cual éxito en la vida, no solo es un pecado, es tonto. Cada uno tiene lo que necesita para cumplir con su misión en la vida.

Me hace recordar una anécdota que contó un judío que estaba en la cárcel cumpliendo un castigo injusto y todos los días recibía bolsas de correo conteniendo cartas de apoyo de todas partes del mundo.

Había reclusos que no recibían correo y manifestaban sus celos al respecto. No es una buena idea fomentar envidia en la cárcel. Así que un buen día se le ocurrió una solución. Cuando llegó el momento del reparto del correo, el recluso judío agarró toda la bolsa de su correo y se la regaló al recluso “celoso”. “Tomá,” le dijo. “Te regalo mi correo. Me tiene ya podrido tanto correo.” El recluso “celoso” se puso contento y empezó a abrir las cartas. En pocos minutos se le fueron los celos. Todas las cartas fueron escritas en Idish o Hebreo y no entendió nada. ¿Para qué le sirve una bolsa de correo escrito en un idioma que no entiende?

Lo mismo se aplica en cada aspecto de la vida. A cada uno le llega el “correo” de acuerdo a sus necesidades. De poco sirve tener algo que no te sirve o por un precio que no estás dispuesto pagar.

Así que la herramienta de esta semana es: si ves que alguien tiene algo que tú no tienes, no pierdas sueño. También tiene cosas que tu no quieres, y tu tienes cosas que otro no tiene. Cada uno tiene lo que realmente precisa. Si no tienes lo que quieres, querré lo que tienes.

1. Éxodo 18:1- 20:23

2. Éxodo 20:14

3. Bava Batra 21a

Segun tomado de,

Racism and the Wisdom of a Gentile

by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

וירא חתן משה את כל אשר הוא עשה לעם ויאמר מה הדבר הזה אשר אתה עשה לעם מדוע אתה יושב לבדך וכל העם נצב עליך מן בקר עד ערב

When Moses’ father in law saw what he was doing to the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you sit by yourself, while all the people stand before you from morning till evening?” Shemot 18:14

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, one of the great Jewish leaders and thinkers of modern times, asks us to take notice of a strange incident that occurred in the days of Moshe. After Moshe left Egypt with a multitude of people, his father-in-law, Yitro, criticized him for the way he was arbitrating disputes among the Israelites:

“What are you doing to the people? Why are you sitting alone and letting all the people stand around you from morning until evening?” And Moshe replied to his father-in-law: “Because the people come to me to seek God. Whenever they have a problem, they come to me, and I judge between man and his neighbor, and I teach God’s decrees and laws.” And Moshe’s father-in-law said to him: “What you are doing is not good. You are going to wear yourself out, along with this nation that is with you.”[1]

Yitro then suggested that Moshe reform the existing legal system so that only the major problems would be brought to his personal attention while minor disputes would be decided upon by a large number of wise people who would assist him. “It will make things easier for you, and they will share the burden. Moshe took his father-in-law’s advice and did all that he said.”[2]

Moshe’s Exhaustion

Rabbi Hirsch poses a very simple question: Could Moshe not have determined this on his own? Did he not realize that he was exhausting himself and it would not be long before he could no longer cope with the situation? One does not have to be a genius to recognize the problem. Moreover, Yitro’s suggested solution is basically a simple one and does not require any extensive judicial knowledge. So why did Moshe, who possessed great wisdom, not think of this himself?

Before studying Rabbi Hirsch’s comment, we would like to pose another question. We are informed that at the end of Moshe’s life “His eyes had not dimmed and his vigor was unabated.”[3] His physical strength was beyond average, and indeed we do not see that Moshe ever got tired (except in the case of the Jews fighting Amalek, when his hands did become heavy).[4] It is therefore strange that Moshe suddenly felt weary while judging the people. We would not have been surprised to read that Moshe told his father-in-law not to worry, since he was untroubled by fatigue and he could easily handle all those who came to see him.

Moshe, however, made no such claims. Instead, he seemed most eager to implement Yitro’s suggestion. We must therefore conclude that he did indeed feel extremely tired!

Our question, then, is obvious. Why did he suddenly feel weary? Would the man who was without food and water for forty days at the top of Mount Sinai not have been able to sit from early morning until late at night to judge the people without exhausting himself? Why did God suddenly deny him his usual though unprecedented strength?

All this aside, we would suggest that God had good reason to ensure that Moshe actually maintained his strength. As the great leader and teacher of Torah, Moshe desperately needed to stay in contact with all of his people. The best way to accomplish this would be by guaranteeing that he would see them on a regular basis. Once he would no longer encounter all of them, they would become spiritually distanced from him, and he would be unable to teach them in the manner to which he was accustomed. (Indeed, this seems to have happened after he implemented Yitro’s advice!) So what were God’s motives in causing Moshe to suddenly feel tired?

We may now refer to Rabbi Hirsch’s observation:

Nothing is so instructive to us as this information regarding the first legal institution of the Jewish State, coming immediately before the chapter of the Law-giving. So little was Moshe in himself a legislative genius, he had so little talent for organizing that he had to learn the first elements of state organization from his father-in-law. The man who tired himself out to utter exhaustion and to whom of himself did not occur to arrange this or some other simple solution, equally beneficial to himself and his people; the man to whom it was necessary to have a Yitro to suggest this obvious device, that man could never have given the People constitution and Laws out of his own head, that man was only, and indeed just because of this the best and the most faithful instrument of God![5]

In other words, Moshe, in spite of his immeasurable talents and abilities, lacked basic insight into how to administer proper judicial process. God denied him this insight to prove to later generations that he could never have been a lawgiver and that the laws of the Torah were not the result of his superior mind.

The Greatness of a Non-Jew

I would like to suggest a second reason. God denied Moshe his usual strength so as to allow a non-Jew to come forward and give him advice! The Kabbalist Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar, known as Ohr Ha-Chaim (1696-1743), indeed alludes to this when he writes that the very reason why God caused Yitro to come and visit the camp of the Israelites was to teach the Jewish people that although the Torah is the all-encompassing repository of wisdom, gentiles, while not obligated to observe all its laws, are fundamental to its success and application.[6] There are areas in which Jews do not excel and where non-Jews are much more gifted. One such area seems to be judicial administration skills.

Judaism has never been afraid to admit that the gentile world incorporates much wisdom and insight. While Jews have to be a nation apart, this does not exclude its need to look beyond its own borders and benefit from the wisdom of outsiders.

“The gentile world may not posses Torah, but it definitely does possess wisdom.”[7]

It is this message that God sent to His people only a short while after He had delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians. Due to their experience in the land of their slavery, they had developed such animosity for anything gentile that they became utterly convinced that mankind at large was anti-Semitic. God immediately crushed that thought and sent them a righteous gentile by the name of Yitro, to impress upon them that the non-Jewish world includes remarkable people who not only posses much wisdom but actually love the people of Israel and contribute to Jewish life.

Moshe’s sudden weariness and God’s decision to deny him his usual strength is therefore highly informative. The Jews may begin to believe that they’re self-sufficient and can do it all alone. This attitude, which is rooted in their conviction that all gentiles are anti-Semitic and therefore not to be relied upon, could lead not only to total isolation but also to an air of Jewish arrogance contrary to God’s will. By allowing Moshe to become exhausted, God made sure that he would indeed require the knowledge from someone else. This time a non-Jew.

At the same time, it kept Moshe humble.

By designating Yitro to be the father-in-law of the most holy Jew of all times, God made it crystal clear that He would not tolerate any racism and that even a righteous gentile could climb up to the highest ranks of saintliness. Only after that message was sent were the Jews ready to enter the land and begin their life as an independent nation.


[1] Shemot 18:14-18.

[2] Ibid. 18:22, 24.

[3] Devarim 34:7.

[4] Shemot 17:12.

[5] The Pentateuch, Exodus: trans. and explained by Samson Raphael Hirsch, rendered into English by Isaac Levy (Gateshead: Judaica Press, 1989), 247.

[6] Ohr Ha-Chaim on Shemot 18:21, beginning with the words Ve-nir’eh ki ta’am ha-davar hu.

[7] Echa Rabba, Buber ed., 2.

As taken from,

Horrific Valentine’s Day Massacre of Jews

by Dr. Ivette Alt Miller

Horrific Valentine’s Day Massacre of Jews

On Valentine’s Day 1349 thousands of Jews were burned to death, accused of poisoning wells

Most people associate February 14 with love and romance. Yet hundreds of years ago Valentine’s Day saw a horrific mass murder when 2,000 Jews were burned alive in the French city of Strasbourg.

The year was 1349 and the Bubonic Plague, known as the Black Death, was sweeping across Europe, wiping out whole communities. Between 1347 and 1352, it killed millions of people. Historian Ole J. Benedictow estimates that 60% of Europeans died from the disease. One Italian writer recorded what the plague did to the city of Florence, where he lived: “All the citizens did little else except to carry dead bodies to be buried… At every church they dug deep pits down to the water-table; and thus those who were poor who died during the night were bundled up quickly and thrown into the pit.”

Bubonic Plague is caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis and is most commonly spread by fleas that live on rodents like rats and mice. The disease still exists, and sickens thousands of people each year, including a handful of people in the United States and other developed countries. Caught early, Bubonic Plague is treatable with modern medicines. In the Middle Ages, of course, no medical treatment existed to mitigate the Plague’s devastating effects. It’s estimated that about 80% of people who contracted the Plague in Medieval Europe died.

The Massacre of Jews at Strasbourg, by Eugene Beyer

The first major European outbreak of Plague occurred in Messina, Italy, in 1347, and it spread rapidly from there. Historians estimate that the largest wave of Bubonic Plague – the pandemic that was dubbed The Black Death – originated in Central Asia. As it began sweeping through European communities, terrified people cast about for someone to blame. Jews were a natural choice. As the Black Death advanced, Christians turned on the Jews in their midst, accusing them of spreading the Plague by poisoning Christian people’s wells.

Many Christians leapt to accuse Jews of deliberately spreading the disease to harm Christians.

Jews, often forced into overcrowded and fenced-in Jewish quarters, suffered from the Black Death at rates comparable to their Christian neighbors. Yet even though it was apparent that Jews were sickening and dying as well, many Christians leapt to accuse Jews of deliberately spreading the disease to harm Christians. Historian Heinrich Graetz described the fevered atmosphere of hate and accusations leveled at European Jews: “…the suspicion arose that the Jews had poisoned the brooks and wells, and even the air, in order to annihilate the Christians of every country at one blow”. (Detailed in Graetz’s History of the Jews, 1894).

Jewish communities found themselves under attack. Of the approximately 363 Jewish communities in Europe at the time, Jews were attacked in fully half of them by mobs blaming them for spreading the Plague.

These attacks were horrifically violent. In Cologne, Jews were locked into a synagogue which was then set on fire. In Mainz, the entire town’s sizeable Jewish community was murdered in just one day. Jews were massacred and tortured across Europe, in Spain, Italy, France, the Low Countries, and the Germanic Lands. Emperor Charles I, the Holy Roman Emperor, decreed that the property of Jews murdered for supposedly spreading the Plague could be seized by their Christian neighbors with impunity. With this financial incentive to kill Jews, the attacks only intensified.

In 1349, a group of feudal lords in France’s Alsace region attempted to make the attacks on Jews official. They assembled in the French town of Benfeld, and formally blamed Jews for the Black Death. They also adopted a series of steps to target Jews, singling Jews out for murder and calling for them to be expelled from towns. This “Benfeld Decree” had an immediate effect as Jews in thirty communities across Alsace were attacked. Only the city of Strasbourg, which had a large Jewish community, resisted, protecting their city’s Jews.

The atmosphere in Strasbourg in early 1349 was tense. The Black Death had not yet reached the city, though anxious citizens awaited the first case of victims to sicken and die any day. Strasbourg’s Bishop Berthold III railed against Jews, but the city’s elected officials held firm. Mayor Kunze of Wintertur, Strasbourg’s sheriff, Gosse Sturm, and a local lay leader named Peter Swaber all vociferously defended and protected Strasbourg’s Jews.

On February 10, 1349, the restless citizens finally had enough. A mob rose up and overthrew Strasbourg’s city government, installing an unstable government “of the people” instead. This hateful group that was now in charge was a strange amalgam: led by the local guilds of butchers and tailors, it was financially backed by local nobles who hated the Jews and hoped to seize their property. One of this new mob’s first acts was to arrest the city’s Jews on the charge of poisoning Christian wells in order to spread the Black Death.

The Black Death

Friday, February 13, 1349 was a black day for Strasbourg’s Jews. Normally, they would have spent the day preparing for Shabbat, baking challah, cleaning their homes and preparing festive meals. Instead, under heavy armed guard, women, children and men were dragged from their homes, imprisoned, and charged with murder. Any Jew who was willing to convert to Christianity would be spared, they were told. As the terrified Jews awaited their fate, the city’s new governors were building a huge wooden platform that could hold thousands of people inside the Jewish cemetery. For the Jews, the next day was Shabbat. For Strasbourg’s Christian citizens, the next day was February 14, St. Valentine’s Day. They designated this saint’s day as the date on which they would execute Strasbourg’s entire Jewish population.

In the morning of Valentine’s Day, a large crowd assembled to watch. A local priest named Jakob Twinger von Konigshofen recorded the grisly massacre: “they burnt the Jews on a wooden platform in their cemetery,” he wrote. “There were about two thousand of them.” Some young children were yanked away from their parents’ arms, and saved so that they could be baptized and raised as Christians. For most Jews, however, no such aid arrived. As the enormous wooden structure went up in flames, around 2,000 thousand Jews were slowly burned alive.

Their murder took hours. Afterwards, eager townspeople combed through the smoldering ashes, not searching for survivors, but looking for valuables. von Konigshofen recorded the financial motive for this enormous massacre: “…everything (all debt) that was owed to the Jews was cancelled… The council…took the cash that the Jews possessed and divided it among the working-men proportionately. The money was indeed the thing that killed the Jews. If they had been poor and if the feudal lords had not been in debt, they would not have been burnt.”

Strasbourg’s mob government and citizens faced no criticism. A few months later, Emperor Charles IV officially pardoned the citizens of Strasbourg for killing their town’s Jews and for stealing their money.

With the passage of so much time, many have seemed to forget the cataclysm of violence that led to the torture and murder of so many Jews during the Black Death. Yet we owe it to the victims to remember.

As taken from,

Seeing the Sounds

by Menachem Feldman

As the Jewish people gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, they heard the voice of G‑d speaking the Ten Commandments. The Torah describes the awesome experience:

And all the people saw the voices and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled; so they stood from afar.

What is the meaning of the words “and all the people saw the voices”? How can voices be seen? The Midrash tells us that there is a disagreement regarding this verse. Rabbi Yishmael believes that the Jews did not see anything unusual. They saw the torches and heard the voices (in which case the word “saw” refers to the torches.) Rabbi Akiva, however, insists that the verse must be read literally—they actually saw the voices. In the words of Rabbi Akiva: “They saw that which is usually heard, and they heard that which is usually seen.”

According to Rabbi Akiva, the experience at Sinai was much more than just receiving ten moral instructions for life. Sinai was a spiritual revelation that changed the way the Jews perceived the meaning of existence. In general, the world can be divided into that which is “seen” and that which is “heard.” The concrete, physical needs, desires and experiences are “seen”; they are experienced as the ultimate reality. That which is abstract, theoretical and spiritual is “heard.” The intangible spirit is not something we can see with our naked eye. To experience it, we need to “hear” and “listen.” We must use our mind to discover truths that are not obvious to the observer.

According to Rabbi Akiva, at Sinai they “heard that which is usually seen.” In other words, the physical matter, which is usually perceived as absolute reality, became an abstract idea, while spirituality, “that which is usually heard”, became real and obvious.

The experience of Sinai was not merely a one-time event. Every time we study Torah, we are recreating the revelation of Sinai. We are not only hearing the words of G‑d being spoken directly to us, but our perception of what is meaningful and worthy is enhanced. When we study Torah, our priorities are realigned. The sublime ideas in life—meaning, holiness, transcendence—become real and tangible. For each time we study Torah, we are standing at Sinai and “seeing the sounds.”1

1.Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichot, Yitro, vol. 6, sicha 2.

As taken from,