Holiday E-Shiurim

Holiday E-shiurim

The Jewish Calendar: As Early and Late as it Gets

By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb

The Jewish Calendar As Early and Late as it Gets Source Sheet (pdf)
The Jewish Calendar As Early and Late as it Gets (pdf)

purimMuch has been made of the fact that Pesach, last March 26, and Rosh Hashanah, on September 5 (2013), were the earliest on the Gregorian calendar since 1899 and the earliest these holidays will fall until 2089.  We can add to this the rare coincidence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving (November 28) and even the recent Tu B’Shvat, on January 16, actually a day later than in 1900.  But while many articles, blogs and emails celebrate these facts, few, if any, really explain them.

The calendar in Judaism, as indeed in many cultures, is not simply an administrative tool; it can also be an expression of national identity.  In the past certain nations, e.g. France in 1793 and the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, asserted their sovereignty by instituting new, original calendars.  The children of Israel were instructed to adopt a new calendar, sovereignty in time, even before they began their departure from Egypt (Ex. 12:1-3).  Rashi’s first comment on the Torah is to explain why the Torah did not begin with the command of the calendar (Source 1).

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The Miracle of the Oil – Why is Hanukkah Connected with Fire and Why is it Eight Days?

By Dr. Joshua Kulp

The Miracle of the Oil Sourcesheet (pdf)
The Miracle of the Oil E-shiur (pdf)

The roots of Hanukkah as a holiday celebrating a historical event are fairly clear.  In the year 166-165 B.C.E., the Hasmoneans (called Maccabees in Greek sources) led a rebellion against the Greeks which culminated in the rededication of the Temple on the 25th of the month of Kislev.  Subsequently, the Hasmoneans and their descendants established an eight day holiday to commemorate this occasion and to instill loyalty in their dynasty.  This extra-biblical holiday came to be known as Hanukkah, which means rededication.

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Simhat Torah: Are There Limits on Innovation?

By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb

Simchat Torah: Are There Limits on Innovation? Sources (pdf)
Simchat Torah: Are There Limits on Innovation? E-shiur (pdf)

simchat torah dancingRecently I heard a discussion on whether we can declare a new Jewish holiday.  In fact Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is a newly-created holiday, to celebrate the rebirth of an independent Jewish State.  Needless to say, how it is defined and celebrated continues to be the subject of much debate – halakhic, theological and political.

Simhat Torah is a “recent” holiday, if it should be considered a separate holiday at all.  It has no basis in the Torah and is in fact an embellishment of Shemini Hag Ha’Atzeret, the eighth day of Sukkot.  It has no separate identity liturgically – it is called “Yom HaShemini Hag Ha’Atseret hazeh (zman simhatenu)” in the Amidah and the Kiddush.  The name Simhat Torah was apparently first used in the Geonic period (8th – 10th centuries), in Bavel and Eretz Yisrael and is found in Rashi’s Siddur (11th century, Ashkenaz).   And the practices we now associate with it developed at different times and places, in the Geonic period and later.

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Freedom and Necessity at Mount Sinai

By Rabbi Shmuel (Richie) Lewis, Rosh Yeshiva

Freedom and Necessity at Mt. Sinai Sources (pdf)
Freedom and Necessity at Mt. Sinai E-shiur (pdf)

grain shavuotOne of the most famous images in the Talmud is that portrayed by Rav Avdimi in Shabbat 88a; G-d held Mt Sinai over the heads of the Children of Israel and threatened: if you accept the Torah – fine, but if not – this will be your burial spot.  Rav Avdimi derives this from the words in Exodus 19:17 b’tahtit hahar (see source #1).  Rav Avdimi was not the first sage to use the image of the mountain being held over the heads of the children of Israel.  Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael (a tannaitic midrash on the book of Sh’mot) is probably the earliest source to interpret the phrase b’tahtit hahar as implying that the Children of Israel stood under an uprooted Mt Sinai (see source #2).  According to this midrash, exposed to a host of frightening natural phenomena (meteors, quaking, thunder, lightning), the people huddle together underneath the mountain.  The darshan reads tahtit not as the “foot” of the mountain, but as the “underside,” and explains that the mountain was uprooted to provide a secure place for Israel in the face of these frightening phenomena.  Israel voluntarily goes under the mountain.  The image here is one of protection, reassurance and playful intimacy (Let me see your face, hear your voice, etc).

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Celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut

By Shoshana Cohen

Celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut E-shiur (pdf)

flagAccording to Kohelet: “A good name is better than precious oil, and the day of death than the day of birth” (7:1). James Kugel, in his book The Art of Biblical Poetry,  explains that this verse must be read according to its counterpart in (10:1), “dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a foul odor.” By reading these two verses together we can understand the meaning of the first half of the verse and the connection between its two parts.  An example of this is that it takes only one fly to ruin a bottle of oil and it takes only one bad incident to ruin a person’s reputation or good name. A newborn has the potential to be good or bad, but one bad choice or action can ruin things forever. If one’s reputation remains intact at the day of death that reputation remains secured.

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Who Really Split the Sea?

silversteinBy Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein

Who Really Split the Sea CY Sourcesheet (pdf)
Who Really Split the Sea E-Shiur (pdf)

When the children of Israel reached the sea, they were trapped. Behind them was Pharaoh’s marauding army and in front of them the sea. With nowhere to go they were terrified, sensing that death was imminent. Outwardly, Moshe tried to calm his people, but at the same time he cried out to God for help. The leaders of the tribes feared jumping into the sea. At the height of desperation, a chieftain from the tribe of Judah, Nahshon ben Aminadav, took a leap of faith into the raging sea. The sea was calmed and split, allowing the children of Israel to pass through. This midrashic story, which does not appear in the Torah, has entered the collective memory of the Jewish people, marking Nahshon as one of the great folk heroes of the Jewish people.

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Tisha B’Av: Causes of Destruction, Seeds of Hope

By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, Director of the Conservative Yeshiva

Text Sources for Tisha B’Av E-Shiur – Causes of Destruction, Seeds of Hope (pdf)
Tisha BAv E-Shiur – Causes of Destruction, Seeds of Hope (pdf)

Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, is not mentioned in the Torah. It is hinted at in Zechariah 8:19 (Source 1 and Qs). The Mishna tells that five disasters occurred on this date, including the destructions (churban) of the First and Second Temples (Source 2 and Qs).

The Rabbis, living in the centuries after churban Bayit Sheni (the destruction of the Second Temple), were preoccupied with the causes of these calamities. In one well-known source they tell us that the First Temple fell, in 586 BCE at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, because of the high rate of idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed. The Jews of the Second Temple time behaved much better, they say, but nonetheless the Romans were still able to capture Jerusalem and destroy the Temple, in 70 CE, because of sinat chinam (causeless hatred) (Source 3 and Qs).

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Why Do We Still Celebrate Hanukkah?

By Dr. Joshua Kulp

Sources for Why Do We Still Celebrate Hanukkah (pdf)
Why Do We Still Celebrate Hannukah E-shiur (pdf)

Today, we know of the historical events surrounding Hanukkah because they are described in several texts, including the two books of Maccabees and the writings of Josephus.  However, these books were either written in Greek or originally written in Hebrew but transmitted only in Greek translations.  The rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud do not know of these books and therefore could not have learned of the story of Hanukkah through them.  Rather they learn of the events of Hanukkah from a work called Megillat Taanit and the commentary on this work, called the Scholion.

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Slichot: The 13 Attributes (Midot) – God Teaches Us how to Ask for Divine Forgiveness

By Vered Hollander Goldfarb of the Bible faculty and Rabbi Gail Diamond, Associate Director

Slichot 13 Midot Sourcesheet (pdf)
Slichot 13 Midot E-shiur (pdf)

The section known as “God’s 13 Attributes (midot)”, from Exodus 34:6-7, forms the heart of the Slichot (Forgiveness) prayers of the High Holiday season. Along with Birkhat Kohanim and Kriat Shma, it, as Torah verse, is amongst the oldest texts in Jewish liturgy, but unlike the priestly blessing, it was not originally meant as prayer. Its development into this role is fascinating historically and spiritually.

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Extraordinary People In An Ordinary World – The Story of Ruth

By Vered Hollander-Goldfarb

Extraordinary People in an Ordinary World Sourcesheet (pdf)
Extraordinary People in an Ordinary World E-shiur (printer-friendly pdf of this page)

The story of Ruth is set in the time in which judges led the people of Israel, a period known for lack of order, government, and cohesiveness among the tribes ofIsrael. The story is set in the midst of the additional crisis of a famine. Against this backdrop we meet Elimelekh and his sons, Makhlon and Kilyon, a well-to-do family from Bethlehem in Judah, who moved to Moab in trans-Jordan. There they settle, the sons marry Moabite women, and subsequently all three men die. They leave behind three women, all of whom seem to be minor characters in the story of these men.

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The Conservative Yeshiva Holiday E-Shiurim, prepared by Conservative Yeshiva faculty members, are made possible by a generous grant from Temple Zion Israelite Center, Miami, Florida.

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