Judaism

Oz Torah: Is Chanukah really worth celebrating? – Ask the Rabbi

IS CHANUKAH REALLY WORTH CELEBRATING? Q. The Maccabean victory which gave rise to Chanukah did not endure: the freedom it achieved lasted less than a century. So why should later generations regard the event as worth celebrating? A. The sages recognised the problem when they asked the question, “Mai Chanukah?” …

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Oz Torah: Living in a cage – Ask the Rabbi

LIVING IN A CAGE. Q.  Keeping the commandments seems to put you in a cage which gives you no freedom.  You have to obey or else.  How can Judaism demand this? A.  Emmanuel Levinas used this analogy when he said that to take refuge in moral or ritual codes is …

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Oz Torah: Bible chapters – Ask the Rabbi

BIBLE CHAPTERS. Q. Did the Bible always have chapters and verses? A. Not in Judaism. The chapters and verses came from Christian sources and, as we shall see, do not always subdivide the Hebrew text logically. During the Middle Ages, when Jews were compelled to take part in disputations with …

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Oz Torah; Mixed marriages & shule boards – Ask the Rabbi

BEN EZRA IN THE POETRY OF BROWNING. Q. Who was the Rabbi Ben Ezra about whom the English poet Browning wrote? A. Born in Toledo, Spain, in 1092, he visited England in 1158 and called it “an island in the corner of the world” (“Angleterre”). He likened the London fogs …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi – Too many prayers.

TOO MANY PRAYERS, TOO MUCH KADDISH? Q. Why are the prayers so repetitive and irrelevant and why does Kaddish come so often? A. You are jumping to too many conclusions. Just because something is reiterated that doesn’t make it wrong. What gets repeated in the prayers are major themes such …

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Oz Torah: The Mikvah – Ask the Rabbi

FEMININITY & THE MIKVAH. Q. Why do brides have to go to the mikvah? A. A mikvah is a small pool constructed according to ancient rules. It contains 40 se’ahs (a se’ah is about 3 gallons) of natural water – from rain, a natural spring, etc. – though it may …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi – Orthodoxy.

ORTHODOXY. Q. We hear so much about Open Orthodoxy, Modern Orthodoxy and Ultra-Orthodoxy.  Who invented the term “Orthodoxy”? A. It was Abraham Furtado, at the time of the “Sanhedrin” assembled by Napoleon in the early 19th century. It is not a good term (Leo Jung preferred “Torah-true”).   Literally it …

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Oz Torah: Women dancing with the Torah – Sh’mini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

WHY ARE WE WAITING? Life without rain is unimaginable. Prayers for rain are essential just before the onset of winter. This makes perfect sense in the northern hemisphere, notably Israel, though it seems somewhat problematical in the southern hemisphere. Sh’mini Atzeret is the last occasion on the High Holydays for …

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Oz Torah: Wine, women & song – Yom Kippur features I

I THOUGHT I’D GOT IT. I sat there all day on Yom Kippur. I knew that was what a Jew ought to be doing. The day had its ups and downs. I looked around. Most of the congregation started off quite avidly. They didn’t worry too much about the words …

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Oz Torah: Rosh HaShanah features.

GOD WITHOUT RELIGION. No Jewish hymn is as popular as Adon Olam. Not only in the synagogue but on the concert platform and wherever people sing. The rhyme and rhythm are a godsend to pop-composers. Never mind that it is highly religious poetry and many people (performers and audiences alike) …

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Our Greatest Vice is Our Greatest Strength.

We are a stiff-necked people.  It is our greatest weakness, but it is also our greatest strength. Rabbi Yitzhak Nissenbaum, who lived and died in the Warsaw Ghetto, taught , “Almighty God, looks upon this people with favor, because what is now their greatest vice will one day be their most …

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Oz Torah: A Rosh HaShanah prelude.

NO-ONE DIED OF HUNGER. Three major themes punctuate our Holyday services – penitence, prayer and charity. We are good at penitence, in the sense that when we find ourselves at the periphery of Jewish life we often find our way back and become “ba’alei t’shuvah”, “reversioners”, as an expert on …

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Oz Torah. Shehecheyanu – Ask the Rabbi

SHEHECHEYANU Q. Many of us hum the fast-paced musical rendition of “Shehecheyanu”, but what are the words all about? A. The composition you hum is probably by Meyer Machtenberg, an Eastern European choirmaster who flourished in the United States a century ago. “Shehecheyanu” has been part of Jewish life for …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi – Put-down of women.

PUT-DOWN OF WOMEN. Q. Why does Judaism put down its women? A. I don’t agree that it does. There are uncomfortable things said about women, but there are also wonderful poems in their praise in both the Bible and rabbinic literature. Social mores denied a broad education to many women …

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Oz Torah – Torah reading: Re’eh

WHO YOU CHOOSE TO BE. The sidra confronts us with the free will choice of good and bad, life and death, destiny or disaster (Deut. 11:26). The nature and parameters of free will are one of the hardest and most deep-seated of all human problems. We are endowed with free …

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Oz Torah: Ambition – Ask the Rabbi

AMBITION. Q. Does Judaism have a problem with people being ambitious? A. Alan Marshall, an Australian author who overcame polio, wrote a book, “I Can Jump Puddles!”   An American educator interviewed at the age of 70 said he was still climbing mountains, at least metaphorically. In the Book of …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi The ‘Apocrypha’

Q. What are the Apocrypha? A. The Apocrypha are the “hidden or secret books” excluded from the Hebrew Bible though accepted in some Christian versions. The Apocrypha contains some colourful stories, though there are also some slight works which appear to lack classical Biblical quality. Apart from the contents of …

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Oz Torah: Torah reading – Va’et’channan.

TELLING THE JEWS. The Shema is part of this week’s Torah reading. Paraphrasing a statement of the Anglo-Jewish scholar Israel Abrahams, we can say that the Shema proclaims the major Jewish belief, that God exists and is unique; the major emotion, to love God; the major duty, to speak of …

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Oz Torah:Ask the Rabbi TU B’AV: THE UNKNOWN YOM-TOV

TU B’AV: THE UNKNOWN YOM-TOV. Tu B’Av used to be an important day.  For centuries no-one has heard of it.  In the standard books on the festivals it does not even rate a mention. Yet the Mishnah reports, “There were no happier days for Israel than 15 Av and Yom …

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Oz Torah: Insights on Tishah B’Av.

KAMTZA & BAR-KAMTZA: WHO WAS THE CULPRIT? Tishah B’Av every year predictably evokes the story of Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza, two men with similar names who were involved in events which are said to have brought about the destruction of the Temple, which is the catastrophe commemorated by Tishah B’Av. The …

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