Judaism/Spirituality

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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Oz Torah: Insights on parashat Mattot-Mass’ei

WORDS ARE PRECIOUS. Parashat Mattot opens (Num. 30:3) with a person making a vow or swearing an oath. Both teach the lesson of being careful with one’s words. If you utter a vow or oath you must be certain you know what you are doing and not just scatter your …

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Oz Torah: Ghostbusters – Ask the Rabbi

GHOSTS. Q. Does Judaism believe in ghosts? A. Despite suggestions to the contrary, the answer is No. This applies regardless of whether the living try to summon up the ghost or whether the ghost appears on its own initiative. The Jewish belief as summed up by Maimonides (Guide 3:46) is …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi -The meaning of life.

THE MEANING OF LIFE. Q. What is the meaning of life? A. I cannot give you a one-liner that will say it all in a few words. What I can do is to quote Richard Rubenstein, who argues that after the Holocaust we have to say life is absurd, an …

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Oz Torah:Ask the Rabbi – THE HOLE IN THE WALL FAST.

THE HOLE IN THE WALL FAST. The wall of Jerusalem was breached on 17 Tammuz, enabling the enemy to enter Jerusalem and destroy the sanctuary. The fast we observe that day is, according to the prophet Zechariah, one of four that commemorate the destruction of the city and the Temple. …

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Oz Torah: Reading the Torah in translation – Ask the Rabbi

READING THE TORAH IN TRANSLATION. Q. I hear that our ancestors translated the Torah reading as they went. Why don’t we do the same? A. The ancient practice was to call up one person to read the Torah and another “l’targem”, “to translate” (into Aramaic) (Mishnah Meg. 4:6).  Even a …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi – Fundamentalists.

Question.   What can we do about Jewish fundamentalists? Answer.      The Mishnah B’rachot tells us that one may not enter the Temple mount with a “funda”, a money belt. From this word of Latin derivation comes the notion of a fund. A related word gives us the word …

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Oz Torah: Torah reading. Sh’lach L’cha

PHYSICAL & ECONOMIC STRENGTH. When Moses sent the twelve spies to check out the land, he gave them two subjects to investigate – the strength of the country and its inhabitants, and the health of its economy (Num. 13:2, 18-20). The spies came back with a largely negative report which …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi – suicide

SUICIDE. Life is the supreme value, a gift from God to be cherished, appreciated and tended. Man is made in the image of God (not in a physical but an intellectual, spiritual and moral sense), so whoever destroys a life also diminishes God. We are warned to take care of …

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Oz Torah: Torah reading – parashat B’ha’alot’cha

SEVENTY ELDERS. The sidra (Num. 11:16) reports God’s command to Moses to appoint seventy elders as an advisory and judicial council. Yet in Num. 16:2 there is a reference to 250 leaders, so what are we talking about here? Possibly there was a council of 250 and an inner executive …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi.

RABBIS REMAINING IN THE DIASPORA. Question.    Why do some rabbis prefer living in the Diaspora to Israel? Answer.      They know that the Talmud says that if you live outside Israel it seems that you have no God (Ket. 110b). Tosafot to that passage says that some people are reluctant to …

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Oz Torah: God as a “He” – Ask the Rabbi

MALE & FEMALE IMAGERY FOR GOD. Question. Why do we call God “He”? Answer.    Despite our post-feminist age, a crucial question remains: the Gender of God. It is axiomatic that He has no physical form, and anthropomorphisms (applying human terminology to Him) are metaphors. So why do we call …

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Oz Torah:Shavuot features.

THE WICKED BIBLE. The Ten Commandments have a lot of “thou shalt nots”. Imagine if one of the “nots” was left out. It actually happened in 1631 when the Royal printers made a mistake in Exodus 20:14, where they accidentally omitted a “not”, so that the command now read, “Thou …

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Criminalising Unauthorised Marriage?

There are criminals sitting in the Israeli Knesset: legislators who have either performed weddings outside the state’s religious authority, or who have personally been married in such ceremonies. The Jewish state is one of the only places in the world where it is illegal — with a potential jail term …

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Oz Torah: A Shavu’ot prelude.

A GREEK NAME FOR SHAVU’OT. In old Anglo-Jewry they didn’t use Hebrew names for festivals when they could use English. They knew of Passover more than Pesach, Tabernacles rather than Sukkot, New Year instead of Rosh HaShanah. They would have used an English name for Chanukah too if they could; …

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Oz Torah: Torah reading – B’har.

A PEAK OF INSIGHT. When the Israelites said “Na’aseh v’nishma”, “We will do and we shall hear”, they are seen by the sages (Shab. 88a/b) as on a peak of spiritual understanding. Metaphorically they ascended a mountain, echoing the title of this week’s reading, B’har (“On Mount Sinai”). Through “Na’aseh …

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Oz Torah: Vengeance in Psalms – Ask the Rabbi

VENGEANCE IN PSALMS. Question. The end of Psalm 137 (“Al Naharot Bavel”) says, “Blest is he who takes and shatters your infants against the rock”. How can the Psalm say something so offensive and vengeful? Answer.    Psalm 137 is a sad reflection of how bitter it was for the remnants …

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