Judaism

Oz Torah. Torah reading: Mishpatim

SHIELDING THE STRANGER Ex. 22:20 is one of over thirty passages in the Torah which command us to look after the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt (this happens to be one of the places where the Torah spells out the reason behind its laws). The …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi on “Who were the women?”

WHO WERE THE WOMEN? Question. Who was it that successfully agitated for women to be allowed to undertake extra mitzvot (good deeds)? Answer. The issue revolves around which category of commandments we are dealing with. There are actions which are commanded and actions which are prohibited. The second category is …

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Oz Torah:Ask the Rabbi -Personal choice & the Commandments

Question. Why should I obey the Jewish commandments if I don’t want to? Shouldn’t personal choice play a part in my religious observance? Answer.    “If I don’t want to” is highly subjective. Try a different context. Can I say, “Why should I obey the traffic laws if I don’t …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi “Do animals know about God?

Question. Do animals know there is a God? Answer.   According to the Midrash, God rebuked David for boasting that no-one could sing praises as well as he could. “Every creature,” God told him, “has its own way of praising its Maker.” The birds chirp. The horses neigh. The cows low. …

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Oz Torah. Torah reading: Bo

JUMPING THE GUN There is a rabbinic tradition that the tribe of Ephraim were in such a hurry to be free from slavery that they left Egypt thirty years before the appointed time (they had misunderstood a passage in Gen. 15:13 and miscalculated the date of the deliverance). They did …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi on “Criticising people harshly”

CRITICISING PEOPLE HARSHLY Question. Is it right to criticise people harshly? Answer.   There is a right way to criticise, and a wrong way. The curse of the Tochechah in the Torah are read in a soft, almost inaudible voice. The Reader does not enjoy pronouncing harsh words or rebuke. He …

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Oz Torah: Torah reading – Va’era

WHO WAS MOSES? There is a classical essay by Ahad HaAm which asks the question, “Who essentially was Moses?” Ahad HaAm examines a number of theories, e.g. Moses was a general, Moses was a legislator, Moses was a prophet. Another approach comes in the Torah itself. In Ex. 2:19 he …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi on L’chayyim

Question. Why do we say “L’Chayyim” when we have a drink? Answer.    Wine “gladdens the human heart” (Psalm 104:15). In moderation it is an aid to health; the sages used to say when they took a drink, “Wine and health to the rabbis and their students!” (Shabbat 67b). But wine …

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Oz Torah – Torah reading: Sh’mot

THE BURNING BUSH. By the time we reach the adulthood of Moses we see that this was no ordinary human being but a man with a flaring sense of the Divine Presence. Out in the wilderness the Voice spoke to him from a thorn-bush which burnt but was not consumed. …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi ‘Eating Pork’

Question.  Why is eating pork so repugnant to Jews? Answer.     Though the pig is not the only animal which the Torah forbids us to eat, it has come to be the ultimate symbol of what Jews don’t do. Historically, a Jew who threw off Jewish restraints would show his defiance …

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Oz Torah: Torah reading – Vayyechi

JACOB LIVED. The patriarch had two names – Jacob and Israel. After his all-night wrestle with the unnamed assailant, the name Jacob was replaced by Israel. Yet with this week’s portion we find “Jacob” back again: “Vay’chi Ya’akov”, “And Jacob lived”. Why does the text come back to the old …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi on “incense in the synagogue”

INCENSE IN THE SYNAGOGUE. Question.   In some religions they go in for “bells and smells”. Why does Judaism not burn incense in the synagogue, especially since it used to be the case in the Temple? Answer.     Probably the only context in which there was anything similar to incense in …

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OzTorah – Torah reading: Vayyiggash

HE SAID THE SHEMA. Rashi tells us, following the rabbinic sages, that when Joseph and his elderly father Jacob finally met again, the pious old man said the Shema (Gen. 46:29). Perhaps it was because his first thought was to thank God that the long-cherished dream of reunion with his …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi..”Salvation”

SALVATION. Question. How do the Jewish and Christian views of salvation differ? Answer.The opening words of Psalm 27 are “HaShem Ori V’Yish’i” – “The Lord is my Light and Salvation”. Salvation (“yeshu’ah”) is a major concept in Judaism, but in a quite different sense to Christianity, which holds that a …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi – Chanukah features.

HELLENISM & THE STRUGGLE FOR JEWISH IDENTITY The appeal of Chanukah is amazing. Other occasions have their ups and downs, sometimes honoured in the breach more than the observance. But Chanukah continues to win and hold the loyalty of vast numbers of Jews, and to be brought into the public …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi “Who wrote Ma’oz Tzur?

Question. Who wrote Ma’oz Tzur? Answer.  The initial letters of the first five stanzas yield the acrostic Mordechai, indicating an author named Mordechai who lived in Germany in the early 13th century. Which Mordechai it was has not been established. There is a theory that he was Mordechai the son …

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OzTorah. Torah reading: Vayyishlach

WHY SHOULD ESAU CARE? Rashi turned a Biblical verse into a rhyme when he quoted Gen. 32:5, “Im Lavan gar’ti” (Jacob’s statement, “I dwelt with Laban”) into “Im Lavan gar’ti v’taryag mitzvot shamar’ti” (“I dwelt with Laban and observed the 613 commandments”). Who was Jacob talking to? His brother Esau. …

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Ask the Rabbi on “Maccabi or Maccabee?”

MAIMONIDES – PHILOSOPHER OR THEOLOGIAN? Q. How can some texts describe Maimonides as a philosopher? Wasn’t he a theologian? Aren’t the two roles contradictory? A.  As a theologian Maimonides uses rigorous philosophical methodology to reason about the faith and tradition which he upholds. It should be said, however, that modern …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Vayyetzei.

A DOUBLE CAMP. At the end of the sidra, Jacob declares that a certain place is to be called “Machanayim” – literally, a double camp (Gen. 32:2). This place was the border post between Israel and the neighbouring land. As Rashi explains, basing himself on earlier rabbinic sources, it was …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi – How much sleep?

Question.    How much should I sleep? Answer.       The answer is personal. Some people need seven to ten hours a day, others can get by on three. Some can only fall asleep if they listen to music, others can only fall asleep during sermons! The real consideration is not how …

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