Judaism/Spirituality

OzTorah: Simchat Torah.

WHO IS REJOICING? The name Simchat Torah is ambiguous. The conventional translation helps very little. To say “The Rejoicing of the Torah” tells us two things, but not what we really need to know. It tells us that this is a day of rejoicing; it tells us that the rejoicing …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

  EVOLUTION. Question.  Does Judaism believe in Evolution? Answer.     Whole books have been written about the various aspects and permutations of the subject. I am going to limit myself to one aspect as suggested by a Midrash (B’reshit Rabbah1:9). The Midrash notices that the beginning of Genesis uses two different …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi – Succot.

MORE TREES IN THE FOREST. Our forefathers didn’t know about high-rise buildings or information technology. Theirs was an agricultural civilisation centred around the sun and the seasons, the plants and the trees, the animals and the leaves. They didn’t have our achievements, but nor did they have our anxieties. But …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.- Yom Kippur.

“AVINU” BEFORE “MALKENU” Question.   In “Avinu Malkenu”, why does “Avinu” (“Our Father”) precede “Malkenu” (“Our King”)? Answer.      Before answering you in detail let me register an objection to the wish of some people to replace “Our Father” with “Our Parent” and “Our King” with “Our Ruler”. These are classical …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

FOR GOD’S SAKE. Question.   In “Zochrenu Lachayyim”, why do we ask God, “Remember us for life… for Your sake”? Answer.   One might have thought the prayer should ask God to answer us for our sake more than for His. What does He have to gain after all from the …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Ki Tavo

THE FAITH OF A WANDERING ARAMEAN. Bringing first fruits to the Sanctuary, an Israelite made a declaration that said, “My father was a wandering Aramean” (Deut. 26:5). Ignaz Maybaum, an Anglo-Jewish philosopher who came from the great pre-War community of Germany, regarded this verse as theology, not just history. If …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

SOUL ENTERING THE BODY. Question.   When does the soul enter the body? Answer.      Maimonides offers a comprehensive analysis of the soul in his “Eight Chapters” (an introduction to his commentary on the Ethics of the Fathers). For him it seems that “soul” means what we would call personality, …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Ki Tetzei

THE NAME OF DIVORCE. A section of this sidra deals with divorce procedures. The Torah calls the divorce document “Sefer K’ritut”, literally “a document of cutting off” (Deut. 24:1). For some reason the document is known as a “gett”. There is a grammatical explanation which I heard from Professor MD …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

DO ENDS JUSTIFY MEANS. Questions.  Do the ends justify the means? Answer.  As a general rule, no. On the verse, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20), Bachya ben Asher says that the doubling of the word “justice” indicates “Justice, whether to your profit or loss; justice, whether in word …

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Think Again – Shabbos project coming soon

The South African chief rabbi Warren Goldstein started a revolution last year. He encouraged, cajoled and persuaded his Sth African community to keep just one Shabbos. So Parshat Noah last year the entire South African Jewish community got behind him and from Friday evening sundown through to Saturday evening at …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Shof’tim

A FEELING FOR THE LAW. The opening verses of the sidra (Deut. 16:18) seem almost unnecessary. They tell us to have judges and officers in all our gates. Of course the gate in ancient times was where everything happened. That’s where people met one another, where commercial transactions took place, …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

SYNAGOGUES WITHOUT SPIRITUALITY. Question.  I have often wondered why my synagogue is so active and busy but not in a spiritual sense. I feel more spiritual in my garden. Is there something wrong with me? Answer.  Possibly. Maybe you miss the sense of sanctity that comes from sitting in shule …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Re’eh.

LOOK AFTER THE LEVITE. In a Torah portion packed with content there comes the sentence, “Do not abandon the Levite” (Deut. 12:19). Look at its context and you understand the verse. Israelite worship had to avoid all forms of idolatry. Authentic Jewish worship had to be structured according to the …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

PROTECTING THE DEAD. Question.  Does Judaism approve of autopsies? Answer.  Generally Judaism opposes anything which would injure, mar or mutilate the human body, after death as well as in life. However, in 1776 Rabbi Yechezkel Landau issued in his Noda Biy’hudah a now famous statement that an autopsy could be …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Ekev

100 A DAY. Cigarette smoking is now quite rare. When I was a boy things were different. Smokers who were trying to wean themselves off the habit used to boast, “I’m down to being a ten-a-day person”. Judaism of course has a strong tradition of declaring smoking to be a …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

ENTERING A CHURCH OR MOSQUE. Question.  May a Jew enter a church or mosque? Answer.  Jewish sentiment is wary of entering a church or mosque. Our historical memory of being compelled to attend Christian sermons cannot be easily effaced. But it’s not just a matter of history but of ideology. Whilst …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Va’et’channan.

SHEMA COMES TWICE. “Sh’ma Yisra’el” – “Hear, O Israel” – comes twice in this week’s reading – Deut. 5:1 and 6:4. The second instance is the famous one. The first passage is Moses announcing the Ten Commandments: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances…” In this Sh’ma, God has …

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Arlene from Israel – Let Us Draw Strength

Tonight begins Tisha B’Av, the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar.  It marks the day of the destruction of our two Temples and a number of other national calamities. On this day we fast and mourn, read the Book of Lamentations. We also look to the religious meaning in …

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