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Judaica (clockwise from top): Shabbat candlesticks, handwashing cup, Chumash and Tanakh, Torah pointer, shofar and etrog box

Judaism (originally from Hebrew יהודה‬, Yehudah, "Judah"; via Latin and Greek) is the religion of the Jewish people. It is an ancient, monotheistic, Abrahamic religion with the Torah as its foundational text. It encompasses the religion, philosophy, and culture of the Jewish people. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. Judaism encompasses a wide body of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible, and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. With between 14.5 and 17.4 million adherents worldwide, Judaism is the tenth largest religion in the world.

Within Judaism there are a variety of movements, most of which emerged from Rabbinic Judaism, which holds that God revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah. Historically, this assertion was challenged by various groups such as the Sadducees and Hellenistic Judaism during the Second Temple period; the Karaites and Sabbateans during the early and later medieval period; and among segments of the modern non-Orthodox denominations. Modern branches of Judaism such as Humanistic Judaism may be nontheistic. Today, the largest Jewish religious movements are Orthodox Judaism (Haredi Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism), Conservative Judaism, and Reform Judaism. Major sources of difference between these groups are their approaches to Jewish law, the authority of the Rabbinic tradition, and the significance of the State of Israel. Orthodox Judaism maintains that the Torah and Jewish law are divine in origin, eternal and unalterable, and that they should be strictly followed. Conservative and Reform Judaism are more liberal, with Conservative Judaism generally promoting a more traditionalist interpretation of Judaism's requirements than Reform Judaism. A typical Reform position is that Jewish law should be viewed as a set of general guidelines rather than as a set of restrictions and obligations whose observance is required of all Jews. Historically, special courts enforced Jewish law; today, these courts still exist but the practice of Judaism is mostly voluntary. Authority on theological and legal matters is not vested in any one person or organization, but in the sacred texts and the rabbis and scholars who interpret them.

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Tomb of Joseph at Shechem 1839, by David Roberts.jpg

Joseph's Tomb is a funerary monument located at the eastern entrance to the valley that separates Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus, near the site of Shechem. Biblical tradition identifies the general area of Shechem as the resting-place of Joseph and his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph's tomb has been venerated throughout the ages by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Post-biblical records about the Tomb's location at this site date from the 4th century. The present structure, a small rectangular room with a cenotaph, dates from 1868. Modern scholarship has yet to determine if the cenotaph is the ancient biblical gravesite. No sources prior to the 5th century mention the tomb, and the structure originally erected over it appears to have been built by the Samaritans.

Joseph's Tomb has witnessed intense sectarian conflict. Samaritans and Christians disputing access and title to the site in the early Byzantine period often clashed violently. After Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, conflict from competing Jewish and Muslim claims over the tomb became frequent. Though under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority after the signing of the Oslo Accords, it remained under IDF guard with Muslims prohibited. At the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, just after being handed over to the PNA, it was looted and razed by a Palestinian mob. Following Israel's reoccupation of Nablus in the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield, Jewish groups returned there intermittently. Recently the structure has been refurbished, with a new cupola installed, and visits by Jewish worshipers have resumed. (Read more...)

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Stanton Street Synagogue

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Joel Brand

Joel Brand (1906 – 1964) was a sailor and odd-job man, originally from Transylvania but raised in Germany, who became known for his efforts during the Holocaust to save the Hungarian-Jewish community from deportation to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. He is remembered in particular for his negotiations with the German Schutzstaffel (SS) officer, Adolf Eichmann, to exchange one million Jews for trucks and other goods, a deal the Nazis proposed and called "Blut gegen Waren" ("blood for goods").

Brand was a member in the 1940s of the Hungarian Aid and Rescue Committee, an organization of Zionists who helped Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe escape to the relative safety of Hungary, before the German invasion of that country on 19 March 1944. Shortly after the invasion, Brand was summoned to a meeting with Eichmann, who asked Brand to help broker a deal between the SS and the United States or Britain, in which the Nazis would release up to one million Jews in exchange for 10,000 trucks for the Eastern front, and large quantities of soap, tea and coffee.

In the end, nothing came of the proposal. Historians believe the Germans intended it to serve as a cover for high-ranking Nazi officers, including Heinrich Himmler, to negotiate a peace deal with the Western Allies that would exclude the Soviet Union, and perhaps Adolf Hitler himself. Whatever its purpose, the proposal was thwarted by the Jewish Agency for Israel and a suspicious British government. (Read more...)

Picture of the Week

Opatów Synagogue silverware.JPG

Silver items meant for decorating Torah scrolls.
They were in the Opatów Synagogue
until the Nazi occupation of Poland,
when they were lost (presumably stolen).

Credit: "Catalogue of stolen and missing cultural achievements"
Ośrodek Informacyjno-Koordynacyjny Ochrony Obiektów Muzealnych

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Weekly Torah Portion

Beshalach (בשלח)
Exodus 13:17–17:16
The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues on Shabbat, Saturday, 13 Shevat, 5779—January 19, 2019
“Who is like You, O Lord, among the mighty? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11.)

When Pharaoh let the Israelites go, God led the people roundabout by way of the Sea of Reeds. Moses took the bones of Joseph with them. God went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.

When Pharaoh learned that the people had fled, he had a change of heart, and he chased the Israelites with chariots, overtaking them by the sea. Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to God and complained to Moses. God told Moses to lift up his rod, hold out his arm, and split the sea. Moses did so, and God drove back the sea with a strong east wind, and the Israelites marched through on dry ground, the waters forming walls on their right and left. The Egyptians pursued, but God slowed them by locking their chariot wheels. On God’s instruction, Moses held out his arm, and the waters covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the Egyptians. Moses and the Israelites – and then Miriam – sang a song to God, celebrating how God hurled horse and driver into the sea.

The Gathering of Manna (painting by Bacchiacca)

The Israelites went three days into the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the bitter water, so they grumbled against Moses. God showed Moses a piece of wood to throw into the water, and the water became sweet.

Moses strikes the rock (painting by Tintoretto)

The Israelites came to the wilderness of Sin and grumbled in hunger against Moses and Aaron. God heard their grumbling, and in the evening quail covered the camp, and in the morning fine flaky manna covered the ground like frost. The Israelites gathered as much of it as they required; those who gathered much had no excess, and those who gathered little had no deficiency. Moses instructed none to leave any of it over until morning, but some did, and it became infested with maggots and stank. On the sixth day they gathered double the food, Moses instructed them to put aside the excess until morning, and it did not turn foul the next day, the Sabbath. Moses told them that on the Sabbath, they would not find any manna on the plain, yet some went out to gather and found nothing. Moses ordered that a jar of the manna be kept throughout the ages. The Israelites ate manna 40 years.

When the Israelites encamped at Rephidim, there was no water and the people quarreled with Moses. God told Moses to strike the rock at Horeb to produce water, and they called the place Massah (trial) and Meribah (quarrel).

Amalek attacked Israel at Rephidim. Moses stationed himself on the top of the hill, with the rod of God in his hand, and whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; but whenever he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. When Moses grew weary, he sat on a stone, while Aaron and Hur supported his hands, and Joshua overwhelmed Amalek in battle. God instructed Moses to inscribe a document as a reminder that God would utterly blot out the memory of Amalek.

Hebrew–English text
Hear the parshah chanted
Commentary from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University (Conservative)
Commentary from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Conservative)
Commentary by the Union for Reform Judaism (Reform)
Commentaries from Project Genesis (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Chabad.org (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Aish HaTorah (Orthodox)
Commentaries from the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (Reconstructionist)
Commentaries from My Jewish Learning (trans-denominational)


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