Friday, June 08, 2007

Essays for Honors Class

This essay will be a real essay and should contain introductory and concluding paragraphs, a clear thesis statement, and supports from the text. For the essay only, you may also use a 3 x 5 notecard on which you handwrote some notes/outlines for your essay. You will hand this card to me at the beginning of the final so that I can approve it. You will get this card back only once you have completed the other 3 secitons of the test and submitted them to me or another proctor.

  1. Find a topic that both יחזקאל and ירמיהו deal with. What are the similarities between the two prophesies? What are the differences? Present one approach that helps explain some of these differences.
  2. What was ירמיהו’s mission as a נביא? What did he do in order to try to achieve this goal? Was he successful? What do you think he could have done differently to be more successful?
  3. One the one hand, we cannot fully understand any נבואה without understanding its historical context. On the other hand, the message the נביא relays is timeless. Pick oneפרק of נביאים אחרונים that we did not see in class, and explain both how we need to know the historical context in order to understand it and how the message is timeless
  4. One of the issues a נביא always has to deal with is the question ofhis legitimacy. Is he a true נביא or a נביא שקר. For any two נביאים we studied this year discuss how they encountered this problem and how they dealt with it. Give concrete examples from the text.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The חכם and the נביא

The Gemara on Bava Batra 12a writes the following:

Abdimi from Haifa said: Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from the prophets and given to the wise. Is then a wise man not also a prophet? — What he meant was this: Although it has been taken from the prophets, it has not been taken from the wise. Amemar said: A wise man is even superior to a prophet, as it says, And a prophet has a heart of wisdom. Who is compared with whom? Is not the smaller compared with the greater? (Soncino translation)
R’ Yosef ibn Migash (the teacher of the Rambam), commenting on this Gemara, writes the following:
. . . a חכם is thus superior to a prophet: for a prophet only relates that which he heard and that which was placed in his mouth to repeat, while a חכם relates a tradition given to Moses at Sinai, even though he had never heard it [from anyone]! (qtd. in The Jewish Political Tradition Vol I. Ed. Walzer et al. pg. 260)
In contrast, the Ramban writes that this Gemara “means to say that although the prophecy of the prophets – by means of image and vision – was lost, the prophecy of the sages – by means of the intellect – was not lost. Rather, they know the truth from the holy spirit which [dwells]
within them." (ibid).

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Symbols of Nature

posted by Lisa

Oddly enough, my inspiration for this blog came form my Neta book. The book that I am learning in Ivrit class is discussing nature, water, and the heavens. One of the sections brings forth sources of meforshim that discuss how nature influences us to look on life and ourselves. For example, it says Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai states that the heavens are water and the stars are fire, and they cause peace and goodness (Rosh Hashana Chaf Gimmel). As it’s written “Oseh Shalom Bimromav”, in which bimromav means the heavens (Eyuv Chaf Hey 2). So, from the heavens, we learn the importance of peace. We see that the occurrences of nature are often times symbols or signs. Neta also brings the proof that Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi states “thunder comes to the world because of people: people hear the thunder, fear, and return to behaving the way they are supposed to” (Brachot Nun Tet).

This paragraph really intrigues me, and it makes me realize that we see from Tanach and Jewish life that so many aspects of nature were created or used by Hashem to send us messages or signs. Here are some examples, but I am sure people can come up with many more:
  • The Brit symbolized by a rainbow during the time of Yonah and the flood.
  • Three stars signify the end of Shabbat.
  • The Jewish calendar and cycle follows the Moon.
  • Thunder reminds us to return to the right path (as seen from Neta above).
    The heavens and fire (burning bush-Moshe) signify Hashem.
  • The sun and the moon stood still so that Joshua and Bnei Israel could defeat the Amorites in Givon/ Aijalon.
  • I also heard that about 10 years ago, a great Rabbi died in Israel, and that day it rained the most it ever had in Yerushalaim.

Can you think of other places where Hashem used nature to send us messages? Have you ever thought about aspects of nature that aren’t written in the Torah- Could they have been signs from Hashem that just weren’t recorded? Do you think nature still brings signs from Hashem?

A Religion of Extremes

Posted by Tamar

Judaism is a religion of contrasting commandments; as opposed to finding a balance between two different types of things, Judaism calls for an extreme depending on the holiday/mitzvah. Fast days, for example, are one of the ultimate ascetic things, depriving oneself of ones basic needs, food and drink. However, the Torah also commands us to be indulgent especially during specific holidays. This is most starkly seen between Ta'anit Esther and Purim, just a couple of days before the holiday in which we are commanded to indulge in food and drink; we are commanded to deprive ourselves of those basic human necessities. This fast then indulgence is again seen with Pesach, Erev Pesach the firstborns are supposed to fast but on Pesach we are told to have large meals. Similarly an ordinary Israelite who wants "separate themselves to God" ( ) has to take a "Nazarite vow of abstinence for the sake of Hashem" (Parshat Nasso, 6:2) he doesn't shave, doesn't drink, and doesn't cut his hair all to become closer to God. Additionally, although his economic status doesn't seem lowered, if one were to look at him, the observer would assume he was poor. The Nazir does all of this in order to reach the level of Holiness that a Cohen has innately. The Cohen though is commanded to wear specific clothes and look presentable at all times as well as to have wealth. In order to achieve a higher level of holiness, one must be either acetic or born into an inherently holy and wealthy class. Lastly, another type of contrasts within Judaism has to do with the emotional, not the physical and spiritual acts seen above. S'firat Ha'omer, logically, should be a happy time, for it is the time which we are counting down towards the days of our obtainment of the Torah and our closer connection with God, the rise of our spiritual level (

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What’s in a name?

Posted by Shira Z.

What is in a name? We don’t really think about this on a day-to-day basis, but one day while I was driving some people home from school, the discussion about names came up. We began questioning, would each of us be different if we had a different name? Would our personalities or lives be different if our names were different? Many things can change about a person, but one thing that remains constant is a name. A huge impact on our lives, which we don’t even realize, is our names. Another very interesting question that came in my mind is, what is Judaism’s perspective on names? In the Jewish world, a child is given a name, a sudden identity. This name could be the one of a patriarch or matriarch, a relative that perished in the holocaust, or just a praise of G-d. A name could be anything, and in Jewish circles, the name gives a child the beginning connection with Hashem. For a girl her naming is a few days after her birth and a boy is named at his bris melah. At this point when the Jewish name is given at a few days old, the child begins their journey with Hashem. Names and their backgrounds can be seen in Tanach such as when Sarah named Yitzchak for when she found out she would be having a child at her old age, she laughed (Breshiet 21: 6). Further on, when Rivka gave birth and named Yaakov, she named Yaakov for when he was born, he came out on the “akov” or heel of Esau (Breshit 25:26). When Sarah and Rivka named their sons, they didn’t just give them random names; they gave their sons a background, which they carried with themselves for their entire life. Lisa Katz and Robbin Weiss explain that in today’s society a Jewish name is a parents hope for what their child will become in the future. Their name is a parent’s light that their Jewish lineage will continue. According to Rabbi Akiva G. Belk hebrew letters are the spiritual foundation for Hebrew names that represent the essence of what a person is and will be in this life.

In today’s modern society, the Jewish nations names stand out our names sound and are written differently. For many non-Jews can’t pronounce the “ch” sound like we can and so on. Today, even the most secular Jews still hold on to Hebrew names even if they may have an English as well. But today isn’t the only period where the Jewish nation turned to their names to keep a connection with Hashem. According to Rabbi Akiva G. Belk, when Bnei Israel was in Egypt, they fell into the 49th level, one level from the furthest from Hashem.
He writes that they “almost reached the place where they may have crossed the line that we spoke of in our study of Parshas Bo, entitled Remembering. We asked the question: "[The] point is, Can a Jew cross the line? Can a Jew reach a place where there is no point of return? Where S H U V A H does not exist?" Our sages say there were three reasons they did not fall to the lowest level, which may have prevented their return. One of those reasons was that they kept their Hebrew names. They used their Hebrew identity!”

In the past, present, and future Jewish names have and will be the source of connection with Hashem. No matter how bad things have or can become in the future, there will always be a source of Jewish identity within a Jewish name. If Jewish names kept the Jewish nation strong in Egypt, so too, when we are on the verge of assimilation, our names will always been something that can’t be taken away. No matter how hard a person wants to rebel against Judaism, their name will be their everlasting attachment to Hashem. But this being my belief, do you feel that names keep us connected to Hashem? Furthermore, without Jewish names such as Avraham, Rivka, Ahuva, etc. will the Jewish nation grow weak and cease to be a strong, religious nation?