Thursday, November 30, 2006

In-Class Assignment for 12/1

Follow the following link and answer the questions below (Ms. Harris should have them printed out for you as well):

Almost forgot: you guys can have an extension on the game project until Thurs.

Have a great Shabbat!

Which four prophets does Rabbi Leibtag refer to as “The Big Four”?

Explain the concept of “sine wave” of בית ראשון.

Which period of time saw the first “high” of the sine wave?

What event precipitated the first “low”?

According to Rabbi Leibtag, during the low, “ . . . not only did __________________ and __________________ suffer, so too did the _______________ ________ of the people.”

Who were the prophets during the second low?

Why does Rabbi Leibtag refer to the thirds “high” as “The Big Opportunity”?

Who were the kings during the time of “The Big Opportunity”?

Who were the prophets during the time of “The Big Opportunity”? [HINT: see question #1.]

What did Hashem do during this time to make sure that the opportunity was not wasted?

What happened (i.e. did they use or did they waste the opportunity)?

What message did both ישעיה and מיכה have for בני ישראל at this time?

Compare that message to that of עמוס:

According to the article, what was/were the primary sin(s) that led to מיכה’s prophecies of impending doom?

What did the people themselves think of their actions?

What misconception did the people have about sacrifices?

Was מיכה opposed to sacrifices in principle or was he opposed to how the people brought them?

What is the connection between this section of מיכה and בלעם?

Translate the following פסוק:
"הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם מַה טּוֹב וּמָה ה' דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ כִּי אִם עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם א-ֱלֹהֶיךָ"

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Doubtful Dogma

Posted by Arella

One of the prevailing arguments for those who seek historical facts in order to prove Judaism’s validity is God’s revelation at Har Sinai. The claim is that there were at least six hundred thousand people who held witness to God’s recitation of the Ten (or at least of the first two) Commandments. The reason this argument is so compelling, aside from the awe inspiring claim of witnessing God firsthand, is that the other two most prominent religions, Islam and Christianity, base their beliefs on the testimony of one or two people. Though it seems as if Judaism is clearly valid for the reason that not one or two, but at least six hundred thousand held witness to God’s revelation, one who has prophecy is similarly believable. For instance, Muhammad’s claim to have held witness to an angel of God who called him the messenger of God (thereby teaching Muhammad the Koran) can theoretically be equally believable to Jesus’ teachings or Moshe’s prophecies because all are single witness’ accounts. Therefore, in order to strengthen Judaism’s validity, one would note God’s revelation to the entire Jewish nation in order to make Judaism more believable. However, though it is assumed that God directly revealed himself to the entire Jewish nation, such an assumption remains questionable (as you will see in the following blog). Consequently, if one is to solely base his or her belief in Judaism on, for example, the account of six hundred thousand Jews witnessing Hashem firsthand, Judaism’s validity remains uncertain.

“So shall you say to the Children of Israel, ‘Hashem the God of your forefathers…has dispatched me to you…Hashem has appeared to me” (Shemot 3:15-17).

“And the people believed, and they heard that Hashem had remembered the Children of Israel” (Shemot 4:31).

One of Judaism’s, or Moshe’s, pivotal moments is Hashem’s revelation at the burning bush, or sneh. Yet the only one to witness Hashem’s revelation is Moshe. Therefore, one might call such a vision a prophecy. Similarly, another pivotal moment in Jewish history is Hashem’s revelation at Har Sinai. The reason this event is considered so significant is because it proves Hashem’s existence, as well as His omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. Yet as it says in the peshat, only Moshe went up Har Sinai to receive the luchot, and only Moshe was present at the burning bush. Additionally, as it says in the peshat, Moshe was the one to recite the Ten Commandments.

“Hashem said to him, ‘Go, descend. Then you shall ascend, you, and Aaron with you, but the Kohanim, and the people-they shall not destroy to ascend unto Hashem, lest He will make a breach against them.” Moses descended to the people and said to them. ‘God spoke all these words, to say: I am Hashem, your God…” (Shemot, 19:24-25, 20:1).

If Hashem were the one present to recite the commandments, then the peshat would be written differently. For example, after Moshe receives orders from Hashem, it should have said “and Moses said this (or it) to them”. Yet the peshat says “Moses descended to the people and said to them” (Shemot 19-25) prior to the recitation of the Ten Commandments. When the word “vayomer”, literally translated as “said”, is written in the Torah, it is an introduction to someone about to say something. Therefore, despite drash, one may interpret the “vayomer” in pasuk 25 to refer to Moshe’s repetition of God’s words in the next pasuk. Therefore, if interpreted literally, Moshe goes up to Har Sinai, alone, comes down to confront the people, and recites the Ten Commandments. Ringing a bell? This is very similar to the ways of a navi receiving prophecy: when alone, either in a trance, (or in Moshe’s case still conscious), Hashem appears to him or her, and the navi consequently communicates God’s message (in this case the Ten Commandments), to the people. Was the incident at Har Sinai Hashem’s revelation, one of Moshe’s prophecies, or both? If indeed Hashem’s revelations both at the sneh and Har Sinai (Judaism’s most pivotal moments, which often serve as proof of validity), were Moshe’s prophecies, then what makes Judaism more believable than any other religion whose main leader is also a prophet who claims to communicate between God and the people?

Rambam tries to solve this by saying that the only prophet who was ever given mitzvot (with a binding force for all future generations) was Moshe Rabbeinu. His was the only prophecy that was on the level of Torah. “Our tradition has it (Megilla 2b) that the only prophet who gave over “mitzvos”, i.e. obligations which are binding throughout all generations, was Moshe Rabbeinu” (“Nevuah”). Moshe’s claim to be considered the first and greatest of the Prophets is founded upon the fact that he introduced the worship of God among his people, and gave them the fundamentals of law. By him "direction" (Torah) was given to Israel; all later true prophets kept Israel in the same right course along the line of religious and moral development (“Prophecy”).Yet a prophecy is a prophecy, and therefore whether or not we as Jews might see Moshe’s prophecies as of equal stature of mitzvoth, how are Moshe’s prophecies more believable than Muhammad’s or Jesus’?

Rambam’s commentary to mishnayos Chulin in Gid Hanoshe

Rabbi Herschel Schachter: “Torah and Nevuah”.

Jewish Encyclopedia: “Prophets and Prophecy”.

Free Will

Posted by Sara


We all know that free will is one of the hardest things to believe in. In my head what causes this unbelievable skepticism among us is the fact that Judaism contradicts itself: the Torah tells us G-d knows all, but it also tells us we have free will. Does the concept of Hashem knowing all negate any possibility of having choice in our lives? One could see why this is true for having choice means there is an element of surprise involved meaning if Hashem knows our future how do we have any choice of changing it because if we do change our mind Hashem already knows. And doesn’t the Torah also say that G-d controls all, which would imply that he controls our choices… or lack thereof.
When it comes to relevancy in nevuah, we will go back to the core of my free will problem. One of the main questions people ask about Yonah is if Hashem knew he would run away why Hashem didn’t stop him. One would answer simply because he has free will. However from this we can derive that no he doesn’t have free will because then he would’ve succeeded in running away and furthermore does Hashem’s knowledge of Yonah’s plan mean that Hashem controls our fate meaning that we don’t really have a choice.
I have luckily stumbled upon two answers to this question that both highly anger me yet give me a stability that I can live with… for now:
1) The Talmud (Ber. 33b; Niddah 16b) says "All is in the hands of God except the fear of God." This quote was first said to me by my father when we were having another heated debate about free will. The Talmud here is telling us that we in fact do not have free will, not about what colleges we go to or whether or not we run away from g-d or our families, we do not have free will to choose chocolate or vanilla and we do not have the free will to choose whether or not we insult somebody just to look good in front of our friends. However, this all depends on whether or not we believe in g-d at all because that is the one thing that free will is there for, to choose our beliefs and whether or not we follow Hashem. However, doesn’t it leave you a bit unsettled that the only true choice you have in life is your belief in g-d?
2) This weekend I had the privilege of discussing free will with Rabbi Yehuda, the rabbi from Shalem (a program in Israel). When I asked him whether or not Hashems knowledge cancels out our free will, he explained to me the words of the Ramban. To summarize the idea: Knowledge is too human of a term, when we say that Hashem “knows” we assume he knows the same way we know but how can we possibly assume that knowledge works the same way for Hashem that it does for us. So what does this mean, well the Rabbi and I discussed one of the main possibilities could be that Hashem sees our lives like a timeline but He is in a completely different dimension but that means that Him seeing from the outside does not control our choices.

I know how frustrating this topic is and I know I will never find the answer I am looking for so I will turn it over to you: Does Hashem knowing all negate the possibility for free will?

The Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Posted by Eliana

Hello everyone,
So I decided to talk about the concept of a “Self Fulfilling Prophecy”. This concept, also known as the Pygmalion Effect, is the idea that when you or someone else makes a judgment about your character, you tend to adapt that character. Wikipedia defines it a little more clearly: “The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come true.”
Obviously, it’s a tad odd that the concept is a self fulfilling Prophecy. There’s clearly a reason for this name. What I want to propose is that perhaps all prophecies are self-fulfilling prophecies. A prophet will have a “vision” from “God”, he will tell everyone this vision and then one of two things could happen. One, everyone would adjust their behaviors to ensure the Nevuah comes true. Or, B, they will attribute an event that has no apparent connection to the prophecy.
I’ll give a few examples.
1) Essentially every prophecy by which a nation was saved. We can take Yonah. Yonah was told that Ninveh was evil and was going to be destroyed unless they repent. Yonah goes through the whole fish thing, goes to Ninveh, tells them the prophecy, and they repent! Ninveh is saved!! But what if the prophecy didn’t really happen, at least not from “God”. Yonah goes to Ninveh, claims to have a prophecy that they’ll be destroyed unless they repent, they repent, nothing happens, and there’s absolutely no way for them to know that the prophecy never happened. They heard the prophecy, therefore they repented, and therefore they can attribute their not being destroyed to the prophecy. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy because they believe it and make it so that it is true.
2) So when thinking about example one, the obvious counterexample would be Yirmiyahu, who prophesized that unless Bnei Yisroel repent, they will lose the Beit Hamikdash and be hurt very badly. Bnei Yisroel, apparently, doesn’t repent, and they are in fact hurt and the Bit Hamikdash is taken away. This one seems to be pretty irrefutable. However, take the political scene of the time. Jeremiah reigned from about 628 BCE to 586 BCE when the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed. By 605, when Yirmiyahu was 23 years old, Babylonia had already overtaken Jerusalem and had begun to take Jews captive (various web sites). Tensions were high, who knew what Babylonia was planning to do? It was pretty clear, however, that they were hostile, and it’s not such a far stretch to suspect that they would soon do something drastic. So Jeremiah comes along and starts blaming the Jews actions for Babylonia. Babylonia does exile the Jews and the Beit Hamikdash is destroyed. Obviously, the Jews DIDN’T REPENT and that’s why that happened. But, what if Babylonia decided not to destroy the Beit Hamikdash and left Jerusalem, the reaction would have been like all the other ones; GOOD JOB GUYS YOU REPENTED! The point is the prophecy is dependent on the actions of Babylonia. No matter what Babylonia chose to do, it could be spun in such a way that it would fit Yirmiyahu’s prophecy.
3) The 70 years prophesy. This was essentially the prophecy that said once we were exiled to Babylonia, we would be redeemed in 70 years. The book of Esther, in which the Jews are still in exile, takes place during the time of XERXES I, who ruled from 485-465 BCE. Even if Esther took place at the beginning of his reign, that still about 100 years, 30 years longer than 70. Now, we learned with Mrs. Krestt all these different ways to interpret the prophecy, and Rabbis and commentators come up with all sorts of explanations. They force the prophecy to come true. They interpret it in ways that fit with history so that it can’t be disputed. A prophecy is told, therefore it is true. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg in his forward to Trei Asar in the Judaica Press version of the book writes, “The latter prophets, however, are mostly prophetic, and consequently, poetic, leaving much leeway for various interpretations” (vii) When I think about this statement, I immediately think about horoscopes. A horoscope is “prophetic” and very poetic, “leaving much leeway for various interpretations”. That’s why horoscopes work, and sell for so many uneducated people. How many times have you read a fortune from a fortune cookie, and you’re like “THAT’S SO TRUE!” or later, something happens and you’re like “MY FORUTNE COOKIE SAID THAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN”. I read an article online at that said: “Astrology offers a number of things which many people find very desirable: information and assurance about the future, a way to be absolved of their current situation and future decisions, and a way to feel connected to the entire cosmos.” Nevuot offer a number of things which many people find very desirable: information and assurance about the future, a way to be absolved of their current situation and future decisions, and a way to feel connected to the entire cosmos.

After all of this my questions to you, my dear friends, are:
a. Are prophecies really “self fulfilled prophecies”? A false statement that, after hearing, becomes true because one wants it to be true? A horoscope in disguise?
b. If not, why is there all this discrepancies in the interpretations of Nevuot? Why do the Rabbis interpret it differently? Why is there so much unclearness?
c. This is kind of an entirely different discussion but its thought provoking: Is RELIGION a self fulfilled prophecy? One that one observes because one want it, needs it, to be true?

Monday, November 13, 2006


Posted by Dasi

One of the opinions on why Yonah did not deliver his nevuah to Nineveh was because he did not want to bring destruction to Bnei Yisrael. Perhaps he should have interjected and argued with Hashem initially instead of fleeing from God.
Two prime suspects in Sefer Breishit to help us flesh out this concern.

The early rabbinic midrash Genesis Rabbah quotes God as saying "I never considered telling Abraham to slaughter Isaac (using the Hebrew root letters for "slaughter", not "sacrifice")". Rabbi Yona Ibn Janach ( Spain, 11th century) wrote that God only demanded a symbolic sacrifice. Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi (Spain, early 14th century) wrote that Abraham's "imagination" led him astray, making him believe that he had been commanded to sacrifice his son. Ibn Caspi writes "How could God command such a revolting thing?

Was Avraham really supposed to do the Akeidah? Rather, is it even up to us to ASK?

1) The moral dilemma
Avraham Avinu spoke to Hashem in response to his threat to destroy Sodom-he wanted Hashem to find at least a certain amount of Tzadikim. He defended the people. One may argue that when he was told to jump into the fire to verify his faith in G-d, he did not argue. That act, however, was only pertaining to him and he is permitted choose whether or not he wants to endanger his life.
Why, then, when Akeidat Yitzchak rolls around, he does not argue or question G-d's nevuah in defense of his son. He wants so much to fulfill the nevuah, acccording to some, he desires to even spill a little blood form Yitzchak to fulfill Hashem's prophecy. If it out of his own compunction to pray for Sodom, why isn't he entitled to question the sacrifice of his son? (Some justify by saying that Isaac knew about it, but he idid not make the decision-its all on Abraham).

Is this why Noach is considered a lesser tzadik-because he didn't stand up for his generation?

2) The intellectual dilemma
Noach was certainly not active in pursuing the salvation of the people around him.
"And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die."
Why do commentators say he was a lesser tzadik than Avraham for not interjecting if Avraham neglects to defend his own son?

Does TORAH LO BASHAMAYIM HI apply to Nevuah, if so, does the interjection make a BETTER or WORSE Navi?

Amos: A Contemporary to Ourselves

Posted by Debbie

When reading through parts of Sefer Amos, I was struck by the line “Hear this prophecy, you cows of Bashan” (Amos 4:1). First and foremost why would Amos preach to cows, and secondly, if he was not preaching to cows, why would he refer to people as cows?

Amos’s message can easily resonate with many American’s today. “The cows of Bashan” become “the cows of America” and Amos’s constant message: help the poor, or God will smite you:
Because you trample upon the poor and exact a burden of grain from him – you have built houses of hewn stone, but you will not dwell in them.(5:11).

The people of Israel were more concerned about themselves and their well-being then they were concerned about the wellbeing of fellow Jews. (The sentiment is repeated in the times of Ezra, when the Jews are not concerned about the building of the second Beit Hamikdash.)

Furthermore it is unclear to us whether Amos was rich or poor. Ones view regarding his financial status could change what one take away from the sefer. Views depend greatly on whether Amos was a poor “dresser of sycamore trees”, who preaches to the rich men to Israel to give to the poor. Or he could be a rich man “who works with animals” telling others of his own financial class to give to the poor.

Do you think it is fair (if Amos was indeed poor) for Amos to preach for the rich to help the poor if he is poor?

Catholic Encyclopedia
Sefer Amos
Jewish Encyclopedia

The Kikayon and the People

Posted by Rachel

Hashem says to Yonah, "You took pity on the kikayon for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow; it was born at night and (the next) night it died, and I—-shall I not take pity on a great city like Nineveh, that has more than 120, 000 people in it who don’t know their right hand from their left, and many animals as well?"

A) First of all, this comparison seems pretty illogical. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Hashem to say that because Yonah cared so much about a short-lived tree, even more so Hashem should care about Ninveh?

B) Also, Rashi says that the "120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left” refers to the children of Ninveh, and "many animals" refers to the adults. So I understand why the people who don’t know their right from left represents the children, but why are animals used to symbolize adults? (why would Rashi interpret it this way?).

~~~~~Answer just A, B, or both, whatever floats your boat, so you don’t fall out and get eaten by a giant fish, that is… (and being barfed up into another fish doesn’t seem too appealing either…ok stop talking Rachel go to bed)~~~~~~~~~

Friday, November 10, 2006


In the Tanach training program that I attended today, Rabbi Leibtag said the following:
"A Navi's job is not to predict events, but to shape them."

What do you think? Given your knowledge of the various prophets you've studied in this and other classes, do you agree or disagree with R' Leibtag?

A priori -- without resorting to historical precedent -- what do you think the Navi's role should be?