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Turning History Into Religion: The Story of Chanukah

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This is the first in a series on places where Rambam incorporates material that would not seem to be fully halachic. Part of the impetus for this comes from an article (and concern) of my late teacher, Prof. Isadore (Yitzchak) Twersky, z”l, who, early in his academic career, published an article titled “Some...

Dangerous Liaisons

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Vayishlach—5777

This is a hard parsha. Please, forgive me, but when I read this Torah reading, I can’t help but imagine what a movie of this episode would look like if directed by Quentin Tarantino. And then I have nightmares. If I have a reader out there who doesn’t know who that is: Bless you, my child. And don’t go check! The images in our parsha are disturbing. Yaakov is in dread of his reunion with his brother. He appears to be in the process of fleeing the scene when he encounters his night protagonist. Who is that masked man? Later we have a rape and a massacre and a tragic death while giving birth. That last vignette is almost Shakespearean in its drama and death scene...

Maharal, Week II: A Time Utterly Different From Our Own

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Maharal bases his ideas of how the days of Mashiach will look in Talmudic texts. He cites them at length, and goes through them step by step, interpreting them in the way that reveals his view of the Messianic world. Those interpretations, however, aren’t simple or obvious, and would take us too much time to engage critically—to read the text itself, then his reading of it and then see the strengths and weaknesses of those readings would take us much more time and space than we have here. Instead, we’re going to mention the texts off which he’s working and his conclusions, leaving for another time the also-productive endeavor of actually learning those texts with Maharal as our...

Rivalry: Toldot 5777

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Oedipus complex and the generation gap. I tried to present a picture of Judaism doing its best to avoid enmity between the generations. However, I left unsaid the nasty problem that does haunt the book of Genesis: sibling rivalry. Da dum! This violent and vile problem begins with the first set of sibs. Fratricide is our first crime against humanity. So, the pages of our Bible and the annals of human history are replete with horrible example of this phenomenon: Cain/Abel, Thyestes/Atreus, Romulus/Remus, Joan Fontaine/Olivia de Havilland, Peyton/Eli. David Levy introduced the term sibling rivalry in 1941, claiming that for an older sibling, “the...

Abarbanel’s Yemot HaMoshiach: Depths of Exile and Wonders of Redemption

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Mashmia Yeshua is a book about the prophets who predicted salvation for the Jewish people. In theory, Abarbanel could have shared only those prophecies that had new information about the Messianic era, and noted in the introduction or conclusion that he’s skipped many prophecies that echo these.

Instead, he decided to go through each of them (although, as he noted, he did not do all of Yeshayahu’s prophecies, since there were too many. He instead chose sixteen), even though there’s much repetition. He does not explain why seeing it in multiple texts is worth readers’ whiles; I suspect it’s because of the anti-Christian element. To convince his fellow Jews that the Christians...

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