Monday, October 23, 2017

Divrei Torah

The Importance of Praying in Hebrew and the Push Toward Fixed Prayer

This is the last of our random sample of places Rambam inserts aggadic material into Mishneh Torah. Next time, I hope to review them briefly to see if any themes or ideas characterize them all. Here, let’s look at his understanding of how fixed prayer came to the Jewish people.

Remember that

Weapons Rights

People often make fun of rabbis, and I take it personally, so cut it out! No, no. I mean about the way rabbis parse material, whether it’s a verse or a Mishna. Many critics are thrown into a tizzy about the lengths these scholars will go to squeeze out the last drop of meaning from the text. Well, those disapproving onlookers

Introducing Mitzvot to the World and the Jewish People

Laws of Kings includes the obligation for the king to wage war against certain populations. In a passage that seems to me too-little remarked, Rambam advances the theory that any non-Jew who agrees to observe the Noahide laws need not be put to death.

There’s more to it than that, but that’s

Amalek, Esav’s Revenge and the Jewish Destiny

In the long history of the Jewish people, Amalek was the first enemy they had to fight on their own on the way out of Egypt, just barely one month after their miraculous exodus. The people were tired and dispirited, and Amalek thought that this was the right moment to ambush the Jews, the struggling, weak, exhausted and tired nation, and

The God Thing

Va’era 5777

It wasn’t only the ancient world who deified their heroes. We often refer to our sports icons (another word with religious overtones) as “gods,” and some enthusiasts seem to be praying to them at crucial moments in the big game. As a Red Sox fan, my favorite prayer

The History of the Place of the Mizbeach, and Rambam’s View of Sacrifices

As the Jewish people return to Israel and rebuild Jewish life there, enthusiasts periodically raise the idea of restoring the sacrificial service, because halacha allows at least some sacrifices to be offered even if the Beit Hamikdash has not yet been rebuilt. For that, we would need to know the exact location of the mizbeach, the


Vayechi 5777

In 1839, the English playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton (don’t feel bad, I never heard of him, either) put the famous words “the pen is mightier than the sword” into the mouth of his villainous character, Cardinal Richelieu, for his play “Richelieu; Or the

Fighting for Faith: Avraham Spreads the Word

Last time, we had space to discuss Rambam’s reconstruction of how and when Avraham found his way to understanding Hashem’s role in the world. Once that happened, Rambam tells us in the section we’re reviewing this week, he began to argue with those around him (Rambam’s phrase is “made responses to… and litigated with


Chanukah 5777

Everybody loves Chanukah. It’s actually quite cool to go to a mall or major department store and see “Happy Chanukah” right up there next to “Merry Something or Other.” Even those venues that exclude mentioning the specific celebrations and just say “Happy

Turning History Into Religion: The Story of Chanukah

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 Non-Halachic

Dangerous Liaisons


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

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

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

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