Monday, October 23, 2017

Divrei Torah

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

Rivalry: Toldot 5777

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

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

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.

It’s Complex: Vayera-5777

Many people believe that the central myth of Western civilization is the Oedipus story from ancient Greece. Oedipus was born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes. Laius heard a prophecy that his son would end up killing his father and marrying his mother, thereby bringing disaster to his city and family. He wished to thwart

Abarbanel’s Understanding of Yeshayahu’s Yemot HaMashiach: Changes in the World and the King Who Will Inaugurate Them

Abarbanel deals with Yeshayahu’s vision of the Messianic era at remarkable length. [I find it especially remarkable because he was pre-printing, mostly, so that to write at such length implies a confidence in readers’ willingness to transcribe this that is itself eye-popping.] As I said last time, I don’t intend to summarize

It’s All Relative

Noach 5777

There’s a very famous story about Reb Zusha of Anipoli (1718-1800). He was one of the most beloved Chasidic leaders of the third generation of the movement, and the brother of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk. Anyway, the story is told of Zusha, who lay on his deathbed surrounded by all

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