Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Rosh Hashanah Traditions

I grew up with apples and honey and sweet foods to eat for Rosh Hashanah. A big meal before services and going to listen to the shofar sound.

More recently I have learned that there are many more interesting traditions associated with this wonderful holiday to start the new year. Here are a few of these:

• It is the beginning of the days of awe and we should spend the next 10 days making sure we make amends with any people who we may have offended or done wrong by.

• Tashlich - "You will cast all your sins into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:19)

On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah it is tradition to walk to a river or spring (preferably one that has fish in it) and recite special prayers called penitential prayers. After you say the prayers you throw the bread crumbs into the water.

Some people keep a piece of the Afikoman from Passover for this purpose and thus link the holidays together.
Tossing the bread crumbs on the water is symbolic of casting away our sins and starting a new year with a clean slate.

• Other symbolic foods to eat especially on Rosh Hashanah
- Honey Cake
- Round Challah
Link - Round Challah
- The head of a fish is so that we can be "like the head and not like the tail."
- Pomegranates symbolic of plenty because of the many seeds (some say 613 like the mitzvot in Torah).
- Carrots symbolize the Yiddish word "merren" which also means more. We want more of all the good things in life.
For Sephardic Jews, carrots are symbolic of the phrase "Yikaretu oyveychem" which means may your enemies be cut down.
We ask that those who wish bad for us not get their wish, that they don't succeed.

• A Sephardic Seder for Rosh Hashana Link About Seder for Rosh Hashanah

• One site speaks of having a vegetarian Rosh Hashanah: No meat for Rosh Hashanah

Laws of Retaliation - 'eye for eye'

Lex talionis - Literal or Metaphor?
Wikipedia - on lex talionis
interesting link...

So was it meant to be a literal law or interpreted metaphorically?

The arguments are interesting and it is brought up in several places in Torah:
Ex 21 - describes the payment of compensation for loss of time as well as literal loss - poses the concept of equivalent justice.
Lev 24:17-23 - implies one standard of justice for all. differentiates between killing a person or a beast.

Talmud discussions lean toward metaphoric interpretations and that compensation should be financial in all cases other than murder.

Mishna defines 5 aspects of injury to be considered for reparation: damage, pain & suffering, cost for healing, loss of employment and humiliation.

Gemarah - poses a debate including looking at the structure of the phrases in how the laws are stated... if the format is the same it should be interpreted the same way and thus the meaning is similar.

Another argument points out that literal translation has many impractical aspects such as lack of equality - in 'eye for eye' what if one of the people involved is blind? And there is the probability that the punishment may go beyond the same limit as in the case where taking an eye would be fatal to the person.

So the most popular belief is that the laws of retaliation in the Bible are meant to be metaphoric and punishments should be financial compensation and restoration for damage in all cases that result in equivalent justice. However we still struggle with this today in how to compensate for grievous loss.

This was posed in a Sept 14 article on the negotiations for the US to compensate an Afghan father who lost his son:

Price for son killed in Afghan

Monday, September 19, 2005

7 Species are Significant - KiTavo

"A land of wheat, and barley, and vines; of fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey."
Seven Species Art
Seven Species Print by Sharon Binder

Noted in KiTavo parsha (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) - The 7 species have significance ....
They were the staples in Biblical times and still make up the major crops of Israel today. You see the 7 species decorating many ritual objects as well as Judaic art of all types

Olives: More than any other fruit, the olive symbolizes this continuity in the country and the olive branch still is a symbol of peace.

Grapes: The fruit of the vine and wine has always been an integral part of the rituals of Judaism, as in the "kiddush" blessing on Sabbath and holidays. In ancient times, grapes were also used for seasoning and in vinegars.

Wheat: The harvest that begins during the festival of Shavuot is a tribute to wheat and bread. In biblical times as today, bread was the staple of the local diet.

Barley: In biblical times barley was the poor-man’s staple - eaten as porridge and barley cakes. Cattle and other livestock were also fed barley. Barley’s most common modern use in Israel is as the basic ingredient for beer, sold locally in bottles and cans and served in pubs from the barrel.

Figs: The fig tree — with its distinctive leaves, used as clothes by Adam and Eve - is a ubiquitous part of the Israeli landscape. In biblical times the fig was eaten fresh or as a seasoning, in addition to being used to make honey and alcohol.

Dates: Date palms are only found in the hotter inland rift valley. In biblical times they grew in the Jordan Valley and were made into honey, and many believe the notion of the "land flowing with milk and honey" actually referred to date honey.

Pomegranates: Pomegranate trees are prevalent in Israeli gardens. The tree with its rich green leaves and red flowers becomes heavy with fruit for Rosh Hashanah (New Year) The plump red fruits are often plucked to decorate the succa during the feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles). In biblical times the pomegranate was used for making wine and seasonings in addition to its function as a dye. Then, too, it was appreciated for its aesthetic qualities, particularly the crown near the stem. Tradition has it that a pomegranate has 613 seeds to represent the 613 commandments in the Torah (five books of Moses). Pomegranate is traditionally eaten on the New Year and have been credited with having many healing qualities.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

39 Lashes the Maximum

This was brought up at Torah study and is also in today's parsha: Ki Tetzie

The maximum number of lashes given as punishment was 39... there is evidence that 40 lashes was considered a death sentence but 39 was not.

Researching this I even found a pirate's website that refers to 39 lashes as 'Moses' Law': Pirate Life / Punishment

It was also the punishment given to Jesus - and popularized by a song in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar!

Even the kid's cartoon: A Sponge Bob Reference points out the 39 lashes and the Biblical reference!

There is also reference on some Jewish sites to: beating and striking on the eve of Yom Kippur - 39 lashes that the penitents apply to themselves... This may be related to how we now beat our chest during the prayer of penitence on Yom Kippur as well.

The part in Deut: 25 says:

25:1 A trial shall be an adversary proceeding where a verdict is handed down, acquitting the innocent and convicting the guilty.
25:2 If the guilty man has incurred the penalty of flogging, the judge shall make him lean over, and have him flogged with a fixed number of lashes for his crime.
25:3 Do not go beyond the limit and give him forty lashes. You may not give him a more severe flogging, striking him any more than this, since your brother will then be degraded in your presence.
25:4 Do not muzzle an ox when it is treading grain.

I hope to find out why it is followed by the part about the ox... while that on its own seems understandable, the connection is unclear.

Friday, September 16, 2005

A Round Challah - And Sweet too!

Round Challah

Every week we braid the challah... (sometimes there are 6 strands of dough for the 6 days) The braid is a creative expression as there are no natural braids in nature...

On Rosh Hashanah we have a round challah and it is made with a sweeter dough and often has rasins or fruit inside or candy on top... all in the tradition to symbolize a sweet year ahead.

The round challah is sometimes referred to as a turban or a crown for God as our ruler. The round shape also symbolizes a wish for a perfect year and the cycle of life and the year,

The sweet bread is made EVEN SWEETER as we dip it in honey!

Technically, the word 'challa' isn't the name of the bread at all. The 'challa' is a small piece of dough which is separated from the rest of the dough before baking. This is baked and then burnt to remember the distruction of the Temple. It is disgarded after a special prayer is said.

But Challah is best when you make it yourself... Make it in the bread machine:
3/4 cup milk (or other liquid if serving meat)
2 eggs
3 tablespoons margarine
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup raisins or cranberries other dried fruit pieces.
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
Add ingredients to the pan of the bread machine in the order suggested by the manufacturer.
Select dough settings. Start.

Take the dough out -Form into a round crown spiral shape (remembering to take a small piece 'the challah' to burn - let the round dough rise - put egg & water wash on top and sprinkle with candy sprinkles if you want.

and bake till done in 350 degree oven.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

False Testimony - a big sin!

Blind JusticeDeut. 19:15 - 21

There is a big problem with false testimony. This commandment made it to the "10 WORDS" and is repeated again and again in Torah.

IF a person is found to deliberately testifying false information and is found out... well... the punishment: the one giving false testimony is to be given the same punishment that was being sought for the person who was on trial.

This could be very severe and was to be a deterrent.

The law is repeated 3 times: in Deut 19 as well as in EX 23:1-3 and again in Deut 5:17

Aside: Plaut Commentary page 1357: "Everything in the world was created by God except the art of lying."

In the 10 Commandments the order is significant

Do not Steal
Do not Bear False Witness
Do not Covet

They all link together and relate to the relationships between people and property.

Interesting bits from Torah Study:

Women didn't count - they could not be witnesses.... a very disturbing point.

When one testifies they "stand before the Lord" - interpreted as seeing themselves as if they were standing before God.

Rashi commentary on respect / kavod for judges - a demand for respect whether they be like Jepthe or Samuel. Interesting that he puts it this way as Samuel was the epitome of justice and Jepthe is known for his questionable oath and not quite as highly thought of. Nevertheless, as Judges they must always be equally regarded with respect.

There is so much insight in the observations that Rashi made and how they more often are as if he were living and commenting in the modern world rather than the middle ages.

Glad I didn't live in the time of Hammurabi

Laws of Retaliation:

Code of Hammurabi

Code of Hammurabi, sixth king of the Amorite Dynasty of Old Babylon. - This is the 18th Century BCE

The Code of Hammurabi Picture of the code as it is seen now as it was written on a stele placed in the temple of Marduk in Babylon

The code is an attempt by this Babylonian leader to find just punishment for is a type of case list for reference.

I hope I never have to live under these type rules.

In the link above you can find 282 of these cases ... some actually seem ok. But most show inequity in treatment and value of people and some are totally unjust by today's standards.


Here is a code that seems quite reasonable:

If a man marry a woman, and she bear sons to him; if then this woman die, then shall her father have no claim on her dowry; this belongs to her sons.

OK so here is one that might be understood even if it seems harsh:

If any one agree with another to tend his field, give him seed, entrust a yoke of oxen to him, and bind him to cultivate the field, if he steal the corn or plants, and take them for himself, his hands shall be hewn off.

Here is one that part one seems at least understandable... but part two seems wrong:
If a builder build a house for some one, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.

If it kill the son of the owner the son of that builder shall be put to death.

Now here is one that may be a deterrent for the stubborn teenager... but still a bit difficult to imagine.

195: If a son strike his father, his hands shall be [cut] off.

There are many similar ones.

And the classic ones that seems to be the similar to the verse as seen in Deuteronomy.

If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out. [ An eye for an eye ]

If he break another man's bone, his bone shall be broken.

I found another interesting site with commentary on these codes:

Was Hammurabi's code an "ancestor" of the Mosaic Law?

Unlike the Mosaic Law, it does not seek to establish principles. Rather, its object appears to be to help the judges to decide certain cases by giving them precedents or altering previous decisions to show what ought to be done in future cases. For example, it does not set forth a sanction for murder, because there was already a recognized punishment for that, and doubtless for other common crimes. Hammurabi was not attempting to cover the whole scope of law. Each of the rules of the "code" starts off with the formula: 'If a man does thus and so.' Because it relates to specific instances, rather than laying down principles, it merely tells what judgment must be given to fit a certain simple set of facts. It is based mainly on laws already in existence, merely particularizing to fit certain difficult situations current in Babylonian civilization at the time.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Don't Move Landmarks and beyond

Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark, which they of old time have set, in thine inheritance which thou shalt inherit, in the land that the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it.

{Comparing Translations
These are from multiple denominations and different translations but it is interesting to see how the slight word differences work. }

So much was covered in this short sentence...

First is the obvious literal translation that says don't take your neighbor's property... and it starts with land and who is entitled to the land.... but it goes much farther.

This is later extended to include any type of encroaching on another's domain. Intellectual property is included and thus it is the basis for copyright laws and possibly even ethical laws relating to unfair competition.

This is one of the more serious commandments as it is included in the 'big 10' in several ways: Do not steal, Do not covet are both included here.

This ethics code extends into today in many ways... and the bottom line is that we are not to encroach on someone else's personal property or their livelihood. It is a strong statement of the integrity of the self.

This is one of the laws that makes us realize that the Torah is teaching us how to set up a just society that is mindful of the rights and obligations of individuals.

A related reference on this is in Lev 25:23 'The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and live as foreigners with me.' - noting that the land doesn't belong to individuals it belongs to God... there are places where this is practiced - including in Alaska and Hawaii where the land is not sold.