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, November 23, 2005

Add A Little Jewish to Thanksgiving

I was reviewing sites about Thanksgiving and found some interesting ideas on making your Thanksgiving feast a bit Jewish!

Ideas for enjoying a Jewish Thanksgiving

Comparison Sukkot VS Thanksgiving

Cooking Kosher for Thanksgiving

More on Jewish twists and Thanksgiving

Have a great holiday all...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Heifer Did It?

Deuteronomy 21:1-9

The unexplained murder... and who is to blame...
The ritual explained in this passage is difficult at best - and no reason is stated in the Torah. It was noted that the Gentiles have mocked the Jews about this ritual.

"If… a corpse is found lying in the open, the identity of the slayer not being known, your elders and magistrates shall go out and measure the distances from the corpse to the nearby towns. The elders of the town nearest to the corpse shall then take a heifer which has never been worked, which has never pulled in a yoke; and the elders of that town shall bring the heifer down to an overflowing wadi, which is not tilled or sown. There, in the wadi, they shall break the heifer's neck. …Then the elders of the town nearest to the corpse shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the wadi. And they shall make this declaration: Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done." (Deuteronomy 21:1-4, 6-7)

Absolution from guilt? - Why should they feel guilty if they are not responsible?

An interesting commentary on this at My Jewish Learning

here is part of that commentary summarized:
How Can We Focus on Long-term Solutions?

Rabbinic commentary on a strange passage in Deuteronomy may provide some direction.

"How can a society deal with unexplained death? In our society, we make a tremendous effort to find the guilty party. But in Biblical society, the response was different. Although the elders proclaim that they "did not shed this blood," it is clear that the community felt some guilt; otherwise, why would there be such an elaborate ritual for expiating the sin?

The Mishnah explains the nature of the community's guilt: Rather than escape from responsibility or blaming the death on someone else, the elders of the town are commanded to acknowledge their own share of the guilt through their own acts of omission.

According to the Mishnah's reading of Deuteronomy, the elders took responsibility, but in truth, Deuteronomy has the elders claiming their innocence.

Occasionally, we need to focus on the horrific consequences of indifference and inaction. The bizarre ritual served the ancient world as the mass media does today. By highlighting a particular tragedy, society is sometimes spurred to action.

The Talmud also relates, however, that when murders increased, the ritual of the beheaded heifer ceased. "

There is another reference to Heifers in relation to dead people. In Book of Numbers(19:2): "Speak unto the Children of Israel that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke" This was used in a similar ritual to purify a person who has become ritually contaminated by contact with a corpse.

I hope that the connection is mentioned in the next Torah study...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Bal Tashit - Start of the Jewish Ecological Position

Do not Destroy....

I found two sites with good discussions to continue the Torah Study discussion:

Jewish Environmental Ethics


The Modern Environmental Movement: Jewish Perspectives by Preston Hunter

What is wanton destruction anyway?

How did we get from not cutting down fruit trees - to destroying almost anything?

Rambam created the doctrine of Bal Tashit "do not destroy" as he interpreted Deut 20:19-20 to apply to not only cutting trees but also to causing the destruction of them by other means such as diverting their water. He took it another step to destroying things that might contribute to the 'greater good'. And thus the Jewish perspective on ecology has evolved further through time to influence our attitude toward willful destruction and it can be extended to 'conspicuous consumption' as well.

Then there is the Talmudic Story (Shabbat 129) (found on

"...during one cold spell Rabbah threw a wooden chair into the fire, in place of firewood, in order to warm the house. Abaye then turned to him and asked: Are you transgressing the prohibition of Bal Tashhit? According to the Talmud, Rabbah responded: that it is better to prevent a destruction of his body (health)...."

What can we learn from this story about the boundaries of the prohibition.

The lesson is that we should consume in a simpler way, and a deliberate way.... think more about what we need and don't destroy what will help us in the future.

And to extend this while researching this I found another interesting article on ethics that is related:

The Impact of Jewish Values
on Marketing and Business Practicesby Hershey H. Friedman

Friday, November 11, 2005

Environmental Protection and War

Deut 20:19-20 - Do not cut down the fruit bearing trees in battle.

The environmental impact of war can be devastating:

The Romans sewed the fields with salt, Napolean scorched the earth, WWI soldiers destroyed anything useful, WWII even the Germans destroyed the railroads, in Vietnam they burned foliage, Gulf War the oil wells were set on fire...

The "Scorched Earth" defense is difficult to understand. And Torah specifically forbids the destruction of fruit bearing trees in war.... so what does this mean?

There are different theories we explored:

1. Trees are not human and cannot attack you.
2. These trees can provide food for you after battle

There is the Anthro-centered view and the Utilitarian view -- both include aspects of an ideal moral code for war and for non-war times as well. "do not destroy nature that cannot hurt you and can help you." The Torah specified "fruit bearing trees" but it might be extended to all natural things that help us.

This becomes an even more complex issue as you explore the ramifications further. Think of the Rainforest that are being destroyed and how much damage is being done ecologically. Is this due to a war? Some may say so.

Why not destroy the trees - even in war?
To maintain bio-diversity and the beauty of nature
To regulate Global ecology
To maintain the resources for our future.

We will continue to study different vantage points on this issue.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Avodah - a word with two meanings

Avodah (Ah´-voe-dah) is a Hebrew word used in the Bible that has two distinct yet intertwined meanings: worship and work. The dual meaning of this ancient word offers powerful wisdom for modern times.

where Avodah is in the Bible

"What a powerful image to think that that the word for working in the fields is the same that was used for worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Israelites understood that work could be a way to honor God and neighbor, to serve God and neighbor, yes to worship God and serve neighbor. Avodah."

this is from the website: - and interesting to ponder... as it is the word of the week in Shabbaton.

If our work is for the good of the community it IS a form of worship. Sometimes I look at my work and feel it is really sending the wrong message to the community and it fills the world with 'stuff' we don't need. And then a case comes up where I see the contribution to making a person feel good or rewarding someone for what they have done or helping to raise funds for a good cause. Then I can realize that even when sometimes what we work for is not a direct contribution to the community, in some ways it really is good and 'avodah'.

I am sure this is the case for many of us who have to find 'avodah' in our lives.