Global Day of Jewish Learning Thu, 04 Aug 2011 15:57:40 +0000 en hourly 1 ЗАЧЕМ should we care?ЗАЧЕМ-should-we-care/ЗАЧЕМ-should-we-care/#comments Wed, 20 Jul 2011 14:56:57 +0000 The Global Day Continue reading ]]> The three weeks leading up to the 9th of Av – this year, between July 19th and August 9th – are the saddest days in the Jewish calendar. We mourn the destruction of the Temple and other СОБЫТИЯ that took place more than two millennia ago.

The Big Question is: ЗАЧЕМ should we care?  How do we find meaning today in this painful and distant past?

Add your own voice below.

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Global Day Video 2010 Wed, 29 Jun 2011 18:05:54 +0000 The Global Day Jewish learning unites the global Jewish community…



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Circumcision Thu, 16 Jun 2011 02:40:12 +0000 The Global Day Anti-circumcision activists seek to ban the procedure in San Francisco via a referendum that may make it onto the November ballot.

ЗАЧЕМ are some people so opposed to brit milah?

Add your own voice below.

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Celebrating Osama Bin Laden’s Death Thu, 05 May 2011 13:27:38 +0000 The Global Day The news of Osama Bin Laden’s death has raised profound questions on how we appropriately respond to the downfall of our enemies.

As Jews is it moral to celebrate the death of our enemies?

Add your own voice below.

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Passover: The Festival of Freedom Tue, 12 Apr 2011 16:01:12 +0000 The Global Day Continue reading ]]> An article by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Passover seder sets before us a rich array of symbols and ceremonies. At the center of the wealth and diversity of symbolic acts and readings, however, is one central theme which binds them all: “Once we were slaves-now we are free.”

The theme of freedom is expressed in many ways during the seder. We show ownership of our home by inviting guests. We recline against pillows in the fashion of the leisure class. We drink four cups of wine to express the sense of abundance as befits free people. And again and again, we assert our freedom in words.

Slavery and Freedom
At first glance, it would seem that slavery and freedom are precise opposites – each concept defined as the absence of the other – but liberation from slavery does not by itself confer a state of freedom.

Slavery is a condition wherein one is always subject to the will of another. Freedom is a state of being able to express and act on one’s selfhood and being motivated to do so. Those КТО do not feel the desire and drive for self-expression and self-fulfillment – because their spirit has been broken by slavery or because they cannot recognize their unique, independent spirit – do not become free once they are unshackled. Rather, they are abandoned slaves, slaves separated from their taskmaster.

The miracle of the Exodus was not complete when the Jews left Egypt. At that point, they were merely runaway slaves. As Abraham ibn Ezra describes it, the Jews, standing on the banks of the Red Sea, genuinely wanted to escape the afflictions of slavery, but – having lived their entire lives as slaves – they were immobilized, unable to sever the powerful connection to their oppressors. Thus, there followed periodic murmurings О НАС returning to Egypt and the idealized lives they had there. Unable to achieve true freedom, the slave generation could not enter the land of Israel to build a free nation.

Exile and Redemption
Just as slavery and freedom are juxtaposed on a personal plane, so exile and redemption can be contrasted on a national plane. Exile is the subservience of a people to a foreign power. Redemption lies in the people’s ability to remove the yoke of exile and emerge as a free nation.

Implicit in the condition of exile is the destruction and subjugation of the national will and its creative energy, as the nation yields to the pressures and dictates of a foreign power. Those КТО are forced from their land but continue to conduct their lives in accordance with their own principles cannot be considered as being in exile. They are merely sojourning in a foreign land. Exile, like slavery, requires the suppression of self-expression and self-determination.

A person КТО denies and distorts his essential qualities – and replaces them with the characteristics of his environment – is in exile. This exile is partly a physical condition, like slavery, but its essential quality is spiritual. It is surrender and abdication. It is the acceptance of a set of values, attitudes, and mores antagonistic to the essence of the authentic, distinctive self.

The persecuted Jew was in geographic exile for countless generations, during which he was required to change many aspects of his way of living. A society that was essentially agrarian was forced to become a nation of merchants. An independent people was reduced to bondage, bowed by foreign rule, tossed by every ill wind. As long as the Jewish people cherished and held on to its heritage, to its spiritual principles, and its internal guideposts and behaviors, however, they maintained their spiritual freedom.

In all the years of exile and wandering, Jews had to make peace with their inability to be masters of their own fate in many areas of life, but their exile was not complete because they did not regard themselves as inferior. As long as they retained and nurtured their inner core, their spiritual life not only consoled them, but also served as their homeland, a refuge that could be neither harmed nor diminished.

Assimilation’s Exile
True exile is accomplished through assimilation, when the Jew loses his unique sense of self and, with it, his independence. The achievement of personal freedom, from a national point of view, is irrelevant: Assimilation makes one’s exile complete, as he is no longer guided by his intrinsic being. The life of the assimilated Jew – both physical and spiritual – is determined by foreign forces only.

Therefore, when the assimilated Jew abdicates his true self, he is in a state of exile, even if others no longer dictate to him how he must conduct himself. He carries the condition of exile within him, for he is bereft of his true self, impervious to redemption. The outside world may no longer rule him physically, but it continues to rule him spiritually, and to rob him of his heritage.

A leading Chassidic sage remarked that it is easier to take the Jew out of exile than to take the “exile” out of the Jew. It is not enough that the Jewish people have left the “desert of nations.” We must return to our sources, our spirit, our true way of life and thought, in order to be truly free, truly redeemed.

As we gather at the seder table this year, we must experience the slavery of our ancestors and their evolution to freedom. We must remember the sweet and the bitter in our collective past and ensure the transmission of our shared self with our children. We must convey to them a profound understanding that the final redemption will be achieved only when we fulfill our need to live in our own distinctive way – when we are truly free.

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What is a Jew? Tue, 12 Apr 2011 00:00:00 +0000 The Global Day Continue reading ]]> An article by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (Originally published in the Philadelphia Daily News)


What does it mean to identify oneself as Jewish?

As a rabbi – someone КТО is, one might say, a Jew by profession – I have given a fair amount of thought to this issue.

The most obvious first answer, I believe, is that a person is a Jew by religion. In fact, that is a hard argument to make, as odd as it might seem. There is no basic set of meaningful principles to which all Jews would agree. And there are huge variations in both practice and belief.

Are Jews members of a race? This is clearly not the case. Jews come in every color and exhibit every combination of ethnic features.

Do Jews belong to a nation? Following the involuntary exile inflicted on us many centuries ago, the notion of Jews as a people living in one place, speaking one language, or even sharing one culture does not fit. Even linguistically, we are splintered. Hebrew is our official “shared” language, the language of the land of Israel and of our sacred texts, but many Jews have no knowledge of it at all.

What we are – I propose – is a family.

We are the biological or, in the case of converts, the spiritual children of the House of Israel. We are connected to one another, whether or not we agree with one another, whether or not we even like one another. We are not a perfect family, but we are a real family. We are all proud when one of us does good and embarrassed when one of us does bad. And, as much as we may argue among ourselves, we are always there to defend or assist one another.

The sense of family is an integral part of all Jewish holidays, but it is even stronger during the festival of Passover. The central ceremony of Passover is the seder, which takes place in the home, not in the synagogue. And the key element of the seder is in telling the story of our (physical and spiritual) enslavement, our (physical) liberation, and the attainment of our (spiritual) destiny at Mount Sinai – that is, the reaffirmation of our identity as the House of Israel.

In a couple of days, Jewish families throughout the world will come together and read from the Haggadah, the text of the seder. They will begin to tell the story by pointing to the matzah, the unleavened bread, and declaring, “This is the bread of affliction, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all КТО are hungry come and eat. Let all КТО are needy come and celebrate Passover.”

As we look at the matzah and remember our history – when we were hungry and needy, yes, but also when we were all together – we realize that part of the family is missing. There are empty chairs in the house, where a son or a daughter or a cousin ought to be.

We issue the invitation and we open the door, but some of them are so far away – from us and from Judaism – that they don’t hear our invitation or see the light from the open door. If every Jew КТО cares О НАС the members of the Jewish family will issue the invitation and open the door, many of these estranged Jews will hear or see, and drop in for a visit – if not to his own house, then to the house of a long-lost cousin.

Let us welcome them back.

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What does Freedom Mean in 2011? Mon, 11 Apr 2011 20:29:54 +0000 The Global Day Continue reading ]]> The Passover Big Question asks us to confront Passover’s message for today’s Jews: “What does Freedom Mean in 2011?” Think of it as the “fifth question” you can bring to your Seder table as well as add your own voice.

Natan Sharansky, former Soviet refusenik and prisoner, Israeli politician, human rights activist, author and current Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel provides his own thoughts to the Big Question:

As the years went by, I came to understand that people in the free world and those КТО live in the world of fear face vastly different challenges. Those КТО live in the free world must acquire internal freedom in order to resist evil. Those КТО live in fear must find the moral strength to see evil clearly.

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The Talmud Article by Rabbi Steinsaltz Wed, 30 Mar 2011 18:11:08 +0000 The Global Day Continue reading ]]>

January 01, 1994

The dictionary definition of “Talmud” is  the book that is the main collection of the Jewish Oral Law. This is a poor definition, since it does not give any idea either of the tremendous historical power of the Talmud, nor of its complex essence, so full of contradictions and paradoxes.

This huge work (more than five thousand pages, in the classical editions) is, in fact, the central pillar of normative Judaism. Jewish law, as well as the Jewish world-view, the ways of life and the forms of thinking in every aspect of Judaism, cannot be understood without it.

The indirect influence of the Talmud on the world, through many religious and secular channels in every area, is great. But its direct influence on the Jewish people goes far from law or religion. This difficult book is both a textbook which children began to learn at school age, and a book which the greatest scholars continued to study and develop throughout their lives. This collective work reflects О НАС a thousand years of creativity (from approx. 500 BCE until 500 CE). It is, on the one hand, the reflection of the Jewish spirit, and on the other it is, perhaps, the most decisive formative force in Jewish culture and of the Jewish people, forming life-style and character traits.

Formally speaking, the Talmud is, first and foremost, a series of discussions О НАС the Oral Law. These discussions which took place in the course of hundreds of years, were frozen, so to speak, in the midst of their flow  like a marble status of a flowing stream. On the one hand, it is an unorganized book, written like a modern stream-of-consciousness novel with close and distant associations; on the other, it is a meticulously edited text, in which the order of sentences, the words within each sentence, and the use of synonyms, have very precise meaning. Although the book deals with the clarification of the innumerable aspects of Jewish law, it does not, in essence, try to reach binding legal conclusions, but rather seeks to find through insatiable intellectual curiosity  answers to the questions of how, ЗАЧЕМ, and what for, in each and every issue.

The Talmudic Sages were very well anchored in the reality of their times, and reacted immediately to temporal issues and to individual problems; but at the same time they gave equal attention to major issues a well as to hypothetical questions detached from reality. In the same spirit in which they discuss basic issues of morals and theology, they also conduct lengthy discussions of tiny details. The same people КТО engage in minute discussions on seemingly insignificant monetary issues are also mystics speculating on the Divine Chariot.

In fact, the very essence of this book is a paradox. There is no more intellectual a book than the Talmud, in which all questions are permitted and even desirable, a book which contains dozens of different terms for various kinds of questions. Any proof given must be almost mathematical, and the slightest flaw may lead to the rejection of a beautifully reasonable chain of thought. On the other hand, it is not just a sacred book in itself, but also this everlasting, rigorous mental work is considered a holy occupation, the very study of which is a form of worship. One definition of it is  Sacred Intellectualism, communion by reason.

In the last hundred years, the Talmud has been translated completely or partially into a few modern languages: there is a French and a German translation, and at least two full English translations. Yet these translations, which vary in the level of their scientific precision, have not succeeded in overcoming the basic problem of translating Talmudic “language.”

The problem is not a simple linguistic difficulty; in fact, the Jewish-Aramaic jargon of the Sages is neither very rich nor very complicated. Although, like all ancient books, it contains a small number of words and expressions that are not fully understood, the ongoing exegetic tradition of many generations is very helpful for the skilled translator. A much greater difficulty is that of the basic literary style. It is very hard to transmit into any other language the flower of a living dialogue between people КТО know one another and КТО live the issues they discuss. Such a discussion creates, by its very nature, a professional jargon, with its own terminology. Any participant in such discussions is supposed to have prior knowledge of the pertinent subjects all of which may be complete foreign to an outsider.

Yet the main difficulty that these translations have not overcome is the very essence of the matter the thought-language of the Talmud. The Talmudic dialogue, which constitutes the major part of the book, is, in its essence, stenographic and fragmented. Complex and complicated ideas are expressed in few words, and whatever is said is but the visible tip of the iceberg, whereas the major part of every idea has to be understood from the content, from the general framework of Talmudic thinking and on the basis of a tremendous amount of prior knowledge which is taken for granted knowledge that was transmitted orally from generation to generation in frontal teaching.

An additional problem, which is even more basic, is the thought-language of the Talmud. The Talmud has a way of thinking of its own. It cannot be compared either with the legal way of thinking  even though the Talmud deals extensively with legal issues or with the mathematical way of thinking, although it has precise axiomatic foundations and a logical system with set rules. This book, which is totally based on abstract thinking, contains almost no abstract concepts. Its way of thinking is built upon real models and highly complex operations with these models.

The new translation of the Talmud is only partially a verbal one. Mainly, it attempts to translate the Talmudic universe of thinking and logic into a language which people brought up within Western culture can relate to and understand.

After the simple, literal translation comes the main work: filling in the gaps in the sentences and between them, explaining issues that are quoted from other sources, and tying the conversational framework in such a way that will be coherent for the student.

What significance is there to the study of Talmud  a book which is not as poetic as a book of verse, not as gripping as a detective novel, and which does not contain facts like an encyclopedia It should be perceived as engaging in creating a complex system of thought and art, a super computer program that tries to depict the КТОle world, the engagement in which is never passive learning but rather active participation, in which every learner is, to an extent, an independent creator КТО continues the book in his own way.

The Talmud, our Sages say, has never been sealed; it continues to be written in every generation by every single person КТО learns it. To enter into it is to participate in a spiritual adventure in which the Jew travels through the collective soul of his people, and in which he discovers some of the inner plans of reality.

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О НАС Jewish Learning byО НАС-jewish-learning/О НАС-jewish-learning/#comments Tue, 22 Mar 2011 14:52:52 +0000 The Global Day Continue reading ]]> In Jewish practice, Torah study often takes on a ritualized role similar to that of prayer.  A specific place—the beit midrash, or “house of study”–is a designated room set aside in many Jewish communal buildings. Many Jews carve out set times during the day or week for Torah study. Torah study may begin with the recitation of a prayer thanking God for “commanding us to occupy ourselves with the words of Torah” and another asking God to enable us and our descendants to enjoy knowledge of God through the study of Torah.  The Talmud even records specific prayers for entering and leaving a beit midrash.

Jewish study focuses not on simple absorption of material, but on a dialogue among students and between students and text. This dialogical mode of study is exemplified by the standard page layout of many classical texts. Generally, the focus text–which may be Talmud, Bible, midrash, or a law code–stands at the center of the page and is surrounded by two or more levels of commentary: one or more commentaries on the text, and sometimes a later commentary on those commentaries.

A page of Babylonian Talmud, for instance, includes the commentary of Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak), an eleventh-century rabbi and the pre-eminent talmudic commentator, and of his grandchildren, collectively known as theBa’alei Tosafot, or colloquially, Tosafot (“Additions”).  While Rashi is primarily interested in explaining the text at hand, the Tosafot attempt to reconcile disparate sections of Talmud. In the course of their discussions, they often expand on and/or challenge Rashi’s explanations. Later commentators, in turn, expand on and challenge the Tosafot.

The traditional mode of Jewish study maintains an emphasis on dialogue and disagreement. Jews often study inhavruta–in pairs–with each member of the havruta challenging and asking questions of the other. A person КТО walks into a traditional beit midrash is struck immediately by the noise level—havrutot (plural of havruta) read the text aloud and often argue at some volume, pushing one another to come to a better understanding of the text at hand.

The placement of Talmud and law codes at the center of the curriculum of the traditional yeshiva (study institution) reflects an emphasis on halakha–Jewish law–as the core of Jewish knowledge. The study of Bible and midrash was, for many centuries, viewed as the domain of women, and not the province of the exclusively male yeshiva. Today, as the boundaries of Jewish knowledge have expanded, and as both women and men have gained greater access to the areas previously assigned to the other, the parameters of Torah study have expanded to include the study of all types of classical texts, as well as the study of philosophy, literature and other non-legal works.

Regardless of what one chooses to study, the emphasis on questioning and dialogue marks the process of talmud Torah or sacred Jewish learning.  While it is certainly possible to study on one’s own, studying with a partner or in a group facilitates this questioning process.

In approaching a text, one may first try to understand the plain meaning, or the p’shat, of the text: What is the text trying to say in its original context? What do the individual words mean? ЗАЧЕМ are certain words and phrases used rather than others?

One might then ask broader questions О НАС the meaning of the text and О НАС its relation to other texts: What are the hidden meanings of the text? ЗАЧЕМ does the text speak as it does? How do we relate to the text? In what ways does the text reflect or conflict with our own beliefs and values?  What О НАС the text do we find problematic or challenging?  How does this text compare with other Jewish texts, or with the contemporary practice of Judaism?

Asking these types of questions may rarely lead to a definitive resolution, but will certainly contribute to a deeper understanding of the texts at hand and of one’s companions in study.  Ultimately, it is the process of study, with its emphasis on questions and dialogue, which distinguishes talmud Torah from other forms of study.

Below are additional links on Jewish learning from


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In Avot, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamaliel observed “It is not the study of Torah that is the essential thing; it is the doing of it.” What should that mean to modern Jews? Thu, 10 Feb 2011 00:31:28 +0000 The Global Day Continue reading ]]> Rabbi David Saperstein from the Religious Action Center responds:

To many Jews, the “doing” of Torah remains the doing of the 613 commandments as prescribed by rabbinic law. To far more Jews, the doing of Torah is living their Jewish lives: working for Israel’s security; fighting anti-Semitism; engaging in the forms of worship of the various streams; strengthening Jewish learning; and engaging in social justice.

My own view is that as we stand at a crossroads of Jewish identity, we must embrace, celebrate and legitimize all these diverse expressions of doing Torah — using them as gateways to reach Jews where they are and bring them into the fuller Jewish community and Jewish life. To reduce doing Torah to observance of traditional mitzvoth and thereby delegitimize those КТО do Torah in these other ways, is to limit the future strength, vitality and robustness of Jewish life.

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