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Posted March 16, 2017 - 6:53am

I was recently listening to a lecture on "The Origins of Jewish Prayer" by Rabbi Adam Mintz, and it was amazing to hear him work to piece together multiple rabbinic texts such as the Mishnah, Talmud, and even Ben Sira in an attempt to build a case that corporate Jewish prayer (particularly liturgical prayer) existed prior to the Middle Ages when the first siddurim were made available. He does an excellent job sifting through the various texts and building his case to show that communal prayer goes back to at least the middle to late Second Temple period, but as he rightly states, there is no absolute proof of this from Jewish sources. All we can do is infer from these sources that things functioned similarly to how they do today. However, if we include the Apostolic Scriptures (the New Testament) in the corpus of early Jewish literature, then we have de facto evidence that at least by the first century C.E., corporate Jewish prayer existed and had considerable participation. In the Gospel of Luke we learn of the events that transpired when Zachariah, the father of John the Immerser, was performing his duties of burning incense in the Holy Temple. We read:

And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. (Luke 1:10)

In this one verse, we have concrete evidence that communal prayer was connected with the Temple service. And if we include a secondary text from Luke found in the Acts of the Apostles, then we also see that liturgy was also a component of communal prayer:

 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

Posted March 10, 2017 - 2:12pm

After giving instructions for making the oil for the Temple menorah, parashat Tetzave is primarily focused on the consecration of the kohanim (priests). This consecration includes how the priestly garments, particularly those of the Kohen Gadol (high priest), are to be tailored. The garments of the Kohan Gadol were to be unique in every way. One garment in particular, the ephod, was to be made of a special combination of various materials:

And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked. (Exodus 28:6)

These components—gold (thread), blue (yarn), purple (yarn), scarlet yarn, and fine linen—were all to be woven together by an expert craftsman to create something beautiful and unique for the man who would serve in the most holy position on earth. Since the gold was to be used as in the fabric itself, creating this gold thread would have been a challenging endeavor. The blue, purple, and scarlet yarn would have been made from the wool of sheep or goats that had been dyed to a rich and vibrant color. The linen (made from the fibers of flax stalks), however, would have been either left in its natural color or bleached to appear a pure white. Once all of these materials were woven together, the ephod would have taken on a color, texture, and pattern that would set the Kohen Gadol apart from all of the other kohanim (priests) designated to serve Hashem. 

Posted March 3, 2017 - 6:49am

The Bridge

Up until Parashat Terumah we hear nothing mentioned about a plan to build a Mishkan, a Tabernacle. God had delivered the Children of Israel from Egypt, taken them to be his Am Segulah (Treasured People), and given them His Torah. It seemed like a finished product, with the exception of taking them to their land. Now, however, Moses comes back down Mt. Sinai and begins communicating the plans Hashem has given him to build a portable structure that they would set up and tear down at each of their encampments. The Mishkan would become a holy edifice that will allow interaction between God and man. It would be something like a portal by which the priesthood will be able to enter the presence of the Almighty, similar to what only Moses was allowed to do thus far. But in order to accomplish this momentous task, the Children of Israel would have to work together for this common cause. The Torah records for us Hashem’s request:

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.” (Exodus 25:1–2)

What was the goal? Was it so that God could dwell in a structure? Was it so that they could rival pagan religious practices? No. He gives Moses the reason. He said, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:8). It was for this singular reason that Hashem desired the Tabernacle to be built. He wanted to create a bridge between God and man, an edifice that could cross over both time and space to bring man into union with his Creator. But in order for this structure to fulfill its purpose, it couldn’t just be a structure. It had to be built in such a way that it was a miniature copy of the Divine Tabernacle that already existed in the heavenly realm. Hashem told Moses:

Posted February 24, 2017 - 3:56pm

Although Parashat Mishpatim is just over three chapters in length, it contains over fifty of the six hundred and thirteen commandments. It is densely packed with various commandments, particularly those involving civil issues. There’s a problem, however, with the application of these commandments if we are attempting to follow a literal reading of the text. Here is an example:

For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor. (Exodus 22:9)

There are numerous problems with reading this passage literally, however. For instance: How do disputing parties “come before God?” Where is this to take place? Also, according to this passage, “the one whom God condemns” is liable to the financial penalty. But how do they know the verdict? What if both parties believe that God has judged in their favor? How is this resolved?

The problems with this passage revolves around translation. In this passage, both parties are to be brought before אלהים, elohim. The problem is that this Hebrew word has a wide variety of meanings. It literally means god(s), but can also mean God, powers, judges, mighty ones, etc. Although it use used frequently throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to the Creator, it also has numerous other uses. Psalm 82 begins:

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah (Psalm 82:1–2)

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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