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Judaism (from the Greek Ioudaïsmos, derived from the Hebrew יהודה, Yehudah, "Judah") is the religion of the Jewish people, based on the principles and ethics embodied in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), as further explored and explained in the Talmud. Judaism is among the oldest religious traditions still practiced today and is considered one of the world's first monotheistic faiths. At the core of Judaism is the belief in a single, omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God, who created the universe and continues to govern it. In 2007, the world Jewish population was estimated to be 13.2 million people—41 percent in Israel and the other 59 percent in the diaspora. The traditional criterion for membership in Judaism or the Jewish people has been being born to a Jewish mother or taking the path of conversion.

Jewish tradition maintains that the history of Judaism begins with the Covenant between God and Abraham (c. 1800 BCE), the patriarch and progenitor of the Jewish people. According to the traditional Jewish belief, God also created another covenant with the Israelites (the ancestors of the Jewish people), and revealed his laws and commandments (Mitzvot) to them on Mount Sinai in the form of the Written Torah. Traditional Judaism also maintains that an Oral Torah was revealed at the same time and, after being passed down verbally for generations, was later transcribed in the Talmud. Laws, traditions, and learned Rabbis who interpret these texts and their numerous commentaries comprise the modern authority on Jewish tradition. While each Jew's level of observance varies greatly, the traditional practice of Judaism revolves around the study and observance of God's Mitzvot.

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Tomb of Joseph at Shechem 1839, by David Roberts.jpg

Joseph's Tomb is a funerary monument located at the eastern entrance to the valley that separates Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus, near the site of Shechem. Biblical tradition identifies the general area of Shechem as the resting-place of Joseph and his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph's tomb has been venerated throughout the ages by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Post-biblical records about the Tomb's location at this site date from the 4th century. The present structure, a small rectangular room with a cenotaph, dates from 1868. Modern scholarship has yet to determine if the cenotaph is the ancient biblical gravesite. No sources prior to the 5th century mention the tomb, and the structure originally erected over it appears to have been built by the Samaritans.

Joseph's Tomb has witnessed intense sectarian conflict. Samaritans and Christians disputing access and title to the site in the early Byzantine period often clashed violently. After Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, conflict from competing Jewish and Muslim claims over the tomb became frequent. Though under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority after the signing of the Oslo Accords, it remained under IDF guard with Muslims prohibited. At the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, just after being handed over to the PNA, it was looted and razed by a Palestinian mob. Following Israel's reoccupation of Nablus in the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield, Jewish groups returned there intermittently. Recently the structure has been refurbished, with a new cupola installed, and visits by Jewish worshipers have resumed. (Read more...)

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Rudolf Vrba

Rudolf Vrba was Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of British Columbia in Canada. In April 1944, Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler became the second and third of only five Jews to escape successfully from the German death camp at Auschwitz and pass information to the Allies about the mass murder that was taking place there. The 32 pages of information that the men dictated to horrified Jewish officials in Slovakia became known as the Vrba-Wetzler report. It is regarded as one of the most important documents of the 20th century, because it was the first detailed information about the death camp to reach the Allies that they accepted as credible. Although the report's release to the public was controversially delayed until after the mass transport of 437,000 Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz had begun on May 15, 1944, it is nevertheless credited with having saved many lives. Yehuda Bauer, Professor of Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has called Vrba "one of the Heroes of the Holocaust". (Read more...)

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Weekly Torah Portion

Pinchas (פנחס)
Numbers 25:10–30:1
The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues on Shabbat, Saturday, 14 Tamuz, 5774; July 12, 2014
“Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, ‘Let the Lord, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community . . . so that the Lord’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.’” (Numbers 27:15-17.)

God announced that because Phinehas had displayed his passion for God, God granted Phinehas God’s pact of friendship and priesthood for all time. God then told Moses to attack the Midianites to repay them for their trickery luring Israelite men to worship Baal-Peor.

God instructed Moses and Eleazar to take a census of Israelite men 20 years old and up, and Moses and Eleazar ordered it done. The census showed the following populations by tribe: Reuben: 43,730; Simeon: 22,200; Gad: 40,500; Judah: 76,500; Issachar: 64,300; Zebulun: 60,500; Manasseh: 52,700; Ephraim: 32,500; Benjamin: 45,600; Dan: 64,400; Asher: 53,400; Naphtali: 45,400; totaling 601,730 in all.

The text notes parenthetically that when Korah’s band agitated against God, the earth swallowed them up with Korah, but Korah’s sons did not die. God told Moses to apportion shares of the land according to population among those counted, and by lot. The Levite men aged a month old and up amounted to 23,000, and they were not included in the regular enrollment of Israelites, as they were not to have land assigned to them. Among the persons whom Moses and Eleazar enrolled was not one of those enrolled in the first census at the wilderness of Sinai, except Caleb and Joshua.

The daughters of Zelophehad approached Moses, Eleazar, the chieftains, and the assembly at the entrance of the Tabernacle, saying that their father left no sons, and asking that they be given a land holding. Moses brought their case before God, who told him that their plea was just and instructed him to transfer their father’s share of land to them. God further instructed that if a man died without leaving a son, the Israelites were to transfer his property to his daughter, or failing a daughter to his brothers, or failing a brother to his father’s brothers, or failing brothers of his father to the nearest relative.

Moses strikes water out of the rock (painting by Nicolas Poussin)

God told Moses to climb the heights of Abarim and view the Land of Israel, saying that when he had seen it, he would die, because he disobeyed God’s command to uphold God’s sanctity in the people’s sight when he brought water from the rock in the wilderness of Zin. Moses asked God to appoint someone over the community, so that the Israelites would not be like sheep without a shepherd. God told Moses to single out Joshua, lay his hand on him, and commission him before Eleazar and the whole community. Joshua was to present himself to Eleazar the priest, who was to seek the decision of the Urim and Thummim on whether to go out or come in.

God told Moses to command the Israelites to be punctilious in presenting the offerings due God at stated times. The text then details the offerings for regular days, the Sabbath, Rosh Chodesh, Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shmini Atzeret.

Hebrew and English Text
Hear the parshah chanted
Commentary from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University (Conservative)
Commentary from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Conservative)
Commentary by the Conservative Yeshiva
Commentary by the Union for Reform Judaism (Reform)
Commentaries from Project Genesis (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Chabad.org (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Aish HaTorah (Orthodox)
Commentaries from the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (Reconstructionist)
Commentaries from My Jewish Learning (trans-denominational)


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