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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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Biblical Hebrew is the archaic form of the Hebrew language, a Canaanite Semitic language spoken in the area known as Canaan between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Biblical Hebrew is attested from about the 10th century BCE, and persisted through the Second Temple period (ending in 70 CE). Biblical Hebrew eventually developed into Mishnaic Hebrew, which was spoken until the 2nd century CE. Biblical Hebrew is best-attested in the Hebrew Bible, a document which reflects various stages of the Hebrew language in its consonantal skeleton, as well as a vocalic system which was added later, in the Middle Ages. There is also some evidence of regional dialectal variation, including differences between Biblical Hebrew as spoken in the northern Kingdom of Israel and in the southern Kingdom of Judah.

Biblical Hebrew has been written with a number of different writing systems. The Hebrews adopted the Phoenician script around the 12th century BCE, which developed into the Paleo-Hebrew script. This was retained by the Samaritans, who use the descendent Samaritan script to this day. However the Aramaic script gradually displaced the Paleo-Hebrew script for the Jews, and it became the source for the modern Hebrew alphabet. All of these scripts were lacking letters to represent all of the sounds of Biblical Hebrew, though these sounds are reflected in Greek and Latin transcriptions of the time. (Read more...)

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Jewish Orphanage of Berlin-Pankow

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Bethlehem Overlooking.jpg

Bethlehem is a Palestinian city located in the West Bank, neighboring Jerusalem, with a population of 25,000 people. The capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of Palestinian Authority, its economy is primarily tourist-driven.

Bethlehem, which may be the same as the Biblical Ephrath, is first mentioned in the Tanakh as the place where the matriarch Rachel died, and her tomb stands at the entrance to Bethlehem. The valley to the east is where Ruth gleaned the fields and returned to town with Naomi. It was the home of Jesse, father of King David of Israel, and the site of David's anointment by the prophet Samuel. It was from the well of Bethlehem that they brought him water when he was hiding in the cave of Adullam.

Between 132 and 135 the city was reoccupied by the Romans after its capture during the Bar Kokhba revolt. Its Jewish residents were expelled by Hadrian. Bethlehem was sacked by the Samaritans in 529, but rebuilt by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. It was conquered by the Arab Caliphate of 'Umar ibn al-Khattāb in 637. In 1099, Crusaders captured Bethlehem and replaced its Greek Orthodox clergy with a Latin one. This was expelled after the city was captured by Saladin. With the coming of the Mamluks in 1250, the city's walls were demolished, and were subsequently rebuilt during the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The British wrested control of the city from the Ottomans during World War I and it was to be included in an international zone under the 1947 Partition Plan. The city was annexed by Jordan in 1948, and occupied by Israel in 1967. Since 1995, Bethlehem has been governed by the Palestinian National Authority. (Read more...)

Picture of the Week

Ercole de Roberti Destruction of Jerusalem Fighting Fleeing Marching Slaying Burning Chemical reactions b.jpg

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans
Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70, Oil on canvas

Credit: David Roberts

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Those who don't know how to weep with their whole heart, don't know how to laugh either.

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Weekly Torah Portion

Devarim (דברים)
Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22
The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues on Shabbat, Saturday, 6 Av, 5774; August 2, 2014
“Do not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who will battle for you.’” (Deuteronomy 3:22.)

In the 40th year after the Exodus from Egypt, Moses addressed the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan River, recounting the instructions that God had given them. When the Israelites were at HorebMount Sinai — God told them that they had stayed long enough at that mountain, and it was time for them to make their way to the hill country of Canaan and take possession of the land that God swore to assign to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their heirs after them.

Then Moses told the Israelites that he could not bear the burden of their bickering alone, and thus directed them to pick leaders from each tribe who were wise, discerning, and experienced. They did, and Moses appointed the leaders as chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties, and chiefs of tens. Moses charged the magistrates to hear and decide disputes justly, treating alike Israelite and stranger, low and high. Moses directed them to bring him any matter that was too difficult to decide.

The Israelites set out from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea, and Moses told them that God had placed the land at their disposal and that they should not fear, but take the land. The Israelites asked Moses to send men ahead to reconnoiter the land, and he approved the plan, selecting 12 men, one from each tribe. The scouts came to the wadi Eshcol, retrieved some of the fruit of the land, and reported that it was a good land. But the Israelites flouted God’s command and refused to go into the land, instead sulking in their tents about reports of people stronger and taller than they and large cities with sky-high walls. Moses told them not to fear, as God would go before them and would fight for them, just as God did for them in Egypt and the wilderness. When God heard the Israelites’ loud complaint, God became angry and vowed that not one of the men of that evil generation would see the good land that God swore to their fathers, except Caleb, whom God would give the land on which he set foot, because he remained loyal to God. Moses complained that because of the people, God was incensed with Moses too, and told him that he would not enter the land either. God directed that Moses’s attendant Joshua would enter the land and allot it to Israel. And the little ones — whom the Israelites said would be carried off — would also enter and possess the land. The Israelites replied that now they would go up and fight, just as God commanded them, but God told Moses to warn them not to, as God would not travel in their midst and they would be routed by their enemies. Moses told them, but they would not listen, but flouted God’s command and willfully marched into the hill country. Then the Amorites who lived in those hills came out like so many bees and crushed the Israelites at Hormah in Seir.

satellite image of the land east of the Jordan River — ancient Edom, Moab, Ammon, and Gilead — present-day Jordan and vicinity

The Israelites remained at Kadesh a long time, marched back into the wilderness by the way of the Sea of Reeds, and then skirted the hill country of Seir a long time. Then God told Moses that they had been skirting that hill country long enough and should now turn north. God instructed that the people would be passing through the territory of their kinsmen, the descendants of Esau in Seir, and that the Israelites should be very careful not to provoke them and should purchase what food and water they ate and drank, for God would not give the Israelites any of their land. So the Israelites moved on, away from their kinsmen the descendants of Esau, and marched on in the direction of the wilderness of Moab.

God told Moses not to harass or provoke the Moabites, for God would not give the Israelites any of their land, having assigned it as a possession to the descendants of Lot. The Israelites spent 38 years traveling from Kadesh-barnea until they crossed the wadi Zered, and the whole generation of warriors perished from the camp, as God had sworn. Then God told Moses that the Israelites would be passing close to the Ammonites, but the Israelites should not harass or start a fight with them, for God would not give the Israelites any part of the Ammonites’ land, having assigned it as a possession to the descendants of Lot.

apportionments to the tribes of Israel, with those for Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh to the east of the River Jordan

God instructed the Israelites to set out across the wadi Arnon, to attack Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and begin to occupy his land. Moses sent messengers to King Sihon with an offer of peace, asking for passage through his country, promising to keep strictly to the highway, turning neither to the right nor the left, and offering to purchase what food and water they would eat and drink. But King Sihon refused to let the Israelites pass through, because God had stiffened his will and hardened his heart in order to deliver him to the Israelites. Sihon and his men took the field against the Israelites at Jahaz, but God delivered him to the Israelites, and the Israelites defeated him, captured all his towns, and doomed every town, leaving no survivor, retaining as booty only the cattle and the spoil. From Aroer on the edge of the Arnon valley to Gilead, not a city was too mighty for the Israelites; God delivered everything to them.

The Israelites made their way up the road to Bashan, and King Og of Bashan and his men took the field against them at Edrei, but God told Moses not to fear, as God would deliver Og, his men, and his country to the Israelites to conquer as they had conquered Sihon. So God delivered King Og of Bashan, his men, and his 60 towns into the Israelites’ hands, and they left no survivor. Og was so big that his iron bedstead was nine cubits long and four cubits wide.

Moses assigned land to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. And Moses charged them that even though they had already received their land, they needed to serve as shock-troops at the head of their Israelite kinsmen, leaving only their wives, children, and livestock in the towns that Moses had assigned to them, until God had granted the Israelites their land west of the Jordan. And Moses charged Joshua not to fear the kingdoms west of the Jordan, for God would battle for him and would do to all those kingdoms just as God had done to Sihon and Og.

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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