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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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אהל הרבי מליובאוויטש מבפנים.JPG

Kvitel refers to a practice developed by Hasidic Judaism in which a Hasid writes a note with a petitionary prayer and gives it to a Rebbe (Hasidic leader) in order to receive the latter's blessing. This prayer may be a general request for health, livelihood, or success, or a specific request such as recovery from illness, the ability to bear children, a wedding match, etc. The writing, giving and reading of a kvitel is treated very seriously by Hasid and Rebbe alike, and is executed according to specific protocols. Because of their inherent sanctity, kvitelach may not be thrown away after use; they are either burned or buried.

The practice of giving kvitelach continues today in all the Hasidic courts. Kvitelach are also placed on the graves of Rebbes and tzadikim (plural of "tzadik," or Jewish holy man) with the hope that the soul of the deceased will intercede for the petitioner in Heaven.

It is a centuries-old custom for Jews to place kvitelach containing personal prayers to God between the stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. This practice has been also adopted by Christian pilgrims and foreign dignitaries as well. More than a million prayer notes are placed in the Western Wall each year. (Read more...)

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Joel Brand

Joel Brand (1906 – 1964) was a sailor and odd-job man, originally from Transylvania but raised in Germany, who became known for his efforts during the Holocaust to save the Hungarian-Jewish community from deportation to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. He is remembered in particular for his negotiations with the German Schutzstaffel (SS) officer, Adolf Eichmann, to exchange one million Jews for trucks and other goods, a deal the Nazis proposed and called "Blut gegen Waren" ("blood for goods").

Brand was a member in the 1940s of the Hungarian Aid and Rescue Committee, an organization of Zionists who helped Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe escape to the relative safety of Hungary, before the German invasion of that country on 19 March 1944. Shortly after the invasion, Brand was summoned to a meeting with Eichmann, who asked Brand to help broker a deal between the SS and the United States or Britain, in which the Nazis would release up to one million Jews in exchange for 10,000 trucks for the Eastern front, and large quantities of soap, tea and coffee.

In the end, nothing came of the proposal. Historians believe the Germans intended it to serve as a cover for high-ranking Nazi officers, including Heinrich Himmler, to negotiate a peace deal with the Western Allies that would exclude the Soviet Union, and perhaps Adolf Hitler himself. Whatever its purpose, the proposal was thwarted by the Jewish Agency for Israel and a suspicious British government. (Read more...)

Picture of the Week

Bar Kokhba Coin.jpg

A coin minted during the Bar Kokhba Revolt
Obverse: trumpets surrounded by "To the freedom of Jerusalem".
Reverse: A lyre surrounded by "Year two to the freedom of Israel"

Credit: IsraelXKV8R (talk)

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Weekly Torah Portion

Behaalotecha (בהעלותך)
Numbers 8:1–12:16
The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues on Shabbat, Saturday, 19 Sivan, 5775; June 6, 2015
“Is there a limit to the Lord’s power?” (Numbers 11:23.)
Menora Titus.jpg
God told Moses to tell Aaron to mount the seven lamps so as to give light to the front of the lampstand in the Tabernacle, and Aaron did so.

God told Moses to cleanse the Levites by sprinkling on them water of purification, and making them shave their whole bodies and wash their clothes. Moses was to assemble the Israelites around the Levites and cause the Israelites to lay their hands upon the Levites. Aaron was to designate the Levites as an elevation offering from the Israelites. The Levites were then to lay their hands in turn upon the heads of two bulls, one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, to make expiation for the Levites. Thereafter, the Levites were qualified for the service of the Tent of Meeting, in place of the firstborn of the Israelites. God told Moses that Levites aged 25 to 50 were to work in the service of the Tent of Meeting, but after age 50 they were to retire and could stand guard but not perform labor.

At the beginning of the second year following the Exodus from Egypt, God told Moses to have the Israelites celebrate Passover at its set time. But some men were unclean because they had had contact with a corpse and could not offer the Passover sacrifice on the set day. They asked Moses and Aaron how they could participate in Passover, and Moses told them to stand by while he listened for God’s instructions. God told Moses that whenever Israelites were defiled by a corpse or on a long journey on Passover, they were to offer the Passover offering on the 14th day of the second month — a month after Passover — otherwise in strict accord with the law of the Passover sacrifice. But if a man who was clean and not on a journey refrained from offering the Passover sacrifice, he was to be cut off from his kin.

Starting the day that the Tabernacle was set up, a cloud covered the Tabernacle by day, and a fire rested on it by night. Whenever the cloud lifted from the Tent, the Israelites would follow it until the cloud settled, and there the Israelites would make camp and stay as long as the cloud lingered.

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God told Moses to have two silver trumpets made to summon the community and to set it in motion. Upon long blasts of the two horns, the whole community was to assemble before the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Upon the blast of one, the chieftains were to assemble. Short blasts directed the divisions encamped on the east to move forward, and a second set of short blasts directed those on the south to move forward. As well, short blasts were to be sounded when the Israelites were at war against an aggressor who attacked them, and the trumpets were to be sounded on joyous occasions, festivals, new moons, burnt offerings, and sacrifices of well-being.

In the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle and the Israelites set out on their journeys from the wilderness of Sinai to the wilderness of Paran. Moses asked his father-in-law (here called Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite) to come with the Israelites, promising to be generous with him, but he replied that he would return to his native land. Moses pressed him again, noting that he could serve as the Israelites’ guide.

They marched three days distance from Mount Sinai, with the Ark of the Covenant in front of them, and God’s cloud above them by day. When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say: “Advance, O Lord! May Your enemies be scattered, and may Your foes flee before You!” And when it halted, he would say: “Return, O Lord, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands!”

The people took to complaining bitterly before God, and God ravaging the outskirts of the camp with fire until Moses prayed to God, and then the fire died down.

The riffraff in their midst felt a gluttonous craving and the Israelites complained, “If only we had meat to eat! Moses in turn complained to God, “Why have You . . . laid the burden of all this people upon me? God told Moses to gather 70 elders, so that God could come down and put some of the spirit that rested on Moses upon them, so that they might share the burden of the people. And God told Moses to tell the people to purify themselves, for the next day they would eat meat. But Moses questioned how enough flocks, herds, or fish could be found to feed 600,000. God answered: “Is there a limit to the Lord’s power?”

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Moses gathered the 70 elders, and God came down in a cloud, spoke to Moses, and drew upon the spirit that was on Moses and put it upon the elders. When the spirit rested upon them, they spoke in ecstasy, but did not continue. Eldad and Medad had remained in camp, yet the spirit rested upon them, and they spoke in ecstasy in the camp. When a youth reported to Moses that Eldad and Medad were acting the prophet in the camp, Joshua called on Moses to restrain them. But Moses told Joshua: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!”

A wind from God then swept quail from the sea and strewed them all around the camp, and the people gathered quail for two days. While the meat was still between their teeth, God struck the people with a plague.

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, saying: “He married a Cushite woman!” and “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” God heard and called Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to come to the Tent of Meeting. God came down in cloud and called out to Aaron and Miriam: “When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!” As the cloud withdrew, Miriam was stricken with snow-white scales. Moses cried out to God, “O God, pray heal her!” But God said to Moses, “If her father spat in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of camp for seven days.” And the people waited until she rejoined the camp.

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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