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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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Temple Israel Memphis Everyday Entrance

Temple Israel is a Reform Jewish congregation in Memphis, Tennessee. It is the only Reform synagogue in Memphis, the oldest and largest Jewish congregation in Tennessee, and one of the largest Reform congregations in the United States. It was founded in 1853 by mostly German Jews as Congregation B'nai Israel. Led initially by cantors, in 1858 it hired its first rabbi, Jacob Peres, and leased its first building, which it renovated and eventually purchased. The synagogue was one of the founding members of the Union for Reform Judaism. It experienced difficulty during the Great Depression—membership dropped, the congregational school was closed, and staff had their salaries reduced—but conditions had improved by the late 1930s. In 1943 the synagogue changed its name to Temple Israel, and by the late 1940s membership had almost doubled from its low point in the 1930s. Rabbi Jimmy Wax became known for his activism during the Civil Rights era. In 1976 the congregation constructed its current building, closer to where most members lived. Wax retired in 1978, and was succeeded by Harry Danziger, who brought traditional practices back to the congregation. He retired in 2000, and was succeeded by Micah Greenstein. As of 2010, Temple Israel has almost 1,600 member families. Greenstein is the senior rabbi, and the cantor is John Kaplan. (Read more...)

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Simon Wiesenthal (1908–2005) was a Jewish-Austrian Holocaust survivor who became famous after World War II for his work as a Nazi hunter. He studied architecture and was living in Lviv at the outbreak of World War II. After being forced to work as a slave labourer in various Nazi concentration camps during the war, Wiesenthal dedicated most of his life to tracking down fugitive Nazi war criminals. In 1947 he co-founded the Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Linz, Austria, where he and others gathered information for war crime trials and helped refugees find lost relatives. He opened the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna in 1961. He helped in locating Adolf Eichmann and preparing a dossier on Franz Stangl.

In April 1970, when Bruno Kreisky became the Austrian chancellor, Wiesenthal told the press that four cabinet appointees had been members of the Nazi Party. Kreisky called Wiesenthal a "Jewish Nazi" and likened his organisation to the Mafia. He later accused him of collaborating with the Nazis. In 1986, Wiesenthal was involved in the case of Kurt Waldheim, whose Nazi past was revealed in the lead-up to the 1986 Austrian presidential elections, although Wiesenthal had previously cleared him of any wrongdoing.

With a reputation as a storyteller, Wiesenthal wrote several memoirs that contain tales that are only loosely based on actual events. He died in Vienna on 20 September 2005, and was buried in Herzliya. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles is named in his honor. (Read more...)

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Weekly Torah Portion

Re'eh (ראה)
Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17
The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues on Shabbat, Saturday, 27 Av, 5777—August 19, 2017
“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 11:26–28.)

Moses told the Israelites that he set before them blessing and curse: blessing if they obeyed God’s commandments and curse if they did not obey but turned away to follow other gods. Moses directed that when God brought them into the land, they were to pronounce the blessings at Mount Gerizim and the curses at Mount Ebal.

a reconstruction of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, the site that God would choose as God’s habitation, within the meaning of Deuteronomy 12

Moses instructed the Israelites in the laws that they were to observe in the land: They were to destroy all the sites at which the residents worshiped their gods, tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods. They were not to worship God as the land's residents had worshiped their gods, but to look only to the site that God would choose as God’s habitation to establish God’s name. There they were to bring their burnt offerings and other sacrifices, tithes and contributions, offerings, and the firstlings of their herds and flocks. There, together with their households, they were to feast before God, happy in all God's blessings. Moses warned them not to sacrifice burnt offerings in any place, but only in the place that God would choose. But whenever they desired, they could slaughter and eat meat in any of their settlements, so long as they did not partake of the blood, which they were to pour on the ground. They were not, however, to consume in their settlements their tithes, firstlings, votive offerings, freewill offerings, or contributions; these they were to consume along with their children, slaves, and their local Levites before God in the place that God would choose.

14th–12th century B.C.E. bronze figurine of the Canaanite god Baal, found in Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), now at the Louvre
7th century B.C.E. alabaster Phoenician figure probably of the Canaanite goddess Astarte, now at the National Archaeological Museum of Spain

Moses warned them against being lured into the ways of the residents of the land, and against inquiring about their gods, for the residents performed for their gods every abhorrent act that God detested, even offering up their sons and daughters in fire to their gods.

Moses warned the Israelites carefully to observe only that which he enjoined upon them, neither adding to it nor taking away from it. If a prophet appeared before them and gave them a sign or a portent and urged them to worship another god, even if the sign or portent came true, they were not to heed the words of that prophet, but put the offender to death. If a brother, son, daughter, wife, or closest friend enticed one in secret to worship other gods, the Israelites were to show no pity, but stone the offender to death. And if they heard that some scoundrels had subverted the inhabitants of a town to worship other gods, the Israelites were to investigate thoroughly, and if they found it true, they were to destroy the inhabitants and the cattle of that town, burning the town and all its spoil as a holocaust to God. Moses prohibited the Israelites from gashing themselves or shaving the front of their heads because of the dead.

Moses prohibited the Israelites from eating anything abhorrent. Among land animals, they could eat ox, sheep, goat, deer, gazelle, roebuck, wild goat, ibex, antelope, mountain sheep, and any other animal that has true hoofs that are cleft in two and chews cud. But the Israelites were not to eat or touch the carcasses of camel, hare, daman, or swine. Of animals that live in water, they could eat anything that has fins and scales, but nothing else. They could eat any clean bird, but could not eat eagle, vulture, black vulture, kite, falcon, buzzard, raven, ostrich, nighthawk, sea gull, hawk, owl, pelican, bustard, cormorant, stork, heron, hoopoe, or bat. They could not east any winged swarming things. They could not eat anything that had died a natural death, but they could give it to the stranger or you sell it to a foreigner. They could not boil a kid in its mother's milk.

They were to set aside every year a tenth part of all the yield of their harvest. They were to consume the tithes of their new grain, wine, and oil, and the firstlings of their herds and flocks, in the presence of God in the place where God would choose to establish God’s name. If the distance was too great to transport, they could convert the tithes or firstlings into money, take the proceeds to the place that God had chosen, and spend the money and feast there. But they were not to neglect the Levite in their community, for the Levites had no hereditary portion of land. Every third year, they were to bring out the full tithe, but leave it within their settlements, and the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in their settlements could come and eat their fill.

Every seventh year, the Israelites were to remit debts from fellow Israelites, although they could continue to dun foreigners. There would be no needy among them if only they heeded God and kept all God’s laws, for God would bless them. But if one of their kinsmen fell into need, they were not to harden their hearts, but were to open their hands and lend what the kinsman needed. The Israelites were not to harbor the base thought that the year of remission was approaching and not lend, but they were to lend readily to their kinsman, for in return God would bless them in all their efforts.

If a fellow Hebrew was sold into servitude, the Hebrew slave would serve six years, and in the seventh year go free. When the master set the slave free, the master was to give the former slave parting gifts. Should the slave tell the master that the slave did not want to leave, the master was to take an awl and put it through the slave’s ear into the door, and the slave was to become the master's slave in perpetuity.

The Israelites were to consecrate to God all male firstlings that were born in their herds and flocks eat it with their household before God in the place that God would choose. If it had a defect, they were not to sacrifice it, but eat it in their settlements, as long as they poured out its blood on the ground.

Moses instructed the Israelites to observe Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Three times a year, on those three festivals, all Israelite men were to appear before God in the place that God would choose, each with his own gift, according to the blessing that God had bestowed upon him.

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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