On The Israeli-Arab Conflict: A Biblical Perspective

July 17, 2014

by Nathan Lopez Cardozo [1] For the Love of Israel and the Jewish People

Impartial observers of the Middle East will realize that these are extraordinary times. Tens of thousands of Jews from many different countries are returning to their national and historic homeland after thousands of years. Arab states are beginning to reconsider their attitude towards Israel now that they realize that after more than fifty years, the Jewish state is here to stay.

Many gentiles throughout the world are showing a new and keen interest in the Bible, proclaiming fulfillment of the old biblical prophecies. The continuous conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs, especially the Palestinian Arabs, is a constant focus of world attention, allotted more broadcast hours and newspaper column space than any other conflict. It is the most discussed issue at the United Nations and the perceived root of international tension. It is believed to have the potential to cause a large-scale conflict in the Middle East and even a global confrontation.

However, the truth is more prosaic. The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is something of a local affair. Looking on the world map, many larger hotbeds can be identified, with even greater issues at stake. For the religious mind all this presents a great challenge. What is the spiritual secret behind the conflict?

From a religious perspective, it seems that another, more profound point is being made. History is not made up of social, political, or economic factors alone, but also of spiritual forces that have far-reaching moral implications. As always, religious people will turn to the Torah and Jewish tradition, the blueprint of all history and reality, to seek deeper insight. It is the author’s hope that this essay might serve such a purpose. Read the rest of this entry »


Review of Moses and the Path to Leadership and Redeeming Relevance

July 8, 2014

by Alan Jay GerberMosesWeb2

Rabbi Zvi Grumet’s “Moses and the Path to Leadership” [Urim Publications, 2014] is an excellent profile of the great lawgiver which will provide you with a rigorous, close analysis of his biography and leadership talents. This documents how he withstood the test of his leadership as a teacher and master of G-d’s law and teachings. The book’s topics are most timely to this season’s Torah readings of the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy. Moses’ talent and gift of resilience, trust, and wisdom, are given their timely due within the context of his leadership talents as a teacher of the holy writ. This book forces you to recast your previous regard to Moses’ place in the history of our people. Read this work with caution as well as respect; both the subject and the author richly deserve it.

Rabbi Grumet is a musmach (recipient of rabbinic ordination) of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and is a graduate of Yeshiva University. He is a senior staff member of The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, coordinator of the Bible Department at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi, and a distinguished faculty member at the Pardes Institute.

Rabbi Francis Nataf’s latest chumash commentary “Redeeming Relevance” [Urim Publications, 2014] deals with the Redeeming Relevance in the book of numbers
Book of Numbers. This commentary contains a relevance that gives it a heft both intellectually and religiously, a factor that is a rare commodity today among our Bible commentators. This quality is found in the way Rabbi Nataf deals with such complicated personalities such as Bil’am, Korach, the daughters of Tzelofchad, the spies, and the actions of the tribes of Shimon, Levi, Reuven, and Gad. Chumash is rarely taught in this manner at most shul shiurim, but it can be had by the simple addition of this work into your shul library.

Excerpts were taken from “On July 4th, warm summer book suggestions” The Jewish Star (July 2, 2014)

To see the full list of book suggestions click here.


Ten Questions with Bible Scholar R’ Ben Zion Katz

October 20, 2013

Reposted from TheTorah.comDocumentaryHypothesis-fullCover_1.5

1) How did you come across academic biblical studies?
I have been interested in these issues since my last year of high school, when I learned of E. A. Speiser’s Anchor Bible volume on Genesis from a young rabbinical student, and the following year at Touro College, where I took courses in Western literature and the Ancient Near East with Professor Albert Baumgarten. For me, this has led to a life-long passion where I have read much primary, scholarly literature in the field as well as material written for ambitious lay readers. The culmination of this study came upon my publishing a short book (A Journey Through Torah: A Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis [Urim, 2012]) in which I have set forth my thoughts on these matters.

2) Can you give us a short overview of your book?
In the first 2 chapters of my book I critically examine the linguistic and literary evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis. In chapters 3-8, I demonstrate that traditional Bible exegetes can also be quite critical, in ways that would probably not be acceptable in today’s yeshiva world. In the concluding chapter I provide an approach that I believe is traditional and academically sound, based on early sources that assume the pre-existence of scrolls that Moshe then incorporated into the Torah.

3) As a traditional Orthodox Jew, why do you value academic study?
An academic by nature, I cannot shut off my academic brains when I study Jewish texts.  As an experimentalist and a practitioner of evidence-based medicine, it takes hard data to make me change my mind.  With this outlook, I believe that Orthodox Judaism today is much less broad than Rabbinic Judaism has been in centuries past, but at the same time, modern, academic Bible scholarship is not always the hard science many of its practitioners claim it to be.  Be that as it may, modern academic scholarship has much to teach the faith community who take the Bible religiously, be they Orthodox Jews or fundamentalist Christians.

4) Can you give us some examples of what academia has taught you about Torah?
Yes. The tragic story of Yiphtach and his daughter (Judges 11:29-40) cannot be understood without realizing that houses in ancient Israel were constructed on 3 sides of a courtyard, with the animals housed outside (where we today would often have a lawn); thus when Yiphtach rashly vowed that he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house after his battle with the Ammonites (Judges 11:30-31) he thought the first thing that would come out to greet him would be an animal, not his daughter.  Egyptologists explain that Joseph’s Egyptian name Tzaphnat Pa-aneah means “sustainer of life” an apt name for the one who saves Egypt from famine, and that Moshe’s name means born of (water), while Ramses’ name means born of Ra.

5) Was there ever a time that in your life that you did not accept the traditional belief?
Not really.  I have never been convinced of the evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis. However, unlike a fundamentalist (and as I say in my book) I can outline the type of proof that would persuade me of its truth – e.g. finding a scroll similar to P or D. Right now, for me, the Documentary Hypothesis is like evolution without fossils.  If hard evidence were ever discovered, I would need to rethink my approach. Read the rest of this entry »


A Review of Passages

October 2, 2013

by Nira G. WolfePassagesWeb1

“For as his name is, so is he” (1 Samuel 25:25): Passages follows meticulously the fifty-four weekly biblical parashot. Rabbi Michael Hattin presents his summary of the various texts by naming each parasha with a new descriptive title. He then leads the reader to a deeper and more profound understanding of the parasha. What is particularly notable is that the reader can beneficially implement what he learns from this book into his daily life.

Rabbi Hattin describes his technique clearly in his introduction. Each parasha starts with a synopsis, followed by the discussion of important topics and concludes with suggestions for further study. An outline of a specific parasha will illustrate Hattin’s method: 1. “Vayera” (Genesis 18:1-22:24); Avimelech’s Pledge: synopsis; The Theme of the Parasha and the Episode of the Akeda; The visit of Avimelech; The Elements of the Encounter; The Interpretation of the Rashbam; The Theme of Covenant; God’s Pledge to Avraham; Reevaluating the Episode of the Akeda; For Further Study. A list of “The Rishonim: 11th – 16th Centuries” concludes the volume.

Passages utilizes a unique format Read the rest of this entry »


Between The Lines of the Bible: The Legacy of Fractured Brotherhood

June 26, 2013

by The Curious Jew Between the Lines of the Bible Exodus

Urim Publications was kind enough to send me a copy of Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom’s Between the Lines of the Bible: A Study from the New School of Orthodox Torah Commentary on the book of Shemot quite a while ago. It has taken me a while to read the book, but it was well worth the effort. It is uniquely fitting to read this book before Pesach, and in fact, I think many of you might enjoy reading it, so I recommend ordering it today- that way, you’ll probably get it over Chol Hamoed and will have something interesting to read during the Second Days.

Between the Lines is a thoughtfully considered, well constructed, carefully written text. Etshalom has clearly put a great deal of thought into the issues he addresses, and focuses on overall themes in addition to specific literary techniques (including chiastic structure) in his analysis. His book is academic in nature, and for academic texts, is quite readable. However, I prefer narrative-style books, especially those that weave in the original Hebrew rather than making use of the English translation. They are easier to read, and thus accessible to a larger audience. Ideally, I would have liked this book to have been written more in the style of Rabbi Ari Kahn, who uses that method of writing. While this text does have the Hebrew quoted and highlighted at the beginning of each chapter, I found that flipping back and forth between Etshalom’s analysis and that first page was somewhat of an annoyance.

Topics included in the book range from the binary structure of biblical narrative when it comes to the roots of our subjugation in Egypt, to the different derivations of Moshe’s name, to literary patterns in the education of Pharaoh, studies of intertextuality, a comparison of major characters and a focus on sanctity in time. I am going to sum up one of the Divrei Torah that I found particularly beautiful below.

In Shemot 1:1-4 we read, “These are the names of the Israelites who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.’ Etshalom notes that:

If we compare this list to Read the rest of this entry »


A Review of Visions from the Prophet and Counsel from the Elders

May 19, 2013

visions:From The Jewish Action

 Nevi’im and Ketuvim, the books of the Prophets and Holy Writings, together with the Five Books of Moses, comprise the broad canvas on which the history, destiny and spiritual mission of the Jewish people are limned. In this survey of Nevi’im and Ketuvim, Rabbi Hayyim Angel achieves a rare combination of breadth and depth. While focusing on broad themes and universal messages, the treatment is far from superficial or perfunctory. Rabbi Angel presents at least one chapter on each book of Nevi’im and Ketuvim, with each chapter analyzing in depth a representative aspect of the book. Using primarily peshat, the plain meaning of the text, Rabbi Angel marshals the Talmud and Midrash, traditional commentaries and modern scholarship in expressing a view of Scripture that is creative as well as subtle and nuanced. With his direct and engaging style, Rabbi Angel conveys his erudition and wealth of knowledge to the reader in a most enjoyable fashion. Here is a small sampling of Rabbi Angel’s thought-provoking conclusions:

Joshua’s flaws made him a more effective leader than Moses to bring the people into the land of Israel.

The Book of Jonah challenges us to be absolutely committed to God while respecting other people who espouse different beliefs.

The Book of Ecclesiastes, with all of its Read the rest of this entry »


Vision from the Prophet and Counsel from the Elders

May 12, 2013

by Gil Studentvisions

Torah expertise requires, at a minimum, mastery of the entire corpus of primary literature. Detailed familiarity with the texts is a necessary but insufficient requirement of Torah greatness. This includes the Bible, yeshiva curricula notwithstanding.

On the description of Moshe’s receipt of the tablets on Mt. Sinai, Rashi (Ex. 31:18) quotes a midrash that compares Moshe to a bride. Just like a bride wears 24 ornaments, so too a Torah scholar must master all 24 books of the Bible. Why, we can ask, does the midrash locate this sensible requirement in the second half of Shemos, which largely discusses the building of the Mishkan?

I suggest that the passage immediately preceding that verse discusses the obligation to observe Shabbos. The Mishnah (Shabbos 115a) states that you are forbidden to study Kesuvim, the third part of the Bible, on Shabbos because it detracts from attendance at the rabbi’s lecture. The Gemara (ibid., 116b) quotes a later debate whether the prohibition only applies to the location or the time of the lecture. Regardless, we see a clear limitation on Bible study.

You might have thought that this deemphasis on Bible study implies its unimportance. The midrash teaches us that we should not mistake practical priorities with abstract values. Even though local concerns require lowering the urgency of Bible study on Shabbos, in the end you cannot be a scholar without mastering the Bible. You might not find time to study Kesuvim on Shabbos but that is no excuse for ignorance.

We once discussed a chapter-by-chapter method to gaining familiarity with Read the rest of this entry »


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