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Faith & People


Mediterranean Maimonides Mediterranean Maimonides
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Civilizations come and go. Their greatest surviving creations remain. Such is the case with the work of Maimonides (1135–1204), a towering thinker, known to Jewish tradition as "the Great Eagle," who continues to defy easy characterization. Two new biographies depart from past treatments to situate the thought of this master philosopher within the Arabic civilization of his time, and more generally in the prism of the Mediterranean world. To the late scholar Shlomo Dov Goitein, the Mediterranean was a gracious, cross-cultural society that reached its apotheosis in the person of Maimonides' son Abraham, a Jewish devotee of Sufism. To Maimonides' more recent biographers, it...
Tefillin Tefillin
Monday, January 25, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

"This refers to the tefillin worn on the head," commented a first-century sage on a verse in Deuteronomy (28:10): "And all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by God's name, and they will fear you." Fear is right. Last Thursday, the sight of a mild-mannered student wearing tefillin for his morning prayers terrified a U.S. Airways crew into an emergency landing.  Tefillin, or, in ungainly English, phylacteries, strike a primal chord in those who wear them as in those who see them, and with reason. Tefillin physically enact the biblical injunction to make the words of...
Ezekiel’s Tomb Ezekiel’s Tomb
Tuesday, January 19, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Twenty-five centuries have passed since exiled Jews first wept for Zion by the waters of Babylon. Today only eight Jews are left in Iraq. Their story is not as well known as that of their European brethren, but in the Babylonian Talmud, for starters, Babylon-Iraq was home to the most influential post-biblical book in Jewish history. That it would become so was due to the Geonim, another extraordinary set of Iraqi rabbis who flourished in early Islamic times and whose most significant figure was Saadya ben Joseph (882/892–942). After the Middle Ages, creativity extended outward as well, with Iraqi Jews founding other...
Let My People In Let My People In
Thursday, January 14, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Debates over conversion to Judaism show no sign of abating, least of all in Israel. Last week, the legal adviser to the country's chief rabbinate declared that all conversions may retroactively be annulled at any time. In the ensuing firestorm of criticism, even some on the religious Right chimed in, especially those reflecting a historically more lenient Sephardi approach. A great deal of institutional politics is involved here, including between the ultra-Orthodox in Israel and the Modern Orthodox in the United States; some of this came to light in the recent disgrace and resignation of an ultra-Orthodox foe of the moderates....
The Harshness of Creation The Harshness of Creation
Wednesday, January 13, 2010 by | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Like the 2004 tsunami that devastated southeast Asia, yesterday's catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, a poverty-stricken country with a legacy of home-grown violence and suffering, inevitably provoked the terrible question: where was God? One answer derives from Jewish religious sources, and specifically from the teachings of the Kabbalah. It has to do with tzimtzum, or contraction: that is, God's own contraction and limitation of Himself in order to make space for the finite—and invariably flawed—worlds of physical nature and human action. The idea was most famously developed in Safed, Palestine by the 16th-century kabbalist Isaac Luria as part of a complicated, esoteric myth...
Jewish Wars, Then and Now Jewish Wars, Then and Now
Monday, January 11, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

A masterwork of historical writing, The Jewish Wars by Yosef ben Matityahu, better known by his Roman name of Flavius Josephus (37–ca. 100 C.E.) is a massive and indispensable chronicle of Jewish fortunes from the Hasmonean Revolt in the second century B.C.E. through the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Masada in 73 C.E. It is also the autobiography of an extraordinary and extraordinarily conflicted man. Military leader, historian, biblical interpreter, negotiator, diplomat, neither martyr nor traitor but something in-between, Josephus traversed a route from battlefield commander in the war against Rome to Roman citizen and favored beneficiary of imperial...
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Editors' Picks
Sabbath Rock BibleWalks. Newly discovered: carved into a rock in Lower Galilee is the word shabbat, likely a Roman-era marking of the furthest point to which local Jews could travel on the day of rest. 
Reclaimed Doreen Carvajal, New York Times. Centuries after the forced conversion of their ancestors to Catholicism, members of fifteen families on the island of Majorca have been recognized as full-fledged Jews.
From Harvard to Entebbe Charles E. Shepard, Harvard Crimson. Thirty-five years after Yonatan Netanyahu (a brother of the prime minister) was killed while leading the heroic hostage-rescue mission, his classmates remember their singular peer.
The King's Talmud Geoffrey Clarfield, New English Review. Why Henry VIII needed to consult the Talmud, and what happened to the multi-volume edition he imported to England.
“The Center of the Whole World” Noam Dvir, Haaretz. A 16th-century German collection of maps includes a rendering of Jerusalem, a city "whose size and splendor marvels the imagination."
A Grisly Medieval Mystery BBC News. Seventeen skeletons of adults and children, found at the bottom of a well in Norwich, England, may be the remains of Jewish victims of persecution in the 12th or 13th century.
Prayer Space Joey Corbett, Biblical Archaeology Review. Archaeologists working in the eastern Galilee have unearthed three ancient synagogues, one of them, at Magdala, among the oldest ever found.
The Missing Letter Paul Berger, Forward. George Washington wrote a famous letter on religious liberty to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island; copies abound, but for decades the original has lain forgotten in a suburban warehouse.
Identity à la Carte Ruth Ellen Gruber, Jewish Telegraphic Agency. A generation after the fall of Communism, Jews in Central Europe feel comfortable where they live; though concerned about anti-Semitism, they do not wish to move to Israel.
Cities of Jewish Success Allan Nadler, Forward. From Bialystok in the east to Worms in the west, the story of great European centers of Jewish civilization is one of tremendous achievement followed, sooner or later, by crushing tragedy.