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Rav Ovadia Rav Ovadia
Tuesday, October 12, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

One of the more outsized personalities in Israel's history is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the longtime head of the Shas political party, who has just marked his ninetieth birthday.  The foreign public knows of him, vaguely, as a right-wing fanatic. But the truth and perhaps the tragedy of the man are far more complicated and fascinating.
Romancing Hasidism Romancing Hasidism
Thursday, October 7, 2010 by Allan Nadler | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Hasidism has a long history of concurrently repelling and enchanting modern Jews. Today, its distinguishing features—isolationism, religious fanaticism, and aggressive rejection of all things modern, including not only non-Orthodox Judaism but the very idea of secularity—are inexplicable, if not abhorrent, to much of world Jewry.
The God of the Kabbalists The God of the Kabbalists
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Judaism is often thought of, with justice, as a religion in which faith and dogma take a back seat to behavior and action. Yet the library of Jewish theology is rich—or at least it once was. For many religious Jews today, the multiple dislocations of the last few centuries have left a void where God used to be.  Increasingly, though, and not a little surprisingly, that void is being filled by sophisticated theological works informed by the seemingly obscure and fantastic doctrines of Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition.
The Golem: Universal and Particular The Golem: Universal and Particular
Tuesday, September 14, 2010 by Benjamin Kerstein | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The most famous and enduring of all Jewish legends is that of the golem, the artificial man. Indeed, with the possible exception of the demon Lilith, briefly pressed into service as a feminist icon, the golem remains the only post-biblical Jewish myth to be widely adopted by non-Jewish culture. Among its recent incarnations are a computer game that bears its name and the army of humanoids who populate James Cameron's film Avatar. 
Orthodoxy and Innovation Orthodoxy and Innovation
Monday, September 13, 2010 by Aryeh Tepper | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

For many religiously observant Jews, the traditional siddur, or prayer book, constitutes a problem. One such Jew was the great hasidic rebbe, Nahman of Bratzlav (1772-1810), who articulated the problem in terms appropriate to his time: the fixed prayers, with their praises and petitions, are like a well-traveled highway, and well-traveled highways attract robbers. By which he meant that excessive routine makes it difficult to concentrate the mind. 
Cemetery Politics Cemetery Politics
Wednesday, September 1, 2010 by Allan Nadler | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Among the many bones its various enemies pick with the Jewish state, one has been much in the news lately: bones, very dry bones, residing in cemeteries both real and imagined all across the country.  
A Grim Teaching A Grim Teaching
Friday, August 27, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Every first-year law student knows that hard cases make bad law. In Israel, a particularly hard case lies in the ongoing controversy around an inflammatory Hebrew-language volume of Jewish religious law (halakhah) that offers justifications for violent treatment of non-Jews in general and of Israel's foes in particular. The debate has highlighted longstanding divisions within Israeli society; now that the courts and the police have gotten into the act, it has also highlighted the difficulties of drawing meaningful lines between free speech and incitement.
Psalms for the Perplexed Psalms for the Perplexed
Wednesday, August 18, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Some mainstream Israeli musicians have recently been turning for material to religious texts; others have become immersed in the musical traditions of Sephardi Jewry. The two trends have come together in a new album, Mizmorei Nevukhim ("Psalms for the Perplexed"), by Kobi Oz.
Kabbalah and its Discontents Kabbalah and its Discontents
Friday, August 6, 2010 by Aryeh Tepper | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Aside from a small circle of students and admirers, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag was an unknown figure at his death in 1954. Today, religious schools and New Age "educational centers" around the world are actively spreading his ideas, and his writings are being analyzed by professors and graduate students. After spending an hour in the rabbi's stone mausoleum, the pop-diva Madonna emerged with tears in her eyes. Who was this person to whom scores of pious (and impious) Jews and non-Jews are turning for inspiration?
The Rebbe The Rebbe
Thursday, June 10, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The story of Lubavitcher Hasidism in our time is nothing short of astounding. Here is an ultra-Orthodox sect, deployed all over the world, exuberantly engaged with non-observant Jews and with non-Jews, availing itself of every imaginable form of contemporary communications technology. What was, for generations, the most intellectual and scholastic-minded hasidic dynasty—its other name, Chabad, is an acronym for "Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge"—has become an ecstatic mass movement. At the heart of it all is the seventh and last Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994), who died childless—and whom some substantial number of his followers forthrightly regard as the messiah.
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Editors' Picks
Count Your Blessings William Kolbrener, Open Minded Torah. Halakhah says that the blessing recited upon the birth of a child with Down Syndrome is the same as the blessing upon a death.  A 17-year-old girl may know better.
Musings on Metzitzah Natan Slifkin, Rationalist Judaism. If the practice of suctioning blood during circumcision was instituted on medical grounds and we now see that it has no medical benefit, why keep doing it?  Tradition.
To Touch the Hand of God Gil Student, Torah Musings. Maimonides and Nahmanides disagree about translating biblical references to God’s physical attributes—because they disagree about the nature and purpose of language itself.
Judea's Other Temples Adiv Sterman, Times of Israel. A recently discovered temple at Tel Motza provides evidence that ritual practices occurred at various sites in Judea before they were prohibited in places outside the Temple in Jerusalem.
How December 25 Became Christmas Andrew McGowan, Bible History Daily. It's no coincidence that Christmas is nine months to the day from the Feast of the Annunciation—which marks the day Jesus was conceived.
Not Written in the Stars Jennifer Lipman, Jewish Chronicle. Like the Mayans who said the world would end on December 21, medieval Jews predicted the future from the cosmos—much to the consternation of Maimonides.
Lost in Translation Zev Eleff, Tradition. Samson Raphael Hirsch has been described as “the intellectual godfather of modern Orthodoxy.” But his influence on American Orthodoxy had to wait until long after his death.
Variations on a Theme Geza Vermes, Standpoint. Discrepancies among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, and the Masoretic biblical text point to interpretative ferment in the time of Jesus.
The Inscrutable Americans Peter Berger, American Interest. America is the West’s most religious country—but has the strictest separation between church and state.  No wonder foreigners are puzzled by the vagaries of American religion.
Giving Up on Humanity Ilan Feldman, Klal Perspectives. By failing to reach out to non-Orthodox Jews, says an Orthodox rabbi, "we have sold out on the view of man that was the keystone of Avraham Avinu."