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The Jewish Calendar

Repentance = Freedom? Repentance = Freedom?
Thursday, September 2, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

In the thick of the month of Ellul, nearing Rosh Hashanah, penitence is or should be in the air. Also recently marked was the 75th yahrzeit of the great mystic, jurist, and theologian Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935).  As it turns out, Kook's  teachings on the meaning of repentance are among his most striking, stamped with his distinctive mix of piety and audacity. In his eyes, teshuvah, generally translated as "repentance" but literally and more powerfully "return," signifies not only a deepened and renewed commitment to religion and commandments but, paradoxically, nothing less than a new birth of freedom.
Thoroughly Modern Matzah Thoroughly Modern Matzah
Thursday, March 25, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

When Jews the world over sit down next week to mark the birth of Jewish history, matzah will figure prominently at the table. Matzah baking is an exacting task; according to traditional law, the entire process, from first kneading to exit from the oven, must be accomplished in 18 minutes flat, with not a speck of leaven in sight. For thousands of years, these specifications and others were laboriously met by hand. Yet this most ancient food has a modern history, too. The first matzah machine was invented in 1838 in France. With rabbinic approval, the technology moved steadily eastward.  The...
Wine Wine
Friday, February 26, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

On Purim, which falls on Sunday, Jews are commanded, among other things, to drink. While all manner of intoxicants will do, pride of place has always gone to wine, humanity's favored escape from consciousness since the dawn of recorded time. Wine, the Psalmist wrote (104:15), "gladdens the human heart." That's not all it does—which may be why the Hebrew Bible has ten different words for alcoholic beverages. Wine was offered in the Temple in worship, refrained from by priests and ascetic Nazirites. The rabbis accorded it a prominent role in ritual, not only at Purim and Passover but also on the...
Holocaust Days Holocaust Days
Thursday, January 28, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Yesterday, Shimon Peres delivered an address, in Hebrew, before the Bundestag as Germany and other nations marked International Holocaust Day, commemorating the date in 1945 when Soviet forces arrived at Auschwitz.  Israeli and American Jews conduct their own Holocaust remembrances in the spring, on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, uneasy with the Zionist emphasis on force and resistance, hold their memorials on the tenth of Tevet, one of the traditional fast days for the destruction of the Temple. In short, the Holocaust remains as open to interpretation, reinterpretation—and misunderstanding—as is the hole it blew through all the history...
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Editors' Picks
Happy Hungarian Hanukkah A.L.B., Economist. Budapest, the third largest Jewish community in mainland Europe—and hoping to grow—is celebrating the festival of lights as seldom before.
“In Those Days and at the Present Time” Moshe Benovitz, Schechter Institute. Why observance of Hanukkah fell into desuetude following the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.
Why Dreidel? Why Gelt? Dan Rabinowitz, Seforim. What are the sources
A Megillah for Hanukkah? David Golinkin, Schechter Institute. The Scroll of Antiochus, relaying the military victories of the Maccabees, was read between the ninth and twentieth centuries; unlike the apocryphal Book of Maccabees, though, it is based on legend, not historical fact.
Half-Shabbos Elli Fischer, On the Contrary. Does "big-tent" Orthodoxy have a place for teens who send text messages on the Sabbath?
Wonder Sukkahs Tamar Rotem, Haaretz. Religious artists in Israel have been inspired to decorate their sukkahs with matchstick architectural models, flashing lights, stuffed animal heads, and other intricate treasures.
Sukkahs Open to American Skies Grace Goldin, Commentary. From Tulsa and Iowa City to New York, a lyrical memoir of Jewish identity and observance. (1954, PDF)
The Master of Species Yair Ettinger, Haaretz. In Jerusalem, an expert in both halakhah and botany pronounces judgment on purchases of the plants involved in the observance of Sukkot.
Frail Home? Jonathan Wittenberg, The Eternal Journey. As a physical manifestation of the bonds of community and tradition, the sukkah is at once the weakest and the strongest thing that Jews build. (PDF.) 
The Curious Case of Kol Nidrei Herman Kieval, Commentary. The best-known ritual of the High Holy Day services has a paradoxical and controversial history. (1968; PDF)