Temple Isaiah classes for adults exploring Jewish life, history, and practice.

Posts tagged ‘Torah’

Great First Meeting!


Torah (Photo credit: Lawrie Cate)

This past week I had the pleasure of seeing some “old” students return and some new additions to the class. Welcome back, everyone!

We talked about Tanakh (Torah + Prophets + Writings = Ta-Na-KH) and about the differences between a Jewish and a Christian Bible. We talked a very little bit about the origins of the Bible, and we talked about Midrash, which are (roughly) explanations and explications of the biblical text.  I gave you two handouts:  Tanach Directory and Bible Vocabulary.  I also supplied a time line for the period; if you want a another copy of that, see me.

Next week, we’re going to look at Rabbinic literature and history, roughly the period between 70 and 700 CE.  We’ll learn about Mishnah, Gemara, and Talmud, and about what happened to the Jews after the Temple was destroyed.

See you Sunday!

— Rabbi Adar


Exploring the Shabbat Services, Part 1

Air Force Jewish Chaplain (Capt.) Sarah Schech...

Air Force Jewish Chaplain (Capt.) Sarah Schechter leads Jewish Services, wearing traditional Jewish prayer shawl (tallit), at 332 AEW Jt. Base Balad, Iraq, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are we doing on Friday nights, when we gather for Shabbat services?  That’s the question we explored together this past week.

The core of the Friday night service is the same as every other daily Jewish prayer service:  the Shema and the Amidah.

There is a commandment in the Torah to say the Shema “when we lie down and when we rise up.”  (Deut. 6:7)  We say the Amidah at the time originally appointed for the sacrifices, a set of commandments we cannot keep because the Temple has been destroyed.  The Amidah is structured like an audience with a powerful ruler:

1. Avot – We are the descendants of the patriarchs & matriarchs.  It is by their merit [z’chut] that we address God in this prayer.

2. Gevurot – You are God, there is nothing and no one greater.

3. Kedushat HaShem – We praise God’s holiness.

4. Kedushat HaYom – We praise God, who made this holy day, the Sabbath.

5. Avodah – May our prayers be acceptable to God.

6. Hoda’ah –We give thanks to God for our many blessings.

7. Shalom – We pray for peace.

The Amidah goes by other names as well:  Tefilah [“Prayer”], and Shemoneh Esreh [“Eighteen,” for the original number of prayers in the weekday Amidah].  The word Amidah means “standing,” which is the posture for the prayer.  (More about posture and choreography in our class on April 15.)

Other elements in the service lead us up to the Shema, then gently bring us back to earth after the Amidah.  For a full breakdown of the parts of the service and the blessings in it, download the Maariv Outline.

Next week, we will look at the Shabbat Morning service, Shabbat Shacharit.  See you then!

— Rabbi Adar

Mishnah + Gemara = Talmud

The first page of the tractate

The headline above is a summary of what we covered in class this week.  We began looking at rabbinic literature, and at the process of  living Torah. As the fellow who wrote The Year of Living Biblically found out, Torah without interpretation is a pretty unworkable guide to daily life.  Torah is a living process, leading us towards holiness; it is not just a set of rules.

We also talked about the fact that there’s a pattern in Jewish texts:  texts were not set down in writing until the historical situation demanded it.  The Mishnah was set down in writing in 200 CE because Rabbi Judah the Prince, the leader of the community, saw that this knowledge might be lost if it were not written down, because the political situation in Eretz Yisrael was so unsettled.  The same thing happened with the Gemara, in about 400 in Israel and somewhat later in Mesopotamia.

Next week we’re going to look at the Middle Ages, up until Emancipation.  What’s that?  Come to class and find out!

— Rabbi Adar

Torah & Tanakh

Deutsch: Köln, Tora und Innenansicht der ehema...

Image via Wikipedia

It was great to see everyone again after the break, and wonderful to welcome some new faces!  Welcome back, everyone!

We began today by looking at the Jewish Bible, which we call Tanakh:  Torah + Nevi’im [Prophets] + Ketuvim [Writings].  The Jewish Bible contains those three.  It has no New Testament, and we Jews do not refer to it as the “old testament.”  As far as we are concerned, it’s sufficient in itself.

The Bible may come in a single volume, but it is a collection of 24 books that were composed in different times, to speak to different situations.  The Torah tells the origin stories that make sense of who we are as human beings and as a Jewish People.  The Prophets call us to account for our behavior in the world: they insist that human actions and words matter.  The Writings are a library of Jewish voices and stories that speak to every mood, from anguish to exaltation to erotic love to despair.

I strongly recommend that you own a copy of the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible.  How is our Bible different?  There are differences in translation sometimes (all translation is commentary, remember!) but the big thing is the order of the books.  A Christian Bible assumes that all the books are history-ish, and orders them in chronological order.  A Jewish Bible classifies them as Torah, Prophets, and Writings, in descending order of holiness.  Torah is Torah:  every word in it has to be taken with the utmost seriousness (even if I seriously struggle with it).  Job or Ruth or Esther are holy books, but not at the level of Torah.  They comment on Torah, they ask questions of Torah, they expand on Torah.  They are also not Prophets:  the Prophets have their own unique role in our scripture, voices of challenge and rebuke.

Next meeting we’re into Rabbinic Judaism.  Check the Syllabus (link at the top of the screen) for the readings.  We’ll learn about Midrash and Mishnah, and a little about Talmud.  Remember that we meet again on January 22.

Until then, enjoy your reading!

— Rabbi Adar

High Holy Day Cycle

A shofar made from a ram's horn is traditional...

Image via Wikipedia

On October 3 we had a nearly full classroom to discuss the High Holy Day Cycle.  We looked at it as an arc, beginning on the first of Elul, peaking on Yom Kippur, and concluding with the return to the beginning of the Torah at Simchat Torah.  [Note:  Instead of translating every term again and again, I will put a link to an entry in the Jewish Virtual Library or another reliable source.  Click on the links to learn more about those words and the concepts behind them.]

A recap:

The great arc of the High Holy Days begins with a private month of inward evaluation (Elul).  We may hear the shofar at weekday services, an ancient, raw sound to “wake us up.”  We examine our lives, and our deeds, to see where we have fallen short or missed the mark in our dealings with God and our fellow human beings.  We begin the process of approaching those we have harmed to ask for forgiveness; we also open our hearts to forgive those who approach us.

Near the end of Elul, on a Saturday evening, we offer Selichot, prayers asking God for forgiveness of our sins.  At that point the music in the synagogue changes, the color of the Torah mantles changes, and we hear more about sin [chet] and repentance [teshuvah] in the service.

The first of Tishri is Rosh HaShanah, the day that the Jewish Year changes: last week, from 5771 to 5772.  It is a happy day, when we eat apples and honey in hopes of a sweet year ahead, but the emphasis on teshuvah [repentance] continues:  the words of the service speak of God as Avinu Malkeinu [Our Father, Our Ruler] and as our Judge.  While we ask for the year to be a good year, we also ask God to forgive our shortcomings. What began in Elul as a private self-examination becomes a communal project. and the intensity builds.   The service includes repeated blasts from the shofar; hearing the shofar is the primary mitzvah [sacred duty] of the day.

Rosh HaShanah begins the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, the first ten days of Tishri.  We continue to reflect on our lives, individually and communally, as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement approaches on 10 Tishri.  On Yom Kippur, beginning at sundown, we refrain from eating, drinking, and sexual activity; many Jews refrain from bathing, anointing (using cosmetics), and wearing leather shoes.  Children and those with special needs such as diabetes or pregnancy modify as necessary for health.  The idea is to strip away all earthly pleasures and distractions, as well as to put us into a position to have compassion for those who are forced to fast by poverty and deprivation.  It’s a long, long day, and throughout it we speak of the gates of prayer, and the gates of repentance, metaphors that remind us that we do not have forever to do the work of repentance.  We do not know how long our lives will be:  it is important to get on with the business of atonement.  Yom Kippur includes a memorial service, Yizkor, and it closes with Neilah, a powerful culmination to the day.

After sunset, after we have something to eat and drink, we have a few days to prepare for the next phase of the cycle:  we build a sukkah in preparation for the seven-day festival of Sukkot.  After all the inward-looking and intensity, it is wonderful to relax in the sukkah while we enjoy our newly-repaired relationships.  The mitzvot of Sukkot include eating in the sukkah and waving the lulav, a bouquet of palm, willow, myrtle, and an etrog [citron].  Sukkot begins on 15 Tishri, the full moon, and continues for seven days of celebration.

The eighth day (22 Tishri) is called Shimini Atzeret.  It is not part of Sukkot, but an additional day.  It may be seen as an extra day of celebration (“the party was so great, we didn’t want it to end”) or as a quiet day to settle back down towards normal life (“the party was so great, it took a day to recover.”)  And then the cycle closes with one final celebration, one final act of return:  we celebrate the turning of the Torah, reading the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis, then dancing with the Torah Scrolls, on Simchat Torah [“Joy of the Torah”]  With that final act of turning, we resume our normal lives, renewed, refreshed, and ready to live our Jewish lives.

In our next class meeting on October 16 we will take a look at the second great cycle in the Jewish Year:  the Passover-Shavuot Cycle.  Until then, I wish you a meaningful fast and a joyful beginning to Sukkot!  Shanah tovah!

— Rabbi Adar