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Rabbi: ‘Price Tag’ Will Get Us All ExpelledArutz Sheva

Israel news: Yaalon and Israel bow before Edom  “Price tag” vandalism and attacks targeting Arabs could get Jews expelled from  A similar fate awaits today’s Jews if extremists continue with “price tag” activity, he warned. “price tag” attacks were not carried out by Israelis from Judea and Samaria, 
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Geneva Ceremony Welcomes Israel as Member of Nuclear The Jewish Press

Israel was officially admitted as full member of CERN, the European  About the Author: brings you the latest in Jewish news from 
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Virginia HexterCleveland Jewish News

Virginia Hexter will become a bat mitzvah on Saturday morning, Jan. 18 at The Temple-Tifereth Israelin Beachwood. Virginia is the daughter of Jeff 
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‘A New York Times reporter in Israel is invariably called an anti Haaretz (blog)

I ask whether sending a Jewish reporter is hence a good or bad idea.  At some point, this seeps into the DNA of the newspaper: This is what you can 
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Neil Young to Perform in IsraelThe Jewish Press

The announcement by an Israeli producer comes a week after a report, About the Author: brings you the latest in Jewish news 
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Attack On West Bank Mosque Is Third Price Tag Incident In A WeekThe Jewish Week

JERUSALEM — Right-wing Jewish vandals are suspected of setting a West for settlement freezes and demolitions or Palestinian attacks on Jewsare loyal to the State of Israel,” the letter said, according to Israel NationalNews.
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Ariel Sharon, 1928-2014New Jersey Jewish News

“Ariel Sharon fought for Israel on the battlefield and for peace at the …. The late David Twersky, the former editor-in-chief of NJ Jewish News, met 
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Drive-by Shooting on Road 55The Jewish Press

The Israeli car was driving from Kedumim to the Gilad Farm at the time of  About the Author: brings you the latest in Jewish news 
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Shabbat at Chabad House Bowery


Tu Be’ Shvat – Chabad 2014


Boca Raton West – Chabad Tu Be’Shvat Seder celebration with Rabbi Zalman Bukiet officiating. The Seder was superb with a huge variety of fruits, nuts, wines, baked goods, candies and much more. The presentation was absolutely beautiful,artistic and a delight for the eye. Rabbi Bukiet went through the printed Haggadah and a Powerpoint presentation explaining the meaning of the celebration. Cantor Moti Fuchs added to the Simcha wis his beautiful voice and engaging delivery.
All in all, it was a beautiful and memorable Simcha.

Thanks you Chabad,

Yossi Landau

New Chabad of Detroit – Installing Mezuza – Tu B’Shvat – Rabbi Yisrael Pinson


Sha’alvim for Women: S.E.M. Torah for Parshat Yitroalexis

Torah must be learned deeply and profoundly on the highest levels possible. However, even when you find that you have only a few moments, we 
Sha’alvim for Women
Mevakesh Lev: Learning And Feeing That Hashem And Torah Are Mevakesh Lev

Learning And Feeing That Hashem And Torah Are One. לזכות ראובן יעקב בן שרה יוכבד לברכה והצלחה בכל ובריאות איתנה. Rav Yoel Kahn, the main “chozer” 
Mevakesh Lev
M. KempinskiThe Spiritual Legacy of YitroArutz Sheva

Just as there will be many that will come against us and join the spiritual battle of Amalek, theTorah wants us to know that there will be many others 
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Dynamic OrthodoxyThe Jewish Press

Torah and Derech Eretz of Rav Hirsch was designed to make the modern world less frightening to the Jew. He taught and inspired generations that 
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Slashed Hareidi Budgets Blamed on ‘Fundamental Hate’Arutz Sheva

A Knesset decision Wednesday “proves beyond all doubt that the ongoing persecution of full-time Torah students stems from fundamental hatred,” MK 
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38:21Having concluded the account of how the artisans fashioned the various components of the Tabernacle structure, the Torah digresses to discuss 
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torah | Even our sages resist the idea that God allows evil to

“If God indeed created everything, that means that God created evil; and if we hold that our works define who we are, then God would also be evil?
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Torah Mitzion Torani Tzioni MovementThe 10 Commandments – A Arutz Sheva

The MiTzion Torani Tzioni Movement sends groups of Israeli post-army yeshiva students to form kollels and affect Jewish identity in Jewish 
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Shiloh Musings: 36 Years of Renewed Jewish Life in Ancient ShilohBatya Medad

The official mission was to dig up the past, but the true mission was to renew Jewish Life in the First Capital of the Biblical Jewish Nation, Shiloh.
Shiloh Musings

Working to Make a Jewish ‘One-Stop Shop’ in Chicago’s East

Rabbi Yoel Wolf and his wife Rivky started Chabad of East Rogers Park, on the far north side of Chicago, in August. Gonzalo Escobar, who lives in the 
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camps & education | Is free tuition the answer to boosting Jewish

By offering free Jewish preschool to every Jewish child in America, Siegal  “Many people step away from Jewish life for years after their bar or bat 
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New Resource Guide for Jewish BabiesBoulder Jewish News

Following our successful Jewish Wedding Resource Guide, Jewish Together – Boulder is introducing the second in a series of local Jewish Life Cycle 
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Dynamic OrthodoxyThe Jewish Press

Conventional wisdom teaches that the term was applied to religious Jews by our  who then began using the term in his writings about Jewish life.
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BOOK BOUND: ‘The Wanting’ unites One Book, One Jewish Montgomery Newspapers

“Each year we have challenged our community to focus on Jewish life from different perspectives. Our seventh selection, ‘The Wanting’ by Michael 
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Moroccan King Asks Jews To Pray for RainShalom Life

Upon learning that Morocco may experience a drought in 2014, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI asked the country’s Muslims and Jews a practical 
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Israeli abortion expansion leaves nation morally ‘in shreds’: Jewish Lifesite

TEL AVIV, January 16, 2014 ( – The Israeli pro-life group Be’ad Chaim slammed the government’s recent decision to extend 
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Startup Club: NipageshShalom Life

Jewish businessmen and innovators continue to excel throughout these Shalom Life is pleased to present: Startup Club, highlighting the best and 
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UC Campuses Postpone Start of Academic Year to Avoid High Algemeiner

The policy says UC schools must shift their academic calendars to avoid forcing Jewish students to violate religious bans from working on the holidays 
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At JVS event, speed dating meets job huntNew Jersey Jewish News

event at Pine Brook Jewish Center in Montville brought together the unemployed or underemployed, some who are new to the job market and others 
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Tu B’Shevat beginsJewish News of Greater Phoenix

Here is a listing of local holiday events Tu B’Shevat herb potting: 7:30 p.m., Jewish Women’s Circle of Arizona at Chabad of Phoenix, 2110 E.
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Fabulous FestTucson Weekly

It’s a lot bigger now, said Lynn Davis, the festival’s director and a member of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, which puts on the event and hosts 
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Cracking wisenheimer: Local comedian mixes it up at Jewish Humor Minneapolis Star Tribune

Q: Do you try to make your routine for this event “more Jewish”?  I just got married, and I’ll kid about the Jewish customs at the wedding. I’ll tell stories 
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Parshas Yisro – What Did Yisro Hear That Prompted Him?The Jewish Voice

Everyone had heard about the events surrounding the Jews‘ exodus from Egypt. Everyone heard about the miraculous splitting of the Red Sea.
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Twin Cities Jewish Humor Festival Fifth annual event has stand-up Pioneer Press

Plucky Rosenthal takes the stage with Jessica Kirson at 7:30 p.m. Sunday for the Twin CitiesJewish Humor Festival at the Sabes Jewish Community 
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Jewish Museum’s The Wind Up Series to Continue 1/30Broadway World

The Jewish Museum presents the next event in its popular The Wind Up series, after-hours eventsfeaturing art, live music, activities, and an open bar, 
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Select Section Events, Jewish Life language german : Jüdische Nachrichten, Das Jüdische leben, Das Jüdische Museum 24JEWISH ALERTS large selection in each section

Israel Heute

Israelnetz Nachrichten

Lore Zusman erinnert sich an die jüdische Schule in Königsberg


Lore Zusman erzählt von Ihrer Kindheit an der jüdischen Schule in Königsberg und von Ihrem Schuldirektor David Kaelter.

Für mehr Informationen zu der jüdischen Schule in Königsberg:

Richard Wagner und die Juden


Obwohl der deutsche Komponist Richard Wagner für seine antisemitische Haltung bekannt war, fanden sich unter seinen begeistertsten Anhängern auch einige Juden. Deren Geschichten erzählt Regisseur Hilan Warshaw nun in seiner Dokumentation, die als erste den Fokus auf die komplexen persönlichen Beziehungen zwischen Wagner und jüdischen Künstlern richtet. Die an Originalschauplätzen in Deutschland, Italien und der Schweiz gedrehte Dokumentation enthüllt dramatische, kaum bekannte Schicksale und stützt sich dabei auf Berichte zentraler Persönlichkeiten, Interviews, Auszüge aus Wagners Opern und unveröffentlichte Aufführungen musikalischer Werke von dessen jüdischen Kollegen. Zusätzlich zu ihrer historischen Perspektive geht die Dokumentation auch auf die noch heute andauernden Kontroversen über Wagner-Aufführungen in Israel ein, die durch die israelische Wagner-Gesellschaft und ihre unermüdlichen Versuche, in Tel Aviv ein Wagner-Konzert zu organisieren, ausgelöst wurden. Experten und bekannte Persönlichkeiten des öffentlichen Lebens kommen zu Wort: die Dirigenten Zubin Mehta, Asher Fisch und Leon Botstein, der jüdische Politiker Yossi Beilin, der Vorsitzende der israelischen Wagner-Gesellschaft Jonathan Livny, der stellvertretende Vorsitzende des Center of Organization of Holocaust Survivors in Israel Uri Chanoch sowie einige führende Wissenschaftler.

Lörrach Auf den Spuren jüdischen

Die Stadt Lörrach lädt anlässlich des Holocaust-Gedenktages zu mehrerenVeranstaltungen ein. Der Holocaust-Gedenktag wurde im Januar 1996 
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Koblenz: Avadislav Avadiev ist neuer Vorsitzender des jüdischen Rhein-Zeitung

Im RZ-Interview nennt der Geschäftsmann neben der Vertretung des Judentums nach außen die Information über jüdisches Leben als dringlichste 
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Judenverfolgung: “Als ich ankam, war es zu spät”ZEIT ONLINE

Eine neue Ausstellung erzählt vom Leben jüdischer Bürger im Dresden der NS-Zeit. Auch vom bislang weitgehend unbekannten Schicksal der 
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Judenwege in der RegionMain Post

Nach der Vertreibung der Juden aus den Städten spielte sich das jüdische Leben ab dem 16. Jahrhundert weitgehend auf dem Lande ab.
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Majestät bittet um eine BrachaJüdische Allgemeine

Marokkos König Mohammed VI. hat die Juden des Landes aufgerufen, für Regen zu beten. Wie französische Medien berichteten, folgten die 
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Select Section Jewish Communities: 24JEWISH ALERTS



Robb Packer, photographer and author of “Doors of Redemption:
The Forgotten Synagogues of Chicago and other Communal Buildings” takes us on a visit to historic Jewish Chicago in 2006, on TAPED WITH… RABBI DOUG.
See for more info

fifth avenue synagogue


fifth avenue synagogue board of directors
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Jewish Community congratulates new CardinalGibraltar Chronicle

The President of the Jewish Community of Gibraltar, James Levy, has written to Cardinal Vincent Nichols congratulating him on behalf of the 
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The PQ charter and the Jewish communityMontreal Gazette (blog)

The Parti Québécois “values” charter would have a “devastating” effect on Quebec’s Jewish community. It could “damage” its “continuity,” and 
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The history of Tu Bishvat: From legalistic debate to fruit-eating Haaretz

During the 19th century it became tradition in many Ashkenazi communitiesto eat dried fruit sent from the Holy Land. At heder, where Jewish boys 
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Cantor Ronald Broden’s Work is Not

NEW ROCHELLE, NY, January 16, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ — Cantor Ronald Broden has been known in the Jewish communities of Long Island, 
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WNYC Report: City Pols Celebrate Jewish Holiday With Influential JP Updates

It was the second year in a row Friedlander held the party allowing prominent members of the city’s Orthodox Jewish community to mingle with elected 
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Men of letters take aim at ‘idiotic’ boycotts of

The three professors, all Jewish, agreed that boycotts of Israeli universities He said he previously had not considered himself a Jewish community 
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UJC is Colorado Springs Jewry’s link to IsraelIntermountain Jewish News

FOR many years, Colorado Springs has actively supported the United Jewish Communities effort through events and fundraising in the local 
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As Jews face growing security challenges in Europe, Brussels European Jewish Press

As Jews face growing security challenges in Europe, Brussels seminar special tools adapted to the needs of the Jewish communities in Europe.
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World Likud Members Plant Trees in Jordan ValleyArutz Sheva

 where they planted trees in honor of Tu Bishvat and expressed their clear objection to a possible uprooting of Jewish communities in the area.
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JFNA leader shares strategies for worldwide Jewry with local leadersKansas City Jewish Chronicle (blog)

“I’m always amazed at the commitment the Jewish communities in the Midwest truly have both for their community, for their future, but also for the 
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Select Section Jewish Culture & Yiddish: 24JEWISH ALERTS large selection videos and feeds in each section

Center for Jewish History


Visit us at 15 West 16th Street, NYC or

The Center for Jewish History is home to five partner organizations: American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

The partners’ archival collections span more than 700 years of history and total over 500,000 volumes and 100 million documents in 23 languages.

The collections also include thousands of artworks, textiles, ritual objects, recordings, films and photographs.

At the Center, history is illuminated through scholarship and cultural programming, exhibitions and symposia, lectures and performances.

Jews in Book Publishing


Altie Karper (editorial director of Schocken) speaks about Bennett Cerf and other Jews who helped transform American Publishing.

Excerpted from Culture Brokers: Publishing | The Book Trade, presented by Center for Jewish History, the American Jewish Historical Society and the Jewish Book Council on December 6, 2012.

Full program available here:

Jewish Food In Israel


Israeli chef Omer Miller speaks about Jewish food in Israel, and the gap between Tel Aviv food culture and that of the rest of Israel.

Excerpted from Gefilte Talk, presented by the Center for Jewish History on September 6, 2012.

Full program available here:

Artwork by Chama Mechtaly over Salim Halali’s Ya Ghorbati


Chama Mechtaly is a Moroccan artist, of both Muslim and Jewish roots, based in Boston where she studies International Relations at Brandeis University. Chama’s diverse interests include exploring North Africa’s ethnic and religious diversity, upending stereotypical orientalist portraits of female identity, and preserving the art and culture of Morocco’s native Amazigh Jews. Chama has exhibited her work five times in the US in the past couple of years. Her forthcoming solo-exhibit “Zikaron זיכרון” will be part of the first Moroccan Jewish Heritage Festival this December and will be showed at the only Jewish Museum in the Arab world. Through her work, she hopes to raise questions about the complexity of Moroccan identity, promote religious pluralism and advocate for the inclusion of Moroccan Jewish History in public school textbooks back in her home country.

Song: Ya Ghorbati by Salim Halali

The Jewish Arab Jazzy Peace Song


THE FREEMAN FILES: Midrash and Reality
Midrash and Reality
Shevat 15, 5774 · January 16, 2014
Part 3 of “Is Midrash For Real?”

© Leon Zernitzky

In the last installment we heard from R. Saadia Gaon in the Department of Simple Meanings (peshat) and from Maimonides in the Department of Deeper Meanings (derush)—and the folly of confusing the two. We left off with a promise to hear from Maharal of Prague, who would apply Maimonides’ principles to Midrash in a way that would open up a whole new understanding of Torah and reality.

The Limits of Midrash

But before we get to Prague, we need to discuss some of the wrong turns and dead ends that were taken post-Maimonides—mainly so that we don’t take those routes again.

After Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed was translated from Arabic into Hebrew, many more students of Torah began applying Aristotelian philosophy to their studies. Sometimes the marriage was quite elegant. Often, it was the ugliest form of syncretism. Any suggestion of a miracle had always irked the classical philosopher, but now he felt he had the permission of the great Maimonides to reinterpret these allegorically. Anecdotes of historical significance were also reinterpreted, thereby dismissing any historicity of the Talmudic sages.

By the end of the 13th

Rashba attempted to ban the study of philosophy and natural sciences until the age of 25.

century, many of the leading rabbis in Provence and Spain were fed up enough with these teachers and preachers that they felt drastic action was needed. At the urging of a respected Provencal sage, many of the leading rabbis of the time, led by Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet of Barcelona (known as Rashba), instituted a ban prohibiting anyone from studying philosophy and natural sciences until the age of 25 (with the exception of one who was studying medicine for a profession). 

Many of the Jews of Provence were outraged. They deeply respected Rashba as an outstanding scholar and leader to whom they would address the most difficult questions both in Jewish practice and in theology. But they could not imagine abandoning their study of the Greek-Arabic philosophy that had become a regular part of their curriculum.

Rabbi Yedayah Bedersi was one such Jew. Bedersi was fluent not only in all areas of Torah scholarship but, like many of his era, in Aristotle and Avoerres as well. He was also a master of letters, having published his first poem at age fifteen. He composed several commentaries on Midrash. His ethical workExamination of the World is oft-quoted. He is also known for his long poem-parable in defense of women.

But, most of all, R. Yedayah Bedersi is known for his respectful but forceful retort to Rashba concerning his ban. He denies the accusations that the schools in Provence had been twisting the meaning of scripture and midrashim through their Aristotelian contortions. In the process, he lays down more clearly than anyone before exactly what the rules of Midrashic interpretation must be—using brilliant yet simple rules of reason.

To begin, he writes, simply because a story clashes with the natural order is not sufficient reason to reject it. An absurdity must be interpreted allegorically, but there is nothing absurd about the Creator of the natural order breaking that order with a miracle.

An absurdity, Bedersi writes, must be interpreted allegorically, but there is nothing absurd about the Creator of the natural order making a miracle.

He then divides the midrashic stories into four categories, explaining how we must deal with each one:

  1. Unlikely stories told by the sages.Although a story is extremely unlikely, and although it neither strengthens nor weakens our faith, we nevertheless accept it, since it comes to us from a reliable source.1
  2. Miraculous stories.We do not reject a story simply because it includes a miracle. The Creator of the world has no problem performing miracles. But if a miraculous story clashes with a general principle, we must reinterpret. We can imagine loaves of bread and fine clothing miraculously growing on trees, but we have a general principle told to us that clashes with this: “There is no difference between this world and the world to come other than the subjection to foreign rule.”2

    Similarly, we can imagine tzaddikim after their passing reinvested in fine new bodies, enjoying another world, as described by Rabbi Benaah, etc. But this clashes with a general principle that in that world “there is no sitting or standing . . .”

  3. Apparent exaggerations.If the story describes a world where miracles abound, and these miracles are not of the sort that strengthen our faith or provide any other apparent benefit, we must reinterpret—for three reasons:
    1. It’s not honorable to the Torah and its sages to believe this.
    2. This diminishes the significance of those miracles mentioned in the Torah, which the Torah itself treats as rare instances.
    3. G‑d does not make miracles without necessity, and neither do His prophets.

    The Talmudic tales of Rabbah bar bar Chanah are a good example. In them you’ll hear of an antelope the size of Mount Tabor whose dung dammed up the Jordan River; a frog the size of sixty houses swallowed by a yet more monstrous sea creature—which was then plucked out of the ocean by a giant raven. Then there was the fish so big that when it was cast ashore it destroyed 60 towns and fed another 60. A year later, people were cutting rafters from the fishes’ ribs for the homes of the towns they had rebuilt to replace those that had been destroyed. Another fish was so large that it took three days and nights for Rabbah bar bar Chanah’s ship to sail from one end to the other—and it was a ship so fast that if you shot an arrow, the ship would pass it. There was even one fish that had sand and grass growing on its back.

    The sailors innocently set ashore on what they presumed was an island, and set up a barbecue—only to have to rush back to ship in the nick of time as the annoyed fish began to turn over.

    The sailors innocently set ashore on what they presumed was an island, and set up a barbecue—only to have to rush back to ship in the nick of time as the annoyed fish began to turn over.3 

    The consensus among all Talmudic scholars is that these tales of Rabbah bar bar Chanah are not all necessarily meant to be taken at face value.4 Within the phantasmagorical imagery of these tales whispers a story from a world beyond ours, tightly encoded within complex metaphor. Indeed, from the Zohar5 it appears that the sea of which he is talking is the sea of Torah, the birds and fish are allusions to particular angelic beings and souls—every detail with layers of meaning, but certainly not for the sports-fishing buff.

  4. Absurdities.If the story presents an absurdity, we must reinterpret. Bedersi here seems principally concerned with cases of anthropomorphism. That the Creator of Heaven and Earth could have physical form he considers irresolutely absurd.

As we said, Bedersi wrote all this in a letter to Rashba. Rashba himself discussed the interpretation of fantastic midrashic tales, also taking the approach of Maimonides. He provides several reasons why the sages might conceal their wisdom within enigma and fantasy. One very revealing episode:

Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi was sermonizing, and the assembly was dozing off. He watned to wake them up. So he said, “There was one woman in Egypt who gave birth to six hundred thousand at once!”

There was one student there—Rabbi Yishmael ben Yosei was his name—who asked, “Who was that?”

So he told him, “It was Yocheved, who gave birth to Moses! He was balanced against the entire nation of six hundred thousand—as we see in the text:6 ‘Then sang Moses and the children of Israel.’”7

How more explicit a demonstration do you need, writes Rashba, that the words of the sages are not always to be taken literally? He then proceeds to interpret the meaning of a ten-cubit Moses taking a ten-cubit axe and jumping ten cubits into the air to whack the giant Og on the ankle—just as Og was attempting to throw a mountain on the Israelite camp. All of it has meaning, but none of it at face value.

The Wrong Way to Learn Midrash

Bedersi set down clear boundaries, but the rules of interpretation were still unclear. There was still no clear definition for Midrash. That left room for some to believe that midrash and aggadah are not really true—they are just parables or fables to make a point. They said, “The simple meaning of the text is true. Thehalachah is an obligation—so it’s certainly true. But these tales are just homiletics.”8

Fundamentally, these people understood the tales of the rabbis much as we understand good fiction: stories to make a point. Fiction is not a lie—the author has a real point to make, and that point may be true. It’s only that he uses the medium of a story to make his point, and the story—the packaging for the point—is not true. So, too, these people understood the stories of the Talmud and Midrash to be making true points—but dressed in packaging that was very distant from reality.

Rabbi Yehuda Loewe of Prague (known as the “Maharal of Prague”) was adamant: Torah is not fiction.

Maharal was adamant: Torah is not fiction. Anything the Creator of the universe tells is real.

Jews consider the words of their sages that have been recorded in the Talmud and Midrash to be Torah, no less divine than the Five Books of Moses. Once they were accepted by the general community of observant Jews as works to be studied and revered as Torah, they attain a status of G‑d’s own thoughts, arguments He has with Himself and stories He tells Himself. And if the Creator of the universe is telling it, it’s real.9 

A case in point is the following story of Titus, after he had destroyed the Temple and laid waste to Jerusalem:

When Titus was traveling back to Rome on a ship with the Jewish captives and the vessels of the Holy Temple, a storm at sea threatened to drown him. He said: “It seems that the G‑d of these people has power only over water. When Pharaoh came, He drowned him in water. When Sisera came, He drowned him in water. Now, He is about to drown me in water. If He wants to show His strength, let Him come onto dry land and fight with me there!”

A divine voice came forth and said to him: “Wicked one, the son of a wicked one, descendant of Esau the wicked! I have an insignificant creature in My world called a gnat. Come ashore and do battle with it!”

Titus went ashore, and a gnat came and entered his nostril. It pecked at his brain for seven years.

One day, Titus was walking past a blacksmith’s shop. The gnat heard the noise of the sledgehammer and became silent. Titus said: “There is a remedy!”

Every day they brought a blacksmith, and he hammered in Titus’s presence. To a gentile blacksmith he would give a handsome stipend, but to a Jew he would say: “It is sufficient that you see your enemy suffering!”

For thirty days they brought smiths to hammer in Titus’s presence. Then the gnat adjusted to the noise of the hammer, and continued pecking at Titus’s brain even when the hammers were struck.

Rabbi Pinchas ben Arova said: “I was with the great men of Rome at the time when Titus died. They examined his brain, and what they found in it was the size of a small bird!”

In the Mishnah we learned: It was like a year-old pigeon, weighing two liters.

Said Abaye, “We have a tradition that its mouth was of bronze and its claws of iron.”

As Titus lay dying, he instructed his servants: “Burn me and scatter my ashes over the seven seas, so that the G‑d of the Jews cannot find me and bring me to judgment.”

Now, reading the chronicles of Roman historians, you won’t find anything about this gnat. Titus, they tell you, died of a fever. At any rate, metal claws on a big bug is a tad outrageous.

So, one scholarly Italian Jew named Azariah dei Rossi explained, “This is just aggadah.” It didn’t really happen. It’s just that the sages wanted to impress on people that G‑d can always find a way to punish the wicked, so they told this story.

The same Azariah dei Rossi approached other teachings in a similar vein. Rabbi Eliezer taught that the northern side of the world was never completed. G‑d says, “Whoever believes he is a god, let him come and complete the northern side.” From this and other similar statements, dei Rossi derived that the Talmudic sages believed the world was flat.

This was just the sort of thing that ruffled Maharal’s feathers much too much. This man, he said, has no idea what the sages are talking about.

Truth Is Stranger than Non-Fiction

So, Maharal of Prague further defined the ways of Midrash, with two signposts on two sides of the road:

  1. On the one hand, you have to know that every story told and recorded by the rabbis of the Talmud is true. They are Torah, just as much as a verse from scripture or a halachah kept by all Jews is Torah.10
  2. On the other hand, you must know that these stories are not concerned with physical reality at all. Rather, they are speaking of the essential reality.

What’s the “essential reality”? Here’s a classic treatment of the essential reality of midrash from Maharal:

The Talmud tells us that Moses was ten cubits tall.11 A cubit is the distance from your outstretched big finger to your elbow—averaging about one and a half feet. That would put Moses at fifteen feet.

Strange thing, no one inside the story seems to notice—not Pharaoh, not the Jewish people, not even the daughters of Jethro, who tell their father, “An Egyptian saved us from the shepherds!” The fact that he was a giant about three times their size seems to totally pass them by.12

So, Maharal tells us that the real

Maharal tells us that the real Moses truly was fifteen feet tall. Just not the Moses that Pharaoh saw.

Moses truly was fifteen feet tall. Not the one that Pharaoh saw, or that the fleeing shepherds saw. They saw only the physical shell of Moses, as he is invested in a body within our physical world—a world that for several reasons can’t manage a ten-cubit human form. But Moses is a complete person, and ten is the number of completeness. He should havebeen ten cubits tall—would the physical world be capable of such a thing. Certainly, writes Maharal, whatever could be reflected in the physical world was reflected, and Moses was likely taller than the average human being. But not as tall as he really was.13 

Which Moses is more pertinent to our understanding? If we want to understand the simple meaning of the text, a giant Moses will just confuse matters—as we’ve seen. If we want to have an idea of the soul-power of Moses, his impact on the crowd when he walked in the room, his true height as a spiritual giant—he was as big as they get, not missing a finger’s breadth of the ten cubits of perfection.

We’re used to considering the precise measurements of our world as the final arbiter of all truth. It might help to jump to an event in Mezhibuzh, Ukraine, a century or two after Maharal:

One of the homeowners of Mezhibuzh was involved in a nasty dispute with another resident of the town. It happened that while in the Baal Shem Tov’s presence, in his shul, he yelled that he was going to rip the other guy apart like a fish.

The Baal Shem Tov told his pupils to hold one another’s hand, and to stand near him with their eyes tightly closed.

He then placed his holy hands on the shoulders of the two disciples next to him. Suddenly the disciples began shouting in great terror: They had seen how that fellow had actually ripped his disputant apart like a fish.14

Now, what if I ask you, “Did a resident of Mezhibuzh tear apart his disputant like a fish?”

You might answer, “Well, not really.” Problem is, I have witnesses. Very reliable ones. And they all saw exactly the same thing.

But can the perpetrator be charged in court for bodily harm? Problem is, his disputant is still walking around without a scratch.

So, which world is real? One world can

Which world is real? The world of action, or the world where we perceive the effects of our actions?

be perceived by anyone with ears for hearing. The other requires senses of a higher grade than most of us will ever achieve. But does that make it less real? On the contrary, perhaps the higher reality is the truer one. There, after all, is where we can perceive the real effects of our actions and words. 

Maharal takes the same approach to the gnat in Titus’ brain. The sages are not concerned with telling us a story for the medical annals. Their concern is to present to us the real Titus and his true destiny. Did a physical gnat enter his brain? Perhaps not, writes the Maharal. But the story is still true, because the gnat got in there anyways. Every living creature has its essential quality that makes it uniquely what it is—and the essential quality of the gnat made its way in.15 This essential quality, if it could be seen, would appear in its most intense state with a mouth of bronze and iron claws.

The same applies to Rabbi Yehudah’s description of the universe with an open north end. The purpose of this description was not for astronomical predictions, or to send a man to the moon. Rabbi Yehudah was telling us what the world is all about: that it was not created as a perfect place. As Maharal writes, the world is not a cause, it is an effect, and an effect can never be perfect. Only the original cause, the ultimate Creator, can be complete. Our world reflects this, to some degree, through the effects of the north wind. But again, in an incomplete way.16

Maharal sums up his approach in

Maharal sums up his approach: “The sages do not speak of the physical at all; they speak of a world stripped of physicality.”

one simple line: “The sages do not speak of the physical at all; they speak of a world stripped of physicality.”17 Every midrashic teaching is a peek behind the veil, dressing deep truths in language that is meant to reveal an inner world. If that language seems foolish to us, it is only because we have not yet cracked the code. We are grabbing the clothes, the words, as though they themselves were their own meaning. 

On the other hand . . .

Maharal wrote many volumes of commentary on Midrash, perhaps more than any other Torah giant, all following these same principles. Reading them, we often sense a modern mind, and indeed his writings are more popular today than they were in the 16th century, when he was perhaps less understood.

Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, whose mother was a cousin of Maharal, composed what is likely the most popular work on almost all the aggadah of the Talmud. It is included in the standard editions of the Talmud under the title Chiddushei Aggadot Maharsha. He follows a similar approach, using principles of both philosophy and Kabbalah.

Now a systematic approach to midrash had been laid out clearly by Maimonides and Maharal. But that raises a new question, perhaps a more difficult one: If the point of midrash is not the story itself, but that which it contains, not the foreground but the background, and if anyone who understands these stories literally is a fool—then how is it that we tell these stories to children and simple folk, who certainly take them at face value? Are we to hide all of these tales from them? Have we been doing things wrong all these centuries?

Maharal himself provided the key to answering this crucial question. It becomes clearer when we examine the works of his contemporaries, and of those who followed in his footsteps. Which is what we will discuss in the next installment.

1. If a “reliable source” is not provided—for example, names are not provided—that may be considered evidence that the anecdote need not be taken literally. See Rabbi Avraham ben ha-Rambam in his treatise on Midrash (printed in the preface of Ein Yaakov):

We found a place in the Talmud (Eruvin 63a) where it is openly admitted that the sages spoke in parabolic style, and that their words should not always be taken literally: “A disciple of R. Eliezer decided a question of Torah law in the latter’s presence. R. Eliezer said to his wife, Ima Shalom, ‘I wonder if he will live through this year?’ And he died during that year. ‘Are you a prophet?’ his wife asked him . . .” [The student is then identified by name.] “The disciple’s name and his father’s name,” continues the Talmud, “were purposely mentioned so that we should not construe it as a parable, but as a true fact.” From this is clear that in many instances their words were not taken literally, but in the form of a parable. Put this proof in your heart and let your eyes watch it, for it is a wonderful thing as well as important evidence.

See also Maharal, Chiddushei Aggadot 1:28; Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad,Ben Yehoyada, Eruvin loc. cit.

2. On this topic, see Will the Moshiach Usher In a Miraculous Era? Alternatively, one could easily imagine the sages viewing today’s post-industrialization wardrobes and refrigerator stockpiles as “bread and fine clothes growing on trees.”
3. Talmud, Bava Batra 73b.
4. Some have pointed to an exception: Rashbam to Bava Batra 73a, s.v. אמר רבה אשתעו לי כו׳. The authors, however, are not convinced that Rashbam is insisting on a literal understanding of every story that follows. Ritva and Maharsha maintain that at least some of these events actually occurred.
5. Zohar 3:223b (Raya Mehemna).
6. Exodus 15:1.
7. Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah 1:65.
8. Indeed, many passages of the Talmud seem to imply just that. The intent of these passages, however, is generally rather opaque, and their meaning is disputed. Many of these statements appear in the Jerusalem Talmud, which despite its terser style is far more dense with aggadah than the Babylonian Talmud. See the following examples from that Talmud: Shabbat 16:1, Maaserot 3:4 and Nazir 7:2.
9. In retort to this opinion of Maharal, some cite a statement of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban) in the midst of a staged dispute with a representative of the Church. See, however, Haim Maccoby, Judaism On Trial, pp. 44–49. According to his explanation, Ramban does not necessarily differ from Maharal’s opinion that these tales are all true, only that they are not (necessarily) discussing the physical or historical reality.
10. Rabbi Yehuda Loewe, Be’er ha-Golah, Be’er Shishi (p. 135 in the standard edition).
11. Talmud, Shabbat 92a.
12. See Sichot Kodesh 5730, vol. 1, p. 564.
13. Chiddushei Aggadot, vol. 3, p. 33 (on Talmud, Bava Metzia 84a).
14. Hayom Yom, 29 Tishrei.
15. It seems difficult to understand the report of a tumor in his brain at death as purely allegorical. The language in which it is stated seems factual: “I was with the great men of Rome at the time when Titus died.” But then, such a size for a brain tumor is not so unbelievable. The largest brain tumor removed from a living person on record to date was 72 cubic inches—the size of a small pigeon.
16. Be’er ha-Golah, Be’er Shishi (p. 129 in the standard edition).
17. Ibid., p. 128.
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By Tzvi Freeman and Yehuda Shurpin    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman’s writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for’s Ask the Rabbi service.
Acknowledgment: The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of the staff of the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) in preparing this essay. The JLI course Curious Tales of the Talmud is an excellent introduction to interpretation of aggadah.
Chaim Leib (Leon) Zernitsky has created fine art and illustrations for international magazines, book publishers and major corporations for over 25 years. He has published over 30 books for children and young adults and won numerous awards. Chaim Leib feels that creating Jewish art is an important part of being a Jewish artist, and his paintings can be found in private collections worldwide.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene WeckerPosted: 16 Jan 2014 10:59 AM PST

GolemJinni-PB-199x300When I started this blog in 2003, it never occurred to me that I might wind up with a sideline in recommending religion-related speculative fiction. But here I am, having written about Saladin Ahmed’s delightful Throne of the Crescent Moon last month, andG. Willow Wilson’s delightful Alif the Unseen some time before that, and now I’ve got another recommendation  — Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni.

This book interweaves two mythologies into one entrancing novel. This is the story of Chava, a golem (think: creature made of earth, brought to life via mystical kabbalistic incantations, á la Rabbi Loew of medieval Prague) and Ahmed, a jinni (think: fire-spirit as mentioned in the Qur’an, the sort once enslaved by Suleyman a.k.a. Solomon) who meet in New York at the turn of the 20th century.

I’ve known the golem stories for as long as I can remember. I have a tiny clay golem figurine which I bought from a street vendor in Prague (my mother’s birthplace) on my first trip there in 1993, and when I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the mystical letter-combination practices of the Sefer Yetzirah and Abraham Abulafia, I spent some time dipping into golem stories just for fun. The jinni material was less known to me, but the book is so deftly-woven that my relatively shallow familiarity with that story didn’t matter.

Wecker’s depiction of 1899 New York is rich and detailed. Equally so are the depictions of Konin in the late 1800s, and the Bedouin encampment a millennium before. But I think what I like best about the book is the slow, cautious friendship which develops between the two supernatural beings. Both the golem and the jinni are lost in almost-20th-century New York, and as each of them struggles to process the peculiarities of this place and time, the reader experiences the unfamiliar landscape along with them. For both Chava and Ahmed, being exposed to ordinary human society would have disastrous repercussions.

Those similarities aside, they’re about as different as two characters can be. One’s from Jewish folklore and the other’s from Arabic folklore. One’s newly-made and the other is ancient as the sands. For that matter, one’s (literally) an earth elemental and the other’s quintessentially fire, with all of the personal characteristics which those terms imply: steadiness versus capriciousness, rootedness versus wanderlust, quiet contentment versus burning passion. Their relationship is by turns sweet and prickly, filled with misunderstandings — but as they come to know each other, we get to listen in, and that’s a real delight.

There’s an excerpt on the author’s website. Take a peek, see if this might be a good fit for you. I envy all of y’all who haven’t yet read it, and will get to enjoy its twists and turns for the first time.

New essay in Zeek: on Tu BiShvat, parenthood, climate changePosted: 16 Jan 2014 04:00 AM PST

It’s fun to teach a 4-year-old about Tu B’Shvat. We’ll probably sing happy birthday to the trees in the backyard, and bless and eat a variety of tree fruits and nuts at a kiddie Tu B’Shvat seder at the synagogue. Maybe we’ll try to connect trees with taking care of the earth, the way Kai-Lan cleans up garbage in the back yard for the sake of the snails.

For adults, Tu B’Shvat offers opportunities for more meaningful reflection.

Tu B’Shvat reminds us to go outside and encounter the natural world where we are. Here in the Diaspora, Tu B’Shvat posters and food traditions remind us of the foodways of our Mediterranean ancestors, including Israel’s blooming almond trees. Where I live, Tu B’Shvat usually means bare trees rising out of snow.

Usually Tu B’Shvat falls during sugaring season in western Massachusetts. The maple sap rises when the days are above freezing and the nights are still cold. All around my region, plastic tubing sprouts like new growth, funneling sap drop by drop into collection buckets and tanks for boiling.

Well: that’s what usually happens. I don’t know how this year’s fifty-degree temperature fluctuations and arctic blasts will impact the syrup harvest. Does that kind of oscillation confuse the maple trees? How about the fifty-below-zero temperatures they’ve been registering in the heartland: how does that impact the food we grow?

That’s a taste of Tu BiShvat Reflections on Parenthood, Extreme Weather, & the Human Family Tree, my latest essay forZeek magazine. I hope you’ll click through to read the whole thing.

Section Jewish History : 24JEWISH ALERTS large selection in each section

Center for Jewish History

Hungary After the Holocaust


Paul A. Shapiro (Director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies) discusses the current state of Jewish and non-Jewish relations in Hungary.

Excerpted from Hungary and the Holocaust: Assessing the Past, Preparing for the Future, presented by Center for Jewish History and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on June 4, 2013.

Full program available here:

Esther, Model for Jewish Women


Mordechai and Esther are the heroes of Purim, yet the Megillah is named only after Esther. And the initiative that the Megillah be included among the books of the Bible came specifically from Esther. Why is Esther given the spotlight, when her success depended on Mordechai’s plan?
The answer: Mordechai had the idea, but Esther took the action—and action is the main thing. It was Esther who actually risked her life to see the plan through.
Esther wanted every Jewish woman in every generation to know their vital role. Their husband may be a great rabbi, a great leader—a veritable “Mordechai,” but it is the Jewish woman who is the actual pillar of the Jewish People. It is she who establishes “family by family,” “city by city,” and “country by country,” ensuring that even when the Jewish People are “scattered and dispersed among other nations,” they remain “one unique Jewish People.”

March 18, 1973 • Purim, 5733

Excerpt from Living Torah Volume 33 Episode 130

Also on Living Torah this week:

* Morning prayers with the Rebbe – Purim 1987
* Keep in touch with all your contacts
* Purim in Rastov, Russia 1920

Living Torah is a member supported project.
Become a member today at

The Rebbe discusses The Evolution of Species in The New World


Visit for more!
In this JEM video, The Lubavitcher Rebbe discusses Columbus and the idea of discovering a “New World”.

Although Columbus “discovered” America, obviously these lands and their inhabitants existed before he arrived. They were just unknown to those living on the other side of the globe.

The truth is, the indigenous American tribes, and all the plants and animals discovered on the American continent—they too originated in the “Old World.” Torah states that the first humans, and all plant and animal life, were created in the Garden of Eden. Torah identifies this place as a region near the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, in the Eastern Hemisphere.

“And from there, they were scattered upon the face of the entire earth.”
This explains another phenomenon: In South America, they have found in many places ancient writing and symbols that closely resemble those in India and the Middle East. Even letters that remarkably resemble Hebrew! They’ve even discovered certain indigenous customs that predate the arrival of Columbus and other Europeans, which clearly resemble Torah law.

Why? Because all mankind originates from the same place: the Garden of Eden.

Mobile Jewish Film Festival wraps up showings at USA, Springhill (blog)

Mobile Jewish Film Festival wraps up showings at USA, Springhill Ave.  Festival to enlighten and educate the Mobile community in Jewish history.
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AIPAC welcomes Holocaust scholar for St. Louis talkSt. Louis Jewish Light

His course topics include Russian history, modern history of the Middle East, history of Poland, European history and Jewish history. He is also the 
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EAST TOWARDS HOME Plays Theater for the New City, Now thru 2/2Broadway World

Schechter directed staged readings of the play at Chelsea Studios (NYC) in August 2010 and at the National Museum of American Jewish History 
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Only Jews Could Shock Berlin Like ThisJewish Daily Forward (blog)

I wasn’t shocked to see a provocative approach to depicting the most traumatic chapter of Jewish history. I had read ‘Maus I and II’ by Art Spiegelman, 
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Adventures in San Diego Jewish History, August 9, 1957, Part 3San Diego Jewish World

The City of Hope invites its members and friends to a Beach Brunch to be held on Sunday, August 25, at Belmont Park (Mission Beach Amusement 
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Adventures in San Diego Jewish History, August 9, 1957, Part 2San Diego Jewish World

“one of the earliest recorded mitzwot in the Jewish tradition is that of biqqur holim or “visiting the sick.” The Midrash traces the practice to the Bible.
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Savir’s Corner: Coexistence of narrativesJerusalem Post

In reality, it’s a century- long conflict, not so much about history, but rather The birth of the Jewish nation on its land, with Jerusalem as its religious 
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Learning What Makes American Jews TickThe Jewish Week

It is the only full-fledged American Jewish Studies program in Israel.  the Tenement Museum, Ellis Island and the American Jewish HistoricalSociety.
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Second ‘Lox and Learn’ seminar to take place on Feb. 2Hunterdon County Democrat –

 to Learn” educational breakfast lectures, in partnership with the National Museum of American Jewish History. This seminar to take place on Sunday 
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Eckstein lecture to examine what led Jews to migrate to the SouthwestJewish News of Greater Phoenix

Diner is a professor of Hebrew, Judaic studies and history at New York University, the director of the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish 
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EAST TOWARDS HOME Plays Theater for the New City, Now thru 2/2Broadway World

Schechter directed staged readings of the play at Chelsea Studios (NYC) in August 2010 and at the National Museum of American Jewish History 
See all stories on this topic »

Section This Day, In Jewish History : 24JEWISH ALERTS large selection in each section

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Rebbe


Video highlighting the relationship between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

This video takes you from the Rebbe’s office in Brooklyn to the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. Tracing their relationships with the Rebbe back to his formative years in the political arena, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reveals, in his own words, some of the wisdom and spiritual fortitude that guided him over the past sixty years.

This is an excerpt from the DVD Faithful and Fortified – Volume 3: Israel’s Prime Ministers.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Get the DVD here:

Yitchok Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, recalls his visit to the Rebbe in 1972.


Yitchok Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, recalls his visit to the Rebbe as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States in 1972.

Excerpt from Living Torah Volume 33 Episode 132

Also on Living Torah this week:

* The Birthday Campaign – Part Two.

* Morning prayers with the Rebbe during the 30 day period following the passing of the “Rashag”, Rabbi Sharyahu Gurarie ob”m, the Rebbe’s brother in-law. During this period the Rebbe prayed three times a day in the home of the deceased.

* The Rebbe distributes dollars to children, to be given to charity on the day of their birthday.

Living Torah is a member supported project.
Become a member today at

This Day, January 17, In Jewish History by MItchell A. LevinCleveland Jewish News (blog)

395: Emperor Theodosius I passed away in Milan. During his reign he instituted several laws that directly impacted his Jewish subject. One “dealt with 
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