To Merge or Not to Merge?

Image: stuffjewsshouldknow.com

There has been much talk lately about how the current pandemic is going to affect the Jewish denominational system in both the U.S. and abroad. Most of us have been unable to visit with our communities for months, unions have had to lay off workers, and synagogues have had to make concessions on longstanding issues such as technology on Shabbat. With these concessions being made, many have been led to ask, “just how different are we?”

These challenges are now creating talk of mergers. Perhaps most interesting of these ideas is the merger of the Reform and Conservative traditions, either in whole or in terms of religious education.

What do you think? Would such a merger be a good idea? Would the benefits be worth it, or the challenges too difficult to overcome? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Chag Pesach Sameach

It’s going to be a different Passover for all of us this year… truly unique, and with Hashem’s providence, under circumstances that do not return any time soon. Hopefully everyone will find some way to connect with others during this season, even if it is only virtually. However, if you are not able to connect with friends and family, the Rabbinical Assembly has put together A Seder Made to Order, a full-length virtual Seder featuring 25 rabbis that you can watch anytime.

Whichever route you choose, be sure to have a happy, healthy, and safe Passover.

Staying Busy in a Time of Isolation

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, many of us throughout the world are under quarantine or self-imposed isolation. Most shuls have been closed, and even private minyans have become inadvisable. Needless to say, we’re all going to be spending a lot more time alone.

This can be a difficult thing for those who thrive on community. Nevertheless, Hashem is always with us, and in the lonely days ahead we can find comfort in Him and His Torah. Here are some resources to help make the most of our time apart (or together, as the case may be):

Image: Rami Neimi

Chabad has been compiling a variety of articles about faith and peace during the outbreak, and are even an offering an online class on how to deal with stress and anxiety. Both the USCJ and the URJ have posted articles related to communication and synagogue life when meeting is not possible, even offering some creative ideas for getting together using the Internet. Aish has reading material about how to stay positive during this pandemic, and even how to talk to your kids about what is happening. The Orthodox Union has some similar materials on their website, and now has a nightly show premiering online at 8 p.m ET.

If entertainment is your thing, the URJ and Chabad have a variety of podcasts available. YouTube is, of course, a source of much Jewish entertainment and wisdom. J-TV, Hidabroot, YIBONEH, JINSIDER, and Chabad are some of the Jewish channels with hours of information and entertainment available. Rabbis Manis Friedman and Jonathan Sacks have some good messages with which to start.

Last, but most certainly not least: don’t hesitate to turn to prayer or Tanakh for comfort. Shiva.com has a nice list of Psalms to get you started.

What are you and your family doing to stay busy during this time? What methods are you using to stay in touch with your loved ones and your community? Are there any Jewish podcasts, online services, or YouTube channels you would recommend? Feel free to comment and share.

Chag Purim Sameach

Wishing everyone a happy Purim!

With concerns about coronavirus growing worldwide, many people are questioning how they will go about hearing the Megillah this year. Is it safe to go out? What if I’m quarantined? Can I listen to it online?

Obviously it is ideal to hear the Megillah read aloud in person. Chabad recommends that if one is unable to leave the house to hear it, then it would be appropriate to read it to oneself without giving a blessing. They also have a good version you can print if you need it. If you decide that you would rather live stream the reading, Adas Israel in Washington, D.C. and Beth Yeshurun in Houston are two options.

Whichever you may choose, be safe and enjoy the holiday!

Daf Yomi is off and running!

It’s a bit of a late notice, but in case you didn’t hear, a new Daf Yomi cycle just began on January 5. This is, of course, a chance to read through the entire Babylonian Talmud in a 7 ½ year period, along with thousands of others worldwide. One page a day is all it takes! This can be a great way to to facilitate study with family and friends of one of Judaism’s seminal works.

Every day for 7 years…

Even if you’ve missed the first few days, you can still jump on board. Dafyomi.org is a good place to start. Or, if you prefer a straightforward Hebrew/English page with commentary, I recommend Real Clear Daf. If you would prefer to get started at the beginning of different tractate, have a look at the calendar on shas.org to decide where to jump in. There are numerous commentaries on the readings, so you’ll have to find which ones you like best. However, the Orthodox Union has a good place to start with their All Daf website.

Also, don’t forget that Sefaria has a great number of translated Jewish works you can check out at your convenience.

Good luck to everyone who elects to undertake this strenuous (yet rewarding) endeavor. If you’re picking it up this cycle, feel free to comment and let me know how it’s going!

Don’t be a Pharisee! Or maybe you should…

(Actually, you can’t be, because they’re extinct)

Ever been called a “pharisee”? Even know what one is (or was, as is the case)?

For the next few weeks we’ll be covering the history, society, and philosophy of the three major Jewish sects during the Second Temple Period: The Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes.

Not only did these classes reflect the spiritual and political climate of their time, but also served as cornerstones for the Abrahamic traditions of today. Tune in to KEOS (or check out the show’s YouTube channel) as we cover each one over the next three weeks… the answer as to who these men were may surprise you!

The Staffordshire Hoard and Biblical Headdresses

Archaeologists recently discovered a medieval treasure trove in England, which is being hailed as one of the most important Anglo-Saxon finds in history. Found amongst the hoard was this bishop’s headdress. Believed to be from the 7th century, this piece is now the oldest episcopal head covering currently known:

Source: The Independent

While a little worse for wear, it is likely that this piece was made to resemble what the early European Christians believed were the headwear of the Jewish high priests, as evidenced by this 8th Century painting of Ezra:

Source: The Independent

It also bears some similarity to the headpieces of the pagan priests of ancient Rome; particularly those worn by the Flamines and Salii:

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

This does not, however, reflect our knowledge of the garments of the High Priest as we understand it from the Bible, which describes something of a distinctly Middle Eastern style:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-4.png
Source: thetorah.com

Perhaps ironically, this bishop’s headpiece does bear a striking resemblance to the Jewish headgear that would later become standard in 13th Century England:

Source: jewishencyclopedia.com

No doubt this will contribute to the ongoing debate regarding the influence of Judaism vs. Paganism in the development of the early European Church.

The full story can be found here.