The Bible commands the owner of a home with a flat roof to put up a ma’akeh – a fence – around the roof, so that blood will not be on the owner’s hands (Deuteronomy 22:8). Sefer Hachinukh, an anonymously written book detailing the 613 commandments (13th century) explains the underlying principle of the command to build a ma’akeh (Commandment 546): In our lives it is imperative that we take nothing for granted as far as safety goes.
If you were to strike up a conversation with “JSLeibowitz,” age 47, while cruising through JDate, you might not realize you were talking to one of the most famous Jewish men in the country. Of course, the chances that Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz would be looking for a date are slim, because he’s happily married with two kids, but that’s beside the point. The real question is, why did the man better known as Jon Stewart, who commands some of the highest ratings on television and drew 215,000 people to last weekend’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” in Washington, DC, lose the Leibowitz?
According to Jewish belief, when people pass away, they move on to sojourn in the “next world,” to hopefully enjoy the spiritual rewards they have earned from their good acts in “this world.”
Halacha (Jewish Law) can be defined, literally, as “the way of walking” or “the path.” This single word defines Judaism’s unique legal system. Some paths are straight, others bend. So too, most aspects of Jewish law are defined by strictly objective reasoning, while others are determined by employing elements of subjectivity in their implementation.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines subjectivity as “Proceeding from or taking place in a person’s mind rather than the external world.” One way in which this is reflected in halacha is in the importance of intention. For instance, if one has recited the blessing for an apple (fruit – boray p’ri ha’etz), it is a question of intent whether the blessing must be repeated if a pear is eaten five minutes later. If the person intended to eat both fruits when the blessing was recited, then it is not repeated. If, however, the person intended only to eat the apple, but found that he/she was still hungry, a second boray p’ri ha’etz is recited.
With intent, comes the more challenging question of being honest with one’s self. Thus, if one eats pizza intending it only to be a snack (and eats a limited amount), a m’zo’note blessing for grains may be recited. But, if it is intended as a meal, ha’mo’tzee (for bread or a meal) is said.
One’s sense of honesty comes into play in many contexts. On a minor fast day, the fast may be broken if one feels ill. But what does that mean? Who can measure another person’s discomfort? One has to be honest that they aren’t feeliing ill just because they do not wish to fast. (In that same vein, an ill person needs to accept the fact that he/she is not fulfilling a mitzvah by fasting if his/her health is at risk.)
Jewish law is not just a civil legal code for managing society, but a way of life to allow each person’s soul to truly flourish.
Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.
“Mazal Tov!” This Jewish expression has, without question, crossed the societal divide and is a well-known phrase throughout the western world. And while many popular entertainers and media figures may mispronounce it, it is no longer considered a foreign phrase to Americans.
It has always been noted that the Torah is unique by virtue of the very human terms with which it describes its great heroes. Even the patriarchs and matriarchs are not presented as models of perfection. This is not only true of their actions, but also of them physically. The most prominent example is that of Isaac, of whom it says: “His eyes were too dim to see” (Genesis 27:1).
The Pomegranate is a funny sort of fruit. Rather than eating the flesh and throwing away the seed, as one does when eating an apple or orange, pomegranate seeds are eaten and the flesh discarded.
Jewish belief in the afterlife is affirmed in almost all of the Jewish rituals of mourning. Of these, by far the best known is the recitation of the Kaddish prayer by the mourner.
At science fiction and fantasy conventions, one might expect to hear strange tales of talking animals, shape shifters and teleportation.
The relationship of the Jews with the Land of Israel is long, varied and quite complex. While Jews have not always had sovereignty over the land, they have almost always had a presence there.