This Shabbat is Shabbat Parashat HaChodesh, the Sabbath of “The Month.”
Among the discussions of the many details of Jewish life recorded in the Mishna, the first written compilation of the oral law, is the following: “If a Jewish laborer is hired by a heathen to work with wine for [idolatrous] libation, the wages are prohibited…” (Avodah Zarah 5:1).
Nebuchadnezzar, the mighty King of Babylon, reigned for forty years. He was so commanding a figure that, according to the Midrash, his own son, Evil-Merodach, was afraid to assume his father’s throne:
Raise your hand if you attended Hebrew school, whether after school or on Sunday mornings. Did you know that you have a Jewish Pennsylvania native, Rebecca Gratz (1781-1869) to thank for that education.
Of all the unfounded accusations leveled at the Jewish people by anti-Semites throughout the ages, the most ludicrous is that of Jews murdering non-Jewish children in order to drink their blood or bake matzot with the blood (blood-libel). Anyone with even a modest knowledge of Judaism would be familiar with the Torah’s prohibition against consuming blood. In fact, this prohibition is included in a caveat to the initial permission to eat meat that God gave to humankind in the days of Noah: “Every moving thing that lives will be food for you; just as I have given you the green herb. Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, you shall not eat” (Genesis 9:3-4).
Every year, on the first or second Shabbat following Purim, a special reading from Numbers 19, is added to the regular Shabbat Torah reading. Known as Parashat Parah, the Torah reading concerns the special purification ceremony of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) one of the most intricate and mysterious laws found in the Torah.
During the holiday of Purim, celebrated just last week, Jews around the world commemorated the salvation of the Jewish people from physical decimation. Because Haman had such great influence over Achashverosh, the Emperor of Persia-Medea (an empire that encompassed the vast majority of the then “known world”), this celebration was written into law for all Jews, for all time. However, throughout history, there have been other averted massacres – none on the grand scale of Purim – resulting in the implementation of various local Purim celebrations.
Habakuk cried out to God to witness the perversions of justice. “How long, O God, shall I cry out, and You will not hear? Shall I shout to you, “Violence!” and You do not save? Why do You show me iniquity …?” (1:2-3).
Everyone, at some point in their lives, gets sick, even if it is with just a mild “bug.” Interestingly, the Talmud notes: “Until the time of Jacob, nobody became sick before he died. Then Jacob prayed [for a warning before death so that last wishes may be conveyed], and sickness came into being…Until the time of Elisha [the prophet] no sick person ever recovered, but Elisha prayed and he did recover…” (Baba Metzia 87a). Alas, this is really no consolation to humankind today which is afflicted by a wide range of illnesses and diseases.
The Jewish nation is a people of faith and, as part of our unique combination of peoplehood and religion, must grapple with defining heresy. Jewish life has a basic, structured framework, but, within that, lies a great deal of latitude for individuality. So what makes one a “heretic”?