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[Portal] Judaism

Introduction

The interior of the Spanish Synagogue in Prague, Czech Republic

Judaism (originally from Hebrew יהודה, Yehudah, "Judah"; via Latin and Greek) is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people, comprising the collective religious, cultural and legal tradition and civilization of the Jewish people. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. It encompasses a wide body of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible, and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. With between 14.5 and 17.4 million adherents worldwide, Judaism is the tenth largest religion in the world.

Within Judaism there are a variety of movements, most of which emerged from Rabbinic Judaism, which holds that God revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah. Historically, all or part of this assertion was challenged by various groups such as the Sadducees and Hellenistic Judaism during the Second Temple period; the Karaites and Sabbateans during the early and later medieval period; and among segments of the modern non-Orthodox denominations. Modern branches of Judaism such as Humanistic Judaism may be nontheistic. Today, the largest Jewish religious movements are Orthodox Judaism (Haredi Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism), Conservative Judaism, and Reform Judaism. Major sources of difference between these groups are their approaches to Jewish law, the authority of the Rabbinic tradition, and the significance of the State of Israel. Orthodox Judaism maintains that the Torah and Jewish law are divine in origin, eternal and unalterable, and that they should be strictly followed. Conservative and Reform Judaism are more liberal, with Conservative Judaism generally promoting a more traditionalist interpretation of Judaism's requirements than Reform Judaism. A typical Reform position is that Jewish law should be viewed as a set of general guidelines rather than as a set of restrictions and obligations whose observance is required of all Jews. Historically, special courts enforced Jewish law; today, these courts still exist but the practice of Judaism is mostly voluntary. Authority on theological and legal matters is not vested in any one person or organization, but in the sacred texts and the rabbis and scholars who interpret them.

Selected Article

Elie Wiesel at age 15

Night is a work by Elie Wiesel (pictured) about his experience with his father in the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945. In just over 100 pages of a narrative described as devastating in its simplicity, Wiesel writes about the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the father-child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful caregiver. He was 16 years old when Buchenwald was liberated by the U.S. Army in April 1945, too late for his father who died in the camp after a beating. After some difficulty finding a publisher, Wiesel's work appeared in Yiddish in 1955 and French in 1958, and in September 1960 was published in English by Hill and Wang. Fifty years later it is regarded as one of the bedrocks of Holocaust literature. It is the first book in a trilogy—Night, Dawn, Day—marking Wiesel's transition from darkness to light, according to the Jewish tradition of beginning a new day at nightfall. "In Night," he said, "I wanted to show the end, the finality of the event. Everything came to an end—man, history, literature, religion, God. There was nothing left. And yet we begin again with night." (Read more...)

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Elie Wiesel at age 15

Night is a work by Elie Wiesel (pictured) about his experience with his father in the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945. In just over 100 pages of a narrative described as devastating in its simplicity, Wiesel writes about the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the father-child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful caregiver. He was 16 years old when Buchenwald was liberated by the U.S. Army in April 1945, too late for his father who died in the camp after a beating. After some difficulty finding a publisher, Wiesel's work appeared in Yiddish in 1955 and French in 1958, and in September 1960 was published in English by Hill and Wang. Fifty years later it is regarded as one of the bedrocks of Holocaust literature. It is the first book in a trilogy—Night, Dawn, Day—marking Wiesel's transition from darkness to light, according to the Jewish tradition of beginning a new day at nightfall. "In Night," he said, "I wanted to show the end, the finality of the event. Everything came to an end—man, history, literature, religion, God. There was nothing left. And yet we begin again with night." (Read more...)

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Weekly Torah Portion

Toledot (תּוֹלְדֹת)
Genesis 25:19–28:9
The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues on Shabbat, Saturday, 2 Kislev, 5780—November 30, 2019
“The Lord answered her, ‘Two nations are in your womb . . . and the older shall serve the younger.’” (Genesis 25:23.)

Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah, and when she proved barren, Isaac pleaded with God on her behalf, and God allowed Rebekah to conceive. As twins struggled in her womb, she inquired of God, who answered her that two separate nations were in her womb, one mightier than the other, and the older would serve the younger. When Rebekah gave birth, the first twin emerged red and hairy, so they named him Esau, and his brother emerged holding Esau’s heel, so they named him Jacob. Isaac was 60 years old when they were born.

The Mess of Pottage by James Tissot

Esau became a skillful hunter and outdoorsman, but Jacob remained a mild man and camp-bound. Isaac favored Esau for his game, but Rebekah favored Jacob. Once when Jacob was cooking, Esau returned to the camp famished and demanded some of Jacob’s red stew. Jacob demanded that Esau first sell him his birthright, and Esau did so with an oath, spurning his birthright.

Another famine struck the land, and Isaac went to the house of the Philistine King Abimelech in Gerar. God told Isaac not to go down to Egypt, but to stay in the land that God would show him, for God would remain with him, bless him, and assign the land to him and his numerous heirs, as God had sworn to Abraham, who had obeyed God and kept God’s commandments.

When the men of Gerar asked Isaac about his beautiful wife, he said that she was his sister out of fear that the men might kill him on account of her. But looking out of the window, Abimelech saw Isaac fondling Rebekah, and Abimelech summoned Isaac to complain that Isaac had called her his sister. Isaac explained that he had done so to save his life. Abimelech complained that one of the people might have lain with her, and Isaac would have brought guilt upon the Philistines, and Abimelech charged the people not to molest Isaac or Rebekah, on pain of death.

God blessed Isaac, who reaped bountiful harvests and grew very wealthy, to the envy of the Philistines. The Philistines stopped up all the wells that Abraham’s servants had dug, and Abimelech sent Isaac away, for his household had become too big. So Isaac left to settle in the wadi of Gerar, where he dug anew the wells that Abraham’s servants had dug and called them by the same names that his father had. But when Isaac's servants dug two new wells, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac's herdsmen and claimed them for their own, so Isaac named those wells Esek and Sitnah. Isaac moved on and dug a third well, and they did not quarrel over it, so he named it Rehoboth.

Isaac went to Beersheba, and that night God appeared to Isaac, telling Isaac not to fear, for God was with him, and would bless him and increase his offspring for Abraham’s sake. So Isaac built an altar and invoked the Lord by name. And Isaac pitched his tent there and his servants began digging a well.

Then Abimelech, Ahuzzath his councilor, and Phicol his general came to Isaac, and Isaac asked them why they had come, since they had driven Isaac away. They answered that they now recognized that God had been with Isaac, and sought a treaty that neither would harm the other. Isaac threw a feast for the Philistines, and the next morning, they exchanged oaths and the Philistines departed from him in peace. Later in the day, Isaac's servants told him that they had found water, and Isaac named the well Shibah, so that place became known as Beersheba.

When Esau was 40 years old, he married two Hittite women, Judith and Basemath, causing bitterness for Isaac and Rebekah.

Isaac Blessing Jacob (illustration by Gustave Doré)
When Isaac was old and his sight had dimmed, he called Esau and asked him to hunt some game and prepare a dish, so that Isaac might give him his innermost blessing before he died. Rebekah had been listening, and when Esau departed, she instructed Jacob to fetch her two choice kids so that she might prepare a dish that Jacob could take to Isaac and receive his blessing. Jacob complained to Rebekah that since Esau was hairy, Isaac might touch him, discover him to be a trickster, and curse him. But Rebekah called the curse upon herself, insisting that Jacob do as she directed. So Jacob got the kids, and Rebekah prepared a dish, had Jacob put on Esau’s best clothes, and covered Jacob’s hands and neck with the kid’s skins. When Jacob went to Isaac, he asked which of his sons had arrived, and Jacob said that he was Esau and asked for Isaac’s blessing. Isaac asked him how he had succeeded so quickly, and he said that God had granted him good fortune. Isaac asked Jacob to come closer that Isaac might feel him to determine whether he was really Esau. Isaac felt him and wondered that the voice was Jacob’s, but the hands were Esau’s. Isaac questioned if it was really Esau, and when Jacob assured him, Isaac asked for the game and Jacob served him the kids and wine. Isaac bade his son to come close and kiss him, and Isaac smelled his clothes, remarking that he smelled like the fields. Isaac blessed Jacob, asking God to give him abundance, make peoples serve him, make him master over his brothers, curse those who cursed him, and bless those who blessed him.

Just as Jacob left, Esau returned from the hunt, prepared a dish for Isaac, and asked Isaac for his blessing. Isaac asked who he was, and Esau said that it was he. Isaac trembled and asked who it was then who had served him, received his blessing, and now must remain blessed. Esau burst into sobbing, and asked Isaac to bless him too, but Isaac answered that Jacob had taken Esau’s blessing with guile. Esau asked whether Jacob had been so named that he might supplant Esau twice, first taking his birthright and now his blessing. Esau asked Isaac whether he had not reserved a blessing for Esau, but Isaac answered that he had made Jacob master over him and sustained him with grain and wine, and asked what, then, he could still do for Esau. Esau wept and pressed Isaac to bless him, too, so Isaac blessed him to enjoy the fat of the earth and the dew of heaven, to live by his sword and to serve his brother, but also to break his yoke.

Esau harbored a grudge against Jacob, and told himself that he would kill Jacob upon Isaac’s death. When Esau’s words reached Rebekah, she told Jacob to flee to Haran and her brother Laban and remain there until Esau’s fury subsided and Rebekah fetched him from there, so that Rebekah would not lose both sons in one day. Rebekah told Isaac her disgust with the idea that Jacob might marry a Hittite woman, so Isaac sent for Jacob, blessed him, and instructed him not to take a Canaanite wife, but to go to Padan-aram and the house of Bethuel to take a wife from among Laban’s daughters. And Isaac blessed Jacob with fertility and the blessing of Abraham, that he might possess the land that God had assigned to Abraham.

When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and charged him not to take a Canaanite wife, Esau realized that the Canaanite women displeased Isaac, and Esau married Ishmael’s daughter Mahalath.

Hebrew and English Text
Hear the parshah chanted
Commentary from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Conservative)
Commentary by the Union for Reform Judaism (Reform)
Commentaries from Chabad.org (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Aish HaTorah (Orthodox)
Commentaries from the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (Reconstructionist)
Commentaries from My Jewish Learning (trans-denominational)

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