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In the Name of God بسم الله

The Amidah

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I thought this might interest you. It is sometimes said that to understand a religion you should not look at their holy scriptures but their prayerbooks.

As you may know, Jews have three main prayers per day. (There are various blessings and other things to be said upon awakening, going to bed, before & after eating, etc., for a total of about 100 blessings per day, but that's not what I'm focusing on right now.) The central component of each of these three prayers is the Amidah, or standing prayer. Now, to be precise, there is no one "Amidah" -- it varies in terms of weekday vs. Shabbat (Sabbath) vs. certain holy days (like Yom Kippur which we just had on Monday), and there are various insertions depending on the time or season (e.g., we pray for dew and rain during the winter (rainy) season in the Land of Israel). Also, there are slight differences between Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Yemenite texts. But all that said, we can speak of the "weekday Amidah" and understand what we are talking about.

The Amidah is of very ancient origin. The core of it was composed by the Men of the Great Assembly in the time of Ezra (roughly 2,500 years ago), although it was not finalized until the time of Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh, about 80-90 C.E.

The Amidah is entirely in Hebrew, but I'm guessing most of you don't know Hebrew, so I've attached a translation of the weekday Amidah into English, courtesy of chabad.org. I have to concede, it doesn't sound as good in English as it does in Hebrew, but that's translation for you.

But before the translation, here's an overview of the structure, courtesy of wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amidah):

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Structure of the weekday Amidah

The weekday Amidah contains nineteen blessings. Each blessing ends with the signature "Blessed are you, O Lord..." and the opening blessing begins with this signature as well. The first three blessings as a section are known as the shevach ("praise"), and serve to inspire the worshipper and invoke God's mercy. The middle thirteen blessings compose the bakashah ("request"), with six personal requests, six communal requests, and a final request that God accept the prayers. The final three blessings, known as the hoda'ah ("gratitude"), thank God for the opportunity to serve Him. The shevach and hoda'ah are standard for every Amidah, with some changes on certain occasions.

The nineteen blessings are as follows:

1. Known as Avot ("Ancestors") this prayer offers praise of God as the God of the Biblical patriarchs, "God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob."

2. Known as Gevurot ("powers"), this offers praise of God for His power and might. This prayer includes a mention of God's healing of the sick and resurrection of the dead. It is called also Tehiyyat ha-Metim = "the resurrection of the dead."

* Rain is considered as great a manifestation of power as the resurrection of the dead; hence in winter a line recognizing God's bestowal of rain is inserted in this benediction. Except for many Ashkenazim, most communities also insert a line recognizing dew in the summer.

3. Known as Kedushat ha-Shem ("the sanctification of the Name") this offers praise of God's holiness.

* During the chazzan's repetition, a longer version of the blessing called Kedusha is chanted responsively. The Kedusha is further expanded on Shabbat and Festivals.

4. Known as Binah ("understanding") this is a petition to God to grant wisdom and understanding.

5. Known as Teshuvah ("return", "repentance") this prayer asks God to help Jews to return to a life based on the Torah, and praises God as a God of repentance.

6. Known as Selichah, this asks for forgiveness for all sins, and praises God as being a God of forgiveness.

7. Known as Geulah ("redemption") this praises God as a rescuer of the people Israel.

8. Known as Refuah ("healing") this is a prayer to heal the sick.

9. Known as Birkat HaShanim ("blessing for years [of good]"), this prayer asks God to bless the produce of the earth.

10. Known as Galuyot ("diasporas"), this prayer asks God to allow the ingathering of the Jewish exiles back to the land of Israel.

11. Known as Birkat HaDin ("Justice") this asks God to restore righteous judges as in the days of old.

12. Known as Birkat HaMinim ("the sectarians, heretics") this asks God to destroy those in heretical sects, who slander Jews and who act as informers against Jews.

13. Known as Tzadikim ("righteous") this asks God to have mercy on all who trust in Him, and asks for support for the righteous.

14. Known as Bo'ne Yerushalayim ("Builder of Jerusalem") asks God to rebuild Jerusalem and to restore the Kingdom of David.

15. Known as Birkat David ("Blessing of David") Asks God to bring the descendant of King David, who will be the messiah.

16. Known as Tefillah ("prayer") this asks God to accept our prayers, to have mercy and be compassionate.

17. Known as Avodah ("service") this asks God to restore the Temple services and sacrificial services.

18. Known as Hoda'ah ("thanksgiving") this is a prayer of thanksgiving, thanking God for our lives, for our souls, and for God's miracles that are with us every day. The text can be found in the next section.

* When the chazzan reaches this blessing during the repetition, the congregation recites a prayer called Modim deRabbanan ("the thanksgiving of the Rabbis").

19. Known as Sim Shalom ("Grant Peace"); the last prayer is the one for peace, goodness, blessings, kindness and compassion. Ashkenazim generally say a shorter version of this blessing at Minchah and Maariv, called Shalom Rav.

Final Benedictions

Prior to the final blessing for peace, the following is said:

We acknowledge to You, O Lord, that You are our God, as You were the God of our ancestors, forever and ever. Rock of our life, Shield of our help, You are immutable from age to age. We thank You and utter Your praise, for our lives that are delivered into Your hands, and for our souls that are entrusted to You; and for Your miracles that are with us every day and for your marvelously kind deeds that are of every time; evening and morning and noon-tide. Thou art good, for Thy mercies are endless: Thou art merciful, for Thy kindnesses never are complete: from everlasting we have hoped in You. And for all these things may Thy name be blessed and exalted always and forevermore. And all the living will give thanks unto Thee and praise Thy great name in truth, God, our salvation and help. Selah. Blessed be Thou, O Lord, Thy name is good, and to Thee it is meet to give thanks.

The priestly blessing is said in the reader's repetition of the Shacharit Amidah, and at the Mussaf Amidah on Shabbat and Jewish Holidays. On public fast days it is also said at Mincha; and on Yom Kippur, at Neilah. It is not said in a House of Mourning. In Orthodox and some Conservative congregations, this blessing is chanted by kohanim (direct descendants of the Aaronic priestly clan) on certain occasions. In Ashkenazic practice, the priestly blessing is chanted by kohanim on Jewish Holidays in the Diaspora, and daily in the Land of Israel. In Yemenite Jewish synagogues and some Sephardi synagogues, kohanim chant the priestly blessing daily, even outside of Israel.

Concluding Meditation

The custom has gradually developed of reciting, at the conclusion of the latter, the supplication with which Mar, the son of Rabina, used to conclude his prayer:

My God, keep my tongue and my lips from speaking deceit, and to them that curse me let my soul be silent, and like dust to all. Open my heart in Your Torah, and after [in] Thy commandments let me [my soul] pursue. As for those that think evil of [against] me speedily thwart their counsel and destroy their plots. Do [this] for Thy name's sake, do this for Thy right hand's sake, do this for the sake of Thy holiness, do this for the sake of Thy Torah. That Thy beloved ones may rejoice, let Thy right hand bring on help [salvation] and answer me... May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Eternal, my rock and my redeemer.

Mainstream Ashkenazi Orthodox Judaism also adds the following prayer to the conclusion of every Amidah:

May it be your will, O my God and God of my fathers, that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days, and give us our portion in your Torah, and there we will worship you with reverence as in ancient days and former years. And may the Mincha offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasing to God, as in ancient days and former years.

It is also customary to add individual personal prayers as part of silent recitation of the Amidah. Rabbi Shimon enjoins praying by rote: "But rather make your prayer a request for mercy and compassion before the Ominipresent." Some authorities encourage the worshipper to say something new in his prayer every time.

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And here's Chabad's translation (bearing in mind that no one ever reads it in English, it is always in Hebrew), with some editorial explanation by me:

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Translation of the Weekday Amidah

My L-rd, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise.

Bend Knees at "Blessed"; bow are "You"; Straighten at "L-rd our G‑d":

Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers, G‑d of Abraham, G‑d of Isaac and G‑d of Jacob, the great, mighty and awesome G‑d, exalted G‑d, who bestows bountiful kindness, who creates all things, who remembers the piety of the Patriarchs, and who, in love, brings a redeemer to their children's children, for the sake of His Name.

During the Ten Days of Penitence add:

Remember us for life, King who desires life; inscribe us in the Book of Life, for Your sake, O living G‑d.

Bend Knees at "Blessed"; bow are "You"; Straighten at "L-rd our G‑d":

O King, (You are) a helper, a savior and a shield. Blessed are You L-rd, Shield of Abraham.

You are mighty forever, my L-rd; You resurrect the dead; You are powerful to save.

In summer say: He causes the dew to descend. In winter say; He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.

He sustains the living with loving kindness, resurrects the dead with great mercy, supports the falling, heals the sick, releases the bound, and fulfills His trust to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, mighty One! And who can be compared to You, King, who brings death and restores life, and causes deliverance to spring forth!

During the Ten Days of Penitence add: Who is like You, merciful Father, who in compassion remembers His creatures for life.

You are trustworthy to revive the dead. Blessed are You L-rd, who revives the dead.

When the Chazzan repeats Amidah, Kedushah is recited here.

We will hallow and adore You as the sweet words of the assembly of the holy Seraphim who thrice repeat "holy" unto You, as it is written by Your prophet: And they call one to another and Say, (Cong. and Chazzan:) "Holy, holy, holy is the L-rd of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory." (Chazzan:) Those facing them offer praise and say, (Cong and Chazzan:) "Blessed be the glory of the L-rd from its place." (Chazzan:) And in Your holy Scriptures it is written thus: (Cong. and Chazzan:) The L-rd shall reign forever; your G‑d, O Zion, throughout all generations. Praise the L-rd.

You are holy and Your Name is holy, and holy beings praise You daily for all eternity. Blessed are You L-rd, the holy G‑d. (During the Ten Days of Penitence substitute: the holy King.)

You graciously bestow knowledge upon man and teach mortals understanding. Graciously bestow upon us from You, wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Blessed are You L-rd, who graciously bestows knowledge.

Cause us to return, our Father, to Your Torah; draw us near, our King, to Your service; and bring us back to You in whole-hearted repentance. Blessed are You L-rd, who desires penitence.

Pardon us, our Father, for we have sinned; forgive us, our King, for we have transgressed; for You are a good and forgiving G‑d. Blessed are You L-rd, gracious One who pardons abundantly.

O behold our affliction and wage our battle; redeem us speedily for the sake of Your Name, for You G‑d are the mighty redeemer. Blessed are You L-rd, Redeemer of Israel.

Answer us, O L-rd, answer us on our fast day, for we are in great distress. Do not turn to our wickedness, do not conceal Your countenance from us, and do not disregard our supplications. Be near to our cry; let Your lovingkindness console us; answer us even before we call to You, as it is said:

Heal us, O L-rd, and we will be healed; help us and we will be saved; for You are our praise. Grant complete cure and healing to all our wounds; for You, Almighty King, are a faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are You L-rd, who heals the sick of His people Israel.

Bless for us, L-rd our G‑d, this year and all the varieties of its produce for good; and bestow (During the summer season say:) blessing (During the winter season say: dew and rain for blessing) upon the face of the earth. Satisfy us from Your bounty and bless our year like other good years, for blessing; for You are a generous G‑d who bestows goodness and blesses the years. Blessed are You L-rd, who blesses the years.

And it shall be that before they call, I will answer; while they are yet speaking, I will hear. For You, L-rd, are He who answers in time of distress, who redeems and rescues in all times of distress and tribulation. Blessed are You L-rd, who answers His people Israel in time of distress.

Sound the great shofar for our freedom; raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land. Blessed are You L-rd, who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel.

Restore our judges as in former times, and our counsellors as of yore; remove from us sorrow and sighing, and reign over us, You alone, O L-rd, with kindness and compassion, with righteousness and justice. Blessed are You L-rd, King who loves righteousness and justice. (During the Ten Days of Penitence substitute with: the King of judgment.)

Let there be no hope for informers, and may all the heretics and all the wicked instantly perish; may all the enemies of Your people be speedily extirpated; and may You swiftly uproot, break, crush and subdue the reign of wickedness speedily in our days. Blessed are You L-rd, who crushes enemies and subdues the wicked.

May Your mercies be aroused, L-rd our G‑d, upon the righteous, upon the pious, upon the elders of Your people, the House of Israel, upon the remnant of their sages, upon the righteous proselytes and upon us. Grant ample reward to all who truly trust in Your Name, and place our lot among them; may we never be disgraced, for we have put our trust in You. Blessed are You L-rd, the support and security of the righteous.

Return in mercy to Jerusalem Your city and dwell therein as You have promised; speedily establish therein the throne of David Your servant, and rebuild it, soon in our days, as an everlasting edifice. Blessed are You L-rd, who rebuilds Jerusalem. Speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish, and increase his power by Your salvation, for we hope for Your salvation all day. Blessed are You L-rd, who causes the power of salvation to flourish.

Hear our voice, L-rd our G‑d; merciful Father, have compassion upon us and accept our prayers in mercy and favor, for You are G‑d who hears prayers and supplications; do not turn us away empty-handed from You, our King, for You hear the prayer of everyone. Blessed are You L-rd, who hears prayer.

Look with favor, L-rd our G‑d, on Your people Israel and pay heed to their prayer; restore the service to Your Sanctuary and accept with love and favor Israel's fire-offerings and prayer; and may the service of Your people Israel always find favor.

On Rosh Chodesh and Chol HaMoed, (Our G‑d. . . may there ascend) is recited here.

Our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers, may there ascend, come and reach, be seen, accepted, and heard, recalled and remembered before You, the remembrance and recollection of us, the remembrance of our fathers, the remembrance of Mashiach the son of David Your servant, the remembrance of Jerusalem Your holy city, and the remembrance of all Your people the House of Israel, for deliverance, well-being, grace, kindness, mercy, good life and peace, on this day of

On Rosh Chodesh (new moon): Rosh Chodesh

On the holiday of Passover: the Festival of Matzot

On the holiday of Sukkot: the Festival of Sukkot.

Remember us on this [day], L-rd our G‑d, for good; be mindful of us on this [day] for blessing; help us on this [day] for good life. With the promise of deliverance and Compassion, spare us and be gracious to us; have mercy upon us and deliver us; for our eyes are directed to You, for You, G‑d, are a gracious and merciful King.

May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy. Blessed are You L-rd, who restores His Divine Presence to Zion.

We thankfully acknowledge that You are the L-rd our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers forever. You are the strength of our life, the shield of our salvation in every generation. We will give thanks to You and recount Your praise, evening, morning and noon, for our lives which are committed into Your hand, for our souls which are entrusted to You, for Your miracles which are with us daily, and for Your continual wonders and beneficences. You are the Beneficent One, for Your mercies never cease; the Merciful One, for Your kindnesses never end; for we always place our hope in You.

On Chanukah and Purim, the following is added.

And [we thank You] for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, for the saving acts, and for the wonders which You have wrought for our ancestors in those days, at this time ---

On Chanukah continue here:

In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, when the wicked Hellenic government rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will. But You, in Your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, defended their rights and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and effected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people to this very day. Then Your children entered the shrine of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Chanukah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.

On Purim continue here:

In the days of Mordechai and Esther, in Shushan the capital, when the wicked Haman rose up against them, and sought to destroy, slaughter and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to take their spoil for plunder. But You, in Your abounding mercies, foiled his counsel and frustrated his intention, and caused the evil he planned --- to recoil on his own head, and they hanged him and his sons upon the gallows.

And for all these, may Your Name, our King, be continually blessed, exalted and extolled forever and all time.

During the Ten Days of Penitence add:

Inscribe all the children of Your Covenant for a good life.

And all living things shall forever thank You, and praise Your great Name eternally, for You are good. G‑d, You are our everlasting salvation and help, O benevolent G‑d. Blessed are You L-rd, Beneficent is Your Name, and to You it is fitting to offer thanks.

Bestow peace, goodness and blessing, life, graciousness, kindness and mercy, upon us and upon all Your people Israel. Bless us, our Father, all of us as one, with the light of Your countenance. For by the light of Your countenance You gave us, L-rd our G‑d, the Torah of life and loving-kindness, righteousness, blessing, mercy, life and peace. May it be favorable in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel, at all times and at every moment, with Your peace.

During the Ten Days of Penitence add: And in the Book of life, blessing, peace and prosperity, deliverance, consolation and favorable decrees, may we and all Your people the House of Israel be remembered and inscribed before You for a happy life and for peace.

Blessed are You L-rd, who blesses His people Israel with peace. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, L-rd, my Strength and my Redeemer.

My G‑d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. Let my soul be silent to those who curse me; let my soul be as dust to all. Open my heart to Your Torah, and let my soul eagerly pursue Your commandments. As for all those who plot evil against me, hasten to annul their counsel and frustrate their design. Let them be as chaff before the wind; let the angel of the L-rd thrust them away. That Your beloved ones may be delivered, help with Your right hand and answer me. Do it for the sake of Your Name; do it for the sake of Your right hand; do it for the sake of Your Torah; do it for the sake of Your holiness. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, L-rd, my Strength and my Redeemer.

Before reciting the following verse one should bow, and in this bowed position, take three steps backward. While still bowing, he should turn his head to his left saying, "He who makes peace in His heavens"; bow forward, saying, "may He"; turn his head to his right, saying, "make peace for us"; and finally bow forward, saying, "and for all Israel; and say, Amen".

He who makes peace (During the Ten Days of Penitence say: the peace) in His heavens, may He make peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

May it be Your will, L-rd our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers, that the Bet Hamikdash (Temple) be speedily rebuilt in our days, and grant us our portion in Your Torah.

Edited by BostonJew
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  • Veteran Member
I thought this might interest you.

Yes thanks, it does.

It is sometimes said that to understand a religion you should not look at their holy scriptures but their prayerbooks.

Prayers do provide a window but not large enough to explain the religion fully.

11. Known as Birkat HaDin ("Justice") this asks God to restore righteous judges as in the days of old.

The 'days of old' part is not comprehensible in this prayer.

I believe there never was any long-term justice in the world. May be for a few short years in a small territory - that is about it. Those small periods were generally followed by a ravenous generation which couldn't care a damn about justice.

12. Known as Birkat HaMinim ("the sectarians, heretics") this asks God to destroy those in heretical sects, who slander Jews and who act as informers against Jews.

The prayers seem to be heavily centred on the Jewish community.

Are there any prayers of retribution for those who do injustice to non-Jews?

By the way, I had a few more questions in regard to the Jewish faith. Perhaps you would be good enough to answer.

1. Who was the founder of the Jewish faith ? How did it get started and when ?

2. The Quran speaks of nine signs (miracles) given to Moses [Quran 17:101]. What is the Jewish view in the matter ? And what signs are recorded in Jewish scriptures ?

3. Does Judaism allow gambling ?

4. Does Judaism allow homosexuality ?

5. Are (3) and (4) permitted in Israel ?

6. If the answer to (3) & (4) is 'no' and the answer to (5) is 'yes', why are they permitted in Israel, a state founded on religion ?

Thanks in advance.

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Good questions.

The 'days of old' part is not comprehensible in this prayer.

The "days of old" refers generally to the time of the First and Second Temples, before the Roman exile. Perhaps someone more learned than I would pin it down more precisely than that (the time of David? of the prophets? of Hillel & Shammai?) but "before the fall of the Second Temple and the subsequent exile" is close enough for me.

The prayers seem to be heavily centred on the Jewish community.

Yes, they are.

Are there any prayers of retribution for those who do injustice to non-Jews?

You mean like if a Chinese guy is oppressing a Mongolian, or a Zulu is oppressing a Bantu? No, there's nothing about that in our daily prayers. I assume the Mongolians or Bantus would have something to say about that.

1. Who was the founder of the Jewish faith ? How did it get started and when ?

In this sense it would be helpful to distinguih "the Jewish faith" (not a term we use, but I'll go with it) from "the Jewish people." We would say that the first member of the Jewish people was Abraham. Now, we also know that he observed many of the mitzvot of the Torah, even though the Torah had not yet been given in his time -- he discerned many of the mitzvot through prophecy and wisdom. Of course, Abraham was also the ancestor of many other peoples, including the Ishmaelites (Arabs) and the Edomites (and through them, the Romans). The first patriarch who was only the ancestor the Jewish people was Jacob, also known as Israel.

But I think it would be fair to say that the Jewish religion as we now know it -- which is to say, a system of life based on living specific mitzvot (usually translated "commandments" but perhaps more truly "connections") -- came with the giving of the Torah, some 3400 years ago, from God to Moses.

2. The Quran speaks of nine signs (miracles) given to Moses [Quran 17:101]. What is the Jewish view in the matter ? And what signs are recorded in Jewish scriptures ?

Moses witnessed a small number of miracles just by himself - e.g., the burning bush; some with Aaron and the Egyptians - e.g., turning Aaron's staff into a serpent; some with the entire Jewish people - e.g., the 10 plagues in Egypt, the revelation at Mt. Sinai (Horev), and all the miracles that occurred during the 40 years of wandering in the Sinai desert.

3. Does Judaism allow gambling ?

Not forbidden, but discouraged.

In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 24b), the rabbis take a dim view about gambling. Besides being a risky enterprise financially, and addictive, the rabbis say that the winner is really a loser. Morally speaking that is. How so? Because the fellow with the inferior hand wasn't expecting to lose. Therefore, the loser relinquishes his money reluctantly—it's being taken from him willy-nilly, and he is getting nothing tangible in return. In simple English, it's a bit like stealing. That's not all, though. Gambling, whether betting on horses, roulette or cards, only gives the illusion of contributing to the local economy. In the end, though, it contributes nothing of value that endures.

We do have a very light children's gambling game called "dreidl" at Chanukah, but you usually play for peanuts (literally) or chocolate coins, not real money.

4. Does Judaism allow homosexuality ?

Torah law forbids male homosexual intercourse. Rabbinic law forbids female homosexual intercourse. "Being homosexual" is not forbidden - it's the actual act that's forbidden.

5. Are (3) and (4) permitted in Israel ?

3 (gambling) - Interesting question. Since I'm not a gambler, I've never explored this. When I was in Israel, if people wanted to go gambling, they went to Jericho, where the Palestinian Authority runs a casino. I don't think there are any formal gambling establishments in Israel proper. That said, I doubt there are any laws forbidding a couple of guys from playing poker if they want.

4 (homosexual activities) - Not prohibited in Israel.

6. If the answer to (3) & (4) is 'no' and the answer to (5) is 'yes', why are they permitted in Israel, a state founded on religion ?

As noted above, gambling is not strictly prohibited by halacha (Jewish law), so your question 6 doesn't really apply. But homosexual intercourse is, so I'll answer question 6 with regard to homosexual activity:

Because Israel is not entirely founded on religion. The Zionist movement was divided into several camps. You had the Mizrachi (Religious Zionist) camp, which wanted to base the law of the state on Torah law. You had the Labor (socialist) camp, which wanted to base the law of the state on a more Western model. You had the Communists, who were small but very anti-religious. You had the Revisionists, who were right-wing but not particularly religious but were opposed to whatever it was that Labor wanted to do. You had the pre-Zionist-movement Jewish communities, which were basically haredi and influential. You had the existing laws, which were a mishmash of British laws from the Mandate period plus some miscellaneous leftover provisions from the Ottoman Empire. And you had an influx of Jews coming in from all different parts of the world - Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, all over Europe (many Holocaust survivors) - all with different levels of observance, and in some cases, differences in observance.

So what did they do? They reached a compromise.

The basic structure of the compromise is that (1) the main civil and criminal laws of the state are based on a secular foundation, principally the British law inherited from the Mandate period, but (2) if a Jew wants to observe Torah law, the state & society will make it easy for him to do so.

In terms of #1, it means that in civil and criminal law, neither the definitions or categories, nor the punishments, are based on Torah law. If I am riding a bicycle and you hit me with your car, the judge is not going to be a rabbi consulting the halachic sources of what happens when an ox gores a cow. The judge may be a woman, and will be judging it based on negligence, not too differently than you'd see in England or Australia.

In terms of #2, for example, Ben Gurion decided early on that the food on all Army bases would be strictly kosher, even though at the time only a small percentage of soldiers and officers kept kosher. The reason was that he felt that a Jew who did keep kosher should be able to show up for breakfast and be assured of a kosher meal. The same goes for all official government cafeterias.

Similarly, all schools close on Jewish holidays, and all employers are required to offer Jewish employees a paid day off on Jewish holidays. (I live in America, where I need to take a precious vacation day on each holiday, so I appreciate the value of this.) Employers must not make Jewish employees work on Shabbat (Sabbath), and all non-emergency public services (e.g., buses in Jewish neighborhoods) are closed on Shabbat. Many roads in Jewish neighborhoods are closed to auto traffic on Shabbat, so that families can walk and children can play and enjoy the Sabbath rest. The government provides kosher certification of food (in the US this is done by independent organizations which charge the food supplier a fee, which means the cost gets passed on to the individual customer). The government makes sure that all hospitals provide "Shabbat elevators" (elevators that automatically go up and down and stop at every floor, which allows visitors to use them on Shabbat). And so on.

By the same token, no one is compelled to observe Shabbat, or keep kosher. You can be sure that the chicken the Army serves you is kosher, but if you want to buy a non-kosher chicken and cook it in cheese sauce, no one will stop you. The government will make sure you get Saturday off from work, and will close certain roads, but they're not going to stop you from driving from one end of the country to the other if that's how you want to spend Shabbat.

In other words, the state facilitates observance of Torah law, but does not mandate it. The mandatory parts of the law derive from a secular (Western) foundation.

So to turn to your example, the state criminal code does not criminalize homosexual activity.

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Thanks for your attention to detail in responding to my queries.

You mean like if a Chinese guy is oppressing a Mongolian, or a Zulu is oppressing a Bantu?

No, I did not mean that. Actually, my question was not very well framed. What I meant was whether there was sufficient protection for non-Jews in the very exhaustive and comprehensive codes of Jewish law. And could you kindly quote relevant material, in case of the affirmative.

In this sense it would be helpful to distinguish "the Jewish faith" (not a term we use, but I'll go with it) from "the Jewish people."

I have never been able to fully comprehend that difference. I understand that Jews existed before Moses propounded the Word of God to them and that is when the Jewish religion was founded. But how did the Jewish people come about ? Did the twelve sons of Jacob suddenly start identifying themselves as a community separate from the rest of the people they lived with ? How did the Jewish people coalesce together ?

We would say that the first member of the Jewish people was Abraham.

I don't understand that either. If you said that Jacob (aka Israel) was the first Jew, I could understand that. But to say that Abraham was the first Jew does not quite wash. After all, the progeny of Jacob did not recognize the progeny of Ishmael as Jews. So in my thinking, Jacob rather than Abraham was the first Jew. After all, the progeny of Ishmael were never included as one of their own.

But I think it would be fair to say that the Jewish religion as we now know it -- which is to say, a system of life based on living specific mitzvot (usually translated "commandments" but perhaps more truly "connections") -- came with the giving of the Torah, some 3400 years ago, from God to Moses.

That makes sense.

Moses witnessed a small number of miracles just by himself - e.g., the burning bush; some with Aaron and the Egyptians - e.g., turning Aaron's staff into a serpent; some with the entire Jewish people - e.g., the 10 plagues in Egypt, the revelation at Mt. Sinai (Horev), and all the miracles that occurred during the 40 years of wandering in the Sinai desert.

The Quran speaks of nine signs (miracles) that were given by God to Moses. Does that number (9) tie in with the miracles recorded in Jewish history?

Not forbidden, but discouraged.

It seems Israel is unable to influence overseas Jews who gamble and invest in the gambling industry just like the rest of the people. Would you share that view ?

In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 24b), the rabbis take a dim view about gambling. Besides being a risky enterprise financially, and addictive, the rabbis say that the winner is really a loser. Morally speaking that is. How so? Because the fellow with the inferior hand wasn't expecting to lose. Therefore, the loser relinquishes his money reluctantly—it's being taken from him willy-nilly, and he is getting nothing tangible in return. In simple English, it's a bit like stealing. That's not all, though. Gambling, whether betting on horses, roulette or cards, only gives the illusion of contributing to the local economy. In the end, though, it contributes nothing of value that endures.

But how exactly does the state of Israel discourage gambling ? Any really effective measures taken pro-actively by the state or by government-sponsored agencies ?

Torah law forbids male homosexual intercourse. Rabbinic law forbids female homosexual intercourse. "Being homosexual" is not forbidden - it's the actual act that's forbidden.

I don't quite grasp the difference. By definition, a homosexual is one who commits homosexual acts.

(homosexual activities) - Not prohibited in Israel.

But it is not seriously discouraged either - not seriously.

I believe there is also the equivalent of a Mardi Gras in Israel. Is that right ?

(Because Israel is not entirely founded on religion. The Zionist movement was divided into several camps. You had the Mizrachi (Religious Zionist) camp, which wanted to base the law of the state on Torah law. You had the Labor (socialist) camp, which wanted to base the law of the state on a more Western model. You had the Communists, who were small but very anti-religious. You had the Revisionists, who were right-wing but not particularly religious but were opposed to whatever it was that Labor wanted to do. You had the pre-Zionist-movement Jewish communities, which were basically haredi and influential. You had the existing laws, which were a mishmash of British laws from the Mandate period plus some miscellaneous leftover provisions from the Ottoman Empire. And you had an influx of Jews coming in from all different parts of the world - Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, all over Europe (many Holocaust survivors) - all with different levels of observance, and in some cases, differences in observance.

So what did they do? They reached a compromise.

I can understand it is not entirely founded on religion. But to allow a sort of Mardi Gras and to let homosexuals completely off the hook as if nothing was wrong - just as in practically all of the secular world - is not quite understandable either.

If I was a Jew and responsible for morals and ethics in the country, I would consider some sort of punishment, albeit small, and a rehabilitation program for those who indulge in homosexuality. After all, a nation founded even partly on religious values, should be more pr-active in promoting the Word of God ? Don’t you think ?

By the way, if Israel took up Jewish law in all its totality, would there be a severe punishment for homosexuals ? If so, what ?

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BostonJew,

1. As I understand, not all mitzvot in Torah are applicable today.

a. Is it true?

b. If yes, how do you decide which laws are applicable now & which laws are not?

c. Who is eligible to do this?

d. How do you prevent & resolve the differences in opinion, i.e. A says law Z is no longer applicable while B says it's still applicable today

2. As far as I know, Rabbinical Jews say that God reveals not only Written Torah, but also Oral Torah to Musa/Moshe so they are both equally binding to Jews. How do you answer Karaite Jews rejection of Oral Torah (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karaite#Views_on_the_Mishnah):

The Mishnah quotes many conflicting opinions.

The Mishnah doesn't go on to say in which opinion the truth lies. Rather, the Mishnah sometimes agrees with neither one nor the other, contradicting both.

They argue that the truth of the oral law given to Moses could only be in one opinion, not many opinions.

They question why the Mishnah does not solely speak in the name of Moses.

The Oral Law is not mentioned once in the entire Tanakh.

When God told Moses to come up to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah He said: "Come up to me into the mountain, and be there: and I will give you tablets of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written;" (Ex 24,12). The text states the commands are written, and no mention is made of an Oral Law.

The Tanakh reports that the written Torah was both lost and completely forgotten for over 50 years and only rediscovered by the Temple priests (2Ki 22,8; 2Chr 34,15). It is inconceivable that an Oral Law could have been remembered when even the written Law was forgotten.

The words of the Mishnah and Talmud are clearly the words of men living in the 2nd-5th centuries CE, stating "Rabbi Eliezer says this... while Rabbi Akiva says that..." in contrast to the Torah which states "YHWH spoke to Moses saying, speak to the Children of Israel that I command them saying..."

The Torah states "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of YHWH your God which I command you." (Deut 4:2) It is forbidden to add an Oral Law to the Torah, since it is the opinions of rabbis, not commands from God.

Joshua 8, 34-8, 35 states:

וְאַחֲרֵי-כֵן, קָרָא אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה, הַבְּרָכָה, וְהַקְּלָלָה—כְּכָל-הַכָּתוּב, בְּסֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה.לֹא-הָיָה דָבָר, מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה מֹשֶׁה—אֲשֶׁר לֹא-קָרָא יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, נֶגֶד כָּל-קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַטַּף, וְהַגֵּר, הַהֹלֵךְ בְּקִרְבָּם.

After that, he (Joshua) read all the words of the Torah, the Blessing and the Curse, according to all that is written in the Torah scroll. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua failed to read in the presence of the entire assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that walked among them.

Since Joshua read from the Torah every word Moses had commanded, it implies that Moses had not given an Oral Law, since Joshua couldn't have "read" an Oral Law from the written Torah. Every law Moses gave was in the Torah, meaning there could not have been additional commandments that existed outside of the written law.

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Thanks for your attention to detail in responding to my queries.

My pleasure. Some of your followups are pretty complex; I'll do what I can in very short time.

What I meant was whether there was sufficient protection for non-Jews in the very exhaustive and comprehensive codes of Jewish law. And could you kindly quote relevant material, in case of the affirmative.

This is a VERY complex topic so I'll give you a first cut and an admittedly incomplete answer. Let's start with some quotes from the written Torah.

Exodus 12:49 "There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who resides in your midst."

Exodus 22:20 "And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." (repeated again - Exodus 23:9 "And you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt.")

Exodus 23:12 "Six days you may do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, in order that your ox and your donkey shall rest, and your maidservant's son and the stranger shall be refreshed."

Leviticus 19:33-34 "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not taunt him. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God."

Leviticus 24:22 "One law shall be for you, as the stranger so as the resident, for I am the Lord, your God."

Deut. 1:16 "... Listen [to every dispute] among your brethren, and judge honestly between each man and his brother, [even] where a stranger[is concerned]."

Deut. 24:17 "Do not pervert justice for the stranger or orphan."

Relatedly, other books of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) occasionally rebuke the Jews of their time for oppressing the stranger -- see, for example, Psalms 94:6, Ezekiel 22:7, 22:29.

I have never been able to fully comprehend that difference. I understand that Jews existed before Moses propounded the Word of God to them and that is when the Jewish religion was founded. But how did the Jewish people come about ? Did the twelve sons of Jacob suddenly start identifying themselves as a community separate from the rest of the people they lived with ? How did the Jewish people coalesce together ? .... If you said that Jacob (aka Israel) was the first Jew, I could understand that. But to say that Abraham was the first Jew does not quite wash. After all, the progeny of Jacob did not recognize the progeny of Ishmael as Jews. So in my thinking, Jacob rather than Abraham was the first Jew. After all, the progeny of Ishmael were never included as one of their own.

Yes, well, this is a sort of difficult question to answer because the answer depends on how you frame the question. And "Who is a Jew?" and "What is a Jew?" are controversial topics even to our own time. The problem is that the term "Jew" or even "Israelite" did not exist back then. The Torah does specifically identify Abraham as a "Hebrew," but that is a term the Torah only uses when talking to how non-Jews perceive the Jewish nation.

You could say that Jacob/Israel was the first Jew because he was the first person such that all of his family were the Jewish nation. But I don't think that he and his immediate family would have perceived any break at all between them and Jacob's father Isaac and Jacob's grandfather Abraham. By contrast, there was a very distinct break between Abraham and his father Terach; the ancestry of the Jewish nation, as traced meaningfully, starts with Abraham. In terms of Ishmael, I think we would say that Abraham only became the first Jew after Ishmael had already grown and left; in fact, the Torah records that G-d changed his name (from Abram/Avram to Abraham/Avraham) after Ishmael had already been born. In Jewish tradition, a name change is often the visible manifestation of a deeper spiritual change, so in essence, Abram was Ishmael's father, and Abraham was Isaac's father -- not the same guy. But then you have a similar issue with Esau. If you say Isaac was Jewish then presumably Esau was Jewish too. Maybe the answer is that Esau married a non-Jewish woman and she did not convert (did not adopt the beliefs and laws that Esau had received from his father and grandfather) and so Esau was the last Jew in that line. At any rate these questions all involve application of categories to the first two patriarchs even though these categories were not clearly defined until later.

The Quran speaks of nine signs (miracles) that were given by God to Moses. Does that number (9) tie in with the miracles recorded in Jewish history?

According to the Torah G-d caused ten plagues in Egypt, plus a number of smaller miracles within Egypt itself, and a very large number of miracles during Moses's lifetime during the wanderings in Sinai. Oral tradition adds more.

It seems Israel is unable to influence overseas Jews who gamble and invest in the gambling industry just like the rest of the people. Would you share that view ?

....

But how exactly does the state of Israel discourage gambling ? Any really effective measures taken pro-actively by the state or by government-sponsored agencies ?

Honestly, I don't think anyone in Israel even views it is a major project to influence Jews not to gamble. As I said before, it's not forbidden by halacha (Jewish way), and although it may have negative effects, it's hardly the worst issue confronting the Jewish community.

In terms of how the state discourages or doesn't discourage gambling, I'd say the fact that there are no actual casinos in Israel proper (as I said the only one Israelis can get to is in Jericho, run by the Palestinian Authority) is probably the answer.

Since responding to your original post I found a web post on this topic via aish.com, which may clarify the Jewish view on gambling:

by Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem

Q. Our office has a friendly sports pool, where people bet on games. I am a good picker and a steady winner. My question is, given my advantage, are my winnings fair?

A. Many workplaces have similar friendly betting pools. To the best of my knowledge these pools are legal in most states on the condition that there is no "house" profiting from the winnings of others, and on the condition that winners declare their winnings. A 2008 New York Times article states: "Seth Borden, a partner in the New York law firm of Kreitzman Mortensen & Borden, says that the law in New York is vague, but as long as organizers do not receive money for running the operation, most 'social gambling' is acceptable." In many offices the share of the "house" goes for donuts or other amenities that benefit all.

If we look at the teachings of our sages, we find many statements impugning gambling. For example, the mishna tells us that "a person may make cast lots among his children and household members on the table, as long as he doesn't specifically intend to cast between a large and a small portion – because of gambling". (1) In other words, if there are a number of portions then it is permissible to distribute them by lot, but if the sizes are so unequal that it turns into a kind of lottery it's wrong.

In another place, the mishna tells us that gamblers are disqualified to give testimony in a Jewish court. (2)

However, in each case we find that the Talmudic discussion tempers the categorical condemnation of the mishna. In the passage in Shabbat, it concludes that the prohibition on "gambling" over portions at the table doesn't apply to household members but only to strangers. It seems that to the extent we know the game is completely friendly it is OK.

Likewise, the mishna in Sanhedrin concludes that only professional gamblers are disqualified. One reason given in the Talmudic passage is that professional gamblers tend to be "hustlers", taking advantage of bettors who have unrealistic expectations of their ability to win. The commentators explain that this is particularly true in games of skill where people tend to overestimate their ability. (Popular games for hustlers include games of skill like pool and chess.) Another reason is that professionals have an easy-come, easy-go attitude towards money, like "high rollers", and are not reliable witnesses in court. In my opinion this restriction would apply also to a compulsive gambler, who by definition is not in control of his habit and is not rationally assessing the odds of loss.

Again, in the case of a low-stakes friendly game where everyone is aware of the odds there would not seem to be a problem.

So if I would voice a concern over informed consent in your workplace, it would not be with respect to your colleagues but with respect to you. Given that betting on sporting events is wildly popular and odds are readily available, the chances are slim that you are truly more skillful than your office mates. Remember that in any game someone must end up ahead; that person may be very likely to think that he is the most skillful but in most cases he is just lucky.

So by all means continue to kick in small sums to the office pool to make watching the game more fun, but think twice before you begin to consider it a source of income.

SOURCES: (1) Mishna Shabbat 23:2, Talmud Shabbat 149b. (2) Mishna Sanhedrin 3:3.

I don't quite grasp the difference. By definition, a homosexual is one who commits homosexual acts.

Not quite. Let's take the hypotheticals of Reuven, Shimon, and Shloime. Reuven is a man who is very tempted to eat pork. All day long he wishes for a ham sandwich. However, he knows the Torah forbids it, so he resists the temptation and doesn't eat it. Not only is this fully compliant with halacha (Torah way of life), but the Talmud specifically says that this is more meritorious than someone who simply isn't interested in pork. Shimon is a man who is very tempted to have sex with another man. All day long he wants to do it. However, he knows the Torah forbids it, so he resists the temptation and doesn't do it. He's in the same situation as Shimon - he may have homosexual desires but he has not committed the forbidden act. Shloime, by contrast, actually engages in homosexual sex (while eating a ham sandwich, if you like). He has violated the Torah prohibition.

But it is not seriously discouraged either - not seriously.

Not by the state. Every year the gay association in Israel has a march, and for years the rabbis would condemn it and many people came out to protest (and unfortunately in one incident someone actually stabbed a marcher). However, in recent years, the rabbis have called off these protests, reasoning two things. First, the protest generated much more publicity than the march itself would have, so if they simply ignored it, nobody would pay attention. Second, as the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. To attract people to a Torah way of life, it is much more effective to show them the power and beauty of a traditional Jewish lifestyle than to yell at them on the street.

I believe there is also the equivalent of a Mardi Gras in Israel. Is that right ?

Not quite sure what you mean. I sort of know what Mardi Gras is in New Orleans but I'm not an expert on it so it's hard to make an analogy.

I can understand it is not entirely founded on religion. But to allow a sort of Mardi Gras and to let homosexuals completely off the hook as if nothing was wrong - just as in practically all of the secular world - is not quite understandable either.

Maybe so. Honestly, the state of Israel has had "bigger fish to fry" during its 61 years as a modern state. (You know what some of them are but I don't want to talk politics so I'll leave it at that.) Maybe once all its external problems are solved it can figure out what kind of country it wants to be.

If I was a Jew and responsible for morals and ethics in the country, I would consider some sort of punishment, albeit small, and a rehabilitation program for those who indulge in homosexuality. After all, a nation founded even partly on religious values, should be more pr-active in promoting the Word of God ? Don’t you think ?

Well, let me put a different twist on it. The Torah prohibits homosexual acts, but it's hardly the #1 priority of the Torah, and it's also not a numerically huge issue in Israel or the Jewish community in general. People disagree on exact numbers but we're dealing with maybe 5% of the entire population even considering a homosexual act even once, and a much smaller number (say 2%) doing it on a regular basis. Moreover, whatever INDIRECT effect homosexual acts have on the general morals of the other 98%, it's pretty indirect. Now think about Shabbat (the Sabbath), to which EVERY Jew is subject, and for which X's non-observance can directly affect Y (for example, if X is driving his car on Shabbat in a neighborhood where Y's children are walking in the street). Or kashrut, the rules of what food is allowed or not allowed and how it must be prepared. These are much bigger issues since they affect every Jew and are central to the Jewish lifestyle. Although homosexuality gets a lot of "press," it is a relatively small phenomenon and I can't see how it should take a high priority when other issues are still unresolved.

By the way, if Israel took up Jewish law in all its totality, would there be a severe punishment for homosexuals ? If so, what ?

Yes and no. The reason is that Jewish law (halacha) includes both substance and procedure, and most punishments can only be administered by the Sanhedrin, which doesn't exist and hasn't existed for 1600 years, and which can't easily be re-established. (It is technically possible to re-establish it in our time but the criteria are so stringent that it probably won't happen until the messiah comes.) I don't know what analogy I could give you for this issue ... maybe imagine that there is something in Shia law that says "only the Imam can do this" and (if I understand Shia Islam correctly) you haven't had an Imam around for over a thousand years. I should also point out that even though the Sanhedrin existed in some form or another until the 4th century CE, the Romans actually took away its authority to impose capital punishment 500 years before then. SO really, there hasn't been a Sanhedrin capable of imposing capital punishment for 2000 years. And even when there was, it rarely did so; the Talmud records a saying that a Sanhedrin that imposed the death penalty once in 70 years was considered a "bloody Sanhedrin." Part of this was that the Torah procedures for obtaining a conviction are very favorable to the defendant; they are designed to protect the innocent even at the expense of letting the guilty off sometimes. As Maimonides (Rambam) said, "It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death." Here's some more reading if you're interested: http://www.jlaw.com/Briefs/capital2.html

So anyway, when there is a Sanhedrin, which there isn't and may not be for some very long time, the Torah (Leviticus 20:13) is very clear that the punishment for male homosexual acts is death. As I said the prohibition against female homosexual acts is rabbinic, not from the Torah, and I think the punishment is milder (lashes).

In the meantime, the State of Israel does not have halachic authority to impose these halachic punishments, so it's sort of a moot point. Moreover, the State doesn't actually impose the death penalty except in the most restricted circumstances. I thought it had only been imposed once in the 61-year history of the state but it turns out it was twice. Here's a quote from wikipedia:

In Israel, capital punishment is illegal in almost all circumstances. Israel inherited the British Mandate of Palestine code of law, which included death penalty for several offenses, but in 1954 Israel abolished this penalty with the exceptions of conviction for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and treason in wartime. Only one person has been civilly executed in the history of the State of Israel - Adolf Eichmann, who was hanged in 1962 after he was convicted in 1961 of participation in Nazi war crimes relating to the Holocaust. The only other execution to take place in Israel was that of Meir Tobianski, an Israeli soldier in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war who was falsely accused of treason and executed by firing squad after being court martialed and found guilty. Others have been sentenced to death but won appeals to overturn the sentence.

It is generally accepted that one of the reasons for Israel's rare use of the death penalty is Jewish religious law. Biblical law explicitly mandates the death penalty for 36 offenses, from murder and adultery to idolatry and desecration of the Sabbath. Still, Jewish scholars since the beginning of the common era have developed such restrictive rules to prevent execution of the innocent that the death penalty has become de facto illegal.

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My pleasure. Some of your followups are pretty complex; I'll do what I can in very short time.

Thanks very much for the exhustive responses but you took so long to reply (almost two weeks) that I have forgotten the rest of my questions.

I think I can recall one though. What is the difference between the Jewish Bible and the Christian Old Testament ? And what are the Tanakh and the Talmud ? Any other books of interest ? Is it possible for a non-Jew to get a reasonably priced copy of the Jewish Bible and other books on the Internet or elsewhere ?

In Jewish tradition, a name change is often the visible manifestation of a deeper spiritual change, so in essence, Abram was Ishmael's father, and Abraham was Isaac's father -- not the same guy.

I can see your point but only very vaguely. Perhaps we should leave it at that.

He's in the same situation as Shimon - he may have homosexual desires but he has not committed the forbidden act. Shloime, by contrast, actually engages in homosexual sex (while eating a ham sandwich, if you like). He has violated the Torah prohibition.

I believe the same goes for heterosexuality. Almost everyone has heterosexual desires but it becomes a sin only when one gives in. However, the 'giving in' applies both in thought and deed, not deed alone. In other words, sitting at the computer and looking at seductive pictures or going to the night club to look at lewd women, is also a sin, even if you don't actually indulge in the sex act. The same with homosexuality, I guess. Would you agree ?

Every year the gay association in Israel has a march, and for years the rabbis would condemn it and many people came out to protest (and unfortunately in one incident someone actually stabbed a marcher). However, in recent years, the rabbis have called off these protests, reasoning two things. First, the protest generated much more publicity than the march itself would have, so if they simply ignored it, nobody would pay attention. Second, as the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. To attract people to a Torah way of life, it is much more effective to show them the power and beauty of a traditional Jewish lifestyle than to yell at them on the street.

Well, if the law requires a penalty, well then so be it. That, I believe, is also the case with secular laws.

Well, let me put a different twist on it. The Torah prohibits homosexual acts

And what is the punishment for homosexual acts in the strict Jewish code ? Once again, I can understand there is no punishment for lewd thoughts, but they are also sinful. Right ?

Although homosexuality gets a lot of "press," it is a relatively small phenomenon and I can't see how it should take a high priority when other issues are still unresolved.

I believe the law of God should prevail regardless of current priorities. But perhaps we should leave it at that.

In the meantime, the State of Israel does not have halachic authority to impose these halachic punishments, so it's sort of a moot point.

I get your point.

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What is the difference between the Jewish Bible and the Christian Old Testament ?

Translation, ordering of books, and in a few cases, chapter/verse division. The Christian "Old Testament" is their translation of our Hebrew Bible.

The translation is usually the biggest issue. I don't know all of the Christian translations out there, but the King James edition seems to be pretty poor; partly due to lack of knowledge (it was done 400 years ago) and partly due to a Christological agenda (if there was a way to mistranslate something to make it seem like it had to do with Jesus, they'd do it). Nowawadays there is a Christian edition called the Revised Standard Version that is somewhat better.

And what are the Tanakh and the Talmud ?

The Tanakh = the Hebrew Bible. It's an acronym:

Torah (first five books of the Hebrew Bible)

Nevi'im (Prophets)

Ketuvim (Writings)

TaNaKH (the letter for K in Hebrew becomes KH in final position)

It is also sometimes called the Mikra, which means "reading" or "that which is read," mainly by Sephardic books. In older texts (like the Mishna) you see it referred to as HaKatuv = "that which is written" or more idiomatically "Scripture."

"Talmud" refers to the Mishnah plus the Gemara. The Mishnah is a compilation of the oral Torah, written down in Yavneh and Tiberias in Israel in the 2nd century CE. It is written in Hebrew, in an extremely terse, sometimes cryptic style, including disagreements between rabbis. The Gemara is a set of commentaries on the Mishnah which explain mishnaic statements, and add additional material, sometimes legal and sometimes non-legal. It is written in Aramaic, in a less cryptic style, and including also many disputes and debates. There are actually two Gemaras, one completed in Israel in the 4th century CE and called Yerushalmi (Jerusalem) and one completed in Babylonia in the 6th century CE and called Bavli (Babylonian). When someone just says "Talmud" or "Gemara" they are referring to Talmud Bavli; if someone specifically wants to cite the Yerushalmi they'll say "the Yerushalmi." Gemara is extremely intellectually complex and many people say that it is Jews' study of Gemara that has trained us to be so intellectually nimble.

The Talmud reflects the oral law, which confuses some non-Jews because, for 1800 years, it has been available in written form.

Any other books of interest ?

Depends on who's interested and what they're interested in. :)

Seriously, if I knew what specifically you were interested in, I might be able to recommend something. Jewish history? Philosophy? Basic beliefs? Daily practices?

Is it possible for a non-Jew to get a reasonably priced copy of the Jewish Bible and other books on the Internet or elsewhere ?

The "Stone Edition Tanakh" is available for about $45 from Artscroll.com. That has Hebrew & English plus some commentary and some fascinating appendices.

The 1985 Jewish Publication Society translation (English only) is about $35 from Jewishpub.com.

A less artful English translation, but with Hebrew AND commentary by Rashi, is $21 from JudaicaPress.com.

But you can also get some of this for free. Here are three sources:

http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm --- this is the Judaica Press's translation, plus Rashi (in English)

http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0.htm -- this has the voweled Hebrew text of the entire Hebrew Bible, plus a very lame English translation from 1917 that I wouldn't place too much stock in

http://bible.ort.org/intro1.asp?lang=1 -- just the Torah (first five books), but it has Hebrew plus a very nice contemporary translation by the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, including some commentary

In other words, sitting at the computer and looking at seductive pictures or going to the night club to look at lewd women, is also a sin, even if you don't actually indulge in the sex act. The same with homosexuality, I guess. Would you agree ?

A different category, but yes. More to the point, it is very spiritually damaging to the person involved.

And what is the punishment for homosexual acts in the strict Jewish code ?

Man-on-man --> death. Woman-on-woman --> I'm not sure.

Once again, I can understand there is no punishment for lewd thoughts, but they are also sinful. Right ?

Oh yes most definitely. Coveting your neighbor's wife is prohibited in the Torah - in fact, it's one of the "Ten Commandments."

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1. As I understand, not all mitzvot in Torah are applicable today.

a. Is it true?

Definitely.

b. If yes, how do you decide which laws are applicable now & which laws are not?

Here are a few major categories.

1. Anything related to the Temple cannot be performed since the destruction of the Temple (70 CE). Most obviously, we cannot perform the daily or holiday sacrifices. The Holy One, Blessed be He, ordained that in the interim, we should study the verses of Torah pertaining to the sacrifices, and it will be considered as if we had performed the sacrifices themselves. There are certain other things related to the Temple, such as terumah (a form of tithing produce), that also can't be done without the Temple.

2. Certain things related to when one is ritually pure or impure, since we are not able to fully purify without the Temple. Similarly, certain categories that don't exist anymore (e.g. nazirite; cities of refuge).

3. Most criminal punishments cannot be imposed since the dissolution of the Sanhedrin (5th century CE).

4. Mitzvot related to the king are not applicable since we don't have a king (since about 1st century BCE).

5. Some mitzvot related to wars are not applicable now since they apply to wars declared by a Jewish king (see above).

c. Who is eligible to do this?

In most cases it's obvious. No Temple = no sacrifices. Over the years (it's been 1939 years since the Temple was destroyed, so this isn't exactly a new issue) various rabbis have written & discussed & figured it out.

d. How do you prevent & resolve the differences in opinion, i.e. A says law Z is no longer applicable while B says it's still applicable today

There are zillions of debates & disputes & differences in Jewish law, although oddly enough, this one in particular is rarely a major area of dispute.

But in general, A and B can disagree, and if they both bring sources and logical arguments, you can't say one is definitely wrong. The Hebrew word for dispute is "machloket" which comes from the root "chelek" which means "portion" -- each side has a portion of the truth. How any individual acts depends on the circumstances. In some communities or people they will take the more stringent view because it's safer -- if A says X is permitted and B says X is forbidden, if you follow A and use X, you might be in trouble, but if you follow B and don't use X, the worst that could happen is you're missing out on something actually permitted. Sometimes there is a split between, say, Ashkenazim & Sephardim. What an individual Jew would do on any particular issue is consult his or her rabbi.

2. As far as I know, Rabbinical Jews say that God reveals not only Written Torah, but also Oral Torah to Musa/Moshe so they are both equally binding to Jews. How do you answer Karaite Jews rejection of Oral Torah (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karaite#Views_on_the_Mishnah):

If you read the written Torah you will see that the written Torah alone cannot, and could not ever have been, by itself the basis for a functioning society. The Torah leaves out many important details.

For example, just to pick a silly example, Deut. 24:1 says that if a man wants to divorce a woman, he should put in her hand a get (bill of divorce).

Classic yeshiva-guy question: What if she doesn't have any hands?

Topic of most of a tractate of the Mishna: Does he have to give it to her himself or can he send it via an agent? What kind of agent?

Are witnesses required?

Does she have to read the document or just accept it? What if she's illiterate?

What if he sends the get via an agent, but the man dies before the get is delivered? What if the agent dies before the get is delivered? What if the woman dies before the get is delivered?

What is supposed to be in the document? Can it just be anything or is there a prescribed form?

What are the bases for divorce? Can he divorce her for any reason whatsoever or must there be specific grounds? If the latter, what qualifies?

Can the get be conditional -- if you X happens by such-and-such a date, then I divorce you?

For that matter, how should a Jew get married? The Torah doesn't say. Well how can we tell if someone is properly divorced if we don't even know how if they were properly married?

This is all important because if a woman thinks she is divorced, but she really isn't, and then she remarries, not only are both she and the new husband guilty of adultery, but the children are mamzerim ([Edited Out]s) which is not a good status.

There is no possible way you could run a marriage/divorce system without answers to these questions. The Karaites themselves will not dispute that Jews married and divorced for about 1600 years before the Mishnah was committed to writing, and without producing a large number of accidental mamzerim. So the Karaites have to concede that the Jews had a functioning tradition to answer all of these questions for 1600 years. There are only two possibilities as to its origin:

1) G-d gave it to Moses along with the written Torah, or

2) The Jews made it up somewhere along the way.

If it was #2, you would expect to have seen some sort of major breaks. Now it is true that the Mishnah contains debates and disputes, but they are usually on very narrow issues; all of the major issues are unanimously agreed to.

Similarly, the Torah in some cases explicitly refers to things that aren't in it. For example, in Deut. 12:21 God tells the Jews that we can eat meat outside of the Temple, if we kill the animal "in the manner that I have commanded you." But nowhere in the written Torah does it explain how to butcher an animal for food. This is an important issue: if we don't know how to do it right, then we have to be vegetarians. But for 3400 years Jews have not been vegetarians. The Karaites will not dispute this.

What ended up happening is that the Karaites, having abandoned the authentic oral tradition, had to make up their own to fill in these gaps.

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Hi BostonJew

Thanks for your very exhaustive responses. My questions are gradually coming back to me, but only very slowly.

The next question:- I believe Genesis says that God will bless Ishmael with twelve princes. Is there a record of all their names ? If so, could you please give us their names and the source ?

And their relationship with Ishmael ? Sons/Grandsons/Great-grandsons etc.

Thanks again.

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Hi BostonJew,

Thank you for your detailed reply. It has been a pleasure discussing with you. There are some questions that I'd like to ask you (I know it's not related to the topic of this thread, but please bear with me):

1. On the Compilation of Tanakh

- Could you tell me how some books considered canonical (e.g. Tehilim, Esther), but other books did not (e.g. Tobit, Yeshua ben Sirach)?

- Who was eligible to pass the judgment on a book's canonicity? How do you sure that they were divinely inspired when making the judgment?

2. On Sanhedrin

- I read in wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanhedrin) that according to rabbinical traditions, Sanhedrin (or at least, its concept) began at the time of Moshe & ended at the destruction of the 2nd Temple. If it's true, then at the time of the Exile (or after the destruction of the 1st Temple, but prior to the construction of the 2nd Temple), the Sanhedrin (or its concept) was present even though the Jewish people did not have the Temple, right? But now, after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, why the Sanhedrin did not present even though the condition is similar to the Exile?

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The next question:- I believe Genesis says that God will bless Ishmael with twelve princes. Is there a record of all their names ? If so, could you please give us their names and the source ?

And their relationship with Ishmael ? Sons/Grandsons/Great-grandsons etc.

Thanks again.

Yes, their names are recorded in Bereishis (Genesis), as below. Each went on to found a nation, although I suspect these days that the different Ishmaelite nations have all merged together into one "Arabian" identity.

25:12 These are the chronicles of Ishmael son of Abraham, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's slave, bore to Abraham:

25:13 These are the names of Ishmael's sons in order of their birth: Nevayot, Kedar, Adbiel, Mibsam,

25:14 Mishma, Duma, Masa,

25:15 Chadad, Tema, Yetur, Nafish and Kedmah.

25:16 These were Ishmael's sons, and these names were given to their towns and encampments. There were twelve princes for their nations.

25:17 This is the account of Ishmael's years. He lived a total of 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people.

25:18 [His descendants] lived in the area from Havilah to Shur, all the way to Assyria. They overran all their brethren.

Here are some notes from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's "Living Torah" translation & commentary:

Nebayoth

Nevayoth in Hebrew. The Torah later specifies that it was his sister who married Esau (Genesis 28:9, 36:3). It appears that the people of Nebayoth were nomads engaged in sheep-raising (Isaiah 16:7; Radak ad loc.). They are identified with the Nabetaeans, who lived in northern Arabia, to the south of the Dead Sea (Targum on 1 Chronicles 1:29; Josephus, Antiquities 1:12:4. See 1 Maccabees 5:25, 9:35, 2 Maccabees 5:8; Strabo 16:4; Pliney 12:37). Their capital was Petra, the ancient site of Kadesh (Strabo 16:799, 17:803; Pliney 6:32). Also see Josephus, Antiquities 14:3:3. 14:6:4.

Kedar

The Targum renders this as Arabia; cf. Ezekiel 27:21. This was a well known nation; see Isaiah 21:16,17, 42:11, Jeremiah 2:10. They were an eastern tribe (Jeremiah 49:28), raising and dealing in sheep (Isaiah 60:17, Ezekiel 27:21), living in black tents (Song of Songs 1:5), and they were hostile (Psalms 120:5). They were associated with a city Chatzor (Jeremiah 49:28). Some identify them with the Kidru found in Assyrian writings, and with the Cedrei in ancient geographies (Pliney 5:11).

Adbiel

The name is found in ancient Assyrian writings.

Duma

See Isaiah 21:11 (Radak, Ibn Ezra, ad loc., but see Rashi). Josephus renders it Idumas, perhaps relating it to Idumia. There was a place on the Syrian-Arabian border known as Duma or Dumath Algandel. There is also a Duma in Syria, some 10 miles east of Damascus. Domita is mentioned by Ptolemy (5:19).

Masa

See Genesis 10:30, Exodus 17:7. The name is found in ancient Assyrian writings.

Tema

It is associated with Arabia (Isaiah 21:14), especially with Dedan and Buz (Jeremiah 25:23). This was also a people who had caravans associated with Sheba (Job 6:19). It was a nation that lived in the northern Arabian desert. It may be associated with the present city of Tayma in Saudi Arabia. The Targum on 1 Chronicles 1:30 renders it Adroma, literally 'the south.' There is an area known as Hadramut in southern Arabia.

Yetur

Yetur and Nafish were driven out of the area east of the Jordan by Reuben, Gad and Manasseh (1 Chronicles 5:19; Rashi ad loc.). This is in the exact area of Ituraea, northeast of Lake Hula (see Strabo 16:755; Pliney 5:19). They originally came from another area named Ituraea in the Arabian Desert (Strabo 16:756). They then settled in the mountain range to the north and south of Damascus, in regions where it was difficult to reach them. During the time of the Second Temple, the Hasmonean King Aristoblus forced the people of Ituraea to convert to Judaism and annexed their territory to Judea (Josephus, Antiquities 13:11:3). The area was later annexed to Syria by the Romans (Tacticus, Annals 12:23).

Nafish

See note on Genesis 25:15, 'Yetur', from 1 Chronicles 5:19.

twelve princes

See Genesis 17:20.

Havilah

See Genesis 2:11, 10:7, 10:29. Saul also pursued the Amelikes between Shur and Havilah; 1 Samuel 15:7. Others interpret this expression as Havilah-by-Shur to distinguish from other places known as Havilah.

Shur

See note on Genesis 25:18, 'Havilah'; Genesis 16:7, 20:1.

Assyria

All the way to the north; see Genesis 2:14, 10:11. Some associate this with Asshurim mentioned in Genesis 25:3.

They overran...

(Cf. Rashi; Hirsch). See Genesis 16:12. This would mean that the Ishmaelite Arabs would take over the territory of Abraham's other sons, dominating the entire Middle East. Literally, 'on the face of all his brethren he fell.' Others interpret it, 'He traveled among all his brothers' as a nomad (Ibn Ezra). Another interpretation is, 'He died in the presence of all his brethren' (Ibn Ezra). See note on Genesis 37:28.

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There are some questions that I'd like to ask you (I know it's not related to the topic of this thread, but please bear with me):

They're all valid intelligent questions, so this is as good a place as any,

1. On the Compilation of Tanakh

- Could you tell me how some books considered canonical (e.g. Tehilim, Esther), but other books did not (e.g. Tobit, Yeshua ben Sirach)?

Well, this is an interesting question. Much of the contents of the Tanakh were compiled by the "Men of the Great Assembly" by 450 BCE, and have since remained unchanged. But the "canonization" was not finished until the time of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century CE. As you may know there were dozens if not more of various Jewish writings circulating around the years 200 BCE - 200 CE. Yet not all of them are part of Tanakh.

The "T" is easy - the Torah - given directly by G-d to Moses.

The "N" = Nevi'im -- prophets. The book had to be written by a prophet to get into this section. Since the last prophet according to Judaism was Malachi, who lived during the time of the Babylonian exile but returned with the Jewish community for the building of the Second Temple, this group was also pretty much fixed. I have been told that if you look at the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible done in the 3rd century BCE, it has the exact same set of books of Neviim as we have today.

Then you have "K" - Ketuvim - Writings. This is where there was some debate.

First let us agree that the fact that a book is not included in the Tanakh does not mean it is a bad book. You mentioned Ben Sira -- an excellent example. The rabbis quote Ben Sira several times in the Talmud. The rabbis evidently considered him a person with some wisdom to share and worth repeating (although Rabbi Akiva was not a supporter of this). So the fact that his book was not included does not mean it is bad.

Another famous example is the Books of the Maccabees. There are I think 4 of them, 2 written contemporaneously with the events of the Maccabees, and the others two written sometime after. These books give a fairly detailed account of the events and so forth of the Maccabees -- the Greek oppression that led to their rebellion, and the detailed history of the various battles they fought against the Greeks. These events (and more importantly the miracles that occurred) are celebrated by every Jew around the world every year as part of the Chanukah festival. But you won't find the books of Maccabees in the Tanakh! Instead we have a highly abbreviated version of those events in the Talmud. You can, however, find the Books of Maccabees in the Catholic Bible if you are interested, and it makes for some interesting reading. And obviously the fact that they were not included does not mean that Jews are somehow against the Maccabees!

Tehillim (Psalms) is an easy case since they were used in the Temple. About half of them are written by David (definitely a prophet!).

The Mishnah and Talmud record some debates over particular books, including Song of Songs, Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), Esther, Proverbs, and Ezekiel. Ben Sira (as well as books by Ben La'ana, whoever he was, and Ben Tigla, whoever he was) were excluded but it was obviously enough of an issue to be worth mentioning.

2. On Sanhedrin

- I read in wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanhedrin) that according to rabbinical traditions, Sanhedrin (or at least, its concept) began at the time of Moshe & ended at the destruction of the 2nd Temple. If it's true, then at the time of the Exile (or after the destruction of the 1st Temple, but prior to the construction of the 2nd Temple), the Sanhedrin (or its concept) was present even though the Jewish people did not have the Temple, right? But now, after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, why the Sanhedrin did not present even though the condition is similar to the Exile?

I'm not an expert on the functioning of the Sanhedrin during the period between the First and Second Temples. Bear in mind that this was a short period; the exile itself was only 70 years and they started rebuilding the Temple as soon as they possibly could, so the duration is not comparable.

The Sanhedrin actually did continue to exist for some time after the destruction of the Second Temple. The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. The Sanhedrin continued to function for several hundred more years, although with greatly reduced authority. The Sanhedrin was in session when the Mishnah was codified under Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi -- "Nasi" being the title of the head of the Sanhedrin (lit. it means "prince" although in Mishna times it meant "head of Sanhedrin" -- and today in Modern Hebrew it means the President of Israel!)

Under various different emperors (and there were a lot of them in a short time) the Roman Empire ranged from "moderately against the Jews" to "totally against the Jews" and persecuted the Jewish nation as a whole and the teaching of Torah in particular. (Rabbi Akiva was burned alive for the "crime" of teaching Torah in public.) This made it very tough for Jewish education! At some point the Roman Empire banned smikhah (ordination of rabbis) and forced the Sanhedrin into hiding. The last Nasi was Gamliel II, who was executed for the "crime" of building a synagogue.

There have been attempts to revive the Sanhedrin since then but they have not been universally accepted.

One attempt was by Rabbi Yehudah Leib Maimon, Israel's first minister of religious affairs, but it didn't go anywhere. Another attempt has been made in our own time, and you can read about it here:

http://www.thesanhedrin.org/en/index.php/Historical_Overview#Recent_attempt_to_Re-establish_the_Sanhedrin_in_Eretz_Yisroel

However it has not been universally accepted that this group (of respectable rabbis, to be sure) can actually constitute a Sanhedrin under halacha (Jewish law). That said, the Nasi they elected is Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz who is universally admired by all streams of Judaism ... a very pragmatic move if you ask me!

My personal opinion is that it will be very hard to establish a recognized Sanhedrin these days because the Jewish people have become so divided.

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Again, thank you very much for your detailed reply. There are some additional question that I'd like to ask you:

1. Since in rabbinical Judaism, in the compilation of Tanakh, the T & N part were considered almost entirely fixed, I want to focus on the K part. Do you find any explanation on the criteria used by the Jewish scholars to determine whether a particular K-candidate book (such as Esther, Ben Sira, etc) was canonical or not?

2. Sorry for asking this question, but it really intrigues me. Why did Judaism still insist on putting the debated books as part of the scripture? In the more plain word (again, sorry for this), how could the Jewish scholars considered them as divinely inspired, but debated on their status at the same time?

3. I'm interested in your view that David was a prophet. It's compatible with the Islamic view, but correct me if I'm wrong, Judeo-Christrian world considered him as non-prophet Jewish king. Could you elaborate me on your view (why you considered David as prophet)? Do you also considered Sulayman (Shlomo) as prophet?

4. If I'm not mistaken, a part of Tehillim was considered written by Asaph, Jeduthun, & sons of Korah. Who were they & why were their compositions considered part of Tehillim instead of David-only compositions?

5. What's your view on Dead Sea Scrolls?

Edited by rzairul
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1. Since in rabbinical Judaism, in the compilation of Tanakh, the T & N part were considered almost entirely fixed, I want to focus on the K part. Do you find any explanation on the criteria used by the Jewish scholars to determine whether a particular K-candidate book (such as Esther, Ben Sira, etc) was canonical or not?

Unfortunately I'm not an expert on this rather scholarly topic.

Part of it was the age of the text. Divine inspiration (ruach hakodesh), at least in the quantity/quality needed to write an entire book that would be declared holy (as opposed to just flashes or moments), departed from Israel after the generation of Ezra. This rules out Ben Sira, for example. (Again, Ben Sira is cited in the Talmud, so it's not like the sages thought he was out of his mind.)

Part of it was that the book had to satisfy basic requirements like not contradicting the Torah. (If it contradicted the Torah, which was given to the entire Jewish nation at Sinai, then ipso facto it couldn't have been divinely inspired.)

Part of it undoubtedly was that the book had to have been written in Hebrew. (There are a few chapters of the book of Daniel, and a few specific paragraphs in the book of Ezra, where someone is talking in Aramaic and the book quotes them in Aramaic. These are exceptions.) Many of the "apocrypha" books were written in Greek by Hellenized Jews.

Part of it was probably that the book had to have been adopted by the Jewish nation as a whole. If you look at the Book of Esther, towards the end, the entire Jewish nation took it upon themselves to reaffirm the covenant and to observe the additional mitzvot that Esther and Mordechai promulgated. And in fact that continues until today. By contrast, some of these other books that people find in the Qumran caves or whatever were never endorsed by the Jewish nation either by affirmation or by actual practice.

And part of it was fundamentally whether the rabbis thought that the book represented divine inspiration or simply human wisdom. I already mentioned Ben Sira. ANother example is Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). The Talmud records a discussion as to whether Kohelet (which was written by King Shlomo (Solomon) late in life) was divinely inspired, or just Solomon's own wisdom (which of course stems from divine gifts but that's not the same thing.)

2. Sorry for asking this question, but it really intrigues me. Why did Judaism still insist on putting the debated books as part of the scripture? In the more plain word (again, sorry for this), how could the Jewish scholars considered them as divinely inspired, but debated on their status at the same time?

First one thing you need to understand is that the Talmud consists of nothing but debates. Where the sages all agreed on something, there was no point writing it down. So it consists entirely of debates. Some of them are resolved, in the sense of -- "Rabbi so-and-so says X, but the sages say Y." Some of them are not resolved, in the sense of -- "Rabbi so-and-so says X, but Rabbi such-and-such says Y." In many cases, the issue was resolved for practical (if not theoretical purposes) in the intervening years. So the fact that a topic has a debate in the Talmud does not mean that the community is paralyzed. It means that we are meant to learn something from the fact that there was a debate in the first place.

In the case of the disputed books (e.g. Song of Songs), evidently those who favored its inclusion (in that case, Rabbi Akiva) prevailed in the debate.

I can give you one interesting example. Although Ezekiel was one of the prophets (not writings), there was some question about the book of Ezekiel. In some cases, the sacrifices mentioned by the prophet Ezekiel seem to contradict those mentioned in the Torah. The Talmud in Tractate Menahot (45a) discusses the apparent discrepancies, which were considered sufficiently troubling that the rabbis even considered not including the Book of Ezekiel in the Biblical canon. The Talmud there states, "Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rav: That man is to be remembered for good, and Hananiah son of Hezekiah is his name. Were it not for him, the Book of Ezekiel would have been suppressed, since its sayings contradicted the words of the Torah. What did he do? He took up with him three hundred barrels of oil [to serve for lighting] and remained there in the attic until he had explained away everything." Those explanations obviously were persuasive, because in the end the Book of Ezekiel was included in the Biblical canon. However, the Talmud also records the opinion of Rabbi Yochanan, who says that only at the End of Days, once the prophet Elijah comes to herald the onset of the Messiah, will we then be able to resolve the contradictions.

3. I'm interested in your view that David was a prophet. It's compatible with the Islamic view, but correct me if I'm wrong, Judeo-Christrian world considered him as non-prophet Jewish king. Could you elaborate me on your view (why you considered David as prophet)?

The list of recognized prophets according to Judaism comes from the Talmud (Megillah 14a).

He wrote at least the 73 psalms with his name on them; tradition ascribes the unattributed psalms to him as well.

Do you also considered Sulayman (Shlomo) as prophet?

Yes, Shlomo (Solomon) is also on the list. He wrote three books: Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs); Mishlei Shlomo (Proverbs); and Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).

4. If I'm not mistaken, a part of Tehillim was considered written by Asaph, Jeduthun, & sons of Korah. Who were they & why were their compositions considered part of Tehillim instead of David-only compositions?

Yes, there are about ten psalms or so that are specifically attributed to other authors. The traditional view is that David was divinely or prophetically inspired to compile the whole book, including the psalms he didn't personally write. I think this makes some sense. Take Psalm 89, written by Ethan the Ezrahi (who incidentally is discussed elsewhere in Tanakh). Well, it's a very lovely little poem, but there are many lovely poems in the world, so who is to say that it has a special connection to the Divine? I'm not in a position to look at it and say "This poem, as compared to 99.999% of all the other poems ever written about G-d, is holy." I'm not. But David was. So in that sense David was the divine editor.

5. What's your view on Dead Sea Scrolls?

No one knows exactly who wrote them or why. For many years the theory was that they were the product of a single community living at Khirbet Qumran near the caves. Then I read a book where a major professor of Biblical Archaeology (the book is called Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?) says that's based on an error made by the original French archaeologist who made a crucial error, and there's absolutely no evidence that any distinctive community lived at Khirbet Qumran ... he thinks the scrolls were just deposited in the caves by whoever could get out of Jerusalem at the time of the Roman siege.

Whatever you believe, the scrolls fall into two categories: variant texts, and the just plain weird. The variant texts are things like they'll have the Book of Isaiah, but a couple of verses will be different. This is not a major theoretical issue. The Jewish community has always distinguished "official" copies of important texts, which need to be checked not just word for word, not just letter for letter, but calligraphy stroke for calligraphy stroke, vs. copies that a person can just make for his own private use. In the latter case, you will get errors and so forth.

The just plain weird, wherever they came from, were obviously the product of sectarian groups that had their own agendas in leaving the mainstream Jewish community, and which didn't survive the fall of the Second Temple. They may be interesting for studies of the history of cults and so forth but do not have much relevance for mainstream Judaism.

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