Biblical Archaeology

Historical Horse Sense

Palestinians have waged a long campaign to deny that Jews have any historical ties to Jerusalem and the the New York Times took up their cause recently.

More  here.

 

Religion

Shavuot 2014

Celebrating the giving of Torah:

SHAVUOT

History
Shavuot is a Jewish holiday which celebrates God’s giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. It is also known as the “Feast of Weeks.” It has connections to an ancient grain harvest festival and is one of three pilgrimage holidays celebrated in ancient Israel.

Dates
Shavuot is celebrated seven weeks after Passover, exactly fifty days after the first seder. For this reason, some Jews refer to the holiday as Pentecost. It is a two-day holiday, though in Israel it is only celebrated for one day. In the Jewish calendar, it begins at sundown on the 5th of the month of Sivan and lasts until night falls on the 7th of Sivan.

In 2014, Shavuot begins on June 3 and ends on June 5.

Traditions
As Jewish kosher laws were part of the message included in the Torah, on Shavuot is is customary to eat dairy products. No work is done on this day. Holiday candles are lit, and some people stay up all night on the first evening reading the Torah.

Before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Jews would bake two special loaves of bread from their first grain harvest and present them to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Reflection
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the founder and director of the Shalom Center, wrote a Shavuot reflection in a blog for The Huffington Post that relates the harvest of the grain to the spiritual rewards reaped by reading the Torah:

How can we unify the earth-Shavuot of wheat harvest with the word-Shavuot of Torah?

One first vision of a tiny practice that could bring new power to Shavuot: Each household bakes two loaves of bread to bring to the communal reading of that Moment on the Mountain.

As we share the bread with each other, touching the loaves and touching the others who are touching the loaves, we share with each other, with our partner the Earth, and with our Highest Selves, the One:

From Earth we receive,
To the One we give:
Together we share,
And from this we live.

 

Religion

Who Is a Jew?

Competing answers to an increasingly pressing question.

Who is a Jew? This question is becoming ever more pressing for Jews around the world. It looks like a religious issue, but is bound up with history, Israeli politics and the rhythms of the diaspora. Addressing it means deciding whether assimilation is a mortal threat, as many Jews think, or a phenomenon to be accommodated. The struggle over the answer will shape Israel’s society, its relations with Jews elsewhere, and the size and complexion of the global Jewish community.

For Orthodox Jews like Rabbi Tubul, the solution is simple and ancient: you are a Jew if your mother is Jewish, or if your conversion to Judaism accorded with the Halacha, Jewish religious law. Gentiles might be surprised that for Jews by birth this traditional test makes no reference to faith or behaviour. Jews may be atheist (many are: apostasy is a venerable Jewish tradition) and still Jews. Joel Roth, a Conservative rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, likens this nativist criterion to that for American citizenship: Americans retain it regardless of their views on democracy or the constitution. Some strict rabbis even think that a child is not Jewish if born to a devout mother but from a donated gentile egg…

 

The Economist has more.