Sunday, June 26, 2022

Judaism on One Leg- Introduction: The People


Judaism on One Leg- Introduction: The People

Link to the video of June 25

( Using extracts, from Encyclopedia Britannica ,"Judaism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 03 2014 . )

<>. Salo Wittmayer Baron-editor of the article  Quotes are in red letter font


Suggested Readings for Beginners:

Here is one such list:

If you want to create your own Jewish library:


For access to all the key source texts of Judaism in Hebrew and English translation:


Don’t worry- you don’t need to build another bookcase-many of these are available for download!

If you want to watch and listen:





Al Regel Achat


I start my discussion with the famous tale of “al regel achat”.

 שוב מעשה בנכרי אחד שבא לפני שמאי,

א"ל גיירני ע"מ שתלמדני כל התורה כולה כשאני עומד על רגל אחת דחפו,

באמת הבנין שבידו 


בא לפני הלל גייריה אמר לו דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד

. זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך פירושה הואץ זיל גמור.

שבת · לא א


There was another incident involving one gentile who came before Shammai and said to Shammai: Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot. Shammai pushed him away with the builder’s cubit in his hand. This was a common measuring stick and Shammai was a builder by trade. The same gentile came before Hillel. He converted him and said to him: That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.


 Lesson 1  


A triumvirate at the top

ישראל ואוריתא וקודשא בריך הוא חד הוא

Yisrael vOraita vKudsha Brichu CHad Hu-based on a kabbalistic statement:

The people of Israel- The Torah- and the  Holy One, Blessed be He, are one.

In other words, all intertwined.


The opening of the Kuzari, by R Yehudah HaLevy

Philosophy can not be the source of truth, since all arguments can be turned on their heads. Christianity and Islam claim their truth from the account of the Jewish people. It is in the collective experience of the people of Israel then, that we derive the truth.

 There is no word for religion in the Bible- the word we use is “dat”, which is a Persian loan word- Law. Esther- “ their laws are different”. Our word” religion” from a later Latin concept” religere” rebinding.

Judaism means both a religion in the modern- sense- a system of beliefs-and the totality of the creation of the Jewish people as the response to its belief that it has a mission from the Divine and that mission is embodied in the Torah, in its many manifest meanings. That puts us radically apart from Christianity and Islam as well as pure philosophy. The “ faith” part of Judaism is not ours only- it is open to all. What is unique is our path( halakhah) and our method (Torah).

So, we start with the people



The line in the prayer book just before the morning and evening Shma,” who has chosen thy people Israel in love” and “who loves his people Israel”


Made explicit in Deuteronomy 7:6–8 ( New Jewish Version):


For you are a people consecrated to the Lord your God: of all the peoples on earth the Lord your God chose you to be His treasured people. It is not because you are the most numerous of peoples that the Lord set His heart on you and chose you—indeed you are the smallest of peoples; but it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He made with your fathers that the Lord freed you with a mighty hand and rescued you from the house of bondage, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

The background : disobedience of humankind: Adam-Eve, Cain-Abel, Noah-flood, Babel.  God charts out a new path through Abraham and his descendants are singled out not merely as the object of the divine blessing but also as its channel to all humanity.

 ... mutually binding agreement, a covenant between the two parties.   Brit bein Habetarim, brit milah. Late, brit at Sinai with Torah. The content of the covenantal obligations thus formalized was Torah...

 This obligation is expressed in the sense of, mitzwot, singular mitzwa, commandments- obligations= that are part of Torah. 

Hence, phrasing of the Torah blessings:“He who chose us from among all the peoples and gave us His Torah,” connects election with revelation ( some movements in modern times, uncomfortable with this emphasis—Rabbi Kaplan- “ asher keravanu” who has brought us close- but that is a euphemism. “Chosen” can be a problem, as Fiddler on the Roof= chose someone else.)

 Abraham and his descendants, for example, were seen as the means by which the estrangement of disobedient humankind from God was to be overcome.

 Torah was the formative principle. Israel was to be   ממלכת כהנים גוי קדוש

a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6) functioning within humanity and for its sake

 Isaiah 43:10

אַתֶּ֤ם עֵדַי֙ נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֔ה וְעַבְדִּ֖י אֲשֶׁ֣ר בָּחָ֑רְתִּי לְמַ֣עַן תֵּ֠דְע֠וּ וְתַאֲמִ֨ינוּ לִ֤י וְתָבִ֙ינוּ֙ כִּֽי־אֲנִ֣י ה֔וּא לְפָנַי֙ לֹא־נ֣וֹצַר אֵ֔ל וְאַחֲרַ֖י לֹ֥א יִהְיֶֽה׃ {ס}     

 אֲנִ֧י יְהֹוָ֛ה קְרָאתִ֥יךָֽ בְצֶ֖דֶק וְאַחְזֵ֣ק בְּיָדֶ֑ךָ וְאֶצׇּרְךָ֗ וְאֶתֶּנְךָ֛ לִבְרִ֥ית עָ֖ם לְא֥וֹר גּוֹיִֽם׃

I the LORD, in My grace, have summoned you,
And I have grasped you by the hand.
I created you, and appointed you a light of nations-c

לִפְקֹ֖חַ עֵינַ֣יִם עִוְר֑וֹת לְהוֹצִ֤יא מִמַּסְגֵּר֙ אַסִּ֔יר מִבֵּ֥ית כֶּ֖לֶא יֹ֥שְׁבֵי חֹֽשֶׁךְ׃ d

Opening eyes deprived of light,-d
Rescuing prisoners from confinement,
From the dungeon those who sit in darkness.


Religious faith, far from being restricted to or encapsulated in the cult, found expression in the totality of communal and individual life.

One of the important recurring themes of the prophetic movement was the adamant rejection of any tendency to limit divine sovereignty to the partial area of “religion,” understood as the realm of the priesthood and cult….

Pharisaic Judaism and its continuation, Rabbinic Judaism, resolutely held to the idea of the all-pervasive functioning of Torah, …,





The Jewish people were not to be seen as controlling the nations of the world, but of serving, “ Or LaGoyim”.  1) The non-Jew had, from Jewish perspective, a separate path to God-7 mitzvoth benei Noach- a universal moral, not faith, code.

.2) Membership in the community, at the start, was by descent, eventually defined as descent through the mother

3) The  non-Jew would be absorbed through marriage and eventually, through a status of “ ger”, the foreigner who has come to dwell in our midst ( individuals, sometimes, entire towns or community). Most close example—US citizenship- passed on by birth to US citizen or by naturalization.

Thus, Jews can not constitute a race; rather, the similarity of DNA among dispersed Jews world wide reflects a common history, without being exclusive and rejectionist.



Judaism sees the language of the people as essential to conveying and expressing the values of Judaism over the course of centuries and over thousands of miles.

Hebrew is imbued with a “ mystical” status, seen as the language upon which the universe is built (this is similar to position of Arabic in Islam). Thus, over the centuries, a Jew could comprehend Biblical , and Mishnaic Hebrew from a thousand and more years before, and with that, also study and pray with and conduct business with a Jew from any other part of the globe.Note: Christians could use Latin in Christian Europe, Muslims could use Arabic in North Africa and Asia—but only Jews could conduct their business globally!


 Aramaic, a cognate of Hebrew, functioned as the international or imperial language in official life and gained a foothold as a vernacular. The language of the Mishna, far from being a scholar’s dialect, seems to reflect popular speech, as did the Koine (common) 

 [Note: The Hebrew of the period of the 2nd Temple and the centuries following had a distinct format and structure from Biblical Hebrew. However, Jews, over the centuries, could comprehend both tyoes of Hebrew.]

In each land, Jews were multi-lingual-1) they used the Hebrew ( and Aramaic) in worship, study, and commerce, 2) the local language,3) created a patois of their own( Judeo  hyphen -Spanish( Ladino) German( Yiddish) Persian(Dzhidi), Arabic (arabiyya yahudiya) , often preserving the original language as spoken centuries before, in Hebrew script, with Hebrew loan words.


On of the greatest linguistic feats of all times was the rebirth of Hebrew from mostly read=written text, to an actively used modern language-within the course of a few decades.




Closely related to the concept of Israel as the chosen, or covenant, people is the role of the land of Israel.

Promised to Abraham and Descendants

It is the goal of the Exodus

Many Biblical commands are specific to life in the land of Israel-shmittah, jubilee,first fruit, sacrifice, gleanings.

However, in contrast to the pagans, the God of Israel was God of all creation. When a city was destroyed, it was the local deity who was destroyed. For the Bible, if the city or land was destroyed, it was the result of the will of God, not from powerlessness.

 Thus, with the loss of land, the people did not lose their purpose. They were restored once, after the first fall, and thereby found the strength to overcome the second loss! (

Note- one Jewish family retained its roots in the land over these 1000s of years. The related community of Israelites, the Samaritans, never left, although they shrank to only a few hundred)


The daily worshipped reenforced this three times a day:


בְּתוֹךְ יְרוּשָׁלַֽיִם עִֽירְךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּֽרְתָּ, וְכִסֵּא דָוִד עַבְדְּךָ מְהֵרָה בְּתוֹכָהּ תָּכִין, וּבְנֵה אוֹתָהּ בִּנְיַן עוֹלָם בִּמְהֵרָה

 בְיָמֵֽינוּ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יֻהֻוֻהֻ, בּוֹנֵה יְרוּשָׁלָיִם:

Dwell within Jerusalem Your city, as You spoke about, & the throne of David, Your servant, speedily prepare it within it, & build it an eternal structure speedily in our days. Blessed are You, L·rd, Who builds Jerusalem.


At every wedding:Ps 137

 אִֽם־אֶשְׁכָּחֵ֥ךְ יְֽרוּשָׁלָ֗͏ִם תִּשְׁכַּ֥ח יְמִינִֽי׃  

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither;b

The claassic definition of the the age of the Messiah is, in the words of Shmuel, one of the founders of what would become the Talmud:

דאמר שמואל אין בין העולם הזה לימות המשיח אלא שעבוד גלויות בלבד

Ain beyn yemot hamoshiach ele shibud galuyot bilvad( Shabbat 63a).

There is no difference between this world and the days of the Messiah except for the end of the servitude of exile.


Despite the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70, and the crushing and genocide of Jews in 135 at the fall of Bar Kochba, the Jewish community was able create the Mishna , the Midrash, the Talmud Yerushalmi, and later, the key texts of later Kabbalah and the most wide spread code of Jewish law, the Shulchan Arukh.

Best expression of longing:

ליבי במזרח / יהודה הלוי

קפיצה לניווטקפיצה לחיפוש

לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מַעֲרָב

אֵיךְ אֶטְעֲמָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר אֹכַל וְאֵיךְ יֶעֱרָב

אֵיכָה אֲשַׁלֵּם נְדָרַי וָאֱסָרַי, בְּעוֹד

צִיּוֹן בְּחֶבֶל אֱדוֹם וַאֲנִי בְּכֶבֶל עֲרָב

יֵקַל בְּעֵינַי עֲזֹב כָּל טוּב סְפָרַד, כְּמוֹ

יֵקַר בְּעֵינַי רְאוֹת עַפְרוֹת דְּבִיר נֶחֱרָב!

My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west--

How can I find savour in food? How shall it be sweet to me?

How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet

Zion lieth beneath the fetter of Edom, and I in Arab chains?

A light thing would it seem to me to leave all the good things of Spain --

Seeing how precious in mine eyes to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.

There were constant attempts at return, invited back by Saladin, then later by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent ( to be fair, before modern times, Moslem leaders were often more welcoming than their Christian counterparts). There was a wave of Hasidim that came in the 1700’s, a Yemenite wave in 1881, the same time as Bilu, before there was a Zionist movement. My father’s great grandfather and mother sold all their possessions at the age of 80 and moved to Safed around that time ( only to be murdered by the locals a few years later).


Modern Zionism- a consequence of the fact that Europe could not tolerate its Jews in the modern nationalist environment, something that would be repeated in the newly awakened nationalism of the Arab world. What began as a trickle became a wave and then a flood, as we all too well know. Eventually, both Europe and the Middle East would be emptied almost totally of their Jews. The political movement of modern Zionism, as envisioned and promoted by Herzl, became essential to Jewish survival. It would override the belief of the Orthodox world. That only God would bring about the return, at the end of days, and the belief of liberal and secular Jews, that the new world of enlightenment and revolution would welcome Jews with open arms.


In the 21 st century, it remains to be seen if a large and identifiable Jewish community ( as opposed to people whose ancestors happened to be Jews)  is viable and vibrant, outside of the land of Israel, or disconnected from it.