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Judaica (clockwise from top): Shabbat candlesticks, handwashing cup, Chumash and Tanakh, Torah pointer, shofar and etrog box

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

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

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Tomb of Joseph at Shechem 1839, by David Roberts.jpg

Joseph's Tomb is a funerary monument located at the eastern entrance to the valley that separates Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus, near the site of Shechem. Biblical tradition identifies the general area of Shechem as the resting-place of Joseph and his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph's tomb has been venerated throughout the ages by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Post-biblical records about the Tomb's location at this site date from the 4th century. The present structure, a small rectangular room with a cenotaph, dates from 1868. Modern scholarship has yet to determine if the cenotaph is the ancient biblical gravesite. No sources prior to the 5th century mention the tomb, and the structure originally erected over it appears to have been built by the Samaritans.

Joseph's Tomb has witnessed intense sectarian conflict. Samaritans and Christians disputing access and title to the site in the early Byzantine period often clashed violently. After Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, conflict from competing Jewish and Muslim claims over the tomb became frequent. Though under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority after the signing of the Oslo Accords, it remained under IDF guard with Muslims prohibited. At the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, just after being handed over to the PNA, it was looted and razed by a Palestinian mob. Following Israel's reoccupation of Nablus in the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield, Jewish groups returned there intermittently. Recently the structure has been refurbished, with a new cupola installed, and visits by Jewish worshipers have resumed. (Read more...)

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Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem

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The Rhodes blood libel was an 1840 event of blood libel against Jews, in which the Greek Orthodox community accused Jews on island of Rhodes (then part of the Ottoman Empire) of the ritual murder of a Christian boy who disappeared in February of that year. Initially the libel garnered support from the consuls of several European countries, including the United Kingdom, France, the Austrian Empire, although later several supported the Jewish community. The Ottoman governor of Rhodes broke with the long tradition of the Ottoman governments (which had previously denied the factual basis of the blood libel accusations) and supported the ritual murder charge. The government arrested several Jewish subjects, some of whom were tortured and made false confessions. It blockaded the entire Jewish quarter for twelve days.

The Jewish community of Rhodes appealed for help from the Jewish community in Constantinople, who forwarded the appeal to European governments. In the United Kingdom and Austria, Jewish communities gained support from their governments. They sent official dispatches to the ambassadors in Constantinople unequivocally condemning the blood libel. A consensus developed that the charge was false. The governor of Rhodes proved unable to control the local fanatical Christians and sent the case to the central government, which initiated a formal inquiry into the affair. In July 1840, that investigation established the innocence of the Jewish community. Finally, in November of the same year, the Ottoman sultan issued a decree (firman) denouncing the blood libel as false. (Read more...)

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A shofar, blown during the month of Elul

Credit: Greg (talk)

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Weekly Torah Portion

Ki Tavo (כי תבוא)
Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8
The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues on Shabbat, Saturday, 21 Elul, 5779—September 21, 2019
“A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.” (Deuteronomy 26:5.)
Thank offering unto the Lord.jpg
Moses directed the Israelites that when they entered the land that God was giving them, they were to take some of every first fruit of the soil that they harvested, put it in a basket, and take it to the place where God would choose to establish God’s name. There they were to go to the priest in charge and acknowledge that they had entered the land that God swore to their fathers. The priest was to set the basket down in front of the altar. They were then to recite:

“A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. And we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders. And He has brought us into this place, and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, that You, O Lord, have given me.”

They were to leave the basket before the altar, bow low to God, and then feast on and enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger, the bounty that God had given them.

When they had given the tenth part of their yield to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, in the third year, the year of the tithe, they were to declare before God:

“'I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to Your commandment that You have commanded me; I have not transgressed any of Your commandments, neither have I forgotten them. I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I put away thereof, being unclean, nor given thereof for the dead; I have hearkened to the voice of the Lord my God, I have done according to all that You have commanded me. Look from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel, and the land that You have given us, as You swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

a large stone inscribed with the law code of Hammurabi

Moses exhorted the Israelites to observe these laws faithfully with all their heart and soul, noting that they had affirmed that the Lord was their God, that they would walk in God’s ways, that they would observe Gods laws, and that they would obey God. And God affirmed that the Israelites were God’s treasured people, and that God would set them high above all the nations in fame and renown and glory, and that they would be a holy people to God.

Moses and the elders charged the people that as soon as they had crossed the Jordan River, they were to set up large stones on Mount Ebal, coat them with plaster, and inscribe on them all the words of the Torah most distinctly. There they were also to build an altar to God made of unhewn stones on which no iron tool had struck, and they were to offer on it burnt offerings to God and offerings of well-being and rejoice.

Moses and the priests told all Israel to hear: They had become the people of God, and should heed God and observe God’s commandments.

Moses charged the people that after they had crossed the Jordan, the tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin were to stand on Mount Gerizim when the blessings were spoken, and the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphthali were to stand on Mount Ebal when the curses were spoken. The Levites were then loudly to curse anyone who: made a sculptured image, insulted father or mother, moved a fellow countryman’s landmark, misdirected a blind person, subverted the rights of the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, lay with his father’s wife, lay with any beast, lay with his sister, lay with his mother-in-law, struck down his fellow countryman in secret, accepted a bribe in the case of the murder of an innocent person, or otherwise would not observe the commandments; and for each curse all the people were to say, “Amen.”

panorama showing Mount Gerizim on the left, Mount Ebal on the right, and modern Nablus (ancient Shechem) between
(photographed by and copyright Uwe A; for licensing information, double-click on the picture)

On the other hand, if they obeyed God and observed faithfully all the commandments, then God would set them high above all the nations of the earth, bless them in the city and the country, bless the issue of their wombs, the produce of their soil, and the fertility of their herds and flocks, bless their basket and their kneading bowl, bless them in their comings and goings, rout their enemies, bless them upon their barns and all their undertakings, bless them in the land, establish them as God’s holy people, give them abounding prosperity, provide rain in season, and make them the head and not the tail.

But if they did not obey God and observe faithfully the commandments, then God would curse them in the city and the country, curse their basket and kneading bowl, curse the issue of their womb, the produce of their soil, and the fertility of their herds and flocks, curse them in their comings and goings, loose on them calamity, panic, and frustration in all their enterprises, make pestilence cling to them, strike them with tuberculosis, fever, inflammation, scorching heat, drought, blight, and mildew, turn the skies to copper and the earth to iron, make the rain into dust, rout them before their enemies, strike them with the Egyptian inflammation, hemorrhoids, boil-scars, itch, madness, blindness, and dismay. If they paid the bride price for a wife, another man would enjoy her; if they built a house, they would not live in it; if they planted a vineyard, they would not harvest it.
Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (painting by Francesco Hayez)
Their oxen would be slaughtered before their eyes, but they would not eat of it; their ass would be seized and not returned; their flock would be delivered to their enemies; their sons and daughters would be delivered to another people; a people they did not know would eat up the produce of their soil and all their gains; they would be abused and downtrodden continually, until they were driven mad; God would afflict them at the knees and thighs with a severe inflammation; God would drive them to an unknown nation where they would serve other gods, of wood and stone; and they would be a consternation, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples. Locusts would consume their seed, worms would devour their vineyards, the olives would drop off their olive trees, their sons and daughters would go into captivity, the cricket would take over all the trees and produce of their land, the stranger in their midst would rise above them, the stranger would be their creditor, and the stranger would be the head and they the tail.
Thirst (painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau)
Because they would not serve God in joy over abundance, they would have to serve in hunger and thirst, naked and lacking everything, the enemies whom God would let loose against them. God would bring against them a ruthless nation from afar, whose language they would not understand, to devour their cattle and produce of their soil and to shut them up in their towns until every mighty wall in which they trusted had come down. And when they were shut up under siege, they would eat the flesh of their sons and daughters. God would inflict extraordinary plagues and diseases on them until they would have a scant few left, for as God once delighted in making them prosperous and many, so would God delight in causing them to perish and diminish. God would scatter them among all the peoples from one end of the earth to the other, but even among those nations they would find no place to rest. In the morning they would say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening they would say, “If only it were morning!” God would send them back to Egypt in galleys and they would offer themselves for sale as slaves, but none would buy.

Moses reminded the Israelites that they had seen all that God did to Pharaoh and Egypt, yet they did not yet understand. Moses led them through the wilderness 40 years, their clothes and sandals did not wear out, and they survived without bread to eat and wine to drink so that they might know that the Lord was their God. They defeated King Sihon of Heshbon and King Og of Bashan, took their land, and gave it to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Therefore Moses urged them to observe faithfully all the commandments, that they might succeed in all that they undertook.

Hebrew and English Text
Hear the parshah chanted
Commentary from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University (Conservative)
Commentary from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Conservative)
Commentary by the Union for Reform Judaism (Reform)
Commentaries from Project Genesis (Orthodox)
Commentaries from (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Aish HaTorah (Orthodox)
Commentaries from the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (Reconstructionist)
Commentaries from My Jewish Learning (trans-denominational)


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