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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. Judaism 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, 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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The Western Wall is located in the Old City of Jerusalem at the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount. It is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple's courtyard, and is perhaps the most sacred site recognized by the Jewish faith outside of the Temple Mount itself. Just over half the wall, including its 17 courses located below street level, dates from the end of the Second Temple period. Constructed around 19 BCE by Herod the Great, the works were probably not finished during his lifetime. The remaining layers were added from the 7th century onwards. The Western Wall refers not only to the exposed section facing a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter, but also to the sections concealed behind structures running along the whole length of the Temple Mount, such as the Little Western Wall–a 25 ft (8 m) section in the Muslim Quarter.

It has been a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage for centuries; the earliest source mentioning Jewish attachment to the site dates back to the 4th century. From the mid-19th century onwards, various Jews tried, without success, to purchase rights to the wall. In the early 20th century, the wall became a source of friction between the Jewish community and the Muslim religious leadership, and outbreaks of violence at the foot of the wall became commonplace. After the 1948 Arab–Israeli War the wall came under Jordanian control and Jews were barred from the site for 19 years until Israel recaptured the Old City Six-Day War in 1967. (Read more...)

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Black Hebrew Israelites (also Black Hebrews, African Hebrew Israelites, and Hebrew Israelites) are groups of people of African ancestry situated mainly in the United States who believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. Black Hebrews adhere in varying degrees to the religious beliefs and practices of mainstream Judaism. They are generally not accepted as Jews by the greater Jewish community, and many Black Hebrews consider themselves—and not mainstream Jews—to be the only authentic descendants of the ancient Israelites. Many choose to self-identify as Hebrew Israelites or Black Hebrews rather than as Jews. Dozens of Black Hebrew groups were founded during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the mid-1980s, the number of Black Hebrews in the United States was between 25,000 and 40,000. In the 1990s, the Alliance of Black Jews estimated that there were 200,000 African-American Jews; this estimate was based on a 1990 survey conducted by the Council of Jewish Federations. The exact number of Black Hebrews within that surveyed group remains unspecified. (Read more...)

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Three matzot

Credit: Edsel Little

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Weekly Torah Portion

Passover Day VIII
Deuteronomy 14:22–16:17 & Numbers 28:19–25
The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues outside of Israel on Shabbat, Saturday, 22 Nisan, 5779—April 27, 2019
“And you shall remember that you were a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you.” (Deuteronomy 15:15.)

Deuteronomy 14:22–16:17: Moses instructed that the Israelites were to set aside every year a tenth part of their harvest. They were to consume the tithes of their new grain, wine, and oil, and the firstlings of their herds and flocks, in the presence of God in the place where God would choose. If the distance was too great, they could convert the tithes or firstlings into money, take the proceeds to the place that God had chosen, and spend the money and feast there. They were not to neglect the Levite in their community, for the Levites had no hereditary portion of land.

Moses instructed that every third year, the Israelites were to take the full tithe, but leave it within their settlements, and the Levite, the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow in their settlements could come and eat.

The Year of Jubilee (painting by Henry Le Jeune)

Moses instructed that every seventh year, the Israelites were to remit debts from fellow Israelites, although they could continue to dun foreigners. There would be no needy among them if only they kept all God’s laws, for God would bless them.

Moses instructed that if one of their kinsmen fell into need, the Israelites were not to harden their hearts, but were to open their hands and lend what the kinsman needed. The Israelites were not to harbor the base thought that the year of remission was approaching and not lend, but they were to lend readily to their kinsman, for in return God would bless them in all their efforts.

Moses instructed that if a fellow Hebrew was sold into servitude, the Hebrew slave would serve six years, and in the seventh year go free. When the master set the slave free, the master was to give the former slave parting gifts. Should the slave tell the master that the slave did not want to leave, the master was to take an awl and put it through the slave’s ear into the door, and the slave was to become the master’s slave in perpetuity.

Moses instructed that the Israelites were to consecrate to God all male firstlings born in their herds and flocks and eat them with their household in the place that God would choose. If such an animal had a defect, the Israelites were not to sacrifice it, but eat it in their settlements, as long as they poured out its blood on the ground.

Moses instructed the Israelites to observe Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Three times a year, on those three Festivals, all Israelite men were to appear in the place that God would choose, each with his own gift, according to the blessing that God had bestowed upon him.

Numbers 28:19–25: God told Moses that every Passover, for seven days, the Israelites were to present to God the following offerings: two bulls, one ram, and seven lambs as burnt offerings; meal offerings; and a goat as a sin offering.

Hebrew and English Text of Deuteronomy 14:22–16:17 & Numbers 28:19–25
Hear the parshah chanted
Commentary from Conservative Judaism by the Jewish Theological Seminary
Commentary from Reform Judaism
Commentaries from Orthodox Judaism by Project Genesis
Commentaries from Orthodox Judaism by Chabad.org
Commentaries from Aish.com
Commentaries from Reconstructionist Judaism


The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues in Israel on Shabbat, Saturday, 22 Nisan, 5779—April 27, 2019—is Acharei.

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