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Judaism (from the Greek Ioudaïsmos, derived from the Hebrew יהודה, Yehudah, "Judah") is the religion of the Jewish people, based on the principles and ethics embodied in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), as further explored and explained in the Talmud. Judaism is among the oldest religious traditions still practiced today and is considered one of the world's first monotheistic faiths. At the core of Judaism is the belief in a single, omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God, who created the universe and continues to govern it. In 2007, the world Jewish population was estimated to be 13.2 million people—41 percent in Israel and the other 59 percent in the diaspora. The traditional criterion for membership in Judaism or the Jewish people has been being born to a Jewish mother or taking the path of conversion.

Jewish tradition maintains that the history of Judaism begins with the Covenant between God and Abraham (c. 1800 BCE), the patriarch and progenitor of the Jewish people. According to the traditional Jewish belief, God also created another covenant with the Israelites (the ancestors of the Jewish people), and revealed his laws and commandments (Mitzvot) to them on Mount Sinai in the form of the Written Torah. Traditional Judaism also maintains that an Oral Torah was revealed at the same time and, after being passed down verbally for generations, was later transcribed in the Talmud. Laws, traditions, and learned Rabbis who interpret these texts and their numerous commentaries comprise the modern authority on Jewish tradition. While each Jew's level of observance varies greatly, the traditional practice of Judaism revolves around the study and observance of God's Mitzvot.

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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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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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Weekly Torah Portion

Bo (בא)
Exodus 10:1–13:16
The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues on Shabbat, Saturday, 4 Shevat, 5778—January 20, 2018
"Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and of your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians . . . ." (Exodus 10:1–2.)
Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh (painting by Benjamin West)

After seven plagues, God continued visiting plagues on Egypt. Moses and Aaron warned Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, or suffer locusts covering the land. Pharaoh’s courtiers pressed Pharaoh to let the men go, so Pharaoh brought Moses and Aaron back and asked them, “Who are the ones to go?” Moses insisted that young and old, sons and daughters, flocks and herds would go, but Pharaoh rejected Moses’ request and expelled Moses and Aaron from his presence. Moses held his rod over the land, and God drove an east wind to bring locusts to invade all the land. Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, asked forgiveness, and asked them to plead with God to remove the locusts. Moses did so, and God brought a west wind to lift the locusts into the Sea of Reeds. But God stiffened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.

Then God instructed Moses to hold his arm toward the sky to bring darkness upon the land, and Moses did so, but the Israelites enjoyed light. Pharaoh summoned Moses and told him to go, leaving only the Israelites’ flocks and herds behind, but Moses insisted that none of the Israelites’ livestock be left behind, for “[W]e shall not know with what we are to worship the LORD until we arrive there.” But God stiffened Pharaoh’s heart, and he expelled Moses saying: “[T]he moment you look upon my face, you shall die.” Moses warned Pharaoh that God would kill every firstborn in Egypt, but not a dog of the Israelites. And Moses left Pharaoh in hot anger.

God told Moses and Aaron to mark that month as the first of the months of the year. And God told them to instruct the Israelites in the laws of Passover, and the Israelites obeyed.

In the middle of the night, God struck down all the firstborn in Egypt. Pharaoh arose in the night to a loud cry in Egypt, summoned Moses and Aaron, and told them to take the Israelites and go. So the Israelites took their dough before it was leavened, borrowed silver, gold, and clothing from the Egyptians, and left the Land of Goshen for Sukkot. God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to consecrate to God every firstborn man and beast, and Moses did so.

Hebrew–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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