Questions from my search terms

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Some more or less recent search terms that landed people on my blog:

warthog chews the cud and have a split hooves???
You are right to add three question marks: No, like pigs, warthogs do not chew their cud. But they do have split hooves!
[btw, this is the third time that I have a question about warthogs in a blog about my search terms!]

why does the world care about israel
Good question. I have some thoughts on that in this blog post.

is sexual perversion a precursor to civilizations crumbling
I don’t know what the person was looking for and I doubt she found something relevant on this blog, but I didn’t want to deprive you of this important question. So what do you think?

Little Mosque S2E13 – The Crush

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Amaar thinks that Layla has a crush on him, Baber thinks Amaar and Rayyan are in love. Yassir wins tickets to a concert that both Fred and McGee desperately want to go to so he lets them do all sorts of things for him. Fatima decides to become a citizen of Canada and starts studying for the test with Sarah, which is a bad choice, but despite this she suceeds in the end.

Best quote:

Fatima: You should stop complaining and be more grateful.
Fred: The entire point of being Canadian is complaining about the government! That’s what made this country great!
[…]
Fatima: You have no idea how lucky you are! If I were a citizen of this country…
Fred: Hold the phones sister, you’re not a citizen?
Fatima: No.
[…]
Fred: Start paying taxes, then we’ll talk.
Fatima: But I do pay taxes.
Fred: Really? Seems like a ripp-off.

In this episode Fatima becomes a Canadian citizen, but we do not learn a lot about the process or her history (how long has she been in Canada, why did she come?). What is required to become a citizen of a country? You need to live in the country for a while, learn the language, know about the culture, history and political system of the country. You need to adopt the values of the country and identify yourself with that country. The first part (residency, language, facts) can be checked with tests. But how do you check values or whether someone identifies with the country? What does that really mean?

The issue of "values" usually comes up when practices of immigrants or minority groups appear foreign, like wearing a headscarf, circumcision or not keeping the same holidays. At the moment the discussion mostly focusses on Muslims, but Jews have been the subject of many of the same issues. Let’s take the head scarf. Many say that equality of men an women is a Western value. Some say that wearing a headscarf goes against this value, as it is supposed to be a symbol of women’s oppression. Same can be sais of orthodoxy’s refusal to ordain women rabbis or count women in the prayer quorum. But is dressing in a certain way or doing certain religious rituals a "value"? And what about Catholicism where women cannot be priests, isn’t that against Western values? Does this mean that Catholics cannot become Canadian citizens (or citizens of any other Western country)? What about if I value life and am against the death penalty, does this mean I cannot become a citizen of the USA where they have the death penalty? That is pretty ridiculous when many citizens oppose the death penalty. On the other hand, what if I’m against democracy? I do not have any answers here, but before shouting about immigrants and them accepting our values, we should first determine what our values on actually are and to which extent we, the citizens, follow them. And whether these values are connected at all to what we perceive as foreign (clothes, holidays, etc).

The issue of identification with or loyalty to the country is also a hot topic that comes up from time to time. In times of crisis or war, charges of disloyalty have been brought against those with actual dual citizenships (e.g., the US incarcerating Japanese-Americans during World War II) or with an assumed connection to a different state or other power (e.g., German catholics being accused of loyalty to the Vatican). And of course Jews have a long history of being accused of having the wrong loyalties. I cheer for Israel at international competitions – in addition to Germany (my country), Spain (where I have lived), France and Poland (where I have friends) and the Netherlands and Austria (where I have family). I think it is totally possible to feel connected or identify with different places at the same time. That I love Israel doesn’t mean that I won’t defend Germany or that am less loyal to it (if we must use this word).

This post is long enough, so I will stop here. I am sorry that is not so much a point in what I have written. It rather is a series of musings on the topic.

Little Mosque S2E12 – Jihad on Ice

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Fred says that Muslims can’t curl (some strange Canadian sport played on ice), so obviously Amaar puts together a team to prove him wrong. Rayyan is very good at playing, but bad in a team, so she changes to Fred’s team, who proceed to kick out Fred, who then gets Rayyan banned for wearing the hijab. In the B-story, Yassir sells Sarah’s clothes to a second-hand store when she makes him pay for her shopping.

Best quote:

Amaar: Sarah, you must know how to curl?
Sarah: Oh, I get it, just because I’m white I must know how to curl, like all white people curl?
Amaar: DO you know how to curl?
Sarah: Well, yes.

It is not really discussed in this episoce, but let’s talk about banning the hijab. There have been such attempts in various countries, for example France, Germany and Turkey. In Turkey it was forbiden to wear the headscarf in public buildings (like schools, universities, courtrooms) from 1924 until 2008 (Wikipedia). In France the wearing of a face covering was made illegal in 2010 (Wikipedia). Germany has seen several lawsuits of headscarf-wearing teachers, lawyers and others, in most cases the wearing of a headcovering was ruled to be forbidden (Wikipedia). And so on. The laws are mainly aimed at Muslim women, but they affect Jews too, because religious Jewish men and married orthodox women cover their heads.

So what are (some of) the arguments? One is, that people think the scarf is a symbol of the oppression of women. This is of course difficult to answer in general, but there definitely exists a movement of strong, independent, educated women who decide to wear the scarf out of their own will. And if we ban symbols of the repression of women, let’s talk about a ban on playboy and I’m sure we can find more.

A second argument is, that a headscarf is a religious symbol and religious symbols have no place in public life. Consequently, supporters of this argument also have to ban the distinctive dress of nuns and monks or the wearing of a cross or t-shirts with religious messages. While many of them will support even that, in my opinion this is a serious misconception about what freedom of religion means. It does not mean freedom from religion or forced secularization. It means that everybody is free to chose and live her own religion – inside the boundaries of a democratic society of course (no, you should not be allowed to sacrifice people because you are a practicer of Mayan religion). And wearing a scarf is after all only clothing, it does not restrict the rights of others in any way.

Third, the claim is that certain people need to be neutral and un-biased (teachers, judges, state officials). This is why they cannot express their own political and religous opinions. While I agree that I don’t want a teacher to brainwash children in class, I don’t see anything wrong with just knowing about her affiliations. Does it really change anything if I know that this particular teacher is Muslim? Or member of some political party? Maybe it is really not appropriate to know whether she supports a particular political or religious position, but in general the party or the religion? I don’t think so. Rather the opposite: don’t we want role models for young women that show that even as a religious scarf-wearing woman you can be whatever you want, including a teacher, a judge or a state official?

Last, people often make arguments from the desired outcome of such a ban. It would lead to more integration – I don’t really understand that, because you can only be integrated if you look like everybody else? People who dress like hippies or rockers are not integrated? People with a different skin-color cannot be integrated at all? Or, it would lead to more rights/education/work possibilities for women, which I honestly don’t see. An oppressed woman who is forced to wear a veil is now because of the law required to take it off at university causing her to be free and independent? Isn’t it more likely that she will not go to university because of the "immoral" environment where women show their hair (and worse!)? And others. Which are after all only speculations, often made without asking the people involved: Women who want to wear headscarves.

To wrap it up, I don’t really see any good point for banning a head covering in a global way (of course if there are actual security concerns, e.g., it can get into machinery, that’s a different story). I have the impression that people are projecting their prejudices upon the discussion and do not really ask the women themselves.

The history of Hebrew

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As I am interested in historical linguistics, I have read a bit about the origins of the Hebrew alphabet. Of course most people would find the question odd. There’s a midrash that the Torah text preceded creation, one about why the Torah starts with the letter bet, and one on how the tablets with the commandmends where see-through and the inner parts of mem and samech floated. And probably more. Which are all based on the assumption that the Hebrew script has always been the same as it is now.

But there has been discoveries of Hebrew text written in a different script and there is actually even a discussion in the Talmud about the topic:

Mar Zutra or, as some say, Mar ‘Ukba said: Originally the Torah was given to Israel in Hebrew characters and in the sacred [Hebrew] language; later, in the times of Ezra, the Torah was given in Ashshurith script and Aramaic language. [Finally], they selected for Israel the Ashshurith script and Hebrew language, leaving the Hebrew characters and Aramaic language for the hedyototh. Who are meant by the ‘hedyototh’? — R. Hisda answers: The Cutheans. And what is meant by Hebrew characters? — R. Hisda said: The libuna’ah script.
(Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 21b, Soncino translation)

The ‘Hebrew characters’ may refer to Paleo-Hebrew letters. This Paleo-Hebrew script developed from Phoenician script and there are archeological records that it may have been the original way of writing Hebrew until the Second temple period where it was replaced by the Ashuri ("Assyrian") script, what we know as Hebrew script nowadays (Chaim Clorfene: Finding the Original Hebrew Script, Jewish virtual library: History of the Aleph-Bet).

The reference to the "Cutheans" is also interesting. The Soncino translation that I have quoted above contains a comment that "Cutheans" refers to the Samaritans. And actually the Samaritan alphabet for writing Samaritan Hebrew is a direct descendant of the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet. The Samaritans split off from the other Israelites probably around the time of the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel in approximately 721 BC, so it makes total sense that they would not switch to the Ashuri script but continue to write in their version of Paleo-Hebrew.

Although this timeline fits the archeological findings* (and you might think who cares how Hebrew was written a very long time ago), there is a theological problem with it. Namely, that in this setting the Torah given at Sinai would have been in a different script than the Torah we read today!! So what are we to make of midrashim, interpretations and inferences that base themselves on the letters of the Torah?

I am not qualified to give an answer, but I will end with the final words of the article that inspired this post:

My personal reflection on this subject is to avoid the mistake of thinking that if Paleo-Hebrew was the original, then it must be the holier of the two scripts. The fact is that Ezra, the father of Ashuri script, was the author of three books of the Hebrew Scriptures and worked with ruach hakodesh, a form of prophecy. The Hebrew letters that came from his hand contain some of the deepest and most mystical teachings of the Torah. These letters have sustained the Jewish people for 2500 years and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the future.
(Chaim Clorfene: Finding the Original Hebrew Script)

——
* In Sanhedrin 22a a second statement is brought in the name of Rabbi which basically states that the Torah was always written in Ashuri, except for a short period after the children of Israel entered the land of Israel, mixed with the locals, turned to idolatry and also adopted their script. Which was rectified by Ezra who re-introduced the original Ashuri script. Unfortunately, this does not seem to fit the archelogical evidence (Chaim Clorfene: Finding the Original Hebrew Script).

Little Mosque S2E11 – The Five Year Plan

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In a not-new-year’s-eve-party our protagonists talk about what they did 5 years ago: Amaar was a top-lawyer who got set up with 15 girls by his parents; Baber just moved to Mercy, made Fred angry at Muslims, and had dinner with his ex-wife; and non-hijjab-wearing Rayyan got invited to a party by her old high-school bully.

Best quote:

Rayyan: Amaar, what are you doing tonight, you want to come to a New Year’s Eve party?
Amaar: New Year’s Eve is not really a big Islamic holiday.
Rayyan: Ok, not a New Year’s Eve party then, just a dinner party that happens to take place on New Year’s Eve.
Yassir: Interesting distinction.
Rayyan: Oh come on, there is nothing in Islam that forbids socializing on the last day of December!
Amaar: Actually, in Islamic calendar, there is no last day of December.
Rayyan: There you go, it will be like it never happened.

For the last episode I wrote about Jews and celebrating Christmas. In this post I mainly want to talk about New Year’s, but a lot of the following can also be applied to Christmas of any other Christian holiday.

So what does Judaism actually say about New Year’s? Nothing. Celebrating the new year on January 1st is not something universal, it is just the start of the new year in the Gregorian calendar, the calendar used since Roman times by Christianity. Like Islam and many others, Judaism has its own calendar. To quote Amaar, "there is no last day of December", because Jewish calender has different names for the months and the months also start at different dates, the first of a month in Jewish calendar does not usually coincide with the start of a month in the Gregorian calendar. So no, December 31st is not a special date in Judaism. [If you are interested in the details of the Jewish calendar, read the calendar page at JewFAQ, or Wikipedia]

Does the Jewish year have a celebration for the new year? Yes, of course, it’s called Rosh haShana in Hebrew and the Jewish date is Tishri 1st, which usually falls somewhere during the months of September or October of the Gregorian calendar. The character is much different from the celebrations that usually take place on December 31st/January 1st though.

So, can a Jew host a dinner that just happens to take place at New Year’s? Well, you can in principal host a dinner any day you like. Even if it happens to be a national holiday. With a clearly purely secular holiday, e.g., independence day, there is also no issue if you make it into a celebration of that holiday. But when the holiday is clearly from a different religion, e.g., Christmas, many Jews are uncomfortable with having a family reunion on that day because this would give the impression of celebrating a holiday of a different faith. Between these two clear cases are other holidays where opinions differ on whether this is a secular or a religious holiday. One case that has generated many discussions is Thanksgiving, another is New Year’s. While the celebration of December 31st/January 1st doesn’t have a religious origin and many people today view it as the purely secular celebration of the year change, it also is a holiday in the Christian religious calendar. So opinions are mixed and accordingly some Jews will not celebrate it and others will. Just like Muslims, apparently.

Appearances

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Lately, I have been thinking a lot about appearances and how we put people into boxes based on appearances, especially as it relates to me wearing a tichel (scarf).

Where I live, there are not many observant Jews. So when I wear a headcovering and people see me, they assume I’m Muslim. The word that comes to mind immediately is "oppressed". And of course it clearly marks me as the OTHER, the minority. As a supposed Muslim not so much, but as a Jew, I will most probably be the only Jew they ever meet, and I "represent Judaism" to them. Which is scary and makes me awkwardly self-concious when I do something like cross a red light or complain in a restaurant. So sometimes I am really glad to be able to take off the scarf and just be seen as a regular person. How must it feel if you are discriminated daily because of something you cannot change, like your skin color?

When I decided to wear a headcovering (at least part-time), I was somewhat prepared for the reaction on non-Jews. What I wasn’t so much thinking abuot was how the Jewish crowd would perceive me. In fact, I have been wearing a tichel for nearly a year now and only once to synagogue, normally I go with a headband. Why? Well, when people see me with a tichel, they assume I’m very orthodox with all the negative stereotypes that entails. That I’m oppressed, living in some other century and a religious fanatic. And I don’t want to be put into that box. So I take off my headcovering to go to synagogue. Which is completely absurd.

Is this completely crazy? Am I overthinking this? [the answer is probably yes]

Little Mosque S2E10 – Eid’s a Wonderful Life

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Sarah misses Christmas and decorates the mosque for Eid with Christmas decorations. Fatima walks out and they end up with no food. McGee and Amaar fight over the parking for parallel events at the church-mosque. Layla reads from Dicken’s Christmas carol at the school show against Baber’s wishes.

Best quote:

Amaar [about parking]: Why don’t we just throw it open, first come, first serve?
McGee: First Eid year 600, first Christmas year 1. First come, first serve!

We have already talked about Layla feeling as the outsider at her school. Christmas of course is the perfect opportunity for that. Christmas is so pervasive, it is impossible to escape. And there is no question that many Jews celebrate Christmas in some way or other or at least attend celebrations at work or school. So, what is the limit, what is permissible, what isn’t? The general question is of course hard to answer and basically every individual needs to find a balance that she or her family is comfortable with. What I am writing here is purely my personal opinion, is open to debate and may change in the future as I grow and learn.

So let’s start with the relatively easy stuff, active participation or celebrating yourself. And I’d say that’s a clear "no". I don’t celebrate Christmas, just as I don’t celebrate Ramadan or the Chinese new year. I have my own holidays. So I think a Jew should not attend Christmas service in a church. Because it’s a religious ceremony and of a different faith. Christians don’t go to a Mosque to pray, Muslims don’t attend synagogue services, Jews don’t go to church. If (and there’s a big if) any Jewish individual wants to get to know Christian religious worship out of curiosity or as part of an interfaith/dialogue project, sure, do that, go and have a look – but on a regular day, not on a holiday. Synagogues, Jewish schools or other buildings and organizations should not put up decorations for Christmas. An exception could be if it is outside as part of a street-wide display or something like that. But just as it would be weird to have a booth in a Mosque for Succot, or an Italian flag for the Italian national holiday all over a Chinese city, it is weird to have a Christmas tree in a synagogue. A Jewish organization should also not host a Christmas dinner, hand out Christmas gifts, have a concert with Christmas music or anything similar. It’s just not a Jewish holiday. It’s also not a secular holiday. It’s the holiday of a different faith. I personally also would not do any of the above (decorations, dinner, music, gifts) in my home, but that is a more personal decision and especially in intermarried families there may be other equally valid ways to deal with this issue.

What about participation that is not active celebration of the holiday but more of an acknowledgement that others are celebrating? I’d mostly say "yes" to that, so long as it is clear that I am a guest a someone else’s festival. Just like I go share a Ramadan meal with my Muslim neighbors, I go to the (secular) Christmas party my boss or school throws. In this case, even if of course it is themed (decoration, music, etc), there is no religious component, it is just a party for the staff that takes place in the Christmas season, because this is the time when you have a party for your employees. We also have a party in June. I don’t write Christmas cards, but I know non-Christian people who think it’s a bad business decision not to write them and they send something non-religious, just as a reminder that there is some business contact. I accept Christmas gifts from well-meaning family (even though they should know better, but they want to send me something once a year and they chose Christmas for that), and I give gifts to those who expect them from me. They are celebrating and I as a guest at their celebration I do what is expected and polite to do. My choir has a Christmas concert that I am skipping if enough other people are there, but if they need me I will come and sing so that there is a concert to enjoy for those who celebrate the holiday. I am not so sure what I will let my children do (learn Christmas carols? make decorations? perform in a Christmas show? a church service?), but we’ll see which compromises we can find when the time comes. Bottom-line: I am not celebrating myself, but I try not to spoil it for the rest and my identity is strong enough that I can have fun with them as a guest.

This post is already way too long, there is much more to say about the topic, but in the end every person needs to take her own decision of how much Christmas she lets into her life. Just keep in mind that no matter what, it is not a Jewish holiday.

Little Mosque S2E9 – No Fly List

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Baber is keynote speaker at a conference in the US, but he is on the No Fly List. Rayyan and Amaar try to help him and convince him to travel to the US consulate. Fatima watches Layla and forces her to play some African game. The Mayor wants a private bathroom, Yasir massively underbids to get the contract, and in the end Fred gets in the way.

Best quote:

Amaar: If one Muslim is accused, it hurts us all.
Rayyan: Don’t you mean falsely accused?
Amaar: I suppose.

It doesn’t seem to be so much of a topic in the episode, but the underlying question that Baber should be asking himself (and his imam!) at the end is whether it was ok to lie to his friends and let them go to so much trouble on his behalf based on incorrect information. And I guess the answer should be "no" – in any religion.

Judaism takes the general prohibition of lying from "distance yourselves from falsehood" (Exodus 23:7) and "you shall not bear false witness" (Exodus 20:7, Deuteronomy 5:16). The scope of this prohibition is wide, it applies in business and personal life, with Jews and non-Jews, for everybody, all the time. You should not tell lies, make up stuff, omit important information, give a false impression or in any other way mislead people.

But of course, there are a few exceptions. For example you are allowed to make compliments that are not true, e.g., "your poem is great", "no, you don’t look fat" or "your cooking is delicious". No real harm comes from being polite here, on the contrary, you lie about something insignificant to avoid hurting others. Of course it is not ok to exaggerate widely in these circumstances. Another sort-of exception is that if somebody makes false assumptions, you don’t always need to correct them. If somebody asks you outright, you need to tell the truth. And it is forbidden to actively pretend to be something you are not. But you need not be more honest than required. For example if your employer asks whether you have taken drugs during your studies, you are not required to disclose that you took some drugs before you started your studies. And finally, you may of course lie to save a life. So if Nazis knock at your door and ask "do you know where the Jews are", you are not required to answer "yes in my basement", you are allowed to lie to save their lives (and your own) and make up some lie.

Some links for further reading: Jewish values online: Is leaving out information that only hurts people considered lying?, Jewish values online: Level of honesty required in job interviews, Torah musings: Truth and lies

Little Mosque S2E8 – Best Intentions

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Amaar compliments Baber without saying "Masha’Allah" ("thanks to Allah"), so Baber thinks he has attracted the evil eye. As a consquence, Baber has lots of bad luck. To get rid of the evil eye, Baber helps Amaar with his class for teens (which goes surprisingly well). Rayyan eats chocolate without paying and feels guilty which is the start of a series of things getting stolen. Sarah feels left out because she doesn’t get the office news any more.

Best quote:

Amaar: Baber, times have changed!
Baber: As Imam it is your duty to make sure they do not!

The evil eye is a known concept in Judaism as well, it’s also called the same, "ayin haRa" in Hebrew. The corresponding phrase to the Arabic "Masha’allah" in Hebrew is "bli ayin haRa" and in (butchered) Yiddish "keinahora". The concept is really old, the evil eye is already mentioned in the Talmud (e.g., Brachot 55b, Brachot 20a, Pirke Avot 2:10, Baba Metzia 107b, ) and it appears in Jewish texts throughout the times, e.g., Rashi comments on Genesis 16:5 that Sarah gives the evil eye to Hagar, or the Mishna Brura forbids to give an aliyah to father and son consecutively because of the evil eye (Kerias Hatorah Issues citing Mishna Brura 141:19).

Like in Islam, the evil eye causes bad things to happen to you and you get the evil eye because of jealousy. So how to avoid the evil eye in Judaism? Don’t talk about valuable item you have, your good luck, your children, and so on, or at least add the phrase mentioned above (Wikipedia: Evil Eye In Judaism). Try not to be jealous yourself (Aish Ask the Rabbi: Evil Eye – Ayin Hara). Or, the most simple and currently fashionable choice, wear a piece of red string on your left wrist (Chaviva Gordon-Bennett: Understanding the Ayin Hara). Additionally, you can put a hamsa in your house (Ariela Pelaia: What Is a Hamsa?). Or – follow Maimonides and countless other rationalists, refuse to believe that the evil eye exists and stop worrying about it (Chabad(!): Do You Believe in the “Evil Eye”?).

Kol isha

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Many have heard of the prohibition in Judaism for a man to hear a woman sing, called kol isha. The source for this is in the Talmud:

Shemuel said: The voice of a woman is nakedness (kol b’isha erva) as it says (Song of Songs 2:14) ‘for your voice is sweet and your countenance comely.’
(Talmud Berakhot 24a)

There are a few questions associated with this prohibition. What is the scope of the prohibition? Is it always prohibited or only sometimes? What exactly counts as the "voice" of a woman?

The topic is broad, but the general consensus in orthodoxy is that the prohibition applies at all times (even though it is stated in the Talmud in the context of praying the Shma), but it is only a woman’s singing that is prohibited, not speaking in general. If rationale behind the prohibition is that a woman’s voice will lead men to sin, it makes sense to allow normal talk, since all men are used to hearing women talk during normal life.

So what about singing? Some people say any singing even of girls is prohibited, but there are several possible leniencies in situations where it is unlikely that listening to a woman sing will lead a man to sin. Many people allow the voice of family members. Some authorities say that it is permitted if the man does not know what the woman looks like, e.g., on the radio. Another case that some authorities say is ok, is when the content of the song is definitely not sexual in any way, e.g., a shabat song, funeral song or lullaby. And finally, allowances can be made if there is a group of women singing together as "two voices cannot be distinguished".

What is clear in any case is, that the prohibition only applies to men. Women may hear other women sing without problems. There are actual all-women-bands who perform only for women audiences, e.g., the Bulletproof Stockings. So if a woman has talent as a singer, there are ways she can develop this talent.

A few links:
Chaburas: Kol Isha part 1, part 2
Michael Makovi: A New Hearing for Kol Ishah

Little Mosque S2E7 – Spy Something or Get Out

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Yasir and Sarah experiment with working from home. Amaar opens a store in the mosque and asks Rayyan and Baber to help. Fatima questions Nancy, a tourist who turns out to be from the Canadian secret service. Although Nancy only wants to be left alone and enjoy her holidays, they convince her to take a tour of the mosque and in the end manage to get the mosque put under surveillance.

Best quote:

Nancy: I was hoping to get some pie.
Fatima: We all hope for a lot of things.

My community has a store. It has about the same amount of sales as the Mercy mosque store, close to zero. Among other reasons, this is because nobody ever manages to go there – it is open for about two hours per week, from 2 to 3 or some other time when normal people work. Also, because very few people in the community are observant. Plus, there is the internet.

What is there that a normal supermarket doesn’t have, why do you need a Jewish store? Well, the main thing is kosher food. While many things that you can buy in the normal supermarket are kosher, a few things are difficult to get. Meat and wine for example. Or holiday specials, like Matzot for Pesach. Also, in a normal supermarket you will always have to pay a lot of attention. Yes, chocolate from brand X is kosher, but only the varieties A, B, and C, not D. And sometimes there is no choice, there is just that one kosher product of a certain category. Or even complete categories where there is no kosher brand (like frozen pizza). It feels very relaxing to be in a place where you can potentially buy everything you see and there is choice!

Another reason to go to a Jewish store is of course that it is the only possibility buy things that are connected to ritual (kipa, tallit, tefilin, etc). Or religious literature. Yes, you can order everything online, but a real shop is different. You can see and touch the items, you can browse and let yourself be inspired by the choice. And buy other stuff that you don’t really need: Jewish-themed jewelery, greeting cards, T-shirts, movies, etc.

While writing this I just noticed that it has been a very long time since I last entered a Jewish store. One of these days I have to make the time and visit our community store (if it still exists)!

Jewish texts online!

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Disclaimer: I am not connected to Sefaria in any way, this is just the enthusiastic sharing of something I discovered.

I have recently discovered Sefaria, a "living library of Jewish texts" according to their self-description. They have the texts of many classic Jewish sources, the Tanakh (bible), the Mishna and Talmud, many of the commentaries and even some of the important halachic works like the Shulchan Aruch. Some are only available in the Hebrew original, but for a few there is an English translation. The interface is intuitive and clear and the font looks nice.

And finally, the best feature: They have a source sheet creator! So I have tried to produce my first sheet and seen that many of my sources are only available in Hebrew. But you can add your own translations and even make them available to the community! So when I have more time, I will do that and publish the sources sheet.

Little Mosque S2E6 – Rival Imam

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Amaar has a visitor he knows from law school, Ali, who also became an Imam. Quickly the town starts to like him more than Amaar. In the middle of a drought, Rayyan tries to get the mosque to save water and go green, much to the dismay of Baber who likes to use a lot of water for washing. In a side-plot the mosque gets bad publicity from the lack of a wheelchair ramp and Yasir’s suboptimal effort in installing one.

Best quote:

Baber: Finally a real Imam with a beard!
Amaar: Everybody reads from the same Qur’an.
Baber: Yes, but his is not the pocket book edition.

In the episode it looks like Islam has nothing to say about saving the environment. I don’t know whether that is accurate or it’s just the people of Mercy mosque who don’t seem to care so much about the environment. If you look at some Jewish communities, you could get the same impression. Kashrut is much easier when you use disposable plates. It is much easier to leave the lights on in the synagogue over Shabat that to figure out when they can be turned off without inconveniencing anybody. And if you have ever seen an Israeli clean, you wouldn’t think Israel lies in a desert region.

But what does Judaism actually have to say about the environment? Well, in Bereshit/Genesis G-d gives the earth with all the plants and animals to the humans (Genesis 1:29-30). While some read this as humans being allowed to do anything they want with and to the earth, others read the same verses as us being responsible for the earth and all that’s living on it. A principle often applied to protecting the environment is Bal tashchit, the prohibition of destruction without a purpose. Related is also the concept of tza’ar ba’alei chayim, not causing unnecessary pain to animals. So, there are enouth sources to be found that support caring for the environment, especially in a modern context where we know that all life on earth is connected in a complicated network of dependencies and that what has been lost can never be replaced.

Read more about Nature & the Environment at MyJewishLearning.

What was the date of the revelation at Sinai?

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Surfing through the jBlogosphere a while ago, I stumbled over a most intriguing comment:

The fact is that there is a dispute in the Talmud on what day the revelation at Sinai took place, the 6th or the 7th.
[…]
What is even more interesting is that the talmud goes on arguing about this for a while with each side bringing textual proofs. You would think that the most momentous event in Jewish History would have a clear date! But nobody knows for sure. We all know 9/11, but the date of the revelation at Sinai? Not sure! Nobody (here or elsewhere) ever says he has a Mesorah on it from his father? Why not? Isn’t that the biggest proof?
(Comment by A Jew with a Spiritual Crisis at 10:05 AM)

Everybody knows that Shavuot is not fixed to a specific date, but rather to the count of 50 days after Pesach. As we now have a fixed calendar where the months between Pesach and Shavuot have a fixed number of dates, nowadays Shavuot always falls on the sixth of Sivan. In times of the temple (and before) the start of a new month was determined by two independent witnesses to the new moon, so a month could have been a day longer or shorter. Not more, but one day is possible. So this is why there is even a question about the exact calendar date.

But still, one would have thought that we have a huge amount of specific details about the most important event in Jewish history. Including of course something rather important like the actual calendar date! But the Torah text is rather unclear on that point:

In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. And when they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the wilderness of Sinai, they encamped in the wilderness; and there Israel encamped before the mount.
(2. Mose 19:1-2)

Not much there. The Talmudic discussion is in Shabbat 86b (from the bottom of the page and continuing until folio 88a). It is quite extensive. Curiously, there is agreement about one detail that is not in the text of the Torah itself:

Again, all agree that the Torah was given to Israel on the Sabbath. [For] here it is written, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy; whilst elsewhere it is written, And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day: just as there, [he spoke] on that very day, so here too it was on that very day.
(Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 86b, Soncino translation)

So Shavuot was a Shabbat. But the sages differ in whether the day the Jews left Egypt, Pessach, the 15th of Nissan, was a Friday or a Thursday (Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs: Shavuot History: Rabbinic Development). The omer count starts the day after Pessach, so if Pessach is on Friday, the count starts on a Saturday, day 49 is again a Friday and Shavuot, on the 50th day, falls on Shabbat. This works out! But what’s the deal with Thursday? Starting the count on Friday leads to the 50th day bing a Friday! So to get Shavuot fall on Shabbat, we’d need 51 days! Why would this even be considered by the sages? Because there is another fixpoint to match, the 10th of Nissan, the day the Israelites were commanded to take a lamb to be sacrificed later – which according to tradition was a Shabat, which in turn would make the 15th a Thursday (David Glasner: Was the Torah Really Given on Shavuot?). Curious indeed!

So, is the sixth of Sivan really the date the Torah was given? We don’t know. Does it matter? Probably not, but it is fascinating nonetheless. Chag sameach!

Little Mosque S2E5 – Mercy Beet

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Some famous person mentions Mercy’s beet juice on TV and the whole town goes crazy about buying stocks of the Mercy beet company. Thanks to Yasir new phone he accidentally sells all his shares just before the bubble bursts.

The last episode had gambling as its topic and some may see investing in stocks as similar. As such there are those Jewish voices who view it in a similarily negative light (The Lubavitcher rebbe on Investing in Stocks). The prophets warned against those who get rich by speculating on disaster and by exploiting the poor (Rabbi Asher Meir: Jews and the Stock Market). Also, Jews are forbidding from taking interest for lending money to other Jews, so depending on the exact nature of the investment that may also be an issue (Rabbi Asher Meir: Halakhot of Investing in the Stock Market). To summarize, while investing in the stock market is not outright forbidden, a Jewish investor should take care and think about where and how to invest ethically.

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