Category Archives: Chagim

The blind and the lame, by Johann Theodor de Bry, 1596. Rijksmuseum

Body or Soul: Which is Responsible for Committing Sins? 

To illustrate the body and soul’s responsibility for sin, an early midrash presents the parable of the blind and lame watchmen. Curiously, this parable later shows up in Piyyut and in a Christian text. What might this teach us about the spread of rabbinic texts and ideas in late antiquity?

Prof. Ophir Münz-Manor  Continue reading Body or Soul: Which is Responsible for Committing Sins? 

The seder scene in a Passover Haggadah, with German translation p. 42. (copied by Eliezer Sussman Mezeritsch, decorated by Charlotte von Rothschild · 1842 ) Zürich, Braginsky Collection, B314, e-codices.ch

How Is the Passover Seder Different from All Other Symposia?

The accumulation of liturgical layers, songs, and discussion that adorn the traditional Seder can obscure its original, primary purpose. By closely analyzing the Seder’s artful oration in light of classical rhetoric, a sharper picture emerges of a Roman symposium-like gathering whose aim is to help its members appreciate and celebrate the freedom God granted through the Exodus.1

Dr. Rabbi Richard Hidary

Continue reading How Is the Passover Seder Different from All Other Symposia?

  1. This article is a reworked excerpt from Richard Hidary, Rabbis and Classical Rhetoric: Sophistic Education and Oratory in the Talmud and Midrash (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 68-73.
An illustration of a man lighting the Hanukkah lamp with a congregation behind him from the Forli Siddur, Italy 1383. British Library

In Praise of the Hasmoneans: Chanukah Beyond Rabbinic Literature

The relative absence of Chanukah from rabbinic literature has been seen by many scholars as evidence that late antique Jews were ambivalent about the holiday and its Hasmonean founders. However, the highly suggestive evidence of piyyut (liturgical poetry), which extensively and creatively thematizes Chanukah and the Hasmoneans, suggests that this apparent ambivalence was not shared across late antique Jewish society.

Prof. Ophir Münz-Manor Continue reading In Praise of the Hasmoneans: Chanukah Beyond Rabbinic Literature

Model of Herod's Temple (a renovation of the Second Temple) in the Israel Museum

Herod’s Renovation of the Temple – The Talmudic Version

In their discussion of King Herod’s reconstruction of the Second Temple, Talmudic storytellers emphasize themes of sight, blindness, and illegitimate rule. They also make a surprising suggestion about who really should get credit for this renovation.

Prof. Jeffrey L. Rubenstein Continue reading Herod’s Renovation of the Temple – The Talmudic Version

Image taken from page 12 of "A journey from London to Persepolis; including wanderings in Daghestan, Georgia, Armenia, Kurdistan, Mesopotamia, and Persia." Author: John. Shelfmark: "British Library HMNTS 10076.g.6."

The Development of the Chanukah Oil Miracle in Context of Zoroastrian Fire Veneration

The Ancient Fire that Fueled the Chanukah Story

Dr. Shai Secunda Continue reading The Development of the Chanukah Oil Miracle in Context of Zoroastrian Fire Veneration

The Munich Talmud: The only complete manuscript of the Talmud. Dates from 1342. Snapshot of b. Berakhot 12b

The Changes to the Amidah Blessings during the Ten Days of Penitence

During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur two concluding blessing formulas are switched to refer to God as a judge What is the meaning of this change? What can talmudic manuscripts teach us about this liturgical practice?

Prof. Joseph Tabory Continue reading The Changes to the Amidah Blessings during the Ten Days of Penitence

Blanford's Fox (Vulpes cana) photographed in Israel. Eyal Bartov / Wikimedia

Rabbi Akiva’s Laugh: The Hidden Call for the Bar Kokhba Revolt

In recent years, a growing consensus has emerged that the Bar Kokhba revolt should be connected to Rome’s establishment of the city of Aelia Capitolina on the ruins of Jerusalem. A new interpretation of Rabbi Akiva’s famous consolation upon seeing a fox emerge from the Holy of Holies (Sifre Deuteronomy 43) suggests that this homily can actually be read as a call to arms against Rome.

Dr. Meir Ben-Shahar
Continue reading Rabbi Akiva’s Laugh: The Hidden Call for the Bar Kokhba Revolt

Women of all cultures praying at the Western Wall. Meaghan O'Neill / flickr 2.0

Memorializing the Temple through the Maternal Practice of ‘Arakhin

In the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem, rabbinic literature’s presentation of mothers donating their children’s weight in gold to the Temple – following the rabbinic interpretation of ‘Arakhin – comes to exemplify both piety and tragedy. Continue reading Memorializing the Temple through the Maternal Practice of ‘Arakhin

Purim: A Day Beyond Full Rabbinic Control 

Excessive drinking on Purim is recommended by the amora Rabbah, in a rare Aramaic ruling that is followed by a strange account of a drunk Rabbah slaughtering his colleague, R. Zeira, at a Purim feast. What are we to make of this shocking law and story, and what do can they teach us about the unique, carnivalesque quality of Purim?

Dr. Barry Wimpfheimer

Continue reading Purim: A Day Beyond Full Rabbinic Control