Did Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), also known as Rambam, write the 5 books of Moses, known in Christianity as the Pentateuch?
No: he just had the same name.
The "five books of Moses" are so called because they were believed to have been written by the Moses whose life is described within them. They are actually known in Hebrew as the chumash (which means a set of five) or as the Torah ("instruction"), while the word Pentateuch (also, a set of five) comes from Greek They have existed for well over two thousand years, and are found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here is the Wikipedia article on this text.
Moses Maimonides, as you note, lived less than one thousand years ago. Maimonides, in Greek, means "son of Maimon". His Hebrew denotation (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) is often abbreviated as Rambam. He wrote a great many texts, but most famous amongst them is his codification of all Jewish law: a fourteen-volume opus called Mishne Torah. Here is the Wikipedia article on Maimonides.
Samuel marks the end of the period of the Judges. Saul marks the beginning of the period of the Kings. Their lives — along with the life of King David — are inextricably intertwined.
Samuel was the one who introduced the idea of monarchy to the people. It was he whom God chose to anoint the first kings (Saul and David). Yet it was he who was most against the idea.
Samuel was such a force that as he long lived he was the real power. The king existed in his shadow. He had a greater influence on Saul than Saul had on him. In fact, Samuel’s hold on Saul was so great that even after Samuel died Saul felt compelled to violate Torah law and visit a sorceress to raise him from the dead to get his advice (I Samuel 28).
Who was Saul?
There are personalities that a person gets one impression from the biblical account but a very different impression from Jewish tradition. Saul was such a person.
In the Book of Samuel, Saul does not come across as a very sympathetic figure. His weaknesses are portrayed in a stark fashion, including his unwarranted jealousy and persecution of David, as well as his melancholy and violence.
However, he had another side. That side only comes into true focus through the writings of the Sages, who preserved the oral traditions. In reality, Saul was a great person, and in some ways even greater than David.
Even before he became king, Saul was a national hero. He led the daring raid to rescue the Tablets of the Ten Commandments from the Philistines, who had captured them along with the Ark. After he became king, in his short two-and-a-half-year reign, he freed the Jewish people of all their enemies except the Philistines. It remained for David to ultimately triumph over the Philistines and destroy them, but the army that Saul built laid the foundation for that military victory.
Saul was charismatic and physically gifted, as well as extremely tall and handsome (I Samuel 9:2). He was charitable and selfless. Tradition records that he gave his fortune away to poor people. He specialized in helping pay for the needs of poor brides-to-be. When he went to war he paid the soldiers out of his personal treasury, not public funds.
Saul also epitomized self-sacrifice. He went to war with the Philistines after he had heard the prophecy that he and his sons would be killed (I Samuel 28:19). A lesser person would have run away. Not Saul. His loyalty and self-sacrifice for the Jewish people knew no bounds.
Saul supported and enhanced the school system that Samuel established. During his time the level of education among the children reach a high point.
All his gifts make him only more of a tragic figure. He was a good person, free of sin, charitable, self-sacrificing, brave, heroic, naturally talented, handsome and most of all modest. He had all the qualifications one could hope to have for a leader, for a king. Yet, he was destroyed by the position.
All his good points only compounded the tragedy.
Too Many Opinion Polls
While the Oral Tradition tells us his strengths and triumphs, the Written Tradition (namely, the Book of Samuel) tells of his weaknesses and failures. His weaknesses were human weaknesses.
Near the top of the list was that he was influenced too much by public opinion. When the prophet Samuel told him that he should destroy the great enemy of the Jews, Amalek, along with all their flocks of cattle and sheep, he left flocks alive (I Samuel 15:9). He admitted to Samuel that the reason he did not fulfill the Divine command was because he was afraid of the people (ibid. 15:21).
Saul caved into them because he wanted people to like him. However, leadership is not a popularity contest. A true leader has to be unafraid at times to do things that are unpopular. The task of a leader is not necessarily to do what the people want, but to do what is best for them and then somehow convince them to follow him.
The Talmud extended that to rabbis. A rabbi that is universally popular, it says, is probably not doing a good job. There is a Yiddish quip that translates roughly: “A rabbi that the people do not want to get rid of is not a real rabbi. But a rabbi who allows the people to get rid of him has something wrong with him.”
That is the tightrope a leader has to walk. He cannot be antagonistic to the point that no one wants to follow him. On the one hand, he cannot always do exactly what they want, because that is not the role of leadership.
Saul’s second weakness was insecurity and jealousy – even to the point of paranoia. He saw traitors everywhere. David was his trusted aid, confidante and loyal son-in-law, yet he listened to slander about him, assumed the worst of motives by him and made him his blood-enemy. No matter how many times David reconciled with him, Saul’s insecurity and paranoia returned and gnawed at him.
Saul became obsessed not by the true enemies of the Jewish people, but by David — to the point that his beloved mentor and advocate, Samuel, feared Saul would kill him when God told him to anoint David king (I Samuel 16:2). Samuel had to concoct a story to hide the event from him, because he knew the extent of Saul’s enmity against David.
Even after he was anointed, David had no intention of overthrowing Saul and taking the throne prematurely. To the contrary, he had opportunities and good reasons to kill Saul (e.g. I Samuel 24). However, he did not do so because he was no threat to Saul.
Saul listened to the slander of his advisers, most of all Doeg, who was an implacable enemy of David. In so doing, he destroyed himself as well as his daughter Michael who was married to David. Indeed, he almost destroyed David and even the Jewish people.
The man who sacrificed everything for the Jewish people, and was so selfless, let his insecurities get in the way to such an extent that it endangered the entire people.
Saul was a person of emotional extremes. One day he was extremely good and kind while the next day he was be extremely bad and cruel.
The Torah commanded the Jewish people to wipe out the memory of Amalek (Deuteronomy 25:19). The Amalekites were the original terrorists. Even today their spirit lives on in those who prey on “feeble, faint and weary” (ibid.). Saul had the opportunity to wipe them out forever, and God command him explicitly to do so. Nevertheless, he let Agag, the king of Amalek, live.
At that time, an echo rang out from heaven, the Tradition taught, and said to Saul, “Do not be overly righteous.” Do not try to be more righteous than God. If God said to kill, then kill. By letting the king of Amalek live, his line eventually gave birth to likes of Haman and Hitler. Saul had a chance to prevent that from happening. In keeping Agag alive he brought untold suffering to his progeny.
At the same time, Saul also exhibited the opposite reaction. The city of Nob unknowingly supplied David with food and arms when he was a fugitive running from Saul. When Saul found out about it he was so enraged that slew the entire city (I Samuel 22:18-19). At that moment, the echo once more rang out from heaven and declared, “Do be overly evil.”
These two extremities of emotion characterize Saul. He could get carried away with moodiness and melancholy. He had many positive qualities, but his weaknesses undid almost all the good that could have been credited to him.
No Skeletons in the Closet
The Talmud offers one final insight into Saul’s character flaw. Why was he not fit to be king? The answer the Talmud gives is surprising: Never appoint a leader who does not a skeleton in his closet.
This is an important lesson in life. A leader who has some flaw or public failure on his record will tend to be humble. And if not, someone will surely be there to remind him of it.
Saul’s flaw was that he had no flaw. He was perfect. A perfect leader is inherently flawed. His ego is bound to get the better of him.
David was not perfect. His great-grandmother was Ruth, whose Jewish lineage was questioned even until David’s time. It helped humble David. “Oh, yeah, that shepherd boy with the non-Jewish great-grandmother,” people would whisper. David did not have to literally hear the whispers to live constantly with the awareness of what people thought. It helped him not let power get to his head.
Saul saw himself differently. He had no chink in his armor. That is why he fell apart. There was no one to deflate his ego.
In all Tanach – the twenty-four books of the biblical canon — there is no more tragic figure than Saul. He represents what could have been but was not. From that we can extrapolate lessons about the inherent challenges of leadership, both in our personal lives and in the lives of those granted the opportunity of leadership on a national level.
According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was born under the name Abram in the city of Ur in Babylonia in the year 1948 from Creation (circa 1800 BCE). He was the son of Terach, an idol merchant, but from his early childhood, he questioned the faith of his father and sought the truth. He came to believe that the entire universe was the work of a single Creator, and he began to teach this belief to others.
Abram tried to convince his father, Terach, of the folly of idol worship. One day, when Abram was left alone to mind the store, he took a hammer and smashed all of the idols except the largest one. He placed the hammer in the hand of the largest idol. When his father returned and asked what happened, Abram said, "The idols got into a fight, and the big one smashed all the other ones." His father said, "Don't be ridiculous. These idols have no life or power. They can't do anything." Abram replied, "Then why do you worship them?"
Eventually, the one true Creator that Abram had worshipped called to him, and made him an offer: if Abram would leave his home and his family, then G-d would make him a great nation and bless him. Abram accepted this offer, and the b'rit (covenant) between G-d and the Jewish people was established. (Gen. 12).
The idea of b'rit is fundamental to traditional Judaism: we have a covenant, a contract, with G-d, which involves rights and obligations on both sides. We have certain obligations to G-d, and G-d has certain obligations to us. The terms of this b'rit became more explicit over time, until the time of the Giving of the Torah (see below). Abram was subjected to ten tests of faith to prove his worthiness for this covenant. Leaving his home is one of these trials.
Abram, raised as a city-dweller, adopted a nomadic lifestyle, traveling through what is now the land of Israel for many years. G-d promised this land to Abram's descendants. Abram is referred to as a Hebrew (Ivri), possibly because he was descended from Eber (Gen. 11) or possibly because he came from the "other side" (eber) of the Euphrates River.
But Abram was concerned, because he had no children and he was growing old. Abram's beloved wife, Sarai, knew that she was past child-bearing years, so she offered her maidservant, Hagar, as a wife to Abram. This was a common practice in the region at the time. According to tradition, Hagar was a daughter of Pharaoh, given to Abram during his travels in Egypt. She bore Abram a son, Ishmael, who, according to both Muslim and Jewish tradition, is the ancestor of the Arabs. (Gen 16)
When Abram was 100 and Sarai 90, G-d promised Abram a son by Sarai. G-d changed Abram's name to Abraham (father of many), and Sarai's to Sarah (from "my princess" to "princess"). Sarah bore Abraham a son, Isaac (in Hebrew, Yitzchak), a name derived from the word "laughter," expressing Abraham's joy at having a son in his old age. (Gen 17-18). Isaac was the ancestor of the Jewish people. Thus, the conflict between Arabs and Jews can be seen as a form of sibling rivalry!
What a Bar/Bat Mitzvah Guest Needs to Know
Bar Mitzvah/Bat Mitzvah Gift Guide
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In the Bible, a man reached the age of majority at age 20, when he was eligible for war and taxation. In talmudic times, the age of majority was moved to 13, and in recognition of the son&rsquos change in status, the father pronounced a blessing in which he praised God for relieving him of responsibility for his son&rsquos conduct. But no celebration marked the occasion.
Talmud Allows Ritual Involvement of Minors
During the talmudic era and early medieval times, a ceremony made no sense, because a minor was permitted to participate in all religious observances as soon as he was considered mentally fit [to do so]. He was called up to an aliyah to say blessings over the Torah and was supposed to wear tefillin, or phylacteries. The minor was even encouraged to fast on Yom Kippur. Two years before he turned 13, a child fasted until noon, and a year before his majority, he fasted the whole day.
The distinction between a minor and one who had obtained his majority was theoretical. The latter did as a religious duty what a minor did optionally. The majority was not distinguished by additional religious duties and privileges, and therefore the attainment of majority could not be marked by any special observances. Until late in the Middle Ages, the attainment of majority was an uneventful date in the life of the Jew.
As Minor&rsquos Religious Rights Give Way, Age of Majority Gains Importance
Gradually, during the later Middle Ages, this situation underwent a change. The religious rights that the Talmud accorded to the minor were now restricted. He was deprived of the right to be &ldquocalled up&rdquo to the reading of the Torah. He was no longer permitted to wear tefillin. The attainment of majority gained new importance as an attainment of new religious rights, and the ground was prepared for a ceremony around the bar mitzvah, as a boy 13 years old was beginning to be called.
In the 16th century, among the Jews of Germany and Poland, it was the accepted custom that a boy could not begin to wear tefillin before the day following his 13th birthday. This custom was modified in the 17th century. The boy began wearing tefillin two or three months before he became bar mitzvah, so that by the time he reached his majority he was well acquainted with the practice and rules of laying tefillin.
The right of a minor to be called up to the bimah, or pulpit, for the reading of the Torah underwent a similar development among the Ashkenazim (German and Polish Jews). As far back as the 13th century among the Franco-German Jews, the privilege of being called up for the reading of the Torah was withdrawn from minors. Only on Simchat Torah, the last day of Sukkot, could minors enjoy this right. The attainment of religious majority signified the attainment of the right to have an aliyah&ndashto witness the reading of the Torah on the bimah and to recite the blessings over it.
These two religious rights, laying tefillin and being called up to the Torah, became the most essential features of the bar mitzvah observance. In the 16th century it was obligatory to call up the bar mitzvah lad to the reading of the Torah on the Sabbath coinciding with or following his 13th birthday.
Customs Surrounding the Bar Mitzvah Ceremony
In very cautious pious circles, the elders watched lest the bar mitzvah lad be called up to the reading of the Torah before he had attained the full age of 13 years. This might be the case, for example, if the boy&rsquos 13th birthday fell on the Sabbath. For safety&rsquos sake, the custom arose that still prevails today, that even on the bar mitzvah Sabbath, the boy was not among the seven men [and, in more liberal synagogues, women] called on every Sabbath to the reading of the Torah, but after them. He was called to the reading of the last paragraph of the Torah portion, the maftir, and of the haftarah, the portion of the Prophets that is read after the week&rsquos Torah portion.
The bar mitzvah ceremony was not confined to the synagogue. New features were added that shifted the center of the celebration from the synagogue to the home of the parents, such as the bar mitzvah feast and the bar mitzvah drasha (discourse). The party held on the bar mitzvah Sabbath was regarded as a seudat mitzvah, or religious feast.
The religious aspect of the bar mitzvah feast was enhanced in Poland, where the drasha was introduced. In Poland, the center of talmudic learning in the 16th and 17th centuries, there were precocious and highly gifted boys of bar mitzvah age who were capable of delivering an original casuistic discourse in talmudic law. Naturally, these boys were the exceptions, but there were many others who could, with the assistance of their teacher, accomplish this feat of learning. It was a test and display of talmudic knowledge. In many cases, the teacher prepared the drasha, and the boy learned it by rote and then delivered it.
In the 17th century among the German Jews in Worms, the lad was dressed in new clothes bought especially for this occasion. On the Sabbath of his bar mitzvah, he chanted the entire Torah portion. If he happened to have a pleasant voice, he also recited all the prayers before the congregation. Some lads who were not so well versed in Hebrew led only one of the services, either the evening prayers (Maariv), the morning prayers (Shacharit), or the additional Sabbath prayers (Musaf). There were boys who were not able to recite even the week&rsquos Torah portion, but every bar mitzvah boy was called up to [make the blessings on] the reading of the Torah and vowed to give a pound of wax for candles to illuminate the synagogue.
The bar mitzvah feast was served in the afternoon, as the third meal of the Sabbath. An hour before Mincha (the afternoon prayers), the bar mitzvah lad, dressed in his new clothes, went to the homes of the guests to invite them to the third meal. At the meal, the lad delivered a drasha on the customs of bar mitzvah and acted as the leader in reciting the grace after the meal (birkat hamazon).
Modern-Day Bar Mitzvah Celebrations
There is, in modern times, no uniformity in the bar mitzvah celebration. The bar mitzvah may read the entire Torah portion, the maftir (final portion), the haftarah, or some combination of these, and may deliver a drasha, but he would definitely have an aliyah. There is also a divergence in the custom regarding the tallit, or prayer shawl. In some communities, a boy donned a tallit on the Sabbath of his bar mitzvah, in others, he did not put it on until he was married. The Ashkenazic Jews always present gifts to the boy in honor of his bar mitzvah.
In America, the bar mitzvah celebration plays an important role in Jewish life and is often accompanied by a fancy party and gifts. Rather than having the father teach the son, as was traditional, most children prepare in religious school or with the help of a private tutor.
Unlike the Ashkenazim, the Sephardim do not restrict the rights of the minor. The Sephardim still adhere to the talmudic law, which allowed a minor to put on tefillin and to be called up to the reading of the Torah, and they celebrate bar mitzvah in their own distinctive way.
Primarily, the Sephardim celebrate the first laying of tefillin, which takes place exactly a year before attaining majority. On that day, the parents hold a sumptuous feast for all their relatives and friends, and the boy, if capable, delivers a drasha on a topic pertaining to the occasion. Only the rich hold a second celebration a year later, when the boy reaches his majority.
Among the Jews of Morocco, too, the main emphasis in the bar mitzvah celebration is placed upon the first laying of tefillin. This takes place on the Thursday after the 12th birthday. The feast is held at the home of the parents on the preceding day, Wednesday. On Thursday, the morning services are held in the boy&rsquos home, where all the worshippers gather and take part in the ceremony. The rabbi of the community binds the phylactery upon his head. A choir accompanies the ceremony with a hymn. The boy is then called up to the reading of the Torah as the third participant after the Kohen and the Levite (on Thursday and Monday only a small portion of the Torah is read, for which only three are called).
At the end of the services the boy delivers his discourse. Then he proceeds with his tefillin bag among the men and the women present, and everyone throws silver coins into the bag. The boy presents this gift money to the teacher. The guests partake of a breakfast and, in the evening, they again gather in the house. On the following Sabbath, the boy is called up to the reading of the haftarah. This is accompanied by a piyyut, a liturgical poem, composed for this occasion.
Pronounced: a-LEE-yuh for synagogue use, ah-lee-YAH for immigration to Israel, Origin: Hebrew, literally, “to go up.” This can mean the honor of saying a blessing before and after the Torah reading during a worship service, or immigrating to Israel.
Pronounced: bar MITZ-vuh, also bar meetz-VAH, Origin: Hebrew, Jewish rite of passage for a 13-year-old boy.
Pronounced: BEE-muh, Origin: Hebrew, literally “stage,” this is the raised platform in a synagogue from which services are led and the the Torah is read.
Pronounced: MINN-khah, Origin: Hebrew, the afternoon prayer service. According to traditional interpretation of Jewish law, men are commanded to pray three times a day.
Pronounced: MITZ-vuh or meetz-VAH, Origin: Hebrew, commandment, also used to mean good deed.
Pronounced: tah-LEET or TAH-liss, Origin: Hebrew, prayer shawl.
Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.
Pronounced: tuh-FILL-in (short i in both fill and in), Origin: Hebrew, phylacteries. These are the small boxes containing the words of the Shema that are traditionally wrapped around one’s head and arm during morning prayers.
A History of Jews in the United States
Unlike previous Jewish travelers (such as Bohemian Jewish metallurgist Joachim Gaunse, who was sent to Roanoke Island in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh), the approximately twenty-three Jewish arrivals who fled Recife, Brazil and disembarked in New Amsterdam in 1654 sought a permanent home--a place where they could "travel," "trade," "live," and "remain"--following the Portuguese recapture of the Dutch colony. "1654 has become a symbolic date," explains Dr. Gary Zola. "The refugees immediately encountered hostility [such as Peter Stuyvesant's assertion to the Dutch West India Company that they are 'a deceitful race, hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ'] and fought for opportunity--a dynamic that is emblematic of the whole flow of American Jewish history." One year later, the Dutch West India Company, dependent on Jewish investors, granted the New Amsterdam Jews the right to settle, provided that "the poor among them shall. be supported by their own nation."
About fifty to sixty Spanish and Portuguese Jews build North America's first synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel, on Mill Street in New York City.
The only New York City synagogue until 1825, Congregation Shearith Israel served the area's entire Jewish community, offering Sephardic and Ashkenazic men and women traditional services, religious education, and kosher meat as well as Passover provisions. "Even more than the arrival of Jews," says Professor Deborah Dash Moore, "the establishment of this synagogue bespeaks a concern for the perpetuation of Jewish lives and community."
[1787 & 1791]
Following the American Revolution--a war in which at least 100 American Jews are known to have fought--the US Constitution and Bill of Rights are enacted, granting Jews equality under the law.
"The Federal Constitution  and the Bill of Rights  outlawed religious tests as qualification to any office or public trust and forbade Congress from making any law 'respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. '" explains Professor Jonathan Sarna. "Jews thereby gained their religious rights in the United States (and in most but not all of the separate states), not through a special privilege or 'Jew bill' that set them apart as a group, but as individuals along with everybody else. Thus, by the end of the 18th century, Jews had achieved an unprecedented degree of 'equal footing' in America."
The first president of the United States warmly addresses a synagogue--the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island.
In a letter to the congregation, George Washington proclaimed that liberty is "an inherent natural right" and assured the community that the US government "gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." "George Washington's letter affirmed that America would be a place where Jews were welcomed as equals," says Rabbi David Ellenson, "and it reaffirmed the notion of tolerance as an American ideal."
Jewish reformers in Charleston, South Carolina petition the leaders of Congregation Beth Elohim for major changes in the Sabbath service (a shorter service, English translations of Hebrew prayers, a weekly sermon in English), and when the petition is denied, they start a new congregation guided by modern religious principles.
Determined to replace "blind observance of the ceremonial law" with "true piety. the first great object of our Holy Religion," the Reformed Society of Israelites for Promoting True Principles of Judaism According to Its Purity and Spirit would go on to publish America's first Reform Jewish prayer book, The Sabbath Service and Miscellaneous Prayers Adopted by the Reformed Society of Israelites. "For the first time, American Jews could choose from a variety of congregations," says Jonathan Sarna, "and not just the traditionalist strategy of the 'established' Sephardic congregations. Moreover, Jews who did not feel at home in synagogue no longer had to compromise their principles for the sake of consensus they felt free to withdraw and start their own congregations. In free and democratic America, congregational autonomy largely became the rule, resulting in a new American Judaism--a Judaism of diversity and pluralism."
Rebecca Gratz, the most prominent Jewish woman in America, founds the first Hebrew Sunday school.
After playing an instrumental role in forming Philadelphia's nondenominational Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances, Gratz, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, then turned her attention to education--and her efforts led to the creation of the Jewish Sunday-school movement. "Where would we be without it?" says Gary Zola. "To this day, the majority of children receive their Jewish education in Sunday school and other forms of supplementary instruction." In addition, says Jonathan Sarna, "Gratz's Sunday school transformed the role of women in American Judaism by making them responsible for the religious education and spiritual guidance of the young. By the time Gratz died, in 1869, most American Jews who received any formal Jewish education at all likely learned most of what they knew from female teachers. These teachers, in turn, had to educate themselves about Judaism. "
Har Sinai, Reform Judaism's second congregation, holds its first service in Baltimore as a wave of Jewish immigration arrives from Central Europe.
Har Sinai's decision to follow the more traditional Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in placing a six-pointed Magen David (Star of David) in the windows of its new building served as a proud proclamation of Jewishness in America. German Jews would create dozens of other landmark synagogues during this decade, among them B'nai Yeshurun (later Wise Temple) in Cincinnati (1842) and Temple Emanu-El in New York City (1845). "The young, urban, upwardly mobile lay worshipers [at Emanu-El] aimed to attract young people, heighten religious devotion, and help Jews to 'occupy a position of greater respect' among their fellow citizens," says Jonathan Sarna. "[Emanu-El's] bold worship changes--German hymns, a sermon, an abbreviated service, and organ music--set a pattern that other Reform congregations emulated."
Twelve German Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York establish B'nai B'rith (Sons of the Covenant), America's first Jewish fraternal society, as a means of proliferating Judaism through peoplehood and culture, rather than religiosity or faith.
"In the past," explains Jonathan Sarna, "each community's synagogues had provided all the services Jews needed, including nurturing the sick, supporting widows and orphans, and assisting visitors from out of town. But now, each community had multiple synagogues that competed with one another. B'nai B'rith (and its sister organization, the United Order of True Sisters) argued that fraternal ties--the covenant (b'rith) that bound Jews together regardless of religious ideology--could bring about 'union and harmony.'" As a result, for the first time, American Jews were presented with an alternative to the synagogue.
Isaac Leeser, the hazzan of Philadelphia's Congregation Mikveh Israel, establishes the Jewish Publication Society, and, in so doing, demonstrates the power of the printed word in preserving Judaism in America.
"JPS set the stage for other Jewish publication houses and literary works," says Gary Zola. "Without a venue for promoting scholarship, literature, and Jewish writing, the Jewish community could not have become a great Jewish center."
In response to a perceived lack of American Jewish unity in the face of political turmoil, twenty-four mostly Ashkenazic congregations, led by Shaaray Tefilla of New York and Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia, form the Board of Delegates of American Israelites "to keep a watchful eye on all occurrences at home and abroad."
A year earlier, 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara of Italy was taken from his home and handed over to the Catholic Church after it was discovered he had been secretly baptized by his nursemaid. A Catholic in Italy could not legally be raised by Jews, even his own parents. Despite numerous petitions from various American Jewish groups, President James Buchanan refused to intervene, stating that the US should not meddle in the affairs of other independent governments. Believing that their appeal had failed because of their own disorganization, Jewish leaders established a Board of Delegates, modeling it on the influential Jewish Board of Deputies in London--but due to communal infighting, only a small fraction of the synagogues in America participated. Nonetheless, says Gary Zola, "the Board's creation demonstrated the early determination of American Jewry to use their political influence at home to defend embattled Jews anywhere."
Jews take their case to the White House after Major General Ulysses S. Grant orders the expulsion of Jews from his war zone for alleged smuggling and cotton speculation, and threatens those who would return with arrest and confinement.
After meeting with Cesar Kaskel, a Jew from Paducah, Kentucky, and Cincinnati Congressman John A. Gurley, President Abraham Lincoln commanded Army General Henry Halleck to revoke Grant's order. In a subsequent meeting with Jewish leaders, President Lincoln declared: "To condemn a class is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad. I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners." "This was a dramatic demonstration of Jewish self-confidence," says Pamela Nadell. "Jews now had access to the President of the United States." Adds Jonathan Sarna: "This episode empowered Jews with the knowledge that they could fight back against bigotry and win--even against a prominent general."
German immigrant Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise founds the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, followed by the first viable rabbinical seminary in America--the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati (1875)--and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (1889).
"Rabbi Wise traveled the length and breadth of the country, preaching, dedicating new synagogues, and spreading the gospel of Jewish religious reform wherever he went," says Jonathan Sarna. "Ultimately, the goal of unifying all American Jews eluded him, but he did succeed in advancing, institutionalizing, and orchestrating American Reform Judaism." Other American Jewish denominational movements later adapted Rabbi Wise's model--a synagogue umbrella organization, rabbinic seminary, and rabbinic association--that would shape the framework of organized Jewish religious life in America. "It was the creation of those Jewish seminaries that marked the first training of indigenous Jewish leadership in America," explains Deborah Dash Moore. "There was a growing Jewish consciousness that America had certain requisites that were foreign to the European experience instead of continuing the practice of recruiting leaders from Europe, Jews were beginning to fashion what could be called an American Judaism."
The mass Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe begins, and transforms American Jewry.
Pogroms sweeping through Russia after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II set off an epochal migration that would bring to America some two million Eastern European Jews whose cultural and religious traditions differed profoundly from those of the Central European Jews now comfortably settled in America. "As these immigrants Americanized, their religious needs changed," says Jonathan Sarna. "Like the Central European Jews before them, they sought a more 'refined' worship experience, more in keeping with their rising status in society. [They] bid for religious equality by making a grand entrance onto the American religious stage. Their great synagogues and cantors proclaimed their Americanization, their heightened self-confidence, and their rising station in society."
Henrietta Szold establishes Hadassah--which over time becomes the largest American Zionist organization and the largest women's organization in the United States.
The daughter of Rabbi Benjamin Szold, a spiritual leader of Congregation Oheb Shalom in Baltimore, Henrietta Szold would play a pivotal role in the politicization of American Jewish women. On February 24, 1912, thirty-eight women constituted themselves as the Hadassah Chapter of Daughters of Zion two years later, at their first convention, Szold was elected first president. Says Deborah Dash Moore: "Hadassah recruited several generations of American Jewish women to political and social action on behalf of the Yishuv and Israel."
American Zionist leader Louis Brandeis becomes the first Jewish Supreme Court justice.
"Brandeis' appointment," says Gary Zola, "marked a pivotal moment for American Jews, who took deep pride in the achievements of one of their own and saw that Jews could rise to the highest levels of American society." "It was clear," adds Pamela Nadell, "a Jew who identifies with Jewish causes could ascend to the highest levels of government, serving the American people and our nation."
Mordecai M. Kaplan, a Lithuanian-born professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, writes one of the most influential Jewish books of the 20th century, Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American-Jewish Life.
Articulating a new conception of Judaism that set the stage for the creation of a new movement--Reconstructionist Judaism--Kaplan taught that Judaism is not only a religion but a dynamic religious civilization that, according to Jonathan Sarna, embraced "every Jew and everything Jewish, including land (meaning Israel), history, language, literature, religious folkways, mores, laws, and art." Two of Kaplan's ideas became commonplace across the spectrum of American Jewish religious life, he says. First, "Kaplan's emphasis on 'the whole life of the Jew' stimulated greater attention to such previously neglected aspects of Jewish life as arts, crafts, music, drama, dance, and food--and over time, cultural programs became part of the life of almost every synagogue and Jewish community. Second, his championing of a synagogue-center designed to turn the house of worship into a seven-days-a-week multipurpose hub of Jewish communal life set the pattern for what became the synagogue-center movement."
Four chaplains--a Catholic priest (John P. Washington), a Dutch Reform minister (Clark V. Poling), a Methodist reverend (George L. Fox), and a Reform rabbi (Alexander D. Goode)--perish at sea as heroes after their convoy ship is torpedoed by the Germans.
Inspiring the men with courage in the face of calamity, the chaplains relinquished their life vests and stood arm in arm praying as the Dorchester sank beneath the waves. "Their concerted action was a great symbolic moment," says Deborah Dash Moore, "articulating to the body public the common values that Jews, Protestants, and Catholics all share."
Serving in the US armed forces during World War II is a transforming generational experience for a half-million Jewish GIs.
In many ways, says Deborah Dash Moore, this experience was a watershed event in the "coming-of-age" of American Jews. "Jewish soldiers came out of the war more American and more Jewish. They had learned when pushed to push back, and this meant they were no longer ready to accept second-class citizenship: they were ready to fight for their rights as Jews against discrimination and for a Jewish state they recognized that the United States accepted Judaism as part of the Judeo-Christian tradition and they got to know other Americans in other parts of the US and realized they could settle and integrate beyond the constraints of their childhood homes."
The United States joins thirty-two other nations in the UN vote calling for the partition of Palestine into two states--one Jewish, one Arab.
The State of Israel declares its independence one year later. Jews around the world felt "pride and relief," says Jenna Weissman Joselit. "Everything before Israel's birth had been so bleak this event was a great moment of promise." "Zionists gave American Jews (as well as other Diaspora communities) a sense of mission," adds Jonathan Sarna, "and an objective to rally around."
A group of Jewish communal leaders establishes America's first Jewish-sponsored nonsectarian university: Brandeis, in Waltham, Massachusetts.
While some early supporters of the school believed that Brandeis would guarantee an excellent higher education to the best Jewish minds in America (who might otherwise be deprived because of admissions quotas), Brandeis' first president, Abram L. Sachar, envisioned the university as "a corporate gift of Jews to higher education." Indeed, says Gary Zola, "today, Jews and non-Jews from around the world study together in a first-rate academic institution that is identified with the highest intellectual aspirations of American Jewry."
Will Herberg's bestseller Protestant-Catholic-Jew asserts that America is a "triple melting pot" comprised of these three religiously based communities.
"Though Jews constituted but 3.2 percent of the total American population, they found themselves, thanks to Herberg, 'enfranchised as the guardians of one-third of the American religious heritage,'" says Jonathan Sarna. "For all of its manifest inadequacies, Herberg's argument captured the imagination and shaped subsequent religious discourse in America."
Jews play a prominent role in the civil rights march on Washington, DC.
Speaking from the podium immediately before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, American Jewish Congress president and march co-organizer Rabbi Joachim Prinz, the rabbi of the Berlin Jewish community under the Hitler regime, challenged the strategy of Jews who had proposed to work quietly behind the scenes to effect change instead, he called for vigorous Jewish communal action. "For Prinz and those who followed in his footsteps," says Jonathan Sarna, "the Holocaust served not only as a universal reference point that underscored the moral righteousness of antiracist activism but also as a Jewish reference point, providing a specifically Jewish rationale for involvement in the civil rights movement." UAHC President Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and many other Jewish leaders and activists would travel to the South to protest racial injustice and in 1964, the texts of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, both drafted at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, were signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.
Sandy Koufax refuses to pitch in the first game of the Dodgers-Minnesota World Series because it is held on Yom Kippur.
"Koufax's refusal to pitch gave American Jews a deep sense of pride in their Jewishness," says David Ellenson. "Here, one of the greatest baseball players in the United States was standing up and proclaiming his Jewish identity and practice to the world. The image of the Jew as independent, loyal to his faith, and unafraid to assert his values was then and still remains a source of great pride."
Amidst fears of another Holocaust as Arab nations threaten to drive Israel into the sea, American Jews raise $430 million for the Jewish state.
The Six-Day War ends with a decisive Israeli triumph. "For many American Jews, Israel's victory meant more than Superman-like heroism," says Jonathan Sarna. "It was widely perceived as a victory for America itself." Adds David Ellenson: "This sudden and seemingly miraculous victory, coming two decades after the Holocaust, gave American Jews a collective sigh of relief and a feeling of almost infinite pride. The Jew was no longer a victim."
Sally Jane Priesand, a graduate of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, becomes the first American woman to be ordained a rabbi.
Two years later, Sandy Eisenberg would become the first woman Reconstructionist rabbi Amy Eilberg would become the first woman Conservative rabbi in 1985. "Opening up the rabbinate to women redefined the nature of the rabbinate, showing that women were just as qualified as men," explains Jenna Weissman Joselit. "It also changed American Jewish life, leading to linguistic changes in prayers--God is no longer rendered in terms of the Lord, and there are all sorts of allusions to the matriarchs--and much more."
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is built adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Established to preserve the memory of the Shoah and chartered by a unanimous Act of Congress, the US government museum has since educated nearly two million visitors each year about the history of the Holocaust and the perils of intolerance. "The Holocaust museum links a Jewish story and a human story with an American story," says Gary Zola. "And it speaks to lingering questions that haunt a great many American Jews: Did Americans--Jews and non-Jews--do enough as the calamity unfolded?"
Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut becomes the first Jew to be nominated for US vice president by a major political party.
"Lieberman's warm reception by the American public sent the message that a Jew need not sacrifice his/her faith or religious practices in order to aspire to high political office," says Jonathan Sarna. In short, adds David Ellenson, "the Al Gore/Joseph Lieberman ticket demonstrated how well-entrenched and at home Jews are in the United States."
Congress adopts a resolution honoring and recognizing the 350th anniversary of Jewish communal life in North America and establishing The Commission for Commemorating 350 Years of American Jewish History--a joint effort of the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the American Jewish Historical Society, and the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.
"This historic partnership marks the first time in our nation's history that such a collaboration [of governmental and Jewish institutions] has taken place in a common effort to advance our understanding of the American Jewish experience," says Gary Zola. "In a sense, it marks the 'coming of age' of American Jewish history."
This timeline is based on conversations with six prominent Jewish American scholars: Dr. Gary Zola, an associate professor of the American Jewish Experience at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati and executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives Professor Pamela Nadell of American University, an expert on women's history Rabbi David Ellenson, a professor of Jewish religious thought and the president of HUC-JIR Dr. Jenna Weissman Joselit of Princeton University, a cultural historian of Jewish life Professor Deborah Dash Moore of Vassar College, who specializes in 20th-century urban American Jewish history and Professor Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University, whose 2004 book American Judaism: A History won the National Jewish Book Award's Everett Family Foundation Book of the Year.
Philip Mandelbaum is the entertainment editor of Wrap Magazine and a reporter and photographer for The Ridgefield Press.
The secret Jewish history of Pi
In an episode of the original “Star Trek,” Mr. Spock — played by the late, great Jewish actor Leonard Nimoy — commands an evil computer that has taken over the life support system of the Starship Enterprise to compute Pi to the last digit. Spock therefore outwitted the murderous cyborg, which wound up self-destructing, because, as Spock explained, “the value of Pi is a transcendental figure without resolution.” Being totally logical, Spock wasn’t suggesting that Pi had some sort of spiritual quality of transcendence. Rather, transcendental is a math term, and I’m going to spare you the definition in hopes that you keep reading beyond this paragraph. But in spite of Spock and his logic, Pi just may have a spiritual quality of transcendence.
The circumference of a circle is always 3.14 x its diameter. Except 3.14 — what we now call Pi — is only an approximation. The decimals actually keep flowing. Pi is not only an irrational number – it’s infinite and ultimately unknowable. Yet while the number itself always evades our grasp, we also know that it’s always true and always reliable. Pi always expresses the mathematical relationship between the diameter and the circumference of a circle, no matter how small or how large the circle.
And we know this not from computations of the digital age. The ancients were onto this from the beginning. Every major civilization had its theories of Pi and its mathematicians who tried to explain it. Ancient Egypt and Babylon and India. The Greek Archimedes, the Greco-Roman Ptolemy, the ancient Chinese and Indians — all figured out this ratio, which exists both on paper and, as if by some sort of divine plan, throughout nature.
The relationship between a circle’s diameter — a line running straight through cutting it into two equal halves — and its circumference — the distance around the circle – was originally mentioned in the Hebrew Book of Kings in reference to a ritual pool in King Solomon’s Temple. The relevant verse (1 Kings 7:23) states that the diameter of the pool was ten cubits and the circumference 30 cubits. In other words, the Bible rounds off Pi to about three, as if to say that’s good enough for horseshoes and swimming pools.
Later on, the rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud, who knew that the one-third ratio wasn’t completely accurate, had a field day with the Bible having played fast and loose with the facts, arguing in their characteristic manner that of course it depended on whether you measured the pool from the inside or the outside of the vessel’s wall. They also had fun with some of the Gematria – the numerical value – of the words in the original passage, which when you play around with them a bit indeed come a lot closer to the value of Pi, spelling it out to several decimal points.
The great Maimonides later chimed in on this discussion with what reads almost like a warning not to dig too deeply into the mystery of Pi. “The ratio of the diameter of the circle and its circumference are unknown and can never be discussed with accuracy,” he wrote in the 12th century. “This is not a lack of knowledge on our part, as the idiots think, but rather it is that by its nature this thing is unknown, and by virtue of its reality cannot be known, and it is not possible to speak of it … its actual value cannot be perceived.” Inscrutable. Unknowable. Unapproachable. Kind of like God. “No man sees my face and lives,” as He told Moses.
In his 1998 debut feature, “Pi,” filmmaker Darren Aronofsky had some fun with all this when he had a group of Hasidim kidnap his protagonist — a tormented mathematical genius named Max Cohen — in order to help them divine a hidden mathematical code inside the Torah, which they believed would reveal the lost name of God. Instead, Cohen went bonkers and took a power drill to his skull.
Today, Cohen’s real-life avatar is Scottish-born mathematician Jonathan Michael Borwein, the world’s leading expert on the computation of Pi, which we can now spell out to about 2.7 trillion decimal points. Borwein is the son of the great Jewish mathematician David Borwein, who was born in 1924, in Kaunas, Lithuania. In 1984, Jonathan Michael Borwein and his brother, Peter Borwein, “produced an iterative algorithm that quadruples the number of digits in each step and in 1987, one that increases the number of digits five times in each step.” Don’t try that at home.
For a number of years, math geeks have celebrated March 14 – 3/14 – as “Pi Day.” In 2009, they even got the United States House of Representatives to officially support the designation of the day as such. (Apparently the U.S. Senate had more important things to deal with at the time.)
Some Massachusetts Institute of Technology types, or math majors at Princeton University, where Albert Einstein taught, get their jollies over the fact that the great mathematician and Jewish thinker was born on March 14. In the town of Princeton, N.J., in addition to pie eating and Pi recitations where contestants compete to see who can correctly spell out Pi to the greatest extent, there is an annual Einstein look-alike contest. MIT has often mailed its application decision letters to prospective students for delivery on March 14.
For those who get goose bumps just thinking about mathematical coincidences, on March 14, at 9:26:53 a.m. and p.m., the date and time will spell out the first 10 digits of Pi (3.141592653). One could even make the case for that same second containing a precise instant corresponding to all of the digits of Pi ad infinitum, but you probably shouldn’t think too deeply about that. You may wind up like Max Cohen in “Pi” and take a cordless drill to your skull.
Seth Rogovoy frequently writes about the intersection of popular culture and Jewish themes for the Forward. He flunked high school calculus and writing this article gave him a headache.
How Abraham Founded Judaism
Although Adam, the first man, believed in one God, most of his descendants prayed to many gods. Abraham, then, rediscovered monotheism.
Abraham was born Abram in the city of Ur in Babylonia and lived with his father, Terah, and his wife, Sarah. Terah was a merchant who sold idols, but Abraham came to believe that there was only one God and smashed all but one of his father's idols.
Eventually, God called upon Abraham to leave Ur and settle in Canaan, which God promises to give to Abraham's descendants. Abraham agreed to the pact, which formed the basis of the covenant, or b'rit, between God and Abraham's descendants. The b'rit is fundamental to Judaism.
Abraham then moved to Canaan with Sarah and his nephew, Lot, and was for some years a nomad, traveling throughout the land.
A Brief History of Jews and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s
Judaism teaches respect for the fundamental rights of others as each person's duty to God. "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor" (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a). Equality in the Jewish tradition is based on the concept that all of God's children are "created in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27). From that flows the biblical injunction, "You shall have one law for the stranger and the citizen alike: for I, Adonai, am your God" (Leviticus 24:22).
American Jews played a significant role in the founding and funding of some of the most important civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
In 1909, Henry Moscowitz joined W.E.B. DuBois and other civil rights leaders to found the NAACP. Kivie Kaplan, a vice-chairman of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism), served as the national president of the NAACP from 1966 to 1975. Arnie Aronson worked with A. Philip Randolph and Roy Wilkins to found the Leadership Conference.
From 1910 to 1940, more than 2,000 primary and secondary schools and 20 Black colleges (including Howard, Dillard and Fisk universities) were established in whole or in part by contributions from Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald. At the height of the so-called "Rosenwald schools," nearly 40 percent of Black people in the south were educated at one of these institutions.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Jewish activists represented a disproportionate number of white people involved in the struggle. Jews made up half of the young people who participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964. Leaders of the Reform Movement were arrested with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964 after a challenge to racial segregation in public accommodations. Most famously, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched arm-in-arm with Dr. King in his 1965 March on Selma.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were drafted in the conference room of Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, under the aegis of the Leadership Conference, which for decades was located in the RAC's building.
The Jewish community has continued its support of civil rights laws addressing persistent discrimination in voting, housing, and employment against not only women and people of Color but also in the LGBTQ+ community and the disabled community.
For more information about the Reform Jewish Movement's civil rights work and commitment to equality, please visit the Civil Rights and Voting Rights page.
CALENDAR, HISTORY OF:
The history of the Jewish calendar may be divided into three periods—the Biblical, the Talmudic, and the post-Talmudic. The first rested purely on the observation of the sun and the moon, the second on observation and reckoning, the third entirely on reckoning.
The study of astronomy was largely due to the need of fixing the dates of the festivals. The command (Deut. xvi. 1), "Keep the month of Abib," made it necessary to be acquainted with the position of the sun and the command, "Also observe themoon and sanctify it," made it necessary to study the phases of the moon.
The oldest term in Hebrew for the science of the calendar is />("fixing of the month") later />("sanctification of the new moon") />("sanctification of the new moon by means of observation") /> />("sanctification of the new moon by means of reckoning") />("science of fixing the month") />("rules for the sanctification of the new moon"). Among other names besides these we find />(" the secret of intercalation"). The medieval and modern name is />.
The Babylonian year, which influenced the French time reckoning, seems to have consisted of 12 months of 30 days each, intercalary months being added by the priests when necessary. Two Babylonian calendars are preserved in the inscriptions, and in both each month has 30 days as far as can be learnt. In later times, however, months of 29 days alternated with those of 30. The method of intercalation is uncertain, and the practise seems to have varied.
The Babylonian years were soli-lunar that is to say, the year of 12 months containing 354 days was bound to the solar year of 365 days by intercalating, as occasion required, a thirteenth month. Out of every 11 years there were 7 with 12 months and 4 with 13 months.
Strassmeier and Epping, in "Astronomisches aus Babylon," have shown that the ancient Babylonians were sufficiently advanced in astronomy to enable them to draw up almanacs in which the eclipses of the sun and moon and the times of new and full moon were predicted ("Proc. Soc. Bib. Arch., 1891-1892," p. 112).
The Talmud (Yerushalmi, Rosh ha-Shanah i. 1) correctly states that the Jews got the names of the months at the time of the Babylonian exile.
There is no mention of an intercalary month in the Bible, and it is not known whether the correction was applied in ancient times by the addition of 1 month in 3 years or by the adding of 10 or 11 days at the end of each year.
Astronomers know this kind of year as a bound lunar year. The Greeks had a similar year. Even the Christian year, although a purely solar year, is forced to take account of the moon for the fixing of the date of Easter. The Mohammedans, on the other hand, have a free lunar year.
It thus seems plain that the Jewish year was not a simple lunar year for while the Jewish festivals no doubt were fixed on given days of lunar months, they also had a dependence on the position of the sun. Thus the Passover Feast was to be celebrated in the month of the wheat harvest ( />), and the Feast of Tabernacles, also called />, took place in the fall. Sometimes the feasts are mentioned as taking place in certain lunar months (Lev. xxiii. Num. xxviii., xxix.), and at other times they are fixed in accordance with certain crops that is, with the solar year.
In post-Talmudic times Nisan, Siwan, Ab, Tishri, Kislew, and Shebaṭ had 30 days, and Iyyar, Tammuz, Elul, Ḥeshwan, Ṭebet, and Adar, 29. In leap-year, Adar had 30 days and We-Adar 29. According to Pirḳe Rabbi Eliezer, there was a lunar solar cycle of 48 years. This cycle was followed by the Hellenists, Essenes, and early Christians.
In the times of the Second Temple it appears from the Mishnah (R. H. i. 7) that the priests had a court to which witnesses came and reported. This function was afterward taken over by the civil court (see B. Zuckermann, "Materialien zur Entwicklung der Altjüdischen Zeitrechnung im Talmud, "Breslau, 1882).
The fixing of the lengths of the months and the intercalation of months was the prerogative of the Sanhedrin, at whose head there was a patriarch or />. The entire Sanhedrin was not called upon to act in this matter, the decision being left to a special court of three. The Sanhedrin met on the 29th of each month to await the report of the witnesses.
From before the destruction of the Temple certain rules were in existence. The new moon can not occur before a lapse of 29½ days and ⅔ of an hour. If the moon could not be exactly determined, one month was to have 30 days and the next 29. The full months were not to be less than 4 nor more than 8, so that the year could not be less than 352 days nor more than 356. After the destruction of the Temple (70 C.E. ) Joḥanan ben Zakkai removed the Sanhedrin to Jabneh. To this body he transferred decisions concerning the calendar, which had previously belonged to the patriarch. After this the witnesses of the new moon came direct to the Sanhedrin.
Every two or three years, as the case might be, an extra month was intercalated. The intercalation seems to have depended on actual calculation of the relative lengths of the solar and lunar years, which were handed down by tradition in the patriarchal family. Moreover, it was possible to judge by the grain harvest. If the month of Nisan arrived and the sun was at such a distance from the vernal equinox that it could not reach it by the 16th of the month, then this month was not called Nisan, but Adar Sheni (second).
On the evening before the announcement of the intercalation the patriarch assembled certain scholars who assisted in the decision. It was then announced to the various Jewish communities by letters. To this epistle was added the reason for the intercalation. A copy of such a letter of Rabban Gamaliel is preserved in the Talmud (Sanh. xi. 2).
The country people and the inhabitants of Babylonia were informed of the beginning of the month by fire-signals, which were readily carried from station to station in the mountain country. These signals could not be carried to the exiles in Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece, who, being accordingly left in doubt, celebrated two days as the new moon.
Owing to the weather it was frequently impossible to observe the new moon. In order to remove any uncertainty with regard to the length of the year on this account, it was ordained that the year should not have less than 4 nor more than 8 fullmonths. After the fixing of the calendar it was settled that the year should not have less than 5 nor more than 7 full months.
R. Gamaliel II. (80-116 C.E. ) used to receive the reports of the witnesses in person, and showed them representations of the moon to test their accuracy. On one occasion he fixed the first of Tishri after the testimony of two suspected witnesses. The accuracy of the decision was disputed by Rabbi Joshua, who was thereupon commanded by the patriarch to appear before him prepared for travel on the day which was, according to his (Joshua's) calculation, the Day of Atonement, an order with which he most reluctantly complied.
During the persecutions under Hadrian and in the time of his successor, Antoninus Pius, the martyr Rabbi Akiba and his pupils attempted to lay down rules for the intercalation of a month.
Under the patriarchate of Simon III. (140-163) a great quarrel arose concerning the feast-days and the leap-year, which threatened to cause a permanent schism between the Babylonian and the Palestinian communities—a result which was only averted by the exercise of much diplomacy.
Under the patriarchate of Rabbi Judah I., surnamed "the Holy" (163-193), the Samaritans, in order to confuse the Jews, set up fire-signals at improper times, and thus caused the Jews to fall into error with regard to the day of the new moon. Rabbi Judah accordingly abolished the fire-signals and employed messengers. The inhabitants of countries who could not be reached by messengers before the feast were accordingly in doubt, and used to celebrate two days of the holidays. By this time the fixing of the new moon according to the testimony of witnesses seems to have lost its importance, and astronomical calculations were in the main relied upon.
One of the important figures in the history of the calendar was Samuel (born about 165, died about 250), surnamed "Yarḥinai" because of his familiarity with the moon. He was an astronomer, and it was said that he knew the courses of the heavens as well as the streets of his city (Ber. 58b). He was director of a school in Nehardea (Babylonia), and while there arranged a calendar of the feasts in order that his fellow-countrymen might be independent of Judea. He also calculated the calendar for sixty years. His calculations greatly influenced the subsequent calendar of Hillel. According to Bartolocci his tables are preserved in the Vatican. A contemporary of his, R. Adda (born 183), also left a work on the calendar.
Mar Samuel reckoned the solar year at 365 days and 6 hours, and Rab Adda at 365 days, 5 hours, 55 minutes, and 25 25/57 seconds.
In 325 the Council of Nice was held, and by that time the equinox had retrograded to March 21. This council made no practical change in the existing civil calendar, but addressed itself to the reform of the Church calendar, which was soli-lunar on the Jewish system. Great disputes had arisen as to the time of celebrating Easter. Moreover, the Church was not fully established, many Christians being still simply Jewish sectarians. A new rule was therefore made, which, while still keeping Easter dependent on the moon, prevented it from coinciding with Passover.
Under the patriarchate of Rabbi Judah III. (300-330) the testimony of the witnesses with regard to the appearance of the new moon was received as a mere formality, the settlement of the day depending entirely on calculation. This innovation seems to have been viewed with disfavor by some members of the Sanhedrin, particularly Rabbi Jose, who wrote to both the Babylonian and the Alexandrian communities, advising them to follow the customs of their fathers and continue to celebrate two days, an advice which was followed, and is still followed, by the majority of Jews living outside of Palestine.
Under the reign of Constantius (337-361) the persecutions of the Jews reached such a height that all religious exercises, including the computation of the calendar, were forbidden under pain of severe punishment. The Sanhedrin was apparently prevented from inserting the intercalary month in the spring it accordingly placed it after the month of Ab (July-August).
The persecutions under Constantius finally decided the patriarch, Hillel II. (330-365), to publish rules for the computation of the calendar, which had hitherto been regarded as a secret science. The political difficulties attendant upon the meetings of the Sanhedrin became so numerous in this period, and the consequent uncertainty of the feast-days was so great, that R. Huna b. Abin made known the following secret of the calendar to Raba in Babylonia: Whenever it becomes apparent that the winter will last till the 16th of Nisan, make the year a leap-year without hesitation.
This unselfish promulgation of the calendar, though it destroyed the hold of the patriarchs on the scattered Judeans, fixed the celebration of the Jewish feasts upon the same day everywhere. Later Jewish writers agree that the calendar was fixed by Hillel II. in the year 670 of the Seleucidan era that is, 4119 A.M. or 359 C.E. Some, however, as Isaac Israeli, have fixed the date as late as 500. Saadia afterward formulated calendar rules, after having disputed the correctness of the calendar established by the Karaites. That there is a slight error in the Jewish calendar—due to inaccuracies in the length of both the lunar and the solar years upon which it is based—has been asserted by a number of writers.
According to Isidore Loeb the Jewish cycle in 19 years exceeds the Gregorian by 2 hours, 8 minutes, and 15.3 seconds. This makes a difference in a hundred cycles (1900 years) of 8 days, 21 hours, 45 minutes, and 5 seconds ("Tables du Calendrier Juif," p. 6, Paris, 1886).
The assumed duration of the solar year is 6 minutes, 39 25/57 seconds in excess of the true astronomical value, which will cause the dates of the commencement of future Jewish years, which are so calculated, to advance from the equinox a day in error in 216 years ("Encyc. Brit." s. v. " Calendar," 9th ed., iv. 678).
The following calculation of the differences between the Jewish and Gregorian lengths of the year and month was privately made for the writer byProf. William Harkness, formerly astronomical director of the United States Naval Observatory at Washington:
1 year = 365d. 05h. 997 12/19 ḥalaḳim or 365d. 05h. 55m. 25.439 s. 48m. 46.069 s. true value (29d. 12h. 793 ḥalaḳim) 235 = 6939d. 16h. 595 ḥalaḳim = 19 years 29d. 12h. 44m. 3⅓s. True value = 29d. 12h. 44m. 02.841s.
According to these calculations the Jewish year exceeds the Gregorian by 6 m. 39.37s. and the Jewish month by .492 s. Insignificant as these differences may appear, they will cause a considerable divergence in the relations between Nisan and spring as time goes on, and may require a Pan-Judaic Synod to adjust.
Mashallah, 754-813 Sahl ben Rabban al-Ṭabari, 800 Sind ben Ali, 829-832 Shabbethai b. Abraham Donolo, 949 Ḥasan, judge of Cordova, 972 Abraham b. Ḥiyya, d. 1136 Abraham ibn Ezra, 1093-1168 Isaac b. Joseph Israeli, 1310 Immanuel b. Jacob of Tarrascon, 1330-1346 Elia Misraḥi, d. 1490 Abraham b. Samuel Zacuto, professor of astronomy at Saragossa, 1492, Moses Isserles, d. 1573 David Gans (d. 1613), a friend of Keppler and Tycho Brahe Raphael Levi Hannover, 1734 Israel Lyons, 1773, member of an English polar expedition. Besides the following works of the Talmudic period: />, Baraita of the secret of intercalation (R. H. xx. 2) />(Pirḳe de Rabbi Eliezer ha-Gadol b. Hyrcanus).
History of Judaism (crash course)
Jewish History Video by Rabbi Berel Wein
Why Study History (download) by Ken Spiro
/>Visual Overview of the History of the Jewish people
7 Wonders of Jewish History by R. Moty Berger
Jewish History Crash Course MP3s (set) by Ken Spiro
Jewish history by Rabbi Berel Wein
/> Matzah & The Story of The Jewish People by Rabbi Berel Wein (article)
Why Study History of Judaism We learn Jewish history not only to avoid the mistakes of the past, but to understand where our destiny is taking us.
The Bible as History An enormous amount of information in the Bible has been borne out by archeology. There is not much direct evidence, but there is a huge amount of indirect or circumstantial evidence.
1712 BCE - Time of Isaac begins
1652 BCE - Time of Jacob begins
Isaac and His Sons History repeats itself. Whatever groove Abraham or Isaac or Jacob are going to carve, their descendants are going to get stuck in it.
1544 BCE - Joseph sold into slavery
Joseph The story of Joseph demonstrates a classic historic pattern of the Jew in Diaspora. The Jew arrives impoverished, works hard despite deprivation, and rises to the top.
The Bible and Archeology Do recent findings contradict the Bible? by Ken Spiro from AishAudio.com
Video: The Jewish Connection to Jerusalem
Jerusalem is a holy city for all religions it’s the holiest city in the world only to the Jews.
1522 BCE - Josephwelcomes his family to Egypt
Reunion Joseph realizes that through the generations, the family has created a rut of hatred among the brothers. To remedy the situation, he sets the stage for a great test.
1428 BCE -Israelites enslaved in Egypt
1392 BCE - Time of Moses begins
(Egyptian cities of Pithom & Ramses are built)
Moses In an all-time irony of ironies, the savior of the Jewish people is raised in the house of the ultimate enemy of the Jews.
1312 BCE - Exodus
The Ten Plagues Most miracles are natural phenomena with awesomely good timing. The Ten Plagues are a notable exception. Here the laws of nature are turned upside down to help free the Jews.
Video: The Islamic Connection to Jerusalem
The Islamic connection begins in the 7th century, thousands of years after the original Jewish connection.
Video: The 10 Lost Tribes
What happened to the 10 lost tribes? Find out in this video feature direct from Jerusalem.
1312 BCE - Torah given at Mount Sinai
(Canaanites tribes occupy Promised Land)
Mount Sinai The encounter between God and the Jews at Mount Sinai was a totally unique event in all of human history.
The Golden Calf Only 1/10 of 1% of the Jews participated in worshipping the golden calf. Yet God’s reaction makes it clear he is blaming the whole nation. What’s going on here?
1272 BCE - Conquest of Promised Land
The Tragedy of the Spies The spies story occurred on one of the most significant and tragic dates in Jewish history—the 9th of Av. Every major disaster in Jewish history is connected to this date.
Joshua & the Conquest of the Promised Land This is no typical war of conquest replete with pillaging and murder. God has said, "If you follow My instructions all will go well."
1106 BCE - Time of the Judges begins
(Philistines occupy coastal area of Israel)
The Time of the Judges The Jews had no king, but when they needed guidance they turned to "judges," who were both warriors and prophets.
879 BCE - Saul anointed king
King Saul King Saul was a great man who committed one terrible mistake, dooming his reign from the start.
877 BCE - Time of King David begins
David The Shepherd & The Warrior Still too young to fight in the army, David becomes Israel’s champion when he slays Goliath.
David The King He established Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, choosing a place that Jacob called “the gate of heaven.”
836 BCE - King Solomon begins his rule
825 BCE - First Temple completed
(Assyrian empire rising in the north)
King Solomon King Solomon, the wisest of all men, built the Temple in Jerusalem and reigned over Israel’s golden age.
796 BCE - Israel split into two kingdoms
A Divided Nation In response to the king’s arrogance, the ten northern tribes secede, splitting Israel in two.
555 BCE - Assyrians overturn northern Israel Ten tribes are lost
Assyrian Conquest The Assyrians, who conquer northern Israel, introduce a new way of dealing with vanquished nations. It’s called exile.
547 BCE - Sennacherib attacks Jerusalem
(Babylonians overrun Assyrian empire)
The End of Israel Judah lasts another of 134 years before it, too, falls bringing to an end the kingdom of Israel.
422 BCE - Babylonians conquer Israel & destroy Temple
(Persians overrun Babylonian Empire)
Babylonian Exile The Babylonians think God has abandoned the Jews and celebrate. But they have a surprise coming.
370 BCE - Jews return from Babylonian exile
355 BCE - Miracle of Purim
Purim in Persia Another feast celebrating God’s abandonment of Israel puts in motion a plot to annihilate the Jews.
352 BCE - Construction of Second Temple begins
The Second Temple The Temple the Babylonians destroyed is rebuilt, but it is never the same – the Ark of the Covenant is missing.
347 BCE - Time of the Great Assembly begins
(Greeks overrun Persian Empire)
The Great Assembly These extraordinary sages defined the essence of Judaism for the Jews of Israel and the Diaspora.
312 BCE - Greeks conquer Israel
The Greek Empire To the Greeks, what was beautiful was holy to the Jews, what was holy was beautiful. These views were bound to clash.
245 BCE - Torah is translated into Greek Greeks persecute Jews
Greek Persecution Terror reigned—women who allowed their sons to be circumcised were killed with their babies tied around their necks.
167 BCE - Revolt of Maccabees begins
139 BCE - Miracle of Chanukah
(Romans overrun Greek Empire)
The Revolt of the Maccabees The Jewish revolt against the Greeks sets a precedent in human history - it becomes the world’s first religious war.
63 BCE - Romans invade Israel
The Romans Jewish tradition maintains the Romans were descendants of Esau, the red-haired and blood-thirsty brother of Jacob.
37 BCE - Herod, the Great, begins his rule
Herod the Great A madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis, Herod was also the greatest builder in Jewish history.
32 BCE - Time of Hillel & Shammai
Hillel and Shammai In a time when many things were going wrong for the Jews, Hillel and Shammai defined what was going right.
67 CE - The Great Revolt of Jews against Rome begins
The Great Revolt In a seemingly suicidal move, Jews decided to take on the might of Rome.
Video: The Ark of the Covenant (1 min 56 sec)
What happened to the Ark and where is it today?
70 CE - Jerusalem conquered by the Romans, 17th of Tammuz
War For Jerusalem The Jewish nation fights to the death to save its spiritual center.
70 CE - Temple destroyed by the Romans, 9th of Av
Destruction of the Temple On the saddest day in the Jewish calender, the 9th of Av, the Temple burns to the ground.
Timeline: From Abraham to the Destruction of the Temple Two thousand years of Jewish history at a glance.
120 CE - Rebellion of Bar Kochba
The Bar Kochba Revolt Despite the disastrous results of the Great Revolt, the Jews revolt again and again.
136 CE - Rabbi Akiva martyred
Exile The Romans sought to extinguish Jewish presence in Jerusalem by renaming it Aelia Capitolina, and by changing Israel to Palestine.
219 CE - Mishna compiled by Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi
Talmud In a time of chaos, the rabbis decide that they must do the unprecedented—write down the Oral Law.
Seeds of Christianity During a time of cruel oppression of the Jews, a number of splinter sects sprang up whose members believed that the Apocalypse was at hand.
312 CE - Constantine converts Roman Empire to Christianity
(Fall of Rome and rise of Byzantine Empire)
From Paul to Constantine At first, Christianity was the most successful where people had been attracted to Judaism but were unwilling to take on all its precepts.
638 CE - Islamic conquest of Jerusalem
The Rise of Islam Mohammed reacted with anger when Jews refused to recognize him as the last of the prophets.
The Jews of Babylon The oldest and most stable of Jewish communities was saved from the Christians by Muslims sweeping through the Middle East.
1040 CE - Time of Rashi begins
1135 CE - Time of Maimonides begins
The Jews of Spain The land of opportunity for Jews—from the 8th to the 12th century—was Spain.
1096 CE - Time of Crusades begins
The Crusades The Crusaders came to liberate the Holy Land from the "infidels" and woe to any Jews who stood in their way.
1144 CE - First Blood Libel
Blood Libel Nothing can rationally explain the extreme Christian accusations leveled against the Jews at this time: Jews killed babies and drank their blood!
1263 CE - The Great Disputation time of Nachamanides
1348 CE - Black Plague
The Black Death Although the Europeans didn’t know what brought on the bubonic plague, they had no trouble naming the cause—it had to be the Jews!
1478 CE - The Inquisition begins
1492 CE - Jews expelled from Spain Columbus discovers America
(Ottoman Empire takes over the Middle East)
The Inquisition The basic accusation of the Inquisition was that Jews who converted to Christianity were still secretly Jewish.
1517 CE - Protestant Reformation time of Martin Luther
The Reformation and the Jews The Reformation exposed the corruption of the Church and brought about the advent of Protestantism. For the Jews it just meant more bad news.
1567 CE - Jews invited into Poland
The Jews of Poland King Boleslav of Poland invited the Jews, granting them unprecedented rights and privileges.
1570 CE - Time of the Ari & Kabbalists
The Kabbalists In the 16th century, the mountaintop town of Tzfat became the center of Jewish mysticism – the Kabbalah.
1648 CE - Chmielnicki Massacres in Eastern Europe
The Jews of Poland
1651 CE - Time of Shabbetai Tzvi, false messiah
1654 CE - First Jews arrive in America
Jews and the Founding of America The amazing story of Jewish influence on the founding of American democracy is a well-kept secret.
1698 CE - Time of the Ba’al Shem Tov begins the Hassidic Movement
1772 CE - Time of the Misnagdim & Vilna Goan
(The Enlightenment American Revolution French Revolution)
The Hassidic Movement Initially a movement of the poor and uneducated, Hassidism introduced Kabbalah and spirituality into everyday life.
1791 CE - Jews herded into Pale of Settlement in Russia
Pale of Settlement An area of Russia where Jews were most oppressed, the Pale of Settlement gave rise to amazingly good things.
1810 CE - Reform Movement begins in Germany
Reform Movement The German Jews who founded the Reform Movement emphasized their loyalty to the "fatherland" in order to be accepted in mainstream German society.
1881 CE - Jews made scapegoats for Czar of Russia
The Czars and the Jews In Czarist Russia, government-organized pogroms against the Jews kept the eyes of masses off the corrupt regime.
1882 CE - first aliyah to Israel
Return to the Land of Israel
1887 CE - Conservative Movement founded in America
Jewish Life in America Jews gained untold riches in America, but lost their heritage and spirituality.
1894 CE - Dreyfus Affair in France
The Face of Anti-Semitism Even in such civilized nation as France and the United States, anti-Semitism never died out.
1897 CE - First Zionist Congress
(World War I end of Ottoman Empire)
Modern Zionism The First Zionist Conference, held in 1897, was a major event in the establishment of the modern State of Israel.
1917 CE - British Mandate begins in Palestine Balfour Declaration
1927 CE - Country of Jordan created by the British on the East Bank of the Jordan River
The British Mandate The British promised to create a Jewish state. Instead they served their own Arab-linked interests as millions died in the Holocaust.
1933 CE - Hitler comes to power in Germany
(World War II)
The Holocaust While Nazi Germany proceeded to systematically round up and execute Jews, the rest of the world closed its eyes and its doors.
1942 CE - Final Solution formulated by the Nazis
The Final Solution Hitler was mindlessly focused on his goal: the elimination of all Jews from the planet.
1947 CE - Partition of Palestine by the UN
1948 CE - State of Israel declared
The State of Israel After the British brutally turned away Holocaust survivors from Israel, the UN voted to partition the land.
1948 CE - War of Independence
1964 CE - PLO founded
1967 CE - Six Day War and Reunification of Jerusalem
War Since its founding in 1948, Israel has been in a constant state of war and yet it has achieved great economic success.
The Miracle of Jewish History In the final analysis, Jewish history makes no rational sense.
Timeline: From Abraham to the Founding of the State of Israel Four thousand years of the History of Judaism at a glance. PDF version courtesy of S. Malkah Cohen at J M Publishers