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The Light of Two Faiths

Monday, December 7th, 2015

Hanukkah 2015 begins at sunset on Sunday, December 6 and ends at sunset on Monday, December 14

By Susan Perlman /

“The purpose of the celebration of Hanukkah is to welcome the Messiah. Peace is the Messiah. We light candles of peace to renew our faith in the ultimate triumph of peace over war. And we rededicate ourselves and our efforts to bringing this about.” -Rabbi Yaakov Bar Nachman, The Hanukkah Haggadah

    Rock of Ages let our song
    Praise Thy saving power;
    Thou amidst the raging foes
    Wast our shelt’ring tower.
    Furious they assailed us,
    But Thine arm availed us,
    And Thy word broke their sword
    When our own strength failed us.

    -Maoz Tzur, 13th Century

While the lyrics of Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages) express the traditional meaning of the Hanukkah celebration, Rabbi Nachman offers another explanation of the holiday: a festival of peace. Others see Hanukkah as a little holiday, a time for menorahs, latkes, dreidels, and Hanukkah gelt. But some say Hanukkah is the “Jewish Christmas.” Are any of these assessments correct? In order to decide, you need to know the Hanukkah story.

The events of Hanukkah took place during the 400-year period between the writing of the last book of Hebrew Scriptures and the first book of the “New Testament.”

The Jewish people were under Persian rule until Alexander defeated the Persians in 331 B.C. Ten years later, Alexander died and his kingdom was divided among his generals. While all of them were Greek, they were far from harmonious. Syria was under the Seleucids, and Egypt under the Ptolemies. Judea was caught in between.

The system of government for Jews changed under Greek rule. The Persians had been content to place a governor in Israel who primarily concerned himself with enforcing imperial civil laws and the payment of taxes. The Greek conquerors demanded compliance and conformity in religious practices as well. For the better part of the 3rd century B.C., the Jewish people were under the domination of the Greco-Egyptians. With the Persians, a foreign governor had been installed, but not so with the Ptolemies. Instead, the High Priest of Israel served as both political ruler and religious representative.

Along with this greater degree of self-rule came pressure to conform to Greek ways. This gave rise to political factions in Judea; some were more disposed to the Greco-Syrians, others to the Greco-Egyptians. Wars were frequent, and eventually the Syrians conquered the Jewish land. The Seleucids were even more dedicated to inculcating Greek culture and customs on the people than were the Egyptians. In order to conform, Jews adopted Greek names, wore Greek-style garments, and adopted Greek ways.

Antiochus IV was the Syrian ruler. He called himself “Epiphanes” (the visible god). The now-corrupted position of High Priest had been assumed by a hellenized Jew, Jason, formerly called Joshua. Jason was considered a “moderate” hellenist, and so he was replaced by an even more-hellenistic Menelaus (formerly Menachem).

The Persians had only wanted tribute from the Jewish people. The Greek successors to Alexander, especially Antiochus IV, held to a belief in the superiority of “the Greek way of life” and wanted much more. Hellenism encouraged intellectual pursuits and a polite, highly civilized society, but it also involved idolatry and exalted the wisdom of mankind.

The hellenists had nothing but disdain for the Jewish religion and the Jewish way of life, and they set about to “civilize” the people of Judea by forcing them into the Greek mold. Only those who would renounce the “old ways” and embrace the new (including the worship of Greek gods) could have a place in this idealized Greek society. “Whoever refuses should be put to death,” it was decreed. And many were. This rejection of hellenism infuriated the Syrian king, and we read in I Maccabees of the persecution that ensued:

    The Books of the Law which they (the hellenists) found, they tore into pieces and burned. Wherever a book of the covenant was found in anyone’s possession, or if anyone respected the Law, the decree of the king imposed the sentence of death upon him. Month after month, they dealt brutally with every Israelite who was found in the cities … In accordance with the decree, they put to death the women who had circumcised their children, hanging the newborn babies around their necks; and they also put to death their families as well as those who had circumcised them …

The Holy Temple was defiled. The golden altar, the candlesticks, and all the gold and silver utensils were looted from the Temple and desecrated. And to show his utter contempt for Judaism, Antiochus offered a sow on the altar to honor the Greek god, Zeus.

During these dark times of devastation, it is said that Mattathias, an elderly priest from Modi’in, defied a Syrian soldier who ordered him to bow down to an idol. Instead he struck down the soldier and fled from the city to the hills of Judea. With his five sons and a few other faithful Jews, Mattathias formed a band of guerrilla fighters. They were faithful to the God of Israel and would not countenance Greek idolatry and, in zealous contempt, rejected Greek culture. They were called Hasmoneans, though no one seems to know how that name came about. Unlike the other Jewish resistance fighters, they believed that for purposes of self-defense, it was permissible to fight on the Sabbath. Until this time, the Greeks could prevail by ordering their attacks on the Sabbath.

This guerrilla company was valiantly successful in its skirmishes with the Syrian soldiers. The rebels grew in number and in the ability to fight, inflicting great damage on the Syrian forces with their “hit and run” tactics. According to the account in the extra-biblical writings, Mattathias died within a year of their formation and his son Judah took charge. He was called “Maccabee,” which means “hammer,” for it was said that he was God’s hammer to smash the Syrians.

History and legend seem interwoven, but as best as we can piece it together, there were three years of fighting, surprise attacks, night raids, and ambushes by these tough, Jewish fighters.

Antiochus sent his ablest general, Lysias, to destroy the Hasmoneans. From their mountain camp, a war-worn group of 3,000 Jewish fighters watched as 47,000 Syrian soldiers marched across the plain to engage them in battle. As the story goes, the faithful band of Maccabees, with God on their side, vanquished the Syrians at Emmaus. Judah Maccabee marched into Jerusalem and set about to purify the Temple. Idols were torn down, and the altar, which had been defiled with the sacrifice of pigs, was dismantled and a new one built. New holy vessels were crafted. A date was set for the rededication of the Temple — the 25th of Kislev, the same day on which, three years earlier, Antiochus had issued his decree.

Tradition says that when Judah offered prayers of dedication in the Temple in 165 B.C., only one vessel of sanctified oil was found — enough for one day. Miraculously, it burned for eight days. This is remembered by the kindling of lights for eight days.

How the Hanukkah observance has changed over the years! In a 1985 article, “Why Can’t We Have a Christmas Tree?” Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Temple Valley Beth Shalom reflected:

    “Parental figures dress up as Uncle Mordecai, mask their faces with Chasidic beards, don a blue suit, carry a bagful of toys wrapped with menorah-figured paper, and place them around the Chanukah bush, which is brightly lit with blue and white blinking lights (the colors are authentically Jewish), then announce cheerfully, “Ho, ho, ho. Happy Chanukah!” Christmas is but one night; Chanukah lasts for eight. So on each night, the child is plied with gifts. With eight-to-one odds, the fidelity of the Jewish child to Chanukah is a sure thing.”

Herman Wouk, the Jewish existentialist, says:

    “It would be pleasant to believe that the stabbing relevance of Hanukkah to Jewish life in America has occasioned the swell of interest in the holiday. But a different and perfectly obvious cause is at work. By a total accident of timing, this minor Hebrew celebration falls close on the calendar year to a great holy day of the Christian faith. This coincidence has all but created a new Hanukkah …”

The observance of Hanukkah, unlike Passover or Rosh Hashanah, is not among the festivals required by the Hebrew Scriptures. However, it is still worthwhile for Believers to celebrate it — and not merely to pacify Jewish children who might feel deprived because Santa Claus does not deliver to Jewish homes. Hanukkah is worth celebrating because it teaches us about the God of Israel, the God of peace, the God of power.

Herman Wouk reflects more on Hanukkah in This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life:

    Our whole history is a fantastic legend of a single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days, of a flaming bush that is not consumed, and of a national life (that, in the logic of events, should have flickered and gone out long ago) still burning on.

One might dispute his use of the word “legend.” Still, Wouk has touched on the miracle of our people and the wonder of our God. It is unfortunate that he detracts from this awesome reflection by adding:

    That is the tale we tell our children in the long nights of December when we kindle the little lights, while the great Christian feast blazes around us with its jeweled trees and familiar music.

    The two festivals have one real point of contact. Had Antiochus succeeded in obliterating Jewry a century and a half before the birth of Jesus, there would have been no Christmas. The feast of the Nativity rests on the victory of Hanukkah.

The Nativity (the birth of Jesus/Yeshua) does not depend on Hanukkah. It’s not nearly that fragile. It does rest on the truthfulness and accuracy of the Jewish Scriptures.

Yet there is a connection between Hanukkah and Christmas. Hanukkah is often called “the Festival of Lights.” The explanation given by Josephus is that the right to serve God came to the people unexpectedly, like a sudden light.

Christmas is also a holiday about “a sudden light.” The story of the Nativity includes this account:

    “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and come to worship him.'” (Matthew 2:1-2)

The arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem must have impressed Herod, the Roman ruler of Judea, for he granted them an audience. And they asked him about the king of the Jews.

Herod’s first response was one of uneasiness. After all, the king of the Jews whom the Magi were seeking would surely be a threat to his Roman allies who enabled Herod to rule over the Jewish people. The Jews may have rededicated the Temple in 165 B.C., but they were still oppressed and governed by foreign powers. However, Herod apparently had enough religious knowledge of the people he ruled to call together the chief priest and scribes of Jerusalem. He asked them where this prophesied “king” was to be born.

These learned religious leaders pointed Herod back to the prophet Micah who said almost 800 years earlier:

    “But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from ancient times.” (Micah 5:1)

Herod passed the information on to the Magi, telling them to come back to him when they found the child. (Later, we learn that the Magi were warned by God not to tell Herod of Jesus’ whereabouts. Herod’s murderous response to this is described in Matthew 2:16-18.) As soon as the Magi headed for Bethlehem, the star, which had disappeared temporarily, reappeared and led them to the house in Bethlehem where they saw the infant Yeshua.

In a sense, Herman Wouk’s self-serving remarks about the Nativity resting on the victory of Hanukkah is a sad example of the insecurity of many Jews who need to hoist up Hanukkah in order to insulate nerves rubbed raw by December festivities.

Ironically, the Christmas story of the birth of Yeshua adds meaning to Hanukkah, “the Festival of Lights.” It was at the time of the “Feast of Dedication,” when all of Jerusalem was illuminated with the light of the Hanukkah lamps that Yeshua spoke from the Temple courts:

    “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. ” (John 8:12)

The wicks in the oil of the Hanukkah lamps had barely burned out when the light of the world, Yeshua, came on the scene:

    “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a savior has been born to you; He is Messiah the Lord!”

Could it be that Rabbi Nachman was not so innovative after all when he said that the purpose of Hanukkah is to welcome the Messiah?

Rebuttal to Chief Rabbis’ Besmirch of Christian Embassy

Sunday, October 4th, 2015
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)

By Isi Leibler \ Op-Ed to The Jerusalem Post on 09/21/2015

Isi Leibler

Isi Leibler

It is regrettable that on Yom Kippur eve, our chief rabbis have again uttered offensive remarks, this time besmirching one of Israel’s most dedicated allies and ardent supporters.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and his Sephardi counterpart, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, have issued an extraordinary condemnation against the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ), accusing it of missionary activities and calling on Jews to boycott its 36th annual global Succot gathering in Jerusalem. The pro-Israel ICEJ was established in 1980 and is an extension of the Evangelical branch of Christianity.

Over the past half century, we have witnessed an exponential intensification in the Evangelical movement’s attachment to the Jewish people and Israel. This has coincided with the dramatic erosion of support for Israel from the Left and liberal sources.

Needless to say, Evangelicals are far from being a monolithic group and include a small minority whose primary interest in Jews is to proselytize them. Jews cannot countenance any relationship with such groups.

There are also some fringe elements whose philo-Semitism is motivated by premillennial dispensationalism – a belief that the End of Days and the second coming of the messiah can only take place when Jews have returned to the Land of Israel.

However, the majority of Evangelicals are God-fearing Christians who share an unconditional love for the Jews as God’s chosen people, pray for our welfare and passionately support Israel. They regard Judaism as the foundation of Christianity and reject Protestant replacement theology, which says the New Testament supersedes the historical role of the Jews as God’s chosen people. They base their belief on biblical passages such as Genesis 12:3: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

Most believe that God always intended Israel as a Jewish homeland and regard support for Israel as a way of honoring God. These feelings nurtured the early 19th century Christian Zionists and subsequently motivated people like Lord Balfour and Orde Wingate – who helped create the Haganah – and many others. These sentiments, rather than proselytism, were the major factors whereby Evangelicals developed into passionate Christian Zionists.

The Christian Embassy has approximately 50 dedicated representatives in Israel who liaise with branches in over 80 countries. It has an impressive record of major charitable contributions to Jewish, principally Israeli, causes. Most of the funds for these projects originate from $50 to $100 donations from churchgoing Christians who consider support for the Jewish people as a righteous cause.

The ICEJ has sponsored the aliya of over 120,000 Jews to Israel and provided seed money for the creation of Nefesh B’Nefesh. It contributes to the integration of immigrants and numerous social welfare projects in Israel, including a home for needy Holocaust survivors in Haifa, support for former Gush Katif residents and the funding of bomb shelters for settlements in the Gaza border region.

In the public arena, it canvasses support for Israel among parliaments throughout the world, and even created a Christian counterpart to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in support of Israel and against anti-Semitism. Passionate Evangelical support contributed substantially toward the surge of popularity for Israel in the United States and the good standing Israel currently enjoys in Congress. In some respects, Evangelical political influence has been as important as that of the pro-Israeli lobby.

The Christian Embassy works closely with the Foreign Ministry, the Tourism Ministry, the Jewish Agency and Yad Vashem. Last year’s Succot celebrations, which took place just after the Gaza war, attracted the largest number of participants in many years (over 5,000).

This year’s expression of solidarity with Israel will again celebrate the “recognition of the hand of God in Israel’s modern-day restoration and the need to work with what God is doing and bless it.”

In stark contrast to the traditional anti-Semitic church doctrine and current anti-Israel hostility manifested by most Protestant churches, the Christian Embassy and its supporters are genuine lovers of Zion. Evangelical support has never been conditional on a quid pro quo.

Yet the Chief Rabbinate shamefully proclaimed that the ICEJ’s objective is to convert “all the inhabitants of the world to Christianity” and, in particular, “to change the religion of Jews from the religion of Israel and to bring them under the wings of Christianity.” The chief rabbis urged Jews not to have any contact with them whatsoever, declaring that Jewish participation was prohibited by the Torah.

There are small groups of Orthodox Jews who remain convinced that all Christians are anti-Semites and their friendly gestures are only a ruse to proselytize us.

Extremist fringe elements like the xenophobic Lehava organization exhibit vile bigotry and poisonous hatred, and a handful are pathological and guilty of despicable acts of vandalism against churches.

But the majority of anti-Evangelical agitators, like Yad L’achim, are naïve and misguided zealots who accuse the Christian Embassy of missionary activity.

They obviously succeeded in convincing the chief rabbis to issue this condemnation without adequately checking the facts.

Over the years I have worked closely with the ICEJ.

It and its staff are indeed genuine friends of the Jewish people, and are righteous gentiles. I attended their Israel Guest Night on Succot and have been invited as a commentator on many of their broadcasts directed toward Christians throughout the world. I never once encountered even the slightest hint of missionary intent and I admire their integrity and innate decency.

I have never engaged in theological dialogue with them and see no merit in discussing our religious differences. I do recognize the common roots of our Judeo-Christian heritage, which obliges us to reject moral relativism and differentiate between good and evil.

For decades, in its charitable work throughout Israel, the Christian Embassy obliges every Israeli individual or institution that receives any aid from it to sign a statement confirming that there has been no attempt on its part to proselytize.

The week-long Feast of Tabernacles event is essentially a Christian gathering restricted to those who have regularly attended church services for at least six months.

It also holds a parade in Jerusalem where thousands of followers from all corners of the world proclaim their support and solidarity with Israel.

One activity, designated Israeli Guest Night, is open to the Israeli public. The program is extraordinarily sensitive to ensure that there is no missionary content, and it concentrates on expressing solidarity with the Jewish people.

Last year’s Israel Guest Night paid tribute to soldiers and survivors of terrorist attacks, and honored 300 Jewish, Christian and Druse paratroopers who served in Gaza. It was addressed by President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This year, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will be the keynote speaker.

It is disgraceful that the Chief Rabbinate failed to verify the false allegations made against the Christian Embassy and slandered those who represent Israel’s greatest friends in the world. The chief rabbis’ churlish action shames the Jewish people, and they should apologize and withdraw their scurrilous accusations.

In the meantime, I have every confidence that Israelis will continue to welcome our Christian friends and express appreciation for their support. Succot is traditionally recognized as the festival on which gentiles are invited to Jerusalem, and we should be gratified that during these difficult times, Christians from all over the world will gather here to express their solidarity.

Indeed, we should echo the sentiments expressed by then-chief rabbi Shlomo Goren who, in 1981, blessed the Christian Embassy Succot gathering with “Bruchim habaim b’shem Adonai” — “may all of you who have come here be blessed in the name of God.”

Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish Months

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Alegmeiner.com

Torah scroll

Torah scroll

“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work; it is a day of blowing the shofar for you” (Numbers 29:1). Those are the words in the Torah that tell us to observe Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Something is missing from that verse, since there is nothing about a new year. Besides, does a year start on the first day of the seventh month? Apparently it does.

Passover begins in the month of Nissan, but according to the Book of Deuteronomy, it begins in the month of Aviv. Aviv is Hebrew for “spring,” as in the name of the city Tel Aviv (hill of spring). Nowadays, Nissan is the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, if we count the months beginning with Rosh Hashanah. But if Rosh Hashanah takes place in the seventh month, then Aviv – now called Nissan – is the first month.

The Bet Alfa synagogue in Israel was built in the sixth century A.D. One of its mosaics has a circular panel with the signs of the Zodiac. There are Zodiac representations in synagogues all over the world, including the Eldridge Street Synagogue, now a museum, in New York City. According to a congregant at a synagogue in Tel Aviv, the Zodiac symbols there represent the twelve tribes. Since there are twelve months and twelve tribes, turning the symbols from Zodiac signs into representations of the tribes is a way to reconcile the symbols with Jewish tradition.

The Zodiac was part of the Babylonian calendar; so, Jewish traditions involving these symbols may have been borrowed during the Babylonian exile. However, the Babylonian year began with the month of Nissan.

The language spoken on the island of Sardinia is considered a separate language and not a dialect of Italian. The month of September in Sardinian is caputanni – caput means “head” and anni means “of the year.” Thus, caputanni is a perfect, direct translation of Rosh Hashanah, “head of the year.” There is a possibility that the name reflects a pre-Roman calendar that began the year with September. It is also possible, and probably more likely, that the name goes back to the year 19 A.D., when the Jews were expelled from Rome and 4,000 young Jews were condemned to forced labor on Sardinia. Twelve years later, when the order was rescinded, the Jews had the choice of going back to Rome or remaining where they were. A Jewish population remained in Sardinia until 1492, when the island belonged to Spain and the Jews were expelled. There is a second word in Sardinian that appears to be of Jewish origin: cenabura, pronounced [kenabura], meaning “Friday,” and coming from cena (feast) and pura (pure), suggesting the Sabbath meal. These words remained in Sardinian after the expulsion of the Jews.

And then there’s September, from Latin septem meaning “seven,” with what is probably an adjectival suffix -ber. September, October, November, and December mean 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th. Yet they are the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th months of the year. In the days before the Roman Republic existed, there were 51 winter days that were not part of any month. Around the year 713 A.D., King Numa Pompilius introduced two months into the winter season — Januarius and Februarius — and designated them as the first two months of the year. Julius Caesar renamed the fifth month, Quintilis, after himself, calling it Julius (July in English). Augustus Caesar named the eighth month, Sextilis, after himself, calling it Augustus (August in English).

And so the Jewish calendar begins with a month originally called the seventh, which occurs in September, a name meaning “seventh.”

Shanah tovah … Happy New Year!

Passover videos

Monday, March 30th, 2015

More Passover videos / BreakingIsraelNews.com

If Moses had Facebook

Let Them Go (Passover version of “Let It Go” from Frozen) (This young woman could sing a duet with Idina Menzel!)

More parodies on “Let It Go” from Frozen, with more humor.

Let It Go — Passover edition

Jew Direction: “Not Slaves Any More” a Passover parody on Katy Perry’s “Roar”

2015 Technion Passover video

Friday, March 27th, 2015

Passover Pesach 2015 Seder Rube Goldberg Machine from Technion in Israel

Israel’s Technion students get ready for Passover–the festival of freedom–and let their imagination run wild. Watch closely as this Rube Goldberg machine, created by students from the Faculties of Mechanical Engineering and Architecture and Town Planning, relates highlights of the Passover story.

Filmed in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in The Sydney & Shirley Gendel and Emanuel Friedberg Family Creative Design Student Laboratory, a Project of the American Technion Society, Cleveland Chapter.

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Watch Behind the Scenes to see how it was made.

Brand New Passover Song Will Have You Groovin’–video

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Aish.com’s new Pesach (Passover) song to get you clapping and singing along. For lyrics, click on the “cc” (closed captions) box that will appear at the bottom of the screen once the video begins. Enjoy!

Lyrics:
Pesach, four cups cold
Holy Moses, Egyptian gold

This one, for family
The hagada, straight masterpiece

Matzah, marror
Eatin’ it up at the Seder

Got Kittel on with Saint Laurent
Save the Afikoman for later

Now comes blood, all red!
Called for Moses, he’s a Magician

Frogs, lice, on head!
Wild beasts and hail I said

It’s so dark, where’s Fred?
Let us go, Pharaoh got no cred

Firstborn, he’s dead!
Say Hebrews, let’s start running.
Break it down

Refrain:
Jews wrote the hallelujah
Jews wrote the hallelujah
Jews wrote the hallelujah

’Cause Pesach Funk gon’ give it to you
’Cause Pesach Funk gon’ give it to you
’Cause Pesach Funk gon’ give it to you

Passover night and we are living it up
Fill it up the Four cups

Matzah crumblin’ up
Chametz: burned it all up
Afikoman’s wrapped up
Don’t be slaves, just rise up

Pesach funk is what’s up
Hey, hey, hey, oi!

Stop! Wait a minute
Fill my cup with the Maneschewitz
Take a sip, lean your chest
Yankele! Get the stretch!

Say four questions, the four sons,
four cups, not too many
and we thank God for freedom
Headin’ to our land of milk ‘n’ honey

Freedom! Oh man
Gonna live my life the best way I can

Freedom! We can
Make the Jew in you to a hero man
Freedom! I am…

Say goodbye to those shackles and
Freedom! Hot sand!
More matzah in your tummy.

Break it down

Refrain:
Jews wrote the hallelujah
Jews wrote the hallelujah
Jews wrote the hallelujah

’Cause Pesach Funk gon’ give it to you
’Cause Pesach Funk gon’ give it to you
’Cause Pesach Funk gon’ give it to you

Passover night and we are living it up
Fill it up the Four cups

Matzah crumblin’ up
Chametz: burned it all up
Afikoman’s wrapped up
Don’t be slaves, just rise up

Pesach funk is what’s up
Hey, hey, hey, oi!

Definitions:
matzah (matzoh, matza, matzo) — unleavened bread
marror (maror) — bitter herbs
hagada (haggadah) — order of the Passover Seder (dinner)
kittle (kitl) — white robe Jewish males wear on special occasions
Afikoman (Afikomen) — in Greek means “that which comes later”. Many families hide the Afikomen–either the parents hide it and the children search for it, or the children hide it and parents search. A prize is often given to whoever locates this important piece of matzah. The Seder cannot continue until the Afikomen has been located and consumed.
Chametz — food made with a leavening agent. Houses must be purged of all chametz before Passover

IDF Soldier: “I saw the Hand of HaShem!”

Monday, August 4th, 2014

From the Facebook page for Olive Branch International Ministries

On Sunday, I received a call from A, one of the officers operating Israel’s Iron Dome system. He had been a student of mine about six years ago. I was happy to hear from him.

“Where is somewhere I can learn Torah in Ramat Gan?” he asked me.

I was surprised at the question because he was completely remote from Torah observance.

“I’m going to be released from the army in a few months and I want to start learning in a Yeshiva [school for religious instruction]. I saw Hashem with my own eyes!” he declared.

“What happened,” I asked.

“A missile was fired from Gaza. One of the features of the Iron Dome system is its capability to pinpoint where a missile is going to fall, within a radius of 200 meters. This missile was headed for a central area, in the Azrieli Towers vicinity, either in the actual square or on the train tracks. Either way, hundreds of lives were in danger!” His words rushed out; I listened breathlessly.

Azrieli Towers, Israel

Azrieli Towers, Israel

“We fired an interceptive missile, which missed. The second missile missed too, and then the third. That is highly unusual. Until today, there were only two such occurrences. I was shocked. We had about four more seconds before it would be too late to intercept the missile. We alerted the emergency services, Mada [MDA–Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross)], police, and fire department to head for the scene. We’d already activated the mass terror attack alert.

“Suddenly, with no alert from the Iron Dome system — which usually computes and predicts wind factor and direction — a strong wind from the east blew the missile southward, into the sea. We were all in shock. I jumped up and yelled, ‘There is a God! There is a God! There is a God!’

“I saw this miracle with my eyes. I didn’t hear about it; no one told me about it. I saw the Hand of HaShem** knock the missile into the sea! This was obviously not publicized due to security regulations (which is why the date and time are not reported here), but it is enough to note the miracles that we do clearly see with our own eyes in the populated areas to understand that there is a God,” he said. “I ran over to the religious soldiers, and asked them for tefillin [prayer accessories] to put on. I committed to begin keeping Shabbos [Jewish Sabbath], and it was the best Shabbos I ever experienced,” he exclaimed.

IDF soldier wearing tefillin

IDF soldier wearing tefillin

Watch the short video of a physicist giving a scientist’s perspective of the question “Who’s Protecting Israel?”

** Definition of HaShem

  HaShem — The Name the-name in Hebrew alphabet

Explained by Paul Sumner / Hebrew-Streams.org

In the Hebrew Bible, God’s personal name is the most often used noun. It occurs over 6,800 times. In Hebrew texts it is spelled only with consonants: Y-H-W-H (the four Hebrew letters (Yod, He, Waw, and He), and is called the “Four-Letter Name” or Tetragrammaton in Greek, [pronounced Yahweh — YAH-way].

Rabbinic Judaism refers to God’s name as “haShem” — literally, “The Name” (the “ha” is the attached prefix article “the”). In biblical times “YHWH” was spoken with accompanying vowel sounds. But sometime prior to the first century, that pronunciation was gradually suppressed (out of reverence). (“YHVH” and “YHWH” are variations of spelling)

In the Bible, some people’s names contained a form of God’s Name (Joshua, Isaiah, Hosea). The Greek Jewish name “Jesus” is also linked in Hebrew to the Tetragrammaton, a fact that opens insights into passages in the New Testament.

Egypt Demands Compensation for 10 Plagues

Friday, April 18th, 2014

IsraelToday.com

“We demand that the State of Israel pay compensation for the ten plagues that our forefathers in Egypt suffered thousands of years ago as a result of the curses of the Jewish forefathers.” So wrote prominent Egyptian columnist Ahmad Al-Gamal shortly before the Jewish Passover, causing a great stir.

“What is written in the Torah is that Pharaoh discriminated against the children of Israel. What have we to do with it? We therefore need not suffer!” exclaimed Al-Gamal, drawing a clear difference between the Egyptian kingdom of the Pharaohs and Islamic Egypt of today. Note that Islam accepts the biblical narrative as historical evidence.

The columnist suggested that the government in Cairo press charges against Israel: “The Jews caused the land to be stricken with locusts and all agriculture destroyed, turned the Nile red with blood so that one could drink its waters, sent darkness, frogs, and killed the firstborn.”

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Al-Gamal continued: “During 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Children of Israel enjoyed our goods, which they stole before abandoning us.” He also recommended that Egypt bring charges against France, Great Britain, and Turkey for those nations’ historical conquests of Egypt.

The Egyptian column was picked up by the Israeli press, especially religious news outlets, which readily acknowledged all that Al-Gamal wrote as historical fact.

Some Israeli columnists retorted that Egypt need first compensate Israel for keeping the Jewish forefathers as slaves and for killing all male Jewish babies in the generation prior to the Exodus.

Christians Rediscovering Passover

Monday, April 14th, 2014
Leonardo da Vinci's mural painting of the Last Supper, located at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. Nothing reattaches Christians to their Jewish roots faster than realizing the Last Supper was actually a Passover seder meal being led by a Jewish rabbi, writes David Parsons. Credit: PD-Art.

Leonardo da Vinci’s mural painting of the Last Supper, located at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. Nothing reattaches Christians to their Jewish roots faster than realizing the Last Supper was actually a Passover seder meal being led by a Jewish rabbi, writes David Parsons. Credit: PD-Art.

By David Parsons/JNS.org

For Jews and Christians, the Passover season is a special time for reflection on the rich spiritual truths contained within this remarkable holiday. Indeed, we can all observe the command to “remember” the incredible Israelite deliverance from bondage in Egypt.

For Christians, the events of a momentous Passover some 15 centuries later have given added meaning to this holiday, so that the truths of the first are reinforced in the latter. Deliverance from Pharaoh’s taskmasters became freedom from slavery to sin. The blood of a lamb on the doorposts became a typology of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Yet the parallels between Pesach and Easter were lost for centuries to most Christians when the early Church fathers deliberately severed our faith from its Jewish roots. In time, this hostility to Judaism produced vicious blood libels against Jews at Passover.

Today, however, multitudes of Christians are rediscovering our Hebraic roots. Indeed, TIME magazine recently identified growing Christian interest in our faith’s Jewish heritage as one of the ten top trends of our day.

Even respected Jewish scholars have started joining Christian theologians in rediscovering the “Jewishness” of Jesus and the Hebraic origins of Christianity. One notable in this regard is the late Prof. David Flusser of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, considered the leading Orthodox Jewish expert on the Second Temple era and Early Christianity.

Flusser placed Jesus within the Pharasic tradition and viewed him as among the great sages of his time, such as Hillel and Ben-Shammai. But Flusser concluded that the Galilean preacher went boldly beyond the classic Judaism of that day, for instance by proclaiming the advent of the Kingdom of God and espousing a radical ethic of loving one’s enemy.

As a result of such groundbreaking scholarship, the Feast of Passover is one occasion when the lineage and cultural identity of Jesus as a “son of the covenant” now holds so much more meaning for Christians. In fact, nothing reattaches Christians to their Jewish roots faster than realizing the Last Supper was actually a Passover seder meal being led by a Jewish rabbi.

Thus, we can now see in the Gospel narratives just how closely Jesus held to Jewish traditions in presiding over the Passover meal with his disciples—or rather, his talmidim.

For instance, he followed the custom then developing in First Century Judaism of serving four cups of wine at the Passover meal to mirror the four great “I wills” of Exodus 6:6-7. When Jesus took the third cup—considered the “cup of redemption”—he used it to seal a new covenant with his followers.

Interestingly, he also used customary Jewish words of betrothal at that same moment, promising to go build them all mansions in his Father’s house and to come back for them one day as a bridegroom for his bride (John 14:2-3).

In serving them wine and unleavened bread, Jesus further played off the command to “remember” the Passover by instructing his disciples to always partake of it “in remembrance of me!”

Then, one of the most extraordinary moments of the Last Supper came when he washed the feet of his disciples.

Like other great rabbis of his day, Jesus had developed a unique preaching style by telling parables, many of which are universally known to this day, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. But he was different in the way he also practiced what he preached. In washing the feet of his disciples, the rabbi Jesus taught by deed and not just words what it means to be a servant in His kingdom (John 13:14-15).

And finally, Jesus demonstrated tremendous grace that evening when he gave the place of the guest of honor to his immediate left to Judas, even though he knew this was the one about to betray him. What a difference it would have made down through history if Christians had understood that Jesus was never bitter towards Judas.

Sadly, it is too late to change that history. But we are witnessing a sea-change in Christian attitudes towards the Jewish people today, as we understand better the Jewish matrix of our faith. This historic shift is helping to build Christian support for an embattled Israel at a critical hour. And just as importantly, it is shielding multitudes of Christians against modern-day blood libels and other anti-Semitic lies now being hurled at the Jewish state.

David Parsons, ICEJ

David Parsons, ICEJ

David Parsons is an ordained minister who serves as media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (www.icej.org).

Dutch Christians Build Mega-Menorah

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

Hanukkah 2013 begins in the evening of Wednesday, November 27 and ends in the evening of Thursday, December 5.

Raising the Hanukkiah in the Netherlands

Raising the Hanukkiah in Netherlands

By Cnaan Liphshiz / JTA.org

BERLIKUM, Netherlands (JTA) — In a windswept parking lot near the North Sea shore, Klaas Zijlstra stands motionless as he admires his latest creation.

It’s the first time he is testing the 36-foot menorah he has spent weeks designing and building in the shape of a Star of David in his metal workshop in the northern tip of the Netherlands. Despite strong winds, the menorah holds, thanks in no small part to its 6-ton base.

This isn’t just any mega-menorah. For one thing, it may be the largest in all of Europe. For another, it’s the handiwork of a Protestant metal contractor, paid for by Christian Zionists, and meant to be a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people.

Oh, and it’s kosher for use on Hanukkah, too.

“It’s exactly like the rabbi wanted,” Zijlstra said.

The rabbi is Binyomin Jacobs of Chabad, who helped Zijlstra and a group called Christians for Israel design the nine-branch candelabrum so it could be used for the eight-day holiday.

On Wednesday evening, Hanukkah’s first night, Jacobs intends to mount a crane and light the first candle in front of hundreds of Christians and Jews during a public ceremony in Nijkerk, not far from Amsterdam.

Though commonplace in the United States and even in Russia, public Hanukkah events are a recent and revolutionary development in the Netherlands. Here they signify the growing self-confidence and openness of a Jewish community whose near annihilation in the Holocaust left a deeply entrenched tendency to keep a low profile.

“Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t‎‎ have been possible,” said Arjen Lont, the Christian Zionist businessman who donated $40,000 to build and transport the menorah. “It requires a lot of openness.”

Lont says the purpose of the giant menorah, which can be used either with electric bulbs or oil lamps, is to send a message.

Hanukkah menorah in place

Hanukkah menorah in place

“After unspeakable suffering, the horrors of the Holocaust and most recently the attacks on Israel, Jews may feel they are alone,” Lont said. “This is our way of saying you are not alone, we are behind you.”

The first public Hanukkah lighting ceremony in the country was organized in 1989 in Buitenveldert, near Amsterdam, by the wife of a Chabad rabbi, according to Bart Wallet, a historian of Dutch Jewry at the University of Amsterdam.

Today, such events are held annually in 19 municipalities, from the northern city of Leeuwarden, near Berlikum, to the southern border city of Maastricht, according to Jacobs.

Jacobs says public menorah lightings in the country signify the Jewish community’s confidence in asserting its place in Dutch society.

“Nowadays it’s also saying we are here, we are also a part of the fabric of religious communities and society,” he said.

Dutch Jewish reticence toward public displays of faith dates back at least to the 19th century, according to Wallet, when Dutch rabbis decreed that no Jewish rituals should be held in the public domain. At the time, Dutch Jews were keen on integrating into a democratic society as equal citizens, and they considered it counterproductive to showcase religious customs that set them apart from their compatriots.

The tendency was greatly reinforced after the Holocaust, when three-quarters of Holland’s population of 140,000 Jews perished — a higher percentage than anywhere else in occupied Western Europe. Today, about 40,000 Jews live in the Netherlands.

Wallet says things began to change in the 1970s, when Dutch Jews began displaying greater activism around anti-Semitism and Israel.

Even today, however, many Dutch Jews retain a sense of reticence when it comes to public displays of religion.

“There’s nothing wrong with these Hanukkah events, but to me they don’t seem familiar,” said Jaap Hartog, chairman of the umbrella group of Dutch Jewry, called the Dutch Israelite Religious Community, or NIK. “To me, Hanukkah is more a holiday that you celebrate at home with your family. The public candle lightings are more of an American thing.

“On a personal level, I’m not too keen on participating.”

Initially, Chabad rabbis organized candle-lighting ceremonies as part of their efforts to reach lapsed Jews, but today the menorah lightings are not organized exclusively by Chabad. Nathan Bouscher, a Jewish activist who is not himself religious, has co-organized candle lightings at the Dam, Amsterdam’s best-known square.

“It’s a way to build bridges between Jews and the non-Jewish environment, but also within the community and between Dutch-born Jews and the thousands of Israelis who live here and the tourists from Israel,” Bouscher said.

Back at Zijlstra’s metal workshop, his menorah is attracting attention from neighbors. During the test run last week, a few of them stopped by to admire his handiwork and congratulate him.

One elderly man, Henk van Jaarsveld, looked up at the menorah with tears in his eyes. A self-described Messianic Jew, he showed off his Hebrew skills by reading the holiday greeting in Dutch and Hebrew that Christians for Israel had attached to the menorah’s base.

Next year, Christians for Israel says it wants to place the menorah in front of the European Parliament in Brussels to protest legislative proposals that seek to restrict Jewish rights such as circumcising male infants.

“On Hanukkah, the Jewish people remember their rebellion against the Greeks because the Greeks limited the Jews’ freedom of worship,” said Roger van Oordt, director of Christians for Israel’s Dutch branch. “We want to place this menorah there as a warning against repeating that history.”


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