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More Tefillin from Late Antiquity

Yonatan Adler, who is an expert in tefillin from Late Antiquity (see this article of his), has announced another important discovery. Just a few weeks ago there were numerous news reports about his discovery of previously overlooked tefillin parchments from Qumran, and now he has apparently found other tefillin from Late Antiquity. This very small set of tefillin are from Naḥal Tze’eilim in the Judean Desert. According to an article (Hebrew) in NRG, these tefillin are maybe the best preserved tefillin from Late Antiquity.


They are also very small, two centimeters wide. The challenge faced by Adler and other scholars is how to actually read the parchments within these tefillin. They have yet to find a way to open the parchments that will not damage them. Adler dates them to the period of the Bar-Kokhba Revolt.

Below is a lecture from a number of years ago that Adler gave on tefillin from Qumram.

Visit Jewish.TV for more Jewish videos.
Also see this recent interview with Lawrence Schiffman about the tefillin found at Qumran.

Great Resource for British Newsreels on History of Israel

The British Pathé has posted to Youtube all of their old newsreels. There are endless newsreels to view, many related to the history of Israel. Some of them don’t have sound, so don’t think that there is something wrong with your computer. (HT to Prof. Holly Tucker on Twitter)

Shulamit Aloni and the Maror

In the Talmud (Pesaḥim 120a) there is a disagreement over the status today of both matzah and maror:

Rava said: [The eating of] matza nowadays is a biblical obligation, whereas [that of] maror is rabbinic. Why is maror different? Because it is written, “They shall eat it [the Pesach-offering] with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (Bamidbar 9:11) – at a time when there is a Pesach offering, there is maror, but at a time when there is no Pesach offering, there is no maror! Then in the case of matza, too, surely it is written, “They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs”? Scripture indeed repeated [the precept] in the case of matza: “At evening you shall eat unleavened bread” (Shemot 12:18). But R. Acha bar Ya’akov said: Both the one and the other are [only] rabbinic. (trans. from here)

For a discussion of this question see this transcription of lesson given by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein.

So what does this Talmudic disagreement have to do with the late Israeli MK and civil rights activist Shulamit Aloni? Soon after her recent death, the Israel State Archives published a number of documents related to Aloni’s public activism. One of them was a newspaper article from Davar that was published on April 14, 1966, 48 years ago today, whose headline was “מרור בזמן הזה מדרבנן” ["At this time maror (the bitter herb) is rabbinically obligated"]. The article began with the following statement:


The author of Tiferet Shlomo said: “This Maror that we eat”: At this time maror is rabbinic, a big part of the maror, of our bitter lives, at this time its source is the rabbis. From different rabbis who aren’t appropriate for their positions and don’t bring us any honor in their conduct.” If in the time of the author of the Tiferet Shlomo the bitterness was from rabbis, in our days, [it is from] rabbis and the leaders, the ministers and the laws that support them and through which they are given a strong hand and an outstretched arm to feed us their bitterness. The more that they embitter us, the more they will increase and their power will increase.

So who is this Tiferet Shlomo that Shulamit Aloni is quoting? My guess is that this Tiferet Shlomo is Rabbi Shlomo Hacohen Rabinowitz (died 1866). He was the author of numerous books such as Tiferet Shlomo on the Torah and Tiferet Shlomo on the Haggadah. After doing some searching with the help of numerous online resources, I was unable to locate the original source of this quote. Did Shulamit Aloni make this up? Not at all. What I did find was the exact same quote in B. Yaushzon’s popular work on the Torah and holidays Mei Otzrainu Hayashan.


After her death many people were surprised that as per her wish, Aloni was buried in a very traditional Jewish ceremony that included modern readings and songs. I think that this is the message that Shulamit Aloni wanted to convey, not that Jewish tradition is something to be rejected, rather, it is something that we should be free to accept upon ourselves in whichever manner that we would like, free from the coercive acts by the state and its rabbinic messengers.

New Book on Babylonian Aramaic Grammar

Introduction to the Grammar of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic

Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal’s new book Introduction to the Grammar of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic is now available for order from Eisenbrauns. The table of contents can be viewed here. I just placed my order and will update when I have a chance to look it over.

Purim in Israel Under Austerity

While Israel as a start-up nation is the latest rage, people shouldn’t forget that for a number of years after the founding of the state, Israeli citizens lived under a regime of austerity and rationing, in Hebrew the צנע (Tzena). The amount of food and clothing that a person could buy was limited and determined by official government edicts. (The image is from this website which has many similar examples of ephemera.)

91תקופת הצנע

(Trans.: See to it that you aren’t surprised by the limits on food. From now on remember to register your name with the butcher, the baker, and the corner market. [From] The Supervisor on Food)

Lines at stores were a fact of life.


I am currently reading Orit Rozin’s book The Rise of the Individual in 1950s Israel: A Challenge to Collectivism, and I came across the following letter to editor that was written by a mother to the magazine La-Ishah (For the Woman) in 1950: (my translation)

I was embarrassed in front of my children on the day before Purim. They were told in school about the meal that is eaten on this holiday, on the hamantashen that are filled with poppy seeds, on the fish for the holiday, etc. And here, the holiday is approaching. I wasn’t able to get poppy seeds, because there aren’t any. Dr. Dov Yosef (the Minister of Supply and Budgeting-MM) thinks because this is a luxury. For the meal there wasn’t even fish fillet. They didn’t taste the taste of hamantashen and the meal was not served. I ask a very simple question: Don’t those who are dealing with the supply of food have a heart? Don’t they think that at least for the holiday they need to compensate the children for their pain during the week?

After looking through some newspapers on the Jewish Historical Press website, I was able to find some contemporary newspaper items that spoke in similar terms.

In the March 2, 1950 edition of Maariv there is a description of complaints about shortages of hamantashen.

Screenshot 3 14 14 3 58 PM

Despite the reality that the War of Independence had ended only a year earlier, some people were upset that there were even more festivities. They felt that there had to be an extra effort to help people celebrate. The following article from the March 5, 1950 edition of Al ha-Mishmar provided an interesting commentary on the day:

Screenshot 3 14 14 4 06 PM 2

But the children, they celebrated in the correct way and even did it successfully. First of all, they had two days of vacation from school in order to celebrate this holiday. Second of all, they dressed up tastefully as “Cossaks,” “infiltrators” (Arabs), and this time even as soldiers, and unlike other years [when they dressed up] as soldiers of foreign armies, rather, they dressed up as Israeli soldiers with Israeli insignia. During the day the sounds of shots could be heard and “ambushes” were set up on all of the side streets, in order to “steal” the pistols of other children and passersby. The holiday was even celebrated in the schools with parties, especially in the kindergartens.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the opposition Herut newspaper focused on the difficult economic situation.


The article emphasized how this year Purim was celebrated against the background of the Tzena.

The masses went out into the streets and searched for a release in order to celebrate the holiday, but from above (i.e. the government) it was decreed that there would also be austerity on the holiday festivities…And what was the present from the Department of Supervision and Budgeting to the citizens for holiday?…The stalls in the market were empty…There were no fish. The meat ration was smaller. To sum it up, there was nothing…

As an opposition newspaper, it was clear that it was all the government’s fault.

Shai Held on Abraham Joshua Heschel

Shai Held, author of the recently published Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence, speaks about Abraham Joshua Heschel in these two videos.

War on Torah Brings Missiles

Just in case you were wondering why missiles are being fired at Israel, the Lithuanian Haredi newspaper Yated Neeman’s front page has the answer: “War on Torah: War in the South.”


From Walla.

What’s With Those Hamentashen

David Golinkin has a nice overview of customs relating to different foods that are or were eaten on Purim.

One of the foods mentioned by various rabbis was “Purim kreplech”. This custom is first mentioned by Rabbi Yozl Hochshtadt who says that his teacher Rabbi Yisrael Isserlein (d. 1460) did not want to eat kreplech at the Purim feast on Purim eve (Leket Yosher, ed. Freimann, Vol. I,Berlin, 1903, p. 34). Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, the Shelah (Prague, Israel, ca. 1565-1630), says that the dough was kneaded with honey and spices and filled with fruits or jam (Shenei Luhot Haberit, part I, Sha’ar Ha’otiot, fol. 65a). Similar recipes are mentioned by Emek Berakhah and Or Hadash (quoted by Kosover, p. 75, note 197). Rabbi Yoel Sirkes (Poland, 1561-1640, Bah to Tur Orah Hayyim 168) says that “the dough of the Purim kreplech is kneaded in honey and spices or in goose fat and then it is made into pockets filled with nuts and raisins. (Cf. his son-in-law Rabbi David Halevi in the Taz to the Shulhan Arukh, ibid., 168:3.) Rabbi David Oppenheim (Bohemia, 1664-1736) mentions “kreplech that are made on Purim” in his Hanhagot Adam (Pollack, p. 276, note 52). Rabbi Yehudah Askenazi of Ticktin (ca. 1742) also mentions “kreplech shel Purim” (Ba’er Heiteiv to Orah Hayyim 168, subparag. 11).

For more on hamantashen see this post by Eliezer Brodt.

Partnership Minyans in Israel

Last year in Haaretz Vered Kellner wrote an article about the difference between Partnership minyans in Israel and America. She claimed that the number of Partnership minyans in Israel seems to be increasing, while in America this doesn’t seem to be true.

My question–and I have been bothered by this issue for some time–is why the women in the large Orthodox communities of America, the Teanecks and the Woodmeres and so many places in between, seem to be satisfied with the status quo. Are they not really satisfied but unable or unwilling to raise their voices? Are they traditionalists, as you describe, to the point that they are willing to sacrifice their own religious self-fulfillment in order to “daven like their mothers and grandmothers”?

I don’t know if she is correct or not, but in America they do seem to be on the defensive, with Yeshiva University apparently making them the new litmus test of whether you are Orthodox or not. (See this post that has conveniently collected most of the writings on the issue of Partership minyanim and women wearing tefillin.) Supporters of Partnership minions have responded, although I do think that this issue is going to be the catalyst for a realignment within Modern Orthodoxy.

I thought of these events when I listened to a recent broadcast of the Israeli radio program “Seventy Faces” (שבעים פנים). (Podcasts of the program can be found here or streamed here.) Before I explain what I found interesting in the program, a few words about the program itself. “Seventy Faces” is a radio program about the weekly parashah that directly addresses the intersection of current events, politics, and the parashah. It should also be pointed out that it is broadcast on the Israeli-Palestinian Internet radio station All For Peace (כל השלום-a wordplay on the legendary radio station the Voice of Peace, קול השלום).

A recent installment was devoted to Megillat Esther and the guests were Shuki Friedman and Gilit Homski. Before they began to talk about Megillat Esther, Friedman and Homski described how a new Partnership minyan is going to meet for the first time this Shabbat in Givat Shmuel, a city that is one of the epicenters of the national-religious community in Israel. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is opposition, but while people often think that Israel has a very centralized Judaism because of the Chief Rabbinate, while to some extant this is true, it is also a very decentralized Judaism. In reality, a group of people can start whatever type of minyan that they want. There is much less of a worry about what “the rabbi” is going to say or whether the synagogue is going to allow it. While it might not always be so simple to start whatever type of minyan that you would like, to some extant, all you have to do is find a room, a Sefer Torah and get things going.

Below is a recording of the program.

New Edition of Steinsaltz Reference Guide to the Talmud


A new edition of the Steinsaltz Reference Guide to the Talmud has been published. I haven’t had the opportunity to see it, but the first edition is a must have for people studying Talmud.




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