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Israeli Supreme Court Decisions and Tweeting

Yesterday the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition against the appointment of Aryeh Deri as the Minister of Interior. Soon after the decision was handed down someone tweeted the following.

According to this reporter, the Arab-Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran quoted the medieval halakhic work the Sefer Kol Bo in his rejection of the petition about Deri’s appointment. I thought that was cool so I in turn retweeted it and my tweet was retweeted a number of times.

Well, I finally got to look over the Supreme Court decision itself and the original tweeter and I were both wrong, the quote from the Kol Bo was NOT from Justice Joubran, it was actually from the dissenting opinion of Justice Neal Hendel who supported the petition opposing Deri’s appointment. The quote from the Kol Bo was from a discussion about repentance and public figures that was included by Justice Hendel in his dissent (pp.47-53). Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchick also makes an appearance in Hendel’s dissent. (p. 49)


So the moral of the story, try and read the entire Israeli Supreme Court decision before you tweet about it. Should I delete my tweet? Maybe I will, but in the meantime it’s a good example for how even on Twitter (LOL) one shouldn’t rely upon what others say.

Laws Against Witchcraft in Israel

While listening to an episode of the always interesting podcast the Tel Aviv Review that addressed neo-paganism in Israel, I found out that performing witchcraft for benefit is against the law in Israel. The interviewee, Shai Feraro, pointed out that in the Israeli Penal Code par. 417 it is written (Hebrew):

417. (a) If a person pretends to perform witchcraft with intent to obtain anything, then he is liable to two years imprisonment; if he obtained anything for or on the strength of the witchcraft, then he is liable to three years imprisonment; for purposes of this section, “witchcraft” includes magic and fortune telling.
(b) The provisions of subsection (a) shall not apply to magic or fortune telling, which does not exceed the scope of amusement or entertainment, that amusement or entertainment being provided free of charge or for a consideration that is only of the price of admission to the place where it is held.

417. (א) המתחזה לעשות מעשה כישוף בכוונה לקבל דבר, דינו – מאסר שנתיים; קיבל דבר בעד מעשה הכישוף או על פיו, דינו – מאסר שלוש שנים; לענין סעיף זה, “כישוף” – לרבות מעשה קוסם והגדת עתידות.
(ב) הוראות סעיף קטן (א) לא יחולו על מעשה קוסם או הגדת עתידות שאינם חורגים מגדר שעשוע או בידור, והשעשוע או הבידור ניתנים ללא תמורה, או שתמורתם היא מחיר הכניסה בלבד למקום עריכתם.

Over the years there have been a number of cases from Israeli secular and rabbinic courts in which witchcraft has been an issue.

See this report from the July 17, 1958 edition of Herut.

This is from the June 10, 1964 edition of Davar.


Laws related to witchcraft have a long history, and the Israeli law has its roots in British Mandatory Law. These laws raise many issues related to gender, patriarchy, etc. One only has to read these news reports and see the similarity between what these women were accused of and what today is done by many male rabbis for money to see the problems. On the latter see my post on Israel’s wealthiest rabbis. Witches and witchraft have a long history with Jews and Judaism, just watch yourself if you plan to practice it in Israel.

Update: I did a little more digging and found a few cases of men who have been charged with witchcraft related offenses, although they usually seem to be for fraud. People complained to the police that the “spell” didn’t work and people were charged with fraud. See this article from Davar, June, 9, 1970.


Interview with Ben Sommer about His Book Revelation and Authority


Now available on Soundcloud for a listen. HT to Mosaic.

Joseph Ryan Kelly talks with Benjamin Sommer about his new book, Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish Scripture and Tradition. Sommer is Professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Also read this previous interview with Sommer by Alan Brill.

Sources for Mixed Seating on Public Transportation

The issue of mixed seating on public transportation is in the news again with a report of El Al being sued by a woman who was asked to change her seat in order to accommodate an Orthodox man who did not want to sit next to hear. I do not want to address this specific case, but I thought that it might be interesting to people to see what discussions there have been in halakhic literature  about the topic of mixed seating on buses, trains, and planes. If you know of additional sources, I would be happy to add them. There are many issues about gender and patriarchy that could be discussed, but for the moment I’ll just put the sources out there.

Follow the links for PDFs of the sources listed.

Shu”t Igrot Moshe EH 2:14
Shu”t Shevet ha-Levi IV:136
Kuntres Berurei Minhagim
Shulhan Arukh ha-Mefurash Derekh ha-Shulhan Hilkhot Harhakot
Sefer Om Ani Homah
Shu”t She’eilat Shlomo EH 2:344


Prioritizing Treatment of the Wounded-The Israeli Experience

A few months ago there was a lot of discussion in Israel about comments made by the Director General of Magen David Adom. Eli Bin said that

When I see my enemy wounded I no longer treat him as a terrorist, but as a human being. He has surrendered; he no longer poses a threat, so I’ll treat him.

Bin later said

I understand public sensitivities, but they won’t change our procedures. We can’t just let people bleed to death. I believe that the right thing to do is treat those who are the most seriously wounded first, regardless of their race, religion or gender. That is the MDA doctrine.

There was recently a seminar devoted to the ethical questions raised by this issue and recordings of the sessions can be found below. (Hebrew)

Interview with Author of Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests


Jason Mokhtarian, the author of the recently published book Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran, was interviewed by the New Books Network about his book.

He lays out a research program for Talmud studies that is contextual, rather than literary or exegetical. Analyzing references to Persians and Persian loanwords in the Talmudic text, as well as ancient seals and bowl spells, he argues that we need to understand ancient Iran, as a real historical force and an imaginary interlocutor, to fully understand rabbinic identity and culture.

The Oldest Kashrut Certificate

A Facebook group focused on the Cairo Genizah has posted what may be the oldest kashrut certificate.


Here is the text:

בשמך רחמנ(א)
אודיע לרבותינו אשר בארץ מצרים
כי בא יפת בר משולם שהוא מכת הקראים
אשר בסמרתקה וקנה שלושים רטלין גבינין
ממעשה הר זיתים, והם כשרים וטובים לקנות מהם
הרבנים. ולא התרנו לקנות ממנו אילא לאחר
שקנינו מידו בקנינם שהוא יד ליד, והשבענו אותו
בשבועת התורה הקדושה. ומספרם
שלוש מאות טפוסים ותשעה ושלושים.
(על החתום)
צמח ברבי יוסף ברבי צמח נוחם עדן
יוסף ברבי צדקה ברבי יוסף נוחם בע(דן)
אהרן הכהן בר עמרם נ’נ’ (נוחו נפש)

The document is from around the year 1050 and deals with cheese produced by Karaites. It was originally published in Moshe Gil’s book ארץ ישראל בתקופה המוסלמית הראשונה document 309.

Aramaic Radio Broadcasts from Israel

It turns out that Radio Reka, the division of Israel Radio whose broadcasts are in non-Hebrew languages and are geared towards immigrants has a daily broadcast in Aramaic. The programs can be found here. Most of the fifteen minutes is devoted to music.

Jeffrey Rubenstein Looks Back at his Work

At the Ancient Jew Review Jeffrey Rubenstein has written a reflection on his scholarship about stories in the Babylonian Talmud.

For all the work of the past fifteen years, the study of Bavli stories is still in its infancy. I routinely receive emails asking if there is any scholarship on a certain story. Sometimes there is a study or two, often there is nothing. Compared to the scholarship on any chapter of Bible or line in the Dead Sea Scrolls, not to mention the prodigious body of research on any passage in the Christian Scriptures, rabbinic stories are unexplored territory. We still have a great deal of work to do, and continued study should help clarify some of the questions above.

Another scholarly desideratum is to set Bavli stories in the context of Pahlavi and Syriac literature of the Sasanian world. At some point we have to get outside of the Bavli to the ambient culture fully to appreciate Bavli narratives, as is true of the study of any other text. Greco-Roman literature and literary models have been used to great benefit in the study of narrative sources in the Yerushalmi and in the Amoraic Midrashim, and even for some Bavli stories, which evince Hellenistic influences. But many Bavli stories feature motifs, images and narrative devices which we do not fully understand. Greater comparative study hopefully will help clarify these obscurities.

History of the Jewish Calendar

Moshe Benovitz has written a nice overview of the history of the Jewish lunisolar calendar.

It is true that the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Romans had solar calendars of various types, but the lunisolar calendar was more prevalent: it was common to the Celts of Gaul, most of the ancient Greeks, the Sumerians, the Babylonians, and many of the peoples leaving in the Indian subcontinent in ancient times, and to this day it is the calendar according to which the traditional festivals of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other East Asian nations are celebrated. It was the secular calendar of the world-embracing Babylonian and Persian empires, and of the Macedonian Empire and Hellenistic world that succeeded them. For the Babylonians and Macedonian Greeks, this was merely a matter of imposing their own local calendar on their subject peoples; for the Persians, who had their own 365-day solar calendar, the exigencies of running the empire they inherited from the Babylonians made it prudent for them to adopt the dominant lunisolar calendar as the secular calendar of the empire, and they relegated their own calendar to ritual use in the Zoroastrian religion…

The calendar that we consider “Jewish” was thus common to most ancient peoples. In fact, some scholars believe that the ancient Israelites, like the ancient Egyptians, were among the few ancient peoples who had a solar calendar! According to these scholars, the current Jewish calendar was adopted during the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BCE. To support this view they adduce the following arguments: Ancient Canaan, both before and after the Israelite conquest, was part of the Egyptian sphere of influence, and the ancient Egyptians, along with the Romans and the Zoroastrian Persians, were among the few peoples who had a solar calendar.




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