The People of Chelm Want to Know....

Continuing The Column Devoted To Questions About Jewish History

The long and rich history of Judaism is so much more accessible to everyone nowadays, even to the storied people of Chelm. Members of our Me'ah and Tze'adim classes have studied this abundant past and wanted to share what we have learned with others who might also enjoy it. So this column was devised and each month there are three questions, usually from different eras. Most are fairly difficult questions, and you should be congratulated for trying to wrestle with any of them. If you don't know an answer, you will find it elsewhere in this issue of the STAR. Please share your new knowledge with your neighbors, fellow congregants, and especially the people of Chelm.

Below are the questions from the year 2000. Click here to return to the current People of Chelm page.



December 2000

1. During Chanukah, we celebrate the deeds of the Maccabees, who overthrew a tyrannical Syrian-Greek dynasty in the second century B.C.E. Their exploits are described in the two books of the Maccabees. Although these books in included in the Catholic Bible, the rabbis did not include them in the Jewish Bible. Why do you suppose they are not part of our canon, the accepted Biblical writings? Answer

2. The many traditions connected with the Jewish holidays often serve to reinforce their significance and amplify their meaning for us. Of course, many these traditions concern food. For example, why do Ashkenazi Jews eat potato latkes (fried potato pancakes) and Jews from some eastern communities ea1t sufganiot (deep-fried donuts) on Chanuka? Answer

3. We say "amen" very frequently in both religious and secular situations. What is the literal meaning of this word? Why did its use become so prevalent in the liturgy? Answer



November 2000

1. Taken literally, the word "Torah" denotes the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses. People also use Torah more expansively. It can sometimes mean the whole Bible or even all that Jews have learned about the world. What do you suppose is the meaning of the word "Torah" in the original Hebrew? Is it truth, study, inspiration, teachings, law, or knowledge? Answer

2. Most of the Jews in this country are more familiar with Ashkenazi Jewish customs, usually owing to familial origins in Germany or Eastern Europe. We tend to be less familiar with the Sephardic traditions of the Mediterranean countries. Both groups have contributed mightily to the spread of Judaism to new corners of the world. Please guess the group, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, that was the first to settle in the land of each of these countries-Brazil, the United States, South Africa, Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Answer

3. Last month we celebrated the High Holydays, which-like other Jewish holidays-seem to "wander" around the calendar quite a bit. In the Jewish lunar-based calendar, the holidays always occur on the same days. For example, Yom Kippur is always falls on the tenth day of the month of Tishri. The wandering is a result of the mismatch between this older lunar calendar and the more familiar civil calendar based on a solar year. What civilization gave the Jews this lunar calendar and how is the lunar vs. solar mismatch resolved? Answer



October 2000

1. To describe the whole expanse of the isle of Great Britain, an Englishman says "from Land's End to John O'Groats," thus naming the southwest extremity of the Cornish peninsula and northernmost cape of Scotland. There is a comparable phrase for the Biblical land of Israel. Do you recall it? Answer

2. "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One…" This prayer, the Shema, is at the core of the Jewish faith. Given the prominence in Deuteronomy 6:4 of the mitzvot to say it when rising or retiring, we can be confident that many Jews have been repeating the Shema dutifully for over 2,500 years. Naturally the Talmud-codified about a millennium later-has much to say about this prayer. In fact, the very first tractate of the very first order of the Talmud is devoted to it. In this tractate, which of the following are the rabbis debating-exactly why, how often, or when to say the Shema? Answer

3. The High Holidays have always been a blessing, especially so in today's hyperactive modern world. During this period, we slow down, reflect, and refocus our lives. The three essential themes of the High Holidays guide us. In Hebrew all three begin with the "t" sound-Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah. From the following list, pick the one that most closely approximates the meaning of each "t" word: study, justice, hope, repentance, faith, prayer, sacrifice. Answer



September 2000

1. In Leviticus 23:22, the Lord says, "…you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather up the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger…". To which category of deeds does this leaving of gleanings belong? Is this act an example of 1) tikkun olam (repair of the world), 2) gemilut hassadim (acts of loving kindness), or 3) tzedakah (righteousness, justice)? Answer

2. Despite all the recent difficulties in achieving peace in the Middle East, it is worth noting that historically the Arabs and Jews were closely associated in nurturing some of the world's great civilizations. Jews were well treated in the early centuries of the expanding Islamic empire. Jewish culture thrived in Babylon (modern Iraq), Egypt, Spain and elsewhere. This period saw the emergence of an extraordinary Jewish leader, one who absorbed the thinking of the great contemporary cultures. Who is this second "Moses"? Answer

3. Like the situation that prevailed earlier in the Islamic era, Jews in America today contribute in many ways to the larger society and often are found in leadership positions. In Massachusetts today, one of our ten U. S. Congressmen is Jewish. Even closer to home, many of our Congregation members are active in civic causes. In fact, two of our Congregation are members of the Acton Board of Selectmen, and another has just held the same position in Boxborough. How many of these people can you name? Answer



July/August 2000

1. For some time, we have been in a "Golden Age of Archeology" in Israel, where successive discoveries support and elucidate the Biblical narratives. An early breakthrough occurred in the finding of "Hezekiah's Tunnel" in Jerusalem. An ancient inscription confirmed the purpose of this 500 yard long passage that winds beneath the old city. Who was Hezekiah and what do scholars believe was the purpose this tunnel, built thousands of years ago? Answer

2. The summer is usually a happy time, but for Jews there is always one special day of mourning, Tisha b'Av or the ninth day of the month of Av, which generally falls in the middle of the summer. Both the First (Solomon's) and the Second Temples in Jerusalem are believed to have been destroyed on this same exact day of the Jewish year, separated by more than six hundred years. Do you recall which nations were responsible for these two destructions? Answer

3. Re-establishing a Jewish state was a distant dream for many, many generations for hundreds of years after the destruction of the Roman era. This dream was finally realized in 1948, only after many sacrifices. A key milestone occurred in 1917 with the Balfour Declaration. What was the significance of this declaration? And for that matter, who was Balfour? Answer



June 2000

1. Jewish mothers were revered long before the familiar Eastern European stereotype appeared. Me'ah classmate Mark Sagor asks you match these four women with their famous offspring. The mothers are 1. Bathsheba 2. Mary 3. Leah and 4. Jochabed. The offspring are A. Moses B. Solomon C. Jesus of Nazareth D. Judah. Answer

2. As Rabbinic Judaism was taking shape in the first century of the Common Era, there was a constant debate between the school of Rabbi Hillel and that of Rabbi Shammai. Our traditions are derived more from the thinking of Hillel, who is famed for his response to the challenge of reciting the code of Jewish laws while standing on one foot. How did he manage this challenge? Answer

3. The real modern period in Judaism begins with a movement known as the Haskalah (Enlightenment) in the early-to-mid eighteenth century. Jews began to critically analyze their own history and their relationship to the larger society around them. One country in particular was in the vanguard of this movement. Which one? Answer



May 2000

1.The Hebrew Bible is often referred to as the Tanakh. What is the meaning of this term? Answer

2. For most of its history, Russia has been a difficult place for its Jewish residents. So why is it that so many Jews were settled there for generations? Answer

3. For many, many centuries after the canonization of the Hebrew Bible in the first centuries of the Common Era, Jewish writers recorded almost nothing about their own contemporary history. The Talmud, plus many great legal and philosophical works were produced, but no real Jewish history. Many felt the Torah already contained the fundamental explanation of the world. Then one central event triggered a wave of historiography (the writing of history). What was that event? Hint: It occurred in a familiar year. Answer