The People of Chelm Want to Know....
|Continuing The Column Devoted To Questions About Jewish
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 2003. Click here to return to the current People of Chelm page. .
1. Here’s a question that your child may know even if you do not. It was asked during our school’s Maccabiah Games, a spirited competition held at the conclusion of the academic year. In what order do you light the eight Chanukah candles – right to left or left to right? And what do you call the ninth candle, used for the lighting the others? Answer
2. 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 are 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. Congregant Marty Krasnick did an extraordinary job supervising the
construction phase of the new building. He succeeded in bringing the
project in on time and on budget despite a number of crises (late steel
deliveries, HVAC design miscalculations, etc.). Rather than the old
creaky (but much beloved) wooden structure, we now have a “commercial
grade” facility that will serve the congregation well for many
years. The construction quality is excellent and all the systems are
first rate. But Marty had one favorite subsystem upon which he has lavished
extra special attention. Do you know which one? Answer
1.The High Holidays are a special time for reassessment and reflection. It is a time for questioning and judging our behavior and the direction of our lives. The scholars who assembled the Babylonian Talmud gave these issues much thought. In one tractate, they even provided the four questions that each of us is to be asked when we go before the heavenly court for judgment. Please arrange these questions below in their original order in the Talmud, an order which provides some idea of the relative importance the sages assigned to each. The four questions are:
1) Did you set aside regular time for Torah study?
2) Did you look forward to the world’s redemption?
3) Did you conduct your affairs honestly?
4) Did you work at having children?
2. Yiddish is marvelously expressive language. Like the Jewish communities of a millennium earlier that gave birth to the Talmud, the Yiddish-speaking people of Eastern European developed a veritable storehouse of wisdom, a good deal of it codified in its many proverbs. Many of these proverbs have been translated and passed into common currency today. Some almost don’t need any translation, as their warmth and pithy humor are evident in the original. Here is a sampling from “1001 Yiddish Proverbs”, complied by Fred Kogos. See if you can match each of the Yiddish proverbs from the first column with its English equivalent in the second.
Fil meloches, vainik broches. Every person has a madness of his own.
Oib der shuch past, kenst im trogen. Honor is much dearer than money.
Az me zogt meshugeh, zol men gloiben. If the shoe fits, wear it.
3. Why is it that Jewish holidays wander all over the calendar? One
year the New Year starts in early September, in another it does not
happen until October arrives. The reason is that the holidays are determined
by the lunar months of the Jewish (actually Mesopotamian) calendar,
not the solar year of the civil calendar. So to find the proper date
one needs to look at the phase of the moon in a particular season, not
at the position of the earth in its annual orbit around the sun. For
example, Leviticus 23:23-25 ordains that a celebration and day of rest
(Rosh Hashanah) is to begin on the first day of the lunar month of Tishri.
The first of the month always is the “new” moon, when the
moon is smallest in the heavens. From this item of data, we can deduce
the phase of the moon (swelling or waxing, full, .or waning) on several
other important holidays. What is the phase of the moon on Simchat Torah,
which falls on the 23rd of Tishri? And how does the moon appear on Yom
Kippur on the tenth of Tishri. Finally, what might you see on clear
night from your booth on Sukkot on the fifteenth of Tishri? Answer
1. The Maccabiah Games mark a joyful end to the Hebrew School academic year. These colorful, high energy contests recall the old College Bowl quiz show, although the participants are all in their pre-teens. The teams grappled with a variety of challenges of difficult questions. Here is but one sample. What does the name Israel mean? Though the students had no such benefit of a multiple choice, our readers can be sure that Israel means either 1) the Chosen People, 2) Sons of Abraham, 3) God wrestlers, or 4) (keepers of) the Covenant with the Lord. Answer
2. The War in Iraq has again focused world attention again on this historically significant land, the birthplace of Abraham and locale of Babylonian Exile. Long after Biblical times, in the first millennium of the Common Era, Jews developed a thriving culture here, first under Persian then under Muslim rule. Not long after its founding in 762 CE, the great city of Baghdad had become the splendid center of the Muslim World when the Abbasids moved the caliphate there from Damascus. Jewish scholarship flourished for centuries in Baghdad and other nearby cities, part of an even larger renaissance in the arts and sciences, driven in part by the rediscovery and translation of many classical Greek texts. Today we have one truly great text that has been passed on to us since that time. What is the great Jewish composition from this period in Iraqi history? Answer
3. Rosh Hashanah is an important holiday with many, many facets. For
most Jews, it has become a time to remember, to reflect and reassess,
to renew one’s life, to look forward and of course to celebrate
the New Year. Yet the Torah does not explicitly require much. There
is but one negative (“do not”) and one positive (“do”)
mitzvah regarding Rosh Hashanah. In Leviticus 23:24-25, we are told
“you shall observe complete rest…..you shall not work at
your occupation”. Similar injunctions of course hold for other
holidays. What is the positive mitzvah required on Rosh Hashanah? What
is it that the Bible commands to be done? Answer
3. Finally, the Maccabiah teams are asked if they know the Jewish value Abraham demonstrated when he saw three strangers traveling by his tent in the hot mid-day sun. This value has been shared by desert dwellers through the centuries, and is also very appropriate in our modern society. Abraham's encounter with the strangers is described in Chapter 18 of Genesis. Answer
1. The very first question of the very first Chelm column three years ago asked the following question. It is a meaningful one and so it is repeated again here. The Hebrew Bible is referred to as the Tanakh. What is the meaning of this term? Answer
2. Despite the fact that the life and teachings of Moses are so central to our religion, relatively little is known about Moses the person. Most scholars place Moses in the thirteenth century BCE. At this early date all the personal data we know comes from the Torah, since there are no corroborating archeological records as in later periods. The Bible provides a few clues about him that we may recall. For example, three very important women in his life were named Miriam, Zipporah, and Jochabed. One was his wife, one a sister, and one his mother. Can you provide the correct relationship for each? And, speaking of family connections, who was his grandfather by adoption? Answer
3. Our Rabbi leads a wonderful Seder at the synagogue on the second
night of Passover. In addition to the traditional foods, customs and
recitations, there is a good deal of singing. One delightful song, called
"echad mee yoday'ah", has a structure that parallels the "Twelve
Days of Christmas", where each number is associated with something
important to Judaism. The refrain goes "One is God and God alone…two
are Sinai's tablets…three are the patriarch fathers…"
and so on all the way up to the number thirteen. You might guess that
the Books of the Torah would be verse five, for the five books of the
Torah, and you would be right. What numbers, do you suppose, are associated
with each of the following verses in this song - divine attributes,
mothers of Israel, Brit Milah, Orders of the Mishna, and tribes of Israel? Answer
April 2003 (repeat of April 2001)
1. Chapter 12 of Exodus tells the story of the first Passover, when the Israelites are told to “celebrate it as a festival to the Lord throughout the ages”. Despite this command and the detailed instructions given to the people via Moses, it was not always observed in the correct way. Later in the Bible, there is mention of a great king who restored the Passover sacrifice to the prescribed manner. Who was this king – David, Josiah, Solomon, Hezekiah, or Manasseh? The reference also gives the exact year of the reign of the king when this restoration occurred. When might this have been? Answer
2. As always it seems, these are difficult times for Palestinian-Jewish relations. Unfortunately, tension in this region is not new, forming as it does a crossroads of the three continents. For millennia, there have been invaders - from Egypt, from Syria, and from beyond in the “Fertile Crescent”. In fact, one such group is responsible for the word “Palestine”. Who were these people and where did they come from? Answer
3. Max Israelite, a favorite Beacon columnist, has asked several questions
about the Yiddish language, the lingua franca of Ashkenazi Jewry. What
is its parent language in grammar and syntax? When and where did this
language evolve? Yiddish is not spoken among this generation as it was
the past, but it still survives. Max heartily recommends a trip to the
National Yiddish Book Center at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
1. This month we celebrate the joyous festival of Purim, which commemorates the victory of Mordecai and Esther over the wicked Haman and his plot to eliminate the Jews. This story takes place during the Babylonian Exile and is set in the court of the Persian king Ahaseurus. Some scholars believe this king could well be the same Xerxes who ruled when the Greeks triumphed at the Battle of Marathon. The Bible's Book of Esther records the destruction of Haman. This book is one of the "Five Scrolls". Each of the five is written on its own scroll, which is read in its entirety during the appropriate holiday service. Can you match the other four scrolls - Song of Songs, the Book of Ruth, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations - with the holiday on which it is recited? The holiday choices are the Ninth of Av (Tisha b'Av), Passover, Sukkot, and Shavu'ot. Answer
2. Here's another question about books. Even in the age of the Internet, Libraries remain important resources and repositories of books. The new Beth Elohim building has allowed our own library to expand and include many more books about Judaism. How many volumes do you think it now holds? Yet it is still a modest library but one that is improving all the time, thanks to the effort and gifts of so many of you. Now please think on a much larger scale. What is the world's largest library devoted to Judaism? Answer
3. Of all Judaism's texts, the Five Books of Moses are of course the
most revered. Each has a very familiar English name, like Genesis. The
corresponding Hebrew name is also widely recognized by Jews of many
different native tongues. The Hebrew name is typically taken from the
first (or first significant) word in that Book. For example, Genesis
is known as B'reishit, the very first Hebrew word in the Bible, meaning
"in the beginning". From the choices below, can you identify
the correct Hebrew name and meaning for each of the other four books
of the Torah - Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy? Here are
the choices for Hebrew names: Va-yikra "He called", D'varim
"These are the words", B'midbar "In the wilderness",
and Sh'mot "These are the names". Answer
“And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their
spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more”. These lofty words are
those of a Biblical prophet. Can you name the source? Was it a) Isaiah,
b) Ecclesiastes, c) Samuel, or d) Ezekiel? Answer