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 Adult Education 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.

Beloware the questions from January, 2010. The column was paised for several years after this. Click here to return to the People of Chelm archivepage.


January 2010

1. The peak of the winter rainy season in Israel is fast approaching and with it the festival of Tu B’shevat. This year it falls on January 30, and it is a day for planting trees, especially by schoolchildren. The Jewish religion is suffused with practices that celebrate its connection to the land and gratitude for nature’s bounty.  In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people “ the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land… “ and then proceeds to name the “seven species”  which grow in Israel.  Which of these do you think are listed among the seven species: honey, corn, figs, lemon trees, barley, dates, pomegranates, apples, olive trees, or tomatoes? Answer

2. Russian repression of Jews has a long and dismal history. Long before the Soviets, the Tsarist bureaucracy institutionalized discrimination against this minority. The Imperial Russian statutes governing the treatment of Jews ran to over 1000 pages. It is no wonder Jews fled Russia in such numbers after the worst pogroms began in 1881.  Over two million immigrated just to the United States in the next few decades. But why did they live in such a repressive, hostile country in the first place? Which of these answers is most correct – 1) the earlier Tsars were more beneficent to the native Jewish population, 2) the Jews were a concern to Russia only after their numbers increased there after fleeing persecution in Germany, or 3) the Jews became Russian charges only after the annexation of Polish territory? Answer

3. Despite the divisiveness of very recent history, we should remember that at a more fundamental level there is much in common between Judaism and Islam. Like all the world’s great religions, these faiths profess respect and wonder for all God’s creations, a concern for social justice, and commitment to help the needy and oppressed.  With common Middle Eastern origins, they also share a Semitic heritage. Both Arabic, in which the Qur’an was first recorded, and Hebrew, the language of the Torah, are Semitic languages.  In these tongues, the basic meaning of most words is derived from a particular arrangement of a few consonants. For example, the group ShLM in Hebrew (Shin, Lamed, Mem) carries the meaning of peace as in the Hebrew “shalom”. Can you think of some common Arabic-derived words where this same group, ShLM, appear?  Going in the other direction, can you think of any Hebrew words which share a common origin with the Arabic name for God, Allah? Answer