The People of Chelm Want to Know....
Reviving the Column Devoted To Questions About Jewish History
1. Here’s a question that your child may know even if you do not. 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? This question was asked during one of our Hebrew school’s Maccabiah Games contests, a spirited competition held at the conclusion of the academic year. Answer
2. All three Abrahamic faiths - Christianity, Islam, and Judaism – seek ways to understand and carry out God’s will. But Judaism also has a tradition that - once in a great while - a religious leader will actually challenge God, as if to change the Almighty’s mind. Which of these people had the temerity to do this – Abraham, Moses, Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, and/or Jacob? Answer
1. Judaism has many important ritual practices and symbols that have come down to us through the centuries. Some evolved from ancient community customs, but many others can be traced to Biblical references and thus assume greater importance. Can you guess which of these items has firm Biblical origins – 1) the Star of David, 2) the mezuzah on the doorpost, 3) the tzitzit, the fringes on the talit or prayer shawl, 4) the elimination of leavening during Passover, and 5) the wearing of a kippah, or in Yiddish, a yarmulke? Answer
1. The Jewish religion is not traditionally an “other worldly” one but is focused more on how we should conduct ourselves on earth both in everyday human society as well as stressful times like the current COVID-19 pandemic. So it is quite natural that from this thoughtful Jewish tradition, questions of tzedakah are of major importance. The rabbis and sages have debated extensively throughout the centuries on the obligations of both the rich and the poor. Some of their conclusions may come as a surprise to many of us. For example, can you guess which of the following principles are those which most of the rabbinic community would support? A yes or no for each will suffice.
1. This coming May 28 evening marks the beginning of Shavuot, one of three festivals whose observance is commanded in the Bible. Beth Elohim will be observing Shavuot with a virtual Tikkun this year and details will be forthcoming in upcoming Star-Lite newsletters. (Adult Ed Chair Matt Liebman notes this will be a BYOC event - Bring Your Own Cheesecake). Some of you may know that there is a fixed relationship of Shavuot to Passover. What is it? According to Talmudic tradition, a very great event in the history of the Jewish faith occurred on this day. Was this 1) the arrival of Joshua in Canaan, 2) the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, or 3) Elijah’s ascension to heaven? For different reasons Christians also celebrate this day but call it Pentecost. It marks the beginning of the Apostles’ ministry to the world, seven weeks after Jesus’s death, when they “spoke in tongues” (i.e. spoke in languages they did not know). Answer
2. On the evening of May 27, Beth Elohim was to be the host venue once again for the Acton Discovery Museum’s Speaker Series. These talks are sponsored by area businesses and have typically attracted upwards of two hundred people from the greater local community. This one should be especially interesting since former MIT President Susan Hockfield is the featured speaker. Like our services, though, this event will not be held in person and will now be hosted on the Zoom platform. Dr. Hockfield will be discussing a concept called “Convergence 2.0”. What is up with this? One hint is that it relates very closely to the core meaning of the traditional Hebrew toast “l’chaim”. Another hint is that in that in 20th century Convergence 1.0 resulted from the marriage of engineering and a deep knowledge of physics, producing products like electronics, nuclear reactors, and jet engines. So what do you think Convergence 2.0 means and what will be driving it in the 21st century? Answer
1. This April we celebrate Pesach and the Passover Seder. This holiday is a celebration of so many things - of liberty, of freedom from oppression, of the natural God-given rights of all people, of the making of the Jewish people into a nation. In the twenty-third chapter of Exodus, Pesach was decreed to be one of the three pilgrimage festivals when many Jews made the journey to Jerusalem to give offerings and celebrate. But its origins go back further than that. Do you recall when and where the first Passover occurred? Answer
2. These times of quarantine and isolation due to the COVID-19 virus are unprecedented for almost all of us. But there have been even more trying times in the three millennia since that first Passover. Here is one. The first night of Pesach in 1943 marked the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt. The Nazis picked that date to begin the final deportation of Jews in Poland’s capital city of Warsaw. Though largely defenseless and starving, those remaining in the Warsaw ghetto began a heroic if futile rebellion against fully armed German troops. It took the Germans longer to suppress this rebellion than to annex all of Poland in the 1939 Blitzkrieg that began World War II. At its peak, the Warsaw ghetto had a huge Jewish population of close to half a million. It is difficult to think about such things. Can you guess what percent of Warsaw’s original Jews were left when the uprising began in 1943 and how many days do you think they resisted? Answer
1. Early this month we celebrate an atypically boisterous and crazy Jewish Holiday. Our fellow congregants mark the occasion with delightful comedic performances of Purim Spiel ; this year on the weekend of March 7 and 8. As we know, Purim commemorates the victory of Mordecai and Esther over the wicked Haman and his plot to eliminate the Jews. This story takes place several decades after 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. On Friday night March 27 our synagogue celebrates Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song. Under the direction of longtime leader Judy Kramer and with help from Cantor Sarra Spierer, our choir rehearses rigorously for months hoping to be their absolute best on this joyous evening. This year’s program promises to be every bit as entertaining as it has been in years past. Like many traditions in Judaism, Shabbat Shirah’s roots are in the Torah. Do you know what event inspired the Sabbath of Song and who were the first singers? Answer
1. Even in this age of the Internet, libraries still remain important resources and repositories of books. We have our own library, too. The Beth Elohim library is located off the Community Court. It is an underappreciated resource, where all are free to browse and even check out something that catches their interest. How many volumes do you think it now holds? Now please think on a much larger scale. Where is the world's largest library devoted to Judaism? Answer
2. 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
1. We revere our own religious teachings, just as we are taught to respect the religious traditions of other faiths. In this country, the Christianity is most common faith and in fact has the most adherents worldwide as well. Christian tradition records Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. Thus we mark this new year 2020 C.E. (Common Era), or for Christians 2020 A.D. (Anno Domini, year of the Lord). Did you ever wonder when some of the central religious figures of other faiths started their ministries? Can you guess which centuries saw the first teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Lao Tze (Taoism), Zoroaster, and even Moses? Answer
2. In January we celebrate the birthday of Reverend Martin Luther King. For many years, Beth Elohim has been the host location for a wonderful breakfast on Martin Luther King Day. Dr. King’s leadership and oratory inspired the country and fueled the still unfinished civil rights movement. His words struck a deep chord with African-Americans, and also among Jews, many of whom eagerly joined his cause. Some even died for it, like Congress of Racial Equality activists Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner who, along with their African-American colleague James Chaney, were murdered by the Klu Klux Klan during the hot Mississippi summer of 1964. Black-Jewish relations were deepened when Dr. King, widely recognized leader of the civil rights movement, reached out to other Jewish leaders. Many are familiar with the scene of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching alongside Dr. King in Selma, Alabama. (This month, Rabbi Heschel’s daughter, Dr. Susannah Heschel, will join us as our scholar-in-residence. In addition, CBE's new Racial Justice Working Group will be having its first meeting this month. Please join us.) Besides inspired leaders and workers, however, community organizations also need money to make an impact. Were Jewish people as generous with dollars as they were with sympathy for the civil rights cause?Answer