Tuesday, March 27, 2018


1.     The festival of Passover (Pesah, in Hebrew) begins on Friday night, 3/30/18. It celebrates the Exodus from Egypt. The overall theme is freedom, both political, and, by extension, psychological. In Reform Judaism it is observed for 7 days, whereas Orthodox and Conservative Jews keep it for 8. It is basically a home-centered festival, marked by special foods and through an elaborate ritualized meal conducted on the first night (in Reform) called Seder (meaning, “order”). In particular, instead of eating regular bread, it is customary to eat an unleavened bread called MATZAH. 

2.     Jewish sources, both Biblical and Rabbinic, have preserved an “oral tradition,” later written down, about the escape from the slavery in Egypt. This may have been historically correct for a small group of Hebrews. According to Prof. R.E Friedman, only the Levites were part of the Exodus (later on they became the priests); however, there is no archaeological corroboration for it.  Also, most scholars say that the crossing probably took place at a swamp; no miraculous parting of the sea. 

3.     In the Bible, Passover appears as a combination of two different festivals: HAG HA-PESAH, a pastoral feast characterized by the slaughter and consumption of the paschal lamb, and HAG HA-MAZOT, the feast of unleavened bread, an agricultural festival marking the beginning of the  grain harvest. Both were at some point historicized. 

4.     There are some important differences between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews with regard to the foods consumed during this festival. The first abstain from eating legumes, such as rice, corn and beans, whereas the second do not.

HAG SAMEAH –Happy Passover!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


1.     The Torah portion deals primarily with two subjects: The sacrifices offered by the priests and the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests.
2.     God says to Moses: “Assemble the whole community at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” (8:3). In reality, people congregated in the outer section of the courtyard, and not in front of the Tent. Was there room for all of them? (See Lev. Rab. 9:9). Maybe the leaders represented them. Message: when there is good will, there is room for everyone.
3.     Priests wore fancy clothes, including an EPHOD (usually not translated). What is it? In Old Assyrian, an epattum is a costly garment, originally used in robing statues of the gods. Maybe an EPHOD is a robe made of wool and linen, with gold threads attached to the fabric, which gave it a golden appearance (See, Levine, JPS Torah, p.50).
4.     “A perpetual fire (esh tamid) shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out” (Lev. 6: 6). Lesson: today we do not have priests, so all Jews, clergy  or not,  are responsible to keep the flame of Judaism alive.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

SONSINO'S TORAH NOTES, VAYIKRA, lEV. 1:1-5:26; 3/17/2018

1.     Vayikra is the first Torah portion of the Book of Leviticus which deals primarily with animal sacrifices. The book contains one of the most obscure and irrelevant (for our times) texts in the Hebrew Bible, while featuring some of the loftiest ethical passages, like Lev.19.
2.     We do not know what was the original purpose of animal sacrifices in the Ancient Near East: some say, it was simply a means of feeding the gods; others stress the value of propitiation or reverence. When the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, a rabbinic “Mitzvah” system replaced the old sacrificial cult.
3.     In the Hebrew word, VAYIKRA, the letter ALEF at the end, is often written in a smaller size than the other letters. The reason is not known. Rabbenu Asher ben Yehiel (14th cent. Toledo), in his commentary, states that the small size reflects the humility of Moses. If he was, we should be too.
4.     “The Lord called to Moses” (Lev. 1:1): Rabbi Akiba taught: Better that they should call you to go up, than they should tell you to go down. That applies to all of us in life too (Lev. Rab. 1: 5-6).