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A Note on Jewish Burial Custom

I apologize to Dr. Ehrman for not reading the rest of his article “The Skeletal Remains of Yehohanan and Their Significance“.  However, I already see a bunch of concepts relative to Jewish burial that are getting mixed up and I would like to clarify them.  Dr. Ehrman makes the claim that Jesus probably didn’t get a proper burial on the day of his crucifixion.  This would not fit with Jewish practice.  Unless there are extenuating circumstances, Jews always bury as quickly as possible.  For example, Hacham Ovadia Yosef zt”l’s funeral began only 5 hours after his passing. There are two reasons for this: 1. the burial and decomposition of the body atones for the deceased 2. the family can begin the seven day shiva process.  There is the consideration of having enough people present at the burial to give proper honor to the dead, which is often why Jewish burials are mostly conducted the next day in modern times.  Burial is only permitted during the day except in the case of a person who dies in Jerusalem.  There burials take place even at night.  In the case of a crucifixion victim it would be highly likely that Jews would have buried them that day if possible.

On this point, the NT account is correct.  However, Jews often did not bury people permanently at first but rather buried them in temporary graves and then transferred the bones to the family burial chamber.  This article has many of the early Jewish sources that discuss this.  Therefore, accounts of a highly elaborate burial where are permanent chamber was hued for the body of Jesus is highly unlikely, and the account of his death is questionably historical.

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Mourning Jonah

Every once and awhile the Bible comes to life in a way even I never expect.  One such instance was on YouTube where one of the people I was corresponding with identified himself as Assyrian.  I had assumed probably like most Jews that the Assyrians had vanished off the face of the Earth thousands of years ago or at least assimilated out of existence.  This Assyrian told me that this was not correct, and even more shocking is that he told me the Assyrians felt a certain kinship with the Jews.  The reason for this is because of the prophet Jonah, who the Bible records was swallowed by a fish running from his appointed task of telling the Assyrians to repent and then ultimately delivers the prophecy, is a revered saint by the Assyrians.  The Assyrians until today pay homage to Jonah by visiting his grave in Mosul, Iraq* for saving their community from destruction, despite the fact that they have since converted to Christianity.  For this they not only honor our holy prophet, but the Jews themselves.   Thus, Jonah’s grave not only has significant historical and cultural import, but is also a model of how people of divergent backgrounds can come to a place of mutual respect.

All of this is currently being destroyed.  ISIS, for the assumed reason that they felt Assyrian homage of the prophet Jonah was idolatrous, decided to destroy the gravesite and exhume the body of Jonah.  I don’t know if they were successful in the latter, but they have certainly accomplished the former.  This is one of the most tragic things that could happen in conflict besides for the loss of human life. Burial of the dead is one of the basic signs of humanity and someone that that Talmud calls a complete kindness since the recipient cannot return the favor. Jonah was himself a symbol of kindness, as he came to save Nineveh from the wrath of G-d despite his misgivings for the potential consequences against his own people. The Assyrians have repaid this kindness by the honor they have paid Jonah over the past 2,500+ years. A model of ethics and tolerance is being destroyed and the world is just standing by and watching.

But for the Jews it gets even worse. Besides for Israel itself, the Middle East is the seat of Jewish culture. Jewish communities existed in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran for thousands of years. A number of the traditional sites of the graves prophets are found throughout the Middle East, especially in Iraq where most Jews settled after the destruction of the First Temple. Since most of the communities of the Jews in the Middle East have been uprooted since the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948 or later, the only thing that remains are the archaeological artifacts: burned out synagogues, mikvaot, judenrein Jewish quarters, and of course cemeteries. Regardless of whether this grave was actually Jonah’s grave, the tragedy for the Jews is clear. Most of the Middle East has been erased of Jewish inhabitants. Now the memory of our presence is being scrubbed as well. For this the Jews need to mourn as well.

*The article is written with the assumption that this is in fact the grave of Jonah. Another tradition says that his grave is in Mashhad, Israel. While the tradition this article is based on might be incorrect, the message of the article still holds true.

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Knowledge of Good and Evil-A JVO Question

The following question was asked on Jewish Values Online:

How is the Law the knowledge of good and evil?. Is the good and evil related to being in covenant relation with God? So it is good by using it only if you are in a unbroken covenant? Example: The Israelites broke the covenant (see prophet Jeremiah). They await a new covenant not like the Law of Moses. If the Law is the old covenant, is it evil to keep the Law? Is that what the knowledge of good and evil means? Law used in covenant and used out of covenant results in good and evil? All Blessings upon the Israel of God Russ

This is my answer:


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The Three Weeks Start Early

Starting Tuesday, the Jewish people will be observing a memorial period lasting three weeks ending on August 5, a day called Tisha B’Av.  A disproportionate number of national tragedies have befallen our people during this time period, a period for which most of the Northern Hemisphere is a time of joy and good times.  However, for the Jews the Three Weeks have started early, and appear that they will go into overtime this year.

The murders of Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad have really shaken up the Jewish community, in Israel and abroad.  Besides the fact that three of our boys were killed for no reason besides being Jewish, the murders undermined a sense of security that we were safe from such attacks.  The unspoken blow to our sense of security was the fact these three boys were hitchhiking, unheard of in America but a common way of travel in Israel because of the sense of brotherhood and camaraderie.  I don’t imagine Israelis will stop doing it but may start thinking twice, which is already bad enough.  The murder of Mohammed Abu Khdair has been similarly tragic for the Jewish community because besides the fact someone died, it undermined our own self-understanding that “Jews don’t murder.”   The fact is that despite our community’s abhorrence of violence, it does happen, and when it does it is the talk of the media for a long time.  And then there is the resulting war…

These three weeks are called in Hebrew the time of בין המצרים, the times between constraints.  The suffering we have endured, and continue to endure, are not just tragic because of the bad things that happen.  No one wants to see the loss of human life, but that’s just the visible part of the tragedy.  What is unseen is the true loss, the decrease in productivity and overall quality of human life.  Israel, the country that produced 16805 patents, Zohar Argov and Idan Reichal, and is the restored center of Jewish and Torah life, is now literally setting fire to their money by bombing Gaza.  The fact that Israel has no choice to go to war does not make war a less wasteful activity.  The citizens of Gaza, who nine years ago had hope of building their own country and living with growth and stability have been once again dragged by their leaders into conflict, suffering, and loss of life.  This is constraints: the inability to live happy, productive lives.

I do not know how to solve the situation.  I can only say that events erupting at this time is not a coincidence.  We need to recognize this and make a commitment to self-improvement.  Specifically, we need to personally learn to empathize with the pain of our brothers and sisters in Israel.  My rabbi has specifically advocated giving up a little something like sugar in your coffee, or Rav Hayim Kainyevsky who has given up his daily walk.  Maybe think about doing something positive as well, taking on another mitzvah, act of kindness, learning, something.  This is what we can do to alleviate the ‘restrictions’.

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Kulturkampf From The Pulpit

The world, and particularly the news media, is focused on the ongoing battle between Republic and Democrat, liberal and conservative, in the political arena.   However, the battle for the soul of America is happening much closer to home.  An exact parallel of the political struggle is taking place in our houses of worship.  Orthodox religion is under constant assault, not only from the liberal media and secular colleges, but very often within religious denominations themselves.  The left wing of many religious movements are attempting to infuse liberal value systems into traditional religions and make radical changes to doctrine.  Examples can be found in many of the major world confessions:

  • Liberation Theology, a mixture of Catholicism and some Marxist motifs, has caused an ideological rift between the Latin American Church and the rest of the Catholic world, though with the election of the current Pope there seems to be at least an effort to reconciliation and moderation.
  • The American Episcopalian Church has embraced the liberal position on most if not all of modern social issues, alienating itself from its parent body the very conservative Anglican church.
  • Open Orthodoxy, a rehashing of early Conservative Judaism with an injection of modern liberalism, is attempting to redefine Orthodox Judaism as social justice and uses its relationship with the secular media to exert pressure on the Orthodox community to accept their reforms.
  • ‘Western Buddhism’ is under criticism from its traditional counterpart in the East for misrepresenting the Buddha’s teachings in order to dress up modern liberalism with exotic ritual.

The fact of the matter is that this divide and reinvention of religion is more important than the political, and should bother liberals as much as conservatives.  For better or worse, religion has become a consumer product.  However, to be a viable product it needs to offer something other products don’t.  When religion mimics the values of the day, its value as a product diminishes or disappears entirely.  None other that Christopher Hitchens said that he believed believers should be a foil against atheists, if for no other reason that to sharpen his arguments.

But it’s more than that.  Religion does give guidance and explain the world that science and academia simply cannot.  Religion also provides for stability and values.  Rather than robbing people of free choice, it empowers them to evaluate their lives and the outside world and gives them the choice not to go with the flow.  In a world that says ‘yes, yes, yes!”, the traditional world helps people to put the brakes on and evaluate whether something is a quality idea or not.

A student, who happens to have serious issues with religion, once asked me why I didn’t take a job at a Conservative synagogue.  I asked her straight out: would you prefer a principled rabbi or a Pez dispenser rabbi.  Begrudgingly, she admitted the principled rabbi.  End of the day, people want their religion to be respectable, and liberal introductions into traditional religion erode that.










Posted in current events, nomorethodoxy, philosophical pieces, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Hidden Tragedy of #eyalnaftaligilad-TOI

There’s very little I can say that hasn’t been said about the tragic murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar.  I just wanted to share this one related thought about the impact of their deaths on the Jewish world, and the unfortunate reality that not all Jews united in mourning.


Posted in current events, Israel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

What is Halacha?

A simple introduction to Jewish law.  Uploaded for the merit to redeem captives יעקב נפתלי בן רחל דבורה. גלעד מיכאל בן בת גלי. איל בן אירס תשורה

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Sterling and Recorded Conversations-A JVO Question

I unfortunately fell behind but I’m answering the question now so here it is:

Indirectly related to the recent Donald Sterling/Clippers saga, while racism shouldn’t be tolerated, my question in terms of values is: should someone whose private conversation is unknowingly being recorded be subject to persecution when he is not intending to publicly voice his feelings, views, or beliefs? Is there a difference with intentionally public ranting racist remarks, as opposed to expressing personal thoughts in private to yourself and your close confidants? 

What seems like a very complicated conversation is really much simpler than it’s been made to be.  Regardless of whether someone says, or even does, something objectionable or even wrong, it’s no one’s business between them and G-d.  This is the fundamental operating principle behind the prohibition of lashon hara, literally evil speech.  A person is prohibited to say anything about another person, even if it is true, if it might cause people to think negatively of the person being spoken about.  The Rabbis have even extended this as far as to mean that a person shouldn’t even say something positive about a person, lest it cause another person to think or say something negative about the person being spoken about.  A proper treatment of these laws can be found in the book Hafetz Haim, written by Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan zt”l and English books on the subject can be found from the Chofetz Chaim Foundation.

Now on a technical level once a matter is known to ten or more people, it can be spoken about in public.  Nonetheless this is generally, but not always, bad policy.  The fact of the matter is that we all have opinions that are going to be found to be distasteful.  Actions are primary, and with very rare exceptions the only things the human beit din (courts) were put in charge of were actions.  Therefore, if we know something said something disgusting in private, but does great things in public, we should focus on these deeds.  That is not making light of what they said, but simply attempting to judge people favorably.

Making public racist statements is very different.  The purpose of making inflammatory comments is to inflame, instigate, and divide.  We see from the case of Penina, the co-wife of the then-childless Channa in 1 Samuel who teased Channa in order to get her to pray for children, but was punished for hurting her feelings by losing her own children that it is never permissible to inflict emotional harm with words.  Racist comments are obviously worse since they cause to upset others with no productive value.  They only cause hurt and discord.

Now some will point to some of the statements of the Rabbis in the Talmud or elsewhere that appear to be racist.  This in itself is a form of demonization of Judaism.  The Rabbis were astute about human nature and made insights in much the same way that psychologists and anthropologists do now, at a time when the fields were not differentiated as they are now.  That distinction only really took hold with figures such as Ockham and Descartes almost 1,000 years after the Talmud was written.  The Rabbis always judged individuals as individuals and to every extent they could favorably.  Many examples can be brought from the Talmud and later to establish this to be the case.

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Dissecting the Argument

Anyone can tell you what to say if someone challenges you about Israel.  Not everyone can or will tell you how to actually get to the core of the issues and what the other side is saying.  This is a quick into on how to actually do Hasbara:

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Jews are Indigenous!

In the second of a series on Hasbara, I discuss the concept of Jews being indigenous, in other words the claim that Jews have a right to a state of Israel in Israel because of a 3,300 year continuous presence starting with the foundation of our nationhood. Summing up 3,300 years of ancestral history isn’t easy but I gave it a shot:

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