Gen. 24:48 — ואברך את יהוה אלהי אברהם אשר הנחני בדרך אמת
Deut. 6:6-7 — והיו הדברים האלה אשר אנכי מצוך היום על לבבך ודברת בם בלכתך בדרך
Acts 24:14 — אני מודה כי אני בדרך ההיא אשר יקבוה מפלגה בה אני עובד את אלהי אבותינו וכי אני מאמין בכל הכתוב בתורה ובנביאים



On the historicity of the conquest

Here is what Frank Cross of Harvard University, described as "America's leading Bible scholar," has to say on the question of whether Israel could have conquered Canaan as described in the biblical book of Joshua (an idea ridiculed today by many scholars):

"I am bemused by the fact that, given the widespread evidence of destruction in Canaan at the end of the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age, some scholars are inclined to attribute the violence to various people, despite the lack of written records, to almost anyone—except Israel, for whom we have elaborate written records of warfare." [Conversations with a Bible Scholar, p.23]


The world is a train — which car are you in?

‘Pashkevilim’ offer glimpse into haredi struggle
By Melanie Lidman, The Jerusalem Post

In the capital’s insular ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, haredi residents glean much of their community news from posters covering the stone walls, plastered onto seemingly every available surface. These stark black-and-white announcements, called pashkevilim, expound on everything from the dangers of technology to the proper (i.e. modest) attire to the latest boycotts to classes given by famous rabbis....

“The world is like a train,” he said... “the world is always moving forward... We just want to make sure that we’re in the last car of the train.”

Read the full article here


Shabbat, fire, and modernity

לֹא־תְבַעֲר֣וּ אֵ֔שׁ בְּכֹ֖ל מֹשְׁבֹֽתֵיכֶ֑ם בְּי֖וֹם הַשַּׁבָּֽת׃
שמות לה, ג

Do not burn fire in all your dwellings on the Sabbath day.
Exodus 35:3

What does this commandment mean?

One of the problems we face in trying to keep the commandments of Torah is that most people (anywhere in the world) are not interested in doing so. That makes things harder, since society is not set up to enable observance of the commandments. Rather, we have to struggle against the stream.

Another problem is that even within the minority that does claim to follow Torah, most people do not follow Torah itself but rather an accumulation of centuries of tradition and rabbinic (or other) rulings. These traditions frequently modify, transform, distort, or set aside the actual commandments of Torah. So even those who say they are following Torah are usually not following what it actually says, but something else altogether.

So what about those of us who want to keep Torah in accordance with the actual meaning of the commandments and within our modern life setting? We have to consider each commandment afresh and seek to discern its applicability today. This same question is faced in every age.

With regard to (not) burning a fire on shabbat, the commandment itself sounds pretty clear. However, a number of questions do arise. Here are some of them:

- Does this mean not to start a fire on shabbat, or not to have a fire burning at all?

- What about those who live in cold climates? (One possible answer to this question is that Torah was given as national law for Eretz Yisrael.)

- By saying "in all your dwellings" (בכל משבתיכם), does the mitzvah leave open the possibility of burning a shabbat fire "outside" one's dwelling? E.g., a bonfire in the park? a barbecue in the back yard? (Note that the fire on the altar had to be kept burning by the priests even on shabbat. See Lev. 6:8-13 / ויקרא ו‫,‬ א‫-‬ו . Cf. Maty. 12:5.)

- What is 'fire', beyond the obvious? Is an internal combustion engine (such as in an automobile) an example of fire? The words we use to describe it suggest that it is. But should we adopt a modern scientific definition of 'burning' or 'combustion' -- "the sequence of exothermic chemical reactions between a fuel and an oxidant accompanied by the production of heat and conversion of chemical species," according to Wikipedia -- when seeking to apply ancient Torah to our lives? Or should we try to think only in terms of what 'fire' (i.e., אש) would have meant to Israelis 3,000 years ago?

- By considering such questions and (hopefully) settling on a general approach, are we creating "our own halacha" just like the rabbis have done? Does it make a difference if one says, "This is my opinion, but you may have a different understanding -- or your time/place may require a different observance"? One crucial aspect of rabbinic halacha is that it is considered to be authoritative. In other words, you and I are supposedly obligated to follow what the council of rabbis has decided. But if one does not adopt this attitude, instead according freedom and discretion to all, is that a better solution?

I found a couple places on the web arguing that Exod. 35:3 was only talking about an "industrial fire" -- and thus fires for cooking, warmth, etc. would be ok on shabbat. However, I personally can't see how that interpretation stems from the text.

I know there are various opinions on the shabbat & fire commandment even among the contributors to this blog! I'd be interested to hear your views.


Biblical Sukkot and Rabbinic Sukkot

וּלְקַחְתֶּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הָרִאשׁ֗וֹן פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙ כַּפֹּ֣ת תְּמָרִ֔ים וַעֲנַ֥ף עֵץ־עָבֹ֖ת וְעַרְבֵי־נָ֑חַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵ֛י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֖ם שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים׃ -- ויקרא כ"ג, 40

And take to yourselves on the first day [of Sukkoth] fruit of a majestic tree [or: majestic fruit of a tree], hands [i.e., fronds] of palms, and a branch of a leafy tree and of brook willows, and rejoice before HaShem your God seven days. -- Leviticus 23:40

When I read this commandment, I imagine a joyful folk festival: men, women, and children going down to the brook in a cheerful throng, gathering up different kinds of plants, and waving them happily before the Lord. It's spontaneous, free, colorful, and pretty devoid of ritual. Could be a nice time for a picnic; and certainly there are lots of children running around, laughing, shouting.

The rabbanim interpret this verse differently. An entire tractate of the Talmud forms the basis for their notions regarding the proper laws of Sukkot: the permitted size, shape, and materials of a sukkah; how many meals to eat during the week; the right size for the palm fronds; which kind of fruit-tree is "majestic" (hadar); what kind of points the lulav and etrog have to have to be 'kosher'; etc., etc. Since Mishnaic times many volumes of additional commentary and pronouncements have further defined the rabbinic interpretation of Sukkot. With regard to the verse cited above, the rabbinic regulations specify when the four species (arba'at ha-minim) may be waved; what prayers must be said before, during, and after waving; the precise manner in which they must be waved; the proper technique for taking all four together; and on and on. In other words, the rabbinic observance of this commandment is as ritualized as can be.

I believe in a much, much freer observance of God's commands, based on the spirit of the Torah itself. The rabbis insist on a standardized, controlled, sanctioned, ritualized observance of their massively expanded interpretation of Torah. Which of us is correct?


Jews and fantasy

Ever wonder why fantasy literature does not seem particularly Jewish? One professor's answer.


by Michael Weingrad

Although it might seem unlikely that anyone would wonder whether the author of The Lord of the Rings was Jewish, the Nazis took no chances. When the publishing firm of Ruetten & Loening was negotiating with J. R. R. Tolkien over a German translation of The Hobbit in 1938, they demanded that Tolkien provide written assurance that he was an Aryan.

Read the article at:

Jewish Review of Books

Faith and science

An interesting take on questions of faith/faithfulness (Heb. emunah) and science. If religious experience can be shown to occur on the basis of electro-chemical brain stimulation, does this invalidate faith in God? Does neuropsychology disprove free will? A Christian physician's perspective.

William P Cheshire, JR, MD

A panel of Princeton University scientists recently gathered together to deliberate "whether strong religious belief can coexist with reliance on science." Constraining their definition of truth to "factual human knowledge," the panel, led by professor of molecular biology Lee Silver, posed the provocative question, whether "science has effectively demonstrated that religious beliefs have no place in the rational mind."

Read the article at:


Faith(fulness) and sexuality

One of the best articles I have seen on the rare commitment to and the extreme challenges of abstaining from sex outside marriage, particularly for long periods of time as a single. From a Christian woman's perspective.

GOD'S ALTERNATIVE INTIMACY: Remaining chaste in an unchaste world

by Julia Duin

Virginity is literally a joke. I once picked up a greeting card that read on the outside, "Many years ago, people remained pure, chaste, and wholesome and were called virgins. Today, some people still remain pure, chaste, and wholesome..." The inside punchline read, "They are called lepers."

Read the article at:

Good Morals


Translating first-century Jewish faith accurately

The Messianic Writings

translated and annotated by Daniel Gruber

Elijah Publishing, 2011; 411 pp.

ISBN 978-0966925364

Two thousand years ago, a Jewish teacher named Yeshua ben Yosef appeared in the hills of Galilee and shared his simple, heartfelt, brilliant interpretation of Torah with the many crowds of Jews and some others who flocked to hear him. He quickly gained a reputation as a great prophet and healer, and many believed him to be the promised Messiah -- the deliverer of Israel. In subsequent decades, Yeshua's followers wrote accounts of his words and deeds, as well as their own letters and visions. These texts have come down to us in a Jewish-Greek hybrid language heavily influenced by Hebrew (similar to Yiddish or Ladino). Such a dialect had been employed a couple centuries earlier in producing the Septuagint (LXX) translation of Hebrew Scripture, which at the time of Yeshua was widely used by Greek-speaking Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean world.

The Messianic Writings as translated and annotated by Daniel Gruber represent, to my knowledge, the first attempt to render the texts about Yeshua (Jesus) into English from Jewish-Greek. Common translations erroneously operate as if these writings were originally written in a Christian, rather than a Jewish, idiom. However, an enormous and continually growing body of scholarship demonstrates that this was certainly not the case. Anyone familiar with the works of David Flusser, James Charlesworth, Daniel Boyarin, David Bivin, Oskar Skarsaune, or other leading researchers in the field will immediately recognize the validity and importance of translating from a first-century Jewish context instead of anachronistically and inappropriately from a Gentile Christian one. Today such an approach is widely accepted, at least in theory -- much more so than a century ago when Yosef Klausner began to urge studying Yeshua in his first-century Jewish context. Nonetheless, until now no one had actually made an English translation from the correct language or dialect: Hebraic or Judeo-Greek.

The print version of this book consists essentially of four parts: an introduction; the translation itself; notes attached to the translation; and additional notes or brief essays on specific questions of interpretation, usually related to enigmatic passages.

In his introduction, Gruber explains that the LXX "is an indispensable bridge for understanding the ways in which words are used in the Messianic Writings" (5). He describes his approach to translation in general and to the various manuscripts and textual compilations. He argues that Christian "New Testaments" often distort the original meaning of the texts due to theological bias and misinterpretation. Such errors in interpretation and translation -- such as the infamous "synagogue of Satan" rendering in Revelation -- have often fed into anti-Jewish sentiment and persecution throughout history, including "violent, tragic events" (7). Though no translation is perfect, this one at least has the advantage of starting from a historically defensible perspective on the original language and context.

The Greek word christos meant "smeared with oil." Jewish-Greek authors such as the LXX translators employed it as the equivalent for Hebrew mashiakh, "anointed, Messiah." The Messianic Writings translation therefore renders christos as "Messiah," since that is the most accurate English equivalent today for what was meant. Recognizing what Jean Carmignac called the obvious "Semitic substructure" of the text, Gruber correctly perceives diatheke as standing for Hebrew brit, "covenant," and thus avoids much confusion introduced by Christian use of the word "testament." Simply translating this word and related notions correctly shows Heb. 9:15-18 to be clear, straightforward, and consistent with its context, whereas most other translations make it appear incomprehensible and fallacious. Ekklesia is not translated as "church," nor sunagoge as "synagogue," because that is not what the terms meant in their first-century historical setting. Other expressions concerning government, law, faith, prophecy, and daily life are also rendered in a more contextually appropriate manner, often leading to eye-opening reinterpretations. These are but some of the more obvious examples of difference from common translations. No reader is likely to agree with every one of Gruber's choices, but that is to be expected when dealing with complex ancient writings. One subtle but highly commendable inclusion is the differentiation between singular and plural "you," an important distinction usually ignored in modern English versions.

The accompanying notes contain some brief explanatory comments and excerpts from related material in Qumranic, rabbinic, and other sources. This usually helps to frame the text in an ancient Jewish context and to reveal "conversations" that were ongoing at the time, even though much of the material does date from a later period. For example, the notes to Mt. 5:13 and Luke 14:34-35 ("if the salt becomes flat and tasteless, with what will it be seasoned?") point to a Talmudic tractate that asks the very same hypothetical or rhetorical question (16, 123). The note to Acts 15:29 (an explanation of what commandments Gentiles should keep) refers to a Talmudic discussion of the seven "Noahide laws" considered applicable to all humans, not only Jews (203). This reader finds the notes extremely helpful and hopes that they will continue to be developed in future editions. In particular, the roughly contemporaneous Qumran library (Dead Sea Scrolls) has much to offer in this respect. Both DSS 4QFlor and Philo Judaeus mention the idea of miqdash adam, a temple for God's presence constructed of human beings rather than of stones; it would be useful to have such references when reading 1Cor. 3:16-19, 2Cor. 6:16, Eph. 2:20-22, or Rev. 3:12 -- all of which describe the same or a very similar notion. There is almost no end to the number of useful notes that could be compiled and that would help to modify widespread but mistaken understandings of numerous passages.

The additional notes or essays at the back of the book address such topics as: other ancient Jewish sources that speak of the Messiah dying; textual rebuttal of allegations that Yeshua opposed or abrogated Torah's dietary guidelines; and whether long hair was considered desirable for men in the ancient world. The note on "The Seat of Moses" presents a powerful and convincing resolution of a difficult passage in Mt. 23. These notes also help to explain further the translation approach and choices. Some people are likely to disagree on religious (theological) grounds. However, if one's interest lies first of all in understanding the texts themselves as accurately as possible, then such considerations are both irrelevant and prejudicial. The Messianic Writings do not seek to cater to any particular religious standpoint, but rather to remain faithful to the records of the past as they were written at the time. This endeavor should please all honest seekers of truth -- whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist, or other.

In sum, it is hard to overestimate the importance of this groundbreaking attempt at a translation from Jewish-Greek into English. Translations that fully recognize the Hebraic dimensions of the writings in question have previously appeared in Hebrew (e.g., Yitskhak Zalkinson) and French (André Chouraqui). Yet the vast majority of existent versions in all modern languages do not translate from the original language or context. As the back cover of The Messianic Writings notes, "This initial translation is not perfect, and will always stand in need of improvement, but it is faithful to the text and its context." That fundamental reorientation -- accepting the text in its own historical setting, rather than through the prism of later theologies and biases -- makes a world of difference. This translation opens up vast areas for future discoveries and refinements. It is a new starting point for all those who are willing to encounter profound and revelatory Jewish faith of the first century on its own terms.


The Messianic Writings are available in the following formats:

Print --

Kindle --

Nook --

iPod/iPhone/iPad -- iTunes, iBookstore


Faith doubts

“Perhaps, like Socrates, I corrupt youth, but I do teach that Judaism encourages doubt, even as it enjoins faith and commitment. A Jew dare not live with absolute certainty not only because certainty is the hallmark of the fanatic and Judaism abhors fanaticism, but also because doubt is good for the human soul, its humility, and consequently its greater potential ultimately to discover its Creator.”

Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, 1966


The Influence of History

Past experience is the foundation on which our beliefs about the desirability of different policies and institutions are mainly based, and our present political views inevitably affect can color our interpretation of the past.

-F.A. Hayek, Capitalism and the Historians