Rabbi Jonathan Sacks's Not in God's Name is a masterpiece that should be read by all of us. The book is an essential and brilliant dissertation which combines the best of Jewish ethics, theology and vision in attempting to explain and extirpate the problem of religious and political extremism.
Did the events described in the Book of Esther really happen? In academic circles this question is described as a question of historicity and for more than a century scholars have expended large amounts of energy producing papers and books that say largely the same thing: no historical basis exists for the events in the Book of Esther.
This year, the Jewish year has 13 months. Since our months start with the new moon, it means that 12 months make just 354 days instead of the 365 and a quarter days of the solar year. If our calendar were solely lunar, our festivals would begin 11 days earlier in the season every year, so Passover would migrate back through winter into autumn.
To keep up with debates at the talmudic academy in ancient days, you had to have a pretty good memory. Since manuscripts were scarce, whatever information you wanted to support your argument needed to be stored inside your head.
The first translation of the Torah was, according to one early rabbinic opinion, an event as tragic as the making of the golden calf. Another source said that darkness fell on the earth for three days. These may be extreme views. But there is no doubt that the first Bible translation was highly controversial.
The month of Shevat is a month of endings. Nisan was the first month in the Jewish calendar (Exodus 12:2), and Tevet was the tenth month. Ten in Judaism indicates completeness, as in the Ten Plagues, Ten Commandments, Ten Days of Penitence.
So Shevat, the eleventh month, seems to be the month of retirement, a time to look back on work done but not a time to do more.
Many traditional societies still maintain a separation of male and female roles, but to our eyes, these separations which are often governed by religious prohibitions, appear backward. When we, in the West, look at the prevention of women in Saudi Arabia from driving a car or entering a cemetery, we view these sorts of restrictions as discriminatory and retrograde.
The Star Wars film series is a global phenomenon that has captured the imagination of millions, young and old, the world over (including me). But what have a space smuggler, a walking carpet, a little green guru, a princess with stylised hair and a wide-eyed hero got to do with Judaism?