When some 256 Jewish communities in 45 countries take part in a Global Day of Jewish Learning on Sunday, they will enact a modern miracle that brings together ancient wisdom and contemporary communications technology. The object of the day is to celebrate a historic event in the annals of Jewish studies: the completion of the Steinsaltz Talmud.
Timbuktu: the name is so steeped in mystique that many people think it is an imaginary rather than a real place. Historically, the city in the republic of Mali has been a centre of Islamic civilisation in Africa. It is also home to an emerging Jewish community.
According to local lore, some of the Jewish traders who crossed the Sahara centuries ago settled there but their descendants were forcibly converted to Islam. Now a new generation wants to return to their roots and openly identify as Jews. They have taken the Hebrew name Zakhor, "remember".
The furore over American Pastor Terry Jones's suggestion to hold a "Burn a Koran Day" was quickly overshadowed by the desecration of a mosque in Beit Fajjar near Bethlehem. The graffiti on the walls suggested that it was the work of extremist Jewish settlers.
At first glance, it might seem that Judaism supports this belligerent approach towards our Muslim neighbours. God's instructions to Moses as the Israelites prepare to conquer the Land of Israel offer little in the way of liberal, pluralist sentiment.
Chief Rabbi Jakobovits was a champion of Jewish education, so it was natural that when visiting schools, he would try to engage with the pupils and inspire them with a love of their religion. Legend has it that on one visit to a provincial Jewish school, he had a surprise. "Who painted this beautiful picture of a chanukiah?" he asked. "Mohammed" came the reply. Undeterred, the rabbi tried again. "Who drew this lovely plate of latkes?" he asked: "Ahmed" was the response.
The haftarah for Shemini Atzeret in the diaspora recalls the ceremony mounted by King Solomon for the inauguration of the First Temple. In this it provides a fitting climax to the careers not only of Solomon but also of his father, King David, who, in the parallel text in the Book of Chronicles, planned and devised almost every detail of its complex architecture. The amount of words lavished on the building's design in both sources only emphasises its supreme importance in the annals of ancient Israel's history.
"It's concentrated poison." That was the bitter assessment on my proffered home-made etrog jam. Not because it tasted so bad, but because this particular guest was an avowed "greenie". As he put it, eating a batch of post-Succot etrog jam was equivalent to dipping one's liver in a barrel of weed-killer.
Martyrdom does not figure as prominently in Judaism as it does in other religions. There is no hint of it in the Bible until Daniel is thrown into the lion's den in Babylon. If Israelites died, it was defending their lands, conquering others or simply carrying out royal commands.
The Yom Kippur Machzor is so long that as we turn page after page, our minds can easily wander away from essence of the day. But there is one little prayer that really gets to me and is a reminder of what Yom Kippur is all about. I am referring to the Thirteen Attributes of God, Yud Gimmel Middot. For many of us, just the first few words of this prayer evoke the traditional tune: Adonai, Adonai, El, rachum, v'chanun, erech apayim...
It was an invitation I could not refuse. Next month I will be joining the Dalai Lama at Emory University for a seminar on happiness. It appealed to me first because the Dalai Lama is, like Nelson Mandela, one of those rare figures who has led his people through suffering by forgiveness.