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?
My favourite prayer requires a great leap of the imagination. On the holiest days of the year, Jews pray for a time when humanity will live in harmony, everyone will recognise God's greatness and loving-kindness will fill the world.
When Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis went to the Limmud conference two years ago, he opened the door for other United Synagogue rabbis who had hesitated over whether the cross-communal event was acceptable. The chief won't be attending this year; he is making a trip to India.
As we approach Chanucah, I always reflect on how different some of our Jewish practices might have looked if it had not been for the sage Hillel, who instituted and fought for the way in which we kindle our Chanucah lights. Not only Chanucah, but some of our most basic rituals and moral beliefs: divorce, telling white lies and accessing Jewish learning.