Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs, is the strangest book in the Hebrew Bible, one of the strangest ever to be included in a canon of sacred texts. It is written as a series of songs between two human lovers, candid, passionate, even erotic. It is one of only two books in Tanach that does not explicitly contain the name of God (Esther is the other) and it has no obvious religious content.
On a number of occasions in the Torah, the festival of Passover, Chag Hapesach is called Chag Hamatzot, the Feast of Unleavened Bread (eg Exodus 34:18; Leviticus 23:6, Deuteronomy 16:17). Pesach becomes transformed into korban pesach, an everlasting memory of that first night of freedom.
Just over a century ago Chayim Bialik, one of the forefathers of modern Hebrew literature, co-edited a book that was to become a standard text for generations of Israeli schoolchildren. Sefer Ha’Agadah, The Book of Legends, was a compilation of stories from the Talmud and Midrash.
Why do Jewish people always answer a question with a question?
Judaism is a religion of questions and questioning. Abraham, the first Jew, began his first conversation with God by asking a question, Moses, the Jewish people’s greatest leader, asked God to show him His ways and the Talmud, the central text of Judaism, is replete with questions and answers.
Reports about child sex abuse in the Orthodox community seem to be emerging with ever increasing frequency. A recent high-profile prosecution in Australia and yet another in New York involve cases of child sex abuse that began many years ago. So why have they come to light only now rather than being reported by victims, or their families, around the time the offences were committed?
In the summer of 1666, the English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton is said to have pondered the falling of an apple while in the gardens of Woolsthorpe Manor, his family home in Lincolnshire. This apocryphal story describes the seminal moment which prompted him to realise that there must be a force acting on the apple which draws it to the centre of the earth.
Every morning when I walk to the station on the way to work, I pass a tall green pole outside a pub. It is linked from the top to a second pole on the opposite side of the road by a slender, almost invisible wire. It looks like the training apparatus for a lightweight tightrope walker. You probably wouldn’t notice it from the surrounding lampposts if you didn’t know why it was there.
This year Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, Shevat 15, falls just one day before Holocaust Memorial Day.
There is a famous story in the Talmud about the sage Honi in which he asks why a certain man is planting carob trees because he will not see them mature and bear fruit. The man reminds us that we do not plant trees for ourselves, but for our descendants perhaps 70 years later.
The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, seems cut from a different cloth from his predecessor. Whereas Dr Rowan Williams is a poetry-writing scholar with better Hebrew than most of us, the Bishop of Durham’s pre-clerical career as an oil executive has marked him as a man of more worldly experience.