Mordechai Beck

Remember the Maccabees on Rosh Hashanah

By Mordechai Beck, September 3, 2013

Rosh Hashanah means, literally, the Head of the Year, an idiomatic way of saying in Hebrew the beginning of a new year. The element of doubt in this idiom comes from the fact that the Mishnah devoted to Rosh Hashanah identifies four “heads of the year”.

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Why do we have to eat matzah on Pesach?

By Mordechai Beck, March 24, 2013

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.

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Where is the incentive to vote?

By Mordechai Beck, January 11, 2013

The question on the lips of most Israelis these days is: "Who are you voting for?" Unlike previous elections, the answer is not a foregone conclusion. Many are asking, in fact, whether it's worthwhile marking the holiday which traditionally accompanies elections in Israel with a vote at all. What, they are asking, are we voting for?

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How the rabbis turned swords into candles

By Mordechai Beck, December 15, 2011

Chanucah, the festival of lights, is, in our own day, mainly the commemoration of a spiritual event. Its historical roots, however, as set out in the Book of Maccabees, were the celebration of a great military victory over the Syrian-Greek overlords.

The Talmud's description concentrates on the laws of keeping the Chanucah lights burning (Masechet Shabbat 21b-24a).

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Dramatic lead

By Mordechai Beck, November 11, 2011

This summer, Tel Aviv witnessed some live theatre in the shape of a major demonstration against the cost of living in Israel's chief urban centre. How ironic that most of the uproar took place on Rothschild Boulevard, directly down the road from the largest cultural project of the last decade - the renovated Habima National Theatre complex.

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The human city

By Mordechai Beck, November 11, 2011

Most mayors would be embarrassed if a large number of citizens took to the streets, set up camp in one of its main boulevards and demonstrated for weeks on end against the high cost of living.

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VIPs' misconceived detour

By Mordechai Beck, June 27, 2011

Israel's Foreign Office recently revealed that, since March of this year, foreign dignitaries have no longer been taken to Herzl's grave as part of their official visit. The reason cited was lack of time.

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Cult that corrodes a capital

By Mordechai Beck, May 20, 2011

Further evidence of a Charedi intrusion into mainstream Israeli life emerged last week when "Superdox" members of Jerusalem's city council proposed a ban on the capital's forthcoming opera festival, scheduled for next month.

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Pesach celebrates the liberation of God, too

By Mordechai Beck, April 21, 2011

The dramatic telling of the biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt is interrupted by a seemingly unrelated command, to follow a new calendar: "God said to Moses and to Aaron, 'This month shall be for you the first month – the premier one among all the months of the year'"(Exodus 12: 1-2).

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Jerusalem bomb victim's Bible mission

By Mordechai Beck, March 31, 2011

The scottish-born woman who was murdered in the Jerusalem bomb attack last week was taking part in a unique programme to translate the Hebrew Bible into hundreds of obscure languages.

Mary Jane Gardner had been studying at the Home for Bible Translators (HBT), which draws Christian translators from all over the globe for a 6-month course in ancient and modern Hebrew.

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Charedi dependency that brews resentment

By Mordechai Beck, January 27, 2011

Shoshana Chen is a charedi grandmother, living in Israel. She recently wrote an open letter to her grandchildren in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper. In it, she expressed her difficulty in understanding why these grandchildren were the subject of such hatred by much of the Israeli population, "not only because you were born Jewish, but also because you were born charedim". What is really surprising about this is that Mrs Chen was surprised.

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The rabbi who wants to be a freedom fighter

By Mordechai Beck, January 6, 2011

It is highly unusual, to say the least, for a rabbi in today's Israel to be a hero, not just among the religious crowd, but also among a secular population increasingly alienated from, if not indeed antagonistic towards, the rabbinical establishment and all it represents. Rabbi Haim Amsellem is such a man. For many Israelis, he is a whistle- (or maybe shofar-) blower, warning of the extremism that is fast becoming the norm of Israel's religious life.

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Why settlers believe in the power of the curse

By Mordechai Beck, December 9, 2010

Just recently, the so-called "hill youth" - an extreme and violent posse of youngsters who appropriate empty hillocks throughout Judea and Samaria for the purpose of illegal settlement - issued a list of curses for their members to use as the need arises. When attacked by border policemen, they now have precise formulations by which to fend off the foe - in the same way Harry Potter might ward off Muggles or other dark powers with his magic wand.

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The day that King Solomon overslept

By Mordechai Beck, September 28, 2010

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.

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How lucky charms still bring us a little magic

By Mordechai Beck, June 17, 2010

Israel's representative at the recent Eurovision Song Contest, Harel Skaat, unashamedly flaunted a kemaye - a Hebrew amulet - on his bared chest during his performance. "I believe in all these superstitions," he confessed.

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Ritual bathing: the truth exposed

By Mordechai Beck, January 28, 2010

Oriental despots boasted of their harems, an d the Roman Empire of their bathhouses — the Jews got by with the modest mikveh. Initially a purifying bath used to prepare men and women for Temple ritual, it is used now to prepare women for sexual encounters with their husbands after two weeks of abstinence caused by their monthly period.

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Why the land of Israel has a border problem

By Mordechai Beck, September 2, 2009

For most Israelis, and even more so for its politicians, it is axiomatic that the prime source for Israel’s existence in the land is the Bible. At a recent talk at Bar-Ilan University, for example, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu observed: “The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel has lasted for more than 3,500 years. Judea and Samaria –– the places where Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, David and Solomon, and Isaiah and Jeremiah lived –– are not alien to us. This is the land of our forefathers.”

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A Shavuot mystery: the angels with four faces

By Mordechai Beck, May 28, 2009

The opening chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, with its mysterious image of a heavenly chariot of four-faced creatures, is read as the haftarah on the first day of Shavuot. But the reason is not immediately apparent.

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Obituary: Myer Silverstone

By Mordechai Beck, April 2, 2009

British-born top civil servant Myer Silverstone made a major impact on Israel’s formative years as director-general of the Ministry of the Interior.

Descended from an illustrious rabbinical family — his Lithuanian-born grandfather was a well-known Liverpool rabbi in the 1890s — he attended the Grocers’ School (Hackney Downs), studied at Jews’ College and London University, and qualified as a solicitor in 1937. He was also a leading figure in Young Mizrachi and Torah Va’Avodah.

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Obituary: Myer Silverstone

By Mordechai Beck, March 19, 2009

British-born top civil servant Myer Silverstone made a major impact on Israel’s formative years as director-general of the Ministry of the Interior.

Descended from an illustrious rabbinical family — his Lithuanian-born grandfather was a well-known Liverpool rabbi in the 1890s — he attended the Grocers’ School (Hackney Downs), studied at Jews’ College and London University, and qualified as a solicitor in 1937. He was also a leading figure in Young Mizrachi and Torah Va’Avodah.

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