Book Review: Rav Hisda’s Daughter


— Reviewer: Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Fascinating reading and learning surprises await those who dive into the vividly depicted world of Babylonian Jewry in Rav Hisda’s Daughter, Book I: Apprentice: A Novel of Love, the Talmud, and Sorcery by Maggie Anton who earlier brought us the remarkable historical fiction series Rashi’s Daughters. Anton succeeds brilliantly in drawing us into the formative period leading up to the Talmud. This was a time when most in the third century Persian culture — men, women and children, sages and commoners, Jews and gentiles – wore amulets, incantation bowls and spells for protection from demons and disease, and in hopes of fertility, healing and good fortune. Yes, this is all well documented right in the Talmud, a typically 37 volume work that emerges after the time of this story, aspects of which are elegantly embroidered into the Rav Hisda’s Daughter‘s narrative. Anton also incorporates Jewish ownership of slaves during this time, rabbinic laws and customs re menstruation, along with betrothal and marriage law by means of the engaging tools of good fiction.

More after the jump.

What is the Talmud? Redacted memories, stories and teachings on Jewish laws and customs. Components are the Mishna, quoting sages who lived from about 100 BCE to 200 CE called the Tanaim. The Gemara surrounds the Mishna, with interpretations and debates from 200 CE to about 500 CE and these sages are known as Amoraim. Also on most Talmud edition pages are sages known as Rishonim and Tosefta/Tosafot, 1,000 C.E. until 1,500 C.E. There is both the Jerusalem Talmud (Yerushalmi) and the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) reflecting shared, although sometimes differently remembered teachings, as well as unique topics and stories.

Anton helpfully contextualizes aspects of the Talmudic record that appear heretical and discomforting when viewed from the contemporary practice of traditional Judaism. She shows us a century when people, Jews and their non-Jewish compatriots believed in demons as they died like flies of plagues, infections and the absence of lifesaving antibiotics and other essential medications. These were times when a women’s primary apparent value to society was her ability to reproduce amply and run a household. Anton’s redemptive thesis reveals how what we would view as magical thinking and behavior would, or could, have been a form of prayer and much sought-after professional community service. For example:

“Inscribing an amulet is like praying?”
Kimchit stared at me with her small, beady eyes. “Exactly. Once you’ve met the clients and heard their sad stories, you’ll want to help them,” she said. “As you write the protective spell, you pray with all your heart that Heaven heed your words, so your compassion imbues the amulet with healing power.” [Page 84]

Anton goes on to document the validity for pious Jews of such an activity as amulet making by citing the Talmudic words of the famed male sage Abba: “…What is a reliable amulet? One that has cured three people.”

The incantations provided are the richly fascinating ones, for example:

“Health and guarding and sealing from Heaven from Ahai bar Mevrat and Kimota bat Horan, their house, possessions, sons, daughters, and fetus. By the ban of Bugdana, king of shaydim and satans, ruler of liliths, whether male or female, I adjust that you be struck in the membrane of your heart by the spear of Tikas the Mighty…..sealed with the signet ring of Solomon ben David, King of Israel. Amen. Amen. Amen. Selah.” [Page 154]

Incredibly strange, isn’t it?-given that the Torah outright prohibits the practice of witchcraft! A few examples:

“You shall not suffer a witch to live.” Ex 22:17 <blockquote>
Mekasefa is the word for witch used in this verse, a term which Anton draws on throughout the volume.

“You shall not eat any thing with the blood; neither shall you use enchantment, nor observe times.” Lev. 19:26

This phrase meaning an auspicious conjunctions of constellations, i.e., astrology is retained in the Shehecheyanu prayer.

“There shall not be found among you any one that … uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer, for all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord.” Deut. 18:10-12

Jewish Witches after the Biblical Period?

Here in Rav Hisda’s Daughter, what we have is the work of a master craftswoman set upon repairing a major gap in Jewish literature and understanding of our own past. Maggie Anton is forging a repair that goes even deeper than history, for her story gives insight into how to approach contemporary encounters with what Phyllis Trible dubbed religious “Texts of Terror” against women (Texts of Terror:  Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives  (Overtures to Biblical Theology)). In pre-modern Judaism any collection of these include “You shall not allow a female witch to live,” and also famously:

‘R. Simeon ben Shetah hanged eighty witches in Ashkelon, these being women who had lived in a single cave and who had ‘harmed the world.’ [Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Hagigah 2:2; by context we infer these were not Jewish witches, though others in the Talmud are.]

An on-line article by Meir bar Ilan makes an excellent study complement to Rav Hisda’s Daughter, it is based on his book Some Jewish Women in Antiquity and demonstrates the Biblical and Talmudic magical actions and books of Jewish men. In fact, two “how-to guides” became available:

“The books of witchcraft of the Talmudic era, Harba de Mosheh and Sefer HaRazim, are attributed to males, and many of the examples in the Talmud deal with men (including some who were titled Rav) who were involved in witchcraft.” [Ibid.]

Bar Ilan notes that the great Amora (scholar of his times), Amemar sought out the counsel of a known kesefa, according to the Talmud Bavli Pesachim 110a and, in 111a, the men of the Talmud easily described such practices, for example:  

“If two women sit at a crossroads, one on this side and the other on the other side, and they face one another – they are certainly engaged in witchcraft.” [Ibid.]

In the Babylonian Talmud [Gittin 45a] girls are cited in patrilineal format: “The daughters of R. Nachman stirred a (presumably boiling) pot with their bare hands…they stirred the pot with witchcraft.” [Ibid.] Meir bar Ilan further includes a worthwhile, extended study of Sota 22a where “a maiden who gives herself up to prayer, a gadabout widow and a minor whose months are not completed – these bring about the destruction of the world.” The sin here? The thirteenth century Rabbinic commentator Rashi is emphatic: “witchcraft”. [Ibid.]

Among the many examples of occult practices by Talmudic sages that we studied in rabbinical school, one finds the Talmudic story of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai performing an exorcism by removing a spirit which had entered into the body of the emperor’s daughter [Talmud Bavli Me’ilah 17b], and in another text, he places an evil eye on his opponent and turns him into a heap of bones [Talmud Yerushalmi Shevi’it 9:1, 38d]. In the words of bar Ilan:

“If R. Simeon bar Yohai carried out actions beyond the realm of the laws of nature, that was a miracle, but if a woman carried out the same action, that was witchcraft. Similarly, if Moses threw a staff and it turned to a snake, that was a miracle and a sign from God, but if a non-Jew did that same action, it was witchcraft. It thus follows that, in ancient times, the boundary between the miracle and witchcraft depended not only on the person’s religion, but also on the person’s sex.” [Ibid.]

Drawing on such distinctions, the persecution of women as witches was carried from Judaism into Christianity, only to result in Salem and other witch burnings. As is well-known, tens of thousands of women were killed based on allegations of witchcraft, and very few men, within a two hundred year period.

Revisiting the times that contributed to such misogynous terror crimes is hard and holy work. What a blessing for Anton to be born in the age of computerized key word searching of the 63 Talmud tractates (approximately 6000 printed pages)! Looking for women who are mentioned or quoted in the Talmud is the needle-in-a-haystack task many women rabbis took up starting way back in the challenging days of organizing notes handwritten on index cards. Anton’s field notes list consultation with topic rabbinic and doctoral scholars in the field.

Who Was Rav Hisda? Why His Daughter?


Map from Parshablog

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Babylonian Jewry established major academies of learning at Nehardea, Sura and Pumpedita, in the region today known as Iraq. Sura, where Rav Hisda primarily lived and taught, would have been just south of today’s Bagdad. Benjamin of Tudela reported that when he reached Sura in the 1170s he found only ruins, but that a significant Jewish community then remained in Pumpedita (A History of the Jews).

Hisda is known for being one of the sharpest sages of his time, as well as for his appreciation of the “power of leniency” when interpreting Jewish law and applying it (Heavenly Torah: As Refracted through the Generations). In the Talmudic tractate Shabbat, [folio 140b] we also find a passage where Rav Hisda teaches his daughters the art of sexual foreplay.

So it is both fitting and wonderful that this story of Rav Hisda’s Daughter focuses substantially upon Anton envisioning her apprenticing to a woman who makes amulets and incantation bowls. While the story line’s resolution is disappointingly obvious from the get-go and Jewish holidays seem more described than experienced for their spiritual force, Anton effectively opens the times to us through a pleasurable texture similar to the details of dreams that unfold wonders. This is ever so fitting, since Rav Hisda famously observes: “A dream not interpreted is like a letter unread.” [Babylonian Talmud 55a]

The Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany, houses the original, massive cerulean and gold tiled gates of King Nebuchadnezzar; it was his forces that captured the Israelites’ First Temple. Those who have witnessed those astonishingly beautiful gates will be afforded heightened appreciation for Anton’s vivid, almost tactile written descriptions of the arts of the period. Nebuchadnezzar’s forces massively slaughtered Jewish families and then exiled survivors to Babylonia in 586 BCE. Turn to the Book of Lamentations, Eichah, to appreciate the excruciating pain of the first wave of exiled ancestors. Later descendants of these Babylonian Jewish exiles would come to live and prosper under the tolerance of the Zoroastrians. By contrast, those Judean Jews who remained behind would live under the Roman Empire, the Second Temple would be destroyed, Rome would become a Christian land called Palestinia, and Jewish power, though not presence, would be extinguished there until our own times.

The Early Sages–Initially, a Legend in Their Own Minds

Curiously, as Anton reminds us, contemporary scholarship teaches that academies like the one at Sura, were minor enclaves with little influence on the dominant Judaism of the third through fifth centuries CE. Yet their discussions, redacted into generations of material within the Talmud, would come to be foundational to the evolution of Judaism up to this day. Anton agreeably positions a number of traditional Jewish legal debates and principles within the family life of Hisda’s Daughter, allowing her to sit in and have us listen-in through her experience. Here is an example of how she incorporates the norm that during this time anyone who incurred debt might well have to sell themselves into slavery until having paid off that debt, even into the home of a prominent Jewish sage:

“I stared at the circle of maidservants sitting in the courtyard, grinding wheat in time to the songs they sang. It was grueling labor, twisting pestle against mortar from before sunrise through midday, until there was enough flour for all that day’s bread. Thought I had already thanked Elohim in morning prayers for not making me a slave, I thanked Him again.

The Mishna said that if a bride provides only one slave as her dowry, that slave grinds grain, bakes bread, and does laundry instead of the bride. And if she provides two slaves, the second one cooks and nurses the children. Apparently women too poor to bring even one slave as a dowry didn’t marry.

But Father told us that this Mishna was contradicted by a Baraita, which taught that a wife is only for beauty and for having children, and thus not for tasks like grinding and baking that could mar her appearance. I was surprised that he’d made no attempt to resolve the contradiction between the Mishna and Baraita, for if a wife was only for beauty, what happened to the women who brought less than four slaves as a dowry?” [page 24]

Finding and Creating Names for Jewish Women of Antiquity

Anton does us the mitzvah of zachor in creating Rav Hisda’s Daughter — researching, reclaiming and “re-membering” the little-recorded lives of Jewish women and girls retroactively into our people’s history. The volume title illustrates how even the names of those of female gender were rarely recorded in sacred text by the sages of patriarchal times; instead they were generically female–“daughter”–and labeled by paternal descent (unless only the mother’s line was known, such as due to rape in war).

Hisda and his wife or wives had two daughters and seven sons. So, one might wonder, which daughter does the Talmud mean when it offers the line upon which Anton hangs her tale of a girl who, when asked which of two young men she wants to marry, oddly answers “both.” Anton chooses to position both girls into our historical awareness by fashioning diverse destinies and personalities for each.

Maggie Anton (pictured to the left) provides evocative imagery, such as the “smell of boiling pomegranates,” the color and texture of silks, the tiling of mosaics with, yes, women’s images on synagogue floors, the fragrance of love, the scent of fear and the hormonal surge of having your feet washed by the one to whom you are betrothed, which brings us fully into each moment of the life of Rav Hisda’s daughter, whom Anton names Histadukh. In a cool bit of interpretation of the incantations and signage on bowls that were placed upside down to capture demons on the street in rabbinic times, Maggie Anton points out in her notes that the term “dukh-daughter” is appended to the name of the father to yield female names on these items and so dubs her main character, Rav Hisda’s daughter — Hisdadukh. This idea can also be bolstered, perhaps, by the practice found to this day in Iceland, where children’s last names go by the mother’s first name, e.g., Adam Goldieson, Karen Gertsdottir, etc. The Talmud itself offers an approach to naming females in an intra-textual commentary on the story of three types of women said to bring devastation to the world, where one alleged witch is named: “Yohani daughter of Retibi” (Maenads, Martyrs, Matrons, Monastics: A Sourcebook on Women’s Religions in the Greco-Roman World).

Rav Hisda’s Daughter joins the annals of great historical fiction beside Jewish examples such as Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent: A Novel, and Deena Metzger’s What Dinah Thought; the novels of Hayyim Grade also come to mind. Expect authentic period depth and delights when reading a work of historical fiction by Maggie Anton. Let’s hope the next in the Rav Hisda’s Daughter series comes through soon.

American Orthodox Jews and Rabbinic Authority

— by Hannah Lee

The United States has the second largest Jewish population in the world, yet we alone have no unifying Orthodox religious hierarchical structure. Other nations with communities of over 100,000 Jews have Chief Rabbis — Israel, United Kingdom, Russia, France, and Italy — while others have informal hierarchy, such as in Australia.  Here in the United States, the local rabbi reports to the synagogue board and the Jewish day school headmaster reports to the school board. We have no national chief rabbi to ensure proper halachic supervision and unification of policies across the board in Orthodoxy, said Rabbi Michael Broyde, Dayan (judge) of the Beit Din of America (the Rabbinical court for Orthodox Jewry) and professor of law at Emory University while speaking at a Hanukkah program at Kohelet Yeshiva High School on Sunday.

More after the jump.
Rabbi Broyde spoke about two of the many perspectives on the Hanukkah story to portray the poles of rabbinic authority in this country. One is that the Hellenists infringed on our religious freedom. “If only they had left us alone, we would not have had to wage war against them.”  Another is that the Hellenists were wrong and rabbinic Jews had to force them to do what is right.

American Orthodoxy has been created in the image of America’s ethos of independent thinking. In his lifetime, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) was the leading halachic authority for Orthodox Jewry in North America. However, he repeatedly declined the title of Chief Rabbi and his writings, such as Responsa Igrot Moshe, reflected his position against organized hierarchy — a tradition that dates back to the Gra (Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu or the Vilna Gaon, who died in 1797) and the Aruch HaShulhan (Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, who died in 1908). Reb Moshe, as he was known, was fearless and autonomous, who refused to defer to other rabbinic authorities. He exhorted Jews to study and learn for themselves. We are to think and decide for ourselves.

R. Feinstein even considered it acceptable for modern-day halachic authorities to argue with some of the Rishonim, the influential Rabbis and Poskim (jurists) who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries, when they have strong proofs and firm analytic foundations. In tumultuous times, two things tend to happen:

  1. novel situations arise and
  2. historical answers no longer seem to work.

So, we need new answers to modern-day problems. An example that R. Feinstein cites from the Talmud [Maharatz Chayot, Gittin 56a] was about unblemished sacrifices, where Rabbi Zecharya was figuratively blamed for the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple in Jerusalem) because he remained silent on the matter, out of respect or fear of his peers. When one has a particular, even unpopular, understanding of Halacha, one is not permitted to remain silent.

Do we learn from the historic rabbis and follow their rulings? It’s okay to do differently, says Rabbi Broyde, elaborating on Rabbi Feinstein. As the Rishonim are no longer living, we cannot run a community on auto-pilot. God cannot ask us to be right all the time, only that we try our best to follow a halachic process. For example, whereas the Ashkenazim follow the halachic rulings of the Tosefot (medieval commentaries on the Talmud), the Sephardim follow the halachic opinions of the Rambam (Moses Maimonides, 1135-1204). These traditions cannot both be right, but it is our adherence to the legal process, not the result that matters to Orthodox Jewry.

The model for a God-fearing community is a body of laws that are consistent with the sources that bind us. R. Feinstein was very concerned that Jews follow secular law, Dina D’Malchuta Dina. Whereas the Jews in Hungary, for instance, lived in an unjust society seeking to exploit them, and resorted to cheating the government of taxes as necessary to survive, American Jews live in a just society and, thus we have the full obligation to comply with all local and national laws.

During the Q&A session afterward the official presentation, R. Broyde made it clear that sometimes rabbinic decisions are made for the communal good, and not because of halachic requirements. One issue raised by audience members was about the plight of agunot, “chained” women who are not given a get, bill of divorce, by their estranged husbands which results in the women being unable to remarry. “This is a political issue, as there is already a halachic solution,” said R. Broyde, because there is the prenuptial agreement that binds the couple to rabbinic arbitration by a beit din in case of marital disputes. Then the question became: “What about women who do not have one?” The prenuptial agreement has been in use for 25 years, he said. “What if the women had not been counseled by the rabbi to obtain one?” Using the analogy of people who ride motorcycles recklessly without wearing safety helmets, Rabbi Broyde declared, “We cannot expend community resources to clean up after a marital disaster.” And he added: “Communities get the rabbis they deserve… and members can always choose to move to where there is a better rabbi.” Alas for the aggrieved agunot in our communities, even with a prenuptial agreement, the obstacle for most get disputes remains in its enforcement. The secular courts do not give support to any rabbinical court ruling. Would a Chief Rabbinate make a difference for our agunot?

Rabbi Broyde claimed that the communities that have a chief rabbinate have political and social virtues, citing statistics from the United Kingdom: 3/4 of all Jews attend Jewish day school, higher rates of affiliation, and a lower rate of intermarriage. However, I remain unconvinced by this argument and Rabbi Broyde’s hope for a Chief Rabbinate of the United States seems an unlikely outcome in this “land of the free.”

 

A Study Break Like No Other

By Hannah Lee

In 1923, Rabbi Meir Shapiro proposed to the First World Congress of the World Agudath Israel in Vienna that Jews around the world bond over a daily study of the books of the Talmud, the code of rabbinic law. The six orders of the Talmud (or Gemarah), known as sedarim, are divided into 60 or 63 tractates, masekhtot. Clocking in over 6,200 pages long, it’s written in Aramaic and quotes from the Hebrew Bible.  Today, August 1, is a grand celebration of the completion of the 12th cycle of study, the Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi.  It’s being held at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ and approximately 90,000 men, women, and children are expected to attend.

The six local teachers who’ve faithfully lead the daily study sessions year-round are: Rabbi Yechiel Biberfeld of Bala Cynwyd; Rabbi Dov Aaron Brisman of Philadelphia; Rabbi Yonah Gross of Wynnewood; Rabbi Sruli Schwartz of Merion Station; Rabbi Avraham Shmidman of Bala Cynwyd; and Rabbi Mordechai Terbelo of Philadelphia.  Yishar kochachem to these dedicated individuals and to their students for the commitment to sustaining Jewish scholarship!

Note: This list excludes some other local Daf Yomi teachers, such as Rabbi Jonathan Levene of Bala Cynwyd, but this was a siyum organized by the Agudath Israel of America, and I consulted their memorial book,which is a hefty volume 1/2-inch thick.

The Zoo Rabbi Talks Torah

— by Hannah Lee

The last time the “Zoo Rabbi” came to Philly, I had a family emergency and missed Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s Bible-guided tour of the Philadelphia Zoo. This time, I caught both of his shiurim on July 22 at Congregation Sons of Israel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The advantage was that he could show photos and PowerPoint graphics for two lectures titled, The Challenge of Dinosaurs and Beasts of Prey in Jewish Thought.

More after the jump.
Born in Manchester, England and the son of a physicist, Rabbi Slifkin has been a life-long student of animal life. In 1999, he began teaching about the relationship between Judaism and the animal kingdom at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. He has since developed the Zoo Torah program, which he has since successfully operated in various cities in the United States as well as in Toronto, Cape Town, and Johannesburg. He’s also studying for a Ph.D. in Jewish history at Bar-Ilan University.

Rabbi Slifkin, his wife Avital, and their four children live in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, along with an assortment of pets, which at various times has included chinchillas, squirrels, rabbits, guinea-pigs, hamsters, cockatiels, parrots, pheasants, parakeets, finches, quails, snakes, iguanas, geckos, chameleons, turtles, frogs, toads, basilisks, and fish.

Did dinosaurs exist? The Rabbi showed an impressive life-size display from one of the prominent science museums in this country and stated baldly that it’s all fake. To gasps of disbelief, he calmly clarified himself by explaining that the actual fossil bones are too delicate to present to the general public. So, how do we know they’d existed? From the fossil bones, footprints, eggs, and excrement left behind. (Although when he visited Dinosaur Ridge, Colorado, he was nonplussed by how many of the local residents had never bothered to see the famous footprints in their neighborhood.) He then passed around a baby tooth from a Spinosaurus which he said was 100 million and seven months old (because he’d obtained it seven months ago!). The crucial point was that in all the areas with dinosaur bones, there were no other bones of co-existing creatures.

What is the lesson is this? Rabbi Slifkin offered the most popular theories before citing the one that was most cogent. One is that God created the world with dinosaur bones in it. Rabbi Yisrael Lifshitz in Derush Ohr HaChayyim notes that when the Bible says: “…and it was evening, and it was morning,” this implied that there had been other epochs. And the Mishnah refers to iguanodons that were 15 feet high and megalosauruses that were meat-eaters. Finally, the Kabbalah mentions destroyed worlds. But why would HaShem tease us so?

The second perspective is represented by Rabbi Eli Munk in The Seven Days of the Beginning, who notes that when the Bible states that six days occurred before the creation of Man, how long was a day before the Sun?  The latter came into being on Day Four, after vegetation was created on Day Three. Yom could refer to “an era,” just as “day” can refer to more than 24 hours as in The Day of the Jackal, the English thriller novel and movie of that name. So, six days can refer to billions of years and a shifting sense of time. However, says Rabbi Slifkin, this approach undermines the Torah by implying that nothing was learned or was accurate until science validated it.

The true value of Torah is as theological pedagogy, says Rabbi Slifkin. What was concurrent at the time of the Bible?  For example, the Babylonians’ creation tale is about a clash of the titans, deities who battle it out with each other. The goal of the Torah is to teach monotheism, that one God had created Everything. The Biblical message of the six days of creation is to create the setting for Man: History began with Man. All pagans worship the Sun, but in the Torah, the Sun appears only on Day Four.

What about the taninim, great reptiles, that appear in Genesis?  Yes, but they live only in the water. Pagans believe in great monsters of the sea, but the Torah demythologizes these legends, by placing them within the company of other creatures.

So, the important question is not where are the dinosaurs in the Torah? A better quest is what can we learn from the dinosaurs? There are several hypotheses about how the dinosaurs became extinct. The popular one is that a giant meteor or comet crashed — perhaps near the Gulf of Mexico — blotted out the sun, and flooded the land where the dinosaurs lived. However, this approach does not serve us well, as current science indicates that we’d have only one day’s notice before such meteor could strike again.

No, it’s a lesson of humility, says Rabbi Slifkin. Another lesson is that while dinosaurs, a term commonly used to refer to something obsolete, became extinct, Judaism is an ancient tradition that has survived — and thrived — into modernity.

The second shiur focused on contemporary creatures of prey, mostly on the bear, which is often cited as a symbol of anger in Jewish texts. Why is that?  Adult bears can weigh between 400 – 500 pounds, while the newborn cubs weigh less than half a pound. So, a mother bear has to invest a lot of time and energy into nurturing its young, thus forming a fierce bond. Anyone who threatens its young faces its wrath.

In the Biblical book of Daniel [7:2-5], Persia and Medea are represented by bears, Babylon by a lion, and Greece by a leopard. In the Talmud, Persians are said to eat and drink like a bear [Megillah 11a]. As we all know, bears hibernate in the winter, but in the spring and summer months they feast ravenously and indiscriminately. In the autumn, in a race against time to pack in calories before winter hits, bears can eat continuously; they can eat up to 200 pounds of berries in one day. Similarly, the Persians of Megillat Esther — as in the week-long feasts of King Achashverosh — are human examples of gluttony.

Another use of bear imagery is the creature that attacks when it is caught unawares. A brown bear is dangerous when it is surprised, when it thinks it’s being attacked. When one is careless in bear country, that’s the time when one could surprise a bear and cause it to attack. So, the Biblical Joseph’s death is attributed to “a wild beast [that] has consumed him.” A stronger imagery is when the Midrash Bereshit describes Potiphar’s wife as a bear, because Joseph was so carefree in Pharoah’s domain that he could curl his hair, thus God sets her against him [Rashi, Genesis 39:6]. Similarly, Jews in Persia were not on their guard.

Finally, the lesson of the Torah on bears is contrary to the rising popularity of the notion of mutual respect, that “if you love them, they’d love you back.”  As with wild animals, so with human enemies. Jews should know our enemies, but we should not delude ourselves that they’d love us back were we to love them.

Rabbi Natan Slifkin maintains two websites, zootorah.com and rationalistjudaism.com. You may download a sample chapter from the four-volume The Torah Encyclopedia of Animal Kingdom, to which Rabbi Slifkin has devoted over a decade of scholarship.

Shalom TV Live Premiers Today Throughout North America

— by Alan Oirich

Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, Ed Koch and Ehud Barak will headline the premiere of Shalom TV Live

Jews throughout North America will have a new channel available for viewing beginning today, February 1, 2012, as “Shalom TV Live” premieres with a wide array of programming.

Shalom TV Live can be viewed online on any computer or mobile device by visiting the Shalom TV Web site. The channel will also be premiering in New York City and in Miami on Hotwire Communications and will soon be carried on cable systems throughout the country.

The new television channel will compliment Shalom TV’s extremely successful Free Video On Demand programming which is currently available in more than 40 million homes on virtually every cable system in the United State and on Rogers Cable in Canada.

A Jewish “PBS-style” channel in the breadth of its programming, the first week of Shalom TV Live features:

  • the annual dinner of the Zionist Organization of America in NY and the addresses of ZOA President Morton Klein and keynote speaker Glenn Beck;
  • the Union For Reform Judaism’s Biennial in Washington, DC, with President Barack Obama, Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky, and outgoing URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie,
  • an interview with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch
  • an interview with the recent past chairman of the Presidents Conference, Alan Solow, a longtime friend of President Obama.
  • And viewers will share in the fiftieth anniversary of the Foundation For Jewish Culture as its CEO, Elise Bernhardt, presents Jewish Cultural Achievement Awards to individuals who have made major cultural contributions, including Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt.

In addition, Shalom TV Live will feature a daily newscast from Israel, children’s programming every morning and afternoon, a series profiling the hottest Israeli musical artists (“Muzika”), and an “HBO-like” series following Jewish singles in their search for that special someone (“From Date To Mate”).

More after the jump.
Shalom TV Live will also provide viewers with a front-row seat to the outstanding programs presented at The 92nd Street Y in New York; and the channel’s Jewish Studies programming will enable one to learn to read and understand Hebrew (“From The Aleph Bet”), study a page of Talmud (“Dimensions of the Daf”), sit with rabbis from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem (“Rethinking Judaism”), and be introduced to the mysteries of Kabbalah (“Kabbalah Revealed”). Shalom TV also plans on telecasting live Friday Night Services preceded by a D’var Torah on the week’s Torah reading by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin.

Shalom TV, a nonprofit network, is free of charge as both a VOD service and a live channel. Network president Mark S. Golub explains that the launch of the Shalom TV Live will do nothing to the Video On Demand programming which will remain available on all cable systems.

“There is something very exciting about doing live television,” Golub explains. “In addition to news from Israel, Shalom TV will now be able to cover breaking stories as they occur and our guests will be able to interact with our audience via telephone. And with a live channel, many Jews and non-Jews will find it especially easy to access Shalom TV and share in the information, education, and entertainment Shalom TV provides the entire community.”

To watch Shalom TV Live and to see the week’s program schedule; to access archived programs; and to find how to access Shalom TV’s Video On Demand network on your cable system, visit the Shalom TV Web site and click on “Find Us.” Everyone is also encouraged to call their cable provider and ask them to add Shalom TV Live to their channel lineup.

Shalom TV, America’s national Jewish television network, is available for free on virtually every cable system in America. It can be found in the free Video On Demand section on Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision, Verizon FiOS, Antietam, Cox Communications, RCN, Bright House, Armstrong, Service Electric Cablevision, Service Electric Cable TV, Buckeye CableSystem, MetroCast, Blue Ridge Communications, Frontier, WOW!, Click!, GCI, and Rogers Cable (Canada).