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So says God,
The Lord, creator of heavens, and stretched them out,
Creator of the earth and what it brings forth,
Who gives soul to the nation on it,
And spirit to those that walk on it:

I am God.
I have called you to righteousness.
I have taken hold of your hand.
I have formed you.
I have placed you as a covenantal people:
A light to the nations.

Isaiah 42:4-5


29 September in History

In 1907, Bar Giora, a Palestinian Jewish self-defense organization was formed to protect the Jewish settlements from raiders. Two years later it was reorganized into HaShomer (the Watchman) by Israel Shochat. HaShomer was eventually transformed into the Haganah. Despite opposition from local Jews and the “Baron’s” overseers (i.e. Baron Rothschild), they persevered with the idea of Jews taking responsibility for their own defense.

21 Tishrei in History

Today is known as Hoshana Rabba. In addition to the Four Kinds taken every day of Sukkot, it is a “Rabbinical Mitzvah”, dating back to the times of the Prophets, to take an additional aravah, or willow, on the 7th day of Sukkot. In the Holy Temple, large, 18-foot willow branches were set around the altar. Today, we take the Four Kinds and carry them together with the Four Kinds around the reading table in the synagogue during the “Hashaanot” prayers, of which we recite a more lengthy version today, making seven circuits around the table (instead of the daily one). At the conclusion of the Hoshaanot we strike the ground five times with a bundle of five willows, symbolizing the “tempering of the five measures of harshness.”

30 September in History

In 1337, in Bavaria, a German knight named Hartmann von Deggenburg led his horseman through the gates of Deckendorf, where they joined the local citizenry, in slaughtering the local Jewish population and seizing their property. The Jews had been accused of desecrating the host or communion wafer and the slaughter was the punishment for the foul deed. In reality the councilors of the city of Deckendorff desired to free themselves and all the citizens from the debts owed to the Jews. The anti-Semitic violence spread to fifty-one communities, including Bohemia and Austria.

22 Tishrei in History

In today’s musaf prayer we begin to insert the phrase mashiv haruach umorid hageshem (“who makes the wind blow and brings down the rain”) in our daily prayers (as we’ll continue to do through the winter, until the 1st day of Passover). Special hymns on rain and water are added to musaf in honor of the occasion.

1 October in History

In 331 BCE Alexander the Great of Macedonia defeated the Persian army at Gaugamela. This victory cemented Greek domination over the Persian Empire. Alexander would be crowned “King of Asia” after the battle. Alexander’s armies were instrumental in bringing Greek culture to the lands of Asia Minor including the homeland of the Jewish people. This would mark the beginning of the uneasy and sometimes violent interaction between the world of Moses and Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, et al.

23 Tishrei in History

Today is Simchat Torah (“Rejoicing of the Torah”), on which we conclude, and begin anew, the annual Torah reading cycle. The event is marked with great rejoicing, and the “hakafot” procession, held both on the eve and morning of Simchat Torah, in which we march and dance with Torah scrolls around the reading table in the synagogue.

During today’s Torah reading, everyone, including children under the age of Bar Mitzvah, is called up to the Torah; thus the reading is read numerous times, and each aliyah is given collectively to many individuals, so that everyone should recite the blessing over the Torah on this day.

2 October in History

It was on this day in 1656, Yom Kippur services were held for the first time in Amsterdam. Neighbors thinking they were secret Catholics reported them to the authorities and the leaders were arrested. Once it was explained that they were secret Jews rather then Papists, they were let alone and the leaders released. The oldest synagogue in Amsterdam (possibly all of Western Europe) is “The Great Synagogue” built in 1671. According to historians, it was built so that Jews would not have to worship in clandestine places.

24 Tishrei in History

The Shabbat after Simchat Torah is Shabbat Bereishit — “Shabbat of Beginning” — the first Shabbat of the annual Torah reading cycle, on which the Torah section ofBereishit (“In the Beginning”) is read.

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May 2020