Tag Archives: Torah

Are The Tallit and Tzitzit of the Jews Equivalent to Prayer Beads Used in Other Religions?


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The prayer beads (rosaries and mala beads) are common accessories among spiritual traditions of many religions except in Judaism.

The orthodox Jews frown upon such devices. They consider it a mortal sin tantamount to idol worship. Many Judaic sources frown, prohibit or discourage the use of prayer beads and such, since these practices could lead the observant to take the name of God in vain. However, there are other sources that verify such use as a common kabbalistic practice kept secret for over hundreds of years.

However, there is something comparable to the use of prayer beads in traditional Jewish practice, though there is no direct reference to any kind of rosary practice.

The tallit 

The tallit is a prayer shawl, used for centuries by Jewish people. It is a rectangular garment with parallel stripes across the shorter ends. Most tallitot (plural) are white with navy or black stripes. Originally it was woven without seams.

Tallit
Tallit – a Jewish prayer shawl

The Jews place the tallit over their head and shoulders while praying in private and in the synagogue, and during other significant times of prayer.

Tallitot are first worn by children on their Bar Mitzvahs. Among orthodox Jews in the Ashkenazi circles, a tallit is customarily presented to a groom before marriage as part of the dowry.

In the Torah, in the book of Numbers, chapter 15:37-40, we read that the LORD designed the tallit and gave the directions to Moses:

37 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:

38 ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue.

39 And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray;

40 that ye may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God.

Again in Deuteronomy 22:12 we read:

“Thou shalt make thee twisted cords upon the four corners of thy covering, wherewith thou coverest thyself.”

The tzitzit

In Hebrew, tzitzit is the name for specially knotted ritual fringes worn by observant Jews. Tzitzit are attached to the four corners of the tallit and tallit katan.

A tzitzit
A tzitzit

There are specifications for constructing the tassel, winding the thread separating the knots, and making the knots themselves.

God, in his concern for his people to obey his commandments and avoid punishment of death, told Moses to have his people include a specified number of fringes or knotted tassels on its four corners, and on the hems or borders of all their garments, in a very specific fashion, called tzitzit.

Each of these tzitziyot should include a cord of blue to remind that the origin of the Law is heavenly and not sin against the Holy One of Israel, Yahweh, God the Father.

Also, these verses from the Torah might lead some to subtly infer that numbers are as spiritually significant to the tallit in Judaism as they are to prayer beads in other traditions. However, there are no reference to using these knots in any kind of rosary practice.

The tallit katan

The tallit katan meaning ‘small tallit‘ is a fringed garment traditionally worn either under or over their clothing by Jewish men. It is a poncho-like garment with a hole for the head and special twined and knotted fringes known as tzitzit attached to its four corners.

An Orthodox Jewish man wearing a Wool Tallit Katan under his vest
An Orthodox Jewish man wearing a Wool Tallit Katan under his vest.

The four corners are generally regarded as the four corners of the earth’s cardinal directions; and the tassels to remind them of the commandments. By the way, the Jews have a total of 613 do and don’t commandments to follow and not just the 10 that are generally known.

Generally, a tallit katan is made of wool or cotton. The requirements about the fabric and fringes of a tallit katan are the same as that of a tallit gadol, the prayer shawl worn during the morning services in synagogues by all male participants, and in many communities by the leader of the afternoon and evening prayers as well.

“Who touched me?”

Most of us forget that Jesus was a Jew. Here is an interesting episode in the life of Jesus narrated by Luke in Chapter 8:42-48.

Woman grabbing yeshua's tzitzit
Woman grabbing yeshua’s tzitzit

… As he went, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years, who [had spent her whole livelihood on doctors and] was unable to be cured by anyone, came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. Immediately her bleeding stopped.

Jesus then asked, “Who touched me?”

While all were denying it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are pushing and pressing in upon you.”

But Jesus said, “Someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me.”

When the woman realized that she had not escaped notice, she came forward trembling. Falling down before him, she explained in the presence of all the people why she had touched him and how she had been healed immediately.

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

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Are the Creation-Flood Stories Myth or History?


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj .

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How should we, the contemporary readers interpret the creation-flood narrative in Genesis 2–11?

The stories are neither myth nor history.

“Myth” is a poor term, as it has many different meanings and so connotes untruth in prevalent English.

“History” is, likewise, misleading, for it implies that the events, in fact, took place. The proper term would be ‘creation-flood story.’

The ancient thinkers of the Middle East did not have our means for researching serious topics. They used narratives for issues that we would describe as philosophical or theological. They sought out meaning in the ancient stories of their times. They contemplated on topics such as: how gods act with justice and generosity, why humans are rebellious, the dynamics of carnal allurement and marital relationships, why there are so many Peoples and languages. Their stories reveal an exclusive period, when divine decisions determined the future of the human race.Moreover, every time they retold these stories, they added, or subtracted narrative matters.

Even though most of these stories might seem to us as primitive and naive, they are, in fact, narrated in a compressed form with skill, and subtlety. They offer radical answers to perennial questions about God and human beings. To illustrate here is the story of the Tower of Babel told in Genesis,

Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel

Story of the Tower of Babel – Genesis 11:1-9

The whole world had the same language and the same words.

When they were migrating from the east, they came to a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire.”

They used bricks for stone, and bitumen for mortar.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.”

The LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the people had built.

Then the LORD said: If now, while they are one people and all have the same language, they have started to do this, nothing they presume to do will be out of their reach. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that no one will understand the speech of another.

So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

That is why it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the speech of all the world. From there the LORD scattered them over all the earth.

One Jewish tradition implies that humans later defied God when he tried to forge a relationship between the various nations. So, God decided to direct his attention to one nation only, hoping it would eventually unite all the nations of the world. To bring God’s decision to fruition the authors of Genesis introduce Abraham.

The Covenant of Circumcision – Genesis 17:1-11

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said:

I am God the Almighty. Walk in my presence and be blameless. Between you and me I will establish my covenant, and I will multiply you exceedingly.

Abram fell face down and God said to him:

For my part, here is my covenant with you: you are to become the father of a multitude of nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations.

I will make you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings will stem from you. I will maintain my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting covenant, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now residing as aliens, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God.

God said to Abraham:

For your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.

This is the covenant between me and you and your descendants after you that you must keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. That will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.

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Did the Gods Create Two Versions of Humans?


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Storm Clouds by sighlent
Storm Clouds by sighlent

The Torah (Hebrew: תּוֹרָה‎‎) meaning “teaching,” “doctrine,” or “instruction” is the name given to the first five books of the Jewish Bible. In Hebrew, the five books bear the initial phrase in the text as their names: Bereshit (“In the beginning,”), Shemot (“Names,”), Vayikra (“He called”), Bamidbar (“In the desert,”) and Devarim (“Words,”).

The Pentateuch meaning “five vessels,” “five containers,” or “five-volume book” is the comparative term for the Torah in Christian theology. The Christians call the five books as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The Torah and the Pentateuch also known as “the five books of Moses,” form the first section of the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures.

Genesis is the first book of the Pentateuch. Its title in the Jewish Scriptures it is known as Bereshit, the opening Hebrew word, “in the beginning.” Its title in English, “Genesis,” comes from the Greek word γενέσεως of Genesis 2:4, literally, “the book of the generation (genesis) of the heavens and earth.”

Genesis 1:1–2:3 presents us a seven-day creation account where a God almighty whose mere word generates an exquisite universe. In this beautiful universe, humans play an intrinsic part.

The storyline of Genesis 2–11, find its origin in creation-flood stories found in Mesopotamian literature of the second and early first millennia.

In the Mesopotamian creation-flood accounts, the gods created the humans as immortal slaves to take care of the universe for them. The humans were needed to provide the gods with food, clothing, and pay homage to them in temples. In an unanticipated development, however, the humans grew in plenty and were so noisy that the gods were not able to sleep. Madly angered, the gods decided to destroy the human race by a universal flood. However, one man, secretly warned of the flood by his patron god, built a boat and survived with his family. Regretting their impetuous decision, the gods created a new version of mankind. They made the new human race mortal to ensure they would never grow numerous and disturb the gods.The authors of Genesis (Bereshit) adapted this Mesopotamian creation-flood story to suit their viewpoints about God and humanity. To illustrate, in Genesis we read that Noah, created by God before the floods, led a long life.

Noah lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood. The whole lifetime of Noah was nine hundred and fifty years; then he died. (Genesis 9:28-29)

These authors attributed the weakness of the gods to human sin in lieu of divine oversight.

When the LORD saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil, the
LORD regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved.

So the LORD said: I will wipe out from the earth the human beings I have created, and not only the human beings, but also the animals and the crawling things and the birds of the air, for I regret that I made them. (Genesis 6:5–7)

The authors made God reaffirm mankind without modifying the original creation

God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them: Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth.

Fear and dread of you shall come upon all the animals of the earth and all
the birds of the air, upon all the creatures that move about on the ground and all the fishes of the sea; into your power they are delivered.

Any living creature that moves about shall be yours to eat; I give them all to you as I did the green plants. Only meat with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.

Indeed for your own lifeblood I will demand an accounting: from every animal I will demand it, and from a human being, each one for the blood of another, I will demand an accounting for human life. Anyone who sheds the blood of a human being, by a human being shall that one’s blood be shed; For in the image of God have human beings been made. Be fertile, then, and multiply; abound on earth and subdue it. (Genesis 9:1–7).

In the biblical version God is just, powerful, and not needy.

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The Story of the Molten Calf


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

 

The Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas Poussin, 1633-4
The Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas Poussin, 1633-4

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The Torah, comprising the first five books of the Jewish Bible, severely condemns the worship of graven images. However, the Israelites collectively committed a grave sin while wandering through the desert. When Moses, who went over to the Sinai mountain to meet God, did not return at the appointed time, they demanded of Aaron, the brother of Moses, to make them a god to lead them in the desert.

The Molten Calf – Exodus 32:1-6

When the people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for that man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.”

Aaron replied, “Take off the golden earrings that your wives, your sons, and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.”

So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He received their offering, and fashioning it with a tool, made a molten calf.

Then they cried out, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”

On seeing this, Aaron built an altar in front of the calf and proclaimed, “Tomorrow is a feast of the LORD.”

Early the next day the people sacrificed burnt offerings and brought communion sacrifices. Then they sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

According to the Aggadah

Aggadah or Haggadah (Heb. הַגָּדָה, אַגָּדָה; “narrative”) is one of the two primary components of the classical rabbinic literature of Judaism. Citing the Aggadah, some rabbis claim that the demand for the idol was due to the forty thousand mixed multitudes, which joined the Israelites at the time of the Exodus.

  • A crowd of mixed ancestry also went up with them, with livestock in great abundance, both flocks and herds. (Exodus 12:38)

Two Egyptian magicians, Jannes and Mambres, were among the crowd. They aided in the making of the molten calf (Midrash Yelammedenu, Ki Tissa, Ex. xxxii.)

The crowd said that it was the sixth hour of the fortieth day since Moses had left, the hour which he had previously set for his return. They claimed that since he had not yet appeared he would never come. The people had included the day of the ascent of Moses in their calculation, whereas he had excluded it (Rashi, Shab. 89a).

Satan added fuel to the state of affairs by showing the people a vision of Moses’ bier. This convinced them that he died. So, they demanded Aaron to make a god for them (Shab. 89a; Tanh. B., Ex. 112–3).

God was also blamed since He enslaved them in Egypt where they were exposed to the most idolatrous of ancient civilizations; and giving them an abundance of gold and silver when they left Egypt.

Hur, the son of Miriam and Caleb, tried to dissuade the people from committing the sin of idolatry. Even so, they killed him. Aaron feared that he would share the same fate. Since he wanted peace to prevail, he conceded to their demand. To gain time, he asked them to bring the gold ornaments of their wives. He knew their wives would not part with their ornaments. The men thereupon gave their own jewelry.

Aaron then threw the collected gold into the fire, still hoping that Moses would return. Instantly, however, a calf appeared, alive and skipping. It was the result of a splinter thrown into the fire by the wicked Micah. This splinter contained the words עלהשור (aleh shor, “Come up, Ox”).

Moses had previously thrown this splinter into the Nile when he desired the coffin of Joseph, whom he compared to an ox, to rise above the surface so that he could transport his remains to Ereẓ Israel (Tanḥ. Ki Tissa, 19).

According to another version, the Egyptian magicians made the calf move as if it were alive (Song R. 1:9, no. 3).

Aaron then postponed the celebration to the next day to gain time. God knew that Aaron was motivated by good intentions. So, the high priesthood was not taken away from him. Still, he was severely punished by the subsequent death of two of his sons.

The tribe of Levi and its 12 leaders did not join the worship of the molten calf. The remaining Israelites were mercilessly punished. Whoever sacrificed and burned incense before the altar of the molten calf died by the sword; whoever embraced and kissed the calf died by the plague; and whoever rejoiced in his heart died of dropsy (Yoma 66b).”There is not a misfortune that Israel has suffered, which is not partly a retribution for the sin of the calf” (Sanh. 102a).

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