Rabbi Jay Kelman's blog

VaYera: Moving Out of Town

One of the fundamental issues of debate amongst observant Jews regards the degree of openness with which one meets the surrounding culture. Should we “ghettoize” ourselves, trying to avoid the negative and pernicious influences of the outside world? Or must we engage the world about us, influencing it and being influenced by it, even if it entails some degree of risk? One must weigh many factors in determining the answer to this question, one that dates back at least to the time of Avraham Avinu. 

Niddah: Blood and Water

“And you shall live by them” (Vayikra 18:5). The mitzvot of the Torah are meant to enhance life, adding meaning and sanctity to our sojourn on earth. The Torah is an eitz chaim, a tree of life, providing beautiful fruit year after year, generation after generation. Torah and death are incompatible. Thus kohanim, those tasked – at least in Temple times – with the teaching of Torah, were forbidden to come in contact with death.

Lech Lecha: In Defence of Terach

Our rabbis famously debate the righteousness of Noach. Was he a tzadik only relative to the corrupt society in which he lived, or was his righteousness that much greater because he attained it in such in a corrupt generation? While they debate the righteousness of Noach, there seems to be little debate regarding Terach. He was an idolater—not just any standard idolater, but a purveyor of idols thereby spreading idolatry far and wide. It was his son, the Midrash claims, who, left to guard the idol store, destroyed his father’s wares, mocking the silly beliefs of Terach.

Masechet Kelim: Time for New Dishes

Seder Taharot opens with masechet Kelim, vessels, which at 30 chapters and 254 mishnayot is far and away the largest of the 63 tractates of the Mishna[1]. To fully understand the masechet, one needs great knowledge of “realia”, understanding the day-to-day of life during the Temple period—specifically, the types, sizes and shapes of various vessels in use throughout the Mishnaic period.

Noach: Defending Noach

For years, psychologists have debated the impact of the environment (nurture) on the development of human beings. Can we be inherently changed by exposure to our surroundings? Or does our environment act as a mechanism that helps reveal our latent nature? Jewish teachings abound with admonitions regarding the importance of the surroundings we choose. The Rambam (Hilchot Deot 6:1) goes so far as to rule that if one's environment is not conducive to the observance of Torah, one must move to a “better neighbourhood”.

An Introduction to Seder Taharot

Jewish law is generally divided into three distinct areas: issur v’heter, ritual law; dinei mammonot, monetary law; and tumah v’tahara, laws of purity and impurity. Just as the laws regarding criminal and civil law differ—the former requiring evidence beyond a reasonable doubt and the latter a balance of probabilities—each area of Jewish law has its own rules and procedures. Hence, our sages note, “One cannot derive principles regarding ritual laws from [those of] monetary law”.

Shmini Atzeret: Election Day

Tomorrow is Shmini Atzeret. It is also Election Day in Canada. While that is no doubt unfortunate for (observant) Jews, these days, Election Day is a bit of a misnomer. People have been able to vote for weeks, and some 4.7 million voters, or 1/6 of all eligible voters, have already voted. And when one considers that in the past nine elections turnout has been under 70%, some 25% of all votes have likely already been cast. 

V'zot Habracha: From G-d to Man

When writing a book, a good author will introduce the major themes of the book in the opening chapters, develop these and other secondary themes throughout the story, and conclude with a recap highlighting the major themes of the book. 

The 31 verses that comprise the creation story tell us little about the origins of life on this planet. They do, however, tell us something much more important; all human beings contain within them the image of G-d. 

An Introduction to Masechet Tamid

“The one sheep you shall do in the morning and the second sheep you shall do in the evening”. Cited twice in the Torah (Shemot 29:39 and Bamidbar 28:4), this verse, is, at least according to one view, its most important. Many are familiar with the view of Rabbi Akiva who, echoing Hillel, teaches that “to love your neighbour as yourself” is the most important verse of the Bible.

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