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San Sabba

“Risiera di San Sabba is a five-storey brick-built compound located in Trieste, northern Italy, that functioned during World War II as a Nazi concentration camp for the detention and killing of political prisoners, and a transit camp for Jews, most of whom were then deported to Auschwitz. SS members Odilo Globocnik and Karl Frenzel, and Ivan Marchenko are all said to have participated in the killings at this camp. The cremation facilities, the…

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Weird Customs

Anyone familiar with the Haredi/Orthodox world today knows that there has been a phenomenal increase in the number of charms (segulot) that are being peddled, adopted, and regarded as essential to Jewish religious life. The Orthodox press is full of announcements of pious visting rabbis who will guarantee solutions for every human problem. Organizations here and in Israel will arrange…

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Change the Omer?

Pesach is over; normal service resumes! But what is “normal”? We are now into a period of mourning called “the Omer”. It’s a time of mourning—no weddings or parties (and for those decadent ones amongst us, no public entertainment, opera, concerts, theater, or cinema).  None of these restrictions are mentioned in the Torah. All it says there is that the…

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Is the Bible fact?

Well before Spinoza’s “Tractatus Theologicus Politicus” (1670) Christian thinkers and rational philosophers, like Hobbes, began to challenge the authorship and validity of the Bible. Questions arose in both the Jewish and the Christian worlds as to whether all of the Bible stories in the Old or New Testaments actually happened the way they were written. In the following centuries, as…

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Slaves or Pagans?

The Four Questions, Mah Nishtanah HaLaylah Hazeh, that are asked in the Haggadah, act as an introduction to the ideas behind the festival of Passover. These questions were already mentioned in the Mishna, written some 2,000 years ago. In fact, the idea that we should ask questions is mandated in the Torah, written much earlier. Four times the Torah says…

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Torah and Study

One of the biggest challenges Judaism faces today is the Haredi schism. On the one hand, it is the most dynamic, fastest growing, most passionately committed and scholarly section of the Jewish world. On the other, it is the most fundamentalist, anti-intellectual, narrow-minded, excessively restrictive sector that refuses to countenance any change, moderation, or amelioration in Jewish law—and in almost…

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