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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Midrash Rabbah’

The Twelve Tribes At The Bialystoker Home

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

A quiet monument to the courage and determination of hundreds of thousands of Jews sits vulnerable on the Lower East Side of New York City at 228 East Broadway. This location was the former home of the Bialystoker Center, built in 1931. For many years it was primarily operated as the Bialystoker Home for the Aged that finally closed in November 2011. In its heyday it was one of the most important Jewish benevolent societies, a landsmanschaftenfor generations of immigrants from Bialystok. A groundswell of protest has arisen over the proposed sale of the building to a luxury residential developer with the possibility of its demolition. They are harnessing support to appeal to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to save the historic façade that boasts an Art Deco gem, roundels representing the 12 Tribes of Israel under the proud Bialystoker name.

Bialystoker Center Building Façade (1931); Henry Hurwit, architect

While initially easy to miss, especially since it is now partially covered with scaffolding, the façade leads to significance in two different directions. First it testifies to an enormously important aspect of Jewish immigrant history and secondly reflects the complex relationship between tradition and modernity, still playing itself out in the 21st century.

New York City, and specifically the Lower East Side, was in 1910 the largest Jewish city in the world. Moreover, the Lower East Side was arguably the most densely populated place on the planet. These facts alone set the stage for a momentous transformation of the downtown Jewish population. The predominately Jewish Bialystok suffered terrible depravations and violence during the Russian Revolution, World War I and subsequent upheavals. Therefore a mass emigration occurred both before and after WWI that resulted in a diaspora of Bialystoker Jews in Chicago, Buenos Aires, Melbourne and Tel Aviv.

The first Bialystoker landsmanschaften was established in 1886 and the Bialystoker Center in 1919. The current building opened to great celebration in 1931 with the Forward declaring, “Bialystok is now on East Broadway.” As the Bialystoker Jews banded together they offered services and collected money – not only to help their brethren here in New York – but also to help rebuild Bialystok in what is now Poland. This strong sense of identity, “forever a Bialystoker,” entered the complex immigrant mix in 1920’s – 1930’s Lower East Side. Many Jews resisted American values and assimilation and did not even become citizens or learn to speak English. They dug in and lived as if they had never left home, while others attempted to adjust to modernity, sometimes even completely abandoning Jewish life. It was complex and bewildering for thousands of immigrants and their descendants and the Bialystoker Center was at the center of much of it.

Bialystoker Center Doorway with 12 Tribes Roundels. Henry Hurwit, architect

The façade of the Bialystoker Center expresses much of this complexity. The grand doorway boldly proclaims “Bialystoker” in Hebreicized English lettering. The pride of Judaic-Polish ancestry is proclaimed simultaneously as the English language, and all it implies, is asserted. Above the entrance doorway the stone façade is capped by a grand balcony. Art Deco stylized reliefs ascend between the three central windows for the eight floors of golden brick. In its time it was one of the tallest and grandest buildings on the Lower East Side. It is clear the architect Henry Hurwit wanted to send as inclusive a visual message as possible.

The recessed doorway is concise, assertive and revealing. The 12 Tribal symbols flank the doorway: 4 on the right, 4 on the soffit above and 4 on the left. The images are ensconced in roundels that approximate a Hebraic formulation (right to left) of Jacob’s “blessings” found at the end of Genesis. They start on the right with the first born, Reuben, travel up, cross the transept and down the left side to the final child, Benjamin.

Bialystoker Doorway Soffit. Henry Hurwit, architect

The exact order and most of the images actually follows the Midrash Rabbah on Numbers 2:2 that expands on the arrangement of the tribes around the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness; “The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his banner according to the insignias of their fathers’ household.” This midrash codifies the information from Jacob’s blessings (Genesis 49) and Moses’ blessings (Deuteronomy 33) into a blueprint for the color and image for each tribe’s flag or symbol.

At the base of each side panel there are stylized representations of the Temple Menorah superimposed over a Star of David/pyramid design anchored by schematic sunrises. These images link this building on East Broadway with both the ancient Temple and the growing Zionist movement in Palestine. Reuben’s mandrakes, a gift of fertility for both his mother and Rachel, effectively sidesteps Jacob’s stinging castigation. Simon is represented by a massive city gate, alluding to the city of Shechem, while Levi gets off scot-free with a depiction of the High Priest’s breastplate, the Choshen HaMishpat that contained the Urim and Tumin. The right side panel is then completed with the Lion of Judah confirming Jacob’s blessing of kingship to his fourth born son.

Q & A: Ayin Hara (Part III)

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Question: I know there is a dispute in the Gemara regarding ayin hara, the evil eye. Can you discuss the origin of it?

Ben Glassman

(Via E-Mail)

Answer: The Rambam (Hilchot Gezela v’Aveidah 13:11) and the Mechaber (Choshen Mishpat 267:18) write that one who finds a garment must periodically air it out, but not when there are guests around. This halacha is based on Bava Metzia 29b, where the gemara mentions two reasons for avoiding displaying a found garment before guests – either because of ayin hara or because of possible theft. Neither the Rambam nor the Mechaber mention the ayin hara concern. The Aruch Hashulchan (Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Hashavat Aveidah 267:11) records the same halacha but adds that the finder may air out the garment before guests if he is sure they are people of integrity, in which case, there is no concern of theft or the evil eye. The Bach, to the Tur (C.M. ad loc.), argues that the Rambam and the Mechaber only mention theft and not ayin hara because the concern of theft is easier for the general populace to understand. (The Rosh and the Rif mention both reasons.)

    We find that our forefathers’ and mothers’ actions at times have been influenced by the evil eye. According to the Midrash Rabbah, Hagar miscarried due to the ayin hara that Sarah cast upon her. And the Talmud (Ta’anit 10b, see Rashi) states that the only reason Jacob sent his sons to go down to Egypt to buy food was to ward off the evil eye (Jacob, in fact, had enough food to eat). According to Bereishit Rabbah 91:6, he also instructed them enter Egypt through separate gates for the same reason (they were all tall and handsome).

* * * *     We have discussed instances referring to the power of ayin hara. There are also sources, though, pointing to its inefficacy. Thus Berachot 20a states that R. Yochanan (who was famous for his good looks) was accustomed to go and sit at the gates of the mikveh. He said, “When the daughters of Israel come up from their immersion they look at me and have children as handsome as I am.” The Rabbis said to him, “Is not the Master afraid of the evil eye?” to which he retorted, “I am of the seed of Joseph over whom the evil eye has no power, as it is written (Bereishit 49:22), ‘Ben porat Yosef, ben porat alei ayin.’ ” The Gemara continues, “And R. Abbahu said in regard to this verse: Do not read ‘alei ayin’ but ‘olei ayin’ ” (literally, “rising above the eye,” i.e., above the power of the evil eye).

Berachot (ad loc.) also states: “R. Yossi son of R. Chanina derived [proof that the evil eye has no power over the descendants of Joseph] from the verse [containing Jacob's blessing to Joseph's sons]: ‘Ve’yid’gu larov bekerev ha’aretz – And let them multiply like fish throughout the land.’ Just as the fish in the sea are covered by water and the evil eye has no power over them, so, too, the evil eye has no power over the seed of Joseph. Or, if you prefer [namely, another reason], I can say: The evil eye has no power over the eye that chose not to partake of that which did not belong to it [Joseph resisted the advances of Potiphar’s wife].”

Berachot (55b) also discusses various remedies for bad dreams and other matters: “If a man entering a town is afraid of the evil eye, let him take the thumb of his right hand in his left hand and the thumb of his left hand in his right hand, and say: I [inserting his name], son of [his father's name], am of the seed of Joseph over whom the evil eye has no effect, as it is written, ‘Ben porat Yosef, ben porat alei ayin.’ ”

The Maharsha (ad loc.) points out that R. Yochanan (ibid. 20a) clearly stated that he was Joseph’s descendant. Tractate Sotah (36b) also refers specifically to “bnei Yosef.” But this Gemara seems to be talking about a remedy for all Jews entering a city, many of whom obviously do not descend from Joseph! Some argue that, indeed, the suggested remedy is effective only for those who turn out to be descendants of Joseph. Others, however, maintain that all Jews are considered the children of Joseph, as it says (Tehillim 80:2), “Ro’eh Yisrael ha’azinah, noheg katzon Yosef – Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock.” Rashi and Metzudat David explain that since Joseph sustained his brothers and their families in Egypt, they are referred to by his name.

This last explanation implies that since we are all immune to the destructive power of the evil eye, it is impossible to cast an ayin hara upon another Jew. How, then, do we explain the statement in Tractate Bava Metzia attributed to Rav (107b): “Ninety-nine [of the dead in the cemetery where he was standing] died as a result of the evil eye, and [only] one from natural causes” as well as the other statements and examples mentioned above?

Love Will Conquer All

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

And Yaakov approached Yitzchak his father, and Yitzchak felt him, and said, ‘The voice is the voice of Yaakov, and the hands are the hands of Eisav.’ ” – Bereishis 27:22

 

To “trick” Yitzchak into giving him the berachah, Yaakov donned Eisav’s clothing, put the skin of an animal on his arms and neck to simulate the hairiness of Eisav, and went in to his father to receive the blessing. As they were twins, the subterfuge was almost perfect, and it seemed as if Yaakov had succeeded. For all intents and purposes, he appeared as Eisav, spoke as Eisav, and presented himself as his twin. Yet something made Yitzchak suspicious, and he said the famous words: “The voice is the voice of Yaakov, and the hands are the hands of Eisav.

Rashi explains what tipped Yitzchak off. Yaakov used the equivalent of the word “please,” as in “Please, my father, get up. Please, my father, take this.” These were words that Eisav would never utter. Therefore, Yitzchak suspected that it wasn’t Eisav, but rather Yaakov, and he asked to “feel the person in front of him to determine which of the brothers it was.

This Rashi is very difficult to understand when we take into account Eisav’s relationship with his father.

Eisav had genuine respect and reverence for his father – in fact, he loved him. The Midrash Rabbah says that “In the course of human history, no man ever treated his father with the respect that Eisav treated his father. So how is it possible he was gruff and rude to a man who he loved and adored?

The answer to this question lies in understanding human nature.

Force of Habit

We are engaged in thousands of interactions, choices, and decisions each day. Unlike an animal, which is preprogrammed to perform in a particular manner, the human has free will to choose how he will respond, react, and deal with every situation. If every one of his decisions was a conscious choice that had to be thought out, he would spend his entire day just making them.

A man is approaching. Do I smile and nod, or do I look the other way? He’s looking at me; do I turn my head to respond or do I look out at the trees? When he asks me how my day is, does he expect a detailed inventory of actions or does he mean it in a casual manner?

To allow us to function productively, Hashem gave us the power of habit. Habit allows us to respond almost unconsciously to the thousands of choices we are constantly engaged in. As a result, we can talk and eat dinner at the same time. We can drive a car, watch the traffic, change lanes, and hold a conversation. Most of the actions we engage in are done on auto-pilot. We don’t have to think about them. We have done them before, created our patterns of action and reaction, so now we can just go about our business without having to use up our conscious minds on rote activities. Habit governs and controls most of the actions and choices of our day.

This force is a double-edged sword. It can allow us to accomplish worlds more because of it, but it costs us in the sense that bad habits and poor reactions can lock us into behaviors and responses that don’t accurately represent our will. We’re just stuck with them because of the ruts that we have created.

This seems to be the answer to Rashi. There is no question Eisav deeply respected his father. But Eisav was gruff. His operating mode was curt and rude. Those were the habits that he developed, the manner in which he acted, the patterns that he etched into his soul. Even when he was in a situation of serving a man that he greatly respected, his years of mechanized routine surfaced, and he spoke the way that he usually spoke. When Yaakov impersonated Eisav and used polite terms, it was out of character. Yitzchak noticed something out of synch. This wasn’t the Eisav he had known for so many years.

Soncino Classics Collection

Wednesday, June 30th, 2004

As the holiday of Shavuos rapidly approaches and the days of Sefirah draw to an end, what better way to prepare oneself for the holiday of receiving the Torah than to actually increase one’s familiarity with it? The Soncino Classics Collection on CD-ROM is a great accompaniment to your studies whether you a beginner or a scholar.

The Soncino Classics edition comes packed with many seforim. The Chumash (five books of Moses) comes with the complete Hebrew text of the Chumash as well as the Prophets and Writings. In addition, the full Hebrew text comes with the option of being displayed with Nekudos (vowelization) and/or the trop (cantillation). It also comes with a complete English translation. Rashi’s commentary is also included. However, it is only in Hebrew.

To complement your studies of the Chumash, the Midrash Rabbah makes an excellent accompaniment. The Soncino Midrash Rabbah comes with a complete Hebrew / Aramaic text and a complete English translation along with footnotes to help you better understand what you’re reading. The English translation includes a handy Glossary, Index, and Abbreviation section which will assist you in looking up difficult terms, finding specific concepts or people and helping you out with abbreviations that you are unfamiliar with.

For those who have a good command of the Talmud and its commentaries and who want to learn one of the most complex subjects of Jewish studies, the classics edition comes with the Zohar. The Soncino Zohar, like the Midrash Rabbah, comes with the complete Hebrew/Aramaic text. Included in the text is the Zohar, Ra’aya Mehemna Sitrei Torah, Midrash Ha-Ne’elam Idra Rabbah, Idra Zutrah, Raza D’raza, and Tikkunei Zohar. However, the English translation that appears in the software is only for the Zohar and parts of the Ra’aya Mehemna.

You will be quite surprised too at the way this program runs. The program allows you to link texts. The links allow the user to scroll trough various windows simultaneously. For example, if you were looking at the Talmud in one window and at Rashi in another, and you have yet another window open with the English translation of the Talmud, the link will allow you to scroll through all of them at the same time without having to navigate each window individually.

With all of these great works, there might come a time where you would like to find something specific. The program comes with a Hebrew-English search function that allows the user to search the texts with great ease, and for those who prefer Hebrew, there is an option that allowing you to switch the menus into Hebrew.

While studying, you may come across something you would like to print. What if you would like the English translation along with the Hebrew/Aramaic text of the Talmud? The program gives you the option of actually printing it all on the same page. And, not only does Soncino Classics Collection allow you to print directly through the program, but if you want to copy the text into another program, Soncino allows the user to copy and paste into other applications such as an English or Hebrew word processor, etc.

The program was designed to be considerate to those who might need bigger print or the like. The user can actually adjust the font size to his preferences. In addition to this, the color and styles can also be adjusted.

The installation of the program is relatively easy. What I happened to really like is that you have the option to install the entire program onto your hard drive. Besides the advantage of the program running much faster when it is installed on the hard drive rather than off the disk, I like the idea of not having to shlep the CD around when I am on the go.

The requirements for the program are minimal. In fact, for those of you whose computers are not up to date, you have no excuse as far as this program is concerned. The program runs on a PC or MAC (I am sure our MAC readers will be thrilled with this), and the requirements are as follows. All PC users need to run the Soncino Classics Collection are: windows 3.1 or higher, a VGA or SVGA display, at least 4MB of RAM, CD-ROM drive. For Mac users, all you need is 4MB of Ram and a CD-ROM.

That’s it!

This product can be purchased online at www.davka.com or at your better local Jewish bookstore.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/scitech/electronics-today/soncino-classics-collection/2004/06/30/

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