Judaism: Encyclopedia Articles

Macmillan Dictionary of Biblical Judaism

65 Entries by Tzvee Zahavy

Abadim (tractate), Hebrew for “slaves”, the title of one of seven so-called “minor tractates” of the Talmud. A collection of Tannaite sources in three chapters. Mainly rules about the purchase, manumission and sale of slaves.

Ahza b. Rav, a Babylonian rabbi of the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth century C.E.. A student of Rabina I who disputed some of his rules. Grandfather of Mesharshayya.

Ahza of Shabhza, a Babylonian rabbi of the eighth century C.E.. Migrated to Israel after being passed over for appointment as Gaon of Pumbedita. Author of She`iltot, an influential collection of rabbinic homilies on Biblical and rabbinic ethics and values.

Balsam, a perfume derived from a tropical spice referred to as aparsemon in rabbinic sources. Used also in medicinal applications. The oil of the balsam orchards in the Dead Sea region had significant commercial value.

Batlan, Hebrew for “idle person,” may connote a loafer, but most often used as an honorific title for one employed only in the service of the community and the synagogue.

Beard and Shaving, the rabbis considered one's beard a symbol of manhood. Leviticus prohibits removing the side-locks and shaving the beard. Rabbinic authorities prohibited close shaving with a straight edge under all circumstances and any shaving during the periods of mourning after the death of a close relative or between Passover and Shebuot or the three weeks preceding the Ninth of Av.

Beggars and Begging, not acknowledged in most of the Tanakh on the assumption that its welfare system made such poverty unlikely. Rabbinic sources encourage itinerants to seek aid from a centralized village fund or kitchen rather than door-to-door. Poor women were the first to receive assistance to avoid the humiliation of forcing them into the street to seek aid.

Birkat David, the “Blessing of David,” the fifteenth paragraph of the standardized rabbinic daily prayer of eighteen blessings. Asks for the restoration of the house of David and messianic salvation. Alludes to the phrasing of Jer. 33:15, “I will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” The Talmud of the Land of Israel supposes that this paragraph in the liturgy was part of the preceding one. Some see in it an anti-Christian polemic.

Birkat Geulah, the “Blessing of Redemption,” the seventh paragraph of the standardized rabbinic daily prayer of eighteen blessings. Concludes, “Blessed art thou Lord who redeems Israel” understood as a reference to future salvation. The label may also refer to the liturgy following the Shema and preceding the prayer of eighteen that makes reference to the past redemption from Egypt.

Birkat Ha'aretz, the “Blessing of the Land,” the second paragraph in the standard rabbinic blessings of the meal. Ascribed by tradition as first spoken by Joshua at the conquest of the Land of Israel. Invokes major mythic and symbolic themes of Israel: the exodus, circumcision, the Torah and its laws. Cites Deut. 8:10, “And you shall eat and you shall be satisfied and you shall bless the Lord your God,” assumed to be the scriptural basis for the meal blessings.

Birkat Hahzodesh, the “Blessing of the Month,” recited in the synagogue on the Sabbath after the reading of the Torah to announce and pray for good fortune in the new month that began during the week to come.

Birkat Hamishpat, the “Blessing of Justice,” the eleventh paragraph in the standardized rabbinic daily prayer of eighteen blessings. Also known as Birkat Hadin, the Blessing of Judgment. The concluding formula, “Blessed are you Lord, King who loves righteousness and justice” is changed to “the just King” between New Year and Day of Atonement to reflect the solemnity of the season.

Birkot Hanehenim, the “blessings for benefits” recited before partaking of foods, drinks, fragrances and pleasant vistas. The standard rabbinic formulary usually praises God for creating the material from which one is to benefit. The recitation does not bestow any blessing upon the substance or change its status in any way.

Birkat Hashanim, the “Blessing of the Years,” the ninth paragraph of the standardized rabbinic daily prayer of eighteen blessings. Asks for material prosperity. During the winter the words “grant us dew and rain for a blessing” are added.

Birkat Hashir, the “Blessing of the Song,” also known as Nishmat. Commonly recited at the Seder for the fourth cup of wine and in the Morning Service for Sabbaths and Festivals. More a poem than a formal blessing. Thanks God for sustenance and salvation.

Birkat Hatov Vehametiv, the “Blessing of the good one who does good,” the fourth section in the standard rabbinic blessing of the meal. The Talmud considers this the latest addition to that liturgy, added as an affirmation of faith after the Jews buried the martyrs who died in the Bar Kokhba rebellion.

Birkat Hatzadikim, the “Blessing of the Righteous,” the thirteenth paragraph of the standardized rabbinic daily prayer of eighteen blessings. Asks for mercy for the pious, the elders, the scribes, and the true proselytes. Probably originated in the time of the Maccabees.

Birkat Hazan, the “Blessing of the Provider,” the first paragraph in the standard rabbinic blessing of the meal. Expresses gratitude for providing food for all creatures. The Talmud suggests that Moses formulated this blessing when the manna came down for Israel.

Birkat Yerushalaim, the “Blessing for Jerusalem,” the third section in the standard rabbinic blessing of the meal. Appeals for mercy on Israel, Jerusalem, the House of David and for sustenance.

Evil eye, in Rabbinic Judaism, the idea that casting a jealous gaze upon a person or object to cause harm through magical means. Rabbis believed that biblical figures cast it upon one another and that they too could exercise its power. It can be warded off by modesty and restraint or by diversion or counteracted by wearing a talisman or by magical gestures or the recitation of verses specified in the Talmud (b. Ber. 55b).

Fables, Rabbinic, animal tales used to transmit an ethical or political message, often called meshalim in Hebrew. Rabbi Meir allegedly knew 300 fox-fables, and legend has it that Bar Qappara after him knew hundreds more. Fables in the major midrash collections are used in a formulaic manner to elucidate biblical verses.

Flogging, in Rabbinic law, the punishment of a maximum of 39 stripes or lashes inflicted on the bare upper torso with a whip of calfskin especially for the violation of prohibitions of the Torah where monetary or capital punishment was not involved or where biblical law imposed the punishment of extirpation.

Gambling, frowned upon in Jewish law and considered a form of theft. Professional gamblers were disqualified from serving as witnesses or judges in court. Playing dice and betting on pigeons were specifically denounced by the rabbis. Gambling for entertainment was not prohibited as illustrated by the popularity of the game of dreidl on Hanukkah.

Heqdesh, property consecrated to the Temple in Jerusalem, sancta. Items were dedicated either for general use or specified for use in sacrifice on the altar.

Jeremiah b. Abba, rabbi of the late third and early fourth century C.E.. Born in Babylonia, lived in Israel where he served as head of the academy at Tiberias. Known for his pronouncements regarding prayer.

Lease, Rabbinic law of, in the rental of land rabbinic sources recognize as legitimate both fixed payments in produce and share-rental for a percentage of the crop. Houses and shops were rented for cash. Local rules governed the details of leases. Rental was considered a sale for a limited term, either specified or implied.

Listes, from the Greek: lestes, a bandit, highwayman. With regard to the law of the liability of a bailee's loss, rabbis dispute whether an armed bandit is deemed a robber or a thief.

Me`ilah, trespass, the improper use of sacred property. Also: name of the eighth tractate of Seder Qodoshim in the Mishnah, Tosefta and Talmud Bavli. Its six chapters specify the cases and extent of liability for violations.

Mekilta of R. Simeon b. Yohai, a lost presumably-Tannaite midrash compilation to Exodus reconstructed by D. Hoffman from fragments interspersed in the medieval Midrash Hagadol.

Men of the Great Assembly, unidentified leaders of Israel in the Persian and early Hasmonean periods between the time of the classical prophets of ancient Israel and the first Pharisaic masters. An important link in the chain of tradition from Moses to the rabbis as recorded in tractate Abot. Tradition ascribes to them the enactment of festivals, prayers and blessings, especially the prayer of eighteen blessings and the feast of Purim.

Mezuzah (tractate), Hebrew for “doorpost,” the title of one of seven so-called “minor tractates” of the Talmud. A collection of Tannaite sources in two chapters. Contains rules for the type of parchment, the writing, and the placement on the doorpost.

Nations, the seventy, rabbinic enumeration of nations and languages of the world based on the biblical figure for the grandsons of Noah (Gen. 10). Rabbinic sources say each nation is protected by its own angel but God protects Israel; a sacrifice was offered on Tabernacles for each of the nations; every judge of the Sanhedrin had to know the seventy languages.

New Moon, when the Temple stood this was a festival proclaimed by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem after witnesses testified to observing the new moon. Bonfires were lit on hilltops to signal the event throughout the land. After the calendar was fixed by calculation in the middle of the fourth century C.E., the new month was announced in the synagogue at the time of the Birkat Hahodesh, the blessing of the month.

Noahides, those non-Jews who observe the seven laws of the book of Genesis that apply to the descendants of Noah, i.e. all peoples, according to rabbinic authorities: the prohibitions of idolatry, adultery and incest, bloodshed, blasphemy, robbery, social injustice, eating flesh of a limb cut from a living animal.

Partnership, joint ownership especially of land. Laws regulating these are addressed in the Talmud seder neziqin. Rabbinic authorities declared that capital investment may be treated like a business-partnership (`iska) to avoid the charge of usurious lending against the investing party. This serves as the basis for later rabbinic authorities to allow most commercial and banking transactions.

Property, Rabbinic law for lost, return of lost property to its rightful owner is an important biblical obligation spelled out in four chapters of Mishnah and Talmud (Baba Mesia 1-4). Specific rules are set forth for determining which objects are subject to identification and return. Failure to attempt to return a lost object to its owner is deemed theft and subject to punishment.

Qal vehzomer, Hebrew for “from the light to the heavy.” A logical argument a fortiori or from a minor to a major premise. One of the thirteen rabbinic rules of inference attributed to R. Ishmael.

Sale, Talmudic law of, transfer of real estate was effected by payment of money, by deed, by seizin (assertive action), or by symbolic transfer of a cloth (also called acquisition by reciprocal exchange). Personal property (chattels) were acquired by taking hold of the object (by lifting it, drawing it towards oneself, or effecting a symbolic transfer), by taking it into one's domain, or by the symbolic transfer of a cloth.

Sefer Torah (tractate), Hebrew for “scroll of the Torah,” the title of one of seven so-called “minor tractates” of the Talmud. A collection of Tannaite sources in five chapters also found in tractate Soferim. Contains rules for writing, writing materials, and translating the Torah and special precautions for writing and erasing the name of God.

She'iltot, Aramaic expositions by Aha of Shabha (Israel, eighth century C.E.) of biblical and rabbinic moral precepts organized around the weekly Torah readings and based on the Talmud and Midrash. Aimed at a popular audience, rather than only at sages, the material was cited widely by the geonim and medieval rabbinic commentators.

Shofarot, ten biblical verses concerning the ram's horn in the third section of the core liturgy of the additional prayer for the New Year. They express the Rosh Hashanah themes of revelation and redemption. The shofar is sounded at the conclusion of this section as it is at the conclusion of the two preceding liturgical divisions, the malkhyot and zikhronot.

Sick, visiting, it is a deed of charity in rabbinic practice to visit the ill and infirm to alleviate their isolation and suffering. Rabbis emphasize that the act is an imitation of God himself, who visited Abraham when he was ill (Gen. 18:1). Each person who visits a sick individual takes a portion of his illness, according to a more mystical view of this obligation.

Simeon Hatimni, a Tannaite rabbi, generation of Yavneh, contemporary of Aqiba and Judah b. Baba, cited in Mishnah and Midrash.

Simeon b. Shetahz, Pharisaic master, first century C.E. With Judah b. Tabbai, he comprised the third pair of those in the chain of tradition set forth in tractate 'Abot. He was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin and the brother of Salome Alexandra who was the wife of Alexander Yannai.

Tefillin (tractate), Hebrew for “phylacteries,” the title of one of seven so-called “minor tractates” of the Talmud. A collection of Tannaite sources in one chapter. Contains rules for writing the parchments in them and for wearing them in accord with the biblical requirement.

Tzitzit (tractate), Hebrew for “fringes,” the title of one of seven so-called “minor tractates” of the Talmud. A collection of Tannaite sources in one chapter. Contains rules for tying, dying and wearing fringes on one's garments in accord with Numbers 15:38-40.

'Asmakta', Aramaic for “support,” in rabbinic law it is an agreement buttressed by an extravagant penalty or dependent on the fulfillment of a condition is not binding unless supported by more definite indicators. In rabbinic Bible interpretation it is a verse that buttresses a legal rule without serving as an integral basis for its authority.

'Ona'ah, Hebrew for “overreaching” in the purchase or sale of an article by fraudulently deviating from its market price by at least one sixth of its value.

'Ones, Hebrew for “forced,” it is a biblical term for rape. Rabbinic sources extend it to a circumstance for which a person cannot be held accountable, such as an act forced upon a person by threat of death, violence or financial ruin, or as an unavoidable deterrent such as a natural barrier, an illness or an accident.

Birkat Haminim, the “Blessing for the Heretics,” the twelfth paragraph of the standardized rabbinic daily prayer of eighteen blessings. Also called the “Blessing for the Sadducees” and the “Curse of the Slanderers.” Asks for the destruction of the enemies, traitors and apostates. Thought to have been added as the nineteenth blessing of the liturgy. The Talmud attributes it to Samuel the Younger (c. 100 C.E.) on behalf of Gamaliel II and his court at Yavneh. The wording was modified to mollify medieval religious authorities who thought it was an anti-Christian polemic. It should be viewed as an imprecation against dissenters within Judaism.

Triennial Cycle, the practice in Israel in early rabbinic times of the public reading of the entire Torah in the synagogue divided into weekly portions (each called a parashah or sidra) over a span of three years. Probably based on the division of the Torah into 153, 155, or 167 sedarim. The Babylonian custom to complete the cycle in one year has been most widely practiced since the eighth century C.E. although some places used the triennial cycle during the middle ages. In the annual cycle, Genesis is divided into twelve portions, Exodus eleven, Leviticus ten, Numbers ten and Deuteronomy eleven, for a total of fifty four. That cycle begins after Sukkot in the fall. Special readings are added for festivals, the new moon, Purim and Hanukkah, for fast days, and for four Sabbaths in Adar and Nisan. The sequence concludes on Simhat Torah with special recognition for those called to read the last section of Deuteronomy and the first of Genesis. Each portion was further subdivided among members of the congregation who each read several verses. Reading from the Torah in the synagogue was considered an honor. On the Sabbath seven men were called to come up to read (aliyot). A priest was called to read the first segment, a Levite the second and ordinary Israelites for the remaining portions.

Wills, the last instructions of a dying person to his family regarding the disposal of his property and their future conduct and often expressing a blessing for them, as in the wills of the biblical figures, Abraham, Jacob and Moses. Property distribution often was not a primary issue since it was fixed by rabbinic law which allocated a double portion for the first born and equal inheritance for the remaining sons. Death-bed-bequests had special validity in the rabbinic system. Written wills were accepted as valid by rabbinic authorities in accord with the prevailing local customs.

Wine, the primary beverage of antiquity. The rabbinic use of the Hebrew word for wine, yayin, connotes the undiluted extract of grapes. It was mixed or diluted with water before the liquid was consumed. Rabbinic custom prescribed that grace recited over every meal be accompanied by a cup of wine. The individual blessing over wine was central to the table ritual for the inauguration and conclusion of Sabbaths and Festivals (qiddush and habdalah). Four cups of wine were drunk at the Passover seder and a fifth set aside for Elijah. Mourners drank several cups of wine as consolation according to custom. The Talmud encouraged moderation in drinking wine, citing its medicinal and health values. Alcohol-abuse was not a dominant concern, although the Talmud prescribed some remedies for drunkenness. Wine used in pagan ritual was deemed unclean and prohibited. Any ordinary wine prepared or handled by non-Jews also was prohibited either because it was suspected to have been a libation to a pagan god or because the rabbis wanted to restrict social interaction between Jews and gentiles.

Zaddiq, Hebrew for “righteous person.” Israelite wisdom traditions (e.g., in Psalms and Proverbs) laud the merit of the righteous and singles out the zaddiq for reward and for God's protection. Rabbis customarily praise the memory of their deceased colleagues by invoking after mention of one's name, “remembering a zaddiq brings a blessing.” Rabbis believed that on Rosh Hashanah all Israelites were judged and a zaddiq was immediately inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year. They further proclaimed that the merit of the righteous sustains the world, especially the thirty-six select and hidden zaddiqim of each generation.

'Abot (tractate), Hebrew for “fathers” or, more accurately “generative principles.” A tractate of the Mishnah usually found at the end of Seder Nezikin. A collection of Tannaite sources in five chapters. The first two chapters provide a chain of tradition from Moses to the early rabbis. As a whole, the tractate sets forth the basic principles for the behavior of a rabbi in judgment and in teaching.

Simeon b. Yohzai, second century C.E., rabbi, mystic and ascetic of the generation of rabbis at Usha (Israel). Prominent student of Aqiba; one of the five rabbis ordained by Judah ben Baba during the Hadrianic persecutions. He is the subject of many rabbinic legends and is associated with magical powers. In medieval Judaism he was named as author of the Zohar, one of the most important rabbinic mystical compilations. He is assigned authorship of the Midrashic compilations of Sifre Numbers and Deuteronomy and of the Mekhilta of R. Simeon Bar Yohzai to the book of Exodus. Several short apocalyptic mystical compilations are also linked with his name.

Oil, use in Rabbinic Period, olive-oil was a primary commodity in Israel in rabbinic times, used for cooking, as a body lotion, for medicinal purposes and for lamps. Oil was also derived from other animal, mineral and vegetable sources such as sesame seeds or nuts. In Babylonia, sesame-oil was the most common. Pure olive oil was used for the ritual anointing of the High Priest in the Temple. Belief was widespread that the redeemer of Israel also would be anointed with oil, in Hebrew mashiah, the source of the title “messiah”. According to the rabbis, when the Hasmoneans defeated the Hellenizers in the second century B.C.E. they found enough pure oil for lighting the lamps in the Temple for one day but it lasted miraculously for eight days. Accordingly, on Hanukkah Jews celebrated this miracle by lighting oil lamps for eight days. The Mishnah (Shabbat, chapter two) specifies which oil could be used for kindling the Sabbath lamp on Friday evening before sundown. In everyday use olive oil commonly was perfumed with balsam or sesame oil with extract of rose. A special blessing was recited upon using such oil. Anointing oneself with oil was prohibited on the Day of Atonement and the Ninth of Ab.

Money lending, Biblical and rabbinic laws permit loans among Jews only where the lender charges no interest at all to the borrower. The rabbis extended the prohibition of interest and increase to a variety of cases of commercial transactions where one party may derive some financial benefit from providing capital for the use of another party. Mishnah (Baba Mesia 5) goes so for as to prohibit as interest the lending party receiving favors of any kind, even favorable statements, from a borrower. However, biblical and rabbinic law permitted a Jew to lend money to a gentile outright and charge interest and to borrow from a gentile and pay him interest. Jews could circumvent the prohibition of lending to one another with interest through the use of a gentile as an intermediary party in the transaction. Similarly, later when canon law imposed restrictions against usury on Christians in the middle ages, Jews were used as intermediaries to avoid them. The stereotype of the medieval Jew as moneylender has been exaggerated much beyond its historical fact.

Monogamy and polygamy, the marriage of a man exclusive to one woman was the expected norm in Israelite and later rabbinic society. Polygamy was permitted but there is little evidence that it was practiced. Biblical sources provide a somewhat ambiguous model in this area. In its narratives Adam had one wife. Abraham married his slave at the request of his wife. Isaac had one spouse. Jacob was tricked into marrying two sisters who then asked him to marry their maids. The kings openly practiced polygamy but were castigated for it. The prophets, priests and most other ideal biblical figures were monogamous. Social and economic obligations imposed on a husband made monogamy more attractive. The obligatory polygamy imposed where a man's brother died childless and he was obligated to marry as a levir the brother's wife was also rarely carried out. Most commonly the ritual of halisah was performed, freeing the woman from that relationship. Rabbenu Gershom b. Judah (d. 1028 C.E.) officially banned polygamy by decree for Ashkenazic Jews of France and Germany.

Medicine, Talmudic, references to this subject, interspersed throughout the Talmud and rabbinic literature, show that the rabbis had a significant level of medical knowledge. The physician was recognized as a source of authority in questions regarding healing and injuries. The Talmud makes mention of specialists akin to modern internists, psychiatrists, dentists, surgeons and obstetricians. Rabbis are said to have dissected birds or animals to gain knowledge of anatomy or to have experimented on themselves to learn about disease. Talmudic tradition asserts that the body is made of 248 limbs and 365 sinews, more than the number commonly accepted by early medicine. They sought out a corresponding number of commandments in the Torah indicating the more immediate emphasis of their interests. Rabbinic sources show familiarity with the blood, the structure of the heart and other aspects of the circulatory system. They note many details of the nervous, the digestive and the respiratory systems as well. Details which the Talmud represents in the genital and urinary systems and of embryology are consistent with the knowledge of the day. In some instances the sources recognize that a disease or dysfunction is caused by a physical agent, by unsanitary conditions or by improper consumption of alcohol or foods. Many times however the agents of rabbinic pathology are demons or other mystical or spiritual causes. Folk medicine plays an important role in Talmudic therapeutics. Of course, circumcision was a universally practiced surgical procedure. Other surgeries are described, including discussion of Caesarean section procedures. A variety of mental disorders are acknowledged in the sources.

Academy on High, the rabbinic school in heaven where sages and other righteous persons attend after dying. It is a mirror image or projection of the rabbinic academy on earth. Sages who went there for their eternal reward continued to study and debate the fine points of rabbinic law. God himself participated in the discussion, presented novel interpretations, made reference to rabbinic teachings and taught the Torah to others. Rabbis took their positions according to rank and sat in an eternal semi-circle. Exceptional Babylonian masters who merited it occasionally communicated with the members of the Academy on High. At the Kol Nidre service on the Day of Atonement, worshippers in synagogues called on the authority of this Academy on High to sanction their prayers.

Animals, Treatment of in Rabbinic Judaism, The rabbis did not approve of hunting for sport and considered it an expression of a base instinct. The prohibition of cruelty to animals is basic to the rabbinic concept of civilization. One of the seven commandments of the children of Noah that governs the conduct of all humans prohibits eating a limb or flesh from a living animal. Some rabbis taught that animal flesh may be eaten only in response to an overpowering need. Others encouraged vegetarianism.

Rabbinic rules generally prohibit inflicting unnecessary pain on all animals. They require that a person feed his animals before he eats and must have feed for his animals before he purchases them. Rabbinic homilies extol kindness to animals as a great virtue. The greatest leaders of Israel, Moses and David, were both compassionate shepherds of flocks before they assumed their positions of greatness. One story tells how R. Judah the Prince suffered pain for thirteen years because he did not aid a calf that was to be slaughtered. He was relieved of suffering only after showing compassion for kittens. There is little evidence that the rabbis attributed to animals the possession of a soul, subjection to reward and punishment, or life after death.

The rabbinic attitude toward domestic animals was positive. They considered the sheep dog a reliable pet and they discouraged dwelling in a city that lacked a barking dog. Some however considered the dog an unruly and immodest animal. They make reference to the contention that is common between cats and dogs and cats and mice and of the association of cats with magic. Common folklore about other domesticated animals appears in the literature, including sheep, goats, oxen, swine, horses, and asses. The fox, wolf, weasel, and lion are wild animals commonly referred to in rabbinic legend. The eagle, vulture and falcon are mentioned from among the birds of prey. The raven and dove often take on symbolic significance in rabbinic interpretation. The rabbis preached also that a person may learn ethical behavior from observing the animal kingdom.

A main concern to rabbis was the identification and preparation of the animals that were permitted for consumption. Humane and hygienic preparation of food were primary factors in many of the regulations legislated by the rabbis. To qualify as kosher an animal, bird or fish had to belong to an acceptable species and be without disease or defect. Beasts and fowl had to be slaughtered and their blood removed by salting and washing. The rules of kosher slaughter require that a trained shochet rapidly and without interruption cut through the major portion of the windpipe and esophagus of a beast in order to inflict the least possible pain on the animal and to insure the efficient drainage of its blood. The Talmud's tractate Hullin is the major source of information pertaining to these rabbinic issues. It discusses procedures for slaughtering and animal according to the requirements of rabbinic law; diseases and deficiencies which render an animal "treif", i.e. non-kosher; a talmudic discourse on veterinary pathology; classification of animals, birds, fish, insects, as clean or unclean; a talmudic taxonomy of natural species; laws regarding an animal foetus; fractures in animals and birds; the biblical injunction against killing an animal and its young on the same day; the ritual for covering the blood of an animal after slaughtering; food taboos; forbidden cuts of meat; the injunction against eating an animal's sciatic nerve; mixtures of forbidden meats with permitted cuts; general theoretical discussion of the doubtful status of an object; neutralization of a banned food substance in a mixture with permitted substances; the prohibition of mixing milk and meat; meal regulations; preparation of some animal organs for consumption; rules regarding the uncleanness of the carcass of an animal which dies; rules regarding gifts to the Priests from animals (taxes); various cuts of meat and shearings of sheep which go the Priests; the biblical law of sending the mother bird away from the nest before taking the young. Interspersed throughout the tractate's discussions and analyses of these subjects are a variety of theological and moral excurses, biblical exegeses, etiologies of dietary practices, mythic tales, historical legends and homilies.

Rabbinic sources distinguished domesticated from wild beasts. The latter were not valid for sacrifice, their fats were prohibited and one was obligated to cover with dust the blood that spurted out at the time of their slaughter. An animal that died was unclean as carrion and prohibited for consumption. A dead reptile was singled out as a generative source of uncleanness.

The rabbinic notion of the messianic age includes the defeat of the mythic beast Leviathan, a banquet served from its flesh, and a sukkah made from its luminescent skin. (840 words)

Birkot Hzatanim, the “Blessings of the Bridegrooms” are the seven blessings recited at a rabbinic marriage ceremony and at the meals of the first week of celebrations thereafter, provided there are new guests at each meal as specified by the Talmud (b. Ket. 7b-8a). They make reference to creation, the joy of Zion and Jerusalem in the Messianic age, and to the joy of a bridegroom and bride. The substance of the texts of the blessings following (1) the blessing for the wine are: (2) Blessed art thou O Lord our God King of the Universe who created all things for his glory; (3) Blessed art thou... who creates humans; (4) Blessed art thou... who created humans in his image, according to his likeness, and established from them an everlasting paradigm. Blessed art thou o Lord who creates humans; (5) The barren one will surely be glad and rejoice when her children are gathered into her with happiness. Blessed art thou... who brings joy to Zion through her children; (6) The loving companions will surely rejoice just as your creatures rejoiced in Eden of old. Blessed art thou... who makes the groom and bride rejoice; (7) Blessed art thou... who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, mirth and exultation, pleasure and delight, love, brotherhood, peace and companionship. Soon, O Lord our God may there be heard in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and gladness, the voice of the groom and bride, the jubilant voice of grooms from their marriage canopies and of youths from their feasts of song. Blessed art thou... who makes the groom rejoice with the bride. (271 words)

Martyrs, ten, the rabbis executed by Hadrian for their support of Bar Kokhba, 134 C.E.: Simeon, Ishmael, Aqiba, Hananiah b. Teradyon, Huspit, Yeshebab, Eliezer b. Shammua, Hananiah b. Hakinai, Judah b. Baba, and Ishmael b. Elisha. Descriptions of their torture and death are taken from a Geonic midrash and are part of the liturgy for the Day of Atonement and for the Ninth of Ab. The moving latter liturgy (probably twelfth century C.E.) mentions eight of the martyrs and includes the following expressions of grief: “The cedars of Lebanon, noble persons of the Torah, shield bearers of the Mishnah and Talmud, mighty heros who toiled in it in purity — their blood was spilled and their heroism ended. Here are the ten holy martyrs of the realm and for them I weep and my eyes pour forth tears... They brought R. Aqiba who powers of logic could uproot mountains and grind them together. And they combed his flesh with an iron comb to break him. His soul departed as he recited, `... is one'. And a heavenly voice said, `Happy are you R. Aqiba. Your body is purer than every kind of purity.'” (190 words)

Shofarot, a liturgy with biblical passages concerning the ram's horn in the third section of the core liturgy of the additional prayer for the New Year. It expresses the Rosh Hashanah themes of revelation and redemption. The shofar is sounded at the conclusion of this section as it is at the conclusion of the two preceding liturgical divisions, the malkhyot and zikhronot. The passages of scripture include three from Torah, three from the Writings and three from the Prophets and one final verse from the Torah as follows: “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of the shofar so loud that all the people in the camp trembled” (Ex. 19:16). “As the blast of the shofar grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder” (Ex. 19:19). When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the shofar, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance” (Ex. 20:18). “God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a shofar” (Ps. 47:5). “With trumpets and the sound of the shofar make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord” (Ps. 98:6). “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament. Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness! Praise him with shofar sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with clanging symbols; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 150:1-6). “All you inhabitants of the world, you who live on the earth, when a signal is raised on the mountains, look! When a shofar is blown, listen!” (Isa. 18:3). “And on that day a great shofar will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (Isa. 27:13). “Then the Lord will appear over them and his arrow go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the shofar and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. The Lord of hosts will protect them...” (Zech. 9:14-15). “Also on your days of rejoicing, at your appointed festivals, and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over your sacrifices of well-being; they shall serve as a reminder on your behalf before the Lord your God: I am the Lord your God” (Num. 10:10). The liturgy concludes with the blessing formula, “Blessed art thou... who listens to the sound of the shofar-blast of his people Israel with mercy” and the shofar is sounded. (474 words)

Takkanah, Hebrew for “remedy,” an official rabbinic legal decree often enacted to accommodate Jewish law with historical conditions after extraordinary social or economic upheavals. For instance, Hillel the Elder ordained the prosbul to circumvent the cancellation of debts in the sabbatical year. Simeon b. Shetahz enacted compulsory education. Yohanan b. Zakkai legislated Takkanot concerning the calendar and Temple ritual. Also, through the Takkanot of Usha (second century C.E.) the Sanhedrin sought to repair the social fabric of family life after the disastrous Hadrianic persecutions. Fathers were required to support minor children and not inflict harsh punishment on them. Takkanot become more commonplace in the Middle Ages and became a means to regulate business, taxes, charity, and the ritual affairs of a community. Rabbenu Gershom b. Judah of Mayence (d. 1028 C.E.) enacted a Takkanah for Ashkenazic Jews of France and Germany that prohibited polygamy by Jewish men and prohibited the divorce of a woman against her will. (157 words)