Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav


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Are Jewish men forbidden to farm pigs?

Many years ago, I was working for a while as ‘Deputy Food Manager’ (i.e., ‘the guy who schlepps the big boxes from the delivery platform at the back to the walk-in fridge’) at a kibbutz in southern Israel.

The kibbutz members frequently complained about the lack of variety of our meat offerings (basically, chicken, turkey, or beef)—so one day the Food Manager took me for a ‘research trip’ to another kibbutz in the southern Negev—Lahav, some forty km to the east, where, it was rumoured, members were very happy with their food.

The ‘research trip’ was a sham—he and I, and everyone else already knew why the Lahav members were happy with their food: they had pork alternatives almost every day, thanks to their pig farm.

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Please: parsha no more

It’s a common refrain in Jewish synagogues throughout the English-speaking world:

How would you answer this question on the Parsha

View this week’s Parsha

Family Parsha 

The Parsha Experiment – Shoftim: Is This Just A Boring Parsha?

—and it drives me (and no doubt every Israeli) around the bend every time I encounter it.

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How do Elohim and Yahweh differ?

Elohim was the name of God for the Israelite (northern) tribes.

IHVH was the name of the God of the Judeans (southern tribe).

Since both religions were based on the belief in a single, Creator, God, the two traditions were knitted into one when the refugees of the northern kingdom were absorbed into Judea following the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians around 725 BCE, at the instruction of the Judean King Ezekiah.

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Why is “אלוהים” translated as “God” in the singular, when it is actually plural – “Gods”?

This is one of those fun questions, like “Mummy—how do babies come into the world?”, or “How does Santa deliver our presents when we have no chimney?” The actual history is a lot more prosaic but more interesting than the pat answers, such as that the Hebrew words for water (mayim) and sky (shamayim) are also seemingly plural but are not (actually they are, as they use plural adjectives as well, and if quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck—it’s a duck). Talmudic tradition of centuries of pilpul is capable of much greater feats than that—such as why placing restrictions on women is really a sign of respect, or why there are several different answers to what happens when Two Men Come Down The Same Chimney.

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Are Palestinians descendants of formerly Jewish/Israelite populations who converted to Islam and Christianity?

This is indeed one of the conclusions that Yitzhak Ben-Zvi—a historian and ethnographer who would later become Israel’s first President—reached from studies of the names and traditions of many Palestinian villages and Bedouin communities.

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