Peretz Rodman

Reluctant Prophets, Humble Leaders

‘My lord Moses, restrain them!” So shouts Joshua as he and Moses observe that two men, Eldad and Medad, are behaving as prophets within the Israelite encampment (Numbers 11:28). Prophecy, after all, is Moses’ claim to authority. Should it be discovered that Moses has no monopoly on prophetic powers, perhaps his authority would be eroded, his leadership subject to challenge. Joshua, as his loyal acolyte, is acutely sensitive to that danger.

Glory From Garments

Back when “multimedia” implied the use of a bank of slide projectors and a stereo sound system, coordinated by an electronic device designed especially for that purpose, one site on the tourist circuit of Boston was a “multimedia” show about the city, “Where’s Boston?” One detail in a series of visual images from a celebration by an African American fraternal organization caught my eye. It was the red fez worn by each of the members, each fez adorned with the words “Holy to the Lord.” I wondered, as I noticed it, whether anyone else recognized the inscription as the one that appears on the headpiece of Aaron, the original high priest of the Israelite cult, in this week’s Torah portion (in Exodus 28:36-38).

Jacob’s Camps, Jacob’s Gifts

More than one Jewish summer camp director has a jocular placard in his office displaying this half-verse from Psalm 27: “Though a camp be encamped against me, my heart will not fear….” Okay, true, that’s a somewhat wooden translation of the verse, which might be more clearly rendered: “Should an army besiege me, my heart will not fear….” What makes the joke work is that the Hebrew term for camp, machaneh, has a semantic range like that of its English equivalent, extending from the military (“Camp Pendleton”) to the recreational (“Camp Mohican”). In modern Hebrew, it encompasses the political sense of “camp,” as well.

Place and Time and Rest

‘Across the Jordan, things will be different,” Moses warns his listeners. “Up to now, everyone has done as he pleased.” In Canaan, though, things will be properly regulated; sacrifices will be made only in “the place where God will choose to establish His name.” In Deuteronomy 12:9, Moses uses two words to describe that promised land: menuhah, meaning “rest” or “resting place,” and nahalah, the term for one’s ancestral landholding, the primary form of wealth. The two terms reappear in the next verse as verbs: “When you cross the Jordan and settle in the land that the Eternal your God is giving-as-an-inheritance (manhil) to you and he gives-rest (ve-heniah) to you from all your enemies round about….”

Shelumiel — The First Schlemiel?

In the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem, a leafy residential lane bears the name Yitzhak Crémieux Street. If that name sounds only half-familiar, perhaps the name Adolphe Crémieux rings a louder bell? A prominent Jewish political figure in 19th-century France, Crémieux combined a long career in elective office with service to the

How Could I Feast?

Jewish law shows gentle consideration for mourners, but Moses, in Leviticus 10:16-20, seems to display no such compassion. There we encounter Moses acting as a sort of quality-assurance inspector at the newly inaugurated Mishkan (Tabernacle). He is checking on whether his priestly cousins, newly installed in their sacerdotal functions,

‘Priest Among Nations,’ Says Rabbi Among Priests

‘What do Jews think is the role of non-Jews in the world?” This is the question I was asked recently by a thoughtful priest, one of two-dozen Roman Catholic priests and nuns for whom I was teaching a survey course on rabbinic Judaism.I understood that the question was as much about Jews as about non-Jews, and so my answer was this: “We

The Sting of Divine Wrath

Swelling over large areas of the body, abnormal breathing, tightness in the throat or chest, dizziness, hives, fainting, nausea or vomiting, persistent pain or swelling — these are among the symptoms of a reaction to the sting of a wasp or hornet. “Seek immediate attention,” medical authorities warn us, “if you are stung in the mouth

Divide and Concur

Although the portion is called simply Korah, the assault on Moses’ leadership was led by a coalition of opponents with different gripes and different goals. The portion begins with a list of the leaders: “Korah son of Yitzhar son of Kehat son of Levi, and Datan and Aviram sons of Eliav and On son of Pelet sons of Reuven” (Num. 16:1-2). One

Treif Wasn’t Always Non-kosher

Of all the words contributed by the Yiddish language to modern American English, “kosher” is one of the more common — and, as a term neither coarse nor derisive, an exception to a general rule. American dictionaries frequently also list its antonym, treif (spelled with or without the “i”), defining it as “not kosher and hence forbidden