The interior of the Spanish Synagogue in Prague, Czech Republic

Judaism (originally from Hebrew יהודה, Yehudah, "Judah"; via Latin and Greek) is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people, comprising the collective religious, cultural and legal tradition and civilization of the Jewish people. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. It encompasses a wide body of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible, and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. With between 14.5 and 17.4 million adherents worldwide, Judaism is the tenth largest religion in the world.

Within Judaism there are a variety of movements, most of which emerged from Rabbinic Judaism, which holds that God revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah. Historically, all or part of this assertion was challenged by various groups such as the Sadducees and Hellenistic Judaism during the Second Temple period; the Karaites and Sabbateans during the early and later medieval period; and among segments of the modern non-Orthodox denominations. Modern branches of Judaism such as Humanistic Judaism may be nontheistic. Today, the largest Jewish religious movements are Orthodox Judaism (Haredi Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism), Conservative Judaism, and Reform Judaism. Major sources of difference between these groups are their approaches to Jewish law, the authority of the Rabbinic tradition, and the significance of the State of Israel. Orthodox Judaism maintains that the Torah and Jewish law are divine in origin, eternal and unalterable, and that they should be strictly followed. Conservative and Reform Judaism are more liberal, with Conservative Judaism generally promoting a more traditionalist interpretation of Judaism's requirements than Reform Judaism. A typical Reform position is that Jewish law should be viewed as a set of general guidelines rather than as a set of restrictions and obligations whose observance is required of all Jews. Historically, special courts enforced Jewish law; today, these courts still exist but the practice of Judaism is mostly voluntary. Authority on theological and legal matters is not vested in any one person or organization, but in the sacred texts and the rabbis and scholars who interpret them.

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Kvitel refers to a practice developed by Hasidic Judaism in which a Hasid writes a note with a petitionary prayer and gives it to a Rebbe (Hasidic leader) in order to receive the latter's blessing. This prayer may be a general request for health, livelihood, or success, or a specific request such as recovery from illness, the ability to bear children, a wedding match, etc. The writing, giving and reading of a kvitel is treated very seriously by Hasid and Rebbe alike, and is executed according to specific protocols. Because of their inherent sanctity, kvitelach may not be thrown away after use; they are either burned or buried.

The practice of giving kvitelach continues today in all the Hasidic courts. Kvitelach are also placed on the graves of Rebbes and tzadikim (plural of "tzadik," or Jewish holy man) with the hope that the soul of the deceased will intercede for the petitioner in Heaven.

It is a centuries-old custom for Jews to place kvitelach containing personal prayers to God between the stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. This practice has been also adopted by Christian pilgrims and foreign dignitaries as well. More than a million prayer notes are placed in the Western Wall each year. (Read more...)

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Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem

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Baith Israel sanctuary

Congregation Baith Israel Anshei Emes is an egalitarian Conservative synagogue located at 236 Kane Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, New York City. It is currently the oldest continuously operating synagogue in Brooklyn. Founded as Baith Israel in 1856, the congregation constructed the first synagogue on Long Island, and hired Rabbi Aaron Wise for his first rabbinical position in the United States. Early tensions between traditionalists and reformers led to the latter forming Congregation Beth Elohim, a Reform synagogue, in 1861. The synagogue nearly failed in the early 1900s, but the 1905 hiring of Israel Goldfarb as rabbi, the purchase of its current buildings, and the 1908 merger with Talmud Torah Anshei Emes, re-invigorated the congregation. The famous composer Aaron Copland celebrated his bar mitzvah there in 1913, and long-time Goldman Sachs head Sidney Weinberg was married there in 1920. Membership peaked in the 1920s, but with the onset of the Great Depression declined steadily, and by the 1970s the congregation could no longer afford to heat the sanctuary. Membership has recovered since that low point; the congregation renovated its school/community center in 2004, and in 2008 embarked on a million-dollar capital campaign to renovate the sanctuary. (Read more...)

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The cantillation symbols according to the Ashkenazi tradition

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Weekly Torah Portion

Vayishlach (וישלח)
Genesis 32:4–36:43
The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues on Shabbat, Saturday, 9 Kislev, 5780—December 7, 2019
“Said he, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.’” (Genesis 32:29)

Jacob sent a message to Esau in Edom that he had stayed with Laban until then, had oxen, donkeys, flocks, and servants, and hoped to find favor in Esau’s sight. The messengers returned and greatly frightening Jacob with the report that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men. Jacob divided his camp in two, reasoning that if Esau destroyed one of the two, then the other camp could escape. Jacob prayed to God, recalling that God had promised to return him whole to his country, noting his unworthiness for God’s transformation of him from a poor man with just a staff to the leader of two camps, and prayed God to deliver him from Esau, as God had promised Jacob good and to make his descendants as numerous as the sand of the sea. Jacob assembled a present of hundreds of goats, sheep, camels, cattle, and donkeys to appease Esau, and instructed his servants to deliver them to Esau in successive droves with the message that they were a present from his servant Jacob, who followed behind.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (illustration by Gustave Doré)
As the presents went before him, Jacob took his wives, handmaids, children, and belongings over the Jabbok River, and then remained behind that night alone. Jacob wrestled with a man until dawn, and when the man saw that he was not prevailing, he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh and strained it. The man asked Jacob to let him go, for the day was breaking, but Jacob would not let him go without a blessing. The man asked Jacob his name, and when Jacob replied “Jacob,” the man told him that his name would no more be Jacob, but Israel, for he had striven with God and with men and prevailed. Jacob asked the man his name, but the man asked him why, and then blessed him. Jacob named the place Peniel, saying that he had seen God face to face and lived. And at sunrise, Jacob limped from the injury to his thigh. Because of this, the Israelites do not eat the sinew of the vein that is the hollow of the thigh, because the angel touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh.
The Reunion of Jacob and Esau (painting by Francesco Hayez)
When Jacob saw Esau coming with 400 men, he divided his family, putting the handmaids and their children foremost, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph at the back. Jacob went before them, and bowed to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. Esau ran to meet him, embraced him, and kissed him, and they wept. Esau asked who women and the children were, Jacob told him that they were his, and they all came to Esau and bowed down. Esau asked what Jacob meant by all the livestock, and Jacob told him that he sought Esau’s favor. Esau said that he had enough, but Jacob pressed him to accept his present saying that seeing Esau’s face was like seeing the face of God, and Esau took the gifts. Esau suggested that Jacob and he travel together, but Jacob asked that Esau allow Jacob’s party to travel more slowly, so as not to tax the young children and the flocks, until they came to Esau in Seir. Esau offered to leave some of his men behind with Jacob, but Jacob declined. So Esau left for Seir, and Jacob left for Sukkot (meaning “booths”), where he built a house and made booths for his cattle, thus explaining the place’s name.

Jacob came to Shechem, where he bought a parcel of ground outside the city from the children of Hamor for a hundred pieces of money. Jacob erected an altar there, and called the place El-elohe-Israel.

When Dinah went out to see the daughters of the land, the prince of the land, Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, saw her and lay with her by force. Shechem loved Dinah and asked Hamor to arrange that he might marry her. Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled Dinah while Jacob’s sons were in the field, and Jacob held his peace until they returned. When Jacob’s sons heard, they came in from the field, and were grieved and very angry.

Hamor went out to Jacob and told him that Shechem longed for Dinah, and asked Jacob to give her to him for a wife, and to agree that their two people might intermarry and live and trade together. And Shechem offered to give Jacob and his sons whatever they wanted as a bride price. Jacob's sons answered with guile, saying that they could not give their sister to one not circumcised, and said that they would consent only on the condition that every man of the town became circumcised, and then the two people might intermarry and live together; otherwise they would leave. Their words pleased Hamor and Shechem, and Shechem did so without delay, out of delight with Dinah.

Hamor and Shechem spoke to the men of the city in the city gate, saying that Jacob's family were peaceable, and advocated letting them dwell in the land, trade, and intermarry. Hamor and Shechem reported that Jacob's people would only do so on the condition that every man of the town was circumcised, and they argued that the men do so, for Jacob's animals and wealth would add to the city's wealth. And the men heeded Hamor and Shechem, and every man of the city underwent circumcision.

On the third day, when the men of the city were in pain, Jacob's sons Simeon and Levi each took his sword, came upon the city with stealth, and killed all the men, including Hamor and Shechem, and took Dinah out of the city. Jacob’s sons looted the city, taking as booty their animals, their wealth, their wives, and their children. Jacob told Simeon and Levi that they had made him odious to the inhabitants of the land, who would gather together against him and destroyed their family. Simeon and Levi asked whether they were to allow someone to treat their sister as a prostitute.

God told Jacob to move to Bethel, and make an altar there to God, who had appeared to him there when he fled from Esau. Jacob told his household to put away their idols, change their garments, and purify themselves for the trip to Bethel, and they gave Jacob all their idols and earrings and Jacob buried them under the terebinth by Shechem. A terror of God fell upon the nearby cities so that the people did not pursue Jacob, and they journeyed to Luz, built an altar, and called the place El-beth-el.

Rebekah's nurse Deborah died, and they buried her below Beth-el under an oak they called Allon-bacuth.

And God appeared to Jacob again and blessed him, saying to him that his name would not be Jacob anymore, but Israel. And God told him to be fruitful and multiply, for nations and kings would descend from him, and God would give Jacob and his descendants the land that God gave to Abraham and Isaac. And Jacob set up a pillar of stone in the place, poured a drink-offering and oil on it, and called the place Bethel.

They left Bethel, and before they had come to Ephrath, Rachel went into a difficult labor. The midwife told her to fear not, for this child would also be a son for her. And just before Rachel died, she named her son Ben-oni, but Jacob called him Benjamin. They buried Rachel on the road to Ephrath at Bethlehem, and Jacob set up a pillar on her grave. And Israel journeyed beyond Migdal-eder.

While Israel dwelt in that land, Reuben lay with Jacob's concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.

The text then recounts Jacob's children born to him in Paddan Aram.

Jacob came to Isaac at Hebron, Isaac died at the old age of 180, and Esau and Jacob buried him.

The text then recounts Esau’s children. Esau took his household, animals, and all his possessions that he had gathered in Canaan and went to a land apart from Jacob, in Edom, for their substance was too great for them to dwell together. The text then recounts Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, among whom were Amalek.

Hebrew and English Text
Hear the parshah chanted
Commentary from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University (Conservative)
Commentary from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Conservative)
Commentary by the Union for Reform Judaism (Reform)
Commentaries from Project Genesis (Orthodox)
Commentaries from (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Aish HaTorah (Orthodox)
Commentaries from the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (Reconstructionist)
Commentaries from My Jewish Learning (trans-denominational)


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