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Divrei Torah

Weapons Rights

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People often make fun of rabbis, and I take it personally, so cut it out! No, no. I mean about the way rabbis parse material, whether it’s a verse or a Mishna. Many critics are thrown into a tizzy about the lengths these scholars will go to squeeze out the last drop of meaning from the text. Well, those disapproving...

Introducing Mitzvot to the World and the Jewish People

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Laws of Kings includes the obligation for the king to wage war against certain populations. In a passage that seems to me too-little remarked, Rambam advances the theory that any non-Jew who agrees to observe the Noahide laws need not be put to death.

There’s more to it than that, but that’s not our topic today. I only mention it so we can understand why Rambam spends two chapters of Mishneh Torah laying out the Noahide laws in detail. Those chapters have much of interest (a long time ago, I wrote an article based on those chapters of Rambam, which appeared in the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal), but our topic today is how Rambam leads into them.

Chapter 9, paragraph 1 of Laws...

Amalek, Esav’s Revenge and the Jewish Destiny

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In the long history of the Jewish people, Amalek was the first enemy they had to fight on their own on the way out of Egypt, just barely one month after their miraculous exodus. The people were tired and dispirited, and Amalek thought that this was the right moment to ambush the Jews, the struggling, weak, exhausted and tired nation, and set back the Jewish people and destroy its future before it even began. Amalek, the grandson of Esav, remembered Yitzchak’s blessing to Esav (Bereishit Toldot 27:40), “Vehaya ka’asher tarid, ufarakta ulo mey’al tzavarecha, And it will be, when you grieve, that you will break his yoke off your neck” (when you will think that Yaakov is no longer...

The God Thing

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Va’era 5777

It wasn’t only the ancient world who deified their heroes. We often refer to our sports icons (another word with religious overtones) as “gods,” and some enthusiasts seem to be praying to them at crucial moments in the big game. As a Red Sox fan, my favorite prayer is, “Please, don’t let it go through your legs!” A number of colleges have their cheerleaders genuflect to their teams. There’s also a recent bestseller about the movie industry that references “The Gods of Hollywood.” And, of course, the god Mammon still has many adherents and many worship at his shrine on Wall Street. So, who are we to scoff at Pharaoh’s claim to deity status? Well, we are...

The History of the Place of the Mizbeach, and Rambam’s View of Sacrifices

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As the Jewish people return to Israel and rebuild Jewish life there, enthusiasts periodically raise the idea of restoring the sacrificial service, because halacha allows at least some sacrifices to be offered even if the Beit Hamikdash has not yet been rebuilt. For that, we would need to know the exact location of the mizbeach, the altar. It is in asserting the exactness of its placement that the Rambam makes the next comment that incorporates aggadic elements within the Mishneh Torah.

Hilchot Beit HaBechirah (Laws of the Select House) 2:1 starts by declaring the place of the mizbeach “mechuvan be-yoter, very exact,” that it cannot be changed [that is one of the central reasons we...
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