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Yom Shlishi, 24 Tammuz 5774

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Posted on July 16th, 2014

On a visit to Istanbul, Turkey a few years ago I visited Topkapi Palace, the center of power for the mighty Ottoman Empire from 1450 to the 1800's, 400 years in which they dominated a huge portion of the globe. I had not been in Istanbul in 16 years, and they have a new section of the large museum within Topkapi's ancient walls. It is called The Chamber of Sacred Relics.

While Topkapi Palace is literally filled with rooms and objects of great historical and religious importance, carefully curated with dates and sources, this particular area is actually put together by a Muslim religious agency and it includes what can only be called a collection of pious forgeries and frauds. As tourists shuffle past the elegantly lit displays arrayed behind thick bulletproof glass, they learn that they are viewing the cooking pot of Abraham, the turban of Joseph, Aaron the High Priest's breastplate, King David's armor, and Muhammed's sword and tooth, plus a hair from his beard. I think they might also have had a footprint of Noah's in preserved rock. In imitation of the medieval Christian veneration of fake religious objects in ornate reliquaries, each of these pseudo-relics is reverently presented with an appropriate biblical verse from the Tanakh or New Testament or Koran, and each is treated as though it were the Hope Diamond or a Sultan's bejeweled coronation robe.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Matot 5774

Violence in the Name of God

Posted on July 10th, 2014

Our news media is filled with reports of religious extremist violence and attempted violence. In Syria, two hundred thousand people are dead in extreme violence that is both political and religious, while in Iraq a new "caliphate" is sweeping east towards Baghdad. Palestinian jihadis murdered three Israeli teens in June; extremist ultra-Orthodox Jews murdered an Arab Muslim teen last week. Iran seeks a nuclear weapon in the name of Islam.

So how does Judaism face the issue of religious violence in its own ranks?

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Pinchas 5774

A Comedy of Errors to Relieve a Tragic Week

July 2, 2014

This has been a tragic week for Jews during which we mourned the loss of three Israeli teens, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, murdered by terrorists soon after they were kidnapped almost three weeks ago. Their bodies were discovered just last Sunday, and our hearts go out to their families. This has also been a week when violence flared in West Bank and in East Jerusalem, and when an Arab teen was apparently murdered in a reprisal killing. We pray that tempers cool, and that the killers are brought to justice. May this truly be the last time we have to mourn such an outrage.

In fact, we can use a break from this tragic situation. Fortunately, the Torah provides it.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Balak 5774

Add a Little Light

June 5, 2014

This week we read the Torah portion of Beha'alotecha in the Book of Numbers. It begins with a description of the menorah, the lamp that burned in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem, our people's central worship places for God. That golden menorah was a way to keep track of the days of the week—a new light was lit each day from Sunday through Friday until, finally, all seven branches shone on the holiest of days, Shabbat.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Beha'alotecha 5774

The Three-Fold Blessing of Presence

May 28, 2014

This week we read the second Torah portion in the book of Numbers, Naso, which includes a variety of instructions ranging from priestly organization to the ordeal of jealousy to the voluntary but binding vows of the Nazirite. It is a kind of catch-all sort of parashah, but it is also a portion that is raised to the status of greatness by one particular passage.

Just before the princes of the people bring offerings to mark the beginning of formal worship in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, God instructs Moses to tell Aaron and his sons, the Kohanim, to bless the people with a famous formula. We know it as the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing. This three-part sequence has become the most famous benediction of all:

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Naso 5774

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