Saturday, June 28, 2014

New Technology Unmasks Ancient Scriptural Manuscripts

What if ancient religious manuscripts once thought to be lost weren’t lost at all? Professor Todd Hanneken, Ph.D., is the first scholar to combine two existing imaging technologies in order to “see” handwritten text that has been indecipherable to the naked eye for hundreds of years. Until the invention of paper, it was a common practice to erase the text of a manuscript to make room for new writing. The result is known as a “palimpsest,” with only ghostlike traces of the original ink remaining. Palimpsests are valuable for studying the early development of religions and cultures because they tell the story of how some beliefs fell from dominance, and how others came to be favored.

See pictures and read the complete article at --

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

SHAVU’OT (Pentecost) Begins at Sundown Today


SHAVU’OT (Feast of Weeks) is one of the three major festivals that are called "pilgrim festivals:"

Three times a year all your males shall appear before YAHWEH your ELOHIYM in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before YAHWEH empty. Each man shall appear with the gift of his hand according to the blessing of YAHWEH your ELOHIYM which He has given you. (Deuteronomy 16:16-17)

In Israel, the grain harvest lasted seven weeks and was a season of gladness. It began with the harvesting of the barley during the PESACH and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at SHAVU’OT, the wheat being the last grain to ripen. SHAVU’OT was thus the concluding festival of the grain harvest, just as the eighth day of SUKKOT was the concluding festival of the fruit harvest. SHAVU’OT is held 50 days after PESACH (Passover):

You shall count for yourselves -- from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving -- seven Shabbats, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh Shabbat you shall count, fifty days. (Leviticus 23:15-16)

You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. Then you will observe the Festival of SHAVU’OT for YAHWEH, your ELOHIYM. (Deuteronomy 16:9-10)

This period is known as the Counting of the Omer. An omer is a unit of measure. On the second day of PESACH, in the days of the Temple, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering. This grain offering was referred to as the Omer. Today, every night from the second night of PESACH to the night before SHAVU’OT, a blessing is recited and the number of the omer is stated in both weeks and days. So on the 16th day, you would say "Today is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer." This period is a time of partial mourning, during which weddings, parties, and dinners with dancing are not conducted, in memory of a plague during the lifetime of Rabbi Akiba. Haircuts during this time are also forbidden. The 33rd day of the Omer (the eighteenth of Iyar) is a minor holiday commemorating a break in the plague. The holiday is known as Lag b'Omer. The mourning practices of the omer period are lifted on that date. The word "Lag" is not really a word; it is the number 33 in Hebrew. (

In the time of the Temple, SHAVU’OT was associated with the bringing of the BIKKURIM, "the first ripe fruits," to the Temple. Local villagers would first assemble in the largest town of the district and then they would travel together to the Temple. The Temple Institute provides interesting information about their journeys (

Innumerable streams of pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem from towns and villages all over the Land, in large bands and individually. Many families traveled by foot, with the little children in tow; some rode atop camels and donkeys; some even rode in wagons and chariots. As men, women and children trekked through bountiful golden and green fields of harvest, the entire land was literally teeming with excitement and anticipation, as the great throngs of festival worshippers took over every road and path. They crisscrossed the countryside from every direction and approach, converging together as they traveled towards the city where the vicinity's local Assembly Head was. He was the official responsible for the pilgrims.

Descriptions in the writings of the Mishna and Midrashim abound which paint a vivid picture of the caravans of pilgrims in procession, and how these entourages appeared as they bore their first-fruit offerings, by hand, laden in wagons, or on their heads. Those who were at the head of the procession and were closer to Jerusalem carried fresh fruits, so there would be no danger that their offerings would spoil. Those who were further back brought dried fruits. Sheep, goats and bullocks also accompanied the great processions, to be sacrificed in the Holy Temple as the holiday offerings. The Mishna (Bikurim 3, 2) relates how the pilgrims made their way through the way-stations in the field cities on the road to Jerusalem, and how they were welcomed upon entering the holy city.

In each district along the long road to Jerusalem, all the pilgrims from the outlying towns and villages gather together in the city of the local Assembly Head. From there, the entire multitude continued their procession to Jerusalem all together, in a large entourage. Proverbs 14:28 states, "The King's honor is in a multitude of people," and this was interpreted to mean “the more the participants, the greater the glory for G-d and His Divine commandments.”

In the Assembly Head's city, the pilgrims spend the night sleeping in the town's streets, under the open sky. This is not on account of any lack of hospitality on behalf of the townspeople. Rather, they do not enter into the houses, in order to avoid the possibility of becoming exposed to ritual impurity (because impurity which may be inadvertently caused in a building, affects everything under its roof). They were awaken at dawn, as the first rays of sunlight begin to illuminate the sky, by the overseer who cried out: 'Get up, and let us go up to Zion, to the House of the L-rd our G-d!'" (Jer. 31:5)

As the caravans of pilgrims drew near to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, an ox whose horns were overlaid with gold was led before them, and flutes are played as they advanced. As they walked, they sang Psalm 122 (A Song of Ascents):

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From where comes my help?
My help comes from HASHEM,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.
HASHEM is your keeper;
HASHEM is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
HASHEM shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
HASHEM shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.
(For a modern version of the Psalm - )

As the festive entourage drew close to the outskirts of Jerusalem, a delegation was sent on ahead to the Holy Temple to announce their arrival. While awaiting the arrival of the officials and treasurers from the Temple, the pilgrims beautified their first-fruit offerings, placing the dried fruits towards the bottom and the fresh fruit on top. All of the assistant priests and Levites and the officers of the Temple would go out to greet them, and all the tradespeople of Jerusalem would cease their work to stand and greet them as they entered the gates of the city: “Our brothers from so-and-so, welcome, and peace unto you!"

And as the entourage entered the city, the pilgrims joyously sang Psalms 122 (A Song of Ascents):

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go into the house of HASHEM.”
Our feet have been standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Jerusalem is built
As a city that is compact together,
Where the tribes go up,
The tribes of HASHEM,
To the Testimony of Israel,
To give thanks to the name of HASHEM.
For thrones are set there for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
Prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brethren and companions,
I will now say, “Peace be within you.”
Because of the house of HASHEM our G-d
I will seek your TOV (good).

All would stand together, side by side, and participate in this humbling and gratifying experience in the hallowed courts of the Temple - rich and poor alike. "When they entered into the Hulda Gates," states the Mishna, "Even King Agrippa placed the basket on his shoulder" like a common pilgrim. "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the L-rd your G-d which He has given you" (Deut. 16:17).

The rich brought their first-fruit offerings in baskets of gold, or of silver; the poor brought their offerings in baskets of peeled willow-shoots. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the wealthy brought their baskets home with them, and the poor gave theirs to the priests (Maimonides, Bikurim, 3:8).

The ceremony of bringing the first-fruits offering is held in a special area within the Holy Temple, a section designated as "between the hall and the altar." This area has a special sanctity, and entrance therein is forbidden to ordinary Israelites - and even to blemished priests. However, the commandment of the first-fruit offering differs from all other sacrifices, in that an ordinary Israelite is not only permitted, but actually commanded to fulfill this Divine obligation in that very place. This serves to instruct us how great and precious is the commandment to bring the first-fruits before the Presence of HASHEM.

In the Temple, each pilgrim must read aloud from the Biblical portion of "My father was a homeless Aramaean" (Deut. 26:5) as he presents his offering to the priests. The officiating priest recites the Biblical portion together with the pilgrim in responsive fashion. First the priest recites each verse aloud in Hebrew, and the pilgrim follows him, repeating after him verse by verse. 

Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of HASHEM your G-d. And you shall answer and say before HASHEM your G-d:

“My father was an Aramean, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. Then we cried out to HASHEM G-d of our fathers, and HASHEM heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression. So HASHEM brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, `a land flowing with milk and honey,’ and now, behold, I have brought the first-fruits of the land which you, O HASHEM, have given me.’

Then you shall set it before HASHEM your G-d, and worship before HASHEM your G-d.”

The pilgrim lowered the basket from his shoulder, holding it by the rim or by its handles. The officiating priest stood opposite him, placed his own hands underneath the basket, and "waved" it before G-d. Once the pilgrim has completed the recitation of the Biblical verses, he sets down his basket of first-fruits in the Court, before the Presence of G-d-as the above verse stated.  The basket was placed on the southwestern corner of the altar. Afterwards the pilgrim bowed down before G-d, and then departed.[i]

Over the centuries, SHAVU’OT changed from a harvest celebration to the celebration of the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. There is nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures that connects SHAVU’OT with the giving of the Torah. Historically, neither Philo (40 CE) nor Josephus (100 CE) refers to SHAVU’OT as the time of the giving of our Torah." No reference in the rabbinic literature to the Torah being given on this day (e.g., Shabbat 86b) is earlier than the second century CE.  The earliest clear references to SHAVU’OT as the anniversary of the giving of the Torah are from the third century CE in the sayings of Rabbi Eleazar.  He said that it is necessary to rejoice with good food and wine because it was the day on which the Torah was given (Pesach 68b).  

The rabbis were responsible for making these changes in order to redirect the focus from the ancient agricultural feasts from events that required the Temple to synagogue and home festivals marking the anniversary of significant historical events in the history of Israel. In this case, they linked the exodus of PESACH to the giving of the Torah at SHAVU’OT by rituals that required Jews to see themselves as being part of those events. But, SHAVU’OT, unlike PESACH and SUKKOT, has few special rituals.  This is completely understandable since it is no longer associated with agricultural harvests, and there is no longer a Temple.  

There are a number of customs associated with SHAVU’OT in modern Judaism.  One is the reading of the entire Book of Ruth during the service. It is read because: (1) King David, Ruth's descendant, was born and died on SHAVU’OT [Y Chagigah 2:3]; (2) SHAVU’OT is harvest time [Exodus 23:16], and the events of Book of Ruth occur at harvest time; (3) The gematria (numerical value) of Ruth is 606, the number of commandments given at Sinai in addition to the 7 Noahide Laws already given, for a total of 613; (4) Ruth was a convert, and all Jews also entered the covenant on SHAVU’OT, when the Torah was given; (5) The central theme of the book is loving-kindness, and the Torah is about loving-kindness; (6) Ruth was allowed to marry Boaz on the basis of the Oral Law's interpretation of the verse, "A Moabite may not marry into the Congregation of the L-rd." (Deut. 23:4).[ii]

Another is the tradition of adorning the synagogue with beautiful green plants and flowers. The rabbis taught that Mt. Sinai was a beautiful green mountain at the time the Torah was given.  For these reasons, many Jewish families traditionally decorate their homes and synagogues with plants, flowers and leafy branches in honor of Shavuot. Interestingly, in modern Israel attempts have been made to revive some of the harvest ceremonies.  

Today, some Jews dedicate the SHAVU’OT to the study of the Torah. They start at the sundown at the beginning of SHAVU’OT and many study it throughout the night. It is an interesting fact that the holiday celebrates the “giving” of the Torah, rather than “receiving” it. The sages pointed out that we are constantly “receiving” the Torah, but that this was the first time that we were “given” the Torah and that is why the holiday is special.

Another custom is to eat at least one dairy meal during SHAVU’OT. There are two main stories given for the dairy meal. One is that it is a reminder of the promise about the land of Israel flowing with milk and honey. The other is that when we received the Torah and then knew the laws of Kashrut, we could eat only a dairy meal because there was no kosher meat available.

Many synagogues have their religious schools participate in a BIKKURIM (first-fruits) festival. The children march around holding baskets of fruit which are placed on the bimah and later donated to hospitals or the poor. This is to remind us that Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage holidays when in ancient times Jews brought their first-fruits to the Temple as an offering to HASHEM.

SHAVU’OT is also a time that many Jews reconfirm their commitment to Judaism. Reform Jews celebrate a confirmation ceremony in which 10th graders affirm their commitment to the Torah and to Judaism.[iii]

Both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity link Shavuot to specific historical events that play important roles in establishing the legitimacy of their movements.  

For Rabbinic Judaism it was their teaching that G-d gave two different types of laws on Mt. Sinai, the Written Law and the Oral Law.  

For Christianity it was the descent of the Holy Spirit on the congregation of believers gathered at the Temple in Jerusalem for Shavuot.  

In the New Testament, SHAVU’OT is called Pentecost (Ancient Greek: Πεντηκοστή [ἡμέρα], Pentēkostē [hēmera], "the fiftieth [day]"). The name “Pentecost” reflects the 50 day period between PESACH and SHAVU’OT.

This year SHAVU’OT begins at sunset June 3rd and continues to sunset June 5th. It is an important event that should be understood by all who have a biblical heritage. Remember and give thanks for the “crops” that provide for your needs today – those raised in fields by farmers and those earned by your labor at your work.

SHALOM & Be Empowered!

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