Jewish Customs in the Book of Judith

April 20 2016

Although the book of Judith was never considered part of the Hebrew Bible, it is undoubtedly of Jewish authorship and, as Tal Ilan writes, it provides a window into ancient Jewish religious practices:

The book of Judith was composed sometime after the Hebrew Bible was completed. It came into being, however, considerably earlier than the Mishnah and the Talmud. Thus, Jewish customs recorded in Judith were influenced by the Hebrew Bible and reflect an earlier Judaism than that practiced today. The Jewish customs in Judith relate to fasting, widowhood, kosher food, immersion, conversion, and slavery. . . .

While at the Assyrian camp, Judith prepares and eats her own food, refusing table-fellowship with the Assyrian general Holofernes. This custom is part of the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut. . . . One might [conclude] from this custom that table fellowship with foreigners on their own “turf” was [also] prohibited.

Also while in the Assyrian camp, Judith goes nightly to the nearby spring to immerse herself. Immersion was practiced in Second Temple Judaism to remove impurity. It was also practiced by sectarians such as the Essenes on a daily basis, as a sign of piety. Immersion in Judaism today is practiced only by women after menstruation and certainly not on a daily basis, but Judith’s daily immersion is a sign of her piety.

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More about: ancient Judaism, Apocrypha, Essenes, History & Ideas, Kashrut

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East