Oxford Jewish Thought

Lectures, essays, questions & articles

by Rabbi Eli Brackman

Parsha and Manuscript: Shlach - ‘Miriam and the Spies: Why are they juxtaposed?’

MS. Huntington 425, fol. 29 (1403) Shlach.png

The portion of Shlach lecha discusses the sending of the twelve spies to scout the land of Israel before entering it. The Torah states:[1]


The Lord spoke to Moses saying, "Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. You shall send one man each for his father's tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst."


The negative report of the spies about the land caused the people to rebel against G-d and ask to return to Egypt, resulting in tragedy for the Jewish people: a plague befell them, and they had to wander in the dessert for forty years until the generation had passed away, allowing only their offspring to enter the land. This narrative follow… Read More »

Parsha and Manuscript: Bamidbar - ‘Why the repeated counting of the Jewish people?'

In the opening of the Book of Numbers it talks about the census of the Jewish people following the construction of the tabernacle:


On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying: Take a census of the whole Israelite community by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head.


This is the third census that took place after the Exodus: The first is immediately after the Exodus:[1] ‘The Israelites journeyed from Raamses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children.’


The second occurred after the sin of the … Read More »

A history of eating dairy among Jews of medieval England through the lens of a Hebrew manuscript at the Bodleian Library

Cheesecake (650x245)The eating of dairy foods is one of the customs on the holiday of Shavuot – commemorating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.[1] A reason for eating dairy on the holiday is due to the fact that the Torah is referred to as milk and Mount Sinai as cheese. In Song of Songs, it writes in reference to the Torah:[2] ‘Your lips drip flowing honey, O bride; honey and milk are under your tongue, and the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.’


Similarly, one of the names of Mount Sinai is Mount Gavnunim (lit. mountain of peaks) that is similar etymologically to the Hebrew word for cheese – ‘gevina.’ The Midrash says Mount Sinai had in fact six names:[3]&nb… Read More »

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