Oxford Jewish Thought

Lectures, essays, questions & articles

by Rabbi Eli Brackman

Parsha and Manuscript: The disparagement of Phinehus

MS. Canon. Or. 81, fol. 150 (1396) Pinchas.png The portion of Phinehas discusses the bold act of Phinehas, who took the life of the prince of the Israelite tribe of Shimon and his paramour, a Midianite princess, who attempted to lure the prince to idolatry. Through the act of Phinehas, a plague that had broken out in the camp was terminated and Phinehas was rewarded with the covenant of peace and the priesthood for his heroism. The Torah states:[1]


The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Phinehas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal. Therefore, say, "I hereby give him My covenant of pea… Read More »

Parsha and Manuscript: Balak - 'How goodly are the tents of Jacob' through the Oxford Manuscripts of Rashi

MS. Canon. Or. 81 Fol. 149 Balak.pngIn the portion of Balak, the king of Moav, Balak, hires the non-Jewish prophet Balaam to curse the Jewish people. Instead of cursing, impressed by the virtues of the Jewish people who don’t follow sorcery and future telling, uphold lofty morals, as well as the forgiveness of all sins by G-d, Balaam only finds reason to praise the Jewish people and bless them. One of the praises that Balaam extols the Jewish people for is expressed in a verse that has also been incorporated as the opening to the morning prayers.


The Torah states:[1] ‘Balaam raised his eyes and saw Israel dwelling according to its tribes, and the spirit of G-d rested upon him. Balaam then proceeds to … Read More »

Parsha and Manuscript: Chukat – ‘The Red Heifer through Oxford’s Hebrew manuscripts'

CCCMS165, fol. 116 Chukas.pngThe Torah portion of Chukat discusses the laws of the red heifer, relating to a person who came in contact with a dead corpse, the process of purification of which involves sprinkling of ashes of the red heifer mixed with spring water. This law was taught for the first time at the time of the inauguration of the tabernacle on the second day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, to purify Israel for the bringing of the Paschal offering in the newly erected sanctuary. It was subsequently recorded in the Torah in the portion of Chukat, after the rebellion of Korach that saw many of the people of Israel fall in a plague.


In the opening of the laws regarding the red heifer, the Torah states:[1]


The Lord spoke to Moses and Aa… Read More »

Parsha and Manuscript: Korach


CCCMS165 fol. 113 Korach1.pngThe Torah portion of Korach discusses the rebellion of Korach and two hundred and fifty men against Moses for having chosen himself as king, his brother Aaron as High Priest and his nephew Eltzafan ben Uziel – the youngest of the four sons of Kehot - as prince over the family of Kehot, as opposed to Korach, the first born of Yitzhar, the second oldest son of Kehot.


The Torah opens the story of Korach with the following:[1]



(1) And Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, took, and Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—descendants of Reuben— (2) And they rose up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen … Read More »

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