Egypt

Walk through tour of the Brooklyn Museum

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A spontaneous get-together between Brooklinian friends, celebrating a birthday on a Saturday night. And what better place to celebrate than – the Brooklyn Museum!

On the first Saturday of the month, the Brooklyn Museum is open – and free – until 11PM. It’s all a buzz, with DJs, dancing, music and lots of noise – and vibrance. We chose this need to do a casual walk-through tour, highlighting anything from #InfiniteBlue – and Lapis Lazuli, to Ancient Near East: Assyria and Egypt.

More pictures coming later. And meanwhile:

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The Age of Empires Strikes Back

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Returning customers, especially for the same tour, is very encouraging. Both pictures are of today’s group at the Metropolitan Museum.

The right-hand picture is of returning customers from last year. Mrs. Gitta Neufeld, head of educational development at Allegra Franco School of Educational Leadership (second from right) attended my tour in June 2017, and hired me as a teacher at Allegra Franco. I am looking forward to beginning my second year teaching there.

Take it from her:

(amidst the hustle and bustle of the Met’s closing hours – this is being cleaned up slightly, but bear with us for 22 seconds!)

 

Parasha Pearls for Shabbat Hagadol

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This week, Parashat Tzav and the Shabbat before Pesach, is called שבת הגדול – the “Great” or “Grand” Sabbath.

Why is it called Shabbat Hagadol?

School children learn the story of how the Hebrews tied the pascal lamb to the bedpost on the sabbath before the very first Passover in Egypt. But this was a risky thing to do, as  the Egyptians deified the lamb. However, G-d protected us and it was a grand display of His benevolence that not a single Egyptian tried to hurt us for holding their gods at bay.

But come now, seriously?

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Student proudly demonstrates an artifact he found in relation to Pesach and Shabbat haGadol

On a Museum tour with ninth graders from Magen David Yeshivah High School, which I lead in early March, a student discovered a Ptolemaic period deity in the form of a ram – representing the Egyptian god Amun-Re, often represented in that form.

This student will never forget that!

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Ram headed sphinx of the god Amun-Re at Karnak. From: http://www.travel-pictures-gallery.com/

Summer 2017

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Success!

Summer Public Tanach Tours are over

Public tours will resume shortly, and a schedule will be posted soon.

It has been a long summer, with nearly 20 Tanach and Jewish History tours running at the Met. The summer Public Tanach Tour series is now complete, and we are gearing up for the year.

Follow Torah Intermedia to learn about upcoming tours, lectures and programs, as well as articles and reviews.

Last Tanach Tour Complete
Paying tribute to the “met sticker” tradition.. last one out of the museum today, Sunday, August 27

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Thank you so much for an amazing tour of the MET with my children! You were so engaging with my children and managed to still fill the rest of the tour for us adults with lots of meaningful content! I will recommend you to anyone looking for a great tour guide of the MET and specifically a Jewish tour. You were great!!!

Rabbi Yochai “Yogi” Robkin
Director of outread of DATA at Plano, Texas
Tanach Highlights Tour on August 17
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“Our extended family, ranging in age from 7 to 65, enjoyed a wonderful tour of the Met with Nachliel. He planned scavenger hunts, decryption games, and more to keep the younger crowd interested while engaging the adults with his vast knowledge. The tour brought the museum to life. I highly recommend it!”
J. Robkin, from Atlanta, GA
Tanach Highlights Family Tour, August 17
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Manhattan Jewish Experience, July 30

Thank you Nachliel providing us all a great understanding of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires and their connection to Tanach!

Rabbi Pinny Rosenthal
Manhattan Jewish Experience
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Mechon Hadar, July 21

We so enjoyed having Nachliel as our guide at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our group had been studying rabbinic materials about idolatry and Nachliel helped bring those issues to life through the Met’s collections. His comfort both with the ancient and classic sculpture we looked at as well as his fluency in Bible and rabbinic literature were terrific!

Rabbi Ethan Tucker
Rosh Yeshiva, Mechon Hadar
New York, NY
Tour took place on July 21
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“Fascinating…Truly eye opening into the world we only hear about. The connection of Ancient Artifacts and the Tanach is explained and put into perspective, especially in this troubled time. This tour only reinforces our Historical connection to the Holy Land of Israel”

Jeff and Chery Klein from Monsey, NY. Participated July 23

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This your is a great way to be introduced to the history of the Ancient Near East! It’s very comprehensive and spans a pretty good range of time. I also loved that it was grounded (corroborated) by passages of Tanakh. I loved seeing the intersection between the written record of history and Torah! Personally, I would have loved to spend more time on the text itself, but it’s hard to do it all in under two hours. I recommend this for anyone who’s interested in the A.N.E.!

Malka Rappaport from Crown Heights, NY. Participated Wednesday, July 12

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Powerful presentation of the era of kings – Regional Kingdoms and Empires…the separation of Israel and Judea and eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian diaspora. Nachliel is a passionate guide and very informed and well traveled in order to present his material.

Notes were very well researched and presented. This tour was made even more powerful during the period of the three weeks between Tammuz and Tisha b’Av.

– Aliyana Wasserman, Rosanne Koenigson from Edison, NJ. Participated Sunday, July 16

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“I’ve lived in New York City my entire life and have been through the Metropolitan Museum of Art…many times. Nachliel made me feel like I was touring these wings for the first time.”
Mrs. Susan Strassburger. Participated Sunday, June 18
“Nachliel is exceptionally knowledgeable and passionate about his twin loves – Torah and Archeology. He showed us the importance of contextualizing II Melakhim and Yirmiyahu in its Ancient Near Eastern setting…We moved at a rapid-fire pace…”
Ms. Sarah Robinson, Tanach Teacher at Kushner Hebrew Academy. Participated Sunday, June 18
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Some action from Sunday, June 18’s tour

Tanach Tour June 18

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Gear up for the summer with a

Tanach Tour at The Met!

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When?

Sunday afternoon, June 18

Group A:

12:00-1:45

Group B:

2:15-4:00

In Short…

Join us at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as we go through the final chapters of the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah, during the First Temple period, until its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

See fascinating artifacts that bring these civilizations to life, learn about the dilemmas we faced during these times, and understand their historic context.

  • Tour is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes
  • Materials are provided, but bringing your Tanach is recommended
  • Tour is limited to 25-30 participants at a time

FAQ

For your convenience, you may check the FAQ section, which includes information about arrival, parking, kosher food, as well as a link to the source sheet which I hand out at the Met.

Book your reservation now!

Call or text: 929-233-0950                     E-mail: info@torahintermedia.com

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Reviews:

Nachliel put together an interactive and informative program in the MET. It was a great experience to see firsthand some of the artifacts that our biblical ancestors saw, as presented to us in the Tanach. It was especially moving to stand under the Ishtar Gate, the same gate our ancestors entered through as they were exiled from Jerusalem to Babel during first temple period, circa 586 BC.

Jesse Salem, Brooklyn, NY 
Founder of Tanach Study
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Rav Nachliel led my ninth grade Jewish History students on an eye – opening tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Assyrian, Egyptian, and Babylonian wings. It was important to me that my students gain the requisite background knowledge to more deeply understand the Second Temple Period…Rav Nachliel was professional and thorough and provided an enriching and worthwhile learning experience. I highly recommend a museum tour guided by Rav Nachliel.

Mrs. Frieda Cattan
Jewish History Teacher

Magen David Yeshivah Celia Esses High School, Brooklyn, NY 

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Nachliel’s knowledge, energy and understanding of the art was thorough, colorful and rich. Through an intimate knowledge of history as well, he was able to vibrantly relate manifestations of ancient history to modern cultural events. A history lesson through art would have been satisfying enough, but Nachliel’s added touch of historical events as they relate to modern culture, and his willingness to respond to many questions, often tangential, brought the tour to unexpected heights

Ezra and Deborah Safdieh 

Brooklyn, NY

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I went with Nachliel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on several occasions. Nachliel is enthusiastic about Torah and archaeology, explaining Tanach and teachings of Chazal in a very engaging manner, passionately bringing Torah to life through the history and the archaeology that we explored together.Indeed, I too look forward to join him on future programs…

Dr. Nisan Hershkowitz, A president of the New York State Academy of General Dentistry, Brooklyn, NY
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I really liked going to the MET with Nachliel. We saw lots of amazing things together. We should go again soon!

 Talia, age 4

From the Midwives to Carchemish

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Battle of Carchemish. Photo by: Klaus-Peter Simon – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4470680

In honor of this week’s weekly Torah portion – Shemot – I offer two ideas which can be shared and used in the classroom. The first one – namely the one below, can be applied for roughly 5th grade and up. The second is best suited for high school and up.

For the sake of brevity I will assume the reader’s familiarity with the French medieval Biblical and Talmudic commentator Rashi, or Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040 – 1105), and with a commonly known concept called “mida k’neged mida” – or “measure for measure” (which is not “an eye for an eye”).

Translations are from Sefaria.org (Tanach, Holy Scriptures, JTS edition), with added suggestions.

Part 1: The Midwives and The Great House

The story we know goes as follows: A new Pharaoh rose to power, one who did not recognize Joseph (Exodus 1:8-11), and so he schemed to enslave the Hebrews. That was not working too well for him, as they were still increasing in population. He therefore devised a more cunning plan: The midwives should kill the males at birth, faking their deaths, thereby controlling the population growth (ibid, 15-21).

Both ideas shared here deal with this part of the story.

The midwives of course feared God. At great risk to their own lives they did not obey Pharaoh’s command, and were rewarded for this in a very unusual way.

And God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and increased greatly.

And because the midwives feared God, He established households for them. (ibid, 20-21)

At face value, it seems like a fair reward, or measure (mida k’neged mida). The midwives risked their own lives to sustain the households of their people, and God rewarded them in kind with having households of their own.

The Talmud, however, looks at this differently. Rashi presents the Talmudic approach as follows:

Houses (dynasties) of the priesthood and the Levites and of royalty are all termed בתים. “Houses”, as it is said, (I Kings 9:1) “and Solomon built the house of the Lord and the house of the king”: “the house of the Lord” i. e. a dynasty of priests and Levites — from Jochebed (Shifrah); and “the house of the king”, i. e. a royal dynasty — from Miriam (Puah), just as it is stated in Tractate Sotah 11b.

This is all very nice, and from a midrashic point of view, this correlation can be made. But is there a p’shat, or simple reading of the text, that can allow for this “measure for measure”? One that would make sense intuitively, perhaps, to a Hebrew reading this text in the generation of the Exodus?

It appears that there might be one, and this is entirely my own suggestion. Feel free to reject it.

 

The measure for measure attribute of God’s reward is implicit in the source of the command to kill the newborn boys: Pharaoh himself. As you can see above (just do a search for “Pharaoh Etymology”), the word Pharaoh comes from the Egyptian pr-aa or pr-’o. During an online course on Ancient Egypt I heard this explained by David P. Silverman, Ph.D (Eckley Brinton Coxe, Jr. Professor of Egyptology, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Curator of the Egyptian Section, University of Pennsylvania Museum), as the equivalent of saying “Speaker of The House” or “The Kremlin”.

That is to say, the midwives were disobeying “The Great House” – which is dynastic royalty and government. The great risk that they took was rewarded by them having their own Great House – dynasties of kings, priests and levites.

To summarize:

In an effort to explore the simple reading of the text, archaeology and linguistics help us uncover another layer of understanding which was hitherto perceived as purely midrashic.

Part 2: Carchemish and the Evil Scheme

This article is more appropriate for high school students. Its primary focus is textual analysis, in conjunction with history and archaeology.

The Scheme

The scheme to subjugate the Hebrews all started, ostensibly, out of fear of the rapid growth of their population:

A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.

And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us.

Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground/land. (ibid, 8-11)

Without getting into the complicated discussion of who were the Hebrews in Egypt, and the possible understandings of this saga in light of archaeological evidence, I would like to just discuss three words (or more, in other languages):

ועלה מן הארץ

“And rise from/above/over the ground/land”

The ambiguity of the translation shows how difficult it is to understand what the primary concern was, as demonstrated by several commentaries. Nachmanides (ibid, 1:10) sees a correlation with Nebuchadnezzar’s taking control over the cities of Judah, rising “over all the fortified cities in Judah”, or Rezin king of Aram “rising overJerusalem”.

Others suggest it means that the Israelites shall leave Egypt “against our will”. (Rashi, and others)

Whatever it means, it is not good for Egyptian interests of that time.

Carchemish

Fast forward to a later Pharaoh: Necho II.

Pharaoh Necho is famous for his involvement in the death and appointment of two Kings of Judah (II Kings 23:27-37). In that sense, Necho II plays an important role in Jewish History.

Statuette of Necho II in the Brooklyn Museum

While the motives of King Josiah’s opposition of Necho II’s passing through Judah – against the warning of the prophet Jeremiah – are very important to understand, this article is focused on Necho himself, and who he is going to battle.

Bible commentators and thinkers as recently as 1972 (Rabbi Shlomo Rothenberg in his book Toledot Am Olam – though maybe historically inaccurate and perplexing, is recent enough to demonstrate what we are trying to show here), and as early as the Middle Ages (Rabbi David Kimhi or Radak, 1160–1235), understood the enemy to be Assyria.

In his days, Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, marched over/up towards/againstthe king of Assyria to the River Euphrates; (II Kings 23:29)

After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight against (or: in) Carchemish by the Euphrates; and Josiah went out against him. (II Chronicles 25:20)

Image below: Carchemish, at the apex of the fertile crescent. Necho ventures north to Carchemish, passing through the coastline without getting close toe Jerusalem. Josiah challenges Necho as he passes Megiddo, where he thought he had the advantage. Necho kills Josiah, and goes to battler in Carchemish. On his way back, the newly appointed Jehoahaz rebels, Necho exiles him to Egypt and appoints Jehoiakim.

Disclaimer: This map is only to display the ebb and flow of the battle, and not chronology. The battle of Carchemish is commonly accepted to be at 605 BCE.

Image source: generationword.com/

Is there precedent to assuming that Egypt was going to fight Assyria? Of course! They were mortal enemies. And ever since the Kushite 25th Dynasty’s alliance with King Hezekiah against Assyrian King Sennacherib, and their consequent invasion by Esarhaddon, they have been destroyed by, and vassals to, Assyria.

A simple reading of the text only encourages this interpretation. The verse from this week’s Torah portion is one of the several examples which make it plausible to suggest this.

However, as history and archaeology teach us, this is not the case.

In its death throes, Assyria makes a desperate alliance with its mortal enemy: Egypt.

Necho II, following Psamtik I, was part of an alliance with its mortal enemy – Assyria – in a campaign to defeat the uprising of the Neo-Babylonian empire. They were defeated in the famous Battle of Carchemish, by the crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar II, future emperor.

To summarize:

A simple reading of a verse, supported by similar examples and common knowledge, lead us to make assumptions about the meaning of a text. Archaeology can sometimes surprise us, making us revisit what we thought we knew, and see a fresh angle.

 

The Chief Baker and the Chief Cupbearer

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In honor of this week’s Torah Reading, with the Saga of Joseph’s dreams. Joseph is working in the Jail house, and meets two very miserable political prisoners:

“Pharaoh was angry with his two courtiers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker” (Genesis 40:2)

Joseph famously interprets their dreams, and we know how that ends up. Bad for the chief baker, and good for the chief cupbearer.

Almost every kid in a Jewish school will hear this story, and the background to it: Pharaoh was angry, because the negligence of his respective chiefs: The baker allowed a rock to make its way into a baked good, and the cupbearer allowed a fly to get into Pharaoh’s drink.

A few artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art can bring this famous story to life.

Let us start with the background story. Pharaoh was being served a drink, it appears, and a fly somehow made its way into his wine. In the Assyrian relief below, see the scene, find the similarities. Notice how flies were kept out of drinks.

King Ashurnasirpal II wears the royal crown, a conical cap with a small peak and a long diadem. He holds a bow, a symbol of his authority, and a ceremonial bowl. Facing him, a eunuch, a “beardless one,” carries a fly whisk and a ladle for replenishing the royal vessel. [text adapted from the Met website]

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Credit: Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1932, available at the Met, Gallery 401. Image source: http://www.metmuseum.org

All ended well for the chief cupbearer:

“He restored the chief cupbearer to his cupbearing, and he placed the cup on Pharaoh’s hand” (Gen. 40:21)

But the Hebrew is actually slightly different.

וַיִּתֵּ֥ן הַכּ֖וֹס עַל־כַּ֥ף פַּרְעֹֽה – and he placed the cup on top of Pharaoh’s palm, very similar to the depiction above. Could it be that this wasn’t a traditional cup, but something more common at the time?

The “cup” being used in this relief is a Phiale, or libation bowl. You can see one of many examples available at the Met, here.

Next is the unfortunate story of the chief baker. His dream was of bad omen, indeed.

 

When the chief baker saw how favorably he had interpreted, he said to Joseph, “In my dream, similarly, there were three openwork baskets on my head.

In the uppermost basket were all kinds of food for Pharaoh that a baker prepares; and the birds were eating it out of the basket above my head.” (Gen. 40:16-17)
This imagery was an omen for its dreamer losing his head:
In three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale you upon a pole; and the birds will pick off your flesh.” (ibid, 19)
Was it a common thing for Egyptians to balance three baskets on their heads? Sure, it was a dream. But the imagery must have drawn from the time. Lo and behold, I found an Egyptian-like triple-basket: Last November I visited the exhibition Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom at Met. In the gift shop, I saw this basket, presumably meant to look like something from the time period.

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Unfortunately, I did not bother to find out more about it, nor did I purchase one for myself. So sad.