Jewish Year

Shana Tova 5779

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2018-08-30 11.33.27

Rosh Hashana is about self-calibration: Being in touch with ourselves, with the world, and sharing in its creation. If we are in tune with ourselves, we can listen to the world, and through it – to God, as “he” whispers to us.

I don’t have a cliche apple and honey picture, but this picture tells a story.

My short experience of 34 years has taught me that when we stop fighting ourselves, stop fearing our uniqueness, and let the force of life flow through us – amazing things start to happen.

This picture is a confluence of amazing things happening to me, through being open, vulnerable, truthful and embracing my creativity: A second year in a job I love, connecting between my passion for teaching, for entrepreneurial jewish education and technology.

Mercava (represented here by Moshe Azizollahoff) the one hand, which is connected to my entrepreneurial side, meeting new enthusiastic colleagues at Magen David Yeshivah, where I continue as a formal educator – on the other side.

May this be a year where we breakthrough our barriers, embrace our uniqueness, and share ourselves with the world and bring it more happiness. Shana Tova! שנה טובה ומתוקה

Superman and Tisha b’Av

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Superman - Man of Steel - Image from: https://movieweb.com
Cover image from: https://movieweb.com

It was last Shabbat in the Golan Heights when I had a profound and timely experience: Being in the land that was bequeathed to Reuven, Gad and Manasseh, while we read the Torah portion that discusses it (Num. 32:33), right before Tisha b’Av, the day in which we deal with the destruction of that area.

I was asked to address the youth in an agricultural community on Shabbat afternoon, and was honestly a bit hesitant. It is one thing to share my story with American educators and students: I grew up in Jerusalem’s Old City, and that comes with a unique perspective that is very valuable in the diaspora. But it is quite another to speak to kids who grew up in the land, and perhaps even take it for granted?

That is when I thought about Superman and Tisha b’Av, a concept which I have used in summer camp, and which has worked with kids and teenagers on several occasions, with surprising effects. So what is this idea?

Tisha b’Av brings out the worst in religion: Suffering, mourning, synagogue and fasting, and the best part is, it is in the midst of the summer vacation. No swimming for over a week!

It is a challenge to engage youth who are already jaded or perhaps overstimulated from attempts to make Judaism alive, relevant and meaningful to them. And yet, I find Tisha b’Av to be a special opportunity to do exactly that – if I prompt the question of relevance from the start.

The talk with the youth revolved around two main ideas.

  1. Tisha b’Av has the status of Mo’ed – generally understood as a ‘holiday’, but clearly not a happy one. Mo’ed actually means “an appointment in time” (e.g. Gen. 18:14), and just as Passover is a time for Freedom, and Sukkot is a time for Joy, Tisha b’Av is an annual meeting in time. But a time for what? For loss, mourning and destruction (Lam. 1:15)
  2. Tisha b’Av didn’t happen because we cried. We cried because it was Tisha b’Av. Just as we say that we left Egypt on Nissan because it is a time of redemption, so too all of the ‘bad stuff’ is associated with Tisha b’Av, because it is a designated time for destruction. Why? Why do we need such a time?

 

Superman and Smallville

smallville
Photo from: https://www.hulu.com/smallville

Background: The origin story of Superman relates that he was born Kal-El on the planet Krypton, before being rocketed to Earth as an infant by his scientist father Jor-El and his mother Lara, moments before Krypton’s destruction…. Discovered and adopted by a farm couple from Kansas, the child is raised as Clark Kent and imbued with a strong moral compass. Early in his childhood, he displays various superhuman abilities, which, upon reaching maturity, he resolves to use for the benefit of humanity through a “Superman” identity (from Wikipedia: Superman).

The 2001 series Smallville follows Clark Kent in the fictional town of Smallville, Kansas, before he becomes known as Superman (from Wikipedia: Smallville).

The main idea: Upon discovering his true identity, Kal-El / Clark Kent’s ambitions and life goals change. He is imbued with deep purpose, and knows that life as he knew it was no longer the same.

The idea of Tisha b’Av is an awakening, a profound realization that all of the symbols that we hold dear, from the Promised Land to the Two Temples in Jerusalem – could be lost. As long as we have not fulfilled our full potential, there is no compromise. We cannot settle for mediocrity.

It is painful. It is cruel. It is uncompromising. And precisely because of that, it is the most meaningful holiday, and the most hopeful. Jewish tradition says that the Messiah is born on Tisha b’Av. It tells us that we have a superpower, that we are meant for greatness, and that we should never compromise.

May this be the last Tisha b’Av in mourning. May we merit to bask in the Light of Truth, and rejoice in the true beauty of a united and rebuilt Jerusalem.

Some of the youths’ responses (translation, and Hebrew below):

My takeaway is that I will never give up until I find myself in a place where I am making a difference, and fully utilizing my capabilities

…that I am really part of something big, whether it is the Jewish People or Humanity as a whole

Truth be told, it was one of the more interesting discussions, it…gave me a different perspective on Tisha b’Av and also on our lives as a whole in Eretz Yisrael, and that we need to appreciate our lives here…

 

 

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!

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

Tasting and Torah – Rebirth of Shomron part 3 of 4

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Interview with Tzvi (Greg) Lauren – co-founder of Heart of Israel Wines

Social media links: Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

This segment of the series of articles “Rebirth of Shomron” has been fermenting “in the barrel”, so to speak, for the last half year. In honor of Rosh Chodesh Adar – the new Hebrew month in which we celebrate Purim, specifically with wine, I would like to bring out this “vintage” article. But much has changed since…

I met Tzvi over a year ago in New Jersey. Being that I love Israeli wine, and he imports it, we instantly started thinking of ways we can integrate our entrepreneurial ideas to advance Torah and Wine. It was not until this past Saturday night (February 11, 2018), that our plans came to fruition.

Tasting and Torah was an intimate evening organized by Heart of Israel Wines, featuring a selection of wines from Shiloh Wines. Speakers included Tzvi and his partner Yehoshua, Amichai Lourie – winemaker for Shiloh Winery, Rabbi Yair Shachor -from the community of Ma’aleh Levona, and myself. We hope that this is the first of many such events.

 

 

tasting and torah 01
Talking Torah with Rabbi Yair Shachor and winemaker Amichai Lourie

You can click he for a link to the video of my talk at the Tasting and Torah with Shiloh Winery, and on here for a link to the entire program.

This interview took place in the summer, when Tzvi’s company was still called “West Bank Wines”. The old name itself was controversial, and has a story you will hear about in the interview. A few notes (from Tzvi himself) about the new name:

The company is now starting to import its own wines, and with their main customers being people in middle America, it made sense to have something simple, catchy, which still bears a connection to what it is about, and is not politically charged. Furthermore, after many requests from residents of Judea and Samaria, and promises to change the name, they finally owned up to their word and changed it.

Practically, Judea and Samaria is too long a name. They went for something universal and simple. Since heartofisraelwines.com would have also been way too long, the new top level domain “.wine” adds some panache to the new website, and here it is!

https://www.heartofisrael.wine/

Some background

Tzvi was born in Ukraine and grew up in the NYC metro area. With a background on Wall St., he made aliyah to Israel in 2010. The story of West Bank Wines started in 2015 with a chance encounter, while Tzvi was working for a an NGO called World Yisrael Beytenu. From there Tzvi began working on building an American brand for Lev Ha’olam, a company distributing various boutique goods from mom & pop producers in Judea & Samaria.

Tzvi eventually realized that the product he had a calling for was actually hiding in plain sight and pivoted the project to wine.

After looking up Israeli Wineries through Google MapsTzvi brought a list to his now business partner Yehoshua Werth in Monsey, NY, and they now regularly feature wines from Judea and Samaria, and you can follow their reviews and events on social media. He then set out to start visiting a few: Har BrachaShiloh, Hebron and Beit El wineries, all along Route 60.

Tune in for some stories about these valuable connections, and the world that it opened to him. These wineries are run by very special people, who are keenly aware of the place they live in, and the revival of Judea & Samaria through its booming wine industry. Every winery has a Biblical and Jewish history story linked with the location, and that story is the key to appreciating the wine. As Erez Ben Saadon of Tura Winery said, “When you love the Land, the Land loves you back”. A land that was mostly desolate for near two millennia becoming fruitful and productive again is a testament to the deep love of a people to their homeland.

The name “West Bank” Wines naturally had people raise their hackles, on both sides of the fence. Tzvi talks about how he arrived at this name as well as some of the reactions he has received, and the impact it had on his resolve to keep the name…which has now changed to Heart of Israel Wines.

Some fascinating research has been done into the grapes indigenous to the region, the history of how these grapes were forgotten, and how the grapes we now have in Israel, got there. That, and other areas of history, research and stories are discussed.

We hope you enjoy!

Links to content from the interview

Heart of Israel Wines: Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

Articles and Videos:

  1. Dr. Shivi Drori, Ariel University, on the revival of 2,000 year old grapes: Here is a link to a short video on the science of reviving the grape, and here is the full lecture.
  2. Professor Ian McGonigle, Harvard University, and his article about Israeli Wine in Times of Israel.

Heart of Israel Wines reviews:

Three reviews by 2007 world #1 sommelier Andreas Larsson:

  1. Mount Hevron – Reserve Syrah 2009 – Judean Hills
  2. Psâgot – Single Vineyard 2013 – Benjamin Mountains
  3. Gvaot – Masada 2012 – Judean Hills

 

tasting and torah 02

How Lost are the Ten Tribes? Rebirth of Shomron 2/3

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Photo from http://www.tourshomron.org.il/ – Title reads: “The Shomron: The Land of Wine, Panoramas and Heritage”

“And in that day…the strayed who are in the land of Assyria…shall come and worship G-d on the holy mount, in Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:13)”

The mystery surrounding the vanishing of the Ten Tribes and their current whereabouts is nowhere near unraveled. Although recent studies into the topic have picked up the gauntlet, it is still shrouded in mystery.

Even the legends we have about their whereabouts are mysterious, or perhaps even mystical: Somewhere beyond the magical Sambation River [1], named for its impassable torrential currents which only settle on the Sabbath, effectually undermining any attempt to cross it during the week as the Lost Tribes beyond it are all Sabbath-observant. Thus, they are in effect cut off from the rest of civilization. Google Earth, anyone?

While I cannot comment on that tradition, I would like to revisit the story of the exile itself, and raise some questions and usable aspects for a conversation about the Ten Lost Tribes.

In my first article in this series, “Wine and Prophecy: The Rebirth of Shomron”, I discussed the basic biblical narrative. From passages of Assyrian and Babylonian chronologies, as well as verses in Jeremiah and in the Talmud, it appears that the story isn’t as simple as it seems.

In this article, I will explore three areas:

  1. Factoids from Assyrian and Babylonian records.
  2. Lost or amongst us?
  3. What hat did they wear? Implications towards religious practice.

 

Assyrian and Babylonian Records

First Waves of Assyria

The appearance of Assyria on the Biblical scene is very early on, and helps us relate to the names of important cities pertinent to excavations in Ancient Near Eastern archaeology: Babylon, Akkad (Akkadian), Nineveh, Kalah (Calah, Kalhu, etc), Uruk (Erekh), etc:

Kush also begot Nimrod, who was the first man of might on earth.

He was a mighty hunter by the grace of G-d; hence the saying, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter by the grace of G-d.”

The mainstays of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Akkad, and Kalneh in the land of Shinar.

From that land Asshur went forth and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Kalah, and Resen between Nineveh and Kalah, that is the great city. (Gen 10:8-12)

A visit to any major museum containing Assyrian or Babylonian artifacts is bound to have references to some of these cities, which are the biblical setting of many stories.

First Mention of the Kings of Israel

The Assyrian Empire came on the scene before the Kingdom of Israel became subjugated to, and ultimately destroyed by, the Assyrian Empire in stages. For example, King Menahem, who ruled in Samaria a few years before the first exile, paid tribute to Tiglath Pileser III (II Kings 15:19-20), which appears on a royal stele in the Israel Museum. But this is from when the Assyrian Empire started expanding quickly and aggressively, of what is called the Neo-Assyrian Empire period.

In Assyrian record, earlier kings of Israel are mentioned paying tribute to the kings Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III, when Assyria was not in this expansion phase, but merely had dominance over some areas in Syria, which was short-lived (Van de Mieroop, M. p. 242-244).

In the Assyrian Kurkh Monolith, attributed to Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III, currently in the British Museum, Ahab King of Israel appears, and the House of Omri.

In the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, also in the British Museum, King Yehu prostrates before the king (image below), escorted by tribute bearers. Both these kings lived roughly a century before the Neo-Assyrian Empire came on the scene.

Yehu Shalmaneser III
Photo by: Steven G. Johnson (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11326786

Phoenicia and the Rebellion of Israel

The Neo-Assyrian involvement with Israel and Judah came when, according to II Kings 16:5, Kings Rezin of Aram (Damascus) and Pekah of Israel formed a coalition against King Ahaz of Judah. Their coalition was intended to block Ahaz from joining the Assyrian Empire and to keep out its foreign influence, a move which had devastating consequences to both Aram and Israel.

Ahaz became vassal to Assyria (ibid, 7), and thus saved his skin from the attack of the former two kings. However, what is not mentioned in the Biblical account is that there was another king involved in this coalition (Cogan, M. p. 67-72): Hiram of Tyre. [2]

The Phoenician King, bearing a similar name to the earlier Hiram who assisted Solomon in the building of the Temple in Jerusalem (I Kings 5:15), was no newcomer on the scene. The kingdoms of Israel and Phoenicia were allies since back in Ahab’s time, who married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal of Tyre (I Kings 12:31). Besides building a house of worship for the Phoenician god Baal (ibid), Ahab also built himself an ivory house (II Kings 22:39). Fragments of ivory have been excavated in Ahab’s capital in ancient Samaria, known as the “Samaria Ivories”.

Stag samaria ivories
A stag from the Samaria Ivories. Photo: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY.

Back to our story – King Pekah of Israel is killed in a coup, and Hoshea assumed the throne (II Kings 15:30). According to Assyrian records, Hoshea was confirmed by Tiglath Pileser as king and vassal (Cogan M. p.72-76).

Hoshea rules Samaria for nine years (II Kings 17:1-6), while subjugated to Shalmaneser V. He is later caught sending an envoy to Egypt – a clear act of rebellion against Assyria – and is ultimately destroyed along with the deportation of the remainder of the Ten Tribes.

The surprise is that there was another king who takes credit for the capturing of Samaria. A king who is only mentioned once in the Bible, in relation to a campaign to Ashdod (Isaiah 20:1): Sargon II.

Sargon, who assumed the throne after Shalmaneser V, claims to have captured Samaria and been involved in the deportation process (Cogan p. 90-102). Even Babylonian chronicles attribute this capturing to him (Cogan, M. p. 209-211, 214). The subject of Sargon’s involvement in the region, and the way he records his campaign, is fascinating. For this article, as a segue into the next topic, I note just one point. While the initial campaign of Assyria Samaria, and its deportation, was initiated by Shalmaneser, it was clearly taking place over a prolonged period of time, in which at least one more king, if not several, were involved.

Lost or Amongst Us?

How long did it take to deport the Ten Tribes?

Mass deportation, while having existed earlier in Assyria, is a hallmark of Neo-Assyrian conquests. Different levels existed, from the deportation of specialist craftspeople to assist in various building projects, to deportation of entire regions – depending on its level of defiance (Van de Mieroop, M. p. 230-236).

This practice had several strategic benefits to the Assyrian Empire, while providing labour and people to build and inhabit its new cities. It reduced the opposition in the peripheral territories, as rebellious populations were resettled in foreign environments where they needed imperial protection against local hostility. Moreover, they would not escape, as they were unfamiliar with the country. Nor did they have the territorial imperative of fighting for their homeland. Nor did they have an organic group of their countrymen who would band together, as they were dispersed over wide areas, to either side of the Assyrian Empire’s homeland (according to Prof. Ran  Zadok of Tel Aviv U.).

Furthermore, the territories of deported people were selectively resettled with other groups when they were crucial for trade or for the production of goods. This means that deportation was done very strategically, based on the skills of the deportees, and the necessities of the empire. For example, an area best suited for agriculture would be settled by agrarian peoples, and not by nomads.

And lastly, the supervision and feeding of large numbers of people during a voyage of several months must have required enormous organization, surprisingly not recorded for us.

All of this points to an important fact: Deportation was a gradual, and expensive, bureaucratic and administrative process. The deportation of the Ten Tribes could not have been carried out all at once, and while the area was being repopulated with foreigners who will come to be known as the Samaritans (II Kings 17:24-34), it is highly likely that members of the Ten Tribes continued to inhabit their homeland for decades after the destruction.

As mentioned in my previous article, the Seder Olam attributes the deportation to Sennacherib.

The book of Ezra describes how, during the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, Samaritans requested to assist in its building, noting that they have been integral to this land from the time of Esarhaddon (Ezra 4:2) – the successor of Sennacherib; while other nations’ presence is attributed to the last of the mighty Assyrian Kings – Ashurbanipal (ibid. 10)

All of this may help us understand how Jeremiah could fathomably have identified members of the Ten Tribes, and brought some of them back.

Jeremiah (3:6-26) describes a mission in which the prophet was sent to the north to bring back the lost tribes.

“Go, make this proclamation toward the North, and say: Turn back, O Rebel Israel—declares G-d. I will not look on you in anger, for I am compassionate—declares G-d; I do not bear a grudge for all time.”

Rav Yehuda Landy suggests that this was possible during the reign of Josiah King of Judah [3], since the Assyrian Empire was on a decline (p. 111). But this all points to a curious discussion about the preservation of some of the tribes in the nick of time. [4]

Are the Ten Tribes completely lost?

Apparently not.

It is possible that those who remained suspended, awaiting deportation, had some interaction with, or influence from, Judea.

King Hezekiah (II Chro. ch. 30) sent invitations to Ephraim and Manasseh to join him in the Passover celebrations in Jerusalem, and some accepted the invitation, even staying in Judea.  

 

Tribal Jargon

The Talmud in Pesachim 4a [5] discusses how a person’s manner of speech may reveal an innate tribal association. (Writing this right after the public Torah reading of Vayechi, which describes the blessings of the various tribes, this seems quite timely.)

A certain man would regularly say whenever involved in conflict: Adjudicate my case [dunu dini]. The Sages said: Learn from it that he descends from the tribe of Dan, as it is written: “Dan will judge [ya-din] his people like one of the tribes of Israel” (Genesis 49:16).

The tribe of Dan was one of those exiled, as was Zebulun:

A certain man would regularly walk and say: The bushes on the seashore are cypresses, i.e., items located by the sea are more beautiful than those found in other places. They examined his lineage and found that he descends from the tribe of Zebulun, as it is written: “Zebulun shall dwell by the seashore” (Genesis 49:13).

And what of the Jews of Ethiopia (Beta Israel)? Or Bnei Menashe (Sons of Manasseh)?

All of these reveal some cracks in the notion that they are completely gone. But the mystery of the vanishing of the majority of their contingencies, still remains one of the big mysteries of Jewish History.

Walking hassid

What Hat did They Wear? Implications towards Religious Practice

If you were to go on an expedition to find the Lost Tribes, what would you look for? What traditions, rituals or stories would you expect to find, that might shed light on Jewish origins?

Wait, Jewish origins?

After 2,000 years, we have grown used to identifying ourselves as Jewsof Judah.

What would the other Ten Tribes think of that?

Remember that the Ten Tribes succeeded from the Kingdom of Judah, actively denouncing any association with the Kingdom of Judah (I Kings 12:16). In fact, a member of the Kingdom of Israel would have probably taken offense at being called “Jew”.

“Are you talking to me?”

“I’m not from Judahhow dare you? I’m from Zebulun / Dan / Naphtali / Gad / Asher…”

Two kingdoms, geographically separated, ideologically unassociated, and often at warfor over two centuries. We are talking about different entities. And speaking of religion, the Kingdom of Israel on the surface seems to be a largely secular-oriented kingdom [Disclaimer: The Talmud and Midrashic literature record many significant interactions, discussions and events from the Kings of Israel, and the populace of Northern Israel demonstrating how they were very much in dialogue with tradition and religious practice. I would not dare subtract from that, and hope to do it better justice in the future]. The foreign influences, political marriages—the subject of much prophetic rebuke—and far-reaching trade and conquests, distinguished Israel from the more traditional Judah, with the Temple of Solomon in its capital, Jerusalem.

As for the Temple: For a long period of time, the kingdom of Israel forbade the pilgrimage to the Temple, seeing it as a threat to its own stability. [6]

And what is Judaism, if not a ritualistic “survival kit” for Jews in the diaspora, maintaining its adherers’ association with their land and tradition while in exile, with no land nor sovereignty. Most of what we would call religion, be it standardized prayers, blessings or rituals, and even the codification of the Oral Law into the Mishna and Talmud, were created after the Assyrian Exile, primarily by people of Judah.

And to really drive the point home. The method of Assyrian deportation was carefully constructed to insure that repopulated groups do not congregate in any meaningful way that would enable rebellion. The exile itself was so aggressive and abrupt, what means of scholarship would have survived in any form, and with the time required, to enable it to contemplate a religion?

All of that considered, what percentage of the society was learned enough to maintain a strong identity?

The Babylonian Exile was largely tranquil, once Jews settled in Babylon. Jews had a lot of autonomy, and scholarship was maintained, with the wherewithal to contemplate this newfound existence without a land or a Temple.

So what would you find, if you were to identify a descendant of any of the Tribes?

It is not clear, but the likelihood of finding anything that would be recognizable to us is highly unlikely [7]. That is probably why the Return of the Ten Lost Tribes is the stuff of Messianic proportions.

The fate of the Ten Tribes is tragic, indeed. And in direct proportion, so is the rebuilding of their land.

This is why the rebuilding of Shomron today is so bewildering, marvelous and miraculous.

In the spirit of this past week’s public Torah reading, which describes the death of Rachel on the road, foreshadowing the exile of her children. But there is still home, and her children will indeed come back home again.

Thus said G-d: A cry is heard in Ramah— Wailing, bitter weeping— Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted For her children, who are gone.

Thus said G-d: Restrain your voice from weeping, Your eyes from shedding tears; For there is a reward for your labor —declares G-d: They shall return from the enemy’s land.

And there is hope for your future —declares G-d: Your children shall return to their home. (Jeremiah 31:14-16)

vineyardsamaria
Photo: Vineyards in Samaria. Courtesy of West Bank Wines.

Endnotes:

[1] Cf. Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah, 469.

[2] See also Cogan’s book Bound for Exile, Jerusalem: Carta 2013, which is a continuation of The Raging Torrent, and which focuses on the material about the exiles in their respective locations.

Note on the second edition of The Raging Torrent, for the connoisseur: There are significant differences between Cogan’s first and second editions, in terms of the sources used for Assyrian royal documents. I have asked the author about it. Prof. Cogan told me that Luckenbill’s two volume book included translations of the documents that were known in the beginning of the twentieth century. It was published in 1926-1927. However, more studies have emerged over the following decades and many more documents published, requiring revised translations. That is why he instead used Leichty for Esarhaddon, and more.

[3] Cf. Talmud Megillah 14b.

[4] The Mishnah in Sanhedrin (10:3) discusses the place of the Ten Tribes in the world to come, and the possibility of their return. Rashi points out that Jeremiah only brought back some of them.

[5] Translation taken from sefaria.org.

[6] Unfortunately, in stark contrast to the Olympics, contemporary with this period of time. The Olympics were panhellenistic rituals in honor of Zeus and Hera. Greek cities which were at war with each other, would lay down their arms, and compete for glory, through sports!

[7] I owe thanks to Rabbi Joey Dweck for this perspective.

Bibliography:

Cogan, M. The Raging Torrent, Historical Inscriptions from Assyria and Babylonia Relating to Ancient Israel. Second Updated & Expanded Edition. Carta, Jerusalem (2008).

Landy, Y.

לנדי, י. ואלה דברי ימי ירמיהו. תקופת ירמיהו הנביא: סקירה היסטורית, גיאוגרפית וארכיאולוגית

קולמוס הפצת ספרים, ירושלים (2016).י

Van de Mieroop, M. A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000-323 B.C. Second edition. Blackwell Publishing (2007).

Wine and Prophecy: The Rebirth of Shomron

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“Have you ever seen a prophecy come true?

…Would you like to hold one in your hand?”

That is how I opened up my sixth grade history class in Jerusalem, seven years ago (2010).

It was inspired by a very powerful experience on that year’s Rosh Hashana in which, I recall, my family and guests consumed fourteen bottles of wine. I daresay that I was a key player in the consumption thereof, and my passion for Israeli wine has only increased over the years.

This is a story about wine, but mostly about the Shomron (Samaria – the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Ten Lost Tribes, and a general name for the region). If you too enjoy good wine, especially Israeli wine, you will find some practical information in this series of articles.  But even if not – you may discover wonderful things. This series of three articles is intended for the Three Weeks [1] in which we reconnect with the First and Second Temple destruction periods, so it will also focus on the rebuilding of the Land, appropriate as is for its aftermath.

This, being the first part, will lay the foundation for the discussion about the Shomron, and the context that makes its wines so special.

The second part will deal with the broader historical context of the story as well as less known details that are learned from Assyrian archaeology. Furthermore, it will raise some important questions regarding the nature of the Ten Lost Tribes.

For the third part, I interviewed two people who are involved in the rebuilding of Judea and Samaria in unique ways. The first is Tzvi (Greg) Lauren, co-founder of West Bank Wines, who is involved in the distribution of Israeli wines in the United States. The second is Gabi Sackett, co-founder of Build Up Israel, a nonprofit supporting community building projects in a unique way. The article will include audio and transcriptions, as well as important links and social media information.

Now back to the sixth grade history lesson. Actually, let’s go back to that Rosh Hashana in the Old City of Jerusalem, 2010.

On the second day of Rosh Hashana, my father was appointed to read the Haftarah, a selection of prophecy of comfort from the book of Jeremiah (31:1-20). Perhaps the most famous verse from that portion is “A cry is heard in Ramah— Wailing, bitter weeping— Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted, for her children, who are gone.” (ibid, 15) A poignant description of the utter shock and devastation of the Exile of the Ten Tribes, which have been deported by several kings of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. But what moved him to tears, as he was reading, was an earlier verse:

I will build you firmly again, O Maiden Israel! Again you shall take up your timbrels and go forth to the rhythm of the dancers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; Men shall plant and live to enjoy them. (ibid, 4-5)

What was so moving about these verses? I did not really understand…but when I held one of the bottles in my hand during the next meal, it hit me. It was a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Barkan Winery, and though later I discovered their vineyards are not actually in the Shomron, the Barkan industrial section is. I then realized that not only a winery in the Shomron, but a booming wine industry, was indeed the fulfillment of a prophecy which, in the disastrous times of the prophecy, was inconceivable. It was then that this lesson was born.

I saved that empty bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, brought it to my 6th grade classroom, and made an entire lesson out of it.

 

Weep, oh Shomron!

So what exactly happened?

The short and familiar story is as follows: Pekah, King of Israel in the north allied with his northeastern neighbor Rezin, King of Aram (Damascus) against Ahaz in southern Judah (II Kings 16:5). They were part of a coalition to stop local kings from joining the Assyrian empire, whose main goal was keeping Assyria out of the geopolitical game in the region.

This didn’t turn out well for the coalition. Tiglath-pileser III came to the aid of Ahaz, accepting Judah as a vassal kingdom, killing Rezin and deporting large parts of the Kingdom of Israel twice over the course of a three year campaign. He deported the many captives and repopulated them across the Assyrian Empire, settling the Samaria hill country with deportees from other areas of the empire (I Chronicles 5:26, II Kings 15:29 and cf. Rashi on II Kings 17:1).

In the days of King Pekah of Israel, King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth Maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor—Gilead, Galilee, the entire region of Naphtali; and he deported the inhabitants to Assyria. (II Kings 15:29)

Later, during the reign of Shalmaneser V, King Hosea of Israel was caught sending a convoy to Seis, King of Egypt, (II Kings 17:4-6), a clear act of rebellion against Assyria. Shalmaneser did not like it, and after a three-year siege over Shomron, the king of Assyria destroyed it, and deported all the remaining citizens of Israel across the empire.

…and the King of Assyria deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Calah, along the Habor [and] the River Gozan, and in the towns of Media. (II Kings 18:11)

Rashi (II Kings 17:1) adds a detail about Sennacherib deporting a small portion of the remaining Ten Tribes. He bases this on the Seder Olam. Speaking of the Seder Olam, it should be noted that only recently has this famous jewish chronological work been made available to the scientific community. Professor Chaim Milikowsky just released the very first – and long awaited – scientific publication (in Hebrew) [2].

I have not had the benefit of holding a copy in my hand, yet, but strongly encourage doing so.

In any event, this is the story we all know.

It is hard to imagine the magnitude of this devastation. The Ashkenazi current Jewish population is mostly from Judah and Benjamin, Levi, and perhaps a few scattered families from across the ten tribes. There are Sephardim with origin traditions from specific tribes. The primary reason there are “Jews” and Jewish communities in the world today is because the kingdom of Judah was left in place over a century afterwards, was exiled en masse by Babylon and stayed together in large groups, who are thus traceable in Europe and the East; and with some Jews staying in the Land, as described in Kings and in Ezra-Nehemiah.

While the Judahites were exiled they returned, rebuilt the Temple and Jerusalem – and, centuries later were exiled again and dispersed around the Roman world – and they have miraculously returned to the Land of Israel again, after nearly two millennia.

The Ten Tribes have not.

The Ten Tribes are… lost… we call them “The Ten Lost Tribes” because their whereabouts as a rule are indeed as yet unknown, despite a recent resurgence of research into their fate..

In the next article I will expand the story through archaeology and discuss some broader issues regarding the Ten Lost Tribes.

I would like to share with you a poignant lamentation about this topic. Every Tisha b’Av (the fast of the 9th of Av), Jews around the world sit on the ground in mourning, and recite different lamentations, composed over the last two millennia, which describe the horrors of the destruction, persecution, pogroms and holocaust which have transpired over the generations. Entire jewish communities which have been destroyed by the crusaders, the Spanish inquisition, burning of Torah scrolls and other horrors are remembered.

One of these lamentations is called “Samaria lifts up her voice”, by Solomon ibn Gabirol, an 11th century Spanish-Jewish poet and philosopher. Translation is from the Tisha B’av Compendium, Judaica Press, NY 1989 and I have only brought the part relevant to this article, but you can research the entire lamentation at your leisure.

Some things to notice:

First of all, the lamentation attributes the exile only to Tiglath-pileser. Perhaps for poetic reason, he also only includes several of the locations to where the tribes were exiled.

Second, the name of Shomron is Aholoh (אָהֳלָה), literally translates as “His Tent”. This name appears in the full length of the lamentation, in which Jerusalem and Shomron bemoan their disastrous fate, and compare them one against the other’s. While “His Tent” is clearly a reference to the Tabernacle, which was in Shiloh, in the Shomron for 369 years [3], it is also a curious reference to wine [4]. Indeed, the iniquities of the kingdom of Shomron – and their subsequent exile – have a lot to do with wine:

They drink [straight] from the wine bowls and anoint themselves with the choicest oils—but they are not concerned about the ruin of Joseph. Assuredly, right soon they shall head the column of exiles; They shall loll no more at festive meals. (Amos 6:6-7)

sWhile researching wine and the shomron for the purpose of this lesson, I discovered that the verse Again you shall plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria is part of the logo of the Shomron Regional Council!

Footnotes:

[1] “The Three Weeks” is the period in which Jews consciously engage with the nature of the destructions which have befallen the Jewish People (Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Laws of Fasts 5:1-4). The three weeks is the span of time between two National fast days, corresponding to the approximate date of the two final stages of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem: The breach of the walls of Jerusalem (17 of Tammuz) and the burning of the Temple (9 of Av).

[2] Seder Olam: Critical Edition, Commentary, and Introduction. Milikowsky, Chaim (2013): Yad Ben-Zvi Press, Israel

[3] Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Laws of the Chosen Temple 1:2

[4] The word “Aholo” is also found in the story of Noah’s drunkenness (Gen. 9:21), where he was exposed in his own tent, naked. The word for nakedness and exposure in Hebrew (va’yit’gal) is the same as Exile (gal’ut). See Rashi’s commentary on that verse.

The 28th of Iyar

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I found the book The 28th of Iyar very moving. My grandmother, Jaqueline Hirsch, transcribed the original recordings which made the publication of the book possible. So we have a family connection to the book, as well as the community. I thought to read select passages from the book which spoke to me deeply about my home town of Jerusalem.

During the last days of Pesach, I had the honor of speaking about Jerusalem in Congregation Beth Jacob of Atlanta, GA.

This was the first time I gave the talk “What does Jerusalem mean to me?”, with a slightly more presumptuous title – “Do we really have Jerusalem?”

The most challenging thing about that talk was that the author, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, attended the talk. Afterwards he told me that he was crying when I read his own words, and wondered “How could I be crying, when I wrote those words?”

28th of iyar.jpg

Reviews:
The talk was given with enthusiasm, clarity, by an obvious master of the subject. He was able to demonstrate the connection between archeological finds and Biblical verses, such that it felt as if we were discussing current events. The discussion left me craving to learn more about the Prophets and their history.
Ilan D. Feldman

Rabbi, Beth Jacob Atlanta