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February 11, 2011 / 7 Adar 1, 5771
Unravelling the Mishnah of Tractate Avodah Zarah
Week 3 - The following mishna provides guidance to those who do business with non-Jews in the Roman world.
Avodah Zarah Perek 1, Mishnah 1

Chapter 1, Mishnah 3
And these are the festivals of the idolatrous nations: the kalends and the saturnailia, and the empire day, and the ascession anniversaries of emperors, and the days of the emperors’ birth and death. This is the view of Rabbi Meir. But the Sages say, Where burning for the emperor’s clothes took place at the death there was idol worship, and where there was no burning there was no idol worship. But on the day when one shaves off his beard, or when one cuts off his hair, or on the day when he returns from a sea voyage, or on the day when one comes out of prison or on the day when an idolater prepares a festivity for his son (all business with them) are prohibited on that day with that person.

Kalenda was a Roman festival that took place on the first day of each month; in this instance it refers to the 29th-30th of December (eight days after the winter solstice, that point which coincides with the sign of Capricorn). This was when the sun is farthest from the equator and when it appears to pause it is considered to be a turning point. Because it is a turning point it is a special moment. Roman belief understood this to be a moment in time outside of time, that is to say, the unusual could occur. Saternalia was a Roman festival beginning December 17th and lasting for several days in honor of the god Saturn. It was a time of merrymaking, temporary release of slaves. A mardi gras type atmosphere existed. Our ancestors considered this to be a dangerous time to conduct business. Kiraticine was a Roman festival commemorating the conquest of eastern countries and days surrounding the birth and death of an emperor were times when sacrifices to idols were made. Similarly, when Greek and Roman young men reached puberty it was customary to cut off some of their hair and offer it to a diety. Each of these activities were understood as a form of worship and as such they were to be avoided..

I live in Manhattan and every year people flock to Radio City to witness the lighting of the “tree”. Most of the people who attend the ceremony who stop by to view it before or during Christmas do not understand the tree as a religious symbol. We, on the other hand do. What do you think causes the difference of opinions?

Our ancestors were a minority in a majority culture and were wary of being in the right place at the wrong time. Just as one is discouraged from walking down a dark alley at night, so here we see the sensitivities of a people fearful of becoming spiritually endangered by proximity to idolatry. The complete Hebrew text for Avodah Zarah may be found online at http://www.bmv.org.il/shiurim/az/az-h.html

This week's Mishnah lesson was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon,
Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish" Jewish Lights Publishing

The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.

FJMC Yom HaShoah Yellow Candles
For those who do not know the original concept, the Yellow Candle is just another Holocaust observance among the many that exist.  But the FJMC Yellow Candles™ Yellow Candlesare different.  They relate directly to Jewish religious life and to memory.  We are commanded to remember.  This program cannot be dismissed as an afterthought.  Every home should be given the opportunity to “Light a Candle and Preserve a Memory”.  We remember, so that our children and future generations will know and understand their past, so that each will declare “Hineni, here am I, a survivor”.
FJMC Yom HaShoah Yellow Candles

No Limits: In Motion

Amazing Israel & Canada Israel Experience is happy to announce the return of our No Limits: In Motion trip for the Summer of 2011. This unique Taglit-Birthright Israel program is designed for people who use wheelchairs. Go rappelling in the North of Israel, visit a winery in the Golan heights, experience Shabbat In Jerusalem, go sailing in Tel Aviv, see the magic of the desert in the South of the country – all while participating on an accessible Taglit-Birthright Israel trip!
Appropriate for: All Jewish Backgrounds
Ages: 18-26
Tour Specifically designed for participants who use a wheelchair
Departing from both New York and Toronto
For more information contact: Nicole@routestravel.com  

No Limits: Seeing Possibilities

Amazing Israel, Canada Israel Experience and the Perkins school for the Blind are excited to announce a unique Taglit-Birthright Israel trip for Summer 2011. No Limits: Seeing possibilities is a trip that has been specially designed for participants with visibility limitations. Experience all of Israel- from the lush north to the desert oasis’s in the south. Enjoy the excitement of Tel Aviv and the uniqueness of Jerusalem – all on this accessible Taglit-Birthright Israel trip!
Appropriate for: All Jewish Backgrounds
Ages: 18-26
Tour Specifically designed for participants with visibility limitations
Departing from both New York and Toronto
For more information contact: Nicole@routestravel.com

Please forward these Taglit-Birthright trips to anyone who wishes to attend. Open to residents of USA, Canada. Other countries please contact Nicole@routestravel.com for availability.

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