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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review August 18, 2004 / 1 Elul, 5764

Sublimating strife

By Rabbi Avi Shafran


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http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Hershel Shanks, editor emeritus of Moment Magazine, recently raised the tantalizing possibility that the Iraqi city of Fallujah may be identical to the Babylonian Talmudic center known as Pumbeditha.


Citing a 19th century scholar, Jacob Obermeyer, he suggests that the two names (by way of the Syriac rendering, Pallughtha) are linguistic equivalents. Babylonia, of course, overlaps largely with contemporary Iraq, and Pumbeditha in fact lay on the banks of the Euphrates River, as does Fallujah.


Pumbeditha was for centuries a center of Jewish religious/intellectual activity. It hosted one of the major academies when the Babylonian Talmud was completed at the beginning of the 6th century of the common era, and continued to be a center of Jewish study throughout most of what is known as the Geonic period.


Today Fallujah is widely considered one of the most violence-prone areas in Iraq. A hotbed of Wahabi tribal emotions, it has a long history of bloodshed, and it was there that four American contractors were brutally murdered earlier this year. Not a pretty or peaceful place. Even its Syriac name, Pallughtha, implies strife; while some see the word refering to a "split" there in the river's flow in ancient times, it can just as easily be translated as "dispute."


Yet, if Fallujah is indeed Pumbeditha, it certainly seems to have been quite hospitable to Jews - as was Babylonia in general — 1500 years ago. It was there, and in other Babylonian cities like Sura and Neherda'ah, that Jewish scholars recorded much of the Oral Law that Jews had studied and transmitted from generation to generation since Biblical times; and there where subtle points of the Torah's law were studied and taught, examined, contemplated and debated.

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The famed psychiatrist Carl Jung put forth the intriguing idea that places have power, that lands have effects on their inhabitants. "The soil of every country," he wrote in Civilization in Transition (1918), "holds some such mystery... just as there is a relationship between mind to body, so there is a relationship of body to earth."


Whatever the merit of Jung's notion, Babylonia's conflict-roots do in fact run deep. One of the Torah's first narratives is about the Tower of Babel, identified with the capital of what would become Babylonia. When, in early human history, the populace there joined to build a structure whose top would "reach to the heavens" in order to "make for ourselves a name" — to in some way challenge the Creator, as the rabbinic commentaries explain — seeds of discord were divinely sown among them, in the form of different languages, and the diverse perceptions of things they reflect. The people, until then unified in their undertaking, came to disagree, to argue, to fight, and eventually to disperse to lands far and wide.


Could Jung have been right? Might Babylonia, so deeply unsettled a place to this day, have some power to evoke fractiousness?


If so, it is interesting that when Jews made Babylonia their home, they too engaged in disputes — holy, sublime ones, over the fine points of Jewish religious law. Such discussion is even referred to in rabbinic literature as "milchamta shel Torah" — "the war of Torah."


In fact, that is precisely what goes on in every contemporary yeshiva beis medrash, or study hall. The din in such places can be overwhelming, as students lock mental horns, fighting to the finish with their minds. When it is time for lunch, though, the battle ceases, and the disputants resemble the amiable partners they were all along; their "fighting" was never personal but rather a joint venture in the cause of a higher truth. As the Talmud puts it: "[Torah scholars] become like enemies to one another [when they engage in dialectic] but then become beloved friends" (Kiddushin, 30b).


It has been suggested that the effect of the Jewish people on history has been to tame the barbarism that is part of the human condition, that Judaism has helped to civilize the world. No less a thinker about Jews, and barbarian, than Hitler captured it well when he expressed contempt for what he characterized as the "effeminate ethics" of the Jew.


Perhaps the ancient Jewish academies in Babylonia were a reflection of that very civilizing effect, of how true holiness can mediate, sublimate, strife.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

© 2004, Am Echad Resources.