A Praise Song for Passover

On various Jewish holidays, Hallel (“praise”) is recited. [For word nerds, hallel gives us hallelujah, or “praise Yahweh.” Many years ago I learned a short blessing in Arabic which includes what I assume is a cognate: Alhamdulillah, “praise Allah.”] At Passover several psalms are read, among them Psalm 136, praising God for creation, for saving […]

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Passover: the First Cup

Passover comes after Purim and is my favorite holiday, since it celebrates a successful slave revolt. Whether that revolt actually happened is irrelevant; what matters is that the Passover legend shaped the consciousness of the Jewish people and was adopted by other people struggling to liberate themselves—most notably African slaves in the United States. The […]

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Esther = Ishtar: the Pagan Origins of Purim

Cakes for Purim Purim has been called “the Jewish Halloween.” In its origins, however, I’d say it was more like Carnival. On Purim Jews in various countries dress up in costumes, get drunk, put on plays, sing, parade, burn effigies of Haman (the traditional enemy), and eat little triangular filled cakes. Central to the holiday […]

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Oil for the Lamps of Assyria

Natural oil seep, Iraq You and I live in a petroleum-based global economy. Most likely you’ve heard of the theory of “peak oil,” meaning that there’s only so much oil in the ground. Once we start running out, prices will skyrocket. Scientists, economists, and oil industry representatives have been arguing about this theory for years. […]

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