What do Jonah and Noah have in Common?

There is a remarkable correspondence between the biblical story of Noah and the Book of Jonah. The clue lies in the name Jonah, meaning dove in Hebrew. The dove, of course, is the bird that Noah sends out of the ark to discover whether the flood waters have dried out. But the connections between the two tales are far greater than just this.

Noah is told by God that the world is about to be destroyed in a flood. He is commanded to build an ark to save himself, his family and the animal kingdom. He obeys the command, builds the ark and spends the next year peacefully floating above the flood. He is safe from the stormy waters.

Jonah is told by God that Nineveh, the greatest city in the world, is to be destroyed. Even its animals will be wiped out. He is commanded to travel there and urge its inhabitants to repent. Unlike Noah he disobeys the command, runs to Jaffa and boards a boat. Unlike Noah, his time in the boat is not peaceful. The boat is buffeted by a storm, Jonah realises it is his fault and he is ejected into the water. The motifs of destruction, water, storms, boats and God’s command in the Noah story are reversed in the Jonah narrative. Continue reading “What do Jonah and Noah have in Common?”

Ritualised Confession

Chapter 26 of Deuteronomy discusses two offerings that are to be brought to the Temple by farmers and landowners.  One was an annual event: each year villagers would stream into Jerusalem in a colourful and noisy procession, bearing the first fruits of their crop. Fruits which they had marked out on the plant as soon as they had appeared by tying a ribbon around them. Continue reading “Ritualised Confession”

A Festival of Rabbinic Judaism

Rosh Hashanah is an outstanding example of a rabbinic, as opposed to a biblical, festival.

The Torah (Leviticus 23,24) requires the first day of the seventh month to be a rest day, a ‘memorial of blowing’, whatever that may mean. Elsewhere it is simply described as a ‘day of blowing’ (Numbers 28,1) . The words Rosh Hashanah are not mentioned, and the day is not described as a New Year. Indeed, although it falls on the first day of the month, it is month number seven and not number one, as we would expect for a new year. There is also no mention of prayer, repentance, hours in shul or anything else we associate today with Rosh Hashanah. The only thing the Torah has in common with the festival we celebrate is the idea of blowing; but even the word shofar is absent from the biblical verses. Continue reading “A Festival of Rabbinic Judaism”