Torah Sparks

United Synagogue (USCJ) is proud and delighted to bring you Torah Sparks, with insights and learning materials on the Parasha (Torah portion) of the week. Torah Sparks is produced by the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Each week there will be a Dvar Torah - a discussion on some aspect of the reading, by CY faculty, alumni and friends; a Vort - a short thought from Chasidic rebbes or other thinkers about some point in the text; and Table Talk - questions to stimulate discussion on the Parsha around the Shabbat table. Torah Sparks is available here on the Conservative Yeshiva's Shiurim Online Beit Midrash website, as well as by subscription to weekly graphical emails. Please select the Parasha you would like to see - it will display articles from each year. A printable PDF is linked at the end of each week's presentation.


Introduction to Taanit

Introduction to Taanit   Tractate Taanit is about the practice of fasting and offering special prayers in times of trouble, especially during a drought.  The Bible is full of examples of the Israelites fasting, praying and engaging in other forms of supplication in order to entreat God to respond to their needs.  The most famous […]

Taanit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 1

Taanit, Chapter One, Mishnah One   Introduction During the rainy season during the second part of the Amidah, in the paragraph about God’s power, we add in the words “He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.” In our mishnah Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua debate when we begin to say this […]

Taanit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 2

Taanit, Chapter One, Mishnah Two   Introduction The previous mishnah discussed the concept of “mentioning rain.”  This mishnah adds in a discussion of the subject of “asking for rain.” This refers to the addition of the words “and give dew and rain (veten tal umatar)” in the ninth blessing of the Amidah, which is called […]

Taanit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 3

Taanit, Chapter One, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah teaches when we begin to ask for rain in the ninth blessing of the Amidah.  We should note that at the very beginning of the rainy season we begin to mention rain but we do not yet ask for it.  Later, when the rainy season should […]

Taanit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 4

Taanit, Chapter One, Mishnah Four   Introduction Our mishnah proceeds chronologically from the last mishnah.  There we learned that on either the third or seventh of Marheshvan they add into the Amidah a request for rain.  If that prayer has not been answered by the seventeenth of Marheshvan, then a series of progressively more stringent […]

Taanit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 5

Taanit, Chapter One, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah continues with the next series of fasts.   Mishnah Five If Rosh Hodesh Kislev came and no rain fell the court ordains upon the community three fasts; they may eat and drink while it is still dark and it is permissible to do work, to bathe, […]

Taanit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 6

Taanit, Chapter One, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah continues with the series of increasingly more stringent fasts.   Mishnah Six 1)      If these passed and there was no answer, the court decrees three more fasts on the community. 2)      They may eat and drink [only] while it is still day; they may not work, […]

Taanit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 7

Taanit, Chapter One, Mishnah Seven   Introduction In the final mishnah of this chapter we learn what the community would do if all of their fasts had not worked and God still had not sent rain.   Mishnah Seven 1)      If these passed and there was [still] no answer then they restrict engaging in business, […]

Taanit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 1

Taanit, Chapter Two, Mishnah One   Introduction In the previous chapter we learned about the series of fast days declared in order to petition God for rain.  In this chapter we learn the rituals that were observed on those days.   Mishnah One What is the order [of service] for fast days?   1)      They […]

Taanit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 10

Taanit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Ten   Introduction This mishnah deals with fast days that come into conflict with other various holidays.   Mishnah Ten 1)      They do not ordain upon the community a fast on Rosh Hodesh, on Hanukkah, or on Purim, but if they had already begun [a series of fasts and one of […]

Taanit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 2

Taanit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Two   Introduction Today’s mishnah continues to set the scene for the prayers recited on the special fast days.   Mishnah Two 1)      [When] they stand up to pray they bring down before the ark an old man conversant [with the prayers], one who has children and whose house is empty […]

Taanit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 3

Taanit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Three   Introduction There are six additional benedictions listed in our mishnah.  Our mishnah provides the scriptural verses that are recited as part of these benedictions.  In the following mishnah we will learn the additional liturgy attached to each benedictions, liturgy based on verses but composed by the rabbis.   Mishnah […]

Taanit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 4

Taanit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Four   Introduction Today’s mishnah provides liturgical conclusions to the six additional benedictions for the Taanit Amidah.  Each conclusion here correlates with one of the seven benedictions in the previous mishnah. The basic structure of this liturgy is quite simple.  After having read a Psalm or other biblical passage, the benediction […]

Taanit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 5

Taanit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Five   Introduction Our mishnah relates a story in which some people used slightly different liturgy than was dictated in yesterday’s mishnah, and the rabbis objected to this liturgy.   Mishnah Five 1)      It happened in the days of Rabbi Halafta and Rabbi Hanina ben Tradyon that a man passed before […]

Taanit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 6

Taanit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Six   Introduction The priests were divided into twenty-four guards called “mishmarot.”  Each guard served in the Temple for one week.  Each guard was divided into subsections by the father’s house, and on each day a different father’s house would serve in the Temple.  Our mishnah deals with how these guards […]

Taanit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 7

Taanit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Seven   Introduction In the previous mishnah we learned that the men of the guard have to fast more on a Taanit then the “men of the father’s house.”  Today’s mishnah teaches another distinction between the two groups, one that has nothing to do with fast days.   Mishnah Seven 1)      […]

Taanit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 8

Taanit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Eight   Introduction In mishnaic times there existed a scroll called “Megillat Taanit”, which literally translates as “Scroll of Fasts.”  Despite its name, the scroll does not contain a list of fasts but rather a list of days on which it is forbidden to eulogize at funerals and/or fast.  Most of […]

Taanit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 9

Taanit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Nine   Introduction This mishnah discusses on what day the series of fasts can begin.   Mishnah Nine 1)      They do not decree upon the community a fast to begin on a Thursday in order not to cause a rise in the market prices. 2)      Rather the first three fasts are […]

Taanit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 1

Taanit, Chapter Three, Mishnah One   Introduction This mishnah teaches that sometimes we skip the order of fasts that was taught in the previous two chapters and we proceed straight to the last set of fasts, when we blow the shofar and fast for the entire day.   Mishnah One 1)      The order of public […]

Taanit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 2

Taanit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah continues to discuss situations in which they would immediately skip to the latter stages of fasting.   Mishnah Two If [rain] falls for crops but not for the trees, for the trees but not for crops, for both of these but not for cisterns, ditches and […]

Taanit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 3

Taanit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah teaches that if the drought was local, then the fasts are only performed locally as well.   Mishnah Three And so too a city, upon which no rain has fallen— as it is written, “And I caused it to rain upon one city, and I caused […]

Taanit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 4

Taanit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah continues to discussed localized fasts, the topic begun in yesterday’s mishnah.    Mishnah Four 1)      And so too a city which has a plague or [its buildings] collapse—that city fasts and they sound a blast, but those [in the places] around it fast but do not […]

Taanit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 5

Taanit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Five   Introduction In the previous mishnayot we learned of situations in which the people of the town effected by the plague fast and sound the shofar and the people in the neighboring towns do not fully participate.  In our mishnah we learn for certain plagues, not only the people of […]

Taanit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 6

Taanit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah gives two concrete cases in which sages decreed fasts.   Mishnah Six 1)      It once happened that elders went down from Jerusalem to their own cities and ordered a fast because there was seen in Ashkelon a shidafon which affected as much grain as would fill […]

Taanit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 7

Taanit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Seven   Introduction Generally, one does not fast or sound a shofar blast in alarm on Shabbat.  However, sometimes disaster is so imminent that they sound a blast even on Shabbat.  We should note that there is a debate concerning whether they fast on Shabbat.      Mishnah Seven 1)      For […]

Taanit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 8

Taanit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Eight   Introduction This mishnah contains the famous story of Honi the circle drawer, who demanded that God bring rain and his prayers were effective.   Mishnah Eight For every trouble that should not come upon the community they sound a blast except on account of too much rain. It happened […]

Taanit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 9

Taanit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Nine   Introduction This mishnah discusses what happens if they begin to fast and then it rains on the fast day.   Mishnah Nine 1)      If while they are fasting rain falls: a)      If before sunrise they do not complete the fast, b)      If after sunrise, they do complete the fast. […]

Taanit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 1

Taanit, Chapter Four, Mishnah One   Introduction During regular weekday prayers, the priests offer a priestly benediction as part of the Amidah.  This consists of their lifting up their hands and reciting Numbers 6:24-26.  The priestly benediction is normally done only during Shacharit, the morning service and not at Minhah.  On Shabbatot and holidays that […]

Taanit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 2

Taanit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah explains what the “ma’madot” were and their origins.     Mishnah Two What are the ma’amadot?  Since it is said, “Command the children of Israel and say to them: My offering, My food” (Numbers 28:2).  Now how can a man’s offering be offered and he is not […]

Taanit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 3

Taanit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah mostly discusses what portions of the Torah were read during the maamad.    Mishnah Three 1)      The men of the maamad fasted on four days of that week, from Monday to Thursday; they did not fast on Friday out of respect for Shabbat or on Sunday […]

Taanit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 4

Taanit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah teaches that on certain days they wouldn’t do the special maamad prayers at certain services.    Mishnah Four 1)      On any day when there is Hallel there was no maamad at Shaharit;   a)      [On the day when] there is a Musaf-offering, there was no [maamad] at […]

Taanit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 5

Taanit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah teaches that there were nine fixed dates during the year upon which certain families would bring wood to the altar.  The mishnah seems to relate and expand upon what is stated in Nehemiah 10:35 by those who returned to the land of Israel after the first […]

Taanit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 6

Taanit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah lists events that occurred and are therefore commemorated on two fast days—the seventeenth of Tammuz and the ninth of Av.  There are two connections between this mishnah and the rest of the tractate.  First of all, this is tractate Taanit, so it is a natural place […]

Taanit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 7

Taanit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah talks about the week which leads up to Tisha B’av and the day before.   Mishnah Seven 1)      During the week in which the ninth of Av falls it is forbidden to cut the hair and to wash clothes but on Thursday it is permitted in […]

Taanit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 8

Taanit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Eight   Introduction Tractate Taanit, a sad tractate which deals with drought and other distressful events and the fasts that Jews take upon themselves to ask for forgiveness from their sins, ends with a mishnah about the two happiest days in the Jewish calendar, the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. […]

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Learn one Mishnah each day with the Conservative Yeshiva's Mishnah Yomit, prepared by faculty member Dr. Joshua Kulp.

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