What is MOST important for the Jewish people?

The Berachah-Blessing for Torah Study:

Baruch Atah Ado--nai Elo--henu Melech Ha'olam, asher kidshanu be'mitzvotav ve'tzivanu la'asok be'divray Torah.

Blessings to You, Ado--nai, Our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who made us holy with the mitzvoth and instructed us to study Torah.

(16) 10. Al Khazari: Indeed, I see myself compelled to ask the Jews, because they are the relic of the Children of Israel. For I see that they constitute in themselves the evidence for the divine law on earth. He then invited a Jewish Rabbi, and asked him about his belief.

(17) 11. The Rabbi replied: I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt with signs and miracles; who fed them in the desert and gave them the land, after having made them traverse the sea and the Jordan in a miraculous way; who sent Moses with His law, and subsequently thousands of prophets, who confirmed His law by promises to the observant, and threats to the disobedient. Our belief is comprised in the Torah--a very large domain.

(18) 12. Al Khazari: I had not intended to ask any Jew, because I am aware of their reduced condition and narrow-minded views, as their misery left them nothing commendable. Now shouldst thou, O Jew, not have said that thou believest in the Creator of the world, its Governor and Guide, and in Him who created and keeps thee, and such attributes which serve as evidence for every believer, and for the sake of which He pursues justice in order to resemble the Creator in His wisdom and justice?

(31) 25. The Rabbi: In this way I answered thy first question. In the same strain spoke Moses to Pharaoh, when he told him: 'The God of the Hebrews sent me to thee,' viz. the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For Abraham was well known to the nations, who also knew that the divine spirit was in contact with the patriarchs, cared for them, and performed miracles for them. He did not say: 'The God of heaven and earth,' nor 'my Creator and thine sent me.' In the same way God commenced His speech to the assembled people of Israel: 'I am the God whom you worship, who has led you out of the land of Egypt,' but He did not say: 'I am the Creator of the world and your Creator.' Now in the same style I spoke to thee, a Prince of the Khazars, when thou didst ask me about my creed. I answered thee as was fitting, and is fitting for the whole of Israel who knew these things, first from personal experience, and afterwards through uninterrupted tradition, which is equal to the former.

(89) 83. The Rabbi: It is, indeed, astonishing. The Israelites lived in Egypt as slaves, six hundred thousand men above the age of twenty, descendants of the Twelve Tribes. Not one of them had separated or emigrated into another country, nor was a stranger among them. They looked forward to the promise given to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that the land of Palestine should be their inheritance. At that time it was in the power of seven mighty and prosperous nations, whilst the Israelites sighed in the depths of misery under the bondage of Pharaoh, who caused their children to be put to death, lest they should increase in number. Notwithstanding their lowly position as compared to the tyrant in his might, God sent Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh with signs and miracles, allowing them even to change the course of nature. Pharaoh could not get away from them, nor harm them, neither could he protect himself from the ten plagues which befel the Egyptians, affecting their streams, land, air, plants, animals, bodies, even their souls. For in one moment, at midnight, died the most precious and most beloved members of their houses, viz. every firstborn male. There was no dwelling without dead, except the houses of the Israelites. All these plagues were preceded by warnings and menaces, and their cessation was notified in the same way, so that every one should become convinced that they were ordained by God, who does what He will and when He will, and were not ordinary natural phenomena, nor wrought by constellations or accident. The Israelites left the country of Pharaoh's bondage, by the command of God, the same night and at the same moment, when the firstborn died, and reached the shores of the Red Sea. They were guided by pillars of cloud and fire, and led by Moses and Aaron, the venerated, inspired chiefs, then about eighty years of age. Up to this time they had only a few laws which they had inherited from Adam and Noah. These laws were not abrogated by Moses, but rather increased by him. When Pharaoh pursued the Israelites they did not have recourse to arms, being unskilled in their use. God, however, divided the sea, and they traversed it. Pharaoh and his host were drowned, and the waves washed their corpses towards the Israelites, so that they could see them with their own eyes. It is a long and well-known story.

The Kuzari: Yehudah HaLevi (1075-1141c.), Spain - Conversion of the Khazars 8th century

What are the most significant and lasting mitzvoth?

א"ר אסי א"ר יוחנן ששה דברים אדם אוכל פירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא ואלו הן הכנסת אורחין וביקור חולים ועיון תפלה והשכמת בית המדרש והמגדל בניו לתלמוד תורה והדן את חברו לכף זכות איני והא אנן) תנן אלו דברים שאדם עושה אותם ואוכל פירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא ואלו הן כיבוד אב ואם וגמילות חסדים והבאת שלום שבין אדם לחברו ות"ת כנגד כולם) [הני אין מידי אחרינא לא]

(1)...Rabbi Asi said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: For six deeds, a person benefits in this world and the yield continues into the next world, and these are: welcoming strangers, visiting the sick, exploring the meaning of the prayers, going in early to the House of Study, raising children to study Torah, and giving your friend the benefit of the doubt.

Is this [list] correct?

(2) Did we not learn: These are the deeds for which a person benefits in this world and the yield continues into the next world, and they are: honoring one's father and mother, acts of lovingkindness, bringing peace between people, and the study of Torah is the equivalent to them all."

What is a fundamental moral principle?

(ז) ר' עקיבא אומר: (ויקרא יט) ואהבת לרעך כמוך, זה כלל גדול בתורה, שלא תאמר הואיל ונתבזיתי יתבזה חבירי עמי, הואיל ונתקללתי יתקלל חבירי עמי. אמר רבי תנחומא: אם עשית כן, דע למי אתה מבזה, בדמות אלהים עשה אותו.

Rabbi Akiba says: "Love your fellow human being as you love yourself," this is a fundamental principle of the Torah, so that you will not say, 'I was degraded, let my fellow be degraded with me; I was cursed, let my fellow be cursed with me.' Rabbi Tanchuma said: If you do this, know whom you are degrading, for [each person] was made in God's image.

What is most important for a convert to Judaism to know?

שוב מעשה בנכרי אחד שבא לפני שמאי א"ל גיירני ע"מ שתלמדני כל התורה כולה כשאני עומד על רגל אחת דחפו באמת הבנין שבידו בא לפני הלל גייריה אמר לו דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד זו היא כל התורה כולה ואידך פירושה הוא זיל גמור.

Another time a non-Jew came before Shammai and said, "I will convert if you can teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot." Shammai pushed the non-Jews aside with the ruler that was in his hand. The non-Jew came before Hillel and Hillel converted him saying, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor, that is the entire Torah, the rest is just commentary, now go and study."

What is a most important legal principle?

אבל חכמים אומרים זה כלל גדול בדין המוציא מחבירו עליו הראיה

But the Sages say, this is a fundamental principle of justice: The one who takes from his fellow bears the burden of proof. (i.e. possession is 9/10 of the law).

(א)...שכל המועדים עתידים בטלים, וימי הפורים אינם בטלים לעולם, שנאמר (אסתר ט כח): "וימי הפורים האלה לא יעברו מתוך היהודים". אמר רבי אלעזר: אף יום הכיפורים אינו בטל לעולם, שנאמר (ויקרא טז לד): "והיתה זאת לכם לחוקת עולם לכפר על בני ישראל מכל חטאתם אחת בשנה". אמר רבי ישמעאל: מצינו גדול מזה, אברהם גדול העולם ששימש את הכנענים. אמר רבי טרפון: מצינו גדול מזה: כהן גדול משמש את ישראל ביום הכיפורים. אמר להם רבן גמליאל: הנחתם כבודו של מלך מלכי המלכים הקב"ה, ואתם עוסקים בכבודו של בשר ודם?! הקב"ה ברא עולמו, משיב הרוחות, מזריח את החמה, מוריד הגשמים, מפריח טללים, מגדל צמחים, ועורך שולחן לכל אחד ואחד, דכתיב (תהלים כג ה): "תערוך לפניי שולחן", וכל כך למה - בזכותה של תורה... אמר רבי נחמיה: בוא וראה כמה גדול כבוד תורה, לא די להם לחכמים שהיא עורכת להם שולחן, אלא שמוספת להם חכמה על חכמתם, הה"ד (משלי ט ט): "תן לחכם - ויחכם עוד, הודע לצדיק - ויוסף לקח".

Most important holidays:

...All the holidays will one day disappear, but Purim will never disappear, as it is said, 'The days of Purim will never depart from the Jewish people.' (Esther 9:28) Rabbi Elazar said: Also Yom Kippur will never disappear, as it is said, 'This will be to you as a law forever to atone for the sins of Israel once a year.'

Most important people:

Rabbi Yishma'el said: We have found a greater person...(than Tavi, servant to Rabban Gamliel), Abraham was the greatest in the world since he served the Canaanites.(Though his own offspring would inherit the land.) Rabbi Tarfon said: Greater than [Avraham] is the High Priest who served all of Israel on Yom Kippur.

People are not the most important:

Rabban Gamliel said to them: Is the honor of God, the Ruler of Rulers, sealed that you now worry about the glory of flesh and blood?! God created the world, causes the wind to blow, causes the sun to rise, brings down rain, creates dew, grows plants, and sets a table for everyone, as it says, 'You set a table before me.'(Psalm 23:5)

How central is the honor of Torah?:

It is not sufficient that Torah sets a table for the wise, rather, it [Torah] adds wisdom to their wisdom, as it says, 'Give to the wise and he he will become wiser...'(Proverbs 9:9)

What are some of the most fundamental sins?

(ג) אמרו חכמים שלש עבירות נפרעין מן האדם בעולם הזה ואין לו חלק לעולם הבא עבודת כוכבים וגילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים ולשון הרע כנגד כולם ועוד אמרו חכמים כל המספר בלשון הרע כאילו כופר בעיקר...

The Sages said: Retribution is given for three sins in this world and [the offender] does not have a place in the world to come: idol worship, sexual transgressions, murder, and the 'evil tongue' is equivalent to them all. And additionally the Sages said, anyone who speaks 'evil tongue' it is as though he/she was a heretic against what is fundamental...

What is the most important or fundamental belief?

(ו) וידיעת דבר זה מצות עשה שנאמר אנכי ה' אלהיך וכל המעלה על דעתו שיש שם אלוה אחר חוץ מזה עובר בלא תעשה שנאמר לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני וכופר בעיקר שזהו העיקר הגדול שהכל תלוי בו:

(6) The knowledge of this matter is a positive commandment, as it says, "I am the Lord your God" (Ex. 20:2). And anyone who brings upon his mind that there may be another god beside Ado-nai violates a negative commandment, as it says, "You shall not have other gods before Me" (Ex. 20:3). And this [thought] is heresy against what is fundamental. For this [knowledge of God] is the greatest principle upon which everything else depends.

What are all the fundamental Jewish beliefs?

Maimonides - Commentary to the Mishnah, Sanhedrin

1. Belief in the existence of the Creator, who is perfect in every manner of existence and is the Primary Cause of all that exists.

2. The belief in G-d's absolute and unparalleled unity.

3. The belief in G-d's non-corporeality, nor that He will be affected by any physical occurrences, such as movement, or rest, or dwelling.

4. The belief in G-d's eternity.

5. The imperative to worship G-d exclusively and no foreign false gods.

6. The belief that G-d communicates with man through prophecy.

7. The belief in the primacy of the prophecy of Moses our teacher.

8. The belief in the divine origin of the Torah.

9. The belief in the immutability of the Torah.

10. The belief in G-d's omniscience and providence.

11. The belief in divine reward and retribution.

12. The belief in the arrival of the Messiah and the messianic era.

13. The belief in the resurrection of the dead.

What is a most significant moment in the life of the People of Israel?

(א) בראשית. אמר רבי יצחק לא היה צריך להתחיל [את] התורה אלא (שמות יב ב) מהחודש הזה לכם, שהיא מצוה ראשונה שנצטוו [בה] ישראל, ומה טעם פתח בבראשית, משום כח מעשיו הגיד לעמו לתת להם נחלת גוים (תהלים קיא ו) , שאם יאמרו אמות העולם לישראל לסטים אתם, שכבשתם ארצות שבעה גוים, הם אומרים להם כל הארץ של הקדוש ברוך הוא היא, הוא בראה ונתנה לאשר ישר בעיניו, ברצונו נתנה להם וברצונו נטלה מהם ונתנה לנו:

(1) Rabbi Yitzchak said: [God] could have begun the Torah only from 'This month shall be to you' (Exodus 12:2), which is the first mitzvah (precept) which Israel was commanded. So what is the reason that [God] began with 'In the beginning'? Because of [the idea expressed in the verse]: '[God] has declared to His people the power of His works, in order to give them the heritage of the nations' (Psalms 111:6). Thus, should the nations of the world say to Israel: 'You are robbers, having conquered the lands of the seven [Canaanite] nations [by force],' [Israel] can say to them: 'The whole earth belongs to the Holy Blessed One; He created it and gave it to whomever He saw fit. By His will He gave it to [the Canaanite seven nations], and by His will He took it from them and gave it to us.'

What is the most effective way to pray?

מאי דכתיב (תהלים סט, יד) ואני תפלתי לך ה' עת רצון אימתי עת רצון בשעה שהצבור מתפללין...תניא נמי הכי רבי נתן אומר מנין שאין הקב"ה מואס בתפלתן של רבים שנאמר הן אל כביר ולא ימאס וכתיב פדה בשלום נפשי מקרב לי וגו' אמר הקב"ה כל העוסק בתורה ובגמילות חסדים ומתפלל עם הצבור מעלה אני עליו כאילו פדאני לי ולבני מבין אומות העולם...

What does it mean, 'And I, my prayer to You, Ado-nai, at a moment of grace,' When is a moment of grace? When the public is praying...Rabbi Natan says: How do we know that God does not despise the prayers of the public?...God says, 'Everyone who studies Torah, does kind acts, and prays with public; I will count it as though he/she has redeemed Me and My Children from amongst the nations of the world...

For each of us, when is God most present or 'near' to us during the year?

והכתיב (ישעיהו נה, ו) דרשו ה' בהמצאו התם ביחיד הכא בצבור ביחיד אימת אמר רבה בר אבוה אלו עשרה ימים שבין ר"ה ליוה"כ...

...Is it not written, "Seek Ado-nai when God may be found [call unto God when God is near].(Isaiah 55:6)...When can an individual find God?...Rabba bar Abuha: [An individual finds God to be near during] the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Who is the greatest prophet of the Jewish people?

(י) וְלֹֽא־קָ֨ם נָבִ֥יא ע֛וֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל כְּמֹשֶׁ֑ה אֲשֶׁר֙ יְדָע֣וֹ יְהוָ֔ה פָּנִ֖ים אֶל־פָּנִֽים׃

(10) And there has not arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face...

But is Moses the greatest prophet of all the nations of the world?

(כ) ובבא משה אל אהל מועד לדבר אתו - תני, (דברים לד): ולא קם נביא עוד בישראל כמשה, בישראל לא קם, אבל באמות העולם קם, כדי שלא יהא פתחון פה לאמות העולם, לומר: אילו היה לנו נביא כמשה, היינו עובדים להקב"ה. ואיזה נביא היה להם כמשה? זה בלעם בן בעור, אלא הפרש בין נבואתו של משה לנבואתו של בלעם. ג' מדות היה ביד משה מה שלא היה ביד בלעם: משה היה מדבר עמו עומד, שנאמר (דברים ה): ואתה פה עמוד עמדי ואדברה אליך וגו'. ועם בלעם לא היה מדבר עמו, אלא נופל, שנאמר (במדבר כג): נופל וגלוי עינים. משה היה מדבר עמו פה אל פה, שנאמר (שם יב): פה אל פה אדבר בו. ובבלעם, נאם שומע אמרי אל, שלא היה מדבר עמו פה אל פה. משה היה מדבר עמו פנים בפנים, שנאמר (שמות לג): ודבר ה' אל משה פנים אל פנים. ועם בלעם לא היה מדבר, כי אם במשלים, כמה דתימא (במדבר כג): וישא משלו ויאמר וגו'. ג' מדות היו ביד בלעם מה שלא היה ביד משה משה לא היה יודע מי מדבר עמו, בלעם היה יודע מי מדבר עמו, שנאמר: נאם שומע אמרי אל אשר מחזה שדי יחזה. משה לא היה יודע אימתי הקדוש ברוך הוא מדבר עמו, ובלעם היה יודע אימתי הקב"ה מדבר עמו, שנאמר: ויודע דעת עליון. משלו משל, לטבחו של מלך שהוא יודע מה המלך מקריב על שלחנו, ויודע כמה הוצאות יוצאות למלך על שולחנו. כך היה בלעם יודע, מה הקדוש ברוך הוא עתיד לדבר עמו. בלעם היה מדבר עמו בכל שעה שירצה, שנאמר: נופל וגלוי עינים, היה משתטח על פניו ומיד היה גלוי עינים על מה ששואל, ומשה לא היה מדבר עמו בכל שעה שירצה. ר' שמעון אומר: אף משה היה מדבר עמו בכל שעה שירצה, שנאמר: ובבא משה אל אהל מועד לדבר אתו, מיד, וישמע את הקול מדבר אליו:

Moses was a greater prophet than Bilam, the greatest prophet of the other peoples of the world:

"When Moses entered the Holy Place to speak with God" - It was taught, 'And there has not arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses', in Israel a prophet [like him] did not arise, but in the nations of the world [a prophet like him] arose, so that there would not be an opportunity for the nations of the world to say, 'If we had a prophet like Moses, we would worship the Holy Blessed One!" Which prophet did they have who was like Moses? It was Bilam son of Be'or, but there was a difference between the prophecy of Moses and the prophecy of Bilam. Moses' prophecy had three qualities that Bilam did not have: 1. Moses spoke to God standing up...and Bilam only spoke to God while prostrated. 2. Moses spoke to God directly ['mouth facing mouth']...and Bilam did not speak to God this way [Bilam needed to 'hear' whereas God's words to Moses did not require the filter of hearing]. 3. Moses spoke to God face to face...but God only spoke to Bilam through parables.

Bilam was a prophet who demonstrated qualities that Moses did not:

Bilam's prophecy demonstrated three qualities Moses' did not. 1. Moses did not know who spoke with him, but Bilam did know...2. Moses did not know when God would speak to him, but Bilam did know...3. Bilam spoke to God whenever he wanted...but Moses could not speak to God whenever he wanted...

Rabbi Shimon said: Even Moses could speak to God whenever he wanted...

What is a most important sacrifice?

"All offerings will [one day] be abolished, except the thanksgiving (todah) offering."

-Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 9:2 (Quoted in N. Leibowitz Vayikra, p. 77)

What are the most important parts of the Seder?

(פא) רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר: כָּל שֶׁלֹּא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ בַּפֶּסַח, לא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: פֶּסַח, מַצָּה, וּמָרוֹר.
(81) Rabban Gamliel was accustomed to say, Anyone who has not said these three things on Pesach has not fulfilled his obligation, and these are them: the Pesach sacrifice, matsa and marror.

Which of these Rabbis' halachic questions is the funniest?

1. Pelimo asked Rabbi: "If a person has two heads, on which should he place his tefillin?"

He said to him: "Either get up and go to exile, or accept upon yourself excommunication."

(In the meantime, a man came by and said: "A child was born to me with two heads. How much do I have to pay to the kohen [for the redemption of the firstborn]?")(Menachot 37a)

2. A mishna in Bava Batra (23b) states that any chick found within fifty ammot of a person's dovecote belongs to the owner of the dovecote; any chick found farther away belongs to the finder. The gemara then continues:

Rabbi Yirmiya asked: "If one leg [of the chick] is within fifty ammot and one is outside of fifty, what is the law?"

For this, Rabbi Yirmiya was thrown out of the beit midrash.

(Translations by Rav Yitzchak Blau, www.vbm-torah.org, Shiur #29 "Hypothetical Questions")