How did Hellenists gamble, divine or play with these rare ancient bones found in Israel?

How did Hellenists gamble, divine or play with these rare ancient bones found in Israel?


Records show that one of the games played with bone dice was “five stones” in which children threw five bones in the air and tried to catch them.

Ancient Greek bones known as astragali that were used for games and divination. / (photo credit: YULI SCHWARTZ/IAA)

A rare assemblage of animal knucklebones known as astragali, used in ancient Greek games and divination, was found in Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park, according to a study published recently.

The study, which was conducted by archaeologists from institutes around Israel, was published in the peer-reviewed Levant journal.

The bones were mainly used by women and children for games, gambling and divination and date from the Hellenistic period 2,300 years ago.

What were astragali used for?
Many of the bones were engraved with the names of Greek gods that are associated with wishes and desire, such as Aphrodite, goddess of fertility, love and beauty; Eros, god of love; Hermes, god of travelers, thieves and merchants; Hera, goddess of marriage, women and family, and Nike, goddess of victory.

Inscriptions of Greek gods and goddesses on gaming and divination bones known as astragali. (credit: ROI SHAFFIR/HAIFA UNIVERSITY)

Other bones were engraved with instructions and game rules like “robber, stop, you are burnt.” A common game that has been recorded from that time was five stones, in which children would throw five astragali in the air and try to catch them all in hand, a game that has existed to this day.

Astragali were also used as tokens and charms. Often, they would be buried under the foundations of a house to bring prosperity and peace, and there are records of young women using them as tokens of marriage to mark their passage from maidens to married women.

The astragali discussed in the study were found to have had their shapes modified and were filled with lead.

“The assemblage of astragali from Maresha is very unique, specifically the large quantity and good quality, and the many inscriptions,” said Dr. Lee Perry-Gal of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who took part in the study. “The assemblage shows that in ancient times of distress, as today, people sought help from external factors, in magic and spells and in the world of the unknown. In the past, men, and especially women, struggled with an environment of uncertainty, death, childbirth and health issues, and tried to protect themselves with the help of magic.”

“The assemblage shows that in ancient times of distress, as today, people sought help from external factors, in magic and spells and in the world of the unknown.”

Dr. Lee Perry-Gal

“This fascinating research sheds light on the life and customs in the ancient world and reminds us that people are regular people all over the world,” said Eli Eskosido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “They dream and hope, and notwithstanding the harshness of daily life, they find time for playing and leisure.”

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The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive – Yemen Music of the Yemenite Jews (English)

The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive – Yemen Music of the Yemenite Jews (English)

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Name: Yemen Music of the Yemenite Jews
Year: 1992
Duration: 00:28:16
Language: English

Abstract: Part of the Israel Music Heritage Project. The rhythms and traditions of Yemenite music.

The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive –
The 500 films, selected for the virtual cinema, reflect the vast scope of documentary material collected in the Spielberg Archive. The films range from 1911 to the present and include home movies, short films and full length features.

שם: מסורת יהודי תימן
שנה: 1992
אורך: 00:28:16
שפה: אנגלית

תקציר: חלק מפרויקט מורשת המוסיקה של ישראל “עם וצליליו”. המקצבים והמסורות במוסיקה התימנית.

ארכיון הסרטים היהודיים על שם סטיבן שפילברג –
חמש מאות הסרטים שנבחרו עבור הקולנוע הווירטואלי משקפים את ההיקף הנרחב של החומר התיעודי בארכיון שפילברג. באתר ישנם סרטים משנת 1911 ועד ימינו אלה ביתיים, קצרים ובאורך מלא.

כל הזכויות שמורות לארכיון הסרטים היהודיים על שם סטיבן שפילברג ולאוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים 2010; דף הבית;

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A Rosh Hashanah Reunion — and Revelation

A Rosh Hashanah Reunion — and Revelation

Liz Astrof

The cover of “Don’t Wait Up” by Liz Astrof.

Below is an excerpt from “Don’t Wait Up” by Liz Astrof. Copyright © 2019 by Liz Astrof. Reprinted by permission of Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Inc. 

It’s been years since the brother I knew was replaced by the religious doppelgänger bearing a strong resemblance to him. I may not accept it, but I tolerate it — and for the sake of maintaining a close relationship and fostering one between our children, once in a while Todd and I suck it up and spend a holiday with Jeff and his family.

Like lunch at his house one recent Rosh Hashanah. Dad and our stepmother Cathy had come up to visit with Mitzy, their Maltipoo and favorite child, whom they had smothered into insanity with their artisanal cocktail of affection, control and ambient terror. Jeff, my sister-in-law Stephanie, Todd and I were all of the same opinion that she was forever trying to kill herself.

Todd and I had been pretty lax in the religion department. But Jesse was six and Phoebe was four and so, during our ride over I explained that even though it was New Year’s, it was the Jewish kind, that didn’t come with confetti and staying up until midnight, but with praying and bad food.

“So you’re Jewish,” I continued. “Got it?”
“Not Christmas?” Phoebe asked.
“No, you’re Hanukkah.”
“I think she was asking if we were Christians,” Jesse said.
“You’re not that, either,” I told them.
“Is there a Santa Claus?” Phoebe asked.
“Yes,” I said, only because I don’t want my kids to tell the Catholic kids and then we’re those a**holes.

The talk had proven so easy, I decided to broach another thorny subject. “So kids… you need to know that Mommy and Daddy are going to die someday.”

That didn’t go over as well.

After the kids stopped crying and carrying on about our imminent deaths, we spent the rest of the ride discussing what they wanted for Christmas. It had been a little premature of me to have the “death talk” when they’d yet to experience death with anything beyond the occasional fly.

The moment we entered Jeff’s house, we were hit with a burst of hot air that smelled of chicken, root vegetables — and if Jewishness had a smell, that. Jeff was the picture of Orthodoxy, looking less like the comedy writer I knew and more like a Hasidic Abraham Lincoln. The dining table had been extended to accommodate what looked like an entire road company of Fiddler on the Roof. 

I found his wife Stephanie in the kitchen. She pointed out that my favorite Orthodox friend of theirs was there. The most “normal” of them all, he bore an uncanny resemblance to Tom Cruise, which tells you a lot about the scale I’m using for “normal.”

I sat at the table next to Todd and across from Dad and Cathy, who stood out like an Irish Catholic sore thumb, fanning herself with a napkin. She told me the AC was broken, and because of “Jewish rules” they couldn’t call the guy to come because no one was allowed to touch the phone.

My brother had chosen this life of excessive suffering — their house, their rules. So I sat there in an ever-growing pool of my own sweat.

After lunch, the Orthodox wives moved into the kitchen to discuss their nation of children, leaving the menfolk to sit around the table to discuss the nation of Israel. I retreated to the living room with Todd, my dad, Cathy and Orthodox Tom Cruise, who plopped down on the couch next to me and focused his attention on trying to find a rock in his shoe.

When it comes to our family, as I’m sure it does with others, this is when the TV usually comes on. But in this kosher house, where we couldn’t operate anything more mechanical than the doorknob on the way out, we would now be forced to talk to each other.

Perhaps it was the lack of AC making me woozy or the fact that we’d burned through the small talk in five minutes flat or even all the “death” talk on our way over, that made me decide to broach the subject of my twin sister who had bitten the dust before we were born.

I hadn’t learned about her until I was in high school and took a good look at my birth certificate where, in the space after “How Many Children Born,” was the handwritten notation “Two Female.”

“Hey — did my twin sister have a name before she died?” I asked.

My Dad stared straight ahead and didn’t answer.

“You and Jeff had a sister?” Orthodox Tom Cruise asked. “Did she have a name?”

“No, she didn’t,” My father suddenly boomed. “She was dead on arrival. Where’s the dog?”

I pointed to Mitzy across from his chair and asked, “So… was she complete? Did she have all her… parts?”

“She’d been dead a while,” he answered, “She was smaller than you — but she was formed, yes.”

Until now, I’d thought she was a blob of cells or a cyst with teeth and hair that might pop out of my neck if I lost enough weight. But I’d had a full-sized sister. “So what did they do with her?” I asked.

“I don’t know!” My father was becoming exasperated. He straightened his pant creases, looking on proudly as Mitzy uncrossed and re-crossed her paws. He knew every move his dog made, yet he had no idea what doctors did with his dead human fully formed daughter who had been my two legged-two-armed, sister. “It was the seventies, Liz.”

Orthodox Tom Cruise asked Todd if this was all for real. Todd assured him it was.

I was starting to feel a vague panic I couldn’t quite identify. I asked my father how long she’d been dead before they took her out, and watched him actually start to do the math.

“You were born two months early…” He calculated. “And they thought she died two weeks before that.” The details coming back to him, he sat upright, pointing to his middle. “Her umbilical cord was wrapped around here, in a way that kept her from growing, so… she died.” He threw his hands up, the first show of emotion he demonstrated.

“That’s common,” Cathy said.

“Do they know if you were fraternal or identical?” Orthodox Tom Cruise asked me, knowing I couldn’t possibly know, but so personally thrown that he wanted the question out there.

My Dad had settled back in his chair. A yawn escaped him; he closed his eyes.

“One sac means identical, two means fraternal.” He gestured in my general direction. “They were in one sac,” he mumbled sleepily.

So, I had been a they. As they as they come. Identical. Another me. Maybe I held her as she died, held my dead sister for two weeks until we emerged — one alive, one dead — from our mother.

Our mother.

The thought of carrying a child almost to term only to have it die in the last few weeks was unbearable, something I would wish on no mother, not even that witch of a woman who’d left when I was six.

I found myself sympathizing with her. It was the stuff of nightmares. Of my family. Of my mother, who was warped as they come.

As was my habit (and my profession mandated), I obviously had to make a joke. “At least Mom had me! One for the price of two?!”

My father laughed, but not the kind I was going for. “She sure as hell didn’t want anything to do with you,” he chuckled.

“She hated me because my sister died?” I asked. “She blamed me?”

His bitter cackle was enough to rouse Mitzy, who had fallen asleep. Cathy shushed him, and he continued in a softer, condescending voice.

“Your mother’s problem wasn’t that your sister died,” he said matter-of-factly. “Her problem was that you lived. She didn’t want more kids.”

Suddenly Caleb, my nephew, who’d inherited my brother’s sarcasm and comedic timing, appeared.

“Jesse fell in the pool!” he yelled, smirking.

As Todd and I bolted outside, Cathy called after us to make sure we closed the door so Mitzy wouldn’t get out.

It wasn’t that Jesse couldn’t swim. Jesse didn’t like surprises; they made him anxious, and in the words of his school principal, he required “a lot of emotional unpacking.”

I could relate. Could I ever.

Todd pulled him out and ran inside to get a towel. Jesse stood there, his glasses crooked and dripping, the holiday outfit he’d assembled for himself to look “sharp” all soaking wet.

He balled his fists up tightly — in addition to anxiety, he had sensory issues. I knew we needed to stop this forty-nine-pound volcano from erupting.

I knelt down and bowed my head, like I’d learned to do to soothe my son. He leaned in and pressed his head against mine, like he’d learned do to be soothed.

“It’s okay, you’re okay,” I said, softly, over and over.

I felt the tension leaving his body. Relief.

Your mother’s problem wasn’t that your sister died. It was that you lived.

If I ever feared I was like my mother — which I did, every moment of every day — it was moments like this, knowing what to do for my child and wanting to do it, that proved I wasn’t anything like her.

“Elizabeth, you pamper him too much.” My father had come outside. “You’ll make him weird.”

He turned to go back in the house. Cathy was in the doorway.

“Where’s the dog?” He asked her.

“I thought you had her,” Cathy said, in a sudden panic.

“She’s in the pool!”

My niece Sasha was pointing at Mitzy who was swimming — or possibly trying to drown, Ophelia-like, the little pink bow that had been tied tightly atop her little bug-eyed head now floating toward the drain.

“Jesus Christ Almighty!” my dad yelled.

Jesse’s mood lightened, and soon he was cracking up along with his cousins as Dad and Cathy coaxed a definitely masochistic Mitzy out of the pool.

Jeff came over. “Thanks for coming today,” he said, and he meant it. He put his arm around me and wished me a Happy New Year.

Squeezing him tight, I wished him the same.

And I meant it.

Liz Astrof is an award-winning executive producer and one of the most successful sitcom writers in television today. She has worked on The King of Queens, 2 Broke Girls, Raising Hope, Whitney, Becker, and many more shows. She lives in California with her family.

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Lapid tells UN Palestinian state right for Israel but can’t be terror base

Lapid tells UN Palestinian state right for Israel but can’t be terror base


Prime Minister Yair Lapid tells UN General Assembly that Iran will only be stopped with credible military threat

Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York City on September 22, 2022. / (photo credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images))

The future Palestinian state that will exist next to Israel must be peaceful and not terror-based, Prime Minister Yair Lapid told the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday afternoon, just before returning to Israel.

“If that condition is met then the best path  forward is “an agreement with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples,” Lapid said.

This “is the right thing for Israel’s security, for Israel’s economy and for the future of our children.”

His statement about a future Palestinian state and his affirmation of a two-state resolution to the conflict, markers the strongest language that an Israeli premier has used with regard to Palestinian sovereignty since the days of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. It is the first since 2016 that an Israeli leader has spoken of the two-state solution when addressing the UNGA.

“Despite all the obstacles, still today a large majority of Israelis support the vision of this two-state solution. I am one of them,” Lapid said. 

“We have only one condition: That a future Palestinian state will be a peaceful one.

That it will not become another terror base from which to threaten the well-being, and the very existence of Israel,” Lapid said.

“Peace is not a compromise. It is the most courageous decision we can make. 

Lapid arrived in New York on Tuesday morning to join the world leaders gathered for the high-level opening sessions of the 77th UNGA. He arrived at a time when it appeared that US President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran deal had come to a standstill. In his meetings with the world leaders and the in his speech to the plenum, Lapid said that the time had come to abandon that document and to negotiate a new deal.

“The only way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, is to put a credible military threat on the table,” Lapid said.

“And then – and only then – to negotiate a Longer and Stronger deal with them. 

“It needs to be made clear to Iran, that if it advances its nuclear program, the world will not respond with words, but with military force. 

“Every time a threat like that was put on the table in the past, Iran stopped, and retreated,” Lapid said.

He linked Iran’s threats to annihilate the Jewish state with Holocaust in which six million Jews were killed.

Lapid swore that Israel would do everything it could to safeguard its citizens and to stop Iran destroying its state.

‘We will do whatever it takes: Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. We will not stand by while there are those who try to kill us. Not again. Never Again,” he said.

Lapid charged that was fueling global and regional terrorism, particularly against Israel and that the UN had failed to act when faced with this threat.

“Iran has declared time and time again that it is interested in the “total destruction” of the State of Israel. 

“And this building is silent,” Lapid said evoking the accusation often made against the global community that also stood silent during the Holocaust.

This is not the only way the United Nations  had failed Israel, Lapid said. It has allowed its institution to be used as a platform by which to spread falsehoods against the Jewish state.

Israel is not a “guest in this building,” Lapid said, explaining that “Israel is a proud sovereign nation” and “an equal member of the United Nations. 

The United Nations actions toward Israel could be construed as antisemitism, Lapid said. 

“Antisemitism is the willingness to believe the worst about the Jews, without questioning. Antisemitism is judging Israel by a different standard than any other country,” Lapid said.

He ended on a note of hope by referencing the Abraham Accords, under whose rubric Israel normalized ties with four Arab countries, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain and Sudan in 2020.

He called on other Muslim and Arab countries to also normalize ties with Israel.

Israel seeks peace with our neighbors. 

“We call upon every Muslim country — from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia — to recognize that, and to come talk to us. Our hand is outstretched for peace.”

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Tisha Be’av: What’s changed over time for Jews and Israel?

Tisha Be’av: What’s changed over time for Jews and Israel?


This Tisha Be’Av, we mourn, not because of our situation today but because we tie ourselves to the past and see ourselves as a link to it; but we also see ourselves as a link to the future.

‘THE JETSONS’ world of the future is the world we already inhabit.
(photo credit: MARK ANDERSON/FLICKR)

I recently saw a meme pop up on my Facebook feed a few times. It shows a picture of the airplane flown by the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk and another picture of a man on the moon and makes the rather remarkable point that only 66 years separate those two photos. It made me immediately think about that famous picture of the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto; you know, the one where the boy is raising his hands in terror while the SS officer points a machine gun at him.

It is far more remarkable to me that less than 25 years separate between that photograph and David Rubinger’s photo of the soldiers liberating the Western Wall in the Six Day War. (By the way, that SS officer, identified as Josef Blosche, would live to see both Jerusalem liberated and a man walk on the moon! Blosche was only executed for his crimes on July 29, 1969.)

I share this with you because this Shabbat marks the 1,952nd year since the destruction of the Temple on the 9th of Av in the year 70 CE. (Because of the sanctity of the Sabbath, there is no mourning on that day and all observances and commemorations of that catastrophe are pushed off till the next day.) If you think about it, there are less than 50 generations separating us from Jerusalem’s destruction. This is but a blink in the eye of human history.

We live in a generation of incredible fast-paced change.

Did you know that according to “the Internet” (and we all know everything written there is true) George Jetson was born this week on July 31, 2022? The world of the future depicted in the cartoon show, The Jetsons, is the world we already inhabit even though it is set 40 years from now.

These changes are happening so swiftly that it is difficult to navigate them and adjust the scripts of our lives to accommodate those changes. The return to the Land of Israel and Jewish Sovereignty is one such change, and it is really hard to understand how to fit Israel into our lives as Jews. So much of Judaism as we know it today was forged in the Exile and in response to the harsh conditions of Exile that it makes incorporating Israel a very difficult task.

‘THE DESTRUCTION of the Temple of Jerusalem,’ Francesco Hayez, 1867 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Does the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel mean we are in the messianic age? On the one hand the messianic age had always been defined by that return, on the other hand, we are not yet beating any swords in plough shares.

Keep in mind that the actual return to Zion has been beyond anyone’s imagination. We are stronger and more powerful militarily and economically than most countries in the world. Israel is flourishing in ways unimaginable even 25 years ago! Had Israel been established as some third world country where kids played kick-the-can in the streets while raw sewage flowed beside them, one could still point to Israel as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. And yet, while we are so beyond that, we still have not had any real change in Jewish practice.

BUT IS that, perhaps, a good thing?

I get that there is a real disconnect in praying for the restoration of Israel while standing in the Knesset. I also get that mourning for the Temple’s destruction in modern Jerusalem seems incongruous and yet I feel privileged to do so.

As history does change, these rituals help anchor us to our past which in turn gives us a compass for the future. One of the most important missions we have as Jews is to prevent ourselves from becoming unrecognizable to our future selves. That does not mean we cannot change but that change must be evolutionary and not revolutionary. Thomas Jefferson would have been startled to have seen a black man sitting in his seat in the White House, consulting a female member of his cabinet, but if we were to explain to him that we have now expanded his words that “all men are created equal” to include every human being, I think he would be very happy.

The Talmud imagines Moses magically transported to the classroom of Rabbi Akiva 1,000 years in the future and Moses cannot follow the lecture. He is growing frustrated until a student raises his hand and asks as to the source of a particular teaching to which Rabbi Akiva replies that it was a tradition handed to Moses at Sinai. At that point, Moses breathed a sigh of relief when he realized that what Rabbi Akiva was teaching was the evolution of the very same Torah taught by Moses.

It is our ties to the past that allow us to move forward and we can do so with confidence because of how firmly connected we are to what came before us. I think this is one of the hallmarks of Orthodoxy as well. If Rabbi Akiva would be transported to our time, I have no doubt that the synagogue, study hall, and home he would feel most comfortable in would be Orthodox. Yes, he too would be taken aback by some of our practices, but we would be able to open the Talmud together and trace the interpretation and observances through the development of Halacha through the millennia.

This Tisha Be’Av, we mourn, not because of our situation today but because we tie ourselves to the past and see ourselves as a link to it; but, more importantly, we also see ourselves as a link to the future. Our acceptance of the Torah in our day is really only a responsibility to give it over to the next generation. We mourn, not just for a distant past but to remain true to ourselves and our progeny. ■

The writer holds a doctorate in Jewish philosophy and teaches in post-high-school yeshivot and midrashot in Jerusalem.

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