8/14/18

The Classic Book Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg's "Jewish Magic" - My wonderful edition for Kindle - Purchase Now

Please take extra special note and purchase my revised edition for Kindle of the great classic book Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg's "Jewish Magic."



This book is a comprehensive review of Jewish magic from the 10th to the 15th century. This book explains well-known Jewish traditions, such as why a glass is broken at a wedding, and how the expression mazal tov is related to a belief in astrology. Rabbi Trachtenberg dealt with Golems, Succubi, the Lillim, (from Lilith, Adam’s first wife), and other magical creatures, some well-known such as werewolves, and others not so well, such as estrie, mare and broxa. He presented detailed descriptions of talismans, amulets, charms, and other magical objects. His chapters dealt with dream interpretation, medical beliefs, necromancy, and other forms of divination. Rabbi Trachtenberg’s appreciation of the role of magic in Jewish culture was significant for the study of Judaism, and for the knowledge of modern beliefs and practices in religions in general.

My New Title for the Book

The original title of this book in 1939 was Jewish Magic and Superstition. For this Kindle edition in 2016, I removed the tendentious terms superstition and superstitious from this otherwise excellent book and from its title, and I substituted where needed throughout the text of the book, either the words religious or magical to lend the discussion greater consistency and to remove the distracting and negative polemical aspect of those terms from this pivotal study.

Commonly the word superstition is used to refer to aspects of religion that are not practiced by the majority of a culture. It has had a pejorative connotation since the days of Plato and Aristotle. Wikipedia (s.v. Superstition) informs us that:
In the classical era, the existence of gods was actively debated both among philosophers and theologians, and opposition to superstition arose consequently. The poem De rerum natura, written by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius further developed the opposition to superstition.
Cicero’s work De natura deorum also had a great influence on the development of the modern concept of superstition as well as the word itself. Where Cicero distinguished superstitio and religio, Lucretius used only the term religio. Cicero, for whom superstitio meant “excessive fear of the gods” wrote that “superstitio, non religio, tollenda est,” which means that only superstition, and not religion, should be abolished… The term superstitio, or superstitio vana “vain superstition,” was applied in the first century to those religious cults in the Roman Empire which were officially outlawed.
 The Teaneck New Jersey Author

The author of this book, Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg (b. 1904, d. 1959) was a reform rabbi at Temple Emeth in Teaneck, New Jersey. This book is an expansion of his Columbia University Ph.D. thesis.

Thanks go out to my valued collaborator, Reuven Brauner for his work improving the editing and formatting of this book for this Kindle eBook publication.



8/3/18

Is the Film "The Endless Summer" Jewish?

My favorite movie is Bruce Brown's, The Endless Summer. No, it wasn't Jewish at all that is, until I made it into a metaphor for my quest for perfect Jewish spirituality and the inspiration for my book cover (see below). I haven't found any other Jewish connections to the film or the poster.

Vanity Fair has a story about the famous iconic Endless Summer movie poster. "One Summer, Forever: The Endless Summer poster is 50 years old, and it hasn't aged a minute. Kitchen-table project turned pop-culture phenomenon, the Day-Glo movie promo created by John Van Hamersveld for his friend Bruce Brown’s 1964 documentary is still selling the dream—on T-shirts, TV shows, beer bottles, and dorm walls. Lili Anolik looks back at the moment an iconic image was born, the social upheaval it presaged, and the surfer-dude-slash-designer whose life it changed."

In 1966 I saw a film that documented two boys seeking simple perfection in a quasi-mystical sport. IMDB sums up, "Brown follows two young surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave, and ends up finding quite a few in addition to some colorful local characters."

The film spoke to me, as it did to many others of a more idealistic age. The essence of surfing of course is the wave. And the lover of surfing no doubt wants to embark on the quest for the best wave. To experience the performance of the essence is to find the perfect wave.

Brown's two surfer dudes found one in South Africa, see the video clip below.

8/2/18

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for August 2018 - Should I Lie or Tell the Truth?

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for August 2018
Should I Lie or Tell the Truth?


Dear Rabbi Zahavy

I thoughtlessly violated a petty and unfair town ordinance. Now I am being fined for it. I’m thinking that I could just pay the fine, or I could go to the town and explain what happened and ask for a reduction in the fine. But nowadays it seems that our highest government officials have no hesitation making things up. Perhaps I can concoct a story to avoid the blame for my actions and avoid the fines. Would that be justified?

Conflicted in Cresskill


Dear Conflicted,

It should be easy for me to say that lying is not the preferred way to go. I’m obliged as a rabbi to represent ethical and moral standards. I should say without hesitation — tell the truth in good faith and ask your town to understand the situation.

But if we look around at all the obvious lying going on in our politics, in our world, it makes you stop and think. Maybe lying is a viable option. Maybe you will be better off if you lie.

And honestly, if you look closely at our Jewish traditions you see dramatic examples of lying recounted proudly in our Bible stories, without qualms. Why then should you opt for the truth?

Let’s critically probe three obvious instances of deceit by our esteemed and venerated patriarchs and ancestors as described in the first book of the Torah and see what we can learn from them.

7/25/18

My Great Grandfather was Harris Epstein the Great Inventor of a Patented Folding Umbrella, Extension Ladder and more


I am named after my great-grandfather, Harris (Tzvee) Epstein, aka, Epstein the Inventor, who lived in New York City and Spring Valley. I probably inherited my technical curiosity from him.

He was the inventor and patent holder of many practical items, a folding umbrella, an extension ladder, a double sided toothbrush, a vegetable grater and more.

Here are of his patents with their links from Google Patent search: FOLDING UMBRELLA Patent number: 1666692 Filing date: Jan 29, 1927 Issue date: Apr 17, 1928

SIGNALING APPARATUS US Pat. 1060898 - H. EPSTEIN. SIGNALING APPARATUS, APPLICATION PILED JAN. 26, 19.11. Patented May 6,1913.

EXTENSION LADDER US Pat. 949529 - Filed Feb 10, 1909

VEGETABLE GRATER US Pat. 1799963 - Filed Apr 4, 1930... UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE HARRIS EPSTEIN, OF ROCKAWAY BEACH, NEW YORK VEGETABLE GRATER

GAS-CONTROLLING DEVICE US Pat. 968457 - Filed Jan 11, 1910

TOOTH BRUSH Patent number: 1111144 Filing date: Oct 4, 1913 Issue date: Sep 22, 1914

Papa Epstein, as he was called by his grandchildren, sure would have liked the age of the personal computer and the Internet, especially the iPad and smart phone.

[Augmented repost from 12/17/06]

7/24/18

Awesome Unlimited Mobile Plan from Sprint for $35 a month


For age 55+ (they don't check) you get 2 lines for $70 a month unlimited and a $50 Visa card for signing up.

Check for great deal on the Samsung Galaxy S9 - maybe 50% off.


Free download files of the Babylonian Talmud in English - Superior to Sefaria

I am proud to provide for you as a gift, a download of the complete Babylonian Talmud English translation..

The Talmud in English is online and free at my site, Halakhah.com, http://www.halakhah.com/
- serving up 60,000+ downloads each month.

In 2016 I gave away a record 662,568 free downloaded files of the Babylonian Talmud in English.

TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH WITH NOTES, GLOSSARY AND INDICES UNDER THE EDITORSHIP OF RABBI DR. I. EPSTEIN B.A., Ph.D., D. Lit. FOREWORD BY THE VERY REV. THE LATE CHIEF RABBI DR. J. H. HERTZ. INTRODUCTION BY THE EDITOR.

Contains the Sedarim (orders, or major divisions) and tractates (books) of the Babylonian Talmud, as translated and organized for publication by the Soncino Press in 1935 - 1948.

My site has the entire Talmud edition in PDF format and  about 8050 pages in HTML format, comprising 1460 files — of the Talmud.

I recommend that on your web site or blog you add a link to this site http://www.halakhah.com.

Highlights include: A formatted 2-column PDF version of the Talmud at Halakhah.com.

7/18/18

Times: Bruce Lincoln et. al. say NIMBY to University of Chicago Center for Milton Friedman Economics

10 years ago 7/12/2008 - this is what was on my mind... a blast from the past.... It looks like the opposition of a decade ago failed to stop the project - see the link here to the Becker Friedman Institute about page and activities summary.

Repost from 2008 follows:

Apparently, my old colleague Bruce Lincoln is leading the opposition at the University of Chicago to a newly established Center for Milton Friedman Style Economics.

The Chi Trib quoted Lincoln last month, '"It is a right-wing think tank being put in place," said Bruce Lincoln, a professor of the history of religions and one of the faculty members who met with the administration Tuesday. "The long-term consequences will be very severe. This will be a flagship entity and it will attract a lot of money and a lot of attention, and I think work at the university and the university's reputation will take a serious rightward turn to the detriment of all."'

Now the Times
(in a notably weak and poorly researched article) has him saying less, that is, "As an opponent of the entire institute, rather than simply its name, Mr. Lincoln characterized himself on the extreme end of the opposition. He said he would like to see a research center “much more committed to free inquiry and a larger debate, and not just grinding the same ax sharper and sharper.”"

7/7/18

Bikinis and Rabbis: My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Column for August 2015

Rerun of my previous popular summer advice. 

Dear Rabbi,

I’m a young modern Orthodox woman. I like to go to the beach in the summer. Recently some of my friends criticized me for wearing a bikini at the beach. They say their rabbis taught them that it is not in keeping with our religion to wear a bikini because it is clothing that is not modest. I see that the prevalent fashion for young and fit women at the beach or pool is mostly a bikini. What makes your fellow rabbis think that they have the authority to dictate to me and other women what fashions to follow on the beach —or off it?

Two Piece in Teaneck


Dear Two Piece,

I’m one rabbi who does not claim to have women’s fashion expertise. I am relieved that you ask me about rabbinic authority, rather than what is the right fashion for you.

I do know that in the world of fashion you hear often about trends, not standards. I recognize that there is a lot of variety in the choices that women have, on and off the beach.

One day this summer I had the occasion to walk the length of the boardwalk in a Long Island South Shore beach community and could not help but observe that bikinis are a quite common choice for women, young and middle aged, at the beach clubs along the way. And I did notice in the Target ad flyer in the Sunday newspaper that most of the women’s swim suits on sale are bikinis.

Before anyone criticizes me for gazing upon women, let me refer to a story about one of our greatest talmudic rabbis, Rabban Gamaliel. According to the Talmud, when he saw a beautiful woman, Gamaliel recited a blessing, Blessed be He who made beautiful creatures in this world.

I agree with Gamaliel. Beauty is something that God bestowed upon our world. When the appropriate fashion allows for us to admire beauty in a tactful and respectful way, we may do so, and perhaps we should thank God with a blessing.

Now you may wonder, why don’t other Orthodox rabbis agree with Rabban Gamaliel and with me? Why do many religious authorities who happily admit that they have no knowledge or understanding of fashion go ahead and teach and preach that it’s a religious obligation that women must cover up their arms and legs and midriffs?

I don’t know why other rabbis have taken upon themselves the authority to dictate fashion requirements to women. And I find it hard to approve of that.

It seems to me wrong for any man to require women to cover up. Even though there is a long-standing theme in Jewish customs for married women to cover their hair and there are other customs for all women to cover much of their skin, the requirement of long sleeves and long skirts using the category of “modesty” is at best capricious. In the preponderance of contexts it also is out of step with the normal and customary notions of fashion in our general communities.

And one more thing. It is not a stretch for some folk to criticize the cover-up rules in Orthodox circles as yet another means of segregating women and as a way of denying them the freedom to choose and the rights to decide their own fashion options.

The notion that covering up all of your skin on the hot summer beach or at the pool or in the marketplace around town is connected to virtue is patently unfounded. Hence the rules that mandate overdressing are arbitrary annoyances at best.

Yet I’ve been told that there is a new women’s clothing store on Cedar Lane in Teaneck that sells kosher swimsuits made of nylon and polyester, comprising pants under a skirt and elbow length sleeves. I would not be surprised if these bathing costumes have tags on them certifying rabbinical approval.

Truly, I have no idea where my colleagues got the notion that wearing a bikini at the beach is a bad thing. I can’t explain or justify this rabbinic attitude to you. My advice to you is to follow your own notions of comfort and the prevailing styles and fashions of your immediate community.

And if anyone criticizes you, you may answer with a confident and polite reply, Thank you for your opinion. I will wear whatever I deem appropriate.

Tzvee Zahavy earned his Ph.D. from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author of many books, including these Kindle Edition ebooks available at Amazon.com: “The Book of Jewish Prayers in English,” “Rashi: The Greatest Exegete,” “God’s Favorite Prayers” and “Dear Rabbi” — which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.

7/5/18

My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for July 2018 - Let's Fix The Ninth of Av

My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for July 2018 - Let's Fix The Ninth of Av

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

Our U.S. government recognized Jerusalem as capital of Israel on May 14, 2018, and dedicated its embassy there, moving it from Tel Aviv. I don’t understand how we can continue to commemorate the 9th day of Av as a sad fast day that memorializes Jerusalem as a destroyed desolate city, when the facts of today totally contradict that. Doesn’t the reality of today’s circumstances make it time to abolish the fasting and mourning of that day?

Puzzled in Paramus

Dear Puzzled,

We need to ask in general — why should we cede to religion the ability to legislate our emotions? What is the benefit of making people sad and mournful through rituals? Religion can do this, to a degree. By requiring fasting, by forbidding weddings from taking place, banning music for three weeks, by prohibiting haircuts and shaving, religion can try to manipulate moods and motivations. But why?

7/4/18

The Star Spangled Banner in Yiddish - Video



It's the 4th of July this week and time for us to sing again the Star Spangled Banner in Yiddish. This version's Yiddish translation by Berl Lapin.

Here is an earlier version courtesy of Jack Balkin1943 translation of the Star Spangled Banner into Yiddish by Dr. Abraham Asen, described as "the foremost Yiddish adapter of English poetry," and proudly presented in commemoration of the anniversary of the death of Francis Scott Key.

O'zog, kenstu sehn, wen bagin licht dervacht,
Vos mir hoben bagrist in farnachtigen glihen?
Die shtreifen un shtern, durch shreklicher nacht,
Oif festung zich hoiben galant un zich tsein?
Yeder blitz fun rocket, yeder knal fun kanon,
Hot bawizen durch nacht: az mir halten die Fohn!
O, zog, tzi der "Star Spangled Banner" flatert in roim,
Ueber land fun die freie, fun brave die heim!


I repost this every few years. Enjoy!