4/4/19

Can we take Tainted Charity? Who wrote the Haggadah? My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Your Talmudic Advice Column for April 2019

Can we take Tainted Charity? Who wrote the Haggadah? 
My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Your Talmudic Advice Column for April 2019

Dear Rabbi,

I am the head administrator at a major Jewish nonprofit in New Jersey. One of our biggest donors has been charged with a crime. We want to remove his name from our building now. Do we need to wait and see if he is convicted or exonerated? It could be years and we do not want to suffer embarrassment in the interim.

Disheartened in New Jersey

Dear Disheartened,

You do not need to wait. But you may not need to disown your disgraced donor, even when he (or she) is convicted and sent to prison. Check with your New Jersey colleagues in the nonprofit sector about the local customs in this muddy swamp. It seems obvious that where big money is involved, creative solutions abound.

For instance, I can recall several years back, when a big-named donor of a New Jersey Jewish school was sent to prison. It was true that as a result, his name was removed from the school. But resourcefully, the school put up his mother’s name as the replacement. And the family continued supporting its cause.

3/25/19

Jewish Standard Feature Article on my Polychrome Historical Haggadah, the beautiful Color-coded Haggadah that reveals the Seder's history

Thanks to all of you who purchased my Haggadah on Amazon.

Happy Spring!

Jewish Standard Feature Article: 

Color-coded Haggadah highlights seder’s origins: The Polychrome Historical Haggadah

Teaneck rabbi reprints classic work of seven-hued scholarship

By Larry Yudelson

Who wrote the Haggadah?

We know who wrote the Hogwarts Haggadah. (Moshe Rosenberg.) We know who wrote the Rav Kook Haggadah. (Bezalel Naor.) We even know who wrote the ArtScroll Family Haggadah. (Nosson Scherman.)

But who wrote the original text?

Like all the siddur and other classic works of Judaism, the Haggadah dates back to before people started putting title pages and copyright notices on their books and listing them on Amazon. So we don’t really know.

We do know that most of the text we use today is found in the earliest Jewish liturgical manuscripts, which date from the ninth century. And the outline accords with the teachings of the Mishna from six centuries earlier.

But who put this together, and exactly when?

Truth be told, we don’t know.

Now, however, a Teaneck rabbi — and Jewish Standard columnist — has republished a classic work that highlights all the different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.

“We are having a conversation with Jews across all periods of history,” Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy said. “This is not just something we’re doing with our family. We’re having a dialogue across the ages.”

This month, Rabbi Zahavy reissued the Polychrome Historical Haggadah. Originally published in 1974, it was the work of Rabbi Jacob Freedman of Springfield, Massachusetts. It highlights the different levels of the Haggadah by putting each stratum in a different color. Biblical verses are black. Mishna passages are red. And so on — until contemporary additions like the Hatikvah, appropriately in Israeli-flag blue.

It is a seven-hued rainbow.

3/20/19

Rabbinic Gedolim of RCBC in Teaneck Condemn Esther and Ban Purim

The Orthodox rabbis of the RCBC in Teaneck NJ issued a proclamation condemning Esther and banning Purim.

Here is their unanimous proclamation:
It is reported that a letter is circulating, called Megilas Esther, that has conferred “royalty” upon a woman, has described her as a consort to the King of Persia where she carried out certain traditional queenly functions, and has given her the title of “Queen”. The king has implied in this letter that the bestowal of this title is designed to “make it clear that Esther is a full member of the royal staff, a royal person with the additional quality of a distinct woman’s voice.”

These developments represent a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition and the mesoras haTorah, and must be condemned in the strongest terms. Any book or letter that ascribes special qualities to a woman in a respected position of any sort cannot be considered kosher. Megilas Esther furthermore mocks men, portraying them as drunks, egotists and schemers. And finally any celebration based on that book, such as the derivative festival of Purim, that recognizes the heroic role of a woman in public life, must be banned.

Megillat Esther Lesson: A Woman can Save all of the Jews from extinction (but not be counted in an Orthodox minyan)

Purim is a happy holiday and the book of Esther is great entertainment. But this short biblical book also teaches us some profound lessons about politics, bureaucrats and life. We ought to pay close attention to all its nuances and messages.

This year we point out that according to the book of Esther a woman can save the Jewish people (but she cannot be counted in an Orthodox minyan - make any sense to you?).

Is Rush Limbaugh Jewish?

Yes, Rush Limbaugh is a Jew. Rush's Conservative Gentile persona is a successful act that has earned him record multi-million dollar contracts in the radio business.

Rush's real name is Ronald Levy. He was born on the upper West Side of Manhattan. His father was a dermatologist and his mother a junior high school librarian. He attended the Ramaz School where he excelled at floor hockey and then Amherst College where he double-majored in art history and chemistry.

Rush was accepted to Albert Einstein Medical School of Yeshiva University. He had to withdraw during his first semester because he could not control his mocking derisive laughter when confronted with the illnesses and infirmities of the hospital patients.

Happy Purim everybody. א פריילעכן פורים
Rush! Rush! Rush! !רָשׁ! רָשׁ! רָשׁ
חַג פּוּרִים, חַג פּוּרִים,
חַג גָּדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים!
מַסֵּכוֹת, רַעֲשָׁנִים,
שִׁירִים וְרִקּוּדִים!

הָבָה נַרְעִישֶׁהָ:
רָשׁ רָשׁ רָשׁ!
הָבָה נַרְעִישֶׁהָ:
רָשׁ רָשׁ רָשׁ!
הָבָה נַרְעִישֶׁהָ:
רָשׁ רָשׁ רָשׁ!
בָּרַעֲשָׁנִים
//repost from 5769//

2/28/19

Arguing about Orthodox Women Rabbis and Finding your Past Lives - My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Your Talmudic Advice Column - March 2019

Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Your Talmudic Advice Column March 2019
Arguing about Orthodox Women Rabbis and Finding your Past Lives

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I have been bothered deeply to read and hear about a conflict among Teaneck Orthodox rabbis over the hiring of a woman in a rabbinical capacity at a local synagogue.

I think our rabbis ought to set better examples in their behavior and be more progressive in their views about women.

Tired of tiffs in Teaneck

Dear Tired,

I’m sure you realize, first of all, that contention over female clergy is an issue only in the Orthodox world. The Conservative movement has counted women in the minyan for decades and ordained women starting in 1985. Reform Judaism also takes an egalitarian approach to the role of women in their communities. Its first woman rabbi was ordained in 1972.

Sorry, I fear there is not much I can suggest to you to do to help resolve this Orthodox rift. And I say this not based on an assessment of the contemporary persons and institutions involved in the current spat.

1/31/19

When will the world end? - My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for February 2019

When will the world end? - My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for February 2019

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

When will the world come to an end?

Counting Down in Cresskill

Dear Counting,

At first glance, that’s a good question. As you may know, that question is a popular meme in imaginative literature, drama and films, and a prominent theme in religious teachings. It’s not automatically an outlandish question. But it raises my concerns that you ask it.

My first trepidation is that you ask this question because you are in a depressed or agitated disposition and looking for an escape. Take a look in the mirror. Introspect about your own state of mind. Ask people close to you if they have any concerns about your mood.

Are you unhappy at work or at home? Are you facing medical challenges and seek escape from them? Are you looking for some sort of ultimate external resolutions to your problems? If you detect any of these circumstances in your life, it would be good for you to see a therapist, and not seek to calculate the number of hours left in the existence of the universe.

Now it may be that you are sound in your mood levels, but perhaps you are looking around at the world and see things that genuinely trouble you, and that you feel you are powerless to control.

I remember from when I was quite young that my grandmother told me one day in a calm and reassuring voice that she was sure the moshiach — the redeemer messiah that we Jews have been awaiting for millennia — soon will come to redeem us.

What made her sure were the signs of the times that she detected all around us — particularly what she judged was the precipitous decline of morality among young people in our culture.

End-of-days narratives come in many forms. Often, they seek to be reassuring, in a strange, unsettling way. In the genre called apocalyptic (meaning: revealing the end), the story told often relates to us that upheavals or cataclysms soon will be upon us, followed by a change in the way the world is run. After that, we powerless people, who face suffering now, soon will be in power.

1/18/19

What is the Meaning of Life? - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - My Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column for January 2019

Dear Rabbi Zahavy
Your Talmudic Advice Column
January 2019

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

What is the meaning of life?

Wondering in Weehawken


Dear Wondering,

Sure, at this time of the new year it makes sense for a person to wax philosophical and to ask such a big question.

However, let me consider that perhaps you were not really serious in sending in this question to begin with.

In that case, I will answer by quoting to you from the epilogue, the last scene of the 1983 Monty Python comedy film “The Meaning of Life.” There the host opens an envelope containing, well yes, the meaning of life. She reads it out loud and here is her profound advice: “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

While that may not be the momentous meaning of life, that is not bad advice.

Now, let me consider the alternative, and take your question as a serious inquiry and try to reply in kind.

12/6/18

Does Religion Cause Terrorism? My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for December 2018

Does Religion Cause Terrorism?
My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for December 2018

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I sit next to a person in synagogue who frequently engages me in conversation and tells me how evil Islam is. He seems preoccupied with this subject. He says Islam is a terrorist religion and he fears that all Muslims are potential terrorists. He says that sure, some members of that religion pretend to be friendly. But he claims if you turn your back on a Muslim, they will slit your throat.


I know we need to be vigilant to protect ourselves against our enemies. But I feel this person has gone off the deep end and makes me more uncomfortable each time he goes on another tirade. What should I do about this?


Tired of Terror Tirades in Teaneck


Dear Tired,

My first impulse is to smile and tell you to change your seat in synagogue. But I know that where we sit often is not easily shifted. If you move to another place, you will perhaps cause a cascading domino effect of seating shifts. And who wants to upset the equilibrium of worship?

12/2/18

The Talmud Explains Hanukkah

There is no Mishnah or Talmud tractate for the festival of lights. Why is that?

It is an incredible question. Not going to speculate. All we have in rabbinic literature is this...

The Talmud (Bavli Shabbat 21b) explains what is Hanukkah:

What is Hanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev commence the days of Hanukkah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden.

For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day's lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit the lamp therewith for eight days. 

The following year these days were appointed a Festival with the recital of Hallel and thanksgiving.

What else is there to say?