My review of Koren Yevamot - published in the Jewish Press

Review of Koren Talmud Bavli Noé, Vol.14: Yevamot Part 1, Hebrew/English, by Adin Steinsaltz

Some who learn Talmud prefer swimming across the surface of that great sea of learning. Others prefer diving deeply into the oceans to explore the depths of the Talmudic waters.

The Talmud tractate of Yevamot can be learned in many ways. It has one hundred and twenty folio pages deriving out of a mere three verses in the Torah: "If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not be married abroad unto one not of his kin; her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her" (Deut. 25:5).

The subsequent verses instruct, "And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate unto the elders, and say: 'My husband's brother refuses to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother unto me'. Then the elders of the city shall call him, and speak to him; and if he stand, and say: 'I like not to take her'; then will his brother's wife draw near to him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face; and she shall answer and say: 'So shall it be done unto the man that doth not build up his brother's house'" (ibid. 7-9).

From this skimpy few verses of scripture the Talmud builds and elaborate structures of laws and cases regarding two societal practices, the levirate marriage and ritual of Halizah.


The Mishnah in English hits #1 New Release on Amazon In Talmud Books

Judaism teaches that the Mishnah contains the revealed Oral Law that Moses received along with the written Torah from God on Mount Sinai. It was compiled into written form in Hebrew by Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi in around 220 C.E. in Beit Shearim, Israel. The Mishnah has been studied for millennia by all classes and ages of Jews including learned rabbis, laypeople, young children and women. The Mishnah serves as the basic framework for the much larger subsequent work known as the Talmud, which has been the core curriculum of Yeshiva study for Jewish scholars for more than 1500 years..

This volume presents the Mishnah in an elegant and literate English Translation based on the work of Rev. Herbert Danby. Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy added a new forward about the Mishnaic Era and formatted and simplified this edition. Most of the translator's footnotes have been removed leaving the clear, polished and stately English text to stand out as a source of the Divine Revelation for people of all faiths to study and to find in it timeless wisdom and inspiration.


What were the two worst Jewish prayer decisions?

At its establishment, Chief Rabbi Herzog prescribed that the Prayer for the State of Israel be recited after the Torah reading in the synagogue on Sabbaths and Festivals. This was Jewish prayer mistake number one. He incorrectly mandated that this particular recitation remain unimportant, peripheral, second rate, and really not a part of the davening. It was a quick and dirty innovation. And it was wrong.
  • First off, on account of its placement, the prayer is often recited by the gabbai, not the hazzan.
  • Second, the prayer is frequently recited in a monotone, not chanted, and from the side of the bimah, not from the front and center of the synagogue.
  • Third, the prayer is recited after the Torah reading and before the Musaf service - in a liminal area - between the established parts of the davening. It seems to me to be placed in a tertiary context that makes it even less prominent in the liturgy than the personal mesheberach blessings recited for individuals who receive aliyot to the Torah.
You don't have to be an expert in Jewish liturgy to conclude that this prayer is generally presented as an afterthought, recited quickly, and that it has been pasted in to our davening. In fact in many synagogues, the text is not printed in the prayerbook, It is actually pasted into the back cover of the siddur. It is high time for some prayer-book reform. We ought to be inserting a real prayer for the modern state of Israel into the crux of the actual prayer services of our tradition. We perhaps should have the chazzan chant it properly from the bimah. We perhaps should have the congregation join in responsively or together with the chazzan in singing the prayer with joy. Perhaps we should say this prayer three times a day - every day - in our Amidah or after the Alenu. For sure we must not equivocate about the State of Israel. It is real. We live in Teaneck. Most of our friends have been to Israel. Most of our community members have been inspired by the State and its history. We ourselves have lived there and visited there many times. The State of Israel is a factual, powerful, pervasive, long-lasting creator of religious moods and motivations. Yes it is time to promote the thanksgiving, praise and petition concerning the modern State of Israel as a real and central theme of all of our synagogue prayers. It is time to correct the error of the former Chief Rabbi and promote the Prayer for the State of Israel to a much more prominent place in our liturgy. At its establishment, Chief Rabbi Herzog prescribed that the Prayer for the State of Israel contain the phrase, "the beginning of the blossoming our redemption." This was Jewish prayer mistake number two. The State of Israel is the redemption of the Jewish people. Not the "beginning of the redemption." Not the "beginning of the blossoming of the redemption." It is the actual, historical, theological, political, social and cultural redemption of the Jewish people. Anyone who denies this is not in touch with reality. Anyone who hedges about it with language that is wishy-washy and ambivalent and preliminary - is just a redemption denier. We Jews of all denominations must say the Prayer for the State of Israel more frequently, more centrally and more forcefully. Meanwhile, we do not know how to cure these errors. Here for information purposes, is the current flawed prayer in translation.
Our Father in Heaven, Rock and Redeemer of the people Israel; Bless the State of Israel -- the beginning of the blossoming our redemption. Shield it with Your love; spread over it the shelter of Your peace. Guide its leaders and advisers with Your light and Your truth. Help them with Your good counsel. Strengthen the hands of those who defend our Holy Land. Deliver them; crown their efforts with triumph. Bless the land with peace, and its inhabitants with lasting joy. And visit all our Brethren of the house of Israel, in all the lands where they are scattered, and bring them rapidly to Zion, Your city and to Jerusalem, where Your name lives, as it says in the Torah of Moses, Your servant: ‘Even if your dwelling is at the end of the sky, God will congregate you from there, and bring you from there, and will bring you toward the land that Your forefathers inherited and you will inherit it.’ Dedicate our hearts to love and worship Your name and to keep all that is in Your Torah, and send us the son of David, the Messiah of Your justice, to redeem those who wait for Your salvation. Appear with the glory and the pride of Your strength, in front of all the inhabitants of the Universe, and all those who have breath will say: “The God of Israel is the King, and He reigns over all.” Amen.

[Blogged previously in 4/2007.]


Rav Soloveitchik's Dissertation at the University of Berlin 1930: "Das Reine Denken Und Die Seinskonstituierung Bei Hermann Cohen"

Several years ago in honor of the yahrzeit of the Rav's passing (on Hol HaMoed Pesach, the 18th of Nisan, in 1993) and of the anniversary of his birthday (Feb. 27, 1903) I offered to my readers a link to a scan of my teacher Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's doctoral dissertation in the field of philosophy written at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, 1930.

The thesis is in German and the scan is a PDF file: "Das Reine Denken Und Die Seinskonstituierung Bei Hermann Cohen" by Josef Solowiejczyk. ("Pure Thought as the Constitution of Being in Hermann Cohen's Philosophy") 

Josef Solowiejczyk, Das reine Denken und die Seinskonstituierung bei Hermann Cohen [The Epistemology of Pure Thought and the Construction of Being according to Herman Cohen], (Berlin: Reuther and Reichard, 1932).

Subsequently I have uploaded the text to the Internet Archive (12/28/2021).

Manfred Lehmann (d. 1997) wrote briefly about this dissertation and the Rav's biography:
...It is reported that the Rav would have liked to write his dissertation on Maimonides and Plato, but since no experts in these subjects were available in Berlin, he chose a field of pure philosophy, tempered with mathematics.


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 have purchased my Haggadah on Amazon. 

Purchase the new hardcover edition now at Amazon and Judaica House in Teaneck in hard cover at a discount!

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.


A few codes left for you for a free evaluation copy of the audio book of "Jewish Dreams"

Blog friends: I have a few free promo codes left - send me an email (zahavy@gmail.com) and I will send you a code for a free copy of this new amazing audio book.

Here is the blurb flor the book: Dreams are the interior sleeping experiences of individual people, sometimes remembered by a person when he awakens, often not, sometimes narrative, other times disjointed and symbolic in flashes or episodes. Whether stories or scenes, we sometimes want more from our dreams than just entertainment.

Before Freud, many literate interpreters of dreams assumed that these internal episodes were portents of the future revealed to individuals by some external angel or God. A person’s dreams were personal portals through which he or she could glimpse outside and see his fortune-to-come.

That is how the Bible, the Talmud, and later rabbinic texts present the subjects of dreams and the acts of dream interpretation.

After Freud’s radical paradigm shift, the norm was to see dreams as windows into the personal fears and wishes that stemmed from an individual’s life experiences. Freud observably disavowed the notion that an independent ontological realm was sending messages to people via their dreams. He saw them as another means by which to delve into people’s inner psyches, as messages from the interior and from the near or distant past.

Nothing can be said about reports of dreams in the Hebrew Bible or the Talmud or for that matter in any human subculture without first recognizing the revolutionary works on the topic by the psychologists of the 19th and 20th centuries, especially Sigmund Freud. It is well known that Freud was a Jew and probably knew some of the Jewish traditions about dreams. Surely he knew of the biblical narratives about Joseph’s dreams and other ancient texts and references to dreaming.

The chapters of this audiobook cover diverse aspects of Jewish dreams through the varied prisms of several scholars and classical Jewish texts.


Talmudic Advice from a Swim Addict: Swim 100 laps every day

The Tosefta quotes Rabbi Meir (2nd century CE) saying that everyone should strive to recite 100 blessings each day. It then goes on to explain how one can do this.

Blessings are berakhot ברכות in Hebrew. In modern Hebrew the laps that one swims in a pool are called berechot בריכות.

I playfully and read the Talmud this way: Don't say 100 berakhot, say 100 berechot.
More about Meir from Wikipedia: Meir was buried in a standing position near the Kinneret. Pictured here. It is said that he asked to be buried this way so when the Final Redemption occurs, Rabbi Meir would be spared the trouble of arising from his grave and could just walk out to greet the Jewish Messiah. He requested that he be buried in Israel by the seashore so that the water that washes the shores should also lap his grave (Jerusalem Talmud, Kelaim 9:4).
And so I have my Talmudic encouragement to swim 100 laps a day. On many days each year, I get to that goal.

Here are a few of my past reflections on swimming...