7/27/15

Recommended Book: The Book of Jewish Prayers in English by Tzvee Zahavy

This is an exceptional book by Tzvee Zahavy from Amazon Kindle. I recommend that you buy a copy today. This outstanding volume presents the Jewish prayers in English with accompanying essays about the basis of prayer, prayer as visualization and the piety and devotion of Jewish life.
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The Book of Jewish Prayers in English
The Book of Jewish Prayers in English
by Tzvee Zahavy
  Learn more  

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7/26/15

Should we fast on Tisha B'Av?

No. I believe we should abolish the practice of fasting to commemorate the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple on the ninth day of the month of Av, known as Tisha B'Av (falling on August 5 in 2014).

Now before you convene a synod to excommunicate me, know that I am in good company. In the third century CE the greatest Tanna, Rabbi Judah the Prince, tried to abolish Tisha B'Av.

My son Yitz called my attention to this passage below which records the rabbi's action [Soncino Babylonian Talmud (2012-04-25). Megillah and Shekalim (Kindle Locations 739-743). Kindle Edition.] and to Tosafot's glosses (at Megillah 5b) which reject the premise that someone could entertain the notion of abolishing Tisha B'Av.
R. Eleazar said in the name of R. Hanina: Rabbi planted a shoot on Purim, and bathed in the [bathhouse of the] marketplace of Sepphoris on the seventeenth of Tammuz and sought to abolish the fast of the ninth of Ab, but his colleagues would not consent. R. Abba b. Zabda ventured to remark: Rabbi, this was not the case. What happened was that the fast of Ab [on that year] fell on Sabbath, and they postponed it till after Sabbath, and he said to them, Since it has been postponed, let it be postponed altogether, but the Sages would not agree.
Of course, if Rabbi Judah the Prince (compiler of the Mishnah) once tried to abolish Tisha B'Av but the sages would not agree to it, I do not expect that the sages of our times will agree with me to abolish Tisha B'Av.

Yet here is why they should.

I concur that as a culture we need to remember the calamities of the past so that we can be vigilant and prevent the calamities of the future. But we need effective ritual memories that are clear and unequivocal. Tisha B'Av commemorates that the city of Jerusalem and the Temple in it were destroyed.

Because the city has been rebuilt in modern Israel, this befogs the symbolism of the past destruction and renders it less effective.

I have been mulling over this issue for thirty years or more. In 2012 I mused as follows (with a few edits added).

Is Tisha B'Av relevant? No I do not think that the fast of Tisha B'Av is relevant anymore. I need a holiday from Tisha B'Av.

That day was for a long time a commemoration through fasting and prayer over the destroyed city of Jerusalem and the Temple. I visited Jerusalem in May of 2011 (ed.: and again in 2013) and can attest that the city is not desolate. It is without reservations, glorious.

Who then wants the bleak story to be told? Archetypally the militant "celebrity" archetype wants to keep recalling defeat, destruction and desolation, to spur team Jews on to fight the foes and to triumph at the end of time. That scheme may work for that archetype as long as the facts of reality do not fly smack in the face of the narrative. And when they do, what then? The narrative loses its force.

I cannot imagine Jerusalem in ruins. Period. And indeed, why should I perpetuate an incendiary story of gloom and doom into a diametrically opposite positive world of building and creativity? The era of desolation has ended.

For over twenty-five years, I've been lamenting the irony of lamenting over a city that is rebuilt. It's more rebuilt now -- way more -- than it was twenty five years ago. What do I do then about Tisha B'Av, the Jewish fast day of lament and mourning? Here is what I said those many years ago.

7/22/15

Rashi - Great French Jewish Bible Exegete

Many scholars believe that Rashi was the greatest French Jew and the greatest Bible exegete.

Read about Rashi and his work in this best seller book at Amazon: Rashi: The Greatest Exegete. It was written by Maurice Liber. I added a new Foreword. Price: an amazing $0.99. Description as follows:

The paradigmatic master of medieval rabbinic commentary was Rashi (Rabbi Solomon b. Isaac, 1040-1105) a scholar from the north of France. While he is often credited with the move to “literal commentary” in medieval times, even a cursory study of his commentaries reveals how indebted he was to the rabbinic exegesis of the earlier classical compilations. With Rashi we witness the mature development of a new paradigm of interpretation. He delicately balances his interpretations between gloss and exposition. He picks at and edits the earlier Midrash materials and weaves together with them into his commentary the results of new discoveries, such as philology and grammar. His main proposition is hardly radical within rabbinism. He accepts that there is one whole Torah of Moses consisting of the oral and written traditions and texts. In his commentaries he accomplished the nearly seamless integration of the basics of both bodies of tradition.

Rashi

Also please consider these books: 
The Book of Jewish Prayers
Dear Rabbi

Free Kinnos Kinnot Lamentations Elucidations for Tisha B'Av

Reuven Brauner wrote to us from Raanana, Israel about his publication on the lamentations (Hebrew: kinnot or kinnos) for Tisha B'Av, "Key Notes for Kinnos." The work is available in PDF format for free downloading at http://www.halakhah.com/:

The Tisha B'Av poems of lament, the Kinnos, like all our Piyyutim and Selichos, were written in a poetic language and style containing hinted references to verses in Tanach, stories in the Talmud and Midrashim, and other historical incidents like the Crusades. They are difficult to comprehend and appreciate by even the most knowledgeable modern speaker or student of Hebrew, not to mention those who are not fluent in the Holy Tongue.

What chance is there for most of us to fully understand the depths of their messages of sadness and despair, prayer and hope?

In a modest attempt to rectify a part of this problem, I have selected a few key words and phrases from each Kinnoh and provided a flash of information regarding their definitions and references in hope that the reader will be able obtain a measure of meaning from and appreciation for what he or she is reading during the services of this day of fasting and repentance.

7/21/15

Is British Open Winner Zach Johnson Jewish?

No Zach Johnson is not a Jew. He is a devout Christian.

CNN reports, "The Open 2015: Zach Johnson -- 'I'm just a blessed boy'".
St Andrews (CNN): It was news to Zach Johnson that he'd won the Open Championship.

So focused was the 39-year-old that when Louis Oosthuizen's crucial birdie putt missed on the final hole it was his caddie Damon Green that broke the news to him.

A deeply religious man, Johnson was busy reciting scripture to keep his concentration, and when he'd finished he'd added the Claret Jug to his 2007 Masters triumph...

Is master of sex Actor Lizzy Caplan who plays famed sexologist Virginia Johnson in Showtime’s "Masters of Sex" Jewish?

Is master of sex Actor Lizzy Caplan who plays famed sexologist Virginia Johnson in Showtime’s "Masters of Sex" Jewish?

Yes Lizzy Caplan is a Jew. TOI reports:
Although she has fond memories of her Reform upbringing, bat mitzvah and Jewish summer camp, back in 2005, Caplan told American Jewish Life magazine that she had “kind of strayed away” from Jewish involvement.

“I think once I have a family I’ll be back into it,” she said. “I love being a Jew, but I’m not Super Jew.”

But last year, the Emmy-nominee blamed her lack of confidence in winning an award for outstanding lead actress on her cultural outlook.

“I don’t think it’s fair to assume that at all. I’m Jewish, so I’m predisposed to assume there’s no chance in hell that’s going to happen,” she told The New York Times.
TOI continues, "The series opens with the depiction of the pair’s release of their groundbreaking 1966 book, “Human Sexual Response.”

Indeed if you have published a book, you will love this episode.

It captures the sacred moment when the doctor receives the galley proofs from his publisher and depicts the reverence with which they are treated. Most authors know these feelings.

And in a wonderful interleaved scene that pops in and out of the episode, it portrays the fear and the fantasy that each of us authors has after we cast our books out to the public - that they will be criticized mercilessly or that they will be received as brilliant and revolutionary.

[Hat tip to ISW.]

7/15/15

To my Jeremiad preaching colleagues: I am grateful to Barack Obama for completing an agreement with Iran to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons

Hey all my Jeremiad preaching friends: I am grateful to Barack Obama for completing an agreement with Iran to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons.

Let's hear your long, mournful complaints and lamentations and your list of woes, oh you Jeremiahs. This is the season preceding Tisha B'Av and it is a religious obligation to recall the woes of the ancient prophets, to lament and to mourn.

However, I'm not joining your moaning and groaning. I am rejoicing.

This deal with Iran is a major step forward towards the stabilization of the middle East and a good thing for peace in our the world. Here's some of the news from the NY Times.



Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program; Limits on Fuel Would Lessen With Time

VIENNA — Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States reached a historic accord on Tuesday to significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions.

The deal culminates 20 months of negotiations on an agreement that President Obama had long sought as the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency. Whether it portends a new relationship between the United States and Iran — after decades of coups, hostage-taking, terrorism and sanctions — remains a bigger question.

Mr. Obama, in an early morning appearance at the White House that was broadcast live in Iran, began what promised to be an arduous effort to sell the deal to Congress and the American public, saying the agreement is “not built on trust — it is built on verification.”

He made it abundantly clear he would fight to preserve the deal from critics in Congress who are beginning a 60-day review, declaring, “I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.”...

7/14/15

Orthodox Judaism Escalates its War on Women


The Orthodox war on women is not an accidental element in the religion and culture of Orthodoxy. It is an essential defining fact of Orthodox belief and practice. 

An Orthodox "rabbi" in my town has escalated the war. He wrote proudly last week on his blog about how Orthodox Jews won the last battle against women. They kept the women in the back of the shul behind the mehitza. Now he says, they will win the next battle against women. They will prevent women from becoming rabbis.

The evidence is clear across the board. Orthodox Judaism without any doubt preaches that God wants women held in second class status. It teaches that God says that women must be discriminated against and denied civil rights and equality.


The Orthodox segregate women in synagogues, schools and streets and buses. 


Women cannot sit where they wish in synagogue or lead the prayers. Women cannot testify in Jewish courts. Married women cannot divorce their husbands. Women cannot sing for men. Women cannot become rabbis. Women cannot study in Yeshivas. 


The Orthodox segregate women with clothing rules. They say that women cannot wear the clothing of their choice. 


And this war on women is getting more intense. Orthodox men now refuse to sit next to women in public transportation on buses and airplanes. In Orthodox neighborhoods women are told where to walk on public sidewalks and what length their dresses and blouse sleeves must be when they go out of their homes.


Orthodox Judaism denies women the right to divorce their husbands. And there is more.


This war directed against women has been going on for centuries and continues to gain momentum now in 2015.


I have been writing in exasperation about this subject for many years. I originally wrote an essay in 1987 to analyze and characterize some of the darker clouds that I saw on the horizon within Orthodox Judaism's belligerent attitudes, especially its war on women.

These teachings about women are false. Orthodox Judaism is a beautiful religion.


What shall we do to stop this war?



Here are some other of my articles, reviews, independent study courses and more... 

[An earlier version of this post appeared here 10/28/10]. 

7/12/15

Is Bernie Sanders Jewish?

Yes, Bernie Sanders is a Jew. He is a senator from Vermont and a candidate for president of the United States.

Wikipedia reports on his early life:
Bernie Sanders was born on September 8, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Eli and Dorothy (Glassberg) Sanders. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Poland whose family was killed in the Holocaust. His mother was born to Jewish parents in New York.

Sanders attended elementary school at P.S. 197, where he won a state championship on the basketball team. He attended Hebrew school in the afternoons and had his bar mitzvah in 1954. Sanders attended James Madison High School, where he was captain of the track team. While at Madison, Sanders lost his first election, finishing last out of three for the student body presidency. Sanders's mother died in June 1959 at the age of 46 shortly after Sanders graduated from high school. Sanders went to Brooklyn College for a year before transferring to the University of Chicago. While there, he was active in the Civil Rights Movement, and a student organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. One of the actions he took was the coordination of sit-in protests against segregated campus housing. Sanders also participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He was a member of the Young People's Socialist League, the youth affiliate of the Socialist Party of America.

He graduated from the University of Chicago with a bachelor of arts degree in political science in 1964. After graduating, Sanders spent several months on an Israeli kibbutz, and he moved to Vermont in 1968.

7/8/15

Talmud: Swim 100 laps every day

The Tosefta quotes Rabbi Meir 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 read the Talmud: Don't say 100 berakhot, say 100 berechot.

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...

Some time ago, JTA reported that "Liberal men take the plunge into ritual immersion, slowly" -- Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish men were going to mikvah and finding it meaningful. Sue Fishkoff wondered why and so did I.

She ended her article with a quote from mikvah user and attorney Merrill Hassenfeld, “We’re always doing things for others, why don’t we set aside time to go to the mikvah?” he asked. “It prepares us to go out into the world and start yelling and screaming again.” (Has a greater non-sequiteur ever been uttered?)

Now, my confession. I am a pool addict. I am a lap swimmer. Starting in 1982 my aim was to try to swim a mile - 64 laps every day. Finding the time. Finding a pool. Finding the energy. Not easy. Since 2013 I raised the lap level to 100 a day - a mile and a half. 400 miles a year.

When I come out of my pool, I find that I feel healthier, more centered and completely relaxed. Swimming a mile in around 30 minutes is hard, aerobic work. That is what I have to invest to get results from my "mikvah" experience. I'm happy to hear that others can achieve their own "incredible" positive benefits from splashing around in a state of heightened imagination.

I have sought out pools to swim my laps all over the world. My most favorite pool was the old Gordon Pool on Tel Aviv beach near the Sheraton, pictured below from a few years ago.

It was one of the wonders of the world. Each night they emptied the entire 50 meter pool, cleaned it and refilled it from underground saltwater wells 120 meters below. The pool opened at 5 AM at 24 degrees, which was just fine for us lap swimmers.


Suddenly, the Gordon pool was leveled in 2008 without warning by the city of Tel Aviv. Happily, they rebuilt and reopened it as a more modern facility. I swam there in 2011. It's wonderful.

 
I admit that 100 laps is an arbitrary goal. But for me, most days, it's exhilerating!

[repost in part from 5/20/09]