3/23/20

Who wrote the Haggadah?



They say that the Seder is the most widely observed Jewish ritual. Assuming that is true, the Haggadah then is a near universally used Jewish book. It also is one of the most frequently published Jewish books in history, surpassed perhaps only by the Hebrew Bible and the Siddur and Machzor Prayer books.

Now it behooves me to ask of this book, who wrote the Haggadah?

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. 

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.

3/5/20

Electricity on Shabbat? My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Jewish Standard Column for March 2020

Electricity on Shabbat? My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Jewish Standard Column for March 2020

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

Members of my community of Orthodox Jews who are shomer Shabbos refrain from turning on and off all electrical devices to observe their Shabbat rest. So, on Friday nights and Saturdays our practice is not to use, for instance, our phones or TVs or computers. And we don’t turn on or off lights or fans or heaters.

Lately, I’ve become lax in keeping these rules, especially regarding my use of my smart phone, my computer and my Alexa Amazon Echo devices. I feel that using these devices enhances my rest and my leisure. And I have found that avoiding them makes me uneasy, not relaxed or restful.

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I don’t publicly advertise my actions. But it’s increasingly evident to me that my family knows what I am doing and that they quietly disapprove.

I am worried and need your advice. Am I sinning by my behavior? I feel strongly that what I am doing is not a violation of any rules and likely will continue my uses. But what can I do regarding my actions if this all blows up and causes social friction in my family and community?

Electrified in Englewood

Dear Electrified,

Establishing sacred time is a powerful part of all religions. The notion that we Jews spend one day a week in a special world of restful restrictions starting on sundown on Friday is an amazing claim to make. And at the same time, it is hard for the community to enforce the Sabbath taboos.

2/6/20

Times: How did Jewish Actor Kirk Douglas Quit Smoking Cigarettes?

Kirk Douglas passed away at 103 today. He quit smoking cigarettes years ago. His story is below, reposted from 2010... Please, if you smoke, stop today!

On occasion, we suggest to people we know who smoke cigarettes, and sometimes even to random smoking strangers, that today is the perfect day to quit smoking cigarettes.

Here is Kirk Douglas' first person account from the Times in 2003 of why today is the best day of your life to quit smoking cigarettes. (Yes he was Jewish, born born Issur Danielovitch, now 92 years old. He played the Jewish Col. David 'Mickey' Marcus in the film, "Cast a Giant Shadow.")

If you do smoke cigarettes, please do quit today.
My First Cigarette, and My Last
By KIRK DOUGLAS
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.

My father, a Russian peasant, came to this country in 1910. Like all of his pals, he smoked. It's hard for me to picture my father without a cigarette in his mouth.

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for February 2020 - Beginning Talmud Study and Playing Golf

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for February 2020 - Beginning Talmud Study and Playing Golf

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

As I approach retirement and anticipate having more time on my hands, I have decided to take up two new pursuits: studying the Talmud and playing golf.

For Talmud study, I was thinking of learning at the rate of one page per day via the Daf Yomi program, as relatives as well as friends at my synagogue have advised. Perhaps you know of it?

As for golf, a couple of outings a week seems ideal, and again both friends and relatives insist that they will tolerate my incompetence and help.

But there seems to be so much involved in just getting started that part of me thinks both pursuits may be too elusive.

Am I taking on too much in my golden years?

Bewildered Beginner in Bergenfield


Dear Bewildered,

Not at all! I applaud with all my heart your ambition to expand your emotional, intellectual, and physical qualities at a time in life when many of us face the awful prospect of living out our later days in quiet desperation. I’m with best-selling author Daniel J. Levitin, who in his book, “Successful Aging,” enthusiastically commends those who set out to tackle bold new challenges in their mature years.

Go for it!

In fact, you already have started — by seeking assistance from relatives and friends. So, in offering my own advice, I’ll do likewise through the insights of two special advisers, my own sister, Dr. Miryam Wahrman of Teaneck, and my longtime golfing friend, the golf writer and editor Robin McMillan. Each has experienced what you are facing now. It is true that while Miryam is talmudically enlightened (or so she tells me), Robin still has trouble breaking 100 on the golf course, but both enjoy their avocations immensely. This, I think, is your true goal as you approach retirement.

11/28/19

Thanksgiving Sermon of Rabbi Zev Zahavy from 1943

Here is my dad's incredible inspiring and uplifting sermon from 1943 for the holiday of Thanksgiving. It was a dark year in the history of humankind. Yet Rabbi Zahavy found ways to weave together precepts from our classical Jewish tradition to give hope and optimism to those who faced the bewildering frightening world of 1943.

I read this sermon every year and it inspires me more each time. My father was an impresario of the rabbinic pulpit.

Click here for Rabbi Zev Zahavy's 1943 Thanksgiving Sermon, published by the RCA, Rabbinical Council of America.





A big hat tip to Zechariah for finding this and sending it to us.

Thanksgiving Turkey Drumstick Jack-O-Lantern Pumpkin Pie Table Song - A Lone Pumpkin Grew

Thanksgiving is upon us and we sing traditional holiday songs at our Thanksgiving dinner.

Here are the words to one of our favorites...

Oh a lone pumpkin grew on a green pumpkin vine.
He was round
he was fat
he was yellow.
"No silly jack-o-lantern shall I make," he said.
"I'm determined to become a useful fellow."

So he raised up his head
when the cook came around
and at once he was chosen the winner.
His fondest wish came true
he was proud pumpkin pie
and the glory of the great thanksgiving dinner...

For the glory of the jack is in the lantern
as he sits up on the gatepost oh so high;
and the glory of the turkey is the drumstick
but the glory of the pumpkin is the pie.

Here's a YouTube 2009 home video of the song -- we don't know the folks -- it sounds like our familiar melody and we heartily endorse it.

10/29/19

High Recommendation: Tello Mobile Service - a good idea for existing Sprint Customers


After many many years with Sprint, I have switched to Tello Mobile. They are a discount MVNO for Sprint - a mobile virtual network operator. That means they provide the Sprint network to you for calls and data - at a substantially reduced price. 

Until 11/1/19 you can switch and get your first month of service for $5. I find the $19 monthly plan to be sufficient to my needs. Unlimited text and talk and 4 GB of data.

The sacrifice for this? I gave up an unlimited data plan and free roaming - but I do not think I will miss either of these. I might miss their global roaming - but that was a throttled and limited convenience. Wherever I travel, I use a local sim card.

It's not the savings of money that drove me to switch. I grew tired of Sprint's terrible service. They did not deliver a promised offer after I added a new line. And they started signing me up for services that I did not want. And it took them weeks to unlock a phone for me for use with any sim card.  I was wasting a lot of time trying to get Sprint to do or fix things on my plan.


And it is easy to switch.

You can port your Sprint number to Tello and use your existing Sprint phone and sim card. All you do is supply Tello online with your phone's MEID and SIM numbers - which you copy from your relevant phone setup screens - and give Tello your account number at Sprint and PIN number.

It takes a few hours for Tello-porting to occur, if you start the process on a weekday morning.  When ready, you will know because your calling capability will stop on your phone. Your phone will need to be rebooted by calling a simple code the Tello support team will give you. After a few minutes and a few restarts, you will be a new Tello customer. 



10/10/19

When my Father was Rabbi at the Park East Synagogue

Praying and the synagogue were central to my life since my early childhood. My father, Zev Zahavy, was the rabbi of several distinguished New York City synagogues on the West side and then the East Side of Manhattan. I recall many times accompanying him to his work. His study in the synagogue was off to the side of the main sanctuary, lined with books, filled with a musty smell and having the creakiest wood floor I ever walked on.
The author (right) with his Dad (center) in 5715 in the synagogue sukkah

The synagogue in Manhattan at that time was a stately place with formal services, led by a professional Hazzan. My dad wore a robe and high hat - black during the year and white on the High Holy Days.

He was famous in the city for his sermons. He labored over them for hours. He would send "releases" to the local papers (like the NY Times' 230+ citations of his sermons -- here in online book form) to let them know about what he would be preaching on Saturday. Those were the fifties and the Times and other papers covered the Saturday and Sunday sermons. Frequently we would look around the sanctuary to see if the reporter from the Times was present. We'd know because he'd sit in the back and be writing feverishly on his reporter's pad. (Not iPad... real paper pad.)

My father was ambitious especially about increasing the attendance at the services. We had to count the number of people in shul and discuss that at the lunch table. Then he'd ask us how the sermon was and we all answered enthusiastically every week, "It was terrrrrrific!"

Rude Reader or Right Reader? Your Dear Rabbi Zahavy Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column for October 2019

Dear Rabbi Zahavy
Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

During the lengthy Rosh Hashanah services, I was reading a personal book in synagogue to help me pass the time. A person I know saw me doing this and criticized me for my rude behavior. I feel like he was out of line and want to tell him that I did nothing wrong. What is your advice for the best approach to doing this?

Reader in Ramapo


Dear Reader,

Up front, my advice to anyone who receives unsolicited advice or criticism for behavior that is mainly innocuous is to reply to the critic, “Thank you for your suggestions,” and to avoid further confrontations. So that’s what I suggest here as well, because I am assuming that in reading your book, you were not doing anything distracting or disruptive to others during the services.

In fact, what we do during our synagogue services are mainly activities that we could describe generally as “reading a book.” The sanctioned books that we use, of course, are the siddur for most services, the machzor for the holidays, and the Tanach for the Torah and haftarah scriptural readings.

Now if you want to know if by reading your own book you “did nothing wrong” and argue that viewpoint with your friend, well, that involves some further contextual analysis and some lengthier discussion of social norms.

Context does matter. Reading a book quietly in a public setting ordinarily is not rude or improper. So, you start off with a strong justification of the propriety of your actions. And in a general way, your friend was out of line for nosing into your activity.