Is Amazon Echo Jewish?

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Is Amazon Echo Jewish?
I ordered an Echo when it came out at the end of 2014 - it's a voice activated Internet invention from Amazon. My son Barak observed about it that it looks a bit like a Shabbat lamp (which I do not have) and wanted to know if it can be used on Shabbat. And that made me think.

If Echo is Jewish, then you can't "suggest" to it that it do any work for you on Shabbat. You can't say, "Play me a niggun" or ask "What time is minhah?" or clarify "When did I last eat meat" or, on Pesach, "How many matzas do I need to eat for a kazayis?" and I could go on.

But if Echo is not Jewish, then you potentially could ask all these requests of it on Shabbat or Yom Tov..and more.

Q: "Alexa are you Jewish?"
A: "People all have their own views on religion."
Q: "Alexa are you Jewish?"
A: "I'm best at answering questions about things like history and music."

Alexa is evasive.

Q: "Alexa, Play me the Israeli national anthem"
A: "Here's a sample... by Michael Silverman."

Amazon ran some quirky ads during Super Bowl 50 for the Echo.

Is Alec Baldwin Jewish? Nope.

Alexa did not know that. Hmm...
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Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo
by Amazon
  Learn more  

My Kindle Book Edition: From the Talmud: Yerushalmi Berakhot

I thought you might be interested in this book from Amazon.
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From the Talmud: Yerushalmi Berakhot
From the Talmud: Yerushalmi Berakhot - 

Texts about prayer from the first five chapters

by Tzvee Zahavy
  Learn more  

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More Items to Consider:
God's Favorite Prayers
God's Favorite Prayers
The Origins of Jewish Prayers and Blessings
The Origins of Jewish Prayers and Blessings
Rashi: The Greatest Exegete
Rashi: The Greatest Exegete
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My Dear Rabbi Zahavy column in the Jewish Standard for February answers questions about hand shaking hygiene and avoiding speeding tickets.

My Dear Rabbi Zahavy column in the Jewish Standard for February answers questions about hand shaking hygiene and avoiding speeding tickets.

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I have had serious health problems and several medical procedures that weakened me and my immune system. Thank God, I have recovered now, and I attend my local synagogue. My problem is that especially on Shabbat, some of my friends and neighbors offer me a handshake with their greetings after services.

My doctors have cautioned me about engaging in physical contact in public that could expose me to germs and diseases. So I have told my close friends that I won’t shake their hands. They understand because they know my situation. I offer some of my buddies fist bumps instead of handshakes.

Other people in shul do not know why I won’t shake hands with them. That makes me worried that they will think I am socially cold or odd.

First, am I wrong to be hyper-cautious about handshakes? Second, what should I do to explain my preference not to shake hands?

Fist-bumping in Fair Lawn

Dear Fist-bumping,

Our hands most certainly do have and transmit germs. What should we do about that?


Primitive Barbarism and Quitting Davening - My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column in The Jewish Standard for January 2016

Primitive Barbarism and Quitting Davening - My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column in The Jewish Standard for January 2016

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I was horrified by the actions of some of my fellow Jews in Israel, who recently appeared on a video of a wedding celebration brandishing knives and celebrating the violent death of an Arab infant.

I see this as an example of primitive barbarism, which I find repugnant. Am I wrong to object to this behavior? Please help me know how to understand and to deal with this.

Shocked in Secaucus

Dear Shocked,

I assure you that your moral outrage in this case is proper. We pride ourselves as Jews and as members of the civilized world on disdaining the barbarism of primitive societies and on aspiring always, even in times of war, to a high ethical standard.

True, many will argue that when our enemies engage in a wave of terror attacks on us, this creates a state of combat, and thereby it sanctions us to use concomitant fierceness in response.

You want to be clear, to know how ferocious we should to be in our responses, where to draw the line, and where to rise to a higher ethical ground.


The $9.3 million Talmud - Daniel Bomberg's 16th-century printing sold at Sotheby's New York

The video shows the Bomberg Talmud sold for a bid of $8.1 million. All reports list it as sold at $9.3 million. I suppose there was a 15% commission added on.

The Examiner has a detailed report on the auction.

Art Daily has a version of the story:

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby's set a new world auction record for any piece of Judaica today in New York, when one of the finest copies of Daniel Bomberg's Babylonian Talmud sold for $9.3 million (estimate $5/7 million).* The extraordinary volume was purchased by Stephan Loewentheil for the 19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop. The Bomberg Talmud led the sale of a selection of extraordinary items from The Valmadonna Trust, which totaled $14.9 million and became the most valuable auction of Judaica ever held.** Together with the auctions of Important Judaica and Israeli & International Art, Sotheby's annual December sales of Judaica and Israeli Art totaled $22.6 million. 

The Talmud, or "Oral Law," is a compendium of hundreds of years of rabbinical discussion and debate which expound upon the laws of the Bible. Daniel Bomberg is responsible for the first complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud (1519-1523), universally recognized not simply as one of the most significant books in the history of Hebrew printing, but as one of the great books of the Western world. The record setting Talmud sold today is one of the finest copies of Bomberg's edition – of which only 14 complete 16th century sets survive. 


My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column in the Jewish Standard for December 2015 - Hanukkah Candles Candor and Single Sexagenerian Sex

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

Chanukah is upon us, and for eight nights I feel I will be lying when I recite the blessing “…asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik nayr shel Chanukah” — “Who sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.” We all know that God commanded no such ritual. The concept that Chanukah candles are a commandment was instituted by the rabbis. I’ve grown up hearing the unsatisfying explanation “Of course God didn’t command this, but it’s just as though He did since He did command us ‘And you shall do according to the word which they (the rabbis) shall tell you.’ (Deuteronomy 17:10).”


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.


Times Sunday Review - An Ironic Juxtaposition of Compassionate Doctors and Greedy Pharma

In the Times Sunday Review today (my favorite section of the Sunday paper) I found an ironic juxtaposition of compassionate doctors and greedy pharma.

Nicholas Kristof describes how a doctor in Nepal has devised a "simple cataract microsurgery technique that costs on $24 per person and is virtually always successful." Dr. Sanduk Ruit has already restored eyesight to more than 100,000 people. 20 million more blind people worldwide can benefit from this. This illustrates medicine in its finest and most compassionate mode.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania describes a different scenario in his discussion of a new class of cholesterol lowering agents. Pharma companies plan to charge $14,000 a year for the drugs. And it is not even clear how much benefit these drugs will provide their users.

He asks whether the potential value of the drugs is worth the expense. In this hypothetical cost-benefit analysis, Emanuel implies that big pharma is greedy and it will cost all insured citizens money out-of-pocket in the form of higher premiums to defray the costs that will be generated.

In health care nobody will convince me otherwise: to better our world, we need more compassion and less greed.


Thank You New York Times for introducing me to virtual reality for free today

The Times delivered a cardboard virtual reality viewer to my door today with the weekend paper.

I had no clue what it was or how it worked. I followed the steps and folded the viewer, downloaded the app, put my android phone in the viewer, and played the videos.

It was incredible, magical and mysterious.

Mashable explains:
After an October announcement of a partnership with Google to produce virtual reality (VR) films, The New York Times has launched its new VR app, appropriately titled NYT VR, on Thursday. The app debuted with two feature films, one titled The Displaced tells the story of three children swept up in the world's refugee crisis, and the other shows making of a recentNew York Times Magazine cover.
If you did not get one from the Times, buy yourself a cardboard viewer and try it out.

VR is going to be big.