11/26/14

Thanksgiving Sermon of Rabbi Zev Zahavy 1943

Here is my dad's sermon from 1943 for the holiday of Thanksgiving.

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.

In a Book that Honors Jacob Neusner, read my essay, Varieties of Religious Visualization

A Legacy of Learning: Essays in Honor of Jacob Neusner (Brill Reference Library of Judaism.) has been shipped and will soon be available to the public. My essay is in the book.

My contribution is Varieties of Religious Visualizations by Tzvee Zahavy
In this paper, I describe several distinct visualizations that I recognize in Jewish prayers. By the term prayers, I mean the texts recited by Jews in religious ritual contexts. By the term visualizations, I mean the formation of mental visual images of a place and time, of a narrative activity or scene, or of an inner disposition. The goals of the visualizations can include: (1) professed communication with God, articulation of common religious values for (2) personal satisfaction or for (3) the sake of social solidarity, or (4) attainment of altered inner emotional states or moods.

You may download the paper at Academia or at Halakhah.com.

11/22/14

Understanding the Extensive Connections Between Religions and Terrorism

In light of the awful terrorist attacks that have been launched once again in Israel I thought it prudent to repost this item.

What are the connections between religions and terrorism? 

That's a big question. I tried to answer, explain and understand it in the past through my extensive scholarly research and my academic teaching.

Here is a selected list of my blog posts of study resources in the analysis of the connections between terrorism and religion (compiled when I taught a course on religion and terrorism at FDU a few years ago). Click on each one to read it.
  1. Questions about American Christian Terrorism
  2. Religion and Jewish Terrorists (and see the JTA report)
  3. What is a Religious Culture of Violence and Terror? 
  4. Who were Shoko Asahara and the Buddhist Aum Shinrikyo Religious Terrorists? 
  5. How did Religion Motivate Sikh Terrorists? 
  6. What is the Logic of the Theater of Religious Terror? 
  7. Why Do Religious Terrorist Martyrs say that they aim to kill the demons? 
  8. What do Sexuality and Humiliation have to do with Terrorism? 
  9. Will the War Against Religious Terrorism Ever End? 
  10. From Kahane to Osama: How Do Men Make Religious Terrorism Into Cosmic War? 
  11. How can we end religious terrorism and achieve the peace of God? 
  12. Concluding Questions on Religion and Terrorism


I have studied this subject at great length and taught courses in the area because I believe that a deeper understanding can help us resolve tragic conflicts. 

I also believe in the power of prayer to help us bring peace to the world.

I recommend to you my book: God's Favorite Prayers

We should say kaddish for JFK

Today is the 51st anniversary of the death of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Here is what I published 11/15/13 in the Jewish Standard...

This year, the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination, I want to recant my opinions and actions at JFK's thirtieth yahrzeit. I should have said Kaddish for JFK then, I was wrong. I will do it this year.

Yes, we should say kaddish for JFK.

Here is what I wrote in 1993.

It was bright and sunny in Washington on November 22, 1993, thirty years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was attending an annual conference of over 7000 professors of religion and biblical studies in the capital city. What a shame, I thought, that at this conference there was no formal recognition of the anniversary of the death of this leader at this conference. Here were gathered so many experts in religion and ritual, and they made no attempt to memorialize the day.

At a break between sessions of the conference I headed directly for the hotel entrance. A quick negotiation with a taxi driver confirmed that for $15 to $20 and less than an hour's time I could get out to Arlington National Cemetery walk up the path to JFK's grave site, spend a few minutes and return to the learned discourse of the meeting.
In the cab I wondered what I would do when I stood at the memorial in front of the eternal flame. It was JFK's yahrzeit, the anniversary of his death. In Judaism, members of the family recite the Kaddish prayer for a deceased relative each year on the specified day.

But Kennedy was not Jewish and not my relative. I could not see myself reciting a mourner's prayer for this hero. What then? I'd wait until I got to the site and play it by ear.

11/15/14

Is Caroline Kennedy's Husband Edwin Schlossberg Jewish?

Yes, Edwin Arthur Schlossberg is a Jew.

All four of Schlossberg's grandparents were Russian (Ukrainian) Jews born near Poltava and arrived in the United States at Ellis Island.

In 1986 Schlossberg married Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at Hyannis Port when Caroline was 28 and Ed was 41.

Their afternoon wedding ceremony was held at the Church of Our Lady of Victory in Centerville, Massachusetts and did not include a mass.

How Jewish is Schlossberg? Nate Bloom refers to "American Legacy: The Story of John and Caroline Kennedy" by C. David Heymann as follows:
Heymann writes that Schlossberg was raised in a "devout Orthodox Jewish family" that belonged to a modern Orthodox synagogue in Manhattan. He attended Hebrew School and had a bar mitzvah ceremony.

11/9/14

The Babylonian Talmud in English for Kindle for $.99 Each

The Babylonian Talmud in English for Kindle for $.99

Kindle Babylonian Talmud in English 


11/6/14

My Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for November 2014: Done with Mikvah Dunking?

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi,

On the one hand, after reading about a rabbi who repeatedly used the ritual of women immersing as an opportunity to engage in voyeurism, I’m turned off to the whole idea of ritual bathing in a mikvah.

On the other hand, I know I’ll feel guilty about abandoning one of my religious practices, which had meaning for me in the past. What should I do?

Slams Dunking in Teaneck


Dear Slams,

Rituals are a potent part of your relationship to your culture and heritage. And special relationships are fragile. They hinge both on predictable consistency and on intangible magical elements.

The relationships embedded in the most prevalent mikvah-bath ritual are as complex as a double helix. One strand of complexity is that the mikvah bath permits Orthodox women, who refrain from sex with their husbands during menstruation, to resume the intimate sexual portion of their relationships. And for women from long-standing Orthodox family lines, another strand of the complexity of the ritual is how the mikvah connects them in a magical way to the innermost lives of their mothers, who practiced the same formal mikvah procedure.

Dipping in a mikvah also is an integral rite in a conversion to Judaism. And that is where the latest scandal occurred. To many of us, the bad acts of a rabbi were troubling enough to disrupt the magic of the ritual, that tacit allowance we permit ourselves that makes a bath into an enchanted personal transformation. A debauched rabbi violated the privacy of the immersion of numerous women converts. For many who heard it, the sad news of those acts poisoned the sacred well of the mikvah.

I tried to understand the plight of my sisters by thinking in terms of an analogy. As an avid daily lap swimmer for many years, I know how refreshing and invigorating and healthy a workout in the pool can be. And yet I also discovered that at times, the positive values of water can be disrupted. Sometimes because of errors or ineptness, the pool I swim in gets too hot for comfortable lap swimming or the chlorine chemical level gets too high and the water becomes toxic. That for sure spoils the enjoyment of my swimming. And it can affect my health. But I work hard to get that fixed. And I keep coming back to swim. It’s a consistent, even a constant part of my life.

Sure, I know that my inconveniences in lap swimming are not anywhere near equivalent to violations of a woman’s intimate privacy during her performance of a religious ritual. But my suggestion to you, via my loose metaphor, is that you try your best to continue to do those healthy positive things that you do, those activities of your life that in crucial ways define you.

When the motions of your life are disrupted, when you get distracted from the poetry of your religion, I urge you to bounce back, and to strive with vigor to set your faith and practices straight and to restore the magic to your rituals.

Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy was ordained at Yeshiva University and earned his Ph.D. in religious studies at Brown University. He has published several new Kindle Editions at Amazon.com, including “The Book of Jewish Prayers in English,” “Rashi: The Greatest Exegete,” “God’s Favorite Prayers” and “Dear Rabbi: The Greatest Talmudic Advice” which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.



My Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for November 2014: Is Skimming the Talmud Kosher?

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi,

My friend gets up early every morning to study a daily Talmud page. By doing this he will go through the entire Talmud in seven years. His daily lesson lasts 30 minutes.

I know the value Judaism places on Torah study, but I wonder about the quality of such hurried study. In my experience the contents of the Talmud are complex and nuanced. Of what benefit is it to rapidly recite passages and to speed-read through their meanings?

Skim Free in New Milford


Dear Skim,

You touch on a sensitive issue. Many Jews believe that learning Talmud is the epitome of studying Torah. In turn they consider that practice to be the apex of all the commandments. Torah-study is an enriched ritual because serious learning may lead to inner cognition, to increased knowledge, and even to expertise. The highest goal of Talmud study is to become a lamdan—a learned master of the Talmud.

With that in mind, let me pose a few pointed talmudic questions to extend your inquiry. Can anyone become a lamdan through Daf Yomi study alone? Unlikely. It often takes weeks of intensive study to get through the study of the Tosafot, Rishonim, and Achronim (i.e., the major commentaries) on a single side of a page of the Talmud.

And it is fair to ask, What is the content retention rate of the average page-a-day-Talmud student? Probably low. And so if they do not become lamdanim, what do they get out of the daily study? We can reason that after seven and a half years of plowing through every page of the Talmud, some of them do absorb a great deal, while others actually retain little and remain unenlightened about the bulk of the contents of the Talmud.

Does everyone who accomplishes the goal of going through the whole Talmud feel good about themselves? Probably yes. To use sports metaphors, even those who do not run the whole race can feel a sense of accomplishment just by participating in a marathon. Even those who go to the practice batting cage to hit softballs can imagine they are at bat in a major league game in Yankee Stadium.

Of this we can be certain. The extensive time allotted daily to Talmud study is quite a hefty way for people to say to themselves and their families and communities: these are my precious values and I invest a lot of my time and energy in them.

Yes, frequent attendance at daf yomi or at other adult education opportunities in synagogues and communities are worthy endeavors. Please do keep in mind also that becoming a learned Jew through deeper toil and study is an even more worthy undertaking.

Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy was ordained at Yeshiva University and earned his Ph.D. in religious studies at Brown University. He has published several new Kindle Editions at Amazon.com, including “The Book of Jewish Prayers in English,” “Rashi: The Greatest Exegete,” “God’s Favorite Prayers” and “Dear Rabbi: The Greatest Talmudic Advice” which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.


My Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for November 2014: Is Singing Sexual?

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi,

Many of my Orthodox male friends will not listen to a woman sing. What is that about?

Humming in Hackensack


Dear Humming,

Bans or prohibitions against certain actions deemed dangerous or socially unacceptable are common in all societies and religions. Every town has a speeding limit. And we know that Jews are not supposed to eat pork.

Your simple direct question penetrates into one troubling taboo directed at women but not at men. In parts of the Orthodox Jewish world, men may sing for women, but women may not sing for men.

Any observer can identify such an injunction as uneven and one-sided.

Not surprising. Within synagogues in nearly all Orthodox Jewish communities, women are segregated from men. They are instructed to sit behind a curtain or divider. In many arenas of Orthodox society women also are told to dress modestly and cover up their arms and legs.

To me it seems that a modesty dress code is another form of the segregation of women from the presence of men.

And you do not have to be a feminist to reckon that the ban on women singing is yet an added extension of segregation, an act of discrimination, one more denial of rights directed solely at women.

Now we know in general that the explanation or rationalization of taboos can be extensive and interesting to hear and even compelling in its substance. In this case, the rabbis propose that the ban on women singing to men is to regulate the degree of sexuality that may be expressed and exposed in public. All good and well. I have no argument about whatever basis people of faith choose to justify their actions or proscriptions.

The trouble with the taboo you ask about is that it applies in one direction and not the other, that women may not sing for men.

If this ban is based on sexuality, then the stricture says to us that figuratively a woman’s singing voice is an extension of her vagina, which of course she cannot display in public. Is it not fair then to ask, Is a man’s singing voice a manifestation of his penis? Is it okay for a man to parade around his sexuality but the same is not allowed for a woman? Or is singing not at all a sexual display? Which one is it?

If you think that such questions about Jewish men and women are ludicrous, try these. Are we ever going to say that the men are allowed to eat pork, but the women are not? That the men are permitted to steal, but the women are forbidden?

You asked what the singing taboo is all about? It’s reasonable to say that it is about segregation based on gender, the denial of equal rights to women, and discrimination against women. You may ask then, Aren’t all of those practices unacceptable in our modern Western societies?

Yes sir. Yes ma’am. They are unacceptable.

Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy was ordained at Yeshiva University and earned his Ph.D. in religious studies at Brown University. He has published several new Kindle Editions at Amazon.com, including “The Book of Jewish Prayers in English,” “Rashi: The Greatest Exegete,” “God’s Favorite Prayers” and “Dear Rabbi: The Greatest Talmudic Advice” which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.


11/5/14

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

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).