12/1/16

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for December 2016 - Gay Mazal Tov, No No Nobel, Trump Tzurris

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for December 2016

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My friend’s son got married recently to another man. I never knew that her son was gay. I was surprised when I heard about this from a mutual friend. When I met my friend shortly after learning about the wedding, I congratulated her, and then, after a bit of hesitation, I wished her a mazal tov.

A bit later I wondered if I did the right thing. What do you think?

Circumspect Congratulator in Old Tappan

Dear Congratulator,

Yes, you acted properly in extending your best wishes. I don’t think you are asking me if you were right to hesitate at first. If that would be your question, my answer would be that today by American values, there is no basis for hesitation. Gay marriage is sanctioned and legal and it is celebrated by the couple with their family and friends.

That said, on the other hand, in many Orthodox Jewish circles gay relations of any sort are not acceptable. If that is the source of your hesitation, I understand it, though I do not applaud it.

Based on the less-than-enthusiastic acceptance of gay marriage in traditional Jewish life, I’m guessing you wonder if a traditional Jewish formula of congratulations was in order. Let’s be clear. Mazal tov means good luck, or more specifically, “good sign” since the word mazal originally denoted an astrological sign.

11/29/16

My Collected Wisdom - Talmudic Advice - updated with my 2016 Jewish Standard columns

Hi - I think you should check out my book, 
"Talmudic Advice" by Tzvee Zahavy.
Start reading it for free: http://a.co/hF1D57X




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https://www.amazon.com/gp/kindle/kcpApp.html

11/27/16

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy column for November 2016: Deceased friends, Zipper traffic merges and Biased Jewish historians

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy column for November 2016: Deceased friends, Zipper traffic merges and Biased Jewish historians

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

Recently a friend and mentor of mine passed away after a long illness. We had been close for many years, but in recent times we were estranged after we had a falling out, precipitated several years ago by my friend’s unethical actions.

I had ample time to make plans to attend his funeral, but it would have meant that I would miss work for a full day. I decided not to go, and then I was not able to go to the shiva. I did send an email and left a voicemail and sent a card expressing my condolences to his wife and children.

Did I act properly?

Chilly Consoler in Cresskill


Dear Consoler,

The conduct in which a person engages related to mourners always is based on complex personal and social issues. It is made more complicated by the specific conditions that you describe. Rest assured that there cannot be absolute requirements about which relative or friend’s funeral you ought to attend, and under what circumstances you should do so. There always are extenuating factors that you have to respect when you make your decision to go or not to go. In this case there are additional items to mull over.

11/20/16

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.

Replay: My China Jewish Studies Lecture Tour of 1991

Several years ago in 1991 I traveled to China and I prayed while touring at the Great Wall outside Beijing.

But that was a sidelight to my China trip. The real purpose of my travel to Beijing was to lecture at the Institute of World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and conduct other academic meetings throughout China. In Beijing I spoke to the group of fourteen Chinese academics for ninety minutes through a translator. Few of the scholars there spoke much English. I described in some detail my research on the development of Jewish prayer in the time of the Mishnah and Talmud.

Jews: on the Chinese Minds
Who would think that Chinese professors would be interested in Judaism? Professor Kong Fan, director of the Institute, my host, is a specialist in Confucianism. He is also a seventy-fourth generation descendant of that venerable teacher and happy to hear of my admiration for the teachings of Confucius. Professor Zhuo Xinping, deputy director of the Institute and specialist in Christian Studies and Dai Kangshang, specialist in Islamic Studies, and several other scholars and graduate students contributed to the discussion in this seminar.

11/3/16

My essay in honor of the memory of my friend Alan Segal has been published

"Antiquity's Children: History and Theology in Three Surveys" in "Crossing Boundaries in Early Judaism and Christianity: Essays in Honor of Alan F. Segal" by Tzvee Zahavy

Through his publications on ancient Judaism and early Christianity Alan Segal has contributed immensely to clarifying ambiguities, unraveling complexities and recalling half-forgotten adversaries. His writing shows the way to cross many boundaries of thought and methodology. This characteristic of his research reflects the openness and ingenuousness of Alan himself, a direct and honest scholar and a treasured friend.

I here analyze a few aspects of one of Segal’s early books, Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World.  The book surveys how Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity took shape primarily during the formative age of Late Antiquity. Segal treats the Hellenistic roots of these religions, the social world of first century Israel, Jesus who is called a Jewish Revolutionary and Paul who is described as a Convert and Apostle. Segal moves on in the book to summarize the origins of rabbinic Judaism and discusses how the twin offspring of ancient Israel, the rabbinic and Christian communities went separate ways, as the matriarch Rebecca’s twin children, Jacob and Esau parted ways in the biblical account in Genesis. In comparing the theologies of these twins, Segal insists we, “… must attend to the real social matrix in which the religious thought existed.”

I compare here Segal’s Rebecca’s Children with two comparable books and I ask a few perennial and fundamental questions about religious scholars who write about their own religions. The two other introductory surveys of the Second Temple and Early Rabbinic Judaism by Jewish scholars are Shaye J.D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, and Lawrence H. Schiffman, From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism.

10/30/16

My Dell Computer was really good


On 1/3/2008 I bought a Dell XPS 420 quad core PC. I believe it came with Windows Vista installed.

Last week, after eight years and nine months, it started crashing to the dreaded blue screens of death. I worked for many hours to rescue the machine from whatever it was that caused the crashes: corrupted device drivers or malware or hardware malfunction. I reverted updates, scrubbed registries, removed many old programs, ran defragmenters and virus defender software.

OK. I got the unit working now smooth and fast, It has not crashed for a day. I maybe even fixed it. But meanwhile I ordered a new Dell XPS 8900 i7 computer. I got a good deal direct from Dell with discounts and a good service plan included.

Nearly nine years is enough. All computers die eventually. Even the good ones.

10/14/16

10/10/16

Hard to believe but Kol Nidre is a sensitive meditation of compassion

  Kol Nidre is a prayer of compassion encased in a legal idiom of vow nullification.
  On its surface, Kol Nidre looks like a legal boilerplate to cancel and release a person from spoken vows.
   But if it looks like a prayer, and sounds like a prayer, then it is a prayer. The Kol Nidre meditation comes from our hearts and souls fully clothed in the cultural garb of our community. It is expressed in the way that the meditative masters of our faith think, and the way they talk.
   And so the deep emotional utterance of Kol Nidre comes forth out of our mouths in a legal idiom, the way the rabbinic masters chose to express their meditation, acting in the archetypal mode of the scribe archetype that is so familiar to them.
   As part of their jobs, our archetypal scribes keep track of vows. Like good accountants, they keep their “spreadsheets” of which vows are in effect and which have been nullified. And they know the means to move a vow from one column to the other.

10/6/16

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for October 2016: Binging at Weddings and Not Believing in Sin

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for October 2016: 
Binging at Weddings and Not Believing in Sin

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I went to a big Orthodox Jewish family wedding recently in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The music was so loud that some of my relatives, who had expected it, brought along earplugs. There was so much food at the smorgasbord and the main meal that the next day I weighed myself and saw I had gained more than three pounds in one night.

I’m tempted to turn down invitations to future frum family simchas just to keep my hearing intact and my waistline under control. Is that a reasonable course of action?

Binging in Bergenfield

Dear Binging,

Sure you can skip family weddings to preserve your health and well-being, and you should do that if you have no other solution. But some of your kin seem to have found modalities that allow them to participate and preserve their hearing. Surely ear plugs are an option for you too. Why not avail yourself of them?

And regarding the food, you know that you do not have to eat all of it! One possible alternative is to attend the smorg and the chuppah and gracefully decline the elaborate dinner that follows. Who needs to drive home at midnight from Brooklyn anyway? Of course, doing that you will miss the chance to bond and share at greater length with your family. But with such loud bands, how much schmoozing could you do with the relatives anyway?

9/11/16

Rashi - the 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

9/10/16

Bikinis and Burqinis on Beaches in France and a Women's only Beach in Tel Aviv

New Yorker has complementary and unrelated stories about religious women at the beach.

1. A Court Overturns a Burkini Ban, but Not Its Mindset in France, remarkable legal issues
2. A Separate Beach in Israel for Orthodox women - a remarkable photo album from Israeli photographer Michal Ronnen Safdie

Summer is almost over. Tune in next year for the next chapter in the continuing saga.

9/1/16

My Jewish Standard column for September 2016: Why rabbis are awful at politics

My Jewish Standard column for September 2016: Why rabbis are awful at politics

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My friends and I are having ongoing heated discussions about the presidential election. Some of us prefer Hillary Clinton, and others of us prefer Donald Trump. And some of us would like to have a third viable choice. I recently saw that 45 Orthodox rabbis issued a condemnation of Trump’s policy statements, and I know that other Orthodox rabbis support him. I often have turned to Jewish traditions for guidance in matters of morality, ethics, and social justice. This year, I am confused about who our religious teachings guide us to vote for in this upcoming election. Can you help to clarify this please?

Politically Puzzled in Paramus

Dear Politically Puzzled:

Since you raised the question of rabbis opining on politics, let me first consider a trend in our history, namely how terribly awful rabbinic Jews have been in the realm of politics for the last 2,000 or so years.

Let me make it clear. I believe that we have the greatest religion in the world. We have an enormously comprehensive and expressive set of narratives and beliefs, and an equally impressive set of rituals and actions for the cycles of the year, for the cycles of our lives, and for all other purposes.

We could have — and we should have — won the “election” and become the world religion with the greatest number of adherents. Back in prior centuries and millennia we had many chances to become the world’s dominant religion. But time after time, rabbis made bad political choices and elected to emphasize the wrong aspects of our faith, our culture, and our history.

Consider one critical example — how centuries ago Jews made wrong political decisions about how to relate to the Roman Empire.

8/28/16

Bikinis and Rabbis: My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Column for August 2015

Rerunning last summer's advice. It seems to have become relevant again.

Dear Rabbi,

I’m a young modern Orthodox woman. I like to go to the beach in the summer. Recently some of my friends criticized me for wearing a bikini at the beach. They say their rabbis taught them that it is not in keeping with our religion to wear a bikini because it is clothing that is not modest. I see that the prevalent fashion for young and fit women at the beach or pool is mostly a bikini. What makes your fellow rabbis think that they have the authority to dictate to me and other women what fashions to follow on the beach —or off it?

Two Piece in Teaneck


Dear Two Piece,

I’m one rabbi who does not claim to have women’s fashion expertise. I am relieved that you ask me about rabbinic authority, rather than what is the right fashion for you.

I do know that in the world of fashion you hear often about trends, not standards. I recognize that there is a lot of variety in the choices that women have, on and off the beach.

One day this summer I had the occasion to walk the length of the boardwalk in a Long Island South Shore beach community and could not help but observe that bikinis are a quite common choice for women, young and middle aged, at the beach clubs along the way. And I did notice in the Target ad flyer in the Sunday newspaper that most of the women’s swim suits on sale are bikinis.

Before anyone criticizes me for gazing upon women, let me refer to a story about one of our greatest talmudic rabbis, Rabban Gamaliel. According to the Talmud, when he saw a beautiful woman, Gamaliel recited a blessing, Blessed be He who made beautiful creatures in this world.

I agree with Gamaliel. Beauty is something that God bestowed upon our world. When the appropriate fashion allows for us to admire beauty in a tactful and respectful way, we may do so, and perhaps we should thank God with a blessing.

Now you may wonder, why don’t other Orthodox rabbis agree with Rabban Gamaliel and with me? Why do many religious authorities who happily admit that they have no knowledge or understanding of fashion go ahead and teach and preach that it’s a religious obligation that women must cover up their arms and legs and midriffs?

I don’t know why other rabbis have taken upon themselves the authority to dictate fashion requirements to women. And I find it hard to approve of that.

It seems to me wrong for any man to require women to cover up. Even though there is a long-standing theme in Jewish customs for married women to cover their hair and there are other customs for all women to cover much of their skin, the requirement of long sleeves and long skirts using the category of “modesty” is at best capricious. In the preponderance of contexts it also is out of step with the normal and customary notions of fashion in our general communities.

And one more thing. It is not a stretch for some folk to criticize the cover-up rules in Orthodox circles as yet another means of segregating women and as a way of denying them the freedom to choose and the rights to decide their own fashion options.

The notion that covering up all of your skin on the hot summer beach or at the pool or in the marketplace around town is connected to virtue is patently unfounded. Hence the rules that mandate overdressing are arbitrary annoyances at best.

Yet I’ve been told that there is a new women’s clothing store on Cedar Lane in Teaneck that sells kosher swimsuits made of nylon and polyester, comprising pants under a skirt and elbow length sleeves. I would not be surprised if these bathing costumes have tags on them certifying rabbinical approval.

Truly, I have no idea where my colleagues got the notion that wearing a bikini at the beach is a bad thing. I can’t explain or justify this rabbinic attitude to you. My advice to you is to follow your own notions of comfort and the prevailing styles and fashions of your immediate community.

And if anyone criticizes you, you may answer with a confident and polite reply, Thank you for your opinion. I will wear whatever I deem appropriate.

Tzvee Zahavy earned his Ph.D. from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author of many books, including these Kindle Edition ebooks available at Amazon.com: “The Book of Jewish Prayers in English,” “Rashi: The Greatest Exegete,” “God’s Favorite Prayers” and “Dear Rabbi” — which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.

8/19/16

Is Olmypic Swimmer and Sex Symbol, Ryan Lochte Jewish?

No, we do not think that swimmer Ryan Lochte is a Jew. His national team bio does not specify his religion. We would guess from his last name that his family goes back to Dutch Protestant roots.

Wikipedia reports, "Ryan Lochte was born in Rochester, New York, the son of Ileana "Ike" (née Aramburu) and Steven R. Lochte. His mother is of Spanish and Basque ancestry and was born and raised in Havana, Cuba, while his father is of German, Dutch and English descent."

The Times' Style section had an extensive article about Lochte.

Ryan Lochte, Olmypic Swimmer and Sex Symbol

The U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte is poised to be the breakout star of the 2012 Summer Games, both in and out of the pool.

Ryan Lochte, Olmypic Swimmer and Sex Symbol - Slide Show

Mr. Lochte, 27, is being groomed to be a breakout Olympic superstar, with millions in corporate sponsorships.

Update April 2013: Lochte has an E! reality show, starting Sunday April 21 at 10pm EDT.

Here is a funny video interview about the show - watch to the end.



Hat tip to anonymous!

8/5/16

My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for August 2016: Are there any Magical Jewish Cures and Curses?

Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My friend has started to scare me. She tells me often about her beliefs in the magical powers of religion and religious people. She claims to have witnessed faith healings right in front of her eyes. I think she’s gone off the deep end. Guide me please in what to do.

Scared in Secaucus

Dear Scared,

There are charismatic religious leaders in many religions who say that they can cure people of illnesses. In Judaism we say that we do not believe in, or practice, magical faith healing. The Torah condemns sorcerers, soothsayers, and witchcraft as abominations. But also note that the Torah tells us about Moses’ magical staff, capable of outperforming Pharaoh’s magicians. And some say the magical phrase Abracadabra comes from Aramaic words ארבדכ‭ ‬ארבא‭‬ that mean, “As I speak it, so it shall come to pass.”

7/24/16

My New Publication: A Revised edition for Kindle of Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg's "Jewish Magic"

I'm happy to announce my new publication: a revised edition for Kindle of Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg's "Jewish Magic."



This book is a comprehensive review of Jewish magic from the 10th to the 15th century. Well-known Jewish traditions are explained, such as why a glass is broken at a wedding, and how the expression mazel tov is related to a belief in astrology. Rabbi Trachtenberg deals with Golems, Succubi, the Lillim, (from Lilith, Adam’s first wife), and other magical creatures, some well-known such as werewolves, and others not so well, such as estrie, mare and broxa. He presents detailed descriptions of talismans, amulets, charms, and other magical objects. His chapters deal with dream interpretation, medical beliefs, necromancy, and other forms of divination. Rabbi Trachtenberg’s appreciation of the role of magic in Jewish culture is significant for the study of Judaism, and for the knowledge of modern beliefs and practices in religions in general.

The Title

The original title of this book in 1939 was Jewish Magic and Superstition. For this Kindle edition in 2016, I removed the tendentious terms superstition and superstitious from this otherwise excellent book and from its title, and I substituted where needed either the words religious or magical to lend the discussion greater consistency and to remove the distracting and polemical aspect of those terms from this pivotal study.
Commonly the word superstition is used to refer to aspects of religion that are not practiced by the majority of a culture. It has had a pejorative connotation since the days of Plato and Aristotle. Wikipedia (s.v. Superstition) informs us that:

In the classical era, the existence of gods was actively debated both among philosophers and theologians, and opposition to superstition arose consequently. The poem De rerum natura, written by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius further developed the opposition to superstition.

Cicero’s work De natura deorum also had a great influence on the development of the modern concept of superstition as well as the word itself. Where Cicero distinguished superstitio and religio, Lucretius used only the term religio. Cicero, for whom superstitio meant “excessive fear of the gods” wrote that “superstitio, non religio, tollenda est,” which means that only superstition, and not religion, should be abolished… The term superstitio, or superstitio vana “vain superstition,” was applied in the first century to those religious cults in the Roman Empire which were officially outlawed.

 The Author

The author of this book, Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg (b. 1904, d. 1959) was a reform rabbi at Temple Emeth in Teaneck, New Jersey. This book is an expansion of his Columbia University Ph.D. thesis.

Thanks to my valued collaborator, Reuven Brauner for his work improving the editing and formatting of this book for this Kindle eBook publication.



7/17/16

Jewish Black Magic: They Cursed Ariel Sharon with the Pulsa D'Nora in 2005

I've spent years teaching numerous college courses on religion - always with the disclaimer that we will cover only the positive aspects of the subject. Religion used for evil, that is for war or other forms of harm, is a misuse and distortion of systems of faith.

Curses, I reasoned, were a misuse and distortion of religious practice.

Curses invoked before the Rabin assassination changed my mind about that. Prior to that tragic event, on the eve of Yom Kippur, a group of "Kabbalists" intoned the pulsa curse outside the Rabin residence. Once again, in the summer of 2005, another group gathered to invoke the curse against P.M. Ariel Sharon. It seemed to me that curses indeed were part of our religion - like it or not.

One blogger, Canonist, dealt briefly with the curse back in July 2005, complete with a link to the video of the curse "ceremony" and quotations from learned professors:
Praying for Ariel Sharon's Death

Yesterday's death-curse seems thus far to have gone unanswered by the Almighty, but we'll see. Generally speaking, I don't write much about Israel and the disengagement, but this latest is quite interesting. PaleoJudaica's got a great roundup, including descriptions of the pulsa de-nura ceremony, its detractors, and the threat of prosecution that've come out of it. Meantime, you can actually watch the ceremony in this video, which, with a bunch of people in sweats reading from photocopies, looks oddly like some run-of-the-mill Jewish ceremony, like burning chametz or somesuch. The video comes courtesy of Samuel Heilman, via a listserv to which he wrote, with the subject "Jewish Jihadists": "Lest any of you think that only Islamists have jihadists, see the video below in which so-called 'religious Jews' pray for Prime Minister Sharon's Death in a Pulsa De Nura." Bold words on both sides. Let's see what comes of them.
Erudite rabbis have written about the matter, explaining that magic is not a part of Judaism, as in the following:

NYTimes on the Tranquil Euphoria of swimming

Photo
CreditRebecca Bird
THERE is no drug — recreational or prescription — capable of inducing the tranquil euphoria brought on by swimming. I do all my best thinking in the pool, whether I’m trying to figure out how to treat a patient’s complicated ailment or write a paper. Why that is is mysterious, but I have a theory.
Assuming you have some basic stroke proficiency, your attention is freed from the outside world. You just have to dimly sense the approaching wall before you flip turn and go on your way. Cut off from sound, you are mostly aware of your breathing. You have to traverse boredom before you can get to a state of mental flow. Now your mind is free to revel in nonlinear, associative thought. Nothing has to make sense. You suddenly become aware that time has passed. You are not sure what elapsed in that strange discontinuity, but the solution to a problem that escaped you on land is perfectly obvious emerging from the water — a rapturous experience.
More...

7/10/16

My Plea - In Mommy Edith's Memory - Quit Smoking Today

My mother was a strong athletic woman. I believe that she would be alive and 94 years old today if not for cigarettes.

In 2000 my mother Edith Zahavy passed away on the 4th day of Tammuz after six months of hospitalization at Mt. Sinai in NYC. She was 79.

For 63 years she smoked, mostly menthol cigarettes. The corporate tobacco pushers hooked her into addiction by giving her free samples outside her school, Hunter College, when she was a teenager. They supplied her habit for six decades.

For several years prior to her death she could hardly walk because of her profound vascular disease, heart disease and emphysema. Her last months in the hospital on a respirator were awful as all of the organs of her systems weakened and failed.

My mother was a beautiful, selfless, generous, creative, religious person who dedicated her whole life to her family, to her friends and to her students. She first brought us up (myself and my brother and sister) and then went on to teach in the NYC public schools. She stood behind my father, me and my siblings through thick and thin. But through the years she always smoked, mostly Newports and Salems.

As I remember her -- an active vibrant woman -- I plead with you -- if you smoke cigarettes -- QUIT TODAY. Please for the sake of the memory of my mother -- for your own sake -- for the sake of your spouse, your parents, your children, your friends -- please stop.

(Repost annually from 2006)

6/30/16

Does intermarriage finish Hitler's work? Is there any benefit to eating Kosher? My July 2016 Dear Rabbi Zahavy column in the Jewish Standard

Dear Rabbi Zahavy
Your Talmudic Advice Column


Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I was at a public Jewish event where a rabbi was speaking about the future of the Jewish people. At one point in his talk he lashed out at Jews who marry non-Jews. He said that they are “finishing Hitler’s work,” which I took to mean they are destroying the Jewish people.

This criticism disturbed my friends and me, especially because I have a child who is intermarried. So do others who were present and heard this rabbi.

I was hurt and offended by this statement. I did not say anything to the rabbi. Should I have spoken up?

Offended in Oradell


Dear Offended,

Yes, as a rule, you may speak up and let people know if you feel offended by what they say. That’s how we maintain a polite and orderly society. Even if the person speaking has a claim to respect and authority because he is a rabbi, that does not give him any right to say inane things that offend others.

6/2/16

The Oxymoron of Modern Open Inclusive Orthodoxy: My Column for June 2016 for the Jewish Standard

My Column for June 2016 for the Jewish Standard

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

In the past few years I’ve seen that people use the term “modern Orthodox” in news and opinion articles to describe a current form of Judaism. More recently, I read about a new group that sounds attractive to me, that wants to promote a more “inclusive” Orthodoxy. But I always have understood that Orthodox Judaism clearly says that it is the oldest and the original form of Judaism, that all of its practices are crucial to the survival of Judaism, and that they conform perfectly to God’s will as interpreted by the Orthodox rabbis. Why do people apply these fancy new labels for their faith? And is it hypocritical for me, if I embrace modern values, to continue to stay plain old Orthodox? Or should I join up with the new guys?

Confounded in Clifton

Dear Confounded,

If there was a supermarket where you could buy a religion in a box, you would not find many products with the label description “New and Improved.” But you would find most with the description, “Same Classic Ingredients for Centuries (or Millennia).”

So you are correct to be confused about the term “modern Orthodox.” Orthodox Jewish authorities’ main claim to legitimacy is that the content of their system is not modern. They insist that it is ancient, dating back thousands of years, to God’s covenants with our patriarchs, and to God’s revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. And you legitimately can scratch your head in disbelief when someone comes up with an incongruous title that implies that a religion can be ancient and modern at the same time.

So, you may ask, what then is all this talk about “modern Orthodoxy”? On the surface, I might dismiss that new label, or the similar tags “open Orthodoxy,” and “pluralistic Orthodoxy,” as marketing names without any deep meaning. I might say that they are meant to make the brand of religion that its leaders are selling more attractive to consumers.

5/30/16

Is Drake Jewish?

Yes, performer, Canadian rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor Drake is a Jew. His mother is Jewish.

In June 2016 Drake had 19 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 - more than any other performer ever had at the same time - even more than the Beatles.

Wikipedia explains, "Aubrey Drake Graham was born on October 24, 1986, in Toronto, Ontario to parents Sandi Graham (née Sher), an educator, and Dennis Graham, a drummer who worked with Jerry Lee Lewis. On his father's side, he is related to American musicians Larry Graham and Teenie Hodges, who are his uncles. Drake's father is an African-American from Memphis, Tennessee, and Drake's mother is a Canadian Jew. He attended a Jewish day school and had a Bar Mitzvah. His parents divorced when he was five years old, and he was raised by his mother in two Toronto neighbourhoods; he lived on Weston Road in the city's working-class west end, until the sixth grade, when he moved to the affluent Forest Hill."

5/29/16

NYTimes on Your Google Afterlife: Who Will Say Kaddish Over Your Digital Soul?

After you die, your digital soul will live on - all the data in your Google and other accounts. That material contains personal and impersonal captures of aspects of your consciousness - what some creative social scientists might try figuratively to label as parts of your "soul".

From The New York Times BITS BLOG we learned that, "Google Introduces a Tool for Planning for Your Digital Afterlife. As Web companies and legislators grapple with who controls your digital life after you die, Google introduced a tool for designating what you want to happen to your data after you die." The tool is called the "Inactive Accounts Manager".
Google users can choose whether they want their information deleted or to name a beneficiary, as in a will. Users can have different directives for different products — deleting Gmail and Drive but sharing Picasa and YouTube content, for instance...

Google users choose whether to activate the feature after their accounts are inactive for three, six, nine or 12 months. Google will send a text message and e-mail before taking any action. The feature, called Inactive Account Manager, is accessible on the account settings page.
This subject causes us to reflect. In a truly digital mode, what do you say to a person about the loss of a loved one?

Perhaps this: "May your loved one's data live on in the cloud of eternal storage."


5/16/16

How a Jewish Soul Becomes Immortal Vertically and Horizontally - Remarks for my Father's Yahrzeit

The fourth yahrzeit of my father, Rabbi Dr. Zev Zahavy, is tonight and tomorrow.

At the breakfast at the Park East Synagogue in honor of my dad's first yahrzeit in 2013 I spoke briefly about the dimensions of the immortality of his soul. I explained that by observing the mourning customs and reciting Kaddish for the soul of the departed, we seek immortality on its behalf in heaven above and on earth as part of the eternal Jewish people. I summarized my thoughts on this process as follows below.

Is the Jewish soul immortal? Yes, tradition teaches us that if the proper procedures are followed, the Jewish soul is immortal. And the immortality is redundant. The soul of a departed loved one lives on in a vertical immortality in heaven and in a horizontal immortality as part of the collective of the Jewish people.

To guarantee the duplex immortality of a soul, a mourner must say the Kaddish prayer for eleven months in the synagogue. As an agent on behalf of my father's soul, I completed that process in 2013 for the recitation of the Kaddish for my dad, who passed away in 2012.

5/9/16

Talmudic Decision about boycotting North Carolina from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

This article is from StarTribune.com - the full article, with any associated images and links can be viewed here.
MnSCU drops North Carolina travel ban
The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system has lifted a ban on travel to North Carolina over that state's law limiting the rights of LGBT people.

The ban was imposed after North Carolina passed a law requiring transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their birth gender, rather than their gender identity.

A MnSCU statement late Thursday said the system was confident that North Carolina's law was being addressed through a Justice Department order that it violated civil rights and can't be enforced.

The MnSCU ban had caused some athletic coaches to worry that they might not be able to travel to  the national Division II baseball tournament in North Carolina, for which a Minnesota team has a good chance to qualify, as well a national junior college tournament.

Pat Dolan, coach of the St. Cloud State baseball team currently ranked No. 3 in the country, told the St. Cloud Daily Times the change is " a total relief. (Wednesday) and the day before, you don't want to express your true feelings because you want to be polite and professional and you hope that the higher-ups make a decision to help."

The full Daily Times story is here.

The original MnSCU ban followed a similar directive from Gov. Mark Dayton to state employees.

"Governor Dayton agrees with the decision announced today by MnSCU's leadership," said Matt Swenson, a spokesman for Dayton.

"In light of recent actions taken by the U.S. Department of Justice, Governor Dayton is now considering whether to lift the travel ban for Minnesota's state agency employees."


[Hat tip to Barak.]

5/6/16

Spouse of Souse and Wailing about a Wall: Questions to my Jewish Standard "Dear Rabbi Zahavy" Talmudic Advice Column for May 2016

I just realized that I've been writing this monthly column for three years!


Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I think that my husband drinks too much. He has at least two glasses of wine every night at dinnertime. He often drinks more later in the evening. On Shabbat he has several drinks of hard liquor with his buddies in shul before lunch. I’m worried that he is an alcoholic. What should I do?

Wife of Wine Drinker

Dear Wife,

Wine plays a pervasive and positive role in the rituals of our Jewish tradition, as you doubtless know. Our Sabbaths and festivals are inaugurated at dinner by blessing a cup of wine and drinking it. We end the holy days with wine at the Havdalah ceremony. On Passover we make it through the stresses of the holiday and of the Seder meal with the help of four cups of wine, interspersed throughout the evening. On Purim there is a mitzvah that we must drink until we no longer can differentiate between cursing Haman and blessing Mordecai.