My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy column for September 2019 - Your talmudic advice column - What should I do about our tribal rituals and knowledge

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy column for September 2019
Your Talmudic advice column
What should I do about our tribal rituals and knowledge

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I was shocked to read an op-ed in an Israeli newspaper by a writer who made radical assertions — seemingly without much evidence to support his assertions — that circumcision (bris milah) was not a central ritual of ancient Israel. The writer, moreover, proposed eliminating circumcision from Judaism, seemingly reflecting his blindness to his own Jewish culture and religion. Is eliminating circumcision now a trend among some secularist Jews? What can we do to stop this trend?

Bris Defender in Bergenfield

Dear Defender,

While many Jews assume that circumcision is a universal practice among their fellow Jews, that has not always been entirely true. In the early days of Reform Judaism in the 19th century, some classical Reform Jews openly opposed all rituals, including circumcision. And today, as you suspect, there are some young Jewish Israeli parents who refuse to circumcise their sons.

I have a devout Jewish friend who was terribly upset when her son in Israel did not circumcise her new grandson last year. I observe that it is trendy now in some progressive communities in Israel not to circumcise baby boys.

The article you cited provides some rationalizations for those people, but it is based on dubious historical claims.


My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for July 2018 - Let's Fix The Ninth of Av

My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for July 2018 - Let's Fix The Ninth of Av

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

Our U.S. government recognized Jerusalem as capital of Israel on May 14, 2018, and dedicated its embassy there, moving it from Tel Aviv. I don’t understand how we can continue to commemorate the 9th day of Av as a sad fast day that memorializes Jerusalem as a destroyed desolate city, when the facts of today totally contradict that. Doesn’t the reality of today’s circumstances make it time to abolish the fasting and mourning of that day?

Puzzled in Paramus

Dear Puzzled,

We need to ask in general — why should we cede to religion the ability to legislate our emotions? What is the benefit of making people sad and mournful through rituals? Religion can do this, to a degree. By requiring fasting, by forbidding weddings from taking place, banning music for three weeks, by prohibiting haircuts and shaving, religion can try to manipulate moods and motivations. But why?


Finding Your Existentialist Judaism - Your Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for July 2019

Your Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for July 2019

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

These days I am increasingly unsure of the nature of my Judaism — my religious identity. I know for sure that I am a Jew. Both my parents were Jewish. And I do observe the Jewish festivals and Sabbaths, but now not so rigorously or in accord with any single denomination. I find it more and more difficult to define my affiliation with any specific organized Jewish group. Some of my friends politely tell me that I need to decide where I stand and conform to the beliefs and standards of one of the forms of Judaism. I just don’t know that I can do that anymore. I do want to explore Judaism philosophically, but I don’t know where to start. What is your advice?

Drifting in Demarest

Dear Drifting,

Most folks cannot tolerate too much ambiguity. They look for certainty. It sounds like you are living with uncertainty in your identification with Judaism. And while in our society it is rare for people to overtly butt into other people’s lives and life choices, some of your friends must sense your unease. That’s why they are chiming in that you need to decide.

It is reasonable for people to want to know where their friends and relatives stand regarding Judaism. And they want a label to name your choice and to make the identification clear: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, chasidic, Lubavitch; and in Israel there are category labels like dati, chiloni, Dati Leumi, charedi.


Yahrzeit of my mother Edith Zahavy

We are observing the 19th Yahrzeit of my mother Edith Zahavy (aleha hashalom).

We miss her so very much. She would have loved to see the progress of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and take pride in all of their accomplishments. She would have loved to read books to her great-grandchildren and to watch them play and grow.

She was born in NYC and attended the public schools in Washington Heights. She watched from her classroom window as they built the George Washington Bridge.

She graduated from Hunter High School, Hunter College and went on to a career in public service at the OPA and then into the field education. Together with my dad, she founded the Park East Day School when my father was rabbi at the Park East Synagogue, then called Congregation Zichron Ephraim. She subsequently taught in NYC public schools for many years.

She is interred on Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem. Her beautiful memorial photo site is here.


Free download files of the Babylonian Talmud in English

I am proud to provide for you as a gift, a download of the complete Babylonian Talmud English translation.

The Talmud in English is online and free at my site, Halakhah.com, http://www.halakhah.com/ - serving up 60,000+ downloads each month.


This set contains the Sedarim (orders, or major divisions) and tractates (books) of the Babylonian Talmud, as translated and organized for publication by the Soncino Press in 1935 - 1948.

My site has the entire Talmud edition in PDF format and  about 8050 pages in HTML format, comprising 1460 files — of the Talmud.

I recommend that on your web site or blog you add a link to this site http://www.halakhah.com.

Highlights include: A formatted 2-column PDF version of the Talmud at Halakhah.com.


    My Existentialist Zionism Answer in my Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column for May 31, 2019

    Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column for May 31, 2019

    Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

    I visited Israel recently, and from what I saw I admired the continued growth of the country. But at the same time, I felt a deep apprehension about the manifold internal and external dangers that it faces. I am worried that Israel has lost its way and is no longer serving to fulfill its Zionist missions. How can I regain my confidence in the present vitality and the future prospects of the State of Israel?

    Fearful in Fair Lawn

    Dear Fearful,

    I too have spent a lot of time in Israel of late and I do share your concerns. It’s a complex country of more than nine million inhabitants. It faces many internal conflicting points of view and differing aspirations. And yes, it is beset by the external challenges of hostile foes who seek to damage or even destroy the state.

    But my take on the situations it faces is positive and confident, and not simply by virtue of any of the classical definitions of Zionism. I have a personal and original take on the matter.

    Let me explain first a bit about the historical context of past Zionist visions and then tell you how I now formulate my own conception of Zionism for the modern State of Israel.

    The great historians of Zionism tell us about its major forms: political Zionism, socialist Zionism, cultural Zionism, and religious Zionism. I respect and venerate all the past great Zionist thinkers and activists. To some degree the modern state is the successful expression of the four classical forms of Zionism. And to some extent it represents a failed or incomplete implementation of each of them.


    Rabbi Dr. Zev Zahavy - Yahrzeit Number 7


    Rabbi Dr. Zev Zahavy
    New York City 
    September 8, 1918 - May 1, 2012

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

    The seventh 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.


    Can we take Tainted Charity? Who wrote the Haggadah? My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Your Talmudic Advice Column for April 2019

    Can we take Tainted Charity? 
    Who wrote the Haggadah? 
    My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Your Talmudic Advice Column for April 2019

    Dear Rabbi,

    I am the head administrator at a major Jewish nonprofit in New Jersey. One of our biggest donors has been charged with a crime. We want to remove his name from our building now. Do we need to wait and see if he is convicted or exonerated? It could be years and we do not want to suffer embarrassment in the interim.

    Disheartened in New Jersey

    Dear Disheartened,

    You do not need to wait. But you may not need to disown your disgraced donor, even when he (or she) is convicted and sent to prison. Check with your New Jersey colleagues in the nonprofit sector about the local customs in this muddy swamp. It seems obvious that where big money is involved, creative solutions abound.

    For instance, I can recall several years back, when a big-named donor of a New Jersey Jewish school was sent to prison. It was true that as a result, his name was removed from the school. But resourcefully, the school put up his mother’s name as the replacement. And the family continued supporting its cause.


    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 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.


    Rabbinic Gedolim of RCBC in Teaneck Condemn Esther and Ban Purim

    The Orthodox rabbis of the RCBC in Teaneck NJ issued a proclamation condemning Esther and banning Purim.

    Here is their unanimous proclamation:
    It is reported that a letter is circulating, called Megilas Esther, that has conferred “royalty” upon a woman, has described her as a consort to the King of Persia where she carried out certain traditional queenly functions, and has given her the title of “Queen”. The king has implied in this letter that the bestowal of this title is designed to “make it clear that Esther is a full member of the royal staff, a royal person with the additional quality of a distinct woman’s voice.”

    These developments represent a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition and the mesoras haTorah, and must be condemned in the strongest terms. Any book or letter that ascribes special qualities to a woman in a respected position of any sort cannot be considered kosher. Megilas Esther furthermore mocks men, portraying them as drunks, egotists and schemers. And finally any celebration based on that book, such as the derivative festival of Purim, that recognizes the heroic role of a woman in public life, must be banned.

    Megillat Esther Lesson: A Woman can Save all of the Jews from extinction (but not be counted in an Orthodox minyan)

    Purim is a happy holiday and the book of Esther is great entertainment. But this short biblical book also teaches us some profound lessons about politics, bureaucrats and life. We ought to pay close attention to all its nuances and messages.

    This year we point out that according to the book of Esther a woman can save the Jewish people (but she cannot be counted in an Orthodox minyan - make any sense to you?).

    Is Rush Limbaugh Jewish?

    Yes, Rush Limbaugh is a Jew. Rush's Conservative Gentile persona is a successful act that has earned him record multi-million dollar contracts in the radio business.

    Rush's real name is Ronald Levy. He was born on the upper West Side of Manhattan. His father was a dermatologist and his mother a junior high school librarian. He attended the Ramaz School where he excelled at floor hockey and then Amherst College where he double-majored in art history and chemistry.

    Rush was accepted to Albert Einstein Medical School of Yeshiva University. He had to withdraw during his first semester because he could not control his mocking derisive laughter when confronted with the illnesses and infirmities of the hospital patients.

    Happy Purim everybody. א פריילעכן פורים
    Rush! Rush! Rush! !רָשׁ! רָשׁ! רָשׁ
    חַג פּוּרִים, חַג פּוּרִים,
    חַג גָּדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים!
    מַסֵּכוֹת, רַעֲשָׁנִים,
    שִׁירִים וְרִקּוּדִים!

    הָבָה נַרְעִישֶׁהָ:
    רָשׁ רָשׁ רָשׁ!
    הָבָה נַרְעִישֶׁהָ:
    רָשׁ רָשׁ רָשׁ!
    הָבָה נַרְעִישֶׁהָ:
    רָשׁ רָשׁ רָשׁ!
    //repost from 5769//


    Arguing about Orthodox Women Rabbis and Finding your Past Lives - My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Your Talmudic Advice Column - March 2019

    Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Your Talmudic Advice Column March 2019
    Arguing about Orthodox Women Rabbis and Finding your Past Lives

    Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

    I have been bothered deeply to read and hear about a conflict among Teaneck Orthodox rabbis over the hiring of a woman in a rabbinical capacity at a local synagogue.

    I think our rabbis ought to set better examples in their behavior and be more progressive in their views about women.

    Tired of tiffs in Teaneck

    Dear Tired,

    I’m sure you realize, first of all, that contention over female clergy is an issue only in the Orthodox world. The Conservative movement has counted women in the minyan for decades and ordained women starting in 1985. Reform Judaism also takes an egalitarian approach to the role of women in their communities. Its first woman rabbi was ordained in 1972.

    Sorry, I fear there is not much I can suggest to you to do to help resolve this Orthodox rift. And I say this not based on an assessment of the contemporary persons and institutions involved in the current spat.


    When will the world end? - My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for February 2019

    When will the world end? - My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for February 2019

    Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

    When will the world come to an end?

    Counting Down in Cresskill

    Dear Counting,

    At first glance, that’s a good question. As you may know, that question is a popular meme in imaginative literature, drama and films, and a prominent theme in religious teachings. It’s not automatically an outlandish question. But it raises my concerns that you ask it.

    My first trepidation is that you ask this question because you are in a depressed or agitated disposition and looking for an escape. Take a look in the mirror. Introspect about your own state of mind. Ask people close to you if they have any concerns about your mood.

    Are you unhappy at work or at home? Are you facing medical challenges and seek escape from them? Are you looking for some sort of ultimate external resolutions to your problems? If you detect any of these circumstances in your life, it would be good for you to see a therapist, and not seek to calculate the number of hours left in the existence of the universe.

    Now it may be that you are sound in your mood levels, but perhaps you are looking around at the world and see things that genuinely trouble you, and that you feel you are powerless to control.

    I remember from when I was quite young that my grandmother told me one day in a calm and reassuring voice that she was sure the moshiach — the redeemer messiah that we Jews have been awaiting for millennia — soon will come to redeem us.

    What made her sure were the signs of the times that she detected all around us — particularly what she judged was the precipitous decline of morality among young people in our culture.

    End-of-days narratives come in many forms. Often, they seek to be reassuring, in a strange, unsettling way. In the genre called apocalyptic (meaning: revealing the end), the story told often relates to us that upheavals or cataclysms soon will be upon us, followed by a change in the way the world is run. After that, we powerless people, who face suffering now, soon will be in power.


    What is the Meaning of Life? - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - My Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column for January 2019

    Dear Rabbi Zahavy
    Your Talmudic Advice Column
    January 2019

    Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

    What is the meaning of life?

    Wondering in Weehawken

    Dear Wondering,

    Sure, at this time of the new year it makes sense for a person to wax philosophical and to ask such a big question.

    However, let me consider that perhaps you were not really serious in sending in this question to begin with.

    In that case, I will answer by quoting to you from the epilogue, the last scene of the 1983 Monty Python comedy film “The Meaning of Life.” There the host opens an envelope containing, well yes, the meaning of life. She reads it out loud and here is her profound advice: “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

    While that may not be the momentous meaning of life, that is not bad advice.

    Now, let me consider the alternative, and take your question as a serious inquiry and try to reply in kind.