Dear Rabbi Controversy on Angels and Prayers

Here are this week's Dear Rabbi Responses and Discussions from the Jewish Standard.

Rabbi Zahavy’s response to my letter of May 23 ("Kaddish, Kedushah and Angels") concerning the efficacy of the Kaddish and the meaning of the Kedushah, is both confusing and incomplete. On the one hand he admits that our prayers, specifically the Kaddish, do not cause God to act regarding the souls of our departed and then immediately contradicts that by writing that God hears and answers his prayers (meaning the Kaddish and/or the El Maleh Rachamim) regarding the immortality of his parents' souls. He also completely ignores my question about why, in the Kedushah, does the Creator of the Universe need to hear words of praise from beings (angels who have no free will) who have no choice in the matter.

Perhaps Rabbi Zahavy can further clarify. Thank you.

Jeff Bernstein
New Milford

Jeff Bernstein, in his May 24 letter, asserts that “we are rewarded and/or punished for our own deeds and not for what anyone else does. My parents’ place in the World to Come does not depend in the least on what I or anyone does on their behalf.” In actuality, while Mr. Bernstein’s first sentence is accurate, his second sentence does not follow from the first, and is not correct.

When we conduct ourselves in a good and holy way, do good deeds, and yes, say Kaddish for our parents, we demonstrate that our parents were successful in passing Jewish ideals to their children. It is our demonstration of their merit that confirms and raises their place in the World to Come, not what we do on their behalf. In other words, the very fact of our desire to honor our parents by saying Kaddish for them is a sign of their good work in raising their children. And conversely, our neglect or unwillingness to say Kaddish would be a sign of their failure.

So yes, the place in Olam HaBah of Mr. Bernstein’s parents depends strictly on their own deeds; and Mr. Bernstein’s actions in this world are a clear demonstration of his parents’ deeds, at least in the area of child raising and fulfilling the mitzvah of teaching one’s children.

Leon Sutton
New York, NY

Dear Rabbi, Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy, responds:

My intent in my column is to encourage an open, non-denominational and non-judgmental discussion of basic Judaic issues. So I am grateful for the Talmudic questions from Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Sutton. Both writers take prayers seriously and they raise legitimate concerns. 

I wish I could give Mr. Bernstein a clearer description of how prayer affects God’s decisions. Our great philosophers and theologians agree on the one hand that our prayer does not force God to act. Belief that prayer compels God would be a heresy that equates prayer with magic. Yet our great minds are equally sure that God hears our prayers and takes them into account in determining our fate. Note well that the members of our congregations may have personal beliefs on this matter that are not based on our official theology or philosophy but are to them equally valid and meaningful.

On the second question, the idea that angels sing praises to God is biblical, as for example in Psalm 148. I confess to a lack of further expertise in matters between God and his angels.

Mr. Sutton’s meaningful and personal theological explanations remind me once again that ordained Rabbis do not have an exclusive franchise on our theology. Members of the community at large can be a great source of creative insights.

Please continue to write in to Dear Rabbi and agree or disagree. I look forward to reading more of your questions, insights and challenges.


Soncino English Talmud Sanhedrin with Important Content

Talmudic Books has published Soncino Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin - the classic English edition of this important tractate.

My son Yitz reminded me that my father, Rabbi Dr. Zev Zahavy, who passed away on May 1, 2012, used to say that Sanhedrin was his favorite Talmud tractate.

Here is the book description, adapted from the Introduction:

The word Sanhedrin designates the higher courts of law which in the latter part of the period of the Second Temple administered justice in Israel according to the Mosaic law in the more serious criminal, and especially capital, cases. The main subject of this tractate is the composition, powers, and functions of these courts. Incidentally, as is only natural, it deals in some detail with the conduct of criminal cases; and in this way it forms, along with Makkoth, the chief repository of the criminal law of the Talmud.


Topless German Protesters in Berlin Burned a Barbie Doll on a Cross

I get it - a Barbie doll has an exaggerated ideal body type that frustrates some women.

I do not get the symbolic action of this part of the protest:

Reuters reported that Topless German Protesters Burned a Barbie Doll on a Cross.

Is Saudi Arabia a Barbaric Islamic Kingdom?

According to Reuters yes, Saudi Arabia is a barbaric Islamic kingdom, "Saudi Arabia to punish men over Christian woman convert: paper."

Reuters reported, "A Lebanese man was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes for converting the woman, while a Saudi man was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes for aiding her escape abroad, the English-language daily said. It added that the pair had challenged the verdict and would appeal..."

Music Video: Talmud Beach - Time on Highway 5

Great name for a band. Nice sound. I like it. Except the end is a little strange...

Talmud Beach – Time On Highway 5 from Hevosburger on Vimeo.


jStandard: Aramaic and Angels Redux

May 24, 2013
To the Editor:

Rabbi Zahavy’s column about kaddish (“Dear Rabbi,” May 3 Jewish Standard) and the letter responding to it (“Do the angels pray in Aramaic?,” May 10 Jewish Standard) raise a host of issues that must be dealt with rationally.

When my parents died, I, as an Orthodox Jew, said kaddish three times daily for 11 months for both. I did it out of respect for Jewish law and tradition and respect for them. Certainly not because I expected that my actions or inactions in this world would have any effect on their position vis-a-vis God in the World To Come. Rabbi Zahavy says that “to secure a place for the departed soul”… “many Jews believe” that by daily recitation of Kaddish, you will be “certain” about the departed’s immortal life “in the eternity of heaven.”

To begin with, our religion makes very clear that we are rewarded and/or punished for our own deeds and not for what anyone else does. My parents’ place in the World to Come does not depend in the least on what I or anyone does on their behalf.

Secondly, both he and the letter writer, Israel Polak, discuss whether angels do or do not communicate in Aramaic! One of my problems, relating to this and the Kedushah, has to do with the issue of angels praising God. It is established that 1) angels have no free will and 2) God has no need of our prayers nor of our praise of Him. We are the ones who need to pray and to praise God. Why then does the Creator of the Universe need to hear, as the Talmud states, the Kedushah illustrates, and Rabbi Zahavy argues, words of praise from beings who have no choice in the matter?

While it may be comforting and romantic to believe, as Rabbi Zahavy says “many Jews” do, that we can intercede with God “to gain heavenly immortality for the soul of a departed one,” it makes no sense that our intercession will, as it were, cause God to change His mind.

Jeff Bernstein
New Milford

Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy, replies:

Mr. Bernstein makes good points. I agree that we always must offer respectful performances of our ritual. And surely we do not expect our prayers will compel God to act. But my explorations seek to understand why we say this Aramaic or Hebrew prayer in this place and for this amount of time.

I do believe that God hears my fervent and humble prayers and that they do make a difference. That is why, during Yizkor on the second day of Shavuot, I said the El Maleh Rachamim, asking God to grant proper rest in heaven for the dear souls of my father and my mother, “O God, full of mercy, Who dwells on high, grant proper rest on the wings of the Divine Presence in the lofty levels of the holy and the pure ones, who shine like the glow of the firmament…”


Times: Cholesterol Drugs Called Statins are Bad for You

I stopped taking statin pills 6+ years ago when Lipitor gave me liver disease. My cholesterol is low now due to my strict regimen of aerobic exercise and a healthy diet. No pills.

A medical study described in the Times pitting exercise against pills should be incredibly troubling to people who take statins:
...The unmedicated volunteers improved their aerobic fitness significantly after three months of exercise, by more than 10 percent on average. But the volunteers taking the statins gained barely 1 percent on average in their fitness, and some possessed less aerobic capacity at the end of the study than at its start...
Whoa - statins are bad for your aerobic fitness. That's not what we want to hear.
...This finding joins a small but accumulating body of other studies indicating that statins can negatively affect exercise response. Lab rodents given statins, for instance, can’t run as far as unmedicated animals, while in humans, marathon runners on statins develop more markers of muscle damage after a race than runners not using the drugs...
Whoa - statins promote muscle damage in athletes. I felt muscle damage after one week when I took the Lipitor. Blood tests showed that the drug attacked my liver.

Finally, it's wrong that the Times frames this in an article whose title is a question, Can Statins Cut the Benefits of Exercise?, when the article describes a study that demonstrates it is a fact that statins do cut the benefits of exercise - they promote muscle damage - or in plain terms - statins are bad for you.

Imagine the Day that Religions Mellowed Out

Imagine the Day that Religions Mellowed Out.

Wait. Three reasons that it looks like that happened.

1. The Pope said that atheists are okay too. "Atheists and other nonbelievers largely welcomed Wednesday's (May 22) remarks by Pope Francis that performing "good works" is not the exclusive domain of people of faith, but rather a place where they and atheists could and should meet."

Mellow pope - but what about the "bad" priests?

2. The Lubavitcher Hasidim reached out to hipsters - because they have beards too (Times): "...on Tuesday night, at Chabad of North Brooklyn, the Lubavitcher outpost on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, there was a forum, advertised on fliers up and down the boutique-lined strip, on the theme 'Hasid and hipster, not as different as you think.' ...But perhaps the difference is significant enough. Maybe it was the lack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer (or alcohol at all) or special brewed coffee (there was plenty of instant), but the attendance of bearded hipsters was sparse, and possibly nonexistent."

Mellow Hasids - but no Hipster love connections.

3. And other Orthodox Jews (sorta) accept into their communities gays and Sabbath violators too ("Inclusivism: First Among Equals?"): "R. Ettlinger, for example, allowed the wine of Jews who publicly violated Shabbat by suggesting they could be categorized as tinnokot she-nishbu, people raised outside of Jewish values, who therefore could not be fully blamed for their transgressions."

Mellow rabbis - can't blame secular Jews - they were brainwashed as children (tinnokot she-nishbu) into being secular. Oh wait maybe it was the rabbis who were brainwashed. No that could not be. Never mind.

The Talmud is Not Like a TV Series

The Forward's comparison of the Talmud to the TV series Arrested Development is a flop.

Simply put - I don't know what Ezra Glinter is talking about in his column when he says that the Talmud's, "discussions wander into areas that are only tangentially related." It's important to know what that means because that is one basis for his comparison between the Talmud and the TV series. The Talmud that I know does not wander tangentially.

The other point Glinter makes is that the TV series and the Talmud have recurring interrelated tropes:

...putting those pieces together is not so different — in a way — from connecting the parts of “Arrested Development” on the basis of recurring jokes. James Joyce famously remarked of “Ulysses” that “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.” And in fact, both the Talmud and “Arrested Development” are similar in this respect to “Ulysses,” with its immense web of internal references and allusions.
I'm thinking why not throw in Superman comic books, Golf Digest Magazine and the Wall Street Journal? Lots of interrelated tropes in those works. 

Bottom line, if you don't pay any attention to the contents of the TV series, of James Joyce and of the Talmud, and if you have imbibed a large quantity of alcohol or some chemical substance, then the comparisons at the Forward make perfect sense. Otherwise, not really. The Talmud is not a stream of consciousness about Dublin Ireland on June 16, 1904. The Talmud is not a comedy about a fictitious Bluth family from Newport Beach, California. Content does matter when you make comparisons, even attempted comical comparisons.


Video: Rabbi Goren in 1967 at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

Rabbi Shlomo Goren blowing the shofar and praying at the Western Wall in 1967 was one of the greatest and most inspired moments in Jewish history. Here is the video...

[Repost from 2010.]


Michelle Bachmann Warns us that Minneapolis - St. Paul are the new Sodom - Gomorrah

The Daily Currant reported last week that Michelle Bachman has threatened to "Leave Minnesota Over Marriage Equality" because the new Twin Cities are now just like the old Twin Cities of the Bible. This is funny stuff (5/13/13):
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann threatened to leave Minnesota today if the state goes ahead with its plans to legalize gay marriage.

In an interview with a local television station, the conservative firebrand said she believes God will destroy Minneapolis once the legislation is enacted, and wants to be far away when the reckoning happens.

"The Bible is very clear on this issue," she told KSTP-TV this morning. "Homosexuality is a sin, and God will punish communities that support it.

"Sodom and Gomorrah thought they could defy the will of God, and we all know what happened to them. If the governor signs this legislation into law the Minneapolis-St. Paul region will be next.

"I have a friend from Eden Prairie who's already packed everything she owns into her car and is driving out to Montana as we speak. These are very scary times. I don't want my family to be the last ones out."

...Although none of the other states has suffered from Biblical-like destruction, Minnesota's most outspoken voice in Congress told anchor Bruce Nolan that it's only a matter of time.

"I don't know what it will be, Bruce," she said. "It could be an earthquake. It could be a volcano. It could be some sort of flesh eating virus. All I know is that God does not let homosexuality go unpunished, and Minneapolis is next in line for his wrath.

"It breaks my heart to think that the Democrats are willing to play politics with the lives of so many Minnesotans. And I hate to leave so many of my constituents behind, but I urge them - please, please - follow my example and get your loved ones to safety before it's too late."

In a subsequent interview with The Daily Currant, Bachmann says she's not sure where she'll go if she leaves, but is seriously considering Oregon as a possibility since its constitution bans same sex marriage.

"I've heard wonderful things about Eugene," she says, "and I think (Democratic) Congressman (Peter) DeFazio may be vulnerable to a challenge. They're the nicest people in the world out there. I'm sure we'd be welcomed with open arms."
Update: The governor signed the bill ("Minnesota Legalizes Gay Marriage: Gov. Mark Dayton Signs Bill Into Law") and, so far, no destruction.

Clarification: This story is a joke.


Top Ten Reasons We Eat Dairy on Shavuot

It seems we can never remember exactly why we eat dairy on Shavuot. Multiple thanks to our good friend who researched and thought about this question and sent us a retrospective for this year and reminder for years to come.

After immersing myself and my family in milk, cheese, eggs and noodles for the past two days, the question remained, why? Why do we eat dairy on Shavuot? Here are the top ten reasons that I came up with.

My first thought was to look for some Biblical or Talmudic reason and for that, I turned to "The Jewish Book of Why", which gave three reasons:

1. "Dairy foods should be eaten on the day the Tora was received on Mount Sinai because the words in the Song of Songs, 'honey and milk under thy lips' (4:11) imply that, like milk products and honey, the words of the Tora are pleasant and good for our spirits".

2. From Exodus 23:19: "'The choicest first fruits shalt thou bring to the House of the Lord. Thou shalt not cook a kid in its mother's milk.' The 'first fruits'... refers to the Shavuot holiday. The second part... is taken to mean that the two main dishes to be served at the holiday meal are to be first a dairy dish, followed later by a meat dish".

3. According to a legend repeated in "The Jewish Book of Why", the Israelites returning from Mount Sinai did not have enough time so slaughter an animal and instead made the quickest possible meal, which was dairy.

I don't find any of these explanations convincing, so I turned to the experts. We are, after all, talking about food, so where better to look than in Jewish cookbooks? So, here we go:

Joan Nathan, noting the origin of Shavuot as a harvest festival in the iconic "The Jewish Holiday Kitchen", asks "how do dairy dishes fit into a barley harvest festival?" and she gives the following explanations:

4. "At this time of year...such foods are eaten because of the large amount of cheese produced. Churning and cheesemaking are common features of spring harvest festivals the world over, when goats, sheep, and cows begin to graze more and thus produce more milk."

But wait, there's more from Joan Nathan:

5. Psalm 68:16-17 refers to Mount Sinai as the "mountain of peaks (har gavnunim). She notes that gavnunim comes from the same root as gevinah, Hebrew for "cheese". "Thus (writes Joan Nathan), it could also be called Cheese Mountain, a common folk image."

6. Another reason Nathan cites is a follow-up to Reason #3, in which the Israelites returning to camp after receiving Ten Commandments or Torah, found that they had been gone so long that their milk turned sour and was made into cheese.

7. Nathan cites another rabbinic source which says "the Israelites fasted while they went to receive the Ten Commandments and returned so hungry that they drank milk immediately rather than go through the long process of preparing a meat meal."

Marlene Sorosky's "Fast and Festive Meals for the Jewish Holidays" refers to Reason #4 above, but suggests there is an abundance of milk, rather than cheese, and to another explanation

8. that "the Hebrews abstained from eating meat the day before they received the Torah".

9. Sorosky also suggests that "perhaps it's because the whiteness of milk is symbolic of the purity of the Torah".

So I offer Reason #10. Yes. Let's eat dairy meals because they're fun to make, and when the holiday is over, you can work off all that cheesecake and those blintzes.


תפילה לירושלים מילים הרב שאר ישוב כהן Video: Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen's Inspiring Prayer for Jerusalem

Aaron Reichel, my friend of many years, sent me this update about a video of Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen's inspiring Prayer for Jerusalem and related matters:

Thanks to Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein, whose work relating to the late Chief Rabbi Kook our Harry and Jane Fischel Foundation has supported, I just received a you-tube link to the Prayer for Yerushalayim, to be recited or sung annually on the Shabbat before Yom Yerushalayim, authored by the Chairman of the Board of our Foundation and President of the Machon and of Ariel, Chief Rabbi Emeritus Shear Yashuv Cohen (also former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem), chanted by a chazzan and a full ORCHESTRA! I don't know about you, but I can't think of ever having heard ANY prayer -- let alone a prayer intended for recitation in Orthodox synagogues (though not exclusively, of course) -- chanted with such an orchestra! I hope you will savor this you-tube presentation as I did. I'm not a music connoisseur, so I won't offer any comments of evaluation. The u-tube presentation (of course made on a weekday) speaks -- sings? -- for itself!

Aaron adds:
While on the general subject of special prayers sung in Orthodox synagogues but composed in relatively recent times, a few weeks ago, the very prominent Rabbi J. J. Schacter spoke at the West Side Institutional Synagogue as the featured "scholar in residence" and guest speaker at the annual Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein Memorial Lecture (subdivided into three full-length lectures), in conjunction with the recent publication of the augmented biography of Harry Fischel, originally edited by Rabbi Goldstein. Rabbi Goldstein was the father-in-law of Chief Rabbi Cohen, who wrote the preface to this augmented edition. Rabbi Schacter was as eloquent and informative as ever, but among the things that stand out about his presentation is that despite the fact that, unlike me (who might be considered biased in favor of Rabbi Goldstein, notwithstanding the objective documentation in the biography I wrote), Rabbi Schacter would be expected to be biased AGAINST Rabbi Goldstein, having been the rabbi of a historically competing synagogue, on various levels, The Jewish Center, and having co-authored a book about Rabbi Goldstein's "nemesis" -- Mordechai Kaplan, the first rabbi of the Jewish Center and the founder of reconstructionist Judaism, and, to some extent, the CJI before it, of which Rabbi Goldstein became the first director. Yet Rabbi Schacter was extremely gracious in his praise of Rabbi Goldstein and Rabbi Goldstein's place in history, and even had some kind words about the biography of Rabbi Goldstein, which he cited extensively. These tangents now lead up to the main tangent to what I'm leading up to, in the context of the you-tube link.

At the Shabbat at the WSIS featuring Rabbi Schacter (referred to above), the Chazzan of the WSIS, Zev Muller, sang Avinu Shebashamayim, a/k/a the Tfila L'Shlom Hamedinah (the prayer for the country of Israel) a rendition composed by Cantor Sol Zim, with a solo at the beginning and at the end, which was absolutely mesmerizing, no less than what listeners of the you-tube link below are about to hear. Among the other compositions that Chazzan Muller sang was Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's Mimkomcha. Rabbi Schacter, the guest speaker, began his primary speech -- the Shabbat morning sermon -- with some words about the synagogue and the current rabbi and the history of the synagogue and its founding rabbi, but he also said that had he come to the West Side just to hear this chazzan (Chazzan Muller) sing these two compositions, it would have been worth it! I've heard many guest speakers and many notable chazzanim, but I never before heard any guest speaker make such a statement about any chazzan!  I would hope that the readers of this email will come to the WSIS and/or encourage other people to come to the WSIS for many reasons, but now they can add this one!

Cantor Muller, by the way, is to be one of the guests of honor at the forthcoming dinner of the WSIS, and I'm sure that, PG, he will do more than a simple acceptance speech! So if you want to hear him during the week, this is an opportunity to do so.


Book of Ruth - Free for Shavuot

From our collaborator Reuven Brauner:

Hi Everyone,

Shavuos is coming up and that means Sefer Ruth.

In order to facilitate your learning of this important work, traditionally read on Chag Matan Torah, I have included the link to my Hadgashas Hane’emar version on halakhah.com which should make this book’s understanding easier, quicker and, maybe even, more fun.

Please feel free to copy it, print it out and pass it on to all your friends. Enjoy.

Happy Rosh Chodesh, have a Good Shabbos and Good Yom Tov

Check Out - Talmudic Books
See the Kindle Talmud in English
Ponder the Questions of Whence and Wherefore
God's Favorite Prayers


JStandard: Do Angels Speak Aramaic?

My Dear Rabbi column (May 3) sparked an urgent letter to the editor at the Jewish Standard. I answered it.
The Dear Rabbi Column, “ ...based on timeless Talmudic wisdom” (May 3), writes the following about the Kaddish: “Yet this prayer is especially apropos for a mourner because we believe that it is the Aramaic praise that the angels recite in God’s presence in the heavens.”

1.The Talmud (Shabbos 12 A) states that the angels do not understand and certainly do not communicate in Aramaic.

2.The prophets, Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 3, inform us of the praises that the angels recite to God, verses that are incorporated in the daily prayers as the Kedusha, not the Kaddish.

3.The rabbis have explained that the unique quality of the Kaddish, which elevates it even beyond the Kedusha ( Berachos 21 B), derives from the fact that it is the result of human initiative.

Israel Polak

Dear Rabbi, aka Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy, replies:

I thank Mr. Polak for his letter. My column targets the issues of people, not of angels. Since I have not yet been to heaven, I can only speculate on the language skills of angels and their activities based on the assertions of our traditions. The Talmud passage Mr. Polak refers to cites the individual view of one rabbi regarding the language skills of angels. Other authoritative rabbis in the Talmud and later times argue that some angels do know Aramaic or that the question is moot, because angels know what you are thinking. Putting the language and angel issues aside, I do agree, as I proposed in my column, that the Kaddish is a powerful prayer of praise, a “human initiative” that mourners recite here on earth to act as if they are intercessors to gain heavenly immortality for the soul of a departed loved one.

2006: When Rabbi Aryeh Strikovsky ordained Aviva Ner-David

I wrote this seven years ago:

On one level, I was overjoyed to read in the Jerusalem Post report (May 4, 2006) that a Jerusalem Orthodox rabbi Aryeh Strikovsky has ordained his woman student Aviva Ner-David as a rabbi saying that her "knowledge and mastery of Jewish law are remarkable."

This was a breakthrough that I awaited, but frankly never expected to see in my lifetime. I thought, as I read the news, that this marks the end to the male monopoly on the Orthodox rabbinate. The Reform movement had torn down this wall in the 70s. The Conservative movement had started routinely ordaining women in the 80s. And now, the Orthodox will be ordaining women.

In theory, I want to see this is a good development in the history of Judaism. With women rabbis, more talent can be unleashed into the ranks of religious leadership. With double the talent there can be double the learning and twice as much new theological insight, imagination and energy.

In theory, since the Orthodox rabbi is not a sacerdotal position, a woman should be able to fill it regardless of the patriarchal roots of the system. A woman can become an expert in Jewish law and practice and act in all capacities as a rabbi just like men have been doing for centuries.

But we don't live in a theoretical world. A real reading of the nature of contemporary Orthodoxy will lead one to conclude that it is a system run by men whose political and social power in society at large is marginalized. And yet these men do see themselves as guardians of a particularly important male-dominated world order of their own.


Are Your Emailed Prayers Kosher?

No, if not addressed properly your emailed prayers to Joel Osteen will fail. So we are told on Huff Post by Bianca Bokser.
...Osteen's staff has instructed online congregants to post prayers to his Web site or phone prayers to a 1-800 number. They've also provided an email address -- prayer@joelosteen.com -- assuring digital participants that the church has dedicated prayer partners on hand who will field their missives and pray for them.

But at this moment, those emailed entreaties have no prayer of reaching anyone. The email address Osteen's helpers have supplied is the wrong one. It's an address that doesn't exist -- the staff was meant to offer up "prayerrequest@joelosteen.com." Thanks to the error, an automatically generated email reply is informing the faithful that delivery of their prayers has "failed permanently."...

Is Blackballing Tim Tebow from the NFL Kosher?

Yes, we think that blackballing Tim Tebow from the NFL is kosher and proper. Michael Silver, writing on Yahoo Sports, understands why this is happening but is not sure that it is kosher ("Tim Tebow blackballed by NFL teams because of cult-like following, media frenzy").

We think that Tebow violates two major league sports conventions. (1) He grandstands way too much and (2) he broadcasts his religious beliefs in public, even on the field during the game.

In team sports individual grandstanding is frowned upon. Too much of it leads to what coaches call "a circus" around a player. That's a "distraction" and the management in major sports do not want that. By the way, professional wrestling perfectly mocks this aspect of all other professional sports by making individual grandstanding the main component of their events.

We've railed against Tebow's religious expressions since they became widely publicized during his college football career. Why? Because our studies have taught us that a strong element of American public culture is maintaining a separation between your church beliefs and the state of your actions in the public arena - especially in the workplace, in politics and in sporting events. Religious expression is proper in the family and in the church where it plays a role n the celebration of rites of passage (births, weddings, funerals) and in rites of seasonal celebrations (feasts and fasts).

Silver opines about Tebow on Yahoo:
...even though I sort of understand why Tebow is toxic, the fact that he's not even being given a chance to compete for a third-string job is troublesome. And just as I feel compelled to call out the league when it comes to injustices like the dearth of minorities in offensive play-calling roles, the apparent blacklisting of a quarterback who went 7-4 as a starter in 2011 and won a memorable playoff game over the Pittsburgh Steelers doesn't seem kosher to me.

Tebow, by all accounts, is a hard worker who radiates a relentlessly positive attitude. He has obvious leadership qualities and, as Broncos fans, 2011 opponents and "Saturday Night Live" aficionados alike can attest, an uncanny knack for getting the stars to align in his favor. (Or, perhaps, his deep Christian faith really does translate into things like Marion Barber inexplicably running out of bounds in high altitude. After the weirdness I witnessed that season, I'm not ruling anything out.)...
Bottom line: We believe that keeping the Tebow circus and religious crusade out of the NFL is kosher. We recommend that he try his hand at professional wrestling.


Happy Mishna Day

On this day in history the first Mishna was printed. Joshua Solomon ben Israel Nathan Soncino, the first member of the distinguished family of printers, completed publication of the work in 1492.

From Ha`aretz by David B. Green:

On May 8, 1492, Joshua Solomon ben Israel Nathan Soncino completed publication of what is believed to be the first printed edition of the Mishna. The text is accompanied by Maimonides’ commentary on the Mishna, in Hebrew translation.

Joshua Solomon Soncino (died 1493) was the first member of the distinguished Soncino family of printers to publish a book, a tractate of the Talmud (Berakhot), which he created in 1484. (Johannes Gutenberg had produced his first block-printed Bible in 1455.) The family took its name from the Italian town of Soncino, in northern Italy, east of Milan, where it lived for some time, but it could trace its origins to a German Jew called Moses of Speyer, in the 14th century.


Announcing a new Edition of Shoroshim by Reuven Brauner


Shoroshim by Reuven Brauner may be the most comprehensive list of Hebrew Verb roots ever published with close to 3300 entries. The verb roots are presented with definitions, synonyms and derivative meanings in thesaurus form, laid out in a clear, delightful and aesthetic manner.


More than a conventional dictionary or lexicon, Shoroshim links different Hebrew word roots and shows how they derive from a "common" root form, often not obvious at first glance.


Unlike ordinary dictionaries which are cluttered with permutations and combinations of grammatical forms for the same root, Shoroshim efficiently cuts right to the root.

Shoroshim provides easy guidelines to assist in the often complex and frustrating effort to determine a verb root.


Shoroshim covers all periods in the development of the Hebrew language, from the Biblical period through modern Hebrew. Shoroshim includes a large number of obscure and obsolete roots, particularly helpful to the scholar and academic.


Shoroshim is fun and easy to use, an indispensable quick reference source for all students and translators of Hebrew.


Shoroshim is a seminal unique work, available only from Talmudic Books at Halakhah.com. Please visit to peruse and download the work.

Enjoy and B'Hatzlahah!


Is the author and spiritual seeker Paulo Coelho Jewish?

No Paulo Coelho is not a Jew. He was brought up Catholic and attended a Jesuit school in Brazil. Coelho is not a big fan of any organized religion. He speaks with lyrical disdain and disparagement in his books about the wisdom and ritual of religions.

His current publication, Manuscript Found in Accra, is set in Jerusalem before a battle. The people in the book gather to ask about life so that they can learn enough to save "the soul of Jerusalem." The publisher tells us:
July 14, 1099. Jerusalem awaits the invasion of the crusaders who have surrounded the city’s gates. There, inside the ancient city’s walls, men and women of every age and every faith have gathered to hear the wise words of a mysterious man known only as the Copt. He has summoned the townspeople to address their fears with truth:

“Tomorrow, harmony will become discord. Joy will be replaced by grief. Peace will give way to war. . . . None of us can know what tomorrow will hold, because each day has its good and its bad moments. So, when you ask your questions, forget about the troops outside and the fear inside. Our task is not to leave a record of what happened on this date for those who will inherit the Earth; history will take care of that. Therefore, we will speak about our daily lives, about the difficulties we have had to face.”

The people begin with questions about defeat, struggle, and the nature of their enemies; they contemplate the will to change and the virtues of loyalty and solitude; and they ultimately turn to questions of beauty, love, wisdom, sex, elegance, and what the future holds. “What is success?” poses the Copt. “It is being able to go to bed each night with your soul at peace.” ...

Now, these many centuries later, the wise man’s answers are a record of the human values that have endured throughout time. And, in Paulo Coelho’s hands, The Manuscript Found in Accra reveals that who we are, what we fear, and what we hope for the future come from the knowledge and belief that can be found within us, and not from the adversity that surrounds us.
This book is new age in every respect that we can think of especially in the way that it wanders through spiritual landscapes and themes without a care for a conventional framework of organization or presentation.

One passage struck us because it sounded like the utter opposite of the philosophy of life and values that we heard espoused at Yeshiva University by our teacher the Rav, Rabbi Soloveitchik and by his followers.

We will cite Coelho's passage and leave it without explanation; and we wish that understanding will flow to those who understand:
Beauty is present in all creation, but the dangerous fact is that, because we human beings are often cut off from the Divine Energy, we allow ourselves to be influenced by what other people think... And we become ugly and embittered.

At that moment, we can draw comfort from so-called wisdom, an accumulation of ideas put together by people wishing to define the world instead of respecting the mystery of life. This "wisdom" consists of all the unnecessary rules, regulation, and measurements intended to establish a standard of behavior. 
According to that false wisdom, we should not be concerned about beauty because it is superficial and ephemeral. 
That isn't true. All the beings created under the sun, from birds to mountains, from flowers to rivers, reflect the miracle of creation. 
If we resist the temptation to allow other people to define who we are, then we will gradually be able to let the sun inside our own soul shine forth... (pp. 60-61)
Back in 2011 we wrote about his previous book Aleph saying that the book... will greatly entertain the spiritual seeker. By that we mean if you are open to the concepts of past lives and the mystical energies of the universe, this book will speak to you. But even if you are such a seeker, you may feel, as we do, that at times the book overdoes some of its themes.

Within the story Coelho provides some gems of writing. We identified with his metaphor of the Chinese bamboo plant since we had spent several years putting down the roots of our latest book. And now, that book (God's Favorite Prayers) has sprouted up boldly after its publication.

Coelho explains that the Chinese Bamboo first, “...spends 5 years as a little shoot, using that time to develop its complex root system. And then from one moment to the next, it puts on a spurt and grows up to 25 meters high.”

Within the narrative Coelho casts in what can be wonderful observations, if they resonate for you. On the life-value of mistakes he tells us, “...only mediocrity is sure of itself, so take risk and do what you really want to do. Seek out people who aren’t afraid of making mistakes and who, therefore, do make mistakes. Because of that, their work often isn’t recognized, but they are precisely the kind of people who change the world and, after many mistakes, do something that will transform their own community completely”.

He does get this inspiring exhortation partly right. We'd say to seek out people who are afraid to make mistakes -- that is a human trait -- but who nevertheless go ahead and make them. And he does need to differentiate and specify what he means by "mistakes". He surely means the worthy and meaty and bold and creative mistakes, not the foolish ones. And then of course, we all need to know some definition of the notion of "transform" -- but we never do get that from most of those who throw out the idea. We just know that they mean that transformation is something good and different and fresh and original.

It's all in a narrative that is highly intuitive and new age. And we get it and we like it. We also like the title.