In 1978 Prof. Wansbrough Reviewed Prof. Zahavy's Remarkable First Book on Eleazar ben Azariah

In 1978 Professor J. Wansbrough reviewed my first book in the distinguished journal, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 41, No. 2 (1978), 368-369. 

Below is the review. Get the book at Amazon.

TZVEE ZAHAVY: The traditions of Eleazar ben Azariah. (Brown Judaic Studies, No. 2.) xv, 365 pp. Missoula, Montana : Scholars Press for Brown University, [1977]. $7.50.

La scuola di Neusner merits special attention and profound gratitude. One has only to consider the contributions to the series ' Studies in Judaism in Late Antiquity ' (Brill, Leiden, 1973-) and now the ' Brown Judaic Studies ' (Brown University, 1977- ) to appreciate the resourcefulness and extraordinary industry of a single Rabbinic scholar in the United States. Among the remarkable works generated by Neusner's teaching is Dr. Zahavy's study of Eleazar hen Azariah, a peripheral figura of the Yavnean ambient. The contribution of the study is as much methodological as it is substantive, namely, by the application of form and redaction criticism to post-Biblical literature, an exercise (possibly) inaugurated by F. Maass (Formgeschichte der Mischna, Berlin, 1937) and certainly pursued today with vigour and insight by Jacob Neusner (History of the Mishnaic law of purities, etc.).


The Times Profiles the Beggars of Lakewood NJ in the Sunday Magazine

How strange. Of all that could be written about the Jewish community in Lakewood, the Times has profiled the beggars that prowl constantly through the community schnorring for handouts.

No I do not find this story quaint and charming.

My 2010 Analysis of a Book by Rabbi Barry Freundel, "Why We Pray What We Pray"

Unfortunately the distinguished rabbi Barry Freundel was arrested and charged last week with crimes involving video voyeurism in the mikvah of his synagogue.

Update: Is Freundel working on a new book: "Why we Prey?"

In 2010 I wrote these nice comments and analysis below on a book he published, Why We Pray What We Pray through Urim Publications....

The description from the publisher says:
''Why We Pray What We Pray'' details the various factors that influenced six important Jewish prayers and shaped how and when Jews recite them. This book shows that each prayer (Shema, Nishmat, Birkat HaHodesh, Anim Zemirot, Aleinu and Kaddish) has a complex history of which contemporary worshippers are mostly unaware. When we learn about the factors and forces that shaped these prayers and Jewish liturgy in general, our appreciation of what Jewish worship is all about becomes that much more profound. Why We Pray What We Pray also sets forth important moments in Jewish history with depth and detail.
I am most impressed by the wide scope of the author's learning and by his accessible writing style. That desire to reach the reader comes through clearly in the author's chapter titles and in the presentation of their contents.


Six Israeli swimmers set world record for 236 Mile longest open-water swim

From Israel Hayom...

6 Israelis break world record for longest open-water swim

Israeli relay team swims over 236 miles from Cyprus to Israel to raise awareness about marine pollution • Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz: The fact that the swimmers could tell when they entered Israeli water shows there is work to be done. 


Is Israel's National bird the Hoopoe - Duchifat - Hud Hud Kosher?

No, in fact Israel's National bird, the Hoopoe - Duchifat - Hud Hud, is not kosher. It is "an unclean animal that may not be eaten."

The Times had an editorial in June 2008 that talked about the newly designated Israeli National bird, the Hoopoe - Duchifat (Hebrew) - Hud Hud (Arabic). The writer proposed that this decision on the bird would help Israel achieve peace with its neighbors.

In June 2008 Stephen Colbert quipped caustically that the bird is not a valiant eagle, "May you (Israel) emulate the noble long-billed hoopoe by squirting fecal matter at intruders."

Here is the Times op-ed from 2008.


Is the Shabbos Smartphone App kosher?

Yes, the Shabbos App is kosher. At first I thought it was a joke or a spoof. But sources say it is real. It is an app for a smartphone that makes it kosher to use it on Shabbos (the Sabbath).

Alas, the excessive $49.99 price for the app on Google Play is not so kosher.

The Fink or Swim blog has a thoughtful post on this matter.
...To me, it’s real simple. No one would have thought of the Shabbos App or the need for the Shabbos App if people were enjoying the break from technology that Shabbat affords. If we all loved being off our phones for 25 hours, the Shabbos App would be superfluous. No one would want it. No one would care to have it. But that is not the reality. Many people struggle with observing Shabbat every week. The phone is a private and quiet way to escape Shabbat observance. That’s one the many allures of the smartphone. It’s like holding the universe in your hands, and if someone is feeling stifled by Shabbat observance, the world in one’s hands can feel quite liberating.

I think most people who have smartphones would be quite happy to be able to use them 24/7. It’s a bit of a challenge to restrict one’s smartphone usage for 25 hours if one is accustomed to using their device on a constant basis. It’s not addiction as much as it is a habit. Smartphones have become like appendages to our bodies. They accompany us to the kitchen for recipes and culinary inspiration. They come with us to the dinner table and can be used to research a point of discussion at the table or to share a YouTube video that gives everyone a good laugh. They are part of our Torah study routine with the entire Torah available at the tap of a finger. Calling us addicts completely mischaracterizes the challenge. Our devices are like auxiliary brains. They are part of everything we do during the week.

So when Shabbat arrives, it is certainly a challenge. Some people embrace this challenge. They say that Shabbat is meaningful because they love being free from technology. It’s still a challenge, but the personal satisfaction and ecstasy of freedom makes it worth meeting the challenge head on. Others just accept the fact that they might be miserable without their devices and slog through Shabbat like zombies. Then there are the people who don’t think it’s worth giving up their smartphones for Shabbat. The pain of abandoning technology for 25 hours is greater than the payoff of keeping Shabbat. Those people have no incentive to turn off their phones for 25 hours. Why should they?

That is a tragic commentary on our Shabbat experience...
Talmudic analysis: I agree with much of this post and discussion. However, I do not approve of the use of the word tragic for discussing this matter.

It's hard to argue with those who say that Orthodox Shabbat restrictions across the board by any measure are heavily onerous. To preach that they are liberating is dangerous since many people will disagree on the basis of common sense and nothing else.

The sudden appearance of powerful personal technology like the smartphone casts a bright spotlight on the claim that the Shabbat wilderness experience is something that is good for all Jews, every week. It's a tough claim to defend in any day and age, and it now is tougher.


My Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for October 2014: Calculating Charity

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi,

I’m bombarded at this time of year with requests for donations from many worthy local, national and international causes.

I’m not wealthy. So how do I prioritize which ones to support?

Parsimonious in Paramus

Dear Parsimonious,

Yes, that’s a tough question. To find the most philanthropic gratification I advise that you give thoughtfully to accredited organizations as an expression of your values. If you believe foremost in supporting the indigent and those in personal straits, then give to a credible social welfare agency. Depending on exactly where they live, many local people support the Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson or the Jewish Family Service of Northern Jersey, or Project Ezra.

If you choose to support religious or education initiatives, we are blessed with a multitude of shul and school options in our communities.

If you have resources to direct to the performing arts, then the distinguished local Teaneck Garage Theatre Group will welcome your help.

If you wish to make a basket donation to cover many bases, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey encompasses varied charities. It is a good alternative if you want one-stop giving.

In the season when we seek compassion for ourselves, it is good to bestow compassion on others by making your generous gifts and pledges now for the coming year.

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

My Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for October 2014: Female Fearing Frum Flyer

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi,

I’m an ultra-Orthodox man who will not sit next to a woman on an airplane. After boarding a flight recently I politely asked that a woman next to me move her seat to accommodate my religious obligations. The woman refused and the flight was delayed. Airline security was called, and I was threatened with being removed from the flight and being blocked from flying in the future by being assigned to the no-fly list.

I need to fly to see my family and to conduct my business. I feel that people are misunderstanding my religious needs and discriminating against me. What should I do?

Misunderstood in Monsey

Dear Misunderstood,

Unfortunately it appears that nobody misunderstands your intention to discriminate against others based on gender. In America and most of the world, segregation or the denial of civil rights based on race or gender or sexual orientation no longer is condoned. That being said, you have three options to choose from.

You can live apart from the world in a self-imposed ghetto with other like-minded people, and continue to practice your gender segregation together. Or you can go out to the public sphere with your current attitudes and continue to clash with the people around you. Or you can modify your beliefs and behaviors and no longer practice segregation, discrimination, and the denial of civil rights based on gender. It’s up to you to decide how to live your life.

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

My Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for October 2014: Downstairs Davening

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi,

I’ve been arguing with my friend, who wants me to join her at Shabbat services at an alternative minyan. She says I will find it more intellectual and more egalitarian and I should come with her. I explained to her that I went to that minyan once and found out that services were held in the basement of a private home.

I’ve learned that ideally public communal prayer should be conducted in the most aesthetic surroundings, preferably an attractive dedicated synagogue building, not a rec room.

I agree with that and I’m not going to go with my friend. But what should I tell her?

Aesthetic in Englewood

Dear Aesthetic,

It’s always best to tell your friend the truth about how you feel. But try not to disparage her choices when you do that.

In an ideal world, a community will provide its people with centralized places of worship that are artistically beautiful, intellectually stimulating, and open and welcoming to all who wish to come. By joining together in such venues, a local population can be more efficient in the use of its resources and strengthen social solidarity.

For most people, those simple, practical goals are enough to motivate them to accept some compromises to their independence and join in with the larger collective.

Your friend and her group want to vary from this path, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. It may be that they want a subtly variant style of prayer or that they want greater control over lectures and learning that they cannot have within a mainstream group.

We know that even the nicest finished basement cannot be ranked as the ideal architectural context for creating a sense of the numinous for awe-inspiring worship. But your friend and her ilk opt to forego that for their offbeat independence. And they seem to have the resources to sustain their preferences.

Although in theory you are right to conclude that for the context of public prayer, above ground is preferable to underground, permanent is better than ad hoc, and aesthetics do matter, you should recognize what’s going on and not criticize her group’s decisions.

In our complex communities we need to allow that one person’s rec room can be another person’s special spiritual place.

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