11/8/22

Thanksgiving Turkey Drumstick Jack-O-Lantern Pumpkin Pie Table Song - A Lone Pumpkin Grew

Thanksgiving is upon us soon and we sing traditional holiday songs at our Thanksgiving dinner.

Here are the words to one of our classic 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 we are singing the song in 2006:



Here's a YouTube 2009 home video of the song -- we don't know the folks -- it sounds like our familiar melody and we endorse it.

10/14/22

Post-Pandemic Kohelet: An Israelite Form of Meditation: Ecclesiastes is a cynical reflection on life’s futility that we can resonate to now more than ever.

I think you will like this article published on TheTorah.com! Kohelet: An Israelite Form of Meditation. Ecclesiastes is a cynical reflection on life’s futility. The constant sonorous repetition, visualizations, and references to breath serve as a sustained meditation to help free the reader’s soul from the agonizing struggle of life.

   

10/9/22

Electricity on Shabbat? My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Jewish Standard Column for March 2020

Electricity on Shabbat? My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Jewish Standard Column for March 2020

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

Members of my community of Orthodox Jews who are shomer Shabbos refrain from turning on and off all electrical devices to observe their Shabbat rest. So, on Friday nights and Saturdays our practice is not to use, for instance, our phones or TVs or computers. And we don’t turn on or off lights or fans or heaters.

Lately, I’ve become lax in keeping these rules, especially regarding my use of my smart phone, my computer and my Alexa Amazon Echo devices. I feel that using these devices enhances my rest and my leisure. And I have found that avoiding them makes me uneasy, not relaxed or restful.

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I don’t publicly advertise my actions. But it’s increasingly evident to me that my family knows what I am doing and that they quietly disapprove.

I am worried and need your advice. Am I sinning by my behavior? I feel strongly that what I am doing is not a violation of any rules and likely will continue my uses. But what can I do regarding my actions if this all blows up and causes social friction in my family and community?

Electrified in Englewood

Dear Electrified,

Establishing sacred time is a powerful part of all religions. The notion that we Jews spend one day a week in a special world of restful restrictions starting on sundown on Friday is an amazing claim to make. And at the same time, it is hard for the community to enforce the Sabbath taboos.

10/8/22

Atlantic: Can You Read on an Amazon Kindle on Shabbat?

I originally posted this 12/23/2010. 
The questions keep recurring so we are bringing this post back. And by the way, I published a lot of books on Kindle since then, 
Now back to the 2010 blog post...

Our Jewish calendars have always told us what time to Kindle for the Sabbath, when to "Kindle the Shabbat Candles."

Nowadays we have another kind of Kindle to know about, the Amazon book reader. And the question arises, can you Kindle on the Sabbath?

We think yes, without any qualifications, that you can Kindle on the Sabbath. The e-ink device does not create actual light. You cannot read it in the dark. And it obviously does not create any durable writing. When you turn it off it goes blank.

In halakhic terms we find no transgression, no prohibition to using the reader. In fact it's a feat of great imagination to extend Sabbath prohibitions to that invention. It involves believing there is a set of electrical apparatus that is prohibited, or defining a broad category of technology-things that all are outside the spirit of Sabbath rest.

9/28/22

Can a Jew Pray Directly to the Divine Attribute of Compassion?

Can a Jew pray directly to the Divine Attribute of Compassion? Yes, in just one prayer each year.


On Yom Kippur in Neilah, in the final series of the prayers of compassion that we call the selihot, we utter the catalogue of God’s thirteen mainly emotional attributes over and over again, the familiar:

“Lord, Lord, God, Compassionate, with loving kindness, patient, with kindness and truth; keeper of mercy for thousands, forgiver of iniquity, transgression and sin; clearing us. Forgive our iniquity and sin and accept us.” (cf. Exodus 34:6-7)


Within this sequence of repeated meditations, the tenth century Italian payetan Rabbi Amitai ben Shepatiah presents in his prayer a direct appeal to the divine attribute of compassion to intercede for us:
Attribute of compassion, pour upon us
In the presence of your creator, cast our supplications
For the sake of your people, request compassion
For every heart has pain and every mind is ill
(Goldschmidt, YK, p. 778)

9/17/22

Does the Talmud say that Gay Sex Causes Earthquakes?


I'm quoted  in the Pacific Standard as an authority on the cause of earthquakes, "Gay Sex Caused the Earthquakes in Nepal."

On 8/23/2011 I wrote this post:

Does the Talmud say that Gay Sex Causes Earthquakes? In 2010 I covered this nonsensical topic after the Haiti earthquakes. (At that time Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic cited me on this subject.)

Here it is again.

Yes, the Talmud does say that gay sex causes earthquakes.

I mused, That must be some awesome gay sex.

But seriously, if one can get serious over this bizarre idea, some cockamamie rabbis were going around preaching that gay sex caused Haiti's earthquakes.

See here and here for the reports about Rabbi Yehuda Levin and the Rabbinical Alliance of America. (These materials are gone now.)

Now not only is this a strange teaching. I must chastise these rabbis for not doing their Talmud homework and for not paying closer attention to the text in Yerushalmi Berakhot (9:2), which several years back I translated and published through the University of Chicago Press.

According to the Talmud text, earthquakes are caused by any one of a number of acts: yes one of them is gay sex, but others are by disputes, and also by not taking heave offering and tithes from your produce, and also because God is just upset that the Temple is in ruins and there are theaters and circuses in Israel.

Rabbis ought to know better than to cherry pick among the Talmudic reasons for earthquakes.

9/11/22

Will the War Against Religious Terrorism Ever End?

Will the War Against Religious Terrorism Ever End? (Repost for 9-11-2022)

I always feel deep sadness as I recall - as if it was this morning - that awful day 21 years ago when I saw the planes fly into the towers from my vantage on a hill in across the river in Jersey City. 

Mark Juergensmeyer, in Terror in the Mind of God, lays out five ways that the reign of religious terror can come to an end. Let's consider each. First consider the end will come with the forceful eradication of the terrorists, what appears to have been the US response to the 9/11 attacks, continued with the more recent killing of OBL.

Juergensmeyer outlines,
The first scenario is one of a solution forged by force. It encompasses instances in which terrorists have literally been killed off or have been forcibly controlled. If Osama bin Laden had been in residence in his camp in Afghanistan on August 10, 1998, along with a large number of leaders of other militant groups when the United States launched one hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles into his quarters, for instance, this air strike might have removed some of the persons involved in planning future terrorist acts in various parts of the world.

8/31/22

On Sale: Jewish Memes by Tzvee Zahavy at Amazon

And so another one of my new books is on SALE! Jewish Memes – January, 2022 - a collection of my analytical essays - I frame it like this:

The term meme was introduced in 1976 by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. He conceived of memes as the cultural parallel to biological genes and considered them as being in control of their own reproduction.
The genes in your body carries chemical instructions that make up the characteristics of who you are. Those instructions are in the DNA that makes your personality distinctive. And you transmit the DNA data down to your descendants. That is how the continuity of biological life works.
What Dawkins proposed was that there is a chemical unit of culture that contains the instructions for the characteristics of who you are as a member of a cultural family. That is what he called a “meme”. It is spread and transmitted across space and time to propagate and perpetuate a distinctive cultural group.
But this is not a tight scientific notion with rigorous rules. The DNA of the double helix is comprised of units of amino acids that pair up in ACTG units to define precise elements of the genetic code.
The cultural parallel that Dawkins and his successors identified – the meme – is a whole lot less rigorous and has a non-scientific chemistry that controls its composition and its transmission.
As an analogy or metaphor I find the idea of the meme attractive and I will use it in this book in many ways to make some points about what makes a particular cultural group distinctive and how the traits of that group have been passed on from parents to children.
There is a chemistry and a DNA to the basic ideas and concepts that make someone Jewish. They are distinctive to defining an identity of a person as Jewish and transmissible to the next generation.
There is also of course the fact that Jews claim affiliation to a biological heritage. We proudly say we are Members of the Tribe.
I spent my life formulating and transmitting Jewish memes in a long a rich career of teaching and writing.
This volume is a recapitulation of some of those most important things that I learned about some central Jewish memes.

8/8/22

My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for June 2018 - The Milk and Meat Kosher Taboo Explained

Why Not Milk and Meat? 
Because we must Segregate Men from Women to be a Sacred People
My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for June 2018

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

Though I was raised observant of the commandments in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, I woke up one day recently and realized that I don’t understand the ban on cooking or eating dishes that combine dairy and meat ingredients. The logic of those laws suddenly puzzles me. If the milk and meat foods are kosher separately, why are they forbidden when they are mixed together?

Flustered in Fair Lawn

Dear Flustered,

You do understand that most of the time, each religion is based on its own brand of logic. You don’t apply the general laws of deduction and inference to a religion. You accept how the system works internally, and you build on it. That buy-in and acceptance of the reasoning of your own religion is a big part of what we call faith.

Apparently, you do accept that God decreed that his chosen people avoid mixing milk and meat. Unique beliefs and practices like this one can be found in Judaism — and in all the major world religions.

You would like to apprehend the deeper meanings in this set of Jewish rules.

Jews have been questioning the relevance of these laws for some time. In 1885, classical Reform Judaism officially scuttled the laws of kashrut, calling them “foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.”

But in 1979, backtracking speedily (that is, speedily for religious leaders), the Reform rabbinical association proclaimed that “It is reasonable to ask the Reform Jew to study and consider kashrut so as to develop a valid personal position.” In 2011, the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis published “The Sacred Table,” which encourages an “ethical, health-based, spiritual approach to culinary culture in the Progressive Jewish community.”

8/3/22

My July Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column: Raging over Rabbis in Randolph

Dear Rabbi Zahavy: Your Talmudic Advice Column (July 2014)

Dear Rabbi,

I read about rabbis in Israel who offer cures, amulets, talismans and the like to their followers. They attend family events of their followers and give advice to businessmen. The rabbis receive fees for these services, sometimes lavish donations. Some of these rabbis have become quite rich, even multi-millionaires. Forbes has published a list of the richest Israeli rabbis! I personally think these guys are despicable con men who use religion to prey on vulnerable people in need of help. Shouldn’t we do something to stop these people?

Raging over Rabbis in Randolph

Dear Raging,

Whoa! It is hard to ask a rabbi to condemn a rabbi. On the one hand, we rabbis need to stick together. If you attack one of our colleagues, common sense dictates that we ought to step up to defend him. However, on the other hand, you are right in your inquiry. If we find that a professional colleague is a fraud, it makes good sense for us to step up to discipline him, lest our whole profession be tarnished.

We rabbis derive our authority primarily from our study and special knowledge of rabbinic literature including Talmud, Codes, Responsa and yes, also from Kabbalah. Secondarily, many Jews believe that some or all rabbis have special charisma, which is power that derives from their closeness to the sacred and from their more direct link to God. This latter belief is more common in the Hasidic and Sephardic communities.

And you no doubt realize that, on the one hand, if you are affiliated with any form of organized religion, that you already are paying significant amounts to rabbis for their services. Nearly all rabbis serving in a professional capacity in America are paid – some quite handsomely. You may derive personal benefits from their services. Some provide solace and counseling in a professional manner based on academic training. I assume that you have no problem with that means of livelihood and you do not consider such practitioners to be con men.

But on the other hand, you may be rightfully indignant if a rabbi exploits his station to demand from his reverential flock exorbitant fees for whatever it is that he offers: presence at events, blessings, advice and the like.

In this case, since you don’t seem to know directly the rabbis that you question, you need to step back and ask if you are incensed specifically about these charismatic holy men making too much money. And you need to consider what provokes you to conclude that they are fakers and charlatans who exploit the weak and helpless. There are many testimonies from their followers praising and thanking these holy men. Celebrity charismatic rabbis, who earn the big bucks for providing the cures and remedies that you dislike, also can and do alleviate much suffering among their followers.

If a rabbi breaks the law by committing fraud or engages in an outright scam, you are justified to call him a con man. But if he engages in legal activities that are within the professional parameters of what rabbis do, you have little basis to label him a fake.

Nevertheless, you may choose to disapprove of extremes of rabbinical activity. For a religious believer, like yourself, if you believe a rabbi's activities are outrageous, you are entitled to your subjective opinion to declare a flashy healer a fake, while you continue to deem the other more modest counselors legitimate.

I do hope that you find helpful this brief Talmudic analysis and (rabbinic) advice for the day-to-day reality of our contradictory world, where one person's holy man may be another person's con man.

The Dear Rabbi column offers timely advice based on timeless Talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally respectful and meaningful to all varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Send your questions to DearRabbi@jewishmediagroup.com

7/18/22

Shall we fast and mourn on Tisha B'Av? No!

No. I believe we should abolish the practice of fasting to commemorate the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple on the ninth day of the month of Av, known as Tisha B'Av.

Now before you convene a synod to excommunicate me, know that I am in good company. In the third century CE the greatest Tanna, Rabbi Judah the Prince, tried to abolish Tisha B'Av.

My son Yitz called my attention to this passage below which records the rabbi's action [Soncino Babylonian Talmud (2012-04-25). Megillah and Shekalim (Kindle Locations 739-743). Kindle Edition.] and to Tosafot's glosses (at Megillah 5b) which reject the premise that someone could entertain the notion of abolishing Tisha B'Av.
R. Eleazar said in the name of R. Hanina: Rabbi planted a shoot on Purim, and bathed in the [bathhouse of the] marketplace of Sepphoris on the seventeenth of Tammuz and sought to abolish the fast of the ninth of Ab, but his colleagues would not consent. R. Abba b. Zabda ventured to remark: Rabbi, this was not the case. What happened was that the fast of Ab [on that year] fell on Sabbath, and they postponed it till after Sabbath, and he said to them, Since it has been postponed, let it be postponed altogether, but the Sages would not agree.
Of course, if Rabbi Judah the Prince (compiler of the Mishnah) once tried to abolish Tisha B'Av but the sages would not agree to it, I do not expect that the sages of our times will agree with me to abolish Tisha B'Av.

Yet here is why they should.

I concur that as a culture we need to remember the calamities of the past so that we can be vigilant and prevent the calamities of the future. But we need effective ritual memories that are clear and unequivocal. Tisha B'Av commemorates that the city of Jerusalem and the Temple in it were destroyed.

Because the city has been rebuilt in modern Israel, this befogs the symbolism of the past destruction and renders it less effective.

I have been mulling over this issue for thirty years or more. In 2012 I mused as follows (with a few edits added).

Is Tisha B'Av relevant? No I do not think that the fast of Tisha B'Av is relevant anymore. I need a holiday from Tisha B'Av.

That day was for a long time a commemoration through fasting and prayer over the destroyed city of Jerusalem and the Temple. I visited Jerusalem in May of 2011 (ed.: and again in 2013, and many more times since then) and can attest that the city is not desolate. It is without reservations, glorious.

Who then wants the bleak story to be told? Archetypally the militant "celebrity" archetype wants to keep recalling defeat, destruction and desolation, to spur team Jews on to fight the foes and to triumph at the end of time. That scheme may work for that archetype as long as the facts of reality do not fly smack in the face of the narrative. And when they do, what then? The narrative loses its force. It becomes absurd.

I cannot imagine Jerusalem in ruins. Period. And indeed, why should I perpetuate an incendiary story of gloom and doom into a diametrically opposite positive world of building and creativity? The era of desolation has ended.

For over twenty-five years, I've been lamenting the irony of lamenting over a city that is rebuilt. It's more rebuilt now -- way more -- than it was twenty five plus years ago. What do I do then about Tisha B'Av, the Jewish fast day of lament and mourning? Here is what I said those many years ago.

7/14/22

NYC Triathlon Swim: My Hudson River Diary 2013

New York City Triathlon, July 14, 2013, 6:45 AM

Minute Zero: Coming down the ramp onto the race-start-barge in the Hudson River at 99th Street.

Goggles, check; swim cap, check; stopwatch on zero, check. Interview with the race announcer over the public address, I’m Tzvee from Teaneck, New Jersey. Yes, it’s my first triathlon; yes, I’m on a relay team.

Line up, look into the river. Fourteen other swimmers in my wave and many of them sit down on the barge and jump in at the tone. So do I. It’s four feet from the barge to the water.

Minute One: I’m in the Hudson. It’s dark. I go in much deeper than I thought I would. It’s dark all around me. This was a mistake. I need to get out.

Wow, I now finally understand the psalm, “Out of the depths I cry out to you O Lord.” I do not like this at all. I’m back to the surface. It’s choppy. My heart is racing. My chest is tight. I’m not swimming. I need to swim. But where am I? Not sure. Start to do the breast stroke. Others around me are swimming. It’s cold. What a bad idea this was.

Minute Two: Still not swimming the crawl. Wetsuit. Should have worn one. Would float better. Another real dumb decision. Still doing the breast stroke and my breathing is too shallow. Realize that I am in full panic. Adrenalin starting to pump.

I’m not gonna make it. I see tomorrow’s obituary, “Teaneck Rabbi Drowns in Hudson… He always loved swimming, family recalls.”

I pray, “Shema Yisrael.” “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”

Okay, so how do I get out of here? I am dizzy and disoriented. Just in case, I pray some variations, “Our father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Oh heck, “Hail Mary full of grace.” Hey, you never know. Oh, cover those bases, “Allahu akhbar.”

Minute Three: Still floundering. Tell myself to take deeper breaths. Urge myself to start to do the crawl. You can do this! No I can’t. I will swim over to that kayak and hop on board.

“Put your head down and swim!” That tight chest feeling is just panic. Not a heart attack. You wimp, you have six stents in your coronary arteries. You will be okay. Breathe, just breathe. Stroke, just stroke.

Minute Four: I’m coming back to grips with my reality. Ha! I muse that I will call out to the lifeguard on the surfboard, “I made a pledge to the United Jewish Appeal and haven’t paid it yet.” Old joke. The UJA definitely will make sure I get out alive.

I’m swimming now but going sideways. A guy in another kayak is pointing and waving at me to go in another direction. I am zigging and zagging. I’ve been swimming nearly every day for thirty years but boy, am I sucking at this swim.

Minute Five: I’m starting to get awareness for where I am and where are the other swimmers. “How long O Lord?” I sure haven’t made much progress. A long, long way to go.

Guess I really don’t like open water swimming in the Hudson. A little late to think about that now. Okay. Just stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe.

Minute Six to the Exit: Okay wow, we are doing this. Holy moly, it is far. No turning every 25 meters at the end of the pool. Can’t see any lane markers on the bottom of the river. No plastic lane dividers to gauge the direction. I am still veering right and left. There are currents and wakes. Salty I don’t mind. But feh. It’s dirty water.

Starting to bump into other swimmers. That’s good. Seems like a very long time. Stroke, breathe. Heart is strong. Breathing is better. Panic is easing.

Seems now like forever. Finally see the exit ramp ahead at 79th Street and a crowd of swimmers in front of it. A New York moment. Traffic jam is slowing us down at the Henry Hudson River off ramp.

Get to the ramp, a strong hand grips my hand and pulls me up. I’m out! Alive. But oh crap, I never started the stop watch. And double crap, now I have to run barefoot on asphalt to the bike transition. It’s long, it’s annoying. I reluctantly jog over half a mile. Hey, I am getting happier anyway.

I give my chip to my teammate, our rally team biker. He rides off.

I am done.

Check off that one.

Halleluyah.

Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy, who lives in Teaneck and writes the monthly Dear Rabbi Zahavy column for the Jewish Standard, was inspired by his triathlete son Yitzhak, who did the entire NYC triathlon and raised money to help victims of terror through Team One Family. Tzvee did the NYC Tri swim leg with help from his two Team One Family teammates, Harvey Lederman and Leiba Rimler, who did the biking and running legs.

Donate here to help the families.

Published in the Jewish Standard, July 26, 2013.

7/3/22

Yahrzeit of my mother Edith Zahavy

We are observing the 22nd 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.

6/21/22

The Mishnah in English hits #1 2022 Release on Amazon In Talmud Books


The Mishnah in English. $29. Elegant, accurate and affordable. A masterpiece. Buy today for yourself and for all your friends. https://amzn.to/3n5Rlx0


Judaism teaches that the Mishnah contains the revealed Oral Law that Moses received along with the written Torah from God on Mount Sinai. It was compiled into written form in Hebrew by Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi in around 220 C.E. in Beit Shearim, Israel. The Mishnah has been studied for millennia by all classes and ages of Jews including learned rabbis, laypeople, young children and women. The Mishnah serves as the basic framework for the much larger subsequent work known as the Talmud, which has been the core curriculum of Yeshiva study for Jewish scholars for more than 1500 years..

This volume presents the Mishnah in an elegant and literate English Translation based on the work of Rev. Herbert Danby. Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy added a new forward about the Mishnaic Era and formatted and simplified this edition. Most of the translator's footnotes have been removed leaving the clear, polished and stately English text to stand out as a source of the Divine Revelation for people of all faiths to study and to find in it timeless wisdom and inspiration.

5/27/22

My father's most valuable autographs - the signatures on his ordination parchment

I republished this post in honor of the Yeshiva University Chag HaSemikhah Convocation that took place on Sunday, March 19, 2017 and in honor of the 75th anniversary of my father receiving his ordination.

I received my rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva in 1973. My father received his semichah on March 19, 1942 = א׳ בְּנִיסָן תש״ב

Here is my original post:

In May 2012, during the shiva for my dad, Rabbi Dr. Zev Zahavy, I showed many people an important part of our inheritance from him - five valuable autographs.

Now these are not autographs of Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle or of U.S. presidents or anything like that. 

These are the five signatures on my dad's klaf - on his diploma of ordination from Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, which he received in 1942.

The priceless autographs are by five great Torah scholars, Rabbi Binyamin Aronowitz, Rabbi Bernard L. Levinthal of Philadelphia, Rabbi Samuel Belkin, Rabbi Moses Shatzkes (the Lomza Rav) and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik of Boston (the Rav).

Rabbi Yossi Adler looked at the klaf during the shiva in Teaneck and confirmed what I had been told, that it was rare to have five signatures on such a document. My own ordination has two (Rabbis Belkin and Soloveitchik).


I once asked my dad what it was like to go before these five great rabbis and be examined before receiving semichah - ordination. He told me, "They were tough. They asked difficult questions. They made me sweat."

I greatly treasure this meaningful part of the legacy of my dad.


5/24/22

The Polychrome Book of Jewish Prayers hits #1 new release for Amazon Jewish Prayer Books


This book illustrates some examples of this historical composite characteristics of the Jewish liturgy in a unique visual manner. Major examples of the prayers are presented in the first part of the book using distinct colored type to help vividly show the era of their historical origins.

Following that discussion, this book illuminates the polyphonic nature of the contents of the prayers. It shows how the prayers not only derive from distinct periods of history but also that they convey a polyphony of distinctive melodic themes, sung by different distinctive personalities and yet joined together into a complex composite liturgical symphony.

5/22/22

Let it Be in Hebrew is Shetehe - and now for a Song Parody of the Controversy

At the Live Aid concert in Wembley in 1985 Paul McCartney got criticized for choosing to sing "Let it Be". According to reports, some people thought it was not upbeat and positive enough for the Live Aid theme and that is was too passive for an activist movement.

Well we have had our "Let it Be" controversy in our synagogues for decades - connected to the use of the word "Shetehe" [=Hebrew for Let it Be] in the prayer for the State of Israel. Some people think it is too weak as an expression of the  redemptive significance of the modern State of Israel.

I described an episode of a synagogue brouhaha in a Blog that I originally posted 10/30/05: Shouting in Shul About the Prayer for the State of Israel.

And this for some reason this prayer issue resurfaced in the past few weeks in May 2022 after an article was published by a local rabbi about the past episodes. 

Here is the current links to the Prayer for Israel Shetehe controversy 2022 timeline:
Article: The Great Reishit Tzemichat Geulatenu Debate - Rabbi Chaim Jachter 5/6/22
Letter 1: The Prayer for the State of Israel - Rabbi Zahavy 5/13/22
Letter 2: The Importance of Our Prayers - Respondent 1 5/20/22
Letter 3: Setting the Record Straight on Tehei - Respondent 2 5/20/22

As a reminder, here is a version of the prayer in a little book that I just published.


And so now for something completely different, here is my parody rewrite of the lyrics of the McCartney song:

[For "Mother Mary" use "Brother Gabbai" (a gabbai is a prayer coordinator in a shul) and for "Let it be" use "Shetehe"]

When I find myself in times of trouble
Brother Gabbai comes to me speaking words of wisdom
Shetehe
And in my hour of darkness he is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be
Shetehe
Let it be
Shetehe
Let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Shetehe
When all the broken-hearted people
Living in the world agree, there will be an answer
Let it be
Although they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer
Shetehe
Let it be
Shetehe
Let it be, yeah
Let it be
There will be an answer
Shetehe
Oh, let it be
Shetehe
Let it be
Shetehe
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be
Shetehe
Let it be
Let it be, yeah
Let it be
There will be an answer
Shetehe
And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow
Let it be
I wake up to the sound of music
Brother Gabbai comes to me
There will be no sorrow
Let it be
Shetehe
Let it be
Shetehe
Let it be
There will be no sorrow
Let it be
Shetehe
Let it be
Yeah, Let it be
Yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Shetehe
Yes...

And for those who don't know the song by heart, here are the original lyrics. 

Songwriters: Paul Mccartney / John Lennon   Let It Be lyrics © Sony/atv Tunes Llc



When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me speaking words of wisdom
Let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be
Let it be
Let it be
Let it be
Let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be
When all the broken-hearted people
Living in the world agree, there will be an answer
Let it be
Although they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer
Let it be
Let it be
Let it be
Let it be, yeah
Let it be
There will be an answer
Let it be
Oh, let it be
Let it be
Let it be
Let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be
Let it be
Let it be
Let it be, yeah
Let it be
There will be an answer
Let it be
And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow
Let it be
I wake up to the sound of music
Mother Mary comes to me
There will be no sorrow
Let it be
Let it be
Let it be
Let it be
Let it be
There will be no sorrow
Let it be
Let it be
Let it be
Yeah, Let it be
Yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be
Yes...
Source: Musixmatch

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5/21/22

My review of Koren Yevamot - published in the Jewish Press


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

Some who learn Talmud prefer swimming across the surface of that great sea of learning. Others prefer diving deeply into the oceans to explore the depths of the Talmudic waters.

The Talmud tractate of Yevamot can be learned in many ways. It has one hundred and twenty folio pages deriving out of a mere three verses in the Torah: "If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not be married abroad unto one not of his kin; her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her" (Deut. 25:5).

The subsequent verses instruct, "And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate unto the elders, and say: 'My husband's brother refuses to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother unto me'. Then the elders of the city shall call him, and speak to him; and if he stand, and say: 'I like not to take her'; then will his brother's wife draw near to him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face; and she shall answer and say: 'So shall it be done unto the man that doth not build up his brother's house'" (ibid. 7-9).

From this skimpy few verses of scripture the Talmud builds and elaborate structures of laws and cases regarding two societal practices, the levirate marriage and ritual of Halizah.

5/8/22

What were the two worst Jewish prayer decisions?


At its establishment, Chief Rabbi Herzog prescribed that the Prayer for the State of Israel be recited after the Torah reading in the synagogue on Sabbaths and Festivals. This was Jewish prayer mistake number one. He incorrectly mandated that this particular recitation remain unimportant, peripheral, second rate, and really not a part of the davening. It was a quick and dirty innovation. And it was wrong.
  • First off, on account of its placement, the prayer is often recited by the gabbai, not the hazzan.
  • Second, the prayer is frequently recited in a monotone, not chanted, and from the side of the bimah, not from the front and center of the synagogue.
  • Third, the prayer is recited after the Torah reading and before the Musaf service - in a liminal area - between the established parts of the davening. It seems to me to be placed in a tertiary context that makes it even less prominent in the liturgy than the personal mesheberach blessings recited for individuals who receive aliyot to the Torah.
You don't have to be an expert in Jewish liturgy to conclude that this prayer is generally presented as an afterthought, recited quickly, and that it has been pasted in to our davening. In fact in many synagogues, the text is not printed in the prayerbook, It is actually pasted into the back cover of the siddur. It is high time for some prayer-book reform. We ought to be inserting a real prayer for the modern state of Israel into the crux of the actual prayer services of our tradition. We perhaps should have the chazzan chant it properly from the bimah. We perhaps should have the congregation join in responsively or together with the chazzan in singing the prayer with joy. Perhaps we should say this prayer three times a day - every day - in our Amidah or after the Alenu. For sure we must not equivocate about the State of Israel. It is real. We live in Teaneck. Most of our friends have been to Israel. Most of our community members have been inspired by the State and its history. We ourselves have lived there and visited there many times. The State of Israel is a factual, powerful, pervasive, long-lasting creator of religious moods and motivations. Yes it is time to promote the thanksgiving, praise and petition concerning the modern State of Israel as a real and central theme of all of our synagogue prayers. It is time to correct the error of the former Chief Rabbi and promote the Prayer for the State of Israel to a much more prominent place in our liturgy. At its establishment, Chief Rabbi Herzog prescribed that the Prayer for the State of Israel contain the phrase, "the beginning of the blossoming our redemption." This was Jewish prayer mistake number two. The State of Israel is the redemption of the Jewish people. Not the "beginning of the redemption." Not the "beginning of the blossoming of the redemption." It is the actual, historical, theological, political, social and cultural redemption of the Jewish people. Anyone who denies this is not in touch with reality. Anyone who hedges about it with language that is wishy-washy and ambivalent and preliminary - is just a redemption denier. We Jews of all denominations must say the Prayer for the State of Israel more frequently, more centrally and more forcefully. Meanwhile, we do not know how to cure these errors. Here for information purposes, is the current flawed prayer in translation.
Our Father in Heaven, Rock and Redeemer of the people Israel; Bless the State of Israel -- the beginning of the blossoming our redemption. Shield it with Your love; spread over it the shelter of Your peace. Guide its leaders and advisers with Your light and Your truth. Help them with Your good counsel. Strengthen the hands of those who defend our Holy Land. Deliver them; crown their efforts with triumph. Bless the land with peace, and its inhabitants with lasting joy. And visit all our Brethren of the house of Israel, in all the lands where they are scattered, and bring them rapidly to Zion, Your city and to Jerusalem, where Your name lives, as it says in the Torah of Moses, Your servant: ‘Even if your dwelling is at the end of the sky, God will congregate you from there, and bring you from there, and will bring you toward the land that Your forefathers inherited and you will inherit it.’ Dedicate our hearts to love and worship Your name and to keep all that is in Your Torah, and send us the son of David, the Messiah of Your justice, to redeem those who wait for Your salvation. Appear with the glory and the pride of Your strength, in front of all the inhabitants of the Universe, and all those who have breath will say: “The God of Israel is the King, and He reigns over all.” Amen.

[Blogged previously in 4/2007.]