7/24/16

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

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



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

The Title

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

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

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

 The Author

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

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



7/21/16

Free Download of the Complete Talmud in English

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

The Talmud in English is online and free at Halakhah.com, http://www.halakhah.com/ - serving up 60,000+ downloads each month, 700,000+ each year.

TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH WITH NOTES, GLOSSARY AND INDICES UNDER THE EDITORSHIP OF RABBI DR. I. EPSTEIN B.A., Ph.D., D. Lit. FOREWORD BY THE VERY REV. THE LATE CHIEF RABBI DR. J. H. HERTZ. INTRODUCTION BY THE EDITOR.

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

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

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

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

7/17/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYTimes on the Tranquil Euphoria of swimming

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

7/10/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Repost annually from 2006)

7/8/16

16th Yahrzeit of my mother Edith Zahavy

We are observing the 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 little 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 memorial site is here.

6/30/16

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

Dear Rabbi Zahavy
Your Talmudic Advice Column


Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

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

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

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

Offended in Oradell


Dear Offended,

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

6/28/16

Amazon Turbocharges the Previews for Our Kindle Talmud Volumes - Cool!

Try clicking and see how you like the Kindle previews!

Talmud Bezah


Is the Hullin Scroll the Oldest Talmud Manuscript Ever Recovered?

What is the oldest known Talmud scroll?
Scroll of tractate Hullin, Babylonian Talmud (CUL T–S MISC. 26.53.17), acknowledgment to Dr. S.C. Reif, Director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at the Cambridge University Library, and the Syndics of the Library.

I was delighted in December, 2009 to hear Professor Shamma Friedman speak at a Talmud department seminar at JTS. He spoke about a controversial scholarly issue: whether Maimonides intended his Mishneh Torah to replace the Talmud.

This event reminded me of a Talmudic fact that Professor Friedman brought to light several years ago, i.e., that the Talmud was at an early time circulated in scroll form. He discussed this in his paper,  “An Ancient Scroll Fragment (Bavli Hullin 101a-105a) and the Rediscovery of the Babylonian Branch of Tannaitic Hebrew,” JQR 86:1 (1995), pp. 9–50.

Moby Dick and My Talmud Translation

Who would not want their published work compared to that of Herman Melville's, Moby Dick?

Yes, that is a documented fact. My translation of Talmud Bavli Hullin was cast in such a light in a review some time back.

The work has been enhanced and republished now in two volumes for sale at Amazon: Hullin part 1 and Hullin part 2.

And it is available as an ebook for kindle.

Here is that wonderful review.


Ioudaios Review, VOLUME 2.024, NOVEMBER 1992, Reviewed by: Sigrid Peterson, Department of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania

The Talmud of Babylonia.  An American Translation: Volume XXX.A: Tractate Hullin; Chapters 1-2.. Tzvee Zahavy, Translator. Brown Judaic Studies 253. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1992. Pp. xix + 238.

“All may slaughter,” has to be one of the more memorable three-word opening lines ever invented – right up there with “Call me Ishmael.”  While the latter is the opening to Melville’s Moby Dick, the former is less readily identifiable. In fact, the words “All may slaughter” open and form the reiterated recall to the ground theme of Tzvee Zahavy’s modern English translation of Hullin, one of the Tractates of the Babylonian Talmud. On beginning Moby Dick, I am sure I would feel conscientious and obligated and virtuous and bored. Similarly, that was my expectation in opening Hullin on preparing to review it. That expectation has been dispelled by this accessible and fascinating portrayal of the world of the rabbis.