4/20/15

Is the Kosher Light Switch Really Kosher?

Is the Kosher Light Switch Really Kosher?

Rabbis are fighting over the new device called the Kosher Switch.
VIN news reports at length on the controversy.
New York - A new light switch that has been under development for several years and claims to be approved for Shabbos use is one step closer to being available to the public, but whether or not the device is actually halachically acceptable has become the subject of debate over the last several days.

A crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo  raised $50,000 for production of the UL certified switches, which developers say skirts any issues of chilul Shabbos by randomizing electrical impulses generated by the switch, within four days.  A video explaining the purpose and workings of the device garnered more than 90,000 views on YouTube over the same time period...
Note: I have had problems with one Indiegogo invention that I supported - a smart watch that never delivered on its promises. This suggests to me that Indiegogo has low or no standards to verify the claims of the developers who use the site. Accordingly, from the standpoint of technology and Jewish law, beware of putting your money into a non-existent and non-verified device.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, great Torah Sage and the Quintessential Scribe, has died.

My teacher and rebbe Rav Aharon Lichtenstein has passed away.

He was awarded the Israel Prize 2014 in Jewish religious literature.

He was one of the finest teachers that I studied with in college - a genius as an educator and a sincere and compassionate human being. He is the person that I chose to personify the quintessential scribe personality of prayer in my book "God's Favorite Prayers (p. 71 ff)."

The Scribe’s Prayers


I had the privilege of studying in Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s Talmud shiur (class) for two years, 1966-1968. Each December, he invited us talmidim (disciples) to his house for latkes (potato pancakes) on Hanukkah. There, in his apartment, we sat with his little kids and his wife Tovah, daughter of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik. The latkes were good and the Lichtensteins appeared to be a regular family. For some reason, that surprised me.

Once, during the years that I was in his shiur, while I was out with some of the guys playing basketball on the courts between the Yeshiva College dorms, Rav Aharon, a lanky, thin and tall man, came walking by. One of us had the chutzpah to ask him to join the ball game. He said okay and he played aggressively—and just like a regular guy. For some reason, that blew my mind.

And, one year, in our student play, the Yeshiva College Purim shpiel, a satiric revue for the holiday, I played the role of Rav Aharon. In my performance, I hemmed and hawed and exaggerated my rebbe’s mannerisms much more than I should have. And there in the audience sat my rebbe, laughing heartily along with us. For some reason, that really blew my mind.

4/3/15

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Column for April 2015: Self hating Jews and Media bias against Israel

Dear Rabbi
Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi,

At a family dinner, after I criticized Israeli policies and Bibi Netanyahu's politics, my uncle accused me of being a self-hating Jew. I am a proud Jew, with my own opinions. But I was caught off guard by his caustic remark to me. I had no come-back. What should I have said to him?

Loving My Jewish Self in Lodi

Dear Loving,

From novelist Philip Roth in the sixties to TV personality Jon Stewart today, numerous Jewish writers and commentators who are critical of particular Jews or who depict negative Jewish stereotypes have been accused of self-hatred. After publishing his early fiction with controversial and comical Jewish characters, Roth often was accused of self-hatred. Back then, people apparently mistook Roth's fiction as philosophy, and his theatrical characters as theology, and called him by a nasty name, "self-hating Jew". And lately people mischaracterize Stewart's comedy as political dogma and go on to label him the same way.

It would be accurate to depict writers like Roth and Stewart as comical Jews, self-berating Jews, self-critical Jews, self-analytical Jews, or even simply as self-conscious Jews.

But I cannot accept the "hating" side of the term. It's rude and pretentious to pretend to know another person's emotional state, to say someone is "hating". And in fact, few people can maintain the emotion of hatred for more than a little while. To characterize a person as a "hater" is rarely true and not at all helpful.

Besides that, our sacred Jewish literature, the Tanakh, Talmud and Midrash, are full of negative stories about Jews behaving badly and of Jews scathingly criticizing other Jews. The editors of those works who gathered and published such narratives and accounts about those Jews of the past are highly venerated and respected in our tradition. I cannot remember hearing anyone use the term "self-hating midrash."

It seems that your uncle is ignorant of the dynamics of Jews criticizing Jews in both the classical prophetic tradition, so prominent in the Tanakh, and in the entire body of Talmudic argumentation and criticism. It appears that he misuses the notion of chosenness (see the next question in this column) to create for himself a sense of entitlement that first of all makes him immune to complaints from other people and then, beyond that, empowers him to pejoratively classify those complaining folks in a bad way.

And so "self-hating Jew" is not valid as a descriptive category. It is after all nothing more than a lazy epithet, a political name-calling that is meant to attack and dismiss criticism or negative stereotypes, rather than to respond to them.

Calling someone a "self-hating Jew" is not much different from calling someone a "son of a bitch" or a "bastard." It was a form of name-calling, more prevalent in the 50s and 60s, directed mainly against secular Jews like Roth, who publically said or published critical things about Jewish characters (real or fictional), or about real Jews in general.

If your uncle calls you any rude childish name, my advice to you is that either you not answer him at all, or you reply with a disarming, "Thank you," or try simply, "No I am not," or, if all else fails, try a childish retort, "Hey uncle, it takes a self-hating Jew to know one."

Dear Rabbi,

Why is the world media so unfair to Israel? When I read about Israel in the newspapers, especially the New York Times, I often find myself getting angry about how one-sided and biased the media is towards the Jewish state. The NY paper criticizes Israel for many things, especially what they perceive is the mistreatment of Arabs. Sometimes I am so annoyed at the media, I can hardly control myself. The enemies of Israel do all kinds of violent evil things to Israelis and to their own people. Yet that barely gets covered by the papers and on TV. But if an Israeli harms a fly, that gets blown up in dramatic fashion and roundly criticized. What gives? How can I come to terms with this?

Agitated in Alpine

Dear Agitated,

You are right. Israel is covered by the media with more scrutiny than other countries. The Israelis are held to higher standards. Not only Israel. Jews in general get more ink and more scrutiny than people of other religions. And you know what? It's our own fault. Here's why.

We make no secret of our belief that we are God's chosen people. Thus, if all the world is a stage (as Shakespeare said) and all the nations are players on the stage (as I suggest), then Israel and the Jewish people are the self-declared stars of the show. And you do understand that in the reviews of dramatic public performances, the stars always get more attention and more criticism.

When the Torah tells us the stories of God's promises to Abraham and our forefathers, its narratives proclaim that the Jewish people are the chosen ones. And the promise of special selection of Israel is renewed in the Sinai stories and by the bulk of the historical materials in the Tanakh and the preaching of the prophets. Later Jewish philosophers reiterate the theme that Jews and Israel are the select, the chosen, the special folk, in other words, the stars of the show of world history and destiny.

The notion of chosenness does not make one immune to scrutiny. It invites intense interest and the accompanying criticism.

Rightfully, the stars get the focus and attention in the reviews and notices. When they do good, they get recognized. But when they stumble, miss one line or fail to impress, they get roundly criticized. That's how it works in the world of punditry and in the realm of media writing. Those high-profile subjects and people with notoriety, get put into the spotlight.

Accordingly, it's not right to question the fair or unfair treatment of one player versus another player.  It's right that the stars of the show will get the more thorough reviews – the greater praise when they shine, and the harsher criticisms when they slip up.

My advice to you: it shouldn't make you angry or upset when the Times runs a long appraisal and detailed evaluation and assessment of the actions of the Jewish state, the Israel Defense Forces or the citizens of Israel. We expect to be in the center of the stage. We proudly say of ourselves that we are special people. We invite attention and the spotlight. So when we get it, we really should not be surprised, and certainly should not be displeased.

You cannot rewrite the Jewish theology, ideology and religious history that says with loud and clear voices, "Look at us, we are the greatest." I advise you to come to terms with us Jews and with Israel being stars on the global scene.

And rightfully, when we celebrities go out on the public platform with some defect, with our makeup smudged, or when we suffer a wardrobe malfunction, expect that to appear prominently in all the media reviews.

Tzvee Zahavy earned his PhD from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author many books, including these Kindle Edition books available at Amazon.com:  "The  Book of Jewish Prayers in English," "Rashi: The Greatest Exegete," "God's Favorite Prayers" and "Dear Rabbi" – which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.

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. Please mail your questions to the Jewish Standard or email DearRabbi@jewishmediagroup.com.

3/26/15

Free: Go Online and a Hasidic Chabad Rabbi Will Sell Your Chametz to a Gentile before Passover

Nissan 5775
Chametz (Hametz) Sale Reminder from Chabad
 
With the imminent arrival of the Passover holiday we all are particularly mindful of the prohibition to own any leavened items during Passover -- and the concurrent Jewish practice to sell to a gentile before Pesach any leftover Chametz (leavened items) we may have in our possession.

I am a past user of the online Chametz sale service at Chabad.org, and I would like to remind you of this important Jewish practice and to tell you that in case you do not have a rabbi to make this sale for you, or if you don't want to use your local rabbi, I recommend that you use the free Chabad service at:

https://chabadorg.clhosting.org/holidays/passover/sell_chometz.htm


And visit Chabad.org for all your Passover holiday-information needs. They do a good job over there.

I wish you and yours a liberating and uplifting Passover -- a Happy and Kosher Pesach!

Advertisement: You can purchase the Talmud Tractate Pesahim Kindle edition at Amazon.


Download Online a Free Passover Seder Haggadah

Here are several of the best places you can go online to download a Passover Haggadah for your Seder.
We give Chabad credit for a great resource if you want a wide selection of Hebrew Haggadahs.  
Download Hebrew Haggadahs here.

Library Makes 1,000 Rare Haggadahs Available Online
An illustration of King David praising G-d in a rare Haggadah published in 1710 in Frankfurt am Maine, Germany
An illustration of King David praising G-d in a rare Haggadah published in 1710 in Frankfurt am Maine, Germany

The central Chabad-Lubavitch library in New York made 1,000 Passover Haggadahs, many of them rare, available on the Internet for browsing by the public. The Agudas Chasidei Chabad Library has one of the largest collections of the Passover orders of service in the world.

Housed at the Lubavitch World Headquarters, the library's Haggadah collection began years ago with a nucleus of some 400 volumes purchased on behalf of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, by renowned collector and bibliographer Shmuel Wiener in 1924.

The posting at ChabadLibraryBooks.com represents close to half of the library's total Haggadah collection and is part of chief librarian Rabbi Sholom Ber Levine's goal of making the library more accessible to the public. All told, the library possesses more than 2,200 editions of the Haggadah. Although the rarest of the books, all handwritten, are not yet available, Levine is looking for ways to post them next year. Hebrew Books, directed by Chaim Rosenberg, collaborated on the project.

Download the Complete Talmud in English Free

Download the complete Babylonian Talmud English translation, free.

The Talmud in English is free at http://www.halakhah.com/ - serving up 25,000+ downloads each month, 300,000+ 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.

The 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.

Take note. A Kindle edition of the Talmud is available at Amazon.com: The Kindle Talmud in English



3/22/15

Awesome Book: The Book of Jewish Prayers in English by Tzvee Zahavy

This is an exceptionally great New Book by Tzvee Zahavy from Amazon Kindle. I recommend that you buy a copy today. This wonderful volume presents the Jewish prayers in English with accompanying essays about the basis of prayer, prayer as visualization and the piety and devotion of Jewish life.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
The Book of Jewish Prayers in English
The Book of Jewish Prayers in English
by Tzvee Zahavy
  Learn more  

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =



3/18/15

A Brilliant Account of Zionism - Arthur Hertzberg's, The Zionist Idea

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg passed away in 2006 at age 84. One example of Hertzberg's intellectual legacy is his reader on Zionism -- is a brilliant statement of Jewish thought in its choices and its sensitive and sharply developed contextualizations.

In the introduction to The Zionist Idea, Hertzberg placed Zionism in its historical and cultural milieu:
Zionism exists, and it has had important consequences, but historical theory does not really know what to do with it. Though modern Zionism arose within the milieu of European nationalism in the nineteenth century, the historians of that era usually content themselves with briefly noticing the movement, for the sake of "completeness." The root cause of their difficulty (the relatively few members involved and the partial inaccessibility of the source material are quite secondary reasons) is that Zionism cannot be typed, and therefore easily explained, as a "normal" kind of national risorgimento. To mention only one important difference, all of the other nineteenth century nationalisms based their struggle for political sovereignty on an already existing national land or language (generally, there were both). Zionism alone proposed to acquire both of these usual preconditions of national identity by the ... of its nationalist will. It is, therefore, a maverick in the history of modern nationalism, and it simplifies the task of general historians to regard it, at least by implication, as belonging only on the more parochial stage of the inner history of the Jewish community.

The Geniuses of Zionism: Pinsker to Herzl

The great genius founders of modern Israel wrote astounding essays and books. From The Zionist Idea by Arthur Hertzberg - introductions by Hertzberg and primary texts by the Zionist writers, here is another installment.

Part 2: Outcry in Russia -- the 1870's and 1880's. Page 141.

PERETZ SMOLENSKIN 1842-1885. Page 142.
IT IS TIME TO PLANT (1875-1877). Page 145.
LET US SEARCH OUR WAYS (1881). Page 146.
THE HASKALAH OF BERLIN (1883). Page 154.
ELIEZER BEN-YEHUDAH 1858-1923. Page 158.
A LETTER OF BEN-YEHUDAH (1880). Page 160.
MOSHE LEIB LILIENBLUM 1843-1910. Page 166.
THE WAY OF RETURN (1881). Page 168.
LET US NOT CONFUSE THE ISSUES (1882). Page 170.
THE FUTURE OF OUR PEOPLE (1883). Page 173.
LEO PINSKER 1821-1891. Page 178.
AUTO-EMANCIPATION: AN APPEAL TO HIS PEOPLE BY A RUSSIAN JEW (1882). Page 181.
Summary. Page 198.

Part 3: Headlong into the World Arena -- Theodor Herzl Appears. Page 199.

THEODOR HERZL 1860-1904. Page 200.
FIRST ENTRY IN HIS DIARY (1895). Page 204.
THE JEWISH STATE (1896). Page 204.
Preface. Page 204.
Chapter 1: Introduction. Page 207.
Chapter 2: The Jewish Question. Page 215.
PREVIOUS ATTEMPTS AT A SOLUTION. Page 217.
CAUSES OF ANTI-SEMITISM. Page 218.
EFFECTS OF ANTI-SEMITISM. Page 219.
THE PLAN. Page 220.
PALESTINE OR ARGENTINA? Page 222.
Conclusion. Page 223.
FIRST CONGRESS ADDRESS (1897). Page 226.
AFTER A MASS MEETING IN THE EAST END (1896). Page 231.

MAX NORDAU 1849-1923. Page 232.
SPEECH TO THE FIRST ZIONIST CONGRESS (1897). Page 235.
ZIONISM (1902). Page 242.
Hertzberg provides this penetrating analysis of the work of Pinsker:
The most significant reaction to the events of 1881 was the pamphlet Auto-Emancipation by Leo Pinsker. Like Lilienblum, he could not avoid the knowledge that the persecution of the Jew in Russia "is...not a result of the low cultural status of the Russian people; we have found our bitterest opponents, indeed, in a large part of the press, which ought to be intelligent." Pinsker, therefore, did not pretend to himself that Jew-hatred was merely a hang-over from the medieval past. On the contrary, the historic importance of his essay is in its assertion that anti-Semitism is a thoroughly modern phenomenon, beyond the reach of any future triumphs of "humanity and enlightenment" in society as a whole. Pinsker defined three causes of anti-Semitism: the Jews are a "ghost people," unlike any other in the world, and therefore feared as a thing apart; they are everywhere foreigners and nowhere hosts in their own national right; and they are in economic competition with every majority within which they live. To hope for better days in Russia, or wherever else the Jews were under serious attack, was, therefore, a delusion, and piecemeal emigration to a variety of underdeveloped lands which might be hospitable for a moment meant merely to export and to exacerbate the problem. There was only one workable solution: the Jews must organize all their strength and, with whatever help they could muster from the world as a whole, they must find a country of their own (if possible, their ancestral home in the Holy Land) where the bulk of Jewry would at last come to rest.