9/13/16

Download of the Complete Babylonian Talmud in English - Free

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.

9/11/16

Rashi - the Great French Jewish Bible Exegete

Many scholars believe that Rashi was the greatest French Jew and the greatest Bible exegete.

Read about Rashi and his work in this best seller book at Amazon: Rashi: The Greatest Exegete. It was written by Maurice Liber. I added a new Foreword. Price: an amazing $0.99. Description as follows:

The paradigmatic master of medieval rabbinic commentary was Rashi (Rabbi Solomon b. Isaac, 1040-1105) a scholar from the north of France. While he is often credited with the move to “literal commentary” in medieval times, even a cursory study of his commentaries reveals how indebted he was to the rabbinic exegesis of the earlier classical compilations. With Rashi we witness the mature development of a new paradigm of interpretation. He delicately balances his interpretations between gloss and exposition. He picks at and edits the earlier Midrash materials and weaves together with them into his commentary the results of new discoveries, such as philology and grammar. His main proposition is hardly radical within rabbinism. He accepts that there is one whole Torah of Moses consisting of the oral and written traditions and texts. In his commentaries he accomplished the nearly seamless integration of the basics of both bodies of tradition.

Rashi

Also please consider these books: 
The Book of Jewish Prayers
Dear Rabbi

Jacob Neusner Style Apology for Plagiarism: "See the Footnote"

Jacob Neusner step one. Publish someone's work as your own in 2005 (about 900 pages).

Jacob Neusner step two: Get caught doing that four years later

Jacob Neusner step three: Apologize in a footnote in an article in an obscure journal. "Hendrickson did not reproduce the credit for Dr. Zahavy's translation set forth on the title page." It was not Neusner's mistake, you see. It was the publisher who forgot to "reproduce the credit." Yes, Neusner concludes, "I regret the omission and here acknowledge his contribution." Notice "the omission" not "my omission".

I cannot imagine a less forthright statement of ownership of an egregious act of direct plagiarism.

The source of the footnote is this essay: "EXPLAINING AN ACADEMIC COMMENTARY: A VISUAL RECAPITULATION OF BAVLI HULLIN AS TRANSLATED BY TZVEE ZAHAVY"
Appeared in: Review of Rabbinic Judaism, Volume 12, Issue 2, pages 287 – 296 





9/10/16

Bikinis and Burqinis on Beaches in France and a Women's only Beach in Tel Aviv

New Yorker has complementary and unrelated stories about religious women at the beach.

1. A Court Overturns a Burkini Ban, but Not Its Mindset in France, remarkable legal issues
2. A Separate Beach in Israel for Orthodox women - a remarkable photo album from Israeli photographer Michal Ronnen Safdie

Summer is almost over. Tune in next year for the next chapter in the continuing saga.

9/1/16

My Jewish Standard column for September 2016: Why rabbis are awful at politics

My Jewish Standard column for September 2016: Why rabbis are awful at politics

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My friends and I are having ongoing heated discussions about the presidential election. Some of us prefer Hillary Clinton, and others of us prefer Donald Trump. And some of us would like to have a third viable choice. I recently saw that 45 Orthodox rabbis issued a condemnation of Trump’s policy statements, and I know that other Orthodox rabbis support him. I often have turned to Jewish traditions for guidance in matters of morality, ethics, and social justice. This year, I am confused about who our religious teachings guide us to vote for in this upcoming election. Can you help to clarify this please?

Politically Puzzled in Paramus

Dear Politically Puzzled:

Since you raised the question of rabbis opining on politics, let me first consider a trend in our history, namely how terribly awful rabbinic Jews have been in the realm of politics for the last 2,000 or so years.

Let me make it clear. I believe that we have the greatest religion in the world. We have an enormously comprehensive and expressive set of narratives and beliefs, and an equally impressive set of rituals and actions for the cycles of the year, for the cycles of our lives, and for all other purposes.

We could have — and we should have — won the “election” and become the world religion with the greatest number of adherents. Back in prior centuries and millennia we had many chances to become the world’s dominant religion. But time after time, rabbis made bad political choices and elected to emphasize the wrong aspects of our faith, our culture, and our history.

Consider one critical example — how centuries ago Jews made wrong political decisions about how to relate to the Roman Empire.

8/28/16

Bikinis and Rabbis: My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Column for August 2015

Rerunning last summer's advice. It seems to have become relevant again.

Dear Rabbi,

I’m a young modern Orthodox woman. I like to go to the beach in the summer. Recently some of my friends criticized me for wearing a bikini at the beach. They say their rabbis taught them that it is not in keeping with our religion to wear a bikini because it is clothing that is not modest. I see that the prevalent fashion for young and fit women at the beach or pool is mostly a bikini. What makes your fellow rabbis think that they have the authority to dictate to me and other women what fashions to follow on the beach —or off it?

Two Piece in Teaneck


Dear Two Piece,

I’m one rabbi who does not claim to have women’s fashion expertise. I am relieved that you ask me about rabbinic authority, rather than what is the right fashion for you.

I do know that in the world of fashion you hear often about trends, not standards. I recognize that there is a lot of variety in the choices that women have, on and off the beach.

One day this summer I had the occasion to walk the length of the boardwalk in a Long Island South Shore beach community and could not help but observe that bikinis are a quite common choice for women, young and middle aged, at the beach clubs along the way. And I did notice in the Target ad flyer in the Sunday newspaper that most of the women’s swim suits on sale are bikinis.

Before anyone criticizes me for gazing upon women, let me refer to a story about one of our greatest talmudic rabbis, Rabban Gamaliel. According to the Talmud, when he saw a beautiful woman, Gamaliel recited a blessing, Blessed be He who made beautiful creatures in this world.

I agree with Gamaliel. Beauty is something that God bestowed upon our world. When the appropriate fashion allows for us to admire beauty in a tactful and respectful way, we may do so, and perhaps we should thank God with a blessing.

Now you may wonder, why don’t other Orthodox rabbis agree with Rabban Gamaliel and with me? Why do many religious authorities who happily admit that they have no knowledge or understanding of fashion go ahead and teach and preach that it’s a religious obligation that women must cover up their arms and legs and midriffs?

I don’t know why other rabbis have taken upon themselves the authority to dictate fashion requirements to women. And I find it hard to approve of that.

It seems to me wrong for any man to require women to cover up. Even though there is a long-standing theme in Jewish customs for married women to cover their hair and there are other customs for all women to cover much of their skin, the requirement of long sleeves and long skirts using the category of “modesty” is at best capricious. In the preponderance of contexts it also is out of step with the normal and customary notions of fashion in our general communities.

And one more thing. It is not a stretch for some folk to criticize the cover-up rules in Orthodox circles as yet another means of segregating women and as a way of denying them the freedom to choose and the rights to decide their own fashion options.

The notion that covering up all of your skin on the hot summer beach or at the pool or in the marketplace around town is connected to virtue is patently unfounded. Hence the rules that mandate overdressing are arbitrary annoyances at best.

Yet I’ve been told that there is a new women’s clothing store on Cedar Lane in Teaneck that sells kosher swimsuits made of nylon and polyester, comprising pants under a skirt and elbow length sleeves. I would not be surprised if these bathing costumes have tags on them certifying rabbinical approval.

Truly, I have no idea where my colleagues got the notion that wearing a bikini at the beach is a bad thing. I can’t explain or justify this rabbinic attitude to you. My advice to you is to follow your own notions of comfort and the prevailing styles and fashions of your immediate community.

And if anyone criticizes you, you may answer with a confident and polite reply, Thank you for your opinion. I will wear whatever I deem appropriate.

Tzvee Zahavy earned his Ph.D. from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author of many books, including these Kindle Edition ebooks 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.

8/19/16

Is Olmypic Swimmer and Sex Symbol, Ryan Lochte Jewish?

No, we do not think that swimmer Ryan Lochte is a Jew. His national team bio does not specify his religion. We would guess from his last name that his family goes back to Dutch Protestant roots.

Wikipedia reports, "Ryan Lochte was born in Rochester, New York, the son of Ileana "Ike" (née Aramburu) and Steven R. Lochte. His mother is of Spanish and Basque ancestry and was born and raised in Havana, Cuba, while his father is of German, Dutch and English descent."

The Times' Style section had an extensive article about Lochte.

Ryan Lochte, Olmypic Swimmer and Sex Symbol

The U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte is poised to be the breakout star of the 2012 Summer Games, both in and out of the pool.

Ryan Lochte, Olmypic Swimmer and Sex Symbol - Slide Show

Mr. Lochte, 27, is being groomed to be a breakout Olympic superstar, with millions in corporate sponsorships.

Update April 2013: Lochte has an E! reality show, starting Sunday April 21 at 10pm EDT.

Here is a funny video interview about the show - watch to the end.



Hat tip to anonymous!

8/12/16

Should we fast on Tisha B'Av?

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 (falling on August 14 in 2016).

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 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.

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 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.

8/5/16

My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for August 2016: Are there any Magical Jewish Cures and Curses?

Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My friend has started to scare me. She tells me often about her beliefs in the magical powers of religion and religious people. She claims to have witnessed faith healings right in front of her eyes. I think she’s gone off the deep end. Guide me please in what to do.

Scared in Secaucus

Dear Scared,

There are charismatic religious leaders in many religions who say that they can cure people of illnesses. In Judaism we say that we do not believe in, or practice, magical faith healing. The Torah condemns sorcerers, soothsayers, and witchcraft as abominations. But also note that the Torah tells us about Moses’ magical staff, capable of outperforming Pharaoh’s magicians. And some say the magical phrase Abracadabra comes from Aramaic words ארבדכ‭ ‬ארבא‭‬ that mean, “As I speak it, so it shall come to pass.”

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.