12/31/14

Happy Lappy New Year 2015

To all my friends,
A happy lappy new year. May the currents be with you!


Hope you have a swimmingly great year.

Tzvee



12/24/14

Does Santa Exist? A Jewish Buddhist Big Bang Theory Writer Says Maybe He does

"It's Not as Simple as You Think." A review of a quirky book in LA Weekly addresses this pressing issue, Does Santa Exist?.

The book purports to examine the notion of whether Santa exists, based on a wide ranging survey of religions and religious studies ideas.

I did not read the book and I am probably not going to. The review begins as follows:
Fans of The Big Bang Theory know the character of Sheldon Cooper as a nerdy, Klingon-speaking manbot who, according to his friends, is one lab experiment away from turning into a comic book villain. He’s a theoretical physicist who has no use for human contact, feelings or sentimentality, especially around the holidays; he calls Christmas “a bunch of bologna created by the tinsel industry.” Naturally, he doesn’t believe in Santa. 
So it’s no surprise that Eric Kaplan, one of the show’s writers and a co-executive producer, has written a book called Does Santa Exist?: A Philosophical Journey. The question does not have an easy answer — most kids believe, most adults don’t. And unlike his TV character, Kaplan isn’t interested in disproving the being of world’s biggest holiday symbol. Instead, he writes that like all of life’s ponderables — God, love, the self — Santa is a self-contradicting paradox that involves rationality, belief and faith. It’s complicated...
I'll just add here my agreement that it's clear - they have way more complicated stories than we do. We have a holiday based on one jar of oil that lasted longer than it should have - one time more than 2000 years ago. 

They have a magical guy who comes in a flying sled with presents - every year for every child - from a workshop at the North Pole.

We may want to work on our stories.

Atlantic: Why Do American Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas?


I always assumed it was because all of the other restaurants were closed!

Chuck Schumer agrees as the article notes citing the confirmation hearing of Elana Kagan to the Supreme Court. When asked where she was on one Christmas she replied:
During an otherwise tense series of exchanges, Senator Lindsey Graham paused to ask Kagan where she had spent the previous Christmas. To great laughter, she replied: “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.”

Never willing to let a moment pass without remark, Senator Chuck Schumer jumped in to explain, “If I might, no other restaurants are open.”
Schumer might but editor Chandler has more to say about this matter up to and including this bon mot, "I would argue that Chinese food is the ethnic cuisine of American Jews."

I think he goes to far looking for more meanings in this quirk of acculturation. (Hat tip to K!)

12/16/14

The Talmud Explains Hanukkah

The Talmud (Bavli Shabbat 21b) explains what is Hanukkah:

What is Hanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev commence the days of Hanukkah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden.

For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day's lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit the lamp therewith for eight days. 

The following year these days were appointed a Festival with the recital of Hallel and thanksgiving.

What else is there to say?

12/14/14

NYTimes: Gil Marks, Historian of Jewish Food and Culture, Dies at 62

My friend has passed away. 

I am grateful to have known Gil for so many years and to have considered him to be a friend. He was a great person, sincere and sensitive and positive in every way. He was meticulous in his cooking, in his writing and in his relationships, always seeking the right ingredients and ever particular about all of the recipes of his life.

He accomplished a great deal, and still I feel he was taken before his time and that we will sorely miss his voice in our communities.

From The New York Times
Gil Marks, Historian of Jewish Food and Culture, Dies at 62

Mr. Marks wrote five books that chronicled kosher menus through the centuries and examined the role of food in the establishment and growth of cultural traditions.

By BRUCE WEBER

Gil Marks, a culinary historian who wrote widely on the relationship between Jewish food and Jewish culture in a manner that was both scholarly and friendly, died on Friday in Jerusalem. He was 62.

The cause was lung cancer, his niece Efrat Altshul Schorr said, adding that Mr. Marks was not a smoker.

Mr. Marks studied for the rabbinate at Yeshiva University in New York, but he burrowed into the history and culture of the Jews more through the recipe book than the Talmud. Still, some would argue that his work was, in its way, Talmudic — full of information and interpretive wisdom on the foods of Jewish tradition and the governing principles of cooking and eating them.

He was the author of five books, an oeuvre that not only provided a recipe-by-recipe chronicle of kosher menus through the centuries but also examined the role of food in the establishment and growth of cultural traditions.

12/10/14

The Avatars of Hanukkah

Hanukkah has its avatars. I wrote about this in my 2011 book, "God's Favorite Prayers."

...The concept of avatar has several meanings. First an avatar can be an embodiment or a personification of a substantial idea, for instance, "the embodiment of hope"; "the incarnation of evil"; "the very avatar of cunning." In some respects I describe in this book how the prayers serve as avatars of several diverse personalities. In this sense I can say that the Amidah is an avatar of the priest.

An avatar in the context of religions can have another meaning. In specific it is a manifestation of a Hindu deity, particularly Vishnu, in a human, superhuman or animal form. As an example of how the term is used is, “The Buddha is regarded as an avatar of the god Vishnu.” In this sense of the term, I created my archetypal avatars, such as my “priest,” as representatives of the core values that inhere in the prayers...

... The most recent technological application of the word avatar denotes a computer user's self-representation or alter ego, in the form of a three-dimensional model within a computer game, or as a two-dimensional icon picture on a screen, or as a single-dimensional username within an Internet community.

... On two special occasions, Hanukkah and Purim, we add paragraphs to the Amidah to describe the victories of heroic Jews of the past. I see these hero figures as avatars of the priest.

12/7/14

NY Times Advice - Frustrated on Sundays with the Jets and the Giants? Visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Grave Instead!

In a semi-serious article the times suggests that you spend your Sundays doing more rewarding things than watching the Jets and Giants football teams lose their games.

And one of those bright ideas is:

Make a Pilgrimage

Visit a grave-turned-shrine of a dead rabbi in Queens. The Ohel is the final resting place of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was the leader of the Lubavitch sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Schneerson, known as the Rebbe, died in 1994, and in the past two decades his burial site has turned into a place of pilgrimage for Jews, who trek here from around the world to write prayers on scraps of paper and toss them on the Rebbe’s grave — 24 hours a day. The site, little known outside the Jewish community, is in fact a nondenominational place of prayer, where any visitor is allowed to walk right in and toss a paper prayer into the mix. Perhaps there you can pray for our two lousy teams.

Jews trek from around the world to the Queens grave site of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a leader of the Lubavitch sect.   The Ohel is the final resting place of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was the leader of the Lubavitcher sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. SARAH MASLIN NIR, staff reporter, Metro




12/5/14

My Dear Rabbi Column for December 2014: Outrageous Political Rabbi

Dear Rabbi,

I don’t understand why my local rabbi has been saying outrageous public things — preaching and publishing political rants. I want to know what makes a rabbi do this, and I need to know what to do about it.

Ranted at in Bergen County

Dear Ranted,

You ask why a person engages in the kind of public rants that bring humiliation to himself and his family and his extended community.

O.K. That person first may be driven by hereditary factors. He may have a variety of the thrill-seeker gene that makes him crave attention and controversy. At the same time, his innate circuit breaker, the psychological mechanism or filter that normally protects a person against putting himself in danger, or engaging in self-destructive, antisocial behavior, appears to be defective. Such a person would benefit from therapy to help him understand his risky drives and deficiencies and to help him become more vigilant in monitoring his problematic behavior.

The issue of your rabbi’s contentious behavior does prompt me to discuss more general related aspects beyond this rabbi’s problem.

When any rabbi veers off into politics, I think that is a bad thing. He’s not doing his job. A rabbi is by definition a teacher of Torah. Rabbis are not trained in politics, nor are they employed to engage in politics. They become rabbis by passing exams in Torah texts, including the oral Torah, the Mishnah, Midrash, and Talmud.

Teaching Torah (or any subject) is a respected profession that someone enters through preparation, expertise, and apprenticeship. Politics is a different profession, and it is entered by another route of training and experience.

Through the ages, rabbis on many occasions have ventured into politics — as politicians, not as rabbis. A few have succeeded. Some have failed dramatically. One of the greatest Torah scholars of our history, Rabbi Akiva (whom I referred to above), led his students into a disastrous revolt against Rome in the second century CE. He unsuccessfully supported the rebellion of Bar Kochba, and as a tragic result he was tortured to death by the Romans and thousands of his followers were massacred.

Much more recently — in 2012, as you may recall — one of our neighbors in Bergen County, a celebrity rabbi and author, ran for Congress. He was trounced in the election. Though he emerged from that experience personally unscathed, the example confirms the pattern. Rabbis throughout the ages have made poor politicians.

I prefer to think that there’s nothing specific to the teachings of the Torah that make someone a bad politician. But it’s worth speculating further on this matter. Perhaps the idea that God is behind you and that makes your ideas right and worthy is a weakness, not strength, to those who enter the arena of public political discourse and activity. In that venue ideas rise and fall on their merits and their appeal, not on their claims to divine sponsorship.

Also, politics is a set of activities where success involves a good deal of negotiation and power brokering. Rabbis cling to their notion that the divine rights and imperatives of their principles prevent or at least discourage the idea of negotiation. Thinking that “my way is the high and mighty way,” leads a person to act and to declare the non-negotiable stance that “my opponents must take my way or go away on the highway.”

To be sure, rabbis are not easily adept at being political. Yet in spite of that you would think that they ought to respect the accepted modes of public political discourse. The rabbinic literature that they know is rigorous in its formulaic requirements and its rhetorical and logical forms. Free-style ranting is not one of its genres. And going back further to the classical biblical prophets, we find the same. The exhortations of those Israelite preachers use controlled manners and speech with sharp and clear moral and theological messages.

The dangers of mixing politics and religion are even more pronounced and complex when you consider that many varieties of religious terrorists incite their followers to commit atrocities and crimes against humanity based to a frightening extent on religious grounds and on claims of their gods’ approvals.

A few years ago, at a course on religion and terrorism I taught at FDU, I analyzed many instances of terrorism committed by members of religious communities. I took cases drawn from Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Aum Shinrikyo (a Japanese cult), Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions. The dangerous recent historical record that I examined in that course of the mix of religion and terror is extensive, impressive, and terrifying.

My advice to you as you confront your immediate situation is best expressed in one word: beware. A rabbi or any religious leader who goes off like a loose cannon in unpredictable rants advocating racism, violence, or terrorism ought to make you cringe.

Stay far away from him. Nothing that you can do or say will deter him. He is a danger to your community, to stable society, and to civilization. He does not represent any aspect of what is worthwhile in either the clerical professions or in the political realms. And he does not represent in any way what we good ordinary citizens want in a just and righteous world.

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.

Tzvee Zahavy earned his Ph.D. from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author of “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 — all available as Kindle Edition books at Amazon.com.

My Dear Rabbi Column for December 2014: Facebook Political Blamer

Dear Rabbi,

After the recent attack in Jerusalem, where terrorists killed four men in a synagogue, I saw posts on my Facebook newsfeed blaming the policies of President Obama for the terrible incident. That disturbs me because I don’t see how someone can connect him to violence in another country.

Baffled by the Blamers

Dear Baffled,

Hmm. I stubbed my toe the other night while I was walking in a dark room and I exclaimed, “Oh Jesus” even though I’m a good Jew and Jesus had nothing to do with my mishap.

Seriously, let’s be clear. First of all Obama is the president of the United States, not the prime minister of Israel. His job is to take care of Americans, not protect Israelis from terrorists. And second, he is in no way responsible for causing attacks anywhere in the world. Those who heap blame on Obama for the ills of our globe do that because they don’t like him to begin with. They think they can besmirch him by arbitrarily piling fault upon him. It is bad rhetoric and nothing more.

Benjamin Netanyahu is the prime minister of Israel and is much more the right person to charge for bad policies that lead to terrorist attacks in his country. But in reality, terrorism is not at all a result of flawed strategies of our leaders or of our governments. It is evil activity planned and carried out by those of our enemies who want to harm us and disrupt our lives. So if you must, blame our enemies, not our leaders.

But if you insist on blaming our own leaders, then you might argue that the ultimate questions about the death of those four innocent people in synagogue remains primarily a theological issue that you ought to direct to the leader of leaders — God. For those of us who believe that God cares about our everyday lives, it is fair to ask how a just God allows terrorists to kill saintly Jews who devoted their lives to Torah and, on top of it, while they were engaged in prayer in the synagogue.

Hence I agree with you that it makes no sense for people on Facebook or anywhere else to blame Obama for terrorist murders in Jerusalem. My advice for you is as follows. On Facebook, if you don’t want to see nonsensical posts, you can unfriend the people who send them, or suppress their posts from your news feed.

In real life, however, I’m sorry to say I have no bright advice for you. We have no way to pull down a menu and turn off or suppress from confronting every day the age-old baffling questions of theodicy, of why God lets such bad things happen to such good people.

There is a story in the Talmud (Menahot 29b) that depicts Moses asking God why he allowed the Romans to torture the great Torah scholar Rabbi Akiva. In that narrative Moses demanded to know from God, “This is the Torah and this is its reward!?” And in that text God gave Moses no effective answer or explanation.

I can advise you not to tolerate those who blame Obama for terrorist evil. But, sorry if this disappoints you, I can’t offer in this column any better response than the Talmud does about the accountability of God.

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.


Tzvee Zahavy earned his Ph.D. from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author of “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 — all available as Kindle Edition books at Amazon.com.

11/30/14

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.

11/22/14

Understanding the Extensive Connections Between Religions and Terrorism

In light of the awful terrorist attacks that have been launched once again in Israel I thought it prudent to repost this item.

What are the connections between religions and terrorism? 

That's a big question. I tried to answer, explain and understand it in the past through my extensive scholarly research and my academic teaching.

Here is a selected list of my blog posts of study resources in the analysis of the connections between terrorism and religion (compiled when I taught a course on religion and terrorism at FDU a few years ago). Click on each one to read it.
  1. Questions about American Christian Terrorism
  2. Religion and Jewish Terrorists (and see the JTA report)
  3. What is a Religious Culture of Violence and Terror? 
  4. Who were Shoko Asahara and the Buddhist Aum Shinrikyo Religious Terrorists? 
  5. How did Religion Motivate Sikh Terrorists? 
  6. What is the Logic of the Theater of Religious Terror? 
  7. Why Do Religious Terrorist Martyrs say that they aim to kill the demons? 
  8. What do Sexuality and Humiliation have to do with Terrorism? 
  9. Will the War Against Religious Terrorism Ever End? 
  10. From Kahane to Osama: How Do Men Make Religious Terrorism Into Cosmic War? 
  11. How can we end religious terrorism and achieve the peace of God? 
  12. Concluding Questions on Religion and Terrorism


I have studied this subject at great length and taught courses in the area because I believe that a deeper understanding can help us resolve tragic conflicts. 

I also believe in the power of prayer to help us bring peace to the world.

I recommend to you my book: God's Favorite Prayers

We should say kaddish for JFK

Today is the 51st anniversary of the death of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Here is what I published 11/15/13 in the Jewish Standard...

This year, the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination, I want to recant my opinions and actions at JFK's thirtieth yahrzeit. I should have said Kaddish for JFK then, I was wrong. I will do it this year.

Yes, we should say kaddish for JFK.

Here is what I wrote in 1993.

It was bright and sunny in Washington on November 22, 1993, thirty years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was attending an annual conference of over 7000 professors of religion and biblical studies in the capital city. What a shame, I thought, that at this conference there was no formal recognition of the anniversary of the death of this leader at this conference. Here were gathered so many experts in religion and ritual, and they made no attempt to memorialize the day.

At a break between sessions of the conference I headed directly for the hotel entrance. A quick negotiation with a taxi driver confirmed that for $15 to $20 and less than an hour's time I could get out to Arlington National Cemetery walk up the path to JFK's grave site, spend a few minutes and return to the learned discourse of the meeting.
In the cab I wondered what I would do when I stood at the memorial in front of the eternal flame. It was JFK's yahrzeit, the anniversary of his death. In Judaism, members of the family recite the Kaddish prayer for a deceased relative each year on the specified day.

But Kennedy was not Jewish and not my relative. I could not see myself reciting a mourner's prayer for this hero. What then? I'd wait until I got to the site and play it by ear.

11/6/14

My Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for November 2014: Done with Mikvah Dunking?

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi,

On the one hand, after reading about a rabbi who repeatedly used the ritual of women immersing as an opportunity to engage in voyeurism, I’m turned off to the whole idea of ritual bathing in a mikvah.

On the other hand, I know I’ll feel guilty about abandoning one of my religious practices, which had meaning for me in the past. What should I do?

Slams Dunking in Teaneck


Dear Slams,

Rituals are a potent part of your relationship to your culture and heritage. And special relationships are fragile. They hinge both on predictable consistency and on intangible magical elements.

The relationships embedded in the most prevalent mikvah-bath ritual are as complex as a double helix. One strand of complexity is that the mikvah bath permits Orthodox women, who refrain from sex with their husbands during menstruation, to resume the intimate sexual portion of their relationships. And for women from long-standing Orthodox family lines, another strand of the complexity of the ritual is how the mikvah connects them in a magical way to the innermost lives of their mothers, who practiced the same formal mikvah procedure.

Dipping in a mikvah also is an integral rite in a conversion to Judaism. And that is where the latest scandal occurred. To many of us, the bad acts of a rabbi were troubling enough to disrupt the magic of the ritual, that tacit allowance we permit ourselves that makes a bath into an enchanted personal transformation. A debauched rabbi violated the privacy of the immersion of numerous women converts. For many who heard it, the sad news of those acts poisoned the sacred well of the mikvah.

I tried to understand the plight of my sisters by thinking in terms of an analogy. As an avid daily lap swimmer for many years, I know how refreshing and invigorating and healthy a workout in the pool can be. And yet I also discovered that at times, the positive values of water can be disrupted. Sometimes because of errors or ineptness, the pool I swim in gets too hot for comfortable lap swimming or the chlorine chemical level gets too high and the water becomes toxic. That for sure spoils the enjoyment of my swimming. And it can affect my health. But I work hard to get that fixed. And I keep coming back to swim. It’s a consistent, even a constant part of my life.

Sure, I know that my inconveniences in lap swimming are not anywhere near equivalent to violations of a woman’s intimate privacy during her performance of a religious ritual. But my suggestion to you, via my loose metaphor, is that you try your best to continue to do those healthy positive things that you do, those activities of your life that in crucial ways define you.

When the motions of your life are disrupted, when you get distracted from the poetry of your religion, I urge you to bounce back, and to strive with vigor to set your faith and practices straight and to restore the magic to your rituals.

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 November 2014: Is Skimming the Talmud Kosher?

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi,

My friend gets up early every morning to study a daily Talmud page. By doing this he will go through the entire Talmud in seven years. His daily lesson lasts 30 minutes.

I know the value Judaism places on Torah study, but I wonder about the quality of such hurried study. In my experience the contents of the Talmud are complex and nuanced. Of what benefit is it to rapidly recite passages and to speed-read through their meanings?

Skim Free in New Milford


Dear Skim,

You touch on a sensitive issue. Many Jews believe that learning Talmud is the epitome of studying Torah. In turn they consider that practice to be the apex of all the commandments. Torah-study is an enriched ritual because serious learning may lead to inner cognition, to increased knowledge, and even to expertise. The highest goal of Talmud study is to become a lamdan—a learned master of the Talmud.

With that in mind, let me pose a few pointed talmudic questions to extend your inquiry. Can anyone become a lamdan through Daf Yomi study alone? Unlikely. It often takes weeks of intensive study to get through the study of the Tosafot, Rishonim, and Achronim (i.e., the major commentaries) on a single side of a page of the Talmud.

And it is fair to ask, What is the content retention rate of the average page-a-day-Talmud student? Probably low. And so if they do not become lamdanim, what do they get out of the daily study? We can reason that after seven and a half years of plowing through every page of the Talmud, some of them do absorb a great deal, while others actually retain little and remain unenlightened about the bulk of the contents of the Talmud.

Does everyone who accomplishes the goal of going through the whole Talmud feel good about themselves? Probably yes. To use sports metaphors, even those who do not run the whole race can feel a sense of accomplishment just by participating in a marathon. Even those who go to the practice batting cage to hit softballs can imagine they are at bat in a major league game in Yankee Stadium.

Of this we can be certain. The extensive time allotted daily to Talmud study is quite a hefty way for people to say to themselves and their families and communities: these are my precious values and I invest a lot of my time and energy in them.

Yes, frequent attendance at daf yomi or at other adult education opportunities in synagogues and communities are worthy endeavors. Please do keep in mind also that becoming a learned Jew through deeper toil and study is an even more worthy undertaking.

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 November 2014: Is Singing Sexual?

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi,

Many of my Orthodox male friends will not listen to a woman sing. What is that about?

Humming in Hackensack


Dear Humming,

Bans or prohibitions against certain actions deemed dangerous or socially unacceptable are common in all societies and religions. Every town has a speeding limit. And we know that Jews are not supposed to eat pork.

Your simple direct question penetrates into one troubling taboo directed at women but not at men. In parts of the Orthodox Jewish world, men may sing for women, but women may not sing for men.

Any observer can identify such an injunction as uneven and one-sided.

Not surprising. Within synagogues in nearly all Orthodox Jewish communities, women are segregated from men. They are instructed to sit behind a curtain or divider. In many arenas of Orthodox society women also are told to dress modestly and cover up their arms and legs.

To me it seems that a modesty dress code is another form of the segregation of women from the presence of men.

And you do not have to be a feminist to reckon that the ban on women singing is yet an added extension of segregation, an act of discrimination, one more denial of rights directed solely at women.

Now we know in general that the explanation or rationalization of taboos can be extensive and interesting to hear and even compelling in its substance. In this case, the rabbis propose that the ban on women singing to men is to regulate the degree of sexuality that may be expressed and exposed in public. All good and well. I have no argument about whatever basis people of faith choose to justify their actions or proscriptions.

The trouble with the taboo you ask about is that it applies in one direction and not the other, that women may not sing for men.

If this ban is based on sexuality, then the stricture says to us that figuratively a woman’s singing voice is an extension of her vagina, which of course she cannot display in public. Is it not fair then to ask, Is a man’s singing voice a manifestation of his penis? Is it okay for a man to parade around his sexuality but the same is not allowed for a woman? Or is singing not at all a sexual display? Which one is it?

If you think that such questions about Jewish men and women are ludicrous, try these. Are we ever going to say that the men are allowed to eat pork, but the women are not? That the men are permitted to steal, but the women are forbidden?

You asked what the singing taboo is all about? It’s reasonable to say that it is about segregation based on gender, the denial of equal rights to women, and discrimination against women. You may ask then, Aren’t all of those practices unacceptable in our modern Western societies?

Yes sir. Yes ma’am. They are unacceptable.

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.


11/5/14

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

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).

11/4/14

הרב ריסקין: החרדים הם הרפורמים Rabbi Riskin: the Haredi Jews are the Real Reform Jews

Rabbi of Efrat criticizes opposition to the ultra-Orthodox conversion law: "There is a commandment to love the stranger, the Chief Rabbinate did not know until today to accept the stranger with love and embrace"

Jonathan Urich | 04/11/2014 12:36

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Rabbi of Efrat and founder of institutions, "Ohr Torah Stone", valid today (Tuesday) criticized the conduct of the haredi community in relation Conversion Act and claims that they are the greatest reformers in history.

In an interview to the radio "waves Israel" tzaddik Rabbi Riskin the conversion bill and strongly opposed the ultra-orthodox and the claims against the law: "I do not understand the whole thing. Yes, I think there is a commandment of" love the stranger. "Yes, I think that the Chief Rabbinate have not know what it is to get someone who wants to convert properly love and care. How has the audacity to say my conversions will not be under Jewish law? ".

Resistance conversion law, Rabbi Riskin argues, contrary to the theory and approach of Judaism: "Unfortunately, the Haredim are the greatest reformers, many many things. Including raising the IDF, because there was no Talmud, who says there is no study of Torah protects the interests of people. There is room for dissenting opinions in Judaism. There is no just one way and whoever says it one way and the only way, it does not Judaism, Catholicism and the Pope it. "


Eran Zahavi of Maccabi Tel Aviv Attacked During Match by a Fan

Eran Zahavi of Maccabi Tel Aviv fought off a Fan and the match was canceled. Is he my cousin? I wish we were related but, as far as I know, we are not.

Pitch Invader Attacks Football Player: Video

Daily Mail: Referee sends off Maccabi Tel Aviv star Eran Zahavi after he kicks out at a fan who attacked him as Israeli match is abandoned

·         Maccabi Tel Aviv were drawing with Hapoel Tel Aviv in Tel Aviv derby
·         Eran Zahavi, a Maccabi player formerly of Hapoel, had scored a penalty
·         A fan invaded the pitch to attack Zahavi, player kicks him
·         Repeated pitch invasions cause game to be abandoned
·         Hapoel coach Eyal Berkovic calls for league to be suspended

By Jonny Singer

An Israeli league match had to be called off on Monday night after a fan broke onto the pitch and attacked an opposing player.

With the score at 1-1 in the Tel Aviv derby, between Hapoel Tel Aviv and their rivals Maccabi, the match was abandoned after a Hapoel fan ran onto the pitch and tried to kick visitors' star Eran Zahavi.

Zahavi, an Israel international, is a controversial figure in the heated derby. The 27-year-old began his career at Hapoel before joining Maccabi after a two-year stay at Palermo.

11/2/14

New York Post: Non-Jews enforce Segregation of Women by Attire at the Yeshiva of Flatbush

The NY Post reports that the Yeshiva of Flatbush has hired non-Jews to enforce the segregation of women through attire regulations.

Not surprising. Within synagogues in nearly all Orthodox Jewish communities women are segregated from men. They are instructed to sit behind a curtain or divider. In many arenas of Orthodox society women are told to dress modestly and cover up their arms and legs.

To me it seems clear that a modesty dress code is another form of the segregation of women from the presence of men.

It’s reasonable to say that these rules and the patrols to enforce them are about segregation based on gender, the denial of equal rights to women and discrimination against women.

You may ask then, Aren’t all of those practices unacceptable in our modern Western societies?

Yes sir. Yes ma’am. They are unacceptable. Segregation of any kind is evil. We need to desegregate our Yeshivas.

The picture to the right above shows Alabama Governor George Wallace blocking the desegregation of the University of Alabama in 1963 - 51 years ago.
Morality police patrol for exposed flesh at NYC school 
‘WE CAN’T JUST WALK IN THE HALLS BECAUSE EVERYONE’S LOOKING AT US AND JUDGING US EVERY SECOND FOR OUR CLOTHING. OBVIOUSLY, IT’S DEGRADING.’
- senior Melissa Duchan

By Andrea Hay

Melissa Duchan says the dress code at Yeshiva of Flatbush is way over the top.

The morality police aren’t just patrolling Iran or the Islamic State — they’re standing watch at a school in Brooklyn.

Female students at ­Yeshiva of Flatbush are outraged that two monitors were hired this school year to patrol hallways for exposed collarbones and calves.

The modesty crackdown comes as the school enforces a new, stricter dress code, including longer skirts.

“We’re walking in and we’re being scrutinized every morning,” said 16-year-old senior Melissa Duchan. “We can’t just walk in the halls because everyone’s looking at us and judging us every second for our clothing. Obviously, it’s degrading.”

10/21/14

My Great Grandfather was Harris Epstein the Great Inventor of a Folding Umbrella

I saw a kickstarter story about a new kind of umbrella: An Umbrella That Protects You From Rain With Just Air, But Only Lasts 30 Minutes

I was interested in that because of my family's inventor heritage.

I am named after my great-grandfather, Harris (Tzvee) Epstein, aka, Epstein the Inventor, who lived in New York City and Spring Valley. I probably inherited my technical curiosity from him.

He was the inventor and patent holder of many practical items, a folding umbrella, an extension ladder, a double sided toothbrush, a vegetable grater and more.

Here are of his patents with their links from Google Patent search: FOLDING UMBRELLA Patent number: 1666692 Filing date: Jan 29, 1927 Issue date: Apr 17, 1928

SIGNALING APPARATUS US Pat. 1060898 - H. EPSTEIN. SIGNALING APPARATUS, APPLICATION PILED JAN. 26, 19.11. Patented May 6,1913.

EXTENSION LADDER US Pat. 949529 - Filed Feb 10, 1909

VEGETABLE GRATER US Pat. 1799963 - Filed Apr 4, 1930... UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE HARRIS EPSTEIN, OF ROCKAWAY BEACH, NEW YORK VEGETABLE GRATER

GAS-CONTROLLING DEVICE US Pat. 968457 - Filed Jan 11, 1910

TOOTH BRUSH Patent number: 1111144 Filing date: Oct 4, 1913 Issue date: Sep 22, 1914

Papa Epstein, as he was called by his grandchildren, sure would have liked the age of the personal computer and the Internet, especially the iPad and smart phone and most of all Kickstarter campaigns..

[Augmented repost from 12/17/06]

10/19/14

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.).

10/18/14

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.

Is Ronald A. Klain Jewish?

Yes, the new Ebola Czar Ronald A. (Ron) Klain is a Jew. He previously served as Vice President Joseph Biden's Chief of Staff.

President Obama will appoint Klain according to CNN citing White House press secretary Josh Earnest, "to make sure that all the government agencies who are responsible for aspects of this response, that their efforts are carefully integrated. He will also be playing a role in making sure the decisions get made."

Klain previously served as Chief of Staff and Counselor to Vice President Al Gore. Klain also knew Biden as a result of his service as counsel to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary when Biden chaired that committee.

Klain lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with his wife Monica Medina, who is not a Jew, and their children Hannah, Michael and Daniel.

The Times reported in 2007:

... when they married, Ron Klain and his wife, Monica Medina, struck a deal: their daughter and two sons would be raised Jewish (for him), but they would celebrate Christmas (for her).

Despite their satisfaction with the arrangement, the couple, who live in Chevy Chase, Md., have never put up the tree while Mr. Klain’s mother is visiting from Indianapolis. Instead, they wait until after her annual December visit.

“I grew up in Indiana, with a decent-size Jewish community, but we were a distinct minority,” Mr. Klain said. “Not having a Christmas tree was very much part of our Jewish identity in a place where everyone else did.”
In the HBO movie "Recount" Kevin Spacey played Ron Klain.

Spacey, who was born in South Orange, New Jersey to Kathleen A. Spacey (1931-2003), a secretary, and Thomas Geoffrey Fowler (1924-1992), a technical writer, is not a Jew.

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.

10/13/14

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. 

10/12/14

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.

10/3/14

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.

10/2/14

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.

9/30/14

Is Muslim Prayer in the End Zone Kosher?

NFL says ref botched call on player's Muslim prayerNo it's not kosher to pray at any time in an NFL game. But then there's politics.

From the CNN Belief Blog - CNN.com Blogs


Husain Abdullah celebrates after scoring a touchdown on Monday night.
NFL says ref botched call on player's Muslim prayer
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor 

(CNN) – Husain Abdullah can kneel and pray pretty much anywhere in America he wants. Except, perhaps, for an NFL end zone.

The Kansas City Chiefs' safety and devout Muslim was flagged for "unsportsmanlike conduct" after sliding to his knees in prayer to celebrate a touchdown Monday night. 

On Tuesday, the NFL said the referee botched the call.
"Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct," said Michael Signora, a league spokesman.

9/29/14

Daf Yomi Alert October 6: Babylonian Talmud Yebamoth Yevamot Yebamot Yevamos for Kindle or PDF or HTML for free

Purchase the Kindle edition: Soncino Babylonian Talmud Yebamoth.

Or get the Babylonian Talmud Yebamoth Yevamot Yebamot Yevamos HTML or PDF for free. Yebamoth (Sisters-in-law: 16 chapters, 122 folios, 871 pages) Yevamoth.PDF... Introduction to Yebamoth — Rev. Dr. Israel W. Slotki

Two column reformatted - Yebamoth (Sisters-in-law24a Yevomos 2a-19b | 24b Yevomos 20a-40b | 24c Yevomos 41a-63b | 24d Yevomos 64a-86b | 24e Yevomos 87a-106b | 24f Yevomos 107a-122b

The Soncino Babylonian Talmud Yebamoth was translated into english with notes by Israel W. Slotki with a foreword by J. H. Hertz, "MARRIAGE, DIVORCE, AND THE POSITION OF WOMAN, IN JUDAISM" and "INTRODUCTION TO SEDER NASHIM" by the editor Isidore Epstein.

The tractate of Yebamoth has its origin in the following Scriptural passages from which branch out the numerous laws and regulations, the arguments and discussions that cover its hundred and twenty odd folios.

"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 unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her" (Deut. XXV, 5).

Book Serialization Part 4: Perfect Prayer + FREE BOOK!

Book Serialization Part 4:  I presented my recent book in serial format on my blog in 2013 - God's Favorite Prayers... and the kindle book is free Sept. 30 - Oct 4!

Perfect Prayer

F
ast forward now to a particularly intense stage of my spiritual life, in 1978. I was on a leave for six months from my teaching and went to live in Jerusalem with my wife and two young children. I decided on an ambitious program—to try to pray at least one time in every one of the synagogues in Jerusalem, the most sacred city in Judaism. That capital city of Judaism has dozens of varieties of shuls for all kinds of worship styles of the various and sundry communities who live there, side-by-side, mostly with mutual respect and in harmony with one another.
During that phase of my life, I imagined in an especially colorful way that I was engaged in a big international quest for a perfect religious experience. In a particularly fanciful fashion, I saw my professed search as a parallel to the one Bruce Brown catalogued in the great film Endless Summer. This famous 1966 documentary film follows two surfers, Michael Hynson and Robert August, on a quest to find the perfect wave. The film documented the two boys searching the globe for simple perfection in their quasi-mystical sport. The movie site IMDB sums up the story of the film, “Brown follows two young surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave, and ends up finding quite a few, in addition to some colorful local characters.”
Back then, the film spoke to those of us who were young seekers, as it did for many others of that idealistic age. Of course, the core of the sport of surfing is the wave and, no doubt, the lover of surfing wants to embark on the quest for the best possible wave. To find and surf the perfect wave is to experience the performance of the quintessence of the sport. I adored that classic Bruce Brown film, with its humor and charm that thinly cloaked a more serious story of sportsmen seeking a form of ultimate perfection in their beloved pastime.