11/8/17

My Judaic studies books (9 Kindle books) are free for 5 days - hurry

My Judaic studies books (9 Kindle books) are free - from Friday 11/9 thru Monday 11/13, for 5 days. I haven't offered this promotion for quite a while. Grab this deal! Tell your friends!

11/5/17

Maimonides Films from Israel - 2017: The Great Eagle - in three parts

A new set of professional documentaries about the great Sephardic rabbi Moses ben Maimon, Maimonides. Approximately three hours. A valuable course of study with scholars and interviews and travels.

בפרק הראשון חייו המוקדמים של הרמב"ם, מלידתו בקורדובה (ספרד של היום), הבריחה למרוקו התאסלמותו בכפייה והגעתו לארץ ישראל.

הפרק השני מלווה את חייו של הרמב"ם במצרים בה חיבר את ספר ההלכה המונומנטלי "משנה תורה" אשר ממשיך להשפיע על חיינו עד עצם היום הזה.

הפרק השלישי עוסק ב"מורה נבוכים" ספר הפילוסופיה אותו כתב הרמב"ם אשר נותר שנוי במחלוקת ומציב שאלות קשות ליהדות בת ימינו אנו.

Chapter One


Chapter Two


Chapter Three



11/2/17

Is Kevin Spacey Jewish?

No, Kevin Spacey is not a Jew.

Spacey plays the disgraced lobbyist and Orthodox Jew, Jack Abramoff in the 2010 film, Casino Jack. At the original web site for that film you could take a "Test" to find out how corrupt you are.

Spacey has already been nominated for this role, a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

Previously Spacey played the Jewish attorney Ron Klain in the HBO film, Recount. Klain was Al Gore's chief of staff in the White House and General Counsel to Al Gore's recount committee after the 2000 election.

Spacey was born in South Orange, New Jersey, the son of Kathleen Ann, a secretary, and Thomas Geoffrey Fowler, a technical writer and data consultant. According to rumor, Spacey's father was an antiSemite.

Spacey has been accused in 2017 of the sexual harassment of a 14 year old boy in 1986.

My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for November 2017: How can I find Jewish ways to be meaningfully and mindfully meditative?

Dear Rabbi Zahavy
Your Talmudic Advice Column
The Times of Israel - Jewish Standard

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

At my health club I have joined a class in meditation. We practice techniques of breathing and mindfulness and achieve tangible positive physical and mental results. In the past, I have associated meditation with spiritual movements. So why can’t I find more of it in my Jewish contexts? What can I do to become a more meditative Jew?

Distractedly Seeking Spirituality in Demarest


Dear Seeking,

If you seek properly, you can find many meditative opportunities in our Jewish practices. Our traditions are rich in interior modes of spiritual expression. I practice Jewish meditations throughout the day, and not just at times of prayer.

There are many resources available. Teaneck’s Len Moskowitz offers meditation training at nearby Yeshiva University. Books by Aryeh Kaplan and others have been popular for years. In Brooklyn, Jerusalem, and elsewhere you can find many Jewish meditation teachers and groups.

The main shortcomings of such options is that they assume that to practice Jewish meditation, you must learn peripheral kabbalistic texts or seek practices outside of the regular cycle of Jewish rituals.

I believe that need not be the case. A person can become an adept meditation practitioner within the regular daily practices of our religious communities.

Let me give you some background, and then tell you how I have developed and integrated my mindful Jewish practices.

10/5/17

My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for October 2017: Is Israel Anti-Semitic and Is there an Afterlife?

Dear Rabbi Zahavy
Your Talmudic Advice Column
The Times of Israel - Jewish Standard

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My neighbor is Jewish, but from many of the things he says about Jews and Israel, I think he is an anti-Semite, who expresses antagonism towards anyone who is not an Orthodox Jew. Lately he has invoked the policies of the State of Israel towards the non-Orthodox to support his attitudes.

First, how is that possible – that a Jew can be such an open anti-Semite? And more important, what can I say or do to bring this person back in line?

Buffering the Bigot in Bergenfield

Dear Buffering,

Yes, it is a terrible fact that a Jew can be an anti-Semite.

9/29/17

Are Crocs shoes permitted on Yom Kippur?

I recall posting this in 2009 - and now I have Croc-like shoes that I plan to wear in a few hours to shul for Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur. My shoes are quite comfortable.

It's my impression that the brouhaha of 2009 over this issue has faded away and now it is permitted to wear these shoes on Yom Kipur.

Here is my post from 2009.............. Enjoy! ... Gmar Hatimah Tovah to all!

The Internet is buzzing with the late breaking news that a prominent Orthodox rabbi has banned croc-wearing on Yom Kippur because the shoes made from lightweight, antimicrobial foam are too comfortable, even though they contain no leather.

Crocs have sold 100 million pairs in seven years. Of late, the company that makes them is rumored to be in bad financial straights.

We have never owned or worn crocs. We checked with a relative of ours, who prefers to remain anonymous, who informs us that he has worn crocs on several occasions and that they gave him blisters each time. Apparently, the rabbi has been misinformed as to the comfort of the crocs brand of shoes.

We do not issue on this blog religious rulings for others to follow. But we can tell you that it is our informed opinion that if we were to wear crocs on Yom Kippur we could rest assured that we had not violated any prohibition in the Torah.

Rav Elyashiv: Crocs Should Not Be Worn On Yom Kippur

rav-elyashiv1crocsThe posek hador, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, has ruled that Crocs should not be worn on Yom Kippur. Matzav.com had actually reported this ruling of Rav Elyashiv before Tisha B’Av (see here), but now the p’sak has been reported in Bakehillah and various news outlets. The p’sak is based on the fact that the issur to wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur is because they are considered the most comfortable footwear and are therefore included as one of the five prohibitions, or inuyim, of Yom Kippur. Thus, Crocs which are especially comfortable, ruled Rav Elyashiv, should similarly not be worn.

Israeli Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger and others had previous ruled that Crocs are allowed on Yom Kippur, even though they are comfortable, because they are not made of leather. They say that in the past, as mentioned, the prohibition on wearing leather shoes was because they were considered the most comfortable, and therefore, they claim that just because nowadays rubber shoes are no less comfortable, they, and similar sport shoes, are permitted.

The posek hador has disagreed, however, and has ruled that comfort must be considered, and therefore, Crocs, which are worn for their extreme comfort, should preferably not be worn on Yom Kippur.

See Matzav.com’s earlier report here which contains the views of Rav Moshe Shternbuch and others.

9/17/17

Online Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Kol Nidre services, on Video, on a Live Webcast for 5778

Our sincere and heartfelt best wishes to all our readers for a Year of Blessing and Health, Prosperity and Good Cheer.

Rosh Hashanah 5778 - 2017 falls on Thursday, the 21st of September and will continue for 2 days.

Yom Kippur 5778 - 2017 falls on Saturday, the 30th of September.

From Central Synagogue in NYC come Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur online services and videos. Scroll down to find the feed and schedule. See the LIVE webcast of Kol Nidre service this year.

The 92nd Street Y also plans a webcast of services.

Rabbis on videos at various places discuss atonement and repentance. There also are holiday video recipes for tzimmes, honey cake and tagelach that you can find online.

And see Video-streamed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Services.

In these coming Days of Awe all of this is good nourishment for the soul.



Purchase some of these wonderful books for the holidays.


From Amazon for Kindle: The Book of Jewish New Year Prayers in English: The Rosh Hashanah Machzor


You should be interested in my Kindle book from Amazon
 L'Shanah Tovah - Happy New Year
The Book of Jewish New Year Prayers in English: The Rosh Hashanah Machzor
The Book of Jewish New Year Prayers in English: The Rosh Hashanah Machzor
by Tzvee Zahavy
  Learn more  
Amazon.com
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8/31/17

My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for September 2017 - Why Koreans Study Talmud and Why Yom Kippur Fasting Matters

My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for September 2017 - Why Koreans Study Talmud and Why Yom Kippur Fasting Matters

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I read that every South Korean child studies Talmud in school. I can’t imagine that is the case. Should I believe rumors like that? Why would the Koreans do that?

Wondering in Weehawken about the Seoul Talmud

Dear Wondering,

To the point, yes, it is true that Talmud is popular in Korea, but the why is complicated. (To be clear, we aren’t talking about North Korea here, for sure.)

To confirm a rumor like this use a rule of thumb: If it sounds sketchy, it probably is false. You should research the question. In this case, the report is true, though maybe not entirely what you think.

A 2015 New Yorker article spelled out nicely how this cross-cultural scenario unfolded. (The story is “How the Talmud Became a Best-Seller in South Korea,” by Ross Arbes.) Check out the essay. You will find that it is true in part. In part, it is not true that the Koreans study Talmud.

They study Jewish sources that come from the Talmud, which is a massive 1,500-year-old book of Jewish laws, stories, folklore, argumentation, and interpretations. Korean teachers engage their children in debating and analysis exercises that they call talmudic. But their version of the Talmud is highly popularized and adapted for their cultural context. Many Koreans also learn parts of basic Jewish rituals, like reciting the Shema.

8/25/17

Moby Dick and My Babylonian Talmud Tractate Hullin Translation

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

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

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

And it is available as an ebook for kindle.

Here is that wonderful review. Me and Melville!


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

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

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

Is Yoga Kosher?

Bottom line: Is yoga kosher?

I practiced yoga for several years under the guidance of Bonnie West, a wonderful American teacher in Minneapolis in the 1990s. Yoga increased my flexibility and balance through the poses and I learned to settle my consciousness through its breathing and meditations. I derived great physical and emotional benefits from practicing yoga. And I never once felt any conflict between my yoga and my Judaism.

I resumed my regular practice this month (August, 2017) at the 24 hour fitness club in Paramus, with a fine new instructor. I also from time to time go to classes at the JCC in Tenafly.

Yes, yoga is kosher for me. Your experiences may vary depending on who you are and where you are coming from, as the BBC article below deftly suggests.

Does doing yoga make you a Hindu? asks William Kremer across the pond at the BBC. He wrote a smart article on the subject with insights from a number of smart people.

He frames the issue in terms of whether people see yoga poses as religious practices.
For many people, the main concern in a yoga class is whether they are breathing correctly or their legs are aligned. But for others, there are lingering doubts about whether they should be there at all, or whether they are betraying their religion...

Farida Hamza, a Muslim woman living in the US, had been doing yoga for two or three years when she decided she wanted to teach it.

"When I told my family and a few friends, they did not react positively," she recalls. "They were very confused as to why I wanted to do it - that it might be going against Islam."

Their suspicions about yoga are shared by many Muslims, Christians and Jews around the world and relate to yoga's history as an ancient spiritual practice with connections to Hinduism and Buddhism.

8/6/17

Alert! Bad advice all around this week from Philip Galanes in the New York Times' Social Q's - Retractions needed

Dear Philip,

I just read with alarm and dismay the four questions that you answered in your column this week in the Times. 

I'm strongly suggesting that you issue retractions and clarification for your advice. Here is why. In the first you describe hearing a man threaten to beat a person. Makes no difference when, where and how - the only correct advice is to immediately call 911 to protect the well-being of all persons involved. After that one might say calming things to attempt to defuse the situation while at the same time exiting the premises as quickly as possible. I am serious - you need to correct what you said.

Second question about a voracious guest, no the answer is not to buy more food. The solution is to serve portions individually to all guests and make clear that seconds and thirds are not available.

Third question, it is always exceedingly rude not to hold the elevator for someone who asks for that. Put it directly - you must hold the door and wait when asked.

Fourth question. Bringing half a cake to a party is tacky. But if you cut the cake into slices and arrange them symmetrically on a plate, that would be a nice offering, no?

OK, you only need to publish a retraction for the first advice. But take a look again at your column and you gotta admit you could have done better all around.

Tzvee
Talmudic Advice Columnist for the Jewish Standard


8/4/17

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for August 2017: Seeking a Saner Shabbat, Dreading Deepening Doom and Too Tense in Teaneck

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for August 2017: 
Seeking a Saner Shabbat, Dreading Deepening Doom and Too Tense in Teaneck


Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I’m having trouble observing Shabbat. Every time I look around I find that more activities that I value are prohibited and additional restrictions are put into place.

I’m told what to wear and what not to wear, and to me it’s not comfortable or restful. I’m told what to play and what not to play on this holy day, and I feel like it’s depriving me of my needed recreation.

Am I imagining that Shabbat is getting more restrictive? And what can I do about this?

Desperately Seeking a Saner Shabbat

Dear Desperate,

Inquiries like yours keep coming up, primarily from Orthodox Jews, especially during the wonderful summer months when there is so much opportunity for recreation and play, and Shabbat rules seem to get in the way. For Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Jews, Shabbat taboos do not loom as that much of a negative issue.

8/1/17

Free Kinnos Kinnot Lamentations Elucidations for Tisha B'Av

Reuven Brauner wrote to us from Raanana, Israel about his publication on the lamentations (Hebrew: kinnot or kinnos) for Tisha B'Av, "Key Notes for Kinnos." The work is available in PDF format for free downloading at http://www.halakhah.com/:

The Tisha B'Av poems of lament, the Kinnos, like all our Piyyutim and Selichos, were written in a poetic language and style containing hinted references to verses in Tanach, stories in the Talmud and Midrashim, and other historical incidents like the Crusades. They are difficult to comprehend and appreciate by even the most knowledgeable modern speaker or student of Hebrew, not to mention those who are not fluent in the Holy Tongue.

What chance is there for most of us to fully understand the depths of their messages of sadness and despair, prayer and hope?

In a modest attempt to rectify a part of this problem, I have selected a few key words and phrases from each Kinnoh and provided a flash of information regarding their definitions and references in hope that the reader will be able obtain a measure of meaning from and appreciation for what he or she is reading during the services of this day of fasting and repentance.

7/31/17

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

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

7/18/17

NYC Triathlon Swim: My Hudson River Diary 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am done.

Check off that one.

Halleluyah.

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

Donate here to help the families.

Published in the Jewish Standard, July 26, 2013.

7/7/17

Talmudic Advice from a Swim Addict: Swim 100 laps every day

The Tosefta quotes Rabbi Meir (2nd century CE) saying that everyone should strive to recite 100 blessings each day. It then goes on to explain how one can do this.

Blessings are berakhot ברכות in Hebrew. In modern Hebrew the laps that one swims in a pool are called berechot בריכות.

I playfully and read the Talmud this way: Don't say 100 berakhot, say 100 berechot.
More about Meir from Wikipedia: Meir was buried in a standing position near the Kinneret. Pictured here. It is said that he asked to be buried this way so when the Final Redemption occurs, Rabbi Meir would be spared the trouble of arising from his grave and could just walk out to greet the Jewish Messiah. He requested that he be buried in Israel by the seashore so that the water that washes the shores should also lap his grave (Jerusalem Talmud, Kelaim 9:4).
And so I have my Talmudic encouragement to swim 100 laps a day. On many days each year, I get to that goal.

Here are a few of my past reflections on swimming...

7/6/17

Transgender Kids, Covert Convert Bat Mitzvah and Vintage Necktie Aliyah Quandary - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Your Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice for July 2017

Dear Rabbi Zahavy Your Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I recently asked my friend how her young grade-school kids — a boy and girl — were doing. She replied that they are fine, and they have new names. The boy now has a girl’s name and the girl has a boy’s name. I asked why? She matter-of-factly replied that they both are transgender.

I was dumbfounded to hear this. I said nothing to her. Should I ask her more about this? Should I discuss this with a responsible authority?

Worried About Trans Kids

Dear Worried,

Yes, you have every right to ask the parent for more details, and to seek out, with sensitivity, more information on this topic from friends or experts or from your own counselors. The mother makes no secret of the facts. She is open and proud of her children and their gender identities.

Gender dysphoria is a seriously hot topic this year in social and political discussions, and in the media. You will find many experts and pundits out there willing to share advice and counsel on the subject.

6/27/17

Yahrzeit of my mother Edith Zahavy

We are observing the 17th Yahrzeit of my mother Edith Zahavy (aleha hashalom).

We miss her so very much. She would have loved to see the progress of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and take pride in all of their accomplishments. She would have loved to read books to her little great-grandchildren and to watch them play and grow.

She was born in NYC and attended the public schools in Washington Heights. She watched from her classroom window as they built the George Washington Bridge.

She graduated from Hunter High School, Hunter College and went on to a career in public service at the OPA and then into the field education. Together with my dad, she founded the Park East Day School when my father was rabbi at the Park East Synagogue, then called Congregation Zichron Ephraim. She subsequently taught in NYC public schools for many years.

She is interred on Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem. Her memorial photo site is here.

6/16/17

Is Professor Stephen Jay Greenblatt Jewish?

Yes, Professor Stephen Jay Greenblatt is a Jew.

According to Wikipedia: "Greenblatt self-identifies as an Eastern European Jew, an Ashkenazi, and a Litvak. His observant Jewish grandparents were born in Lithuania; his paternal grandparents were from Kovno and his maternal grandparents were from Vilna. Greenblatt's grandparents immigrated to the United States during the early 1890s in order to escape a Czarist Russification plan to conscript young Jewish men into the Russian army."

Greenblatt's article in the New Yorker discusses "The Invention of Sex" from the perspective of the insights of the theologian Augustine of the 4th century AD - who was not Jewish, rather he was Manichean first and later, a rather well-known Christian. 

See:How St. Augustine Invented Sex - He rescued Adam and Eve from obscurity, devised the doctrine of original sin—and the rest is sexual history.

This I presume, is a selection from Greenblatt's new book which will deal with Adan and Eve narratives in Genesis and the ideas of original sin and so on.

From Amazon: The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve explores the enduring story of humanity’s first parents. Comprising only a few ancient verses, the story of Adam and Eve has served as a mirror in which we seem to glimpse the whole, long history of our fears and desires, as both a hymn to human responsibility and a dark fable about human wretchedness.

The biblical origin story, Greenblatt argues, is a model for what the humanities still have to offer: not the scientific nature of things, but rather a deep encounter with problems that have gripped our species for as long as we can recall and that continue to fascinate and trouble us today.
And my books from Amazon may be reached by clicking on the below image.

6/7/17

How did I celebrate 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem when I was stuck here in NYC?

Fifty years since the reunification of Jerusalem.

How did I celebrate today this momentous anniversary in NYC? In meaningful ways.

(1) Went to see the play Oslo at the Lincoln Center Theater. (Hint: enter the lottery and even  if you lose, you get offered $59 tickets.) 
Fantastic play - worthy of best play and six other Tony nominations.

(2) Went to hear author Dara Horn lecture about Jerusalem: Imagination and Historical Consciousness at the Yeshiva University Museum - and took in their exhibit on depictions of Jerusalem. Pictures here of some highlights from the Jerusalem exhibit and the Oxford rare manuscripts exhibit. Nice museum.

The talk was meticulously prepared and full of insight and originality.

The talk was inspired by City of Gold, Bronze and Light: Jerusalem between Word and Image, the timely and beautiful exhibition on view at Yeshiva University Museum.

Free download files of the Babylonian Talmud in English

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

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

In 2016 I gave away a record 662,568 free downloaded files of the Babylonian Talmud in English.

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.

6/1/17

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for June 2017 - Mobile Media Mitzvah Man, Doubting the Dinner, Eschewing the Event, Asking about Ashes, Raring to Retire

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for June 2017 - Mobile Media Mitzvah Man, Doubting the Dinner, Eschewing the Event, Asking about Ashes, Raring to Retire

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My friend is sick and in the hospital. I haven’t been able to visit him, but I did text him a get-well message. My wife told me that is not enough. She says I have to visit my friend in person to fulfill the mitzvah of visiting the sick.

Who is right?

Mobile Media Mitzvah Man

Dear Mobile,

Both of you are right — but your wife is righter.

Text messages and email are mechanical ways — in your view — to satisfy the minimum fulfillment of the mitzvah of bikur cholim — visiting the sick. You expressed your concern to your friend and you feel that may lift his spirits.

But your wife is right too. Social media and texts are impersonal one-way expressions of support.

You do not get to feel the vibe of your friend’s condition through the electronic media. It’s not a hands-on inquiry into your friend’s condition or well-being. The Hebrew word for visit, bikur, also implies direct examination and investigation.

I will admit that if you were to use Skype, Hangouts, or Facetime videos, that would give a greater sense of immediacy to your e-connection. I still conclude, however, that it would fall short of a real sense of visitation.

In short, your e-wishes lack the quality that most chaplains and clergy would advocate for in visitations of the sick. A phone call is better. An in-person visit would be the best quality fulfillment of the mitzvah, a better expression of concern and compassion for your friend who is ill.

5/29/17

Can you be both Secular and a Zaddiq?

You do not have to be a Hassidic Jew to be a Zaddiq.

You do not have to be traditionally religious to be pious.

Piety means that you live day-to-day and physically act with a connection to Judaism. It means that you maintain vivid moods and motivations in accord with a faith in the Torah.

Piety means that you transform everyday activities, decisions, and attitudes. It means that you give them special significance. And where does that come from? It can come from the historical, mystical, and redemptive beliefs of Judaism. When you live with piety, you create and perform new practices based on your faith.
  • Your motives and goals as a pious person are to enhance every day of your life.
  • To bring you sanctification, qedushah.
  • To bring you more awe, love, or fear of God.
  • To allow you to submit to a higher power and create a sense of creatureliness.
  • To guarantee you an entry to paradise in the "World to Come" (for those who believe in the afterlife or heaven).
  • To bring for all in your world some form of redemption.
  • And, on a most basic level, you may believe that piety also brings you some material gain.
We usually call piety mitzvah when it is an obligation and commandment within Judaism binding on an entire community of faith.

We call piety custom or minhag when it is more limited in time and place and less authoritative. Most often this distinction goes unrecognized in your life as a pious Jew.

The ultimate yardstick of piety is the Zaddiq -- the righteous saint. He or she adheres most closely to the norms of ultimate piety. The righteous saints are those who we would call purely ethical, those who flourish as proper humans, and those who achieve true virtue.

Not many of us reach the ultimate in any part of our lives. We play golf, never expecting to become a Tiger Woods. We paint, do business, make love, for the fulfillment of each element of our lives. Yet we sometimes forsake religion because we think piety is out of our reach.

Piety is there for all of us.

5/28/17

Summer at the Teaneck Swim Club, the Tenafly JCC Outdoor Swimming Pool + 10 more world class dramatic pools to think about

The start of summer swim season is nigh.

Today was cool at the TSC - about 70 in and out of the lap pool. A few of us braved the waters this weekend to inaugurate the outdoor lap season in Teaneck.

With nice weather ahead, I look forward to swimming outdoors every day in Tenafly or Teaneck at the JCC or the TSC.

And here are some of the other pools that I'd like to swim in...I've been to some of them...[reposted from 08].

Cool pools: 10 favorite hotel swimming spots By Gary Warner
The Orange County Register

Some like it hot. I do not. After a steamy day of going from museum to shop to cafe to hotel, I am in dire need of something big, cold and relaxing. No, not a beer. Well, OK, a beer would be nice, too.

I'm talking about a pool. A hotel swimming pool. A beckoning oasis of deep, crisp blue.

Over 10 years, I've dived and dipped into hundreds of Olympics, kidneys, minerals and infinities, from Bali to Baltimore. Most are fine but forgettable, so I cling to fond memories of laps gone by on my short list of classic dips. Come dive into the deep end of my list of favorite pools. You don't even have to shower before entering.

5/27/17

A Muslim man files a $100M lawsuit against a Dearborn Little Caesars over Pizza Labeled Halal - and his lawyer is not Jewish

From Detroit: A Muslim man files $100M lawsuit against Dearborn Little Caesars over pizza labeled 'halal' and here -

The complaint says Mohamad Bazzi ordered halal pizza twice from the Dearborn, Mich., shop. The boxes were labeled "halal," but the pies inside were topped with regular pepperoni.

Majed Moughni, Bazzi's attorney, said he rushed to file the lawsuit Thursday, the eve of Ramadan, so no other Muslims would accidentally eat pork from the pizza shop during the holiday.

"It's really upsetting," Moughni said. "My clients want the public to know. Especially during Ramadan, it would be a travesty if Muslims ... in Dearborn bought pizza from Little Caesars and discovered they were eating pork."

He added that for a Muslim, consuming pork is "one of the worst sins you can do."

Jill Proctor, a spokeswoman for Little Caesars said in a statement that the company believes the claim "is without merit."


5/20/17

Was Benoît Mandelbrot Jewish?

Yes, Benoît Mandelbrot was a Jew. The Times obituary says he, "was born on Nov. 20, 1924, to a Lithuanian Jewish family in Warsaw. In 1936 his family fled the Nazis, first to Paris and then to the south of France..."  Wikipedia says that in France, "He was helped by Rabbi David Feuerwerker, the Rabbi of Brive-la-Gaillarde, to continue his studies." Mandelbrot is the Yiddish word for almond bread, the Jewish biscotti.

The Times says, "Dr. Mandelbrot coined the term 'fractal' to refer to a new class of mathematical shapes whose uneven contours could mimic the irregularities found in nature." Mandelbrot's discoveries profoundly influenced mathematics and the sciences and numerous disciplines beyond.

5/11/17

Is Stephen Colbert Jewish?

No Stephen Colbert is not a Jew.

The Deseret News reported 4-10-2014:
Stephen Colbert, the political comedian made popular on "Comedy Central," will be taking over for David Letterman as the host of CBS’ "The Late Show" once Letterman retires.

But Colbert is no ordinary host.

The late night comedian built himself up as a satirical political opinion character who rarely shows a normal side. The New York Times published an article in January 2012 that looked at the many sides of Colbert, including his connection to God through what his mother taught him.

“She taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us,” Colbert said to The Times. “What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain — it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.”

Later in 2012, Colbert’s faith was brought up again by Splitsider, a news blog. Writer Marisa Carroll said Colbert is a devout Catholic, and when he spoke to 3,000 Fordham University students, it wasn’t the political commentator. Instead, it was a more religiously connected man.

"Instead of his pompous 'Report' character, the man on stage Friday night was Colbert the Sunday school teacher, bringing to life a bit of personal history previously reserved for magazine profiles,” Carroll wrote.

In more recent years, Colbert has let his religious side show through his jokes, according to The Los Angeles Times. No matter how side-splitting the jokes may be, or how in-character Colbert remains, the comedy host is still devoted to his religion and continues to follow his faith.

“The man, in reality and character, is a devout and out Catholic, observer of Lent and teacher of Sunday school,” wrote Mary McNamara for The Los Angeles Times. “Unlike other comedians of his persuasion — liberal though disguised as conservative — Colbert does not hide, ignore, downplay or make light of his faith.”  //reposted//

5/10/17

Is the Hullin Scroll the Oldest Talmud Manuscript Ever Found?

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

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

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

5/7/17

My Great Grandfather was Harris Epstein the Great Inventor of a Patented Folding Umbrella, Extension Ladder and more


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.

[Augmented repost from 12/17/06]

5/6/17

Rabbi Dr. Zev Zahavy - Yahrzeit Number 5

Photos

Rabbi Dr. Zev Zahavy
New York City 
September 8, 1918 - May 1, 2012

Nine Minute ZZ Slideshow
edited by Barak

200+ ZZ Sermons cited in the NYT - View Online
Sermons - Download PDF
Buy the Book
edited by Tzvee

5/6/2017: 
With my brother and sister in Atlantic Beach 
and at the JCAB to commemorate 
my father's 5th Yahrzeit.
He loved Atlantic Beach.
We miss him.

5/4/17

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for May 2017: Peeved Over Pews - Stressed Over Seats

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for May 2017: 
Peeved Over Pews - Stressed Over Seats

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My shul is like a multiplex theater. On Shabbat morning we have multiple minyans that start at different times in several locations throughout our building. This accommodates our diverse community of various ages and praying styles.

Now, after a couple of years, a relatively new minyan of younger people got approval to move from its initial social hall location to one of the main sanctuaries. Ostensibly this move will be a trade. The minyan that now occupies the main space, mostly older people, will be relocated to our less desirable location. However, there is ambiguity in the move. Current occupants may opt to stay where they are, making this more of a merger than a trade.

Here is my question. In preparing for the move, a spokesman at the younger minyan gave the timetable for the switch a few weeks before it was to take place. He added that all seating in the main location will become open and up for grabs. The older people will have no claim to a regular spot in the pews, he said.

Among the uncertainties raised by this move, I was taken aback particularly by the insensitivity, perhaps the rudeness, of this declaration. Should we not absolutely respect the established seats of others? Am I right about this? What can I say or do to smooth all of this over?

Peeved over pews in Teaneck

Dear Peeved,

Wow, these seating and space issues sure do touch on a nerve. And yes, the younger spokesman missed picking up on the potential pitfalls because of the sensitivity people have about their accustomed seats in shul. Let’s consider why that is the case, why most people care about this topic, and why some people just do not get it.

5/3/17

Is the Zahav Modern Israeli Cuisine Restaurant in Philly Kosher?

No, the Zahav Israeli restaurant  in Philadelphia is a great restaurant, according to the world's best chefs - but it is not kosher.

The place is recognized as special. And I found this in the chef's book's Amazon preview. Interesting.







4/23/17

Is John Oliver Jewish?

No, John Oliver is not a Jew.

His biting take down of Donald Trump was widely viewed since it first appeared on 2/28/2016 on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO).



John Oliver formerly of "The Daily Show" got his own fake-news program on HBO, as reported in The Washington Post (April, 2014).

John Oliver filled in for Jon Stewart in summer, 2013. He is one funny dude.


On 2/6/2011 I wrote:

I laughed out loud at the latest video clip that the Jewish Humor Central Blog posted (hat tip) from the Daily Show's John Oliver.

And then I thought, he is so funny, yes, John Oliver  must be a Jew. But he isn't.

I base my conclusion in particular on his ability to invent a new Jewish holiday for the purposes of celebrating a political victory in Texas as you will see in the hilarious clip below.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Jewish Speaker of Texas State House
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

4/16/17

Is David Letterman Jewish?

No, former CBS Late Show host comedian David Letterman is not a Jew, although with his current beard (in 2017) he does look a bit rabbinic

On May 20, 2015 he finished 33 years of performing on late night TV.

He celebrated his 70th birthday last week (April 12, 2017) and also eulogized his mom who passed away the day before.

When he was young his mother, who is of German descent, worked as a church secretary for the Second Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis.

Letterman is not a particularly religious man. He was married in March 2009 in a civil courthouse ceremony in Choteau, Montana.

In August 2011, Letterman was threatened by Islamic extremists on a jihadist website for a joke that he made on his show. One frequent contributor to the website referred to him as a "lowly Jew." Letterman is not a Jew, and he is not lowly.

In June 2009, Sarah Palin was offended by Letterman's jokes about her visit to New York City. The ensuing feud helped raise Letterman's viewership numbers.

The Times reported that, "David Letterman said on his show in October 2009 that he had been the victim of an extortion attempt over charges of sexual affairs with staff members, claims that he conceded were true." [8/2011]

Previous Updates

There was one noteworthy Jewish related item in the scandal. Gawker reported that, "The scuttlebutt on the set had it that current assistant-in-question, Stephanie Birkitt, received extra compensation for duties as his First Assistant, in the form of Letterman picking up the tab for her graduate law studies at the Yeshiva University Law School."

Robert Halderman, the man who plead guilty to trying to extort $2 million from Letterman, as far as we can tell, is not Jewish.

Ancient Videos about Ancient Synagogues in Israel (c. 1983)



Professor Tzvee Zahavy narrates his videos of ancient synagogue sites in Israel. The professor had the help of his sons, Yitzhak and Barak and the assistance of his wife Bernice.

He took these videos in 1983 with a hefty portable Panasonic two-piece VHS tape recording system. He added the voice over and edited the tapes in the studios of the University of Minnesota, where he was a young professor of classical and near Eastern studies.

Of course, nowadays you can take superior videos on your mobile phone and upload and edit them with great ease in short order at YouTube.

How Not to Remember Rav Soloveitchik on his Yahrzeit

Six years ago I wrote the post below. It's now 24 years since the Rav passed away.

I have many memories of him and I revere his intellectual and spiritual impact on me, on my family and on our community.

My critique from 2011 of the story of one of my colleagues follows here:

It's eighteen years on Friday since the passing of my revered teacher, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav.

One of his students, Rabbi Steven Riskin, has published a recollection of the Rav drawn from a book that he has written, called, Listening to God: Inspirational Stories for My Grandchildren (Koren Publishers). It was originally published in The Jewish Press and is copied here from the YU News web site.

This article concludes with a story that we think should be forgotten, not remembered. It is not inspirational to us, it makes us cringe. It illustrates the interpersonal shortcomings of the rabbi, his raw edges and abrupt classroom mannerisms. It depicts a person who cannot apologize for an emotional outburst -- an explosion -- by simply saying that he is sorry. In our humble opinion, there is nothing good to be learned from the story and we are sorry to read it and to see that it has been published.

Rabbi Riskin recounts as follows at the end of his article:
I remember exactly what we were studying when the incident occurred: Masechet Pesachim, the topic of tesha chanuyot. It is a complex portion of the Talmud, and it’s very difficult to understand exactly what the Gemara is trying to get at. It deals with the laws of presumption. Rav Soloveitchik had presented a whole construct as to how he thought the Gemara should be interpreted, and then he reversed himself completely and gave a wholly different understanding. I was very excited about the second way in which he was explaining the repartee within the Talmud; this new interpretation was truly novel and eye-opening.

On the Awfulness of Our Post-Truth Society - reflecting on The New York Times Op-Ed

Molly Worthen discusses post-truth Christian society in the Times today.

She vividly describes living in and with a social world governed by a "Christian Worldview". I am not sure why she is so accepting of this cultural phenomenon that is so widespread. Sure there are good aspects of that preaching. Teaching people to be moral and ethical and loyal and faithful - who can argue with that side of the equation?

But many aspects of the thought systems that she describes are now, and have been in the past, racist, anti-Semitic, anti-intellectual, gender biased, anti-gay, triumphalist, tribal to the extreme and generally obnoxious and awful.

Worthen concludes with a summary of a professor's ruminations on the contrast between a person who teaches academic thinking, whom she calls the skeptic, versus on who preaches fundamentalist religious thinking, whom she calls the cynic.Citing a professor of journalism at a Christian college she presents this pithy summary:
"The skeptic looks at something and says, 'I wonder,' " he said. "The cynic says, 'I know,' and then stops thinking."
He pointed out that "cynicism and tribalism are very closely related. You protect your tribe, your way of life and thinking, and you try to annihilate anything that might call that into question." Cynicism and tribalism are among the gravest human temptations. They are all the more dangerous when they pose as wisdom and righteousness.
Yes, I agree with the professor's words and conclusions. In the worldview of some of my Orthodox Jewish neighbors, the best rabbi is the one who is the most cynical and tribal - and who poses most vociferously as the wisest and most righteous.

That posing doesn't fool me. The danger of that person is real and awful.