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.


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.


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.

Talmudic Advice Columnist for the Jewish Standard


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.


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.