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.

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.

My Scholarly Paper Available for Download: Varieties of Religious Visualization

In this paper, I describe several distinct visualizations that I recognize in Jewish prayers. By the term prayers, I mean the texts recited by Jews in religious ritual contexts. By the term visualizations, I mean the formation of mental visual images of a place and time, of a narrative activity or scene, or of an inner disposition. The goals of the visualizations can include: (1) professed communication with God, articulation of common religious values for (2) personal satisfaction or for (3) the sake of social solidarity, or (4) attainment of altered inner emotional states or moods.

You may download the paper at Academia or at Halakhah.com.

10/3/14

What's Kol Nidre?

   What's Kol Nidre?
   Kol Nidre is a prayer of compassion encased in a legal idiom of vow nullification.
  On its surface, Kol Nidre looks like a legal boilerplate to cancel and release a person from spoken vows.
   But if it looks like a prayer, and sounds like a prayer, then it is a prayer. The Kol Nidre meditation comes from our hearts and souls fully clothed in the cultural garb of our community. It is expressed in the way that the meditative masters of our faith think, and the way they talk.
   And so the deep emotional utterance of Kol Nidre comes forth out of our mouths in a legal idiom, the way the rabbinic masters chose to express their meditation, acting in the archetypal mode of the scribe archetype that is so familiar to them.
   As part of their jobs, our archetypal scribes keep track of vows. Like good accountants, they keep their “spreadsheets” of which vows are in effect and which have been nullified. And they know the means to move a vow from one column to the other.

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.