Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Four Aspects of Tefilla that Must be Taught

For those YET to join the lookjed forum, the following is a response to last week's query by Rabbi Tavi Koslowe who asked for 'Tiered Tefilla Options'.  This was written by David Devoran:
          Here is a recipe for meeting the challenge that you presented. It is not something you can do overnight. Nevertheless, it is something that will have a long term affect of Davening in your school and in your community. (If I've made similar points before on the list, I apologize in advance.) 
          It probably does not come as a surprise to hear that there are four aspects to Tefilah that must be taught. They are: 
  •  The meaning of the Tefilah texts. This includes translating the words for those who are not native Hebrew speakers, but much much more. This does include making sense out of the structure of the Tefilot and understanding each section as a whole unit.
  • šThe laws – Halachot – of Tefilah. It is crucial to teach these Halachot the way all Halacha should be taught: A. The establishment of the principles on which the laws are based. B. The individual laws – with an emphasis on the practical application.
  • šThe proper environment for Tefilah. If you want to grow a plant, you must have the right pot, filled with the proper amount of soil. The appropriate nutrients must be added regularly. The plant must be watered at regular intervals. The same rules apply to Tefilah.
  •  The fourth aspect of Tefilah is the experiential one. How are we to experience praying? What are we supposed to feel?
          You do not need me to explain or offer advice regarding the teaching of the meaning of the Tefilot or about teaching the Halachot of Tefilah. If I’m wrong, please correct me and I’ll throw my two cents in about those subjects as well. On the other hand, the third and fourth aspects are worth a word or two.
          The right pot for growing Tefilah is a good strong Jewish community. The pot has to include a community that is Shomer Mitzvot, a community that actively encourages Mitzvah observance. The pot also includes a home where Mitzvah observance is important and Jewish values are actively taught. 
          The proper soil is the Minyan. To prayer properly – with Kavanah, etc. – requires the proper milieu: A Minyan – big or small – of people who are serious about their Tefilah, who come to Shul to Daven not to socialize, who Daven with enthusiasm and concentration. 
          From time to time, the soil must be watered. The student should see on Shabbat and especially on the Chagim that an extra effort is put into the Tefilah, namely the communal singing and the greater effort invested in Davening with Kavanah. This is what Chazal meant when they said, “We do not stand up to pray (Shemonah Esray) out of sadness, or laziness, or laughter, or idle speech, or light headedness, or wasteful talk. Rather, [we stand up to pray] only through the joy of doing a Mitzvah” (Berachot 31a).

          This third aspect of teaching prayer is often ignored. And as a result, the teachers and the “school” complain that the kids don’t want to Daven and that they are not interested in Davening. Do they see their fathers and mothers Davening with Kavanah? Where do they Daven on Shabbat? What is the Davening like in their neighborhood Shul? Do the people socialize during the prayers or do they “really” Daven? If the pot and the soil are “bad” ( I apologize for the sharp word) and the proper nutrients are not provided, then how can we expect our students to pray with enthusiasm, with seriousness and with Kavanah? 
          How do you change the environment? It is not easy. But it can be done. Form a Sunday morning Minyan of fathers and sons. Talk to those who attend. Before Davening begins, take no more than five minutes and explain what you want to accomplish. Set out the ground rules clearly. Each week teach something new that relates to “how” to Daven, not the meaning of the words or the Halacha. Rather, teach then something to do that will enhance the experience of the Tefilah. Explain that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that it takes time to improve the experience of Tefilah. 
          Once you have something going, then you need to select those fathers and sons who are beginning to Daven more seriously and to go to them personally and ask them to help form a Shabbat morning Minyan. To prevent this as being viewed as a breakaway from the main Shul, you need to get the Shul Rabbi’s permission – again explaining to him the purpose, which is to make people more serious about their praying. Explain, that over time, these parents and children will be rejoining the regular Shabbat Minyan. 
          This Shabbat morning Minyan should be run just like the Sunday morning one. The first rule is that everyone must come “basically” on time (within 10-15 minutes of the announced starting time). Each week, the first five minutes are devoted to learning a new way to enhance the performance of the Tefilah. 
          Only after this Minyan meets for a month or two and builds a strong prayer environment – no talking, serious concentration, enthusiastic singing – do you begin to invite others, fathers and sons and mothers and daughters (who can be included in the Sunday program as well), to join. Once again, those “new” participants must be spoken to before coming. They must be primed and be ready to play by the rules. Over time, all of the students and their parents can be added. 
          Slowly but surely, you will create a proper prayer environment at school. Invite the parents who participate on Sundays to join the daily Minyan in school. All they have to do is come and Daven with the same intensity and concentration they use on Sundays. These adults will become the living models that are sorely needed. Ultimately the growing cadre of parents and children who discover what Tefilah is really about will change the nature of the Minyan in Shul and in the school. 
          If you succeed on this level, then you will discover that the students will be more open to learning about prayer. A person will only show true interest in learning something that they value. (Yes, kids learn to get good grades and to get into a good college – but that motivation is extrinsic.) This is particularly true about Torah, for Torah and Mitzvot require intrinsic motivation.

          Now we can move to the next level. Our Day Schools and Yeshivot – on all grade levels, including post high school levels – do not teach the “experience” of Mitzvot. We teach our students the laws of prayer. They know which prayer comes before which and when to stand and when to bow. We teach them the meaning of the words. But we do not teach them what they should feel when they say the words. We do not expose them to the necessity of having a true spiritual, God experience while prayer or while performing any other Mitzvah. 
          A big part of the problem is that we teachers – along with everyone else – have become spiritually inured or deadened. Like all other modern people, we rarely have a true outpouring of emotion. Only when tragedy strikes, heaven forbid, or on the rare occasion of extreme joy do we actually emote and display our emotions. As a result, we search for emotion in books and TV and movies and rock music. Thus, we learn to feel vicariously. 
          Torah demands that we seek God. God gave us 248 ways – paths – to use to get to Him, to be with Him, to encounter and experience Him. Prayer is one of the more potent paths. (Learning Torah is the most potent and quickest way to encounter God, but that is a different theme that desperately needs to be explored.) 
          So how do we teach “experience”? We don’t. You cannot tell someone how to feel. But the Torah commands us to love God! You ask. Yes, but as Reb Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl explains, we naturally learn how to love another person. We love our parents or a brother. Then we learn to love a spouse. From the Torah’s perspective, this is just laying the groundwork to loving God. If you know what it is to love your wife then you will understand what it takes to love God. 
          This is why the third aspect – the proper prayer environment – is so important. 
          What we can teach is what tools to use to achieve the moment of oneness and encounter with God. Interestingly enough, this is truly what Halacha is all about. Halacha is not law in a secular sense. Halacha is the means for going from point A to point B. “Halacha” from Lalechet, to go or to walk. Thus, Halacha is really a set of tools that a Jew is to use to function as a true Tzelem Elokim in this world and to reach out and encounter God while living in this world. Once this is realized and understood, then one’s perspective regarding Halacha changes. 
          A two-part guide to teaching “Strategies and Tactics in Improving the Experience of Prayer” can be found on my web site: site is devoted to Divray Torah and everything in freely accessible. Enjoy.) 
          With those sources in hand you can begin to teach the experience of Tefilah – or how to enhance the experience.

          In the end all four aspects must be present simultaneously. Our students must know what the words mean; they must know the mechanics of Jewish prayer (when do what); they must have a good solid environment for praying; and they must learn how to use the available tools to create the moment of God encounter.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Honesty & Davening - Don't Fade Away

Perhaps you have seen the recent post by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg on about the "The Most Important Discussions". In his reply a recent online controversy dealing with Biblical criticism in the Orthodox world, Goldberg asks tough meta-questions:
Who sets the agenda of the Jewish community? How should we dedicate our resources, energies, talents, time, and focus? How do we prioritize our collective to-do list? It seems to me that our agenda is being set for us by the media, zealots, and what topics attract the most attention on social media. If we are going to make a dent in fixing the problems in the orthodox Jewish community, we cannot simply have a reactive agenda, but we must articulate a proactive one that includes areas that may not seem urgent, but yet are critically important.
He rattles off a list of important alternate conversations that should be had in our faculty lounges, Shabbat tables, and community meetings.  But what I found interesting is the following comment:
But let’s be honest. How many Jews do you know who stopped keeping Shabbos, began eating non-kosher, or entered a relationship with a non-Jewish woman because they couldn't reconcile the authorship of Exodus and Deuteronomy? It seems to me many more are walking away because of the issues that we are not discussing broadly. 
I was listening to the Grateful Dead classic "Not Fade Away" and this point really struck me to the core.

Written by Buddy Holly, here is a selection of the not so complex lyrics:
I wanna tell you how it's gonna be
You're gonna give your love to me
Love that lasts more than one day
Well love is love and not fade away
Well love is love and not fade away
Permit me this leap.  The concept of the song is that the love and energy should not fade away. What afterall is the option for love?  Either a person could continue to love strong or to choose to stop loving; for most people I think there is a third option and common reality - that feeling fades away (cue another great song, The Thrill is Gone). Our job as educators, parents, teachers and individuals is to inspire our students and children to keep the spark alive and on fire - to make the world a better place and sanctify the Creator's name.  My fear is that the love fades when students leave school and educational frameworks.  Rabbi Goldberg's push to abandon a reactive agenda and focus energies on what is critically important is a call to action.  I humbly argue that the 'Not Fade Away' notion is the agency of davening - to be screaming like Mikey Hart and Jerry Garcia - that we won't silently disappear, but with joy and song show our deivkut, clingingness to the cause of Judaism.  It is wonderful to see more rabbis and leaders standing up to confront the hard issues we face.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Novelty of Prayer

Recently I was reading AJ Jacob's book "A Year of Living Biblically" - the premise of his book is worthy of reflection for most educators who want to explore religious experiential learning.  I wanted to share the following excerpt for it's honesty and relevance:
Day 169. I've taken a step backward again, spiritually speaking. My faith is fragile. Little things jolt me back to pure agnosticism. All that talk of red heifers and pigeons - that did it.  As will a story about a suicide bomber, which reminds me of religion's dark side.  Or even a quote like the one from the philosopher interviews in the New York Times, in which he said that ethical monotheism is the single worst idea that humans have come up with. 
If my spiritually could be charted like the NASDAQ, the general trend so far is a gradual rise, but there are many valleys, and I'm in a deep one now.  It's making me lazy.  I forget to put on my fringes, and I tell myself, well, what's the big deal? I'll put them on tomorrow.   
I'm still praying several times a day, but when I do, I'm sying the words with as much feeling as I give to a Taco Bell drive-through order. I often think of this verse in Isaiah where he lashes out against the Israelite hypocrites: 
             Because this people draw near with their mouth
             and honor me with their lips,
             while their hearts are far from me,
             and their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote. 
That describes me right now.  
I even find myself being skeptical of those times when my heart was near to God in the last few months. Perhaps it was an illusion.  If I prayed to Apollo every day, would I start to feel a connection to Apollo?  And what if I'm drawn to spirituality simply because I'm bored of the dry, dusty, rational mind-sey that I've had these many years? I get bored easily.  I can't sit through a sequel to a movie because I'm already tired of the characters. Maybe spirituality attracts me for it novelty factor. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Is it OK to Talk during Davening?

The following is a long and in-depth looking into why people talk during davening.  Written by Irving N. Levitz PhD, it is titled: Talking During Tefilla: Understanding the Phenomenon?  I do NOT recommend that you discuss it during shul (sort of creates a paradox) but it is definitely a worthwhile read.

The author thoroughly covers the factors that lead to ongoing chatter in shul despite the obvious prohibition - I anecdotal have noticed a direct correlation between shuls that have "no talking" signs prominently displayed the higher amount of chit-chat during the tefilla.

While I mostly agree with the proposed steps to change the atmosphere of davening in shuls, I think there is a significant lack of rigor or desire exists to implement them.  I also fear that the author agrees with me; note the final sentence:
For those who believe that the Final Redemption is dependent on halachic standards of communal prayer, redemption itself may have to wait until the collective conscience of the Orthodox community can be awakened to feel a discomfort with the current norm, and a determination to change it.
 I will be thinking of this article every friday night when we chant:
הִתְעורְרִי הִתְעורְרִי 
כִּי בָא אורֵךְ קוּמִי אורִי 
עוּרִי עוּרִי שִׁיר דַּבֵּרִי 
כְּבוד ה' עָלַיִךְ נִגְלָּהּ 

Rouse yourselves, Rouse yourselves
Your light is coming, ruse up and shine
Awaken! Awaken! Utter a song
The glory of Hashem is revealed upon you

Monday, July 22, 2013

Why Don't we Pray for Happiness?

It's a good question and one that I never noticed much about before.  Except for on the High Holy Days, when we say "Simcha b'Artzeka" asking for 'Happiness in our land', there aren't too many places in the siddur where our tefilla requests happiness.

Someone on Mi Yodeya asked the same question and there are several good opinionated answers there, including one that points to the special nature of Yom Tov that has a joyous element to it.

To this point, I once heard a great idea by Nechemia Coopersmith who asked, what is the opposite of happiness?  Most people immediately suggested pain or negativity as paradoxical emotions.  I remember, now 15 years since I heard this, how he eloquently argued the natural opposite of happiness is the inability to feel anything, total numbness.  A marathon athlete or anyone who has a drive or passion for a sport or activity pushes through a difficult period of pain, frustration and negativity.  This is a (healthy) part of the process to growth and the exultation of happiness upon crossing the finish line or succeeding to launch a venture is the highest of emotions.  Having no feelings is to miss out on emotion, the highs and lows, and to be indifferent to the context and climate around you - a very scary reality.

Perhaps this is why our tefilla exclude a notion of happiness.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tiered Tefilla Options

The following was posted on Lookjed on July 15th asking an important question of educators to reapproach how davening happens in schools.  Please share your experiences and ideas:
As an administrator in a middle school, I am sure I share a passion and concern with many others to consider new options that might help engender a more interested and involved connection for our students to have during Tefillah. While individual programs, speakers and Yemei Iyun have certainly brought about short term interest, I am eager to touch base with anyone who has seen or used an approach that has brought about a more sustained and inherent growth, relative to what they had previously observed.  
In our school, we are currently considering offering three tiers of Tefillah options. One would be designed for those students who feel most ready and capable of being self-motivated throughout Tefillah. Perhaps there would be 1 teacher on each side of the Mechitza to facilitate, but the students would really run the Minyan. A 2nd option would be for the group of ms students who benefit from reminders to open their siddur, not to have side conversations etc. This group would benefit from the largest presence of teachers. A 3rd option would be for those students that have real difficulty or disinterest in the concept of Tefillah and would possibly benefit from a shortened Tefillah enhanced with more discussions, readings, etc.
If anyone has tried a similar approach and could help guide our attempt by sharing your successes or challenges met, I would greatly appreciate it.  
Tavi Koslowe

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Sometimes a word or nickname becomes synonymous with an object and a part of our traditional practice. A great example of this in the Jewish world is a shviti - a meditative plaque usually placed in front of the shaliach tzibur in a synagogue.
Some siddurim have them on inside cover as an place for inspiration or direction and despite the variety of the verses or text on a page, they all have the verse from Psalms 16:8 - "I have set (shiviti) the Lord always before me".

Today I'd like to offer a similar conceptual leap to share a 'sefati' - from the verse that opens every davening:
אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ
 Hashem open my lips and let my mouth declare Your Praise

In reflecting about much of the Jewish political atmosphere around Tisha B'Av I was really reminded about the power of our words.  Two Haredi voices here and here really pointed out how there is a significant element lacking in the language used between religious Jews - urging great caution and care.  With this in mind, and looking forward to the introspective days of Elul and Rosh Hashana (spoiler alert: they are six weeks away), I recommend pausing and asking for some divine help to get the right words out of one's mouth before decrying, criticizing, or even commenting on the public domain.  Perhaps if we had that everpresent feeling that a judge or recorder of all of our thoughts and actions was in our very midst - always before me - we would be more careful to make this world a better place. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Will there be Animal Sacrifices in the Third Temple?

This is a question my third grader often asks me - I am happy to share Shlomo Brody's response in the Jpost.

Ask The Rabbi: Making a Sacrifice 
Shlomo Brody - Published 16/7/2013
Q:  Can we pray for the rebuilding of the Temple without wanting the restoration of animal sacrifices? Does God really expect us to slaughter animals in the Temple? - H.W., Houston 
A:  When I was an active member of Harvard Hillel, I always found it interesting to compare the various prayer books of the groups that prayed in the same building. Flipping through them, one could see that the answer to your question might depend on what siddur you use, as the denominations sharply disagree over the potential abrogation of animal sacrifices in the messianic era. In the 19th century, Reform siddurim excised all references to the Temple and sacrifices, deeming them primitive and uncouth for their progressive temples (modern synagogues). Recent Conservative siddurim have also omitted prayers to restore sacrifices, although many allude to them (in the past tense) within prayers for the rebuilding of the Temple. Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, continue to pray in numerous contexts for the complete restoration of the Temple service. This debate relates to a larger question regarding the abrogation of biblical mitzvot in the messianic era. In his 13 Principles of Faith, Maimonides (12th century, Spain/Egypt) interpreted the Torah's prohibition of adding or subtracting commandments (Deuteronomy 4:2) to mean that following Sinai, even a prophet cannot nullify or add to the 613 commandments. In the messianic era, he asserts, Jews will reinstate all dormant mitzvot, including Temple sacrifices (Hilchot Melachim 11:1-3). Maimonides seemingly bases this dogma on a rabbinic assertion that prophets cannot institute new commandments (Sifra Behukotai 8:7) Nonetheless, as Prof. Marc Shapiro has shown, a few scholars challenged this dogma. Maimonides' most important detractors was the esteemed medieval philosopher R. Yosef Albo (Spain, d. 1444). Albo asserted that the Bible merely prohibits adding or subtracting to the details of the commandments, fearing that the changes will stem from foreign influences (Sefer Ha'ikarim 3:14). More fundamentally, he contended that God always retains the power to change the mitzvot, and that a bona fide prophet in the messianic era might one day receive such a declaration (3:19). He further suggested that this is particularly logical with regard to prohibitions, such as the proscription of consuming certain animal fats, whose historical logic has expired (3:16). This notion, shared by R. Ya'acov Emden (18th century, Germany), echoes earlier rabbinic texts that speak of the nullification of commandments in the messianic era (Nidda 61b, Midrash Tehillim 146). Interestingly, in Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides stated that God only permitted animal sacrifices because the Israelites could not easily abandon the idolatrous religious culture of Egypt (3:32). Rather than banning them, God regulated the sacrifices, ordaining that they be directed exclusively toward Him and performed under specific circumstances. Comparing them to breast milk that a baby needs before eating on her own, Maimonides implies that the Jewish people will ultimately be weaned from sacrifices toward a different form of worship. This position seems to contradict the above-cited Maimonidean vision of an unchanged Halacha in the messianic era, and scholars have spilled much ink trying to resolve this tension. Moreover, Maimonides was severely criticized by the prominent legalist and exegete Nahmanides (13th century, Spain), who contended that animal sacrifices contain integral value, as seen from the fact that Abel, Noah and Abraham offered sacrifices long before the Israelites descended to Egypt (Leviticus 1:9). Nahmanides further asserted that sacrifices have integral meaning and mystical significance, a position shared by many classic rabbinic figures. Zionism renewed interest in this topic, even as the issue remained entirely theoretical. Though the majority of Orthodox rabbis continue to believe in the restoration of sacrifices in a rebuilt Temple, two prominent religious Zionist rabbis, R. Abraham I. Kook (d. 1935) and R. Haim D. Halevi (d.1998), both asserted that at some point in the messianic era, Jews will only offer sacrifices from grains, but not from animals. This position resonates with a rabbinic dictum that with the exception of the thanksgiving offering, sacrifices will be nullified in the messianic era (Leviticus Rabba 9:7), although this passage has been differently interpreted by others. One less prominent yet fascinating American rabbi, R. Haim Hirschensohn (d. 1935), went further, contending that modern religious Jews will not be able to adapt to the sacrificial culture and that therefore a future Temple will not restore sacrifices. Interestingly, R. Kook himself ostracized R. Hirschensohn, claiming that he was overly influenced by Western thought, and that it was preferable to believe that the complete sacrificial order will be restored (Igrot Hare'iya 4:994). In a separate essay promoting vegetarianism, R. Kook further challenged modern critics of sacrifices for hypocritically failing to abstain from slaughtering animals for their mundane dietary needs. This intricate array of factors makes this a fascinating topic in Judaism's vision for the future of religious worship. 
The writer, editor of, teaches at Yeshivat Hakotel and is pursuing a doctorate in Jewish philosophy in Hebrew University.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Don't Pray Today

Excellent post from on why prayer is de-emphasized on Tisha B'av.

A Non-Prayer Day
July 15, 2013

We spend so much time in synagogue on Tisha B’Av yet it is not a day of prayer. As we shall see, we say the minimal amounts of prayer, less than on a regular weekday. Our time is spent mourning, remembering. Prayer is about the future; Tisha B’Av is about the past.

R. Menachem Genack (Birkas Yitzchak Al Ha-Torah, Deut. 1:45) finds a hint to this unique status in the Torah reading that always precedes Tisha B’Av. R. Genack quotes his mentor, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who connected a number of Tisha B’Av rules with an underlying theory. Lamentations (3:8) states:
ותשבו ותבכו לפני ה’ ולא שמע ה’ בקלכם ולא האזין אליכםEven when I cry and shout, He shuts out my prayer.
The final phrase implies that on Tisha B’Av, our ability to pray is limited. Due to the overwhelming sorrow, we are unable to look to the future. We cannot even fathom what we have lost, much less look for a path out of the darkness.

The Beis Yosef (Orach Chaim 559) quotes the Rokei’ach, who cites this verse as an explanation why we do not recite the Tachanun prayers on Tisha B’Av. Of course, we cannot avoid obligatory prayers such as the Amidah but Tachanun is technically optional, even though we say it (almost) every day. On Tisha B’Av, when prayer is out of the spirit of the day, we omit this optional prayer.1

Similarly, on all other fast days we recite Selichos. Why is Tisha B’Av the one fast day on which we skip Selichos? R. Soloveitchik attributed this omission to the same reason, the absence of prayer on this day of mourning.2

Talmudic law requires the addition of an extra prayer service to a fast day. We are accustomed to thinking of Ne’ilah as unique to Yom Kippur but it is supposed to be part of any full fast day. All our other fasts only begin at sunrise and are not complete fasts. But why don’t we recite Ne’ilah on Tisha B’Av? Again, R. Soloveitchik returns to the theme of the cessation of prayer.

And similarly, we do not recite the paragraph Tiskabel in the full Kaddish. That paragraph asks God to accept our prayers. On a day when prayer is shunted, we cannot recite Tiskabel.

While R. Soloveitchik bases his analysis in the scroll of Eikhah, R. Genack sees a hint to this in the Torah. After retelling the story of the Spies and its aftermath, the Torah (Deut. 1:45) describes the Jews’ attempt to forestall their punishment through prayer. “Then you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord would not listen to your voice nor pay any attention to you.” The aftermath of the Spies episode, which the Gemara (Ta’anis 29a) tells us continues throughout the generations, includes dismissal of prayers.

On Tisha B’Av, we sit on the floor all morning and try to fathom the magnitude of the disasters we have encountered over the centuries. We spend all year planning for the future, charting our personal and communal paths. But if we are not grounded in our past, if we fail to carry our history with us, we have no rudder to faithfully guide us. All year we pray; today we remember.

Others suggest an entirely different reason for omitting Tachanun: Tisha B’Av is considered a holiday and we do not recite Tachanun on a holiday. 

Elsewhere, R. Soloveitchik connects Selichos to prayers. See Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 199.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Minor Questions on a Major Fast Day

Did you use a different tune for the third perek of Eicha?

Did you know about the Nahem controversy?

Other good Tisha B'Av questions and answers - feel free to join that discussion.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Fancy Copy of Kinot

As it is the season, I have dusted off my copy of Kinot to get ready for Tisha B'Av.  My copy of kinot is old school - all Hebrew, no commentators or pictures; there is barely any punctuation and directions. I personally like it simple.  

Nowadays there are more sophisticated copies of kinot - with Koren publishing one in the teachings of Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rav Neventzal of the Old City publishing his own 'mahzor'.  I am more partial to the cover picture on this edition.   

But the concept of a special mahzor is worth appreciating (as there is a greater trend to specialized siddurim; for shabbat, holidays, or even Yom Ha'atzmaut).  Perhaps kinot are the exception to the rule.  Consider that Rabbi Soloveitchik was reported to teach the following
“There is an old Jewish custom not to collect and put away the Kinot book for next year. I remember this as a child. They did not save the Kinot books for next year but read through them and put them in the shaimos collection to be buried later in the cemetery.  Every Tisha B’Av they would buy new ones. (Of course, the Kinot books were not as expensive as they are now, particularly those with commentaries and translations.)  But the old custom was to buy new Kinot booklets every year. After all, after this year we will no longer need them.”

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Capture that Moment

Laura Ben David snapped this amazing photo as a subject for Holy/Sacred:

What would you add as the caption?

Monday, July 8, 2013

3 Weeks of What?

There are lot of Jews whose sense of Jewish identity was created or strengthened in Jewish summer camp.  While I am one to call them Jew-topic, I myself am a product of the Jewish camping experience.  One of the more ironic aspects of camp is that aside from the 8 shabbatot in summer, the 'three weeks' and tisha b'av are the only holidays to teach and celebrate - so they really do them well.

However I think is important to re-approach how we look at the period 'Between the Straits' - the mourning and customs that surround this propitious time in Jewish History.  For example, one of the common customs is not to eat meet during the 9 days of Av.  This minhag is grounded in two principles:

  • The loss of the Temple sacrifices - most of the sacrifices where of animals and to remind ourselves of the loss of this service (the tamid) we refrain from eating meat and even from wine (libation offerings).
  • Meat = Joy - sorry vegans and vegetarians, but many rabbis associate meat eating with Joy; thus with the loss of the Beit HaMikdash, we show our mourning by not eating meat, drinking wine, and wearing new clothes. 
An interesting point to ponder here is that on Shabbat one is permitted to eat, drink and be merry.  The imposed restrictions on wine and meat are lifted for the weekly day of rest.  It is commonly thought that these permissions stem from the ban on public mourning on shabbat (which even applies to an official mourner, someone in the first seven days after the death of an immediate relative or spouse).  I discovered a fantastic comment by the Netivot Sholom - Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky - who offers us a proper re-approach to this special time period.

The point of the Beit HaMikdash was a direct divine earthly connection - a place for people to draw physically closer to God.  Thus the destruction of this house is a great tragedy and loss - worthy of two thousand years of tears.  The Netivot Sholom notes that the point of Shabbat is a day of the week that one can draw spiritually closer to God, and the core of creation.  Hereby Shabbat and the Beit HaMikdash offer the same divine connectivity, one in time the other in space.  With this metaphysical thinking, one does not feel the loss of the Temple on Shabbat - because you have that closeness manifested, and thereby can eat meat and drink wine.  On shabbat we have nothing to mourn -> for what we are mourning on Tisha B'Av is a loss of Godly intimacy and spiritual power that is inherently a part of the day of rest.  So be careful and thoughtful for what you are mourning this summer - whether you are at camp or working through the long summer days.