Thursday, 17 January 2019

Jewish Values Online Blog Awards First Quarter 5779

Jewish Values Online, the leading site providing a mix of voices and viewpoints for
multi-denominational Jewish perspectives on moral and ethical questions is delighted to announce the selection of the best blog entries posted for the first quarter of 5779.

Feeling Deep Compassion for the Oppressed

Posted on 12/02/2018 by Rabbi Yaakov Bieler
A particularly moving paragraph that is recited by the entire congregation of pray-ers as part of the Shacharit (morning) services on Mondays and Thursdays, before the Tora is returned to the Ark, describes... 

Why Be Jewish?

Posted on 11/29/2018 by Rabbi Ben Hecht
Defining the Question Why be Jewish? It seems to be a simple, straightforward question, often employed to begin a presentation on the accolades and benefits in choosing to be a Jew.

What I Did When Someone Wounded Me

Posted on 09/13/2018 by Rivkah Lambert Adler
Recently, someone took a pretty enormous swipe at me online, accusing me of a serious breach of trust and of causing irreparable harm. The facts cited and the accusations posited are entirely false. The things... 

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Book Review -- Roots and Rituals: Insights into Hebrew, Holidays, and History by Mitchell First

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First 

This week I am not sending out an article of mine.

 Rather, I am sending out a book review of my new book: Roots and Rituals.
  In the book, I took 62 of my best Jewish Link articles and improved them with footnotes and Hebrew.
  If you scroll down below, you will see the amazing book review by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein. It appeared in the Jewish Press and it is now on amazon as well. - MF

by Mitchell First (Kodesh Press, 2018)

Reviewed by: Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

I must say that once again, First comes in first place. This book is not simply comprised of three separate sections, rather every chapter is chock-full of insights into history, liturgy, and the Hebrew language. I must also say that I admire Mr. First's daring use of alliteration (the literary device which joins alimony with allegory) in his book's title. Of course, only two-thirds of that title mirrors that of my first book Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew.

Mr. First's book appeals to and is readable by the scholar and layman alike, to the Talmid Chacham and Am HaAretz, to the serious scholar and the cynical boor. As an avid reader of Mr. First's weekly articles in the Jewish Link of New Jersey, I appreciate the humor in his ever-changing byline, and was glad to see that those bylines appeared at the end of each article in his new books, as well.

The section on liturgy delves into things which we take for granted and explains their origins. For example, Mr. First tells us about the origins of the Haftarah, saying Shema in the Kedushah of Mussaf, Mizmor Shir Chanukas HaBayis (for those of us who come to Shul on time) in the beginning of Shachris, and when we started saying Aleinu at the end of davening. Of course, he draws from a broad spectrum of sources, running the gamut from the Complete ArtScroll Siddur to the scholarly works of Dr. Yisroel Ta-Shema, from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan to the maskil Naftali Herz Tur-Sinai (Torczyner).

He asks questions like why in Grace After Meals do we refer to G-d's "full, open, holy, and abundant" hand; what is the word "holy" doing there?

When talking about the blessing of the gender-specific blessings of Birkas HaShachar, he compares those blessing to similar statements made by ancient Greek philosophers. Mr. First's judicious use of manuscripts makes his research all the more meaningful, especially when he brings to light overlooked variations that actually make big differences.

Indeed, these examples are just a sampling of Mr. First's way of presenting the fruits of his arduous research into the interplay of Jewish Tradition with archeology and established history. Mr. First is not not scared of offering creative, original explanations and rejecting what scholars before him understood to be fact. Although, as a word of caution, I must say that Mr. First sometimes pushes the envelop concerning what is considered acceptable in Orthodoxy (for some people that's considered a good thing).

Segueing to his linguistic prowess, I am in awe of the way Mr. First seamlessly parses words in the Hebrew language by using both traditional and non-traditional sources. Such an approach is almost unparalleled in contemporary works. His language musings show the conceptual links between apparent homonyms in the Hebrew language, and sharpen the differences between apparent synonyms. Mr. First's Modern Orthodox affiliation broadens his Overton Window into allowing academic sources into the foray, alongside traditional ones. His etymological discussions refer to the research of Hayyim Tawil (who wrote a lexicon of Ancient Akkadian), Ernest Klein (who wrote an etymological dictionary of the various strands of Hebrew), and Matisyahu Clark (who also wrote an etymological dictionary of Hebrew, but this one is largely based on the ideas of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch). 

In his section about the holidays, Mr. First again tackles some of the phrases and ideas that we take for granted and sheds new light on their meaning (for Rosh HaShanah he offers a new understanding of the phrase Yom Teruah; for Chanukah, the background to the term Maccabi; and for Pesach, the deeper meaning of Haggadah). He also gives some important insights to the Jewish Calendar, and, of course he addresses one of his personal pet-peeves, the identity of the characters in the Book of Esther (see his previous book for more about that).

From time to time, Mr. First also gives us short biographical details of the people he cites--filling the book with interesting historical tidbits.

Finally, and, perhaps, most importantly, I must mention Mr. First's good sense of humor (if you can call puns "humor"). In fact, as we see throughout his awesome work, Mr. First has his way with words. One might even call him "a way-word Jew".
Kol Tuv,
Reuven Chaim Klein
Beitar Illit, Israel

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Citing 'spiritual trauma,’ judge orders company to pay $25K for misrepresenting cake mix as kosher

This is something that should make Canadians proud.

The article makes mention of the fact that, while there may be various instances when a kosher symbol was used by mistake, a case such as this one, when it was done intentionally, is extremely rare. This, in fact, was the only time that COR took a company to court for using their trademark without permission. That is somewhat encouraging. What is most encouraging, though, is the language of the judge. It is most re-assuring in our world when one recognizes the values of others.