Sunday, 20 August 2017

Tehillim and Torah on the Upcoming Eclipse

From RRW

Guest Blogger
R Joel Finkelstein

When we see the eclipse Monday (Be sure to wear your goggles), we may feel a need to thank G-d for nature, for the wonders of the world and the universe. 

Rabbi Chaim David Halevi, former chief rabbi of  Tel Aviv  says that if we feel so moved, we should say Vayevarech david from our daily prayers, I Chronicles 29, 10-19

Rabbi David Lau says that those who wish to express their feelings should try Psalm 19, Hashamayim mesaprim kvod kel 

or Psalm 104 Barchi nafshi, which we say on Rosh Chodesh, Tues and Wed.

I would add  the third to last psalm, Psalm 148, Halelu et Hashem min hashamaim.

And for more on Eclipses and Torah, see‎

Also, Tzvi Pittinsky on eclipses in Tanach,

We do live in a wonderful, expansive world and the eclipse is but one piece of G-d's amazing puzzle called the universe. 


The Left’s War On Jews

From RRW

Friday, 11 August 2017

Meaning of Chalom (Dream)

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                What is the Origin of the Word “Chalom” (=Dream)?

               I have always wondered how the ancient Hebrew language understood dreams. My initial thought was that Ch-L-M might have derived from  Ch-L-H (sick). As I investigated, I learned that the issue is really the opposite. Two times in Tanakh there are words which seem to be from the root Ch-L-M and which means something like “healthy” or “strong.”  These instances are at Is. 38:16 and Job 39:4. Therefore, the issue that scholars discuss instead is: is there a connection between “dream” and “healthy/strong”?
              One suggestion made is that from an initial “healthy/strong/youth” meaning came the meaning “sexual dreams.” From this, the meaning evolved into “dreams” in general. This suggestion is found in several respected sources. Fortunately, other respected sources think it is ridiculous and I agree.
              Marcus Jastrow, in his dictionary, also seems to relate the two Ch-L-M roots. With regard to Ch-L-M/dream, he implies that “dream” is not the fundamental meaning of the root. Rather, the root fundamentally meant “sleep well.” Obviously, this is farfetched as well.
               Another scholar claims that we should relate Ch-L-M/dream to Aleph-Lamed-Mem. One of the meanings of A-L-M is “bind.” Accordingly, he suggests that dreams reflect “the entanglement of ideas during sleep when they are free of the rule of the intellect.” But obviously we would prefer to interpret the word Ch-L-M without having to make a substitution of aleph for chet.
                 Rav S.R. Hirsch is another figure who tries to understand the ancient Jewish view of dreams.  In his commentary to Gen. 20:3, he sets forth an entire Jewish philosophy of dreams that he believes is implicit in the root Ch-L-M. But there is a problem with his analysis. There is an unusual word at Job. 6:6,  “chalamut.” The Targum understands this as having a meaning identical with “chelmon,” the yoke of an egg.  Rav Hirsch’s theory is based on assuming that this word “chalamut” is related to dreams and that its translation is “yoke of an egg.”  (Rav Hirsch writes: “Every chalom is a chalamut, a return of the psyche, the mind, to the embryonic state.”) But today most scholars believe that this word “chalamut” has nothing to do with dreams and is not the “yoke of an egg.” Rather, it is a plant that has liquid flow from it.   (R. Hirsch does use the word “healing” in his discussion. He believes that dreams have an aspect of healing to them, consistent with the other Ch-L-M meaning.)
                I have to add that the words with the letters Ch-L-M at Is. 38:16 and Job 39:4 may instead derive from the word “chayil” (= strength), and there was possibly no root “Ch-L-M” in Hebrew that meant “healthy” or “strong.”
               I am going to conclude, along with one of my favorite sources, The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, that the etymology of the word Ch-L-M/dream has yet to be satisfactorily explained. My search for its origin still remains a dream! But as you can see, I did learn many interesting things along the way.
                I also learned that the vowel “cholam” may be called this because it is a “strong” vowel. (So says Ibn Ezra.)
                  In my chalom/dream research, I also came across a very interesting interpretation of a phrase that we are all familiar with. Psalm 126:1 use the phrase “hayyinu ke-cholmim” to describe the Jewish reaction to the return to Zion with the permission of the Persian kings. We are used to understanding these words to mean “we were like dreamers.” The turn of events was so surprising that it was unreal. Interestingly, the Targum offers a different interpretation: “we were like people who were healed.” Professors Shmuel and Ze’ev Safrai, in their classic work Haggadat Chazal (p. 232), take the position that this is most likely the correct interpretation! They also mention a text of this verse in the Dead Sea Scrolls (see J. A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll, p. 40) that has a different spelling of ke-cholmim here, with the lamed preceding the vav.  They claim that this spelling certainly fits their interpretation. But I would not rely on the spelling in the Dead Sea text (very possibly an error) to understand the meaning of our traditional text. Also, the post-Talmudic Masoretes certainly knew of the Targum’s interpretation. If they thought it was correct, they would have likely chosen a different nikud for our word. Finally, since Ch-L-M with a meaning like “healthy/strong/healed” is rare in Tanakh, only appearing two times, it is unlikely that this alternative (but creative!) interpretation of Psalms 126:1 is the correct one.
                  As part of my research for this column, I was also investigating another sleep-related root: Lamed-Yod-Nun (alternatively, Lamed-Vav-Nun). We are all familiar with this root. It means to “spend the night.” (For example, it is the root of the word “malon,” lodging place.) I discovered that according to many scholars the root of this word is Lamed-Yod-Lamed, which means “evening” and that the second lamed evolved into a nun. For further examples of lamed/nun switches, see, e.g., Rashi to Is. 21:15.
                Finally, this is a good time to mention a fascinating work from the early 13th century, authored by one of the French Tosafists, R. Jacob of Marvege. R. Jacob would seek answers from heaven about halakha (by means of seclusion, prayer, and uttering divine names), and his questions were replied to in a dream! R. Jacob then compiled the answers he received and published them as “She’elot U-Teshuvot Min Ha-Shamayim.” (We have a copy in our library at Congregation Beth Aaron.) I wish there was someone around now who could use this method and finally determine for me the origin of the word “chalom”!
                (For more on R. Jacob, see Encyclopaedia Judaica, 9:1233. For other Rishonim who relied on dreams for pesak, see the introduction in Reuven Margaliot’s edition of R. Jacob’s work, and Peering Through the Lattices by Rabbi Ephraim Kanarfogel.)
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. His most recent book is: Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy. He can be reached at (He would like to acknowledge the site which provided some of the material for the above column.) He will not be able to sleep and dream properly until the origin of the word “chalom” is finally determined.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Nishma-Parshah: Ekev

Take a look at what's on
for Parshat Ekev

Parsha: Equev, "Defining 'Eqev' via the 'Concordance Technique' "

Parsha: Eqev, "Who Wrote the Second Luchot?"

Eqev, Mishnah, Sukkah - Perfect Misunderstanding

Eqev: Who Inscribed the Second Luchos?

Father Of Chasidic Overdose Victim Says Jewish Educational System Is Failing Weaker Students

The tragedy of Malky Klein's untimely death must become a learning experience for the entire Torah community. In the following article, her father tells us how this must be so:

Most significantly, Judge Ruchie Freier also expressed, in a most powerful way, similar sentiments regarding our present educational systems. Please see:

I am in total agreement with their thoughts and, from what I have heard from teachers and parents in our Torah school systems, what is being expressed in these two articles is indeed true and must be addressed. We have to care for and serve the needs of all students.

I just want to add that there is also another type of student whose needs, many times, are also not addressed and that is the inquisitive, challenging, often highly intelligent one whose questions and probing insights are not met with appropriate responses. Teachers and others, rather than recognizing their own inabilities in responding to such students, use their status and authority to browbeat such students into temporarily accepting weak answers and/or accept their legitimate and deep questions as foolish. The result is also students who lack confidence in their own being -- until they meet someone who will restore this confidence -- with that result also often being that this student is thereby drawn "off the Derech" for this person who responded to the question properly was outside the pale of Orthodoxy. OTD sadly is also not the only result of such poor education within our systems.

The call in our school systems must be to accept all students as they are and to meet the challenge of teaching all students no matter how variant they are. Chanoch L’Naar Al Pi Darko (Mishlei 22:6) is actually a demanding task -- and it is time for the Torah community to recognize it and truly implement it.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Jewish Crisis-Pregnancy Helpline Expands, Reigniting Debate Over Choice

From RRW
".... The Orthodox view of abortion is complex and frequently ambiguous, though it relies heavily on the tenet that the life — and sometimes emotional well-being — of the mother takes precedence over the life of the fetus. Opinions vary greatly on what constitutes a danger to the life of the mother.‎ ..."

Friday, 4 August 2017

Meaning of Chatan and Kallah

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                               What is the Origin of the Words “Chatan” and “Kallah”?

              My daughter’s recent engagement led me to thinking about these words.
              The Biblical word “chatan” means both “son-in–law” and “bridegroom.” But most scholars believe that the initial meaning was only “son-in- law” and that “bridegroom” was a later development.
                There is also a related word, “choten,” which means “father- in- law.” It has been suggested that this word means “one who has a son-in law.”
                There is much speculation as to where the word ”chatan” came from. Possibly “chatan” originally meant something like “connected.” E. Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, p. 237,mentions this possibility based on the Arabic word “chatana” which means “joined, connected.” Rav S.R. Hirsch, comm. to Gen 19:12, also takes the position that the word implies “connection.” (He then suggests a possible relationship to the similar sounding root  ayin-dalet-nun, and suggests that ch-t-n perhaps implies a “delightful connection”!)
            An alternative theory points to an Arabic word “chatana” which means “circumcised.” This suggests that there may have been an ancient custom to circumcise young men before their marriage! (An original “circumcision” meaning  for ch-t-n would also shed some light on the strange story at Exodus 4:24-26, where Tzipporah circumcises her infant and twice makes a comment about “chatan damim.”)
              What about the reflexive form “hitchaten”? I would like to suggest that this did not originally  mean “marry,”or “make yourself into a groom,” or “make yourself into a son-in-law.” If we take the (admittedly speculative) approach that “chatan” originally meant something like “connect,” then “hitchaten” would have meant “to put yourself in a relationship of connection.” See, e.g., Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, entry Ch,T,N, p. 274. I found some interesting supports for this. At I Kings 3:1, the text records:  va-yitchaten Shelomoh et Paroah melekh mitzrayim, va-yikach et bat Paroh….”  Let us look at those first six words. At first glance, they cry out for textual emendation! To obviate the male-male difficulty, a standard Jewish translation translated: “Solomon became allied to Pharaoh king of Egypt by marriage.” But perhaps we can translate more simply: “Solomon put himself in a relationship of connection with Pharaoh.” Another similar support is II Chr. 18:1, which uses hitchaten in the context of the males Yehoshafat and Achav.
               With regard to the word chatunah, it appears one time in Tanakh, at Shir Ha-Shirim 3:11 (be-yom chatunato).
               An interesting issue related to the word chatan is its use on Simchat Torah: Chatan Torah, Chatan Maftir, Chatan Bereshit. A scholar who did extensive work on the history of Simchat Torah, Abraham Yaari, asked the question of why the word “chatan” is used in connection with these reading rituals. (The earliest source we have that uses the term “chatan” in the context of these rituals is Machzor Vitry, 12th century France.) Yaari mentions a few explanations that do not satisfy him, and then theorizes that the word was probably originally “chatam.” “Chatam” means “completion,” an apt description for the one who completed the reading of the Torah and the reading of the Haftarah on Simchat Torah.  (The reading of Bereshit on Simchat Torah was a later development.) Yaari even finds some sources, the earliest from the 16h century, that use the phrase “chatam torah” to describe the Simchat Torah readers. He argues that these sources reflect a preservation of the original term (as opposed to being a later evolution from “chatan”). He suggests that “chatam” evolved into “chatan, since the completion was a “simcha yeteirah,” just like the simchah  of a chatan and kallah.
              Daniel Sperber (in his Minhagei Yisrael, vol. 1) provided a further argument  to support  Yaari’s theory. Sperber pointed out that there are many examples in the Talmudic period  and thereafter of words with a final mem that came to be spelled with a final nun in Palestine. Some examples are the words A-D-M (man) which evolved into A-D-N, and K-R-M (vineyard) which evolved into K-R-N. There are many more examples.  Sperber suggests that similarly an alternative Ch-T-N spelling arose for Ch-T-M. This Ch-T-N word was then misunderstood as “bridegroom” instead of what it really was: a variant spelling of Ch-T-M (“completion”).
               Moving now to the word “kallah,” we are also unsure as to its origin. As in the case of “chatan,” we are faced with two meanings, “bride” and “daughter-in- law,” and we are not sure which was primary.
                 Some point to an Akkadian verb K-L-L that meant “to conceal the face or head,” which could have developed into a word for “bride,” due to the bridal veil.  Others point to an Akkadian verb K-L-L that meant “to crown.” There was also a similar sounding noun in Akkadian for “crown.” Perhaps, it is argued, Hebrew once had such words.  (The Akkadian verb and noun for “crown” seems to be the source for the post-Biblical Hebrew word for crown: “kelil,” and its Aramaic equivalent: “kelila.”)  Alternatively, some speculate that “kallah” means “bride,” based on the Hebrew root Kaph-Lamed-Aleph, which meant something like “closed.” The kallah is one who is closed off to the world, except to her husband.
                     The best approach I have seen is the one taken by Rav S.R. Hirsch. He theorizes that “kallah” comes from the Hebrew root K-L-H which means “complete.” (We all know this root from Friday night Kiddush: va-yechulu.) The bride/ daughter- in-law is the one who completes the family of her father- in-law.” I.e., the family unit of father, mother, and son is not complete until the arrival of this new member. See the commentary of Rav Hirsch to Gen. 11:31 and 19:12.  (One can also suggest that the bride is what the husband needs to become “complete.” But this does not sound like a plain sense interpretation. )
                     I would like to close on a humorous note. A comedian once said: “Marry the right woman, you are complete. Marry the wrong one, you are finished. And if the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are completely finished!”
                   P.S. Periodically, I should acknowledge the people who regularly assist me with this column. Specifically, I would like to thank Rabbi Ezra Frazer, Rabbi Chaim Sunitsky, Sam Borodach, and Moshe Schapiro for their various assistance when I need it.
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. He can be reached at His latest book is: Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy (Kodesh Press,2015). His daughter Rachel, the forthcoming kallah, is definitely a “right woman.”