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Don’t forget to count the Omer with Homer

Posted by rabbiart on March 29, 2010

Technically, counting the Omer is one forty nine day long mitzvah.  According to one interpretation of the traditional halachah, once you miss a day in the count, you can no longer fulfill the mitzvah.  You can still count the Omer each night, but you omit saying the b’rachah.  To get a really good Omer calendar that will delight children of all ages, visit and print a week at a time for full color

Or to print the more condensed version, go here

Everyone counts, so count.

Hag Kasher V’Same’ach

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Pesach Countdown – More youtubes to enjoy

Posted by rabbiart on March 20, 2010

Pesach Ba ( פסח בה) Pesach is Coming This one is all in Hebrew. Listen carefully after the three minute mark and you’ll hear the singers say “we are all drunk.” At the four minute mark there is a really cute picture of a baby with a matzah bib (looks like matzah, not made out of matzah).

Let My People Go  in a nice bluesy style. Especially good for those who like Pesach tunes and love the blues.

The JibJab Matzah Rap Don’t watch this one without your sense of humor.

Who Let the Jews Out Guaranteed to crack you up!

Let My People Grow Pesach as a relationship breakup.

Matzo Man Its the Pesach Matzah disco classic.

The Four Sons – a prequel As the description says – Ever wonder how the fours sons got to be the way they are?

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Pesach is coming – so are the Pesach youtubes

Posted by rabbiart on March 18, 2010

This was so entertaining I had to post about it immediately.  Robots celebrating Pesach!!  Check it out

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וַיִּגַּשׁ – Christmas Day, 2009

Posted by rabbiart on December 25, 2009

It might seem strange to be writing or reading a Torah commentary with the word “Christmas” in the title. During the Jewish sojourn in Europe and Russia over the last millenium, Christmas was the one day of the year that many Jewish communities abstained from studying Torah. Not in observance of Christmas, but for reasons of pikuach nefesh. Attacks on Jews were sometimes commonplace on Christmas, as marauders swept through Jewish settlements yelling (in their own language) “Jerusalem is lost”.

Although hostility toward Jews continues, and hostility toward the one country in the world with a majority Jewish population continues to be fomented, we are fortunate to live in a time when it is no longer dangerous to study Torah on Christmas Day. More recently, a number of Jewish communities have adopted the practice of performing practical mitzvot on Christmas, by doing volunteer work or substituting for Christian volunteers at hospitals and other places, so that they can devote themselves to celebrating their holiday.

In some places in the United States, Muslims are joining with Jews in this activity.  In Michigan, where the Muslim population is particularly large, Jews and Muslims are joining in “Mitzvah Day”, helping some 48 social service agencies.

It is particularly fitting that this activity should be occurring one day before we read the climactic episode of Breshit, wherein brothers who have despised each other achieve a heartfelt and emotional reconciliation.  Over the course of Sefer Breshit we have watched the painful process of brothers learning to live together in harmony.  First Cain kills Abel, and is sentenced to wander the earth the remainder of his days.  Isaac and Ishmael are forcibly separated by their parents, and come together only (as far as we know) when it is time to bury their father.  Jacob treats his brother with manipulation and deception, and the quality of their reunion is ambiguous and left to the reader to judge.

Joseph lords it over his brothers, and they respond with hatred, attempted murder, and selling him into slavery.  In his turn, having risen to power, he torments them when they come to Egypt looking for food to survive.  But this Shabbat, all is forgiven, if not forgotten, and they live out their days in peace.

How good it is for brothers to live together.  If only all of us could learn to emulate the teaching of our parshah this week, and follow the example of Moslems and Jews in Detroit, and come together to do mitzvot and repair the world.

Shabbat Shalom

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Happy Hanukah – for Your Reading Pleasure

Posted by rabbiart on December 11, 2009

Some great reading material for Hanukah is all over the web, from all points of view. There’s something for everyone, especially if you read materials from a voice you don’t usually listen to.David Brooks has a wonderful column on the complexities of the historical Hanukah and its overtones for the present day. Also in the periodicals section is a brief exploration into the question of “What is Hanukah” from the New Jersey Jewish News.

Rabbi Eli Mansour’s Daily Halachah website is chock full of great halakhot for Hanukah. Especially for the first two nights, when Hanukah begins with Shabbat, all the questions of what do I light first on Erev Shabbat and how do I make Havdalah.

Orthodox Union is carrying a Vayeshev-Hanukah article by R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik – “The Two Dreams of Hanukkah“.

For those-who-have-not-yet-made-their-latkes, Jewcy’s Lilit Marcus gives here column over to the recipe for Bubbe Wende’s Latkes.  More on food… this exciting news from OU – Tootsie Rolls are now kosher.

For a quick look into the legal implications of placing your Hanukiah in the street (the mitzva of persumei nes– or publicizing the mitzvah), have a look at this Q&A on Ohr Somayach.

For the green approach to Hanukah, have a gander at

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Some Erev Shabbes Customs

Posted by rabbiart on December 7, 2009

Our friends Chester, Miriam, Isaiah and Zoe have a wonderful “make more brachahs” custom that we’ve seen the last two times we were at their house for Erev Shabbes dinner.  They fill a plate with different fruits and nuts and pass it around the table.  Each time the plate comes around, you take a food that requires a different brachah, say the brachah and eat the food (of course!).  This helps get to the recommended 100 brachot a day, which is harder to reach on Shabbat because the number of brachot in the Amidah has dropped from 19 to 7.

When there are different foods – with different brachahs – there are at least two theories on the order of eating/blessing the foods.  Surprised? Of course not. In general, the order of precedence relies heavily on the verse that names the seven species of the land of Israel. When eating two or more of these items, you give precedence to the one that comes earlier in the verse, which in order, lists wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey.

The deeper we delve into this, the more complex it becomes, and the greater the opportunity to sit around and wrestle with the question; what does it mean.  The specific orders presented next are taken from a wonderful article at  Feel free to read the whole article (what? I could stop you somehow) and learn even more. Of course, we are the people of differing opinions, so let’s start with this little snippet from Talmud Brachot 40b, which reads

If there were many different foods before a person: Rabbi Yehuda says that if one of the foods is from the seven species the bracha should be said on that. The Sages say make the bracha on which ever one you want.

According to the gemara, the case in point is where there are different foods all requiring the same blessing.  So R. Yehudah’s opinion is reflected in the list below. The sages would simply instruct us to say the brachah (and eat) the food we want to eat now, regardless of whether it is from the seven species.

IF you have several fruits/vegetables which require the same brachah (either ha-etz or ha-adamah), you eat them in this order.

  1. any of the seven species get preference over something not of the seven species, so for example, a date is eaten before an apple.
  2. whole fruits over fruits that are broken up, so for example an whole apple over a slice of orange
  3. the fruit you usually prefer to eat (given a choice), but if no preference
  4. the fruit you want to eat now.

IF you have several fruits/vegetables some of which require ha-etz and some require ha-adamah, you eat them in this order

  1. the one you would usually prefer, regardless of the brachah required, but if you don’t have a preference, then
  2. the one you want to eat now
  3. any of the seven species
  4. any of the fruits/vegetables that are whole
  5. if none of the above rules apply, any of the fruits/vegetables that require ha-etz takes precedence over fruits requiring ha-adamah.

Depending on your background and orientation, you might be reacting with “who cares” or “this is really cool.”  Personally, I’m in the “this is really cool” camp for a couple of reasons.  One is the concept of hidur mitzvah or taking special care in the performance of a mitzvah.  The second is an observation that we heard yesterday in mussar class; that outward orderliness helps create an inward orderliness.  Yes, it is just “good for us” to be meticulous in observing mitzvot and saying brachot.  Why wouldn’t it be?

Kol Tuv

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Jewish Date in Your Browser #Torah #Luach

Posted by rabbiart on July 29, 2009

If you use Firefox and care about the Jewish calendar, there is a nice add-on to Firefox which will show the day and date, and probably the Parshah when it’s Shabbes, but that would mean I was looking at the computer on Shabbes, so I’m not sure about that one. You can find it at Breaking news… hover over the date and the add-on gives you a countdown to Shabbes and the name of the Parsha.  So far, I haven’t found what button to press to make Shabbes come faster…bummer. There are buttons to look at the complete Hebrew calendar and create Shabbat reminders.

And, there is even a gematria calculator but seems like all it does is add up the numerical value of whatever word or phrase you type into it.

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Modern Technology and an Ancient Custom – Birkat HaHama

Posted by rabbiart on March 25, 2009

The once every twenty-eight years opportunity for pronouncing Birkat HaHama (Blessing of the Sun) is fast approaching. It will be celebrated on the day of Erev  Pesach.  There are all sorts of web resources available for reading up on this custom.  Basically – and skipping over hard-core astronomical science – our tradition has it that every twenty eight years the sun is in exactly the position it occupied when first created.

A selection of issues involving Birkat HaHama include:

  • Given the principle of performing a Mitzva with zeal and alacrity (i.e. the first opportunity), and given that the b’racha should be said as soon as one sees the sun, does one daven Shacharit first and then say Birkat HaHama, or the other way around?
  • Can you eat before saying the b’racha?  (Halacha generally forbids eating in the 30 minutes before performing a time-bound Mitzva.)
  • Since this is an “opportunity mitzvah”, should one make special efforts to see the sun?  (You’re only obligated to say the bracha if you see the sun.)
  • If the sun is covered by clouds (so you can’t say the bracha), but you are davening where you could see the sun if it appears, and it appears in the middle of reciting the Shema, should you interrupt your recitation to recite Birkat HaHama? (Normally, interrupting your recitation of the Shema – and its accompanying blessings – is a big no-no).  Turns out the answer is “Yes” you should interrupt the Shema, if necessary, because Birkat HaHama (in these circumstances) is a mitzva with a very limited window of opportunity.
  • If you are involved in a Brit Milah (which also, by tradition, should be performed as soon as possible on the eighth day), which takes precedence?  Brit Milah is a time-specific mitzvah, as is Birkat HaHama.  Brit Milah takes precedence for two reasons; it is mandated by the Torah whereas Birkat HaHama is only a “rabbinic commandment”, and it takes precedence by another rule – Tadir Ve’she’eno Tadir Tadir Kodem – (Regularly scheduled mitzvot take place over non-regularly scheduled mitzvot) .  But (don’t you love Talmudic reasoning? It’s way better than crossword puzzles or Sudoku for keeping your brain fresh and young) if it’s a cloudy day and proceeding with the bris will cause the only opportunity for Birkat HaHamah to be missed, then (you guessed it), you postpone the bris for a few moments to say Birkat HaHamah.
  • So, you’re still wondering… hey Rabbi Art… what about that modern technology you promised in the article headline?  According to Daily Halacha (which is the source for all of the above) the Satmar Rabbi was faced with a situation where heavy clouds were forecast for the day of Birkat HaHamah and there was no reason to expect even the briefest opportunity to recite Birkat HaHamah. What to do?  What to do?  He told his Hasidim to get on an airplane so they could fly above the clouds, see the sun, and say the B’rachah!!  Hmmm… wonder if the airlines have a “Birkat HaHama fare”?

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    Out of the CAJE

    Posted by rabbiart on August 14, 2008

    We could be holding a mini-CAJE here at the Burlington airport. The food kiosk inside of security has sold out of all its veggie wraps and tuna sandwiches. I talked to a porter who was refilling the shelves and she told me that there is nothing vegetarian left in the entire airport. OK, that’s two food kiosks and a restaurant, but you get the idea.

    The biggest challenge in returning from the CAJE experience is limiting the number of ideas you try to implement. I heard and saw enough good ideas and techniques to last quite a while. And that doesn’t even begin to address getting funding to bring in all the incredible teachers, storytellers and musicians to liven up the life of the shul. What I’d love to do…

    • start each religious school student making her own siddur (see next bullet)
    • re-invent how we daven in religious school and erev shabbat to return to the original intent of the liturgy and role of the hazzan.(see next bullet)
    • return to “improvisational prayer”. For example, keep only the last five words of the first evening brachah, and at each service, have someone from the congregation describe his “sunset” or “evening” moment, ten conclude with the hatimah (signature, or standard ending). Beginning in the pre-hebrew school grades, teach each student to express her own version of the prayer which their class is learning.
    • teach trope, which is to say, really teach trope
    • bring back the maven who interprets the torah – see Storahtelling

    See, there are already too many ideas to do at once…. or maybe not.

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    Into the CAJE – 2

    Posted by rabbiart on August 13, 2008

    The first time I attended CAJE it was the Conference on Alternatives. I discovered yesterday that some rebranding took place while I was in the wilderness of high tech for 25 years. Now its the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education. Nuff said.

    Yesterday I went to a session given by Rabbi Ed Feinstein. It dovetailed nicely with the StorahTelling session from Monday afternoon. He observed that when people come to talk to him in his office, no one has ever told him to “keep it short.” In services, that’s another matter altogether. He began by collecting a list of distractions to prayer that people have. As a person who liked Hebrew school – even before going to Mahaneh Ramah and trying to keep up with day school and better educated campers who could daven from the good old Shilo Siddur – and eventually became a Rabbi, I am blessed to report that I don’t have the “common problems” with prayer that people reported. But that might make it harder for me to find ways to open up the tefilot to Jews who are not so lucky.

    Rabbi Feinstein laid the ground by saying that teaching the siddur requires 3 disciplines; teaching the skills of saying the prayer (Hebrew language and bodily movement), teaching the understanding of the prayer (what does it say), and teach how to pray the prayer. The last part is, obviously, the most difficult, primarily because someone went and invented the printing press. Prayer, he said, used to be of a form like hip-hop or rap (I have often said jazz). Only the theme (the final hatimah (signature) was fixed; the rest of it was meant to be improvised.

    What was new to me was an exercise in personalizing a prayer and accessing its emotional content. He used hamaariv aravim – the first prayer of the evening service. He asked for vounteers to describe a “sunset moment” in their lives, then turned their stories into a “prayer version”, concluding with the standard hatimah. Something I can barely wait to try at home.

    Yesterday’s evening plenary was a combination of Craig Taubman (and band) and Rabbi Feinstein. In between the musical pieces, Rabbi Feinstein observed that it is a miracle that sixty years after the Shoah, Jewish life and Jewish education is being reborn. He talked about how easy it is for Jewish educators (and for rabbis al achat kamah v’kamah) to become discouraged and beaten down. So Craig had selected three people to come onstage and speak about their individual “miracle moments”. Quite moving to hear (understatement!) and an important reminder to any Jewish teacher to focus on and treasure the moments when we truly touch someone’s heart – and forget the rest.

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