Why are there dots in the Hebrew letters? Originally published December 15-16, 2017

Those who have learned to read Hebrew (thankfully a phonetically pronounced written language) have been taught that a bet has a dot (a dagesh) in it, and without the dot it is a vet.  Pe and fe are similar.  (These letters interestingly follow Grimm’s Law – put forth by the authors of the fairy tales Read More…

What is that bowing in the Kaddish? Originally published December 8-9, 2017

Kaddish could generate dozens of these boxes. Many people learn that the Mourner’s Kaddish is the Kaddish, but although it is important, there are four other forms of Kaddish.  In the Kaddish, as we begin the last section, “Oseh shalom bimromav…,” many may take three steps back and bow first left, then right, and then Read More…

What is all that action in the Shema? Originally published December 1-2, 2017

When we say the first (main) line of the Shema some congregants cover their eyes to facilitate concentrating more fully on the words.  (The Shema is found on page 155 in Siddur Lev Shalem.) Then, in the third of the following paragraphs, where we read the word “tzitzit,” many kiss the tzitzit of their tallit Read More…

What are they saying in the middle of a Berakhah? Originally published November 24-25, 2017

Just to annoy the stern Hebrew School teacher, who thought it sacrilege, occasionally Joe would inquire, “Barukh who?” and Herby would reply emphatically, “Barukh, schmo!”  (True story.) When a leader begins a berakhah, after s/he says, “Barukh Attah Adonai,” those who are not reading collectively respond in a sort of reaffirmation, “Barukh Hu, uvarukh Shemo,” Read More…

When do we bow in the Amidah? Originally published November 17-18, 2017

“Amidah” means “standing.”  When reciting the Amidah, the centerpiece of every service, we stand with our feet together in order to be more angelic (as the prophet Ezekiel described the angels, having fused legs).  The Amidah consists of a series of berakhot, poorly translated as “blessings,” to each of which, when said aloud, we say Read More…

What Is a “Mi Shebeirakh”?

June, 13th, 2018 The Rabbi’s Assistant answers questions that someone might be too shy to ask. Near the end of the Torah reading part of a service, someone pulls out a “Mi Shebeirakh” list. Just what is that? We colloquially make these words into a noun or an adjective – we say a “Mi Shebeirakh” Read More…

What Are All These Words About Mourning?

June, 8th, 2018 The Rabbi’s Assistant answers questions that someone might be too shy to ask. When, in the course of life, someone passes away, Jewish tradition has many words which get bandied about. Here are a few, may you be blessed not to have to use them. Let’s jump right in, after a person Read More…