Torah Tidbits. Originally Published June 7-8, 2019.

Over the course of investigating for this column, miscellaneous points have jumped out.  Here are some of them. The use of letters of the Hebrew alphabet to represent numbers is not found in the Bible.  The first traces of it are found on Maccabean coins. Some persons honor a lifted Sefer Torah by holding one Read More…

Back to Ethiopia? Originally Published May 30 – June 1, 2019.

A couple weeks ago we were discussing Kush and where it was and is.  28 Iyyar, corresponding this year to Sunday, June 2, 2019, is Remembrance Day for Ethiopian Jews.  The date was already (since 1968) Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Unification Day, celebrating the reunification after the Six-Day War in 1967.  The remembrance is for the thousands Read More…

Was Maimonides Really a Physician? Originally Published May 24-25, 2019.

We often study the work of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, known as Maimonides or Rambam, who lived from 1135-1204.  Born in Cordoba, Spain, he was part of a long line of scholars.  As he reached his 13th birthday, Cordoba fell to the Almohads in Spring 1148, and under the resultant religious persecution the family was Read More…

What Is “Shomer Shabbat”? Originally Published May 17-18, 2019.

“Shomer Shabbat” (שׁוֹמֵר שַׁבָּת)  is a term used to describe a person who “keeps” the Sabbath.  In Ashkenazic Hebrew the name of the seventh day may be pronounced “Shabbos.” You may recall a few weeks ago when we discussed the term “shamar” as meaning to guard, protect, keep.  This is another usage of it. There Read More…

Where is “Kush,” Which Is Mentioned in Today’s Haftarah? Originally published May 10-11, 2019.

“Kushi’im” are mentioned in the haftarah for Kedoshim (this week), translated in our Etz Hayim humash as “Ethiopians.”  In the haftarah on the eighth day of Pesah and again the other day on Yom HaAtsma’ut, we read that God will redeem “the other part of his people from Assyria, as also from Egypt, Pathros, Nubia…,” Read More…

What Is the Sefer HaHinukh? Originally Published May 3-4, 2019.

Published anonymously in 13th-century Spain, the Sefer HaHinukh – the Book of Education (ספר החינוך) – is a discussion of the 613 mitzvot (sometimes called commandments) of the Torah.  Following up on Maimonides’ lead in his Sefer HaMitzvot, published in the 12th century, this author also listed the mitzvot in the order they appear through Read More…

What Are These Fences? Originally Published April 25, 2019.

Rabbis speak about “fences.”  What are these fences?  (Of course, Fences is a play by August Wilson, in which your correspondent’s Uncle Herb Glickman (z”l) is mentioned, but we digress.) Rabbis specifically speak of “making a fence around the Torah,” “asu seyag laTorah.”  It actually appears in the very first paragraph of Pirkei Avot:  “Moshe Read More…

What is Tal? Originally Published on April 19-20, 2019.

As a part of the Musaf service on the first day of Pesah, as we repeat the Amidah, we say a prayer for dew, Tefillat Tal.  At the end of Sukkot we pray for rain; at the beginning of Passover we pray for dew.  After Passover, anything more than dew might be harmful to our Read More…

What Is Shabbat HaGadol? Originally Published April 12-13, 2019.

Shabbat Hagadol is the name given to the Shabbat just prior to Passover.  “Hagadol” is “the great,” modifying “Shabbat.”  Some rabbis have explained this connection by referencing the penultimate line in this week’s haftarah, which says “Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome [great], fearful day of Read More…

What Is Shabbat HaHodesh? Originally Published April 5-6, 2019.

The last of four special Shabbatot before Passover, Shabbat Hahodesh falls on the Shabbat before the month of Nisan begins, or else – as this year – it falls on the first day of Nisan when that day is Shabbat. The special maftir aliyah reading comes from Shemot 12:1-20, from Parashat Bo, and it describes Read More…