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…

A Cornucopia of Horns? Originally Published March 29-30, 2019.

Each year the ba’al toke’a (horn blower, בעל תוקע, sometimes called ba’al teki’ah, בעל תקיעה) takes out his/her shofar and begins practicing up for the High Holidays.  The shofar is sounded during the entire month of Elul at the end of the weekday morning service (be there at minyan!) except on 29 Elul.  The shofar Read More…

What Is a Bimah? Originally Published March 22-23, 2019.

A bimah (בִּימָה) is an elevated platform.  Used in a synagogue it is, in church English, a pulpit.  In modern Hebrew “bimah” also refers to a stage.  In ancient and Orthodox churches, it is also used to refer to a pulpit (bema).  It was also the term used in ancient Athens for a orator’s platform.  Read More…

I Forget, Who Was Amalek? Originally Published March 15-16, 2019

This is Shabbat Zakhor, named after the first word of the snippet of Parashat Ki Tetse we read this week as the maftir aliyah.  It recalls Amalek’s ambush of the tired people of Israel just after we crossed the Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds.  Attacking was a nasty thing to do, and as we Read More…

Why Does the Berakhah Mention One Candle When We Light More? Originally Published March 8-9, 2019

When we say a berakhah on the lighting of a candle, it is different from other berakhot.  It is one blessing in which we do the deed first and say the berakhah afterwards.  (We do this especially on Shabbat and holidays because the blessing is said to be what starts Shabbat or the holiday, not Read More…