Why are There Four Aliyot on Rosh Hodesh? Originally Published on November 16-17, 2018.

Even on days when we do not usually read Torah at morning services, if it is Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of the new month (on the Jewish calendar), we read Bamidbar (Numbers) 28:1-15. Let’s start from the beginning.  We read Torah in the morning on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, all from the same parashah (portion) Read More…

What Happened to Minhah? Originally published November 9-10, 2018.

One night last week you attended services at 7:00 at Beth Shalom, and there was no detectable Minhah service?  So is it still an official yahrzeit observance for your departed loved one? During the darker months, when the sun sets earlier, since we begin all our weekday evening services at 7:00, it is too late Read More…

What Are the Apocrypha? Originally published October 26-27, 2018.

We seem to mention the Apocrypha fairly often.  The answer to what they are is not simple.  From the Greek (meaning “obscure”) through Medieval Latin (where it meant “secret, or non-canonical”), the word refers to a set or sets of texts the origin of which is doubtful or unknown.  (“Canonical” refers to being ordained by Read More…

Do We Always Say “Amen” at the End of a Berakhah? Originally published October 19-20, 2018.

The leader is repeating the Amidah, at the Fifth Berakhah, which contains “Modim Anahnu Lakh.” Just before “Modim,” the leader says, “Barukh Atah [Hashem], hamahazir shekhinato leTzion.” Do we say “amen” after that berakhah?  Or do we all say together “Modim Anahnu Lakh.”  Technically we should do both.  We say “amen” after a berakhah when Read More…

What Is Yom HaAliyah? Originally published October 12-13, 2018.

Yom HaAliyah is an Israeli national holiday.  It is celebrated both on 10 Nisan and on 7 Heshvan—the latter being the school celebration, occurring this coming Monday evening through Tuesday.  The observance commemorates the historic events of 10 Nisan, and thus acknowledges aliyah, immigration to the Jewish state, as a core value of the country.  It Read More…

What Are the Sibylline Oracles? Originally published October 5-6, 2018.

Last week, in our discussion of Gog and Magog, we mentioned the Sibylline Oracles.  We wondered about them, too. Sometimes called the pseudo-Sibylline Oracles, these are a collection of prophesies or oracular statements written in Greek hexameter which are ascribed to the Sibyls, who were prophetesses who uttered divine revelations in a frenzied state.  Apparently Read More…

What Is This Gog and Magog? Originally published September 28-29, 2018.

On the Shabbat in the middle of Sukkot (“Shabbat hol hamo’ed Sukkot”) we read a haftarah from the book of Ezekiel (38:18-39:16) discussing Gog of the land of Magog.  Gog seems to be a model of an enemy, written to show what will happen to the enemies, but I always leave such interpretation to the Read More…

Why Do All Past Presidents Take Out Their Sifrei Torah and Walk Around the Sanctuary at Kol Nidrei? Originally published September 21-22, 2018.

During Kol Nidrei we traditionally hold at least two Sifrei Torah, Torah scrolls. Many congregations have transformed this into conferring the honor of holding Sifrei Torah to the distinguished and respected members of the community.  It is a blessing to have many scrolls, and that is displayed by honoring individuals with holding them. The scrolls Read More…

What Is This Book Called a “Mahzor”? Originally published September 14-15, 2018.

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we set aside our prayer books – our siddurim – and pray with mahzorim instead.  Why does this book have a different name? Actually, there are mahzorim for each festival as well as for the High Holy Days.  We wrote about the oldest and most comprehensive mahzor, the Mahzor Read More…

What Are “Selihot”? Originally Published September 7-8, 2018.

We have been hearing this word for a week now.  Selihot (סְלִיחוֹת) generically are communal penitential prayers for forgiveness.  We say them on fast days, and we say them beginning after the end of the Shabbat which is the week before Rosh Hashanah, or when Rosh Hashanah begins on a Sunday night or a Monday Read More…