What Is Shabbat Shekalim? Originally Published March 1-2, 2019.

Shekalim (שְׁקָלִים) is the fourth tractate in the order of Mo’ed, which deals with the annual half-shekel tax collected for the maintenance of the Temple and its services, and other attending appurtenances.  A shekel is a unit of currency, having begun its life as a unit of weight of gold or silver.  In the third Read More…

Why Were There So Many “S” Sounds at Grandpa’s Funeral? Originally Published February 22-23, 2019.

Grandpa’s funeral was conducted with Ashkenazic Hebrew, and in this particular case (as your correspondent was there) was a certain variety of the Ashkenazic dialect, which prompted the other grandchild to ask about the “oy” sounds.   Interestingly, Ashkenaz (אַשְׁכְּנַז) (Genesis 10:3 shows Ashkenaz as a descendant of Japheth, third son of Noah) is a designation Read More…

What Are the Solomon Schechter Awards? Originally Published February 15-16, 2019.

Rabbi Stephen Steindel mentioned the Solomon Schechter Awards the other day, so we may thank him for this week’s quest for information. Presented by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), of which Congregation Beth Shalom is a member in the Central District, the Solomon Schechter Awards recognize extraordinary achievement by congregations in various aspects Read More…

What Is a Sisterhood? Originally Published on February 8-9, 2019.

Sisterhoods as auxiliaries of synagogues have been around in the United States for more than 120 years.  Both Sisterhoods and Brotherhoods (or Men’s Clubs) were formed as a way to keep folks engaged in synagogue life.  The goal was to form a regular vehicle through which activities would be coordinated. The notion ran across the Read More…

Did I Go to Shul, Temple, or Synagogue? Or Was It Something Else? Originally Published February 1-2, 2019.

Of course our experience of our praying spaces is always “something else”!    Used to be our assembly houses were known as exactly that – assembly houses, batei kenesset.  They were also referred to, in more reverence, as kehillot kodesh, holy communities.  The Greek word “synagogue” (συναγωγή)  means “assembly,” and we have adopted that word Read More…

What Is the Cairo Genizah? Originally Published January 25-26, 2019.

As we read of the Jews fleeing Egypt, this past Wednesday in Hazzan Menes’ Coffee with the Cantor class we were reminded of our complex history with Egypt, so it seems a good time to mention the Cairo Genizah. A genizah – a “hiding place” – generally refers to a depository for items which can Read More…

When Do We Hear the Aseret Hadibberot? Originally published January 18-19, 2019.

The Aseret Hadibberot (עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת), the Ten Pronouncements (colloquially, the “Ten Commandments” or, from the Greek translation of the Hebrew, the “Decalogue”), appear next week in Exodus Chapter 20, in Parashat Yitro.  And as Am Yisrael stood at the base of Mount Sinai, so we also stand to hear the  Aseret Hadibberot chanted as a Read More…

What Is Tu Bishvat? Originally published on January 18-19, 2019

This year the New Year of the Trees, Tu Bishvat (ט”וּ בִּשְׁבָט),  is a celebration of the blossoming of trees.  The fruit of a tree may not be used during the first three years (marked by this date).  In the fourth year the fruit may be used for sacrifices (tithed), but it may not be Read More…

What is Shirat Hayam? Originally published January 11-12, 2019.

Shirat Hayam (שִׁירַת הַיָּם),  the “Song of the Sea” (also known as “Az Yashir Moshe,” which is the first line), appears at Exodus 15:1, which we will read next week in Parashat Beshallah, on Shabbat Shirah.  It praises God in recounting the crossing of the Sea of Reeds (the Red Sea) and the destruction of Read More…

What Is Tahanun? Originally Published January 4-5, 2019.

Tahanun (תַּחֲנוּן) or “supplication” is also sometimes called “nefilat appayim,” which means “falling on the face.”  It is a part of the morning (Shaharit) service and also the afternoon (Minhah) service, falling just after the Amidah.  Differing practices have arisen around this prayer which has its roots in the Bible and is set forth in Read More…