Who was Marc Chagall (1887-1985)? Originally published July 6-7, 2018

Marc Zakharovich Chagall was born on July 7, 1887, in Vitebsk, Belarus, Russia.  He was an artist. After studying from 1907-1910 in Saint Petersburg at the Imperial Society for the Protection of the Arts and at the Svanseva School with Léon Bakst (artist/scenic designer whose original name was Lev Samoylovich Rosenberg), Chagall moved to Paris Read More…

Who was Joseph Achron (1886-1943)? Originally published June 29-30, 2018

If you were fortunate enough to attend the concert this past Monday, in which the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival, along with Chamber Music Pittsburgh, Rodef Shalom, and the United Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, presented “Hebrew Melodies,” featuring Tehila Nini Goldstein, soprano, and various members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, you heard some seldom-heard music.  Read More…

What was the Mahzor Vitri? Originally published June 22-23, 2018

Last week, in discussing Mi Shebeirakh, we mentioned that it first appeared in the 13th century, in the Mahzor Vitri. So what is that book? Simhah ben Samuel of Vitry (sometimes spelled Vitri), who died before 1105 CE, compiled this book – a liturgical and legal compendium, the British Library calls it – to include Read More…

What Is a “Mi Shebeirakh”? Originally published June 15-16, 2018

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” or we have a “Mi Shebeirakh list.”  The words themselves mean “[May the One] Who blessed,” Read More…

What Are All These Words About Mourning? Originally published June 8-9, 2018

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 has died. Tahara is the ritual washing of a body prior to burial.  After this purification Read More…

What Was Manna from Heaven Made Of? Originally published June 1-2, 2018

In this week’s parashah (portion of the Torah) we read about manna.  It is described as a fine, scale-like thing, fine as the hoar-frost on the ground (hoar-frost is a greyish frozen dew), and it is also described as white coriander seed.  Manna would fall over night, and it was collected each morning (except on Read More…

What Is an Aufruf? Originally published May 25-26, 2018

An aufruf is a formal presentation to the congregation of the intended couple very soon to be married.  The word is Yiddish,  אויפרוף  (often pronounced OYF-roof), and in its verb form it is  אויפרופן.  (We could do a box just on Yiddish pronunciation in various areas of the world!)  We pronounce it here in our Read More…

What Do Babies Have to Do with Shavu’ot? Originally published May 18-19, 2018

Many think of Shavu’ot as the time for graduations, and that it is!  We also celebrate the spiritual awakening of our people with the giving  and receiving of the Torah.  (Also we eat cheesecake because it is rich and sweet like the words of Torah.) And we celebrate the “new fruits” of the season.  Shavu’ot Read More…

What Is Yom Yerushalayim? Originally published May 11-12, 2018

An Israeli national holiday, יום ירושלים or Jerusalem Day commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in June 1967.  Interestingly, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel at the time declared Jerusalem Day a minor religious holiday to thank God for victory in the Six-Day War and for answering Read More…

What Is an Omer and Why Are We Counting Them? Originally published May 4-5, 2018

An omer is a tenth of an ephah.  These are dry measures that were used in ancient times.  An “omer” may also mean a “sheaf” of grain, in this case barley, and that is what we are counting during these days. In Leviticus 23:9-11 (this week’s parashah!), we read that we were forbidden to use Read More…