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…

What Are Those Hands Above the Ark Doing? Originally published April 27-28, 2018

At the Second Temple, there were steps leading up to a platform, behind which sat the Holy Ark.  The Temple priests, the Kohanim (descendants of Aaron), would stand on the platform (or on the steps leading to it, depending on the source of information and the scholar discussing it) and bless the  public standing below Read More…

What Are Ofanim? Originally published April 20-21, 2018

The notion of a many-eyed many-sphered transporting creature (I envision something like an armillary sphere with eyes) which can travel in any direction and looks like shining beryl (emerald is a common type of beryl, for instance) is intriguing.  Yet for all their wonder, and even though they appear daily in our liturgy, the Ofanim Read More…

What is that young man doing: what is involved with chanting Torah? Originally published April 13-14, 2018

What does it take to chant a Torah reading?  Let’s get to the basics.  The text in the Torah scroll is handwritten by a scribe in ink on parchment, and the reader points with a pointer (a yad, a “hand”) without touching skin to the scroll.  Now, in Hebrew the vowel sounds and consonant variants Read More…

Is Profanity Prohibited in Judaism? Originally published April 5-6, 2018

With thanks to Rob Menes for posing the question and providing some of the answer, let’s look at profanity.  The English word has its roots in religion:  fanus in Latin is a temple, and profanus refers to being before or outside the temple, not yet holy, but not the opposite of holy, either – really Read More…

Does Elijah the Prophet Really Visit? Originally published March 30-31, 2018

We talk about Elijah a lot.  We sing about him every week at Havdalah, we hear his name at a brit milah, and in the blessings after reading a haftarah, and we invite him in for a cup of wine at our Passover seders.  “Eliyahu HaNavi…” We read that Elijah will return to earth to Read More…

What is the History of the Kippah? Originally published March 23-24, 2018

Basically, a kippah covers one’s head. While there is no mandate to do so in the Torah, one early reference to head covering is in Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin 31a, in which a rabbi would not walk bare-headed more than four cubits without a head covering, as the Divine Presence is above his head.  The Shulkhan Read More…