Here you will find questions that the Rabbi's Assistant asks to help gain a better understanding of Jewish life and culture.

I've Always Wondered
What is a Gabbai? (Reprise) Originally Published December 2-3, 2022.New!!

Since we suggest that anyone concerned about the manner of being called to the Torah consult the gabbayim ahead of time, we thought we would reprise the information below. Generally speaking, a gabbai (feminine:  gabba’it) is appointed to serve to distribute honors for a service and to conduct (stage manage) some of the ritual, in […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Influential Jewish Fellow Was Born November 27, 1874? Originally Published November 25-26, 2022.New!!

Here is a hint to the answer to our question for those who have heard the story over morning minyan breakfast:  this person was first cousin to the mother of our friend Joe Charny. Dr. Chaim Azriel Weizmann was born in Motol, Belarus, to Ozer & Rachel Leah Weizmann.  He would study biochemistry in Switzerland […]

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I've Always Wondered
Snippets. Originally Published November 18-19, 2022.

Here we address a few questions we have received whose answers do not necessarily require a full column. When do we begin counting sheloshim, the 30 days after someone passes away?  The day of the funeral (the day of burial) is Day 1.  This is also how we count shiv’ah, the seven days of mourning. […]

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I've Always Wondered
Can Humor Elevate a Soul? Originally Published November 10, 2022.

We have already discussed how study can elevate the soul of a lost loved one, doubly if we say the Kaddish DiRabbanan after studying since the Mourner’s Kaddish is embodied therein. Some say that a similar path toward elevation is fond remembrance of time together.  This year, your correspondent has been remembering the eleven we […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Was that about the Origins of the Zohar? Originally Published July 22-23, 2022.

Last week we mentioned the sparsely living and greatly studying Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai whose mysticism was carried forward through the Zohar.  He was one of Rabbi Akiva’s precious few disciples who survived the revolt (or the plague), and it is said that later, after continuing to rail against Rome, he had to flee and […]

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I've Always Wondered
What is the Zohar? Originally Published July 15-16, 2022.

A while back we were discussing what is Lag BaOmer, and we mentioned the plague among Rabbi Akiva’s students, and that some scholars feel it was really referring to the students who participated in the revolt led by Bar Kochba against the Romans.  So as not to become targets of the Romans, they may have […]

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I've Always Wondered
Who Was Henrietta Adler? Originally Published July 8-9, 2022.

Born either on July 14, 1870, or on December 1, 1868 (sources conflict), Henrietta “Nettie” Adler was the granddaughter of the Chief Rabbi of England Nathan Marcus Adler, and her father Hermann Adler would serve in the same post (he was deputized when his father’s health declined, and was later elected).  Ms. Adler was interested […]

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I've Always Wondered
Who Was Rev. Frederick de Sola Mendes? Originally Published July 1-2, 2022.

Born on July 8, 1850, in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Frederick de Sola Mendes was a part of the Mendes family of Spanish and Portuguese rabbis, including his father Rabbi Abraham Pereira Mendes.  His mother was Eliza de Sola, coming from thirteen generations of rabbis in Italy, France, and Amsterdam, including Frederick’s grandfather Rabbi David Aaron […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Connects the Summer Solstice and the Month of Tammuz? Originally Published June 24-25, 2022.

This past week we experienced the aestival solstice, the beginning of summer, the longest daylight day of the year.  Although this year the month of Tammuz doesn’t begin until over a week later, that month is often associated in Jewish life with the solstice.  Tammuz is named for the Sumerian god Tammuz.  He was supposedly […]

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I've Always Wondered
Who Are the Descendants of Rev. Elias Zaludkowski? Originally Published June 17-18, 2022.

Last week we told a bit about the life of Cantor Elias Zaludkowski.  While living here in Pittsburgh, he not only served as Cantor, but literally became a part of the Beth Shalom family.  A couple weeks ago we were honored by a visit from the Avner family, who came from all around the country […]

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