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
Who Was Rev. Frederick de Sola Mendes? Originally Published July 1-2, 2022.New!!

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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I've Always Wondered
Who Was Rev. Elias Zaludkowski? Originally Published June 10-11, 2022.

From 1937 to 1943, Elias Zaludkowski was Cantor of Congregation Beth Shalom.  (I hear some of you saying, “I knew that!”)  He and Rabbi Goodman Rose (who served this congregation from 1924 to 1950), the second Cantor and the second Rabbi to serve the congregation, put together a siddur, eponymously The Friday Evening Late Service.  […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Is Tikkun Leil Shavu’ot? Originally Published June 3-4, 2022.

Because, the story goes, folks woke up late to receive the Torah from God, each year we make “reparations” or “rectification” (tikkun) by staying up all night (leil) on Shavu’ot to study.  That way we cannot sleep through - and thus miss - anything important.  (We note that the book tikkun may be used to […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Is Remembrance Day for Ethiopian Jews? Originally Published May 27-28, 2022.

The calendar says that the 28th day of Iyyar is not only Yom Yershalayim (Jerusalem Day) but also Remembrance Day for Ethiopian Jews.  This year it is Sunday, May 29th. The Israeli Ethiopian community on this day remembers those who attempted the journey to Israel but did not make it alive. We have written before […]

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I've Always Wondered
Who/What Is a Sheliah Tzibbur? And What Is a Cantor? Published May 20, 2022.

Deriving from the word for “sending” or “messenger,” and the word for “community,” the sheliah tzibbur is the person who leads the congregation (the tzibbur) in prayers.  Sometimes the sheliah tzibbur is considered to be fulfilling obligations on behalf of the congregation. The Shulhan Arukh states that the person must be “appropriate,” which has been […]

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I've Always Wondered
Who Was Nora Ephron, Born on May 19, 1941? Originally Published May 13-14, 2022.

The eldest of four daughters born to Phoebe and Henry Ephron, who both were playwrights and screenwriters born in the U.S., Nora Ephron in high school wanted to grow up to be another Dorothy Parker.  Soon she augmented that dream to include journalism, and majored at Wellesley College (Massachusetts) in Political Science.  In 1961 she […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Should We Know About Henry Morgenthau Jr.? Originally Published May 6-7, 2022.

Born on May 11, 1891, in New York, into a prominent Jewish family, Henry Morgenthau Jr. studied architecture and agriculture at Cornell University.  Around that same time, during WWI, his father, Sr., served as President Woodrow Wilson’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.  In Constantinople, Sr. learned about the atrocities the empire was committing against the […]

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I've Always Wondered
Are We Allowed to Listen to Shabbat Music While Mourning? Originally Published April 29-30, 2022.

A reader asks, “If this Shabbat is Hod veHadar Instrumental Kabbalat Shabbat, and I am in mourning, am I allowed to go?”  The answer basically is that we do not mourn officially during Shabbat, we observe Shabbat.  To a large extent, mourning is suspended. There is a tradition of mourners not entering the Shabbat (Friday) […]

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