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Thoughts and thank-yous from The Jewish Highway – Canadian Jewish News

Posted By on April 8, 2020

How do you put into perspective the demise of The Canadian Jewish News given the illness and death that are wreaking havoc throughout the world? It is folly to create scales of suffering but the loss of a newspaper goes beyond the impact on its dedicated staff.

It leaves a community without a trusted voice, a source of true news, when so much of the opposite is proliferating out there. It is particularly a shame when it is happening to the third largest Jewish community outside Israel. Only the U.S. and France have more Jews than Canada.

This column has had the honour to appear on the pages and later, the website of The Canadian Jewish News since Feb. 1996. Back then, the World Wide Web was starting to find its way into Canadian homes (usually via a very noisy modem). Known as The Information Superhighway, it was both achingly slow and revolutionary in its appeal.

In my first column of The Jewish Highway, I wrote, For a nation scattered to the four corners of the earth, this new technology presents a unique opportunity. I want to take you to many places where you can:

Back then, surfing the web usually meant plunking yourself in front of a PC (but for me, always a Mac!) and reading pages and pages of text. Streaming video, iPhones, Wi-Fi access, Wikipedia, YouTube, even Google, were still years away. And if you had mentioned Facebook, Instagram or Zoom (which are playing such a crucial role during these difficult days), you would have received a vacant stare.

Jewish content online was always impressive. I remember seeing the first website that could chant the entire Torah. What could ever top that, I thought? It turns out plenty. Never has so much Jewish content been so accessible. Talmud. Commentaries. Outreach. Information about rare Jewish genetic diseases. And lets not forget that a disproportionate amount of the technology that keeps the Web, our computers and our digital devices going has been developed in Start-up Nation, aka Israel.

At the same time, there certainly are dangers lurking out there, and they embody values antithetical to Judaism ranging from blasphemies (The Jews were behind 9/11) to pornography to homegrown forums for lashon hara (malicious gossip), and the constant temptation to waste our most precious resource, time.

As the exchange of digital information has grown, it has been interesting to note how segments of the Jewish community have dealt with it. Some saw its potential and decided to embrace it early. Others decided to reject it for mostly the same reasons. But in recent years, even those who would prefer to shun it have realized that the Internet unlike television cannot just be ignored, and that more sophisticated strategies are required.

Occasionally, I am asked what role this column continued to play when we have sophisticated search engines like Google. In the early days, my challenge was to track down and recommend hard-to-find websites. With the exponential growth of the Internet, this column has subtly changed. Nowadays, thanks to information overload, I feel that journalists play an even more important role in sifting through the vast majority of sites which really are not worth your time in order to uncover the treasures which are.

I have been privileged to do that and have so many people to thank:

This is not the first time that I have bid farewell. Back in 2013, things looked pretty grim, but against all odds, the CJN (and this column) were back. One can invoke imagery of the mythical phoenix or the cat and its nine lives or a bit closer to home, the Jewish belief in gilgul neshamot. But who knows if reincarnation applies to newspapers?

In the meantime, please do keep safe. Remember to keep apart physically. But at the same time, keep very close virtually and spiritually.

Have a happy and kosher Passover!



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Thoughts and thank-yous from The Jewish Highway - Canadian Jewish News

Learning Initiative Keeps YU Community Inspired and Connected – Yu News

Posted By on April 8, 2020

Yeshiva Universitys Office of Alumni Affairs introduced a Community Learning Initiative, an array of online learning opportunities for the YU community. Below is a summary of the first series of virtual webinars presented by our talented teachers that ran from March 23-31, 2020.

Judaic Studies Faculty, Stern College for Women; Assistant Director of AdmissionsGrowth, Goals and Grit: Religious and Psychological Strategies for Flourishing During Challenging Times (March 23)

Within the context of coping with the challenges of the coronavirus, Rabbi Schiffman explored Dr. Carol Dwecks concept of Growth Mindset through the prism of Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers], focusing on the importance of reminding ourselves that we can grow and learn in all circumstances. He then transitioned to Dr. Angela Duckworths construct of grit, also framed through the lens of Pirkei Avot, highlighting the significance of clarifying long-term goals and persevering towards those goals despite obstacles while also being flexible in adapting the goals when necessary.

Director, YU Center for Israel Studies; Churgin Professor of Jewish HistoryFrom Darkness to Great Light: Pesach in the Talmudic Village (March 23)

Dr. Fine talked about the decisions made by the Tannaim [teachers whose views are recorded in the Mishnah] in the wake of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE to maintain as much of the Passover as possible and of the subtle redirection of Pesach eve from sacrifice to the seder as we know it. He discussed how the Seder of Hazal [Jewish sages of the Mishna, Tosefta and Talmud eras] was not a foregone conclusion. After the destruction of the Samaritan temple (114-111 BCE) on Mt. Gerizim, for example, the Samaritans continued the sacrifice, a central point of their liturgical year to this day. He set all of this within the contexts of daily life in Talmudic era villages across northern Israel. Jews chose a very different path, said Dr. Fine, one of slow and steady redemption through Torah and prayer.

Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Abraham and Jelena (Rachel) Alcalay Chair in Sephardic Studies; associate professor, Sephardic Studies; director, Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs Dancing in the Dark: Life and Death in Sefarad (March 24)

As a historian, Dr. Perelis believes that looking to the past can be a source of inspiration and sorely needed wisdom. In his talk, he offered words of inspiration about how people have experienced difficult times before and managed to come through and that during those crises, there were those who lived nobly, with kindness and humanity, alongside those who let fear drive them to cruelty. He explored two poems from medieval Spain that meditated on mortality and the universality of death. One took a humorous, albeit dark, approach that allowed the poet to level sharp critiques at the powerful in society, and the other, by Shmuel Hanagid, channeled Kohelet in exploring life and death.

During this time of confusion and fear, a university can serve as a refuge, as a place to renew your energy, step outside your particular daled amot [approximate measure of six feet] and gain a deeper perspective, said Dr. Perelis. I was so honored to join with my talented colleagues across the University in this project to connect to the wider community at this time.

Professor, Yeshiva College, Bernard Revel Graduate SchoolThe Origin of the Alphabet/Aleph Bet (March 25)

Dr. Koller discussed the rise of language, then the earliest art, then the birth of writing about 5,000 years ago. The invention of the alphabet was the focus a development that happened once, about 4,000 years ago, somewhere in the vicinity of Egypt/Israel. He talked about how the alphabet was invented and the social and cultural implications of this radically different way of writing. It was a treat to share some of my ongoing work with the broader YU and world community in this way, said Dr. Koller. I teach a course on the history of the alphabet at Yeshiva College, and it was gratifying to see so many people tune in from around the world, including Russia, Israel, Germany, the UK, and the United States. We all enjoyed the interesting questions that were asked and the shared thoughts and insights.

Associate Director, Employer Relations and Alumni Programs, Career CenterTaking Control of the Remote Lifestyle: Working from Home and its Opportunities (March 25)

Garcia discussed the challenges associated with the sudden shift to working remotely, including maintaining productivity and performance at work, adjusting to a new, non-traditional office setting and navigating personal and professional commitments. Through facilitation and group discussion, reasonable solutions were provided to participants. One participant shared that the session provided helpful guidelines to adjusting to a new remote work lifestyle.

Dean, Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and AdministrationBuilding Resilience for Our Families and Ourselves: Life Skills to Cope with Challenge (March 25)

Dr. Novick discussed ways to promote our own resilience and that of our families as well as the science and practice of coping in the face of uncertainty and crisis. She explored the physiological, cognitive and behavioral strategies that can promote resilience and stressed the need to recognize our responses to the current extraordinary situation and adjust our expectations. In a crisis situation, we need flexibility, Dr. Novick explained. Sticking to old ways of thinking and expecting everything to be as it always was not only makes no sense, it does not allow for coping and growth. The session also discussed the challenge for parents who wonder how to reassure children when the situation is so uncertain. In her recently published childrens book, Mommy, Can You Stop the Rain?, Dr. Novick offered guidelines on how parents can and should provide support and love even when they cannot eliminate all the stress in their childrens lives.

Professor, Yeshiva College, Bernard Revel Graduate School; Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Yeshiva CollegeThe First Babylonian Exiles (March 26)

Dr. Holtz explored a biblical text (Jeremiah 29) that contains a letter sent from the prophet in Jerusalem to the community of Judeans in Babylonian exile. In the letter, the prophet urged the community to continue daily life and pray for the welfare of the city in which they found themselves. Dr. Holtz paired this well-known text with two more recently discovered legal documents written in Babylonian cuneiform on clay tablets. He discussed that these documents recorded transactions conducted in a place called City of the Judeans and featured protagonists with Judean names. Together with the biblical text, they offer a glimpse into the earliest Jewish community outside the land of Israel. By hosting these talks, Yeshiva University is fulfilling its vital mission of ensuring an intellectually engaged Jewish community, said Dr. Holtz. When just getting by threatens to become an all-consuming enterprise, YUs classes are a lifeline.

Chair, Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies; professor, Stern College for WomenBeyond Cowicide: A New Look at Korbanot (March 26)

Dr. Rabinovichs presentation began with a discussion about one of the unsung days of the Jewish calendar: Rosh Chodesh Nissan [the first day of the month of Nissan]. Nissan is the month of redemption, and the final push for the Exodus began with Gods instructions to Moshe on the first of Nissan. She then focused on the first of Nissan the following year, the date that marked Opening Day for the Mishkan [tabernacle], the formal opening with the avodah [worship] being performed for the first time by Aharon and his sons. She continued her discussion about Moshe, who served as acting Cohen [high priest] during the soft openingthat is, during the Seven Days of Miluim [Installment], had returned to his more traditional role of teacher and set out the various categories of korbanot [sacrifices] for the people. Those korbanot provide a framework for how we can now be able to come close to God, to develop a relationship with Him in various contexts.

Dean, Sy Syms School of BusinessRabbi Elazar and the Jews in the Desert: Lessons for Todays Dramatically Changed Matzav (March 26)

Dr. Wasserman introduced a concept from business which he called entrepreneurial blueprints, that is, our mental models of how the world works. He used the concept to answer a puzzle from the Torah reading for Pesach about the challenges of shifting from a deeply ingrained blueprint to a new one when we are faced with a new situation. He then used that idea to answer a question about a Gemara [portion of the Talmud] regarding the interpersonal dynamics between two of the all-time great rabbis, Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Yochanan. Dr. Wasserman then applied this thought to the dramatic shifts forced by the coronavirus, gaining insights both for our current challenges and for how we can get stronger from this experience when we hopefully return to our non-corona situation.

The audience insights and questions afterward were golden, said Dr. Wasserman. I learned a lot from them, including how to apply the blueprints concept to the changes we might face at this years seder, to the Jewish concept of teshuva [penitence] and to other realms of halacha [Jewish law].

Associate Clinical Professor, Wurzweiler School of Social WorkModeling Resilience for Your Children and Grandchildren (March 27)

Drs. Lynn and Philip Levy, authors of The Resilient Couple: Navigating Together through Life, provided a webinar for parents and grandparents. During their presentation, they pointed out that even as we are practicing social distancing and enduring emotional distance from our friends and loved ones, we are also challenged to rely on our own resilience to sustain ourselves and those close to us. They talked about how this is an opportunity to be role models for our children and grandchildren and to demonstrate not only our own resilience and coping strategies but to assist our adult children as well, who may be juggling having to work at home in the presence of their children. They also discussed the importance of self-care and stressed that we must nurture ourselves before we can support others. The skills we have learned to manage minor and major stressors in our lives can be put to use during this extraordinary time, said Dr. Levy. The most important thing to remember is that we are all in this together, and even if we are not inclined to ask for help, now is the time to do it when we need it; only then can we be of help to others.

Other presentations were given by:Rabbi Gideon ShloushAdjunct Professor, Stern College for Women, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological SeminaryTehillim for Difficult Times (March 24)

Dr. Ari MermelsteinAssociate Professor, Yeshiva College, Bernard Revel Graduate SchoolDid the Wise Son Own a Haggadah? Talmud Torah as an Alternative to Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim on Seder Night (March 24)

The Office of Alumni Affairs also produced a second series of webinars presented by our talented teachers from March 29 to April 2, 2020.

Sunday, March 297:45 8:30 p.m.Rabbi Daniel FeldmanRosh Yeshiva, RIETS, Rabbi, Congregation Ohr Saadya, Teaneck, New JerseyThe Ethical Message of Mechiras ChametzThis shiur is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Ozer Glickman zl

8:30 9:15 p.m.Rabbi Dr. Aaron GlattChair of the Department of Medicine, Mount Sinai South Nassau, Chief of Infectious Diseases, Hospital Epidemiologist, Associate Rabbi, Congregation Anshei Chesed and Assistant Rabbi, Young Israel of WoodmereSomething to Say at the Seder

Monday, March 308 8:30 p.m.Rabbi Larry RothwachsDirector of Professional Rabbinics, RIETS, Rabbi, Congregation Beth Aaron, Teaneck, New JerseyAs If He Himself Has Left Mitzraim: How the Most Difficult Obligation of the Seder Night Just Became a Whole Lot Easier

8:30 9 p.m.Dr. Michelle LevineAssociate Professor of Bible at Stern College for WomenThe Symbolic Ritual of the Korban Pesach: Israels Ticket to Freedom

Tuesday, March 317:30 p.m.Laizer KornwasserAdjunct Professor, Sy Syms School of BusinessJ&J Tylenol, The Iowa Caucus and the RCBC: Crisis Management 101

8 8:30 p.m.Rabbi Yaakov GlasserDavid Mitzner Dean, CJF, Rabbi, Young Israel of Passaic-CliftonThe Seder in Bnei Brak

8:30 9 p.m.Rabbi Dr. Mordechai SchiffmanClinical Assistant Professor, Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, Assistant Rabbi, Kingsway Jewish Center, Brooklyn, New York

Wednesday, April 18 8:30 p.m.Dr. Rona NovickDean, Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and AdministrationThe Psychology of Empathy Can We Personally Experience Yetziat Mitzrayim?

8:30 9 p.m.Rabbi Moshe Tzvi WeinbergMashpia, Congregation Beth Abraham, Bergenfield, New Jersey, Rebbe and Mashgiach Ruchani, Stone Beit Midrash Program

Thursday, April 28:30 9 p.m.Rabbi Dr. Ari BermanPresident, Yeshiva UniversityShabbat Hagadol Drasha: The Message and Meaning of Pesach Today

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Learning Initiative Keeps YU Community Inspired and Connected - Yu News

Mah Nishtanah: The Three Questions – Jewish Link of New Jersey

Posted By on April 8, 2020

The mishnah in the tenth chapter of Pesacim includes a set of mah nishtanah. If one opens a standard Babylonian Talmud (Pesacim 116a), one sees four questions in the text of the mishnah (matzah, maror, roast and dipping). But if one opens a standard Jerusalem Talmud, one sees three questions (dipping, matzah and roast). Is this one of those rare instances of a disagreement between the text of the Mishnah preserved in Babylonia and the text of the Mishnah preserved in Palestine?

It turns out that it is practically certain that the original text of the mishnah recorded only three questions: dipping, matzah and roast. This is what the earliest and most reliable mishnah manuscripts record. There is no distinction between a Babylonian Mishnah and a Palestinian Mishnah here. Moreover, if one looks at the text of the mishnah recorded in the Rif and the Rosh, one sees that they, too, record a mishnah which included only the above three questions. Also, Rambam utilized a text of the mishnah which included only the above three questions.

Almost certainly, the familiarity of later copyists and early printers with the maror question from the texts of their Haggadah led some of them to erroneously insert the maror question into their texts of the mishnah.

A widely quoted understanding of the mah nishtanah takes the position that there were always four questions, and that the roast question did not survive after the curban, with the reclining question substituting for it. I just showed that there were originally only three questions. It also turns out that the roast question survived in some areas for 1,000 years after the curban.

Documents from the Cairo Genizah generally date from the 10th through the 13th centuries. This is roughly the period of the Haggadah fragments as well. Of course, not all of the Haggadah fragments from the Genizah span the mah nishtanah section. But of those that do, many include the roast question.

Although most of the mah nishtanah Haggadah fragments found in the Genizah record four questions the way they are asked today, we also find the following:

-Several record three questions: matzah, dipping and roast, just like the original text of the mishnah.

One records the following three questions: dipping, matzah and reclining.

Two record five questions: dipping, matzah, roast, maror and reclining.

Two record only the questions of dipping and roast. (There does not appear to be any reason why the matzah question would have been intentionally discontinued. These probably originate with a scribal error.)

One records only the questions of dipping and matzah.

I would like to focus on this last source, which is not a Haggadah fragment, but is a section of an anonymous Geonic responsum that includes an outline of the procedures at the Seder. It can be deduced that the responsum was composed in Babylonia because it includes Avadim hayyinu, which was not a part of the Palestinian Seder ritual in this period. This responsum was first published by Louis Ginzberg, in his Ginzey Schechter, Vol. 2, pp. 258-60.

Shmuel and Zeev Safrai composed a monumental work: Haggadat Chazal. Here they write that the third and fourth questions are caserot be-sof he-amud, implying that these questions were originally included in this responsum but were cut off. See Haggadat Chazal, p. 64, n. 53. (See also their later English adaptation, p. 65, n. 30.) They take this approach so that the set of questions in our responsum could then parallel the set of questions found in the other known Babylonian Geonic sources of the Haggadah text: e.g., Seder Rav Amram Gaon and Siddur Rav Saadiah Gaon. These sources record the standard four questions: dipping, matzah, maror and reclining.

But anyone can now view this responsum (Cambridge T-S Misc. 36.179) at It is clear that the third and fourth questions were never there. The first side ends with the last words of the matzah question, the next side continues immediately with Avadim hayyinu, and there are no missing lines in between. So this source records a two-question set in Babylonia. The idea that we have now been able to excavate such a set, evidence of a period before four questions became the universal practice there, is truly remarkable. On a paleographical basis, the responsum has been dated to the 10th century.

Regarding the issue of when the maror and reclining questions were added, the following are some reasonable observations:

The maror question probably arose after the dipping question lost its connotation as a maror question. Once this happened, it was viewed as necessary to add a question relating to maror.

The reclining question probably arose as a replacement to the roast question.

Probably a desire arose at some point to fix the number of questions at four, parallel to the themes of four cups of wine and four sons.

The above is an abridged version of an article published in my book Esther Unmasked (2015).

P.S. I cannot leave this topic without the following diversion into the modern period. The Haggadah particularly resonated with the early kibbutznikim because they felt that they were like people who had gone out of Egypt. But they felt free to modernize the text. For example, at Kibbutz Ein Harod in the 1930s and 1940s, the four questions were: Why do people all over the world hate Jews? When will the Jews return to their land? When will our land become a fertile garden? When will there be peace and brotherhood in the world? For more on this topic, see M. Tzur and Y. Danieli, Yotzim Be-Chodesh Ha-Aviv (2004). This book includes extracts from hundreds of kibbutz Haggadot written between the late 1920s and 1960s.

Mitchell First can be reached at [emailprotected] He looks forward to creating his own mah nishtanah questions someday.

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Mah Nishtanah: The Three Questions - Jewish Link of New Jersey

Blue State Blues: Rabbi Akivas Lessons for Passover in the Pandemic – Breitbart

Posted By on April 8, 2020

Rabbi Eli Stefansky, who leads a worldwide daily lesson in Talmud, observed Wednesday that this year marks the first time in history that Passover has been celebrated in discrete families save for the very first Passover, in Egypt, in the Exodus.

The subtle implication: just as that generation endured a night of peril in quiet contemplation, and experienced a miraculous deliverance the next morning, so, too, may we also live to see a liberation for all humanity.

We may not easily recognize the form of that deliverance.

My paternal great-grandfather Boris, or Baruch, was a soldier who died in the last great pandemic in 1919. He was my age.

I found his grave on a visit to Lithuania two years ago. His tragic death rendered my great-grandmother and her four children instantly destitute.

Their only option was to abandon their town,Jonikis, for South Africa, where relatives could help them start over.

Two decades later, every Jew inJonikis was murdered.

And so, ironically, I am alive because of Baruchs passing.

I say this not as an attempt to console anyone who, God forbid, has lost someone to coronavirus, or who may be fighting that illness right now.

I say it only to observe that there is no way for us to understand how and why the universe works the way it does. Only God understands.

This year, the pain of celebrating Passover in isolation is compounded by the fact that the coronavirus has hit the religious Jewish community particularly hard.

We cannot know why; we did not deserve it. What we know is we are lucky to be celebrating Passover at all.

There are people still alive today who survived the horror of the Holocaust. For most of them in the ghettos, in the concentration camps, or in hiding the idea of celebrating the Festival of Freedom was unthinkable at best, a cruel irony at worst.

Some peopledid find a way miraculously but they did so at great risk to their lives.

We, today, have the opportunity tosave life by celebrating small.

The Talmud (Tractate Berachot 60-61)discusses a curious principle in Jewish law: namely, that one is obligated to bless God for bad fortune as well as good fortune.

The sages wrestle with this difficult idea and they illustrate it, as the Talmud so often does, with a story.

In this case, the tale involves Rabbi Akiva, one of the most influential and iconic teachers in the entire Jewish tradition, a man considered so righteous that the Talmud suggests elsewhere he was more pious than Moses himself.

The story goes (Artscroll translation):

Rabbi Akiva was once traveling along the road. When he reached a certain city, he requested lodgings but no one provided him any. He said: Whatever the Merciful One does is for the best. He went and slept in the field. Now, he had with him a rooster, a donkey and a lamp. The wind came and blew out the lamp; a cat came and ate the rooster; a lion came and ate the donkey. After suffering these losses, [Rabbi Akiva] said: Whatever the Merciful One does is for the best. That very night, an army came and captured the city. [Rabbi Akiva] said to them [i.e. his traveling companions]: Did I not tell you, Whatever the Holy One, Blessed is He, does is all for the good? (Tractate Berachot 60b-61a)

The lesson is particularly poignant because of the tragic circumstances of Rabbi Akivas life. He lived to see both the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, and the crushing of the Bar Kochba revolt around 135, after which he was tortured and executed.

Moreover, Rabbi Akiva also survived a pandemic that wiped out his disciples all 24,000 of them, representing the entirety of Jewish religious scholarship in that generation.

Rabbi Akiva had to start over, with just five students all of whom risked their lives to receive rabbinic ordination in a time of cruel Roman persecution.

To this day, Jews observe several weeks of mourning between Passover and Shavuot (Pentecost) to recall the tragic loss of a generation of future Jewish leaders.

Interestingly, the Talmud gives a reason for the pandemic: the students did not treat each other with respect.

I have written elsewhere that the divisions in American society made us peculiarly vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak. We no longer trust our news, and we no longer even trust each other, and no sooner does a crisis like this arise than leaders of one faction or another attempt to exploit it for political gain.

Certainly one lesson to draw from this terrible affliction is that we must rebuild our national bonds.

After all, we are all in this together. As Jews must observe Passover in quarantine, Christians must also celebrate Easter outside of their churches, and Muslims will observe Ramadan later this month away from their mosques, unable to break the fast with family.

We are not always so good at getting along with each other. So perhaps our shared suffering will produce new empathy, new willingness to reach out to one another.

And there is another lesson that Rabbi Akiva teaches.

The Talmud relates (Makkot 24b), that the sages were once traveling to Jerusalem in the days after the Temples destruction.

They were gazing at the Temple Mount, desolate and destroyed, when they saw the disturbing sight of a fox emerging from the place where the Holy of Holies once stood, where the spirit of God Himself had dwelled.

The rabbis started to weep except Rabbi Akiva, who began to smile. The rabbis were aghast: how could he be happy?

Rabbi Akiva answered by quoting two prophecies from the Old Testament, which were both mentioned by Isaiah. One, the prophecy of Uriah, foretold the destruction of Jerusalem; the other, the prophecy of Zechariah, foretold its rebuilding.

Now, Rabbi Akiva explained, that he had witnessed the fulfillment of the first prophecy, it was certain that the second would also come to fruition.

Akiva, you have comforted us! the rabbis exclaimed.

As hard as this time is, it is also the first time humanity has dared to stand up to a pandemic, refusing merely to accept death.

We will prevail. We will rebuild. We will be great, again and soon.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, is available for pre-order. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

Rabbi Eli Stefanskys daily Daf Yomi lesson can be completed in eight minutes, and can be found here.

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Blue State Blues: Rabbi Akivas Lessons for Passover in the Pandemic - Breitbart

How to host a Passover seder in 2020 on video chat – Quartz

Posted By on April 8, 2020

On the Jewish holiday of Passover, tradition holds that the youngest child present at the table asks the question, Why is this night different from all other nights?

This particular Passover, smack in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, will undoubtedly be different from all other holidays that friends and families have celebrated in the past. But that wont stop Jewish people from carrying on the tradition of seder dinersceremonial feasts featuring storytelling, rituals, and many glasses of wine. Instead, many social-distancing observers who cant be with their loved ones in person plan to conduct seders this year over Google Hangouts and Zoom.

Among those planning a virtual seder is Judith Hauptman, a rabbi and professor emerita of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary who typically leads massive seders for people in their 20s and 30s for the group Ohel Ayalah. This year, shell be hosting a dinner for six from her home in New York City via video chat. Hauptman spoke with Quartz about her tips for a smooth seder in a time of self-isolation, and why the holiday carries extra significance for many Jewish people this year.

Typically, the seder host provides food for everyone. In a remote seder, thats not possible.For that reason, Hauptman recommends providing all members of the virtual seder with a complete list of the items they need on their tableincluding a box of matzoh, the unleavened bread eaten to memorialize the flight of Jewish slaves from Egypt thousands of years ago, and the bowl of salt water that symbolizes the tears shed during slavery. She compiled a complete list of items in a handy PDF. (For those who cant get to the store to acquire things like horseradish or shank bone, some rabbis recommend simply drawing those items onto the seder plate instead.)

Send the list to all attendees in advance, as well as any assignments. Hauptman says that she prefers seders with lots of group participation, which could be hard to achieve with lots of people trying to talk over one another on camera. Instead, she suggests giving structure to the seder by asking each person to lead a particular discussion topic. How about, four questions about the Four Sons? she suggests.

If all attendees are using the same haggadah (the text read during Passover), send it around to the group in advance as well. The website Haggadahs R Us has made several options free to download in light of the coronavirus pandemic. (Hauptman says its also fine if people wind up using different haggadahs, as its always interesting to compare translations.)

And make sure to do a tech test-run before the seder date to make sure that everyone knows how to get on Zoom, Google Hangouts, or whatever the groups video service of choice. A virtual seder is such a nice idea, but unless you smooth the path by engaging in these kinds of preparations, youre going to run into difficulties, Hauptman says.

Theres no need to pretend that this is a normal seder during normal times. Instead, Hauptman says, the seder leader should open it by acknowledging the current crisis. Allow people to talk about their experiences being locked down or feeling uncertain about the future. Let that influence your reading of the haggadah.

But dont let the undeniable darkness of this moment crowd out the opportunity for celebration. This is a joyous holiday despite the fact that were living with a certain level of uncertainty, she says. At this time, traditions are more meaningful for us.

At the beginning of the sederparticularly if its a larger group, or if it includes people who dont know one another wellHauptman says its smart to give everyone an opportunity to introduce themselves. When I run public seders, I give an assignment: Say who you are, where youre from, and where you hid the afikomen the last time you did that. (The afikomen is a piece of matzoh that adults hide from children during the seder dinner; the kids have to find it in order to win a prize.)

This may be particularly worth doing in a year that may see unusual combinations of seder guests. Without geographical location as a consideration on the invite list, celebrants may well decide to open up their dinners to far-flung friends and acquaintances, as time zones allow.

Theres that line [in the haggadah], Let all who are hungry come and eat, says Hauptman. Since we dont have to provide food at a seder or room at the table this year, we can spread joy and seder rituals much more than ever before. That line will take on new meaning this year. In other words, even if its not possible to feed people physically right now, Passover observers can use video chat to offer companionship and the comfort of ritual to a potentially greater number of people at a time when many feel anxious and isolated.

The pandemic offers plenty of material for a robust discussion about why the story of Passover still matters todayand not just because the haggadah famously includes the tale of the Old Testament God unleashing 10 plagues upon ancient Egyptians. Hauptman says that at its core, Passover is a story about hope.

This seder is going to make me focus on people, back then, who were living in very difficult circumstances, but theres a positive ending to the story, she says. The trajectory, we always talk about going from slavery to freedom. People today, many of whom are struggling with feeling psychologically and physically confined in an effort to keep themselves and others healthy, may be able to relate in a new way to a narrative that culminates in liberation.

So too may the Passover story resonate with people who are currently feeling the precariousness of life as they deal with sickness themselves or the illness of loved ones. Hauptman observes that the word for Egypt in Hebrew is mitzrayim, which also means narrow straits. We are in narrow straits right now, she says.

On a lighter note, Hauptman also draws a parallel between the current leadership of New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Moses. I feel good when he gives me the info, I feel like hes in charge, she says of Cuomo. I dont know how the Jews who left Egypt felt about having a leader like that. But they were not wandering in all different directions. Somebody was moving them along.

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How to host a Passover seder in 2020 on video chat - Quartz

Coronavirus Shabbat | Cole S. Aronson – First Things

Posted By on April 8, 2020

Ive been in an apartment on a quiet Jerusalem street for the past couple of weeks. Last week I spent Shabbat alone for the first time. Friday night after dinner I strolled down our little hill, careful not to go farther than the mandated 100 meters. And I heard singing. From the rooftops of Jerusalem, Jews were welcoming the Sabbath queen. On my own street, distributed across about 100 feet, people stood at a social distance, praying together (how did I not hear about this? I guess Im not in the right WhatsApp group). A bearded gentleman gave me a look that translates from Hebrew as, Nu, so youre late to shul, fine, I wont make a big deal out of it, it so happens theres an empty seat next to Yitzchak in the corner, and, I have to tell you, he has a daughter about your age . . . but at that point I walked briskly by so I wouldn't draw attention.

Israel has shut down. Rightly so, it seems to me, for the Lord instructed us that You shall keep my laws and commandments, which a man shall perform and live by them. There are exceptional cases. Certain sinsmurder, idolatry, incest, adulteryinvolve total desecration of the divine image. In times of persecution, we sanctify the Lords name in radical sacrifice by preferring death to even minor transgressions.

But saving a life trumps even observing the Sabbath and fasting on Yom Kippur. And it is not a matter of personal choice. Why is that? The Talmud says that you should violate the Sabbath to save a life so that whoever you save will keep many Sabbaths. Our raison dtre is the work we do on this earth. God did not give us his holidays, his sacrifices and laws of purity and agriculture, his rules of commerce and charity and personal conduct, so we could rack up points to be cashed in upon entry into the next world. He put us here, as it were, to till the garden and work it, so that he could make of us a great nation and bless all the earth through the chosen children of Abraham. The Mishnah in Tractate Avot teaches that one hour of repentance and performing commandments on this earth is dearer than all the world to come. The Vilna Gaon, one of our peoples great sages, was inconsolable on his deathbedhe could not bear to complete his term as an earthly agent of his Father in Heaven.

I am not an economist (nor was I meant to be) or a professional applied ethicist. I find all these decisions to be intolerably complicated. The cost to businesses and to jobs (and therefore to dignity and health and marriage) of this shutdown is high indeed. I expect that Israel, a country that has lived for 75 years hoping for better days, has wealth and solidarity enough in its national treasuries to get through this.

The Jewish perspective on life is, I think, part of why the Israelis have decided to sedate their economy for the sake of physical health. Israeli history also plays a role. Two dozen times a day in my yeshiva, I walk by a memorial to boys my age who died in the Yom Kippur War. They were classmates of my own teachers. My yeshiva being the sort of place it is, their own sons would have been my friends. I remember when I heard that Naphtali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah had been found murdered. For the first time I wept for people Id never met. They were kidnapped just outside Alon Shevut, where I study. The standing policy of the Jewish state is that there should not be fewer Jews. A state would only have this policy if the state were really a family. Already weve lost Holocaust survivors to this virus. Should we lose more of them?

R. R. Reno has written in recent days of the distinction in Catholic thought between intentionally killing and letting die. Judaism acknowledges in many places this crucial distinction, which puts the human actor, with his practical point of view, at the center of moral philosophy where he belongs. There is another principle in Jewish thoughtwhoever saves a single life, it is as if he has saved the whole world. To be sure, death will come at some point for each of us. Judaism doesnt view that prospect with equanimity. In Sheol, who will give thanks to You?, we cry to God twice each day.

Sacramental life in Israel has tolerated the national confinement. Thats because everything can be made sacred or profane. The Lord is a jealous God, and cares deeply what goes on in the kitchen, the bedroom, the office, the shulbody and mind in all things are his. You can practice (or fail to practice) Judaism everywhere. Israelis are praying and loving and studying at home, the true center of Jewish life. How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, oh Israel?

Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion and my revered teacher, wrote recently that todays isolated man is in a condition very different from the one his grandfather Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik described in The Lonely Man of Faith. We can no longer trust in mans conquest of nature, Rav Lichtenstein writes, but have to turn to God to battle nature. On my reading, the spiritual threat right now is not arrogance but despair.

In the work just mentioned, Rav Soloveitchik describes the painful divorce in religious life: We are always with others and yet the most important thing about a man of faith, his knowledge and love of God, is something he simply cannot share with others. Last Shabbat I was never more alone, or less lonely.

Cole S. Aronson studies at Yeshivat Har Etzion in the Judean hills.

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Coronavirus Shabbat | Cole S. Aronson - First Things

The Bible Says What? ‘Celebrate the deaths of your enemies’ – Jewish News

Posted By on April 8, 2020

During Pesach we recite the plagues in which many Egyptians died and sing Shirat HaYam, detailing the horrific drowning of the pursuing army, as the Israelites celebrate that horse and rider are thrown into the sea. Yet is it fair to say that the Bible allows us to celebrate the deaths of our enemies?

There are two seemingly contradictory statements in Proverbs: When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish, there is song (11:10).

And when your enemy falls do not rejoice, and when he stumbles let your heart not exalt (24:17).

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So which is it? We have the custom of reciting only half-Hallel on the last six days of Pesach, referencing the Talmudic story that when the Egyptians were drowning in the Sea of Reeds, the angels wanted to sing. But God said, The work of my hands is drowning in the sea, and you want to sing? (Meg. 10b).

We spill a drop of wine when reciting each plague at seder, lessening our joy as we consider the fate of those whom the plagues affected.

In Pirkei Avot Shmuel haKatan repeats: Do not rejoice at your enemys downfall. Talmud tells of Rabbi Meir, praying for his harassers to die and being reminded by Beruria his wife that his prayer is wrong, we pray for the end of sin, not sinners. He should pray for their repentance.

So while Torah may be ambiguous, Rabbinic Judaism is clear that celebrating an enemys downfall is not acceptable. We can resolve the biblical contradiction with a nuanced reading enemies are individuals who hate us, while the wicked are not personal adversaries, but can be read as a generic or systemic wickedness.

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The Bible Says What? 'Celebrate the deaths of your enemies' - Jewish News

How ‘Unorthodox’ on Netflix got Hasidic Jewish customs right – Los Angeles Times

Posted By on April 8, 2020

The Netflix limited series Unorthodox follows Esty, a young Hasidic woman desperate to flee the only world she has ever known for an uncertain future halfway around the world. Raised in Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Williamsburg in a Satmar community a Hasidic sect known for its extreme religious conservatism and rigidly enforced gender roles Esty (Shira Haas) escapes to Berlin, where she befriends a group of conservatory students and attempts to track down her estranged mother.

The series flashes back to explain the circumstances that led her to make such a dramatic break with the past: As a sheltered teenager, she is set up in an arranged marriage with Yanky (Amit Rahav), a young man she barely knows, and is expected to start a family almost immediately.

From the beginning, says writer and executive producer Anna Winger, we were interested in telling a deeply human story about the search for self-definition, freedom, community, about a young woman looking for her place in the world and struggling to find it.

Directed by Maria Schrader and inspired by Deborah Feldmans memoir of the same name, Unorthodox provides a rare glimpse inside the Hasidic world, with an eye for evocative details, from the styrofoam wig stand on Estys dresser to the aluminum foil covering her familys kitchen on Passover. Anchored by Haas riveting performance, the series is deeply sympathetic to Esty, who longs to study music but is relegated to being a mother and homemaker despite being ignorant of her own anatomy.

In one of the shows more startling scenes, a woman who works as kallah teacher a kind of Orthodox sex ed instructor tells Esty what is expected of her as a wife. Sex is holy, intended to create a family, she explains, and family is everything. When Esty struggles to be intimate with Yanky, the pressure, particularly from her mother-in-law, quickly becomes unbearable.

Shira Haas in Unorthodox.

(Anika Molnar / Netflix)

Winger says the series arose from conversations with Feldman, a longtime friend.

Deborah always jokes that she didnt escape from a patriarchal culture, she escaped from a matriarchal culture, Winger says by telephone from Berlin, where most of the series was filmed. She was dealing with older women who were telling her what to do. Thats a joke. But its funny because women are also very strong in that community.

Unorthodox can be seen as critical of the limited opportunities available to women in Hasidic culture. But the series also treats some rituals, like the mikveh in which Esty purifies herself before getting married, with reverence and care.

This attentiveness was key to making Estys journey relatable, says Winger, who created Unorthodox with Alexa Karolinski: The more specific the story, the more universal it can be.

Early in the writing process, the producers reached out to Eli Rosen, an actor, writer and translator who was raised in a Hasidic family in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and performs with the New Yiddish Repertory Theater in New York. He was impressed that the Unorthodox team solicited his involvement well before the scripts were finished, meaning he could help shape the material in a substantive way. I got the feeling they were taking authenticity seriously, he says.

Unorthodox writer/executive producer Anna Winger

In addition to playing the rabbi who officiates Estys wedding, he helped write and translate the scripts into the specific dialect of Hungarian Yiddish spoken in the Satmar community a patois inflected with English words like funny and fancy and was present nearly every day on set as a dialect coach and cultural consultant. He also related to the project on a personal level: Like Esty, he eventually left the Hasidic way of life, though his departure was more gradual and less traumatic.

For Haas, who played an ultra-Orthodox woman in the Israeli series Shtisel but had little previous exposure to Yiddish, Rosen was an essential resource, helping her master unfamiliar dialogue in just a few weeks of preparation. He is the person who saw all different sides of me. We spent so much time together, she says by phone from Tel Aviv.

He would record her lines, reading them at different speeds. She would listen to them for hours on her headphones, write them out by hand and record herself reciting them back to him.

It was really important for me to understand what each word means, she says, not just to understand the whole sentence, but to understand every word so I could play with it and change it. ... I wanted to have freedom in my acting.

For the English-language scenes in Berlin, Rosen helped Haas tone down her Israeli accent, with its guttural inflections and short vowels, and make her sound more Yiddish. She was an incredible student. She is the hardest-working actor Ive ever met in every sense, he says.

A Hasidic family gathers to celebrate Passover

(Anika Molnar / Netflix)

From the beginning, the producers were determined to cast only Jewish actors to play Jewish characters.

We felt it was really important they have a feeling for the ritual but also for the language, Winger says. Many of the supporting roles were cast with performers from the New Yiddish Rep in New York. For obvious historical reasons, it was harder to find Jewish actors, particularly Yiddish speakers, in Germany, but a casting agent introduced the producers to Jeff Wilbusch, who plays Yankys dodgy cousin Moishe. The Berlin-based actor grew up with 13 siblings in a Yiddish-speaking family in Mea Shearim, a fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox enclave in Jerusalem, but eventually cut ties with his upbringing.

He and Rosen became fast friends, bonding over their shared experiences. It was like this incredible reunion of long-lost relatives, Rosen says.

Winger estimates there were about 10 people on set who had left the Hasidic community; a few even discovered they were cousins. It was really touching because they all spoke to each other in Yiddish, and they had a lot of stories to share, says Winger, who describes Unorthodox as the most Jewish thing Ive ever worked on. As a secular Jew, she was also heartened to find common ground with the devout characters portrayed in the series, particularly when it comes to the importance of family.

The spectrum of Jewish experience is broad, she says, but it doesnt break.

Newlywed Esty (Shira Haas) has her head shaved in a scene from Unorthodox.

(Anika Molnar / Netflix)

To help capture the texture of that experience, early in pre-production, department heads including costume designer Justine Seymour, production designer Silke Fischer and cinematographer Wolfgang Thaler traveled to Williamsburg to absorb the look and feel of the neighborhood.

Costumes were sourced in Brooklyn and at second-hand shops and Turkish modest clothing stores throughout Berlin. Some exteriors were shot on location in Williamsburg, while the cramped family apartments were meticulously constructed on Berlin soundstages.

The elaborate wedding ceremony, depicted in the second episode, was the shows pice de rsistance, Winger says.

It was filmed over two days at a Palestinian wedding hall in Berlin, during a blistering heat wave when temperatures soared into the 90s. A hundred extras were needed to play wedding guests, and finding enough bearded men was a challenge. Says Winger: We were casting hipsters on the street.

Rosen had to condense the Satmar wedding ceremony, which can last for many hours, into a few minutes of screen time, and weighed in on placement of guests in the wedding hall. The festive garb also had to be accurate, but it was deemed too expensive (and inhumane) for the production to buy dozens of shtreimels, the traditional mink hats worn by Hasidic men on the sabbath and other religious occasions. So a theater company produced dozens of them using fake fur wrapped around cardboard.

No detail was too minute. Haas recalls overhearing a protracted discussion between Wilbusch and Rosen about the length of their socks. It was that specific, she says.

Amit Rahav in Unorthodox on Netflix.

(Anika Molnar / Netflix)

Rosen made one conscious decision to rupture the verisimilitude, though its likely few will notice it. In character as a rabbi during the marriage ceremony, he uses a euphemism rather than actually reciting Gods name a nod to the fact this is a wedding staged for a TV show, not a real one. (In Orthodox law, using Gods name in vain, i.e. outside of prayer, is forbidden.) It kind of breaks open the fourth wall, he says, but it was a respectful choice that alleviated one major concern: If [the scene] were done exactly the way a wedding ceremony would be performed, then one could argue that they are actually married under Jewish law. And that is just a huge can of worms that I didnt want to open.

Rosen is careful to note that Unorthodox is the story of one Hasidic woman, not all Hasidic women, and that many live happy and fulfilling lives. But because the show can be seen to be critical of the Hasidic community, he felt it was especially crucial to get the details right.

You lose credibility if you present the community in a light that doesnt ring true, he continues. The pressure got to me at times. I would lose sleep over certain scenes and constantly second guess my own decisions. In the end I think Im very proud of the finished product.

Unlike many who have left the Hasidic tradition, Rosen is still in contact with his family which may have added to his worry about authentic representation. He says his mother never used to watch television but dabbles in it now that it no longer requires a dedicated appliance in the home. She claimed she turned the first episode off after a few minutes and wasnt happy about the nudity which actually doesnt appear until the second episode.

There was one thing she did like, however: She said I look much better in Hasidic garb.

Where: NetflixWhen: Any time starting ThursdayRating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

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How 'Unorthodox' on Netflix got Hasidic Jewish customs right - Los Angeles Times

Gov. Cuomo tells Orthodox Jews to abstain from large religious gatherings – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on April 8, 2020

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the Orthodox Jewish community to refrain from holding large religious gatherings, saying on Tuesday that the New York Police Department will do what they need to do to enforce his social distancing regulations.

I understand religious gatherings, I understand the Jewish Orthodox community. Im very close to them and I have been for many, many years. But now is not the time for large religious gatherings. Weve paid this price already. Weve learned this lesson. That was New Rochelle in Westchester.

Hundreds of Hasidic Jews attended a funeral on Sunday night for a local rabbi, taking over a street in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn to pay their respects. Police broke up the gathering using sirens and their public address system. No arrests were made and no fines were issued, however.

On Sunday, there were at least two other funerals held by Hasidic Jews on the streets of Brooklyn, the New York Post reported.

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Gov. Cuomo tells Orthodox Jews to abstain from large religious gatherings - The Jerusalem Post

Family of Holocaust survivor mourns over the wrong body – JTA News

Posted By on April 8, 2020

(JTA) The family of a Brooklyn grandfather performed funeral rites for the wrong body due to a mix-up but their upset turned to satisfaction for helping out a stranger with no one to grieve his loss.

Moshe Grunwald, a Holocaust survivor who was the nephew of the Alter Tzelemer rebbe, the head of a Hungarian Hasidic dynasty, died last week. The family was told it could only have a short funeral with just a minyan because of restrictions due to the coronavirus.

The mourners began reading psalms and the El Mole Rachamim prayer when a funeral aide came to tell them they had conducted the funeral over the wrong body, Grunwalds granddaughter Chaya Maimon wrote in a post on Facebook.

They then held a funeral with her grandfathers body present.

I have to admit I was so upset that this had happened to my Zaidy, Maimon wrote in the post. The man who was loved by all. Who deserved so much kavod (honor), who had to die alone due to a pandemic, who had to have this embarrassment of a funeral, who couldnt have a befitting burial, or shiva. This was the final insult. I was so upset, I started to laugh and cry simultaneously. I couldnt believe I was living in a time where there are so many bodies, that they mixed them up.

But Maimon and the family soon learned that the stranger was a meit mitzvah one with no family to bury him. In fact, he had been dead alone in his apartment for four days before his body was discovered.

Through a weird twist of fate, he ended up with a beautiful funeral, a minyan, something under normal circumstances he would not have had, Maimon wrote.

She said her grandfather was a modest man who avoided recognition.

Even in death he gave his kavod [honor] for someone else, Maimon wrote. This is the most Zaidy like thing to ever happen.

Maimon later added new details to the post: All the older members of the community who typically performed the ritual cleansing of the body were out sick, replaced by young men mostly unfamiliar with members of the community like Grunwald, leading to the mix-up.

It is our families belief that this meit mitzvah was a special person, clearly deserving of this special honor,she wrote. We would like to know more about him and are actively seeking information.

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Family of Holocaust survivor mourns over the wrong body - JTA News

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