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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Am Yisrael’

Shlissel (Key) Challah: The Loaf of Idolatry?

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

This is an unusual post with which to kick off my new blog,  on the JewishPress.com.

I was sent a research paper that discussed the origins of the Minhag of the “Shlissel Challah”, the custom of baking a key into a Shabbat loaf of bread. It turns out that Shelomo Alfassa’s research uncovered some surprising origins for this “Jewish” custom. You can read the entire paper here, but here are key points from the research paper:

- Every year Jewish women, young and old, partake in the Ashkenazi custom to place a key (such as a door key to a home), inside the dough of a loaf of bread that they bake. This custom is known as shlissel challah—shlissel from the German language shlüssel (key) and challah or hallah from the Hebrew for bread.

- The baking of a key inside a bread is a non-Jewish custom which has its foundation in Christian, and possibly even earlier, pagan culture. At least one old Irish source tells how at times when a town was under attack, the men said, ―let our women-folk be instructed in the art of baking cakes containing keys.

- Keys were traditionally manufactured in the form of a cross, the traditional symbol of Christianity, a physical item all Christian commoners would possess in their home. On Easter, the Christian holiday which celebrates the idea of Jesus “rising” from the dead, they would bake the symbol of Jesus—the key shaped like a cross—into or onto a rising loaf.

- The modern Jewish custom of baking the symbolic shlissel challah, annually takes place on the shabbat immediately following the holiday of Pessah, when tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of religiously observant Jewish women practice this observance.

- In Christianity, baked goods associated with keys are commonly called “Easter breads,” and in Europe they are also known as “Paschals” as the holiday of Easter in the East is known as “Pascha” or “Pascua.” This is most likely the reason Christians often call Easter breads baked with keys Paschals.

- While the custom is said to be mentioned in the writings of Avraham Yehoshua Heshel (the Apter Rav 1748-1825) and in the Ta’amei ha-Minhagim (1891), there is no one clear source for shlissel challah. And while people will say there is a passuq attributed to it, there is not. And, even if there were, a passuq that can be linked to the practice is not the same as a source. Micha Berger, founder of the AishDas Society, [orthodox] calls this type of logic “reverse engineering,” it‘s like drawing a circle around an arrow in a tree, and subsequently declaring the arrow is a bullseye. The idea of baking shlissel challah is not from the Torah; it‘s not in the Tannaitic, Amoraitic, Savoraitic, Gaonic or Rishonic literature.

- Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim19 of Mesora.Org [orthodox] teaches that:

The Torah teaches that Hashem punishes the wicked, and rewards the righteous. It does not say that challah baking or any other activity will help address our needs…When the matriarchs were barren, they did not resort to segulas, but introspected and prayed…Nothing in Torah supports this concept of segula; Torah sources reject the idea of a segula…baking challas with brachos cannot help…segulas are useless, and violate the Torah prohibition of Nichush [good luck charms]. It does not matter if the charm is a rabbit‘s foot, a horseshoe, a challah, key or a red bendel. The practice assumes that forces exist, which do not, and it is idolatrous.

- On the far end of the scale, it can be said that shlissel challah observance is a nothing less than “the way of the Amorites.” It is precisely this type of behavior and observance which Jews are supposed to separate themselves from, so it doesn’t go on to influence our thoughts and deeds. Am Yisrael was not created to lose itself in such folklore, and Judaism without disciplined study is nothing but folklore. Judaism allows and encourages the use of our minds. It‘s never too late to realign our path with Torah sources, not blind faith practices which are trendy, in, or cool.

- Educated Jews should help to promote Torah sources to our friends and neighbors, not false practices which are of non-Jewish origin and have nothing to do with Judaism.

100 Amens to that!


The Strong Into The Hands Of The Weak?

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

“In the days of Matisyahu, the son of Yochanan, the high priest…when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from Your statutes…You took up their grievance, judged their claim and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous and the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of Your Torah.” (Chanukah davening)

How is it possible that the strong could be delivered into the hands of the weak?

Sounds strange, but that is the exact pattern of Jewish history.

If we were like other nations, none of us would be here today. In fact, our history totally defies what the world considers logical. Neither our national nor our personal stories conform to the rules followed by the rest of the world.

The history of Am Yisrael is proof that everything is directed from Above. As the Chu-mash says, God “took [Avraham] outside” (Bereishis 15:5). Rashi explains that God took Avra-ham “out of the space of the world…. [He] raised him above the stars.” This special protection, which we refer to as Magen Avraham, the Shield of Avraham, is extended to the Patriarch’s chil-dren to this very day.

Let’s look at the history of the past two thousand years. It is terrible to contemplate the destruction of the Second Temple, but if we do, we will see a chain of miraculous events that will strengthen us.

First, everything was predicted. That in itself proves that an Outside Force directs the affairs of this world. The Torah hints through gematria the length of time the future Temples would stand. The word “kasiss,” which describes the oil used in the menorah, can be divided into the syllables “kas” and “iss.” “Kas” has the gematria 420 (the number of years the Second Tem-ple stood), and “iss” has the gematria 410 (the number of years the First Temple stood).

So the menorah itself hints at the future destruction and rebuilding of the Beis HaMik-dash (Shemos 27:20, Rabbi Yosef Levinson).

Even before we reached Eretz Yisrael, Hashem informed us we would be banished from that Land if we did not adhere to His Torah: “Beware lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others and bow to them. Then the wrath of Hashem will blaze against you…. and you will swiftly be banished from the goodly land which Hashem gives you” (Devarim 11:16ff, second paragraph of the Shema).

And “if you do not hearken to the voice of Hashem, your God, to observe, to perform all His commandments and all His decrees that I command you today, then all these curses will come upon you and overtake you” (Devarim 28:15).

After the Churban, our future seemed hopeless.

The city that was great with people has become like a widow. The greatest among nations, the princess among provinces, has become a tributary…. Our in-heritance has been turned over to strangers; our houses to foreigners. We have be-come orphans, fatherless, our mothers are like widows…. [Eichah 1:1]

How could we survive? Scattered over the earth, our entire culture was uprooted; families were torn apart and carried to distant lands where we were abused and worse. It looked as if it was all over. But we are still here.

Is it logical that we have survived?

It may not be logical. It just happens to be true.

* * * * *

If you read my first book, From Central Park to Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul, you know I am the product of genuine American assimilation. I come from distinguished Jewish lines on both the maternal and paternal sides, but after a few generations in America, our family had basically forgotten we were Jewish and certainly what it means to be Jewish.

I was raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in a fancy neighborhood, and attended the Ethical Culture Schools.

What is Ethical Culture? In the late nineteenth century a German Jew named Felix Adler created a new “religion.” He reasoned like this: We Jews have been released from the ghetto and admitted into gentile society. Why should we be different from them? Why should we adhere to an outmoded Torah, useless mitzvos and an archaic belief in God? We have to be ethical, but you don’t need God or mitzvos to be ethical.

Adler immigrated to America and founded the Ethical Culture Society, which gave birth to the Ethical Culture Schools. Both institutions tried to practice his philosophy (or lack of it) and became havens for assimilated Jews looking for a place to soothe their conscience.

80 Hours On The Ground: Parshat Chayei Sarah In Chevron

Monday, December 5th, 2011

This past week was Parshat Chayei Sarah and I had the good fortune of being in Chevron for Shabbat. I was in Israel for only three days (approximately 80 hours) and was asked many times, “You’ve come to Israel for such a short stay?” Let me explain. I have been to Chevron many times, but it’s always special to be there for this unique Shabbat. Thirty thousand people from all over Israel and many from abroad take the time to make the trip to show that Chevron is and will always be an integral part of Jewish life.

My host for Shabbat was the Yeshivat Shavei Chevron, which is situated in the Bet Romano section. You know you are in Chevron, the home of Abraham, when you see all the boys and rabbeim of the yeshiva exhibiting such great hachnasas orchim. These are special people who choose to live their lives with such commitment to Eretz Yisrael with very few of the amenities that we all take for granted. Their commitment to Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael is second to none. The yeshiva’s students spend three years in the army and then years committed to only learning Torah in the city of our fathers.

Students of Yeshivat Shavei Chevron. Rabbi Hershel Billet is at the far right.

As you make your way to the Me’arat Hamachpelah Friday night, you see the hundreds of soldiers who come to Chevron for this weekend. As many people pass them, they say ‘thank you’ and ‘Shabbat Shalom.’ You see on their faces that they know they are doing something special for the Jewish people. Davening at the Me’ara on Friday night is packed (even though Ohel Yitzchak is open for one of only 10 days the whole year) with many people not even being able to make it into the building.

Seudat Shabbat at the yeshiva is incredibly inspiring with the yeshiva boys singing and dancing with all the guests and rabbanim. Dayan Yonatan Abraham, from London, spoke on Friday night telling everyone how this Shabbat means so much to him and how he gets chizuk from the yeshiva boys. Also in attendance this year was Rabbi Dovid Weinberger of Shaarei Tefilah of Lawrence and Rabbi Hershel Billet of Woodmere, who also gave divrei Torahthroughout Shabbat.

Meir Blisko, a guest at Yeshivat Shavei Chevron; Colonel Guy Hazut; and Minister of Justice Yaakov Neeman.

After the seudah the guests walk through the different neighborhoods of Chevron with the highlight being the Tel Romeda neighborhood, where we were greeted at the home of Baruch Meisel, a long time resident of Chevron. Here you get the true spirit of what it is to live in Chevron, along with hot cholent and an oneg Shabbat. Many visit the tombs of Ruth and Yishai in the hills of Chevron, high above the field of the Me’arat Hamachpelah. In the morning it’s back to the Me’ara to hear the parsha about how Avraham bought the Me’arat Hamachpelah for a burial site for Sarah to be a legacy for the Jewish people forever.

After the afternoon seudah a large group walks through the Kasbah, the original Jewish quarter of Chevron and now the Arab shuk of Chevron, under heavy army guard. The group sang Am Yisrael Chai and the locals didn’t look too happy. But in the end there were no incidents, and we once again found ourselves at the Me’ara and the tomb of Avner ben Ner, the general of Dovid Hamelech.

Minchah was followed by seudah shlishit back at the yeshiva. At this meal there is always a special treat as the colonel who heads the Chevron Brigade, Guy Hazut, is in attendance and addresses the crowd. This year, as he rose to speak, the boys of the yeshiva sang a special heart warming and inspiring song about those who stand to protect us. Then Shabbat came to a close all too quickly, and I can only hope to return to Chevron to be inspired and uplifted again next year.

David Pick (center) and Ilan Goldstein (right), guests at Yeshivat Shavei Chevron for Shabbos, speaking to one of the yeshiva’s rebbeim.

This year the yeshiva is celebrating it’s 32nd year in Chevron and on Sunday night there was a gala dinner in Jerusalem attended by Knesset members, past and present cabinet ministers, high ranking army officers and hundreds of alumni, all committed to the realization of the great work the yeshiva does to continue the Jewish presence in Chevron forever.

Special thanks to Dovi Weiss of Yeshivat Shavei Chevron for his amazing hospitality, as always.

My Memories Of The Tzadaiket, Rebbetzin Kanievsky, z”tl

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

I wasn’t sure if I should write something about the petira of Rebbetzin Kanievsky, z”tl.

My first reaction was who am I to write about such a great person? How could I possibly describe who she was? She was so great that mere words cannot do her justice.

But then I thought about all the people who did not have the zechut to meet her or to be hugged by her or be greeted by her big smile and even bigger heart, and I thought how will they know what we all lost.

So I decided to try to describe in a few words what my meetings with the Rebbetzin were like so that we can all mourn our loss properly.

We are taught that mitat tzadikim mechaperet - the death of the righteous brings an atonement for us, but that is only true if we take the death of the righteous to heart and try to improve our ways and to be influenced by their teachings.

I have the zechut of being in Eretz Yisrael a few times a year. During each visit my husband and I make time to go visit Rav and Rebbetzin Kanievsky to get a bracha and to give tzedakka. It is hard to describe the way the Rav and Rebbetzin live. Theirs is a small apartment in Bnei Brak, next door to the yeshiva. It consists of an entrance room, bedroom, living/dining room, a porch for a sukkah and a very small kitchen. The walls of the dining room are covered from floor to ceiling with sefarim. In this room is also the chair of the Steipler Rav z”tl (Rav Kanievsky’s father). Rebbetzin Kanievsky a”h would urge people to sit in this chair to recite tehillim and make bakashot. It is a very humbling experience.

I remember the first time the Rebbetzin told me to sit in the chair. I was hesitant. How could I sit in his chair? But very gently, with her warm smile, she insisted and I could not refuse.  It is an incredible uplifting experience to sit in the Steipler’s chair and recite tehillim from the big sefer Tehillim open on the shtender. I felt as if my tehillim and bakashot were going straight up to shamayim with the assistance of the Steipler and his daughter-in-law.

The Rebbetzin’s kitchen was very small. Only 2 people could fit in it at one time, and even then they would have to coordinate their moves so as not to bump into each other. I was told that many people offered to buy them a newer, nicer and bigger apartment, but Rav and Rebbetzin Kanievsky saw nothing wrong with their home. For them it was big enough. It was just right. It was what they had, and all they needed. To me that was so hard to understand. That a couple living in such a small home, that was so very crowded, felt that it was all they needed. They were truly separated from anything materialistic.

But what was truly amazing was that in spite of the actual physical size of the apartment, it was huge. Everyone felt welcome and wanted. No one was ever told that there was no room for them. The Rebbetzin’s heart was big enough to care for the entire generation.

Whenever I was there, there were hundreds of other people there as well – all wanting a bracha from the Rav and the Rebbetzin. The problems they had were as varied as the people themselves. Jews from every walk of life – and in every type of attire – came to ask for brachot – for parnassa, health, shidduchim, shalom bayit – there was no area of life for which a bracha was not asked.

A Simple Teaching, Difficult To Understand

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

I am interrupting my series on “Yom Tov Mayhem,” focusing on adult children who come home for the holidays with their families and expect their mothers to be cook, housekeeper and baby-sitter all rolled into one. How to deal with this problem without damaging relationships will, please G-d, be the topic of my next column.

These days, events occur with such speed that before we absorb one, another is upon us. Additionally, our attention span has become nil. We no longer know how to listen; even while someone is talking to us, we are busy texting someone else or scrolling through our e-mail messages.

We have recently lost many great Torah sages, but I wonder if we truly feel the terrible void that has been left. And now, the beloved  Rebbetzin Bathsheva Kanievsky  has been called on high. Her sudden demise represents a tragic loss, especially to the many thousands of women who found solace and comfort through her loving guidance, wisdom and sage advice. May her holy neshamah have an aliyah and may she continue to daven for all of us.

This past week also saw much jubilation and thanksgiving. For five years, all of us have been davening for the safe homecoming of Gilad Shalit, and now, Baruch Hashem, we have seen our prayers answered. I realize there has been some controversy over the exchange that made his freedom possible – a thousand savage terrorists for one frail, painfully thin Jewish soldier. To many it is incongruous to even imagine that such a disproportionate, seemingly suicidal deal could be struck. Surely this was a grossly dangerous exchange.

I am not going to argue the pros and cons, but I do know our sages teach that all those who save one life,  it is accounted to them as though they saved an entire world. Of course you may protest, “At what price? These savage killers could, G-d forbid, take many more lives and encourage more kidnappings.”

I am not a halachic expert and I am not here to make a judgment call on that. We are Am Yisrael, and we march to the tune of a different drummer. We are not unaware of the terrifying dangers this deal represents, but just the same, to us every Yiddish neshamah is precious, so even as we offer prayers of thanksgiving for Gilad’s homecoming, we also pray that Hashem will protect us from these barbaric monsters and that they will perish before they can inflict more harm.

Throughout the years I have taught that one can always find some sort of “remez” – allusion – in the parshah (weekly Torah portion) to events that are unfolding before our eyes. This time, it is not only the parshah but the Book of Psalms as well that stunningly confirms this teaching.

The Book of  Tehillim designates a psalm for each day of the week. Gilad Shalit was released on the third day –  Tuesday – for which the psalm is number 60. There are two words in that psalm that jump out and demand our attention – sukkot and gilad. Indeed, the release occurred on the holiday of Sukkot, followed by the words, “li gilad – “Gilad is mine.”

As for the parshah we just read on Simchat Torah, it is written, “And Hashem showed him the entire land – the gilad” (Deut. 34:1).

Farfetched? Coincidence? Remez? Take it as you will, but the fact is that these are the passages we were reading from the Torah and the Book of Psalms at the time Gilad Shalit was returned to his land. So put aside your Blackberry and your cell phone for a few moments and think. Think some more and absorb.

Itamar: A Painful And Powerful Wake-Up Call

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Early this past Shabbat morning we heard from military sources that a family had been brutally slaughtered in Itamar, a settlement near Shechem. Since my niece lives there with six children, we were extremely worried even though we realized there were many families that fit the description.

It was a Shabbat filled with anxiety as people quietly asked each other about the victims and whether there were any more details. At the end of Shabbat we learned it wasn’t our niece and felt a surge of relief – but we were immediately overcome with deep pain on hearing the sickening details of how a Jewish family was gruesomely butchered in their sleep.

This was Shabbat Parshat Vayikra – the section of the Torah dealing with sacrifices which opens with the words “adam ki yakriv mikem korban“- “if a man brings a sacrifice of himself.” The message here is that if necessary, Am Yisrael is willing to sacrifice its own life for its ideals. On this Shabbat, the Fogel family – parents Udi and Ruth and three of their six children, 11-year-old Yoav, 4-year-old Elad, and newborn Hadas – became the most recent sacrifices.

This was not the first family to be slaughtered. We remember the horrifying murders of the Shabo, Dickstein, Gavish, Aymos, Unger and countless other families destroyed by Arab terror. In case we had forgotten, this Shabbat offered a brutal reminder of the nature of our enemies. They have no problem slitting the throat of an infant or thrusting a knife into the heart of a toddler. They are not fit to be called human, certainly not fit to live in Eretz Yisrael and obviously not fit to be peace partners.

This cruel event finally awakened the Israeli government into realizing that indoctrination against Jews in the Palestinian schools, streets and mosques has received the blessing of Mahmoud Abbas, who splendidly fills Yasir Arafat’s shoes as a depraved leader. Under Abbas, terrorists have been elevated to role models with streets and squares in Palestinian villages named after them.

Prime Minister Netanyahu went so far as to say he could not take seriously Abbas’s initial vague and ambiguous condemnation of the senseless slaughter. He said it was not enough to mumble an apology; Abbas must take immediate steps to stop the murder of innocent citizens.

I only hope this barbaric act of terror serves as a wake-up call to our leaders. They must recognize that our conflict is not merely territorial; we are fighting for our very lives and national existence in our homeland.

Our leaders must understand their basic responsibility is to secure Jewish lives by destroying the hotbeds of terror and developing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. Our leaders must end the embarrassing displays of national weakness inherent in destroying Israeli outposts, announcing a readiness to engage in painful compromises like awarding military and administrative powers to the Palestinian Authority, and begging Abbas to negotiate with promises of maintaining the building freeze in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

The Fogel family’s grief has become the nation’s grief. We are reminded of Queen Esther’s appeal as she feared for her people: “Go and gather all the Jews.” Relief and support would come only if the Jews acted as a community. The unity of the Jewish people was expressed this past weekend, not only by the tens of thousands who participated in the funeral but by live broadcast of the funeral and eulogies on all national television and radio channels.

As at the funerals of slain Golani officer Eliraz Peretz and the eight murdered Mercaz HaRav students, Israelis had the elevating experience of hearing from the parents and siblings of the victims. Their painful yet confident words of faith and determination served to strengthen our devotion to the development of Jewish life and ideals in all of Eretz Yisrael and especially in Judea and Samaria.

The moving words revealed again the intrinsic essence of the Jewish soul and the divine inspiration that is the dynamic spirit embodied in this generation of bold pioneers, educators and defenders of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael. They called on the Israeli government to continue unlimited building in the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria. Only this expression of strength will deter terrorists from daring to strike again. Only multitudes of Jews in villages, towns and cities – men and women of faith, determined and ready to sacrifice – will insure the continuation of the Zionist process.

Title: HaMalach HaGoel and Other Bedtime Stories

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Title: HaMalach HaGoel and Other Bedtime Stories

Author: Yehudit Shulem

Illustrator: Estie Hess

Publisher: Feldheim

 

 

   The “Collection of Imaginative Stories” in HaMalach HaGoel and Other Bedtime Stories is a bit on the high-minded side with a few clich?s tossed in the mix. Nevertheless, the lap-sized hardcover explains to its readers how to become mature, responsible individuals of integrity. The life lessons are for children aged eight and up.

 

   The man walking out of and into another wall portrait picture in the chapter entitled “A Special Visit” uses a phenomenon out of the Harry Potter series. But the technique is used to deliver valuable insight from the Chazon Ish, a worthwhile experience. Optimism can be learned from “The Kite” story and self-worth from “The Gear Train.” Other stories deliver important messages, too.

 

   Though author Yehudit Shulem is a social worker, according to the back cover text, I find it curious that her tales are illustrated with significantly far more males than females. The air- and other-brushing out of female figures in Jewish literature is not a friendly phenomenon. The trend will reverse to include women and girls within benign and all-inclusive story illustrations. After all, we’re the reason that Am Yisrael endures.

 

   Yocheved Golani is the author of E-book “It’s MY Crisis! And I’ll Cry If I Need To: EMPOWER Yourself to Cope with a Medical Challenge” http://www.booklocker.com/books/4244.html).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/book-reviews/title-hamalach-hagoel-and-other-bedtime-stories/2010/11/24/

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