Friday, December 3, 2010

Hannukah Customs

My darling ketzelah, 
Soon the glow of the hannukah menorahs will light up the faces of the eager youngsters. I know that it has been close to a year since we were able to enjoy the rituals associated with this joyous holiday, and many of you have questions about the proper ways to observe. So, I thought I’d refresh your memories.
Does it matter which side we place the candles in the menorah first, and which side we light from?
Yes, tradition tells us that we add candles starting from the right, spreading our hannukiah lights to the left. However, we light the newest addition first, so we light left to right. Why? Well would you be surprised to find out that the learned rabbis had this very discussion, and that our tradition stems from the compromise they reached!
What if we need to go out in the evening, are we allowed to blow the menorah out?
Well this situation just requires a little pre-planning. Light the candles at nightfall and let them burn for a least 30 minutes. This usually is just about the natural life of most store bought Hannukah candles.
I can never remember which blessings we do which night.
My sweet darlings, on the first night of Hannukah we say three blessings. On the other seven nights we say two
The blessing over the candles: Baruch ata Adonai Elohanu melech ha’olam asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu l’chad’lich ner shel Hannukah. (On Friday we will say shel Shabbat v’yom tov or shel Shabbat v’Hannukah.) (Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Chanukkah.)

Second blessing: Baruch ata Adonai Elohanu melech ha’olam she'asah nisim la'avoteinu bayamim haheim baziman hazeh. (….Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time)
And, on the first joyful night, we add the Shehecheyanu: Baruch ata Adonai Elohanu melech ha’olam shehecheyanu v'kiyimanu v'higi'anu laz'man hazeh. (who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.)
My mom says that gelt alone is all I should get for Hannukah, but all my friends get eight gifts!
Bubbalah, the only requirement on Hannukah is the lighting of the candles, the gift of light during a dark time. At some point it became tradition to give the little ones gelt, not the chocolate kind, but the spending kind. However, this was still just a token gift back in a time when kids didn’t often get spending money from their parents. It is only since your parents were kinder that the custom of giving toys and such, making Hannukah more like Christmas, arose. It should be noted that it is unusual to give Hannukah gifts to non-family members. You should listen to your mother.
Why do we have a ninth candle if Hannukah is celebrated for eight days? Why add a Shamas?
Ah, good question! The Hannukah candles are meant solely for pleasure, we are not allowed to use them for any productive work such as lighting another fire or to read by. For this reason the ninth candle was added. This has spared many matches and fingers.
When I was a kid we ate latkes during Hannukah, recently I’ve noticed that we’ve started eating jelly doughnuts, what’s this about?
As you may already be aware of, traditions vary according to where people come from. Most Ashkenazi Jews grew up eating latkes. However, most Sephardic, Polish and Israeli families came from parts of the world where potatoes weren’t so plentiful and they traditionally eat doughnuts. Both traditions are equally valid. The point is to eat fried foods to remember that valiant vile of oil that lasted for eight days.
Well my neshomeleh, I hope I’ve answered all your holiday questions. If not, let me know and I’ll try to remember to answer them next year!
Happy Hannukah - Love Tanta Golda

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Klezmer Music -Its Beginnings and Today

Tanta Golda,
A klezmer band is coming to our area next month and I was wondering, what is klezmer? Is it a type of musical instrument?
Humming to the beat of a different drummer
Dear drummer,
Klezmer music started out as folk music of wandering itinerant musicians in Eastern Europe and reflected an amalgamation of cultures. As such, it was strongly influenced by Roma and Russia folk music. Many of the sounds are intended to replicate the human voice, so you may notice sounds that remind you of laughter, sobbing or wailing. The melodies are mainly dance tunes and instrumental pieces for weddings. Though with all that wailing you might find that hard to believe!
When some of our Yiddish mishpachah immigrated to this country during the migration of 1880-1924, the music once again adapted to a new country. Originally, the music was passed on aurally - now dear let Tanta Golda be clear, that means by ear, not by reading the person’s aura. Unfortunately, this meant that much of this rich musical tradition was lost with the Holocaust.
Klezmer music in this wonderful country of ours saw a revival in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and today’s Klezmer reflects influences of Jazz and touches of classical music. 
So now that you know what drum to beat to, I hope that you go and listen to this wonderful trio of young men!

What is an Aufruf?

Dear Tanta Golda,
I’ve heard that two young people in our congregation are getting married soon and that they’ve decided to have an Aufruf. I don’t think this has anything to do with dogs, so I’m hoping you can fill me in.
Feeling in the doghouse of ignorance
My dearest pup,
No need to feel hounded by your lack of knowledge! To begin with aufruf is Yiddish and means ‘coming up’. You may ask who is coming up and what are they doing? On the Saturday morning prior to the wedding ceremony an aliya - the honor of reciting the Torah blessings - is given to the intended. In Reform, Reconstructionist and many Conservative shuls this honor of ‘coming up’ is granted to both the bride and groom, among the Orthodox it is restricted to the grooms alone. In the Sephardic tradition this honor occurs on the Saturday morning after the wedding. Tanta Golda has also heard that some congregations encourage the young man - or woman - to also give a d’vara Torah (a teaching on the weekly Torah portion) so that he can impress his future in-laws with how much Torah he knows. I believe that our young man will be enlightening us. How exciting!
After the couple recites the final Torah blessing the rabbi will often say a misheberach or a special blessing over the couple. As they leave the bima they are then showered with candy, raisins and nuts. These are said to symbolize the wish that the couple’s married life be sweet and fruitful. Now my sweet, by sure not to aim at the young couple’s heads - putting an eye out before the wedding is not a good way to start them off!

** Follow up: Tanta Golda has been asked if aufrufs are ever done on Friday nights. Traditional customs revolve around the Torah, which is only read on Saturdays, Mondays, and Thursdays. So, traditional aufrufs would occur on one of those days. Tanta Golda has learned of some Reform congregations where Aufrufs are done on Fridays, and it may be possible that some Conservative congregations do something they call an Aufruf that doesn't involved the Torah, but this is outside TG's scope of knowledge.  Thanks for keeping me on my toes! TG

Friday, November 12, 2010

Unveiling a Headstone

recommended on amazon Jewish Mourning Process

Dear Tanta Golda,
Next month my family and I will be unveiling our father’s footstone. Are there any special prayers or rituals we are supposed to observe?
Trying to be a dutiful mourner, N.

Dear Dutiful,
First please let me extend my condolences. Death of a parent is never easy. Traditionally, the head or footstone is unveiled eleven-twelve months after the deceased’s burial. In many parts of the world there is no ceremony associated with the unveiling, but in this country it is customary to have some kind of graveside ceremony. This can be done with or without a Rabbi. Usually several psalms are recited, the El Malei Rachamim is chanted (found on page 530 in Mishkan T'filah, or 647 in the blue Gates of Prayer), followed by the mourner’s Kaddish. Orthodox tradition holds that one needs a minyan to recite Kaddish, but one is not mandatory in the Reform tradition. It is usually a simple ceremony that includes only close family and friends. I did not find a list of any specific psalms (psalm 23 is a common one as is 121), but Tanta Golda’s advice would be to pick 1-3 that seem meaningful to you, or relevant or the deceased. The ceremony should not be considered a second funeral, but rather a time of personal reflection of one’s memory of the deceased.
I will conclude with the English translation of the El Malei Rachamim. I hope that your trip to your father’s gravesite will not be one so much of sadness, but of celebration of his life. 
With thoughts of comfort and blessing, Tanta Golda
El Malei Rachamim:
Exalted G-d full of compassion, grant the fullness of Your peace to the soul of _________, who has gone to his/her rest. May s/he share in the glory of the upright, the luster of whose purity is as the brightness of the firmament. Her/his memory lives in the hearts of his/her dear ones as an inspiration to the deeds of charity and goodness. May s/he be granted the bliss of eternal life. Shelter her/him forever, merciful G-d, under the wings of Your protecting love, and my his/her love be bound up in the bond of eternal life. G-d is his/her possession. May s/he rest in peace. Amen

recommended on amazon Jewish Mourning Process

Wearing of Tallit part II

Dear Tanta Golda,
My friend is being called up as a Bar Mitzvah this month and he told me that his grandmother will be presenting him with a Tallit. Why do Jews wear tallit? Do they just wear them at their Bar Mitzvahs? 
Tentatively curious
My darling Curious,
Ah, a boy’s first tallis…
It is written in the Torah They “shall make themselves tzitzit (fringes) on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations.” (Numbers 15:38) Later in the passage it says, “and you shall see it,” implying that tzitzit are only worn during the daylight hours. Furthermore Deuteronomy 22:12 states, “make twisted cords on the four corners of your covering.” 
Now, one must keep in mind that in ancient times, many garments were four cornered, usually made from a simple rectangle of cloth which was worn as a cape, tunic or toga. Since today’s clothing is fashioned very differently, we wear special garments to fulfill this mitzvah.
Most people you know probably don a large rectangular piece of cloth which they drape over their shoulders like a shawl. However, more observant men wear a garment between their undershirt and regular shirt called a Tallit katan. This is a single piece of material one cubit (approximately 18-24 inches) square on each side with a hole cut in the center for one’s head allowing them to fulfill the mitzvah throughout the day, everyday (not just on their Bar Mitzvah!)
Tzitzit are composed of four strands of string which are inserted through holes in the corners of the garment, and tied in a specific way. They are meant to help the wearer remember G-d’s laws, and not let their heart and eyes lead them astray. (Remember my kinder, focus, focus, focus.)
Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Tanta Golda, why did you just mention a boy’s first tallis?” Well my sweet, tradition holds that since the commandment to wear tzitzit is  time bound, women are exempt. (Because their many obligations to family make adhering to such time sensitive issues difficult.) However, in our modern age, many women - mostly in the Reform and Conservative movements, have begun wearing tallit, and you will notice this at our Temple.  While Orthodox rabbis tend to frown upon this practice, it is not forbidden, and a few Orthodox women have been know to take up this mitzvah as well.
I have been told, that in some communities unmarried men do not wear tallit, some say this is so that unmarried women can tell who is still eligible for marriage!
I hope I’ve answered your questions, and enjoy your friend’s Bar Mitzvah!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What's in a Melody? Torah Trope Explained

amazon link to books on  Torah cantillation plus Trope Trainer software

Dear Tanta Golda,
Recently I went to a Bar Mitzvah at a Sephardic temple. I was surprised that the chanting of the Torah sounded so very different from what I’m used to hearing. Is there a set way to chant torah, or are their different melodies, just like we have different melodies for the prayers we sing?
Musically perplexed.
Dear Perplexed,
First, Mazel Tov! I’m sure the young man did a wonderful job.
Now to answer your questions – yes and no.  Trope, or niggun, are used by Torah readers to sing/chant readings from the Torah, Haftorah, and Megillot. The cantillation (chant) notations are a series of dots, squiggles and straight lines found either above or under the words. Like the vowel marks, neither are found in the actual Torah scrolls, but are memorized by the reader.
The physical appearance of the notation is the same everywhere. How they are sung however, varies. The form you are most used to is the Polish-Lithuanian melody, which is the most common worldwide. The melody you heard was probably the Jerusalem Sephardic, which is the second most common. Here at Tanta Golda's Temple we have a family of Moroccan decent, and they sing yet another melody. (I had the privilege of hearing Torah chanted this way and it was beautiful, let me tell you!) All together there are eight widely recognized ways of chanting, yet the trope are the same for all!
Now you may be asking: Tanta Golda, why are these trope so important? Ah, good question! Trope have several functions, the most important being to act as punctuation, much like commas and periods. Second, it gives a clue to the underlying meaning of the text. For example, in Genesis, when Potifar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph, we read that he refuses. However, the chant is drawn out, implying that he hesitated, more than briefly, before answering.  Conversely, when we read in the Megillah about the death of Haman’s sons, their names are read very quickly – in one breath- for while we are relieved that our enemy meets his end, we do not rejoice in his sons’ deaths. 
There is a great deal more to this topic, and if you are interested my darling niece Geri has found the following link at Wikipedia to get you started:  If you would like to learn how to chant with Torah she has two recommendations. URJ press has put out an excellent, user friendly book called: The Art of Torah Cantillation: A Step-by-Step Guide to Chanting Torah [Book + CD] . The other resource is a computer program put out by Kinnor Software called: Trope Trainer
Much love, and singing your praises for another excellent question,
Tanta G

amazon link to books on  Torah cantillation plus Trope Trainer Software

Why Do We Put Rocks On Headstones?

recommended on amazon Jewish Mourning Process
Dear Tanta Golda,
Recently I visited a cemetery and I noticed that quite a number of headstones had rocks on them. Is this a Jewish custom? What does it mean?
N. The Wonderer
Dear Wonderer,
Indeed it is a Jewish custom to leave a small pebble on a headstone. Some learned people say it is a way to let the family know that others have visited, others say it is a symbol of your enduring love for the departed. 
You may ask, Tanta Golda, how did this custom come to be? Well my dears, some Rabbis say that by placing a stone on a grave we participate in the building of the tomb, which is a mitzvah. Still others believe that it was an ancient custom that whenever someone passed a mound of stones marking a grave, they would pick up a stone from the area that might have fallen off and return it to the pile. This was seen as a sign of thoughtfulness, since mounds of heavy rocks helped to keep predatory animals away. 
I came across another explanation having to do with the spirits of the newly departed, but I don’t wish to frighten any kinder who might be reading this!
Keep on writing,
Tanta Golda

recommended on amazon Jewish Mourning Process

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chicken Soup

Dear Tanta Golda,
With all the cold and flu germs going around I was wondering: does chicken soup really help?
Congested and coughing on the couch
My darling Congested,
Why-of course! Look, a little chicken soup certainly never hurt anyone, and we do know that hot liquids are soothing to the throat and open up those sinuses to drain. Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, aka - Maimonides or Rambam (goodness, what a lot of names for one person!), a 12th century Torah scholar and renowned physician, wrote on numerous occasions on the therapeutic benefit of chicken soup in balancing the humors. 
Chicken soup is deeply rooted in the Jewish traditions associated with Shabbat among the Ashkenazi Jews in the shtetls  Europe. At a time when many were poor, a chicken, or part of a chicken boiled together with vegetables, made a soup that could be shared and delighted in for the Shabbath.
Now, if you were wondering, the Talmud describes the therapeutic value of “six foods that provide a permanent cure for illness: cabbage, beets, an extract of sisin (don’t ask Tanta Golda what this is, I haven’t a clue), the stomach of an animal, the womb of an animal and the large lobe of the liver of an animal...” (Berachot 44b)  It seems a rather limited list when we know about the beneficial properties of other foods which contain anti-oxidants, beta-cartotene, and such. And really, how could those eminent Torah scholars have left out chicken soup? Perhaps they felt it was so basic that there was no need to mention it.
So my stuffy soul, sip some chicken soup, blow your nose, and wash your hands often!
Love as always - Tanta Golda

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

When to Bow in Prayers

Dear Tanta Golda,
I have a question, but I’m a little shy about asking because I feel I should know. I’ve noticed that during certain prayers some people, but not all, bow. What are the rules about this ritual? Do I have to have been Bat Mitzvahed?  B. Pondering
My dear Pondering B,
No need to be shy my dear, remember, as I always say, the only foolish question is the one you don’t ask!
Now, It may be that some of the people don’t bow, because like you, they’re not sure of the protocol about who, how, and when. So, let me try to explain. In Judaism you become a Bat Mitzvah at 12, and a Bar Mitzvah at 13, whether or not you have a ceremony (don’t tell the youngsters!) At this point, Judaism believes that a person is ready to take on their Jewish responsibilities for themselves. What this means for you bubbula, is that as long as you are Jewish, you can participate in any Jewish ritual even if you haven’t been called to the Torah. (Though it’s never too late for you to take on this challenge, just ask those sweet girls in Cleveland who were 89-96!) Now, if you’re not Jewish you can still bow to show respect if you wish to, but there are a few other rituals you aren’t invited to participate in, such as coming up for an aliya, or reading from the Torah.
 There are six standard places in the service where most people bow. (There is no prohibition about bowing if you feel so moved in other places.) Tanta Golda’s understanding is that we do this in recognition of HaShem’s sovereignty and our humility. At our Temple two of these are during silent prayers in the Amida, so I will focus on the other four.
- The Barechu – The call to prayer (We say these same words when called to the Torah so we bow here too.)
- The first line of the Avot (Baruch ata Adonai elohaynu vaylohay avotaynu v’emotanu)
- Last line of the Avot (Baruch ata Adonai magen Avraham v’ezrat Sara.)
- The second paragraph of the Aleinu
The how-to: 
During the Barechu we bow at the waist at the word Barechu and then straighten up.
Whenever we bow for the word Baruch we bend our knees at Baruch, bend over at ata, and straighten up at God’s name.
Now when we recite the Aleinu the formula is a bit different. We bend knees at Vanachnu korim, bend over during umishtachavim umodim, and then straighten at litnay melech. I like to tell the kinder that we lift our heads at litnay (like lift-nay).
As an aside I will mention that in Orthodox shuls only men bow during prayers. Women are excused from most rituals. Tanta Golda has a difficult time with the reasons behind this attitude, but all the more reason I’m glad to be a member of TBI!
I hope I’ve answered you questions, let me know if you have any more ponderings. Tanta G.

Jewish Belief in Afterlife

Dear Tanta Golda,
At services a few weeks ago, the subject of the Jewish belief in heaven and afterlife came up. Two of our members had a lot to share with us. I tried to explain what I learned to a friend of mine who couldn’t come to services, but my mind got all mixed up! Could you please help me out? – Soulfully confused
My dear Soulful, 
Indeed you ask a question that perplexes most Jews. When Tanta Golda was a little girl she remembers being told ‘the righteous will sit at G-d’s right hand’ and that Jews didn’t believe in angels or hell. Like most little girls I thought, “Sitting, just sitting, all day by the old guy with the beard, oy gevult, how dreary! Now that I’m a little bit older, I have a slightly better understanding. Let me share what I have learned.
Judaism focuses on life in the here and now, so we have no dogma on the afterlife like so many other religions. The closest the Torah comes to discussing it are references that the righteous will be reunited with their loved ones after death, but that the wicked will not. Don’t get too veclempt, there are only a few sins so heinous that one is barred from this reunion.
In the Mishnah (the first written account of the Oral Law) it says: This world is like the lobby before the Olam HaBa (the world to come.) Prepare yourself in the lobby so you may enter the banquet hall (being with the Almighty.)
Rabbi Shraga Simmons, a nice boy, states that the soul G-d creates can never go out of existence. After death, each soul experiences heaven differently depending on the life lead. Some get front row seats, some the balcony. The experience depends on good deeds done in life, and on how sensitive one was to spiritual realities in life (through Torah study.) Those who were more aware, get more joy in being near G-d. 
Now, don’t dispair, according to Mrs. Sarah Levi at, every year at the yahrtzeit, the anniversary of a death, the soul ascends to another level closer to G-d. So darlings, even if you haven’t lived a perfect life, over time you earn your way closer to HaShem.
My little soulful, as well you know, if you have two Jews, you will have at least three opinions. This has been true throughout our history. The question of resurrection of the dead is no exception. Around two thousand years ago there was a bit of a to-do between two groups, the Sadducees and the Pharisees (the ancestors of Rabbinic Judaism.) The Sadducess said that since there was no explicit reference to the concept in the Torah, they rejected it. The Pharisees however said resurrection was implied. Rambam, one of our greatest sages, includes resurrection of dead in his 13 Principles of Faith, and in fact there are certain prayers in the traditional liturgy that refer to resurrection.  Once again, we have more than one opinion, and you will notice that in Reform siddurim these references have been eliminated from the Avot and Gevurot. Goodness!
Much has been written and debated on these topics, but what keeps coming up is that what really counts in Judaism is how you live you life now. So my dears, take this time as we approach the High Holy Days to think about how you are living your life in the here and now. As my son likes to say, “be the change you wish to see in the world”, certainly you will reap the rewards in the here, and perhaps the world to come. Oy, ambiguity!
- Tanta Golda

Clapping in Shul?

Dear Tanta Golda,
I don’t mean to complain about the behavior of others so close to the days of repentance, but I was quite bothered when people applauded in the Shul. I always thought that this was disrespectful. My friend agreed. Are we being too judgmental? – L&G
My lovely L&G,
While there is not prohibition against clapping in synagogue, you are right in considering it a matter of etiquette, in most temples. 
When I was growing up, it was considered ill-mannered to clap at anything during a service. A sanctuary, unlike an auditorium, is a sacred space, and clapping was seen as irreverent.
However, since my days as a girl, some synagogues have been more encouraging of musical instruments and clapping in a way to bring in more active participation.
So, my dears, I know I’ve answered your question both ways. I’d say the the general rule of thumb is that clapping during a service is frowned upon, but given the right circumstances we all should open ourselves up to experiencing the joy.
Keep me on my toes my kinder and keep those questions coming.
Tanta Golda

Monday, October 25, 2010

Swastika - Is It Still a Hate Crime?

Dear Tanta Golda,
Recently a former member of our Temple community was the target of a hate crime. Someone carved a Swastika on her car. How concerned should I be? Should I stop telling people I’m Jewish or take my Mezuzah off my door?
Concerned and a little petrified.
My dear Concerned,
First let me tell you that Tanta Golda shares your concern, but she also wants to stress that you need to keep this in perspective.
This was one incident visited on a family who is not very out in the community as being Jewish. Wait, don’t jump to conclusions. Tanta Golda is not saying that they should be forgotten - they are after all - members of our community. I’m pointing out that there are other members of our community who display a more public face, who have not, G-d forbid, been the victims of hate. If anti-semitism were growing in our community, would they not also have been targets by now? Remember, perspective.
We cannot, we should not, ignore this vile act. We need to speak out in support of the family and against hate in any form.  I’m merely stating that there is no need to start wringing our hands and rolling up our sidewalks (or mezzuzot) either.
In Tanta Golda’s humble opinion, these young punks most likely were just out looking for mischief. (There was another incident in the same neighborhood against non-Jews.) In all likelihood they have no real understanding of the symbolism of the Swastika, but just know it as a symbol of hate.  Keeping perspective - the ADL came out recently saying that because the swastika now shows up as a generic symbol of hate, it will no longer automatically considered an act of anti-semitism. 
Rabbi Cooper, a nice man - the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in response to the ADL’s announcement, “The swastika is shorthand for every racist and bigot on the planet.” Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League stated, “Today it’s used as an epithet against African-Americans, Hispanics and gays, as well as Jews, because it is a symbol which frightens.” And it has done its job here. Is has frightened a number of us.
Now darling, you asked about keeping  a low profile. When we hide who we are, the haters win. If Jews world-wide had hidden and kept quiet after the Holocaust, wouldn’t the Nazis have won after all? When we hide, we open ourselves up to more victimization. We become the silent, hidden minority.  When we make ourselves known it gives non-Jews an opportunity to see that we are just people like them. (As Shylock in Merchant of Venice says: If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh?) Tanta Golda feels very strongly that when people reach out to each other, misconceptions break down. I applaud the family for making this incident public.
By making the community aware of incidents of hate we allow them the opportunity to stand with us. And history in the Redding area has proven that people of good conscience abound here. And we are not alone. The story of what happened in Billings MT in 1993 is another wonderful example of people coming together to stand up against hate. (You should check out the wonderful book: The Christmas Menorahs, by Janice Cohn.)
This horrible act provides us the opportunity to discuss with friends and neighbors the moral and ethical issues inherent in bigotry. My kreplach, we must see this as an opportunity to stand together, an opportunity to teach acceptance, an opportunity to open our arms to others so they see that we are not something to fear, or ridicule. This is a time to be strong and proud.
With a warm, protective embrace,
Tanta Golda

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Priestly Caste - Reform View

Dear Tanta Golda,
I know that Reform Judaism considers someone Jewish if either parent is. What is our take on the priestly castes?
In priestly limbo, R.
My dear Priestess,
As you know, since the time following the destruction of the second Temple, one’s Jewishness was determined matrilineally, that is to say, if your mother was Jewish - you were considered Jewish. (You may be as surprised as I was to find out that this was not the case before then.)
The determination of one’s priestly cast however was passed on through the father’s side. Tanta Golda assumes that this was because men were the ones obligated to fulfill the various ritual duties,including sacrificial offerings of animals and schlepping the Tabernacle, while we women folk took care of the kinder and housework and telling our husbands what a wonderful job they were doing fulfilling the mitzvot.
Reform Judaism has always opted for the more egalitarian way of ritual participation. It has eliminated almost all of the ritual distinctions between women and men and between the castes of Kohen, Levi and Yisrael (non-priestly Jews). Most Reform communities do not call up a Kohen for the first aliyah, or perform the rituals of dukhenen (blessing the congregation on festivals) and pidyon ha-ben (redemption for a firstborn Jewish boy). I say most, because at the synagogue Tanta Golda attends, Temple Beth Israel, we are honored to have Jan Cohen come up and hallow us with the priestly blessing during the High Holy days. I would therefore think that there are other Reform Temples who still give out this honor as well.
Since most liberal communities do not observe the distinctions at all, regarding them as obstructing, rather than furthering modern spiritual elevation, there is no credo in Reform Judaism regarding the dissemination of caste status. In other words my dear, according to most scholars Tanta Golda checked with, the point is moot. However, I see no harm in bestowing the honor on your daughter if you feel so inclined.

May you be a blessing to your forebearers, whatever their distinctions. 
With love as always - Tanta Golda

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Head Covering for Men & Women

Dear Tanta Golda,
As I was reflecting during services last week, I looked around the congregation and noticed the variety of head coverings worn.  Most of the men were wearing yarmulkas as were some of the women. At my cousin’s synagogue, most of the women wear doily things on their heads, and some wear hats! What is the deal? Does one have to cover one’s head?
Baffled Beanie Boy
My darling Baffled,
You have brought up two issues for us to look at, head covering for men and hair covering for women. First to clarify terms: yarmulka is yiddish, probably Polish in origin, meaning cap. Kippah (plural kippot)  is Hebrew, meaning dome. Either term is acceptable.
The sources for wearing kippah are first found in the Babylonian Talmud, meaning that it is rabbinic in origin, not Torah based. Halakhic experts (experts on Jewish law) agree that it is a minhag, custom, albeit one that has taken on something like a force of law. From a strictly Talmudic point of view, however, the only moment when a Jewish man is required to cover his head is during prayer. Any form of head covering is acceptable, though Tanta Golda has learned that some religious movements use certain colors or materials to distinguish themselves from others. 
In Shabbat 156b (Talmud) it states: "Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you." Rabbi Shlomo Chein wrote that when we wear a reminder on our head it is not because we don’t believe so inside, but rather to turn our thoughts into an action, just like we wear a wedding ring, even though we know we love our spouse. Reasons given today for wearing kippot include: recognition that G-d is above us; acceptance of the commandments; and identification with the Jewish people.
Now, my curious friend, women traditionally wear head coverings for a different reason. This custom originates from the laws dealing with the sotah (suspected adulteress.)  A woman’s hair is seen as a key to her beauty, and the role this plays in married life. In the Talmud (Berachot 24a), a married woman's hair is defined as ehrva, those parts of the body that are kept covered for reasons of modesty. In the past, this was a societal norm, as it still is in many cultures.
In some communities, women only cover their hair in synagogue, or during times of ritual, such as lighting the Shabbat candles. In others, usually orthodox and Chassidic, married women wear head coverings all the time. This ranges from wearing a scarf of some type, completely covering the hair, to those who cut their hair quite short and then wear a wig and/or a hat.
In its early beginnings, the Reform movement did away with head covering for men and women, but over time many people - men and women- have opted to cover their heads while in shul. I hope that this has answered your questions my sweet baffled. Perhaps you can request a kippah for Hannukah!
Tanta Golda

When to Light a Yahrzeit Candle

Dear Tanta Golda,
My friends and I were admiring a new yahrzeit candle holder from our sisterhood gift shop the other day, and the question came up about when one is supposed to light a yahrzeit candle. Some thought it had to be on the anniversary of the family member’s death by the Hebrew calendar, some thought the secular date was okay, and someone at the table thought that we should also light it on certain holidays! What does tradition say?
Burning with Desire to Know
Dearest Burning
Such a learned group you dine with, Talmudic scholars beware! But you asked a serious question.

First, yahrzeit is Yiddish for “anniversary (of a person’s death)”. The reason given for the lighting of a candle to mark this comes from the book of Proverbs 20:27 where it states, “The soul of man is the candle of God.” So, the flame of the candle helps us honor our departed’s soul. Yahrzeit candles

Tradition would have it that the candle is lit on the anniversary as reckoned by the Hebrew calendar. If you are not sure what the Hebrew date is you can go to: and click the on ‘yahrzeit, birthday, and anniversary calendar’. You’ll be asked to enter the Gregorian date of your loved one’s death (that’s our current secular calendar) and it will calculate the yahrzeit dates for the next ten years. Now remember my desirous one that in the Hebrew calendar system a new ‘day’ starts at sundown, so you’ll actually light the candle the evening before. (“There was evening, there was morning, day one.”) If you forget the night before, it is okay to light the candle in the morning.

Among the Reform, it has become common practice to honor a person’s yahrzeit on the anniversary of the secular date. e.g. June 7th. So Tanta Golda would advise that you follow the practice that feels most respectful to you.

As for other dates, your friend was correct! Yahrzeit candles are also supposed to be lit whenever a Yiskor (remembrance) service is said in synagogue. This would be, Yom Kippur, and the last day of the three pilgrimage holidays: Shemini Atzeret (the 8th day of Sukkot), Passover, and Shavuot. Oye, that’s a lot of candles! *Candles are lit in the evening 

Some people also use the yahrzeit as a time to visit the gravesite, give tzedakah, perform acts of kindness, study Torah, and even fasting.

Burning, I hope that you and your friends continue to hold such thoughtful discussions and come up with more questions for Tanta Golda!