Sunday, August 11, 2013

Don't Know Much About Sukkot

Dear Tanta Golda,
I noticed that September is chock-full of holidays this year. Our congregation holds a Shabbat under the sukkah, but I’m embarrassed to attend because my family didn’t do anything with this holiday when I grew up, so I don’t know much about Sukkot. Why are people so excited about eating in this shack?
Shamefully Stumped

Dear Stump,
Sukkot is both a biblical holiday (mentioned in the Torah) and an agricultural one.

Sukkot is also called the Feast of Ingathering. It is one of three agricultural holidays in our tradition (the others being Passover & Shavuot) and it takes place at the conclusion of the fall harvest. These three holidays are also called the pilgrimage holidays, when during the time the Temple stood in Jerusalem, every man was obligated to go to Jerusalem with an thanks offering. It’s only good manners: good crop - thank you Hashem.

In Leviticus 23: 42-43 we are instructed: You shall dwell in sukkot seven days, every citizen in Israel shall dwell in sukkot, so that your descendants shall know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. That’s right, there were no Motel 6s or Holiday Inns when the Israelites fled Egypt, so they build temporary shelters-sukkot (booths).

Since the sukkot that the Israelites built were temporary, the ones we build are meant to be too. Some of the walls may be permanent, so it is not unusual that they are built against one side of a house (or Temple). The other walls may be bamboo, canvas, even highly decorated plywood! The roof however, must be temporary. While you can construct it to provide more shade than light, it must allow those inside to see the stars at night. Quite often people will use branches or bamboo poles. To commemorate the agricultural nature of the holiday, the inside is often decorated with fruits and vegetables. 

Traditionally, you must eat all of your meals in the sukkah during the seven day festival, weather permitting. Some families even sleep in theirs. Tanta Golda’s congregation tries to provide the opportunity for its members to eat at least one meal in the sukkah with their annual pot luck Shabbat. 

It is also customary to welcome the spiritual ushpizin (guests) that accompany every Jew into the sukkah. According to the Kabbala they are the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. Think of them as the Jewish equivalent of your guardian angels. (Make sure you build your sukkah large enough to accommodate them all!)

The Torah also commands us to: take for yourselves...the fruit of a hadar (beautiful) tree (an etrog), the branch of the palm trees, a bough from the "avot" tree, and willows of the stream...these last three species make up the lulav. You are supposed to hold all four of these items together and shake them in six directions: up, down, east, west, north, south - representing that G-d is everywhere. You may also notice that the shaking of the lulav mimics the sound of rain, once again that agricultural tie in! In an arid place like the land of Israel, (or much of California) rain is very important!

There is symbolic significance given to the four species, but Tanta Golda will address them another day.

Keep sending TG your questions:

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Brit Milah - Welcome to the Covenant Little One!

Dear Tanta Golda,
A young couple in our Temple recently had a baby boy. I’ve been invited to the Bris or Brit, but I don’t know quite what to expect. Is there something I will be asked to do?
Bashfully Baffled

Dear Bashful,
What a blessing, a new life!

A bris or brit is short for berit milah (covenant of circumcision) and refers to the religious ritual through which boy babies are formally welcomed into the Jewish community. It is pronounced bris by many Ashkenazi Jews, and brit by Sephardic Jews, and in eretz Israel. 

Brit milah is the oldest Jewish ritual, established nearly 4,000 years ago. However, Jews were not the first people to engage in the rite of circumcision, many ancient cultures practiced it. Even today, a number of tribal people in Africa and elsewhere practice it, as do many Muslims. Remember, Abraham circumcised his son Ishmael once HaShem told him of the commandment.

In Genesis 17 God says to Abraham: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And throughout the generations, every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days. (For a brief history of the Reform view of circumcision click here)

Now to answer your question about what happens, etc.
Brit milah is performed on the 8th day after birth - even if it falls on Yom Kippur or Shabbat! That should tell you how important this ritual is. Only health of the newborn would delay this mitzvah. A minyan of ten Jews is desirable, but not essential.

Traditionally, the ceremony begins with a processional, where the baby is carried in on a pillow by the kvater* or kvaterin*. Those present say: Baruch haba (Blessed be he who comes). They child is then handed off to the sandak* who is seated at the chair of Elijah. The child is either placed on a table, or held on the pillow in the sandek’s lap and the sandek holds him while the mohel performs the circumcision.  Brit Milah Pillows

The mohel says a blessing before performing the circumcision - Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al hamilah - Blessed are you Adodai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvah commanding us concerning circumcision.

Following the circumcision the parents say: Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu l’hachniso biv’rito shel Avraham avinu - Blessed are you Adodai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvah and commanding us to enter our son into the covenant of Abraham our father.

All present respond: Just as he has entered the covenant, may he likewise embark upon a life blessed with Torah, marriage, and good deeds.

The mohel or parents then say the kiddush and a the baby’s is given his Hebrew name. The person reciting the kiddush drinks the wine, as does the baby. How is this possible Tanta Golda, you ask.  A small piece of cloth is dipped in the wine and given to the child to suck on. Alternatively, a few drops of wine are placed on the child’s lips. The New Jewish Baby Book: Names, Ceremonies & Customs-A Guide for Today's Families

Traditionally a seudat mitzvah - festive meal follows, and the parents and child are cooed over. Okay, that last bit is Tanta Golda’s minhag, but really, who wouldn’t coo?

*Kvater, kvaterin, & sandek all translate as godfather/godmother. The kvater/kvaterin is a ceremonial position, while the sandek is the one who is considered by many to be the one who promises the parents to raise the child in the Jewish faith if some ill should befall them.

Thank you for your excellent question. Many the family enjoy much mazel!
Tanta Golda

For rituals surrounding the birth of a daughter, please check out Naming Ritual for Girls by clicking the blue link.

Friday, May 31, 2013

L'shalom vs B'shalom: What's the Big Deal?

 Dear Tanta Golda,
Recently a friend of mine from Temple signed off her email to me with L’shalom. Another friend uses B’shalom. What's the translation for L'Shalom? Why do we use it?
Raising my Lexicon

My Dear Lex,
This is a hotly discussed topic in some circles. As you may know, Hebrew often attaches small words that we call prepositions or conjunctions as prefixes to words. For example:  Ha as a prefix means the, L' means to or towards. B' means in or with. You will have seen/heard them used like this: b’yad: (by the) hand, hagafen: (the) vine, l’chayim: (to) life.

So l'shalom means towards peace; b'shalom in peace. Now you might be saying to yourself, “But they seem so similar, what’s the rub?” An excellent question, and one that leads to many people using them incorrectly.

Apparently, for a variety of reasons, b'shalom is reserved for the dead, as in: May her soul go b'shalom--in peace. There are several passages in Torah where b’shalom is used in referencing the dead, or more specifically when addressing someone you wish were dead. Sort of like, “Go to hell!” It would seem that when Joseph’s brothers sold him off to traders they used the phrase b’shalom: they wished him dead.

L'shalom is used when addressing the living--may you go towards peace. Doesn't that sound nice? The Talmud, in Berachos 64a, explains that a living person must always seek to grow spiritually and keep from stagnating. Therefore, they should go towards peace: keep working at it. A dead person however, remains at whatever spiritual level they attained in their lifetime.

So, when speaking to your friends it is gracious to say l’shalom. If they are your enemies...well it is best just to keep it to yourself! 

In re-checking my answer for you I found that a more common sign off is "kol tuv", meaning 'be well'.

Kol tuv!
Tanta Golda

Monday, April 29, 2013

Parsha - Is it a Partial Reading?

Dear Tanta Golda,
I just attended a Bar Mitzvah and the young man kept using the word parsha. What is a parsha? Is it a single chapter of the Torah? Just a few paragraphs? More?
Partially Perplexed

Dearest Partial,
A very good question, and not so simple to answer. (It’s Judaism, would you expect less?) But, let’s start with a little background.

Public reading of the Torah was established by Ezra the Scribe in the 8th century. Before then, only certain sections were read to the masses on a few select festival days. Ezra felt that it would be good for the people to be touched by the words of the Torah far more frequently. He set Monday, Thursday, and Saturdays as the days for public reading. Why those days? Saturday was/is Shabbat, and Monday & Thursdays were market days,when large numbers of merchants etc came into the city. Who doesn’t love a crowd? He also said that this way people would go no more than 3 days without hearing Torah. Torah Scrolls

The Torah as you know, contains five books, with a total of 187 chapters. These are divided into 54 portions or Parshot (singular=parsha). *50 in a leap year, which means some doubling up! 

Now, there are two ways to read through the Torah: annually - as is done at Tanta Golda’s Temple-where the entire Torah is read over the course of a year. The annual cycle originated in Babylon, and is followed by the majority of Jews.

A second way is a triennial cycle - where each parsha further divided into thirds (for a total of 155 parshot). The first third of each traditional parsha is read one year, the middle third the second year, and the final third during the third year. By this method it takes 3 years to completely read the Torah. This cycle originated in Palestine during the Rabbinic period (70-500 CE). Some among the Conservative stream follow the triennial cycle.

Parshot vary considerably in length. In the annual cycle, the shortest is 30 lines. The longest 150 lines. A few are a single chapter, several are 6 chapters, but the average seems to be 3-4 chapters in length. Tanakh

Traditionally, each Parsha is begun during the afternoon service on Saturday, with a little read on Monday & Thursday, and completed on the following Saturday morning. 

Now, if your congegation is small like Tanta Golda’s, you probably don’t have Torah readings during the week. If that is the case, quite often the rabbi will chose which part of the week’s parsha to read on Shabbat morning. At Tanta Golda’s Temple we encourage our bar/bat mitzvah students to choose a section from their parsha that is meaningful to them. However, this is the exception, not the rule for how Torah is read. Torah Commentary

I hope your young man did a wonderful job with his reading!
It is a Tree of Life for all hold fast to it - Tanta Golda

amazon reviewed Torah Scrolls  Tanakh Torah Commentary

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Do You Light Yahrzeit Candles on Passover?

My Darlings,

It has come to my attention that many of you are wondering if/when one should light a Yahrzeit  candle on Passover. The short answer - Yes!

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.

Remember my quizative ones, Jewish 'days' begin at sundown of the previous day (according to our secular-everyday- calendar). So, for Pesach you will light the Yahrzeit candle at sundown the evening before the final day of Passover. If you are Reform or live in Israel and celebrate the holiday for 7 days, this will be after sundown on April 20th 2014. If you are Orthodox or Conservative and observe Pesach for 8 days, you will light your candle(s) on the evening of April 21st 2014.

Now don't fret if you forget the evening before. It is still permissible (among all streams of Judaism) to light the candle the following day if you have forgotten.

Here is a link to find the candle lighting times in your area. There is even a mobile app if your phone is smarter than you are!

If you have more questions, please feel free to leave me a comment and I'll be glad to respond!

May you have fond memories of sharing Pesach with your departed loved ones.

Tanta Golda

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Are Locusts Kosher?

Dear Tanta Golda,
I was reading in the news that in early March, 30 million locusts invaded Egypt and have since then migrated to Israel. Are locusts kosher? If so, are they meat or dairy? Can I eat them with ice cream? 
Creeped Out But Curious

Dear Creepy,
What planning by those locusts - just in time for Pesach! Apparently this is an annual occurrence, they just happen to be more abundant than usual this year.

Leviticus 11 states that all things that creep on the ground, and all winged swarming things, including insects, are not kosher - with the exception of those with jointed legs above their feet which they use to leap upon the earth. The Torah specifically enumerates: locusts, the cricket, and the grasshopper as being okay. Now darling, there are some rabbis who say since we can’t know exactly which types of locust the Torah was referring to, it is advisable to avoid eating them altogether so as not to risk eating the non-kosher variety. (Like anyone would need to tell Tanta Golda not to eat locust, uch - so...crunchy!)

However, according to Tanta Golda’s Pentateuch, it says: the locust after its kinds…(Lev. 11:22) That seems to me to include all locusts. But, what do I know?

Locusts, like fish, are considered parve (neutral), so neither strictly meat nor dairy. That means bubbelah, that you can go right ahead and sprinkle locusts all over the top of your ice cream sundae!

Have a joyous Passover, may your matzah balls be fluffy, and your locusts...oy.

Love, Tanta Golda

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hamsa - What Does it Mean? Where Does it Come From?

amazon reviewed Hamsa Hand of Fatima

Dear Tanta Golda,
My friend and I were comparing Hamsa necklaces the other day, and we wondered – why is it a Jewish symbol? What does it mean? How could we be wearing something without knowing what it stands for?
Hopelessly Hung Up on my Hamsa

Dear Hung Up,
Ah, symbolism! For those darlings who don’t know what we are talking about, a Hamsa looks like a funky hand. Funky, because typically the ‘thumb’ and ‘pinky’ on a hamsa are symmetrical (the same). If you look at yours, you’ll notice they most certainly are not! Hamsa are worn as jewelry, hung on walls, even decorate religious books.

This symbol can be found throughout the Middle East, and its original origins may pre-date monotheism. However, in its present form, it would appear to come from Islam where it is a symbol of good luck and often referred to as ‘the hand of Fatima’. What? You say, a Jewish symbol comes from Islam? Yes dear, get over it. Things were not always so contentious in the holy land. Hand of Fatima

    The Arabic and Hebrew words for “five” khamsa/hamesh are very similar, and where the symbol gets its name. In Judaism it is said that the five fingers represent the Five Books of Moses, though others say it represents the hand of God, and in kabbalistic manuscripts it often doubles as the letter shin standing for the first letter of the divine name Shaddai.
The hamsa is said to protect against the ‘evil eye’, a look that brings bad fortune. Additional protection is offered by other symbols added to the hamsa. Some common ones are a blue eye; the letters chet-yud for chai- life; a Star of David; or fish – which are thought to be symbols of luck themselves. Hamsa

    The hamsa became more popular as interest in the Kabbala grew in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

    Tanta Golda thinks it is wonderful when a symbol unites cultures, instead of separating them! Perhaps when more of us wear them, there will indeed be peace in the Middle East.

amazon reviewed Hamsa Hand of Fatima