A Long Way from the Wonder Pot

  Artzeinu, KJ's weekly publication with Israel news updates, published a special 75th Anniversary Issue in which several writers were asked to answer the question, "Where will Israel be 75 years from now?" Below is the answer I contributed I have a childhood memory of flipping through my mother’s old Israeli recipes and noticing a recipe for a Bundt cake. However, instead of baking it in an oven, this cake was to be cooked on a stovetop, in a Sir Peleh – a  "Wonder Pot." Shortly after the founding of the State of Israel, her Jewish population doubled. The government established the tsena period, a period of austerity, to ensure that everyone had the resources they needed. Citizens received rations of flour, eggs, oil, and other ingredients, and there were limits on the purchase of furniture and household objects. Most people did not own an oven and many did not even own a stove; cooking took place on a portable gas burner known as p’tiliya . But without an ove

Is Chazzanut Good for KJ?

Adapted from a sermon delivered at KJ on Shabbat Va'era The beginning of Parashat Va’era describes a critical conversation that took place between God and Moshe. God told Moshe that a new chapter was about to unfold for the Jewish People, as God will now be known by a new name. “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai , but I did not make Myself known to them by My name Hashem .” The problem with this statement is that it’s not true. The name, Hashem, was in fact so familiar to Abraham that he even called God by that name early in their relationship, asking “Oh Hashem , what can You give me?” God introduced Himself to Jacob by that name too: “I am Hashem , the God of your father Abraham.” So what then is the meaning of God’s words to Moshe that I did not make Myself known to them by My name Hashem ?” Seforno (16th century Italy) suggested that God did not mean that He never used the name Hashem when interacting with the forefathers, but rather that the attributes an

Should we still recite the Prayer for the State of Israel if we disagree with its government?

  A Letter to the Editor published in The Forward's Opinion section (see original here ) Re: “ Why this Zionist rabbi has stopped saying the Prayer for the State of Israel ”  by Jodi Rudoren Should we pray for the State of Israel? I certainly think so, but some of my rabbinic colleagues have proclaimed that, in light of their disagreement with Israel’s new governing coalition, their congregations will stop reciting the usual prayer for the State of Israel. That prayer was written in 1948 by some combination of Chief Rabbis Isaac Herzog and Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel and edited by Noble laureate Shai (S.Y.) Agnon. For decades, its prominent recitation on Shabbat and holiday mornings has been de rigueur at Zionist congregations. “How can we pray for the success of a government with which we disagree so vehemently? How can we claim that the State of Israel represents the ‘first flowering of our redemption’ (r eishit tz’michat ge’ulateinu )? This is not the redemption we have been praying

The Most Important Ingredient (Salt)

  Adapted from a sermon delivered at KJ on Shabbat Vayera, November 12, 2022 A while back, a situation necessitated that my family eat in a non-kosher venue. We spoke with the maître d’ about what he could bring us, especially for the children.  After going through some details and possibilities, he remarked, “One thing you can be absolutely certain about; I have been through the entire kitchen, and all the salt we use here – all of it – is kosher salt.”  Of course, that has nothing to do with the kashrut of the salt. It is the name for the type of salt used for koshering meat; some decades ago the salt companies marketed it to the general public as “kosher salt” and it became a hit with cooks. Salt is probably the single most important ingredient in the kitchen because it does so much for food. It preserves foods (think salted or brined meats). Salt as a preservative has been known for millennia – since at least 2000 BCE in Egypt. And when it comes to flavor, if used properly,

Reflections on Chesed

Adapted from remarks delivered at the first Yahrzeit commemoration for DeeDee Benel Z”L   שִׁמְעוֹן הַצַּדִּיק הָיָה מִשְּׁיָרֵי כְנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה. הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְעַל הָעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים :   Shimon the Righteous was one of the last of the men of the great assembly. He used to say: the world stands upon three things: the Torah, the Temple service, and acts of kindness.   Our sages identified chesed as one of the pillars on which the world stands. Our daily prayers emphasize the importance of doing chesed even more strongly. As part of Birkot HaTorah (the blessings over Torah study), we study a passage from the Mishna which lists acts of chesed as one of the mitzvoth which has no prescribed limit—that is, there is no end to how much chesed we can do.   We then study a passage from the Talmud which lists chesed as a mitzvah with a double reward: we are rewarded in this world for doing chesed, and also

The Right Kind of Community

  Earlier this month, the Jewish Week published an article entitled, Synagogue Is Like ‘Cheers’ Without the Booze.   The article was written by the paper’s editor, Andrew Silow-Carrol, and in it he reflects on what synagogue community provides for people and what is lost when a community stops attending synagogue. It’s like Cheers because it’s a place where everybody knows your name. He writes, “if you spend enough time in synagogue, you know these casual — even hurried — exchanges (saying shabbat shalom, catching up at kiddush) forge tighter bonds than others might expect…. We know each other’s business: how the kids are doing, who’s ill, who’s mourning. You may not be invited to the wedding of a synagogue-mate’s son, but you are in the pews for the aufruf and, peh peh peh, the baby naming.”  There is no doubt in my mind that what Silow-Carroll described is a large part of what synagogue community means to us and what it does for us. But I think this description misses a crucial e

The Tashlikh Enigma

Three prominent rituals mark Rosh Hashanah: hearing the  shofar , performing  tashlikh , and eating the  simanim  (symbolic foods)—but only one of these is a commandment. There is no  halakhic  requirement to perform  tashlikh  or to eat apples and pomegranates; one who has heard the  shofar , eaten the festive meals, and prayed at services, but neglected to throw bread into the river or eat a fish head, has fulfilled the obligations.  Not only are  tashlikh  and the  simanim  not  mitzvot , they are rather strange customs. Eating honey for a sweet new year and beets so that our enemies vanish—is this not strange superstition at best? Do we really think that by emptying our pockets into the river, we thereby empty ourselves of sin? Many sages, including the Vilna Gaon, strongly opposed  Tashlikh  for these reasons. Does partaking in these odd ceremonies really have any effect on our final judgment? Can it actually guarantee us a sweet and fruitful year?  Rabbi David Kimhi (Rada