The Powers That Be

This week, I cannot refer to “this week’s reading” and be universally accurate. The Torah portion read this week in Israel is “out of sync” with the rest of the world, a phenomenon that will continue for another month. This is because while Israel celebrates the holy days of the three festivals on one day each, those living outside Israel celebrate them for two. Since the last day of Passover was on Friday this year, in Israel they read Parshas Shemini on Shabbos, while outside Israel, we read the special reading for the eighth day of Passover, and will read Shemini this week.

This causes a minor inconvenience for many people. Many apps and webpages written in Israel, for instance, refer to a different Torah reading than those written outside it. This week, many who are about to travel to Israel will walk to places where they can listen to Israel’s reading in order to “catch up.”

Now of course, you can find some people today who say that we really should only have one Passover Seder. This usually comes from the same sources that claim that Ashkenazic Jews shouldn’t care about eating kitniyos (legumes, rice, etc.) on Passover anymore — and that oh, by the way, the traditionalists are so monolithic! As I have written before, we should celebrate the diversity of customs that have developed over thousands of years of Jewish history, all surrounding a common core of Torah and Rabbinic legislation designed to encourage us to come closer to G-d.

For the record, I recently saw a webpage which explained accurately that the reason why Jews outside Israel observed two days of the holidays was because the community in Babylon could not receive timely word from Jerusalem concerning which of two possible days was consecrated as the new month, because this was done only based upon eyewitness testimony before the Sanhedrin, the supreme religious court. The same page, however, also asserts that this practice “continued even after mathematical models made it possible to calculate the date of the new moon.”

This latter statement is inaccurate: the mathematical models were in Jewish hands from the time that the Torah was given, to a degree of accuracy that required NASA to replicate. That is why we can still rely upon the calendar established by Hillel Sheni (the second Rabbi Hillel), although it is nearing two millenia since his lifetime. He created a set calendar not because he had developed a mathematical model, but because he recognized that there would soon not be a Sanhedrin to receive witnesses! The festivals still carry with them the message that the Jewish people has the ability to affect the entire world, spiritually, by affecting the time when the spiritual powers encapsulated within the festivals come into the world once again.

One day soon, we should hope to see the day when everyone returns to Israel, observes one day of all holidays, and a cloudy evening might affect when they are!

Brother, Can You Share a Smile?

The blessing Jacob gives Judah concludes with the words: “his eyes will redden from wine, and his teeth white from milk.” Rabbi Yochanan says homiletically (Kesubos 111b) that you can read it as “teeth whiter than milk” — to give a smile to a friend is even greater than giving him nourishment.

When someone comes collecting charity, it is a difficult and often thankless job. Rejection can break a person’s spirits and keep him or her from continuing, no matter how important the cause. So, as it happens, a smile may be one of the most important things you can give — you can brighten that person’s spirits and enable him or her to persevere.

Closer to home, there is no one who doesn’t have a “hard day” now and then. There are great people who have tremendous internal reserves of happiness, so that no matter what, it seems like they are always happy. Even people like that need an encouraging word now and then — much less the rest of us, who sometimes just want to crawl back into bed and start over tomorrow, if not next week!

To be generous of spirit is at least as important as being generous with money — and when it comes to smiles, the more you give, the more you have!


I decided that it was time for me to take advantage of this space to start a discussion. My posts here will be short notes of interest — in contrast to my participation in Cross-Currents, for example, as well as a brand-new blog from my Internet work.

But I thought it worth keeping the site more lively — primarily so that readers out there (does that mean you?) should feel free to comment and know that I’m reading!

First Round

I just asked those who bought through Project Genesis to email me their comments… here are a few.

I enjoyed the book very much……..I’m reading it a second time….probably a third and fourth too! So much to learn! Thank you for taking the time to write it.


I think this book is so wonderful that I recommended it to my sister (61 yrs old) who was asking me about Kabbalah.

It is easy to read, informative and interesting. Since for me a good experience is one where I learn something new or have a little fun/enjoyment, the “Everything Torah” book fulfils both of my requirements. I couldn’t put it down once I started it, enjoyed it and learned many new things. What else could I ask for?



I started to read your book the day I received it and enjoyed the book. I have passed it on to my wife, who is presently reading it




The “Cutting Room” is for sections of the manuscript that didn’t make it into the published book. The first item I published came in response to a question in the discussion forum — from a perceptive reader, Andrea, who noticed that my entry on evolution was curiously devoid of an explanation. I responded in the forum, so you can read the missing passage there.

As a footnote, you should also see Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein’s article, “Inherit an Ill Wind, and Other Musings About Science,” on Cross-Currents.

Rabbi Zerachyah HaLevi

Moshe did it again — he found a significant error on pp. 135-136.

The author of the Sefer HaMaor was not named Zecharyah (like the Prophet), but rather Zerachyah. Since the acronym “Razah” fits both names — Rabbi {Zerachyah, Zecharyah} Halevi — I misread the more common name in my research. The more significant mistake, though, is that Nachmanides’ Milchamos HaShem attempts to prove R’ Zerachyah was in error, rather than the Ra’avad as I wrote on p. 136.

That was, in fact, how I had understood the debates between them previously. The passage that I misread, resulting in the error in the book, comes from the entry on Rabbi Zerachyah found on p. 164 of The Rishonim, by Rabbi Hersh Goldwurm with Rabbi Shmuel Teich. He writes, “Ravad [or, in my book, Ra’avad] III attacked his colleague, Razah, in very sharp language… Ramban… attempts to prove that Razah, not Rif, is in error.” Somehow I misread the double negative (“not Rif… in error”) and had Ramban defending the Razah, when the opposite is true.

Here is the relevant passage from The Rishonim in its entirety:

Despite his disclaimers and apologetics, Razah was sharply attacked for presenting a work which implies that Rif sometimes erred in his halachic decisions. In his Hasagos, Ravad III attacked his colleague, Razah, in very sharp language. The similarly youthful Ramban, who calls R’ Zerachyah “the princely cedar,” compiled the extensive work Milchamos HaShem in which he attempts to prove that Razah, not Rif, is in error. Sefer HaMaor, together with the Hasagos and Milchamos HaShem, are printed in all current editions of Sefer HaHalachos.

Very Good…

Congratulations to Moshe for catching the error I meant, and to Andrea for catching two more.

1) I’ve never heard of Chafalashim either, but the stack of books on the lower left hand corner of the front cover has a book of their prayers at both the top and bottom of the stack. The book on top reads “Seder Tefilot Chafalashim“, which means “The Order of Prayers of the Chafalashim,” followed by “Daily Prayer Book” in English.

The Falashim, “HaFalashim” with a hey rather than ches, refers to the Ethiopian immigrants who have come to Israel since the 1980s. However, it is my understanding that this term, Anglicized as “Falashas,” is somewhat derogatory — there are other self-descriptive terms, and they wouldn’t put “Falashim” on their own prayer book. And further, they lost much of their connection with Jewish prayer, and to the best of my knowledge have adopted one of the traditional orders of prayer, either that of the Sephardic communities (Morocco, Syria, Iraq etc.) or that of the Ashkenazim of Europe.

2) As Andrea mentioned, it’s incongruous for the term “Old Testament” to appear on the cover of a Jewish book, and the Jewish Bible comprises more than five books (twenty-four, by our count, which groups the Twelve Prophets (Hoshea-Malachi) into one).

As mentioned before, I didn’t do the cover — I even sent them some scans of genuine Jewish book covers, like Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah (his legal code). In most English-speaking countries, everyone recognizes “Old Testament” so I left that alone — but I myself missed the reference to the Five Books!