Monday, December 19, 2011

Abraham, Sarah and Abimelech -- in Genesis 20

Question: A pastor from a small Florida town requested the Jewish explanation of the obscure term "kesut einayim" in Genesis 20:16. He also wanted an explanation of how 1,000 pieces of silver could clear Sarah's reputation, and what was its significance in the context of ancient Near Eastern law and custom.

: Although this term is often translated as "vindication", its literal meaning is "covering of the eyes."

Nahum Sarna's The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (1989) provides a succinct summary of the literal and figurative meanings of this phrase (p. 144). The ArtScroll Tanach Series commentary on Genesis by Zlotowitz provides a variety of explanations by a range of classical rabbinic commentators. For example:

According to Rashbam, the 1,000 pieces of silver refers to the dowry Abimelech gave Abraham (Sarah's supposed brother) demonstrating Abimelech's honorable intention to legally marry Sarah. Regarding "kesut einayim" Rashi says "The gifts I have given to you will serve to close the eyes of all those who would otherwise have regarded you contemptuously" (Artscroll p. 738)--again emphasizing Abimelech's honorable intentions, the restoration of Sarah's honor and the removal of any disgrace. R' Bachya and Rav Yehudah bar Ilia emphasize the literal meaning of "kesut": a garment. Sarah should wear a garment which will distract the public from noticing her beauty, or a veil which will actually hide Sarah from public view.

Sarna refers us to Moshe Weinfeld's article "Sarah and Abimelech (Genesis 20) Against the Background of an Assyrian Law and the Genesis Apocryphon" in Mélanges Bibliques et Orientaux en l’Honneur de M. Mathias Delcor (1985). Weinfeld demonstrates how a text of Genesis Apocryphon found at Qumran partially verifies Cassuto's 1944 hypothesis that that the transfer of money from Abimelech to Abraham was a standard legal practice in the Middle East in such situations. This Qumran text includes an additional detail in the Abraham/Sarah/Abimelech narrative, which is absent in the Biblical text. An oath is uttered by Abimelech.

Weinfeld quotes a translation of Middle Assyrian Laws: “a man who takes a married woman on a . . . journey with him, without knowing that she is married, must make an oath to that effect [that he did not know she was married] and give two talents of tin to the woman’s husband (Middle Assyrian Laws, I, sect. 22)” p. 431. Weinfeld's conclusion: “we can assume that we have here a practice widespread over the ancient Near East for a period of more than a thousand years.” p. 432

Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Interesting Image - Where Does It Come From?

The above image was sent to the JTS Library. The sender did not know the source of the image. He wanted to know more about it and where it came from. Here is the analysis of the image that I wrote in response:

The design contains two quotes in RaShi script. They read as follows:
Starting from the top left of the circle and heading left and downwards, the words read:

הענן לא היה יכול / לב[ו]א נסתלק ה / הענן נכנס ומדבר / עמו
the cloud he was not able / to enter when the cloud lifted he would enter and speak / with Him

The forward-slashes in my transcription represent spaces. The italicized letter represents the insertion of the first letter of the "word-following-the-space", at the end of the "group-of-words-coming-before-the-space", possibly to guide the reader as to which section to read next. The bracketed letter represents a letter that is found in the source text that I examined (i.e. RaSHI's commentary to the Humash)but is missing from the design.
These words of the design are a quote of some of RaShI’s commentary to Exodus 40:35. I have transcribed RaShi’s commentary from the Bar Ilan Responsa online database’s transcription of the Jerusalem 1959 edition of RaShi’s commentary (itself a reprint of the Vienna 1859 edition). RaShI’s comment here is based on Sifra (Beraita de-Rabi Yishmael, parshah 1, paragraph 8). RaShI’s comment reads as follows:

ולא יכול משה לבוא אל אהל מועד - וכתוב אחד אומר (במדבר ז פט) ובבא משה אל אהל מועד, בא הכתוב השלישי והכריע ביניהם, כי שכן עליו הענן, אמור מעתה כל זמן שהיה עליו הענן לא היה יכול לבוא, נסתלק הענן נכנס ומדבר עמו:
And Moshe was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting – But another verse states (Numbers 7:89) “and when Moshe entered the Tent of Meeting” [a seeming contradiction]? A third verse comes and resolves [the contradiction] between them “because the cloud rested on [the Tent of Meeting]”. We can now explain: as long as the cloud rested on [the Tent of Meeting], he [Moshe] was not able to enter. When the cloud lifted, he [Moshe] would enter and speak with Him:

The bolded words represent the portion of RaShI’s comment included in the design.

Starting from the bottom right of the circle and heading right and upwards and then into the Star of David, the words read:

לעיני כל בני / י' / ישר[א]ל בכל מסעי/הם בכל מסע ש? / שהיו נוסעים ה[י]ה הענן שוכן ב / במקום אשר יחנו שם מקום ח / חנייתם אף הוא קרוי מסע וכן / וילך למס/עיו וכן / אלה מסעי לפי ש[מ]מ/קום הח/נייה חזרו / ונסעו ל / לפיכך / נקראו
Before the eyes of all the Children of Israel in all their journeys in every journey that they journeyed the cloud would rest in the place that they were to encamp the place that they encamped is also called a journey and so and he went according to his journeys and so these are the journeys because from the place of encampment they again journeyed therefore they were called

The meaning of the forward-slashes, small italicized letters, and brackets has been discussed above. The question mark signifies that the preceding letter is unclear and conjectured. The text in blue indicate words that deviate from the version found in the source text I examined.
This part of the design is a quote (with some minor differences) of most of RaShI’s commentary to Exodus 40:38:

לעיני כל בית ישראל בכל מסעיהם – בכל מסע שהיו נוסעים היה הענן שוכן במקום אשר יחנו שם. מקום חנייתן אף הוא קרוי מסע, וכן (בראשית יג ג) וילך למסעיו, וכן (במדבר לג א) אלה מסעי לפי שממקום החנייה חזרו ונסעו, לכך נקראו כולן מסעות:
Before the eyes of all the House of Israel in all their journeys - In every journey that they journeyed the cloud would rest in the place that they were to encamp. The place that they encamped is also called a “journey” and so [we find this expression used elsewhere, as in] “and he went according to his journeys” (Genesis 13:3) and so [as in] “these are the journeys” (Numbers 33:1). [The reason for the word journey being used to mean encampment is] because from the place of encampment they again journeyed, therefore [the places of encampment] were all called “journeys”:

Again, the bolded words represent the portion of RaShI’s commentary included in the design and the text in blue indicates differences from the wording or spelling found in the design.

Despite the identification of the text on which this design is based. We have not yet been able to find the source of the image or understand its significance. If anyone can assist us in doing so, please, let us know in the comments section. Thank you

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bibliography of the works of Rabbi Yaakov Hayim Sofer, rosh Yeshivat Kaf ha-Hayim - Part II

The Bibliography

As I mentioned in a post on 7/18/2011, I have prepared a preliminary bibliography of the works of the contemporary rabbinic scholar, Rabbi Yaakov Hayim Sofer (rosh Yeshivat Kaf ha-Hayim in Israel). See that post for more information about Rabbi Sofer's writings and the methodology of the bibliography. Here is a link to a downloadable PDF of the bibliography:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Demons in the House?


I'm moving to a new house, and friends begged me to be sure previous owners had not remodeled, causing doors or windows to be closed up. They urged me not to make such door or window changes either -- all because of Jewish law. I am not familiar with these laws, so please provide me with more information.


This may suprise you, but your friend is probably urging you to avoid provoking demons.

According to Rabbi Yehudah HeChasid (of 12-century Germany) in his Sefer Chasidim: The Book of the Pious and his Ethical Will and Testament, translated by Avraham Finkel (Jason Aronson, 1997) demons travel via habitual and unwavering paths, and one must avoid blocking their paths. "...angels and demons cannot deviate from the route to which they are assigned" (p. 76). "One should not seal up a window or door completely, otherwise the demons that usually pass through these openings will cause harm. One should make a hole in the sealed door or window [to allow the demons passage]" (p. 378)

It may be difficult for many readers to take seriously the notion that demons exist and could harm us--or that these concepts are part of Judaism. Indeed, Finkel points out that "many of the instructions in Rabbi Yehudah's...ethical will...are based on Kabbalah and do not have the binding character of halachah" [Jewish law] (p. xxxiii).

Although Biblical, Rabbinic and Kabbalistic texts mention demons, the text of the Tanakh makes it clear that the source of misfortune is the Lord, and sorcery is not to be tolerated. Popular belief in demons has waxed and waned over the centuries, often reflecting the beliefs of surrounding communities. Notably, Maimonides and Ibn Ezra have rejected the the existence of demons. The article on "Demons and Demonology" in the Encyclopedia Judaica provides an overview on the topic of demons in Judaism, and how the concept has varied in different eras and geographic areas.

Joshua Trachtenberg, in Jewish Magic and Superstition (1939), prefaces his book saying that "alongside ...[the]... formal development [of Judaism] there was a constant elaboration of what we may call 'folk religion' -- ideas and practices that never met with the whole-hearted approval of the religious leaders, but which enjoyed such wide popularity that they could not be altogether excluded from the field of religion. Of this sort were the beliefs concerning demons and angels, and the many superstitious usages based on these beliefs...(p. vii). Trachtenberg discusses demons, and avoiding demons in the home, on pages 32-33.

A more recent scholarly treatment of the supernatural (including demons) in ancient rabbinic literature is Yuval Harari's "The sages and the occult" in The Literature of the Sages, part 2 (2006) p. 521-564.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bibliography of the works of Rabbi Yaakov Hayim Sofer, rosh Yeshivat Kaf ha-Hayim - Part I


Rabbi Yaakov Hayim Sofer, rosh yeshivah of Yeshivat Kaf ha-Hayim in Yerushalayim (, is a prolific author who writes on a myriad of topics relating to all aspects of Torah study (including important bio-bibliographic studies). His works are distinguished by a very impressive command of the entire corpus of rabbinic writings - from the writings of the Tanaim up until the writings of present day scholars.

Although Rabbi Sofer has published many works containing his own essays, much of his output has been in the form of extensive notes written on the works of previous scholars. These notes have often been published at the backs of new editions of these scholars’ publications. Contemporary scholars who receive approbations from Rabbi Sofer for their works are often rewarded with his comments on their book’s subject, appended to his approbation. These practices make the identification and collation of all Rabbi Sofer’s writings difficult. In addition, Rabbi Sofer shares his name with his grandfather, the famous posek and kabbalist who wrote Kaf ha-Hayim and other works. This may confuse some people.

In order to distinguish them, the Library of Congress authority file lists the contemporary rosh yeshivah as: “Sofer, Yaakov Haim”. The author of Kaf ha-Hayim is identified in the authority record as: “Sofer, Ya‘akov Hayim, 1869 or 70-1939”. Another difference recorded by the Library of Congress is that the contemporary rosh yeshivah is “ben Yitshak Shalom” whereas the author of Kaf ha-Hayim is “ben Yitshak Barukh”.

In order to assist in the recognition of the contemporary Rabbi Sofer’s writings, I have prepared a bibliography of his publications. It can only be said to be a preliminary bibliography since I have been unable to personally examine some of the works and editions. Furthermore, I have not taken what would, surely, be the great amount of time necessary to compare the contents of all the books and note what, if any, essays or notes appear in multiple publications. It is, also, to be presumed that many of Rabbi Sofer’s articles that have been published in periodical literature, have been reprinted in his self-published works. Again, I have not taken the time to ascertain when this has occurred. Finally, I am certain that due to their lack of mention in the databases I have consulted, I have completely omitted many of Rabbi Sofer’s articles printed in periodical literature.

I have divided the bibliography into three sections:
1) Books containing primarily Rabbi Sofer’s own writings
2) Books written primarily by other authors that have been published together with Rabbi Sofer’s notes and comments. Each section is arranged alphabetically. I have generally listed only the latest edition of each work, except where the Jewish Theological Seminary Library has only an earlier edition, in which case I have listed the edition that we have and the later edition. Where the JTS Library owns a copy of the work, I have noted the call number assigned to the item. Where the JTS Library does not own a copy, I have so noted.
3) Periodicals (and other collections of articles, such as festschriften) containing articles and notes written by Rabbi Sofer. The periodicals have been arranged alphabetically by periodical title and the articles within each periodical have been arranged alphabetically by article title.

In preparing the bibliography I made use of the list of Rabbi Sofer’s works published at the back of the various volumes of his work, Sefer Hadar Yaakov. I have also used the following catalogs and databases: JTS Library catalogue, JNUL catalogue, RAMBI, RAMBISH, COTAR, and the index to periodicals (and other collections of articles), on the "Bar Ilan ShuT Project CD" (version 15). I have also made use of the index to the journal Mekabtsiel (issues 1-30) published in v.30 (Adar II 5765) of that journal. I have, also, examined many of the works and items personally. I would like to thank my colleague, Ina Rubin Cohen, for her helpful suggestions of databases to search.

I intend, be-ezrat HaShem, to publish the bibliography on this blog over the coming weeks.

As mentioned above, there are certainly many lacunae to be found in this preliminary bibliography. (One desideratum is articles by Rabbi Sofer published in v.35-36 of Mekabtsiel, which I have been unable to examine.) I welcome any additions or corrections that can be supplied by our readers. I also welcome any biographical information regarding Rabbi Yaakov Hayim Sofer that can be supplied by our readers.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Digital Articles from Beit Mikra

Question: How can I access a digital version of articles from the journal Beit Mikra, published by the World Jewish Bible Center?

Answer: Electronic access to selected Beit Mikra articles from the 1960's - 1980's is available from here (by date) and here (alphabetically by author).

A quick way to access digitized Hebrew articles, including these Beit Mikra articles, is from the English/Hebrew Periodicals section of the website of the JTS Library

Beit Mikra is indexed in RAMBI without the full text -- RAMBI just provides the citations. Be sure to search RAMBI in the Hebrew alphabet to retrieve results for Beit Mikra.

Beit Mikra is also indexed in our subscription database ATLA/ATLAS, also just providing the citations. It includes articles published from 1998-2010. ATLA/ATLAS has transliterated the titles and authors of the Beit Mikra articles; you must search using the English alphabet. ATLA/ATLAS has spelled the journal "Bet Mikra".

On the JTS campus, you can access ATLA/ATLAS here. ATLA/ATLAS is available remotely to JTS students and faculty via our Remote Access service.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rabbis During The Depression

Question: I have a 1937 pamphlet published by Temple Emanu-el of Boro Park, Brooklyn, the synagogue of my childhood. This pamphlet was published to mark an anniversary of the synagogue's founding. There is no mention of any rabbis, past or present, in this pamphlet, and I am concerned that during the depression the synagogue was unable to hire a rabbi. This publication includes a history of the temple, it lists past & present presidents and committee members; it also inludes sections on educating oneself and one's children about Judaism. But no rabbis are mentioned at all!

Can you please tell me if Emanu-el had a rabbi during the depression years?

Answer: Temple Emanu-el certainly did have rabbis in the 1930's: The proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly 1930-32 volume lists Rabbi Moses J. S. Abels as being at Temple Emanuel; the 1933-38 volumes list Rabbi Jesse Bienenfeld as being at Temple Emanuel. Who's Who in American Jewry (1938-39) states that Rabbi Abels served from 1927-1935 and Rabbi Bienenfeld served beginning in 1935.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jewish Renewal Movement in Secular Israel

Question: Can you recommend research materials on the recent interest in studying classical Jewish texts among secular Israelis.

Answer: The following resources focus your topic and have all been published within the last two years.

Ackerman, Ari. "Eliezer Schweid on the Religious Dimension of a Secular Jewish Renewal" Modern Judaism 30:2 (2010) p . 209-228.

Sheleg, Yair. מעברי ישן ליהודי חדש : רנסנס היהדות בחברה הישראלית Jerusalem, Ha-Makhon ha-Yisraeli lle-demokratyah, 2010.

Sheleg, Yair.

קץ המרד החילוני : מקהילות תפילה חדשניות, בתי מדרש חילוניים ותיקוני ליל שבועות אינטלקטואליים ועד חוגי קבלה, טורי פרשת שבוע, וחידוש פיוטי תפילה עתיקים על ידי זמרי פופ - ישראל עוברת רנסנס יהודי


2 (2010) p. 10-16.

Werczberger, Rachel and Na'ama Azulay. "The Jewish Renewal Movement in Israeli Secular Society" Contemporary Jewry [forthcoming in 2011].

"Jewish Renewal in Israel" [3 articles in] Journal of Jewish Communal Service 85:1 (2010):

Hartmen, Donniel. "Renewing Jewish Identity in Israel" p. 73-76

Calderon, Ruth. "Tel Aviv and the Flowering of Jewish Renewal" p. 77-80.

Kelman, Naamah. "Seeding the Field of Jewish Renewal in Israel" p. 81-83.

Monday, May 16, 2011

When the wicked perish, there is song?

I am searching for a rabbinic teaching in which God tells the angels not to rejoice over the destruction of the Egyptians at the Reed Sea. Would you help me locate an English translation of this teaching?

The teaching can be found in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, folio 39b. Here is a copy of the Soncino translation(with notes)of the relevant passage (from here:

THEREFORE EVERY SINGLE PERSON etc. And there went out the song5 throughout the host:6 R. Aha b. Hanina said: [It is the song referred to in the verse.] When the wicked perish, there is song;7 [thus] when Ahab b. Omri perished there was 'song'. But does the Holy One, blessed be He, rejoice over the downfall of the wicked? Is it not written, [That they should praise] as they went out before the army, and say, Give thanks unto the Lord for His mercy endureth for ever;8 concerning which R. Jonathan asked: Why are the words, He is good9 omitted from this expression of thanks? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked.10 For R. Samuel b. Nahman said in R. Jonathan's name: What is meant by, And one approached not the other all night?11 In that hour the ministering angels wished to utter the song [of praise]12 before the Holy One, blessed be He, but He rebuked them, saying: My handiwork [the Egyptians] is drowning in the sea; would ye utter song before me!13 — Said R. Jose b. Hanina: He Himself does not rejoice, yet He causes others to rejoice. Scripture supports this too, for it is written, [And it shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do good … so yasis will the Lord] cause rejoicing [over you by destroying you],14 and not yasus [so will the Lord rejoice etc.]15 This prove it.

1. [H], E.V. 'cry'.
2. I Kings XXII, 36, with reference to Ahab's death at Ramoth in Gilead.
3. [H] Prov. XI, 10.
4. II. Chron. XX, 21, with reference to Jehoshaphat king of Judah, when he went to engage in war with the Ammonites and Moabites.
5. [H], as in Ps. CVII, 1.
6. [H], can also be rendered 'it is good'.
7. Ex. XIV, 20.
8. Cf. Isa. VI, 3. And one (angel) called unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, etc.
9. The verse is thus taken to mean that one (angel) did not approach the other, calling upon him to join in the Song (Maharsha).
10. Deut. XXVIII, 63. [H], in the Hiphil (causative).
11. [H], in the Kal.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dots in Rashi

I am interested in the dots used to separate the various sections of Rashi's commentary to Torah and Talmud. Are these dots found in early printed editions of Rashi or are they a later innovation?
There are two considerations in separators, one is the marker of the end of the lemma, the other is the marker of the end of the comment. Usage has not been consistent, but development may be seen. There is enough variation to suggest that a wider range may even be found in mss., but that would be another inquiry. In Rashi on the Torah, I looked at ed. Rome 1489/92 and Soncino 1487. Ed. Rome used no punctuation only spaces to separate lemmata and commentary, as well as divisions within commentary, nothing even at the end of a chapter. Soncino, OTOH, separated lemma with one dot and marked end of comment with two vertical ones or one. In Talmud, progress went from nothing after lemma to marking it. Soncino 1487 used one dot to mark end of comment. An unkown Spanish edition, ca. 1482, used two vertical dits or two horizontal ones (sometimes just one). Other printed edns. (random sampling of 16th & 17th cent., items) separated comments with two vertical dots, but did not mark end of lemmata, except for Cracow 1603 Pesahim which sometimes separated lemma with single dot. By the 18th cent., many editions separated comments with two dots and ended lemmata with single dot, e.g., Frankfurt a/M 1720, Berlin 1734, Sulsbach, 1766, and so into the 19th cent. (except that Slavuta 1817 did not mark end of lemmata). It should be noted that some editions also used spacing to separate comments. Also noteworthy is that single dots can come at top of line, bottom, and center.
(Answer provided by Dr. Jay Rovner, JTS Library's Manuscript Bibliographer.)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Number Thirteen in Judaism

Question: An ecumenical organization in our community is planning a Spring holiday event on April 13, and the Jewish part of the program will be a model seder. They would like to mention the significance of the number thirteen in connection with Passover, since the event is taking place on the 13th of the month. What should I tell them? Answer: The number thirteen has few connections to Passover and the seder. A notable exception is the Ehad Mi Yodea (Who Knows One) song traditionally sung at the end of the Seder. This song has thirteen stanzas and the thirteenth stanza proclaims there are thirteen attributes of God. The full text of God's thirteen attributes are recited during specific prayers over the course of the year, including during Yom Kippur, other fast days, and on the three Pilgrimage Festivals (Passover being one of these festivals). The number thirteen has a few other connections to Judaism in general, not specifically Passover: A boy becomes Bar Mitzvah at age thirteen. Maimonides summarized Jewish belief in his Thirteen Articles of Faith. In Ashkenazi tradition, the Yigdal hymn of 13 verses (based on Maimonides' Thirteen Articles of Faith) is recited during daily prayers. The ancient sage, Rabbi Ishmael, organized Biblical analysis into 13 Rules of Interpretation.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Question: My Grandmother used to tell me how devout her mother in Europe was, frequently praying to the Almighty in Yiddish, in connection with major events in her life, in addition to the usual synagogue prayers. Although my synagogue's prayerbook includes a selection of blessings for specific occassions, I somehow feel this is not what my Grandmother was telling me about. How can I find out more information (in English) about those prayers?

Answer: Your great-grandmother may have been reciting tekhines, Yiddish supplicatory prayers, very personal and intimate prayers, often written by women, and certainly meant for women. Tekhines were an important part of Jewish women's spiritual lives in central and Eastern Europe from the 17th to the 20th century; they were published both in small booklets and as apppendices to prayerbooks (notably the Korban Minchah Siddur).

These prayers were typically composed for women's life-cycle events, holidays, sabbath and other special situations, such as: various situations during pregnancy, childbirth and nursing; on the occasion of a son's circumcision or bar mitzvah; when one's child is ill; or when one's husband is traveling. Tekhines "offered women a direct pipeline to God. The tone of tehines is conversational, addressing God respectfully but as a Yiddish-speaking friend or neighbor who will listen in time of need" (Berger, 1992)

In the last 20 years there has been renewed interest in tekhines in the scholarly community, and many tekines have been reprinted and translated into English collections along with historical background and analysis. Below is a listing of some of these editions; also listed are scholarly articles about the genre of tekhinos.

Interestingly, in 2005 ArtScroll published Ashkenazi and Sephardi siddur editions for women: Ohel Sarah Women's siddur. These are full daily, sabbath and festival prayerbooks, each with the same appendix of "Additional Prayers and Supplications." According to the publisher, these siddurim are meant to be "a Korban Minchah [siddur] for today" p. xix.

Resources in English for the Study of Tekhines:

Berger, Shulamith Z. "Tehines: A Brief Survey of Women's Prayers" Daughters of the King (1992) 73-83

Breger, Jennifer "Women's Devotional Literature: an Essay in Jewish Bibliography" Jewish Book Annual vol 52 (1994-1995) p73-98.

Cardin, Rabbi Nina Beth, ed. and tr. Out of the Depths I call to You: A Book of Prayers for the Married Jewish Woman. (1992)

Kay, Devra, translator, editor and commentator. Seyder Tkhines: The Forgotten Book of Common Prayer for Jewish Women. (2004)

Kay, Devra "An Alternative Prayer Canon for Women: the Yiddish 'Seyder Tkhines' " Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Frau in Deutschland (1993) 49-96

Klirs, Tracy Guren, compiler and commentator. The Merit of Our Mothers: A Bilingual Anthology of Jewish Women's Prayers. (1992)

Salmon-Mack, Tami. [On] Devra Kay, "Seyder Tkhines; the Forgotten Book of Common Prayer for Jewish Women" Nashim 12 (2006) p. 289-294.

Scherr, Robert S. "Voices from the Balcony" Conservative Judaism 54:3 (2002) p. 89-94

Tarnor, Norman, translator and commentator. A Book of Jewish Women's Prayers (1995)

Weinberger, Rabbi Dovid, compiler and annotator. Ohel Sarah Women's Siddur. With Special Prayers, Laws and Customs for Women. (2005)

Weissler, Chava. Traditional Yiddish Literature: A Source for the Study of Women's Religious Lives. (Jacob Pat Memorial Lecture, 1987)

Weissler, Chava. " 'Tkhines' for the Sabbath Before the New Moon." Jewish Studies at the Turn of the Twentieth Century II (1999) 406-412

Weissler, Chava. "Women's Studies and Women's Prayers: Reconstructing the Religious History of Ashkenazic Women" Jewish Social Studies, New Series 1:2 (1995) p. 28-47

Weissler, Chava "The 'Tkhines' and Women’s Prayer" CCAR Journal 40,4 (1993) 75-88

Weissler, Chava. " 'Mizvot' Built into the Body: 'Tkhines' for 'Niddah', Pregnancy, and Childbirth" People of the Body (1992) 101-115

Weissler, Chava. Prayers in Yiddish and the Religious World of Ashkenazic Women" Jewish Women in Historical Perspective (1991) 159-181

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia

Question: Our family has an illustrated encyclopedia, the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia. I seldom see references to this set and I wonder if it is of any use today.

Answer: The articles in the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia are not as scholarly as those in the Jewish Encyclopedia (originally published 1901-1906) or as those in the Encyclopedia Judaica (originally published in 1972, and now available in an updated second edition--2007--in printed format and electronically to JTS faculty, students and other subscribers). The intended readers of the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia were laymen.

Important goals of its editors were to combat antisemitism and to improve Jewish-Gentile relations, and therefore its articles emphasized interfaith relations. In fact, the main editor, Isaac Landman, had organized an interfaith group, the Permanent Commission on Better Understanding between Christians and Jews, as a result of his awareness of the vulnerability of Eastern European Jewry at the close of World War I.

As a result of this perspective, the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia provides an important window into American Jewish life in the 1930's and the beginning of World World II. In addition, it provides information on events and people who were of importance at the time, but whose significance was eclipsed in later decades. It would of particular use to a student of American Jewish history, or of political and social aspects of the American Jewish community.

Although publication of this encyclopedia was completed in 1944, its text was completed approximately two years earlier. Therefore the articles describe only the beginnings of the destruction of European Jewry. The juxtapostion of its emphasis on American Jewry with the facts of World War II which were ocurring as the printing presses were rolling, is disturbing.

More information about this enyclopedia, and other Jewish encyclopedias, is available in Shimeon Brisman's A History and Guide to Judaic Encyclopedias and Lexicons (1987). The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (10 volumes, New York, 1939-1944) is available in the Encyclopedia Room of the Reference Collection, DS102.8 .U5 in The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Educational Materials Related to the Haftarot


Would you suggest educational materials related to the Haftarot?


Here is a list of some educational materials related to the Haftarot:

- Chiel, Arthur A. Guide to Sidrot and Haftarot [New York : Ktav Pub. House, 1971]

- Cogan, Lainie Blum. Teaching Haftarah : background, insights and strategies [Denver : A.R.E. Publishing, 2002]

- Fishbane, Michael. Haftarot : the traditional Hebrew text with the new JPS translation[Philadelphia : The Jewish Publication Society, 2002] – with commentary by Michael Fishbane

- Goldstein, Elyse. The women's haftarah commentary : new insights from women rabbis on the 54 weekly haftarah portions, the 5 megillot & special Shabbatot [Woodstock, Vt. : Jewish Lights Publishing, c2004]

- Hirsch, Samson Raphael. Hirsch commentary on the Torah [Brooklyn, N.Y. : Judaica Press, [2005], c1966] - 6 vol., including one on Haftarot

- Lieber, Laura Suzanne. Study guide to the JPS Bible commentary : Haftarot [Philadelphia : Jewish Publication Society, 2002]

- Rosenberg, Stephen (Stephen G.). The Haphtara cycle : a handbook to the Jewish year [Northvale, NJ : Jason Aronson, 2000]

- Scharfstein, Sol. [Sefer hafṭarot] = The book of Haftarot for Shabbat, festivals and fast days : an easy-to-read translation with commentary [Jersey City, NJ : Ktav Pub. House, 2007]

- Weissman, Moshe. Sefer hafṭarot = The Midrash says on the weekly haftaros [Brooklyn, N.Y. : Benei Yakov Publications, c1993-]

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Terminology: Ashkenazic or Ashkenazi; Sephardic or Sephardi

Question: In an essay I am writing, I am describing the handwriting of medieval Hebrew manuscripts from Spain. Should I use the descriptive term Sephardic or Sephardi? Likewise, in describing manuscripts from Germany would the appropriate term be Ashkenazi or Ashkenazic?

Answer: All four terms are used in scholarly books and journals when referring to Hebrew manuscripts.

The Oxford English Dictionary (online version accessed 22 February 2011) includes entries for both Ashkenazic and Sephardic, both as adjectives. There is an entry for Sephardi, but it is defined primarily as a noun, “A Spanish or Portuguese Jew” . There is no entry for Ashkenazi, although ironically OED uses this term in its definitions and etymologies of other entries!
Other English-language dictionaries include entries for all four terms.

The 2011 JTS Style Guide, issued by the JTS Communications Department, lists Ashkenazi and Sephardi in its section on transliterated words.

In short, if your editor requires all your terminology to be in the English language, I suggest you use Ashkenazic and Sephardic which have been fully incorporated into the English language as adjectives. Alternatively, if you have the option of using transliterated Hebrew words, you may prefer to use the terms Ashkenazi and Sephardi.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Finding Book Reviews in Digitized Journals

Question: How can I find English & Hebrew book reviews of specific scholarly books published in the last few decades?

Answer: Use the following article databases to locate book reviews:

2. Type the name of the author [of the book to be reviewed], last name first, in the SEARCH FOR box. The results list will specify the title of the book reviewed, followed by (Review) or (ביקורת).

Although the results list may list both English and Hebrew reviews, to be absolutely sure you retrieve all the reviews search twice: once spelling the author's name in English, and a second time spelling the author's name in Hebrew.

ATLA/ATLAS Religion Database:
2. Type the author's last name in the first text box [author of the book to be reviewed]
3. Type the first few words of the title in the second text box

2. Choose BROWSE SUBJECT HEADINGS FOR ARTICLES from left-hand margin of screen
3. Type the author's last name, comma, first name in the text box [author of the book to be reviewed]

The results list will specify the author & titles of each book reviewed, followed by the number of reviews.

1. Type short title of the book in the text box

1. Use ADVANCED SEARCH (Mouse over search option to reveal Advanced Search)
2. In the text box, type: rt: "short title of the book whose review you want"
Be sure to include the colon after rt, and put the title in quotes.
3. If you retrieve reviews of various books with the same title, you can also type, in the next text box:
ra: last name of author of book whose reviews you want.
For example, if you want reviews of Moshe Idel's book Kabbalah: New Perspectives, in the first text box type:
rt: "Kabbalah New Perspectives"
In the second text box type:
ra: Idel

Click on the image below to enlarge it

Please access these subscription databases from our Online Resources pages (when on campus) or via Remote Access when off campus, using your JTS email ID and password. Rambi is freely available to all, courtesy of the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Academic Blogs on Jewish Studies

Recently, an article by Heidi Lerner, entitled: “Online Resources for Talmud Research, Study, and Teaching”, was published in: AJS Perspectives : The Magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies [Fall 2010 – p.46-47]. The following blogs that deal with Jewish Studies from an academic perspective were recommended:


To this list, I would add the following blog:


Can any readers suggest (in the comments section) other academic Jewish Studies blogs that may be of interest?

Monday, January 24, 2011


I am interested in learning what traditional Judaism has to say about the following Biblical verse: "A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the LORD thy God" (Deuteronomy 22:5 - translation: Jewish Publication Society, 1917). Would you give me a basic overview of the subject and recommend some sources that discuss this matter?

Deuteronomy 22:5 and the laws derived from it, are discussed (among other places), in the following rabbinic works:
- Sifre, Devarim, piska 226
- Talmud Bavli, Nazir 58b-59a
- RaMBaM's Mishneh Torah, Sefer Mada, Hilkhot Avodah Zarah, chpt. 12, halakhot 9-10
- Sefer ha-Hinukh, mitzvah 542 and 543
- Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah, chpt. 182

For a short, historically oriented, overview, in English of the topic, see Louis M. Epstein’s Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism [New York : Bloch, 1948 – p.64-67].

According to Jewish law, it is forbidden for a male to wear a “female-type” garment or for a female to wear a “male-type” garment. Furthermore, it is generally forbidden for males to engage in certain female practices - such as shaving the armpits or dyeing the hair, or for a female to engage in certain male practices - such as bearing weapons. This is a very general overview of the laws involved. There is much discussion in rabbinic texts regarding (among other things):
- which practices are forbidden from the Torah and which are forbidden by rabbinic decree;
- whether the intent of the person doing the act makes a difference in the law (e.g. is it permissible for a woman to put on a man’s garment to protect her from the rain);
- to what extent the customs of a particular place effect what is considered a male or female garment or act;
- if there is any reason to permit the temporary cross-dressing often done on Purim.

The modern work, Sefer Kedushat Yisrael, by Rabbi Itamar ben Aharon Mahfud [Ashdod : Itamar Mahfud ; Yavneh : ʻAmutat "Binah la-shavim", 765 (2005) – chpt. 6], has an extensive discussion (with many citations) of the issues. All queries related to actual practice should, of course, be directed to a competent Rabbinic authority.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jews and the American Revolution

Would you recommend books that discuss the contribution of Jews (besides the famous Haym Salomon) to the Revolutionary War?

Here are a list of books owned by the JTS library that deal with the connections between Jews and the American Revolutionary War:
- Hirschfeld, Fritz. George Washington and the Jews [Newark : University of Delaware Press, c2005]
- Schwartz, Laurens R. Jews and the American Revolution : Haym Salomon and others [Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., 1987]
- Korn, Bertram Wallace. Jews and the revolutionary struggle for American freedom [Philadelphia, Pa. : Gratz College, 1975]
- Rezneck, Samuel. Unrecognized patriots : the Jews in the American Revolution [Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1975]
- Marcus, Jacob Rader. The Jew and the American Revolution [Cincinnati : American Jewish Archives, c1974]
- Peters, Madison Clinton. The Jews who stood by Washington : an unwritten chapter in American history [New York : The Trow Press, 1915]