Tag Archive: torah

NEW Book Review: Why be Jewish?

I have had the pleasure of hearing Doron Kornbluth, author of  the newly released book, Why be Jewish, speak on several continents. Be it to seminary students in Jerusalem or a room comprised of mostly unaffiliated Persian Jews in Beverly Hills, I’ve always been impressed by his ability to not just captivate and inspire the audience—but to engage and empower them with something to think about as they walk home or drive off into the evening. Arguably most recognized for being the best-selling author of, Why Marry Jewish, Doron chose to tackle an even more fundamental question in his latest release.

Truth be told, this question is one that I presume any good Jew ponders at least once or twice throughout their lifetime!

Frankly, in our contemporary times, a question such as: why be Jewish? is more important to address and truly understand—before one even thinks of the subject of marriage! That said, as a husband, father, religious Jew, and Orthodox Rabbi, I was curious to see if this book was going to speak to me as well.

After reading this book cover to cover, I can report that Why be Jewish exceeded my expectations!

I credit this to the fact that Doron opted not to write this book as he had written his other works (for a full list of his books see here). First, the entire book is written in a  format that allows the reader to flip through the book and select a chapter or section that speaks to them. Second, each chapter is written as a different narrative and allows one to hear various perspectives about the choice and way in which ones Jewish pride developed. In so doing, this allows the the reader to be exposed to a plethora of experiences from which they can relate to and grab a hold of as well! All in all, I found the writing style useful, not just because it will speak to a generation that is increasingly used to reading short blog posts and not long novels—but because if one chapter doesn’t relate to the reader or their life experiences—one is assured that there will be many other stories that do resonate with their upbringing.

While I do not take the author to task about some of the people he elected to write about in his book (see the comments here for instance), I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that even after discussing the cover of the book with the author, I still remain critical of its design on several fronts. Likewise, from a stylistic perspective, in as much as it makes it an enjoyable read (as opposed to setting an intellectual and intense mood throughout the work) I was initially confused as to how the book was written. The reader is forced to discover that the author apparently elected to write narratives of different people (there is no indication as to if they are fictional or not) and relate their story as to what makes them happy or inspired to simply be Jewish. In future printings, I believe that there should be some sort of explanation or preface so as to not leave the reader initially baffled.

Why be Jewish may never win any literary awards or be featured on the New York Times Bestseller List.  That said, I am confident that Why be Jewish is a book that a scholar or a layperson or a colleague or a student will enjoy—a sure sign of success. I would go so far as to say that  I would recommend that this book be required reading not simply to an NCSY or JSU teenager looking into Judaism but to every Yeshiva High School student on up—and certainly to anyone looking for Jewish inspiration.  Why be Jewish makes a good choice as a gift, especially as it is written without preference to any stream of Judaism.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of Why be Jewish, from the publisher, Mosaica Press.

How to Use a Koishekle on Your Arba Minim!

Jews all across the world are busily preparing for the joyous holiday of Sukkos. In addition to dwelling in a Sukkah we are commanded to shake the Arba Minim. And so, when it comes to the selecting and purchasing of the Arba Minim, there are laymen to scholars who spend countless hours—let alone days—searching for the most beautiful objects that comprise the Arba Minim (the Esrog, Lulav, Hadasim and Aravos).

When it comes to putting ones Hadasim and Aravos together with the Lulav, there are various traditions that have been preserved for hundreds of years. The common practice for many Sephardim and some Chassidim is to simply wrap their Hadasim and Aravos directly to the Lulav. However, the Minhag that I practice is to place the Hadasim and Aravos in a 3-branched holder that is woven from frond slats and then dried. This device is commonly referred to as a: Koishekle. That said, this device may create serious Halachic problems.


One has to be extremely careful when placing the Hadasim and Aravos into the small holes of the Koishekle. As an aside, being that these Koishekle are at times made by children who are unaware of the minute halachic nuances, the holes are very small. As such, when one places there Hadasim and Aravos into the Koishekle—the leaves are invariably going to tear and break—thus perhaps nullifying or at the very least altering the Mehudar status of the Hadasim (Aravos there is room to be a bit more lenient).

Additionally, each day after using the Arba Minim, many people commonly remove the Hadasim and Aravos and place them in the refrigerator to make sure that they remain fresh throughout the week long holiday. Sadly, one is setting themselves up for a scenario in which they may further damage their Hadasim and Aravos. After all, each day more and more leaves will invariably fall off. Indeed, if one does use the refrigerator to keep these items fresh, I always recommend that they simply place the entire Koishekle as 1 unit into the refrigerator. In so doing, no Hadasim or Aravos will be “injured” in the process!

However, there is a second solution. One can order or make their own Koishekle with wide holes. It follows that one can easily slip their Hadasim and Aravos in (and out as well) and no/to minimal leaves will fall off in the process. And so, if you have the Minhag to use a Koishekle, I encourage you to be aware of the above points and wish you a Chag Kosher V’Sameach!

Vidui for Women Approved by Rav Shternbuch

When saying Vidui, there is a special merit to be as detailed as possible (see, for example, Rambam, Teshuva 1:1). It follows that there is a proliferation of popular Seforim that are purchased such as Pathway to Prayer that help enhance ones personal Shemonie Esrei—let alone Vidui! In our contemporary times, Rav Moshe Shternbuch shlit”a rewrote the Vidui in a simplified and “immediately accessible” form that will help us relate, and by extension, enhance our Vidui experience. Nonetheless, the verbiage of the Vidui remains male-centric (transgressions with women, wasting time when studying Torah etc.). As such, for years I have had seminary students ask me if there was anything that they could use to enhance their Vidui and make it just a bit more personal. They were looking for a text that would meaningfully speak to them.

Enter the following text entitled: Vidui for Women!

I’m pleased to share the following PDF that I received from Rabbi Menachem Nissel, author of Rigshei Lev. With the consent and guidance of Rav Shternbuch, he painstakingly wrote this Vidui for Women pamphlet. He has designed it so that it can be printed on two sides of one A4 paper. It should then be folded along the columns concertina style for easy use.

Gmar Chasima Tova!


Join Me & Disconnect to…CONNECT!

This Tzom Gedalia (September 2nd) join me and thousands of Jews around the world! I will be participating in the DaytoDisconnect Event which will allow people the opportunity to truly introspect how much technology is influencing their life!

After all, stop and think for five seconds…Is there a moment in your life in which your smartphone is ever OFF? Do you sleep with your phone at your side? When you are at a Shuir or at a Minyan…if your phone isn’t on OFF, is your phone at least on Vibrate or better yet Silent? Do you say Modeh Ani before checking your Facebook Wall or the Facebook Status of others?

We all know that we can improve our focus in our Bein Adam L’Chavero, and by extension, our Bein Adam L’Makom during the High Holiday season, and this is a lovely important cause that will allow us all to disconnect to connect! Enjoy these incredibly powerful and entertaining short promotional videos and click here to register for your hour to disconnect/connect so they can reach their goal of 1 million disconnected/connected hours.

NEW Torah Live Mezuzah DVD Brings Torah to Life!

Educators and Parents around the world have all been discussing how we can make Torah—and Jewish Education for that matter—relevant to our students. After all, it is increasingly challenging to present the timeless treasure that is a Torah lifestyle to kids who are being raised with distractions ranging from an iPad to a Nintendo Wii game. To that end, I’m always into testing new technology to see how it can be used to make Torah relevant. I believe that the good folks at TorahLive are on to something! In addition to their live presentations that they have made on several continents, I recently got a chance to review their very first DVD entitled, “Mezuzah: The Ultimate Connector.” This DVD does not disappoint. It is a highly professional DVD and is replete with information that can be enjoyed by young and old and by the scholar to the layperson.

Truth be told, the Mezuzah is seemingly the one item that adorns the homes of devoutly pious Jews as well as the home of an unaffiliated Jew. However, to your average Jew there is a lot of mystery and unknown laws when it comes to this small yet meaningful religious item. Mezuzah: The Ultimate Connector makes all of the complicated Jewish laws that revolve around a Mezuzah both relevant and exciting. It utilizes great graphics to bring to life quotes from the Torah to the Talmud as well as modern technology such as Google Earth to make such a critical Mitzvah something that any Jew can appreciate and understand!

Mezuzah Promo from Dan Roth on Vimeo.

Vision of using Google Earth for Torah Live Mezuza Presentation from Dan Roth on Vimeo.

Moreover, in addition to a comprehensive overview of both the Halachos and Hashkafah behind Mezuzah, I found this DVD to be real and honest as it even covers such topics as yes—Mezuzah fraud!

Additionally, this DVD is even offered in a Pro-Version which can very much act as a springboard to classroom discussion. All in all, I’d encourage any Educator let alone Parent to purchase this DVD as there is something that will inspire and educate everyone in your class/family.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of Mezuzah: The Ultimate Connector. I did not receive any financial reciprocity from this post.

Of Curses, Seforim & Kareem Abdul-Jabaar!

A little over a month ago I wrote about a reported meeting between Chief Rabbi Lau and Lakers legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This post went viral and was even cited in this article on ESPN.com. I have received emails from many readers around the globe who have responded to this story. One reader in particular shared the following story with me and was even so kind as to photocopy the following story that appears in a sefer entitled Birkas Abba Yaakov. This sefer was released in tribute to Rabbi Abba Yaakov Liff zt”l and shares many stories and vignettes about his life and passion for all things Torah. While he passed away now over 23 years ago, he will forever be remembered as one of the original students of Ner Israel Rabbinical College as well as the name behind the Yeshiva known as: Ner Yaakov.

On page 50 footnote 37 Birkas Abba Yaakov documents that the Rabbi was ill for several years before succumbing to his illness. On one occasion, the Rabbi had to fly to Cleveland to have an operation. And so, he took not one but two cases of seforim which were with him the entire stay. On his return flight back to Baltimore, passengers were up in arms that there was a famous basketball star on the airplane by the name of none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabaar! This name didn’t really register to Rabbi Liff until he returned home with all the suitcases and the two cartons of seforim; instead, there was a television and other electronics that belonged to none other than Kareem! The Rabbi quickly surmised that the airline must have mixed up the box with the seforim and this box (this was clearly in the days prior to the TSA!).

Indeed, when Rabbi Liff called the airline to alert them to the mix up he was told that Mr. Jabaar had already called requesting his electronics, but he denied that he had seen the seforim . In the interest of being the upstanding citizen that he was, Rabbi Liff sent him the box with the electronics but was visibly shaken by the loss of some of his favorite seforim.

A number of days passed and out of the blue an unaffiliated Jew called Rabbi Liff from of all places Washington. He told the Rabbi that he had found seforim with Rabbi Liff’s name and address inscribed in them in the middle of the highway between Baltimore and Washington! Rabbi Liff could only assume that the young basketball star threw the box out of his car window when he realized that it didn’t contain his electronics. Regardless of who actually treated his holy seforim this way, Rabbi Liff remarked then and there that whoever defiled his seforim in such a manner deserved to be cursed for having them be literally strewn onto the highway. After all, if not for a good Samaritan who happened to read some Hebrew—they would have been lost forever!

Within a few days, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar broke his right hand while playing a basketball game. It was such a hard hit that it broke the backboard as well as his hand. Reports of his injury were all over the media, and it took him months to recover. However, Rabbi Liff believed that the reason why his hand in particular was punished with this career altering injury was because it was this very hand that carelessly disgraced the Torah by throwing out the seforim of Rabbi Liff.

This is not the first report of a Rabbi cursing a public figure. There are alleged reports all across the Jewish world and perhaps even snopes.com as to which Rabbi supposedly cursed Joseph Kennedy, damning him and all his male offspring to tragic fates because of his resistance to help Jews flee the Holocaust. I am not here to debate the accuracy of either “The Kennedy Curse” or “The Jabaar Curse” that has only recently come to my attention. The take away that I believe we can all learn from these instances is that we never know who we may meet—even ever so casually—who will forever alter our life. We must treat every person, every human life, and the belongings of everyone with the greatest of respect! We never know what may come back to haunt us down the road or days later. By truly working this message into every aspect of our life (and not just from 9 to 5) we will show a great amount of honor to the Torah and the ways of Hashem.

UPDATE: I received the following from Rabbi Yechiel Liff (Rabbi Liff’s son). Despite the Sefer printing that Rabbi Liff was going to Cleveland, he son told me that he traveled to Milwaukee to have open heart by pass surgery. Indeed, this sits better with the overall story as the first city that Mr. Jabaar played basketball in was Milwaukee.

UPDATE 2: Kareem did not break a backboard. During the 1974 preseason, Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand after punching the basket support stanchion following a hard foul. On the play, Abdul-Jabbar scratched his eye and he would wear protective goggles for the rest of his playing career. The broken hand sidelined Abdul-Jabbar for the first 16 games of the 1974-75 season. With (Oscar) Robertson retired, the Bucks went 38-44 and missed the playoffs for the first time since Abdul-Jabbar was drafted (http://espn.go.com/nba/player/bio/_/id/4145/kareem-abdul-jabbar).

Thoughts on the 7th & Final Day of Pesach

The Midrash (Mechilta, Beshalach 4) relates that the sea did not simply split in one place for the Jewish people as they exited Egypt. Rather, there were twelve tunnels and each shevet, tribe, went through their own tunnel. This is perplexing given that the Torah tells us that the Jews left Egypt as one nation. In fact, we are praised for arriving at Mount Sinai as a unified nation! The answer that has always settled best with me is that each tribe entered and left Egypt as both individuals with their own personalities and yet unified brothers as well. In contemporary times, our nation at large struggles to find our Jewish identity. Indeed, aside for who is a Kohen or who is a Levi, a large portion of Jews do not know their individual tribal identity. And so, when we call out to Hashem and pray we daven in the Nusach we have received, and hope that this is sufficient.

Today, Erev Yom Tov, I went to the Western Wall and witnessed that now thousands of years later, while we look, dress, and pray differently, we can come together in unison through our prayer and thanks to Hashem. This point really struck a cord with me not when I saw the throngs of different yarmulkes, hats, or shtremels. Rather, it was when I went to grab a Siddur and saw all of the various prayer books laying there unified in one cause: waiting to be used by Ashkenazim, Chassidim, Sephardim, who will read the holy words and communicate their love, awe, and thanks for allowing us to be FREE!

All About the Special Blessing for a Blossoming Tree!

As a child I did not know about the special blessing for a blossoming tree. Our Sages relate that it should ideally be recited strictly in the Jewish month of Nissan.[i] And so, I’d like to present a brief overview on this special blessing so that many Jews around the world can recite this unique blessing.

Indeed, Jewish law states that any man or woman[ii] who sees fruit trees that are in the beginning stages of blooming, recites the following blessing:

Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech  HaOlam Shelo Chisar B’Olamo Klum U’Vara Vo Beriyos Tovos V’Ilanos Tovos[iii] Lehanos Bahem Bnei Adam.

Blessed are You Hashem, Our G-d, Master of the Universe, who ensured that nothing is lacking in His world and Created in it good creations and good trees in order to pleasure mankind with them.

Ideally, this blessing should be said on two or more trees.  That said, if one lives in a city or is not able to go to an orchard or a field, a person may still recite this blessing on one tree. Some people have the custom after reciting the blessing to recite Tehillim and other texts praising Hashem for the trees. Others try to say this blessing with a group. It follows that others even have the custom to give Tzedakah prior to this blessing.[iv]

Once one has said this blessing—that’s it—you are done for the year! Additionally, our Sages are of the opinion that the preferred time to recite this blessing is during the daytime.[v]

What’s more, the special blessing on seeing a blossoming tree should not be recited on Shabbos, as our Sages were worried that it may lead one to touch the tree and/or pluck a branch. However, if Shabbos happens to be the final opportunity to recite the blessing, many Rabbis are of the opinion that one may nevertheless recite the blessing.[vi]

Please note, the blessing on seeing a blossoming tree is only recited on a) fruit tree, and b) only when the bud/flower can be seen in the early stages of blooming, and c) not on a tree where strictly leaves are seen and d) not on a tree where the fruit has already completely developed.[vii]

From a mystical perspective, one should realize that by reciting this blessing, a person is able to achieve a tikkun, a spiritual rectification, for the souls that are hovering between Heaven and Earth. Indeed, there may in fact be reincarnated souls that are stuck in the bark of tree! Hence, when saying this blessing one should have in mind that Hashem evoke mercy upon hovering souls, and by extension allow them to fully blossom by returning to Heaven.[viii]

The pictures in this post are of the sign that both my wife and I used this year to recite this blessing on: Rosh Chodesh Nissan 2011. I’m pleased that my son will learn of this blessing at his school. In fact, they are going on a field trip to recite this blessing for the blossoming tree!

If you’d like to make this special blessing a family affair, there is even a great kids book available called:  Growing with the Tree.

All things considered, if you have not said this special blessing for a blossoming tree yet, I encourage you to try and do so sooner rather than later.


This year, was a leap year and we find ourselves well into the blooming season of the trees! Take your family out and say thanks to Hashem in this most unique fashion!

[i] See Shulchan Aruch 226:1 and Mishna Berura S”K 1. See also Aishel Avraham Butshatsh who is of the opinion that only in the month of Nissan may the blessing be recited with the complete recital of Hashem’s name. However, the prevalent custom is to recite the blessing, as long as the tree is still in the blooming stage—even if this is past Nissan. See Chayei Adam Klal 63:2 and Aruch HaShulchan 226:1 who discuss scenarios in which one finds themselves in a climate where the blooming season is not in Nissan (i.e. Australia or South Africa).

[ii] See Shu”t Har Tzvi Orach Chaim 1:118 and Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 12:25 for the reason as to why this blessing isn’t considered a Mitzvah She’Hazman Grama, as it is seemingly a time-bound Mitzvah.

[iii] See Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Siman 60:1 who mentions that the word should be “Tovim.”

[iv] See Kaf HaChaim 226:7 and 8. See also Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 10:16.

[v] Mishnah Berura 226:3.  See also Shu”t Har Tzvi ibid and Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 12:20:6.

[vi] See Kaf HaChaim 226:4, Shu”t B’Tzel HaChachma 6:37, Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchaso 26:72 and Shu”t Yechaveh Daas  1:2.

[vii] Mishna Berurah 226:2 and 4.

[viii] See Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos  1:191 and Kaf HaChaim 226:8. Also see Kaf HaChaim 226:4 who relates that the reason this blessing should not be recited on Shabbos, is because one cannot perform, “Borer.” After all, by reciting this blessing one would be separating the sparks of holiness in the form of the Souls that are stuck within the trees.

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