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Chaviva Gordon-Bennett

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett Judaism Blog

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The May Roundup!

Thursday May 29, 2014

It's been a busy month for this Judaism expert with a move to the U.S. in order to fulfill the mitzvah (commandment) of bikur cholim.

However, I haven't been too busy to stop here and there and produce some interesting and timely articles for mass consumption! Have you seen this month's new content?

  • Check out the Book of Tobit! A fairly unknown book in the Jewish world because it isn't canonical, this magical tale of fish guts and blindness will have you asking questions, tilting your head a bit to the side, and saying "huh."
  • If you've ever tried to shake hands with an Orthodox Jew and gotten a funny look, you might want to read this article on Shomer Negiah. If you're not familiar with the concept of shomer negiah, it can seem foreign, archaic, or even counter-cultural.
  • Ready for summer? If you have a Jewish teen in your life who is starting to look bored after graduating, introduce them to the Gap Year in Israel!

And lastly, with Shavuot (one of the shalosh regalim) right around the corner, you should get your coffee ready! If you're participating in Tikkun Leil Shavuot, you'll want plenty of caffeine and snacks to make it through the night of learning.

Exploring the World of Challah

Friday April 25, 2014

Croatian Star ChallahEvery Shabbat (Friday-Saturday) Jews the world over eat plenty of challah, whether it's dipped in honey or salt or hummus, you can guarantee that it's a favorite aspect of the weekend in the Jewish world.

The first Shabbat after Passover, some Jews have the tradition of baking shlissel challah, to bring about livelihood for the rest of the year. Different from regular braided challah, there are some unique origin stories for this key-inspired tradition.

If you're looking for details about good ole' traditional challah, including why Jews use two loaves on Shabbat, you can find all ofthat and more here on About.com's Judaism page!

I'm partial to the Croatian-Star Challah, which my husband loves and guests marvel over because believe it or not, it's super easy.

 

 

The Passover Basics

Friday April 11, 2014

With just a few days left, Jews everywhere are busy with last-minute cleaning and recipe planning. Whether you're observing the holiday or not, there are some interesting tidbits about the holiday out there.

Head over to Matzah 101 for all of the details about the different types of matzah available and which are forbidden when. Also, do you know what foods are forbidden on Passover? Many people think it's just bread, but those people would be wrong! Read more about kitniyot and gebrokts here.

Looking for a haggadah for the seder? We've got some suggestions and explanations for you. If you're feeling like a little fun and have some children (big or small) at your seder, my husband suggests The Children's Haggadah. (He'll always be a child at heart!

However you do or don't celebrate, enjoy the beautiful beginnings of Spring!

Prepping for Passover!

Sunday March 30, 2014

Passover is right around the corner (only a few weeks away), which means I'll be busy filling in all the gaps of Passover content in the coming month. So far, I've looked into why Jews drink four cups of wine at the seder and why there are three matzot at the seder, too.

There are a lot of interesting quirks to the seder and a bevy of reasons why Jews do many different things. The Haggadah is a gem of fascinating traditions and storytelling.

Do you have a question about Passover? Let me know!

A Mid(dle Ages)-Life Crisis

Friday March 28, 2014
I have a particular fascination with the Middle Ages and, paired with conversion narratives, I've found some excellent bits of history over the years.

It might not be your cup of tea, but you might find it fascinating to know that conversion TO Judaism during the Middle Ages was pretty rare. In many places the persecution was intense and it was simply too dangerous to even consider converting. In other places it was unlawful to convert out of Islam or Christianity. Luckily there were communities known for taking in and providing for these refugee converts.

One of the most detailed accounts of conversion to Judaism comes in the form of Obadiah, whose story was found in the Cairo Genizah -- an amazing collection of records and one-of-a-kind stories of Medieval people living in and around Egypt.

Read more about Obadiah and the experience of other medieval converts and how the commitment to charitable giving in Fustat-Misr, Egypt made life as a convert a tad easier!

Of Conversions and the Noahides

Wednesday March 19, 2014

God's covenant with Noah

As a convert to Judaism myself, I get a lot of emails from people asking whether, instead of converting, I'd considered following the seven Noahide Laws. These laws are considered by the great sages of Judaism to be universal moral commitments that everyone should undertake as the descendants of original man, Adam, and the eldest surviving progenitor of the flood, Noah.

For me, there was no doubt in my mind about converting completely and wholly to Judaism -- seven Noahide Laws and the other 606 that went with it. That being said, I also didn't know much about the Noahide Laws when I had my first conversion through the Reform movement. Would things be different had I known? Probably not. And now, here I am a hair covering Jewish woman. Who would have thunk it?

Speaking of conversion, have you ever encountered Rahab? Her name means broad and she is considered by the rabbis of the Talmud to be one of the most prolific and awesome converts to Judaism. Her narrative in the Jewish bible is pretty short, but the stories that are wound around her are extensive and fascinating. The rabbis say that Rahab, who was a prostitute, converted to Judaism after the conquest of Jericho by Joshua and gave birth to generations of prophets, including Jeremiah.

How much do you know about conversion to Judaism? Have questions? Just ask!

 

Chag Purim Sameach!*

Wednesday March 12, 2014

Although I won't be making hamantaschen this year (I'm gluten free and it's just easier to buy them, honestly), the costumes are decided and our mishloach manot theme is set to match. The family is honoring the classic cinema favorite "Rocky" this year! My husband is dressing up as Rocky, the baby will be wearing a onesie with the letter "I," and I'll be dressing up as a tiger. Have you caught the pun?

There's also still plenty of time to sit back and read about Purim's four mitzvot, or commandments, of the festive holiday that celebrates yet another classic Jewish tale of "They tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat!" Did you know that there are obligations to eat (and drink), give to the poor, hear the story of Esther from the Torah, and more?

If you're still trying to decide on a costume or theme for your mishloach manot or your meal, never fear: Check out 100 Mishloach Manot Ideas, which range from farm-to-table to Italian and Chinese treats!

What are you planning for Purim?

*This is the traditional Hebrew greeting for Purim. Chag Purim Sameach (prounced Hag Pour 'em Suh-may-ak) means Happy Purim!

The February Roundup

Friday February 28, 2014

It's been a busy month, and I want to throw out an apology for not having more content available this month! I would love to know any questions or topics you'd like to see covered here on About.com's Judaism page, because the more I know you the more I know what will be interesting for you to read about!

This month was a bit of a hodge-podge of topics that flew off the top of my head.

For starters, there are the 613 commandments. Although most are aware of the 10 commandments in Judaism and Christianity, you might not be aware that for Jews there are 603 other commandments that we find in the Torah. An interesting note: The major difference between Judaism's and Christianity's understandings of the 10 commandments relates to commandment number eight. Judaism sees it as "Thou shall not kill" and Christianity views the commandment as "Thou shall not murder." Do you see the difference?

Next up we have the Jewish divorce, also known as the get (pronounced geht as opposed to git). Having gone through a Jewish divorce myself, it's a fascinating topic that has caused a lot of controversy publicly in recent years. With many men not providing their wives with the necessary religious divorce, there has been a growing concern about agunot, or women whose husbands won't give them a get.

For those interested in the environment, there's a new article up. In "Judaism and the Environment," I discuss the basics of Judaism's approach to the environment, which, as you might have guessed, is one deeply rooted in the Torah. From eco-kashrut to the handful of Jewish holidays that celebrate the environment's creatively plotted harvest cycle, Judaism is a very earth-friendly religion.

Lastly we have an article up on the difference between the chanukiyah and the menorah. Didn't know there was a difference? No worries! You're not alone. Nowadays, menorah has replaced most terminology in common speech for any type of candelabra used in Judaism. There is, however, a stark difference between the two words and the two pieces of Judaica. Read more about it!

Let me know if there's something you'd like to see and I'll do my best to make it happen.

 

What's the Deal with Fasting?

Thursday January 30, 2014

Fasting in Judaism

Judaism is chock full of fast days, where Jews are commanded to abstain from work and "afflict" themselves. Most are tied to the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the Second Temple in 70 CE, so why do we continue fasting today? Are we being punished for the stubbornness that led to the destruction of each Temple?

The fast days you'll find in the Jewish calendar are:

  • Fast of Gedaliah (3 Tishrei/Late Summer or Early Winter)
  • Yom Kippur (10 Tishrei/Late Summer or Early Winter)
  • Asarah B'Tevet (10 Tevet/Winter)
  • Fast of Esther (13 Adar/Winter)
  • Ta'anit Bechorot (14 Nissan/Spring)
  • Tzom Tammuz (17 Tammuz/Summer)
  • Tisha b'Av (9 Av/Summer)

That might seem like a lot of fasting, but, believe it or not, once upon a time fasting was more regular and the reasons varied. The primary call for fasting was to gain God's compassion and avert disaster. However, fasting also was involved in the Temple service and was initiated at the death of some national leaders. In some cases, fasting was used as a means of obtaining forgiveness from God, such as when Ezra fasted for the "faithlessness" of the people.

Nowadays, most fasting in the Jewish calendar is tied to the destruction of one or both of the temples in Jerusalem. The Fast of Esther and Ta'anit Bechorot (fast of the first born) aren't tied to the Temple, and are both considered minor fasts.

So why are Jews suffering for the stubborn people who refused to listen to the prophets in order to mend their ways and prevent the fall of the temples so long ago? The rabbis explain in the Talmud :

Every generation for which the Temple is not rebuilt is as though the Temple was destroyed for that generation. (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1a)

It's heavy stuff, but the point here is that Jews aren't meant to look at the fast day as a day of suffering per se, but rather as a day of opportunity to not be stubborn and mend our own ways. For an Orthodox Jew that might mean crossing the bridge and exploring what it means to be a Reform Jew today, or it might mean mending ties with a sibling or parent after years of strife. Maybe it's planting a tree or taking up composting, or you might find yourself volunteering to tutor a child in math.

The abundance of fast days in Judaism is about afflicting yourself, but not with 40 lashes and severe dehydration. Rather, it's about undoing and learning from the mistakes of past generations in order to better our own lives and the world around us. It's sort of like building your own personal Beit HaMikdash. The idea is for Jews to reflect, rebuild, and recommit to Judaism with intense focus.

So what's a fasting person to do? Luckily, there are minor fast days and primary fast days, meaning that there are loads of different levels of observance to accommodate pregnant women, the elderly, children, sick people, and believe it or not those who just don't fast well. That being said, days on which the leniencies are not very lenient are Tisha b'Av and Yom Kippur, meaning that you have to speak to your local rabbi about whether or not and how to fast. In the end, however, you really need to trust your gut when it comes to fasting and not push yourself too hard for too long.

After all, Leviticus 18:5 says,

"You shall keep my statutes and ordinances; if a person does them, he will live by them: I am the Lord."

The understanding of this verse, which also shows up in Ezekiel 20:11 and Nehemiah 9:29, is that Jews should live by Torah law, not die because of it. This is why you'll find the mention of pikuach nefesh -- literally "saving a life" -- around Yom Kippur and Tisha b'Av when it comes to intense fasting.

How do you handle fast days and what does fasting mean to you -- if anything at all?

Tu B'Shvat Activities for Kids

Thursday January 16, 2014

One of four new years festivals in the Jewish calendar, Tu B'Shvat is a celebration of the trees. On this holiday, Jews take part in special seder meals and eat special foods grown on trees like olives, figs, grapes, honey, carob, and pomegranates. The holiday is prime for children's activities, as Tu B'Shvat evokes colors, creativity, crafts, and delicious food!

There are plenty of ways to celebrate the holiday in crafty and creative ways, and here are just a few.

Dried Fruit Centerpiece: Gather up your favorite dried fruits and your kids can create delicious and festive table toppers.

An Ice Cream Seder: Perfect for all ages, why not get crafty with your own sweet seder?

Making Toffee Flowers: An easy and tasty activity, kids can create their own beautiful garden of flowers.

Interactive Online Games: TorahTots has a word find, coloring pages, e-cards you can send, and more.

Handprint Tree: It might be messy, but the work of art will last a lifetime and serve as a fitting tribute to the new year for the trees.

A Seder for Tots: If you have a 3-5 year old, this is a great option to keep the kids involved if you're having a Tu B'Shvat seder.

Grow Your Own: With some creativity, a few sponges, and some gras seed, kids can become quick architects and landscapers, building their own ecosystem in a snap.

Online Scavenger Hunt: Using provided websites, kids can find answers to fun new year's questions!

Coloring Book: An oldie but a goodie, sometimes breaking out the crayons and markers is the best way to keep your little ones busy on the holidays.

For more ways to celebrate Tu B'Shvat with your kids, check out PJLibrary.org. It's also not too early to start planning for Passover! Check out Passover Fun for Kids, too.

Do you have a favorite Tu B'Shvat craft or activity you'd like to share?

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