Browsing Tag

how-to Judaism

Uncategorized May 17, 2013

Rav, Rabbi, Rebbe

Q:  Is it too sensitive to ask how the
‘veneration’ of Chasidic rebbes (or just Chabad? I don’t know) is
different than non-Chasidic groups? Is that what defines Chasidic Jews
as Chasidic? Are there some without ANY rebbe? Do non-Chassidic Os
venerate their rabbis? And how is a rebbe different than a rabbi? Which
is what in relation to a rav?


A.  My personal (non-Chassidic) relationship with my rabbi is described here.  In Chassidic communities, the whole structure of the community centers around the Rebbe (pronounced reh-buh).  He is venerated, respected with awe, trust, and love, and consulted on major and minor decisions.  He is approached for a blessing before travel, before business dealings, and before matchmaking one’s children.  He is approached for prayers and blessings in times of crisis, before a medical procedure, and when marriages falter.  He is honored at every milestone, wedding, bar mitzvah, and holiday.

Where the Rebbe is no longer alive, and no successor appointed, as with Chabad or Breslov, the deceased Rebbe is still venerated in memory and via his teachings as the core place of inspiration for the Chassidus (Chassidic sect).

It is a central part of being Chassidic, but it’s not the only thing that defines Chassidic living.  Insularity and eschewing of secular culture is another major factor, as well as joy, passion and song.

Chabad is different in that its Rebbe (called “the reh-bee” by the more culturally American adherents or “the reh-buh” by its more Chassidic-oriented adherents) passed away around 15 ago and, childless, did not appoint a successor (as is usually the practice).  That’s how Chabad came to be a Chassidus with no living rebbe.

Non-Chassidic Os definitely venerate their rabbis but not to the same degree.  Typically it would be either their congregational or community rabbi (called a “rav“) or a rabbi from their educational years at yeshiva (called a “reh-bee“).  All of them, in English, are rabbis.

Plurals (I find a lot of people use term one when they mean term two):

1. Rebbeim (ra-bay-im): plural for day school/yeshiva teacher rabbis
2. Rabbanim (ra-buh-nim): plural for congregational or community rabbis
3. Rebbes (reh-buzz): plural for Chassidic rabbis

Uncategorized March 18, 2013

At Least

Is gratitude cliche?

Yeah, in word.  But not in deed.  So easy to say.  So hard to do.   But truly, Seder night is all about gratitude.

“Thank you, God, for taking us out of Egypt.”

That’s the famous part.  And the prize for the most famous Seder song goes to Dayenu, sung even at the shortest Seders, which is actually one long gratitude-fest.  And phrased just so warmly.  God, even if you would have only brought us to the sea, but not split it for us, it would have been enough… dayenu… to thank you forever and ever…

Imagine your teen comes over to you and says, “Mom, even if you would have only washed my clothes, and not dried them, folded them, or put them away, or ironed them, ever, or cooked dinner, or took me shopping… dayenu… it would have been enough for me to be forever grateful to you… today and every day… for all eternity.”  (Are you still conscious?)

So, yeah.  Easy to say.  Hard to do.

Here’s an idea.  Write a poem for the Seder.  The poem is called “At Least.”  First you write five complaints about your life.

The paint job is already looking old.
My car is making weird noises.
I never have enough time to work out.
I am feeling overwhelmed planning my son’s bar mitzvah.
My things are always missing because people in my family move and misplace them.

Okay, that was the easy part.  Here’s the hard part.  After each sentence, write a companion sentence that remembers the good in that moment.  It will start with the words “at least.”  Like this.

The paint job is already looking old.
At least I was able to paint the house recently.  Many are not able to to do so.
My car is making weird noises.
At least we have two cars that still transport us from place to place, and sometimes it doesn’t make weird noises.
I never have enough time to work out.
At least I have a fulfilling job that I love and people that love and need me, which is why I’m busy.  Many do not.
I am feeling overwhelmed planning my son’s bar mitzvah.
At least I have a healthy, happy son who is growing up in a loving Jewish environment, and I’m blessed with many friends and family who want to celebrate his milestone with us, which is where the overwhelmed feelings come from.  I’d never trade that.
My things are always missing because people in my family move and misplace them.
At least I have a busy, active family.  They are more precious to me than stuff.

Bring this poem to the Seder table, and read it before Dayenu.  It will be your personal gratitude workout.

Because while we know we need to be grateful to God for all the “at leasts,” what we are less cognizant of is that we need to be grateful to Him for the complaints too.  Because they are good for us.  They are there to help us grow.  To teach us gratitude.  To teach us humility.  To teach us to be less judgmental when others complain.

Happy Passover to all my readers.  May the gratitude of the holiday spill over into your lives and, indeed, bring you much joy.  At least, you know it’s in your hands.

Uncategorized March 11, 2013

How to Clean for Pesach (Passover) in One Day

You’ve started cleaning after Chanukah?  Used your snow days to tackle the attic for Pesach?  Almost done?


Here’s how to let Pesach become a fun holiday again, one you don’t dread.  But my method has a few ground rules:

1. If your children (or you) regularly eat chometz in odd places, like bedroom closets, and those places are not cleaned regularly throughout the year, you cannot clean for Pesach in one day.

2. You will need the help of one able-bodied adult.  This may or may not take the form of paid help – more on costs in a moment.  It can be a friend, an older kid (feel free to bribe) or a relative.  You can’t do it totally alone, unless you live in a tiny condo and are the sole occupant.  I have a cleaning woman help me.  What should you delegate to your helper?  Whatever you hate to do.

3. Some people spend money because they don’t want to spend more time, and some people spend more time because they don’t want to spend more money.  Adjust my suggestions based on your budget and personality.

4. If you have young children, they will need to be out of your hair for the day – but remember, it’s ONE day.  By “young” I mean too young to be truly helpful.  Teens should stay and help, unless their job is keeping your younger kids occupied.  And they won’t mind staying since it’s only ONE day.  In fact, they will be bragging to all their friends how little they had to help.  Help for your younger kids can come in the form of paid help, or a friend or relative – or your teen.  Have someone take them out to a museum, out for a pizza lunch, whatever.  Just out.  Of.  Your.  Way.  For the day.

5. For those of you that are concerned/curious about the halachic aspects of my suggestions, these ideas are based on talks I have heard from Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst of Chicago and Rabbi Baruch Hirschfeld of Cleveland.  If you have family customs that are stricter than mine, it might take you longer than one day.

6. These suggestions are based on your typical single family colonial home.  If your home is much smaller or larger than that, adjust your expectations accordingly.

7. I am not addressing WHEN to clean.  This will largely be impacted by where and how you cook.  If you have an alternative place to cook that is kosher for Pesach, you can cook in advance and clean literally 2 days before the Seder.  If you don’t, you will want to do your cleaning day a few days in advance so you can cook in your newly Passovered kitchen.  What and where your family will eat during those few days is not within the scope of this piece (heh heh).  Ok, kidding, you will have to leave one space (garage, basement) not-clean-for-Pesach where chometz is still allowed.  The morning of the Seder, this should take half-hour to clean up, max.

Ready?  Let’s go.

We approach the house as though it’s concentric circles, with the dining room and mainly the kitchen as the epicenter.  We start with the peripherals, since they are the easiest.  In my home, here’s where we eat: the kitchen and the dining room;
occasionally in the family room and living room; chocolates and nuts by
guests in the basement (note: neither of those are true chometz); and
anything else is contraband.  The kids are not allowed to eat upstairs.  Do they sometimes?  Yeah.  We’ll deal.  I don’t allow them to eat all over the house.  Not because I’m Pesach-obssessed all year (I think it’s a big mistake to be) but because it’s gross.

9:00 am: Basement

Since the basement is a place where chometz generally doesn’t happen, I don’t clean it.  Plus, even if chometz did go there, every now and then (not telling how often) the basement gets vacuumed.  So it’s gone.  No need to move furniture on the off-chance.  I go down there, I give a quick look-see, peek under beds and pull out any large anything I can see, and we’re done.  Shalom.

Estimated time: 15 minutes.

9:15 am: Upstairs

Since the upstairs is a place where I don’t allow chometz, any children who have offended during the year are responsible for their own clean-up, after which I inspect.

Estimated time: 15 minutes

At this point you might be wondering about organizing, emptying drawers and shelves, and cleaning.  But maybe you forgot that this is about Pesach.  So that’s why I didn’t mention it, and that’s why I don’t do it.  I organize throughout the year, and sometimes after Pesach.  In my opinion, the WORST time in the world to organize is before Pesach, when it gets attached to so much other stress.  In fact, I think it should be illegal.

9:30 am: Garage

The garage contains a big job, which is my spare fridge and freezer.  I empty everything that’s left in the big freezer, which is not much because I’ve been slowing down on the buying, and consolidate it in my small kitchen freezer.  I leave the freezer open and turn it off to defrost.  Later, my cleaning lady will clean it.  She does a regular cleaning job, same as a good cleaning any day of the year, except we clean the rubber seal very well in its grooves.  The spare fridge I have her clean and wipe down with some spray cleaner of some sort.  Voila.  It’s now kosher for Passover.  No lining of shelves, no nothing.  If I have some food items that are not used up (there’s always jelly and pickles) I designate one drawer, put all the stuff in it, and tape it shut.  It gets sold with the chometz.

The rest of the garage involves just looking around and making sure there’s no chometz.  No organizing.

Estimated time: 45 minutes.

10:15 am: Bathrooms

The only thing I am concerned about in the bathroom is toothpaste that might contain chometz.  I find out which brand is ok to use for the current year, put the other toothpastes aside in a place that I am selling (we’ll come back to this), and make a note to get new ones (and new toothbrushes).

Estimated time for all bathrooms: 15 minutes, max.

10:30 am: Family room

My main job is the family room is usually the couch but this year we have a new couch where the cushions don’t come off.  I LOVE THIS COUCH!  We take the dustbuster and vacuum the crevices where we see stuff.  Here’s what we don’t do: move furniture away from the wall that doesn’t get moved all year.  Wash toys.  Organize board games.  Sort CDs and DVDs.  Move the piano.

Why don’t I wash toys?
1. Because my children don’t eat while they play.
2. Because even if they did, I periodically sort and organize my toy closet and if there were a piece of birthday cake, it’s gone now.

Estimated time: 15 minutes.

10:45 am: Living room

My main job in the living room is the couches.  Since we sometimes move furniture around, I move the furniture, me or my helper(s) vacuum under them, we pull all the cushions off the couch and it gets vacuumed inside.  Ditto for the comfy chairs.  Done.  Don’ts: wash curtains.  Dust lights.  Rearrange the mantle.

Estimated time: 30 minutes.

11:15 am: Dining room

This is a big job so I’ll break it down into pieces.

1. Bookshelf.  We take off the shelves all the “benchers” – little booklets that are literally used during the Shabbos meals and actually could contain challah.  Do we clean them?  Nah.  We put them in a closet that will be sold for Pesach.  We wipe the shelves where they sat.  Time: 10 minutes.

2. Folding chairs.  We have a little nook where we keep folding chairs.  We take out the chairs, and, using a blowdryer, blow around them to blast out crumbs.  We wipe down the inside of the closet.  Time: 15-30 minutes to remove, clean, wipe, and replace.

3. Buffet.  I have two sides of the inside of the buffet: one side I will use for Passover dishes, and one side I will sell.  The side I will sell I don’t touch at all – I just tape it shut with masking tape.  The other side I empty, wipe down, replace.  I also blowdry and wipe the top, then cover it with a clean tablecloth.  Time: 15-30 minutes.

4. Dining room chairs.  I (or my helpers) bowdry the crevices of the chairs, then wipe them down.  Time: 15 minutes.

5. Dining room table.  I open the table without the leaves so any crumbs that may be lurking fall through.  I wipe the leaves and put on a tablecloth.  Time: 10 minutes.

Total dining room estimated time: With lots of wiggle room, 1 1/2 hours.  (Really less because you and your helper are working simultaneously, so let’s settle on one hour.)

12:15 pm: Break for lunch

1:00 pm: Kitchen 

Here, too, I am going to break the job down into parts.

1. Oven.  This job I definitely delegate to my cleaning help.  She cleans it just as she would all year, and then we will run the self-cleaning cycle, but before we do, I clean the cooktop, because I put the grates of the burners into the oven during the cycle, which kashers them.  Time: 1/2 hour cleaning. 
While self-cleaning cycle runs, we move on.

2. Fridge/freezer.  We empty everything out into laundry baskets so my cleaning lady can clean on the inside.  Some stuff I toss, some I put into little containers to put back in the fridge, some I give away.  Don’t move fridge away from wall.  Time: 45 minutes.

3. Tables and chairs.  Ditto for blowdry/wipedown method mentioned above.  I move the kitchen table away and sweep under it.  Wipe down kitchen table and put plastic disposable tablecloth over it, which I tie under it to keep it anchored.  Time: 15 minutes.

4. Small appliances: sandwich maker, toaster.  I put them in the pantry, where I have all the chometz to sell.  I don’t clean them at all.  Actually, I move them to the garage where my kids will eat their meals till seder.  Time: 5 minutes.

5. Cabinets.  I designate a few drawers and cabinets that I will be using the week of Passover, and empty them.  I put the contents into other non-Passover drawers or in the pantry I will be selling.  My cleaning lady/kids clean out the insides of those drawers and cabs that I will use by wiping down with some cleanser.  Voila.  They are now kosher-for-Passover.  I use masking tape to mark the “chometz” domains and move some stuff to the folding table in the garage that we will be using temporarily.  Time: maybe an hour.

6. Cooktop, counters, sinks.  These get cleaned really well, like a really good regular cleaning.  The sinks get taped off for the next 24 hours to prepare for kashering (which my husband does).  The counters will get kashered too the following night.  The cooktop gets covered with foil and then I replace the grates that went through the self-clean cycle.  Time: 30 minutes.

Total kitchen estimated time: 3 hours.

It’s now four pm and your house is clean for Passover.  Mazel tov!  When your kids are all home, they will take their backpacks and empty them outside of any crumbs.  You will then throw them in the laundry and, if you have a mudroom, your kids are each responsible to clean their own cubbies.  Estimated time: depends on how pokey your kids are.

The last item is the car.  This is most definitely a place that I’d rather spend money than time.  I take my car to a local car wash (yeah AlPaul) and for $20 all our chometz misdeeds therein are erased.  But even if you tackle the car yourself, there’s no need to remove seats or anything drastic like that.  You vacuum and remove visible chometz.  Dirt’s cool, so just leave it there.  Estimated time for car: 1 hour, tops.  This is also a great thing to delegate to your kids or cleaning help.

Enjoy your holiday!

Uncategorized February 28, 2013

I Will Never Be Orthodox. Can I Still Be Part of the Community?

Dear Ruchi,
family currently lives 7 miles from the Chabad shul that we attend, so we drive to/from
Shabbos services (though we do park at the church across the street).
Our son doesn’t wear a yarmulke on a daily basis. We have a television
in our home and our kids watch appropriate shows on a limited basis. Our
home is not kosher (yet!). The point is, clearly, we are not Orthodox
and I’m not sure that we ever will be. We are not prepared to sell our
home and move closer to the shul so that we can walk to Shabbos
services.  Also, because there are so many rules/laws/customs, I am
overwhelmed and don’t know where or how to begin.
of that said, can we ever really become a part of the Orthodox
community? Everyone has been very nice, but there’s a big difference
between being nice and being inclusive. Will it ever be OK for me to
invite an Orthodox child to our home for a playdate (with reassurance
that I will serve food on paper plates and will not mix milk/meat…I’m
sure there are other things that I would need to do, but I have no idea
what that might be!)?
I be able to actually become friends with some of these women or is it
frowned upon to have non-Orthodox friends because of the difference in
lifestyle? I met a very nice woman at the weekly Kabbalah café and would
like to see if she’d like to meet for coffee, but I’m not sure if
that’s acceptable because I doubt that Starbucks is kosher?? I don’t
want to put her in the awkward position of having to say “no,” so I just
haven’t asked.
guess what I’m really asking is are we ever going to be “Jewish
enough”? And how do I even begin to learn all of the customs that I
would need to learn in order to fit in better? I have asked if there is a
class for people wanting to become BT, but it isn’t offered here. My
husband manages better than I do because of his upbringing,
but it’s hard to say to him “tell me everything I need to know” because
there are a million minutiae (i.e. 39 categories of work prohibited on Shabbat, 613 mitzvot).
For example, he was given the honor of an aliyah last week and had to
say that he couldn’t because he’s a Levite and the Levites had already
had an aliyah (so he held/carried the Torah instead). The point is, I’d
never even heard anything remotely like that before and would have been
honored to accept, which would have been wrong (I realize that as a
woman, this wouldn’t happen, but it’s an example of how little I know).
How can I raise observant Jewish children when I know so little? I feel
like I need a brain transplant or something. 🙂
I know no one in the Orthodox
community and have so many questions and concerns. I want to “get it
right” for our children because this is important to me. If we can never
be accepted, then does it make sense to join this congregation? I would
welcome your honest thoughts and feedback.

Dear Lauren,
You’ve touched on many different points here in your email, so I will just address them in the order you’ve asked.
1. It’s unclear to me whether you are interested in becoming more observant/Orthodox, but are deterred because of social/logistical obstacles, or you just don’t see yourself ever following all those restrictions.  Do you believe in the heart of Orthodox philosophy?  Do you wish you could be more observant, but lament the obstacles, or do you feel a sense of relief that you’re not?
2. I’m also a bit confused because you say on the one hand that you’ve met a few people that you’d like to further your social relationships with, and that you do attend the Chabad shul on occasion, but later state that you don’t know anyone in the Orthodox community.  Do you mean you know them casually but not well enough to ask these “loaded” questions to?  Are you friends with these acquaintances on any level?
3. Would it be OK for you to invite over an Orthodox child with attendant reassurances?  The answer is yes!  What a nice invitation!  But truthfully, not everyone will feel comfortable with that – not because they’d suspect you of being duplicitous, G-d forbid, but because if you don’t know the laws really well, it’s pretty easy to make a mistake.  Some families will be OK with it and you’ll have to learn to not take personally the discomfort of those that aren’t.

4.  Ditto with your friendships.  Most people in Chabad communities (I’m not sure if the community is a Chabad one) are very inclusive and are comfortable being friends with various types of Jews.  Other, more insular communities, might be less so.  Here in Cleveland, for example, it would be my Orthodox friends’ pleasure to go out for coffee (Starbucks is always safe – even though there is a controversy involving the Starbuckses that serve non-kosher sandwiches, you can always get a juice or something) with a non-Orthodox friend they met at the gym or something, and especially at a Jewish class or venue.  When I look around at my community, I think the answer to your question about your personal friendships would be a resounding yes.

5. Are you ever going to be Jewish enough?  That’s between you, your husband and G-d – and no one else.  No matter where you are on the spectrum, there will always be some that don’t consider you Jewish enough and some that consider you a fanatic.  Learn to ignore judgmental people on both sides.

6. How can you begin to learn?  If there’s a Chabad shul, I would imagine classes couldn’t possibly be far behind.  There an organization called “Partners in Torah” where you are matched up to a study partner over the phone for a once-a-week study session on any topic of your choice.  It’s free, and amazing.  Look them up.  Is there maybe a community close to yours that has an educational organization for beginners?  Of course, there’s lots of stuff online, but personal connections, relationships, and community are key.  AND finding a rabbi/mentor to guide you in this journey.

7. Regarding brain transplants: you have exactly the brain that G-d wants you to have to fulfill your unique purpose in life!  🙂 

All the best, and wishing you lots of success,

Dear readers,

Would you add anything?  Have you “been there, done that”?

Uncategorized January 29, 2013

Be Careful What You Name Your Kid

Most Jewish parents choose Jewish names for their kids.  But they don’t always realize that one fine day, their kids may choose to really use those names.

According to Jewish thought, your Jewish name describes your essence.  When you want to name your child after a relative, you should really use the Hebrew name as closely as possible to the original.  Identical is best.  Starting with the same letter, in either Hebrew or English, is a distant second.  It’s powerful for the memory and honor, but spiritually, the connectedness is in the actual name or the same meaning.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz, originally of South Africa, who did not grow up using his Hebrew name, and who did not grow up Orthodox, for that matter, describes how his parents chose the name “Kevin” for him.  First, he says, they chose Akiva – after the person for whom he was named.  Then they went about searching for a secular name that he could use to navigate in the “real world” that was as similar as possible to the actual (Hebrew) name.  In other words, “Akiva” was the “real him” and Kevin was a distant nickname that replicated the real deal.

Many Jewish parents go about this the opposite way – first they choose an English name that they like or that’s after a loved one, then choose a Hebrew name based on other factors.  But many young parents tell me they wished they had known, when they were naming their kids, how very powerful that Hebrew name is to the essence and the soul of their children.  Many Jewish parents don’t remember their kids’ Hebrew names, if they’ve fallen into disuse.

Sometimes kids will start using their Hebrew names, whether at Sunday school, in Israel, or if they become more religiously-minded.  So you might want to choose carefully.

So here I am, to tell you!  And now you know.

How was your name chosen?  How did you choose your kids’ names?

Related posts:  Your Kid’s Hebrew Name is Yechezkel Simcha Chaim?
High on Hebrew

Uncategorized January 2, 2013

I Don’t Know What To Say

“I don’t know what to say to her… she’s become so Orthodox…”
Just say hi.
“I wouldn’t know how to answer her questions; what if she
asks me why I wear skirts or something??”
Just say hi.
“He’s intermarried; what should I say when we meet?”
Just say hi.
“I think he became a Buddhist now… I wouldn’t even know what
to talk about.”
Just say hi.
“I think she’s involved in a cult…”
Just say hi.
Just be nice.
Just be friendly.
Show an interest in the human being…
And remember to just say hi.
Even in line at the grocery store.
Even in synagogue.
Even at a wedding.
Even at Target.
Just smile and say hi.
Is it so hard?
Uncategorized November 29, 2012

Peyos – Sidelocks – Peyot – Sidecurls

Some think they all look like this:

But sometimes they look like this:

Or even this:

Boys and men are asked by the Torah not to “round off the corners” (peyot in Hebrew) of their faces (Leviticus 19:27).  The word peyos refers to sideburns — i.e. the hair in front of the ears
that extends to underneath the cheekbone which is level with the nose
(Talmud – Makkot 20a).  Maimonides explains that the prohibition of “rounding” prohibits the
removal of sideburns, by razor, tweezers or any other means.  It
is permitted to trim the sideburns, even very close to the skin, using
scissors. (Thanks to

So actually, most men are already keeping the mitzvah.

Why do some guys grow them long, curl them, wear them in front of the ears, or tucked behind the ears?

Once they are not being trimmed, some like to “adorn” or “embellish” the mitzvah by growing them long, making them look nice, and wearing them prominently.  Sometimes the way you wear your peyos is a symbol of identity with a particular sub-group within Judaism.  Some have a custom to let a boy’s hair grow until the age of 3 (another post), then cutting it in a festive ceremony, putting emphasis on leaving the “peyos.”

But you won’t be seeing this:

Ya just won’t.