Showering on Yom Tov and Shabbat

By Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen

Excerpted from his new book Shabbat: The Right Way (Urim Publications) pages 116–118.

Q: May one shower with hot water on Shabbat and Yom Tov?

Halachic research indicates that bathing is prohibited on Shabbat and Yom Tov regardless of whether a violation of Shabbat or Yom Tov laws took place. The Talmud (Shabbat 40a) states:

At first, people used to wash in [cistern] water that was heated on the eve of Shabbat. Then the bath attendants began to heat the water on Shabbat, maintaining that it was done on the eve of Shabbat. So the [use of] hot water was forbidden, but sweating [a steam bath] was permitted. Yet still they used to bathe in hot water, saying: We are perspiring [taking a steam bath]. So sweating [steam bathing] was forbidden, though the thermal hot springs of Tiberias were permitted. Yet they bathed in water heated by fire, saying: We bathed in the hot springs of Tiberias. So they forbade the hot springs but permitted cold water. But when they saw that this [series of restrictions] could not stand, they permitted the hot springs of Tiberias, while sweating [taking a steam bath] remained as before [prohibited].

Clarifying this rule, the Talmud reports that washing specific parts of one’s body, such as one’s face and hands, were not included in the prohibition. Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch specifically notes that the prohibition is applicable to the bathing of one’s entire body, even if this is done limb by limb. Therefore, immersion in a bath of hot water heated even on Friday afternoon would be prohibited because of the rabbinic decree. The codes add that one may not even pour water over one’s body (Orach Chayyim 326:1). The Aruch ha-Shulchan notes that this latter process was prohibited even though it was not the normal mode of bathing; for once an injunction was set up, he contends, the sages did not make a distinction between the normal modes of bathing and other ones (lo pelug; Orach Chayyim 326:2). It is apparent that this relates to showering, which is, in essence, water poured over the body. Today, showering is as popular a mode of bathing as immersing oneself in a bathtub.

One cannot contend that the original prohibition did not include showering because it was not a conventional mode of bathing at the time. Indeed, the Talmud specifically states that bathing in the hot springs of Tiberias was made permissible, because without such permission the Jews would have had no acceptable means of bathing with hot water on Shabbat (see Rashi). This indicates that hot showers was also prohibited. Accordingly, any form of bathing with hot water, even with hot water heated prior to Shabbat or without any violation of Shabbat (such as an automatic heater) would be prohibited. (My own feeling is that the decree would extend to immersing one’s entire body in a heated swimming pool.)

However, Ha-Rav Akiva Eiger provides a loophole. Continue reading “Showering on Yom Tov and Shabbat”

Aish Kodesh rabbi translates Rav Kook’s seminal work

by Alan Jay Gerber

In what will be one of this season’s most popular commentaries, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere has written a translation of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s “Orot Teshuvah.” Entitled “Song of Teshuvah Volume One” [Penina – Urim Press, 2011] this new work is the result of over seven years of a shiur that Rabbi Weinberger gave on Friday mornings at his shul.

“Our erev Shabbos adventure became the mikveh before the mikveh. Together —anywhere from forty to seventy individuals — we toveled in the stormy, yet soothing waters of Rav Kook’s seminal masterpiece,” Rabbi Weinberger said. “We marveled at how Rav Kook was able to lift us up from the weekday grind of New York life and carry us into the sweetness of Shabbos. In his light, we were able to catch a little glimpse of Yerushalayim.”

To best appreciate the importance of this work, especially at this time of year, consider these words written by one of Rav Kook’s premier students, Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neria, of blessed memory. “It is pleasant and fitting for Rav Kook’s name and memory that these days of study should center round the subject of teshuvah,” Rabbi Neria wrote. “In my student years in his yeshiva, the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva, I was privileged to see him in the mornings of the month of Elul, after the morning service, striding up and down in the main room of his house, studying his own book, the Orot HaTeshuvah.

“His words had been written not only for others but also for himself; and in the days set apart for teshuvah, he devoted himself to its cleansing and elevating content.”

In the years to come, the need for an English translation became ever more urgent. Finally, in 1968, Rabbi Dr. Alter Metzger published an elegant and lucid translation of this otherwise daunting work.

But as time passed, the need for a comprehensive commentary was deemed essential by most rabbis and educators. To this end Rabbi Weinberger’s efforts and skilled scholarship helped fill the void.

The timeliness of this publication can best be demonstrated by the comments of the Ramat Gan Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yehoshua Shapiro.“Orot HaTeshuvah not only reveals the lights, ‘orot,’ of ‘teshuvah,’ repentance, it reveals that repentance itself is a great light.” Rav Kook’s view was to make teshuvah a positive spiritual experience.

Also to be found in this commentary are numerous sources from all the major teachings of our faith, further enhancing Rav Kook’s teachings to make them ever more relevant to the reader.

This factor is what makes Rabbi Weinberger’s research all the more endearing to this writer.

Examples of this can be seen threaded throughout this work. Even such an esoteric issue as evolution finds a place in Rav Kook’s teaching. Consider the following: Continue reading “Aish Kodesh rabbi translates Rav Kook’s seminal work”

Catholic Library World reviews Cheryl Berman’s Reasonable Doubts

Reasonable Doubts: A Religious Skeptic Learns a Thing or Two About God
By Cheryl Berman, Urim Publications, 2010, 158 pp., ISBN 978-965-524-039-9, $19.95

by Sanford R. Silverburg

It is well recognized in Judaism that God is the Creator of all – to include evil and tragedy. But for many, the mystery of how good and evil can coexist and simultaneously be the creation of the same deity is cause of skepticism that this kind of spiritual being can exist at all. Cheryl Berman is an American Jew, trained as a philosopher who presently lives, writes, and teaches in Israel; her specialty is medieval Jewish philosophy. She presents here a personal, cognitive journey between two worlds: Elihu in the Babylonian diaspora, who questions God’s reasoning for denying a Jewish presence in Jerusalem; and another, found in the Book of Job, in which philosophy is based on thought, while science rests on what is known. She then weaves her examination beginning with a discussion of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, then offering contributions from prominent medieval Jewish thinkers such as Saadya, who sought innate perfection of perfect justice; Maimonides, who examined the human causes of suffering and advanced an intellectual immunity to it; and Gersonides’ theory of Divine providence. The author brings to bear the Jewish ethical tradition of faith based not on knowledge, but on oneself and recognition of one’s relationship to God, for faith must be concretized by deeds.

A lightly treated philosophical tract that deals with the complexity of human existence in an attempt to strengthen one’s ultimate understanding of their relationship to God.

Best suited for an introductory study in comparative religious thought.

“I have a Dream”

For the Love of Israel and the Jewish People
For the Love of Israel and the Jewish People

Machon Ohr Aaron & Betsy Spijer
Thoughts to Ponder – 277
The Next Mass Demonstration
Wanted: Rabbis with Knives between Their Teeth
by Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Things are going well in Israel. Mass demonstrations for social justice, housing, proper hospitalization, and adequate wages for physicians, teachers and the underprivileged are finally underway. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have gone to the streets to convince the government that things need to change drastically. This could be a turning point in Israel’s future with dramatic consequences for the better.

I have a dream! I see a huge demonstration for the soul of Judaism. An uprising in which hundreds of thousands of secular Israelis demand an honest and genuine Judaism with no political parties, no embarrassing financial deals, and no religious coercion. A Judaism that will inspire them, lift their spirits, and make them burst with pride to be Jewish.

I have a dream! I imagine a spiritual revolution by secular Israelis who are fed up with the religious establishment and instead demand rabbinical leadership that will hear their longing for a Judaism that speaks to them. A leadership that will admit it has played its cards wrong for years and has continually misread the minds and hearts of these secular Israelis.

I have a dream! I envision Chief Rabbis who dare to take a stand; who stop looking over their shoulders and start thinking out of the box; who show courage and do not act out of fear; who stop worrying about the influences of other denominations of Judaism and instead are prepared to have an honest dialogue with them. A rabbinate that introduces prophetic Halacha, which uses not only the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch but also the vital teachings of our prophets and great thinkers – Jewish and non-Jewish – so as to find new spiritual solutions that will convince all of us how much more Judaism has to offer than we ever imagined.

I await the moment when young secular Israelis will Continue reading ““I have a Dream””

Heschel for a new generation

by Jack Riemer

Abraham Joshua Heschel:
Essential Writings
Selected with an introduction by
Susannah Heschel
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 189 pages, $20

Orbis Books is a Catholic publishing house, which is now publishing a series of short books of the essential writings of the outstanding religious thinkers of the 20th century. Among those it has chosen to include in this series so far are Mahatma Ghandi, Thomas Merton, Mother Theresa, The Dalai Lama, Leo Tolstoy – and Abraham Joshua Heschel. When he died, the Catholic magazine America devoted an issue to his thought because they sensed that he was a teacher to Christians as well as to Jews.

To those who know of Heschel’s profound influence on Christian thought, his selection is obviously appropriate. But to those who know Heschel’s upbringing, the selection is mind-boggling. He grew up in the sheltered and isolated world of the Chassidic community. That someone who grew up in this world could become Judaism’s spokesman to the Vatican and its major spiritual voice to the Western World is simply astonishing.

Susannah Heschel, his daughter, has written a loving and informative introduction to Dr. Heschel’s writings that describe Heschel the parent, who could play games, enjoy Chinese Checkers, listen to classical music, and host people from many different worlds at their table on the Sabbath. And she has selected many of the most profound of her father’s writings, the ones that help to explain why, nearly 40 years after his death, he continues to be a guide to Christians as well as Jews into the meaning of the spiritual.

There is no one to this day who writes like Heschel did. His work Continue reading “Heschel for a new generation”

Review of Why We Pray What We Pray

by Matthue Roth

I became Orthodox under the guidance of someone who advised me to run from it. Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel, the rabbi of the Kesher Israel Congregation in Washington D.C. — whose name you might recognize from the 2000 presidential election, when he was constantly quoted as “Joe Lieberman’s rabbi” and asked deeply-thought questions like, “If a nuclear war breaks out on Shabbat, will Senator Lieberman be allowed to help out in the ensuing battles?”

In addition to being a rabbi, he holds advanced degrees in chemistry and biology, and is a fiendishly rational thinker. While many people are attracted to religion through mystical stories and supernatural powers, for me the draw was the exact opposite. I was already totally nuts. I needed something to ground me, a rational set of rules to lead my life by. I started by going to Rabbi Freundel’s weekly halacha shiur — a three-hour class about everything from washing your hands before getting out of bed to whether one needs to tie tzitzit on a rain poncho to what happens if you start eating a ham sandwich, realize it’s not kosher, then get a craving for macaroni and cheese — are you allowed to? (Yes: because ham doesn’t fall under the category of kosher meat.) “Run the other way,” he said. “We are competists.” I’m a masochist. It just made me hungry for more.

Anyway. Rabbi Freundel has a new book, Why We Pray What We Pray, and it’s a doozy. The book is an excellent field guide to Jewish prayers, perhaps the most well-conceived and fully-realized book on the subject in English to come out in years. (And just so you don’t think my opinion is weighted, he is also the man who forced me to type up 112 pages of notes about tefillin. Five times.) What the book lacks in scope, it makes up in depth — choosing just six different prayers, giving their history, previous incarnations,

Which might sound boring under someone else’s wing. The first chapter is dedicated to the Shema — and Freundel picks apart its history step by step, discovering that, in its 3000-year lifespan, the prayer once included several other parts of the Torah — and things that didn’t even come from the Torah, including the second line of its present incarnation — as well as one whole Torah portion (this part was ultimately excised, on the grounds that it would take too damn long for normal people to get through) and the entirety of the Ten Commandments. Later chapters go through other prayers, some of which (like “Nishmat”) have just become known as long and sort of meandering in the present liturgy, others (such as “Alenu”) have become sing-songy and equally meaningless for us. This book is an adventure in the best way, a book that makes us love words again.

Reading Why We Pray, I sometimes wished that Freundel, and not some boring dictionary-like rabbi, wrote the lines of commentary underneath the prayers in my normal old prayerbook. Then I changed my mind. Those little two-line insights are good for ignoring on a day-to-day basis, and jumping right back into the prayerbook. These stories are at their best for actual reading, for paying attention to and for diving into. As Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Lord Sacks says (in this superb video), Jewish people are great at being kind to others and at studying, two of the three pillars on which the world rests. The praying part — taking these words that we say every time we set foot in a synagogue* and giving our prayer meaning, a life beyond our lips, and a meaning above the dullness of mundane routine — is what we need to work on.

And here, folks, is where it starts.

* — every time we set foot in a synagogue and it’s not for a disco Bar Mitzvah party, I mean.

Original blog post.

NU Press to buy titles from Jewish book society

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The University of Nebraska Press will purchase the nearly 250-title inventory of the Jewish Publication Society, which bills itself as the oldest publisher of Jewish books in the United States.

The Nebraska board of regents approved the $610,000 purchase at its Friday meeting, clearing the way for Nebraska Press to publish and market all current and future books by the Philadelphia-based society, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (

Nebraska Press director Donna Shear said the deal will allow the society to continue to find and develop new titles but with the Nebraska Press taking over publication.

“We’re basically going to be taking over the process from manuscript publication through distribution and sales,” she said. “They will develop the content, but we will handle the rest of the process.”

Rabbi Barry Schwartz, the society’s chief executive officer, said it, like many small independent publishers, has struggled in recent years to continue to publish its inventory of titles and has been looking to partner with a university press.

“We primarily looked at university partnerships because we’re an academically oriented press dedicated to scholarship,” he said.

Schwartz said Nebraska Press was selected because of its already-strong inventory of Jewish books.

Nebraska Press owns nearly 3,000 titles and publishes about 150 a year. It owns about 50 Jewish studies titles and publishes four a year.

“We really feel that the University of Nebraska Press, which has had award-winning volumes in Judaic Studies, will benefit from this association,” Schwartz said. “It will make the University of Nebraska Press a leader in the field.”

The 123-year-old Jewish Publication Society sells more than 50,000 copies of the Jewish Bible each year, accounting for about half its sales, Schwartz said. That Bible is among the titles being acquired by Nebraska Press.

Shear said the society’s annual revenue is between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Original online article.

School Replaces Books with iPads

It’s a sign of the times.

Middle school students at Meyer Jewish Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida start class Wednesday with brand new Apple iPads in hand.

Ben Reitman says he has been waiting for this day for two years.

The eighth grader is heading back to class using a piece of technology that seems to be second nature for him and his classmates.

“This is Safari, it gives you your internet, this is your mail, it gives you your email so you can email your friends,” Reitman explained.

For the first time ever, the private school is requiring its middle schoolers to use the iPad in and out of the classroom.

The students either lease it or buy it.

“We’re allowing the students to be able to utilize the things that make sense to them,” said Nammie Ichilov, the school’s headmaster.

Teachers will incorporate the computers into their lesson plans.

And as far as teaching the students how to use the iPads, that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be an issue.

“In today’s world, technology is something that they live with, it’s not a tool, and we are simply providing them with that product to go and move forward with,” said Ichilov.

Original online article.