Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pidyon Haben

The ritual of Pidyon Haben (redemption of the first born son) is performed when certain stringent requirements are met. See here for a detailed explanation. Briefly, the conditions are: 1) the newborn child must be a male, 2) the child must be the first child of the mother, 3) the birth must be a natural delivery, and 4) neither the mother or father can be of Levi or Kohen ancestry. The conditions are not met often, so this celebration doesn't occur frequently.

Proud mother and father (Mushka and Betzalel) with their son.

Betzalel carrying his son to the Kohen. A tradition of the ritual is to cover the baby with gold jewelry and surround him with packages of sugar.

The basis of the ritual can be found in the Tanach (Jewish Bible) in several places: Exodus 13:13 and Numbers 3:45 that stipulate the child must be redeemed from a Kohan (ritual priest) for a sum of five silver shekels. It the Chabad custom, the child is redeemed for silver dollars of extremely pure silver.

Father and Kohen (Benny Friedman) recite ritual blessings and exchange the baby for the silver coins.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Havdalah 2

With Purim happening Saturday night and Sunday, this was a busy weekend. Just before we read the Megillah we celebrated the end of Shabat with a Havdalah ritual, and then the eating began! Joseph, the rabbi's son, was holding out a bag of spices for me to sniff.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Purim 2017

For anything/everything you ever wanted to know about Purim you can read it here. It's a festival of redemption and celebration. A day to wear costumes, drink, and get crazy. We read the Megilah - the story of Esther, niece of Mordechai who became queen of Persia and outsmarted the wicked Haman, the progeny of Amalek. So it's really a story about righting the wrongs of King Saul.

One of the Blues Brothers:

Queen Esther:

Reading the Megilah:

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Weekday Bar Mitzvah

Today was a special day in preparation for the upcoming holiday of Purim - Saturday night and Sunday - when we read the Megillah, which is the book of Esther. It's the story of the exiled Jews of Babylonia/Persia and their struggle against extermination at the hands of the evil Haman who was a descendent of the historical nemesis of the the biblical Jews, Amalek. More on that later.

A young lad was celebrating his thirteenth birthday today. That's the day on which a Jewish male assumes full responsibility for his integration into the community. It happens for girls at the age of twelve. No particular ritual or rite need be observed, it happens automatically. But the tradition for boys is that they put on tefillin for the first time, and they are also called to the Torah for the first time.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

2017 Womens Day

Demonstrations all over Manhattan today to protest all kinds of stuff. Including you know who .....

Monday, March 6, 2017

Baking Hamentashen

The festival of Purim is next weekend. Anything and everything about the holiday is explained here. Hamentashen are triangular cookies filled with sweet stuff - fruit preserves, marshmallows, chocolate, etc. And they're fun to bake.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


The weekly celebration of the Jewish sabbath that occurs on the seventh day of the week is bookended by rituals that mark the specialness of the day that is devoted to rest from physical work, detachment from the material world, and a deep immersion into the spiritual connection with G-d through prayer and reading the Torah. At the beginning of the day - which begins at sundown on Friday evening - the Shabbos candles are lit (a beautiful ritual that I've previously presented), special prayers called Kabbalat Shabbat, and of course a big meal to welcome the Sabbath 'Bride'. At the end of the day - one hour after sundown on Saturday -  a special set of prayers and multi sensory rituals are observed to wish the sabbath farewell until next week. There are many interpretations of the significance of each of the rituals.

Saying some biblical verses over a brimming cup of wine signifies a week overflowing with blessing.

The lighting of a braided candle. After Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the great light that had illuminated day and night faded away after the first Shabbat. G-d gave Adam the wisdom to create a flame from two stones, so during Havdalah a blessing is said to commemorate the giving of fire. It's customary to use a candle with braided wicks because the blessing mentions 'illuminations of fire'. Looking at the reflection of the candle in one's fingernails reminds us of the first time Adam and Eve used fire on the night following the first Shabbat of history.  In order to recite the blessing on the candle, it must be sufficiently bright to be able to benefit from its light. If we can use its light to distinguish between the fingernails and the flesh, we know that the light is sufficient. 

Smelling sweet spices (besamim) - usually cloves and/or myrtle. According to Kabbalah, of all the five senses, smell is the only one that impacts the soul, so to revive out souls which have been saddened by the departure of the Sabbath we smell the spices.

The final blessing over the wine is recited and the then drunk after which some of the wine is poured into a saucer. Then everyone will dip their pinkie into the spilled wine and brush their wine-stained fingers against their eyebrow to express their appreciation of the commandment and to brighten their eyes for the coming week.

Dousing the flame of the candle in wine from the saucer demonstrates that the candle was lit only for the purpose of the havdalah ritual.