Old Book Revisited


Don’t we all have books we like to revisit once in a while? Books that have inspired us, that we have enjoyed and read several times. They are sitting on our bookshelves ready to be picked up and enjoyed again. For me such book is How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg. I picked it up last night for reference and realised that I had never written about it on this blog.

How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household deals with religious observance from a Modern Orthodox point of view. Blu Greenberg explores the different mitzvot and how she and her family observe them. It falls into three parts. The first one is devoted to regular observance such as Shabbat, Kashrut and prayers. The second one examines the life cycle while the last one covers the Jewish year.

Don’t be put off by the title; How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household is certainly one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. I discovered it by chance via the Internet and have read it several times. It reads like a novel and is thought-provoking at the same time. Blu Greenberg’s approach is extremely sensitive and has none of the holier-than-thou tone of more recent right-wing Orthodox writings. This is a great book which encourages people to be more observant by showing that it is possible to incorporate meaningful practice into one’s life.

Blu Greenberg is the co-founder and first president of JOFA, The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and an outspoken woman on the position of women in Judaism.

How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household was first published in 1985 but has not aged one bit. Obviously it has become a treasured and authoritative reference as there now exists a Kindle version of this book.

A Practical Guide to the Laws of Kashrut


A Practical Guide to the Laws of Kashrut by Pinhas Cohen is a short and user-friendly guide which mainly deals with the technicalities of keeping kosher.

The book was written by Rabbi Pinchas Cohen, a faculty member at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shevut, Israel and is published by Koren Publishers in Jerusalem. His teachings are based on the classes he gave to foreign students at the Yeshiva.

A Practical Guide to the Laws of Kashrut is organised along clear topics:
– Meat and Milk
– Immersing Utensils
– How to Kasher a Kitchen
– Using Appliances in a Kosher Kitchen
– Insects in Food
– Gelatin
– Food of Non-Jews
– Glatt Kosher Meat
– Kashering Liver
– Kashrut of Eggs
– Separation of Challah
– Separation of Tithes

In addition there is a glossary at the end which provides definitions for most of the Hebrew terms used by the author. And footnotes are found at the bottom of each page for references and sources; a clever layout since notes at the end of a book often prove to be impractical.

The author provides guidelines that are both clear and comprehensive without ever getting wordy. When poskim differ, the author shares the various alternatives, including more lenient options when the latter are available within the boundaries of Halakhah. Moreoever he distinguishes between Sephardi and Ashkenazi minhagim when this is relevant.

The book does not deal with the very basics of kashrut but covers a range of questions that frequently arise in the home or to the modern traveller. Rabbi Pinchas Cohen also tackles more complex issues, some of which I know I’d find find useful to accommodate a more observant host.

A Practical Guide to the Laws of Kashrut by Rabbi Pinchas Cohen belongs to the Jewish bookshelf. This book is a perfect gift to the student who leaves home for the first time to go to college. It is also a very accessible guide for every day use or intelligible references.

Organ Donation


When a non-Jewish friend told me she carried a donor card a few years ago, I decided to investigate and see what Judaism had to say on the subject. Nowadays most Orthodox rabbis are in favor of organ donation while some have reservations or are totally against it. In this post, I have deliberately chosen to present arguments that support it.

In his excellent book, The Jewish Way in Deat and Mourning, Rabbi Maurice Lamm starts by discussing organ donation. The reason behind this is that his book follows a chronological order and organ donation is an issue that needs to be dealt with as soon as someone dies.

Rabbi Lamm notes that in the past forty years Jewish Law has adapted to the medical realities of our time. Most transplantations nowadays are successful and Jewish Law has had to reconsider organ donation in the light of recent progress. Yet it seems that a lot of Jews still believe that organ donation is forbidden by Jewish law.

This misconcetion derives from three prohibitions concerning corpses:
Desecrating a cadaver: Issur nivul hamet is a biblical prohibition that forbids the needless mutilation of a cadaver.
Delaying burial of a cadaver: Issur halanat hamet is a biblical prohibition that forbids delaying the burial of a cadaver.
Receiving benefit from a cadaver: Issur hana’at hamet5 is a biblical (some say rabbinic) prohibitionthat forbids deriving benefit from a cadaver.

Yet in Jewish Law, pikuach nefesh, saving a life, is of primary importance and overrides all other Halachic considerations except for murder, illicit sexual relations and idolatry.

This obligation is mainly based on the Torah verse “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:16). The Talmud reinforces this prohibition by turning it into an obligation: “Every individual, in so far as he is able, is obligated to restore the health of a fellow man no less than he is obligated to restore a property” (Sanhedrin 73a). Maimonides also underlines this obligation in Hilkhot Rotzeah u’Shmirat Nefesh: “Anyone who is able to save a life, but fails to do so, violates ‘You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor'”

Another major debate around organ donation concerns the definition of death. “An individual who has sustained either (1) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions, or(2) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain-stem, is dead.”

The second definition is important since for the purposes of life saving transplantation – oragns need to be recovered before the heart stops beating. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Rabbinical Council of America both accept brain stem death as halakhic death and support organ donation. In addition numerous poskim such as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik accept brain-stem death as death and therefore allow and encourage organ donation.

In A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 2: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin suggests that one who is ready to donate organs should complete and carry a donor card. He believes it is particularly important in the case of those who die a violent death and whose relatives might not be aware of their opinion concerning organ donation and will thus be relieved of having to make the decision in place of the deceased.

Halachic Organ Donor Society, a website. HODS’s aim is to purpose is to disseminate information regarding Halachic issues and Rabbinic opinions on organ donation.
Organ Donation and Halacha, an educational pamphlet by the Halachic Organ Donor Society
Done with Brain Death by Robby Berman, founder and director of the Halakhic Organ Donor Society
The Jewish Way in Deat and Mourning by Rabbi Maurice Lamm
A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 2: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Differing views:
The Deceased the Family and Organ Donation
New Thoughts on the Brain Death Controversy

Special thanks to Larry Lennhoff who provided the last two links.

Daily Jewish Law


Daily Jewish Law is a website. This is what its author has to say about it:
“I have been sending out daily Jewish Law emails since 1997. I created this blog to provide an archive for, and a forum for discussion of, these emails.
All points of view are welcome in this forum, if expressed civilly (as defined by my ear, since this is my blog). However, this is not a place for publicizing personal manifestos; feel free to start your own blog for those.”

At the moment, the Rebbetzin’s Husband, is discussing the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz and the three weeks of mourning. I have posted a question and his website but maybe someone out here can anwer it.

I observe most fasts, even the minor ones, but must admit that I always dread the summer ones as they are long and the weather might be hot. Another problem I have is caffeine addiction. I drink a lot of coffee and my system hates it when I stop. Therefore I usually get up before the fast, drink two or three cups, eat a bit, go back to bed and hope for the best concerning the rest of the day.

Are there any laws concerning fasting and long driving? I have to drive next Sunday and there is unfortunately no better date for this trip. It is no holiday trip as we are going to see and pick up an old sick lady who is spending a few days in her house before going back to her nursing home.

When School Rules Meet Halakhah


We had a school meeting yesterday about next year which gathered all the teachers in my school (about 120). We were divided into four commissions:
– school rules
– helping the freshmen (or secondes)
– helping the juniors (or premières)
– working in teams

We were supposed to have chosen before the meeting. I had hesitated between the first and fourth commisson but in the end chose to revise the school rules.

Unfortunately this was the largest one. I find that big numbers don’t encourage sharing; some will just hide behind the “crowd” while more reserved people will find it difficult to express their views. What’s more about half the people present had not read the draft making the rest of us wonder how they thought they would discuss something they hadn’t read.

So once everybody had acquired a copy, and read it, the discussion started. Understandably enough school rules are suposed to comply with French law. It makes sense; or so I thought. Yet quite a number of people got inflamed when they realized this or rather when they wanted to add things into the new set of rules and were told it was illegal. It was quite incredible to see those, otherwise law-abiding, folks trying to say that maybe it didn’t matter if our regulations were not quite in accordance with the law.

Let me take an example: in French law, a penalty is personal consequently two different people might commit the same offence and yet receive a different sentence. A maths colleague wanted to write in the regulations that somebody who did not bring in their books would be expelled from the lesson. When he was told we couldn’t do that because of the principle I’ve just mentioned, he over-reacted and said he would not utter another word. Likewise other people made similar suggestions and got the same answer. They got really passionate whenever it happened.

This led me to wonder if being Jewish made me see things differently. As Jews our lives are shaped by Halakhah ( (Jewish law) and this law regulates most (if not all) aspects of our lives. In Judaism there is a set way to do things and if we don’t do things that way we know we are breaching the law. There are sometimes alternatives- Halakhah allows a certain amount of flexibility – but in the end, the law is the law.

Thus carrying from the private domain (home) to the public domain (the street for instance) is forbidden during Shabbat; as a result we are forbidden to carry even our keys. Yet nowadays nobody can leave home and not lock the door or go without keys (with the notable exception of teenage boys who seem to be always forgetting their keys, but I’m digressing). Therefore people have devised Shabbat belts which allow us to hold our keys and leave the house while respecting the law against carrying on Shabbat.

I feel that thinking about what I do, and how I do it, on numerous ocasions during the day has given me a more accute perception of what is law and what isn’t. Nevertheless I wonder if it has to do with my being Jewish or if this is just a personal trait.