Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book Review: Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, and Hebrew

If I tell you that there's a book that is blowing my mind at every page turn, it means that you need to stop what you're doing, don't even read the rest of this post, and go out and buy the book. It's called Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, and Hebrew, and I got the book as a review copy, but I would happily pay a few hundred bucks for this book. Why?

Okay, if you insist.

I'm only about 50 pages into this book about lashon hakodesh -- "holy language," also known as classic or biblical Hebrew or the language of prayer in Judaism -- but I've already uncovered a few fascinating things that have me poised for discovery. These will (hopefully) work themselves into much longer blog posts or articles over on's Judaism page, but for now, let me blow your mind.


Did you know that there is an understanding of Aramaic as a language of mourning? You probably never thought about it, but ask yourself this: What language did Adam, the first human, speak? The rabbis toil over the topic, with my favorite theory being that Adam spoken lashon hakodesh in the Garden of Eden. After all lashon hakodesh was the language of G-d, right? What better language for Adam to speak? But what did he speak once he was booted from Gan Eden? Aramaic, evidently.

Lashon hakodesh became affiliated with the Land of Israel, with any use of Aramaic earning its user a negative outcome. Jacob, for example, agreed to a pact with Laban over an area that Jacob referred to in Hebrew but that Laban referred to in Aramaic. As a result, the rabbis say, Jacob was exiled to Egypt. Even Rachel suffered after she referred to her son in the Aramaic as Ben Oni (Jacob used the Hebrew, Binyamin or Benjamin), which earned her a swift death once she entered Israel. Yikes. Harsh! But thought-provoking, no?

I can't wait to explore this more. I have to hand it to Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein for the intense and through footnotes and diversity of sources he has to offer on this topic (and others throughout the book, of course). My brain sparks are flying off in dozens of directions with every page turn.

Tower of Babel and Language Dispersion

The great thing about this book is that it provides unique perspectives on otherwise mundane aspects of language. Yes, the Tower of Babel is far from mundane, but how much have you really considered the language dispersion following the whole episode?

Think about it: The text says,
And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
There are so many theories and discussions about this by the rabbis, you'd be amazed. The ultimate discussion surrounds whether there was really one language prior to the Tower of Babel or if there was one shared language. You see, there is a classic understanding in Judaism that there were 70 nations, based on Noah's descendants. The rabbis go into a textual, cultural, and archaeological  discussion of whether there could be 70 languages at that point in time depending on where the descendants were. 

The two theories main approaches I like from Rabbi Klein's book: 
  • The people of the world spoke 70 languages prior to the Tower of Babel and when G-d confuses the language, he makes everyone forget 69 of the 70 languages they once knew. 
  • The people of the world spoke two languages prior to the Tower of Babel: one external (lashon hakodesh) and one internal. After Babel, the external language was lost and the people of the world only spoke their internal language and thus couldn't communicate. 
The killer discussion on whether there was one main language prior to the incident (lashon hakodesh) and other languages were created post-Babel involves an argument about whether G-d could even create new languages and whether that "creation" was actually creation or just evolving an already created aspect of life. The argument is based on King Solomon's "There is nothing new under the sun" statement in Kohelet 1:9. Genius! I can't wait to give this another go-round in my brain cage. 

Ah! I love it! This stuff takes me back to graduate school. Rabbi Klein has created a book that feels, to me, to be a perfect balance between the religious and the historical, the secular and the holy, in a completely accessible manner. 

I haven't been this excited about a book in a long time, folks. I've gotten a lot of books and a lot of them get read and passed over. Trust me: This one is completely and totally worth your time.

Also? The cover is pretty. So go buy it already

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Kosher Casual Review: Getting Comfy in a Raglan Top

I've been watching Kosher Casual for many years as they grew and expanded, and I was elated when I actually got to go to their store in Bet Shemesh. 

Kosher Casual seems to be the only shell purveyor that has the crop-top, sleeveless shell with a high-enough neckline. I attempted to pick some up from, but, unfortunately, the neckline just drops and drops throughout the day. So I'm experienced with Kosher Casual's shells, but I haven't really ventured into their clothing line, mostly because of my, let's say, physique. 

It's no secret that I'm a bit on the curvy side, and a lot of modest clothing websites don't cater to anything close to my size. I rely on stores like Old Navy, Target, Ross, and TJ Maxx for tops, not to mention Lane Bryant (when I feel like going broke) and Lands End for skirts and other accoutrements.

When I was approached by the kind folks at Kosher Casual to pursue their new, sleek (no seriously, and it's not just because the homepage graphic features my purple IKEA couch) website and see if there's anything that fits the bill for review, I was hesitant. 

I immediately looked for a Plus Size section, then looked over the size charts. Nothing from the waist down was meant for me at Kosher Casual, which makes me sad. The amount of times I've gone into an Isreali skirt shop and struggled to find a skirt in my size (because the shop owners like to peg your size, and let's just say everyone thinks I'm smaller than I am) is depressing. Unfortunately, Kosher Casual still isn't on the plus-size skirt game, which has huge huge huge opportunity in Israel. 

I moved on to the tops, knowing that I can wear their shells, and opted for the Loose-Fitting Raglan Shirt with a 3/4-Length Sleeve in Dark Purple. Then poof the shirt showed up at my apartment and I have to say, I love it, with the exception of the seams. 

The shirt has a sort of baseball t-shirt look, and because it's all one color it means that it looks a little strange, meaning I wouldn't wear this purple shirt without something over it like a cardigan or jacket. Okay, now that I'm writing it and thinking about it, I'll probably wear this shirt without a cardigan in the dead of summer and it'll be super, crazy comfortable, not to mention airy. 

It's incredibly comfortable (am I wearing a shirt?), and the fabric is very forgiving. The color, too, is beautiful. I might just have to order every color, because the neck is the right amount of modest and the sleeves hit in the perfect spot and are not binding, either. 

Although there isn't much in the way of plus size fashion at Kosher Casual, they have some essentials that are simply perfect, and basics can go a very, very long way when it comes to modest fashion. The company is owned and managed by an American immigrant to Israel, Gary Swickley, and I can't say enough about a company that is committed to its production staying in Israel. When you can, support Israeli companies, people!

If you want to enjoy some of the casual and comfy fashion from Kosher Casual, enter their bi-monthly raffle to win a $50 Kosher Casual gift certificate! The next drawing will be on January 31, 2015. 

Note: I wanted to post pictures of myself in this shirt, and I will, but since we've both been sick all week, the shirt got used as a kleenex by my 1 year old. TMI? :)

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Na Nach Bumper Sticker: A Missed Connection

נַ נַחְ נַחְמָ נַחְמָן מְאוּמַן

A stop in to Trader Joe's today to pick up some veggies and fruit (the kid loves pomegranate seeds and cucumbers these days) left me feeling like I'd missed an opportunity. A Jewish opportunity.

As Ash and I got out to the car with our groceries, a well-coifed woman with white hair approached me as if out of nowhere, asking me what the bumper sticker on the back of my car meant.

I was stunned, because in all the time we've had that bumper sticker (that's really a sticker on a magnet, because, you know, resale value), I've never had anyone ask me what it meant. Likewise, in all the time it's been there, especially since Mr. T has been gone, I haven't thought much about it being there.

"Well," I stammered, "it's in Hebrew. It says ..." and I trailed off with the Hebrew, explaining that it's all about Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and that it's my husband's thing.

"He's the Lubavitcher, right?" she asked, as a scruffy man shuffled up beside her.

"Oh no," I responded. "This is Breslov, it's like Lubavitch because they're both Hasidic, but different."

"Oh I see," she said. "So what does it mean?"

I was a bit stunned again. I read the Hebrew off, but I forgot what it all meant. The flames in the classic "logo" of Rebbe Nachman spell out "Ha'Aish Sheli," or my fire (from the petek). I related that to her, but the conversation sort of ended there.

As they walked away, the scruffy man threw up his arms in frustration and shouted to the sky, "And I come from a line of Chasidim!"

It appeared to me that, here was a man who clearly had a history that he didn't understand and here was a woman (his wife?) who clearly had a curiosity. And my response to this man, in his expression of frustration or perplexity?

"It happens!" I said.

The woman wished me a Shabbat Shalom, they got in their old, white boat out of a 1970s cop drama and drove away.

The whole way home I considered how I could have handled the situation differently. Was it an attempt for someone to connect to Judaism through me? Was it an attempt to get me to connect to my own Judaism more deeply?

The fact that I couldn't easily explain the meaning of the Na Nach sticker on the back of my car probably points to an issue. It's always been Mr. T's thing, not mine. He reads Likutei Moharan, not me. He knows the petek inside and out, not me.

Was the missed connection for me or about me?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Grammar Break: The Apostrophe Rule and the First Annual Rule

Once upon a time my life was wholly devoted to copy editing. I spent four years on a copy desk in college at a Student Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, I interned with the prestigious Dow Jones News Fund at The Denver Post, and I interned and was hired on as a copy editor with The Washington Post (yes, that Washington Post).

Those were the days. The days when I thought I'd be a newspaper girl forever. Unfortunately, those days died with the reality of working from 4 p.m. to midnight while living in a 9-5 uber transient city (Washington D.C.). The two were a terrible match, and I left life as a professional copy editor for good.

These days, I'm mostly a writer. Last night I pumped out 1,000 words in two hours for a website focused solely on Super Bowl ads (I'll admit it was one of the easiest, most fun articles I've written to date). I've written about the Small Business Administration, the website-building platform Wix, Game of Thrones, and, of course, a boatload of articles over on

Now that I'm mostly in the marketing and content writing game, however, I'm realizing just how bad the world of copy editing and editing in general has become. The amount of silly errors I see in nicely printed materials makes me want to cry. So I've decided to do the world a bit of a favor and provide some fun, sharable graphics with basic grammar rules that are easy to pick up on and use, use, use until the phrase "well, everybody does it that way, so it's okay now" disappears from the atmosphere.

Here are two for today:

Share them, pin them, send them to your company or organization's marketing department or editing desk, and let's change the world — one apostrophe at a time!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Haveil Havalim: The Je Suis Juif Edition

It's still Sunday here in Denver, which means it's the wee hours of the morning in Israel, so I have to apologize to the individuals waiting to see this live on Sunday; it's still Sunday here, so that works, right?

When I mentioned on social media that I was hosting the newest installment of Haveil Havalim, the bulk of reactions from long-time friends and bloggers was a resounding, "Wait, that's still a thing?" Yes, yes it is. I'll admit I haven't hosted since January 2012, and back then I used to host fairly regularly. Back in the day, every Haveil Havalim installment was numbered, which was awesome because you knew where you stood. Three years ago when I hosted, we were on No. 343, so that'll give you some perspective.

What is Haveil Havalim, you ask?
Founded by Soccer Dad many years ago, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs — a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits, and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It’s hosted by different bloggers each week and used to be coordinated by Jack and is now coordinated on Facebook. The term "Haveil Havalim," which means “Vanity of Vanities,” is from Qoheleth, (Ecclesiastes) which was written by King Solomon. King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and later on got all bogged down in materialism and other "excesses" and realized that it was nothing but "hevel," or in English, "vanity."
If you want to participate or, better yet, host, visit the Facebook group, join, and stay up to date on where to send your weekly entries. If you have a Jewish/Judaism/Israel-related post from the past week that you love and think is worth sharing, feel free to post it in the comments. 

About half of these were sent in, and there were a few that were sent in that I didn't post for my own personal reasons. The other half I found on my own because, darn't, Haveil Havalim used to have diversity, substance, and quality posts from across the blogosphere!

Judaism/Torah/Halacha (Jewish Law)

Ben-zion offers a most poignant (for me anyway) tidbit on the importance and power of persistence. I highly suggest you read this one, folks. 

I posted a week ago about the laws and leniences when it comes to carrying on Shabbat, mostly for the mommies out there. 

I really loved "How Orthodox Judaism's Laws of Modesty Gave Me a Sense of Style" on Vogue by Michelle Honig. Not only did it provide a vehicle for education about modesty within Orthodox Judaism, but it was super, super tasteful, concise, and well-written. 

The Rebbetzin's Husband shares some topics and questions on Treating Diabetes on Shabbat. Here's hoping there's a followup with the answers to those questions!

From Divrei Chaim, an interesting blueprint for geulah (redemption) based on the past week's Torah portion (Shemot). 

From Beyond Yeshiva comes what I'll call a PSA for life in Israel in Growing in Eretz Yisroel

The question "Why Orthodoxy?" is at the front of Life in the Married Lane's author in her most recent post. 


Batya offers a concise, personal review of Akiva Teddy MacLeod's Welcome Home: My First Six Months Living in Israel, as well as a peek into her cold weather prep

Speaking of cold weather, Miriam asks (and then answers) what one should do on a chilly day in Israel (lucky you, it involves food). It's All From HaShem also ponders the cold weather, acknowledging that, ultimately, it's all up to HaShem (as her blog title suggests!). Meanwhile, over at Our Shiputzim, the impending cold weather inspired a post-Chanukah post

Over at Adventures in Aliyahland, you might be surprised to discover Israel's best kept secret (and no, it's not a falafel stand). 

You can read a Tale of Two Arab Women, Anett Haskia versus Hanin Zoabi over at Shiloh Musings.

This post is dedicated to the memory of these four men who all dreamed of a life in Israel in one form or another. They all died in France in a senseless act of blatant Jew hatred. 

Like all parents, I'm sure, I'm terrified of the world my child will grow up in. However, it is mostly because he is a Jew and Israeli. He will grow up irrationally hated by other children who grew up with an education based on lies, murder, and hatred. He will grow up in a world that wants him dead at all costs.

On the other hand, maybe something will change. Maybe the world will wake up. Maybe he will grow up in a world that sees the merits of his humanity. Maybe.

NOTE: Send posts for next week's Haveil Havalim to

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Woe is Me! Carrying Asher on Shabbat

A few weeks ago the eruv was down and I was in a panic. I contacted the local rabbi to ask if there were any leniences about carrying Asher to synagogue, especially considering I live so, so, obnoxiously close to the synagogue. Hold on. I'm getting ahead of myself here, right?

Lowdy, Lowdy, that is a huge eruv!

You see, the eruv in plainest terms is a "boundary" that is set up to allow Jews to carry from the private to the public domain on Shabbat. Yes, "carrying" is one of the 39 forbidden melachot, or types of work, on Shabbat. Jews are forbidden from carrying from a private domain (like the home) into the public domain (outside, for example) or more than 6 feet (that's four amot) while in that public domain.

So, for example, if there's no eruv set up, I can't leave my apartment complex carrying a bottle of wine or a bag or even a Kleenex. Nothing, nada, zip.

For men, the essential items for Shabbat like the tallit (prayer shawl) are easily worn to synagogue from the home, so there's no need for concern there. But when it comes to women and children, without an eruv you're basically stuck at home until your children can walk the distance to synagogue on their own and don't require a sippy cup or anything that can't be "worn." Ugh.

The truth is, carrying in the public domain wasn't a problem for much of history because Jewish communities lived in small, tight-knit communities that were walled, making the entire area "private."

In the genius of the Jewish people, the eruv was created to allow for carrying in the public domain. The modern eruv, then, uses wires that typically hang from light poles and the like around a Jewish neighborhood to create a large private domain. Yes, it feels like a loop hole and a bit of a cheat, and this is probably why quite a few Jewish communities simply don't use or accept the concept of an eruv (think: the Lower East Side of NYC).

Okay, now that all of that is out of the way, back to the issue.

It snowed, so part of the eruv got knocked down and it couldn't be fixed because of the weather, so Asher and I stayed indoors because the rabbi's solution was to find a non-Jew to push the stroller (and I don't know any non-Jews in these parts).

So I got to thinking. I chatted with some other parents and we were all trying to figure out what the actual issue is, especially in light of the concept of "Chai Noseh Es Atzmo" -- a living being carries itself. According to the Tosefot, at the time of the building of the Mishkan, from where we get the 39 melachot, this wasn't even an issue (a person carrying another person), so technically it doesn't fall in the category of carrying as a prohibition.

However, as it turns out, the principle of "Chai Noseh Es Atzmo" is only applicable when the person is able to walk on his own, so it doesn't apply to an individual who can't "carry" himself or herself. Thus you can't carry a child (or drag a child who refuses to walk) who is not able to carry himself, lest you violate the rabbinic prohibition of carrying. On that note, it must be noted that this isn't a biblical prohibition.

To that end, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein suggested that carrying a living organism (like a baby) is only prohibited when it is evident that the "item" had been transported. Since people see Asher walking, I suppose no one would assume he was carried to synagogue on Shabbat if the eruv was down, right?

Unfortunately, Mishnah Berurah and the greater Jewish world hold very simply that carrying a child on Shabbat is prohibited. No conversation about it. So what to do?

A child who is capable of taking steps can be walked, even if you have to assist the child in doing so. It also would seem that if you're in a rural or suburban area and the child falls and refuses to get up and walk, you are allowed to carry the child home. If you're in a big city, however, you don't get off so easy and you have to figure out a creative way to get the child home or let him cry it out on the sidewalk until a non-Jew comes by.

There does seem to be a leniency when it comes to carrying for 6 feet, however. By this account, I would think that I could theoretically carry Asher for 6 feet, put him down and let him walk a bit until he falls, carry him another 6 feet, and so on. Right?

Anyhow, luckily this week the eruv got put back up before Shabbat, saving us from imminent doom of being inside for a full 25 hours alone. Together. Head explosion! At least he's cute, right? (Insert smiley here.)

How do you handle life without an eruv? I'd love to hear any and all rants about the concept of the eruv from everyone -- Jewish or not. What do you think about it? .