The Jewish Flame – Free Torah Classes

The Jewish Flame, a Jewish education organization, will be holding its annual Summer IThe Jewish Flame, a Jewish education organization, will be holding its annual Summer Institute again this year. Four nights a week in Manhattan, you can learn any aspect of Judaism that interests you. Whether you’d like to learn Bible, Midrash, Jewish Wisdom or Jewish Philosophy, there will be a class just right for you. The teachers will be the best the Flame has to offer.

And… the classes are free!

Classes are held at Congregation Adereth El, 135 E. 29th Street near Lexington Ave in Manhattan. This year nine different classes are offered, each meeting for one hour per week. The classes take place Mondays thru Thursday evenings, through Aug. 4. For a complete brochure or for more information, visit or call (718) 268-2448.

Classes are geared for non-observant Jews and recent BTs.

Class descriptions:


Why is King David a hero even though he seemingly committed murder and adultery? Which creation story in Genesis actually happened? If Esau was a forgiving guy, then why do the rabbis hate him? The course will examine these and other stories, and enable you to better understand and appreciate the Bible and its messages.


What is the purpose of life?  Why are we here, anyway? Isn’t it good enough to be a good person?  Let’s explore these questions and issues together.  Hard questions deserve real answers.  Come join us for a meaningful experience and discussion.

THE MIDRASH Tuesdays at 6 PM

This class will concentrate on selected topics in Jewish tradition, such as Marriage, Atonement, Fate and Free Will, Superstition, Medicine, and Dreams, by focusing on Rabbinic lore and legend as found in the Talmud and various Midrashic works. The class will also include discussion of the textual foundations of Midrash.


Understanding the great issues of Jewish Philosophy, such as free will, existence of evil, and existentialism, as discussed by the greatest personalities in Jewish thought: Saadiah Gaon, Yehuda HaLevi, Maimonides, Luzzato, Rav Kook, and more.


No marriages and failing marriages are problems that beset contemporary Judaism. This course will explore how to find the right person and techniques based on traditional Jewish sources for making your marriage or relationship being one of the few that last so that you can live happily ever after.


Once you learn a proven method for HOW to study the Torah, you can start to really understand it and see why it has sustained our people for thousands of years. Our focus will be to provide skills for analysis so that you can feel comfortable with the text. This method will work regardless of your background.


This course will supply you with the secret tools that will change your life. If you are growth-oriented and looking for a wedge to help you prayers get answered, come join us. Five meaningful, eye opening sessions for those desiring a long happy life.


JEWISH WISDOM Thursdays at 6 PM

A survey of the ethical, personal, spiritual and practical thought from the great Jewish sages and Jewish works over the centuries. The class will discuss how great Jewish writings have imbued the world with the answers to the ethical dilemmas that we regularly

TORAH BY THE WEEK Thursdays at 7 PM

Study the more controversial sections of the weekly Torah portion, emphasizing the ethical and moral aspects of Judaism. The class will focus on topics such as: “Is G-d too strict with Jews”, “Why is there anti-semitism?”, “Why are some people evil?”, “Is vengeance permissible?”, “What is a miracle?”, “What land is really part of Israel” and many more subjects from the book of Numbers.

Hemmed In

We train ourselves to respond to limitations on our actions — especially those of us who had once been accustomed to not having such limitations — by intoning that these limitations are what help us grow. This sense of loss over participating in something, eating something or being somewhere you might otherwise been if not for that seminar, that bit of challah, or whatever it was that got you here is, we say, the very fertilizer of spiritual growth.

I’m fine with that. It works for me. I’ve said it many times, written about it many times here, and I believe it.

Does that mean I have to like it?

I don’t think so. Even if I know it’s “good for me,” it’s okay to admit that I feel the loss. Not just okay because, yes, it is the realization of that pain that makes the teshuvah happen, if you must. But also it’s okay to admit, hey, I feel badly about this. I feel left out. I used to like doing that. I always wanted to do that.

Denying this feeling, or forcing it into some construct that fits one’s “revised” worldview without acknowledging what it really is, is a bad idea.

Now, there are parts of my inner workings that have completely transformed over a quarter century of mitzvah observance. In certain areas, my preferences, sensibilities and desires have actually changed. You would hope so, wouldn’t you?

But some things you never stop missing. I am not referring to sensual experiences, but things I have written about in the past here: dining out, college reunions, singing in a choir. Have I beaten the corpse of this horse enough already?

Maybe, but I am trying to focus here just on this point: I decided, and not so long ago, not to feel guilty about missing these experiences. And not to feel guilty for not exulting in the pain of missing them either. Well, okay, I probably should feel guilty for the occasional bout of self-righteousness over the whole thing, but that’s a post for another day. (Mussar [ethical considerations] complicates everything.)

I am who I am. I don’t mean that in the excuse sense of the cliche, which some of us employ to avoid doing something we know we ought to do to improve ourselves. Rather, I mean that whatever I am today, for better or for worse, is the sum total of 48 years (who’s counting?) of being me, in a number of modes.

At this point, I don’t see any benefit in trying to fool myself about what I feel and think, or to regret not having the appropriate “growth” response to feelings of loss and pain. Denying a voice to my interior life had been a source of stress and conflict, which did not make the challenge of doing the right thing despite what I feel easier or healthier. It’s there, it’s me, and I’m still going to do the right thing. That’s just the way things go when you make choices that have meaning. This isn’t necessarily a BT thing.

It’s an adulthood thing.

William Kolbrener Talks About Open Minded Torah

As you may know, Beyond BT contributor William Kolbrener earned an MA from Oxford and PhD from Columbia University and is currently a professor in the Department of English at Bar Ilan University in Israel. William is an internationally renowned authority on Renaissance poetry and philosophy, with books on John Milton and the proto-feminist Mary Astell. He has recently written a book Open Minded Torah: Of Irony, Fundamentalism and Love.

In a recent interview with Jeffery Goldberg (JG) of the Atlantic, William (WK) discusses his approach to becoming observant.

JG: Here’s a kind of rude question: Do you know what you’re missing? And the natural follow-up — do you think I know what I’m missing, by not embracing the lifestyle that you have embraced?

WK: When I was a graduate student in the English Department at Columbia, after not showing up one Friday at the West End Bar, and soon after being seen in the corridors of Philosophy Hall with a kippa, I heard whispers, suggestions that somehow overnight, I had turned into a fundamentalist or fanatic. Not just that, I was taking on unimaginable and unnecessary restraints, avoiding the more urgent demands of the creative, autonomous and independent self. Friends who wondered at my sudden absence from Friday night rounds and subsequent refusals of invitations for sushi (back in the eighties kosher sushi was scarce) might have quoted Freud: ‘Religion is the obsessional neurosis of humanity.’ The Jews, for Freud, who in this regard were worst of all, act out their own dramas of self-deprivation through ever more ‘strict observance,’ and avoidance of pleasure. My friends certainly thought – as many others after him – that I was ‘missing out,’ and not only on sushi or beers on Friday night.

But while some contemporary Jews look at the strictures of Jewish tradition as limiting, Open Minded Torah is about finding pleasure in relationships, and different, authentic and creative voices in the framework of both age-old traditions and contemporary communities. In the Western philosophical traditions that I teach, starting with Plato, objectivity and distance are often celebrated. In the Jewish tradition, it’s not disengaged neutrality (vulgarized distilled today in a culture of ‘whatever’), but relationship which is central. A teacher in the Talmud is not one who stands outside, like a contemporary academic in an Ivory Tower, but one who literally connects, not only people to God, but communities, people to people. So what from one perspective may look like constraint or restriction, from another is engaged connectedness, with the risks and opportunities it affords. The Jewish tradition says that for every Jew there is a corresponding letter in the Torah. Open Minded Torah shows how connecting to one’s letter and what a psychologist calls the ‘True Self’ are – even for us in the twenty-first century – related, both of them acts of love, offering different kinds of pleasure.

JG: And the follow-up — do you think I know what I’m missing?

WK: My book is not about advocating a lifestyle, but cultivating a voice (my own), and in the process perhaps helping others to cultivate their own. Judaism, like psychoanalysis, emphasizes the primacy of the psyche, self, or soul. I cannot — no one honestly can — speculate on what others are ‘missing': to dwell on that question is a sign of avoiding the one more urgent to me: what am I missing? Those who do not ask that question – whether they are wearing red bandannas or large black skull-caps – and frantically asserting that they have already reached their goals, provide, with their ‘certainty,’ a cover story for self-doubts about facing the demands of an unknown future.

When an old high school friend heard of my new Jewish observance, he commented that I was taking the easy way out, relying upon the ‘crutch’ of religion. But for me the Jewish tradition does not provide answers, but unexpected resources to help refine the questions I ask. The sages of the Talmud assert, the premature proclamation of having arrived at a truth is a form of stagnation or death. Only acknowledging lack and imperfection – again what I am missing – permits the possibility of further discovery. In my book, the Jewish tradition provides a framework for such discovery, an impetus for striving, the means through which deepening connections to the past possibilities for new futures emerge.

The Power of Kindness

The little acts of kindness that we do every day can have life-changing impacts on people. Jay Cantor is proof. The common interactions he had with religious Jews helped him to understand the eternal relevance of Judaism and to overcome the lifelong stereotypes he had possessed.

Jay lived in Manhattan and worked in sales. He had grown up in a non-observant home, and had reached a point in his life that he felt that something important was missing but could not identify it. Two of his close friends, neither Jewish, had gone through emotional challenges and had found spiritual support from their religious beliefs. Jay longed for something similar.

“I felt burned out in my life. I’ve always been very curious, sensitive and operated from the heart. I felt like things just weren’t put together,” Jay said.

Jay worked in a real estate office with 50 other salespeople. He had been a salesman for his whole life, but felt like he was stuck in a rut.

At the end of each month the company announced the name of the most successful salesperson. Nearly every month it was the same person, an unassuming, serious man. The man always wore a dark suit and a baseball cap, but other than that he didn’t stick out at all.

Jay hoped that he might be able to glean some wisdom from the successful salesman. One day he approached him and asked for advice.

In the conversation Jay found out that the man, Sammy Rappaport*, was a religious Jew. Sammy was eager to speak with him, but the conversation took a direction that Jay could have never predicted.

“I said to him, ‘I want to know your secret.’ [Sammy] spoke to me but didn’t speak one word of business,” Jay said. “He just listened to everything I was saying about my life. He figured out that I was single and Jewish and needed some direction. He started tossing things out to me, giving me ideas for my life.”

Jay found out later that Sammy’s suggestions were based on Mishlei, Pirke Avos and other Jewish sources. At first Jay doubted that Judaism could hold the answers to his challenges.

“I thought, ‘what will this Orthodox Jew, living in some shtetl, know about my life?’” Jay said.

Jay’s mind was filled with age-old stereotypes about religious Jews and he assumed they all applied to Sammy. But as he listened to Sammy in the first conversation and subsequent discussions, he slowly began to see the wisdom that Sammy possessed.

“This guy was pulling ideas from a thousand years ago, of people that experienced the same things I was experiencing. He could pull these stories and apply them to my life. I said there’s some real wisdom here.”

Jay and Sammy began meeting everyday, sometimes for just a few minutes, other times over lunch. Sammy continued to give him additional practical ideas for life.

One day at work Sammy asked Jay if he would be interested in putting on Tefillin. Jay had never done so and jumped at the chance. The two men headed for a nearby fire exit and Sammy taught him how to wear them.

That one experience turned into a daily practice. Jay and Sammy would rendezvous for a few minutes each day on the fire escape so Jay could put on tefillin. Sammy also began teaching him the tefilos during their outdoor meetings.

Sammy connected Jay with several local outreach organizations. At Aish NY he met Rabbi Avraham Goldhar, the organization’s educational director. Jay was immediately impressed with him. Rabbi Goldhar also disproved Jay’s misconceptions of Orthodox rabbis – he was young, clean-shaven and approachable.

A few months later Jay attended another Aish event. The room was packed but Jay spied Rabbi Goldhar across the room. Rabbi Goldhar’s reaction upon seeing Jay amazed him.

“I thought he sees hundreds of people a day. I thought he wouldn’t remember me, or would just nod at me and walk right past me to his office,” Jay said. “But he came up to me. He didn’t just say, ‘what’s your name?’ or ‘Jay, where have you been?’ But he said ‘Jay Cantor, how have you been?’ At that moment I said, “wow, these people are real.”

Jay then attended a weeklong Aish learning program in Israel. He was inspired by the classes and trips, but was even more inspired by the average frum Jews he met. Everyone showed a sincere concern for him just because he was a fellow Jew.

Following the trip Jay went back to America, packed up his life, and then returned to Israel for another two and a half years of learning. He became fully observant during his time in Israel. He then returned to America, got married and went back to school to become a social worker. He’s now living in Passaic, New Jersey.

Jay’s journey was launched and guided by the average religious Jews he met in his life. He’s now trying to give other Jews the same opportunity, from hosting non-observant friends for Shabbat to sharing Torah thoughts via email with family and friends.

“The idea of Jews being a light to the world is that we’re supposed to do what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to be ourselves, and that will then give off a light,” Jay said.

The frum Jews that inspired Jay showed a true concern for him. He’s now returning the favor by showering other people with true Jewish love.

Originally published in The Jewish Press in November 2010

Michael Gros is the former Chief Operating Officer of the outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars Kollel. He writes from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. To read more articles and sign up to receive them via email, visit

* Not his real name

Ideas to Help Acceptance of the Oral Tradition

The Ramchal in his “Essay on Fundamentals” says that G-d did not desire to write the Torah so clearly that it would not need any explanation. Quite to the contrary, He wrote in it many undefined concepts, so no man could possibly know its true meaning without being given an explanation. This explanation must come from a tradition emanating from G-d Himself, Who is the Author of the Torah.

Ramchal mentions there are three ways in which the Written Torah is modified by the Oral Tradition
– Concepts which are mentioned in a general manner, but whose details are explained in the Oral Tradition
– Concepts which are fully explained in the Written Torah, but can be interpreted in different ways
– Where the words in the written Torah have one meaning, while the Oral Tradition explains it in a very different manner

When teaching beginners Torah, it is sometimes hard to convince them about the importance of the Oral Torah’s centrality in understanding the written Torah. They need to be taught that you can’t understand individual Posukim without an explanation.

What challenges did you need to overcome to accept the Oral Tradition as the ultimate source of explanation?

How would you help others come to that understanding?

Guide to Buying Tzitzit

At the end of last week’s Parsha the Torah instructs us to wear tzitzit “in order to remember and fulfill all of [the] mitzvahs” (Bamidbar 15:40). To explain the mitzvah, the Midrash brings an analogy of a ship passenger who fell into the water. The captain throws him a line, shouting, “Hold onto the rope and don’t let go, otherwise your life is finished!”

The following tzitzit primer was sent to us courtesy of Ben Slobodkin, owner of Ben’s Tallit Shop.


Tzitzit is considered a special, cherished mitzvah, because it helps us cleave to all of the other mitzvahs. Since we are enjoined to perform mitzvahs in an aesthetically pleasing manner – zeh Keli ve’anveiHu – wearing a nice tallit katan is commendable.

Wool or Cotton

According to the Shulchan Aruch, fabrics besides wool require tzitzits only according to Rabbinical Law, but the Rema rules that cotton and other fabrics must have tzitzits min haTorah (O.C. 9,1). Therefore Sephardim are usually stringent while Ashkenazim are often lenient. The Mishna Berura and the Pele Yoetz both state that even for Ashkenazim wool is preferable, whereas the Vilna Gaon and the Chazon Ish zt”l were known to wear cotton and Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l held that during the hot summer months, even according to Ashkenazim one can wear a tallit katan made of cotton if he finds wool uncomfortable.

Wool is more expensive than cotton, but it is also more durable and offers a number of other advantages. From my experience, wool tallit katan garments are generally of high quality, whereas cotton can be quite flimsy. If you go with cotton, make sure the eyelets are reinforced, otherwise the fabric will tear easily if the tzitzits get tugged for whatever reason. Tallit katan garments are sometimes made from a thicker, sturdy cotton fabric and feature high quality stitching, but this type is hard to find.

Strings and Knots

If you buy a tallit katan with the tzitzits already tied, look them over if possible. The quality of the knots can vary tremendously. I’ve seen factory tied tzitzits that were not even fully tied.

Tzitzits strings must be made leshem tzitzits (i.e. with intention to fulfill the mitzvah). The question is from what point in the production process this is required. The prevalent opinion is from the spinning stage. Whether machine-spun tzitzits can be made leshem tzitzits is questionable, therefore I strongly recommend buying hand-spun tzitzits, particularly since the difference in cost is relatively small (about $5). Sometimes you will come across tzitzits strings that are reinforced at the tips, which can preclude the need for dabbing glue or making little knots on the ends.

If you want the best tzitzits money can buy, look for niputz lishmah, which are made leshem mitzvah starting from the carding stage. According to the Rema, the custom is to be lenient, whereas the Mishna Berara notes that the Maharal of Prague and the Prisha held it’s best to be stringent in this regard. Expect to pay three times the cost of regular hand-spun tzitzit strings.

Here in Israel the Eida Chareidit of Jerusalem recently started insisting that tzitzits strings made under their supervision be made leshem mitzvah starting from the “lashonot” stage, which comes just before spinning. These tzitzits are known as “lashonot hatzemer” and are only slightly more expensive than other hand-spun tzitzits.

If you can’t afford to spend any money on tzitzits, there are still hiddurim available to you. First of all, you can make a point of tying the tzitzits yourself, since Chazal tell us doing a mitzvah yourself is better than having someone do it for you. There are also side benefits to be gained from DIY tzitzits tying: you will become more familiar with the mechanics behind the mitzvah and won’t be hapless if you ever face broken tzitzits strings.

Size Requirement

Another hiddur is to make a point of wearing a size and design that meets the minimum size requirements according to all opinions. How big does a tallit katan have to be? Both the height and the width must be 50 cm according to Rav Chaim Na’eh, 55 cm according to Rav Moshe Feinstein and 60 cm according to the Chazon Ish. Whether you measure from the bottom of the slit in front or from the neckline is subject to some debate, but the widespread custom is to be lenient. If you prefer to be stringent, try to find a tallit katan with a round neck or sew it closed before you tie on the tzitzits.

Ben Slobodkin grew up in Los Angeles, has a bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Cruz and is an alumnus of Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim. He owns and operates Ben’s Tallit Shop, an Israel-based tallit and tzitzit webstore.

Pirkei Avos Week 2

This week is the second Perek for Pirkei Avos. Here is the link for an English Translation of all six Perakim culled from Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld’s translation and commentary at The full text of Pirkei Avos in Hebrew can be found here. also has some of the Maharal’s commentary for Pirkei Avos and you can purchase the Art Scroll adaptation of the Maharal’s commentary here.

Here is Chapter 2 of Pirkei Avos

1. “Rabbi said, What is the proper path that one should choose for himself? Whatever is glorious / praiseworthy for himself, and honors him before others. Be careful with a minor mitzvah (commandment) like a severe one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvos. Consider the loss incurred for performing a mitzvah compared to its reward, and the pleasure received for sinning compared to the punishment. Consider three things and you will not come to sin. Know what is above you – an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your deeds are written in a book.”
2. “Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehuda the Prince said, Torah study is good with a worldly occupation, because the exertion put into both of them makes one forget sin. All Torah without work will in the end result in waste and will cause sinfulness. All who work for the community should work for the sake of Heaven, for the merit of the community’s forefathers will help them, and their righteousness endures forever. And as for you, God will reward you greatly as if you accomplished it on your own.”
3. “Be careful with authorities, for they do not befriend a person except for their own sake. They appear as friends when they benefit from it, but they do not stand by a person in his time of need.”
4. “He used to say, make His will your will, so that He will make your will His will. Annul your will before His will, so that He will annul the will of others before your will.”
5. “Hillel said, do not separate from the community, do not trust yourself until the day you die, do not judge your friend until you reach his place, do not make a statement which cannot be understood which will (only) later be understood, and do not say when I have free time I will learn, lest you do not have free time.”
6. “He (Hillel) used to say, a boor cannot fear sin, nor can an unlearned person be pious. A bashful person cannot learn, nor can an impatient one teach. Those who are involved excessively in business will not become a scholar. In a place where there are no men, endeavor to be a man.”
7. “He (Hillel) also saw a skull floating on the water. He said to it: ‘Because you drowned you were drowned, and in the end those who drowned you will be drowned.'”
8. “He (Hillel) used to say, the more flesh the more worms, the more property the more worry, the more wives the more witchcraft, the more maidservants the more lewdness, the more slaves the more thievery. The more Torah the more life, the more study the more wisdom, the more advice the more understanding, the more charity the more peace. One who acquires a good name acquires it for himself; one who acquires words of Torah acquires a share in the World to Come.”
9. “Rabban Yochanan ben (the son of) Zakkai received [the transmission] from Hillel and Shammai. He used to say, if you have studied much Torah do not take credit for yourself because you were created for this.”
10. “Rabban Yochanan ben (the son of) Zakkai had five [primary] students. They were: Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, Rabbi Yossi the Priest, Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach.”
11. “He (Rabban Yochanan ben (son of) Zakkai) used to list their praises (the praises of his five primary students). Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos is a cemented pit which never loses a drop; Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya fortunate is she who bore him; Rabbi Yossi the Priest is pious; Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel fears sin; and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach is as an increasing river.”
12. “He used to say, if all the sages of Israel would be on one side of a scale and Eliezer ben Hurkenos on the second side, he would outweigh them all. Abba Shaul said in his name, if all the Sages of Israel would be on one side of a scale with even Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos among them, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach on the second side, he would outweigh them all.”
13. “He (Rabban Yochanan) said to them (his students) go out and see which is a good way to which someone should cleave. Rabbi Eliezer said a good eye; Rabbi Yehoshua said a good friend; Rabbi Yossi said a good neighbor; Rabbi Shimon said one who considers consequences. Rabbi Elazar said a good heart. He said to them, I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach over your words, for included in his words are your words.”
14. “He (Rabban Yochanan) said to them (his students) go out and see which is a bad way which a person should avoid. Rabbi Eliezer said a bad eye. Rabbi Yehoshua said a bad friend. Rabbi Yossi said a bad neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said one who borrows and does not pay back. One who borrows from a person is as one who borrows from G-d, as it says, “A wicked person borrows and does not repay, but the Righteous One is gracious and gives” (Psalms 37:21). Rabbi Elazar said a bad heart. He said to them, I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach over your words, for included in his words are your words.”
15. “They (the five students of Rabban Yochanan – see above Mishna 10) each said three things. Rabbi Eliezer said: The honor of your fellow should be as dear to you as your own. Do not get angry easily. Repent one day before you die. Warm yourself before the fire of the Sages. But be wary with their coals that you do not get burnt, for their bite is the bite of a fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss of a serpent, and all their words are like fiery coals.”
16. “Rabbi Yehoshua said, an evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred of another person remove a person from this world.”
17. “Rabbi Yossi said, let your fellow’s property be as dear to you as your own, prepare yourself to study Torah because it is not an inheritance to you, and all of your deeds should be for the sake of heaven.”
18. “Rabbi Shimon said, be careful in reading the Shema and the prayers. When you pray, do not regard your prayers as a fixed obligation, rather they should be [the asking for] mercy and supplication before G-d, as the verse says, “For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, great in kindness, and relenting of the evil decree” (Joel 2:13). Do not consider yourself a wicked person.”
19. “Rabbi Elazar said, be diligent in the study of Torah. Know what to answer a heretic. Know before Whom you toil. And faithful is your Employer that He will pay you the reward for your labor.”
20. “Rabbi Tarfon said, the day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master of the house presses.”
21. “He (Rabbi Tarfon) used to say, it is not upon you to complete the task, but you are not free to idle from it. If you have learned much Torah, you will be given much reward, and faithful is your Employer that He will reward you for your labor. And know that the reward of the righteous will be given in the World to Come.”

What to Do on a Long Shabbos Afternoon?


I would like to just post a simple question to pose to the BT blogosphere:

What is a young, single BT girl to do on a long Shabbos afternoon?

I live in a small, heimish Jewish community where most girls are either married, or single and living with family.

There is usually about one class held per week, but afterwards I’m left without anything to do. Shall I start a chavrusa?

I feel bad bothering families and hanging out until Shabbos is over, so I need something to do rather than being an uninvited guest in some peoples’ homes when they would rather be napping on Shabbos afternoon. I do like taking their kids to the park while the parents nap.

I cannot sit in my apartment all day and do nothing!

Your ideas, please.


Devorah K. =)

Speaking to Your Kids About Personal Safety – mp3 and article

Here is the audio file of Rabbi Horowitz talk on “Speaking to Your Kids About Personal Safety” in Queens last night.

The practical tips are from the article below from Rabbi Horowitz’ website.

In the broadest sense, I think that the time for fathers and mothers to begin protecting their beloved children from sexual abuse is the moment that they walk down from the chuppah and begin their married life together.

Think of it this way. Children who are raised in homes that are havens of safety, love, mutual respect and tolerance are far more likely to immediately notice when they are treated in an abusive manner. Emotionally healthy, self-confident children who appreciate their sacred right to privacy (click here) and personal space are far more likely to hear the warning bells blaring whenever that space is invaded. Children who grow up with the notion that they can be comfortable discussing anything – ANYTHING – with their (click here) parents will, in all likelihood, inform their parents the very moment that something is amiss.

Conversely, children who are bullied into submission by their own parents or those who regularly view one parent being cowed into silence by the other may think that abusive behavior is quite normal. Children who are denied their personal space or whose individuality is crushed or suppressed by their parents may not think much is amiss when outsiders do the same to them. In fact, most predators have a ‘sixth sense’ of which children have grown up in these trying conditions – and zoom in on them like a moth drawn to light.

Let’s face it. Foolproof protection is impossible. You cannot follow your children wherever they go, nor should you raise them to be frightened or suspicious of every adult that they will meet. Moreover, as I noted last week, even though the high-profile abuse cases are school based, they are only a tiny percentage of the instances of molestation. Abusers are far more likely to be extended and close family members, older kids in the neighborhood, family friends, neighbors and peers.

Therefore, the most effective things that parents can do is to keep their children safe are to model healthy interactions between adults (that’s you) and children, and to empower them to speak up if they feel threatened or uncomfortable.

Here are some practical tips:

– Encourage your children to share the events of their day with you when they arrive home each day. Spend time with them, make eye contact, and listen – really listen – to what they have to say.

– Tell your children – early and often – that they can discuss anything with you, no matter how disturbing or uncomfortable those things are. Be aware that this means that you must develop true tolerance for their misdeeds if you want this to continue.

– One of the most effective methods of protection is to teach your children that no adult is ever permitted to tell them a secret that they cannot tell their parents. This is a huge ‘red flag’ for predatory behavior, since part and parcel of the depraved strategy of molesters is to keep things secret from parents. There is no acceptable set of circumstances where any adult should ever be telling a child to keep secrets from his/her parents. Teaching your children that this is wrong is a powerful tool in their protective arsenal. Likewise, parents who keep secrets from each other are also modeling poor values (the kids figure it out quite soon).

– Encourage the notion of personal space in your child’s life. Tell your children to knock before entering a room if they think that someone there may be undressed (do the same yourself). Give your children a drawer to keep their private possessions, and ask their siblings to respect that privacy.

– “Your body belongs to you,” is a theme that should be stressed with children. While bathing young children, for example, is often a good time to discuss privacy matters in a calm, matter-of-fact manner. Tell them about ‘good touching’ and ‘bad touching’. One way of expressing this concept is to explain to them that no one except for parents can touch them in a spot covered by a bathing suit. Please do not alarm them. Frame the discussion as one of safety, and use the same tone that you would use when informing them not to take candy from strangers and not to cross the street without an adult.

– Another supremely important thing to convey to children is that they should not ever be forced to do things that make them feel uncomfortable. Tell them that if they are asked to do something that “doesn’t feel right,” they have the right to say no – even to an adult. (Many, many victims report that they felt they had no choice but to go along with the demands of the abuser.)

If you suspect that your child was molested, please seek the counsel of a trained mental health professional, preferably before you speak to your children.

This Cannot Go On

By Chaya Houpt

Around the time Y.B. and A.N. turned two, they started to Talk. Not just words, but sentences, and then plans and games and conspiracies. Where they had previously been mostly indifferent to each other’s presence, suddenly they were partners in crime. They would stay up for most of the night, chatting and laughing and playing.

I placed them in their cribs at 7 PM as usual, but now, instead of quietly thumbing board books and sleeping until 7 the next morning, they would party.

My husband and I would go to sleep around 11 or 12, lying in bed with clenched teeth as we listed to our daughters carry on from the nursery down the hall. The next day, they were miserable company: cranky, short-tempered and whiny. Each day, the cumulative sleep debt was worse.

And naptime was a problem, too. They wouldn’t nap at all in a room together. We set up a pack-n-play and carried Y.B. down to the laundry room each afternoon, where she would often be woken early by the doorbell.

This cannot go on, I said.

So we sought the advice of our parents, mentors and friends. We tried bribing, threatening and all kinds of parental trickery. There were staggered bedtimes, later bedtimes and I can’t even remember what else. It was frustrating. Infuriating, even. We felt so powerless.

Some of the things we tried helped a little. But mostly, the girls just grew out of it. They gradually got used to the wonder of verbal communication, and they learned to be quiet roommates.

How long did it take before they started going to sleep quietly at an early hour? Oh, about A YEAR.

. . .

Another story, this one about mornings:

I have encouraged my girls to be independent and self-sufficient from the youngest age. When they entered the “I do it by self” phase, I was thrilled. I watched in wonder as my tiny children performed more and more of their morning routine by themselves: getting dressed, brushing teeth.

And then, sometime around last November, it just stagnated. They started dawdling, protesting, refusing to do anything by themselves. Mornings became a nightmare.

This cannot go on, I said.

I wrote an email to Jenny. “I don’t want to start every day with a battle,” I wrote. “Here is what I have tried.” And I listed all the tricks and strategies I had employed.

Jenny empathized and offered some ideas and suggestions, which I implemented. It helped a lot, but A.N. was still having a lot of trouble getting out in the morning.

This cannot go on, I said, and in January I wrote Jenny again.

She helped me through the situation, and said, “If things are still terrible Purim-time, let’s rethink.”

Purim came and went. Pesach rolled around, and then Yom Haatzmaut. Last Sunday was Lag B’Omer. And even this morning, it was a battle to get A.N. dressed and out of the house.

And you know what? I’ve accepted it. I don’t feel the urgency to change or fix the situation. Maybe this CAN go on. Maybe I don’t need a solution, or maybe our family isn’t ready for a solution.

One day last week, my neighbor Leah observed that my kids have a hard time with the morning transition. It was good to get objective confirmation, because Leah is no stranger to the challenges of a house full of young children.

“Is it always the same kid?” she wanted to know.

“Nope,” I said, because though A.N. might present the most challenges, Y.B. and B.A. have been known to get into the elevator howling and refusing to put on shoes as well.

And then she said something like, “You are always so calm with them.” I don’t remember her exact words, because of all the noise from the choir of angels.

. . .

So that’s the thing. Every meltdown, every dragged-out journey to nursery school, every impossible morning presents a challenge: how can I fix this? How can I get this family running like a well-oiled machine?

But that’s not always the victory Hashem has in store for me. Maybe I am simply meant to try my best to help the situation, and when nothing works, I can accept reality as it is and know that I am growing stronger, more patient, more calm in the process.

This cannot go on? Why not? Here’s another one: this too shall pass. But not on my timeline.

Chaya blogs about parenting and life at All Victories.

Links for Hundreds of Articles and Audios for Shavuos

YU Torah – Shavuot To Go 5771 by various Authors

Shavuos Articles from

Shavuot from Wikipedia

Shavuot Articles and Audio
from Ohr Somayach

Shavuot Articles from Aish

YU Torah – Hundreds of Shavuot Shiurim by various Speakers

Shavuos Articles from Torah Lab

Shavuos Articles from

Shavuos Audio from

Shavuos Audio from

Shavuot Articles from

Keep Our Children Safe

I am pleased to inform you of a Project YES, “Keep Our Children Safe” initiative designed to raise awareness among parents in our community about the importance of speaking to your children about safety and personal space—in order to protect them from child abuse and molestation.

The workshops will be practical in nature and will guide parents in how to have these discussions in a tzanuah manner that is congruent with our Torah values.

I will be conducting these workshops as a public service of Project YES and there will be no charge for attending. Here is a list of the venues:

Baltimore: Motzoei Shabbos, June 11th – 10:15 p.m.
Congregation Shaarei Zion
6602 Park Heights Ave.

Queens: Monday, June 13th – 8:30 p.m.
Congregation Ahavas Yisroel
147-02 73rd Ave, Kew Gardens Hills

Monsey: Tuesday evening, June 14th – 8:00 p.m.
Yeshiva Darchei Noam
259 Grandview Ave.

Brooklyn: Wednesday evening, June 15th – 9:15 p.m.(following Maariv,at 9:00 p.m.)
Young Israel of Midwood
1694 Ocean Avenue

On a personal note, I plead with each and every parent to educate yourselves regarding best practices of conveying these crucial messages to your children. You have no more sacred obligation to your children than to keep them safe from predators.

The danger is so great and the education is so simple.

L’maan Hashem, please take this matter seriously and take the steps necessary to give your children the very best chance at remaining safe and secure.

Worded differently, I ask you to be the ones to educate your children about their bodies and personal space—so that the predator is not the one to teach them these lessons.

R’ Yakov Horowitz – Director, Project YES

The One Minute Shavuous

I have the good fortune to keep in touch online and offline with many non-observant friends from my childhood. Before Pesach a few of them were in search of a 2-5 minute seder, so I cut down the Beyond BT Guide to the Seder to it’s bare bone essentials using the logic that any mitzvah performed is a good thing.

If non-observant people are only willing to give 2-5 minutes for Pesach, then 60 seconds seemed about the right amount of time for the less familiar holiday of Shavuos.

Here is the first incarnation of the “60 Second Guide to Shavuos”. Comments and critiques are welcome and if you think it’s useful please send it to your friends and family:

Creation of the World and Man

– There is a G-d, who is completely spiritual
– G-d created physical and spiritual worlds
– G-d created man who is half spiritual and half physical for a purpose
– Man’s purpose is to transform the physical world into a spiritual G-d connected world

The Receiving of Torah
– To accomplish this spiritual transformation, G-d transmitted the knowledge and tools in the form of the Torah
– The spiritual encounter of receiving the Torah was experienced to some degree by the entire Jewish People and to a greater degree by Moses
– The holiday of Shavuos is a celebration of this most profound spiritual encounter between G-d and Mankind

The Role of Torah
– The role of the Torah is to help us understand and create spiritual realities
– Every act we perform has spiritual ramifications, and the acts which have the greatest power to transform the physical into the spiritual are the mitzvos specified in the Torah
– Our commitment for Shavuos is to learn about the spiritual realities described in the Torah and to dedicate ourselves to achieving the world’s purpose by performing the spiritual acts necessary to achieve that goal

In addition to learning Torah which can be accomplished by reading the above post, try to enjoy a special meal at night and during the day.

I’m Getting Married in the Morning…

By Charnie

Many of you might recall that line from the song “Get Me to the Church on Time” from the show and movie “My Fair Lady”. Allow me to clarify what’s going on here. I’m not getting married, B”H I’ve been married for over 20 years. But two good friends of mine from way before I became frum have daughters whose weddings are on Shabbos. Finally, I had thought I’d be able to celebrate simchas with some of my pre-BT friends children marrying Jews, B”H, but Shabbos weddings seems to be the newest way that the secular community is disengaging themselves from Judaism.

This is about one of those couples, who are getting married at 11:30 on a Shabbos morning. We’ll call them “Jane and John”.

When I went to her engagement party, Jane asked me if “I’d help her with the Jewish part of her wedding”, which was a prospect that delighted me. One of the things she asked for was a book, and after much hesitation, I sent her what I consider to be the best book on what a Jewish marriage represents, “Made In Heaven” by Rabbi Areyeh Kaplan zt”l. Although it clearly speaks from the viewpoint of observance, ultimately I felt it got across the point of how significant a Jewish wedding is better than any other book I’d seen. I also included Herman Wouk’s “This is My G-d”, since I think that’s a nice, easy to read introduction to Judaism.

Jane’s background is basically to the left of Reform. But she did go on Birthright while in college, and after that had a Bat Mitzvah and made a firm decision to only date Jewish men. B”H, John is Jewish. They’d already selected a venue where they wanted their wedding to be, and I was able to track down a Rabbi who might be willing to marry them at that place. Since I’d been told originally they were going to get married in June, I went on that premise.

Now I’ve learned that, yes, they are getting married on a morning. At 11:30 on a Shabbos morning, right after Tisha B’av. Jane’s dad (who could care less about religion) tells me that it was the only date that the venue was available.

I’m trying to decide how, if at all, I should pursue things from here, since I did take helping her seriously. My gut feeling is leaning towards trying to communicate to her why someone who calls him or herself a “rabbi”, and yet performs a wedding on a Shabbos morning is probably a charlatan, and they therefore, may not have a “real” Jewish wedding. Perhaps, since they’ve already booked the place, they should go ahead and have a party, to be followed shortly thereafter by a small Jewish marriage ceremony?

She’s a school teacher, doing a masters degree, so she’s quite busy. Of course, as is the norm these days, they’re living together. They were supposed to join us for Purim Seudah, but never showed up. Jane tells me she’s too tired to do anything on the weekend (when I tried to invite her for a Shabbos) and the community they live in has virtually nothing to offer vis a vis Orthodox synagogues or outreach, so I can’t work that angle either.

Just last week I received an invitation for another couple, this time the wedding is a 7 PM on a Saturday night in June. It’s in Manhattan, and by the time I would get there, it would probably be over. It’s very sad because at my daughter’s wedding, the mom asked me to have this daughter in mind under the Chuppah, and called me up enthusiastically some months later to tell me “my blessing had worked”.

The good news is that both of these couples are “marrying in”. The bad news is that these pseudo rabbis will probably perform a ceremony that isn’t even remotely kosher.

I’d love some feedback from the Beyond BT community.