Archive for the 'Prayer' Category

iMasoret iPhone App

By Samuel Eskenasy

iMasoret is a new all-in-one Jewish tradition application.  It serves as a vast info center that can accompany the user wherever they go.  iMasoret includes all the siddur prayers (in Nussach  Ashkenaz  Sfarad  and Edot Hamizrach) for Israel and for The Diaspora. Also included are The Holy Days, the books of the Torah, Tehillim(Psalms), Lessons, Kabbalah, Blessings, and Songs.  The app even provides locations of Jewish sites of interest including kosher establishments, synagogues and hotels.

Birkat HaMazon iPhone App – iBirkat

By David Sigal, from appstudio

This app came about from my realization that when people go to Shul to daven, they almost never pull out an electronic device. Back 8-9 years ago I remember seeing people trying to daven in a shul from their Palm Pilots and that looked very unnatural. Pocket PC screens were dim, not multitouch, low resolution and one had to tap on a button almost every second to scroll the text. Besides, there are ample amounts of siddurim in a shul, and most people still prefer to read from a physical siddur.

A Tale of Two Covenants: Rainbow Day, Shmita, and the Gulf

The iridescent colors reflected off an oil slick are like a twisted and distorted rainbow.

This coming Monday, May 10th, is also the 27th of Iyyarthe date when Noahs family and the animals left the ark and received the rainbow covenant.

There is a special correlation between this weeks Torah portion and the rainbow covenant of Noahs time. And there is a foreboding contrast between the rainbow covenant and whats happened in the Gulf of Mexico. The tension between these dynamic relationships in many ways defines the predicament of our time.

Stop and Think; Choose a Blessing and Bless; Eat


Life in general distracts me. It’s true no matter what I’m doing or where I am. If I go into the food co-op for bread and peanut butter, I’ll carry out shampoo and trail mix; when I resolve to run twelve times around the track, I lose count after the third loop. Even when I get through a task, I often neglect to follow up or look back to consider its lessons. By the time I’m halfway through, my mind is already whirring off in another direction.

So I was a little concerned when I signed up for a 21-day “spring rejuvenation cleanse” and learned that it would involve focus. In multiple ways. But this also got to the heart of why I wanted to purify in the first place.

To get the most out of this food-based detoxifying experience, the approximately 50 participants are supposed to eat certain foods, avoid others, prepare detoxifying recipes, breathe deeply, take long walks, and journal about the whole thing each day. On top of all that, our guide encourages us to “eat mindfully”. I figured if I could do all of that, I might have a fighting chance of getting my attention deficit into the black.

On Nisan and on Recalling

cherry blossom chrysler

The month Nisan begins tonight and with it, so many associations. Last year, I wrote about the practice of refraining from eating Matzah from Rosh Hodesh Nisan (i.e. tonight) until Passover. Most people make, if any, the association of dreaded Pesach cleaning and preparation. I’ll be writing some about that in a few days or next week, God willing, but for now, let’s stick to things connected specifically to Rosh Hodesh Nisan.

One association fewer people make is that Birkat haIlanot, the blessing over blooming trees, is typically said in the month of Nisan:

Happy Rosh Chodesh Adar!

Thanks so much to Rachel Kriger for this terrific meditation on the month of Adar.  Rachel was raised on organic food and in Jewish dayschool. After college, in the Adamah fellowship, she was able to merge her love of small scale farming and Judaism, and she became the farm manager for the following year.  The Calendar Garden at Kayam farm at Pearlstone, is a place to cultivate plants and their connection to seasons, Jewish wisdom and body awareness. Please feel free to join this Rosh Chodesh group in the garden each month.


A Fruitful Lesson

Fig. 10

On Shavuot, when we celebrate receiving the Torah, we also celebrate the offering of the first fruits in the Temple, the bikurim.

The offering was a supremely humble gesture: the fruits which form first on a tree are often smaller, less perfect, only hinting at the abundance to follow. In ancient Israel, these offerings were gussied up, surrounded by the more beautiful fruit which grew later, brought sometimes in gold baskets, accompanied by flutes, processions. All the trappings of art and wealth were used to beautify the offering. Yet without the small, perhaps wrinkled fruit of the bikurim, there could be no offering.

It was at this moment of offering that the Torah teaches us to recite the story of redemption, the same one we now read in our Passover haggadah. The story was also a garland, as it were, for the bikurim offering, connecting our history to the very physical redemption of another spring and another growing season.

Grace Before Meals?

Thanks to Matt Brown for this guest post. Matt is the Communications Assistant at the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. He used to be a food columnist for his college newspaper because, he says, it’s the most fun way to be published.

Photo by Jennie Faber

Eating is beyond rote; most of the time, when we’re hungry, we simply wander over to the fridge or call for take-out with nary a thought. At the Atlantic Monthly, however, Zeke Emanuel makes the case for prayer before meals. Reflecting upon the Motzi and the other brachot, he notes:

The prayer serves to synchronize the starting of a meal. It also is a shared activity. Said out loud and communally, the prayer literally unites people. Thus a prayer makes a community for a moment. At the family dining table it serves as a reminder of the unity of the family.

Although Emanuel’s focus is ultimately on a “secular” prayer before meals, he’s spot on. Taking the time to “say grace” before eating – whether a blessing or the unreligious/pan-religious “thanks for our privileged position and access to wonderful food” – truly is a quick and simple way to connect to your food and all who worked to put it in front of you. But what about after the meal?

Why Wine?

At Pesach we drink a lot of wine. Why is it called the symbol of our joy?

In an arid environment, wine can be seen a method of preservation. If you do not live or work near a well or a spring or some other source of fresh water you need to have something else to drink during the day.

  • Milk does not last without refrigeration; actually we can think of cheese as a form of dried milk (that is a form of preserving milk).
  • Crushing olives obtains oil, which while highly useful, does not quench thirst.
  • Squashing pomegranates produces a very tart juice, but it doesn’t last long at room temperature.
  • Squeezing dates creates a very sweet paste our ancestors called “dvash“.
  • And figs don’t produce much in the manner of a drinkable juice either.

The Grape

But, that other fruit mentioned among the seven species, the grape, undergoes an amazing transformation when it is crushed, squashed and squeezed. With just the right amount of exposure to oxygen it becomes a drink that, like a good person, becomes more distinguished as it ages.

Ad d’lo Yada: A Different Kind of Atonement and Ktzat


Purim is a pretty strange holiday. The text we read, Megillat Esther, isn’t a typical biblical book; it makes no mention of the big guy upstairs. Its heroine, a nice Jewish girl bunking with her uncle, ends up in the arms of the non-Jewish king (oh gosh!), and exchanges certain things, namely her wedding vows, in order to save her people. The story ends with the Jews going out on a revenge spree, killing thousands. And how do we celebrate this event every year? By dressing up in costumes, making lots of noise, gorging on delicacies and getting drunk out of our minds ad d’lo yada. Pretty strange in comparison to, let’s say, Yom Kippur, where we don’t eat or drink, instead spending the day in deep and contemplative prayer. What’s even stranger is that we’re taught that Purim is an even “higher” holiday than Yom Kippur. In fact, the rabbis teach that during the Messianic Era, Purim will be the only festival that we observe.

Is Good Food Excessively Indulgent?

Some Jewish businesses and advertisements in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn were recently defaced. You might expect that they were defaced by anti-Semites, or maybe that the shops sold clothes deemed immodest by the Hasidic population of Williamsburg. But in fact, as Vos Iz Neias reported, the problem was food related:

The motivation behind the incidents is spiritual. Ads featuring highly detailed images of tantalizing food—and businesses hawking an unnecessarily wide variety of food, such a the now-shuttered Sub on Wheels once parked along a Williamsburg street—are seen as excessive and indulgent by austerity-minded activists, who are alarmed by what they see as an intrusion of secular, pleasure-oriented values into their community.

In two recent incidents, an enormous building-side banner advertising Grill on Lee, a new gourmet restaurant in the neighborhood’s heart, was sliced halfway, and a Satmar butcher shop with large photographs of dish-laden tables in its windows had those photos cut out.

The issue here is that some businesses are “hawking an unnecessarily wide variety of food” which is apparently a symptom of a larger problem: the “intrusion of secular, pleasure-oriented values into [the Williamsburg] community.”
I want to first say that my gut reaction here is just to write all of this off as completely ridiculous and move on. In fact, I’m already on the record with what accounts to a snort and an eye roll.

But I’d like to give this issue a little more attention.

“For the Sin We Have Committed:” Eating Not Just Sustainably, but Sacredly

Thanks to Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster for this guest post. Rabbi Kahn-Troster is Director of Education and Outreach for Rabbis for Human Rights North America.

In Judaism, confession is a group experience. On Yom Kippur, we stand together as a community and in one voice confess our collective sins before God. Amidst the various lists of transgressions, the Al Chet prayer contains a line that deals with sustenance: Al chet she chatanu liphanecha b’ma’achal u’mishteh, literally: “For the sin we have sinned before You through food and drink.” “Food and drink” is often translated as “gluttony,” which narrows the sin to the idea that we are confessing to having eaten more than our share, wantonly, without thinking. I think the original translation is helpful—we have committed sins through all kinds of acts of eating and drinking, but also through the way our food is produced, distributed, and wasted.

Kashrut has no God — But shouldn’t it?

Talk to GodPeople often are confused by my explanation of my Jewish practice. They ask, “How kosher are you?” or “What’s your Shabbat practice?” and my answer is always something along these lines:

“Whatever the Old Man Upstairs and I decide that day.”

For whatever reason, that’s always chuckle-worthy to them. Which is unusual, because in Christian circles, talk of personal relationships and conversations with God is very common. Whereas as close as Judaism seems to get, the Bratslav tradition of hitbodedut, is extremely radical, even now: “To talk to God in your own tongue, without pre-prepared words, like you would a friend? How weeeeird.

Read it and Eat: A (Jewish) Review of In Defense of Food

good-food.jpgMany people complain that it’s difficult to find a synagogue to join in New York City. There are just so many options, that none of them feel exactly right – you might call it The Shul-Goers Dilemma. These days, however, I’m feeling pretty good at Temple Bet Pollan.

Michael Pollan gets his fair share of love on this blog, and his new book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto has already joined its predecessor, The Omnivore’s Dilemma as a New York Times Best Seller. Pollan is in the middle of his second whirlwind book tour in two years (I guess he sleeps on the plane) – and I hear the same account every where he goes. Huge venue, sold out show, knockout performance.

Like any effective leader – Martin Luther King included – he’s charismatic and big on the big ideas that change the way we think – or in this case how we eat. But as I devoured (pun intented) Pollan’s new book on my subway commute, I wondered what, if anything, does his worldview offer to the Jewish community? And, perhaps more interestingly, what wisdom does the tribe have to offer back to him?