Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
Lag Ba'omer: Thousands descend on Mt. Meron for bonfire lighting
The annual celebration at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was closed last year due to coronavirus restrictions.
The annual celebration at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was closed last year due to coronavirus restrictions. This year, police are expecting hundreds of thousands of people to visit the site by Friday night.
Thousands of Israel Police and Border Police officers are deployed in the area to maintain order and ensure the safety of visitors to the site.
MDA forces, including hundreds of paramedics, doctors and first aiders with ambulances, are on standby. An 80-year-old man collapsed at the beginning of the celebrations. Some 52 people were required to undergo medical treatment on Thursday evening, Kan News reported.
Bonfires are lit at Meron and throughout Israel as the anniversary of Bar Yochai's death is celebrated as a festival. In accordance with Health Ministry regulations and in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the number of people allowed in the actual complex to attend the bonfire lighting is limited to 10,000 people.
However, the entire mountain where the grave is situated is open to the general public, like any tourist site, and huge screens will be placed throughout to allow the audience to watch the lighting from a comfortable and safe distance.
The Three Musketeers at the Kotel
How Traditional Are Matzo Balls?
The unusual history of the kneidel
Matzah (or matzo) balls are basically soup dumplings made from matzo meal, eggs and other ingredients. Known in Yiddish as a kneidel, the matzo ball has become a staple in many Ashkenazic Jewish homes throughout the year but especially during the Passover holiday.
Interestingly, not only is there no mitzvah to eat matzo balls on Passover (or any other day of the year for that matter), some are actually careful not to eat them during most of Passover. But that itself may be one theory on the origins of the matzo ball.
Ok, let’s backtrack a bit.
History of the Kneidel
Although the exact origins of the matzo ball aren’t clear, it seems to be a relatively new invention dating back to sometime in the 19th century.
On Passover, it is forbidden to make anything that could become leaven or chametz. This of course precludes the adding of anything like a crouton, or something similar made out of flour, to a soup on Passover since that would be chametz. However, once a matzo was already properly baked then it can no longer become chametz.
The theory goes that at one point, perhaps when Eastern European cuisine began introducing dumplings in traditional foods, someone got the brilliant idea of using matzo crumbs, either from the leftover matzo after Passover or from the crumbs produced while baking matzo before Passover, to make “matzo meal” and produce the matzo ball. Nowadays, it is mass-produced by pulverizing matzos, which in most instances were specifically baked for this very purpose.
The kneidel gained fame in June 2013, when it was the winning word in the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee. After the spelling bee, there was a debate as to the correct spelling.
But perhaps there is a deeper origin to the matzo ball, which we can glean from the fact that some are careful not to eat matzo balls for most of Passover.
Getting the Matzo Wet (Gebrokts)
Many communities, including Chabad, have the custom to refrain from eating gebrokts on the first seven days of Passover. Gebrokts is a Yiddish word that refers to matzo that has come in contact with water. It literally means “broken,” and it has come to mean “wet matzo” because matzo is usually ground or broken up into crumbs before it is mixed with water.
Those who refrain from eating gebrokts on Passover do so for fear that during the baking process there may have been a minute amount of flour that did not get kneaded properly into the dough. Upon contact with water, that flour would become chametz.
The custom of not eating gebrokts gained prominence around the end of the eighteenth century. At that time, people began to bake matzos much faster than halachically mandated, in order to be absolutely sure that the dough had no chance to rise before being baked. The flip side of this stringency is that the matzo we eat today is not as well kneaded as matzo used to be, and it is very possible that it contains pockets of flour (for more on this, see Was Matzah Always Hard and Thin?).
Holy Matzo Balls on the Eighth Day of Passover
However, most of these communities have the custom to specifically eat gebrokts on the eighth and final day of Passover (which only exists in the diaspora).1
Why is this?
Passover celebrates the Exodus, a time when the Jewish nation was born. It represents a time when we are still spiritually immature, and we must be constantly on guard for the slightest bit of chametz (i.e., pride and ego), lest we be adversely affected. Fifty days after Passover, and after the seven weeks of character refinement we undergo with the Omer counting, we have spiritually matured and are immunized against the harmful side effects of “chametz.” We are then ready as a nation to receive the Torah. Thus, on the holiday of Shavuot, one of the communal offerings brought in the Temple was specifically made of chametz.2
By the last day of Passover, we’ve already completed the first of the seven weeks of the counting of the Omer. We are not quite ready for chametz, but we are a bit more refined and secure. For this reason, we eat our matzo with liquid, without fear of it becoming chametz.3
Another reason given is that the last day of Passover is connected with the future redemption (as can also be seen from the haftorah of the day), a time when no evil will befall us. We reflect this reality by going out of our way to eat gebrokts on this day, without fear that the matzo may become chametz.4
In light of this, many make a point to specifically have gebrokts on the eighth day of Passover. Of course, one of the best ways to do this is to have matzo balls in your soup on this day.5
So the next time you have matzo balls on the eighth day of Passover, don’t just think about the fine cuisine—remember that just as we were redeemed from Egypt, so will we merit the ultimate Redemption. May it be speedily in our days!
Click here to read how to make perfect matzo balls.
Although the basic reason given for not being as strict about wet matzo on the eighth day is that this day is rabbinic in nature, this in and of itself doesn’t adequately explain the custom to specifically make a point to eat gebrokts on this day.
For more on this see Chametz: What Would Your Psychologist Say?
Talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Acharon Shel Pesach 5727.
Talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Acharon Shel Pesach 5744.
Those careful to only have gebrokts on the eighth day are particular not to make the matzo balls earlier until night has fallen on the final night of Passover (except when the final day of Passover coincides with Shabbat).
By Yehuda Shurpin
A noted scholar and researcher, Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin serves as content editor at Chabad.org, and writes the popular weekly Ask Rabbi Y column.
Rabbi Shurpin is the rabbi of the Chabad Shul in St. Louis Park, Minn., where he resides with his wife, Ester, and their children.
This pitcher graces a 19th century grave of a Levite in the Jewish
cemetery in Baden-Württemberg, Germany (Photo: Dietrich Krieger).
The name Levy (לוי) generally (but not always) indicates that its bearer is a member of the Tribe of Levi, descendants of Levi, son of Jacob.
This name is the second most popular family name in Israel (following Cohen), belonging to approximately 1.2 percent of the population (including Arabs).
Many families in Israel spell their name Levi, ending with an “i” instead of a “y.” While this difference is technically not relevant, it is interesting to note that most Ashkenazi Levys spell their name with a “y,” while the majority of contemporary Sephardim spell it like the given name Levi, with an “i.”
Among Eastern-European Jews, this name has spawned the spin-off לוין, often spelled Levin, Levine, or Lewin. Other variations include Levitin and Levitansky.
Not everyone whose name is Levy or Levin, however, is actually a Levite. A classic example would be Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the famed “tzaddik (saint) of Jerusalem,” who was not of Levite stock. How is this? Every family has their own story. Here are some common scenarios:
The name may have been conferred because a relatively recent ancestor of the family was named Levi, a fairly common given name among Jewish people.
They may have inherited an originally Levite-related last name through the female line or via adoption, while tribal affiliation is conferred exclusively through the biological male line.
People often assumed false last names in order to avoid conscription into the Czarist army or to cross borders, and the new last names stuck even after they were no longer needed.
If you are a Levite, you may indicate this by attaching הלוי (ha-Levi) to your name. Thus a Levite named Levi Levine would style himself לוי הלוי לוין, Levi, ha-Levi, Levine.
Is your name Levy but you are not sure if you are of Levite stock? A great place to look would be the headstones of your direct paternal ancestors, as far back as you can go. If you find הלוי (ha-Levi) after a name, you’ve lucked out. Another clue can be in the decorations. Does the stone bear the image of a pitcher? This is a sign of the Levites, whose duties include pouring water over the hands of the Kohanim prior to the Priestly Blessing.
Another place to look is old documents, such as the ketubah (marriage contract), get (divorce), or whatever else you can dig up.
Still drawing a blank? Don’t be disheartened. In today’s post-Temple era, there are not many perks to being a Levite. The two exceptions are being called to wash the hands of the Kohanim prior to the Priestly Blessing (as mentioned above) and being called to read from the Torah for the second aliyah.
Also take heart from the timeless teaching of Maimonides:
Not only the tribe of Levi [was chosen by G‑d], but any human—man or woman—who is spiritually motivated and has the intellectual understanding to set himself aside and stand before G‑d to serve Him and minister to Him and to know G‑d, proceeding justly as G‑d made him, removing from his neck the burden of the many plans people pursue, he is sanctified as holy of holies and G‑d will be his portion and heritage forever…1
Maximilian Berlitz (1852-1921) gave his name to the first Berlitz School of Languages founded in 1878 in Providence, Rhode Island and to the allegedly unique “Berlitz method” of language instruction, the essence of which is the rejection of rote language learning, tedious memorization exercises, and grammar drills in favor of a conversational, usage-driven approach.
One of his most famous students was Kaiser William II, to whom he taught English and who put him in charge of teaching French to cadets at Germany’s military academy in Potsdam. He went on to create a company that made his name synonymous with foreign language instruction in the United States and worldwide.
For more than 130 years, the company’s origins have been shrouded in ambiguity, legend, and outright misrepresentations. According to the Berlitz Corporation, Maximillian was born in 1847 in southern Germany to a family of teachers and mathematicians and immigrated to the United States in 1870 and, as no mention was ever made of his religion, the common assumption was that he was Christian.
In fact, Berlitz was born into a Jewish family in 1852 – a date inscribed on his headstone in the Woodlawn Cemetery in New York and published on his official corporate photograph. Historical researchers have recently discovered that he was born David Berlizheimer in the village of Mühringen at the edge of the Black Forest. Both his grandfather and uncles were lay leaders of the Jewish village community, and his father was the first in the family to reject the successful family trading business to serve as a poorly paid village cantor and Jewish religious teacher.
Berlitz’s ancestors were German Jews who had migrated from Bavaria during the 18th century. The lord of the feudal estate in Mühringen bestowed the status of a “protected Jew” upon his grandfather, Joseph David Berlizheimer, pursuant to which Joseph received a rare and desirable letter of protection and was granted official residence in the feudal estate (all for a high annual fee, of course).
Joseph became a fabrics manufacturer and trader and one of the wealthiest and most prominent Jews of the area who, as president of the Mühringen Jewish community, served as liaison between the Jewish community and the local governments.
All of Joseph’s children continued in the family business except for Berlitz’s father, Leopold, who decided to pursue his own calling and enrolled at the Esslingen Teachers’ Seminary to become a cantor and religious teacher. When Leopold died shortly after Berlitz’s bar mitzvah, his widow and three children received little support from the Jewish community and virtually no support from the impoverished family, so the young Berlitz had to go to work.
At that time, all Jewish boys in the Kingdom of Württemberg were legally required to attend an academic institution or to train as an apprentice in an approved trade. Sponsored by the local Jewish Board, Berlitz served as an apprentice to a watchmaker for three years (1866-1868) after which, with no employment prospects or financial resources, he immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City on June 30, 1870.
Berlitz’s arrival in America had been preceded by that of a brother, Isaac, who originally settled in Cincinnati before moving to Chicago; a sister, Hannah, who settled in New York; and several cousins, who settled in Chicago. Instead of following the usual practice of new American Jewish immigrants, who generally sought out family or other contacts who had previously made their way to America, he decided to strike out on his own. He found a position as a machinist in Westerly, Rhode Island, a small community with only a handful of Jewish families.
David Berlizheimer made great efforts to create a new persona for himself in America. Shortly after his arrival in Rhode Island, he shortened his surname, changed his given name, married the Protestant daughter of German immigrants, and christened his children in a Protestant church and raised them as Christians. It is unknown whether his partners, employees, teachers, and German publishers – many of whom were themselves Jewish – knew that he was Jewish.
Although it’s not known whether he cut off ties with his family or they with him, Berlitz maintained no relationship with his family – all of whom remained loyal Jews – with the exception of his spinster sister, Hanna Berlizheimer.
He never communicated with his brother, Isaac – who remained a “Berlizheimer,” was involved with the Jewish community in Philadelphia, and maintained a relationship with the family back in Germany – or with his cousins, who lived in Chicago and were active with their synagogue there. David, the son of a cantor and a Jewish teacher, chose to live as a Christian in America – the only first-generation Berlizheimer to do so.
All this Jewish history was suppressed by the Berlitz Corporation, however. The company’s motive to keep secret its founder’s true history is doubtless to perpetuate the corporate myth that Berlitz was the descendent of a long line of teachers and mathematicians who was multilingual and fluent in many languages – when, in fact, its founder had been nothing but a poor Jewish immigrant who worked hard and was ultimately successful in achieving the American dream.
Even the New York Times – the “newspaper of record” – suppressed Berlitz’s Jewish background or, at the very least, got his biography dramatically wrong: In its obituary of the famous linguist, it reported that he came to America as a child, attended public schools in Boston, and developed his “Berlitz Method” while struggling with his English lessons, all of which is sheer nonsense.
Arriving in Rhode Island, Berlitz began work as a watchmaker, using the skills he had learned during his apprenticeship in Germany, and he earned additional income teaching evening language classes. Interestingly, there is no evidence of his ever having had any language instruction or expertise except in his native German and the Hebrew of his co-religionists, and it is not known where or how he attained his proficiency in various languages.
Nonetheless – in another ludicrous fabrication – in its anniversary book, 120 Years of Excellence: 1878-1998, Berlitz International, Inc. claimed that Berlitz traveled extensively in his youth and “became fluent in more than a dozen languages, including all the major Romance languages and several Scandinavian and Slavic languages.” In fact, the only traveling that Berlitz did was to France for his watchmaking apprenticeship and, in any event, there is no way that he had the financial resources to even travel much locally, let alone internationally. During the course of his later life, however, he did master a remarkable 45 languages.
In 1876, Berlitz moved his family to Providence, where he adopted “Delphinius” as his middle name and thereafter usually signed his name as “M.D. Berlitz,” possibly to suggest that he had some sort of doctorate degree. Realizing that the local German-American community was flourishing, and that there were virtually no Jews in Rhode Island – the famous Newport Touro Synagogue had gone defunct by the time of his arrival – he hid his Jewish identity to avoid prejudice, or he may simply have renounced his faith.
In Providence, Berlitz took a position as a language instructor in a commercial college until it was purchased by William Warner and became Warner’s Polytechnic Business College, at which point he became head of its language department. When Warner departed as head of the College, Berlitz opened his first Berlitz School of Languages (May 1878) and assumed teaching responsibility for some 200 language students. He initially served as the school’s only instructor, until – sight unseen – he hired Nicholas Joly, a recent French immigrant with a degree in French literature who had been working as an elevator operator in New York City.
In a July 1878 advertisement in the Providence Daily Journal placed soon after he launched his school, Berlitz offered a three-month daily course in French, German, or Latin for $10, emphasizing that his instructional method was “original” and easy, with little required memorization and guaranteed results. “Easy,” perhaps, but it was actually far from original.
Even according to the Berlitz legend promulgated by the Berlitz Corporation, Berlitz was already familiar with the “Natural Method,” pursuant to which a foreign language is taught “the same way a child learns its native language.” In fact, in his own instructional booklets and brochures, which he began to introduce in the 1880s, Berlitz actually admitted that his pedagogical technique was based upon the well-known Natural Method.
He claimed, however, that he modified the Natural Method by including greater student participation; rejecting the use of repetition of similar word sounds in words and phrases, and introducing grammar in an organized manner.
This actually represented – at most – a small departure from the Natural Method, but Berlitz nevertheless characterized it as brilliant and novel and claimed it as his own. Even to the extent that the “Berlitz Method” is novel, he actually happened upon it serendipitously, and much of the credit should really go to Joly, his assistant.
Pursuant to another corporate legend, when Berlitz was forced to take a leave of absence due to exhaustion, he put Joly in charge of the language classes only to discover to his chagrin that his trusted assistant did not speak a word of English. As such, he instructed Joly to refrain from teaching grammar, translation, and bilingual dialogue but, rather, to build a basic vocabulary by teaching nouns through pointing to objects and repeating and re-repeating their names in the foreign language, and teaching verbs by pantomime and acting them out.
Upon his recuperation and return to teaching six weeks later, Berlitz was astonished to discover that the students had made tremendous progress and that their communication abilities had developed to the point where, unencumbered by concern for the rules of grammar and sentence structure, they could speak easily in the new language.
As such, whichever story one accepts, Berlitz either usurped a well-known pedagogical technique and claimed it as his own or he took credit for a technique essentially discovered by his assistant.
To his credit, while language schools were then very much local enterprises, Berlitz, who had great vision and was a master of entrepreneurship, took his pedagogical technique and ran with it, opening Berlitz schools in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. He also displayed a great marketing sense – and generated an additional fortune – by publishing and selling instructional materials to his students.
He took many “client-friendly” steps, including placing his schools in convenient locations; sending teachers into students’ homes for private instruction for a reasonable fee; and making his classes fully transferable so that if a student relocated, he could just pick up his classes at his new location, a particular boon to transient immigrants. He also established a very successful division of his enterprise that provided translation services to the public.
After his amazing success in the United States, he took his enterprise overseas, beginning with Germany. He was bitterly attacked and belittled by the German press and public, but he had learned the importance of advertising, so he offered free classes for four months, and his school in Berlin became a smashing success. In 1889, he launched schools in Paris and London, and later in Russia, South America, Australia, and North Africa, all of which became similarly successful.
By 1900, his schools had become a mammoth international enterprise with 101 schools – only 16 of which were in the United States – serving some 31,000 students. That year, he became even more famous after he exhibited his techniques at the Berlitz School Pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair and he personally taught French to craftsmen from the various French colonies. For his efforts, he was awarded several gold medals for best teaching methodology and was made a Knight of the French Legion of Honor by Emile Loubet, the president of France.
Berlitz went on to receive any number of additional medals and awards at various international expositions, including the Grand Prize for Excellence in Language Teaching for teaching English to “semi-savages” (sic) from the Philippines at the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair.
Ironically, this great educator apparently did not believe in public education for all, particularly for “savages” and “donkeys,” and believed that certain classes of society should remain “laborers and farmers,” as evidenced by this rather notorious and highly controversial note dated April 3, 1911:
Education is a very poor substitute for intelligence. An educated donkey is still a donkey. The promiscuous over education of the masses has done more harm than good, making turbulent parasites out of elements that would have been useful laborers and farmers.
In some respects, the Berlitz Method is comparable to that used in ulpan, which was initiated soon after Israel’s birth in 1948 to facilitate the integration of the massive influx of new immigrants from all over the world who spoke a multiplicity of languages. Rather than provide instruction to each person in his language, which would have been impossible, ulpan offered – and continues to offer – new olim full-immersion classes where, much as under the Berlitz Method, only conversation in Hebrew is permitted, or, as we say, Ivrit b’Ivrit (Hebrew instruction using only Hebrew).
The key difference, however, is that ulpan teaches not only Hebrew language, but also Jewish culture, Jewish history, and geography of the land of Israel.
A printed sheet of paper that I discovered folded in an old Sephardic prayer book tells the tale of an age-old custom of Syrian Jews and of a moving song written by one of Syria’s greatest cantors.
The sheet, dated 1933, contains a
Yehidah Hitna’ari,” composed by Hazzan Hakham Moshe Ashear. Born in 1877 in Syria, Ashear became a
chazzanwhile still a young man and led the prayers in Knis Kebirah in Aleppo until 1913 when he moved to New York, where he continued to serve the Aleppo Jewish community until his passing in 1940.Advertisement
A widespread custom at the time among Syrian Jews was to have a pizmon written and composed in honor of major life-style occasions such as bar mitzvahs and wedding celebrations. Many songs popular in the community today were composed for such occasions. This particular song was composed by Ashear in honor of the bar mitzvah of Yosef Ezras Safdieh (Joseph Saff).
The bar mitzvah boy’s father, who was a friend of Ashear, had passed away, leaving his wife a widow with young children. His mother took the death very hard and mourned excessively. While some Syrian Jews wore black and covered their sofas and chairs for the first few months of mourning, this widow continued to do so for 10 years, until 1937. She also refused to leave her home for many years.
“Yehidah Hitna’ari” was written by Ashear to both commemorate the bar mitzvah and to comfort the mother and convince her to abandon her mourning. In a poetic form, the words encourage her to put an end to her misery, wear clothing of happiness, and enjoy the sweetness of life.
Generally, the songs composed by the chazzanim for such occasions were sung to popular contemporary Arabic melodies, and this one used the tune of a simple Arabic folk song.