Rosh Chodesh Av, 2019

Image: The Western Wall, or Kotel.

Av (ahv) is the eleventh month of the Hebrew year. It began at sundown last night, August 1, 2019. We call the first day of a new month Rosh Chodesh, meaning “the head of the month.”

Av is often mentioned as the “unluckiest” or “saddest” month of the year, based on a mention in the Talmud in Taanit 19a: “When we enter Av, our joy is diminished.”

Av has a number of sad anniversaries in it. Foremost of those is the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av, on which we remember the destruction of both the first and second Temples, as well as the expulsion from Spain in 1492. These were the greatest disasters in Jewish history before the 20th century.

Av is also a hot, dry time in the Land of Israel, when water is even more scarce than usual and when the sun beats down even in relatively cooler places like Jerusalem and Sefat.

What are your associations for this season? How might they fit into the Jewish understanding of this time of year?

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What are The Three Weeks?

Image: An imprint of a foot in the sand, just before the surf obliterates it. (Pixabay)

Believe it or not, we are at the barest beginning of a cycle that will bring us to the High Holy Days in the fall.

Sunday marked the beginning of the build-up to the grimmest day in the Jewish calendar: Tisha B’Av. For the next three weeks, the Haftarah (prophetic) readings will warn us that God is angry with Israel, that it is time to repent our selfish ways.

What to do with these? We can go to shul, read or listen to the Haftarah readings, and let them open our hearts. If the Saturday morning services are difficult for you to access, read the readings:

  1. Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:3
  2. Haftarah for Ashkenazim: Jeremiah 2:4 – 28; 3:4 Haftarah for Sephardim: Jeremiah 2:4 – 28; 4:1 – 4:2
  3. Isaiah 1:1-27

How can we make use of these readings to enrich our spiritual lives?

1. We can hear them in the context of the synagogue service -or-

2. We can read and ponder them: “What do the prophets’ words have to do with me?”

3. We can open our hearts to repentance and change.

Traditionally this was a season of sadness, preparing to re-experience or remember the trauma of Tisha B’Av, the destruction of the Temple.

Besides that, it is a reminder that our tradition is to remember and learn from past mistakes. It is another “Never again” – this time not about the Holocaust but about the terrible, terrible damage we do ourselves and others when we indulge in sinat chinam, baseless hatred.

So I will not say “Enjoy” – but I will wish you fruitful reflection and fruitful prayers during this solemn time.

“When are the High Holy Days?” and Other Pressing Questions

Image: Large, lighted letters that spell “Coming Soon” in caps. (By 3D Animation Production Company / Pixabay)

We’re nearing the home stretch of the Jewish year. Every time someone wants to schedule things a couple of months out, I have to check my calendar: “Wait, does that conflict with the High Holy Days?”

I offer you a mini calendar of the coming attractions, with the year 5779 winding down to a close. Links will take you to an explanation of each holy day, fast, or observance:

And then it will be time for the High Holy Days and a New Year 5780:

Shavout is HERE! Shavuot Sameach!

On Saturday night, June 8, 2019, Coffee Shop Rabbi is sponsoring an ONLINE celebration of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, the late-night/all-night study session to celebrate the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.

This FREE event will take place via Zoom software – all you will have to do is click on the link I will post on this blog Saturday afternoon, and you can attend via your home computer or your smartphone. The schedule of teachers from 7-11pm Pacific Daylight Time:

7-7:55 pm – Rabbi Deborah GoldmannCongregation Shaareth Israel, Lubbock TX. “Who Was Standing at Sinai?”

8-8:55pm – Student Rabbi Meir Bargeron, MSW, MAHL, Hebrew Union College Los Angeles, “Doing Unto Others: Compassion in Judaism.”

9-9:55pm – Jehon Grist, Ph.D., Lehrhaus Judaica, “The Divine Feminine in the Biblical World.”

10-10:55pm – Rabbi Ruth Adar, Coffee Shop Rabbi, “Stories of Springtime: Visions of Jewish Life in the Spring Holiday Cycle.

The event is free. You need not speak a word of Hebrew. You don’t even need to be Jewish! You can log in from anywhere and celebrate Torah with three wonderful teachers and myself.

Please share this link with anyone who might enjoy it: lovers of Torah, Jews who cannot attend a local event, people curious about Judaism. The link to the Zoom event will be posted here by 6:30pm Saturday evening.


Tikkun Leil Shavuot, 5779 (2019): An Online Event!

Image: Logo, Tikkun Leil Shavuot, on a background of mountains, with a flame.

Tikkun Leil Shavuot is one of the ways we celebrate the festival of Shavuot. It is an all-night or late night Torah study session on Erev Shavuot, in honor of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

The holiday this year begins on Saturday, June 8, at sundown.

This year Coffee Shop Rabbi will host an online Tikkun Leil Shavuot from 7:00 until 11:00pm Pacific Daylight Time on June 8. If you have access to local study, I encourage you to take advantage of it – there’s nothing like gathering for study with your community. But if you are, like me, unable to get to a local Tikkun Leil Shavuot event, I’m hosting one here online!

So far, the lineup of teachers looks like this (times are Pacific Daylight time):

Rabbi Goldmann, Student Rabbi Bargeron, Dr. Grist, and Rabbi Adar

7-7:55 pmRabbi Deborah Goldmann, Congregation Shaareth Israel, Lubbock TX. “Who Was Standing at Sinai?”

8-8:55pmStudent Rabbi Meir Bargeron, MSW, MAHL, Hebrew Union College Los Angeles, “Doing Unto Others: Compassion in Judaism.”

9-9:55pmJehon Grist, Ph.D., Lehrhaus Judaica, “The Divine Feminine in the Biblical World.”

10-10:55pm – Rabbi Ruth Adar, Coffee Shop Rabbi, “Tzedakah as a Spiritual Practice.” Rabbi Adar is a contributor to The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic published this spring by CCAR Press.

The program will be FREE to all comers. I will post the link for the Zoom room in a post in a new message on this the blog on the afternoon of Saturday, June 8. All you have to do is look in here, click on the link, and bingo! You will be in our session room. If you have friends who might enjoy joining us, please pass the word to them.

Passover’s End: Rest, Reflection and Prayer

Image: Girl hiding her face behind two pieces of matzah. (Reznik/Shutterstock, all rights reserved.)

After a few days, the newness wears off. Matzah is pretty boring stuff when it’s the only choice. Sure, we have spent thousands of years figuring ways to make it interesting – but by the end of the week, almost everyone is longing for pasta or pizza or just a nice piece of toast.

Passover runs for a week, and unlike Sukkot, it is a week with limitations. It lasts long enough for us to tap into the feelings of the ancestors new to freedom, for whom freedom was delicious, but matzah got pretty old. (The manna didn’t start coming until they complained.)

Part of the wisdom of our tradition is that Passover doesn’t just fade out in a whisper of matzah crumbs. At the end of the week the Torah prescribes another chag [day of solemn celebration] and then, for those who observe a second day of chag, it repeats. We slow down again, to really feel the holiday. If we are observant, we rest, we reflect, we consider the miracles and the journey ahead.

For a great and readable explanation of why some Jews (Orthodox and Conservative Jews in the diaspora) observe two days of chag, see this article in Judaism 101. Reform Jews in the United States do not observe the second day of chagim. If you are wondering what you should do, check with your local Jewish community, and do whatever will keep you connected with them.

I like the fact that Passover ends with rest, reflection, and prayer. The days leading up to the first night are rushed. There’s a lot to get ready, cooking and guest lists and preparing the house. Just as with the Biblical Passover, there’s no time to think: we have to act. Once launched into the wilderness, there’s very little other than matzah crumbs and time to reflect: that’s good too.

I wish you a holy conclusion to this challenging holiday. May the final days be as meaningful as the first ones.

The Best Jewish Calendar?

Image: Hebcal.com logo superimposed on an old fashioned wall calendar.

Every Jew needs access to a good Jewish calendar. There is a prodigy somewhere who can keep track of all the ins and outs of the nineteen-year cycle of the Jewish year, but the rest of us need a little help.

My favorite Jewish calendar is an online calendar: www.hebcal.com. (The builders of the calendar say it’s pronounced HEEB-kal dot com.) It is free and fabulous: their description:

We offer a powerful custom Jewish calendar tool that lets you generate a list of Jewish holidays for any year (past, present or future). Also available are a Hebrew date converter,  Shabbat candle lighting times and Torah readings(both full kriyah and triennial system), and a page to look up yahrzeits, birthdays and anniversaries.

— “About Hebcal”

If you find that you use the calendar often (or all the time, like me) remember to support it with a donation, so that Michael Radwin and Danny Sadinoff can continue to provide this labor of love.

If I could have access to only one site on the entire Internet, this one would be it!