Archive for the ‘Torah and Observance’ Category

Overboard in Jerusalem

April 23, 2018

7 Iyar 5778 Jerusalem  Chanoch Ne’eman

Today I was walking up KKL Street, with a shidduch, and I see my friend Shlomo the Chabadnik standing on the side with a small tefillin table. Shlomo I know from the hood and the shteeple’ach, and I respect that he walks the streets on Rosh Hashana blowing shofar for folks who did not hear shofar in shul, who want to hear. He says to me, “Chanoch, hi, come put on Rabenu Tam tephillin!” “That is a little much, Shlomo”, I reply, “I put on Rashi”. “Have you ever in your life put on Rebenu Tam?”, he asks. “I don’t know”, I say, but no thanks, and I am on a date”, pointing to my companion. “She wants you to put them on!”, he urges. “Bye Shlomo”, I say “another time”.

If I were a psychologist, I might name this phenomenon the “Shaliach Syndrome“; the condition of trying to get someone to do something, not so much because it is good for them to do, but because it would make you feel good to have them do it.

(I have to beware of falling into it myself, I admit.)


Pumpkins vs Purim

December 24, 2017

orig. written: 3rd of Heshvan, 5778, Lawrenceville, NJ  Hanoch Ne’eman

Halloween approaches in America. Need to ask: why some people are moved to put tombstones and skulls in their front yards? Necrophilia? Hard to say that plays no role.

Can we see anything good in Halloween? Yes. It’s fun to see people dressed up in “normal” costumes, like mermaids or caterpillars (not ogres or monsters). And does not trick or treating get people to meet their neighbors a bit? We often have no contact with people in our neighborhood. Though the implied threat of “trick” and the often accompanying Halloween vandalism is negative.

I can’t help contrasting this with Purim and sending portions, shaloch manot, to your neighbors. There you send something as a gift to your neighbor, instead of asking for it. But we also have the other side on Purim of gifts to the poor, where the poor often do come and ask.

And on Purim many folks dress up in costumes too.

Here in Jersey, for Halloween, many folks “decorate” their homes and shrubs with giant “spider webs”. Thank you very much, I have enough work keeping the real spider webs out of my home!

So I think the conclusion is that we should teach more people to celebrate Purim and then maybe they can leave the pumpkins for for pies and nothing more. Maybe they can make pumpkin hamentashen.

something old, something new

April 26, 2017

rosh hodesh Iyar 5777 H. Ne’eman Scottsdale

I am enjoying reading my Mom’s collection of old scout books. It is interesting how a hundred years ago, the general society in America dressed modestly; women in skirts, men in shirts and pants. What made values change? It is also interesting how international dress standards are today. I see a lot of the same fashions among the immodest in Israel as in America. I must conclude that if you are not taught about modesty, you are unlikely to practice it. You will want to be like others, you will want to stand out, you will want to be most comfortable.

How can we influence people for better? One, by example. Two, by insisting on clean ads in public spaces. Three, by writing and speaking to groups, such as civic and religious groups; this is a topic where we can build bridges and create constructive dialogue.

Of course this is for those inspired to it. Many of us don’t have time to devote to such things. But examples we should always be.


hold that channel!

April 21, 2017

25 Nisan 5777 Hanoch Ne’eman Scottsdale AZ

A few days before Pesach, I had an experience which was a little out of the ordinary. I felt that perhaps my Uncle Asher, who passed away this summer, was communicating to us through my Father. My Father has Parkinson’s. He can talk, but a lot of the time he naps. He was sitting at the table for a long time, like an hour and a half, and looking at a siddur. He was looking at different things, like the shabbos eve song, Kol Mekadesh. He was not falling asleep, which was unusual. At one point he calls me over and says, pointing to the words in Hebrew, “how do you read this word? He starts reading himself, pointing to words, but saying something completely different; like aramaic words, ending in “sah” and “tah”. Never saw him do anything like that before.

He goes on with his quiet study, and says later, “I don’t know, most of this is just nonsense (waving his hand), but it seems like there is some secret message in it.” That was a very Uncle Asher type thing to say, and the way he said it. Uncle Asher would study things for a long time like that. He was a scientist who tried to solve mysteries.

Later, my Father was sitting eyes closed, chin down at the table, when he lifts his head (eyes still closed) and says (talking to no one), “What’s that letter? Aleph? And what comes next, Tee?  no…”

And a bit later he says, “I don’t know why you are (doing/saying?) that, especially after you fought so savagely for this…(pauses) channel… we are both using.”

I am saying kaddish for Uncle Asher. This same day (I think it was the Yom Hamishi before Pesach) I did not get to the minyan in the morning, and then didn’t go in the afternoon/evening either.

Pesach in the Sonoran desert, with the Syrians

April 19, 2017

23rd of Nisan, Hanoch Ne’eman, Scottsdale

Well Pesach for me, as an Israeli, is over pretty much; today is yom tov shani shel goliyut. The holiday prep included usual activities like reminding ourselves online which oils and seeds we do and don’t use. Also I had a doubt whether I would still be a good Jew if I used a pear-apple to make our charoset, but in the end I played it safe and used a regular apple. (By the way, pear apples were first brought to the Southwest by Chinese miners during the Gold Rush). My parents have here a surprising amount of Pesach dishes and supplies, so we were pretty prepared. Since my Mom was not feeling well I prepared most of the Seder, which may have been a first for me, or perhaps second.

The real big news was that Hashem in his kindness sent me a minyan! Yes, it was quite a Pesach surprise. About a week or so before the holiday I was gardening out in the back yard and thinking about the upcoming holiday and how I would not have any minyan to pray with on the festive days of the holiday or Shabbat Hol HaMoed. I talked to Hashem as I worked and said how much I would like to have a minyan. I said “Nothing is too hard for you Hashem, You could have a busload of observant Jews break down in front of my house Erev Hag. Nothing is too hard for you, but if that doesn’t happen… I guess I will try to enjoy praying here by myself.” I really said that, you know I don’t lie to you, dear readers.

So on the morning of the 14th of Nisan, after we had the siyum masechet for the Firstborn, I was learning a bit in the shul. The Rabbi was talking to some out of town guests. When they finished I asked what the shul minhag was about tephillin on Hol Hamoed? He said most people, including him, do not wear them. I asked if I could drive my car to shul on Yom Tov Shani to daven with the minyan? He said no, but then an idea came to him and he asked, where do your parents live again? I told him and then he said that just on Friday some men had come to minyan in the morning to meet him, their family is out here for the holiday and staying at the Scottsdale Hilton. We did a rough calculation and figured it was about a two mile walk from where I was. He immediately called them up. Michael, the fellow who had made the point of taking them there on Friday, because his friend back home told him he should meet Rabbi Shoshan, said, “Sure he can daven with us, I will send you a copy of the times of prayers.”

So a few hours before the holiday I got connected with a minyan for the whole holiday (except Hol Hamoed when I drove to Ahavas Torah). It took me about a half hour walk each way. They invited me to kiddush after the morning prayers, which went from about 7:30 to 9:45. It was one family, about 80 people. They had 18 villas at the hotel. They were Syrian Jews from New York. They were very hospitable. Michael walked me to the gate each day and night after davening or kiddush. The “Gramma” who was really Great-gramma, welcomed me warmly, told me to come every day, and “not wait for an invitation”. It was funny when she said, “Oh, so you are an Ashkenazi?” It almost sounded like a racial slur! The best I could answer was “Well, mostly… yes.” I was so embarrassed, it got me thinking that maybe I should convert to Sephardi.

They brought their own Torah and food, which they made themselves. They organized their own rafting trips, paintball, and trips to the Grand Canyon. They go away for Pesach together every year, but this is the first time to Arizona. Michael said they usually go to Florida, but the hotels they stayed at kept selling to developers, and with the Zika virus down there now, they decided to go to Arizona. They had almost booked at another hotel further North called The Boulders, but then at the last minute some other group booked it for Easter. So they ended up here at the Scottsdale Hilton, close to me.

Hashem is Gadol.


out here in the fields

April 7, 2017

11 Nisan 5777 Hanoch Ne’eman, Scottsdale AZ

Well it looks like we will be spending Pesach at home. From our angle, Camelback Mountain, when silhouetted at dusk or night, looks like two pyramids, so at least we have good casting for the exodus story.

Yesterday was my English birthday. My Mom apologized for not having a card for me, or a cake. I said that’s okay, you gave birth to me, that’s enough!

Welcome to Nisan

April 2, 2017

6th of Nisan 5777 Scottsdale AZ Hanoch Ne’eman

It is hard being without a minyan on Shabbat. On the other hand, it is nice to be your own chazzan for all of davening, as you pray in the backyard. Did not go up Camelback this shabbat, (as opposed to the last two weeks). Tried to do bit more studying. Went around the pond in Chapperal Park in later afternoon. Saw some geese and a swan walking together with a lot of their little ones. Could not tell for sure which were goslings and which baby swans, if any.

Not sure yet what we might do for Pesach. If Mom is feeling up to it, may try going to Tuscon for three nights for the seders. Just to do them privately, but then at least I could have a minyan to pray with.

Reminds me of the old Beatles song, Get Back, how does it go?…

Hanoch left his home in the capital of Israel,

for some Arizona snow.

Made seder at a resort in Tuscon, Arizona,

With matzos bought from Trader Joe’s…

Oh yeah,  Get Back…

Everyone sing along!…


August 8, 2016

4th of Av, 5776 Hanoch Ne’eman, Jerusalem

Last week a couple who was between apartments stayed with me for two days. Among their possessions were three house plants which had sat in their ground floor windows. They also had two cats, one of which I saw one day pawing at my bathtub drain as if something had just retreated there. That night I spotted a little praying mantis on my bathroom floor. I put him back in the plants, from which I assumed he came. The people, cats, and plants moved out again.

On Shabbat morning I spot a little praying mantis climbing up my backpack, which is sitting on a chair in the corner of my salon. He looks pretty pale, more than a few days ago, it seems to me. I am thinking to myself – what is a praying mantis going to do in an apartment? He needs to be outside, in a garden area. But it is Shabbat, and insects are muktzah, something you can not move on Shabbat. What to do?

I would like to move him outside, both for his sake and mine (I don’t want to find him on my nose while I am sleeping). So I try to think of a halachic justification to move him. It is permissible to milk cows on Shabbat because not being milked causes the cows pain. Maybe I can move this praying mantis so he does not starve to death. I decide to move him by getting him to climb on a washing cup which I hold with my left hand, hoping the change of hand will mitigate the prohibition of moving muktzah.

I walk him (or her?) downstairs to the entrance garden. People are walking on the sidewalk on their way to shul. Before putting him down I hold up the cup to look at him close up at eye level. He looks like an alien from a movie. I put him down on the top of the stone wall, where, by chance, some occasional ants are walking by. The mantis sits there just sort of swaying for a minute, until he suddenly lunges at a passing ant, grabs him in his forehands, and starts eating him! Horrible! I feel like an accomplice.

Now other thoughts start going through my head. One sin leads to another it says in Pirkey Avot. Perhaps I was not justified in moving this muktzah on Shabbat? This is not a praying mantis, I realize, but a preying mantis. One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. How can I criticize Benjamin Netanyahu for releasing terrorists if I myself just released this murderer onto the Jerusalem streets?

Maybe next time I won’t be so smart.

Modesty in Dress

July 26, 2016

21 Tammuz 5776, Hanoch Ne’eman, Jerusalem

Dressing modestly – what’s the deal?

All people have sexual feelings, including children. Most people are attracted to the opposite gender, some to the same gender, but they all have these feelings. Seeing parts of the body, or their shape, can engender sexual feelings.

When you dress modestly, you respect others’ right not to have sexual feelings aroused by you. Why should they have sexual feelings aroused by you? Is there any purpose to that? Hopefully not. For each person, there is only one person in the world for which there is any point in having their sexual feelings aroused; namely their spouse.

For anyone else – it’s just stirring up problems; like shaking up asbestos insulation unnecessarily. For those of us who like to keep those feelings special, their improper use is disheartening, even Pukeville.

Unfortunately, there are many low-esteem, immature people in the world, whose self-image is based on their ability to arouse sexual feelings in strangers. Others, perhaps less concerned with that, are unaware of the issues, and simply dress in the way most comfortable for them. It takes education to be refined. Coarseness is more natural.

Sexual attraction is a gift from Above, intended to strengthen the marriage bond. Using it for other purposes, such as to sell something, or get attention from people around you, is a misuse of the gift.

Do you want to be among the mature and refined, or the obtuse and coarse? Think about it.




The Who?

June 18, 2016

12 Sivan 5776 Chanoch Ne’eman Jerusalem


Out here in the fields…

I thank Hashem for my meals…

I get my nefesh into my living,

yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah…

We might need to fight,

To prove we’re right

And we all need to be forgiven…

yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah