Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26), Shabbat Zachor (Deut: 25:17-19), Purim

Interesting mix of moods this week: We start Leviticus (Vayikra) with instructions for sacrifices; remember an ancient enemy of the Israelites and the failure of Saul as king; and, on Purim (Wednesday night and Thursday), read how a nice Jewish girl “passed” to become the Persian queen and was prodded into saving her people, in celebration of which we have a grand time eating hamantaschen

tph hamentaschen recipe









and getting drunk. 

Leviticus contains instructions concerning sacrificial offerings: what, why, where, when, by whom, who gets to eat what – a training manual for the priests.  The five types of offerings here are:

  • The burnt offering (olah) (Lev. 1:1-17), intended to bring the offerer closer to the Lord
  • The meal offering (minchah) (Lev. 2:1-16),  consisting of flour and oil (unleavened), cooked or uncooked, often given by those who couldn’t afford an animal for an olah 
  • The offering of well-being, or peace offering (sh’lamim) (Lev. 3:1-17), in gratitude, partly eaten by priests, donor, and guests as a festive meal (like sponsoring a kiddush lunch at synagogue today)
  • The sin offering (chatat) purgation  (Lev. 4:1-35; 5:1-13) to atone for an unintentional sin, individual or communal
  • The guilt offering (asham), (Lev. 5:14-26), required to be a ram. It was usually offered by someone who had stolen property. The offender also had to restore what was taken plus a fine of one fifth, which meant 1/5 of the total, i.e., 1/5 of (restitution + fine).

Why is Moses told to tell all this to the Israelites – not just what they need to do, but the details that ae only pertinent to the priests?  As I noted here in 2014, Robert Tornberg writes, in Looking through the Smoke: A Transparent Message:  The Torah ensures that Judaism is not a secret religion run by priests who know more “truth” than anyone else. It is, instead, open and accessible.” 

Why sacrifices, especially animals, at all?  Several positions over the millennia are summarized by Nehama Leibowitz in New Studies in Leviticus, pp. 1-22 (1996).  I will touch on only one (this year), between Maimonides (1138-1204) and Nachmanides (1194-1270).  Maimonides, my favorite rationalist, viewed the sacrificial system as an intermediate stage.  The Israelites were familiar with worship that comprised sacrificing animals, bowing down to images, and burning incense.  To drop all of this at once would have been too much for the people to accept, and they would have reverted to idol worship.  Therefore, the sacrifices and accompanying incense were continued, albeit with carefully delineated constraints.

Nachmanides attacks Maimonides:  “His statements are preposterous” (cited in Leibowitz, op cit., p. 7).   Being of a more mystical bent, he finds intrinsic value and symbolism in the details of the sacrifices.  I may go into that more another time, but I still have to deal with Shabbat Zachor and Purim today.

Shabbat Zachor, the second of four special Shabbatot before Passover, is the Sabbath right before Purim.  The second scroll reading, Deuteronomy 25:17-19, is a command to remember (zachor) an evil attack by Amalek on the Israelites and blot out his memory.  That suggests we need to be aware of our history so as to blot out the evil of the descendants of Amalek.  The special haftarah, I Samuel 15:1-34 (2-34 for Ashkenazim, I don’t know why)is about how King Saul, commanded to destroy the Amalekites, screws up and is told he has lost his kingdom, spiritually (physically, he has about 20 years to go).  It’s very dramatic and was my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah haftarah.  The link with Purim?  Haman is supposedly a descendant of Amalek, Mordechai, of Saul.

Purim commemorates the tale told in the Book of Esther (aka “The Megillah”), which takes maybe 45 minutes to chant, even with making noise to drown out villain Haman’s name.  You can print out your own copy in Hebrew or English or both, with or without commentary, or learn how to chant itIt is customary to dress in costume, exchange gifts of food, have a festive meal (seudah) during the day, perform in or watch often-parodic Purim spiels and, as noted above, eat hamantaschen and get drunk, enough that you curse hero Mordechai and praise Haman.  Enjoy!

Shabbat shalom,


Two guys were at a bar talking about how highly their wives thought of them.

The first guy said, “My wife, she thinks so much of me that she won’t let me do any work around the house. It’s incredible.”

The second guy says, “That’s nothing. My wife thinks I’m God.”

“She thinks you’re God? What makes you say that?”

“Easy. Every night she places a burnt offering before me.”


Owner’s Manual

Congratulations! You have purchased an extremely fine device that would give you thousands of years of trouble-free service, except that you undoubtably will
destroy it via some typical bonehead consumer maneuver.


U.S. military actually made a zombie apocalypse training manual (excerpts)

By Lewis Parker  May 14, 2014  The Daily Dot

If the U.S. is ever attacked by evil magic zombies, or even the relatively tame creature that is a chicken zombie, rest assured that the Department of Defense has it covered.

Seriously, a document has apparently been unearthed by Foreign Policy magazine that appears to show either the incredible level of preparedness of the U.S. national security community, or it demonstrates how the people tasked with keeping the nation safe are insane.

The zombie attack training manual, “CONOP 8888,” or “Counter Zombie Dominance,” is dated April 2011, and was supposedly found buried on a secret military computer. It tells military planners how to defeat an invasion of flesh eaters, and how to preserve the sanctity of “non-zombie life

While the manual says in its disclaimer that “this plan was not actually designed as a joke,” it still kind of is. What the intelligence community has done here is use “zombie” as a kind of codeword for “enemy,” so as not to look like the Pentagon is planning for an invasion of a particular country, religion, or plague.

To prepare for all possible situations, it says, “We elected to use a completely-impossible scenario that could never be mistaken for a real plan.”

All of which begs the question, of course, if zombies are being used as metaphors for real threats, what the hell are “Vegetarian zombies” doing in there?

Perhaps most remarkable about Counter Zombie Dominance manual is that former Vice President Dick Cheney doesn’t appear once. Not once. Or is he the Evil Magic Zombie? AAAARGH!

Read the full zombie apocalypse training manual below:


You will forget it

An 80 year old couple were having problems remembering things, so they decided to go to their doctor to get checked out to make sure nothing was wrong with them. When they arrived at the doctor’s, they explained to the doctor about the problems they were having with their memory. 

After checking the couple out, the doctor tells them that they were physically okay but might want to start writing things down and make notes to help them remember things. The couple thanked the doctor and left. 

Later that night while watching TV, the old man got up from his chair and his wife asks, “Where are you going?” 

He replies, “To the kitchen.” 

She asks, “Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?” 

He replies, “Sure.” 

She then asks him, “Don’t you think you should write it down so you can remember it?” 

He says, “No, I can remember that.” 

She then says, “Well, I also would like some strawberries on top. You had better write that down cause I know you’ll forget that.” 

He says, “I can remember that, you want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries.” 

She replies, “Well, I also would like whip cream on top. I know you will forget that so you better write it down.” 

With irritation in his voice, he says, “I don’t need to write that down, I can remember that.” He then fumes into the kitchen. 

After about 20 minutes he returns from the kitchen and hands her a plate of bacon and eggs. 

She stares at the plate for a moment and says, “You forgot my toast.” 


And now, a couple of spoof “news” articles for Purim:

Sent out in 2014, but in light of the recent series finale, I repeat it.

Downton Rebbe (abridged)

Julian Fellowes Reveals Plan for Season 4: Bring on the Talmud

By Gail Lerner

Published February 22, 2013, issue of February 22, 2013.

tph backward

The Backward is the Forward’s annual satirical Purim edition. Enjoy!

“We had no idea ‘Downton’ would take off as it did,” marvels Julian Fellowes, executive producer and creator of “Downton Abbey,” relaxing in a yellow damask armchair with a cup of PG Tips. His tony British soap, chronicling the lives and loves of a privileged British household at the turn of the century, has become an international sensation, inspiring “Downton” viewing parties, where rabid fans speak in plummy aphorisms, eat foods from the time period, and dress like their favorite characters.

Now fans will have a new character to dress up as: Rebbe Judah Heschel.

In the highly anticipated Season Four premiere — spoiler alert! — Lord Grantham realizes that, since the death of heir apparent, Cousin Matthew, the only way to preserve Downton is to rent out the drawing room to an itinerant band of yeshiva students and their obstreperous leader, Rebbe Judah Heschel. Tensions ensue! When Heschel insists on having both fleyshik and milkhik kitchens, Mrs. Patmore, the irascible cook, flies into a flustered rage. “I can ‘andle ‘im not lettin’ me use the ovens on Shabbos all right, but if I tell Lady Grantham I can’t be makin’ ‘er baby kid seethed in its mother’s milk no more, she’ll ‘ave me ‘ead!”

“Bringing a Rebbe to Downton just seemed right,” muses Fellowes, winding himself in a tasseled cashmere throw. “It was an opportunity to show a sympathetic Jewish character, at a time when anti-Semitism was still socially acceptable in England.” Producer Nigel Lord has nothing but praise for veteran character actor Edmond Carlyle, whose nuanced performance brings Heschel to life. “Carlyle,” Lord says with admiration, “brings you the authentic kvetching and shrugging the part requires, without any of the inconveniences involved in having an actual Jew on set”.

 “Downton Rebbe” premieres this Adar, Tuesdays at 8/9pm Shushan.

Gail Lerner is a mild-mannered writer in Los Angeles, who occasionally likes to get her Vashti on.


tph catching gefilte fish in the wild


Catching Gefilte Fish in the Wild

Renee Calarco February 28, 2015Image: Anya Ulinich

Q.: For years, I’ve served nothing but wild-caught gefilte fish at my Seder. But it’s gotten so expensive! This year I’m considering serving farm-raised gefilte fish, even though I know it’s not as healthy as wild-caught. Is it safe for me to do so?

A.: Generally speaking, yes. Farming practices have improved greatly since the early 1990s, when many farm-raised fish were crowded into small enclosures and fed sugary, fat-laden diets.

We’ve learned a lot in the past 20 years,” said Amanda Wein of Gefilte Farms in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. “We feed them fewer antibiotics and more matzo. The fish are both dense and delicate, which is part of their appeal. They’re slow-moving and surprisingly affectionate — I have a pet one, Anton, in a bowl at home — but they’re also easily stressed. And when they’re stressed, they tend to fall apart.”

To counter the stressors — and to bolster the fishes’ nutritional value — Wein provides them with an enriched environment. The fish are kept in large tanks lined with classic books. “It turns out a well-read gefilte just tastes better,” says Wein. Her story pans out, according to Dr. Elliot Lister of Brigham Hospital in Boston. Farmed gefilte fish is a nutritionally good choice, with negligible differences in health benefits when compared to wild fish.

“Look,” said Lister, “It’s hard enough to get people to eat gefilte fish. So I tell my patients to just try it. Wild, farmed, doesn’t matter — just try it. At the end of the day, it’s your health. It wouldn’t kill you to try it.”


Company Accused Of Deflating Matzah Balls

03/03/2015 – 19:00

New York — Manischaygitz, a leading manufacturer of kosher food products, was accused this week of selling a new line of Passover matzah meal that intentionally deflates the size of matzah balls.

The New York State Attorney General’s office said it has received dozens of complaints from Jewish homemakers who have begun their Passover cooking preparations and have discovered the inferior matzo balls produced by the mix.

“The balls are definitely deflated,” said Eliasz Feit, a state prosecutor.

Manischaygitz spokesperson Ken Zein vigorously denied the charge.

“Our matzah meal has always yielded big balls,” Zein insisted. “We would have no reason to deflate them, this year or any year. We’re quite proud of them.”

A number of kosher homemakers disagree.

Beth Kisay of the Bronx said, “For my family seder, I always make soup with two big matzo balls in each bowl. I can’t serve these deflated balls. It’s embarrassing. And I can’t just grow a pair, either. I need a reliable mix.”

The Attorney General’s office said it would sue Manischaygitz if more complaints were received in the coming weeks. “It’s a case of deflated balls and inflated prices,” said Feit. “Another Passover rip-off for kosher consumers.”


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