Monday, September 18, 2017

More Views on Tattoos

Last year I published a blog post here entitled "No Tattoos for Jews."

Since that time, I received lots of feedback. For sake of clarity, I'd like to follow up:

My article addressed the question of someone who was considering whether to get tattooed, so I responded with a resounding NO.

However, I did not intend to state that it is forbidden for a Jew to KEEP a tattoo once it has already been inscribed. There is no such prohibition. In other words, the Torah does not obligate a tattooed person to remove his or her tattoos, even in modern times when tattoo-removal is indeed possible. That's why survivors of German concentration camps in WWII are not required to remove the numbers that the Nazis tattooed onto their arms.

Several years ago, a dear friend of mine from Massachusetts, who returned to Jewish observance in his adulthood after a somewhat tumultuous youth, once attended a synagogue in New York City. It was a large synagogue with people of strictly observant backgrounds. My friend rolled up his sleeve to don tefillin. Several young yeshiva students couldn't help but notice the prominent tattoo on his shoulder, and stared at it conspicuously.

Needless to say, my friend felt ashamed and related the incident to me later. I shared the story I had once read in a book by Hanoch Teller. A returnee to Judaism was standing in the vestibule to a men's mikva and his tattoo was exposed. Onlookers stared at him silently. An older man, a Holocaust survivor, broke the silence and showed the numbers on his forearm. "See?" he said, "I also have a tattoo."


The story is telling indeed. Just as the survivor's tattoo was a testimony to his survival of a physical Holocaust, and the baal teshuva's tattoo is a testimony to his survival of a spiritual Holocaust of sorts. It serves as a constant reminder of how distant he had been from Torah observance, and how far he's come in his return.

The fact that others might view it with disdain or contempt is irrelevant to halacha. To the contrary, it ought to encourage the baal teshuva and embolden his resolve. It indicates that his return to Torah isn't because he seeks to conform or belong, but because it is the objective truth. Even if he will stick out like a sore thumb among other Jews of lifelong observance, that does not deter his conviction. That is something for which to be proud, and it's not to say that one is necessarily proud of his tattoo. Instead, he acknowledges that the tattoo is an undesirable consequence of his distance from Torah observance in the past, yet rejoices that it has absolutely no bearing on the present. His return to G-d is complete, irrespective of the scars that remain. A Jew's bond with G-d is quintessential, inherent and unalterable. Marks or blemishes on the outer shell that is the body are merely temporary, just as the body itself is temporary.

It's wrong and foolhardy to judge someone because of his or her tattoos, just as we do not blame Holocaust survivors for their numbers. Just as the survivor's tattoo was involuntary, so too a Jew who tattooed himself or herself due to lack of education, societal pressures, or just because of the yetzer hara (evil inclination), all that is considered involuntary, against the true wishes of one's Divine soul. 

Someone recently asked me, "What can I do to atone for the transgression of having gotten a tattoo? If there is no obligation to remove it, how else can I achieve a tikkun*?"

I recommended:
  1. Reach out to fellow Jews and encourage them to increase in Torah observance, especially mitzvot that pertain to the Jewish body, like the mitzva to not get tattoos, and the mitzva of brit milah, the indelible mark that truly reflects a Jew's bond and covenant with G-d.
  2. Tattoo is called "כתובת קעקע" in the Torah, literally "sunken writing." Since one erred with a prohibited form of writing (i.e. sunken in one's flesh), perhaps the tikkun is to add special emphasis in observance of positive mitzvot that pertain to the correct type of writing. For starters, there is a commandment for each Jew to write one's own Torah scroll. This is fulfilled nowadays by purchasing your own letter in a communal Torah scroll. Another important commandment that relates to writing is mezuza. The Torah states: "וכתבתם על מזוזות ביתך ובשעריך" -- "You shall write (these words) on the doorposts of your home and on your gates." For Jewish males, there is a daily mitzva to don tefillin, which contain parchments that are carefully handwritten by a qualified scribe. Lastly, one can purchase Torah books for one's home. In addition to increasing in all these mitzvot yourself, you can also encourage and assist others to do so.
  3. Maimonides (Laws of Idol Worship, 12:11) writes that the reason for the prohibition against tattoos is related to the Torah's prohibition against idol worship. In ancient times, it was customary for idol-worshipers to tattoo themselves as a sign of commitment to their deity or object of worship, much like an animal that is branded by its owner. The Torah forbids practices that emulate pagan customs like this one, since pagan rites such as these is a first step towards subscribing to their idolatrous belief and worship. So perhaps a fitting tikkun would be the reverse, to distance oneself from the slightest notion of polytheism. This is accomplished by studying chassidut in great depth, particularly the sections that deal with belief in the Oneness of G-d. "The Gate of Unity and Faith" by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, (שער היחוד והאמונה), which is the second section of the Tanya, is a great place to start.
The above relates to tattoos in general. However, if the tattoo depicts an image of something explicitly idolatrous, immoral or licentious, then a competent rabbi should be consulted as to whether there is an obligation to get it removed or keep it covered.

Also, it should be added that modesty is a virtue, and the less skin we flaunt to others the better. So while one may not be required by Torah law to remove a tattoo on one's shoulder, let's say, there's no mitzva to expose one's shoulders in public either. To the contrary, modest attire is always praiseworthy and appropriate when in public. But that's a topic for another time...

Wishing you a sweet new year!

(Click here for my original blog post, "No Tattoos for Jews.")


* tikkun, תיקון in Hebrew, means a rectification or expiation.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

On Toppling Statues but Missing the Main Point


Just curious:

If we are setting out to dishonor (or at least to stop honoring) history's villains, then I would like to throw something into the mix. 

Why stop at toppling a few token statues that are hardly seen by anyone? Much more ought to be done to further our efforts to right the wrongs of history.

I propose that we change the names of numerous cities throughout the United States that were originally named to honor villainous individuals who are unworthy of honor. Moreover, the mere enunciation of the actual names of these cities bestow honor. Not only do they bestow honor, they glorify and exalt these murderous thugs.

1) San Diego, CA --

Diego de Alcalá de Henares was a zealous Franciscan missionary who preached hatred, intolerance and incitement against the hapless Jews of pre-expulsion Spain. He is remembered in Jewish history as an incorrigibly cruel individual. "San" means saint, because this individual was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. He does not deserve the title, and certainly doesn't deserve a city named after him! I propose we rename the California Mission that bears his name too. In fact, I lived in this city many years ago, and could never allow myself to pronounce the city's full name. Instead, I just called it "Diego," so as to not ascribe saintliness to this low-life. However, I wish I'd not have to ever pronounce his name at all. "The name of the wicked shall rot." (Proverbs 10:7) Only the "righteous' name" deserves to be mentioned, "for blessing."

2) St Louis, MO --

Louis IX of France was a fanatical Jew-hater. He cruelly subjected Jews to humiliation, scorn, persecution, expulsion, forced them to wear "Jew badges" (like the Nazis did centuries later), confiscated and burnt many thousands of their books (which were painstakingly hand-written manuscripts in those days). and did little to protect them from murderous crusaders. He was the only king to be canonized by the Church because of his extreme Catholic piety and intolerance of Jews and other non-Catholics. In short, he was an evil man, NOT a saint by any conceivable definition.  I propose we rename this city once and for all to honor a more benign or virtuous human being.

3) San Luis, CO, San Luis, AZ, & St Louis, OR – same reason as above. Named after Louis IX. Change the names of these cities!

4) San Bernadino, CA –

Named after St. Bernard of Siena, a rabid Jew-hater. Widely considered the "major protagonist of Christian antisemitism.” Bernard vilified and marginalized the Jews of Italy and repeatedly called for their expulsion or worse. Wikipedia: “Blaming the poverty of local Christians on Jewish usury, his call for Jews to be banished and isolated from their wider communities led to segregation. His audiences often used his words to reinforce actions against Jews, and his preaching left a legacy of resentment on the part of Jews.” Not only did he incite against Jews, he also preached hate against homosexuals and women who didn't conform to societal norms, brandishing them as witches and conducting witch-hunts against them. Clearly a downright villain and NOT a saint (or San in Spanish). Change the city’s name at once, or at least erase the absurd “San” part!

5) San Vicente Reservoir and San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA –

Presumably named after Vincent Ferrar, a Dominican friar, also a rabid anti-Semite. Ferrar was NO saint for the same reasons I stated above with regards to his infamous contemporary, Bernard. Vincent’s incitement is partially responsible for the widespread mass murder and forced conversions of Jews in 1391 that began in Seville and spread throughout Spain. Vincent personally coerced 25,000 Jews to submit to baptism under pain of death or incarceration. He was an evil dude. The reservoir and boulevard both need a new name!

6) San Juan Capistrano, CA –

John of Capestrano was a Franciscan friar and inquisitor who terrorized untold numbers of innocent people in Italy. The inquisition was a Catholic institution that tortured and executed hundreds of thousands of innocent people whom the Catholic Church considered heretics. Many of these victims were burnt alive auto-de-fé.  Wikipedia: “John was known as the ‘Scourge of the Jews’ for his inciting of antisemitic violence. Like some other Franciscans, he ranged over a broad area on both sides of the Alps, and John's preaching to mass open-air congregations often led to pogroms. In 1450 the Franciscan ‘Jew-baiter’ arranged a forced disputation at Rome” in which he coerced Jews to participate in a debate with Catholic clergy during which the Jews did not have free speech, and would be severely punished for saying anything “blasphemous.” (Louis IX above did the same and forced Jews to participate in the Disputation of Paris in 1241, after which thousands of Jewish books were confiscated and burned.) More about John of Capestrano from Wikipedia: “Between 1451 and 1453, his fiery sermons against Jews persuaded many southern German regions to expel their entire Jewish population, and in Silesia, then Kingdom of Bohemia, at Breslau some were burned at the stake.” Real nice guy, that John. Such a beautiful seaside city doesn’t deserve to be named after such an incorrigible villain. Change the name of its historic mission too. Speaking of which, missions enslaved and forcibly converted Native Americans to Catholicism. Why allow such edifices to remain standing? After all, they pay tribute to horrific injustices that were cruelly perpetrated against helpless Native Americans. Tear down the Missions!

There are many more examples, but I’ll suffice with the six I mentioned above. Cities named after Catholic clergy who participated in the Inquisition, enslavement or forced conversions of Jews or Native Americans or others, or any other form of persecution of innocents, all ought to be renamed. Why should the memories of wicked people be enshrined in perpetuity in the name of a city, street, institution or geographic location?

Furthermore, the names of all cities that start with Saint, San or Santa ought to be modified. I do not accept the saintliness of any of these individuals, give the criteria that the Church used to pick their saints. This is clearly evidenced by the six ignominious individuals delineated above, plus many, many more like them. Cities like San Juan or St Paul are named after Catholic apostles who were up to no good. Paul’s writings are clearly anti-Semitic. I say remove his name from the city, or at least the “Saint” part. It’s offensive to people who are not of the Catholic faith to be forced to ascribe saintliness to someone they consider unsaintly. Why must I invoke “Saint” every time I refer to the city by name?

Moreover, cities like “Holy Cross, AK” or “St Croix Falls, WI” (“St Croix literally means “holy cross”) need to be renamed too. I do not believe that there is anything venerable or holy about the cross. Many consider it an unholy symbol. (Don’t mean to single out the Cross. I consider the Muslim Crescent unholy as well). So why must I be forced to venerate it by calling it holy every time I mention that city’s name? Plus, cities called “Holy Cross” are offensive to the millions throughout history who were murdered and persecuted in the name of the Cross. Corpus Christi is another problematic city name, in my opinion. But let’s not go there…

Cities, schools or streets named after any conquistador need to be renamed too. Spanish Conquistadors were often mass murderers and decimated or enslaved Native Americans, like Hernán Cortés and others of his ilk. So anything named after Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, Hernando de Soto, or Vasco Núñez de Balboa, for example, all need to be renamed. Speaking of Balboa, he executed homosexuals as well.

Christopher Columbus is personally responsible for the murder and enslavement of thousands of Native Americans too. He was the first to capture and send Native slaves back to Europe by the thousands. Many died due to squalid and subhuman conditions during transit. Why name cities (or anything else) after him?  Lots of US cities (schools and streets too) called Columbus or Columbia ought to consider being renamed, not to mention our capital, “District of Columbia.” Why can’t we think of a more impeccably-virtuous person after whom to name our capital?

St. Helena, CA, is presumably named after another Catholic saint, a Roman empress who was the mother of Emperor Constantine. Personally, I do not consider any Roman emperor or empress worthy to deserve the title “saint.” Don’t wish to elaborate, but the Roman ruling class was a particularly savage bunch of people.

Till now, we’ve just been discussing US cities. Worldwide, there are many more names of cities that I find objectionable.

Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine, is perhaps the most deplorable. Bogdan Chmielnicki was a genocidal mass murderer who was guilty of unspeakable crimes against humanity.  He murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews in the most horrific ways. He is possibly one of the most egregious villains in history, along with Hitler and Stalin.

Not only do the Ukrainians have a city in his wretched name, they also have the “Bohdan Khmelnytsky” state military award. And it’s not only Ukraine. Russia also has a Bohdan Khmelnytsky Bridge in Moscow named in his honor. The depraved rogue does not deserve any honor!

Don’t counter that it’s too hard to change the name of an entire city of a developed nation. It’s not hard at all. In fact, it’s easier than toppling statues. Plus, there is already a precedent.

The Russians did it numerous times, from the early days of Bolshevism, to the period of de-Stalinization, all the way to the recent fall of the Soviet Union. Examples include Volgograd (from Stalingrad, and Tsaritsyn before that), Dniepropetrovsk (from Yekaterinoslav, and many other names before that), and the return to the original Petersburg (from Leningrad.  Please note that I specifically did not use the prefix “Saint” when mentioning the latter city, since Czar Peter was no saint in my book.

It’s not just cities or streets that need a name change. Entire religious affiliations ought to consider re-branding themselves as well, for the very same reason.

Martin Luther was a rabid anti-Semite, as is apparent from his writings, especially in his later years. Read his infamous “The Jews and their Lies.”  I find it rather shocking that there is a modern-day branch of religion that still bears his name, Lutheranism. Have these people no shame? Can’t they change their name? Do they not know that Martin Luther’s name and writings were invoked by Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials? The notorious Nazi propagandist, Julius Streicher said in his defense that he was, after all, only repeating what Martin Luther had written.

If millions of Americans were to name a religious cult after Robert E Lee, or declared him a saint, don’t you think they’d be rightfully dubbed bigots, nominally at least? The media would be up in arms, and rightfully so. Why are Lutherans any different?

I don’t mean to insult any individuals who adhere to that particular faith, but am merely wondering about the name of their religion, and about the movement as a whole. Why would they ever wish to perpetuate the name of such a vicious hater? Let his memory be erased, as per Proverbs 10:7 cited above.

It is morally revolting when so-called Palestinian Arabs name their streets or institutions after genocidal terrorist masterminds, or, for example, when they named an elementary school after a woman who personally murdered 37 innocent civilians, twelve of whom were young children. It is a sorry sign of the appalling depravity of the Palestinian society to glorify such unspeakable crimes against humanity. But we expect more from “enlightened” western society. So why do we here in the West still have cities etc that venerate the memories of truly unvenerable degenerates? Why honor someone so dishonorable?

If we are seeking to sanitize our society by removing statues of prominent Confederates because of their historic crimes that were committed long ago, then let’s be consistent. Otherwise, it appears like we’re being selective, politically divisive, and agenda-based. When we’re only interested in righting one particular historical wrong but not others, it seems disingenuous, as though there’s some subjective or ulterior motive, perhaps financial or political. If we’re truly altruistic about this, then let’s be consistent and do it right.

You are certainly entitled to feel that history’s secessionist bigots are undeserving of honor, but what about history’s supersessionist bigots like Thomas Aquinas or Augustine of Hippo? And what about lay authors who maligned Jews in their writings with anti-Semitic tropes, canards, and stereotypes that were typically used to incite the masses to actual violence against Jews? I’m referring to revered literary giants like Chaucer and Shakespeare. Why do they deserve our reverence? They were guilty of hate speech, calumny and (arguably) incitement?

(Please forgive me for not including prominent people from history who were guilty of similar crimes against others. As a Jew, I tend to know more about historical bad guys who hit closer to home.)

One last point:

Perhaps one might see fit to advocate for the toppling of Confederate statues but have no problem with a city named for a bigoted genocidal Inquisitor, for example. He or she might argue that slavery was a more recent atrocity, and that bigotry against “Blacks” persists to this day, while the Inquisition is like ancient history. This is a seriously-flawed argument.

As mentioned above, adherence to Luther and his writings was cited in defense of Nazi war criminals. The Holocaust is much more recent than the end of slavery in the US. The Catholic Church and much of Christian Europe turned a blind eye to this recent genocide of the Jews, and in many places assisted the Germans or even carried out the horrific murders themselves. Catholic and European marginalization of Jews has continued till very recent times.

In fact, hatred of Jews persists to this day, in many ways at a much greater degree than any other form of bigotry in history. Jews are many more times likely to be victims of hate crimes here in the US than any other ethnic group, and that ratio has been growing at an alarming rate in recent years. Around the world, hatred of Jews has swelled to unprecedented levels that haven’t been seen since pre-WWII. In US universities and college campuses, Jews are routinely marginalized and bullied.

Millions throughout the world deny that the Holocaust ever happened, though no one has ever disputed the dark crimes committed against African slaves. Hundreds of millions of people around the world openly call for genocide of the Jews,[1] as do numerous countries and their dictators.

If anything, we ought to be more averse to honoring historical anti-Semites than any other type of bigot in history.

Oh well. I’m doubtful whether anyone will take my rant seriously. Everyone will probably fall in line with which ever political side they belong to, either for or against Robert E Lee statues. Well, let it be known that at least one disgruntled American refuses to refer to many US cities by name, or by their complete name.

In my book, it’s just plain Diego, CA or Louis, MO. When I’m forced to write it as an address or for other official reasons (and I lived in Diego for a few years, as I may have mentioned above), I simply write “S Diego.”

“S” doesn’t stand for “San” or “Saint,” but for “Shameful.”


PS:  since we're discussing statues, it's worthwhile to point out that statues of human beings are prohibited by Torah (see Rambam, Laws of Idolatry 3:15-16), even if they're not for the purpose of idolatrous worship. This applies to statues or 3-d forms of any human likeness, not just of offensive bad guys.




[1] Calling for the end of the State of Israel is a thinly-veiled call for genocide of the Jews.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Aleph-Bet of Family



Your four ALPHA relatives to whom you are closest in your primary/formative years all start with ALEPH א:

אב...אם...אח...אחות

Of course, just as primary is G-d, א-ל, Who also starts with ALEPH. (Tehllim 22:11 “מבטן אמי א-לי אתה”)
Of course, your Alpha sense of self, your אני, is heavily influenced by your relationship with these five alphas.

Then there are your BETA relatives (who start with BET ב)

בן...בת

They are secondary. Like the בי"ת of בראשית ברא, you “created” them.

Then there are נו"ן descendants who perpetuate your scion. (ינון שמו)

נכד...נין

(נו"ן often reflects perpetuation, as per a recent comment made by David Kolinsky. And נון in Aramaic means fish, which often symbolize propagation. וידגו לרוב בקרב הארץ)


To break it down beyond the Aleph & Bet:

Father, אב, is the progenitor. אב is fertility, greenness, fruitfulness. Your conception was thanks to his desire (אבה) to plant his seed. (אב from אבה -- David Kolinsky)

Mother, אם, is the source of life, like מים. The מקור from which you emerged. אם means ever present (as אם with אל"ף חרוקה means “if” the condition is present, and עם means to be “with,” ever present. מים is ubiquitous liquid – David Kolinsky) and a mother is ever present with her child.

בי"ת and מ"ם are both אותיות בומ"פ, from the lips, שפתיים. Lips are the opening of the mouth, the very first organs of speech (from the outside looking in). אד-ני שפתי תפתח ופי יגיד תהלתיך. The lips of the gift of speech come from your mother & father. In your earliest infancy, you carefully studied their lips when they spoke. You nursed from your Mom with your lips. It is appropriate that their prominent names are pronounced from your lips.

In particular, בי"ת (as in בא, & also metathesis of אב) means to enter into, while מ"ם means to be from her. Your אבא comes and goes in your life, but your אמא is a constant. She’s where you’re from.  You waited for your Dad to come home, but your Mom was always with (עם) you (or you were always with her).

To elaborate a bit on the lip-letter idea above:

The maternal אם has nasal bilabial מ"ם, even more natural and organic than the non-nasal בי"ת of אב. That’s because your relationship with your אמא is natural and inherent. You are part of her from your earliest sentient state, plus she was your sole source of nourishment even after you left her womb. The sound “mmm” in English reflects something instinctively delicious or nourishing. As you sucked with your lips, your nose remained open for you to breathe. So bilabial nasal מ"ם reflects the unique mom/nursling symbiotic relationship. And even after you were weaned, מים with two mems remain your source of life, and the source of everything yummy & nourishing. (“מים מצמיחים כל מיני תענוג”, Tanya ch 1).

Your אבא, on the other hand, was a bit detached from you. He was not your food or your lifeline. He was very much an outsider while your mom carried & later nursed you. So he gets a nasal-obstructed בי"ת. He is certainly responsible for your entry (בא) into this world, even if in a detached way. Furthermore, you heard his voice regularly as you developed inside your Mom’s womb for nine months. Even afterwards, as you grew, you hopefully learned how important it is to listen to his voice (and mom’s voice too). So he at least gets a voiced bilabial בי"ת, and not a voiceless bilabial פ"א.

One last thought on the maternal מ"ם and paternal בי"ת: “Mm” is the sound you make when your mouth is still shut, as long as your nostrils are open, and can be synchronized with your exhaling, while “Bb” is a sound you can make only once you open your mouth. Perhaps this is symbolic to the notion that your quintessential soul (נשמה שנפחת בי) identifies with your iMMa. ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים.[1] Your aBBa does not pertain to your nostrils or your breathing, your innermost נשמה, but only the “outer” aspects of your identity symbolized by your open mouth.

Brother is אח because the single-letter root חי"ת means settled and at ease, like נחת (– Rabbi Jeremy Steinberg). The biliteral אח also reflects a sense of unity of two disparate individuals who share common ancestry and fraternity. לאחות means to evenly mend a torn fabric. You hopefully feel more at ease with your brother and sister than anyone else.

The בי"ת of your בן and בת reflect the בי"ת of your own fatherhood, the product of your own becoming an אב. The fruit of your desire.

In particular, בן is a builder (בנה), building your progeny and patrilineal dynasty. Boys are future builders, as the זכר “builds” and cultivates ("בעל") the נקבה, who in turn becomes built (pregnant) and houses (בית) the fetus.

That’s why בת is a בית of sorts, and the daughter will someday make a house of her own (ויעש להן בתים) by bearing children.

The נו"ן of בן indicates perpetuation (ינון שמו), to perpetuate one’s patrilineal name and “build” an edifice of future progeny. The תי"ו of בת is a demarcation and a chamber (תא) that creates space for a home and hosts its dweller.

On the other hand, the תי"ו indicates a demarcation of the limits & end of property. Your בת may have borne your name and tribal/familial affiliation, but her offspring did not (at least not in ancient times, and not according to contemporary halacha either). So she represented an end of sorts.

But that is not a bad thing! In fact, her being a בת makes her uniquely capable of creating a בית, a home, what happens when the בת houses the inner יו"ד, the Divine, the symbol of the ever-present and the future. (יו"ד conjugates future-tense verbs and also הווה תמיד, as in ככה יעשה איוב כל הימים).

In a previous post, we theorized that biliteral בת (and בט) might mean nullification and cessation, or negation of self (בטול). Can בת, the name of female offspring of humanity, be symbolic of a woman’s sacrifice and selflessness in making her home? Her entire identity becomes one with her child, and her own body becomes his earliest life source. Indeed, she is his cradle and incubator, nutrition, hydration and jacuzzi, all in one. She is her fetus’ entire world.

She becomes a walking house for her young, a new life. This awesome role becomes her entire existence.

In that sense, perhaps your בת captures the essence of who you are, a human being created to house the Divine, the Source of all Life. Your non-essential aspects, like your patrilineal family name or tribal affiliation, are not passed on through the בת, but the essence of your humanity is. It is this essence that is expressed only in your own home, where you feel comfortable just to be you, where no one cares about your surname or station in life. וַיַּעֲשֵׂהוּ כְּתַבְנִית אִישׁ כְּתִפְאֶרֶת אָדָם לָשֶׁבֶת בָּיִת (Isaiah 44:13), translated in Targum Yonasan: “וְעָבֵיד לֵיהּ כִּדְמוּת גְבַר כְּתוּשְׁבְּחַת אִתְּתָא לְמֵיתַּב בְּבֵיתָא”. Fascinating how “איש” is interpreted to mean man, and “אדם” (the quintessential name of humankind – see Malbim) is interpreted to mean woman.

So in a sense, the בן might be a builder, but he is just a means to an end. The בת is the בית herself, the ends for which the world was created: to house the Divine. The בית domicile is a domain exclusive to the בת, the place where the בת was always dominant, in ancient civilization perhaps in a more practical sense, and nowadays in a spiritual sense. "ביתו זו אשתו". Also, דביתא means “wife” in Aramaic,  which seems to translate to “of the house.”

The נו"ן of perpetuation in בן is reflected in the first letters of נכד and נין (just as the בי"ת of אב is reflected in the first letters of בן and בת), but perhaps the תי"ו of בת reflects an end and sense of ultimate purpose, (as opposed to a נו"ן which serves as line from one point to the next, from above to below or from former to latter).

This might be why our Sages taught that the Torah was offered/given first to women. כה תאמר לבית יעקב ותגד לבני ישראל. The “house of Jacob” (בית יעקב) is interpreted to mean women, while the “sons of Israel” (בני ישראל) means men. The בַּיִת is the end product, the purpose, and hence it prioritized before the builders בֹּנִים.

Just as בת might be etymologically related to בט of בטול, negation or transparency, perhaps the word בית is as well. A בית relates to בטול as well, since a home is completely בטל to, or in total consonance with, and transparent to, the dweller. Its entire existence enables the dweller to be “himself” and genuinely consistent with his innermost identity. As such, the “home” doesn’t conceal the dweller, but allows him to be fully revealed within its sacred space.

Our sages taught that G-d created the Cosmos because He desired a “home,” as it were.  Tanya states: מודעת זאת מאמר רז"ל, שתכלית בריאת עולם הזה הוא שנתאוה הקב"ה להיות לו דירה בתחתונים.[3] The ultimate purpose of Creation, is because the Holy One blessed be He desired a home for Himself in this lowest realm.

Perhaps the idea of the world being a “home” to house the Divine is hinted to in the biliteral root בת in the word בית, as though its entire existence is to feel like naught or בטל , totally transparent, in the presence of its Divine Dweller Who will someday become fully revealed in His “house.” כתפארת אדם לשבת בית. As the Prophets state concerning the Era of Moshiach, וראו כל בשר יחדיו כי פי ה' דיבר, and [4]"כי עין בעין יראו וגו'", לא יהיה לך עוד השמש לאור יומם וגו' כי ה' יהיה לך לאור עולם וגו"[5]

Perhaps the בי"ת of בית is reflected in the בי"ת of your בן and your בת. Indeed, although your Alpha relatives are primary in your formative years, and your interactions with them at that developmental time was most influential to who you are today, you eventually move away from these relatives to create a home of your own. על כן יעזב איש את אביו ואת אמו, ודבק באשתו והיו לבשר אחד. Note that בשר is with a בי"ת, indicating that your spouse is indeed “other”, separate and distinct from you, and yet together you create one organism, בשר אחד, one child, בן or בת. Indeed, it is in how you treat your “others”, your Beta offspring, that reflects your purpose in this world, the extent of the affect you have on the World of otherness. And it is from this בי"ת (duality or otherness) that one finally feels at home. And effectively, your Creator then feels at home.

There is an Aramaic word בת that’s used just once in TaNaCh, in Daniel 6:19: “אֱדַיִן אֲזַל מַלְכָּא לְהֵיכְלֵהּ וּבָת טְוָת”. “Then the king went to his palace and retired while fasting.” The word "ובת" means he “spent the night”, like לן in Hebrew.[6] It’s also used throughout the Talmud with a similar meaning. In Daniel, it specifically means he spent the night in his own palace. It means “retiring for the night” in one’s own home in numerous places in the Talmud as well[7] (as opposed to certain exceptions in Gemara where it means to “lodge” anywhere, even in an open field[8], or as in “מיא דביתו”, Aramaic for “מים שלנו”.[9]) Perhaps the idea of בת lodging (especially in one’s own home) overnight relates to making somewhere your home בית, at least for this night.[10]

And now perhaps we have yet another hint in the word שבת, Shabbat, since in Mishnaic Hebrew, שבת can also mean spending the Sabbath somewhere, which necessitates settling (שב as a biliteral) down and spending the night too.[11] On Shabbat, we are required to “feel at home” exactly where we are.[12] Perhaps when the Torah says that “G-d rested,” “וישבות אלקים ביום השביעי”, it connotes that He “felt at home” in His world, and therefore ceased His creative labors.

Perhaps Shabbat is a dual-function. The world finally feels at home with G-d because it embraces its core, its inherent “non-existence” (בטול – see previous post) and total transparency before its infinite Creator, “כולא קמי' כלא חשיב”. Consequently, the Creator “feels at home” (כביכול) in His world, thus fulfilling the purpose of Creation, “that the Holy One blessed be He, desired a dwelling place in this lowest realm.”[13]

For the past few generations, we have heard about the so-called “generation gap,” the impassible and ever-widening divide between parents and their children in modern times. Of course, this is indicated in the בי"ת, the “other” and secondary nature of בנים ובנות, children, your Beta relatives. It is no wonder that their choices often feel foreign or “other” to you, especially after they’ve left the nest.

You may recall the words of the famous Shabbos hymn, “השומר שבת הבן עם בת לא-ל ירצו כמנחה על מחבת” – “One who observes the Shabbat, (with) the son with the daughter, to G-d it will be pleasing like a peace-offering.” Perhaps the message is, if you observe Shabbat with your family, if G-d feels at home (בית) in your home, your relationship with your son and your daughter (הבן עם הבת) will indeed be pleasing, to all of you and to G-d, like a מנחה offering (which implies being at ease, מנוחה).

שבת also contains “שב”, returning. By keeping Shabbat, we keep “retuning” to feeling at home, no matter how diverse or splintered our work weeks had been.

To conclude today’s discussion of Biblical Hebrew names for close family members, the biggest take-home message is: keep Shabbos! And remember that more than you can ever keep Shabbat, Shabbat will keep you, and will keep your home intact!

Indeed, observance of Shabbat is a vital and integral way to make your home בית a safe-haven where you, your spouse (דביתהו) and your children (בן & בת) all truly feel at home, at home with themselves and at home with HaShem.

In the merit of strengthening our Shabbat observance, may HaShem send us Elijah the Prophet, who “will return the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents.”
וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב אָבוֹת עַל בָּנִים וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל אֲבוֹתָם[14]
May it be speedily in our days!







[1] It should be pointed out that אף nostril is also א primary and פ bilabial. Perhaps that’s a nod to the life-force that comes from HaShem, embodied and symbolized by your breathing, ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים, as פ"א רפויה can sound like the sound of exhaling (or inhaling). Hence all three partners in your existence are hinted to as a bilabial consonant following the primary אל"ף: 1) your אב, 2) your אם, 3) your Creator, felt every time you breathe through your nostrils, אף.
[2] Always appears with possessive pronoun, like דביתהו, “his wife,” which would presumably translate as “of his house.”
[3] Tanya chapter 36, quoting from Tanchuma Naso 16.
[4] ישעיהו נב ח
[5] ישעיהו ס יט
[6] פרש"י ומצו"צ שם
[7] פסחים קז,א, תענית כד,ב, ועוד
[8] ברכות ס,ב
[9] “Water that was kept in a vessel overnight. Pesachim 42a. Also “מבית לי' למת” postponing a burial and keeping corpse overnight, Sanhedrin 47a, as well as בת דינא in Sanhedrin 95a, “the verdict was procrastinated” or kept overnight.
[10] It means being at ease, retiring, but not sleeping per se. Note that in Daniel, the verse clearly mentions that וְשִׁנְתֵּהּ נַדַּת עֲלוֹהִי, sleep eluded him.
[11] See ילקוט שמעוני רמז רטז. See also פאה ח:ז
[12] As it says, “ועשית כל מלאכתך”, and Rashi comments: “כאילו כל מלאכתך עשויה
[13] Note that “lowest” or “bottom-most” is בטי in Aramaic, and “last” is בתר. See previous post.
[14] Malachi 3:24