RE’EH (Deuteronomy, 11:26-16:17) — “The Emperor’s New Tallis”


Next Wednesday,  August 11, will be the first day of the Jewish month of Elul.  The month of Elul is traditionally a time of introspection and preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  After services every weekday morning, we sound the Shofar as a reminder that Rosh Hashanah is a mere month away.  Our prayers get a little longer and become a little more sincere.  We use this time to get our spiritual act together in time for the New Year when G‑d will decide our fates for the coming year.

“The Emperor’s New Tallis”

Jewish culture is very nice.  But Jewish Law is G-d’s word.  Sometimes we may be tempted to alter commandments and ceremonies to match our own agendas.

The Torah has other ideas:

The entire word that I command you – be on your guard to do just that; do not add to it and do not subtract from it.  (Deuteronomy, 13:1)

Commandments were given to us by the Creator of the World.  He knows very well what is best for us.  We wouldn’t make our own decisions to “enhance” a prescription from our doctor by adding a few ingredients of our own.  Nor would we delete a few ingredients just because we, who are untrained in medicine and pharmacology, decided to tweak the formula.  Nor should we use a medication that is not prescribed.  “Doctor” knows best.


It was the social event of the year.

The mother-of-the-bride is a Secretary of State and former Senator.  The father-of-the-bride is the former leader of the free world.  They are probably the second-most powerful couple in America, possibly in the world.  It’s about as close to American royalty as you can get (without being a Kennedy!)

There was, of course, a Chuppah.  How do you have a Simcha without one?  And a framed Ketubah.  And a Yarmulke.  And a Tallis.  And a broken glass.

Oh, there was also a Jewish young man who wanted to get married.

Unfortunately, as far as Torah Law is concerned, he didn’t.

[Before I go any further, I want to be clear.  I bear no ill will against this couple, and I am not judging them.  I’m sure they are both nice people.  And if they want to live in a way that is not in keeping with Torah values, that’s their business.  Rather, I am responding to the notion by some that this wedding was somehow a Jewish event by virtue of various props used at the party.]

The ceremony was conducted by two clerics who are both rather casual about the teachings of their respective religions.  Personally if I were a Christian I wouldn’t be thrilled about the idea of one of my congregants marrying a fellow who rejects the Christian savior.  Let alone a non-believer with a Tallis!  The denomination from which the Jewish clergyman — a chaplain from Yale —  hails “reluctantly” permits their members to officiate at intermarriages, as long as there is no non-Jewish clergy and as long as it doesn’t take place on the Sabbath.  I guess he cheated.

The Tallis thing is kind of interesting.  Our Sages tell us that the Tallis, a four-cornered garment with special fringes on it, serves, in part, to remind us to obey all 613 Commandments.  (See “Fringe Benefits”.)  Including the Commandment to observe the Sabbath.  Including the Commandment to keep Kosher.  Including the prohibition against marrying out-of-faith.

I think they should have left the Tallis at home.

The Ketubah?  A Ketubah is a document, a legal agreement between a Chossan and Kallah that declares, in part, “…Be my wife … in accordance to the laws of Jewish men … as is done with the Daughters of Israel, that are done according to the established rules of our Sages…” 

Daughters of Isreal??   Established rules of our Sages??  What connection could there possibly be between a legitimate Ketubah and the party that happened last Saturday??

Yarmulke?  Nothing Jewish there.  The Pope also wears a Yarmulke.  (I wonder if he was invited.)


In other words, there was nothing Jewish about what happened last week.  Nothing at all.  Some will point with pride at all the symbolism.  I’m not a big believer in empty symbols.  (See See “A High Fly Matzah Ball into SHALLOW Center Field”.)  Some see the inclusion of the very Jewish-looking props as a sign that Judaism will play a large role in their future life together.

Some choose to view the superficially Jewish-looking aspects of this event as proof that we have “made it.”  Here we are in the open society known as America.  We are so accepted in the higher echelons of American society that one of “our own” has been admitted to “Camelot.”  And he didn’t even have to become a Methodist!

A colleague of the Jewish fellow who performed the ceremony said, “The price of our reaffirmation in American society is a high rate of intermarriage.  We can’t be embraced and not expect that our young people won’t be marrying with their young people. Unless we are prepared to withdraw into a ghetto, there is no solution.” (Quoted from here.)

Isn’t that sad?  Of course there is a solution.  It’s called Jewish education!

He continued, “I hope they will make a choice to raise their children in a single religion and tradition and second, as a Jew and rabbi, I hope it will be Judaism…”

America is a free country and this gentleman can use any title he wants.  But to me, he doesn’t sound like much of a rabbi.  Why in the world should they raise non-Jewish children as Jews?  Why confuse the children of a non-Jewish mother and allow them to think that they are Jewish?

What’s that you say, maybe she’ll convert to Judaism?  Maybe.  If she undergoes a full-fledged, legitimate conversion to Judaism and she and her husband fully observe all the Commandments and raise their children on Kosher food and Kosher values, maybe this story will have a happy ending.

But if that Yale fellow who did the original ceremony has anything to do with a conversion, she’d be well-advised to remain a Methodist.


Rabbi Meir Kahane הי״ד —  an author with whom this writer usually respectfully disagrees —   observed back in 1988 that the then-political climate demonstrated the dangers of Jewish life in America.  Jesse Jackson was vying for the Democratic nomination for President; Michael Dukakis got that nomination.

Jackson is, of course, a vicious anti-Semite.  Dukakis was married to a Jew.  Some elements, said Rabbi Kahane, work on destroying us from without.  Other elements undermine us from within.


The broken glass?  Every happy occasion carries a component of sadness.  We break a glass under a Chuppah as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple.  Our joy is not complete when our People are in exile and so far from the Temple and from G-d and Torah values.  Therefore, we destroy an article of value to help us maintain perspective.  At this event a broken glass wasn’t necessary; the whole event was a broken glass!

I wrote a few weeks ago (“Oh, Say, Can You Eat?!”) that the freedom we have in America is a double-edged sword.  We have the freedom to live as Jews.  We also have the freedom to walk away from it all, or to live an imitation Judaism that is all symbolism and no substance.

When you’re not careful with a double-edged sword you can cut yourself pretty badly.

It is common occurrence for people to cry at weddings.  At this wedding, we shouldn’t cry tears of joy; we should cry tears of “Oy!”  

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.


 From the Archives

“The Emperor’s New Tallis” (2010)

It was the social event of the year…

There was, of course, a Chuppah.  How do you have a Simcha without one?  And a framed Ketubah.  And a Yarmulke.  And a Tallis.  And a broken glass.

Oh, there was also a Jewish young man who wanted to get married.

Unfortunately, as far as Torah Law is concerned, he didn’t…

Read more.


“The Tire Kicker” (2009)

How should we live our lives?  What does G-d want us to do?

The answer to this question SHOULD BE simple:  Open the Torah, read what it says, and do it!  After all, it’s the Master of the World’s instructions.  He made the world and He made us.  Certainly He knows what’s best for us.

He told us to rest on the Sabbath, so we should rest on the Sabbath.  He told us not to worship idols, so we shouldn’t worship idols.

But what if G-d changes His mind?  Do the rules change if G-d decides to set up a different system?

What if G-d decides, “You know, I don’t like the way things are working out with the current Mitzvah arrangement.  The original Testament I set up isn’t working so well.  I think I’ll write a ‘New’ one.”…

Read more.


 “Birds of Different Feathers …?” (2007)

… It is commonly understood that the reason we don’t eat eagles, owls, and hawks is that they are birds of prey.  Birds that attack other animals and tear them to shreds with their claws are not the types of creatures we want to consume… the Torah wanted to distance us from the consumption of cruel animals because they would somehow taint us spiritually and ingrain a degree of cruelty into our souls.

One interesting bird on the list is the Chasidah, usually translated as a stork… The Chasidah is a very generous bird who shares its food with its fellow Chasidahs.  …  This begs the obvious question… we don’t eat these non-kosher birds because they are cruel.  We don’t want to ingest a nasty bird that kills other animals.  But the Chasidah is a nice guy!  He shares his food with his fellows.  He does Chesed, acts of kindness for others!  So what’s the problem?..

Read more.


 “You!”  (2006)

… The Talmud describes how the available bachelorettes borrowed dresses (so as not to embarrass one who had none) and went down to the vineyards to meet eligible bachelors … two days, Yom Kippur and the Fifteenth of Av, were the two main days for arranging marriages.

Doesn’t that seem a bit odd?  Yom Kippur, a day of serious spiritual yearning, a time of forgiveness of sins!  Is that the right time to arrange a date?!  The month of Av, a time during which we have shed oceans of tears!  Is that an appropriate time for a singles event?! …

Read more.


“Terrible or Tear-able? – The Living Talk about Dying” (2005)

… I once went to visit a friend who was sitting Shiva for his father.  He and his mother were both wearing black ribbons pinned to their shirts.  Now this black ribbon, as I will explain, has no significance whatsoever in traditional Jewish practice.  It was the last day of Shiva.  My friend, taking advantage of the fact that a rabbi was visiting, decided to call upon the vast wealth of Torah knowledge that his friend the rabbi could provide.

“So tell me, Rabbi,” he asked.  “How long am I supposed to wear this ribbon?”…

Read more.


“A Little Bit Kosher?!” (2004)

“There’s no such thing as ‘a little bit pregnant.”  There are no two ways about it; either you are or you aren’t.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Kosher law was so simple? … “Why are there so many Kosher symbols? What ever happened to the plain, simple “K”? O-U, O-K, Star-K? OY VAY!!!!”… I still haven’t answered the question about dual standards.   Must meat be Glatt kosher or not?  Must milk be Cholov Yisroel or not?  IS SHE PREGNANT OR NOT?!

Read more.


“A High Fly Matzah Ball into SHALLOW Center Field” (2003)

… My son and I went to a baseball game the other day.  I usually try to take him to a game or two every season, and this particular day fit into my schedule.  Coincidentally, it happened to have been Jewish Heritage Day at Shea Stadium.  What, I wondered, is “Jewish Heritage?”  Well, now I was going to find out.

It was, in many ways, a wonderful day.  Fortunately for my son-the-Met-fan, the Mets beat the  Rockies. (Again!)  The weather was great.  Cliff Floyd had four hits and an intentional walk.  Al Leiter pitched a season-high ten strikeouts.  It was a good day at Shea.

Oh, and the “Jewish Heritage Day?”  To be honest, I was, at best, underwhelmed…

Read more.


“Spring Ahead …” (2002)

…Jews and Muslims both use a lunar calendar. Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month, always comes out on the new moon. Why then, is there such a discrepancy between the Jewish and Muslim calendars? While Ramadan can come out any time during the year, Rosh Hashanah is always in September, and Passover is always in March or April.  How do calendars that are so similar end up so different?…

If the calendar were left alone… we’d have Chanukah in July! (At least it might eliminate the “December dilemma!”) …

Read more.



… Did you ever wonder why we left in a hurry?  We eat Matzah to remember that since we were in a hurry, there was no time for our bread to rise.  But what was the rush?  Why were we in such a hurry?   We couldn’t afford a few more minutes to take the bread out of the oven and put some peanut butter on it?!  210 years in  Egypt, and we can’t take the time to pack and leave like a mentch?!…

Read more.


This is the weekly message at Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel ( and chaplain in  Monsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 6:27 pm  Comments (3)  

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nice piece, Rabbi! I especially liked the hook! 🙂

  2. As someone who was intermarried, and is now married to a Korean woman who will celebrate her first birthday Erev Erev Rosh haShanah, who wears a shaytl and keeps the Taryag Mitzvos that apply to her now, who is buddy buddy with the Rebbetzins of Roshei Yeshivos and is warmly accepted by everyone as Rochel bas Sarah Emanu, I just felt so sad when I saw pictures of the wedding in Rhinebeck. Ok, the Clintons now have Machetunim, but I saw the groom and thought, there went I. He is very happy, but his Neshama is crying out. His pintele Yid was on display for all to see.

    I hope that Chelsea discovers that she also has a Neshama, that she also becomes “born again” old-style and that she gets a real Kesuba. In the meantime, the Mezvinsky’s are welcome at my Tisch anytime.

    • There is a big difference here. The fact that your wife is a convert is really not relevant.

      You did the wrong thing; you met a non-Jewish woman and you married her. Then you did the right thing.

      Then you did the right thing again. You met a Jewish woman (who happened to have been born non-Jewish) and then you married her.

      I’m not so sure we should be in a big rush to encourage a Methodist to become Jewish.

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