Since I was at school, the subject of the Jewish calendar and the times for the observance of Mitzvot have always fascinated me. At that period, I started working out a calendar in an exercise book for the next umpteen years. I was so keen that I was once caught by a master whilst working on this during one of his lessons. This teacher had the habit of tearing up anything pupils would be writing during his lessons. When he saw me writing, he took my exercise book to tear up what I had been doing. The other pupils in the class begged him not to do so and miracles of miracles he didn’t.
One of the teachers at the school was Dr. Alexander Tobias, who was regarded as one of the experts on the calendar and times for Shabbat. I understand it was he who then calculated the times for the commencement and termination of Shabbat in London. When I came across a problem in working out my calendar, I would ask his advice.
About that period, books written by Edgar Frank on the times for performing various Mitzvot started to came out in English. His first book on this subject was “Zemanim – Time Tables the World Over for the Observance of Daily Jewish Duties.” This was probably one of the first books which gave such tables for the world over. However I heard criticism of it, in that he put forward his own theory for calculating the latest time for the recitation of the morning Shema, but it was not in accordance with any Rabbinical authority! One of his other books which was published soon after he died was entitled “Sabbath – The Time of its Beginning and Termination.” In this book he explains in a simplified form this complex subject.
Another book in English which I read at that period was Feldman’s “Rabbinical Mathematics and Astronomy.” I found a lot of this book hard to understand, although the section dealing with how the fixed Jewish calendar is calculated was easier. It had been published in 1931 and was then very difficult to obtain. I managed to get access to it via an inter-library loan. As I remember it came from a public library in the East End of London. When I inquired at a Jewish book shop whether they could get me a copy, they informed me that the price they had had quoted for it (probably a second hand volume) was six pounds, which at that time was a very high price for a book. However at the beginning of the 1960s, Herman Press of New York republished it and I then purchased a copy – at a price far far below six pounds!
Towards the end of the 1960s, I purchased a book in Hebrew which gave the times for performance of various Mitzvot throughout the day, together with a scholarly background to these times. The author was Rabbi Meir Posen, who was also a world expert on the building of Mikvahs. A few years later he brought out a considerably expanded edition of this book.
Amongst the other books I purchased on these related subjects was one which gave tables and explanations to enable one to do quite complicated astronomical calculations regarding Shabbat and the times for prayers. Included in this book were some pages entitled “The Pilots Questionnaire….” in which one asked the pilot of a airplane one was travelling in, to complete a questionnaire, asking for example, at what time the airplane would pass over a certain latitude or a certain meridian. I remember commenting when reading this, that I was sure that a pilot had already more than enough things to do than fill in a passenger’s questionnaire!
From the above one can see that I had a great interest in the Jewish calendar and times. Whilst I was on the staff of Bar-Ilan University, I was invited to spend a Shabbat at the University and give a talk to the students. As far as I recollect, I spoke on a subject related to the calendar.
Just over ten years later, I was on the staff of Dvar Yerushalayim Yeshivah in Jerusalem and there I gave a course of lectures on the “Mathematics of the Calendar.” I would explain each point and then give the students mathematical exercises to do on them.
The first pupils workbook which I wrote was indeed on “How to Calculate the Calendar.” I brought out the first edition in 1992 and then a revised edition in 1994. When the first edition came out, the Israel Pedagogic Centre was bringing out a journal, (although soon after for budgetary reasons they ceased to publish it). I sent this Centre a copy of this workbook and they wrote a review on it in their journal.
This workbook was intended for pupils of High School Age. On the cover of the revised edition, I wrote that it could be used in lessons teaching Jewish law and also in Mathematics lessons. A great uncle of mine, R’ Nechemiah Richardson had been a pious scholar and unfortunately he had no grandchildren. Therefore in order to perpetuate his name, I brought out this and all subsequent workbooks and other religious publications in his name – “The Nechemiah Institute.” I sent copies of all publications of this Institute to the children of this great uncle. One of them, Monty Richardson is a well-known personality in London Jewish Communal affairs.
To get a second opinion and comments and criticisms on all my High School pupils workbooks, I went over them carefully with Rabbi Shalom Horovitz, who is a very experienced educator and a former Headmaster. In fact he even utilised some of them in his High School classes.
At first I didn’t write “Copyright” on these workbooks. I wasn’t doing them for money and would have been very happy for people to copy them. However after I sent a copy to Professor Cyril Domb, he wrote back to me, “You must copyright any publications of this sort otherwise some ruthless person might steal the copyright and you would not be able to use them yourself!” From then on, this word “Copyright” appeared on the cover of every workbook that I published.
In the introduction to this calendar workbook I quoted from the Rambam who said that even school children would be able to manage these calendar calculations after three or four days. After I gave a copy to the Head of the Education Department of the Local Council, he sent me note quoting this Rambam and then adding, “I hope that also I will be successful.”
The format of this workbook was that I divided up the teaching of this subject into nine principles and after each principle gave some exercises for the pupils to do. Here are a couple of examples:
After explaining that the average astronomical length of a Jewish month was just over 29 and a half days and that as a consequence the months alternated between 29 and 30 days. However the two months Marcheshvan and Kislev can have either 29 or 30 days. The question for the pupils was why in some years did Marcheshvan have 29 days and Kislev 30 days and not the opposite?
To determine whether a year is a leap year, divide it by 19 and if one gets a certain remainder, then the year is a leap year. I wrote a number of years in Hebrew letters and the pupils had to determine whether or not they were leap years.
Rosh Hashanah will be on the same day as “Molad Tishri” occurs, unless one of five postponements applies. Here I encountered a problem. Two of these postponements are rather complicated and thus ideally one would have liked not to include them in a workbook of this sort. This was however not possible since it could mess up the calendar calculations. What I therefore did was to write them in the body of the workbook without explanations and at the end of the workbook added a supplement for more advanced pupils.
After giving each of the 9 principles together with exercises on each principle, I gave a further 14 exercises in which the pupils had to combine all the material they had learned in the workbook. They were given just the Molad for Tishri for a particular year and from this they had to answer a whole series of questions. For example: What day did Rosh Hashanah occur? How many days did Kislev have that year? How many days did that year have?
I had received a request to send my publications to Meir Ayali, who was on the staff of Haifa University. On receiving this workbook he wrote to me that the material was invaluable and not just for teaching in a school but also for grown ups. After he had received a number of my publications, he told me that he had recommended them to “Oranim” Academic College of Education of the Kibbutz Movement.
In addition, after I had brought out my workbook on the calendar, I received a request from the “Oseh Chayil” school in Efrat to give a lesson from this workbook to one of their classes. It was a class of boys and they were of a lower age than I had intended the workbook for and furthermore it was to be one period only. Nevertheless I readily agreed to give this lesson and I decided to try and teach them the first few principles in this workbook. I instructed the school to tell the boys to bring along their pocket calculators to the lesson.
I am almost certain that it was in 1995. I do remember that it was 30 Shevat of a leap Year (first day of Rosh Chodesh Adar 1) since there were some pupils keen to begin their simchah with Adar 1 and they were singing “Mishenichnas Adar.” I arranged with the school for someone to meet me at the junction of Efrat and take me to the school. I duly gave the lesson and found some of the pupils were quickly picking up the principles of building the calendar. Obviously, as I was limited to one lesson, we could only cover the beginning of the workbook.
Despite this limited time, I certainly “whet the appetite” of some of the pupils in this class, since a few months later I received a telephone call from the school asking whether I would explain to some of the pupils the rules for reading two Parashiot on a Shabbat. It was arranged that a group of pupils would come to my apartment in Kiryat Arba and there I would teach them this subject.
I must admit that until then, although I knew the rules, I had never considered the theory behind them. I therefore spent several hours before they came developing a theory to explain when we joined two Parashiot together.
With the exception of Simchat Torah, Parashiot in the Torah are only read on a Shabbat. Not every Shabbat! When Yom Tov or Chol Hamoed occurs on Shabbat, there is a special reading in place of the normal Parashah. One therefore needs to first know how many Shabbatot there are in a particular year and not every non-leap year nor every leap year has the same number of Shabbatot. Once one knows this, one has to subtract those which occur on Yom Tov and Chol Hamoed, thus giving the number of Shabbatot in which one will read the regular Parashiot. If one’s calculations are correct, this should then correspond with a series of rules stating which Parashiot will be joined in that particular year. Having developed this theory I was ready to receive the pupils.
About midday, four boys arrived in my apartment. I went through this theory with them. One of the boys didn’t open his mouth. However the other three picked up the theory very quickly and left my apartment much wiser than when they came!
After they left, I felt I should build a workbook around this theory I had developed. In a similar manner to my workbook on the calendar, I divided the work into stages and after each stage, I set exercises, which involved the filling in of tables. Finally I gave ten different types of year, and the exercises involved knowledge of all the principles they had learned in this workbook.
I felt that the four boys who had expressed an interest in learning this subject and had come all the way to Kiryat Arba deserved a complimentary copy of this workbook. I therefore sent such copies to the school and asked that they be given to these boys.
The next subject on which I prepared a workbook was on the nature of Chametz. Whilst in Yeshivat Mitnachalei Hebron (1968-1971), I would sometimes give a short Shiur and on one occasion before Pesach, I brought in my chemistry knowledge. I was trying to explain why a mixture of water and fruit juice will cause a dough to become Chametz very rapidly indeed, and I used the expression “katalyza chumtzit” (acid catalysis). For some time this expression became a favourite with one of the Yeshivah students! However I admit that I knew very little more about the biochemistry of Chametz at that period.
It was about ten years later whilst I was on the staff of Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim, that Dr. Felix Munk came to the Yeshivah before Pesach and gave a Shiur explaining the biochemistry of Chametz.
Dr. Munk had come to study the subject when a question arose with a large factory in Haifa which produced amongst other things gluten, glucose and citric acid from wheat. The question was whether these products were Chametz. Dr. Munk had performed various experiments to determine what caused grain to become Chametz and he summarised his findings in a lecture to the staff of Dvar Yerushalayim.
He explained that the five species of grain were composed of starch, gluten and various enzymes. He told us that when he began his work, he thought that it was the gluten which was responsible for a mixture of grain and water becoming Chametz. However as he proceeded with his research, he concluded that it was the various enzymes in the grain which were responsible for the leavening. He also explained in his lecture why rice and other pod products (kitniot) do not become Chametz. In addition to this lecture, a few years later he wrote an article for the Dvar Yerushalayim “Jewish Studies Magazine” entitled “The Bio-Chemistry of Chametz.”
Having studied both Torah and Chemistry, I was fascinated by this lecture. Although I had studied Chemistry, rather than Biochemistry in University, the subject of “sugars” had been part of my course and I could therefore understand the breaking down of the long chain polysaccharides to single units.
Soon after, I got the idea to produce audio-visual aids which combined Torah knowledge with scientific knowledge. I began by writing the script for an aid entitled “What is Chametz? A biochemical investigation into Chametz.” Video was only in its infancy and I therefore planned this aid with slides accompanied by a tape containing text together with background music. The slides would be made either by photographing graphics, objects and scenes.
After an introduction showing pictures of grains and of kitniot, I began by giving an introduction to the chemical structure of the saccharides. This was followed by explaining how the enzymes caused the fermentation process. In order that the teaching aid should not become “dry” by showing slide after slide with just chemical formulas, I would interpose with, for example, a photograph of a person adding water to flour.
After explaining the biochemical reaction, I would show pictures of things that could slow it down or accelerate it, for example, a barrel of water standing in a cool cellar overnight, or the sun shining through a window onto a person kneading the dough.
Towards the end of the programme, I showed why “kitniot” cannot become Chametz. The last slides were the family sitting at the Seder table.
It is one thing to write such a programme. It is another to have it produced. Unless one is very wealthy, one has to be able to interest an organisation to produce it or finance its production. So I then tried to find organisations to do this.
I knew that the British Chief Rabbi had established a “Jewish Education Development Trust” and in October 1980 I wrote to Dr. Edward Conway who was then an Educational Consultant for this Trust (and until his retirement had been the Headmaster of the Jews’ Free School in London) summarising my programme and asking whether the Trust would “be interested in principle in sponsoring such a project.” He immediately replied that he would be in Israel in December and we should meet together then. He added that my scheme “certainly falls within a pattern of education which I am planning for Jewish schools” and that they were then supporting a project concerned with Jewish history.
I met Dr. Conway at the house of another person who also wanted a grant from this Trust. The house was in the Talbieh area of Jerusalem and I admit that I have never seen such a large luxury multi-story house in Israel. In fact when I returned home, I commented to my wife that this man should be financing Jewish education and certainly not asking for grants from it!
When I arrived, I was taken to a very large room in that mansion and there he showed Dr. Conway and me an audio-visual aid he had produced. He was obviously experienced in the technical side of production, since he had set up two slide projectors and subsequent slides faded into each other. Dr. Conway asked me to write out a memorandum on what I wanted to do. He also asked that I request from Professor Domb and also the person whose house we met in to give their assessment of my project.
I accordingly wrote out a memorandum entitled “Project to Relate Jewish to Secular Knowledge using Audiovisual Techniques.” In this memorandum I gave an Introduction which included some examples of topics that could be covered by these aids, the successive stages to accomplish this project, my personal qualifications and experience to direct it and finally the estimated budget. I also enclosed a draft sample script which was for the project “What is Chametz? – A biochemical investigation into Chametz.”
I accordingly sent Professor Domb a copy of my proposed project requesting his comments. He replied that “any effort which can add colour and interest to the teaching of Judaica is highly commendable and worthy of support.” I had also asked him whether the British AOJS [Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists] might be interested in sponsoring it. To this he replied, “Unfortunately AOJS has goodwill, but does not have any funds.”
Towards the end of February 1981, I heard from Dr. Conway that he had received replies from my two references. “They both highly commend the idea behind your enterprise, confirming my immediate impression that the didactic principle behind your approach is commendable.” He then added (and he had likewise informed Professor Domb), “Unfortunately, it is not within the terms of reference of JEDT to give financial support to projects of this kind.” (In the light of what he had told me about the Jewish History project, it seems they had changed their policy!) On this Professor Domb wrote to me, “This came as a great surprise to me, and I wrote back to say that improvement of Jewish educational methods ought to be within their terms of reference since a small expenditure can produce far-reaching results.”
I did not put all my eggs in one basket and kept my eyes open for other possible sponsors. I had seen a memorandum from the “Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture” based in New York on “Guidelines for submitting applications for support of research and other projects” and on the basis of this sent in a request in mid-January 1981. They replied it was too late for an application for their “Fellowship Program” for that year. I should mention that their memorandum made no mention of a closing date! I then requested an application form for the following year.
In the literature they sent me it stated, “The purpose of the Foundation’s fellowship program is to assist well qualified individuals to carry out independent scholarly, literary or art projects in a field of Jewish specialization which will make a significant contribution to the understanding, preservation, enhancement or transmission of Jewish culture.” The size of their grants ranged from $500 to $4,000 a year.
I completed their application form on 10 September 1981. Apart from personal details, it included questions on one’s Jewish and secular education, work experience and publications. I included the programme I had sent Dr. Conway. They also requested the names of three references which I duly sent them. They were Dr. Conway, Professor Domb and Professor Bernard Lewis, who had been my supervisor when I had written a thesis concerning audio-visual aids, for a post-graduate degree at the Open University.
Dr. Conway wrote to me that he had sent off his support and hoped that my application would be successful. In a letter to me, Professor Domb wrote, “I was delighted to act as a reference for you…. It is a special Mitzvah to try to take money from them for Torah purposes. In addition to the positive benefits there is also a negative benefit – it stops them from using the money for Apikorsut and other hair brained schemes.”
It took Professor Lewis some time to reply since he had been abroad at the time. He sent me a copy of his recommendation. In it he wrote “… I found Dr. Simons to be extremely conscientious and energetic. He was essentially a ‘self-starter’ – and a ‘completer’ as well. Although he obviously had many other calls upon his time, he managed to come to grips with an impressively large body of literature to do with educational technology and audio-visual aids. And he duly obtained a creditable Higher Degree. Dr. Simons comes across to me as a dynamic and highly productive person…”
The Foundation acknowledged the receipt of my application and said it would be evaluated by outside experts and considered by their own Committees. The bottom line is that I did not get anything from this fund! In their duplicated letter with the names of applicants added, they wrote about “many excellent applications” but “limited funds.”
Several years later, towards the beginning of 1987, Rabbi Dr. Elhanan Blumenthal, who I had known from Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim, and was then Dean of the Jerusalem College of Technology, agreed to assist me to find sponsors and he suggested that there was a possibility that Hans Bachrach from Melbourne in Australia might be interested in sponsoring my project. Rabbi Blumenthal had at the beginning of the Second World War been sent out of Britain on the ship the Dunera to Australia together with many other Jews who had escaped from Germany. The British seemed to have thought that Jews who had run away from the Nazis were a danger to the security of Britain! Presumably this is how Rabbi Blumenthal knew Hans Bachrach.
Based on a draft letter that he asked me to prepare for him, Rabbi Blumenthal wrote to Bachrach, “Dr. Simons is planning the preparation of audio-visual material which will combine Jewish and scientific knowledge. I have studied his work and can highly recommend this project.” He then asked whether he “could help sponsor his very worthwhile project either personally or by enlisting other friends.” Unfortunately nothing materialised from this.
Now to return to the beginning of 1981. It was then that I happened to mention my plans for production of such materials to Yigal Kutai, a resident of Kiryat Arba. He answered that I had been sent to him from Heaven! He had just persuaded the Local Council to buy a whole set of video equipment – video recorders, monitor, camera and a lot of other equipment, but he had no one suitable to utilise it. He wasn’t sure whether to cancel the order. With me appearing before him at that moment, his problem was solved. I became the director of the Audio-Visual Centre for Education of Kiryat Arba.
This Centre for many years was housed in the very large bomb-shelter of one of the local schools. (At a later date this Audio-Visual Centre became part of a newly formed Pedagogic Centre.) In a large room of this shelter was housed a television, a video player, and chairs to accommodate a class. In an adjoining smaller room were hundreds of video cassettes of programmes from the Israeli educational television and in addition material on many other subjects.
Teachers of all the educational establishments in Kiryat Arba would book the Centre for their class, who would then come in to see a prearranged programme. Needless to say the purpose of these programmes is educational and there is a definite method to utilise these aids. Before each programme, I would give an introduction to it and discuss with the pupils what to look out for and afterwards would suggest to their teachers follow-up action.
To gain maximum benefit from these programmes, in a number of cases I prepared accompanying materials. Amongst the educational programmes we regularly used was the series “Rega im Dodly.” This was designed for younger children and contained such subjects such as “Care prevents accidents” and “Water.” For each of these programmes I wrote out about a page and a half of follow up activities. For example, for the “Care prevents accidents” programme, these activities included teaching the pupils what is “Pikuach Nefesh,” the correct way to hand someone a knife or scissors, how to use tools, first-aid kits and how to summon an emergency doctor.
Amongst these cassettes were feature films which had a historical theme or a moral lesson. Unfortunately an excellent film is often marred by scenes which are unsuitable. I therefore went through these films and censored out these segments. This was done by recording from one video recorder to another, omitting the objectionable sections. A problem is that 20 different teachers have 21 different ideas of what should be censored. Some said I over-censored whilst others said the opposite!
A teacher sometimes has the choice of using such a feature film or a documentary to teach the same subject and therefore has to decide which is educationally preferable. As an example, for the teaching of Aliyah in the 1950s, the teacher may have the choice between a documentary programme and the feature film “Sallah Shabbati.” I wrote an article on this subject in which I argued that a feature film is preferable – a documentary is usually dry whereas a feature film will hold the attention of the pupils.
In this article I stressed the point that a feature film is not a “prize” for the pupils but must be utilised in accordance with educational principles. These include: suitable choice of film, preview by the teacher, planning of the lesson, preparing the pupils for the film and a follow-up afterwards.
It is important to remember that a historical feature film does not always stick accurately to history and it was thus important to point out the inaccuracies to the pupils. I would therefore research the various films in our audio-visual library. An example was the film “Skokie.” This took place in the 1970s when a Nazi group wanted to march in the town Skokie, which had a large number of Holocaust survivors. The matter came to Court and eventually reached the Illinois Supreme Court who permitted such a march. I myself went to the American Cultural Center in Jerusalem to study a book which had been written on this incident. As one of the follow up activities, I suggested that one could initiate a class discussion from this film on whether in a democratic country there should be limitations on freedom of speech and expression.
Another of these films in our library which had a moral lesson was entitled “I love you Mark” and this was a case of a grandfather who had “kidnapped” his grandson because he thought the boy’s father (a widower) was unsuitable to bring him up. This film was very similar (but not by design) to the case of Yossele Schumacher which occurred in the 1960s in Israel. I therefore went to read up the book on this Yossele case. I wrote that a follow up discussion with the class on this film could be on whether the bringing up of children by their grandparents could override bringing them up by their parents.
In addition to all this, my work at this Audio-Visual Centre included filming on video numerous notable events in the educational establishments and in the community. These included the baking of Matzot in the Talmud Torah before Pesach 1981, the “Birchat Hachamah” ceremony for the schools (a once in 28 year occurrence), Chanukah activities in the various schools, the presentation of Siddurim to young pupils, the visits to Kiryat Arba of various Government Ministers, and the visit of the Belzer Rebbe on the occasion of the opening of the winery.
At that period, there were significant advancements in returning the Jewish Community to Hebron and I also filmed them on video. They included the installation ceremony for a Sefer Torah to the Avraham Avinu Synagogue, affixing Mezuzot to some of the outer doors of the Cave of Machpelah, and students studying in the newly established Yeshivat Shavei Hebron in Bet Romano.
I also prepared a film on life in Kiryat Arba and an additional film on the rural settlements in the area. To accomplish this, I, assisted by a helper, went around Kiryat Arba and the settlements of Har-Hebron and filmed numerous different scenes and activities. I then edited the material. These films were later shown at a fair to promote settlement in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, which was held in Kfar Maccabiah. I also made a video film to teach the laws of Chanukah. Towards the end of it, my son and nephew are seen spinning a dreidel.
A programme that the Centre did together with Midreshet Hebron was to invite Jews who had lived in Hebron before the massacre of 1929 to come to Hebron and they would be taken around the city and they would relate their reminiscences. All this I would record using a video camera. Amongst the Jews who took part, were Avraham Franco, Yitzchak Toker, Yoseph Kastel and Shlomo Zalman Klonski. Needless to say they would all elderly gentlemen by that time.
Another project which the Centre did together with Midreshet Hebron in June 1982, was for me to video Arab agriculture in the area. At that period (and possibly even today), many of the Arabs in the area were still using the same methods for agricultural activities as in the “days of old.” It was not for historical interest that we undertook this project. In order to be able to understand subjects such as the forbidden labours on Shabbat which involve agricultural activities, one has to see how agriculture was done in Mishnaic times. Today, Jewish farmers use modern machinery such as combine harvesters which makes it well nigh impossible to see what is actually going on. We succeeded in capturing a number of these activities on video, which included plowing, reaping, threshing and winnowing.
Apart from the few examples just mentioned, there was unfortunately no budget or time at this Centre to make our own educational films. I had to limit this activity to pupils workbooks. As I already said earlier, the next workbook I compiled for High School pupils was on the nature of Chametz and was entitled “What is Chametz?”
To put the pupils at ease, I began by saying that they need not panic if they did not know any chemistry or biochemistry. They would be able to understand the workbook without such previous knowledge.
In order to prepare these workbooks, I would research and photocopy both the religious and the scientific literature on the subject. From my files, I can see that for this particular workbook, I photocopied religious material from the Talmud, the various legal codes (including Rambam and Shulchan Aruch) and the Talmudic Encyclopaedia. For the scientific material I went to the Harman Science Library which is situated in a building of the Hebrew University campus at Givat Ram, adjacent to the Jewish National Library. There I photocopied quite a lot of material from the “Encyclopaedia of Food Science and Technology” and from the “Encyclopaedia of Food Science.”
In his articles and in his lecture, Dr. Munk had only given the conclusions of his research. I felt it would be helpful to study the details. Unfortunately, he had since passed away. I therefore contacted his family to ask to look at his research notes on this subject. However they informed me that it was his policy to destroy such notes after he had finished his work. This was a great pity since others would surely benefit from this research.
The format of my workbooks was to first give the background knowledge and then give the pupils a number of searching questions on the material. In this workbook, I first gave in very simple language the biochemical process of Chametz. This was followed by a number of subjects including the time interval for a dough to become Chametz, the effect of heat on the dough, a dough kneaded with fruit juice instead of water, and why kitniot cannot become Chametz.
Here are some examples of the questions in this workbook:
· * The Rambam gives the following sign for Chametz, ‘The dough stands until one can hear a sound when one hits it with one’s hand.’- Explain this.
· * Why doesn’t one decorate the dough for Matzot with beautiful pictures?
· * Why mustn’t one knead the dough for Matzot under the sun?
As with the workbook for the calendar, I carefully went over this book with Rabbi Shalom Horovitz to receive his comments and suggestions. In addition, I gave it to two life-science teachers to read over. One of them, Ruth Wiscott added as an appendix biochemical explanations of starch, proteins and enzymes. I also wrote an appendix giving more details of the successive biochemical reactions leading to Chametz. It was pointed out that these appendices were intended for those pupils who wanted to delve deeper into the subject.
At about this period, there appeared an item in the “Jerusalem Post” from a Professor of Microbiology at the Haifa Technion, in which he “claimed” that because wine underwent fermentation it was Chametz and he himself did not use it on Pesach! He may have known something about microbiology, but he seemed to know very little about the laws of Pesach! Still I was interested in his experiments and I wrote him a letter, “I was very interested to read the article in the ‘Jerusalem Post’ regarding wine being Chametz. I would be very happy if you could please send me reports on your experiments and any other information you have on this subject.” Until this day I am still awaiting a reply.
A few years later I sent a copy of this (and other) workbooks to Rabbi Yaakov Fruchter, who was the Director of Publications for Torah Umesorah in New York. He replied. “… I want to give you a hearty Yasher Koach for them. They are very well done and your format is extremely interesting. I went through the booklet of what is Chametz, and I feel that not only is the information important but the scientific facts learnt from them lead to a Kiddush Hashem since the student comes to recognise the work of Hashem in every facet of the creation; even in a small piece of dough.”
The next workbook I prepared was on the Shofar. Here there are two links with scientific subjects. One is in zoology, by studying the different animals which have horns and of them, which are suitable to be used as a Shofar. The other link is that a Shofar is a musical instrument of the wind family and there is a whole subject in physics on the different sounds that come out of such instruments when air is blown into them.
To prepare this workbook, I managed to find the necessary scientific material in various libraries in Kiryat Arba. Here my main scientific reference for horned animals was “The New Book of Knowledge” which was a multi-volume encyclopaedia. This book gave pictures of numerous animals from different families – deer family, pig family, camel family, and antelope family – which possessed horns. Some horns were completely bone, some completely horn material and others bone inside horny material. Since a Shofar must be hollow, only from this last group can a Shofar be made – but even then there are limitations.
As far as acoustics are concerned, a wind instrument in an orchestra has holes which can be covered at will, and this causes a change in the sound coming out. Holes cannot be drilled in a Shofar – without probably disqualifying it – thus limiting the tone coming from a particular shofar.
All these zoological and acoustical facts I explained in a simple manner in this workbook. After reading all these explanations, the pupils had to start thinking and answer some searching questions. In addition to the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch, the pupils were advised to refer to scientific books and to the Even-Shoshan Dictionary when preparing answers for these questions. The questions included:
· * The Babirusa pig has horns; can they be used for a Shofar? – explain your answer.
· * In which Shofar are the notes deeper, a short one or a long one? - explain your answer.
Another early workbook was on the identification of the Arba’at Haminim. A small error in identifying even one of these four species will completely disqualify the Mitzvah! This workbook, in addition to a pupil gaining the religious knowledge, also gave them the opportunity to begin to understand the methods used by botanists to catalogue flora, and also what is grafting and what is pollination.
On this subject I found a lot of material which had been published in Israel by amongst others, the Hebrew University, the Pedagogic Centre of Tel-Aviv, and in particular by Professor Yehudah Felix, a world expert on flora and fauna in Judaica.
For each of the four species, I explained in simple terms its botanical classification. For example, in the “palm family” there are 4,000 species and of them, (probably) only one particular species is kasher for the lulav! In the “myrtle family” there are 3,000 species with only one being kasher for the hadassim. Botanically speaking a “hadas meshulash” is identical to one which is not “meshulash” – it’s the method of growing which determines whether it will be “meshulash.” A lemon is a species which is very close to the species known as etrog but this small difference is sufficient to disqualify it!
Here are a few sample questions which appear at the end of this workbook:
· * Moshe did a laboratory analysis on hundreds of etrogs, many of which had a very reliable guarantee of being non-grafted, yet he did not find even one which was not partly a lemon! – Explain this fact.
· * Reuven cut down and brought to his friend Shimon, branches which answered to all the criteria of a kasher willow. Yet Shimon asked his friend to show him the tree from where he cut the branches. – Explain this fact.
By tradition, all botanical species have a Latin name – although one does not have to be a Latin scholar, or even a non-Latin scholar, to understand the botanical classifications. I ended this workbook with a bit of Latin! “And you shall take for yourself on the First Day, Citrus medica, Phoenix dactylifera, Myrtus communis and Salix acmophylla. ”
At that period I also brought out three workbooks, the subject of which was the identification of kosher and non-kosher animals, fish and birds. The reference material for these three workbooks, I found in Kiryat Arba and they included encyclopaedias and books which dealt with kashrut and also general encyclopaedias written both in Hebrew and in English.
Bodily signs to identify these fauna are given in the Torah and in the Talmud and I went through them one by one attempting to explain in simple terms their zoological significance. But this was not as simple as it sounds and a number of interesting things emerged from my work in this field.
The Torah states that amongst the animals that chew the cud are the hare and the rabbit. However this is not so zoologically. We can explain the difference between the Torah and Zoology by virtue of the fact that the Torah speaks in the language of man and by looking at the mouth movements of these two animals, an onlooker would think that they are in fact chewing the cud. The Rambam omits these two animals when listing those who chew the cud. We must remember that the Rambam studied science and he utilised this fact in a number of cases when writing his Mishnah Torah.
Identification of kosher animals listed in the Torah is not always clear. For example, Rabbi Sa’adia Gaon understands the “zemer” mentioned in this list to be the giraffe. Someone recently jokingly said that the problem in eating giraffe meat would be the astronomical price one would pay for it per kilo!
Kosher birds depend on tradition and can differ from community to community and from family to family. The descendants of the Shelah (Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevi Horovitz) generally do not eat turkey. Therefore if you should invite someone as a guest for Shabbat whose name happens to be Horovitz and on your menu is turkey, ask him beforehand whether he eats this bird!
What is the Halachic definition of scales on fish? What if you can remove them only with the use of chemicals – are they classed as scales? There are a number of borderline fish. A classic case is the sturgeon from which one makes the fabulously expensive caviar. Is it kosher?
These three workbooks, like all the others included many questions for the pupils. Rabbi Shalom Horovitz – (I don’t know whether he eats turkey!) – would use these workbooks in his lessons to the Girls Ulpana in Kiryat Arba.
At the time when I wrote these above mentioned workbooks, “Dagesh” or “Word” was still a thing of the future and I wrote them in “Einstein” and I had them stored on floppy discs. Try and find a computer today which uses floppy disks! Recently I wanted to put these workbooks on my website, but I had a problem – no floppy disk holder on my computer.
When I have such problems I turn to one of my son-in laws, who is a wizard with computers. He can build them out of old spare parts and has indeed done so for his very young daughters, who probably already know more about computers than many grown ups! Well he managed to find in an old computer a floppy disc holder and he installed this in my computer. Fortunately I had diskettes with the “Einstein” program and I was able to transfer them to “Word” and then to HTML for my website.
It was in 1997, that I decided to produce workbooks for primary school pupils from class 4 to class 6 (ages about 10 – 12). At that period, there was a project in Israel for primary school children called “My Home-Town.” In the course of this programme the pupils would study the history, the geography, the social life, the environment and so on, of the pupils’ home town. Naturally Kiryat Arba also took part and some local teachers wrote booklets on the history of Kiryat Arba-Hebron from Biblical times, the geography and the Jewish resettlement from 1968. One subject which was not covered was Purim in Kiryat Arba-Hebron. Due to the doubt regarding the walled status of Hebron at the time of Yehoshua bin Nun, it was a tradition to observe two days Purim.
The first Purim after the Six Day War in Hebron was in 1969 when the settlers (including myself) went down to the Cave of Machpelah on both days of Purim and in the Yitzchak Hall, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, read the Megillah. When the Jews moved to the nearby newly built Kiryat Arba in the autumn 1971, the tradition of two days Purim was continued there, as it is till this very day.
I decided that I would write a workbook entitled “My Home-Town, Kiryat Arba – Hebron: Purim.” By that time there was the “Dagesh” program which gave one many more possibilities of using a computer with different fonts and layouts. The format of my workbook was to give some information and follow it with some exercises for the pupils to do. I also made a point of writing it in the “Purim spirit” and also to incorporate in it cartoons and games.
I began by giving the source for observing two days Purim in “doubtful cities,” and this was followed by the names of cities in Israel and the Diaspora which observed two days. I then went on to discuss Hebron in particular. I showed a map of the Jewish resettlement in the Hebron area with “Tel Romeida” the place where the original walls were thought to have been, written in large bold letters. I added a cartoon of two boy scouts sitting on a hill in Tel Romeida looking with a telescope towards Kiryat Arba with one asking the other “Can you see Kiryat Arba from here?” (This is one of the signs of observing Purim for two days in Kiryat Arba, which is far from these original walls.)
I then incorporated two photographs which I had from the Purim of 1969. One of them is of Rabbi Levinger reading the Megillah in the Cave of Machpelah with me standing by his side and the other is of me at our Purim celebration standing on a chair and holding out my hat. Also included in this workbook are how one observes the various Mitzvot of Purim on both days in accordance with the Rabbi of Kiryat Arba, Rabbi Dov Lior, and the story of “the local Purim called “Window Purim” which celebrates a miracle which occurred for the Jews of Hebron.
Incidentally there are conflicting opinions as to when this “Window Purim” is to be celebrated. Some literature states 14 Tevet, whilst other gives it a month earlier on 14 Kislev. I would have a lot of discussions with Chaya Baranes, the teacher in charge of the “My Home-Town” project in Kiryat Arba on this subject. She held it was 14 Kislev and said she had a book to prove it. However since she was then in the course of moving house, the book was packed up somewhere and I thus never saw it. For my part I went to the Jewish National Library to look up Avraham Moshe Lunz’ article on this subject and he gave 14 Tevet. We leave the final “ruling” for those who wish to investigate it further!
Chaya Baranes told me that she showed my workbook on “Purim in Kiryat Arba – Hebron” to the person in the Ministry of Education who was nationally in charge of this programme and that she very much liked it.
Following this, I made a similar type workbook for Rosh Hashanah entitled “Tekiah Gedolah! – including My Home-Town Kiryat Arba – Hebron.” In fact “My Home-Town” was limited to just one page. On this page, I included a photograph of my blowing the Shofar in the Cave of Machpelah in Elul 5729 (1969) and some incidents which occurred around and on Rosh Hashanah in the Cave. This included the year when it was virtually out of bounds to Jews, due to the Moslems holding a memorial service there for Abdul Nasser.
After production of this workbook, I received feedback, which I agreed with, that to incorporate “My Home-Town” in the title of this workbook, when it was limited to just one page, was rather artificial. At a later late, I brought out a new expanded edition of this workbook but without the page on “My Home-Town.”
Over the course of the next few years, I brought out five workbooks primarily intended for pupils of classes 4-6, on the Festivals. The Festivals involved were those where there was a specific Mitzvah: Rosh Hashanah – Shofar; Sukkot – Sukkah and Arba’at Haminim; Chanukah – Lights; Purim – Megillah; Pesach – Chametz and Matzah.
I spent a long time planning and designing each workbook, to ensure that they had an interesting and pleasing format for the pupils. Each of them included puzzles and exercises for the pupils to do.
In order to produce the many drawings which appeared in these workbooks, I would go through a very large number of school text-books and photocopy any drawings I thought might be useful. This was only the first stage and considerable changes were then made on these diagrams to make them suitable for my workbooks. Often they were the wrong size and had to be enlarged or reduced in size. Then using “Tippex” whitener the unwanted parts were removed, or they were cut away, and additions would then be made using a black thin-nibbed pen. Sometimes the final product would consist of adapted material from three separate drawings which had been combined together. One source I occasionally used was from the “William Books.” After the alterations, William Brown would appear with Tzitzit hanging out and with Peyot!
Let me now give just one example of the many many things which is contained in each of these workbooks.
· * Rosh Hashanah – workbook entitled “Tekiah Gedolah! ”: In every workbook would appear “newspapers.” For this workbook it was called “Yediot Shofarot” – Shofar News – a play on the name of the Israeli daily newspaper “Yediot Acharonot.” The article is headed “David Shmendrik Questioned – went into a number of Shuls and made their Shofars straight.” My objective was to teach the pupils that a Shofar for Rosh Hashanah should not be straight and to explain the reasons for this.
· * Sukkot – workbook entitled “Ushpizin!” (although it dealt with both the Sukkah and the Arba’at Haminim) : To illustrate that there must be nothing whatsoever between the roof of the Sukkah and the sky, I showed a picture of a satellite which was 36,000 kilometres above a Sukkah. (Under certain circumstances, at such a height it will rotate at the same speed as the earth and will therefore always be directly above the Sukkah!)
· * Chanukah – workbook entitled “Shemen U-petilot! ”: Although one is not allowed to use the light of the Chanukah candles, even in a case where there is no electric light in the room and the Shamash has gone out, one does not have to enter the room with one’s eyes closed! In a cartoon I produced, ‘William Brown’ enters the room with his eyes shut and trips over a dreidel. He calls out ‘help’ and another boy into the room asks him ‘Why did you close your eyes?’
· * Purim – workbook entitled “V’nahafoch hu! ”: The study of Torah is cancelled so that people can go and hear the reading of the Megillah. I produced a cartoon of a Talmud Torah called “Shushan Pesach” with a sign in front of it reading “Closed until the end of the Reading of the Megillah.” Two of its pupils are standing nearby saying “Good-o, no lessons.”
· * Pesach – workbook entitled “Kasher LePesach! ”: A mixture of flour and water becomes Chametz after 18 minutes. If one adds fruit juice to the mixture the process is greatly accelerated. To teach this latter point, an article appeared in the newspaper “Yediot Matzot” headed “Sabotage in a Matzah factory” and it describes how a worker caused 100,000 shekels of damage by adding fruit juice to the machine producing the Matzot for Pesach.
Towards the end of these workbooks, I put in the story of a family celebrating the Festival with a number of mistakes in the text. The pupils had to indicate these mistakes. At first I used family names such as Tropolovitz or Popplestein but I then received “complaints” from teachers. “Why am I using just Ashkenazi names?” So in the next workbook, I used the name Abulafia!
These workbooks were very popular with the teachers. I therefore wanted all the pupils of a particular age to have a copy and I asked the Head of the Local Education Department to subsidise it, to which he agreed. Each of these workbooks were about 20 pages long, and the pages were run off on a duplicator and the pages then sorted and stapled. Since I had a large number of copies to prepare, I requested the assistance of several pupils from the class and together we prepared the required number of copies.
On the next occasion, this Department, for budgetary reasons, was not able to subsidise the workbooks and so I had to ask that pupils who wanted books should order and pay for them. The class teachers collected the money. It is not an easy job to collect money from pupils – although some bring the money immediately, others have to be reminded day after day. As a result, on the following occasion the teachers insisted that I be responsible for collecting the money. This was even harder than for the class teachers, since I did not work in the schools and I had to run time after time to the classes to remind the pupils who had not yet brought the money.
Therefore after a time, I just put one copy in the various primary school staffrooms, so that the teachers could study or make copies of them. In order to ensure that these workbooks did not “walk out” of the staff room, I would tie them to a place near the staff notice board. Copies were also placed in the local Pedagogic Centre and teachers were able to photocopy from them. Although these workbooks were designed for a particular age group, there were certain pages which could also be used for lower classes and I believe some teachers indeed did this. I also put supplementary and background material on many of these workbooks in this Pedagogic Centre.
After bringing out each of these workbooks, I would receive a letter from the Head of the Local Education Department praising its contents, its methodical and didactic methods and stating that it was presented in an appealing way. I also received similar letters from the Ministry of Education’s Inspector of Religious Schools in the area. He once told me that he had sent them to people abroad.
Although these workbooks were, at that period still in the experimental stage, and were thus only used locally, some of them were passed on outside Kiryat Arba. I would therefore often get requests for copies of these workbooks from all over Israel. These places included Jerusalem, Bat Yam, Lower Galilee, the Negev, Gush Etzion, Nachalim and Chalamish.
The teacher, Michal Chaklai, from Chalamish wrote to me that “These workbooks in addition to their extensive and specific learning material intensify the pupils’ joy in learning, stimulate their curiosity and often even amuse them. All this enriches the pupils in a special and unique way.”
The Israel Ministry of Education had a Department to produce educational material and I had ideas to send these workbooks up to them for their inspection and consideration. However I was told that due to considerable financial cutbacks in this department, this was not the time to do so. Maybe sometime in the future, this will be possible.
In addition to the workbooks, I would illustrate in a practical manner some of the points contained in the workbook on Shofar. Each year before Rosh Hashanah, I would go into classes, particularly in the Talmud Torah, with two horns of a sheep, of which one the bone could easily be removed. I would show them to the pupils and pass them around the class. I would then “illustrate” using my voice the sounds of the Shofar – “groans” for a Shevarim and “weeping” for a Teruah. As a result of this “act” the pupils would understand the composition and origin of these sounds.
At one stage, I had also made plans to illustrate the “Arba’at Haminim” workbook in relation to the flora in Kiryat Arba. For example, at the entrance to the Religious Primary School there were two species of palm – one suitable for a lulav and the other not. I cannot recollect whether these plans were passed on to the teaching staff.
Although I had not written a workbook on Tephillin, I had from the days when I was in Liverpool, all kinds of “models” to teach the subject of Tephillin. These included parchment, Tephillin Parashiot, batim which had been “dissected” and gidim. These I put in the local Pedagogic Centre for use by the various teachers in Kiryat Arba.
As with all my other publications, I had wanted to put these workbooks on my website. However, here I experienced a problem. When material is just text, it takes up very little memory. However these workbooks utilised all sorts of layouts and diagrams and thus took up a very large amount of memory, which was far more than my site allowed. I am still trying to find a method to put these workbooks onto my website.