Author: Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky

What’s The Truth About…The Kotel Being Judaism’s Holiest Site?

Misconception: The “Kotel”1—the Western or Wailing Wall—is Judaism’s holiest site. Fact:  The location of the Kodesh Hakodashim (the “Holy of Holies” section of the Beit Hamikdash) on the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site. In recent centuries, when Jews were barred from the Temple Mount and the closest accessible site was a piece of the […]

What’s The Truth About . . . David Hamelech Being Unable To Build The Beit Hamikdash?

Misconception: King David was not permitted to build the Beit Hamikdash because he had “blood on his hands” from all the wars he fought. Fact: David mentioned this reason to his son Shlomo, who eventually built the Beit Hamikdash, but that was not the reason G-d conveyed to David through Natan the Prophet when David expressed interest in building the Temple.

What’s the Truth about. . .Naming the First Son from Yibbum?

Misconception: The first son of a levirate1 marriage (yibbum) must be named after the deceased husband/brother. Fact: There is no such requirement, although whether it is allowed, discouraged or encouraged is subject to debate. This misconception may have arisen due to a comment made by Rashi in Bereishit.

What’s the Truth about … Using Horseradish for Maror?

Misconception: Horseradish (chrain) is the preferred item to use to fulfill the mitzvah of eating maror at the Seder. Fact: Among Ashkenazim, horseradish is widely used for maror. While horseradish often appears as the translation for tamcha, one of the vegetables listed in the Mishnah that may be used for maror, the translation is probably […]

What’s the Truth about . . . How Much to Open the Torah for Hagbah?

Misconception: During hagbah, when the Torah is lifted in shul, the more columns of text visible to the assembled, the better. Fact: According to many authorities, when the Torah is lifted, at least three columns of the Torah scroll should be visible; this is not just the minimum requirement, but the ideal number of columns. […]

What’s the Truth about . . . Muslim Anti-Semitism?

Misconception: Unlike the Jews of Christian Europe who suffered pogroms, blood libels, Crusades, et cetera, the Jews living under Islamic rule were not persecuted. It was the rise of the Zionist movement that spurred Muslim anti-Semitism.

“What’s the Truth about . . . Starting to Wear Tefillin?”

Misconception: All boys must begin putting on tefillin thirty days before their bar mitzvahs.
Fact: There are two main opinions in halachah: boys should either begin laying tefillin several years before their bar mitzvah or on the actual day of the bar mitzvah. However, in some circles, there is a widely accepted practice for boys to start wearing tefillin approximately thirty days prior to their bar mitzvah.

What’s the Truth about . . . A Woman Bentching Gomel?

Misconception: After childbirth, a woman’s husband should bentch Gomel on her behalf. Fact: According to most authorities, a woman after childbirth should personally recite Birkat HaGomel. Background: Birkat HaGomel is a blessing recited to thank God for His salvation after one safely emerges from a dangerous situation, of which one of the four prototypical examples […]

What’s the Truth about . . . Mishloach Manot?

Misconception: The two foods sent on Purim for mishloach manot must be from two different categories of blessings. Fact: This widespread misconception has no halachic basis. Background: Mishloach manot is one of the four mitzvot established by Mordechai and Esther to be performed on Purim day. Alluded to in Megillat Esther, these mitzvot are: reading […]

A Purim Afterthought

Misconception: Mordechai and Esther, the Purim heroes, were uncle and niece.1 Fact: According to Megillat Esther, Mordechai and Esther were first cousins. Background: This is a widespread misconception, even found in the renowned midrashic compilation of Louis Ginzberg. For example, in Legends of the Jews, Vol. IV, page 387 he writes: “This lively interest displayed by […]