Friday, June 29, 2018

The Ultimate Gadget

The purpose of this blog is to create some bells and whistles around the Shabbat table. Please share.
MachineThis week's lead question for your table is about your fantasies:

What for you would be the ultimate gadget?

Would it be something like this picture on the left, which I have no idea what it was built for but I like to fantasize that you could just pour in the flour, water, tomatoes, olive oil, spices, toppings, and after a few minutes of whirring and purring, out pops a pizza! Would that be cool, or would that be cool?

Or would your ultimate gadget be something magically musical, like the incredible Wintergaten Music Machine?

Last week my family reminded me that it was my birthday and my brother's family presented me with a pen.

Not a fancy gold or silver or mahogany pen mind you.

This is billed as the "Ultimate Geek Pen". Here's a photo. It includes 3 different lamps (can you guess which types?), and a couple other features.

So now I finally know how they see me.

OK, so the obvious follow-up question is, now that you've asked everyone at the table to share their ultimate gadget - why?

Why is a pizza machine better than simply making a pizza?

Why is a swiss army knife better than carrying all those tools separately? After all, you can't possibly get all the tools you need into any one gadget.

Wouldn't a well-stocked workbench be far better than an ultimate gadget?

I'll leave you to ponder that one with your table, and in the meantime wish you

and yours


Shabbat Shalom

PS - If you're traveling with your Ultimate Gadget, remember to pack it in your luggage so it doesn't get confiscated by the TSA....
PPS - If you have binoculars or a simple telescope, and can get away from the city lights, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Neptune are all quite visible. It's fun to see the 4 biggest moons of Jupiter, Saturn's rings, Mars's colors, and the Moon's craters.
PPPS - Please visit our new . . .

Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet, forward it....

As always, this message can be read online at

Friday, June 15, 2018

Who... nu?

The goal of this blog is to bring something new (or some nu?) to your Shabbat Table. Please share / like / tweet / etc.

who+knewIf you ask the man-on-the street, "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?" what do they say?

What about this one: "Where's the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located?"

OK, those are warm-up questions for your table. Let's try this one out on your average Jewish school graduate:

1. How many books of Tanach are there?

Many literate Jews will accurately say 24.

But then ask:

Can you name them?

I'm guessing that 1 in 10 you ask - regardless of their Jewish affiliation or background, can name all 24 (even out of order).

Of those 1 in 10, I'm guessing it's another 90 percent reduction to those who can answer this:

Who wrote each one?

The reason this is such a tricky question is not because modern scholarship has thrown its shadow of doubt over everything traditional.

The problem is that even according to tradition, many of the authors are counter-intuitive.

For example, according to the Talmud, the prophet Isaiah didn't write Isaiah and Queen Esther did not write Esther.

So nu? Who?

If you really want to know, shoot me an email and I'll send you the complete list.

But on a slightly related topic, I created a second interesting document that you might enjoy - it's a list of so-called secular subjects that are discussed in the Talmud, and where - including:

  • General Science
  • Astronomy
  • Environmental Science
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Medicine
  • Physics
  • Paleontology
  • Language Arts
  • Statistics
  • Mathematics
  • Geography
  • History
  • Economics
  • Real Estate
Again, if this sort of stuff interests you, or there is someone you'd like to share it with, shoot me an email and I'll send you the doc.

But for your table, I'll leave you with this question:

Is knowledge of these things (the books of Tanach, who wrote them, the range of wisdom of the Talmud), an important part of being a literate Jew?

Shabbat Shalom
PS - If you haven't already, please visit . . . And kindly "like" and "tweet" and all that stuff.

Friday, June 01, 2018

A Man, a Plan, a Canal . . .

The goal of this email is to bring some reorientation to your Shabbat Table. Plea
In memory of my grandparents, global travelers, who's yahrzeits were just observed.
Happy birthday to Kyle in California. Bon Voyage to Harmon in Panamá.


Sailing the CanalReceived a call from our daughter Goldy this morning. Her year-in-Israel program has taken them to Poland for a few days. They are having a visceral experience seeing where their ancestors lived and where their distant cousins were slaughtered. She said it is the single most meaningful activity of her entire year abroad.
Later in the day, a call came in from the other side of the globe, Panama.

Our friend Harmon just passed through the Canal to begin another great sailboat race.

And thinking about these two calls from opposite sides of the globe representing two opposite orientations, got me thinking about.... the globe and orientation.

And thinking about the globe and orientation reminded me of one of my favorite trivia questions....

For your table:

If you are heading through the Panama Canal from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, which direction are you facing?

The answer is completely counter-intuitive and most peopel don't believe it until they look at a map.

Harmon has a passion for sailing, but one would in no way call it an addiction.

But could a person become addicted to sailing?

Here's question #2 for your table:

2. What would you suppose is the most common addiction?

I'l give you a hint: it's rarely diagnosed.

If you were Chinese, you might say smoking.

In China, there are about three hundred million smokers (some report 350M), blissfully unaware that cigarettes are killing about one million of them every year.

(And a state-owned monopoly profits from every puff.)

Step back and look at the big picture - over a billion smokers worldwide and killing about seven million every year - that's about nineteen thousand per day.

In other words, there are as many adults dying from cigarettes as there are kids dying from malnutrition (or surviving it and living a stunted life).

But smoking doesn't even come close to the world's biggest addiction.

(Remember, it's rarely diagnosed.)

Maybe mentioning malnutrition will trigger someone to guess food addiction, and they'll have a point - it's certainly an epidemic in so many place. There's even a World Obesity homepage (

Yet as bad as that sounds, it isn't the biggest addiction.

It might be easier to answer if we follow Pirkei Avot which states: When seeking wisdom, begin by defining your terms.

So.... what does "addiction" mean?

Habit? Dependency?

How about this:

Addiction is a primary, chronic dysfunction of brain reward, motivation and memory....leading to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations, reflected in pursuing reward and/or relief by unhealthy or undesired behaviors.

That's an abbreviated version of the ASAM definition. According to the American Psychiatric Association:

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.

What I'm going to suggest is that one of the most addictive behaviors I have seen, that is never diagnosed as an addiction, is complaining.

Some people's habit of complaining seems to me to fit these broad definitions of addiction.

Take the APA definition and substitute "complaining" for "substance abuse".

The final questions for your table are:

3. Does it fit?

The answer depends: does a person's habitual and relentless habit of complaining have harmful consequences?

4. If you are a complaining person, where does that come from?

5. If you are on the other end of that complaint, how are you supposed to respond that will actually be helpful?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Please visit . . . And kindly "like" and "tweet" and all that stuff.

Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! , forward it....