Ask The Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi - 263

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Ask the Rabbi

15 January 2000; Issue #263



Chica Brown from San Jose State University wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Hello, my name is Chica Brown and I'm a senior at San Jose State University and I'm looking for some information on the Jewish community for a presentation I'm doing. My class is in communications - language, meaning and culture - and the group I'm working with chose the Jewish community. How does the Jewish community communicate? Verbal, non-verbal? What language is used?

Dear Chica Brown,

Jews usually talk with their hands (just kidding). We communicate in all languages, since there are Jews all over the world. Jews speak a variety of languages, including English, Spanish, French, Arabic, German, Russian, even Chinese and Japanese. In Israel, the main language is Hebrew.

Jews in Europe and Spain developed their own language. In Europe the Jews spoke Yiddish, which is based on German, and in Spain they developed Ladino, which is based on Spanish.

Chica Brown responds:

Thank you so much, I gave my speech on Monday and it turned out very interesting and I'm sure I got an "A."

Ben Bag Bag


Benny Leon from Zimbabwe, Africa wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I make 20 copies of Ohr Somayach's Ohrnet publication each week and distribute them in the synagogue. We are a small community of about two hundred souls and we hold Shabbat services every Friday night and Saturday morning. We have the sister Ashkenazi Congregation of about 400 souls.

I have a query and this refers to the Sayings of the Fathers, as printed in our prayer books. There is a reference to Ben Bag Bag and Ben Heh Heh. Please inform us -who are these gentlemen? Thank you again for your wonderful email.

Dear Benny Leon,

Ben Bag Bag's full name was Rabbi Yochanan Bag Bag. Both he and Ben Heh Heh were descendants of converts; their names were disguised to protect them from informers who would have turned them over to the Romans. Some explain that Bag Bag is an acronym for "ben ger, ben giyoret -"the son of male and female converts." It is also explained that Heh Heh refers to the first "converts," Abraham and Sarah, to each of whose names G-d added the letter Heh - Abram became Abraham, and Sarai became Sarah.

Common Error


Viviane Prager wrote:

Dear Rabbi:

I would like to know why we say "before the Common Era" and "Common Era" (BCE and CE). I mean, why do we call it "common?" Some Jews object to it on grounds that the "C" in CE could be misconstrued as standing for "Christ." I would very much appreciate if you could help me answer their objections. Thanks for your wonderful work.

Dear Viviane Prager,

When I was a school boy I thought that CE stood for "The Common Error."

Now, 25 years and a number of common errors later, I assume that Common Era simply means "the date commonly accepted and used." But the truth is that I don't know, so I asked your question to a professor of European history. He didn't know either.

Is there a reader out there with more insight into this? Write to

Yiddle Riddle


Last week we asked: In Hebrew, if you subtract 30 from 30 you get 60. How is this?

Answer: The numerical value of the letter lamed is 30 (each Hebrew letter has a numerical value). The Hebrew word for "thirty" is "shloshim," spelled "shin lamed shin yud mem."

So, if you take the letter lamed (which equals 30) out of the word "shloshim" (which means thirty) you get the letters "shin shin yud mem," which spells "shishim," 60!

The Public Domain
Comments, quibbles, and reactions concerning previous "Ask-the-Rabbi" features.


Re: "Marranos" (Ask the Rabbi #260, Public Domain):

Recently, a reader commented: "Many of Columbus' crew were Jewish "Marranos."

The above usage of the word "Marrano" is incorrect. On Tisha B'Av 1492, the expulsion order of the Jews went into effect in Spain. Any Jews who chose to leave had to leave behind all of their property and estates. Of the approximately one million Jews living in Spain at the time, half left and left everything behind. Everything left behind was forfeit to the Spanish crown. The following day Columbus' ship sailed out of Spain for the "New world," financed by the property stolen from the Jews. (It is probably true that there were several Jews aboard fleeing Spain.) The remaining 500,000 Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism, most of whom secretly practiced Judaism. Those Jews who were not sincere in their baptisms were referred to by the Christians as "Marranos."

Re: Words from the Heart (Ask the Rabbi #260):

In response to Dr. Carol Conaway's question regarding the source for the phrase "Words from the heart enter the heart" often attributed to "The Sages," you will find it is indeed a statement of "Chazal" (the Sages) cited in Sefer Hayashar by Rabeinu Tam, Sha'ar 13, and in Shelah Hakadosh, Sha'ar Ha'oysios.

Perhaps an alternate source for the phrase "words from the heart enter the heart" could be the Talmud Masechta Sota 9b: "The words of truth are recognizable (Nikarim Divrei Emes)." The truth which emanates from the heart will be recognized as truth and enter the next heart.

Re: Ohr Somayach Internet Publications:

The Ohrnet is just fantastic! I virtually wait for it to arrive in my e-mail box each week!

(J.W., Des Moines, Iowa)

Re: Hip Hip Hurrahs (Ask the Rabbi #261):

I liked the historically-based "Hip! Hip!" article, and read Psalms 137 anew. I know so little. Great!

(Yuri A. Klimenko, Ukraine)

Re: Where is Yossi?

Ohrnet received the following regarding the (hopefully temporary) discontinuation of our "Yossi and Co." parsha cartoon series for youth:

Dear Yossi,

Are you all right? Please come back, I miss you extremely.

Your friend, Mendy

(Mendy Singer, England)

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