Questions about the origins of all things Jewish. Questions on the origins of Jewish customs, ideas, sayings, songs, foods, games, etc., are all fair game for this tag.

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16
votes
2answers
915 views

Is this the Chofetz Chaim?

What is the story behind this picture being known as the image of the great Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan(Chafetz Chaim)? Is it him in fact? Where does it come from? The only true picture (that I am ...
15
votes
1answer
440 views

Where did the sing-song chant that Jews often use while contrasting points come from?

I am having a very hard time coming up with a good way to describe the phenomenon that I am thinking of, but many people will recognize it. I am talking about the kind of singing rhythm that people ...
14
votes
1answer
308 views

“Yaamod p'loni ben p'loni… chazak”?

The last ole (person called to the Torah) (besides the maftir) of Vaychi, P'kude, B'chukosay, and Mas'e is, in my experience, called using the formula "yaamod p'loni ben p'loni sh'vii chazak", with ...
12
votes
4answers
250 views

How do we know what the Chazzan should say aloud?

In many siddurim, the text indicates a position, toward the end of each normal paragraph of prayer, where the Chazzan is supposed to start reading aloud, so that everyone knows when it's time to go on ...
10
votes
4answers
241 views

What's “chelek Eloka mimaal”?

I have frequently heard the human (or only the Jewish?) soul referred to as "חלק אלוק ממעל", literally "portion/section/piece/allotment of God (from) above". What does this mean? Who's the first to ...
10
votes
2answers
167 views

“שליט״א” only for certain people

Living people sometimes have "שליט״א" added after their respective names. This means, roughly, "may he live a good, long life". That seems like a nice blessing for anyone; yet, in my experience, only ...
10
votes
1answer
119 views

What is the first use of the word “Seder” (סדר) for the Pesach night proceedings?

The Pesach night proceedings are commonly called the "Seder" (סדר). This word more generally means "order." What is the first recorded use of the word סדר for this event?
10
votes
1answer
272 views

What is the source of the expression המבין יבין?

The Forward writer Philologos in his most recent column claimed that the earliest uses of the expression והמבין יבין are found in the Ra'avad and in the Radak. Based on the fact that both these ...
10
votes
1answer
113 views

What is the source of Yartzeit tablet?

Who invented the Yahrtzeit tablet (panel)? At first glance, this could not have been common before 150 years ago, as there is no room to place candles where the electric lights go. Who invented ...
9
votes
3answers
173 views

Earliest source for “Baruch Hu U'Baruch Sh'mo”

What is the earliest source for saying "Baruch Hu U'Baruch Shmo" when hearing someone say the Name of HaShem in a blessing?
9
votes
3answers
439 views

Praying at Amukah = Finding a mate. Since when?

Many people, I'm sure, have heard of the famous segulah for finding one's soulmate: praying at the grave of Yonasan ben Uziel in Amukah, Israel. I'm not asking if this works, or why it would work, or ...
8
votes
1answer
314 views

Replies to “l'chayim”

The most common responses I've heard to a wish of "l'chayim!" ("life!") is "l'chayim tovim ulshalom" ("a good life and peace!") except from Lubavitch chasidim and "l'chayim v'livracha" ("life and ...
7
votes
4answers
224 views

Who was the first person to repent?

Who was first person in history to do complete teshuva (repentance)?
7
votes
3answers
220 views

Sitting for “Ashre”?

I have seen people seemingly careful to sit down when beginning the paragraph of prayers that starts "Ashre yosh've vesecha" (Ps. 84:5). One such person told me that he was, in fact, careful to do so, ...
7
votes
1answer
99 views

Where/when/how/why did flags become part of Simchas Torah celebrations?

Kids today all know that they have flags when dancing on Simchas Torah. How, when, where, and/or why did the flags originate? (Someone decided it was fun, and then it caught on?) What pictures were ...
7
votes
0answers
43 views

What are the origins of the תושלב"ע prayer at the end of holy books?

When I finished the Book of Bereishit this Shabbos, the Tanakh I was reading concluded with this prayer: תם ונשלם תהילה לאל בורא עולם (Finished and completed. Praise to G!d, Creator of the Universe.) ...
7
votes
1answer
332 views

Origin of Reform/Conservative “scarf” talleisim

I've noticed that Reform and Conservative often use small "scarf" talleisim (here's an image). Where did this practice originate? (Is there any connection to the scarves that some Christian priests ...
6
votes
2answers
93 views

First use of the term “Taharat HaMischpacha ”

When and by whom (and why) was the phrase "טהרת המשפחה" ("family purity") first used to describe the halachot relating to niddah?
6
votes
2answers
235 views

What is the Pilpul method of learning?

What is the Pilpul methodology? (Examples demonstrating application of this methodology would be appreciated.) Who utilizes this methodology? (Which yeshivot learn this way?) Where did this ...
6
votes
1answer
171 views

What is the origin of the dispute on which way to wrap tefilin shel yad?

Non-Chasidic Ashkenazim wrap their tefilin shel yad inward toward the body when coming over the top of the arm, while Sefardim and Chasidim wrap outward away from the body when coming over the top of ...
6
votes
1answer
59 views

Selichot origins

In what year (CE) did saying selichot in Elul begin? In what year were they made a standard addition to prayer books? Looking for an academic answer, not the yeshivahish one. And did Sephardim start ...
6
votes
2answers
164 views

“Tzon k'doshim!” ―“Baa!”: source/provenance

In some synagogues, on Simchas Tora, someone will shout "Tzon k'doshim!", meaning "holy sheep/goats", or "Tzon kadashim!", meaning "sheep/goats of sacrificial-offering sanctity". He's replied to with ...
6
votes
2answers
129 views

Why is ויהי נועם said after הנני מוכןs?

Most (but not all) Siddurim have the פסוק of ויהי נועם at the end of הנני מוכןs (such as before ספירת העומר, before the ארבע כוסות, or before בדיקת חמץ). Where does this practice come from and why is ...
6
votes
1answer
135 views

Does anyone know where this prayer comes from?

I've always been struck by the beauty of the following Hebrew prayer for the dead (translated into early modern English): O Lord and King, who art full of compassion, God of the spirits of all ...
6
votes
1answer
95 views

First Use of the Phrase “Cheit HaMeraglim”

The negative report given by the people who are sent to scout the land of Cana'an before Bnei Yisrael go in, resulting in the punishment that they have to wander for another 38 years in the desert, is ...
6
votes
0answers
72 views

Chazzan finishing last phrase of paragraph [duplicate]

Who decided where to put that indicator in printed siddurim that you see in every paragraph of davening that indicates to the chazzan where to start to read out loud to finish the paragraph, and why ...
5
votes
2answers
67 views

Source for “Bein Ish L'Ishto” in Nusach Ari

After the morning bracha on the torah, we say "אלו דברים שאין להם שיעור". The source for this text is a combination of the first mishna of Peah, and some additions from the bottom of Shabbat 127a. I ...
5
votes
1answer
92 views

Tune for Aishes Chayil

In all of my experience at Friday night meals, Aishes Chayil is always sung to the same tune. In the US and Israel, in Yeshivos and hotels, I've only heard one tune used. What's the origin of this ...
5
votes
1answer
105 views

Useshuva Usefillah Utzedakah maavirin es roah hagezeira, where is this from?

Does anyone know the history of how "Useshuvah Usefillah Utzedakah maavirin es roah hagezeirah" was put into our Tefillah and/or who wrote it? (It's in the chazaras hashatz for musaf on Rosh Hashana ...
5
votes
1answer
65 views

When did Yom Kippur Kattan originate?

The day before Rosh Hodesh is considered like a "mini" Yom Kippur. (I understand that there are some months, I think before Tishrei and Nissan that do not have YKK? Correct me if I'm mistaken.) Some ...
5
votes
2answers
106 views

Call and response in Sephardic communal prayers

Why does there tend to be more call and response in Sephardi communal prayer in comparison with Ashkenazi minyanim e.g. saying pesukei d'zimra in unison. Also, during the repetition of the shemoneh ...
5
votes
1answer
114 views

Silver Atarah for Tallit

Inspired by this question: What is the origin of the silver atarot worn by some [typically married] men on their Shabbat tallitot?
5
votes
1answer
269 views

Where does the tune for birkat hamazon come from?

It's hard to describe who's tune this is and I can only refer to it as the 'commonly used' or 'popular' tune for birkat hamazon. I seems like it is compiled of many unrelated tunes. At times there are ...
5
votes
0answers
50 views

Who instituted the idea of moving parshat V'Zot Habracha to the middle of the week?

I understand that Ezra began the concept of an annual Torah cycle where each parsha is to be read on a Shabbat (except if coinciding with Yom Tov.) However, V'Zot Habracha was scheduled to be ...
5
votes
0answers
306 views

Where did the “a cat will always be a cat” story about the Rambam come from?

I've seen and heard a story about the Rambam told multiple times along the lines of this particularly concise retelling: There is a beautiful story of a disagreement that Maimonides had with a ...
4
votes
2answers
2k views

Is this really in the Talmud?

I've seen this before on anti-semetic sites - is it really in the Talmud? Extracts from the Jewish text the Talmud "Just the Jews are humans, the non-Jews are no humans, but cattle" ...
4
votes
2answers
164 views

What is the origin of the song Echad Mi Yodeya?

Who is the author or what is the origin of the song commonly found in the haggadah called Echad Mi Yodeya?
4
votes
2answers
105 views

Sifre Tora in boxes vs. in cloths

All S'faradi synagogues I've been in have each sefer Tora in a box. All Ashk'nazi ones I've been in have each sefer Tora in a cloth. When did this split occur, and why, and how? I assume either: ...
4
votes
3answers
260 views

G'dalya Gumber provenance

There's a popular song about G'dalya Gumber (spelling?), who is "seventeen feet tall" and who "ain't gonna work on Saturday", not even for "double, double, triple pay". Who wrote and who published ...
4
votes
1answer
120 views

Seeking info on a Simchas Tora song

While dancing on Simchas Tora, people sing a song with the following lyrics (except that I may very well have some of them wrong): אַשְׁרֵינוּ מַה טּוֹב חֶלְקֵנוּ וּמַה נָּעִים גוֹרָלֵנוּ ...
4
votes
2answers
79 views

Kiddush, Learning and Mitzvos for dead/niftar neshamos

I seek an early source that giving Kiddush (so others will make a bracha for the zchus of the neshama) or other such actions that can positively affect the neshamos of those who have departed.
4
votes
1answer
82 views

What is the oldest work to incorporate an acrostic of shem Havaya in the opening?

I have seen many books where the first letters of the first 4 works in the first sentence of the work spell out the shem Havaya (the Tetragrammaton, yud-kay and vav kay). What was the first Jewish ...
4
votes
0answers
39 views

Origin of the common M'chalkel niggun

There is a niggun, which I personally find rather inane, for the main paragraph of the second brachah of the Amidah. I have never been in a schul where it is not sung (. I have heard other niggunim ...
4
votes
0answers
27 views

Origin of Unveiling

Often, the family of the deceased will have an unveiling service for the presentation of the matzevah.* What is the origin of this custom? *Source: Goldin, Hyman. Hamadrikh. Hebrew Publishing ...
3
votes
2answers
184 views

Candles in bedroom over Yom Kippur

What is the reason for the minhag to have a yartzeit-size candle lit in the bedroom over Yom Kippur? (this is unrelated to candles lit for deceased parents for Yizkor). Is it just so we have a new ...
3
votes
6answers
711 views

Niddah and Counting 7 Clean Days - What are its Origins?

The following comment is made in the wikipedia entry on Niddah: In the days of the Amoraim, because of possible confusion in determining when menstruation began and ended and hence whether blood ...
3
votes
3answers
66 views

Where is the first time that the splitting of the Red Sea is referred to as קריעת ים סוף?

The text of the Torah refers to the sea "splitting" (וַיִּבָּקְעוּ הַמָּיִם - Ex.14:21). Where is the first source where the Sages refer to this event as "tearing" (קריעה)?
3
votes
1answer
121 views

Moshe being called Moshe Rabbeinu

We refer to Moshe as "Moshe Rabbeinu". (It's interesting about the avos as well that we say, for example, Avraham Avinu; however, I'll keep that for a separate question.) When was the first time (and ...
3
votes
1answer
53 views

What's the earliest reference to a Purim shpiel?

There's a fairly common custom to put on a play on Purim. Wikipedia has a short article about it here, which mentions that some are based on the story of the megillah, while others traditionally ...
3
votes
1answer
55 views

Were Sephardic/Ashkenazic positions on women influenced by Muslim/Christian surroundings?

The majority of Ashkenazic communities hail from (majority-Christian) Eastern Europe, while most Sephardic communities come from the (majority-Muslim) Middle East and North Africa. Islam seems to ...