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Thursday, 15th March 2018

It is a relatively famous fact that Moshe’s (Moses’s) name is not mentioned in parshas Tetzaveh.

What is less well-known, is that Aharon’s (Aaron’s) name does not make it into parshas Vayikra.

Given that Vayikra is all about korbanos (offerings), and, as Kohen Gadol (the great Priest), korbanos are Aharon’s thing, it seems strange that he does not feature. Why is that?

The peirush HaRosh (6:2) cites a Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 7:1) which answers that this was because Aharon was still ‘rejected,’ to an extent, by HaShem (G-d) due to his role in the chet ha’egel (the sin of the golden calf).

What is interesting to note here is that it is clear that the rest of the Bnei Yisrael (children of Israel) had been forgiven by now for the chet ha’egel - the completion of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) testified to this, as the Rosh himself pointed out in Pekudei (38:21). Yet Aharon, the only member of the sin of the chet ha’egel who had fully worthy intentions and the only one who did not want to make a calf in the first place, is the only one still being punished by HaShem. Why is that?

The solution here seems to be the principle laid down in several sources (see the Ramban quoted by the Kli Yakar in Vayikra 4:20 and Ibn Ezra Bereishis 32:9) that HaShem punishes tzadikim (the righteous) more harshly than He does other people. The reason for this is partly because the greater one is, the more is expected of you, and partly because HaShem wants to cleanse every trace of sin from the tzadik in this world so that his share in the Next World will be wholesome. 


Thursday, 8th March 2018

Betzalel was the "general contractor" of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Each time he is introduced, the Torah makes a point of tracing his lineage both to his father and his grandfather. Chur, Betzalel's grandfather, was the individual who stood up and objected vociferously to the construction of the Golden Calf. He paid for this protest with his life; Chur was killed. This was, in fact, one of the sobering factors that caused Aharon to go along with the request to make a Golden Calf.

It would seem that Chur sacrificed his life in vain. Nothing was accomplished by his death. He tried to stop the Jewish People from making the Golden Calf, but they killed him and made it anyway. By repeatedly tracing Betzalel's lineage back to Chur, the Torah is emphasizing that Chur did not die in vain.

Our Sages say that the reason why Betzalel was chosen to build the Mishkan was because he was b'tzel - kel (in the shadow of G-d). He was not chosen as a result of being the Frank Lloyd Wright of his generation. We do not have any indication that Betzalel was a great architect or artisan, one who innately possessed all the talents that his job required. What Betzalel did have was an unbelievable attachment to G-d. Such an attachment to G-d is necessary in order to create a place in this world that will be a Residence for the Divine Presence (haShra-as haShechinah).

Where did Betzalel obtain this quality of b'tzel - kel? By taking his genealogy back to Chur, the Torah emphasizes that these qualities did not come from just anywhere. They are qualities that he inherited from his grandfather. That quality that Chur exhibited -- a willingness to give his life (be moser nefesh) for G-d's Honor -- was transferred through his son Uri to his grandson Betzalel.

We always tend to consider the "bottom line": Did Chur accomplish anything or not? Did he or did he not prevent the sin? Based on this narrow evaluation, Chur was a failure. They made the Golden Calf anyway. However, that narrow view is based on our view of the world. In G-d's world, that is not the end of the story. A grandfather's dedication and sacrifice (mesiras nefesh), which during its time may have been seen as futile, may still have major impact on the potential accomplishments of future generations.

Moreover, our Sages say that the Mishkan was an atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. This atonement was brought about through the efforts of Betzalel, who himself came from Chur. Thus, Chur was ultimately responsible for the atonement for the sin that he tried to stop. Ultimately, Chur did stop the Golden Calf -- he stopped its effect, by providing for its atonement.

The lesson of this verse is that we should not always look for instant success. We live in a society where even "FedEx Overnight Delivery" is no longer acceptable. "Fax it to me, now!"

However, that is not how G-d operates. Success is not evaluated instantaneously. Chur's accomplishment was not perceived at the time, but Chur did, in effect, provide the atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf.

Ki Sissa - Purim

Wednesday, 28th February 2018

Mordechai: Scholar, Statesman or Both?
By Mendy Herson - Taken from

Purim celebrates Jewry's rescue from annihilation in 4th century BCE. Persia. Jewish history portrays Mordechai, one of Purim's main protagonists, as an extraordinary man. Scholar-par-excellence and Jewish leader, Mordechai emerged from Purim's intricate story of palace intrigue events as a political powerhouse; he had actually become viceroy to the king.

Mordechai comes across as a true 'renaissance man', respected and adored by his people. But the Talmud reveals a little-known fact: Mordechai's public acclaim wasn't exactly unanimous.

Our attention is first drawn to the Megillah's (Scroll of Esther's) conclusion: "Mordechai…was a great man among the Jews, and was loved by most of his brethren…" It sounds like some of 'his brethren' (albeit a minority) had a problem with him.

The Talmud also notes a second curiosity: Mordechai is mentioned among the Jewish leaders who returned to Israel (from Babylonia/Persia) to build the Second Jewish Commonwealth. When the book of Ezra enumerates that list of leaders, Mordechai appears as the fifth name; the Book of Nechemiah's later listing has Mordechai as number six. There seems to have been a ‘demotion’.  What was going on?

The Talmud teaches that some in the rabbinate disapproved of Mordechai's new public persona.  Mordechai was a member of the Sanhedrin - the Jewish Supreme Court of seventy-one sages. He was a man totally immersed in Torah.

Now he had become a political figure, a position which doesn't allow for the single-minded Torah-focus he'd enjoyed.

It's a fact that community involvement distracts from one's internal spiritual pursuits.

A community leader has to worry about the people's welfare, at every level. It's a burden that simply doesn't allow for total preoccupation with Torah.

So, some of Mordechai's Sanhedrin-colleagues disagreed with his 'new' lifestyle.  Although he was as observant as ever, they felt that he had sacrificed his total-immersion Torah study for the sake of political leadership. For some Torah-Jews, this was a mistake. In that sense, Mordechai took a step down in the religious world when he became a political leader.

But Mordechai, and the majority of the Sanhedrin, took a different position. Why?

The Midrash (Tanna D'bei Eliyahu Rabba ch. 11) teaches that the "It would behoove the Sanhedrin's Sages … to lift their robes … and circulate amongst the cities teaching the Jews …"

This isn't a simple statement. The Sanhedrin was a very rare group of people.  They were spiritual and intellectual giants, and they were supposed to convene on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem - a Holy place that lent the Sanhedrin special clout and spiritual strength. For example, it was only when they gathered there that the group could decide capital cases.

Yet the Midrash says that it would behoove these religious titans to leave the Temple Mount, lowering themselves as it were, in order to teach the nation.
In other words, the Sanhedrin's rabbis weren't to obsess on their own spiritual achievements. They most definitely had the obligation to study, pray and climb to greater heights; but they also had the responsibility to lead, even if that impacted their personal spiritual pursuits.

Mordechai made a choice.  He could've chosen to closet himself in a yeshiva and devote his every breath to Torah study. He undoubtedly wanted to do just that.  But Mordechai didn't think about what he wanted; he thought about what G-d wanted from him. He saw the need for a leader, and he took the lead.

This is true leadership. Genuine leaders aren’t people who yearn to ‘be in charge’, to be ‘the boss’; that smacks of megalomania.

Real leaders are people who would prefer to focus on self-mastery than on the mastery of others. They would prefer the peace of mind and privacy that a non-leadership role would afford. But they see a communal need, and feel a responsibility to step into the breach.



Thursday, 22nd February 2018

And the holy garments of Aaron shall be for his sons after him, to be anointed in them, and to be consecrated in them.  Seven days shall the son that is priest in his stead put them on ……..(29:29-30)
We learn out from the above that Jewish law recognizes that all religious positions, including Rabbinical appointments, are subject to be inherited by the offspring of the deceased.
A controversy once broke out when the Rabbi of a small town in Europe passed away. The leaders of the community wanted to appoint an outsider to take his place, while some of the Rabbi’s sons argued that they were suited for the position and deserved precedence as the “inheritors” of their deceased father. They agreed to bring the dispute to the Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisroel Meir HaKohen 1838-1933) for resolution .

The Chofetz Chaim began by agreeing that Jewish law recognizes that all religious positions, including Rabbinical appointments, are subject to be inherited by the offspring of the deceased. However, the Gemora (Talmus) in Yoma (72b) distinguishes between the son of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), who may inherit his father’s purely religious position, and the son of the Kohen Meshuach Milchama (the Kohen who leads the Jews to battle), who may not.
Because the latter position is uniquely intended for a man of war and is not purely a religious function, the fact that somebody was suited to the role is irrelevant to his son’s capacity to inherit and fill the role.

Similarly, it was once true that the function of the Rabbi of a community was purely religious in nature – to render legal rulings and to teach the people – and his children were legally entitled to be offered the position before other candidates were considered.

However, the Chofetz Chaim continued, this has unfortunately changed due to the assault on traditional religious standards and values. As a result, the role of the Rabbi has been transformed into that of a general leading his troops into a fierce battle, regarding which the Gemora rules that the children are not entitled to automatic precedence in inheriting and filling the position of the deceased Rabbi.


Thursday, 15th February 2018

When one looks through the various descriptions of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its vessels, one word springs to mind: glamour. No expense was spared. The menorah (candelabra) was made out of one solid lump of gold, and the rest of the Mishkan used other expensive and valuable materials too. There was no skimping when it came to the Mishkan. All this glory and expense forces us to ask a vital question. As the Ramban points out, the central positive character trait is anavah (modesty/humility). Therefore, we can ask regarding the ‘fancy’ Mishkan in general and the clothes of the Kohannim (Priests) in particular - what on earth happened to anavah? Indeed, when the Torah (28:40) does describe the point of the Kohannim’s clothes, it says that they are to be ‘for honour and glory’ - is this not the antithesis of anavah? 

Let us look at the real definition of anava.

Humility does not mean hiding one’s talents and pretending that they do not exist. HaShem (G-d) does not want you to hide your talents; on the contrary, He created you with certain talents and expects you to utilise them. What anavah means is admitting that you have these talents, and using them in the right ways. 

Rabbi Twerski cites several authorities who stressed this point: 

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian remarked “the essence of the concept of humility is not that one should be unaware of one’s capacities. On the contrary, a person should recognise his strengths. However, he should know that his skills and talents are a gift from G-D and that they are not his doing.” 

The Chazon Ish added that these talents should not make one feel superior to others; for after all, they are a gift from HaShem - and someone else could equally have achieved the same as you had HaShem given them these talents. 

Similarly, Rabbi Leib Chasman commented that “it is obvious that a humble person is not one who is unaware of his capacities and strengths. This person is a fool and not humble.” 

The idea is that true anavah is realising that your talents are from HaShem. Rav Elchonon Wasserman commented that the title ‘servant of HaShem’ attributed to Moshe Rabeinu (Moses) at the end of the Torah meant that Moshe put every talent he had into the service of HaShem. And it is no coincidence that Moshe is described in the Torah as the most humble man that ever lived (Bamidbar 12:3) - it was this trait of anavah which meant that Moshe used his talents to serve HaShem. If you deny your talents, you are assuming that these talents are yours to deny - this is not so; HaShem gave you your talents with a responsibility to put them to good use - denying them is anything but anavah.

So now we have realised that the biggest show of anavah is the using of all of one’s talents and resources to serve HaShem. This is precisely what the Mishkan was. Everyone donated the funds; no expense was spared. The women weaved certain materials and embroidery, and everyone gave of themselves and their resources to help the Mishkan effort. This was anavah in its purest form. 

This is also why the intention of the clothing of the Kohannim being ‘for honour and glory’ do not contradict anavah. For the honour and glory here are not for the Kohannim themselves, they are for HaShem’s honour and glory. These precious articles of clothing are that which enables the special serving of HaShem in the Mishkan and the sanctification of His Name; the entire thing is for His honour and glory. And if we are talking about HaShem’s honour, there can be no holding back; no skimping.

The same thing goes for a shul (Synagogue) and any other mitzvah; why not make it as nice as possible - it is the honour of HaShem that we are dealing with.



Thursday, 8th February 2018

This weeks Sedra (Torah portion), Mishpotim, deals with so many laws.
Why does the Torah have to be so complicated and contain so many rules?

The Sedra comprises of 52 mitzvos including the specific detailed laws of slaves and sacrifices.

We must understand that we are G-d’s representatives on earth, we have to be immaculate, we have to strive to be perfect, because we have to be sanctifying Hashem’s (G-d’s) name in the world.

Perfection is achieved only through perfect detail. Judaism needs the details. E.g. difference between a kosher and a non-kosher or between a £15 and a £400 Esrog can be just one mark on the Esrog. But that makes such a huge difference.

2 parallels: 

i) Buckingham Palace guards absolutely perfectly dressed.  Buttons done up exactly, clothes ironed perfectly, exactly rightly fitted helmet, everything about them immaculate. Why?  Because they are guarding the queen.  They are representing her. 

ii) Airplanes are amazing flying machines. Only possible because every screw is fastened correctly, because every part e.g. on each wing is shaped at the perfect angle, every wire is wired completely correctly etc. It takes one thing, any one thing to be slightly wrong, and the whole plane would crash and cause a serious accident. 

Details can make such a huge physical difference. How much more so we have to be careful that we have everything right to the millimetre when we are dealing with spiritual pursuits.


Wednesday, 31st January 2018

In this weeks sedra (Torah portion), we are told by Moshe (Moses) what Hashem (G-d) wanted him to relate to the Bnei Yisroel (Children of Israel) as a preview to Matan Torah (receiving the Torah). During this discourse that Moshe is giving, he is told to tell Bnei Yisroel: “You have seen that which I have done to Egypt and I carried you on the wings of the eagle and I brought you to me.” This was on the night of the Korban Pesach (the pascal offering), when Hashem brought the Bnei Yisroel on the wings of an eagle from Raamses where they were in Egypt to the place where the Temple was to be built, Har HaMoriah (Mt Moriah). There they ate the Korban Pesach and were transported back to Egypt where they came from.

The question that begs to be answered is, what was the significance of transporting them on the wings of an eagle? Surely there must be some message here for us?

The sages say that the message is clear. The eagle is different from all other birds. It is the highest flier in the species and also differs from other birds in the way it carries its young. All birds have a fear of the eagle and therefore carry their young beneath them, whereas the eagle being the highest flier carries its young above its body, as its only fear is arrows or other projectiles shot by the humans.

Hashem did the same to the Bnei Yisroel, protected them like the eagle, from the dangers below.

There is however a further important message and that is that the eagle can carry its young but cannot pick them up. The young need to jump on its back in the first instance. Hashem is saying to us, I will take you and help you sore to the heights but you have to make the first leap. That leap of faith and the first jump can carry us to great heights. 



Thursday, 25th January 2018

As Bnei Yisrael (the children of Israel) seem to be trapped between the Egyptians and the sea - with no way out – HaShem (G-d) commands Moshe (Moses) (14:16) ‘lift up (harem) your stick and stretch your hand over the sea and split it…’ Indeed, the sea split, the Jews safely crossed (the Egyptians did not) - and the rest is history. But why was Moshe told to lift his stick over the sea - HaShem did not need a stick in order to perform the miracle, so why was this necessary and where was this related to the miracle?

The Kli Yakar answers that the word “harem” does not mean ‘lift up’ in this context, but rather ‘take away/remove.’ He goes on to explain that the Egyptians were clinging on to their false belief (hope) that without Moshe’s stick HaShem could not perform any miracles. Thus, in order to make it clear for the Egyptians that the miracles had nothing to do with the stick, Moshe was told to put the stick away for this one. It was precisely because the splitting of the sea was the greatest miracle, that the stick had to be put away here.

One lesson to take out of this, is what desperation can do to someone’s mind; the Egyptians still wanted to believe the ludicrous idea that the stick was performing the miracles - not HaShem - because that would be easier than changing themselves, their beliefs, and their value systems.


Thursday, 18th January 2018

The 10 Plagues

There's a classic question regarding the 10 plagues. HaShem (G-d) promised Avrohom (Abraham) that a nation - Egypt - would enslave the children of Israel. This seems to imply that the Egyptains had no freewill or choice as to whether to enslave us, they HAD to enslave us.  So how could HaShem punish them with the 10 plagues if they had no choice to begin with? 

Rambam (Maimonidies) answers that though the nation as a whole were bound by HaShem's promise to Avrohom, each individual Egyptian had the choice whether to be a part of the enslaving or not.

The Raavid gives two alternative answers: 

1) the Egyptians deserved the punishments for the other acts they had committed anyway. 

2) HaShem only promised that the Egyptians would enslave us; they went further though and gave us back-breaking tortuous slavery which was over and above what they could have got away with.



Wednesday, 10th January 2018

Pharoh's magicians also made frogs emerge upon the land, but it never mentions in the Torah that they made them disappear. Pharoh called for Moshe (Moses) and Aaron and said, "Pray to G-d, and let Him remove the frogs from me and from my people, and I will send the people to sacrifice to Hashem (G-d)." Moshe asked him, "When should I pray for you?" Pharoh answered, "Pray today that it be destroyed by tomorrow."

The posuk (verse) says that Moshe and Aaron left, and [Moshe] cried out. Rashi writes, "[Moshe] cried out immediately. This one word 'miyad' (immediately) is interesting. Why did it have to write "immediately"? 

An answer can be that Moshe loved having a connection with Hashem. He saw an opportunity to speak to Him, and took it.

Often we procrastinate until the last minute. We see that Moshe enjoyed praying to Hashem, taking any opportunity to communicate with Him. We also see the inner drive Pharoh had, when waking up extra early in the morning because he didn't want the Egyptians to find out he too, relieves himself like any other human. It's not easy waking up early in the morning, but when you have that spark, you are willing to sacrifice some sleep for it. Unfortunately Pharoh was applying his enthusiasm (of keeping his title as G-d) in going against Hashem, as opposed to Moshe, who was using his enthusiasm to connect and get closer to Him. 

When we have an opportunity to do a mitzvah, or to build a connection with Hashem (by praying to Him), we shouldn't push it off. We should grab the opportunity immediately, just like Moshe did.


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