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Upon awakening

Thursday, 30th May 2019

Upon awakening one should wash one's hands from a cup, alternating between the right and left hand until each hand is washed 3 times.

Two reasons are given:

1) You are starting a new day of serving Hashem (G-d); similar to a Cohen (priest) who had to wash his hands before serving in the Bet HaMikdash (Temple).

2) Part of the soul leaves the body when one sleeps, therefore sleeping is considered a mini-death which generates impurity which needs to be washed away.

One should then wash one's face in honour of one's Maker, since the verse states that man was created in Hashem's image.

One should be careful to dry one's hands and face, for health reasons.

One should also rinse one's mouth, in anticipation of saying Hashem's name during prayers.

On fast-days one may not rinse one's mouth.

Understanding Lag B’Omer –

Wednesday, 22nd May 2019

In Israel, months before the advent of the festival of Lag B’Omer - the 33rd day of the Omer, the 49 days that bridge between Passover and Shavuot - one can see youngsters dragging all types of combustibles, from fallen trees to broken chairs to old mattresses. Their destination? The nearest empty lot, where they pile their treasured possessions to impossible heights and wait with eager anticipation until the night of Lag B'Omer, arguably their favorite time of year, when they turn the piles into enormous conflagrations. Ask anyone what the bonfires are for, and you'll be told they are in celebration of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a great sage who lived and taught approximately half a century after the destruction of the second Temple.

What lies behind this rather enigmatic festival of Lag B’Omer? What’s so special about the 33rd day of the Omer? And who was Rabbi Shimon, to whose name Lag B’Omer is inextricably tied, and why do we celebrate him? And why the bonfires?

Some Background
The first 33 days of the Omer are observed as a period of mourning. We do not take haircuts, perform weddings, or listen to music. What’s the mourning all about?

Rabbi Akiva, the towering sage of the Mishna, exerted a powerful influence on the Torah scholars of his day, to the point that he had 24,000 disciples. Great as the members of this group was, they had one short-coming: They failed to show proper love and respect for one another. The tragic consequence of this shortcoming was a brief but cataclysmic epidemic that claimed the lives of these students – all 24,000 of them. The period during which the epidemic took place was none other than the first 32 days of the Omer.

To get a better idea of the impact this tragedy had on the Jewish People for posterity, consider the following facts: All of the Torah that we possess and study today, with all of its interpretations, perspectives, dimensions and applications, is all the Torah of Rabbi Akiva. Although the Oral Torah always existed, each Torah personality who immerses himself in Torah adds his own understanding and flavor to Torah, thus enriching the Torah which will be passed on to the next generation. As we shall see, the Torah we have was transmitted to us by Rabbi Akiva via the five students whom he taught after the loss of his first group of disciples.

The Torah we study today is endless. One can study for a lifetime and not “finish” it. But it is not complete. There are whole areas and dimensions of Torah that are not satisfactorily explored; there is much argument and there are many areas of confusion. All of this might well have been different had we received the full breath of Rabbi Akiva’s Torah, as assimilated and interpreted by 24,000 disciples, along with their unique perspectives and understanding. The demise of the first group of students essentially resulted in our receiving only a fraction of Rabbi Akiva’s Torah. Instead of its full amplification by 24,000 great human beings, we have only the interpretations of five.

We are mourning the lost dimensions of Torah.
It is not so much the lives that were cut short that we mourn; after all, they wouldn’t be alive today even had they lived long lives! It is rather the lost dimensions of Torah, the lost worlds of Torah, that we mourn. We mourn our own lack of ability to connect fully to Torah which was caused by that loss.

Need Each Other
It is significant that the death of the first group students was the result of a lack of love and respect amongst themselves. The Oral Torah can only exist on the basis of continuous absorption and incorporation of new perspectives, interpretations, and applications. These new discoveries are unique to those who discover them, but then become the legacy of the entire Jewish people. Torah is only complete when enhanced by each and every Jew. No Jew on his own, no matter how smart, talented or advanced, can reach the totality of Torah. Therefore a prerequisite for connecting fully with the Torah is the ability to appreciate the contribution of another. As the Sages ask, leading into an invaluable teaching “Who is wise?” Their response: “One who learns from every person” (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1).

The 33rd day of the Omer signified a new period in the life of Rabbi Akiva. The last students of his aborted legacy died, and he established a new venue for his legacy. This consisted of five sages. Their names were Rabbi Meir; Rabbi Yehuda; Rabbi Elazar; Rabbi Nechemiah; and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. All of these names are familiar to any student of Mishna or Talmud, but the most prominent among them is the sage Rabbi Shimon, about whom we shall learn more. (There is an opinion that Rabbi Shimon later died on the 33rd of the Omer, and we therefore celebrate his memory on that day.)

If these five new students were able to survive and keep the chain going, there must have been a qualitative difference between them and their fellow disciples of Rabbi Akiva. If the first group failed in their interpersonal relationships, the second were able to rectify that defect. Just as we mourn the dimensions of Torah lost through lack of appreciation for one another, so do we celebrate the reclaimed dimensions that were made possible by devotion to one another.

All of this transpired specifically during the Omer, the period of time leading up to our celebration of the receiving of the Torah at Sinai. This is because preparing for receiving the Torah is all about integration into the Jewish People. God did not give the Torah to me, you or any other individual. He gave it to the Jewish people as a whole. One who cannot put himself within the context of the Jewish people cannot connect to God’s gift of Torah.

So on a deeper level, we mourn that part of ourselves which refuses to recognize the fact that someone else might have something valuable to add to our lives or understanding of Torah. Once we have internalized the depth of the destruction this tendency can cause us, we are ready to begin again with a fresh awareness of the greatness of our peers and acquaintances. We are now ready to celebrate our integration into the totality of the Jewish people and to use that wholeness as background for understanding the Torah.

Additionally, we are ready to celebrate the re-establishment of Rabbi Akiva’s legacy, which is what sustains us in our commitment to Torah study and observance until this day. Rabbi Akiva was destined as the man who would transmit the Torah to posterity. If not for this re-establishment, there would be no Torah.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
Significantly, it was Rabbi Shimon, most prominent of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples, who affirmed the immortality of the chain of transmission of the Oral Torah. In a discussion recorded in the Talmud (Shabbat 138a), some sages voiced the opinion that the Torah was destined to be forgotten. Rabbi Shimon said, “God forbid that the Torah shall ever be forgotten!” He buttressed his view with a verse from the Torah, “For it (the Torah) will not be forgotten from the mouth of progeny of the Jews.” (Even today, visitors to Rabbi Shimon’s tomb, nestled among the breathtaking mountains of northern Israel, are greeted by this very verse painted at the entrance to the memorial building.)
As the Talmud relates (Gittin 67a) Rabbi Shimon was the member of the group who most fully internalized the lessons of his great mentor. It was he who revealed the inner depths of the Torah and unlocked the secrets of its innermost dimensions though his teachings. These teachings later served the basis for the Book of the Zohar, the primary work of Kabbalah, or hidden aspects of Torah.

Once, when Rabbi Shimon’s students gathered before him for a lesson, their mentor noticed the good humor which was present amongst them and the absence of any tensions. He then remarked, “It is because you maintain an atmosphere of love and brotherhood that you have merited to be the players in the revelation of Torah secrets.” Through their love and concern for one another they reached a level of unity that gave them enormous power to penetrate the depths of the inner chambers of Torah.

Lag B'Omer is a time for reinforcing our unity, specifically in the endeavor of plumbing the depths of Torah, and a time for developing an appreciation that Torah study -- and all of Divine service -- is a joint effort. The more we learn to appreciate this, the more the wellsprings of the Torah -- and our own souls -- will open up to us.

Getting back to those bonfires. The book that systematically presents Rabbi Shimon’s teachings is called the Zohar. “Zohar” means “Glow” or “Luminescence.” The book is so named because its teachings illuminate the darkness and confusion of this world and serve as a beacon of light by which to navigate the vicissitudes of life. And Rabbi Shimon himself is referred to by the Zohar as “Botzina Kadisha,” or the “Sacred Lamp.” On Lag B'Omer, we honor his memory by lighting candles or bonfires, symbolic of the light provided by the eternal fire of the Torah, particularly its inner dimensions which were revealed by Rabbi Shimon.

Counting the Omer

Thursday, 16th May 2019

If one forgot to count the Omer one night, he/she should count during that day (without a Brocho - blessing) and then can resume counting the following night with a Brocho. 
However, if one didn't remember to count on that day and sunset of the next day arrived, he/she must count the remainder of the Omer days without a Brocho, and preferably hear the Brocho from someone else who is counting.
The above rule is only if you are certain that you forgot to count on one of the nights. However, if you are unsure (Safek) if you missed a night, you may continue the rest of the Omer counting with a Brocho.

Eruv Tavshillin

Wednesday, 24th April 2019

A fundamental difference between Yom Tov (festival) observance and Shabbos (Sabbath) observance is the allowance of food preparation on Yom Tov. 

The Torah permits us to cook, bake, and prepare food on Yom Tov proper, in order to eat the prepared food on that day of Yom Tov. One is not permitted to prepare from one day of Yom Tov for the second day of Yom Tov or for after Yom Tov. 

This prohibition of preparing from one day of Yom Tov to the next, presents a problem when the second day of Yom Tov falls out on Shabbos or when Shabbos follows a two day sequence of Yom Tov. Can one halachically prepare food on Yom Tov for the Shabbos Yom Tov or for Shabbos?

To deal with this issue our Rabbis instituted a procedure known as eruv tavshilin. The process of eruv tavshilin works in the following manner. On Erev (the eve of) Yom Tov, the head of the household, or his designee, should set aside a baked item such as bread or matzoh, and a cooked item such as meat, fish, or eggs (i.e. a food that is eaten along with bread). He or she should then recite the blessing:

 בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל מִצְוַת עֵרוּב

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melach HaOlam, Asher Kidishanu B`Mitzvotov, Vitzivanu, Al Mitzvat Eruv  

 One continues with the following, which must be said in a language one understands:

בַּהֲדֵין עֵרוּבָא יְהֵא שָׁרֵא לָנָא לַאֲפוּיֵי, וּלְבַשּׁוּלֵי, וּלְאַטְמוּנֵי, וּלְאַדְלוּקֵי שְׁרָגָא, וּלִמֶעְבֵּד כָּל צָרְכָּנָא מִיּוֹמָא טָבָא לְשַׁבְּתָא

"With this Eruv we are permitted to bake, cook, keep things warm and light fire and do all that is needed from Yom Tov to Shabbat".

 This proclamation states that the cooked and baked items should permit us to continue baking, cooking, lighting a flame from an existing fire and do all the necessary preparations from Yom Tov proper to Shabbos. It is now viewed as though meal preparations for Shabbos have already begun before Yom Tov and Shabbos meal preparations may continue on Friday Yom Tov, Erev Shabbos.

Once done, the eruv covers all household members and guests.

The foods set aside for the eruv should be saved and may be eaten on Shabbos but not prior to Shabbos..

If one forgot to make an eruv tavshilin one should consult a competent Rabbinical authority for further instructions.


Wednesday, 17th April 2019

The Torah forbids us to waste or destroy items that can still be used.

The Torah commands us to burn - or otherwise destroy - all Chometz in our possession on Erev (the eve of)  Pesach (Passover) morning.

Can we reconcile these 2 Laws?

Seeing that it is a commandment not to have any chometz in our possession, it becomes a positive action and is therefore not destructive, however, this can be fulfilled with a bare minimum of Chometz, preferably with leftovers that nobody would be able to use.

Usable Chometz can be donated to various charity organizations which will bo sold for the duration of Pesach and then distributed it to the needy.

Alternatively, Chametz can be sold to a non-Jew

Checking for Chometz

Thursday, 11th April 2019

All Rooms Where Chometz (unleavened bread) May Have Been Brought Into Must Be Checked.

One's Office, Car And Clothing Must Also Be Checked If There Is A Chance That Chometz Was Placed There. 

Before Starting Bedikas (checking for) Chometz The Brocho (blessing) Of "Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech Haolam Asher Kidshanu B'mitzvosav V'tzivanu Al Biur Chometz" Is Recited. (This can be found in most prayer books)

After Reciting The Brocho The Searching Should Begin Immediately, And No Talking Or Interruptions Should Take Place Between The Brocho And The Starting Of The Search.

It Is Best Not To Talk Or Make [unneccesary] Interruptions Throughout The Entire Bedikas Chometz Process. Talking For The Purpose Of The Search At Hand Is Permitted.

It Is Customary To Place 10 Pieces Of Bread Throughout The Home, Which The One Doing Bedikas Chometz Should "find".

One must be Be Very Careful Not To "hide" Them Too Well, Lest They Be Forgotten And Left In The Home Throughout Pesach (Passover).

The Lights In The Room May Be Left On During The Bedikas Chometz.

After Bedikas Chometz Is Finished, It Is Important To "nullify" Any Chometz That May Be In Your Property. There Is A Special Text Of Nullification That Should Be Said, Which Is Printed In Most Siddurim (prayer books).

It Is Important To Understand What You Are Saying And Not Just Say The Aramaic Words In The Siddur With No Clue That You Are Nullifying And Making Your Chometz Hefker (ownerless), As Simply Saying The Words As A "tefilah - prayer" And Not Understanding Them Is Worthless.

The Text May Be Said In English Or Any Other Language, As Long As The One Saying It Understands What They Are Saying.

Torah Scrolls

Wednesday, 3rd April 2019

How many Torah scrolls are removed and what is the order of reading on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Hachodesh?


When Rosh Chodesh Nissan falls on Shabbos, three Sifreiy Torah (Torah scolls) are removed. The weekly Sedra [Parsha of the week] is read from the first scroll until the 6th Aliyah.

By the 6th Aliyah the remainder of the Parsha is read from Shishi until the end of the Parsha. 

One then does Hagba to the first Sefer Torah and the second scroll is then placed on the Bima for the seventh Aliyah.

The portion of Rosh Chodesh is then read from the second scroll. One then places the third scroll on the Bima together with the second scroll and says half Kaddish. 

Hagba is then done to the second scroll which is followed by the reading of the portion of Hachodesh, which is read as Maftir, from the third scroll.

Can one answer Omein (Amen) to the blessing of a child?

Thursday, 28th March 2019

Can one answer Omein (Amen) to the blessing of a child?
If a child is old enough to know a brocho (blessing), and knows L'mi mevorech (to whom he is reciting the Brocho), can one answer Amen?

According to Rabbi Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, you even can answer Amen to a young child's Brocho if he does not know L'Mi Mevarech, as doing so is training him that Amen is answered after Brochos are recited!

The Mishna Berura (Siman 2215:16) doesn't seem to hold this way, but many contemporary commentators agree with Rabbi Auerbach, and in fact it is the prevelant custom to answer Amen after very small children's Brochos.

Some want to suggest that if possible, only part of the word Amen should be said, as the child should think you are answering Amen, while in fact you havent said the real word, and thus would satisfy both the Mishna Berura and Rabbi Auerbach's view.


Sunday, 17th March 2019

They are easily remembered by their initials, the four "M"s!
Megillah - reading the Megillah, Mishloach Manos- giving presents to ones friends, Matanos La'evyonim - giving presents to the poor, Mishteh - Wining and dining!

Megillah: In the evening and in the morning we read Megillat Esther (the scroll of Esther), from a scroll written in accordance with Halacha (Jewish law), which relates the story of Purim. Everyone including the women must listen to the Megillah, as the women played a vital role in the miracle. One should refrain from speaking from the time of the blessings before the reading, until the end of the blessings after the reading. Upon hearing the name of Haman, the custom is to bang. The reason for this is that we are instructed to destroy the name of Amalek. (See Deuteronomy 25:19). Nowadays the only way we can destroy them is by banging when their name is mentioned, but in a reasonable manner!

Mishloach Manos: We give our friends presents. This should consist of two different types of ready to eat foods, given to two people. The reason for this custom is to increase unity amongst us, the thing which was the Jewish people lacked in the time of the Purim. It is preferable to send the package via a third party.

Matanos Laevyonim: We give a gift of money sufficient for one meal, to at least two poor people. The more the merrier! One may send the gift via a messenger. Funds must be available on the day of Purim. (No post-dated checks.)

Mishteh: We have a festive meal. Meat and wine should be served, as it says in Tehilim (Psalms) that wine will gladden the heart of a person. There is a commandment that on Purim we have to get drunk to the extent that we don’t know the difference between Mordechai and Haman.


Saying Amen

Thursday, 14th March 2019

Upon hearing someone recite a Brocho (blessing), one is required to answer "Amen". There is no difference if the person reciting the Brocho is exempting the listener with the Brocho or not; the obligation to answer Amen is the same. 

The simple meaning of the word "Amen" , and the minimum one should think when  saying Amen after hearing a Brocho, is: "The Brocho that was just recited is true, and I believe it", for example when one recites a "Shehakol"  on a glass of water, by reciting "Amen" you are affirming that indeed it is true that Hashem (G-d) created everything with His word, and that you believe that Hashem can ,and does, create everything!


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