Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cemetery Plots, Synagogues, Landsmanschaft Societies and NY State Law

Does JTS have information in the synagogue archives that will help me sell the unused cemetery plots that my grandparents purchased in 1937 through a synagogue which is no longer in existence (the Brooklyn Jewish Center). The cemetery is in Queens, I live in Georgia, and I am the only living descendent of my grandparents. The cemetery says that I do not have the right to sell the plots; only the (defunct) synagogue has that right.

Answer: JTS's Ratner Center Archives indeed holds archives of the Brooklyn Jewish Center and the archives other Conservative synagogues and their rabbis. This archive includes cemetery files, and partial records of deeds and plots.

However, there is a missing link: who can act on behalf of the defunct synagogue? Or does the law require the cemetery to purchase the plots directly from the grandson?

In this case, the New York State Department of State, Division of Cemeteries can handle the situation. According to their Cemetery Bulletin, the lot owner must offer to sell the lot back to the cemetery at the original purchase price plus 4 percent simple interest per annum.

We'd like to thank the Community Association for At-Risk Jewish Cemeteries (CAJAC) for assisting with this query.

For families needing to handle other cemetery plot issues, including arranging permission for a burial in cases where the plots were purchased early in the 20th century through a no-longer-extant landsmanschaft group, we suggest you contact the Office of Miscellaneous Estates, in the Liquidation Bureau of the New York State Insurance Department 212-341-6400.

As this New York Times article explains, the Office of Miscellaneous Estates quickly untangles the legalities and acts as a surrogate for the now-defunct landsmaschaft societies to settle issues regarding burials and cemetery plots--permitting a timely burial.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Document of Conversion to Judaism

Question: I would like to know what a teudat giyur (a document issued by a rabbinic court testifying to someone's conversion to Judaism) looks like. Can you recommend a book that would contain an example of such a document?

Answer: An example of a teudat giyur is found in the work Gerut ke-hilkhatah by Shemuel Eliezer Shtern on p.86-87 [Bene Beraḳ : Mekhon Mayim ḥayim, 1998 - BM729.P7 S8 1998]. Various conversion related teudot are also found in vol.2, p.J-39 – J-70 of the Conservative movement’s Moreh Derekh [New York : The Rabbinical Assembly, 758, 1998 - BM676 .M66 1998].

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Israel Najara's Piyut Yaarat Dvash יערת דבש

Question: "Youtube has a rousing and exquisite version" of the piyyut Yaarat Dvash יערת דבש with Moshe Haboucha singing and playing the oud. This piyyut is so compelling, I would like to find more information about it, and its author Israel Najara.

Detailed information about this piyyut is available in Hebrew on the outstanding "Invitation to Piyut" website. It provides the piyut text, photos of the text from a manuscript and early printings, word-by-word commentary on the text, short essays on its meaning and poetic art, and a biography of Najara. Click the MELODIES and MORE RENDITIONS buttons to hear 10 different recordings of this piyyut in the Algerian, Babylonian [Iraqi] and Moroccan traditions. Click on NOTES to retrieve the score of the melody in the Babylonian tradition. A background article on the poetry and piyutim of the Babylonian Jewish community is also available.

The Thesaurus of Jewish Music, from the Hebrew University, provides links to a series of biographical articles about Najara in English, and web-based recordings of other Najara piyyutim .

Many Hebrew articles about Najara and his writings are listed in RAMBI, by searching for נגארה as the subject.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Scholarly/Critical Edition of RaMBaM's Mishneh Torah

Question: Can you suggest a scholarly/critical edition of RaMBaM's Mishneh Torah?

Answer: The Shabse Frenkel edition of the Mishneh Torah [Nyu Yorḳ : Ḳehilat Bene Yosef, 1975-], is complete and has extensive textual variants listed on the side of the page and, especially, in the back of the volume. The RaMBaM Meduyak [Maʻaleh Adumim : Hotsaʾa Shilat, 2004 -], edited by Yitshak Shilat, is devoted to producing a critical “meduyak” edition of the Mishneh Torah. I do not believe it has been completed yet. However, a good number of volumes have been done already and it may be completed soon.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Torah Scroll Preservation

Question: I am putting together a storage cabinet in which our small congregation will store its Torah between services, since we do not have a permanent shul. Can you tell me what optimal storage conditions for parchment are.
Answer: The most important considerations for storing a Torah scroll, as far as preservation is concerned, are constant temperature and constant humidity. Changes in temperature and humidity will cause the parchment and ink to contract and expand, and the parchment will contract/expand at a different rate from that of the ink--resulting in the ink separating from the parchment.
The optimal temperature is 70 degrees F; optimal humidity is 55%.
Also, the scroll should not be exposed to light, as light would cause the ink to fade.