Category Archives: Islam

People Find Me by Googling the Strangest Phrases. Here Are My Responses.

I figured we could all use some comic relief right about now, and this post is presented in that spirit. First, however, I have an exciting announcement: I have been informed by the manager of the Pomeranz bookstore that they will be stocking Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism as of around two weeks from now. They are the most well-known English-language bookstore in Jerusalem, specializing in books of Jewish content, and I am beyond delighted to have my book on their shelves. If you are in the Jerusalem area, I hope you will support both me and them by purchasing a copy from them. They are located downtown, on Be’eri Street, between Ben Yehuda and Hillel. I intend to drop by after the stock arrives to sign some copies, too.

If you have any kind of relationship with the manager of a local bookstore, here’s what you can do to get LtJ onto their shelves: print out a copy of my press kit, or even simply the first page of it, and hand it to them. If they end up ordering some copies, let me know and I will send you a signed bookplate in thanks!

And now, today’s post.

I enjoy checking the visitor stats for this blog. I love to see what countries people are reading from. When I first started writing and my audience was smaller, I knew exactly who was reading when I got a visit from a place like Spain (hi Josep!) or Japan (hi Pamela!), but now, thank God, I tend to get enough traffic from enough interesting places that I really can’t be sure.

Google usually encrypts people’s search terms, so most of the time I have no idea what people have Googled that led them to this blog. Occasionally, though, a non-encrypted search term will appear in my stats, and… let’s just say, sometimes I prefer not to know.

Today I have decided to respond to some of these people and address the (fairly odd) questions that led them to me.

“I often wonder the jews the men smartly dressed with trilbys hats. what do they do in life beside praying.”

Well. That’s pretty much what this whole blog is for! If you find it overwhelming, I highly recommend reading my book!

“isnt delaying iftaar practise of jews? so whats strange if we find this in shias because”

Ramadan Kareem, Internet Stranger! To be accurate, Jews do not observe Ramadan and do not have iftars. (You can read more about Jewish fasting practices and how they compare to those of Islam and Christianity here.)

However, your question inspired me to do a little research, wherein I learned that there is a dispute between Sunnis and Shias concerning iftar (break-fast) time. From what I read, most Sunnis break the fast after sunset, and most Shias break it after nightfall. While it is true that Jews, too, break fasts after nightfall, Shias observe this timing of iftar not because they are secretly Jews, but because of Surah Buqarah aya 187: “eat and drink until the whiteness of the day becomes distinct from the blackness of the night at dawn, then complete the fast till night.

The confusion is because on both the Hebrew and the Muslim calendar, days begin at night. But when does the night begin? Sunset? Twilight? Dusk? Nightfall? Not clear! We Jews call the period between sunset and nightfall “bein hashmashot,” literally “between the suns,” and there are all kinds of difficulties due to the uncertainty regarding exactly which day it is during that period! We try to err on the side of stringency in both directions. That’s why we fast until nightfall.

“weird things jews do”/”jews practicing weird customs”

I get this a lot. My post “15 Weird Things Jews Do” went viral last year and is, at the moment, the #2 result when I Google that phrase. Weird Jewish Customs ‘R’ Us!

“wierd thongs jews do”

That, my friend, is an entirely different question.

“religious people are right about sex”

Well, I am flattered that you think so. I wouldn’t put it quite so boldly, but I tend to agree with you, as evidenced by this post.

“pizza manu carp meem domenoz”

I…. am so sorry. I have no idea what language that is, and I certainly have no idea how you managed to stumble across my blog while Googling it. I do love pizza, though, so there’s that.

“do breslev kallah cover their hair straight after the chuppah”

Huh. No idea. I know that some Sephardic brides do, but Breslev is a sect of Hassidism originating in Ashkenaz, so I would guess that they don’t. In any case, it wouldn’t be straight after the chuppah, it would be after the yichud room. (If you don’t understand half the words in those last two sentences, see Different Kinds of Jews, Part I, and Part II, and my “Jewish Weddings” post.)

“what is the halakhic definition of a jew?”

Excellent question! Someone who was born to a halakhically Jewish mother, or who converted to Judaism according to Jewish law. More details here.

“stay with me versionada al català”

Em sap greu. I have literally no idea how or why Google directed you to me! The extent of my Catalan is a few key phrases/greetings and a couple random food words like el poncem and la remolatxa. (Don’t even ask.) (Okay, you can ask. El poncem because it’s a fruit used in an odd Jewish ritual during Succotla remolatxa because, as explained in the footnote on Passover Part II: “I served a Moroccan beet salad to Josep when he was here for Shabbat, and he asked me what it was, but we did not have a common language in which we both knew the word for this vegetable. After Shabbat I Googled it, and now I’ll never forget. (When I clarified, he was like, ‘Not something I eat every day!’ Was that a polite way to tell me he hated it? I decided not to press the issue.)”)

Anyway, where were we? Oh yes: “Stay with Me.” I can see why you wanted a translation; it’s a catchy and poignant song. Unfortunately the lyrics aren’t much to write home about. You should definitely write a better version in Catalan.

“caganer equivalent in judaism”

Listen… I’ll be the first to admit that Jews have some pretty odd practices. (See: “Weird Things Jews Do” above.) But Catalans and their crazy Christmas traditions are a whole different class of weird.

We have no such equivalent. Sorry to disappoint you. But Josep and I always get excited about anyone drawing any connection, however vague it may be, between Judaism/Israel and Catalonia, so thanks for the thought.

“catalan jew never invite”

I know, right? I have also been disappointed by this lack of hospitality on the part of Catalan Jews. So has Josep, who was not allowed to enter the synagogue in Barcelona because he is not Jewish. Uncool, Catalan Jews. (In their defense, their spurning of Josep was because of the tight security, which is meant to keep Jews safe from antisemites. Of course, if they had bothered to talk to him for more than 30 seconds, they would have realized that they had something entirely different on their hands.)

“jewish therapy barcelona”

Yes, Barcelona is most definitely in need of some Jewish therapy.

“yiddish nachas, vol. 2”

If you are my mother, I believe you have arrived at the correct destination.

(“Yiddishe nachas” generally refers to the feeling of pride and satisfaction a Jewish parent feels about their children being good Jews. More about “nachas” here.)

“tomb of the paper manufacturer max krause in the jerusalem cemetery in berlin”

I…. literally have no idea what this is about. And I have no idea how Google decided that my blog had anything to do with it. Sorry.

“letters as to why shabbat is important”

I’ve got one! Here it is.

“danniella levy shaving”

Regretfully, I’ve been growing out my beard for years. Can’t help you there.

“download video seks daniela levy”


“foto danniella levy”

That you can have. It’s on the “about” page of the blog. But I have a feeling you may be disappointed. In light of this line of inquiry on the part of Random Internet Strangers such as yourself, it has come to my attention that there’s a porn star who shares my name, and, well. Nope. Juuuuust nope.

Gonna file that one under “Things I Wish I Never Knew About the Universe.”

“the sanctity of shabbos: a comprehensive guide to forbidden activities which one may ask a gentile to do on the sabbath or yom tov”

Actually, it’s a debate as to whether or not it is permissible to ask a gentile to do anything forbidden on the Sabbath or Yom Tov. Most agree that ideally, you should not do so, even though you may benefit from the actions of a non-Jew on Shabbat (say, if you are sharing a room with a non-Jewish roommate and she turns off the light so she can sleep). But if it’s really necessary for your well-being during Shabbat, you can hint to a non-Jew that you need something done for you (for instance, if the light is on in your room and you catch a random non-Jew in the hallway and say something like, “The light in my room is extremely bright, don’t you think? Very hard to sleep with it on, I imagine”).

This is not a comprehensive guide, of course. I hope you found one.

“i asked for forgiveness to anyone gmar katima tova”

Oh. I am glad to hear that. Gmar Chatima Tova to you as well.

“what is the special dietary needs that must be considered for the juwish”

Aha! Now that is a question Josep has asked me! And my answer was so complicated it was split into three letters: here, here, and here.

“i m not supporter of orthodox rutuals a letter”

Hmm. This blog is probably not what you were looking for.

“chag hakurban”

Who are you that you Googled “Eid Al-Adha” under its Hebrew name in English transliteration? You sound like my kind of person.

Well folks, if you have any other random (or non-random) questions for me, do feel free to ask!

Guest Letter from Yasmina: Eid al-Adha

In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, I noticed some interesting Hebrew and Arabic videos circulating on social media talking about how the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha coincide this year. (Here’s the one I liked best, posted by the Jerusalem Municipality, featuring Arab and Jewish Jerusalemites speaking about their experiences of Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha and wishing each other the best for their respective holidays. Unfortunately there are no English subtitles.) I was wondering why I felt déjà vu, until I realized that it’s because, in a rare coincidence, the exact same thing happened last year.

Now, while I have a reasonably thorough knowledge of Judaism and a working (if fairly superficial) knowledge of Christianity, my knowledge of Islam is woefully lacking. I have been attempting to remedy this by participating in online Jewish-Muslim dialogue, which has been enlightening and inspiring (and sometimes difficult, as all truly important dialogue is). Still, pretty much the only thing I could remember about Eid al-Adha was that there were slaughtered goats involved. Or was it sheep…?


So I sent out a call for a guest letter on this holiday, and found Yasmina, a writer in Chicago who blogs for the Huffington Post and contributes to the Good Men Project (a project I happen to particularly appreciate, being the mother of three little boys, and the wife, relative, friend, and/or colleague of an impressive lineup of truly amazing men). You can find her personal blog at

Yasmina was kind enough to tell us about this holiday and how it is celebrated in her family and community, and she even sent me pictures of their food! 😀 Enjoy, Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim readers, and happy day-after-Yom-Kippur to my Jewish readers!

Dear Josep,

It’s an exciting week this week. We have the first day of fall to look forward to as well as Eid al-Adha on September 24th. A lot of people are familiar with Eid al-Fitr which marks the end of Ramadan. Eid al-Adha is different. This Eid commemorates the story of Abraham where Allah commanded him to sacrifice his son in a test of faith. He passed the test but his son was saved, turning into a lamb before the knife could pierce him.1

On Eid al-Adha, families pay for the halal slaughter of lamb and distribute the meat to the poor.

"Eid al Adha" by The Bull Pen [CC BY 2.0]
Eid al Adha” by The Bull Pen [CC BY 2.0]
It’s at this time too that the Muslim community welcomes back those who went to Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that is required of Muslims who can afford it, once in their lifetime. Listening to the stories of the new Hajis during this time and how it has changed their lives is always awe inspiring.

My family celebrates Eid the same way each year. We go to Eid prayer early in the morning and listen to the khutba (sermon) given by the Imam. It is usually an uplifting sermon encouraging worshippers to visit relatives and neighbors and to give charity.

"Eid Prayers at Barashalghar, Debidwar, Comilla" by Mohammed Tawsif Salam - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Eid Prayers at Barashalghar, Debidwar, Comilla” by Mohammed Tawsif SalamOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

After prayer, people wish each other Eid Mubarak! Children run around the hall to the adults who give them dollars or candy. After prayer, we go to the cemetery which is flooded with other Muslims visiting their deceased loved ones on this holy day.

We gather for Eid dinner as the final tradition for the day. My family is mixed heritage. We represent the cultures of America, Bulgaria, Croatia, Turkey, Palestine and India! Can you imagine the variety of food we eat on Eid with this type of representation? There is nothing like it! I will start making the Bulgarian banitza tomorrow which is filo dough filled with a mixture of butter, feta cheese and eggs.

Okay, one banitza just came out of the oven. :) Filo dough filled with a feta cheese and egg mixture. Very Slavic and in this case--very Bulgarian.
The banitza fresh from the oven. 🙂

My sister in law will make butter chicken, a staple in her Indo-Pak upbringing. My cousin will make traditional Palestinian hummus, roasted lamb and kenafa. And we will have Turkish baklava for dessert as my auntie makes it the very best!



We laugh, tell stories, pray, play with the children and enjoy family time which is how holidays should be spent. Hope you can join us some time, Josep!


1. Note from Daniella: as you probably know, this story is common to all three Abrahamic faiths. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Isaac was the son being sacrificed, and was stopped by an angel of God. God then pointed out a ram whose horns had been caught in the bushes, and directed Abraham to sacrifice that instead. (So Jews refer to it as “the Binding of Isaac.”) In Islamic tradition, the son was Ishmael. I was going to include one of an abundance of illustrative paintings depicting this Biblical event, but  then remembered that there’s a reason the only ones I could find were Christian: representing the prophets in a visual form is forbidden by Islam, so it seemed inappropriate here.

Want to tell us about your experience of Eid al-Adha, or a different holiday in your tradition? Send us a guest letter!

Guest Letter from Saadia: Ramadan 101

I am honored to post this guest letter from Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is an interfaith activist, speaker, and author from Houston, Texas, USA, who grew up in Pakistan. I met her on “Abraham’s Tent”, a Facebook community for religious dialogue between Jews and Muslims. Given our common passions for writing and for bridging the gaps between our cultures, we hit it off pretty quickly. 😉 I recently asked her if she could write us a letter explaining the Muslim month of Ramadan, which, as mentioned in the previous post, began last week. She kindly obliged.

But before we get to her letter, I have to tell you the really exciting thing: Saadia’s first book, a collection of short stories called Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan, was published just a couple weeks ago.

I finished reading it today, and here’s what I have to say about it: buy it. Now. 😛 With her rich and vivid prose, Saadia paints a diverse collection of characters from all walks of life in modern Pakistan, from the dirt-poor Asma to wealthy “political princess” Rabia, from cantankerous grandmother Farzana to industrious 10-year-old Nida, from desperate Faisal who gets drawn into a terrorist cell, to successful rapper and musician Javed Gul–and all of them are well-drawn and deeply human. All the characters face struggles that closely relate with their unique environment, but are universal, too; struggles with family, self-worth, justice, cruelty, grief, and ambition. The result is a rich and nuanced tapestry of poignant stories exploring many aspects of life in modern Pakistan. The impression I got from Brick Walls was of a Pakistan that is complex, dangerous, and beautiful, where evil and cruelty are real and very present, but hope, courage, faith, kindness, and compassion are greater.

Have I convinced you yet? Click the photo of the cover to the left to buy it on Amazon. 😉 And you can read more about Saadia and her work on her website at

Ramadan kareem, and enjoy!

Dear Josep,

You must have heard that Ramadan has started, and I’m sure that like many outside the Islamic faith you have more questions than answers. It’s not all that complicated, however, and you’ll find Ramadan very similar to the Jewish tradition of fasting.

First I thought I’d remove some common misconceptions about Ramadan. It is not a holiday or celebration as it is frequently called, it is a month – the ninth month of the Islamic calendar to be exact. Muslims don’t fast the entire month, because that would be absolutely insane and probably fatal, but the fast lasts from dawn to sunset every day for 30 days. And every Muslim doesn’t fast, although the media makes it seem so. Only healthy adults are required to fast, and those who are sick, traveling, pregnant, nursing or children are exempt from fasting during Ramadan or any other time.

So what is Ramadan exactly? Muslims fast in this month first and foremost because it is a commandment of God as recorded in the Quran. We don’t fast to commemorate any event or memory, nor do we fast because any human being in the past used to do so. Our fasts are for God alone, and on His command. The Quran states:

“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint (2:183)”. Remember that Muslims believe that the Quran is the literal word of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel (more on that in a future letter). In addition Ramadan also commemorates the beginning of the Quran’s revelation which first began in that sacred month.

The Islamic fast is a complete fast, not unlike the one on Yom Kippur1. We eat a meal before dawn each day, and then don’t ingest a single thing – water, food, medication – until sunset, when we break the fast with another meal. We also don’t engage in sexual relations during the fast. The aim is to allow Muslims to understand that what we consider needs are actually things we can do without for the sake of God.

But I don’t want to give you the impression that Ramadan is all about abstaining from physical things like food and drink. The real abstinence during this month of fasting is keeping away from bad habits, and the purpose of the fast is to urge us to improve ourselves spiritually. Think of it as a boot camp, where fueled by hunger and thirst, we are motivated to do better, to forego our ego and our base physical self in order to rise to a higher level of spirituality. There is a hadith (saying) of the Prophet Muhammad: “He who does not desist from obscene language and acting obscenely during the period of fasting, Allah has no need that he did not eat or drink.” (Hadith books of Bukhari and Muslim). So you see, Ramadan is not really about the fast, but in fact it is a time to practice enhanced worship, to try to achieve patience and a nearness to God that cannot happen when we are busy feeding ourselves literally and figuratively.

Of course it is not as easy as it is made out to be. Personally, I find fasting almost as difficult as being patient while hungry. But the blessings promised by God to Muslims who fast are so great that I am eager to participate as much as I can. Yes, it is hard to abstain from the most basic of life’s supposed necessities, but the reward is worth it. Muslims believe that the one who fasts sincerely can have his or her sins forgiven, and can achieve the love of God.

Ramadan is also a time of community and social activity. Mosques are filled at sunset because we consider it better to break our fasts together. Late nights are spent in special prayers called Tarawih, and in the final days of Ramadan some people stay in the mosque in seclusion and prayer. Even those who are not fasting are able to participate in the spiritually uplifted atmosphere in mosques and homes during this blessed month. Everyone urges each other to do good, feed the hungry and give plenty in charity, for all good deeds are richly rewarded during this month.

Fanous, lanterns traditionally used to decorate homes during the festive month of Ramadan.
Fanous, lanterns traditionally used to decorate homes during the festive month of Ramadan.

So that’s Ramadan in a nutshell. Only one who fasts can understand the true flux of emotions, the courage and strength this time requires. Such is the strenuous nature of the fasts that at the end of the month Muslims celebrate with a special event called Eid, in which we wear new clothes, give each other gifts and offer special prayers of gratitude. At Eid we are thankful that we were able to participate in Ramadan and attain some of its blessings. Eid is the big send-off party, the expression of goodbye until next year. Ramadan is special, and hopefully what we learn during this month will stay with us for the next 365 days.



1. Note from Daniella: Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, and there will be a letter about it when it comes around. I would say the fasting of Ramadan is more similar to that of the “minor” fasts in Judaism than Yom Kippur. But I will be writing about Jewish fast days soon, as we have one coming up in a couple weeks, and there I will elaborate on the differences between the “major” and the “minor” fasts, and how these compare to Muslim and Christian fasting.

Want to share your own experience of Ramadan, or another period of uplifted spirituality in a different faith? Comment below, or write us a guest letter of your own!