Friday, December 17, 2010

The four fast days

10th of Tebet, 5771

Today, the 10th of Tebet, is one of the four fast days in which we remember the destruction of our first Temple, Bet haMikdash (586 BCE). On the 10th of Tebet the enemy started the siege of Jerusalem which provoked untold starvation, epidemic , etc . The Babylonians made a first breach in the wall on the 17th of Tamuz. Three weeks later, on the 9th of Ab, the Bet haMikdash was destroyed and most of the Jewish people were taken captives to Babylonia. A small remnant remained in Israel but a few years later, they attempted to rebel against the Babylonians killing Gedaliah ben Achikam on the 3rd of Tishri. The consequences were tragic: the small Jewish
population that had remained form the destruction of the Temple was also exiled.

These four dates 10 of Tebet, 17 of Tamuz, 9 of Ab and 3 of Tishri were established by our Rabbis as fast days inviting us to remember the destruction of the Bet haMikdash causing us to introspect and repent.

Not always have we fasted during these 4 days . After 70 years in Babylonia we came back to Israel and built the Second Bet haMikdash. The prophet Zekharia (see chapter 8, v.19) and Anshe Keneset haGedola canceled these fast days and turned them into days of celebration.

When the second bet haMikdash was destroyed, in the year 68 ACE we started to fast again.

May haShem Almighty turn once again these days of fast into days of celebration biMhera beYamenu Amen.

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC: 4:11 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:20 PM

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC 130 Steamboat Rd. Great Neck NY 11024

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The fast of 10 of Tebet, Friday, December 17th, 2010

9th of Tebet, 5771

Nowadays our calendar's calculation is such that the only public fast which can fall on a Friday is the 10th of Tebet.

On the 10th of Tebet there are only two prohibitions: eating and drinking. NO additional limitations apply, such as the prohibition of wearing leather shoes, working, driving, washing the body, etc.

Most contemporary Rabbis (R. E. Melamed, Rab O. Yosef) authorize to wash one's mouth or brush one's teeth in this Ta'anit when necessary, provided you will be very careful to lower your head as to avoid swallowing water unintentionally. Tomorrow, you should bathe regularly in honor of Shabbat.

The fast begins at dawn, which tomorrow will be at 5.50 AM (all hours are N.Y. time). You can eat something before 5.50 AM. Tonight, before you go to sleep have in mind that you will wake up and eat something before dawn, otherwise, your Taanit has been implicitly 'accepted' by you and 'unintentionally extended' from the time you go to sleep.

Friday, we will pray Mincha of Ereb Shabbat around 3.50 PM (check Kanissanews and other Synagogues schedules). We will read the Torah and say birkat kohanim, followed by regular Kabbalat Shabbat.

We will enter Shabbat while fasting.

The Fast day finishes after 4:58 PM with the Kiddush.

Who is exempted from fasting?

Minors: boys under 13 and girls under 12 years old are completely exempted from fasting.

Nursing women: According to the Sephardic Minhag, after giving birth women are exempted from fasting for 24 months, even if they are not actually nursing their baby.

Pregnant women, especially after the first 3 months, are exempted from fasting.

A person who feels sick, for example, flu or fever or one who has a chronic disease, for example, diabetes, should not fast.

Elders should consult with their physicians if the fast will not affect their health. If it will, they are exempted (and in some cases, prohibited) from fasting.

All other healthy people should fast and remember the tragedies that fell onto the Jewish people in this day.

Besides commemorating the events we mentioned yesterday, In Israel, the Chief rabbinate has declared the Tenth of Tebet also as "The day of the general Kaddish", the day in which we remember those fallen Jews whose names, and date or place of death is unknown. We remember especially the 'unknown' victims of the Holocaust and those unidentified soldiers who died in the war of Israel's Independence (1948).

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC 130 Steamboat Rd. Great Neck NY 11024

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The fast of the 10th of Tebet

8th day of Tebet, 5771

Approximately in the year 300 BCE, on the 8th of Tebet, King Ptolemy of Egypt forced 70 Jewish scholars to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The Talmud relates that this project was blessed with a miracle: the 70 scholars were all placed in separate rooms and yet they all translated the Biblical text the same exact way. Still, the rabbis of the time considered this event as a tragedy. Why? Because the Greek Bible -known as the Septuagint- advanced the agenda of the Hellenist Jews to bring Greek culture into Jewish life and eventually paved the way to create a new Judeo-Christian religion, 'based on our Torah', who would claim, "Anu Israel!"
"WE are now the NEW Israel!"

The 9th day of Tebet commemorates the death of Ezra the Scribe (5th Century BCE). Ezra led the return of the Jews to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile. It was under his direction and inspiration, together with the help of the court Jew, Nechemiah, that the Second Temple was built.

The main tragedy happened on the 10th of Tebet: the onset of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylonia, which ultimately ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Bet haMikdash in the year 586 BCE, and sent tens of thousands of Jews into the 70-year Babylonian Exile. The date of the Tenth of Tebet was recorded for us by the prophet Yechezkel, who himself was part of the first group of Jews exiled by Nebuchadnezzar.

(Adapted from rabbi Berel Wein)

For the full article of rabbi Wein see:

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC 130 Steamboat Rd. Great Neck NY 11024

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The 9th Berakha: Grant us livelihood with dignity

The 9th berakha of the Amida, barekhenu or barekh alenu, is the blessing in which we ask haShem Almighty to bless us, providing our livelihood (parnasa).

The text of the blessing deals specifically with dew, rain, the year's crop, the harvest and the products of the earth. We ask haShem to grant us His natural blessings and protect our sources of livelihood from weather inclemencies and other natural disasters.

And although this berakha seems to refer exclusively to the agricultural aspect of economy - because it was conceived for the livelihood of the people of Israel, which, from its beginnings in their land, dedicated mostly to agriculture- it alludes to our general financial and economic success, and implies our requests for God's intervention to bless the sources of our livelihood, whatever they are.

We specifically ask God Almighty to send rain in the way of 'blessing' (tal umatar librakha), whenever is needed for the land and not in excess.

Rain coming on its due time, is God's blessing promised to the people of Israel in the Shema Israel (be'ito -I will give you rain at its time...). We also learned in the second part of the Shema that rain in Israel -the land- is conditioned to Israel's -the people- behavior. God Almighty established a pact, a sort of cause/effect dynamics between the People of Israel and Israel's skies. Heavens of the Holy Land are not governed by the rules of nature but by God's direct intervention/retribution.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sephardic customs

6th day of Tebet, 5771

Kiddush and Aliya la-Tora

In most Sephardic families, children pay a special tribute to their grandparents and parents on the occasion of the Kiddush. The children would come to be blessed by their father and mother on Friday night, even when they are older. The parents or grandparents blesses the child with the Priestly benediction (yebarekhekha haShem veYishmerekha... Many parents would also say: yesimekha/yesimekh Elokim ) and any additional prayer that he wants to offer to see his desires for his child fulfilled. Immediately after that, the children will kiss the hand of the grandparents and parents as a signal of filial love and devotion.

When a grandparent or father is called for a Aliya la Torah, all the members of the family will rise at their seats in the synagogue in order to express respect for their elder. This recognition is accorded by children, younger brothers, and sometimes nephews of the elder, who has been called to the Sefer Torah. As he returns to his seat, his grandchildren and children express their reverence for him kissing the back of his hand.

When an older patriarch of the community is called to the Torah it is not uncommon to find dozens of people rising in his honor. This is a major symbolic public expression of the deep and abiding respect for family which has preserved the 'congregational family' as well.

(Adapted from 'A treasury of Sephardic Laws and Customs' by Rabbi H. Dobrinsky)

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024