Friday, January 6, 2012

MARRIAGE: The Rabbis on Shidukhim (Part 1/3)

The Rabbis of the Talmud (=chazal) have given a few practical advices on Shidukhim, i.e., looking for the right spouse. The decision should be made based on two factors, which must be in agreement: our emotions and our mind. In other words, if we have feelings toward a person but the mind says that is not a good idea, or if the mind says 'yes', but there are negative feelings toward that person,  the Shidukh must be reconsidered. 

In the area of the mind, one is advised to make sure that the other person has middot tobot, good qualities; comes from a decent family, and that the communication channels and that values and character traits are more or less compatible.  In the Talmud Yerushalmi the rabbis saw favorably to take a bride "from his tribe and (extended) family (i.e., community) lidabbeq beshibto ubmishpachto. (Qiddushin, 4:4) because the cultural and traditional common grounds are obviously greater. Some bad traits should be seen as red flags like: arrogance, greed and a short temper. Those are character flaws which are difficult to correct and one should avoid. 

In the area of emotions, the rabbis did not to say that we must feel an immediate attraction toward the prospective candidate, on the contrary, that might be a sign of looking superficially at a person. "Falling in love", and especially, "love at first sight",  might be a dangerous trap. Because "falling" in love might imply a temporary shutting-off of our mind, indispensable to  make a good decision.    What the Rabbis warned us against  is having an emotional antagonism toward the other person ='rejection at first sight'. If those negative feelings are there, then, one should not proceed. 

Most couples I know, the first times they met, did not feel an automatic attraction nor an automatic rejection for each other, they were emotionally 'parve' . Then, they invested some time for the emotions to be nurtured, as they interacted as a couple in the dating process and got to know each other better. 

(adapted from Penine Halakha, Mishpacha 56-60)

Shabbat shalom

Candle lighting in NYC: 4:25 PM
Shabbat ends in NYC: 5:34 PM has a wonderful section on dating which I will recommend to anyone searching for good advice in this sensitive area. See here

Thursday, January 5, 2012

SPECIAL EDITION: 10 of Tebet and Yom haShoa

Today is a fast day. We remember the siege of the hoy City, Yerushalaim, in the year 586 BCE, at the time of our first Bet haMiqdash (see  here ).

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.

In modern Israel, the 10th of Tebet is also recognized as the day of the Kaddish Haklaly. According to the Chief rabbinate of Israel, today we should light a remembrance candle in the Synagogue and we recite the Hazkara le Chalale Hashoa after Tora reading and all those whose parents are not alive should say the Kaddish Yatom (luach dinim uminhaguim 5772, pages. 55,109).

This point requires more explanation.

In 1949, and before the day of Yom HaShoa was established, the Chief rabbinate of Israel decided that the Tenth of Tebet should be the national remembrance day for the victims of the Holocaust. They recommended traditional Jewish ways of remembering the dead, such as the study of Mishna Mikvaot, saying Tehilim lighting a candle and a public massive recitation of the Kaddish for those Holocaust victims whose names, and date of death remains unknown. Fasting, the most common Jewish expression of sorrow, was already prescribed for this day.

In Israel many people felt that the horror of the Holocaust should be remembered on its own, and a special day should be dedicated to the Shoa victims' memory.   "For the Holocaust survivors there was only one day worthy of being a memorial anniversary for the Holocaust--April 19, the beginning day of the Warsaw ghetto revolt the greatest revolt of them all, the uprisings that had held the Nazis at bay for a longer period than the great French army"  (I. Greenberg). That is how the 27 of Nissan was chosen to commemorate Yom haShoa. Yom HaShoah was inaugurated in 1953, by a law signed by the Prime minister of Israel David ben Gurion.

Since then and in practical terms, we have two public days in which we mourn for the Holocaust: Yom haShoa, the official day, and 'asara betebet, in which we fast, and say the Kaddish Klaly to remember all those unknown victims of the Nazi genocide.

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.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Days of Fasting: 10th of Tebet (Part 2/3)

Yesterday we mentioned two of the three events that are remembered in 'asara betebet (see here). It is important to clarify that the main reason we fast on this day is specifically because of the siege of Yerushalaim. The other two tragedies are brought to our national memory because they roughly coincide on the same date.  
3. Approximately in the year 300 BCE, on the 8th of Tebet, King Ptolemy forced 70 Jewish scholars to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The 70 scholars were placed in separated rooms and yet, they all translated the Biblical text in the same exact way. Although it was done by Rabbis, the Septuagint is not considered a translation which follows rabbinical tradition. The official Jewish translation is Targum Onqelos (=Targum Didan) done by Jews for Jews. As explained in Talmud Yerushalmi (Megila 9) the authors of the Septuagint deliberately deviated from a Jewish normative rendering and in many cases, adapted the Biblical text to the Greek mentality, values and sensitivities to please the monarch.  
As a whole, this translation of the Tora was considered a tragic event. Why? Because the new Greek Bible advanced the agenda of the Hellenist Jews who sought to bring Greek culture into Jewish life. Now they were able to manipulate the Torah for their own purposes. 
Eventually, the Septuagint paved the way to create many new non-Jewish "Biblical" religions. Unlike pagan cults, these new religions were supposedly grounded on the Jewish Scripture! The Septuagint was now interpreted and reinterpreted to justify whatever any monarch or any priest wished to say: "In the name of God". Ironically, based on this translation and later on a latin version (Vulgata), many religions pretended for centuries to teach to us, the recipients of the Tora, what the "the true religion," is and what is "the true spirit of the Bible."....  
In our Community we begin the fast tomorrow morning at 6.00 AM and we end it at 5:13 PM (NY time). 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Days of Fasting: 10 of Tebet (Part 1/3)

This coming Thursday, January 5th 2012, corresponds to the 10th. of Tebet, a fast day, which commemorates three tragedies that happened to the Jewish people.

1. The main tragedy we remember in this day is the onset of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylonia. The siege of the city signaled the beginning of the battle that ultimately destroyed Yerushalayim and the Bet haMikdash in the year 586 BCE. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed or sent as captives to the Babylonian exile. The date of the Tenth of Tebet was recorded by the prophet Yechezkel, who was already in Babylonia, together with the first group of Jews exiled by Nebuchadnezzar 11 years earlier than the actual destruction of the Temple.

2. On this day we also remember the death of Ezra haSofer.  Approximately in the year 516 BCE  a group of Jews (roughly 40 thousand) came back to Eretz Israel with the blessing of the Persian Emperor Cyrus, led by Nechemia and Ezra the Scribe. Ezra had the responsibility to reeducate the Jews who, after more than two generations, had forgotten their language, their Tora and laws, and adopted many customs and values from the Babylonian culture. Ezra formed the Anshe Kenesset haGedola, the first "Jewish Congress" in the absence of our own King, composed of scholars and prophets. They established many rulings to maintain or retrieve Jewish values. For example, the  days of Tora reading, the text of the Amida (main prayer), and many decrees against intermarriage. Ezra was considered by the Rabbis as the historic link between the written Tora and the oral Tora. Together with Nechemia, they began the building of the second bet haMiqdash. Ezra died on a 9th of Tebet. He was regarded by our Rabbis as a second to Moshe Rabbenu.

(To be continued...)