Friday, January 27, 2012

Abortion and congenital disorders (Part 2/5)

The issue of abortion in case of a congenital disorder could not have been directly addressed in older rabbinic sources. Only today we have the means for such diagnosis. As we explained last week (see here) the fact that there are no Talmudic precedents makes this issue open to radical differences among modern rabbis. 

1. The stricter opinion considers abortion within the category of murder, but of a lesser degree. Despite the fact that Talmudic Law did not sanction abortion with  capital punishment (to this particular effect-the punishment- it is similar, but not identical, to the differentiation between homicide and manslaughter). According to this opinion, even if the child suffers from a congenital disease, it will be forbidden to interrupt the pregnancy. The only circumstance in which abortion will be allowed is when the life of the mother is at risk as a matter of self defense (Rab M. Feinstein IGM , CHM 2:9 and other rabbis).  
2. A second opinion holds that the unborn baby is not considered an independent life, and abortion cannot be compared to murder, in any degree. It is rather compared with hashchatat zera i.e., destroying the 'seeds' of life. Accordingly, this opinion  will be more lenient and authorize abortion in extreme circumstances, for example, if a congenital disorder is detected (Tzitz Eliezer 9:51 and others). 
3. A third opinion says that the unborn child is not considered an independent life but as a living organ of his mother. This opinion follows a Talmudic statement ('ubar yerekh immo). Accordingly, abortion will be classified under the category of 'mutilation' (Torat Chesed Milublin, EHE 42:32)  As such, abortion will be authorized for the sake of saving a life (when the mother's life is at risk) or if the organ or limb is irremediably sick , i.e., a congenital disorder. (Mishpete Uziel, CHM 3:46). 
Next week, BH, we will explain that these opinions would vary according to the diseases, the time of detection, etc.  (Adapted from  Penine Halakha, by R. Eliezer Melamed. Liqutim 2, pp 254-258). 


Candle Lighting in NYC 4:48
Shabbat ends in NYC: 5:57

Shema Israel, by Pirche Yerushalaim

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Giving the benefit of the doubt

The Tora instructs us to judge people giving them the benefit of the doubt. By doing this, we fulfill a very important Mitzva:betzedeq tishpot amitekha (Vayiqra 19:18) and we also prevent one of the main triggers of Lashon haRa.  Many times, we might be misjudging people's actions or attitudes toward us.  The Mitzvah of giving the benefit of the doubt consists in stopping our own negative thoughts before they become resentment or hatred  in our heart. 

Illustration: A rabbi was giving a speech. In the last row Mr. Cohen, a respected member of the community is seating with a stranger. They seem to be good friends. While the rabbi is speaking, he notices that the two of them don't stop talking. The rabbi is a little upset. The talking continues. Actually every time the rabbi says something, Mr. Cohen makes a comment to his friend, without even trying to hide it! The rabbi considers stopping his speech and demand from Mr. Cohen to be silent. But he knows this will greatly embarrass Mr. Cohen in public, and decides to continue. You can see in the Rabbi's face that he is very irritated.

As soon as he finished his speech the rabbi walks directly to Mr. Cohen, ready to reprimand him for his disrespect. To the rabbi's surprise Mr. Cohen came smiling toward him and before the rabbi could pronounce a word Mr. Cohen says "Dear rabbi, what a great speech! As always, I enjoyed every word. Let me introduce you to my cousin, Gerard. He is from France and he does not understand a word of English. But, I translated to him your whole speech and he was very impressed".

(Based on a true story)

WATCH  100 Blessings  Why should I be grateful? by TribeVibe, from

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rosh Chodesh Shebat

Shebat is the eleventh month of the Hebrew year counting from Nisan. Rosh Chodeh Shebat consists always of one day, because the preceding month, Tebet, is always incomplete (29 days). Shebat itself has 30 days. Therefore, the coming Rosh Chodesh Adar, will be a two-days Rosh Chodesh (see more here).

On the first day of the month of Shebat, Moshe Rabbenu began to recite the words of the Book of Debarim to the people of Israel. For thirty-seven days Moshe spoke to all Israel. He began on a day like today and ended the seventh of Adar, the day of his death. 

Moshe started his series of elocutions by rebuking the people of Israel for their rebellions against HaShem during the forty-year period in the desert. Moshe then, commands  them to observe all the Mitzvot of the Tora. He teaches them again the Ten Commandments and the principles of our faith, the Shema Israel. He tells them of the great reward they would receive if they faithfully observe the Tora: they will inherit the beautiful land of Israel and will live there forever in peace. Then, he also warns the people of the terrible punishment they would suffer if they do not observe God's laws: they will be exiled from their land, and live exposed to the whims of their enemies. At the end, Moshe also tells the people of Israel that even when they are exiled among the nations for their sins, if they come back to HaShem with all their hearts, HaShem will bring them back to the land of Israel. Moshe concluded his discourses with blessings to all the tribes.  

Many rabbis have compared the first of Shebat with the day of the giving of the Tora. Because on that day they began to receive the Book of Debarim from HaShem Almighty, through Moshe.

(Adapted from
READ: "Rosh Chodesh"  Like the moon, the Jewish people will rise up again and light up the night.  by Dina Coopersmith, from Aish 

WATCH: "I am Jewish"  One Jew's answer to what it means to be Jewish.
by Andrew Lustig, from

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The principles of Jewish Faith: # 4 “(Only) God is eternal” (Part 2/2).

Jews never believed in the eternity of the universe. The Fourth principle of our faith asserts that only God is eternal. The 13 Principles were formulated by Maimonides (1165-1204) early in his life in the commentary to the Mishna Sanhedrin, Tenth Chapter. At first, the Fourth principle, which asserts that God is first and last, did not include anything related to the belief in the beginning of the world.  Rabbi Yosef Kappach explained that later in his life, after writing his Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides clarified within that principle, that only God is eternal, which excluded the belief in an eternal universe: "A fundamental principle of the Law of Moses is that the World was created anew and that God formed it and created it from absolute non-existence. That which you observe, that I repeatedly argue against the eternity of the world according to the view of the philosophers, is to demonstrate the absoluteness of the miracle of His existence as I have explained and clarified in the Guide for the Perplexed." 

Let me explain what Maimonides meant. Beginning probably with Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC), philosophers and scientists denied a beginning of the Universe. They thought that the universe was never born or created. In their opinion, the universe was eternal ('olam kadmon).  This solid idea started to change only in 1930, when Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe was expanding.  If the cosmos was expanding, and not going in circles as they thought until that time, then it must have a had a point of beginning. A few years later many scientists came with a simple inductive formula which affirmed that tracking back the movie of the universe's expansion one will inevitably find a moment of beginning.  The most famous hypothesis is called the Big Bang theory, which apart from the time it attributes to the beginning of the universe, reaffirms the Biblical idea of beginning. It is the first scientific theory that postulates a beginning of the universe, after 25 centuries of denying it!   

Spectacular!  WATCH: I am Jewish  One Jew's answer to what it means to be Jewish.
by Andrew Lustig, from

Monday, January 23, 2012

Religious Integrity

The real test of integrity takes place when someone is faced between keeping his word and suffering a financial loss. King David expressed this idea in Tehillim: nishba lehara' velo yamir... The honest man would keep his promise even at the cost of losing his money. Illustration: Mr. A promised to sell an item to Mr. B for 100 dollars. But later on Mr. C offers Mr. A 110 dollars! If Mr. A follows King David's instruction, he will sell the item to Mr. B for 100 --despite the potential monetary loss-- because he already gave Mr. B his word.

The Talmud brings the ultimate example of integrity:

"Rab Safra had a donkey for sale. A gentile came to his house and offered him 50 coins for the donkey. At that precise moment Rab Safra was reciting the Shema Israel, so he could not answer back. The Talmud asserts that in his heart Rab Safra accepted the offer of 50 coins. The buyer, however, thought that Rab Safra's silence meant that he expected a higher price so he offered him 60. Rab Safra was still reciting the Shema, so he did not react. The buyer then offered him 70. At that point Rab Safra ended the Shema. Rab Safra refused to accept the 70 coins. He said that in is heart he had accepted the first offer, 50 coins, and he would not take extra money after that."  Rab Safra was considered by the Talmud the epitome of yr-e shamayim, a man with a highest level of respect and reverence to God (Makot 24a, Rashi)
"Integrity includes but goes beyond honesty. Honesty is... conforming our words to reality. Integrity is conforming reality to our words - in other words, keeping promises and fulfilling expectations. This requires an integrated character, a oneness, primarily with self but also with life."
(From Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)  

 "Anywhere but Israel"