Friday, February 3, 2012

Abortion and congenital diseases (3 of 5)

As we previously explained (see here) the fact that a case is not dealt with in Talmudic and early Rabbinic sources, virtually warrants a lack of consensus among modern rabbis.  

Contemporary Rabbis differ in their views on to the classification of abortion as murder, mutilation, etc.  (see here) and those views will determine their opinion in cases where a congenital disorder was detected and the parents are faced with the decision of interrupting the pregnancy. We are talking about diseases such as Tay-Sachs, Down syndrome and others .   Today, we will see that the opinion of the rabbis will also depend on the stage of the pregnancy.  The more advanced the pregnancy the more the rabbis will be inclined to forbid the interruption of the pregnancy, even if a congenital disorder is found. 

I will present today three main opinions on this subject. 

For the first opinion, during the first forty days we are not dealing with a fetus but with an embryo (no facial features, no capability of motion, etc). Accordingly, abortion will not be prohibited within the first forty days if a congenital disease is detected, (Rabbi M. Feinstein).
For the second opinion the boundary is the end of the third month, when pregnancy begins to be visible. Before that the fetus is still viewed as an integral part of its mother's body. According to this opinion, if a congenital disease is detected during the first three months, it will be permitted to interrupt pregnancy (Rabbi O. Yosef). 
For a third opinion the deadline is the seventh month. For this view, the determining factor is not the process of the embryo becoming a fetus or its visible presence. Rather, the determining factor is the fetus vital dependence on its mother.  Since normally only after seven months of pregnancy the fetus might live outside its mother body, before the seventh month, it is still considered as  part of its mother. In these extreme circumstances therefore, interrupting the pregnancy will be permitted  (Rabbi E. Waldenberg). After the seventh month, abortion will be authorized only if giving birth will endanger the life of the mother. 
(See  Penine Halakha  liqutim B, 258-259)   


Shabbat Shalom!
Candle lighting in NYC: 4:57
Shabbat ends in NYC: 6:06


Thursday, February 2, 2012

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Rabbi Yehuda Bibas (1776-1852)

Today, I would like to start writing about one of the most prominent Sephardic rabbis of modern Jewish history, Rabbi Yehuda Bibas. His thoughts and ideas have strongly influenced the history of the nation of Israel in ways that affects us today and hopefully for ever.  The irony is that so little (virtually nothing) has been written about him.  Barely, a few lines in the Jewish encyclopedias.  Even his last name was not properly recorded. One can find Bivas, Bibas, Vivas and even Vidas. Such the fate of many (too many...) Sephardic rabbis from the last five centuries who did so much for Am Israel and were unjustly forgotten by all of us. 

The information I got is from a rare book in Spanish  ("Mi padre: David Elnecave",  written in 1985 by one of his descendants: Señor Nissim Elnecave (1910-1986).  Recently, an article about Rabbi Bibas appeared in the Hebrew version of Wikipedia. In the English Wikipedia there is still nothing.  

I got all this information thanks to my friend Rabbi Nissim Elnecave from Miqdash Eliyahu, Brooklyn, who is very knowledgeable in the history of Sephardic Jews. 
Today I will share with the readers only part of his biography, and hopefully in the coming weeks we will get more familiar with his creative ideas and his contributions to Am Israel.  

Rabbi Yehuda Bibas was born in Gibraltar (G.B.). From his mother side, he was the grandson of the famous Moroccan rabbi Chayim ben Attar, the Or-haChayim-haQadosh (1696-1743). From his father side they belonged to the Moroccan Jewish community of Tetuán, Spanish Morocco.  Rabbi Bibas study as a child in Gibraltar an after the death of his father he moved to Livorno (Italy) to live with his grandfather. Livorno had a very prestigious and educated jewish community. Rabbi Bibas received in Livorno most of his Jewish and secular education, including his title as a physician. He then returned to Gibraltar where he established himself as the Rosh Yeshiba. To his Yeshiba attended students from England, Italy and North Africa. In 1810  he came to London, where he met  with the famous Jewish activist and philanthropist Sir Moises Montefiori (Livorno 1784- London 1885).  By now, the reader understand that rabbi Yehuda Bibas spoke perfectly English, Italian, Spanish and Hebrew, and he was a rabbi and a Physician.   In 1831 rabbi Bibas was appointed as the Chief rabbi of the Corfu Island (today belongs to Greece). Corfu had a very heterogenous and prosperous Jewish community, among them the 'Corfiot Italians', Jews from Venice that found refuge in that beautiful Island. 
To be continued.... 
(If any of the readers has more information or a picture about Rabbi Yehuda Bibas, they are welcome to email me at :

The Jewish community of Corfu and the Shoa
"When Italy surrendered to the Allies, the island was occupied by the Germans on September 27, 1943. After a period of deceptive calm, on June 8, 1944, an ordinance was passed, according to which all the Jews were to remain in their homes. About two hundred Jews succeeded to flee. On the dawn of the following day, the Germans arrested all the others and deported them to Auschwitz via Athens. The Nazis and the mob looted their homes and shops. Out of 1900 Jews of Corfu, about 180 survived the Holocaust. Many of them emigrated to Israel or settled in big cities. In 1946 the Community had 140 members; the Synagogue and the school were almost ruined. As time passed the Community re-formed and resumed normal life. Today it is composed of 65 members who continue their course."
Read more about the Jews of Corfu here

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

leshon hara' and innocent bystanders

You are sitting at someone's table in a party or at a reception when people start speaking negatively about somebody else. In Judaism talking bad about other people is considered a very serious sin known as lashon hara'(the wicked's tongue). What do you do in that situation? You tell yourself: I won't say a word. But listening to leshon hara' is as bad as speaking leshon hara', because by listening you are seemingly approving it. Moreover, listening might be considered even worse that speaking, since you are giving an audience to the speaker. 
How can you avoid this transgression in such circumstances?
You have a few options:
1. You can rebuke the gossipers--making sure to do it in a respectful way. You can remind them that this is a serious Tora prohibition and that they should change the subject.
2. If you know that they will not listen to your words then, you should consider to get up and politely leave the table.
3. If you find this impossible, then you should prepare yourself to stand firm so that you will not be guilty of a great sin. Make sure to fulfill the following requirements: a. Try to not paying attention to the conversation and if you do, decide firmly in your mind that you will refuse to give credibility to anything bad you hear about any person. b. Make sure that your facial expression does not convey any hint of approval to whatever is being said. If possible, your expression should convey strong discomfort with the whole conversation. 
The above applies if one is innocently sitting at one's place when the leshon hara' conversation is taking place. However, if someone strolls through an area where he overhears such a conversation and stops to listen, that is considered a willful sin, even if one takes no part in the conversation and does not approve of it.
Adapted from: "Chafetz Chaim, a daily companion"

Interesting article for many parents, from NYTimes,  Ritalin Gone wrong ,  by  L. ALAN SROUFE

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The 13 Principles of Jewish Faith: # 5: Praying directly and exclusively to God (part 1 0f 2)

The Fifth Principle says that it is proper to pray only to God, and one may no pray to any one else besides Him.

We should not pray to an angel, to a star, a constellation or to a dead person (see here ), even if he was a great Tzadiq. We should not pray to any other element, entity or idea. We should pray exclusively and directly to God. Praying otherwise will be considered a form of idolatry.  

It is also forbidden to pray to intermediaries, imagine that they will carry our prayers to God. We believe that God always listens to our prayers. Quoting Rabbi Hayim Pereira- Mendes: "God never fails to answer true prayer, unless in His wisdom He thinks it better for us that He should refuse, or if He finds us unworthy through sin".

According to Maimonides, the mistake of the generation of Enosh (=the civilization that existed after Adam, which mistakenly departed from God) was that they reasoned that since God created the celestial bodies to serve the world (like the sun and the moon) these creations are like the servants before the King. It is therefore fitting to praise, and honor them, because by honoring them, we are honoring the King. These people began to build temples for the sun and the moon, thinking that they were honoring God by that. That too, is idolatry. In other words, if one serves or prays to any entity or imaginary intermediary, even though one knows and declares that only God is the true God, it is considered idolatry.  

Many times, people mistakenly believe that if their intentions are right, that is good enough. Given the seriousness of the prohibition of 'aboda zara (idolatry), a real God-fearing Jew should be extremely careful to pray only and directly to haShem, our God.  

Read here the book:   "Jewish religion ethically presented" by rabbi Hayim Pereira- Mendes.

See Israel Snapshot Beautiful photos from the Land of Israel. By Israel 365.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Rabbis On Shidukhim: "Look one step down" (3 of 3)

In the Talmud Yebamot 63a the Rabbis gave many advices on the issue of shidukhim (=finding your spouse. See here).  One of them is: "nachit chad darga unsib iteta." Descend one step to find a wife". What did they mean by that? 

I will present two interpretations.   

The first, based on Rashi's commentary, views these 'steps' as socio-economic steps and focuses on one aspect of married life: financial differences between husband and wife. A man who himself does not come from a rich family might be tempted to look for a spouse that comes from a wealthy family. What he might overlook is that, generally speaking, a woman's natural expectation is to upgrade or at least maintain her financial status once she gets married. A woman that as a daughter was raised with luxury, being able to afford not only what she needs but also what she wants, will not easily adapt to a lower lifestyle. Soon the differences might come up. Items that her husband considers them as luxurious extravagances, for her are part of her normal lifestyle or a matter of need. Although people change (and many people easily adjust to lower financial situation) the appreciation of what we have depends in great part on what we used to have.  

To avoid this type of financial tensions the rabbis--two thousand years ago--gave this practical advice: when looking for a wife, don't look one step above you. You might not be able to meet your wife's material's expectations.  

Instead, they said, "look one step below your own socio-economic level, and take a wife". That, at least in the material aspect, will be a win/win. Your wife feels that she has upgraded herself financially with you (haisha 'ola 'im ba'alah), and a lifestyle that for you is normal and affordable, for her will be a luxury! Everyone is happy. 

For a different perspective on this issue READ Financial inequity Her parents have more money to give. Does that create a problem? by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc. (From