Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jewish Bioethics: Prenatal genetic screening (4 of 4)

Can a Jewish mother undergo during her pregnancy prenatal screening tests. In other words, all those routine tests aimed to detect certain genetic conditions or birth defects in her baby(chas veshalom)?

The answer to this question relates directly with the differences of opinion among the rabbis on the status of abortion (see here) and the timeline when abortion will be authorized or not according to the different opinions (see here).

Based on the opinion of the former Chief rabbi of Israel Abraham Shapira, z'l, rabbi Melamed writes in penine halakha that it is preferable for a pregnant woman to perform all the prenatal screening she is asked by her doctor. Based on the results, if necessary, she would consult with a rabbinical authority how to proceed further. The expert rabbi will base his ruling considering all the pieces of the puzzle: the severity of the detected disease, the month or week during pregnancy when the disease is found, the mother's general heath, etc. Therefore, the more information he is provided, the more well-founded his verdict will be.    Even the mental health of the mother is a point of consideration for the rabbi. Consider this controversy among two contemporary rabbis:  Rabbi Lebushe Mordekhai thinks that the possibility of a mental disorders in the mother of an unhealthy child tantamount being her life in danger. While rabbi Nishmat Abraham disagrees and said that today's psychiatric medication helps the mother to cope with the risks of depression. As the reader can see, this is a very sensitive area and the opinions of the abbis differ, sometimes from one extreme to the other (seehere why). 
The information coming from prenatal screening is important even for those whose opinion is against interrupting pregnancy. Because there is a significant psychological value for the parents preparing themselves for the conditions they will find.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

CHUPA: Overview of the Jewish wedding ceremony.

 Technically, the Jewish wedding ceremony consists of two different steps. 1. kiddushin (a.k.a. irusin) and 2. Chupa (a.k.a.nisu-in).
Today we will describe the kiddushin.
There is no perfect translation for the word kiddushin in this context, but the closest will be "formal engagement".  

A brief historical background will help. 
In ancient times, the kiddushin use to be done one year before the Chupa. At that moment the groom would consecrate the bride as his future wife.  The kiddushin was performed by the groom, giving a ring to the bride, pronouncing the words hare at mekudeshet li  (Behold, you are thereby consecrated to me...) and the correspondent blessings.  The kiddushin is a formal procedure, a kinyan (act of acquisition) by which the couple becomes legally espoused, but not yet married.  Since they were not married yet after the kiddushin, they would still live each one in his and her parents house, and they will not live together as husband and wife. If they wished to separate, they had to undergo a process of formal divorce known as Get.  
During that year the families will prepare the chupa and especially all what was necessary for the party, the festive meal, the dowry, the dresses, etc.

Two things have changed from those days:
1. Today, for practical reasons the kiddushin are done simultaneously with the chupa, as part of the wedding ceremony, and not one year in advance.
2. Jewish communities have adopted different ways to re-celebrate an engagement ceremony, where the day of the wedding is announced and the couple is formalized as such (in our community is known as: shir lama'alot).   This engagement is not mandatory and obviously does not have the legal validity of the kiddushin. It is just a custom or Minhag, but very esteemed and widely accepted in every Jewish community. 

Sharia indoctrination in  America's public schools?         
Watch this presentation till the end and judge for yourself.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sephardic rabbis: Rabbi Yehuda Bibas and the reform movement (1776-1852)

Previously (see here) we mentioned that Rabbi Yehuda Bibas served as the Rabbi of the Island of Corfu (today, Greece) from 1831 to 1850. Rabbi Bibas' activity and vision was not limited to the Jews of Corfu.  He traveled through Europe and North Africa visiting Turkey, the Balkans, Vienna, London, Germany, Hungary and Prague and many more Jewish communities.

The main message that he preached to all Jews was TESHUBA.  He expanded the meaning of teshuba (literally: "return") from the conventional meaning of returning to God to the idea of a teshuba kelalit or political teshuba: the return of the Jews to the land of israel.  
By living in the Diaspora he said:

"We are giving our back to God, as our rabbis explained: A Jew that lives outside Israel is like a Jew without a God. And why we are living in the exile, going from city to city to look for our livelihood? Didn't the Tora say that Israel is a land that HaShem constantly oversees? A land in which you will not eat bread in poverty? Isn't it a land that lacks nothing? Every time we eat we give thanks to God for the good land that He granted us"

Rabbi Bibas message of teshuba as active return to Zion made a powerful impact against the background of the Reform movement, very popular in those years. The reformers wished to introduce changes in the prayers, organs and music in Shabbat  services, etc. but mainly they aimed to erase the memory of Zion, Jerusalem  and Israel. The most important goal of the reform movement was to assert that Judaism is a religion without any national element.  A Jew should have exclusive allegiance to Germany, for example, and not aspiring or praying to eventually going back to Israel.

"In conformity with these views, the Frankfort Rabbinical Conference of 1845 voted that all petitions for the return to the land of our fathers, and for the restoration of a Jewish state, and a Messiah that will take the Jews to Palestine, should be eliminated from the prayers books." 

(To be continued...)

READ here "British Academic freedom?"by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The principles of Jewish faith: # 6: The prophets of Israel were true (1 of 3)

The Prophets of Israel were exceptional human beings, called by God to rebuke the Jewish people. In order to be credible preachers, the Prophets had to be role models individuals, possessing an extremely refined character. 

Maimonides explains that not every person could become a prophet. There were three key character-traits which were a prerequisite to become a candidate to prophecy and eventually, if God's so wished, to be called by Him (=prophecy). 

An individual had to be strong, wealthy and wise. 

"Strong" is a person with the ability to control himself, his body, his appetites and the words he utters form his mouth. The highest level of strength is achieved when an individual is also able to control his emotions and thoughts.  'Strength' is not measured by the ability to control other people, but by the ability to overcome our own impulses and appetites. 

"Wealthy" is the one who is content with his material possessions, whatever they are. He does not need more and he is not greedy to have more than what he possesses. In Judaism, wealth is not about quantity but appreciation. One person could be wealthy with 100 dollars, while other person could be considered poor even if he has 1 billion . Richness is not measured by what one has but by what one needs. The correct formula is not: the more you have the richer you are, but the less you need (regardless of how much or little you have) the richer you are. 

"Wise", is not the person who knows everything, for that is impossible, but the one that is constantly growing in his or her thirst to know and learn. Usually, we think we know something, but as our life's experience become richer, we get to new levels of understanding on the matters we thought we know. Jewish wisdom is the opposite of intellectual stagnation.  
(To be continued...)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Religious integrity: The honest seller.

Question: A car seller agreed over the phone to sell to Mr. A a car for 5000 dollars. Mr. A will come to buy the car in the afternoon. At noon Mr. B comes and offers 6000 dollars for the car. Can the seller sell the car to Mr. B since no papers were signed with Mr. A?
According to Jewish Law, the seller has to sell the car for Mr. A because he has already given his word, and a Jew is committed to keep his word.  However, if the seller sells the car to Mr. B, Mr. A cannot formally sue the seller. In other words, a rabbinical court will not be able to demand the seller to act upon his word. In Jewish Law for a transaction to be legally binding, there must be some formal act called qinyan (a legal act of acquisition) between the seller and the buyer. The qinyan  might be performed in different ways, for example, a written commitment.   

Our rabbis explain, however, that even is the seller cannot be sued, this seller is now considered by the Tora mechusar amana: a person who lacks credibility, i.e., a dishonest businessman. 

What if other factors are part of the equation, for example, if at noon the prices of the car changed? According to some rabbis the seller still has to keep his word and sell the car to Mr. A at the agreed price (Rambam, Shulchan 'arukh). Other rabbis hold that in those circumstances the seller might rightfully withhold the sell (Rosh, Rama). 

Only, when there was no clear commitment between the seller and the buyer, for example, if Mr. A said: "I will try to come this afternoon...", or if Mr. A did not arrive at the time he promised, then all agree that the seller can rightfully sell the car to Mr. B.   

(Adapted from penine halakha, liqutim, 49-50)

Mr. Aaron Feuersteinan extraordinary example of RELIGIOUS INTEGRITY and KIDDUSH HASHEM. 

WATCH THIS VIDEO CLIP and judge by yourself (by CBS, 60 minutes).