Friday, June 29, 2012

SHABBAT: From fire to electricty (Part 4)

The main discussion among contemporary rabbis on the issue of electricity on shabbat is not if using electricity is permitted or forbidden: every Orthodox Rabbi accepts that we are not allowed to directly activate electricity on Shabbat. The debate revolves around the nature of the prohibition: if turning on electricity on Shabbat is a Biblical or a rabbinical prohibition.     

 "Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffman states what has emerged as the consensus opinion: the verse (Exodus 35:3) "One may not create a fire on Shabbat in all your dwellings" describes the prohibition against creating fire of any sort. Current flowing through a filament and causing it to glow creates fire despite the absence of a "flame" and regardless of whether that which is on fire is consumed... Based on the position of Rambam, which most commentaries accept, the overwhelming majority conclude that turning on an electric light on Shabbat  violates the biblical prohibition of lighting a flame."   (Rabbi Michael Broyde, see below)  

Most modern rabbinic authorities consider that turning on an incandescent light, --an action which heats a metal filament until it glows--violates a Biblical prohibition because it is considered a Toleda (extension) of lighting a fire.    It is important to clarify for the advanced students that unlike other areas of Jewish Law where post Talmudic Rabbis cannot extend the Rabbinical Talmudic prohibitions to other cases (mar-it 'ayin, for example),  the extension of a melakha of Shabbat, does not require the particular sanctioning of a Talmudic Bet Din.    It is similar to the application of the Toledot of neziqin(torts, damages,etc), where post Talmudic Rabbinical decisors might apply the Talmudic principles learned from ancient cases, extending them to contemporary circumstances.         

Shabbat Shalom!   

Candle Lighting in NYC:    8:13 PM
Shabbat ends in NYC:         9:20 PM 

For a comprehensive analysis and discussion of this matter I recommend the following article   The Use of Electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov    by Rabbi Michael Broyde & Rabbi Howard Jachter  which appeared in the Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society, No. XXI - Spring 91 - Pesach 5751  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

THE 13 PRINCIPLES: # 8: The divine origin of the Tora

In the commentary to the Mishna, where Maimonides formulated for the first time the Thirteen Principles of Judaism, he included within the Eighth principle --the one that asserts that the Tora is from Divine origin (see here)-- our belief that the Oral Tora is Divine as well.   In other words, the "accepted explanations" of the Mitzvot were also transmitted to Moses by God.  

For example, Lulab, Tefilin, Shofar none of these Mitzvot are explicitly described in the written Tora.  Regarding Tefilin, for instance, the Tora just says (Deuteronomy 6:8) that "You should bind [the words of the Shema Israel] as a sign on your hand and  as frontals on your forehead".

The Oral Tora instructs us the way of binding these words in our hand , i.e.,  writing the words of the Shema Israel in parchment; introducing these parchments into squared black boxes made of hard leather; the hand Tefilin having one compartment and the head Tefilin four; etc, etc.   All these instructions, we believe, were not made up by Moses or by the rabbis. They were received by Moses from God.  Moses said: 'Through this you shall know that God sent me to do all these things, and I did not do it on my own accord' (Numbers 16:28)

In the introduction to Mishne Tora Maimonides elaborates more on this principle: "Every commandment given to Moses on Mount Sinai was given together with its explanation. (pirush). God told Moshe (Exodus 24:12): 'I'm giving you the tablets of stone, the Tora and the instruction'. 'Tora', refers to the Written Tora, while 'instructions' means its explanation.  We are thus commanded to perform and keep the 'Tora' according to these 'instructions'. These instructions is what we call the Oral Tora (Tora shebe'al pe)... These instruction were not written down [by Moshe] but were orally taught to the elders, to Joshua and to the rest of the People of Israel".

Click here to see a great book where you can read more about the basic Principles of Judaism
"Maimonides Principles: The Fundamentals of Jewish Faith"written by a distinguished Rabbi of our time  Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z'l

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel (1880-1953)

Rabbi Uziel was the Sephardic Cheif rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine, succeeding rabbi Ya'aqob Meir (see here) from 1939 to 1948, and the first Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel from 1948 to 1954.

Rabbi Uziel was born in Jerusalem. His father, Rabbi Joseph Raphael, was the ab bet din of the Sephardic community of Jerusalem. At the age of twenty he founded a Yeshiba called Machaziqe Tora for Sephardi young men. In 1911, he was appointed Yafo and the district. In spirit and ideas he was close to the Ashkenazi rabbi Abraham Ytzchak Kook and their affinity helped to bring about more harmonious relations between the two communities.

In 1921 he was appointed chief rabbi of Salonika (Greece) for a period of three years. He returned to become chief rabbi of Tel Aviv in 1923, and in 1939 was appointed Chief rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine.  He contributed extensively to newspapers and periodicals on religious, communal, and national topics. 

He was the author of  Mishpete Uziel, a very important collection of rabbinical Responsa on Halakhic general topics, and a selection of his addresses, letters and other writings.  

Two days before his death he dictated his testament. It said, among other things,  "I have kept in the forefront of my thoughts the following aims: to disseminate Tora among students, to love the Tora and its precepts, Israel and its sanctity; I have emphasized love for every man and woman of Israel and for the Jewish people as a whole, love for the Lord God of Israel, the bringing of peace between every man and woman of Israel, to bring genuine peace into the home of the Jew, into the whole assembly of Israel in all its classes and divisions, and between Israel and its Father in Heaven."

√ The full text of Rabbi Uziel's testament was printed by the Israel Ministry of Religion in 1953, to commemorate his Sheloshim. This short but meaningful  text (printed in vocalized Hebrew) could be found today in Hebrewbooks. Click here to read it. 

√ Rabbi Uziel wrote many books, among them Hegyione Uziel, a work on the basic philosophical aspects and creeds of Judaism.
To read this fascinating book (Hebrew) click here . 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

RELIGIOUS INTEGRITY: Stealing people's mind

Last week we explained the nature of the prohibition of genebat da'at (see here). We defined genebat da'at as stealing people's minds. genebat da'at takes place when we do or hide something or say something which is not true, with the intention that people will have a good or better impression about us or about an item we want to sell. 

Some examples of genebat da'at

√ A seller should be sincere with a customer. If a woman is trying on a dress and the seller sees that the dress is not a good fit for her, the seller should not tell the woman that the dress looks amazing on her or anything of that sort. 

√ Similarly, a seller must tell the buyer the pros and the cons of the product he tries to sell.  And if the product has any defect he should not hide it from the buyer.  Misleading deliberately a buyer is defined in the Shulchan 'arukh as genebat da'at (choshen mishpat 228:6). 

√ The Talmud (Cholin 94a) brings a different category of examples: If I have an unexpected guess at my house and I already had the intention of opening an expensive wine that evening I should not say to my guest: "We are opening this wine in your honor"  to make a good impression on him. Or, the Gemara says, if the wine is a simple wine I should not overpraise it to impress my guest and make him feeling that he owes me or he should be extra grateful to me. 

√ Similarly, if I know that someone is not going to come to my wedding party because in that particular day he is going to be out of town, and I had not intention to invite him anyways, I should not give him an invitation or tell him: "I wish you could have come to my wedding",  to make a good impression on him.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

JEWISH WEDDING: The Tallit under the Chupa

The custom in our community, and in many other Jewish communities as well, is that the groom (Chatan) wears a Talit (a prayer shawl) under the Chupa. The tradition is to use a brand new Talit, which is given as a gift to the groom by his bride.
The groom wears the Talit immediately after the ceremony of the giving of the ring (Kiddushin).  If it is still daylight time, he pronounces two blessings: Lehit'atef BeTzitzit and Shehecheyanu. If its already nighttime, he recites only the blessingShehecheyanu.  He has to keep in mind that Shehecheyanu, which is a blessing of praise to the Almighty for having the privilege of being able to experience a particular new happy occasion, should include also his thoughts of gratitude to haShem for his wedding, which inaugurates for him and his wife a new (and B'H happier!) life.
Many reasons were given for the wearing of the Talit under the Chupa.
One of them is that the Talit is given to the groom by the bride, as a token of reciprocity for receiving a ring from him. "Just as the wedding ring symbolizes that she is bound to him to the exclusion of all other men, the Talit symbolizes that he is bound to her to the exclusion of all other women"  (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, 'Made in heaven').
It is interesting to notice that whereas in Sephardic and German Jewish communities the custom is that a Jewish boy wears the Talit once he becomes Bar-Mitzva or before, in many Eastern European communities it is customary for the Jewish man to begin wearing a Talit only after he gets married.  The base of this custom is that the Tora mentions the Mitzva of Tzitzit, followed by the Mitvza of marriage (See Debarim 22:12-13).

Click here to read  "Matchmaking for everyone" Practical ways to help your friends find the right one  by  Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.  from