Friday, August 17, 2012

SHABBAT: Using an elevator on Shabbat

Using a common elevator in Shabbat is not permitted, because the activation of any electrical device is considered a melakha (a Biblical Shabbat prohibition) or at least a rabbinical prohibition (see this). 

But what about taking an elevator that has been programmed to stop in every floor and it automatically opens and closes its doors? They are known in Hebrew as ma'alit Shabbat and in Israel, New York and other areas with a significant Jewish population, one can find these elevators in hotels, Hospitals or big apartment buildings.  Are those elevators permitted on Shabbat?

Modern rabbis have analyzed and discussed this issue. 

Some rabbis (Rabbi Vozner and others) have forbidden to use it because when a person takes the elevator it forces its  engine to use more electricity causing thereby a (slight) increase in the  consumption of energy. 

Rabbi Halperin from Israel, a specialist in Halakha and modern world, holds that it is permitted to go up with an automatic elevator but not down. When going down, the elevator uses also the person's weight (slightly) as a source of energy.

Most contemporary Rabbis (Rabbi Auerbach, Rabbi Obadia Yosef and others) authorize using an automatic elevator on Shabbat, particularly for a Mitzva, like going or coming from Synagogue, attending Seudot Shabbat, etc.   They considered that the arguments regarding the interaction between the person's weight and the elevator, in terms of the modification of energy consumption are indirect, incidental and non-deliberate side effects (pesiq resheh, see here) and therefore they do not need to be taken into account. They indicate, however, that when the doors of the elevator are closing, a person should not try to enter into the elevator, because that would cause the doors to be open as a direct result of the person's  action.  

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tob!
Candle lighting in NYC:     7:32 p.m.
Shabbat ends in NYC:         8:38 p.m.


A New York Times article on Shabbat Elevators 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Jewish Principle # 11: God is just

The eleventh principle asserts our belief that God is just. He rewards those who keep His commandments and he punishes those who transgress them.

The following lines are a direct quote from the extraordinary book of Rabbi Hayim Pereira Mendes published in 1905 (see the book here). 

1. Virtue brings its own reward. Sin brings its own punishment.

2. God does not punish in the sense of vengeance but only for correction, in order that we shall forsake our sins and lead better lives.

3. God rewards and corrects sometimes in this life and sometimes in future life.

4. God sends the reward or penalty when He thinks best.

5. Therefore we must not wonder if a righteous man remains long unrewarded or if a wicked man remains long uncorrected.

6. Suffering is not sent to us only for punishment of sin. It is often sent to arouse us to better and nobler lives, to educate us to higher ideals, to lead us nearer to God.

8. God has given us Free-will, to choose between good and evil, or right and wrong.

9. If we were destined to do right or wrong and did not have the power to choose, there would be no merit in doing the right, and we could not be justly punished for doing the wrong.

10. We Hebrews therefore do not believe in Predestination.

11. Nor do we believe in anyone suffering in order that other sinner may be saved from the results of his own sin. 

12. We Hebrews do not believe in vicarious atonement. (i.e., God punishing Mr. A to atone for the sins of Mr. B. Vicarious atonement is the Christian doctrine that says that Jesus' death was the atonement for all humanity. From a Jewish--and Biblical--point of view every individual must repent from his or her ownsins. Y.B.).

The debate over the DEATH PANELS in a new American Health care system

√ Read the statement  given by the American Association of Neuroligical Surgeons. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rabbi Yehuda Alqalai (1798-1878)

Rabbi Yehuda Alqalai, was one of the first rabbis (or Jews) in modern times to formulate the idea of a return to Zion. Following the footsteps of Rabbi Yehuda Bibas, he did not envision the return to Zion just as a solution for the  eternal problem of anti-Semitism, but essentially as a way to fulfill the Jewish aspiration of a political normalization: i.e., Jews living in their Jewish homeland. He understood that the nation of Israel needs not to wait passively until the Mashiach comes to realize this aspiration. Rather, it should actively seek the reestablishment of an independent Jewish state in the forefathers land as a way to advance the coming of the Messiah. 

Rabbi Alqalai formulated his plan and ideas for the restoration of the Jews in Israel in his book Goral lahaShem, published in Viena in 1857.   In this book rabbi Alqalai designed a comprehensive plan with the religious foundations and the practical steps to be taken in order to reestablish the Jewish nation in Israel.  The book was published in three different editions and translated to many languages, including English. The correspondence between the practical ideas of this book and Theodore Herzl's : "The State of the Jews" (Medinat haYehudim) is so similar that it is not improbable the Herzl was familiar with his book and had internalized its concepts which were later on formulated in his famous book.  Simon Loeb Herzl, TheodoreHerzl's paternal grandfather, attended the Alqalai's synagogue in Semlin (Serbia) and the two frequently visited each other. Grandfather Simon Loeb Herzl "had his hands on" one of the first copies of Alqalai's  work Goral lahaShem prescribing the  "return of the Jews to the Holy Land and renewed glory of Jerusalem." Contemporary scholars conclude that Herzl's own implementation of modem Zionism was undoubtedly influenced by that relationship.
Rabbi Alqalai made Alyia to Israel in 1874. He established himself in Yafo and together with other Jews from the Ottoman empire and North Africa founded the community Mikve Israel of the Old Yeshub of the city. He died four years later and he is buried in the Har Hazetim (Jerusalem).   

I present to the readers the book   GORAL LAHASHEM   by Rabbi Yehuda Alqalai. It is very interesting to see the haskamot  (Letters of support) he had from many prominent rabbis. to me, the most interesting haskama was the first one, which seems to have been written originally in Hebrew, by Sir Moses Montefiore   (1784-1885) a contemporary of rabbi Alqalai. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

RELIGIOUS INTEGRITY: Robbing and stealing

Stealing, in Hebrew geneba is when I  take something that doesn't belong me without the owner of that object knowing. While robbing, gezela, is to take something from a person by force. Someone can steal your belongings when you're not home. However, if a person approaches you on the street and forces you to give them your watch, you have been robbed.

In both cases, the perpetrators must restitute the object they took or its  monetary value to its owner. But in ancient Jewish Law, the one that stole (sic) had to pay twice the value, while the one that rob had to restitute just whatever he took by force (this point will be explained later on). 

Stealing is forbidden regardless of the value of the object I take. Even if I steal something of an insignificant monetary value (pachot mishave peruta) I have perpetrated and act of stealing. Moreover, even if I take something temporarily from somebody else, i.e., I said to myself that I’m borrowing an object to use it for a while without the owner's knowledge and with the intention to bring it back to him, it is still considered stealing. 

It is forbidden to steal from a fellow Jew  or from a gentile.  If the gentile made a mistake and, for example, gave me extra change, although it is technically his mistake and legally I could hold the extra money, it might be an opportunity to fulfill one of the most important Mitzvot of the Tora: Kiddush haShem, sanctifying God’s name. Which will happen when a non Jew would see an exemplary moral behavior of a Jew and would be inspired to praise God for having given the Jewish people a Law of fairness and wisdom (=The Tora). Furthermore, according to Sefer haChasidim those who made money out of a mistake of a gentile did not see any blessing from it.   

“Fortunately they were able to painstakingly put the pieces of their lives back together.
by Toby Klein Greenwald

Monday, August 13, 2012

JEWISH WEDDING: Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions

Although the basic elements of the Jewish wedding are exactly the same, there are some customs which are different from community to community. 

In the following lines I will present shortly four examples of customs that vary between the Sephardic and the Ashkenazi tradition.

SHABBAT CHATAN: The Ashkenazi tradition is to have the Shabbat Chatan, i.e, the Shabbat in which the groom is invited to be called up to the Tora (alyia) before the wedding, This Shabbat is called "Aufruf" , which in Yiddish means "calling up". In Sephardic communities the groom's Shabbat takes place the Shabat after the wedding.  

BEDEKEN: In the Ashkenazi tradition, prior to the actual wedding ceremony the groom accompanied by his parents, friends, and the Rabbi  amidst joyous singing of his friends, coversthe bride's face with a veil. The bride wears this veil until the conclusion of the Chuppah ceremony. In most Sephardic communities the bride walks to the Chuppa veiled, and the groom unveils the bride. The unveiling of the bride reminds the event in which Ya'aqob Abinu took Leah as his first wife believing that she was Rachel.

UNDER THE STARS: In many Ashkenazi communities the custom is to get married under the stars, i.e., weather permitting, the Chupa would take place outdoors and at night.  In Sephardic communities there is no such custom and weddings take placeoutdoors or indoors indistinctly and preferably during the day

WALKING AROUND THE GROOM: In most Ashkenazi communities, when the bride comes under the Chupa she walks around the groom seven times. According to Kabbalistic sources, the seven rounds represent the seven days of Creation: "Since every marriage is a re-enactment of the creative process, she walks around the groom to indicate that these seven cycles are now repeated". Sephardic Jews don't practice this custom.