Friday, December 21, 2012

The Tenth of Tebet and the Kaddish haKelaly

This coming Sunday, December 23rd 2012, we observe the fast of the Tenth of Tebet. We remember the siege of Yerushalaim, in the year 586 BCE, at the time of the destruction of our first Bet haMiqdash (see this). 

On the 10th of Tebet there are only two prohibitions: eating and drinking. The fast begins at dawn and it ends at 5:03 p.m. NYT.

NO additional limitations apply, such as the prohibition of wearing leather shoes, working, driving, washing the body, etc.

Most contemporary Rabbis (R. E. Melamed, Rab O. Yosef) authorize to wash one's mouth or brush one's teeth in this Ta'anit, when necessary, provided you are very careful to lower your head, avoiding swallowing water unintentionally.

In modern Israel, the 10th of Tebet is also recognized as the day of the Kaddish haKelaly. According to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, on the Tenth of Tebet a remembrance-candle should be lit in the Synagogue and the Hazkara leHalale haShoah should be recited. Additionally,  all those whose parents are not alive should say the Kaddish Yatom (luach dinim uminhaguim 5772, pages. 55,109).

This point requires more explanation. 

In 1949, and before the day of Yom HaShoah was established, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel decided that the Tenth of Tebet should be assigned as the national remembrance day for the victims of the Holocaust. They recommended traditional Jewish ways of remembering the dead, such as the study of Mishna Mikvaot, saying Tehilim, lighting a candle and a communal recitation of the Kaddish for the victims of the Holocaust whose names and date of death remain unknown. Fasting, the most common Jewish expression of sorrow, was already prescribed for this day. 

In Israel many people felt that the horror of the Holocaust should be remembered on its own, and a special day should be dedicated to the Shoah's victims' memory.   "For the Holocaust survivors there was only one day worthy of being a memorial anniversary for the Holocaust--April 19, the beginning day of the Warsaw ghetto revolt the greatest revolt of them all, the uprisings that had held the Nazis at bay for a longer period than the great French army"  (I. Greenberg). That is how the 27 of Nissan was chosen to commemorate Yom haShoah. Yom HaShoah was inaugurated in 1953, by a law signed by the Prime Minister of Israel David ben Gurion.

Since then, and in practical terms, there are two days in which we mourn for the Holocaust: Yom haShoah, the official day, and'asara beTebet, in which people say the Kaddish haKelaly to remember the victims of the Nazi genocide. 

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC:    4:14 p.m.
Shabbat ends in NYC:       5:12 p.m.

Who is exempted from fasting on the Tenth of Tebet?
*Minors: boys under 13 and girls under 12 years old are completely exempted from fasting.
*Nursing women: According to the Sephardic Minhag, after giving birth women are exempted from fasting for 24 months, even if they are not actually nursing their baby.
*Pregnant women, especially after the first 3 months, are exempted from fasting.
*A person who feels sick--for example, flu or fever-- or one who has a chronic disease--for example diabetes-- should not fast.
*Elders should consult with their physicians if the fast will not affect their health. If it will, they are exempted (and in some cases, prohibited) from fasting.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Tenth of Tebet and the Greek Translation of the Tora

Yesterday we mentioned two of the three events that we remember in the Tenth of Tebet (see here). Once again, it is important to clarify that the main reason for which we fast on this day is the siege of Yerushalaim. The other two events are brought to our memory because they roughly coincide with the same date. 
3. Approximately in the year 300 BCE, on the 8th of Tebet, in Alexandria (Egypt) King Ptolemy forced 70 (some say "72") Jewish scholars to translate the Tora (the five Books of Moshe or Pentateuch) into Greek. King Ptolemy wished to disprove the existence of an unified Jewish tradition on the understanding of the Scripture, so the scholars were placed in separate workrooms. Yet, they all translated the Tora in the same exact way.  

This translation of the Tora is known as the Septuagint. Although it was done by prominent Rabbis, the Septuagint is not considered a translation which follows necessarily rabbinical tradition. As explained in Talmud Yerushalmi (Megila 9) the authors of the Septuagint in many cases deliberately deviated from the traditional Jewish understanding and adapted the Biblical text to the Greek mentality and sensitivities to please the Monarch and avoid a situation of danger for the Jews 

As a whole, translating the Tora to Greek was considered a dark event by Jewish historiography. Why? Because the new Greek Bible advanced the agenda of the Hellenist Jews who sought to incorporate Greek values into Jewish life.  Moreover, eventually the Septuagint paved the way for the advancement of non-Jewish "Biblical" religions. Unlike pagan cults which were clearly antagonistic to the Tora, these new religions were now supposedly grounded on the Jewish Scripture! The Hebrew Bible was now interpreted and reinterpreted to justify whatever ideas or beliefs non-Jewish monarchs or priests wished to say or teach "in the name of the Bible". 

(BTW, the official Jewish translation of the Tora is Targum Onqelos (=Targum Didan) done ca. 100 CE).

Read here more about 
the month of Tebet , 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The fast of the Tenth of Tebet

This coming Sunday December 23rd, 2012, we will observe the Tenth of Tebet, a fast day, which reminds us of three tragic events. 

1. The main event we remember in this day is the onset of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuḥadnezzar, the King of Babylonia. The siege of the city signaled the beginning of the battle that ultimately destroyed Yerushalayim and the first Bet haMiqdash in the year 586 BCE. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed or sent as captives to the Babylonian exile. The date of the Tenth of Tebet was recorded by the prophet Yeḥezqel, who was already in Babylonia, with the first group of Jews exiled by Nebuḥadnezzar, eleven years earlier than the actual destruction of the Temple.

2. On this day we also remember the death of Ezra haSofer (=the Scribe).  Approximately in the year 516 BCE a group of Jews (roughly forty thousand) came back to Ereṣ Israel with the blessing of the Persian Emperor Cyrus. They were led by Neḥemia and Ezra the Scribe. Ezra had the responsibility to reeducate the Jews who, after more than two generations in exile, had forgotten their language, the Tora and its laws and adopted many customs and values from the Babylonian culture. In the absence of a King or any other political institution, Ezra formed the Anshe Keneset haGedola, the first "Jewish Congress", composed of 120 scholars and prophets. They established many rulings to maintain and retrieve Jewish values. For example, the days of Tora reading, the text of the Amida (main prayer), many decrees to prevent intermarriage and much more. Ezra was considered by the Rabbis as the historic link between the written Tora and the oral Tora. Together with Neḥemia, they began the building of the second Bet haMiqdash. Ezra died on a 9th of Tebet. He was regarded by our Rabbis as second to Moshe Rabbenu.

(To be continued...)  

Click here to read 

Talking to your kids about the Connecticut school shooting.

by Yvette Alt Miller, from Aish

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

TEFILA: Opening the eyes of the blind

ברוך אתה ה´ אלוקינו מלך העולם, פוקח עורים.

As we explained last week, the Birkot haShaḥar are the blessings which we say following the different daily events that we experience as we wake up in the morning. These berakhot help us identifying these occurrences and seeing them as miracles that we witness every day.  

Previously (see this), we talked about awakening from sleep, which the rabbis described  as a sort of resuscitation or revival (consciousness),  and listening to the rooster (hearing), appreciating its God-given ability to differentiate between nocturnal and diurnal cycles (see here).   

Today we will examine the third blessing, poqeaḥ ivrim, which was originally established to be said when we open our eyes for the first time in the morning (sight). The berakha says: "Blessed are You, HaShem, our God, King of the Universe, Who opens (the eyes of) the blinds". 

When we are asleep our sense of sight does not function. We don't see not because our eyes are closed. Actually, many people might sleep with their eyes open and they still won't see. The rabbis understood then that during sleep we are "virtually" blind, and in the morning, we recover our sense of sight. Upon realizing this "miracle" we say the blessing, poqeaḥ ivrim, acknowledging that God has equipped our bodies with these amazing abilities.    

This berakha also helps us to value the preciousness of our sense of sight. Normally, we take for granted that we see.  Unless we have a problem with our eyes, we don't stop every day to think (and thank!) for the privilege of seeing.    This berakha, when said with the proper kavana or understanding, inspires us to value what we have while we have it. Moreover, by acknowledging God (and not just nature) as the One responsible for our sight, this berakha enables us to discover and acknowledge HaShem's Presence behind this daily routinely events, keeping our minds more focused on Him.

 by Peter Kreeft, 
Professor of Philosophy at Boston College 
(from Prager University). 

Monday, December 17, 2012

THE KETUBA: The husband's financial obligations

The Ketuba is the document that records the obligations of the Jewish husband toward his wife. In previous weeks we explained the general duties that the Tora stipulates for the husband (see here) while married.  Today we will begin to examine the financial obligations that the husband undertakes towards his wife. Particularly the monetary compensation that the wife would eventually receive in case, God forbid, of dissolution of the marriage.  

The value of this compensation is calculated according to three elements.

1. Iqar Ketuba or the "main" sum of the Ketuba

2. Nedunya, or dowry

3. Tosefet/tosafot, or addition/s.

1. The "main" Ketuba specifies the amount of money determined by Jewish law as the minimum compensation that the wife is entitled to receive from her husband or his estate in case of  dissolution of the marriage.  There is a discussion among the rabbis if this compensation is a Biblical (Rashi) or a Rabbinical (Maimonides) duty. This amount, also called mohar, consists of two hundred zuzim.  Although the present monetary value of these two hundred zuzim is a matter of discussion among scholars, in the times of the  Talmud  two hundred zuzim was the amount a person needed to maintain himself during a year (food, clothing), i.e., a minimum year's salary.    

1a. In many communities, the husband also adds to this minimum amount an extra sum ("tosefet ketuba") , which is an increment to the mandatory basic financial obligation. The amount of this increment is set at will or following the local customs. This is done as a gesture of love and appreciation from the husband to the wife. 

Again, the sum of money mentioned in the Ketuba is not related to any transaction or any money the husband actually pays to the wife or her family. It is a marriage insurance. The wife eventually collects the Ketuba if the marriage is dissolved by divorce or by death of the husband.  The man therefore, states that he accepts these financial obligations upon himself- in case of divorce- and upon his heirs - if he dies.

(To be continued...)

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons, 
from Aish