Friday, January 4, 2013

SHABBAT: Understanding Shabbat Candle lighting

Lighting candles before Shabbat begins is a Rabbinical, not a Biblical commandment. The Rabbis saw that many times, people would forget to leave the lights (=in those days, candles) on before Shabbat began  and when they would come home from the Synagogue they were forced to have Shabbat dinner in total darkness, which (i) generated tensions between husband and wife and (ii) it diminished the honor and enjoyment of Shabbat.

They established then, that it should be mandatory to light the candles before Shabbat begins. In this way, this candle-lighting would avoid a disruption of the peace and harmony between husband and wife or other members of the family (Shalom Bayit) and it created an environment with more light, thus increasing the honor and enjoyment ('oneg) of Shabbat.

Shabbat candle-lighting is not a personal or individual Miṣva , but a family (or a household) Miṣva. Quoting Maimonides (MT, Shabbat 5:1) "Men and women, they have to have in their homes a candle lit on Shabbat".

Normally it is the woman who is primarily in charge of lighting the candles (the tradition is that men also should be part of this Miṣva by preparing the candles, placing them in the candle- holders, pamotim, etc.)  If the woman of the house is not home, or if she is not able to light the candles, then the husband or any adult member of the family should light the candles, and recite the corresponding blessing.

According to Sephardic tradition there is no obligation for the single daughters to light additional candles. However, if they still want to light candles (to be trained or educated in this Miṣva) they could do so, provided they do not recite the blessing for those candles, because, as we explained, Shabbat candle lighting is not a personal obligation, but an obligation for each house.

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC:  4:23 p.m.

Shabbat Ends in NYC:     5:21 p.m.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The 13 principles of Judaism. # 12: The Jewish Messiah

Maimonides explains that if a Jewish political leader possesses these three characteristics he has the potential to be the Mashiaḥ. He has to be 1. A ascendent of King David. 2. A role Model in Tora observance and teaching. 3. A man involved militarily in the wars of Israel (see here ).

 Now, when would be known for sure that this person is the actual Mashiaḥ?  Maimonides says: (MT, Melakhim 11:5) "If he succeeded [in the wars], and he builds the Bet haMiqdash in its place [the Temple mount, Har haBayit] and he brings back to Israel the remnants of the Jewish Diaspora, then we know that he is the actual Mashiaḥ.  But, if he did not succeed, or if he died, then we know that he was not the Mashiaḥ but another one of the righteous and good Monarchs of the House of David, who passed away. "

Obviously, and unlike Christianity, we don't believe in a Mashiaḥ that will die and then resurrect. Or that will be a son of God and a human female. (BTW, in the Tora  every Jew is explicitly described as a "son of God" . Deut. 14:1 says: banim atem laHaShem Elokekhem , "You are the children of HaShem your God"). 

Going back to the events which will prove the condition of theMashiaḥ, Maimonides says:  (Idem, 11:1). "The torah itself testifies to this Messianic promise when it says (Deut. 30:3-5) "God, will have mercy on you, and gather you [again from all countries where He has scattered you]. Even if you remnants  are at the ends of the heavens, HaShem your God will gather you and bring you from there. HaShem your God will bring you to the land that your fathers inherited. You will settle in it again, and He will make you even more prosperous and numerous than than your ancestors"

(to be continued...)

Ping-Pong, 11 years old Estee Ackerman, and a Jewish version of Chariots of Fire. 

READ   Devotion Wins Out,  from the NY Post

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Refael Aharon ben Shimon (1847-1928)

As we said last week (see here) Rabbi Ben Shimon wrote many responsas about the new inventions of his time. As the highest authority in his community he had to pronounce a ruling on those issues. 
In a rare and exquisite passage in one of his responsa (oraḥ ḥayim , 8, p.23) of his book umiṣur debash, he was asked about the usage of matches (a new popular invention in those days) in Yom Tob. Before he build the case against or in favor of using matches in Yom Tob, he writes the following [my own, free translation]:

"What a difficult task is for a Rabbi today to answer this kind of questions. New inventions in all areas of life are so many in our generation... Human knowledge has increased through the investigation and the new discoveries of the principles of Creation, and with it, man's industrial and technical capabilities. Every day there are innovations which were inconceivable for our ancestors or even for our own elders. It is a very difficult task for a Rabbi to find the proper answers to questions about these new technological inventions. To determine, for example, if they could be used on Shabbat or Yom Tob.  Because it is very laborious to compare these new inventions with the elements mentioned in our holy Talmud [1500 years ago], which is the guide of our lives and the source for establishing what is permitted and what is forbidden. Only through a great patient effort, and with a clear and calm mind, and with enough available time--free from all other troubles--it will be viable to analyze these innovations and compare the classic principles with the new discoveries. Searching with candles every comparable detail which could be found in the Talmud --which is like a deep ocean-- to arrive, perhaps, to a practical conclusion and final ruling. And in addition to all this, once a conclusion is reached, one has to have a special merit to be spared from the critics, those whose expertise is to condemn, because they were trained to criticize arguments, and not to build them... "

Picture of Rabbi Refael Aharon ben Shimon



(Do not expect to see  THIS VIDEO in mainstream media...)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

TEFILA: zoqef kefufim, the Rabbis' version of Homo Erectus

כשעומד מברך: ברוך אתה ה' אלוקינו מלך העולם, זוקף כפופים

When a person stands up straight --when he or she wakes up in the morning-- recites the blessing, zoqef kefufim,  "Blessed are You, HaShem our God, King of the universe, Who raises up those who are bowed down".

The words zoqef kefufim are found in Tehilim (146:8). There, King David praised God for helping the suffering righteous, out of His love for them.  HaShem defends them, feeds them, delivers them and among other things, He helps them to stand up (zoqef), when they are so exhausted, humiliated, troubled or oppressed that their bent backs (kefufim) can not stay straight.  

Also, in the famous Psalms, Tehila leDavid (145. aka, ashre yoshebe betekha) David haMelekh praises HaShem Who supports all those who are about to fall, and straightens up all those who are bent down, providing them food and sustenance.  

In birkot hashachar, the Rabbis used this Biblical expression, zoqef kefufim, and applied it beyond the concept of people who need God's help to come up from their suffering.  It is all of us who also use HaShem's help to stand up every morning. Following the idea of seeing God's intervention in every micro-activity we perform each morning, when we get out of our bed and stand erected on the floor we express our praise to HaShem saying this blessing. When sleeping, most people (see here)  adopt a fetal position, i.e.,  lying curled on one side with legs bent.  Therefore, we praise HaShem for the fact that we can stand in an erected position, which according to rabbi Hayim Palagge (yafe laleb), is one of the features that distinguish us, human beings, from animals.  

 Practical advise "How to get out of bed when you really can't"  from

Monday, December 31, 2012

American Rabbis on celebrating New Year's Day

We have written in previous HOTD about the views of modern orthodox rabbis regarding the celebration of different American holidays (see here). All rabbis are very strict in forbidding, for example, the celebration of Halloween in any way, while most would not oppose (and some would even encourage) the celebration of Thanksgiving. 

The difference between Thanksgiving and Halloween is that the later  (i) has a clear origin in pagan culture, and (ii) some of those customs are still practiced in its celebration today. 

What about New Year's day?

According to Christian tradition, January 1st, is the day of the circumcision of Yeshu (eight days counting from December 25), when his name was given to him.  Five centuries ago, the rabbi Terumat Hadeshen and the Rama, both living in Christian countries, classified New Year's day as a religious gentile holiday (Darkhe Moshe and Rama, Yoreh Deah 148:12). Terumat Hadeshen refers to January First as "the eighth day of Christmas." He clearly viewed this holiday as 'religious' in nature. 

Other Rabbis, however, have a more lenient view, because in their opinion New Year's today has lost entirely its religious overtones and can be rationally explained as a celebration of a new civil calendar's year. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Even Haezer 2:13) writes with regard to New Year's: "On the question of celebrating any event on a holiday of Gentiles, if the holiday is based on religious beliefs [such as Christmas], such celebrations are prohibited .... even without intent, it is prohibited because of marit ayin . . . The first day of the year [January 1] and Thanksgiving is not prohibited according to law, but pious people [ba'ale nefesh] should be stricter [and avoid the celebration]."   Following Rabbi Feinstein,  Rabbi Michael Broyde (see below) asserts that the status of New Year's day has changed in the last three hundred years. In contemporary America there is little religious content on New Year's Day, and while there might be many problems associated with the way New Year's is celebrated (drinking, etc.) he thinks that few would classify it as areligious holiday, since there is a clear secular reason to celebrate the beginning of the new calendar year. 

Most community Rabbis I know would oppose to celebrate, and won't promote any commemoration of the New Year's eve or day. If not for its religious content, for ḥuqot hagoyim (See Rabbi Hofman's article). But at the same time, based on the above mentioned considerations, they won't actively preach against its private celebration by individuals, as they do with regards to Halloween, for example.