Monday, August 4, 2014

Tish'a beAb, the Jewish Day of National Mourning

Tish'a beAb, our national day of mourning, begins tonight Monday August 5th. In NYC the fast begins at 7.58pm and ends tomorrow, Tuesday August 5th at 8.27pm (some communities have different times).
This afternoon around 6.30pm we do the seu'da mafseqet, the last meal before the day-long fast.

This is virtually 'a mourners meal' and should consist of bread, eggs, lentils and water.  In some communities people would also have rice with lentils or other variations.

What make this meal special is that:

1. We abstain from eating two different cooked dishes to express (or inspire) a mood of austerity, by consuming only what is needed to endure the fast (Raw vegetables and fruits are not restricted).

2. The ancient custom is that everyone eats in solitude, with no zimun, sitting on the floor or on a low chair, like mourners do.

For Arbit, we chant the prayers with a sad tune, starting with 'al neharot babel (Tehilim 137), the Psalm of the mourners for the Bet haMiqdash. In many Sephardic communities the Shema Israel is said with a sad intonation, instead of the regular ta'amim .

Then, we read Megilat Ekha, the book of Lamentations written by the Prophet Yrmiyahu. The book of Lamentations describes the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE), the desolation of Yerushalayim, the pain of the exiles to Babylon, the mockery and pleasure of our enemies seeingour misery, the impotence of the defeated, the deadly starvation, the horrors of sickness and death.

Then, we recite the Kinot. The Kinot are poems which describe different tragedies that we endured throughout our history.

At the end of the Kinot, sitting on the floor, with lights dimmed, we declare with sadness and tears: "Listen, oh our brothers of the house of we count ... 1946 years from the destruction of our Bet haMiqdash...."  (According to the traditional Sephardic account the second bet haMiqdash was destroyed 1946 years ago, in the year 68 of the Common Era).
May we all have an easy and meaningful fast.

May this be the last year we mourn for our Bet haMiqdash! AMEN



The fast of Tish'a beAb should be observed by all those who are in good health.

Yoledet: During the first 30 days after birth or after a miscarriage, a woman is exempted from fasting on the 9th of Ab.

Pregnant and nursing women: Similar to Yom Kippur, pregnant and nursing women should observe this fast. In cases of complicated pregnancies or physical weakness, or if the pregnant mother is worried that fasting will affect her health or her baby's health, she should ask her doctor before the fast-day and proceed as the physician recommends. If during the fast a pregnant woman feels sick, especially if she is vomiting or having any signs of dehydration, she should break the fast and drink or eat immediately. However, mild dizziness and nausea that can be coped with by lying down on a couch or a bed are considered normal (Listen to a very important lecture "Pregnancy and fasting" at the end of this email).
Hole She-en Bo Sakana: People with a chronic disease like diabetes or patients under treatment or someone with high fever should not observe the fast. In some cases, when is not possible to fast for 24 hours it would recommended to fast from dawn until the end of the day, as we do on the 17 of Tamuz or the 10 of Tebet.
Elders: Should consult with their physicians to make sure that the fast will not affect their health. If it will, they are exempted (or forbidden) from fasting.
Minors: Boys younger than thirteen years old and girls younger than twelve are exempt from fasting. Unlike Yom Kippur, there is no need for children to fast for a few hours. The reason is that while we do educate our children to fast on Yom Kippur as part of a teshuba (=repentance) process, we do not educate our children to mourn for the Bet haMiqdash before they formally need to. Because hopefully this will be the last year we mourn for the Bet haMiqdash, and BH training for next year will be unnecessary. 
When allowed to eat during Tish'a be-Ab for health reasons, one should eat only whatever is necessary for his or her health, and not for pleasure or in excess.

                                                     FOR PREGNANT WOMEN

Click here to listen to Dr. Jessica Jacob's  lecture.

 Dr. Jessica Jacob is a MD/OBGYN and although this lecture was given for pregnant women fasting Yom Kippur most information is relevant for Tish'a beAb as well. The most important difference is that on Tish'a be-Ab, when exempted from the fast, one can eat normally and does not have to eat in small portions, as it is required on Yom Kippur.


Tish'a beAb is a day of fasting and it is also a day of collective morning. During Tish'a beAb we behave virtually as mourners  who are grieving for a loved one who just passed away.  To express and reach this emotional state of grief, we avoid engaging in certain pursuits: activities from which we derive a physical pleasure, actions associated with happiness or which would distract us from the mood of mourning.  
Some examples
REHITSA (Washing) Same as Yom Kippur, taking a shower, bathing or washing for pleasure is forbidden on Tish'a beAb. However, if a part of the body is unclean we can wash it.
Washing our mouth is not permitted on Tish'a beAb. Except in a situation of great distress. In such a case one should bend the head downward when washing the mouth to avoid swallowing any liquid (Rabbi Obadya Yosef z"l). 
It is permitted to use baby wipes to clean one's face, eyes, hands, etc. because this type of cleaning is not considered "washing". 
Technically we could wash our hands normally in the morning for Netilat Yadayim, because we do it for a Mitzva and not for pleasure. The standard Sephardic custom, however, is to wash only the fingers for Netilat Yadayim.  
SIKHA (Using creams) Using creams for pleasure or comfort is not permitted on Tish'a beAb. Medical creams or oils are permitted. Using deodorant is permitted.

NE'ILAT HASANDAL (Leather shoes)Leather shoes are considered a luxurious item. During Tish'a beAb then, we don't wear leather shoes but snickers or other type of footwear made of fabric, plastic, etc. Other leather items, like a belt or a leather Kippa are permitted.

TASHMISH HAMITA (Intimacy)Marital relations are suspended on Tish'a beAb. If the Mikveh night falls on the eve of Tish'a beAb, i.e., Monday August 4th at night, Mikveh has to be postponed for the following night .

LIMUD TORA: On Tish'a beAb we refrain from studying Tora, because studying Tora is a joyous and pleasurable activity. We might read and study books or texts with a sad content such as the book of Iyob or Ekha, some passages of the book of Jeremiah or some Psalms, masekhet mo'ed qatan, etc.

WORK:  On Tish'a beAb it is not recommended to work because working would divert our minds from the feeling of grief. Refraining from work on Tish'a beAb, however, is not a formal prohibition but rather a tradition some communities have adopted and some have not (minhag hamaqom) and it also depends on each individual's financial or professional situation. In any case, it is beyond debate that if one would incur in significant losses or if one's job position will be compromised it is permitted to work.  
TEFILIN: We do not use Tefilin in the morning of Tish'a beAb. Tefilin is a signal of honor and pride: a crown in our heads which declares that we are the people of God. In most Sephardic communities men wear Talit and Tefilin just in Minha. In some Syrian communities the tradition is that before going to the Synagogue in the morning one says Qaddesh Li and Shema Israel at home with Talit and Tefilin. In other communities men wear Tefilin and Tallit normally in the morning (=minhag Yerushalayim).  
SHE-ELAT SHALOM: On Tish'a beAb we don't greet each other as usual, because our mood is or should be a mourner's mood. If someone greets us, we can discreetly and politely acknowledge the gesture.  
SITTING ON THE FLOOR: The general custom is that during the reading of Megilat Ekha people don't sit on the Synagogue's benches but on the floor, like mourners do during the shib'a (the first  seven days of Jewish mourning), while the lights are dimmed.

Five tragedies are remembered on Tish'a be-Ab
1. HET HAMERAGELIM (ca. 1300 BCE): The Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the ten explorers. They cried and complained to God for taking them out of Egypt. They also hinted that the Almighty won't be able to help them in conquering the Land of Israel and defeat so many enemies. HaShem decreed that all those who were 20 years or older would not enter the Promised Land. The people will wander  for forty years until that generation disappears.  The night on which they cried and were condemned to die in the dessert was Tish'a be-Ab.
2. HURBAN HABAYIT HARISHON (586 BCE): The First Temple was destroyed and burned on the ninth of Ab by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. Thousands of Jews were slaughtered, enslaved or exiled to the Babylonian empire. The story of the destruction of Jerusalem and its desolation is narrated in Megilat Ekha.
3. HURBAN HABAYIT HASHENI (68 CE): The Second Temple was also destroyed on Tisha be-Ab. The Romans led by Titus destroyed the city. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed, sold into slavery or exiled.
4. NILKEDA BETAR (135 CE): The Bar Kokhba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar (Sephardim call it "Bee-ter"), which was the Jews' last stand against the Romans, was captured by the enemy on Tish'a be-Ab. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and their bodies left unburied.
5. NEHERASH HAHEKHAL: Around the same period, also on a ninth of Ab, the Temple's holiest area and its surroundings was plowed by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was turned into a pagan city, and renamed Aelia Capitolina. Access to Jerusalem was forbidden for Jews.

Monday, July 21, 2014

PSALM 144: Tehilim, from the battlefiled

This is a Special edition of Halakha of the Day. In these difficult days for Am Israel, we all need to pray for the victory of Medinat Israel in this cruel war, and for the safety of our young soldiers.   Our Chief rabbis are urging us to say Tefila and read Tehilim.
Today, I want to write about a very special Psalm, which I think is very appropriate for a time when our sons and brothers, the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, are risking their lives to protect Israel and create a better future for all of us.  
I dedicate this limmud to them. 
The commentators, particularly Radaq, explain that King David composed this Psalm when he was fighting with the Philistines. I think that David probably composed this Psalm while in the battlefield. In the midst of the combat.  Why? Because the words, the imagery, the prayers, the wishes expressed in this Mizmor are those of a soldier that feels the closeness of the enemy and the possibility of death.  The words of this Psalm do not describe the memories of a battle, but the battle itself: David's feelings, vulnerability, wishes and longings. King David is not a common man. Besides being a King and a soldier, he is also a poet. HaShem granted him the ability to put in words the turbulent flowing of thoughts and emotions traversing his heart and mind in those difficult moments.  
But the most important thing that David haMelekh teaches us in this Psalm, what every Jewish solider needs to remember, is that HaShem, our God"goes to battle with us". He is on our side, in the battlefield. Next to every young Israeli soldier. As  He was with David. It is this idea, the closeness of HaShem with those who fight to defend Am Israel, what give us strength and hope that Am Israel will emerge victorious from this and every war he will need to fight

לדוד ברוך ה' צורי, המלמד ידי לקרב אצבעותי למלחמה

PASUQ 1: [A Psalm] by King David. Bless is HaShem,my rock. He Who guides my hands in battle, my fingers in combat"
First, King David blesses God. In other words, he sees God's presence in the battlefield. True, we have to fight our wars and we cannot relay on miracles. But , as the Tora said,  in times of war  (Deut. 20:4) "HaShem your God will go with you to fight with you against your enemies, to give you victory." HaShem is with His people. Fighting with them against their enemies.  David sees Him and he says to HaShem
"You are my rock". 
The "rock" is essential in battle. The soldier stands behind a rock or a wall to protect himself from the eyes and the arrows of the enemies.  HaShem shields the Jewish soldier, like an invisible rock, and protects them against the enemies weapons. David also says to HaShem:
"You guide my hands..."
when I fight against my enemy in a face-to-face combat, with bare hands, You are there, moving my hands. And when I stretch the bow and hold it still
"You guide my fingers
to aim my arrows with precision.  When I attack the enemy or when I defend myself from the enemies, I know that You are with me.
PASUQ 2 : Now, David haMelekh, praises HaShem further,  acknowledging His  overwhelming presence in battle.

חסדי ומצודתי משגבי ומפלטי לי מגיני ובו חסיתי, הרודד עמי תחתי

"You are my loving ally. You are my fortress. You are my tower. You are my refuge when I escape [from the enemy]. You are my shield, in which I rely. You will [grant me victory] and make these [hostile] nations surrender".

PASUQ 3: The battle is intense, fierce and dangerous. David feels that the enemy is close. Armed, thirst of blood and unpredictable.  They might have seen him. David knows that although HaShem is present in the battlefield, he still might die.  The possibility of death does not represent for David a theological challenge for his conviction that God exists, or that He is present in the battlefield. For David the reality of God outweighs his own reality. And when he realizes that the end might be close he reflects on the value of human life from the perspective of God. And asks himslef 

ה' מה אדם ותדעהו בן אנוש ותחשבהו
"HaShem: what is a human creature to deserve your attention?
What is a son of man, to be considered by You?"
PASUQ 4: When his life is danger, David realizes his fragility and his inescapable mortality. He finds himself thinking that perhaps for HaShem humans are too small and insignificant. Why would you HaShem, Master of the Universe, Creator of billions of galaxies, care about us?
אדם להבל דמה ימיו כצל עובר
 "A human being is [ephemeral] as a breath; his life is like a passing shadow"
Our lives are so short. Unsubstantial, like a breath. Fugacious, as a shadow. Not even like a tree's shadow, which slowly grows and disappears thru the day. Rather, life seems now like a passing shadow of a flying bird, which can hardly be perceived. Feeling the end of his life, David or a Jewish soldier, does not question God. He questions himself, if he is worthy of God's attention. Mainly, if his ephemeral life was worthily for God.
PASUQ 5:  Now David prays. A very unusual prayer. A vision of a desperate soldier who sees no escape but a miracle. 
ה' הט שמיך ותרד גע בהרים ויעשנו
"Hashem, open the skies and come down, touch the mountains [where the enemies are hiding] so they will burn"
More than a prayer David expresses the wishful imagery of a soldier outnumbered by the enemy. Who believes that only "HaShem coming down from heaven" can save his life. 
PASUQ: David is vulnerable. And has more prayers/mirages of hope. He wishes that HaShem will fight for him. Using His celestial arrows against his enemies, to spare David's life.
  ברוק ברק, ותפיצם  שלח חיציך, ותהומם.
 "Crack a lightening and scatter them, send those celestial arrows and panic them".
 שלח ידיך, ממרום פצני והצילני, ממים רבים מיד בני נכר.
PASUQ 7: And if You don't destroy my enemies, David prays,  at least save me. Pick me up from the battlefield, with Your hand. Rescue me from my place and take me to safety.
"Send Your hand from heaven, pick me up and rescue me. Save me from this great danger (=mayim rabbim), from the hand of these foreign [enemies]"
PASUQ 8: Now David haMelekh expresses to HaShem why he deserves a miraculous victory, and the enemy a Celestial defeat.   The enemy speaks with arrogance against the Jews and against You, their God. And they also lie shamelessly. They, the Philistines, swore with their right hand that they will live in peace with us, and now the betrayed their word and attacked us.

אשר פיהם, דיבר-שוא  וימינם, ימין שקר.
 [Save me from the hands of those foreigners] "whose mouths speak with arrogance, and whose right hand is a right hand full of lies".
PASUQ 9: If You save me, HaShem (or "when" you will save me), I will not be silent. I will dedicate my life to You.  I will compose for you a new poem, to sing Your praises:

א-לוהים שיר חדש אשירה לך בנבל עשור אזמרה-לך.
"I will sing a new song to You, that i will sing with the ten strings harp"
PASUQ 10: In that song I will declare the truth: that it was not me who won the battle, but You. You are the One who decides the fortunes of war. The One Who grants victory to the Kings and defeat the enemy

 הנותן תשועה למלכים הפוצה את-דויד עבדו מחרב רעה.
"To the One who gives victory to kings, to the One who delivers his servant David, from the deadly sword"
PASUQ 11:  David prays to God again. "Spare my life..."

פצני והצילני מיד בני-נכר אשר פיהם, דיבר-שוא וימינם ימין שקר.
"Save me from the hand of those foreigners who speak falsehood in their mouths, and whose right hand is the right hand of lies".
PASUQ 12: Now comes a very special Pasuq. Still, in the midst of the battle, surrounded by the cruel and violent enemy, David brings to mind his sweetest memories. His thoughts are the daydreams of every Jewish soldier in the most challenging moments of combat, or in the long nights of watch: Home. My family.  My children. My peaceful neighborhood.

אשר בנינו, כנטיעים מגודלים בנעוריהם בנותינו כזווייות מחוטבות, תבנית היכל
מזווינו מלאים מפיקים מזן אל זן צאננו מאליפות מרובבות בחוצותינו
PASUQ 13: While facing killers and assassins in the battlefield, David remembers the refined young Jewish boys of his city. For whom battle is not their pride, but an unwanted necessity. These young boys are polite, refined and educated. Because their parents take good care of them from their early childhood. The Jewish parents raised these boys like "saplings", young trees that need to be planted upright and carefully trimmed. To grow upward, unbending and strong. David remembers the girls, the young Jewish maidens. They are humble but walk with class and dignity. They are royalty. Raised to be the pillars of a palace (=hekhal). This "palace" is "the Jewish home" in which God is crowned by the parents as the King.  Finally, David also remembers the material blessing that HaShem so generously has granted to them.
"Our young sons are like saplings, tended from their youth. Our daughters like straight pillars, able to sustain a palace. Our granaries are full, dispensing food of every  kind. Our flocks are in thousands, tens of thousands, in our fields".
PASUQ 14: Now, David haMelekh makes what is probably the strongest point in his request to God for victory and peace. A request which so much resonates in our present days. We, Israel, have been blessed by You. We now have, Barukh HaShem, enough food and animals. We have beautiful families. We pride ourselves, not of raising little warriors trained to kill, but in raising children who build "palaces" for You, families who live exemplary lives. We despise fights, quarrels, and conflicts. Our neighborhoods are the epitome of peace. There is no robbery, no violence. There is loyalty, trust and respect. In our cities people do not yield or scream at each other.  WE LIVE with PROSPERITY and PEACE.

אלופינו מסובלים אין פרץ ואין יוצאת ואין צווחה ברחובותינו.

"Our oxen are loaded [with food], there is no breaching of walls [=robbery], no going out [= unfaithfulness], no cry of distress in our streets."


PASUQ 15 : We are satisfied with what we have,  
But we are especially HAPPY with what we are.
We are the happiest people on earth, because we are the people of HaShem

אשרי העם שככה לו אשרי העם שה' אל-היו

"Joyful are those who live like this! Happy are those whose God is HaShem".

We just want to live in peace. Fulfilling our highest aspiration, The people of Israel, in the land of Israel, with HaShem, our God, the God of Israel.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


As we have explained (see this), on the 17th of Tamuz of the year 68 of the CE, after many months of siege, the walls of the city of Yerushalayim were destroyed by the Roman legions.  
Once inside, the invading army pillaged the Holy City and thousands of Jews were killed, tortured or taken as slaves.   The Bet haMiqdash was destroyed and burned three weeks after the Romans enter the city, on the 9th of Ab. Six hundred years earlier, in 586 BCE, the first Bet haMiqdash was destroyed also on the 9th of Ab.

As we approach the 9th of Ab, considered the National day of Mourning of the Jewish People, we observe certain restrictions associated with mourning.

These restrictions become stricter as we get closer to the 9th of Ab.

These customs differ significantly from community to community. 

We present here a few illustrations:

WEDDINGS: The Rabbis of the Talmud, Maimonides, Mara"n etc. did not mention any restrictions for celebrating weddings before the beginning of the month of Ab.  For Sephardim, therefore, it is technically not forbidden to have a wedding ceremony between the 17 of Tamuz and the beginning of the month of Ab. The Ashkenazi custom, however, is to avoid wedding ceremonies from the 17th of Tamuz.   In our days,  maintaining a level of uniformity in this sensitive matter, Sephardic Jews also abstain from celebrating weddings during the three weeks.

SHEHEHEYANU: The Shulhan Arukh mentions that it is good to avoid eating a fruit of a new season, which will require the recitation of the blessing Sheheheyanu, during the three weeks. The custom for Sephardim (Rab Obadaia Yosef) and Ashkenazim (Penine Halakha) is to reserve this recitation of Sheheheyanu for Shabbat.

HAIRCUT: The custom for most Sephardim is to permit getting a haircut or shave until the week of Tish'a beAb. The Ashkenazi tradition (Ram"a 551:4) and the custom of some Moroccan and Algerian Jews as well, is different: haircut or shaving is forbidden from the 17 of Tamuz until after Tish'a beAb. (Haircut restrictions do not apply to women).

לע"נ דרור חנין ז"ל, הי"ד

What can you do for Israel?
Some ideas

Pray, do, give. See
Send packages to Israeli soldiers: