Friday, May 31, 2013

SHABBAT: Carrying on Shabbat. Walls vs. Wires

Previously, we explained the debate between the rabbis on the mater of the definition of a public domain. If a public domain is an area where 600,000 people circulate or an area with wide streets ( see here) . 

Today, we should examine another related matter . 
As we know the whole principle of this type of 'erub is that by enclosing a public domain (reshut harabbim) that domain becomes a private domain (reshut hayahid) allowing us then to carry in that area during Shabbat.  The question is what kind of enclosing will turn a public domain into a private domain?  In order to to turn a public neighborhood into a private one you have to have a real fence around it. Think about a private gated neighborhoods or gated communities very common in South america (and Florida). These neighborhoods, according to Wikipedia, are enclosed  with " a closed perimeter of walls and fences". Similarly, when we have an area which is Halakhically considered a public domain either because it has wide streets or because it has an actual circulation of 600,000 people, if that area is enclosed with an 'erub made of "walls and gates", then it will be permitted to carry in that area.   (To clarify: The definitions of reshut harabbim and reshut hayahid have to do not with who owns the property but with some topographic and architectural features. A forest owned by one single individual but which has no walls or fence surrounding it would be a public domain.  On the other hand, even an entire city, if surrounded by walls with gates that close at night, would be a private domain).

Now, there are areas which are not considered a public domain. For example: a village with very narrow streets and a small population.  These areas are viewed like a semi-public domain (in Hebrew karmelit). We still cannot carry on Shabbat in semi-public domains, but the requirements for turning these areas into private domains are more flexible. 

(To be continued...)

Shabbat Shalom.

Candle Lighting in NYC:    8:00 pm
Shabbat Ends in NYC:      9:01 pm

Sephardic food at its best.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT: I exist or I'm in charge?

Previously, we have explained that for Jewish tradition the opening statement of the Ten Commandments "Im the Lord your God who brought you out of the land Egypt, the house of slaves"(Ex. 20:2) should not be seen as an introduction to the commandments but as a practical commandment (precept, Mitzva, see this). We wondered then what was the specific order given in this commandment? Traditionally it is understood that this commandment expresses that we have to believe that God exists.    
There might be a second way of understanding this commandment in a slightly different way, by exploring very carefully the words of Maimonides in Sefer HaMitzvot and MT, Yesode haTora 1:5-6. For Maimonides belief in God seems to be an 'iqar, a principle of our faith, more than a Mitzva. We, the Jewish people,  have acquired our knowledge of God's existence intuitively, i.e., by our own perception and experience. Our parents were witnesses of HaShem's presence and revelation in Mt. Sinai. And we know of God's existence because our parents transmitted their experience to us (see this).  

But if that is so, if this commandment is not about believing in God's "existence", what is this Mitzva saying? Let us analyze the first three words: "Anokhi", I, who you know Me as "HaShem"(the existence of God is given as a intuitively known fact here!) , I'm your "Elo-hekha", Your Sovereign. Elo-hekha,  should understood in this context as sovereign, highest judge or in one word: the Supreme Authority.

The differences between these two explanations might seem irrelevant. But think about this: many people, with liberal values, would be more than willing to believe in the God who created the Universe but then leaves you alone and does not tell you what to do with your life.  God is displaced (or displeases some people) however, when He is also ELO-HEKHA, the Authority Who establishes what is right and what is wrong. 

Accordingly, the First commandment is saying as follows:  You must know that I'm in charge. "I, HaShem, the One that freed you from slavery in Egypt, I'm your ELO-HEKHA", I'm your Master. Not Pharaoh or anyone else.  I'm like a father to you: I love you, you love me, but I'm also the ultimate authority for you (ELO-HEKHA).    

By Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, from Prager University.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508)

As we saw last week (see this) Rabbi "Don" Isaac Abarbanel was a famous statesman, a wealthy merchant, a Jewish philanthropist and one of the most illustrious biblical commentators and philosophers. 

Despite his turbulent life Rabbi Abarbanel was a very prolific Rabbinic author.  In his youth, while in Portugal,  he wrote his first book: 'ateret zeqenim , "the crown of the elders" where he explained some difficult Biblical passages in Exodus chapter 33.  He also wrote at a very young age "The way of the Principles" (surat haysodot) where he discussed philosophical issues like God's individual supervision, the immortality of the soul, etc. The issues of faith and dogma were extremely important for Rabbi Abarbanel in light of the permanent pressure exerted upon the Jews of Spain and Portugal by the catholic Church in its pursuing to convert them.  Rabbi Abarbanel had to stop his literary enterprise when he was called to serve as the Finance Minister of King Alfonso 5th.  

He wrote his commentary on the Bible in Spain while he was working as the Administrator of Tax Revenues for the Kings of Spain. He began with Joshua, Judges and Shemuel. 

Once in italy and now virtually retired from serving in the court he wrote his most famous and most extensive work, a commentary on the Five Books of the Tora.  He developed a very interesting exegetic style: first, rabbi Abarbanel asks 10-15 profound questions on every Biblical paragraph and then, he explains this paragraph answering systematically every question he brought.

Another important book he wrote is ma'ayane hayeshu'a, "The springs of salvation" where he explains thoroughly  the Jewish belief in the coming of the Messiah and compares it with the Christian belief in a Messiah. This book is written as a commentary of the Biblical book of Daniel. He wrote many other books on the Jewish concept of the Messiah, which was obviously one of the main points of controversy with the Church.   

"Rosh Amana", was one of the last books he wrote. This book is a commentary on the 13 principles of Jewish faith formulated by Maimonides. 

All his books can be found in

One of the best books one can find about the incredible life and  ideas of rabbi "Don" Isaac Abarbanel is the book written by Professor Benzion Netanyahu z"l, the father of Israel's Prime Minister Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu. Professor Netanyahu was an expert in the history of Sephardic Jews. 

The book is called:   

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

JEWISH THOUGHT: Yesha'ayahu vs The Lord of the Rings

Last week ( see this) we began to explore the complex question: "Why bad things happen to good people?" We explained that according to our tradition, Moshe Rabbenu was the only human being who had access to God while he was conscious and awake. This state of mind provided him with an opportunity to ask God a question. (Ex.33:18) "Show me how do You administrate Your Justice". Moshe Rabbenu, like probably many other intelligent believers, had a difficult time coping with seeing righteous men suffer.   If God is All Good and Almighty, then a good man should not be suffering. Unless, 1. God is not righteous  or 2. There is another god behind tragedies.   (ח"ו).

This matter, theodicy, is the main origin of many (probably most) pagan cults and beliefs. People in antiquity -heathens- believed that the gods struggled among themselves and when the evil gods (=gods of darkness) prevailed, bad things happened to good people ( a modern version of this idea could be found in the famous "The Lord of the Rings"). Even those who denied the existence of multiple gods believed that at least two god must exist (Manichaeism,etc."shete reshuyot"). One from whom all good and blessings comes from, and the other god who is the source of all tragedies.  

Jewish Monotheism implies, among other things, the belief that although its understanding escapes our mental capacities, all things are under the control of One God.
No one expressed this belief better than the prophet Yesha'ayahu. At a time in which the whole world believed in a constant struggle between the forces of evil/darkness against the forces of light/goodness, he proclaimed (Is. 45:7 yotzer or ubore hoshekh...): This is what HaShem says: "I form the light and I create darkness, I bring prosperity and I create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things".  

Although we don't understand why bad things happen to good people, we acknowledge, to begin with, that there is no an alternative power to HaShem. Nor gods, wizards or idols to appease...  HaShem is in total control and He is the only One we need to address.    

Talks of renewing the peace process???  
Don't miss this clip from Dr. Mordechai Kedar