Friday, November 12, 2010

Activation, activation, activation!

5th day of Kislev, 5771

Last week we discussed the use of automatic electrical appliances on Shabbat, and concluded that before Shabbat begins it is permitted to program a timer to turn on and off the lights on Shabbat .

The same principle would apply to a sprinkler system. It is permitted to program it in a way that it will be automatically activated on Shabbat. Again, it is forbidden for a 'person' to perform a melakha (any activity forbidden by Tora on Shabbat is called melakha), but when that melakha is done by itself, there is no prohibition.

Same principle would apply to a Shabbat automatic elevator. I can use it on Shabbat because I'm not activating it on Shabbat.

To clarify this principle of 'activation', let me compare it with a few more complicated cases.

1. A microphone. Even when a microphone is turned on from before Shabbat, there is a principle of activation by the speaker who 'activates' the conversion process: sound (acoustical waves )> electrical waves >amplified sound. Not good for Shabbat!

2. 'Motion activated lights', do not belong into the same category of lights turned on and off by a timer. Because, while the timer will turn on the lights activated by its internal clock or by an electrical optical eye (there is no human 'activation' of any sort) the motion lights will be activated by 'me', by my motion. Not good for Shabbat!

Shabbat Shalom.

Candle Lighting in NY: 4:22 PM

Shabbat Ends in NY: 5:29

WATCH AND LEARN: 'Burning Bridges', by Charlie Harary.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Traveling through the dateline

Dear Rabbi Bitton, I often travel to the Far East on business. When I'm done with my business dealings, I'm anxious to get back to New York as soon as possible and spend Shabbat with my family. One convenient flight that exists is a flight that leaves Hong Kong Friday at noon and arrives in New York Friday afternoon at 2:00 PM. My only concern is that during this long flight there is a time when I cross the International Dateline, and I believe, for the local Jewish community of the country I am flying over, it is Shabbat. Is this segment of the flight considered Shabbat for me as well? If so, should I avoid such a flight in order to avoid a desecration of Shabbat?

A: Dear friend, in the case you are describing, traveling from Hong Kong to New York, the plane flies against the sun, into the sunset and the plane is in the air during Friday evening (Shabbat). The question then becomes the following: do we consider Shabbat according to the personal situation of the passenger (in which case such travel will be forbidden), or according to the location where the passenger boarded and is going to land (in which case, since in both cities it is before Shabbat, such travel would be permitted).

Obviously, the Talmud could not possibly contemplate this technological scenario, and the contemporary authorities who dealt with the issue, differ in their opinions.

There is another consideration that you are mentioning, which is a bit more technical, and adds another element to the equation, and that is the issue of the International Dateline. This is the imaginary line that divides the planet in two hemispheres and determines the beginning and end of the day. So, are we allowed to cross this line into Shabbat if we are not in the land? If you want to know all the details involved in this fascinating discussion, I recommend you to read a very good summary in the book "Practical laws of Shabbat, Volume 1" (which we have in our Kanissah library!) pages 68 to 80.

Now, to answer your practical question, there are 3 opinions on the matter:

1. The first one strictly forbids traveling on such a flight because you are crossing the International dateline on Shabbat.
2. The second opinion holds that only for very special circumstances (i.e. Mitzvah, emergency or great financial loss) such travel will be permitted.
3. The third opinion allows such travel (according to such authorities as the Chazon Ish and Rav Pesach Frank) based on the fact that in their opinion the Torah does not establish a Halakhic dateline, and therefore the defining criteria is whether you board the plane before Shabbat and the plane landed before Shabbat.

In our Community, based on the ruling of Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Hayim Shelit'a we follow this third opinion.

Having said so, it is important to remember that in principle one should avoid taking flights on Friday because of the possibility of unexpected delays.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rice on Pesach

Why do Ashkenazi Jews consider rice as Chametz?

A: Rice is not Chametz. There are only 5 grains who could become Chametz: wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt. The Ashkenazi tradition does not consider rice as Chametz. The reason for their abstention of rice has to do with the fact that it was very common to find grains of wheat in the bags of rice, since rice fields were often nearby or within the same fields where wheat was grown. To have wheat mixed with rice was a common problem in regions where they used to have whole wheat and whole rice, because in that state the grains look very similar. Even today, there are some places in the U.S.A., like Arkansas, where they rotate the wheat and rice crops yearly and it would not be unusual then to find grains of wheat in the rice. It's important to note that this custom was not exclusively Ashkenazi. Moroccan Jews also refrain from eating rice during Pesach, due to the same reasons. As we have mentioned, in order to avoid the possibility of finding wheat in the rice, the Sephardic custom is to check the rice very carefully, three times, before using it for Pesach. Other rice related issues: Refrain from buying enriched rice, because it could contain wheat starch. Brown rice could be used, provided it has no additives.

Do Jews believe in evil eye?

We read in our morning prayers, "Ha-Shem please save us from an evil friend, evil neighbor, evil tongue, evil inclination, and evil eye." Can someone really cast an "evil eye" on a fellow Jew? Why would a Merciful God allow a second party to look at what blessings an individual has received from Ha-Shem and give them the power to inflict harm or injury through an "evil eye," whatever that is?

A: To begin with, I believe that the most important thing you should know about Ayin haRa is that when, God forbid, something bad beyond our control happens to us, we should not blame it on a spiritual bad influence or search for magical antidotes. Our Rabbis in the Talmud taught us that at times of trouble we should "reflect on our own behavior" (IEFASHFESH BEMAASAV!) as the best way to learn a powerful lesson and grow from our bad experiences. That is how our Hakhamim taught us to make lemonade from a sour lemon. But, if instead of growing spiritually by facing and accepting the facts, we blame the rest of the world and attempt to identify and neutralize their "evil eyes" or other abstract powers, we are doing a disservice to our own potential spiritual growth!
As for your specific question, in Hebrew there is no such thing as an "Evil Eye." In Hebrew "eye" is feminine. If in Hebrew you wanted to talk about the concept of "Evil Eye," it would have been called "Ayin Raa" (In fact, the words Ayin Raa appear in matters of Terumah, etc., denoting "stinginess"). Ayin haRa means "the eye of the evil person," which aims to bring attention to all kinds of eventual harm that could be caused by the one who is jealous of you. "The evil person's eye" is definitely associated with envy and jealousy, and perhaps also stinginess. Why would the Almighty allow the evil person to harm us in different ways? Well, God did gave us the power to do good or evil, as part of the existential game known as "Free will."
If we want to be immune to "the evil person's eye," here are a some basic principles to follow:
* Avoid being ostentatious.
* Do not show off what you have.
* Always behave rather with modesty and austerity, for your own good, and also to avoid unnecessary envy from those who have less than us.
If you keep these simple principles, you'll be on the safest side.

Q & A: Death penalty and self incrimination

DEATH PENALTY: Is there a concept of self-incrimination for a capital crime in Biblical Law?

A: First of all, let me clarify to you that Biblical Law was applicable by the Bet haDin (a Jewish court) in a case involved capital punishment, a court of no less than 23 members, and it was applied only in the times when we had our Bet haMikdash and Bet Din haGadol, 2000 years ago. The Torah explicitly orders the application of death penalty for capital crimes such as intentional murder. Nevertheless, the legal requirements to actually execute the alleged criminal were highly complicated: For example, no circumstantial evidences were allowed. The only acceptable legal evidence was a direct testimony of two or more Kosher (which in itself was also part of arduous considerations) witnesses. And even when there were two Kosher witnesses, their testimony was explored and checked once and again and even if there was a minimal contradiction or incompatibility between the two witnesses, their testimony was disregarded.
As to your question, a confession was not accepted in a Jewish court. The rejection of self incrimination - in Hebrew: EN ADAM MESIM ET ATSMO RASHA - served also to eliminate the use of torture, which is very common in other cultures until today. The actual application of death penalty was exceptional. In a very famous passage, the Talmud expressed the improbability of execution, asserting that if a Bet Din put to death one prisoner during 70 years it was called a "murderer Bet Din." The strategy of the Bet Din was to dictate the death sentence in case the suspect was found guilty but virtually applying a kind of a life imprisonment by delaying indefinitely the actual application of the sentence.

Selling Chametz (Mekhirat Chametz)

Q: SELLING CHAMETZ: Pesach Question 3: What is the logic behind the custom of selling the Chametz before Pesach?

A: All the Chametz that one does not want to get rid of, because of its high value, like whiskey etc, is sold to a non-Jew by the Community rabbinate. In this selling, the Chametz comes to belong to the buyer at noon on Pesach eve, by means of a down payment made by the non-Jew. After the down payment is paid the buyer is responsible and legally accountable for the Chametz. The buyer then has until the last day of Pesach to pay for the remaining amount. Whereas the buyer fails to provide for the entire amount at its due time, the ownership of the Chametz is restored to its original owner immediately when Pesach is over. It should be noticed that usually the value of the Chametz sold to the non Jew is deliberately overestimated, a fact that does not affect the legality of the transaction, but prevents the non Jewish buyer from eventually closing the deal. This is, to all matters, a legally binding transaction. Therefore, technically speaking, even if the Chametz physically remained in the home of a Jew during Pesach (obviously, stored in a locked place), it did not belong to him. This kind of selling is NOT symbolic and has all the legal ramifications of any legitimate contract; therefore it has to be taken seriously.
The Shulchan Arukh, which is usually followed by the Sephardim, also talks about selling Chametz but only in a special case (if somebody owns a grocery store or so) and in a more substantial way: it requires that the sold Chametz will be physically transferred to the house or a deposit of the non Jewish buyer. This is why in some Sephardic communities people do not have the tradition to sell their Chametz they just get rid of it (this is also what I personally do and suggest to you!). For more information about what is consider Chametz and what is not, please, see the Guide for Passover published by our community.

Seeing Chametz in Pesach

Q: Is there any prohibition of actually "seeing" Chametz during Pesach?

A: Two Pesukim in the Torah deal with Chametz prohibitions, which are not related to eating Chametz: 1. Lo Ierae... (Chametz shall not be seen) and 2. Lo Imatze... (There shall not be Chametz in your properties). The Talmud, our oral Law, explains that these two Pesukim are not to be taken literally and that they convey one single and identical prohibition: to ban the "possession" of Chametz during Pesach (the fact that there are two prohibitions for the same action is an exceptional and a unique case!). Thus, public opinion notwithstanding, there is absolutely no prohibition of "seeing" Chametz during Pesach. If we hide our Chametz in a closed closet or in our garage, but it still belongs to us, we are transgressing this strict double-prohibition of the Torah. The only way to comply with these two Mitzvot is by completely getting rid of the Chametz and by renouncing to the possession of any Chametz we still might unknowingly posses. It should be noted that any Chametz that has been in our possession during Pesach, regardless of the specific location in which it was hidden, is prohibited after Pesach for our consumption or even for deriving any other benefit from it.

Preventive Lashon haRa

4th day of Kislev, 5771

Lashon haRa occurs when someone tells something negative about somebody else, even if the information is true.

We have explained that Lashon haRa is one of the most serious prohibitions and its effects could be devastating. However, there are some circumstances in which telling Lashon haRa is permitted, and even, mandatory.

The principle is that you could say Lashon haRa about A in order to save B from harm.

In the realm of business, for example, if B asks you about A's integrity, since B is about to engage in business with A, and you know beyond doubt, either by personal experience or by direct knowledge (not rumors!) that A conducts his business inappropriately, then you should tell B the truth about A, in order to protect B. Some rabbis would say that even if B does not ask you for a reference about A, if you found out B is about to engage in business with A, you must warn B.

When you tell B the negative information about A, you must make sure that.

1. You don't exaggerate the facts or overstate A's misconduct.

2. You really have a pure intention in mind: to prevent B from harm, and that you are not saying this out of feelings of revenge or resentment towards A.

The reader should consider this license with utmost seriousness, keeping in mind that our Sages compare Lashon haRa with matters of 'life and death', in the sense that Lashon haRa is often the cause of 'character killing'.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Don't eat, unless you're hungry!

Last week we talked about smoking cigarettes and we explained the Halakhic principle of avoiding anything harmful to our health (see link). Technically speaking, these are not ritual-related laws (Kashrut) but they are still part of Jewish Law, specifically under the category of vensihmartem m-eod lenafshotekhem (debarim 4,15) You should 'strictly' (me-od) watch your life' (=your health).

Maimonides (1135-1206), who besides being a rabbi was also a famous physician, wrote a chapter on Health Guidelines in his Mishne Torah (hilkhot de'ot, chapter 4). He clarifies explicitly (H. 21) that the principles exposed in that chapter are pertinent for a healthy individual, not for a sick person, who obviously requires a customize diet and medical treatment.

In other words, Maimonides anticipated the modern concept of 'preventive medicine' by eight centuries. In this interesting chapter Maimonides deals with: diet, exercises, sleeping habits, sexual life , hygiene, and other practices common in his time.

A few selected illustrations of his advices on diet:

"...Maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God... one must avoid that which harms the body and accustom himself to that which is healthful and helpsthe body becomes stronger".

".. a person should not eat until his stomach is full. He should stop eating approximately at three quarters of full satisfaction"

"...overeating (akhila gasa) is like poison to anyone's body and it is the main cause of all illness".

"Don't eat unless you're hungry".

Click here   to read what contemporary Rabbis say about Smoking

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The 6th berakha of the Amida

2 of Kislev, 5771

selach lanu abinu, ki chatanu, mechol lanu malkenu, ki pasha'nu,

In the 6th berakha of the Amida we ask HaShem Almighty for selicha/forgiveness.

We refer to God with two key words: abinu and malkenu

abinu means: 'our father' and it points out to the love God has for us, as our progenitor. God loves us as we love our children. We appeal to HaShem first as our loving father. Confident that no matter how bad we might have behaved, we know He will always take us back. Similar to a loving parent, all He requires to grant His forgiveness is that we admit our responsibility.

But God is also malkenu, our King. King is the ultimate authority. In ancient monarchies, Israel included, the King was also the supreme Judge and among other things, He had the power to sentence one to death. It is in this specific sense that we repeatedly refer to God as melekh during Yamim Noraim, when we realize that our lives are nowpending on God's imminent verdict.

These two words abinu/malkneu often stand at opposites sides. abinu refers to God as the One who granted us the gift of life and malkenu, as the One who can take life away from us.

The tension between these two words is solved at the end of this berakha: chanun hamarbe lisloach: HaShem is merciful, who forgives 'abundantly'. At the end of the day -we assert, and simultaneously wish for- God behaves to us as a loving Father, who keeps forgiving our mistakes once and again.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Monday, November 8, 2010


1st of Kislev, 5771 - Second day of Rosh Chodesh

Rosh Chodesh -the beginning of the Hebrew month- is a semi festive day. In the times of the Bet haMikdash there was a special Korban (sacrifice) offered in Rosh Chodesh with sounds of Shofar and trumpets.

During Rosh Chodesh we are indicated to behave and be in a happier mood (raui lismoach bahem). We are not forbidden to work on Rosh Chodesh, as in formal Yamim Tobim, however, it is meritorious -although not mandatory - to celebrate Rosh Chodesh with a special meal(Shulchan Arukh, OH. 419, 1). This is done by having some foods on Rosh Chodesh which are considered luxuries foods, particularly meat and wine. That is the reason, by the way, Sephardic communities avoid eating meat during the month of Ab, only from the second day of Ab, once Rosh Chodesh is over.

It is forbidden to fast on Rosh Chodesh. It is also customary to avoid visiting the cemetery on Rosh Chodesh. Most cemeteries are closed for visits on Rosh Chodesh.

When the anniversary of a loved one (sal, yehrtziat) falls on Rosh Chodesh it is customary to fast or visit the cemetery before or afterRosh Chodesh.

For this same reason -some exceptional cases apart- eulogies should not be delivered on Rosh Chodesh. Depending on the circumstances, rabbis will rather deliver a Debar Torah -general words of Tora wisdom- in honor of the deceased, minimizing personal emotional remarks, which might cause an additional sadness to the audience.

Chodesh Tob!!!