Friday, May 20, 2011

Sephardic traditions of Lag Ba'omer and rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

Today is the 16th day of Iyar, 5771/ 31 days of Omer (4 weeks, 3 days)

Lag Ba'Omer (for Sephardic Jews is more accurate to say: "Lag la'Omer") is the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. The restrictions of mourning are lifted on this day and weddings, parties, etc. are permitted from this day on.

This year it will fall this coming Saturday night/ Sunday.

There are different opinions among Sephardic Jews regarding the suspension of restrictions of Omer before this specific Shabbat. Rab Obadia Yosef indicates to get a haircut Monday, the 34 of Omer. In the Mashadi community, rabbi Ben Hayim authorized to shave and get a haircut today, likhbod Shabbat Kodesh.

During the time of Rabbi Akiba (approx. 150 of the Common Era) 24,000 of his students died from a plague during these days of the Omer. Five of rabbi Akiva students survived, among them Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who became one of greatest teachers of Torah, and who is mostly known for authored the Sefer haZohar, "The book of splendor" the main book of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism).

According to tradition, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away on the 33rd day of the Omer. Lag laOmer is known among Sepharadic Jews as a 'festive day', the Hillulah (wedding) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. What does this mean?

Very briefly: During his lifetime -which included 12 years of isolation- Rabbi Shimon achieved the highest level of human attachment to God. The rabbis of the Kabbala called this level metaphorically "engagement" (Irusin). When a man is passionately and exclusively dedicated and engaged to God's service. If during his lifetime --the Rabbis of the Kabbalah explain-- one has achieved this superior level, then his departed soul will be "married" (I insist: metaphorically), in other words, intimately connected to, the Ziv haShekhina (the Almighty's Splendorous Presence) in the afterlife (Olam haBa).

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC: 7:52

Shabbat ends in NYC 9:01

Obama speech: comparing Hamas attacks with IDF defense, by Aaron Klein

"President Obama mistake", by Alan Dershowitz

EXCLUSIVE, by INN: What Will Prime Minister Netanyahu Say to the US Congress? (The real proposed speech!)

Israel's first reaction to Obama Speech

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

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mourning the 24,000 students of rabbi Akiba.

Today is the 15th day of Iyar, 5771/ 30 days of Omer (4 weeks, 2 days)

Lag ba-Omer is the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. Throughout history, following the tragedies that befell the Jewish people during this period (the Crusades), and particularly the death of 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiba from a plague (in the 2nd century CE), these days have become days of semi-mourning, during which certain prohibitions apply, such as the prohibitions against cutting one's hair or holding weddings.

To get a better idea of the impact this tragedy had on the Jewish People for posterity, consider the following facts: Virtually, all of the Torah that we possess and study today, all the interpretations, perspectives, dimensions and legal applications in the Talmud, were coined and formulated mainly by FIVE students of Rabbi Akiba, whom he taught after the loss of his first group of 24,000 disciples. Each Torah personality who immerses himself in Torah adds his own understanding and flavor to the Torah, thus enriching the Torah which will be passed on to the next generation.

Imagine how richer and deeper our understanding of the Divine Torah would have been had we received the full breath of Rabbi Akiba's Torah, as assimilated and interpreted by 24,000 disciples, along with their unique individual perspectives and interpretations. The demise of the first group of students essentially resulted in our receiving only a fraction of Rabbi Akiba's Torah. Instead of its full amplification by 24,000 great human beings, we have only the interpretations of five.

Besides the lives that were cut short, we mourn the lost dimensions of Torah, that were lost by their death.

Adapted from "Understanding Lag B'Omer" by Yair Danielson, from Aish.


Rewriting Middle East History, by Eli E. Hertz

How do they celebrate Lag Ba'Omer in Israel?

See the following information Provided by Israel's Ministry of Tourism

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pesach Sheni: the Second Pesach

Today is the 14th day of Iyar, 5771/ 29 days of Omer (4 weeks, 1 day)

Thirty days after Pesach we commemorate Pesach Sheni or The Second Pesach. Pesach Sheni is not a formal holiday. No resting from melakha (work, etc) or Kiddush , etc is commanded today.

Pesach Sheni is mentioned in the Torah in Bamidbar 9:1-14 when Moshe announced that the Korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice, a lamb) may only be offered by people who are ritually pure. Some men came to Moses, complaining that there were people, who came into contact with a dead body and became ritually unclean, unfit to participate in the Korban Pesach. God then indicated Moshe that anyone who was unable to offer the Korban Pesach on its due time, the 14th of Nisan, due to defilement or inability to journey to the place of sacrifice in time, should perform the sacrifice on the 14th of Iyar, a full month later.

In modern times, there is no practical observance of Pesach Sheni because, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem we are unable to perform the original Pesach sacrifice anyway.

In our community, and in most communities, we remember Pesach Sheni by:

1. Eating Matza, which symbolizes the Korban Pesach, some time during the day. The Sephardic custom is saying mezonot not hamotzi for Matza. There is no minimum requirement of Matza to eat and we can also eat regularly Chametz.

2. Saying yehi shem instead of the regular viduy (or confession, a prayer which is suspended on joyous occasions) from Mincha of the previous day.

Abbas, rewriting History in the New York Times

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The 17th berakha "Retze"

Today is the 13th day of Iyar, 5771/ 28 days of Omer (4 weeks)

May You, HaShem our God, accept Your people Israel,
and attend to their prayers; and return the Holy service
to the sanctuary of Your house...

and with Your great mercy, love us and accept us...
and may our eyes see Your return to Zion with mercy....

In this blessing, we ask God Almighty to find our prayers acceptable, and to find favor in His eyes. In a sense, we pray to be worthy of the privilege to serve Him.

This blessing inaugurates the third section of the Amida, hoda-a, 'gratitude': this blessing hints our gratitude to God for having chosen us to serve Him, for the privilege he granted us to address Him.

God chose our ancestors out of pure love (see Debarim 7,7). Now, we ask God to consider us too, worthy of that privilege. To love us as He loved our fathers. To accept our prayers as He accepted the prayers of our ancestors. Even though we might not be meritorious as our fathers. That is the meaning of the statement: "and You, with Your great mercy, love us and accept us...". In other words, love us, despite our lack of merits (that is why we need Your mercy) and accept us: do not abandon us!.

Our biggest desire and aspiration, we say, is to be fully worthy of Your choice. This aspiration will be fulfilled to its full extent only when Your Presence will return back to Zion --by rebuilding our sanctuary-- and embrace us again as the People You have chosen, to serve You.


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

Monday, May 16, 2011

BERIT MILA: Circumcision on the Eighth Day

Today is the 12th day of Iyar, 5771/ 27 days of Omer (3 weeks, 6 days)

Berit Milah, means the "covenant of circumcision,". It is the first Mitzva commanded to our patriarch Abraham (Bereshit 17:14) and the most important sign of Jewish identity of a Jewish male.

The Berit Mila is performed on a baby boy, usually eight days after he is born. It involves the removal of the foreskin by a Mohel, a 'circumcision surgeon', specially trained to safely perform the procedure.
The Berit Mila is called popularly by one word. In Yiddish they call it: "Bris" and in most Sephardic communities: "Mila".

If the eighth day falls on a Shabbat, the Berit Mila is still performed. According to our tradition the performance of Berit Mila in its due time, overrides Shabbat. Still, except for what is needed for the actual performance of the circumcision, the rest of the Laws of Shabbat are not suspended.
Sometimes circumcision must be delayed and in extreme cases (hemophilia), suspended. If a doctor or an experienced Mohel considers that the baby is still not physically ready for the circumcision, the Berit Mila needs to be postponed until the baby is physically fit for it.


The typical case of delayed circumcision is when the baby is premature and or less than 6 pounds (this criteria varies slightly according to different schools). Other common reason to delay the circumcision is jaundice, (yellowish skin) a temporary disease, that might affect as many as 60% of all newborn babies.
A doctor should be always consulted as to when the circumcision might be done.

READ Circumcision and the Eight day,By Daniel Eisenberg, MD