Friday, December 16, 2011

CHANUKA: The basics of lighting the candles

1. The Chanuka candles are kindled in the evening preceding each of the eight days of Chanuka. The custom of many communities is to light the Chanukia shortly after sunset, which is approximately 4.30 PM, in NYC. Other communities light it at nightfall (approximately 5.00 PM). In either case, the candles must contain enough fuel at the time of the lighting to burn for 30 minutes after nightfall. If one did not light the candles early in the evening, they can be kindled later, when the family is home.

2. The candles could be made of wax, paraffin, etc., but ideally one should use olive oil, because the miracle of Chanuka happened with olive oil. In addition, oil candles will last for more time than small wax candles. The Mitzva of Chanuka candles cannot be performed with 'electrical candles', even when real candles are not available. An electrical Chanukia, however, can be placed in the house in addition to the regular Chanukia, especially during day time.

3. Some families have the tradition to place the Chanukia outside the door, on the opposite side of the Mezuza, which technically, is the best place for it. Nowadays, however, most families place the Chanuka candles inside the house, close to a window, in a spot that is visible from outside.

4.  Technically, it is enough to light one single candle every night. As we say in the Berakha: lehadlik NER Chanukah (to light thecandle, not the candles, of Chanuka). As we all know, today our custom is to add one more candle for each night. However, in extreme cases where one cannot light additional candles, for example, if one is on a trip or in a Hotel room, etc., lighting one candle any night will be enough.

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC: 4:10

Shabbat Ends: 5:18

Thursday, December 15, 2011

CHANUKA: Celebrating Jewish victories

In the days of the second bet haMiqdash (Holy Temple in Jerusalem),  there were many holidays, besides Chanuka, that celebrated the military victories of the Macabeem (or Chashmonayim) over the powerful Greek army. Some of them were: the 13th of Adar, when the Jews celebrated "Yom Niqanor", because in that day the Macabeem defeated the large army of the Greek general Niqanor. The 14th of Nisan, when they recovered the city of Ceasarea. The 22nd of Elul, when the Chashmonayim brought to justice those who betrayed them joining the enemy's army (meshumadim). The 22nd of Shebat, the day that Antiochus himself came with his powerful army and surrounded Yerushalaim with the intention of destroying it and killing all the Jews. That day, news came to Antiochus about the Parthian rebellion against him in the capital city of his Empire. Antiochus was forced to abandon his plans against the Jews. He took his army back to Greece where he was defeated and killed.    All these minor holidays were mentioned in the famous Meguilat Ta'anit.     

After the destruction of the second Bet haMiqdash, in the year 68 ACE (some say: 70 ACE) the Rabbis thought that there was no reason to celebrate previous victories, while we are enslaved, defeated and in exile. They suspended all the practical matters brought on Meguilat Ta'anit (batela meguilat ta'anit) and indicated that the only Holiday that should still be celebrated was Chanuka, because of the miracle of the oil.  Accordingly, Chanuka's celebration does not emphasize the military aspect but mainly the miracle of the oil. That is why we celebrate Chanuka by lighting the candles. Still, during Chanuka's prayers ('al hanisim) we mention the victories of the Macabeem and we recite the Halel, thanking HaShem for delivering our ancestors from their more powerful enemies.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What does Chanuka mean?

The word Chanuka means 'dedication' and it is widely used in this sense in phrases like 'Chanukat haBayit', dedication of one's home.

So, what 'dedication' are we referring to in our holiday "Chanuka"?
During the Second century BCE the Jews in Israel lived under the rule of the Syrian-Greek army of Antiokhus Epiphanies. They were not permitted to practice their religion and at one point, the Bet haMikdash (The Holy Temple of Jerusalem) was captured and defiled by the Greeks.
They introduced an image of their pagan god, Zeus, and dedicated our Holy Temple to him, offering sacrifices of impure animals like pigs. In the years 165 BCE the Jews lead by Yehuda Maccabi rebelled against the powerful armies of Antiokhus and miraculously defeated them. When they regain possession of the Bet haMikdash, they purified the Holy Temple and in order to re-dedicate it to God Almighty they needed to light the Menorah, which indicates that the Bet haMikdash was fully operating to God's service. They found one small jar, with an amount of oil which normally would last only for one night.

They lit the Menorah and joyfully dedicated the Bet haMikdash back to God. They thought that they will need to interrupt the rededication of the Temple until new oil could be produced, but miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, the exact time needed to make new pure olive oil.

In Chanuka then, we celebrate the 'dedication of the Bet haMikdash' to God Almighty, after years of being defiled.

Chanuka is observed by the kindling of candles during the nights of the holiday, in remembrance of the miracle of the oil.

Chanuka is celebrated on the 25th of the month of Kislev. 

This year, 2011, Chanuka begins Tuesday Dec 20th, at night.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

CHUPA: Dating and Lashon haRa

Lashon haRa, i.e, telling something negative about somebody else, is one of the most serious prohibitions in our Tora and its effects could be devastating. Yet, there are a few instances in which we are allowed or even required to speak up to and reveal certain negative information to prevent someone else's damage, for example, in the world of business (see here ). 

In the area of Shiddukhim (=dating) Lashon haRa might cause tremendous and long-lasting damage in the emotional and psychological life of the victims. I know many engagements which were tragically broken, because of Lashon haRa; people --friends, relatives--made negative comments about the bride or the groom, innocently or sometimes deliberately, out of jealousy or resentment. 

Still, there might be some 'negative'  information about the bride and the groom that we know, and we believe it should be known to the other party. Should we disclose that information? 

I will summarize the matter of Lashon haRa and Shiddukhim, with the following two basic rules:

1. If you have first-hand information of a 'serious/objective' matter that affects the bride or groom, you can (or sometimes 'you should') reveal this information to the potential partner. For example, a major issue in the past, like a previous marriage; a life threatening disease, a serious mental problem, etc.  However, in other 'subjective' areas--where you apply your judgment more than your knowledge of certain facts, like 'compatibility', character, rumors, etc. you should not interfere. Different personalities might complement each other and make for beautiful marriages.

2. FOR ALL CASES, and before you say one word, PLEASE, always seek the advice of an experienced Rabbi or an expert counselor, to help you assessing if the information you have, it is indeed a 'serious/objective' matter which deserves to be disclosed, or if it pertains to your own subjective judgment, and therefore you need to let the bride, the groom and their families, to decide by themselvesif and when they want to reveal it.  A good advisor will also help you decide when and how to reveal the information, as well as verify if this information has been already disclosed, and you did not know about it. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bioethics: Abortion and Jewish Law (1 of 4).

The case of abortion primarily discussed by the Talmud refers to what we call today "therapeutic abortion", i.e., when the life of the pregnant mother is in danger, and the doctors estimate that the only way to save her life is by taking out/killing the unborn baby.  Independently of how Jewish Law considers the status of an unborn baby--we will analyze that later on--in this case, the early Talmudic sources (Mishna Aholot, 7:6, written ca.200 CE) already established unequivocally that if necessary, the unborn baby should be sacrificed in order to save the mother's life.  The Mishna understand that this is a case of rodef ("chaser", a potential killer) and therefore the principle of "self defense" is applied: If  A is attacked by B, if necessary, A can kill B to save his life (habba lehorgekha, hashkem lehorgo, Sanhedrin 72a). The baby, ironically, is viewed as an "involuntary" rodef

The Talmud analyzes the Mishna's statement and asks what happens when the baby is actually at the very process of birth. Should we still apply the same criteria of self defense and allow to sacrifice the life of the baby to save the life of the mother? After all, in this extremely difficult situation, the mother is also a rodef toward the unborn baby! The answer of the rabbis, in very simple terms, is that before the baby is born, the life of the mother has priority, because the life of the baby is still a 'potential life'. But once the baby is born, i.e. when at least the head and /or the majority of the body is already outside, his life could not be sacrificed, and both mother and baby are in an equal situation. The doctors should try their best to save both lives.

(Adapted from penine halakha, Rabbi E. Melamed, liqutim B, page 241-242).