Friday, May 11, 2012

SHABBAT: From fire to electricity (Part 2)

Last week we explained that there are 39 categories of melakhotor creative activities, which we are not allowed to perform on Shabbat. One of them is called: hab'ara, which mean to light a fire.  We also explained that lighting fire was singled out in the Tora, unlike the other 38 melakhot, and we offered one explanation for this (see here)

Before we analyze the similarities and differences between fire and electricity, and in order to better understand them, I must explain first how the exceptional nature of fire vis-a-vis the rest of the melkahot was viewed and interpreted. 

In the time of the haskala (European illuminism, 19th century) many reformers argued that the reason the Tora did not authorize to light a fire was because in Mosaic times lighting a fire constituted an exhausting work: fire was started with stones, and it was a lengthy and exhausting process. That is why it was forbidden. And this is why, the first reformers reasoned, it should be permitted today, when we can obtain fire with a simple match. 

Jewish tradition, however, never identified melakhot with prohibitions associated necessarily with physical effort. On the contrary: if you live in the 12th floor of an apartment building, you should walk up the stairs. It is the creative nature of the act what might define it as a melakha, not the physical effort that it demands.   

This idea, applied to our case, could be illustrated by rabbi Sa'adia Gaon's (882-942) explanation of the pasuq "Do not light a fire in your houses on the day of Shabbat" (Shemot 35:3). He translated this pasuq: "Do not even light a fire on Shabbat... "even" because, hab'ara--which in Biblical Hebrew means "lighting a fire from a previous fire" not from stones--is the easiest conceivable melakha, i.e., the epitome of an effortless and a minimal creative activity. The Tora singled out hab'ara to convey that even an effortless but minimally creative act is still forbidden on Shabbat.
(to be continued...


Candle lighting in NYC:   7:44
Shabbat ends in NYC:       8:53
Click HERE to WATCH and ENJOY  
Israel in timelapse
A unique tour of Israeli landscapes.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

LAG BAOMER: Lag la'Omer and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai

According to Sephardic tradition, the 33rd day of the Omer is known as the day of the Hillula of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.  Hillula means "wedding" which is used here as a euphemism for his departure from this world.  

In most communities, and very specially in Moroccan congregations, they light candles to his memory and to the memory of other human-luminaries, like Rabbi Meir ba'al hanes, etc. 

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai lived and acted mainly during the Second Century of the common era.  The collection of Midrashe Halakha Sifre and Mekhilta are attributed mainly to him. He is the fourth-most mentioned Rabbi in the Mishnah.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son rabbi El'azar are held in unique reverence by Kabbalistic tradition, as the author of the Sefer haZohar haKadosh (the Book of splendor).

The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat 33 tells the extraordinary story of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.  He was condemned to death by the Romans because he dared to criticize the Roman government's activities. He escaped to a cave with his son Rabbi El'azar.  They stayed there for 12 years. They survived with a spring of water and a carob tree. During those years of isolation they studied Tora and reached an unparalleled level of understanding of Tora and closeness to God. 

When the Roman Emperor died and the decree was canceled, they came out of the cave. Soon they perceived that average Jews were not involved in Tora and spiritual matters as they should, instead they were wasting their precious lives in worldly things like work. A celestial voice ordered them back to the cave for 12 months, as a sort of a deprogramming period. 

One Friday evening they saw an old man running with two brunches of hadasim (myrtle) in honor of Shabbat. They asked him why two hadasim and not just one? And he said : One for Zakhor, one for Shamor. At that time, Rabbi Shimon told his son: "You see, my son, Jews dearly love Tora and Mitzvot". If they don't spend more time studying, it is not because they don't care. It is just that they must take care of their worldly needs and material obligations. 

This thought comforted them and allowed them to see the material world with tolerance and understanding.

Click HERE to read "The Dramatic Rescue of Sabena Flight 571"on May 8, 1972. 
by  Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Isaac Shemuel Reggio (1784-1855)

Rabbi Reggio studied Tora under his father, and secular studies in the local gymnasium. At the age of fourteen the prodigious student had such mastery of the Hebrew language that he wrote a metrical poem on the death of Rabbi Moshe Chefetz z"l (the author of "Melekhet Machashebet").

Rabbi Reggio also learned French, German, Latin, Semitic Languages and excelled in Mathematics.  Rabbi Reggio was appointed by the emperor as professor of belles-lettres, geography, and history, and chancellor of the lycée of Gorizia. 

Because of the influence of the European illuminism (haskala) an imperial decree was issued in 1822 that no community might appoint a Rabbi who had not graduated in philosophy. As a reaction, Rabbi Reggio published at Venice an appeal in Italian for the establishment of a Rabbinical Seminary, arguing that just as the Emperor did not desire Rabbis devoid of philosophical training, neither did the Jews desire Rabbis who had had no appropriate rabbinical education. 

This appeal resulted in the establishment of the famous Rabbinical College in Padua, for which Rabbi Reggio, its founder, drew up the statutes and the educational program.
Among other books he published:
  • Ma'amar Tora min ha-Shamayim (Vienna, 1818). Advocating the divine origin of the Tora.
  • Sefer Torat Elokim (ib. 1821), originally a translation of the Pentateuch in Italian with commentaries in Hebrew. There is a new Hebrew edition of this important book done by R. Yosef Shelomo Harary in Yerushalayim, 2004.    
  • HaTora vehaPilosophia. Rabbi Reggio applies the term "philosophy" to all studies outside the Talmud and Rabbinics. In this important book Rabbi Reggio not only endeavors to reconcile the Jewish religion with modern science, but attempts to prove that they are indispensable to each other.
The portrait of Rabbi Isaac Shemuel Reggio 

Click here to download and read "Torat Elokim" (original edition, from

Click here to download and read "HaTora vehaPilosophia" (original edition, from 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

RELIGIOUS INTEGRITY: Three Kosher Lies (Part 1 of 2)

Previously, we explained the value the Tora gives to saying the truth  (see  here). We also discussed  one exception:  shalom, peace which is above the truth  (see here ).
We will see now three other cases in which the Rabbis admitted that the truth could be modified (leshanot min ha-emet) when it clashes with other important values.
1. Masekhta (Talmudic tractate). According to Rashi this means that if a person, for example,  knows perfectly one Tractate of the Talmud and someone asks him how well he knows this Talmudic tractate, he can conceal the truth and say that he does not know it very well.  Jews value immensely the habit of behaving with humbleness and since in this case by modifying the truth there is no damage involved, he is permitted to do so. Other Rabbis (Magen Abraham) add that in the same way one can conceal his vast knowledge to behave with humbleness, one can also behave with humbleness in other religious or spiritual areas. For example: if someone is doing an act of Chesed or an extra stringency he can (should!) conceal it from others.  On this note I remember that Rabbi Ytzchaq Shehebar, z"l from the Syrian community in Buenos Aires, use to wear his Tefilin of Rabbenu Tam at home, due to his great humbleness. 
2. Puraya (Sexual intimacy): In issues of intimacy, it is also permitted not to disclose all the truth or even modify the truth. (This is the reason why it is permitted to hide the news of pregnancy during the first months). If someone inappropriately asks a private question (For example: is your wife going to the Mikve tonight? etc.) one could withhold the truth for reasons of Tzeni'ut (=discretion).  Tzeni'ut is not just revealed by the way we dress. Discretion is also manifested by our speech: knowing what words we use, what subjects we discuss and with whom we discuss these subjects. 
(to be continued...)


from TED

Monday, May 7, 2012

CHUPA: The betrothal and the wedding (Part 2)

In Talmudic and pre-Talmudic times, the first step of the wedding or Kiddushin (or Irusin, see here) was celebrated one year before the actual wedding ceremony or Chupa (or Nisuim). 

During that year the couple was formally engaged but not married, i.e., they could not live together. Still, the woman was considered me-orasa or formally betrothed. Thus, if the couple decided to brake the Kiddushin, the process of a ritual divorce was required.  

The year between the Kiddushin and the Chupa was consecrated to prepare the new house, the wedding dresses, the food and everything needed for the Chupa and the seven-days party or Sheba Berakhot.  That year also served to strengthen and build up the relationship between the bride and groom in the spiritual and emotional realms, in anticipation for their life as husband and wife.   
This waiting period between the Kiddushin and the Chupa is not in practice anymore. Why? There were many practical issues which made this tradition virtually unmanageable. For example, because of the many persecutions Jews suffered in exile, many times the groom and his family had to run away to save their lives, and the bride, who was now in a state of betrothed-but-not-married, was not able to remarry again because she needed now a Get (a formal divorce). For this and other practical reasons we do now the Kiddushin simultaneously with the Chupa.   The Jewish wedding ceremony consists today of the giving of the ring, the Ketuba and the Chupa, the Sheba Berakhot, etc. These two steps (Kiddushin and Chupa) are already integrated and most people don't realize that they are formally two different ceremonies.  
New customs were also developed or adopted in Jewish communities to replace the formal and public announcement of the bride and groom's relationship and the setting of the date of the wedding. That is what we call today: an engagement ceremony (Shir lama'alot, namzadi, arusi, etc.). 

(to be continued...)

by Charlie Harary,