Thursday, October 18, 2012

The 13 Principles of Judaism: # 10. God knows everything.

The Tenth principle asserts that God is omniscient, i.e., He knows everything. 

His knowledge, obviously, is completely unlike our knowledge. We acquire knowledge while "His knowledge is not something that can be separated from His esence...He and His knowledge and existence are One... This concept is beyond the power of speech to express, and beyond the power of the ear to hear. There is no way the human mind can comprehend it" (Maimonides  MT, Yesode haTora 2:10).  

What we do understand about God's knowledge, and which concerns us the most, is that God knows us intimately. The Creator knows all the thoughts and actions of man, as it is said, "He Who created all their hearts, knows all their deeds." (Psalm 33:15.)

In the words of Rabbi Hayim Pereira-Mendes : "Whatever we do or say or think, God knows.   It is useless for us to try and deceive God by false excuses. God knows our thoughts. God knows what conduct should be expected of us by reason of our intelligence or education or environment. The greater our intelligence, the better our education, the more enlightened our environment, the higher are the ideals of conduct expected from us by God and by man. God has given us the power of discerning between right and wrong. He knows that we possess that power. Therefore we must use it rightly and wisely."

Beyond its philosophical value this principle signals primarily our ethical responsibility: we must live a life with the consciousness that God knows our thoughts, actions and intentions. We might easily deceive other human beings.  Hide our negative intentions or plans behind words or rhetoric.   But when it comes to God,  there are no lies, excuses or pretensions.  The more we become alert of God's omniscience, the easiest to live a life of righteousness. And vice-versa. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Rabbi Moshe Chefetz (or Hefes) 1663-1711

Rabbi Moshe ben Gershom (1663-1711) known as Rabbi Moshe Chefetz (of Hefes)  was a rabbinic scholar from Italy. Born in Trieste, raised in Venice, he lived as a private tutor teaching Talmud and Midrash. He wrote poetry, and dealt with philosophy, math, and natural sciences.

A member of the prominent Chefetz family (or Gentili, in Italian) of Northern Italy, he was considered a child prodigy and studied under the renowned R. Solomon Nizza. One of his poetic works written at age 13, appeared in the famous Venice edition of the Bible (1675-78). 

Among the writings of Rabbi Chefetz we could mention:  

  • Chanukkat HaBayit (lit. Dedication of the Temple), a book that details the construction of the Second Temple and all of his vessels and utensils (Venice, 1696). The book includes illustrations and tables by the hand of the author. 
  • Melekhet Machasebet (Intentful Work), a superb commentary on the Torah (Venice, 1710) based on traditional interpretations but also upon the principles of secular science. The book includes a portrait of the author.  His portrait  in Melekhet Machashebet (see below) was the first ever published in a Hebrew book (first edition, 1710). The name of the book, Melekhet Machashebet was also a sophisticated way to seal the name of the author, common practice among Sephardic Rabbis of the time: the word machasehbet in Hebrew is the acronym of: Moshe Chefetz shokhen be'ir Trieste, Moshe Chefetz, who lives in the city of Trieste.    
At the bottom of the portrait it says: "ben me-a shana... anokhi hayom", which literally means: "I'm one today hundred years old". When you see the portrait you notice that rabbi Chefetz was obviously younger. The numerical value of the Hebrew wordme-a (=40, 1, 5)) is 46, i.e., the real age of rabbi Moshe Cheftez in this portrait.   

See  HERE  the book Chanukkat haBayit

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


√ Rosh Chodesh -the beginning of the Hebrew month- is a semi festive day. The hierarchal order of the Jewish festive days is: Shabbat, Yom Tob, Chol haMo'aed, and then Rosh Chodesh. In the times of the Bet haMiqdash, when there was a special qorban (sacrifice) offered in Rosh Chodesh with sounds of Shofar and trumpets, men used to avoid working in Rosh Chodesh. Today, in some communities, mostly Ashkenazi communities, women do not work or refrain from doing certain melakhot during Rosh Chodesh. 

√ In Rosh Chodesh we are indicated to behave and be in a happier mood (ra-ui lismoach bahem). As we said, although it is not forbidden to work on Rosh Chodesh, it is meritorious 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 (By the way, this is the reason why Sephardic communities refrain from 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, yohrtzait) falls on Rosh Chodesh it is customary to fast or visit the cemetery before or after Rosh 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 Tora -general words of Tora wisdom- in honor of the deceased, minimizing personal emotional remarks, which might cause an additional sadness to the audience.

Rosh Chodesh Mar Cheshvan is celebrated today and tomorrow.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

JEWISH WEDDINGS: The origins of the Ketuba

Ketuba means, "that which is written", i.e., a document.  The Ketuba is not a contract between the husband and his wife, rather, the Ketuba is a document which stipulates the obligations of the husband toward his wife, and mainly the terms and compensation  that the husband will grant to his wife in the event that the marriage is, chas veshalom, dissolved. 

The Ketuba, writes Aryeh Kaplan (Made in Heaven, p. 95) "is closely related to the mohar- dowry- mentioned in the Bible. (Exodus 22:5). The mohar was the amount  that a man would agree to pay his bride in the event that the marriage was terminated". 

Most Rabbinic authorities, including Maimonides (Ishut 10:7), wrote that the Ketuba is not mandated by the Tora but was formalized by the Rabbis. Although they might have been a custom of giving a Ketuba even before the Tora was given, this custom was never formulated into Law.  Originally a man could simply put aside an amount of money and that would be his wife's mohar.  The Ketuba, the formal obligation that establishes the sum of money owed to the wife in case of divorce, was established around the year 100 BCE by the Sanhedrin under the leadership of rabbi Shimon ben Shatach, who legislated that a man's entire estate would be mortgaged to the Ketuba. The woman, thus, would be able to collect the Ketuba just as she would any other contracted debt.   Accordingly, and since then, the Rabbis prescribed that it is forbidden for a man to live with his wife unless a Ketuba has been executed and signed.  

Maimonides (ibid.) writes that the Rabbis' establishment of the Ketuba contemplated another important factor: the Ketuba, the future financial obligations of the husband toward his ex-wife, would serve as a deterrent to prevent an impetuous divorce.  

Watch THIS excellent video about "Media Bias", from