Thursday, October 25, 2012

The 13 Principles: # 11: God is Just.

The Eleventh principle of Judaism asserts that God is Just. He rewards those who keep His commandments and punishes those who transgress them. 

In the words of Rabbi Hayim Pereira-Mendes, God does not punish in the sense of vengeance but only for correction, in order that we shall forsake our sins and lead better lives.  We don't always see with our own eyes the punishment of the wicked man and the reward of the righteous.  Our rabbis assert that God rewards and corrects sometimes in this life and sometimes in future life.  There is no necessarily and immediate external reward for an act of kindness, no automatic punishment for a transgression. Moreover, suffering is not sent to us only for punishment of a sin. It is often sent to motivate or train us to live better and nobler lives, to educate us to higher ideals, to lead us nearer to God.

The main assumption of this principle, the reason for the existence of divine reward and punishment, is that God has given us free-will to choose between good and evil, right and wrong.  We Jews do not believe in Predestination. If we were destined to do right or wrong and did not have the power to choose, there would be no merit in doing the right, and we could not be justly punished for doing the wrong. Only by repentance, sorrow for our sin, and by amendment of our conduct, we can be spared from the penalty of our transgressions.  Our rabbis explain that "the very remorse is itself a pain and part of our punishment. The loss of our own self-respect, the loss of the respect of others; the shame which our sin causes our families; the consciousness that we have offended God who loves us, all these are some of the penalties or punishments for sins committed."

  Do you have Free-will?

by Frank Pastore, Prager University. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

TEFILA (Jewish prayer): Introduction.

Praying is an innate tendency of any human being who believes in God.  Since God is all-powerful, merciful and compassionate,  man would naturally make contact with Him.  Man has needs and often faces difficulties that cannot be solved by his own efforts. Sickness, accidents or other tragedies bring us to call God. When man is betrayed, or alone or feel hopeless he seeks God for comfort and hope.

Our forefathers have prayed to HaShem numberless times asking for His help or intervention: Abraham prayed to God to spare the lives of the inhabitants of Sodoma and Gomorra. Yitzchaq and his wife Ribqa prayed to HaShem to have a child. Ya'aqob prayed to haShem to save him from the murderous hands of Esav.    Moshe prayed to haShem asking Him to forgive the great sin of the people of Israel (the golden calf). Aharon, Yehoshua', Shemuel, King David and king Salomon, just to mention a few, prayed constantly to God. 

One of the most famous Biblical prayers, very esteemed by our Rabbis, was the prayer of a woman: Chana, the mother of the prophet Shemuel. Chana was barren and she begged God wholeheartedly to have a son (I Samuel, 1:12) and finally God blessed her with a son.  An extraordinary thing happened then: Chana prayed to God again. This time, with no additional requests, she prayed to praise Him. To acknowledge His power. To assert that He is the One who can turn a poor man rich or a rich man poor. He is the one that gives life or takes life away. Chana prayed to God out of happiness and relief, and to say thank you for her son. 

Prayer is one of the most essential principles of Judaism. Like our forefathers we pray with numberless requests, but we also pray to praise and acknowledge God, and to thank Him for all His blessings to us, as individuals and as part of His chosen Nation.  

(Adapted from Penine Halakha, Tefila, Alef and Bet)

Ninety percent of Americans have a spiritual interlude with God every day, according to a study released by Brandeis University.  See HERE

Monday, October 22, 2012

JEWISH WEDDINGS: Understanding the Ketuba

In ancient times, a man was able to divorce his wife even against her will and with no consequences, financial or otherwise.  A divorced woman would  suffer not only the emotional abandonment but also the financial burden of being with no resources. In Judaism there is a Ketubah. A Ketubah is first of all, a type of a prenup. Or a “Marriage Insurance”. The Ketuba makes the process of divorce to be more complicated and more costly. In this way, the decision to divorce will not happen abruptly at a moment of anger  but as a last resource after everything else was proven ineffective.  That would give the couple and their families the time and motivation to save a marriage, in case it could be saved.  Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains that "in a sense the Ketuba is very much like alimony, except that instead of being paid over a period of time, it is given to the wife in a lump sum. The amount was enough for a woman to invest and derive a steady income from it".  

The Ketuba is a legal document (in modern terms: a marriage insurance) and, technically speaking, it is not a holy document (kitbe qodesh, etc.) which has to be written by hand as a Mezuza.  It could be written by a man, a woman, by hand or by a printer. In most contemporary marriages the Ketuba consists of a printed form, with the date and other pertinent details (place, names, etc.) to be filled in.  In many Jewish circles, however, it is still a tradition to have the Ketuba hand-written, illustrated and or executed in parchment, etc.  Because the Ketuba is a legal secular document it is accepted to have different versions of its text. In other words, similar to a civil contract (rent, employment, insurance) the main ideas must remain the same, but the details differ.  Thus, although the basics of the Ketuba are identical, many communities have some words or paragraphs which are particular to their custom. 

Watch THIS surprising video:    "March of the living", by descendants of Nazi and SS officials.