Friday, December 7, 2012

ḤANUKA TUTORIAL (Saturday, December 8th, after 5:15 pm, NYT)

This year the first night of Ḥanuka falls out on this coming Saturday night, December 8th.  When Shabbat is over (after 5:15 p.m, N.Y. time), at home we first recite the Habdala, and then we light the Ḥanuka candles. In the Synagogue we should first light the Ḥanuka candles and then recite the Habdala, to promote the Ḥanuka miracle in a bigger crowd (pirsume nisa).  If we would say the Habdala first, most people would probably leave the Synagogue before the Ḥanuka candles are lit.   

Maimonides (MT, Hilkhot Megila vaḤanuka 4:1) explains that the Miṣva of Ḥanuka candle-lighting is technically fulfilled by lighting just one candle per family.  Those who wish to beautify (hidur) this Miṣva, let each member of the family, men and women, light their own candle. And those who want to excel in the fulfillment of this commandment (Miṣva min hamubḥar) should add one additional candle each night. 

In most Sephardic communities, one Ḥanukia per family--not per individual--is lit. Other communities have the custom to allow or encourage children and other family members to light their own Ḥanukia.  Also, today, the popular custom is to light one additional candle per night.

This Saturday night, the father or the person in charge of lighting the candles recites the following three blessings before lighting the candles. (On all subsequent nights, only blessings number 1 and 2 are recited).

Blessing #1: Barukh..... asher qiddeshanu bemiṣvotav, veṣeevanu lehadleeq ner Ḥanuka.

Blessing #2: Barukh... she'asa neeseem la-abotenu, bayameem hahaem bazeman haze.

Blessing #3: Barukh... sheheḥeyanu vekeeyihemanu veheeg-eeyanu lazeman haze.

The following text is also read each night, after all the candles, or at least the first one, has been kindled:

Hanerot halalu....

"We kindle these lights for the miracles and the wonders for the redemption and the portents, salvations and marvels which You performed for our ancestors in those days, at this time (of the year) through Your holy priests. During all eight days of Ḥanukathese lights are holy and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but only to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name for your miracles, and Your salvations and Your wonders, ".

Then we recite: Mizmor shir Ḥanukat haBayit leDavid


Candle lighting in NYC    4:11 p.m. 

Shabbat Ends in NYC       5:15 p.m. 

 ḤANUKA candle lighting ceremony, Moroccan style

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The basic rules of Ḥanuka candle-lighting

1. Ḥanuka candles are kindled in the evening, each of the eight days of Ḥanuka. The custom of many communities is to light the candles at sunset, which is approximately at 4.30 p.m. in NYC. Other communities light the candles 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 Ḥanuka happened with olive oil. In addition, oil candles will last for more time than small wax candles. The Miṣva of Ḥanuka candles cannot be performed with 'electrical candles', even when real candles are not available. An electrical Ḥanukia, however, can be placed in the house in addition to the regular Ḥanukia, especially during day-time.

3. Some families have the tradition to place the Ḥanukia outside the door, on the opposite side of the Mezuza, which technically, is the best place for it. Nowadays, however, most families place the Ḥanuka 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 Ḥanuka (to light the candle, not candles, of Ḥanuka). As we all know, the traditional 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.

Ḥanuka begins Saturday, December 8th, 2012, after Shabbat is over.  

READ "Exotic Hanukkah foods"   by Tzirel Chana, from Aish

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What does the word Ḥanuka mean?

The word Ḥanuka means 'dedication' and it is used in this sense in Hebrew in phrases like 'Ḥanukat-haBayit', dedication of one's new home.

So, what dedication are we referring to in our holiday "Ḥanuka"?

During the Second century BCE the Jews in Israel lived under the rule of the Syrian-Greek army of Antiochus Epiphanes. They were not permitted to practice their religion and at one point the Bet-haMiqdash (The Holy Temple of Jerusalem) was captured and defiled by the Greeks. The Greeks 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 Makabi rebelled against the powerful armies of Antiochus and with God's help defeated them. When they regained possession of the Bet haMiqdash, they purified the Holy Temple. In order to re-dedicate the Temple to God Almighty they needed to light the Menora, which indicates that the Bet haMiqdash was fully operating to God's service. They found a small jar, with an amount of pure oil which would normally last for one night only.
They lit the Menora and joyfully dedicated the Bet haMiqdash back to God. The Makabim thought that they will need to interrupt the dedication of the Temple until new oil could be produced. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, the exact time needed to make new pure olive oil.

Ḥanuka then celebrates the 'dedication (or re-dedication) of the Bet haMiqdash' to HaShem after years of being defiled.

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

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

This year, 2012, Ḥanuka begins Saturday, December 8, once Shabbat is over.  

Watch this beautiful video  THIS IS YOUR LIGHT    from

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TEFILA: Thanking the Creator for the rooster's circadian rhythm

בָרוּךְ..... הַנוֹתֵן לַשֶכְוִי בִינָה לְהַבְחִין בֵין יוֹם וּבֵין לָיְלָה

"Blessed are you, HaShem... Who gives the rooster the understanding to distinguish between day and night."

Birkot haShaḥar is a series of blessings that we say in the morning thanking God for the renewal of the day. As we explained last week, as soon as we wake up we begin by thanking God for being alive (see this). Then, we pronounce the second blessing, acknowledging that the Creator granted the rooster the understanding to distinguish between day and night. 

To properly grasp the rational of Birkot haShaḥar we need to bear in mind that these blessings were said as a person was waking up, getting up from bed, walking and getting dressed.  

This blessing was pronounced when one would hear the rooster's crow. The rooster does not crow necessarily when it sees light or when the sun rises, but before dawn. Thanks to a biological process known as circadian rhythm, roosters  can  keep track of time after midnight, which is when they usually start crowing.  Some species of rooster would crow four times during the night with the third cockcrow at around four o'clock in the morning (see a very interest article here).

This berakha emphasizes the fact that the Creator endowed the rooster with this extraordinary skill, which used to help us to wake up and serve our Creator (Time measurement is traditionally regarded as an exclusive human ability. Many Rabbis actually understood the word sekhvi not as rooster, but as "heart" or human cognition).  

The Rabbis discussed if this blessing should be said only when we actually hear the rooster's crow (Maimonides) or even if we did not experience the rooster's crow directly (haAri).  Yemenites and a few other Jewish communities follow Maimonides, but the majority follows the custom to recite this blessing anyways. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

THE KETUBA: 'ona, the woman's conjugal rights

In Biblical Law, conjugal rights are explicitly granted to the wife. The Tora indicates in Exodus 21:10 that the husband "must not deprive his wife from her food, her clothing and her marital rights". 

In the words of Maimonides, a husband's consistent refusal to engage in sexual relations, i.e., when  deliberately and/or maliciously the husband deprives his wife from intimacy is considered a transgression of a Biblical prohibition and the woman has legal grounds to ask for her divorce, claiming the full amount of the financial compensations established in the Ketuba. This  does not apply, however, when the reason for the husband's abstinence is health-related or so.  (Maimonides MT, ishut 14:7)

The wife has the legal rights to prevent his husband to go in a long trip (in ancient times, men use to go overseas for business for years) because that would deprive his wife of her conjugal rights (14:2).  The Talmud also discusses the frequency of sexual obligation based on the husband's occupation (14:1).  

Although not based on a specific Biblical statement, the wife is also expected to fulfill her conjugal duties. And a wife who without a justified reason (kede leṣa'aro) permanently denies from her husband his conjugal rights is called a rebellious wife (moredet) and, in case of divorce, she is not entitled to any compensations (14:9). 

It is important to clarify that the primary purpose of this Miṣva, sexual intimacy, is to reinforce the loving marital bond between husband and wife.  In a separate Miṣva the Tora indicates the commandment of having children (see here) but this Miṣva, 'ona, is independent from the intention of procreation. When conception is not possible, such as during pregnancy or when the woman is under a permissible form of birth control, or after the wife is no longer able to bear children the couple is still expected to have an active sexual life.  

Understanding  Israel's enemies 10 facts about Hamas by