Friday, January 11, 2013

SHABBAT: Lighting Shabbat candles in a Hotel.

Lighting Shabbat candles is a rabbinical decree. The candles should be lit mainly to have light in the room where the family will have dinner.   The Shulḥan Arukh, however, says (OH, 263:6) that a single young student who lives outside home should light a candle in his bedroom [the same applies for a girl] saying the blessing for it.  In other words, if dinner takes place in a different place, then both places should have their candles lit. 

The same principle applies in a case of an Hotel, when we eat in the Hotel's dinning room and we sleep in our own room, we need to have a candle in both.  Rabbi Obadia Yosef (yalqut yosef, Shabbat 1, p.148) clarifies that if the Hotel does not allow to have a candle lit in the room, for safety reasons, one should leave an electrical light lit, and before turning it on, the correspondent blessing should be said.

Now, as to the Hotel's dinning room, while there is an obligation to have candles lit there, there is no "personal" obligation to light a candle in the dinning room. In other words, if someone else already lit a candle in the dinning room, there is not need for me or my wife to light another candle.    

However, if someone still wants to light an additional candle in the dining room, then, there is a difference of opinion between the Sephardic and Ashkenazi tradition.  Sephardim do not say a berakha for lighting an additional candle (OH 263:8) because it is considered an unnecessary berakha [berakha lebatala]. While the Ashkenazi tradition (Rama, idem) holds that one should recite the berakha on an additional candle [tosefet ora], because it adds to the splendor and enjoyment of Shabbat. 

Shabbat Shalom (and Ḥodesh Tob!)

Candle lighting in NYC:       4:31 p.m.

Shabbat ends in NYC:          5:29 p.m. *

* I'm calculating the end of Shabbat at 40 minutes after sunset. In many communities they determine the end of Shabbat 50 minutes or more after sunset. 

For a more detailed explanation of the above mentioned Halakha, including both traditions,  see this Teshuba  (Hebrew) written by Rabbi Re'em haCohen, rosh Yeshibat Hesder in Otniel, Israel

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The 13 Principles of Judaism: #12: Messianic age.

   Previously, we described what the characteristics of the Mashiaḥ are (see this). Today, within the 12th principle, we will touch upon the subject of messianic times, in other words, what do we Jews believe that will happen with us and with the world in the times of the Mashiaḥ?

Maimonides (Mishna Sanhedrin 10:1, written ca. 1160 CE) explains that : "In the messianic age, Jews will regain their independence and all return to the land of Israel. The Messiah will be a great King whose government will be in Zion (=Jerusalem)."  

Besides political independence: "Nothing will change in the Messianic age...Rich and poor,strong and weak, will still exist in the Messianic age.It will be easier for people to make a living, however, and with very little effort they will be able to accomplish very much."  

Maimonides also clarifies why the Jews desire so much the messianic age "We do not hope and long for the messianic age in order that we might have much grain and wealth. We do not want it so that we will be abel to ride horses and indulge in wine and songs, as those with confused ideas believe.... The main benefit of the Messianic age will be that we will no longer be under the subjugation of foreign governments who prevent us from keeping all the commandments."  

In the words of rabbi Hayim Pereira Mendes (written ca. 1905):"The Messiah will be king in the sense of the Hebrew word, which means a "leader," or "guide," or "captain," the head of our government so far as government is required for law and order. He will be identified with the restoration of Palestine to the Hebrews, and the reconstruction of the Hebrew nation, when "the Lord will set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people," "will assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth" (Isa, xi, 11-12)."

13 suggestions for stopping media bias in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Refael Aharon ben Shimon response on suicide

As we saw last week, Rabbi Refael Aharon ben Shimon (1847-1928) is a good example of a rabbi that confronted the challenges of modernity.  
We described how and why he, for instance, forbade the celebrations of private weddings (see here) and issued a decree making mandatory to celebrate weddings only in a Synagogue. 

Today, I would like to address a completely different and very delicate issue, which Rabbi ben Shimon had to deal with too. As he himself writes (see nehar misrayim 2, page 584) in Cairo (Egypt) suicide became epidemic in his time (ca.1910-1920). "We see with a broken heart... how young people take their own lives because of small problems, illusory matters of honor or frustrated romantic expectations.. and I saw that this terrible outbreak came from European influence [=Western culture] because there they do not believe in an afterlife, and have nor fear of [=belief in] God, so when they are confronted with any crisis --instead of accepting it as a Divine decree-- in a brief moment of impulsivity, they would take their own lives...".

Rabbi ben Shimon spoke publicly several times about these issues, encouraging the people to believe that going through difficult times is part of what makes us grow, and that we should see these challenges as God-sent opportunities to elevate ourselves emotionally and spiritually. 

Besides his teachings, rabbi ben Shimon also made the following ruling: When someone commits suicide (has veshalom) the honors due in normal circumstances to someone that passes away are suspended. The body is buried outside the common area of the graves, etc. But in order to alleviate the families the rabbis usually consider that the person who committed suicide was not completely mindful of his actions, and/or in the last seconds, he might have repented from his intention. Thus, his death is not categorized as suicide and honors would be given to his body.

Rabbi ben Shimon cancelled this leniency. He saw that the last resource to stop the potential suicide might be knowing the pain and shame that will be inflicted to his family, since his body will not even be buried in a normal grave, etc. 

As Rabbi ben Shimon  himself testified, this preventive ruling was effective and the rates of suicide in Cairo diminished dramatically. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

TEFILA: Malbish Arumim. Clothing vs. Evolution.

כשלובש את בגדיו הוא אומר:  מלביש ערומים

Previously (see here) we have explained that the Birkot haShaḥar  are organized as a careful description of all the steps that we take when we wake up every morning, from the moment we regain consciousness. We praise HaShem for our sight, for our working body, for our erected posture, etc. 

Today we will explore the blessing in which we praise (and thank!) God for providing us with clothing. "Blessed are You, HaShem our God, King of the Universe, Who clothes those who are naked". The rabbis established this blessing to be said when we are getting dressed, upon getting out of bed.

Humans are the only mammals that were created without fur.Every other mammal have a dense covering of fur. Primates included, from the short black pelage of the howler monkey to the flowing copper coat of the orangutan. Anthropologists are at odds over how to explain from an evolutionary point of view that humans have no fur. Because they find it impossible to imagine any benefits provided to naked people by natural selection.  In his "The descent of man and selection in relation to sex" Charles Darwin himself was convinced that no naturally selected advantage could be cited as evidence for the lack of body-fur in humans. 

When saying this berakha we remember that unlike other creatures, we have a unique dependency on clothing and that God Himself made for Adam and Eve their first clothes (Gen. 3:21), an act that the Rabbis understood as an expression of compassion and love from our Creator to us (Abuderham, 14th century). Every morning, we acknowledge that--directly or indirectly-- it is thanks to Him that we have clothes to cover our bodies and protect ourselves from the inclemencies of the weather.  Incidentally, this berakha also reminds us that we are commanded to imitate HaShem's actions, providing clothing and other basic needs to those who lack the means to take care of themselves. 

Are you interested in the debate (and the politics of) Evolution vs. Intelligent design?   

Ben Stein: "Expelled: no intelligence allowed"  

Watch the trailer here


Monday, January 7, 2013

KETUBA: The financial obligations of the Jewish husband (Part 3)

Previously, we mentioned that the monetary compensation established in the Ketuba includes the main capital or iqar ketuba, i.e., the indemnification or marriage insurance (see this ),  and  the dowry or nedunya i.e., the wife's valuables which must be restituted to her in case of dissolution of the marriage (see this). 

Today we will describe the third component of the monetary compensation: the tosafot or increments.  

There are two increments which are normally added in the Ketuba. First, the increment to the dowry, which is traditionally the equivalent of the dowry itself.  In other words, the dowry is normally set at one hundred pieces of silver (100 zequqim dekesef), the tosefet or increment, then, consist of an additional one hundred pieces of silver.  Second, there is an increment to the main Ketuba that the husband promises his wife.  In some communities they would specify the amount of this increment. In other communities the tradition is to state that the husband adds an increment to the main Ketuba without specifying any amount. 

To summarize, the bridegroom undertakes in the Ketuba to pay the main Ketuba and the dowry, together with their increments, in case of divorce or death of the husband.

Finally, the Ketuba also states that if the husband does not have the actual money to compensate his wife in case of divorce, or if he did not leave enough money to cover the Ketuba in case of death, his assets will be seized by the Bet Din (the Rabbinical court of Law) to pay for the Ketuba. This last rule was established by Shimon ben Shatah (120-40 BCE) when he saw that many women were hesitant to get married for fear of being abandoned by their husband with no means. His ruling served as an additional  deterrent to frivolous men, who in a moment of anger or weakness might make a rash decision to divorce their wives (TB, Ketubot 82b).

What kind of man does a woman really want?  Hint: It's not Homer Simpson.
by Elliot Katz, from Aish.