Friday, April 26, 2013

SHABBAT: Wearing vs. Carrying

Last Friday we explained that carrying an object  is a melakha, i.e., an activity forbidden on Shabbat. That includes transferring an item from one domain to another and carrying an object in the public domain. 

In a public domain (without 'erub) it is forbidden to carry anything even in our pockets. However,  wearing something it is not considered carrying.   Therefore it is permitted to wear any clothes, even when one does not have the intention or need to use that garment. Illustration: It would be permitted to wear two sweaters or two scarfs, etc. even when one's intention is to bring one of the scarfs to somebody else.  Again, in this case it is the nature of the action (carrying vs. wearing) what counts regardless of the intent.   

Also, any accessories to the garment we are wearing, even though we are not using those accessories, are considered part of that garment and therefore we can wear them in the public domain. For example: One can wear a raincoat with a belt or with a detachable hood even when there is no need or no intention to use those items. 

The Rabbis have noted that sometimes the line between wearing and carrying is blurry. One example:  a coat or a jacket that is worn on one's shoulders, is that considered wearing the coat or is it perceived as carrying the coat (nir-a kemasoi)? Should we determined that according to the local custom, i..e., if in that specific place people regularly wear a jacket on their shoulders, etc.?  In the case, for instance,  Rabbi Obadia Yosef suggest to be stricter, particularly when there is no 'erub. However, if one is wearing a Talit on his shoulders it is fine, because that is the normal way to wear the Talit.   

One can wear something for protection against the rain, for example, a poncho.  But it is forbidden to carry an umbrella on Shabbat. 


Candle lighting in NYC: 7:27 pm
Shabbat Ends in NYC: 8:28 pm
Must watch   

From MemriTV

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Ten Commandments: what makes them special?

As a preparation for the festival of shabu'ot, less than three weeks away, I will begin today a review of the Ten commandments.  

The Ten commandments were given to the Jewish people at the climax of the covenant celebrated between the Children of Israel and God (Ex. Ch. 19, 20).  The Ten Commandments represent a sample of the entire Tora.  While Christian tradition stresses the importance of the Ten Commandments to the exclusion of the other commandments of the Hebrew Bible, for Jewish tradition the Ten commandments are obviously an essential part of the Tora but every other Biblical precept is of no less importance.  To emphasizes this concept and express the Jewish belief on the uniformity of the Tora, Maimonides forbade to stand up while the Ten commandments are read in public in the Synagogue. Lest we will be led to believe that the other 603 precepts belong to a lower category. 

What is it special about the Ten commandments then? 

First, that while all other Mitzvot were given to the people of Israel through the mediation of Moshe Rabbenu, the Ten Commandments were meant to be given by God Himself. At the end, as the Tora explains, only the first two commandments were given directly by God. Why? The people of Israel explicitly requested to hear the Commandments from Moshe because the experience of God's revelation resulted overwhelming. Ex. 20:19 "And they said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die'."  

According to Jewish tradition the Children of israel requested Moshe's mediation after the first two commandments were given. This is why only the first two commandants are formulated on the first person ("I'm HaShem your God"... "You shall not have any other gods before Me") but from the third commandment Moshe is addressing the people of Israel and refers to HaShem in the third person ("You shall not take the name of God in vain"). 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

TEFILA: What shoes are you wearing today?

כשהוא נועל את נעליו, הוא אומר: ברוך שעשה לי כל צרכי

As we have previously explained (see this) birkot haShahar describe all the activities (mini activities) that we do when we get up in the morning as we prepare ourselves for the new day. The Berakhot help us to discover God's hand behind each small act we are able to perform: opening our eyes, standing straight, stepping on solid ground, being able to walk, etc.  

Today's berakha corresponds to the wearing of the shoes. 

"When he wears his shoes he says: Blessed are You haShem... Who provided for all my needs." 

In the Talmud Shabbat 129a the rabbis explained that a person who does not have shoes should be wiling to sell everything else he has in order to buy a pair of shoes.   Shoes are a primary element of protection  for our bodies. The epitome of a needy man is a man without shoes. As seen in this bearakha having shoes is equivalent to having all our basic needs covered.     This is why when we wear our shoes in the morning we say this berakha, thanking haShem for the privilege of having everything we need.   

Today, at least for most people reading this email, shoes are not a luxury. Our problem in the morning is not if we do have or don't have one pair of shoes to wear, but rather which one of the ten pair of shoes we own are we going to use this morning.  It is extremely difficult to value something while we have it. And especially when we have it in such excess. If this berakha many years ago expressed our sincere thanks for having shoes, today this berakha should educate us -privileged  humans living in the affluent 21 century- to not take our blessings for granted. Being thankful and appreciative to Whom has given us so much. 

Because shoes per excellence are leather shoes, during the days that we don't wear leather shoes, Yom Kippur and Tish'a beAb, this berakha is not recited.  

Inspiring Movie

If you want to understand what having one pair of shoes really mean, please watch the movie:  Children of Heaven, the story of a little Iranian boy who lost his sister's shoes and scared of telling his parents who cannot afford another pair, he and his sister try to manage without asking any adults for help, taking  turns to wear the same shoes. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

JEWISH WEDDING: Can a relative be a witness?

We have explained in previous weeks  (see this)  that Jewish Law requires the presence of two witnesses in a marriage ceremony.  Not anyone is competent to act as a witness.   Biblical Law disqualifies, for example, the testimony of a relative. This is learned from the verse in Deut. 24:16  "Parents are not to be put to death for their children.... nor children put to death for their parents". Jewish law exposes this verse more or less as follows: "Parents, or any other close relatives, might not be sentenced to death and for any crime by their children or by any other close relatives's testimony".  Once we know that close relatives are disqualified as witnesses we need to clarify what is the degree and nature of the closeness which would disqualify a person from bearing testimony (of any kind, not just in a  wedding ceremony).  For example: is a second or a third cousin considered a close relative? Is a brother in-law considered a relative to this effect? etc. 
The law that explains which relatives are qualified and which are disqualified as witnesses is very complex and they can be found in the Shulhan 'Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat chapter 33).
We are going to see now just a few illustrations:
The Mishna in Sanhedrin 3:4 lists as disqualified witnesses the following relatives: father, brother, uncle, brother-in-law, stepfather, father-in-law, and their sons and sons-in-law. The rule was extended to cover nephews, cousins and many other in-laws. 
Additionally, witnesses who are related to one another are incompetent to attest or testify together even when they are not related to the bride and groom. 
The rabbis classified the different cases in groups, according to the immediacy of the family relationship.  For example, the first group of family members (rishon) includes parents, siblings and children.  Members of the first group cannot not act as witnesses together, even though they are not related to the bride or groom. This disqualification  is known in Halakhic terminology "rishon berishon", witnesses with a first degree family closeness. 

 (To be continued)