Friday, May 10, 2013

SHABBAT: the 'erub debate (Part 1)

We are reviewing the melakha called hotza-a,  "transferring" on Shabbat from one domain to another domain (see here) and as an extension of it carrying an object in the public domain  ( see this). 

In our days the most controversial issue in regards to hotza-a  is the matter of the 'erub, i.e., an enclosure which turns a public domain into a private domain.  

This is not an easy subject to explain, so I will go step by step

As we have said, the Tora forbids to carry in a public domain. But, what is considered a public domain? Everyone agrees that the point of reference is the camp of the Children of Israel in the Sinai desert. As we have explained, the bringing of elements and goods from people's private "huts" to build a mishkan was called melakha (see link above). 

The first Halakhic debate thus, has to do with the different views of what made the area of the mishkan a public domain.

Briefly: for one opinion it is the width of the street or corridor where the dismantled mishkan was carried on wide wagons ('agalot). That corridor was 16 amot wide (approximately 25 feet ).  
For a second opinion, it was the fact that 600,000 people would usually flow within that area what made it a public domain, not just the width of the corridor. (This point could be also explained in different terms: is the street wide enough to allow in theory a traffic of 600,000 people? Any corridor which is narrower than 16 amot is not!)

Now, we may begin to understand the partial consequences of this controversy: following the first opinion then any street (and its surrounding areas) which is 25 feet wide or wider is considered a Biblical public domain. Regardless of the amount of traffic on that street.

However, for the second opinion, if there is no an actual 600,000 people traffic, that area is not considered a Biblical public domain but karmelit a semi-public domain, i.e., it does not have all the conditions of a public domain.  Carrying in karmelit is still not permitted, but 1. it is categorized as a rabbinical (not Biblical) prohibition and 2. as we will explain BH in the coming weeks, it allows more flexibility to be enclosed with a standard 'erub (besurat petah).

To be continued...

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lightning in NYC:   7.41 pm
Shabbat ends in NYC:        8:42 pm 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The First Commandment vs. We the People of the United States..."

We have seen last week (see here) that the Ten Commandments include two commandments that were conveyed directly by God, these are the First and the Second commandments. 

Now, and I know that this question will sound absurd,  which one is the First commandment? 

Let me explain.

Literally, the First Commandment says: "I am HaShem your God, Who took you out of Egypt from the house of slaves" .  This statement is definitely not written in an imperative form, as a direct order from God like "You shall not kill". Perhaps this might not be a commandment (Mitzva) but a preamble where God introduces Himself to the people of Israel before giving them the commandments,  similar to the preamble of the American constitution: "We, the people of the United States...." . 

Interestingly this is how other Biblical religions have understood the First Commandment.  For Protestants, for example, the First Commandment is not "I'm the Lord your God" but  "Thou shalt have no other gods before me".   For the Catholic tradition the first commandment is integrated as an introduction (a preamble) to the second commandment. The catholic First commandment reads: "I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me."

In Judaism the First commandment "I'm haShem your God" is indeed considered as a specific precept, i.e.,  a Mitzva.  In his Sefer haMitzvot a book which details the account of the 613 precepts of the Tora Maimonides (haRambam) brings "I'm HaShem your God" as the first Mitzva of his book. That is, for Maimonides this is the "Starting Precept of the Tora". Definitely not a principle or a preamble. 

Now, we need to clarify. What is the content of this very important Mitzva? What are we ordered to do, think or believe by the "Starting Precept of the Tora"? 

To be continued..

(If you any suggestions on this question write to:

Charles Ramsey's past doesn't negate the heroism he showed in rescuing Amanda Berry. 
By Yvette Alt Miller

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

SPECIAL EDITION: Jerusalem's day

Today, the 28th day of the month of Iyar we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem's day).

Why today? In 1967, Egypt, Syria and Jordan with the help of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Kuwait, Pakistan, the PLO and Sudan decided to go to war to destroy the State of Israel.  Led by president Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt mobilized its troops into the Sinai desert, expelled the UN peace keeping forces and initiated hostile actions, like closing the Suez canal, which were considered acts of war. They were so confident in their military superiority that the Arab states declared (and celebrated) victory for the destruction of the Jewish State even before they started the war.

On June 5th 1967 Israel launched a preemptive strike, beginning what is known as the Six Days War. 

Against all odds, Israel --with no American help-- not only survived the attacks of a much more numerous and stronger army but also conquered the Sinai Peninsula, Judea and Samaria and the Golan heights.

Probably the most important aspect of the Israeli victory was that after more than 1900 years of its destruction by the Romans, on the 28th of Iyar 1967, Israel regained control over the entire city of Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). Before this day the Jews did not have access , for instance,  to the Old City or to the Western Wall. 

That was one of the happiest days in the history of the Jewish people and the highest point and culmination of Israel's independence, which began in Yom haAtzmaut, 1948.

Many miracles took place in the Six Days war (see below) and very especially in the battles for Yerushalayim. We shouldn't be surprised: The Tora already promised the People of Israel that even when we are outnumbered in battle, God will intervene in our behalf (Lev. 26:7-8) "five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand...".

HaShem, our God,  encouraged us not to be afraid of a more powerful enemy, because He will be fighting with our troops, protecting us and delivering us from destruction (Deut. 20:1-4): "When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for HaShem your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with You... HaShem your God is going with you fighting with you against your enemies -- to deliver you..."

All these Biblical promises were fulfilled during the Six Days war and the conquest of Yerushalayim. 

Today, we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim with Hallel and prayers of gratitude to HaShem Yitbarakh.



From Arutz 7 (

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

TEFILA: From turbans to kippas

כי פריס סודרא על רישיה לימא עוטר ישראל בתפארה     

"Blessed are You haShem Who crowns Israel with glory".

This blessing was established by the rabbis in Talmudic times to be said when a man was covering his head.  What kind of head covering they used in those times? The word the Gemara uses issudar. sudar (which Maimonides renders sadin) indicates a piece of fabric of different sizes for different purposes.  It could refer to a handkerchief, a bed-sheet or a long scarf that was wound on one's head as a turban. Covering the head was a common practice among Jews, and mandatory at all times for Tora Scholars (see Maimonides MT de'ot 5:6).  Many rabbis from the post Talmudic times (geonim) asserted that the sudar the Gemara refers to was a turban. Therefore, only in places or cities where a turban is worn this berakha should be recited.  Other Rabbis (Tosafot) thought that when the Gemara refers to the turban is indicating the standard way male Jews would cover their head in those times, but the recitation of this bearakha should not be limited to a turban, but it should be said for any kind of head covering. And that is the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Qaro in his shulhan 'arukh (46:1) that this bearkha is said for any kind of head covering "When one places a hat or a turban on his head he should say 'oter Israel betif-ara".  

The rabbis also debated about the connection between covering our heads and God crowning us with glory.  The author of the Tur, Rabbi Ya'qob ben Asher said that his father, the famous Rosh, when saying birkot hashahar, would stop before saying'oter israel betif-ara and at that moment he would wear his Tefilin. After wearing the head Tefilin he would say the berakha "Blessed are You HaShem... Who crowns Israel with glory" indicating that in his opinion this berakha refers (or includes a reference to) the Tefilin, which Jews consider a "glorious crown" (pe-er).  

Rabbi Yosef Qaro (siman 46), perhaps viewing the Rosh tradition as a private practice, said that this berakha refers to the traditional head covering (a hat or a Kippa), which by reminding us to be God's fearing Jews (morat shamayim) inspire us to behave in a way that represents and reflects haShem's glory. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

HEBREW: How to create a strong password, practicing your Hebrew?

In Hebrew, every letter has a numerical value according to the order in which that letter appears in the Hebrew alphabet.   ALEF is the first letter of the alphabet, and its numeric value is 1. BET, the second, is 2. YOD is the tenth, and its numeric value is 10. The following letter, KAF is 20, LAMED 30, etc. The 19th letter is QOF, which's numerical value is 100. The next one RESH is 200, etc, etc.    This technique is popularly known as GEMATARIA (or GEMATRIA), which is many times used by Rabbis to associate between different words with an identical numerical value. Beyond GEMATARIA,  using the letters as numbers was the normal way Jews used to write numbers before incorporating our modern numeral system (1,2,3).   This numeral system is still in use, for example, for numbering pages or references in traditional Jewish books, or in the Hebrew calendar.  We are now in the year 5773 which in Hebrew HE (5) TAV (400) SHIN (300) 'AYIN (70) GIMEL (3) = התשע"ג .

In our modern days passwords that can be easily remembered are very necessary. Here is an idea that I thought to create strong passwords, combining letters and numbers, by replacing your Hebrew name and/or your last name with numbers. 

My Hebrew name is YOSEF.  In Hebrew it has four letters: YOD, VAV, SAMEKH, PE.  Now, I will reduce every Hebrew letter to is  minimum decimal: YOD (10) = 1, VAV = 6, SAMEKH (60) = 6, PE (80) = 8.   "1668bitton" will be a combination of my Hebrew name and my last name. 

The name "Daniel Cohen" will be  "45113cohen"   or  "daniel255"  or if we want to convert the whole name into Hebrew letters we will get 45113255   :  4 (DALET) , 5 (NUN), 1 (YOD) 1 (ALEF) 3 (LAMED) 2 (KAF) 5 (HE) 5 (NUN).     

The cool thing about this system is that it works only in one way: you can convert your name into numbers and then easily remember the number. But you will not have an easy time trying to guess that 1668 corresponds to "Yosef" or that 45113255 corresponds to "Daniel Cohen".    


"A Lesson from Angry Birds Do angry birds have a choice to be angry?"