Thursday, May 23, 2013

SPECIAL EDITION: The aleppo Blood Libel (13 of Sivan)

"Blood libel also called blood accusations, the superstitious accusations that Jews ritually sacrifice Christian children at Passover to obtain blood for unleavened bread ( matzot).   
Encyclopedia Britannica

Blood libels were, unfortunately, common. When a body was found and the murder case could not be solved, the Jews were the usual suspects or scapegoats. No matter how much the Jews insisted that we are not allowed to consume even a drop of blood found in an egg, many gentiles spread the rumor that there was a secret ritual in which Jews use the blood of a Christian child to bake the Matzot.  Historians have explained that these accusations gave the masses the excuse to persecute Jews, seeking their money, their power and positions.  Probably the most famous blood libel in modern history was the "Damascus affair" in 1840 . When a Franciscan priest, Father Thomas, disappeared and the Jews were accused by the French, ignored by the British and tortured by the Turkish authorities of Damascus, with the intention to take the money and positions of the wealthiest families of the local Jewish community (see this). 

In Aleppo, 1853, a blood libel was averted just on time.  The body of a murdered gentile boy was planted in the house of Jewish baker at midnight.  The plan was to come in the morning with the police and accuse the baker of a ritual murder. A Jewish baker was the perfect target to be charged.  Jewish bakers "use Christian blood to knead matzot" and other ritual foods.  Miraculously, the baker (named Moossa) woke up in the middle of that night. He discover the body, understood the potential accusation and got rid of it. When the authorities came they could not find anything. The baker informed the rabbis of the city of what had happened and they said that HaShem in His mercy saved the Jewish community of Aleppo from a terrible tragedy.  They instituted that the 13 of Sivan be remembered as "Nes Moossan" (The miracle that happened thru Moossa) and Viduy should not be said on that day.

(There are other versions of this blood libel. As well as other explanation of why Viduy is not said this day: in the Diaspora, the six days after shabu'ot are finished the 13th of Sivan, not the 12th). 

Incredibly, tyne accusations of BLOOD LIBELS did not go away.  See for yourself!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508)

Rabbi "Don" Isaac Abarbanel (or Abravanel) was born in Lisbon Portugal, in 1437. He was a famous statesman, a very wealthy merchant, a Jewish philanthropist  and one of the most illustrious biblical commentators and philosophers. 

Abarbanel spent 45 years in Portugal where he loyally served the King of Portugal Alfonso V in all financial matters of the Kingdom. 

In 1481 upon the death of the King the new monarch Joao II falsely accused Abarbanel of conspiracy. Abarbanel was able to flee secretly to Spain and all his fortune was confiscated by the new Portuguese King. 

In 1483 he established himself in Toledo, Spain. His vast experience in royal matters and state finance was well known in Spain and in a short time his services were requested by the Kings of Castilla. He was in charge of administrating the farm revenues of the Kingdom and to supply provisions for the campaign of the Kings Ferdinand and Isabella against Granada, Islam's last Iberian citadel.  Rabbi Abarbanel became again very wealthy and during the war, he advanced considerable sums of his own money to the Kings to support his army .

In 1491 when he learned about the plan to expel the Jews from Spain, Abarbanel made a  offer to the Queen: 30,000 ducats (more than 60,000 dollars "nominal value" in that time) to revoke the edict of expulsion. His offer was rejected, but he was given the choice to keep all his privileges as a statesman and his personal wealth if he converted to Christianity. He refused, and in 1492 he left Spain empty handed with his heartbroken and impoverished Jewish brothers.  

In 1493 he resettled in Naples, Italy, where he served in the court of Alfonso ll. In 1495 Naples was taken by the French. And Rabbi Abarbanel, bereft of all possessions, followed the young king Alfonso to Messina. From there they resettled in Corfu (today, an island in Greece) and lastly in 1503 he settled in Venice, where his services were employed in negotiating the commercial treaties between Portugal and the Venetian republic in the spices market. 

He died in Venice in 1508 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery of Padua. 

Despite his intense, agitated life and multiple exiles Rabbi Abarbanel was a very prolific writer, as we are going to see, BH next week. 

Today, 13 of Sivan, 
the Jewish Syrian community celebrates nes moossan, the day in which a potential blood libel against the community of Aleppo was miraculously  averted.  As far as I was able to search there is virtually nothing online about it.  I invite the readers of HOTD to share any information about this event to have an online source and ideally, an entry in Wikipedia. 
Please, send the information to:  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TEFILA: Blessing vs Magic

Rabbi Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508. Tomorrow BH we will have a special column about him) explained that the concept of berakha (=blessing) must be understood from three different viewpoints. 

1. First and most importantly is the berakha that HaShem bestows upon us. His free blessings to us. Everything we have (most of it we take for granted!) is part of the berakha coming from HaShem.  The first example of this berakha is the blessing of procreation. When HaShem, after creating the first forms of life, established the mechanism of procreation so life perpetuates itself. "God blessed them saying: Be fertile and multiply...." (Bereshit  1:22 ).  The creation of life and life's ability to reproduce itself is part of HaShem's blessings.  The first type of berakha is ALL what HaShem gives or does for us.   

2. The second type of berakha is from us to HaShem. When a person recognizes, acknowledges and expresses that all what he or she has, comes directly or indirectly from Him. One of the best and most beautiful examples of this type of berakha is the Tefila of King David, which in due of its magnificence we recite everyday while standing (I Chronic. 29:10-13: "Vaybarekh David" . In this superb blessing David blesses HaShem, not by giving something to Him but by acknowledging that He is the Supreme Giver and the Master of the whole universe.   

3. Then there is a third form of blessing, a blessing from man to man. One of the best example of this type of berakha is birkat kohanim, the priestly blessing we read in last weeks' parasha. The Kohanim bless the people of Israel. But they don't bestow anything unto us directly, as if they would have some type of superpowers or magic abilities.  The Kohanim invoke the berakha of HaShem: may HaShem bless you and protect you. This type of berakha, when we wish someone to be blessed, never goes directly from man-to-man, but thru HaShem. By invoking His blessings. Not mine. 

(To be continued....)

                                                                          by Aish

Monday, May 20, 2013

JEWISH THOUGHT: Why bad things happen to good people?

?למה צדיק ורע לו

Last week we explained that Hashem's first commitment with the people of Israel is to insure that as a people we will never disappear.  We see that despite being the victims of the oldest and most widespread hatred in human history --anti-Semitism-- HaShem delivered His promise to us. 

Now, what about each of us as individuals. Are we also individually under HaShem's permanent unconditional protection? Many rabbis and Jewish philosophers discussed this issue. Especially what is known in English as theodicy: when the wicked succeeds and the righteous fails and suffers. We kind of understand when bad things happen to the wicked and when God rewards the righteous. That is expected. But we also see that this is not always the case. Many times (too many?) bad things happen to good people. 

The fate of an individual is definitely within God's control. The question then is the following: in light of God's Omnipotence (=God has control over everything), Omnibenevolence (=HaShem is all good) and Omniscience (=HaShem knows everything) how can we reconcile the suffering of the innocent? 

This is probably one of the matters that drive many believers away from faith. 

The first one to address this question was no less than Moshe rabbenu. The Tora says (Ex. 33:11) that Moshe spoke to God "face to face" which means that unlike all other Prophets who received a message from God while asleep or in a trance, Moshe spoke with God while completely conscious and alert. Among other things, Moshe's awareness provided him with an extraordinary opportunity. Within that non-virtual conversation with God Moshe was able to ask God a question.  What question did Moshe ask God? Perhaps on behalf of all humankind Moshe asked God: Why bad things happen to good people? (Ex. 33:18 , see Rashi)

In the following weeks, BH, we will see what did HaShem answer Moshe, and how Prophets (Moshe himself!), Kings, Rabbis, Jewish thinkers and poets dealt with this sensitive issue.   

this RSA animate presentation