Thursday, July 25, 2013


As we have already explained (see here) the Ten Commandments (in Hebrew: the Ten Declarations or enunciations) include more than "ten" commandments or precepts. According to Maimonides, there are thirteen precepts (Mitzvot) in the Ten Commandments of Shemot (Ex.20).  It is particularly the Second Commandment which makes the difference. In other words, the Second Commandment includes four Mitzvot, in this case, four prohibitions. 
1. lo ihiye lekha: "You shall not have other gods beside me", i.e., the prohibition to conceive of believe in the existence of other gods or divine forces independent of God. 

2. lo ta'ase lekha: "You should not to make yourself a carved-image or any figure that is in the heavens above, that is on the earth beneath, that is in the waters beneath the Earth".

3. lo tishtahave: "You shall not bow down to them"

4. lo ta'obdem: "You shall not worship them". Last time we dealt with the Ten Commandments we explained "you shall not have other gods besides me" . 

Now, we will briefly review the Mitzva: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image".  This Mitzva teaches us that there is only one God, who is invisible and non-anthropomorphic (=cannot be represented in human terms) who can neither be visualized nor represented by any image.  

While for Nahmanides (Ramban) the prohibition of carving an image refers specifically to an image meant to serve as an object of worshiping,for Maimonides the Tora forbids the making of some images even when we  don't have the intention of worshipping them.  This is an additional restriction on carving images, or a fence around the serious offense of idol worshipping.  

Illustrations:  In Hilkhot 'abodat kokhabim chapter 3:10 Maimonides explains that the prohibition to make decorative image applies specifically to protruding human images (e.g.,  a statue). In 3:11 he says that the representation of the sun or the moon is forbidden even in a drawing or a painting ('al haluah).


The Palestinian idea of a lasting peace

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Rabbi Moshe Almosnino (Greece 1515-1580)

Rabbi Almosnino was born in Salonica (Thessaloniki) in 1515. After the expulsion from Spain thousands of Jews fled to Turkey and Greece. Rabbi Almosnino belonged to a prominent Sephardic family, which fled Aragon after two of his ancestors died on the stake. Salonica was one of the cities where Jews established themselves in Greece. Rabbi Almosnino was the rabbi of the main Spanish Sephardic community "Neveh Shalom".  

Rabbi Almosnino was a prolific author, and the earliest known Ladino writer in the Ottoman Empire 
in 1565 he represented the Jewish communities at an audience with the sultan Selim II, petitioning the confirmation of the civil rights of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire.   

Among his many works one can mentioned 

"Yede moshe"  a commentary on the five megillot: Shir haShrim, Ruth, Ekha (Lamentations) Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) and Esther. 

"Pirqe Moshe"  an exposition of the treatise Pirqe Abot  Chapters of the fathers (Salonica 1563).  

"Tefila leMoshe" a book on the praises and wonders of the Tora. Based on the Psalms. 

Rabbi Almosnino had great interest in sciences and wrote commentaries on Aristotle's Physics and on Sphaera mundi by John Sacrobosco. He translated and commented on Georg Peuerbach's Teoriae novae planetarum. He also wrote an exposition of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, and a commentary on al-Ghazali's work.

He wrote some books in Ladino (Judeo Spanish) and in Spanish 

"Regimiento de la Vida: (the rules of life) dedicated to his son Shim'on (Salonica 1564). It is a guide to the moral conduct meant for rather educated young men not fluent in Hebrew.  It deals   among other things with the nature of good and evil, Divine providence vis-a-vis free will, the importance of education, etc. To this book was appended a chapter called: "El Tratado de los suenyos" (A treatise on Dreams). 

"Extremos y Grandezas de Constantinopla", originally written in ladino was transliterated and republished by Jacob Cansino in Madrid, 1638. In this extraordinary book he describes the life in Constantinople. Its weather, its inhabitants, the life in the city, etc.   
It is the earliest known book written in Ladino.

Read Rabbi Almosnino's Books

You can find the Hebrew books of Rabbi Moshe Almosnino in  www.hebrewbooks. org

For "Regimiento de la vida" (ancient Spanish) click  here .  

For "Extremos y grandezas de Constantinopla" (Spanish) click  here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Maimonides on 'aboda zara (1:2): From God to idol worshipping

Of its 613 Mitzvot (commandments) the Tora dedicates 51 to the prohibition of idol worshiping or 'aboda zara. In His book Mishne Tora Maimonides devotes twelve chapters to the Laws of idol worshiping. 

He begins (Hilkhot 'abodat kokhabim 1:1) by explaining that idolatry owes its origins to a collective human error.  People thought that since God created so many servants to sustain life in this planet, worshiping those servants would please the Creator in the same way that a King would be pleased if his ministers are respected and praised. 

Maimonides emphasizes that at first people did not deny God's existence: they were convinced that they were worshiping the sun, for example, as a means to worship God.  

In Halakha 1:2 Maimonides explains the evolution (or decline) of this idea. First, there were false prophets (nebi-e sheqer). They would claim that God told them to serve His ministers, and He had ordered to build for them a temple or a shrine, and that it should be worshipped in this way, etc.  People, innocently, would follow these false prophets' instructions and worship the sun, the moon and the constellations "as if that was God's will". Next, these corrupt prophets designed images, idols and rituals and they told people that this idol will bring them success and that by doing such and such ritual they will be cured of their illness, etc.   

Soon, a different type of demagogues appeared: the kozebim, or deceivers. Unlike the false prophets the kozebim did not argue that "God" talked to them. They claimed that the sun or the moon or an angel sent by them revealed to them that they wished to be served by this or that ritual and by the offering of this or that sacrifice.  

Thus --with the exception of a few individuals who still preserved the idea of a one, invisible and Almighty God (Noah, Shem, Eber, etc.)-- humanity, led by opportunistic liars, lost track of the real God-Creator.    

The world would have to wait until Abraham Abinu to retrieve the true belief in God. 

            Why Europe has a problem with Israel?

                by Danel Gordis, from

Monday, July 22, 2013

15 of Ab: From mourning to celebration

In Masekhet Ta'anit Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said that "There were no better days for the People of Israel than the Fifteenth of Ab and Yom haKippurim, since on these days the unmarried girls of Jerusalem would go out dressed in white to dance in the vineyards. They would say to the bachelors: 'Young man, consider who you choose (to be your wife)'." Many young men and women would find their future spouse on this day.   

To explain why this day was chosen for such a joyous encounters the Talmud mentions  the events that happened on the 15th of Ab throughout Jewish history. 

Among them: 

1. As we know from the story of the Tish'a beAb (see this), when the People of Israel protested against going to the land of Israel, every one older than 20 years old  was condemned to die in the desert. Forty years later, on the 15th of Ab, this decree was canceled.

2. In order to ensure the orderly division of the Holy Land between the twelve tribes of Israel a few restrictions were established to restrain marriages between members of different tribes. A woman who had inherited land from her father was forbidden to marry out of her tribe, because her children--members of their father's tribe--would cause the transferring of land from one tribe to another tribe by inheriting her estate(Bamidbar, Chapter 36). These restriction were lifted on the 15th of Ab and marriages between different tribes were permitted.

3. The 15th of Ab was also the day on which the tribe of Benjamin, which had been excommunicated for its behavior in the terrible incident of the "Concubine at Givah" (Judges 19-21) was readmitted into the community of Israel.

4. The Romans permitted the burial of Jews killed in the Betar revolt (138 CE). After the Romans had destroyed the Second Holy Temple, the emperor Hadrian planned to transform Jerusalem into a pagan city-state with a shrine to Jupiter on the site of the Bet haMiqdash. This led to the revolt of Bar Kochba, whose guerilla army succeeded in actually throwing the Romans out of Israel and establishing, albeit for a brief period, an independent Jewish state. It required large numbers of Roman troops to crush the revolt. Bar Kokhba made his final stand in the city of Betar, located southwest of Jerusalem. It was estimated that hundreds of thousands of Jews lived in Betar, and they were all massacred "until their blood flowed into the Mediterranean Sea." The Romans did not allow the Jewish bodies to be buried. According to Jewish tradition, the bodies lay in the open but did not rot, until three years later on the 15th of Ab, burial was finally permitted. 

Click here to read more about the events that took place on the 15 of Ab