Friday, September 13, 2013


EATING: In the eve of Yom Kippur we should eat and drink more than usual, in preparation for the fast. Eating plentifully will give us strength to endure the fast. According to some Rabbis the extra food makes-up for the festive (Yom Tob's) meals which we will not have on Yom Kippur.  Before the fast begins, we have the se'uda hamafseqet, i.e., the last meal before the fast. We should finish eating by 6:55 p.m. NYT (some communities have different times). 

ASKING FORGIVENESS: Sins committed against another person are not forgiven on Yom Kippur until one first obtains forgiveness from the person he/she has hurt. Thus, it is necessary to visit (or at least call) friends, family, or any person whom one may have caused damage to, offended or spoken ill of in the past year and seek forgiveness. This includes friends, colleagues, spouse and other family members. Special attention should be given to asking forgiveness from our parents.
FORGIVING: Many people practice the beautiful custom of 'forgiving' everyone that has offended them, removing all bad feelings that might be stored in one's heart. Parents should also forgive their children in their hearts, thus saving them from transgressing the commandment  of "ish immo veabiv tyra-u".

TEFILA: We should prepare our Tefilot and especially the Viduy, confession . It is advisable to have a personal list of the particular activities or actions we want to confess and resolve to change.  

TSEDAQA: It is customary to give charity on the eve of Yom Kippur.  Practicing charity is one of the best ways to show our renewed commitment to kindness and righteousness.

MIKVEH: In many communities it is customary for men to immerse in a Mikveh (ritual bath) on the eve of Yom Kippur. This reminds us of the kohen gadol who would purify himself in the Mikveh before performing his Holy service ('abodat Yom haKippurim).

MINHA GEDOLA: It is customary to pray early Minha (Minha gedola) on Ereb Yom Kippur. In some communities the custom is to pray this Minha with Talit and Tefilin. During the Amida we recite the Viduy.  Then we go home and prepare ourselves for the last meal before the fast (se'uda hamfseqet). 

ADDING TIME: We should abstain from the five prohibitions of Kippur and from doing any work forbidden in Yom kippur or Shabbat (melakha) 10 minutes or so before sunset (sunset in NYC is today 09/13  at 7:07 p.m.) thus, fulfilling the Mitsva of adding some time on the eve and from the aftermath of Kippur to Yom Kippur. For this reason we should also delay the end of Kippur for a few minutes after nightfall (nightfall in NYC is 35 minutes after sunset). 
CANDLE LIGHTING: There are different customs among Sephardic Jews regarding lighting candles on the eve of Yom Kippur.  Some Rabbis ruled that women should not light candles at all for Yom Kippur because there are no meals.  The shulhan 'arukh validates the different Minhaguim but writes that when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat all women should light the candles and recite the Berakha: Barukh Ata..... lehadliq ner shel Shabbat veYom haKippurim. (In some communities women also recite the blessingsheheheyanu).  

Candle lighting today in NYC                   6:54 p.m.

Yom Kippur ends tomorrow in NYC at    7:47 p.m. 

May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of life, blessing and peace! 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

YOM KIPPUR: To do or not to do Kapparot with chicken?

In many communities, there is a Minhag of doing Kapparot in the eve of Yom Kippur, what is the best way to do the Kapparot, with chicken or with money for charity?
First of all, we need to clarify that there is no Mitsva in the Tora to perform the Kapparot or any kind of animal sacrifice in the eve of Yom Kippur. In our days, as Maimonides explains "en sham el-la teshuba", there is nothing else but Teshuba to atone for our sins.  Teshuba is a serious mental and emotional process of retrospection, which leads to admission and confession of our flaws and bad habits, and which ultimately will lead us to resolve improving our behavior . 
Kapparot is a practice which was initiated by the common people -not by the rabbis- that apparently started at the time of the Geonim (year 800-1000 CE).  The Kappara made with a live animal suppose to help inspiring our Teshuba. By seeing the Shehita (slaughtering) of the chicken, we realize the extreme fragility of our lives. We then reflect on the appropriateness of doing Teshuba while we are alive. This is, by the way, the frequent explanation for the effect that the qorban - in the times of the Bet haMiqdash- had in the sinner's consciousness. 

However, soon after the custom of Kapparot became more popular some prominent Rabbis like Ramban (Nahmanides) raised their voices against this practice. Maran Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488-1575) the author of the Shulhan Arukh -the supreme Code of Law for Sephardic Jews- explicitly and in very harsh terms disapproved the practice of Kapparot with chicken in the eve of Yom Kippur.  Moreover, in the first edition of the shulhan 'arukh, Venice 1565 it is written by Rabbi Yosef Caro in the title of siman 605, where he talks about Kapparot מנהג כפרות בערב יום כפור מנהג של שטות הוא. "The custom of Kapparot in the eve of Yom Kippur is a foolish custom". In later editions the editors cut the las line. (see the source here 

Why such opposition to the Kapparot with chicken?

First, as Nahmanides said: mishum darke haemori "because it is similar to the practice of idol worshipers" . (Even today, many cults like Macomb, Vodoo, etc use a small chicken as a sacrifice to be given to their deities.You can Google for example Eshu or Elleggua a major idol-warrior of Santeria which must be worship by sacrificing to it a small chicken).  

Second, the argument that the Kappara performance looks like the Korbanot performance, made the rabbis very concerned: because slaughtering an animal as a sacrifice outside the Bet haMiqdash (haqrabat hutz) is considered a serious Biblical transgression . For this reason many rabbis in the past asked to forbid the consumption of the chicken that was slaughter in the fashion (or intention) of a qorban. The Rishba, while still opposed to the Kapparot with chicken, allowed to eat that chicken (which was usually given to the poor) because it is not one of the animals who were offered as a sacrifice in the Bet haMiqdash. 

Third, since so many people want to do Kapparot on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Shehita might not be done with enough care and attention in terms of the checking of the the knives and other ritual details. This is the point brought by Rabbi Obadia Yosef (who in the past supported the Kapparot) to favor the performance of Kapparot with Tsedaqa (see this). 

There is yet another problem, which should be of a great concern when thinking about doing chicken Kapparot. Because of the great demand and the short time to slaughter so many animals, the chicken are too often mistreated in the process, left for days in cages without food or water. This is a serious transgression of an explicit Biblical prohibitions instructing us to treat animals with respect and avoid unnecessary suffering (tsa'ar ba'ale hayim). The new Ashkenazi Chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau addressed this issue last Sunday (see here). 

Lastly, if the person who does the Kappara would actually eat the chicken or would give directly the slaughtered chicken to a poor person, then we could view this Kappara as a form of Tsedaqa. But people who do this type of Kapparot would very often take seriously the wrong idea of a transference of his or her sins into the chicken and therefore they would not conceive eating those chicken "full of sins". And not all chicken get to the poor, many times for this same reasoning.  The truth is that many of these chicken are not eaten but just wasted. And if one kills an animal unnecessarily, one transgresses another explicit Biblical prohibitions bal tashchit, i.e., unnecessary waste of the resources that God granted us. 

In conclusion, the best way of doing Kapparot is by giving Tsedaqa (=charity for needy people).  In this case, none of the above mentioned problems would apply, and in addition before Yom Kippur begins you will be fulfilling the beautiful Biblical commandment of charity. Which is a Mitsva with no negative side effects and which brings a great zekhut (merit) to the giver and great relief to the recipient  וצדקה תציל ממות
Rabbi Shelomo Aviner explains the different ways to do Kapparot  

Redemption of Kaparot Atonement through Charity -- a Double Obligation
Redemption of Kaparot through Charity -- a Double Obligation


 Wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur - is it a Minhag or a  strict Jewish law?

Wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur is one of the 5 prohibitions of the day.   The Torah did not command us to be barefoot but rather to avoid wearing shoes that are made of leather.  Other type of  non-leather footwear is permitted. This restriction applies just to leather shoes--which is a "dress" footwear--and not to other leather articles, such as a belt, a leather Kippa, etc.  This prohibition is called in Hebrew ne'ilat hasandal and it applies for men and women. Moreover, unlike other Yom Kippur's prohibitions, such as fasting, the prohibition of wearing leather shoes should be taught to children as well, even when they are still not at the age of fasting. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

When to fast, when not to fast and when to break the fast

There are 5 prohibitions on Yom Kippur (1) Eating and drinking, (2) washing our body (3) anointing our body (4) having marital relations and (5) wearing leather shoes.

In some cases fasting is not observed.  

For example:

1. Minors: a boy or a girl younger than nine years old should not make any type of fast, even for a few hours. When children reach nine years old they should fast for a couple of hours if they are in good health. Once they are nine, each year the parents should encourage them to fast for a little longer, so they will slowly get used to the idea of a complete day of fasting. When the son or daughter reaches eleven years old they should try to fast for the whole day if they are in good health. A healthy girl from the age of twelve and a healthy boy from the age of thirteen are obligated to fast.

2. Mothers: After childbirth, during the first three days, a mother should not fast. The same rule applies for the 72 hours after a miscarriage. After the first 72 hours from the day of childbirth until the 7th day from childbirth, if the mother says that she needs to eat, she should eat. After the 7th day she has to fast like everyone else, unless otherwise indicated by her doctor. A woman in labor should NOT fast.
3. Sickness: A person who is sick (diabetes, etc.) or an elder person who is weak because of his age, or someone who is getting some type of important treatment or medication should get the advice of a reliable physician to see if he or she needs to eat and/or take the medication. After talking to a physician, a Rabbi should also be consulted to establish, based on the doctor's advice, how to eat his food or take the medication. When there is a risk (safeq) of some kind of danger to someone's life, the fast should be discontinued even if one was not able to consult with a physician.

4. Hole. According to Jewish Law, when a hole -a sick person, regardless of the seriousness of the disease- asserts that he or she needs to eat, they should be given food even without asking aDoctor.

Pregnancy and Yom Kippur

The following information is intended as a general guideline for normal and healthy pregnancies. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for personal medical advice.

A pregnant woman should observe the fast normally, provided she and the baby are in good health and the pregnancy has no complications. Nevertheless, if during Yom Kippur the mother feels sick, and particularly if she is vomiting or having any other signs of dehydration, she should break the fast and eat or drink immediately (See below: "How to break the fast"). However, mild dizziness and nausea that can be coped by lying down on a couch or a bed are considered normal and should be endured.

Dr. Jessica Jacob OBGYN explains that according to research done on healthy pregnant women there is no evidence that fasting would cause any complication to the mother or her baby. Five years ago, Dr Jacob gave a very detailed lecture in UMJCA on 'Pregnancy and Yom Kippur'. It is highly recommended for every pregnant women to listen to this lecture where she explains the studies that were done on this subject. She also explains why would a doctor advise a pregnant woman against fasting; how to cope with discomfort; the circumstances in which pregnant women should break the fast, etc.

Click here to listen to Dr. Jacob's lecture


When you were instructed by your doctor and/or your rabbi to eat on Yom Kippur, proceed as follows 

1. Eat a portion of food that weights up to 1 oz. (an ounce is 30 grams). After you finished the first portion you should wait ten minutes and then eat a second portion up to 1 oz.  You could do this (eat 1 oz., wait ten minutes, eat 1 oz.) as you need until you recover. 

2. For drinking, you could drink 1 oz., then wait 5 minutes and drink 1 oz. again and so forth.

* Once you feel better, you should continue the fast.

* When you eat or drink on Yom Kippur for medical reasons, you do not need to fast another day.

* To measure "1 ounce" it is recommended to use the plastic 1 oz. liquor shot cups (Kiddush little plastic cups). See this.


YOM KIPPUR: Confessing our sins in English

One of the most important Mitzvot we perform in Yom Kippur is the Viduy. Viduy literally means "confession". The process of Teshuba consists in three steps: admission of our faults (hakarat haHet), confession (Vidduy) and the resolve to abandon our bad actions and habits ('azibat haHet). According to Maimonides the Mitzva of Teshuba takes place when we perform the Viduy.     

The rabbis have written different versions of a Viduy, included in the Mahzor, which we say several times during Yom Kippur. We should not read silently the Viduy. Rather we must articulate every word, whispering to ourselves the transgressions we committed or might have committed, as well as the good deeds we have failed to perform. Why? Because in a good sense, the Viduy is the culmination of the mental process of admission. Same as the concept of catharsis, only when we are capable of verbally articulate our misdeeds we have finally admitted them and we are able to change. And once that happens HaShem accepts our apologies and forgives us.

The text of the Viduy helps us identify wrongdoings that we might have forgotten or we might have unconsciously suppressed from our memory. Unlike other prayers it is absolutely imperative to understand the words of the Viduy.  The Viduy is written in Hebrew, in alphabetical order. However, if we read the Hebrew version of the Viduy and we have no idea what are we saying, then how is admission, regret and contrition going to happen? Therefore, it is not only permitted but mandatory to say the Viduy in a language that one understands.

I'm including in this Halakha a version of the Viduy based on the short Viduy used in the Sephardic Selihot. My translation is a non-literal and expanded rendition of the Viduy, adapted to our modern days. 

This text could be used in Yom Kippur alongside the other Viduyim of Yom Kippur. And hopefully, it will help us understand the main ideas of the Viduy and assist us in the process of Teshuba.


Monday, September 9, 2013

YOM KIPPUR: How to turn Yom Kippur into a wasted opportunity

Yom Kippur is the most important day of the Jewish year. They day in which we confess to God our mistakes and misdeeds and we resolve to improve our actions during the next year. Hoping that HaShem will accept our apologies, inscribe us and seal us in the book of life. Now, as important as Yom Kippur is, if we fail to do our homework previous to Kippur, the most important day of the year might become the biggest wasted opportunity of the year. BEFORE Yom Kippur begins we must ask forgiveness from those whom we might have offended or caused any damage, emotional or material.  During Yom Kippur the transgressions between us and God (Shabbat, Kashrut, Tefilin, etc.) are effectively forgiven by confessing them and resolving to improve. But we are definitely not forgiven by God for those offenses made toward another human being: bullying, cheating, lying, stealing, embarrassing, talking badly about someone (leshon hara'), etc. All these transgressions are NOT forgiven in Yom Kippur unless we first appease the victims and ask for their forgiveness. 

If we are serious about this, we should sit with ourselves for a few minutes with pen, paper and a humble heart. We should review in our memories the times in which we might have caused pain and damage to other people: friends, colleagues or family members, parents, spouse, etc.

Then, we should think what would be the most effective way of appeasing each particular individual. By phone or in person? By a long email or by a text? Describing exactly what we have done or being more general?  Since every person is different and every case is unique, there is not one formula to appease every individual. We must use our common sense and find a way for our apology to be sincere, credible and effective.      

Asking forgiveness is probably one of the most challenging tasks we might need to do in our lives. Because we need to admit and say: "I WAS WRONG". It takes a lot of humility and emotional strength to face the victim. I think it helps if one considers the humiliation as part of the Kappara (atonement) within the Teshuba process. 

A second list we should write ASAP is a list of our debts. Money we owe in our business or to providers; to friends or family members; unpaid community donations; Tzedaqa that we have promised to give, etc. We should prioritize those debts that have expired or about to expire. This is the right time to do it. Today or (literally) during the next couple of days. 

The Time You Have (In JellyBeans)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The fast of Gedalia

Today is the fast of Gedalia, a fast-day instituted by the Rabbis to remember the assassination of Gedalia Ben Ahiqam, the governor of Israel during the days of Nebukhadnetzar, King of Babylonia.  The fast is observed on the 3rd of Tishri, the day after Rosh haShana. This year, because Rosh haShana was followed by Shabbat, we fast today, the 4th of Tishri.  

When Nebukhadnetzar destroyed the Temple (586 BCE) and exiled the Jews to Babylonia, he allowed a few Jews (mainly poor farmers)  to remain in Israel and work the land.  He appointed Gedalia Ben Ahiqam as their governor. Many of the exiled Jews were planning to return shortly from Babylon to Israel to work the land under the auspices of the king of Babylonia, hoping that eventually the Babylonian King (or his successor) would allow all the Jews to reestablish again in their land.  

A Jew from Davidic descendant, Yishma'el Ben Netania, was opposed to the appointment of Gedalia because he did not belong to the Davidic dynasty. And he conspired to assassinate him. Simultaneously, Ba'alis, the King of Amon (=today Jordan) knew that a Babylonian appointed governor, Gedalia, would mean an easier access for the Babylonian to conquer Amon. Ba'alis then encouraged Yishma'el Ben Netania to assassinate Gedalia. In the seventh month (Tishri) Yishma'el and a group of men came to Gedalia in the town of Mitzpa where they were cordially welcomed with the honors due to descendent of Davidic dynasty. Gedalia had been warned of his guests murderous intent, but he refused to believe his informants, convinced that a Jew would never kill another Jew and compromise their hopes for redemption.  However, Yishma'el and his men murdered Gedalia together with the Jews who had joined him in Mitzpa and numbers of Babylonians whom Nebukhadnetzar had left with Gedalia. Fearing the vengeance of the Babylonian king, the few Jews that were left in Israel to work the land fled to Egypt. And Israel remained virtually without Jews. Thus, the exile of the people of Israel from its land reached its highest peak.  And the hopes for returning to the land vanished. 

In remembrance of this tragedy our Sages instituted the Fast of Gedalia. 

The fast is observed today from daybreak till nightfall ( 7.37 pm , NYT).

Who is exempted from fasting today?
Minors: boys under 13 and girls under 12 years old are completely exempt from fasting.
Nursing women: According to the Sephardic Minhag, after giving birth women are exempted from fasting for 24 months, even if they are not actually nursing their baby.
Pregnant women are exempt from fasting today.
A person who feels ill, or who experiences symptoms of flu or fever, or a person with a chronic disease, such as diabetes, should not fast today.
Elders should consult with their physicians if the fast will not affect their health. If it will, they are exempted (and in some cases, prohibited) from fasting