Friday, October 4, 2013

Shabbat and a life threatening situation

1. "The laws of Sabbath are suspended in the face of a danger to life (piquah nefesh) Therefore, we may perform according to the directives of a physician everything that is necessary for the benefit of a sick person whose life is in danger." (Maimonides MT, Shabbat 2:1)

This principle is learned from the verse in Lev 18:5. HaShem said: "You shall keep My statutes and my rules; which when a person does them, he lives by them... ". Our rabbis explained: when by performing these laws "he lives" he must observe them. However, when by keeping these Mitsvot he or she would die, then the Mitsvot are suspended (except cases of yeherag ve-al ya'abor.Example: if someone tells X: kill Y or else I kill you, X cannot kill Y to save his own life)

2. Even when there is a doubt or a slight possibility to save someone's life Shabbat must be suspended.  
"When there is a doubt whether or not the Sabbath must be violated on a person's behalf, one should violate the Sabbath laws on his or her behalf, for the Sabbath laws are suspended even when there is merely a possibility of danger to a person's life (safeq piquah nefesh). The same principles apply when one physician says that the patient is not in danger and another physician says that he is in danger, the Sabbath should be violated on that person's  behalf." (Idem)

Illustrations: 1. If there is a medication or an experimental drug that has been proven to help some patients, one should suspend the laws of Shabbat if necessary to get that of medication, even when one is not positive it will save the patient's life.  2. If a building collapsed, and there is uncertainty if a person lies under the debris or if we are uncertain if that person is still alive, the laws of Shabbat should be suspended to try to save a life.

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC: 6:14
Shabbat ends in NYC:  7:12

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Third Commandment: You shall not "carry" the name of God in vain.

In Jewish tradition the third commandment "LO TISA" refers to the prohibition of swearing in the name of God in vain or unnecessarily (shebu'at shav). Following Maimonides, it also extends to the prohibition of reciting a blessing in vain.  Why? Ashebu'a is basically a statement, an affirmation of a belief or a fact.  In a blessing we are also making a statement. We assert an idea or a belief about God, while pronouncing His name. For example, when I say the blessing "bore feri ha'ets" I'm not saying "Thank You God for this fruit"  but literally: "Blessed are You, HASHEM our God, King of the universe, who is the Creator of the fruit of the tree". In other words: I'm stating and acknowledging that You -HASHEM- are the Creator of this fruit.   Therefore, if I pronounce this or a similar statement unnecessarily I would be transgressing the third commandment.  This is the source of the halakhic principle: "safeq berakhot lehaqel". Which indicates that in a situation where I'm not sure if I should or should not say a berakha I should abstain, lest I recite an unnecessary berakha (lebatala) and transgress LO TISA.  

The former Chief rabbi of Israel , Rabbi Shelomo 'Amar, explains that this commandment also extends to a different area. The words LO TISA which are commonly translated as "You shall not take..." literally mean: "You shall not 'carry' the name of God in vain". He sees LO TISA also as a warning against showing-off religiosity or piety.  Rabbi 'Amar denounces the unfortunate practice of some people who would disguise themselves as pious, adopting publicly extra restrictions, performing eccentric movements while praying, or carrying out religious acts in unusual ways with the intention of impressing people and making them believe that he is a pious Jew.  This behavior will be an example of "carrying God's name in vain". Pretending that one does something with God in mind when in reality is doing it for his or her own interest.

Rabbi 'Amar explains that contrary to those who display religious zeal in public to impress others, a real pious Jew is first of all humble, and his piety is observed privately and discreetly.    

You can read the full article of Rabbi 'Amar  here  (Hebrew).

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Maran Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488-1575)

 Rabbi Yosef Caro (also Karo or Qaro) was born in Toledo, Spain in 1488. In 1492, at the age of four, he and his family were forced to leave Toledo due to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. His family settled in Portugal. In 1497 the Jews were also expelled from Portugal. The Jews were invited to establish themselves in the Ottoman empire. The Caro family settled in the city of Constantinople.  His father Epharim Caro was his first and most important teacher.    Rabbi Yosef Caro's earliest work was the Kesef Mishne a commentary of Maimonide's Mihsne Torah, where he shows the Talmudic sources and the logic behind Maimonides rulings.  His most famous book is the Shulhan 'arukh, considered the main Code of Jewish Law (see here

In 1535 Rabbi Yosef Caro arrived to Tsefat (Safed, Israel). There he met Rabbi Ya'aqob Berab who planned to reinstitute the semikha, i.e., the formal rabbinical ordination that will enable Rabbis to legislate in all subjects and for all the Jewish people. The intention of Rabbi Berab was to establish a Bet-Din in Tsefat that will be the undisputed Halakhic voice, coming from Israel, for all Jews in the world. Solving thus the current situation in which each Jewish community had its particular and separate Halahkhic practice and customs.  
Rabbi Berab ordained four Rabbis, one of the was Rabbi Yosef Caro. According to the Hida, rabbi Yosef Caro was ordained in addition by 200 rabbis from Erets Israel and the diaspora (The title Sephardic Jews have reserved for Rabbi Yosef Caro is "MARAN" which in Hebrew stands for: ממאתים רבנים נסמך = "The one ordained by 200 Rabbis"). The Hida explained that when one follows the Shulhan 'Arukh is not following the opinion of one rabbi but of 200 Rabbis. At that time, 200 Rabbis represented the majority of the rabbis of the world.  This is the source of the extraordinary authority given to Rabbi Yosef Caro, and the main reason why the Shulhan 'arukh was accepted by all Jews as final and conclusive. 

Maran Rabbi Yosef Caro died in Tsefat in 1575. 

Some of his books are 
  • Kesef Mishne (כסף משנה) a commentary to Maimonides Mishne Tora
  • Bet Yosef (בית יוסף), a monumental commentary on the Arba'a Turim from Rabbi Ya'aqob ben haRosh. This book was aimed to systematize the laws and customs of Judaism. 
  • Shulhan 'Arukh (שולחן ערוך).  Although it is a brief and practical summary of the Bet Yosef it is considered the unquestioned authority of the whole Jewish world.
  • Bedeq ha-Bayit (בדק הבית) additions and corrections to Beth Yosef.
  • Kelalei ha-Talmud (כללי התלמוד) a book on the methodology of the Talmud.

Click here to download the first edition of the Shulhan 'Arukh, Venezia, 1565

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What you might not know about the shulhan 'arukh.

The shulhan 'arukh is known to be "the Code of Jewish Law", and "the most authoritative legal code of Judaism". 

Here is what most people don't know about the shulhan 'arukh.

The shulhan 'arukh, written by rabbi Yosef Caro (1488-1575) is NOT an independent book. It is a summary of the monumental book written previously by rabbi Yosef Caro himself, the Bet Yosef .  In the Bet Yosef (it took him 32 years to write this book) rabbi Caro examines and analyses Jewish Law from the Talmud through the interpretation and commentaries of the most important Rabbinical authorities up to his own time.  In the theshulhan 'arukh rabbi Caro wrote the halakhic conclusions of the Bet Yosef.  Rabbi Yosef Caro wrote the shulhan 'arukh for the sake of Tora scholars who need to have an accessible brief halakhic guide. He also states in his introduction that he writes this short book (in terms of its  text, the shulhan 'arukh is perhaps 3% of the Bet Yosef) to be memorized by the young students. He also divided the shulhan 'arukh in 30 sections so it can be reviewed once a month. All this implies that before reading the shulhan 'arukh one must read the Bet Yosef.  The shulhan 'arukh cannot be properly understood, let alone, used as a source of law, without studying first the Bet Yosef. 

The Bet Yosef/shulhan 'arukh was written explicitly as an attempt to bridge the gaps between Sephardim and Ashkenazim.  In his introduction to the Bet Yosef, Rabbi Caro sates that in his days the Tora became like multiple Torot. He identified mainly three traditions. The Spanish communities who followed Maimonides, the Franco-German tradition who followed the Rosh, and the North african communities who followed the Rif. Rabbi Caro based his Bet Yosef on the book who follows the Rosh (The "TUR", written by the Rosh's son), and as a rule, to establish the final Halakha he followed the opinion of the majority of these three Rabbis. In this way, he hoped, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, would compromise some of their previous customs and all Jews would follow and adopt one single set of Laws.  

(To be continued...


Monday, September 30, 2013

Mashib haRuah: praying with everyone in mind

From the first day of  shemini 'atseret we begin reciting the prayer mashib haruah umorid hageshem. In this prayer we are not "asking" God for rain. We are just acknowledging Him as the One who controls the weather system that produces rain.  The prayer in which we request rain barekh 'alenu is going to be said later on.   But why aren't we asking for rain now, at the beginning of autumn season, when rain is expected and needed?

The answer is simple and inspiring. In ancient Israel the Jews came (walking!) to celebrate Sukkot in Jerusalem from distant places.  After shemini 'atseret every one would come back home. The Rabbis observed that the farthest cities were close to the Euphrates river, today Syria-Iraq. And they calculated that it would take two weeks to walk back to those towns.  The Rabbis did not approve that a Jew in Jerusalem would be asking God for rain, knowing that some of his brothers are still walking back home, and for them rain will not be a blessing at this time. They established then that the prayer for rain will be said two weeks after Sukkot. To give everyone the opportunity to get back home safe and sound.

This is why in Erets Israel, even in our days, the Tefila barekh alenu is not said now but on the 7th of Heshvan, exactly two weeks after shemini 'atseret

Sometimes we might be praying to God for something that would be good for us but bad for somebody else. This is one of the reasons that we always pray in plural. For example: in the prayer where we ask God for our parnasa (livelihood) we don't say: bless
me. We always say: bless us.  I'm asking God to give the same blessings to the person that might be my next door competitor, the one that sells the same merchandise to the same customers I sell to. Praying in plural reinforces our kindness and sensitivity for others. And strengthens our consciousness of collective welfare.  

Click  here to  WATCH
Hope for Heroism
After nearly losing their lives protecting the Jewish nation, injured Israeli soldiers are helping other injured soldiers.