Friday, October 11, 2013

Shabbat and the Fourth Commandment

"Zakhor et yom haShabbat leqaddesho... " Remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it. This is the fourth of the Ten Commandments: our duty to remember the day of Shabbat and to consecrate it as a special day. How do we perform this important Mitsva, remembering and sanctifying the Shabbat?

By reciting the Qiddush. In the Qiddush we remind ourselves the foundation of Shabbat: this is the day that God celebrates the completion of the Creation process. When saying the Qiddush we are giving testimony that our planet and life in our planet are not here by a cosmic chance. It was God Almighty the One who created the world and the One who created us, intelligent life  (intelligence, can only come from intelligence!). 

Meam Loez explains that there are other ways in which we perform this Mitsva of remembering Shabbat.

1. We remember Shabbat in the Tefilot (prayers) that we say on Shabbat. For example, in Birkat haMazon, we add "retse vehahalitsenu" a text in which we mention the importance of Shabbat and we ask God to help us and allow us to live this day with joy, pleasure and peace.

2. Adding (=sanctifying) some extra time at the beginning and at the end of Shabbat. We should receive Shabbat before Shabbat officially begins (sunset) and we should end Shabbat after it officially ends (when three medium stars are visible).

3. Reciting the Habdalah, and declaring officially that Shabbat has ended. By acknowledging the difference between Shabbat and the rest of the week, we proclaim the holiness of Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC:   6:02
Shabbat ends in NYC:       7:01

7 questions from our Parasha. 

Each one of these seven questions is meant to be read before the Aliya starts.  The answer should be found in the plain Biblical text. These simple questions should encourage us to follow the Tora reading paying more attention to its content. 

1st Aliya
HASHEM tells Abram that He will do six things for him if he follows His commandments. What are those six things? (Are they six or seven?)

2nd Aliya
Abraham tells Sara to say that she is his sister, so the Egyptians won't kill him. What went unexpectedly wrong in Abraham's plan? 

3rd Aliya
Why were Lot and Abram unable to live together after they came back from Egypt?

4th Aliya
Where did the war described in this Aliya take place? Why did Abram engage himself in this war? 

5th Aliya
What is the King of Sedom asking and offering Abram? Did Abram accept his offer? Why?  

6th Aliya
What are the borders of the land that HASHEM as promised to Abraham? 

7th Aliya
How old was Abraham and how old was Ishmael when they were circumcised? 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Rabbi Obadia Yosef and the power of Halakhic leniency

As we explained yesterday, one of the principles that guided the rulings of rabbi Obadia Yosef is that a Rabbi must do all possible efforts to make the practice of Judaism more accessible and simpler for his community. Therefore whenever Rabbi Yosef was able to find a way (not a loophole!) he would rule with leniency. This principle is known as koha dehetera 'adif,   "the power of being lenient is preferable". This does not means just that it is recommendable for a Rabbi to be lenient, but also that a Rabbi that is lenient is preferred over other Rabbis. Just like it happens with doctors,etc. the more a Rabbi knows, the more lenient he can be. Whereas when a Rabbi does not know the whole spectrum of the law, his limitations will bring him to be stricter.
Rabbi Obadia Yosef viewed ruling in a lenient way as a characteristic of Sephardic posqim. He quoted the Hida who explained the "Halakhic character" of Sephardic legislators. "The Sephardim are seized by a measure of piety (hesed) and therefore are lenient in the Halakha...".

There were cases of family law, delicate cases like mamzerut, in which Rabbi Yosef was the only Rabbi among all the Rabbis of his generation, who was able to find a way to free a family from this anguish. 

Another example: after the Yom Kippur war in 1973, many soldiers were missing in action. According to Jewish Law if the body, or a witness that saw the dead body, cannot found then the wife cannot be considered a widow and therefore she can't remarry ('aguna).  In Oct. 7th the New York Times wrote an article on Rabbi Yosef and it referred to this case: "In another unconventional ruling, the Rabbi allowed hundreds of women whose husbands were missing after the 1973 war to remarry, although, traditionally, remarriage is allowed only after ... there is incontrovertible proof that her former husband has died."

Rabbi Yosef considered that it was a great achievement finding sufficient Halakhic backup or reasoning to prove that a lenient position is correct. 

Israel's Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, 
expressing his condolences for the 
passing of Rabbi Obadia Yosef z"l

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Leadership of Rabbi Obadia Yosef z"l

Uniting the Israeli Sephardic Jews around one set of traditions, customs and rulings  was one of the main goals and achievements of Rabbi Obadia Yosef z"l.  As we have explained, Sephardic Jews were coming to Israel from many different countries and brought with them their local customs. In many (most?) cases those practices were stricter than what Jewish Law requires. Pesah is a good example. I remember that Jews from Spanish Morocco used to cover the dining room table with seven covers and tablecloths. Or that no one would dare to buy normal sugar or common oil for Pesah. And they would even look to buy a Kosher for Pesah shampoo, etc, etc. The first book published by rabbi Obadia Yosef was Hazon Obadia, a book about the Laws of Pesah. When first published in the 50's it was a revolutionary book.   Because Rabbi Yosef went back to the plain Halakha, without the extra stringencies coming, among others sources, from mystical views (for example, Ben Ish Hay, etc. For Rabbi Obadia Yosef the rulings of the Ari haQadosh or other meqqubalim are applicable only for Tefila, or as a private practice) or from Ashkenazi rulings (particularly in the Laws of Pesah Sephardim and Ashkenazim hold very different views. See for example this ). For this he was criticized and by many Rabbis rejected as a valid Halakhic authority.   

A very similar process happened with the laws of Nidda (family purity), the Laws of Shabbat, Kashrut in the kitchen, just to mention some popular examples.  In the 60's and 70's his opinions were considered by many as very liberal. It took decades until his voice became the authorized voice of mainstream Sephardic communities. 

His vision was to facilitate the practice of Judaism, something that he saw as a very needed principle for our modern days. A few weeks before he passed away he instructed his son, Rabbi Ytshaq Yosef, the newly elected Rishon LeTsion (Sephardic Chief rabbi of Israel) that as the new highest rabbinic authority he must always try to find the ways to make the practice of Tora as lenient and as accessible as possible. 

Tomorrow, BH, we will continue with this last subject.

Rabbi Obadia Yosef crying for the destruction of the Bet-haMiqdash

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Who taught rabbi Obadia Yosef?

"נפלה עטרת ראשנו"

Yesterday, Rabbi Obadia Yosef was buried in Jerusalem. More than 800,000 people attended his levaya in what is considered the largest funeral in the history of modern Israel.  

From a avery early age Rabbi Obadia Yosef showed the two most important signs of a great Tora luminary: a passion for Tora studying and an exceptional memory. But that was not enough in Israel 1930's.  In those days of financial depression the economic situation of the world was chaotic and Israel (in those days: Palestine) was obviously no exception. The Yosef family was not able to afford having one son out of the job market. For a while Rabbi Yosef was allowed to study in the most prestigious Sephardic Yeshiba, Porat Yosef, in the Old City of Jerusalem. But now, he was forced to leave his studies and work in his father's store in the impoverished Bucharian quarter (shekhunat habukharim) in Jerusalem.  

The Yeshiva Porat Yosef was lead by a great Rabbi born in Aleppo, Syria.   Rabbi Ezra Attie  (or Attia עזרא עטייה 1887-1970). Who besides being a very pious man and one of the greatest Tora scholars of his generation had also the skills to identify leadership in his students.  In the short time that rabbi Yosef studied in Porat Yosef Rabbi Attie discovered in him the qualities of a leader: his charisma, his expectational mind and his character.  And now, he was heartbroken to find out that the young Obadia had to leave his studies.  He did not give up and did the unexpected. Rabbi Attie approached rabbi Yosef's father and begged him to let the boy return to the Yeshiba.  He said to Mr. Yosef: "If you need help in the store, I'll stay and work for you. Keeping me away from Tora study matters less than keeping your son away."  The father couldn't say no. And realizing the potential of his son as a great Tora scholar he allowed him back into the Yeshiba.  That was probably the most important turning point in rabbi Yosef's life.

Rabbi Ezra Attie was the teacher and permanent mentor of rabbi Yosef. He also discovered and trained other important rabbinical leaders of our times. Among his students are: Rabbi Mordekhai Eliyahu z"l,  Rabbi Benzion Abba Shaul z"l and Rabbi Iytzhaq Qaduri, z"l. 


Monday, October 7, 2013

Rabbi Obadia ben Ya'aqob Yosef z"l, 1920-2013

Today is a very sad day for Am Israel. Hakham Obadia Yosef passed away at the age of 93.  Hakham Obadia was not just a former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel (Rishon LeTsion) but also the Rabbi that lead the Sephardim in Israel and the diaspora to  reclaim their customs, traditions and Halakhot.  

Rabbi Obadia Yosef's passion was the study of Tora. Particularly, all the  legal aspects of Judaism. Jewish jurisprudence is a very complex discipline. And one has to read many, many books, some of them of an encyclopedic size, in order to become a master in the field. Rabbi Yosef was probably the most knowledgeable Rabbi of this generation. He was gifted with an exceptional memory which allow him to know and quote by heart thousands of rabbinic opinions, analysis and rulings. This extensive knowledge, of course, is not the product of just an exceptional memory and mental talents but mainly of an uninterrupted dedication to Tora study. I remember that his son, Rabbi Ya'aqob Yosef z"l once told us that his own passion for studying Tora began once he saw his father gently rocking the crib of one of his baby brothers with one hand, while holding and reading a book in the other hand. 

What characterized Rabbi Yosef as the leader of the Sephardic Jewry is that besides his extraordinary knowledge he also had the courage to reclaim the Sephardic Halakhic voices of the past as authoritative and binding in the present.   That was not a small task, considering that at that time he had to openly challenge other movements and schools (revisionists, extremists, assimilationist, mystical, etc.) that also claimed to represent an authentic Sephardic approach. Most of these schools considered that rabbi Obadia Yosef's rulings were too lenient. 

As a poseq (rabbinic legislator) his main contribution was perhaps the enhancement and the virtual reinstallation of Maran Rabbi Yosef Caro and his Shulhan 'arukh as the ultimate authority for Sephardic Jews in Israel. "qibalnu hora-ot Maran Bet Yosef" (we accepted the rulings of Rabbi Yosef Caro) is the foundation of his Halakhic legacy.  

In the coming days, BH, I will explain a little more about his opinions and books as a humble tribute to his memory