Friday, October 25, 2013

Giving birth on Shabbat

A woman who is about to give birth (contractions or breaking water) is considered as a case of a hole sheyesh bo sakana, a patient in a serious condition. It is permitted, therefore, to help her, assist her and do whatever is necessary for her to arrive to the Hospital. Still, the Rabbis indicated that since as opposed for example to a patient having a heart attack, the mother-to-be is not in a life threatening situation, the actions forbidden in Shabbat (=melakhot) should be performed in an irregular way ('al yede shinuy) or by the help of a non-Jew. Thus, rendering those melkahot to the category of Rabbinical as opposed to Biblical transgressions.      

Likewise, if one has to choose between taking his own car or a taxi, it is better to take a taxi, even if one has to phone-call the taxi, because parking the car (turning off engine, lights, etc) might be an issue with one's own car (yalqut yosef Shabbat D, 297).  An ambulance is also a better choice than your own car. 

All these indications--doing things in a irregular way or calling a taxi instead of taking your own car, etc.-- are suspended if one knows or suspects that by doing them the mother or the baby might be in danger.  In case of a life threatening situation Shabbat is cancelled (hutra), which means that it has to be considered as if it was a weekday.  

It is also permitted to travel with the mother, even when an ambulance is driving her and, technically, there is no practical need for someone else.  We learn this Halakha from an explicit Mishna that authorizes to do a forbidden activity on Shabbat (=lehadliq ner) just to calm down the mother at such a sensitive time (liyasheb et da'atah shel hayoledet).  

Once one knows that his wife might be giving birth in Shabbat, a handbag with all the paperwork needed for the Hospital and all the basic things needed for Shabbat ( like food, a siddur, etc.) should be prepared before Shabbat. It is also recommended  to  contact a taxi company or a driver and pay him for his service before Shabbat.  

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC: 5:42 pm
Shabbat ends in NYC: 6:40 pm

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Best SEGULA to find a Shiduch (for men only!)

נחית דרגא נסיב איתתא, פ' רש"י לא תקח אשה חשובה ממך שמא לא תתקבל עליה. יבמות ס"ג

Worldwide, single Jewish boys and girls are having a hard time finding their soul mates. People resort to all kind of metaphysical help and prayers-by-proxy. And for the most part, it's not working. 

Today I will share with you boys a very powerful SEGULA which can help you to find the right girl!

This SEGULA is brought in the Talmud Yebamot, 63. So, you can consider it absolutely legit! It is addressed specifically to men and it consists of just four words: נחית דרגא ונסיב איתתא. Literally: "Descend one step and get a wife". Rashi expands: "Do not look for a woman that is on a higher level than you, because she might not find you attractive".  

What the rabbis are saying is that you, the man, need to look for a girl that finds YOU attractive. Well, you have to admit that this is, indeed, a revolutionary statement for our modern society! And a big problem for those who think the Tora (or our rabbis) are chauvinist.   

Allow me to illustrate how this SEGULA works.  If I ask a guy of certain age why he still single, knowing that BH he has potential suitable candidates, he would repeat this mantra: "Rabbi, I need to find a girl that I feel attracted to her".  If a guy considers himself in terms of looks, say, level "8", he expects to find a girl who is at least on level "9" or "10". It absolutely does not cross through his mind for a second that the level "9" girl expects a level "10" guy, not an level "8" guy!   

Our rabbis said that in terms of appeal, as long as you do not feel a physical rejection for that person, you should try to explore the possibilities of a relationship when you find a good candidate. You need to allow time, closeness and eventually love to generate the long lasting attraction. The media, on the other side, is reprograming our minds to believe that "every girl who does not look like a movie star can not be attractive to me". Modern media is perhaps the main responsible for the materialistic consideration of "looks", and particularly women's looks, as the most determining factor in a Shiduch.   
This SEGULA teaches men to make a switch and think: "I must find a girl that finds ME attractive". I know many (too many, unfortunately!) guys who are very suitable bachelors.  And sometimes years might pass by until they get married. Why?  Because probably guided by their primitive hunter's instincts they often fall in the tramp of their own imagination: "I loss interest in the girls who like me. I need to conquer a girl who is still not attracted to me". This destructive utopia sometimes can last for years. 

So, if you are in this kind of a situation, and you are really looking to get married, repeat this SEGULA (nahit darga unsib iteta) at least forty times a day, and start looking for the right girl, the one who is already attracted to you. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rabbi Ya'aqob Ibn Habib (1460-1516)

Rabbi Ya'aqob ibn Habib was born in Zamora, Spain in 1460. He was one of the greatest rabbis and Talmudist of his time and the head of the Yeshiba in the city of Salamanca, Castilla (Central Spain).  When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 he and his family left to Portugal. But in 1496 the Jews were given the choice to convert to Catholicism or to abandon Portugal. Rabbi Ya'aqob left Portugal and settled in Salonica (today Thessaloniki, Greece)  where he founded the new congregation of "Megoreshe Castilla", the exiled from Castilla (Since those days Salonica became one of the most important and influential cities for Sephardic Jewry for centuries. Up until recent times the economic presence of the Jews was so important that the Salonica Port was closed on Shabbat. In 1943 more than 60,000 Jews --95% of the Jews of Salonica-- were deported and killed in concentration camps.  Today approximately 1,500 Jews live in Salonica). 

In Salonica Rabbi Ya'qaob Ibn Habib he found a generous patron,  Don Yehuda Benveniste, who placed his rich library at his disposal. That library contained many books on the Talmud from the most distinguished commentators. There Rabbi Ya'aqob Ibn Habib wrote the famous book 'en ya'qaob, a collection of all the non-Halakhic discussions, Midrashim and ethical teachings of the rabbis of the Talmud, with the commentaries and remarks of rabbi Ibn habib (pirush hamehabber).  'en ya'aqob was first published in Salonica in 1516, a few months after Rabbi Ya'qaob had passed away.  Rabbi Ya'aqob wrote only on two of the six sections of the Talmud (zeraim and mo'ed) but the book was completed by his son, Rabbi Levy ibn Habib (the famous רלב"ח) .

MORE ON עין יעקב

In those days, many gentiles and conversos were attacking the Talmud with ridiculous accusations.   In 1546 the book was republished in Venezia. But in 1555 the local Inquisition declared the Talmud as a book of heresy. And the 'en ya'aqob was burned in the public square together with copies of the Talmd Babli and Yerushalmi. After ten years the ban against the book expired. And 'en ya'aqob was again published in 1565, but under a different name: 'en Israel

'en Ya'aqob or 'en Israel became a very popular book among Sephardim and Ashkenazim.  There are dozens of different editions and hundreds of commentaries, including contemporary commentaries (see for example this).

The 'en ya'aqob had a very special place among the Tora curriculum of Sephardic Jews. Up until recent times 'en ya'aqob was a textbook for young students (elementary school). It was studied as an indispensable introduction to the Talmud. Before navigating the complex Talmudic legal hermeneutics, the young student would learn from 'en ya'aqob the style, the narrative and especially the language of the Talmud.      
See here one of the oldest editions of 'en ya'aqob, Venezia 1625. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

KASHRUT: What is Halaq meat?

From the pesaqim of Rabbi Obadia Yosef z"l

After the ritual slaughtering or Shehita, the body of the animal is examined by the bodeq, the expert Rabbi who runs a virtual autopsy of the animal to detect any kid of terefa.  "Terefa" means a disease which would have provoked that animal's death within twelve months.  The Rabbis described seventy type of diseases /terefot that could affect an animal and therefore render it forbidden for consumption. 
In practical terms most of these terefot are checked just when the animal presents a symptom. For example, if the animal is limping, the Rabbi would check the legs, thighs, hip, etc. to exclude an internal bleeding or the presence of any kind of a terminal affection. In general, however, the Rabbis would pursue animals with no symptoms of any  disease. 

Still, there is one organ that is always checked, particularly in cows: the lungs. Lungs are very sensitive organs because many times cows might swallow a nail, a piece of wood, etc. which might puncture their lungs and provoke a fatal disease. The lungs are checked for any accidental perforations in the same way the car's tires are checked for air leaking. Inflating them and submerging them in water. A leak will render the animal as terefa.           
The Halakhic debate in this matter concerns the status of the animal when certain filaments (in Hebrew sirkhot)  are found in the walls of its lungs.  (This is avery technical issue, so I'm skipping some details).  For Sephardic Rabbis those filaments are indicative of a perforation in the lungs and that animal is therefore declared "terefa". For Ashkenazi Rabbis, however, when those filaments could be removed, and the lungs do not leak, the animal is Kasher.  

The presence of this type of lung-filaments is very common. Only 50% of all cows have completely smooth lungs (the word "halaq" means "smooth", lungs without filaments) while 80% of the other cows have removable lung-filaments. In other words, while for Sephardic tradition only half of all slaughtered cows will be considered Kasher (halaq) for the Ashkenazi tradition 90% will be considered Kasher.   

(To be continued....)

                         And you thought you have seen it all....

Monday, October 21, 2013

Shulhan 'arukh, Chapter 1 (selected paragraphs)

I have selected mainly the Halakhot which I believe are more needed or relevant for our days. My comments are integrated into the texts.  

One should get up in the morning with renewed energies [lit. with the strength of a lion] to serve God, the Creator. 

It is appropriate for every God-fearing Jew to lament and grieve for the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash. Many optional prayers were composed for this purpose, one of them is tiqun hatsot, said after midnight. A pious Jew cries for the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash and requests from HaShem to restore His presence in Yerushalayim, building His Temple soon in our times. 

Regarding these extra prayers, it is better to say fewer prayers with full consciousness  (kavana) than more prayers without full attention.  Since these prayers are optional there is no mandatory text that has to be recited, as it will be the case for example, with the recitation of the Shema Israel, etc. Therefore, one should chose quality over quantity. We have translated kavana by consciousness or awareness. The ideal level of kavana includes understanding the meaning of what we read, paying attention to what we read and feeling what we are reading.  

Before we start the formal Tefila (Barukh sheAmar, etc) we should read some Biblical passages related to the qorbanot (sacrifices). After we read  those texts we ask haShem to consider this recitation as if we have actually offered those sacrifices. All these texts are already included in our prayer books.

According to the Shulhan 'arukh we should also read every day, among other things, the Ten Commandments. All commentaries agree that the Shulhan 'arukh is referring here to the private (as opposed to public) recitation of the Ten Commandments. The public reading of the Ten commandments was a subject of debate from Talmudic times (Berakhot 12a). Since the Christian Church considered the Ten Commandments as of a level higher than the rest of the commandments (arguing than only the Ten Commandments were expressed directly by God)  Jews have avoided the public recitation of the Ten Commandants. The prevalent custom then is to omit them from public worship.  

The first Chapter of Shulhan 'arukh (Hebrew)

סימן א'
דין השכמת הבוקר ובו ט' סעיפים:
(א) יתגבר כארי לעמוד בבוקר לעבודת בוראו שיהא הוא מעורר השחר. (ב) המשכים להתחנן לפני בוראו יכוון לשעות שמשתנות המשמרות שהן בשליש הלילה ולסוף שני שלישי הלילה ולסוף הלילה שהתפילה שיתפלל באותן השעות על החורבן ועל הגלות רצויה. (ג) ראוי לכל ירא שמים  שיהא מיצר ודואג על חורבן בית המקדש. (ד) טוב מעט תחנונים בכוונה מהרבות בלא כוונה. (ה) טוב לומר פרשת העקדה ופרשת המן ועשרת הדברות ופרשיות עולה ומנחה ושלמים וחטאת ואשם. (ו) פרשיות הקרבנות לא יאמר אלא ביום (ז) כשיסיים פרשת העולה יאמר: יהי רצון מלפניך שיהיה זה חשוב ומקובל כאילו הקרבתי עולה וכך יאמר אחר פרשת המנחה והשלמים מפני שהם באים נדבה. (ח) יאמר עם הקרבנות פסוק ושחט אותו על ירך המזבח צפונה לפני ה'. (ט) יש נוהגין לומר פרשת הכיור ואחר כך פרשת תרומת הדשן ואחר כך פרשת התמיד ואחר כך פרשת מזבח מקטר קטורת ופרשת סממני הקטורת ועשייתו: