Friday, November 8, 2013

SHABBAT, medical emergencies during Shabbat

As we have previously explained, in a case where we asses that there is danger to a person's life (hole sheyesh bo sakana), the rules of Shabbat are suspended.

The rabbis gave some examples of this type of emergencies which require immediate medical treatment and therefore, supersede the observance of Shabbat.

1. An internal wound (maka she halal), which includes very intense internal pain or internal bleeding. The shulhan 'arukh (328:3) also includes within this category a wound in the mouth or teeth. If we suspect that an internal organ is affected we should proceed and do whatever necessary to help the patient: call a doctor or an ambulance, bring the patient to the Hospital, etc.   Now, if we know for sure what the origin of the pain or the bleeding is, and we asses that if we wait until Shabbat is over, there will be no danger to the patient's life, then we should wait until Motsae Shabbat (Yalqut Yosef 4:117).

2. The rabbis include within the category of medical emergencies a wound in the hand, leg, etc. caused by a metallic instrument which can provoke an infection. However, only a deep wound would be considered in our days a medical emergency. A small superficial wound should be treated temporarily with local antibiotic or cleaned with soap, etc. until medical assistance is sought once Shabbat ends. 

3. Very high fever,  a snake's or a scorpion's bite, etc. is also considered  a medical emergency.  

The general rule is that if the people who are taking care of the patient (or the patient himself) believe that he or she requires immediate medical assistance, they should do everything necessary to treat the patient: calling an ambulance, bringing a doctor or a nurse or taking the patient to the Hospital.  Now, if a health care professional can be easily reached without risking the patient's life (e.g., a nurse living in the same building) one should obviously seek that professional assessment and proceed accordingly ( penine halakha,  27:233).


Candle lighting in NYC:   4:25 pm
Shabbat Ends in NYC:      5:24 pm


Thursday, November 7, 2013

BEST SEGULOT: a SEGULA for God's attention.

 Bircat Cohnaim, the priestly blessing, is specially important.  It is a blessing that HaShem bestows upon us through the Cohanim.  A blessing is not magic. For a blessing to eventually come to fruition, one needs to become a suitable receiver of that blessing. Example: If I ask HaShem's blessing for my livelihood, I should not stay home doing nothing. I should go to work and become a suitable recipient of HaShem's blessing 

In the third verse of Bircat Cohanim it says: Yissa HaShem Panav Elekha, "May HaShem turn His face to you". First of all we need to understand that God does not have a "Face". With the word "face" the Tora is describing in human language "God's attention". In other words, this berakha is saying: "May haShem pay attention to you". This is a great blessing. Sounds too good to be true! God, the creator of the universe, paying special attention to ME!  What should I do to deserve the extraordinary privilege of HaShem's attention?  Imagine a huge classroom with hundreds of students. They all came to listen to a lecture given by a very famous professor. As he enters the room he looks at the audience, politely welcomes everyone. But suddenly he identifies someone in the fifth row. He turns his eyes to him, waves his hand and smiles to him. Why would the professor do that? At the end of the lecture you approach the student and ask him:  why the Professor turned his face to you? He tells you. "During the last three months I read his books, I exchanged some emails with him, and I met him in person to discuss his ideas. He KNOWS me." 

Similarly, if we want to be the recipients of this blessing, the way to deserve God's attention is by being KNOWN to Him. Studying His books, communicating with Him, and meeting Him as frequently as we can is the way to be known by Him and deserve the blessing of His attention


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rabbi Moshe Alashqar (1466-1542)

Rabbi Moshe Alashqar (מהר"ם אלאשקר)  was born in 1466 in Zamora, Spain. In 1492, when rabbi Moshe was 26 years old, the Jews were expelled from Spain. He suffered many tribulations. His ship sank and he was captured by pirates. At the end he managed to escape and established himself in Tunis, together with the celebrated Rabbi Abraham Zacuto.  From Tunis he went to Greece and in 1522 he settled in Egypt where he was part of the rabbinical court of Rabbi David ibn Zimra (The Radbaz).   He was one of the greatest rabbinical authorities of his time and as such he was consulted from all over the world.  He wrote many books, some of which were never printed. One of his works is the Hasagot (=refutations), against the arguments of Rabbi Shem Tob ben Shem Tob in the sefer ha-emunot, who was critical of Maimonides' More Nebukhim. Rabbi Alashqar was a strong supporter of More Nebukhim and, in general of Maimonides ideas (You can find the Hasagot in teshuba קי"ז. See below). In 1539 he established himself in Erets Israel. He died in 1542 and was buried in Yerushalayim. 

His most famous book is Teshubot Maharam Alashqar, a book of 120 questions and answers on all topics.  One example (Teshuba צ"ו). The original questions deals with a child born in the twilight between Friday and Shabbat. While analyzing the different opinions on the Halakhic ending of a day and the beginning of a new day, Rabbi Alashqar quotes the Talmud in Pesahim 94. The Talmud records a disagreement between the Jewish sages and the Greek sages.  The Jewish sages--the Rabbis--originally thought that during the night the sun goes above the "arch of heaven", while the Greek sages believed that the sun went below earth. At the end, the Talmud concludes, the Rabbis admitted that the Greek sages were right, because at night oceans, rivers and lakes are warmer. The Tosafot and Nahmanides thought that since the Rabbis cannot be wrong what the Talmud meant to say is that the Rabbis admitted that the reasoning of the Greek sages was right, but not the facts (Actually, the opinion of Rabbenu Tam for whom the sheqi'a is 72 minutes long is based on the idea that at night the sun travels above the heavens arch. And precisely because the Rabbis admitted that the sun does not travel above heavens, Rabbi Alashqar rejects the sheqi'a of Rabenu Tam).  Maimonides, on the other hand, asserted that we should understand the admission of the rabbis literally. The Rabbis reassessed their opinions based on the new found facts. For Maimonides this admission, far from undermining the Rabbis authority, is a sign of their integrity in the pursuit of the truth.   Rabbi Alashqar sided with Maimonides and he explained that the Rabbis are the supreme and uncontested authority in Jewish Law (like the Supreme court of Justice) but in other areas (science, for example) where they did not receive a oral tradition, the Rabbis opinions were left open for debate.     

To download the book of Rabbi Moshe Alashqar click here  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

KASHRUT: What makes a fish Kosher?

The Tora says: "These you may eat, of all that are in the waters. Everything in the waters that has fins and scales ... you may eat. But anything in the seas or the rivers that has not fins and scales ... is forbidden to you" (Lev. 11:9-11). Both elements, scales (qasqeset) and fins (senapir) are necessary for a fish to be considered Kosher. The Rabbis of the Talmud taught that although both elements are necessary, all fish with scales also have fins. Thus, in practical terms, a Kosher fish is identified simply by the presence of scales (the scales are obviously removed in the process of cleaning the fish). Illustrations: Salmon, Tuna, White fish, etc. are Kosher (more specifically tabor)  because they have scales.  Crustaceans such as lobster or squid, clams, oysters, etc. are not Kosher (they are ta-me) because they lack scales.
SCALES: Some "scales" not considered Kosher by Jewish Law. For example, when the scales are part of the fish-skin and cannot be removed without damaging the skin. Illustrations: Sturgeon, although it has primitive bony-plates on its sides, is not Kosher because its scales (Gandoid scales) cannot be removed without damaging the flesh. Sharks are also non-Kosher fish. Their skin is covered with tiny teeth-like armor (placoid scales) which look like scales.
NAMES: When looking for a Kosher fish bear in mind that the names might vary from place to place. A given specie of fish might be known by five or more names and some of those names might sound Kosher. Illustration: We know that salmon is Kosher. But what about "Rock Salmon"? Is Rock salmon a standard variety of salmon, like Pink Salmon, Atlantic Salmon, Wild Salmon?   Rock Salmon (very popular in England) is a non-Kosher fish, a small shark known as spiny-dogfish, which bears no relationship to the common Kosher specie of true salmon.
For a comprehensive list of Kosher and non-Kosher fish see this

Monday, November 4, 2013

Maimonides 'Aboda Zara 11:4: Divination and other superstitions

People always longed to know what the future holds, either out of  curiosity or mainly in order to anticipate unseen dangers. All ancient civilizations - and even some cultures of today - used all kind of methods to predict the future.  One of them is "divination", i.e., reading in nature or in trivial events signs and indications for what the future awaits.  In Hilkhot 'aboda zara 11:4 Maimonides explains that the Tora condemns this practice and brings some illustrations of divination: "For example, those who say: Since a piece of bread fell out of my mouth, or my staff fell from my hand, I will not travel to this place". Or, "Since a fox [today we would say: a black cat] passed on my right side, I will not go out of my house, since if I were to go out, I would encounter a bad person". In our days we call this practices "superstitions". But because superstitions include many different categories, we should see these cases (=reading signs) as "divination". 

Ancient civilizations had seers and wizards who, for example, would read signs in the internal organs of slaughtered animals or would wait in the forest to listen the chirping of the birds. The bird's songs were taken as messages from the gods or magic spirits. Maimonides continues: "Similarly, [this category includes] those who hear the chirping of a bird and say: This will happen or this will not happen; it is beneficial to do this or it is detrimental to do this."

The idea behind "divination" is that the gods are sending a message, warning against unpredicted dangers.  We Jews do not believe that nature embodies divine attributes.  We Jews believe that God's instructions for our life are explicitly expressed in the Tora, not hidden in natural phenomena.  The practice of divination is a desperate attempt to escape the responsibility to choose, probably out of fear of unpredictable outcomes. Connecting the dots between the chirping of the birds etc., and what the future awaits, is the product of a rich imagination and self-deception. We Jews do not read imaginary signs in nature. We read God's will in the Tora, and exercise our freedom of choice. 

Some present day politicians believe that birds are still carrying messages from the spirits. See this