Friday, November 15, 2013

SHABBAT: Treating a medical condition on Shabbat

Last week we discussed the cases of medical emergencies on Shabbat. We explained that when we know or even suspect that the patient's life is at risk, then ALL Shabbat restrictions are suspended, and we should do whatever necessary to save a life (see here). 

Today we will begin exploring a second category known as חולה שאין בו סכנה , the case of a patient whose life is NOT at risk. I will refer to this category (arbitrarily) as "medical condition" as oppose to a "medical emergency".    

First we need to know which conditions are included in this category. I present some examples discussed in Jewish law.  
a. A person who rests in bed because of an illness related weakness or condition. 
b. Someone who suffers from an acute pain that impairs his or her normal functioning. 
c. A patient who suffers from a chronic disease (diabetes, asthma) which does not impair normal functioning but requires permanent treatment.  

In all these cases, medical treatment might be needed, but there is no danger to the patient's life.  

The general rule for this category is that, unlike the case of a medical emergency in which ALL Shabbat laws are suspended, in a medical condition only "Rabbinical" Shabbat laws are suspended, in order to take care of the patient or administer treatment.

It is beyond the scope of these brief lines to compare exhaustively Biblical and Rabbinical Law. So,  I will present just one illustration. 

AMIRA LEGOY: It would be forbidden for me to boil water to assist a patient with a medical condition, which is not a medical emergency. Why? Because boiling water on Shabbat will imply the transgression of Biblical restrictions (a melakha, i.e., lighting a fire, boiling the water). However, if a gentile is available, I could ask him or her to boil the water for the patient.   Why? Because asking a non-Jew to perform a melakha  is forbidden by the Rabbis, not by Biblical Law.  As a general rule then, we could ask a non-Jew to do everything needed to treat a medical condition on Shabbat. 

There are other categories of activities which are considered Rabbinical and not Biblical prohibitions, many of them related to new technology.  Next week BH we will see some examples of modern technology applied to the treatment of medical conditions.   


Candle lightning in NYC:       4:18 pm
Shabbat ends in NYC:              5:18 pm

Thursday, November 14, 2013

When does HaShem reject our prayers?

ישעיה פרק א

15. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even when you offer to me many prayers, I will not be listening, [because] your hands are full of blood!

16. Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight. Stop doing wrong.

17. Learn to do right. Seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the orphan. Plead the case of the widow.

SEGULA for EFFECTIVE PRAYER: Once every 50 years or once I improve?

As we state everyday in the Amida (ki Ata shomea' Tefilat kol pe) our God, the God of Israel, listens to our prayers.  There is no need to wait for auspicious hours or calculate the astrologically positive times as the pagan prophet Bil'am thought to do. We can pray to HaShem any time we want. And we can expect Him to listen to our Tefilot.  But there are exceptions. These exceptions are not time-bound limitations, as the pagans thought.  They are related to our behavior. 

No one described this scenario better than the prophet Yesha'ayahu when he said in the name of haShem: (1:15) "When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you. Even when you offer to me many prayers, I am not going to listen".  Yesha'ayahu said that sometimes HaShem "hides" and rejects our prayers. 

Now, in which situations God rejects our prayers? The end of that verse 1:15 says it explicitly. I'm not listening to your prayers because "...your hands are full of blood".  People were corrupt. They killed, robbed, cheated, bribed. They did not protect the widow, the orphan, or the poor. The opposite: they abused those who were not able to defend themselves.  This is why HaShem did not listen to their prayers. Because they were behaving badly! They would come to the Bet haMiqdash, after doing all these immoralities, and expect to pray to God as if nothing happened! As if HaShem could be "bribed" by loud prayers or dramatic gesticulations.  

Yesha'ayahu said it clearly. It does not work that way! HaShem will reject the prayer of the corrupt (even if he prays during "auspicious" times!). Unless he repents and improves his behavior.  For that situation to be reversed, and for God to be willing to listen to their prayers, Yesha'ayahu recommended:(1:16-17) "Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight. Stop doing wrong.Learn to do the right thing. Seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the orphan.  Plead the case of the widow ".  Then HaShem will listen to our prayers. 

SegulaRepeat these 3 pesuqim, Isaiah 1:15 to 1:17, every day as many times as needed. 

Andrew Klavan and his one state solution 
for the Middle East

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Rabbi Abraham Zacuto (1452-1515)

Rabbi Abraham Zacuto was born in Salamanca, Spain in 1452. He studied Tora with his father Shemuel Zacuto and with rabbi Isaac Abohab. He was a great Tora scholar, very well versed in Talmud, Jewish Law, Philosophy and Mysticism.  He also studied astronomy in the famous university of Salamanca and taught in the universities of Zaragoza and Cartagena. 

In 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain he fled to Portugal.  The Portuguese King Joao the 2nd appointed him as the Royal Astronomer and the Historian of the court.  In 1497, upon the arrival of the new King Manuel, the Jews of Portugal underwent a forced conversion, in other words, they were declared Christians by Royal decree, and if found practicing Judaism they would be killed by the Inquisition in the infamous Autos de Fe. He fled to Tunis and later on managed to arrive to Jerusalem, where he died in 1515 (Other versions have him living his final days in Damascus, Syria).   

Rabbi Abraham Zacuto engaged in astronomical research, an indispensable knowledge for navigating the seas. In 1478 he wrote his major astronomical work, Ha-Ḥibbur ha-Gadol. This book along with other books and treatises on astronomy (e.g., "On the solar and lunar eclipses") were translated to Spanish and Latin.  In 1496 the King Joao sought his advice before sending Vasco da Gama on his sea expedition to India, around the Southern coast of Africa. Rabbi Zacuto prepared the naval-astronomical calculations. He instructed the expedition to use his newly perfected astrolabe (an astrolabe capable to determine latitude while at sea)  and his maritime tables and charts, especially the Almanach Perpetuum (or Biur Luhoth) which revolutionized ocean navigation. 
Rabbi Zacuto wrote many Tora books as well. His most famous book in Hebrew is called sefer yohasin (ספר יוחסין) "The book of lineage", a superb book of Jewish history since Biblical times until his own days.   Click here to download one of the first editions of the book. 

For a very good English edition of Sefer Yohassin see this (Check the especial offer of the Kindle edition for 0.99$ ).  

FOR a free English translation online of rabbi Zacuto Sefer Yohasin see this

For a more comprehensive biography of RABBI ABRAHAM ZACUTO see, a website founded by Dr. Vladimir Rozenblit, a 20th generation direct descendant of Rabbi Zacuto. 

Rabbi Abraham Zacuto's signature

For his contributions in Astronomy, the crater Zagut on the Moon is named after Rabbi Abraham Zacuto.

There are many fascinating stories about Rabbi Abraham Zacuto's involvement with  Christopher Columbus. We know that Columbus knew and used Zacuto's tables in his expedition to the Indias (America). Rabbi Zacuto was also instrumental in raising a big loan for Columbus expeditions from Abraham Senior and he introduced the unknown Columbus to Rabbi Don Isaac Abarbanel who arranged for the navigator's audience with the King and the Queen.  Columbus set sail to America, bearing the Zacuto tables with him. Zacuto's tables saved Columbus life. During Columbus' last voyage to America, in February 1504,  his small fleet was marooned on Jamaica, where the natives did not want to supply him and his sailors with food.  The tables predicted that on February 29, 1504 it will be a lunar eclipse. Columbus assembled the Caciques (as the native chiefs were called) and threatened them that he will banish the moonlight completely if they would not give food. The eclipse frightened the natives and they asked Columbus to save the moon. Columbus acquiesced, the eclipse passed and since then the Caciques respected him and provided with all he needed.
The descents of the Zacuto family insist that a son of rabbi Abraham Zacuto sailed with Columbus and accompanied him in all his journeys. If so, this young man was the first Jew on the American soil

Monday, November 11, 2013

MAIMONIDES 'aboda zara 11:4. Let's flip a coin!

Last week we began to describe a pagan practice called "divination" which Maimonides in Hilkhot 'aboda zara 11:4 includes within the prohibition of idolatry. We explained that divination means "reading in nature or in trivial events messages from the gods" (see this).

In that same Halakha Maimonides refers to another type of divination. This time is not about a person reading the will of the gods in events that occurred to him or around him, but in signals that he sets for himself.   Maimonides says: "if a person sets omens for himself, e.g., if this and this happens I will do this... all is forbidden".  For example. If a person has to make a personal decision (a business deal, a shiddukh, a medical procedure, etc.) and he says to himself: "Since I don't know if God wants me to do this or not, I will flip a coin. If a get 'tails' it means that God wants me to do it, 'heads', God does not want me to do it." This reasoning is apparently irreproachable. After all God definitely controls the outcome of the flipping coin.   For Maimonides, however, a person who acts upon this type of divination is transgressing a Biblical prohibition. Why? Because the person who flips the coin assumes that God is 'coerced' to reveal His will by making the coin land on "heads" or "tails". And this is definitely a pagan reasoning. The quintessence of 'aboda zara consisted of the idea that humans can force the gods to grant them information about the future, by setting imaginary preconceived omens. The ultimate goal of pagans was not to serve God (as it our goal as Jews) but to coerce the gods to serve them.  Such an attempt to manipulate God, Has veShalom, is an idolatrous and forbidden practice.    

NOTE: Flipping or tossing a coin to resolve a dispute, when both parties a priori agree to accept the results of the outcome--like what is done in a football game to decide which team will use the ball first--is an acceptable practice.  This type of method (in Hebrew goral) used for conflict resolution is mentioned in the shulhan 'arukh, hoshen mishpat, 173:2, 174: 4,5 as a valid way by which heirs or partners would resolve their differences in dividing a piece of land, etc. 

Fear & Illusion
How much of our fear is based 
on a faulty perspective of reality?
by Hanan Harchol