Friday, January 3, 2014

SHABBAT: Removing snow on Shabbat

In most Israeli cities snow is not very common.  This year, however, there were large amounts of snow, especially in Yerushalayim, and many rabbis referred to the question of removing snow on Shabbat from our front doors, doorways or any other paths that need to be used on Shabbat.  This HOTD will review three of the main concerns discussed as possible reasons as to why one can/can't handle snow on Shabbat. 

1. The first concern is muqse. Muqse, defines those elements which we cannot handle on Shabbat, even when we are not doing any forbidden action with them (examples: money, a cellphone, a Tefilin, etc.).    And why we could suppose that snow would be muqse on Shabbat? Because one of the categories of muqse includes nolad, (=a newborn thing). Something that was not there before Shabbat becomes automatically muqse on Shabbat. For example, if a chicken would lay an egg on Shabbat, that egg cannot be handled (tiltul) on Shabbat because it is muqse.  When it snows on Shabbat, it seems that the same principle should apply: we should not remove snow because it is considered nolad/muqse...   However, according to the Shulhan Arukh (328:8, 320:10-11 or Bet Yosef at the end of 310)  rain, hail or by the same principle snow, which falls on Shabbat, is not muqse. Because it is considered a natural extension of expected freshwater. So, from the point of view of muqse, it will be no problematic to handle snow. Additionally, and at least for those who would follow the ruling of the Rama (308:6), even if one would considered snow muqse (like Iggerot Moshe  23:36) it will be permitted to remove snow because for Rama it is permitted to remove a muqse that can become a potential hazard for the public.

2. The next point is that according to some rabbis (leb abraham) clearing snow would be considered an strenuous physical effort which should be prevented on Shabbat. This argument can also be rejected because not every strenuous physical effort is forbidden on Shabbat. For example in case of need we could move a big table from one side of the room to the other side, etc.  

3. The last concern is that removing snow might lead to carrying outside (hotsa-a, ha'abara) in an area with no 'erub.  This is probably the most serious concern because it potentially involves a Biblical (mideOrayta) transgression.  In any case, when there is no 'erub, snow still could be removed from our doorways, etc., provided we would not be carrying the snow or the shovel for more than 6 feet (4 amot). 

NOTE: In our particular case (NYC) today, since it snowed on Friday, we obviously should not leave the removing of the snow deliberately for Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom
Candle lighting in NYC  4:21 pm 
Shabbat ends in NYC   5:22 pm


Thursday, January 2, 2014

BEST SEGULOT: Maimonides' SEGULA for a good health

Keeping ourselves in good health requires, first of all, visiting periodically a doctor for routine checks up and/or when we have, or we suspect we have, any symptom of a possible disease. 

Maintaining a good health also involves the discipline of keeping ourselves away from bad habits. For example: smoking cigarettes. If I smoke I cannot expect the doctor to perform a miraculous treatment to my lungs. Additionally,  it will be a big irony praying to haShem to protect me from a lung disease, while I'm still smoking.     

Besides avoiding bad habits we also need to acquire healthy "protective" habits.  These Segulot for preventing diseases were best  formulated by haRambam or Maimonides.

Maimonides, who apart from being a rabbi was also a famous physician, wrote a whole chapter on preventive medicine in Mishne Tora, Hilkhot De'ot, chapter 4. In 4:21 he explicitly clarifies that all the principles exposed in this chapter are applicable exclusively for a healthy individual, not for a sick person, who would obviously require a customize diet and medical treatment. Anticipating the modern concept of 'preventive medicine' by eight centuries Maimonides dealt with: working out, sleeping habits, sexual life, hygiene, etc.

He also wrote extensively on a correct diet. 

Some examples:

4:1 "...Maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God... one must avoid that which harms the body and accustom himself to that which is healthful and helps the body becomes stronger".

4:2 ".. a person should not eat until his stomach is full. He should stop eating approximately at three quarters of his full satisfaction"

4:15 "...overeating (akhila gasa) is like poison to anyone's body and it is the main source of all illness".

4:1 "Do not eat unless you're hungry".

Click  here to download Hilhkot De'ot Chapter 4. 


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Rabbi Ya'aqob Sasportas (1610-1698)

Rabbi Ya'aqob Sasportas was born in Oran, Algeria, in 1610. A prodigious child, at the age of eighteen he was elected as the Dayan  of the city Tlemcen, also in Algeria.  Later, he also served the communities of Fez and Sali in Morocco. In 1664 he was offered to be the rabbi of the newly established Portuguese community of London. According to the famous hebraist and poet David Franco Mendes, Rabbi Sasportas had accompanied Rabbi Menashe ben Israel to London in 1655 when the latter requested (and obtained) from Oliver Cromwell the permission for the Jews to reestablish themselves in England (In 1290, King Edward I issued an edict expelling all Jews from England. The expulsion edict remained in force until 1655). Rabbi Sasportas served as a rabbi in the Sephardic communities of Hamburg and Amsterdam, where he officiated also as the head of the Yeshiba Keter Tora and later on  of the famous Yeshiba 'Ets Hayim. 

Between 1665 and 1666 many (probably most) Jews believed that Shabbetai Zebi was the Messiah Jews were waiting for since the times of the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash. Althought it might be difficult for us today to believe, many Rabbis --Ashkenazim and especially Sephardim--naively supported Shabbetai Zebi's claims. The Sabbetaian movement, needless to say, caused tremendous damage, financial, political and physical to the Jews and it resulted in a great Hilul haShem.  Some religious leaders were a little more cautious. The champion of the fight against the self proclaimed false Messiah was Rabbi Ya'akoq Sasportas (and Rabbi Moshe Hagez). Rabbi Sasportas denounced with very harsh words the falseness of Shabbetai Zebi. Especially by means of letters addressed to the Jews in Europe, North Africa and Middle East. In those letters he unmasked the impostor Mashiah and his entourage and warned the people against joining, supporting or believing in his claims.    Rabbi Sasportas died in Amsterdam in 1698.

Portrait of rabbi Ya'aqob Sasportas, by  Isaac Luttichuys


Some of  his books are
  • Toledot Ya'aqob (Amsterdam, 1652), an index of Biblical passages found in the Talmud Yerushalmi. Similar to Aaron Pesaro's "Toledot Aharon," which indexes the pesuqim of the Babylonian Talmud.
  • Ohel Ya'aoob (1737), a book of rabbinical responsa, edited and prefaced by his son Abraham Sasportas;
  • Tsitsat nobel Tsebi (published 1737), a four volumes book denouncing the heretic ideas and practices of  Shabbetai Tsebi and his followers. 

We present  here the book : Kitsur Tsitsat Nobel Tsebi, a summary of the original book, composed by Rabbi Rafael Meldola (see this) published in Odessa, 1867. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Modern Rabbis on celebrating New Year's eve

We have written in previous HOTD about the views of modern orthodox rabbis regarding the celebration of different American holidays. We have seen that all rabbis are very strict in forbidding, for example, the celebration of Halloween; while most would not oppose (and some would even encourage) the celebration of Thanksgiving. The difference between Thanksgiving and Halloween is that the latter has a clear origin in pagan culture and that some of those idolatrous customs are somehow still practiced in its celebration today (see this). 

What about New Year's eve?

According to Christian tradition, January 1st, is the day of the circumcision of Yeshu (the eighth day counting from December 25), when his name was given to him.  Five centuries ago, the rabbi Terumat Hadeshen and the Rama, both living in Christian countries, classified New Year's day as a religious gentile holiday (Darkhe Moshe and Rama, Yoreh Deah 148:12). Terumat Hadeshen refers to January First as "the eighth day of Christmas." He clearly viewed this holiday as 'religious' in nature.  For the Jews living in Christian lands Christmas and new Year were not very happy days.  One example:  on New Year's Day 1577, Pope Gregory XIII decreed that all Roman Jews, under pain of death, must listen attentively to the compulsory Catholic conversion sermon given in Roman synagogues after Friday night services.  On New Year's Day 1578, Gregory signed into law a tax forcing Jews to pay for the support of a "House of Conversion" to convert Jews to Christianity.  On New Year's 1581, Gregory ordered his troops to confiscate all sacred literature from the Roman Jewish community. Thousands of Jews were murdered in the campaign (U.S. News and World Report December 23, 1996).

Despite all this, many modern American Rabbis have a more lenient view in regards to New Year's day. In their opinion New Year's today has lost entirely its religious overtones and can be rationally explained as a celebration of a new civil calendar's year, which we all somehow follow, for example, for taxes purposes. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Eben Ha'ezer 2:13) writes with regard to New Year's: "On the question of celebrating any event on a holiday of Gentiles, if the holiday is based on religious beliefs [such as Christmas], such celebrations are prohibited .... even without [a religious intent] . . .  However, the first day of the civil year [January 1] and the day of Thanksgiving are not bound to this prohibition according to the letter of the law. Pious Jews [ba'ale nefesh], however, should be stricter [and avoid its celebration]."   Following Rabbi Feinstein, other rabbis assert that, since the status of New Year's day has changed in the last three hundred years and in contemporary America there is no religious content on New Year's Day, and while there might be many problems associated with the way New Year's is celebrated (drinking, etc.) few would classify it as a religious holiday, since there is a clear secular reason to celebrate the beginning of the new calendar year. 

Most Rabbis I know will not promote and would actually oppose to any public or official commemoration of the New Year's eve by their congregation.  At the same time, based on some of the above mentioned considerations, they won't actively preach against its private and sober celebration by individuals, as they would do, for example, with celebrating Halloween.

READ two different opinions on celebrating New Year's eve. 

Blasting 'Western ignorance' on region and questioning Palestinians' desire for peace, Moshe Ya'alon lays out hard-line stance

By Stuart Winer, form the "Times of Israel"

Monday, December 30, 2013

Maimonides on 'aboda zara: What's wrong with Harry Potter?

MT 'aboda zara 11:10:  "Who should be considered an enchanter? The one that cast spells [or pronounces words] that have nor meaning in a regular language, nor any intrinsic content, and he imagines that these [magic] words will have some effects [or powers]".   

A spell, charm or incantation is a set of  unintelligible words or a formula used to invoke some magical effects. Magicians, heathen priests and wizards in the ancient pagan world would use spells to cure, to protect and to harm (remember Maleficent and the Sleeping Beauty?) . 

Casting spells was such a popular practice that you could hardly find the performance of any act of magic which would not involve the use of incantations. Magical speech was a ritual act of equal or even greater importance to the performance of non-verbal acts of magic. According to Bronisław Malinowski the pagans believed that  "the knowledge of the right words... gives man a power over and above his own limited field of personal action." 

The Tora calls the person who cast magic spells hober (see Deut. 18:11) and this practice is one of the idolatrous crimes forbidden by the Tora.   Judaism believes that  nothing could be achieved by magic or supernatural means. Everything is regulated by the will of God. For Maimonides the enchanters were mere charlatans who deceived people (specially people in despair!) giving them false hopes and unrealistic expectations.

One might think that in our modern world incantations, as well as all other sorts of idolatrous practices, are not as popular as they used to be. That might be true in many areas of life except for the best selling book series in the history of humankind: "Harry Potter". In Harry Potter, a children book, virtually all protagonists use spells, usually with the help of a magic wand, to acquire some sorts of superpowers.   As we explain, the performance of magical spells and other procedures was seeing by our Tora and our Prophets (see for example Eze. Ch. 13) as a distinctive sign of godlessness. From this point of view, Harry Potter might be a good educational tool for us and our children to illustrate, in an ingenuous background, the ideas and beliefs of ancient pagans, against which Judaism fought for centuries.