Friday, January 10, 2014

Permitted leshon hara'

Leshon hara', expressing to someone else negative comments about another person,  is considered a very serious offense in Judaism. So much so that the rabbis compared leshon hara' with murder or "character killing". 

Leshon hara' is forbidden even when the negative information we say about a person is true.  

There are, however, some exceptions. Cases in which disclosing truthful negative information is permitted, or even mandatory.

The simple rule is that you could/should disclose negative information about A, if you do so in order to save B from harm. 
Illustration: Suppose Mr. B asks you about Mr. A's integrity. Mr. B is about to engage in business with Mr. A, and you know beyond any doubt, either by personal experience or by direct knowledge (not by rumors!) that Mr. A conducts his business inappropriately. In this case, you should tell Mr. B the truth about Mr. A in order to protect Mr. B from harm. Some rabbis would say that even if Mr. B does not ask you for a reference about Mr. A, if you found out that Mr. B is about to engage in business with Mr. A, you must warn Mr. B.

Now, althought in this case it is allowed for you to speak negatively about Mr. A, when you tell Mr. B the negative information about Mr. A, you must make sure that:

1. You don't exaggerate the facts or overstate Mr. A's misconduct.

2. You really have a pure intention in mind. You are saying these words just to prevent Mr. B from harm. You are not disclosing this information out of feelings of revenge or resentment towards 
Mr. A, or because of a personal interest in Mr. B's business.

Everyone should take this license with utmost seriousness. Keeping in mind that our Sages considered that leshon hara' leads to very destructive consequences, even "character killing".

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC:  4:28pm
Shabbat ends in NYC:     5:29pm

Thursday, January 9, 2014

TEFILA: The basics of the 'amida

The 'amida or Shemona-Esre --also called by our Rabbis "Tefila"-- is the most important prayer. It is said every day, three times a day, morning, afternoon, and evening. When we pray the 'amida we are talking directly to God. There is nothing more significant for a human being that communicating with his or her Creator.

FOCUS: We should not start praying the 'amida unprepared or unfocused. The 'amida requires 'kobed rosh', a serious effort of concentration. In preparation for the 'amida we must visualize and internalize that we are standing in front of the King of Kings. Literally, 'amida means: "The prayer which is said while standing". In the Jewish protocol a servant stands in front of his King, with his feet together and keeping his head a little down as a sign of humility and submission to the will of the Monarch.

POSTURE: Strictly speaking, the posture we adopt in the 'amida conveys: "I'm standing at Your service, waiting for Your command". For this reason, many would recite the 'amida with their hands together, on the chest, the right hand holding the left closed fist.

ARTICULATION: The 'amida should be said articulating the words. Articulation -among other things- facilitates a better concentration (=kavana). We should say the 'amida whispering it to ourselves (lahash). So low no one else could hear our voice, and loud enough we could hear our own whispering.

KAVANA: When saying the 'amida, we should think and then delve into the meaning of every word. This mental exercise is called Kavana: consciousness / alertness. Distractions or even having a blank mind is not accepted. If we get distracted during the 'amida, particularly while saying the first berakha, Magen Abraham, we should say the 'amida again, provided we are sure that this time we will be able to concentrate properly.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Rabbi Isaac Delouya ( 1572)

Rabbi Isaac Delouya (הרב יצחק דלויה) was born in Spain,  around the end of the fifteenth century. The origin of his last name is "de Loja" (or most probably "De la Loja") which means, from the Spanish city of Loja, in the province of Granada, south of Spain. 

Rabbi Delouya arrived to Marrakesh, Morocco, in 1496.  Rabbi Isaac Delouya and the other Jews from Spain were not welcome very kindly by the local Jewish population or "musta'arabim" (see this). The Spaniards or "megorashim" (=expelled, i.e., Jews expelled from Spain) dressed differently --European style, while the locals dressed in a Moorish style. They spoke a different language, Spanish, not Moorish or Berber; and had their own well established customs, including their own liturgical melodies, which they preserved with zeal. The local Jews were suspicious of the newcomers and perhaps, afraid of their influence.  Rabbi Isaac Delouya was forced to establish a new synagogue for his own constituency.   

After a few years the local Jews recognized the great erudition of Rabbi Delouya and assigned him as the "ab bet din", the Rabbinical Judge of the city.  Ultimately, the musta'arabim adopted the Spaniard custom (aka The Sephardic Minhag) in the area of liturgy, for instance.  In some areas both communities were reticent to give up their traditions.

These are some examples of traditions which were preserved by the "megorashim". 

* The "megorashim" had their wedding only on Wednesdays, following the indication of the Mishna 

*In the Ketuba the "megorashim" would explicitly state that for any potential dispute they would follow the "Traditions of the Castillanos (=from Castilla, Spain)" כמנהג קאשטלייאנוש.

* During Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat previous to the ninth of Ab, while other Jews would traditionally restrict their happiness, the "megorashim" would celebrate the Shabbat without restrictions. They held a tradition that their ancestors were not living in Jerusalem at the times of the destruction of the second Bet-haMiqdash (I'm not sure if they meant by this that their ancestors lived by then in Spain, which is certainly possible. The Mishna, composed on the year 200 CE, mentions explicitly "Sepharad" (Spain) as a common place where Jews would travel for business).

According to the Delouya family tradition, Rabbi Isaac Delouya met with rabbi Yosef Karo and disagreed with the author of the Shulhan 'arukh on a few halakhot: 1. Rabbi Delouya was more lenient than Maran in the matter of basar halaq (see this) . 2. Unlike Maran, rabbi Delouya maintained that a qaddish should be recited after reading the Sefer Tora in Minha of shabbat. These two traditions are still kept by the Jews of Marrakesh. 

מזרה ישראל יקבצנו

The following movie was produced by the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) in 1964. It presents "The account of the last days of an ancient Jewish community", the Jewish community of Morocco.  The movie was made to encourage American Jews to help financing the Aliya of Moroccan Jews to Israel. Toward the end of the movie we are able to see snapshots of the lifestyle of Marrakesh Jews; their last days in the Atlas mountains; and the preparations for their journey to Erets Israel. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Maimonides, 'aboda zara, 11:11: The healing powers of words.

Last week we explained the idea of the hober, a wizard or enchanter who uses spells to invoke supernatural effects (seethis). By "spells" we mean words without any meaning or content, that presumably have a magic effect. 

Although Maimonides empathically rejects the use of magic spells, there is one instance in which something similar to a spell is allowed. The Talmud calls it: "lohesh 'al hamaka" which means "whispering words to a wound".  If somebody was bitten by a serpent or a scorpion Maimonides allows that someone else would whisper some words into the wound. Why would Maimonides allow this seemingly magical practice, so similar to spells? 

Maimonides explicitly recognizes that those words don't have any magical power (and, by the way, for this practice to be permitted, the one who whispers must also believe that there is no magic in these words).  Maimonides understands that "whispering to the wound" has a psychological effect on the patient,  helping him or her to calm down and regain composure. This is critically important in the cases brought by Maimonides, when someone is bitten by a snake or a scorpion. In these cases the victim/patient is in a state of panic, believing that the poison will soon cause her death. In a state of panic his blood circulation will accelerate, and the poison would act faster. However, if at that time someone whispers some soft words, those word will have the effect of calming down the patient, until help or perhaps an antidote arrives.    

To better understand Maimonides idea let us see what the Psychotherapist Dr. Judith Acosta, an expert in neurobiology and the author of the book "Verbal first aid", explains. Dr Acosta trains first responders in scenarios of car accidents, fires, acts of terror or natural disasters. She argues that the first words said to the severely wounded victims are crucial. Words can calm the patient and prolong or even save his life "With our words we can address autonomic function in ways that can help them [the patients] be calm, stop or slow bleeding, reduce an inflammatory response, lower their blood pressure or soothe a broken heart." 

A last point.  Althought Maimonides authorizes "lilhosh 'al hamaka" he strongly opposes and severely condemns whispering onto the wound words of Tora. Why?  We will see B'H next week. 

Dedicated to the memory of Dr Albert Moghrabi, Abraham ben Aida, z"l.