Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rabbi Shaul haLevi Mortera (1596-1660)

Rabbi Shaul haLevi Mortera was born in Venice, Italy, in 1596. He was a descendent of Portuguese Jews. In 1616 Rabbi Mortera escorted the body of the famous Jewish doctor Eliyahu Montalto, the personal physician of Maria di Medici, from Paris to Amsterdam. There, the new Sephardic community appointed him as their new Rabbi. 

In Amsterdam, Rabbi Mortera continued his studies under rabbi Ytshaq Uziel, a rabbi from Morocco. He founded the school Keter Torah, in the highest class of which he taught Talmud and Jewish Philosophy. After a few years he was appointed as the Head of the rabbinical court of the  community of Amsterdam. 

Later, he founded and taught in the famous Yeshiba Ets haHayim. Among his students were Rabbi Moshe Zacuto, Rabbi Abraham haCohen Pimientel (author of the book "Minhat Cohen") and Baruch Spinoza.   Rabbi Mortera was one of the three dayanim which pronounced the excommunication (herem) against Spinoza on July 27, 1656. 

Rabbi Mortera's most famous book is Gib'at Shaul (here) written in Hebrew, Amsterdam, 1645. A collection of fifty sermons, selected from over 500 sermons, on the weekly sections of the Tora. 

Rabbi Mortera was an expert in compared religions, and at that time, when many Jews who lived under the Inquisition for generations were coming back to embrace Judaism, it was critical to teach these "New Jews" (most of them educated in convents) the principles of Judaism, and particularly the differences between Judaism and Christianity.    He wrote many books for these Jews, in Portuguese  and Spanish. Among them: Tratado de la Verdad de la Ley de Moshe, written originally in Portuguese. In this work he defends Judaism against the attacks of Christianity and explains the Jewish view on the Mashiach, immortality of the soul, God's revelation,  etc. clarifying the Jewish understanding of the Biblical verses the Church used to sustain their beliefs.   

                             Portrait of Rabbi Shaul Mortera

WROTE for the "NEW JEWS"

Preguntas Que Hizo Un Clerigo de Ruan de Francia. 
A defense from the attacks of a Catholic priest against the talmud.  

Providencia de Dios con Israel
Why God chose the Jewish people? How this choice is manifest? 
Memorable relacion para confucion de aquellos que niegan la providencia divina
The Jewish belief in God's constant providence and supervision (hashagcha)   

Obstaculos y opociciones contra la religion Christiana
A critical view on the principles of Christianity   

Tratados varios relativos a la religión judía
Basic principles of Judaism for "new Jews".    

La eternidad de la ley de Mosseh
The eternal Law of Moshe, the Tora, cannot be replaced by a new testament. 

For more information see this

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

PIRQE ABOT, Rabbi Eliezer on character assassination

...המלבין פני חבירו ברבים... אע"פ שיש בידו תורה ומעשים טובים
אין לו חלק לעולם הבא

Rabbi Eliezer from the city of Modi'in says in Pirqe Abot that when a person embarrasses someone else in public, he might loss his share in the world to come, the afterlife. He emphasizes that even thought the perpetrator might be a fully observant Jew and a kind and generous person, if he is abusive, offends or embarrasses  someone else publicly, he looses his part in the next world.  Why such a terrible punishment for something apparently so trivial?   For the rabbis embarrassing, offending or bullying a person in public, is not a small thing. They actually compare this type of abusive behavior with "murdering". 

Like murdering, public embarrassment is a sin beyond repair.   It could happen in our work place or even to our children at school or in the bus. These crimes could go unseen for a long time, because many times the victims of bullying, especially if they suffer from low self esteem, usually do not denounce the perpetrators (and low self-esteem gets lower as an effect of this bullying. Do you see the vicious cycle here?).  Maimonides (Hilkhot Teshuba 3:14) explains that in order to prevent these destructive behaviors, the rabbis warned us that embarrassing or offending someone else, carries the maximum possible penalty: loosing our afterlife.  

 Surprisingly, it seems that today general society has arrived to the same conclusion as the Rabbis of the Talmud in terms of the similarities between verbal offenses and murder. The following is a priceless text quoted directly from Wikipedia ("Character assassination") which captures what the Talmud explained in the 5th Century. "For living individuals targeted by character assassination attempts, this may result in being rejected by their community, family, or members of their living or work environment. Such acts are often difficult to reverse or rectify, and the process is likened to a literal assassination of a human life. The damage sustained can last a lifetime or, for historical figures, for many centuries after their death."

Monday, May 12, 2014

KOSHER MONEY: Loving HaShem with all your possessions

The economic life of a Jew, his attitude toward material assets, his ethical conduct in buying and selling, etc. should reflect the religious values of Judaism. 

Although many Jews, and the same goes for people from other religions, tend to dissociate economic behavior from religious practice, the truth is that the Tora deals with financial matters, as much or perhaps more than with other areas of religious life.  Integrity in business, aspiring to financial equality, helping the needy, free-interests loans, terumot uma'aserot (taxes) etc. are just some examples of the ample spectrum of financial subjects the Tora deals with.  

Many times, observing the laws of the Tora implies the sacrifice of financial gains.  The rabbis referred to this type of situations analyzing two words from the Shema Israel ובכל מאדך 

We say in the Shema, "You shall love HaShem your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all of your power." "All your heart" and "all your soul" we understand easily. But what does "with all your powers" mean? The rabbis explained that "power" means possessions, money, assets. The Gemara explains: your love for your God has to exceed your love for your money. If we keep the laws of the Tora in financial matters, for example, sharing our profits with the needy, rejecting any participation in fraudulent activities, etc. we might be loosing money. Loving HaShem  בכל מאודך means that a Jew has to be willing to sacrifice his money for the sake of his love to HaShem. As we will explain BH in the coming weeks, the Tora does not require us to take oaths of poverty or renounce material wealth. On the contrary, rabbis have a positive attitude to honestly gained wealth. "With all your possessions" means that HaShem and His Tora should be placed above money. Shabbat is a great example.  When a Jew in retail business closes his store in Shabbat, or when a young Jewish professional rejects a good job offer because she won't work during Shabbat, they are doing exactly this: serving God with our possessions,  by placing HIM above them.