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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Taking a Haircut On Friday Rosh Chodesh Sivan (May 30 2014) and This Friday

It is well known that there are two main customs regarding the mourning practices of Sefira. The Shulchan Aruch writes that it is from the second day of Pesach until Lag B’Omer, after which all mourning ceases; this is the “Minhag Sefard”. The Maharil (quoted by the Rema) writes that the mourning practices are in place from Rosh Chodesh Iyar until Sheloshes Yemei Hagbolah, the three preparatory days before Shavous. This is commonly referred to as the “Minhag Ashkenaz”.

It is accepted by all Ashkenazi, and even many Sefardim, that when Lag Baomer is on Sunday, (as it is whenever Rosh Chodesh Sivan is on Friday), one may get a haircut on Friday in honor of Shabbos even though Friday is still a prohibited day according to all opinions.

[A similar idea is found on the Friday of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, when Rosh Chodesh Iyar is Friday and Shabbos. Even according to the Minhag Sefard one may take a haircut on that Friday.]

In the event that Rosh Chodesh Sivan comes out on Friday, such as this year (2014), the three preparatory days begin on Sunday.

Seemingly the same logic would apply here, according to Minhag Ashkenaz it is still a prohibited day, but since I am allowed to get a haircut on Sunday I may get one Friday as well. This is indeed the psak of Rav Sharia Dablitzki (Zeh Hashulchan 1:493) based on the opinion of the Pri Megadim (OC 493:5 AA) who permits taking a haircut on Friday when Rosh Chodesh is on Sunday, for those who stop the mourning on Rosh Chodesh Sivan (which is not in accordance with the Magen Avraham and not the conventional minhag).

Rav Moshe Feinstein (quoted by Rabbi Elimelech Bluth Shlit”a in LeTorah VeHoraah vol. 10 p.14) disagrees, and differentiates between our case and the Friday preceding Lag B’Omer on two counts and Rosh Chodesh Iyar on one count.

1) Regarding Rosh Chodesh Iyar, there it is permitted because Shabbos itself has an added dimension of Simcha, coupled as it is with Rosh Chodesh. (Rosh Chodesh Iyar that is on Friday will always be on Shabbos as well). Therefore one can take a haircut in honor of Shabbos. This doesn’t apply to Rosh Chodesh Sivan which is only Friday.

2) Lag B’Omer is really part of the mourning period, but the mourning is suspended due to the various events that happened that day, and it is considered a quasi Yom Tov. It is therefore not respectful to take a haircut in honor of Lag B’Omer and not in honor of Shabbos which is a holier day. This does not apply to our case, where the reason for shaving on Sunday is not because it’s a holiday that the laws of mourning were suspended for, rather it’s the end of the Aveilus. 

3) Part of the rationale to allow shaving on Friday before Lag B’Omer is miktzas hayom kekulo – a portion of the day is like a full day. (see Biur haGra), this only applies before Lag B’Omer. To apply it here would be analogous to allowing one who finishes his ‘shloshim’ on Sunday to shave on Friday, which is definitely not allowed.

Therefore Rav Moshe Feinstein argues with the Pri Megadim and prohibits shaving or taking a haircut this Friday. And although the general principle of the Poskim is to be lenient when it comes to Sefirah prohibitions (see Chok Yaakov 493:7) Rav Moshe writes that he doesn’t understand the Pri Megadim’s reasoning and is therefore stringent.

Additionally the Chachmas Shlomo, commenting on the Pri Megadim, in addition to mentioning a reason similar to first reason of Rav Moshe, writes that
since Lag B’Omer is only one day and possibly you will not be able to take a haircut, and if one doesn’t take a haircut they can’t take one before the following Shabbos, you are therefore allowed to take a haircut before the first Shabbos rather than being unkempt for two Shabbosim. This reasoning, writes the Chochmas Shlomo, does not apply to the Pri Megadim’s (or our) scenario.

The Chasam Sofer, speaking about a scenario where Erev Shavous is Sunday, (presumably he is of the opinion that one may not take a haircut until Erev Shavous) writes that one may not take a haircut on Friday, also unlike the Pri Megadim.

Posted on 05/11 at 07:54 AM • Permalink
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Monday, April 07, 2014

Saying Hatov Vehameitiv at the Seder

Although the usual blessing made before drinking wine is Borei Pri Hagefen, in very specific circumstances one may make the blessing of Hatov Vehameitiv. The specific circumstances is worthy of an article of its own, however in a nutshell, when a second wine is brought out unexpectedly and is better than the first, and is to be shared by more than one participant then the beracha can be made. [Before putting this into practice please consult with a halachic authority, or study the sources].

Can this beracha be made at the Seder? The Tur (OC 473) quotes this question as being posed to the Maharam of Rothenberg (1215-1293), a German Scholar. His response was that whereas the beracha made is not Hagefen, therefore it will not appear as if he is adding on to the required four cups and it is permitted.

It is apparent that the Maharam was referring to additional cups of wine, drunk sometime in the middle of the Seder. Since we make Hagefen on each of the required four cups, as long as we don’t make Hagefen on any additional cups there is no cause for concern. The Rema, in his commentary to the Tur seems to concur with this ruling.

However the Maharil, quoted by the Ba’er Heitiv (OC 175:1) rules that one ‘should not make Hatov Vehameitiv on Seder night so as not to appear as if they are drinking additional [required] cups of wine’.

The Chida (Birkei Yosef) quoted by the Shaarei Teshuva (ibid) writes that many disagree with the Maharil, and rule that it is permitted to make Hatov Vehameitiv at the Seder.

The Chida goes on to write that in an instance where kiddush was recited over wine, and the wine was found to be inferior, one should certainly not refrain from sending for a better wine for the second cup. In this instance the Maharil would agree, since we are not discussing additional, non-required wine, this
is wine that is necessary for the second of the Four Cups.

The Mishnah Berura in Shaar Hatzion (175:3) agrees that there is no problem with upgrading, and necessitating a Hatov Vehameitiv, for one of the Four Cups. However, he then presents the following dilemma:

Ashkenazi custom is to make an additional blessing over each of the four cups, even though the second is close to the first, and the fourth to the third. According to the Shulchan Aruch, a blessing is only made on the first and third cups.

The reason to make a blessing on each cup is because each cup is an independent mitzvah, and a cup of wine used in the process of a mitzvah (e.g. Kiddush or Havdalah) require their own Hagefen.

Now, ordinarily, the circumstances that one makes Hatov Vehameitiv are, by definition, where one has already drunk wine, and does not make a second blessing. So the Mishnah Berura writes that in this specific case one would make Hagefen because of the mitzvah, and then Hatov Vehameitiv, for the upgraded quality of wine.

There is a minority opinion of the Bais Yehuda (53) that one may never make Hatov Vehameitiv on a Mitzvah required cup of wine, as this would be considered a physical benefit of the mitzvah. However, the Kaf Hachayim disagrees, and, based on our discussion until now, so would the Chida and the Mishnah Berura.

In conclusion, there seems to be a halachic preference to not drink additional cups of wine in the course of the meal that would require one to make Hatov Vehameitiv. [Even in this scenario the Mishnah Berura writes that it’s permitted, but should not be done ipso facto]. However, the vast majority of the poskim write that as one of the four cups it would be permitted, bringing about the very rare scenario of making both Hatov Vehameitiv and Hagefen on the same cup of wine.

Inspired by, and dedicated to, Uncle Ray

Posted on 04/07 at 09:12 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The First National Mitzvah

“Hachodesh hazeh lechem rosh chadoshim”, this month shall be for you the first of months.

In a beautiful essay Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains – כי הנה הסתיו עבר the winter has passed, the spring is coming and Shlomo Hamelech is describing the beauty of the coming of Spring.

But real men don’t have time for spring. They are busy, trying to make a living, feed their families, and make ends meet. Do you really expect them to notice the singing of the birds and the buds on the trees? Only the young who haven’t dealt with life, or the shipwrecked, those whom life has been unusually harsh with and they’ve given up, speak of poetry and such. But the rest of us – it doesn’t do anything for us, doesn’t make our lives any easier or better, and we cannot appreciate it.

There was a group of the most downtrodden, despised, oppressed and ill-used people on earth. They knew nothing but slave labor and broken marriages, drowned children and broken backs and spirit.

They were taken outside by their Father, led by Hashem Himself, in the beginning of the spring and were shown the new moon, and the beginnings of life on the earth. Hashem told them החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים - this is not only a new time for the moon and for the earth, renewal and illumination for the celestial body, and germination for the plants and the trees, but lechem – for you as well. Just as there is a new light and a new spring, you too can have your own new and fresh illumination and growth.

This is why Kidush Hachodesh is so important אלמלא לא זכו ישראל אלא להקביל פני אביהם שבשמים פעם אחת בחודש דים the new moon signifies the capabilities of rebirth that are latent In every Jewish soul, and we are reminded of this when we bless the new moon every month.

Just as Noach was shown a rainbow as a sign of the promise that there would never be another flood, so too the Bnei Yisroel were shown the moon as a sign that the can renew, be mechadaish and extract themselves from the shackles of earthiness. We’re promised to appreciate the springtime, to live the
renewal!

Jews are עתידים להתחדש כמותה, to renew ourselves just like the moon! We all have this power to illuminate anew and use it לפאר ליוצרם על שם כבוד מלכותו.  – to glorify the Great Name of God. This is why Sanctifying the ne month, the first mitzvah, was given specifically in the spring. We bring together the ideas of renewal of the moon, renewal of the spring, and the renewal of the Jewish People.

Charles Dedereich (or Abbie Hoffman or The Diggers, bkitzur a hippie) – once said “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” – Jews get that every day, we always have the capability to start fresh, to renew.

Tu Bshvat is in the middle of the winter, when the sap starts to rise in the trees. This invisible process can only happen if the core and root of the tree is strong and healthy, and eventually bring to beautiful and healthy fruits. Judaism places primary importance on this process more so than the actual fruits themselves!

This too symbolizes the budding and yearnings of good deep within us. Rav Hirsch explains that the Torah cares less about the fruit, which are our deeds, then the origins and beginnings, “the invisible germination of righteousness and iniquity” within us.

With Tu Bshvat we show that we are focusing on the inner core of the tree, which if healthy, intact and strong, will yield beautiful fruit.

So too in our own lives if we focus on protecting and developing our neshamah and our hearts then we will produce beautiful actions and deeds.

The Mishna tells us that a Lev tov includes all other positive character traits and midos. (Avos 2-11) Once the core is strong it will develop and reflect outward from the Lev. Our focus has to be on having a correctly calibrated heart – like Tu Bshvat, from there everything will come to fruition properly and healthily.

Posted on 12/31 at 07:04 AM • Permalink
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Monday, November 25, 2013

Menorah Fuel

The Shulchan Aruch succinctly tells us (673) that ‘all oils and all wicks are kosher to be used in the menorah and one fulfills their mitzvah with them.’ In fact, one fulfills his obligation by lighting any fuel, even the fats of non-kosher animals. However the commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch all indicate that it is preferable to use kosher substances. Oil of a combination of milk and meat, or of shmittah produce, would be forbidden to be used.

The Rema (ibid) tells us that the ideal fuel is olive oil, reminiscent of the oil used in the menorah in the Bais Hamikdash. He then adds that his custom is to use wax candles as their light is especially clear.

From the Rema it seems, and this is abundantly clear in his commentary on the Tur, that the advantage of a clear flame supersedes the advantage of being comparable to the oil in the Bais Hamikdash, and therefore when presented with the choice of wax candles versus olive oil one should choose the wax candles.

However, the opinion of the Kol Bo, which was adopted by most of the later poskim (among them the Levush, Chayei Adam and Mishna Berura), is that olive oil would be the most preferred option. Only if olive oil were not available would one defer to the standard of the clearest flame.

There is a third opinion, which is that of the Maharal, who indicates that any oil is preferable to a solid candle, as the miracle was performed with oil, a liquid, rather than a solid. This would be a somewhat logical inference; our olive oil would not be eligible for use in the Bais Hamikdash, and its use is only supposed to be reminiscent of the Bais Hamikdash. As such, the more reminiscent one’s menorah fuel is the better it would seem to be. However the Shaar Hatzion, quoting the Machtzis Hashekel, writes that our custom is not in accordance with the Maharal.
[For a deeper analysis of this dispute, beyond the scope of this article, see Dibros Moshe Shabbos 26:23].

If one does choose to use candles, either because he follows the Rema’s opinion, or for convenience or economic reasons, it is important to be aware that many of the commercially available candles do not last for the required 30 minutes, and it is important to purchase those that do.

If one uses olive oil, they will achieve the hidur of using oliveoil no matter what grade or type of oil they use, as long as it is 100% olive oil.

In recent years there has been a surge in available ‘pre-filled’ oil cups, where the user has only to remove a cap and immediately has a ready to use (and super mehadrin) glass full of olive oil with a wick correctly placed. This saves a lot of time and mess, and has become a very popular option. [Whether or not it is appropriate to out-source your mitzvah preparations is not our subject today, perhaps in a future article].

One twist on this innovation is to, via a chemical additive, ‘gel’ the olive oil, which makes the transportation and care substantially easier, and obviates the need for a cap or any sort of anti-spill design.

Would this gelled olive oil be included in the most preferred method of lighting according to the Kol Bo et al, who prefer olive oil in order to be comparable to the oil lit in the Bais Hamikdash?

According to the Maharal cited above it would seem certain that this is not a preferred method, as he is of the opinion that a liquid fuel will always be preferred over a solid one.

The opinion of Rav Nissim Karelitz is that we are striving for comparability to the candles lit in the Bais Hamikdash. Once it is not fully comparable the advantage of olive oil is lost. This opinion, for slightly different reasoning, is shared by Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvos VeHanhagos 3:218) and Rav Asher Weiss.

The Shevet Halevi discusses whether it would be permissible to use congealed oil in the Bais Hamikdash, and although he concludes that it would not, he states that a full analogy is not needed and gelled olive oil would have the advantage of olive oil discussed by the Kol Bo. As we pointed out, even clear, liquid olive oil would not be acceptable for use in the Bais Hamikdash, which indicates that a full equivalency is not required. This is also the opinion of Rav Elyashiv, Rav Shlomo Miller and Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky.

There is a remarkable comment written by the Teshuvah Meahavah (285) in which he states that the oil used in the Chanukah story was a congealed jug of olive oil!  According to this all the opinions above, including the Maharal, would seemingly agree that the gelled oil is included in the most preferred way of lighting.

Posted on 11/25 at 07:40 AM • Permalink
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Using Grape Juice for Kiddush

On January 18th 1920 the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, prohibiting the “"the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within… the United States… for beverage purposes”. The Volstead Act, which was designed to carry out the Prohibition (also known as “The Prohibition Act”), defined intoxicating beverage, and allowed an exemption for sacramental use.

Prohibition in general led to one of the first public altercations between the Orthodox and heterodox movements, who argued over who would have the Rabbinic authority to pronounce an occasion worthy of sacramental use. 

For religious Jews the sacramental exemption was very important, and widely exercised. Jews use wine at a variety of occasions, and often in the privacy of their homes, which made it very difficult to regulate their sacramental use. This raised eyebrows in the Prohibition enforcement agencies, and indeed the privilege was apparently abused over the course of Prohibition.

The Conservative movement was embarrassed by the widespread use of the sacramental exemption, and Louis Ginzberg, a theologian associated with the Jewish Theological Seminary, wrote a responsum in which he argued that it was perfectly and halachically acceptable to use unfermented wine with no alcoholic content for sacramental purposes, thus allowing grape juice to be used for all religious rituals, and effectively not requiring any exemptions to the Prohibition Act.

It’s worth noting that historians view Prohibition as an attempt to keep America ‘American’ and not sully the lily white, puritan WASP reputation they were trying to uphold. It would be logical to assume that complying with the ethos of the Act was more important to the heterodox movements than to their Orthodox counterparts.

Also of interesting historical note, based on Ginzberg’s ruling the Reform Movement lobbied Washington to repeal the entire sacramental exemption. They quickly backed down when they realized that their Catholic neighbors let it be known that repeal of the exemption would not be appreciated within the Catholic Church.

There was no immediate public response to Ginzberg from the Orthodox Rabbi’s, although they most certainly did not stop using wine for sacramental purposes. However several years later, Rabbi Hurewitz of Hartford, Conn., a student of the Chofetz Chaim and an erudite scholar, wrote a very strongly worded response, and disagreed with the halachic advisability of using grape juice in lieu of wine.

The Gemara (Bava Basra 97b) states that one may (ipso facto) squeeze a cluster of grapes into their cup and say Kiddush, seemingly indicating that grape juice is permissible to use for kiddush, and all other sacramental purposes.

This is how the halacha is decided in Shulchan Aruch (272:2). However the Magen Avraham (3) adds that it is preferred to use aged wine, at least forty days old.

Rabbi Hurewitz’s position, and this position was initially held by Rav Henkin as well, was that our grape juice was different than the grape juice discussed in the Gemara. After squeezing grapes, the juice can either be turned to wine, or it will spoil. Contemporarily, in order to have grape juice, we pasteurize it, which gives it a long shelf life as unfermented juice.

The reason that grape juice was permissible in the Gemara was because it was, in essence, unfermented wine. However our grape juice, in order to preserve the grape juice it is necessary to pasteurize it, effectively neutering its potentiality of becoming wine. Thus, argued Rabbi Hurewitz, it was not the same as the grape juice of the Gemara.

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, (Har Tzvi, OC 1:158) in a letter to Rabbi Hurewitz disputes this. He writes that just as cooked wine is permissible for Kiddush, because we recognize it as retaining the character of wine despite it being cooked (and despite it not being usable in the Bais Hamikdash and therefore not being an ideal choice) so too grape juice will retain its character despite being cooked and will still be permitted. This is also the position of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomo 1:4).

Rav Henkin in a later responsum on the subject retracts his reservations regarding using grape juice for a different reason. He consulted with Mr. Herzog, of Herzog Winery fame, who demonstrated to him how one can easily fermented even pasteurized grape juice by adding a little sugar and yeast and leaving it exposed, thus refuting the pasteurization argument from a scientific perspective as well.

The common practice, and the position of the vast majority of contemporary poskim including Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Elyashiv, Rav Ovadia Yosef, Rav Soloveitchik, and the aforementioned poskim, is that grape juice may be used for Kiddush and all other sacramental purposes. Many do note the position of the Magen Avraham, that it is preferred to use wine when possible.

Using grape juice for the four cups drunk at the Seder is a relatively new issue, as in pre pasteurization days the grape juice from the harvest season would have spoiled by the time Pesach came around. Although from a wine perspective it would be permitted, in the Kol Dodi Rav David Feinstein Shlit”a takes the position, based on early commentators, that wine is preferred as one of the purposes of the Four Cups is to demonstrate freedom, which is not possible with non-alcoholic grape juice.

There is also some discussion in the Poskim about using grape juice from concentrate, the position of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach is that it would not be Hagefen!

A story is told about Rabbi Dr. Abraham J Twersky, the famed Rabbi, author and psychiatrist, who is a world renowned substance abuse expert. The story is told that one of his patients, a Catholic priest, expressed his consternation that he would no longer be able to take communion, which involves drinking wine. Rabbi Twersky asked him why he didn’t use grape juice, explaining that Rav Moshe Feinstein had ruled that Jewish law allowed grape juice to be substituted for wine. The priest asked his bishop who in turn asked the cardinal. The cardinal asked Rabbi Twersky to put the halachic rationale in writing, which he then forwarded to the Vatican. The psak came back – they agreed with the reasoning and would permit using grape juice as sacrament, based on Rav Moshe’s psak!

I first heard a shiur on this topic from Rav Hershel Schachter, and many of the sources were heard then.
These articles proved to be an excellent resource as well:
http://americanjewisharchives.org/publications/journal/PDF/1991_43_02_00_sprecher.pdf
http://koltorah.org/ravj/15-25_May_We_Use_Grape_Juice_for_the_Arba_Kosot_1.htm

Posted on 11/21 at 09:21 AM • Permalink
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Friday, October 18, 2013

The Sun Unsheathed

“He (Avraham) was sitting outside his tent as the day was hot” (Gen. 18:1) The Gemara (Bava Metzia 86b) explains that Hashem removed the sun from its sheath and the sun healed him.

The Talmud (Avoda Zara 3) relates that when Moshiach comes the nations of the world will complain to God saying: “if you would have given us the opportunity to do mitzvos then we too would have done them faithfully as the Jews did. Hashem replies “I will give you one mitzvah, we shall see if you can do it”. He gives them the commandment of Sukkah. As soon as they made their Sukkos and got comfortable, G-d removed the sun from its sheath and made it unbearably hot, causing the people to kick the walls of the Sukkah and leave.

The Gemara questions this incident: There is no obligation to sit in the Sukkah if it is causing one pain? Answers the Gemara, yes that is correct! There is however no excuse for kicking the walls. For that they lost their chance.

This incident begs explanation. Hashem seems to be toying with the nations of the world, giving them a mitzvah, and then not giving them the circumstances to correctly perform the mitzvah. Furthermore, we find that Hashem removed sun from sheath and made excessive heat. Why the similarity in language?

What’s the common thread?

I heard a beautiful thought from Rabbi Asher Brander - Avraham was technically exempt from welcoming his guests. He was old, recovering from surgery and in pain. It was very hot. But he was pained by this. He sat outside waiting for guests. He wanted to do the mitzvah. Therefore Hashem sent him guests and he was able to serve them and honor them.

A direct result of this was the creation of the Jewish people. That show of selflessness, of wanting to go above and beyond, was the impetus for Hashem to say “This man’s people will be My Chosen People.”

When the nations of the world come to Hashem when Moshiach comes and ask why he didn’t give them the opportunity to do mitzvos, they are in effect asking “why are the Jews the chosen people and not us?” Hashem offers them an opportunity to do a mitzvah, however he tests them with ‘removing the sun from its sheath’. Meaning to say, they had to show that they wanted to do the mitzvah, that even if they were exempt they would try to do it, and would be pained if they were unable to perform the mitzvah . They had to show that they were willing to go above and beyond the letter of the law to do the will of Hashem. When they left the Sukkah in disgust, kicking the walls behind them, they showed they were just trying to get points and did not altruistically want to do the will of God. They were not eligible to be the Chosen People.

With this we can explain a third incident. The Gemara in Nedarim 8b states in the name of Reish Lakish: “In the future (in messianic times) there will be no Gehennom. Rather Hashem will remove the sun from its sheath; Tzadikim will be cured by it and Reshaim will be judged by it.”

So again we have Hashem removing the sun from its sheath. What is the nature of the judgment?

Perhaps what Hashem is going to do is take each and every individual and examine them. Are you self-sacrificing in your service of God? Does it pain you when you are unable to perform His will, even when you are exempt? That is the Judgment of the future.

However this requires further study. What is the significance of removing the sun from its sheath? And how is the sun both the tool used to judge evil ones also used to heal righteous ones?
The Gemara above is based on several verses in Malachi (3:19-20), the closing of the book of prophets, where the prophet describes the end of days. The verse states: “The day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the wicked people and the evildoers will be like straw and Hashem will burn them up and totally consume them. But a sun of righteousness and healing will shine for those who fear my name, with healing in its rays…”

We see from the prophet the dual nature of the sun; burning the evil-doers and healing the righteous.

Hashem created light on the very first day of creation; however only on day four did He create the sun and the moon. The original light was all permeating and was too strong, and was wrapped in a sheath so as to contain it. (See Malbim in HaCarmel).

The Gemara tells us that when Hashem first created the constellations, the sun and the moon were equal in both size and intensity, the moon complained to Hashem saying that two kings cannot share one crown! Hashem responded, go minimize yourself. However when Moshiach comes the moon will be restored to its original splendor, matching the sun, and the sun will be 7x7x7 (343) times its intensity, as described in Isaiah (30:26). The verse goes on to say that on that day that Hashem intensifies the sun the wounds of his people will be healed.

This strong and full light that is the light of the first three days of creation, is the very same light that was revealed to heal Avraham [see tosfos beracha gen. 18:1], and this is the light that will be used to judge evildoers, discomfort the would-be Sukkah dwellers and heal tzadikim upon the ultimate redemption. This is referred to as the Ohr Haganuz, the light that is hidden away and reserved for the righteous at the end of days.

Hashem created the world with the attribute of ‘din’ or justice. When He ‘realized’ that the world would have no continuity if it was run under the attribute of justice he tempered it with the attribute of kindness so as to have permanence. Hashem is light (Hashem Ori)The original light, the light of the unsheathed sun, is the light of truth and justice, where veneers don’t matter and the raw truth is exposed. Those who are not true to God, whose actions are not done in a wholehearted manner, are exposed. This wouldn’t work for the continuity of the world, and God had to add the attribute of kindness.

However when Moshiach comes, we will go back to an all justice state. This sounds harsh but in truth the opposite is true. It’s truth! Everyone will be honest and true to Hashem, His presence will be so clear that there will be no double standard, no disconnect between our actions and thoughts.

In fact, this is an ideal that was always considered necessary and ideal. The Gemara in Yoma (72b) states that any Torah Scholar who’s interior does not match his external actions is not worthy of being considered a Torah Scholar. In fact, Rabban Gamliel originally insisted that only those scholars’ whose insides were the same as the outsides, i.e. were sincere, would be allowed into the Beis Midrash. Because in a true Torah environment that is a necessary prerequisite.

There are several things that are called an ‘os’, a sign. Milah (circumcision), Tefillin and Shabbos.

Milah – circumcision is the connection between a Jew and Hashem. When a Jew is circumcised, in the words of the Zohar, Hashem is visible from within him. It is the ‘seal’ of the King, a manifestation of His presence within every Jew. The sefarim say that the removal of the foreskin is the removal of the veneer of the heart, allowing the neshama to shine through and elevating the person to the potential of a tzaddik. (c.f. Ramban Gen. 17:4)

Tefillin – the Gemara tells us that the verse “when the nations of the land see that the name of Hashem is upon you and they will fear you” refers to tefillin. For tefillin are a manifestation of Hashem’s presence, they are called the name of Hashem.

Shabbos – Our celebration of Shabbos is celebrating the creation of the world, a ‘sign’ between Jews and God that Hashem crated the world and is actively manifest in all its aspects.
We find one more thing that’s called an ‘os’. The constellations are called osos, signs. The Gemara explains that they will show us the months etc. however perhaps simply understood, they are manifestations of Hashem’s presence, in the truest sense, the attribute of truth and justice.

Now everything comes together beautifully. Avraham, after his Bris Milah, exhibited the presence of Hashem from within Him. This pure manifestation of Hashem was deserving of the unsheathed sun, the pure and great light that would illuminate all in the truest sense, for Avraham it was healing, for he was, after the Milah, through and through dedicated to Hashem, as exhibited by his willingness to go above and beyond the call of the duty.

This light is manifest on Shabbos. The Zohar tells us that every Shabbos there is an aspect of the light from the beginning of creation, only at the end of Shabbos do we have to go back to the light of fire and heat, which is exhibited by the havdalah candle. This is why only Jews can keep Shabbos; only one who is clear and true to Hashem, without any distinction between his inner devotion and his outside deeds can partake in the light of Shabbos. (See also Yalkut Shimoni Tehillim 139,888)

This is why Adam only was scared by the darkness on the first Motzai Shabbos, whereupon he discovered fire(Ibid Bereishis 2:17)
This light will indeed be a healing light for all the tzadikim at the end of days, it will allow them to live in a true and clear brightly illuminated world. They will be out of the darkness, the presence of Hashem will be clear.

However when the evildoers are presented with this light, it exposes their inconsistencies, their lack of truth and honesty and the fact that their external, seen actions are not representative of their true feelings and thoughts.

When they are put in the Sukkah, and the big lights are turned on, the question is – are you willing to go above and beyond as you say you are? Are you committed to Hashem in the manner required, where His presence is manifest from within you? Are you like Avraham after his circumcision? Like a Jew on Shabbos? They claim yes, but by kicking the walls the answer is evident. They aren’t really willing to put themselves on the line and inconvenience themselves.

This will be the ultimate Day of Judgment for reshaim, as well as the ultimate day of healing for tzadikim. Each will be exposed for what they really are.

The take home lesson from this is that we must strive to make sure our actions mirror our thoughts and desires, and our thoughts and desires are in sync with what the Torah requires our wants to be, to be selfless and dedicated to Hashem, fully subservient to His will, and then we will be the children of Avraham, the Chosen People, in the fullest sense of the term.

Posted on 10/18 at 10:11 AM • Permalink
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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Vaccines in Halacha

There have been some recent reports in Southern Israel of the polio virus being discovered. As a result the Ministry of Health is encouraging all children born after January 1 2004 to receive a special inoculation, which is available for free. This has led to some discussion of vaccinations in general, and I would like to present the halachic perspective. At the end of the article we will discuss the polio vaccine specifically.

First, a word about polio, a disease which we are not familiar with, Boruch Hashem. Polio causes acute paralysis that can lead to permanent physical disability and even death. Before polio vaccine was available, 13,000 to 20,000 cases of paralytic polio were reported each year in the United States. Annual epidemics of polio often left victims—mostly children—in braces, crutches, wheelchairs, and, in serious cases, iron lungs. Many of the children that survived experienced life-long consequences from the disease.

It is important to note that almost all vaccines are not effective in 100% of the population, and therefore rely on a herd, meaning if everyone is inoculated there will not be enough carriers to infect those whom the vaccine did not work for.

Another vaccine that has been scrutinized lately is the MMR vaccine. MMR inoculates against measles, mumps and rubella, three potentially fatal disease. Some history is in order:
MMR was first linked to autism in The Lancet, 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and twelve coauthors. It was widely circulated and featured on 60 Minutes. However the science behind the study was suspect, and over the years 10 of the 12 coauthors withdrew their names. In February 2010 The Lancet retracted the article, and in March 2010 Dr. Wakefield lost his medical license due to having acted irresponsibly.

Additionally the main factor studied was Thimerosal, a mercury based ingredient that was used in vaccines. As of 2001 the Thimerosal was removed from almost all vaccines.

However, there is still much lingering confusion in the general populace, and much misinformation being spread purporting that the vaccine should not be given. This thinking has taken grip in many Orthodox communities, and unfortunately, over the years there have been outbreaks in Jewish enclaves of mumps and measles. These are diseases that can be fatal, and/or have lifelong effects on the health of the diseased.

Avoiding Pre-Existing Danger

There is a very clear commandment in the Torah to take preventative action to avoid danger – the obligation to build a Maakeh, agate around a rooftop, or anywhere from which one can fall. We find that this concept extends on a Torah level to be “exceedingly careful” to avoid all dangerous situations, food, and activities – (see CM 427).

We find many activities and foods that were prohibited by Chazal due to the possibility of danger, and the well-known adage that Chamira Sakanta Meisura, we are stricter with risk than prohibitions, underscores this.

There is some discussion in the poskim as to the risk factor needed to be considered a dangerous activity. According to all opinions if it is 50% or higher it is forbidden, and according to many a significant risk such as a 10% risk is prohibited as well.

However, we find that even when there is only a small chance of danger the action or food is prohibited, see IGM OC 2:100.

Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski wrote that although there is a rule of Shomer Pesaim Hashem, Hashem protects the foolish, which the Gemara uses as a rationale to explain risky behavior, that only applies when it’s a distant and minor concern (Achiezer 1:23). Others write that the rule only applies when the concern is by and large disregarded and ignored.

Proactive Healthy Action

Until now we have discussed avoiding existing dangerous situations. There is much less Halachic literature written about proactively protecting oneself from unsafe circumstances.

The most notable is the Rambam (Deos 4) who describes healthy living as part of Avodas Hashem, and therefore includes eating, sleeping and exercise habits as part of the overall service to Hashem.

The opinion of the Rambam (as understood by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach) is that contemporary medical advice is to be the basis of what is considered healthy living.

There is also some discussion on the poskim regarding healthy people fleeing a smallpox epidemic, the Rema (YD:116:5) and the Mishna Berura quoting the Shelah (OC 576 MB 14) write that one must flee the town in which people are contracting smallpox.

Vaccination

So it would seem clear that there is an obligation to take steps to prevent and avoid disease, and presumably vaccinations would be required as well.

However vaccination is somewhat different than flight as it’s not inherently risk free. There is a very small possibility that the person receiving the inoculation will get sick as well.

When the smallpox vaccine was first invented, the Tiferes Yisroel (see commentary to Yoma 8:3) was asked whether one should be vaccinated.

The risk of vaccination (in his time 1/1000 fatality rate) was weighed against the risk of getting infected with smallpox, (at that time 30% of the population died due to smallpox) and he ruled that one should be vaccinated.

On the one hand, nowadays the risk factor of infection is statistically miniscule, due to the widespread use of vaccinations. On the other hand in order to perpetuate this we must continue to inoculate until there is worldwide eradication of any given disease, and the risk factor of becoming ill from the vaccine itself is scientifically unproven or negligible as well.

Therefore, many poskim conclude, an individual cannot be compelled to vaccinate their children (putting aside legal or school policy concerns). This is the opinion of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Neuwirth.

The Nishmas Avraham qualifies this by saying in the name of Rav Shlomo Zalman and Rav Neuwirth that inoculations should be strongly encouraged. Indeed, all the above poskim encouraged parents and doctors to vaccinate children.

In a much firmer stance, Rav Elyashiv, quoted by Rabbi Tatz in “Dangerous Disease & Dangerous Therapy,” says that all parents have an obligation to vaccinate as this is normative practice throughout the world, and is included in the parents’ basic obligation to care for their child. It would seem from the quote that he was very familiar with the scientific pros and cons and felt that until there was objective evidence to the contrary one must vaccinate to avoid danger; not vaccinating would be considered negligence on the part of the parent.

Additionally, Rav Elyashiv is quoted as ruling that parents of vaccinated children can insist that all other children in the class be vaccinated as well, so as to limit their exposure to disease.

There has been an ongoing discussion in Lakewood, NJ as to whether schools can insist that all children be vaccinated. After perusing the various statements, proclamations and psakim that have been issued over the last few years in the Lakewood controversy regarding immunizations, it seems clear that the (seemingly minority) opinions that do not support compulsory vaccinations are basing their psak, in part, on the fact that there is a portion of the medical community that is anti-vaccine, and the jury is still out on the issue. This is simply no longer true, and should be noted.

Additionally it should be noted that none of the Rabbonim involved discouraged vaccinations, they just felt the schools can’t mandate them.

In some states where it is legally mandated to vaccinate your children, there is the option of a religious waiver, where one can state their religion is against vaccinations. In light of all that has been discussed, according to all opinion it would seem incorrect to use a religious exemption, with Judaism being the religion.

The Current Polio Issue

So how about the current polio vaccine being recommended in Israel? This is a little different, and may not be subject to the above discussion.

In a nutshell as I understand it:

It seems that all children, once vaccinated, cannot contract polio. They can however still be carriers, and infect other unvaccinated people. Strains of polio have been found in sewers in Southern Israel, (much of the Muslim world does not vaccinate) and can therefore infect unvaccinated people. The current campaign introduces a weakened live strain of the virus into an already inoculated child, who then will not get sick, but will fight the virus and not be a carrier, and thus help eradicate the virus completely.

Although there doesn’t seem to be any statistical risk to the child getting the live vaccine, they cannot come into close contact with immune-deficient people. They also don’t gain anything, and there are (unsubstantiated by me) rumors of a very minute percentage of these children becoming ill as well.

The question then becomes a hashkafic one: Do I have to compromise, even minutely, my health or even convenience for the greater good? Furthermore, Should I compromise the health of some immuno-deficient people I may come in contact with for the greater good?

Something to think about, and if applicable discuss with your Rav.

May we merit the days when disease and illness will cease to exist!

In writing this article I leaned heavily on information presented by Rabbi Bush in Hakirah vol. 9, and an article by the Institue of Dayanim, pub. 17th Tamuz 5772, as well as information provided by the Ministry of Health.

Posted on 08/22 at 08:41 AM • Permalink
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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Maaser Sheini - Maintaining the Connection

We are familiar with the concept of Maaser Sheini. You take your tithe, bring it, or its monetary value to Jerusalem, and let it here, in the presence of the Bais Hamikdash.

We do the same with Maaser Beheimah – we tithe our animals, bring them up to Jerusalem, and eat them there.

Why? What do we gain by taking our meals in the presence of the Bais Hamikdash?

The Chinuch (360) offers some insight. He explains that Hashem wants all of His nation to be close to Him, Torah scholars and devout. However, He realizes that due to human nature, for the majority of the population this is an impossibility. They must support their families, earn a living, and that can take them to places that are not centers of Torah and bastions of piety.

However, in Jerusalem, the seat of the Sanhedrin and the place of the Kohanim, there is nothing to do but study His ways and learn His Torah. Therefore Hashem commanded that we travel periodically to Jerusalem, spend some time there and engage in study and prayer, whilst being supported by the food we brought along.

This way, explains the Chinuch, not just every region or city, but every household will have at least one member who is well versed in Torah, who can impart of his newly found wisdom to his family and elevate the spiritual level of the entire home.

The Meshech Chochmah (Shemos 23:16), gives us a beautiful understanding of the mitzvah of being Oleh Regel, the thrice yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He explains that Hashem is connected to Klal Yisrael, of which each Jew is a vital part, a limb. However, it is impossible for each Jew to fully cleave to Hashem on an ongoing basis, since they are busy and distracted with the travails of day to day life. However, just as a limb is not considered halachically disconnected from an animal (for the purposes of tumah) until it is unable to be reattached, so too every Jew, so long as they have the potential to connect are considered connected. The way to maintain that connection, to preserve the ability to connect, is by actually connecting periodically. This, explains the Meshech Chochmah, is one of the goals of the pilgrimage.

This idea is really clear in the Sifri, explained by Tosfos (Bava Basra 21a). The verse puzzlingly states that one should bring Maaser to Jerusalem למען תלמד ליראה so as to learn to fear Hashem. The Sifri expounds: Maaser was only given to us so as to engender Torah Study and Fear of Heaven. The Netziv
(Haamek Daver Devarim 14:23) explains that it is impossible to eat all the Maaser during the Chag itself, and therefore he will stay on in Jerusalem, and during that time will study and grow spiritually.  (He adds that at the very least he will leave the food behind to support Torah Scholars, which will also help Torah grow).

So we now understand the goal of Maaser Sheini – to get us to Jerusalem, to put aside our earthly pursuits for a little while and focus on our spiritual development.

And now that we have no Bais Hamikdash and we don’t have the opportunity to bring Maaser, what is our vehicle for connection? The answer lies on a second interpretation of Chazal (Yevamos 93a): “Learning to Fear God” which the Torah states as the goal of Maaser, refers to Shabbos and Yom Tov.

The Meshech Chochmah (Devarim 14:23) explains: When observing the Kohanim and scholars in Jerusalem, it’s difficult to find commonality with them. As working folk, we don’t have the luxury that they do to focus on learning and spiritual growth on a full time basis. To that the verse tells us – Shabbos and Yom Tov is your time! You’re not working, you have the opportunity to focus on your growth, that’s when you should apply the lessons learnt from the Kohanim.

May we use our time wisely, and have the opportunity to internalize the lessons of Maaser Sheini.

Posted on 08/04 at 08:21 AM • Permalink
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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Doing The Shuckle - To Sway Or Not To Sway

We’ve already discussed the bowing and bouncing parts of Prayer. Now let us take a look at the Shuckle.

The Gemara in Berachos 31a asserts that many Halachos of Prayer, and specifically Shemonah Esrei, are learnt from the prayer of Chana in the Mishkan, as depicted in the beginning of Shmuel 1.
Among these are to daven in an undertone, to enunciate the words, that a drunk can’t pray and more.

The Rema Mipano (Eim Kol Chai, 1:33) posits that additional Halachos can be deduced which the Gemara doesn’t include. He therefore deduces from the words רק שפתיה נעות, only her lips were moving,
that the rest of one’s body should be at rest during the Shemonah Esrei prayer.

He reiterates this in his responsa (113) as well. He goes on to say that although there is a concept, found in Tehillim, of כל עצמותי תאמרנה ה’ מי כמוך ‘all of my limbs will declare – Hashem whom is like
You’ that is limited to praise of Hashem, however during the Amidah prayer no movement is to occur, other than the required bowing.

However, the Mateh Moshe (1:118) quotes sources in the Rishonim that one should sway during prayer, and this is the opinion of the Avudraham as well (Siman 44). They understand that the above quoted verse, that one should use all their limbs in prayer, refers specifically to the Shemonah Esrei prayer.

The Rema (OC 48) quotes the Avudraham noted above, that due to the verse of ‘all my limbs will declare’ one should sway during prayer. The Magen Avraham notes that this is not clearly applicable to Shemonah Esrei, and he personally feels that the halachah is that one should not sway. However he concludes that either way is acceptable and it depends on the person. This is quoted by the Mishna Berura, and the Aruch Hashulchan similarly notes that one should do whatever allows him to better concentrate.

It’s interesting to note that the Mishna Berura elsewhere (95:7) quotes only the authorities that one should sway during the Shemonah Esrei. One can argue that this would indicate his opinion was that one should sway.

Although it would seem that almost everybody sways in practice, Rav Avraham Gurwicz writes that his personal observation of his Rebbeim, the Brisker Rav, Rav Shach and the Stiepler Gaon did not sway during Shemonah Esrei. I recall hearing the same of Rav Dessler, Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

There are certain things the poskim caution to be aware of and not do:

One should not stand straight and move his head side to side as that appears to be haughty. The Rambam says the same of putting ones hands on their hips.

Although in Biblical times they prayed with their hands outstretched to the heavens, this has been adopted by other religions, and therefore the Beer Sheva writes that it should not be done. This is quoted by Rav Akiva Eiger.

One should avoid anything that disturbs those around him, and should avoid making grotesque motions. Rav Gurwicz writes that he is appalled at the faces and gestures people make whilst standing in front of the King of Kings!

There is a Zohar (vol. 3 pg. 218b) that is referenced by the Biur Hagra, that tells us a fascinating fact.

שאילנא ליה מאי האי דכל עמין דעלמא לא עבדין נענועא אלא ישראל בלחודייהו דכד לעאן באורייתא מתנענען הכא והכא בלא למודא דבר נש בעלמא ולא יכלין למיקם בקיומייהו אמר לי אדכרתן מלתא עלאה ובני עלמא לא ידעין ולא משגיחין. יתיב שעתא ובכה. אמר ווי לבני נשא דאזלין כבעירי חקלא בלא סוכלתנו. במלה דא בלחודוי אשתמודען נשמתהון קדישין דישראל בין נשמתהון דעמין עעכו"ם. נשמתהון דישראל אתגזרו מגו בוצינא קדישא דדליק דכתיב נר יי’ נשמת אדם והאי נר בשעתא דאתאחד (נ"א דאתדליק) מגו אורייתא דלעילא לא שכיך נהורא עליה אפילו רגעא. ורזא דא אלקים אל דמי לך כגוונא דא כתיב המזכירים את יי’ אל דמי לכם. לא שכיכו לכון. נהורא דשרגא כיון דאתאחדא גו פתילה ההוא נהורא לא שכיך לעלמין אלא מתנענעא נהורא לכאן ולכאן ולא משתכיך לעלמין. כגוונא דא ישראל דנשמתייהו מגו ההוא נהורא דשרגא כיון דאמר מלה חדא דאורייתא הא נהורא דליק ולא יכלון אינון לאשתככא ומתנענען לכאן ולכאן ולכל סטרין כנהורא דשרגא דהא נר יי’ נשמת אדם כתיב. וכתיב אדם אתם אתם קרויין אדם ולא אומין עכו"ם. נשמתין דעמין עכו"ם מדעיכו דקש בלא נהורא דשרי עלייהו וע"ד משתככין ולא מתנענען דהא לית לון אורייתא ולא דלקין בה ולאו נהורא שרייא בהון אינון קיימין כעצים בגו נורא דדליק בלא נהורא דשריא עלייהו וע"ד משתככין בלא נהורא כלל.

My loose translation:

The question was posed: why is it that Jews sway when they are learning Torah, and non-Jews do not?

The answer was given: there is a fundamental difference between the soul of a non-Jew and the soul of a Jew. The sould of the Jew is carved from the holy fire of God, and therefore once it is alight, the flame, as small as it may get throughout one’s life, is always there. The nature of a flame is to sway, to always move and jump, and so is the soul of a Jew. However the soul of a non-Jew is static, there is no flame, and it doesn’t sway.

Rav Gurwicz points out that this refers specifically to Torah study and not prayer, however the idea is fascinating. Our fires are lit – we just have to act on it!

Posted on 05/30 at 05:48 AM • Permalink
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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Learning Torah On Purim

The Ramchal writes (Derech Hashem Chap. 7), in explaining the Moadim, that the Jewish calendar is cyclical, not linear. Therefore, the events that took place during each of the Yomim Tovim made an indelible impression on the calendar cycle, and when the cycle comes back to that point of the year the Divine Light of that time resurges as well.
The holidays are not merely historical commemorations of ancient events, rather they are resurgences of the Godly inspiration that was created during the original event.
Therefore Pesach is an opportunity to tap into the bounty of personal emancipation and freedom of the Exodus, Shavous is a time to have Divine assistance in Torah learning and so on.
The Ramchal continues: the cyclical inspiration of Purim is in the salvation of the Jews during the Babylonian exile, and in that they reaccepted the Torah in a permanent way.
What does he mean when he writes that we reaccepted the Torah?
The Gemara in Shabbos (88a) explains that when we stood at Har Sinai Hashem held the mountain over our heads like a barrel and delivered an ultimatum. Either accept the Torah or this will be your burial place! The Gemara notes that from here we have a really good excuse when challenged on our lack of fulfillment of the Torah’s laws – we were forced into it!
However, the Gemara goes on, that in the days of Achashverosh we reaccepted the Torah willingly (and are therefore bound, with no out).
So presumably, the Ramchal is referencing this Gemara, and telling us that each year on Purim we once again have a unique ability to reaccept the Torah in a willing manner as we did on that first Purim.
There are many other manifestations of this concept in the customs and laws of the day of Purim.
The Rema writes that the custom is to wear Shabbos clothes on Purim (and as an aside, the Poskim stress that this is especially important during the Megilla). The Chida explains that the reason for wearing extra nice clothing is for the Simchas HaTorah that we have on Purim.
The Behag also refers to Purim as being comparable to the day the Torah was given, and his source is the above Gemara.
The Shelah refers to Purim as the ‘conclusion’ of the acceptance of the Torah, and the joy of Purim is the joy of Simchas Hatorah.
The Rema codifies: (695:2) One should engage in Torah study before beginning the Seudah as it says “The Jews had Orah Vesimcha” and Orah (light) refers to Torah. The Levush notes it should be specifically before the Seudah, first Orah, then Simcha.
Wishing you all a wonderful, inspiring and Torah filled Purim!

Posted on 02/17 at 08:13 AM • Permalink
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Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Message of Tu Bshvat

What follows is based on Rabbi SR Hirsch. I wrote it in my own words, and have not done him full justice.

Why do we celebrate the Rosh Hashanah of the trees in the middle of the bleak, cold, lifeless winter? The Gemara explains – Since most of the rains have already fallen. (Rosh Hashanah 14). What does that mean?

Rabbi SR Hirsch in Collected Writings explains the significance of Tu B’Shvat in the following manner:

A rational person will say the tree bears fruit when the fruit actually appears on the tree. One who thinks a bit more deeply will postulate that the fruit really begins at the original budding. There must be a physical manifestation to show the budding of the fruit.

This is true in the world of men in general. Only deeds, actions, actual physical efforts are considered noteworthy.

The Torah operates differently; the origins of the actions are paramount. Rabbi Hirsch refers to the “invisible germination of righteousness and inquity”.

He explains that the Torah focuses on protecting and building this inner, invisible foundation from where all the actions come. All the laws of Purity, Issur and Heter and so on protect this core, particularly where the spiritual intersects with the physical and and the integrity of one’s purity is at stake.

This is also exemplified in the purity that was required in the camp of the Jewish Army, the cleanliness of speech that is Halachically necessary, the preparations needed to pray and to eat, and the entire approach to Jewish Law.

What follows then, is that all the rituals and laws are done not only as a way of serving Hashem, but more importantly to strengthen and solidify man, to ensure that the origins of all his deeds are pure and whole.

This is the message of Tu B’Shvat. We do not address the outer manifestations of Spring, rather the inner beginnings. The rains have begun passing, the sap is starting to rise in the trees, the inner core is strong and healthy – unaffected by what’s going on outside. This is the message to each and every one of us.

Posted on 01/24 at 01:28 PM • Permalink
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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chanukah Candles on Friday

Even though we usually light Chanukah candles once it’s dark, obviously that is impossible on Friday, we therefore have to light before dark. We will discuss some of the associated Halachos.

The Shulchan Aruch rules (679) that one should first light Chanukah candles and then Shabbos candles. The Mishna Berura explains that this is because of another issue – there is a question if there is an automatic acceptance of Shabbos when one lights Shabbos candles. We generally accept that for men there is no automatic acceptance and for women there is. However there is an opinion that for men lighting Shabbos candles there would also be an automatic acceptance and therefore the Shulchan Aruch rules that one should first light Chanukah candles to suffice all opinions.

This would seem to only present as an issue when the same person is lighting the Shabbos candles and the Chanukah candles. However it could be that even if the woman is lighting Shabbos candles then the man can’t help her fulfill her Chanukah obligation as an agent.

If one forgot and the woman of the house lit Shabbos candles then the man may still light the Menorah. If the woman was intending to light Chanukah candles she may not, because she has accepted Shabbos, and she should ask someone else to light for her. The lighter should make the first Beracha and she makes the second (and when applicable the third).

However if a man lit the Shabbos candles he would be thrust into the above dispute. The Mishna Berura concludes that ex post facto he may light the Menorah even if he already lit Shabbos candles.
One has to make sure to have enough oil in at least one (and preferably all) of the candles to burn until a half hour after nightfall.

One may not light the menorah before Plag Hamincha, which is one and a quarter halachic hours before sunset.

One should ideally daven Mincha before lighting the Menorah. Obviously it is preferred to daven with a minyan earlier in the day; however the question often arises; is it better to light Menorah and then go to Shul to daven with a minyan, or is it better to daven without a minyan at home and then light the Menorah?

This would seemingly depend on a much greater question. Why is it that we light the Menorah when we do, after Plag Hamincha?

According to many we are commemorating the lighting of the Menorah every evening in the Bais Hamikdash, which took place after the daily afternoon offering was brought, in which case our lighting of the Menorah would have to be after Mincha, which corresponds to that offering. This reasoning is offered by the Shaarei Teshuva in the name of the Birkei Yosef.

However others understand that when we allow one to light in a time of need from Plag Hamincha on, it is because we are ruling according to the opinion that Plag Hamincha is already night time, and therefore if I go and daven Mincha after lighting the Menorah I would be engaged in seemingly contradictory behavior. Some contemporary poskim (see Mishna Berura Hamevuar) argue that according to this line of reasoning the Halacha would prefer a ‘contradictory’ davening with a minyan than a properly ordered one without. However, in Shaar Hatzion the Mishna Berura quotes this line of reasoning as the primary one when explaining why to daven Mincha first.

[This discussion is relevant to bringing in Shabbos early, which will hopefully be the focus of a future article].

In a nutshell, it would seem to be appropriate to daven Mincha, if need be without a minyan, before lighting the Menorah. This is indeed the opinion of my Rebbe and other contemporary Poskim.

However it is noteworthy that the Shelah in his commentary on the Siddur and Rav Ovadia Yosef explicitly write that the preference to daven Mincha first is only when one is able to do so with a Minyan.

There is one major exception to this rule – if by davening Mincha one will delay lighting the Menorah until very close to or after sunset then one should most definitely light the Menorah first.

Posted on 12/12 at 05:34 AM • Permalink
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Celebrating Thanksgiving

As Diaspora Jews, having been through exile after harsh exile, and particularly in the post Holocaust generations, we are ever so thankful for the United States of America. Although each exile comes with its particular set of challenges and obstacles, the physical and financial security that we enjoy is not taken for granted.

One of the classic American ways of exhibiting that appreciation is by celebrating Thanksgiving. Once a year, Americans sit around the table and commemorate the first landing of the pilgrims on these shores. Although we too share in the appreciation, there are Halachic intricacies that are to be dealt with in celebrating Thanksgiving in the classical fashion.

Rav Moshe Feinstein, in a posthumously published volume of Igros Moshe, has a fascinating series of letters. Written over a two month span in 1981 he at first (OC 5:20:6) makes the case that it is forbidden to have a Thanksgiving celebration, because of the prohibition of ובחוקותיהם לא תלכו, you shall not walk in their statues, which includes any non-Jewish custom for which a logical reason cannot be attributed.

He firmly rejects the notion that there is any sort of prohibition of Idolatry, and he also rejects the opinion that it is forbidden to eat turkey because that’s what you happen to have available. However it is prohibited to have a joyous meal in honor of Thanksgiving because of the afore-mentioned prohibition.

Then, six weeks later, in a letter to a questioner who asked if he is permitted to join in a festive meal, Rav Moshe (YD 4:11:4) writes that it is permitted to join and to partake of the turkey so long as one doesn’t intend to have such a meal on this particular day every year, for then there may be a prohibition of בל תוסיף, adding a mitzvah to the Torah.

Here he mentions nothing of the prohibition to engage in an illogical no-Jewish custom, and concludes that celebrating Thanksgiving is permitted!

Two weeks later, in a third letter written to his grandson, who had questioned his apparent change of heart, he explained: The Rema, in explaining the prohibition, writes (YD 178:1) that anything which has no reason is considered to be Emorite ways and is forbidden. Rav Moshe explains that this statement of the Rema can be interpreted in two ways.

The first way to understand this is that it would be considered Emorite practice (who were very superstitious) to do something for no reason. Therefore the Torah prohibits anything that is done without good cause. Eating turkey on Thanksgiving, and making a whole shebang out of it because the Pilgrims had some turkey hundreds of years ago would be prohibited under this umbrella. This is what Rav Moshe intended in the first response.

Alternatively, we can explain the Rema differently. The reason we ascribe Emorite practice to illogical customs is because we are concerned that they originate in paganism and idol worship. Although now they are just senseless, we don’t want to partake in something which h has its roots in the worship of idols. However, in an instance that we know the root cause of a custom, even though we may deem the reasoning insufficient cause for celebration, the prohibition of ‘walking in their statues’ would not apply. And this, explains Rabbi Feinstein, is why in the second letter he was not concerned with this prohibition.

In conclusion Rav Moshe writes that it is appropriate to be stringent as he had written in the first letter.

Posted on 11/19 at 07:04 AM • Permalink
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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Simchas Torah - Origins and Laws

Although Simchas Torah is one of the highlights of the Jewish calendar, its origins are shrouded in mystery. Not mentioned at all in the Talmud or in any of the works of the Rishonim. The first mention in a Halachic work is in the glosses of the Rema (OC 669).

What indeed is the source? It would seem that this holiday has its roots in Bavel (Babylonia). The Gemara (Megilla 29b) tells us that there were different cycles for reading the Torah in different places.

In Bavel it was completed once a year, and in ‘the west’ referring to Israel, it was once every three years.

There are sources from the seventh and eighth centuries that tell us that the variation in customs had continued through Gaonic times, those sources indicate that although in Babylonia everyone stuck to the same schedule, in Israel it was a little more open ended, and each community had its own breakdown of weekly portions, all ending different times. In fact as late as 1170, when Benjamin of Toledo, a famous Jewish traveler, visited Cairo, he reported that there were two communities. One consisted of Iraqi expatriates who had a one year cycle, and one of Israeli expat’s who had a 3 year cycle. Incidentally, he reports that the Israeli’s would join together with the Israeli’s on Shavous and Simchas Torah, to celebrate with them.

The Rambam himself records both customs, and adds that the popular custom is to have a one year cycle. Indeed, that is the custom that spread throughout the Diaspora.

The system that was set up in Bavel split the Torah into 54 portions as we have it today. Ezra had established that the curses in parshas Bechukosai should be read before Shavous, and the cursed in parshas Ki Savo should be read before Rosh Hashanah. Thus it turns out that the end of the Torah is read shortly after Rosh Hashanah.

The custom was then established to read the last parsha of the Torah, Vezos Habracha, on the last day of Sukkos. This was not universal at its inception, there were communities who completed the Torah before Yom Kippur, and then began from Bereishis at Mincha on Yom Kippur, so as not to give the Satan an opportunity to claim that ‘the Jews finished to Torah and are now done with it’. (This is the reason that we immediately begin Bereishis after completing the end of the Torah, to indicate that we are never done, and always ready to start again from the beginning).

So far we have established: Simchas Torah was created in Bavel, and was the celebration of the completion of the Torah with the reading of Vezos Habracha.

In the times of the Rishonim the custom became widespread in Ashkenazi communities to remove all the Sifrei Torah from the Ark on Simchas Torah, and to proclaim Ana Hashem Hoshia Na (as well as the rest of the piut through Tomeich Temimim Hoshia Na) and then return them to the Ark. In some communities this was done before the Torah reading, in others it was done after, and in yet others it was done at night. Later in the fifteenth century, did communities begin removing all the Torah Scrolls during the evening and morning service.

When did hakafos (circling the Bimah with the Torah scrolls) come about? The custom of doing hakafos on Simchas Torah seems to be clearly borrowed from the hakafos that are done on Hoshanah Rabbah. The origin of hakafos on Simchas Torah dates back to the times of the Bais Hamikdash, and the people would circle the Mizbeach seven times (Mishnah Sukkah 4:5). The Yalkut Shimoni (Tehillim 247) records that this custom continues even today, and instead of circling the Mizbeach we circle the Chazzan holding a Torah Scroll. This is recorded by the Rambam as well.

The Yerushalmi tells us that the reason for the seven circuits is a remembrance to Jericho, where the walls fell down after they were circled seven times, and when we circle the Bimah seven times in prayer we too are considered to have ‘won’ the battle against those who want to do evil to us. (See Yalkut Ibid.)

There is also deep esoteric and Kabbalistic reasoning attached to the practice of hakafos.

The popularity of hakafos on Simchas Torah seems to have come about at the end of the sixteenth century, and is first recorded by the Arizal, as well as by the Rema, who lived at about the same time.

There were various fundraisers and messengers who went from the communities in Israel to the communities in Europe, and spread the custom of hakafos as they traveled. In the Sefer Toldos Chag Simchas Torah the author documents the community ledgers of various communities that were visited by these messengers and adopted the custom of doing hakafos on Simchas Torah, until it became a universal custom.

Other customs then came about, all celebrating the central theme of universal joy at the completion of the Torah, and an obvious intention to include all, even the children. Some examples:

•The only time during the year that collective aliyos are allowed
•The only time that we give aliyos to children
•The only time that we read the Torah at night
•The only time we do an ‘inverted’ hagbah
•The only time we dance with the Torah
•We move Birchas Kohanim from Mussaf to Shachris, because it is expected that during the hakafos the Kohanim will imbibe wine, thus disqualifying them from delivering the blessing.

In addition, there are other customs that had existed throughout the centuries that have been eliminated today:
•In Worms hakafos were done around bonfires. In some places they would burn the sukkah panels. (The poskim discuss the halachic permissibility of this).
•Many early halachic authorities decry the use of firecrackers, which indicates it to be common practice.
•In some communities they would hire non Jewish musicians, also frowned upon by halachic authorities.

When seen through the eyes of the uninitiated, the festivities seem strange. As recorded by Samuel Pepys, a famous English diarist who visited a synagogue in London, October 14th 1663:

Thence home and after dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson’s conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue: where the men and boys in their vayles [tallitot], and the women behind a lattice out of sight; and some things stand up, which I believe is their Law, in a press [aron] to which all coming in do bow; and at the putting on their vayles do say something, to which others that hear him do cry Amen, and the party do kiss his vayle. Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing. And in the end they had a prayer for the King, which they pronounced his name in Portugall; but the prayer, like the rest, in Hebrew. But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this. Away thence with my mind strongly disturbed with them, by coach and set down my wife in Westminster Hall, and I to White Hall

We, however, understand that the Torah is not to be objectified; rather it is Life itself, the essence of who we are as Jews. And therefore, we surely understand the tremendous joy we experience upon its completion, internalization, and once again beginning anew.

There are some other Halachic issues that arise which we will briefly discuss.

Ordinarily, one is supposed to stand when the Torah is in transport. This can be difficult on Simchas Torah, when the Torah is in constant transport. [Indeed for this and other reasons, in at least one place that I know of they replace the Sifrei Torah in the Ark after circling the Bimah once, while the dancing continues. They are then removed for the next hakafah].

The Aruch Hashulchan suggests that one may sit when the Torah Scrolls are being held but not in motion, such as between hakafos. Others suggest sitting behind a barrier of 40 inches or so to be considered in a different domain. An alternative solution would be to give the person sitting a Sefer Torah to hold, thus his sitting is not a lack of respect for the Torah.

There is an old custom to put candles in the empty Aron while all the Torah Scrolls are out. There are those who dislike this custom, and although it is still practiced in some communities it is not as widespread as it was.

Posted on 11/11 at 09:41 AM • Permalink
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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Kinah 25 - The First Crusade

All evil that happen s to the Jews is because of Tisha B’Av, and therefore we mourn on Tisha B’Av even if that’s not the day it actually happened – Brisker Rav. This is explicit in this kinnah that writes “their murders were as tragic as the burning of the Bais Hamikdash, but we do not add an additional day of mourning”.

This Kinah discusses the destruction of Speyer, Mainz and Worms, which were from the larger cities that were destroyed at the very beginning of the Crusade. In addition there were numerous small towns and villages that were wiped out as well.

There are three distinct items that are lamented. The thousands of people killed, including great Torah scholars. Secondly, the destruction of Shuls and Torah centers, referred to as מעט מקדשי. And thirdly, we lament the burning of Sifrei Torah and volumes of the Talmud (see Kinah 41).

Let us look at some of the history, in order to better appreciate the magnitude of the loss.

A so called ‘crusader’ named Count Emicho was one of the early crusaders. Setting off in the early summer of 1096, an army of around 10,000 men, women and children proceeded through the Rhine valley, towards the Main River and then to the Danube.

Emperor Henry IV ordered the Jews to be protected when he learned of Emicho’s intent. After some Jews were killed at Metz in May, John, Bishop of Speyer gave shelter to the Jewish inhabitants. Still 10 men and one women who were found outside the fortress were slain by crusaders on May 3. Later on they came back and killed the rest of the community as well.

On May 18th, a Sunday, they reached Worms. They immediately went about spreading rumors that the Jews had killed a Christian child, and that they had poisoned the towns wells. The local population joined in and every Jew that they captured was killed. The Bishop of Worms attempted to shelter Jews, but 8 days later the crusaders broke in to his episcopal palace and killed the Jews inside. This was on Sunday May 25th, Rosh Chodesh Sivan, and the mekonen writes בקריאת הלל לשוררה – while they were saying Hallel they were killed. At least 800 (and some versions say 1100) Jews were massacred in Worms when they refused Christian baptism.

The Seder Hadoros quotes the Sm”a who explains, in a lesson to us all, why Worms suffered more than other communities throughout history. He writes that the community of Worms was established by exiles of the first Bais Hamikdash. When the Jews returned to Jerusalem after 70 years, the Jews of Worms did not return. A message was sent to them by the leaders in Jerusalem, inviting them to come join. Their response was tragic – ‘you stay where you are in your big Jerusalem, and we will stay where we are in our little Jerusalem’. The lack of recognition by the Jew that he is in Galus is ultimately the most dangerous attitude he can have.

News of Emicho’s crusade spread quickly, and he was prevented from entering Mainz on May 25 by Bishop Ruthard, who had been paid 400 pieces of silver to protect the Jews. Emicho also took an offering of gold raised by the Jews of Mainz in hope to gain his favor and their safety. Bishop Ruthard tried to protect the Jews by hiding them in his lightly fortified palace. Nevertheless Emicho did not prevent his followers from entering the city on May 27 and a massacre followed, with the help of the locals. Eventually the Bishop himself fled and left the Jews to their fate.

There is an account written by a Shlomo Bar Shimshon who describes how the Jews of Mainz and their Rov, Rav Kloynomus ben Meshulam, killed themselves to avoid forced baptism. He describes men killing their families and then themselves, and women killing their own children to avoid the evil hands of the Crusaders.

He describes a woman, Rachel and in graphic details how she killed her four children with her own hands so that they would not be cruelly killed or converted by the crusaders. When they found her crying over the four bodies of her children they immediately struck her and killed her, and her husband, seeing all this, fell on the sword as well. This is but one of the many incidents that happened.

All this happened on Shavous – as the Mekonen writes ביום נתינתה כמו כן אז חזרה. On the day of the giving of the Torah it was ‘returned ‘ to Hashem, in the form of the death of great Torah Scholars and the burning of the Seforim and Sifrei Torah.

In all over 1000 Jews were killed in Mainz, and over 5000 during the First Crusade. This was the first organized mass roundup and murder of Jews in history.

And we are left with desolation and destruction. In the words of the mekonen – אי תורה ותלמוד והלומדה Rav Soloveitchik explains that we mourn not only the loss of the Scholar, but also the loss of the lomda – the common Jew who was attached to Torah, and would spend time every day studying Torah.

He compares it to Jews who returned after the war to their hometowns, which had been bustling centers of Torah activity prewar, and they were desolate and abandoned. They couldn’t get a minyan together; there were no Sifrei Torah and seforim. The feeling one has is a cry of desperation – ‘where is everybody?’

Posted on 07/28 at 01:36 AM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch HaberRabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber is sought after by all who know him for his Halachic and practical advice. His keen ability to put complicated matters into a digestible perspective coupled with his ability to get the facts, make him the perfect blogger to help us all “Do It Right”.

A native of Buffalo, NY, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber spent his childhood globetrotting with his family. His pioneering spirit first surfaced in Melbourne, Australia, where he was excited to be a member of the opening class of Mesivta Bnei Torah. From Australia the Haber family settled down in Monsey, NY. Ever the maverick, Tzvi promptly left home to study in Yeshiva Ohr Hameir in Peekskill, where he became a mainstay of the Yeshiva, and inspired his younger brothers as well as several friends from the Mesivta in Melbourne to follow him. He then joined his chaburah in Jerusalem, first at the Mir Yeshiva and then at the Bais Medrash of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, a senior scion of the famed Brisk dynasty. As his globetrotting family returned to Jerusalem, Tzvi returned to the US, to freeze in the famed, yet comparatively chilled Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

 In 2004 he met his wife, Suzanne Schor, a native of the warmer Los Angeles climate, and the couple settled in Lakewood, where he focused his pioneering and independent strengths on the study of Halacha, or Jewish law. His innovative spirit and innate ability to help others seeking to clarify the finer points of Judaism and integrate them into their daily lives inspired his decision to commute daily from Lakewood to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in order to bask in the day to day exposure to the world renowned Posek, HaRav David Feinstein. The daily commute was more than compensated for when he received Semicha from Rav Feinstien and the Kollel L’Torah U’lhorah (a division of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem) in Tamuz 5768, June 2008.

In August 2009, the Habers moved west, heading toward Los Angeles where Rabbi Haber joined the LINK-LA Kollel. After being an active member of the Kollel for several years, he joined the business world, however he is still actively involved in teaching and learning in LA.

Actively involved in all aspects of TorahLab, Tzvi has taken upon himself a quasi-role as administrator of quality control and has effectively improved and upgraded many of the smaller yet vital details involved in our site. His advice is eagerly sought and gracefully given.

Rabbi Haber is now living in the La Brea section of Los Angeles with his wonderful family. He can be contacted at tzvi@torahlab.org