Friday, August 26, 2011

Rabbi Menashe ben Israel (1604-1657)

Menashe (Manasseh) Ben Israel was born in 1604 on Madeira Island, Portugal. His family, running away from the Inquisition, moved to the Netherlands in 1610, where the famous Sephardic community of Amsterdam began to flourish.

Menashe rose to eminence not only as a rabbi and an author, but also as a printer. He established the first Hebrew printer in Amsterdam.

One of his earliest works, written when he was in his twenties, El Conciliador, a book which reconciles all the apparent discrepancies in various parts of the Hebrew Bible. The book, originally written in Spanish, was translated in the nineteenth century to English by Elias Haim Lindo (see here ).
In 1638, he settled in the Dutch colonies of Brazil (Recife). But a few years later he was called back to Amsterdam to found and direct one of the first Jewish Day Schools in the city.
Rabbi Menashe Ben Israel wrote a letter in perfect English to oliver Cromwell (see here), explaining why the Jews should be readmitted into England (The jews were expelled from England in 1290. See here). Menashe Ben Israel himself traveled to London and as a result of his mission Cromwell allowed the Jews to establish a Synagogue and acquire a cemetery, as they were readmitted into England.

Portrait of Menasseh ben Israel painted by Rembrandt

Among many other books (most of them in Spanish) he wrote:

"The hope of Israel", a book which based on the story of Antonio de Montezinos, traces the origin of many American natives to the lost Ten tribes of Israel.

"Nishmat Chayim": a book that deals with all the questions about the Jewish doctrine of resurrection (techiyat hametim) and the nature of the soul.

He died in Amsterdam in 1657.

For more details about Rabbi Mensahe Ben Israel's life see here

For his complete biography read:
"Cecil Roth: Life of Menasseh Ben Israel (The Modern Jewish Experience)"

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What is the Ketuba? (Part 2)

The Ketubah is the document that states the duties of the husband toward his wife. The financial duties that would come to be honored in the event of the cessation of marriage (see previous HOTD here) and the marital obligations of the husband towards his wife, while married.

There are three basic marital obligations, based on the Biblical commandment stated in Shemot 21:10, which if the husband fails to fulfill it might be considered a legal ground for divorce.

These three obligations are in fact three categories: 1.Food. 2. Clothing and 3. Marital intimacy.

The first category, 'Food' includes all the basic needs the Jewish husband must grant to his wife. Providing for her shelter and for her health (today: health insurance) is also part of this category.

As an illustration, let us see what the Talmud, written 1500 years ago, describes as the minimum standard provisions a Jewish husband used to give his wife in those times:
*enough bread for at least two meals a day
*sufficient oil for cooking and for lighting purposes
*sufficient wood for cooking
*fruit and vegetables
*three meals consisting of fish and meat, for Shabbat
*a silver coin each week, as pocket money for her discretionary expenses.

It goes without saying that these categories are fulfilled differently according to the time and place where one lives, and especially according to the husbands's affordability.

(To be continued)

Watch, learn and enjoy:
"The four ways to marry the wrong person", by Aish.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why is the Kaddish such an important prayer?

During our prayers we praise God constantly, but in the Kaddish we excel in expressing our praise to God, more than in any other prayer.

We say (or respond): yehe shemeh rabba... "May His Great name be blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored, adored, and lauded".

The rabbis were not impressed with the abundance of synonyms. On the contrary. They emphasized that the real praise comes in the following phrase: le'ela min kol birkhata.... "May His name be praised... beyond any blessing and praise... that could possibly be said in this world". The greatness of the Kaddish is that it makes us realize that no matter how many words we would use, we will be always short of grasping and acknowledging all He is, and even all He does for us. No matter how much we praise Him, for those of His actions that we are able to see, we admit that the full scope of His goodness is completely beyond our reach.

Let me illustrate: A five years old child can not not possibly realize all what his father or mother do for him. He might say 'thank you' for an extra candy, but a candy is only a small portion of all the parents do for their child: Love, care, attention, food, clothes, health, education, comfort, etc, etc, etc.
And we are like a child, that perceives only the 'candies', a small portion of all He does for us. The bigger picture of God's kindness, is hidden.

The Kaddish or our response to the Kaddish, is the opportunity to express that if we don't praise Him more, it is not because we are ungrateful, but just because we are limited to perceive all He does for us.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

BERIT MILA: The steps of circumcision (Part 1)

The procedure of circumcision:
1. Sterilization: Although the public nature of the ceremony makes complete sterility virtually impossible, the Mohel (ritual circumcision surgeon) does everything in his power to maintain his hands, his instruments and the place of the Berit Mila as clean and sterilized as possible (see here for new recommended standards, by Rabbi Avi Billet)
2. The Magen: The Mohel then places a Magen (shield) on the organ, separating the foreskin from the genital, and protecting the later from the surgical blade. Then the Mohel pronounces the blessing and removes the foreskin with the blade.
Some Mohalim use a clamp, a device which closes on the organ exerting much pressure on it, to attain a virtually bloodless circumcision. The usage of a clamp (Gomco clamp, Mogen Clamp) is medically controversial (see here the FDA recommendations) and is traditionally not accepted in our community.
Other Mohalim do not use any kind of Magen and keep the separation between the organ and the foreskin by hand.
In practice, virtually all orthodox Mohalim use the traditional Magen
3. Peri'ah: The next step is called peri'ah, which means 'uncovering'. It consist of the removal of the inner preputial membrane (epithelium). The Berit Mila is considered done only when this membrane is removed, or permanently peeled back, to uncover the glans. This procedure is done by hand and it is one of the most difficult parts of the performances of the circumcision. Sometimes if this epithelium was not be fully removed by hand, it is necessary to severe the extra skin (tsitisn) by instruments. An expert Mohel recognizes when these extra strips of skin should be removed (me'akebin) and when not.
to be continued...