Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rabbis Jacob and Isaac Abendana (17th Century)

Rabbi Jacob Abendana was born in Spain in 1630. At some point in time, his family moved to Amsterdam where he studied at the De los Pintos famous Rabbinical academy. In 1655 he was appointed as the Rabbi of the city of Rotterdam. In 1660 he published the Biblical commentary Mikhlal Yofi by Rabbi Shelomo ben Meleklh including his own commentary, Lekket Shikcha.

in 1663, in response to questions about Judaism from Christian scholars, he translated Rabbi Yehuda haLevy Kuzary to Spanish (Spanish was the lingua franca at that period, in many intellectual circles, like English in our days).

In 1680, he was brought to London to succeed Joshua da Silva as Hakham (Chief rabbi) of London where he served for 15 years the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. He completed a Spanish translation of the Mishna, with the commentaries of Maimonides and Bertinoro (Bartenura). Jacob Abendana died childless in London in 1695.

He was succeeded by his brother Isaac Abendana (1640 - 1710). Besides being the Hakham of London, Isaac Abendana taught Hebrew at Cambridge university (Isaac Newton, might have been one of his students). He completed an unpublished Latin translation of the Mishna for the university in 1671.

Rabbi Isaac Abendana wrote the first book of Tora written in the English language: "Discourses on the Ecclesiastical and civil Polity of the Jews" (1706), where he explained the basics of Judaism to gentile scholars. In this book he describes: the jewish judiciary system; laws concerning tithes (ma'aser), Priesthood; Jewish prayers; the Jewish educational system, Holidays, etc. Like his brother, he maintained an extensive correspondence with leading Christian scholars of his time, most notably with the philosopher Ralph Cudworth, the leader of the Cambridge Platonists.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The celebratory meal

The berit mila is one of the most important and joyous events in the life of the parents and family of the newborn baby.

The ceremony is always followed by a se'uda: a festive meal or banquet. This banquet is considered a se'udat mitzva, i.e. by taking part of this meal, we fulfill a Mitzva.

The Rabbis indicated, therefore, that the participation in this meal is not optional but virtually mandatory. Rama (rabbi Moshe Isserles), in his notes to the Shulchan Arukh asserted that one who does not participate of this important banquet 'should be banned from heaven'. That is why in the Ashkenazi communities, the hosts are very careful not to 'invite' formally any guest to the Berit Mila, because if they are invited and do not come to the seuda it could be considered as if they rejected this Mitzva, and would be under a heavenly ban. In the Ashkenazi communities, then, the tradition is that people are not formally invited to the Berit Mila. The hosts just announce publicly the date and place where the berit mila will take place (pitche teshuba).

Because this banquet is not a regular meal, but the fulfillment of a Mitzva, people who are in mourning, after the shiba (the first seven days of mourning) are allowed to participate of the ceremony and the meal (when no music is played at the banquet). According to rabbi Refael Pinchasi (chayim vechesed), before thirty days (sheloshim) the mourner participates of the ceremony, but he should not participate of the banquet.

There are many different Minhagim (customs) on this issue. Rama, for example, says that during the twelve months, the mourner should not take part of any meal outside his house (YD 393), even if is a se'udat mitzva. Each one should know and follow his or her community's traditions.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Praying for the community welfare

Yesterday we explained that at the end of Sukkot, the first day of Shemini Atzeret, we begin reciting the prayer mashib harucah morid hageshem, in which we mention that God is the ultimate source of rain and livelihood (see here).

We also explained that mashib haruach is a prayer in which we do not ask for rain, but rather, we acknowledge God as the One who controls rain and the weather system at large. Knowing that in the land of Israel, Jews needed rain immediately after Sukkot, why don't we ask for rain in Shemini Atzeret ?

The answer is both, simple and inspiring: to celebrate Sukkot, the Jews came to the Bet haMikdash (in Jerusalem) from all the cities of Israel. After the Holidays, they had to walk back home. Some of them lived as far as two-weeks-walking away from Jerusalem. The rabbis did not want that a Jew in Jerusalem would be asking God for rain, knowing that his brothers will be absolutely bothered by the rain, while walking back home. So, they established that the prayer for rain, barekh alenu, will be said two weeks after Sukkot. To give everyone the opportunity to get back home safely.

Rain is an example of an element which for some is a blessing and for others is a problem. Many times there are conflict of interests in prayers. This is the reason we always pray in plural. For example: in the prayer where we ask God for our parnasa (livelihood) we don't say: bless "ME". We say: bless "US". In a sense, we are asking God to help even our competitor next door, the one that sells the same merchandise to the same customers I sell to!

Praying in plural strengthen our consciousness of community welfare, and reinforces our emuna (belief) that HaShem Almighty provides for everyone according to His infinite wisdom.

Two nights ago, we had the pleasure to host in our community Dr. Mordechai Kedar from Bar Ilan University. Dr. Kedar delivered a very informative lecture about the unknown aspects of the Gil'ad Shalit deal between Israel and Hamas.

The audience who attended the lecture expressed that most of what Dr. Kedar explained, was completely new for them, and could not be found in the Israeli or international media.

Dr. Kedar's vast knowledge in Middle East politics allowed us to understand the complex situation of Israel in the new Middle East reality and how that new situation played a role in the release of Gilad Shalit.

We have decided, with Dr. Kedar's authorization, to share this extraordinary lecture (without the Q&A session) with all members of our community.

By Dr Mordechai Kedar

We want to thank Dr. Kedar for his lectures and I'm sure everyone will find this lecture extremely interesting, fascinating and illuminating.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Praying for rain

The Mishna explains that in Rosh haShana God Almighty examines, based on our deeds and merits, if He would grant us another year of life. We have a window of opportunity from Rosh haShana to Yom Kippur to admit our mistakes and appeal an eventual negative decree, confessing, asking for forgiveness, etc.At the time of the Neila, the decree is sealed and hopefully we were sealed for life.

Assuming God granted us the gift of life and good health to make it to the next year, a question still remains: will we be granted additionally 'rain', in other words, the material means to maintain a life of dignity?

In Sukkot, our rabbis explain, God Almighty determines 'the sentence for the water /rain' (nidonim al hamaim). In Jewish tradition 'rain' represents the source of livelihood (parnasa). Man works the land, sows the seeds and watches his field, but ultimately, it is the God given rain what will determine the success of the harvest. 'Rain' is the most critical element for nutrition and livelihood.

This is why at the beginning of the new season (autumn/winter), from the Musaf prayer of Shemini Atzeret, we change the words morid hatal (You make the dew descend) for the prayer of the rain mashib haruach uMorid haGeshem, "You make the wind blow, and the rain descend."

It is important to notice that at this specific point we are still not asking for rain (tomorrow, BH, we will see why). We begin by praising God for His power and kindness. When saying mashib haruach we are acknowledging God as the source of rain, and by extension, the ultimate source of our livelihood.

What Gilad Shalit tells us about the respect for life in Europe, Israel and Palestine. From The Telegraph.