Friday, January 20, 2012

BIOETHICS: Abortion and congenital disorders in Jewish law (2 of 4)

Other than for medical reasons (see for example, here) abortion is forbidden by Jewish Law.  However, Jewish Law does not considered abortion as murder, i.e., a crime which deserved a capital punishment at the times when Jewish courts applied execution.  Similarly, a case in which a person accidentally caused a pregnant woman to miscarry her baby (such a case is explicit in the Tora, Shemot 21:22) was not classified as manslaughter (unintentional murder) and the penalty was monetary compensation. In this respect Judaism is different from other religions, for example, Christianity.   For the Catholic church, life begins at conception and for the most part abortion is equated with murder.
The Jewish criteria has implications for the examination of abortion when a malformation or a congenital disorder is detected in an unborn baby.   This type of cases represent a new challenge in Jewish Law. Obviously, the Rabbis of the Talmud or of the Middle Ages (Rishonim = Rambam, Shulchan Arukh, etc.) could not have possibly addressed such cases, because only in our days we have the capability to examine the health of an unborn baby.  Similar to cases like 'organ transplantation' or many 'end of life' issues, there is no Talmudic legislation to relay upon.  And it is important to know that whenever a direct precedent cannot be found in Talmudic Law, we should expect a number of different Rabbinic opinions, which based on Talmudic analogies (not direct precedents!) will arrive to various and dissimilar conclusions, sometimes, completely opposed to each other.  Additionally, with no precedents in Talmudic legislation, one is not able to say thatJudaism --as a whole-- unequivocally opposes or supports this or that position. The matter at hand, then, is open to particular ideas which have been formulated by modern Rabbinic legislators (=posqim) based on their particular analyzes and interpretations. 

As a rule, in these cases, every individual Jew is instructed to follow his or her own community's Rabbis and community's traditions. 
Next week we will present the main opinions in the matter of abortion and congenital disorders. We will based our discussion on the book: Penine Halakha, by R. Eliezer Melamed. Liqutim 2, pp 254-258. 
Shabbat Shalom!
Candle lighting in NYC: 4.40 PM
Shabbat ends in NYC:    5.49 PM


Music for your soul...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

CHUPA: Can a younger sibling get married before the older?

Normally, every family expects the older daughter or son to get married first. In most Jewish communities this is the accepted Minhag (=tradition). There are two sources for it. One is an allusion (remez) to this ancient custom from the words of Laban to Ya'aqob, when Laban refused to give his younger daughter Rachel in marriage before Leah. He said: "In our place, this will not be done, giving the younger (to marriage) before the older" (Bereshit 29:26).  The second and more established source is the case of the five daughters of Tzelofchad, who according to our rabbis got married in the order of their age.

Nevertheless, the Rabbis agree that this Minhag establishes a preference for the older sibling to get married first, but not a prohibition for the younger sister to get married, if she is at the age of marriage.  
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, held a very interesting interpretation of this Minhag. In his opinion (IGM, EH'E 2:1) from the two above mentioned cases we could deduce that giving the priority to the older sibling to get married applies only when both of them are engaged. Then, the wedding of the older sister or brother must take place first. But other than, if for whatever reason the younger sibling finds her spouse first, she should not be prevented from the opportunity. 

In many communities it is customary that in this case, the younger brother or sister asks formally permission from his older sibling (let us not forget that part of the Mitzva of Kibbud Ab va-Em includes also the respect for the older brothers or sisters. See more here) and the older sibling gives his or her blessing wholeheartedly.   

READ: "That Sinking Feeling"The tragedy of the Costa Concordia.
by  Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Isaac Chayim haCohen Cantarini (Padua 1644-1723)

Rabbi Isaac Cantarini was born in Padua, Italy, in 1644. He was a rabbi, poet, writer and physician.  He studied Talmud with Rabbi Salomon Marini, and Hebrew with the poet Moses Catalano. His instructor in the secular studies was Bernardo de Laurentius. Cantarini received his diploma as physician in 1664 from the University of Padua--which unlike other universities in Europe, was open to Jews.  He practiced medicine in Padua for the rest of his life. 

As a Rabbi, he very often preached in the Synagogue of Padua. His sermons were frequently attended by Christians, the number of these on one occasion was so great that the Jews had to find seats in the women's gallery (the Jews, as usual, might have arrived to the lecture later than the gentiles :) . 

He also taught in the Yeshivah of Padua, and officiated as cantor, especially on Yom Kippur.  His last name Cantarini, in Hebrew  מהַחַזָּנִים -- seems to indicate that he was coming from a family of 'cantors'. As he had a thorough knowledge of the Talmud, his decisions were often sought in Halakhic cases.  Among his many students were two very famous Rabbis: Moses Chaim Luzzatto (Ramchal, Mesilat Yesharim) and Rabbi Isaac Lampronti (see here).
Rabbi Cantarini wrote many books and poems in Hebrew, Italian and Latin. His most famous work is called Pachad Ytzchaq, a description of the attack against the Jewish ghetto of Padua by the Christian populace on August 20, 1684, where Jews were accused of having sided with the Turkish enemy and murdered Christian prisoners-of-war in Budapest. Fortunately, the garrison commander of Padua was able to repel the attackers but the incident made a strong and lasting impact in Rabbi Cantarini. 

√ You can find Rabbi Isaac Cantarini book Pachad Ytzchaq here
The tragic story of the attack on the ghetto is written in a beautiful Biblical poetic style, which  those familiar with the Tanakh might fully appreciate. His book also contains many documents of the governments of Padua and Venice, translated and quoted in Hebrew.  His book reports a detailed account of all the incidents, in most of which Rabbi Cantarini himself had taken part. 

√ There is also a seven pages article published in 1960 by Harry A. Savitz in "Jewish Forum" Doctor Isaak Hayyim Ha-Kohen Cantarini: Physician, poet, rabbi, preacher, and teacher (1644-1723).    

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The 13 principles of Jewish faith: # 4 God is eternal (Part 1/2)

As we discussed last week (see here) since God is not a body, nothing associated with the physical realm can apply to Him. Sleep, wakefulness, anger and laughter, joy and sadness, do not apply to Him. Whenever the Tora or the Prophets speak about God in this way, they do so in a metaphorical way and allegorical manner, or as a prophetic visualization. Similarly, we cannot apply to God concepts as birth or death. God does not exist in time. Such concepts as beginning, end, age do not apply to Him.
Asking ourselves, "If God created the world, who created God?" Is like asking ourselves: "If the baker baked the bread, who baked the baker?" In the same way the concept of 'baking' cannot be applied to the existence of the baker, only to his actions, the concept of creation or birth cannot be applied to the existence of God. God is eternal. And other than God Himself, everything was created by God out of nothingness. In the beginning, God alone existed. Even time itself is among the things created by God. 
According to Rabbi Hayim Pereira-Mendes, God's eternity has also implications in our expectations for justice. Since God is eternal, punishment for the wicked or reward for the good man might take place beyond the time-limits of our lives. "The knowledge that God is eternal, especially when coupled with the knowledge that He is omnipotent reconciles us with our trials and sorrows, and solves the puzzles of earthly life and its many seeming difficulties and contradictions. Thus, we observe that the good often suffer misfortune or trial, and the wicked are successful and apparently happy. But God is Eternal, and will, in His own time and in His own way, in this life or in the Future or Eternal Life, show us the meaning and benefits of the sorrows and trials, the difficulties and contradictions."   

Watch this video  Apartheid in the Middle East
You will realize the bias of the media and the incredible cynicism of the international community. For whom the Palestinian people are worthy of compassion, huge financial relief and flotillas of humanitarian help, only if they are in (=fighting against) Israel, where ironically, they have full rights.  But if they suffer in Lebanon or elsewhere except Israel, they are completely forgotten, discriminated and deliberately kept in the worse conditions with no-one to care for them. They are cynically used by their own brothers as human bargain-chips with the sole purpose of hurting Israel. Please, get informed and share this information with others. This methodical mass-disinformation and demonization targeted against Medinat Israel must be, at least, denounced.    

Monday, January 16, 2012

ZEBED HABAT: Naming a baby girl (Part 2/2)

In our community it is customary to name the newborn with an Hebrew name and an English name.  Sometimes these two names are related, like Rebecca and Ribka. Sometimes both names are identical in English and in Hebrew, like: Daniel or Gabriel. And sometimes there is no relationship between them.

While the choosing of the English name is done more or less arbitrarily, the Hebrew name is normally given after the grandparents. (When more babies come, BH, they are named after the great-grandparents and so on). The source of this custom is literally pre-Abraham Abinu. The first recorded case of a man that named his son after his father was Terach, Abraham's father. His father's name was Nachor and he named one of his sons Nachor (Thanks to Mr Edward Dilamani for sharing with me this insight!).

In most Sephardic communities the first son or daughter is named after the father's parents and the second son or daughter after the mother's parents.

Parents should definitely keep away from asking mystical rabbis what Biblical names have "good luck or bad luck" or which "combination of names brings good luck or bad luck". Those are mere superstitions and foreign practices that could bring unnecessary conflicts into the families. One example of a real case that happened in our community. A naive mother was told by a rabbi: Don't name your newborn daughter "Rachel", because Rachel (the Biblical Rachel imenu) died young". Obviously, this absurd consideration does not make absolutely any sense. But the impressionable mother was now very scared for her daughter's well-being and she refused to name her child after her own mother, Rachel, because of that ridiculous advice, causing a lot of pain to her mother.

Our Rabbis suggested in the case of Aharon and his sons, Nadab and Abihu, that actually when not naming one's parents--especially when they have asked or wanted to be named--we should feel a great deal of consternation, for the consequences of depriving our parents from this high honor.

Click  HERE to learn the differences between Sephardim and Ashkenazim when naming their babies after their parents.