Friday, September 28, 2012

SUKKOT: A Nation under God

This Sunday night, September 30th, 2012 we will celebrate the festival of Sukkot. 

The Sukka is a 'hut' consisting of four walls and a very fragile covering or 'sekhakh'.

The Torah says: 'In Sukkot you shall dwell for seven days... so that your generations shall know, that in Sukkot I hosted the children of Israel, when I brought them forth from the land of Egypt.. (Vayikra- Leviticus Chapter 23).

During seven days we abandon our homes and establish ourselves in the Sukka. We eat, study, and -weather permitting- sleep in the Sukka. We bring part of our furniture to the Sukka and make it as comfortable and beautiful as possible.

Sukkot commemorates the forty years journey of the Jewish people. When we left Egypt in route to the Promised Land. During those years, HaShem Almighty protected us in the dessert from weather inclemency, wild animals and other dangers. He provided us with food and water and satisfied all our needs. By living in the Sukka, in a sense, we re-live those glorious days leaving the safety and security of our houses and putting ourselves, once again, under His direct protection which ultimately is the one that matters.

There are many details and specifications as how to build the Sukka.

The basic principles are:

-The walls must be built first. They could be done by any material capable of withstanding an "average" wind.

-Then we do the 'sekhakh' or covering for which we can use wood of all kinds, including bamboo branches, or leafy branches, tree branches, etc.

The 'sekhakh' should provide shadow but it does not suppose to protect us from rain.

Candle Lighting      6:24 p.m.

Shabbat Ends           7:30 p.m

√ For more information about building your Sukka go here.

√ For information about Minyanim, community activities, and times for the Holidays see Kanissa news

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Eve of Yom Kippur, what should we do today?

√ TSEDAQA: It is customary to give charity on the eve of Yom Kippur.  Practicing charity is one of the best ways to show our 
renewed commitment to kindness and righteousness (see Kapparot below).

√ EATING: In the eve of Yom Kippur we should eat and drink more than usual in preparation for the fast. Eating more than usual will give us strength to endure the fast and according to some Rabbis it makes-up for the festive (Yom Tob's) meals which will not take place on Yom Kippur. Before the fast begins, we have the se'udat hamafseqet, i.e., the last meal before the fast. We should finish eating before 6:29 p.m. NYT.

√ ASKING FORGIVENESS: Sins committed against another person cannot be atoned onYom Kippur until one seeks first forgiveness from the person he/she has hurt. Thus, it is necessary to visit (or at least call) friends, family, or any person whom one may have aggravated, offended or spoken ill of in the past year and ask forgiveness. That includes friends, colleagues, spouse and other family members. Special attention should be given to asking forgiveness from our parents.

√ FORGIVING: Many people practice the beautiful custom of 'forgiving' everyone that has offended them, removing all bad feeling that might be stored in one's heart. Parents should also forgive their children in their hearts, thus saving them from the serious transgression of Kibud Ab va-Em.

√ TEFILA: We should prepare our Tefilot and especially the Viduy, confession (see here). It is advisable to have a list of the particular things we want to repent from in Yom Kippur. 

√ MIKVEH: It is customary for men to immerse in a Mikveh (ritual bath) on the eve of Yom Kippur. This reminds us of the kohen gadol who would purify himself in the Mikveh before performing his Holy service ('abodat Yom haKippurim).

√ CANDLE LIGHTING: Women should light the candles before Yom Kippur begins. Before lighting the candle a woman should say: Barukh Ata..... lehadlik ner shel Yom haKippurim. (The Mashadi custom is to recite also shehecheyanu).

*Candle lighting today in NYC 6:29 p.m.
*Yom Kippur ends in NYC at 7:35 p.m.

May we all have chatima toba and be inscribed and sealed in the Book of life, blessing and peace! 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Leather shoes on Yom Kippur

Wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur - is it a Minhag or a  strict Jewish law?

Wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur is one of the 5 prohibitions of the day. Just as a reminder, the 5 prohibitions are: (1) Eating and drinking, (2) washing or (3) anointing the body, (4) having marital relations and (5) wearing leather shoes.  This is a strict prohibition which is connected to the verse in the Torah that says: On the 10th of Tishri (Vaikra 23:27) or  “you shall deprive yourself”, which means, refraining from the most basic physical needs, comforts, or pleasures for a day.  And not wearing leather shoes is one of these prohibitions. The Torah did not command us to be barefoot, but just to avoid wearing shoes that are made of leather. This prohibition is similar for men and women. Moreover, unlike other Yom Kippur’s prohibitions, such as fasting, the prohibition of wearing leather shoes should be taught to children as well, even when they are still not at the age of fasting.

If it is such an important issue, how come many people in our community do not know about this?

The Jews in Iran, or at certain times in Syria or Morocco, did not live in a totally open and respectful society. They were, in the best case, tolerated by the local population, and they had to be very discreet in what they did. Many times it is difficult to determine if certain uses in respect to religious customs 
are a Minhag or they were a consequence of living under completely different circumstances. For example, I had wondered in the past why my grandmother, who came from a very traditional family from Syria, did not know about Tebilat Kelim (immersing the utensils in the Mikveh before using them). And I remember that when I asked her this question she resented it, implying that if Tebilat Kelim would have been such an important Mitzvah, she should have known about it. She hinted that I was trying to bring new Minhagim or new Mitzvot, etc. Later on, I found out, that in Damascus some Jews were so poor that in their lifetime, they never got to buy new utensils or new tableware. They used what they had inherited from their own parents, so there was never an opportunity for them to practice Tebilat Kelim.  It was not because they did not know about it, but because they did not have to. Since then, I have become more cautious when classifying certain traditions. Some times it is as a real Minhag which should be kept and sometimes, the reason they did not do certain things in the past was a consequence of living in a totally different scenario. Mr. Nassim Bassalian told me than in Iran and in many other Muslim countries, snickers or other fabric shoes were not available many years ago and even when available it did not look good for a respectable person to be walking with those fabric shoes. I also heard that on Tisha beAb and Yom Kippur many people wear leather shoes to walk to Kanissah. Then, at Kanissah, they would leave the shoes outside and walk inside barefoot, where there were comfortable carpets. Mr. Nassim Bassalian told me that a few people in Teheran wore slippers or even socks, but most people did not really know the importance of it.

Our circumstances today, BH, are completely different:
1. We live in total freedom to practice our religion openly. 
2. Snickers, of all footwear, are the most common, popular and accessible footwear.

Yom Kippur, time to say I'm sorry

√ In preparation for Yom Kippur, we should examine in our memories if we had harmed anyone: a friend, a colleague or a member of our family. During Yom Kippur, by the admission and confession of our sins, the transgressions between us and God (Shabbat, Kashrut, Tefilin, etc.) are effectively forgiven. But we are not forgiven for the offenses made toward another human being (bullying, cheating, lying, embarrassing someone, lashon hara', etc, etc.) unless we ask first for their forgiveness. 

√ Asking forgiveness is probably one of the most challenging tasks we might need to do in our lives. Because we need to admit and say: "I WAS WRONG". We can ask forgiveness personally or  by phone or if that is not feasible or emotionally possible, by a letter or an email. 
√ If the person we have offended does not want to forgive us, one "should take along three men to intercede for him and plead with the offended to forgive him. If necessary, he must repeat and try three times as his penitence. ... If he asks forgiveness three times and the other refuses to forgive, he need not return again..." (Meam Loez).  However, if one has offended his father or mother there is no limit to the times he needs to go and seek their forgiveness.
√ In the same way we expect other people (and God!) to forgive us, we need to be easy to forgive and forget. "Before going to sleep at night we should say wholeheartedly: If anyone has injured or offended me in any way, I forgive him or her completely and I bear no hatred toward anyone. One thus fulfills the commandment 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself"
√ We should also settle our personal monetary debts before Yom Kippur. For example, if we have borrowed money from someone and we have not paid it yet.  We should also pay or send the payment for our donations before Yom Kippur.

Kapparot, with chicken or with Tsedaqa?

In many communities, there is a Minhag of doing Kapparot. What is the best way to do it: with chicken or with money for charity?

First of all, we need to clarify that there is no Mitsva in the Tora to perform the Kapparot or to do any kind of animal sacrifice in the eve of Yom Kippur. In our days, as Maimonides explains  “en sham el-la teshuba”, there is nothing else but Teshuba to atone for our sins.  Teshuba, is a mental, emotional process of retrospection, admission, and confession of our flaws that eventually needs to generate a behavioral change.

Kapparot made with chicken is a practice which was initiated by people -not by the rabbis- that apparently started at the time of the Geonim (year 800-1000 CE).  The Kappara made with chicken suppose to inspire our Teshuba. By seeing the Shechita (slaughtering) of the chicken, we realize our own mortality, the fragility of our lives and we reflect on the appropriateness of doing Teshuba while being alive. This is, by the way, the frequent explanation for the effect that the qorban - in the times of the Bet haMiqdash- had in the sinner consciousness. Soon after some Jews started to use animals for Kapparot some prominent Rabbis raised their voices against this practice. Maran Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488-1575) in his celebrated book Shulchan Arukh -the supreme Code of Law for Sephardic Jews- specifically disapproved the practice of Kapparot with chicken in the eve of Yom Kippur. 


√ First, mishum darke haemori “because it is a practice that belongs to idol worshipers” . (Many cults, even today -Macumba, Vodoo, etc- use a small chicken as sacrifice to their deities see for example: “Elleggua” a major god-warrior of Santeria which must be paid homage by sacrificing to it a small chicken). 

√ Second, the fact that the Kappara performance looks like the Korbanot performance, made the rabbis very concerned: because even if something only looks like  haqrabat chutz, offering a sacrifice outside of the Bet haMiqdash, is a very serious sin.

√ Third, the Chakhamim warned against another risk when doing the Kapparot with poultry. Since so many people were doing Kapparot on Ereb Yom Kippur, the Shechita could not be done with enough care and attention in terms of the checking of the the knives and other ritual details. This is by the way, the point that was brought by Rabbi Obadia Yosef, who formerly supported the Kapparot, to discourage the practice of Kapparot with chicken. Rabbi Yosef recommended  to make kapparot with Tsedaqa (see,7340,3450191,00.html). 

√ There is yet another point to add to the disadvantages of chicken’s Kapparot: many years ago, poor people would take the chicken home and eat it. Giving these chickens to the poor at least would be considered Tsedaqa. But today, there is no almost no one that will take these chicken home and eat them.  What is more, even the people who did the Kapparot would not eat these chicken because they believe the animals are now somehow impregnated with all their transgressions.  In other words, on top of all the above mentioned considerations there is also the risk of violating the prohibition of Bal Tashchit (to kill an animal unnecessarily), a Biblical prohibition.

The best way of doing Kapparot, in my opinion, is with Tsedaqa (=charity for needy people).  In this case, none of the above mentioned problems would apply and in addition to Kapparot you will be fulfilling the Biblical commandment of Tsedaqa.