Friday, February 1, 2013

SHABBAT: At what time does Shabbat end?

We have explained that Shabbat begins at sunset and that we are instructed to add some additional time at the beginning of Shabbat. Thus, we always receive Shabbat before sunset (see this).   

Now, at what time does Shabbat end?

We must bear in mind three time-references: sunset (sheqi'a); nightfall (ṣet hakokhabim) or "dusk", which Halakhically is determined by the visibility of three medium-size stars, and twilight (ben hashemashot) which is the lapse between sunset and nightfall. 

Technically speaking, Shabbat concludes at nightfall. And similar to what we do when Shabbat begins, we extend Shabbat, adding a few minutes after nightfall before we actually end Shabbat. 

Now, let me explain briefly why we cannot set a universal time for the end of Shabbat. The conclusion of Shabbat depends on the length of the twilight time-zone. And twilight varies depending on the year's season and especially on the latitude of the observer. In the Ecuador, for example, twilight would last approximately 10 -15 minutes, while in some cities of England, a couple of hours. Another point to bear in mind is that there are different criteria to establish what twilight is (for Rabenu Tam, for example, "sunset" takes place at a later, time!) even in the non Halakhic world. We find that there is "civil twilight", "naval twilight" and "astronomical twilight" (see this), depending on the angle of the sun below the horizon, which obviously affects the darkness of the sky and the visibility of the stars.   

In Israel twilight is calculated at 13 and a half minutes. In New York, for example, it is estimated by most Rabbis that twilight lasts for approximately 30 minutes (this is close to the "civil twilight" or "civil dusk"). Therefore, what is beyond debate is that in New York you cannot end Shabbat less than 30 minutes after sunset.  As a result, in some communities they would end Shabbat 35 minutes after sunset, extending Shabbat for just 5 additional minutes. In most communities they would end Shabbat 40 or 50 minutes after sunset, i.e., 10 or 20 minutes extension (tosefet).  The truth is that, since there is no minimum mandatory length of time that it should be added to Shabbat, the amount of time you add to Shabbat once twilight is over is a matter of conventionalism or Minhag (tradition, custom). 

Shabbat Shalom  

Candle lighting in NYC:   4:56 pm  (sunset is today 5:14 pm)
Shabbat ends in NYC:      5:54 pm  (30 minutes twilight + 10 minutes additional time, tosefet)


Interesting MIX Jewish voices of Lekha Dodi 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

THE 13 Principles: #12: When will the Messiah come, according to Maimonides?

In the last chapter (Chapter 1000th) of his monumental book Mishne Tora, Maimonides conveys a very interesting idea about the Messianic times, which sheds light on the limits and credibility of Jewish oral tradition. 

First (MT, Melakhim 12:1) Maimonides asserts that nature will not change in Messianic times. He also says (12:2) that apparently, it will be a war between Gog and Magog and before that a Prophet will come to guide the Jewish people in the right path and to establish peace on earth. 

Then he explains: vekhol elu hadebarim.... "in all these matters [related to the messianic age] and similar to them [=events which will happen in the future], no man will be able to know how will they happen until they actually happen. Because although the Prophets wrote [metaphorically] about these matters, the meaningof what they said is unknown to us [debarim setumim] because our Rabbis do not have any tradition [kabbala = oral tradition] as to how these words should be understood. And that is why the Rabbis have different opinions on these matters.  In any case, the order in which these events will occur or their details, are not a foundation of our faith. [And since there is no tradition on these matters, and the Rabbis just speculated about the interpretation of the words of the Prophets] a person should therefore not involve himself in analyzing the Hagadot [=Rabbis parables] and Midrashim [=Rabbis interpretations] on these matters, because learning these subjects will not bring a person to love God or to fear God.  One should likewise refrain himself from calculatingwhen the Mashiaḥ will come. Our sages have warned us about this negative practice by saying: 'May the souls of those who calculate the coming of the  Mashiaḥ be rot'. One must hope and believe in general that the Mashiaḥ will come, as we have explained".

All about the Mashiaḥ by Aryeh Kaplan z"l,  from

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rabbi Eliyahu Hazan and Secular Studies

Rabbi Eliyahu Hazan  (1846-1908) , son of Yosef Rafael Hazan, was born in Izmir, Turkey . His grandfather was Rabbi Hayim David Hazan, the author of nedib leb and the Chief Rabbi of Israel (Hakham Bashi and Rishon LeZion) in 1861. In 1856, when he was 10 years old and with the blessing of his parents, he was taken by his grandfather to Yerushalayim. There, he studied day and night for many years. At a very young age he was part of the Bet Din (rabbinical court) of Rabbi Abraham Ashkenazi. In 1866 his grandfather granted him his Rabbinical ordination.  

In 1872 when visiting Tripoli (Libya), he was offered to serve as the Chief Rabbi of Libya, a very important and numerous Jewish community on those days.  

The first task he took upon himself was to make some improvements in the area of education. In his most famous book,ta'alumot leb Rabbi Hazan describes the situation of the Libyan community in this area: "And I saw that the cause of their insufficient education in Tora and general studies (derekh ereṣ) is the lack of a proper Talmud Tora (a Jewish school), because the children attend some informal classes in the Synagogues... where there is only one teacher for 60 or 70 students at a time... and those parents who want to give a better education to their children are forced to send their children away to Europe or to the [private] Catholic schools in the area"  
Despite some opposition, Rabbi Hazan founded a Jewish day school in Tripoli, in which Jewish children were given instruction in religious topics, as well as in other subjects, like mathematics and the Italian language, which was the most essential tool to guarantee that the students will have a melakha (profession or commerce). He also required that all school instructors would be certified teachers.  

(To be continued...)

                                 Rabbi Eliyahu Bekhor Hazan


געגועי ירושלים

Upon leaving Yerushalayim to establish himself in Libya he writes: "My family and I left with a broken spirit the Holy city, the city of my ancestors' graves... ". In honor of Yerushalayim Rabbi Hazan wrote this beautiful poem "ochil yom", where he expressed his deep longing for the Holiest city.  This piyut is very popular among Jews from North Africa.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

TEFILA: Standing on solid ground

כשהוא מניח רגליו על הקרקע, הוא אומר: ברוך...רוקע הארץ על המים

The Rabbis of the Talmud said that when we wake up, as we are getting out of bed and we step on the solid ground, we should recite the blessing "Blessed are you, haShem our Lord, King of the universe, Who extends the dry-land over the waters".

The words of this berakha are borrowed from a verse in Tehilim (Psalms, 136:6) in which King David praises and thanks the Creator of the world for all His favors toward mankind, among them, the creation of dry land (=the continents). 

Dry land was not, technically speaking, "created" (=out of nothing) but extended over the waters. According to the Tora God ordered the waters to recede and gather together so dry-land could be seen as it emerged from the oceans and spread over the planet's surface (1:9).
Contrary to what ancient civilizations believed, but compatible with what modern science affirms, our Rabbis asserted that upon its creation planet earth's surface was covered by water.   The Tora refers to this in the second pasuq of Genesis. The earth's surface is defined as "tehom", i.e., the oceans in their primitive state, before they were organized into yammim (= our oceans), see Gen. 1:10. As this blessing states, on the surface of our planet water was there first, before land, and not the other way around.

In a different Psalm (Tehilim 104:9) but referring to the same event our blessing describes, Kind David also remind us that the Creator has established a "border" (gebul) to the waters --an invisible miraculous fence which we call "gravity"-- by which He rules the dynamics between the oceans and the continental land, allowing life to continue.   

מה רבו מעשיך ה'

Intelligent (and astoundingly beautiful) design underwater.  By David Gallo, from


Monday, January 28, 2013

WEDDINGS: Why do we need witnesses in a wedding ceremony?

Jewish Law requires the presence of two witnesses in a marriage ceremony. The role of the witnesses is obviously to testify regarding the marital status of the couple, if at any point in time a doubt in this area ever arises. In that sense, the requirement for the presence of the witnesses in a Jewish wedding is similar to the requirement of witnesses in other religions or societies. Most states in the United States, for example, require the presence of one or two witnesses in a civil marriage. (Although in some states, like California, you can have a Confidential Wedding, with not witnesses at all).

In Jewish Law the witnesses play another important role . The witnesses actually effect the marriage. Technically speaking, the presence of a Minister (a Rabbi) to bless the couple is not a requisite for a Jewish marriage as it is for other religions. In theory, all what is needed for a Jewish wedding to be valid is the presence of two witnesses. The witnesses act as notaries, who validate and give a public (as oppose to confidential) status to the wedding ceremony. Without the two witnesses a Jewish wedding ceremony is not valid. 

The presence of the witnesses is necessary two times during the ceremony: 

(i) qiddushin: When the groom gives the bride the ring, saying to her: "Behold you are consecrated to me, as my wife, by this ring, according to the Law of Moshe and Israel".

(ii) ketuba:  When the Ketuba is accepted by the groom, by the qinyan (see this).  The two witnesses also sign the Ketuba. 
Although it is not Halakhically required, in many communities it is customary that those who act as witnesses for the qiddushin act as witnesses for the Ketuba as well. 

In the coming weeks, B'H, we will learn who is qualified to act as a witness in Jewish law. 


Ladies, you have the power to convince men to get serious.
by Rabbi Arnie Singer from