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December 4, 2016 / 4 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘laws’

Shavuot: Heavy On The Customs, Light On The Laws

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Where is the section called “Hilchot Shavuot” in the Shulchan Aruch? Actually, there is no section called Hilchot Shavuot because Shavuot does not have its own section in the Shulchan Aruch.

Instead, the last chapter of Hilchot Pesach is called “Seder Tefillat Chag HaShavuot” and it contains just three short sentences. The Shulchan Aruch simply lists the order of davening for Shavuot, the Torah portions that are read, and the prohibition of fasting on the Yom Tov.

What stands out is the lack of any specific halachot for Shavuot. There is no matzah, no sitting in a sukkah, no shaking a lulav, and no blowing of the shofar.

There is nothing that marks Shavuot as a unique Yom Tov from the halachic prospective of the Shulchan Aruch. The Rama adds some Shavuot customs but not halachot. The customs he mentions are putting out plants in shuls and houses and eating dairy foods.

Even staying up all night on Shavuot is only a custom, not halacha.

It’s a seemingly odd situation. Even the shtei halechem and bikurim were brought only during the time of the Beit HaMikdash.

So we are left with the phenomenon of a festival that is heavy on minhagim but light on halachic imperatives, making this Yom Tov different from all others,

The Talmud (Pesachim 68), in discussing the best way to celebrate the festivals, relates a dispute between R’ Eliezer and R’ Yehoshua.

R’ Eliezer says Yom Tov should be spent either kulo laHashem – entirely praying to God and learning Torah –or kulo lachem – entirely as a day of eating and drinking and other physical enjoyment.

R’ Yehoshua says the festivals should be divided in half, chetzyo laHashem and chetzyo lachem – half for God and half for us.

But even R’ Eliezer agrees that Shavuot must also include physical enjoyment through feasting, because it is the day on which God gave us the Torah.

Rashi explains that we need to show we are still joyful about accepting the Torah and therefore we need to celebrate in a physical manner. Shavuot cannot be only a day of ritual halachic structure; in order for us to demonstrate our joy and happiness at accepting the Torah, Shavuot must include our human input.

Our physical and human enjoyment of Shavuot is described in the Talmud as involving eating and drinking. Of course, over the generations Jews have added various customs to the celebration of Shavuot, but food and drink remain the central focus of our minhagim.

To show our joy in accepting the Torah anew every year, we imbue this festival with delicious new meaning, such as eating cheesecake, cheese blintzes (my favorite), and decorating our synagogues and homes with flowers.

This is how we demonstrate our love for the Yom Tov that celebrates the great gift God gave us when He entrusted us with His holy Torah.

Rabbi Ephraim S. Sprecher

How Tax Laws Can Help in the Fight Against Terrorism

Monday, June 6th, 2016

American tax laws originally enacted to combat money laundering and terrorism adversely affect the millions of American citizens living abroad.

Colleen Graffy, a former United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Professor of International Law at Pepperdine University, explains why FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) restrictions are unfair to law-abiding U.S. expats. Did FATCA lower the value of U.S. citizenship?

Whether FATCA applies to you or not, you need to prepare for retirement. Consider whether dividend-paying stocks are appropriate for retirement savings. Find out more, and also how to download a free copy of The Retirement Planning Book, written by Douglas Goldstein CFP®, by listening to today’s show.

The Goldstein On Gelt Show is a financial podcast. Click on the player below to listen. For show notes and contact details of the guest, go to www.GoldsteinOnGelt.com

Doug Goldstein, CFP®

Canada’s Harper Govt to Introduce Anti-Terror Legislation by Weekend

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper’s Conservative government is set to introduce new anti-terrorism legislation by the end of this week, following the recent steps taken by some nations in Europe.

The new laws would enhance the powers of police and security agencies while restricting movement of suspected extremists. It would be illegal to promote terrorism under the new laws as well, Harper told participants at an event in Ottawa on Sunday.

“These measures are designed to help authorities stop planned attacks, get threats off our streets, criminalize the promotion of terrorism and prevent terrorists from traveling and recruiting others,” he told supporters. “It will contain a range of measures to ensure that our police and security agencies have the tools they need to meet evolving threats and keep Canadians safe.”

Harper added that although there would be changes in Canada’s ‘no-fly’ policy, making it tougher for suspected terrorists to board planes, civil liberties would not be curbed.

“To be clear, in doing so, we shall be safeguarding our constitutional rights of speech, of association, of religion and all the rest,” he said.

Last autumn there was a series of terror attacks on Canadian soldiers in Ottawa and Quebec that shocked and horrified the public, which until then had not considered that terror could arrive in their land too. Two soldiers were killed within one week.

Hana Levi Julian

Israel Eliminates ‘Single Parent Family’ in Legal Lexicon

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

The Knesset has passed an amendment eliminating the term “single parent family” from the lexicon of the legal system in Israel.

Instead, the One-Parent Family Law of 1992 will now read: “Family headed by an independent parent” to clarify the status of a parent with custody and who is head of household.

The amendment proposed by MK Meir Sheetrit replaced “single” parent with “independent” parent in order to avoid the implication that a lone parent was a widow or widower.

A family with a parent who is divorced or separated, who has custody of a child, cannot be classified as a single parent family under current law since both parents are alive. “Once the mother is defined as a ‘sole parent’ the father is, metaphorically, dead,” according to the bill’s explanatory notes.

Sheetrit told reporters, “This definition skews reality and in effect renders the parenthood of the other parent, usually the father, null and void in perception and in practice – not just in the eyes of the mother and child but in the eyes of society as a whole.”

Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie, chairperson of the Committee for Advancement of the Status of Women and Gender Equality, meanwhile, noted Tuesday morning that the committee reviewed the issue and found the amendment to be “only semantic.”

Lavie said the change “does not harm the rights granted to these families by law” and noted the point of the amendment was to “affect legal and public discourse in order to strengthen the perception that even in cases of separation between partners, their child has two parents who want his benefit and contribute to his growth and development.”

Jewish Press News Briefs

Agudath Israel slams NJ Gay Therapy Law

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Agudath Israel of America condemned a New Jersey law prohibiting gay reparative therapy for minors as an infringement on religious freedom.

The statement from Agudah came just hours after Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill barring licensed therapists from providing treatment to help gay teenagers become straight.

“The new law tramples on the rights of mental health therapists to engage freely in their profession, and it unfairly denies teenagers seeking therapy for issues that are troubling them the ability to obtain professional help,” the group said.

“Under the new law, therapists, social workers or counselors who work with minors on these issues risk losing their licenses to practice their professions, and minors who sincerely want to obtain professional help will have nowhere to turn. This is an unconscionable infringement on personal liberty and a trampling of personal rights, including religious and free speech rights.”

New Jersey joins California as the only states with laws barring so-called reparative therapy. The New Jersey bill passed both houses of the state Legislature in June with bipartisan support.

In signing the bill into law, Christie, a moderate Republican who is widely believed to be eyeing a presidential run in 2016, appended a note indicating his reluctance to intrude on parents’ ability to determine the right treatment for their children.

“However, I also believe that on issues of medical treatment for children, we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards,” Christie wrote. “The American Psychological Association has found that efforts to change sexual orientation can pose critical health risks including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.”

JTA

How to Give

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Listen to these stories. Behind them lies an extraordinary insight into the nature of Jewish ethics:

Story 1. Rabbi Abba used to bind money in his scarf, sling it on his back, and place it at the disposal of the poor (Ketubot 67b).

Story 2. Mar Ukba had a poor man in his neighborhood into whose door socket he used to throw four coins every day. Once the poor man thought, “I will go and see who does me this kindness.” That day Mar Ukba stayed late at the house of study and his wife was coming home with him. As soon as the poor man saw them moving the door (to leave the coins) he ran out after them, but they fled from him and hid. Why did they do this? Because it was taught: One should throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than publicly put his neighbor to shame (Ketubot 67b).

Story 3. When Rabbi Jonah saw a man of good family who had lost his money and was ashamed to accept charity, he would go and say to him, “I have heard that an inheritance has come your way in a city across the sea. So here is an article of some value. Sell it and use the proceeds. When you are more affluent, you will repay me.” As soon as the man took it, Rabbi Jonah would say, “It’s yours is a gift” (Vayikra Rabbah 34:1).

These stories all have to do with the mitzvah of tzedakah whose source is in this week’s parshah:

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need…Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11).

What we have here is a unique and still remarkable program for the elimination of poverty.

The first extraordinary fact about the laws of tzedakah as articulated in the Oral Tradition is the concept itself. Tzedakah does not mean “charity.” We see this immediately in the form of a law inconceivable in any other moral system: “Someone who does not wish to give tzedakah or to give less than is appropriate may be compelled to do so by a Jewish court of law” (Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor, 7:10). Charity is always voluntary. Tzedakah is compulsory. Therefore tzedakah does not mean charity. The nearest English equivalent is social justice.

The second is the principle evident in the three stories above. Poverty in Judaism is conceived not merely in material terms: the poor lack the means of sustenance. It is also conceived in psychological terms. Poverty humiliates. It robs people of dignity. It makes them dependent on others – thus depriving them of independence which the Torah sees as essential to self-respect.

This deep psychological insight is eloquently expressed in the third paragraph of the Grace after Meals: “Please, O Lord our God, do not make us dependent on the gifts or loans of other people, but only on Your full, open, holy and generous hand so that we may suffer neither shame nor humiliation for ever and all time.”

As a result, Jewish law focuses not only on how much we must give but also on the manner in which we do so. Ideally the donor should not know to whom he or she is giving (story 1), nor the recipient know from whom he or she is receiving (story 2). The third story exemplifies another principle: “If a poor person does not want to accept tzedakah, we should practice a form of [benign] deception and give it to him under the guise of a loan” (Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:9).

Maimonides sums up the general principle thus: “Whoever gives charity to the poor with bad grace and averted eyes has lost all the merit of his action even though he gives him a thousand gold pieces. He should give with good grace and with joy and should sympathize with him in his plight, as it is said, ‘Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?’ [Job 30:25]” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:4).

This is the logic behind two laws that are otherwise inexplicable. The first is “Even a poor person who is dependent on tzedakah is obliged to give tzedakah” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:5). The law seems absurd. Why should we give money to the poor so that they may give to the poor? It makes sense only on this assumption – that giving is essential to human dignity and tzedakah is the obligation to ensure that everyone has that dignity.

The second is the famous ruling of Maimonides that “the highest degree of charity, exceeded by none, is when a person assists a poor Jew by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment – in a word, by putting him in a situation where he can dispense with other people’s aid” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7).

Giving someone a job or making him your partner would not normally be considered charity at all. It costs you nothing. But this further serves to show that tzedakah does not mean charity. It means giving people the means to live a dignified life, and any form of employment is more dignified, within the Jewish value system, than dependence.

We have in this ruling of Maimonides in the 12th century the principle that Muhammad Yunus rediscovered in our time, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize: the idea of micro-loans enabling poor people to start small businesses. It is a very powerful idea.

In contradistinction to many other religious systems, Judaism refused to romanticize poverty or anaesthetize its pain. Faith is not what Karl Marx called “the opium of the people.” The rabbis refused to see poverty as a blessed state, an affliction to be born with acceptance and grace. Instead, the rabbis called it “a kind of death” and “worse than 50 plagues.” They said, “Nothing is harder to bear than poverty, because he who is crushed by poverty is like one to whom all the troubles of the world cling and upon whom all the curses of Deuteronomy have descended. If all other troubles were placed on one side and poverty on the other, poverty would outweigh them all.”

Maimonides went to the heart of the matter when he said (The Guide for the Perplexed 3:27), “The well-being of the soul can only be obtained after that of the body has been secured.” Poverty is not a noble state. You cannot reach spiritual heights if you have no food to eat or a roof for your head, if you lack access to medical attention or are beset by financial worries.

I know of no saner approach to poverty, welfare, and social justice than that of Judaism. Unsurpassed in its time, it remains the benchmark of a decent society to this day.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/how-to-give/2013/08/01/

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