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Posts Tagged ‘mitzvot’

A Mother’s Mitzvah (Part I)

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Question: I am a single mother of young children. Their father has shirked all his responsibilities to them. I do my best for my children, but it isn’t easy. Isn’t their father in serious violation of the Torah by neglecting his children and not making any effort to provide them an education?

No Name Please
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: It is a tragedy that your children’s father is not involved in their lives. Due to his lack of interest in them, you are left bearing all the responsibilities. You clearly intimate that you view educating one’s young children as the sole province of the father. The question is how halacha views this matter.

The mishnah on Kiddushin 29a states: “Men are bound by, but women are exempt from, all mitzvot of the son upon the father. Both men and women, however, are bound by all mitzvot of the father upon the son.” The Gemara seeks to clarify what the mishnah means. Surely it doesn’t mean that only sons, but not daughters, are duty-bound to fulfill the mitzvah of kibbud av va’em. The Gemara, therefore, explains that the mishnah means to say that only men, not women, are bound by mitzvot that are incumbent upon a father to his son.

The Gemara then lists the responsibilities of a father implied by the mishnah: “The father is obligated to circumcise his son, to redeem his [first born] son [from the kohen – pidyon haben], to teach him Torah, to marry him [find him a wife], teach him a trade [that would lead to gainful employment], and some even say to teach him how to swim. R. Yehudah adds: One who fails to teach his son a trade teaches him thievery.” The Gemara asks: “Do it really mean thievery? Rather, it is as if he taught him thievery.”

The Mechaber (Yoreh Deah 245:1-6) rules accordingly that it is a biblical requirement for a father to educate his son in the study (and ways) of Torah when the son begins to talk. When the son reaches age six or seven, the father is required to engage a teacher and pay the his wages if that is the local custom (and if the father is unable to teach his son himself). It would thus seem clear that the father bears sole responsibility to educate his children from the standpoint of halacha.

Yet there are authorities that opine otherwise. The Meiri (Nazir 29) asserts that from the Gemara in Nazir (28b-29a) we can infer that, at least according to R. Yochanan, a woman does bear responsibility for educating her children as well. (R. Yochanan and argues with Resh Lakish about a father’s right in designating his child a nazir.)

In fact, the Shita Mekubbetzes (Nazir ad loc.) cites a Gemara (Sukkah 2b) that relates that Queen Helena trained her minor children to eat in the sukkah, thus indicating that a mother is also obligated to educate her children in the performance of mitzvot.

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

An Important Lesson From The World Baseball Classic

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Team Israel lost in the finals of the World Baseball Classic qualifiers, but the experience should teach an important lesson to Jewish people throughout the world.

The fact that Jewish players and players with Jewish roots who don’t actually live in Israel played for Team Israel should send a critical message to Diaspora Jewry: Israel is the homeland for all Jews.

But Diaspora Jewry is not acting like this is the reality. A few weeks ago I heard words that sent shivers up and down my spine. An Israeli Army Radio host was interviewing a government official who said, “Israel and its government are shifting into post-aliyah mode.” Post-aliyah? Aren’t there millions of Jews still living around the world who are potential immigrants to Israel?

The official explained that, based on the professional assessments of a variety of governmental agencies, there is no group of significant size currently looking to move to Israel. Since that is the case and given the fact that massive aliyot from Europe, Middle Eastern countries, the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia have now ended, we are in post-aliyah mode.

As this official stated, it is time to focus on addressing all the needs of those who are already in Israel and to begin developing alternatives other than aliyah to deal with potential demographic threats in the country. The government recognizes that 2,000-3,000 immigrants from North America and other countries will continue to “trickle” in annually but their expert assessment concludes that no future aliyah will impact Israel in a significant or meaningful manner.

How sad.

Yes, there are many Zionists who support Israel in many ways but, as these Israeli government experts have determined, aliyah and aliyah education are not a focus of Diaspora Jewry. That is truly a shame. To be clear, I don’t believe every Jew in the Diaspora must drop everything and move to Israel. But how can aliyah be off the table and not an option being even considered and explored for millions of Jews around the world?

The book of Deuteronomy includes over fifty references to the importance of living in Israel, such as “See, I have given you the land, come and inherit it” (1:8) and “See, God has placed the land before you, go up and possess” (Ibid, 21). How can we read these verses and not make the ideal of moving to Israel an integral component of our children’s educations? If people are either too old for such a major transition or too settled in their professions and careers, then why not educate the next generation for aliyah and prepare them for making the move as young adults?

I certainly acknowledge the challenges associated with making aliyah. While Nefesh B’Nefesh has certainly addressed and minimized those challenges and deserves credit for inspiring thousands of new olim, including my own family, to make the move, aliyah is still very difficult. But why isn’t every family at least exploring that option?

If the family cannot make aliyah for any of a number of legitimate reasons, why aren’t the children being brought up with plans to achieve this goal? Why aren’t schools promoting the mitzvah of living in Israel with the same idealism, fervor and encouragement used in teaching all other mitzvot and Jewish ideals?

The North Americans who are playing for Team Israel make a huge statement about the ideal toward which we should be striving. Yes, a person’s citizenship may be that of the United States. But, as Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi said so poignantly, “My heart is in the East.” We need to be a people consumed to our core by identifying with Israel – and who not only see no conflict between Jews living in the Diaspora playing for Israel, but also see it as a seamless and natural fit. The “right of return” and automatic citizenship cannot be just some formality. It needs to be a reality that we carry with us throughout our lives and that drives our dreams, hopes, and aspirations.

One more point. Jews around the world do indeed worry about Israel. Jews fret about tensions related to religious extremism and lack of unity. Jews are concerned about Israel’s economy. They also worry about the Palestinian question, demographic problems, and the future of Israel as a Jewish state. Hundreds of thousands of professional, committed, idealistic, and moderate Jews making aliyah from around the world would help solve many of these issues.

Mothers, Fathers, And The Curse Of Family Breakdowns

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

In my most recent column I wrote about ways of improving family relationships, and raising children who have derech eretz and respect for their parents. I will continue on that same theme here.

If the Jewish home is to survive as it did throughout the centuries, if it is to remain immune to the degeneracy and immorality of the outside world, it must become a bastion of Torah, where mothers and fathers stand guard day and night and do not allow messengers of evil to enter – messengers who have the capacity to bring down the walls and set the entire house aflame.

But here comes the tricky part. As in all things, we cannot make generalizations. There are always exceptions to the rule, and, sadly, in these types of situations the anomalies are even more striking. We see homes that, outwardly at least, house families committed to Torah and yet are torn by strife and acrimony. Despite the glow of the Shabbos lights, despite family members’ adherence to the laws of kashrut and shmiras Shabbos, if you are close enough you can hear loud, angry voices spewing vile words – words that build walls of hatred and shut the gates of the heart.

How can that be? you ask. Where is the Torah? Where is the protective wall that should have shielded the house from the evils of the street?

My husband, Rabbi Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, would explain it all through a story:

A soap manufacturer came to a rabbi and said, “Rabbi, your Torah teachings are of no avail. I see so many out there who claim to be observant, but they are mean and miserable.”

The rabbi invited him to take a stroll in the park. He took him to the children’s playground and said, “Your soap is useless. It is of no avail. Look at those children – they are all dirty, covered with sand and mud!”

“What are you talking about?” the soap manufacturer retorted indignantly. “My soap is perfect, but these kids have been playing in the dirt and have yet to use it.”

“That’s exactly right.” the rabbi responded. “Our Torah is perfect, but there are many out there playing in the dirt and they have yet to use the powerful, cleansing force of our Torah!”

This story perfectly illustrates the fact that there are people who go through the motions of observance but it is something else again for them to allow the Torah to mold their lives and, yes, cleanse them.

The great sage of Mussar, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, taught that for some people it is easier to learn an entire tractate of Talmud than to change even one character trait. Bad middos that are allowed to fester soon become ingrained and almost impossible to extricate. Too often, despite intense therapy and admonishment, these traits remain unchanged. For example, if someone is a ba’al ka’as – has an uncontrollable temper – he will succumb to that negative character trait despite all his promises to change. His words are empty, without substance. Perhaps for a few days he will appear to be different, but it is only an appearance, and in no time at all he will be back to his old ways. So it is that an angry secular person may become a shomer Shabbos angry person, and this holds true for all other character aberrations.

There is a well-known story of a cat that is trained to walk on its hind legs holding a tray with its front paws. One day, it sees some mice – and in no time at all it is chasing the mice on all fours. The lesson is obvious. Parents who wish to build solid families and enjoy loving relationships with their children must become living role models of the Torah and mitzvot that they preach.

The Shabbos candles are symbols of peace, but if those symbols are to have meaning they must be reflected in the words and actions of those who are living in that house. To make this change in our homes, to turn ourselves over and become real Torah people, is not an option but a life and death priority. The very lives of our families are at stake.

Judgment And Reckoning

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Question: A basic Jewish belief is that everyone ultimately will be judged. This final judgment is called din v’cheshbon, judgment and reckoning – see Avot 3:1. What is the difference between these two terms? What is din and what is cheshbon?

Answer: The Gaon of Vilna is reputed to have defined din and cheshbon as follows: Din is the judgment for the sin committed. Cheshbon is the reckoning for the time lost while the sin was being committed – time that could have been used to perform mitzvot. Thus, cheshbon deals with loss of potential. The person who complains about the lack of sufficient time for performing mitzvot is reminded about the time he wasted while sinning.

Rav Shlomo Kluger (Magen Avot) maintains that din refers to judgment regarding mitzvot and aveirot while cheshbon is the reckoning for excess in matters that are permitted in principle, such as food and drink. The Torah does not provide maximum limits for permitted items. Yet, a person may be judged to be gross or crude for indulging too much.

Some note that the sequence in Avot 3:1 seems backwards. Presumably, a cheshbon, a reckoning of the merits and sins of a person, comes before a din, a judgment based on that assessment. Why, then, does the tanna in Avot place din before cheshbon?

The Baal Shem Tov is said to have contended that reckoning actually takes place second. It takes place in Heaven after a person is shown someone who committed a sin similar to his own and passes judgment on that person.

How so? The most notable example is that of King David and the prophet Nathan. After David sinned by taking Batsheba as a wife, Nathan told him the following story: There were two neighbors. One was very wealthy and owned thousands of sheep. The other was quite poor; his sole joy was a pet calf. He played with it, slept near it, and shared his meals with it. One day, a guest came to the wealthy neighbor. Instead of slaughtering one of his numerous sheep, the wealthy man stealthily entered the poor man’s home, took the pet calf, and slaughtered it.

When David heard this story, he became enraged at the immoral behavior of the wealthy man and declared that he deserved a very harsh punishment. Nathan then asked the king how his behavior differed from the wealthy sheep owner’s. David had, after all, taken Batsheba away from her husband Uriah even though he had thousands of women available to him.

The Baal Shem Tov said that all men, like David, are shown people who performed their own sin in different form. They are then asked to pass judgment on them. Whatever judgment they pronounce on their fellow man another is assigned to them.

And this is why din precedes cheshbon. First a man passes judgment on another person in this world. Later, in the world of true judgment, there is a cheshbon, a reckoning based on the very judgment that he issued. (See Iyyunim BePirkei Avot by Rabbi Heshel Ryzman.)

My Father, Dayan Grunfeld

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

One cold December evening, I walked into my father’s book-lined study to light the Chanukah candles, which were placed beside the window that overlooked a high street in North London.

My father was seated in his armchair surrounded by the red glow of the crackling log fire, and in the chair next to him, wearing a flowing red robe and white skull cap, sat Sir James Parkes, the renowned Christian theologian and author.

I hesitated and backed away.

“Stay and light the candles,” said my father.

Gingerly, I approached the menorah and with flame in hand, I mumbled the blessings under my breath so that Sir James would not hear.

“Amen,” responded Sir James loudly, and I felt a sense of pride that Sir James had acknowledged our faith, mixed with shame that I had tried to hide it.

My father never hid it. He believed that God and His Law served as the province for all mankind and was in no way reserved for the Jews alone. From its very inception, universalism was axiomatic to Judaism. The Hebrew Bible begins with the story of Man, not with the story of the Jew. God chose the Jews to carry the message of monotheism until the dawn of the Messianic era when all the nations of the world would at last acknowledge Him.

The purpose of designating the Jews as the Chosen People is clearly outlined in the leitmotif of the Rosh Hashanah prayers, namely to fulfill the wish “that every creature know that God is its Maker and proclaim that the God of Israel is King and his Kingship rules over everything.”

If the Jews were to isolate themselves in a ghetto and shun the secular world, such a goal would never be achieved. For my father, there was an intimate connection between the position of Israel as the Chosen People on the one hand and the Messianic unity of mankind on the other. To maintain one’s identity as a separate religious and ethnic group and yet work loyally for the whole community of mankind was, for him, no contradiction.

Consistent with this thinking, my father believed that religion should embrace the whole of life in its personal, economic and social aspects and that it was a fundamental mistake to try to localize God in a House of Worship. God is either everywhere or He is nowhere and the Law of God either rules supreme in all aspects of life or it rules nowhere at all.

According to my father, the origins of the Holocaust could be traced back to the emergence of the Renaissance era with its separation of God and State, and its insistence that God Himself and the Divine origin of His Torah be proven in the courts of human reason. God, imprisoned by the Renaissance in the House of Worship, was the first displaced person of Europe and into the vacuum created by His expulsion rushed the demons of Machiavellian sovereignty, bringing death and destruction in their wake.

Mankind’s inventiveness and destructive energy had run amok and were charging headlong with atom bombs and nuclear armaments toward the precipice of universal self-destruction with none of the precepts and boundaries of religion to keep them in check.

* * * * * As a student of the works of Immanuel Kant and a disciple of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, my father believed the Torah could address all its critics, including the “wise men” of higher criticism, which he, together with others, dubbed “higher anti-Semitism.”

His premise was that God and the Divine origin of the Torah lay beyond the reach of human reason, which can neither prove nor disprove them because, to use the language of Kant, they are not “phenomena,” not part of this world, but “noumena,” beyond this world. Nevertheless, they are facts, to the same extent that nature itself and the soul of the human being are facts.

They exist, without doubt, even though we do not fully comprehend them. One cannot analyze the soul through a microscope, scan God through a telescope or view God speaking to man by using the spade of the archeologist. To deduce from this that God and the soul do not exist would be rather like the fisherman who claims that water does not exist because his net never captured it. Accordingly, to my father, the only way to perceive God is through the observance of the mitzvot, which he called power stations that generate holiness.

Visiting Residents: the Daily Plea of Elul

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

“Resident”- a person who maintains residency in a given place.

“Visitor”- a person who pays a visit; caller, guest, tourist, etc.

School has begun anew on this side of the ocean. It’s hard to find adequate words to describe the joy of parents during the course of this week. Beyond having their children fill their days with study rather then play, having them use time rather than waste it, and being in a secure environment rather than everywhere and anywhere, there is an added benefit to having our children back at school- routine!

No longer will parents have to rack their brains in finding past times and activities to fill the days and weeks of this pro-longed vacation. Each morning, they will wake up at a given hour, eat their breakfast at a fixed time, and have a schedule of classes and objectives that they will meet…each day.

Routine is a blessing: it provides an on-going consistency to our lifestyle, and creates a sense of devotion, as it’s done each and every day. It’s no wonder that when the Sages debated as to the most important verse in the Torah (introduction to the “Ein-Yaakov”) the verse that surprisingly “won” the debate was the verse that commands the Kohen (on-call in the Temple) to offer (Bamidbar 28/4) “The one lamb…in the morning, and the other lamb… in the afternoon.” As surprising as it sounds that such a technical command should triumph “Hear Oh Israel the Lord is our G-d the Lord is one,” or ” you shall love your fellow as you love yourself,” it seems clear that consistency in performing the commands of G-d each day supersedes the sporadic, one-time thrillers of sorts. It is therefore not surprising that our religion has always favored action over (just) thought (Tractate Avot 1/17) with even the intellectual exercise of studying Torah being a means for us to fulfill the commandments (conclusion of the Talmudic debate, Tractate Kidushin 40b).

But while a consistent, steadfast routine is indeed a value, and while remaining a devoted “Shomer Torah Umitzvot,” consistently adhering to the dictates of Jewish law, is a daily, elevated, worthy, and obligatory aspiration, there is also an undesirable side-effect to it as well; it becomes boring:

I don’t know many who have great joy to wash their hands three times each morning (Code of Jewish Law, 4/2), brush their teeth twice each day, or pray the same exact prayers (with the small exception of Monday/Thursday, and the “Psalm of the day”) each morning, afternoon and evening every day.

I have failed to see the “Minyaner” frequenting the synagogue thrice daily, who indeed feels the words that open the Code of Jewish Law (1/1- “One should rise like a Lion to stand in the morning to do the will of the commander”) when he walks into the shul in the early AM. The fatigue of waking up so early, together with seeing the same Tefillin & Siddur, usually does not allow the “lion” in him to express himself.

I am still waiting to see the smile and joy that one should have when he has the privilege of stating a blessing before and after eating his breakfast/lunch and dinner.

The list can easily go on, and I’m sure you can fill it with many more examples from your daily routine. But let’s take the example most fresh in our mind as August comes to an end: driving around the neighborhood on the first day of school. I’m sure you see excitement, smiles and a sense of anticipation in the air (at least in the eyes and lips of Parents…!) But will we see that same scene during the fifth week of school?!

Our Sages, while clearly giving credit to the consistent routine (as shown above) also stated (Yerushalmi, Tractate Megilla 4/1) that when hearing the semi-weekly Torah reading, one is forbidden to lean on the Bima, as; “…just like it was given with fear and awe, so we must act with fear and awe.” Did any of us feel this “fear and awe” during this week’s laining?

Continuing on the same theme, while many naturally “shuckle” while learning Torah, how many feel the verse, describing the feeling of the Jews at the tip of Mount-Sinai, where (Shemot 20/15)…” the people saw and trembled,” the source for swaying to and fro during study (see Baal HaTurim ibid, Machzor-Vitri 508) Is the movement of the body during the daily Daf-Yomi a reflection of a “trembling” sensation when trying to decipher the holy word of G-d? Or more logically a Jewish habit?

The Ashkenazi – Sefardi Blend

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Sixteen years ago, when I married my husband, I did not give much thought to whether he was Askenazi or Sefardi. Having grown up in what was then a small close-knit Jewish community, it held little importance; my concerns were focused around whether or not my bashert (intended) was Jewish according to halacha, someone who was upstanding in both ideals and actions, and a man solidly committed to a Torah lifestyle.

In my hometown girls married boys from various ethnic backgrounds, many of who were born and even raised for most of their lives in foreign countries. So marrying a man of Moroccan heritage, who was actually born and raised in Brooklyn, did not seem the least bit unusual to me. In fact I felt that whatever cultural differences we had would add some flavor to our family and great new recipes to my file.

For all intents and purposes there was not much difference in our lifestyles. Our goals and dreams complimented one another. My husband was educated in typical main stream Ashkenazi yeshivot and attended popular yeshiva summer camps, while growing up in what was a primarily Ashkenazi community at that time.

Over the course of raising our family together I have made some changes that have helped me to feel more Sephardic – davening a bit differently, giving up my wig (and wearing other types of headcoverings) and cooking more traditional Sephardic foods for my family. Emotionally, for the females that find themselves in this same position, it may take some time to get used to no longer observing religious rituals she grew up with, and instead running her home according to the religious traditions of her husband.

For most families this is where the story might end. Two people from different backgrounds marry, and according to Jewish law follow the minhagim or customs, of the husband’s family. In fact there are even some mitzvot that are performed differently for Ashkenazim and Sefardim, but over time everyone adjusts. Keep in mind, that although religious customs may be observed paternally, there is so much more that goes into raising a family that most couples may choose to incorporate non-religious based traditions from both families.

For the blended family things can be a bit more complicated. What about the children from the wife’s first marriage when there is a “mixed” Sefardic/Ashkenaz second marriage? My children for instance were born Ashkenazi, as both my ex-husband and I are of European decent. His family may have had slightly different family rituals than mine, but the minhagim and halachot were the same for both.

After I married my second husband I now found myself following Sefardic laws and customs, but what about my children from my first marriage? Who do you even ask direction from: an Ashkenazi rabbi or a Sefardic one? Were we obligated to run our home and family honoring two sets of customs? I was concerned that it would hinder my plans to create one cohesive family unit for my blended family.

Fortunately the rabbeim we sought counsel from, both Sefardic and Ashekenaz, understood our concerns and felt that under our personal circumstances, where my children’s biological father had very limited interaction with the children and no participation in their upbringing and education, my children should be raised and educated in accordance with Sephardic customs.

As our blended family grew, my husband and I raised our motley crew according to Sephardic heritage, until one day my daughter from my first marriage met and married a nice Ashkenazi boy. As the custom goes, she now runs her home based on the customs of her husband’s family; she went back to her birth heritage. My husband and I gave little thought to this fact and were thrilled that the boy she was marrying was a ben Torah and raised in a loving home with wonderful parents.

As most of you can attest, by and large the tradition that prominently stands as being polar opposites between the two heritages is the custom of naming a baby. While Sefardic Jews name after the living – as a way of blessing for a long and healthy life – Ashkenazi Jews have the custom of naming after a relative who has passed away as a means of keeping the name and memory alive, and to honor the deceased.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/the-ashkenazi-sefardi-blend/2012/08/30/

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