Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Another New Year

You may still be hearing "Happy New Year" wishes, as it is still January. In two weeks, though, it really will be a new year for trees, on the 15th of Shvat.
This post was adapted from one written by Rabbi Chaim Brown 
Tu B'Shevat is the day designated as the New Year for the trees. The first part of the name is made up of two hebrew letters:  "tes", which has the value of 9, and "vav", which has the value of six, to designate the number 15 for the date of the holiday. The new year for the trees marks the cutoff point for the tithes of fruit; it is rather like a fiscal year, which is not necessarily synonymous with a calendar year.  One does not take the tithe from the actual tree, but from the fruits that grow on the tree. So why is Tu B'Shevat not called Rosh HaShana l'Peiors-- the new year for fruit -- not Rosh HaShana l'Ilanos, the new year for trees?
Anyone who has gone apple picking out on Long Island or in upstate NY in the early fall can remember the bright sun beating on the orchard and the sweet apple aroma. If you wander in the same orchards in the early spring months, you will likely still feel the winter frost blowing through the barren trees. Yet the farmer knows that it is during those crucial early months that   pollination of his crops must occur if the ripe apples of the fall are to blossom. The roots of the tree are neither attractive nor visible, but without them, the tree would not get the nutrients needed for the blossoms to grow and ripen to the magnificent red apples of the fall. 
  "Man is like the tree of the field" (Deutoronomy 20:19) . We tend to judge people's character by the superficial evidence that attracts us - their appearance, dress, smile, looks. We are looking at the apple tree in the fall, with the red shiny fruit grabbing all our attention. Yet, that fruit will not return next year or the year after unless the tree itself is healthy and well cared for. Rosh HaShana L'ilanos tells us that the fruit may catch our eye, but long lasting growth and fulfillment is in the quality of the tree itself. 

Friday, January 09, 2015

The king who didn't know Yosef

I meant to share this observation that I had after a recent visit to the Brooklyn Museum in which I had a tour guide. If you're familiar with that museum, you'll know that it has a very extensive collection of objects from Egypt. The guide showed a particular panel representing the king of Egypt who instituted what was considered a monothestic religion for the place: the worship of the sun. This was not so much about a religious awakening as a political power grab. In this setup (a bit like the Church of England) the monarch was the direct link to the deity. That increased the king's power. With the same goal in mind, the kings regularly destroyed all other temples and records connected with previous regimes and their religious orders.

It occurred to me that if that was the regular practice in Egypt, the king who enslaved the children of Israel really may not have known Yosef. It was a matter of political expediency as well as literal erasure, as the records assoicted with the previous king could well have been deleted.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Want your marriage to stick? Invest in it rather than in the wedding

This does not bode well for the typical Orthodox Jewish wedding. Though I don't have any real hard figures, generally Orthodox Jewish weddings entail parties of a couple of a hundred people and can easily top $35K for a modest affair and go far above $50K for a more "balabatish" one.  
Francis and Mialon surveyed more than 3,000 people — all of whom have been married just once — and found that across income levels the more you dish out on the Big Day, the shorter the marriage. Now, that’s a raw deal. 
  • Guys, investing between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring means you’re 1.3 times more likely to get divorced compared with the more frugal fellows who only allocate between $500 and $2,000.

  • For both sexes, spending more than $20,000 on the wedding ups the odds of divorce by 3.5 times compared with couples who keep it between $5,000 and $10,000.

  • For the best odds, though, keep the festivities to less than $1,000.

Related: http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2009/05/you-dont-have-to-be-jewish-to-spend-lot.html

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The 10th of Teveth and updates to Wikipedia

Two years ago I put up a post about the siginfiicance of the fast day observed today, the 10th of Teveth. I put in a link to Wikipedia and observed some of the inaccuracies in its presentation. Someone who saw it then relayed it to somoen who is connected to Wikipedia, and there were some changes.  For example, instead of calling this day a "low fast," it is now described as a "minor fast." It also now includes the distinction this day has that is shared with Yom Kippur. But the editor failed to noticed the inconsistency of parts. Most give the dates in the form of BCE, but there is a paragraph that says BC.

Here's the essential part of the original post with an update for this year:

On this date, 2439 years ago, Nebuchadnetzar, King of Babylon, laid siege on Jerusalem. That is what marked the beginning of the loss of the first Temple, which occurred nearly 3 years later on the 9th of Av. Like, the 9th of Av, the 17th of Tammuz, andTzom Gedalia, this fast is, therefore, concerned with the loss of the Temple and Jewish sovereignty.
In case you were planning to look up the day in Wikipedia, you should be aware of some misinformation it includes. It describes the 10th of Teves as "a 'low fast' observed from sunrise to sunset." What the writers there probably mean is that unlike Yom Kippur and the 9th of Av, the fast does not begin at sunset the night before but at dawn of the day. It ends at nightfall -- not sunset.
It is wrong to describe the fast of the 10th as "low" because it, actually, has very high priority in Jewish tradition. It shares the distinction of Yom Kippur of being observed as fast even if it falls out on the Sabbath. Practically speaking, it never falls out that way because of the calendar set up, but the theoretical possibility is significant.

In his blog, Rabbi Chaim Brown expounds on this point:
The same is not true even of 9 Av. Why is 10 Teves more significant than other fast days? Why should the beginning of the siege process that years later led to churban be more significant than the churban itself?
Chasam Sofer explains that 17 Tammuz is a fast which commemorates past events – the walls of Yerushalayim were breached. 9 Av is a fast which commemorates past events – thechurban, among other tragedies, took place. Same for the fast of Gedlaya. Not so the fast of 10 Teves. True, the siege was put in place on 10 Teves, but other enemies has also laid siege to Yerushalayim and they were defeated. There was time yet to avert a churban. The fast of 10 Teves is not a fast that commemorates events which already occurred, but is rather a fast of an eis tzarah, a fast to avert future tragedy.
The failure to rebuild the Mikdash is tantamount to witnessing its destruction. The din v’cheshbon[spiritual reckoning] of whether this year will be another year of continuedchurban or whether this year will be the year we avert 9 Av and witness the rebuilding of the Mikdash occurs on 10 Teves. The future is in our hands to determine.
Two other events which are related to the first days of Tevet are the completionof the translation of the Torah into Greek on the Eighth of Tevet by the "Seventy Scholars" in the days of Ptolemy and the death of Ezra on the ninth of Tevet.
One more point about this date: The 10th of Teves is a day marked for remembering tragedies, even those that are not recorded. In the State of Israel, this is the day designated for saying Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the deceased) for people whose date of deaths has not been determined. Read more athttp://www.ou.org/chagim/roshchodesh/tevet/fast.htm

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Zos Chanukah

This year I observed that the 3 letters that make up the word for oil shemen also correspond to the root of the word shmone, the number 8. My husband then added that oil floats on top of water, just as the eighth level is lema'ala min hateva [transcends the natural order]. That's what Chanukah is all about, which is why we call tonight and the last day, Zos Chanukah -- this is Chanukah.

  This is the only single holiday that is celebrated for eight days.  While both Pesach and Sukkoth are celebrated for 8 days outside of Israel, they are, in essence, 7 day holidays with one day added on for those in exile.  Chanukah is eight days all over the world with no additional day added. Eight is a highly significant number in Jewish thought.  It represents a level of spirituality that rises above nature.  That is why a brith [circumcision] is performed on the eight day.  

The small jug of pure oil that should have sufficed only for one day burned for eight days to allow enought time for more pure oil to be made.  That always leads to the question of why we celebrate the miracle for eight days, when the miracle was really only for seven.  There are various answers for that.  The most common are that finding the oil at all was a miracle or that the additional day is for the miracle of our victory in battle when our forces were so outnumbered.  But the number eight is also what this holiday is all about -- reaching beyond the natural order in our spiritual aspirations.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Chanukah and Rosh Chodesh

As the Jewish day starts the night before, tKislev.   Tomorrow, the seventh day of Chanukah will also be the first day of the month of Teves. Both today and tomorrow are designated as Rosh Chodesh the celebration of the new month. Rosh Chodesh is always a semi-holiday.  The morning prayers include a recitation of "half" Hallel and the additional prayer calledMusaf that recalls the additional offerings designated for that day at the time of the Temple.  On these days of Rosh Chodesh, we say full Hallel, for we do so all eight days of Chanukah in recognition of the miracle that lasted for eight days.
oday is both the sixth day of Chanukah and the last day of the month of
Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday that extend through two months and encompassing the days of Rosh Chodesh, so it extends from the moon's waning phase to its waxing phase, as each Jewish month begins with the "rebirth" of the moon.  The Jewish people are compared to the moon, which is always renewed and comes back into full glory even when it appears to have virtually vanished.  In the same way, the Jewish people have endured for thousands of years and have never been destroyed despite their enemies' attempts at  decimation.
Women are associated with the moon, as well.  And Rosh Chodesh is particularly significant for women.  The day was given to women in recognition of their having withstood the temptation to contribute to the golden calf when the men did not.  Thus women, traditionally, refrain from chores such as laundry, ironing, and sewing on Rosh Chodesh.  Likewise, women refrain from work during the time the Chanukah lights burn.  This is in recognition of  their key role in the victory of the Maccabees.  Yehudith [Judith] plied the general. Holefernes,  with dairy foods and wine to make him sleepy.  Then she decapitated him with his own sword.  She brought the head out to the men, and, subsequently, the Jews vanquished their enemies in battle.  You can scroll down onhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanukkah for some of the details of the story.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Latke ditty

A few years ago,  I posted some snatches of latke ditties on my blog and asked if someone had the full text.  I got a response from the grandson of the songwriter:
BloggerThe Bicycling Barrister said...
Ben Aronin (my grandfather) wrote these and other wonderful latke ditties many decades ago (and the pesach "classic" ballad of the four sons / clementine)...
Mrs. Maccabeus
(by Ben Aronin, z"l, of Congregation Anshe Emet in Chicago)
(to the tune of "O Chanukah")
Each Chanukah we glorify brave Judah Maccabeus
Who had the courage to defy Antiochus, and free us,
Yet it is not fair that we should forget
Mrs. Maccabeus, whom we owe a debt.
She mixed it, and fixed it
She poured it into a bowl
You may not guess, but it was the latkes
That gave brave Judah a soul.
You may not guess but it was the latkes
That gave brave Judah a soul.
The Syrians said: "It cannot be that old Mattathias
Whose years are more than 83 will dare to defy us!"
But they didn't know his secret, you see
Mattathias dined on latkes and teac.
One latke, two latkes
And so on into the night
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that gave him the courage to fight.
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that gave him the courage to fight.
Now this is how it came about this gastonomic wonder
That broke the ranks of Syria like flaming bolts of thunder
Mrs. Maccabeus wrote in the dough
Portions of the Torah then fried them so.
They shimmered, they simmered,
Absorbing the olive oil
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that made the Syrians recoil.
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that made the Syrians recoil.
Now these little latkes brown and delicious
must have hit the spot 'cause with appetites vicious
All the heroes downed them after their toil
Causing in our Temple a shortage of oil
One latke, two latkes,
And so on into the night.
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that gave us the Chanukah light.
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that gave us the Chanukah light.