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 siginficance 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