Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Coronavirus spiritual direction part 2

Posted on 25 March 2020 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Please help us! We need some spiritual direction besides the constant updates of regulations and gory details of the spread of the virus. Obviously, we need to heed the government regulations, but what should we be focusing on in the spiritual world?
Marvin and Joyce

Dear Marvin and Joyce,
You are very correct in seeking a spiritual path through this confusion, when nearly everything around us is crashing down and all the old norms are off the table. Throughout our history the Jewish people have always searched for a spiritual direction in times of difficulty. At times the direction is clear, more often it is very elusive to pinpoint the spiritual focus which we seek.
In days of old we had direct revelation through Prophets as to the Divine message being delivered to us in trying times. The Books of Prophets, earlier and later, are filled with Divine warnings of the impending destruction of the Temple and subsequent exile, all which were, sadly, fulfilled when the Jews didn’t heed the message. During those times we had great clarity of what is expected from us during such times.
Alas, we no longer have the clarity of direction provided by prophecy. (Since the end of prophecy, we have become a non-prophet organization!)
What we do have is what is known as the “prophecy of the sages,” (see Ramban to Talmud Bava Basra 12a). This is a Torah sage’s far-reaching understanding of world events due to his profound knowledge and understanding of Torah, “God’s Mind” as it is revealed to this world. These giants of Torah are able, like the prophets of old, to provide direction in the maze of pathways and the thick fog of our situations.
Last we mentioned the advice of the leading sage of our generation, Rav Chaim Kanievsky of B’nei Brak, Israel, to work on refraining from Lashon Hara, evil gossip against fellow Jews, and rather to do acts of love toward others. Secondly, he suggested to work on the trait of humility which, says the Talmud, wards off sickness. Let us focus on a deeper aspect of humility which I feel is a crucial lesson for these times.
Our society has become increasingly secular, casting off so many of the traditional values that many of us grew up with. Most of all, the modern society has grown further and further away from God and the recognition of His dominion over the world. With that comes the feeling that it is we, rather, who are in charge! God is willing to put up with our ignoring Him and replacing Him with us…to an extent.
There comes a time when we need to be put back in our place, to see it is not us who are in charge. All of our institutions, our financial system, our entertainment and transportation grind to a halt, not by a nuclear Armageddon, rather by a microbe. By something nearly invisible… that can’t even be seen by the naked eye.
This is the true lesson of humility, to hear the message that not we, but He is in charge. There is a God, there’s a purpose, there are morals and right and wrong. This is the theme of Rosh Hashanah — we ask God to reveal His Kingdom to all the world and that the haughty among the nations should all learn humility. They should join together to accept, with Israel, the Kingdom of God.
In a way, we are having a type of Rosh Hashanah; everything is new and the world is, in many ways, starting over.
Let us accept this message and find ways to improve ourselves, as servants of the Al-mighty, by studying His Torah and thereby serving as a light unto the nations. May we view this great opportunity to learn and practice humility with joy, which will be a tremendous merit to be delivered from the painful time we now live in.

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The coronavirus: the Jewish response

Posted on 18 March 2020 by admin

Challenging Times

We are truly living in challenging times. The novel Corona virus, recently labeled as a Pandemic, has created uncertainty and confusion, sent the markets toppling, fostering dread and fear worldwide. Entire supermarkets are being emptied out of the fear of what tomorrow might bring. Schools, universities and businesses are being shuttered in efforts to stymie the spread of this dread disease. 

How should we, as Jews, be responding to this situation?

The Jewish Response

We Jews, historically, do not panic in times like these as we kept a level head in far worse times in our diaspora history. This stems from our deeply felt sense of Bitachon, trust in the Al-mighty, that things are going to be all right. 

Firstly, we heed the suggestions and recommendations of the health professionals and powers that be, the CDC. We practice social distancing, frequent hand-washing and stay home if we are experiencing any symptoms. 

To that end, many synagogues have temporarily closed their physical doors, moving to online classes and ways to virtually join together in prayer. We, at DATA, will be offering numerous virtual classes and learning opportunities. 

Those synagogues which remain open are taking extra precautions to abide by the CDC recommendations for small groups, such as spacing of participants and canceling the Kiddush and other social events.

Spiritual Response

As Jews, beyond that mentioned above, we seek a spiritual response to any difficulty which we face, this one being no different. In days of yore we sought the advice of a Prophet, something we no longer have. With thanks to the Al-mighty, we still have among us Sages who, with their vast understanding of Torah, “G-d’s Mind” as He reveals to the world, who give us direction and insight in that which transpires around us. There are Heavenly calculations which contribute to these situations which can be seen by those who have the “eye-glasses” to see them.

Lashon Hara

The leading Torah sage of our generation, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, has given us two points to focus upon as a Tikkun (correction) and a spiritual protection from this virus.

• Make a special effort to refrain from the speaking of Lashon Hara and Rechilus; to refrain from any negative words of gossip or tale-bearing against a fellow Jew. As the Talmud states, the leper is banished to be outside the camp, separate from all, because he spoke evil words and separated a husband from a wife and, therefore, he must be separated’ (Talmud, Arachin 15b).

At a time when we are forcibly being separated from each other, we should focus on an improve upon those things which spiritually cause a separation.

At this time, we should go to the other extreme. Let us focus on strengthening our bonds of love and understanding with our families with whom we will be spending these days. Let us think about others in distress, especially the elderly, offering them a comforting phone call, words of encouragement, perhaps an offer to go shopping for them to minimize the exposure of those more susceptible to the disease.

Humility

• The second point Rav Chaim has instructed us is to be humble toward others, turning away when someone may insult us or act improperly during these times (see Rosh, Horios 14a). The Talmud states that the trait of humility, especially when exercised when it is difficult to forgo one’s honor, wards off illness and the need for medical care. 

Blessing

Rav Chaim ends with his holy blessing that one who will heed this advice, he or she and their families will not be afflicted and will remain healthy.

Torah study and prayer

• Together with the above recommendations, many other leading sages have added that in this time, as in all other times of difficulty, our people make a special effort to strengthen that which separates us as a Holy Nation: the study of our Holy Torah. That study raises us to elevated levels of spirituality, warding off the effects of dangerous situations.

• Lastly, we, as Jews, turn to our Father in Heaven, beseeching His mercy in these difficult times. All of the above are only effective when the Al-mighty sees that we are performing these mitzvos to fulfill His will. When we turn to Him in prayer, we connect the dots and receive the Heavenly mercy as His beloved children.

Kaddish

If one has a yahrtzeit and cannot recite Kaddish because the synagogue is closed, one cannot recite the Kaddish alone. Kaddish needs a minyan to be recited. Under the circumstances one should light the yahrtzeit candle and study some Torah or recite some Psalms in place of reciting Kaddish in memory of the loved one. When the shuls are reopened, it would be nice to then attend shul and recite a Kaddish to make up for the day of the yahrtzeit. 

May we soon merit the end of this pandemic and all the panic and destruction occurring in its wake. And may that be with the advent of the Messianic period which will spell the end of all of our issues and problems, ushering in the final period of peace and bliss for us and the entire world.

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Learning without doing: a step in the right direction

Posted on 11 March 2020 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I am confused. My question is, I am a woman whom has grown up Reform my entire life and have begun Jewish learning over the past couple of years. Now that I am learning, I am feeling bad about some things I’m not observing. For example, I now know that the Torah forbids eating shrimp, although I’m not ready to give it up. This worries me, since now I know about it and am still doing it I’m worried God is going to strike me down or something. If I would have just stayed at my synagogue and not gotten involved in Jewish learning, I would have no worries because I wouldn’t know anything and therefore not feel bad about anything I’m doing wrong. If I’m not intending, at the moment, to become more observant, is it better that I don’t study so I won’t be more liable in heaven for what I know and don’t do? Or is it better to study anyway?

Nicole S.

Dear Nicole,

As we shall see, your question was addressed by the Almighty Himself!

Jeremiah the prophet says in the name of God: “…And it shall be that when you tell all these things to this people, they will say to you, ‘Why has God spoken all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity, what is our transgression that we have transgressed before Ha-shem our God? Say to them: ‘It is because your forefathers have forsaken Me – the word of God — and they followed the gods of others; they worshiped them…but Me, they have foresaken; and My Torah they did not observe.’’ (Jeremiah 16:10-11).

The sages note the seeming redundancy at the end of this verse; obviously if we forsook God we did not observe His Torah?!

The Talmud answers, the Almighty meant to say, “Halevay (I only wish) that Myself they have foresaken (by not observing the mitzvot), but they continued to study My Torah, because the illumination within it (the Torah) would eventually bring them back to Me.” The Talmud states further, based upon another verse, that the Almighty told the Jews “I’m willing to pardon you for the transgression of the three cardinal sins; murder, idol worship and forbidden relations, but your forsaking the study of Torah I cannot forgive,” as the study of Torah is God’s final hope for the Jews’ connection to Him, (Jeruslam Talmud, Chagigah 1:7).

As we see, the Almighty Himself has proclaimed that no matter how far a Jew is from observance, His desire is that each and every Jew should be involved in the study of Torah. Torah study, more than the observance of any mitzvah, is the key to Jewish continuity.

The Communists understood this well when they banned the study of Torah. A rabbi once visited communist Russia, as a “tourist.” Stopped by the authorities to be checked at the airport, they unloaded his suitcases, taking out numerous pairs of tefillin, mezuzos, tallis and the like, in addition to many volumes of various aspects of Torah. The officials smirked at him, saying “tourist, huh?!” They then returned to him all the religious paraphernalia, but held back the volumes of Jewish studies. They said, “…we keep these, these are the enemies of the people”!

The Communists recognized and comprehended that without Torah study, the mitzvah observances this rabbi was bringing them would be short-lived and would not win the people over from their communist ideology. Torah study, however, would give the Jews knowledge and pride, and thus give the people the inner strength to stand up to their ideologies, creating “enemies of the people.”

The Russians learned this lesson from the Greeks and Romans of old who first enacted decrees to forbid the Jews from study, punishable by death. The miracle of Hanukkah was the celebration of the Jews steadfast commitment to learning, the “light within the Torah” represented by the menorah and overcoming the darkness of those decrees.

Judaism, furthermore, does not believe that “what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you.” When we have the opportunity to learn and know, we are responsible for what we could and should have known even though we chose not to know. To choose to not study lest one finds out something she is not willing, at this point, to observe is not a reason to refrain from study. On the contrary, then besides not knowing that item, one becomes liable for not studying!

Moreover, you should not think you are worse off for knowing about shrimp and not refraining, (although I’m not condoning shrimp!) By virtue of the Torah study, you are no longer the same person you were before; you have taken a tremendous step ahead in your Jewish identity and connection with God. In the new space you inhabit, at least shrimp is an issue, which is a remarkably elevated station to occupy than where it was not even a topic of concern!

You should be proud of what you have achieved; and always look out for the next small, meaningful step that you can handle. This is because all Jews, regardless of age, background or affiliation, need to always be climbing and growing throughout our lives to become better, greater Jews and people.

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3 basic Purim questions answered

Posted on 04 March 2020 by admin

Hi Rabbi,

I have three questions regarding Purim:

1. I know that we have a mitzvah to make a feast on Purim because we survived the attempt of physical bodily destruction. What I don’t understand is why our celebration needs to be a drinking party.Is it perhaps a resemblance to King Ahasuerus’ party, at which, for their participation, the Jews were decreed complete annihilation?

2. Why did Mordechai encourage Esther to commit adultery with Ahasuerus, a violation of one of the Ten Commandments? Perhaps this was because Mordecai felt her role was to save the entirety of the Jewish people? Does that make this OK?

3. Why was a special decree needed for the Jews to fight back against their enemies? They were still under attack. Couldn’t they defend themselves without a decree allowing them so? I would have considered it a much greater accomplishment for Mordechai and Esther if they could have gotten the decree of annihilation rescinded rather than keeping it in place and just having a counter-decree to fight back!

Thanks,

Judah

Dear Judah,

Three great questions! 

You may have heard of the famous summary of all Jewish holidays: They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!

You are correct that on Purim we have a mitzvah to eat a joyous meal which is our way of celebrating the miraculous rescue from the first attempt at the “final solution,” first suggested by Haman, a member of Amalek (the progenitors of the Germans/Nazis). 

We celebrate our physical rescue in a physical way, as opposed to Hanukkah when we celebrate in a spiritual way (lighting candles), as that was a spiritual, ideological battle. 

The drinking a bit more than one is accustomed to, is to fulfill the Talmudic injunction to “eat and drink until one doesn’t know the difference between the curses of Haman and the blessings of Mordechai.” On one level, this is to come to the realization that even when things seem to be going badly, ultimately it is for the good. Even when God seems to have forsaken us completely, He is always still there behind the scenes to protect us from complete annihilation. God’s love for us, although at times is hidden, is always present. There are even deeper meanings of this, which we can’t get into here.

You are correct about the permissibility of Mordechai sending Esther to be married to the king despite her being married to Mordechai (according to one opinion in the Talmud). The commentaries explain, as you surmise, that although relations with a married woman is something that one needs to forfeit his or her life for rather than transgress (as this is one of the three cardinal sins), nevertheless when it involves the rescue of a multitude of Jews, and certainly the entire Jewish people, it is allowed.

The Megillah states that, when asked to rescind his decree, King Ahasuerus replied that “a royal decree stamped with the royal seal cannot be retracted.” (Esther 8:8)

Mordechai and Esther felt that if the decree was still in full force without a counter-decree to defend themselves, the Jews would despair and give up rather than attempt to fight an enemy who were attacking them with the full license of the king. So, they sought to, at the very least, have royal permission granted to fight back to give the Jews the confidence that they could destroy their enemies, the Amalekites, without worrying about retribution from the king.

This confidence, coupled with their renewed trust in God, gave the Jews the resolve and determination to overcome their enemies. 

May we continue to renew that trust in God and overcome the hardships of exile and all our enemies that seek to destroy us today. 

A joyous Purim to you and all the readers! L’chaim!

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Newlyweds-to-be wonder if they should keep a kosher home

Posted on 26 February 2020 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
We’re getting married soon and are debating whether to have a kosher home or not. It’s a huge commitment, and we’re not so sure if we’re up to it at this point. On the other hand, there are definitely health and spiritual benefits to it, we’re just not sure if they outweigh the difficulties of the commitment involved. Maybe you can help us with our decision.
Gabe & Megan

Dear Gabe and Megan,
Mazal tov on your upcoming wedding!
Keeping a kosher home certainly is a large commitment, as is your getting married to each other. The two commitments actually complement each other in a very profound way:
The commitment you are soon to make to each other is called kiddushin, the Hebrew term for betrothal or matrimony. The word kiddushin has two seemingly unrelated meanings, sanctity and separateness:
• Sanctity is the holiness of the Jewish marriage between a man and a woman. When the ring is passed from the groom to his bride, he recites, “Behold, you are sanctified to me with this ring in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel.” At that point, the Shechinah, or Divine Presence, rests between the bride and groom, and remains there throughout their lifetime together.
• Kiddushin also means separate. At the point of the marriage, the couple separate themselves and their unique love for each other from the rest of world, and become a separate, new unit of one. This entails a life-long commitment to each other, one which enables and invites the Shechinah to be the “glue” which holds them together.
Both of these concepts of kedusha, holiness and separateness, are infused into a home in which the laws of kosher are observed. Firstly, the Torah refers to foods which are kosher as tahor, and those which are unkosher as tameh. The word tahor, usually translated as “pure,” actually means “transparent.” The Kabbalists explain that this is referring to a spiritual transparency, one which allows the Shechinah to flow into it, and into the one who consumes this kind of food. A home in which the food is kosher is a home that the Shechinah is able to flow into and fill with light and joy. The word tameh, normally translated as “unclean,” really means “sealed.” This means that the food, and one who consumes it, has “sealed up” their heart from the flow of the Shechinah, and from the spiritual light which should illuminate the heart.
Just as a married couple has a separation of love from others, also the kosher home becomes separate to the Al-mighty and creates a special bond of love to Him through that separateness. It’s not a home like the rest of the homes on the block, but one that is built upon a commitment of love to the Creator. Every snack or meal becomes a service to God and brings Him great pleasure.
The commitment they work on together to keep a kosher home helps the couple cement the commitment they have to each other. In addition, every time one abstains from consuming or bringing home some “forbidden fruit,” they exercise and strengthen their “spiritual muscles” which help them stay away from “forbidden fruit” in other areas of life as well.
Lastly, it’s hard to put into words the powerful positive impact that a kosher home has upon children in so many ways. It teaches them discipline, connects them to a timeless tradition, builds within them Jewish pride and a proudness of their home, and so much more!
A parting word from an outsider perspective — before you’ve actually tried it — to take on kosher seems to be something so hard, almost unattainable. The truth is, however, with study, step-by-step observance and time, it becomes a routine. And a pleasurable one at that! We all have it in us to do it, it’s part of our Jewish DNA; we just need to take the dive!
It’s actually a great time to think about this, as our local kosher observatory, Dallas Kosher, is launching its annual Kosher Month in March. You can join a host of talks, classes, events and demonstrations which will bring kosher to life! The kind and capable rabbis and staff at Dallas Kosher are always ready and happy to answer questions or provide guidance for those seeking to lead a kosher life. Visit them at
dallaskosher.org and especially check the calendar for those upcoming events.

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Miscarriage: grieving the loss

Posted on 19 February 2020 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I am having trouble coping and comforting my precious daughter for an overwhelming loss. With all the months of joyous anticipation of bringing a new life into this world, she lost her first pregnancy in the ninth month. I can’t comfort her since I, myself, have trouble understanding what is the sense of all this; it just seems so futile. Can you help us deal with this grief?
Marylin T.

Dear Marylin,
Your and your daughter’s pain is very real, palpable and overwhelming, as I can attest to from personal experience. No philosophical answer can erase the pain in your hearts, especially so close to this profound loss, nor should you expect it to, as the grieving process is necessary to allow expression to your feelings. I will, nonetheless, offer a few thoughts which helped us through this process.
Jewish tradition teaches that every soul enters this world with a mission. The context and challenges of each person’s life provide that individual with the necessary tools to fulfill the purpose and life mission of that soul.
There are souls that need a long and productive life to bring themselves to the fulfillment of their mission. There are, however, souls that are so pure that they only need a short time in this world to achieve their perfection. The definition of a “full life” is very relative, and only the Creator of every soul knows its needs.
The Talmud teaches that the soul enters the baby’s body on the 40th day from conception. At that point the soul has left its lofty place in heaven and joined, in a hidden way, the land of the living. There are situations where that short blink of time when the soul lives in its mother’s womb is all it needs. From the perspective of the eternal life of the soul, a mother of a few months in the womb is no less a mother than one who brought out the soul which lived to a ripe old age. Both mothered that soul to become what it needed to become in order to enter the final bliss of eternity.
There is a profound letter written by the sage Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of blessed memory, to an only child whose mother had, sadly, undergone numerous miscarriages. The boy was very broken and seeking counsel. The rabbi explained that his mother had the merit to conceive a number of very special and pure souls. He assured the boy that he and his parents will be reunited with these souls in the world to come, where they will be so proud to be the parents and brother of such sparkling, shining and perfect eternal souls.
May you and your daughter merit many beautiful children and grandchildren in this world and the next.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is the dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.

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Contaminated dishes? Rekasher them like this

Posted on 05 February 2020 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
All my life I’ve kept a strictly kosher home. This week, lo and behold, my cleaning lady washed the milk and meat silverware together. I’m not sure what to do. My dear mother, may she rest in peace, always said that when this happens you need to bury the silverware for a few days, then you can dig it up and use it. This always seemed strange and a little eerie to me, as if the silverware died or something; besides, it’s difficult for me at my age to do that. Is there another way to fix this?
Thank you, Beatrice W.
Dear Beatrice,
The “burial” of silverware and dishes, when switched in the manner you describe, has no source in Jewish law. It was a very common misconception in the last generation, and I’m not quite sure how it came about. Sadly, it was often the reason that many well-intentioned Jews ceased their kashrut observance after many years of keeping kosher, as they weren’t willing to bury their dishes. Ironically, they stopped for no good reason, as there is no source in our tradition for what they thought they needed to do.
The Torah describes how one goes about kashering dishes which are non-kosher. After the Jews won the war against the Midianites and took their vessels among the spoils of war, God commanded them in the laws of rendering the Midianite vessels kosher. “This is the decree of the Torah…. Only the gold and the silver, the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead — everything that comes into the fire (i.e. is used to cook over an open flame, like barbecue grates) — you must pass through the fire and it will be purified…, and everything that would not come in the fire (i.e. one cooks with it using water, such as a pot), you must pass through the water” (i.e. immerse it into a pot of boiling water). (Numbers 31:21-23)
The Torah is teaching that the manner the vessel was used with the non-kosher food is the manner by which it needs to be kashered. It also is saying that only certain types of vessels can be kashered at all. The laws of kashering, or rendering vessels kosher, for the most part are simple, but complications can arise. A very intricate section of Jewish law is dedicated to this process and to which types of vessels can be kashered. It is studied by all rabbis, although some specialize in this field.
Your silverware simply needs to be dropped into a large pot of well-boiling water, one by one. You then pour out the hot water, and rinse the whole thing with cold water, and — presto — it’s kosher again!
As a rule, I always recommend, when possible, to do the koshering process in the presence of an expert. The rabbis at Dallas Kosher (DK) are extremely knowledgeable, helpful, caring and warm. You can always count on them for help. They’re a resource for you and the entire community. We should all be proud to have such a resource in Dallas and make the best use of their services. They can be contacted at 214-739-6535 or at info@dallaskosher.org.
In fact, next month, March, is “Kosher Month” and DK will be holding a series of lectures and teachings for those who would like to find out more about kosher. Be in touch with them for more information.
Kashrut has been a strong force in protecting and preserving the sanctity of the Jewish home and family for more than 3000 years. I wish you much success in continuing to be a vital link in the glorious chain of kosher kitchens spanning across the generations. In this way you bring nachas to your dear mother and the previous generations, and serve as a source of inspiration and as an example for the generations to come!

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Knowledge at its highest and deepest levels

Posted on 29 January 2020 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
In religious school, we have been discussing: What is the meaning of knowledge? It seems to be different when we think about objects that we can sense with our five senses, that we can really know everything there is to know about those objects, so that seems we have real knowledge about those things. But when it comes to something more abstract, like knowing about yourself, that’s more “thought” than knowledge. It seems to be the same about God also, that we can’t see Him with our five senses so He’s more thought than knowledge.
Do you agree?
Thank you,
Sean and Mikey

Dear Sean and Mikey,
Although there is truth in what you say to distinguish between knowledge of tangible things versus conceptual things, Judaism teaches us another way to look at this. At first glance, it seems counterintuitive but, when you think about it, you will see that it becomes a whole new way to look at knowledge.
In the secular world knowledge is rated by whether it is absolute or relative. Things which we have proven by trial and error to be a certain way become axioms; other knowledge is measured with the axioms as benchmarks to ascertain whether the next step is true or false. Something which we know to be absolutely true is the highest level of knowledge, as opposed to something which is relative knowledge, which may depend upon varying factors or someone’s opinion. That knowledge is subjective and not considered to really be knowledge at all, rather an opinion or a theory.
This is true in the world of science, where everything that is known was proven to be so, be it either the five senses themselves or some extrapolation of the senses, sometimes using intellect, like mathematics, to extend our senses.
In the world of science that we are discussing, the knowledge of something less scientific, like the knowledge of one’s self, would not be knowledge at all, rather a thought, an opinion or an emotion.
We must realize, however, that all scientific knowledge, by definition, does not delve into the essence of things. It can measure them and tell you everything about their physical structure but it does not attempt to address their inner meaning.
According to the Torah, however, precisely that level of knowledge — the inner meaning — is defined as real knowledge. The knowledge attained by the five senses (essentially all of science) is important, of course, but is external knowledge. External knowledge, however important it is, in some respects is considered inferior to the knowledge of the essence of things.
This is not meant to minimize the crucial importance of science and all that we perceive with our five senses. That is the world we live in and we need to study it, understand it and enjoy it! We still need, however, to put things in proper perspective and realize the shortcomings that exist even in the most important of things.
Knowledge of one’s self, according to Judaism, is actually a higher level of knowledge, because it flows from the understanding of one’s very essence. Although it can’t be seen with a microscope or measured in a laboratory, the essence of one’s self, their very existence, is something very real and present. The knowledge of the essence of things is a much deeper, more meaningful level of knowledge and is totally real to those who have it.
Another way to say this is that each person has within him or herself a spark of Godliness and knowing one’s self is to be in sync with the essence of one’s own unique Godly spark.
Extending that knowledge further is to know God Himself, which is the deepest level of knowledge which exists in the world and flows from one’s knowledge of their own Godliness. It also includes seeing the essence of things beyond what is perceived by the five senses.
Although, as I mentioned, all this might seem counterintuitive, give it some thought and I think you will enjoy the realization of a deeper dimension of knowledge which you, and all of us, possess.

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Enrich your understanding of Talmud with joint study

Posted on 22 January 2020 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I was inspired to hear about the recent celebration of the completion of the Talmud held in MetLife Stadium. Even though I’ve never studied Talmud (and am not exactly sure what it is), it made me proud to be part of a People that tens of thousands of come out in the freezing cold for hours to celebrate Jewish studies. It makes me want to tap into Jewish studying myself, but I am not sure how. I don’t do well with classes; is there a way to study with someone who could teach me at my level and where we could discuss the material together one-on-one?
Mark K.

Dear Mark,
The event you mentioned, called the Siyum HaShas, or Completion of the Talmud, was truly one of the most inspiring Jewish events to be held in years. My wife and I as well as numerous members of our community had the good fortune to be present with some 90,000 Jewish men and women who gathered together, from around the world, to participate in the greatest and largest celebration of Torah in Diaspora history! Numerous concurrent celebrations were held throughout the world, bringing together about a million Jews in celebration of the Talmud. No words could describe the incredible feeling of celebrating, praying, singing and dancing with that many fellow Jews!
The Talmud is the fusion of the Mishna, codified in Israel in the third century CE, and subsequent discussions, called the Gemara, codified in the sixth century. The Talmud is the sum total of all Jewish law, thought and philosophy. It has been called the portable homeland of the Jewish people, keeping Jews connected through its study and teachings throughout the exile of our people.
The Jewish people worldwide unite through the study of a daily folio, or Daf (two sides of a page). This cycle, which was instituted in the early 1900s, is a 7½-year cycle to complete the 2711 folios of the Talmud. This celebration was the bar mitzvah celebration, the completion of the 13th cycle since its initiation.
A few years ago, in Berlin, a Holocaust museum was built with a series of stone structures to walk through, attempting to show the enormity of the loss of 6 million Jews. Of course, the artist, a non-Jew, constructing this could not actually erect 6 million structures, and created as many as possible given the space constraints, to convey that feeling. All in all, the arbitrary final number was 2711! The meaning wasn’t lost on anyone who noticed; what is keeping our people, the “People of the Book,” going throughout the trials and tribulations of our exile, is that 2711, the pages of the Talmud which bind us up together for all time.
This event has been an inspiration for untold thousands of Jews worldwide. Many have initiated their own Talmud study and attempt to join world Jewry for the next celebration in 7½ years. Many more have begun some sort of Torah study, at whatever level he or she may be on.
What I would recommend for you is one recently launched in Dallas called “Partners in Torah.” It is the local branch of an international organization,
partnersintorah.org, which matches up Jews around the world with a study partner, a mentor, to study by phone weekly. The local branch is run by my organization DATA, meeting weekly Monday nights 8-9, featuring refreshments and a warm, inviting atmosphere. Dozens of “partners in Torah,” men and women all join together with a mentor. The mentor, assigned by the program, works out to study whatever area of Judaism interests the student, at their own level. With the one-on-one discussion that ensues, there’s no comparison between studying alone and studying with another! Especially in a room filled with like-minded Jews, all seeking a better understanding of our tradition.
To join this wonderful, meaningful (free of charge!) program or for more information, please contact Binyomin Epstein,
binyomine@gmail.com.
May the inspiration of the Siyum HaShas bring you and many others to renewed learning and growing in our rich heritage!

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Ketubah’s aim is to protect the bride

Posted on 20 January 2020 by admin

Firstly, I thank you for your weekly article which enriches our weekend, and we look forward to it all week! Could you please explain what exactly is a ketubah; is it a document of sorts or is it part of the actual act of the Jewish wedding? Why do some people hang it on their wall?
Barbara L.

Dear Barbara,
During the early stages of the wedding ceremony, the first order of business is the completion, signing and witnessing of the ketubah, or marriage contract. This contract is required by rabbinic law and, according to some Talmudic authorities, actually dates back to Biblical times.
The ketubah, which is traditionally read out loud under the chuppah, is written in Aramaic, which was the spoken language of the Jews during Talmudic times when the wording was institutionalized. This document details the husband’s obligations to his wife, including food, clothing, dwelling and intimacy mandated by the Torah. The ketubah, which is a legally binding document, also creates a lien on all his property and his estate to pay his wife a sum of money should he divorce her or predecease her.
The document is signed by two witnesses, who have observed the groom’s acceptance of all the obligations within the ketubah by way of a kinyan, a type of acquisition effected by lifting up an object given to him by the rabbi officiating. The ketubah, once signed, has the status of a legally binding agreement in Jewish law, which in some countries is also enforceable by civil law.
The ketubah is not part of the actual betrothal or the wedding per se, but is a prerequisite for the wedding to take place once the financial agreements, enacted by the Talmudic sages, are in place. The Ketubah was enacted as a protection of the rights of the bride, and the sages did not allow the wedding to commence until that protection is in place. (Some, today, have the practice to enact a halachic prenuptial agreement as well.)
The ketubah is the wife’s possession and it remains in her care. It must remain in a safe place throughout the couple’s married life, such as in a safe or safety deposit box, as it serves as a sort of standing license in Jewish law for the couple to live as man and wife.
Because the ketubah is the tangible evidence of this momentous occasion in their new life together, it is sometimes decorated or written as an illuminated manuscript. Some couples frame it and display it in their home as a meaningful work of art, one which testifies to their home being built upon the timeless foundation of the chuppah and meaningful concepts of the Jewish wedding.

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