Arabs in Israel

Israel has
- Arabic as second official language
- Arab parties in the parliament (United Arab List; Balad; Ta’al; …)
- therefore Arab members of the parliament
- Arab judges in the supreme court (retired Abdel Rahman Zuabi; Salim Joubran)
- Arab diplomats (ex-ambassador to Finland, now ambassador to Greece Ali Yahya; Walid Mansour; ex-vice consul in San Francisco Ishmael Khaldi; …)
- Arab soldiers serving in the army (mandatory service for Druze and volunteers from other minorities)
- Arab high-ranking military (ex-Major General Yusuf Mishleb; Major General Hussain Fares, …)
- Arab singers who represent Israel at the Eurovision (Mira Awwad 2009)
- Arab finalists in the Miss Israel contest (Angelina Fares 2007)
- Arab control over the temple mount and the Muslim holy sites (Temple mount management and access)

This does not mean that Arabs are not discriminated in Israel ever, there is a problem there (for a positive view read Philippe Assouline: Telling Israel like it is – in Arabic). But there is no "Apartheid", no institutionalized "second-class citizenship".

What does rejoicing mean for shabat?

In a previous post we have seen that we have a mitzva (commandment) to rejoice on the shabat and festivals and in another post we have discussed what rejoicing entails for festivals. Now we will see in a bit more detail what it means to "rejoice" on shabat (which is called oneg in Hebrew, in contrast to simcha for festivals).

First the Talmud:

Wherewith does one show his delight therein? — Rab Judah son of R. Samuel b. Shilath said in Rab’s name: With a dish of beets, large fish, and heads of garlic. R. Hiyya b. Ashi said in Rab’s name: Even a trifle, if it is prepared in honor of the Sabbath, is delight. What is it [the trifle]? — Said R. Papa: A pie of fish-hash.
(Talmud, Shabat 118b)

There are some people who give kabbalistic reasons for the fish-eating, I’d tend to the explanation that fish was something that the sages liked. Fish is still commonly eaten as a first course on shabat. But I have never met anyone who insisted on eating heads of garlic – although now that I think about it the dishes in our community do have a lot of garlic in them…

Ok, let’s fast forward to Rambam who has more detailed ideas about shabat delight:

Halacha 7
What is meant by [Sabbath] delight? This refers to our Sages’ statement that a person must prepare a particularly sumptuous dish and a pleasantly flavored beverage for the Sabbath.
Halacha 9
A person is obligated to eat three meals on the Sabbath: one in the evening, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon.
Halacha 10
Eating meat and drinking wine on the Sabbath is a form of pleasure for a person, provided this is within his [financial] capacity.
(Rambam, Mishne Tora, Hilchot Shabat 30)

Summarized, you have have three good and plentiful meals with a good drink. What about the meat? I have been told several times that it is absolutely necessary to eat meat on shabat. The text is not as strong as the part about meat on festivals which reads "Men should eat meat and drink wine, for there is no happiness without partaking of meat". Here it is clearer that meat and wine are added because these are foods that usually give pleasure. The intent is that you eat something you like, which is also how it is explained by the commentators (see footnote 37 which references Shulchan Aruch HaRav 242:2, Mishnah Berurah 242:1, I’ve also seen mentioned Magen Avraham 696:15, Darkei Teshuvah 89:19, Shaagas Aryeh 65). Even Chabad says it’s not required!

In other words, what exactly the menu should consist of is entirely up to the tastes of the individual, with the stipulation that it be the best he can afford. The main thing is how you enjoy a meal—not how others think you should enjoy it. On the contrary, for people such as yourself, eating meat may be counter to Isaiah’s “delighting the Shabbat.”
(Moshe Goldman: Do I Have to Eat Meat on Shabbat?)

Oh, and let’s not forget the most important delight (of course only if you’re married, only with your wife, at the appropriate times, yada yada):

Sexual relations are considered a dimension of Sabbath pleasure.
(Rambam, Mishne Tora, Hilchot Shabat 30:14)

A Day in the Life of a COR Mashgiach

Ever wondered what a mashgiach (sort of kashrut superviser) does the whole day? Find out in this video "A Day in the Life of a COR Mashgiach" by the Kashruth Council of Canada:

A Day in the Life of a COR Mashgiach from COR Kosher on Vimeo.

Muktze items may be touched on shabat

Muktze (also spelled muktzah sometimes) is a really comlicated subject connected to the laws of shabat. Basically, there are items that have no use on shabat, e.g., a pen, because you are not allowed to write on shabat. So the rabbis introduced a "fence" around the Torah that you are not allowed to move such an item on shabat. The idea is to prevent you from accidentally taking out the pen to write something down because you carry it around in you pocket. This is the rough idea, the details are very complicated and I don’t really know them.

What I want to do in this post is address a common misconception, namely that muktze means something may not even be touched. I have had this discussion several times. At least three times with my chavruta, even though we have learned the little that I know together. And he is not alone, I have found several internet places where (lay) people tell others something along the lines of "muktze, meaning they cannot be touched" or even official how-to-guides to shabat that are ambiguous and over-simplified and "explain" muktze with one sentence similar to "In addition to those mentioned above [the categories of forbidden work on shabat], two other important categories which are not permitted are using or touching items that are considered muktzah and carrying outdoors." (Chabad: The Shabbat Laws).

So, to set this straight: Muktze refers to items that have no use on shabat and may not be moved, but they may be touched on shabat. The only time they may not be touched is if the touching may cause them to move (e.g., a very light object or a round object).

Here are some sources that you can use to confirm this (pretty random, what I was able to find fast):

All ”muktzeh” (articles) are only forbidden to be handled, but touching them, if it doesn’t cause them to move, is allowed.
(Kitzur shulchan aruch 88:12)

The Rama tells us that muktze may be touched but not moved. This, however seems to contradict another halacha, [6] which says that one may cover a muktze as long as one does not touch it while doing so. The Mishna Berura [7] reconciles the two by saying that the latter halacha is referring to covering an egg or something round. Since an egg is oval shaped, touching it will definitely move it, and therefore it may not be touched. Other muktze items that will not move when touched may be touched.
(Paraphrase on Mishna Berura 310:6 [footnote 6] and 310:22 [footnote 7] by Rabbi Dovid Ostroff)

More convincing may be the lack of even the word "to touch" in the places that otherwise discuss muktze, such as the Rambam’s Mishne Torah, Hilchot Shabat chapters 25 and 26, or any more in-depth introduction to the topic, e.g., Rabbi David Shure’s introduction to The thirty-nine works of the sabbath. Feel free to comment with other good sources!

Maps of the Middle East

Max Fisher: 40 maps that explain the Middle East

(this has nothing to do with judaism, but I just wanted to save this link to maps of the Middle East somewhere)

What does rejoicing mean for holidays?

In a previous post we have seen that we have a mitzva (commandment) to rejoice on the festivals (the mitzva of simcha) and on the shabat (the mitzva of oneg). Now we will see in a bit more detail what it means to "rejoice" on a holiday.

First, let’s turn to the Talmud:

Our Rabbis taught: A man is in duty bound to make his children and his household rejoice on a Festival, for it is said, And thou shalt rejoice it, thy feast, [thou and thy son, and thy daughter, etc.] Wherewith does he make them rejoice? With wine. R. Judah said: Men with what is suitable for them, and women with, what is suitable for them. ‘Men with what is suitable for them’: with wine. And women with what? R. Joseph recited: in Babylonia, with coloured garments; in Eretz Yisrael, with ironed lined garments.
It was taught, R. Judah b. Bathyra said: When the temple was in existence there could be no rejoicing save with meat, as it is said, And thou shalt sacrifice peace-offerings, and shalt eat there; and thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God. But now that the Temple is no longer in existence, there is no rejoicing save with wine, as it is said, and wine that maketh glad the heart of man.
(Pesachim 109a, Soncino translation)

The proof passages that are cited are Psalms 104, 15 for wine and Deuteronomy 27:7 for meat. "Meat" in this context is clearly a reference to the temple sacrifice that was brought on the festival, the "korban shelamim". There does not seem to be an explanation for giving women clothes that I’m aware of.

The codification by Maimonides has a somewhat more exhaustive list of things that bring joy:

(Halacha 16)
It is forbidden to fast or recite eulogies on the seven days of Pesach, the eight days of Sukkot, and the other holidays. On these days, a person is obligated to be happy and in good spirits; he, his children, his wife, the members of his household, and all those who depend on him, as [Deuteronomy 16:14] states: “And you shall rejoice in your festivals.”

(Halacha 17)
What is implied? Children should be given roasted seeds, nuts, and sweets. For women, one should buy attractive clothes and jewelry according to one’s financial capacity. Men should eat meat and drink wine, for there is no happiness without partaking of meat, nor is there happiness without partaking of wine.
(Maimonides: Hilchot Yom Tov, 6:16-17)

Again, I am not aware of a textual basis for giving children sweets. There is a discussion amongst authorities if this list is the Rambam’s subjective list of things that generally bring happiness or if it is a set of objective guidelines that must be followed (Rabbi Josh Flug: The Mitzvah of Simchat Yom Tov).

So, bottom line, what do you "need" to do to rejoice? According to those who take the Rambam’s list to be objective guidelines, as a man drink wine and eat meat, give your wife clothes and your children sweets. According to some who view it as subjective, there might still be a rabbinic commandment to drink wine. And again, drinking wine might only be commanded if it makes you happy. In any case, even if you hold that you have to drink wine and/or eat meat but this does not make you happy, you are required to additionally do something that makes you personally joyful (whatever that something is) to fulfill the command!

G-d works through nature

I don’t want to get into discussions about evolution and whether it is true or not. In this post I just want to highlight an important point that tends to get lost in these types of discussions. Accepting the scientific explanation of something does not mean that automatically G-d plays zero role. I’ll give the word to someone who expresses this much better than I could:

3) How can we accept scientific explanations for how animal life came about? It was God who made everything!
We have a science of meteorology, but that does not stop us from saying that God “makes the wind blow and the rain fall.” We have a science of medicine, but this does not stop us from saying that God “heals the sick.” We have documented history of the process involved in winning the ’67 war, but this does not stop us from talking about God’s miraculous hand. God can work through meteorology, through medicine, through history, and through developmental biology. This is why it makes no difference if the neo-Darwinian explanation of the mechanism for evolution is true or not.
(R. Slifkin: Ten Questions on Evolution and Judaism)

As a small add-on: There are always things we cannot fully understand with science. Some people recover from cancer, some don’t. There is chance involved in the scientific explanation of evolution. It is perfectly fine to have G-d responsible for what we don’t understand or whenever we talk about "chance". Accepting science does not mean to reject G-d.

Abraham served matzot… yeah

With all the discussion about why it was Pessach when the angels visited Abraham, I forgot to mention why I included the reason in the first place (this quote is from AskMoses, but stands as only one representation of this type of statement you can also find at Chabad, Aish, and all the other orthodox-mystical-kiruv-sites):

It is a tradition that Abraham kept the entire Torah even though it had not yet been given. So he would have celebrated Passover even before the Jews had entered Egypt!
(Rabbi Yossi Marcus on AskMoses Why do we have three matzot on the Seder plate?)

Yeah, sure. Abraham celebrated Pesach and ate matzot. He probably wore a shtreimel. I don’t know what to say about this other than Abraham lived way before the exodus happened and there is just no rational reason why he should have baked matzot. So I’ll just conclude with a video on the topic (not specifically matzot and Abraham, but Eisav and the bracha on lentil stew and a-historic anti-rational views of the patriarchs in general):

Best parts:

"The Torah commands us to write a Sefer Torah. Did Yaakov observe that commandment?" – "Of course" – "So why didn’t he just take out this Sefer Torah and read it to find out that his son Yosef was alive and avoid all that heartache?"


"The gemara brings down a machlokes about whether the correct bracha on lentils is shehakol or mesonos. The best way to avoid any problems is to wash on bread."
"If Yakov knew the entire Torah, why didn’t he know the correct bracha for lentils. Why didn’t he know which of the opinions in Masechet Brachos was correct?

End of rant, have fun on Youtube.

Abraham, angels and pessach

As promised in my last post, here some words on the angels’ visit of Abraham which supposedly takes place on Pessach (or so I read on Chabad). First, the source text:

And He said: ‘I will certainly return unto thee when the season cometh round; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.’ [...]
(Genesis 18:10, translation from Mechon Mamre)

So how and where does Pessach enter into this? Rashi says this in his comment on the verse:

At this time in the coming year. It was Passover, and on the following Passover, Isaac was born [...]
(Rashi on Genesis 18:10, translation from Chabad)

And where did he get this from? Well, I found some answers online (R. David Silverberg: Parashat Vayera, from third section on), let’s try to piece it together. Very fascinating stuff! Source is of course the Talmud, where we find many such questions. The underlying assumption is always that the patriarchs kept the whole Torah, including holidays commemorating events that hadn’t happened yet. If you find this disturbing, skip ahead to the next post.

In this specific case, the discussion hinges on the meaning of the Hebrew "LaMo’ed ashuv eleicha". The word "mo’ed" could mean "festival". So which festival? The Talmud says Isaac’s birth was on Pesach. There must be enough time between the visit and the "next festival" for pregnancy and birth, so the Talmud discusses two opinions for the visit, Succot (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 11a) and somewhere between Yom Kippur and Succot (Tractate Bava Metzia 86b). This is the widest timeframe possible between two festivals. And – of course – there is another opinion. Chazal (sages from that time whose statements did not necessarily enter into the Talmud) state that the visit was on Pesach and the birth was on Pesach the next year. This is the view Rashi is citing in his comment that we saw above.

There’s more that we could discuss, but here’s what I wondered about the most when I read the Hebrew: The word "mo’ed" under discussion is not in the verse! Here’s the verse again, this time in Hebrew (sorry for the formatting):

וַיֹּאמֶר, שׁוֹב אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ כָּעֵת חַיָּה, וְהִנֵּה-בֵן, לְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ; וְשָׂרָה שֹׁמַעַת פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וְהוּא אַחֲרָיו.
[Vayomer, shuv ashuv eleicha ka'et chaya, veHine-ben, leSara ishtecha; VeSara shama'at petach haOhel, veHu acharav.]
(Genesis 18:10)

No "mo’ed"! I was utterly confused until I read on and found the verse the discussion is actually referring to:

הֲיִפָּלֵא מֵיְהוָה, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה–וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן.
[Hayipale meAdonay, davar; laMo'ed ashuv eleicha, ka'et chaya - uleSara ben.]
Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.’
(Genesis 18:14 at Mechon Mamre)

There it is, our "mo’ed". So what does Rashi have to say about this verse?

At the appointed time: At that time that was appointed, that I set for you yesterday, [when I said] (17:21): “at this time next year.”
(Rashi on Genesis 18:14, translation from Chabad)

Genesis 17:21 says "But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.", containing "laMo’ed" as well. Only verse 18:10, the one Rashi puts his comment on, does not. Well… he could’ve saved the world from this post by putting the comment somewhere else!

Ok, a short summary: Abraham is visited by angels, they tell him that they will come back "laMo’ed" when he will have a son. The word "mo’ed" in Genesis 18:14 may be interpreted as "festival". The sages discuss different festivals, including Pesach. Rashi selects Pesach and this is in turn what Chabad references. To really understand the argument, we’d need to talk about the date of Abraham’s circumsision, the date of the angels’ visit of Lot, the date of Isaac’s birth – but this post is long enough as it is.

3 matzot on the Seder plate

Why are there three matzot on the Seder plate?

Probably most people know the explanation that they represent the three types of Jews: Cohen, Levi and Israel. AskMoses gives as a source for this explanation "Rav Shrira Gaon and Maaseh Rokeach 16:58, cited in the Rebbe’s Haggadah, and explained in Migdal Ohr by Rabbi Ezra Schochet, vol. 7." – I haven’t checked, but I’ve heard the explanation many many times*.

Another explanation that I’ve heard a few times is that they represent the three patriarchs, Abraham Isaac and Jacob. Wikipedia attributes this to the MaHaRal (Judah Loew ben Bezalel, 16th century, Prague), but I haven’t found any real source for this*.

This year at the Seder I heard for the first time the the "practical" reason: We need two whole loaves to make the blessing on bread. Before the point where we make the blessing on bread (matzot) in the Seder, we break one of the matzot. So we need to start with three. Here is at least something of a source for this explanation:

Of the three matzot on the table, why is it that the middlte matza is the one which is broken? The halakhic answer is: On Pesach three matzot are required. One for lechem o’ni (poor man’s bread) and two for lechem mishna (the two loaves required on each Shabbat and Yom Tov). Since it is customary to lay one’s ten fingers on the lechem mishna [as a reminder that ten mitzvot are fulfilled in the process of producing and eating bread] these matzot must be placed on the top and bottom of the pile.
(R. Nachman Cohen, The Historical Haggada, page 14)

While looking for sources for the above explanation, I came across a reason that was new to me. The three matzot are supposed to be a rather confusing allusion to flour. When the angels came to visit, Abraham told Sara to make break from three "se’a" of flour (Genesis 18:6). And of course she was baking matzot as they came on Passover. Why was it Passover? — stay tuned for a separate post on this topic!

* please write a comment if you know more!

Freedom vs. hard work

Judaism is hard work because freedom is hard work. Pesach is especially hard because it is the festival of freedom. Freedom is threatened in two ways: by individualism and collectivism. Collectivism – worship of the system, the state, the nation, the race – has produced the worst tyrannies of history. [...]

Individualism represents the opposite danger. When individuals put private gain ahead of the common good, a society eventually collapses. [...]


That is what Pesach is about. It is about my personal experience of freedom: On Pesach we must each see ourselves as if we personally had left Egypt. But it is also about our shared experience of freedom as we tell the story of our people and hand it on to future generations. Judaism is about the ‘I’ and the ‘We.’ Without our willingness to encourage questions, argument, debate, and endless new interpretations of ancient texts, we would lose the ‘I.’ Without halakhah, the code that binds us together across centuries and continents, we would lose the ‘We.’ And yes, it’s hard work. But I tell you from the depth of my heart that there is no achievement worth having that is not hard work.
(Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: What Does This Avodah Mean To You?)

Sorry for not posting much these last weeks, I have been busy with Pesach preparations!

How do we know this is a Jewish blog?

Why else would there only be questions and no answers on this blog?

Why don’t we speak between netilat yadaim and hamotzi?

Many newcomers to Shabat observance have probably had this experience: You go to wash hands with everybody else, go back to your seat and happily chat up your neighbour until you notice that she/he is not answering and/or you are the only person in the room still speaking. The custom is not to speak from hand washing (netilat yadaim) until the blessing over bread (hamotzi) is said.

Where is the source for that? I just stumbled upon a mention in the Kizzur:

Care should be taken not to have an interruption between washing hands and ”who brings forth bread” [the blessing over bread].
(Kizzur shulchan aruch 41:2)

According to Rabbi Josh Flug at YUTorah the actual basis in the Talmud is in Berachot 42a, I assume he meant this one sentence:

Grace should follow immediately on the washing of hands.
(Berachot 42a)

There seems to be a doubt if this sentence actually refers to washing before the meal or after the meal. Among others, the Rambam actually allows speaking, but the recommended procedure nowadays seems to be that it is preferred not to (Halacha Yomit).

Lev Tahor Documentaries

I don’t usually post on politics, but I wanted to link these documentaries about Lev Tahor:

Under the veil of Lev Tahor by Global’s 16×9, aired on February 22nd, 2014 (you can watch at the link or on youtube).

Rabbi of the Pure Hearts: Inside Lev Tahor by CBC’s The Fifth Estate, aired on February 28, 2014 (you can watch at the link or on youtube)

The Lev Tahor cult (כת לב טהור), by Amnon Levi of True Faces (פנים אמיתיות) on Arutz 10, aired on November 2012 (you can watch on youtube with English subtitles Part 1, Part 2)


All kosher animals are listed in the Tora

Related to the claim that there are only 4 non-kosher animals with one kosher sign and all of them are listed in the Tora is another claim: That all existing kosher animals are listed in the Tora.

In the Tora, we are given the signs of kosher animals (split hooves and chewing the cud). Most people agree that it is enough for an animal to have the two signs and that there is no need to link all animals back to the list, but some disagree (R. Mordecai Kornfeld, Insights into Chullin 59, section 6: The need for a mesora with regard to a chayah). In any case, despite the signs, the Tora does give a list of kosher land animals, but never defines it to be exhaustive. Here are the relevant verses:

These are the beasts which ye may eat:
the ox [shor],
the sheep [seh ksavim],
and the goat [seh izim],
the hart [ayal],
and the gazelle [tzvi],
and the roebuck [yachmur],
and the wild goat [akko],
and the pygarg [dishon],
and the antelope [te'o],
and the mountain-sheep [zamer].
(Deuteronomy 14:4-6)

Ox, sheep and goat are clear. Ayal probably is deer (Dr. Moshe Raanan: Ayalah Sheluchah). There is a discussion if tzvi refers to gazelle or ibex, the consensus seems to be that it is the gazelle (R. Mordecai Kornfeld, Insights into Chullin 59, section 7: The identity of the tzvi). The identity of the last five species (yachmur, akko, dishon, te’o and zamer) is uncertain (Certified Kosher).

Some people say zemer refers to giraffe which is kosher (R. Yirmiyahu Ullman: Kosher Giraffe). Another kosher animal is the American buffalo (or bison) and some people attempt to connect it to the te’o or yachmur (R. Ari Z. Zivotofsky: Kashrut of Exotic Animals: The Buffalo).

Caribou and elk are kosher, but I haven’t found anyone linking it back to any of the ten species on the list. Okapi, pronghorn, musk deer may also be kosher, but there is little information, also no linking to the list. There has been a debate about zebus in Israel. They are unquestionably kosher, but some people wanted to ban the meat because of a missing mesora (tradition) – which would mean it is not on the above list (R. Yehuda Spitz: Buffalo Burgers and the Zebu Controversy, R. Natan Slifkin: The Zebu Controversy).

As a conclusion, the claim that the Tora list contains all kosher animals is questionable and is not very convincing.