Friday, July 27, 2007

Idolatry in a Restaurant?

Q: Rabbi Maroof,

I was recently on a business trip, and while I found the city to be very nice etc., I am a bit concerned. I visited an Asian Restaurant, not owned by Jews, (Under the local Rabbis) There seemed to be active idolatry taking place. There was a statue of Buddha, where they had placed a large bowl of oranges and burning incense right in the entrance to the place. At the end of the meal I was served oranges (Possibly ones that were previously in front of Buddha)

Is this place considered a "Bais Avodah Zorah" ? And can a Jew eat there?

Mark C.

A: Dear Mark,

It is prohibited to eat or otherwise benefit from any food that was presented as an offering to an idol. So, if the oranges in question were indeed utilized in an idolatrous ritual before they were served to you (or if they were somehow consecrated to be used as such) they would not be permitted for consumption.

However, the mere fact that idolatrous activity may be taking place in a section of the restaurant does not necessarily mean that it is prohibited to enter the building and/or eat kosher food that is prepared or sold there. This is because the restaurant is not primarily designated for idolatrous worship, and so is not classified as a "House of Idolatry".

Whatever the case may be, I would suggest that you contact the local Orthodox rabbinate immediately to inform them of your concerns.

I am confident that the rabbis will conduct a thorough investigation into the goings-on at the restaurant and will take action to remedy the situation if need be.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Nehamat Yaaqov - Laws of the Three Weeks

I am proud to present Nehamat Yaaqov, a concise guide to the laws of the Three Weeks and Tisha B'av. It is dedicated to the memory of my dear mother-in-law, Yehudit Bat Shmuel A"H.

Please feel free to email me any questions or comments you may have regarding the text.

As an aside, I realize that many readers are waiting for responses to queries they have submitted. I apologize for the delays. Rest assured that new content will be posted on this blog in the very near future.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Baby Naming

Please remember to vote for my blog, Vesom Sechel, in the JIB Finals for Best Torah Blog!!!

A couple recently contacted me via email to ask me for help in preparing for their daugher's upcoming baby naming.

When my own daughter, Zehara Yehudit, was born, I found myself dissatisfied with the standard text for a girl's naming (we Sephardim call it a Zeved Habat.) In general, when called upon to name a newborn girl in my current synagogue, I freely amend the phraseology in the Siddur that I find objectionable. I followed the same practice when I served the Sephardic community in Riverdale, NY. There is nothing problematic about this, since the format of a baby naming is a matter of custom and not Jewish law.

I am certain that the lackluster and, in my opinion, blatantly sexist wording of the traditional Zeved Habat prayer reflects the general preference Jewish people (especially Sephardim) have for boys. Not to mention the fact that the birth of a male child is always followed by a Berit Millah and is therefore perceived by the community as a more significant event than the birth of a female.

As a result, just over two years ago, I took it upon myself to compose a prayer that is based on traditional sources but is more consistent with my personal view of the spiritual significance of the birth of a new daughter. I hope the thoughts and sentiments it contains resonate with my readership as well.

To download the Zeved Habat prayer, click here. Feedback will be much appreciated.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Introductory Guide to the Jewish Wedding and the Laws of Family Purity

I am proud to present a new guide to the laws of marriage and family purity, entitled "Shoshanat Yaaqov: A Guide to the Jewish Wedding and Family Purity in Light of the Fundamentals of Jewish Thought."

In addition to practical halachic guidelines, Shoshanat Yaaqov presents a philosophical framework through which one can better appreciate the meaning and significance of these important laws.

Since it is not yet fully edited, I would very much appreciate your feedback, constructive criticism, etc.

You can download a PDF version of the work here.

Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, April 23, 2007

JIB Awards Nomination

It just came to my attention that my other blog, Vesom Sechel, has been nominated for "Best Torah Blog" on the JIB Awards Site (Group C).

I am honored to have been nominated, especially in view of the fact that my communal obligations have prevented me from posting on a regular basis for the past couple of months.

Of course, I plan to resume a more predictable posting schedule in the very near future.

Thank you to my readership for your kind support.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Guide to the Laws of Passover

My yearly guide to the Essential Laws of Passover is now available online in PDF format. You can download a copy by clicking here.

If you are interested in receiving a version of the guide that includes extensive Hebrew footnotes and sources, please email me and I will gladly forward you a copy.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dairy, Meat and Hebrew

Q: Dear Rabbi,

Thanks for answering my question last week. My next questions for you are 1) What is our tradition regarding waiting after eating dairy before eating meat? Must we simply clean our mouths thoroughly, or do we have a waiting period, like Chabad? 2) Also, what do you think of the ultra-ancient Hebrew text? ( Why isn't the Torah written in the earliest, ultra-ancient script, as shown in the chart? Is there anything special and holy about these particularly old Hebrew letters, as there is with the ones commonly known today?
Michael N.

A: Dear Michael,

1) Our (Sephardic) custom is that meat can be eaten immediately after dairy. However, when we do this, we are required to first chew something pareve (such as a cracker or piece of bread) and then rinse our mouths out with water.

2) The Talmud discusses this issue at length in Masechet Sanhedrin. In Rabbinic parlance, the more ancient script is referred to as "Ketav Ivri" and the later form of writing is called "Ketav Ashurit". In the Gemara, the Rabbis debate the precise status of each of these scripts.

According to one view, the Torah was always written in "Ketav Ashurit", which was reserved for holy purposes; Ketav Ivri was the mundane, colloquial form of writing used for non-sacred matters.

Another opinion holds that the Torah was originally transcribed in Ketav Ashurit. After the sin of the Golden Calf, the script was temporarily changed to Ketav Ivri. Eventually, Ketav Ashurit was reinstated as the official form of sacred script.

A third view (which generally corresponds to the modern scholarly perspective) maintains that the Torah was originally given in Ketav Ivri, but that Ezra changed this upon the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel. Nachmanides explains that this change was one of many that Ezra initiated in order to commemorate the end of the Babylonian Exile (another example is the use of Babylonian names for the months of the year).

All agree that Ketav Ivri may no longer be used for sacred articles such as Torah Scrolls, Megillot, Tefillin or Mezuzot. In fact, if any of these were to be written in Ketav Ivri (or any script other than Ashurit, for that matter) they would not be considered halachically valid.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hair Covering

Q: Hi,

I came across your blog while browsing online. What is the halacha regarding married women covering their hair, with respect to fully or partially? Also is that Deorisa (Biblical) or Medarabanan (Rabbinical)?

Thank You,

A: Dear David,

Your question touches upon a complex area of Jewish law. I will attempt to survey and summarize the basic issues in this area very briefly. As you will see, this topic is subject to a great deal of analysis and discussion in Jewish literature.

The Talmud in Tractate Ketubot states that married Jewish women may not appear in public with their hair uncovered. This prohibition is described as a Biblical law and a verse from the Torah is cited to substantiate it.

Two levels of obligatory hair covering are then delineated: complete and partial covering, respectively. Partial coverage of the hair fulfills the more basic standard of "Dat Moshe", or the "Law of Moses". This level is the one that the Rabbis say is alluded to in the Bible.

Complete coverage of the hair, though not mentioned in the Torah, is still necessary in order to satisfy the requirements of "Dat Yehudit", or "conduct deemed proper for a Jewish woman."

(I am leaving the definitions of "complete" and "partial" deliberately vague because they are a subject of scholarly debate, as we will see below.)

The vast majority of halachic decisors take the Talmud in Ketubot literally and maintain that a married woman who goes out with her hair totally exposed is violating a Biblical prohibition (Dat Moshe). On the other hand, the requirement to cover hair completely is only Rabbinical (Dat Yehudit).

By contrast, there is a small minority of scholars who interpret the Talmud differently. They argue that, while there is a Biblical allusion to the practice of married women covering their hair, the prohibition itself actually has the status of Rabbinic Law. According to this view, the term "Dat Moshe" means a law promulgated by Moses, but not necessarily a law he received on Sinai. These scholars maintain that the higher standard of "Dat Yehudit" is a matter of authoritative and binding Jewish custom rather than some kind of formal Rabbinic legislation.

To summarize, then, we have two levels of haircovering: "Dat Moshe" and "Dat Yehudit". Both are obligatory, although the statuses of the respective obligations differ. In order to observe this halacha, however, we must clarify two parameters: what constitutes full coverage of hair, and what is considered "public"?

With regard to the question of complete coverage, there are two basic approaches. One interprets the term literally and concludes that a married woman cannot have more than a tefah (handsbreadth, approximately 3-4 inches) of her hair exposed in public at any time.

The other approach posits that "completeness" with reference to hair covering should be no different than "completeness" in other areas of Jewish law. Generally speaking, we have a principle in halacha that rubo k'chulo, the majority of something is legally equivalent to its entirety. Based upon this concept, some hold that as long as a woman has the majority of her hair covered, we treat it as if she had all of her hair covered.

What constitutes "public" is also a matter of scholarly debate. Some suggest that anytime a woman is in the presence of three men who are not her immediate relatives, this is legally regarded as being "in public".
Others, basing themselves on the simple reading of the Talmud, interpret "public" and "private" in terms of the political or social status of a particular location. According to this viewpoint, a place of residence is always considered private, no matter how many people are currently visiting it. And a mall or shopping center is always regarded as public, even if, at this moment, it is empty.

Many contemporary authorities go so far as to rule that a married woman may never have her hair uncovered in front of a man who is not her husband or a member of her immediate family. This, however, is a matter of middat hasidut, admirable or especially pious conduct, and is not legally mandated.

Now that we have reviewed the basic issues involved in this area of Jewish law, we can consider its practical implications. All agree that some form of complete coverage of hair is required whenever a married woman is in public.
With regard to the definition of complete coverage, the majority of scholars maintain that no more than a tefah (3-4 inches) should be exposed. This is the view that should be followed in practice.

However, when it comes to the precise definition of "public", the rabbinic consensus is far from clear. Based on the sources, it seems most reasonable to conclude that the distinction between "public" and "private" is determined by the nature of the location in question. Therefore, in a private residence, a married woman is not required to have her hair covered, even if she has several guests visiting.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof

Monday, February 05, 2007

Polyester Tsitsit

Q: Dear Rabbi,
My minhag is Edot ha Mizrach (Iraqi descent). What do you think about 100% Polyester Mesh Arba Canfot (or what about if they are only partially made of polyester?)? And do they need to be Menupitz Lishmo Tzitzits (regardless of the material of the garment)?
Michael N.

A: Dear Michael,

According to all opinions, it is preferable to use a 100% wool garment to fulfill the mitsvah of wearing tsitsit. In fact, in the view of the Rambam and the Shulhan Aruch - the bases of Sephardic halachic tradition - garments made of materials other than wool or linen are only obligated in tsitsit on a rabbinical level. This means that, for us, wearing polyester tsitsit will not be considered a fulfillment of the Biblical mitsvah. However, if there is no four-cornered woolen garment available, then garments with tsitsit made of other fabrics are certainly acceptable.

The threads of the tsitsit must be prepared for the sake of the mitsvah. This requirement applies equally to all tsitsit, regardless of the material out of which they are made.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof

Monday, January 01, 2007

Laws of Shaving

Q: Hello Rav,

I was curious, what was the precedent in various Sephardic communities for both shaving and pay'ot? It would seem that only the Yemenites have had a custom of very long side-curls; others I have seen photographs in which even Rabbi's have been clean-shaven, and seemingly at a time before the electric razor. How was this done, and what halakhic precautions were or were not adhered to? Are there differences between the shaving restrictions for different minhagim?


A: Dear Isaac,

The Torah commands us not to "destroy the corners of our beards" and instructs the Kohanim that "the corners of their beards shall not be shaved." Similarly, the Torah teaches that "you shall not round off the edge of your scalps."

The Talmud explains that the two verses regarding shaving actually complement one another. Taken together, they reflect a single legal formula - namely, that one may not shave the corners of the beard in a way that is considered "destroying", i.e., with a smooth razor blade. The use of scissors, however, is permissible.

One question debated in the early commentaries is the precise location of the "corners of the beard." Because of the variety of opinions on that subject, later authorities prohibited shaving any part of the face with a razor. Here is where the tremendous benefit of electric razors comes in.

In the olden days, men who were clean shaven typically used dipilatory creams to achieve that look. This involves no prohibition because it is not considered shaving. Similarly, one may shave the neck area with a regular razor because we are certain that no part of the neck is one of the "corners of the beard" that the Torah describes.

With regard to the prohibition of rounding the edges of the scalp, the Torah makes no distinction between the use of scissors, dipilatory creams and razors - all are prohibited. In other words, unlike the prohibition of shaving in which the method used to remove the hair is of paramount importance, the prohibition of rounding the scalp exists irrespective of the process of hair removal that is used; it is the result that counts, not the process. This means that while the beard can go (by permitted means) the sideburns must remain intact no matter what.

In some communities, the custom developed to allow peyot (sidecurls) to grow in fulfillment of the requirement not to remove the sideburns. Technically speaking, however, as long as the length of the sideburns extends to the cheekbones, they are halachically acceptable.

Incidentally, these commandments apply to men only. Women are not required to observe these laws at all.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof