Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tefillin, Prayer and Gelatin


Hello Rabbi Maroof-

I was looking at your blog, and I wanted to ask you a couple of questions, whether through the blog, or through email both are the same to me, but I didn't know exactly how to post it to the blog...

1.- Removing Tefillin for the Restroom - When we remove the Tefillin to use the restrooms, do we remove it in any specific way? (such as we would when removing them for putting them away)

2.- Praying Shacharit after the latest time for Shacharit (and before Chatzot) - My understanding about praying Shacharit was that one is allowed to pray Shacharit up until Chatzot. Recently I heard in a recorded Shiur that when one prays Shacharit after the latest time for Shacharit (Sof Zman Tefilah) and before Chatzot, then one doesn't mention Hashem's name in the Berachot of Shema. What's the Halacha Lemaase? Furthermore, if one is allowed to pray Shacharit up until Chatzot, then what exactly does that mean? -> Should one finish before Chatzot? Should one start before Chatzot? I understand than to avoid all this the best is to pray as early as possible, yet sometimes, it's not always easy or possible...

3.- Gelatin - I recently read an article ( about gelatin which 'claims' that Rab Ovadia Yosef categorizes it as parve due to its chemical process and change. Is the article accurate? If yes, does that mean we could potentially eat any gelatin?

Thank you so much Rabbi, and warm regards,


Dear Daniel,

1. You remove them the same way you would to put them away.

2. After Sof Zeman Tefillah (the last time for morning prayers), the Amidah (silent devotion) can still be recited but not the blessings on the Shema or the blessings on Pesuqei Dezimra (i.e., Baruch Sheamar/Yishtabach). The Amidah should be finished, at least the majority of it, before Hatzot (halakhic midday).

3. This attribution is correct, Hacham Ovadiah states this unequivocally in a Teshuva in his responsa Yabia Omer (in the eighth volume), and he is by no means alone in this assessment.

So gelatin is indeed OK at least for Sephardim who abide by the rulings of Hacham Ovadiah.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof

Sephardic Wedding Customs


I am sefardi (persian) however I grew up in a primarily ashkenazik community. What are the halachot as well as minhagim for sefardim as pertaining to weddings (perhaps as a contrast to askenazic halachot/minhagim)?
Thank You,


This seemingly simple question requires a rather complex response. There are several key distinctions between Ashkenazic and Sephardic practices in this regard.

Essentially there are eight differences:

1) There is no "badeqen", or veiling of the bride that is practiced in Ashkenazic circles.

2) We (Sephardim) do not have a "tish" before the wedding. We do not sign "tannaim". Many Sephardic Rabbanim actually perform the ketubah signing under the Huppah as part of the ceremony.

3) The text of the ketubah should be prepared according to Sephardic tradition rather than Ashkenazic wording.

4) The woman does not circle around the man when she arrives under the Huppah. Instead, she stops a few feet before the Huppah, her parents move on, and the groom comes out to walk together with her back under the Huppah.

5) The man puts on a brand new tallit under the Huppah and recites Sheheyanu (and Lehitatef betsitsit if it is daytime).

6) The Tallit is held over the heads of the bride and groom during the recitation of the Sheva Berachot

7) The text of the wedding Berachot is slightly different, using a Sephardic Siddur would solve that problem.

8) Many Sephardim do not practice "yihud", seclusion of the bride and groom after the ceremony. For this you should consult with a local Sephardic rabbi. I know within the Syrian communities there are differences in custom. Rav Ovadyah Yosef is against the seclusion. But some do it anyway.

9) We have much better food - Ghormeh Sabzi, Berengh, Tadigh, etc. :)

Off the top of my head, these are the basic differences. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof

Hanukkah or Yahrzeit?


My mother's yahrzeit is next Friday, the fifth day of Hanukkah. At minha I
seem to have two choices:

To pray before the amud at a minyan that will take place after we have lit the
candles at home, OR

To pray earlier in a minyan, but not to be the shliah tzibbur.

Which alternative is preferable?


If I understand correctly, your conflict is as follows:
On one hand, the recommended procedure
throughout Hanukkah, and particularly on
Friday afternoon, is to pray the Minha Service
prior to lighting Hanukkah candles.

However, this would require you to forgo the
custom of serving as prayer leader on the
anniversary of a parent's death (Yahrzeit).
You are wondering which priority should take
precedence here.

This is somewhat of a judgment call,
since neither of these considerations is
strictly halakhic. You are weighing the
relative importance of two recommended

Thus, whatever choice you make, you are
still within the parameters of legitimate
halakhic observance.

I believe that praying minha earlier and
thus lighting Hanukkah candles at the ideal
time would be the preferred practice in
this case. Leading the prayers on a
yahrzheit is a custom that was introduced
into Judaism much later (the original
version was simply reciting kaddish, and
before that, simply fasting - though not on
Hanukkah, of course) that should not
trump the more established and intuitive
principle of lighting Hanukkah candles after minha.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof

Making Music on Shabbat


Shalom Rabbi,
I am wondering why it isn't okay to use a drum or any other musical instrument on Shabbat if groups like Chabad and other Chassidim say the ban against this doesn't really apply today because nobody makes their own instruments now. They use this line of argument to justify clapping and dancing, but what about using a small hand drum or something similar which one (and most) has no idea how to create or fix if broken?
Andrew H.


Dear Andrew,

After reading my response, I would encourage you to address this question to someone who believes the ban on clapping and dancing is no longer applicable. You are correct in observing that this position seems inconsistent because it still upholds the prohibition on musical instruments despite the fact that some of them should be treated in the same way as hand clapping. It would be interesting to see how proponents of the Chassidic view explain their stance.

As you may know, most halakhic scholars disagree with the Chassidic practice and maintain that we don't have the ability to discount Rabbinic legislation simply because its original intent has become partially obsolete.

In this case in particular, the reality is that many musicians do indeed regularly and habitually tune their instruments, especially string players, so the prohibition makes perfect sense. (It is tuning, by the way, and not fashioning instruments, that is the reason for the rabbinic enactment - tuning an instrument is Biblically prohibited on Shabbat because it constitutes repairing or restoring the functionality of a vessel).

Distinguishing between different forms of instruments, hand clapping, etc., on a case by case basis is generally avoided in halakha because it becomes confusing and the average person is generally not well versed in the subtleties of the principles involved.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof

Friday, October 03, 2008

Blowing Shofar After Rosh Hashana


Dear Rabbi Maroof,

May the Shofar be sounded on any days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?
If not, where is that written and what is the reason?


Scott M.


Dear Scott,

Sounding the Shofar between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is not halakhically problematic. The only time it is prohibited is on the day before Rosh Hashana. This is in order to make a clear distinction between the blowing of the Shofar on the holiday, which is done in fulfillment of a Biblical obligation, and the blowing of the Shofar practiced during the preceding month of Elul, which is only a widespread custom.

It is also prohibited to blow the Shofar on Shabbat because this would constitute playing a musical instrument which is not allowed then.

Shana Tova,

Rabbi Maroof

Friday, July 25, 2008

How To Evaluate A Rabbi


Hi Rabbi,

I am looking for resources about how to evaluate our Rabbi's performance for our synagogue. It is time for her performance review.


Dear Steve,

I am not an expert in the professional evaluation of rabbis per se. But I can offer a few suggestions based upon my understanding of the role of a rabbi in a congregation and from personal experience.

As I see it, the objective of an evaluation should be to provide the rabbi with a better understanding of aspects of the job that the board believes are being carried out well and those aspects that require additional attention and fine-tuning. It should be an instrument of communication between the board and the rabbi that clarifies their common goals, vision and partnership - not an opportunity to criticize or complain to the rabbi on behalf of a small number of outspoken, disgruntled members. Otherwise, rather than strengthen and focus the rabbi, it will be a demoralizing and counterproductive exercise.

The most fundamental aspect of a rabbi's qualification for leadership is knowledge of Judaism. Does the rabbi exhibit a fluency and expertise in the Torah and Rabbinic Literature? This can be a difficult question for a committee of laypersons to answer since they usually don't have the extensive background in Jewish studies that would enable them to pass judgment on their rabbi in this respect. However, they can approach the issue fairly and reasonably by considering questions like the following:

What are the Rabbi's formal academic credentials, in terms of Jewish and secular studies?

Does the Rabbi seem to have a ready answer to basic queries that are posed by congregants?

Is the Rabbi comfortable interacting with Jewish texts in their original languages and drawing from ancient and modern commentaries to elucidate their meaning and clarify their relevance for our lives?

Most importantly, in my view - does the Rabbi love Jewish learning passionately and continue to engage in it regularly for its own sake? If not, how is the congregation expected to fall in love with it and want to support and perpetuate it?

The next issue to be explored is that of character. This is somewhat easier for the average person to evaluate, although we should be cautious in this regard as well. One congregant who feels neglected or slighted by the rabbi may interpret the actions of that rabbi in a consistently negative light, and generate lots of "bad karma" in the congregation.

Upstanding rabbis deserve the benefit of the doubt and the presumption that they act with the best interests of their constituents, not to mention their understanding of Torah values, in mind. I would recommend being wary of the potential biases that may crop up in this respect. Focus on issues like the following:

Does the Rabbi greet people personally, warmly and enthusiastically?

Is the Rabbi kindhearted and sensitive, taking the necessary time to address personal and communal concerns with full attention?

Does the Rabbi know how to help congregants deal with emotionally difficult situations, such as bereavement, separation, divorce, etc., with tact, tenderness and fairness?

Does the Rabbi reach out to assist such people out of genuine empathy, or is an air of distance maintained?

Does the Rabbi exhibit honesty and integrity in all aspects of life, personal, intellectual and professional? Is the Rabbi a good role model - would I want my child to emulate such an individual?

Does the Rabbi remain calm and cool under pressure, dealing even with difficult congregants without getting flustered or losing control?

Details about how Rabbis manage time, what portion of their schedule is devoted to teaching, program development, outreach, counseling, visiting the sick, etc., are very much dependent upon the specific needs of your community, to which I am not privy. However, from a general pragmatic standpoint, these elements should all be incorporated into the Rabbi's agenda to some extent or another.

Overall, ensuring that the Rabbi is available to, and serving the needs of, every cohort in your community - young and old, sick and well, one-time-a-year attendees and daily service participants, married and single - is vital to congregational stability and growth. Is the Rabbi introducing new and innovative programs to address each of these groups? Are any of them being unduly neglected, and, if so, what can be done to correct this? Does your demographic need to be expanded in any particular way? What can the Rabbi do to contribute to this process?

Bear in mind that a Rabbi is often expected to be all things to all people, and it is inevitable that some members of your congregation will be dissatisfied with some aspect of your Rabbi's performance. Rabbis are also human beings with feelings and needs that ought to be respected. They are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and even the most dedicated and charismatic rabbis need to enjoy lives of their own as well. Otherwise, their job satisfaction will decline and their enthusiasm for the profession will dissipate. It is important to think about the fact that an unhappy and stressed-out rabbi is of little use to any synagogue, and may not stick around for the long haul if less stressful opportunities become available.

Although all rabbis have areas in which they can and should be expected to improve, there are limits on the demands a synagogue can reasonably make of its rabbi, and these should be carefully considered in the context of the evaluation. An evaluation that is based upon unrealistic standards will be off-putting and depressing for your rabbi, and will not achieve the intended goal of more effective and inspiring congregational leadership.

I hope you find this general outline of talking points to be helpful. If I can be of any further assistance, please feel free to email me a follow-up message.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nehamat Yaaqov 5768

I am proud to present an updated and revised version of Nehamat Yaaqov, a compendium of the essential laws of the Three Weeks and Tisha B'av, for the year 5768. It can be downloaded in PDF form by clicking here. I have reproduced the laws below, without the aspects of formatting that are incompatible with Blogger.

נחמת יעקב - קיצור הלכות בין המצרים
Essential Laws of The Three Weeks and Tisha B’av
by Rabbi J. Maroof
מוקדש לזכר נשמת חמותי היקרה
יהודית בת שמואל ע“ה
ת. נ. צ. ב. ה.

שבעה עשר בתמוז - The Seventeenth of Tammuz

1. Each year we observe a period of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. We begin on the Seventeenth day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz with a day of fasting and prayer. This year, the fast falls out on Sunday, July 20, 2008.

2. The fast of the 17th of Tammuz begins at astronomical dawn and continues until nightfall. Sephardim conclude this and all other minor fasts twenty minutes after sundown, whereas Ashkenazim conclude anywhere from thirty to fifty minutes after sundown. This year, the fast will begin in Rockville on Sunday morning at 4:47AM and will conclude (for Sephardim) at 8:50 PM.

3. It is preferable not to launder clothing, wear freshly laundered clothing or bathe in warm water during the daytime on the Seventeenth of Tammuz. However, it is permitted to brush one’s teeth with toothpaste or use mouthwash.

4. From the Seventeenth of Tammuz through the Ninth day of the month of Av, it is customary to avoid reciting the blessing of Shehecheyanu on new fruits, clothing, etc.

5. It is the custom of Ashkenazim to avoid shaving, taking haircuts, cutting fingernails, and celebrating weddings beginning with the 17th day of Tammuz. If necessary for business purposes, shaving is permitted until the first day of Av. In particularly dire circumstances, it may be permitted up through the Friday before Tisha B’av. In such cases, a competent Rabbi should be consulted.

6. It is meritorious to avoid listening to most forms of music (with the exception of classical and some religious music) throughout the year as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. However, if one is lenient in this regard most of the time, one should try to be more careful about it during this period.

תשעת הימים ושבוע שחל בו - The Nine Days

1. The first nine days of the month of Av are known as the “Nine Days”, a period of time during which our mourning for the Temple’s destruction intensifies. Beginning with the first day of Av, Sephardim join Ashkenazim in not permitting any celebrations, such as weddings or engagement parties, until the conclusion of the mourning period.

2. It is customary to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine during the Nine Days. Sephardim do not start observing this restriction until the second day of Av (i.e., the night after Rosh Hodesh Av.) Ashkenazim abstain from meat and wine on Rosh Hodesh as well. This year, Rosh Hodesh Av falls out on Shabbat, August 2nd.

3. Ashkenazic custom prohibits drinking wine during the Nine Days even for a mitzvah, such as reciting Havdala or Birkat Hamazon. Sephardim only apply the prohibition to drinking that is done for personal enjoyment. All agree that the restriction on meat and wine is not observed on Shabbat.

4. The Saturday night prior to Tisha B’av marks the beginning of a time period known as the “Week of Tisha B’av”. At this point, the mourning observances are further intensified and remain this way until the conclusion of the fast.

5. Throughout the Week of Tisha B’av, it is prohibited to shave or take a haircut. (As mentioned above, Ashkenazic custom is to avoid shaving, haircuts and cutting fingernails for the entire “Three Weeks” period.)

6. One may not launder clothing (even for someone else) or wear freshly laundered clothing during the Week of Tisha B’av. This restriction extends to linens, towels, etc. During this period, a non-Jew may not be asked to launder clothing on a Jew’s behalf.

7. One is not permitted to bathe with hot water (i.e., for enjoyment) during the Week of Tisha B’av. Rinsing off with cold water or to remove actual dirt is permitted.

8. One may not produce or purchase new garments during this time period, even if one does not plan on using them until after Tisha B’av.

9. The custom of Ashkenazim is to extend the “Week of Tisha B’av” and observe its restrictions - not laundering, wearing fresh clothing, bathing for pleasure, or making/buying new garments - for the entire “Nine Days” period.

10. This year, since Tisha B’av falls out on Sunday, Sephardim only observe the “Week of Tisha B’av” restrictions on Tisha B’av itself. However, the restrictions of the “Nine Days” - not eating meat, drinking wine, engaging in celebration, etc. - are observed as usual.

ערב תשעה באב - The Eve of the Ninth of Av

1. On the eve of Tisha B’av after midday, it is preferable only to study Torah subjects that are permitted on fast itself. However, if one cannot focus his or her mind on such topics and will end up neglecting Torah study altogether, it is better to be lenient and study the topic of one’s choice.

2. After the Mincha service on the eve of the Tisha B’av, a meal known as the Seuda Hamafseket is usually held in preparation for the fast. This year, however, since Tisha B’av begins on Saturday night, the laws regarding Seuda Hamafseket are not observed. Seudah Shelisheet is eaten in the normal manner but must be concluded before sunset.

תשעה באב - Tisha B’av

1. All Jews are obligated to fast on Tisha B’av, even pregnant and nursing women. A woman who has recently (within thirty days) given birth to a child is exempt from the fast. If a person becomes ill from fasting on Tisha B’av, he need not complete the fast.

2. This year, Tisha B’av will begin on Saturday night, August 9th at sundown and will end at nightfall on Sunday, August 10th. As mentioned above, depending on one’s custom, one may conclude the fast anytime from 25-50 minutes after sundown on Sunday.

(Because the fast begins this year on Saturday night, we do not recite Havdalah in the normal manner. Instead, the blessing on fire is recited in the synagogue after evening services, and the remainder of havdalah is postponed until Sunday night. )

3. Five pleasurable activities are prohibited on the Ninth of Av:

(1) Eating and drinking
(2) Anointing one’ body with oil or perfume
(3) Washing, including brushing teeth and using mouthwash
(4) Wearing leather shoes, and
(5) Engaging in marital relations.

4. On Tisha B’av, one may only study subjects that are directly related to the destruction of the Temple or to Divine punishment, such as the Book of Eicha, the Book of Iyov, the sections of the Prophetic books and the Talmud that deal with the destruction of the Temple, or the laws of mourning.

5. One is not permitted to inquire about the well being of others on Tisha B’av. This would include greeting friends, asking them how they are doing and otherwise engaging in “small talk” about personal concerns. Answering the phone with “hello” is not considered greeting and is permitted.

6. One is prohibited to work on the night of Tisha B’av. During the day, work is permitted after the recitation of Kinnot. According to some authorities, one must wait until midday before becoming involved in any work. In any case, working at any time on Tisha B’av is strongly discouraged and, if possible, work should be completely avoided during the fast.

7. During the recitation of Kinnot in the synagogue, it is customary to sit on the ground or on a low stool or pillow. Many people refrain from sitting on a regular chair on Tisha B’av from sundown until midday, even in their own homes.

8. Since leather shoes are not worn on Tisha B’av, the blessing of “She-asa Li Kol Tzorki” should be omitted at Shacharit.

9. One may wash one’s hands in the morning with a blessing, but the water may only be poured over the fingertips (up to the first joint of the fingers). This form of washing is also permitted - and, if one plans to pray, recite a blessing, or study Torah, it is required - after one has used the bathroom.

10. One who has actually become dirty may wash the dirt off normally.

11. The custom of the majority of Jews is not to wear a Tallit or Tefillin during Shacharit on Tisha B’av. They are worn at Mincha instead. (However, the custom of some Sephardim in Israel is to wear the Tallit and Tefillin at Shacharit as usual.)

עשרה באב - The Tenth of Av

1. It is customary to recite Kiddush Levana on the night following Tisha B’av. This year, since Tisha B’av begins on Saturday night, Havdalah is postponed until after the fast and is recited on Sunday night without spices (besamim) or a candle.

2. Sephardim should not consume meat or wine until the 11th day of Av, i.e., until Monday night August 11th this year. Ashkenazim only observe this restriction until midday of the 10th of Av.

3. Upon the conclusion of the fast, Sephardim are permitted to launder clothing, shave, take haircuts, and bathe (even with hot water). Ashkenazim refrain from these activities until midday of the tenth of Av. When Tisha B’av falls out on a Thursday, even Ashkenazim permit laundering clothes, shaving and taking haircuts immediately after the fast so that preparations can be made for Shabbat.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Cooking on Shabbat


Dear Rabbi Maroof,
Hopefully you can answer these questions before this Shabbat.
1) In our home, we use an electric Shabbat warming plate to keep food warm; recently, I was reading about hatmanah and it only confused me. Please tell me if the following is halachically correct -- here's what we usually do: on top of the electric plate we place a pot with water -- this pot is covered with the lid inverted so that on top of it we can place a pot with food (this way the pot with food doesn't get too hot overnight). The pot containing the food is covered with a lid as well. Are we violating the laws of hatmanah by covering either pot with a lid?
2) My understanding is that dry, solid items can be reheated on Shabbat. Does rice fall into this category? I've heard contradicting opinions about this. Usually, we put the rice in the refrigerator Friday night and take it out again on Saturday morning to reheat it on the electric plate. Part "B" of this question would be, should we be concerned about the water droplets that form in the rice pot when take out of the fridge and then we reheat it in the hot plate? Is this considered reheating a liquid?
3) Can baked plantains be reheated on the plate? They are solid, but when baked in foil, they look soggy.
Thank you for your time!


Dear Joseph,

1) This is no problem. The restrictions on Hatmana, or insulating, only apply when the pot is entirely surrounded by insulating material. Covering the top of a pot would not be included in this prohibition.

2) Rice can be taken out of the refrigerator on Shabbat morning and placed on an electric hotplate for warming. If condensation has created water droplets in the pot, one should either dry them or move the rice to a dry container for reheating.

3) Just for clarity's sake, let me explain that the reason that reheating liquid is treated more stringently than reheating solids is the following: When we cook a solid for the first time, we affect a real change in the substance of the food. Even after the food item cools off, it remains permanently transformed by virtue of the cooking process to which it was subjected. Subsequent reheating of the dish, which merely raises the temperature of the food but has no other significant impact on its quality, is clearly differentiated from the act of cooking and is therefore permissible under certain conditions.

On the other hand, the only difference between, for example, cooked and uncooked water, is the temperature of the water. If I cook water and then it cools, it has reverted to its original state. Reheating it is identical to cooking it for the first time. Therefore, reheating liquids is not permitted on Shabbat - it would be tantamount to cooking liquids.

Some foods have a soggier quality than others when cooked or reheated. However, as long as they are solids, these foods can be reheated on Shabbat without compunction.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof