Sunday, 25 October 2015

Jewish Birthdays

Question: Is it appropriate to celebrate birthdays? Someone told me that as the only birthday mentioned in the Torah is Pharaoh’s, we shouldn’t celebrate them?
Answer: While Pharaoh’s birthday is the only one mentioned in the Torah (Bereishis 40:20) the Midrash Sechel Tov (on that passuk) notes that most people treasure their birthday and make a party to celebrate.
R’ Ephraim Greenblatt (Rivevos Ephraim 4:240:7) writes that we find that the Gemara, midrashim and mefarshim attribute much significance to the birth-dates of our ancestors. Clearly, one’s birthday is most significant and should be celebrated.
The Kesav Sofer (YD 148) wrote that on his 50th birthday he made a siyum upon completing maseches pesachim and recited shehecheyanu. The Ben Ish Chai (Re’eh 1:17; Ben Yehoyada, Berachos 28a) writes that his custom was to treat every birthday as a yom tov, and it is a commendable custom. Likewise, R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer OC 6:29:4) writes that it is appropriate to hold a birthday party, and providing that one shares divrei Torah, it has the status of a seudas mitzva.
R’ Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz Teumim (the ‘Aderes’) wrote (Tefillas Dovid 4) that one should say the chapter of tehillim corresponding to one’s age. Thus, one turning 13 should say chapter 14, corresponding to their 14th year.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe repeatedly urged his chassidim to treat one’s birthday as a day of introspection whereupon they should say tehillim, give tzedaka and learn Torah (See Sichos 5748:1 p332; Sefer Haminhagim p81).
In conclusion, one should use one’s birthday as a time to celebrate and thank Hashem for his past achievements and future opportunities.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

A Seven-Branched Candelabrum

Question: Can I buy a seven-branched candelabrum made out of glass?
Answer: The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 24a; Menachos 28b) writes that it is assur deoraisa to create a seven-branched candelabrum as the Torah (Shemos 20:20) forbids imitating any of the kelim of the mishkan.
The rishonim debate whether this applies to all seven-branched candelabra or just exact replicas of the original menora. The Bechor Shor (Rosh Hashana 24a) holds that any seven-branched candelabrum regardless of its size or shape, etc. is assur while Meiri (Rosh Hashana 24a) writes that if it is even slightly different from the original menora, then it is permitted (See Chacham Zvi 60). The Shulchan Aruch (YD 141:8) follows the Maharik (75) who writes that if it would be kosher bedieved in the mishkan then it is assur.
R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (Salmas Chaim 272) writes that one shouldn’t even make a model of a menorah for educational reasons. R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe YD 3:33), however, disagrees, writing that Rambam (Beis Habechira 7:10) allows one to make a seven-branched candelabrum out of wood or earthenware as such candelabra would not be fit as a menora in the mishkan (ibid 1:18).
R' Ephraim Greenblatt (Rivevos Ephraim 3:411) writes that there is no issue with an electric light fitting with seven lights.
Based on this, one would be able to buy such a candelabrum made out of glass.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Shnaim Mikra

Question: Can I fulfil my obligation of shnaim mikra by reading the Chumash along with the baal korei? Can I read the Rashi in English?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (OC 285:1) writes that even though one listens to the Torah being read on Shabbos, one must review the parsha twice each week together with either the Targum or Rashi (See Berachos 8a). The Mishna Berura (285:6) explains that they each have advantages over each other.
There is a machlokes as to whether listening to leining counts as having read the Torah once. The Magen Avraham (OC 285:8) and Chaye Adam (7:9) write that it does, while Rambam (Tefilla 13:25) and the Beis Yosef (OC 285) holds that listening does not help.
The Shulchan Aruch (285:5) writes that reading (quietly) along with the baal korei counts as reading the Torah (See Aruch HaShulchan OC 285:3 quoting the Perisha).
The Mishna Berura (146:15) quotes differing opinions as to whether it is more appropriate to follow along silently with the baal korei or to read the words to oneself, though elsewhere (285:14) he writes that one can read along if one wants to fulfil one’s obligation of shnaim mikra. R’ Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 42:58) writes, though, that if one does have the time, it is best to do so before leining.
R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yechave Daas 2:37) and R’ Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 42:n215) write that even if one doesn’t understand the Targum properly, they should still read shnaim mikra.
The Mishna Berura (285:5) writes that one who doesn’t understand the Targum or Rashi can read the tz’ena ur’ena (in German) instead (See Taz OC 285:2).
Thus, R’ Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:261) writes that if one doesn’t understand the Targum one may read shnaim mikra together with an English translation of Rashi.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Sitting during Hakafos

Question: Is one allowed to sit in Shul during the hakafos on Simchas Torah, or do they need to stand as the Torah is moving around?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (YD 282:2) writes that one must stand when the Sefer Torah is being carried until it has reached its destination or is out of sight (See Mishna Berura 146:17).
On Simchas Torah, when the Sifrei Torah are being carried for lengthy hakafos, this can be problematic for some who struggle to stand for long periods of time. Many of the poskim have come up with different solutions.
The Aruch Hashulchan (YD 282:5) writes that while one must stand during the hakafos, that only applies so long as the Sifrei Torah are in motion. In between the hakafos one may sit, whether the Sifrei Torah are on the bimah or being held by others, as this counts as them having reached their destination.
R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Tefilla 12:13) held that during the hakafos the whole shul could be considered as the place of the Sifrei Torah. Additionally, if one sits outside of the circle, the people dancing can be considered to create an effective mechitza. For both these reasons, one may even sit during the hakafos if necessary. Nonetheless, as the first hakafa is the most important, one should at least stand for the first one (See Betzel Hachachma 5:139:6).
R’ Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 2:319) also writes that once one has stood for the Sefer Torah when it first passes them, one who is too weak to stand for the duration of the hakafos doesn’t need to. He relates that when the Chazon Ish wanted to sit, he would do so while holding the Sefer Torah, though one doesn’t need to do that.