Mussar from the Guardians of the Galaxy

Always listen out for the important lessons all around you:

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From Jephthah to Rashi to Menachem Begin

GUEST POST BY LARRAINE LEVY

“Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, and he was the son of a woman harlot…” (Judges 11:1)

Yiftach (Jephthah) a renowned warrior is summoned to Gilead by his half brothers, to lead the attack against the Ammonites. He agrees to come back and fight if they agree to make him leader of the Israelites, to which they agree.

Yiftach tries at first to make peace with the Ammonite King by asking him why he wants to go to war with Israel. Yiftach tells him we only want to live in peace with our neighbours. The King tells him that Israel has stolen their land and they want it back. Yiftach tells the King

“So said Jephthah, Israel did not take the land of Moab and the land of the children of Ammon…the Lord, the God of Israel, delivered Sichon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they struck them; and Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that land. And they possessed all the border of the Amorites, from the Arnon up to the Jabbok, and from the wilderness up to the Jordan. And now the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven out the Amorites from before His people Israel, and you want to possess it?”

This is our land. The God of Israel told us to come and live here, He gave this Land to us.  If your god gave you a land, that would be yours to possess.

The King refuses to listen to him. They do battle and the Ammonites are heavily defeated.

The simple message in this Haftorah is as relevant to today as it was then. We are not living in Israel because of the atrocities of the Holocaust or the Balfour Declaration and certainly not because of the U.N. partition. We are there (and yearn to be there) because Hashem gave the land to us, the Jewish people.

When the Jews did not live in Israel for about 1900 years it was just an abandoned wasteland. It was always just a part of another empire, another land, without its own language or currency. When the Jews came home in the late 1800’s the land responded and it was again a land flowing with milk and honey.

A lot of people including myself are thinking about moving to Israel because of the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. The lesson I learn from this weeks Haftorah is a reminder for every Jewish person, we do not have to leave Europe because of anti-Semitism, we need to leave and return to our homeland, Erez Yisrael, because this is the land that Hashem has given to us. A Land where we collectively as a nation fulfil our destiny.

This is a lesson repeated in the first Rashi on the Torah which is well known by all primary school aged children:

In the beginning: Said Rabbi Isaac: The Torah should have begin with “This month is to you,” (Exod. 12:2) which is the first commandment that the Israelites were commanded. For what reason did He commence with “In the beginning?” Because of [the verse] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],” they will reply, “The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whomever He deemed proper When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.

In more recent times, in June 1977 Menachem Begin in an address to Knesset to approve his newly formed government said:

“Let the world know that we were granted our right to exist by the God of our fathers at the glimmer of the dawn of human civilization 4,000 years ago. The Jewish people have a historic, eternal and inalienable right to the whole of the land of our forefathers. And for that right, which has been sanctified in Jewish blood from generation to generation, we have paid a price unprecedented in the annals of nations.”

This was the argument all those years ago of Yiftach to the King of the Ammonites.

There is no coincidence that this is the Haftorah we read for Parashat Chukkat where we read about the Red Heifer. We do not understand the laws of the Red Heifer. King Solomon didn’t understand the laws of the Red Heifer but we obey them because Hashem told us to.

Why this particular strip of land? Just as with the Red Heifer, only Hashem has the answer.

AT THE END OF THE DAY – THAT’S WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A JEW

Letter to the Economist Editor

http://www.economist.com/news/international/21723113-algorithms-monitor-social-media-posts-palestinians-how-israel-spots-lone-wolf-attackers

To the Editor,

The methods described in your article that Israel employs hardly seem revolutionary; monitoring social media activity for keywords and phrases indicating terrorism. Israel’s “ubiquitous electronic surveillance” as far as I am aware lags behind that of GCHQ and the NSA as evidenced in the Snowden leaks and repeated hacks of Israeli intelligence drones. Social media monitoring is the minimum that our security services should be doing and keywords and phrases related to terrorism do not imply ethnic profiling. The fact that Israel monitors Palestinian social media for clues is not ethnic profiling.

Is it the fact that Shin Bet (Israel’s MI5) follow up on key suspects by contacting their parents/relatives or passing on relevant information to the Palestinian security forces? In January 2016 according to Palestinian intelligence their officers had prevented an estimated 200 terrorist attacks against Israel. Israel’s security cooperation with the Palestinian authority has been described as “sacred” by PA President Mahmoud Abbas himself. Maybe MI5 can learn from Israel here and monitor key suspects closer and reach out to those connected to them more effectively.

You stated that “not much of this can be applied in the West”. I beg to differ. In the second Intifada Israel suffered 1,137 murders at the hands of terrorists and learnt that the safety of their civilian population demands a strong intelligence service and practical response from government and security officials. One civilian death is too many as we have seen in Britain these past three months. Israel quickly realised that it must control its border with the West Bank (where most Palestinians live and the land that will be the future Palestinian state), this control in the form of a physical barrier and checkpoints meant that terrorists no longer could just cross over into Israeli cities unbeknown and murder innocent civilians sleeping in their beds or using public transport. There is no doubt it has worked. The UK has found itself in a position in recent years where it is virtually paralysed from expelling terrorists, and is seemingly not in control of its own border as to who can and cannot come in.

Unfortunately what appears to be repeatedly implied in articles I have read in the Economist is the lie that Israel somehow is already or is on its way to becoming an Apartheid state, a claim made by the anti-semitic BDS movement. The fact that your readers need to be reminded of is that Israel is a democratic country made up of 75% Jews, 18% Muslims, 2% Christians and Druze, a society in which a supreme court judge is an Israeli Arab and the anchor for Channel 2 News is also an Israeli Arab. The unique and tragic status of the Palestinian population in the West Bank is the result of the wars fought between 1948 and 1967, in which the Palestinians, used as a pawn by the surrounding Arab countries, were the ultimate losers. The fact that there is no Palestinian state again goes back to 1947 with the original rejected offer at partition and the many instances following that in which a Palestinian state could have repeatedly come into existence.

I petition the Economist to take the time to do a special report on Israel starting from 1888-1948-1967-2017, you can even go back to Roman times if you want to 70 AD with the destruction of the second Temple. Please give your readers the full story and facts, instead of starting the story half way at 1967 and continuing the accusation of Apartheid Israel, it does nothing for peace.

An avid Economist reader
Jonathan Levy
Edgware, UK

Mamlechect Kohanim – Did God Change his Mind?

Summary of my shiur given in February 2014

Before revelation (Shemot 19:3-6), God defines the nature of our special relationship with him in that we will be an:
Am Segula (treasured people)
Goy Kadosh (a holy nation)
Mamlechet Kohanim (Kingdom of priests).

On the last of these three definitions, Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom points out three questions:
1. What does Kohen mean here (as applied to the entire nation)
2. Was this promise ever realised?
3. Why does the term ‘Mamlechet Kohanim’ never appear again in Tanakh, despite the other two terms featuring many times during the prophets chastising/encouraging the people?

To answer questions one/two, obviously there are three opinions:

Rashi – Kohen=Princely/Nobility. This was fulfilled as the Jewish people were described as the children of God – the King of kings.
Nachmanides – Kohen=Servants. Again this was fulfilled post Sinai through our acceptance of the law.
Seforno – Kohen=future teachers of the nations of the world in Messianic times. Not yet fulfilled then…

According to all three interpretations, we are still left with question three above – why is this concept never mentioned again in the rest of Tanakh.

Did God change his mind?

According Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom, the answer is that ultimately the task of every single Jew as a descendent of Avraham, was to be a blessing to all people, bringing Godliness into a Godless world. Originally, this was to be achieved via every single person becoming a prophet – each person being a conduit and connection to God directly. How would this be possible? This would have been achieved via mass revelation at Sinai, had it not been that the Jewish people rejected revelation ‘lest we die’ and relied on Moshe instead.

It was as a result of this, with God’s acquiescence, that the Jewish people were relegated to being an am segula/goy kadosh, but the mamlechet kohanim status was reserved for the future, as Isaiah says

“Kohanei Hashem Tikareiu – Kohanim of Hashem you will be called”.

Ten Things You Definitely Didn’t Know About Rambam

Here are the notes of a shiur I gave on Rambam two years ago. The shiur relied heavily on the following excellent books that I had read at that time: Maimonides by Moshe Halbertal; Maimonides by Joel Kraemer: Studies in Maimonides by Marc Shapiro. This was a topic that I had a great passion for and really enjoyed sharing my findings with others. I hope these notes inspire others to learn about the great Rambam – today 20th Tevet is his 813th Yahrzeit.


 

[JRL – what is so unique is the gift of the looking glass into him/his society in great detail that was bequeathed to us via the Cairo Geniza (a storage place of old books and documents kept intact by the dry climate). Compare with Dr Marc Shapiro translated a letter of the Sridei Aish to Samuel Atlas]

  1. Where he lived

[JRL – Rambam travelled a fair distance over his lifetime. Interestingly, he did not remain in Israel (assume to do with parnasa) and in fact finally settled in Egypt. Muslim persecution led to emigration, Q as to why he did not move to safer Christian Spain in the north?]

rmbam

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef cites the Ritva (Novella, Yoma 38B), who explains that the prohibition only applies to the geography and infrastructure of biblical Egypt. With the destruction of the Egyptian cities, this was nullified. In other words, the present day cities where Jewish communities were more recently established are not considered the ‘Egypt’ of the prohibition. Rav Yosef thus concluded that one can dwell in Egypt and he himself lived in Egypt for two years (1947-1949).

Rabeinu Bechaya also commentated that this only applied when the people of Egypt were particularly immoral, but it is not a prohibition for all times. Ritva commented that the prohibition was not applicable after the destruction of the temple and the exiles that followed. The Radvaz (Commentary of Rambam, Laws of Kings 5,7,8) says that the actual Torah prohibition would be violated only if a person moved to Egypt with the intention of living there but a person may move there for temporary asylum or while he does some business. Once a person is there, if he decides to stay it is still forbidden but not as severe, as it involves no physical action. Therefore if the economic situation is difficult or the Jews are being persecuted in other lands it is permitted to stay. Rabbi Eliezer of Metz states that the prohibition applies only returning to Egypt from Israel, Rabbi Yosef Shaul Halevi Nathansohn adds that this is only via the same route of the 42 encampments that the Jews followed in the desert.

Despite all of this, there is a tradition that the Rambam signed his letters saying that he is one who ‘transgresses three commandments every single day’ (as the prohibition to live there is mentioned in the three biblical sources)

  1. His Name

Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon HaSefardi

al Ra’is Abu Imran Musa ibn Maymun Ibn Abdallah al Qurtubi al-Andalusi al-Isra’ili

[JRL – Rambam was honoured in Muslim and Jewish circles. When referring to himself in Hebrew, despite his travels always saw himself as HaSefardi, maintaining a strong emotional and intellectual connection to the culture of Spainish Jewry]

  1. Attitude to Islam

Conversion

Q: whether one should profess the shahada to avoid being slain and having one’s orphaned children become Muslims, or whether should refuse it and be slain, as the Torah requires, since uttering the shahada leads to abandoning all the commandments.

A: whoever attests the mission of Muhammad thereby renounces the Lord God of Israel. One should rather be killed than profess the shahada, even if remaining alive would prevent one’s children from becoming Muslims.  Responsa from a widely circulated unknown halachist – Rambam responded to via his Epistle on Forced Conversion (Igerret hashmad arabic– Morroco c1160-1165, more famous is his epistle to Yemen 1172)

[JRL – Rambam makes three a number of arguments against this responsa. 1) compulsion different to voluntary 2) observing Jewish law secretly has value 3) praying to Allah in mosque and praying at home to God is not idolatry 4) acknowledging Mohamad as prophet doesn’t make you pasul ledut 5) just because Kairites/Christians prefer to die, doesn’t mean we should look to them as examples. Practical halachic ruling 1) accept Islam provisionally (do not die) 2) observe the mitzvot as far as you can 3) emigrate]

Role in the Messianic story

“Nevertheless, the intent of the Creator of the world is not within the power of man to comprehend, for His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts, our thoughts. Ultimately, all the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth and that Ishmaelite who arose after him will only serve to prepare the way for Mashiach’s coming and the improvement of the entire world, motivating the nations to serve God together..” Hilchot Melachim 11:4

[JRL – positive appraisal of both religions in the macro scale of world history – censorship removed these references for many years/versions of MT, now returned to the original. Interestingly the from Rambam’s perspective Islam was monotheistic but rejected the chumash as a forgery, Christianity was idolatrous but respected the veracity of the text. Practically this meant one could teach Torah to a Christian but would suffer a martyrs death if asked to convert and the opposite regarding a Islam.]

Did Rambam Convert?

“…we observe the commandments of the Torah while the edge of the sword is upon us, certainly this forced conversion of ours, may God annul it, when we nevertheless, as is known, engage in study of the Torah. A proof of our assertion is the appearance of the great sage our Master Moses, son of his honour Rabbi Maimon, in Fez, who is without equal in the extent of his knowledge” Joseph Ibn Judah Ibn ‘Aqnin commentary on Shir Hashirim.

“when the order came into force, those with little property departed, while those with much property remained…professing Islam openly while harbouring unbelief. Musa ibn Maymun was one of those who did this, remaining in his country..he also adhered to specific rituals, including study of the Qur’an and prayer” Ibn al-Qifti’s ‘History of the Sages’ , contemporary of Rambam.

[JRL – This appears to be open to scholarly debate. Kramer vs. Halbertal. Based on his halachic ruling, this does not make me uncomfortable]

  1. Controversial rulings

One of the more daring enactments issued by Maimonides was eliminating the worshipers’ silent recitation of the amidah while counting solely on the cantor’s loud recitation of the amidah. This enactment was motivated by the fact that during the loud recitation of the cantor after the silent prayer by each individual member of the synagogue, the community that had already silently recited the amidah behaved in a disrespectful manner, causing desecration of God’s name in the eyes of the Muslim environment. Responsa 256; 258

For every woman is entitled to go to her father’s house to visit him, or to a house of mourning or a wedding feast as an act of kindness to her friends and relatives, in order that they in turn might visit her on similar occasions, for she is not in a prison where she cannot come and go. On the other hand, it is unseemly for a woman to be constantly going out abroad and into the streets, and the husband should prevent his wife from doing this and should not let her go out, except once or twice a month, as the need may arise. Rather, the seemly thing for a woman is to sit in the corner of her house, for so it is written, All glorious is the king’s daughter within the palace. (Ps. 45, 15) Law of Marriage 13, 10

 A wife who refuses to perform any kind of work that she is obligated to do, may be compelled to perform it, even by scourging her with a rod” Laws of Marriage 21, 10.

“I have never heard of afflicting women with rods” Ra’avad ad loc

[JRL – no basis in the Talmud and appears to be influenced by Islamic culture]

…it was taught: If a woman was married to one husband who died, and to a second one who also died, she must not be married to a third…What, however, is the reason in the case of marriage? R. Mordecai answered R. Ashi: Thus said Abimi from Hagronia in the name of R. Huna, ‘The fountain is the cause’.  But R. Ashi stated: ‘The stars are the cause’ BT Yevamot 64b

With regard to marriage, [even if] a man wants to marry a lethal woman and cause harm to himself, we do not enable him to do so, for it is forbidden and within the rubric of bloodshed [that is, suicide]; and the court bans him until he divorces her. And so I have seen as the opinion of [Nahmanides], of blessed memory, who so acted. Novellae of Ritva on Yevamot 64b, s.v. “ nesu ʾ in

“If a woman had been successively married to two husbands and both died, she should not marry for a third time, but if she does so, she need not be divorced. Even if only the betrothal has taken place, the third husband may consummate the marriage” “Laws Concerning Forbidden Intercourse,” 21:31.

The practical halakhah that we have always applied in all the cities of Andalusia is that if a woman is repeatedly widowed, she should not be prevented from remarrying, especially if she is young, for there is concern about the detriments that may result … How can we put the daughters of Israel at risk of going astray? What the God- fearing and pious people among us did was to refrain from arranging a marriage for a multiple widow but to say to her explicitly: if you are able to find someone to marry you, we will not require him to divorce you. Iggerot haRambam

[JRL – a great example of Rambam the rationalist ruling against the Talmud’s superstitious]

  1. Secular writings

  • Maqala fi sina’at al-mantiq – Treatise on the Art of Logic apprx age 16
  • Maamar haIbbur – Primer on the Calendar apprx age 20

The great mathematician and historian Otto E Neugebauer (1899-1990) commented favourably on Rambams’ mastery of astronomy

  • On Hemorrhoids, On Cohabitation, On Asthma, On Poisons and Their Antidotes, Regimen of Health, On the Cause of Symptoms, and (prepared for fellow physicians) Extracts from Galen (The Art of Cure), Medical Aphorisms, Commentary on Hippocrates’ Aphorisms, and Glossary of Drug Names.

Saladin’s nephew, Taqi al-Din al-Malik al-Muzzafar, beset by a bevy of young maidens, desired to have his ardour enhanced, his overexertion having drained him to the point of febrile emaciation. Maimonides wrote a medical work for the prince, On Sexual Intercourse (Fi ’l-jima‘), prescribing aphrodisiac concoctions yet counselling temperance in erotic pursuits.

Maimonides ended his brief treatise with a blessing: “And may the Lord lengthen his days with pleasures, and may those delights be attached to eternal delights for the sake of God’s kindness and goodness.”

[JRL – the last decade of Rambam’s life appears to be filled by his secular/medical writings and research. The works we know him for now, were all completed by the time he was 50]

  1. His family

 “He [David] went abroad to trade that I might remain at home and continue my studies.” Letters of Maimonides

“For almost a year after receiving the sad news I lay on my couch stricken with fever, despair, and on the brink of destruction”  Letters of Maimonides

“Close to eight years have now elapsed and I still mourn for him for there can be no consolation. What can possibly comfort me? He grew up on my knees, he was my brother, my pupil. He went abroad to trade that I might remain at home and continue my studies. He was well versed in Talmud and Bible and an accomplished grammarian. My greatest joy was to see him. Now every joy has been dimmed. He has departed to his eternal life and left me confounded in a strange land. Whenever I come across his handwriting on one of his books my heart turns within me and my grief reawakens.” Letters of Maimonides

[JRL – 48 years old when he has his only son, Abraham. Had a daughter that died when he was young. No mention of wife or mothers names, we know his wife’s family were influential in the court of the Muslim ruler. One of his sisters was married to Uzziel- Abu al –Ma’ali, senior officer in the Sultans court and secretary to the mother of al-Afdal, son of Saladin. David’s trading allowed Rambam the time to write MT over ten years.]

  1. Work-life balance

In interpreting the Mishnaic teaching “make of them neither a crown of which to boast nor a pickaxe with which to dig,” Pirkei Avot

“I had thought to say nothing about this provision, because it is clear but also because I know that what I have to say about it will displease most, if not all, great Torah scholars. But I will have my say and not pay attention to [them]. Know that it says “make not of the Torah a pickaxe with which to dig”; that is, do not consider it a means for earning a living. This means that one who obtains this- worldly benefit from the honour of the Torah has cut off his soul from the life of the world to come…. For when we consider the practice of the sages of blessed memory, we find that none of them raised funds from people or sought contributions for the exalted and distinguished yeshivas or for the Exilarch or for judges or teachers or any appointees or other people.”

In a letter written to his beloved student, Joseph ben Judah:

I tell you that I have become known as a physician among the mighty, such as the chief judge, the emirs, and the house of al- Faḍil and the other princes of the land, those who lack nothing. But as for the masses, I am beyond their reach, and they have no way to approach me. And this causes me to spend the entire day in Cairo, tending to the sick, and when I get back to Fustat, all I can do for the rest of the day and into the night is to examine the medical texts that I need to consult…. As a result, I do not have a moment to study Torah except on the Sabbath, and as for other sciences, I do not have a moment to study any of them, and this harms me greatly.

In a letter to one of his admirers in Egypt who wanted to learn Torah from him:

 “Without doubt he has already seen and heard some of the state I am in, a state of betwixt morning and evening they are shattered [Job 4:20]. And when night comes … I am ill, filled with sighs, unable because of my tiredness to sit up, able only to lie supinely”

The sages of Lunel asked him to translate the Guide into Hebrew:

“Alas, my honoured friends, I do not even have the leisure to write a small chapter and it is only out of respect for your congregation that I have painfully exerted myself to write this epistle with my own hand”

“Compounding my physical condition, I am burdened with a multitude of patients, who exhaust me and give me no respite day and night. Alas, one has to pay a price for a reputation that has spread to even neighbouring countries” (ibid., p. 161).

[JRL – Rambam produced an incredible number of complex, and revolutionary works in his life time. MT taking 10 years of work. Without the help of his brother, we may have never seen the incredible works that are in every Jewish library today. However, true to his word, once this support was gone Rambam engaged in the world and succeeded.]

  1. Scholarly output

  • Commentary on the Mishnah 25-30 years old (Morroco)
  • Sefer HaMitzvot /Mishnah Torah 30-40 years old
  • Guide for the Perplexed 47-53 years old
  • Teshuvot and Epistles
  • 10 Medical works and various earlier compositions
  1. Revisions and Amendments

“What I wrote in the work [Mishneh Torah] is doubtlessly correct, and so I wrote in the Commentary on the Mishnah [in a revision of the first version]. What you have is the first edition, which I published before close scrutiny, following, in this passage, what R. Hafetz wrote in Sefer ha- Mitzvot . The mistake is his, and I followed it without verifying. But when I examined and scrutinized these passages, it became clear that what I wrote in the work is correct, and I revised the commentary. “ Iggerot, pp. 647–649

The original, authorised version of the work, in Maimonides’ own hand, was kept in his home. From that editio princeps , corrected on occasion by Maimonides himself, additional copies were made. Those manuscripts were certified as authoritative by Maimonides’ signed statement that he had examined and approved the copy. These copies were sent to various communities, and, during Maimonides’ lifetime, the treatise reached all parts of the Jewish Diaspora, all the way to India. Maimonides was following carefully and attentively the fate of Mishneh Torah and could provide a detailed account of its dissemination, in times when manuscripts and letters moved in slow motion.

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  1. View of science/philosophy

“This honored and awesome God commands that we love Him….  What is the way to love Him?

When a person contemplates His wondrous, great actions and creations, and perceives in them His immeasurable and infinite wisdom, Then he immediately loves and praises and exalts and experiences a great desire to know the great God, as David said: ‘My soul thirsts for the living God….’ As our Sages taught, concerning love: ‘For thus you recognize Him Who spoke and the world came into existence.'” Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:1-2

“When a person considers these things and recognizes all of the creations… and perceives God’s wisdom in all creatures and all creations, he loves God even more and his soul will thirst and his flesh long to love the blessed God.” Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 4:12

[JRL – it is clear from Rambam’s writing that the height of human relationship with God, love of God in this world can only  be fulfilled via learning/studying/meditating on mitzvot, science and philosophy. His philosophy of Halacha strictly through the prism of a legal philosophy and basis for society runs in contradistinction to the yeshiva hashkafa that prevails today. Most of the philosophy of Aristotle, who so impressed Rambam, was learnt via Arabic translations of the major Greek works. Without Rambam’s non-corporeal approach to religion and other rational matters of belief, it is impossible to think or understand how in the past anyone could have thought any differently].

 

 

“Hand Shaking, Mezuzah Kissing, and Double Dipping – time for a public health announcement”

So how did this shiur title come about? I was standing at Kiddush observing what I am sure many of you have observed, the art of double dipping. For those that do not know, this is when one takes an object (usually a cracker) and dips it in the hummus (or other dip) bites the object and then proceeds to dip that object (bitten side) back into the dip (thus the double dip). Maybe this time was the time that broke the camels back, as I was so angry and disgusted, I thought to myself there must be some sources on this that I can research and make into a shiur. I am not sure if we can call this a shiur proper, but more a collection of random sources and hopefully some food for thought.

1) The Life Of Poo by Professor Adam Hart

“Observations in 2003 found 39 per cent of women and 63 per cent of men did not wash their hands after using a public toilet.

As a result Professor Hart, from Gloucestershire University, warned that we should think twice about shaking people’s hands, to avoid the spread of germs.

He said: “Poor hand hygiene is a major cause of all food-borne illness outbreak, yet very few of us wash our hands properly, while almost none of us do so on a regular basis.

From a young age I was taught (by my mum) that people do not wash their hands when they leave the toilet – which I can confirm I personally witnessed on many an occasion myself. I think this is where the ‘minhag’ of having ‘builders mugs’ comes from (hands up guilty people). This always left me with a fear regarding the hygiene of people’s hands, especially after a Shabbat morning shaking 150 hands in shul after which you find yourself eating finger foods at the Kiddush. Whatever happened to that excellent reputation for hygiene that served the Jewish people so well during the bubonic plague in the middle ages?

2) BBC ARTICLE ON HANDWASHING

In 2002 my Zaida passed away in the Royal London Hospital. He had fallen over at home and broken a bone. Whilst in hospital he contracted MRSA and died after a short illness. This death was entirely preventable.

Hand hygiene campaign ‘cut superbug infections’

4 May 2012

The campaign to improve hand hygiene in hospitals in England and Wales contributed to a significant fall in the rates of superbug infections, according to a report.

The study published on the BMJ website showed the amount of soap and hand gel being used tripled during the campaign.

At the same time, levels of MRSA and C. difficile infections in hospitals fell.

The government has since dropped the campaign, but said its ambition was to “wipe out” such infections.

Hospital superbugs were once a real fear for many patients. In response the Clean Your Hands campaign , funded by the Department of Health, was introduced in all hospitals by June 2005.

Alcohol gels were put by bedsides, posters reminded staff to wash their hands and there were regular checks to ensure hands were kept clean.

By 2008, the total amount of soap and alcohol gel being purchased by hospitals trebled, going from 22ml per patient per day to 60ml per patient per day.

Rates of MRSA more than halved in the same time period and C. diff infections fell by more than 40%.

‘Success story’

One of the report’s authors, Dr Sheldon Stone from the Royal Free University College London Medical School, estimated that around 10,000 lives were saved because of the campaign.

He told the BBC: “It’s been a real British success story, we’ve gone from being the dirty man of Europe to being world leaders.

“What we need to do is keep up the momentum and stay at the forefront of world hand hygiene.”

A spokesman from the Department of Health said: “The Clean Your Hands campaign was successful in its aim to highlight the importance of good hand hygiene practice across the NHS. We know this has been successful.

“The challenge now is to ensure the NHS embeds the good practice highlighted in the campaign to achieve our ambition to wipe out avoidable healthcare-associated infection.

  • “We know real progress has been made in this area as MRSA bloodstream infections have dropped by 41% and C. difficile by 30% across the NHS in England since 2009/10.”

3) EMAIL FROM SHUL IN BEIT SHEMESH NOVEMBER 2015

Which brings me to my next source. An email sent to a community in Israel in 2015.

The context of this email is actually quite sad as it related to one particular member who was undergoing a treatment that left their immune system weakened and it would be dangerous for them to catch flu or winter bug. On this particular Friday night the queue to fist bump the Rav was rather large on the Friday night and was followed by lots of laugher. The email request went unheeded.

From:

Date: 2 November 2015 11:39:19 am GMT+2

Subject: Special – A recommendation regarding handshaking from some healthcare professionals

We would like to make a recommendation to refrain from handshaking.

It’s known and PROVEN  that germs travel quickly through hand to hand transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 80 percent of all infections are transmitted by hands.

People are already infected with viruses, and it is only going to get worse as the winter progresses. For some individuals that could mean catching a bothersome cold that may linger for days; for others (elderly, immune compromised), it could be quite serious and lead to (ch”v) serious illness.

It is wonderful that we have customs that engender camaraderie such as shaking hands (for greeting ‘shabbat shalom’, acknowledging ‘yasher koach’), but we can find creative ways to express friendship and warmth without spreading (potentially dangerous) germs. For example, replacing handshakes with “fist bumps” showed 90% reduction in hand-to-hand bacterial transmission.*.

Raising awareness regarding transmission of disease will help. Frequent hand washing can help curb the spread of flu and other conditions (we should always have antibacterial soap available at washing stations, and possibly investigate installing purell-type gel dispensers)

By having people refrain from handshaking, we can at the very least be a part of the solution to prevent spread of illness, and at best, actually improve public health in our community.

Thank you

Concerned members and health professionals

http://www.apic.org/Resource_/TinyMceFileManager/Fist_bump_article_AJIC_August_2014.pdf

Mela and Whitworth*, “The fist bump: A more hygienic alternative to the handshake.” American Journal of Infection Control, August 2014.

The non-members of our shul do not feel it is appropriate to be signees, but all of the following people have reviewed, agreed with, and encouraged this position.

Dr. M B

Dr. M G

Dr. S G

L L, CNM

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Dr. H A

Dr. R S

4) Ilan Youngster et al, “Can religious icons be vectors of infectious diseases in hospital settings?” American Journal of Infection Control 37 (2009): 861-3.

Nosocomial infections are of great concern in hospital settings. Health professionals and their medical equipment have long been known to act as vectors of infectious diseases. Even though tremendous resources are allocated to infection control, an estimated 5% to 10% of hospitalized patients acquire a nosocomial infection, resulting in approximately 120,000 deaths yearly in the United States alone, totaling 4.5 to 5.7 billion US dollars in additional patient care costs. A recent report estimated that 25% of patients on the pediatric ward acquire a nosocomial viral infection during their hospital stay. Numerous studies have been published trying to assess the relative importance of different objects in the hospital environment as vectors of infectious diseases. Cultures taken from stethoscopes, othoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, hands, and even physician’s ties have all revealed highly pathogenic flora. Accordingly, most medical personnel are aware of the importance of disinfecting these items. Even though the Mezuzah is touched and even kissed by a large part of -patients and visitors in Israeli hospitals, to the best of our knowledge, its role as a fomite has never been evaluated.

facts

Of the 10 members of the cleaning staff interviewed, only 1 reported ever cleaning the Mezu- zah prior to the interventional program. The most common explanation for avoiding the Mezuzah during the daily cleaning routine was that, being a religious artifact, the staff believed they were not allowed to clean it, or they were afraid of ruining it.

5) Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky on OU.org Jewish Action Reader “Tzarich Iyun: Kissing the Mezuzah”

First a random story about mezuzah that I found quite funny:

During a shiur he once gave in Beit Shemesh, Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski quipped, “I see people enter a room, kiss the mezuzah and then watch TV for a half hour. I would rather they kissed the TV and then watched the mezuzah for a half hour.”

FACT: There is no Talmudic source obligating one to kiss the mezuzah, although there may be a source for touching the mezuzah. Kissing the mezuzah seems to have been introduced by the Arizal (sixteenth century), and is thus a relatively recent custom

(BT Avodah Zarah 11a)

Onkelos the son of Kalonymus became a proselyte. The emperor sent a contingent of Roman [soldiers] to pursue him, but he enticed them by [citing] Scriptural verses, and they converted to Judaism…. The Emperor then sent another Roman cohort….they seized him and were walking, Onkelos saw the mezuzah affixed to the doorway. He placed his hand on it and asked them, “What is this?” They said, “You tell us.” Onkelos replied, “The universal custom is a mortal king dwells within and his servants keep guard over him from without; but with the Holy One, Blessed be He, His servants dwell within while He keeps guard over them from without, as it says, ‘Hashem yishmor tzetcha u’vo’echa me’atah v’ad olam’ (Psalms 121:8). They too converted to Judaism. He [the emperor] sent for him no more.

The Rema in Darkei Moshe (YD 285), citing the Maharil, mentions the Onkelos story as the basis for the custom of touching the mezuzah. Note that while Onkelos touches the mezuzah, there is no mention of him kissing it.

There are many 20th century sources quoting this minhag of kissing the mezuzah. Chovat Hadar—citing the Chida who quotes the Arizal—states that one should kiss the mezuzah by placing one’s middle finger over the word Shakai, then kiss that finger and pray to God to be protected from the yetzer hara (Rabbi Yaakov Yeshaya Blau, 1976; p. 14)

Despite the wide spread custom, many authorities disagree with it Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin in Eidut Le’Yisrael (p. 159) objects to kissing the mezuzah (and sefer Torah) with one’s mouth or even with a cloth (and most likely with one’s hand as well). Instead he prefers the Sephardic, or more accurately, the Georgian (Soviet) custom of pointing and “blowing” a kiss. He offers two reasons for this. Firstly, he feels that kissing implies too much familiarity, a level of closeness that one cannot purport to have with a Torah or a mezuzah. Secondly, he opines that kissing a mezuzah even via one’s fingers or hand spreads germs, a hygienic-based halachic problem mentioned in Shulchan Aruch, OC 170:15.

6) Voz Iz Neias Website: Bnei Brak – Fearing Germs, Ger Rabbi Discontinues Mouth to Mouth Drinking from Rebbe’s Cup

 Here is a news source that confirms a practical application of the above discussions regarding handshaking and hygiene.

Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, current rabbi of the Hasidic dynasty of Ger, instructed his disciples in Jerusalem a few weeks ago to toast with individual and disposable plastic cups containing a few drops of wine from the rabbi’s own glass.

Hasidic Jews have toasted from the same cup at events and meals for at least 200 years.

Yeshiva students who recently came from the United States and sought to meet the rabbi were asked by his aides not to shake the rabbi’s hand when they see him in his Bnei Brak home.

A popular story about the rabbi’s grandfather, Abraham Mordechai Alter – the dynasty’s second head and a prominent writer and authority – says that when he visited Israel in the early 1900s, he rebuked a man who hesitated about drinking from the communal glass of wine.

“A hundred Jews sipped from this glass, and yet you think the wine isn’t clean enough,” the popular legend quotes him as saying

7) Shmiras Shabbas 48:11 vs Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach on Kiddush cup sharing

On a related subject, I remembered studying some years ago in the Ben Ish Chai that when making Kiddush if the guests round the table would be disgusted by sharing a cup then the baal habayit should pour out the wine into smaller cups before tasting from the cup. Unfortunately, I could not pin point that source however Rabbi Solomon found me these:

js 

Yalkut Yosef 271:38

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Conclusion

I think there is a degree of sensitivity here, obviously these issues will bother some of us more than others. However I think we can work towards improving hygiene in general, such as having anti-bacterial gels at Kiddush tables. When you think about a community as a whole, there are vulnerable groups within it such as the elderly and little babies who are more susceptible and perhaps we could do more to ensure they are protected as best can be. Let’s make sure our cleaners are cleaning the mezuzot. Let’s make sure we wash our hands after the toilet and train our children too also. Coming back to double dipping, in Pirkei Avot we are enjoined to do things that are perceived by others in a positive light, let’s try and be more sensitive to each other and try not to do things that may disgust others.

Apple Kippah

Three Lessons We Can Learn From the Apple Watch for the High Holy Days

This post is not sponsored by Apple.

  1. Fitness First – This year will be different

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In his book, “Orot Ha’Teshuvah,” Rav Kook explains that:

“When one forgets the essence of one’s soul; when one distracts his mind from seeing the true nature of his own inner life, everything becomes doubtful and confused. The principle Teshuvah, which immediately lights up the darkness, is for a person to return to himself, to the root of his soul. Then he will immediately return to G-d, to the Souls of all souls. And he will continue to stride higher and higher in holiness and purity. This is true for an individual, a nation, for all of mankind, and for the perfection of all existence.”

In his explanation of the Teshuvah process, Rav Kook outlines the various stages involved in this ‘return to himself’. I was surprised to learn that the first step on the way to Teshuvah is getting one’s body into physical shape! Rav Kook calls this ‘Teshuvah of the body’.

To return to a state of inner harmony and Divine connection, a person must first have a healthy body.

Health tracking and digital fitness have now become mainstream, the worlds brightest and best are putting their minds together to help people live healthier lives. There are so many products to choose from at all price points and some insurance companies are even offering rewards and incentives to keep fit. I have been really impressed with the latest Apple Watch, it is fun, intuitive and genuinely useful. In addition to fun watch faces, games and discrete notification alerts from your phone during the day, you also get reminders to stand up during the day, updates on your daily movement/exercise goals and achievements, you can track your calories burnt, heart rate, hydration and a whole plethora of third party devices that can measure your blood glucose to arterial stiffness. If every year you have promised yourself to get fitter, live a little better, perhaps this year really is the year to make a difference, with a little digital help, and perhaps you can tick off box number one on Rav Kook’s Teshuvah plan.

 

  1. Breathe – We are all Buddhists now!

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Someone lent me a really fascinating book recently called ‘One God Clapping – The Spiritual Path of a Zen Rabbi’. It describes the life journey of Rabbi Alan Lew from Eastern philosophy to Judaism and his integration of the two leading him to form a Jewish meditation movement. From reading the popular Kabbalistic works of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (specifically Jewish Meditation) it is clear that we have lost touch with a method of relating to God that was common place in the times of the Temple and even earlier than this we find references to meditation by the Forefathers. The tefillah service we have today is not set up to facilitate this original spiritual practice, and for those looking for something transcendental unfortunately it is not to be found in a contemporary Beit HaKnesset.

How can Apple Watch help with tefillah? Apple Watch wants to bring breathing exercises – the cornerstone of meditation – to everyone. This clever app reminds you at various intervals during the day to take a minute out to focus on your breathe and to inhale and exhale in tandem with the graphic of a flower  expanding and contracting as well as vibrations tickling your arm if you are closing your eyes. For those suffering from stress this may provide that time out relief to help get them through the day. For those looking to improve their tefillah, I would recommend running a ‘Breathe’ session on the Apple Watch before each tefillah (before the Amidah prayer). It is fully programmable in lengths of 1-5 minutes, how many times per day you wish to do it and as you progress you can adjust how many breathes per minute (7 is default). It’s a small start, but I believe this may just change the way you pray – today!

  1. Humility – ‘be exceedingly humble’

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We read on Rosh Hashanah about the naming of Yitzchak which means ‘he will laugh’. What relevance has laughter to do with Rosh Hashanah? Rav Matis Weinberg explains that this laughter is the laugher of the ultimate unexpected – existence itself. Why is there existence at all? On Rosh Hashanah, we commemorate the conception of the world (the birth is considered to be in Nissan where we also celebrate the new year –  for months). The reality of finite existence compared to the Infinite will always remain a paradox. This thought should bring us ‘down to earth’ and help us with the difficult task of humbling ourselves before the King of Kings as we weigh up our deeds before the day of judgement.

Humility is one of the character traits we are told to be extremists about, to be very humble, it is the trait Moshe Rabbeinu is praised for directly in the Chumash – yet it is also the most elusive.

I have always found the study of the stars and astronomy to be immensely helpful when it comes to humility. One of the most fun elements of the Apple Watch are the incredible Watch Faces, Mickey Mouse is a personal favourite however there is one (image above) that really blew me away. It starts off with a green dot marking your current GPS location on the globe, which you can rotate in 3D on its axis to see what the rest of the world looks like right now (night/day). You can also turn the dial on the watch to see how the sun moves around the earth over the course of the next 24hrs. You can then click on the moon, rotate to see the surface of the moon and turn the watch dial to see the movements of the moon over the coming month (new moon is Friday apparently). You can then click on the solar system and turn the dial to see how all the planets rotate around the sun over the course of the year; the watch face then ends with a listing of the planets. Here on my wrist is a daily reminder of how small we are compared to the solar system let alone the universe, if we meditate on this each day then perhaps the world will have a little less hot air floating about causing catastrophe.

Wishing you all a very sweet Shana Tova