Why Two Days Rosh Hashana Worldwide?

It’s been a heavy week. On one hand, my regular workload. On the other hand, I came down with a bout of pneumonia. And that meant I’ve been going to sleep earlier every night to have the strength to cope with work the next day (I know that I should have stayed in bed, but…). And that meant no time for writing.

In order to keep up a continuous pace on my site, here’s something for the upcoming festival of Rosh Hashana about why we keep two days even in Israel: Continue reading Why Two Days Rosh Hashana Worldwide?

Jewish Damage Control – Ki Seitse

The Strange Case of the Yefas Toar

This week’s Parasha Ki Seitse opens with a remarkable set of laws about the Yefas To’ar:

Jewish Damage ControlWhen you will go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver them into your hand, and you will capture its captivity; and you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form, and you will desire her, you may take her to yourself for a wife. (Deut. 21:10)


The same Torah forbids having relations with any non-Jewish woman (remember the story of Pinchas who killed Zimri for that very reason?) and makes marrying a non-Jewish woman punishable by spiritual death. The same Halocho forbids premarital or extra-marital sex, Negiah or even Yichud, yet permits marrying a gentile woman under war conditions? Bizarre…

There are a number of explanations for this leniency and I’ll start with a story.

If the Torah Demands Something

jewish damage controlWhile living in London, Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky, zt”l, gave a shiur (class) every Friday night to non-religious young people. He invited them into his home and taught them the weekly Torah portion. When it came to this week’s parsha, Ki Seitze, he spent the entire week pondering how to explain the Yefas Toar — the law allowing a Jewish soldier in battle to take and even marry a female non-Jewish captive.

How was he going to put across this seemingly strange concept to his young pupils? Try as he might, he could think of no suitable approach. Friday night arrived, and still no explanation had materialized in his head. So he prayed that Hashem would put the right words into his mouth. Suddenly, during the Friday night meal, it came to him…

With his students seated around the Shabbos table, Rabbi Abramsky remarked, “Before we open the Chumash, I want you to know something: From what we are about to read we will see clearly how the entire Torah is obligatory upon us.”

From this week’s Parsha we learn that the Torah never demands that which is beyond a person’s ability: In a situation where it is impossible to hold back, the Torah permits us to follow our instincts!”

It must be then, that everything else the Torah demands of us is certainly within our capabilities,  within our reach and obligatory upon us all…”
(Peninei Rabbeinu Yechzkel)

I’d like to add a thought within the context of Jewish Traveling.

Kings on the Road

In the introduction to Sefer Ahalech Be’Amitecha by Rav Betzalel Stern zt”l (his monumental work on the laws of travel), I read an interesting explanation to the following verses from the laws of kings and kingship:

And it shall be, when he sits upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write himself a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them (Deut. 17:18-19).

Rashi comments on the words “a copy of this law” to mean that the king should have two copies of the Torah in his possession; one in the royal treasury and one to carry with him wherever he goes.

Rav Stern zt”l comments that when one is on the road it is natural to seek leniency in the observance of Halacha. If on business and certainly on vacation, the tendency is to be more liberal and even lax in the code of behavior we take for granted at home.

I’m not referring only to severe infractions of Halacha, but even to minor changes in normative Jewish activity, whether by loosening up in dress standards, in what and where we eat, in visiting places one would never dream of doing at home (a mixed beach or non-Jewish houses of worship) and so forth.

Therefor, explained Rav Stern, the king carried with him an auxiliary copy of the Torah during his travels to remind him that the Torah is valid and obligatory wherever he goes. (I would add, if I may, that loosening up a bit on vacation is fine. After all you do want to relax. Otherwise stay home. It’s when one ends off transgressing the basics, then one is in trouble).

Jewish Damage Control

In my opinion, this is the message of the Yefas Toar. The Torah gives us a healthy framework for living wherever we are and whatever we are doing, irrespective if in normative situations or in extreme circumstances like war.

Even when one finds themselves beyond their ability to exert self-control and literally “lose it”, nevertheless they haven’t completely lost their connection to Jewish life and behavior. There’s a possibility of Jewish damage control. Slowing down the decline and getting back to their senses.

With bombs falling around you and bullets whizzing in your ears you’ve fallen in love with a beautiful non-Jewish girl? OK, here are the rules for stabilizing the situation, finding balance and remaining a good Jew.

So when you are traveling and find yourself doing things you might regret, don’t let go of it all. Hold on tight to any Halocho you can keep. Keep Shabbos, eat Kosher, put on Tefillin, wash Netilas Yodayim, say a Brocho before eating. Hold on to whatever you can. Eventually you’ll catch yourself, keep your Jewish identity and come out a stronger and better Jew in the end.

Faxing to Shabbos Across Time Zones

shabbos across time zonesStaying in touch wherever we go is so ingrained into our psyche that if one is younger than their early twenties they probably can’t remember otherwise. Whether we send email or IM’s, post by Twitter or update our Facebook account, we accustomed to a continuous ubiquitous connection with the global village 24/7. Or at least 24/6 for those who keep Shabbos.

24/7 Connection

I still remember the time before email, working full-time far from home and not even owning a mobile phone (am I that old???). Today is different. We connect ALL THE TIME.

Being connected all the time, everywhere, has it’s benefits but a lot of drawbacks too. “They” expect you to be in touch all the time.

“Why didn’t you respond??? I sent you a text message over 3 minutes ago!”.  Don’t you read it???

This brings me to the 24/7 issue or rather the 24/6 issue, barring Shabbos. I’m referring to Shabbos Across Time Zones.

Let’s say you’re roaming around Thailand on vacation and spend a lovely Shabbos at the Chabad House in Phuket. Shabbos ends on an upbeat note and right after Havdolo you give in to the unbearable temptation of checking your work email from back home in Vancouver.

shabbos across time zonesYou discover a desperately urgent message from your Jewish boss sent just before Shabbos in Vancouver (there’s a 14 hour discrepancy between the two cities) that needs a response ASAP or the world will certainly come to an end. Without a second thought you type out a response by email and press SEND. Then you follow it with a written fax and your signature. A moment after sending it off you ask yourself if you did the right thing since the fax printed out into your boss’s office while it’s still Shabbos morning on the west coast of Canada.

Shabbos Across Time Zones

How do you handle email or faxes when you are in a different time zone than the person you need to send the message to and it’ll arrive on their Shabbos?

Let’s say all the systems of telecommunication and Internet service providers are not Jewish owned and they aren’t up-keeping the systems just for yours truly. But what is the Halocho if you send an email or fax to Israel when it’s still Shabbos over there? Somebody in Israel is possibly working on Shabbos to make sure all the systems are go.

Another problem could arise if your boss is not Shabbos observant and has the habit of dealing with all the leftover issues on Saturday. That means they’ll act on your post-Shabbos messages and do more work, all because of your dedication to work 24/6…

Rav Yehoshua Y. Neuwirth wrote that one may send a fax (before or after Shabbos) to a place where Shabbos is now observed, but the recipient may not read it on Shabbos (Shemirath Shabbath Kehilchata 31:28). Rav Neuwirth didn’t differentiate between if the telecommunication structure is run by Jews or not. I’m guessing that its because most of the electronic activity is automatic, though repairs and such are performed by Jews on Shabbos.

Ask The Rabbi of Ohr Sameach quotes a similar ruling by Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg permitting both faxes and email to a place where it’s still Shabbos.

Nevertheless, I’m certain that if you know that your boss or colleague will read or act upon the message during Shabbos then you must wait till Shabbos is over by them (or put a delay send on the message) so that you won’t cause them to desecrate the Shabbos because of you.

In conclusion, whether the act of sending off a fax or email after Shabbos to a different time zone where it’s still Shabbos is permissible or not, I have a fundamental question. If you’re on vacation in Thailand, why in the world are you still checking your work email? For that you spent thousands of dollars to go to the Far East? Think a moment.

Moreover, by the time you read the message and reply to it many hours have passed. I’m hoping your boss will read it only after Shabbos is over by them too. By then reality has changed and your boss probably succeeded in resolving the problem on their own. If it’s still urgent they’ll phone you (assuming you made the error of leaving them an emergency number while you’re on vacation).

Besides, if you respond to work issues on vacation you are teaching your boss or colleagues or workers that its alright to bother you on vacation. You’re showing them that its impossible to manage without you ever. Be sure they’ll use that fact to their advantage on your expense. So loosen up a bit. Enjoy your trip without work.

The 4-Hour Workweek

Shabbos Across Time ZonesFor practical guidance on how to detach from work and work-related emails on vacation I highly recommend reading Tim Ferriss’ best seller The 4-Hour WorkWeek. I’ve read it twice and listened also to the audio version. Ferriss has some far out ideas in that book, but there’s a lot to learn from it.

Shabbat Shalom!

Opposite Gender Handshaking For Travelers

Handshaking in Modern Society

“Hi!”, (as their outstretched hand rises towards you in greeting) “my name is Janice (or John or Jody or Jason). Nice to meet you.”

Opposite Gender Handshaking

Shaking hands in modern western society is standard procedure for both social and business interactions. The handshake is commonly done upon meeting, greeting and parting, offering congratulations, expressing gratitude, or completing an agreement. In sports or other competitive activities, it is also done as a sign of good sportsmanship. Its purpose is to convey trust, respect, balance, and equality. If it is done to form an agreement, the agreement is not official until the hands are parted.

In addition, a study on handshakes by the Income Center for Trade Shows showed that people are two times more likely to remember you if you shake hands with them.

While traveling around the world you will come in contact with a variety of customs on how to shake hands and with whom, whether to use a weak or strong grip or whether a fist bump is preferable. There are even different customs on shaking hands with the opposite sex.

Opposite Gender Handshaking in Judaism

In Judaism we don’t have any particular custom about HOW to shake hands, but we do have an issue with Opposite Gender Handshaking. Not because of the handshake itself, but rather because it involves touching a member of the opposite gender, also known a Negiah.

The laws of Negiah were created to prevent unnecessary contact with the other gender which might lead to illicit sexual conduct. As such it doesn’t make a difference whether you or the person you touch is married or not, whether they are a neighbor, an acquaintance or a business partner. In fact any person, with the exception of your spouse and first level relatives (parents, siblings, children, grandchildren), is forbidden to touch.

The issue of shaking hands raises a simple question. Why should there be any problem with shaking hands with the opposite sex in a business environment or even in a casual passing social context? There’s no intimacy involved or even implied, or is there?

This issue is rather complex, even with a Freudian rationale. It is assumed that touching a person of the opposite gender is essentially a sexual act, or at least the precursor of a sexual act. While it is true that most handshakes between men and women do not lead to sexual relations and are not even contemplated, sexual relations always begin with touching. It is also true that a handshake can communicate some feelings, albeit on a superficial level.

Some Rabbi’s take the position that when shaking hands in a business context, and is clearly a non-affectionate contact, it is permissible under Jewish law. Other commentators allow the handshake only when the other person offers their hand. Here the rationale is that to refuse to reciprocate would cause embarrassment.

On the other hand there are many respected Halachic authorities who completely prohibit it, even when it might cause embarrassment. I’m not sure though what they would rule in cases of meeting royalty or heads of state in a public gathering. Some senior Rabbi’s accepted the offered hand and some did not.

If one goes with the more strict view then it wouldn’t make a difference whether you’re offering a weak or strong shake, a quick or lingering one (though I assume that even those who are lenient in a business situation would agree that a lingering shake is a real no-no).

Personally I was schooled with the ruling of no handshakes with the opposite sex and though I usually manage to get through it without mishap, at times it was a bit sticky.

Two cases come to mind. Once I was being interviewed for a job; one that I really wanted. The Jewish interviewer stuck out her hand and said, “Hi! I’m…”. I gave her a big smile and said, “Sorry, my wife doesn’t let me..”. There was a moment of silent limbo, when I was sure my job was gone, and then she laughed and said, “Oh, I forgot that religious people are careful with that”. I got the job.

On the other hand I once took my child to a non-Jewish doctor in Western Europe and as much as I respectfully explained my religious principles, she nearly refused to treat my child. Maybe (with hindsight) I might have had a good reason to be more lenient in that case.

Tips For Avoiding Opposite Gender Handshaking

Each one should consult with their own Rabbi if and when they may shake hands with the opposite sex, and in what circumstances. For those who have decided definitely to avoid it, here are a few “tricks” to smooth things out at the critical moment:

  • Apologize and explain: “I’m sorry, but for religious reasons, I try to avoid unnecessary contact with women (other than my wife).” It may help to acknowledge that the situation is indeed awkward. Perhaps say, “I apologize for the awkwardness, but…”
  • Be respectful when turning down a handshake. This shows that the refusal has nothing to do with lack of respect for women. A nice smile and lots of eye contact help too.
  • Keep your right hand busy with something. Even with your explanation, it is awkward to have the other person’s arm outstretched with your hand right there not doing anything. Hold a briefcase, a purse or other item, be holding a door handle, or at least have your hand in your pocket.
  • Don’t behave like you are embarrassed by the situation; a certain amount of confidence is necessary. Explain your refusal to shake hands the same way someone would explain their allergy to peanuts after being offered some by a friend.
  • Pull a business card from your pocket and pass it over to their outstretched hand. You might still need to explain if they offer a hand a second time, but it shows you are business-like.
  • There’s an anecdote told of Rabbi Lazer Brody who handed a Halvah bar to a woman journalist who came to interview him and offered her hand in greeting. I’m guessing that Rabbi Brody doesn’t do this every time but prepared himself because of the particular context. Check out the story here to decide for yourself.
  • Put both hands on your heart and bow in greeting.
  • Sometimes giving a smile and saying “I’ll take your word for it” works nicely.
  • At social events it is recommended to hold a drink in one hand and a plate of herring in the other (remember to smile too).
  • Forewarned is forearmed: If it’s a formal meeting or interview, Inform the person beforehand, to avoid problems. You can even send them a respectful email saying, I’m looking forward to meeting all of you. I just want to let you know in advance that for religious reasons I don’t shake hands with member of the opposite sex. I mean no disrespect at all and I hope that you understand.” (I saw this one on a Muslim website…).
  • Tell her you only shake hands with women who aren’t attractive (be careful with this one if you don’t want to sound flirtatious).
  • Keep your hands clasped behind your back and bow.
  • A_tamil_youth_with_greeting_gesture Opposite Gender HandshakingTry Namaste – Namaste is a greeting commonly found among people of South Asia with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest.
  • Say that your spouse doesn’t want you shaking other women’s hands. After the first reaction make sure to explain the real reason, so they won’t get the impression that you don’t decide for yourself.
  • Pray for Divine Intervention !

Making Eggs Around the World

As you travel around the world you can comfortably survive without kosher stores or products with kosher certification, as long as you have the basics; vegetables, carbohydrates and protein.

Read till the end as all the fun videos are at the bottom…

Protein and Nutrition

eggs around the world

One doesn’t need huge amounts of protein for health, as according to the US government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on nutrition, adult men and women need only 56 & 46 grams of protein respectively. You can get your Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) with meats, poultry, and fish, legumes, tofu, eggs, nuts and seeds, milk and milk products, grains, some vegetables, and some fruits.

Since animal products need reliable kosher supervision (meat, poultry, milk products etc.), I’ll focus on one of the Kosher animal products you can get anywhere in the world which will supplement your protein needs – eggs. (The other product is fish, which I wrote about in a different post – Keeping Kosher at the Tsukiji Fish Market).

Kosher Eggs

This post we will discuss three points:

  1. How to identify Kosher types of eggs
  2. Checking for blood-spots
  3. How to prepare eggs around the world without a normal Kosher kitchen

Of course nothing is completely simple in Jewish Law so you can’t just walk into any store in Shanghai or Kinshasa (Congo), buys eggs and feast on an omelet. There are still a few rules to follow:

eggs around the worldNot every species of egg is kosher. Only those which come from a Kosher species of bird, like Chicken, Cornish hens, Ducks, Geese, and Turkey are Kosher. Ostrich, Eagle and Vulture are not. As for Guinea Fowl and Quail, we don’t have a clear tradition of their status, so their eggs are not for eating either.

Identifying a Kosher Egg

The Talmud gives us the signs that point us to whether an egg kosher or not:

  • Non-Kosher: If the egg is totally round like a ball OR if the yolk of the egg surrounds the white of the egg OR if the egg has no white but is filled with yolk, a non-kosher bird laid the egg.
  • Kosher: If  the egg is round at one end and tapered at the other, AND the white of the egg surrounds the yolk AND it looks like the egg of a chicken or of another identifiable kosher bird, the egg is kosher and may be eaten without any further investigation as to its pedigree.

So after pantomiming your egg needs at the local grocery store, you get some Kosher eggs and take them home.

We’re good for supper now? Not yet. There’s still the issue of blood or blood-spots in the eggs.

Blood-spots in Eggs

eggs around the worldIt is forbidden to eat blood found in an egg. The reason is not related to the prohibition of eating blood (like in meat), but rather because blood in an egg is a sign that a new embryo is forming, and it is forbidden to eat an embryo.

In the times of the Talmud blood appeared in eggs because of two reasons:

  1. The egg had been fertilized and a chicken embryo was being produced.
  2. An irregularity in the hen causes a small amount of blood to be deposited in the egg.

In past years, most eggs came from fertile hens, whose hormone levels stimulated more egg production. Today, this is not the case. The hormones are stimulated artificially, the chickens themselves are not fertile and the eggs will not develop into chickens.

In modern commercial egg operations, this hormone enhancement is achieved (and controlled), by artificial means through the feed. The eggs themselves are not fertile; they will never develop into chickens. While in the past, every blood-spot might have signified the beginning of a new embryo, today’s commercial methods virtually insure that this is not the case.

As such, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:36), clarifies that blood spots found in commercially produced eggs do not present any fundamental kosher problem.

Nevertheless, the accepted practice is to check each individual egg prior to use.

  • If you find blood or a blood-spot, the tradition is to throw away the egg as eggs are not expensive and a person does not incur any significant loss.
  • In general white eggs have less blood-spots than brown eggs.
  • In rural areas where eggs are sold at the farm or on the side of the road, it is possible to buy a fertilized egg. In this case it is definitely correct to check the eggs for blood spots.
  • If checking is overly difficult, such as at night on a camping trip, for example, where there is no available good light, one may eat eggs without checking.
  • There is no problem with eating eggs cooked in the shell (boiled or roasted), even though these cannot be checked, though many have the tradition to cook at least three eggs at a time to make sure that even if one of them had a spot, the bloody egg would be nullified by the majority of “clean” eggs in the pot.

You can get more information on Eggs and Blood-spots in the OU Website.

Cooking Eggs Around the World

Now that you have Kosher blood-free eggs, how do you prepare them without a Kosher kitchen?

Assuming you have a pot, pan, dish or glass here are four solutions for preparing eggs:

Using a non-Kosher Stove

If you are staying in a place with a non-Kosher kitchen you can Kosherize the stove as I wrote in the posts – Kashering Skills For Residential Vacations or Kosher in a Non-Kosher Communal Kitchen.

Cooking With a Microwave

If you have a Kosher microwave, there are Three Easy Ways To Cook Eggs In The Microwave:

Cooking With a Rollie EggMaster

If you like new gadgets:

Cooking With an Alcohol Stove

If you literally have no real equipment to cook with, you can fry or cook eggs on an alcohol stove. It’s compact, light-weight and simple to use anywhere without a fuss.

How To Make An Alcohol Stove

For the DIY types, an alcohol stove can be made from 2 cans of soda.

For more information on raw materials and fuel for the alcohol stove check out the following link – Zen and the Art of the Alcohol Stove.

Enjoy !

Travel After Tisha Bav and Avoid Jet-Lag

1343742495_fasting travel after tisha bavDespite my dire predictions, the fast wasn’t too difficult this year. I’m hoping that not too many people chose to travel on Tisha B’av as it wouldn’t have been easy.

Now that it’s the evening after the fast, travel is as usual, right?

Not exactly.

Laws of the 10th of Av

First of all a few general laws on post-Tisha B’av activity for someone who’s staying home:

  • The limitations of the “Three Weeks” and the “Nine Days” continue until midday of the 10th of Av, according to the Ashkenazi tradition. The Sephardi tradition continues this custom till the evening after the 10th of Av. This includes the prohibition of music, haircuts, meat and wine, laundering and bathing.
  • When Tisha B’Av was observed on Sunday, Havdallah is recited over a cup of wine (or grape juice) or beer but no spices are used.
  • When this Sunday was the 10th of Av (for example the 9th was Shabbat and observance of Tisha B’Av was postponed to Sunday the 10th), haircuts, laundering and bathing are permitted Sunday night, the 11th of Av. However, meat and wine are prohibited until Monday morning.
  • When Tisha B’Av is on Thursday so that the 10th of Av is on Friday, in honor of Shabbat laundering is permitted on Thursday night; haircuts and bathing Friday morning; and music in the afternoon.
  • The custom is to sanctify the new moon the night after Tisha B’Av, preferably after having eaten something. When Tisha B’Av is on Thursday, the custom is to wait until Saturday night when the service can be said with greater joy.

Travel After Tisha Bav

What are the main points for travel after Tisha Bav on the evening and day after the fast?

  • If you are traveling on the 10th of Av you may wash the clothes you need for the trip on the night after the 9th and on the morning of the 10th.
  • Concerning eating meat and wine, if you are Ashkenazi then you’ll have no problem with lunch on the flight at it’ll probably be served after noon. If not, then just asked to be served a bit later or keep the meal on your table till the right time. If you have the Sfardi custom to avoid meat all day of the 10th then be sure to ask for a fish or other Parve Kosher meal when you book your flight. If they only have a meat meal and you have nothing else to eat, then you may be lenient.

Are there any benefits in travel after Tisha Bav?

I doubt there are any spiritual benefits in traveling after a fast day, but I’ve discovered an interesting benefit of fasting to overcome jet-lag.

Fasting for Jet lag

In the online Harvard Business Review article called A “Fast” Solution to Jet Lag, I came across the following:

Circadian_rhythm_labeled travel after tisha bavFor long- distance travelers, jet lag can be a major issue. It can dull the concentration you need for meeting with international clients and make you feel lousy. Some travelers try to cope with it by taking pills. Others adjust their sleep schedules before a long trip. Still others simply struggle with it through sheer force of will power.

New research points to another, possibly more effective, weapon in the fight against jet lag: fasting before and during a trip.

Scientists already know that “clocks” in the brain, liver, heart, and other tissues are responsible for the daily cycles in many of our bodily processes and functions, including temperature, blood pressure, hormone production, hunger, and wakefulness. Quickly crossing several time zones throws the body’s clocks out of whack and leads to the symptoms of jet lag — fatigue, insomnia, nausea, headache, and diminished concentration. For each time zone you cross it takes about a day of adjusting to a new light/dark schedule to get in sync with local time at your new destination.

Dr. Clifford B. Saper and colleagues at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston now think that food — or, more specifically, the lack of it — may resynchronize body rhythms faster than light and dark.

As Dr. Saper has explained, you can try fasting both before and during your long flight, then eating in a pattern that puts you in sync with local time. For instance, if you’re taking a 14-hour flight from New York to Beijing, it would work like this:

  •  Avoid all food from the time you get to the airport (i.e., about two hours before departure)
  • Don’t eat during the flight — but still drink plenty of water
  • Eat soon after you land, as close to a local meal time as possible

So if you need to fly directly after the 9th of Av, then break your fast with a light meal at home before you leave for the airport. Skip your Kosher prepackaged reheated meal on the plane, drink plenty of liquids throughout the flight and eat your next main meal when you land.

In my humble opinion, many people including myself, overeat after a fast, so following this diet might help you avoid post-fast bloating and headache and reduce the jet-lag to boot.

Have a nice summer.

Tisha Bav Torah Study On The Go

Torah Study On The Go

As I wrote yesterday, the fast of Tish’a B’av is the slowest fast day of the year. Even Yom Kippur (equally long), seems to progress faster. I assume that it’s due to the lively intensive prayers and occasional singing which occupies our time in the synagogue for most of the evening and day on the Holiest day of the year. Tish’a B’av though, has very little to occupy or distract our minds since we are prohibited from doing anything enjoyable, including the study of Torah.

The only exceptions to the prohibition of Torah study are sections dealing with the destruction of the Temple and the exiles from Israel, mourning and such topics.

To quote the Aish.com website:

Tisha Bav Torah Study On The GoSince the heart rejoices in the study of Torah, it is prohibited to learn topics other than those relevant to Tisha B’Av or mourning.

One may learn: Lamentations with its Midrash and commentaries, portions of the Prophets that deal with tragedy or destruction, the third chapter of Moed Katan (which deals with mourning), the story of the destruction (in Gittin 56b-58a, Sanhedrin 104, and in Josephus), and the Halachot of Tisha B’Av and mourning.

When you are at home you can easily find all the permitted Torah material in your local synagogue or Bais Medrash. When you are in transit and stuck in a hotel room all day, how do you keep occupied in a permissible way and make the day’s mourning a meaningful experience?

I could recommend watching Holocaust films all day (Schindler’s List, Escape From Sobibor etc.), but I doubt there is a Rabbinical sanction for parts of these films due to the less than modest dress code (Tzniut).

Tisha Bav Torah Study On The GoSo here is a list of online resources with links you can use to study Torah, read and listen to classes all day long and fill your time usefully in a permissible way which I’ll call “Tisha Bav Torah Study On The Go”:

Early Texts & Sources

  • Lamentations (Eicha with JPS English Translation):
  • Job (Iyov with JPS English Translation):
  • Jeremiah: all sections critical of the Jews’ behavior or about the destruction. This is most of the book. Starting from chapter 1, one can continue until chapter 29, skipping the few verses of consolation that appear. Chapters 30-33 are largely prophecies of consolation, and should be skipped. Chapters 34-36 are again negative prophecies. Chapters 37-38 are preliminary to the siege of Jerusalem; Chapter 39 (JPS English Translation) begins the account of the fall of Jerusalem, and the account of the destruction continues until chapter 45, inclusive. Chapter 46 begins a section about the other nations, which should be skipped; chapter 52 (the last chapter) is again about the fall of Jerusalem.
  • Moed Katan (3rd chapter):
  • Gittin (56b-58a):
  • Talmud Sanhedrin (96a-97):
  • Talmud Yerushalmi about the destruction and about the laws of Tisha B’Av (Taanis chapter 4, halachot 5-6):
  • Rambam’s Laws of Mourning:
  • Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, laws of Tisha B’Av and mourning for Jerusalem (section 552-561):
  • Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah, laws of burial and mourning (from section 339 to the end):
  • Midrash on Megilat Eicha

 Modern Texts & Sources

So if God forbid the Moshiach is not here by tomorrow evening, have a fruitful day of Tisha Bav Torah Study On The Go.

Tish’a B’av – the Slowest Fast Day – From East To West

The Slowest Fast Day

Tish’a B’av, in my opinion, is the slowest fast day of the year.

Arch_of_Titus_Menorah Slowest Fast DayThis coming Monday night, 4th August, commences the fast of Tish’a B’av. It commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel. It also commemorates other tragedies which occurred on the same day, including the Roman massacre of over 100,000 Jews at Betar in 132 CE.

What make this fast day unique is that it feels like the slowest fast day of all the six annual fasts. Twenty-five hours without food and water during the hottest season of the year. If that isn’t enough, you sit on the floor all morning, reciting Kinos which are written in rather difficult poetic language and you can’t occupy yourself with anything half-resembling an enjoyable activity. Not even learning Torah topics unless they relate to Tish’a B’av, the Holocaust, mourning practices or similar topics.)

It’s hot, depressing and time doesn’t seem to pass. This year with the war and all the troubles we are undergoing in the Holy Land, it will probably make the day much heavier than usual. That seems to be Tish’a B’Av in a nutshell. At least on Yom Kippur you are in Shul praying and singing, which is an uplifting experience.

East to West Flights on a Fast

And that brings me to a critical point – what do you do with the fast if you need to fly from east to west? Like Tel Aviv to New York or New York to L.A. or even to Hawaii.

Flying east to west means the the clock is moving backwards and you end off with extra hours of thirsty, head-achy discomfort while watching many of the people on the plane having a good time (after 25 hours without a morsel, even a lukewarm cup of instant coffee or a glass of cool water feels like a good time…).

Tel Aviv to NY adds seven hours. To LA makes it an extra 10 hours of fasting. Till Hawaii is a total of 13 extra hours of agony. How then does one deal with the issue of time zones when flying on an empty stomach?

Of course my warmest recommendation is to avoid at all costs flying during a fast. Stay where you are and finish it all in 25 hours. The flight and altitude during the flight dehydrates you more than on the ground and it is a very uncomfortable experience even without the extra hours. But lets say you really have no choice and you absolutely must fly during the fast. What then?

First of all the status of Tish’a B’av seems to be more strict than other fast days (like 17 Tamuz, Tsom Gedalia and 10 Teves), which are a Minhag according to some opinions. According to many Rabbi’s, Tisha B’av is a Rabbinical obligation nearly as severe as Yom Kippur (which is biblical). Therefor it would mean that one must be stricter with it even to the extent of lengthening the fast because of the east-west flight.

Nevertheless there are at least 3 opinions concerning extending a fast beyond the 25 hour day (I write 25 and not 24 because we need to take in account that the fast commences at sundown and ends at nightfall which is more then 24 hours in total).

Rav Moshe Feinstein

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Oruch Chaim Vol. 3 Ch. 96) states that one should keep fasting till nightfall according to the location you are in at the moment. That means if you fly Tel Aviv – Hawaii you’ll be without a drop for nearly 38 hours.

Nachal Eshkol

There is an unusual opinion of the Nachal Eshkol (commentary to Sefer Ha’Eshkol on the laws of Tish’a B’av) that in the city of Stockholm, Sweden they fasted no later than 21:30 since no Jewish community existed farther north than Stockholm when the fast-days were established. This might apply also to westbound travelers.

Rav Shmuel Vozner

According to Rav Shmuel Halevi Vozner (Shevet Halevi Vol. 7 Ch. 76) the minimum obligation of a fast is until sundown (and not till nightfall). Therefor it will be acceptable under the circumstances to break your fast at sundown wherever you happen to be at the time.

Rav Vozner adds that once a person passes the normal time for fasting and begins to weaken, their status changes into that of a Choleh She’en Bo Sakana (a mildly ill person). The longer the fast extends the more risky it becomes to one’s health. Once a person feels very bad, they are allowed to break their fast and eat or drink the minimum required for their health. As to the opinion of the Nachal Eshkol, Rav Vozner expresses his reservations about it and even doubts its validity in Halacha.

Slowest Fast DayBottom line, and taking in account the severity of Tish’a B’av, one should try their best to fast until nightfall at the location you are at the moment. If you start feeling a bit ill, you can break your fast at sundown. If you feel very ill, then you are considered a Choleh (ill person) and can eat and drink the minimum needing to balance your health.

As I wrote before, avoid flying on Tish’a B’av at all costs but if the Mashiach comes by Monday eve, we’ll all be able to eat a first class meal…

The Geographic Cure in Judaism

There are people who can be defined by what they escape from, and people who are defined by the fact that they are forever escaping.
—Adam Phillips, Houdini’s Box: The Art of Escape

The Geographic Cure

I dream of doing a “geographic cure” one day. My idea of the cure is to travel from Barrow, Alaska above the Arctic Circle all the way down to Ushuaia, Argentina, (commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world). It’s a nice trip of over 19500 miles. There are no roads all the way to Barrow (only till Deadhorse at the end of the Dalton Highway) and there’s also a 54 mile gap in which roads fail to link Panama and Columbia, but it’s feasible if you include two short plane trips.

geographic cure ushuaiaThere are two cyclists who set out on this trip, from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia by bike (see Ribbon of Road), but even if I do it by car, I’m sure the trip will “cure” whatever ails me.

For those not familiar with the “geographic cure”, it’s been popularized by the Alcoholics Anonymous crowd as when a person moves or relocates to another place to resolve some emotional issue or addiction. AA states unequivocally that the cure doesn’t work because “Wherever you go, there you are”.

geographic cureIn other words, you carry around your emotional baggage wherever you go and unless you address the issues directly, you can move a hundred times or drive round-trip Barrow-Ushuaia and still remain with the same hangups. I’ve heard of many people who figured that if they get rid of a spouse and remarry, life will be wonderful. The reality is that they haven’t really changed and end off having to deal with the same problems in a new relationship.

Of course if the previous spouse is abusive then getting away might be lifesaving and necessary, but you’ll still need to address the emotional issues which caused you to marry someone like that in the first place, lest you end off marrying another abusive person the next time.

What does Judaism have to say about geographic cures?

Parshat Masei and the Geographic Cure

Parshat Masei, which we read yesterday morning, commences with the following words:

“These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions. Moshe wrote (motza’ayhem l’ma’asayhem) their starting points according to their journeys, at the bidding of Hashem, and these were (masa’ayhem l’motza’ayhem) their journeys according to their starting points.” (Ch. 33:1-2)

The commentators are puzzled by the reversal of the words within the same verse. The verse begins by announcing that the following are, ‘their starting points according to their journeys’ but concludes by saying, ‘these were their journeys according to their starting points’.

The Dubner Maggid – Jacob ben Wolf Kranz of Dubno (1740-1804), explained with the following parable:

There was once a widower who remarried, hoping his new wife would care for him and his orphaned son. It wasn’t long before the young orphan realized that his stepmother disliked him. She treated him disdainfully, shouting and beating him regularly. The boy complained to his father but there was no solution available for the near future.

Years passed, and the boy reached adulthood. One day, the father announced that he had met a wonderful girl from a distant city who came from a reputable and respected family. The girl would be the perfect match for the son. On the day of the wedding, father and son traveled together in a horse-drawn coach to attend the ceremony.

Not long after they began the trip, the son asked the driver, “How many miles have we now traveled?” The driver answered that they had traveled three miles. A while later, the son asked again, “How far have we traveled now?” The driver told him that it had been ten miles. Some time later, the father asked the driver, “How many more miles until we reach our destination?” and the driver told him that they had five miles to go.

The son asked his father, “Why is it that I asked how many miles we have traveled, but you asked how many miles we have yet to go?”
The father replied, “Your mind is only focused on getting far from your stepmother. I, however, am thinking about the joy you will experience once you meet your bride. You are counting the miles since we left. I am counting the miles until we arrive.”

The father was delighted that he was about to marry off his only son to a wonderful girl so that they could build their own family together. The son on the other hand, was not really as excited about the marriage as he was about getting away from the home of his sinister mother-in-law. The father was most excited about the destination, while the son was most excited about the departure.

Dubner Maggid explained that the Jewish People had suffered years of persecution in Egypt. Although the nation was excited about entering the Promised Land, first and foremost they were glad just to be out of the clutches of their nefarious oppressors. To them their forty-year sojourns were primarily travels, as they distanced themselves further and further from Egypt.

Moshe however, had a different perspective. To him, the nation’s spiritual growth and imminent entry into Eretz Yisroel was paramount. For the people the focus was on their starting point and how far they had gotten away. For Moshe the goal was the journey to their destination.

Wherever you go, there you are

In short taking a long trip to visit new places and meet new people is refreshing. It gives you a new perspective on life and helps you cope better with change. At the same time it’s vital to clarify in your mind why you are taking this trip across the world. Are you leaving to attain psychological, emotional or spiritual growth? Do you have clear goals to make yourself a better person? Wonderful! Enjoy your journey and hopefully you’ll return much improved.

But if you’re going on the trip just to get away from your old life, remember “Wherever you go, there you are”. Besides for spending money and time, you’ll be the same person you left.

Forty-Two Homes in Forty Years

Jewish Genetic Travel Code

If there’s one Parasha in the Torah which expresses the Jewish Genetic Code for traveling, I believe it’s the present one – Mas’ei (“Travels”).

Forty two times is the word vayis’u “and they traveled” repeated in the first chapter. Forty two times the entire nation, men, women and children uprooted themselves from their present neighborhood and moved on. Forty-two homes in forty years.

At first glance it seems like a lot of travel and instability for a traditional family even in biblical times, but Rashi points out a few facts which shed some light on the topic and puts things into proportion.

  1. Fourteen stops were made in the first year in the desert before the sin of the spies (see Shlach – See things as they are)
  2. Another eight stops were made in the last year in the wilderness after the passing of Aharon the Cohen.
  3. That leaves a total of 20 stops in 38 years.

On average 22.8 months of stability in each site. Less than two years.

30 Cities in 30 Days

OK, that’s not exactly long-term permanent residence, but in today’s upwardly mobile, transient, disposable lifestyle, it’s not a far cry from the modern lifestyle , when short-term job-hopping has become a norm. Of course not every job change involves relocation to a new point on the globe, but people today are far more open to change than in any other time in history. Open to change doesn’t always mean a “30 cities in 30 days” journey, but it isn’t 30 years in one job/city either.

BTW, if the idea of 30 cities in 30 days appeals to you, check out this blog; he did 30 photos in each city too…

People do like some change; whether change of scene or change of jobs and some like it more frequent than others.

Take the case of Ted Greenberg, a former suicide researcher turned comedian:

“In August of 2005, I left my position at the Columbia University department of child psychiatry to pursue stand-up comedy full time. Occasionally I receive an inquiry about the U.S. securities market. I left that field in July of 1997. Less frequently, I’m asked for a ride to the airport in a Checker cab. I gave up my hack license in September of 1988. January of 2006 represents five consecutive months of me not changing careers.” (NY Times).

Age and Willingness to Change

Of course not everyone likes frequent changes of jobs and scenery and there is a definite correlation between age and willingness to change.

Forty-Two Homes in Forty YearsAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the younger one is, the shorter their tenure at one employer. The older one is, the longer they’re likely to stay at the same employer. With travel too, the younger crowd is far more likely to backpack around the world than someone in their 50’s and 60’s.

Forty-Two Homes in Forty Years

This brings me back to the 42 stops of the Jewish People in the desert. I assume that the younger kids coped pretty well with all the moving around. Maybe it was even fun and exciting and lots of action. But how did middle-aged parents manage with moving so many times? Pack-unpack-pack-unpack again and again. I’ve personally moved 15 times and the idea of another move sounds horrible to me (unless it’s to a luxurious beachfront cottage in French Polynesia). If I had to move 42 times in 40 years, I’d really lose it.

I believe this question can be answered from a few perspectives.

First of all they didn’t move because their boss suggested a job relocation. They moved because the Almighty Himself told them “GO!”. So they went. You just don’t mess with God, even if it seems inconvenient.

Secondly, they were living at an exceedingly high spiritual level. Every day they experienced open miracles; the Pillar of Cloud, The Pillar of Fire, the Mannah, the Well of Miriam and many more. When you are walking hand in hand with God (so to speak), nothing is really difficult to do. Even to pack up your house and kids 42 times.

Of course all this is valid for people who’ve experienced Mount Sinai and heard God speak, but what message can we take from their experience? We who are living in a much diminished and hidden spiritual realm (Hester Panim).

The Meaning of Travel

This reminds me again of the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Sichot HaRan 85.

Every person, however simple they are, repairs something in every place they go. After all, they pray there, they eat and bless on the food, and commit acts of holiness wherever they are.

The Jewish People knew that they had a mission to do at each one of the 42 stops. Deep spiritual acts which would affect the course of history and influence the coming generations forever after. When one knows, as they did, that a journey has meaning and significance, then it’s probably easy to pack again and go on.

It’s only when we think a trip is for nothing that we find it so hard. According to Rav Nachman of Breslov, every single trip we take is important, to us, to the people we meet and to generations to come.

Nesivos Shalom related in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov that the Torah records the nation’s forty-two encampments from when they left Egypt until they entered the Land of Israel, to teach us that every individual must endure forty-two ‘travels’ in his lifetime. Not all of those travels are physical, but every Jew encounters forty-two challenges that confront him.

One who understands that life is a process of growth, views every challenging situation as an opportunity of achieving greater spiritual heights.

Have a safe and meaningful trip.

Connecting Travel & Jewish Living

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