Hannukah’s Insight into Abuse, by Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt

Various Midrashim offer descriptions of the spark that ignited the Hasmonean rebellion.  Some speak of the violation to the sanctity of the Temple. There is one Midrashic account that that has particular resonance this year. The Midrash is quoted in compendiums of minor Midrashim such as Otzar haMidrashim by R. Judah David Eisenstein (N. Y., 1915) and the Yotzer (additional prayer recited before Shema) for the first Shabbat of Chanukah written by Yosef ben Shlomo (1033):

The [Kingdom of Yavan (Seleucid)] further decreed that when one is to be married, the overlord should enjoy the marital bed first and then the bride would be returned to her husband. This carried on for three years and eight months until the daughter of Rabbi Yochanan Kohen Gadol was to be married. When they were about to take her to the overlord, she uncovered her hair and ripped her clothing in a revealing fashion in front of all. Immediately, Yehudah and his brothers were filled with rage and said to her take her out and burn her, “so that such a scandal not be revealed to our governors for fear of our lives for she was unclothed before all.” She then said to them, “How am I to be disgraced before kith and kin and not so before the eyes of the uncircumcised and impure that you would have trespass against me and violate me?” When Judah and his brothers heard her words they concluded together that they would assassinate the overlord.  They dressed her in royal clothing, made a Chuppah for her and took her from the house of the Hasmoneans to the house of the overlord accompanied by lyre and flutes and musicians and they danced until they reached the house of the overlord  . . . Yehudah and his brothers entered the house and severed the head of the overlord . . .the Heavenly Voice spoke saying, ״a young girl succeeded in waging war on the mighty Antiochus.”

The Midrash tells a story all too familiar to us in 2017.  The story is of how power directly leads to abuse of the worst nature.  Furthermore, the Midrash emphasizes the failure of bystanders, particularly the future warriors, to properly provide safety against such abuse. The Midrash clearly draws from the story of Judah and Tamar with the words, “take her out to be burnt.” The Midrash thus invokes both the biblical Judah’s inaction and leaves the reader to fill in the words, she is more righteous than I. The story trumpets the bravery of the abused woman beyond that of the military heroes, it even credits her with the victory. Furthermore, the Midrash shows how the culture of Yavan (Seleucid) had infected the home itself. The heroic fulcrum of the story is accomplished when the young woman turns perceived indiscretion into collective outrage against the oppressor. Her willingness to standup against abuse, to call it out in so dramatic a fashion is in fact an act championing the sanctity of the home. One could see the march of the Chuppah to the door of the oppressor as literally the use of the home as the phalanx of attack. The great purifying groundswell of the Hasmonean movement can be understood as a uprising to protect the sanctity of the home and of the women at the same time. Lastly, there is a straight line between this event and the lighting of the candles. The Talmud instructs that the mitzvah of Channukah is Ner Ish u’Veto—a candle for a person and his home. Men and women alike are commanded specifically in their home, for both were party to the miracle and both are charged to protect the sanctity of the home and project that very kedusha from their home into the public space.


Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt graduated from Columbia University with a Bachelors degree in Chemistry and English Literature and a Masters in Science in Bio-Organic Chemistry. Having finished secular studies, Rabbi Rosenblatt spent two years in Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel which ultimately led him to receiving semicha from Yeshiva University in New York.  Rabbi Rosenblatt was the assistant rabbi in Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, New Jersey and has been the Senior Rabbi of Scharei Tzedeck for the past 14 years. Rabbi Rosenblatt and his wife Dr. Cirelle Rosenblatt keep busy with their 5 children.


The Power of Rabbinic Authority and its Implications, By Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz


In Jewish tradition, there were two types of rabbis which were given different authorities: those who were ordained; and those who were not. Ordained rabbis were called Smuchin or Mumchin. The institution of ordination was initiated by Moshe Rabbenu when he ordained Yehoshua, and from that time on, each ordained rabbi could ordain others. Later on, during a specific period of the Patriarchate from the Second Century C.E. to the Fifth Century C.E., the Patriarch or Nasi was primarily responsible for the ordinations of rabbis. All ordinations could only occur in the land of Israel , and ordained rabbis could engage in all aspects of Jewish law. An ordained court of three who convened in the land of Israel is what the Torah calls elohimA court which was ordained in Israel could extend its authority to anywhere in the world. See Mishneh Torah, Shoftim, Hilchot Sanhedren Chapt. 4, Halachot 1-4 and 12.

Since ordination could not occur outside the land of Israel, what was the underlying authority of a court which was not ordained? The initial authority for courts outside of Israel was the appointment of rabbis and judges by the Head of the Exiles (Reish Galuta) which occurred in Babylonia after the first exile and ended in the Sixth Century C.E. That authority was also valid all over the world, including Israel. Nevertheless, it was far more limited than the authority given to ordained rabbis or courts. One example, is that those appointed by the Reish Galuta did not have the power to levy fines (Knassot). Ibid, 4:14.

In the absence of a Reish Galuta or his ability to appoint rabbinic courts, an interesting analysis is presented in the Talmud.

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Chanukah and the Power of Dedication, by Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz

At the beginning of chapter 8 of the Book of Bamidbar, Moshe informs his brother Aharon that God had commanded Aharon to light and clean the menorah. This section of the Torah follows the description of the gifts that were offered by the leaders of all the tribes at the dedication and sanctification of the altar. Utilizing the Midrash, Rashi asks the following question:

“Why is the section of the Torah which deals with the Menorah juxtaposed with the section that declares the gifts of the tribal leaders (Nesi’im)? Because when Aharon witnessed the dedication of the Nesi’im, he became dejected because he was not included with them, not he and not his tribe. God thus said to him, I swear to you that your offering will be greater than theirs because you will light and clean the menorah.”

The Ramban explains why the lighting of the menorah is the greater gift. It is based upon another Midrash in which God commands Moshe to tell Aharon, “there is another dedication where there is the lighting of candles and it will be given to Israel through your descendants. This is an occasion of miracles salvation and dedication . . .this is the dedication of the sons of the Hasmoneans. Thus there is this juxtaposition between this section of lighting of the menorah and the dedication of the altar. The celebration or observance that we call Chanukah thus has great standing in our tradition. It continues for thousands of years after the destruction of the Temple and is observed and is continued by the Jewish people well into their exile and ultimately their return to the land of Israel. It was ordained by God and directly transmitted to Moshe.

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Vulnerability of Virtue, Virtue of Vulnerability (Parashas Vayeira)

After many years of failing to have children, after having grown too old with her husband to conceive, Sarah did not expect to ever become a mother. So when the melachim — or, as she saw them, travelers — came to Avraham’s tent, promising her a son in a year, she cynically dismissed them. (The Ramban (Bereishis 18:15) notes that the phrase ותצחק בקרבה has the connotation of לעג, or cynicism. The Ramban references Tehilim 2:4 as another example: יושב בשמים ישחק ה’ ילעג למו.) The Ramban (Bereishis 18:15) claims Sarah made two missteps: Sarah, being a נביאה, should have had the spiritual sensitivity to recognize these “men” as malachim, but instead she thought they were travelers. The Ramban claims, moreover, even if she didn’t recognize them as malachim, she should still not have cynically dismissed their beracha, and instead have said, “כן יהי רצון”.

This criticism seems strange. As far as Sarah could tell, the people in her home were ordinary men — they did not deserve to be taken seriously. Moreover, Sarah herself was tortured by the fact that she could not have any children, so when these men said she would have a son in a year, she almost certainly felt that same pain all over again. Cynically dismissing their claims as impossible — as indeed they were — seems like a reasonable way for her to respond.

I think that the Ramban means that Sarah, as a tzadeikes , should have had the strength of character to confront her shortcomings. Sarah was a spiritually ambitious person: she desperately wanted to raise her children to be a part of Avraham’s bris with Hashem. Her ambitions made her vulnerable to the pain of failure — precisely because she placed so much value in having children, not being able to have children pained her. But a tzadeikis is expected not to shy away from this pain, but to overcome it. She cynically dismissed the malachim because to take them seriously would mean to admit to herself that she had not succeeded — to admit that she did not have the life she envisioned for herself.

Part of greatness is ambition and achievement: setting our sights high and pursuing our goals. But part of greatness is also accepting failure — even when that failure seems final. Seeking virtue makes us vulnerable to the pain of our disappointments. But there is also virtue in vulnerability — the power to accept these disappointments and the willingness to overcome them are the stuff of tzidkus.

The unforgivable sin I committed Yom Kippur morning

With my mind racing with what I would be saying in synagogue, how I will be praying, and the powerful meaning of this day, I barely noticed what was going on in the street. I rushed into synagogue thinking of ten different things at the same time. As I walked in, right when the service was about to begin, I looked around at the empty seats which would all be full once we got started, my eyes caught two young ladies sitting down, looking around with hesitation. They seemed like real outsiders; they did not know that most people don’t show up at the time the morning service is called for. They seemed unsure as to whether they were in the right seat or not, why the place was not full yet, and what prayer they should be saying right now. They projected uncertainty and insecurity.

My instinct pushed me to walk over to them, ask them where they are from, or if anything I can do for them. I didn’t. I had hundreds of people coming to the service, sermons and comments to deliver, and my own praying to do. I can speak to them when the service is over, I told myself. They will be fine, I thought–they weren’t.

Twenty minutes later I looked around again, they were gone. Realizing what had happened, I started to panic. I looked again. And again. And again. But they were gone. They had left the synagogue and I never saw them again.

These two young ladies, are just some of the thousands of Jews who step through our synagogues during the High Holiday season, and I was just one of the many who failed to engage them and make sure they felt welcome and at home in synagogue.

This was yet another validation of the statistics showing one of four Jews leaving religion, a growing number of Jews without an affiliation, and many Jews no longer identifying as Jewish, which have been the gloomy talking points in Jewish circles ever since the Pew study of American-Jews was released in 2013.

Mistakes can serve as obstacles that disparage and devitalize us; they can also serve as powerful, invigorating, and eye-opening experiences. So I decided to make the most of this horrible mistake.

I spent many hours looking into the subject of inclusion and the power of greeting and had since learned that the power of inclusion, welcoming, and increased connectivity are not only socially appreciated—but scientifically necessary.

In a study published in Psychological Science, lead author Dr. Eric Wesselman, a psychology professor at Purdue University, points out that:” simple eye contact is sufficient to convey inclusion. In contrast, withholding eye contact can signal exclusion…Diary data suggest that people feel ostracized even when strangers fail to give them eye contact. Experimental data confirm that eye contact signals social inclusion, and lack of eye contact signals ostracism. Wesselman went on to experiment the matter and found that people who were “looked through” as if they were thin air–even in busy and crowded areas– felt more disconnected than those who were looked at.

It is safe to say though, that we all know that others appreciate being acknowledged, smiled at, and welcomed. So why don’t we do it as often as we should? A 2005 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that the main reason we fail to engage with others as often as we would like to is because of our fear of rejection and that others will not be interested in engaging with us. We believe that others lack interest and for that reason fail to engage them. True, some people probably do lack interest and want to be left alone– most people don’t.

I went on to experiment on this in my own armature way. I started saying hello to people I had never met, inviting them for a Shabbat meal, or just having a small chat. No surprises here. Most people were really moved, appreciative, and receptive to those gestures.

Amy Rees Anderson,points out in her Forbes article “Make Eye Contact, Smile and Say Hello,” how we have all been in a situation social situation where nobody knew us. “Then some superhero — a stranger —comes up and smiles, puts out their hand and says “hello.” And just like that, the awkwardness is over. ”

This year, let’s make an effort to be another person’s superhero.

As Jews, we have now been “traveling” together for more than three thousand years. We have faced our spiritual and physical utter obliteration time and again, and yet we survived. At times of distress and persecution we stand united and the strength we find in turning to each other helped us survive. However, this cannot be what brings us together. As Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom points out ““If unity is to be a value it cannot be one that is sustained by the hostility of others alone.”

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are great opportunities to stand up to our shared historical experience, the undeniable bond of the present, and create a bright destiny for Jewish future. Let us reach out to each other with love, friendship, and kindness. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to each other, we owe it to our history. Most importantly, we owe it to our future.

Shana Tova.


Published in the Jewish Journal, October 5th, 2016

Kiddush Hayom and Yom HaKippurim by Rabbi Dr. Chaim Schertz


Is there a requirement for Jews to sanctify Yom HaKippurim through generic words or a recitation of a specific formula prior to the onset of Yom Hakippurim?  This question refers to whether there is an obligation upon all Jews to sanctify Yom HakIppurim, not the exceptional cases of those who are at mortal risk and are required to eat on the day of Yom Kippurim. To understand this question, we must first analyze the commandment which applies to Yom HaShabbat, the Sabbath day.

In the Mishneh Torah the Rambam states:

It is a positive commandment of the Torah to sanctify the Sabbath with words for it states in the Torah, “remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it” (i.e. to make it holy).  Shemot 20:8  And one has to remember it at its entrance and at its exit.  Laws of the Sabbath, 29:1.

The Rambam continues further on:

Just as we sanctify the Sabbath on its eve, and establish its separation (Havdala) at the conclusion of the day, in the same manner we sanctify the holidays on their eve and declare their separation at their conclusion, and at the conclusion of Yom HaKippurim.  For all of them are the Sabbaths of God.  Laws of Sabbath, 29:18.

There appears to be an ambiguity about the nature of Yom HaKippurim. Does Yom HaKippurim only entail the requirement of Havdala, but not Kiddush? If that is so, how could there be one without the other?  When it comes to sacred time, the Rambam himself stated above that a boundary must be established at the beginning and at the end of the day.  We must also remember that according to Torah law, that boundary is established through words alone.  It is the Rabbis who require using wine or bread in order to make Kiddush (consecration) and even other liquids for making Havdala. Thus, the Torah requirement would not violate the fast of Yom HaKippurim.

What is more compelling is that even within the Rabbinic setting of making Kiddush over wine, the Rambam states: “One should make Kiddush over the cup (of wine) on the eve of the Sabbath when it is still during the daytime even though the Sabbath had not yet begun.” Laws of Sabbath, 29:11  This is what the Rambam stated above in law 29:1 as the entrance of the Sabbath, which is before the Sabbath has begun.

If this is the case even when using wine, then it certainly cannot violate Yom HaKippurim by only using words at the time that Yom HaKippurim did not even begin yet. Finally, the Sabbath and Yom Hakippurim are inherently linked together, so what occurs on one should occur on the other.  Yom HaKippurim is called Shabbat Shabbaton or the Great Sabbath. Vayikra 16:31.  All aspects of Yom HaKippurim are ultimately derived from the laws of the Sabbath. See Vayikra 16:29. The Talmud states:

Just like the principle of not working on the Sabbath is one of refraining from work and doing nothing, so is the principle of affliction of the soul (on Yom Kippur) one of holding back and doing nothing . . .Just as with the prohibition of work there is no distinction based upon circumstance (i.e. location) so also the principle of affliction of the soul, should not be based upon the distinction of location. (whether based upon the location is hot or cold) . . .affliction of the soul is a matter which automatically leads to the loss of life and that is only refraining from eating and drinking. Yoma 74b.

The Talmud ultimately concludes: “There is no distinction between the Sabbath and Yom HaKippurim except that if one violated the Sabbath with premeditation his punishment is death through the earthly court, while premeditated violation of the other (Yom HaKippurim) is death through the heavenly court (Karet).” Megillah 7b. See Also Mishneh Torah, Shvitat Asor, 1:1, 1:4.

In light of all of the above, why should there be no concept of Kiddush HaYom  on Yom HaKippurim?  The answer is that in truth there is such a concept and this concept is expressed by the Bircat Hazeman (Blessing on the Time) (Shehecheyanu) that is said on Yom Hakippurim prior to the evening service. That benediction is said when it is still daytime.  It fulfills the underlying principle of Kiddush Hayom which is an act of acceptance of the Shabbat and all the other holidays.  In the absence of the normal Kiddush, Bircat Hazeman assumes that role.  This is indicated by the following Talmudic analysis:

The following question is posed by Rabba.  “Should one say the Bircat Hazeman on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?  Should I say that since these days occur only once from year to year the blessing should be said, or because these are not called festivals it should not be said?”Eruvin 40b.

The Talmud proceeds to eliminate various possibilities which deal with this question. It eventually concludes that in any event, this benediction should be said over a cup of wine.  The Talmud concedes that this may apply to Rosh Hashanah, but how could it apply to Yom HaKippurim?

“How could that occur on Yom HaKippurim? If one makes the benediction and drinks the cup, once he has made the benediction over the time( Zeman), he has accepted upon himself Yom HaKippurim and thus has forbidden himself to drink!” Eruvin 40b.  The Talmud offers several suggestions of how to solve this problem, but ultimately discounts them and finally concludes that one does say Bircat Hazeman prior to Yom HaKippurim, but without the use of wine. See Ibid, also Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shabbat 29:23.

The purpose of Kiddush HaYom is to allow a Jew to establish or to create sacred time in partnership with God in God’s creation. That is established primarily through Kiddush. Bircat Hazeman is thus an extension or a portion of that Kiddush HaYom. According to the Rabbis, it is normally said in conjunction with wine. But when wine is not available (or any bread) it may be said as an independent blessing as it is on Yom Hakippurim. To give it its intended meaning of creating sacred time it must be said prior to Yom Hakippurim. This is the role and power given to man to establish sacred time. The blessing of Shehecheyanu is thus said at the end of the Kol Nidre service, but it has nothing to do with Kol Nidre. It must be said prior to Yom Hakippurim when it is still day and when the act of sanctification is still in human hands.  By helping to create Yom HaKippurim, we help establish the basis for own Kappara.

Do You Make a Bracha on Gum?

Rabbi Ari Enkin

There is a difference of opinion on whether a blessing must be recited before chewing gum. Actually, it seems to be somewhat obvious that a blessing should be recited, as it says in Shulchan Aruch, “One recites shehakol on sugar, and shehakol is also recited when sucking sweet sticks.”[1] It appears that gum fits nicely into both of these categories, as it is essentially sugar that is sucked (chewed) for its taste (the sugar). Most contemporary halachic authorities agree with this approach and rule that a blessing must be recited upon gum.[2]

Nevertheless, the sefer Birkat Hashem maintains that a blessing is not required on gum. This is because the gum’s taste is first absorbed into one’s saliva before it is swallowed. He argues that saliva, even if flavored, is not something upon which a blessing is ever recited. So too, Rav Chaim Tabasky cites a number of authorities who rule that a blessing is not recited upon gum, as it is not considered to be “hana’at achila,” the manner in which food is typically enjoyed. Among those who agree with this approach are Rav Dov Lior,[3] Rav Tuvia Goldstein, and Rav Seraya Deblitzky.[4] In fact, Rav Lior rules that one who recited a blessing on gum has recited a beracha l’vatala and must therefore say “baruch shem kevod malchuto l’olam va’ed” accordingly.[5] It is also reported that Rav Shimon Schwab did not recite a blessing before chewing gum. Rav Yisroel Belsky rules that hard gum requires a blessing while soft gum does not. The reason for the difference is that pieces of the shell of hard gum are inevitably swallowed when chewing it.

Most halachic authorities disagree with the ruling of the Birkat Hashem and rule that a blessing must be always be recited on gum. Nevertheless, there might be room to differentiate between regular gum and sugar-free gum. One reason for this is that sugar-free gum contains no ingredients that are ingested. For example, the package for the Elite Must gum, Israel’s most popular sugar-free gum, states that a piece of gum contains two calories. From the ingredients list, it appears that these two calories might only be from the aspartame and/or food coloring content. Considering the fact that aspartame and coloring agents can hardly be considered to be “foods,” especially when consumed on their own, they may be exempt from a blessing. Furthermore, these two calories are likely completely dissolved in one’s saliva. So too, the movement of the gum around the crevices of one’s mouth, especially between the teeth, likely renders this small amount of aspartame (or other caloric content) batel, completely nullified and insignificant, even if it actually does make its way into one’s stomach, at all. There may be further grounds to be lenient with sugar-free gum considering that there are opinions that a blessing is not recited when tasting – even if swallowing – minute amounts of food.[6] In sugar-filled gum, of course, there is a considerable amount of sugar that is ingested while chewing it, which warrants the recitation of a blessing.

Some time ago I discussed this issue with Rav Ephraim Greenblatt. He agreed with me that a case can be made to suggest that sugar-free gum should be exempt from a blessing. He suggested, however, that one wishing to chew sugar-free gum should first recite a shehakol blessing on a different food item with the intention that the blessing serve to cover the sugar-free gum, as well. In this way one avoids the dispute entirely.

It is also worth mentioning that gum must have a hechsher, and I have never seen a convincing argument to the contrary.[7] One must not chew gum on a fast day.[8]

Somewhat related to the gum issue is the discussion as to whether a blessing should be recited before smoking. The Magen Avraham writes that “further study” is required in order to determine whether “those who smoke tobacco through a pipe and inhale the smoke into their mouths and then exhale” should recite a blessing before doing so.[9] Almost all authorities, however, rule that a blessing is not recited before smoking.[10] One of the reasons for this is that a blessing may not be recited on something that is damaging to one’s health.[11] Indeed, almost all halachic authorities rule that it is forbidden to smoke, and one who does so is obligated to make an effort to quit.[12] Nevertheless, there is an opinion that one should recite a shehakol blessing on a food item before smoking tobacco with the intention that the blessing serve to cover the enjoyment that one will receive from the tobacco.[13]


Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the Dalet Amot of Halacha series (7 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and is a RA”M at Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah and Yeshivat Ashreinu. www.rabbienkin.com

[1] OC 202:15.

[2] Yabia Omer 7:33, 9:108; Igrot Moshe, OC 2:57; Or L’Tzion 2:14:8.

[3] Devar Chevron 2:194.

[4] Yaskil Avdi 8:20:54; Yitzchak Yeranen 37. See Rabbi Chaim Tabasky, “Gum,” Ask the Rabbi, Beit El Yeshiva Center’s Yeshiva.org, 2 Kislev 5767, http://www.yeshiva.co/ask/?srch=1&q=Gum.

[5] Devar Chevron 2:194.

[6] OC 210:2.

[7] See for example Rabbi Zushe Yosef Blech, “Kashrus Issues in Chewing Gum,” http://www.kashrut.com/articles/gumzo.

[8] Devar Chevron 2:573.

[9] Magen Avraham 210:9.

[10] Mishna Berura 210:17; Kaf Hachaim, OC 210:32.

[11] Mishne Halachot 9:161; Avnei Yashfei 1:42. See also Aruch Hashulchan, OC 216:4.

[12] Shevet Halevi 10:295; Tzitz Eliezer 15:39; Be’er Moshe 6:160; Rivevot Ephraim 3:487; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 3:354.

[13] Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 210:1.