Sunday, 28 December 2014

Fasting on New Year's Day

Last year, I wrote a blog about the fast of the 10th of Tevet and Friday the 13th as it fell out in 2013, click here to read. This year the fast falls on New Year's Day. For what New Year's Day traditionally means for Jews please click here. But in today's blog post, I want to focus on what this fast really means for us.

The short answer is it was the start of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, 2600 years ago. But if you look a bit deeper the fast actually commemorates 3 things that happened on the 8th, 9th and 10th of Tevet. On the eighth of Tevet during the Second Temple period, Ptolemy, King of Egypt, ordered the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, a work which later became known as the Septuagint. Seventy two sages were placed in solitary confinement and ordered to translate the Torah into Greek. 

The expected outcome would be a multitude of different translations that would then be compared and critiqued by the Greeks as there were some sentences in the bible that could be understood as offensive to pagans if taken wrongly and would obviously need to be changed. This would demonstrate the muddled meanings of the Torah and the divergent opinions of Jewish interpreters. 

Masekhet Megillah  records the event as follows "King Ptolemy once gathered 72 Elders. He placed them in 72 chambers, each of them in a separate one, without revealing to them why they were summoned. He entered each one's room and said: Write for me the Torah of Moshe, your teacher. God put it in the heart of each one to translate identically as all the others did."

The Greeks saw this as a most impressive feat at the time. However, despite this great miracle the various rabbinical sources see this event as a tragedy, a debasement of the divine nature of the Torah, and a subversion of its spiritual qualities. They reasoned that upon translation from the original Hebrew, the Torah's legal codes & deeper layers of meaning would be lost. Many Jewish laws are formulated in terms of specific Hebrew words employed in the Torah; without the original Hebrew code, authenticity of the legal system would be damaged. 

Indeed, our reliance on English translations today can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. A blessing to have the ability to study texts that up until now were only available to Hebrew scholars. And a curse since we rely too heavily on their translations and interpretations without properly studying the Hebrew.

I like to view the 10th of Tevet as the polar opposite of Hanukah. On Hanukah, we celebrate the fact that the Greeks and the Hellenized Jews were defeated by the Torah faithful Jews. However, there were costs involved in our survival and living among the Greeks. Our Holy Torah was translated into Greek and this affected our culture and our very way of life. 

As a child growing up in England, in my teenage years, we would often discuss are we English Jews or are we Jewish Englishmen? To what extent do we value the Western values that enhance our lives and to what extent do they change our views of Judaism? These are the kind of things I ponder this time of year, when the world around us is focusing on Christmas and New Year, we have Hanukah and the fast of Tevet. I think the calendar is designed like this to make us think about our Judaism when it is so much easier to get wrapped up in non-Jewish Holidays instead. 

On the 9th of Tevet Ezra HaSofer who brought the Jews back from Babylon to build the Second Temple died. Some say Nechemia also died. The Tenth itself marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians ultimately leading to the destruction of the First Temple. Even though these events took place over a couple of hundred years. I think the message is clear. If we allow ourselves to become totally assimilated into foreign cultures it can lead not only to our spiritual numbness but eventually to even worse scenarios. We should not only celebrate our holidays but also commemorate our fasts and hold dear to what is truly valuable. 

Thursday's  Fast begins at 6:17am and ends at 4:58pm (Seattle Times). Shacharit at SBH is at 8:00am and Minha with Talet and Tefillin is at 3:45pm. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Chanukah Why is it 8 days long?

Here's the classic and timeless question asked by Rav Yosef Karo in his most prodigious work, Bet Yosef (O.H. 670): A flask with one night’s oil burned for 8 nights. But being that there was oil for one night, the miracle actually lasted only 7 nights. So why is Chanukah 8 nights? 

The simplicity of this 500 year old question has brought about much interest and many different answers. I'd like to bring seven of the more famous answers. Here are three answers  from Rav Karo himself:

1. The Cohanim in charge of preparing the Menorah for lighting knew that it would take eight days until new oil could be obtained. They therefore divided the flask into eight parts, so that at least the Menorah would at least be lit every day. A miracle occurred and the small amount of oil that was placed in the Menorah each day lasted an entire day.

2. On the first night, the contents of the jug was emptied into the Menorah. After filling the entire menorah the oil jug was still full of oil.

3. After the first night, when they entered the sanctuary the next morning to clean the menorah, they found that the cups of the menorah were still full of oil, despite having burned the entire night.

4. The Meiri writes that The Greeks defiled and looted the Temple for many days in search of oil to defile. Despite their superiority in strength and numbers, they missed one flask. The Jews entered the Beit HaMikdash and found the one jar of oil that hadn't been defiled straightaway. 

5. The Peri Hadash explains that the seven days commemorate the miracle of the oil, and one day commemorates the miracle that a few weak Jewish soldiers defeated the mighty Greek legions.

6. Chidushei HaRim explains that they knew that the oil wouldn't last eight days so they made the wicks one-eighth of the normal thickness. Nevertheless, the flames burned just as brightly as if the wicks had been the normal thickness.

7. The Arukh HaShulkhan writes that the Mitzvah of Berit Milah was forbidden under the reign of Antiochus, after the military victory, the Jews were once again able to openly perform the commandment. Since the Berit Milah takes place on the 8th day we celebrate Hanukah for 8 days. 

8. In the Book of the Maccabees, it states that the Jews were unable to celebrate Sukkot that year. So the 8 days of Hanukah was established in lieu of the 8 days of Sukkot. (Thanks David Balint)

חנוכה שמח, Happy Chanukah and Hanukah Allegre!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Can a woman be a president of a synagogue?

On Sunday December 14th the membership of Sephardic Bikur Holim (SBH) will have the opportunity to amend the bylaws to allow every member in good standing to serve the synagogue in an executive board function, including vice president and/or president. I have been asked to write a blog to explain the history of this topic at SBH and the halakhic issues involved.

This topic has come up twice before at SBH, once in the 1990s and once in 2012. In the late 90s it was decided not to change the bylaws. Two years ago there was much debate to change the bylaws. At that time SBH did not have a rabbi and it was recommended to wait until the new rabbi would be appointed to give his halakhic ruling on the topic. So as the new rabbi I was tasked with coming up with a definitive halakhic ruling to present as the 2014 general membership meeting. 

I would like to share with you my decision making. First of all, I read the substantial halakhic literature on the subject. Second, I listened to different members of the community who were involved in the decisions in the 1990s and in 2012. Third, I discussed the issue with our rabbis emeritus and with senior rabbis in the community and the United States. 

Here is a summary of the halakhic literature based on an excellent article by Rabbis Aryeh and Dov Frimer in 2007. In the book of Devarim (17:14-20) the Torah states the laws of appointing a Jewish King. The Midrashic commentary the Sifrei notes that the Torah mentions the word king three times. From the fact that the word king is mentioned three times we must learn something new each time it is mentioned. One of the three things learned is that you may appoint a king - but not a queen. 

The Rambam codifies the halakha as follows. "We may not appoint a woman as king. When describing the monarchy, the Torah employs the male form of the word king and not the female. This principle also applies to all other positions of leadership within Israel. Only men should be appointed to fill them." (Hilkhot Melakhim 1:5) The question we have before us is what is leadership or in Hebrew "serara"? Serara can be understood to be anyone who makes unilateral decisions. There are several rishonim (medieval halakhic decisors) such as the Hinukh, Rashi and Ran who disagree with the Rambam's interpretation. They limit the scope to just a woman becoming a queen but they allow for a woman to have a leadership role. 

I would like to jump to the 20th Century. In a number of lengthy responsa it is clear that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled against women taking on leadership roles in synagogues. Rav Soloveitchik was asked about women serving on synagogue boards. Rabbis Aryeh and Dov Frimer write the following: "The Rav responded that he saw no reason why women could not serve as a board member. It was not serara since the final decision was made by the board and not by the member. The members merely had input. The Rav did rule that women could not be synagogue presidents. Presidents had certain prerogatives and that constituted serara." Rabbi Maimon, being a student of Rav Soloveitchik holds that a woman can be on the board but cannot be a president or vice president. Hacham Uziel, former chief Rabbi of Israel wrote that our democratic system changes everything and even the Rambam would agree that there is no serara here.  

I felt that in the last twenty years since the passing of Rav Soloveitchik things have evolved a great deal. Synagogue boards work differently. President does not make decisions unilaterally. There is no discretionary power, all decisions are made by committees or boards and not by individuals. I felt it was important to talk to a major posek, a halakhic decider of complicated meta-halakhic issues. 

I contacted Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, the Av Beit Din of the Rabbinical Council of America he indicated to me that he believes that the issues raised by the Rambam are not applicable to the position of synagogue president, and that, consequently, there is no halakhic prohibition. He added that it would be better if there was a woman who wished to be president but did not say that it was essential. 

Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, head of Yeshivat Birkat Moshe in Ma'ale Adumim, Israel and a well known modern orthodox posek, felt that there was good reason to allow a woman to serve as a synagogue President, since to his mind serara is the right to exercise discretionary authority. This does not exist in synagogue presidencies as every decision is reviewed by the Board and members. 

To the question of changing the status quo and what the Orthodox Jewish community is comfortable with, there are a number of orthodox organizations in Seattle that have Female presidents or leaders both currently and in the past. There are also many orthodox synagogues outside of Seattle with female presidents. 

To those who are concerned about the slippery slope, Rabbi Frimer writes the following "Rav Nahum was, however, concerned about the cohesiveness of the community. In the 50s, 60s and 70s there was a real justified fear of the slippery slope, of the inroads made by Conservative Judaism. But in 2007, things have, to his mind, changed radically. Orthodoxy is vibrant and the Conservative movement is weak. Nevertheless, one can’t dismiss the fears and concerns of those who want to be stringent. But these fears and concerns may well dissipate in 10 years from now."

My definitive halakhic ruling is that women can serve as vice president or president of SBH. Despite Rabbi Maimon supporting the view of his illustrious teacher Rabbi Solovetichik, both Rabbi Maimon and Rabbi Benzaquen have made it clear to me that they support the process I went through and that I asked a major posek. Whatever, the membership decides on Sunday, I hope that this does not become a divisive issue. I feel that I have shown through the halakhic sources that it is permitted to have women serve in the positions of vice-president and president. It is now up to the membership to vote.

To read the article by Rabbis Aryeh and Dov Frimer in full, please click here

Monday, 1 December 2014

Organ Donation in Halakha

Can/should I donate organs when I am alive? E.g. donating a kidney or bone marrow or donating blood? The Torah tells us not to stand idly by the blood of your neighbor (Vayikra 19:16). But can we risk our own lives to save others? The answer lies in the risk level. If the donor would be high risk most halakhic decisors would rule the act forbidden but if the risk is relatively low halakhic decisors generally permit and could even mandate it. 

Rabbi Joshua Flug writes "donating a kidney entails a certain degree of risk. In a survey of over 10,000 kidney donations, two donor deaths were reported. If we assume that one must undertake a certain degree of risk in order to save a life, one cannot absolve himself from the obligation to donate a kidney based on the risks associated with donating a kidney."

Rav Moshe Feinstein writes (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De'ah 2:174) that a person is not obligated to donate an organ to save another person. However, he considers the act meritorious. Rav Ovadiah Yosef ( Yehave Daat 3:84) hints that not only is it meritorious it might even be obligatory.

Can/Should I donate my organs after I die? Are there any halakhic impediments? What do I need to do to be ready? This is an area of halakha which has had many evolutions over the years and it is one which is quite misunderstood. Most Jews think it is forbidden and don't even bother looking into the subject. A wikipedia article quotes Nancy Scheper-Hughes of Organ Watch who writes that "Israel has become a 'pariah' in the organ transplant world. The lack of donations due to Jewish custom heightened the disparity between the supply and demand of organs." All this when Israel is at the forefront in transplant technology. 

Before we can discuss organ donation after death, we must decide when a person dies. What is the definition of death? Is it when the heart stops beating or is it the cessation of respiration (Brain-Stem death)? "Brain-stem death is a term used to describe the whole brain dying – both the cortex and the brain-stem. The brain-stem is the central nervous system of the human body and it is the center of consciousness. If the brain-stem dies, respiration will stop. Once the heart stops receiving oxygen it too will die and stop beating and all other organs also die as a result of oxygen deprivation." Dr Paul Ratzker

Ratzker concludes "a brain-stem dead patient is not a person suffering from brain-stem death – he is dead! Once death has been established the question facing the family in this situation is, what to do? Should the family turn off the ventilator and bury the deceased? Or should the family keep the body on a ventilator in order to donate organs and save other people’s lives? Emotionally this is a difficult decision and every family has to do what they feel is right."

Scientifically there is no debate on this issue, the moment of death is brain-stem death. However, in Jewish law it is a little bit more complicated. Rabbi Shlomo M. Brody summarizes the halakhic positions very well in his book A Guide to the Complex: Contemporary Halakhic Debates. He explains that the position of Rav Moshe Feinstein "in 1976 that brain-stem death fulfils the halakhic criterion of death, even if the heart continues beating due to artificial respiration... In 1987, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel endorsed this position, pronouncing conventional, non-experimental organ transplants a great mitzva."

The Halachic Organ Donor Society (HODS) has the following to say. "Organs for donation are usually taken from a person whose heart is still beating and was declared dead because the patient’s brain had died.  Some Rabbis, however, view a beating heart as a sign of life (and prohibit removing organs) while other Rabbis do not deem a beating heart sufficient for life (requiring brain function and autonomous) and therefore allow donation from a brain dead patient.

"The Halachic Organ Donor Society recognizes this debate and encourages organ donation at either stage by offering a unique organ donor card that allows a person to choose donation at brain death or alternatively at cessation of heartbeat.

"From a medical perspective, however, it is difficult to recover organs after cardiac death.  In addition, the heart and lungs cannot be recovered once the heart dies. Therefore the decision about when to donate is significant." To read more about organ donations before and after death, please go to the HODS website

Monday, 17 November 2014

Sephardic Custom and Law When a Close Relative Passes Away

This blog post is in memory of Isaac Bensussen, Alfred Cordova and Roza Basseri who all passed away in the last few days. I am writing this blog because when people receive sad news of the death of their loved ones, they are not always able to take in all the customs and laws of mourning. Laws, which were designed to provide comfort at the most difficult time that a person can go through. May they be studied only in the theoretical sense and may God bring Mashiach speedily in our days.

From the moment a close relative passes away until the person is buried, the loved ones (father, mother, spouse, brother, sister, son or daughter) fall into the category of aninut. This period of deep sorrowfulness is a time when the family members spend their time making the arrangements for the funeral. As such Jewish law not only exempts but forbids a person from making berachot (blessings) and doing tefillah (prayer). As such, if a person died on a Monday and was not buried till Wednesday, the close relatives would be exempt from all the tefillot until after the funeral. 

The exception to this law is during Shabbat (and festivals). If a person passes away during Shabbat, or there was not time to arrange the funeral before Shabbat the close family members are obligated in Shabbat tefillah and should attend synagogue services. The reason is that on Shabbat a person cannot make funeral arrangements. Once Shabbat is over the regular laws of aninut apply. 

There are a number of prohibitions on the onen. They may not eat meat or drink wine, shower or shave. One is also forbidden to have a haircut, have marital relations, work or even study Torah. However, they may wear leather shoes and sit on regular chairs. 

Immediately following the burial the immediate mourners recite kaddish. Children are obligated to say kaddish for their parents for 11 months stopping on the 11 month meldatho. They then stop for a month and then say kaddish on the 12 month meldatho and continue for a month.  

For all other relatives kaddish is recited for 30 days. However, many in our community have the custom to say kaddish for the year for all close relatives.

Following the burial, the close relatives become avelim - mourners. Our custom is to recite the beracha Baruch Dayan Ha'Emet - Blessed is The True Judge and the avel - mourner tears his/her clothes. This is called Keriah. Although there are different customs I shall write how it is codified in Jewish Law. For parents we tear on the left side, opposite the heart. For other relatives we tear on the right side. The outer garment should be torn and not the inner garment. For parents some have the custom to tear all the clothes including the undershirts. It is permitted for the mourner to change clothes to something that he/she is comfortable to tear. Care must be taken to preserve a woman's modesty when the tearing is done.

Following the keriah, the mourners are provided with their first meal - The Seudat Havra'ah. Jewish Law states that this meal cannot be made by the family and is traditionally made by friends. In our community, the brotherhood and synagogues provide the first meal. This meal consists of round foods such as hard boiled eggs, bread rolls and olives. Lentils are eaten in other communities. Some have the custom to drink wine at this meal. The idea of the round foods represents the circle of life events and our hope that the mourners will have happier life cycle events such as births and marriages. Following this meal and during all meals during the first week of mourning there is a special Birkat Hamazon - which contains passages of consolation, the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of Temple in Jerusalem.

The week of shiva or siete has the following laws and customs. Ideally services take place in either the house of the deceased or the house of the mourners. Some prefer to have all the services at the synagogue, while others prefer a combination. With the exception of the mourners going to synagogue the mourners should remain at home. The idea is that friends and family come to give comfort to the mourners. The community comes to the family at their most difficult time, rather than the usual practice of the individual coming to the community. It is our way to pay our respects to the one who has passed and to the mourners. 

The most common practices are that the mourner sits on a low seat and does not wear leather shoes. For those sitting shiva who are advanced in years or ill or pregnant do not have to sit on a low chair. Strictly speaking a mourner should not sleep on a bed but many rely on the leniency that we are all like ill people and sleep on a bed. A mourner is also forbidden to shave/have a haircut, have marital relations or wash/bathe. We do not greet mourners, nor do we start conversation with them until they initiate conversation. Mourners are forbidden to learn Torah as Torah gladdens the heart. During shiva a mourner is also forbidden to work. 

During the Shabbat of the week of mourning the mourners come to the synagogue. It is our custom that the mourner sits facing the congregation and friends come and sit with the mourner. I do not know the source for this custom, indeed on Shabbat we are not supposed to do any outward signs of mourning, but many have told me how they find this custom one of the most comforting of all of our mourning practices. At this Shabbat service a friend of the family or a relative of the mourners who is not himself a mourner is called to the Torah and the whole congregation rises for the memorial prayer.

On the last day of the siete, the mourning ends after morning prayers. Following the conclusion of the first week of mourning the mourners are permitted to shower/bathe, wear leather shoes, greet people in the normal way and learn Torah. The male mourners are still forbidden to shave or have a hair cut until the month of mourning is over. In a pressing need such as for work the mourner may shave but only if he feels his job is in danger. Female mourners may have a haircut but cannot wear makeup until the end of the 30 day period. 

Meldathos - Following the end of the 7 day period and the end of the sheloshim - the first 30 days the family and friends read mishnayot and give words of Torah in memory of their dearly departed loved ones. Our custom is to have meldathos on the 7th, 9th and 11th month as well as on the 12th month - the anyo. All of these meldathos are commemorated from the day of burial. All future meldathos are commemorated on the day the person passed away.

For a more detailed account of our mourning practices please read "A Time To Weep - A Guide to Bereavment Based on the Customs of the Seattle Sephardic Community" For any personal questions please feel free to contact me. May all our mourning practices, customs and laws grant comfort to those in mourning. 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Can we still learn from Disgraced Rabbis?

I received many comments about my last email on Halloween celebrations. Some said I shouldn't have said it was forbidden just not recommended. But the vast majority of comments were focused on the fact that I quoted Rabbi Broyde as my source. To paraphrase the comments they went something like this. "How can a Rabbi who has been disgraced still be used for halachic rulings? It would be better to quote other Rabbis or at the very least to give a disclaimer of his past deeds."

I decided after talking and emailing with those who made comments that I should write a blog on the permissibility or validity of quoting disgraced Rabbis in halakhic rulings. And even if it is technically ok, is it appropriate to do so? Furthermore, should we continue to learn from their many articles and books?

Before jumping into this question I want to add a further layer to this discussion. To what extent does one's actions at the end of a person's life change forever their legacy. Using an example from the last couple of weeks. Noach is described at first as a righteous man, perfect in his generation, who walked with God. He and his family were saved from the flood and from his family mankind would start all over again. This we all know well. 

However, at the end of the Torah portion, there is a less known section when Noach post flood, plants a vineyard, makes wine and gets drunk. In many ways this could be explained as Noach being depressed and melancholy after the flood for having not saved the world. He then curses one of his children and one of his grandchildren and blesses the rest. This is the last we hear of Noach. Despite living at the same time as Avraham. (Noach was still alive when Avraham was 58). The Torah does not recount a discussion between Avraham and Noach. Could it be that post flood, Noach was no longer the great man?  Or could it be that Avraham would not wish to seek out the man chosen to save the world? Could it be that Noach was now notorious?!

I want to start by discussing two famous personalities of the Talmud Rabbi Meir and his teacher Elisha Ben Avuya/Acher. The following is based on a piece of aggadah from Masekhet Hagiga. Acher was a great Torah scholar, who along with three other great Rabbis entered Paradise. 

"Four men entered the pardes — Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher, and Akiva. Ben Azzai looked and died; Ben Zoma looked and went mad; Acher destroyed the plants; Akiva entered in peace and departed in peace."

This piece of Aggadah which is not to be understood literally, teaches us a couple of important things. First, there are many things beyond human understanding, even great Rabbis cannot understand all of God's ways. Second, Acher found what he saw/what he understood to be very troubling. As a result of this Acher decided to depart from a Torah observant lifestyle. However, his great disciple, Rabbi Meir continued to learn with Acher long after he turned away from God.

The Talmud asks "But how did R. Meir learn Torah at the mouth of Acher? ... R. Dimi said: In the West, they say: R. Meir ate the date and threw the kernel away. Rava expounded: What is the meaning of the verse: I went down to the garden of nuts, to look at the green plants of the valley? Why are the scholars likened to the nut? To tell you that just as in the case of the nut, though it be spoiled with mud and filth, yet its contents are not sullied, so in the case of a scholar, although he may have sinned, yet his Torah remains unsullied."

Although a regular person would struggle to learn from a person like Acher and realise what is Torah and what is not, Rabbi Meir was able to discern the good from the bad. From Rabbi Meir we could possibly conclude the following, I can still learn the writings of these disgraced Rabbis because I can figure out what is clear, unsullied Torah thought from the shortcomings of these Rabbis.  Indeed, Elisha Ben Avuya makes it into Pirkei Avot - a book of our ethical teachings. Without any disclaimers of his appropriateness to learn from. (See Chapter 4 Mishna 20)

Another thing to think about is, in what way did the Rabbi become disgraced? Was it stealing from the discretionary fund or creating online pseudonyms? Is it plagiarizing other Rabbinic works or is it taking advantage of vulnerable members of one's congregation? Are there many incidents or is it just a couple? 

We have seen a few incidents in recent years of highly regarded modern Orthodox rabbis being discredited. The question that is relevant is whether the problem that the particular Rabbi had casts a shadow on his writings. Does one's past deeds invalidate his past rulings?

If we were to say yes, wouldn't that bring into question all the conversions that these Rabbis were involved in?! The very fact that Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz made a public ruling that all previous conversions that were conducted while Rabbi Freundel was the head of the Beit Din in Washington DC are still valid and do not require a second conversion shows that Rabbi Schwartz believes that one's halachic mind is separate from one's misdeeds. I.e. that despite Rabbi Freundel's deplorable behavior over a number of years, while he was acting as a dayan for conversion that was done properly. 

Finally, to the question of should one study from and promote teachings from disgraced Rabbis, I can well understand the position that their positions can be relied upon but that we should not go out of way to bring them as the only sources on a particular topic. With regard to me bringing Rabbi Broyde's ruling on Halloween, at that moment of writing my email I was only aware of his ruling. Had I been aware of other prominent positions I would have brought them instead. 

I know I haven't delved into this completely, but I welcome your comments and positions at the bottom of this piece to develop some of these ideas. I also saw an excellent source sheet by Rabbi Josh Yuter on this topic which can be read here.

Monday, 20 October 2014

How Does Conversion Work and How Should We Treat Potential Converts?

How does a person convert to Orthodox Judaism and how should we treat people in our community who wish to convert to Judaism? To what extent should we welcome them/discourage them? 

These are not easy questions and I don't believe that there is only one way to address them. However, I do understand that they are questions that members in our community talk about and would like direction on. First and foremost, we should treat every human being with total respect and kindness as each person whether they choose to convert to Judaism or not are created in God's image and we are morally obligated to treat them with sensitivity and kindness. 

To what extent should we welcome people in to our community who wish to convert? That is a hard one to answer. We have a tradition of discouraging potential converts at the early stages. We need to point out to them (not that it isn't obvious) that being Jewish isn't easy. Apart from the myriad of laws to keep, throughout history Antisemitism has been the hardest thing for us Jews to live with. Whether that Antisemitism is openly displayed or whether it is done in a more veiled manner. 

Secondly, we should try and turn them down when they show a desire or interest in conversion. My style has always been to be polite but at the same time not too engaging until the individual, couple or family has proven themselves that they are in this for the long haul. Once that has been established I will decide whether I will take on a candidate for sponsoring. I will do thorough background checks on individuals as it is important to know who you are about to invest so much time in to. Then I will review with them just how difficult it is to convert and how much will be expected of them. Converting to Judaism is not just passing a few courses in college, rather it is a complete transformation of the individual which requires great dedication and commitment. 

When I have accepted candidates, I will invite them to my house for Shabbat meals. Once I have decided that they are ready, I ask a few other community members to invite them for Shabbat meals. When I get a sense that a candidate is ready, I will bring them to the Vaad for the first time. Being ready is a loose term but basically the fundamental prerequisites would be living in the community, keeping Shabbat (while breaking Shabbat once) and keeping kosher. Then the Rabbis will ask questions of the candidate. If they are satisfied the candidate will be accepted as an official candidate of the Vaad. 

Once a candidate is accepted by the Vaad, the candidates can send their children to the Jewish schools, at that stage I will let the hospitality committee know that such candidates can be invited by the broader community for Shabbat and Yom Tov meals.

I remember last Pesach, being surprised when I was trying to organize meals for people in the conversion program that certain families would not entertain such candidates because they had not converted yet. The families were referring to a halacha that only Jews can be invited for Yom Tov meals. While it is true that a convert only becomes halachically Jewish at the end of the process, they require firsthand knowledge of Jewish practice. One cannot read about a Seder rather one must experience it to know what it really feels like. This position is supported by many Rabbis today, although it should be noted that other Rabbis hold a more strict application of the halakha. 

I noted above that a potential convert is not allowed to keep Shabbat 100%. They must break Shabbat once. That is because Shabbat is a special mitzvah just for the Jewish People. It is a special sign between God and us. However, since candidates will one day keep Shabbat fully, we do not wish them to be accustomed to breaking Shabbat many times. So they do something to break Shabbat just once. In the case where Shabbat needs to broken and there is a potential candidate available, they can be asked to assist. However, we cannot and must not treat potential gerim as non-Jews who are there to be Shabbat Goyim. Known colloquially as a Shabbas goy. If one knows that they need assistance on Shabbat to do prohibited work, they must make arrangements before Shabbat with a non-Jew and not someone who is in the process of converting.

There are many books and subjects that a potential convert needs to study. They need to know the fundamentals of keeping a kosher home, the laws of Shabbat and Yom Tov, Family purity laws, knowledge of the Holidays and a degree of fluency of Hebrew reading. However, as I have said earlier, it isn't just about passing courses. There needs to be understanding of the sponsoring rabbi and the other Rabbis of the Vaad that such a candidate is ready. As such conversion times vary from case to case. But roughly it should take around two years for most candidates to complete an Orthodox conversion.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Laws of Mourning when someone passes away during Sukkot

The mourning practices we follow can be very comforting for a family at the very difficult time of the loss of a relative. However, there are times in the Jewish calendar where mourning practices are abridged or delayed. For example if a person passes away the day before one of the Jewish Festivals, the seven day mourning period known as shiva is cut short by the Yom Tov. This is because the collective joy of the holiday cannot coexist with any type of mourning. This unique halakha makes sense logically but can be very difficult for the mourners as they can feel cheated by not having the ability to sit shiva properly.

The following laws I am about to explain are for the situation when a person passes away either on Yom Tov or during Hol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the holiday). The following laws have been compiled for the Babani family and are written L'ilui Nishmat Sara Bat Esther Babani who passed away Shabbat Hol HaMoed Sukkot.

When a person passes away on the holiday the mourning laws are very different. The normal breakdown are the laws of the onen - for family members before their loved one is buried, the shiva - the seven day period following the burial of their loved one, the sheloshim - the 30 day period following the funeral and finally the laws of the year following the burial of a loved one.

Sara's children and sisters fell into a category of mourning called aninut - which means being in a period of intense grief where they are exempt from tefillah or making berakhot. They are also forbidden to eat meat or wine. The reason they are exempt from tefillah is because the close family members are too busy making funeral arrangements. However, on Shabbat these laws do not apply because no arrangements can be made. The children remain in aninut until Sara is buried on Monday morning.

Since Sara is being buried on Hol HaMoed Sukkot, a time of great joy for the Jewish people, Jewish Law states that eulogies are forbidden. The reason given that the point of the eulogy is to make the extended family and friends sad and feel a part of the grief that Sara's children will be going through. Since this is not appropriate on Hol HaMoed no eulogies will be made. Instead a short sketch of her life and some comments of her good character traits will be made. (Some time later in the year, proper eulogies can be given.)

The burial takes place as for any other burial and the children begin to say kaddish from the funeral. Where the big changes start is after burial. The family cannot sit shiva until after the Shabbat after Simchat Torah. Keriah - the tearing of the clothes still takes place after the funeral and is done at home. But the shirt that is torn is taken off immediately and is put away until the mourning can take place at the conclusion of Simchat Torah. The mourners still have the seudat havra'ah but instead of eggs, olives, raisins and rolls they are given cookies. Instead of eating the meal on the floor or on low chairs they eat the meal at the table. 

Ashkenazim, follow the position of the Rama that states that no public displays of mourning can be done during Hol HaMoed. So their practice is to do keriah after Yom Tov followed by the meal for mourners. But they do say Barukh Dayan HaEmet following the burial.

Friends can come and visit the family members during the rest of Hol HaMoed and Yom Tov but they should also make sure to visit the family members during the actual shiva after the holiday.

Although publicly the shiva does not start until after Yom Tov concludes, the last day of Yom Tov, in our case Simhat Torah is considered the first day of the shiva. Throughout Hol HaMoed the family may eat festive food and wear nice clothes and sit on regular chairs. They may show no outward signs of mourning. However, private signs of mourning must be kept.

May God comfort the Babani Family and remove death from the world. 

Monday, 6 October 2014

Is a Pitomless Etrog Kosher?

Is a pitomless etrog kosher? If it is kosher is it better or worse than an etrog with a pitom? These are a couple of the questions I was asked yesterday. Other than the more normal Sukkot questions of do I need to cut those branches hanging over my sukkah, and is this lulav kosher?

So what is a pitomless etrog? Look at the diagram on the left. The pitom, is the tip of the etrog. The pitom is extremely fragile, if it were to break off during the first two days of Sukkot, the etrog is not fit to make the beracha over. It has been known for the pitom to break off especially families with small children! 

As such great efforts have been done to strengthen the pitom. Here is an extract from an article on wikipedia: "Many more pitoms are preserved today thanks to an auxin discovered by Dr. Eliezer E. Goldschmidt, formerly professor of horticulture at the Hebrew University. Working with the picloram hormone in a citrus orchard, he discovered, to his surprise, that some of the Valencia oranges found nearby had preserved perfect pitams. Citrus fruits, other than an etrog or citron hybrid like the bergamot, usually do not preserve their pitam. When they occasionally do, it would at least be dry, sunken and very fragile. In this case the pitams were all fresh and solid just like those of the Moroccan or Greek citron varieties. Experimenting with picloram in a laboratory, Goldschmidt eventually found the correct “dose” to achieve the desired effect: one droplet of the chemical in three million drops of water. This invention is highly appreciated by the religious Jewish community." See the full article at wikipedia.

Other than strengthening the pitom, it has been shown that some etrog species lose their pitom naturally while on the tree. Such etrogim are 100% kosher. The only issue is when the etrogim lose their pitom post harvest. Then the etrog would be not kosher. To read an interesting article on the history of pitomless etrogim click here and see page 20.

Now, both etrogim with pitom and those without are kosher, provided that the the pitom fell while on the tree. Which one is better? In halacha, we always look to try and do hidur mitzvah, to do the mitzvah in the best possible way. In this case choosing the best possible etrog. There is a disagreement among the poskim which is better but most hold that with a pitom is better. However, if you know that your young children or grandchildren will shake your lulav you may like I do, prefer an etrog without a pitom.

Wishing you all a very happy Sukkot, Moadim Lesimha!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Fasting on Yom Kippur and Medical Concerns

This coming Shabbat we have our holiest day of the year, the Shabbat of Shabbatot, Yom Kippur. This solemn day of atonement is a day when our sins of the past year are forgiven and we begin afresh with a blank slate. There are a number of things that we must be very careful of on Yom Kippur. The 5 no's of Yom Kippur are no eating and drinking, no leather shoes, no anointing, no bathing and no marital relations. The idea behind these restrictions are that all of those things represent our physical needs. On Kippur we are focusing on our spiritual side and almost trying to be like angels without any physical needs or desires whatsoever. 

Fasting has long been considered part of the atonement process and that this should never be taken lightly. Anyone with medical concerns should consult their doctor and rabbi before Yom Kippur to assess their situation. It is not appropriate to consider a person who eats because of medical necessity as a sinner.

It goes without saying that elderly men and women who have been told by their doctors that fasting on Kippur will cause adverse affects to their health are neither required nor permitted to fast (see Shulkhan Arukh O.H. 618). However, there are many of us who in different times of our lives have problems fasting. For example, pregnant women, nursing mothers and those with diabetes to name but a few. These people do not get a blanket exemption from fasting on Yom Kippur. Fasting isn't meant to be easy but at the same time we are not allowed to put our lives in danger (hence the exemption for extremely elderly and infirm people).

Many doctors recommend that pregnant women should never fast, but the studies as yet are inconclusive in providing proof that fasting causes any problems to the mother or child. Indeed, provided that the woman drinks plenty of water before the fast there should be no issues for a healthy woman. As such  a healthy pregnant woman must fast on Yom Kippur (See Shulkhan Arukh O.H. 617). However, a woman in a high risk pregnancy should consult with her doctor and discuss the situation with her rabbi. Nursing women are also obligated to fast and they should express extra milk before the fast to have available for their children. Staying well hydrated and being well prepared should ensure that the fast should pass without problems. Women who have recently given birth should consult a rabbi.

If a person takes a daily tablet(s) such as blood pressure medicine. It is permitted to take it on Yom Kippur but don't take it with water. Recently I was contacted about a person with diabetes, who assumed since he had been recently diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic he would have no choice but to eat on Yom kippur. The truth is that is simply not the case. Indeed there are many religious Jews who have diabetes and fast on Yom Kippur. For more information for those with diabetes about how to fast on Yom Kippur and those who just want to read the article please click here

There are situations where a person can be instructed by their rabbi to eat and drink very small amounts of food or drink with a timed space in between. What is known as eating in shiurim/measurements. If someone feels that they are in a situation where they cannot fast for health reasons please call or email me this week.

Tizku LeShanim Rabot and have a meaningful fast.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Why Are We Judged on Rosh Hashana

Rosh Hashana is the main name of the Jewish New Year. But why does our New Year need to have such serious themes like a day of judgment? Why can't it be a happy day? To answer this we must look at the other names of Rosh Hashana. They are Yom Teruah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaDin and Yom HaRat Olam. Each one of these days explains part of the many themes on this important day.

Rosh Hashana is the easy one to translate and explain it literally means head of the year. Yom Teruah is a day of Shofar blowing. (I will talk more about Shofar blowing next week). Yom HaZikaron means the day that we remember everything that God has done for us and he 'remembers' all of our actions. 

Yom HaDin means judgment day. Each year on Rosh Hashana, God judges us but why? To answer that we must translate and explain another of Rosh Hashana's names, Yom HaRat Olam. This name means the day that the world was birthed. This is not exactly accurate. According to Rabbinic tradition the world was created on the 25th Elul but it was on the first of Tishri, the 6th day of creation that Adam and Eve were created.

What happened on that first day? According to the Talmud (Masekhet Sanhedrin) all the events of Adam and Eve until their expulsion from the Garden of Eden took place on that first day. Lets talk through those steps. Adam was created. He is put in charge of the entire garden but God warned him not to eat from the tree of knowledge (Etz HaDa'at). Then Eve is created from Adam. Adam then tells Eve not even to touch the tree. The snake convinces Eve to eat from the Etz HaDa'at and she gives the fruit to Adam too. They both realize they are naked and they 'hide' from God. God calls out to them hoping that they will acknowledge what they did. Instead Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. God judges them and punishes the snake, Eve and Adam. From that day onward this day would always be the day that God judges the whole of mankind.

It isn't all doom and gloom because Hashem does not punish us completely. The punishment for eating from the tree should have been death. Instead God gave Adam and Eve a lesser punishment. To show to them that with sincere teshuva, we can return and attain the position we were at before we sinned. So therefore when God does judge us this year on Rosh Hashana our minds should be filled with thoughts that our beloved father and king is sitting in judgment like we do with our own children. We punish our children to help them correct a behavior. The judging itself brings no joy to God. He does it because he wants to bring us closer to him. Through this time of spiritual awakening, may we acknowledge that God is king and come closer to him.

Tizku LeShanim Rabot Neimot VeTovot
May we all merit many pleasant and good years ahead.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Deeper Meaning Behind The Yehi Ratzones/Simanim

One of my favorite customs on Rosh Hashana are the special foods that we eat in the evening meals and the prayers/requests that we say when we eat them. This custom is universally called using the Hebrew word simanim but in Seattle we call it by the Ladino - Yehi Ratzones.

Although this is mainly a Sephardic custom the idea of these special foods goes back to the Talmud. In Masekhet Horayot it mentions that certain fruits and vegetables should be seen on our tables on Rosh Hashana whereas in Masekhet Keritut these special foods should be eaten. In a third version the yehi ratzones need only be brought to the table.

The foods mentioned in the Talmud are kara, rubia, karti, silka and temarim. Kara is identified as pumpkin, karti as leeks, silka as beets and temarim are dates. However, rubia is disputed. Some consider them to be black eyed peas others identify them as fenugreek. The medieval commentator Rashi explains that all these foods grow quickly so the idea is if we see/eat or bring these foods to the table we will have a productive year ahead.

Some questioned this practice because it looks like we believe by eating or seeing these foods automatically we will have a good year and this could be a form of divination or sorcery. However, many halakhic decisors come to the defense of this beautiful custom by stating these are merely omens and our sincere wish for a good year ahead. As a result it is the yehi ratzones – the prayers or requests that are said over these items which are far more significant. It is not the eating of them that we believe will cause a good year rather it is our hope that Hashem will grant us a good year.

There are other items we have for the yehi ratzones that are quintessentially considered to be Rosh Hashana. Apples and Honey, eating fish and having a fish or lamb’s head. On the 2nd night we have a pomegranate. All of these items have similar meanings to those identified in the Talmud. The fish or lamb’s head represents our hope that we be at the forefront of things and not in the background. Lambs' heads are very rarely seen these days, but my father recalls that his Grandfather always had a piece of meat from a lamb’s head at his Rosh Hashana and it was a great delicacy. Whether it is a fish head or a lamb’s head I’m very happy to fulfill the custom of just seeing it and not having to eat it!

These special supplications or bakashot are very poetic and are generally word plays on the fruits. Jerry Adatto brought to my attention the flowery language that Reverend David de Sola Pool used in the Spanish and Portuguese Rosh Hashana Prayer Book for these supplications. He doesn’t just translate the Hebrew supplication he uses beautiful artistic license too. For example on leeks he says “like as we eat this leek, may our luck never lack in the year to come”. Even though the Hebrew talks of our enemies being cut down from before us. On beets he writes “As we bite this beet, may those who in the past have beaten us or sought our harm beat to cover in the coming year”. On this occasion this is a paraphrase of the Hebrew but it shows you his literary style.

It has become a great game which I love to play using word plays in different languages not just in Hebrew. For example Rabbi Heinemann introduced a now famous custom throughout the Jewish world to take lettuce, half a raisin and celery as an indication to “let us have a raise in salary”. The Rubissa likes to put out cinnamon cookies and say “may our sins be kept to a minimum”. I am sure that you can all come up with your own funny puns for your own tables.

Wishing you and your families not only a good year ahead. But a year of finding the deeper meanings behind our beautiful customs. May we all grow together and invigorate our wonderful community.

Tizku LeShanim Rabbot Neimot VeTovot

Monday, 1 September 2014

Kosher Cheese - Why is it so Expensive?

I get many questions that come across my desk that never get blogged. Here's a question about how kosher cheese is made and why it costs more than vegetarian cheese. Here is the question in full.

"I always check the cheese section to see if we can buy non-certified kosher cheese which is almost half the price of kosher or more!  What makes cheese kosher?  Do you need a person “watching” the factory make cheese?  Does it cost the company a lot of money to be certified?  Who’s making all the money??? Are the kosher certification companies stealing/or deceiving the kosher consumer because of the cost? Does it have to do with supply and demand?

Nowadays the rennet they use in the cheese (which the company states on the package) is NOT made from animals, it’s made from vegetarian rennet.  How could kosher cheese be so much more? 

I understand a little more about the strict supervision of the meat process and wine.  Raising the animal and slaughtering it takes time and money for a person to do that work?  Wine is more clearly stated.  But cheese???

Thanks, your conscientious kosher shopper."

To answer simply, in order for cheese to be kosher not only do all the ingredients and utensils used be kosher, the process must be supervised by Jews. Not only that the vegetarian rennet that helps form the cheese must be added by the Jewish supervisor. 

The costs for all of this raises the price for kosher cheese. The limited number of consumers of kosher cheese and distribution costs increase the price too.

When we compare the price of kosher chicken with supermarket chicken we can get very upset by the price difference. However, if we were to compare prices with boutique organic chicken we would find the prices very comparable. It isn't just the cost of having a mashgiach, there are higher costs because there are fewer consumers. The kosher market cannot compete with the conveyer belt style of mass meat production.

If you would like to read more about how kosher cheese is made and why it must be more expensive than vegetarian cheese. Please read this article by Rabbi Gordimer. Click here for the link.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Power of Elul

This Tuesday and Wednesday are Rosh Hodesh Elul which means starting Thursday Sephardim will be saying Selihot every morning except for Shabbat until Yom Kippur. At SBH we will be starting at 6:00 AM every day. Elul is the last month of the year and starts our preparations for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur

Why do we say Selihot during this time period? 
What unique power is in this special month of Elul?

After the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, Moshe smashed the two tablets that Hashem had given him. Two days later Moshe went back up the mountain for another 40 days to atone for the Jewish people. Moshe went up for a third time on Rosh Hodesh Elul and came down 40 days later on the 10th of Tishri with the Second Tablets. This 10th day of Tishri became Yom Kippur, the day that God forgave the Jewish people for the Golden Calf. This day became the annual day of forgiveness for the Jewish People. So too, the 40 days before Yom Kippur became an essential period of God coming closer to us. A time of rahamim - divine mercy, where Hashem is considered closer to his children than at any other time of the year. The month of Elul, therefore, which is the last month before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – is a time when we should dedicate our thoughts to teshuva - repentance in all things and examine our deeds.

One of the most famous acronyms that we have to show this closer relationship with God at this time is Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li - I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me, a verse from Shir HaShirim - Song of Songs. The linkage to this verse implies that both we should all spend Elul thinking about our special relationship with God and how to improve it. Elul is a time to reflect on the year and prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. If we truly want to be ready for these Days of Awe we must put in the hard work before hand.

The Selihot that we recite are very powerful prayers. And the melodies that we sing them to are wonderful. I marvel every year at the excitement we Sephardim have to get up super early for a month to sing Selihot. But the powerful melodies and tunes carry us through for the month. At the end of Selihot we blow the Shofar to awaken in ourselves the call to teshuvaHere's an audio of SBH Hazan, Rabbi Frank Varon singing Kamti BeAshmoret and Ben Adam Ma Lecha Nirdam

May we use this month of Elul to work on ourselves, to get closer to God and start our teshuva process.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Tu Be'Av

Tomorrow (Friday) is the 15th of Av also known as Tu Be'Av (not to be confused with Tu Bishvat). In modern day Israel this holiday has become in secular Israeli society as Israeli Valentine's Day or Chag Ha'Ahava. It is a day for many weddings. But what exactly is this lesser known holiday all about and what are its origins?

Tu Be'Av is first mentioned in the mishna in Masekhet Ta'anit:
"Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel said: There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, for on those days, daughters of Yerushalayim would go out dressed in borrowed white clothing. And the daughters of the rest of the Jewish People would borrow from each other, so as not to embarrass those who didn't have. And the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards located on the outskirts of the city. And everyone who didn't have a wife would go there. And what would they say? Young man, lift up your eyes and choose wisely. Don't look only at physical beauty - look rather at the family - For charm is false, and beauty is vanity. A God fearing woman is the one to be praised."

The Gemara (Ta'anit 30b) asks a very basic question. Yom Kippur is a happy day because God forgives our sins. But what is so special about Tu Be'Av? Various Rabbis from the Talmud - Amoraim give six different answers.

1. It is the day on which permission was granted to the tribes to inter-marry. 
A man named Tzelophad had five daughters. They beseeched God that they deserved to inherit the land of Israel because they had no brothers. God granted them land, however, the men of their tribe were upset and said when these ladies marry their lands will go to men of other tribes. As a compromise the five daughters of Tzelophad had to marry within their own tribe. This decree of marrying in their own tribe was lifted a generation later on Tu Be'Av.

2. It is the day on which the tribe of Binyamin was permitted to re-enter the congregation of Israel.
In the book of Judges there was a terrible civil war between the Tribe of Binyamin and the rest of the Tribes. After the war the other tribes made a decree that no one would give their daughters or sons to marry men and women from the tribe of Binyamin. That decree was annulled one generation later on Tu Be'Av. 

3.It is the day on which the generation of the desert ceased to die.
(Fair warning that this is a Midrash and should not be understood literally) After the sin of the spies the Jews were punished with having to stay in the desert for 40 years till all the men over 20 died. According to Midrashic tradition, each year on Tisha Be'Av to commemorate the decree, all adult men dug their graves on the night of Tisha Be'Av. Each year 15,000 men died until the final year when no one died. They thought they had miscalculated the day so they repeated this until the 15th when they realised that the decree was over and they could now enter the land of Israel. I think that this Midrash is trying to convey the idea that for forty years the Jewish People were preoccupied with death and remaining in the desert. Tu Be'Av represents their mental shift to life and entering Israel. 

4. It is the day on which Hoshea the son of Elah removed the guards which Yerovam the son of Nevat had placed on the roads to prevent Israel from going up to Jerusalem for the Chagim. 
Yerovam was very upset with Rehovam for putting high taxes on the Jewish people and Israel was split into two kingdoms. The Kingdom of Israel (the Ten Tribes) and the Kingdom of Yehuda (The Tribes of Binyamin and Yehuda). Yerovam was concerned that his kingdom would not last if the tribes went up to Jerusalem in Yehuda's territory for Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. So he established idols and border patrols to prevent his people going to Jerusalem. This lasted for almost 200 years when Hoshea allowed his subjects to visit the temple in Jerusalem. He gave his permission on Tu Be'Av.

5. Rav Matna said: It is the day when permission was granted for those killed at Betar to be buried.
One of the tragedies of Tisha Be'Av was that all the inhabitants of the city of Beitar were killed. In an act of cruelty the Romans did not allow the Jews to bury their dead until Tu Be'Av. Despite this horrible act a small miracle happened that the bodies did not decompose. This gave the people hope that despite the horrific tragedy, God had not abandoned them. 

6. It is the day on which they stopped cutting trees for the altar since from the fifteenth of Av onwards the strength of the sun grows less and they no longer cut trees for the altar, because they would not dry sufficiently.
This last one is very cryptic and requires a bit of explanation. Since the nights were longer and they didn't need to cut wood during the night, they would have more time to learn Torah. 

Whichever reason is your particular favorite, traditionally this became a day of young people choosing their partners. It is a day of unity and comes as a healing period after the sadness of Tisha Be'av. It is the ray of light after the storm. It is a day for optimism and opportunity for new beginnings and new possibilities. It is a day of national harmony and a day of the Jewish People seeing their close relationship with God.