VIDEO Featuring Rabbi Chaskel Besser on his 5th Yahrtzeit

This Shabbos marks the 4th yahrtzeit of Rabbi Chaskel Besser. For over 40 years he led Congregation Yisroel Chaim on the Upper West Side and he was a member of the Agudat Yisrael Presidium. He was the founding Chairman of the Daf Yomi Commission which completes the Talmud every seven years. Kiddush and 3rd meal at Pico Shul will be dedicated in honor of his memory this week. See below for video about his life. You can buy a book about his life on the Essentials page.

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Shabbat is Everything

Can’t wait for tonight.
Candlelight, a bottle of Bro-Deux from Shirah Wine, fresh challah from our French-Persian bakery with a heavy dose of sesame seeds on top, some special guests, our four children, my beautiful wife of over eighteen years, and certainly a feast befitting this auspicious time.

It’s a weekly ritual that grounds me in this world of here and now, and also elevates my soul to appreciate the oneness of Creation.

We’ll sing too. Shabbat melodies new and ancient. We’ll share stories and discuss this week’s Torah portion of Yitro, which contains the most important section of the Torah – the Ten Commandments. (A better translation would be the 10 Declarations, or Pronouncements).

This revelation includes the mitzvah of Shabbat, which in turn contains both the positive and prohibitive elements of Shabbat called shamor (guard) and zachor (remember).” We remember the Shabbat when we recite kiddush on Friday night, and we guard the Shabbat when we refrain from work.
Never before in human history has the wisdom of Shabbat been more apt that in our times. For in a life that is attached 24/7 to the umbilical chord of the data and mobile phone service, we find less time for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

Shabbat allows us the time, creates space, and contains rituals to focus on what truly matters.
The Zohar tells us that Shabbat sums up the entire Torah. I would add that Shabbat sums up all of Jewish life, history, and values. For Shabbat is about the sanctity of life, living in harmony with ourselves and others, the preciousness of the Earth, and connecting to the infinite wonder of Creation.

Can’t wait for tonight.

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Feeding Birds on Shabbat Shira is Holy

As the saying goes, there is a Jewish holiday for every kind of Jew. Including Bird lovers.

There is a very holy Jewish custom — some scholars say this started in Jerusalem — to place out food for wild birds on Shabbat Shira when we read the torah portion of Beshalach. Why? One of the main reasons is because the birds ate the manna that Dathan and Aviram had spread out on a Shabbat morning in an effort to discredit Moses. Dathan and Aviram tried to undermine Moses’s authority by showing that the manna also fell on Shabbat, even though Moshe said it would not. The birds, meanwhile, watched Dathan and Aviram spreading out manna on Shabbat morning, and do what good birds do, they ate it all. This spared Moses some embarrassment, and helped protect his reputation. As a way of showing our gratitude, we feed the birds this Shabbat.

Rabbi Yehuda Prero brings an additional reason from the book, Sefer HaToda’ah. “The chirping of birds is not just idle song. It is the way that birds praise G-d for providing them with their needs. Because, on this week, we too sing praise of G-d, we recognize the constant song of praise chirped by the birds by feeding them, as a form of reward.”

But feeding wild animals on Shabbat seems to be against Halacha?! Yes, and no.

For a good discussion of the Halachic ramifications see “What’s Bothering Rashi?

It is completely forbidden for Sephardic Jews to feed birds on Shabbat. Just kidding.

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Doing God’s Work in the Bedroom

While the NY Times’s article about a prominent Orthodox sex therapist Bat Sheva Marcus,”The Orthodox Sex Guru” 1/22/15, neglects to include what the Sages of the Talmud really say about women and sexual pleasure (extremely sex-positive, promising women sexual satisfaction in marriage, only permitting consensual sex, etc…), the article is worth reading. Marcus is helping many couples find happiness and closeness after years of marriage. She’s doing God’s work, so these people can work for God.

The fact that men and women in chareidi communities are denied proper sex-education, and that in the name of preserving sex’s holiness, sex became taboo to discuss or enjoy, means that something is broken and needs to be fixed. Hopefully, we can have more of Marcus spreading the good news that God wants men and women to enjoy sex – and she can help teach them how.

Below her brown bangs, Marcus’s eyes fill with tears sometimes when she talks about how Orthodox Judaism — and above all the most restrictive branches of Haredi Orthodoxy — can quash female eros by imbuing a physical shame and a nearly apocalyptic sexual terror, by teaching that if the laws of tzniut, of modesty, are broken, calamity will come. One Haredi rabbi I met likened eros to “nuclear energy”: Sex could bring disaster to the world, but, he said, “the careful regulation” of it can connect a couple to God and beckon “transcendent experience.”…Marcus, though, sees more repression than transcendence….