5 Halachot for the Wine Festival.

31 08 2014


So the Jerusalem Wine Festival is upon us again – yay!

Well, for those who haven’t been before – well worth going and enjoying it.

Just a few Halachik issues that arise for those who generally are careful about Kashrut should be aware of.

(I wrote this last year and assume the same applies):

If you have further questions ask your Rabbi!

1) The drinking glasses:

The drinking glasses have been in previous years from abroad and therefore if you buy them and intend on keeping them after the wine festival, you can’t use them, unless you do tevillah beforehand.

However, if when you pay, you have in mind that you are only paying for the wine and not the glass and do not intend on keeping the glass and of course leave it behind at the end, you can use the glass without having done tevillah.

However, I have heard the lenient opinion that you can use a utensil once before doing tvillah although I can’t find the source for this. In which case you can use the glass without having done tvillah, keep it afterwards and toyvel it before you use it a second time.

2) Non-Yayin Mevushal Wine.

Wine that is Mevushal can be poured by a non-Shomrei Shabbat Jew/ chiloni and you can drink it.

The question is what about non-Yayin Mevushal wine: Can a non-Shomrei Shabbat Jew/ chiloni pour it for you?

The Gemarah says, that if a non-Shomrei Shabbat Jew pours non-Yayin Mevushal, it is like Yayin Nesech (wine used for Avodah Zarah). However this is NOT the Halacha nowadays.

Wine poured by a non-shomrie shabbat jew/ chiloni is known as ‘Stam Yeynam’– this is a Rabbinic decree.The main problem with Stam Yeynam is ‘Chatnut’-intermarriage and more broadly assimilation.

The question is, is ‘Stam Yeynam’ a severe enough problem to make the non-mevushal wine, undrinkable?

Rav Moshe Feinstein says that Le’chatchilah-ideally, you shouldn’t drink non-mevushal wine, poured by a non-shomrei Shabbat Jew, but D’diavad- post facto, it’s ok to drink it.

The Binyan Tzion says that as long as the chiloni Jew pouring the non-mevushal wine isn’t breaking Shabbat ‘Le’hachis’ – intentionally/ as an act of rebellion and as most chilonim nowadays are ‘Tinokot She’nishbaoo’ – essentially, unintentional sinners, you can drink the wine they pour, even if it’s not mevushal.

You must make the sure the person opening the bottle of wine and pouring the wine is a chiloni and not a non-Jew. You cannot drink Non-Mevushal wine if the wine bottle was opened and the wine was poured by a non-Jew.

If you choose to be machmir, don’t drink the wine unless you know it’s Mevushal.

3) If the wine is from 2008 it has Kedushat Shviit so you need to drink it all.

4) You can’t assume the other foods and beverages that are given out are kosher, and need to check.

5) When you make a Bracha at the beginning have in mind it should include all the wine you drink. So you only need to make one Bracha.


Benjy Singer.

Founder of the ‘My Shteiblech’ Social Media project.

Parshat Shoftim: Being ‘Tamim’ with Hashem.

29 08 2014

aaron sofer

Yesterday, we all heard the tragic news that Aaron Sofer Z’L had died during his walk/tiyul last Friday in the Jerusalem Forest.

Especially for those of us who live in Israel these past few months have not been easy. Firstly, the murdering of Naftali, Gilad and Eyal and then the Israeli soldiers and civilians who have been killed in the subsequent war in Gaza and in the rocket attacks by the Hamas terrorists and now this tragedy.

The difficult and complex of topic of theodicy and how we can fathom and understand the ways of Hashem are beyond me and my weekly Parsha blog.

However, I would like to discuss in a more positive way a related topic, of how we can live in a ‘Tamim’ way with Hashem as mentioned in this week’s Parsha in 18:13, when the Torah says, ‘ You shall be ‘Tamim’ – wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d’. I never knew Aaron Sofer Z’L, but from we have heard about him and his family, he was a young man who was ‘Tamim’ with Hashem.

Firstly, as we should always ask when understanding the ‘Pshat’, the plain meaning of the text- What is the context? The Torah is the Pesukim (verses) before Pasuk 18:13 are discussing the soothsaying of magicians and prophets, what the Torah in 18:9 and in 18:12, describes as ‘Toevot’ – abominations. So, according to the plain contextual meaning of the text, when the Torah commands us to be ‘Tamim’ with Hashem, it is referring to rejecting the ‘religious’ and meaningless rites and practices of the neighbouring cultures.

The famous commentator Rashi explains that ‘Tamim’ means following Hashem with perfect faith, without needing to know what will happen in the future. You should not turn to idolaters to inquire into the future. In other words, Rashi sees the concept of ‘Tamim’ in the category of Emunah, faith. If you have complete faith in Hashem, then all the predictions and soothsaying of the prophets and magicians is irrelevant, because Hashem can reverse any bad or evil decrees against Am Yisrael. According to Rashi, Tamim is believing Hashem is in full control.

In a similar vein as Rashi, the Or Hachayim explains that ‘Tamim’ means complete obedience to Hashem. The Or Hachayim takes his proof from Abraham and Sarah, who thought they were destined to be childless. Hashem reversed the course of nature and the message of the stars and therefore, Am Yisrael has no need for sorcery, just complete Emunah in Hashem.

The Ramban and Rashbam see being ‘ Tamim’ with Hashem in terms of seeking all knowledge and wisdom from Hashem and no other source. The Ramban says that ‘Tamim’ means focusing on Hashem as the sole creator and prime mover.

The Chizkuni has a slightly different approach. He says that ‘Temimut’ comes from ‘Shlemut’ – being totally and wholeheartedly with Hashem and content with that way of thinking and lifestyle. The Chizkuni says that being ‘Tamim’ is similar to being ‘Shalem’. In other words, a person who is ‘Tamim’, happily lives his life with the confidence that Hashem is with him and accepts that whatever happens to him is as a result of the will of Hashem.

I once heard Rabbi Chaim Brovender explain that being ‘Tamim’ with Hashem is simply living with Hashem. What does that mean? He explained it just means that – that you just believe that Hashem is always with you. The belief that however difficult and challenging your situation is, Hashem has put you in it for a reason you may or not understand. The point is not to question why, but to get on with finding a practical solution.

So these past few months have not been easy for us in Israel, but let’s hope that through internalizing the message of being ‘Tamim’ with Hashem, we will be able to continue to grow and strengthen in our Avodat Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.

Founder of the ‘My Shteiblech’ social media project.

Parshat Reáh – It’s all about giving.

22 08 2014


Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch sees Sefer Devarim as a guide for life in Eretz Yisrael. Essentially Sefer Devarim is a collection of speeches or ‘Musar Shmoozes’ by Moshe Rabbenu to prepare Am Yisrael for their new lives in their own Land. The years of dependency and sole reliance on G-d were over – now they had to take responsibility.

They would need to take charge of their own lives. Once they crossed the Jordan, they would need to plow, plant and harvest. They would need to establish courts and a government. They would need to forge social and international relations and care for the poor and needy. They would need to have their own army and fight. The years of miracles were over, the challenge when entering Eretz Yisrael would be to be able and willing to be independent.

In order to become independent, you need to be part of a community – a meaningful collective, through which you can strive for common values, ideals and goals.

If we look at the mitzvot in this week’s Parsha which are connected to living in Eretz Yisrael, we find this is really their purpose.

As the Shmittah year is coming up, this is the whole idea of Shmittah. For 1 year out of 7, we need to remember that we are dependent on G-d. Once we are aware that G-d, not man is at the center of our community, then and only then are we ready to internalise the message of the mitzvot that are dependent on Eretz Yisrael some of which are mentioned in this week’s Parsha in chapters 14 and 15.

Whether we are talking about 1) Terumah/ Chalah – the portion given to the Kohen, 2) Maaser Rishon- the portion given to the Levi, 3) Terumat Maaser – the portion given by the Levi to the Kohen, 4) Maaser Oni – the portion we give to the poor, 5) Leket/ Shicha/Peah dealing with what farmers leave for the less fortunate, the purpose of these Mitzvot are to create a sense of community and togetherness. Furthermore Maaser Kesafim, giving part of your income to the poor also mentioned in Parshat Reáh, is all about caring for the less fortunate amongst us.

The mitzvah of Maaser Sheni is also designed to create a sense of community – in a specific location,in Yerushalayim.

How do you create this sense of community and togetherness? Through giving. The Mitzvot connected to Eretz Yisrael in this week’s Parsha some of which I listed above are all about GIVING. It is through GIVING to the less fortunate and those around us that we create a sense of community.

If there is one lesson more than any other that Judaism has taught the world, it is the concept of community and the pivotal role that community plays in the personal and emotional development of individuals.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.

Parshat Eikev: Birkat Hamazon – Appreciation and Individuality.

15 08 2014

count your blessings button

Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi spoke on the radio about message of Birkat Hamazon which we read in this week’s Parsha, in 8:10.

She discussed the importance of Hakarat Hatov-showing appreciation. Through appreciating what you have been blessed with, you realise how you are unique and what your Ýiud’, your specific role is.

Hakarat Hatov plays a key role not only in our Avodat Hashem, but also in our emotional and mental wellbeing. You find people who appreciate what they have and don’t just spend their time comparing themselves to others, are happier and more fun to be with.

There is an additional aspect to Birkat Hamazon that we should also bear in mind. The word, ‘Kol’ – all, everyone or the collective, as opposed to the individual, comes up repeatedly in the Birkat Hamazon that Chazal formulated.

What is the significance of the word ‘Kol’ – all, everyone, or the collective?

The idea is we should see our Brachot inextricably linked with what they call in psychology the ”other” – the community, the nation. When we see ourselves as part of the ‘Klal’, what Rav Soloveitchik termed, ‘Knesset Yisrael’, then we can fully realize our own potential and live a life of Brachah. The food we eat isn’t just ours, but it equally belongs to our fellow Jews as the source of the Brachah of food and sustenance is Hashem.

As Hegel postulated, humans are social beings. We cannot realise our individuality and become who we really are, if we are alone and detached from our community. It’s only when we interact with others that we can fully appreciate all the Brachot we have been blessed with.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.

Tu Báv: Leave Your Comfort Zone!

10 08 2014


The Gemarah at the end of Massechet Taanit (dapim 30/31) goes through the reasons why Tu B’av became a joyous and happy day, like Yom Kippur.

Two of the reasons are that the ban into marrying into the Tribe of Binyamin following the horrific ‘Pilegesh B’Givah’ episode was lifted and inter-tribal marriage was permitted, which had previously not been acceptable, due to misunderstandings in the ruling concerning who the daughters of Tzlofchad could marry. After the Sanhedrin clarified the issue, inter-tribal marriages became commonplace. Both these reasons led to a reuniting of Am Yisrael, which was a source of joy.

Other reasons the Gemarah gives, is that the Romans permitted the bodies of dead Jews to be buried which they had not allowed since the fall of Beitar -65 years after the destruction of the Second Bet Hamikdash. Also on Tu B’av, Hoshea Ben Elah removed the roadblocks set up by Yeravam Ben Navat, that prevented the Jews from the Northern Kingdom from travelling to Yerushalayim for Aliyah L’Regel.

Another reason the Gemarah gives, is that Tu B’av is the end of the season of wood gathering for the Mizbeach. It was a day of special korbanot in the Mikdash.

A final reason is that it was day when the decree of the death of the generation of the spies ended. G-d decreed that the entire adult male population of that generation should die out during the 40 years of wandering. In the final year of wandering, none of the remaining 15,000 died. Only when there was a full moon, did everyone realize that the decree had been rescinded. The Gemarah ends describing how all the young maidens of Yerushalayim would wear borrowed white dresses, so as not to embarrass anyone who had no dress and they would dance together in the vineyards.
By all wearing white and dancing together, they were showing that they were all united in their quest and the differences between them became irrelevant. They looked similar.

What is the common denominator between all these reasons and why did the maidens all dress in the same borrowed white dresses?

The answer is – the idea of breaking down barriers and fences that we build, often to protect ourselves, which separates and divides us and instead trying to focus on our similarities and what we have in common. It was only when the moon was whole, that they realized that the decree of the death of the generation of the spies was over.

Tu Báv was a day when you were forced to leave your comfort zone. The superficial fences that create barriers between people and stop them meeting and developing friendships and relationships fall. Tu’Bav is a day when these superficial and simplistic barriers that divide us are broken down and dismantled and you are therefore given the opportunity to get to know the real person.

Similarly, it is only when Am Yisrael are whole and unified, when we stop focusing on our differences and instead look at what we have in common, that we will stand a chance of seeing the rebuilding of the Bet Mikdash and Yerushalayim. The idea of focusing on what we have in common and not what divides and separates us, is the basis of successful friendships and relationships too.

No two people are the same or perfectly compatible, and it’s easy to find differences and problems. Anything worthwhile requires work and effort and the willingness to compromise and to give and not just take. Tu B’av is a day when we can celebrate our similarities and at least try to overlook our differences-on a national and personal level, which is why Chazal viewed it as a day of great simchah.

Tu B’av Sameach!

Benjy Singer.

Parshat Veétchanan: The Zchut ( Privilege) to live in Eretz Yisrael.

8 08 2014


So, surprise surprise the Hamas terrorists broke the ceasefire again and this morning have continued to launch rockets into civilian populations in Israel. Let’s be clear they have one and only one intention in mind-to murder, maim and injure innocent Israelis. Their continual breaching of the ceasefire does not only demonstrate their desire to kill as many Israelis as possible, but also their complete disregard for International Law and the International Community.

In contrast to the Israeli army who throughout ‘Tzuk Eitan’ in Gaza followed International Law to the letter by for instance warning the civilians before bombing the residential areas and trying their best minimalizing casualties by going in by land rather than using their air force (risking their own lives), Hamas have shown not only they don’t care about our lives, but also the lives of their own people by using their children and wives as human shields, firing from hospitals, schools and highly populated area.

The truth is though, it’s hardly surprising Hamas have not conformed with the UN, as the UN has done so little to stop them. They allowed them to hide in and launch the rockets from their premises and they did not use the fact they basically fund Gaza to stop Hamas from attacking Israel.

Also, let’s not forget that Mr Banki Moon, the Secretary of General of the UN, did not publically condemn the kidnapping of the 3 boys from outside Alon Shvut immediately and also suggested that Israel and Hamas, ‘Just sit down and talk’. Well would Obama sit and negotiate with Al Qaeda?

In this atmosphere of war, bloodshed and tension it is hard to stay positive and optimistic about our future here in Israel. But, we mustn’t forget Eretz Yisrael is the Land that Hashem promised us. It’s the land that Jews spent 2000 years hoping and praying to return to and it’s the Land that even Moshe Rabbenu didn’t have the zchut to live it. It’s the only Land a Jew can call Home.

Moshe was told by Hashem that he would not enter Eretz Yisrael, but nevertheless he davened that he would be allowed to enter.When Moshe saw an opportunity to break the decree of him not being able to enter he tried his very best to. After he had taken over the very strong and superior Sichon and Og, Moshe hoped that Hashem would continue being compassionate and kind and permit him to enter Eretz Yisrael. Rashi explains that as a result he davened he would be allowed to cross the Jordan and enter Eretz Yisrael and be able to walk its length and breadth.

Moshe did not wish to be a leader and was happy for Yehoshua to lead the people. The Gemarah in Sotah 14a comments that all Moshe wanted to do is enter the Land and be able to perform the Mitzvot such as Terumah, Maaser and Shmittah that could only be performed there.

We see from this great desire of Moshe to just be able to live in Eretz Yisrael the great zchut of living here and all the extra mitzvot that can only be performed here. With the Shmittah year coming up, let’s not forget the Rambam who says how we must cherish being able to eat fruit with Kedushat Shviit. Despite all the instability around us, we must never forget it is a great zchut to live here in Eretz Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.

Tisha Báv in Israel 2014. Why?

3 08 2014


If there is one day more than any other in the Jewish Calendar that reflects how different life is here in Israel than abroad, it is Tisha B’av.

Tisha B’av abroad often turns into a quasi Yom Hashoah. The majority of programmes feature films and survivors from the Shoah and talks are often on the subject of why good things happen to bad people, human suffering and theodicy. Rare is there mention of the the lacking of the Bet Mikdash, the centrality of the Avodah of the Kohanim and Korbanot nor of the Neviim who warned of impending calamity.

In Israel, the day is of a very different type. Apart from the fact I can’t drink, I actually enjoy Tisha B’av and find it an interesting and meaningful day.

Why? Not just because of the plethora of interesting programmes and shiurim to choose from (which you can find out about on the ‘My Shteiblech’ facebook page and website- http://www.myshteiblech.com ) but also because one is encouraged to feel that, by living in Israel, one is a part of the renewal and rebirth of the Jewish People. Living in Israel signifies that we have moved on from the Churban (both of the Batei Mikdash and the Shoah) and are in the process of rebuilding Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. Simultaneously, as result of us having our own country, Hebrew has once again become a living language. Simply walk into a Yeshiva or high school in Israel and you will find students able to pick up any text and understand it on a simple level. Levels of Jewish literacy are palpably higher than that of Jewish students abroad. Israeli kids can read a Mishna, Gemarah or text from Tenach fluently.

According to the Neviim, living outside Eretz Yisrael is a punishment. The ‘Galut’ that is primarily referred to in the Tenach, is that of being physically thrown out of Eretz Yisrael due to our sins. However, Jews who live in Eretz Yisrael are not living in full Galut. Though the absence of the Beit Mikdash and displacement of the Shechinah means an entrenchment in ‘Spiritual Galut’, physically, they are where they should be.

Furthermore, on Tisha B’av we remember all the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish People, including of course the Shoah.

Late on a Tisha B’Av afternoon, whilst walking to the Kotel one can’t help but appreciate modern day Jerusalem. The contrast of the new David Citadel and Mamila and the weathered yet beautiful facades of the Old City and its residents make one long for the majesty of the Bet Mikdash to resolve and complete this contract. Being surrounded by young people doing the same, seeing the plaza of the Kotel filled with families-young and old, religious and secular, brings confidence that Yerushalayim will one day soon be even more indescribable.

Yerushalayim is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

So, should we still fast on Tisha B’av in Israel 2014?

Yes, for the following reasons:

1) We still don’t have the Bet Mikdash. Even though, yes, we may have gone back to the days of Yehoshua as we do have sovereignty (although we don’t have Malchut) and have conquered the land again. They say in 20 years time, the majority of Jews will live in Eretz Yisrael and then the laws of Yovel will apply and subsequently other Halachot of Eretz Yisrael will also come into effect. Still though, as we don’t have a Bet Hamikdash, we haven’t gone back to the time period of Shlomo Hamelech and we need to mourn and feel the void.

2) Tisha B’av is a day when we remember all the tragedies in our history. We are Jews, and our past is part of our present and defines how we percieve our future.

3) Sinat Chinam, which Chazal say caused the Churban of the Second Bet Mikdash is still sadly prevalent in Israeli society.

4) Although, things aren’t bad as described in the first perek of Yeshayahu which we read on Shabbat Chazon, there are problems in Israeli society: The corruption and dishonesty in politics and amongst the leadership, the polarisation and lack of unity, the lack of tolerance and mutual respect and the inability to accept and help minorities and outsiders .

5) Is Israeli society ready for a Bet Mikdash seeing how secular it is? Before the Bet Mikdash can come, the Jewish People need to be ready for it. I just don’t think enough ground work has been done. The nation aren’t ready for it.

So, Israel isn’t a perfect country and like any other society, there is still much work to be done. But Israel is like no other country. To think that just over 70 years ago, the Jewish People underwent the most horrific tragedy that any nation has experienced where a third of our People was murdered and yet have within such a short amount of time have managed to create a country which is a leader in so many fields and areas is something we must be proud of.

Ben Gurion said, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.” The fact we live in a country smaller than the size of Wales, and yet have managed to survive and prosper here in the Middle East against all the odds , is something we should bear in mind and be thankful for each day. We are living in a time period of ‘Kibutz Kaluyot’, with Jews from all around the world making Aliyah and making Israel their home.

Despite the terrible pain and loses that Israel has suffered over the past few weeks in the War in Gaza, we cannot loose our faith and belief that this is the country we should be living in, this is where our destiny is and this is where Hashem wants us to live. We must keep our perspective and not give up.

Only in Israel, can you live a totally Jewish life as those of us who grew up in Chutz La’aretz appreciate. Despite everything, Israel is our one and only country and the only place a Jew can call home.

Benjy Singer