Tag Archive: halacha

Keeping Kosher on an Airplane Part 1

Keeping kosher is seemingly easier than ever before. Wherever you turn you can find a slew of kosher products bearing at least one reputable kashrus symbol on the front or back of the product. However, when it comes to keeping kosher on an airplane, things can get tricky. For instance, people need to be aware of issues such as, should one wash or not wash on “mezonos rolls,” and the topic of ordering coffee on an airplane (see number eight here).

One issue that I’d like to bring to light is that the kosher consumer should even be aware of the kashrus of their soft drink!

Case in point, I was recently on a flight that departed from Israel and was headed to Newark, New Jersey. I had ordered a Coke Zero, which is a soft drink that is considered kosher both in Israel and North America. Still, (and this was the second time that this has happened to me on this type of flight) I was handed a can that originated from of all places Japan!

I don’t have a clue as to how this can of soda got to Tel Aviv, and then was on a plane headed to the United States. What I do know is that you can’t just drink any can of Coca-Cola and assume it’s kosher. Donneal Epstein, in his book, Halachos for the Traveler writes as follows:

And so, while I was really  counting on that caffeine, I decided to pass on drinking the can of Coke Zero. I encourage all of you kosher consumers out there to be diligent—even when it comes to ordering a soda aboard an airplane!

photo of the plane via caribb

All About the Special Blessing for a Blossoming Tree!

As a child I did not know about the special blessing for a blossoming tree. Our Sages relate that it should ideally be recited strictly in the Jewish month of Nissan.[i] And so, I’d like to present a brief overview on this special blessing so that many Jews around the world can recite this unique blessing.

Indeed, Jewish law states that any man or woman[ii] who sees fruit trees that are in the beginning stages of blooming, recites the following blessing:

Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech  HaOlam Shelo Chisar B’Olamo Klum U’Vara Vo Beriyos Tovos V’Ilanos Tovos[iii] Lehanos Bahem Bnei Adam.

Blessed are You Hashem, Our G-d, Master of the Universe, who ensured that nothing is lacking in His world and Created in it good creations and good trees in order to pleasure mankind with them.

Ideally, this blessing should be said on two or more trees.  That said, if one lives in a city or is not able to go to an orchard or a field, a person may still recite this blessing on one tree. Some people have the custom after reciting the blessing to recite Tehillim and other texts praising Hashem for the trees. Others try to say this blessing with a group. It follows that others even have the custom to give Tzedakah prior to this blessing.[iv]

Once one has said this blessing—that’s it—you are done for the year! Additionally, our Sages are of the opinion that the preferred time to recite this blessing is during the daytime.[v]

What’s more, the special blessing on seeing a blossoming tree should not be recited on Shabbos, as our Sages were worried that it may lead one to touch the tree and/or pluck a branch. However, if Shabbos happens to be the final opportunity to recite the blessing, many Rabbis are of the opinion that one may nevertheless recite the blessing.[vi]

Please note, the blessing on seeing a blossoming tree is only recited on a) fruit tree, and b) only when the bud/flower can be seen in the early stages of blooming, and c) not on a tree where strictly leaves are seen and d) not on a tree where the fruit has already completely developed.[vii]

From a mystical perspective, one should realize that by reciting this blessing, a person is able to achieve a tikkun, a spiritual rectification, for the souls that are hovering between Heaven and Earth. Indeed, there may in fact be reincarnated souls that are stuck in the bark of tree! Hence, when saying this blessing one should have in mind that Hashem evoke mercy upon hovering souls, and by extension allow them to fully blossom by returning to Heaven.[viii]

The pictures in this post are of the sign that both my wife and I used this year to recite this blessing on: Rosh Chodesh Nissan 2011. I’m pleased that my son will learn of this blessing at his school. In fact, they are going on a field trip to recite this blessing for the blossoming tree!

If you’d like to make this special blessing a family affair, there is even a great kids book available called:  Growing with the Tree.

All things considered, if you have not said this special blessing for a blossoming tree yet, I encourage you to try and do so sooner rather than later.

Why?

This year, was a leap year and we find ourselves well into the blooming season of the trees! Take your family out and say thanks to Hashem in this most unique fashion!


[i] See Shulchan Aruch 226:1 and Mishna Berura S”K 1. See also Aishel Avraham Butshatsh who is of the opinion that only in the month of Nissan may the blessing be recited with the complete recital of Hashem’s name. However, the prevalent custom is to recite the blessing, as long as the tree is still in the blooming stage—even if this is past Nissan. See Chayei Adam Klal 63:2 and Aruch HaShulchan 226:1 who discuss scenarios in which one finds themselves in a climate where the blooming season is not in Nissan (i.e. Australia or South Africa).

[ii] See Shu”t Har Tzvi Orach Chaim 1:118 and Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 12:25 for the reason as to why this blessing isn’t considered a Mitzvah She’Hazman Grama, as it is seemingly a time-bound Mitzvah.

[iii] See Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Siman 60:1 who mentions that the word should be “Tovim.”

[iv] See Kaf HaChaim 226:7 and 8. See also Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 10:16.

[v] Mishnah Berura 226:3.  See also Shu”t Har Tzvi ibid and Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 12:20:6.

[vi] See Kaf HaChaim 226:4, Shu”t B’Tzel HaChachma 6:37, Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchaso 26:72 and Shu”t Yechaveh Daas  1:2.

[vii] Mishna Berurah 226:2 and 4.

[viii] See Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos  1:191 and Kaf HaChaim 226:8. Also see Kaf HaChaim 226:4 who relates that the reason this blessing should not be recited on Shabbos, is because one cannot perform, “Borer.” After all, by reciting this blessing one would be separating the sparks of holiness in the form of the Souls that are stuck within the trees.

Jewish Law & TSA Full Body Scanners

We have formally entered the month of June! And yet, while all across the world the sun is shining, the official start of summer is not until June 21st. With the onset of summer, many individuals and families travel to sleep away camp, visit relatives in other states or countries, and so on and so forth. Indeed, the airlines capitalize on this fact and have imposed a “Summer Travel Fee!” If you thought you have seen everything, you haven’t seen nothin’ yet! Nowadays, depending upon your airline you may be charged for your hand luggage to the use of a headset, pillow or blanket. What’s more, due to the tragic events of 9-11, passengers are taxed with an additional “Security Fee.” These funds typically go to the TSA or other security needs at each airport. However, between a still lagging economy, and all of the additional fees that are lopped onto a ticket these days, there are many a person who find it cumbersome to travel via airplane. Moreover, travelers find it literally a shlep just getting to a particular gate.

Why?

Due to increased security measures, it seems like an astronomically long time before one even enters the terminal! And so, in an effort to move people along quickly all while providing better security, there are now more than twenty-three airports across the United States using Full Body Scanners.

Indeed, last year, when these scanners where beginning to get more public attention, I posed the question here of:

According to Jewish Law, is it permissible to walk through the Full Body Scanner?

At the time, I didn’t get the chance to properly answer this question. Additionally, those Poskim whom I consulted with told me that they wanted to learn more about it before reaching a conclusion. Since posing this question, we have unfortunately experienced the “Underwear Bomber” as well as the misunderstanding that led many to believe that there was a “Tefillin Bomber!” All things considered, ever since the “Underwear Bomber” tried to blow up a plane over Detroit last year, these devices have been more readily adopted by airport security throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, etc. To that end, it appears inevitable that they will continue to be introduced to airports around the world. And so, while there are those who believe that these scanners increase safety, there are reputable experts who are of the opinion that they are “worthless.” See also here. Moreover, for some time now it has been reported that Al-Qaeda has been practicing how to get past these scanners! On another note, I’d be remiss to point out that for certain people there are potential health risks involved. Hence, one should consult their physician prior to stepping in a Full Body Scanner. For instance, it has already been reported here that pregnant women and children should not be subject to this scanning.

However, aside for such individuals, your average passenger may very well have to pass through a Full Body Scanner for their very first time this summer. Hence, while there is certainly room to debate if this device is truly effective, I believe that’s a moot point, as these machines are now going to be part of the travel experience. And so, I believe it’s imperative to answer the question of:

According to Jewish Law, is it permissible to walk through the Full Body Scanner?

To best address this matter, we need to determine if there is even any Halachic cause for concern in using a Full Body Scanner?

While I’m certain that there are several elements of concern a pious Jew may have before walking through this machine, arguably the greatest issue is the element of: Tznius. Indeed, there are those who suggest that these devices clearly break child pornography laws. Likewise, CNN recently reported that the government is misleading the public regarding the ability of these nude airport scanners. Truth be told, these machines that see beneath people’s clothing, do have the potential to be abused by TSA insiders and hacked by outsiders. Not only would this be a grievous  invasion of privacy, but it would clearly not be within the realm of Tznius, and hence possibly forbidden to use by Jewish Law.

Indeed, a TSA worker assaulted a colleague who made a crack about the others genitalia after his fellow employee walked through the revealing scanner! As such, we certainly see that this machine can be revealingand not for simply security intentions!

And so, as pious Jews, we must turn to the words of our contemporary Sages to see if it’s permissible to consider using these machines.

Earlier this year, the European Jewish Press reported here that The Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE), comprised of hundreds of Rabbis, expressed concern about the installation and implementation of Full Body Scanners in European airports.  Asher Gold, the RCE spokesperson remarked, “the implementation of Full Body Scans leaves us concerned. In line with child protection agencies in America we feel this violates the rights of [all] Religious Women whose Modesty would be compromised.” Accordingly, he vocalized the Rabbis conclusion as far as using this device by remarking that while they appreciate the concern of passenger safety, “we would recommend that men are scanned by men, and women by women, akin to body frisk.”

However, one of the foremost Poskim of today, Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita, reportedly stated clearly that, “he saw no Halachic questions with using these scanners for airport safety!” Similarly, when I recently asked this question to two other Poskim, one in America and one in Eretz Yisrael, they both remarked that using these devices would be akin to going to a doctor. If medically needed, a Jewish physician is allowed to inspect a person of the opposite sex. Likewise, if medically needed, a Jewish patient is permitted to expose themselves to a medical professional of the opposite sex. The reason for this, is beyond the scope of this post, but stems from the verse in Deuteronomy 4:15 which states, “ushmartem me’od es nafshoseichem” (you shall carefully preserve your lives). Likewise, the Poskim whom I spoke to explained that it would be permitted by Halacha to partake in this “revealing” scan as it is needed for physical safety, and would also fall in line with the above mentioned verse and rationale.

In summation, the consensus opinion is that a Jewish person is allowed to walk into a Full Body Scanner. While it may be additionally pious to try and follow the statement of the RCE that, “men are scanned by men, and women by women,” there are many other Poskim who are of the opinion that one need not be concerned for this measure.

Have a safe and meaningful trip!

What are your thoughts on these Full Body Scanners?

Pesach and The Octomom

The Sefat Emet (see Naso 5651 and Vaeira 56) reveals that one of the underlying reasons for the Egyptian exile was to rectify the sin of eating from the forbidden fruit, and by extension, return the world to its original state.

Consequently,we find the midwives described the Hebrew women to Pharaoh saying, “Ki chayot heinah.” The simple meaning of this expression is that the women were like chayot, animals, because according to the Talmud (Berachot 63b), they were all miraculously giving birth to six children at a time!

However, Tiferet Shlomo, explaining this verse from an esoteric perspective, reveals that they had now reached the level of “Chayah,” the level of Chavah (Eve) prior to the sin, and so the curse or difficulty in childbirth no longer existed for them. Accordingly, Tiferet Shlomo (Ki Sisa, p. 71a) says, if not for the sin of the Golden Calf, the world would have reached a perfect state of rectification(also see Shnei Luchot HaBrit 74a and Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chap. 45, 107a for further analysis on this topic).

In light of the above, when you think of the leaders of the Exodus, the first names that probably come to your mind are that of Moses and his brother Aaron. And yet, The Talmud (Sotah 11b) relates: “In the merit of the righteous women of that generation, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt!” In other words , the driving force towards God performing the plethora of miracles and splitting the Red Sea were none other than the Jewish women and the feminine leadership of the time.

To that end, I found it appropriate that on the Shabbat that proceeds Pesach,the weekly Torah Tidbits had an entire article dedicated to discussing the halachic ramifications of a women who recently birthed many children at one time: The Octomom.

Check out the entire article from The Puah Institute, titled: The Octomom and Halacha here (scroll down to the highlighted section).

Halacha and the National Football League

Many audiences have been moved by the athletic abilities of Super Bowl Champion Alan Veingrad. Prior to becoming an observant Jew, he was a member of the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers!

Today, he moves audiences by enlightening them as to why he has gone from football to frum.

On that note, one of my favorite blogs out there, has a great piece that I believe should be retitled: The Halachic Ramifications on Playing in the NFL (or for that matter being a boxer)…definitely worth the look!

Halacha and TSA Full Body Scanners Part 1

In preparation for my Contemporary Halacha class, I stumbled across this new technology that will make the security lines at airports (allegedly) quicker. The new technology will use electromagnetic waves to create pictures of energy reflected off people. That said, while they blur passengers’ faces, the metallic-looking images still clearly reveal outlines of private body parts!

As such, the question at hand is does this pose a halachic issue for religious Jewish men and women in terms of tzniut?


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