Avodah Mailing List

Volume 11 : Number 046

Friday, August 1 2003

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Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2003 20:28:17 +0000
From: Micha Berger <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: almonds

On Thu, Jul 31, 2003 at 12:19:06PM +0200, Simi and David Peters wrote:
: Isn't it possible that "gomer et perotav" refers to the formation of
: the embryonic almonds--not the final ripe product which we harvest?
: If I'm not mistaken, other fruit bearing trees lose their blossoms when
: the fruit starts forming. Not the almond, apparently.

It's possible, but again, I don't see the motivation.

The fruit does ripen early. The almond is the dried out pit of an
overripened fruit that was left on the tree long enough to dry out and
split open.


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Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2003 20:28:17 +0000
From: Micha Berger <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: almonds

On Thu, Jul 31, 2003 at 12:19:06PM +0200, Simi and David Peters wrote:
: Isn't it possible that "gomer et perotav" refers to the formation of
: the embryonic almonds--not the final ripe product which we harvest?
: If I'm not mistaken, other fruit bearing trees lose their blossoms when
: the fruit starts forming. Not the almond, apparently.

It's possible, but again, I don't see the motivation.

The fruit does ripen early. The almond is the dried out pit of an
overripened fruit that was left on the tree long enough to dry out and
split open.


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Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2003 11:07:58 -0400
From: Mlevinmd@aol.com

I post a reference for my lasr post on this; perhaps it should also go
to Mesorah for comments by people who know more about this than I.

G. A Rebsburg, Morphological evidence for regional dialects in ancient
hebrew,, Linguistics and Biblical hebrew, ed. W.R.Bodine, Eisenbrauns,

Here is a copy of the post: 
Subject:   Prefix she
Posted by: Mlevinmd@aol.com
Posted on: Jul 30, 2003, 10:47 AM

> I don't recall seeing the "she-" prefix in chumash. At the very least,
> "asher" is chosen over "she-" almost always, if not always.

There is "bshagam hu basar" end of parshas bareishis which is like
"ad shakamti devorah".

The real issue, as I see it, is existence of dialects and iso-usage belts
through the entire Israelite and even surrounding Semitic nations. One
notes that the Arameisms tend to be present in descritptions of Northern
events and when the neviim speak to foreign nations - ex. Yirmia 10. I
will, BL'N tommorow cite a paper that makes this point.

It would also nicely explain some peculiar Masoretic readings and some
Kri and Ksiv, as expressions of dialectical variation which the mesorah
or the ksiv preserved.

As an example, the song of Devorah includes multiple doublings of
syllables in words which may be a dialectical peculiarity. Of course,
it could also simply be a poetic usage.

M. Levin

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Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2003 08:56:18 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Micha Berger" <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: The Mighty Fortress

R' Zvi Miller emailed out the following in his Salant Foundation email
for the day. It touches upon our perpetual discussion of the nature of
bitachon (REED's and CI's) and hashgachah.


L'zecher nishmas Rav Yochanon Motel ben Rav Ephraim and Moras Esther Leah
bas Rav Yehudah Yoseph B"H

Mussar - The Wisdom of Personal Growth


[10] The name of HaShem is a mighty fortress, the tzaddik runs with it
[i.e., the name of Hashem] and is safeguarded.

Rabenu Yonah explains that when the tzaddik runs to perform the Divine Will,
he trusts in the name of HaShem, and does not fear that he will stumble. The
average person needs to check that their are no stumbling blocks so that he
can safely procede. Whereas, the tzaddik has steadfast faith in HaShem that
no harm will befall him. Moreover, if a mishap does occur - he will be saved
from damage.

Rabenu Yonah's comment seems contradictory. On one hand, he asserts that no
harm will befall the tzaddik. On the other hand, he states that if harm does
befall him - he will be saved from damage. Therefore, the question arises:
is he vulnerable or invulnerable? Is he subject to harm, or not?

In his elderly years, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter lived in Paris and worked
ceaselessly to spread Torah and Mussar to assimilated Jews. On one occasion,
he slipped and fell down two flights of stairs. The impact of the fall left
him in critical condition. He was placed in a bed so that he could rest
undisturbed. HaShem showed him mercy and after a few days he fully

Subsequently he remarked about the incident: "My heart felt no fear
whatsoever. For my presence in Paris was devoid of any physical
consideration. My only intention was to fulfil the Divine Will. Paris could
do me no harm."

Rabenu Yonah did not say no harm will come to the tzaddik. Rather, he said
the tzaddik has steadfast faith that no harm will befall him. If a mishap
does ocurr, the steadfast faith of the tzadik will protect him from harm.

The faith of the tzaddik creates a dimension of protection. He is so
confident that HaShem will safely guide him to perform the Divine Will, that
he fearlessly and energetically fullfills it. A tzaddik has no fear, because
he knows that nothing can stop the Divine Will. Moreover he knows the
confidence that he has in Hashem places him beneath the protective shade of

Implement: Envision yourself running to do a Mitzvah with complete
confidence that you will not stumble.

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Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2003 11:22:12 +1000
From: shmuel@majordomo1.host4u.net
Fw: Gilgul

[Fowarded by R' Shlomo B Abeles. -mi]

From: Mlevinmd@aol.com
> Someone has posted a reference to Gro's shitah in gilgul.
> He seems to hold that nefesh and ruach do not descend in gilugl but
> die with each body (Tikkunei Zohar Chadash 38,2, See also commentary to
> Yonah 1,6)). It seems leshitoso in Mishle 14,1 that only the nefesh and
> ruach of th last guf will be resurrected in techias hameisim. Presumably,
> this is because the other bodies' nefesh and ruach are lost with previou
> gilglim. The ari seems to disagree with both points.

I don't have the references to hand, but I would understand that
the nefesh and ruach mentioned here are not those meant by the Ari
et al. Theere are at least three different ways of understanding the
definitions depending on where you are coming from. The Gro regularly
uses the philosophical definitions - as it would appear here - because it
is more comprehensive. Thus the reference to neshomoh is the broadest
possible aspect, and itself may be subdivided into nefesh ruach neshomo
etc. I'll be in Yerushololayim in a few days and will consult further,
but that appears the correct explanation

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Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2003 09:27:49 -0400
From: kennethgmiller@juno.com
Directions on Shabbat

On Areivim, several people have been discussing what to do if a Jew who
is driving on Shabbos asks you for directions.

In "The 39 Melochos" by Rabbi Dovid Ribiat, p 93 (and footnote 360 there)
he cites the view of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach on this question, quoting
his answer as printed in a kuntres called "Pninei Hamaor", Letter 9,
Note 3. RSZA notes the problem that one must protest the Chilul Shabbos,
yet do it in a proper manner, and not do a Chilul Hashem in the process.
RSZA's words:

<<< Ulachen, ha'etzah she'yomar lo she'assur l'challel Shabbat, v'assur
lo linsoa, v'heyos v'ani rotzeh l'maet mimcha Chilul Shabbat, shelo
tistovev harbeh, lachen omar l'cha hamakom... >>>

Rabbi Ribiat's translation: <<< It is Shabbos and one may not drive
on Shabbos. However, so as to minimize your Shabbos transgression,
the shortest route is as follows... >>>

I think this is a beautiful solution to all the problems. It answers the
driver's question. It makes him aware that he is sinning. It shows that
you care about him as a fellow Jew and are not antagonistic towards him;
you genuinely prefer that he not sin, yet at the same time you allow
him to make the choice whether to do that sin or not.

Someone on Areivim cited a rav who was asked for directions, and simply
answered "I don't know" even though he knew the route very well. I'd
like to think that he defaulted to "I don't know" only because he had not
thought of RSZA's ingenious solution. If anyone can think of a solution
better than this one, I'd love to hear it.

Akiva Miller

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Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2003 17:43:59 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Jonathan Baker" <jjbaker@panix.com>
Birthday candles

From: Mlevinmd@aol.com
> Posted by: gershon.dubin@juno.com
>> OK, I'll be the neighborhood shaygetz:  what's wrong with birthday candles?

> Just FYI: R. Blumenkranz shows that it arose as a pagan ritual of moon
> worship- round cake representing the moon.

So what does Cookie-Puss symbolize? Or Fudgie the Whale? Although,
they use the same mold for Santa Claus, so maybe the whale becomes avak
avodah zarah.

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Date: Thu, July 31, 2003 5:30 pm
From: Eli Turkel <turkel@math.tau.ac.il>

> Just FYI: R. Blumenkranz shows that it arose as a pagan ritual of moon
> worship- round cake representing the moon.

What difference does the origin of a custom make when no one knows the
origin except by some detailed research?

I am sure that many nursery rhymes have wierd origins - does that make them

Eli Turkel


Micha Berger                     Time flies...
micha@aishdas.org                        ... but you're the pilot.
http://www.aishdas.org                           - R' Zelig Pliskin
Fax: (413) 403-9905

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Date: Thu, July 31, 2003 7:21 pm
From: MIKE38CT@aol.com
R. Ephraim Buchwald message

A great message--and some great advice--from R. Ephraim Buchwald. (Sorry
for the length...I got this as an e-mail, without a URL.)

Michael Feldstein
Stamford, CT


The Gentle Reproof

This week, we begin reading the fifth book of the Torah, known as
Deuteronomy, or D’varim in Hebrew. The book of D’varim is also
called Mishneh Torah, which is commonly translated as "repetition" or
"review" of the Torah. This name underscores that many of the items that
were recorded in the previous books of the Torah are repeated in this
fifth book. The majority of the book of D’varim is a record of the
exhortations, warnings, and reproofs that Moses delivers to the people,
pleading with them to keep the Torah and the mitzvot, and informing
them of the specific rewards and punishments that await them for the
observance and non-observance of the mitzvot.

The book of D’varim often elaborates on quite of the few of the
mitzvot that were already mentioned in the previous books. So for
instance, the Ten Commandments are repeated once again in parashat
Va’etchanan. However, of the more than 100 laws which are contained
in Deuteronomy, more than 70 are completely new.

The book of D’varim begins with the words that were spoken by Moses in
the last five weeks of his life, and were enunciated as a last will and
testament to his beloved people to teach and to reprove them. Deuteronomy
1:1 & 2 read: "Ayleh Had’varim," These are the words that Moses spoke
to all Israel. According to tradition, he calls all the people, so that
they would all be present and have the opportunity to respond to the
words of reproof.

Before mentioning the actual words however, the Torah uncharacteristically
lists a relatively long list of locations where Moses spoke to the
people. Moses proceeds to remind the people that he spoke with them:
"...on the other side of the Jordan, by the wilderness, the Arava,
opposite the sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tophel, and Lavan and
Chatzerot, and Dee’zahav. It is eleven days journey from Horeb, by
way of Mt. Se’ir to Kadesh-Barnea."

Why this long list of locations? Our commentators suggest that Moses was
concerned that the people would be influenced by the local idolatry and
sin when they entered the land of Canaan. Consequently, Moses began his
words by reminding the people of the long string of sins and rebellions
that marked their 40 years of travel in the wilderness. After all,
if they and their parents could sin in the wilderness when they were
constantly surrounded by miracles, surely great dangers would await
them in the new land, where there were no constant reminders of G-d’s
presence. Nevertheless, Moses does not actually mention the sins. Instead
he alludes to them indirectly by naming the places where the sins were

Reb Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, provides a lovely parable to elucidate this
method of reproof. Based on the Midrash Tanchuma, he tells of a King who
had a magnificent orchard, with beautiful ripe fruit. The King placed a
guard dog in the orchard to protect the fruit from thieves. Once, while
looking out the window, he saw one of his trusted officers entering the
orchard to eat the fruits without permission. The guard dog attacked
the officer and ripped his garments. The King said in his heart, "If I
say to my beloved officer that I saw him, he’ll be embarrassed, and I
don’t want to embarrass him. But if I remain silent, then he will think
that I did not see him, and he’ll repeat this dastardly act." When
the officer entered the King’s palace, the King casually remarked how
terrible it was that the wild dog ripped the officer’s clothes. The
officer clearly understood that the King saw him steal the fruits.

Similarly, Moses did not want to embarrass the people of Israel, so he
did not explicitly mention their sins, but rather mentioned the place
and location of their sins. The people took the hint and understood.

Rabbi Yisrael of Rhizin (one of the foremost Chassidic leaders in Poland,
1797-1851), stated that a great leader, when he wants to give words of
Torah and mussar (reproof) to his people, has to "dress" the message in
stories, parables, and legends--things that speak to the heart, so that
they can penetrate the heart and enter the soul.

A friend of mine recently sent me a copy of a piece that he wrote which
reflects on the broader issue of education, as seen from the Torah
perspective and concerns the issue of giving proper reproof. It’s
entitled "In the Aftermath of Littleton," and is a reflection on the
tragic shooting by two Columbine High School students that resulted
in the deaths of 12 students and one teacher in that Denver area High
School on April 20, 1999.

In the aftermath of Littleton, we have tried a little of this and a little
of that. Most of the noise was about gun control, and it failed. Then
Congress passed a law allowing (not requiring, but allowing) schools to
post the Ten Commandments.

I'm a big fan of the Ten Commandments, but ignoring the constitutional
issues, does anyone really think that putting a poster on a wall is
going to create moral children? It can't hurt. But putting the Ten
Commandments on the wall is typical of our "quick-fix" approach to the
emptiness of our popular culture. It is akin to thinking that a few
seminars on tolerance will eliminate hate or anger.

Being good takes work!

At the heart of morality is the sacrifice of self-interest to a higher
code. It means returning the wallet you find on the street. It means
listening to someone else's problems when you want to talk about your
own. And, it means subduing your anger even when you are in the right.

None of the above is easy. Walking by a poster ten times a day isn't
going to create a child with values. If you want to see why, think about
the minimum level of morality, that of civility -- saying "Please" and
"Thank you." Saying "Please" and "Thank you" is the minimum level, because
you only have to say it, not feel it. But even that minimum level takes
an immense amount of work. You have to tell a child over and over to say
"Please" and "Thank you" before it becomes second nature. Think of how
much work it takes to get a child to share or think of others.

Being good takes work. And Judaism may have something to tell us about
how to create moral children.

Moral fitness is akin to physical fitness. No one would argue that if
our kids are overweight or out of shape that we can solve the problem by
putting up a poster that tells them that "Fit is better than fat." We
understand that if you want to be good at sports or music you must
practice dull, repetitive tasks such as free-throw shooting for hour
after hour.

If we want our children to be good, we must work at it. To make goodness
a habit, to make children or adults think of others along with themselves,
takes hours of training. Here are some ways to make it happen.

Set aside a container for charity and make a habit out of giving something
everyday, even if it is only spare change. Do it in a set way, say every
morning before breakfast, so that it becomes a habit.

Express gratitude. Thank God for the food you eat. Thank the person at
the table who cooked and served the meal. And recognize your children's
good behavior, not just the bad.

Spend time with your children. This is the hardest part. We want
virtuous children, who learn virtue " -- without our help. It's
impossible. Quantity time is quality time. Jews have the Sabbath. On
the Sabbath, the telephone "drops dead," the television ceases, parents
hug their children and bless them, eat three mandated meals together,
and sing, and talk of the Bible. If you don't have the Sabbath, take a
taste of it into your life. Turn off the TV and telephone at least one
night a week. Dedicate a night to the family, and make it a rule that
everyone stays home that night. Talk to one another. It works wonders.

Finally, be a role model. One kind deed, one act of tolerance or of
consideration does more to teach children about morality than 100
lectures, or 200 trips past a poster of the Ten Commandments.

There is an old Jewish story about two fathers in synagogue. One talks
during the service, but lectures his child about the importance of prayer.
The other father says nothing to the child, but devotes his being to
prayer every week. The second child grows up dedicated to prayer. The
first grows up talking during services, but lectures his child about
the importance of prayer.

Be a role model. Do. It is your best bet if you want your children to
follow. The Torah has much to teach us in so many areas of our lives. We
don’t always need to come in roaring, to "sock it to ‘em," and "bowl
‘em over." Often the indirect, gentler method of reproof (which means
teaching) is most efficacious. It worked for Moses. It can work for us.

May you be blessed.

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Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2003 19:55:02 EDT
From: T613K@aol.com
Birthday candles

From: Mlevinmd@aol.com
> Just FYI: R. Blumenkranz shows that it arose as a pagan ritual of moon
> worship- round cake representing the moon.

>Sounds loony to me.

Yes, loony--le mot juste.

The suggestion that the roundness of the birthday cake is what makes
birthday candles un-Jewish is indeed, as R' Gershon says, more than a
little peculiar.

However, there are other, better, reasons not to have birthday candles.
Two reasons have been mentioned on Avodah, to which I would like to add
a few comments.

1. It is un-Jewish to blow out candles. I suppose there is a kabbalistic
reason for this, or maybe a symbolic one: flames represent life, soul,
breath. If a Shabbos candle blows out accidentally, we relight it after
Shabbos and let it burn down. The havdalah candle is extinguised in
the overflow wine, not blown out. If a yahrzeit candle is still burning
after dark, we leave it until it puts itself out.

2. "Close your eyes and make a wish" sounds pagan. It certainly seems to
be a form of kishuf, and it most definitely sounds un-Jewish. Which leads
us to a third, related reason:

3. Chukos hagoyim. In mimetic fashion I somehow picked up from my parents,
as I was growing up, that birthday candles were generically "goyish." But
it wasn't only my parents. In my childhood years, I didn't know anyone
who had birthday candles.

4. Cake, OTOH, is an EXTREMELY Jewish object and a necessary part of
every occasion. Round, square, what's the difference? Is the coffee
ready? BTW, I think the word for cake, ugah, actually MEANS "round thing"
even in the Chumash ("ugos matza" = round matza, no?). So the roundness
of a cake symbolizes nothing. However, there IS a term for the process of
thinking about whether or not something resembles the moon. That term is:
lunar reflections.

Toby Katz

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Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2003 01:49:24 EDT
From: T613K@aol.com
Birthday candles

Even though I thought it unlikely that round birthday cakes might come
from some kind of ancient moon rite, I do want to clarify that I think R'
Blumenkrantz is basically right. Birthday candles do have a pagan origin.

Toby Katz 

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Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2003 09:59:04 +0200
From: "Ari Kahn" <kahnar@mail.biu.ac.il>

I have a sefer at home called Zichron Shlomo, it is a memorial volume
to Rav Shlomo Kalish (son in law of the Chelkas Yoav) his birthday was
Asarah Bteves (as is mine - which is probably why I bought the sefer). He
commemerated his birthday, in the sefer there are numerous essays by him
and others on celebrating birthdays, and on the meaning of Asarah Bteves.
Included is a responsa by Rav Noson Gestetner, and an essay by Rav Dov
Meir Eisenstein they are pretty comprehensive citing chazal rishonim
and achronim, anyone interested in researching birthday celebrations by
Gidolay Yisroel should look here.

Ari Kahn

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Date: Fri, 01 Aug 2003 10:53:46 -0400
From: Mlevinmd@aol.com

Thank you everyone who shared their opinions on this subject.

First, R. Blumenkranz's point is not the roundness of the cake but
the custom of putting candles on a round cake - this is originally an
idolatrous service; in fact, it is not an issue of chukas hagoim but of
an actuall avodah to a deity which is included under Eicha avdu hagoim
haeilu... aeseh ken gam ani.

Second, let us give honor to talmidei chochomim. Let us all deal with
the issues and not dismiss any opinion, least of all of a recognized
posek, with humorous descriptions, no matter how illogical it may at
first appear. He deserves no less. I know that I have been often wrong
and no human being is infallible but we msut discuss various views with
respect. Even R. Yehoshua cavalierly dismissed Beis Shammai view as
described in Chagiga 22. Of all places, in this forum -humility.

M. Levin

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Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2003 09:44:20 +0200
From: "Ari Kahn" <kahnar@mail.biu.ac.il>

> So the flowering of the sheqadiah is both rapid and early. Perhaps that's
> the mashal, not the nut.

I agree with Micha's suggestion, I further checked with someone who has a
background in botany - Rav Shmuel Solinsky who suggested that the rapid
blossoming is the main issue, but he added that while the almond is not
ripe for months, an edible seed is ready within weeks, and he suspects
that this is what Chazal had in mind.

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Date: Fri, 01 Aug 2003 05:59:16 -0400
From: "Yosef Gavriel and Shoshanah M. Bechhofer" <sbechhof@casbah.acns.nwu.edu>
Fwd: Great quote to start your day on a positive note!

Sounds like R' Shimon:
>Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2003 00:49:59 -0700
>From: Cyber Nation <successquotes@cyber-nation.com>
>Subject: Great quote to start your day on a positive note!

>Here's the Quotation for Friday, August 1, 2003

>Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living
>things, man will not himself find peace.

>Albert Schweitzer
>(1875-1965, German Born Medical Missionary, Theologian, Musician, and 
>If you'd like to give this daily dose of inspiration to a family
>member, friend, or co-worker, and so on, then click on the link
>below to subscribe them directly... or forward them the info so
>they may sign up themselves.

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Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2003 10:13:08 -0400
From: "Gil Student" <gil@aishdas.org>
Re: kollel and PhD

Meir Shinnar wrote on Areivim:
>One more point with regard to kollel and defined endpoints:
>In the rambam, there is a notion of someone who knows
>kol hatora kula - his definition of 10 batlanim in a city is that
>there are 10 people who know kol hatora kula, and therefore
>may take time off for communal needs. This implies that this
>goal is achievable and recognizable, and not merely by 1 or 2
>in a generation. Does this status (as something achievable)
>have any echoes in more recent literature?

I heard R' Hershel Schachter say more than once, based on the Shulchan
Aruch HaRav's hilchos talmud torah, that a man is obligated to know
the entire Torah - Tanach, Midreshei Halacha, Mishnah, Tosefta,
Bavli, Yerushalmi, Rambam, and Shulchan Aruch. "It's not so much.
It all fits on one shelf!" (Last time this came up on Areivim
I had an offlist discussion with Yisrael Dubitsky exactly how
it can fit on one shelf; it can.) See RHS's relevant essay at

I believe R' Yisrael Salanter also talks about this obligation in Or
Yisrael, around siman 30.

Also, see the Radak in his commentary to Yehoshua on "ve-hagisa bo
yomam va-lailah".

Gil Student

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Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2003 10:30:41 -0400
From: "Shinnar, Meir" <Meir.Shinnar@rwjuh.edu>
RE: kollel and PhD

> I heard R' Hershel Schachter say more than once, based on the Shulchan
> Aruch HaRav's hilchos talmud torah, that a man is obligated to know
> the entire Torah - Tanach, Midreshei Halacha, Mishnah, Tosefta, Bavli,
> Yerushalmi, Rambam, and Shulchan Aruch.....

you misunderstand the thrust of my question. The issue is not whether
there is an obligation to learn kol hatora kula (and what that involves -
RHS' definition is one), it is the existence of a status of knowing kol
hatora kula, with a subsequent change in one's obligation to study (not
talking about the minimum kde la'asot) - the thrust today is that while
there might be a certain minimum (defined differently), the obligation
of study does not change, and if anything, increases.

Meir Shinnar

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Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2003 12:12:33 -0400 (EDT)
From: Eli Turkel <turkel@math.tau.ac.il>
destruction of the Temple

Re the gemara in Gittin does anyone have any idea of the historical
background of the story?

My assumption is that the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is an example
of sinat chinam and the individual characters are not important.

I am more perturbed by the story of not bringing the Korban for the
emperor and the implication that that was what lead to the destruction
of the Temple. As a minot point I don't belive that this story if brought
by Joesphus who participated (on both sides) in the fight.

Of greater difficulty is the obvious situation that a revolt against Rome
was brewing for years and was pushed by the zealots. Any incident about
not bringing a korban for the emperor would have been one more of a series
of events. It is clear that had chazal decided to bring the sacrifice
some other event would have been the catalyst leading to the event.

As such I assume that chazal are trying to teach us a moral lesson
rather than a history lesson. What is that lesson beyond sinat chinam
which was already discussed in kamtza and bar kamtza?

There are similar stories of Nevuchadnezzar taking 3 steps and the blood
of the cohanim boiling that are trying to teach us lessons rather than

shabbat shalom,
Eli Turkel

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Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2003 12:40:49 EDT
From: T613K@aol.com
birthday candles

Instead of talking around and around R' Blumenkrantz, I think we had
better quote him directly. The only Pesach guide I can find right this
minute is the 1999 one, but IIRC he reprints this same paragraph every
year. In the guide I have, this entry is found right after "yoghurt" in
the food section and right before the list of "non-foods during Pesach."
Here it is:

"Birthday Cake & Candles"
(From: How Did It Begin pp. 24-25)

The custom goes back to the ancient Greeks, according to the writings
of Philchorus. The greek [sic] worshippers of the Avoda Zara of the
moon and hunting, used to put honeycakes on the altar of her temple on
the sixth day of the month which was her birthday. The cakes were round
like the full moon and lighted with tapers.

No further record of this custom exists until the reappearance by the
German peasants of the Middle Ages, who again used to light birthday
candles (this was done the moment the child awakened and allowed to burn
until it was eaten) [Note from TK: it sounds like the kid was supposed
to eat the candle, but he must mean the kid ate the cake in which the
candle was stuck.] Like sacrificial fires, the burning tapers were
endowed from the earliest days with mystical significance and birthday
candles were believed to have the power to grant a wish and ensure
a happy year. (The number of candles represented the child's age.
However, the wish which had to remain secret would only come true if
blown out with one puff.)

After reading the above, I am sure you will agree with me that we should
stop this custom among our Jewish children. Make birthday cakes &
cookies but do not use Candles.

Ad kan loshon haPesach Guide.

A net search for "How Did It Begin" found an article which in turn seems
to be paraphrasing or plagiarizing a book called The Lore of Birthdays
(New York, 1952) by Ralph and Adelin Linton. They wrote:

 "The Greeks believed that everyone had a protective spirit or daemon who
attended his birth and watched over him in life. This spirit had a mystic
relation with the god on whose birthday the individual was born. The
Romans also subscribed to this idea. . . This notion was carried down in
human belief and is reflected in the guardian angel, the fairy godmother
and the patron saint. . . . The custom of lighted candles on the cakes
started with the Greeks. . . . Honey cakes round as the moon and lit
with tapers were placed on the temple altars of Artemis. . . . Birthday
candles, in folk belief, are endowed with special magic for granting
wishes. . . . Lighted tapers and sacrificial fires have had a special
mystic significance ever since man first set up altars to his gods. The
birthday candles are thus an honor and tribute to the birthday child
and bring good fortune"

This same book, on page 20, also had this to say about the traditional
greeting of 'Happy Birthday': "Birthday greetings and wishes for happiness
are an intrinsic part of this holiday. . . . originally the idea was
rooted in magic. The working of spells for good and evil is the chief
usage of witchcraft. One is especially susceptible to such spells on his
birthday, as one's personal spirits are about at the time. . . . Birthday
greetings have power for good or ill because one is closer to the spirit
world on this day."

Ad kan the Linton book. Ralph Linton BTW was an anthropologist at
Columbia University, died in 1953. Some of the sites quoting his birthday
book are Christian sites saying that birthday candles are pagan, and
also denouncing Halloween celebrations.

R' Blumenkrantz evidently preferred not to mention the name of the Greek
goddess, but the unnamed "Avoda Zara of the moon and hunting" is Artemis,
who was indeed, based on my exhaustive investigations (seven minutes
with Google), worshipped on her birthday with round cakes and candles.

Nevertheless, R' Blumenkrantz concludes that birthday cakes are muttar,
which is not surprising, since the custom of Jews eating cake certainly
predates the worship of Artemis. The Greeks probably got it from us.

To reiterate what I've said before, I agree with R' Blumenkrantz about
the cake and about the candles.

I thought of two more things that are wrong with candles, besides the
ones I listed yesterday:

1. Jews do not mutilate food. Sticking something inedible in a cake
(other than a fork <g>) is a mutilation of the cake. Sometimes wax
drips onto the cake, which is a further mutilation.

2. It is not appropriate to do something which makes food disgusting.
Having a little kid breathe all over the cake that everyone else is now
expected to eat is truly disgusting. That is not the same at all as
blowing on your own private hot soup to cool it off.

Toby Katz

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