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Recent Questions:

One Night of Chanukah?

This year during Chanukah I will be on a wilderness survival trip, and it will be very difficult to properly celebrate the holiday. I certainty won't be able to bring along a Menorah.

So if I am going to celebrate only one day of Chanukah, which is the most significant?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

If a person can only celebrate one day of Chanukah, he should celebrate the first day.

This is similar to a case where a person is in prison, and the authorities agree to permit him to go to synagogue one day. The law is that he should go at the first opportunity, and not wait for a more important day like the High Holidays.

The reason is because one should not allow the opportunity of a mitzvah to pass. Moreover, it is quite conceivable that circumstances will later change and allow for additional observance. Therefore, we do not let the first chance pass. (source: Code of Jewish Law OC 90, Mishnah Berurah 28)

There may be another reason why the first night is the one to focus on. Chanukah is celebrated for eight days to commemorate the one-day supply of oil that miraculously burned for eight days. But if you think about it, since there was enough oil to burn naturally for one night, nothing miraculous happened on that first night! So why shouldn't Chanukah be just seven days?!

There are many wonderful answers given to this question, highlighting the special aspect of the first day. Here are a few:

1) True, the miracle of the oil did not begin until the second day, and lasted for only seven days. But the Sages designated the first day of Chanukah in commemoration of the miraculous military victory.

2) Having returned to the Temple and found it in shambles, the Jews had no logical reason to think they would find any pure oil. The fact that the Maccabees didn't give up hope, and then actually found any pure oil at all, is in itself a miracle.

3) The Sages chose Chanukah, a festival that revolves around oil's ability to burn, as the time to teach the fundamental truth that even so-called "natural" events take place only because God wants them to.

The Talmudic Sage Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa expressed this truth in explaining a miracle that occurred in his own home. Once, his daughter realized that she had lit the Shabbos candles with vinegar instead of oil. Rabbi Chanina calmed her, saying, "Why are you concerned! The One Who commanded oil to burn, can also command vinegar to burn!" The Talmud goes on to say that those Shabbos lights burned bright for many hours (Taanit 25a).

To drive this truth home, the Sages decreed that Chanukah be observed for eight days: The last seven to commemorate the miracle of the Menorah, and the first to remind us that even the “normal” burning of oil is only in obedience to God's wish.

In closing, I'm not sure what's stopping you from celebrating more than one day? At a minimum, you can light one candle sometime during the evening, and that fulfills the mitzvah of Chanukah - no “official Menorah” necessary. With so much joy to be had, why limit yourself to one night only?!

Food with Writing

We recently bought cookies with writing etched into them. That got me thinking that perhaps one shouldn’t eat them on Shabbat, since writing and erasing are forbidden. I’m especially concerned because we were going to celebrate my son’s birthday on Friday night with a nicely decorated cake. Is there any concern?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There is much discussion in Jewish law concerning foods with writing on them – whether in the form of words or of images. I’ll summarize the rules below and then we can discuss your specific questions.

(a) For this context, “writing” is defined as letters or pictures written with a separate substance, such as frosting on a cake. Shapes etched into a food (or if the food itself is made into a particular shape) are not considered “writing” and so may be destroyed (Mishnah Berurah 340:15).

(b) One may not destroy writing on food with a knife by cutting it, but may do so with his teeth by eating the food (Mishnah Berurah 17). This is either because it is considered “unusual” erasing or because it is viewed as an act of “eating” rather than “erasing”. See The Shabbos Kitchen, by ArtScroll Mesorah Publications, 10:6.

(c) Although one may not destroy such writing by cutting it, he may cut in between the letters (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasa 9:48).

Based on the above rules, cookies with writing etched into them are not a concern at all. Regarding a cake with frosting, you can serve it on Shabbat (I’d hate to spoil your son’s big event!), but be careful to cut between each letter. If you are decorating the cake yourself, be sure to leave enough space to make the cutting easy. You should also avoid elaborately decorating the cake with flowers and designs, making it impossible to find a path for the knife.

Finally, I should mention that the same concern applies with many packaged food items today. Many types of food wrappers may be opened on Shabbat, but one must be careful not to destroy writing or designs on the package.

Homosexuals - Equal Rights?

Recently a friend and I had a long discussion about the appropriateness of homosexuals as teachers and rabbis, etc., and on how Judaism should deal with homosexuality in general. It seems that there is a conflict between the need to provide equal rights to homosexuals, while not promoting homosexuality too much. Where should we draw the line?

Whatever the case, shouldn't Judaism be accepting of homosexuals as congregants, even if it does not feel entirely comfortable with homosexual behavior?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

One of the best-known biblical verses is Leviticus 18:22 which states that male homosexuality is incorrect behavior. Does the preponderance of homosexual activity prove that the Torah laws should not apply to them?

God knows human beings very well. He created them. He didn't make a blunder that now needs to be corrected by erasing verses in the Torah.

It is axiomatic that Judaism legislates only acts, not orientations. A desire for lobster dinner is not a violation of Kashrut laws, only the dinner is. The same is true with homosexuality.

Absolutely, homosexuals have the same rights as any human being. Judaism looks negatively at homosexual activity, but not at the homosexual. He is as beloved in God's eyes as any other Jew, and is as responsible as any Jew is in all the mitzvot. He is obligated to achieve life's goals by directing his life toward spiritual growth, sanctity and perfection of his character – no less than is any other Jew.

For each of us in our own areas, the test is harder, but we all need to overcome our drives. Imagine a "kleptomaniac" who could only find fulfillment by stealing from other people. How would society respond? Although we'd be sympathetic and concerned for the individual, we still would not be able to tolerate behavior that goes against the Torah.

But to officially sanction and condone homosexuality? For 3,300 years, Torah - in its totality - has made the Jewish people the most accomplished nation on Earth. We "revise" its laws at our peril.

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