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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Tallit Stripes

What is the reason that just about every tallit has a series of stripes running vertically down the tallit. Is there a reason or is it just decorative? If decorative, when did this practice begin?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The tallit needn't be striped at all, yet in fact most are striped. some are striped blue, some black, some bright white, and some with a multitude of colors. Yet in Jewish law the stripes are insignificant. So why the stripes?

Nobody really knows. Yet this is how it's been done by practically all communities throughout the Diaspora for as long as we know, and so we continue the practice.

In 1960, Yigal Yadin headed an archaeological expedition in the Judean desert of Israel. The purpose was to explore a number of caves known to have been used as a hideout for Jews during the Bar Kokhba revolt against Rome (132-135 CE). One of the fascinating discoveries was a number of Jewish tunics, each with stripes similar to the tallit of today. In Yigal Yadin's book, "Bar-Kokhba" (ch. 7), he writes that this was the Roman style of the times.

It is also possible that the stripes in the Tallit were a sort of substitute for the blue string in the Tzitzit, since the identity of the snail that was to be used for the dye was lost.

To learn more, see "Tztzith – A Thread of Light" by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.

Calendar Discrepancy

I am fascinated by history, and in browsing your website's Western Wall Tunnel Tour (http://www.aish.com/sem/wtt/). I was surprised by the dates of various events in Jewish history. According to your timeline, King Solomon built the First Temple in 825 BCE. Was it not completed in 957 BCE? The Babylonian exile is stated as beginning in 422 BCE. But didn't Nebuchadnezzar II destroy the First Temple in 586 BCE, the same year the Jews were deported to Babylonia?

Could you please explain this discrepancy in the dates? Thank you.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The source of this discrepancy is in the accounting of the Persian period. Greek historians (such as Herodotus, Ctesias, Xenophon, and others who lived after the events and collected oral histories) speak of 10 Persian kings who ruled for 208 years. By contrast, the biblical Jewish account speaks of four kings ruling 52 years.

The confusion stems from the fact that one person may have several names. For example U.S. President, Commander-in-Chief, and White House Occupant may all be names for the same person. So too, Arta-Khsharta is a title used by all Persian kings and means literally "Fit for the Kingdom" – yet Artaxerxes is listed separately as three kings in the Greek lists.

Another point of contention focuses on the war between Darius and Alexander. These are commonly thought to be an earlier Darius and Alexander, due to the "interposing" Artaxerxes kings. That makes Alexander the Great into Alexander II, and Darius who permitted the rebuilding of the Second Temple into a later Darius. Yet many Jewish scholars feel that both Alexanders are the same person; so too with Darius.

For more details, see Brad Aaronson's article "Fixing the History Books" (http://www.starways.net/lisa/essays/heifetzfix.html) and an interesting discussion on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_years).

Early Bar Mitzvah

My son will be turning 13 God willing this winter in mid-December. Having spoken to several of our relatives, it will be much better for everyone if we would schedule his Bar Mitzvah for Thanksgiving weekend – about two weeks before his birthday. Is it alright to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah a little bit in advance?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Before all, Mazal Tov on the upcoming event! May you son grow to be a source of joy and pride for you, his entire family, and all Israel.

There are generally two parts to a Bar Mitzvah. The first is the synagogue service, where the Bar Mitzvah boy is called to the Torah to recite the blessings and chant parts of the reading before the congregation. The second is the celebration – the festive meal served to family and friends, generally accompanied with speeches and music.

In terms of when to stage the two events, the celebration should preferably be held on the boy’s (Hebrew) birthday itself, which is the actual occasion being marked. If that is difficult, it can be celebrated earlier or later, but should be relatively close. (Two weeks is in reasonable range; I would consider a month the absolute maximum.) If the celebration is held on a date other than the boy’s birthday, there should be speeches containing Torah thoughts in them so that the event is considered a “celebration of mitzvah.”

In terms of reading the Torah, that may only be done when a boy has fully reached 13 years (Mishna Berurah 282:12-13). Thus, although you may have the party a bit early, the Bar Mitzvah ceremony itself will have to be held later – typically on the first Shabbat after his birthday.

See here for our main article on the Bar Mitzvah celebration.

Mazal tov again!