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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Chicken and Cheese

Do you know why Jewish law came to add fowl to the "no meat and milk" law? Fowl do not have mammary glands so do not produce milk – why were they added to mammalian meat restrictions with milk? Also, do you know if the boiling meat in milk was originally a pagan ritual?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Talmud explains that when the Torah says "do not boil a kid in it's mother's milk," it is only referring to meat from the three kosher domesticated animals – cow, goat and sheep.

However, since people "intuitively" associate chicken as "meat," it became the law as well not to mix chicken and milk. This view was accepted by the entire Jewish people as binding law about 1,500 years ago. This is one of the many "fences around the Torah" which, as the name suggests, helps protect the Torah from being transgressed accidentally, and help people protect themselves from spiritual damage.

Happy New Year

I am confused about some time frames. When is the Jewish New Year? Is it the month of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah) or the month of Nissan (Passover)? In the Bible (Exodus 12:2), God says the first day of the year is in the spring, but I always see Tishrei referred to as the new year. Can you clarify this?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Excellent question!

Rosh Hashanah commemorates the sixth day of creation - the day that the first human being was created. The reason why we celebrate Rosh Hashanah on this day (and not on the first day of creation) is because the entire world was only brought into existence for the sake of man.

The reason why the months are counted from Nissan is because that is when God brought the Jews out of slavery in Egypt - marking the birth of our people.

This reflects two aspects of God's involvement in the world. With Rosh Hashanah, we acknowledge God's role as Creator, while Passover commemorates God as the guiding hand of history. This dual-facet is reflected in the Kiddush over wine, where we say that Shabbat is "a remembrance of creation... a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt."

So although the years are counted from Rosh Hashanah, the months are counted from the month of Nissan. Hence we have two new years!

Shiva Shortened by Yom Tov

My father passed away two days before Rosh Hashana, and we only sat in mourning for two days rather than the customary seven. I never did get the straight story why is that? Apparently it has something to do with the joy of a festival, but if so, then why shouldn’t Shabbat also cancel out the remainder of shiva?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I am sorry to hear of the loss of your father. All me to offer a few answers to your interesting question.

1) The great sage Chatam Sofer (YD 348) writes that a festival cancels the shiva because a festival annuls that phase of heavenly judgment on the soul of the deceased. These are deep kabbalistic matters that we do not fully understand.

2) On a more practical level, since the onset of Shabbat will always occur less than 7 days after the burial, Shabbat does not cancel the shiva because if it did, nobody would ever sit a 7-day shiva!

3) Here's another thought I'd like to share: Due to the joy of Shabbat, we do not practice any public mourning. But the joy of Yom Tov is qualitatively different.

Yom Tov is a time when the entire Jewish people would gather together in Jerusalem. The rule was that if someone was tamei (ritually impure), that would be "waived" during the period of the festival. Otherwise, people would avoid contact with the tamei person, thereby marring the joy of the festival for everyone. The joy of the festival and unity of the Jewish people were overriding considerations.

So I think the same idea applies here – the joy of the festival is so great that it overrides the imperative of mourning.

And what about the "therapy" for the bereaved that shiva provides?

I think the answer is found in the halacha that a kohen is restricted from attending funerals. (This is due to issues of ritual impurity, a separate discussion.) A regular kohen may attend the funeral of a close relative – spouse, parent, sibling, child. But the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) does not attend even the funeral of a close relative. On this, the 13th century "Sefer HaChinuch" asks your question: What about the therapy that mourning provides?

The answer is that the spiritual level of the Kohen Gadol is so high that it lifts him above these normal human emotions. In other words, he doesn't need the mourning, since a higher emotion has displaced the emotions usually associated with mourning.

If we understand how to properly tap into the power of Yom Tov, the same is true in that case as well. The joy of Yom Tov simply cannot coexist with mourning. That joy is so great that it "nullifies" the feelings of mourning.

To learn more about the power of Yom Tov, I suggest a beautiful, user-friendly volume called “Book of Our Heritage” by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (Feldheim.com).