Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. Note that this is not a homework service!

Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Popular Questions

Honors Extended at Bris Milah

Wow, I am reeling. My wife just gave birth to a baby boy. Bris next week! We want to invite all our family and friends, and distribute honors so they can participate. Do you have a list?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Mazel tov! May you bring him to the covenant of Abraham at the right time!

It is deemed a great honor to take part in the Bris. Here are the various "tasks" given out as honors to some of the guests:

1) "Kvatter" – usually a married couple who has not yet had children of their own, as the honor is considered a good omen to have children. The baby's mother hands the child to the female kvatter, who passes the baby to her husband. He then brings the baby into the room where the Bris is to take place.

2) "To Elijah's Chair:" The honoree's task is to place the newborn on the elevated, ornate "Throne of Elijah," for tradition says that Elijah attends every Bris.

3) "From Elijah's Chair:" the honor of taking the baby from the "throne."

4) "Sandak:" This is the highest honor, usually given to the grandfather or a rabbi. The honoree holds the newborn across his knees while the Bris is performed, an honor considered equal to offering incense in the Holy Temple.

5) Mohel: The one who performs the removal of the foreskin should be God-fearing and professionally competent. It is important to note that a Jewish Bris differs from a "secular circumcision" in that it involves special added steps called Priyah and Metzitzah. (A child who is circumcised by a doctor in the hospital often does not receive a proper Bris.)

6) Blessings: The honoree recites the blessings and announces the baby's name.

7) "Beside the Blessings:" The honoree holds the baby while the blessings are recited and the baby is named.

Mazel tov! May you merit to raise him to follow the Torah, to come to the wedding canopy, and to always do good deeds.

Historical Dating: Jewish versus Secular

In learning through your excellent “Crash Course in Jewish History” (www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/), I notice that in referencing some historical dates, the Jewish dating system and the Christian dating system vary by as much as 150 years - but by the time we get to the Roman period (i.e. the Christian year 1) the discrepancy disappears. Why?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Jewish dating system is taken primarily from a book called "Seder Olam Rabba," dating back to the 2nd century CE and attributed to Rabbi Yosef ben Halafta. The sources for the dates in Halafta's book come from rabbinic traditions recorded in the Talmud as well as numerous chronologies written in the Hebrew Bible.

It is also essential to remember that traditional Jewish chronologies (since the beginning of the Jewish calendar almost 6,000 years ago) are based on the highly accurate astronomical phenomenon of the moon orbiting the earth (months) and the earth around the sun (years). This gives traditional Jewish chronology a high degree of accuracy, especially when it comes to the major events of Jewish history.

Actually, the "secular" calendar has experienced many difficulties in trying to properly "align itself with the stars." Back in 46 BCE, the calendar had become hopelessly confused. Julius Caesar was forced to abandon the previous lunar system, replacing it with a tropical year of 365.25 days. Further, to correct the accumulation of previous errors, a total of 90 intercalary days had to be added to 46 BCE, meaning that January 1, 45 BCE, occurred in what would have been the middle of March.

Over the next 1,600 years, the disagreement between the Julian year of 365.25 days and the tropical year of 365.242199 gradually produced significant errors. The discrepancy mounted at a rate of 11 minutes 14 seconds per year - until it reached a full 10 days. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII proclaimed that 10 days should be skipped in order to bring the calendar back into line. This was accomplished by designating that October 5 become October 15. In other words, the dates October 5-14, 1582 were simply eliminated.

So how do we get the chronology that historians use today?

Historians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries worked backward and pieced it together. This was done primarily through comparing what little historical records survived from ancient Rome, Greece, Mesopotamia and Egypt, together with archaeological finds and radio carbon dating.

Because there are margins of error in all of these methods and much is open to interpretation, significant debates erupted between different scholars which continue to this day. Therefore, the chronologies used by modern historian can best be described as well-educated guesses.

Jewish chronology makes a stronger case for historical accuracy, and that's why we have chosen to use the traditional Jewish dates.

Today there are a number of renowned scholars also challenging the modern chronology and even attempting to reconcile it with the Jewish chronology. Amongst them is British scholar Peter James who writes: "By redating the beginning of the Iron Age in Palestine from the early 12th century BCE to the late 10th, a completely new interpretation of the archaeology of Israel can be offered: One which is in perfect harmony with the biblical record." ("Centuries in Darkness" by Peter James; Rutgers University Press, 1993, p. 318.)

Eating Restrictions on Friday

We have non-religious relatives staying nearby on vacation and we’ve been trying to invite them for a meal. They have a busy schedule so we’ve been having trouble setting a date and time. Is there any issue inviting them on Friday, and if so, is there any distinction between the morning and the afternoon? They could not come for an entire Shabbos, but we even thought of serving them a pre-Shabbos “Shabbos meal” to give them some taste of our way of life.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It’s actually a little tricky. There are two closely-related relevant laws. One is that we may not eat a meal on Friday which is larger than usual. The second is that we should preferably not begin a bread meal in the last three hours of the day. (An “hour” in this context refers to 1/12th of the time interval between sunrise and sunset.)

The basic reason for these laws is so that we will have a good appetite when Shabbat begins. A second suggested reason for the first law is that eating a large meal on Friday will take much of our time and we will not be able to properly prepare for Shabbat.

Based on the above, you could only invite them on Friday if you are careful to serve them only an average meal, which might be an uncomfortable way to entertain guests. Also, in the final three hours of the day, you should preferably not serve them a bread meal at all.

If you do find yourself entertaining your relatives Friday afternoon, you could sit with them and sample the Shabbat food, but without serving them a bread meal. This is actually considered a mitzvah, tasting the Shabbat dishes beforehand to see if they need anything else. Make sure to give your guests enough time afterwards to make it to where they’re staying well before Shabbat.

(Sources: Talmud Gittin 38b, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 249:2, Mishna Berurah 249:10, 250:2.)

Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. Note that this is not a homework service!

Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Receive the Aish.com Daily Features Email

Sign up to our Daily Email Newsletter.

Our privacy policy