Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Manipulating with Mysticism for Money

You could fill an entire book with examples of tzedakah organizations manipulating people's emotions for money. One of the most appalling examples I've seen is from an organization seeking to raise funds for, you guessed it, Torah study. This one promised to learn in the merit for people to get a shidduch. The picture in the ad was not of people studying Torah - the cause that they are trying to promote. Instead, it was of a sparkling diamond engagement ring. The message effectively being broadcast was: "Attention all singles - think about how desperate you are to get married! Don't miss this opportunity! Give us money!"

Mysticism provides these organizations with an especially potent tool for manipulating people, and today, the ninth of Kislev, demonstrates a powerful example. Kupat Ha'ir put out the following ad:

 

For those who can't see the picture, it says that there is a once-in-fifty years opportunity to take advantage of the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninth year in the Yovel-cycle. This full house of nines, according to an obscure ancient sefer, is an auspicious hour for prayer. But why pray yourself, when other people can pray on your behalf? Twenty Gedolei HaDor (I never knew there were that many!) will pray for you - provided that you give money to Kupat Ha-Ir!

And then comes the most manipulative line of all: "Don't wait another 50 years for a yeshuah!" You are desperate for salvation from your problems, and you need to give us money in order to attain it, or you'll be stuck for fifty years! Forget about Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur - it's this once-in-fifty-years opportunity that counts. As the Kupat HaIr website states: "Doesn’t it make sense to overextend yourself for nine minutes for the sake of your entire life? ... Your life depends on these 9 minutes. Will you be happy? Will you have money? What will your health be like? How will you be spared unfavorable decrees?"

Yes, they are raising money for a good cause. (At least, to some extent; I don't know how much of their charity goes to perpetuating the kollel system.) But I'm sure that there are many people who truly can't afford to give, but who do so out of sheer terror that they might be losing their chance to get married, to have children, to be healthy. I personally know of someone who themselves fell into dire straits because of this. And Rav Mattisyahu Solomon of Lakewood has decried the fact that single women desperate for a yeshua had contributed all their savings to Kupat HaIr, and turned to him when they didn't get married. He described Kupat HaIr's modus operandi as "absolute theft."

Furthermore, this form of fundraising spreads the idea that charitable acts are done in order to attain personal salvation, rather than to actually help others. And the next person promising miracles will take your money not to give to charity, but for their own pockets.

There is also the problem of the wider context: in the ultra-Orthodox community, there is a prevalent message that it is wrong and futile to engage in regular efforts to obtain parnassah (i.e. education, training and work). There is a real risk of people focusing on segulos instead of doing the necessary hishtadlus.

And all this is quite aside from the falsehood in the campaign. No, your entire life does not depend on these nine minutes! Oh, and by the way: due to uncertainties about when yovel actually is, Kupat Ha-Ir ran the very same campaign four years ago, announcing that 1:43pm of November 26th 2009 was the ninth of the ninth of the ninth of the ninth! And they ran it again in 2011, claiming that that was the ninth of the ninth of the ninth of the ninth!

This sick, manipulative behavior all occurs, according to Kupat HaIr, with the backing of the (charedi) Gedolei HaDor. Fortunately, however, there are other rabbinic voices. Rav Shlomo Aviner delivered a lecture in his yeshivah in which he condemns the Four Nines as an attempt to use magic and shortcuts in place of genuine spiritual growth. As he points out, if it is so important, why is it not in the Torah? In the Gemara? In any of the major works of Judaism? Why didn't any of the famous rabbis of history mention it? And what's so special about the number nine, anyway? We need, says Rav Aviner, to focus on the truly important things, such as improving our characters. We should not be attempting to invent new magical shortcuts to salvation.

It's great to give charity. But give it to an organization that works in the right way, not one that tries to take advantage of people's fears. My personal favorite charity is Lemaan Achai, whose "gimmick" is not some mystical mumbo-jumbo, nor false promises of salvation, but rather that they practice charity in accordance with the highest ideals: working to wean people off charity. They don't raise as much money as Kupat Ha-Ir - but what they do raise, is raised honorably.

(Hat-tip to those who sent in the links. See too my post on The Ring Of Power)

54 comments:

  1. Why go through the trouble of character refinement, religious growth, sincere prayer, and hard work, if you could just send a check and get the same results? Rav Aviner is such a party pooper. He doesn't want us to enjoy the benefits of segulos, preferring instead to make us suffer by having to work every day. What do you expect from a religious Zionist, who follows the crazy idea of struggling to build a Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisroel instead of just praying for Mashiach? These misguided people are just cruel and heartless, dedicated to making us work hard instead of using segulos like all the gedolim in all generations did. (Actually I can't think of too many who did, but I'm sure they all did. I mean, they were all frum, weren't they?)

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  2. "Don't wait another 50 years for a yeshuah!"

    Interestingly, I had a post on this back in 2009, which was the last time Kupat HaIr was running with this segulah. (As a commenter there just pointed out.)

    kt,
    josh

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  3. Good point! I will incorporate it into the post.

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  4. This reminds me so much of some of the shadier televangelists in the US. The fact that rabbis here have managed to replicate the scam so aptly is one of the saddest things I've seen in the Jewish world. And frum people wonder why most Jews aren't Orthodox.

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  5. It's a strange Torah world we are living in when people like us are considered "krum" for dismissing kishuf, but it's frum to embrace it and believe in this stuff. If you believe Hashem wants you to work hard to do the right thing, to pray to Him and believe in Him, you're being cynical and maskilish, but if you believe that you get success by doing hocus pocus then you're a genuine believer. What an outright disgrace and ziyuf haTorah.

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  6. As someone pointed out on Facebook, Yovel starts in Tishrei (on the 10th, in fact). So they're mixing apples and oranges.

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  7. This blog from 2009 is also interesting. Someone apparently noticed that the holy 9th hour, is of Christian origin.

    http://daattorah.blogspot.ca/2009/11/9th-of-kislev-as-special-time.html

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  8. Makor Rishon had an interesting article some time ago pointing out that there is a machloket about when the Yovel even falls. One opinion is that it alays comes after the 7th shmitta year of the yovel cycle and it is the first year of the next cycle, so the next time it falls is after year 98, thus it being year 99. The other opinion is that it comes once every 50 years, and so it can fall in the middle of the 7 year shmitta cycle.
    IN addition, there is a question when shmitta year itself falls, and this uncertainty is one of the bases for the heter mechira for selling the land and allowing it to be worked during shmitta year. So how can anyone know when the yovel is anyway, since it has no halachic ramications in any event?

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  9. In 2011 they also claimed that it was the ninth year.
    http://jewishworker.blogspot.com/2011/12/what-is-significance-of-9th-hour-of-9th.html?m=1

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  10. Wow. Now I have to update the post again!

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  11. This reminds me of a verse from the Muddy Waters classic, "Hoochie Coochie Man":

    On the seventh hours
    On the seventh day
    On the seventh month
    The seven doctors say
    You was born for good luck
    And that you'll see
    I got seven hundred dollars
    And don't you mess with me

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  12. This ad is shameful because it takes advantage of people's earnest belief in magic and superstition. But belief in magic and superstition are nothing new. There has always been a tension between the lofty Judaism of the few and the folk Judaism of the many.

    For instance, in biblical times Monotheism was the lofty religion, and Polytheism and idol worship was the folk religion.

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  13. I'm very happy you brought this up, as I too have (attempted to) do my bit to challenge these promotions, but with little effect.

    Several months ago, a message was sent out on a popular English bulletin board (with several thousand recipients) advertising that a certain Rebbetzin from Yerushalayim was offering to help people with various Segulos to:

    ''remove Ayin Hora and fears, and improves shidduchim, child bearing, etc. She is blessed with tremendous Siyata Dishmaya, and the Zechus to be a shaliach to help and be mechazek many people in need. A 31 year old girl got engaged soon after her Ayin Hora was removed. A couple was blessed with a child 6 years after their wedding with Tefillos / instructions from Rebetzin xxx! A child with a severe sickness was cured after she removed a Ayin Hora! '.

    The advert claimed she has a Haskomah from Rav C P Scheinberg.

    It also claimed ''she is an expert in using the segula of "Blei Gissen" (pouring of lead), This segula is mentioned in the sefer of the Semach Tzedek [sic] and other seforim ''

    I challenged the people behind the advert as follows:

    1. Rav Scheinberg gave a Haskomah to Rav yakkov Hillel's Sefer Tihyeh Tamim which strongly condemns Lead Pouring.

    2. A simple Google search reveals that Lead Pouring is actually an ancient German (non-Jewish) tradition – possibly therefore Chukas Hagoy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molybdomancy)

    3. The Tzemach Tzedek is to be found in OC38, where he actually states the opposite i.e. doubts the efficacy of Lead Pouring.

    4. Vulnerable people in need of Yeshuos should not be taken advantage of by such dubious 'Segulos'.

    Needless to say, I met with no response.

    There is a shocking lack of regulation in this field.

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  14. This reminds me of R Matisyau Soloman's 2010 declaration, originally reported in the Lakewood Voice:

    "In a shock to the readers, R’ Matisyahu Soloman said at a Shabbos seuda in Beth Medrash Gavoah (to the bochurim at the table) that what Kupat Ha’ir is doing is 'gezel gamur'. He said that 'a thousand' girls desperate for shiduchim had given their life savings to Kupat Ha’ir hoping for a yeshua, and then called him up crying when nothing came of it."

    See "Kupat Ha’ir’s Over The Top Advertising" at http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2010/11/14/kupat-ha%E2%80%99ir%E2%80%99s-over-the-top-advertising/

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  15. Well said. I will incorporate that into the post, too.

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  16. @ R.Slifkin: Wow. Now I have to update the post again!

    Indeed you should do so, Rabbi, so as not to miss the opportunity of announcing the discovery that Kupat Ha'ir, whose ads decorate every page of Temujin's Jewish calendar, might be on the way of magically turning every year into the ninth year of something or other.

    One notes that the Prayin' fur Dollars organization with its 20 Gadolei Hador and 40 messengers on its staff rolls promises to pray only on behalf of its contributors. One imagines the usual prayers for the entire house of Israel has been farmed out to ordinary rabbis and congregations...or perhaps to programmers in India.

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  17. Well, aren't halachick minutes based upon the time between sunrise and sunset and therefore not equal to conventional minutes? Being we are in the fall the halachic mimute should be shorter and the favorable time should be more like 7 to 7/1/2 minutes. They didn't even bother to do their homework to make it appear "halachic" What crooks.

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  18. Let's not forget that this coincides with the secular calendar's 11-12-13.

    'Nuff said. (Where's my checkbook?)

    - Andrew

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  19. >>As he points out, if it is so important, why is it not in the Torah? In the Gemara? In any of the major works of Judaism? Why didn't any of the famous rabbis of history mention it? And what's so special about the number nine, anyway?<<

    They refer to sefer Bris Menuchah: “Rav Chaim Vital, in the introduction to his work Eitz Hachaim, writes: The sefer Bris Menuchah was written by an early-generation tzaddik to whom Eliyahu Hanavi appeared and revealed secrets, among them the following secrets:
    “Once every fifty years, the ninth year of yovel arrives and in it the ninth month, and in it the ninth day, and in it the ninth hour – whereupon all the wheels in the upper worlds are agitated and ‘Your good treasure house upon us do open’ is fulfilled.”

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  20. When I was a kid, I used to fool around with numbers like that, and I thought it was nifty. On days like today, November 12, 2013,when I would wait till it was 10am, so my watch would basically read 10/11/12/13.

    As a kid I thought I was just having fun. Who knew that I was actually engaged in the deepest secrets of kaballah?

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  21. People seem to have forgotten this. Kudos to the Flatbush Rabbis who attempted to put an end to these shenanigans.

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  22. Mr Lazar, would it be in bad form, impolite, utterly shocking shocking or an unspeakable kefira to suggest that perhaps a reference to what sounds like an obscure kabbalist with rather spectacular visionary claim may not present sufficient grounds for major alterations to established customs and prayer times? One would imagine that a discussion would need to take place first among, umm, rabbis with no pecuniary interests in the matter? Temujin sometimes thinks out loud, but means no disrespect....

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  23. Just wanted to say that I'm always bemused by Temujin's (sp?) comments, and this one about regular prayers being farmed out to India, more than usual.

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  24. Great post, but of course this is just the precipice of a very slippery slope as far as Judaism is concerned. There is much mystical nonsense infused in the very core of our halachic observance, not to mention the influence of other cultures and religions throughout the talmudic period and even on the Torah itself. (Rambam, not me.)

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  25. Another point -
    Haredi publications usually don't have the integrity to differentiate between editorial and advertorial.
    See here how a regular news story on Hamevaser's front page proclaims this nonsense, and simply states on the subhead that not participating might cause you to be בוכים על שעבר!

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-vDCxC1kLtjM/UoD49jtKkII/AAAAAAAB4Vk/FLNpUiu8lRs/s1600/IMG-20131111-WA0043.jpg

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  26. I don't know, with all those 9s sound like a good time to go to Las Vegas and play craps!

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  27. A couple years back I was taking a taxi ride on Erev Yom Kippur in Jerusalem. When I got in the driver had the radio on, and a commercial was playing. The commercial lasted for at least 5-10 minutes (!) and was still going when I couldn't deal with it and asked the driver to turn the radio off. As you might have guessed, this commercial was for a segulah. It was repeating over and over in suggestive language how horrible a judgment you would get that Yom Kippur if you did not buy their segulah/amulet for about 300 shekels. I don't remember if it was 300 shekels once or a repeating 300 shekel charge every month. As we all know, some people are more psychologically fragile than others, and especially on ErevYom Kippur some people will be susceptible to this manipulation. In short it was one of the most disgusting things I've ever see.

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  28. The Nechash Hanechoshet once had a purpose, but it became a crutch and an avoda zara. It was right to be destroyed. The same is the case for segulos today - instead of trying to connect directly to G-d, we've got to "trick" him with a segula. It's a modern day avoda zara.

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  29. Backing up R. Lazar's statement: It should be mentioned that the Arizal gained followers in his teachings of Kabbalah, only after first demonstrating prowess in the non-esoteric sections of the Torah--Gemara and Poskim. Then his followers believed that he experienced גילוי אליהו.

    I don't know about the author of the Bris Menuchah, but it should be remembered that the Alshich and Rav Yosef Karo, as well as many other notable contemporaries of the Arizal, wanted to study under him as well.

    Lumping all Kabbalists together as charlatans casts aspersion on their contemporaries as well.

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  30. And yet, Mr Yehuda P., one need not drag the Arizal, the kabbalists and entire philosophies into all of this. The point is that without clear direction, without approvals and disapprovals of reputable rabbinic authorities, many Jews will rather inevitably and one might add understandably, lump all kabbalists with the seedy purveyors of red strings, the interpreters of lead lumps and the growing troops of miraculous "indulgences" sellers.

    The poor and the superstitious suffer as they are being ripped off by professionals and that, under any light is a shameful situation. So, perhaps those adults in the room who are concerned about reputations and digities need to take a deep breath, gather their wits and courage about them and to show the perplexed what is kefira, avoda zara or plain old rascally fraud.

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  31. I just called Kupat Ha'ir promising them 50 bucks if they can prove to me that the sources actually say what they claim. They said they will call me back. I'm not worried.

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  32. Thanks for this post, Rabbi Slifkin.

    I wasted a good chunk of last night responding to this ad on social media (WADR to the Bris Menucha).

    I pointed out that if you google "ninth of the ninth" you will discover that it is an auspicious time for AVODAH ZARAH in the Eastern religions.

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  33. "...Lumping all Kabbalists together as charlatans casts aspersion on their contemporaries as well" Yehudah P

    You mean like this guy Yehuda?

    http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2011/08/kabbalist-to-the-stars-used-me-to-launder-money-chief-rabbi-says-345.html

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  34. Another thought...
    Imagine if the magic number wasn't 999, but...666!

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  35. I learn in a very 'sheltered' haredi kollel (yup I'm the odd one who has internet) and my friends ridicule kupat ha'ir and its outrageous campaigns. Anecdotally, they also misrepresent what the gedolim's positions really are about giving to them.

    Did you hear about the 65 year old lady who just gave birth? Turns out she checked off the wrong box on the kupat ha'ir tefilla card!

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  36. "Maran Hagaon" Harav Wosner "Sh'lita" has ruled that this is Hodesh Kislev? And here I thought we had a calendar from a thousand years ago that did that!

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  37. I can''t believe the aspersions being cast on Kupat Ha'ir. The Vitriol directed at them by you unsophisticated defamers is reprehensible.
    In 2011 I was despondent that I would never meet my Bashert. Then I saw an appeal by Kupat Ha'ir for a donation to their very worthy charity. I sent them $50.00 and in 3 months I became engaged and am scheduled to be married in Stockholm to my bride, Genendel , about 6 months after my sex change operation is completed.
    You just can't beat Kupat Ha'ir for segulahs.
    Chana (formerly Chaim)

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  38. Every year on November 11 at 11 am -- the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month -- a group of veterans at a war memorial across from my place of work fires off a salute to memorialize the World War I armistice. But they make no claim that their ceremony is invested with mystical powers, or that a contribution to a veterans' organization will solve your life problems.

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  39. I gave a $100 donation to kupat hair and I found some old socks that I had been looking for for a while. Amazing yeshuah.

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  40. Mr/Ms Srullowitz, that is an interesting discovery. One has been aware that the number nine is of a great significance to Christianity, just as seven is to Judaism, but would like to know more about those other sources, if you please. The adoption of foreign beliefs and their refurbishment for Jewish consumption has always fascinated Temujin who believes that while some can be successfully modified, "Judaized" or "raised," many more are profoundly problematic as their unalterable substance blatantly contradicts Torah and tradition. The hunt for creeping and seeping avoda zara must go on!

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  41. Rav Shach reportedly said that, would he have more strength, he'd, among other things, use it to attempt to eradicate the segullah culture going on in the Israeli Charedi community.

    Still, it's a very small minority that falls for these things - and generally the ones who are less religiously educated.

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  42. At Kupat Ha'ir's web site one can find brochures for "the 9th of Kislev" for the years
    תש"ע and תשע"ד
    is every other year to often?

    תש"ע
    http://www.kupat.org.il/hebrew/online-brochures/?brochure=70
    תשע"ד
    http://www.kupat.org.il/hebrew/online-brochures/?brochure=167

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  43. > Still, it's a very small minority that falls for these things - and generally the ones who are less religiously educated.

    If only.

    I heard the 9 thing this year from several people who are far from uneducated.

    But the uneducated are always the majority.

    Also, culturally, certain subgroups of the Jewish People are more likely to have traditions of segulos. And that stuff spreads, unless, like Temujin, you are vigilant.

    My daughters told me that they have friends who light candles for success on tests. I have had Siyata di'Shmaya, and my children bother the Ribbono shel Olam directly for help with tests, homework, parking spaces, etc. Any time of day, entirely disregarding the "auspiciousness" of the hour.

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  44. Leyzer said: The Tzemach Tzedek is to be found in OC38, where he actually states the opposite i.e. doubts the efficacy of Lead Pouring."

    I've read the teshuva--I'm not so sure he doubts its efficacy. For the benefit of the other readers, the teshuva goes like this: A man said that he has performed the lead pouring three times to heal people from worms, and he claimed it to be effective. The Tzemach Tzedek said that, even though it involves chillul Shabbos, lead pouring may be permitted in cases of pikuach nefesh, seeing that this man has seen that it is effective, and ספק נפשות להקל. The Tzemach Tzedek calls it a segulah, not a refuah, however.

    I remember seeing somewhere in the Rambam (was it Shemonah Perakim?) where he admits to such a thing as segulos--procedures that cure, even though we don't know the mechanism how they work.
    Just because it's documented as a practice among non-Jews doesn't make it necessarily ossur, like דרכי אמורי.

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  45. Kupat Ha'Ir is a sick joke. A ten-year old could see through it. For years the m.o. was to recount stories of people who were in serious trouble e.g. just lost their wallet, money or passport; then made a pledge to donate money to Kupat Ha'Ir; and immediately found it. I refuse to donate money to people who insult my intelligence. The Gedolim who allow themselves to be used as part of these campaigns demonstrate an incredible degree of naivety. Fortunately, they don't offer opinions on anything more worldly than interpreting a difficult Rambam. But I digress.

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  46. "This sick, manipulative behavior all occurs, according to Kupat HaIr, with the backing of the (charedi) Gedolei HaDor. "

    This statement, as well as the comment of Dr. Ez- "The Gedolim who allow themselves to be used as part of these campaigns demonstrate an incredible degree of naivety" are a little unfair, based on something this post itself links to- http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2010/11/14/kupat-ha%E2%80%99ir%E2%80%99s-over-the-top-advertising/

    "Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a . . . argued that he clearly did not offer any guarantees, and that his statements about the efficacy of donating to KH were nothing more than a reiteration of the statements of Chazal about the power of tzedaka – not any special prognostication on his part."

    I doubt Rav Chaim K. wastes his time sitting there approving their brochures. They support Kollelim, making him happy, tjem bug him to state their tzedaka is good, and than run with his supportive statements with their crazy ads he likely never takes notice of except when R. Salomon brings them to his attention.




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  47. I was reading an article about shidduchim in one of the chareidi weekly magazines and was disturbed when the author referred to davening/prayer as hishtadlus. She was trying to point out that we need to do our part and leave the rest for Hashem-- but in her distorted world-view, "our part" is davening to Hashem! One would expect the hishtadlut/"our part" of resolving a shidduch challenge would be character development, life-coaching, counseling, contemplating the issues that are making the shidduch problem difficult, etc... but instead, she resorts to prayer, which is a complete negation of the concept of hishtadlus!

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  48. The story here isn't kupat hair - crank charities are rampant in all communities. Rather, the true problem is that constituents of our communities are led to believe (by rebeiim no less!) that teffilah works like magic, that you can pay off someone to say your prayers for you and go about your way. It is such an affront to everything teffilah is meant to be. This is no different than red strings, "donating" to rebbi's personal fund for so called segulas or brachas, or the debased courting rituals of meiron and is rooted in the Christian indulgence schemes prevalent throughout medieval Europe and a holdover from early chasidut's establishment of the tzadik as shaman cum healer cum portal to god. Root that out and these fraud charities will drop like flies.

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  49. “... and in the ninth [month of the civil calendar, namely סִיוָן Sivan] Israel was answered by the Sea [cf. BT Shabbat 88a: “Blessed is the Compassionate One Who gave a threefold Law to a threefold people, by the third (child Moses), on the third day, in the third month (סִיוָן Sivan)]. And the ninth hour is the hour of merriment, and blessing, and joy; it is the hour of מִנחָה in which Elijah was answered, as it is written: And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, (and said, YHWH God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word) [1 Kings 18:36]. It is an assurance to you that the ninth year of the Jubilee will be the most auspicious year, the ninth month, will be a month of רָצוֹן favor, and it will be the most auspicious of months. The ninth day of the month will be the most auspicious day of the month, and the ninth hour of the day will be the most auspicious hour of all hours” (Brit Menuḥa).

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  50. That is a mistranslation!

    The original text says that the ninth of EVERY month is auspicious, not the ninth of the ninth month.

    See http://www.hebrew.grimoar.cz/merimon_sefardi/berit_menucha.htm

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  51. Fair enough. My point was that Shabbat 88a may be what the author Rabbi Abraham of Rimon the Sefardi has in mind.

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  52. The Brit Menuḥa seems not to be consistent with the Zohar: "During the week at the time of minḥah, Judgment looms over the world and it is not a time of favor" (Zohar 2:156a on Psalms 69:14).

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