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Thursday, February 21, 2013

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Fast of Esther
Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

Rashi, the most basic commentary on the Torah, was printed for the first time, in Reggio di Calabria, Italy. In this print, the commentary on the Five Books of Moses, authored in the 11th century by Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, was not on the same page as the text of the Scriptures, as it is normally printed today.

This was the first time that the rounded Hebrew font was used, the font which has since become known as "Rashi Letters."

Links:
Rashi
Did Rashi Lack a Scientific Method?

Rabbi Yosef Rosen, known as the Rogatchover Gaon (Prodigy/Genius), passed away in Vienna on Thursday, March 5, 1936.

Rabbi Rosen, born in 1858, and raised in the Belarusian city of Rogatchov, served for decades as a rabbi in the Latvian city of Dvinsk (Daugavpils). He was an unparalleled genius, whose in depth understanding of all Talmudic literature left the greatest of scholars awestruck. He habitually demonstrated that many of the famous debates between the Talmudic sages have a singular thread and theme.

Rabbi Rosen authored tens of thousands of responsa on the Talmud and Jewish law. Many of them have been compiled in the set of volumes Tzafnat Paneach.

Laws and Customs

Because Adar 13 (the day before Purim) falls on a Shabbat this year, the "Fast of Esther," usually observed on that date, is moved back to today.

The fast -- which is observed today by all adults (i.e., over bar or bat mitzvah age) -- is in commemoration of the three-day fast called at Esther's behest before she risked her life to appear unsummoned before King Achashveirosh to save the Jewish people from Haman's evil decree (as related in the Book of Esther, chapter 4). The fast also commemorates Esther's fasting on the 13th of Adar, as the Jews fought their enemies (see "Today in Jewish History" for Adar 13). No food or drink is partaken of from daybreak to nightfall. Pregnant of nursing woman or people in ill health are exempted from fasting.

In commemoration of the half shekel contributed by each Jew to the Holy Temple -- and which the Talmud credits as having counteracted the 10,000 silver coins Haman gave to King Ahasuerus to obtain the royal decree calling for the extermination of the Jewish people -- it is customary to give three coins in "half denomination" (e.g., the half-dollar coins) to charity on the afternoon of the Fast of Esther. (In many synagogues, plates are set out with silver half-dollars, so that all could purchase them to use in observance of this custom).

Links: Parshat Shekalim; the mystical significance of the half-shekel

In Talmudic times, a special stipulation allowed for Jews living in small villages or hamlets to hear the reading of the Megillah (Book of Esther) on the Monday or Thursday before Purim -- the days when villagers would come to town because the courts were in session. Depending on the year's configuration, this meant that the Megillah could be read as early as the 11th of Adar or as late as the 15th -- but no earlier or later than these dates (Talmud, beginning of Tractate Megillah).

Link: The Book of Esther with commentary

Daily Thought

If you think about yourself all day, you are guaranteed to become depressed.

Take an hour a day to think of how you can benefit someone else.