The Birthday in Traditional Jewish Thought

ויהי ביום השלישי יום הלדת את פרעה ויעש משתה לכל עבדיו וישא את ראש שר המשקים ואת ראש שר האפים בתוך עבדיו

The sole reference to a celebration of one’s birthday in the Torah is found in Parshas VaYeshev1 . I would like to analyze the tradition of this celebration in Jewish thought and how it applies in both law and custom.

There are many events that we mark with special occasions: The creation of the world on Rosh Hashanah; the judgment of trees and plants on Tu B’Shvat; the dedication of the Beis HaMikdash on Chanukah, the creation of fire on Motzei Shabbos, and the anniversary of one’s birth.

We see many sources for the birthday celebration throughout Chazal.

Rav Chaim Dovid Halevy2 explains that the original Torah source for the celebration of one’s birthday is from Pharaoh, however, it originated as a custom of kings to celebrate their birthdays in public festivities3. and eventually individuals also began to have private birthday festivities in their homes4.

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Ushpizin: Not Just A Movie

There is a widespread minhag amongst Klal Yisrael to invite the 7 Ushpizin to our sukka. The minhag is that on each day of Sukkos, we invite one of the Ushpizin and with him, we invite the other 6. The Nusach of how we invite them and the order of the invitations change based on which sector of Klal Yisrael you come from. The two main traditions of the order are:

  • Avraham; Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe , Aharon, Yosef and Dovid. This tradition is what is accepted in many Chasidic courts.
  • Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon and Dovid. This tradition is found in those few Lithuanian communities that have taken upon themselves this minhag and as well as some Sephardic communities.

The minhag of Ushpizin is not found in Shas or Poskim, non withstanding the fact that it is not even mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch or other peirushim. For some reason this minhag became very popular, probably due to its mysterious nature. As I started thinking about this, the following questions came to mind:

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