A spirit to raise your spirts

January 29, 2018 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Why do Chasidim drink whiskey on a Yahrzeit?….ask the rabbi.


Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. Why do Chasidim drink whiskey on a Yahrzeit?

A. First it must be said that although a Yahrzeit is a German term adopted by Jews in the late middle ages, the notion of commemorating the anniversary of a parent or teacher’s death was well known in the Talmud. The occasion was generally marked by fasting, though this has lapsed among many circles.

The saying of Kaddish for the first 11 months after death is regarded as helping the soul to enter Gan Eden; on a Yahrzeit, according to the great kabbalist Isaac Luria (the AriZal), Kaddish elevates the soul every year to a higher level in Gan Eden. Hence Chasidim celebrate the fact that year by year the soul has experienced a spiritual ascent.

A further reason which some give for a L’Chayyim on a Yahrzeit is that people feel depressed when they recall their loss and use spirits to raise their spirits.

I have read somewhere that Rav Adin Steinsaltz says that whilst a death makes people think of the cup of bitterness, a cup of joy suggests a transition from death to life, an occasion for personal growth on the part of the mourners and a positive act of commitment inspired by the deceased.


Q. Does Judaism give special status to gifted pupils?

A. Yes. Despite the saying, “Nine rabbis don’t make a minyan, but ten cobblers do”, Judaism accords special esteem to gifted students.

True, some circles specially esteem the affluent – perhaps because the crises of the past century required many people to live on their wits and make their way in society without an educational background.

It is said that “Rabbi” (Judah HaNasi, editor of the Mishnah) “hayah mechabbed ashirim”, “used to honour the affluent”, but that was because they are able to support and facilitate students and institutes of study.

The Jewish hero-type is the learned person, and many halachic works ruled that the great scholars of the generation were exempted from many duties, even from paying community taxes.

Classes and schools for gifted students were maintained in more or less every Jewish community, though this did not mean that education was denied to the less able student.

One of our major modern problems is that some people who are very ordinary students do not recognise their limitations but vociferously claim exemptions, such as from Israeli military service.


Q. Why is the Kaddish in Aramaic and not Hebrew?

A. For a long period Aramaic was the Jewish vernacular, though the more learned people were adept at Hebrew. So as not to exclude the unlearned, the Kaddish was formulated in Aramaic.

In recent times, when hardly anyone speaks Aramaic, there were attempts to introduce the use of a Hebrew version, but public feeling preferred the text they were used to.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

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