Wednesday, June 03, 2009

More On Birthdays

A few months ago, I asked the Sudilkover Rebbe about the issue of how one should observe a birthday. The Rebbe responded that his father, of blessed memory, viewed a birthday as a day to renew oneself.

He also mentioned that in Chernobyl a great importance was placed on birthdays and that they would make a small seudah on that day. In Vizhnitz, he mentioned that they would take a kvittel to the rebbe on that day and then make a small seuda with their family

When I asked the Rebbe what he did personally, he responded that he would have an aliya to the Torah on the Monday and Thursday closest to the date, sometimes read the Maftir on the Shabbos before, increase tzedaka that he gave, finish the entire Sefer Tehillim, make a resolution to strengthen his observance of a mitzva or to learn something special, sometimes make a siyum, and finally, if he was in Eretz Yisroel on that date, make a seuda along with his children.

Six days before my birthday, I had the opportunity to discuss the issue of birthdays once again with the Rebbe. This time I had the chance to ask him specifically about my birthday and what new practices I should take on for the coming year. In addition to a small new seder of learning, he also recommended beginning a new 40 day plan that used only two columns in the notebook this time. G-d willing, I will write about this in more detail in the future.


At June 3, 2009 at 6:43:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

which two coloumns out of the three?

At June 3, 2009 at 7:08:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I plan to post about it next week :)

At June 3, 2009 at 8:34:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

such a tease

At June 3, 2009 at 9:53:00 AM EDT, Blogger Mottel said...

There are many similarities between this and the Lubavitcher Rebbe's well known directions for a birthday - to give tzedakah, get an aliya the shabbos before, say tehilim (and learn one's new kapital for the year), make a chassidsher farbreng, repear words of chassidus etc.

At June 3, 2009 at 12:02:00 PM EDT, Anonymous schneur said...

Certainly most East European Jews before the War had no concept of birthdays and of birthday clebrations. and that must have been based on something more than "popular culture".Toras Imecho seemed to say that a birthday was nothing to make a raash about.I doubt that most East European Jews even knew the exact day of their birth unless it was recorded in the covers of a siddur or Machzor .
Rabbi Simon Schwab of KAJ said that a birthday could be celebrated in the daled amos of one's family.
When I asked old time rabbonim about birthday their standard answer was that Pharoh celebrated bithdays not Jews.
I would be so bold as to venture to guess that the reason the Rebbe of Chabad popularized birthday celebration was in recognition that in America it was big deal, hence lets harness it to a poative ruchniusdike matter.

At June 3, 2009 at 4:26:00 PM EDT, Blogger Mottel said...

-Schneur: I don't even know if it's such a 'bold' statement - I've definitely heard similar such statements at farbrengens and what . . .

At June 4, 2009 at 3:49:00 AM EDT, Blogger NoReply said...

This is probably not going to help you much - but I came across this last year when I too was wrestling with the 'birthday' issue.

“THE highest of all holidays in the Satanic religion is the date of one’s own birthday. This is in direct contradiction to the holy of holy days of other religions, which deify a particular god who has been created in an anthropomorphic form of their own image, thereby showing that the ego is not really buried.”

The Satanic Bible (Anton Szandor LaVey, [Air] Book of Lucifer – The Enlightenment, Avon Books, 1969, Ch XI, Religious Holidays, p. 96).

With that in mind, and with much contemplation - I arrived at the conclusion that I ought to spend the day quietly as I would any other day. The issue is in how do I persuade others to let this day go unrecognised?

At June 4, 2009 at 6:33:00 AM EDT, Anonymous said...

There are other sources to celebrating birthdays. From Insights to Daf, Moed Koton 28: The BEN ISH CHAI (Vayera #17) writes that it is a good practice to celebrate one's birthday, "and so is the practice in our homes." Similarly, RAV YOSEF ENGEL in the GINZEI YOSEF (#4) writes that men of piety recite the blessing of "Shehecheyanu" on a new fruit or a new garment each year on their birthday. The KESAV SOFER (YD 148) writes that it was his practice to make a Siyum on a Maseches on his birthday. (It is said that the CHAFETZ CHAIM celebrated birthday parties every year during his later years, to demonstrate publicly that those who guard their tongue are rewarded with long life.)

(b) There are those, however, who renounce making such celebrations. The ARUGAS HA'BOSEM (215) writes that it is improper to make a celebration upon reaching a certain age, such as seventy, for that is the "practice of boors who walk in the ways of the other nations." The reason, he says, is because the Mishnah (Avos 3:1) states that one should realize where his eventual end will be and that he will have to give a reckoning of all of his deeds before Hashem. When one reaches the age of seventy and is coming close to that frightful moment of truth, it is certainly not an occasion to rejoice, but to tremble in fear.

It is cited in the name of the Rebbe of Satmar (DIVREI TORAH 5:88) that it is not the practice of Jews to make birthday celebrations. The reason he gives is because the Gemara in Eruvin (13b) concludes that it would have been better had man not been created. That is because once he is created, there are so many Mitzvos for him to do and so many Aveiros for him to avoid, that it is very difficult to return his soul to his Maker in a pure and unstained state. Therefore, it is inappropriate to celebrate the day on which we were born. This applies, though, only to Jews, who have the responsibility of observing the Mitzvos. Non-Jews, though, certainly may celebrate their birthdays, since they were only entrusted with the Seven Mitzvos of Bnei Noach, and thus being created is not such a liability for them. This is why we find in the Torah that Pharaoh celebrated his birthday (Bereishis 40:20), while Avraham Avinu celebrated only the day on which he performed the Mitzvah of Milah for his son Yitzchak (Chasam Sofer to Bereishis 21:9).

It should be noted, though, that even these opinions -- which say that there is no reason to make a special celebration on one's birthday -- agree that there is a special element to that day and therefore one should increase his Torah and his Tefilah on that day, as well as increase one's acts of charity (RAV CHAIM PALAGI in TZEDAKAH L'CHAIM). This is because on one's birthday, one's Mazal is empowered (as the CHIDA (Chomas Anach to Iyov 3) and KORBAN HA'EDAH (Yerushalmi Rosh Hashanah 3:8) write).

.. But it should be pointed out in reference to Chabad that birthdays are a big deal in Russian culture.

At June 4, 2009 at 12:07:00 PM EDT, Blogger Mottel said...

There is definitely a mesora in Chabad about the importance of a birthday - the importance for Chai Elul (the birthday of the Ba'al Shem Tov and Alter Rebbe), the Chassidus they used to chazer in honor of the day etc - though obviously the day was commemorated in a far more introspective manner then we do.

In truth we see other mekoros for a birthday - Rav Yosef is recorded as celebrating his 60th birthday with the Rabbanim . . .

-Ahavah: I don't understand - you wish to uproot a long standing tradition (to some degree or another) for the words of a book written by a man of Jewish decent in 1969? If someone comes out with some Neo-Pagan day in praise of worshiping the Earth and the renewal of all life in the Harvest season - would you, r"l stop keeping Rosh Hashana?

-Avakesh: It would seem those sources opposed would be of the Hungarian tradition . . .


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