1) MONDAYS AND THURSDAYS
QUESTION: The Gemara says that one should not perform blood-letting on Mondays or Thursdays, because those are the days on which the heavenly court of justice convenes, and a person's merits and transgressions are likely to be reviewed. RASHI (DH she'Beis Din) adds that Mondays and Thursdays are also the days on which the earthly courts convene, as instituted by Ezra (Bava Kama 82a).
A Midrash derives this from the verse, "Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof" -- "You shall pursue righteousness" (Devarim 16:20). The Midrash says that the verse teaches that Jewish courts should convene on Mondays and Thursdays. Where in this verse is there any allusion to Mondays and Thursdays?
ANSWER: The VILNA GA'ON (Kol Eliyahu, Parshas Shoftim, #119) gives an explanation based on the words of RASHI here (DH d'Kaima Lei). Rashi explains that among the hourly rotations of seven Mazalos which rotate hourly (see Graphics), the only time the Mazal of Tzedek begins a night is on Monday, and the only time Tzedek begins a day is on Thursday. Thus, "Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof" means that one should pursue justice when the Mazal of "Tzedek" begins the day or night, which is on Mondays and Thursdays!
2) THE IDOLATROUS NAMES OF THE DAYS OF THE WEEK
Rashi explains how the heavenly bodies rotate hourly throughout the hours of the day. His explanation is based on the perspective of a geocentric earth. (See Graphics.)
An interesting outcome of this ancient astrological science is the source for the names of the days of the week in several languages. The common onomastic system for the days of the week has its source in pagan mythology (see following Insight concerning the permissibility to pronounce the names of the days). Each of the seven days corresponds to one of the seven motile bodies to which Rashi here refers. However, the way they are used as names of the week is in the wrong order; they are not arranged from the innermost to the outermost, nor from the outermost to the innermost. Instead, they are mixed in no logical order: Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. Is there any basis for this apparent lack of order?
A look at our Chart reveals that they indeed follow a clear pattern. Apparently, the idolaters who established the current naming system believed in the hourly rotation of the Mazalos. A look at line #13 of our Chart shows that the order of the pagan names for the days follows exactly the order of the Mazalos that "rule" at the first hour of the day each day. (The secular day begins at daybreak, and not at nightfall.)
The pagan sources for the names of the days of the week are as follows:
1. On the first day of the week, at the first hour of the day, the sun "rules" the heavenly hosts. The nations of the world, whose day starts at sunrise, call the first day of the week Sunday (or, in Old English, sunnandoeg, day of the sun).
2. At the first hour of the day of the second day of the week, the moon "rules" the heavenly hosts. The nations of the world call the second day of the week Monday (Old English: monandoeg, day of the moon; French: lundi, from the word "lunar"; Spanish: lunes).
3. At the first hour of the day of the third day of the week, Mars "rules" the heavenly hosts. The nations of the world call the third day of the week Tuesday (Old English: tiwesdoeg, or "Tiw's day," after the Norse god of war (i.e., Ma'adim) -- Tiu, or Tyr)). (In other languages, the name of the day is more clearly related to Mars -- French: mardi; Spanish: martes; Italian: martedi.)
4. At the first hour of the day of the fourth day of the week, Mercury "rules" the heavenly hosts. The nations of the world call the fourth day of the week Wednesday (Old English: wodnesdoeg, day of Wodin, the Norse god Wodin). (In languages of Latin origin its relationship to Mercury is more clearly preserved -- Latin: dies Mercurii; French: mercredi; Spanish: miercoles; Italian: mercoledi.)
5. At the first hour of the day of the fifth day of the week, Jupiter "rules" the heavenly hosts. The nations of the world call the fifth day of the week Thursday (Old English: thunresdoeg, Thor's day. Jupiter, Jove, Thor and Zeus (the latter is related to the word Tzedek) are all names for the mythical god of thunder, who was also the king of the idolatrous gods in different mythologies). (French: jeudi; Spanish: jueves; Italian: giovedi. In German it is called donnerstag, or "thunder day.")
6. At the first hour of the day of the sixth day of the week, Venus "rules" the heavenly hosts. The nations of the world call the sixth day of the week Friday (Old English: frigedoeg, day of the goddess Frigga, Norse goddess of love and wife of Wodin (#4 above), apparently the equivalent of Venus.) (French: vandredi; Spanish: viernes; Italian: venerdi.)
7. At the first hour of the day of the seventh day of the week, Saturn "rules" the heavenly hosts. The nations of the world call the seventh day of the week Saturday (Old English: soeterndoeg, the day of Saturn; French: samedi; Spanish: sabado, similar to the word Sabbath).
(For a comprehensive overview of this topic, see BINAH L'ITIM on Talmudic astronomy by Rav Yosef Ginzburg, 1889, Warsaw.)
3) USING THE SECULAR NAMES OF DAYS AND DATES
We have seen how the days of the week are derived from the names of gods in Greek and Norse mythology (see previous Insight). This raises the question of whether it is permissible for a Jew to refer to the days of the week by such names. This question is related to the broader question of whether a Jew may refer to the months of the year by their Julian names, four of which are named after Roman gods (January, named after Janus, known as the god of the doorway; March, named after Mars, the god of war; May, named after Maia, the goddess of plant growth; June, from junius, Latin for Juno, the queen goddess and wife of Jupiter).
Similarly, is one permitted to refer to the year by the number used by the Gregorian calendar, which refers to the year of the death of the god of the Nazarenes?
Furthermore, is one permitted to refer to the hours of the day (e.g., 6:00 in the morning), which begin their count from midnight? The count of hours from midnight is based on a foreign belief that maintains that their god was born at midnight.
I. MONTHS AND DAYS
QUESTION: There are two reasons to prohibit using the secular names of months and days, as follows. Based on these reasons, are we permitted to use such names?
(a) The MAHARAM SHIK (#117) writes that one should not use the secular names of months, and certainly not the secular count of the months (counting January as the first month). The reason is because the secular system does not make Nisan the first month, and the Torah commands us, with a Mitzvas Aseh, to count the months from Nisan, and to count Nisan as the first month, in order to always remember the redemption from Mitzrayim (RAMBAN to Shemos 12:1). The same logic applies to the days of the week. The Gemara in Beitzah (16a) says that we should refer to the days of the week in reference to Shabbos ("the first day from Shabbos" and "the second day from Shabbos," etc.) as a way of honoring Shabbos. Consequently, we should not be permitted to use the secular names of the days of the week.
(b) The names of the months and the days of the week are based on names of gods that were used in idol worship.
(a) The RAMBAN (in Parshas Bo) addresses these questions. With regard to the months, he points out that when the Jewish people returned from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael, they referred to the months with their Babylonian names (which are the names that we now use -- Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, etc.) as a way of commemorating the redemption from Bavel (see TOSFOS to Rosh Hashanah 7a), just as, until then, they counted the months from Nisan in order to remember the redemption from Mitzrayim.
The SEFER HA'IKARIM (3:16) understands that since the exile to Bavel effectively ended the liberty the Jews had enjoyed as a result of the redemption from Mitzrayim (890 years earlier), there was no longer a necessity to count the months from Nisan in order to commemorate the redemption from Mitzrayim (see also CHASAM SOFER, Choshen Mishpat 1, DH Nachzir).
However, the PERUSH HA'KOSEV in the Ein Yakov at the beginning of Megilah (3a) strongly opposes this view and explains that when the Jews left Bavel, they only added names to the months; they did not change the numbering system. They continued to count the months from Nisan. One is permitted to refer to each month by its name, but when one gives each month a number, he must count the month based on the original system, with Nisan as the first month. This opinion is supported by the GET PASHUT (127:35), MINCHAS CHINUCH (311:3), and RAV OVADYAH YOSEF (in YABI'A OMER 6:9:4). (It is interesting to note that even according to the Perush ha'Kosev, in practice the Sefer ha'Ikarim's conclusion appears to be correct, since once the months were named, it was rare for anyone to refer to a month by its number; see Teshuvos v'Hanhagos 1:830.)
Rav Ovadyah Yosef concludes, therefore, that one should refrain from referring to the months by the secular numbering system (with January as month "1" and so on). (It should be noted that the months of September, October, November, and December are named according to their numbers ("septem," or seven, "octo," or eight, "novem," or nine, and "decem," or ten). However, these numbers are not in reference to January, since two months were added at a later point in time. It happens that they conform to the count from the time of the year which usually corresponds to Nisan.)
RAV MOSHE STERNBUCH shlit'a (in Teshuvos v'Hanhagos 1:830) takes issue with Rav Ovadyah Yosef's ruling. He asserts that the Mitzvah to count the months from Nisan has no bearing on the months of the solar year. The Mitzvah applies only to the months of the lunar year. Therefore, one is permitted to use even the secular numbering system. (Rav Sternbuch cites support for his approach from the practice of the Brisker Rav and Rav Chaim Soloveitchik.)
Based on a similar line of reasoning, it seems that according to all opinions, one who uses the names of the days of the week names and not their numbers does not transgress a Mitzvas Aseh. However, it might be prohibited to refer to the days of the week by a different numbering system (for example, to call Monday the first day of the week).
(b) With regard to mentioning the names of idols, since these idols are no longer known or worshipped in the civilized world, one should be permitted to mention their names, since he has no intention to refer to the idols when he says the name of the day or month.
II. YEARS AND HOURS
QUESTION: There are also two reasons to prohibit using the secular number of the year and hour. Based on these reasons, are we permitted to use such names?
(a) The MAHARAM SHIK (#171) writes that one should not refer to the secular year, because by doing so he reminds himself of the god that they worship, and he transgresses the Torah prohibition of "v'Shem Elohim Acherim Lo Tazkiru" -- "You shall not mention the names of other gods" (Shemos 23:13).
(b) Referring to the secular year and hour should be prohibited because of "b'Chukoseihem Lo Selechu" -- "You shall not follow their ordinances" (Vayikra 18:3).
(a) With regard to the first problem, Rav Ovadyah Yosef and others permit one to use the secular numbering system, because the SHULCHAN ARUCH (YD 147:2) rules that the prohibited against using the name of a foreign god applies only when one gives importance to it when he uses its name.
However, the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch should be the basis for the opposite ruling. When one mentions the secular number of the year, he thereby gives importance to the event that it commemorates, and thus one should be prohibited from using the secular count of years.
Perhaps Rav Ovadyah Yosef means that since one has no intention to refer to their god when he mentions their count of years, he does not give it any importance, and therefore he is permitted to mention it.
(b) With regard to the verse of "b'Chukoseihem," Rav Ovadyah Yosef (in Yabi'a Omer 6:9:2) proves that this prohibition does not apply in this case. He cites the MAHARIK (quoted by the BEIS YOSEF and REMA in YD 178) who states that the prohibition against following the ways of the Nochrim applies only when at least one of two conditions is fulfilled. The first condition is that this particular mode of conduct is an inexplicable custom that does not make any sense (and is thus related to idol worship). The second condition is that it is a form of promiscuous conduct. When one refers to the year and hour by the secular system, neither condition is met, and therefore it should be permitted.
In conclusion, Rav Ovadyah Yosef demonstrates that many of the great Torah sages signed their letters with the non-Jewish months and years. Although most of them (including the Chasam Sofer and the Shach) signed as such only in letters to government officials, some also signed letters to other Jews in this manner (such as the Rema (Teshuvos #51) and Maharam Padava (Teshuvos #36 and #77)). If doing so is forbidden, they would not have used the non-Jewish dates even in letters to Nochrim. However, the CHASAM SOFER in TORAS MOSHE (Parshas Bo) writes that one who uses such a system instead of using the Jewish system when he is able to "abominates the ways of Hash-m's Torah," and therefore it is best to avoid using the non-Jewish system whenever possible, and use only the Jewish months and years.
When one writes for business purposes, the widespread practice is that even devout, G-d-fearing Jews are not strict to use only the Jewish dates. According to Rav Ovadyah Yosef, one should use the names of the secular months when possible, and not the numbers of those months. (Rav Moshe Sternbuch, however, asserts that there is no such requirement, since the numbers of the secular months refer to the months of the solar, and not lunar, year). Some also have the custom to abbreviate the names of the month (e.g. "Jan." instead of "January") and to write an abbreviated form of the secular year (e.g. "05" instead of "2005").
4) ADJUSTING BODILY PARTS ON SHABBOS
QUESTION: Rav teaches that one may wrap up a baby who was born on Shabbos in order to promote the straightening of her limbs and joints. Earlier (66b), Rav Chama bar Gurya taught the same ruling ("Lefufi Yenuka").
However, we have learned that there is a dispute (123a) whether one is permitted to straighten the limbs of a child on Shabbos ("Asuvei Yenuka," according to Rashi's explanation, see Insights there). Furthermore, the Mishnah later (147a) says "Ein Me'atzvin Es ha'Katan" -- one is not permitted to make adjustments to a child's bones and joints in order to straighten them. How do we resolve these seemingly contradictory rulings?
ANSWER: RASHI here (DH Melafefin) and later (147b, DH b'Chomrei) addresses this question. It appears from Rashi that there are four different ways to adjust the limbs and joints of a baby:
(a) On the day that the baby is born, one may straighten her limbs by wrapping her in a cloth, even if the spinal column is thereby straightened as well (66b, 129b).
(b) On the day the baby is born, manual manipulation (with one's hands) of the bones and joints is subject to dispute ("Asuvei Yenuka"; 123a).
(c) Wrapping the baby in a cloth in order to straighten the limbs on a day after the day of birth is the subject of the Gemara later (147b), which differentiates between adjusting the vertebrae in such a manner (which is prohibited) and adjusting other limbs of the body (which is permitted).
(d) To manually manipulate the limbs of the baby on a day after the day of birth is the subject of the Mishnah later (147a), which prohibits doing so even for limbs other than the spinal column.
(e) It is interesting to note that TESHUVOS ADMAS HA'KODESH (OC 7, cited by the Gilyon ha'Shas here) discusses at length whether one is permitted to crack one's knuckles on Shabbos. Is such an action comparable to a manual adjustment of the bones or joints, which is prohibited (as in (d) above)? He concludes that cracking knuckles is permitted, because the act does not involve actual adjustment of the joints.