Tuesday, 2 October 2007

A New Twist on an Old Theme and A Fire Hazard

Originally published 10/2/07, 12:34 AM, Eastern Daylight Time.
Question: Why does the lady of the house cover her eyes during the blessing over the Shabbat Candles?

Answer: Well, that all depends...
  1. Sephardim actually say the Blessing FIRST and then light. This in keeping with the principle of doing the Bracha PRIOR to the act [over la'asiyatam].
  2. Ashkenazim [apparently based upon the Mordechai*] consider the blessing as an acceptance of Shabbat. So in order not to light after the start of Shabbat the lady of the house says the Bracha first.
  3. The reason USUALLY given for the above practice is that the women do not wish to USE the light before the blessing as above in #1. So, if one performs the act before the blessing, nevertheless one does not derive BENEFIT from that act until after the Blessing.
  4. Richard Wolpoe's Oral Law #1 states: we often know WHAT to do without knowing the WHY. Thus, the reason offered might not be the ORIGINAL reason at all, rather it might be a retro-fitted rationale.
  5. And so an alternative model came to me whilst working at a nursing home. An astute resident informed me that in Roman Times people worshiped fire. I interpret this to refer to Zoroastrians [prominent in Bavel] who are recorded in the Talmud as "fire-worshipers." Thus it emerges that whilst reciting the blessing, the women are careful NOT to gaze upon the flame lest thy be construed as fire-worshipers
  6. This explanation - while quite illuminating [pun intended] - is problematic with regard to Saturday Night's Blessing of borei m'orei hoa'eish.
Despite the limitations of this explanation, it is an interesting possibility. This would somewhat presuppose that the covering of the eyes originated sometime during the era where Jews and Zoroastrians lived in a common locale. It is also remotely possible to have come about later for the same reason.

[*] NB: The Halachot Gedolot [BeHag] records that the LIGHTING the candles is tantamount to accepting the Shabbat. Note: Tosafot objects to this model. What I find that is strange is that this principle SEEMS to have been morphed by the Mordechai to refer to the BLESSING over the candles rather than the LIGHTING of the Candles - as was originally recorded by the BeHaG! Did the Mordechai misconstrue the BeHag ? Or was he merely recording a widely accepted practice of his era that predated him by generations? It is difficult to know for certain.


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