Ask the Rabbi

9647972522_eb1f0c3ca7_zDo you have questions about Judaism? 

 

Here are three options for finding answers on this website:

1. USE THE SEARCH BOX at the right side of this screen. Fill in a keyword, and see if the search brings up an article I’ve already written.

2. CLICK ON A CATEGORY in the “cloud” just below the search box. That will bring up all the articles I’ve written on a given topic. In the case of “Especially for Beginners” it will bring up every article I’ve written with beginners in mind – no assumed background whatsoever.

3. ASK! If you don’t have any luck searching and clicking, ask your question in the “Comments” at the bottom of this page. I will use those questions for future articles, and will let you know as soon as an article is posted. All articles that result from reader questions will be tagged as “Ask the Rabbi” pieces.

I reserve my right to edit questions and to delete offensive or rude comments.

45 thoughts on “Ask the Rabbi

  1. Hello from France!

    As a member of Keren-Or, the Reform synagogue in Lyon, France, I’ve heard about your blog, browsed it, and found a lot of fascinating stuff. Particularly the Nine tips for newcomers, and How to succeed in congressional life…
    I realized we don’t have that in French, though we need it!
    Would you mind my translating these into French and passing them on?
    Of course, quoting your references!
    So many people expect rabbis to look and act the same way morticians do, at least in Europe, that I was glad to discover that a lot don’t! Among them, ours, René Pfertzel.

    Yours,
    Jacques Hennebert

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    1. Jacques, I would be honored for you to translate anything here, as long as links and my name accompany them. If you put the translations online, I would like to link to them, if possible. Thank you so much for the offer and the kind words!

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      1. Oh dear! Thank you so much! And… It was not an offer I proposed, but a favour I begged for!
        Anyway, you can be sure your name and links will accompany any material from your site; this, in respect of your work and vim!

        Yours,

        Jacques Hennebert

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  2. I converted to Conservative Judaism in 2000 (after starting out in Reform). About two years ago I left my shul and began a journey on the Karaite path. Although I love the Karaite path I miss a community and there are certain topics where I am more closely aligned with Reform than Karaite.

    Would I as someone who is not really rabbinic nor karaite be welcomed into the Reform world?

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    1. Jewish study is a lifelong journey. While Reform Judaism is definitely an expression of Rabbinic Judaism, you would certainly be welcome as a visitor in a Reform congregation. I suggest that you find a congregation that feels good to you, then meet with the rabbi to sort out the rest.

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  3. Quick question: During prayers when the reader says Baruch Atah A…, they pause and the congregation says what exactly? Baruch hu shemo, or something like that. Could you let me know, thanks.

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  4. Thank you for your blog. I follow you on twitter and always get your updates. I really enjoy your site. My question is this, and I hope I am asking in such a way as to really express my question, what is the Reform movement’s position on merkabah literature? Thank you

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  5. Do you believe African-Americans are the real Jews? Moses prophesied the curses that would befall Israel in the last days for breaking YHUH’s commandments. A detailed list of curses were given in Deuteronomy, specifically chapter 28, I have concluded through tireless research and through process of elimination of ALL peoples on this earth that these people (African-Americans) are in fact YHUH’s chosen people. Your thoughts?

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    1. No, Mr. Adams, I don’t agree with your analysis and I find it offensive to both African-Americans and to Jews. Neither group is “cursed” by God. Jews (who come from many nations and races) live in a covenant relationship with God to this very day. People of African descent, including those who are Americans, may find any of several paths to God: some are Christian, some are Jewish, some are Muslim, some are Bahai, some subscribe to other faiths.

      I believe that all of us are children of God.

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  6. Hi Rabbi Adar (how do you prefer to be addressed, btw?) I have some questions! I’m a UK Reform Jew, with massive holes in my Jewish education and a lack of understanding of the day to day traditions of Judaism. My first question I suppose, is about mitzvot – I know we’re supposed to ‘do mitzvot’, but what are they? Where is the list? I see this discussed everywhere, but always from the perspective that the reader will already know what they are and all about them… As I’ve said in my blog post, I often feel I don’t quite know the rules, that everyone else knows what they’re supposed to be doing but I missed it all somehow…

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  7. Head coverings: I recently visited a synagogue where a few women along with the men wore a kippah for the service. Our local synagogue has a piece of lace in a bow that some women wear only on high holidays. My question is: what is the background for women covering their heads during services? Is it optional in most US conservative and reform synagogues now? And from a practical viewpoint, if it is really warm and a woman wishes to cover her head with a kippah instead of a scarf would that be acceptable in most US conservative or reform synagogues? (I know it’s individual but just looking for some idea). Anything that you could say about head coverings and tradition would be great to hear!

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  8. Dear Rabbi, this is a loaded question (smile :)

    When it comes to.. personal issues .. whether:..Spiritual,.. Morals, .. Principles & Values … to governs one’s …numerous aspects of life, …would the Torah/Tanach/New Testament .. be considered as ..Thee ..Final Authority (the True .. End-all ..&.. Be-all, ..biblical word) …to structure one’s life around as their foundation of beliefs?

    Since the Bible does Not ..defy the laws of the land .. but the Tanach is superior …as guidance to adhere to… especially for the practicing Jew, .. would it be safe to say .. that if one chooses to firmly plant their beliefs within the principles of the Tanach, … can they truly count on God’s Written Word of instructions .. as TRUTH …and take those Words.. to Heart via ..digest & make it a part of their being .. in reality, ..both, physically, & spiritually?

    Is the Bible looked upon as .. Antiquated …even in the 21st Century?!?

    Or, do the Rabbis & leaders pick-n-choose ..what’s relevant for today .. and dismiss the rest?

    So, if a person sincerely .. trust & rely upon .. the Word of God .. & put their complete faith & total confidence … in the scriptural message of instructions, values, and way of living, .. will that individual .. reap the benefits of the Deuteronomy 28 – Blessings of Obedience .. & protection?

    Does the Rabbinical Courts based their decisions predominantly from the Torah/Tanach? Especially when it comes to Sin & Judgment?!

    Shalom, VM

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    1. Do rabbinical students study from the
      • “most original” written & oral Torah available
      • .. in order to compare the text
      • .. with more recent translations, commentaries
      • .. to ensure that (even) the great scholars have not substituted nor omitted ..anything?
      • Shouldn’t the students curriculum include .. a raw, independent research, investigation, & evaluation with the “same authentic – earliest documents” .. available .. to see if the students will come to the same conclusion .. BEFORE .. they declare its validity as an ordained Rabbi, leader?

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  9. A question about synagogue decorum. In the Conservative shul I attend, people are milling about (and even talking) during the silent Amidah. It gets worse during the Cantor’s public recitation of the Amidah. Worse yet, some women are dancing in the aisles during the L’dor v’dor at the end of the Kadusha. There are no ushers, but several board members are always in attendance. Therefore, I have to assume that neither the Rabbi nor the board find this behavior bothersome. Is my assumption correct? What are my options besides finding a new synagogue. And yes, this has always been a not very well behaved congregation. Thanks.

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    1. The phrase is וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ in Hebrew, the original text of Genesis. U-milu, the first word, is based on the root “fill.” With the vowels and prefix, I would translate the phrase “fill the earth.”

      Translators have to make choices. As soon as you move from one language to another, things shift. I can say “fill” instead of “replenish” but both are legitimate choices in English.

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  10. Do rabbinical students study from the
    • “most original” written & oral Torah available
    • .. in order to compare the text
    • .. with more recent translations, commentaries
    • .. to ensure that (even) the great scholars have not substituted nor omitted ..anything?
    • Shouldn’t the students curriculum include .. a raw, independent research, investigation, & evaluation with the “same authentic – earliest documents” .. available .. to see if the students will come to the same conclusion .. BEFORE .. they declare its validity as an ordained Rabbi, leader?

    Like

    1. I can only speak from my own experience at HUC-JIR between 2002-8. There I was expected to study the texts in the original and to familiarize myself with many different commentaries, ancient and modern.

      However, it would be impossible, even in that length of time, to study with equal depth all the texts comprised in Written and Oral Torah. They call it “The Sea of Talmud” for a reason!

      I’m very interested in where you are coming from, VM. I think I could answer your questions better if I knew a bit more about you. What’s your background, and what inspires your questions?

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  11. Hello Rabbi!

    I am from the Midwest .. and the questions (along with my other new set of questions presented after the initial one)

    .. evolved from my own exegetical studies which has been conducted for over 5 years.

    During that time I have read & studied the entire Tanakh as well as the Christians New Testament

    .. in order to ascertain the “real” foundation of their beliefs & values, … both spiritual & practical.

    It has been an exhilarating experience to gain a deeper understanding of both points-of-view regarding G-d & His Ways.

    I’ve finally completed my research about a week ago .. & the questions I had presented to you .. as well as other Rabbis on the internet

    .. evolved as the culmination of my extensive studies. I have a Liberal Arts .. Masters Degree .. but not in any type of Religious Studies.

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone’s response and am respectful to each one’s opinion.

    It’s All About Shalom!
    VM

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  12. Shalom, I am a Conservitave Jew and wear a kippah always.
    I’ll be attending a funeral service for a wonderful lady who lost her fight with cancer. We have been neighbors for years. They are of the catholic faith and I’m unsure about wearing a kippah to the funeral in a catholic church. It’s during the week so there will be no conflict with the Sabbath.
    Thank you for your guidance in this matter.

    David Speck

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    1. David, I am so sorry for the loss of your neighbor. We share our lives with them, and it is a wonderful mitzvah to attend her funeral.

      From a Jewish point of view, comforting mourners and assisting in the burial of the dead is a mitzvah. Some Orthodox and perhaps some Conservative authorities will take exception to attending a funeral service in a Catholic church, but I see it as an act of generosity and kindness. If you normally wear a kippah to worship, I don’t see any problem with doing so at the service (for an answer from the Catholic point of view, you should contact the pastor of the church.)

      If it is a funeral mass, it is not appropriate for a Jew to take communion. My own practice in such a setting is to stand and sit with the congregation, and to sit quietly when they kneel.

      I’m going to do a bit of research before I write a post on this, but I hope these answers are helpful. Thank you for an excellent question!

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  13. my mother and I are non Jews and i’m looking for someone to help me pray for her. She has been diagnosed with cervical cancer and now the doctors stated that the chemo is not working. I pray every morning for a miracle. now my mother might have to go through a complicated surgery which includes removal of her ovaries bladder rectum and intestines. my mother is so young she is only 60 years old and I don’t want her going through this difficult surgery. I am scared for her life and I want and pray for a miracle. I’m trying to be strong but it’s been so difficult for me I know that my mother would like to see all her grandchildren grow up and I pray everyday for her cancer to go away and for her to have a long life. she still has two other children who do not have Children of their own and I know that she would like to see those grandchildren. I need someone out there to pray with me. I would want my mother to have many many more years to live. I pray that she heals as soon as possible and hopefully the surgery does not have to be done. thank you

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  14. As usual, rabbi Adar has it right: judaism is an understanding faith! Thank you so much for all the hinsights, and the caring words you bring along. Well, I don’t want to make you sound too much of a tsadik, anyway! :)
    Anyway, for someone sharing seemingly opposite ways (Reform and Lubavitch! Don’t spread it! :)), you’re dear to many!
    Thank you,

    Jacques

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  15. The book of Job is an extraordinary admission in a book that often seems to say “Be good and you are guaranteed only good things.” Job admits that sometimes life stinks, no matter what we do.

    I’d like to ask you how we can get across to the general public that this Deuteronomic theology applies to only the last of the 5 books of Torah; none of the other 4 hold that view. (There are too many clear examples to mention here.) It is strictly Moses’ black and white admonition, like a parent taking to a child. This is not the theology of reality as exhibited in the other 4 book; you have concluded that as well.
    Yet many people have accepted this as Jewish theology without considering the other nuanced, complicated, theological issues . It is easy to ingest a sound-bite. But that is definitely not Judaism, where we are invited to ask, consider, argue, discuss, present different points of view ( viz: Hillel and Shamai) . This leads to horrible accusations such as: “maybe the Shoah happened because Jews were being punished by Adonai”. You’ll agree that this is a disgusting conclusion!

    Adonai may not have dictated Devarim, ie Moses’ musings, but Tradition says that Adonai said “Amen” to it.

    Please consider a blog column about the fact that these are Moses’ thoughts as he is just a month or so away from death and not going into the land with his people. He is trying to protect them knowing what they are like, so he paints this (fanciful) black and white picture.

    Sincerely,

    Frances Hellen

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Dear Rabbi

    I feel hopeful that I found a channel to communicate my long-held desire to convert to Judaism. Unfortunately I was raised in a Muslim country (Egypt) where freedom of religion is not at all guaranteed. I have been haunted by Judaism for four years now. I have started reading about Judaism and the Jews ever since I was in high school. I know that Judaism is pretty challenging, but it is not the fact that it is challenging that hinders my way. The problem is that I cannot go to the Synagogue in Cairo, and I heard that it has been turned to a museum since there is a very tiny Jewish minority in Egypt, mostly women. I have no way to go, and I am really enthusiastic about conversion. I find Judaism to be the best lifestyle for me to lead. I am just wondering who can help me in this pursuit. What should I do to get out of the country (I am doing political science at college, and there still remains one and a half years for me to finish). I am thinking of migration, but it would be difficult to get a visa on my own. Is there an organisation that can help prospective converts out of intolerant countries? I really need someone to help me, to give me a sense of hope that I will be able to convert one day. My heart sinks every time I realise that I have no way of meeting a rabbi face to face to speak my mind before him. I feel lonely, desperate and persecuted. I would really really appreciate it if any one can help me. What are the steps I should take? Thank you.

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    1. I don’t know if there is an active Jewish Community in Cairo at this time, but it is not possible to make a valid conversion without a local rabbi and community. You are welcome to live your life according to Jewish precepts if you wish (historically there are many people who did just that, without converting) but to actually become Jewish, you will need to live in a place with a Jewish community.

      If you are serious about conversion, then you will need to move to a place where the Jewish community is able to function openly. Since we don’t seek out converts, we do not provide programming for immigration – you will have to do that on your own.
      What I would advise now is that you concentrate on finishing your education. After you have completed your education, you will be in a better position to consider your options.

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  17. I am stuck. I converted to Conservative Judaism almost a year ago. Four months later my rabbi moved to a position in a different state. The congregation, in a nearly split vote, decided to bring back the rabbi that use to be there. I’ve met that rabbi, and attended services he conducted during the High Holy Days, but am not comfortable with nor really trust him, as I did the Rabbi that assisted with my conversion. What is more upsetting is the way the congregation has acted, both in their remarks about the rabbi who left and the blatant politics behind rehiring the previous rabbi. I’ve attended Chabad services, but as a Conservative, I am not counted in the Orthodox minyan, and cannot convert to Orthodox unless my christian spouse converts to Orthodox, which I seriously doubt will happen. I’ve attended Reform services lately and really, REALLY enjoy the services there and the people are great. But I am conservative in ideology and the Reform is more liberal, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. I really appreciated the candor of the reform synagogue’s president when I asked him about it. His response was: “You’ll get use to it!” His candor really put me at ease. So, here I am a nearly newly minted Conservative Jew, no longer comfortable going to a Conservative shul, welcomed but not completely accepted at Chabad, and not sure if Reform is right for me. I’m stuck.

    BTW: I love your blog posts. Keep it up! They’re great!

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    1. Jim, I would encourage you to keep in mind that ultimately, we’re Jews. You had a Conservative conversion, and there are many rabbis and communities in the world that will recognize that conversion as legitimate. There is no Jewish community I know of where everyone is in complete agreement on all theological and halakhic details. You may be more observant than the average Reform Jew, but you may also find that there are Reform Jews who think and behave much as you do. I’m glad you’ve found a place where you enjoy the services and the people. That’s what really counts, once you are out of the mikveh.
      I’m glad you enjoy the posts! Thank you for your kind words.

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  18. I understand that the Torah was divinely and directly inspired words of G-d to Moses.

    Who revealed the Ketuvim and Nevi’im and who received them.

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    1. Excellent question! Nevi’im are the stories and words of the Prophets. Human authorship understood to have Divine input. Ketuvim are the writings of human beings, included in the Canon.

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  19. I assume that the culture at the time of the giving of law to Moses was an oral culture. If that is correct, how could the law have been written (implying literacy)?

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  20. Hello,

    Rabbi, I am someone interested in converting. I’m nineteen years old, about to be twenty, and I’ve always felt a strong attraction to Judaism. I was raised Evangelical Christian, and I became an atheist thereafter years ago. I became more agnostic and spiritual as times went on, but even throughout the driest spiritual patches of life I always wished I had been born Jewish. I always was enamored by the ways of Jews. I don’t know why, but I love Judaism. I had a friend recommend a Judaism course on campus first semester and I took it my second. It only served to set a small flicker of fire into a great flame of love for it. I read Torah almost everyday, was given a yarmulke (I had always wished I had one when I was little), and love the concept of Oral Torah/scholarship in the faith. My grandfather even taught me that mixing meat and milk was bad, certain foods were ‘unclean’. Not that I am of Jewish descent, but some customs of the faith feel already in me somehow. I would need to actually speak to get my point across. Many students at school assumed I was Jewish (by which I am still confused) and I received antisemitic insults for a while as a young teenager for being mistaken as Jewish. I never claimed it, but even then I felt a degree of solidarity when I defended Jews (and myself) from the insults.

    Are there any helpful words of guidance/comfort for me? I plan on regularly attending synagogue within the next month or two and asking questions there respectfully. What I really want to get across is not that I don’t know how to get more involved in a Jewish community, but I’ve never heard of someone being so pulled to Judaism. I know what to do to learn more, but it’s the inward aspect of dealing with a not-very-heard-of situation where I live that I’m wanting a Jewish perspective on. (BTW, I’m planning on studying much more before if I ever do it. I’m also a young gay man which may complicate certain situations.)

    Thank you for your time. I appreciate every second of it.

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    1. Justin, you’re on the right track: visit your local synagogue, and talk to the rabbi. I recommend that you call the synagogue office and make an appointment to talk with the rabbi, since he or she will want to give you their full attention and that’s impossible before or after services.

      Talking to a local rabbi is the doorway to becoming officially Jewish. For more about the conversion process, I recommend http://BecomingJewish.net.

      Good studies!

      Like

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