My grandfather passed away a while back and my grandmother wants to give his several pairs of shoes, all in good condition, to a charity shop. I was once told you can give away clothing but never shoes. Is this another Jewish superstition?
It’s not about not being allowed to give them away it’s about whether someone is allowed to wear shoes of a deceased person. A great 12th century scholar, Rabbi Yehudah HaChasid wrote a tract in which he discusses numerous customs based on deep spiritual and some practical significance. There he writes that one should not wear the shoes of a deceased person. However the reason for it was rather ambiguous: Some suggest a more spiritual reason based on the Talmudic statement that when one dreams of a deceased person coming to take away any object it is a positive sign, unless it is a pair of shoes. Dreams tend to be generated by daily activity and as such wearing a deceased’s shoes could generate such thoughts whilst sleeping, which is a bad omen, hence to avoid it altogether. An altogether different and more practical interpretation of this injunction is that leather could be a transmitter of contagious diseases. It would follow therefore that if the person did not die of a disease, say an accident, then there would be no such concern and wearing the shoes should not be a problem. On balance, Rabbi Yehudah HaChasid was a deeply spiritual person, so I would err on the side of caution and avoid it altogether .
Last year I spent Pesach at a hotel in Israel and got to watch enviously as so many people were enjoying all the rice concoctions while I had to sit idly by and enjoy my more bland Ashkenazi diet. Is there any way I can switch to becoming Sephardic next year?
I’m always intrigued how people that may not be observant in their Kosher diet all year round (what is it they call it these days? “Non offensive food.”) are nevertheless punctilious in their observance of Pesach dietary laws. Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s great, and I believe deep down it is linked to one’s spiritual essence and how that correlates with Passover and our birth as a nation, but I remain intrigued all the same. So you were in a hotel – didn’t cook a meal, didn’t make a bed, just luxuriated for eight days, and you’re still not happy. The grass on the other side is always greener isn’t it – or in this case, the rice being whiter. You don’t mention if you’re married or single. If it is the latter, you could always find a nice Sephardic man and then you would have to follow his customs. Word of warning though: I gather some of them have a custom to beat you with the horseradish during the Seder .
Would it be permissible for one to walk to a football match on Shabbat if they didn’t carry anything or break Shabbat in any way and picked up their ticket at the ground?
And what if you are a Chelsea supporter and after you arrive, you watch them lose, slipping further away any title race or a Spurs supporter and watch them lose, never quite making it to the top (I’m trying to offer realistic scenarios here). Bang goes your Shabbat enjoyment! How’re you going to deal with that? Bottom line: Beyond all the practical dos and don’ts of Shabbat, there is an overriding principle of the “spirit of Shabbat” that has to be maintained. Doing any sort of such mundane activity is not in keeping with that spirit. Why do you think they don’t put Match of the Day on till after Shabbat goes out?
Is there a law concerning drinking wine after the burial of a family member? I have seen this done and wonder whether there is a source for it?
There is a custom to give mourners some wine after the burial. The source is the verse in Proverbs (31, 6), Give liquor to one who is lost, and wine to those who are bitter in heart. Of course we yearn to never have to fulfil this verse.
I am not Jewish but I wonder if it is true that Jewish people do not get out of bed in the morning without washing their hands first? How are you supposed to do this unless you have a sink next to your bed?
You’ve obviously never visited a Jewish bedroom. Some have sinks built into their beds. Others simply never get out of bed! Seriously, there is a Jewish law which says that one should not walk more than four cubits (approx. 6 feet) in the morning before washing their hands. The reason for this is because one is regarded as being in an impure state during the course of the night, whilst the body is virtually non conscious. In the morning, (or any other time) upon awakening, the spiritual impurity leaves the body through the hands. Some remnant remains hence we wash our hands before we handle anything so as not to transmit that impurity. It is therefore referred to as negel vaser – or nail water. Many are especially stringent to ensure not to step out of bed before washing their hands and will therefore have the cup and bucket next to their bed. For the record, the washing is done by way of pouring the water over your hands three times nately. [This as opposed to when we wash for bread when the water is poured onto each hand individually].
I attended a synagogue recently for a Bar Mitzvah. I noted how some of the Jews rock when they pray. Why?
We don’t just rock – we roll! Some of the suggested reasons are as follows:
1. There is a verse in Psalms (35:10) which says, All my bones will speak referring to praising G-d through body language as it were.
2. Yet another verse states before my name he will bow (Malachi 2; 5) which is again a reference to physical movement during prayer.
3. There is a verse in Exodus (20:14) which tells that that the people trembled before G-d, which is also taken as a reference to prayer.
4. Finally, it is also a habit that evolved the fact that several people had to share the same prayer book in earlier times, and it was often the case that every time someone else had to bend down toe read the writing.
I have a large storage shed which is used to store bicycles. Does it require a mezuza?
The guiding principle for this is that if the storage area has a door frame (however thin) or a structure with two uprights and a lintel then it requires a mezuzah. The size of 2 meters by 2 meters is an area requiring a mezuzah.
Why does the Torah refer to converts as strangers? Doesn’t this imply inferiority? Are they not considered fully-fledged Jews upon conversion?
In Judaism, a convert is called a “stranger” for two reasons: because he comes a foreign culture and foreign beliefs, and because he comes outside the socio-ethnic and racial gene pool that Jews have maintained between themselves over the centuries - physically he often appears different (he’s the one with the better nose). He is most certainly not treated differently. On the contrary: Torah emphasizes the fact that though he may be perceived as a stranger, standard ‘love your fellow Jew’, in all its detailed glory, applies to him as well.
1) You once claimed that you have a family-tree going all the way back to King David. This is a very strong claim. Could you provide some evidence for this?
2) You once also ridiculed the assertion that there would have been records of Israels tribes in the temple. As you regard this assertion as rubbish, would you like to tell me Israels tribal records were kept?
3) You also claimed that there are mutually contradictory inconsistencies in the alleged genealogy of the Christian messiah, proving that they did not know what they (were) talking about. Matthew-Levi Chapter 1 is likely to be providing the genealogy of Yeshua HaMashiach for his foster father Joseph, while Luke 3 does that for his mother, Miriam. They both were of the House of David. So is the inconsistency?
Robert Weissman (Rev)
Christian Jew Foundation
1) To show my family-tree here would take up this whole page, thus impossible. Note also, that my family is not unique. There are literally thousands of Jewish families (all descendants of the Maharal of Prague or of Rashi) that can trace their descent to King David.
2) Even assuming that they kept written records (as opposed to oral confirmation generation to generation), these would be kept by the authorities of the 12 tribal provinces, the only ones of whom such things were relevant. The only tribe this was of national interest is the tribe of Levi (specifically for the authenticity of claims to belong to the priestly class). In any case, for the other tribes there was really no significance. As for the royal house of David, this was public knowledge.
3) (a) The genealogy in Matthew is irrelevant, as a foster-son has no legal standing in Judaism beyond that of his biological father: he is not entitled to estate or titular inheritance, or tribal affiliation of his foster-father etc. That is a law spelled out explicitly in the Torah of Moses which Yeshu claimed to uphold.
(b) Matthews list contradicts the Divine Bible (i.e. the Jewish Scriptures), in I Chronicles 3 the list of generations is:
1-David 2-Solomon 3-Rehoboam 4-Abiyah 5-Assa 6-Yehoshaphat 7-Yoram 8-Ahazyahu 9-Azaryah. Matthew missed Ahazyahu, thus proving ignorance and messing up his claim of 14 generations.
(c) According to Luke there is a completely different genealogical list for Joseph the foster-father, in full discrepancy with Matthew. Christians try to get around this by claiming that Matthews list is Josephs, and Lukes list is Marys. This may sound ingenious but is nothing less than disingenuous. There is not even the slightest hint or allusion in Luke to suggest this reinterpretation. Indeed, Luke could not possibly have meant that, as a)obviously he tried to link Yeshu to the royal succession of King David, and b) must surely knew that in Judaism matrilineal descent has no bearing on tribal affiliation and rights of succession. Thus if he had in mind Marys descent, he would ipso facto have disqualified Yeshu any Messianic claims. Then again, he was automatically disqualified anyway, because - as stated above - foster-son or foster-father has no legal standing beyond voluntary obligations that a foster-father assumes upon himself. Either way you lose.
I recently learned that the reason that married women immerse in the mikvah every month is not for purification following her monthly cycle (as many believe) but more because of the spiritual impurity caused by her failing to conceive a baby that month. If some methods of contraception are permissible should that mean that a woman who practises one of these methods is not required to immerse in the mikvah because it is already not possible for her to conceive a baby and so does not need purification?
The whole notion of ritual impurity is linked with the principle of a spiritual vacuum. Hence the greatest form of impurity is that of a deceased body, the soul has now departed. Similarly, when a woman gives birth she is rendered impure because of the soul contained within the child now leaving her womb. And each month the egg dispelled is a potential child, also bringing in its wake a spiritual void. All this is restored through the waters of a mikvah. Water, which is the prototype of fluid, unlike solid matter, is capable of change and does not have any permanence. Moreover, water is the life force of man without which we cannot exist. It balances the solidity of our universe and metabolises the body of man. Even as one may have become ritually impure they can change and become ritually pure again. If one’s spiritual essence has become affected as a result of a vacuum then we utilise the greatest physical life force available to us to restore oneself to their original spiritual state. I recommend the laws of family purity to every Jewish couple and give my unqualified guarantee it will do wonders for their overall relationship.
I have a very close friend whose grandmother is on the verge of death. She asked me to attend shiva with her one night once the inevitable occurs. As an Irish (non-practicing) Catholic, traditions I am used to are very different when someone dies (think Guinness and Whiskey). I know that more than anything she simply wants me to be there for her, but I would like to make an effort to, at minimum, show as much respect for her and her familys faith as possible. What is expected of someone that isnt Jewish? Should I bring a gift (or some food)?
The shiva is a seven day mourning period which should be treated precisely as such. Unfortunately even in Jewish circles it has lost some of its semblance. Several do a post funeral shindig – more in keeping with a wake but which has no basis in Jewish law. And then there is all the laughter and frivolity that typically goes on many nights of the shiva. It’s all wrong and missing the point of the paramount respect that should be shown to the deceased. What you need to do is simply be there for her, as you suggest, bring in some kosher food if so required, and that’s pretty much it.
I often enjoy reading your answers and thought it time I ask one of my own. In the news today was a story about an initiative to automatically put everybody in the UK on an organ donor scheme, unless they opt out. What is the halachic law concerning organ donation?
The human body is and always remains sacred even after death. That’s why there is the notion of a chevra kadisha or sacred brotherhood/sisterhood that ensure the most befitting, respectful and spiritually imbued burial for the deceased. Part of that responsibility includes the idea of keeping the body intact. So much so that were one to G-d forbid has a limb amputated, that limb is immediately buried, and is later reburied with the individual upon passing. That said there are circumstances that would allow for the transfer of an organ it will go immediately to save another’s life (as opposed to sitting in a bank waiting with the risk of eventual disposal). But even here there are more and less humane ways to remove organs (say an eyeball for example) and all that needs to be taken into consideration as well. The Chief Medical Officer’s proposals are seriously problematic for the Jewish and other Ethnic communities and the London Beth Din have issued their own ruling in this regard.
If a member takes their synagogue to a Din Torah can the synagogue refuse to go and if so what recourse do the member and Beth Din have against that synagogue?
Just between you and me – is it the Rabbi’s sermon or the Chazan’s dirge? How much are you suing for? Can they put a price on such mental anguish? You want to sue the ladies guild for the lack of fishballs and diluted whisky? The synagogue hierarchy is typically obligated to respond if they’re summoned by the Beth Din. If they refuse to attend they need to state their reasons. The Beth Din then reserves the right to refer them to another Beth Din they may be more willing to attend – or, failing that, even a civil court. There are also other strict measures that could be enforced when one ignores a Beth Din summons. But I would strongly suggest the pursuit of a compromise in the first instance.
It seems that everyone is given a Hebrew name when they are born. I was born during the war and was not given a Hebrew name and even on my Ketuba my English name is written in Hebrew. Do I need a Hebrew name and if so, how do I go about choosing one?
As a Hebrew name is intrinsically linked with the essence of one’s soul, it is of course especially meaningful to have one. I am deeply sorry as to the circumstances that prevented you getting one at birth and I am thinking that you should go with Shoshana which means Rose. Besides its common correlation with Suzie, it also reflects your circumstances, having been born during such a tragic time in history, bringing light into the prevailing darkness, like a rose amongst thorns. Perhaps you could get someone to make a special prayer for you by the Torah reading on Shabbat to formerly assume the name. But even if not, you could adopt it and make it yours. Wishing you only goodness in your future, Shoshana.
I am fifteen years old and I have been smoking for two years. I would like to know the true answer. Is smoking against the halacha?
First you wait till you’re addicted, then you ask? I changed your name but your real one came through on the email. I should call your Mom and rat you out, but I was a teen once too, so I know the thrills and kicks involved. Does the Torah say, “Thou shalt not smoke, lest a lightning bolt will emerge the sky and smoke you?” No. But insofar that smoking damages your health and can kill you it is against the most basic fundamentals of Torah and all of Judaism which cannot overemphasize the importance of good health and the sanctity of human life. Your young, so quit while you’re ahead and while you can still use your head.
Why are people in Israel buried straight into the ground instead of in a coffin?
“ dust you come and to dust you shall return.” The ideal is in fact to be buried directly in the earth in keeping with that verse. There are laws against that though in most countries who insist on a coffin instead. Coffin or earth – wishing you a long life before you get there.
Why is it that Yeshiva boys are not serving the army in Israel? I never read in the Bible or in any other books that it is against our religion. Students in the University have to serve every summer holiday three months, and after they finish the university they have to serve the rest of the time.
That is something of a generalisation. There are certain Yeshivot the boys learn part time and do their military duties part time. Interestingly enough, in Biblical times, every male over the age of 20 had compulsory military duty. Of course there were exceptions but that was the standard rule. There are two things to take into account: the first is how the Israeli army today is mixed and that presents a problem for many young Orthodox men. However the army got around this problem by allowing for the separate troops when so required. The other point is that inasmuch as the military serves to protect us physically, the Torah serves to protect us spiritually. Even as we may have foot soldiers we also need soul soldiers. While the rest of us are caught up in the daily grind, the world is being infused with spiritual oxygen through the power of those who study.
Many Yeshiva boys are raised in a certain mould and a whole new-fangled experience as that which the military provides can be very counter-intuitive to their whole stability. In short, they simply wouldn’t be able to handle it. It’ll throw their religious stability off kilter.
Having said that, again, the Israeli military today provides for Rabbis to be with their troops and offers more by way of dealing with this problem as well. Therefore, inasmuch as you and I cannot see that sweet Charedi boy Bnei Brak in military fatigue running through the trenches, there are many others who can, and dare I suggest, should get more involved. The army is there to protect the people and everyone, to one degree or another, shares in that mutual responsibility.
My younger brother and I fell out several years ago. I was really bothered by the way I felt he acted badly toward our parents and I decided to stop talking to him. I heard through the grapevine that he got ill a few weeks ago. I was thinking of calling but before I had a chance, he passed away. The family told me not to bother coming to the funeral. I am now really confused. Did I do the right thing by ignoring him? I feel nothing for him inside but should I have been there in his hour of need? Can you help me with my conscience?
You say you feel nothing for him inside and yet you speak of a conscience and are dealing with confused emotions about not being there for your brother. Obviously you do feel for him more than you care to admit – even to yourself.
There are always issues in life that cause tension between people. It then becomes a question of you we choose to deal with it. You can ignore the problem by ignoring the person and like a critical disease that you choose to ignore, that’s a recipe for disaster. Or you can bring the issue to the fore, tear it open, cut it out, and like any ailment, when operated on, however painful and sometimes long the recovery – ultimately you get better.
Many people don’t know this, but there were two brothers, Adi and Rudolf Dassler who started making sports shoes together in their mothers bathroom in the 1920s. During World War II they fell out, it is presumed on account of political differences and in 1948 they set up rival companies. One became known as Adidas (Adi Dassler) and the other Puma – two of the leading sportswear companies in the world today. Such was the level of acrimony that the whole Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach both companies are based was split between those who were employed and therefore loyal to one brother or the other. Only last year they made their peace for the first time, on that ultimate of all sacred peace-making grounds – a football pitch, directors of both companies shook hands and then played. Sixty years as a split community – and because of what - political differences?
Your brother was/is your flesh and blood. Bonds between loved ones have to transcend the stuff that gets in the way trying to pull us apart. And in regard to the rest of the world we have to live by the notion of Two Jews, Three Opinions, One Heart.
I am not going to make your conscience any easier. When you have a moment, go to your brother’s gravesite, pray there, connect to him on some level, ask him to forgive and tell him that you do too. I don’t know if it is too late to make peace with the rest of his family but you could certainly still make your peace with him in your own special way.
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