(photo credit: Courtesy Yaakov S. Cohen)
JPost.com is happy to announce the launch of its newest Ask the Expert column -- Ask the Rabbi, in cooperation with Rabbi Chaim Brovender, president of the ATID Foundation (www.atid.org) and formerly head of Yeshiva of Yeshivat HaMivtar.
To read more about Rabbi Brovender, click here for Jerusalem Post columnist Barbara Sofer's June 22, 2007 article titled, "The Human Spirit: Synthesizing past and present," in which she details the Rabbi's achievements.
Or click here for the recent "In Jerusalem" profile.
Send us your questions
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Q:How do you view the State of Israel -what role does it play in the history of the Jewish people? On what basis should we vote in the Israeli elections? How should we relate to Tzahal, especially after its role in expelling Jews from their homes in Gush Katif?
I'd like to hear your Torah views, Rabbi.
A:The State of Israel is a very significant part of the Jewish historical reality. It cannot be ignored in the present, and holds out great hope for the future of our people. For the first time in a millennium we are politically independent, are responsible for ourselves, and have managed to accommodate many different kinds of Jews into one political entity.
We have accomplished what other start-up countries have not. We are an economic and military wonder, we have rejuvenated the ancient Hebrew language, which is now spoken by all who live in Israel, and we have invested heavily in the study of Torah. All of these things are beyond good. They are literally a wonder.
I imagine that your question is about the spiritual worth of the enterprise. One might say that we are lacking in devotion to spiritual and Torah values, and that shortcoming pales our other successes. My feeling is that spiritual success is something that has to be constantly worked at and that if we, who are concerned about such matters persevere, we will be successful.
Q:Is there a halachic separation between politics and religion?
If it is a positive commandment to settle Eretz Yisrael and restore its ruins, is it a violation to destroy Jewish habitation and property in Israel? Should these be opposed according to halacha?
Is there a significant political difference in halacha for different parts of Biblical E.Y.? How should this affect our policies and our political leadership choices?
Should we persist in educating others about the temporary nature of foreign control of Biblical E.Y., and in influencing policy to strengthen our own ties to it in its fullest extent?
A: Is there a halachic separation between politics and religion? Perhaps you mean: should there be a separation between politics and religion.
If the people who run the politics are concerned about their religion then there will be less separation. This may be reasonable goal for the religious community.
On the other hand, many political decision are based on "educated guesses" and that is why we have many parties. Religious persons do not seem to have a necessary advantage in making these decisions. Usually experts are consulted and then someone reasonable makes the decision. The solution is often wrong.
There is a sense that religion (Jewish Halacha) deals with an attempt to forge perfect solutions to the question of properer attitude to heaven and to man, based on principles in the Torah/halacha. All of this may indicate that politics is more like running a major company where the goals are very limited and the decisions are not perfect. In that sense it may be better for the religious to avoid politics (as a religious quest).
Q: I heard a discussion on television by a Jewish expert who said there is some kind of law that prevents the Jews from ever removing the Dome of the Rock! He said that even if the Mosque were accidentally destroyed, the Jews would rebuild it for them in its original location! Is this true? Thank you and Shalom.
A: It is certainly a positive commandment to settle in Eretz Yisrael and restore its ruins. This is true whether the mizva is listed in a particular list of mizvot or not. Everything in the chumash, countless referencess in the Talmud indicate this is true. Settling the land implies restoring it, restoring its ruins as well as those places which do not have obvious ruins; they also have to be rebuilt. Clearly there is no permission that can be granted for destroying the land and its settlements, or for giving away or selling or any other deal to change the status of parts of Eretz Yisrael.
That having been said, we have to recognize that there is a problem that has not yet been solved. Many of our neighbors, whose number is almost uncountable, would like to see our destruction. We remind ourselves every 9 BeAv that such destruction is possible and that we must do all that we can to prevent and avoid such a disastrous result. It may be that the accepted opinion, the majority for example may decide that our ability to remain in the land will be enhanced if we enter into a difficult agreement and give up some of the land. In such a case it may be permitted. Who has the wisdom to make such a decision is not clear.
It is obvious that the recent decisions affecting the settlement in Yisrael were disastrous to the settlers and to the soul of the Jewish people.
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Q: I heard some of Talmud quotes that really bothered me as a Jew. Are the quotes below true, and if so, how does a modern rabbi address these talmudic (oral law)laws in today's society?
Sanhedrin 58b. If a heathen (gentile) hits a Jew, the gentile must be killed.
Baba Kamma 37b. If an ox of an Israelite gores an ox of a Canaanite there is no liability; but if an ox of a Canaanite gores an ox of an Israelite...the payment is to be in full.
Baba Mezia 24a . If a Jew finds an object lost by a gentile ("heathen") it does not have to be returned.
Yebamoth 98a. All gentile children are animals.
A: In order to answer the question about our attitude to non-Jews, and especially how are we to understand a series of Talmudic quotes that seem to be out of sync with modern notions, permit me a short introduction.
It seems that a Jew is in principle forbidden from giving care to a non-Jew on Shabbat (if this implies breaking a basic shabbat prohibition). This prohibition applies to all, and not only to those who can be considered idolatrous. Even Muslims, who are certainly not considered idol worshipers, cannot receive treatement from a Jew on Shabbat. Many poskim today hold that there is no difference between biblical and rabbinic prohibitions. In both cases it is forbidden to treat the non-Jew.
However, the halacha has determined that if this halacha would lead to hate and produce danger for the Jewish people; if the non-Jews would for example decide not to treat the Jews, or if some might decide to punish the Jews in some manner then it becomes permitted to do whatever is necessary for the well being of the patient. (In certain matters there are restrictions, and these apply also to the treatment of a Jew; however, in principle the rule is correct. We do treat the non-Jew just as we treat the Jew).
We are faced with the question of how to understand this development. First, it was clear to the chachamim that it was impossible to save the non-Jew and then at a later time they decided it was not politic to carry out this
principle. Is this a situation of reality overcoming theory, or might there be another explanation?
We might say that the chachamim had a different conception of the notion of "the image of Gd" and that somehow the non-Jew was not included. This change indicates perhaps that we don't have to take the earlier positions of chachamim that seriously since we see that it is liable to change. This understanding would answer the various quotes from the gemara which seem to
deride the non-Jew, and place him in a less exalted place. The argument would be that not everything in the gemara has to be taken seriously, and that moderns sensitivities have priority.
I have to admit, having spent my entire life (till now) in Yeshiva, that this is not the way I had beren taught. I was always impressed with he idea that things spoken by the chachamim were part of a wisdom that we do not always understand at first, and that we have to industriously try to restate in order to make their positions palpable to our own frame of reference.
For example. Let us assume that chachamim were concerned about the question: is there a difference between those who are trying to serve Hashem by keeping the Torah and doing the Mizvot, and those who have rejected the opportunity? Isn't it more reasonable to say that the person who keeps the Torah should not be saved on shabbat? Isn't the devoted Jew the one who would reject any attempt to save himself by desecrating shabbat? Is it not remarkable that the Torah claims an exclusion for shabbat for those who are keeping the Torah and doesn't the position of the non-Jew reflect in some way the basic and more obvious position.
The fact that it was impossible to maintain this disctince in the world is also a basic principle. The Torah understands that we live in a world populated by Gd's creation, and we have to accommodate that world. However it is possible to understand that there might be notions that exist as ideas (difference between those who keep the Torah and those who don't), and the inability to act as though the world was in a state of perfection.
Q: I have no trouble fasting. The problem is after the fast I get extreme abdominal pains and it last for several days. I do take medication before the fast as required by the doctor. My question can I eat something during the fast or must I keep the fast and hope for the best.
A: Fasting on Tisha Be Av is not a punishment per se. We are not supposed to suffer for the sins of our fathers, or even for the residual sins that we may be performing even today. Fasting is an opportunity for introspection and taking stock of ourselves as a national entity, and how I as an individual can try to deal with the broader questions that have to be considered. Therefore, chazal have determined that any proper medical reason to curtail the fast should be adopted, and we are not asked to endanger ourselves to fulfill this mizva.
I am not able to assess you medical problems but if the doctor says that there is real danger that might be caused to you by fasting, then you may curtail the fast early, depending on how you feel. Check carefully with you doctor.
Q: After being married for less than one year, my wife decided to leave our marriage (she left our home 2 months ago). For legal reasons, I cannot obtain a 'get' until we have agreed on terms of the divorce.
My question is: if I were to be intimate with another woman, would that be considered adultery from a Halachic point of view?
A: Dear married for less than a year. I don't know if it is adultery, but don't do it. Suffer the due process until you are able to give you wife a divorce. Not every imagined legal loophole is worth jumping through.
Q: I am flying to Israel, next week on Tisha B'Av. I plan on fasting, but am not sure when the fast ends because my "day" will be shortened due to flying east. Should I calcuate the time I should breakfast if I was not flying and hold to that time. Or can I eat once it is dark outside of the plane?
A: The days from the 17 of Tammuz till Tish a Be av, especially from the beginning of the month of Av are considered problematic and here are those who argued that we should not take any trips during this period. Many are careful not to travel during this time unless there is a great issue involved. Traveling on tish a be Av itself is not recommended but sometimes there is not choice. If you travel from the west (US for example) to eretz Yisrael, will find that his fast has been shortened and when he arrives the day of fasting will have long ended. Igrot Moshe OH 3, 96, is of the opinion that since the place he is now in is not a place where the fasting is happening, it is reasonable for him to curtail his fast, though he has not fast the full twenty four hours. (Other opinions exist who argue that you should not use this as a ruse to exempt yourself from twenty four hours of fasting. The first opinion is generally accepted).
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Q: Can a Cohen be a doctor? During anatomy training doctors perform autopsies.
A: A Cohen can certainly be a doctor. Being a doctor gives tremendous opportunity to engage in hesed and to help people in a meaningful way. However, it is not easy for a Kohen to make his way through medical school, if the school requires that he participate in autopsies.
In fact there are two problems in performing an autopsy in order to study medicine. The first is a general problem that all Jewish students have and that is the problem of giving honor to the dead.
In fact the prohibition is based on five considerations that the halacha had determined. 1)Defiling the dead. 2) Having benefit from the dead person. 3)avoiding the obligation to bury the dead. 4) the sanctity of the dead, and 5) the difficulty created for the soul of the departed.
It is clear that the halacha felt that we have a great obligation to consider the sanctity of the dead body and to treat it with honor. On this basis, many poskim have determined that is surely forbidden to study anatomy by dissecting a Jewish cadaver.
The question of using non-Jewish cadavers for the study of medicine has been considered and many poskim have ruled that this is also forbidden. However, some opinions are that it is permitted to have some benefit from the non-Jewish cadaver, if we derive important benefit, such as the study of medicine today. (Igrot Moshe, yore deah l, 229, section 6).
This question of deriving benefit from a cadaver is a problem for all students of medicine today, however, for the cohen there is an additional problem. A cohen is forbidden to be in a situation where he would accrue tumaa (even though he is already in the state of tumaa. So Kohanim are careful not to be in the same room with a body at a funeral. (there is usually a special area reserved for the Kohanim). It seems that a Kohen who studies medicine and comes into contact with the cadavers regularly should be denied the opportunity to bless the congregation as we do daily. This is true (according to some even if the cadaver is not Jewish).
According to the above it would be almost impossible for a Kohen to study medicine in a regular hospital.
I understand that there are some teaching programs where the obligation to do autopsies has been greatly reduced and in other programs it is possible to use plastic models. This will certainly make it possible for Jew try to study medicine with less difficulty.
Q: My parents-in-law only have daughters. What are my obligations (as the husband of my wife) when (only in God's good time) a parent of my wife dies?
A: It is considered a great merit for the departed to have kaddish said for the full eleven months after death. It is not always possible for the children to accept this responsibility and often an agent is chosen who says kaddish on behalf of the departed. If your father in law has only daughters, I am sure that your wife and her sisters would be grateful to you for doing this hesed on their behalf.
Q: I read in one of the leaflets given out every Shabbat, that it is okay for a convert's parents to stand under the Chuppah with the bride/groom, because of
kibud av v'em.
Why then can a convert not sit shiva for her/his parents or brother/sister?
A: A convert has a status in Jewish law that is independent of his biological parents. He does not deny the biology, but halacha determines that he is not related (in fact) to his parents.
On the other hand, it is reasonable that the convert continues to give some honor to his parents because that is what is accepted by most people. Of course the convert does not want his parents to influence is children (for example) to consider their mode of worship, but that can be worked out on a case-by-case basis. The fact that the parents stand under the chuppa has no real halachic basis, and is about giving some honor to the parents at that time. It is understandable that the non-Jewish biological parents, and their converted child/children would want to give them this honor.
Shive on the other hand is determined by the halachic relationship. We sit shiva for those relatives that we are halachically related to us and not for the others.
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