(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 Rosh Yeshiva of Web Yeshiva.
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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For Vol I-III Click here
For Vol IV-V Click here
For Vol VI-IX Click here
For Vol X-XII Click here
Q: Mr. Rabbi do you believe that current attempts at a just solution and peace for Israel and Palestine will succeed? If so do you predict that there can be a 2-state solution (Israel and Palestine) with Jerusalem a shared city? I would love to hear your comments. Salaam-Shalom-Peace.
A: Mohammed, I try not to predict because I don't know.
I hope that we will be able to establish peace with our neighbors based on mutual respect and cooperation. However, in the past one hundred years of interaction this has not been the case. I am in favor of the government of the State of Israel's attempts to build a solution. However, if the Arab people in the area feel that the State of Israel represents a foreign body in their midst, if they look upon us as the perpetrator of all things that are evil, then I don't see what sort of solution might be effected.
If the two State solution works then so be it. If some other solution is possible then I would accept that as well.
It is important to remember that our Bible gives us dominion over the land and that creates responsibility. However, it may be that the
responsibility for the entire land has to be delayed somewhat till we get our own house into better order.
I write these words though I am no expert on political solutions; but I continue to pray for peace three times each day.
Q: I am very disturbed over Rabbinic amendments to the Torah. There are many instances where G-d clearly states an intention, and it is "modified." I'll use the example of chicken being declared parve by The Almighty, and Rabbinic law declaring otherwise. Where do Rabbis get off claiming by these acts to know better than G-d? The old standby of oral law is a specious argument because G-d did not intend it to be used to override His written Torah.
A: First I think that it is important to speak in a respectful manner. After all, the chachamim were the ones who brought us this far, and created the Jewish people. Judging by their success it doesn't seem reasonable that they were simply out to create hardships that were not
based on fundamental principles and Torah directives.
Let us take the case you mention of turning fowl into meat for the purpose of necessary separation between meat and milk. I understand
that you are not against keeping real meat separate from milk (although that too is a rabbinic innovation) only the inclusion of fowl in the category of meat is oppressive.
The rabbis considered that their obligation was to protect the Torah and its strictures. Unfortunately, not all the descendants of the
people who received the Torah were able to maintain a high level of devotion and concern about the details. The rabbis dealt with this in
different ways but they were determined to protect the original letter of the law. They saw that the people were unable to maintain the
distinction between meat and fowl, and though that the meat might be permissible (as the fowl was) and so there was a need to add this
stricture to the body of the law. To summarize, the chachamim saw a need, and determined to protect the letter of the law. They added new
prohibitions which as we see thousands of years later seem to have worked.
The Maharal in Beer Hagola teaches that though the additions seem at times to be arbitrary, a closer investigation indicates that the
chachamim were attuned to the desires of the Torah even in the matter of adding new regulations. The new positions were not simply
effective but also reflected the interest of the Torah. In some way the decisions of the rabbis are rabbinic, but they are also in the Torah itself.
Whether the fowl is meat or not seems to be determined by the rabbis but it must reflect the will of G-d.
Q: In Vol XI of your responses, Mr. Altman asks about problematic stand taken by some Israeli courts in their refusal to recognize ORTHODOX conversions performed abroad.Â This hurts tens of thousands of sincere converts and their families and is Hillul Hashem on a grand scale in my opinion.Â Your answer however seem to avoid the question and addresses conservative and reform conversions instead.Â Â
Could you please express your opinion regarding Orthodox conversions?
A: There is no doubt that any conversion done by an orthodox bet din, which follows the halachic guidelines, should be accepted in Israel
and any other possibility promotes confusion and could actually lead to chilul hashem, as you point out. Nevertheless, there are a few
points that should be noted.
In many countries (England for example) there is a central bet din that determines the standard for conversion, and it is very simple to
determine if those standards are appropriate or not. Generally, the standards of the Bet Din in London are very stringent and don't cause any particular problem here in Israel. It is also true that the number of conversions performed in England is very small and easy to assess. In the US the situation is different. Many Rabbis, many religious courts, and probably many standards, amongst avowed orthodox Rabbanim.
I remember some years ago there was a scandal when a basketball player was converted by an Orthodox bet din in Brooklyn in order that
he be granted citizenship in Israel and be able to play as an Israeli citizen. Naturally he was not concerned with the niceties of Torah and
I understand that the RCA has reached some agreement with the chief rabbinate on this matter and perhaps that will clear the air.
I think that we have to be welcoming to those who wish to join the Jewish people, but not to relax our concern that they understand that
accepting the Torah and its demands is part of the package.
Q: I belong to an orthodox shul.Â Our rabbi is very interested in women's rights and participation.Â He has instituted a policy that instead of himself saying kiddush for the congregation (at the end of shul) it would be fine for a woman to come up and say it for the entire congregation.Â Though, I believe, the shulchan orech says she should not say it for the public, I believe, he feels this is not current.Â He also believes that Kol Esha (a women singing for the shul for a concert/fundraiser-is fine).Â Any thoughts?
A: I too am sympathetic to the demands that women participate equally in Jewish life, and I see the main thrust of our effort towards equality in Torah study. Women should be given every opportunity to excel in Torah study, and every avenue should be opened to them to achieve in Torah, just as the avenues in higher education are open to women. There as been much progress since I started to teach women forty years ago. The knowledge is necessary, and, beyond knowledge, the involvement is too my mind the most significant spiritual moment available to serious Jewish persons.
However, not every mizva can be performed properly in a mixed audience. Women and men distract each other and at times make it
impossible to properly concentrate on the mizva at hand. True people are not all the same, and situations change, nevertheless the guidelines given to us by the shulchan aruch are good bench marks for securing the proper kavanna when mizvot are being performed.
My preference would be to follow the shulchan aruch. However, if a Rabbi discerns that an intermediate stage is necessary before his
congregation will be willing to comply fully with the demands of the shulchan aruch, then that may be permissible.
Q: In a french website's Q&A it was said that it is forbiddenÂ to give a present to a goy. Is it your opinion?
A: Jews and non-Jews are not the same. In some ways, non-Jews represent an alternate and inferior system. They rejected the opportunity to receive the Torah and have chosen to worship without doing mizvot or relating seriously to G-d's will. On the other hand they have built and control the world that we live in and are deserving of our respect and support. It is customary to bless the government of the country
in which we happen to live on shabbat morning after reading the Torah; we bless the government of the State of Israel though it does not always in compliance with the Torah because we are dependent on it and hope that the future will be even better.
When we think of the non-Jews who run the world we live inm we consider two things. On the one hand we owe them respect and honor; on the
other hand we have to beware of their non-Torah or at times an anti-Torah position. Whether you give a non-Jew a present depends on what you are relating to.
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Q: There is something that has puzzled me for some years. In Zechariah 5:7 - Who is the woman in the epha?
A: There is no tradition known to me that specifies who the woman in the epha might be. She is generally seen as representative and not
specific. For example in the commentary of the Mezudot :"this woman represents the entirety of the nation".
Rashi adds:(verse 8): this woman who you see in the epha represents the evil path, which is the path of the wicked".
One might ask why the "women" was given the privilege of representing evil, but having just read the portion of Breshit on Shabbat this
question might have an obvious answer.
Q: Samuel 27:9-11 says that when David carried out raids and lied to Achish about where he had done this, he killed the entire population of the places he attacked so there would be no one left to tell Achish the truth. Is there any rabbinical comment on the morality of this action? (I note that Josephus must either have been embarrassed about this or have used lost sources, as he just says that David took no prisoners back to Achish.)
A: Morality is not an easy notion. For those who believe in the Torah "morality" is what the Torah demands. And so if the Torah demands that we wipe out the Amalekites, then that is a moral act. The Amalekites represent evil of such intensity that only their destruction can be seen as a solution.
When David lied to Achish and when he took the initiative to destroy entire populations he knew that the land belonged to his people and that they would have to conquer it and drive out the native population. As king (to be) he understood that it was his responsibility to rid the land of idolaters, and reclaim it for the people of Yisrael. He was directed by divine fiat to accomplish this in as far as he was able (he never conquered the land of the Philistines). As a result of such battles there are always tactical decision that have to be made for the army that you lead and the people who are dependent upon you. As a result, and to protect himself, he decided to lie to Achish. Certainly a moral act.
Q: I wanted to know if donating blood is considered charity. If so, would it still be charity if they give "points", and free health checks to the donor?
The points are for the donor to use at their store, and the health checks are done to ascertain that the donor can give blood.
The points and blood work results are meant to serve as incentives for people to donate again.
Thank you for your time and patience.
A: Donating blood is certainly a great act and should be encouraged. Your question is does it fit precisely under the category of zedaqa.
My feeling is that we have to differentiate between zedaqa and hesed. The former is about divesting myself of my property or money (actually there is some debate about property as against money, though in sum there doesn't seem to be any difference). Donating blood is a great
hesed which comes from your physical self and not your extended property. Donating blood can properly be considered a hesed.
Even if you gain points there is no reason to think that the points are more than an incentive and certainly not payment for the blood
donated. The hesed of the donation is not compromised.
Q: I was recently on a business trip, and while I found the city to be very nice etc., I am a bit concerned. I visited an Asian restaurant, not owned by Jews, (Under the local Rabbis) There seemed to be active idolatry taking place. There was a statue of Buddha, where they had placed a large bowl of oranges and burning incense right in the entrance to the place. At the end of the meal I was served oranges (Possibly ones that were previously in front of Buddha) Is this place considered a "Bais Avodah Zorah" ? And can a Jew eat there?
A: Avoda Zara should certainly be avoided. For that reason going into a Catholic church (perhaps real idolatry) is problematic. However,Buddism is different. There the reference is to a great religious teacher called "the enlightened one". It is hard to imagine why this might be called Avoda Zara.
If you ate an orange, I do not Imagine that Avoda Zara was the problem.
Q: Are there two Israels? The secular Israel which believes that Israel can be a land of the people, Israel, without believing in the faith, tradition or even the G-d of Israel. And the religious Israel which believes that it can live in the land of Israel without really being a part of the Nation of Israel, nor defend Israel (despite the Biblical requirements), nor even be honorable and honest because what religious Jews do is by definition for the "sake of heaven?' Is the soul of Israel in double danger?
A: I don't know how to evaluate the situation in the eyes of Hashem, so to speak. Are we in danger, or are we going through growing pains which will eventually be resolved. Again I don't know, but I place myself on the side of those who hope and pray for the best result.
It is true that there were always Jews who opted out and left the fold. However, they disappeared and were never adjunct members of the religious entity called the Jewish people. In modern times the conservative and reform movement have redefined the obligations of a religious Jew in order to keep them within the fold even if they leave the way of Torah. From the point of view if the orthodox, this may be good or bad, but cannot be condoned. I am against the reform form of Torah observance but I recognize that in the Yeshivot for baalei tshuva there are many children of reform Jews who might have been lost if their parents didn't have the option to be reform.
In Israel we have a new situation. Non-religious Jews have redefined themselves as Israelis and insist that they are as worthy as their observant brothers. They do not leave the fold; in fact, they often lead the people in its struggle for survival. This creates new tensions which are addressed by a variety of ideologies and methods. We all have to pray that the effort of the the non-religious and the dedication of the religious Jews to the Torah will find favor in the eyes of Gd.