Ask the rabbi: Explaining the righteous gentile

Vol XVIII: How does one explain the righteous gentile?

Rabbi Brovender (photo credit: Courtesy Yaakov S. Cohen)
Rabbi Brovender
(photo credit: Courtesy Yaakov S. Cohen) 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 ( 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 * * * For Vol I-III Click here For Vol IV-V Click here For Vol VI-IX Click here For Vol X-XII Click here For Vol XIII-XV Click here Vol XVIII Q: I'm 29. I was raised an "Orthodox" Jew but I gave up on it years ago because I was fed up with religion. I've tried other religions but it didn't work. Christianity says that Jesus was the son of god, and that means that men aren't all equal, so I said forget it. I studied the teachings of Nestor, an early Christian prophet, and though I found his teachings enlightening, they didn't make me believe any of the basic tenets of Christianity (the Assyrian church, like it's parent in Constantinople, wasn't very strict in its doctrines). Then I tried Islam and got turned off real fast, because it seems like Mohammedism is about Arab culture above all else, and leaves no room for any culture other than that of the Arabs (and that pre-dates Islam anyway). Zoroastrianism had no appeal. Santeria has no organized doctrine, no sacred texts, and the priestesses make things up as they go along. Now here's my beef with Judaism. I went to Yeshivas until age 18. In high school we had only one year of Jewish History. I wanted more Jewish history, but it just wasn't on the agenda. They simply piled on us more Navi, Chumash, gemmorah, Dinim, etc. I had learning problems and found math/science hard, and learning Gemoroh was even harder. The teachers took my lack of sucess as a personal insult. I seems like Ashkenazi Judaism is about GERMAN above all else. My parents insist that i'ts a mitzva for challah to be braided, but I say that's a german thing; it has nothing to do with Judaism. I'm sick of all the German things that seem to have been oozed in as "Jewish." And where did this "Orthodox" mumbo-jumbo come from? There was no "Orthodox" 200 years ago! Is it some kind of modern invention? And what about Kashrus certification? My grandfather, rest in peace, said there was none before the 1950's. A Jew simply ate what he trusted to be Kosher. You didn't rely on a syndicate of other men to tell you what Hashem thought was suitable for eating. My family doesn't like Sephardic stuff, but I feel a weird attraction to it. I feel that it hasn't been choked by the dust of Europe and might be closer to the real thing than Ashkenazi practices. Yeah, the great writers and statesmen were all Ashkenaz, but the Non-Ashenazi Jews mostly survived the Holocaust. There must be some reason why. I don't wear a kippah, but at family occasions, where i'm expected to wear one, I got a large Bukharian Kippah that I wear. I consider the little coasters to be just....coasters. How did they get so small? I doubt the Baal shem Tov wore a coin-size piece of cloth attached to his hair with a bobby pin. Regardless, those who see the large kippah that i wear look at it as an object of veneration or disgust. I just can't stand the sight of those itty-bitty Kippot. In adulthood I became a history teacher in the public schools. I came across all these great philosophers of the ancient days; Rambam, Yehuda Halevi, Abulfas, and countless others. I read this comic book called "The Rabbi's Cat' by Johan Sfar and I found that the Jews of Morocco had this amazing world of mysticism and philosophy stretching back centuries. Why wasn't I taught about this in school? The yeshivas didn't bother to let us know about the accomplishments of our people, and how we came to be. Even today, the average Yeshiva doesn't bother to teach Jewish History on more than a token level. Most Jewish 18 year olds have almost no knowledge of how Zionism developed, how the Jews migrated to Easters Europe, and have never read the Kuzari or The Guide for the Perplexed. Now I'm trying to educate myself with this stuff. Why don't Yeshivas teach more Jewish History? A: I sympathize with your assesment of other religions. My sympathy does not derive from anything more that general knowledge having never experienced any of them first hand. It seems to me that we are directed to explore at greater length the religion we have inherited from our fathers rather than try to be professors of compariative religion and make our decisions on that basis. You remember that Yitro did just that and then joined the Jewish people in accepting the torah. This is a hard road and less travelled. History is something that you can do on your own. It is actually a dificult subject and doesn't always give clear results (check academic literature). Hard to teach to young students unless you are an expert. Q: How does one explain the righteous gentile? A: The capacity that gentiles have to be righteous comes from their connection to the values of the Torah. We all know that when the Mashiach comes everyone, Jew and non-Jew will be able to recognize the truth of the message. This will come as a result of a long educational effort that we are part of. We have the obligation of teaching the Torah values to the larger communities of the world. The Rambam has pointed out, that christianity and Islam, while not perfect, advance the ideals of the Torah for the peoples of the world. It is reasonable to expect that some gentiles will be righteous as a result of the indoctrination that we Jews impose on the world. This process is not perfect and at times there are tremendous problems, even holocaust, but ultimately the truth will maintain. * * * Vol XVII Q: Is it Kosher to place a well-boiled and therefore sterilized oyster shell in an electric kettle in order to prevent limescale build-up? A: Assuming you boiled the oyster shell in a very hot broth, I still wouldn'[t do it. I don't think that my motheer would have approved, and she was in charge of kashrus. Q: Can a non-Jew come to Israel and convert to Judaism? How would you have to go about getting started and will the State of Israel acccept the conversion if it is Orthodox or not?  A: Conversion is not a simple process and is often difficult in the State of Israel. But if you sincerely want to be Jewish and to accept the demands of the Torah then it is certainly possible to achieve that goal in Israel. There are several rabbinical courts that deal with this matter and (again) if you are sincere about accepting the Torah and its demands there will be no problem. It may take a little longer in Israel, but it will be done. Q: May a Jew attend a funeral service held in a church? If not, how can I honor a very good friend's memory who has passed away? A: Visiting a church is problematic, especially if the church is Catholic. For a specific pesak about the church in question I would ask a local rabbi, or ask the office of the chief rabbi. If your friend is honored after his burial, then it would bve appropriate to attend. Q: I was married under a hoopa and divorced in a civil court. I don't think I gave a get to my ex wife. I have no way to find her. I have tried. We were divorced 25 years ago.  What can I do and can I marry someone else under these circumstances. I am an observant Jew.  Please help me with the solution. Thank you in advance for your kind response. A: If you are married you cannot get remarried without giving your wife a proper get [divorce papers]. In your case there may be mitigating factors. First, your original chuppa may not have been valid. Second your wife might be dead. Third, a rabbinical court might permit you to marry though your wife's whereabouts are unknown. It is impotant that you consult with a reputable halachic authrity, and apply to a local beit din [rabbinal court] I hope that all works out as you hope and wish. * * * Vol XVI Q: When the issur of yichud was made it did not include two men because we do not suspect Jewish men of such practices. Today we live in a world where men do things they seem not to have done in those days. Should we adjust the rule of yichud or just use our own feeling where appropriate? When I was mashgiach ruchani of a small yeshiva, the Rosh Yeshivah had the teenage boys sleeping two to a lockable room, but I felt this was wrong. Who is right? A: Your logic is good, but I don't htink that we should employ it. When the chachamim determined that the people needed an issur of Yichud it was based on the assumption that everyone had this concern. Everyone was suspect and might fall prey to the issur. Everyone had to deal with the inclination and would be well served by a prohibition. Today there is only a very small percentage of the male population that is homosexual, and that making a universal prohibition would be unnecessary.. On the other hand, it is true that young boys have to be protected against their tendencies and the mashgichium in yeshivot with young student bodies have to always be on guard. It is important, as you say, to be aware of this problem. Q: Alternative lifestyle groups have tried to turn David and Jonathan into their patron saints. I have often pointed out that the expression of David and Jonathan's souls being intertwined is the same expression used to describe Yaakov and Benyamin -- but to no avail. How would you explain to less knowledgeable people that David and Jonathan were both 'straight'? A: I imagine that the burden of proof would be on the alternate life style groups. It would be a shame to imagine that two young men could not be in love (platonically) and enjoy the relationship without assuming the worst Q: On a French website Q&A, it was said that it is forbidden to give a gift to a goy. Is it your opinion? Thank you. A: The question of whether we can give presents to a non Jew is discussed in the gemara and properly formalized in the Rambam and the shuclchan aruch. The Rambam says (Matnot Aniyim 7,7): "Jews are obliged to support the poor non-Jew with the poor of Yisrael, and this because it is the way of Shalom." In the laws of Avoda Zara 10 4, the Rambam lists certain limitations in our dealing with the non Jew and ends by saying "and you cannot give them a present if it is for no particular reason". The Rambam summarizes in Melachim 10 12: "The Rabbis directed us regarding the non-Jews to visit their sick and to bury their dead with the Jewish dead, and to support their poor with the poor of Yisrael, and all of this in order to maintain the peace". In theory the notion that Jews need to be separate has much to commend itself. Clearly, in this world living in peace with your friends and neighbors is and important principle. The Rambam tells us that we have to navigate the two positions intelligently and that chazal have given us some operative directives. If you feel that it is important to give a present to a non Jew, then by all means do so. Shalom, peace, trumps all the other possibilities. Q: Shalom Aleichem Rabbi: My comment and question to you is this: the goal of each pious and devout Jew is to live in Shalom. Is there a collegial role for us who are not Jewish to help achieve this worthy goal for each pious and devout Jew? Thank you. A: Living in peace is stressed by the Jewish tradition. Each prayer which we say every day of the year ends with the blessing of 'peace'. It is our fervent hope and surpasses all other hopes. Anyone who dedicates himself to this principle is helping, is performing, an important role in this hope; the future of humankind depends on it Q: I was a Shabbat guest recently and upon entering the house one of the guests got very upset. She said that my rock crystal necklace was emanating bad energy. I personally do not believe that crystals give off good or bad energy in the spiritual sense. I know that some crystals emit energies, such as quartz, which is used to power watches, etc. but this was not what she was referring to. What does Judaism say about such things? A: I would agree with you. If we are speaking about science, then let science answer the question. Judaism is concerned about other matters. Energy should be harnessed and used to enrich the human condition.