Ask the rabbi: Q&A on the Messiah

Vol XXIII: Some people suggest in the name of well known Torah giants that the Torah rejects the notion of a deceased leader of the Jewish people being qualified to be the long awaited messiah.

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 and please leave your comments on the Q&A below. * * * 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 For Vol XVI-XVIII Click here For Vol XIX-XX Click here For Vol XXI Click here Vol XXIII Q: We are two Jewish brothers, my sister in law is not Jewish, they have a 4-year-old son, which is my nephew, and she did something behind his back a long time ago, without him knowing: she baptized him into the catholic religion. My brother just found out, and he very angry. What can we do, to help that family stay together, most important, the child was raised like a good Jew, with a kosher and shabbat observing household, etc. What is the next step for them? A: Obviously whatever that can be done to maintain the child's opportunity to become Jewish should be done. This is not a case of looking for a convert or deciding that we should increase our numbers arbitrarily; something looked upon negatively by the poskim throughout the ages. I imagine from the question that there is great tension in the family and it is important to consult with someone who knows the participant and can evaluate the chances of bringing this child successfully into the Jewish fold I wish you much success Q: Some people suggest in the name of well known Torah giants that the Torah rejects the notion of a deceased leader of the Jewish people being qualified to be the long awaited messiah. They explain that fostering such a belief encourages some Jewish people to believe that the late Lubavitcher Rebbe could still be the messiah, even after his demise. They also explain that this is not only a dangerous belief for young people, who are prone to be disappointed and abandon Orthodox practice. Rather, there is no basis in the words of our sages obm, not in the Talmud, nor in Rabbinic writings that appeared later. Regarding statements in the Talmud and rabbinic writing like Sdei Chemed, the concept of min hamasim is presented, these people suggest these is not meant to be understood literally. Which view is valid? A: The topic of the messiah appearing in our time in the guise of the previous Lubavitcher rebbe has become a serious matter in our time. Some are vehemently in favor (mostly hasidim) and some are opposed (some hasidim and many others). I take it that you feel you have to have a position and would like me to give some direction. Although sympathetic to the enterprise of the Rabbe and in spite of the fact that I visited (yechidus) several times, I have never been part of the Habad movement. When this idea began to gain support from within I must admit that it left me cold. After all, the rebbe had many opportunities to announce his messianism which he only alluded to (according to some interpreters). The Rambam says that when the messiah comes we will all know. That seems reasonable to me. There is no doubt that the Jewish people (outside of Habad) do not know. The Rambam states further that we should try to avoid dwelling on the matter of the messiah since it is not really part of the information package that we received in our tradition. I have thought about it and I have no way to connect to the notion that the rebbe who died some years ago continues to function as the messiah. In spite of the rebbes obvious greatness, it seems to be another mistake that the Jews have made on this topic. We continue to pray fo the coming of the messiah in our time. Q: We've all seen pictures of non-Jewish male dignitaries wearing kippot -- President Clinton at Rabin's funeral, and now Senator Obama at Yad Vashem. While Jewish males are obligated to cover their heads, is their any true reason for non-Jewish males to do so? There is obviously no halachik obligation for them and the halachik obligation that exists for Jewish males is not connected to a specific setting. So is the practice for non-Jews of covering their heads at religious ceremonies an appropriate way to show respect or is there really no point and it's a copy of the Christian custom of uncovering one's head in a church? A: Jewish Gentile relations exist on a variety of levels and reflect on the larger geopolitical situation. In the past the gentiles were able to determine what the proper code for dress was at sacred occasions. Therefore, if uncovering your head was the way to show respect it was expected that those who usually cover their heads even indoors would uncover for the occasion. It was impossible to explain that removing ones head covering was actually an act of de-sanctification. The basic definition for the sanctity of the place was in the hands of the owner of the Temple. We all know that Muslims take off their shoes when they enter a mosque; so do all remove their shoes when they enter a mosque? Somehow it makes sense that Jews who do not generally cover their own heads in public or in private when leading a gentile on a tour of Yad Vashem will cover their own heads, and expect the gentile to do the same. Some things remain unclear even after they are explained. Q: As a Holocaust survivor, I am thinking of being cremated. Yet, my upbringing does not permit me to even think about it. I have no family of my own, they were all gassed during the Holocaust. I would very much appreciate your comments. I know that Jewish cemeteries advertise such services. A: As a Holocaust survivor I would have thought that you might be opposed to cremation. After all, the solution that the Nazis thought appropriate for the Jewish people should be avoided by those who were saved. It may be true that some cemeteries offer this option it is still halachically unacceptable. I imagine that your family's memory would be better served if you avoided cremation at all costs. I wish you a long and fruitful life. Q: I live in Iran. I want to learn the laws of shabbat in details, I know that nowadays there are lots of book that has translated to English. Can you please tell me how I can get one of them or there is anybody that can send it for me by post? A: It is admirable that a person living in Iran (Jewish?) wants to study the laws of shabbat. More power to you. There are many books written in English and translated from Hebrew into English. I would be difficult to mention them all and to try to rate them Since I don't know your level of competence I will assume you are a beginner. The Sabbath by Dayan Grunfeld is a fine introduction. The English version of the Book by Rabbi Neuwirth on Laws of Sabbath is comprehensive. Good luck to you * * * Vol XXII Q: Is there an absolute correct time on Yom Kippur when the Yizkor service should be held and why? A: The order of importance of the various prayers is not always clear to the parishiners. In fact, many people think that the most important moments of the day are the Kol Nidre prayer at night and the Yizkor during the day. It is hard to fault the community and their sensitivities. There is obviously something about these two moments that is very important and should be considered seriously. However, neither of these two prayers are really about the essence of the day. Kol Nidfre is about rescinding the oaths that I may have made inadvertently, and Yizkor is a prayer that reminds us to remember the departed.Yom Kippur is about our hope for atonement. The minhag is to say the Yizkor prayer after the Torah reading and before mussaf. May we all be worthy of heavens atonement. Q: My wife is due in three months and we are expecting a baby girl. My mother passed away of cancer ten years ago at the age of only 45. I have heard from rabbis that it is not a good idea to name our girl after my mother due to her not 'having lived a full life' Is this a rabbinical law or tradition of Judaism? My mother was also born in the former Soviet Union and did not have a Hebrew name. I would very much like to honor my mother, but was wondering about your views of giving my daughter her name or something beginning with the same letter? A: You asked two questions. First, naming a child after a person who died young of a terrible illness. There are many sources that stress the importance of a name and that it will always reflect on the child who receives that name. R Moshe Feinstein warns that we should not name a child after a person who clearly had bad fortune in their lifetime (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah, ll, 122). On the other hand, it is difficult to determine which person is in this category. Many righteous leaders had difficult lives and yet we all name our children after them. If you see your mother as a person deserving of memorializing, if you think that naming your child in her honor is positive for the child, then do so. As far as the specific name is concerned. Many people give a Hebrew name that sounds somewhat like the original name. This is sufficient to establish the positive memory, and may even solve the problems of naming the child after someone who died of a grave illness. Q: Are there any normatively established reasons to assume that due to contemporary eating customs the cooking done at a vegan restaurant (of exclusively non-animal derivative foods) should be considered "oleh al shulchan melachim," and so be restricted by the gezeira of bishul akum (assuming no Jew lit the fire, etc.)? A: It is forbidden to eat food cooked by a non-Jew. There are several reasons that caused chazal to declare this edict. First, there was a general distrust by the chachamim of Jewish non-Jewish social interaction. Cooking the food by a non-Jew often indicates that there might be such interaction and the edict generally prohibited this form of interaction. The second reason was that the chachamim did not trust those who were not interested in the halacha to prepare the food in full compliance with the halacha. Over the years the various scandals and suspicions about the Kashrut industry only serve to strengthen this position. However, if a Jew lights the fire on the stove and /or places the food into the oven or on the stove he is considered to have cooked the food and it may be eaten without concern by all Jews even if the cooking was continued by a non-Jew/ Further not all food was included in the edict. The rule applies to food not usually eaten raw, and food that is now fit to be served at a formal meal (shulchan melachim). Most of the food that we eat today is in this category. Fit to be served at a formal affair. We generally don't distinguish and all cooked foods are included in this prohibition. Though I am not vegan, I assume that if the food is cooked the prohibition against eating food cooked by a Jew applies. Isn't there a vegan restaurant in your area with a Kashrus certificate? * * * Cafe Oleh experts have been chosen for their knowledge and reputation. Cafe Oleh does not take responsibility for any advice they offer. Send your comments >>
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