Thursday, July 19, 2012

How Is Conversion Possible?

Q: Hello, I am not Jewish and I had a couple questions about conversion. My question is that if Judaism believes that all Jews were present the moment that Moses presented the tablets. If Jews each have a spirit that continuously reemerges from one life to another, but always Jewish, then how can Jews accept a convert? Along the same line, if Jews are considered the chosen ones', then how can a gentile convert and suddenly become a chosen one?
A: Being the "chosen people"  means that the Jews were charged with special responsibilities and "selected" for a unique mission - namely, the mission of representing God and spreading the awareness of His wisdom across the world. Any human being who subscribes to the ideals of Judaism and wishes to live by its commandments and accept that mission may do so, provided he or she converts in accordance with the guidelines established by Jewish Law. There is no intrinsic difference between a Jewish and a gentile soul. What differentiates one soul from another is not genetic and cannot be transmitted biologically from one generation to the next. When the Rabbis say that all Jews were present at the giving of the Torah, this is a metaphor for the concept that the Revelation at Sinai is an event that is equally meaningful, powerful and significant for all Jews at all times and in all places, despite the fact that they were not physically present thousands of years ago. One might think that the generation that witnessed the Revelation had a special relationship to Judaism and God that no subsequent group could ever enjoy. The Rabbis assure us that although what transpired at Sinai was a singular event in history, the message of Sinai is accessible to all people in all generations, both Jews by birth and Jews by choice.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Faith in G-d vs. Faith in Yourself

  Q:  I am listening to an audio book entitled "Think and Grow Rich". In it, it is stated that in order to grow rich, one must "Clearly know what you want to accomplish, have - and here is where I wish to focus your attention for my question - faith in your ability to do it..."

I am having ideological difficulty in reconciling belief in G-d doing everything and belief in my ability to do something. I understand that I can type this email, think, write, eat, etc., yet on some level, there is this understanding that it is all G-d, not I... can you help?

A: G-d is responsible for everything, including your ability to do the things you can do. He granted you resources and the capacity to exercise free will in utilizing them. Moreover, even the best laid and executed plans are dependent upon factors outside of human control, such as weather, health, chance occurrences, etc. So there is no contradiction between taking as full of a sense of responsibility as possible for accomplishing your goals while simultaneously recognizing that your success is ultimately dependent on the grace of Hashem.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Women and Prayer

Q: I heard that according to Sephardim, women only have to daven (pray) once a day. Is this true? If so, what is the reason that they don't have to pray three times a day?

A: No, this is not true. Jewish law makes no distinction between men and women with respect to obligation in prayer. Both men and women must pray three times a day during the week, four times on Shabbat and five times on Yom Kippur. The minimum requirement for women is to recite the Birkhot Hashahar (morning blessings) and the silent Amidah prayer at Shaharit, Minha and Arvit on weekdays, as well as the Musaf Amidah on Shabbat and Holidays and the Neilah Amidah on Yom Kippur. This is the law as stated in the Mishnah, the Rambam and the Shulhan Arukh.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Finding the Messiah

Q: Please educate me ... on how the Messiah will be determined to be the "REAL" Messiah ... and not just an "imposter?" How will the Jewish people know, that in fact, it is He? When is it expected that the Messiah arrive?
A: It's actually extremely simple and doesn't require any arguments, proofs or other acrobatics. The Bible very clearly describes what the Messiah will accomplish - rebuilding the Holy Temple, bringing the Jewish people back to their homeland and their covenant with God, leading the entire human race to monotheism and establishing a societal order founded on justice and righteousness. Whoever succeeds in accomplishing it is the Messiah, anyone who fails is not.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Q: I have a very interesting question to ask. There is a woman who I like and who likes me. However, there are certain issues which would make marriage difficult. Therefore, I went to a few Rabbis in Israel (some Kabbalists, others not) and I happened to put our names in the letter, without me even realizing that there is a significance to the names. When each one of them saw the names, they said that they are very good and very compatible. However, since there are problems, I wasn't sure if they meant that they "could" be good or that it is meant to be. I am a skeptic, and not a believer in psychics or anything like that, but I happen to know the famous Uri Geller and will be speaking to him over the weekend. I would be curious to hear what he says. I want to ask him either if he sees anything between me and this woman's name in the future, or maybe will just ask him to venture a guess of the name, without me telling it to him. Since I am not asking someone to "predict" the future, per say, am I allowed to speak to him?? It is different if I were to ask him "who will I marry" if I didn't have a specific name in mind, because then it is like I am asking to predict the future. But now, since I am just asking it to him to see if it confirms what I already know/think, am I allowed to speak to him?

A:  It is absolutely forbidden to consult with psychics in any way, shape or form!

Friday, July 06, 2012

Essential Laws of The Three Weeks - Revised for 2012

                                              נחמת יעקב - קיצור הלכות בין המצרים                              
                                Essential Laws of The Three Weeks and Tisha B’av
                                                        by Rabbi J. Maroof
                    מוקדש לזכר נשמת חמותי היקרה יהודית בת שמואל ע“ה  ת. נ. צ. ב. ה
שבעה עשר בתמוז - The Seventeenth of Tammuz

1. Each year we observe a period of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. We begin on the Seventeenth day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz with a day of fasting and prayer. This year, the fast falls out on Sunday, July 8th, 2012.

2. The fast of the 17th of Tammuz begins at astronomical dawn and continues until nightfall. Sephardim conclude this and all other minor fasts twenty minutes after sundown, whereas Ashkenazim conclude anywhere from thirty to fifty minutes after sundown. This year, the fast will begin in Rockville on Tuesday morning at 4:39 AM and will conclude (for Sephardim) at 8:57 PM.

3. It is preferable not to launder clothing, wear freshly laundered clothing or bathe in warm water during the daytime on the Seventeenth of Tammuz. However, it is permitted to brush one’s teeth with toothpaste or use mouthwash.

4. From the Seventeenth of Tammuz through the Ninth day of the month of Av, it is customary to avoid reciting the blessing of Shehecheyanu on new fruits, clothing, etc.

5. It is the custom of Ashkenazim to avoid shaving, taking haircuts and celebrating weddings beginning with the 17th day of Tammuz. If necessary for business purposes, shaving is permitted until the first day of Av. In particularly dire circumstances, it may be permitted up through the Friday before Tisha B’av. In such cases, a competent Rabbi should be consulted. 

6. It is meritorious to avoid listening to most forms of music (with the exception of classical and some religious music) throughout the year as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. However, if one is lenient in this regard most of the time, one should try to be more careful about it during this period.

תשעת הימים ושבוע שחל בו - The Nine Days

1. The first nine days of the month of Av are known as the “Nine Days”, a period of time during which our mourning for the Temple’s destruction intensifies. Beginning with the first day of Av, Sephardim join Ashkenazim in not permitting any celebrations, such as weddings or engagement parties, until the conclusion of the mourning period. Some Ashkenazim also forbid cutting fingernails and toenails during this time.

2. It is customary to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine during the Nine Days. Sephardim do not start observing this restriction until the second day of Av (i.e., the night after Rosh Hodesh Av.) Ashkenazim abstain from meat and wine on Rosh Hodesh as well. This year, Rosh Hodesh Av falls out on Friday, July 20th.

3. Ashkenazic custom prohibits drinking wine during the Nine Days even for a mitzvah, such as reciting Havdala or Birkat Hamazon. Sephardim only apply the prohibition to drinking that is done for personal enjoyment. All agree that the restriction on meat and wine is not observed on Shabbat.
4. The Saturday night prior to Tisha B’av marks the beginning of a time period known as the “Week of Tisha B’av”. At this point, the mourning observances are further intensified and remain this way until the conclusion of the fast.

5. Throughout the Week of Tisha B’av,  it is prohibited to shave or take a haircut.  (As mentioned above, Ashkenazic custom is to avoid shaving, haircuts and cutting fingernails for the entire “Three Weeks” period.)

 6. One may not launder clothing (even for someone else) or wear freshly laundered clothing during the Week of Tisha B’av. This restriction extends to linens, towels, etc. During this period, a non-Jew may not be asked to launder clothing on a Jew’s behalf.

7. One is not permitted to bathe with hot water (i.e., for enjoyment) during the Week of Tisha B’av. Rinsing off with cold water or to remove actual dirt is permitted.

8. One may not produce or purchase new garments during this time period, even if one does not plan on using them until after Tisha B’av.   

9. The custom of Ashkenazim is to extend the “Week of Tisha B’av” and observe its restrictions - not laundering, wearing fresh clothing, bathing for pleasure, or making/buying new garments - for the entire “Nine Days” period.

10. This year, since Tisha B’av falls out on Sunday, Sephardim only observe the “Week of Tisha B’av” restrictions on Tisha B’av itself. However, the restrictions of the “Nine Days” - not eating meat, drinking wine, engaging in celebration, etc. - are observed as usual.

ערב תשעה באב - The Eve of the Ninth of Av

1. On the eve of Tisha B’av after midday, it is preferable only to study Torah subjects that are permitted on fast itself. However, if one cannot focus his or her mind on such topics and will end up neglecting Torah study altogether, it is better to be lenient and study the topic of one’s choice.

2. After the Mincha service on the eve of the Tisha B’av, a special meal known as the Seuda Hamafseket is held in preparation for the fast. This year, however, since Tisha B’av begins on Saturday night, the laws regarding Seuda Hamafseket are not observed. Seudah Shelisheet is eaten in the normal manner but must be concluded before sunset.

תשעה באב - Tisha B’av

1. All Jews are obligated to fast on Tisha B’av, even pregnant and nursing women. A woman who has recently (within thirty days) given birth to a child is exempt from the fast. If a person becomes ill from fasting on Tisha B’av,  he need not complete the fast. This year, since the 9th of Av falls on Shabbat and its observance is postponed to Sunday, Sephardim exempt pregnant and nursing women from the fast. 

2. This year, Tisha B’av begins on Saturday, July 28th at sundown and ends at nightfall on Sunday, July 29th. As mentioned above, depending on one’s custom, one may conclude the fast anytime from 20-50 minutes after sundown on Sunday.

3. Five pleasurable activities are prohibited on the Ninth of Av:

        (1) Eating and drinking
        (2) Anointing one’ body with oil or perfume
        (3) Washing, including brushing teeth and using mouthwash
        (4) Wearing leather shoes, and
        (5) Marital relations, including physical contact with/sleeping in the same bed as one's spouse

4. On Tisha B’av, one may only study subjects that are directly related to the destruction of the Temple or to Divine punishment, such as the Book of Eicha, the Book of Iyov, the sections of the Prophetic books and the Talmud that deal with the destruction of the Temple, or the laws of mourning.

5. One is not permitted to inquire about the well being of others on Tisha B’av. This would include greeting friends, asking them how they are doing and otherwise engaging in “small talk” about personal concerns. Answering the phone with “hello” is not considered greeting and is permitted.

6. One is prohibited to work on the night of Tisha B’av. During the day, work is permitted after the recitation of Kinnot. According to some authorities, one must wait until midday before becoming involved in any work. In any case,  working at any time on Tisha B’av is strongly discouraged and, if possible, work should be completely avoided during the fast.

7. During the recitation of Kinnot in the synagogue, it is customary to sit on the ground or on a low stool or pillow. Many people refrain from sitting on a regular chair on Tisha B’av from sundown until midday, even in their own homes.

8. Since leather shoes are not worn on Tisha B’av, the blessing of “She-asa Li Kol Tzorki” should be omitted at Shacharit.

9. One may wash one’s hands in the morning with a blessing, but the water may only be poured over the fingertips (up to the first joint of the fingers). This form of washing is also permitted - and, if one plans to pray, recite a blessing, or study Torah, it is required - after one has used the bathroom. One who has actually become dirty may wash the dirt off normally.

10. The custom of the majority of Jews is not to wear a Tallit or Tefillin during Shacharit on Tisha B’av. They are worn at Mincha instead. (However, the custom of some Sephardim in Israel is to wear the Tallit and Tefillin at Shacharit as usual.)

עשרה באב - The Tenth of Av

1. This year, since Tisha B’av begins on Saturday night, we do not recite Havdalah in the normal manner after Shabbat. Instead, the blessing on fire is recited in the synagogue during evening services, and the remainder of havdala is postponed until Sunday night. It is recited on Sunday night when the fast ends, without spices (besamim) or a candle. It is customary to recite Birkat Ha-Levana on the night following Tisha B’av.

2. One may not eat meat or drink wine the night after the fast. This year, since the 9th of Av is Shabbat and the fast is observed on the 10th of Av, everyone agrees that one can eat meat and drink wine beginning Monday morning, July 30th.

3. Upon the conclusion of the fast, Sephardim are permitted to launder clothing, shave, take haircuts, and bathe (even with hot water). Ashkenazim generally refrain from these activities until midday of the tenth of Av. This year, since the 9th of Av was Shabbat and the fast was “delayed” until Sunday, even Ashkenazim are lenient and permit all of these activities immediately after the fast.