Ask the rabbi
Rabbi Yaakov Thompson is the spiritual leader of the Sunrise Jewish Center/Temple Sha'aray Tzedek. He can answer YOUR questions about everything Jewish. To submit your question, email Jewish Journal Editor, Alan Goch at email@example.com.
Please include your first name and city with each question.
I am a registered Independent here in Florida and a Christian who holds that Jews are my brothers. I was not a fan of George W. Bush. However, he was a good friend of Israel. Can you explain to me why Jews keep on voting Democrat without thinking or caring. Obama is not a friend of Israel which very much upsets me. He has more respect for the countries who want to destroy Israel. I simply don't understand. Why do Jews support anti-Israel policy? I keep on struggling with this question, and thought maybe you could explain it.
Thank you for your time.
Sandra, Stuart Florida
Great question but I must admit that I am often as stumped as you are! I agree with you that the president is not a friend of Israel. That is not a surprise to me. Long before the election I stated in print and on radio that I would not support Obama for many reasons including his obvious luke-warm attitude about Israel. In the time that has passed it has only been too clear to me that the current administration thinks peace can only come if Israel commits suicide and gives in to every demand. I believe a great deal of this is caused by Obama's illusion that he can make the Moslem world "see America in a new light." That policy can't exist alongside a commitment to Israel.
I must address a bigger issue- Jews have, in the past, always voted democratic. Somehow the myth came to be that it was the "Jewish" thing to do to support every liberal cause. While it is true that it is a very Jewish thing to do to support equality and justice, it is no mitzvah (good deed) to support causes that clearly do not consider the well being of the Jewish people. Bottom line- I think many Jews are too busy being liberals to remember that they are Jewish! I am happy to report to you that every day I speak to people who now realize how wrong they were to support Obama. I think the last two years have exposed much of the falsehood in his agenda. I realize that there was much anger at the Bush administration but I think time has shown that they were right about many things.
I believe people should vote on issues, not along party lines and not because of any one individual. I think this is a very painful lesson that the Jewish community is learning. I appreciate your support for Israel and your love for the Jewish homeland. Remember that you are not the only one seeing the dis-connect between American policy and Israel's safety.
My fiance and I have had a frequent discussion on the authenticity of a rabbi offering wedding ceremonial services, answering phones, driving for a meeting, sending emails and finally negotiate business terms on a saturday before shabbat is over. Is this a true religious rabbi? And if he is, how is he able to break the rules?
We look forward to your answer,
I understand your concern. As a rabbi I believe that my greatest "tool" is to serve as an example. It is very hypocritical to try to teach and affirm values that you do not follow yourself. That is, in my opinion, the fastest way to give religion a "bad name." In one sense I can't answer your question- it is a free country and a person can do what they want. But would I consider the person that you described as a "colleague?" No. Would I consider him to be an example to others? No. Would I have any personal or professional respect for such a person? No.
Being a rabbi is not easy- many Jews want the rabbi to be their surrogate Jew- while they may not observe anything, they want the rabbi to observe everything. I think that is behind your question. You expect the person that you choose to be "your" rabbi to be a "model" Jew. While there are certain wrong assumptions in that line of thinking (him being a model Jew doesn't get you off the hook!) there is also a very correct feeling that the rabbi is the one who can help you re-connect to Judaism. To do so he or she must be connected. From your description of this individual it doesn't sound like he is connected to Judaism's most important institution, Shabbat, in any way that is meaningful or inspiring.
To address the closing thought of your question, why does he get to "break the rules?" I can only say this- he does not. People (including rabbis) observe Shabbat in many ways- a Reform rabbi may not observe Shabbat in the same way an Orthodox rabbi would- but they both subscribe to the practices of their respective groups. Nonetheless, all of us agree that Shabbat is something special it is not a work day, it is not a day to make business arrangements, it is not a day to pursue issues of livelihood.
In the end you will have to decide whether you are comfortable with this person or not. I think I have made my opinion clear. I encourage your soul searching- it is not an issue for you and your fiancée to "fight" about but, rather, an opportunity for the two of you to discuss and clarify your values, both those that you share and those about which you disagree. Have a great wedding day and a wonderful life!
My mom has been a dog lover all her life. She has about 6-8 urns in the garage of all her beloved dogs that she has had over the years. She really wants to take them to the grave with her. My question is...can she? Can she be buried with the urns in her casket? Or can it be buried in the ground next to her casket? My mom is 80 years old and I hope I have many more years with her but this question keeps coming up a lot lately.
Your mother's request is not that unusual. I find that people often request that some important aspect of their life be a part of their final wishes. It might be a cigar in the jacket pocket, a deck of cards, or a favorite piece of jewelry. So I understand that your mother's focus on this subject may throw you off a bit! First I would assure her that you will follow her wishes- that is important for her peace of mind.
While it is not a common thing, I don't believe there is anything in Jewish law that says that she can't be buried with the ashes of her dogs. The only option would be to place to urns (or smaller containers may be easier) in the coffin with her. My understanding of Florida law makes me doubt that a cemetery would bury anything "outside" of the coffin- I think there would be legal issues there.
At this point I would reassure that all of her final wishes will be honored and maybe, in that way, she can focus on happier topics!
My boyfriend is divorced civily from his ex-wife since August 2009. He did not yet give her a GET but wants to. How does he go about this? How much does it cost?
Thank you for your question. A Get (Jewish divorce) is prepared by a Mesader Gittin, a rabbi who has been specially trained to write a Get. It is not complicated for the parties involved. They have only to provide the information needed for the Get such as Hebrew names, date of civil divorce, and local addresses. In South Florida I recommend Rabbi Gideon Goldenholz of Temple Sinai in Hollywood (954-987-0026.) Rabbi Goldenholz is a certified Mesader Gittin. The usual fee for a Get is $500 but I know that Rabbi Goldenholz provides for economic hardship and is very committed to providing his services to those who need it.
I am a Christian Catholic living in Canada. I need to have better understanding of how Israel is conducting its disputes with the Palestinians. This past few years has caused my opinions of Israel to become negative. It seems we only get news of the negative Israel is doing. I understand the need of Israel to protect itself and how in the past the Palestinians were not recognizing Israel's right to exist, and, really why should I care. But I do. I really pray for peace in the Mideast and I also need to change my opinion on how I feel Israel has gone about protecting itself.
My problem is that I had a prejudice regarding the Jewish people because of what was happening and I want to change my attitude. What can you suggest I do in order to become a more forgiving person?
First let me say that I don't think you need to be a more forgiving person- you only need to be a better informed person. Needing forgiveness implies that you have done something wrong. In my opinion you have not- you realize that your opinion of Israel has been shaped by a media that is overwhelmingly anti-Israel. One has only to look at the ridiculous resolutions coming from the UN to see the double standard that is applied to Israel. I take great pride in knowing that Israel is one of the most compassionate nations in the world. After the earthquake in Haiti Israel was first on the scene with field hospitals. Israel sends doctors around the globe and, yes, Israel gives Palestinian patients the best medical care available.
I am glad that you pray for peace in the Middle East. I hope you will do some reading. History will reveal to you that Israel has been fighting for its very existence since the moment of its birth. Terrorists continue to send missiles into civilian areas almost daily. Israel must live with the constant threat of war and terror attacks. While the Palestinian Authority continues to air its demand for peace it does nothing to curb violence. For those of us living in North America it is impossible to understand that fully.
The media often says that Israel is heavy handed in its reactions to the Palestinian threats. The papers and news shows love nothing more than to show armed Israeli soldiers staring down "poor Palestinian children who are "only" throwing rocks." Ask yourself this as a Christian and as a human being- which culture is it that teaches their children to carry bombs and blow themselves up to kill others? The answer to that question should tell you something about the enemy that Israel faces each day.
Has Israel ever made mistakes? Of course they have. But do these mistakes justify an endless war of terror? John, I don't want you to forgive Israel, I want you to understand her.
Thank you for your prayers I would be glad to join you any day!
If my father is Sephardim and my mother is Ashkenazic, what would I be?
First of all, you are Jewish! Sometimes we make such a big deal of the differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazi customs that we lose sight of the unity of the Jewish people. Various communities have had different customs throughout the history of our people but it is the similarities (far out-numbering the differences) that have preserved our people.
Your question is relevant to the sphere of Jewish law in its day to day applications. Synagogue rituals are sometimes different as well as holiday observances. An example would be the list of foods that are eaten during Passover. Sephardic Jews eat many things that the Ashkenazi customs do not permit.
In terms of your personal observance the following is the rule: it is the custom that a wife follows the customs of her husband which becomes the custom of the family. Given this rule, you would follow the Sephardic customs that you inherited from your father.
My wife and I will be renting a place in Century Village, Deerfield. The apartment probably doesn't observe kashrut. In the past, I've eaten vegetarian and kosher fish in restaurants. However, my wife is a meat eater and not greatly concerned about being strict about kosher food. I won't eat meat on non-kosher plates and with non- kosher cutlery. Months ago, I contacted rebbetzin Goldberg of Chabad who said she'd be glad to help but I doubt my wife would feel comfortable inviting a chabadnik into our rental. Can you suggest possible solutions to my dilemna?
I understand the situation, I often face the same problem when traveling and staying in a room that has kitchen facilities. Since you indicated that you are comfortable eating fish or vegetarian meals out I assume you are asking advice on how to observe kashrut in the apartment.
A George Foreman-type grill and microwave can make a perfect meal. You can grill meat or fish and all vegetables on a grill. Please remember, once you have cooked meat on a grill, you should consider anything else you grill to be fleishig. In addition, you can use the microwave in the apartment. To kasher a microwave, you only need to put a vessel of water in it and bring the water to a boil - that makes it easy.
You can go to a dollar store and purchase glass plates and cutlery very inexpensively. Use these for cooking and eating. I don't think this will get in your wife's way or be a problem. At the end of your stay, you can discard the dishes, and pack or mail the grill home for future use.
Have a great vacation!
I've always wondered. How does a Jewish person who believes in the Jewish faith get forgiveness of sin? Nowdays no one is killing animals such a goats, sheep or cattle for the forgiveness of sin and Jewish people don't believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin. I've understood that without the shedding of blood is no forgiveness of sin, so the Bible says, so how does that work?
To respond I must separate several issues. You ask how Jews believe they are forgiven without the Biblical sacrifices. You add to this the mention of Christian theology. Let me try to address both issues. When the Temple was destroyed in 70AD the rabbis faced a critical issue: how could the faith of the Israelites, rooted in Biblical law including sacrifice, continue without the Temple? Biblical sacrifice, the services of the Priests, and other rituals came to a sudden end. It was at that time that the rabbis began the "forced" transition from Biblical religion to Judaism. That meant that the rituals and faith that were already two millennia old had to be put in a new, post-Temple, context.
Rabbinic theology would make a bold new statement--prayer could now replace sacrifice. The Priestly service would be replaced by the prayers that each individual made on his or her own behalf. God would still forgive sins the sacrifices were not needed if prayer was sincere. This view is still operative in modern Judaism. We believe that God forgives us if our request is sincere. Judaism has no concept of "Cardinal sin" that can't be forgiven. Jews no longer believe that a sacrifice must be made to receive forgiveness.
Let me address the issue of Jesus as a "sacrifice" from a Jewish perspective. Christianity began as a movement within Judaism. All early Christians were Jews and that would be the case until Paul began his career. In this context, early Christianity had to teach its doctrines in a way that would make sense to the Jewish community to which it was reaching out. It was not too much of a theological stretch to compare the death of Jesus to a Biblical sacrifice made for atonement of sins. From this comparison church theology would speak of Jesus as the ultimate and final sacrifice that would grant all people forgiveness. When the vast majority of the Jewish community rejected the idea that Jesus was the messiah they also rejected the idea that there could be one all inclusive act of sacrifice.
With the increasing rate of assimilation among our children, what can we do to attract the younger generation into becoming more involved in Jewish communal life?
This is a question I hear all the time. Most often I hear it from parents who have a child who is intermarrying and they want some "magic" answer to stop this marriage because they do not approve. It may seem trite but I often find myself asking about the family background only to discover that there has been little if any Jewish content in their home life.
I believe that our children learn by example- if you want your children to value Judaism and Jewishness show them that you value it. I really can't offer a "magic" solution to a parent whose only Jewish priority is that his child marries a Jew. Just like we treasure family experiences that create the bonds of love, so too we must share Jewish experiences that create the bonds of love for Judaism.
With this said, there are no guarantees. I know children who have had all of the Jewish experiences a young person could have but fall in love with someone who is not Jewish. In that case let us do what we can to support the creation of a Jewish home.
There are "high points" that can really set a young person's soul on fire. A trip to Israel, study there, March of the Living, the birthright experience, these are all moments that allow a young person to see Jewishness in a much larger context. It can make all the difference. He or she now gains a new perspective on being part of a people and a collective destiny.
Bottom line: don't tell your child that being Jewish is important, live your life like it is important
How do I explain to my children the controversy regarding the recent events in Israel?
I feel we must be very careful in how we explain the current situation. To me it is very clear that the outrage over the flotilla is nothing more than Israel's enemies setting her up for criticism and the nations of the world buying into it. It is old hat at the UN and now is only made worse by the luke warm support of our administration. How do you explain anti-Semitism to a child? Many approaches might be too much information. Statements like "People hate Jews or Arabs want to kill all Jews" may create too much uncertainty. We want to teach children to love and respect all people not to look at them as potential enemies.
I think a safer path to choose might be to try to explain anti-Israel news as a political event. There are people who want to have the land of Israel and they will do anything to get. They will lie and they will hurt people. You might then turn a positive note by suggesting that this is why we need to tell the truth about how good Israel really is. Being Jewish means standing up for the truth especially when it comes to Israel.
I think any conversation about Israel is a great learning opportunity. Let's answer our children's' questions in ways that they can understand. It is ok to say that Israel has enemies but the conversation should include the ways in which Israel has always overcome her enemies.