Archive | Ask the Rabbi

Hawking went out of his way to reject Creator

Posted on 22 March 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
There has been lots of discussion around the passing of the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking; in particular I am fascinated by his rejection of the belief in God. Although he was a scientist and not known as a theologian, it would seem that he arrived at his belief, rather non-belief, through his understanding of physics and science. Do you have a take on this and do you see his atheism as a challenge to your own belief?
Ronald T., Ph.D.
Dear Ronald,
Let me begin by saying that, although Stephen Hawking was not the first atheist and certainly won’t be the last, I, personally, owed a tremendous debt of gratitude and respect to him for his classic works, especially A Brief History of Time. It is largely through Hawking’s works that I gained entry into the world of physics, kindling a passion that has continued for many years since.
At the same time, I do not overly respect Hawking as a theologian. For one thing, he uses his sterling credentials as a scientist to disseminate his theology even when he arrives at his theological conclusions not so scientifically. Furthermore, I have always felt there is also a subtle undertone of arrogance throughout his writings, especially with regards to the concept of God. This is despite his earlier writings reflecting an acceptance of a God, albeit somewhat grudgingly, later with more conceit and finally rejecting God altogether, rendering the human mind as great as that of the “alleged” God.
Hawking once said, in an interview with Spain’s El Mundo, “In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind.”
His attitude is so different than that of Einstein, who, in his youth, viewed the belief in God as superstitious. But in early 1950s, Einstein had composed a kind of creed he called What I Believe. It concludes with: “To sense that behind everything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense…I am a devoutly religious man.”
And in response to a young girl who had asked him whether he believed in God, Einstein wrote: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe — a spirit vastly superior to that of man.” That, unlike Hawking, was the approach of a man of humility to appreciate something greater than himself.
Nobody like Hawking, with his vast understanding of the elegant precision of the universe, could appreciate the compelling argument for a Creator. In The Illustrated Theory of Everything (pp. 71-73), after discussing the parameters of a hot early universe, Hawking raises the following questions: “…it leaves a number of important question unanswered…why did the universe start out with so nearly the critical rate of expansion to just avoid
recollapse? If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have recollapsed before it ever reached its present size. On the other hand, if the expansion rate at one second had been larger by the same amount, the universe would have expanded so much that it would be effectively empty now…Why should the universe have started off at the big bang in just such a way as to lead the state we observe today? Why is the universe so uniform, and expanding at just the critical rate to avoid recollapse? …It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”
To avoid that difficulty, Hawking goes on to present Guth’s “Inflationary Model,” which would potentially explain the exactness of the rate of expansion in great detail, seemingly escaping the uncomfortable conclusion that there must have been a Creator involved. But, alas, he concludes that this model would not suffice and, on page 78, seems to despair.
Hawking finally concludes, (with his co-author Mlodinow), in his book The Grand Design, “Just as Darwin and Wallace explained how the apparently miraculous design of living forms could appear without intervention by a supreme being, the multiverse concept can explain the fine tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the Universe for our benefit. Because there is a law like gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.”
They then explain the basic theory behind the “multiverse.” “According to M-theory, ours is not the only universe. Instead M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing. Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law.”
Scientists have pointed out the circular reasoning involved here. You can’t have a universe without it being created, you can’t have spontaneous creation without physical laws, and you can’t have physical laws without a universe. As brilliant a scientist as he was, Hawking becomes irrational when it comes to explaining away the universe sans a Creator.
My hypothesis is that, as we so often have found historically, that even scientific theories can be the result of a deeper agenda or emotional issue; here it is no different. I conjecture that Hawking was in the grips of an emotional wrestling match with his debilitating condition, ALS, and couldn’t accept that if there is a God involved in our lives He would allow such a condition to take over his production and brilliant life. This, I have often thought, was the undercurrent pushing him to often state that his mind knows all that God knows, and, furthermore, what he knows makes a God unnecessary. I always have considered this a great tragedy; rather than appreciation and humility to a God who has kept him alive and productive far beyond the norm and all predictions, Hawking chose to reject his great Benefactor.
The miracles of the Exodus from Egypt, writes Nachmanides, are our historic refutation of the atheism of the time, and of all time. There we witnessed that there is a God, who is in charge, and does know what is happening in the world and even communicates with humans. As we approach Pesach we, as Jews, say “out with the atheism of Hawking” and in with our belief in a loving, all-powerful God.
A joyous Pesach to all the readers, and blessings of peace to our brethren in Israel and throughout the world.

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Tefillin reminds us of God’s love, deliverance

Posted on 15 March 2018 by admin

This is the second part of the answer to last week’s question about tefillin.
Dear Rabbi Fried,
Soon is my son’s bar mitzvah and I bought him tefillin to wear, because that’s what my father did for me at my bar mitzvah. To tell you the truth, that’s about all there is to it for all I know. The problem is that that’s not good enough for my little boy; he questions everything. He wants to know why we do this? What does it mean? Why are they black and you can’t order a set in your favorite color? Why are the knots the way they are? He doesn’t stop. And the bigger problem is that I have no idea what to answer any of his questions; can you please help me out here?
Ben
Dear Ben,
Last week, we addressed your question as to the sources in the Torah for wearing tefillin daily, the four Torah sections fitting into the four boxes of the head tefillin and the one arm box. We saw how the arm tefillin affects our actions and our hearts, the head one elevates our thoughts, all toward our belief in the Oneness of God, and that our thoughts, emotions and actions should reflect that belief.
Today we shall attempt to understand this further, by focusing upon two of the messages within the tefillin. First, the message of Love.
When two people love each other and treasure every moment together, they create constant reminders of that love. The sealing of an engagement and of a wedding is through the transfer of a ring, a sign to be worn perpetually as a constant reminder and sign of that love.
God loves His people deeply and intensely, as He proclaims through prophecy, “I have loved you with an infinite world of love” (Jeremiah 31:3). We return that love to Him through the mitzvah to love, which we proclaim twice daily in the Shema, “And you should love Hashem, your God, with all your heart, all your soul and all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second paragraph of the Shema, Deuteronomy 11:13).
This mitzvah of love is inscribed upon parchment and inserted into the tefillin, ensuring that the wearing of these special boxes serves as a type of “wedding band” for us to express and remember daily our love for the Al-mighty as He loves us. In fact, the verses we recite while wrapping the tefillin strap around our fingers are statements of love, reflecting God’s love for us and our binding that love upon our fingers, like a ring; “I will betroth you to Me forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, kindness and mercy. I will betroth you to Me with fidelity and you shall know God” (Psalms 145:16).
That love has taken us through the brightest and darkest of times. Countless numbers of Jews continued to clandestinely and miraculously don their tefillin even in the hellish camps of the accursed Nazis, showing their unshakable love and belief that all that happens to us, although beyond our comprehension, somehow happens out of love.
Another important theme of the tefillin is that of the Exodus from Egypt. The final paragraph of the Shema ends with the remembrance of that Exodus. This is not by chance; the belief in the Exodus is the foundation of our belief in the oneness and dominion of God. Only one who strongly believes in the Exodus can truly believe in the oneness of God (R’ Asher, Orchos Chaim). This is because seeing is believing. Nobody was present to witness the creation of the world; the entire Jewish people was present to witness the miracles of the plagues in Egypt, our miraculous deliverance from that land, the splitting of the sea, the clouds of glory, pillar of fire and the manna falling from heaven to sustain us.
For this reason, when God formally introduces Himself to us for the first time in the first of the 10 commandments, He opens by saying “I am the Lord your God Who has taken you out of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” He could have delivered a much more impressive introduction, “…Who created the stars, sun, heaven and earth…” but, rather, chose the Exodus from Egypt. This is because He was speaking to a nation whom had just witnessed and benefited from that very Exodus; seeing is believing. He was telling them, and us by the tradition that generation passed down to us, that the One who performed those miracles and redeemed us was none other than God. (R’ Judah Halevi, Kuzari, Book I).
This message of Exodus, the foundation of our belief, is also enwrapped in the parchments within the tefillin. In fact, the Code of Jewish Law instructs us that, when wrapping our tefillin, we need to have in mind that we are donning our tefillin Zecher l’yatzias Mitzrayim, as a remembrance of the redemption from Egypt.
This message is especially poignant for us now in the days and weeks leading up to the holiday of Pesach, punctuating the importance of the eternal message of our belief in the Exodus from Egypt.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at yfried@sbcglobal.net.

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The whys and the wherefores of tefillin

Posted on 08 March 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Soon is my son’s bar mitzvah and I bought him tefillin to wear, because that’s what my father did for me at my bar mitzvah. To tell you the truth, that’s about all there is to it for all I know. The problem is that that’s not good enough for my little boy; he questions everything. He wants to know why we do this? What does it mean? Why are they black and you can’t order a set in your favorite color? Why are the knots the way they are? He doesn’t stop. And the bigger problem is that I have no idea what to answer any of his questions; can you please help me out here?
Ben R.
Dear Ben,
I consider your “problem” — your son questioning everything — a very good problem. His questions are excellent; every Jew should understand why we do what we do. Perhaps if we passed down the mitzvos with all their understanding, meaning and beauty, then far more Jews would observe the mitzvos, and those who already do would do so with more joy, pride and love.
Since we can’t possibly answer all the questions you posed in the space of one column, perhaps we’ll dedicate the next couple of columns to attempt to get a deeper understanding of tefillin.
Let’s begin by looking at the sources in the Torah. The primary source for donning tefillin is in the recitation of the “Shema Yisrael.” In this foundational recitation — by which we accept the belief in God, His Oneness or Unity and to love Him with all our heart, soul and might — the Torah says to bind all of these incredible messages upon our arm and head in the form of tefillin (and in the mezuzah) (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). We are meant to literally wear our belief system “on our sleeve.”
The simple meaning of the two tefillin is that binding this message upon our arm signifies our actions conforming with our beliefs. The wrapping seven times around the arm reminds us that we are to act in consonance with our belief in G-d all seven days of the week. The arm tefillin also tips toward the heart, representing that our actions emanate from a believing heart. They are also bound upon the head in order that these core concepts should deeply occupy our minds.
The commandment of tefillin appears three more times, teaching further that the tefillin are a remembrance of our miraculous birth as a nation: the Exodus from Egypt. (See Exodus 13:9, 19:16.) And finally, they are again mentioned in the second paragraph of the Shema, (Deuteronomy 11:18).
Clearly, the fact that the mitzvah of tefillin is repeated four times in the Torah punctuates its unique significance in the hierarchy of the mitzvah system.
Another practical lesson learned from the four-time repetition of this mitzvah is that all four sections of those commandments are to be written by an expert scribe upon parchment (like a Torah scroll) and inserted into the tefillin. This the essence of what the tefillin are, the four messages of their very commandments. In short, this means the following:
The section containing our obligation to remember the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 13:1-10).
Our obligation to transmit this tradition to our children (Exodus 13:11-16).
The Shema, speaking of God’s unity and our mutual bond of love (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
The second paragraph of Shema, man’s responsibility toward God (Deuteronomy 11:13-21).
In the box upon the arm, all four sections are written upon one long parchment and inserted into the one box. In the box upon the head, which is made up of four separate chambers, the four sections are each written upon a separate parchment and inserted individually into their respective compartments.
This is the essence of the tefillin. Hopefully we will answer more of your questions and understand this more deeply in the columns to follow.

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Joy, celebration and charity: The hallmarks of Purim

Posted on 01 March 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I would like to observe Purim this year. Could you please briefly outline the rituals and observances of the day? With much appreciation,
Heather W.

Dear Heather,
Last night and today mark the holiday of Purim, in which the underlying theme is immense joy and celebration. It is the celebration of our existence as a people, despite attempts to destroy us. Those attempts began with the first try at the “final solution” by Haman, who sought to destroy the Jewish Nation by killing every last Jew, his decree being signed by King Ahasuerus.
With the miraculous turnaround of that decree, we realized that God remains connected to us even in the darkest of times and is protecting us from annihilation. The observances of Purim are all tailor-made to enhance our joy and celebration of our eternal continuity and loving relationship to the Al-mighty.
There are five main observances on Purim:
1. Reading of the Megillah, or Book of Esther. The Megillah, which contains the Purim story, is heard twice on Purim, once at night and once during the day. You can find a synagogue where this is done. It is important to follow the reading, even in English, to understand the story to the best of your abilities. The storyline is key to the joy and celebration. Megillas Esther literally means the Scroll of Esther, and mystically means “Revealing the Hidden Miracles.”
2. The prayer of Al Hanissim, or “For the Miracles.” This is a special prayer inserted into the daily Amidah prayer, as well as in the Bircas Hamazon, or blessing after the meal. It contains a short synopsis of the miracles of the day and praises G‑d for His kindnesses.
3. Mishloach manos, sending gifts of food. Each adult man and woman sends a gift of two types of food to at least one friend on Purim day (not at night). It is common to send these gifts to numerous friends, and they are often delivered wearing Purim costumes, especially the children. This ritual is to foster greater friendship and connection within the Jewish people.
4. Matanos l’evyonim, gifts of money to the poor. All men and women are obligated to give two gifts of money to two different poor Jews on Purim day. This is to uplift the spirits of the poor on Purim, allowing them to experience the joy of Purim’s salvation and celebration. Many synagogues collect for local poor Jews and for Jews in Israel. There is also a wonderful organization, Od Yosef Chai, that distributes pledges to the poor in Israel on Purim day. Contact it at 800-823-CHAI (2424).
5. Seudas Purim, the Purim meal. This is a particularly festive meal enjoyed during the Purim day. It is enjoyed with guests when possible, with costumes, and with much celebration and joy, discussing the miracles of the Purim story. (For those adults who have achieved an elevated spiritual level, they drink wine “until they can’t tell the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.’” This is fulfilled ideally by drinking a little, then taking a nap.)
I wish you and all the readers a joyous Purim, in which we should continue to witness miracles and merit to see peace in Israel.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.

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Jews are the Chosen because we chose the Torah

Posted on 22 February 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Why are the Jewish people called the Chosen People, and not the Chinese, Hispanics or Christians, for that matter?
Thank you, Seth K.
Dear Seth,
Before we ponder why we are called the Chosen People, let us first consider what it means to be “Chosen.” Chosen for what? What does Chosen entitle us to?
One of the morning blessings in the Siddur prayer book recited daily says, “Blessed are You, God, King of the universe, Who has chosen us from among the nations and given us His Torah, blessed are You, G d Who gives us His Torah.”
This blessing is predicated upon the concept that we are, indeed, Chosen. It also defines that Chosenness: We were chosen to be the recipients of God’s Torah. As recipients and custodians of God’s Torah we were given a mission — that of “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 49:6).
The word “Torah” comes from the root orah, which means light or illumination. Carrying the message of Torah to the world illuminates the entire world with the will of God. The Jews have done just that throughout the generations by introducing to mankind the concepts of monotheism, the precepts of the Torah as they apply to the world at large (and, of course, bagels, lox and guilt).
The Talmud explains that the Torah was first offered to the other nations of the world, to give them a chance to be the receivers, before finally offering it to the Jewish nation. One by one, they turned it down after asking what it says and finding it unsuitable for what they considered their role in the world. The Jews accepted it unconditionally, out of the love and trust in God that was handed down by the patriarchs and matriarchs, and thereby became the Chosen People, entrusted with instructing the world in God’s design and purpose to creation and life.
This Chosenness comes with many obligations, together with its “perks” of special endearment and closeness to God, by fulfilling the charge we have been entrusted and empowered to fulfill. It is a concept that has, sadly, been largely lost to today’s generation of Jews. The loss of this awareness is probably the single greatest cause for the widespread assimilation we are witnessing today. The key antidote for assimilation is a deeply felt Jewish pride in what we are and what we represent. Only with the notion of Chosenness can we truly perpetuate that pride and the dedication that goes with it to ensure marrying Jewish and remaining involved in the Jewish community. Without Chosenness, we are, with the nations, all essentially the same in our purpose in this world. Hence, sadly, many feel there’s no reason to remain Jewish.
The morning Torah blessing teaches that through study of Torah we retain that connectedness and Chosenness — and hence — Jewish continuity.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is the dean of Dallas Area Torah Association (DATA).

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Turn to the Torah to douse seeds of anger

Posted on 15 February 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have an anger problem that is affecting my home, office and relationships with friends. Until recently, I blamed it on others, but now I realize it’s me. Before getting involved with expensive counseling, I would like to know if anger is discussed in Jewish sources, and if I could or should attempt to help myself by studying them. Your input would be most appreciated.
Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,
You have already taken a major step by recognizing your anger problem and shifting the blame from others onto yourself. Although I don’t know you and therefore can’t really advise you, it would certainly be beneficial to work on this with the material available in Torah sources that will help you see things from a very different, elevated vantage point and help you recognize and internalize the destructive power in anger and the benefits of a joyous, accepting life.
I would recommend you consider doing this work alongside counseling or therapy, as, in many situations, the Torah study will augment the therapy you need, not take the place of it — at least in the beginning stages or as recommended by the therapist.
Numerous Torah sources teach us the negative affects of anger. Let us examine two of them that were at crossroads of ancient Jewish history.
Jacob, in his final, parting words to his beloved sons on his deathbed, strongly criticized Reuven, his firstborn, for the anger he expressed by moving his father’s bed after the death of his mother. He then cursed the anger of his sons Shimon and Levi — which had led them to destroy a city — adding that he wants no part in their anger; their anger will cause them to be split apart and not live with stability. (Genesis 49:3-7)
At the moment of truth, Jacob’s final farewell, he chose to focus on misplaced anger among his sons, the tribes of Israel, to ensure they focus on correcting that anger for the sake of future generations.
A leader as great as Moses was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel because he expressed anger, leading him to strike the rock rather than speaking to it as commanded (Numbers 20:7-13). That anger caused Moses an insurmountable loss, the inability to enter the land he so loved and longed for and to continue to lead the Jewish people into their final state.
Maimonides codifies the Torah outlook on anger (“Yad Hachazakah,” Hilchos Deos 2:3). After his well-known treatise on character traits, where Maimonides shows how one should act within the “middle of the road” and not go to extremes, he writes the following (loosely translated by this author from the Hebrew original):
“There are some character traits which one should not conduct himself along the ’middle of the road,’ but should, rather, go to the extreme.” Now, he turns from haughtiness to anger. ”Similarly, anger is an excedingly negative character trait and it is befitting that one should conduct himelf in the extreme with regard to negating the trait of anger. One should train himself not to become angry even with regard to those matters befitting of anger. Similarly, if one wants to cast fear among his children and the members of his household or upon the congregation if he is their leader, and wants to express anger to bring them back to the good, he should express himself to them as if he is angry in order to affect them, but he should internally be calm and not truly be internally angry, he should only appear that way.”
Maimonides concludes, “Our early sages declared that anyone who is angry is tantamount to having worshipped idols. They said further, anyone who is angry, if he is a wise man his wisdom will escape him. If he is a prophet, his prophecy will be removed from him. Those who live in anger, their lives are not lives. Therefore our early sages commanded us to distance ourselves from anger until we don’t even feel those things which would normally cause one to be angry. This is the choice path. The way of the righteous is to accept shame and not be ashamed, hear their insults and not answer back, they perform all they do with love and accept difficulties with joy. Upon them the Torah writes that (in the future time of reward), those beloved by God will shine like the sun in all its power.”
Maimonides adds that there are, however, unique times when it is warranted to truly be angry, such as when dealing with those who are openly desecrating the name of God (See Hilchos Deos 1:4 and Lechem Mishneh loc cit). Such situations are rare in everyday life, taking us back to the main ruling to stay as far as possible from anger.
Anger, as a God-given emotion, cannot be and is not inherently evil, but must be studied and worked upon to be used in proper measure. One great rabbi said that “anger is like salt — in small amounts it enhances; too much can spoil.”
Part of the work we must invest in is to know when that “small amount” is in place, such as inspiring one to correct a lack of justice or a falsehood in the world, and when to refrain from anger altogether.
Even very great people need to work on conquering anger. The towering Torah figure in America of the past generation, Rav Moshe Feinstein ob”m, was extremely mild-mannered. In the most tense and provocative situations, he would not show a trace of anger. When questioned about this trait, he once remarked, “Do you think I was always like this? By nature, I have a fierce temper, but I have worked to overcome it.”
The same applied to my mentor, Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach ob”m, who was renowned for his jovial spirit, joy and perpetual smile. He once remarked that he was born with a terrible temper, and spent most of his life taming it.
It will be a real challenge for you to attempt to study the subject of anger from direct Torah sources, especially as most of these sources are in Hebrew, and furthermore need to be pieced together to form a worldview and a plan of action.
I will, therefore, make a suggestion. There is a tremendous book called Anger: The Inner Teacher by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin. This wonderful book develops a nine-step methodical approach to conquering anger. It is based upon the author’s vast Torah knowledge and understanding of human nature which has allowed him to present a down-to-earth approach to scaling the heights of character and spirit. Filled with insights, anecdotes and examples, this is a precious source of self-improvement utilizing the timeless wisdom of Torah.
Try reading through this book and working on its methods to improve your situation for a few months. Hopefully, you will save yourself the expense of extended, long-term counseling, become happier and enriched by the treasures of our Torah for many years to come. Perhaps do this in conjunction with discussions with a rabbi to monitor your progress. You will always have time to return to professional counseling if, at some point, you feel you still need more.

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The Torah bans tattoos, but keep it if you have it

Posted on 08 February 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I have a tattoo on my back, which I got as a teenager. Now that I am getting more involved in Judaism, I heard that one shouldn’t have tattoos. Is this true and, if so, could I or should I have it removed? If I don’t, when I die can I be buried in a Jewish cemetery?
Zachary

Dear Zachary,
The Torah states “…and you shall not put a tattoo upon your body” (Leviticus 19:28). Rashi explains this means to perforate the skin and add ink in a way that it will remain permanently. This law is codified in the Code of Jewish Law (“Yoreh Deah” 180:1).
This law stems from the Jewish understanding of the human body. The Torah says that we were created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27). This is obviously a spiritual concept, as Jewish belief is that God has no physical characteristics. There is, however, a physical connotation from the perspective of our bodies. The Kabbalists explain that every part of our bodies was crafted to coincide with one of the pathways or traits through which God connects with and controls the world. We have arms, for example, to mirror the concept that God performs certain actions “with an outstretched arm.”
The body is the vehicle through which the soul is able to have expression in the physical world and to accomplish the mission for which it was sent there. The body was perfectly fashioned to “fit” the soul, as an expression of God’s will and His connection to the world. Together, the body and soul form a partnership called “the image of God.”
To alter the body would be to mar its unique image and minimize its ability to be an expression of God’s will.
Furthermore, we are not considered the owners of our bodies. We are, rather, stewards, entrusted to utilize the body properly, protect it, and return it back to its Maker at the end of its partnership with the soul, at the end of life on this world. We do not have the right to alter the body, or even to inflict a wound upon it (Deuteronomy 25:3). This is unless, of course, it is necessary to do so for medical reasons. (Perhaps in the future, we will discuss the question of cosmetic plastic surgery, as well as the permissiveness, in light of the above, of piercing ears and the like, which has been Jewish custom for millennia.)
As far as your tattoo: According to Jewish law, once it is already done, you would not have an obligation to remove it, especially since it involves an often painful and extensive surgery. If you would want to have it removed because it makes you uncomfortable, you would be permitted to do so. This would not fall under the prohibition of mutilating the body.
A very common misconception is that if one has a tattoo, one cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery. This has no basis and is not true; a tattoo does not render its bearer less Jewish.
There are those still among us, may they live and be well, whom are bearers of tattoos, which demonstrate that they are survivors of the Nazi hell on earth. The fact that they remained Jewish after what they experienced is living testament to the eternal Jewish soul.
There was once a Hasidic Jew who had returned to his Jewish roots, with a large tattoo on his chest from his previous life. Although, as a Hasid, he immersed daily in the mikvah, he managed to keep his colorful tattoo hidden by his towel. One time, erev Yom Kippur, the mikvah was full of people and the floor was very slippery. Sure enough, he slipped and fell and his towel went flying. When everyone looked to see who fell, they were all dumbstruck to see their fellow Hasid with a large tattoo. Silence filled the room, with the Hasid wanting to sink into the floor. Just then a survivor reached down, with the numbers on his arm, saying “This was my hell and that was your hell, now let’s go to the mikvah!”
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of DATA.

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Blessing the children

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
Last week I was invited to have a Shabbat meal with an observant family, and before the meal commenced I saw something beautiful: The father and mother each put their hands on their children’s heads, recited a blessing and kissed each one. It was almost sublime to see children, some in their teens, line up for the blessing and kiss. I was embarrassed to ask what they were saying, but could you please fill me in?
Chuck W.

Dear Chuck,
The blessing is known as the birchas hayeladim or the blessing of the children. It is based upon the blessing Jacob recited upon his grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe, before he passed away. At the end of the blessing, the Torah says: “So he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you shall Israel bless (their children) saying, May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.’” (Genesis 48:20)
We therefore bless our boys that they should be like Ephraim and Menashe, which is the first part of that blessing. We bless the girls with the wish that they should be as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
We end the blessing for both by reciting the priestly blessing, which says, “So shall you bless the Children of Israel, saying to them: ‘May God bless you and safeguard you. May God illuminate His countenance unto you and be gracious to you. May God lift His countenance to you and establish peace upon you.’” (Numbers 6:23-27)
While it only takes a few short moments, these blessings are important moments in the life of a child, something they look forward to all week, and remember throughout their lifetimes. (I’m not sure who looks more forward to this moment, the parents or the child!) It brings an aura of holiness into the family and the parent-child relationship, showing the child the love and respect his parents have for them. By the way, parents continue to bless their children even after the children themselves become parents and even grandparents. No child is ever too old to receive a blessing from their parents!
It has been asked, in what merit did Ephraim and Menashe become the source of blessing for the Jewish people for all time?
I think the reason is, because Ephraim and Menashe grew up quite differently than all their cousins. Their cousins, the children of the 12 tribes, grew up in an atmosphere of holiness, in the surroundings of Jacob and their holy parents, aunts and uncles. For them it was relatively easy to remain steadfast in their service of God.
Ephraim and Menashe, however, had it different. Joseph, their father, was forced to live apart from his family, in Egypt. They were surrounded by Egyptian children and their idol-worshipping parents. Despite their tremendous challenges, they remained observant. Not only were they observant, but they clung to their father and became great tzaddikim, righteous individuals.
For this reason, Ephraim and Menashe were later promoted by Jacob, their grandfather, to the full status of tribes in their own right (the tribe of Joseph was split into two tribes). Not only did they not sink below the level of their cousins, they surpassed them and were elevated to the status of the previous generation.
This is our heartfelt blessing and wish for our children. No matter in what surroundings they may find themselves one day, they should always have the strength and fortitude to rise above them. They should retain their holiness and greatness, even if the winds of their times are pulling them in the wrong direction.
The same greatness was exhibited by our holy matriarchs. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah all grew up in homes antithetical to the service of God and truth. All had the internal fortitude to rise above their upbringing, their families and the profanity of their generations to achieve the holiness befitting a mother of the Jewish people.
The renowned Grand Rebbe of Klausenberg, in the Displaced Persons camps after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, was approached by a teenage girl on the eve of Yom Kippur. She requested him to bless her with the special parental blessing conferred by parents upon their children before Yom Kippur, as her own parents were no longer alive. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he took upon himself the role of her beloved parents and bestowed the blessings. Soon word got out, and dozens of girls in the DP camp flocked to the holy Rebbe to receive blessings from this compassionate father of Israel.
Even in the worst of times, blessing our children is a source of hope and comfort. Certainly, in today’s world of disconnect, this act of love forges a connection between parents and children that nothing can replace.

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Should all prayers be said in Hebrew?

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I recently purchased an ArtScroll Siddur, and am enjoying the English translation. I really don’t understand Hebrew, although I can read it. Is the translation just for understanding what the Hebrew means, or can one actually pray in the English? I personally can’t see why not, as I assume God can understand all languages?
Brian L.
Dear Brian,
As you assumed, God understands all languages, and Jewish law permits one to pray in the language they understand (Talmud, Sotah 33a and Shulchan Aruch O”Ch 101:4). However, there are a number of reasons why Hebrew is the preferred language for prayer:
First, Hebrew is unique in that it is called the “holy tongue.” This is because it is pure, and has no swear words, not even any words directly describing intimate relations or any such matters. It is, therefore, the ideal language through which to approach God.
Furthermore, explain the Kabbalists, Hebrew is the language God used to create the universe. It is the language of creation, the language the Torah was given in, the language of the prophets, King David and his psalms. Hebrew carries the soul of the Jewish people, our heritage and destiny. It is ideal to communicate with God in the same language He communicated with us.
Second, the “Men of the Great Assembly,” the sages who penned the words of the established prayers of the Siddur, cloaked untold layers of meaning in the words of the prayers — from the simplest meanings to the most profoundly Kabbalistic. One could spend an entire lifetime studying the Siddur/prayerbook, and still not plumb the most profound depths of its meaning. Vast Kabbalistic works are dedicated to uncovering the concealed meanings within the prayers. Those veiled meanings, which accompany our prayers uttered even with a simple understanding, “hitch a ride” to the highest heavens through the vehicle of the Hebrew verbiage, which contains those meanings. (See Biur Halacha to Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit.)
Third, by praying in the original Hebrew we join the millions of Jews throughout the world and the generations who have uttered the same exact words for thousands of years. These holy words have been uttered throughout both the best and the most trying of circumstances, and are above time and circumstance.
However, the most important part of prayer, as the Torah itself says, is to pray from the heart. If praying in Hebrew will deprive one of feeling and meaning from the heart, it is better to pray in English to get the main point of prayer, the cake itself, than all the above points, which are the icing on the cake. The prayer needs to be an integral part of our love relationship with God — and it’s difficult to maintain a relationship when the partners don’t understand one another!
I have recommended to many beginners to pray mostly in English, but to choose one blessing at a time to study and know its entire meaning in Hebrew. Just say that one blessing, or verse, in Hebrew until you’re totally comfortable with each word. Then go on and do the same with another blessing or verse, such as the Shema. Bit by bit, each small portion will become like building blocks to build your understanding of the Siddur. One day, you’ll wake up and find that you are saying and understanding a large part of the Siddur in the original! Good luck!

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Did dinosaurs exist?

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I would like clarification about something you said in a previous column some time ago. Regarding the age of the universe, when describing the mainstream interpretation of the six days of creation, you mention that “God created the world with its oil fields, and the decayed life needed to bring them about.”
With regard to this statement, I bring up an incident that happened to my son five years ago. In his day school here in Dallas, a question arose about how to reconcile the date on the Jewish calendar with the age of dinosaurs. His secular studies teacher was unable to answer the question, and called in the head rabbi (no longer affiliated with his school) to help. The rabbi’s answer was that dinosaurs never existed. He went on to explain that Hashem simply planted dinosaur bones in the earth to test our faith.
So my question to you is, according to the Jewish point of view you are presenting, did dinosaurs exist or not?
— Liz
Dear Liz,
The interpretation you mentioned in the name of the head rabbi of your son’s school is, in fact, an approach suggested by the late leader of Chabad, the Lubavitcher Rebbe ob”m.
The Torah tells us that when the first man and woman were created, they were fully grown and developed, physically and mentally. They were not created as babies who needed to develop and become mature adults. Similarly, the animals of the world, the plants and trees were created in an advanced stage of development.
Since all the creatures in the world were created in a state that seemed to attest to many years of previous growth, perhaps the earth — and the entire cosmos — was also “born” bearing signs of many, many years of development. Stars needing billions of light-years to travel to earth to be seen by us may have been created with their light already reaching us at the same moment. Perhaps when God created the earth, He also created artifacts to attest to their ancestry. Thus, on the day that the animals were created, their prehistoric remains were created along with them.
This approach, in my humble opinion, leaves some disturbing questions unanswered and perhaps creates new questions. Since, according to the mainstream literal interpretation, God created the world in six days, why would He have altered it in a way that gives a false impression of being much older than it is?
Rabbi Shimon Schwab ob”m suggests that perhaps God did so in order to allow humans the possibility of denying the Creation. If divine creation of the world would be obvious to all, there would be no challenge in accepting this doctrine, and there would thus be no reward for those who accepted God’s mastery upon them.
This approach also has its difficulties. Adam and Eve, their son Cain, and many others after them managed to sin despite the clarity of the Creation by God. Jews and Gentiles sinned for thousands of years before Darwinism and paleontology made their impressions and most of mankind believed in a world created by God.
Apparently enough challenge to belief and observance exists even without this added alleged purposeful confusion. I personally have trouble digesting an approach that God purposely would exhibit a non-truth for any reason (although there may be a more profound explanation to this approach which needs careful thought). My friend and renowned colleague, Rabbi Professor Dovid Gottlieb, concurs with me on this point.
The following alternative approach is offered by the classical commentary to the Mishnah, the Tiferes Yisrael. The Kabbalists teach that God created and destroyed the world seven times. Each time He destroyed the world, it was in order to build a more complete, perfect world. It’s not that God made a mistake and tried to get it better the next time! It’s, rather, based upon a profound Kabbalistic teaching that the world needs to grow in seven stages toward perfection. This process needed to take place until the final creation of the world we live in. This is the world fit to receive the revelation of God’s will, in which God chose to give the Torah, and through it reach the ultimate world of tikkun or perfection.
He explains that the different layers of earth and rock which were found by scientists in his day (in the mid-1800s), with different types of fossils at each layer, are the result of the world being destroyed and rebuilt as we are taught by the Kabbalists. The lowest layer is that containing the dinosaurs. Each preceding world was covered over to provide the foundation for the next world, approaching closer and closer to the world of tikkun.
This approach seems to fit well with the “Impact Theory” proposed in 1980 by Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez. Scientists have long been bothered by the sudden mass extinction of the undisputed masters of the world — the dinosaurs. Alvarez with his son Walter proposed that a massive meteor collided with Earth causing this mass extinction. Alvarez had brought some 15 proofs to this theory by 1987, giving it wide acceptance.
This theory, however, gave birth to another concept, termed the “Anthropic Principle.” This means, briefly, that the meteor struck with just the precise impact to kill out dinosaurs and at the same time create the perfect environment for the survival of mankind and the surrounding animals which can be subjugated by mankind. A little stronger impact — nothing at all would have lived. A little weaker or lighter, the dinosaurs would have still thrived and not left room for mankind to exist.

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