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Posted on 30 December 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

It’s painful for me to approach this issue, but my brother has recently “come out of the closet” and told us that he’s gay. I spoke to our Reform rabbi about it, and she says there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, it’s normal for whoever feels that that way is Jewishly all right. To me and my parents, it really doesn’t feel right and we’re not sure how to deal with it. Is it really Jewishly all right? Can anything be done about it?

Confused

Dear Confused,

The Torah, which is the source of Judaism, clearly states the Jewish view of homosexuality: “You shall not lie with a man in the way you lie with a woman, it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). “And if a man will lie with a man as with a woman, they have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them” (Leviticus 20:13). As you see, the Torah labels this activity as an abomination and confers capital punishment upon the offenders. There is no prohibition against the feelings, which may be a person’s tendency; only the act is forbidden.

We, as Jews, face a tremendous challenge in today’s world where homosexual behavior, based on the studies of some scientists that show this behavior has biological roots, has been deemed acceptable and an “alternative lifestyle.” In the non-traditional Jewish world, these new societal norms have brought about a revolution in the way they deal with this phenomenon, reinterpreting the clear verses of the Torah to mean something else completely. Reform Judaism has rejected the traditional understanding of this prohibition, maintaining that it is merely prohibiting same-sex prostitution, making it a stand against the idolatrous practices of the Canaanite nations then inhabiting Israel rather than a blanket condemnation of homosexuality. For that reason they fully accept gay cantors and rabbis and most even ascribe some ritual to a same-sex “marriage,” hence what you heard from your Reform rabbi.

The Conservative movement has a spectrum of opinions among its ranks, some invoking the principle of “human dignity,” and since 2007 the AJU in Los Angeles and the JTS in New York have accepted openly gay and lesbian candidates to rabbinical school and to receive Conservative ordination.

Classical Judaism alone stands strong, holding up the timeless truths of the Torah as the benchmark of morality for all time. The view of the Torah historically did not mirror the mores of contemporary society; it was not accepted by the licentious societies of the time, especially by the Greeks, who favored homosexual love. Abraham was called “Ivri,” the sages tell us, because the Hebrew word implies that all the world stood on one side and he stood on the other. He was not afraid to stand up for the truth, even if it contradicted society and modernity.

What your brother needs is understanding and compassion, and to get him the help he needs to return to a heterosexual life so that he may one day marry and build a Jewish family. I once discussed this at length with the renowned psychiatrist Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski. He told me that this condition, with much work, can be and has been overcome. The main problem, he said, is finding a therapist today who feels there’s something wrong and a reason to cure this problem. There is an organization called JONAH dedicated to helping those who want to return to a normal, heterosexual life, with much success. Dr. Twerski cited a Midrash which states that there is no prohibition in the Torah that we have no desire at all to do; if we had no inclination to do it the Torah would not need to prohibit it. Our obligation, through Torah, is to recognize our proclivities to do certain acts and to curb our inclinations, subjugating them to the Will of G-d. We must show our utmost compassion to their situation, not rejecting these individuals as people or Jews, while at the same time not condoning their lifestyle. May you be there for your brother and help him be fully fulfilled as a person and a Jew.

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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Posted on 16 December 2010 by admin

By Rabbi Yarachmiel D. Fried

Hi Rabbi Fried,

I am e-mailing you several questions about buying and selling on the Internet with regard to the laws of Shabbat:

1) Is one allowed to own an online company that would allow people to purchase things even on Shabbat? Or would they have to shut down their Web site on Shabbat?

2) Is one allowed to sell something online with an ongoing auction even if it doesn’t end on Shabbat, if there is a possibility that people would place a bid on Shabbat?

3) Is it a problem if the seller uses the “buy it now” option (such as on eBay) and someone happens to purchase the item on Shabbat?

Thanks,

Nathan R.


Dear Nathan,

There are four separate issues involved in your question; one is that of your “vessels” resting on Shabbat, i.e. your computer site, if you are the owner of the site or the company which utilizes a site. Second is the question of mekach umemkar, or involvement in business transactions on Shabbat. Third is the issue of sechar Shabbat, deriving monetary benefit from a transaction completed on the Shabbat. Last is that of mar’it ayin, or the desecration that could be caused by it being known that a Jewish-owned site is functioning on Shabbat, possibly leading others to desecrate the Shabbat. (Although there are varying opinions regarding this question, some more stringent, I will answer you in accordance with the opinion of most contemporary authorities.)

The first concern, the “resting” of vessels, is a dispute between the Houses of Hillel and Shamai. The decision of the Talmud is like the opinion of Beit Hillel that one’s vessels need not rest on Shabbat. So as long as the process (in this case, the site) was set into motion before Shabbat and the owner of the vessel, i.e. the computer, is not involved with it in any way during Shabbat, the process can continue on Shabbat.

For the same reason there is not a concern of involvement in business transactions, “mekach umemkar,” since it is an inanimate object, i.e. the computer, and not the owner, which is performing the transaction.

As far as deriving monetary benefit; we can draw a comparison to the case in which earlier authorities have allowed the owners of vending machines to keep their machines operative on Shabbat. Although the owners receive monetary benefit from the purchase of candy or other items on Shabbat, this is not considered “sechar Shabbat.” This is through exercising the principle of “havla’ah,” meaning that the Shabbat benefit is factored into the overall outlay of goods and services, i.e. the weekday purchases of the candies, servicing the machines, etc. All this renders the payments of Shabbat to cover many weekday activities and therefore to be permitted. This is the same principle which allows us, for example, to pay a cleaning lady for her work on Shabbat as part of her pay for the entire week. It also allows a hotel owner to rent out rooms on Shabbat, as the payment includes his cleaning, laundry and other peripheral costs which accrue during the week.

Furthermore, the authorities have allowed the vending machines as long as they are not distinguishably Jewish-owned. The same would apply to owning an Internet business; as long as it’s not clearly a Jewish-owned business, the final concern of “mar’it ayin” would not be a concern at all.

In summary, your site can remain operative during Shabbat, even if you utilize a “buy now” option.

Much success in your business!

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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Posted on 09 December 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I read with interest your recent “Ask the Rabbi” column [Nov. 25] responding to a questioner who referenced Rabbi Adam Raskin’s letter commenting on the subject of artificial insemination, which expressed a viewpoint different than that of yours. Dallas is fortunate to have many capable rabbis who can provide a variety of Jewish viewpoints on difficult issues with thoughtfulness, cogency and erudition.

I am writing to take issue with some language in your letter that I personally believe is loaded in a way designed to lend a degree of certitude to one viewpoint (in this case, the viewpoint described as Orthodox) that I don’t believe history or logic supports. At the end of his letter, you purport to convey the “timeless, unchanging and profound instructions” given by the Torah. Throughout my own personal journey to understand differing views within Judaism, I often heard the Orthodox viewpoint attempt to support its positions by invoking the notions of timelessness and constancy (“unchanging-ness”). Yet at the same time, I encountered many instances of just such changes within Orthodox thought, typically to accommodate exigencies of the times. Some of the more notable examples are the creation of the “hetter iska,” providing a work-around to the very clear prohibitions against lending money to fellow Jews while charging interest, and “hetter mechira,” the sale of Israeli farmland to a non-Jew in order to avoid the prohibition of working the land in Israel during the Shmittah year. In both cases, the practical problems facing Jews constrained to observe these prohibitions (against lending — and hence borrowing — with interest, or farming for an entire year) led to rabbinic loopholes to get around the problems. If these are not changes from prior law, and not only not timeless, but in fact brought about by the times themselves, I don’t know what is.

My issue is not with these particular laws and their revisions, but with the dubiousness of the claim by any stream of Judaism that their view is “timeless,” “unchanging,” “the same as it ever was” or any other such incantation that suggests that one viewpoint —Orthodoxy — is immune to the forces of change. In fact, I believe that change affects all religions, including Orthodox Judaism (I recently saw that the pope may be modifying the traditional Catholic view on condom use to avoid the spread of HIV, so it appears the phenomenon might be a universal one). My first-year contracts professor in law school referred to the Supreme Court’s invocation of stare decisis (the legal principle that later courts are beholden to prior decisions simply because they are indeed prior) as a form of mystification whereby courts could entrench society in the status quo by invoking the mantra that this is how it has always been done/decided. He pointed out how courts conveniently ignored stare decisis when they wanted the law to change, but invoked it when they did not.

There may be (and usually are) many reasons why invoking prior practice and decision is the proper, sensible and indeed the best resolution of even new, hard questions that arise. I am not advocating that change or turning traditional decisions upside-down is a good thing in all cases (or perhaps ever, though I doubt the latter). My issue is with the claim — which I simply believe cannot be substantiated, and frankly ought not to even be made in good faith by intellectually honest advocates — that a particular stream of Judaism’s laws and practices never changes, and that this resistance to change makes that viewpoint the “right” (or authentic) one.

I think it is essential that people who genuinely want to understand Jewish thought, law and history, examine critically any claim that one point of view is authoritative because it never changes and is the same today as it has been since Sinai. Once one gets past that (invalid) claim, I think the debate, whatever the subject, can then be examined on its merits. I also happen to believe that our religion will be stronger as a result, though I fully appreciate that many would argue exactly the contrary (i.e., once the religion admits change is possible, there may be no end to such change, with the religion becoming unrecognizable). The problem with the latter argument, however, it seems to me, is that the religion does change, and has changed. So, if the price of retaining tradition is to claim falsely that it is unchanging, I’d rather take my chances with a more forthright presentation of the process of halachah, tradition and change. I don’t believe that mystification, as my professor called it, is the right way to maintain those traditional practices.

Richard R.

Dear Richard,

Wow! That’s some question!

This is not, however, a new question, and has been raised by many for decades concerning myriad “changes” found in Jewish law which have been instituted in Talmudic times and after. You might rephrase the question this way: Maimonides, the classic Jewish scholar and philosopher, codified the 13 principles of core Jewish belief. One of those 13 is that the Torah is timeless and unchanging. Yet the same Maimonides, in his Code of Jewish Law (Sefer HaYad), codifies many of the type of “changes” you are referring to. Either he was not being intellectually honest, as you hint in your question, or we need to take a better look both at those changes and the meaning of Maimonides’ principle of a non-changing Torah.

Firstly, we need to distinguish between the actual concepts of the Torah (usually given in the form of a mitzvah), and the practical fulfillment of those concepts. Maimonides never claimed, and would never claim, that the practical fulfillment of the Torah is unchanging. Nothing would be further from the truth. The Talmud is filled with rabbinical enactments; some are stringencies and others are leniencies, in the way a particular mitzvah is observed. In that way the Torah is a living, breathing document.

What Maimonides’ precept means is that no mitzvah will ever change at its core. No situation or new moral standard will arise where we will say that the times dictate that, empirically, a mitzvah is no longer applicable. (This is unless, for technical reasons, it is impossible to fulfill a particular mitzvah: For example, the numerous laws of animal offerings cannot be fulfilled without the Temple in Jerusalem, which we simply don’t have. Laws that depend upon the land of Israel do not apply outside of Israel. For this reason, only 270 out of the 613 mitzvot actually apply to us in the Diaspora, lacking the technical ability to fulfill those other mitzvot. We await the time that we will, again, return to their fulfillment.)

As you pointed out, generational issues will engage the rabbis in the practical fulfillment of mitzvot. Take, for example, the famous ban of Rabbenu Gershom (10th century) forbidding men to marry more than one wife, despite the Torah’s allowance to marry many wives. Rabbenu Gershom never claimed to be “changing” the Torah’s allowance (in fact, he only issued his ban for 1,000 years; later authorities have upheld it). He, rather, established that the Jewish people are no longer on a level that marriage could succeed with multiple wives, and issued a rabbinic decree. The core concept has not changed and never will; the allowance will return if and when, such as in messianic times, they return to a higher level.

This applies to the hetter iska allowance of lending with usury by exercising an internal principle in the Torah where two investors can share in the profit of the investment. Again, the core prohibition of lending money with interest has not changed and is still fully on the books, unless this allowance is properly utilized. A dearth of sorely needed lending led the rabbis to rely upon this internal Torah concept of investment, affecting the application of the mitzvah, not its essence. The very sale itself shows a cognizance of the applicability of the mitzvah and its need to be reckoned with.

You will find this true with every example you may find in rabbinic literature. It applies to the sale of land in Israel as well, according to those authorities who accept that sale. They do not discount the Sabbatical year, only an application of it exercising an internal Torah principle that land owned by non-Jews is not affected by Shmittah.

This is in stark contrast to the application of the “change principle” used by Reform and, at times, Conservative Judaism. In those streams you will find a departure from what we have described. For example, the new norms of society could lead some strains to completely uproot or redefine a mitzvah to make it jive with those new morals. This is not a question of application, but of the core principle being compromised due to external principles.

Consequently, only in traditional or Orthodox Judaism can one discuss the “timeless nature of the Torah.” I see nothing “mystifying” about this: The very essence of Torah, which is, in a sense, “G-d’s Mind,” is as timeless as the G-d who revealed it. This is the meaning of Maimonides’ precept, in which he states clearly that this is an axiom of Judaism.

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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Posted on 02 December 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi,

What is the basis for honoring a person’s life on the anniversary of their death? Acknowledging the birthday seems like a nicer way to go.

Elise G.

Dear Elise,

Excellent question, especially given that Judaism is very much a religion that celebrates life and the here-and-now, and is not fixated on the next world as are most other religions (although we strongly believe that all we do in this world is leading to another, elevated and transcendental world).

The answer to your question is to be understood on multiple levels; we’ll focus on a couple of them today.

The Talmud describes the custom of celebrating a birth using the image of a ship. How odd, it relates, that people hold a big party when the ship is about to sail, yet when it arrives at its destination, nothing is done! It really should be the other way around. Although the day of our birth holds all the potential for the life that will be, the day we die is the marker of who we actually became. Our worth is measured according to how much of our potential was realized. Did we live up to who we were to the best of our ability in the time that we had?

When our loved ones die and go back to God, to their “home port,” we mourn not having them here with us, yet we remember what they accomplished in this life. The yahrzeit’s annual commemoration is a time to feel sadness but also to celebrate who a loved one was, their accomplishments and the life that he or she lived. (See “Remember My Soul,” K’hal Publications, p. 142.)

On a deeper level, I heard from my mentor, a Kabbalistic sage in Jerusalem, that death is a transition from one type of existence to another. In the Mishnah and Talmud the same word, “kever,” is used to mean both “womb” and “grave.” This seems very strange. This teaches us that just as the womb is the portal from a limited level of existence to another plane of much greater potential, so too, the grave is a portal from our limited physical existence to a spiritual existence that is not bounded by time, space or matter.

Put more simply, every “death” in one world is also a “birth” in another, transcendent world. It is quite shocking to imagine, as the deceased’s family and loved ones are crying and lamenting his or her loss from the world they have just left, at the same moment a great rejoicing is taking place in the other world that they have just been “born” into, with those in that world sharing in the joy of that birth. The deceased is now with them to share his or her unique experiences of life and to reap the rewards and eat the fruits of their many efforts in the world they left behind.

This idea, that death precedes another type of life, is clearly alluded to in the verse in Deuteronomy: “See now that I, I am He — and no god is with Me. I put to death, and I bring life…” (32:39). Note that in the above verse G-d first brings about death, followed by new life.

The verses in the Torah describing death indicate the continued existence of the soul beyond this world. It also implies that the soul is somehow reunited with one’s ancestors. “And Abraham expired and died at a good old age … and he was gathered to his people” (Gen. 25:8). “He lay down with his fathers” (ibid 47:30). “He was gathered to his people” (numerous verses). (See “Gateways to Judaism,” Shaar Press, pp. 61–62.)

With this understanding you can see how both sides of your question are correct: We are marking our loved one’s birthday and death day at the same time!

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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Posted on 24 November 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I am confused regarding your position concerning artificial insemination. In your column of Nov. 4 in this paper you discussed the question of embryo donation and its relation to sperm donation, implying that artificial insemination would be permitted for the husband and wife themselves. In the letters to the editor, however, Rabbi Adam Raskin seemed to take issue with your complete rejection of artificial insemination. Perhaps I misunderstood your comments; could you please clarify?

Mitch W., M.D.

Dear Dr. Mitch,

Although the letter you refer to seems to take issue with my supposed stance on artificial insemination at large, I believe it was only addressing the specific issue of donor insemination where I mentioned the opinion of many authorities that this would be a type of adultery by the spirit of the law.

Concerning the larger issue of artificial insemination as an infertility treatment as is commonly performed with couples that cannot conceive naturally, I, of course, wholly support that. It is one of the modern miracles of medicine which grants the precious gift of parenthood to couples that would have, just a generation ago, remained barren.

The biggest concern with that treatment, especially in Israel, is the practice of some doctors to mix a “booster” into the father’s sperm when his own sperm is weak. This “booster,” in fact, is simply other healthy sperm from the sperm bank, which is what usually will actually impregnate the mother. An organization has been created as a type of “vaad hakashrut” to control oversight of this and other applicable infertility treatments, such as IV fertilization. When this concern is accounted for, and when the semen is properly procured according to halachah, this procedure is a tremendous blessing.

That which Rabbi Raskin claims, that to use a donor is not adulterous because there is no physical contact and it is by consent, shows that he must not have seen the many halachic proofs cited by a number of contemporary sages that the impregnation of a married woman by the semen of another man has an adulterous aspect to it, although I also mentioned that it is not technically adultery because of the lack of contact. An act which is adulterous in nature is not excusable in Jewish law even by consent of both spouses.

Although Rabbi Raskin cites the conclusion of Conservative Judaism that the surrogate mother is considered the mother for all questions of the child’s Jewish stature, the traditional Jewish sources are inconclusive on this issue. Hence, the opinion of the leading halachic sages of this generation is that this issue remains unresolved, necessitating a conversion out of doubt if a surrogate situation is presented.

Rabbi Raskin maintains that Jewish tradition supports a couple who chooses to go this route. There is certainly no “Jewish tradition” to support that opinion. His quote of “adding a Jewish soul is considered as having created an entire world” (the correct actual wording is “saving” a Jewish soul) does not support the dubious creation of a doubtful Jewish soul. Finally, his allusion to my insensitivity to the plight of a couple in this situation contradicts my mention of the couple’s tremendous pain and difficulty, citing my own prior situation enabling me to empathize with them.

Obviously, no family should make a life decision of this magnitude based on a newspaper column; they need to work it through with their rabbi, who can account for the human side of the equation as well. Our purpose here is to bring forth the issues as they are, to understand the timeless, unchanging and profound instructions as given in the “manufacturer’s instruction manual” better known as the Torah.

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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Posted on 18 November 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

In Genesis 21:9 the Lord said for Abraham to look at the stars: “See if you can count them. As many stars as there are up in the heavens, so many will be the children of your family.” The Lord also promised that Ishmael will have many children and God will make of him a great nation. In conclusion God promised that both Isaac and Ishmael will be the fathers of great nations. My question is that today there are 12 million Jews who came from Isaac and over 1 billion Muslims that came from Ishmael! What happened? If Isaac inherited the covenant, why is there such a huge difference in the numbers of descendants today? Why are there so many more Muslims than Jews?

Joel B.
Dear Joel,

Your question as to the very small size of the Jewish people was raised by the great Spanish Jewish philosopher R’ Yehudah Halevi in his epic work “Kuzari” (1140 CE). There the king of the Kazar nation discounts the Jews as not being worth talking with, due to their downtrodden status and smallness of number.

I don’t think you are asking to explain the sociological reasons the Jews are so small; those reasons abound: persecution and murder of the Jews, assimilation, etc. I understand you are asking why G-d would allow those reasons to persist if He truly wanted the Jews to be “as the stars of the sky.”

Truthfully, the Torah itself elucidates this strange fact of history. “Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did G-d desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest of all the peoples. Rather, because of G-d’s love for you and because He observes the oath that He swore to your forefathers did He take you out with a strong hand…” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). We see that G-d Himself considers us “the fewest of all the peoples.” Why is this so? How does this fit with “like the stars”?

The commentators explain with the example of the fruit of a tree. The purpose for which the farmer grows the tree is its fruit, but the fruit is very small compared to the roots, trunk, branches, leaves and peel, all which exist for the part the farmer loves most: the succulent fruit.

The Jewish people — who are to be a “light among the nations,” the ambassadors of G-d’s teachings at Sinai where He revealed the purpose of creation — are like the fruit of the largest tree of the world. They are also compared to the heart, which, although relatively small, pumps the lifeblood throughout the entire body.

The Jews are built upon quality, not quantity. As Mark Twain noticed, “…the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race … the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of … extravagantly out of proportion to his bulk. His contributions to … literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers….” (Harper’s magazine, September 1899). The contributions of the Jews to the world, their positive impact, are “as numerous as the stars,” like a nation of hundreds of millions. The more than 1 billion Muslims don’t even begin to have a small percentage of the Nobel prizes won by those few, measly Jews!

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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Posted on 28 October 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I have a question about Cain and Abel. If God knows everything, which we believe He does, then He knew that Cain would kill his brother. But He let it happen. I know this question has so many examples. I’m aware of the “free will” aspect that we humans have. So then, because we have free will and G-d knows everything, He lets these things happen for reasons that we humans cannot understand. Is this correct or…?

Zamira R.

Dear Zamira,

You are correct that G-d, who is all-knowing, allows us to exercise our free will even to carry out actions which are contrary to His desire. This is despite His knowing that these actions will transpire even before they are committed.

Free will is a necessary component in the makeup of a being which was created “in the image of G-d.” Just as G-d has the ability to do whatever He wants, unconstrained by anything to limit His choice, so too must man have such freedom of choice if he is meant to be in that image.

There is, however, a major difference. Man is, at times, only given the appearance of free choice in situations where the outcome of what he chooses goes contrary to G-d’s master plan. For example, consider an attempted murder of an innocent person. At times the attempt is successful, sometimes not. What does it depend on, if G-d would allow the gun to fire or cause it to misfire?

King David prayed that he should be punished only by G-d for his misdeeds, not by mortal man. What is the difference? The distinction is in the way the punishment is meted out. Let’s say a person has accumulated enough negatives in his account to merit the dropping of a 50-pound boulder on his head. It can be dropped in two ways: either an entire boulder dropped at one time or numerous pebbles over a long period of time. It’s the same 50 pounds — he’s getting all that’s coming to him. But the first way, exacted with strict judgment, will mean his immediate end. The second way, paid out with kindness, may be painful but can be endured. King David was praying that whatever might be coming to him should come only through G-d, who would deliver the payload with kindness in a way that he could tolerate.

If a man chooses to go after his victim, G-d might allow that man to succeed in his attempt to kill him, as his free choice will not be limited, and, after all, the victim has the whole boulder in his account. If a gun is fired at him, G-d wouldn’t cause it to misfire if all the person is doing is, unknowingly, drawing on the victim’s account and meting out the judgment in an unkind way, different than the way G-d would have paid it out if He had delivered it over time.

In the situation where the gun is caused to misfire, the attempted murderer still gets the negative points for his choice and effort to commit the murder. This addresses a larger question: Does G-d’s knowledge of the future limit our free choice? The answer is, it does not; we are not judged by the outcome of our actions, rather the choice and the struggle to do or not do the right and wrong things. Only our choices of what to attempt to do and not do are in our hands, not the end results of those choices.

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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Posted on 21 October 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

Here’s a question to follow up on the most recent of your always interesting columns: In Judaism, which do you consider the more accurate or normative belief — that (1) all humans have the same soul, reflecting how we are all created in the divine image and that all of humanity started with one person, or that (2) Jews have a soul that is of a qualitatively higher level than non-Jews ?

Kol tuv,

Larry L., Ph.D.

Dear Larry,

Hope things are well in El Paso!

Let’s start by saying that no two human beings, Jewish or not, have the “same soul.” Just as no two people have the same face, features or personality, also no two individuals have the same soul. This does not contradict the fact that all human beings descend from the first man any more than you would expect all human beings to display Adam’s face! The Mishnah asks why G-d created only one man and woman and all of mankind should descend from them; why not just directly create many human beings and populate the world immediately? The answer is to teach the uniqueness of each human being; just as the entire world emanated from one person, every individual is also considered like an entire, unique world. Being created from Adam is not to lose individuality, but rather to acquire it at the highest level.

As we mentioned, the same way that our face, hands and feet are uniquely different than those of any others, so too are our souls. This is because each body and soul is exclusively crafted to be a perfect match. Every soul has a different purpose which it was sent to this world to accomplish. A soul can achieve nothing in the physical world on its own; it must have a corporeal partner so that the two unified partners, body and soul, can carry out their distinct role. If the bodies are different, it must be that the souls are different, both reflecting in a hidden, mystical way their ultimate purpose on the stage of history.

If this is true concerning individuals, it surely follows concerning nations. Each professional football team has something unique about it which sets it apart from the other teams. Every player is part of his team and at the same time an individual. Different nations throughout history have their distinct role, and the citizens of that country are recognizable as such: One can tell a Frenchman from an Englishman by their language, mannerisms and attitudes, and often by their philosophies of life. This was true of Rome, Greece and others. The individuals of these nations would function both as part of their respective nations and as unique persons. Their souls were endowed to them in line with their individual purposes and the purpose of their nations.

This is certainly true concerning the Jewish people. We were charged to serve as a “light among the nations” illuminating the world to the higher purpose of creation. To do so we had to receive the Torah at Sinai. You need a larger-capacity light bulb to receive and spread all the energy necessary to light up a baseball field than the small bulb used as a night light in the hallway. Similarly, we needed to be endowed with an expanded soul which would be capable of receiving all the vast spiritual energy contained in the Torah as it was transmitted to us at Sinai. Our unique purpose mandated a unique, enlarged soul. This was not just for the generation of Sinai, as our charge to continue carrying the bright torch of Torah continues throughout the generations. This is our essence and our mission!

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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Posted on 14 October 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

This year as my New Year’s resolution I decided to dedicate time to Torah study. Now that I’m back to my daily routine — the car pools, cooking, homework, cleaning and everything else — the reality of why I’ve never attended classes is setting in. I just don’t have the time or energy to leave the house and attend classes at night, so what do I do with my resolution? My husband feels the same way with his crazy work schedule. The years are going by and the little we learned in Sunday school is getting further into the distant past!

Jody W.

Dear Jody,

That was a great resolution, so I’ll tell you a secret how to fulfill it: The answer is, five minutes!

One of the greatest Torah sages of all time was Rabbi Israel of Salant (died 1883). He was once approached by his students who asked him his secret of attaining such vast knowledge and clarity. He answered them, “I did it in five minutes!” The students laughed, assuming he was joking with them. He responded that he was not joking at all; what he meant to say was that he never said “it’s only five minutes.” Five minutes here and five minutes there add up to a phenomenal amount of time, but those are the times that are most often wasted. It’s precisely those short spurts of time that allow us to achieve greatness when we utilize them properly.

There was a renowned Talmudic academy in Europe, the Kelm Yeshiva, which produced many of the leaders of the pre-war generation. In this yeshiva, besides the usual lengthy study periods, on Friday afternoons the students were required to halt their Shabbat preparations and learn in the study hall from 2:30 to 2:35 — for five minutes! No one could start early or stay late; they had to be there for precisely five minutes, to bring home the lesson of the value of five minutes. The venerable sage Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, who was martyred by the Nazis, delivered a discourse in that very yeshiva during the Holocaust on his last Rosh Hashanah. He requested a certain book, which took about five minutes to get down from a high shelf with a ladder. Observing this, the rabbi changed the subject of his talk and spoke about the importance and preciousness of each minute. Every moment of our lives is a gift from the Al-mighty and we should never waste any of those gifts. His talk, given while the flames of the great inferno were engulfing all of Europe, made an immense impact on the students, impressing on them that the preciousness of each moment is what’s important to talk about at such a time!

And guess what? You’re in luck! One of our dedicated students at DATA, a busy mother going through the same struggles you are, has piloted a new program just for people like you. It’s called “5 a Day” and it’s designed so that anyone who spends five minutes a day, reading five verses a day, from the Book of Genesis will finish the book in 10 months. “5 a Day” is a free program and even though it is set up for people to do at home on their own time, there will be guidance along the way. If you sign up you will receive a monthly calendar to help you keep track of which verses to read; you will also receive weekly e-mails to help you understand what you’re reading as well as to give further insights and answers to the questions submitted by participants. Monthly or bi-monthly discussion groups will be available as well. It’s great for men and women; kids can join as well so it can be a family project. So far nearly 100 people have signed up! To join “5 a Day,” or for more info, contact Staci, stacikimmel@hotmail.com. Good luck and much success!

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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Posted on 07 October 2010 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,

According to the Book of Genesis, God gave man a soul. “And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7). My wife and I have been trying to define the term “soul.” She says that a person can have a soul and not be religious. I say that a soul is connected to God and the person must be religious. Please help us out.

Joel B.

Dear Joel,

Sorry, your wife wins this one! Every human being was endowed with a soul; it is the very fiber of his or her existence as a human being. The soul is what separates between mankind and the animal kingdom. The definition of death is the soul leaving the body; the soul gives the body its life in every human being, religious or not.

What you are correct about is that not everyone is “in touch” with their souls. We often find people whom are so caught up in the trappings of the physical world and have become so secular that they have no connection to their souls. That doesn’t mean the soul is not in such a person; there are just many layers of “stuff” between the soul and that person’s consciousness. We could say there’s a short-circuit between the soul and the heart.

At times, not commonly, it is possible for a person to perform sins which are so severe that the Torah pronounces, as the outcome of such acts, that the person receives kareiss or a cutting off of their soul. Yet it is still possible for that person to perform tshuvah, repentance, and even such a misdeed will be forgiven and the soul reconnected.

You might ask: If the soul was, for a time, “severed” or cut off, how is it possible to return?

The answer is based on a profound Kabbalistic understanding of the soul and its connection to our bodies. The Kabbalah calls our bodies a “shoe” (na’al). Consider a shoe; the body is in it and supported by it. The only part of the body in it, however, is the lowest part, the heel. The heel in the shoe represents a body towering far beyond the shoe and the heel within it. The same applies to our bodies and our souls. The soul also has a lower part, and many higher and more elevated components until the Jewish soul reaches, at its zenith, the very Divine Throne of G-d itself. The soul transcends all the upper, spiritual worlds to reach its apex.

Our souls were given to us pure and pristine. Every morning upon rising from sleep we recite the blessing “G-d, the neshamah (soul) which you endowed within me is pure….” We can soil our souls through our sins and misdeeds, at times heaping piles of grime and filth upon them. Even so, we only are dirtying the part of the soul within the “shoe,” the lowest part connected to our bodies. The higher parts of our souls remain pristine and pure. This gives us what to aspire to, to rise to and to return to. It continues to grant us life even when the part of our soul that we recognize seems to be extinguished.

The study of Torah and the observance of mitzvot connect us to our souls. The number of mitzvot, 613, comprises 365 negative and 248 positive commandments, each one corresponding to a different part of our body. Our souls are also made to correspond and bring life to those same body parts. The part of the soul which matches a body part is brought in sync with its match when that part of the body is sanctified by performing its life-giving mitzvah. May we merit to be connected with our souls!

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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