Category: Ask the Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi

Question:  Why is it customary to eat dairy foods on Shavuot?

Answer:    According to a legend, dairy foods were eaten on Shavuot, the day that the Torah was revealed on Mount Sinai.  When the Israelites returned to their homes after the Torah was revealed, they had little time required to prepare a neat meal.  So hurriedly that put together a dairy meal, and that’s when the tradition began.  A major food dairy food item that is served on Shavuot are blintzes.  Two blintzes are served because they symbolize the two tablets of the Ten Commandments.  The blintzes are made with cheese filling fulfilling the words in the Song of Songs “honey and milk under your lips” (Song of Songs 4:11).  Milk is used to make the cheese filling and honey is sweet and pleasant to the taste.  So too the cheese and the honey are the sweet and pleasant words of the Torah.

JSF

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Ask the Rabbi

Question: Can a non-Jew be buried in a Jewish cemetery?

Answer: In earlier times there were no Jewish cemeteries.  The Torah mentions the first Jewish burial site which was purchased by Abraham from a man named Ephron (Genesis 23).  He purchased the plot of land in an area called Machpela, near Hebreon in Roder to bury his wife Sarah.  The plot was not a Jewish cemetery, but a private parcel of land.  Lather the rabbis of the Talmud stated that a person should be buried “in his own property” (Baba Batra 112a).  However, they did not clarify that the site must be totally separated from the burial place of a non-Jew.

Much later it became the custom of the Jews to bury the deceased in a Jewish cemetery.  However since this was not a biblical law, but rabbinical law, Jewish burial services varied in different communities.

Often the question arose regarding the burial of intermarried couples.  Could a non-Jewish spouse be buried in the same plot as the Jewish spouse?  The orthodox community does not permit a non-Jew to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.  However the ultra-orthodox rabbi Moshe Feinstein did permit a non-Jewish woman to be buried near her Jewish husband (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah II:131).  This set a precedent in Jewish law.  The couple was married by an orthodox rabbi and led a halachally Jewish life.  They raised three children who were observant.

When the woman died, she was prepared for burial by the Chevra Kadisha, the burial society in accordance with strict orthodox law.  However, before the funeral was to take place, a rumor spread that she was not Jewish, that she was born of a non-Jewish mother and neither of them converted.

The question came before rabbi Feinstein.  Her husband insisted that she be buried in the family plot next to him.  Rabbi Feinstein ruled that she may be buried in the family plot provided and that there be a space between her grave and that of the next grave.

It is my opinion that a non-Jew be permitted to be buried next to his or her Jewish spouse if the non-Jew was involved with the Jewish community and supported Jewish ritual, observances, and traditions, and that the plot be surrounded by shrubbery or a railing.

JSF

GOOD VS WICKED

WHY DO THE GOOD SUFFER AND THE WICKED PROSPER?

This question has disturbed sages and scholars for centuries.  There are varying responses.

One is that God who created all things, also created good and evil.  The purpose was that God gave then humans free will…the ability to choose between doing good and doing evil.  In the book of

Deuteronomy. God says, “Behold, I set before you the blessing and the curse, the good and the bad, life and death.”  In other words, the choice of how one lives is up to the individual.  If one chooses good, then there is a blessing and a meaningful life.  If one chooses to do bad, then the consequence is to be cursed and an-earth like existence.  However, God being a compassionate and caring God, like a good Father, suggests, “Choose life,” meaning to choose to live a blessed and meaningful life.   In the book of Deuteronomy there are many teachings which say, “If you listen to My commandments, then I (God) will be with you, and if you do not obey Me, then bad things will happen.”

But the reality is that  good people do suffer and evil people seem to prosper.  So there is an anomaly between what the Bible teaches and what happens in life.

The early sages justified this variance by stating that the righteous who suffer in this world will enjoy life eternal not suffer punishment in the hereafter, while the souls of the wicked will suffer punishment or have their souls blotted out.

The book of Job deals with this question.  It tells the story of Job who is a righteous man and is put to the test – to see if he would still retain his faith God were bad things to happen to him.  His friends suggest that his suffering is due to his sinning.  Job insists that he is innocent.  While the book of Job indicates that that at that time punishment was the price for sinning, the book also indicates that  human suffering is not due to one’s  sinning.  The book of Job also teaches that even in the face of suffering, one must keep faith in God.

The Zohar which is the text for the Kabbalist movement does not address the question of the good suffering and the wicked prospering in a clear way.  It does teach that the righteous who study Torah and live by its teachings will be rewarded while those nwho reject the Torah and the laws will be punished.

As I see the various teachings on the subject, I conclude that Judaism today is reminding us that we are responsible for the consequences of our actions.  My view is that God purposely created an imperfect world ands made human beings also imperfect.  The reason was that we humans should not be robots,  but that we, created in God’s image, are partners with God in the acts of creation and have the duty to make this a better world as well as to make us better human beings.  I do not believe that God punishes us for every little shortcoming.  We punish ourselves.

This leads me to my views about the Holocaust.   I do not blame God for allowing the holocaust.  The holocaust was the fault of humans who were inhuman.  If God stepped in every time that  there was a war or a crime, then we would never learn to pursue the path of righteousness.  We would always rely on God.  When we pray to bring peace to the world,  we are actually praying that God inspire us to work for peace.

I hope that this information will help you.  If you have time, get on line with the heading “Judaism’s View on why the good suffer and the wicked prosper .”

 

JSF