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    The commandment of Sha’atnez – K’doshim

    April 20th, 2014

    clothesThe combination of wool and linen in a garment is called Sha’atnez and is prohibited by the Torah (Lev. 19:19, Deut. 22:11).

    Though tradition regards this as a statute, a Divine ordinance which is a test of human obedience, Nachmanides points out that it comes in a context of the intermixing of various species, seeds and animals, and may indicate that the Creator has established boundaries between categories within the created world and man must respect the structure ordained from above.

    In a sense one might link this concept to the modern problem of climate change. Early in B’reshit God says by implication that day must be day and night must be night; that summer must be summer and winter must be winter. In human society there are also boundaries; we all have our own distinctive marks of identity and we should not blur or erase them or try to be what we are not.

    The Tower of Babel is an object lesson: one humanity speaking one language is a noble idea, but God ordains that nations shall be separate and languages shall be different.

    Some will argue that this flies in the face of endeavours to unite humanity; the Torah answer is not to reject unity but to argue for unity within diversity. We do not have to be the clones of each other; we have to be ourselves and love and respect the other, differences and all.


    Tell him off – but not always – K’doshim

    April 20th, 2014

    If someone is doing the wrong thing, you have to rebuke him (Lev.19:17). It is like the duty you have to save a person from danger. If you can see that they are stepping into obvious risk, you cannot stand idly by.

    The same applies to a person who is breaking a law of the Torah: if you refrain from speaking out, you have a share in the responsibility for the risk they are taking with their eternal life. It is not only their wellbeing which you are protecting, but your own. If you ignore actual or possible evil around you, you show yourself as a hard-hearted, irresponsible citizen.

    What about a situation in which no-one is going to take any notice of your warning or rebuke? For the sake of your own conscience you cannot remain unmoved, but you might make a laughing stock of yourself. Hence the sages say, “Just as it is a duty to say that which will be heeded, so it is a duty not to say that which will not be heeded” (Talmud Yevamot 65b).


    Holiness & helpfulness – K’doshim

    April 20th, 2014

    helping handAsk what the Torah’s definition is of holiness in the 19th chapter of Vayikra and you will find that being holy is being helpful.

    That chapter doesn’t contain too much about prayers or piety, tabernacles or temples, sacrifices or Scriptures, meditations or mystical raptures, but a great deal about the ordinary dimensions of daily living – how to relate to one another, how to build a family and community, how to handle the people who live in your street, how to speak with the shopkeepers and street-sweepers, how to plan the working week.

    Chief Rabbi JH Hertz on that 19th chapter writes: “Holiness is not so much an abstract or a mystic idea, as a regulative principle in the everyday lives of men and women.

    “The words, ‘You shall be holy’, are the keynote of the whole chapter, and must be read in connection with its various precepts; reverence for parents, consideration for the needy, prompt wages for reasonable hours, honorable dealing, no tale-bearing or malice, love of one’s neighbor and cordiality to the alien, equal justice to rich and poor, just measures and balances – together with abhorrence of everything unclean, irrational, or heathen.

    “Holiness is attained not by flight from the world, nor by monk-like renunciation of human relationships of family or station, but by the spirit in which we fulfil the obligations of life in its simplest and commonest details: in this way – by doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God – is everyday life transfigured.”

    This is the sense in which Jerusalem is a holy city. Go shopping in Jerusalem, and the checkout clerk will tell you there’s a special on this week and you don’t need to spend so much. When you tell a taxi driver your destination, he’ll tell you it’s better to take a different route.

    When you sit opposite an English speaker in the bus, you may end up inviting them home for a meal. When you drop coins in a mendicant’s collecting tin, they’ll wish you a good year. When you encounter an ex-Russian engineer singing in the street to make a living, you not only put some coins in their violin case or collecting tin but you sing along with them. When anyone is in trouble in Jerusalem, everyone wants to help.

    Jerusalemites may not have British manners, but they regard everyone else as family.


    Air travel & divine protection – Ask the Rabbi

    April 20th, 2014

    Q. Can Jews learn anything from the tragedy of the missing Malaysian Airlines plane?

    malaysia airlines flightA. The search for the missing aircraft raises countless problems including some halachic issues. The Hallel psalms tell us clearly, “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord: the earth He has given to human beings” (Psalm 115:16), which seems to regard human movement through the skies as defying God and encroaching on His territory like the builders of Babel (Gen. 11). But even in Biblical times a different view prevailed; Psalm 139:8 speaks about ascending to the skies.

    Today the motivation of air travel is not theological effrontery but using a quick way to get from point to point. Not only does this assist human beings in enriching their lives but it gives them more opportunities to perform mitzvot.

    Air travel was far from practicable in ancient days; Maimonides already points out in the 12th century, “the theoretical sciences were deficient in those days” (Moreh N’vuchim 3:14). It was far from safe, and there were and are clear halachic rulings against placing oneself in a risky situation. Now, despite the Malaysian Airlines occurrence, air travel has become one of the safest means of transport, and sophisticated technology enhances its reliability and safety.

    For Jews, travelling by air adds to one’s spirituality: it helps us to understand and appreciate the grandeur of the Divine Creation and to recognise the wisdom of the Psalmist, who said, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:2). It also reminds us to acknowledge the need for Divine protection: the Psalmist says of the skies, “Even there does Your hand guide me” (Psalm 139:8-10).


    Yom HaSho’ah on 27 Nisan – Ask the Rabbi

    April 20th, 2014

    Q. Why is Yom HaSho’ah on 27 Nisan?

    A. The date was chosen by the Israeli Knesset for reasons that are unclear. To many people, other dates seem preferable, e.g. 10 Tevet, a fast day marking the destruction of the Temple; or – the more obvious choice – Tishah B’Av, the major day of commemoration.

    The choice of 27 Nisan may be to mark the end of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, though the uprising continued for at least another week, or because a date before Yom Atzma’ut denotes the relationship of the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel.

    The date in Nisan creates halachic problems for observant Jews who do not say Tachanun (supplicatory prayers) during that month.