Ask The Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi - 262

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Ask the Rabbi

8 January 2000; Issue #262



Mission Control

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Andrew Merrill wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

One of my work colleagues asked me yesterday why Jews do not missionize, and Christians do. To me it just seems obvious that we would not, but it is difficult to explain this intrinsic notion to him. Could you help me out?


Dear Andrew Merrill,

Jews do not missionize among non-Jews. There are two reasons for this. First of all, we believe that when a non-Jew keeps the seven Noachide laws, he merits a portion in the World-to-Come, and therefore there is no imperative for him to become Jewish. If, like many Christians and Moslems, we believed that those of other religions are condemned to damnation, then we would also desire to convert people. However, we believe that a person can be completely righteous and merit the World-to-Come without conversion, by adhering to the basic moral laws revealed to Noach. Therefore we feel no compulsion to convert others, unless they show a true desire to convert.

Secondly, since sincerity is one of the criteria for conversion, we can determine that the candidate is sincere by discouraging him from converting. If he persists and does so for the love of Judaism, we accept him with open arms.


Kosher Costs

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Name@Withheld from the UK wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

How does a Jew like myself feed my disabled daughter kosher food on such a low income? The place where they sell kosher food is usually one place in a community. This is true here where I live in the UK. All kosher food is always extensively more expensive then non-kosher food. I therefore will suffer in eternal afterlife as the greed of the people who sell kosher meat know quite well that we can only get kosher meat at their place, so they charge extra, as do their wholesalers, and the Rabbis whom charge for doubling the price of sugar at Pesach (Passover) just to say a blessing.


Dear Name@Withheld,

The price of kosher products can be frustrating, and your anger is understandable. And if one is indeed in great financial difficulty, G-d takes that into account in judging the person. A low-income, however, is not a reason to eat non-kosher food. Perhaps a reader willing to offer you some concrete help or advice could contact us via e-mail: info@ohr.edu.

The economic reality is such that in order to produce kosher food, greater care, supervision and manpower is required, as well as different and sometimes more expensive ingredients and processes.

Here's one example: Gelatin is made from non-kosher animal bones - very available, and very cheap. Kosher food substitutes "agar-agar," a seaweed extract that is not as common and therefore more expensive. In addition, a supervisor must be paid to make sure no unkosher ingredients are "snuck" in.

Another factor is the small size of the kosher market relative to the greater market. Producing in bulk brings down costs, so unkosher products can sometimes be produced for less.

Kosher meat has its own special requirements, from the specially trained slaughterer to the inspection for treifot (lesions, etc.) These inspections are stricter than government standards, and animals that don't pass inspection cause a monetary loss. A special process is required for the removal of many parts, as well as salting to remove the blood. All these processes require salaried manpower.

Regarding Passover, the Rabbi does not bless the sugar. What actually happens is that a Rabbi or a supervisor oversees the production to ensure that no leavened products come in contact with the sugar. Or the machines at the sugar plant (which may also be used to process other substances not kosher for Passover) may need to be cleaned. Again, such supervision requires paying someone a salary to do it.

Furthermore, since Passover is only once a year, many Passover supervision jobs are short term, for only a few weeks or months, and require long hours. As such, few people want such jobs, so owners must offer higher salaries.

There are many foods that are kosher on the general market that can be bought at any supermarket and are not more expensive than regular products. For a complete list, I suggest that you contact the London Beth Din for their "Really Kosher Food Guide," which should be available in any Jewish bookstore.


Leftover Turkey

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Zev Schwartz wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

In a follow up to your Thanksgiving question, one of your readers praised America as "A country where Jews can live free from daily fear of persecution. A country where the constitution protects us with freedom of speech, press and religion. The safest country, except for Israel, for Jews to reside in….Without this country most of us would not be alive today."

What if the United States of America was an evil empire by Jewish standards? What if the USA was comparable to Rome in the days of our forefathers? What if American foreign policy would cause the destruction of Israel, or the metamorphosis of Israel from a Jewish State into a Democratic Multiethnic Entity? What if American culture caused the loss of more than 51% of America's Jews every generation? Would it then be permissible for Jews to lavish such praise on a country that does us such devastating harm just because it lets us worship our religion, and make a few bucks?


Dear Zev Schwartz,

Comparing the United States to ancient Rome seems a bit of a stretch of the imagination. Rome was an extremely evil empire who tortured our Rabbis to death, murdered, plundered, destroyed our country and our Temple and sent us into the exile we are still in till today.

Regarding assimilation, is the United States to blame? While it is true that many sectors of the Jewish population are sadly assimilating in America, others are thriving. For example, Torah institutions, Yeshivot, Jewish day schools and centers for outreach and Torah study have burgeoned in the US over the last 50 years. So blaming the US for those who assimilate is simply an attempt to shift the burden of guilt.

But to answer your question: Yes, you are allowed to praise even an evil country for its good acts. As an extreme example, Rabbi Yehuda B'rabbi Ilai in the Talmud praised the Romans for all their beneficial deeds, such as building roads, bridges, sanitation facilities, and markets, even though ancient Rome was an extremely evil empire.

Sources:

  • Talmud Tractate Shabbat 33b


Yiddle Riddle

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Name@Withheld.com

Someone just asked me this riddle. Question: In Hebrew, if you subtract 30 from 30 you get 60. How is this?

Answer next week….


The Public Domain
Comments, quibbles, and reactions concerning previous "Ask-the-Rabbi" features.

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Re: Words from the Heart (Ask the Rabbi #260):

Thank you. Your response to "words from the heart," specifically your anecdote about the Chafetz Chaim, answered a related question: In Parashas Vayigash, Yehuda "spoke into Joseph's ear" - but why? In the previous Parasha we are told that the brothers did not know that Joseph understood Lashon Hakodesh (Hebrew) because an interpreter was present? Therefore, Yehuda must have taken this opportunity to speak "words from the heart" that would enter Joseph's heart no matter what the language, just as the Polish official understood the Chafetz Chaim as he pleaded from his heart on behalf of Poland's Jews.

(Howard Kravitz, Skokie, IL, USA)

Rabbi Berel Wein relates the following story heard from his father-in-law, Rav Lazar Levine of Detroit: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan - the "Chafetz Chaim" - attended the convention of the Va'ad Hayeshivot in Warsaw in the early 1930's. When asked to address the crowd of 5,000 people, he declined. Already in his 90's, the Chafetz Chaim claimed that his voice was too weak to be heard past the first few rows of the vast assemblage. "We'll set up a 'turgeman' - a person to stand beside you and loudly relay your words to the people," they said in an effort to convince him.

"For words from the heart," said the Chaftetz Chaim, "There can be no turgeman."

(An Ohrnet reader)



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