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Ask the Rabbi #37

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Ask the Rabbi

October 8, 1994; Issue #37

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  • The meaning of "HaMakom"
  • Going to Mormon "Family History Libraries™"
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  • The meaning of "HaMakom"

    Jasper Faber from Holland wrote:

    Although I am not a religious Jew, I like to study Jewish religious literature as a hobby. So I happened to be reading in the Talmud lately, when I noticed that G-d was referred to as HaMakom (Mishna Avot 11,14 for example), I found it very strange that He who is not limited in any way, is called something - a place - which is nothing but limits. When we ask: "Where is the place of the chair?", we are asking for that limited space the chair occupies.

    Thank you,

    Dear Jasper,

    Whenever G-d is referred to in physical terms it is meant as a metaphor. It is axiomatic that G-d is not physical and has no physical properties. We, however, are physical and can only understand things from a physical frame of reference. Hence the use of the physical as a helpful metaphor for the understanding of a quality of G-d.

    What is the metaphor of HaMakom ("The Place")? If you think about the meaning of a "place" you'll agree that it is more than just a geographical location, it's a space which is capable of containing something else. When used in reference to G-d what it means is that everything is contained within G-d (conceptually), while He is not contained in anything. As our Sages say: "He [G-d] doesn't have a place, rather He is The Place of the Universe."


    • Maimonides - Commentary on the Mishna, Tractate Sanhedrin, ch.10, principle 3.
    • Me'orei Ha'esh, on Tana d'vei Eliyahu, 1:8.

    Going to Mormon "Family History Libraries™"

    Benjamin Horowitz of Australia writes:

    Is it permissible to go to the Mormon reading rooms in order to research my Jewish family roots?

    Dear Benjamin,

    A few introductory words about the issue. The Mormons have the largest collection of genealogical data that exists. It is stored in a structure that is built into a mountain in Salt Lake City, Utah, and contains information on over two billion people. This material is also made available via reading rooms located in cities around the world. The motivation for gathering this material is that if they have the name of the person, and the place and date of his death, they can baptize him via proxy. This means that they will have someone stand in for the deceased and go through a baptism in his name. The deceased is then given an opportunity to convert in Heaven (according to their belief.)

    Therefore, is it forbidden to approach the Mormons for the purpose of benefiting from something that is a vehicle for conversion to their faith?

    I asked Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita, and he said that it is irrelevant whether or not the genealogical material is technically a forbidden idolatrous substance. What is relevant is the fact that the Mormons use this material for conversion - a purpose akin to idolatrous practices. Therefore, one must not go to the "Family History Library™" in Salt Lake City, Utah, or to one of their numerous reading rooms.

    In Rav Scheinberg's words: "Stay away! Stay away!"

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