Ask The Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi - 271

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Ask the Rabbi

11 March 2000; Issue #271

You Is A Jew


Wayne Smith in Rocky Mount, NC wrote

Dear Rabbi,

I am a non-Jew who teaches a college course called "An Introduction to Religion." Last week one of my students told me privately that she felt that the word "Jew" as used by me was unacceptable. Although she is not Jewish, she was apparently told this by a Jewish friend. She feels that using the word "Jew" in any context is tantamount to being racist, and that "Jewish" should always be used instead.

My use of the word is always in a neutral, identifying and instructional sense, never derogatory. What is your opinion? Is the word "Jew" ever acceptable? Do Jews prefer to be called Jewish rather than Jew? Would it be politically correct for me to avoid the use of the word Jew?

Dear Wayne Smith,

I personally feel that the word Jew is a compliment. It refers to someone from the Chosen People, the People of Israel. I am proud to be called a Jew.

One of the earliest uses of the word "Jew" is in the Book of Esther in which the hero is referred to as "Moredechai Hayehudi," Mordechai the Jew. (Book of Esther 10:3)

That said, however, it is indeed a fact that in English usage and literature, "Jew" is a "vituperative" insult. This is according the Oxford English Dictionary, considered the foremost authority of the English Language.

Lately, this reference has been omitted from many progressive dictionaries, leaving one to wonder what effect this will have in the face of a thousand years of English usage.

In light of the "tongue-lashing" the word Jew has suffered over the centuries, perhaps your student is right.

Mask Ask


<Name@Withheld> wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I wanted to "Ask the Rabbi" what are the sources for wearing masks and dressing up on Purim. Thank you for your assistance.

Dear <Name@Withheld>,

The earliest source I've found mentioning the custom to dress up on Purim is the responsa of Mahari Mintz (late 15th century). He discusses the issue of whether men may wear women's clothing as a costume, and vice versa. Obviously, the custom to wear costumes was well established by that time.

Among other things, masks on Purim symbolize the fact that the whole Purim incident was wrapped in "the hidden nature of G-d's countenance." The Purim events all happened in a seemingly natural manner. G-d's name isn't even mentioned in the Book of Esther! The very word "Esther" means "hidden," and it appears in the Torah in the Hebrew phrase "I will hide My Face." (Deuteronomy 31:18)

Esther's Age


Amber in Kamloops, BC wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

How old might Esther have been when she married Xerxes (Achashverosh)? Thanks!

Dear Amber,

There are three opinions: According to Rav she was forty years old, according to Shmuel eighty years old and according to the Sages she was seventy five years old.

  • Bereishet Rabba 39:13

Will Purim Make Him Poor?


From: Y. B.

Dear Rabbi,

I am asking my work for a day off on Purim. If I take the day off with pay (as one of the vacation days to which I'm entitled) I won't hurt my stance with the company to get promoted. But if I take the day off without pay, it could hinder my promotion. I'm paid hourly, meaning that I would be paid for the actual hours of Purim day. Am I allowed to take the day off, and be paid for those hours, or must I take the day off without pay?

Dear Y. B.,

You can take the day and the pay. The prohibition to work on Purim is in order that a person should not divert himself from the festive atmosphere of the day, but there is no prohibition to profit financially in any other manner. It is worth noting that if a person enjoys his business and that causes him joy, strictly speaking there is no prohibition (but it is preferable to refrain nonetheless). Also, a person is ill-advised to act in a manner that causes him to suffer a financial loss since that also detracts from his festive spirit.

Yiddle Riddle


Last week we asked:

One day, Sam decided to go into real estate. His first, ill-fated, attempt at acquisition was a very small plot of land, only one meter square, in the middle of Jerusalem's Highway One. Sam, never one for bureaucratic details, by-passed all red tape and permit-application and simply set about with his plans to build right in the middle of the busy road. Because of these actions, Sam eventually found himself brought before a beit din (Torah Court).

It may come as a surprise to you, but the court found that, in regard to the case at hand, Sam was considered the owner of the plot of land. How can this be?


Sam set about with his plans to build by digging a hole. Someone fell in the hole, broke his leg, and brought Sam before a beit din charging Sam for damages.

Sam argued that, although he dug the hole, he did not own it, and the Torah states: "When a person digs a pit�the owner of the pit shall pay." (Shemot 21:33-4) Thus, argued Sam, a person is obligated only for a pit which he owns; for example, if he digs a pit on his own property next to public property. But for a pit which he digs on public property, said Sam, he is exempt, for he is not the owner and the damage is indirect.

The court, however, ruled according to the Talmud's explanation of the verse (Bava Kama 29b), which is that one who digs a pit on public property is considered its owner when it comes to paying for damages.

Riddle Submitted by Kol Simcha English Radio 102.8 FM Jerusalem


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


Ohr Inspired:

On a recent visit to Eretz Yisrael, I had the privilege to spend Shabbat just outside the Old City, close enough to easily walk to the Kotel to daven every day. If I had ever been at the Kotel for Shabbat, it was 22 years ago. I was fortunate enough this time to find myself near the Ohr Somayach minyan, and it was an experience I shall never forget. It was the most beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat I had ever participated in, ever. Thank you to your yeshiva for providing me with this opportunity.

Adam Heyman

Re: Doctor Do Little (Ask the Rabbi #269):

It was wonderful to read your answer that prayer is the "first resort" and not the last resort. As the French physician Ambroise Pare said, "I treated him, G-d cured him. Rashi's midrashic explanation is prescient: He compares G-d to a physician who tells his patient not to eat foods that will make him sick. Recent medical research has confirmed the importance of eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong foods as a powerful preventive.

Jay Lavine, M.D.

I love it! I would like to share your recent article about doctors with an email distribution list for people involved with cancer patients. Your answer is an excellent explanation of how G-d works thru doctors and other people.

Joyce Miller

Ear Site:

Your site,, is wonderful. Thanks a lot for providing a source of inspiration in my life. I've been listening to Rabbi Tatz's audio lectures. They're awesome. Thanks.


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