Ask The Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi - 272

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Ask the Rabbi

25 March 2000; Issue #272

Coping with the Pope


Karen from Miami, FL wrote

Dear Rabbi,

With the Pope visiting Israel and all the fanfare, it brings to mind a question I've often pondered: Why did Hashem allow Christianity to become such a major religion?

Dear Karen,

Jewish ideas such as "brotherhood of humanity," "love your neighbor," and "age of peace" are taken for granted today by much of mankind. But when Judaism first introduced these ideas to the world, they were revolutionary.

These Jewish concepts have been spread largely by Christianity (and by Islam). Christianity came to a world in which people were slaughtering to Zeus, Apollo, and a host of other idols, and taught some basic ideas of Judaism, albeit in a distorted form.

The great 11th century scholar Maimonides writes: "Even J... of Nazareth, who thought he was mashiach (messiah), was the subject of a prophecy in the Book of Daniel: "Also the renegades of your people will exalt themselves to fulfil the vision, but will stumble." Is there a greater stumbling block than this? For all the prophets spoke of the mashiach who will redeem and save Israel, who will ingather all its exiles, and who will strengthen them in the observance of the Torah's commands, while he caused Israel to be killed by the sword, their remnant to be dispersed and humiliated, the Torah to be swapped for something else, and most of the world to worship a god other than the G-d of Israel!

"All these activities," continues Maimonides, "are all for the purpose of paving the way for the true king mashiach, to prepare the whole world to worship G-d together, as it is written: 'For then I will convert the nations to a pure language, that they may all call in the name of G-d and serve Him together.' "

"By then," continues Maimonides, "the world will already be filled with the idea of mashiach, Torah, and commandments, even in far-flung islands and in closed-minded nations, where they engage in discussions on the Torah's commandments...When the true king mashiach arrives...all people will immediately realize that they had been taught lies by their forefathers, and that their ancestors and prophets had misled them."

  • Maimonides: Hilchot Melachim 11,4 [Frankel Edition]
  • Book of Daniel 11, 14

More Smoking


<Name@Withheld> in Boston University, Boston MA wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I receive your "Ask the Rabbi" and I truly enjoy it. Though I don't have that many questions, it is always interesting to see others' questions, and the answers. I truly learn a lot from this weekly email.

Recently, there was a question about smoking, and that many rabbis have taken the step to forbid it. I think that this is good, but the part that I don't understand is where certain rabbis have said that one should not smoke, but if one finds it difficult to not smoke, one should at least not do so around others. This makes no sense to me. If one's rabbi has said something is forbidden, then it should not be done. By saying that it is OK if you find it difficult to avoid makes no sense. What if someone finds it difficult to avoid smoking on Shabbat. It is then okay?

Dear <Name@Withheld>

There's a subtle difference between smoking during the week and smoking on Shabbat: All rabbis unanimously rule that smoking on Shabbat is forbidden. It's an explicit verse in the Torah, "Don't kindle fire on the day of Shabbat." (Shemot 35:3).

A prohibition against smoking, however, is not as clear cut, and not all Rabbis subscribe to it, at least not yet.

Furthermore, the rabbis who signed the ban are aware of the current reality, which is that significant numbers might ignore such a ban, and will justify themselves in doing so (see "Public Domain - Re: Down in Smoke" below).

Since this bears on the health of others, the rabbis urged those who will ignore the ban at least to refrain from smoking around others.

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


Re: Down in Smoke: (Ask the Rabbi #270):

Regarding the recent rabbinic ban on smoking: Why stop at a ban on smoking? Why not have our rabbis put a ban on becoming fat? Medicine has documented the health risks of increased weight (New England Journal of Medicine, Oct '99).

Air fresheners need a rabbinic ban (Arch Environ Health, Nov '97). How about a ban on living in coastal areas? Hurricanes can kill. Should Jews leave Florida? Earthquakes -- a ban on living in California! Let's make salami, hot dogs, pastrami, and corned beef illegal, as nitrates cause cancer. How about a ban on living in areas where radon is found?

Our rabbis know the limits of science and they choose not to make hasty proclamations. They also know that the risks of smoking vary with the number of cigarettes smoked. Shouldn't one be allowed to choose to smoke a little, just as one chooses to have an occasional salami sandwich?

Plony Almoni, MD

Re: You is a Jew (Ask the Rabbi #271):

Regarding your advice to the instructor who asks whether using the word "Jew" is racist or impolite. I disagree with the mentality that says that because it had a pejorative connotation over the centuries, maybe it shouldn't be used. This is absurd and a ghetto mentality, a "lets not make trouble" idea. I hope you were kidding.

Norman Abramowitz

I read "Ask the Rabbi" to learn about Judaism. Your answers are witty, entertaining, and filled with insight.

I was a bit surprised at your answer to "You is a Jew." I have heard ignorant people use "Jew" as an insult. But that is all the more reason to use the word Jew in a factual and positive light. Don't those wrong forces win when it is considered bad to call someone a Jew?

Steve Hoffman, Virginia

Re: Throwing in the Tallit (Ask the Rabbi #267; Ask the Rabbi #269):

Thank you very much for this publication. As a Jew away from home, you've been my unique link to Judaism.

Concerning your recent article about chuppahs (wedding canopies), I wanted to share with you the custom of the Sepharadic Jewish community in Turkey. Here, we don't have chuppahs, we use a tallith (prayer shawl). Parents standing beside the young couple hold the corners of the tallith. I'm not fluent in Judeo-espanol but I don't think we have a word for chuppah here. Instead we say, "to throw the tallith" (echar talled), a well-describing term for this action, since the newer generation is taller than their parents!

By the way, I once saw a photo taken in the mid 50's in Israel. A young couple standing in the middle of four comrades-in-arms holding their rifles upright, and the chuppah is made of an Israeli flag!

Henri Ciprut, Istanbul Turkey

[Is that what's called a shotgun wedding? :-) ]

Re: Mask Ask (Ask the Rabbi #271):

Regarding the reason for masks on Purim, I heard a wonderful answer: There is a special command to give charity on Purim. If people go around in masks, the receiver won't know who he's receiving from, and won't feel embarassed.

Zvi from Kew Gardens, NY

Re: Esther's Age (Ask the Rabbi 271):

Regarding Esther's age of 80 mentioned in a recent "Ask the Rabbi," the Maharal of Prague (Ohr Chadash p. 115) brings proof that this refers to her wisdom and maturity, not her biological age.

Mordechai Cohen, Toronto, Ontario

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