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Ask the Rabbi - 304

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February 17, 2001 / 24 Shevat 5761; Issue #304

Dedicated in loving memory of our mother and grandmother
Miriam Roseman bas Yisrael z"l -- 28 Shevat 5759

Thou Shalt Have No Other What?


Daniel Serfer from Vermont wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I go to school in Vermont where there are not many Jews and I was never "bar mitzvah-ed," however after law school I intend to be Orthodox. Right now I have a question for you: In the Ten Commandments, at least in my English version, G-d says "You shall have no other gods before Me." Does that mean that other gods exist?

Dear Daniel Serfer,

This is sort of a mistake in translation. The Hebrew word elohim most often refers to G-d, but it is actually a descriptive word meaning "one of power" or "force." Thus, it can also mean an angel (Genesis 32:29) or a powerful leader (Exodus 7:1).

Other forces seem to exist -- wind, fire, radioactivity, electromagnetism, chi, yang, etc. -- so the Torah tells us that they have no independent power. G-d is all powerful and all other forces are merely G-d's "agents" and they should not be deified.

The great commentator Rashi explains that the proper translation is not "other gods" but rather "gods of others." That is, anything that others believe in as a god, we should not.

So, you can believe the sun exists, but don't worship it.

Why Pigs Are Worse


Jenny Stosser from Melbourne, Australia wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I wanted to pass on an anecdote from a few years ago: My kids attend a local Jewish kindergarten. One day I walked into the littlest kids' room and saw that the kids were learning about farm animals. Someone had taken a piece of blank paper and pasted over the picture of the pig; however all other animals in the display were quite visible.

I was quite angry over this, because I do not believe in hiding my children in a corner of the world and pretending that non-kosher animals don't exist. I spoke to the teachers and said that I would only accept their covering up the pig if they also covered up the picture of the horse and the sheep-dog too, as they are equally unkosher. The next day I came in to find the picture of the pig uncovered. I was quite relieved!

Dear Jenny Stosser,

You're right that the other animals are equally unkosher. There are even things "more" unkosher than the pig, such as insects (chocolate covered ants, anyone?).

On the other hand, the pig is seen as the most "insidious" of the unkosher animals, as it is the only animal known which has a true split hoof like a kosher animal, but does not chew its cud. In this, our Sages saw it as the "worst" of the unkosher, as it "puts on an outer show" of being kosher (split hooves), yet on the inside (chewing its cud, which is a function of digestion) it is "treif!" Thus, it symbolizes falsehood, the antithesis of Judaism.

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



Thank you ever so much! Yours is the first cogent answer I've found in my research. I never expected such a prompt reply, nor such a settling one. I can stop pacing the floor over this now, and continue my writing.

Gale Boyd

Re: A DAY AT THE RACES (Ask the Rabbi #299):

On your recent exposition about the origin of different races, I have the following comment: The Talmud's view sounds more like Lamark than Darwin -- i.e., the theory of adaptation to the environment rather than the theory of survival of the fittest. They are both theories, not substantiated by controlled, reproducible experiments -- and hence subject to error and doubt. Just like the "Big Bang" theory of Creation -- a theory concerning which, when I challenged it, a famous mathematical physicist admitted to me privately: "Vell, it's grown-up games." (He was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who was so high up at the University of Heidelberg that nobody there was high enough to countersign and witness his forced resignation papers, so it had to be countersigned and witnessed by Hitler himself.)

David I. Caplan11, Ph.D.

Written by various Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow
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