Question: Are men allowed to grow their hair long for locks of love?
Answer: Some Rabbinic authorities maintain that long hair for a man poses an issue of “chatsitsa” or separation between the scalp and teffillin (phylactaries) that are worn during the morning services. Others are concerned with the prohibition of Lo Silbash (cross-dressing). Still other rabbis raise the possibility this may be considered custom of other faiths. In spite of all this, it is difficult to say it’s forbidden as we find in the Torah the concept of being a Nazirite which includes growing one’s hair. Some of the greatest Jewish leaders were Nazirites, such as Samuel and Sampson.
None the less, it seems the Sages discouraged men from growing their hair long even for a constructive purpose. The Talmud (Sotah 10b) states that Absalom’s long hair caused him to rebel against his father, King David. Rabbi Zadok of Lublin points out that even though he did so because he was a holy Nazirite, it still caused him to sin. Fittingly, his demise was caused by his hair getting caught in a tree.
Rabbi Shlomo Soroka
Question: The Commentary of Rashi when talking about Sotah (unfaithful wife, Numbers 5:11) says that a woman who goes through the process and didn’t actually do anything wrong, will get a blessing for an easy childbirth. The second part of Rashi says that if a woman normally had black children, she will now merit to have white children. Any insight to understand this?
Answer: It doesn’t quite say that. It states, “If she is used to having darker skinned babies, she will not have fairer skinned ones.” One possible explanation is that they viewed lighter skinned children as more handsome. A lighter complexion (My Fair Lady) was considered to be more appealing in those days. Another possibility is that Rashi in the Talmud states that it is healthy for a man to have intimacy with his wife during the pregnancy so that the baby comes out, “Meluban umezuraz.” Which translates to white and enthusiastic. Now enthusiastic makes sense because a males sperm contains petosin which helps bring on labor quickly, but white was perhaps a sign of a healthy baby – or it may have just been cosmetic. Not sure.
All the Best,
Rabbi Meir Goldberg
Question: If we have the Jewish law all laid out for us in contemporary books, then why do we find it necessary to study talmud? Isn’t it an early form of Jewish law ?
Answer: That is a very reasonable question, but – we certainly do not have the law all laid out for us! Halacha (Jewish law) is a complex continuing process. There are many different opinions by many different experts, and they are in turn based on weighing various different opinions from the past. When a new question arises, or a situation that has a variation, it has to be done again to bring things up to date.
And all of this is entirely based on the Talmud. The basic rules and understanding are always derived from there, and the later discussions are always an attempt to apply those principles to new situations.
Why the Talmud? Till a couple of thousand years ago, we had a Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court. When a question would arise, it would eventually get referred to them, and they would either have a tradition on the answer, or would work it out from the Torah. What they said was final (Deuteronomy 17(8-13)).
Since then, we had no Sanhedrin, but we did have the Babylonian Torah academies. They were accepted as the main authority by all of Israel. When their deliberations were compiled into the Talmud, that too was accepted; it is our last contact with the authority of a Sanhedrin.
Anyone who wants to be a posek, an expert on deciding questions of Jewish law, must first be an expert in the details of the entire Talmud.
Question: I have a hard time believing that Orthodox Judaism as it is practiced today is exactly what Hashem (G-d) wants. He hasn’t revealed Himself to us since the days of biblical Judaism, and although I know that the rabbis were given the go-ahead to make rules as they see fit, I wonder how far we actually are from the essence of true Judaism as Hashem intended it. Maybe my issue lies in having shaky faith in the divine origin of the Oral Law (Torah She’Baal Peh). In any case, are there any books/articles that address this issue? Thanks!
Answer: I’ve very recently put together a web site that hopes to address questions of this sort from people just like you. Please take a look at my Project Emunah and let me know if you’ve got any problems or additions. On the subject of the authenticity of Oral Torah, see this page.
In the meantime, let me offer a few thoughts on this specific issue. I will first acknowledge that not everything we do today is necessarily a direct expression of Torah Judaism (either the written or the oral parts). Not only that, but there is quite a list of laws from the Talmud and codes that are simply ignored in our generations. The Maharitz Chiyus ( a 19th Century Torah authority) compiled an eye-opening list of them along with possible explanations why contemporary rabbinical leaders chose to avoid fighting openly for their observance. Having said that, I believe that the core of Torah practice is very much intact and that the intensity of Torah study through the ages has not only enabled continued loyalty to God’s Torah, but actually permits us to clearly verify it. It’s simply a matter of studying all Shas (Talmud) and Shulchan Aruch (The Code of Jewish Law) diligently for twenty years and overlaying modern observance onto the pure template that you will have mastered. Just in case you haven’t got twenty years free, next best might be spending some quality time with Rabbi S.R. Hirsch – especially with his Chumash and the Nineteen Letters (see especially Hirsch’s introduction to Genesis).
Now, I was exaggerating a bit above. It is possible, in less than twenty years, to take a particular law or custom and trace it back through the layers of authorities and see for ourselves how it connects to Torah sources (Hirsch and Malbim in particular do a good job in their commentaries to Chumash, The Five Books of Moses). I do this quite a lot in my own learning and that’s where my confidence comes from.
Perhaps I’ll try to address it a bit more fully on my site. In any case, I hope this has been useful and I invite you to let me know if I can help.
With my best wishes – and the expectation that your intelligent questions will lead to intelligent and satisfying answers (and, probably, more questions),
Rabbi Boruch Clinton
Question:Why should one be nice? When one is nice they can miss out on stuff. When I was playing ball and I saw a kid at the side so I was nice and invited her in the game. Then what happened is she got me out! Now I have mixed feelings ever inviting her again or anyone else on the sidelines because I just lost out on my fun. Thanks so much.
Answer: Perhaps your question is actually far bigger than just “why be nice?” Perhaps we could rephrase it: “why choose one particular option above any other?” Or, in other words, how do we make decisions in a way that both reflects intelligence and produces that greatest value?
You are of course correct that being nice carries the risk of pain and loss, but it also brings benefits. For instance, if you are nice to the people around you when they need it, you might well get some of that back when you’re the one asking for help. I’m sure that you also feel good after having done some act of kindness. Most significantly, by being kind, we are performing the commandment (Mitzva) to emulate our Creator Who is Himself kind (see Devarim 13:5) – and such a Mitzva has all kinds of benefits, including the opportunity to refine our character, bringing us closer to our highest goals in life.
Still, just because something is a Mitzva and can change us in a positive way doesn’t mean that it is always automatically the best thing to do. Sometimes doing kindness for one person can harm another or even oneself (if, for instance, someone gives up necessary sleep or the things he himself might desperately need). So how do we choose? Ideally, moral choices should be the result of conscious deliberation. This is often called a cost-benefit analysis. One might write down on a piece of paper all the reasons why a particular act should not be done. He could then create a second column on the paper to list all the benefits of doing it. Sometimes simply reading through the list is enough to clarify the right choice. Other times, one might have to carefully weigh costs against benefits (working hard to anticipate all the possible consequences of each choice).
But either way, thinking things through in advance will certainly lead to a more informed choice and make it easier to know when a bit of self sacrifice is worthwhile.
With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton
Question: My mother secretly smokes, but I discovered it. Am I allowed to throw out her cigarettes behind her back, or is it disrespectful? I want to protect her, and cigarettes are very dangerous.
Answer: Thank you for your question. I’m so sorry to hear that you have been put in the difficult position of protecting your mother from self-inflicted harm! This must be very difficult for you.
There is no question that one must do everything possible from preventing someone from harming themselves, even to steal from them. For example, if you know that someone has a gun and intends to shoot themselves (or others, of course!) it is a Mitzvah (commandment) to steal the gun from them to prevent them from doing so. However, if someone intends to do something which is risky, but won’t necessarily result in harm, it is not allowed. So if your mother plans on going sky diving, and you think it’s too dangerous for her, you would not allowed to steal her car to prevent her from going.
The question is how dangerous and risky smoking is for her. This really depends on how often she is smoking, is she in ill health, and a number of other factors. The best thing would be to approach her about it, or have an adult whom she respects approach her about it, and see if she is receptive to the idea of quitting. If not, you then need to make a decision based on common sense whether her habit is in the “inflicting harm” category, or “high risk” category, and act accordingly.
Take care, and much success!
Rabbi Aaron Tendler
Question: My questions are: “Is the article below suppose to relate to now-modern times? Or is it just the biblical background on adultery? And most importantly to me as a woman, why isn’t there anything mentioned about adultery as it pertains to a married man committing it? Women are not the only sex that commits adultery; it seems to be a grossly one sided article, and it there is no reference as to how this ‘halacha’ pertains to present day, then to me it is just history.”
So what I would like to see or know is what is the halacha view on adultery for the present day as all the ‘sacrifice’ stuff really doesn’t apply today, and what is the present day view of a man committing adultery?
Adultery – Sotah
If a woman is deliberately unfaithful to her husband she becomes forbidden to him and he must divorce her, as it says “Her first husband… cannot take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled”[1,a]; and she is also forbidden to marry the man with whom she was unfaithful. If a man tells his wife before witnesses that she must not be alone with someone and she disobeys, she also becomes forbidden to both of them. When the Temple exists she can (if they wish) return to her husband by performing the ceremony of drinking the “bitter waters”, as it says “If a man’s wife strays… he shall bring his wife to the priest and bring her sacrifice with her, a tenth of an ephah of barley flour; he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense on it… and [the priest] shall make the woman drink the bitter water…”[2,b]. It is a man’s duty to be particular about the habits of the members of his household and to warn them against sin, as it says “And you shall know that your tent is at peace and you shall examine your habitation and not sin”[3,c].
1. Deut. 24:4
2. Num. 5:12-31
3. Job 5:24 a. Geirushin 11:14; Ishus 24:17
b. 1:1-2; 2:1,12; Ishus 24:24
I’ve been asked to respond your question. You wrote:
Is the article below suppose to relate to now-modern times?
Well, practically speaking, there is no modern correlation to the process of testing a sotah because there is currently no Temple. Of course, the moral lessons taught by this particular mitzva (law) are universal and the primary underlying lesson – that God is aware of what happens in the human world and that He can and does interfere at will – will not be lost on mature and sensitive readers.
why isn’t there anything mentioned about adultery as it pertains to a married man committing it?
As a matter of fact there is. The Talmud (Sotah 27b) writes: “Just as the waters test the woman, they also test her partner (i.e., the man with whom she sinned).” Which clearly indicates that, assuming they had actually sinned together, both partners will die miraculous deaths.
and what is the present day view of a man committing adultery?
There is a subtle (and legally meaningless) difference between the adultery of some men and that of all women. Since Torah law allows a man to marry more than one wife – even if Ashkenazic Jews rejected polygamy 1,000 years ago and Sephardic more recently – while a woman may have only one husband, a married man engaging in a casual relationship with an unmarried woman is not liable for the death penalty (even when such penalties would have been imposed). However there is no instance in which partners in a forbidden relationship would be treated differently from each other (or at least no instance that comes to mind). What follows, therefore, is that both partners in an adulterous relationship involving a married woman have committed a capital offense. Both partners of an adulterous relationship in which the woman is not married have committed a serious (non-capital) crime, and, assuming they are both consenting participants, are considered equally perverse and reprehensible.
I hope this helps.
With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton
Question: I am having difficulty understanding the concept of G-d giving the Jews challenges so that he can reward us when we overcome them. Specifically, if Jews are generally the recipients of these commandments and rewards, why do non-Jews have the same challenges? What is the purpose for them?
An example is the “Yetzer Ha-rah” (our internal inclinatin towards evil) that tries to sway Jews to do sexual action forbidden by the Torah. Non-Jews get the same temptations yet no reward or punishment. Why do they have a “Yetzer Ha-rah”? If they do not have one, what is the difference between the Jew’s desires and the non-Jew’s?
Answer: Interesting questions. Here’s how I would address them:
I would first slightly rephrase your words. The purpose of the commandments is to “perfect” the Jews (rather than “reward” them) – see Braishis Rabba 44:1. Reward will come in its good time, but it isn’t the purpose. The challenge of living up to the Torah’s standards is meant to imbue in us the attitudes and instinct God wants for us.
Now we might rephrase your question. Why do Jews need these commandments more than non-Jews?
Perhaps we actually don’t…maybe they need it just as much as us. But perhaps God somehow provided non-Jews with the opportunities for inspiration to achieve perfection in different ways (through the Seven Mitzvos?). Or perhaps, not having adopted the Torah voluntarily, they don’t have any “easy,” well-marked path in this area.
I can’t know for sure, but I suspect that my first possibility is more likely.I hope this helps.
With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton
Question: I don’t see how G-d is the Only One in existence—I know that I exist (“I think, therefore I am”) and I know that other people, etc. exist. However, I can accept that there’s only one all-encompassing Creator who’s eternal and can do anything imaginable (except for destroying Himself or creating another god like Himself) . . . I call this one and only god Hashem. Is this heretical?
Answer: Your point is a very good one. It is very hard to understand how God is the Only One in the universe, given that we see everything else in the universe which appears to have an existence of its own.
It is clear that we believe that God is indeed the Only One in the universe. How this can be is, at least now, beyond our comprehension. So you are in good company for being confused or unclear how this can be.
Rather, our Sages teach us, that only in the future time, after the Messiah has arrived, and a new world order, so to speak, emerges, will it become clear to us the reality of God as the Only One. It is as if we wear translucent glasses in this world, and so we can see the world, but not clearly. In the future world, those glasses will be replaced with transparent glasses, and the picture will be crystal clear. Of course, the analogy only goes so far, since we dont realize we are wearing foggy glasses—everything appears clear to us.
So, one might say, that there is a certain element of faith required to accept that God is the Only One.
Rabbi Yoel Spotts