Question: To the best of your understanding, what is the Jewish perspective on the fate of an animal upon death? Are they considered to have a soul? Does a dog, who gave unconditional love and had been a loyal and brave companion, just disappear?
Answer: Animals are considered to have a nefesh, the lowest level of a soul. This is distinct from humans who have much more developed souls. Although animals can be loving, brave and loyal, we do not see them as having free will, but rather as acting instinctively. As such, they do not have the ability to earn merit and greater holiness for themselves as would a person who has the ability to use his or her free will in choosing right from wrong, good from evil.
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber
Question: I was reading in class about Jeremiah and it says that he was always really sad. What was his burden? What was wrong?
Answer: Jeremiah, of all the prophets, was the one who had to witness the actual destruction of the Temple and the Jewish kingdom. For centuries, prophets had been warning of the calamity that would occur if Israel continued to turn away from G-d. But Jeremiah was the one on the job when it happened. As he says in Lamentations (3(1)): “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.”
Question: Generally speaking , What kind of vow cannot be annulled?
Answer: In Judaism, if a Jew makes a vow not understanding something about the vow he was making, AND, if he did understand he would never have made that vow, then, in general, it would be possible for such a vow to be annulled. That is the simple question to a not-so-simple subject.
Regards, Eliahu Levenson
Question: The Torah is filled with stories of the early Jews making war on the various locals as they enter the “promised land”, and killing every man, woman, and child in a given village. In some cases they even killed the animals. In one case Moses himself saw his men returning with some local women and children, and ran out and ordered them killed on the spot, lest they create “impurities” in the Jewish camp. In another case he ordered all locals killed, except young women who “have known no man”. These his men could keep.
How can we reconcile this mass murder ordered by Moses with his status among Jews as a prophet and holy person?? He appears to be a murderer on a grand scale. How can the Torah be filled with murder, rape, adultry, idol worship, conquest, etc., from front to back, and still be considered the “Divine Word of God”. Many of my Christian friends have the same questions, and never get a useful answer from priest or pastor. I believe in the one God, may his name be blessed, but I do have a problem with all this murder, rape, etc. in the Torah.
Answer: First of all, I am unaware of any reference in the Torah to any act of rape, adultery or idol worship that was sanctioned or encouraged by either Moses or the Torah itself. So that leaves killing and conquest. These references do exist and can easily and understandably cause discomfort.
Now, if someone were to consider the Torah to be a fraud which only claimed to be the word of God (see Deut. 31:24), but was really created by human beings, then these brutal acts are indefensible. Which moral human being could possibly order such acts? However, we believe that the Torah is actually a true record of God’s communication with Moses. Based on that assumption, Moses never ordered any violence nor did he initiate any conquest. Everything was God’s will (see Deut. 7:1).
What is morality? You might like to read my essay on subjectivity here, which discusses the inherent difficulties that exist in establishing absolute principles of good and evil from a secular perspective. Without God input, any values we adopt are always subject to debate and change. 500 years ago there weren’t many who questioned the moral right of the Spanish to virtually eradicate native populations in the Americas. Today, standards have changed. Tomorrow they’ll change again…and no one can say in which direction.
Jews (and others) who believe in a personal God who created this world and is its true master, will consider His definition of justice to be absolute. Even if we can’t understand it, if God wills that one nation should conquer another then it isn’t just His right, it is intrinsically moral.
I hope this is helpful.
With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton
Question: The death penalty does not fit under the commandment “You shall not murder.” I have understood that murder and killing are two different words in Hebrew, with the word “murder” being used in instances such as Cain and Abel, and when G-d is stating the punishments for such a crime. However, when G-d destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, for example, the word “kill” is used, not “murder”. If you could please explain the difference between the two, from the perspective of how the text differentiates, I would greatly appreciate it.
Answer: As in English there are two different words: “retzichah” for murder, and “harigah” for killing.
It is obvious that not all killing is murder, for the Bible itself imposes the death penalty for certain crimes! Jewish Law also says that if one sees person A about to murder person B, one is allowed to save B with lethal force—if necessary.
The modern death penalty is a complex issue, since the requirements are very different than those of Biblical law. Actually the Talmud says that a court that ordered the death penalty every seven years was called “murderous”—and one opinion says not seven, but seventy! I wouldn’t say the Bible comes down clearly on one side or the other, but in principle supports the concept that a death penalty is a valid deterrent.
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber
Question: Torah has valued human life above all and under every circumstances we should try to save human as it is said to save one human being is like to save entire entire mankind. On the other hand, the laws of war of Deuteronomy says that when we go to war with faraway nations we are to give people chance to surrender and if they won’t we are to kill all the men in it. So how can we justify killing all the men just like that when we consider human life above all ? In self defense its proper to kill but for territorial expansion why should we shed blood? I am sure that G-D too wouldn’t allow us to shed innocent blood.
Answer: Thanks for asking this important question. The first thing that needs to be said is that we think of all wars as equal. That is not true. We cannot equate a war that G-d commanded us to fight and a war that we choose to fight. If you learn the Torah’s perspective on warfare you will see that warfare in Torah law is totally different from warfare in the non-Jewish world. That is not possible to understand unless you go very in depth into the Torah’s perspective. To help you do that, here is a link that will describe the concept in great detail. I give this information over in a class format and I find that if you study it well it will give you a great overview of “Jewish warfare.” http://nleresources.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Shoftim-War.pdf
Next, let me just say that we are not talking about the modern concept of “holy wars” where people think that they know the will of G-d. The Torah’s concept of war is that G-d commands the Jews to do certain things because in His wisdom this is what needs to happen to bring balance to the world. There is a commandment in the Torah to completely destroy the nation of Amalek. This nation, according to the Torah, is evil through and through. There is no way that anyone from that nation can survive and the world be a safe place. King Saul almost destroyed this nation once but left the king alive for one night. He was wrong and he lost his kingship over that. The results of that night were that the king had relations with a woman, the child grew up and his ancestor ended up being the evil Haman and, according to many Hitler was also a descendant of Amalek.
Be Well, Rabbi Litt
Question: Where does the Torah tell us that good friends are hard to find and are very valuable?
Answer: The statement “A friend can be acquired only with great difficulty” is found in the Midrash (Sifrei on Nitzavim; Yalkut Shimoni on Pinchas). Apparently the advice “Acquire a friend for yourself” in Mishnah Avos 1:6 (“acquire”, not “find”) implies that friends are hard to find. Many sources in the Bible and Talmud emphasize the contrast between good friends and bad friends (e.g., Mishlei 18:24; Ben Sira 6:14; Avos 2:9). In Burton Stevenson’s Home Book of Quotations, Laertius’ “Anarcharsis” (Sec.105) is cited for the statement “It is better to have one friend of great value than many friends who are good for nothing”; there doesn’t seem to be a similar statement in the Jewish sources.
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber
Question: In Parshas Pinchas it states that Pinchas was the grandson of Aharon the Kohen. It further states that because of his courageous deeds espoused in the Parsha, he was to be rewarded with everlasting ‘hereditary priesthood’ to include his descendants. In view of the fact that he was already a descendant of Aharon, did Pinchas not already have the blessing of ‘hereditary priesthood? How could this be considered a reward?
Answer: Hi! Rashi here says from the Gemara that not all descendants of Aharon would have been priests, just the ones born after the bestowal of the blessing. Pinchas, having been born already, needed a special appointment.
Another answer is provided by a midrash on Tanach. It says that although the high priest could be any descendant of Aharon, from the time of Shlomo haMelech onward every kohein gadol would be descended only from Pinchas. This is called here “bris Shalom”, covenant of peace: a play on the name Shlomo.
Question: The beginning of the Torah Portion of Pinchas begins with a reference to a great deed that Pinchas did. What great deed did he perform?
Answer: Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon HaKohain, appeased My anger against the Bnai Yisroel by taking My revenge amidst them, and so I didn’t have to destroy them with My vengeance.” (Bamidbar 25:11)
The portion of Balak ends with the daughters of Moav enticing the young Jewish men to sin. This quickly led to idol worship, and many Jewish men served the idol of Baal Peor.
At the height of the debacle, Zimri, one of the heads of tribe of Shimon, took a Moabite princess and brought her into the encampment of the Jews, making a public spectacle of the act. Because he was a leader of the Jewish people, this was a grave threat to the survival of the nation. A plague broke out, and thousands of Jews died.
Pinchas saw what was happening and ran to Moshe for advice. Moshe directed him to take action. At the risk of his life and against all odds, Pinchas walked into the mob and miraculously killed both Zimri and the Moabite woman. No sooner did their dead bodies hit the floor than the plague stopped. It was a clear and obvious sign that Pinchas had acted correctly. By acting with courage and alacrity, he saved the Jews from destruction.
All the Best,
Rabbi Meir Goldberg