Project Genesis

What Pinchas Did

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

Why do we like music?

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Question: What makes music enjoyable?

Answer: Music is the language of the soul. Therefore, when we listen to music, we hear it at a very deep level. This means that music is a very powerful soul-tool, for good or for ill, and one should choose one’s music judiciously.Music was used by the prophets before and during the 1st Temple period to put themselves into the state of joy required for prophecy.When the Temple was standing, music was an important part of the experience. There was a Levitical choir who sang and played various instruments (such as harps, flutes, trumpets, and others that we are not sure how to identify). Imagine visiting the Temple: You have just been to the mikvah (everyone is required) and are barefoot, every breath greets an incredible incense, the priests are immaculate in their clothing and synchronized ritual, and the air is filled with heavenly music….

Thanks for asking,
Rabbi Seinfeld

Artistic Expression in Judaism

Question: I am an art student and I will be traveling to Greece to assist my sculpture professor with a monument. I would like to research/interview/learn about the Jewish community in Greece. I have 2 specific interests: How Jewish Law views art- in history and now, and I deeply want to understand my own connection as a Jew. Because I am not familiar with the Talmud, or other texts etc., I do not know what questions to ask or even how to begin my research. I would greatly appreciate a push in an appropriate direction. Thank you for your time

Answer: One could, in general terms, say that Jewish law permits (and sometimes even encourages) artistic expression, but with certain significant exceptions. Based on the passage found in Exodus 20: 20, the Oral Torah (whose foundations are found primarily in the Talmud) prohibits the depiction of

  • The moon, sun, stars or any visualization of angels, even as -dimensional representations

  • Human forms in relief or full 3D

  • Any image that is being created for the purpose of an idolatrous practice.

The 19th Century scholar known in academic circles as Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes documented repeated rabbinic attempts to prohibit artistic depictions in synagogues – which were, interestingly enough, repeatedly ignored by the Jews who designed their synagogues. The root of this rabbinic disapproval is the legal restriction on praying in the immediate proximity of any image out of fear that onlookers might assume you are praying to the image.

Historically there is plenty of evidence of tiled or embroidered mosaics on Biblical themes – at least some of which would likely have been done under rabbinic approval. But still, my feeling is that the Jewish emphasis was on artisanship rather than fine art. See Exodus 25 and I Kings 6.

Regarding your general knowledge of Judaism there is virtually no end of information available on the Internet. But, since you’ve got to start somewhere, let me point you at some of my own material. is a site that tries to cover some of the more general ideas and history. is a collection of some of my essays on topics that seem to come up in a lot of correspondence.

But to give you a very profound first taste of what Judaism should mean to the Jewish soul, here’s an English translation of Mesillat Yesharim (Path of the Straight) by the 18th Century Italian rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato: – try a slow, thoughtful read of the first few chapters.

If you have any questions, please let me know. I wish you the very best in your search!

Good luck!

Rabbi Boruch Clinton
Ottawa, Canada

Two Creation Narratives

Filed under: Adam and Eve story

Question: The verse states in Genesis (1:27), “And G-d created Man in His image, in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them.” Then in chapter 2, verses 21-23, G-d creates woman with the rib of Adam. Can you please explain what is happening here? It seems that “male and female” were already created in Chapter 1, and then again (Adam and Eve) in the Garden of Eden (Chapter 2)!

Answer: Thank you so much for your excellent question. This question was addressed by one of the greatest Rabbis in history, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (lived in France 1040-1105), traditionally known as Rashi, whose commentaries on the Bible and Talmud are considered both sacred and essential to understanding those basic texts in traditional Jewish circles.

The following is translated from Rashi’s comments on Genesis 1:27 – the bracketed material are my explanations, as I have been taught:

Male and Female He created them”: [We see] later [in the scripture that] it says, “And He took one of his ribs, etc.” [or, as we will see later, “sides”] (Genesis 2:21). There is a Midrash Aggadah (homiletic teaching) that says [that God] first created two faces in the original creature and afterwards He divided them (Midrash Bereshith Rabba 8:1). [This means that, originally, the first human was formed similar to a conjoined twin (except that it was both male and female, which does not happen with biologically conjoined twins). Therefore, the Hebrew word tzelah, usually translated as “rib”, would be, according to this source, translated as “side”.] [However], the simple rendering of the Scripture is that He created them both on the sixth day [as chapter one is speaking generally, without many details, then continuing to the seventh day], and it did not explain the details of how they were created, which would be explained to you in another place [The Braitha of the 32 Attributes, #13]. [My Rabbis explained this like we see the style of writing, let’s say, a newspaper article, where the first paragraph is an introduction, and the second goes into details of the important aspects briefly mentioned in the first article. Just the same, God is explaining in brief the seven days of Creation in Genesis 1:1-2:3, and then goes into the details of the creation of Mankind and their first sin on the sixth day in Genesis 2:7-3:24.]

Therefore there are two answers, possibly both true in some way, as hundreds of commentators have discussed over the centuries:

1. The first human was neither male nor female, but rather embodied both genders. When God saw that it was not good for a human to be alone (for various reasons, one of which the classical commentators mention is that this could bring about arrogance, the human seeing himself as unique, or confusion from the rest of creation, mistaking the human for a deity), He decided to separate this being into two components, male and female, as two separate people. Many often say, based on this, that this is why a man feels incomplete until he is married, because he is only half of a human until he is completed by his wife.

2. The simpler meaning is that Genesis 1 is a quick overview of the seven days of Creation, and the subsequent two chapters addresses some of the major details of the events of the sixth day, as Adam and Eve were the pinnacle of Creation.

I wish you many blessings of happiness and good things,
Rabbi Joseph Kolakowski

How could the generation of Moses sin?

Question: In the book of Exodus great miracles were performed against Egypt, and when the nation of Israel was in the wilderness again God did great miracles, ie…manna…Why did the nation of Israel keep falling back on sinful ways, ie..the golden calf? One would think that after seeing such great miracles one would definitely believe. Did they keep forgetting about God? It just doesn’t seem possible.

Answer: Many feel, “If only G-d would show himself to me, I wouldn’t have any more problems of faith.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most of what we do is because of what we want, not because of what we believe. Part of a person is always trying to distract him from what is truly important. Anyone who has ever tried to diet knows how hard it can be to put knowledge into practice.

In terms of knowledge, the generation of the desert was the greatest there ever was. They saw; they knew!—All of our knowledge about the Torah is derived only from their testimony. Still, they were very human, and subject to human frailties. We should understand that the Jews in the desert were not all saints. Our Sages teach that many of our people died in Egypt during the plague of darkness. They had sunk so far into the immorality of Egypt that they were completely beyond hope and spiritual growth. The ones who did leave were not beyond hope. Still, lots of them must have been very close to the line. They still had potential, but were sunk deep in depravity. If they had stayed in Egypt any longer, it would have been too late! These people may have seen very clearly the need for growth, but they had yet a long way to go.

All that being said, the Jews in the wilderness did not do as badly as a cursory reading might indicate. Some of their tests were very difficult – three days without finding water, no food source, forty days with their leader gone, etc. And not all of them sinned by any means. At the sin of the golden calf, those who worshiped the calf were guilty of a capital crime. Still, the Torah testifies that only 3000 were executed (Exodus Chap. 32) out of 600,000 men. In another place (Numbers Chap. 11) the Torah says that the Jews were punished because the “Asafsuf” (loosely translated as “riff-raff”) were complaining. One of my favorite examples is in Joshua 7(11). G-d explains why Israel has lost their first (and only) battle under Joshua: “Israel has sinned, and violated the covenant that they made with me; they have taken from what was consecrated, and stolen, and lied, and packed it all away…” Terrible! But read a little further, and we find out that one Jew alone sinned. All of Israel was blamed. G-d is not being unfair; he loves us, and wants us to achieve what he knows we’re capable of. He holds us to an very high standard throughout the Torah.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

[Reposted from the Archives]

Designer Babies

Question: What is the Jewish view on designer babies?

Answer: I don’t know of any source in Jewish law that speaks about this case exactly, but it would seem to run counter to Judaism. Jewish law forbids tattoos and messing with ones body and also puts a stress on being happy with the situation and attributes that G-d gives us at birth and throughout life. It would seem that designer babies fly in the face of this.

If a person really believes that G-d gives us what is best, then there is no need to make such ‘improvements.’ Certainly, if a child will be ill, then the Torah obligates us to improve the child’s situation. But a designer baby isn’t previously ill.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg

Men with Long Hair

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 a 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.

Nonetheless, 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

Why isn’t there Sotah for men?

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
c. 4:19

Answer: 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

Counting People and King David

Question: In Chronicles 21:1-17 David conducts a census (against the will of G-d) G-d gives David three choices and sends a plague that kills 70,000 Israelites. Did G-d sentence the 70,000 to die because David failed? If counting was prohibited, who counted the 70,000 dead?

Answer: King David himself argued the same point in verse 17, “And David said to God, Was it not I who commanded the people to be counted? It is I who have sinned and done very wickedly; but as for these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray you, O Lord my God, be against me, and against my father’s house; but let not the plague be upon your people.”

The prohibition against counting the Jewish People is described in Exodus 30:12: “When you take the count of the Children of Israel to determine their numbers, each man shall give an atonement pledge for his soul to G-d, when you count them. Thus there will be no plague among them when you count them.” G-d warns that the natural result of counting them will be a plague, unless they give the atonement pledge of a half-shekel. This prohibition is only for counting those who are alive. So the question is – How can G-d bring a plague when the people are counted if they are not guilty of the death penalty?

Rabbi Bachya ben Asher (14th century, Spain) answers this with the following: When we associate with the goals of the community and assist their cause, G-d judges us as essential to the community. This increases the likelihood that G-d will keep us alive. If we are judged as individuals, without considering our value to the community, our personal shortcomings are brought to light. When we are counted, each person is his own number – each left to his own merits. Such scrutiny is likely to produce horrific results. If there are sins that are severe enough to deserve the death penalty, it will be meted out. As Ecclesiastes 7:20 testifies, “For there is not a just man upon earth, that does good, and does not sin.” You’ve probably heard people say, “We’ve all made mistakes at some point in our lives.” It is everyone’s wish that no one focus on those mistakes.

Best Wishes,
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler

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