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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Jewish Thought (6/12)

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               Frequently Asked Questions on Soc.Culture.Jewish
                            Part 6: Jewish Thought
                    [Last Post: Fri Apr  2 11:07:16 US/Pacific 2004]

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Subject: ORGANIZATION This portion of the FAQ contains answers to the following questions: Section 12: Jewish Thought 1. [5]What is the Jewish concept of G-d? Do Jews think of G-d as an angry old man with a long white beard? 2. [6]Can one doubt G-d's existence and still be a good Jew? 3. [7]Does modern science (e.g., "big bang" theory, evolution, the age of the world) contradict traditional readings of the Torah? 4. [8]Does modern science contradict liberal readings of the Torah? 5. [9]Can one be Orthodox and a scientist too? 6. [10]I've heard that Jews consider themselves "chosen." What does that mean? 7. [11]What is the Jewish concept of the Messiah? 8. [12]What do Jews say happens when a person dies? Do Jews believe in reincarnation? In hell or heaven? Purgatory? 9. [13]What was the job of a prophet? 10. [14]It seems that prophecy was once central to Judaism; why don't we have prophets today? 11. [15]Who were the prophets? How many? 12. [16]What is the Jewish view on the question of "free will."? 13. [17]What about angels, demons, miracles, and the supernatural? 14. [18]What do Jews hope/expect of the future? 15. [19]How can Jews reject (insert true belief here)? 16. [20]Why do Jews need organized religion or Jewish laws? Isn't it good enough to be a good person? How about gentiles? 17. [21]How does Judaism differ from Xianity, Marxism, Communism, Humanism and other -isms? 18. [22]Where can a Gentile learn about Judaism? 19. [23]What does Judaism say about non-Jews and their role? What does G-d demands of gentiles to get to Olam Ha'aba ["The World-to-come"]? What are the Noachide laws? 20. [24]What do Jews believe about Good and Evil? 21. [25]What is the Jewish position on Capital Punishment? 22. [26]What is the Jewish position on communicating with the dead? 23. [27]What is the significance and importance of suffering and punishment in Judaism? 24. [28]Why are there different names for G-d? 25. [29]What is the "Book of Life"? 26. [30]How does one atone for sins? 27. [31]What does Judaism say about the punishments in the Torah? 28. [32]What does the Torah mean by Abomination? 29. [33]Why does the Torah talk about Other Gods? 30. [34]What is the purpose of life? Why did G-d create man? 31. [35]How does tithing work in Judaism? 32. [36]Does Judaism permit organ donation? 33. [37]Is numerology part of Jewish Mysticism? 34. [38]What is Jewish thought on Gog and Magog? 35. [39]What does Judaism believe about Satan? 36. [40]In Judaism, what are some of the laws related to gleaning and tithing for the poor? 37. [41]What is the Jewish view of Salvation, i.e., how a person from a given religion is ''saved''? 38. [42]Can a Jew donate blood? 39. [43]How does halacha, the messiah, and the prophets affect the daily life of a Jew? 40. [44]What must one do to lead "a good life" in Judaism? 41. [45]I've heard about 36 taddiks? 42. [46]What is the theological understanding regarding the affect of the expulsion from Eden?
Subject: Question 12.1: What is the Jewish concept of G-d? Do Jews think of G-d as an angry old man with a long white beard? Answer: No. That image is an anthropomorphism of an extreme application of judgment (seen as anger), and wisdom (associated with old men). The image is part of the "angry jealous Old Testament G-d" misconception, which ignores G-d's showing kindness and mercy throughout the Torah. Traditional Jews view G-d as omnipotent and unique, tempering judgment with mercy. The verse from Shemos [Exodus] 23:23 "And I will remove my hand and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen" is taken to mean that we will come to know G-d through His works, and through observing his commandments. See [5]Handbook of Jewish Thought by R' Aryeh Kaplan. Jews conceive of G-d as an absolutely simple Unity (implying absolutely no constituent divisions), beyond all constraints (including time and place), and beyond all limitations of human conception. To the extent that we are even able to refer to G-d, it is solely through our assignment of human-like attributes to what we perceive as G-d's interactions with creation. These attributes provide us with simple terms to which we can relate, but in no way limit or constrain G-d. All descriptions of G-d that involve human characteristics are attempts by human beings to understand the infinite. These human characteristics can only be crude approximations of the attributes of G-d, in the same way that a robot's hand, while fashioned in the image of our own, can only be a crude approximation of the complexity of a human hand. Likewise, we often ascribe to G-d the ultimate expression of desirable traits that fallible humans can only imperfectly attain. Thus the term "Rachman," as used to refer to G-d, is not "merciful" but the merciful, and is the standard against which the human characteristic of mercy is measured.
Subject: Question 12.2: Can one doubt G-d's existence and still be a good Jew? Answer: What does it mean that one doubts G-d's existence? It rarely means that one does not believe that G-d exists, rather that a person does not understand what G-d does. In other words, that the way G-d runs the world is not comprehensible (e.g. not understanding why G-d allow things like famine or the Holocaust to occur). G-d does not fit into our limited intellect. And defining G-d to be something that would fit into a human ideal of what G-d should be, would mean that we are denying what G-d actually is: something beyond our intellect. So the answer is: we all have questions about G-d, but it does not prevent us from being good Jews. Because being good is not an end-goal, rather a process. We struggle to get better despite any doubts. What a Jew does is more important than what he or she believes, even though Maimonides included belief in G-d as one of Judaism's key principles. Full and complete faith (emunah sh'laimah) in particular is a most difficult state to achieve, but the seeds of faith find fertile ground in the person of one who earnestly strives to live a Jewish life based on the Torah's prescriptions. Note that there is an additional question of the extent to which an individual who doubts G-d's existance can participate in the congregation. This is more a problem for the individual than the congregation, for the congregation does not publically question one's belief. The individual, however, must reconcile publically performing actions or making professions with their internal doubts.
Subject: Question 12.3: Does modern science (e.g., "big bang" theory, evolution, the age of the world) contradict traditional readings of the Torah? Answer: Probably, but science is getting better all the time and one can expect agreement eventually... Seriously, there are numerous neo-traditional readings that put new interpretations on various commentaries and are allegedly compatible with Orthodoxy. Judaism has a long tradition of not interpreting the creation narative of Genesis 1 literally. Rambam [Maimonides], for example, warns at the beginning of his [5]Mishneh Torah that the literal reading of the opening of Bereshis [Genesis] is for the masses. [The non-literal reading he had in mind was metaphysical, not scientific. See [6]The Guide for the Perplexed.] Both literalism and non-literalism have a long history, yielding a variety of resolutions of the problem of creation and science. Here are some solutions: * Rejection of scientific data. Since, as one opinion in the Talmud has it, Adam was created as a fully mature man of 20, and trees were created fully grown, it is clear that this opinion would hold that the universe as a whole was formed with a history consistant with a natural, scientific, progression. This opinion has three dificulties: (1) It implies that G-d created dinosaur bones and light from stars further away than 5758 light-years (for otherwise how could the light be reaching us yet) for no reason other than to provide evidence against creation. (2) What would stop a similar argument that the world is 5 minutes old, and all our memories, books, and so on have been faked to imply a history. (3) How can one ascribe a time to creation? It can't be on the Creator's clock, since G-d exists outside of time. Therefore, when we speak of "when" creation happened, we mean the begining of the universe's timeline. So then how could we talk about G-d creating the universe at some point in the middle of the line, allowing history to go in both directions -- past and future -- from that point? Actually, the former is resolvable if one can provide another motive for G-d "planting" dinosaur bones. Perhaps because the effects of any event carry through in time. For example, had G-d not created light that was as if it already left the stars, the earth's sky would be nearly black. Perhaps there is no way to have teva today without the illusion that the laws of nature always held. * Conflict resolution. Invoking relativity or whatnot to show that 15 billion years can be 5758 years in another frame of reference. Perhaps relavity justifies the differences between frames of reference. The "birds" of day 5 are actually dinosaurs, which are most similar bilogically to birds of any thing living today. Creation of the sun on day 4 is actually about the sky clearing to the point the sun could be seen on earth, etc... A number of books have been printed out in the past few years promoting this kind of position. * Multiple creation times. This is the approach of the Tiferes Yisrael (R' Meir Simchah of Dvinsk, 19th cent). He cites an opinion of the tannaim (mishnaic period rabbis) that Hashem created worlds and destroyed them before this one. Dinosaur bones and starlight are legacies of these earlier worlds. In Gen 1:1, G-d creates ex nihilo (matter from nothing). Then, before verse 2, these other worlds (in this opinion, epochs) rose and fell. Then, there was "chaos and emptiness" from which our world emerged. The universe as a whole, even the planet, can therefor be older than 5758 years. Since current theory is that the world started as a singularity -- in other words, not within the purvey of science, it is all a matter of faith if the ex nihilo was with the intent of the Creator or not. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan quotes R' Yitzchak of Akko (a student of the Ramban, late medieval) who concludes from the Zohar that the first creation was 15.8 billion years ago -- the age astronomers and physicists seem to be converging on, given multiple ways of measuring the age. The Netziv (R' Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin), in his commentary on chumash, argues against the idea that these earlier worlds left physical evidence. It doesn't fit the precise translation of the quote, that G-d "created worlds umachrivam -- and destroyed them". Instead, the Netziv points to a medrash in which it is explained that the fall of morality in humanity in the days before the flood reflected itself in nature. Even animals interbread, leading to the monstrosities that archeologists find. * Rejection of a literal read of the Torah. This is much easier, halachically, than it sounds, as there is a long tradition, including the Rambam and the Vilna Gaon, teaching that Genesis 1&2 actually convey deeper truths via metaphor. The gemara, after all, limits the number of students (to 2) that one may teach the secrets of the Act of Creation -- so clearly we can't just take the text at face value. Another commonly sited proof for non-literalness is that the word "day" precedes the creation of the sun. Therefor, it can't be used, at least in this narative, to mean our 24 hour period. 4a-The Maharal (1st intro to Gevuros Hashem) teaches that creation is so alien to human experience that we don't have a comparison to it. Therefore prophecy, which is transmitted by visions, can not describe it. (The World to Come is similarly explained. This is why it only appears in Tanach as "your days will be prolonged". Continued existance we can understand. The rest of the details, no.) However, creation is also so alien that we can not understand it by extrapolation, either. There are some Orthodox Jews who believe that Creation occurred over 5700 years ago and that it took precisely six days. However, today many Orthodox Jews believe that it is an open question as to how long each of those "days" and "years" were, relative to today's time intervals (considering that time itself is one of G-d's creations). One can find an array of Orthodox views on the age of the universe, the age of the earth, and views on evolution, in "Challenge: Torah Views on Science and Its Problems" edited by Aryeh Carmell and Cyril Domb, and in Gerald Schroeder's "Genesis and the Big Bang". These works attempt to reconcile traditional Jewish texts with modern scientific findings concerning evolution, the age of the earth and the age of the Universe. Prominent Orthodox rabbis who affirm the veracity of scientific findings in these areas include Aryeh Kaplan, Israel Lipschitz, Sholom Mordechai Schwadron (the MaHaRSHaM), Zvi H. Chajes, and Abraham Isaac Kook. Remember, the current scientific perspective is simply our best understanding of what G-d did. Two hundred years ago, that best understanding was different than it is today, and two hundred years from now, it will be different again. In effect, we believe in the Torah, and we use science as the current "best bet" (but certainly don't take it as seriously as we take the Torah). A rabbi in the Los Angeles area mused that perhaps the year count is based on the end of creation, when mankind had achieved intelligence. Certainly all of man's recorded history fits within the almost six thousand years. The time before "year 1" can be considered before the system was in multiuser mode :-). What about Dinosaurs, you ask. Well, there are midrashic sources that certainly hint at the possibility of dinosaurs (or, at least, of some critters that were parts of earlier "creations," in the tradition that G-d created Universes before our own). You should also consult [7]the section in the general part of the Reading Lists on Science and Judaism. There you will find books that explore the relationship of Judaism and science.
Subject: Question 12.4: Does modern science contradict liberal readings of the Torah? Answer: The liberal Jewish movements who do not hold the text of the Torah as a purely factual account don't need to reconcile it with science.
Subject: Question 12.5: Can one be Orthodox and a scientist too? Answer: Definitely! The [5]Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists ([6] publishes a quarterly, Intercom, that deals with ethical, technical, practical, and philosophical issues. You can contact AOJS at [7]INFO@AOJS.ORG There is an institute in Israel devoted to using modern technology within Halachic constraints. One example of their products is a Sabbath telephone that doctors can use in an emergency without fear of violating the laws of the Torah. Tzomet (Tzivtei Mada V'Torah), a similar institute in Gush Etzion, can be reached at: Tzomet Alon Shvut Gush Etzion 90940 ISRAEL TEL +972-2-931-442 FAX +972-2-931-889
Subject: Question 12.6: I've heard that Jews consider themselves "chosen." What does that mean? Answer: Contrary to popular belief, nowhere in the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible] or in classical Jewish literature is there a claim that Jews are G-d's only "chosen people". The closest that one finds is Exodus 19:5, which states that Jews are an "am segulah", a "treasured people", but this is a very different claim indeed. The misunderstanding on this issue stems from the fact that most people are unfamiliar with the claims that Judaism actually makes in regards to chosenness. So what does classical Judaism actually state? Consider the bracha [blessing] said before reciting the Torah: Praised are you, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has chosen us out of all the nations to bestow upon us His Torah. Also consider the blessing recited as an introduction to the reading of the "Shema Yisrael" the selection of verses from the Torah (especially Deuteronomy 6:4-8) that proclaim the sovereignty of G-d and our commitment to his Torah. The blessing relates to the act of the recitation as a fulfilment of the religious obligation of Torah study. You have loved us with abounding love, O Lord our G-d, you have shown us great and overflowing tenderness. For the sake of our ancestors who trusted in you, and whom you instructed in the precepts of life - in the same manner, be gracious unto us and instruct us... Put it into our hearts to understand, to become wise, to hear, to learn, to teach, to observe, to do, to uphold - all the words of the study of Torah, lovingly... For you are the performer of wonders, and you have chosen us out of all nations and tongues, and brought us close to your great name in truth... Blessed are you, Lord, who chooses His people Israel in love. The relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is summed up when He calls us in the book of Exodus as "my son, my eldest, Israel". We are not firstborn in any literal sense, see the geneologies in the begining of Genesis. However, your eldest child is the one you leave the most responsibility and the most reward to. (Assuming they live up to that responsibility.) The key notion is that there is no thing called the "chosen people," but rather that "choosing" is invariably perceived as a verb. It is a dynamic activity that is inextricably identified with Israel's devoted observance of the precepts of the Torah. Rather, there are people whom G-d has sanctified by commanding them to rest on the Sabbath, to rejoice in the festivals, to study the Torah and to accept the yoke of G-d's supremacy over all other allegiances. It certainly has nothing to do with any claim of superiority. In fact, the prophet Amos (3:2) states the opposite: "You alone have I singled out of all the families of the Earth, that is why I will call you to account for your iniquities". Other nations can fulfill G-d's will with only [5]seven commandments, rather than the hundreds required of Jews. The concept in fact is "chosen to fulfill a responsibility," and implies a harder task rather than a higher status in the world. Finally, note that there is no claim to exclusivity in the regards of love from G-d, nor in regard to being able to be chosen for a particular purpose. There is only the claim that we were chosen to bring the biblical message of the prophets, and to cleave to Torah as a way of life. Judaism has always affirmed that gentiles can have a close relationship with G-d as well, and perhaps other nations are chosen for their own purposes as well.
Subject: Question 12.7: What is the Jewish concept of the Messiah? Answer: "Messiah" means annointed. Whenever a line of kingship was established, such as Saul, David, or after a disagreement about who should get the throne, the king was "crowned" by being annointed with olive oil. This was also done for the High Preists from Aaron until the end of the first Temple period. Cyrus is also called by G-d, "My annointed king". So, when we talk about "a messiah", we are merely talking about a king of the Davidic line. Not some kind of supernatural entity or one-of-a-kind event. It also means that the first mention of the messiah in the Torah would be any mention of King David or of Judah maintaining rule beyond the death of Gedalyah (the last governor of First Commonwealth Judea), which would imply a restoration of the rule. This we find toward the end of Genesis, 49:10. Do Jews believe the Messiah will live an eternal life? No. The messiah, like all people, will live and die. He will then be succeeded by his son (if he has one), and the line of Davidic kings will continue. He will be resurrected when the rest of the righteous are. But that's (in nearly all opinions) a different era than the messianic one. The different movements via the Messiah differently. The traditional opinion was best expressed by [5]Moses Maimonides (RaMBaM), who said the following about the Messiah: "If a king will arise from the House of David who is learned in Torah and observant of the mitzvot [the Torah's commandments], as prescribed by the written law and the oral law, as David his ancestor was, and will compel all of Israel to walk in [the way of the Torah] and reinforce the breaches [in its observance]; and fight the wars of G-d, we may, with assurance, consider him the Messiah. "If he succeeds in the above, builds the Temple in its place, and gathers the dispersed of Israel, he is definitely the Messiah. ... "If he did not succeed to this degree or he was killed, he surely is not [the redeemer] promised by the Torah. [Rather,] he should be considered as all the other proper and complete kings of the Davidic dynasty who died. G-d only caused him to arise in order to test the many, as [Daniel 11:35] states; "and some of the wise men will stumble, to try them, to refine, and to clarify until the appointed time, because the set time is in the future." The Rambam then continues by explaining why Judaism has rejected the claims of other religions, notably Christianity, that "caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their remnants to be scattered and humbled, the Torah to be altered, and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the L-rd." Since, he said, the required criteria [as described in the preceding paragraphs] have not been met, all messianic claims to date, such as Christianity or the the beliefs of the followers of Shabtai Zvi, have been proven false. The full text is in his [6]Mishneh Torah, Sefer Shoftim, Hilchot Melachim U'Milchamoteihem, Chapter 11. This translation was done by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Moznaim Press, from Halacha 4. The Rambam's statement is probably the definitive rendering of the traditional Jewish view on the subject. Others believe that the Messiah will usher in an age of miracles, and will come in a miraculous manner. The liberal movements, such as [7]Reform) do not believe in a personal messsiah, but do believe in the concept of a messianic age.
Subject: Question 12.8: What do Jews say happens when a person dies? Do Jews believe in reincarnation? In hell or heaven? Purgatory? Answer: [Note that this description is derived mostly from the Zohar, a 12th century work that evolved from the mystical writings of R' Shim'on bar Yochai (2nd century). The Zohar is the central writing of Kabbalah.] In general, and in contrast to some other religions, in day-to-day life Jews don't pay much attention to questions like this. The focus of Jewish life is living according to G-d's will as expressed in the Torah. What happens afterwards is up to G-d. That said, traditional Judaism does address this question. To put it shortly, our beliefs in resurection and afterlife vary widely. Some believe it is part of the Messianic era. Some consider it an era of its own, after the messianic one. It's a matter of debate in Jewish tradition as to whether the post resurection life is permanent, or temporary. Nachamides believes that the ultimate reward, the "World to Come" is that post-resurrection life, and therefore it must be eternal. Maimonides opines that the ultimate reward is the relatively direct experience of G-d that a soul can have when not encumbered with a body and its desires. Therefore he understands the phrase "World to Come" to refer to the non-physical existance after life, and that's man ultimate reward. He returns to that reward after a second, resurrected life. This is because Maimonides believes it's because man can only face his judgement in the same condition as when he sinned. Since he sinned while in a body, he is returned to that body to be judged. R' Yosef Albo agrees with Maimonides that the post resurrection life isn't permanent. To be specific, he believes that the lifespan will be 1,000 years -- the length of time Adam would have lived after eating from the forbidden fruit (had he not given away 70 years for someone else). His reason for this second life, though, is very different. Albo writes in the Ikkarim (Fundamentals) that in this life, man masters the art of self-perfection in the face of adversity -- disease, threat of poverty, and everything else that could go wrong in life. In the next life, the only challenges are internal, there will be no external impediments. It's therefore a second step in personal development, allowing for more refinement in one's ability to enjoy the World to Come upon return. In the early 20th century, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (cheif Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine) wrote that the resurection occurs by the end of the illusion that separates this universe from heaven. Now, for the more mystical explanation. Keep in mind that there are dissenting viewpoints, though this is the dominant one. A living person consists of both body and soul. Both are complex in structure and this short answer can't possibly address the details. To summarize briefly, when the body dies, if the person merits it, a small portion of the soul remains with it to keep it connected with the soul's source, anticipating the general revival of the dead at the time that G-d decrees. Different parts of the remainder of the soul may go to different places. One might be reincarnated into a new body in an attempt to rectify another of its spiritual aspects, or for other purposes. One part might go to a level of Paradise. Another might go to Gehinnom for a period, to remove the sins of that life and prepare it for a future one. Another part might join temporarily with an already living person, to assist it with its rectification and in the process gather more merit. The reassignments of the soul continues until the time that G-d decrees. Rabbinic afterlife teachings varied in different places and times, and was never synthesized into one coherent philosophy. As such, the different descriptions of the afterlife are not always consistent with each other. This is especially true for the descriptions of "Olam Haba", the world to come. In some rabbinic works this phrase refers to the messianic era, a physical realm right here on Earth. However, in other works this phrase means Gan Edan, Paradise (in Heaven, so to speak), a purely spiritual realm. At various points in the afterlife journey, the soul is said to encounter: * Hibbut ha-kever, the pains of the grave * Dumah, the angel of silence * The angel of death * The Kaf ha-Kela, the catapult of the soul * Gehenna (purgatory) and Gan Eden (Heaven; Paradise) A discussion of the classic rabbinic view of the afterlife, including these topics and more, can be found in an essay by Rabbi Zalman Schacter Shalomi called "Life in the hereafter: A tour of what's to come", found at [5] Gehenna is fairly well defined in rabbinic literature. It is sometimes translated as "hell", but Jews must take note that the Christian version of hell is different from the Jewish view of Gehenna. Some Christians believe that hell is an abode of eternal torment where sinners go, and is also for anyone who does not accept Jesus as their messiah and G-d. Other Christians believe Hell is a place of separation from G-d (which, for Christians, is torture enough), from which believers are eventually saved by Jesus. Roman Catholics believe that Hell is a place of eternal suffering--physical, mental and spiritual suffering. In the Roman Catholic view of Hell, the physical pain is constant and severe; but the worst torture of Hell is the knowledge that they will never see G-d and that they will remain in Hell for eternity. For Roman Catholics, Hell is permanent and eternal. For Roman Catholics, the soul that has deliberately and knowingly disobeyed G-d's commandments in life and that remains in a state of mortal sin upon death has through it's own free will damned itself to Hell for all eternity. Roman Catholics also have the notion of Purgatory, which is for souls that are truly repentant, but not in the state of grace upon death. Purgatory is similar to Hell in that there is physical suffering, the Roman Catholic belief is that the soul will return to G-d when it is purged of its sins. Purgatory can last a day or thousands of years depending on the amount of purging the individual soul requires. However, for Jews, gehenna--while certainly a terribly unpleasant place--is not hell. The majority of rabbinic thought maintains that people are not tortured in hell forever; the longest that one can be there is said to be 12 months. It is a spiritual forge where the soul is purified for its eventual ascent to Gan Eden [Heaven], and where all imperfections are purged. [In this sense, it is somewhat similar to the Roman Catholic purgatory, however the time period has a definate maximum]. Gehennom (lit: the valley of Hinnom, in Jerusalem; i.e. hell) is the sinner's experience in the afterlife. In other words, it's the same "place" as gan eiden (lit: the garden of Eden; i.e. heaven) -- it's the perspective of the individual that makes it one or the other. In some descriptions of the afterlife, we find that beyond Gan Eden there is a little known realm called the otzar, the divine treasury of souls; this is also called the tzror ha-hayyim, the bundle of life. This otzar is a transcendent realm of human souls, in the highest spheres of creation. Before souls are born they are said to come from this treasury, and they return they at some point after death. Souls are said to originate in a realm called the 'guf' (Avodah Zarah 5a, Nedarim 13b, Yevamot 62a), from which they descend to the earthly real to animate human bodies. After death, these souls return to the otzar, or tzror ha-hayyim. (Shabbat 152a; Pesikta Rabbati 2:3) According to the Kabbalah [Jewish mysticism] every human has at least one element in their soul; with the proper study a person can eventually develop two higher levels of the soul. A common way of explaining the three parts of the soul is as follows: 1. Nefesh - the lower part, or animal part, of the soul. Is linked to instincts and bodily cravings. 2. Ruach - the middle soul, the spirit. It contains the moral virtues and the ability to distinguish between good and evil. 3. Neshamah - the higher soul, or super-soul. This separates man from all other lifeforms. It is related to the intellect, and allows man to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. This part of the soul is provided both to Jew and non-Jew alike at birth. It allows one to have some awareness of the existence and presence of G-d. The "Raaya Meheimna," a later addition to the Zohar, posits that there are in fact two more parts of the human soul, the chayyah and yehidah. These parts were considered to represent the sublimest levels of intuitive cognition, and were only within the grasp of very few individuals. 4. Chayyah - The part of the soul that allows one to have an awareness of the divine life force itself. 5. Yehidad - the highest plane of the soul, in which one can achieve as full a union with G-d as is possible. According to the Zohar, after death each aspect of the soul undergoes a different experience on the afterlife journey. The lower levels of the soul are purified and purged of physical and emotional attachments, while the higher levels experience transcendental bliss. The nefesh temporarily remains with the body in the grave, undergoing the Hibbut Ha-Kever, the suffering of the grave. Simultaneously, the Ruach experiences Gehenna for 12 months. "Gehenna is conceived of as a purification process in which the psychic remnants from the previous life are purged and transformed. This purgation process lasts only twelve months and is tormentingly painful in direct proportion to each individual's lived life experience. [Simcha Paull-Rapahel ] After leaving Gehenna, the ruah then permanently enters the Lower Gan Eden. After death the Neshama, since it not subject to being tainted by sin, goes to Gan Eden Elyon, the Upper Gan Eden, where it experiences divine reward and bliss. The hayyah and yehidah also return to Upper Gan Eden immediately after death, and become as one with G-d as is possible. "Those who have awakened these dimensions of their being are able to perceive the infinite grandeur of the divine realms, to enter the everflowing celestial stream - described by the Zoha as the "bundle of life". [Paull-Rapahel] Given all this, what happens to the soul of the nonbeliever? The most common belief in contemporary traditional Jewish communities is that all souls go to the after-life. Nearly all, barring a handful or two in all of human history, eventually end up in Gan Eden (roughly: heaven), even non-believers. Maimonides (a medieval Jewish thinker) opined that non-believers cease to exist upon death. His reasoning was that the ability to exist eternally is G-d's, and is only acquired by the soul to the extent that the soul knows of, and therefore shares some of the form of, G-d. This opinion was more popular in the midevil period, but no longer captures much attention, since around the early 19th century. At that time, the Chassidic and Mussar movements influenced Orthodox thought. The Aristotilian influence of the medieval thinkers like Maimonides faded in favor of other, equally old, approaches to the problem. All of these notions have roots in the Talmud (our earliest written rabbinic texts) and earlier. It is just a matter of which approach to G-d from within that tradition people follow. [Note: While you may have heard of Chassidim, there are few if any Mussarists left post-WWII. It was an Orthodox movement based on personality improvement and stressed the inter-personal commandments.] As for the question of Purgatory. Again, there is no one Jewish position on the subject, even if we limit ourselves to the traditional Orthodox position. The Talmud refers to the deceased going to a Word of Truth or going to the heavens--without distinction. It is generally assumed these are homonyms, but these quotes still speak of a single afterlife. Others speak of the Garden of Eden and Gehenna. Neither could be meant literally, as Adam was in the literal Garden before death, and the valley of Hinnom (Gei Hinnom, in Hebrew) is a valley in current Jerusalem (where the Canaanite locals practiced human sacrifice by passing their children through the fires for Molech). Some therefore understand this to mean that Eden vs Gehenna is not a difference in "location" but rather in how one experiences the afterlife. Someone who spent life developing an appreciation for G-d and Truth will find it as pleasant (Heb: eden) as the garden, those who developed interest in other pursuits will find the experience hellish. A number of sources, such as R' Chaim of Vilozhin (founder of the current Yeshiva movement, late 18th early 19th cent) and R' Israel of Salant (founder of the Mussar movement, late 18th cent), describe the fires of gehenna as those of shame. Facing the truth of what one could have been and seeing what one was. The number of people subject to a permanent "stay" in gehenna is very small. The Talmud (Tr Sanhedrin, 11th ch) names 4 people up to their day who qualified. Otherwise, the experience itself is atoning, creating a person who is capable of enjoying the presence of G-d. For these few people, they so identified themselves with sin that to abandon sin would be to lose their essence.
Subject: Question 12.9: What was the job of a prophet? Answer: The primary job of a prophet was not to foretell the future, but to arouse the people and the government to repentance and observance. Next time someone bugs you about not being Jewish enough, and all sorts of nasty ideas float through your head, remind yourself that Jeremiah was killed for his preaching. Jonah did not want to be a prophet.
Subject: Question 12.10: It seems that prophecy was once central to Judaism; why don't we have prophets today? Answer: The traditional view is that prophecy was removed from the world after the destruction of the First Temple. Those prophets who are mentioned after that were alive at the time of the destruction. There are several explanations as to why this is so: 1. The fact that the Jews did not heed the calls to repentance of the prophets showed that they were not worthy. When most of the Jews remained in exile after Ezra returned, they showed that they were still not worthy of that level of holiness. The second temple did not have the level of kedushah [holiness] of the first Temple even from the beginning. 2. This was actually a sign of G-d's mercy. Had the Jews had a prophet and continued to disobey (as was probable based on the behavior of the following centuries) even after the punishment of the exile, they would have merited complete destruction. Now they could say that had a prophet come they would have obeyed and thus mitigate the punishment (though some consider the current exile (i.e., the diaspora) to be harsh enough). 3. After the destruction of the first Temple the sages prayed for the removal of the "Evil Inclination" of idolatry. Since the world exists in a balance, the removal of the low point (idolatry) necessitated the removal of the high point (prophecy). Another effect of losing formal prophecy is that it is no longer known the specific acts that result in specific good and bad consequences. In the age of prophecy, a person undergoing misfortunes could learn from a prophet what he or she was doing wrong and how to do tshuva (repentance.) Nowadays, your guess is as good as mine, and could be wrong in identifying the source of difficulties. This is what galus/galut [physical and spiritual exile] is all about. [R' Y. Frand] Some feel that a tzaddik or a rebbe is particularly qualified to provide spiritual guidance and advise paths for repentance. Note that the above does not claim that all forms of communication between G-d and man are closed; The Talmud only teaches that the most direct forms of prophecy no longer occur. However, Judaism affirms that other less direct forms of prophecy still occur. One example of this is the 'bat kol'. [e.g. Tosefta Sota 13:3, Talmud Yerushalmi Sota 24b, and Talmud Bavli Sota 48b] The Talmud notes that each time a Jew studies the Torah or its rabbinic commentaries, G-d is revealed anew; there is still a link between the G-d and the Jewish people. The Talmud in fact declares that rabbinic interpretation is superior to the biblical forms of prophecy. Rabbi Abdimi of Haifa said: Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, the prophetic gift was taken away from the prophets and given to the Sages [Rabbis]. - Is a Sage not also a prophet? What Rabbi Abdimi meant to say was this: Although prophecy has been taken from the Prophets, prophecy has not been taken from the Sages. Amemar said "A Sage is even superior to a Prophet, as it says "And a Prophet has the heart of Wisdom" (Psalms 90:21) Who is usually compared with whom? Is not the smaller compared with the greater? [Talmud Bavli, Bava Batra 12A] Hillel taught that all Jews still receive ruach ha'kodesh, the Holy Spirit, which is an indirect form of prophecy. In the tosefta (Pesah 4:2) this is stated outright, while in later rabbinic literature {Talmud Yerushalmi Shabbat 17a and Pesach 33a, Talmud Bavli 66b) his statement is that the Jewish people, if not prophets, are at least the bene nevi'im, the sons of prophets. Although not widely known, many Jews believed that the more direct forms of prophecy still existed as late as the middle ages; a few medieval rabbis in this era were thought to be prophets by some, including Rabbeinu Tam. This is discussed by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book "Prophetic Inspiration After the Prophets: Maimonides and Others" (Ktav).
Subject: Question 12.11: Who were the prophets? How many? Answer: (Note: "navi" (pl: neviim) = "prophet") The Talmud (Megillah 14a) says that there had been twice as many prophets as the number of people who left Egypt (2*600,000), but only those whose messages were for future generations were recorded. This count was 48 male and 7 female Prophets. The Talmud lists the 7 females as: 1. Sarah 2. Miriam 3. Devorah 4. Hannah (mother of Shmuel) 5. Avigail (who became a wife of David Hamelech) 6. Huldah (from the time of Yirmiyahu) 7. Esther One compilation of the male prophets (based on Seder Olam) lists the following: 1. Avraham (Abraham) 2. Yitzchak (Isaac) 3. Yaakov (Jacob) 4. Moshe (Moses) 5. Aharon (Aaron) 6. Yehoshuah (Joshua) 7. Pinchas 8. Elkanah (father of Shmuel) 9. Eli 10. Shmuel (Samuel) 11. Gad 12. Nosson 13. David Hamelech (King David) 14. Shlomo Hamelech (King Soloman) 15. Aidoin the Golah 16. Micha Ben Yamla in the time of Achav 17. Ovadiah 18. Achiah Hashiloni 19. Yehu Ben Hanani in the time of Asah 20. Azaryah Ben Oded in the time of Yehoshaphat from Divrei Hayamim 21. Haziel from Bnei Masni 22. Eliezer his cousin 23. Morishah 24. Hoshea 25. Amos in the time of Yeravam Ben Yoash 26. Micha in the time of Yosam 27. Eliyahu (Elijah) 28. Elisha 29. Yonah Ben Amitai 30. Yeshayah in the time of Menashe in the time of Yoshea 31. Yoel (Joel) 32. Nachum 33. Habakuk 34. Zephaniah 35. Uriah from Kiryat Yearim 36. Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 37. Yehezkel 38. Daniel (second year of Darius) 39. Baruch 40. Neriah 41. Sharyah 42. Machsiyah 43. Hagai 44. Zecharyah 45. Malachi 46. Mordechai Rashi (Megillah 3a) suggests that Daniel wasn't a Navi and is to be replaced in the list by Shemaia, who told Rehavam not to go to war with Yeravam and the northern kingdom. Rashi closes with "two I don't know" (47 & 48). A commentator on the side says one is Oded & one is Hanani Haroeh. When a Navi is called by his name and his fathers name it is a sign that the father is also a Navi. Azriah Ben Oded, Yehu Ben Hanani, Zechariah Ben Yehoyada are given as examples. Rabbein Hananel and the Vilna Gaon start from Moshe and add in the sons of Korach.
Subject: Question 12.12: What is the Jewish view on the question of "free will." Answer: One traditional Jewish view of free will is that in this phase of history, G-d's omnipresence is hidden from our awareness specifically to allow us free will. If we were fully aware of G-d's presence at all times, we would be incapable of sinning willfully. As it stands we are freed to assume or reject the Torah and its prescriptions for Jewish life and to be rewarded or punished accordingly. This will change at some future point when G-d's omnipresence is fully revealed. In Devarim (Deuteronomy) 30:19 "I [G-d] have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life." From this we learn that we have free will. Furthermore, reward and punishment only make sense if we have knowledge and free will. Angels cannot be rewarded because they do not have free will, and animals are not rewarded because they do not have knowledge. There have been a few notable exceptions to this last statement, but that is the general rule.
Subject: Question 12.13: What about angels, demons, miracles, and the supernatural? Answer: The Torah is full of what western secular culture would (somewhat derogatorily) call "the supernatural." Even the most fundamental of Jewish beliefs, that there is a Creator, falls into this class--how much more so the Torah's recounting of events that include such out-of-the-ordinary occurrences as prophecy in its many forms, birth of children to very aged parents, the appearance of angels and their interaction with the physical world, the occurrence of narrowly focussed plagues, the revelation on Sinai with its attendant visions, talking mules, the falling of Manna, revivification of the dead, and many, many others. Traditional Judaism, in accepting Torah as G-d's word, accepts that these things happened, even though western science can't currently (and may never) explain them. As Rabbi Kaplan (z"l) wrote in his [5]Handbook of Jewish Thought, paraphrasing Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman (z"l): "Science does not contradict, or even concern itself with miracles. Science deals with the laws of nature, while miracles are, by definition, exceptions to those laws. Any disbelief in miracles is thus not scientific, but is based on arbitrary prejudices in conformity to popular styles of thought. Such a disbelief can reduce a person's concept of G-d to a mere abstract philosophical idea, abolishing the obligation to serve and obey Him." In addition, there are traditional Jewish sources (primarily in the Kabbalah) that explain the roles that angels and demons play in the world, the Jewish version of astrology, and the mechanisms through which miracles occur. Let's look at angels for a minute. Judaism tends to refer to angels as "Ministering Angels", not "Angels of the Lord" (a more Christian term). Maimonides, an Aristotilian rationalist, lists a hierarchy of angels. In prophecy, we find different kinds of angel. In particular, the book of Ezekiel opens with a vision of a Divine Chariot. In this vision we encounter the following: 1. Ofanim (lit: wheels Chayos) animals. These give the connotation of wild animals: dears or lions, not cows They have four faces, 12 wings, and one leg. 2. Serafim (from the verb meaning "to burn") 3. Chashmalim (no translation; in modern Hebrew, the word "chashmal" was drafted to mean "electricity", but that's a 19th cent invention) 4. Ishim (ish means man, but "men" is "anashim"; saying "ishim" would be like saying "mans" in English) 5. Keruvim (transliterated "cherub" in English). These are described variously in the Jewish Bible, and are not like our mental image of a "cherub". One should avoid the English parallel. In Genesis, two keruvim hold swords of revolving fire, guarding the entrance to Eden so that man does not re-enter. In Exodus, the top of the ark is adorned with two keruvim that have childlike faces and two huge wings that make a canopy over the ark. In Ezekiel, the four faces of the chayos have are described as being those of a man, a lion, an eagle and a keruv. Two verses later, the list replaces keruv with a bull. So they're associated with bulls somehow. Tradition does not take these descriptions literally. For example, angels are seen in visions as having one leg because they lack free will. They are automata that are "programmed" to do the will of God. They therefore lack the power to progress, to improve themselves. Man's power for growth, in contrast, is described as "walking". Jewish law calls itself "halachah", the way to walk. In addition, the Talmud tells us that every angel has only one mission. Their missions are their names. In most cases, that means that they don't last long enough for their names to warrant mention. However, some have more far-reaching missions, and their names do make it into the Torah or the prayer book. Kabbalistic prayers said by Chassidic and Sepharadic Jews sometimes have names that are only to be looked at, not read. But the most comonly cited names include: * Refael: God Heals * Michael (pronounced Me-cha-el, with the /ch/ like in the name "Bach"): Who is Like God * Uriel: God is My Light * Gabriel: God is my strength with conotations of strength of character, ability to resist and to stand firm. Not so much power or force. * HaSatan: the Challenger (he- is a prefix meaning "the"), the angel who serves God by giving man challenges that he must resolve in the right way. Making the choice of good over evil a choice. This is different than the Christian notion of Satan and the Devil.
Subject: Question 12.14: What do Jews hope/expect of the future? Answer: Traditional Jews hope for the arrival of the Messiah and the accompanying age. (See the [5]above question on the Messiah.) Some liberal Jews reject the concept of a Messiah, but still hope that man will create the same type of moral world that the traditional Jews believe the arrival of the Messiah will usher in. Traditional Jews also expect the revival of the dead at the end of days along with G-d's presence manifested on Earth.
Subject: Question 12.15: How can Jews reject (insert true belief here)? Answer: Usually, it is because the beliefs of those religions contradict fundamental tenets of Judaism. Occasionally, liberal movements may use some meditative approaches from other religions, but there is no belief in the other religion's belief system.
Subject: Question 12.16: Why do Jews need organized religion or Jewish laws? Isn't it good enough to be a good person? How about gentiles? Answer: Traditional Jews believe in absolute morality backed by G-d's authority, and liberal Jews tend to hold similar moral principles, even if doubting their divine origin. Thus, "good" implies "observes those moral principles that one is obligated to follow." According to Judaism, gentiles have seven categories of mitzvot that they must follow, and do not need Jewish law or organized religion. But it's their privilege to organize to worship, should they so choose. See the answer in [5]Section 12.19 for more information on these categories.
Subject: Question 12.17: How does Judaism differ from Xianity, Marxism, Communism, Humanism and other -isms? Answer: Communism and Marxism are discredited fin-de-siecle (late 19th century) atheistic philosophies in which people are grouped by economic class, seen as the primary force of history. In contrast, Judaism postulates a set of overriding moral principles, which traditional Jews believe came from G-d, and recognizes the power of righteous and evil individuals. Humanism places man above all else. Judaism places G-d above all else, especially above mankind. "Jewish Humanism" usually describes the combination of elements of Eastern European (Jewish) culture and an atheistic absolute moral code which just so happens to be very similar to Judaism's. For more details, see the [5]Humanistic Reading List. Judaism rejects the possibility of G-d assuming human form. (See Talmud Yerushalmi, tractate Taanis 2:1 (9a) from Bamidbar [Numbers] 23:19). Judaism also rejects the concept of a mandatory mediator between G-d and man, although it accepts the idea that one person can petition G-d on behalf of others. Branches of Xianity postulate salvation exclusively through faith, while Judaism requires observance of the commandments, irrespective of one's level of faith. For more detail, see question 4 in Prager and Telushikin's [6]The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism (Simon and Schuster, 1981, page 77)
Subject: Question 12.18: Where can a Gentile learn about Judaism? Answer: A good place to start is Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin's [5]The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 1981. Because major questions about Judaism are answered in this and other similar books, gentiles who post "I'm just curious about why Jews reject my faith" will be assumed to be missionaries until proven otherwise. Too many missionaries have posted, pretending to ask objective, curious questions, only to end up preaching to the group. Additional information may be found in the [6]General Judaism Reading List, available at [7]
Subject: Question 12.19: What does Judaism say about non-Jews and their role? What does G-d demands of gentiles to get to Olam Ha'aba ["The World- to-come"]? What are the Noachide laws? Answer: Traditionally, the Noachide Laws (see below) have defined righteousness for non-Jews. Background Information The Rabbis in Tractate Sanhedrin [57a] [derive from the Torah] the six broad categories of laws that G-d forbids all of humanity: 1. Killing 2. Stealing 3. Committing Sexual Immorality 4. Eating the flesh of a living animal 5. Serving idols 6. Blaspheming against G-d They also derived one positive category of laws: 1. Establishing a system of legal justice This gives rise to the common expression of "seven" laws. According to the standard computation, these break down into 66 laws that non-Jews are obligated to observe. According to the Rambam, in order to merit the World to Come, non-Jews must observe these obligations specifically because they were commanded by G-d through the Torah (see Genesis 9). [References: R' Shlomo Riskin, R' Nathan Cardozo Torah, Masorah, and Man, and Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim 8:11] Must one comply with these laws? In Judaism, there is the notion of someone who is ketinok shenishba -- like a child who was taken captive and raised by highway robbers. Such a child couldn't be held accountable for growing up to be a criminal. As a general principle, a child raised in a home where some sin was considered normal and accepted behavior isn't held accountable by G-d, the One Who put him in that home for following along. Basically, G-d judges people by taking into account what He gave that person to work with. If it was harder for that person to realize that some behavior is wrong, then G-d will take that into account and judge accordingly. There is a relatively well-known story about R' Zushya, an early Chassidic master. He was on his deathbed, and a number of students were there to share with R' Zushye his final moments. R' Zushya let them know that he was scared, afraid of G-d's final justice. "I am not afraid that G-d will ask me, 'Zushya, why weren't you like Abraham?' 'Zushya, why weren't you a Moses?' I can answer Him, 'But you didn't make me with the abilities of an Abraham or Moses.' But what if G-d asks, 'Zushya, why weren't you a Zushya?' What can I answer?" However, there are movements that encourage the following of the Noachide Laws. A common question on s.c.j is "What are these laws?". The following is a condensed version of a summary of the laws and categories put together by Shlomoh Sherman and posted by Moshe Shulman: The Seven Noachide Categories 1. Murder is forbidden: The life of a human being, formed in G-d's image, is sacred. 2. Theft is forbidden. The world is not ours to do with as we please. 3. Incestuous and adulterous relations are forbidden. Human beings are not sexual objects, nor is pleasure the ultimate goal of life. 4. Eating the flesh of a living animal is forbidden. This teaches us to be sensitive to cruelty to animals. (This was commanded to Noah for the first time along with the permission of eating meat. The negative laws were enforced at the Garden of Eden.) 5. Idolatry is forbidden: Man is commanded to believe in the One G-d alone and worship only G-d. 6. Cursing the name of G-d is forbidden. Besides honoring and respecting G-d, we learn from this precept that our speech must be sanctified, as that is the distinctive sign that separated man from the animals. 7. Mankind is commanded to establish courts of justice and a just social order. This is in order to enforce the first six laws and enact any other useful laws or customs. Specific References These categories are felt to be implicit in G-d's commandment to Adam and Eve in Genesis (Bereshis) 2:16-17: 1. The following verse is a reference to the prohibition against murder. G-d explicitly commands Noah (Genesis 9:6), "If one sheds the blood of the man (HaAdam), by man shall his own blood be shed." 2. The following is an implicit reference to the prohibition against theft. It shows that permission is needed to take something that is not explicitly yours. "You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another" (Leviticus 19:11). 3. The below verse refers to sexual misconduct or adultery, as the prophet Jeremiah (3:1) says, "Saying (laymor), if a man divorces his wife..." 4. The following verse implies that there are things which may not be eaten (the limbs of a live animal): "You must not, however, eat flesh with its life- blood in it." (Genesis 9:4) 5. The following verse is a reference to the prohibition against idolatry; for it says in Exodus 20:3, "You shall have no other gods before me." 6. The following verse implies the prohibition against blasphemy. As it says in Leviticus 24:16, "He who blasphemes the name of the Lord (Hashem) shall die." 7. What follows is a reference to laws of justice for it says in Genesis 18:19, "For I have known him so he will command (Yitzaveh) his children after him to keep the way of the Lord and righteousness and justice." Seven Turns Into Sixty-Six From this are derived the following 66 laws: 1. MURDER: (1) against anyone murdering anyone. 2. THEFT: (1) against stealing; (2) against committing robbery (3) against shifting a landmark; (4) against cheating; (5) against repudiating a claim of money owed; (6) against overcharging; (7) against coveting; (8) against desiring; (9) a laborer shall be allowed to eat of the fruits among which he works (under certain conditions); (10) against a laborer eating of such fruit (when certain conditions are not met); (11) against a laborer taking of such fruit home; (12) against kidnapping; (13) against the use of false weights and measures; (14) against the possession of false weights and measures; (15) that one shall be exact in the use of weights and measures; and (16) that the robber shall return (or pay for) the stolen object. 3. ILLICIT INTERCOURSE: (1) against (a man) having union with his mother; (2) against (a man) having union with his sister; (3) against (a man) having union with the wife of his father; (4) against (a man) having union with another man's wife; (5) against (a man) copulating with a beast; (6) against a woman copulating with a beast; (7) against (a man) lying carnally with a male; (8) against (a man) lying carnally with his father; (9) against (a man) lying carnally with his father's brother; and (10) against engaging in erotic conduct that may lead to a prohibited union. [Note: There is some dispute as to what the correct wording it for (8) and (9), as it seems to be covered by (7). If the text is based on Lev. 18:8, the standard prohibition derived therefrom is covered in (3). Note that this is in the context of noachide prohibitions.] 4. LIMB OF A LIVING CREATURE: (1) against eating a limb severed from a living animal, beast, or fowl; and (2) against eating the flesh of any animal which was torn by a wild beast ... which, in part, prohibits the eating of such flesh as was torn off an animal while it was still alive. 5. IDOLATRY: (1) against entertaining the thought that there exists a deity except the Lord; (2) against making any graven image (and against having anyone else make one for us); (3) against making idols for use by others; (4) against making any forbidden statues (even when they are for ornamental purposes); (5) against bowing to any idol (and not to sacrifice nor to pour libation nor to burn incense before any idol, even where it is not the customary manner of worship to the particular idol); (6) against worshipping idols in any of their customary manners of worship; (7) against causing our children to pass (through the fire) in the worship of Molech [Molech was the fire god of the Ammonites and Phoenicians to whom parents sacrificed their children]; (8) against practicing Ov; (9) against the practice of Yiddoni [Sorceror, Soothsayer, Magician]; and (10) against turning to idolatry (in word, in thought, in deed, or by any observance that may draw us to its worship). [Editors Note: We need a translation/meaning for Ov.] 6. BLASPHEMY: (1) to acknowledge the presence of G-d; (2) to fear G-d; (3) to pray to G-d; (4) to sanctify G-d's name (in face of death, where appropriate); (5) against desecrating G-d's name (even in face of death, when appropriate); (6) to study the Torah; (7) to honor the scholars, and to revere one's teacher; and (8) against blaspheming. 7. JUSTICE: (1) to appoint judges and officers in each and every community; (2) to treat the litigants equally before the law; (3) to inquire diligently into the testimony of a witness; (4) against the wanton miscarriage of justice by the court; (5) against the judge accepting a bribe or gift from a litigant; (6) against the judge showing marks of honor to but one litigant; (7) against the judge acting in fear of a litigant's threats; (8) against the judge, out of compassion, favoring a poor litigant; (9) against the judge discriminating against the litigant because he is a sinner; (10) against the judge, out of softness, putting aside the penalty of a mauler or killer; (11) against the judge discriminating against a stranger or an orphan; (12) against the judge hearing one litigant in the absence of the other; (13) against appointing a judge who lacks knowledge of the Law; (14) against the court killing an innocent man; (15) against incrimination by circumstantial evidence; (16) against punishing for a crime committed under duress; (17) that the court is to administer the death penalty by the sword; (18) against anyone taking the law into his own hands to kill the perpetrator of a capital crime (this point is disagreed upon by different writers: "The Noahites are not restricted in this way but may judge singly and at once."); (19) to testify in court; and (20) against testifying falsely. Appendix The term "Noachide" describes groups, generally founded by rabbis, for the purpose of making non-Jews aware of their obligations according to Torah. These groups observe the commandments in the seven categories, and do not follow the tenets of non-Jewish religions. The following locations include B'nai Noach Groups or Organizations (United States): * CALIFORNIA 1. Noah's Covenant Noachide Ministry [1827 Ximeno Avenue, #237, Long Beach, California 90815. E-mail: [5] Website: [6]]. * FLORIDA 1. Ex-Christians For Moses Noahide Ministry [1000 West Oakland Park Boulevard, Suite 105, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311. E-mail: [7] Website: [8]]. * GEORGIA 1. Chavurath B'nai Noach of Atlanta, Georgia [3952 Garden Circle, Acworth, Georgia 30101. Phone & Fax (Local): (770) 975-0225. Phone & Fax (International): (800) 929-6624. E-mail: [9] Website: [10]]. * ILLINOIS 1. B'nai Noach Study Group [E-mail: [11]]. * MASSACHUSETTS 1. Chavurath B'nai Noach of Massachusetts [30 North Hadley Road, Amherst, Massachusetts 01002. E-mail: [12]]. * MINNESOTA 1. B'nai Noach Study Group [E-mail: [13]]. * NEW YORK 1. Root & Branch Association [860 Grand Concourse, Bronx, New York 10451. Phone: (718) 585-3512, Fax: (718) 993-3712. Email: [14]]. * TENNESSEE 1. Emmanuel Study Centre for B'nai Noah [POB 442 Athens, Tennessee 37371- 0442. Phone: (423) 745-0851, Fax: (423) 744-9414. E-mail: [15] and [16] Website: [17]]. * TEXAS 1. Chavurath B'nai Noah of Fort Worth, Texas [8029 Hulen Park Circle, Fort Worth, Texas 76123-1353. Phone: (817) 370-9126, Fax: (817) 292-5829. E-mail: [18] Website: [19]]. 2. Vendyl Jones Research Institutes [POB 120366 Arlington, Texas 76012-0366. Phone (USA): (817) 792-3304, Fax (USA): (817) 275-6317. Phone (Israel): (972) 2-535-7598, Fax (Israel): (972) 2-535-7597. E-mail: [20] Website: [21]]. * WISCONSIN 1. B'nai Noach Study Group [E-mail: [22] Website: [23]] . The following is a list of books pertaining specifically to B'nai Noach. Unless otherwise indicated, books should be available through major online retailers.: 1. Benamozegh, Elijah; Luria, Maxwell (Translator). Israel and Humanity (Classics of Western Spirituality). Paulist Press; 1995. Paperback ISBN 0-809135-41-8. [24][Buy at Amazon: /] 2. Bindman, Yirmeyahu. (The) Seven Colors of the Rainbow: Torah Ethics for Non-Jews. Resource Publications; 1995. Paperback. ISBN 0-893903-32-9. [25][Buy at Amazon: ] 3. Clorfene, Chaim and Yaakov Rogalsky. The Path of the Righteous Gentile. Smithfield, MI: Targum Press, 1987 [26][Buy at Amazon: ] (Special Order) 4. Davis, J. David. Finding the God of Noah: The Spiritual Journey of a Baptist Minister from Christianity to the Laws of Noah. Ktav Publishing House; 1996. Hardcover ISBN 0-881255-35-1. [27][Buy at Amazon: /] 5. Friedman, Manis. Doesn't Anyone Blush Anymore? Bais Chana Press. Paperback ISBN 1-578870-00-3. [28][Buy at Amazon: /] 6. Gallin, Aryeh. The Root and Branch Noachide Guide. Root and Branch Association, Ltd. 504 Grand Street, #E51, New York, NY 10002-4101. [29] 7. Hanke, Kimberly E. Turning to Torah: The Emerging Noachide Movement Jason Aronson Publishing House (230 Livingston Street, Northvale, New Jersey 07647) and Number Seven Spectrum House (32-34 Gordon House Road London, NW5 1LP England). 1995. 250 pp. ISBN: 1-568215-00-2. [One woman's path from Christianity to "Messianic" Christianity, and finally to Torah since 1988. At one point, she considers conversion to Judaism, and then learns of the Noachide Covenant, through several Jewish individuals. She then was enlightened into the writings of J. David Davis.] [30][Buy at Amazon: ] 8. Kaplan, Jeffrey. Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah. Syracuse Univ Pr (Trade); 1997. Paperback ISBN 0-815603-96-7. [31][Buy at Amazon: ] 9. Lichtenstein, Aaron. The Seven Laws of Noah. The Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press, New York. 1981. Website: [32] [The most technical book on Noahism. It is probably not intended to be an introduction to the Noahide system, but rather a detailed scholarly analysis for those who have been Noahides for a long time or for Jewish scholars of Noahism.] 10. Madden, Ralph. Israel: The Abiding Kingdom. Available at [33] 11. Novak, David. (The) Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism: A Constructive Study of the Noahide Laws. Edwin Mellen Press; 1983. Hardcover ISBN 0-889467-59-5. [34][Buy at Amazon: /] 12. Pallière, Aimé. The Unknown Sanctuary: A Pilgrimage from Rome to Israel. Bloch Pub Co; 1986. Paperback ISBN 0-819704-98-9. [35][Buy at Amazon: ] 13. Schonfeld, S. Universal Bible To All Nations: Torat B'nai Noach (Teachings for Sons of Noah) Website: [36] 14. Sears, David. Compassion For Humanity In the Jewish Tradition. Jason Aronson; 1998. Hardcover. ISBN 0-765799-87-1. [37][Buy at Amazon: /] Discussion Lists 1. Yahoo Groups: Noachide. This is a forum where B'nai Noach and Jews can discuss topics specifically pertaining to issues. Noahides are gentiles (non-Jews) who seek to engage the entire world in observance of the sheva mitzvot (Seven Laws of Noah). This set of laws was officially recognized in legislation by the Congress and the President of the United States (then, George H.B. Bush). Moreover, they are discussed in Genesis 9 of the Bible. Visit [38] for more information. 2. Yahoo Groups: B'nai Noach. The B'nai Noach List is sponsered by the web site. This list has been in operation for over 3 years as of Sept. 98. This list is a General discussion list for B'nai Noach the Children of Noah, Those Non Jews who have left their native religion and now follow only the G-d of the Jews, Israel and Torah. True B'nai Noach have no other gods and support Judaism, Israel, and Torah. They reconigze the validity of Torah, and the Oral Law. For more information, visit [39] 3. B'nai Noach Discussion Forum: [40] 312d925ca5a2cbaacf5f Additional Information To obtain additional details on the above or to have your question(s) about Noahism answered, e-mail [41] with your request.
Subject: Question 12.20: What do Jews believe about Good and Evil? Answer: First off, Jews certainly do maintain that there is good and evil in the world. But let's clear up some terms first. Consider the parameters of good vs. evil. Imagine a line going from -100 to +100, with -100 being evil, -50 being "bad", 0 being neutral, +50 being "good", and +100 being pious, like this: -100 (evil)----- -50 (bad)---- 0 (neutral)----- +50 (good)---- +99 (pious) The Jewish tradition acknowledges the entire line, and cites examples for each point. It also contends that most of us only go from, say, -65 to +65. However, it also acknowledges that we're capable of going from -100 to +99 (for only G-d stands at +100). And it offers that G-d has provided us with the mitzvah system both as a barometer of what's -100, -65, -50, 0, +50, +65, and +99, as well as a means of attaining the full human potential of +99.
Subject: Question 12.21: What is the Jewish position on Capital Punishment? Answer: In 1981, the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein addressed this question in Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat, Vol. 2 ch. 68. He wrote that the Torah prescribes capital punishment for a number of grave offenses, including murder, certain types of kidnapping, adultery and idol worshiping. The transgressors in these cases, he explained, are capable of committing all kinds of atrocities and cruel acts for their own benefit. The punishment, however, was not to be inflicted because of hatred for the offender or concern for the survival of society, for it is the Jewish belief that G-d will punish the offenders (Bava Metzia 83b). The purpose of inflicting capital punishment for these offenses is to educate people about the severity of the offenses, rather than to end the life of the offenders. Jewish law strongly emphasizes the significance and value of every soul, including those of offenders. For this reason only a twenty-three member court, a small Sanhedrin, is authorized to try capital crimes. Only prominent scholars, well-versed in the wisdom of the Torah as well as in other scholarly disciplines, and who possess excellent values, qualify for membership on this court. A candidate must be humble, G-d fearing, one who despises money, a lover of truth, beloved by people for his qualities of goodness and humility, and who is sociable, self-composed, compassionate and not the subject of any gossip. For this reason a childless person or a very old one, who has forgotten the pain of raising children, is not qualified for membership on the court, because this person might lack compassion and become unduly harsh with offenders. Furthermore, these righteous and excellent judges cannot try offenders of capital crimes in a court that consists of less than twenty three members. In addition, three rows of scholars (candidates for serving on the court) are seated in front of the court, watch the proceeding and alert the court to any error which might lead to an unlawful conviction. These scholars, however, cannot intervene when the error favors the defendant. Circumstantial evidence is inadmissible; to convict the defendant two qualified witnesses who have no material interest in the case are required. Prosecution witnesses are disqualified if they are motivated by a desire to testify in order to escape punishment. The witnesses must be warned about the graveness of perjury in general and in connection with capital punishment in particular. Furthermore, the defendant must have been warned prior to committing the crime about its severity and must have acknowledged an awareness of it. Because of all these requirements, execution of criminals in the Jewish community was rare, taking place only once in many years. Furthermore, capital crimes were tried only at the time of the Holy Temple, in which the Great Sanhedrin, consisting of seventy one members, was housed. Following the destruction of the Temple, capital crimes were not tried in Jewish courts even when they were granted jurisdiction by the state to try Jewish criminals according to Jewish law. These rules, however, applied in normal times when murder was rare and committed as a result of unrestrained passion or during a dispute over property or because of injury to one's honor. In case one killed out of cruelty and indifference of the prohibition of murder, or when murder became widespread, the strict evidentiary and procedural rules in favor of defendants in criminal cases were relaxed, and criminals were convicted and executed. Note that the above deals with cases where Jews are governing Jews under Jewish law. With respect to countries such as the United States, one must look at the imposition of capital punishment under Noahide law, which applies to non-Jewish people, or the power of a king or a state legislature to impose capital punishment, based upon the principle of dina de'malchuta dina, literally, "the law of the state is the law." The authorization for the imposition of capital punishment and the relevant evidentiary and procedural rules under Noahide law or the principle of dina de'malchuta dina are entirely different from those under Jewish law. The question of capital punishment under the Noahide code was discussed in the Talmud. See B. Talmud, Sanhedrin 57a-b. It was decided that all seven Noahide laws are capital crimes. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Judges, the Laws of Kings 9:14) Under Noahide law one may be executed based on the testimony of one witness or a confession, and without a prior warning. (Maimonides, ibid, 9:14; Chinuch ch. 26) According to one opinion, a criminal might be executed under Noahide law based upon circumstantial evidence (Rabbi Z.H. Chayoth, Ma'aritz Chayot, Vol. 1 ch. 49). According to Maimonides, non-Jews are required to establish a judicial system and apply the Noahide law, including the imposition of capital punishment (Maimonides, ibid, 9:14). It would appear, then, that American courts might be required under Noahide law to impose capital punishment for the violation of any one of the seven Noahide laws based upon one-witness testimony, circumstantial evidence or a defendant's confession. Similarly, the imposition of capital punishment by a non-Jewish state under the principle of dina de'malchuta dina does not require the application of strict evidentiary and procedural rules as in Jewish law. For instance, the testimony of one witness or the defendant's confession might suffice to convict a defendant (Rabbi B. Ashkenazi's commentary (Shita Mekubetzet) on Bava Metzia 83b-84a, citing Ritva) Although the principle of dina de'malchuta dina was primarily intended to subject Jewish people to the authority of a non-Jewish state, it could a fortiori apply also to non-Jewish people. This is because the underlying theories of this principle, e.g., the people's implied consent to the state's authority, or the power of the state to expel disobedient inhabitants, applies to everyone. The restrictions in Jewish law on the execution of criminals, delineated by Rabbi Feinstein, are limited to trials conducted according to biblical law. A Jewish king, however, is not subject to these restrictions and may execute criminals more easily than a Jewish court. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Kings, 3:10, 4:1-3; Drush ha-Ran, ch. 11). The principles which guide a non-Jewish king regarding capital punishment are more readily compared to those which guide a Jewish king, rather than those which are applied by a Jewish tribunal. Furthermore, some scholars believe that the power of a non- Jewish king or government to try criminals is based on the Jewish king's prerogatives under Jewish law. (Rabbi M. Meterani, Kiryat Sefer, the Laws of Robbery and Lost Objects Ch 5; Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Vol. 3, ch. 40). Consequently, a non-Jewish king is not subject to the restriction applied to Jewish courts with regard to punishment of criminals. The Reform Movement is against capital punishment. In 1979, the CCAR (the Reform rabbinical body) issued the following resolution: In 1958 and again in 1960, the Central Conference of American Rabbis stated its opposition to all forms of capital punishment. We reaffirm that position now. Nothing which we have observed during the intervening years has shaken our convictions that: a. Both in concept and in practice, Jewish tradition found capital punishment repugnant, despite Biblical sanctions for it. For the past 2.000 years. with the rarest of exceptions, Jewish courts have refused to punish criminals by depriving them of their lives. b. No evidence has been marshaled to indicate with any persuasiveness that capital punishment serves as a deterrent to crime. c. We oppose capital punishment under all circumstances.
Subject: Question 12.22: What is the Jewish position on communicating with the dead? Answer: Judaism has a strong prohibition against sorcery and divination. Deut. 18:10 says "There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one that useth divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or one that consulteth a ghost or familiar spirit, or a necromancer. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the Lord". The Hertz commentaries note that in Judaism the spritual part of man was not conceived as ghostly, but under the attribute of holy. It notes that stories of ghosts or apparitions are almost absent from the Torah, and necromancy is considered especially abhorrent. There is one instance in the Torah where communication with the dead is mentioned. In the first Book of Samuel, (Chapter 28, we read about Saul the first monarch of Israel seeking out the witch of Endor (Baalat Ov at Ein Dor) to perform a "seance" and call up the dead prophet Samuel on the eve of a battle with the Philistines. The witch seemingly succeeds but the blistering message supposedly imparted by Samuel can hardly bring comfort to Saul: "..For G-d has rent the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor, to David." [1 Samuel 28:17] Does this incident imply that consultation with the dead is acceptable in some situations? No. Rabbenu Samuel Ben Chafni Gaon (in the Responsa of the Gaonim, Ginzai Shechter, part 1, pages 299-30) writes as follows: "In actuality (the witch) did not raise up Samuel from the dead, but the BAALAT OV deceived Saul; it is impossible that G-d would bring Samuel back to life with the strength of witchcraft, because this is against nature, and the only ones who have mystical powers are prophets, and she was not a prophet. She deceived him [Saul] into believing that she had that power." Further, the incident did not leave Saul in good standing. Regarding Saul it is written, "Wherever he turned, he did badly" (Samuel I 14:47) [i.e., he did not merit rendering decisions in accordance with the Halachah --Rashi] (Eruvin 53a) Judaism has no need to communicate with the dead; G-d has given us prophets instead. This is confirmed in Rashi, 18:14: He has not permitted you to hearken to diviners and enchanters, since He has caused the divine presence to rest upon the prophets and the Urim v'Tumim. The above is the traditional view. There appear to be no specific Reform Responsa on the subject; it appears that in this area Reform Judaism does not differ from traditional Judaism.
Subject: Question 12.23: What is the significance and importance of suffering and punishment in Judaism? Answer: J udaism teaches that G-d chose the Jews for certain roles and responsibilities within a cosmic plan. While G-d loves and is responsive to pleas from his "chosen people", G-d's actions conform to this timeless scheme for the world. Inevitably, some human suffering will occur and must be accepted for the sake of others or the community as a whole or in congruence with G-d's eternal plan. The parable of Moses on Mount Nebo illustrates another salient feature of the Judaic view of suffering. After leading the Jewish people through forty years in the desert wilderness, Moses, the receiver of the Ten Commandments and the "servant of G-d", ascends the mountain and looks across the Jordan river to Canaan. The covenant G-d had made with Moses was for him to live to see the promised land, but he was neither to enter nor witness his people entering Israel. Now, having attained that goal, Moses bargains with the Angel of Death, imploring God to allow him to observe his people entering the promised land, if only as a bird flying high above or as a blade of grass on atop Mount Nebo. G-d declines, gently at first, later with fury. The covenant must be maintained. G-d demands that Moses' corpse be brought to him! The parable ends as the Angel of Death approaches the heavenly throne carrying the dead body of Moses and observes that G-d is weeping. ( From The Nature of Suffering and the Nature of Opportunity at the End of Life Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 237-252, May 1996. Ira R. Byock, M.D. )
Subject: Question 12.24: Why are there different names for G-d? Answer: Here is an explanation of some of the names used: * E-lohim (el-hiym). "Lawmaker", both in the sense of nature and in that of moral and religious law. In Exodus, the legislators of the human court are refered to as elohim. The plural is perhaps a statement of majesty, or perhaps the idea that G-d is the Author of all laws. Not that the two are all that different. The majestic plural comes from the idea that the king or queen spoke for all of England. Jewish tradition notes that this name is used in naaratives where G-d's actions can more readily be seen as pure justice. * El. Almighty. Same root as E-lohim. * Y-H-V-H. Literally "the self existent" implying "eternal". Sometimes this is rendered as "I am", but this doesn't really express the significance behind what is implied with this word. This word is harder to translate because the vowels have been lost. The usual "Ye-hovah" is actually the vowelization of "A-donai" (my L-rd[s]), adapted for the consonants. The leading yud can't take the almost-schwa short /a/ sound, so it is written with a schwa instead. The word can also be taken to mean "the Causer of existance". Also, midrashically, the tetragrammaton is taken as a contraction of "hayah, hoveh, yihyeh -- was, is, will be". * Ad-nai. Supreme Lord or sovereign. Again, literally it means "my L-rd[s]". Does the grammar or use a unique one or singular being, as compared to that implied by the use of the plural? Not really, because the adjectives and verbs used with these names are consistantly singular. The name can't be intended as a plural, which is a second reason, aside from the monotheistic theology. There is more information in answer [5]9.11.
Subject: Question 12.25: What is the "Book of Life"? Answer: The "Book of Life" is called Sefer HaChaim in Hebrew. The only reference to such a book (where the lives of humans are written) that occurs in the Torah is in Sh'mot (Exodus) 32:32. According to the New JPS translation: "Now, if You will forgive their sin [well and good]; but if not, erase me from the record which You have written!". In Hebrew the words that are translated as "the record which You have written." can also be translated as your book that you wrote. It is as close as we come in Torah itself. In the Prophets Malachi 3:16 speaks of a scroll of remembrance. Scroll is often a translation of the word sefer which is mostly translated as book. In T'hilim (Psalms 69:29) you have the expression Sefer Chaim (Book of Life) and the idea of the righteous being written into the same. The idea has been developed much further in post T'nach (Old Testament) times and is today a central motif in the Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur services.
Subject: Question 12.26: How does one atone for sins? Answer: The way in which atonement is achieved is one of the defining characteristics of Judaism. When the temple was still in existance, sins were atoned through offerings and the Jewish court system. Since the Temple was destroyed, a rabbinic system that has focused on prayer has arisen. The basic philosophy is that for sins against another human, one must atone to that person; for sins against G-d, one must atone to G-d. Typically, the atonement to G-d occurs on the holy day of Yom Kippur, when one prays and repents, and presumably changes one's ways. During this time, one also apologizes to those harmed for any grievences, intended or unintended. Apologies, however, are not enought. There are actually three phases: 1. Abandoning the sin 2. Regret 3. Verbal confession. Thoughts aren't as powerful as hearing yourself vocalize them Note that, in Jewish thought, any sin can be atoned through severe repentence, without death. However, there is the notion that true remorse for certain sins (such as murder) can only come with experiencing Yom Kippur, or sometimes even only with death. This is particularly true for those sins that would have been punished by death in the days of a Jewish court system (assuming all the legal details were met). However, that rule isn't hard and fast. Just as we can acheive atonement today without Temple sacrifices, remorse is possible even without death. There is the thought that there are some sins (murder, idolotry, and adultery) that one ought not violate even at risk to your own life. For example, under threat of death, one might eat non-Kosher food; however, if the choice is praying to an idol or death, one is supposed to choose death.
Subject: Question 12.27: What does Judaism say about the punishments in the Torah? Answer: The Torah contains many types of punshment, from stoning to death. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein points out that, on the surface, all punishments in the Torah appear ludicrous! How is it possible that a Jew is deserving of death by stoning for kindling a match on the Sabbath, whereas a thief only has to repay what he is stolen as a punishment (and in certain situations double)? Why is it that the concept of incarceration does not exist in the Torah (except for designating cities of refuge for someone who killed _unintentionally_)? Further, Judaism does not actually impose any penalties unless we have two independent, non-related eyewitnesses, who have warned the perpetrator before doing the act what punishment he will receive, and the perpetrator must answer them "Even so, I will transgress and do (whatever the bad act is)". Our rabbis teach us that a court that has put a person to death more than once in 7 years, and according to some opinions more than once in 70 years, is a "trigger happy" court, and must be disqualified! Is this a deterrent? The explanation, again according to Rav Feinstein, is that the Torah concept of punishment is entirely different from the secular concept of punishment. The reason there are punishments in secular law is to protect society. Hence, those who steal are locked up to "get them off the streets", and there is no punishment at all for people who choose to violate the Sabbath. However, the Torah perspective is that the punishment is not for the protection of society, for G-d guards and protects society. The Torah punishments are primarily a message to those who study them, teaching the gravity and essence of the laws that they are studying. For example, in traditional Judaism, a Jew who intentionally violates the Sabbath must be aware that this is an act of denial that G-d created the universe, and consequently his life is not worth living, because for what other purpose are we here other than to know and teach that there is one Creator whom we must serve! A person who steals must repay what he has stolen, to the point of going into servitude if he is unable to, to drive home the message of what he has done, and what steps thus must be taken to rectify it. We also find that the Talmud "borrowed" this technique, and taught us that there are some things that might seem trivial to us that we would do that are "deserving of death" or that a person who performs it "forfeits his life". One example is in Pirke Avot [Chapters of Our Fathers] (3:9), where we are taught that if someone is studying Torah as he is walking, and interrupts his studies to comment about how beautiful G-d's creation that is surrounding him is, he is considered to have "forfeited his life". Obviously we are not saying that we kill such a person; rather, there is an underlying message. So, when we read about a punishment in the Torah, we should ask ourselves: "What does the punishment teach me about this transgression, and how might I better improve my service of G-d with this knowledge?"
Subject: Question 12.28: What does the Torah mean by Abomination? Answer: What the Torah calls a "Toevah" (tav vav ayin bet hey. from the root "taav"-tav ayin bet) is usually translated as "abomination". The term is typically used in the Torah proper (the first five Books of the Bible) to refer to extremely serious offenses which completely undermine the basis of any conceivably sound religious or moral society from G-d's standpoint. Among the offenses are male homosexual acts, idolatry, and child sacrifice. Idolatry and child sacrifice are particularly identified with the Canaanites, and are cited as grounds for their being dispossessed by the People of Israel in the Land of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt. In the Prophets, the meaning is extended to include moral depavity (such as murder and oppression of the poor and weak, and sexual offenses such as infidelity and promiscuity) on the part of those meticulous in their ritual observance (particularly in terms of bringing Offerings to the Temple). It must be stressed that the Prophets are not in the least opposed to meticulous ritual observance. They simply feel that those who are so careful in these matters should be equally careful in terms of interpersonal mitzvot ("commandments"), which are also mandated by the Torah.
Subject: Question 12.29: Why does the Torah talk about Other Gods? Answer: We've all seen the lines in the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not have no other gods before me Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. These sentences are among the more problematic ones. Why is there a reference to "other Gods"? The problem is that for those who don't understand that this is a short-hand of an idea, they may think that the God is recognizing the existence of other gods (which was extremely common in Greek times). This is not the case. Rather, this is a commentary on the nature of man, who at times sets up other things/beings as gods, whether it is idol worship in India, the worship of the Greek gods, the duality of the Zoroastrans, or (nowadays) the workshop of money or the priority of our workplace.
Subject: Question 12.30: What is the purpose of life? Why did G-d create man? Answer: We don't know why G-d created man. When we think, we use this finite mind to turn over ideas and let them evolve over time. G-d's Mind is infinite; G-d doesn't experience time subjectvely, and therefore G-d's Ideas are incomparable to ours--not just an infinitely ornate version of ours, but something totally different. What we do know is that G-d is good, and it's the nature of goodness to want to bestow that good on someone. Given that G-d is the ultimate good, what G-d bestows upon us is the ability to experience G-dliness. As it says in Genesis, "let us create man in our image, like our form". Jewish literature often calls the soul a "spark of G-d", and notes that when G-d breathed a soul into Adam "one who breathes breathes from within himself". Man therefore is given the opportunity to be creative, just like G-d is. Which means that the world is an imperfect one, because otherwise there would be little for us to do. Also, it means that we were given free will. We aren't automata that always do the right thing. We make mistakes. So, we're here to be recepticles of G-d's goodness. Why G-d wants those recepticles is beyond us. So what are we supposed to be aiming for with our lives? Simple: To become better recepticles. This means learning what those mistakes are and working on avoiding them. We should strive to perfect ourselves. This includes being creative, and therefore improving the world around us.
Subject: Question 12.31: How does tithing work in Judaism? Answer: The Torah requires tithing from every crop grown in Israel, not other income. There is a custom, which perhaps is a Rabbinic Law (there is a difference of opinion about it) to tithe 10% of one's net income to helping others. This excludes the synagogue, religious education for your own kids (but might include the extra tuition required to cover those on scholarship)--that is, it is just for helping those in need. The biblical obligation to tithe involved a number of portions to be given out: * The first portion, called "terumah", was given to a kohein (priest, a descendent of Aaron). It could be any amount, although typically it was 1/50th, and normal range was between 1/40th and 1/60th. * 10% of what remained was given to a Levite (ma'aser). * The Levite in turn gave terumah from his take to a kohein (terumas ma'aser). * In the 3rd and 6th years of the Sabbatical cycle, 10% of what was left (ma'aser ani) was taken to Jerusalem and eaten. One could see the produce and carry only coins to Jerusalem and buy the food there. * In the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th years, the 2nd 10% (ma'aser sheini) is given to the poor. On the Sabbatical year farmers don't grow anything, so there is nothing to give. In addition, farmers had other charities they had to give. The first is called leket: if, while harvesting, one or two stalks fall at once, the owner must leave them for the poor to gather. Over the course of an entire field, this will add up. There was also Shich'cha: if one or two sheaves were forgotten in the field when the harvest was brought in, those too must be left. Lastly, there was Pei'ah--ne corner of each field must be left for the poor to harvest.
Subject: Question 12.32: Does Judaism permit organ donation? Answer: The act of donating organs does honor to the deceased; many of those about to die would gladly forego any other honor and donate organs for this purpose (Kid. 32; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 364.1, 368.1; Isserles Responsa #327). Note that if you plan on donating organs, you should always make sure your family is aware of your wishes. For more information, take a look at [5] A good contact on Organ Donation is the Southern California Organ Procurement Center, [6]
Subject: Question 12.33: Is numerology part of Jewish Mysticism? Answer: The Torah is studied on four general levels: * The simple meaning of the text * Hints and mnemonics * Hermeneutics and derivations (from which we get halachah, Jewish law) * Fundamentals and kabbalah Gematria is not only used by Kabbalists, but is also useful as a hint or mnemonic, as a means of associating some idea with the text of the Torah. People who enjoy these things tend to be the same people as those who study kabbalah. Neither will appeal to the strict rationalist; even if one gives them a rationalist basis. However, that's just a psychological tendency. The Tosafist movement (12th and 13th cent CE) wasn't particularly kabbalistic (in fact, the competing pietists movement, Chassidei Ashkenaz was), yet their commentary is rife with gematria. Kabbalah teaches that everything is an intentional act of G-d. Which implies that there are no coincidences. Such synchronicisties and other "coincidences" are potential learning experience, since G-d made them that way for a reason. Numbers are used as symbols, so that the number of elements in some commandment, or planets in the sky, letters in the Hebrew alphabet or letters of a given type, or whatever, are assumed to be chosen by G-d to indicate more about their significance. So, for example, it is deemed significant that there are the same number of days in the week as colors in the rainbow, both of which are one less than the number of days in the harvest festival of Succos and the number of strings in a tassle of tzitzis. Seven represents the totality of creation, eight is therefore striving to go beyond the limitations of this world. Sometimes, gematria is used here as well. A tool that is useful as a mnemonic device when studying Torah is a source for finding meaning for these coincidences.
Subject: Question 12.34: What is Jewish thought on Gog and Magog? Answer: As Ezekiel writes, there will be a king (Gog) who leads his nation (Magog) in a final war. Who that king will be, and which country, is unknown--or even if that ruler arrived already (for it is possible the war described by Ezekiel was WWII... no one knows.) In Tractate Succos, the Talmud tells a story about the dawn of the messianic era. The nation of Magog will complain to G-d that their fate is unfair. Israel recieved the Torah and they did not! Why should they be judged as less than Israel because of an opportunity they were not given? G-d offers them a single mitzvah, sitting in the Succah, the thatched roof hut of the Succos holiday. We are told that they will try this mitzvah, but give up in anger when the weather gets too hot, the commandment too difficult. The Talmud concludes that the problem was not in their giving up, but in their anger. The language of the story is "kicking the door on their way out." Whatever this story comes to teach us, I wanted to point out a language connection. A gag is a roof. Magog would be a roofer. The Succah is noted for its sechach (from which it gets its name): a thatched roof that is thin enough to let rain through. A Succah does not protect you from the elements; it serves as a reminder that protection comes from G-d. Man must put in effort--we live in a Succah, not out of doors--but only with Divine Aid can we succeed. Magog is challenged with this commandment in particular because the message they convey is "my might and the strength of my hand won for me this war". In distinction to the message of the Succah, they feel they can provide their own roofs, their own self-protection. It is this notion that must fall before the messianic era can emerge.
Subject: Question 12.35: What does Judaism believe about Satan? Answer: Judaism does not believe in the devil, but we do believe in Satan (who more properly should be called "the Satan"). As this demonstrates, the Jewish view of Satan is very different than the Christian one. Here's a summary of the Jewish view; you can also find information at Alyza (Gretchen) Shapiro's web site at [5] The word satan means challenger. With the leading ha- to make haSatan, it refers to /the/ challenger. This describes Satan as the angel who is the embodiment of man's challenges. Satan works for G-d. His job is to make choosing good over evil enough of a challenge so that it can be a meaningful choice. Contrast this to Christianity, which sees Satan as God's opponent. In Jewish thought, the idea that there exists anything capable of setting itself up as God's opponent would be considered overly polytheistic--you are setting up the devil to be a god or demigod.
Subject: Question 12.36: In Judaism, what are some of the laws related to gleaning and tithing for the poor? Answer: There are four gifts given to the poor: 1. In the third and sixth year of the sabbatical cycle, the second tithe is given to the poor. This is given after the priests' gift of approximately 2% and the levites' tithe which comes to 9.8% (10% of the 98% that remains). So, we are talking about 8.64% or so. 2. Fallen stalks: stalks dropped by the harvesters in ones or twos may not be picked up, but must be left for the poor. (If three or more fall, they may be picked up) 3. Forgotten sheaves: if one or two bundles are forgotten when the grain is brought in from the field, you may not go back to get them, they are left for the poor. (Again, if three are more are left, you may bring them in for threashing.) For vineyards, this not only includes overlooked bunches of grapes, but there is also a law against taking one or two grapes left behind when a bunch is picked. 4. A corner of the field must be left for the poor. For this, there is no measure; the farmer's conscience is his guide. A couple of notes: We do not believe these numbers are rabbinic. Rather, they are part of an oral tradition that dates back to the giving of the law. Not every detail that God gave us is recorded in the Torah. In particular, measures for each law are rarely given in the text. Second, these laws are viewed as being tied to the sanctity of the land of Israel and sactifying the Jewish settlement of that land. Non-Jewish citizens of Biblical Israel were not expected to give any of these. Nor were Jews who resided outside of Israel.
Subject: Question 12.37: What is the Jewish view of Salvation, i.e., how a person from a given religion is ''saved''? Answer: This is an important question. It is important to look at the questions that religions ask, as well as the ones they don't ask. In this case, one must start with the awareness that salvation is not a Jewish concept, as it implies a focus on the afterlife, which is not significant focus of Judaism. In particular, the Christian view of the question just doesn't work, for it implies a notion of "hell" for those that aren't saved. Jews believe that people are supposed to do the best they can at being good. We do this because it is the right thing to do--any personal gain is a side-effect. In fact, focussing on issues of reward and punishment to some extent mitigates the good one is doing by tainting it with selfish motives. Note also that Jews do not assume that God assesses people on some absolute scale. Jews believe that God expects you to do the best you have with what you have-- including upbringing, innate abilities, and the situations you find yourself in--and you have the power to perfect yourself. Even on this relative scale, though, no one wastes their entire potential, or fully utilizes every opportunity. So, to whatever extent one does what they can, they enjoy its effects in the World to Come. But again, Judaism is about being good to be good and to have a healthy relationship with God, man, and oneself--not to be saved. The role of Jewish law is to provide tools to learn how to do that, and values that one ought acquire. Judaism teaches that God gave us these laws because there are subtleties to the ideal that can not be conveyed in broader strokes. We therefore learn from the subtleties of the ritual, and the nuances of the inter-personal laws. Often very fundamental ideas about Jewish values can emerge from same arcane bit that one would think would never have found application in practice. Last, there are two sorts of law: there is the covenant at Sinai, which God made with the Jews (and the other Israelites, the ancestors of the Northern Kingdom) to define the role of Jews in His plan. All Judaism asks of Jews is to follow the teachings of God as given in that covenant (as understood by their particular movement)--for the traditional Jew, this means to follow the laws given in the written and oral Torah. The other law is the covenant God made with Noah and his descendents. We believe that this is simpler law that non-Jews are expected to follow as well.
Subject: Question 12.38: Can a Jew donate blood? Answer: Judaism (all movements) has no problem with donating blood. In face, it's encouraged as part of the general value of saving lives.
Subject: Question 12.39: How does halacha, the messiah, and the prophets affect the daily life of a Jew? Answer: Traditional Jews live their lives in accordance with halachah ("the way"; ie Jewish law). It dictates everything from prayer to what one eats to how one shaves in the morning. Halachah is viewed as the terms of the contract between the Jewish people and G-d made at Mt Sinai. In other words, a Jew's day is filled with activities that are being performed because of that covenant. Even for non-traditional Jews, halacha dictates ones lives, for the teaching of halacha dictate the moral codes that are followed and the holidays obverved. As for the messiah, note that in Judaism the messiah is simply the first king of the restored Davidic line, i.e., a person (and thus, the "m" is not capitalized). Jews hope and pray for the messiah, and aspire to deserving of the messiah, and we consider such belief and aspiration to be part of the definition of our faith. But in terms of daily influence it's quite small. One is supposed to do the right thing because it's the right thing, and because G-d wants us to--not in order to bring the messiah or some other reward. [And although it sounds like a small point, this is in fact a key difference between Judaism and Christianity, where commonly actions are not done "because it is right" but for some future reward after death.] The prophets allow one to refocus on the forest, rather than get caught up in the trees of all the details of the law. Prophecy is concerned a phenomenon limited to generations that had and will have greater faith than ours, so "the prophets" really only refers to the canonized prophetic texts.
Subject: Question 12.40: What must one do to lead "a good life" in Judaism? Answer: This is a very broad question, hence, the answer is going to be painfully oversimplified. Jewish tradition teaches that G-d revealed a system of law to the Jewish people in the Sinai desert during their exodus from Egypt. This system includes 613 commandments, each is composed of numerous laws. No one could actually keep all 613; some are encumbant only on men, some only on women, some on the king, some on the preisthood, many require a standing Temple on Mt Moriah in Jerusalem, etc. And some, like the laws of divorce, you don't really want to be in a situation where there is a need to invoke them. That's for Jews, who have a covenant with G-d to be "a kingdom of preists and a holy nation". Non-Jews needn't do all that. They have all of 7 commandments, which divide into 66 chapters of laws, and myriads of details. These are part of G-d's covenant with Noah. These are called the "Noachide" laws, and are listed in the answer to [5]Question 12.19. The basic seven laws are: (1) Don't worship other gods, nor be an atheist; (2) Don't murder; (3) Don't commit certain sexual relations (including but not limited to incest); (4) Don't eat flesh from a living animall; (5) Don't blaspheme; (6) Don't steal; (7) Have a legal and penal system. Speaking philosophically, being good is usually defined in traditional Jewish sources in terms of three relationships: how one relates to G-d, to others, and to oneself. That last one needs some explanation. A person should develop their human nature, and rise above those traits we share with other mammals. Looking again at the first three of those Noachide commandments, idolatry is the ultimate violation of one's relationship with G-d; murder, of one's relationship with others; and sexual hedonism, of how one relates to oneself. One step down, we have blasphemy against G-d, stealing from others, and being cruel in one's pursuit for food. The last is society's responsibility to its members in pursuing the above.
Subject: Question 12.41: I've heard about 36 taddiks? Answer: There is an idea in the Talmud that at all times there are at least 36 righteous people. It's because this minimum always exists that makes the world's existance worthwhile. The identity of these 36 is not necessarily known. The 36 most righteous people in the world are bound to include some people who never became famous. Perhaps most of them are total unknowns. In Chassidic thought, the 36 righteous people are in particular such hidden tzaddikim.
Subject: Question 12.42: What is the theological understanding regarding the affect of the expulsion from Eden? Answer: It is clear from the text of Genesis that the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge is of real significance. The mishnah (2nd cent) in Sanhedrin says that there are four people who didn't sin even once in their lives (Benjamin, Amram [Moses' father], Jesse [David's father], and Kilav [one of David's less famous sons]). They continue that these four would not have died, if it were not for that first sin. That said, Judaism does not give it the centrality that Christianity does. Man is not permanently tainted, nor does man face a challenge that means he can not redeem himself. So how does Judaism view it? Any first sin would have been "the original sin". I don't just mean that as a word game. What made the first sin significant is that until then, the desire to sin wasn't actualized. Man's whole psychology about sin was different; it changed from contemplating the theoretical to thinking about repeating what they and others had done. The way Maimonides puts it in his Guide to the Perplexed (13th Century CE), the pre-sin Adam knew what the goal was, his free will was to choose between truth and falsehood--to find the proper approach to that goal. R' EE Dessler puts it in Michtav meiEliyahu (early 20th Century CE), that until Adam ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the desires for good and for evil were external to himself. The tree of knowledge of good and evil did exactly what the name says--internalized insticts toward doing good and evil, instead of making them external realities. Perhaps these two opinions are different perspectives on the same thing. As external realities, if a person would want to do good, the challenge would be in figuring out what good is. Now, however, you have an instinct, a spiritual ear that hears the calling of G-d, the challenge is to overcome your other urges. But we believe that man is in perfect balance even after the sin. The domain over which he chooses was changed, but man is still fully free willed, poised between each side. He is not inherently evil.
Subject: How do I obtain copies of the FAQ? Answer: There are a number of different ways to obtain copies of the FAQ: * WWW. If you are reading this on Usenet, and would like to see an online, hyperlinked version, go visit [2] This is the "web" version of the FAQ; the version posted to Usenet is generated from the web version. Note that the version is a copy of the actual master version; if you want to access the master, visit [3] * Email. also provides an autoretriever that allows one to obtain a copy of the FAQ by return Email. To use the autoretriever, you send a retrieval request to [4] with the request in the body of the message. A more reliable way to retrieve these files is through the [5]FAQ autoretriever ([6] For the FAQ, the request has the form: send faq partname For the reading list, the request has the form: send rl partname "Partname" is replaced by the name of the part, as shown in the general index. The following is a short summary of the mapping to partnames for the FAQ: + [7]01-FAQ-intro: Section [8]1: Network and Newsgroup Information. + [9]02-Who-We-Are: Section [10]2: Who We Are + [11]03-Torah-Halacha: Sections [12]3, [13]4: Torah; Halachic Authority + [14]04-Observance: Sections [15]5, [16]6, [17]7, [18]8: Jewish Holidays; Jewish Dietary Law and Kashrut; Sabbath and Holiday Observance; Woman and Marriage + [19]05-Worship: Sections [20]9, [21]10, [22]11: Jewish Worship; Conversion, Intermarriage, and "Who is a Jew?"; Miscellaneous Practice Questions + [23]06-Jewish-Thought: Section [24]12: Jewish Thought + [25]07-Jews-As-Nation: Section [26]13: Jews as a Nation + [27]08-Israel: Section [28]14: Jews and Israel + [29]09-Antisemitism: Sections [30]15, [31]16, [32]17: Churban Europa (The Holocaust); Antisemitism and Rumors about Jews; Countering Missionaries + [33]10-Reform: Section [34]18: Reform/Progressive Judaism + [35]11-Miscellaneous: Sections [36]19, [37]20: Miscellaneous; References and Getting Connected + [38]12-Kids: Section [39]21: Jewish Childrearing Related Questions + [40]mail-order: Mail Order Judaica The following is a short summary of the mapping of partnames for the Reading Lists: + [41]general: Introduction and General. Includes book sources, starting points for beginners, starting points for non-Jewish readers, General Judaism, General Jewish Thought, General Jewish History, Contemporary Judaism, Noachide Laws, Torah and Torah Commentary, Talmud and Talmudic Commentary, Mishnah, Midrash, Halachic Codes, Becoming An Observant Jew, Women and Judaism, and Science and Judaism. + [42]traditional: Traditional Liturgy, Practice, Lifestyle, Holidays. Includes Traditional Liturgy; Traditional Philosophy and Ethics; Prayer; Traditional Practice; The Household; Life, Death, and In-Between; and The Cycle Of Holidays. + [43]mysticism: Kabbalah, Mysticism, and Messianism. Includes Academic and Religious treatments of Kabbalah, Sprituality, and the Jewish notion of the Messiah. + [44]reform: Reform/Progressive Judaism + [45]conservative: Conservative Judaism + [46]reconstructionist: Reconstructionist Judaism + [47]humanistic: Humanistic Judaism (Society for Humanistic Judaism) + [48]chasidism: Chassidism. Includes general information on historical chassidism, as well as specific information on Lubavitch (Chabad), Satmar, Breslaw (Breslov), and other approaches. + [49]zionism: Zionism. Includes Zionism and The Development Of Israel, The Founders, Zionistic Movements, and Judaism in Israel. + [50]antisemitism: Antisemitism. Includes sections on Antisemitism, What Led to The Holocaust, Medieval Oppression, Antisemitism Today (Including Dealing with Hate Groups), Judaism and Christianity, and Judaism, Freemasonry and other rumors. + [51]intermarriage: Intermarriage. Includes sections on "So You're Considering Intermarriage?", The Traditional Viewpoint, Conversion, and Coping With Life As An Intermarried. + [52]childrens: Books for Jewish Children. Includes sections on Birth and Naming, Raising a Child, Family Guidebooks, Upsheren, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Confirmation, Holiday Books for Children, Liturgy for Children, Bible and Torah for Children, Jewish History for Children, Jewish Theology for Children, Israel, Learning Hebrew, and Jewish Stories. Alternatively, you may send a message to [53] with the following line in the body of the message: send usenet/news.answers/judaism/(portionname) Where (portionname) is replaced by the appropriate subdirectory and filenames; for example, to get the first part of the reading list, one would say: send usenet/news.answers/judaism/reading-lists/general * Anonymous FTP: All portions of the FAQ and of the reading lists are archived on [54] and are available for anonymous FTP from the pub/usenet/news.answers/judaism/FAQ directory (URL [55] Similarly, the parts of the reading lists are stored in the pub/usenet/news.answers/judaism/reading-lists directory (URL: [56] ts). Note that the archived versions of the FAQ and reading lists are the posted versions; that is, they are each one large ASCII file.
Subject: Who Wrote the FAQ? Answer: The original version of the Frequently Asked Questions was developed by a committee consisting of Mike Allen, Jerry Altzman, Rabbi Charles Arian, Jacob Baltuch (Past Chair), Joseph Berry, Warren Burstein, Stewart Clamen, Daniel Faigin, Avi Feldblum, Rabbi Yaakov Feldman, Itzhak "Jeff" Finger, Gedaliah Friedenberg, Yechezkal Gutfreund, Art Kamlet, Joe Kansun, CAPT Kaye David, Alan Lustiger, Hillel Markowitz, Len Moskowitz, Colin Naturman, Aliza Panitz, Eliot Shimoff, Mark Steinberger, Steven Weintraub, Matthew Wiener, and headed by Robert Levene. The organization and structuring of the lists for posting purposes was done by [2]Daniel Faigin, who is currently maintaining the lists. Other contributors include Aaron Biterman, A. Engler Anderson, Ken Arromdee, Seymour Axelrod, Jonathan Baker, Josh Backon, Micha Berger, Steven M. Bergson, Eli Birnbaum, Shoshana L. Boublil, Kevin Brook, J. Burton, Harvey Cohen, Todd J.Dicker, Michael Dinowitz, Rabbi Jim Egolf, Sean Engelson, Mike Fessler, Menachem Glickman, Amitai Halevi, Walter Hellman, Per Hollander, Miriam Jerris, Robert D. Kaiser, Yosef Kazen, Rabbi Jay Lapidus, Mier Lehrer, Heather Luntz, David Maddison, Arnaldo Mandel, Ilana Manspeizer, Seth Ness, Chris Newport, Daniel Nomy, Jennifer Paquette, Andrew Poe, Alan Pfeffer, Jason Pyeron, Adam Reed, Seth Rosenthall,, David Sheen, Rabbi John Sherwood, Michael Sidlofsky, Michael Slifkin, Frank Smith, Michael Snider, Rabbi Arnold Steibel, Andy Tannenbaum,, Meredith Warshaw, Bill Wadlinger, Arel Weisberg, Dorothy Werner, and Art Werschulz, and the soc.culture.jewish.parenting board. Some material has been derived from other sources on the Internet, such as [3], [4], and [5] Comments and corrections are welcome; please address them to [6] A special thank you... Special thanks for her patience and understanding go to my wife, Karen, who put up with me hiding at the computer for the two months it took to complete the July/August 2000 remodel of the entire soc.culture.jewish FAQ and Reading Lists. If you think the effort was worth it, drop her a note c/o [7] ------------------------------------------------------------ -- Please mail additions or corrections to me at Questions should be sent to Last Modified: $lastmod End of SCJ FAQ Part 6 (Jewish Thought) Digest ************************** -------

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