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All Questions Answered by
Rabbi Gary Pokras

Question: Are Jews outside Israel seen as part of the galut/exile, Diaspora, or a separate Peoplehood? In other words, how much emphasis is placed on Israel in defining Jews living outside it? Do you see the non-Israeli Jews and Israel as contributing to one another, independent from one another, or is Israel the center or focus?
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Question: My wife's aunt just died. I have resolved to only attend funerals of my closest family members (father, mother, sister, brother, and those with whom I have had a very close relationship). Must I attend my "aunt-in-law's funeral?
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Question: What exactly is the position of minhag (custom) in halacha (Jewish law), and when is someone bound to follow the community in something which is not purely halachic (according to Jewish law)? Where is the place of chumra (~strict interpretation) within Judaism? Thank you.
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Question: Israel's Interior Minister said that he is putting the needs of Israel first by sending back illegal African immigrants. But does Israel, of all countries, have a right to be xenophobic? Do we concentrate on our internal problems at the expense of isolating ourselves from the needs of others?
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Question: In some apartments and dorm rooms, people are not allowed to have open flames [by regulation or by law, usually for safety considerations]. I have seen many electric Shabbat candles, but not havdalah candles. What does one do to properly end Shabbat if they are not able to light the havdalah candle? Or are there electric havdalah candles available?
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Question: What kind of rules and customs do we have about ner tamid (eternal light) in a synagogue? Should it certainly hang from a ceiling or is it also kosher (acceptable) to put it on a top of the aron kodesh (Ark)?
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Question: My mother isn't/wasn't Jewish, my father is. I was raised Reform, had a bat mitzvah, [was Jewishly educated, celebrated holidays, identify as Jewish, participated in the Jewish community, did not participate in or celebrate any other faith or religion,] etc. If I have children with a man recognized as fully Jewish, how would they be seen in the eyes of Israel and the American Jewish community (particularly the Conservative movement)? How stable are Israel's laws around this -- could they change in 10 years? What about halachah (Jewish law)? I would really appreciate an answer, even if it's not what I want to hear. Thank you!
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