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All Questions Answered by
Rabbi Debra Kassoff

Question: I am an employee at a Jewish institution who was abruptly elevated to fill the role of my superior a few years ago when my superior unexpectedly retired. I was under contract with multiple years still to go on that contract. As the employing organization was in turmoil over the sudden retirement, there was a great deal of confusion, distress, a precipitous loss of supporters, and there was a financial crisis due both to the economic downturn and the loss of support. On taking the role of my superior, I turned my attention to reassuring the staff, retaining and recovering supporters, and providing continuity of leadership, in order to stabilize and to rebuild the organization. All those efforts have proven successful. Now that the employer has seen support re-established, and has largely restored and even begun to improve its overall financial position, I have asked them to renegotiate my contract to reflect my current position and role, the role I have actually fulfilled during the past several years, rather than continuing to hold me in the lessor role that I previously filled. The organizational leadership did not choose to bring up the issue, or consider making this change on their own. I have now raised it. Assuming that the renegotiation proceeds as expected, I will be confirmed in the superior role, and will be awarded a compensation commensurate with that role. My question is whether it is appropriate for me to ask the organization to compensate me for the difference in the amount I was paid in the junior role while serving in the role of the superior? In other words, am I owed 'back pay' for stepping up and fulfilling the more challenging role? I believe that there is an argument to be made that the organization may have transgressed several Jewish values and principles in this matter, including Kavod HaBriyot, Yosher, and perhaps even Geneiva. I am asking specifically in regard to Jewish values, not secular law issues here. What is your take on this?
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Question: Do you think rabbis and educators in the Jewish community should take a more active role in sex education to newlyweds in light of stories coming forth about couples who can’t consummate their marriage because of certain painful gynecologic conditions?
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Question: My husband and I are considering IVF to treat infertility. I have a question about one of the procedures used to evaluate the sperm before IVF can take place. "The sperm penetration assay (also called the hamster zona-free ovum test or hamster test) checks whether a man's sperm can join with an egg. Sperm are mixed with hamster eggs in a laboratory. The number of sperm that penetrate the egg (sperm capacitation index) is measured. This test is done most often at special fertility centers that do in vitro fertilization" (taken from WebMD) I know that Judaism as a whole accepts IVF. How can this be ok? Doesn't this violate laws against bestiality?
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Question: While I support tolerance, acceptance and unity for the Jewish people, I can’t help noticing that when I have visited the Kotel many times during morning hours, there does not appear to be even a minute base of women that want to pray in an egalitarian style minyan. At the same time there are thousands davening at the Kotel every morning peacefully, representing many threads of Judaism. Why all the commotion to create an area for egalitarian minyanim (prayer groups) on a regular basis at the Kotel, when there doesn’t appear to be the numbers to justify using very limited prime real estate for this purpose? My question is more about the need to accommodate a very small specific group for a once a month event. Wouldn’t it be great to see thousands of Jews show up at the Kotel every morning demanding an egalitarian style minyan? That would show a different level of seriousness to the Women of the Wall (WOW) cause. But, as of now, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Wishing for peace and unity for the Jewish people, I want to know what this is really about.
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Question: What should you do when your personal values are in conflict with a certain ethic at work? What does Judaism say about this?
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Question: Is electoral voting on Shabbat (the Sabbath) ok?
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Question: What are three questions I can ask on a date or in a relationship if I'm seeing someone who isn't Jewish to understand how compatible or incompatible our values are? For example, I know I'm uncomfortable with the symbol of a crucifix, but I'm not really sure why. I am hoping for questions I could ask or scenarios I could present that really flush out the core value differences between Jews and non-Jews.
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Question: What should I do if my child is in school and the teachers are making him do a bunch of Christmas things like decorating the tree and making ornaments? Do I let him participate? We are a Jewish family and I am concerned. I don't want him to be forced to do Christian religious things, but I also don't want him to feel isolated and left out.
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Question: My husband and I are Ashkenazic (not Sephardic) Jews and we are planning to name our daughter Isabelle or Ellie for short, after my husband’s deceased grandfather, Ilya. My living mother's name is Bella and she believes that these two names, Isabelle and Bella, are equivalent. In her opinion, by naming our daughter Isabelle we will be naming her after my mother and thus will bring misfortune to my mother. We both feel strongly about using this name and stressed many times that we are not naming my daughter after my mother. However, we would like to hear from Ashkenazic rabbis regarding this matter.
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Question: There is a prohibition stated in the Torah that a person can't wear a garment that has both wool & linen in it. This law is called 'Shatnez'. Do all denominations of Judaism follow this law? If so, how is it observed? If not, why is it not observed?
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Question: I met a girl that I would like to marry. Her mom converted through an Orthodox process. I come from a community that doesn't accept converts - or maybe we do - but my parents wouldn't let me marry a convert. How can I convince them, and my whole big family, that this girl and her family are Jews just as much as we are, and this should be okay?
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Question: How long is too long to date before two Jewish adults decide to get engaged? Is this a matter of Jewish law or of custom?
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Question: How does the Jewish ownership of slaves reconcile with the celebration of fleeing slavery in Egypt [as told in the book of Exodus and recounted at the Passover seder]?
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Question: Who should I invite to my husband's unveiling? [Administrator's note: there are several other questions relating to unveilings on JVO which can be found by searching for 'unveiling'.]
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Question: Cleaning for Pesach (Passover) always causes a great deal of stress. What are the absolute minimum requirements for ridding the house of chametz (leavened items)? Is it really so terrible if there is a crumb here or there? [Administrators note: A very similar question appears on the JVO website at http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=378]
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Question: Should we still be spending time and resources on prosecuting Nazi war criminals, many of whom are old and sick?
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Question: In the Torah, God promises prosperity if we keep the Torah and destruction if we violate it. But how can we still believe that, when we’ve seen over the centuries that our actions and our reward or punishment don’t always correlate?
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Question: What is the meaning of the Hebrew letters "peh nun" (PN) on a tombstone?
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Question: In my spiritual journey to find what traditions are meaningful to me and enhance my understanding of Judaism, I've considered starting to cover my hair (I'm married). How do I reconcile my feminist values with Jewish ideas of Tzniut and practices such as hair covering?
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Question: Do Jews believe in adoption? If so, if the child is raised a Jew, including having a bar mitzvah, will the child need to undergo Jewish conversion as an adult since he does not know if the birth mother was a Jew?
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Question: I have conflicting values. I send my children to a Jewish day school because I value the religious education they receive, but I feel guilty for not supporting the public schools beyond my tax dollars.
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Question: What is the major blockage to women entering the rabbinate, if any, in each movement? Why does it differ between them?
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Question: What is the Jewish ethic for exchanging enemy prisoners for a Jewish prisoner if the probability is increased of more Jews being ultimately or indirectly killed?
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Question: Why does Hillel choose “What is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbor” as his version of “the entire Torah?” Why not “Love God” or “Keep mitzvoth.” HiIlel’s tenet is never actually mentioned in the Torah itself.
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Question: My Jewish high school recently announced plans to spy on student's computer usage by requiring us to install software letting them remotely watch and block computer use. What does Jewish law have to say about this violation of our privacy?
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Question: Is there anything we can learn from high-profile Jews caught in scandals? If you were going to reference Anthony Weiner (for example) in a weekly sermon, what would you say?
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Question: Naama Shafir, the Orthodox woman’s basketball superstar, says, “If you have a dream, it’s not a question of ‘either-or.’ You can do both. You can be religious and fulfill your dreams.” What is the Jewish view on this? Is it true that a person can always fulfill his/her dream and be in line with Torah values?
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Question: I want to convert to Judaism, but I am married to a Christian, Is this at all possible. We have been married for the last twenty years, we have three children ages 14,11 & 4 and there is no crisis.
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Question: I just found out that my daughter’s teacher created a Facebook persona (another teenage girl) in order to spy on her students and make sure they weren’t doing anything inappropriate online. I am incensed, and I approached her about this. She claims there were many breaches of “tzniut” and she was just doing her job. I strongly disagree and would like to take the matter to the principal. Thoughts?
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Question: For some time, the debate about downloading digital music and movie files has been raging in the legal community, and also among social/business ethicists. According to Jewish values - once a digital file is shared and is online - is it public property? Or not? If I buy a file (music or video), can I give it away to others?
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Question: A neighbor is going through a really hard time after both members of the couple lost their jobs last year. What is a community’s responsibility towards its own members? Does this trump other, broader giving (like to umbrella organizations) when triage must be done? Does it change your answer if I tell you that this neighbor is not Jewish?
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Question: A Jewish co-worker often uses the word “goy.” It really irks me. Is it truly Jewish to think of everyone else (non-Jewish) as an “other”? Many classical Jewish texts I’ve read seem to take this view. How can this coexist with the modern concept of plurality, and how can these texts be relevant today if they seem so offensive to the modern ear?
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Question: A 60-year-old Orthodox Jewish male became ill with pneumonia, requiring mechanical ventilation and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. As a result, he became severely brain damaged and remains in a vegetative state months later. The hospital concluded that further resuscitation attempts (if called for) would be futile and asked the family to sign a "do not resuscitate" order. The family refuses due to their feeling of obligation to preserve life regardless of outcome. Since there is no hope for recovery for this gentleman, is there any way that a choice not to resuscitate this gentleman could still respect his and his family's religious beliefs? What does Judaism say about such a situation?
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Question: What is the Jewish view on selling one's body parts for money? Selling organs in the U.S. is illegal and would therefore fall under the prohibition of dina d'malchuta dina, but what about selling eggs, sperm, hair, or being a maternal surrogate when primarily motivated by cash rather than to do a mitzvah?
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Question: When was the story of the miracle of the oil to light the lamp first told? Is it true that the story was only first told years later by the rabbis of the time so as to create a role for G-d in the Chanukah story?
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