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All Questions Answered by
Rabbi Benjamin J. Samuels

Question: I am interested in converting to Judaism. While I currently have no friends or family who are Jewish, I have been doing quite a bit of personal study, while praying to G-d for discernment on the matter, and feel deeply that this is the right choice for myself and my family. My husband is very supportive and has agreed for our family to live a Jewish lifestyle, he would like to learn more before making the decision to convert himself. I have two questions. First, is it possible for myself and our son (he is 4) to convert, with my husband's blessing, if my husband does not choose to as well? Second, there are only 2 synagogues in my area, both of which are at least a 40 minute drive from our home. One is conservative, the other reform. The nearest orthodox synagogue is about 2 hours away. Is it possible to receive our instructing of Judaism in a conservative synagogue, but the actual conversion (mikvah and so forth) in the orthodox one due to proximity reasons? I hope that makes sense.
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Question: I have a question regarding a charitable endeavor my shul is involved in. For many years, we have hosted homeless guests (from a nearby shelter) for a week in our building. About three years ago, we started taking them in during the week of Christmas. Our homeless guests are non-Jews. Someone from our shul contacts the local media (newspapers, TV) so that they would come out to film what we, a Jewish congregation, are doing for these non-Jewish homeless folks on Christmas. I find it very disturbing when the camera crew not only comes into the building, but also wants to go into the social hall/dining room, where our homeless guests usually congregate, to film in this area. I was there last week when the news crew came and, at that particular time, our guests were having breakfast in the dining room. One of our volunteers came to brief the guests about this, stating that, in filming guests at the table, only their hands and feet would be shown. Immediately after she left, all of our guests got up and left the room. I felt awful about this and I too left, in disgust. Every evening, we take the guests from the shelter, where they stay with us for dinner and sleep in our building overnight. In the morning, we then take them back to the shelter. But because this was Christmas day, the guests were to stay with us the entire day. This was their only day to have a leisurely breakfast, a time when they did not have to hurry to get ready to be taken back to the shelter. I felt that we spoiled their chance to have a (rare) peaceful morning by bringing in this TV crew. In a way, I also feel that we are "using" the homeless to gain attention, honor, and (perhaps) donations from the public for our shul. My own feelings are that we brought embarrassment upon our guests, and I believe it is wrong to shame or exploit the poor, especially for our own aggrandizement. It is my opinion that we should go back to hosting the homeless on a week other than that involving the Christmas holiday. This would solve the problem about causing offense or embarassment to some of our guests, as well as put an end to media coverage of how we, a Jewish organization, shelter the homeless at Christmas. I was wondering what your take on this situation might be.
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Question: Our employee was overpaid as a result of an error in payroll submissions. The amount of overpayment was not insignificant and the overpayment continued for several months (the employee apparently did not notice) before the mistake was found. When the Congregational board president approached the employee about the error the employee balked at repaying, claimed it would be a hardship to return the money and did not feel he was obligated to do so. Ultimately, after demands and threats, the employee did agree to repay the overpayment, but only after negotiating a long repayment plan that spans more than a year (and without any interest). Do Jewish law or Jewish values require that this money be returned? If so, was the employee in violation of either Halachah or Jewish values by refusing to repay the money? Should it have been returned without delay (as soon as the error was pointed out) and without stipulation? Was the Congregation in any way in error in requesting repayment? What is the proper behavior according to Jewish values and ethics?
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Question: Hello - I'm wondering if there are any laws or guidelines about our obligations to those that help us. I'm familiar with the concepts of tzedakah that refer to charitable acts and methods of giving, but am seeking suggestions or links for appropriate guidelines when one receives or is the one who is assisted. Thanks kindly in advance, Kathryn
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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: 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: What is the meaning of the Hebrew letters "peh nun" (PN) on a tombstone?
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Question: What does Judaism say about dating and matchmaking and marriage after a young woman has had cancer and can no longer bear children?
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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: Why is there a tradition to say chapters of Tehillim when someone is ill?
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Question: Is Israel justified in 'strong arming' foreign journalists from participation in the 2011 Flotilla to cover the story from sea by its statement that participation in it, as a reporter, was liable to lead to being denied entry into the State of Israel for ten years?
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Question: The Founding Fathers seemed to think that believing in God actually mandated democracy; today many of the world's most religious people seem to think that belief in religious laws make democracy undesirable. What does Judaism think?
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Question: The actions of Israel's ex-President, convicted on several counts of rape and sexual harassment, are truly disturbing, especially in light of the fact that he considers himself to be a 'religious' person. What can Judaism teach men in powerful positions about how to treat the women who work for them, before one gets to a place of criminality?
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