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All Questions Answered by
Rabbi Louis Rieser

Question: My father is over 90. He has remarried and will not be buried with my mother, his wife of almost 50 years who has passed. I don't love my father. I don't believe he loves me; we have not spoken in years and when we have it just opens old wounds and literally makes me ill - physically and mentally. Both parents were abusive in different ways. Do I have any obligation to mourn?
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Question: My daughter has a child with a non-Jewish man with whom she has since split. She leads a totally non-Jewish life, although she comes for Seder, etc. Her own father, who died at the age of 24, was not Jewish. I have since married a Jewish man. I truly hope and wish that my daughter ends up with a Jewish man, but given her choice of lifestyle I do not see how this can ever happen. Should I give up hoping and accept that this is a lost cause? She is my only child and I sense that she feels lost and is unhappy. All she wants is to have a family life. My own father was the only father figure in her life, but he died when she was six years old. I blame myself entirely for this situation as I was hardly a good example.
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Question: How to handle overnight unmarried guests?
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Question: What is the 'Carlebachian legacy'? I have heard that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was an Orthodox Rabbi who brought tens of thousands to Orthodoxy through music and stories. I read recently that Neshama Carlebach, the daughter of Carlebach, announced that she has “made aliyah” to Reform Judaism. What can you say about the Carlebach legacy, if there is one? [Administrator's note: Shlomo Carlebach was a popular singer and storyteller. Some said Orthodox, others Hasidic. You can find his music and much more about his music and life in an online search. In the interests of full disclosure, one of the panelists who is responding to this question has authored a book on Carlebach.]
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Question: Why are there Jews Against Circumcision? [See a related earlier question and answers at http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=166.]
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Question: I am a religiously-unaffiliated philosophy professor seriously considering conversion to Judaism, and am currently learning as much as I can in order to make a decision. My reasons for wanting to convert are entirely my own - I find myself drawn to the religion's beliefs and practices and feel it may be where I belong. In my research I have found numerous books on the subject of conversion, however they normally focus on the process of conversion itself - the 'how'. Whilst this is certainly important, I feel I first need to tackle the question of 'should' on a deep and careful level. I would like to make a sincere spiritual and moral commitment, and I know that converting to Judaism is not a small or trivial commitment to make. Are you able to recommend any reading material that explores the question of 'should I convert?' in a deep and contemplative way? Something that explores not just the practicalities of the decision, but its deeper meaning in terms of one's moral commitments and relationship with God? I am particularly interested in the pros and cons in this respect, as I have sometimes encountered dire warnings that "It is better to be a righteous Gentile than to make a commitment that you cannot keep". I feel I will need to study and contemplate the pros and cons of conversions very deeply in order to choose wisely. Thank you for your time (and feel free to edit this overly-long question for clarity).
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Question: The mother of my friend died, but donated her body to science. The university supposes to keep the body for 3 years. My friend would like to recite Kaddish for his mother even she was not buried. Is it permitted in this case, what is his status?
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Question: I have been raised a Roman Catholic my entire life. I have always loved the Jewish faith and customs. I have recently discovered that my mother and her parents and her entire ancestry were Jewish. They converted to Christianity to avoid persecution in Poland before coming to America. I now have a whole history, culture and way of being that I was unaware of. I want to study and learn more of Judaism. I do not yet know if I want to convert. What should I do? Thank you for your answer. Eleanor
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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: How do I respond to my adult children's objections to burying my husband's ashes at Arlington vs. the local cemetery (that is out of my price comfort level). My husband served 2 years as LCMC. [Admininstrators note: Related questions are found on Jewish Values Online here: http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=178 and http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=223.]
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Question: Sometimes I feel that there are so many details in Jewish law that it is impossible to follow them all. Nobody can. So everybody fails at something (at least) sometime. Are we then all "sinners"? How can we live with constant failure?
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Question: I would like a Jewish perspective of this question that appeared in the New York Times Magazine. "About 15 years ago, I was summoned for jury duty. The defendant was charged with two counts of murder. During jury selection, I was asked if I supported the death penalty. I don't. I'm unalterably opposed to capital punishment. But I feared that potential jurors who did not support the death penalty could be automatically disqualified by the prosecution. So I said I agreed with capital punishment. That way, if it came down to it, I might help spare the defendant from execution. But this violated the oath I had taken to tell the truth. Was it ethical for me to lie in order to possibly spare the life of this defendant"?
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Question: Why are closed adoptions discouraged in Jewish law?
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Question: Wouldn’t the Jewish people and Israel be better served to solve the Women of the Wall dilemma quietly through political and legal channels? Israel is a democratic country where citizens can make change with their vote for political parties that represent their beliefs.
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Question: I would like a Jewish perspective for this question that appeared in the New York Times Magazine,:"The Ethicist." Is it unethical to lie to your boss for the purpose of getting a job elsewhere? [Administrator's note: A related question is found at http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=428.]
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Question: In the Bedtime Shema, (Artscroll Sefard Edition), the opening verse says: "I hereby forgive anyone..." but ends with "I forgive every Jew." Why does it not say "... and every Gentile?" Ultimately, all come from HaShem and all require forgiveness. Why not carry through the universality?
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Question: I live in the United States. My brother lives in Israel. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and his life prognosis is between days and months. I work as a teacher and my job would not allow me to take off more than a few days. Also, financially, I cannot afford to go to Israel twice. Therefore, I feel a conflict of mitzvot (commandments). Should I go to visit my brother when he is alive and miss his funeral or should I wait until he passes away and go to the funeral. Which mitzvah is more important and what would you advise me to do in this situation? How do I balance these mitzvot?
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Question: I converted to Judaism with a Reform rabbi, and my husband is not Jewish. We have two children, a daughter and a son, whom we have raised Jewish; they each had a bar/bat mitzvah, and my son attends a Jewish high school. As they begin to date, would there be any reason I or they should inform the other parents that I converted?
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Question: Does a Jewish mother name her daughter after herself? [Administrators note: Similar and related questions have been asked in past and can be seen on the JVO website by entering the following links into your browser: http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=59 http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=184 http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=237 http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=298 http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=523 http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=870]
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Question: How should we respond to a letter signed by 15 leaders of Christian churches on Oct 5, 2012, calling for Congress to reconsider giving aid to Israel because of accusations of human rights violations (see New York Times article published: Oct 20, 2012)? [Administrator's note: This question seems again quite relevant in light of the vote by the Presbyterian Church USA to divest from companies doing business with Israel in June 2014.]
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Question: We have made decision not to attend weddings between Jew and non-Jew as a statement that we do not approve of intermarriage. But now that our Jewish nephew has married a non-Jew, we felt that we should give him a wedding gift since it was after the fact. We felt that not attending the wedding was enough of a statement. I know that it sounds illogical, but we didn't want our family to think that we are mean people, but rather we were only making a statement before the fact and would not change the situation. Were we wrong in giving a wedding gift after the fact in this situation?
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Question: Can an adulteress marry the man she had an affair with after she has been given a get?
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Question: I'm making the transition into observant Judaism. I've already incorporated many different aspects of Jewish life and practice in my own. The one thing that is most difficult for me is finding kosher meats in my area, specially lamb and red meat, which are meats I love to eat from time to time. Can I purchase organic meats instead, which are more accessible in my area and in this way observe Kashrut? Thanks!
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Question: I wanted to ask if it is okay for an observant (e.g. Orthodox) Jew to watch TV and use the internet (my internet browser does have a filter on it). I watch TV, but am careful with what I watch, as I don't want to watch series or movies that are inappropriate for any reason (vile language or other things). But is it against Jewish law to watch TV and use the internet? I ask because I know there are (ultra) Orthodox Jews who are completely against it. What does Judaism say? Thanks in advance for answering!
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Question: When are gifts appropriate (for example, from family for a birthday vs from someone you are dating, and how expensive or elaborate is okay) according to Jewish thought?
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Question: Why it is okay to give and/or receive (and use) clothing from someone else, including a deceased person, but not shoes? I have heard this as a minhag (custom). Is this proper? What is the basis for this, and what does Judaism say about it?
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Question: Why do [most] synagogues around the world position the Torah ark so that the congregants face in the direction of Jerusalem? What is the source for the spiritual concept that prayers do not ascend directly to heaven but rather go first to the Jerusalem Temple and from there upwards [if this is the concept]?
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Question: Is it wrong to light a yahrzeit or want a memorial service for a beloved dog?
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Question: Is it possible to consecrate private property for a burial site? What are the requirements, according to Halachah - Jewish law (as opposed to secular law)? And if so, what kind of rituals does the consecration consist of and who may do so?
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Question: Is it acceptable to read instead of chant Torah for a public reading? When a person celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah wants to read Torah or haftarah instead of learning the chant, what can one say other than "It's tradition!"
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Question: I recently lost my 23 years old son, suddenly and unexpectedly. I am inconsolable. Friends from school, work, and the neighborhood that are Afro-American have shown great love which I appreciate more than words can express, but they don't know of our different customs. I am getting cards with cash in them to help pay for the funeral. I am very uncomfortable. I don't want to insult anyone. Gentile fiends are also sending traditional Christian baskets with floral arrangement of lillies, etc. What should I do?
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Question: After a recent tragedy in France, many people are saying that Jews there should leave and move to Israel. Is there a value to staying in France and trying to improve the situation, or do Jews have an obligation to leave rather than put themselves in danger?
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Question: One of Purim’s (reportedly) most beloved traditions is to drink “until you can’t tell the difference between evil Haman and righteous Mordechai.” Is drunkenness really a Jewish value? What about for those who have issues with drinking (nazirites, and recovering alcoholics, for example)? [Administrators note: A related question about drinking on Purim is found in the JVO database at http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=364]
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Question: I am an avid meditator, and given that the eastern meditative techniques are so prevalent, I have grown accustomed to doing certain "chakra meditations." However, the Chakras are an eastern concept, and Judaism has the sefirot. So for a Jewish soul, do the Chakras exist? Or, do we use the sefirot instead because our souls and bodies resonate with a different divine energy altogether?
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Question: Is it right for a Jewish Orthodox organization, outside of Israel, to demand that a non-Jewish organization accommodate their religious requirements? Should a boys' basketball team forcefully request a non-Jewish state-sponsored basketball league to change the playing schedule to accommodate their need not to play on Shabbat?
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Question: Why do we say “baruch dayan ha’emet” when someone dies?
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Question: What is proper or expected with respect to co-workers and employees attending a funeral? If I work for a Jewish manager but did not know the family and deceased relative (parent), should I attend to show respect for the living?
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Question: Does Judaism allow couples struggling with infertility to hire a surrogate mother? What do Jewish ethics say about paying someone to carry another's child to gestation? Are there any limitations on who can act for this purpose?
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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: What does progressive Judaism (liberal, such as Reform, Reconstructionist, and others) think about dressing and "tziniut" (modesty)? What is its position? Is this different than more traditional views (such as Orthodox, Conservative, or Lubavitch)? Thank you.
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Question: When Jews and non-Jews abide by the same ethical and moral behaviors, what makes the Jews' compliance uniquely Jewish?
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Question: It is important to light Shabbat candles, but my husband comes home too late on Fridays to do this before sundown. What should we do?
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Question: What is the difference between "Glatt Kosher" and "Kosher?"
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Question: I am a Christian, and I sent to my Jewish friends 'Shana Tova' greetings by email on the Jewish New Year. One of my friends emailed me back and thanked me for my wishes, and wished me the same good wishes, and also wished me 'Shana Tova'. While I feel honored he wished me 'Shana Tova' knowing I am not a Jew, I want to know if it is acceptable for Jews to wish a non-Jew 'Shana Tova', and if it is a common practice to do so. Is there a particular meaning to this? I have a deep respect for Judaism and I personally feel close to Jews.
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Question: I often see guests at simchas (celebrations) waste so much food, putting mounds on their plate. We seem to take more than we need. Should we be promoting a more responsible balance between hospitality and waste?
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Question: Beginning in the month of Elul we begin the process to think about our sins that we need to ask forgiveness. If we are granted forgiveness by Hashem on Rosh Hashana, is it only the “punishment” for the sin that is removed or is it also the sin itself that is removed from our past?
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Question: After conceivably the most powerful man in the world, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, called for Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 lines on national television, I find it exceptional that the next day on national television in front of the world, the Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, sitting next to Obama, was able to say, returning back to the pre-1967 borders was a risk that Israel simply could not take. As an American Jew, how do I reconcile my support for Israel's security while also supporting our President’s vision for peace in the Middle East.
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Question: What is the Jewish view about killing Osama bin Laden? Should Jews joyously celebrate his death? Assuming he was in fact unarmed should the Seals have taken him prisoner in acccordance with Jewish values?
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Question: Is it true that Orthodox [and other] Jews are not allowed to hear a woman's singing voice? Does this rule out broadway shows, opera, and concerts? A woman's voice seems rather innocuous...what's the deal? How can this be so if Judaism values women so highly?
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Question: Is there any Jewish Law-derived imperative for the private corporate owners of the recently discovered natural gas find offshore Israel to share their profits with the State to fund social programming? I know there is a controversy about this in Israel. Any solution in Jewish Law?
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Question: Must one drink at Purim to fulfill the mitzvah? If so, how much? What about alcoholics in recovery? Where did this idea that you are to drink come from, anyway?
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Question: I'm 38 years old and would like to have children before it's too late. I just broke up with someone, and feel that my time might run out before I find Mr. Right. What is the Jewish view on single women using IVF to bring kids into the world? I think I would make a great mom, and I have a lot to give a child / children.
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Question: Given the inequality in Jewish Law regarding marriage, is it better to just have a civil marriage and avoid a rabbinic wedding altogether? What advantages does a Jewish wedding have? What can my rabbi do to guard my (the woman's) position and assure safety and security in this type of union?
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Question: Are there any Jewish laws or ethics that govern salaries in non-profits?
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Question: Is one allowed to pray for an outcome that probably has already happened, but is as of yet unknown to you? ie: good results on a CT, genetic health of a fetus? Is this considered a "tefilla levatala"?
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Question: Does Jewish law mandate universal health care?
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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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Question: How important is it to be buried in a Jewish cemetery versus a secular or other place of burial?
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Question: In Judaism what is the purpose of prayer?
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Question: What does Judaism say that you should do when your partner is a closet drinker?
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Question: How should Jewish workers balance the issues of being treated fairly in the workplace, with maintaining necessary services and infrastructure? A case in point is the recent protests in France by hundreds of thousands of workers who felt mistreated, but whose actions threatened to lead to strikes that could cause gasoline shortages, cuts in train and air travel, bedlam at schools, and cuts to electricity. How does one balance the competing values of self-care with maintaining communal services?
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Question: A question on Jewish funeral etiquette/proper behavior: What should one do when a funeral lands on the same day as a celebration - a Bar/Bat Mitzvah/wedding/Bris Milah/baby naming, etc.? What if one is a mourner - does that change the answer?
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Question: I have old hagaddahs and booklets from undertakers with prayers and old yarmulkas. Which items can I destroy without disobeying religious tenets?
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Question: The phrase "Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh" means "all Jews (or all the people of Israel) are responsible for one another." What is the best way to interpret this phrase today, that we are all responsible for the world's Jews, or that we are responsible for everyone in the world?
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Question: People across the country are up in arms about the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero. The Jewish community, too, seems divided. What sort of Jewish values & teachings should we take into account when determining where we stand on the issue?
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Question: I am a retired military officer who is eligible for burial in Arlington National Cemetery. I would like to be buried in Arlington Cemetery because I believe that it is important to demonstrate that Jews helped defend the US by serving in uniform. However, I understand that there are some Jewish rules (no burial in a mixed-religion cemetery, burial within 24 hours of death) that are not compatible with the procedures for burial in Arlington Cemetery, although there are quite a few Jews buried there. What is the basis for these burial restrictions - custom, tradition, law, etc? Is it a sin for a Jew to be buried in Arlington Cemetery? [NOTE: I was raised in the Conservative tradition, but I am not particularly observant at present]
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Question: Does a child born of a Jewish mother, but conceived via donor eggs from a non-Jewish woman, need to be converted?
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Question: People say what comes around goes around, and others add "and I would like to be there to see it". Is the idea of 'payback' actually a core belief of any religion, especially Judaism, and is that attitude of wishing to witness the repercussions of their acts on another person coming home to roost an act of a wholesome and ethical individual?
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Question: What's the Jewish perspective on disciplining children? Are there limits on punishments that a parent is supposed to impose on their child?
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Question: American political culture has become so polarized and there's almost no civility in public discourse. Judaism to me encourages intense discussions about laws and values, but is there a Jewish perspective on how one should debate and discuss political matters?
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Question: Al and Tipper Gore are getting divorced after a 40 year marriage. What is the Jewish view on divorce? Does the length of the marriage or status of children (all of theirs are adults) at all impact the Jewish perspective?
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Question: Are some acts of kindness considered more important than others? There is so much need in this world - does Judaism prioritize some needs over others?
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Question: Is there a Supreme Being that created man or did man create a Supreme Being because of a need not to be alone in the Universe?
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