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All Questions Answered by
Rabbi Wayne Allen

Question: It is said that man is the supreme being among all creation. What does Judaism say about this?
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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: Hello, I am currently converting to Judaism, and am nearing the end of my conversion. One reason I began this process was because I discovered that my mother’s family was Jewish a few generations ago. Apparently they assimilated or converted out because of anti-Semitism. While it occurs on my mother’s mother’s side (far back, however, not very recent) the only “proof” I have is that of a few family traditions and the knowledge of other family members that we “were all Jewish” I also have reason to believe that some of my family who did not emigrate were victims in the Shoah. While I feel the process of converting is valuable for me personally, I often wonder if, with some research, I would be able to prove that I’m already Jewish. One rabbi that I know puts very little weight to this, almost as if my Jewish heritage doesn’t matter, and that I should just focus on my own spiritual journey. I find that hurtful, especially given the whole background of my situation. I don’t want to act as if my Jewish family never existed! Somehow I want my conversion to be an honor to them and a remembrance for them. What are some ways to approach this situation that balances both the doubt about whether or not I am halachically Jewish with sensitivity towards my Jewish heritage and towards my ancestors who evidently suffered for being Jewish? [Administrator's note: Jewish Values Online cannot advise you on your personal situation. For that sort of advice, please see the Rabbi with whom you are working toward conversion.]
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Question: The following question appeared in "the Ethicist " column of the New York Times Magazine. "Some knowledge about hypothermia comes from brutal Nazi medical experiments conducted on prisoners of war. Considering the data came from the destruction of their lives, are there ethical issues when modern-day scientists use it? Could it be considered a form of collaboration with the Nazis? Or does the origin of the data matter if the data is useful? Declaring the data off-limits could lead to preventable deaths, while using the data seems coldheartedly clinical." What is the Jewish response to this seeming dilemma?
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Question: (Aside from the obvious answer that the Torah says not to) why can't we mix different breeds of animals? [Administrator note: Presumably this is being asked both in regard to working them, as the Torah states for oxen and donkeys, and in breeding them - mixed kinds, as in 'designer' dog breeds.]
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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: 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: Why in Megillat Esther is the name of G-d not mentioned even once, considering that it was the hand of G-d that altered a near catastrophe for the Jewish people living in Persia?
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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: Does the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim (redeeming captives) affect the way we look at prisoner exchanges? Does the mitzvah require us to do everything we can to redeem a captive, or are there limits?
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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: Does penetration by any part of a male into any part of a female make the status of the girl change for her ketubah (marriage contract) in Jewish law or thought?
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Question: During the three weeks (of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av) can I get a haircut on erev Shabbos (the eve of Sabbath) or on Rosh Chodesh (the start of the new month) [i.e., what is the custom/minhag during this period]?
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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: Are we judged by G-d for our thoughts and fantasies?
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Question: Lack of rain in Israel used to be a death sentence for its inhabitants—no water to drink, no crops, etc. Now, with modern technology (such as desalinization plants), a lack of rain is serious, but no longer life-threatening. Should we still institute fast days during a dry winter?
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Question: What is the best, most meaningful way to fulfill the mitzvot of “mishloach manot” (sending portions) and “matanot l’evyonim” (giving to the needy) on Purim?
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Question: Is there validity to the debate within small pockets of the Jewish world to fold Yom Hashoah into another remembrance day such as Tisha B'Av or the 10th of Tevet?
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Question: Is it appropriate to criticize Israel when other nations and states commit the same actions, and much worse, without any comment from the world community? At what point does self examination become almost masochistic?
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Question: With Oscar season upon us, I find myself once again so disappointed in how much more my kids know about Hollywood than about their own culture and texts. My daughter has spent literally hours talking about what she thinks and has heard and read that the stars will wear. Any ideas of how to make Judaism glamorous / engaging for teens?
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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: Is the Agunah issue just an "Orthodox problem"? Or is it a "Jewish problem"?
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Question: Why is there not more modern resistance to the idea that the Talmud, written by rabbis, carries the same authority as the Torah, given by God at Mt. Sinai?
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Question: What are acceptable means of teaching children about matters such as pregnancy and its potential complications? What does Judaism say about how we should teach our children values? Former President George W. Bush shared in his memoir that when he was a teenager, his mother, Barbara Bush, showed him her miscarried fetus in a jar. Is this kind of approach condoned in Judaism?
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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: Israel's rabbis occasionally declare a day of fasting and prayer in the hopes that it could bring rain to the country in a drought. What is the religious doctrine behind such a calling?
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Question: A San Francisco man has proposed a ban on circumcision. If such a thing became legal, what would that mean for the Jewish tradition?
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Question: I consider myself a Conservative Jew, however I have recently begun to consider covering my hair (since I'm married) and only wearing skirts (not pants). I have started by wearing long headbands. What does that make me? Am I still a Conservative Jew? If not, what am I?
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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: Why don't Jewish mothers-to-be have baby showers, and does that mean it's not OK at all to give a mother-to-be a gift before the baby is born?
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Question: What is the Jewish faith's belief about afterlife or eternity?
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Question: Should a Jewish person cremate a Jewish spouse, if that is their desire?
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Question: What is the essence of "a good life" ?
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Question: How has the Shoah (Holocaust) affected rabbinic Judaism? Has there been any change as a response?
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Question: What are the basic differences between Christianity and Judaism (apart from the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ)? How do these differences show up in what we are told is ethical and correct behavior?
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Question: It seems that as people are increasingly aware of where their food comes from and how the animals they consume are treated while alive, kosher eating might become more popular, even amongst non-Jews. How does the safe treatment of animals for consumption fit within kashrut dietary laws, and what is the modern take on non-Jews eating kosher as a way to eat healthier and more fairly?
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Question: What is the basis of belief in G-d? How do you know that G-d exists?
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Question: While I believe that as Americans, it is our civic duty to participate in the electoral process, is there also a specific Jewish obligation to vote?
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Question: I don't make a lot of money but I am able to live comfortably. I know the importance that Judaism places on tzedakah, but is there some specific standard that I should be trying to reach regarding what I give to charities?
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Question: What are the causes of the disconnect between religious teaching and practice, and ethical personal behavior? How can religious people be influenced to act more ethically?
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Question: Today, in Israel, there is a question of the law as seen by the Rabbinate as opposed to the Knesset. I refer to the book, "Torat Hamelech". I believe the stated rabbinical position would be the end of Israel. What is the position of the Orthodox rabbinate of North America? The Conservative rabbinate? The Reform rabbinate?
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Question: I heard that shomer negiah applies to siblings past the age of puberty and other family members. I do not understand why such a law should apply to people who are related. Can you please explain this to me?
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Question: Some people feel it is better not to tell a person information that they feel would be hurtful to them. Is leaving information out considered lying and is that acceptable or an act that needs forgiveness?
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Question: Is there a Jewish viewpoint on the immigration law passed recently in Arizona? Are we supposed to make a concerted effort to welcome others because of our own history of being shut out or expelled from other countries?
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Question: The Torah and Midrashim tell us stories of Jewish fighters defending themselves and the Jewish people. What do contemporary Rabbis say about self defense and gun control in the present?
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Question: What does Judaism say about regret? I'm not talking about regretting sins that I've committed, I'm talking about choices that I made and things I didn't do that I should have done that would have changed my life for the better. Thanks.
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Question: Typically, why don't Jews evangelize? That's what the book of Jonah and so many other books and events in the bible are about (in the questioner's reading of them).
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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: If a child is called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah, if the father has passed away, and a step father is taking the parental duties, how should the child be called to the torah by name, as ben birthfather or stepfather's name? is it possible to call him up as both to respect both men
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