All Questions Answered by Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez (Emeritus)
Question: How can I convince my parents to let me get married in a simple, outdoor ceremony, and not make a huge, fancy deal? My fiancee and I do not want to elope, but just see the whole hall/food/etc. thing as a huge waste of resources, especially in today's world. My parents (in addition to being very upper middle class and slaves to society) are very traditional, so some Jewish sources from a rabbi might help our case....
FIrst of all mazal tov to both of you and all your family for the simchah of your wedding!
Although weddings are times of joy, we all know how wedding planning can be a cause of strife among family members.
Our tradition has the concept of CHIDUR MITZVAH, which is beautifying the mitzvah. This can be doing something to ritual objects to make them beautiful, i.e. to make an ornamented Torah cover, Shabbat candelabra, mezuzot, tefilin, Passover seder plates, etc.
What the rabbis say is there should be no limit to this action, since it is out of love for the mitzvot and God.
However, it is true we have become more and more as you define "slaves" of society and sometimes the reasons behind embellishing a mitzvah can come out of a different place, one of competing with others to see who can throw the most lavish bar-mitzvah or wedding ceremonies. I personally have the experience of seeing so many Jewish parties so extravagant and a waste of resources in the community I grew up. It seems like every week somebody in the community wanted to throw the biggest wedding.
Perhaps you could negotiate in some sort of Salomonic wisdom; maybe you can reduce the number of guests or not make it as fancy as your parents originally thought. Traditionally Jewish weddings are also a good setting for becoming aware, among the joy, of those who are needy in the community and society in general. It was very normal to see beggars coming to weddings and ask for tzedakah. Perhaps your parents could give some of the money they are planning to "throw away" and give some tzedakah in the name of the bride and the groom. In that way they will be using their resources to embellish your marriage with a beautiful and powerful mitzvah that is to help the needy.
Hope you can find a balanced decision. Many years of health and happiness to both of you.
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Question: We haven't heard much about the death penalty lately, but public debate surrounding capital punishment seems to flare every so often. I'm never sure how I feel about it - on one hand, "an eye for an eye" is surely justice served. On the other, who are we to play God, particularly when the US criminal justice system is so flawed? How can jewish values inform our views on the issue?
One of the first things the Torah tells us about human beings is that we are created in God’s image, b’tzelem elohim. This concept is not to be understood in a physical manner, but in a more abstract way. We share with our Creator something unique that defines us as humans and distinguish us from the rest of the creatures on the planet.
I believe this is the ability of possessing consciousness and self-awareness, the ability of generate worlds with words and images, and the power to think in rational and abstract ways. It is that certain “thing” that makes us who we are; a Divine spark that lives inside every person.
Parting from this idea we can say whoever kills a fellow human being is killing or disconnecting a little bit of God, or at least God’s manifestation on this realm through the eyes, soul and life-story of a human being.
Are we in charge of taking away the connection? What are we to play the role of Angel of Death?
Our tradition teach us about exceptions to killing:
2)To kill one who attacks another person
3)The right granted to the kin of one who was accidentally killed to pursue the responsible for the accident (Avenger of Blood, Deuteronomy 19:6)
4)Willful murder was punished by the courts.
There seems to be a moral guilt the killer has to pay for, even in accidental cases. This strongly encouraged to be extremely careful not to be the cause of the loss of a human life.
All these exceptions for killing went through an evolution from the Biblical through the Rabbinical period. Special interest was given to issues regarding the capital punishment declared by courts. Some commentaries remind us that the Golden Rule (Love your neighbor as yourself) also covers criminals, and members of the court had to keep in mind to choose an easy death for the accused (Pesachim, 75a).
There is a stronger opinion against capital punishment however, and it’s the one which I abide and base my stand on the issue.
It can be found in the Mishna in Tractate Makot 1:10:
“A Sanhedrin that executes once in seven years, is called murderous.
Rabbi Eliezer b. Azariah says: once in seventy years.
Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say: “Had we been members of a Sanhedrin, no person would ever be put to death.
Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel remarked: “They would also multiply murderers in Israel.”
The death penalty is intrinsically perverse, as it strips the dignity of the human that is about to be executed. It also taints the hands and souls of those who have to carry the task of doing it.
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