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 Questions in Teshuvah & Repentance
Should I refrain from consuming media produced by celebrities who later became known as Anti-Semites? For example, the Lethal Weapon series includes Mel Gibson, although it was produced before he became known as an Anti-Semite. Another example is the music of Pink Floyd, which included Roger Waters, but was produced before Waters became known as an Anti-Semite. [Administrator's note: This issue appears in various forms. For example, one question on the website has to do with purchasing German-made autos (and other products): http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=991. In another context, many rabbis advise the couples they counsel not to use any music at their wedding composed by Wagner or Mendelsohn because they either worked with/supported the Nazi regime, or they were seen as destroyers of Judaism - which is why it is rare to hear "The Wedding March" by Mendelsohn at a Jewish wedding. Not too long ago, a fashion designer expressed vile anti-Semitic views, and there were repercussions, including at least one famous person publicly refusing to wear anything by him, or from the design house he worked for, raising a massive amount of negative publicity for that fashion house. The issue that underlies this question is whether the person, and their actions/politics, can be separated from the art they create. It deals with memory, repentance, forgiveness, compassion, and punishment, among other matters.]
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.
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?
I'm a single male Jew, 35 years old, well established in my career. I am now at the point where I am considering dating for marriage. I know intermarrying is wrong. However, I am terrified of dating a Jewish girl for fear her family would inevitably discover my entire family is dead, and that I would be by definition be a poor choice for suitor into any good family. All grandparents are dead. My father died of old age, my mother and sister committed suicide (presumably due to abuse by father). I've had my share of abuse by father as well, which has affected me. I've been nonobservant and have not gone to synagogue for the entire past decade just to avoid being reminded of the hurt. I've engaged in a lot of therapy, which has helped me to hear, an that is why I am even considering dating at all. Do I just throw up my hands, tell myself I am not fit to marry, and just live for work? Or would the other side be at all understanding of my background and situation? What should I do and how can I balance the mitzvot to marry and have a family, against my situation which makes me question if I can be a decent spouse and parent and fulfill the obligations to a family?
I am a 52 years old man, raised Conservative, who has had to contend with autism my entire life. Oftentimes it is not the condition which affects me more than it is peoples' attitudes towards it. For example, back in my early 20's I was back East working on my Master's degree and had ample opportunity to at least consider dating Jewish women. However, the two that I hit it off with dropped me quicker than a hot potato once their parents learned from my parents that I have autism. Back then (30 years ago), it was considered by such families as grounds to be an unsuitable suitor, much like a family history of cancer or mental illnesses also was then in those days. I had far more successful relationships with women of other faiths who themselves or whose families were a whole lot less judgmental regarding either the fact that I am Jewish OR have autism. The Jewish families who interviewed me said I was unsuitable for their daughters, and had given me to understand that I was not obligated to marry because my disability had made me expendable, and that my progeny were not essential to maintaining the numbers of their people. I took them at their word and married out, so I wouldn't live a lonely and childless life. Did I settle? Yes. Because life is unfair, and one can only make the best with what one is given. I decided that with such a cold reception I would take a cold and hard look at what Jewish life meant to me, and I decided that martyring my chances to be married by waiting for the right one to come, just to sanctify God's name, was far more than I reasonably expected God to ask of me, because the autism issue would come up each and every time I sought a besheret (soulmate/match). I am asking what Judaism would say to me today in light of the situation I found, and the choices I made. [Administrator's note: A somewhat related question appears at http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=860.]
What are the obligations of the community to the individual? What is the responsibility of a synagogue to a Jewish member,specifically in terms of helping that congregant deal with extraordinary stresses of his/her life? What responsibility does the community organization have to that member, and particularly in regard to informing them of consequences of their behavior in advance? I know of a case in which an active member of the Jewish community (one who has contributed much time to the synagogue and has been extremely supportive to individuals in need) was ordered not to continue to have contact with the clergy for personal matters as a condition of continued membership. When the member violated this restriction (by leaving a telephone message for a clergy person when in distress), the congregant was told she/he could not at any time enter the doors of the synagogue at the threat of calling the police. The congregant did not receive advanced notice of this, but was told by a custodian upon coming to services that she/he could not enter. What Jewish values address this situation?
A non-married Jewish man, in a seriously committed relationship with the woman whom he loves with all his heart and plans to marry, made the biggest mistake of his life and committed one physical incident of infidelity with no emotional component, and which did not include any form of intercourse, but did involve pleasureful contact, when he was solicited by another woman, and acted in this way in a moment of weakness. If that man later confessed most of the pertinent details of the incident to his significant other, but minimized the full extent of the physical contact in his confession by lying about it, would Jewish ethics and values indicate that he must confess the rest of the details, and also that he lied to his significant other in the earlier confession? The S.O. has already moved forward and forgiven him for what he has revealed. Is the rest of the information irrelevant if the woman knows that she was betrayed and nearly the full extent of the contact? This man wants nothing more then to remain 100% committed to their relationship with all his mind, body and soul, but feels like he has kept something from her that she deserved to know and is suffering from guilt. Is this genevat daat (stealing the mind - deceit/deception/fraud)? Does this fall under preserving shalom bayit (peace in the home)? At this point further confession will only lead to more hurt, mistrust, pain to the innocent partner and deterioration of the relationship, with little benefit from the additional information to either party, and only feed her doubts. What should this man do, and can he repent and do teshuva for his unfortunate conduct? He has shown genuine remorse and vowed to never betray his significant other ever again.
Is watching pornography hypocritical? Most people watch porn, but when I imagine that my daughter would come to me one day with something like “Dad, I decided to play in porn“ (well, it would probably by a neighbor and not my daughter...), I don't think I could take that (I think that most people couldn't take that) and those “actresses“ are someones' daughters, too. Problem is that when I start to consider pornography to be hypocritical, I start to be judgmental, and since (I think) most people watch porn, it is quite a problem. (Moreover, I think that being judgmental is definitely worse than watching porn). I should probably add that I am a secular Jew, but for most secular people pornography is not a problem, so I ask here.What do Jewish values tell us about this? Thank you for any answers.
I would like to hear your take on the article in The New York Times (October 2, 2012, "Tattoos to Remember," by Katherine Schulten). Livia Rebak was branded with the number 4559. Now her grandson, Daniel Philosof, has the same tattoo. At right, three men who stood in the same line in Auschwitz have nearly consecutive numbers. .WHY did Eli Sagir get a tattoo with the number 157622 inked on her forearm? WHY might this tattooing practice be unsettling or offensive to some? WHY did people in the camps “treat with respect the numbers from 30,000 to 80,000,” according to Primo Levi? About HOW many Holocaust survivors are still alive? etc. Judaism, as the article mentions generally frowns on tattoos (and body piercing) as it alters G-d's image. I will be using this lesson, for 8th and 9th graders. Others, in my school will be using it for 7th graders. Thanks.

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