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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Exemptions from Fasting

I tend to get bad headaches when I fast. Am I obligated to fast on the Fast of Esther? Likewise, I have a friend who is pregnant. What is her status?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Fast of Esther is considered a relatively minor fast, unlike the other fast days which are mentioned either in the Torah or the Prophets (see Zachariah 8:19). Therefore, although a healthy person may not be lenient because of discomfort, a relatively minor ailment is justification for breaking the fast. In your case, a severe headache would definitely be a reason to stop – although of course you should not break your fast until your head starts hurting.

The custom is likewise for nursing or pregnant women not to fast at all on the Fast of Esther.

Needless to say, someone who is unable to fast should not indulge herself, sampling the delicious hamentaschen she has baked for that night. Such a person should eat the minimum to keep him- or herself healthy.

Children & Divorce

Back in the old days many couples stayed together “for the sake of the children.” Am I correct that this reason has no validity in our 21st century lives?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In the 1970s, Judith Wallerstein’s best-seller The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce contended that children really aren't as “resilient" as once thought, and that divorce can present children with a lifetime of emotional struggle. Here are three cardinal rules for making divorce less stressful for children, and reducing the chances of long-term trauma:

• Assure the children that the divorce is not their fault, and that there is nothing they could have done to prevent the family unit from breaking apart.

• Do not put a child in the middle of the parental dispute, nor create a situation where the child has to choose one parent over the other.

• A child benefits from a strong relationship with both parents. Do not try to minimize the time the child spends with the other parent, and do not speak badly about the other parent.

An excellent book on this topic is Gary Neuman’s Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way. Over 20,000 children have taken part in the half-day Sandcastles workshop, which is now mandatory in certain regions of the United States.

Egyptian Children Punished for Parents' Sins?

In the Book of Exodus, God indicates that He will slay all the Egyptian first-borns if Pharaoh will not allow the Israelites to leave. Why should the son suffer for the sins of the father? This contradicts the normal concepts of justice and Jewish law. Please explain.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In one place, the Torah says "...each man shall die for his own sins" (Deut. 24:16), while in the Ten Commandments it says the opposite: that God "counts the sins of the fathers on the sons." (Exodus 20:5)

The Talmud explains the distinction: Children are only held accountable for their parents' misdeeds only when they perpetuate those bad actions. (Actually, the children can be held even more accountable than the parents because a bad behavior which continues for more than one generation deepens the damage to society.)

Accordingly, all the Egyptians were punished in the Ten Plagues because they participated in mistreating the Jews. Although it appeared as if Pharaoh was solely responsible for the slavery, in truth the suffering and humiliation the Jews suffered would not have been possible without collective agreement, and a national effort on the part of all Egyptians.

As for the first-born, given their influential position within the family they bear more responsibility, and were subject to an especially strong punishment.

By the way, someone who carries on their parents' bad values – but never had the opportunity to learn otherwise – is not held accountable.

(Sources: Talmud, Sanhedrin 27b; Rashi and Ibn Ezra to Exodus 20:5)