click here to jump to beginning of article list
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​




Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Religious Intolerance

I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that it is precisely because of the thinking expressed on Aish.com that we have terrorism in the world.

The cause is religion. The cause is a belief in God. It is religious extremists in all religions that create these problems. When religion rules the mind, any and all senseless terror is rationalized and may be inflicted on any who have a different view.

I don't care if it is Muslim, Jewish, Christian, etc. Everyone has the deluded image that their religion is the only rightful one, and as such, everyone else must be consigned to hell or earthly terror.

This practice has been repeated thousands of times over the course of history. From the pogroms, to the gas chambers, slavery, to bombing of buildings, it's always the same: irrational behavior caused by an irrational belief in the deity.

Yes, I mourn for the dead. But even more I mourn for the living, those who believe it is better to die for their cause and in the process destroy millions of innocents.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for sending your comments. I completely agree that when religion and God are used as fronts for forcing one's views on another, it is a perversion of truth and all too often results in tragedy and loss.

I can't speak for the other religions you include on your list, but I must object to the inclusion of Judaism. Although some religions claim that one who is not a member will go to hell, and have used this as a false justification to commit horrible atrocities, it is a mistake to include Judaism with them.

I was abruptly reminded of this in 2007 with CNN's three-part documentary on religious fundamentalism, God's Warriors. Under the guise of even-handedness, CNN gave equal air-time to the three major religions, equating Jewish and Christian "extremism" with the worldwide jihadist phenomenon of radical Islam. This blatantly false moral equivalence (when was the last time you saw someone hijack a plane, blow up a commuter train, bomb a nightclub, or destroy a skyscraper - in the name of Judaism or Christianity?) was a textbook case of agenda-driven journalism, with CNN comparing Islamic terror - which has spawned over a thousand suicide attacks since 9-11 - to benign activities like fundraising for Israel. It's what Dan Abrams of MSNBC called "a defense of Islamic fundamentalism and the worst type of moral relativism."

Judaism claims no monopoly on God, and a person does not need to become Jewish to reach high spiritual levels. Judaism has no concept of "non-Jews going to hell." The Talmud (Sanhedrin 58b) presents seven pillars of humanity, and Maimonides explains that any human being who faithfully observes these earns a proper place in heaven. Judaism actually discourages converts, because the Torah is for all humanity, no conversion necessary.

As well, non-Jews were welcome to bring offerings to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which the prophet Isaiah referred to as a "house for all nations." And King Solomon specifically asked God to heed the prayer of non-Jews who come to the Temple (1-Kings 8:41-43).

The Talmud says that humans are all descended from one couple, Adam and Eve, to teach that we are all brothers. In a national sense as well, Judaism says that all of the 70 seminal nations must function together, just as the various organs work together in a body. All are necessary and play an integral part in that "being" called humanity. We are all in it together, and if we can learn to work together and respect each other, it will be a far different world.

I recommend exploring many of these ideas in our online seminar, WorldPerfect, at www.aish.com/sem/wp

Is Gaza Jewish?

I had mixed feelings upon seeing the Jewish communities of Gaza and their 9,000 residents being uprooted in 2005. There was the hope of an improved security situation, but on the other hand it seems wrong to declare a region "Judenrein." Anyway this all left me wondering if Gaza is really part of Jewish history?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Jewish community of Kfar Darom in Gaza was established on the site of the 3rd century Jewish town of Kfar Darom. (The Talmudic tractate Sotah refers to the sage Eliezer the son of Yitzhak of Kfar Darom.) At the end of the 19th century, the land of Kfar Darom was acquired by Tuvia Miller of Rechovot, who transformed swamps into a blossoming orchard. Yet the Arabs destroyed the orchard and its well during the anti-Jewish riots of 1936-39.

The Jewish presence in Kfar Darom was renewed in October 1946 along with 10 other communities, as a response to the British attempt to disengage the future Jewish state from the Negev. The village was evacuated following the Egyptian siege of 1948/9, but became the first Jewish community to be rebuilt in Gaza following the 1967 Six Day War.

The biblical status of Gaza – as regards to produce tithing and Sabbatical year -- is a dispute between "Radvaz" and "Maharit" – the former considers it part of biblical Israel, while the latter does not. In practice, nowadays, we consider Gaza as part of Israel proper for these purposes.

(sources: "Tzitz Eliezer" VII 48:12; "Derech Emunah" by R' Ch. Kanevsky, II Laws of Terumah I; "Biur H'Halacha s.v. "M'Ashkelon")

Sneeze - "Bless You!"

Sneezing seems to carry with it many superstitions. In Ancient Greece, sneezes were believed to be prophetic signs from the gods. In Chinese culture, a sneeze is perceived as a sign that someone was talking about the sneezer at that very moment. What does Judaism have to say?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Genesis 48:1 says that Jacob became ill. Why does the Torah need to teach this? Because until that time, no person had ever experienced illness as a sign of pending death. Rather someone would be walking along one day, they'd sneeze, and die instantly. Jacob, however, prayed to God for a period of infirmity prior to death, as a warning sign that it is time to make final preparations.

Why did the "sneeze" cause death? Because in creating humanity, "God blew into Adam's nostrils the soul of life" (Genesis 2:7). Therefore when a person sneezed, the soul would exit from the same place it had originally entered - hence death. (see Radal)

We find an application of this in the Bible, where the prophet Elisha was able to revive a child who had died. "The boy sneezed seven times, and the boy opened his eyes." (2-Kings 4:32-35)

Interestingly, in even more recent times - before the advent of antibiotics - a sneeze was a sign of grave danger. Sneezing was a sign that the person had a cold. If the cold should turn into pneumonia (which it often did), then for all intents and purposes the person had just a few more days to live.

Today, when a person sneezes, we have the custom of saying, "God bless you" (or something similar; in Hebrew we say "labriut" - to your health) since sneezing was once a sign of mortal danger.

By the way, the Code of Jewish Law (OC 103:3) says that sneezing during the middle of the Amidah prayer is a good omen. To learn more, see Pirkei d'Rebbe Eliezer 52; Talmud - Baba Metzia 87a, Sanhedrin 107b, Brachot 53a.

And God bless you!