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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Marrano Heritage

My mother's family comes from a long line of Marranos, the "secret converts" who fled Portugal in the 15th century and went to South America. A year ago I embarked on a search for who I really am. For me, attending Shabbat services, learning Hebrew, and taking steps toward keeping kosher is only the beginning. The Inquisitors won their battle with my ancestors, but they didn't win the war with me. I feel that I want to extend an inner arm back through the ages and "fetch" my Jewish roots. I am alive today because of my ancestors' sacrifice. I am desperately longing to immerse myself in a mikveh, to nail a mezuzah to the doorposts of a kosher home, to light Shabbat candles on Friday evenings.

The obvious question is: "Am I Jewish?" I am being very patient, but at the same time, I want to get on with living as a Jew.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Your beautiful letter reflects the yearning of a special soul.

If one's mother is Jewish, than so is the child. This means that the soul this person possesses has a deep longing to connect to the Almighty through Torah that can never be eradicated even through centuries of non-Jewish behavior.

It is a good idea to search for the tombstone of your mother's mother, as this can serve as proof for your Jewishness, as is sometimes necessary for people who are coming from very assimilated backgrounds. For Marrano ancestry, there is a web site set up just for these types of things, called "Kulanu" at www.kulanu.org

In the absence of real proof, you would need to undergo a conversion process in order to be considered Jewish. It is thus very important to develop a connection with a rabbi who you can sit with and ask your many questions. If you tell me what city you're located in, I'll be happy to recommend someone you could contact.

Living Together

My boyfriend just got a new job and will be moving to my city. He says that it’s time we start living together. The idea seems to have advantages – shared expenses, and we can spend more time together. But I’m wondering if there is a downside to this as well?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Living together is a bad idea. It is a convenient way for a man to have all the “benefits” with none of the responsibilities. Then when he gets tired of you, he will move on. I've seen it dozens of times, with women who come crying to me because they have been hurt in this way. (For this and many other reasons, Judaism frowns on this arrangement.)

Even in the event you do get married, studies show that couples who lived together before marriage were more likely to get divorced early in their marriage than couples who did not live together. There is a simple reason for this. When a man and woman live together, they approach their relationship very differently than they would as a married couple. Finances, household chores, social lives, major decisions, minor decisions, resolving conflicts, give and take, and expectations about the future are all executed by two individuals who lack a basic long-term commitment.

When they get married, what usually happens is that their expectations change. The rules are now different, only the couple is now set in a previous mode of relating, and cannot handle the transition. It’s a prescription for disaster.

I recommend the book, "The Case for Marriage," which has a chapter discussing this phenomenon.

Circumcision Suction

I was at a Bris Milah ceremony and the mohel used his mouth to draw blood from the infant's wound. Is this oral contact sanctioned by Jewish tradition?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The process you describe is called "metzitzah," whereby the mohel suctions out some blood from the wound area, so that it does not become infected. This process is considered essential for the baby's health, and may be performed even on Shabbat (Talmud – Shabbat 133b). Further, there are kabbalistic reasons why this suction is part of the circumcision process. ("Orach Chaim" to Leviticus 12:3, echoing "Tikunei Zohar")

However, when there is a problem of health risk (AIDS, VD, etc.), which is contagious and transferable through an open wound, the suction is done through a glass tube. (source: "Har Tzvi," by Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, Y.D. 214)