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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

When to Get Divorced

I think I have fallen out of love with my husband. We don’t share many of the same interests, and we don’t even keep the same “waking hours.” I feel lonely and am ready to find someone else. What do you suggest?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Let's take one step back and ask: What is the Jewish understanding of marriage?

The act of marriage is more than just a man and woman sharing a house, or having a joint bank account, or raising children together. Marriage actually binds two souls together to create one complete soul. As the Torah says, a married couple "becomes one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

“One flesh” means that the commitment of marriage is like the commitment one has to his hand. As one rabbi explained:

    What is my commitment to my hand? I "am" my hand! I wouldn't reconsider my commitment to my hand if it were broken, ugly, scarred, or if I met someone with nicer hands. I'd reconsider my commitment to my hand only if it had gangrene and was killing me.

The commitment of marriage is until it's killing you.

The alarming rate of divorce means there is a fundamental problem in how many people approach marriage and relationships. As Rabbi Avram Rothman observes, the media has geared people to become a society of “takers.” "You deserve a break today," "Just do it," and other catchy slogans entice people to take what they want, do what they want, and think only of themselves. If there is one overriding factor causing the many failed and troubled marriages, it is that we have learned to be "takers."

When two people are focused on taking, they are pulling in opposite directions. It’s a constant tug of war to see how much the other person “can satisfy me.” By contrast, the Jewish idea of marriage is to be a “giver.” In this way, the dynamic between husband and wife is a loving, caring flow in both directions. (Interestingly, one way that Jewish law facilitates this is through the Ketubah wedding contract, where the man commits to providing his wife’s needs – food, clothes, intimacy, etc.)

Of course, there are times when marriages fall into a destructive cycle of abuse, and in these situations, divorce is appropriate. Even more, divorce is a mitzvah – a chance to try again, to find happiness.

In reality, however, this is often not why most people get divorced. They usually just get tired of each other. The excitement goes out of the relationship, or "we don't laugh like we used to." If someone told you they were amputating their hand because "the fun has gone out of it," you'd think they were crazy.

It is for this reason that prior to facilitating a Get, a Jewish court (Beit Din) will sometimes encourage the couple to seek reconciliation. In fact, one of the reasons the Jewish divorce process involves so many technicalities is to avoid a situation where people get divorced without having fully explored the options.


Throughout history, Jews have sought an ideal standard for family life that is captured in the term Shalom Bayit – literally, “peace in the home.” When marital harmony exists, God's presence dwells in the home. When marital harmony is absent, and divorce becomes the only option, it is an undeniable tragedy. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 22a) says that when a divorce occurs, the Temple altar – the symbol of Jewish unity and holiness – metaphorically “weeps," as if to mourn the loss of this failed union.

According to the Gaon of Vilna, the Hebrew letters gimmel and tet (spelling “Get”) do not otherwise appear together in any word – symbolizing the disharmony which precipitates divorce.

Evolution and the Bible

Darwin seems to be well-accepted scientific fact. But given the Creation account in the Bible, is it reasonable to assume that Moses missed evolution?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Bible is well aware of evolution, although it is not very interested in the details of the process. All of animal evolution gets a mere seven sentences (Genesis 1:20-26). Genesis tells us that simple aquatic animals were followed by land animals, mammals, and finally humans.

That is also what the fossil record tells us, albeit with much more detail than these few biblical verses provide. The Bible makes no claims as to what drove the development of life, and science has yet to provide the answer.

In paleontology's record of evolution, first came the discovery that life appeared on Earth almost 4 billion years ago, immediately after the molten globe had cooled sufficiently for liquid water to form. This contradicted totally the theory of gradual evolution over billions of years in some nutrient-rich pool. The rapid origin of life remains a mystery.

Then we learned that some 550 million years ago, in what is known as the Cambrian explosion, animals with optically perfect eyes, gills, limbs with joints, mouths and intestines burst upon the fossil scene – with nary a clue in older fossils as to how they evolved. It is no wonder that Darwin, in his "Origin of the Species," repeatedly implored his readers (seven times by my count) to ignore the fossil record if they were to understand his theory.

The overwhelming weight of evidence tells us that something exotic certainly happened to produce life as we know it. Historically one of the most compelling arguments regarding the existence of God comes from the precision design found in nature. Design implies a designer, and Darwin’s proposal that evolution could have occurred without a Designer (by means of natural selection through random mutations) changed things.

On the verse, "Consider the days of old, the years of the many generations (Deut. 32:7)," the 13th century scholar Nachmanides explains that “Consider the days of old” refers to the Six Days of Creation and “The years of the many generations” refers to the time from Adam forward." Many leading rabbis who lived centuries before Darwin understood that when Adam appeared on the scene, the universe might have already been much older. Most notably, this is the opinion attributed to Rabbi Nechunia Ben Hakana who lived some 2,000 years ago, which is quoted by many mainstream, medieval commentators such as Rabbenu Bechaya, the Recanti, Tzioni, and the Sefer HaChinuch. Rabbi Yitzhak M’Acco, a student of Nachmanides, suggested based on kabbalistic calculations that the universe is thousands of millions of years old.

With regard to humans arriving on the scene, the Talmud (Chagiga 13b) states clearly that there were 974 generations prior to Adam. The famous Tifferes Yisrael commentary to the Mishnah wrote in 1842 (prior to publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species): “In my opinion, the prehistoric men whose remains have been discovered in our time and who lived long before Adam are identical with the 974 pre-Adamite generations referred to in the Talmud, and lived in the epoch immediately before our own.”

Of course, the key point where Torah and evolutionists diverge is on the question of “accident versus design.” Evolutionists say that life happened by accident; Judaism says that God made it happen.

What is the possibility that life and all the wonders of nature accidentally occurred?

According to Dr. I. Prigogine, recipient of two Nobel prizes in chemistry: "The statistical probability that organic structures and the most precisely harmonized reactions that typify living organisms would be generated by accident is zero."

Sir Fred Hoyle, the distinguished astronomer, writes: "No matter how large the environment one considers, life cannot have had a random beginning. Troops of monkeys thundering away at random on typewriters could not produce the works of Shakespeare — for the practical reason that the whole observable universe is not large enough to contain the necessary monkey hordes, the necessary typewriters, and certainly the waste paper baskets for the deposition of wrong attempts. The same is true for living material."

Believers in evolution must accept the idea that in thousands of examples throughout nature, two independent lines of mutations occurred in the same random way at each of 500 steps of development. With one million potential choices at each step (and even if only 100 of the 500 choices needed to be the same), the odds against success would be one in 10 to the 600th power. And this is only for one simple transition! For a complicated organ such as a wing or a kidney or an eye, the probability against such an accident would increase by the billions.

Darwin himself wrote in Origin of Species: "...If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications — my theory would absolutely break down..."

Consider the Bombardier Beetle, a little bug equipped with a chamber of hydroginine and a second chamber of hydrogen peroxide. When combined, these two chemicals are explosive. But a mechanism inside the beetle keeps them separate. Yet when provoked by an enemy, the beetle heats the chemicals to the boiling point and squeezes them into a combustion chamber like igniting a rocket engine. The explosive material streams out of the beetle at a rate of 1,000 pulses per second. (Pulses, rather than a continuous stream, give the beetle a chance to cool itself.) The poisonous fuel is expelled through a nozzle which, much like the turret of a tank, can rotate in any direction, under the legs or over the back. The enemy is poisoned, the beetle is saved!

Could this all possibly have evolved by slow, steady, infinitesimally small Darwinian mutations? Which came first: the hydroginine or the hydrogen peroxide? One without the other is useless.

Which came first: the chemicals, or the independent chambers separating them? One without the other is useless.

Which came first: the chemicals, or the shooting mechanism? One without the other is useless.

The human eye is another example of coordinated evolution. In a private letter, Darwin expressed anxiety over what he called "organs of extreme perfection," and admitted that "the eye, to this day, gives me a cold shudder." (Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, London, 1888, Vol. 2, p. 273)

So there are many assumptions made in the name of science. From my perspective, the Torah tradition is the most purely rational approach.

To learn more, read:

• "The Science of God" by Dr. Gerald Schroeder (Free Press)

• "Permission to Believe" by Lawrence Keleman (Feldheim Pub.)

Star of David

Why does the Jewish star have six points? The Encyclopedia of Judaica explained it is from King David's time, and that it was shaped like the hexagon. This answer did not sit well with me. Perhaps you have other sources that explains it better?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In modern times, the Star of David has become a premier Jewish symbol. This six-pointed star (hexagram), made of two interlocking triangles, can be found on mezuzahs, menorahs, tallis bags and kippahs. Ambulances in Israel bear the sign of the "Red Star of David," and the flag of Israel has a blue Star of David planted squarely in the center.

What is the origin of this six-pointed symbol?

Through the Jewish people's long and often difficult history, we have come to the realization that our only hope is to place our trust in God. The six points of the Star of David symbolize God's rule over the universe in all six directions: north, south, east, west, up and down.

Originally, the Hebrew name Magen David -- literally "Shield of David" -- poetically referred to God. It acknowledges that our military hero, King David, did not win by his own might, but by the support of the Almighty. This is also alluded to in the third blessing after the Haftorah reading on Shabbat: "Blessed are you God, Shield of David."

Various other explanations exist on the meaning behind the Star of David.

One idea is that a six-pointed star receives form and substance from its solid center. This inner core represents the spiritual dimension, surrounded by the six universal directions. (A similar idea applies to Shabbat -- the seventh day which gives balance and perspective to the six weekdays.)

In Kabbalah, the two triangles represent the dichotomies inherent in man: good vs. evil, spiritual vs. physical, etc. The two triangles may also represent the reciprocal relationship between the Jewish people and God. The triangle pointing "up" symbolizes our good deeds which go up to heaven, and then activate a flow of goodness back down to the world, symbolized by the triangle pointing down.

A more practical theory is that during the Bar Kochba rebellion (first century), a new technology was developed for shields using the inherent stability of the triangle. Behind the shield were two interlocking triangles, forming a hexagonal pattern of support points. (Buckminster Fuller showed how strong triangle-based designs are with his geodesics.)

One cynical suggestion is that the Star of David is an appropriate symbol for the internal strife that often afflicts Jewish nation: two triangles pointing in opposite directions!

The Star of David was a sad symbol of the Holocaust, when the Nazis forced Jews to wear an identifying yellow star. Actually, Jews were forced to wear special badges during the Middle Ages, both by Muslim and Christian authorities, and even in Israel under the Ottoman Empire.

So whether it is a blue star waving proudly on a flag, or a gold star adorning a synagogue's entrance, the Star of David stands as a reminder that for the Jewish people... in God we trust.