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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Synagogue Dues: Pay to Pray?

I can't tell you how frustrated I am. I can go to any synagogue in my area on any given Shabbat to pray, but when it comes to the High Holidays, I need tickets. Some congregations are not even selling tickets. You have to buy a yearly membership. It seems to me spiritually wrong to require payment to fulfill a mitzvah.

It's this kind of attitude which turns me away from Judaism. I am boycotting the rest of High Holidays for this reason. Christian places of worship do not have this policy. It makes no sense for a single person like myself to join a congregation, since I don't use the facility enough to justify the expense. I would rather donate what I can to other charities that I deem to be in greater need.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts.

Let's start with the premise that every synagogue requires financial support. They have building and maintenance costs, and pay a rabbi who spends endless hours working to serve the community's spiritual needs.

Does this justify turning away a Jew who cannot pay? Absolutely not. At the very least, there should be a section designated for those who cannot afford to purchase a seat. In the synagogue I attend in Jerusalem, we have extra seating specifically for those who do not wish to purchase a seat or cannot afford one. Not exactly front row, but still in the ballpark.

When I was teaching at Aish HaTorah in Los Angeles, tickets to High Holiday services cost just $18. And someone who couldn't afford that got a seat anyway - not in a separate "poor section," but spread throughout.

I think this is primarily an issue of mentality amongst the Jewish leadership. It's crucial that the priority be serving the Jewish community, with running a business secondary. What's the point of having a synagogue if it turns Jews away from their heritage? I'm afraid if we don't do something to shift the attitude, there won't be enough Jews left in another generation to fill all these synagogues. In other words, we'll have shot ourselves in the foot.

I am confident there are many synagogues which offer subsidies, and where nobody is turned away for lack of funds. If you need assistance in locating something in your area, check out an excellent resource at www.nomembershiprequired.com

I must say, however, I'm surprised by your reaction to this whole situation. Who are you ultimately hurting by boycotting the holidays? Instead of saying: "That blasted synagogue! I'll teach them a lesson and defile my soul with some bacon!" Why not say: "I'll start my own synagogue and the policy will be free seating on High Holidays for those who can't afford tickets."

It's the difference between being proactive and reactive. Proactive means making your own reality happen. Reactive is allowing other people's shortcomings to hurt you. Judaism is a religion of action. So let me know when you start that synagogue. It'll be my honor to pray with you there!

Finally, this all reminds me of a joke. A man had to deliver an important message to his friend who was in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. The usher wouldn't let him in because he didn't have a ticket. "Please, I just need a moment to give him the message!" "No way!" said the usher, "I have strict instructions: No ticket, no entrance!"

"Please," begged the man, "I promise... I won't pray!

Finding a Match

I’ve been doing the singles scene for years and now that I’d like to get married, I realize that my chances of just stumbling upon Mr. Right are quite slim. What’s a good Plan B?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You’re right. Meeting dating partners becomes harder the older one gets. Singles bars and parties don't provide many opportunities to meet someone whose goals complement your own.

The best solution is to network. Make a list of your friends, relatives, co-workers, educators, rabbis, and more-than-casual acquaintances. Let the members of your network know the kind or person you would like to date. Prepare a short description of what you’re looking for: your top-3 deal-breakers, as well as 3 key points about yourself. Then ask them to think about someone they can introduce you to.

You can increase your “exposure to the market” (and at the same time enrich yourself on other levels) by getting involved in a community-service activity, adult educational programs, or finding a group outlet for your creative or athletic interests.

Finally, you may want to consider a matchmaker as another source of introductions. A growing number of accomplished, forward-thinking men and women have seen the benefits of modern-day "Yente's." The advantage is that they already know a large pool of eligible people, and they can pre-screen those who are not suitable for you. Ask around for recommendations and make sure you are comfortable with your matchmaker's personal style. You may be asked to pay a nominal registration charge, or even a set fee if the "match" is successful. But if you can achieve results, the payment will be well worth it. One such online version is www.sawyouatsinai.com

Finally, you may want to try one of the on-line dating services, like www.jwed.com or www.jewishdating.com

Waging War Against Canaan

In 2009, when Israel went into Gaza and killed a lot of people, I was discussing religion with one of my friends, and he said that in the Torah, God told us to go out and murder people that we don't like. The verse he quoted was in Deuteronomy about the Jews driving out the Canaanite nations from the Land of Israel.

Does the Torah really say that, and if so, why does everything need to be so violent?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Canaanite nations were hardcore idol worshippers and as such, were an unacceptable influence on the holy Jewish nation building its home in the Land of Israel. Today, it is hard for us to imagine what could be so evil about a society, since we imagine idolaters as normal families who just happen to worship the sun or a statue. In reality, idol worship was much worse.

Rabbi Akiva (2nd century CE, Israel) reported that he saw a son bind up his father and feed him to ravaging dogs in service of one his idols. Part of their cult worship was to sacrifice children to the gods (Deut. 12:31), and modern archaeologists have found mounds of children's bones by their altars. These nations were also involved in various sexual immoralities like incest, bestiality and temple orgies (Leviticus 18:27).

Today, most Westerners grow up in quiet neighborhoods, and never experience war, persecution and racism. So they don't easily relate to the concept that if you don't destroy evil, it will destroy you. Questioning someone's sense of justice and morality is really not fair if you haven't dealt with the harsh reality of their experience.

Judaism taught the world the utopian ideal of world peace, yet sometimes war is necessary. We taught the value of life, yet we're not pacifists. Wiping out evil is part of justice. If you choose to leave evil alone, it will eventually attack you (Rashi, Deut. 20:12).

It is ironic that the Jewish people and Israel, who introduced to the world the concept of the sanctity of life, are now criticized as being "cruel" by today's Western civilizations which are built on that Jewish moral foundation! People today can only criticize the State of Israel because those very Jews taught the world that murder, conquest and abuse are wrong.

People mistakenly think that the Torah directive was to wipe out the Canaanites cruelly and indiscriminately. In truth, the Torah prefers that the Canaanites would avoid punishment; they were given many chances to accept peace terms. Even though abominable inhuman practice had been indoctrinated into the Canaanite psyche, the hope was that they'd change and adopt the basic pillars of human civilization which distinguish a community of humans from a jungle of wild animals.

Even as the Jews drew close to battle, they were commanded to act with mercy, as the Torah states, "When approaching a town to attack it, first offer them peace." (Deut. 20:10)

Before entering the Land of Israel, Joshua wrote three letters to the Canaanite nations. The first letter said, "Anyone who wants to leave Israel, has permission to leave." If they refused, a second letter said, "Whoever wants to make peace, can make peace." If they again refused, a final letter warned, "Whoever wants to fight, get ready to fight." Upon receiving these letters, only one of the Canaanite nations, the Girgashites, heeded the call and settled peacefully.

In the event that the Canaanite nations chose not to make a treaty, the Jewish people were still commanded to fight mercifully. For example, when besieging a city to conquer it, the Jews never surrounded it on all four sides. This way, one side was always left open to allow for anyone who wanted to escape. (see Maimonides – Laws of Kings 6:4-5, with Kesef Mishna)

It is interesting that throughout Jewish history, waging war has always been a tremendous personal and national ordeal which ran contrary to the Jews' peace-loving nature. At various stages throughout the 40-year trek in the desert, Moses was forced to reprimand the Jews for having the fear of war. He inspired them with various pep talks, and assurances of victory. Years later, King Saul lost his kingdom by showing misplaced mercy and allowing the Amalekite king to live. (see Exodus 14:3 with Ibn Ezra; Numbers 21:34 with Nachmanides; Deut. 31:6; 1-Samuel ch. 15)

In modern times, Israel has often shown tremendous restraint in dealing with its enemies, and regret at any loss of life. Israel absorbed 10,000 missiles before attacking Gaza. When Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was asked if she could forgive Egypt for killing Israeli soldiers, she replied, "It is more difficult for me to forgive Egypt for making us kill their soldiers."

So let's put things into perspective before criticizing.

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