Recent Questions
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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Why Marry?

I’m a happy single Jewish guy, and don’t personally see a reason to get married. I’ve been in very meaningful relationships, some of them long-lasting, which I feel gives me all I would want to get out of life and marriage. I don’t feel the need to go through all the hassle of raising children.

As you can imagine, my mother has me on a serious guilt trip, but I’m not planning to get married out of guilt. Am I wrong?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I am going to take the liberty of offering you some light rebuke. It’s not really about marriage you’re asking, but about the way you view life in general, and marriage is just one specific question which emanates from your worldview.

Between the lines of your question, it is apparent that your motivation in life is to “get” as much as you can out of life and others, not what you can give. You perceive raising children as a hassle which, in comparing investment versus reward, is not be worth it. You “get” all you need out of your temporary relationships without the investment implicit in an eternally committed relationship.

This weltanschauung is antithetical to the Jewish worldview. We Jews are enjoined to “Walk in God’s ways,” to emulate Him in all aspects of our lives. The Talmud explains that just as He is merciful, we, too, should be merciful, forgiving, and above all, giving. To give to others is to emulate God. Life is not about what one can get, but what one can give. When one is receiving, they’re not expressing their own lives in the fullest, since to receive doesn’t cause growth. Every time you give, you grow, and growth is life.

Furthermore, the more you take and receive without giving in return, the more you become selfish and self-centered, the opposite of Godliness and Judaism.

The Talmud says that “one only becomes complete with marriage.” One of the main reasons for getting married is to help each other grow through a lifelong process of emotional, intellectual and spiritual sharing and challenge. Marriage is also the ultimate framework for giving and receiving in a way which emulates God, and at the same time builds the world into a stable, joyous environment. All this is implicit in the verse, “It is not good for man to be ‘alone’; I will make a helpmate opposite to him” (Genesis 2:18). As long as a person remains single, it is not “good” – i.e. not only is the person incomplete, but the entire creation also lacks perfection. (Rabbi S. R. Hirsch)

The Torah says that through marriage, man and woman “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). One meaning of this is the fusion of two halves into a unified whole, as the Kabbalah teaches that every soul is divided into male and female components before being sent to the world, and the match is the re-fusion of the halves into one.

Another meaning is through together having children they become one flesh. This fulfills the mitzvah to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Being fruitful doesn’t just literally having children. It encompasses realizing and actualizing one’s potential through sharing and challenge in marriage, in a way that one’s productive traits and talents ripen and produce pleasant fruits, multiplying an asset to the world.

May you become truly satisfied with your future true fulfillment through marriage.

Earliest Time for Morning Prayers (Shacharit)

I’ve noticed that our synagogue has morning services (Shacharit) quite early during the workweek, after which most of the congregants hurry off to work. During the winter months it is still dark outside for most of the services. Shouldn’t morning services be held when it is daytime already?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

What you describe is a fairly universal practice – very early morning services after which the congregants hurry off – trying their best to beat rush hour traffic. However, yes, there are a few issues in Jewish law of concern.

There are 3 relevant times when discussing the earliest times for morning prayers. I list them here together with the prayers which may be said at each time:

(a) Dawn – when the first light of day appears on the horizon. Most of the blessings and prayers at the beginning of morning services may be said at this time. This is roughly 90 minutes before sunrise (more on the precise times below).

(b) Partial light - when one can recognize an acquaintance standing 4 cubits (6-8 feet) away (Talmud Brachot 9b). This is the earliest time for reciting the Shema, the first blessing preceding the Shemah, and for donning Tallit and Tefillin (Shulchan Aruch 18:3, 30:1 & 58:1; see also Biur Halacha s.v. “b’lo brachot”). This is roughly 50 minutes before sunrise.

(c) Sunrise: This is the ideal time to recite the Shemona Esrei (Amidah), beginning it the moment of sunrise. It should preferably not be recited before this time. It is also permissible to recite Shema Esrei for the first 4 hours of the day (Shulchan Aruch 89:1).

Regarding the Shemona Esrei, there is one important exception. One who is about to embark on a journey (and in Talmudic times would have no choice but to take the outgoing caravan), may recite Shemona Esrei from dawn (Shulchan Aruch 89:8). Contemporary rabbis extend this to people who have need to commute to work early, even though they do so on a daily basis (see e.g. Igrot Moshe O.C. 4:6).

Putting all of this together, a synagogue may have early Shacharit services (beginning after dawn), but they must be mindful of a few things:

(a) People should not put on their Tallit or Tefillin or begin the blessings of the Shema until the time of “partial light.” Many congregations which want to start as early as possible will begin services before that time, and then right after Yishtabach (before the blessings of Shema) put on Tallit and Tefillin and continue. In other congregations, the congregants put on Tallit and Tefillin without a blessing at the start, and then after Yishtabach touch each of them and recite the appropriate blessings (Rema 18:3; Shulchan Aruch 30:3). (First touch the Tallit strings and recite a blessing on it, then touch the Tefillin boxes and recite the blessings on them.) I feel the first method is preferable since when following the second, people not familiar with the issues will put on their Tallit and Tefillin with the blessings too early.

(b) All of the above is not advisable for someone who does not have early work obligations. Someone who does not need to commute to work early but who just wants to get an early start on his day should really not attend services which recite Shemona Esrei before sunrise.

When exactly are all of these times? The best and most accurate resource for worldwide times is myzmanim.com.

Stones on Graves

At the end of the movie Schindler's List, I saw people placing stones on the top of the headstone. What is the reason for this?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

One idea is discussed in the Talmud (Eidiot 5:6): "Elazar Ben Hanoch was excommunicated. When he died, the court laid a stone on his coffin. From here we learn that if any man dies while under excommunication, they put a stone on his coffin." The Talmud (Smachot 5:11) also says: "An excommunicated person who dies is worthy of stoning. But not that they placed a heap of rocks upon him, rather a messenger of the court places a stone upon his coffin – in order to fulfill the mitzvah of stoning."

Rabbi Klonimus, who was buried next to the great Rabbi Ovadia M'Bartenura, asked that stones be placed on his grave, so that if he had committed any transgressions that warranted excommunication, this would atone for it. (Code of Jewish Law Y.D. 334:3)

But I think in today’s time, we follow a second reason for putting a stone a grave. Rabbi Yehudah Ashkenazi writes in Be'er Heitev, his 18th century commentary on the Code of Jewish Law (O.C. 224:8), that the custom of placing stones on the grave is for the honor of the deceased person by marking the fact that his grave had been visited.

In a similar custom, the Code of Jewish Law (Y.D. 376:4) says that upon visiting a gravesite, you pull up grass and toss it behind your back. This shows our belief in resurrection: Just as grass that withers can grow again, so will the dead rise in the messianic era. (source: Machzor Vitri 280)