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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Basis of Jewish Belief

I am proud of my Jewish identity, but I don’t get this whole thing about Jewish tradition and observance. I enjoy Jewish music, and have a lot of Jewish friends. Isn’t that enough?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Being culturally Jewish, without belief in God, is compared to a cut flower. While it still retains much of its vitality, the flower has been cut off from its source of nutrition, and within a short time will wither and die. The ideals which have kept the Jewish people alive and thriving over the millennia – despite all odds – can only be transmitted with the framework that the Torah provides.

The basis of Jewish belief is the recognition of God. This is codified in the Shema prayer, the Jewish Pledge of Allegiance: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deut. 6:4). (See more at: www.aish.com/jl/m/pb/48954656.html)

The second foundation of Jewish belief is that the Torah was given by God to the entire Jewish people at Mount Sinai, and its commandments are unchanging and binding for all time.

Historically, any Jewish group which denied the basic principles of Jewish tradition – Torah and Mitzvah-observance – ultimately ceased to be part of the Jewish people. The Saducees and the Karites, for example, refused to accept certain parts of the Oral Law, and soon after broke away completely as part of the Jewish people. The Hellenists, secularists during the Second Temple period, also soon became regarded as no longer "Jewish." Eventually, these groups vanished completely.

To learn more, see this series on Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Jewish Faith: www.aish.com/jl/p/mp/

Also, I suggest you attend a Discovery seminar, which provides an excellent overview of Jewish history, philosophy and literature. The seminar is given in hundreds of cities throughout the world. For a current schedule, visit www.aish.com/dis/

Writing the Name "God"

When I was a young kid going to Hebrew school, I was taught that we never write the full name of God; that it should always be written with a dash in place of the "O". What's the reason for that? And why do I see it spelled out on Aish.com?

Also, I often see Jewish printed material that says: "This contains the Name of God - please dispose of reverently." I would be grateful if you could give me advice on how this is done.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There are two separate issues here. One is the legal issue of erasing God's Name; the other is the emotional issue of treating the Name with proper respect.

First the legal side: Any Hebrew name of God is forbidden to erase. From the Torah's exhortation to destroy idolatry, we learn the injunction not to destroy the name of God. (see Deuteronomy 12:3-4; Talmud - Sanhedrin 56a)

The question is whether this applies only to Hebrew names of God, or to the English word "God" as well. The common rabbinic opinion is that "God" written in any language other than Hebrew, has no holiness and can be erased. (Shach Y.D. 179:11; Mishnah Berurah 85:10)

This explains why we are able to bring a U.S. dollar bill into the bathroom, even though it contains the words, “In God We Trust.”

There is still the other issue of giving the Name proper respect. This means not taking genuine Torah material into the bathroom, and not throwing it out with the rest of the garbage. Instead, you should bring the printed material to the synagogue and place it in a box called "Geniza" (a.k.a. "Sheimos"). This box is used to discard unusable holy objects - including Torah scrolls that have become old and invalid, old tefillin and tzitzit, and papers that contain words of Torah.

When the box is full, it is taken to be buried.

If this is not possible, as long as you do not treat a printout with disdain (such as throwing it directly into a garbage can), you may just put it into a separate bag, and then dispose of it. It may even be given for recycling. (Igrot Moshe O.C. 4:39)

Even in Hebrew, partial or altered verses, when not written in Torah script (Ktav Ashurit) and when printed on paper (not written by a scribe on parchment), are all mitigating factors for not considering the writing holy. (source: Pischei Teshuva Y.D. 276:11; Chavas Yair 109; Minchas Yitzchak 1:17)

Now what about spelling the English name "God"? Even though it does not technically have "holiness," some people go beyond the letter of the law and show extra respect, by spelling God with a dash.

Why doesn't Aish.com spell it with a dash? Because many of our readers have limited Jewish background, and spelling God with a dash might look strange and pose some block to learning the material. So in consultation with leading Torah scholars, we simply follow the halacha stated above, that non-Hebrew names do not technically have holiness.

An interesting extension of this topic is the issue of deleting God's name from a computer screen. It seems that nothing is being written or erased, except for electromagnetic impulses. Actually, any word displayed on a screen is erased and rewritten 50 or 60 times a second. So when you scroll down the screen, you're not doing anything worse than was just done thousand of times in the last few minutes.

And one more corollary: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes that although there does not appear to be anything wrong with erasing cassette tapes containing God's name, when possible one should refrain from doing so as a sign of reverence. (Igros Moshe - Y.D. 1:173)

Why No Jewish Burqa?

With all the attention given by the media recently to the Arab mode of dress, I was wondering why, in fact, orthodox Jewish women aren't dressed similar to Arab women with a burqa or niqab robe that covers the face and body. If this is the most modest way for a woman to dress, why don’t Orthodox women dress as modestly as possible?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There is a core distinction between the Jewish laws and customs of modesty and the Muslim mode of dress, reflecting two absolutely contrary worldviews.

First, Jewish law has clear parameters as to the requirement of dress for women to ensure and preserve modesty, such as skirts which reach below the knee and sleeves which cover the elbow. These guidelines are not about being "as modest as possible," rather to cover areas which are most immodest if exposed and could unnecessarily cause lustful attention and attraction.

The parameters established by Jewish law are predicated upon the principle of "The glory of a princess is on the inside" (Psalms 45:14). This verse sums up the need for a Jewish woman to be modest in all ways, as true royalty ought to be. Every Jewish woman is regarded as a princess. Just as the King and Queen don't reveal all their riches to the masses, so too a Jewish woman keeps her honor covered and not exposed to the eyes of all to behold.

Much like Buckingham Palace's honor is in its changing of the guard which shows there's something inside worth guarding, also a Jewish woman has her "royal guards," her clothing, which reveal a profound inner self deserving of regal bearing.

A person’s face, however, is one area which should always be revealed. The Hebrew word for face, "panim," shares the same root as the word "p'nim," which refers to one's "inside" or deepest essence, the soul. This teaches that while the physical body masks one’s essential soul, the face reveals the soul, as it says: "The wisdom of a person illuminates his face" (Ecclesiastes 8:1). A woman covers her body so that the beholder can focus on her true royalty, the regal soul which shines from her countenance, her face. Revealing the rest of the body causes others to focus on her physicality and deflects attention from her true essence. In many cases, this causes the spiritual essence to retreat deeper within herself, taking a back seat to the physicality which she attempts to expose as her real self… when in fact her real self is hidden.

The Talmud discusses the amount one must pay if he had embarrassed a Jewish woman. One opinion is that it depends on her standing: if she is a rich woman, the penalty payment would be high. However, the Talmud concludes that every woman deserves the same payment because "all Jews are the children of kings," and to cause a Jewish woman embarrassment it a slight to her regal bearing. (Bava Metziah 113b)

My understanding of the Muslim mode of dress, such as the niqab, is diametrically opposed to all the above. When you force someone to cover their face, you are making a statement that there is no deeper essence to be shown. This person is completely a non-person, totally subservient to men. I was recently dumbstruck when I saw an interview with a leading sheikh expounding, unabashedly, on the virtues of the Muslim practice of beating wives. He explained how this is a husband’s religious obligation when his wife is acting out of line. (He did say that the stick used shouldn’t be too big and heavy.) With a straight face, even with a smile, he went on to explain that one should not beat his wife for just any transgression; it is reserved mainly for when a wife is unwilling to submit to intimate relations. This, together with laws forbidding women from driving, voting, working, etc, show how Muslim woman are viewed as non-entities or lower-caste than the men in control; hence covering her face.

None of this is related to the Jewish mode of dress, based on a Jewish woman's status as "daughter of the king.”