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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Punishing a Child

I have a child-rearing question. We found some coloring on the wall. We suspected our 4-year-old, and asked him if he did it. He denied it. We are not positive he did it, but he has a guilty look and it is very unlikely that another child did it.

What do we say to him? Do we just forget about it? Do we try to convince him to tell the truth? Do we punish him even though we are not 100% sure? What should we do?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Your question touches on fundamental concepts of child-raising that will affect your child for a lifetime, and I commend you for taking this seriously enough to write.

The bottom line? You must not punish him unless you are 100% certain he did it.

The best thing to do is to ask the child to help clean up the walls. Do not accuse or punish. Asking for his admission isn't productive since his goal is only to escape from punishment.

After the fact, you should simply say, "We love you even if you color on walls – but it's important to tell the truth." And leave it at that.

The idea here is to help the child develop an appreciation for telling the truth that will last a lifetime. Not to necessarily get him to tell the truth regarding one incident of coloring on the wall.

Don't worry – even though you may lose this "battle," you are more likely to win the war.

In other words, teaching him to tell the truth does not have to be done specifically right now over this event. The lesson can be taught in a series of follow-up stories over the next few weeks. Use the straw man technique to develop a main character who gets into a similar situation as your son – e.g. “Once upon a time there was a boy called Mikey...”

The "plot" of each story is, naturally, that the boy lied because he was afraid – and then he told the truth and everyone was so proud of him! Also, he did not get punished for what he did, because he told the truth and said he was sorry. If the "crime" in the story involved damages of some kind – e.g. coloring on the wall – you should add in the story how he cleaned it.

The next time something like this happens with your son, remind him of the boy called Mikey who told the truth, cleaned the wall, and did not get punished.

Ask him if he wants to be like Mikey.

Tell him that if he tells the truth, then he only will have to 1) wash off the wall, and 2) say he is sorry.

If he tells the truth, then make a big deal about it – e.g. let him hear you tell the grandparents on the phone how wonderful he is, etc.

All of the above holds true in the event that you are not certain if he did it.

If you are 100% certain that he did it, then do not ask him if he did it. Just state matter-of-factly that you know that he did it, ignore any denials and get straight to the point. He must:

1) Say he's sorry

2) Clean off the wall

3) Possible punishment

Of course, point out to him that item #3 – punishment – only comes when we deny it.

And finally, one word of practical advice: Any house with young children should have washable walls!

Who is a Rabbi?

What exactly is meant by "rabbi?" So many times people will question a rabbi as to whether he is a "real" rabbi or fake. Do the different branches of Judaism have different criteria?

I thought anyone could be ordained a rabbi (irrespective of age) if he demonstrated that he had sufficient knowledge (encyclopedic level) of the Talmud. And that the first "level" of rabbinic ordination signifies knowledge of all the laws of kashrut.

Am I right, or is there more to it?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Rabbi literally means "great one", But I think the best way to describe the education of the rabbi is that he is a “Judaism Lawyer” with a Ph.D in social work and education.

On a the most basic level, a rabbi is one that has studied Torah sufficiently to teach and issue rulings on issues of Torah law. On a deeper level, a rabbi, through his efforts and erudition in Torah, has developed wisdom – the ability to analyze events and their effects without any bias. In other words, he is a man of Truth. This ability has made rabbis our community leaders, the ones we turn to in all areas of the human experience, even those which have nothing to do with Torah law per se.

The full requirements for a rabbi are explained by Maimonides (Laws of Sanhedrin 2:1,7):

"Only wise and understanding people are to be appointed to the Sanhedrin. They must be experts in Torah law, with a wide breadth of knowledge. They must also know secular subjects like medicine, mathematics, astrology and astronomy. They must also be familiar with magic and idolatry, in order to know how to judge such cases...

"Even a judge for a regular court must possess the following seven qualities: Wisdom. Humility. Fear of God. Aversion to materialism. Love of truth. Pleasant and likeable. An unimpeachable reputation. All these are specified in the Torah."

In other words, mastery of the material is just one aspect.

If you want a teacher, don't just take the nearest expert – the one on the block. "Shop" for a teacher. When you come across someone with wisdom, get references. Check his credentials. Test his wisdom with questions and more questions. See if he lives honestly and consistently with his knowledge. Then check his sources. Know who his teachers are. Make sure he's part of a respected community. See if his students are respectable as well. These are all indications of the rabbi's "authenticity."

Above all, a rabbi must be dedicated to following the 613 mitzvahs of the Torah.

Candle Lighting Times

I say that Shabbat begins 18 minutes before sundown. My son says it begins after lighting the Shabbat candles. Who is right?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You're both right! (How's that for a diplomatic answer?)

Shabbat starts with candle-lighting, which is traditionally 18 minutes before sunset.

The reason why we light candles a few minutes early is in order to avoid any possibility of starting Shabbat late. Think of it as a train leaving the station. If you're one minute late, you've missed it.

It is, however, permitted to "start Shabbat early." This is simply done by lighting the candles, or through a verbal acceptance of Shabbat.

The earliest time to start Shabbat is an hour-and-a-quarter before sunset. Many communities do this during the summer months, when sunset can be very late -- even 11:00 p.m. in parts of Europe. (And don't even ask me about Alaska!)

Keep in mind that this is not exactly an "hour-and-a-quarter" on your clock. That's because the Jewish day -- from sunrise to sunset -- is divided into 12 equal parts. So no matter how long or short the day is, each twelfth is considered "one hour." It's a bit complicated, so you may want to have a rabbi help you with the math.

By the way, though most communities light Shabbat candles 18 minutes before sunset, local custom may vary. For instance in Jerusalem, the custom is to light 40 minutes before sunset. (see Minchas Yitzhak 9:20; Sefer Eretz Yisrael p. 26; Badei HaShulchan 73:14)

And one more point: While women usually begin Shabbat upon lighting the candles, men usually begin Shabbat as part of the Kabbalat Shabbat synagogue service. has a fantastic online chart that tells you the exact candle-lighting time for your local city. Go to:

Shabbat Shalom!