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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Sheep to the Slaughter?

I cannot fathom how 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. Can you explain why so many people wouldn't fight for their life? They all heard the stories and some even managed to relay first-hand what they themselves had seen. I understand that many put their trust in God, but after so many bad things continued to happen, why not try to protect yourself? It seems that many people died because they believed that nothing bad could happen to God's chosen people and that “works makes one free!"

Can you help me understand how all this happened?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Regarding the issue of why the Jews did not rise to action, let us clarify:

1) Did any other group persecuted by the Nazis successfully rebel? Every group followed the Nazi's beck and call. Some of these groups even had weapons, unlike the Jews who were civilians (many women and children) and untrained in combat. By the end of the war, a few million Russian POW's had been killed by the Nazis. Why didn't these soldiers resist?

2) How could Jews rebel, knowing that any infraction of Nazi law was punished with the torture and murder of hundreds of other Jews in retribution. Who could risk that?

3) In truth, there were incidents of Jewish rebellion all over Europe. The famous examples were in the Warsaw ghetto and the death camp of Treblinka, where the inmates revolted and destroyed the camp. The few dozen survivors of Treblinka (of the 750,000 who entered) lived to testify against Eichmann in Jerusalem. There were also groups of Jewish partisans hiding out in practically every forest in Europe. They often had to fend off not only the Nazis but their former friends and neighbors as well.

A survivor of Auschwitz, Edith Reifer, writes in The Sun Will Rise (ArtScroll):

"This familiar accusation – that we were led to our deaths like sheep – makes me want to weep. We had no weapons, we were not organized. We had undergone months, in some cases years, of ghetto life, starvation, brutalization, terror, uncertainty. And they were so clever, so diabolically clever. The concealment lasted up until the very last moment. We knew that death was their ultimate intention for us. But the gas chambers were disguised to look like shower rooms? Notices, in many European languages, exhorted the victims to hang up their clothes, tie their shoes neatly in pairs, as they would need them afterwards. It was only once inside that they realized...

"The nauseous, sickly-sweet smell, which we later knew to be 'death,' hung over the camp like a pall. It was with you every waking moment, and settled over you as you slept. We all saw the black vans, the flames, although we tried to convince ourselves that it was rubbish they were burning. The fact is that this truth was always known to us, but there is a certain safety device which will not allow one to internalize 'too' much of the truth. It is this that keeps one alive."

One final idea: Ingrained in Jewish consciousness is the knowledge that we will survive against all odds. This trait leads to optimism that the situation will improve and a disbelief of such tragic reports as the existence of "death camps." This consciousness may mean that less risks were taken. But it also enabled many to hold tenaciously to their will to live – when others may have given up.

The whole argument is designed to turn the tables and make the Jews to blame for their own fate in the Holocaust. It is a great dishonor to the memory of the Six Million. In the end, given the choice between being a Holocaust victim or being a Nazi, I know what I would pick.

Why Not Milk & Meat?

I love cheeseburgers, but I always feel guilty that it’s not a “good Jewish food.” What is behind this whole idea of not mixing milk and meat?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah commands us: "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk" (Exodus 23:6). The Torah forbids eating meat and milk in combination, and even forbids the act of cooking them together (as well as deriving benefit from such a mixture). As a safeguard, the Sages disallow the eating of meat and dairy products at the same meal, or preparing them with the same utensils. Therefore, a kosher kitchen must have two separate sets of pots, pans, plates and silverware – one for meat/poultry and the other for dairy foods.

Even more, one must wait up to six hours after eating meat products before eating dairy products. However, meat may be eaten following dairy products (with the exception of hard cheese, which also requires a six-hour interval). Prior to eating meat after dairy, one must eat a solid food and the mouth must be rinsed.

One possible explanation for this separation is that meat represents the finite, physical body, which ultimately ends up in death. Milk, on the other hand, is the quintessential life-giving force, the substance through which a mother can sustain her infant. Milk, therefore, can be compared to spirituality, which sustains our connection with the ultimate, eternal life.

Judaism wants us to be aware on every level of the difference between that which leads to life and that which leads to death. Even though we must nourish our physical bodies – indeed, God allows us to eat meat alone in order that our bodies be healthy – we must not mix in milk. We must never make our physical bodies the goal of living. We must never blur the difference between the physical, mortal world, and the world which is our ultimate goal, the world of spirituality, of eternal life. That is why meat and milk must remain separate.

Maimonides (12th century Spain) offers a rational view that ancient idolaters had the practice of mixing meat and milk together for ritual purposes. In order not to appear as if we are involved in pagan worship, the Torah forbids bringing these two items together.

There is yet a third approach. Why does the Torah use such strong imagery in the verse, "Do not cook a kid in its MOTHER'S milk"? The Rashbam (12th century France) explained that although there is nothing wrong with slaughtering animals in order to eat them, the Torah wants us to realize that there are certain acts, such as boiling a lamb in its mother's milk, which engender cruelty.

Women Making Havdalah

I am a single woman and I usually try to hear Havdallah on Saturday night at the synagogue. But sometimes I don’t feel like going out. So when I say Havdallah by myself, should I say all the blessings as usual?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

A woman who recites Havdalah should say the blessings over wine, the spices, and the concluding blessing ("HaMavidil bein Kodesh le'chol").

There is a dispute over whether a woman should recite the blessing over fire, "Borey me'orey ha'aish." (Perhaps you could recite the blessing without saying God's Holy Name.)

Although it is not customary for women to drink Havdalah wine, if a woman recites the Havdalah, then she should drink it.

(Source: Halichos Bas Yisrael 15:93-94.)