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Recent Questions

Ruth's Conversion as Moabite?

I have a question about the Book of Ruth. As a Moabite, why was Ruth allowed to convert to Judaism, given the biblical injunction against accepting converts from the Moabite nation?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Excellent question! Before I answer, I need to add an important clarification to your question. The Torah does not exactly forbid a Moabite to convert, only to "enter the assembly of God" (Deut. 23:4). This is understood by the Talmud to mean that they may not marry a pedigreed Jew (Yevamot 77b). Thus, a Moabite may in fact convert, but may not subsequently marry into the Jewish people – but must rather marry another convert or a Jew of poor lineage. Although a Moabite may personally become Jewish and observe the mitzvot, as a result of the historic cruelty they showed to the Jewish people, the Torah did not permit their truly becoming a part of the nation (v. 5).

The question is thus not how Ruth could have converted, but how she could have subsequently married Boaz. In fact, Ruth's descendant – the illustrious King David – was hassled by some of the greatest scholars of his time claiming that Ruth's marriage had never been permitted, and so David was not fit to rule.

However, upon closer inspection we see that the Torah was precise in writing the word "Moabite" in the masculine form, indicating that only Moabite males are forbidden to marry in, but Moabite females are allowed to.

Initially her name was Gilith, but she changed it to Ruth when she married. The Hebrew name Rut (for Ruth) spelled backwards is "tur" which means dove. A dove is a bird that is allowed to be offered on the altar – symbolizing that Ruth was permitted to fully become a part of the Jewish people.

(Sources: Talmud – Yevamot 77a; Zohar Chadash – Ruth 78a)


Shofar Blasts in Month of Elul

I recently heard a lecture where the speaker, discussing recent events in Israel and the Middle East, mentioned in passing that these events are befitting the Jewish month of Elul. Although many listeners nodded in understanding, I was not sure what he was referring to; what does a Jewish month have to do with events in Israel?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Jewish month of Elul is the month which precedes Rosh Hashanah. Traditionally, Jews have assigned tremendous significance to this month. The father of the Mussar Movement, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (19th Century), writes that he remembers in his youth how the entire congregation would literally tremble when the reader announced the upcoming month of Elul. This trembling stemmed from the very palpable belief that Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment when all matters, from monetary to life-and-death, are judged and decided.

Rabbi Salanter writes that this "trembling" bore fruit, as each person used that announcement as a wake-up call to seriously reflect upon, and improve, their thoughts and deeds. He laments how, in his old age, that "trembling" has been largely lost among the Jewish people. (What would he say of our times?)

The converse theme of Elul is one of deepening and enhancing our love relationship with the Almighty. The word "Elul" is spelled Aleph-Lamed-Vav-Lamed, which forms an acronym for the words of the verse "Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li" – "I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me" (Song of Songs 6:3). "My Beloved" is referring to God. The verse is saying that to the extent we reach out and extend our love to God, in turn He reaches back and extends His love to me. The month in which God reaches out more than any other is Elul, when the Heavenly gates of love are opened, beseeching us all to enter and reconnect with the Almighty as never before.

Since the beginning of Jewish history, Elul has been the month where God expresses his love and mercy to the Jews. After the sin of the Golden Calf and the smashing of the first set of tablets, the Jews repented and God invited Moses to return to Mount Sinai. This day was the first day of Elul. Moses remained there for 40 days and nights, culminating in God's forgiveness on the 40th day, the first Yom Kippur.

The morning Moses returned to the mountain, the first day of Elul, the shofar was blasted throughout the camp to remind the Jews not to return to their mistaken ways of the Calf. In commemoration of that, and to serve as a wakeup call to all Jews to improve their ways, it is customary in synagogues throughout the world to blow the shofar every morning of Elul after the morning service, till the day before Rosh Hashanah. This serves as a double reminder: the Day of Judgment is coming, improve our deeds! Also, make the most of this special time to forge a stronger, more meaningful love relationship with God. (These two messages are really two sides of the same coin.)

Perhaps the speaker you mention was referring to the events in and around Israel as a type of shofar, a wake-up call for all Jews to introspection. The Land of Israel is surrounded by unprecedented levels of danger: well-equipped terrorist enemies from all sides, a crumbling peace treaty with Egypt, the specter of a nuclear Iran. This is all given extra strength by a radically anti-Israeli Europe, which, according to the Wiesenthal Center, is expressing levels of anti-Semitism that rival the late 1930s. If all this isn't a "shofar" blasting loud and clear, I don't know what is.


Fingernails

I know that Judaism has something to say about every aspect of existence and our lives. But I never imagined there was something to know about fingernails, until my friend said there is a specific order to cut them. What’s the story?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There are many mystical practices associated with clipping nails. One of these involves the order in which the fingernails are cut: If you hold out your hands in front of you, looking at your fingernails, the fingers can be numbered on the left hand: 3-1-4-2-5, then moving to the right hand 8-6-9-7-10.

Some refrain from trimming nails on Rosh Chodesh. Further, according to kabbalah, one should not cut the fingernails on the same day as one's toenails. You should also wash your hands after cutting your nails.

It is a mitzvah to cut one's fingernails on Friday in honor of Shabbat, and before Yom Tov. However, one may not cut nails on Shabbat and Yom Tov, since that is one of the acts of forbidden labor. The habit of nail-biting is discouraged, especially since it may lead to biting fingernails on Shabbat, which is prohibited.

Another mystical source says that it can be harmful for a pregnant woman to walk on a cut fingernail. One should therefore be careful to discard fingernail clippings. If a nail does fall and you cannot find it, just sweep or vacuum the area.

To explain this, here’s an interesting bit from ohr.edu:

According to kabbalah, Adam was created with a hard shiny membrane covering his whole body. When he ate from the forbidden tree Adam lost this covering, but it remained on the tips of his fingers and toes.

This concept is a metaphor for a very deep idea: Every person is intrinsically immortal due to his spiritual soul. However, by attaching himself to the physical world through improper actions (Adam's sin) a person becomes vulnerable to death and material destruction (loss of protective covering).

The concept of a fingernail harming a pregnant woman is based on the following idea: The nail, which is dead matter, represents death and the mortality of the human being. The pregnant woman represents creation, life and immortality. In mystical thinking, objects contain “sparks” of the ideas which they symbolize. Opposite “sparks” brought together can cause harm on the spiritual and physical level. Hence, the fingernail – representing death – is kept away from the pregnant woman, life.


Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. Note that this is not a homework service!

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