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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Misquoting the Talmud

I recently stumbled on an anti-Semitic website and they had a whole list of Talmud sayings that sound very non-PC. One example was: "It is permitted to marry a 3-year-old girl," which they said means that Judaism condones sexual abuse of a young child. Another example was: "The best of the Gentiles, kill." Does the Talmud really say this stuff?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Misquoting Talmudic texts or taking them out of context is an age-old method used to incite anti-Semitism.

In the example that you cite, that a Jew may marry a 3-year-old girl, it simply means that under the age of 3, a "marriage" contract has no validity. Beyond that, any "marriage arrangement" made at above the age of 3 must be accepted and validated by the girl herself at such time that she attains maturity. The Talmud is discussing a technical legal point, not condoning abhorrent sexual activities.

As for: "The best of the gentiles, kill," the context here is very crucial. The question was raised, how could there be any horses chasing after the Jews with chariots (in Exodus 14:7), when they were all killed in the plague of hail (Exodus 9:19). The Midrash (Tanchuma – Beshalach 8) answers that the horses were owned by those who heeded God's warnings and locked his animals indoors (Exodus 9:20).

The Midrash concludes that these God-fearing Egyptians -- the best Egyptians – turned out to be the ones that gave their horses to chase the Jewish people. In other words, in this particular instance, even the best Egyptians turned out to be oppressors, too. Yet even they – "the best of the gentiles" – were deserving of death.

The Torah states unequivocally that ALL men were created in the image of God (Genesis chapter 1). In fact, the Talmud emphasizes that Adam was created from the dust of all four corners of the earth (so to speak), so that no one nation could claim superiority. And of course, it is forbidden for a Jew to kill a Gentile. (source: Talmud Sanhedrin 57a; "Taz" Y.D. 158:1).

So you see, one can change the meaning of anything by taking it out of context. And better not to waste time refuting these points one by one. God's Torah is morally perfect, and if something ever sounds otherwise, it is because it is not understood properly.

Click here for a full treatment of this topic.

Race or Religion?

I will be giving a speech on the topic of "Jews: Race or Religion?" My mother always taught me that it is a race. I want to get expert advice, so would you consider Judaism as a race or a religion? And what precisely is the basis of Jewish belief and nationhood?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

To categorize Judaism "only" as a religion is a misunderstanding. The Jewish people are a nation, who share a common land (Israel), a common religion (Judaism) and a common history (dating back to Abraham).

What is amazing is how the Jews have maintained their distinct national identity having been scattered to the four corners of the globe. This achievement was possible only because of our adherence to the Torah, the "constitution" of the Jewish people. The Torah lays out the scope of personal rights and obligations, as well as laws covering lifecycle, business practice, medical ethics, parenting, married life, etc. Observance of the Torah was thus the thread which kept the Jewish people alive, and thriving, in every place and time.

Judaism cannot be classified as a race, because anyone can become a Jew by converting. The convert is considered a Jew in every regard, and his relationship with God is the same level as that of every other Jew. Come to Israel and you will find black Jews, oriental Jews, Indian Jews, etc.

Cleaning Craze

I find it a bit confusing the requirements for cleaning chametz. On one hand, your website says that we don't have to go crazy. But then you say that we must make sure there are no crumbs around that could fall into our food. It sounds to me that we do have to go crazy!

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Yes, it is confusing. That's because there are two separate issues at stake.

On one hand, the Torah prohibits the mere possession of chametz during Passover, even if we will not eat it (Exodus 13:7). In Jewish law, any piece of chametz the size of a large olive (50 cc or larger) has to be removed from our possession. Thus, we should clean as much as we can, but not go crazy over tiny crumbs.

The second issue is that the Torah prohibits eating chametz during Passover (Exodus 13:3). What quantity of chametz are we not allowed to eat? Even one tiny crumb!

And that's where the "crazy" cleaning comes in. Because if there are any crumbs around, they could somehow make their way into the food. To prevent that, we very thoroughly clean all areas where we'll be preparing and eating food. This includes washing the kitchen chairs, covering the table, using a different set of pots, dishes and silverware, covering the kitchen counters - and even wiping off the light switches, doorknobs and telephone. We also make sure that our clothes are clean of chametz, in order that crumbs won't fall into our food during Passover.

Areas of the house that you will not be touching during Passover, only need to be checked for the larger olive-sized pieces.

For a more detailed explanation of this issue, see Aish.com's excellent guide to “Pesach Cleaning Made Easy.”

(Source: Maimonides - Laws of Chametz 1:7, 2:13)