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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Praying in English – God’s Name

I say the prayers in English because I’m too unfamiliar with Hebrew. Can I use the terms “God” and “Lord” for God’s name – as my prayer-book shows? Or are they not accurate translations

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

English terms like God and Lord are not true names of God and do not truly and accurately translate the Hebrew words for His name. Thus, it’s proper that even when you pray in English that you say God’s name in Hebrew. The main terms used are “Ado-nai” – which implies God’s infinity and mastery over all, and “Elo-him” (or “Elo-hainu”) – which describes God as all-powerful and the One who controls the entire universe. Note that these names should not be pronounced except during prayer or when quoting complete verses in the Hebrew.

It’s a good idea to buy the ArtScroll Hebrew-English siddur. (See here for buying choices.) It not only has a very accurate translation, but it can be used to help you slowly transition to praying in Hebrew. (Note that ArtScroll recommends saying God's primary Name in Hebrew, as Ado-nai, but uses “God” for the other names.)

See this article for further explanations of God’s names.

(Source: Teshuvot V'Hanhagot by R' M. Sternbuch, I 128.)

Kosher Bacon Bits

I have recently begun keeping kosher, and had a philosophical debate with a friend who does not. I want to use soybean "sausage and bacon" products that have kosher symbols, because as long as they're kosher, why not? But my friend argues that if I'm going to keep kosher, to eat "kosher treif," is just a loophole and not in the spirit of what I'm trying to do. Do you feel this contradicts the spirit of the law?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Mazal tov on keeping kosher – and for your great question!!

The 12th century sage Maimonides discusses the prohibition of consuming non-kosher foods. He quotes the Talmud which states, "One should not say, 'I don't want to eat non-kosher food,' rather one should say, 'I would like to, but what can I do, my Father in Heaven has decreed upon me not to."

Maimonides explains that this is a global statement which sums up much of the Jewish worldview, and specifically adds an important insight into the laws of kosher. We should not refrain from consuming non-kosher food because it is disgusting or nauseating to us. To abstain from non-kosher items for that reason would not constitute a mitzvah. It would rather be a personal preference. (I, personally, am challenged to fulfill this dictum concerning the abstention from consuming certain items, such as lobster, by saying I want to eat it but just can't. When I see them crawling around in their tank, to say the least, I have trouble having any yearning whatsoever to eat one of those!)

The Talmud cites many stories of a pious and scholarly woman by the name of Yalta. She would often seek out kosher foods that tasted like forbidden foods. Yalta once asked her husband, the renowned sage Rav Nachman, to find her something which tastes like blood which the Torah forbids us to partake. He cooked for her a piece of liver, which is permitted, but has a blood-like taste. The commentaries are bewildered why Yalta would often be looking for foods which tasted like forbidden ones?!

One classical commentary, Maharsha, offers an explanation based on the above discussion of Maimonides. One should desire to eat the non-kosher, but refrain from doing so because of the decree of the Torah. Yalta, in her great piety, aspired to fulfill the mitzvah of kosher only to perform the will of God. She therefore purposely created a yearning to consume forbidden foods by partaking in permitted items which tasted like them.

My family and I once took a tour of a non-kosher chocolate factory and at the end they offered a free taste of all the chocolates you can eat. I felt that we truly fulfilled the mitzvah by refraining when that chocolate looked and smelled so good! (Needless to say, we were sure to make it up to the kids for their willpower by rewarding them afterwards with other treats.)

In summary, you are correct that there is nothing negative about eating imitation non-kosher food. By doing so, besides enjoying the taste, you have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Yalta and enhance your fulfillment of the mitzvah of kashrut. Not only is this not contradictory to the spirit of the law, it's a chance to augment your performance of the mitzvah.

I fondly remember your exact question as one of the first questions I asked my mentor when beginning yeshiva studies in Israel, precisely about kosher "bacon and sausage," and this (in greatly shortened form) was the answer I received.

It's important to mention one caveat to this concept. Maimonides points out that the desire to eat the "forbidden fruit" is considered a positive thing for certain mitzvot, like kosher, but not for all. There is a category of mitzvot which God has inculcated their self-evident nature into the creation, such as murder. It is definitely not praiseworthy to say "I would truly love to murder that guy, but, alas, I must fulfill the command of God"! (Even though we all might feel that way sometimes.) Murder, theft, and other such mitzvot are called "mitzvot sichliot," planted in our sechel or psyche, that they should be abhorred and not desired.

Maaser Sheni (Second Tithe)

What is the second tithe all about? Is the term derived from rabbinic sources, or is it used in the Torah?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Imagine being commanded to take 10% of your profits to Jerusalem, where there you must spend all of it on food that your heart desires – whether lamb chops, pickles, coca cola, or tofu. However, since you need to eat all this in Jerusalem, you need to spend extra time there, soaking up the atmosphere and participating in Jerusalem’s number one activity: studying Torah.

For those living in the times of the Holy Temple, this is the mitzvah of the Second Tithe, Maaser Sheni. (Deuteronomy 14:26)

Maaser Sheni must be taken from all grains, wine and oil (plus fruits and vegetables on a rabbinic level) grown in Israel. The produce needed to be kept in a state of purity and eaten in a state of purity in the holy city of Jerusalem, at any time of the year.

The 10% was calculated after removing the Kohen's portion (Terumah) and the Levite's portion (Maaser Rishon). The main part of the mitzvah, eating Maaser Sheni in Jerusalem, only applies at the time of the Holy Temple. However, the essential obligation of Maaser Sheni still exists. If any of these tithes are not separated, the produce is known as tevel and forbidden for consumption.

Within the seven year cycle, Maaser Sheni is required in years 1, 2, 4 and 5 – with years 3 and 6 designated as tithe for the poor, and the seventh Sabbatical year no tithes were taken at all.

Actually, it was not required to carry the raw produce to Jerusalem. The Torah says that if the distance to Jerusalem was too great, and shlepping the produce was impractical, then one could exchange it for money (Deuteronomy 14:24). This money would then be brought to Jerusalem where it must be used to by food eaten in the Holy City. (In exchanging the food for money, one must add a "redemption fee" of an extra 25% – Leviticus 27:30.)

Today we redeem our Maaser Sheni onto a small coin. The money becomes sacred, i.e. earmarked for holy purposes, while the produce becomes desanctified and available for any use. When the value of the coin is "filled," the coin can be redeemed on a coin of higher value or discarded in a way that prevents its future use. The actual procedure for removing the tithe is complicated, and you should seek rabbinic guidance in doing so.

What is the reason for Maaser Sheni? The Sefer HaChinuch explains that in the times of the Temple, the average person would have little time to learn Torah, due to the long hours he would spend tending to his crops and business. The obligation to go to Jerusalem, would allow him to spend time in a center of Torah learning, a place where the great Sanhedrin presided, and since he had so much Maaser Sheni money to spend on food, he was well-supplied. Since at least one member from each household made this pilgrimage each year, this ensured that every Jewish home would have at least one Torah scholar.

The Talmudic tractate of Maaser Sheni explains what items may or may not be purchased with the second tithe money; the legal procedures for the exchange; whether the sanctity of the tithe extends to containers and waste products; what qualifies as "eating"; under what circumstances may the coins be exchanged for other coins; defining the exact city limits of Jerusalem in which the second tithe food must be eaten; what counts as a coin for which the tithe may be redeemed.