Recent Questions
click here to jump to beginning of article list
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​




Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Rashi's Daughters

Is it true that Rashi's daughters wore Tefillin? If so, what is the source? Why could those women wear them and other women not?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There are some who claim that Rashi's daughters put on Tefillin, but to my knowledge it is not written in any authoritative book. Neither Rashi himself nor Rabeinu Ta'am (a prominent Tosefot author and son of Rashi's daughter) mention anything about Rashi's daughters wearing Tefillin.

You may have heard that the Talmud (Eruvin 96a) says that Michal, the daughter of King Shaul and wife of King David, put on Tefillin. However, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachot 2:3) says that the Sages objected to this.

(see also: Igrot Moshe - OC 4:49)

Why be Jewish?

I'm just out of college and struggling to forge my identity. I have strong Jewish feelings, but am meeting some really nice non-Jewish women and am having trouble articulating why Judaism is so central to my identity.

Can you tell me why I should hang in there with the Jewish people?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Let’s start with the classic “bad” reasons: Your grandma will be upset. Guilt is not a sufficient motivator, and certainly 3,300 years of Jewish history has been driven by much more powerful forces.

Imagine someone buying a microwave for the first time, and not thinking they need to read the instructions. They put some food covered in tin foil in the microwave, and it starts to spark dangerously. It may even ruin the microwave.

So too with life. Life is quite complex – how to pick the right spouse, how to attain true happiness, how to get in touch with your spiritual side, etc. Just as any complex piece of equipment comes with instructions, so too God gave the world a set of "instructions for living" – the Torah.

Everyone is looking for immortality. Some people build tall buildings and attach their name; others create great works of art that will hang in a museum. Historians have not the vaguest ideas how to explain Jewish survival, especially during the last 2,000 years of exile. And it is not "Jewish identity" or "Jewish cultural products" which survive: Jews have been involved in assimilationist movements throughout history and those movements have not survived.

Rather, what survives is a specific way of life. Jewish values, beliefs and traditions seem historically indestructible.

The strength of Judaism is that human needs and desires remain consistent throughout history.

Even though some things may seem outdated (e.g. "Reuven's ox gores Shimon's ox..."), these are metaphors that apply to a wide range of situations, for example auto accidents. Judaism provides specific guidelines and methodology for deriving new laws from existing principles. There is nothing that Torah does not address – artificial insemination, space travel, etc.

By any measure the Jewish contribution to human life and thought is awesome. But with monotheism and morality, Judaism gives the foundation of a worldview and the essential agenda for the future. When it is appreciated that both these elements are of Jewish origin, world history takes on a different aspect: The world steadily becomes more and more Jewish!

Beyond this is the quality of life in traditional Jewish communities. Statistics show that these communities have great success in many important respects, including violent crime, drug addiction, divorce and family relations, literacy and general intellectual development. (Note that perfection is not claimed, only favorable distinction.)

One more point: Why is it that through the centuries, our ancestors have endured the torments of exile, torture and ovens – yet continued to remain loyal to the Jewish people?

Obviously Judaism must have provided them with some deep dividends. The values that the civilized world takes for granted – monotheism, love your neighbor, peace on earth, justice for all, universal education, all men are created equal, dignity of the individual, the preciousness of life – are all from the Torah. This is an enormous impact and we accomplished it under the most adverse conditions.

Finally, I suggest you start in earnest by attending a Discovery seminar. It provides an excellent overview of Jewish history, philosophy, and literature. The seminar is given in hundreds of cities throughout the world. For a current schedule, visit www.aish.com/dis/

Christian “Seder”

A good friend who is a Mormon invited my wife and me to a Passover Seder to be held at their church. I don't understand why a non-Jewish group would have a Seder, and I am uncomfortable about going. But I also do not want to offend my friend. What should I do?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Hmmm... These seem to becoming more popular. I also heard that the First Baptist Church in Delray Beach, Florida, has scheduled a Passover celebration for Palm Sunday. The church is inviting Jews from the community to join in the church's Passover Seder, which weaves the Last Supper and Passover together.

Why would they do such a thing? One explanation is that it is a missionary activity. Jews are generally are turned off by Christianity, so missionaries use traditional Jewish devices in order to make Jesus more palatable to Jews.

I'm sure there are different varieties, but I have heard that at such Christian Seders, the table appears quite traditional: Seder plate, matzah and wine. Once the ceremony begins to unfold, however, things take on a decidedly non-Jewish tone. Participants are told that the Seder wine represents the blood of Jesus, and the matzah represents his flesh. The three matzot represent the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Why is the matzah perforated? they ask. Because Jesus' body was pierced when he was crucified. Why is the matzah wrapped in a white cloth? Because Jesus was wrapped in a white burial shroud. Why is the middle matzah hidden? Because Jesus was hidden away in the tomb following his crucifixion. Why is the matzah brought back at the end of the meal? Because Jesus will return in the Second Coming at the End of Days. Etc., etc., etc.

It is frightening to see Christians usurp Jewish traditions in what is either an overt or covert effort to convert Jews. The Mormon faith is particularly known to have a strong bent toward missionizing. This is not to say that your friends have any bad intentions. They are probably just encouraged by the pastor to bring friends, and felt that it would be nice to invite you also.

The real issue here is that Jews need to learn more about their Jewish heritage. Too many feel burned out after the Bar/Bat mitzvah grind, and as adults never really got the chance to experience what Judaism is truly about.

Fortunately, many communities run authentic Passover Seders - sponsored by Aish, the Jewish Federation or one of the other organizations. Check your local Jewish newspaper for info.

As for your friends, you can politely explain that Passover, as it says in the Torah, is a time to be dedicated to one's family.