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Recent Questions

Dangerous Occupation

Is it permissible to engage in work which carries occupational hazards and even danger to life, such as a firefighter, rescue worker, construction worker, and the like?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In general we may not unduly risk our lives or our health. Of course, there are a great number of ordinary activities which carry a small degree of risk, such as driving, swimming or crossing the street. The Talmud (Yevamot 12b) states that any activity which carries a slight risk, acceptable by the standards of society, is permissible. It bases this upon the verse in Psalms (116:6) “God protects the simple.” So long as a person is acting responsibly and going about life normally, he can trust that God will protect him from remote dangers (unless of course, God determines that his time has come).

When it comes to working, there is an additional leniency. It is understood that earning one’s livelihood carries its own dangers – which are justified due to man’s need to make a living. When the Torah obligates a hirer to pay his poor laborer on time, it justifies this by saying “because for it [his wages] he risks his life” (Deuteronomy 24:15). The Talmud (Baba Metziah 112a) comments on this: “Why does he climb up a ramp, hang from a tree, and risk his life? Isn’t it for his wages?” It is thus clear that work carries occupational hazards – which a worker is permitted to expose himself to.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, considered the greatest rabbi in America in the decades after the War until his passing in 1986, was once asked if a person could play professional ball in spite of the slight risks of injury or death – to himself or the other players. (He appears to be discussing basketball, what he calls “the throwing of balls.”) He permitted it based on the above (Igrot Moshe Choshen Mishpat I:104). He does base his leniency in part because injuries in such sports are relatively rare. It’s less likely he would permit a career in higher contact sports such as boxing or football. (In fact elsewhere R. Feinstein states that you may not injure another person even if he gives you permission (e.g. in a boxing match; Igrot Moshe O.C. III:78).)

Note that a firefighter and the like may only work on Shabbat in cases of danger to life. (He would not be permitted to operate a firetruck on Shabbat to save a cat from a tree.)

Hardening Pharaoh's Heart

After the sixth plague – boils – the Bible says that, "God hardened Pharaoh's heart" (Exodus 9:12). This seems grossly unfair! How can God warn Pharaoh to obey and then harden his heart so he can't listen?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

God doesn't want to coerce Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. He wants Pharaoh to admit he is wrong. But the plagues are so overwhelming and frightening, Pharaoh almost gives in against his will. So God hardens Pharaoh's heart to help him do what he wants to do, which is to go on saying "no."

There is another, more unsettling, explanation of God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart. Having been pig-headed for so long, Pharaoh loses the ability to change. If you recognize the truth and refuse to act on what you know, you dig yourself into a rut that gets deeper and deeper.

Kid in Mother’s Milk not Taken Literally

The Torah states a clear law, “You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.” How in the world can this be taken as the basis for not eating meat and milk together at all, not even in the same meal? The Torah is perfectly clear about what is forbidden! How can the Rabbis arbitrarily extend it?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for your very important question. The Talmud discusses this issue at great length (Hullin 113-116), and after detailed analysis concludes that the verse was not intended to be limited to a kid and its mother, but is rather a much more general injunction about not cooking or benefiting from meat and milk cooked together. (One of the many indications of this is based on the fact that this identical statement appears three times in the Torah – Exodus 23:18, Exodus 34:26, and Deut. 14:21. Why repeat something we were already taught? The clear implication is that the Torah intends to convey more than the simple interpretation implies.)

(One important aside is that the common translation of “g'di” as “kid” – implying a goat – is not a correct translation of the Hebrew. The word actually implies the young of any domesticated species - which is why (as the Talmud notes) when referring to goats, the Torah always uses the phrase “a kid of the goats” (e.g. Genesis 38:20).)

In truth, the Talmud does make a few inferences from the exact wording of the verse. According to some, the word “kid” comes to exclude non-domesticated animals. Likewise according to some, the phrase “its mother’s milk” comes to exclude birds which do not produce milk. (Consuming fowl and milk together, however, is forbidden by Rabbinic decree since it resembles meat and milk.) The word “cook” may likewise exclude frying meat and milk together (from Torah law). (Waiting between meals is a further Rabbinical precaution.) Regardless, all the Sages of the Talmud are in agreement that these verses forbid more than the literal meaning implies.

And this is actually quite significant. Not to sound facetious, but anyone who is at all familiar with the Talmud knows that it contains quite a lot of debates. Virtually every topic it discusses is subject to debate in one form or the other. But this law is not one of them. When everyone in the Talmud agrees to something, we can be quite certain that the law is a tradition passed from Sinai (see Maimonides, intro. to Mishne Torah, par. 34, Mamrim 1:3). Everyone knew the basic law that we may not cook or eat meat and milk (which of course had been practiced by Jews since the days of Moses). The only question of the Talmud was exactly how the law may be derived from the verses.

This leads us to the final question: Why did the Torah state this law in such a striking way? Why not simply say, “You shall not cook meat and milk together?”

Several of the commentators explain simply that this was a common practice in the ancient world for various reasons, either practical or pagan, so the Torah expressed this law by taking that example (Rashbam to Exodus 23:18 compare to Ibn Ezra, Seforno to Exodus 34:26). Ramban (Deut. 14:21), together with Ibn Ezra and Rashbam, explain further that such a practice was especially heartless – to take the mother’s milk, intended to nurture the child, and to use that very milk to cook the child, and then to eat them together. Ibn Ezra and Rashbam compare it to the likewise forbidden practices of slaughtering a mother animal together with its child on the same day (Leviticus 22:28), and taking a mother bird together with its eggs (Deut. 22:6).

Another answer is suggested by Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits of Jerusalem. In general, when the Torah teaches a law, it states it in the most extreme case – as a way of teaching us the extent of its application. I.e., this law even applies in in such a case, when we might least expect.

For example, when the Torah teaches the husband’s obligations to his wife – food, clothing and marital relations, it teaches it in the case where a man purchases a maidservant and then frees and marries her (see Exodus 21:7-11). In other words, even this woman – whom he thinks of as his slave, he must fulfill his obligations to as his full-fledged wife. All the more so a woman he takes in a typical marriage.

Perhaps the same notion applies here. Even when the meat and milk are as similar as possible – i.e., they are both products of the same mother, they still are viewed as opposites and may not be mixed. If so, this is certainly true of meat and milk of unrelated animals.

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!

Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

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