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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Kashering Vessels

Is there any other way to kasher silver cutlery except by boiling it? Perhaps one can use some disinfectant?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The reason we boil non-kosher cutlery is because (for example) when a knife is used to cut hot pork, some pork flavor became absorbed into the knife. The only way to remove those "taste particles" is to boil it out. Spraying a disinfectant only addresses the surface issue, which can be rectified with soap and water. But the spray will not extract the particles that are embedded inside the knife.

Here's the boiling procedure you should do, called "hagalah":

For metal utensils: Let them sit unused for 24 hours, and make sure the item is completely clean. (If there are crevices, you will have to clean out any gook.) Then you need to find a really big pot. Fill it with water and bring it to a bubbly boil. Then insert the utensils you want to kasher. They must be fully covered by the water. Also, since the utensil will cool off the water somewhat, you have to leave it in long enough so that the water reaches a boil again. The optimum time is to leave the utensil in for 30 seconds, and then remove it. (If you leave it any longer, there's a problem of re-absorption.)

If you want to kasher a pot that is too big to fit into another pot, then there is another option: Fill the pot to the very top with water and bring it to a bubbly boil. Then put something (like a stone) into the pot, so that the boiling water flows over the sides. Not complicated, just messier than the first method.

"Hagalah" works for pots and cutlery – i.e. things that came into contact with non-kosher food through the medium of hot liquid. But frying pans used on the fire (without liquid) is more severe – because the pan absorbed the non-kosher substance more directly and intensely. So if you want to use kasher a pan, then you have to burn the bad stuff out! This is called "libun," literally getting the metal red-hot. You basically have two choices: use a blowtorch, or put the pan in with the cleaning cycle of a self-cleaning oven. (Just be careful that the plastic handle doesn't disintegrate.)

Perhaps the most practical option is to call your local synagogue and find out when they have their pre-Passover "kashering day." This is where they prepare a huge public vat of boiling water and bring out the blowtorches. Here in Jerusalem, you can even find kashering stations set up on the street corners!

One final note: Generally speaking, people today try to have a separate set of pots and silverware for Pesach. If you can afford it, it certainly simplifies things.

What is Kabbalah?

What is the purpose of studying Kabbalah? What effects (both tangible and intangible) does this have on a person? With areas of Torah study like character development and Jewish law, the purpose and effects are obvious. With Kabbalah, this is not the case. So what's it all about?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Kabbalah is best defined as "Jewish metaphysics." Just as physics deals with interactions and relationships within the physical world, Kabbalah deals with interactions and relationships within the spiritual world, as well as the interconnection between the physical and spiritual. It addresses such ideas as an infinite God creating a finite universe, body-soul relationships, etc.

Just as physics has its principles and descriptive formula, so too Kabbalah has its principles and descriptive formula. Though one may be exposed to popularized explanations of physics, a true understanding of the physical universe (such as sub-atomic physics) requires an in-depth study of standard physics with a strong background in calculus, etc. So too Kabbalah cannot be understood without a firm grasp of Talmud, Code of Jewish Law, and other primary Jewish works. The study of Kabbalah is like "graduate work" built upon a firm base of the revealed written and oral Torah.

Further, Maimonides writes that Kabbalah should be studied only after one has passed the age of 40. Without a huge base of Torah and years of maturity, one lacks the ability to correctly understand Kabbalah. Even worse, one who misunderstands Kabbalah could actually cause spiritual destruction upon himself and others.

The Hebrew word Kabbalah literally translates as "received," since it is a tradition that has been "received" from previous generations. The roots of this tradition are very old, with the earliest Kabbalistic writings can be traced back to the very first Jew, the patriarch Abraham. The main book of Kabbalah, "The Zohar," was written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai about 2,000 years ago.

The reason to learn Kabbalah is simply because it contains the deepest secrets of the universe! Kabbalah explains how everything in the physical world is a metaphor for a spiritual concept. For example, hair appears on the power-points on a body: arms, head, groin. Therefore, hair represents power. The Torah concept of a Nazir (one who refrains from cutting hair, among other things) is tapping into the deep wellsprings of spiritual power. (See the biblical story of Samson, who strength waned when his hair was cut.)

You should be aware that popularized accounts of Kabbalah are often misrepresented and wrong.

Nevertheless, there are certain basic Kabbalistic concepts that can be grasped by one who does not have an extensive background. These ideas are found in "The Way of God," written in the 18th century by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzatto. There is an English translation published by Feldheim. Also, see an online course, "Kabbalah 101" at: www.aish.com/sp/k/

Marrano Heritage

My mother's family comes from a long line of Marranos, the "secret converts" who fled Portugal in the 15th century and went to South America. A year ago I embarked on a search for who I really am. For me, attending Shabbat services, learning Hebrew, and taking steps toward keeping kosher is only the beginning. The Inquisitors won their battle with my ancestors, but they didn't win the war with me. I feel that I want to extend an inner arm back through the ages and "fetch" my Jewish roots. I am alive today because of my ancestors' sacrifice. I am desperately longing to immerse myself in a mikveh, to nail a mezuzah to the doorposts of a kosher home, to light Shabbat candles on Friday evenings.

The obvious question is: "Am I Jewish?" I am being very patient, but at the same time, I want to get on with living as a Jew.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Your beautiful letter reflects the yearning of a special soul.

If one's mother is Jewish, than so is the child. This means that the soul this person possesses has a deep longing to connect to the Almighty through Torah that can never be eradicated even through centuries of non-Jewish behavior.

It is a good idea to search for the tombstone of your mother's mother, as this can serve as proof for your Jewishness, as is sometimes necessary for people who are coming from very assimilated backgrounds. For Marrano ancestry, there is a web site set up just for these types of things, called "Kulanu" at www.kulanu.org

In the absence of real proof, you would need to undergo a conversion process in order to be considered Jewish. It is thus very important to develop a connection with a rabbi who you can sit with and ask your many questions. If you tell me what city you're located in, I'll be happy to recommend someone you could contact.