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Recent Questions

Need for Organized Religion?

I am a very spiritual person, yet not religious. Every day I wake up in the morning and say my prayers. On my travels, I thank God when I arrive safely. I look up at the sky every morning and feel inside this spirituality when I speak to God. I feel warm knowing that He is with me and a part of me, during my difficult times as well as the good times. Therefore, feeling what we do is so important. For without it, prayer and our religion is meaningless.

Why is organized religion so important? Why can't I, who does not go to synagogue and pray, not be as good a person and Jew as someone who goes every day? What I feel in my heart and head is just as important and what is read aloud, chanted and discussed in a synagogue.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

This really gets down to the whole issue of "letter of the law" versus "spirit of the law." "Letter of the law" involves performing an act because it is prescribed by the Torah and the Code of Jewish Law. "Spirit of the law" is performing an act because one's inner emotional sense propels one to experience the spiritual feeling the act intends to arouse.

An example of this is giving charity. The Torah commands us to give 10 percent of our income to charity. This letter of the law is intended to develop within us feelings of compassion for our fellow man (the spirit of the law).

Of course, the best is to have both. But given the choice of one or the other, which is actually more crucial?

Let's examine the following case from Dennis Prager: Two people (of equal wealth) are each approached by a poor woman who needs money for her daughter's cancer surgery. One of these, upon hearing the woman's plight, feels a deep sense of compassion, and amidst tears, gives the woman a dollar. The other wasn't nearly as moved, in fact he was in a hurry and couldn't talk to the woman. But because he follows Jewish law, requiring that 10 percent of his income go to charity, he gave the woman $100 dollars. So who is the "better person"?

Judaism would love you to give 10 percent of your income from your heart. It suspects, however, that in a large majority of cases, were we to wait for people's hearts to prompt them to give away thousands of dollars annually, we would be waiting a very long time. Judaism says: Give 10 percent - and if your heart catches up, terrific. In the meantime, a lot of good had been done.

The lesson of all this? "Doing" is more important than "feeling." And this is one of the great lessons that Jews could teach today's world which celebrates feelings. "How do you feel about it?" is not the Jewish question. "What do you do about?" is the Jewish question.

Another great lesson is the Jewish belief that the deed shapes the heart, far more than the heart shapes the deed. The idea is that human emotions (our insides) are affected by our physical actions (our outsides). You will find this concept throughout Judaism, which is in fact why we have 613 mitzvot. They guide us and direct us in ways which refine our character through repetition and practice.

Jews living within a Torah framework provide a world of practical benefits, both to the individual, and to the community. Because once a Jew is in the framework of giving charity, for example, we can appeal to his sense of character, and try to sensitize him to the importance of giving with the proper intention.

Plus, this aids tremendously in inculcating one's children with these values. If the idea of giving charity is a command from the Creator, that carries a lot more weight than "your parents thinks it's a good idea." It is difficult to transmit a "feeling," whereas mitzvot provide a solid framework for transmission.


Kosher Grains

I bought a box of kosher cereal and next to the kosher symbol it said “Yoshon.” Can you tell me what this means?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In keeping kosher, there is a grain-related issue called Chadash and Yoshon – literally "new" and "old." The Torah (Leviticus 23:9-14) states that each year's grain crops (wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt) may not be consumed until the second day of Passover, when the Omer offering is brought.

The Sages explain in further detail that the Omer offering permits any grain which has taken root by the time of its offering. Any grains planted after that point in time may not be eaten until the next Passover.

Note that this has much bearing on many grain products today, since the growing season in most temperate climates begins in the springtime, just around Passover. Thus, such grains will not become permitted until the next Passover, several months after they are harvested. (By contrast, the primary growing season in Israel is in the wet winter months.) Note also that the issue only begins around the end of the summer, when products made from the new year's grains begin to reach the market.

Practically speaking, there is a dispute if Chadash applies to grain grown outside the Land of Israel or on land belonging to non-Jews (see Mishnah Berurah 489:45). Most people in the Diaspora are lenient regarding it, and almost all the kashrut organizations certify products which are not Yoshon. However, there are many meticulous individuals who are careful not to consume Chadash in any case, and as you noticed, the kashrut organizations are beginning to take note.

By the way, another grain-related issue is Challah. (This is not to be confused with the braided bread that we eat on Shabbat.) When one kneads a significant amount of dough (over 2.5 pounds) for baking purposes, a small portion of the dough is removed and burned. (In the times of the Holy Temple, this portion was given to a Kohen.) Once challah has been separated from the larger dough, the dough is "kosher" for baking into bread or other items.


Jewish Leadership

In biblical times, there always was a prophet of God who was guiding and advising Israel's kings. At the present time there is no such prophet. How does Israel's prime minister know he is doing the right thing, according to God's will?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Prophecy ended in the 3rd century BCE with the deaths of Ezra, Nechemiah and Zechariah.

Although God no longer communicates with us through prophecy, He left a lifeline for all generations. The biblical prophets not only prophesied for their own generation, but even for future generations. That is the unique power of prophecy; since it's divine, it can speak of the future.

The details of these prophecies, and how to interpret them for today, are for the most part explained in the Talmud. Optimally, when a Jewish leader has a question, he gathers all the available political and military information, and then – in consultation with our Sages – looks into the classical Jewish sources for guidance.

This applicability of Torah principles to every place and time has been a key factor in Jewish survival as the "eternal nation."

Unfortunately, many Jewish and Israeli leaders today do not always give due respect to our biblical heritage, and sometimes foray into delicate national issues without properly considering the Torah perspective. This cuts us off from our greatest source of wisdom and national strength.

We pray that out leaders’ eyes will be illuminated with the light of God and His Torah.


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!

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