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Popular Questions

The Right One

I’d like to settle down and get married, but I see so many of my friends getting married and then divorced after a few years. I don’t want this to happen to me. What advice do you have?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The first step is to make a list of all of the qualities you think are important in a future spouse. Traits that define a decent, honest, caring human should be "givens.” You absolutely need to trust and respect the person. A good way to measure this is to ask: Do I want my children to grown up to be like him/her?

Now look at the other qualities on your list. How vital are they? In the long term, things like looks and hobbies are much less important. The big thing to look for is life goals that are compatible with yours. Rabbi Nachum Braverman writes that Jewish wisdom defines marriage as "the commitment a man and a woman make to become one and to pursue together common life goals."

Couples may argue over a stray toothpaste cap, the style of a new couch or whose turn it is to get up with the baby, but no matter how heated these run-ins become, they should never destroy a marriage. Remember this rule of thumb: a marriage that is threatened by where to spend a vacation is a marriage that lacks the bond of common life goals.

Marriages dissolve when two lives are pointed in different directions. Conflicts over the color of a new kitchen can generally be resolved, but conflicts in direction often cannot. Couples rarely break up over clashes in taste, but they do break up over whether to give priority to career or family, over whether or not to have children, over the education of their children and over which religion. These are life goal issues. They are issues every individual needs to carefully consider before inviting someone else to share his or her life. Two people who don't know where they are going should never commit to getting there together.

Once all this is in place – this person has good character, you trust and respect them, and you share common life goals – the “final ingredient” is physical attraction. This does not means Hollywood-style fireworks, but rather a general sense that this person has pleasant physical features. The stronger attraction will grow as it is mixed with the emotional bond that is deepened over time.

For more insights, check out the excellent dating advice columns at: www.aish.com/d/


Mars Colonization

I know this is a hypothetical question, but let’s say living conditions become too difficult on Earth and people begin colonizing other planets such as Mars. Would there be any concerns in Jewish law with doing so?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for the fascinating question. Such questions have actually been discussed for many years, when such topics were pure science fiction. Some even asked if man is permitted to blast off into space at all, for did not King David state in Psalms, “And the heavens are the heavens of God, and the land He gave to the sons of man” (115:16)? More recently, and actually on a practical level, the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon of blessed memory asked how he could observe Shabbat on a space shuttle which circles the Earth every 90 minutes!

Although such questions have been posed many times, most of the issues raised have no clear resolution. To begin with, when would a person observe Shabbat? Would the days of the foreign planet count for halachic days? These certainly do not seem to be the “days” defined in the Torah – and in fact are not the 7 days God spent creating the world (which is what Shabbat commemorates). And furthermore, some planets rotate extremely slowly (such as Venus, 243 days), while some rotate quickly, in a small fraction of a day. (Martian days happen to be only slightly longer than Earth days.) And as above, the same question is posed regarding space shuttles, which can have artificial days of virtually any length of time, if they have “days” at all.

A very similar question is posed regarding the many mitzvot which depend on the time of day – such as prayer and wearing Tefillin, and which depend on the calendar date, such as the holidays. How does one calculate the days and seasons? Based on the planet or spaceship he is on? Based on the times of the place on Earth he departed from? Based on Jerusalem? Or does he not observe such mitzvot at all?

Some suggest comparing this question to a somewhat less exotic one which occurs on Planet Earth. Say a person travels (or lives) close to a pole, so that the sun never sets certain times of the year and never rises on others (or alternatively, at certain times it does not become fully dark or light). How can he pray arvit, the evening services, and when does Shabbat begin and end? This question too has no clear resolution, but the most accepted ruling actually would not help extraterrestrials – that the point at which the sun begins dipping down from the midpoint of its path is “sunset” and when it reaches its lowest point is “midnight”. Thus, even at the poles, halachic times follow the earthly sun.

My father of blessed memory, R. Azriel Rosenfeld, pointed out to me one reason why Jews could never colonize other planets. Even if the calendrical issues could be satisfactorily resolved, one thing could never exist on another planet: a mikvah (ritual bath)! These may only be constructed directly attached to the ground (of Planet Earth), and from natural water. The surfaces of other planets, even if usable, would not have the true status of “ground” as defined by the Torah. Thus, family life would not be possible anywhere other than Earth.

My father also pointed out to me a humorous science fiction story on this subject. (I wasn’t able to find it online just now.) Orthodox Jews were living on a badly overpopulated future Earth. They were unsure if it was within their rights to depart for a different, more hospitable planet. At last they concluded that they were allowed to, based on Deuteronomy 30:4: “If your dispersed will be at the ends of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you and from there He will take you.” Thus, we can be assured that God will bring us to the promised salvation wherever the Jewish people may be!

Shabbat Candles & Havdalah on Chanukah

During the Shabbat of Chanukah, which is lit first - the Menorah or the Shabbat candles?

And then on Saturday night, which do we do first - the Menorah or the Havdalah service?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

On Friday afternoon during Chanukah, we first light the Chanukah candles. The reason is because if we would light Shabbat candles first, this would signify the onset of Shabbat - and we are not allowed to light Chanukah candles on Shabbat. (Code of Jewish Law O.C. 679:1)

But following Shabbat on Saturday night, there are different opinions as to which should be done first. On one hand, it makes sense to say Havdallah first, because that signifies the end of Shabbat and now gives permissibility to lighting Chanukah candles. Also, there is the Talmudic principle of "Tadir U'sheino Tadir, Tadir Kodem" - the activity that is performed more often should be performed first (Zevachim 89a).

Furthermore, it would seem a contradiction to be lighting the Chanukah candles - an activity which is forbidden on Shabbat - when we still have yet to officially usher out the Shabbat!

On the other hand, there is another rule which states "Afukei Yoma Me'acharinan" - we seek to prolong our observance of Shabbat (Rashbam - Pesachim 102b). Another reason offered for prioritizing Chanukah is due to its role in publicizing the miracle.

This is a situation of competing halachic principles. Since both approaches are valid, everyone may do according to his custom.

(sources: Meiri - Shabbat 23; Taz - O.C. 681:1; Mishnah Berurah 681:3)

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. For genealogy questions try JewishGen.org. Note also that this is not a homework service!

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