Jewish Halloween?

A reader sent me in this question:

Question: We just bought a sukkah for the first time in our lives and enjoyed the holiday. We go to temple every Saturday for services. Yet we still decorate for Halloween and go trick or treating {We are not kosher} My orthodox friends say this is hypocritical and I am giving my children a mixed message. I have always looked upon Halloween as being a fun holiday. What is the Jewish viewpoint on Halloween? I need to know the answer. Thank you.


Mazel tov on your new acquisition! May you enjoy many happy years in that Sukkah! Sukkos has the unique element of bestowing holiness upon the Jews by virtue of a Mitzvah that surrounds us. Most Mitzvos are things we do, and when we do them, we personally manipulate holiness. The Sukkah surrounds us, and envelops us in its special spiritual warmth, and we thus manipulate holiness by doing things in the Sukkah, instead of to or with the Sukkah.

Halloween, however, has no such warmth or spirituality for a Jew. Quite the contrary, it can actually take away spirituality and holiness from a Jew. Part of this is because it is forbidden for us to adopt non-Jewish holidays. But that’s not the only reason. Halloween has many elements in it that are simply wrong and contrary to Jewish values.

Before I discuss those, however, let me first suggest an alternative.

Purim is a holiday with a lot more fun in it than Halloween. Not only that, but on Purim we wear disguises and give gifts of food to friends and gifts of money and/or food to poor people.

In keeping Purim, you would be teaching your children a number of important lessons, such as the greater goodness of giving rather than demanding, and also the main lesson of Purim, which is that G-d helps people «anonymously,» that is, while G-d remains behind the scenes. (See my articles at our Purim Gateway for an explanation of this concept.)

On Halloween people take — in fact demand — sweets from strangers. This alone is certainly not a good thing to be teaching children, not to mention that Judaism forbids such a practice. It is also considered terrible behavior.

Besides, there are also the pagan and christian concepts involved in Halloween.

Halloween is said to have originated as a Druids’ holiday at the harvest season. They would light large bonfires to ward away evil spirits.

The Celts believed that Halloween was a good day to examine the future by means of magical practices. Magical practices are forbidden by the Torah whether or not they work. (Magic tricks done by sleight of hand are permitted, unless used to dupe or manipulate someone.)

So Halloween was a pagan holiday celebrated in Great Britain quite a long time ago, probably a thousand years before christianity existed.

When the Romans conquered Britain, they added some things to Halloween. Since it was also a harvest festival, they added the worship of Pomona, the «goddess of fruits and trees.» Idolatry, as you know, is one of the three worst sins.

According to Wikipedia (admittedly often an unreliable source):

Halloween or Hallowe’en (… a contraction of «All Hallows’ Evening»), also known as All Hallows’ Eve, is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It initiates the triduum of Hallowmas, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.

According to many scholars, All Hallows’ Eve is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, with possible pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic Samhain. Other academics maintain that it originated independently of Samhain and has solely Christian roots.

According to the Catholic Online Encyclopedia, the day following Halloween is known as All Saints’ Day, followed by All Souls’ Day, and those are indeed Christian holidays.

So, as you see, there is nothing about Halloween that has anything to do with any Jewish sentiments. Just about every aspect of it is forbidden by Jewish Law!

Again, consider keeping Purim instead. Jews have no need to celebrate Gentile holidays. Ours have so much more meaning and joy to us.


There has been a rather amusing response to the above article. One or two white supremacist websites have expressed outrage that we recommend Purim over Halloween. A holiday that, they say, supposedly “celebrates the murder of seventy-five thousand Gentiles” is a horrible holiday to keep.

To this I offer the following points:

Purim does not celebrate the deaths, but the victory. (Though we do celebrate the eleven chief architects of the plot against us — Haman and his ten sons.)
What do we (that is, Americans) celebrate on Independence Day? The death of 24,000 British and 7,554 German soldiers? Or our victory, and our subsequent freedom from British rule? White supremecists are especially insistent about celebrating war holidays. They would be greatly offended at any American who did not celebrate Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, honoring the soliders, those dead and those alive, who served this country and gave their utmost. And they grow enraged when people point out that the enemy countries of each war also had massive casualties.

Everyone celebrate their victories, Jews included. America celebrates with parades and
fireworks, Jews celebrate with charity and gifts and merriment and feasts.

And remember, Purim celebrates a war that, like many wars America and other nations have fought, was entirely self-defense. Everyone has a right to defend themselves, except apparently, minorities that white supremacists hate.

As I explain in my article on the subject, it was entirely a war of self-defense. The
war took place only because there were people — maybe not all the people, but many thousands — who wanted to exterminate the Jews. The Jews were at first forbidden to defend themselves, and then by a miraculous turnover of events, were given permission to defend themselves. We were not wiped out, and that is what we celebrate — that Hashem saved us from extermination.

Jews do not celebrate the death of Gentiles, but rather our own salvation and the death of our would-be murderers. Every decent person celebrated the death of Hitler. (Mind you, white supremecists think Hitler was a good person. (In fact, many of them believe that Hitler never targeted the Jews, and that it’s a shame he didn’t finish the job.)

But the amusing part is yet to come:

Who did the Jews kill in the Purim event? The Bible says that the empire of Ahasueraus, where these events took place, encompassed “from India to Ethiopia” (Esther 1:1). White supremacists hate a lot of people, but chief among them are (Jews, of course, and) African and Asian people. If the supremacists could, they would massacre all of them (and us)! So these White Supremacists are complaining that the Jews they hate, killed other people they hate! And we are supposed to take them seriously? Racism of any kind, you see, isn’t and has never been rational.

So I reiterate: if you are Jewish, Purim is a better Holiday to celebrate than Halloween.

What’s With Those Kosher Symbols Anyway?

Recently the news media made mention of some of the kosher symbols found on packaged goods across America, the little o’s and u’s, the k’s surrounded by o’s, and such. A hate group no one even knew about a short while ago makes a big deal about these symbols, claiming that it’s a «kosher tax.» Actually, this is nothing new. Neo-Nazi groups have been making this claim for decades. They claim that consumers are paying for a Rabbi to come and bless the product so that Jews

can use it. This jacks up the prices, they say, for something completely unnecessary.

What really is the deal with these symbols? Are they necessary? What purpose do they serve? Does a Rabbi have to come and bless the food?

If you remember, I have written in the first FAQ page on this site about some of the Laws of Kosher (or Kashrus, as it is called). I explained that there are three basic aspects of Kashrus, and they involve using only foods that the Torah has declared kosher, preparing them only in the various ways that the Torah permits, and keeping them separate from certain other foods.

Before I explain all this, let me spend a moment or two on the importance of Kashrus.

A Jew is a vessel for holiness. That is our purpose, and Hashem has created us with the unique capacity for certain attainments of holiness.

The Torah is the way we attain holiness. It is the only way for a Jew to attain holiness.

We, as vessels for holiness, must keep the Torah.

Eating Kosher is one of the ways we keep our spiritual vessel clean. Kashrus is the diet for the Jewish soul.

The Torah equates Kashrus with holiness, when it says, «Be holy people to Me, and don’t eat treif….» (Exodus 22:30). (We use treif to mean any type of non-kosher, but here the Torah means specifically a kosher animal that has been killed by any means other than the proper ritual slaughtering.) We see, therefore, that eating kosher is a necessary element of being holy.

So, let’s say you have decided that you will eat only kosher food. You go to a restaurant. What does this restaurant serve? Does it serve any pig products? Does it serve any crustacean products? If so, the restaurant, and all the food in it, cannot be kosher.

Okay, just to keep things simple, let’s say the restaurant serves only cow meat. A cow is a kosher animal. What can go wrong with that?

Unfortunately, plenty can go wrong with that. Does the restaurant serve or prepare any of the foods with any type of dairy product or dairy derivative? If so, the restaurant, and all the food in it, cannot be kosher.

Okay, so let’s say it serves only beef, and no dairy products can be found anywhere in the place at any time, ever. What can be wrong now?


Where did the beef come from? Any kosher animal or bird killed for food must be killed in a special way that we call «sh’chitah,» ritual slaughtering. It can’t be just killed. There are many, many Laws in the Torah about the proper way to do this killing, and it takes a great deal of training to learn how to do it properly.

And even then, many things can go wrong. For example, if the slaughtering knife had jagged edges, or even just one nick in the blade, and thus «tore» into the windpipe instead of cutting it smoothly. Another example is when the slaughter swivels the blade instead of cutting straight, or if he presses down instead of letting the blade do the work, or if he hesitates in the middle of cutting. These are just a few examples. There are many things that can go wrong even if the shochet (ritual slaughterer) knows what he is doing and usually does it well. and not all are the shochet’s fault.

Okay, let’s say the shochet is well-trained, is reliable, is a holy man who can be completely trusted and we can rely on him to schecht the cow properly. He will carefully check for the signs of disease that Jewish Law says would make a cow non-kosher. He has to check the lungs for holes, for example; he has to remove all clotted blood from any meat or poultry that is to be eaten. He will also remove all the forbidden parts of the cow. Yes, believe it or not, the Torah forbids us to eat certain parts of a kosher cow, like the sciatic nerve; the peritoneum; various attachments to the liver, to the intestines, and to the skirt steaks; various membranes, and even some organs, even if everything else is kosher about the cow.

So, we know that the shochet is okay, we know that the meat was carefully guarded from shechitah to cooking pot and to your plate. We know that it never came into contact with any dairy products, we know that everything unkosher was removed, and everything is okay.

Wait a minute. Do we really know if everything is okay? How do you know everything is okay? Have you personally checked out the shochet? Have you personally watched the entire process from beginning to end? No, of course not. Neither have I, and I also eat in restaurants occasionally. How am I able to do that, if I don’t know the shochet? Okay, we’ll get to that, below.

Okay, let’s say that by some weird coincidence you do happen to know the shochet. It can happen. There is the pervasive belief that everyone knows everyone else at least six people away, so someone has to know at least one shochet!

Okay, what about the restauranteur? Do you happen to know him too? Okay, he’s a
fine-looking Jew, and you feel that you have little reason to mistrust him. However, the issue is whether or not the restauranteur knows all the Laws he has to know. Let’s say you know the shochet, but you don’t know the restauranteur. Perhaps the restauranteur does not know all the Laws of Kashrus properly and fully. Even an honest man can make a mistake. For that matter, he may not know the Laws at all! Or maybe one say he sends a Gentile cook to go around the block and buy some oil, or seasoning, and he buys a product that is actually kosher, but has been stored in containers that are also used for non-kosher products. Now that oil is not kosher. The meat that has been kosher until now has just been cooked with that oil, and is therefore no longer kosher!

But even if we know that everyone in the restaurant knows how to keep kosher, and if we can rely on everyone there not to bring in seasoning or oil that is not kosher (and that’s a big if), then our primary concern is what goes on before the food reaches the restaurant. Most people do not know who the particular shochet is when they eat a piece of meat. So how do we know that the meat is kosher?

And let’s say the restaurant is advertised as kosher, but it’s owned by non-Jews. How can you rely on them for knowledge of the Laws of Kashrus?

That’s why we need Rabbinical supervision. The Rabbi must be there when any product is delivered or brought in to the restaurant. Even if one of the workers goes to a local grocery store to get hold of one ingredient they just used up. Either the Rabbi knows that it’s okay or it does not enter the establishment.

That’s how I can eat in some restaurants, by knowing that the Rabbinical supervision is reliable.

Okay, you say, but I’m a vegetarian. I’m not going to eat meat. I’m going to order only veggie courses. Why do I need to worry about Rabbinical supervision?

Good question.

Well, first of all, if the food is cooked in the same pot that a piece of non-kosher meat was cooked, then it’s not kosher. When non-kosher food is cooked in a pot, says the Torah, the pot becomes non-kosher, and any food subsequently cooked in that pot is non-kosher. So even if you order a vegetable food, and it is cooked in the same pot, or even in the same oven, in which a non-kosher food or ingredient has been cooked, your vegetarian meal is not kosher!

A pot in which non-kosher has been cooked needs to be made kosher, as the Torah explains:

Whatever has been through fire [during cooking] must be passed through fire again in order to become purified….

— Numbers 31:23

A complete discussion of this verse is beyond the scope of this article, but let it suffice for me to say that the Torah here is referring to utensils (i.e., cups, dishes and pots and so on), that the Children of Israel captured from an enemy they defeated. As such, the utensils were probably used for non-kosher foods. Any utensil used for non-kosher foods must first be purged before it can be used by Jews.

But, you say again, I am totally vegetarian. I will eat only in a completely vegetarian
restaurant. What’s wrong with eating at a Hindu vegetarian restaurant, where they use no meat products at all?

Actually, there could be many things wrong. Let’s take one probable example. In many recipes, some sort of oil is used. The oil may be completely free of meat, and still be non-kosher. As I mentione above, that oil might have been at some time heated in some sort of utensil, or even a shipping container, as has been known to happen, in which non-kosher foods were also cooked or stored. The oil is now non-kosher, and everything cooked in that oil is not kosher. The same problem exists with butter and margarine, as well as numerous other products used in cooking, baking, frying, etc. Nor do we know that all seasonings used are free of these problems.

Furthermore, does all the milk they use come from kosher animals? In most places in the United States it probably does, though in third world countries vegetarian diets include food cooked with camel’s milk or donkey’s milk.

Another concern is the status of eggs. Kashrus forbids the use of eggs that have any sort of blood spot. Non-Jewish cooks are not always as particular about them, and will simply crack a dozen eggs and not check each one, as Jewish Law requires.

And yet another problem is that they use wine and wine derivatives (even grape juice) in some of their recipes. This makes the pots and pans non-kosher.

Even if everything is taken from absolutely kosher sources, Jewish Law says that many
vegetables must be checked for bugs and other tiny vermin. With certain vegetables, this can be a very tedious process. It takes complete devotion to the task and commitment to the Laws of Kashrus to do it properly.

There are many things that can go wrong in the production of kosher food, and so we are careful for what we call a hechsher, Rabbinical supervision. The word hechsher comes from the Hebrew word «kosher.» The Hebrew word «kosher» simply means «prepared properly.» In fact, I have quite a large number of friends whom I love dearly but in whose homes I

would never eat, because they may not know the Laws of Kashrus entirely or properly. All the more so in a restaurant, when I don’t know the owner at all!

But, you say, I have no intention of eating in a restaurant. I just want to go to the grocery store and buy some Oreo cookies. Why do cookies need a hechsher?

Here’s a story that helps explain the matter. Many years ago, sometime in the 1950’s, before there were as many organized supervision companies as there are today, there was a man, a very honest man, a very religious Jew, who was a baker. He was very careful in all that he did to make sure everything was kosher to the greatest degree possible. After many years of baking, he discovered something awful. He found out that the grease he had been using to line his baking pans had lard in it. It had never been listed on the list of ingredients, and he had not known. That means that every cookie, every loaf of bread, every challah he had ever baked was non-kosher. It was a mistake. And a mistake could happen to anyone.

Let me tell you a story that happened to someone I know very well. He used to buy a certain product (it’s probably better that I do not mention any names), and toast it in his toaster oven. That toaster oven was used for meat, so he could not use the toaster oven for dairy products. He did this for years. One day, he’s on line at the store where he would buy this product, and someone on line tells him, «Do you know that’s dairy?»

Surprised, he looked at him, and said, «How could it be dairy? When I last looked at the
ingredients it did not mention anything dairy. Besides, six years ago a leading hechsher
company gave out a list of items they had checked into, and this was listed as kosher.»
(Sometimes hechsher companies will check out a popular item, even though they have not been hired to constantly supervise the production. If a product is in heavy demand, this service can be very useful.)

The man on line said to him, «Well, they recently added a new ingredient, whey, and that makes it dairy.» (This is true. Whey is a dairy product.)

The company had added whey to the ingredients, but there was no way to know! The man on line happened to have read the ingredients and found out, but my friend had not read the ingredients since the first time he had bought the product. So he did not know that the product had become dairy, and he had been toasting it in a meat oven! He had been eating unkosher food for years, and he hadn’t even known it! Not only that, but the toaster oven had become unkosher as a result, and every item he had cooked in that toaster oven had become non-kosher.

Ralph Nader used to talk about how the US government allows trace amounts of disgusting non-food items in edible food. Jewish Law does not. Furthermore, by US law, not all ingredients need to be listed on the package. So we cannot rely on the listing of ingredients to know if something is kosher. Besides, what if the same manufacturer also produces a non-kosher item using the same machines? It’s legal, and there’s nothing immoral about it. It’s just not kosher.

Okay, you ask, but why does the production of non-food products, like aluminum foil, need Rabbinical supervision? Ah, another good question.

The answer is that these items are often prepared with the use of non-kosher products.
Aluminum foil, for example, is processed with oils, and some companies use non-kosher animal oils in the manufacturing process of aluminum foil. Since aluminum foil is used by many consumers for food products, it needs to be kosher.

Within the category of non-Kosher foods, there are different Laws as well. For example, meat from a non-kosher animal, and meat from a kosher animal that was not properly killed or prepared, is of course non-Kosher. However, you may use it for other things.

However, any item that contains both meat and milk is completely forbidden for any sort of use whatsoever. You have to throw it out.

This means that cat and dog food may contain pork meat, and it may contain cow meat from a Christian, Muslim, or atheist (or whatever) butcher. You may not eat it, but your pet is permitted to eat it. But if it contains both meat and milk, you may not feed it to your cat or dog, because you are then deriving benefit from that food.

The same goes for car oil, for example, or any other non-food item. If for some weird reason it has non-Kosher animal fats in it, you may still use it, even though you may not eat it. If it contains milk and meat, then you may not even use it at all. This however, is deemed extremely unlikely, and so the kosher consumer usually does not need to worry about this for non-edible items. But in food, there are so many things that can go wrong.

So, the need for a hechsher is a real need for the kosher consumer. And we can’t even rely on the letter «K» that is sometimes found on some products. All that letter means is that the manufacturer thinks that the product is kosher. He may be right, and he may be wrong. How can we know if he actually knows all the Laws of Kashrus? What I have written here is just a small taste of those Laws.

Does «kosher» mean that a Rabbi comes and blesses the food? No. It does not. In fact, there is no such ritual in Judaism at all.

When I moved into a new apartment, I had to make the oven and stove top kosher. I did not need a Rabbi at all, because I know how to do it myself. My wife probably could do it as well. My mother used to make our ovens kosher before every Passover (which is required by Jewish Law), as do I and my wife. Those who do not know how to do it ask a Rabbi for instructions on how to do it, but they usually do it themselves or have a friend come by and help them. Any layman can do it, as long as he or she knows how. If you want to learn how to do this, check out the excellent instructions at the National Jewish Outreach Program’s page, at the link below, «How to Make Your Home Kosher.»

If a Rabbi blessed our home, we wouldn’t object to that! But there is no such ritual, and there is no such procedure.

So what do the Rabbis actually do? Well, they make sure everything is done properly and according to Jewish Law. They make sure that every item that comes into the factory and/or kitchen is absolutely kosher (there is no such thing as 99% kosher — it’s either kosher or it’s not kosher). In restaurants, they also start all the fires in the morning, and they check all the eggs to make sure they have no blood spots in them. They check all the lettuce for bugs. They make sure everything is kosher.

That’s really all there is to it.

Okay, you ask, doesn’t all this make the food cost more? After all, who pays the Rabbis to spend all day making sure nothing is done incorrectly?

Well, it depends. We do pay more for kosher meat, but only those who eat kosher buy kosher meat, so this does not hurt anyone. Since kosher meat must be prepared separately from non-kosher meat throughout the entire process, the price of one does not affect the other. Kosher items that reach the general market are generally not more expensive than non-kosher

items. When a hechsher company successfully negotiates with a food manufacturer for a contract to supervise their production, the price of the product is almost never raised. The company hopes to experience increased sales of their product, because now many
kosher-eating people will start to buy their product. This more than makes up for the cost of the Rabbinical supervision. The cost of the hechsher company is so slight, that it is negligible. A May 18, 1975 New York Times article reported that the cost to General Foods’ «Bird’s Eye» Unit, for example, is 6.5 millionths (.0000065) of a cent per item. Furthermore, a representative of the Heinz Company has said that the per item cost is «so small we can’t even calculate it,» and that such labeling actually makes products less costly by increasing the market for them.

(By the way, it isn’t always necessary for the Rabbi to spend the entire day. Many
manufacturing procedures can be supervised, according to Jewish Law, by unexpected
surprise visits from the Rabbi. So the manufacturer isn’t even paying all that much anyway.)

So the claim made by the hate groups, that everyone is paying a special «kosher tax» for a Rabbi to come and bless the food, is pure nonsense. The hate groups claim that the Rabbis are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Actually, any real profit from the Rabbinical supervision goes to the manufacturer, who only agrees to the supervision and changes (if any) so that he can increase his sales and his profits, now that more people will be willing to buy the products. Why else would any manufacturer agree to making his factory kosher?

And it’s worth it to most manufacturers. According to the Washington Post (Sept. 27, 1990), «Some kosher marketing officials estimate there may be as many as six million Americans who seek out Kosher foods in the supermarket. Of these only 1.5 million are Jewish.
Moslems and Seventh Day Adventists also adhere to certain aspects of the Jewish dietary laws, but the bulk of Kosher shoppers appear to be consumers who believe the Kosher certification…means higher quality food.»

The hate groups like to say that kosher labeling is a «closely guarded Jewish secret.» Well, now you know the secret — there is no secret!

The truth is that we who eat only kosher have special needs. We do not believe that Gentiles should be required to limit themselves to kosher food products, nor should they be made to pay more for any product. But we want to eat kosher, and in this modern day and age, it is thankfully not at all difficult. (For some more about the Laws of Kosher, see FAQ #1.)

[How to Make Your Home Kosher]

By the National Jewish Outreach Program

For step-by-step instructions on how to make your own home kosher.

Go Kosher America

An educational and active organization that helps people go Kosher in all situations.

Or call them at 1-888-GO-KOSHER (1-888-465-6743).

Orthodox Union

(They’re the ones who make the OU Kosher Symbols, among their many other services).

Is the World in a Conflict Between Good and Evil?

(This article should be read after my article Does Judaism Believe in Satan?)

In Judaism we do not see it as there being a conflict between good and evil. Some ancient religions believed that there are two forces in the universe, one good and one evil, and that they are constantly warring with each other. This was common to Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and later to Manichaeism. Christianity, however, made the devil less powerful than G-d, but still made him a rebel against G-d.

Judaism sees it differently, and we have always seen it differently. Satan is not a rebellious angel. G-d created both good and evil. The Bible says so, in Isaiah 45:7.

What is evil? Not fulfilling G-d’s will.

G-d created the universe because G-d wanted to do good. So there had to be people to receive that good.

But G-d does not want to just give away good as a present. G-d wants people to appreciate it. Something you get for free you do not appreciate. And in fact, if you got something amazingly good for free, and you were allowed to enjoy it for all eternity, you would be embarrassed by it. You didn’t work for it, you don’t deserve it.

So G-d decided that people would have to work for it, and receive the ultimate goodness as a reward for work.

What is that work? Well, G-d created the Evil Inclination, the angel called Satan, whose job it is to tempt us to do evil. If we ignore the Evil Inclination, then we get closer to G-d, and become more holy. By doing so, we merit the reward of the ultimate goodness. G-d also gave us Commandments, and the Tempting Angel tempts us to find reasons not to keep those Commandments. By ignoring the temptations, and fulfilling G-d’s Commandments, we become more spiritual, and our souls gain more power over ourselves.

So we see our lives in this world as an opportunity. We have been granted the glorious
opportunity to attain holiness and ultimate goodness.

So, in the future there will come a time when the universe as we know it will come to an end, and the World To Come will begin. Then we will begin to get our eternal reward — the ultimate goodness!

This world is here merely for us to do good things in, and the Next World is for the reward. And in that world we will continue to grow in holiness.

So it is not that there is an ultimate struggle of good versus evil. Within each of us there are many struggles. We want to do the right thing, but we desire to do the wrong thing. We have the free choice to choose. We can do either the right thing or the wrong thing. It is completely up to us.

When we let our Good Inclination prevail about one thing, we become stronger in that thing. The more we continue to let the good prevail, the more it becomes easier to do the right thing in that area.

Say, for example, we have a desire to tell harmful gossip about someone. If we hold
ourselves back from doing it, and continue to hold ourselves back whenever we feel the
temptation, it becomes easier and easier to stop gossiping. Conversely, the more we gossip, the harder it is to stop. And that’s the way it is with every individual characteristic trait.

But when we perfect one characteristic trait, it does not always help with another. For
example, if we work on becoming humble, sometimes that will help us in other areas. A
humble person will be less likely to get angry at someone else. A humble person might not tell gossip either. But a humble person might still lie, or sleep late when he or she knows that there is a chore or other responsibility to deal with. Someone who has learned never to gossip might still steal, for example. So each trait usually has to be worked on by itself, but something like humility helps with most of the others.

And possibly the greatest temptation is in the area of having faith in G-d. Developing our faith helps us in many areas.

So, there is no ultimate struggle of good versus evil. There is only the struggle within each of us. The Evil Inclination, also known as Satan, is doing what G-d has commanded him to do. He is giving us temptations, because by fighting against our wrong desires we are working to gain the ultimate goodness, and that is what G-d wants us to do.

Men and Women in Judaism

Q. Isn’t it True that Women are Chattel in Jewish Law, and a Man Buys His Wife at the Wedding Ceremony?

A. No, not at all. During the wedding ceremony the man is acquiring various responsibilities. Among those are: to feed his wife, to clothe his wife, and not to deny her conjugal relations. One beautiful thing about Judaism is that we attain holiness by fulfilling our legal and religious responsibilities. And thus, all things holy are legal and religious responsibilities.

Therefore, when a man gets betrothed to a woman, he must make a legal acquisition of his future marriage responsibilities. One of the ways that the man does this is by giving the bride something of value. Actually, the exact Law is that the groom must give the bride either a coin (meaning something of value) or a betrothal document (Mishnayos Kiddushin 1:1). The betrothal document is not done these days. However, many Sefardic Jews today use an actual coin, and do not use a ring. (Though the groom later gives the bride a ring, I guess because brides want that.) I have no idea where or when the Custom began of using a ring.

Note that the giving of the ring is not the marriage — it is the betrothal. Betrothal is not engagement. Betrothal is a legal status wherein both man and woman are tied exclusively to each other, but they are not yet married, and they may not yet live together. Yet if they wish to separate after betrothal, the man give the woman a get, which is a Jewish divorce. The ring, or coin, or the document they use to use, is the sign that the man has made the legal decision, and will now begin to arrange for support of his wife, as well as his other responsibilities to her.

In Judaism, the ring is not a sign that the woman is married. After all, by giving her the ring they do not yet become married. In Judaism, the ring could be her way of reminding him that he has taken on the responsibilities pertaining to marriage.

Q. Does a Man «Inherit» his Brother’s Wife When the Brother Dies?

A. No, not at all. You are referring, I assume, to the Leverite marriage. The Torah commands that when a man dies without children, his brother should marry his brother’s widow and raise up children to her and his brother.

When a man dies without children, the wife feels more pain because she has no child of his to carry on the name of her husband. The Torah therefore commanded the husband’s brother to marry her, if both he and she desire it, and give her children to carry on his brother’s name.

However, no one is forced into this. If she refuses, a small ritual takes place (I don’t at this time recall the nature of the ritual), and both are free to marry others. If he refuses to marry her, the Torah mandates a special ceremony to take place in which she removes his shoe, and she spits on the ground in front of him for refusing to create children for his brother. Then both are free to marry others.

Q. Does Judaism Consider Women Unclean or Disgusting?

A. Heaven forbid! Not at all! Quite the contrary. Women are considered very special, and very attractive.

If anything, Judaism considers women on a higher level than men, in many ways.
Remember, woman was created after man. Humanity was created last because we are the purpose of Creation. All other creations were created before humanity. Take note, then, that woman was created after man. This certainly implies a more advanced development. This is the reason that only women are allowed to recite the blessing «Blessed are You, Hashem, G-d of the universe, Who made me according to His will.» Women are the final, complete creation.

Furthermore, consider the fact that woman was taken from man. Man was created with the input of all of creation. Every existing product of Creation gave something towards the creation of man. (This is one meaning of why Hashem said «We shall create man in our image.») Therefore, man is a refinement of all of creation. Woman was created from man, so therefore woman is a refinement of man.

And if that’s not enough, let me also mention something I heard many years ago from a classmate. The Torah commands us to take challah, which is a portion (sort of like at tithe) out of every large batch of dough we knead and give it to a Kohen. When we remove this portion of dough, it automatically becomes holy. This classmate of mine claimed (from I don’t know what source) a similarity between challah and woman. Just as the challah removed from mundane dough becomes holy, so is the woman, removed from the man, holy. (Of course, what this would probably mean is not that she is automatically holy, since no person is automatically holy. It would probably mean that a woman’s potential for holiness is greater than that of a man’s. Or so I surmise.)

Q. Why, then, do men stay separate from women, and refuse to touch them? Are they afraid of getting contaminated?

A. No, of course not. Speaking in modern terms, the separation of men and women in public places and such have prevented virtually any teenage pregnancy in the Orthodox-Jewish communities throughout the world. (I’m not saying there is no illicit, secret activity at all, but incidents are one in a million That’s how good the situation is, and that’s how good the system works.)

Judaism teaches that protection against illicit misconduct is an integral element of holiness. Staying separate from a man or woman who is forbidden to you helps you be less likely to sin with that person. Judaism demands holiness, and it is impossible to be holy while sinning. And the sin of illicit behavior is one of the most tempting, therefore we need greater deterrents against it.

In Judaism, men and women who are not married to each other do not touch each other, because touch is a very exciting and arousing experience. Men and women married to each other experience only each other, and this raises the experience of touch to an even more exquisite event. This is heightened even more by the fact that the Torah forbids a married couple to touch each other during the woman’s menstrual period. During that time, husband and wife are forced to view each other as partners, and not as means of satisfying their physical lusts. This also has the effect of intensifying the rest of their time together.

The Chosen People

The relationship between the Creator and the Jews, including converts, is unique.

Hashem is the personal Savior of each and every Jew, as well as all Jews collectively, and he loves each and every one of us.1 Each one of us looks up to Hashem as a personal G-d, King, Helper, Savior, Rescuer, and Shield. We, and all who join us, no matter where they come from, are the Chosen People.

Where did this special status come from, and what does it mean to be Chosen?

It is rooted in ancient history.

The Historical Source

When there was almost no one in the world worshiping or even acknowledging the Creator, a man named Abram (later called Abraham) began to publicly call the Creator by the Name “L-rd” (in Hebrew).

Today we use the term “Hashem,” which means “The Name.” It is a reference to the Name of the Creator, the Tetragrammaton, which means “the four-letter Name of G-d.”2 Each Name of G-d denotes and means something different about how G-d interacts with the universe. This Name denotes mercy. By calling G-d “Hashem,” we are saying that G-d is merciful.

Abraham was fully devoted to Hashem the Creator. He taught others to acknowledge the Creator, and he was one of the most righteous people who ever lived. Abraham taught the world that Hashem is loving and wants everyone to treat everyone else with love and kindness. Hashem also wants us to fully develop ourselves spiritually.

Hashem told Abraham that his descendants would have to go through numerous exiles. In the first exile his descendants would be slaves. After that, we would be taken out of exile, the people who harmed us would be judged, and we would be given the Torah, the richest possession in the world.

Abraham’s son Isaac was also as righteous, and so was Isaac’s son Jacob. So Hashem promised them that He would choose their descendants to continue the work that Abraham had begun.

An angel gave Jacob the name Israel, and Hashem agreed to it. Therefore, we, his descendants, are called the Children of Israel.

The Children of Israel went down to Egypt, as part of Hashem’s promise. Though we were in terrible exile, in horrible slavery, though our children were taken from us and baked into bricks before our very eyes, we never lost our faith in Hashem. And we never assimilated or intermarried among the Gentiles. We were recognizably Jews, even among the other slaves.

After many years of the slavery, Hashem took us out of Egypt with many miracles and proofs of Hashem’s power and might. Hashem thereby chose us as a special People to Him. Hashem called us “My son, My firstborn, Israel.”3

Hashem then split the Reed Sea, crossed us over it while the ground was dry, and drowned the Egyptians who were chasing us. Hashem then brought us through the desert to Mount Sinai. At Mount Sinai, Hashem offered us the choice to accept the Torah, and we did. We therefore owe a special debt of gratitude to Hashem for all the miracles He did for us, and especially for giving us the Torah. We began showing that gratitude by accepting the Torah and declaring Hashem our G-d, and us His People.

Why Choose Us?

Our relationship with Hashem is based on the fact that Hashem chose us because we chose Him. As the Torah tells us, “Now if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be My special treasure among all nations, even though all the world is Mine. You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to Me.”4

Why did Hashem choose us in the first place? It was not in our own merit, though we did have merit. Hashem chose us because He had made a promise to our forefathers. As the Torah says:

“You are a nation consecrated to Hashem your G-d. Hashem your G-d chose you to be His special people among all the nations on the face of the earth. It was not because you had greater numbers than all the other nations that Hashem embraced you and chose you; you are among the smallest of all the nations. It was because of Hashem’s love for you, and because He was keeping the oath that He made to your fathers. Hashem therefore brought you out with a mighty hand, liberating you from the slave house, and from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. You must realize that Hashem your G-d is the Supreme Being. He is the faithful G-d, who keeps in mind
His covenant and love for a thousand generations when it comes to those who love Him and keep His commandments.”

So it was not only because we accepted Hashem as our G-d. That is a part of it, but it was also, or perhaps primarily, because of the Patriarchs. The promise Hashem made to them will last for at least one thousand generations, which is 20 thousand years, even when we sin. So far, it’s been only 4,000 years since the Patriarchs, not 20,000. Therefore, Hashem’s promise is still in effect.

So since our merit was not the reason Hashem chose us, our sins and lack of merit can’t take it away. Hashem made a promise, and Hashem will never break that promise.

Who is Included in This?

Hashem continues to treat us—and anyone who properly joins the covenant—as His Chosen People. Anyone who chooses to become a full servant of Hashem joins the Chosen, as it says:

“And the foreigners who attach themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love Hashem’s Name, to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and doesn’t profane it and who holds fast to My covenant; I will bring them to My holy mountain, and will let them rejoice in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted favorably on My altar, for My Temple shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”6

Those who join us are also following in the ways of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and thus become one of their descendants.

What Does it Mean to be «Chosen?»

Being chosen doesn’t mean that we get special privileges. It means we are held to a higher standard. As it says, “Of all the nations of the earth I loved only you. That is why I will punish you for all your sins.7

As quoted above, the Torah tells us, “You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to Me.” What does this entail? The Rabbis8 explain, «You will be a kingdom appointed to serve Me; a holy nation that adheres to the Holy G-d, as the Torah says9, ‘You must be holy, since I am Hashem your G-d [and] I am holy.’”

We are a people dedicated to being holy for the sake of Hashem, and to serve Him.

It means we have to maintain a higher morality in the face of the entire world. It means that we must not learn our morals and ideals from the rest of the world, but from Hashem, by learning and keeping the Commandments and Teachings of the Torah.

Just as we did not assimilate in Egypt, just as we kept our own values and we served Hashem even when we were slaves, we must continue to do so today. Even later, when we will no longer be in exile, when the Messiah will come, we will still be obligated to serve Hashem. We must do this for as long as this world will last. Our purpose, our reason for existence, what we have been chosen for, is to fulfill the Torah — which is Hashem’s command to us — to the best of our abilities.


1. See, for example, Deuteronomy 23:6; Isaiah 43:3-4; Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 60:16; Jeremiah

2. You may have seen it in English as Y-H-V-H.

3. Exodus 4:22

4. Exodus 19:5-6

5. Deuteronomy 7:6-9

6. Isaiah 6:6-7

7. Amos 3:2

8. Commentary of Nachmanides, Exodus 19:6

9. Exodus 19:2

Frequently Asked Questions About Judaism

Part Two

Q: What is Shabbos / Shabbat?

A: Sabbath. Literally, inactivity. We keep Shabbos because G-d created Shabbos as a day of rest from certain types of creative activity.

It is not «work» or physical exertion per se that is forbidden. G-d did not «labor,» nor exert Himself, neither did He need to rest to catch His breath. Thus, the defining factor of forbidden activity on Shabbos is not the difficulty of the act, nor the amount of exertion. Rather, what are forbidden are certain specific creative acts, as delineated by the Torah.

There are 39 categories of forbidden «creative» acts that are forbidden on Shabbos. Each of the 39 categories has at least 39 examples (or types) of forbidden acts. These particular acts are forbidden, not the various acts that the average person might consider work. It is not our own common sense that has determined which labors are forbidden: these Laws of Shabbos were taught by G-d to Moses at Mount Sinai.

Thus, it is sometimes permitted to move your couch a few inches even though this may make you sweat and exhaust you. Yet it is forbidden to carry a feather across the street during the Sabbath.

About the length of Shabbos: In the Jewish system, the night precedes the daytime. A full day’s cycle starts with the night, and ends at nightfall the next day. Therefore Sabbath always starts Friday just before Sundown, and ends Saturday night. However, due to the difficult exile and persecution the Jews have suffered, a very important detail has become clouded. Does the nighttime start at sunset, or when it is fully night? (Full night is judged by when it is dark enough to spot three medium-sized stars.) Since the Sabbath is a Biblical Law, we act stringently. We do not wish to desecrate even one second of the Sabbath. So, we start the Sabbath at sunset, but Shabbos does not end until full night the following day, about twenty-five hours later. (The actual time will differ depending on the astronomical variations of each locale, and the season.)

Why does the daily cycle start at nighttime? Well, that is how the world began. According to the Book of Genesis, first there was darkness, and then came light. And each day is announced with the phrase «And it was evening and it was day . . .» Thus, we see that the nighttime precedes the daytime.

(Visit the Shabbat Website)

Q: Why don’t Jews believe Jesus was the Messiah? Aren’t the
proofs convincing?

A: This is a sensitive issue, and it is hoped that no one will be offended by the candid answer provided here.

We do not believe that it is prophesied that the Messiah will be crucified. We do not believe that the Messiah will be the son of G-d. We do not believe that he will be raised from the dead any more than anyone else. We do not believe that he will appear twice, in what some Christians call a second coming. We do not believe that the Messiah will be our «savior» in the sense that he will redeem us from our sins.

These are all fascinating claims to make concerning anyone, but they are all irrelevant to the Messiah for whom the Jews have awaited these three thousand years. None of these things are prophesied in the Jewish Bible.

What then is this Messiah for whom we wait? The Messiah will be a mortal man, born of a normal man and woman. He will be of the undisputed scion of David through his father. He will become uncontested ruler in the Land of Israel over all the People of Israel, that is, all Twelve Tribes of Israel. He will have at least one son, who will be king after the Messiah dies a normal death at an advanced age.

He will be as described by the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 11:2-4): «full of wisdom and
understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of G-d . . . he will smite the tyrant with the rod of his mouth, and slay the wicked with the breath of his lips . . .» (Maimonides explains this last as merely a parable, and not to be taken literally.)

Still, the Messiah will primarily be a prince of peace. As it says (Isaiah 52:7) «How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.»

The Messiah will bring an end to all suffering and war. He will rescue the Children of Israel from exile. He will teach the world how to revere truth, and they will all return to G-d (though not necessarily to Judaism). All forms of warfare will be abolished.

The Torah will be strengthened by the teachings and practices of the Messiah. It will not be weakened nor changed in the slightest.

The Jews will no longer be subjugated nor oppressed by other nations. (In fact, there will be no oppression or subjugation anywhere in the world, by anyone against anyone.) The Jews will be free in the Land of Israel. We will have the Holy Temple once again. We will have the full body of the Law restored by the full Sanhedrin and all lesser courts. And the Messiah will do all this on his first try. Indeed, this is how we will know he is the Messiah.

It will be through these signs that he will be recognized. It will not be through miracles, nor through resurrection of the dead, nor through any new creation. It will be through the total Redemption we will undergo (as described in brief above) that we will know the Messiah. And in truth, it is not for the Messiah that we eagerly wait, but for the Redemption itself. The Messiah is merely G-d’s messenger and vehicle for that Redemption.

The man the Christians worship may have been a good person, and he may have taught many good things. (Although I hasten to point out that there are many teachings in the Christian Bible that are completely unacceptable to Orthodox Jews, and incompatible to the teachings of the Torah.) But he was not the Messiah for whom we await and have long awaited. He may have been crucified, and that’s a horrible thing. But that merely proves to us that he was not the Messiah.

He was not the son of G-d any more than we all are; precisely no more or less. The very
thought is repugnant to a Jewish person. G-d having a son in that manner? We shudder at the suggestion.

Nor do we believe he was resurrected. But even if he was, that would not make him the

All this that is claimed about Jesus is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the Messiah. There will indeed, come a time when all the dead will be resurrected, but not at the time of the Messiah’s coming. That will be later. Much later. (You can read about that here.)

 The Jewish faith has no place for most of the Christian Messiah beliefs. Nor is there any way to reconcile Jesus with the Jewish concept of the Messiah. The two concepts have very little in common.

We still await the Messiah, and our faith is still strong.

If you are a serious seeker of this knowledge, click here to see a list of web sites with proofs and discussions of this subject.

(At this point I must declare that if I get any more e-mail letters from people trying to convince me that Jesus was the Messiah, I will respond without being sensitive to the writer’s feelings, and I will not worry about being offensive. I will say exactly what I feel, and you will not appreciate my candid response. Judaism does not tolerate proselytizing. We don’t do it to you, so have the decency not to do it to us.)

One more thing: There is a common misconception that Jews supposedly hate Jesus. The truth is that we have no feelings about him at all for good or bad. It does not occupy our minds, because it is completely irrelevant to us and to our religion. We simply don’t care at all. Jesus is about as relevant to us as Mithras, or Zeus, or Apollo, Osiris, Attis, Odin, Ishtar, Tammuz, Enlil, or any of the many other ancient gods of other civilizations. We don’t hate them either. We simply don’t care, and we never think about any of them too much either. Those of us who know a little more about the subject might on occasion wonder if Jesus really existed, but in any case we don’t really attribute the creation of the christian religion to Jesus, but to Paul, about whom we don’t much think about either. Our only emotion is invested against those who try to get Jews to believe in christian beliefs. Other than that, we really couldn’t care less. We don’t hate Jesus — we don’t see the point.

Q: Please explain the Jewish Calendar.

A: The Jewish Calendar is one of the most complex, precise calendars that exist today. The Jewish year is based on a «lunisolar» cycle. The months are lunar, but the year itself is adjusted to reconcile with the solar year, by the addition of leap months.

There is a complex nineteen year cycle that determines when we have leap years. There is also a seven year cycle to determine the Sabbatical years during which all land in Israel must remain unworked, and a fifty-year cycle to determine the Jubilees. There is a twenty-eight year cycle involving the solar term. And the complexities go deeper yet.

For example, each lunar month has a maximum of thirty days, and most have only twenty-nine. This means that a lunar year would have no more than 360 days, and usually only around 354 days. Since the solar year was known to be 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46 seconds long, each Jewish year would start earlier every solar year. If left as such, the months would skip around the seasons from year to year. However, the Torah has commanded us that the Holiday of Passover must take place during what the Torah considers it to be the «season of spring» in Israel. This «season of spring» does not actually coincide with the scientifically-determined solar spring — it is determined by the wheat harvest in Israel. So, every few years, in the order prescribed by the nineteen year system, we add another month to the year.

The Jewish fiscal year starts on the Holiday Rosh Hashonoh, the first two days of the month of Tishre, which usually occurs somewhere during the Gregorian month of September. Rosh Hashonoh marks the day that Adam and Eve were created, thus it is the beginning of the year for humanity. The Rosh Hashonoh during the Gregorian year of ’08 ushered in the Jewish year 5769. This means that it is 5769 years since Creation.

The Torah, however, counts the month of Nisan as the first month, since that was the month we became G-d’s People, during Passover, which occurs in Nisan. Therefore, when the Torah says «the first month . . .» it refers to Nisan, the month that we became G-d’s Chosen People.

Q: Why must Jewish women cover their hair, but are still allowed to wear wigs? Isn’t that hypocritical?

A: No, not really. Bear in mind that the Law that a woman must cover her hair applies only once she has gotten married. A woman who has never been married may keep her hair revealed. Thus we see that it is very different than all the other parts of a person’s body.

A woman may not reveal her own hair, but she is not required to look ugly. While a woman may not attempt to attract any man other than her husband, she is not required to look frumpy. A woman is encouraged to feel good about herself, and if she feels like dressing nicely there is no problem with that, as long as she keeps to the Laws of Tznius (modesty, chastity, etc.).

For a longer discussion of this and similar subjects, visit Kresel’s Reader’s Response Page.

Frequently Asked Questions About Judaism

Part One

Q: What does the word «Torah» mean?

A: Literally, it means a teaching or doctrine. In the narrow sense, it means specifically the Five Books of Moses, but it is more often used to mean the full body of teachings that G-d gave to Moses.

In other words, the Torah means all the teachings that encompass Judaism. The Torah is how we know what we are supposed to do.

The full body of the teachings of the Torah includes both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. The basics of the Oral Torah have been recorded in what is today called the Talmud.

The Oral Torah contains that which is necessary to properly understand the Written Torah. It contains the full explanation and parameters of the Laws, as well as detailed Scriptural exegesis. The proper procedures for such further study are also outlined. In addition, the Talmud discusses all the Rabbinical Laws, and the reasons for each. Some Rabbinical Laws were enacted to prevent transgressions of the Biblical Laws, and some are decrees that were deemed necessary for other reasons.

When referring to just the Five Books of Moses, many people will use the term «Chumash» (Pentateuch), which is derived from the word «chamesh,» which means «five.»

Q: What does the word «Tanach» mean?

A: «TaNaCh» (also spelled Tanakh) is an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im, Kesuvim. It refers to the original Jewish Bible (that is, the Written Torah) in its entirety. Jews prefer not to use the terms «Old» and «New» Testaments, as those terms imply that one has supplanted the other, and we find that concept offensive. The Books of the Tanach are as follows:

Torah (Pentateuch)
1. Genesis
2. Exodus
3. Leviticus
4. Numbers
5. Deuteronomy

Nevi’im (Prophets)
6. Joshua
7. Judges
8. Samuel
9. Kings
10. Isaiah
11. Jeremiah
12. Ezekiel
13. The Twelve

Kesuvim (Hagiographa)
14. Psalms
15. Proverbs
16. Job
17. Song of Songs
18. Ruth
19. Lamentations
20. Ecclesiastes
21. Esther
22. Daniel
23. Ezra (includes Nehemiah)
24. Chronicles

In the original Hebrew, the two books of Samuel were one, the two books of Kings were one, and the two books of Chronicles were one. Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book, called Ezra. It was the Catholic Church that split these books.

The current arrangement of chapters in the Bible is also a Catholic invention, and completely ignores the original chapter and paragraph breaks of the original Hebrew, and in fact often ignores the context completely. During the Christian/Jewish Debates of the Middle Ages, the Jews were forced into using the Catholic systems for referencing the Bible, and it has since stuck. Before then, Jews referred to «portions» and «subjects» when quoting a verse. This system is still used in Yeshivot (Talmudic Academies) today.

Q: What does the term «Halachah» mean?

A: (noun — Halachot, or Halachos, plural) Literally, «gait,» or «path.» The Halachah is the full body of Law that mandates our conduct, beliefs, and practices. Since this is for us a way of life and not just a religion, it envelops us in everything we do. We therefore call it
«Halachah,» «The Way For Us To Go.» One may say «This Halachah,» in referring to a
specific Law, or «The Halachah,» when referring to the Law in general.

Q: What does the word «Mitzvah» mean?

A: A commandment. (noun — mitzvos, or mitzvot, plural) There are 613 Commandments in the Torah, and each of those Commandments has its associated Halachot to detail the parameters of that Mitzvah. There is a common misconception that there are only ten commandments. Actually, the term «Ten Commandments» is not of Jewish Origin. The Torah refers to them as the «Ten Statements» (Exodus 34:28, Deut 4:13, and Deut. 10:4).

The word mitzvah is used by the Torah to refer to all we are required to do. There are over 180 examples of this usage in the Tanach. A primary example of this is Deut. 6:2, in which it says:

«Remain in awe of G-d your L-rd, so that you keep all His rules and mitzvot that I command you. You, your children, and your children’s children must keep them as long as they live…» (See Leviticus 26:3, and 26:14, for two other examples.)

In a deeper sense, the word «mitzvah» can be said to come from the word «tzavah,» which means «to bind.» The Mitzvot are that which establish our relationship to G-d, thus binding us to Him. We therefore fulfill these Mitzvot eagerly, and with joy.

Q: What is a mezuzah?

A: (noun — mezuzot, or mezuzos, plural) Literally, doorpost. The Torah commands us to write a certain two chapters from the Bible on a kosher piece of parchment, and place it on our doorposts. There are many intricate Halachot involved in this, including the precise shaping of the letters used in the writing. If there is any slight deviation in even one small part of any one letter, the entire mezuzah is not kosher. This same Halachah applies to tefillin and Torah scrolls.

The essence of the mitzvah of mezuzah is the concept of the Oneness of G-d. The very first verse written on the mezuzah is the Shema: «Hear oh Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.» When we pass a doorpost, we touch the mezuzah and remember that G-d is One: a Oneness that is perfect and unique, a Oneness that is not one of many, nor one of a species. G-d is One without parts, partners, copies, or any divisions hatsoever.

Q: What are tefillin?

A: The Torah commands us to write a certain four chapters on parchment and insert them into two specially constructed leather boxes. While the mitzvah of mezuzah has only a few minor Laws about the casings in which they are placed, this is not so with tefillin. Both the insides and the outside of tefillin are heavily regulated by Halachah.

The entire tefillin must consist of kosher animal products, including the attached straps we wrap around our arms and heads. The boxes must be perfectly square, and constructed according to certain specifications.

Each morning, all male Jews aged thirteen or older don these tefillin and pray the morning prayers while wearing them. First the tefillin of the hand is placed on the biceps, so that when the arm is held close to the body, the tefillin more or less faces the heart. Then the strap is wrapped around the arm from the biceps to the wrist, according to specific customs. Next, the tefillin for the head is placed on the head just above the hairline, in a direct line above the nose (but not behind the anterior fontanelle). The strap is then adjusted around the head, which also helps prevent the tefillin from falling off the head. Finally, the hand strap is wound around the fingers. Ultimately, the placement of the strap around the arm and fingers will spell out one of the Names of G-d.

It is forbidden to engage in any mundane activity while wearing tefillin.

The essence of the mitzvah of tefillin is embodied in the concepts written in the four Biblical chapters contained within the tefillin. The concepts are three of the most prominent fundamentals of the Jewish Faith: acceptance of the yoke of Heavenly sovereignty; the Oneness of G-d; and the Exodus from Egypt.

The term «tefillin» is not found in the Torah, but is rather an Aramaic word used by the
Talmud. The word used in the Torah is «totafot.» The King James version of the Bible
incorrectly translates it as «phylacteries,» which means «amulets.»

Q: Why do some Jews write «G-d,» instead of spelling it out?

A: The Halachah says that it is forbidden to deface or desecrate the Name of G-d in any way, or to cause any possibility thereof. Some Rabbis are of the opinion that this applies to the word «G-d» in any language. Many therefore do not write the Name of G-d where someone might throw it out.

This Law has nothing to do with taking G-d’s Name in vain; that refers only to speech.

Q: What is Kosher?

A: (Kosher, adj. — Kashrut, or Kashrus, noun.) Literally, the word «kosher» means properly prepared, and thus you may see the term «kosher mezuzah,» or «kosher tefillin.» In the specific sense, Kashrus is most often used to refer to the Jewish Dietary Laws. This is a rather complex set of rules and regulations, involving both Biblical Laws and Rabbinical extensions.

The Laws of Kashrus involve three major aspects, which I have labeled Determination,
Preparation, and Exclusion. (These are not standard terms; I am using them until I discover better or more standard terms.)

Determination: The process of Determination is concerned with the source of the food. All meat must be from those species designated by the Torah as kosher. Each form of living creature has its own rules of determination. An animal must chew its cud and have cloven hooves. A fish must have fins and scales. In the case of fowl, the determination criteria are too complicated to enumerate here.

All food derivatives must be of kosher origin. For example, milk must come from a kosher animal, and eggs must come from either a kosher bird or a kosher fish.

Preparation: Before an animal or fowl may be eaten, it must be properly prepared. This involves the proper method of slaughter, checking for various diseases and blemishes, the elimination of certain forbidden portions (such as the sciatic nerve, the peritoneum, and others), and the extraction of the excess blood. There is no preparation necessary for fish.

Exclusion: Most regulated items may not be mixed with items of another class. The most well-known example is milk and meat. It is forbidden to cook, eat, or derive benefit from in any way, any mixture of dairy and meat. The Rabbis added the prohibition of mixing fowl and dairy, for fear that people might think it is also permitted to mix meat and dairy.

It is even forbidden to mix the taste of actual meat and milk. It is forbidden therefore, by Biblical Law, to use the same utensils for both meat and dairy, as the taste might be retained and added to the item being cooked.

It is also necessary to wait a certain period of time between the eating of the various types of foods. The duration of the waiting period depends on custom, which varies among communities, and also differs depending on the foods involved. (For more about the subject of kosher food, see my article «What’s With Those Kosher Symbols Anyway?«)

It is forbidden to mix fish and meat as well, but this was instituted as a health injunction. However, they may be eaten in the same meal, as long as one washes out one’s mouth and eats something between the two. Some people have the same custom concerning fish and dairy.

And of course, all food must be cooked by a Jewish mother and applied in overabundance until you can no longer move. After which you must take home whatever hasn’t been finished at the table.