Tag Archives: law

Has the Law Been Completely Fulfilled?

When I discuss the concept of obeying the Commandments of Hashem, which is the basis of the Torah, Christians often respond,

“We Christians believe that the Law of Moses has been fulfilled and now we are to live a higher law.”

I have to admit that those words make no sense to me. What little of them I understand shocks me.

There is no such concept as the Law of Moses having been all fulfilled. That’s like saying “I no longer have to eat because all the eating in the world has been fulfilled.” Does that make any sense? Continue reading

The Fast of the Ninth of Av

The term “Tisha B’Av,” means “the ninth of av.” “Av” is the fifth month of the Jewish year, so “Tisha B’Av” refers to the ninth day of the month of Av.

Tisha B’Av is the day that both Holy Temples were destroyed. The First Holy Temple was destroyed in the year 3338 after Creation (422 B.C.E.). The Second Holy Temple was destroyed 490 years later, in 3828 after Creation (68 C.E.).

It was a day marked for evil. On that day in 2448 (1312 B.C.E. — 890 years before the Destruction of the First Temple), the Children of Israel accepted and believed the false report of the Spies (see Numbers 13:1-14:45.) On that day, Hashem decreed that because of this sin the generation that left Egypt would not enter the Land of Israel, and only their children would, forty years later. Moreover, Hashem decreed that later evils would befall the Jewish People on the anniversary of that day.

And, sadly, this has proven true. On that day, in 3893 (133 C.E.), the city of Beitar was destroyed during the Bar Kochba revolt. And on that day (I guess in 3894 after Creation — 134 C.E.), the wicked Tinneius Rufus, Roman Governor of Israel, plowed over the site of the Holy Temple. Many later events throughout our history also took place on Tisha B’Av, such as the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. World War I began, which, it is said, was the direct cause of World War II, a tragic time for world history, and particularly for the Jews.

For more events that took place on Tisha B’Av throughut the millennia, visit the Ohr Somayach website

The primary reason for the fasting and other observances of Tisha B’Av, however, is because on the Ninth of Av the enemy set fire to the Holy Temple.

Therefore, on this day we observe a greater level of mourning than during the rest of the Three Weeks. We mourn the destruction of Hashem’s Holy House, which was and will be our greatest location of blessing and spirituality; we mourn the Exile of Hashem’s Glory; we mourn the scattered exile of all Jews and the pain and suffering we have been through and are still put though in many places; we mourn the fact that we cannot keep all the Commandments because there is no Holy Temple; we mourn the fact that we cannot conduct our own lives entirely as Hashem wants us to because we are under the subjugation of other people.

Thus, on Tisha B’Av, from the night before until the stars come out at the end of the day (approximately 25 hours in most areas) we may not eat or drink anything at all—not even water. (We may not even wash out our mouths.)

Note that unlike any other fast besides Yom Kippur, the fast begins the night before. All fasts, except Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, begin in the morning and last until the night. Only Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av span a night and a day, lasting about 25 hours each.

(The reason it lasts 25 hours and not 24 is because it is not clear if a new day begins (and the previous day ends), according to the Torah, when the sun goes down or when the stars come out. Therefore, to cover all the bases, we begin when the sun goes down and continue until the next day when the stars come out. This prevents us from transgressing the Law at either time.)

On Tisha B’Av you may (and must) feed your pets or other animals that depend solely on you for food.

We may not bathe. When we wash our hands at any time in the day—even when we first wake up in the morning— we wash only up to the joints at the base of our fingers and not the rest of the hand. We may wash areas that have become soiled or stained, but no more than that.

We may not wear footwear that has any leather (other leather clothing, such as a leather belt or leather gloves, is permitted). It is forbidden to have marital relations.

We sit on the floor or on cushions or very low chairs, and not on regular chairs or benches. (This last is in effect only from sunset the night before until half-day on Tisha B’Av. After that time, we may sit on regular chairs.)

Anything needed for medical reasons is permitted (and is sometimes compulsory, if the doctor says so).

Levity, games, or any activity that takes one’s mind off mourning (except sleeping) is forbidden. We may not greet each other. We may not give or accept gifts (charity is permitted). We should not conduct business. Going to work is permitted only if financial loss will be caused otherwise, or if you could lose your job. Housework should not be done. Preparing food is permitted after midday.

Before midday, smoking is prohibited. After midday, if you absolutely must smoke, you may smoke in private.

The study of Torah is also forbidden, except for things that are appropriate on Tisha B’Av. This is because the Torah says «Hashem’s Laws are righteous, they make the heart happy…» (Psalms 19:9).
However, it is permitted to study topics of Torah that are relevant to Tisha B’Av or to mourning. Some examples of these are the Book of Lamentations and its commentaries, the story of the Destruction of the Holy Temple as told in the Talmud and other Rabbinic Writings, the Laws of Tisha B’Av, the Book of Job and its cmmentaries, the Laws of mourning, and the warnings of the Prophets before the Destruction.

Tisha B’Av is not a Holiday. We may drive our cars, turn on and off lights, and so forth, like any other weekday.

Everything forbidden during the Three Weeks and the Nine Days is forbidden on Tisha B’Av. We may not listen to or play music, take haircuts (like in the Three Weeks); we may not go swimming or wash our clothes (like in the Nine Days).

On the night of Tisha B’Av we read the Book of Lamentations after the Nighttime Prayer, and recite a few «Kinnot,» special prayers for and about Tisha B’Av. We pray Shacharis (the Morning Prayer) without tallit and without tefillin, because they are adornments of pride and joy. After Shacharit we recite a lot of Kinnot.

We wear our tallit and tefillin for the afternoon Mincha prayers.

All this mourning is done to spur us to full repentance.

The month of Av is also called Menachem Av, the consoling month of Av. This is because we hope and pray that Hashem will soon turn this time of sadness into a time of joy by bringing us the Rescue From Exile that we have been awaiting for almost 2,000 years. Then we will be able to serve Hashem as He wants us to.

When that time comes, and the Holy Temple is rebuilt, when all the Jewish People will return to the land of Israel, when we will have no enemies, when all Jews will know Hashem, study Torah and understand and observe the Commandments, when all the world will accept Hashem as the Al-mighty, and everyone will live in peace, at that time Tisha B’Av will become a day of joy and a Yom Tov (Jewish Holiday).

May Hashem make this happen soon!

Non-Orthodox Conversions: Are They Valid?

This is, understandably a very sensitive subject. I have no desire to offend anyone; I just wish to explain Jewish Law.

First and foremost, it is vital to understand that a principle of Orthodox Judaism is that we cannot permit anything that Jewish law has previously forbidden. It is the very essence of Orthodox Judaism that Jewish Law cannot allow and has not allowed such changes to take place, and that this has never taken place in all of our history (with one minor exception, possibly — that the Rabbis permitted writing down the basics of the Oral Torah — the Talmud — to prevent its being forgotten or changed).

Thus, we cannot change the Laws of the Torah by permitting what the Torah has forbidden, or by being more lenient than the Torah allows. This is axiomatic in Torah Judaism. Therefore, to us, any order that makes such a change, is to us heretical.

Of course, this applies not only to groups, but to individuals as well. Each Jew must do his or her best to keep the Torah fully, as much as is applicable to that person. Likewise, a convert must assume firm resolve to perform all the Commandments that will be relevant to him/her. A convert, at the time of conversion, must intend to keep the Commandments. If at the time of conversion s/he has (or had) no intention of keeping the Commandments, the conversion is not valid.

It is forbidden to convert someone who has an ulterior motive for converting. But if it should happen that a person converts and assumes all the Commandments, and we find out afterwards that s/he had an ulterior motive, the conversion is still valid.(1)

However, not assuming the responsibility of observing the Torah is another matter. The convert must declare before the full Court his intention to fulfill the Commandments. If he failed to do so, the conversion was never valid at all.(2)

When converting to non-Orthodoxy, whether it be Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist, one is ipso facto assuming very few (in some cases none) of the Commandments.

In other words, in most cases of non-Orthodox «conversion,» no conversion has taken place at all.

There are yet other issues. The presiding Judges must also act as witnesses to the conversion. A conversion is valid only if the witnesses themselves are valid witnesses in a Jewish Court. This has nothing to do with affiliation. An Orthodox Jew could be an invalid witness as well. Here are some of the disqualifications: someone who eats non-kosher food; one who publicly does not keep Sabbath or the Holidays, even if the infraction is minor; a gambler; a proven defrauder; a usurer; a freethinker; a heretic; or someone who has sworn falsely in court. Anyone who publicly does not fulfill even only one Jewish Law is not valid as a witness. (Past behavior, now corrected, usually does not count.) And not only sinners, but also someone who knows little or no Torah, even if he’s Orthodox, is not acceptable as a Rabbinic Judge.(4)

If the conversion has not been witnessed by people whom Jewish Law accepts as valid witnesses, no matter what their affiliation, Orthodox Judaism cannot accept that conversion.

These are just some of the reasons that make non-Orthodox conversions very problematic.

A friend of mine (an Orthodox Jew) is a convert who was first converted Conservative. He later learned about Orthodox Judaism, and decided this was what he wanted.

There was an interesting wrinkle in his case. The people witnessing his conversion were actually Orthodox. In the Midwestern town in which they lived there was no Orthodox synagogue in which to pray, so these aged Orthodox men prayed with the Conservative. The key factor here is that even though they were part of a conservative community, and prayed in a Conservative synagogue, they were fully and properly Observant. Thus, it seemed possible that his conversion, though it was done by the Conservative, could have been Halachically valid.

But then the Rabbi handling his Orthodox conversion discovered a very pivotal piece of information. The conservative official had failed to inform and teach this convert properly. He had refused to teach him the very basic Principle of Jewish Faith that the entire Torah — both the Written and Oral Torah — was created and composed by G-d, and given to us by G-d via great and open miracles at Mount Sinai. Furthermore, the Torah has not been changed since G-d composed it.

According to Maimonides (the classic Jewish legal codifier), this is a fundamental belief, and whoever does not accept this is a heretic and has no share in the World to Come. One who does not accept and believe this Principle is not a valid convert. Thus, this person’s «conversion» was not valid, despite the fact that acceptable witnesses were present at his performance of the conversion rituals.

The pity of it is that many Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist «converts» are very sincere. (For that matter, so are many of the Jews born into those movements.) It is often no fault of their own that they are not considered Jewish by that conversion. It is only their lack of knowledge, and the misleading assurances of the non-Orthodox leaders that they have «sufficiently» converted.

But a question remains: How can anyone say that non-Orthodox converts have not sufficiently converted? Aren’t they sincere?

This is indeed a good point.

Imagine that there was a member of the Iraqi underground (if there had been such a thing). He lives in Iraq, but he always resented Saddam Hussein. He considered and considers himself an American at heart. He fought valiantly against the Iraqi army on behalf of the United States. He planted American flags at every place he conquers. He dispersed tracts about the American form of government throughout Iraq.

One day, after the war ends, and he takes an aiplane flight to America. He arrives triumphantly on the shores of the U.S., and loudly demands to be given a mansion and free room and board, like any good American.

Understandably, people try to put some water on his fire. There is no mansion waiting for him, despite whatever he was told about Americans. He is also told that he is not yet a citizen. He must first fill out the forms, he must wait on line, he must get approved and accepted, he must swear or affirm an oath, he must actually find a job, and he must — gasp — pay taxes!

«But how can you do this to me?!» he shouts. «I am an American war hero! I am a citizen! It is my right! I have killed and put my life in danger for this country! How dare you tell me I have no right to call myself an American! And pay taxes? It’s an outrage!»

There can be little doubt of his sincerity. There can be no doubt of his desire to be an American, under his terms. But regardless of his sincerity, he has to follow the rules. If he does not file the forms, or take the oath, he cannot become an American citizen, regardless of his sincerity.

And if he refuses to pay taxes, he just might go to jail, or even get deported, regardless of his heroism.

The American ideal involves all the more difficult aspects of American life as well as the supposed freedom and liberty it touts. We must pay taxes, to keep the government we consider the bastion of freedom. We must keep within the speed limits when driving, because that is the price of republican government. And so on and so forth.

Above all, we must work for a living, because the American dream does not mean being supported by the government, but striking it rich through hard work and ingenuity.

Judaism has its rules as well. Not everyone who wants to be called Jewish is automatically called Jewish, just because s/he «feels Jewish.» They might even be a true hero — for which they are guaranteed to be rewarded — but they are not Jewish if they do not follow the procedure. And they are not exempt from obeying the Laws, regardless of their war record. They may be righteous Gentiles, and they may even be more righteous than some Jews, but that does not make them Jews. (Nor does it make them lesser people in any way.)

The degree of sincerity is irrelevant if the actual deed has not been done. If one has not converted to Judaism, one is not a Jew. If he is sincere, let him convert to Judaism.

There is only one kind of Jew, and every Jew is that kind of Jew. Some simply choose to ignore that, that’s all.

It must be agreed, however, that in more recent years many of the Rabbis of the Conservative Movement have taken some positive steps towards a firmer acceptance of Jewish Law. We hope and pray they will return completely, so we can all heal the breaches together, and not compromise Jewish Law in any way in doing so.


1. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, 268:12

2. Ibid, para 2

3. Ibid, para 1, 12

4. Culled from Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, Laws of Judges, 7-8; Laws of Testimony, 34