Project Genesis

Judging Judaism by Jews

Question: I’ve been told by a survivor of the concentration camps of the holocaust, that certain Kapos brutalized their fellow inmates. He even told about the evils perpetrated by a kapo from a religious background. How could a Jew do such a thing?

Answer: There is no defense for the horrible actions of these Jews. As you know there is evil in the world and in people, and the horrors of the holocaust brought out these terrible evils in man.

The issue of some Jews having acted in a horrible way is connected to the general question of why God allows any evil to exist. People make bad decisions every day, although certainly not as evil as some of those of made in the holocaust. We understand that G-d has given free choice to man, and with that freedom comes the possibility of evil. As Jews, and modern Americans, we can certainly appreciate the fact that freedom has certain dangers, but those dangers do not justify the destruction of freedom. The Western world embraces freedom and its dangers while the religious Muslim resists this freedom.

If the fact that “religious” Jews behaved in this horrible way troubles you, then I would encourage you to read about the thousands of religious Jews who acted with kindness in these horrible times. There are many stories of acts of compassion, self sacrifice, and faith. But does that confirm the value of religious Jews?

Rabbi Berel Wein, a wonderful teacher of mine, would often say, “Do not judge Judaism by Jews.” Human beings are unpredictable and flawed. We cannot judge G-d’s Judaism based of the mistakes of a small number of Jews.

Best wishes,

Rabbi Garfield

[Editor – See here for another analysis on the phenomenon of Jewish kapos.]

Atonement Without Blood

Question: I have a question about the Holiday Yom Kippur: I thought according to the Torah, there is only one way to receive atonement for our sins- through the blood that makes atonement for our sins. How do we do that on Yom Kippur?

Answer: Animal sacrifices done correctly are one way to atone for some sins, but not necessarily the best way. Furthermore, if a person knows something is a sin and does it anyway, there is actually no sacrifice that will give him atonement!

Here are a sampling of a few other forms of bloodless action for atonement that are spoken of by G-d in the Torah:

Exodus 22:1 – PUNITIVE DAMAGES -

“If a man steals an ox, or a sheep or goat, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five cattle in place of the ox, and four sheep in place of the sheep.”


Passover - Back to Back Celebrations

Question: I’m familiar with the Passover festival that begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nisan. Yet, the Bible (Leviticus 23:5-6 and other places) seems to indicate that Passover is on the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, and it is the holiday of the matzahs that begins on the 15th of that month (and extends for 7 days). Will the real Passover please stand up!

Answer: Thanks so much for your question. In fact, there are two celebrations, both under the umbrella of the holiday we know as Pesach (i.e. Passover).

The first celebration is the sacrifice of the Passover offering. This is mandated on the 14th day of Nisan. In one sense, this was a preparation for the eating of that sacrifice later that night (on the 15th of the month). But in another very real sense, as is clear from the description of the Sages of the events of the day, it was a celebration in its own right. Imagine all the Jews gathering in the Holy Temple to offer a sacrifice on the same day, with the Levites singing Psalms in the background. The 14th day is considered a special day in its own right, and the bible in Leviticus 23:5 (among other places) describes the events on this day: The sacrifice of the Paschal offering.

The second celebration is the formal holiday that we know as Passover, also described as Chag HaMatzot (i.e. holiday of matzahs) in the Torah. It begins on the 15th day of Nisan, and is described in Leviticus 23:6 (among other places).

Now, as far as the practice today, being that we don’t have the Holy Temple, we have no option of sacrificing the Pesach offering (well, the explanation is not quite that simple, but we’ll leave it at that for now). Therefore, the celebration of the 14th has lost some of its luster. But nonetheless, the day is a special one, and not just because the holiday itself begins later that night. The Torah indicates its uniqueness by singling it out in the verse you mentioned.

As far as the holiday of Passover, which begins on the 15th of Nisan, that practice is no less binding today than it ever was, and the celebration is in full force around the world. I would also mention that Passover is celebrated outside the state of Israel just as it is in the State—the only exception is that in Israel, the holiday is bookended by one day of Yom Tov (days with Sabbath like restrictions); while outside Israel, the holiday is bookended by two days of Yom Tov (and extended from 7 to 8 days).

I hope this helps clarify things.
Rabbi Yoel Spotts

A Modern Look at Animal Sacrifice

Filed under: The Temple

Question: Why are there so many details about animal sacrifice in the Torah? How should a modern Jew view animal sacrifices?

Answer: Animal sacrifices are indeed difficult to comprehend in the context of today’s society. In fact, it has come to the point that many espouse that the killing of animals is wrong even if it is for food or clothing. Clearly, that is not the view of the Torah, and we should not be quick to bend the eternal wisdom of Torah per the fleeting trends in society.

Animal sacrifice was meant as a way of intense confrontation with sin. The repentant would bring an animal for a sacrifice, lean himself upon the animal’s head, perhaps look into those large, shining eyes, and be forced to come to terms with the destruction that sin causes. When the animal was finally slaughtered and offered on the altar, one was supposed to feel that it really should have been him or her up on that altar. Today, with the absence of the Temple in Jerusalem, animal sacrifices are no longer practiced. A close reading of the Prophets reveals that this is due to the fact that insincere offerings became the norm during the end of the first Temple period. G-d does not want the destruction of His creations, and when the sacrifices ceased to elicit the internal response for which they were meant, the offerings themselves ceased. In their place, we offer tears and the sincere longing of heartfelt prayer.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

Is a Conversion Offering Required?

Filed under: Conversion

Question: From my understanding, today’s conversions are considered incomplete. The basis is that conversion consists of circumcision, immersion in the Mikvah (ritual bath), and bringing a special Temple offering. The issue is the lack of this offering which I understand is required for conversion according to the Rambam. If this is true, what should converts do? I completed an orthodox Jewish conversion over 9 years ago. 

Answer: Thank you for your question. The actual requirements for conversion are circumcision, Mikvah, and acceptance of all the commandments. There is no requirement to bring a sacrifice upon conversion. A person may choose to bring a voluntary Korban Todah – thanksgiving offering – in gratitude for having the opportunity to become a Jew, but it is certainly not a required step in the conversion process.

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Gift Bags on Purim?

Filed under: Purim

Question: Is there a traditional “gift bag” that is given to friends on Purim, and what is in it?

Answer: On Purim, Jews have a commandment to share gifts of food with each other, as a way of increasing kindness between us. In Hebrew, this commandment is referred to as Mishloach Manot, and you must give two or more kosher, prepared foods to one person. Of course, if you want to give Mishloach Manot to more than one person, you are certainly able to do so.

Have a Happy Purim!

Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Monetary Commandments Related to Purim

Filed under: Purim, Women in Judaism

Question: Regarding two laws for the holiday of Purim:

1. Can you give me a precise definition for Matanot La’Evyonim and Machatzit Hashekel?

2. How does a woman accurately observe these commandments?

Answer: Matanot Le’Evyonim- Giving the monetary equivalent of a meal to at least two poor people on Purim. If you do not know any poor people personally, you can give money to an organization that does. This must be done by every male (age 13+) or female (age 12+).

Machtzit Hashekel – This is a custom to commemorate when each male Jew over the age of 20 was required to give half a shekel to the Temple (Bait Hamikdash). Nowadays, it is customary to give 3 coins of half of the common denomination (in the US it would be half a dollar), to charity. In many synagogues, they take 3 half-dollars and leave it on the table. People come and give money in exchange for the half-dollars, which they then donate back. This custom is only for males over 20. (If someone under 20, or females, gave for this in the past, they should continue each year.) This is done before Purim.

Best wishes,

Azriel Schreiber

A Purim Name

Filed under: Miscellaneous, Purim

Question: My name is Sharon. What is the spiritual meaning of the name “Sharon?”

Answer: Dear Sharon, The Talmud tells of Rav Meir, who was able to derive and understand a person’s nature, abilities, and mission in life based on the deeper meaning of one’s name. Unfortunately, in today’s day and age we no longer possess this ability and it is for this reason that it has become our custom to name our children after deceased relatives or sages, but we do not invent new names like we find in the Bible. That shouldn’t take away though, from the unique quality of your name. The name “Sharon” in Hebrew means “rose”, a common depiction of the Jewish nation, especially in exile. It connotes the beauty and refinement of our people in “galuth” like a rose among the thorns. As Purim is here this is also topical, as the hymn of “Shoshanas Yakov” ,”The Rose of Jacob” is the most prominent of the day’s liturgy.

Have a great Purim,
Rabbi Shlomo Soroka

Date of Purim

Filed under: Purim, Biblical History

Question: Do we celebrate Purim on the date that victory was declared in the Jewish war against their Persian enemies? When did the war commence and what was the war’s duration?

Answer: The war was fought on the 13th of the Jewish month of Adar. This was the date that our enemies meant to slaughter us. Instead, the Jews got the upper hand and, in the vast majority of locations, won the battle in one day. Therefore, the 14th (i.e. the day after the battle), was a day of rest and celebration, and was subsequently established as Purim day for all generations. In the capital of the Persian-Medean empire, Shushan, the fighting was also done on the 14th, and the people there rested and celebrated on the 15th. Therefore, Purim in Shushan (as well as all walled cities from the time of Joshua’s conquest of the land of Israel, such as Jerusalem) is celebrated on the 15th of Adar.

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel and Schreiber 

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