Project Genesis

How to Avoid Thinking of Torah

Question: How can one prevent oneself from thinking thoughts of Torah while in places of uncleanliness where it is not permitted to do so?

Answer: Thank you for your remarkable question! Most people wonder how they can think words of Torah in places in which they are permitted to do so, and you have the opposite concern- your head is so full of Torah thoughts that you are wondering how to not think them in places where it is forbidden! That is truly remarkable!

One way would be to have some non-Torah reading material on hand, which would force you to focus your thoughts on what you are reading. Another possibility would be to make a concious decision before entering such a place that you will think about a specific non-Torah topic, i.e. summer/ vacation plans, menus, etc., and your mind will not wander into Torah topics.

Take care,

Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Rebuilding of Jericho

Question: I read the following” Joshua…declares that nobody shall ever rebuild Jericho, nor another city elsewhere called by that name nor one on the same site but with a new name .There is to be no monument to this first conquest, no place that future generations can visit to take pride in the greatness of their victory, nor anything to commemorate the brilliance and bravery of Israel’s generals and soldiers. Rather empty space bearing testimony only to G-d.” Isn’t there currently a city built in Jericho? 
Answer: Thanks for your question. The basic answer is that Jericho today is not a Jewish city. Modern Jericho was built and is being sustained by Arabs. The current city is not an existing Jewish city that was rebuilt against the promise that it would not be rebuilt, but rather, it exists today as another example of how the population that controls it does not recognize the existence of the state that they are living in. One of the major industries
in the area is a water processing plant called Jericho water. The bottle says, “Made in Palestine.” Currently, the area where the water is made is Israel. I know that this is a tangent and you did not ask about this, but it is important to note that the people that are currently occupying the land are not Jews.

It is also interesting to note that a few years ago there was an intriguing discovery made. When archeologists dug around the city of Jericho they discovered a thick stone structure surrounding the city. Obviously a wall or boundary, the archeologists were amazed.

Unfortunately, there is not so much exploration in the area because those in control in Jericho have no interest in uncovering Jewish historical evidence to their right to the land.

Regarding the last sentence of your question, this place is a testimony to G-d. It stands as a monument for people to realize that this land of Israel is a land that the Jewish people have lived in for 3000+ years. Israel has always had a Jewish presence. Other people lived there as well because we were exiled from the land, but that does not mean that the land is not rightfully ours. Jericho is a symbol of the Jewish nation. Never forget that!

Be Well,
Rabbi Litt

I Cheated on a Test

Question: I cheated on a school test and I feel guilty. What do I do?

Answer: We all make mistakes in life. That is why Hashem created Teshuva, repentance, to correct our actions. In order to do a proper teshuva, one must regret their act, speak out what they did wrong and commit to not do that deed again.

What type of teacher/administrator runs your class/school? Would s/he be understanding if you came clean and admitted your mistake? If so, it may be worth it to tell them. You may feel better after doing so.
—Rabbi Meir Goldberg,
Meor Rutgers Jewish Xperience

G-d’s Names

Filed under: G-d and Torah

Question: What is the personal name of God?

Answer: G-d does not have any Names. What we think of as Names are actually attributes, each expressing various aspects of G-d. We can never understand G-d but these representations help us to appreciate small bits of Who He is. There are quite a few “Names,” but there are rules as to which ones may be spoken and under what circumstances. It is serious stuff.

Regards, Eliahu Levenson

Black Hebrews and Racism

Question: What is the relationship and or difference between the Black Jews and the European Jews? I live in Virginia and I do not see many Black Jews that fellowship with White and European Jews. I have also met some Black Hebrews that make subtle statements about racism within the Jewish nation. Why is skin color an issue?

Answer: Working on an article for Essence Magazine, some years ago, I interviewed some of the Black Hebrews’ leadership in Israel, mostly in Dimona, as well as the U.S. Embassy people assigned to their issues. I wanted to contrast the Black Hebrews, who were mostly very nice black folks from Chicago, D.C., St. Louis, Detroit, New York and Baltimore, with some actual black Jews, the B’nai Israel or Falasha, the Ethiopian Jews.

After just a little prodding, the Black Hebrews made it clear to me that they do not believe in HaShem, the God of Israel. Most of the ones I talked to declared that they believe in Jesus, and they held to the usual Xtian idea that all those statements in the Bible, where G’d commands the Jews to keep His laws and statutes Ad Olam, from here to eternity, had all been wiped away and nullified by the advent of the Xtian man-god, Jesus. One of the Black Hebrew elders told me that, besides Jesus, he considered the main leader, Ben-Ami Carter, to be god, or G’d – whatever.

The Black Hebrews regard themselves, or anyway claim to regard themselves, as truer Jews than any “so-called” Jews or Hebrews – partly because they are mostly Xtians, who consider themselves to be the True Israel, or Spiritual Jews, and partly because they think that Judaism, or Hebrewism, or Israelism (whatever), is purely a matter of ancestral blood descent, that the “original Jews” like Abraham, Moses, David, etc., were black, and that black people are, therefore, their only true heirs.


Personal Health and Hygiene

Question: What are the specific needs that people who follow Judaism have in relation to personal care?

Answer: I’ll assume by “personal care” you’re referring to the full complement of activities associated with health and hygiene that are required by Jewish law.

There is one verse in the Torah that aptly sums up Judaism’s attitude towards health and hygiene, namely, “guard yourselves and carefully guard your souls” (Deuteronomy 4:9). This is the quintessential guideline: one should take care of one’s own health needs in order to be fit to serve G-d.

Because the paradigm of health and hygiene changes as cultural and medical practices shift and progress over time, the practical application of this commandment also changes. For example, smoking and eating fatty foods were once considered to be health-promoting activities. Today, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are quite the opposite. The commandment mentioned above creates an obligation to stay away from behaviors that are unhealthy, and in an auxilliary way, to be aware of current research; you can’t fulfill this commandment in the year 2006 by implementing the medical practices of 1906.

Recommendations for health and hygienic practices appear in the Talmud, as well as in the writings of Medieval scholars (such as Maimonides, who was an expert physician) and later Jewish legal authorities. Some of these recommendations may contradict modern-day health practices (although many do not); we are generally enjoined to heed the orders of modern-day health practioners. But the main idea is for one to zealously guard one’s physical health, primarily so that one can serve G-d with a sound body and mind.

All the Best,

Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

A Jew Who is British

Question: I live in the United Kingdom. Do I consider myself a British Jew or a Jew who is British.

Answer: While loyalty to one’s country is very important (see Jeremiah 29:7) one’s primary job in life is becoming G-dly, which is done through studying Torah, performing G-d’s commandments, and developing a relationship with G-d through prayer and faith. Thus, I would say that you should be a Jew who is British.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg

Is Israel Palestine?

Filed under: The Land of Israel

Question: I am Christian and have visited several different churches in the past few years. I often hear Israel referred to as Palestine. What’s going on here? I don’t find such reference in the Old Testament in my bible other than referencing the Philistines. Your opinion please.

Answer: Thanks for the question. It’s a good one. I didn’t know that American churches were commonly referring to the Land of Israel, the Holy Land, as Palestine.

As you say, the Bible speaks of the ancient Philistines, or Filistin, or Plishtim (in Biblical Hebrew). To call someone a “philistine” is to call that person crude, uncultivated, bad mannered, and, particularly, insensitive to art and culture. The term comes from the Bible’s depiction of the Philistines, who were notoriously insensitive to Torah.

Ancient sailors called the coastland of Israel Philistia, after the people who lived on the Mediterranean coast. In fact, ancient Philistia had been devastated, first by Samson, who destroyed the cream of Philistia, the nobles and leaders, gathered in the Dogon (fish-god) temple that Samson brought down; then by Israel’s kings Saul and David, when the Jews or Hebrews finally destroyed the Philistines’ local monopoly on ironworking (the Bible describes this), and organized militarily against the Philistines, and by David’s successors. They still inhabited the coast, though; finally, in the time of the Maccabees, the Syrian-Greek empire’s agents rounded up most of the surviving Philistines, their allies, plundered their cities, and sold them into slavery – to help pay for their several unsuccessful but enormously costly campaigns against the Jews. By Roman times the proud Philistine cities, Aza (Gaza), Ashkelon, and some others I can’t remember, were just a bunch of ruins.

After the several Roman-Jewish wars, the ancient Romans tried to erase even the memory of Israel, so they changed the name of Judea to Philistina – in fact, to Felix Philistina, Happy Philistia. What made Philistia so happy was, supposedly, the absence of Jews (and the abject state of the Jews who were there, crushed in war, defeated and then deliberately impoverished further). From then on, the Romans referred to the Holy Land, not just on maps but in diplomatic and all sort of legal documents, as Philistia.

Israel’s prophets promised that w/out Jews the Holy Land would “enjoy its rest” and empty out, and that is indeed what happened. Except for a brief period, about 20 years, in the time of Genghis Khan, when almost the whole land was all but completely abandoned, the Jews never left the land, but their numbers were always small and they lived as a subject people, no longer the masters of the country.

“Arab” comes from the Arabic for “wanderer” or “vagabond.” They regarded the land as “the Jews’ land” [eretz shel yehudit], which they also believed to be full of ghosts – Jewish ghosts – and cursed. America’s Mark Twain visited around 1870 and saw it the same way – as a barren has-been of a land, a desert, poor and unhealthy, almost empty of people. He asked, “Can the curse of the Deity improve a land?” (The Innocents Abroad – New York, c. 1876). The Ottomon Turkish empire governed the land – interestingly, as a department of Syria, with its capitol in Damascus, while the department capitol was Ramallah – the Muslim Turks and Arabs didn’t care that much for Jerusalem. As for the benefits of Turkish rule, the Arabs have a saying: “In the footsteps of the Turk, no grass grows.”

In the last third of the 19th century the modern Zionist movement began. When young, mostly secular-minded Jews began returning to the Land in the late
19th and early 20th century, they called themselves Palestinians – to distinguish themselves not just from other Jews but from the local Turks and Arabs, who regarded themselves as (wait for it) Turks and Arabs. The Jews’ institutions had Palestine in their names – the Palestine Savings Bank, the Palestine Post (now the Jerusalem Post) – and the American newspapers, both mainstream and Jewish, called the Jewish, Zionist emissaries from Israel “Palestinians.” Only in 1948, when “Jewish Palestine” won independence from the British, the parts of the British Mandate Territory of Palestine that the Jews could hang onto became Israel, and the Palestinians – who were at that time all Jewish – became Israelis.

Sometime in the 1960’s the name Palestinian began to be applied to the Arabs of the Holy Land. I’ve heard that it was an extreme left-wing Jewish idea-man who came up with the idea, but who knows? At any rate, in 1964 a small group of Christian Arab Marxists and other secularists, along with some Muslim and Muslim-descended secular radicals, took the name Palestine Liberation Organization, and they began calling themselves and the other non-Jews in the area, whether Arab or not, Palestinians.

Ever since, we have been hearing about “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” – just as though there were such a people as the Palestinians (as opposed to vying tribes and clans that detest each other spread around Gaza and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank of the Jordan River), in United Nations’ supported 60-year old plus “refugee camps,” and throughout the world. According to Hamas, as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization, every non-Jew (or is it only Arabs) who 1) lives in the area, or ever lived in the Arab, or who had a single parent who ever lived in the area, is a Palestinian.

Why do these churches prefer to call the land Palestine instead of Israel? Because they prefer the narrative of a struggling third-world people who were cruelly disposed of their incredibly rich land by the perfidious colonialist and racist Jews and their fat-cat capitalist allies to the truth.

Thank you for your question. For more on the subject, you might want to go to our First Covenant website – it’s made for non-Jews, or Noahides, who want to know more about the Universal laws that make up the core of the Hebrew Biblical Tradition, and about the role of non-Jews in the Hebrew Prophecy and Torah – and our articles that address it. _Click here: First Covenant Articles. Scroll down to the articles under the subject heading, From Genesis to 9/11, Islam, Israel, and Amalek. Believe it or not, you’ll find some pieces there that go directly to your question.

I hope this helps.

Michael Dallen

Question: Are Jews offended by this or am I being overly sensitive?? When I hear Palestine, I always think of Arafat and the PLO and wonder if others do too. ? 

Answer: Thanks again, your question shows real empathy. For me too, and a lot of other Jewish people, the use of the word Palestine for the Holy Land instead of Israel suggests a preference for the propaganda of Israel’s Arab enemies, and other anti-Semites, over truth. For example, a Nazi doctor, one of Dr. Mengele’s associates, who had the habit of searching out identical twins among the Jews who went through Auschwitz and murdering them just to get their skulls, for display, was just found to have died a few years ago in Egypt; he left behind diaries and letters in which he railed against what he called the vile injustices perpetrated by Israel against the true owners of the Land, “the suffering Palestinians.” (Who would have thought that a mass murderer like that would be so concerned with human suffering, or with “justice”?) To him, and Nazis generally, it’s always Palestine, never Israel.

Naturally, not everyone who calls it Palestine and speaks of Palestinians hates Israel. Some people call it Palestine to refer to the entire Land of Israel, including most of Jordan, southern Lebanon, southern Syria, and of course Judea and Samaria (the West Bank of the Jordan River), as well as Gaza. The entire Holy Land, while still small in relative terms (it would fit easily inside several Texas COUNTIES, or within one of the smaller American states, like New Jersey or Vermont), includes a lot more than just “Green Line Israel.” And, so long as the State of Israel’s political leaders keep insisting that most of the Land really belongs to Israel’s Arab enemies, someone who calls it Palestine may just be referring to the whole land: Metropolitan Israel, you might say, including Israel and everything that the Bible calls Eretz Yisroel – the Land of Israel.

Oddly, to me, even some folks who insist that the whole Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel often seem to forget that the Jews’ relationship to the land isn’t just one of privilege, or rights of ownership, but of obligation, including a direct responsibility to God, the Creator of the Universe, to rid the land of horrible, offensive-to-God, anti-Torah practices and anti-Torah people, too. Israel’s obligation to “Palestine” is to turn it, under G’d, into an exemplary country including an exemplary society, a Jewish society, to make the godly, “higher-consciousness” principles of Torah operational in the world, for the good not just of Jews or Israel but the whole of humankind – including, incidentally, the entire Arab Nation.

Michael Dallen

Bilaam’s Prophecy

Question: I am studying the Torah portion of Balak and I am struck by the beautiful imagery that follows the familiar “Mah Tovu” (Numbers 24:5). But since these words were uttered by the false prophet, Bilaam, I am curious as to why we begin our daily prayer with them.

Answer: Hi! I’m a little surprised that you called Bilaam a false prophet. There was nothing false about him. In fact, on the verse, V’lo kam navi od b’Yisroel k’Moshe (there never arose a prophet in Israel like Moses), our Sages say: But among the nations of the world one did arise – Bilaam.

You’re right, though, that Bilaam was not worthy to be a prophet. He lacked the perfection of character that prophecy should require. On the contrary. As we say in Chapter of the Fathers 5:19, he was the exemplar of bad character, the diametric opposite of Abraham.

All prophets, though they be very great and perfect people, still have human flaws that can distort the prophecy that passes through them. Only Moses was able to see “through a clear glass”; his humility was so total that he presented no barrier to the pure words of G-d.

Bilaam was a completely different story. As he said many times, he had no role to play in his prophecy: “The word that G-d puts into my mouth, that is what I say.” G-d effectively took hold of his mouth and stuck the words right into it.

So his prophecy (and I guess his donkey’s also! – Numbers 22:28) was like Moses’: undistorted – for a different reason. And unlike the words of other prophets, Bilaam’s prophecy is not part of the books of Prophets, but is the direct word of G-d, part of the Torah itself.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

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