Project Genesis

Waters in the Sky at Creation

Question: Please explain when God created the earth what it means when it is described as “Let there be a dome in the middle of the water; let it divide the water under the dome from the water above the dome; that is how it was, and God called the dome Sky.” Not an exact quote but, I think you get the idea. Thank you.

Answer: The waters above and below the firmamant/sky/dome (Rakia in Hebrew) is one of the areas where G-d has given us very little information and has left us guessing, essentially. In the beginning all was chaos, and the water which spread to everything was also chaos. G-d organized everything, including the waters, and separated the waters leaving a Rakia in between from which we have the sky above our world. The Jewish sage Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Nachmanides) says the idea of separating means a separation of the physical, meaning the entire Universe, from the spiritual, but man cannot really comprehend this.

Good question,
Eliahu Levenson

Genetic Engineering and Kashrus

Filed under: Kosher Food

Question: What are the implications of genetic engineering for kashrus?

Answer: Transplantation of a few genes from a non-kosher creature into a kosher creature doesn’t make it unkosher, because its basic identity hasn’t changed. (Also, gene transplantation isn’t cross-breeding, and isn’t forbidden under the laws of kilayim (See Lev. 19:19).) The situation would be more problematic if the transplantation resulted in a hybrid creature, but this would require transplantation of very many genes, and won’t be feasible in the near future.

All the Best,

Rabbi Azriel Shreiber

Punishment of Children for the Parents’ Sins

Filed under: Reward and Punishment

Question: How do I understand “punishment of children for the parents’ sins”? If the parents aren’t good this should bring punishment for their children? Also, how can children honor those parents?

Answer: Children are not punished for the sins of the parents unless they continue in the parents evil ways. Generally, a child should honor parents even if they aren’t righteous unless they intentionally sin. Most people today don’t have a proper Jewish education and thus aren’t considered wicked even if they sin.

Question: Thank you very much for your answer. 

You said, “Most people today don’t have a proper Jewish education and thus aren’t considered wicked even if they sin.” But most Jews know about kashrut (Jewish dietary laws)  but only few of them keep kosher. Also, it is very hard for the children to reject their parents’ lifestyle and at the same time to honor them. 

How do we deal with that?

Answer: Even if they know about the concept of Kashrut, they were never taught that Judaism makes sense, or that the religion is based on historical evidence that G-d really gave us the Torah, etc. They were raised to think that this is “The opiate of the masses”. I don’t see why children can’t honor them just because the parents aren’t religious. The child should appreciate all that the parents have done for them and how they raised them to search for truth, meaning, etc. They should honor the parents for giving them the intellectual and emotional sustenance that helped the children to find Torah.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg

Jews as Vegetarians

Filed under: Kosher Food

Question: Wouldn’t it be better for us to be vegetarians?

Answer: Adam was in fact not permitted to eat meat (Gen. 1:30); but Noah and his descendants were given permission to eat animals after they are killed and their blood removed (Gen. 9:3-4). The Torah permits Jews to eat some types of animals and birds (the kosher ones), provided they are killed properly; kosher slaughter is a very painless process. As Maimonides (Hilchos Deos 3:1) puts it, “A person should abstain only from those things that the Torah prohibits; he should not forbid to himself things that are permitted”. Within the framework of the Torah, there are many ways to beautify and enhance our religious observances; we shouldn’t go so far as to avoid things that the Torah explicitly permits.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Sephardim, Ashkenazim, and Racism

Question: I come from a Sephardi family in Mexico and what I have seen in America is that Ashkenazim consider Sephardi people as 2nd class? Why is their so much racism between Sephardim and Ashkenazim if we all are descended from Abraham?

Answer: Thank you for your thoughtful question. There is no excuse for racism amongst Jews of any kind, at anytime or in any place. It is well known that the Rabbis attribute the destruction of the Holy Temple to be a result of baseless hatred. How can we imagine G-d’s pain when He sees some of His children hating others for no reason? It is therefore easy to understand how inconsistent the racism which you describe is with Torah values.

I live in an out-of-town setting where no such divide is felt. In our Orthodox synagogue there are Sephardic services which I personally attend form time to time. I have never heard a Rabbinic personality defending or promoting such racist behavior. I am sorry that this phenomena exits but do not see how it can be reflective of any Torah value.

As we pray from the coming of Mashiach (the Messiah) we have in mind that the Jewish people should be worthy of a Temple. This would include the abolishment of all hatred or animosity that exists within the Jewish people.

Best Wishes,
Rabbi Yerachmiel Garfield

What to do About My Mother, the Nazi

Question: I believe my mother of 90 years of age was/is a Nazi and she hid in a Jewish family – mine. What is the right thing to do? Report her or let her go? what is your suggestion? Thank You.

Answer: As I’m sure you know well, this is a really tough question for which I don’t believe there is an easy answer. One possible approach might be to consider the costs of trying to obtain justice: the effort would require an enormous emotional investment and, probably a great deal of your time. In addition, successful convictions are rare and take years: I remember how many years it took to extradite Helmut Rauca from Canada – and his case was pretty solid. You also don’t sound quite 100% convinced that your mother is, in fact, guilty.

Weigh these elements against our belief that our God of Justice knows all and forgets nothing and is perfectly capable of prosecuting all crimes. If your mother is indeed guilty, then she will indeed stand trial her crimes – in the only courtroom that really counts. I’m not saying that this is the last word on the subject, but that perhaps these thoughts might prove useful. With my best wishes,

Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Question: Hello, I want to thank you so much for your answer Rabbi Clinton. I knew that in my heart that I have no power to punish her but I wasn’t sure if letting her live out her life in a beautiful condo with my father’s money was right either. It is not for me to decide and I will, in peace (hopefully) let it go with your kind words of support. I stopped all contact with her about 10 years ago when it become clear what she was and, unfortunately, still is. However, I do have a follow-up question if I may. Doesn’t this make me half nazi? Does that have any bearing on me? My soul? Is there a prayer I can say, for her, for myself, for her victims? Thank you again, you have helped immensely! 

Question: Hello, Naziism is an ideology: it contaminates only those who adopt it. Since there isn’t even the tiniest trace of those beliefs in you, then you aren’t “half a Nazi” – you’re not a Nazi at all! And, while there do seem to be instances where guilt can be “inherited” (see Exodus 20: 5), that is only in a case where the children willingly continue their father’s legacy of crime (see Rashi to Deut. 24:16). That’s something of which no one could ever accuse you.

So I don’t believe that you have anything to worry about. You’ve done everything you should.

I wish you the very best,

Genesis 3:16 - “He Will Rule Over You”

Question: After Adam and Eve are sent out of the Garden of Eden, G-d informs them of the new social and physical order within which humanity will now exist. In this world, the ground is cursed and we will eat by our manual labor. Women will experience pain in childbirth, and women will be ruled over by their husbands. It is this last curse that has captured my curiosity the most. I had the impression that men and women had different roles in Judaism, but men did not rule women. Can you elaborate for me the differences between men and women, as understood by the Torah, and how this curse from G-d fits into this picture? It seems from my uneducated mind that G-d is explaining the new reality of existence, and in this new reality women will be compelled to submit to the rule of men, just as women will have no choice but to submit to pain in childbirth, and men must toil on the earth for sustenance.

Answer: Hi! It’s a very interesting question, and a hard one. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, and whatever I can say will barely scratch the surface.

Let me start with a general principle. As you know, G-d designed this world in the way that it would work best, with incredible order within order on every level. When we sin, we do damage to that order. It still runs, but now there’s “grit in the machinery”, so to speak; things that are supposed to mesh smoothly now rattle. The general setup must stay the same, though, or things wouldn’t work at all.

In the original plan of creation, there was a wondrous linkage between three parts of the creation: Man, Woman, and the land (Earth). They were all very closely bonded together, meshing perfectly. Each had its function, and part of the whole. None of the three would ever have caused problems for the other two, just as one would never imagine one hand fighting with another. (more…)


Question: On health care debate: What I have seen is that on one side people want universal healthcare and on the other side, people don’t want to provide those kinds of services to so many people.

A few questions:
1. What does the Talmud suggest about these kinds of social service? When we leave the 4 corners of our fields untended isn’t that a social service?

2. For those that are worried about the fact that this allows the poor to be lazy, or not go to work, how does the Talmud say to handle this situation?

Answer: This is a large and complicated issue with no simple answer. On the one hand, the Talmud requires that communities provide charity funds to ensure that the ill, poor, and visitors are cared for. In fact, the Torah itself (Deut. 15:8) requires individuals to give needy individuals all that they need.

But on the other hand, until relatively recent history, there wasn’t any institution to compare with the modern nation state that’s bound by law to provide services for its citizens. There was the expectation that community members would contribute to the common defense (“karga”), but no government programs that would be familiar to us.

So if Talmudic law were somehow applied to the problem of modern public health, I believe it would have very little to say. No player in the modern debate would deny that all sick people should ideally receive the treatments they required at a cost that’s affordable. The main issue is the real-world fact of limited resources. So how limited resources should be best allocated between competing demands is a subject that I would imagine Rabbis would defer to economists and health care experts (assuming they had intelligent answers).

As far as the fear that individuals might be negligent in providing for themselves if offered the possibility of free entitlements, the Talmud offers very strong warnings of what will happen to people who choose to accept handouts in any but the most extreme need. In this, every individual must police himself.

With regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

The Ten Commandments

Question: Please explain each one of the 10 commandments and the Mitzvot included in each one. Is G-d’s name mentioned in the commandments” where and why is it mentioned?

Answer: To make my job easier, I’m quoting the whole thing, from Exodus Chapter 20. In addition to the verse numbers (with no period), I’m breaking it out into its ten sections (numbers with periods):

  1. 2  I am Hashem thy G-d, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

  2. Thou shalt have no other G-ds before Me. 3 Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 4 thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I Hashem thy G-d am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; 5 and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.

  3. 6 Thou shalt not take the name of Hashem thy G-d in vain; for Hashem will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.

  4. 7 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 8 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; 9 but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto Hashem thy G-d, in it thou shalt not do any manner of work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; 10 for in six days Hashem made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day; wherefore Hashem blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.

  5. 11 Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which Hashem thy G-d giveth thee.

  6. 12 Thou shalt not murder.

  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

  8. Thou shalt not steal.

  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

  10. 13 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.


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