• Where Judaism and Islam meet
I’ve noticed similarities between Judaism and Islam. We both slaughter our animals by cutting their throats, and we both refrain from eating pig. Modesty is advocated in more Orthodox communities, and charity is encouraged. What is the historical origin of this?
Judaism, as a much more ancient faith, inspired many aspects of Islam. These were borrowed from the Torah and form the basis of many similarities both theological and ritual.
• Why Chasidim dress that way
I recently passed a Chasidic man in traditional dress who drew a number of stares. Why do these very religious Jews insist on dressing in the 21st century as their Eastern European ancestors did?
They strive to be distinct and different. By eschewing modern fashion, they believe they are complying with the Torah exhortation not ‘to walk in the statutes of the nations’. Based on your question, it is working!
• Mobility rules for shabbat
I have mobility challenges, which means it is getting harder to walk the quarter-mile to shul on Shabbat. People have advised me to look at getting a mobility scooter. What is your opinion on this?
There are indeed scooters that have been manufactured to be Shabbat compliant by changing the way in which they are controlled electrically. These can be used by those who have genuine need and disability.
Some authorities do not encourage their use at all, which explains the low take-up in certain religious communities. My advice is go for it, but get further guidance from your rabbi, who will be in a better position to know how this is best managed.
• Why cover the challot?
Why do we cover our challot on Friday nights? And are we supposed to cover them for Shabbat lunch as well?
We cover the challot to remember the way in which the manna bread in the wilderness was covered above and below by a thin layer of dew. We also cover the bread because strictly, according to the Torah, it takes precedence over the kiddush wine when it comes to saying a bracha – yet we start with the wine. Accordingly, we remove this issue by hiding it under a cloth.
• Shul is such a man’s world
Sitting behind the mechitza, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with Orthodox Judaism. I’ve watched my younger brothers say Anim Zmirot and leyn for their barmitzvahs and seen my dad do Hagba many times. What’s the religious reason behind the exclusion of women? Knowing may help me accept it.
Judaism has always valued the participation of women in virtually all aspects of religious life. It is also true that when it comes to synagogue life, women tend to be less visible – the particular reasons for which I will discuss shortly. The rationale for this bifurcation – which I suspect you will already be aware of – lies in the view that, while men and women are equal, they each have distinct and different roles within religious life. Sometimes, however, we may fail to support – or demonstrate sufficient sensitivity – to womens’ spiritual and social needs. We also do not always properly educate on this important issue.
Please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! If you’re frustrated in your community, you can make suggestions for positive change and may discover others of like mind. If that’s not an option, try to find a shul that provides a more conducive environment for you. It may help to understand the origins of the mechitza. During the first Temple era and into the second, there was originally no formal separation between the genders in the Beit HaMikdash. The situation changed when men and women began to mingle socially during the sacrificial services and became inappropriately distracted by the opposite sex.
This degraded the Temple atmosphere by creating an air of frivolity and sexuality such that a practical solution was sought that would work for everybody. An open balcony called a gezuztera was built (it had no wall or curtain) simply to separate the two genders onto different levels. At the time, the best seating with the superior view was in fact on the gallery level reserved for women.
Because of this history, it is clear the purpose of mechitza is to make both genders less distracted by the opposite sex, and better able to concentrate on the prayers. It was not meant to be about the hiding away or blocking out of women. I hope this helps somewhat. Do be proactive in finding a positive shul environment rather than becoming disillusioned.
Best of luck!