This week’s Ask the Rabbi examines the need for shuls, life after death and faith schools…
With Rabbi Reuben Livingstone
- Tug of love over religion
I’ve been with my girlfriend for two years. Our levels of Jewish faith are starting to cause tension.
She assures me she is willing to become more observant, but can I expect or trust someone who does not really believe in the faith to make such a change in their lifestyle?
Your concern is valid. In the long term, to cement your friendship and compatibility you need to share values and lifestyle as well as attraction.
My advice is to make a real effort to share Jewish experiences and observances to see if you can find yourselves on the same page.
- Why do we need shuls?
If Judaism believes that God is everywhere, why is there a necessity for synagogues and communal worship?
Synagogues and communal worship are about ways that we can experience God – rather than implying that He is present only in such places and gatherings.
The Almighty is indeed everywhere – but collective prayer in a consecrated place nurtures a special sense of connection both to the Creator and the Jewish people, and can be spiritually inspirational.
For this reason, the halacha requires a minyan for certain prayers and prefers a fixed place for worship.
That said, there is a venerable Jewish mystical tradition that favours praying in a natural setting from time to time
- It’s a matter of life after death
What is Judaism’s stance on life after death?
To a certain extent, apart from a clear belief in the eternal quality of the soul, there is no consensus on this issue.
But that is not something that’s unusual in Judaism – as we place far more emphasis on active observance and living a good Jewish life than precise articles of dogma.
The cornerstone belief is in God’s reward and punishment rather than their exact format!
At the same time, there are works such as Reishit Chochmah that examine in enormous detail some of these questions and explain the afterlife.
Other kabbalistic writings focus on death as a spiritual process.
- So why did my singing offend?
I gave a speech at my brother’s barmitzvah in the form of a song.As I began to sing, a religious relative frantically was trying to cover the ears of his young sons, while trying to cover his own.
They then all ran out of the room. I’ve been told the reasoning behind this and reassured that I was perfectly in tune.
However, I feel quite offended and wondered if these were really necessary actions to take, particularly by a relation?
I can only imagine this was because you are female and they objected to your singing in public.
It should be noted that one should never embarrass or humiliate anyone over any halachic concerns.
In that sense, although entitled to their view, they were halachically completely out of bounds in the humiliating way in which this was expressed.
- Telling child about racism
I instruct my five-year-old son to remove his kippah or put up his hood while walking home from school for his safety.
He has started to question why he has to do this.
At what age do you feel it is appropriate to educate and expose children to sensitive topics such as anti-Semitism?
Unfortunately the existence of anti-Semitism is no less a fact of life than schoolyard bullying, racism, or that there are some adults of whom children should be suspicious.
So I can’t see that it would be inappropriate to discuss this – in a suitable fashion of course – with a five-year-old.
This must be particularly so when you are already expressing concern and he already surely detects your worry.
- Concerns on faith schools
Do you think sending children to faith schools could potentially shelter them and hence inadequately prepare them for the outside world?
It cuts both ways. On the one hand, children (and adults for that matter) need a strong faith identity to navigate the challenges of the outside world from a firm base.
On the other hand, this will tend to shelter them somewhat from the rest of that world.
On balance, children are best equipped for future life through a high quality educational experience that imbues self confidence and self-esteem.
This, coupled with a solid knowledge base, will generally provide an excellent launch-pad for future coping in the wider world.
- Rabbi Schochet returns in September