Rabbi Reuven Livingstone answers readers’ questions in his weekly column, Ask the Rabbi.

Reuven Livingstone

Jewish law and smoking

Dear Rabbi,

I have a friend who is a smoker and am very worried about the impact on his health as well as the psychological effects. Aren’t there any Jewish laws commanding us not to harm our bodies?

Jemima

Dear Jemima

The Torah commands us to be exceedingly careful about guarding our health.

As the evidence emerged that smoking was dangerous, many Halachic opinions began to forbid it – and that stands as the current position in Jewish law.

That said, it is a very difficult addiction to break and one needs to be a supportive and understanding friend to be of assistance.

Boy or girl? We want to know

Dear Rabbi,

My wife is pregnant and we would like to know the gender of our foetus. Is this in accordance with Jewish law?

Harry

Dear Harry,

While there are many who prefer not to know the gender for a variety of reasons, there is no problem according to Halacha in doing so.

Sometimes this can be of practical assistance in planning and purchasing for baby – especially if members of your wider family live in different countries, for example.

This said, Jewish tradition seems to prefer a low-key approach to publicising such information too widely. Mazeltov!

Why Jesus isn’t the messiah

Dear Rabbi

Why don’t Jews believe in Jesus as the Messiah?

Rob

Dear Rob

That is certainly a rather serious question deserving of a thorough answer.

The word ‘Messiah’ is from the Hebrew Mashiach, meaning ‘anointed’ – referring to a person initiated into divine service by being anointed with sacred oil. Since every king and high priest in ancient Israel was inducted in this way, each was referred to as ‘an anointed one’ (Mashiach).ASK THE RABBI 2

So, where then does the Jewish concept of Messiah as redeemer come from? One of the central themes of Biblical prophecy is the promise of a future age of perfection characterised by universal peace and recognition of God (eg Isaiah 2:1; Zephaniah 3:9).

These prophetic passages speak of a descendant of David who will usher in this era and rule Israel as king.

Since every king is a ‘Messiah’, we refer to this future leader as the Messiah.

But, according to the Torah, in order to qualify as such, he must accomplish the following things: a) Build the Third Temple; b) Gather Jews back to the land of Israel; c) Usher in an era of world peace and end all hatred, oppression, suffering and disease; d) Spread universal knowledge of God and unite humanity.

The historical fact is that Jesus did not fulfil any of these messianic prophecies. Christians argue that Jesus will achieve these in the ‘Second Coming’, but Jewish sources insist that the Messiah must fulfil these prophecies outright, and no concept of a second coming exists.

In addition to all this, according to classical sources, the Mashiach will be a prophet. Judaism does not believe that Jesus was a prophet because Jewish prophecy can only exist in Israel when the land is inhabited by the majority of world Jewry.

During the time of Ezra (around 300 BCE), when the most Jews refused to return from Babylon to Israel, prophecy ended upon the death of Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi. Jesus, therefore, only appeared on the scene 350 years after we believe that prophecy had ended.

According to Jewish sources, the Messiah will be born of human parents and possess normal physical attributes like other people. He will not be a demi-god, nor will he possess supernatural qualities. He must be descended on his father’s side from King David.

According to the Christian claim that Jesus was the product of a virgin birth, he had no father – and, thus, could not fulfil the requirement of being descended on his father’s side from King David!

Finally, the Messiah will lead the Jewish people back to observance. The Torah states that anyone coming to subvert the Torah is identified as a false prophet and loses legitimacy.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus revokes the Torah and states that its commandments are no longer applicable. Therefore, for all these reasons Judaism does not believe that Jesus can be the Messiah.

It’s hard for me to get to shul

Dear Rabbi

I struggle to walk to the synagogue every morning but I would like to daven with a minyan. Is it Halachically permissible to pray via technology, such as on Skype to enable a minyan?

Benjamin

Dear Benjamin

To be considered part of a minyan, one has to be physically present. This is for several well-founded reasons and encourages shul and communal life and activity.

If it is not possible to attend in person then it may well be that a Skype conversation can provide a sense of connection and inspiration – but it cannot replace the real thing.

Rabbi Schochet returns on 3 September. Read his blog at shul.co.uk/rabbi or follow him on Twitter at @RabbiYYS