• How to keep my son’s faith?
My son has just finished his first year at a non-Jewish school. We’ve encouraged him to keep kosher (and have particularly cautioned against eating meat out), but I recently found a KFC burger box in his bag. I confronted him, but my words fell on deaf ears. I’m worried this is the first step towards assimilation. How can I keep him interested in Judaism?
The only way you can counteract the strong social pressures he is under is to reinforce the importance to you (and to his own future) of Jewish observance in a loving and positive way.
While you should be firm in addressing the boundaries that you expect him to keep, do this in a pleasant manner that will not give him an excuse to rebel. The other option is to think about placing him in a Jewish school where such pressures may be considerably less.
• Jewish roots of old wives tales?
I was recently surprised to hear my Orthodox Rebbetzin admitting to harbouring ‘Jewish superstitions’ – don’t pass a baby over a table, a pregnant woman shouldn’t go to a cemetery, don’t open an umbrella insie. Are such superstitions founded in Jewish beliefs or are they nonsense?
Some of the examples you mention, such as pregnant women not attending a cemetery, are well-founded in Jewish mystical rationale, while others are mere superstition. In general, however, Judaism is against the notion of superstitious beliefs; largely because one should always place one’s faith and reliance on God, but also because many of these things derive from pagan or other belief systems and are not in line with Jewish thought.
• Can A bride carry flowers?
I recently got engaged and was interested to learn that Jewish brides didn’t always carry a bouquet of flowers but carried a candle and that the parents do this. What is the meaning behind this and would it be wrong if I carried a bouquet?
The custom to carry candles is primarily done by the mothers to symbolise the spiritual aspect of Jewish marriage as a uniting of souls (light according to the Torah is symbolic of the Godly spirit). It also uplifts and sanctifies the moment in line with many other occasions, which are customarily initiated with light. More than this, light represents peace and joy (one of the important rationale for the Shabbat candles) – which we hope for in every marriage. As for a bouquet, it is widespread for the bride to hold one as a sign of beauty, happiness and celebration. Mazeltov!
• Symbolic value of the eruv
How can an ensemble of metal poles and transparent wires – an eruv – allow us to bend the rules of Shabbat and carry our books to shul? Also, how did rabbis decide these materials would be adequate in representing ancient city walls?
The rabbinic law of ‘eruv’ is designed to allow carrying on Shabbat in very specific types of areas while providing a graphic reminder that, in general circumstances, this will be prohibited. In this way, as it provides a leniency, it also strengthens our awareness of this particular area of Shabbat law.
Contrary to the perception many have that the eruv magically converts a public domain into a ‘walled’ area within which carrying is permitted by way of strings, poles and boards, it is in fact able to operate only in domains where carrying was not proscribed by the Torah [only by the rabbis]. Because of this, the rules require only ‘symbolic’ but not actual walls, and therefore poles and wires are suitable.
• Significance of tefillin
What is the significance of tefillin? And why are they only worn by men?
The Torah refers to tefillin as a graphic ‘sign’ of our connection to the divine. It is achieved by way of binding leather chambers containing parchments from the Torah to our arm and head and is meant to create a physical sensation of being enwrapped and bound up by God. On Shabbat and chagim they are not worn – for these days, in and of themselves, are ‘signs’ that imbue a similar sense of being closer to the Almighty.
Tefillin are only obligatory for males as this is a time-bound mitzvah (applying exclusively during daytime) that women are generally not obliged to keep. But this has not prevented some women in Jewish history from opting to perform the commandment – among them, according to tradition, the daughters of the famous medieval commentator Rashi.