Ask the Rabbi – 29/08/2013

Ask the Rabbi – 29/08/2013

With Rabbi Reuben LIVINGSTONE.


Dear Rabbi,

I’m staying with relatives in Israel during Rosh Hashanah and have a major issue. They live in Mitzpe Ramon in the middle of the Negev. How am I supposed to observe the ritual of tashlich in the desert?!


Dear Shimon,

The custom of tashlich is more about a sense of casting away our sins to drive home the importance of turning over a new leaf than it is about the type of water we use. Originally, there was a strong emphasis on finding a fresh body of water with fish in it – something that’s more difficult for us even if we do have a body of water nearby! What some do in such circumstances is recite tashlich facing an ocean or other body of water. Others turn on a tap and imagine a river flowing by.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

Rosh Hashanah is the new year, but when we count months in the Hebrew calendar we start with Nissan, not Tishrei. Please explain why.



Dear David,

According to the Mishna, Rosh Hashanah is primarily the new year for the judgement of the world. It also marks the anniversary of the creation – which is why we count the years by this day. But, according to the Torah, the first Jewish month was, and remains, Nissan. Tishri is always referred to as the seventh month.

Nissan was the beginning of the Jewish national year – hence it was the month used to count the reigning years of the monarchs of ancient Israel. It also begins the annual cycle of festivals [Moadim]. Rosh Hashanah sees the changing of years and initiates the dramatic Days of Awe – but for all other purposes Nissan is the first – and foremost – month in the Jewish calendar.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

I’ve heard that you’re not truly forgiven for sins committed over the past year until you have apologised to God and the person you have upset. I’ve tried saying sorry to my brother for something that happened over the last year, but he simply won’t accept my apology. Does this mean I cannot be forgiven until he does?



Dear Don,

You’re right that one cannot generally be forgiven until one obtains the forgiveness [known as mechilah] of the wronged person. However, according to Jewish law, once one apologises, the other party must show good grace and accept this act of penance. Once one has tried to say sorry three times and been refused or rebuffed, the Halachah stipulates that one has done enough and need do no more.

Remarkably, in such cases the other person is then deemed to be in the wrong for adopting such an unforgiving attitude.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

I’ve noticed that when we make havdalah, we make the bracha over the wine but don’t drink it straight away. Instead, we have to make other blessings first over the candles and spices before finally drinking the wine. Why is there such a delay?



Dear Aaron,

What an astute question. The blessings over wine, spices and light taken together comprise the full havdalah ceremony. This ritual formally separates between Shabbat and the weekday. Until it has been pronounced we are not meant to eat or drink. For this reason the blessings over the spices and candle are not considered an interruption or delay as far as drinking the wine goes, but an integral part of the entire prayer which must be completed before one is allowed at the end to partake of the wine.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

I have been told that when I cannot obtain supervised kosher bread, I can buy any kind as long as its vegetarian. Yet this rule does not apply to wine. What’s the difference?



Dear Rachel,

Non-supervised bakery produced bread (known as Patt Palter in the Halacha) can be used when the supervised version is unavailable – as long as the ingredients are kosher. (By the way, Kingsmill bread is actually supervised). This is because of the central importance of bread as a staple food. Wine, however, does not carry this allowance.

This is not only because there are many other alternative forms of alcohol which are kosher – but also because wine is subject to special restrictions owing to its unique religious and social significance. In any case, you will probably agree that wine is also not quite as crucial as bread to our daily sustenance!

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