Ask the Rabbi: vigilantes, The New Year and 2+2= 5?

Ask the Rabbi: vigilantes, The New Year and 2+2= 5?

Ask the with Rabbi Yitzchak

Unlikely friend acts strangely

Dear Rabbi,

I’ve grown close to an elderly woman since her husband died. I help her and offer companionship and she in turn spoils me, taking me with her on international trips and more. Lately, she has become hostile toward my children and personal secretary. I recently went through a medical crisis and she grew distant during this time, which surprised me. Does her behaviour prove no good deed goes unpunished? Why would she act this way?


Dear Meir,

You mention becoming close to her since her husband died. It’s clear you are an important feature in her life and, perhaps, she resents the fact that there are others who take much of your time when she seems to want you all to herself. This would likely be why she reacted so strangely when you took ill. She has already lost one person in her life and certainly doesn’t want to lose another. Your illness undoubtedly frightened her so her withdrawal was probably nothing more than a defence mechanism. I think you are going to have to establish boundaries. Talk to her and explain how your children are very important to you, as is your PA. She has to accept them as part of your ‘inner circle’ and inasmuch as you cherish her and want her to continue to feature in your life, she needs to know that if it is going to be a case of her or them, it will be them. She will hopefully then work her way around all that and come to better terms with it. Good luck!

Torah law and ‘vigilantes’

Dear Rabbi,

I’ve analysed a piece of Talmud that discusses someone who inadvertently killed another person. The ruling appears to be that unless the perpetrator escapes to a ‘city of refuge’, the avenging family can kill him. Isn’t this effectively encouraging vigilante killing?


Dear Geoffrey,

First, the “avenging family” may only kill the inadvertent murderer outside the ‘city of refuge’ – and then only if the courts have already determined the victim was indeed the killer – albeit unintentionally. So vigilante justice this is not. Further, the murderer who is consigned to the’city of refuge’ is not someone whose deed was completely accidental, which would be completely exonerated by the courts. In this instance, the murderer was clearly negligent, yet cannot be punished by the courts because it wasn’t an intentional crime. With this in mind, consider the following. There are different types of transgressions that warrant different sorts of punishments. There is karet or “excision” for certain severe sins. There is malkot or lashes. The courts would administer up to 39 lashes to one who intentionally violated certain biblical precepts. There was also a monetary punishment and capital punishment for the most severe crimes, such as murder. All these punishments were never intended as punitive, rather primarily to provide atonement for the guilty party. We can now understand the Torah’s condoning the “avenging family” concept as well. This was never intended as an outlet for man’s vicious nature. If the accidental murderer did not deserve the death penalty, the Torah would not permit his execution. Rather, the concept of “avenging” provides a method by which the Torah itself exacts the death penalty against an individual who perpetrates such a heinous crime – albeit unintentionally, hence it doesn’t warrant capital punishment. This is the compromise position and it is the avenging family that takes retribution which in turn provides the required atonement. Unless, of course, he makes it to one of the ‘cities of refuge’ and his atonement results in him having to settle there.

When 2 + 2 can also equal five

Dear Rabbi,

I recently attended a gay wedding ceremony and was surprised to see a rabbi present. One partner is not Jewish and, in any case, I thought Jewish law frowns on homosexuality.


Dear Maria,

If a maths professor teaches his class that two plus two equals five, does that make him an authentic maths professor? Similarly, a rabbi by definition means a teacher of Torah and Jewish law. And Jewish law is very specific about the nature of gay relationships. That some man was there, calling himself “rabbi” – well, draw your own conclusions.

Is 2015 wrong new year?

Dear Rabbi,

Should Jews wish one another “Happy new year!” on 1 January? I’ve heard Orthodox friends do it and think it’s inappropriate.


Dear Debbie,

That’s really your issue? Do you raise the same question when you hear people gossiping? Don’t lose too much sleep over it. Besides, the verse in Psalms says: “God counts according to the register of the people.” It is known that certain greats would offer a happy new year’s greeting.

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