Ask the Rabbi: ‘How many Jews does it take to change a light-bulb?’

Ask the Rabbi: ‘How many Jews does it take to change a light-bulb?’

Ask the Rabbi

Purim really is still relevant

Dear Rabbi,

Why is it important to celebrate Purim with such exuberance each and every year? After all, it marks events so far in our past.


Dear Cameron,

The Mishna states: “He who reads the Megila (the Purim scroll) backwards does not fulfil his obligation.”

By definition, if you hear the second half of the Megila in one service and then the first half in another, you have not fulfilled the obligation, as it has to be read in sequences. The Bal Shem Tov once pointed out that backwards doesn’t just mean in a literal sequential context but also in an historical context. He who reads the Megila – who thinks the Purim story is just “backwards,” i.e. something from a long-gone past – does not fulfil his obligation of celebrating Purim properly. It still has modern-day relevance.

The Purim story took place in Susa, in present-day Iran. Anyone who thinks that this threat of Jewish annihilation is something of the past is in denial. Purim reminds us that Hamans abound in every generation and Iran can and must never be trusted. It also reminds us that King Achashverosh – read Obama – cannot be trusted in regard to Iran either.

We have our own Jewish backs to watch and no one else will necessarily care enough to consider that. Purim is there to remind us that Jewish pride is essential and that we shouldn’t rely on anyone other than our Father in Heaven.

Cohabitation is no answer

Dear Rabbi,

I want to move in with my girlfriend of 18 months. She says it will ruin our relationship but I think it will give us a clearer idea about whether we might be compatible in marriage. What do you say?


Dear Seymour,

I say the rabbinic idiom “women have greater intuition” rings true. First, the fact of the matter is that living together before marriage proves nothing.

It doesn’t come with the same commitments, responsibilities and other associated strings attached. You both act differently because you are still effectively in dating mode and can walk out just as easily as you walked in.

Second, those who seek to cohabit for a period of time prior to marriage are also doomed to psychological pitfall. The National Institute for Healthcare Research notes that couples that cohabit prior to marriage report significantly lower levels of marital happiness than other couples. And a research study at the University of Denver says that couples that cohabited before marriage have significantly higher divorce rates than those who did not.

There are a number of profound reasons for this beyond the confines of this response. Finally, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: when relationships are cherished, carefully nurtured and perceived as sacred, ie in the context of marriage, there is nothing livelier.

When they are pursued more as a means of self-gratification, there is nothing deadlier.

We prefer to live in the dark

Dear Rabbi,

How many Jews does it take to change a light-bulb?


Dear Gary,

Sigh. It’s been a while since the light-bulb question. Why I keep putting them in I don’t know but perhaps you could consider the following.

Option 1: None. Too many Jews would rather live in the dark than dare see the light.

Option 2: Change? You shouldn’t change anything! (Isn’t that what is wrong with some elements of our community today?)

Option 3: One to turn and the other two to argue whether to the right or the left. (Isn’t that what has been wrong with our people from time immemorial?)

Do i forgive my abusive father?

Dear Rabbi,

I endured a verbally abusive father throughout much of my childhood before he left home. Now he suddenly wants to reunite. What are my halachic obligations towards him?


Dear Rachel,

There is the all-encompassing commandment to show respect to our parents. But that has to be balanced with the very real concern for your own welfare.

When parents don’t behave appropriately, the respect incumbent upon you has its obvious limitations.

It would still be wrong to curse or hit them, or reach similarly, but you don’t have to go out of your way to reconcile with them either.

This is especially true when you feel that it would have repercussions for yourself because it would impact on you negatively. The fact that you entertain the question might imply that you are toying with the idea.

If this is the case I suggest you give it a shot. Even if it backfires, you can still walk away and know in all good conscience that you tried. Good luck.

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