Ask The Rabbi – 01/08/2013

Ask The Rabbi – 01/08/2013

With Rabbi Reuben Livingstone

Dear Rabbi,

In David J Goldberg’s book, This Is Not The Way: Jews, Judaism and Israel, the author states that if a person says he/she is a Jew, they are one, although not necessarily formally so. Do you agree? I hope so!



Dear Albert,

While anyone has the right to claim Jewish solidarity, spiritual connection, or even affiliation – this is not the same as having Jewish status. As an Orthodox rabbi, I can only agree that someone is 100 percent Jewish if they satisfy the necessary halachic criteria.

Judaism is not a proselytising religion and does not demand people convert to live spiritual and upright lives according to Torah values. But if one does wish to claim that one is properly Jewish, this can only be on the basis of a credible conversion process.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

I attended a sumptuous kiddush last week. There was everything you can imagine, including platters of meat and fried fish – but separate plates and cutlery reserved for each of these dishes. Why can’t meat and fish be consumed together, but it is permitted to eat them one after the other?



Dear Sarah,

The issue with mixing fish and meat is not strictly about kashrut. It is based on the Talmudic concern that this mixture can be bad for health. This is primarily when the two food types are cooked together – but the custom has developed to extend this to eating them at the same time. As a result, there is absolutely no issue in consuming one after the other, using different plates and clean cutlery. When this is done, the practice is to eat something in between or swill some liquid to clean the mouth.[divider]


Dear Rabbi,

I don’t understand why my shul tells us to light Shabbat candles at 7.50pm during the summer, when the days are clearly much longer and the sun doesn’t set for at least another hour (or even two).

Why is Shabbat so long at this time of year?



Dear Lisa,

You’re right that, technically, Shabbat can commence at a later time during summer. However, many communities take the view that after sunset is too late to hold services – particularly for those families with young children who will be fast asleep by the later time.

Once a synagogue decides to accept Shabbat at a specific time, all those who belong to that congregation become obliged to keep to that time. If, however, one attends more than one synagogue, one is not constrained in this way and is free to choose a later and more convenient time for the acceptance of Shabbat.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

How sure can we be that animals really do have a different soul to humans? Sometimes when I look at my labrador, I’m sure he is more ‘human’ than we give dog’s credit for.



Dear Donna,

Every living being has a Godly soul – regardless of where they are in the hierarchy of creation. This will go a long way to explaining why you sense a certain (almost human) spirit in your dog.

That said, we believe the human soul is distinct – as befits the higher human role in God’s scheme of creation. The kabbalists, therefore, specifically refer to the ‘animal soul’ versus that of a person when concentrating on non-human life. One has, therefore, to be careful not to over-ascribe human traits to animals (they too may see things rather differently than we do!).

Equally, we do not tend to speculate too much about soul-matters which nobody can fully fathom or be certain about; and which are not central to living a full Jewish life.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

You might not agree with everything the Women of the Wall stands for, but when groups of Orthodox men start throwing rocks at them, even you must question how this represents “religious” behaviour? These women are trying to feel closer to God, but for that they are faced with violence.



Dear Louise,

Violence – especially at the holy site of the Kotel – is always reprehensible. It is never an appropriate method in Judaism to deal with theological or halachic issues and tends to bring religion into grave disrepute (which is referred to as ‘Chillul Hashem’).

The Women of the Wall are promulgating a point of view, one which both sides of the debate feel strongly about. I don’t want to comment here on the merits or otherwise of the opposing positions, save to say that whatever the end, foul means are never justified.

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