Ask the Rabbi – 18/09/2013

Ask the Rabbi – 18/09/2013

With Rabbi Reuben Livingstone.


Dear Rabbi,

As a child I used to love Simchat Torah, as I could join in with all the celebrations. But now I find it very unfair that women cannot dance with the Torah scrolls and enjoy this day as much as the men!

Is there any reason this can’t be allowed?



Dear Sarah,

The Jewish custom of dancing with Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah is an ancient one – but originally this involved men [and children] but not women, in accordance with the general norm.

At the same time, there is no reason for women not to dance with a Sefer Torah in the women’s section as long as doing so will not arouse local conflict which will have the effect of splitting the community. This certainly applies to a synagogue where such a practice has already existed in the past and is not controversial.

If a synagogue should propose to introduce women’s dancing with a Sefer Torah as a brand new custom, and many members oppose this, then I believe that, instead of ripping the community apart, the accepted custom should generally prevail until a peaceful consensus can be obtained.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

Why do we wait a year before placing a stone at the grave of a loved one? Why can’t it not be done sooner – or even straight away?



Dear Richard,

It certainly can be done earlier than a year but there are variations in local custom. In Israel it is widespread practice to put up the stone after 30 days – at the conclusion of the initial ‘Shloshim’ mourning period.

In many UK communities the stone is put up at a suit- able point within the first year. In other communities the custom is specifically to wait until the year has passed and then consecrate the stone.

The best way forward is simply to decide which option is most suitable for the family and consult the rele- vant burial authority to work out a mutually acceptable date.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

My beloved dog, who is very much a part of our family, is now 15 years old and we know that he probably will not go on for much longer.

I’ve always dreaded when the ‘time’ finally comes, but it also worries me from a Jewish point of view if there are any issues over putting an animal to sleep? Also, are we allowed to bury or cremate him after he dies?



Dear Lawrence,

The Torah places particular emphasis on the humane treatment of animals under our care. Causing unnecessary pain and distress is strictly forbidden under the rules of ‘Tsar Baalei Chaim’ (inflicting suffering on living creatures). It follows, therefore, that there will be situations when it will be kinder to put an animal to sleep in order to forestall any further misery and, therefore, this will be permitted.

However, it should be highlighted, that the halachic framework is very different for humans. Regarding your second question, there is nothing wrong per se in burying or cremating a pet – except that an animal should not be treated as a human and given a formal service. It would not, however, be out of order to wish your dog long life.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

Why do we have four weeks of back-to-back Jewish holidays throughout Tishri and then absolutely nothing the next month? The month of Cheshvan is known as Mar-Cheshvan (‘Bitter Cheshvan’) because of this – so why not put in a new holiday?



Dear Yehudit,

The Tishri holy days are not really separate but linked around the themes of penance, renewal, and thanksgiving and something of a single journey. Therefore, the ‘Days of Awe’ from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur actually continue until Hoshana Rabbah at the conclusion of Sukkot.

As for adding a festival, don’t you think that after such a busy Tishri we might benefit from a pause during the month of Cheshvan?[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

On Shemini Atzeret we say the prayer for rain. Is it possible to say it at any other time of the year or can we say it only on this day?



Dear Shulamit,

The prayer is recited at the end of Sukkot and not the beginning because we don’t want to pray for rain while still fulfilling the mitzvah of dwelling in the Sukkah.

Shemini Atzeret marks the moment when we begin saying the winter prayer, Mashiv ha ruah u-morid hagashem, praising God for caus- ing rain to fall. Given the agricultural economy of ancient Israel and the long dry spells that were the reality of that climate, praying for rain or dew represented a central aspect of early worship, particularly as drought meant hunger and death.[divider_top]

• Rabbi Reuben Livingstone is the Jewish chaplain to Her Majesty’s Forces. Rabbi Schochet returns to Ask The Rabbi next week.

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