Ask the Rabbi: ‘See the Torah as a guidebook’

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Ask the Rabbi: ‘See the Torah as a guidebook’

Rabbi Reuven Livingstone answers readers’ questions in his weekly column, Ask the Rabbi.

Reuven Livingstone

See the Torah as a guidebook

Dear Rabbi

Why is there so much violence and fighting in the Torah? What does this teach?


Dear Adam

The Torah is not actually replete with violence and fighting, although elements of it is certainly present throughout. The real answer is that the Torah is a guidebook to life and, as such, reflects the lived experience of the Jewish people alongside many commandments and other religious and moral dimensions.ASK THE RABBI 2

Although not a history book per se, it rightly contains a chronicle of significant events from which we need to learn. Indeed, many of the episodes of conflict stand as extremely valuable eternal lessons.

Furthermore, sometimes a just war is absolutely necessary and even commanded by the Torah; while at other times we need to learn how to avoid conflict and violence and mistakes of the past. I think if you cast a fair eye on the world in which we currently live, it becomes plain that, sadly, violence and war still plague and challenge us.

We are as needy as we ever were for the Torah’s spiritual perspective on such things!

In a Jewish high holy daze!

Dear Rabbi

Have soft drugs such as marijuana ever been linked to serving God and getting closer to Him?


Dear Benjamin

The Talmud teaches us to aim for moderation and a balanced degree of temperance in all things. The adverse effects of alcohol and other substances are well known to our rabbis, who urge caution in over-using and abusing them.

The Torah, moreover, implores us to take optimal care of our health and never knowingly to damage our bodies. At the same time, anything that distorts our consciousness interferes with our own spiritual efforts and ends up taking us further from God. For these reasons, I believe the Jewish view on cannabis would not be permissive.

The only exception would, perhaps, be if there is a valid medical reason such as chronic pain relief – and, of course, providing it is legal to use it for that purpose.

Moses’ lesson about humility

Dear Rabbi

Isn’t Moses the opposite of humble if he is able to write in the Torah about his modesty? It is full of lines about how great he is?


Dear Gila

Your question is an ancient one, with many answers having been given over the ages. One approach, which I like, suggests that this teaches us that humility is not about disavowing one’s own gifts and talents.

On the contrary, in order to make the best of ourselves and the opportunities life offers, we need to know our strengths and aptitudes and not ignore them.

The point is that one should embrace one’s advantages while remaining humble enough to remember always that these are gifts from God and therefore not something we have any right to be arrogant about.

When Moses writes of his own humility, he is acknowledging his spiritual uniqueness but not allowing any of it to go to his head. This enables him to harness his powers and become a confident and effective leader while avoiding the common pitfall of becoming haughty and inaccessible.

Encouraging a friend’s beliefs

Dear Rabbi

Should I encourage my friend to pursue her Judaism? Whenever I try to do so she becomes really sensitive and upset.


Dear Sarah

Rather than preaching or encouraging overtly, it is often far better to be a good rolemodel in terms of how you live your life and how you behave as a friend.

She may well be very open to your positive unspoken influence even if she is sensitive about being told what to do!

Fish and the schechita laws

Dear Rabbi

Why don’t fish need shechita?


Dear Abigail

The only kosher requirement for fish is that they have fins and scales.

The Torah first alludes to what we consider shechita in the story of Joseph and his brothers. There, it clearly applies only to animals – as it does in relation to the Temple sacrifices.

There are also several scriptural references that distinguish fish from cattle.

As a result, the rabbis consider fish to be in a wholly different category which does not require any form of ritual slaughter or indeed other form of ‘purification’.

As such, fish blood is permissible – always – unlike land animals; and there is no prohibition on mixing it with milk (although for different reasons, we have a tradition not to cook it with meat and some even have a custom not to combine fish and milk!).

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