Ask the Rabbi: ‘Why do we think we’re better?’

Ask the Rabbi: ‘Why do we think we’re better?’

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

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Cosmetic help for prospects

Dear Rabbi,

I’m an unmarried woman in my 20s and have gone on various shidduchim. I feel some cosmetic surgery might improve my romantic prospects. Is this a direct violation of Jewish law?


Dear Fiona,

You ask an interesting and increasingly pertinent question! Generally, the Halacha does not approve of unnecessary elective surgery because of the prohibition against self-wounding and putting oneself at risk.

That said, there are circumstances where this can be allowed. If someone has an imperfection that is causing significant mental or physical distress and adversely impacting on well-being and self-confidence – or, indeed, general health – then there can be a good basis to allow cosmetic correction. This may logically, therefore, encompass scenarios where one’s life prospects are being compromised.

All this pertains to actual surgery, but other beauty treatments that are non-invasive and generally seen as safe carry no such issues.

A word of warning, though: Do be careful before rushing to conclude that there is anything about you that needs fixing. Finding one’s ‘basherter’ is not always an easy or quick process – even for the most cosmetically beautiful people! Good luck.

Contraception for my ill wife

Dear Rabbi,

My young wife has sadly become mentally unstable. It would be dangerous for her to become pregnant as she would be unable to look after a child. Should she take contraceptive pills owing to these circumstances? Joshua

Dear Joshua,

If you have been advised that your wife would be in danger – psychologically or physically – then there is little doubt that it would not be right Halachically for her to contemplate becoming pregnant.

Once that is the case, then oral contraception is one of the optimal alternatives for her. This will hopefully change for the better over time and the situation, therefore, ought to be reviewed regularly – both from a medical perspective and in terms of seeking Halachic guidance as things progress.

Why do we think we’re better?

Dear Rabbi,

Scanning this week’s Torah portion, I stumbled on the famous verse: “You cannot curse this nation, because it is blessed.”. Do we Jews think we’re better than other nations? Could this be the origin of anti- Semitism? Shouldn’t God promote equality between His creations?


Dear Rebecca,

This is a thoughtful question, but the context of the verse needs to be better understood to provide an answer.

The sorcerer Balaam is being warned that he is not to curse the Jews at a time when God is seeking to bless them with success in their journey to the Holy Land. It is a warning against Balaam’s malign intentions to thwart them in contradiction to the divine plan at that moment.

This does not mean that the Israelites would always be in such a state of grace; indeed the Torah is full of very different examples where we have sadly fallen out of favour.

We should, therefore, never see ourselves as being ‘superior’ to others. If we are ‘chosen’ – and that is not actually an expression taken from Jewish sources – it is in the sense that we have a distinct spiritual role and destiny in the world – something that does not exclude or denigrate the rest of humankind. God is certainly an ‘equal opportunity’ Creator!

Jewish view on being veggie

Dear Rabbi,

I’m strongly opposed to animal cruelty so have decided that I would like to be a vegetarian. What’s the Jewish view on this? Since we are commanded “Thou shalt not kill”, does vegetarianism clearly follow Jewish traditions?


Dear Robert,

There is nothing wrong with being vegetarian. Although it is true that Jewish tradition encourages meat eating on Shabbat and especially festivals, if one does not personally enjoy or approve, then it is permitted to find a more personally suitable option.

Rabbi Isaac HaCohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine (prior to the founding of the State of Israel) was a committed vegetarian for ideological reasons. He saw meat eating as less spiritually desirable in the eyes of the Torah and drew heavily on rabbinic sources that describe how mankind will revert to not killing animals – as was the case prior to the great flood.

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