Q. Why are the prayers so repetitive and irrelevant and why does Kaddish come so often?
A. You are jumping to too many conclusions. Just because something is reiterated that doesn’t make it wrong.
What gets repeated in the prayers are major themes such as truth, goodness, mercy, faith, hope, love, peace and destiny. If there are extra things you want to pray for, pray for them.
The set prayers address themselves to God – fair enough, since He created the world and He is the one who governs it, and there is no reason not to acknowledge His role and applaud who He is, what He does, what He expects of us and what we expect of Him.
The fact that we say Kaddish so often is not because it’s a prayer about death (it isn’t) but because it praises God and yearns for His Kingdom, and this is inserted in various forms (some shorter, some longer) after each section of the service.
Just because there is a special role allotted to mourners in praising God, that doesn’t make Kaddish or any of its versions a memorial prayer – it simply says that precisely because a death has made it harder to praise God, that’s what a mourner should try to do.
A postscript: the worship service actually has three elements, not just one – prayers, psalms and readings.
The prayers speak to God, the psalms put us in a spiritual mood, and the readings inform and instruct us.
Q. When Orthodox Jews talk about “family purity”, what do they mean?
A. The Hebrew, “taharat hamishpachah”, covers the detailed laws of abstaining from sex during “niddah” – the monthly period of menstruation and the seven “clean” days – followed by immersion in the mikvah before the resumption of marital relations.
The laws of “taharat hamishpachah” are, like Shabbat and kashrut, commanded by the Torah.
Though not always easy to practise, “taharat hamishpachah” allows husband and wife to renew their marriage every month, it provides a time of privacy for the woman, and it challenges a couple to find non-physical ways of showing that they care for each other.
But the observance of these patterns is basically a Divine command which is followed out of love for the Creator and His Torah.
TORAH TEACHERS ON STRIKE.
Q. Academics sometimes go on strike. What does Jewish law say about Torah teachers striking?
A. It is a well known Jewish principle that someone with a grievance may even hold up the synagogue service in order to draw attention to their claims.
Whether this justifies strike action depends on the profession concerned.
As a general rule, anyone who provides an essential service must not place human life at risk by resorting to strike action. Hence doctors must not jeopardise a patient’s life or health by withdrawing their services.
Teachers of Torah must also not harm their pupils’ souls by cancelling Torah lessons.
Obviously a Torah teacher is entitled to protect his own interests, but not if it means denying Torah teaching. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein was prepared to countenance a brief work stoppage in really extreme circumstances.
He argued that financial stress and worry may affect the teacher’s effectiveness with the result that the Torah would suffer by the pupils being unable to learn properly.