Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple

OzTorah: Torah reading – Ekev

100 A DAY. Cigarette smoking is now quite rare. When I was a boy things were different. Smokers who were trying to wean themselves off the habit used to boast, “I’m down to being a ten-a-day person”. Judaism of course has a strong tradition of declaring smoking to be a …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

ENTERING A CHURCH OR MOSQUE. Question.  May a Jew enter a church or mosque? Answer.  Jewish sentiment is wary of entering a church or mosque. Our historical memory of being compelled to attend Christian sermons cannot be easily effaced. But it’s not just a matter of history but of ideology. Whilst …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Va’et’channan.

SHEMA COMES TWICE. “Sh’ma Yisra’el” – “Hear, O Israel” – comes twice in this week’s reading – Deut. 5:1 and 6:4. The second instance is the famous one. The first passage is Moses announcing the Ten Commandments: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances…” In this Sh’ma, God has …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

DEALING WITH INTERMARRIAGE Question.  Should synagogues welcome people who have married out? Answer. Before addressing your specific question, two prior axioms: We have to encourage marriage as a principle, with the commitment that it brings to each other and to the future; and we have to encourage people to marry within …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – D’varim

A BIG DEAL. Moses never had an easy time as the leader. In the very first chapter of D’varim he tells the people that there are so many of them that he can’t handle the burden. How does he describe their vast numbers? “Like the stars of the heaven for …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

ONLY THE LIVING CAN REMEMBER. On Tishah B’Av, remembering is the rule. Tragedies happened, and we have to remember them. Not just the destruction of the Temple, indeed both Temples, but the long procession of calamities that accompanied all the ages. Every time of year has its historical memories; every …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Mass’ei

EFFORT & EXPENSES. Mass’ei is the travel diary of Israel in the wilderness, introduced with the words, “And Moses wrote down their goings forth on their journeys” (Num. 33:2). The word for “their goings forth” is “motza’eihem”. Since the root is “yatza”, to go out, the word could possibly mean …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

INCOME TAX & “FIDDLING THE BOOKS” Question.  Is there any halachic reason why I can’t “fiddle the books” when it comes to paying my income tax? Answer.  Being a part of society comes at a cost. A halachic rule stated in the name of the sage Sh’muel, “dina d’malchuta dina”, …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Mattot

VOWS & PROMISES. The portion begins with a whole section about making vows. From the halachic point of view, the making of vows is a major issue. The halachic analyses of the Kol Nidre with which Yom Kippur commences could take up a library (as could the literary and historical …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

WHO KEEPS THE CHILDREN? Question.  Are there any Jewish laws about which parent should have custody of the children after a divorce? Answer.  You can of course leave it all to the lawyers and the courts but it is better all round for you to agree on these crucial issues …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Pinchas.

WHY WAS HE PINCHAS? One of the favourite hobbies of Biblical scholars is tracing the etymology of the names in the Bible. The Tanach itself starts the process when it explains the names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and so many others. The Midrash continues and fills in many …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

MYSTICAL JUDAISM. Question.  Why does Judaism seem so earthly and practical? Why does it not focus more on mysticism? Answer.  It is true that mainstream Judaism seems to emphasise day-to-day religious practice, but this is not for lack of a sense of spirituality. On the contrary: it is, as Max …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Balak

THE JEWISH ENIGMA. Judaism owes a debt to the heathen prophet Bilam. Not only did he coin the immortal words, “Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov” – “How goodly are your tents, O Israel” (Num. 24:5). He also epitomised the world’s fascination with the Jewish people when he said, “How can I …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

FOLLOWING ORDERS. Question. What is the Jewish approach to the “I was only following orders” excuse used by soldiers (and others) who commit abuses? Answer. In Judaism the first instance of the problem arises in regard to Abraham, to whom God says, “Your descendants will be strangers in a strange land …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Chukkat.

  MOSES & AARON: PARTNERS IN GREATNESS. Parashat Chukkat tells us of the death of Aaron the high priest (Num. 20:22-29). Aaron’s career was twofold – as careful keeper of the ritual procedures of the sanctuary, and as counsellor and peace-maker for his community. According to Rashi, the whole of …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

WOMEN’S VOICES. Question. Why does Jewish law object to women singing in front of men? Answer. The rule derived from the Talmud (Ber. 24a etc.) is “kol b’ishah ervah” – “A woman’s voice arouses (desire)”. I will come back to the “b” in front of “ishah”, but let me first address …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Korach

MACHLOKET MAKERS. When Korach mutinied, Moses “fell on his face” (Num.16:4). Says Rashi, “Because of ‘machloket’ (disputes)”. We know that when scholars discuss and debate the Torah they put forward a range of interpretations. Sometimes their arguments become heated and noisy. Unpleasant scenes take place. Ugly things are said. What …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

OTHER WORLDS Question. Does Judaism accept the possibility of other worlds? Answer. We constantly make a distinction between “olam hazeh” – this world – and “olam haba” – the World to Come. But I don’t think this is what you are asking. Your question is more likely to be whether …

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Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi.

THE AGE OF THE WORLD. Question.  How can we square Jewish tradition, which says the world is 5774 years old, with the scientific view that posits a vastly longer period? Answer.  There is definitely a problem, which was already recognized in Tanach itself, especially in the Psalms. It was widely …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – B’ha’alot’cha

  THEIR OWN FLAME Various places in rabbinic literature discuss the name of this week’s reading. The rabbis wondered why the “When you kindle (the lights)”. The explanation they arrived at was that Aaron had to start off the lighting and then allow the flame to rise up by itself. …

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