OzTorah from Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple

Written and Submitted by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple..



Question. At this time of year some people in my block of apartments have social gatherings round the pool which are annoying with their noise and loud music. What does Jewish teaching say about neighbours and privacy?

Answer. Jewish ethics has long-established principles regulating the behaviour of people who live in or around a joint courtyard.

One may not, for example, have a door or window directly facing those of a neighbour; when Bilam said,

“How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling-places, O Israel” (Num. 24:2-4), the rabbis say he was praising the fact that “the openings of their tents were not aligned one opposite the other” (Bava Batra 60a).

If partners divide a courtyard into two individual lots, each may require that the other share in building a dividing wall (B.B. 2a). All the neighbours are duty bound to respect and contribute towards the privacy and security of each other, and towards the protection of the city as a whole (B.B. 7b).

An unacceptable level of noise is in its own way an intrusion upon a neighbour’s privacy and rights of enjoyment, and in addition to protecting oneself from such intrusion, Jewish law obligates one to avoid personally carrying out such acts.


Question.  How can you really be certain that you are a Kohen?

Answer.. A family surname is some help. Not just Cohen, but also Cahn, Kahn, Kahan, etc.; even Katz (or any of its variations): this stands for “kohen tzedek”, righteous priest. But none of these names is a guarantee of priestly lineage, nor is family tradition.

Few of us can trace our descent back more than three generations, though some families have always been scrupulous in preserving genealogical records. One such priestly family is the Adlers: father and son, Nathan Marcus Adler and Hermann Adler, occupied the British Chief Rabbinate from 1845 to 1911, and they traced their yichus back through centuries of kohanim.

But genetic research has come to our aid. “Geographical”, the magazine of the Royal Geographical Society (September, 1998), carries an article entitled “Bodies of Evidence”, in which Dr Mark Thomas of University College London reports on genetic investigation into Jews who claim to be kohanim.

“We looked at the Y chromosome,” says Dr Thomas, “which is only passed on through men, of Cohens from Jewish communities worldwide. We found they’re all much the same. And, since part of the Y chromosome is known to mutate at a regular rate (at about 0.2 per cent per generation), we’ve been able to estimate the time distance from the common ancestor of all Cohens by looking at the number of changes between the different Cohens. We’ve now done this in Ashkenazi Cohens and in Sephardi Cohens and got the same date.”

The date has been traced to about 3000 years ago (Jewish tradition considers the Exodus was about 3300 years ago; the priestly office came into being shortly thereafter).


Question. Why did the Vilna Ga’on object to the Chassidim so much?

Answer. It seems to be part of a long-entrenched dichotomy. How do you serve God best? One view stresses the heart, the other emphasises the mind.

The early Chassidim tended to follow the first line, worshipping with their emotions and passions. The Vilna Ga’on preferred a rational approach, using the intellect to ascend higher and higher towards ultimate truth.

As time went on the two approaches found a modus vivendi and most Chassidic movements came to appreciate the importance of study and using the mind as well as the heart. The “Mit’nag’dim” (“opponents”) expressed their view in the creation of yeshivot, especially the famous Volozhiner Yeshivah in Lithuania. It taught that the world could only exist by virtue of Torah study, which showed how every halachah exemplified the grandeur and infinity of the Creator’s Mind.

Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple Blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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