OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.


Written and Submitted by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple.


Question. Where do we get the phrase, “A Good Samaritan?”

Answer. The original Samaritans were descendants of the northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh with an admixture of foreign colonists brought in by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, after the year 722 BCE, when Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. Because their capital was Samaria (II Chron. 34:9, Jer. 4:5), they became known as Samaritans.

They themselves claimed that their name came from “shom’rim” – “the observant ones”, and that theirs was the true faith. Though they accepted some Jewish practices, their religion differed from normative Judaism. Their Bible was the Five Books of Moses with a number of Samaritan variants, e.g. that the place Divinely chosen for the sanctuary was Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritan temple stood.

Mount Gerizim from Mount Ebal

They did not possess or follow the rabbinic tradition. They believed that Pesach could be celebrated only at Gerizim, where lambs were sacrificed, roasted and eaten. Their Shavu’ot was always on a Sunday because they interpreted a Biblical verse (Lev. 23:15) as commanding that the seven weeks of the Omer had to begin on a Sunday. Lulav and Etrog were not known. Rosh HaShanah was called “Yom T’ruah”. They had two semi-festivals, 60 days before Pesach and Sukkot respectively, when their priests issued semi-yearly calendars.

A minor tractate of the Talmud known as Kutim deems them in most respects as non-Jews and rules that Jews may not marry them. The tractate ends with the statement, “When will they be accepted into the Jewish community? When they renounce Mount Gerizim and acknowledge Jerusalem and the resurrection of the dead” (Soncino ed., p. 621).

After the first Temple was destroyed, the Samaritans offered help in rebuilding it, but their assistance was rejected as a threat to the religious integrity of Judaism (Ezra 4:2-3).

Jesus had contact with the Samaritans (John 4:4-5); he cited as an instance of good neighbourliness a “good” Samaritan who came to the rescue of a man who had been attacked, when a priest and Levite allegedly “went past on the other side” (Luke 10:25-37).


Question.  My rabbi gets upset when people come to Synagogue for Yahrzeits but are never seen at other times. Is he right?

Answer.  I don’t think so. I went through something similar as a young rabbi when a shule member who never came on Shabbat because his business was open that day still came every morning to say Kaddish when one of his parents died. With youthful wisdom I decided it wasn’t right to let him conduct the service; now with the greater wisdom of an old-timer I have decided I was wrong.

Honouring your parents is one of the Ten Commandments and if a person comes to shule for this purpose who am I to deny him or her the opportunity to do a mitzvah?

A person has to make a beginning somewhere, and why not with Yahrzeit?

 Yahrzeit*… anniversary of a death


Out of sheer kindness you sometimes ask a friend, “How are you?” and the answer is, “You shouldn’t ask… my head hurts, my back hurts, my legs hurt; I’m going to the doctor, the physiotherapist, the acupuncturist, the psychiatrist, all the ‘ists you can think of. How am I? You shouldn’t ask!”

In Judaism, the rule is quite different. On Pesach, for example, you should, you must ask. Without the questions there would be no Seder. Questions are part of every aspect of Jewish life. The questions are sometimes for rabbis; on religious and ethical issues, one must use the rabbi for information and guidance. Sometimes our questions are for God; one that Moses addressed to the Almighty echoes through the ages – “Why do You deal harshly with Your people?” Sometimes the questions are for ourselves; at the very beginning of history God asks Adam, “Where are you?”

The one thing that a Jew should not do is to imagine that “M’darf nicht fregen” – “one shouldn’t ask questions”. Nor should one say, “Az m’fregt a sha’olah, iz treif” – “if you ask a question, the answer is always no!”

Abraham, Moses, Job, Rabbi Akiva… all asked God difficult questions about how He ran the universe, and God did not remove them from Jewish history. God gave us minds and expects us to use them. So what if the questions we ask of other people, God, or ourselves are difficult? It is said that a chief rabbi of London, Hirschel Levin, was asked why he was leaving and he answered, “Because that’s the first question anyone has asked me!”

In today’s world so much is happening, and we dare not squash or suppress our curiosity. In Jewish life likewise. The Midrash says that when a child asks, “What is Judaism?” it is a bad sign because there is ignorance; but a good sign, because there is interest.

Where do you find answers? Buy books and read them. Attend courses and classes, and get your mind working. Find a mentor, and ask questions. Use the electronic media; the Internet is a remarkable source of stimulation. Above all, never pretend that you know enough and are comfortable with the sort of Jew you are. The best Jew is the one who every day is trying to become a better Jew.

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