OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.




Question.  Can Jews learn anything from the tragedy of the missing Malaysian Airlines plane?

Answer.  The search for the missing aircraft raises countless problems including some halachic issues. The Hallel psalms tell us clearly,

“The heavens are the heavens of the Lord: the earth He has given to human beings” (Psalm 115:16),

which seems to regard human movement through the skies as defying God and encroaching on His territory like the builders of Babel (Gen. 11). But even in Biblical times a different view prevailed; Psalm 139:8 speaks about ascending to the skies.

Today the motivation of air travel is not theological effrontery but using a quick way to get from point to point. Not only does this assist human beings in enriching their lives but it gives them more opportunities to perform mitzvot.

Air travel was far from practicable in ancient days; Maimonides already points out in the 12th century, “the theoretical sciences were deficient in those days” (Moreh N’vuchim 3:14). It was far from safe, and there were and are clear halachic rulings against placing oneself in a risky situation. Now, despite the Malaysian Airlines occurrence, air travel has become one of the safest means of transport, and sophisticated technology enhances its reliability and safety.

For Jews, travelling by air adds to one’s spirituality: it helps us to understand and appreciate the grandeur of the Divine Creation and to recognise the wisdom of the Psalmist, who said,

“The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:2).

It also reminds us to acknowledge the need for Divine protection: the Psalmist says of the skies,

“Even there does Your hand guide me” (Psalm 139:8-10).




Question. Eggs from types of birds such as the eagle would not be kosher, but how can chicken eggs be kosher, since we don’t know the bird is kosher until it has been slaughtered?

Answer.  Birds of “unclean” species are ruled out in principle.

The bird hunter of ancient Egypt. This beautifully detailed wall-painting of 1400 B.C. shows a government official hunting birds with his wife and daughter.

In regard to “clean” species, we apply a probability principle. Most birds from such species are kosher; we can use their eggs unless we know the bird has a defect that would make it non-kosher. The same applies to cow’s milk.

Why do we examine the lungs of a slaughtered cow and not rely on the probability principle? Because lungs have a high rate of problems and we want to be sure (Chullin 12a and Rashi).




Question.  Why is Yom HaSho’ah on 27 nisan?

Answer.  The date was chosen by the Israeli Knesset for reasons that are unclear. To many people, other dates seem preferable, e.g. 10 Tevet, a fast day marking the destruction of the Temple; or – the more obvious choice – Tishah B’Av, the major day of commemoration.

The choice of 27 Nisan may be to mark the end of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, though the uprising continued for at least another week, or because a date before Yom Atzma’ut denotes the relationship of the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel.

The date in Nisan creates halachic problems for observant Jews who do not say Tachanun (supplicatory prayers) during that month.




Question.  On what dates in the Omer do we not have weddings?

Answer.  The customs vary between communities. Some folklorists argue that the whole issue only arose when European culture frowned on weddings during the month of May and say that the Jews followed suit.

The traditional Jewish idea is that because Rabbi Akiva’s students perished during the Omer period, gravely affecting both the Jewish struggle against the Romans and the survival of Jewish learning and practice, we avoid weddings and other celebrations (though engagements are permitted) as a mark of mourning.

The dates during which we refrain from celebrations are differently calculated. The two main customs are:
1. From the 2nd day of Pesach until the 33rd day of the Omer (Lag Ba’Omer).
2. From Iyyar 2 until Erev Shavu’ot (except for Lag Ba’Omer).

The Anglo-Jewish custom (Minhag Anglia) was to avoid music and celebrations throughout Iyyar except for Lag Ba’Omer. Some rabbis allow weddings on Yom Atzma’ut.



Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. Now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

He Blogs: at http://www.oztorah.com

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