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 we believe that there are or could be worlds other than the earth we live on.
From a theological point of view the answer is, “Why not?” Our concern, our sphere of activity, is this world, but there is no tenet of Judaism that insists that this is the only world.
The Book of Judges (5:23) speaks of an inhabited place called Maroz, which the Talmud (Mo’ed Katan 16a) identifies as a planet. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 3b) also speaks about eighteen thousand worlds which God inspects by night.
What the word “world” means in this context is not spelled out. The Midrash (B’reshit Rabbah 3:9) says that God made a number of other worlds before settling on this one and saying, “This one pleases Me: those did not please Me”.
Question. Why is a chapter from the Mishnah included in the Friday evening service?
Answer. The second chapter of the Mishnah Shabbat, “BaMeh Madlikin”, deals with the Shabbat lights. Some say it is read before the actual onset of Shabbat to remind anyone who has not yet kindled the lights to go and do so.
Another view sees it as an implicit attack on the Karaites who said that not kindling a fire on the Sabbath day meant not having a fire burning. Rabbinic Judaism believes that if a fire is lit or lights are kindled before Shabbat we may enjoy them during Shabbat.
ORGAN MUSIC IN THE SYNAGOGUE
Question. Why do (Orthodox) synagogues not allow the use of organ music?
Answer. In his “Jewish Law Faces Modern Problems”, Lord Jakobovits remarks that every community had its “makkat ham’dinah”, its local halachic problem. In Britain it was mixed choirs, in the United States mixed seating, in Hungary the removal of the bimah from the centre of the synagogue, and in Germany the introduction of the organ.
Instrumental music was in use in the Temple in Jerusalem on Shabbat, but this was a specific exemption to the general halachah. The rule is that it is not permitted to play an instrument on Shabbat on the basis of the prohibition against completing an object on Shabbat (Eruv. 104a). Maimonides explains (Hil’chot Shabbat 23:4; see also Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 338:1) that using an instrument “completes” it. A further consideration is that if a person who wants to play an instrument repairs it on Shabbat, this is also a transgression.
After the emancipation, orchestral music in the synagogue was used for state occasions held on weekdays, and instrumental music became customary at weddings. But halachic authorities strongly resisted the use of the organ on Sabbaths and festivals, and in some cases a candidate was refused rabbinic ordination unless he undertook not to officiate at an “organ” synagogue. In 1819 a rabbinic publication called Eileh Divrei HaB’rit ruled against playing the organ on Shabbat which was introduced by the Hamburg Reform temple, and stated that as well as a Jew not playing the organ him/herself, a non-Jew must not be instructed to play it.
Some even banned the organ on weekdays because instrumental music introduced a feeling of rejoicing that was inappropriate since the destruction of the Temple. They added that worship with the organ had become “chukkat hagoy”, a gentile custom.
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.