OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.



Question.  Is there anything in Judaism that forbids touching up and distorting camera images in order to deceive the public?

1768 parchment by Jekuthiel Sofer emulated the 1675 Ten Commandments at the Amsterdam Esnoga synagogue.

Answer.    It is one of the great tragedies of the contemporary world. Though the Ten Commandments forbid the bearing of false witness, here we have false witness paraded before our eyes every day. No longer is it true that the camera does not lie. The fact is that the camera does lie, or rather the people that operate the camera use it to peddle falsehoods that are so dangerous that they can destroy our own civilisation.

If they do it for financial or political gain they are a particularly insidious form of mercenaries. The Bible calls mercenaries “Och’lei Shulchan Izevel” – “People who eat at Jezebel’s table”, because Ahab’s wife Jezebel hired mercenaries to say whatever she programmed them to say.

How do we control the misuse and abuse of the camera and indeed of the power of the pen and of human speech?

If the media and those who control it do not want, Samson-like, to bring the global edifice crashing down around them, they have to work fast and work hard to formulate an ethic. I wish I could say that the United Nations should do something about it but I suspect that the organisation has lost so much credibility that it too is among the “Och’lei Shulchan Izevel”.



Question.  Why does this Hebrew month have two names?

Zodiac in a 6th-century synagogue at Beit Alpha, Israel.

Answer.     The full name is “Mar-Cheshvan”; the abbreviated version is Cheshvan. My professor of SemiticStudies was of the view that Mar-Cheshvan is linguistically a mixed-up version of an original Babylonian name which means “the eighth month” in Hebrew, “yerach sh’mini”. If you count the months from Nisan it works out that Tishri is the seventh month, which is how the Torah describes it, and Mar-Cheshvan must logically be the eighth.

There is a tradition however that because the month has no festivals or even fasts it was “mar” – bitter. This is said to explain why the name became literally “Bitter Cheshvan”. Another view recognises that this is when the winter rains begin, and there is a phrase “mar mid’li” – “a drop in the bucket” (Isaiah 40:15) – which may have contributed to the name of the month. The original Biblical Hebrew name for the eighth month was Bul (I Kings 6:38). The zodiac sign for Mar-Cheshvan is the scorpion.



Question.  How can the second commandment say that there must be no other “gods” before God?

Answer.       The intention was obvious. The gods of the heathens must not be acknowledged, worshipped or served. This is clear from the many other references to “other gods”. Hence the commentators call them “the gods of others”, “what others call gods”, “gods made by others”, and even, linking “acher” (“other”) with a root that means “to be late”, “gods that prevent goodness from coming into the world”.

But the real issue is whether these gods deserve to be called gods at all; is there not one only God, with (as “Adon Olam” puts it), “no other to compare with Him, to be His equal”? The answer is that they are not real gods. They are described as gods only from the viewpoint of those who believe in them.

The sages were asked by some of the Roman philosophers why God allows such “gods” to exist at all. “Why,” said the sages,

“should God destroy the essential things like sun, moon and stars merely because there are fools who believe in them?”

The philosophers then asked,

“So let Him destroy the unessential things that people worship!”

The sages answered,

“If He did that, people would say the other things really are gods.” One sage added, “God will not destroy the world on account of the fools. Life goes on, and the fools who spoil things will eventually have to pay for their folly” (Yalkut Shim’oni 288).

Today the array of “gods” is perhaps even more dazzling than in ancient days – food, money, sex, sport, status… the list is endless. Shall God destroy food because some people are gluttonous? Shall He destroy money because it rules some people’s lives? Shall He destroy sex because some people have no restraint, or sport because some are obsessed with it, or status because some have to make themselves higher than others?

A sensible person will recognise that God has given mankind many blessings, acknowledge that it is from Him that these boons flow, and use them wisely, sensibly and well.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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