OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

Question.   How can a rabbi be called “Apple”?

Answer.      “Apple” happens to be a distinguished, historic Jewish surname. In ancient times there were four

The Twelve Tribes of Israel | Jewish Virtual Library. Credit: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org

leading Jewish families descended from the tribe of Judah – Min HaTappuchim or De Pommis (“Apple”), Adumim or De Rossi (“The Red Ones”), HaZ’kenim (“The Old Ones”) and HaAnavim or De Nonci (“The Modest Ones”).

The De Pommis family were significant in Italian Jewish history and produced leading scholars such as Nathan ben Yechiel of Rome who compiled the famous lexicon, the Aruch (though the Jewish Encyclopedia says that Nathan came from the Anavim family).

The Hungarian version of the Apple family were called Alma. In Russian it was Yablotchnik. The actual origin of the Tappuchim – De Pommis – Alma – Yablotchnik – Apple family may be apple-like rosy cheeks. It is possible that my family is part of this historic tradition, though it is also possible that my paternal ancestors grew or sold apples in Eastern Europe.

Let me add that there may be a connection with families called Redapple or Goldapple. In England there was a Rabbi Apfel who came from Germany (I used to tell people he was an apple from a different tree!).


Question.   Why do we say “Yeyasher Kochachem” to the kohanim after they have blessed us?

Answer.      One might think no expression of thanks is necessary since it is a God-given duty to bless the people. But what we say is not really “Thank you” but “May your strength increase”, i.e. “May you carry out your task many times in the future”.

Others add that a kohen could have chosen any synagogue in which to pronounce the blessing, so we appreciate his choice of this synagogue and this congregation. Some say that there is always a doubt as to whether a person really is a kohen and our greetings imply that we accept his assumption of the kohanic role.


Question.   Why are so few orthodox rabbis involved in interfaith dialogue?

Answer.      It is true that a visible feature of the Christian-Jewish dialogue is the invisibility of the orthodox rabbis, so much so that Israel’s chief rabbis have surprised many by having meetings with Christian leaders.

The dialogue movement has the involvement of modern orthodox rabbis is a number of countries, but most of their colleagues, whether modern orthodox or – especially – charedi, take no interest and warn against any involvement.

The reasons include the following:

* Jews have suffered so much from Christians that they only want to be left alone.

* Jews suspect that Christians still want to proselytise them.

* Jews believe that Christianity has no real respect for Judaism.

* Jews see religion as a personal matter that cannot be discussed with outsiders.

* Jews see all faiths as the product of particular historical circumstances which outsiders cannot share.

* Jews respect the conscience of adherents of all faiths and see no reason for them to subject their beliefs to scrutiny.

* Jews see strengthening Judaism as a more urgent task.

* Jews see working together to improve society as more important than talking about religious concepts.

* Jews see Christianity as only one philosophy in a broader spectrum and feel that good relations with others may be more important.

These are arguments put forward at different times and with differing emphases by rabbinic figures such as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik, Professor Eliezer Berkovits and others.

However, those rabbis who do participate in the dialogue argue that every human group needs to be on good terms, especially those which foster a spiritual and ethical approach to the world. They argue that Christianity is trying to overcome its anti-Jewish past and its hand of friendship should not be spurned.

They also argue that the Christian-Jewish dialogue is generally not “dialogue” in the deepest sense, in which the partners enter into each others mind, soul and being, and when engaged in judiciously, the dialogue improves the climate of relationships.


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.
Blog: http://www.oztorah.com

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