Q. What does Jewish law say about wearing fur coats?
A. The late Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Chayyim David Halevi, deals with this issue in his volume of responsa (“Mayim Chayyim”, vol. 2, 1995).
He reports that a member of the Israeli public approached him after observing a demonstration against fur coats outside a hall in Tel Aviv where a cantorial concert was taking place. Since some of the mostly orthodox concert audience were wearing fur coats, he presumed that they were implying that whatever God created, including the animals, was given to man to use, and therefore it must be acceptable to kill animals in order to make fur coats.
The questioner asked, however, why people could not wear woollen garments instead if they wanted to dress well and warmly.
Rabbi Halevi points out in his response that though both man and the animals were created by God, man is the pinnacle of creation and has Divine sanction to use animals for human benefit.
Thus the eating of meat, which obviously entails slaughtering animals, is permitted by the Torah, but hunting animals for the purpose of enjoyment or entertainment is not permissible.
Some, but by no means all rabbis allow animals to be killed for the sake of their furs, but even then it must be done swiftly and without causing suffering to the animal.
It is forbidden to kill animals painfully “in order to beautify and warm oneself with their skins”.
It is clearly better to use wool, since wool shearing does not require the death of the animal.
Q. What does the phrase “Orthodox Judaism” mean?
A. What separates orthodoxy from non-orthodoxy is their attitude to halachah.
Orthodoxy stands for and upon halachah: non-orthodoxy gives it a vote but not a veto. Halachah sees Judaism as the path on which one should walk. That path derives from Torah, which covers the whole of life.
The source and authority of the Torah is God, who empowered each generation’s teachers to interpret and apply the written text. This is done in the Talmud and the range of rabbinic literature.
Some rabbis were mystics, others rationalists. Some were prosaic, others poetic. All were committed to living halachically, though there were secessionist movements like the Karaites and, from the 19th century, Reform. The 19th century also saw the rise of Historical Judaism, more or less the same as American Conservatism, which is not quite Orthodox, not quite Reform.
Today orthodoxy is growing, with increased levels of Jewish learning and observance. Its concern extends to professional and commercial ethics, intellectual property and scientific truth – in short, everywhere.
Q. Is the number 13 unlucky for Jews?
A. Jews have no problem with the number 13. The Christian world was responsible for the anti-13 syndrome, which still leads some bingo callers to say “13 – unlucky for some”.
Jews never shared that superstition. For us 13 has a positive connotation. God has 13 attributes of mercy. Jewish tradition has 13 tenets of faith.
There are 13 interpretive rules when studying the Torah. “Echad”, one, the symbol of God’s uniqueness, has three letters whose numerical values add up to 13.
A boy reaches legal maturity at 13. Moses is said to have written 13 copies of the Torah.
“Echad Mi Yode’a”, the Seder night “numbers” song, has 13 verses. There is even a theory that eating breakfast has 13 advantages.
The number 13 also figures in the life story of many of the sages.