Q. Why do we say Amen after certain prayers?
A. From one point of view, saying Amen shows that we care.
When you hear a statement of fact or opinion and are concerned enough to say Amen, you are not indifferent or apathetic.
You know there are some things which are right and some which are wrong, and you have the courage to endorse the right thing even when it makes you unpopular.
The liturgical rules insist that Amen is said clearly, not too early and not too late.
Amen creates a connection between the officiant and the congregation, who are duty bound to respond with Amen when they hear a blessing.
The general rule is that one does not say Amen after one’s own b’rachah. There are two exceptions, one after “boneh b’rachamav Yerushalayim” in the Grace After Meals, and the other at the end of the b’rachah prior to the Shema when one is praying privately.
In the latter case, one says “E-l Melech Ne’eman” (“God, Faithful King”), the initial letters of which make up Amen.
The liturgical use of Amen is found in the Torah, though in Temple times the pious response was “Baruch Shem K’vodo L’olam Va’ed” or one of its variants and it appears that Amen only came into its own in the synagogue.
Q. What makes cheese kosher? What can be non-kosher about ordinary cheese?
A. To get milk to curdle and turn into cheese, a small amount of a substance called rennet is added. This is extracted from the stomach of young calves.
Kosher cheese uses rennet taken from the stomach of animals slaughtered according to shechitah.
The Mishnah says that “if a person curdles milk with the skin of the stomach of an animal that was properly slaughtered and it imparts its flavour to the milk, it is forbidden” (Chullin 8:5); when rennet is used the quantity is too small to affect the flavour of the milk (Yoreh De’ah 87:11).
Alternatively, it is possible to use a completely vegetarian rennet.
There is a second objection to non-kosher cheese.
There is a rabbinic prohibition of “non-Jewish” cheese. This applies even when that the cheese contains only kosher ingredients.
Therefore, in order to be kosher, the cheese must have been made or its manufacture supervised by a religiously reliable Jewish person.
The supervisor ensures that the machinery is completely clean, that only kosher rennet is used and, preferably, that by means of a token payment s/he is the owner of the milk.
Q. Does Judaism accept the possibility of other worlds?
A. 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 spelt 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”.
Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Jewish religious issues. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com