Monday, May 29, 2017

Where does the Torah Mention the Obligation of Hair-Covering for Married Women?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Naso
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I’m having serious issues with head coverings. I am trying to understand the modesty aspect and I haven’t been able to find any place in the Torah that states that married women have to cover their hair. How do we know that women in the Bible actually covered their hair, perhaps the whole hair-covering business is something the Rabbis, who were men, made up? Even if women in the Torah did cover their hair, why would that imply that we must cover it now? If it is THAT important, why isn’t it implicit in the Torah?  Perhaps if I learned the deeper meaning behind women’s hair-covering, perhaps if I could connect with some underlying Kabbalistic reasons for married women’s hair-covering, then it may be easier. Otherwise, I really can’t pull this off in in the long run. Whenever I am around women who let their hair down, I don’t feel comfortable sticking out, so I can’t help letting my hair-covering slip. If you could please shed some light on this topic, it would mean a lot to me.
Ahuva Freeman (name changed)
Dear Ahuva,
Pre-wedding tichel party at B'erot!
As always, your questions show your deep desire to keep the mitzvot from a place of true connection. Certain mitzvot are not easy to keep when we live in a secular environment. From the time of the enlightenment period, when the Jews began to blend into the general society, the kipah was exchanged with a cap and women’s hair covering with an occasional doily. The ba’al teshuva movement beginning in the late sixties wove new strands into the fabric of the mitzvah of women’s hair covering. When I got married 36 years ago in Jerusalem, I had no qualms about covering my hair. On the contrary, I was excited to mark my entry into the realm of the married crowd with the crown of Jewish womanhood – the long flowing headscarf. However, When I look around today, I notice that not every woman in the orthodox camp share my enthusiasm about hair covering. Lately, the newest style has, in certain circles, reduced the mitzvah of women’s hair covering to a symbolic hair-covering. Some signify matrimony with a headband rather than using a proper hair covering. In our time at the verge of the final redemption, our secular environment greatly challenges the Torah world. This challenge prompts us delve deeper into the inner Torah (kabbalah) in order to truly connect with the mitzvot.

How do We Know that Married Women in the Bible Covered their Hair?
Before giving you a drop of Kabbalistic insights, I’d like to answer your question about how we know that women in the Bible indeed covered their hair. The Talmud (Ketubot 72a) learns the fact that married women would keep their hair covered from a passage describing the Sota – the woman who went astray. This woman, suspected of adultery, is brought before the Kohen.

ספר במדבר פרק ה פסוק יח וְהֶעֱמִיד הַכֹּהֵן אֶת הָאִשָּׁה לִפְנֵי הָשֵׁם וּפָרַע אֶת רֹאשׁ הָאִשָּׁה...
“Then the Kohen makes the woman stand before Hashem and makes the woman’s head wild…” (Bamidbar 5:18).

Note that it does not state, “Make the woman’s hair wild,” but rather, “make the woman’s head wild.” How would it be possible to disarrange the head of the woman any other way than by uncovering it? The root word, פָּרַע/para, used to describe what the Kohen does to the woman’s head is mentioned numerous times in the Bible. It usually means unrestrained, or uncovered. Thus Rashi expounds on the verse, “Now Moshe saw that the people were uncovered (פרע/fara), for Aaron had made them uncovered...” (Shemot 32:25), that the shame and disgrace of the people were revealed. Regarding the suspected adulteress, Rashi explains, AND HE SHALL PUT IN DISORDER [THE WOMAN’S HEAD] – i.e. he pulls apart her hair plaits in order to make her look despicable. We may learn from this that regarding [married] Jewish women, an uncovered head is a disgrace to them (Siphre). (Rashi, Bamidbar 5:18). Since the whole procedure describing the Sota aims at a scornful treatment of the woman who has by her own conduct subjected herself to suspicion, it follows that it was regarded as immodest for Jewish women to allow their hair to remain uncovered.

Why is Married Women’s Hair-covering not Mentioned Directly in the Torah?
If it is so important that married women cover their hair, why is it not written with an explicit command in the Torah? Why does it not state anywhere in the Torah, something like, ‘Every married woman must cover her hair’? Why must we learn about this mitzvah indirectly from the story of the Sota (suspected adulteress)? To answer this question, we need to understand that many important Torah laws are not written directly in the Torah. Rather, they are learned out through Talmudic exposition, based on the principles of the Torah. For example, most of the laws of Shabbat are not specified in the Torah. The Talmud learns the 39 forbidden creative works from the description of building the Tabernacle. The Torah itself states only, “Don’t do any work.” The kinds of prohibited works are not written directly in the Torah. Likewise, in regards to the laws of modesty, the written Torah states only the general law that “your camp shall be holy” and “you shall be holy.” It never states explicitly the laws of modest dress for women. Only in the Oral Law does it specify that the thighs, upper arms, and chest of a woman, and in the case of a married woman, also her hair, are considered her private parts. These other parts of our body that all women are commanded to cover, are not even hinted at in the Torah. Only the hair-covering of a married woman is considered a law from the Torah, based on our Torah verse regarding the sota (Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 72a; The Bach, Even Haezer 21).

Did the Rabbis Invent the Mitzvah of Hair-Covering?
The fact that many mitzvot are learned out through the Oral Law does not decrease their importance. Many mitzvot, which most observant Jews regard as the core of Judaism, are ‘only’ rabbinic- such as lighting the Shabbat and Chanukah candles, hearing the Megillah on Purim and reciting blessings before eating various foods. The Torah explicitly commands us to listen to the Torah leadership (the Rabbis) (Devarim 17:11). The Oral Torah is handed down in direct transmission from Sinai to Moshe. Therefore, the entire Torah legal system is based on having faith in Rabbinical authority. Even if the rationale of certain mitzvot are not always revealed to us, it is important to develop emunat chachamim (faith in our sages), and humbly realize the limitations of our own understanding. The rabbis didn’t just invent the mitzvah of hair-covering in order to disparage married women and make their lives miserable. There are deeper reasons for the importance of hair-covering for married women which is emphasized in halacha, midrash and in the Zohar.

Protecting the Gates of her Head
“From the hair of a person you can know who he is…” (Zohar, Naso, Idra Rabbah 129a).
Long or short, hair is very deep. It’s like the body and soul’s antennas transmitting energy from a higher realm, while also exuding the deepest, most inner parts of one’s being. The hair acts as conduits for our light and energy. I have seen numerous young women changing as they learn Torah in our program. The first thing to be affected when a person undergoes transformation is the hair. Hair is even affected by our moods. It could change from frizzy to wavy, stand out or lie flat. Rabbi Yehuda said, the hair of the head of the [married] woman that is revealed causes another hair to be revealed {that is the power of the sitra achra that clings to the hair}… (Zohar Chelek 3, Daf 125b-126a). Rabbi Chaim Kramer, in Anatomy of the Soul, explains that the Hebrew word for hair שער/sa’ar has the same letters as the Hebrew word for שער/sha’ar – gate. The hair of the head corresponds to the gates, for they are outside the head, protecting all that is inside, as a gate protects a building from outsiders. Before a woman is married, her ‘gates’ are open to allow the man of her life to enter. A married woman, however, needs to close her ‘gates’ in order to guard the holy union with her husband from every outside intruder. Even a woman who is no longer married needs extra guarding of her ‘gates.’ Once her ‘gates’ have been entered, and her private parts opened, she becomes vulnerable to extraneous forces. Only the man who holds the key to her ‘gates’ must be allowed in.  

The Attraction of a Woman’s Hair – Reserved for Her Husband
Our hair is very much an expression of our inner soul. It is very alive and can be very attractive and sexy. Even if it is not attractive, it still reveals something very deep from within our soul, which for a married woman, is reserved for her husband alone. You can be creative with the coverings, using several scarves in different colors, tying them in new and creative ways. Of course, some women prefer a fancy hat or even a wig. Hashem gave women the ability to attract a man with our hair. Once we have attained our man, the attraction of our hair needs to be hidden from men other than the one and only man in our life. It is something special about us, which is just for our husband to enjoy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How can I Celebrate Shabbat Camping out in the Wilderness?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Bamidbar

Dear Rebbetzin,
I’m an ardent nature-lover and there is nothing that makes me feel closer to Hashem than being surrounded by serene landscapes far away from the distractions of the bustling city. I enjoy going camping, praying at the seaside, watching the sun setting into its reflection in the ripples of the ocean and gazing at the starry sky from around the bonfire while the guitars are strumming. A friend and I would like to go camping at the Dead Sea during Parashat Bamidbar – the Shabbat prior to Shavuot in order to prepare ourselves spiritually for receiving the Torah. I assume there is no halachic problem with this. After all, the entire Jewish people camped in the wilderness also on Shabbat. Please let me know if there is anything I need to be aware of and any preparation I need to make in order to be able to keep all the laws of Shabbat properly while camping out.
Tzipporah Natura (name changed)

Dear Tzipporah,
Sounds like camping in the wilderness, the Shabbat before receiving the Torah, could be an awesome experience, provided that you make the effort in proper preparation. I actually wish I had the time to join you! The Torah, which was given in the desert was written with black fire upon white fire (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishit 1). In order to engrave the words of the Torah written with black fire in our hearts, we need to become like white fire – like a blank canvas or piece of paper, ready to receive new writing inspiration. I believe that the Torah was given in the desert because this place is the perfect vessel for receiving Torah. The silence of the vast emptiness of the desert cleansed the Israelites from their slave mentality. Likewise, the desert can purge us of our faulty beliefs, attitudes and negative emotions. The pristine wasteland is like a reset button on the computer- cleaning out all our old files to make room for the new. The bareness of the desert can open our hearts to receive. Yet, on a practical level, it is not so simple to keep Shabbat while camping out.

How Can I Carry On Shabbat in the Desert?
One of the 39 forbidden creative works on Shabbat is הוצאה/hotza’ah – carrying an object – regardless of its weight, size or purpose from a private to a public domain and vice versa, or carrying it more than four cubits (approximately 2 meters or 6 feet) within a public domain. Private and public do not refer to ownership, but rather, to the nature of the area. An enclosed area is considered a private domain, whereas an open area is considered public for the purposes of these laws. When living in Jerusalem, or in a Torah community, we are used to having an eruv. An eruv is a technical enclosure that surrounds both private and public domains, creating a large private domain in which carrying is permitted on Shabbat. When we spend Shabbat away from a Jewish community, in a place where there is no proper eruv, we cannot carry even a book out to a park. If you would like, for example, to take your siddur to pray outside of the tent, when camping on Shabbat, you need to learn the laws of how to construct an eruv. You must also plan to arrive at your campsite at least three hours prior to Shabbat, in order to have enough time to build it.

Basic Guidelines for Building an Eruv
It is permissible to carry in a closed structure with walls or a fence, etc. If there are no real walls, or if a wall is missing, you can create an enclosure with poles and strings. The easiest way to construct an enclosure is by using fishing line that connects from one pole to the next. The reason to use fishing line rather than  rope is that it stays straight. This is important because a sagging eruv line or one that moves around in the wind isn’t kosher. The poles have to be at least ten tefachim tall (80 cm). They need to be a bit longer in order to drive them into the ground, so they should be at least a meter each (3 feet). If you are camping out for only one Shabbat, four thin pieces of bamboo will suffice in constructing a square around your camp site. Drive a nail into the top of each pole. You could incorporate some of the natural terrain in your eruv such as a cliff wall, very thick bushes, or impassable brush. I recommend that you consult your rabbi about how to build an eruv as building an eruv is a fairly complex halachic endeavor. The Talmudic tractate Eruvin is considered to be one of the most difficult tractates. Look for more details on this website

Shabbat Meals in the Wilderness
I can’t imagine spending a Shabbat anywhere without a source of fresh unsalted water. It would be quite hard to schlep all the handwashing water in addition to your drinking water. (A schlep it is going to be in any circumstance.) You will need a good size icebox to bring food for an entire Shabbat. Make sure the food is already prepared and plan meals that can be eaten cold such as wholesome bread, lox, salads and dips… I suggest keeping all your food in the icebox including breads and cakes to avoid invading ants and other crawling creatures. It would be a good idea to bring a battery-powered lamp, lantern or strong flashlight and keep it on for the entire Shabbat so you will have some light Friday night. I also suggest bringing a glass box such as what we use for our Chanukah candles, to insure that your Shabbat candles won’t blow in the wind, or even worse blow out. You may be able to keep your Friday night meal hot if you arrange to have your food kept warm  on top of covered embers before Shabbat goes in. You can relight your bonfire after Shabbat goes out for a spirited havdalah around a campfire.

Safety Suggestions
I suggest that you pack a fully charged cellphone, charger, extra food, at least two extra liters of water, appropriate clothes, emergency supplies and your list of emergency phone numbers. You may include a first aid kit with band aids, bandages and antiseptic wipes, rescue remedy and herbal pain reliever. During the day, protect yourself from the hot desert sun with a large brim hat. Wear lose cotton clothes that cover most of your body including your neck. After Shabbat, make sure to take out your trash and adhere to the principles of ‘Leave No Trace.’

Finding Your Personal Portion in the Torah
With all these preparations, for the sake of experiencing a holy Shabbat while camping out in the Holy Land, I’m positive that your Shabbat in the Desert is going to be an unforgettable experience. This is your opportunity for meditative reflection to really tune into your own soul and finding yourself and your personal portion in the Torah. Each of the Israelites camped around the Ark of the Covenant containing The Ten Commandments. Each person was associated with his own tribe and camped under the appropriate flag as it states,

ספר במדבר פרק א (נב) וְחָנוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ עַל מַחֲנֵהוּ וְאִישׁ עַל דִּגְלוֹ לְצִבְאֹתָם:
“The Israelites encamped in their own camp, each person according to his troop and by his flag” (Bamidbar 1:52). 

Each Israelite camped in their personal space and specific angle in relationship to the Ark of the Torah. Likewise, today, we all need to find our individual portion in the Torah while simultaneously knowing our place within the community. The Shabbat prior to Shavuot is the most suitable time to realign ourselves with our personal portion in the Torah and our true place within the Jewish community. What more appropriate place for such alignment than in the wilderness of the Holy Land? 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How do I Deal with Reminders of My Non-Jewish Past?

Ask the Rebbetzin! - Parashat Behar/Bechukotai
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin,
I’m a recent convert who grew up in a devout Catholic family. For many years, I lived in a convent where I became a teacher and preacher. The more I delved into the Bible, the more I discovered inconsistencies in the Catholic faith. This eventually led me to discover the truth of Judaism. I am not hiding my past, but I am weary of always being reminded of my former life, wherever I go. I know people are well meaning and just curious. Most have never met someone who used to be a nun in a catholic convent, and they find my story fascinating. However, I have worked so hard to detach myself from my background, so it is quite annoying when, for example, at a Shabbat table someone will ask me, “So tell us Yehudit, what does Catholicism have to say on such and such topic?” I would much rather discuss what the Torah has to say without having to constantly refer back to my prior faith, which I’m trying so hard to forget. It is also a bit embarrassing for me to be reminded of my Catholic background in front of everyone, when what I desire most is to fit in, gain acceptance and feel part of the Jewish community to which I now belong. I don’t want to be rude, but I am beginning to become more and more resentful to the constant inquiries about my prior connection to and knowledge of Catholicism. How can I politely make people leave me alone and stop prying into my prior life?
Yehudit Baldwin (name changed)

Dear Yehudit,
First of all, I want to strengthen you in your desire to detach yourself from your past and deflect the constant reminders of your Catholic background. The Torah indeed recognizes the discomfort it may cause converts to be reminded about their former life. This is included in prohibited speech called Ona’at Devarim, which means verbal mistreatment. It entails saying things that would pain, make angry, hurt, frighten, bother or embarrass another person. So, according to the Torah, you are indeed entitled to be annoyed when people remind you that you used to be a Catholic teacher! However, are well-meaning questions from the Jewish community really considered Ona’at Devarim and how are you supposed to respond when you are faced with these kinds of probing questions?

Defining אונאת דברים/Ona’at Devarim
אונאה/Ona’ah is mentioned twice in Parashat Behar:
ספר ויקרא פרק כה (יד) וְכִי תִמְכְּרוּ מִמְכָּר לַעֲמִיתֶךָ אוֹ קָנֹה מִיַּד עֲמִיתֶךָ אַל תּוֹנוּ אִישׁ אֶת אָחִיו:
“When you sell property from your neighbor or buy any from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another” (Vayikra 25:14). Rashi explains this verse to refer to deception in monetary matters.

ספר ויקרא פרק כה (יז) וְלֹא תוֹנוּ אִישׁ אֶת עֲמִיתוֹ וְיָרֵאתָ מֵאֱלֹהֶיךָ כִּי אֲנִי הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:
“Do not wrong one another, but fear Your G-d, for I am Hashem your G-d” (Vayikra 25:17). 
Rashi explains that this verse refers to verbal oppression (wounding a person’s feelings). One should not annoy his fellow, nor give him advice which is unfitting for him, but rather in accordance with the plan and the advantage of the adviser. In case you would say, “Who knows if I had any intention to harm the person?” Scripture states, “But you shall fear G-d”! He Who knows the thoughts of people, He knows it!…

There are thus three forms of ona’ah. Besides dishonesty in business (Vayikra 25:14), there are two forms of verbal oppression (Vayikra 25:17). 1. Verbally misleading or tricking another and 2. Verbally causing pain or discomfort to another. Included in this is the commandment of “You shall love your fellow as yourself,” for if one causes pain to another for no reason, one is certainly transgressing the Mitzvah of treating every Jew in a loving manner.

The Talmud’s Examples of אונאת דברים/Ona’at Devarim
Just as there is a prohibition against exploitation [ona’ah] in buying and selling, so is there ona’ah in statements, i.e., verbal mistreatment. One may not say to a seller: For how much are you selling this item, if he does not wish to purchase it. He thereby upsets the seller when the deal fails to materialize. One may not say to a Ba’al Teshuva: Remember your former deeds. If one is the child of converts, one may not say to him: Remember the deeds of your ancestors, as it states, “You shall not mistreat a convert, neither shall you oppress him” (Shemot 22:20). If one is a convert and he came to study Torah, one may not say to him: Does the mouth that ate carcasses, repugnant creatures, and creeping animals, come to study Torah that was stated from the mouth of the Almighty? If torments are afflicting a person, if illnesses are afflicting him, or if he is burying his children, one may not speak to him in the manner that the friends of Iyov spoke to him: “Is not your fear of G-d your confidence, and your hope the integrity of your ways? Remember, I beseech you, whoever perished, being innocent?” (Iyov 4:6–7). Certainly, you sinned, as otherwise you would not have suffered misfortune (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 58b). Speaking in this fashion is prohibited from the Torah, as the Shulchan Aruch repeats the abovementioned examples word for word (Choshen Mishpat 228, 1-5). Furthermore, Ona'at Devarim is more severe than Monetary Oppression because a person feels more distressed when his feelings are hurt; and money earned dishonestly can be returned, whereas, hurt feelings cannot be undone (Ibid. 1). 

Verbal Abuse?
It is still questionable whether people who remind you of your Catholic background with their questions are indeed transgressing the prohibition against אונאת דברים/Ona’at Devarim, since their questions are not outwardly denigrating. They are not putting you down for having eaten unkosher food or worshipped idols etc. They may not even know that their questions are causing you discomfort. On the contrary, perhaps they think that they are showing you respect by requesting you to enlighten them about matters in which they themselves are ignorant. However, we must be extra sensitive and careful not to offend a convert in even the slightest way, as the Torah mentions numerous times that we must be kind to the convert. Since the convert comes from the outside and naturally wants to fit in, it can be expected that he or she is more vulnerable and sensitive even to well-meaning comments. The Shulchan Aruch states, “One needs to be most careful not to oppress the convert...” (Choshen Mishpat 228, 2). Likewise, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Lubawitz in his sicha from Mem Hei, seems to indicate that one is not allowed to remind a convert of his origins at all. Although, it seems that the halacha prohibits reminding a convert of his origins only when one’s intention is to denigrate him, the Rebbe writes, whatever it states in regards to the children of converts applies also to the actual convert, as a child of converts is also called a convert. He is completely separate from the nations of the world, even more than other Jews who were never part of the other nations. Thus, it is also not permitted to remind an actual convert about his background at all (Sichos of Rabbi Scheersohn of Lubawitz, 1980 ש"פ, אחו"ק).

The Holy Lineage of Righteous Converts
A convert who gave up so much to become part of the Jewish people deserves the greatest respect. When people make you uncomfortable with questions referring to your non-Jewish background, try not to take it personally. It is very likely they have such high regards for converts that they cannot imagine that any comment about your non-Jewish background could in any way be insulting. They also most likely are not aware that their questions or comments could be against halacha. You may gently remind them by responding something like, “I am not comfortable discussing these matters.” Know that once you have converted, you are no less a Jew than anyone else. As we prepare ourselves to receive the Torah on Shavuot we are reminded that every Jew was a convert. Moreover, Shavuot celebrates the birthday of King David who descended from Ruth the righteous “Jew by Choice.” 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Why Can’t I Marry a Kohen?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Emor
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin,
I’ve been divorced for more than ten years and am really exasperated by being set up with one weirdo after the other without being suggested even one decent man to date. I’m sick and tired of being alone and look forward to sharing my life with a quality man that shares my values and interests. Last month, at a social event, I met the nicest man. He was polite, intelligent, had a sense of humor and very attractive. Even more so, he showed a great interest in me and seemed to really understand me. You can only imagine my disappointment when I found out that he is a Kohen and prohibited from marrying a divorced woman. I’m so frustrated about this and have a very hard time understanding this law. Why does the Torah have to be so restrictive preventing two single people from sharing their love and life? 
Marian Willner (name changed)

Dear Marian,
How I feel for you in your loneliness and frustration. After all these years, you finally found a man of your heart and then it turns out that the Torah prohibits a marriage between you. The man with whom you fell in love seems to be like any other Jewish man, and the fact that he happens to be a Kohen doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in our current reality. So, in your case, it is indeed hard to understand why the Torah seems so cruel.

The Spiritual Leadership of the Kohen
The Blessing of the Kohanim 
at the Kotel during Sukkot
The Torah laws preserve the eternal reality even if at a given time they may seem irrelevant. Today, a Kohen may appear no different than any other Jew, however, we need to understand his being selected for special holiness. The Kohen was given the role of the foremost religious leader of the Jewish people. He served in the Temple and was exclusively involved in the study and practice of the Torah and the spiritual development of Israel. His ancestry is from the most distinguished family – a direct descendant of Aharon the High Priest. Throughout Jewish History, the Kohen was granted the highest status of communal leadership, together with the king, the prophet, the judge and the scholar. Whereas, the king provided national stability, the judge social stability, the Kohen provided religious stability and continuity. He connected people with Hashem through offering the sacrifices; he was a spiritual healer, a judge and a teacher. Thus, it was vital to preserve the purity of the Kohen’s heredity. Therefore, due to the special holiness of the Kohen, the Torah places certain restrictions on him: He is forbidden any contact with the dead, except for his own immediate family and the abandoned dead; and there are restrictions regarding whom he is permitted to marry.

The Role of the Kohen in Our Time
Unlike the determination of Jew or non-Jew, which follows the mother, the tribe is passed down from the father. The Kohen inherits his status from his father and bequeaths it in turn to his son. While the primary functions of the Kohen have been suspended since the destruction of the Temple, certain functions remain. He delivers the Kohanim blessing in the synagogue on holidays in the Diaspora and daily in Israel; and he officiates as the representative of the Temple in Pidyion HaBen (Redemption of the First-Born) thirty days after the birth of a first-born male. He is called first to the Torah, and he has the privilege of leading the grace after meals. Just as the Kohen has certain honors, he also has certain restrictions. To maintain the purity of the Kohen’s lineage he was kept to stricter marriage standards than his Jewish brothers.

The Marriage Restrictions of the Kohen
Parashat Emor opens with restrictions for the Kohanim (Vayikra 21:1-8), in order to preserve their special holiness. Since they are designated by G-d to serve Him in a more intimate capacity that other Jews, they are required to maintain a higher spiritual level. Their marriage restrictions are sandwiched between two Torah verses emphasizing the additional holiness of the Kohanim. “They shall be holy unto their G‑d, and not profane the name of their G‑d, for the offerings of the Lord made by fire, the bread of their G‑d, they do offer; therefore shall they be holy” (Vayikra 21:6). The following verse emphasizes the strict requirements for their family purity. This includes the prohibitive commandment that forbids a Kohen from marrying a divorced woman as it states:

ספר ויקרא פרק כא פסוק ז אִשָּׁה זֹנָה וַחֲלָלָה לֹא יִקָּחוּ וְאִשָּׁה גְּרוּשָׁה מֵאִישָׁהּ לֹא יִקָּחוּ כִּי קָדשׁ הוּא לֵאלֹהָיו:
“They shall not take as wife a zonah (woman who has violated sexual prohibitions), or chalalah (woman of defective Kohen status); neither shall they marry a gerushah (divorced woman); for he is holy unto his G‑d” (Vayikra 21:7).

The following Torah verse instructs the Israelites to honor the Kohen: “You shall sanctify him because he offers the bread of your G‑d; he shall be holy to you; for I Hashem, Who sanctify you, am holy” (Vayikra 21:8). The wordקָדוֹשׁ /kadosh – ‘holy’ means separate. This is learned from the fact that the first time the word appears in the Torah is in connection with the Shabbat which is separate from the six days of creation (Bereishit 2:3). Likewise, the additional holiness of the Kohen is distinguished by certain separations. Although a regular Kohen is not restricted to marry only a virgin, he is prohibited from marrying certain women who have had an intimate relationship with another man. He is prohibited from marrying a divorcee (even his own divorced wife); a chalalah (woman of defective Kohen status), zonah (a woman who previously violated certain sexual prohibitions, including having relations with a non-Jew), or a giyoret (convert). If he marries any of them, their children likewise become chalalim (defective Kohanim). Sons do not have priestly status, and daughters may not marry kohanim. Thus a woman who is Jewish from birth, not a challalah and never married, may marry a Kohen even though she has had premarital relations, provided none of her partners were prohibited to her.

The Kohen’s Prohibition from Marrying a Divorcee does not Reflect any Blemish in Her

The prohibition of a Kohen to marry certain women seems somewhat condescending to these women, especially in light of the Torah’s reasoning that a Kohen is required to be קָדוֹשׁ /kadosh – ‘holy,’ implying that a divorcee is an inappropriate wife for one who is holy!  Why does the Torah penalize a woman who had a bad marriage, through no fault of her own, and has now met a Kohen who wants to give her a new life? Did not Amram, father of Miriam and Aharon, remarry Yocheved after divorcing her, who then gave birth to the holy Moshe Rabbeinu? I was mulling over this question for quite a while, unsatisfied with the answers I found on the net, until my husband came up with an answer that truly made sense. Since the Kohen is a direct descendant from Aharon, who is known to be the peacemaker in Israel, who “loves shalom and pursues shalom” (Pirkei Avot 1:12), the role of the Kohanim, as well, is to restore peace between family members, neighbors, friends and most importantly between husband and wife. Therefore, the lineage of the Kohen precludes the divorcee, whose marriage did not succeed. In order to preserve the ability of the Kohen to fulfill his elevated role properly, the seed of the Kohen must spring only from Jewish offspring of stable lasting marriages.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Honoring Parents

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Acharei Mot/Kodoshim
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Dear Rebbetzin,
I’m a new Ba’alat Teshuva learning to keep the Torah and Mitzvot, but I’m struggling with how to keep the mitzvah of respecting my parents. They want me to go to college and get a secular education, but I want to go to Israel and learn in a Yeshiva for women. Every night at the dinner table we fight about this issue, and sometimes I get so upset that I use bad words and call them duped, narrow minded and ruthless. Then I feel terrible and remember that I have a mitzvah to respect my parents and even fear them. Does that imply that I have to do what they want and enroll in college?
Jenny Wise (name changed)

Dear Jenny,
Rebbetzin with her father in Denmark, April 2017
What you are going through is not easy. You are developing your own identity separate from your parents who are not religious. You want to live your own life, but your parents are adamant that you get a secular education so you will be able to support yourself. You are torn in your desire to follow your heart and soul to immerse yourself in Torah in the Holy Land, while keeping the mitzvot of honoring and fearing your parents. Your discussions with your parents have turned into unproductive confrontations where your temper gets the better of you, and you later regret your disrespectful words. So how can you live your own life and still respect your parents when they demand that you obey them doing the opposite of your soul’s calling?

The Mitzvah to Obey Parents
Parashat Kedoshim teaches us the mitzvah to fear our parents, which can be hard to relate to in our times when it is popular to love but not fear and we are encouraged to do whatever we feel like.

ספר ויקרא פרק יט (ג) אִישׁ אִמּוֹ וְאָבִיו תִּירָאוּ וְאֶת שַׁבְּתֹתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ אֲנִי הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:
“A person must fear his mother and father but keep my Shabbats, I am Hashem Your G-d” (Vayikra 19:3).

What is the difference between “honoring” and “fearing” our parents? Honoring includes: giving them to eat and drink, assisting them to dress, helping them enter or leave a room or building i.e.  picking them up and driving them back to where they want to go, and in general to take care of their physical needs. On the other hand, the mitzvah to fear one’s parents includes: not sitting or standing in their place, and not contradicting their words (Babylonian Talmud, Kedushin 31b). Not contradicting their words entails obeying our parents if they tell us to do a particular action. Therefore, whenever possible we should try to fulfill our parent’s request. However, if the parent will not benefit directly, whereas the child will suffer some type of loss by obeying, the child is exempt from complying with their request (Sefer Mora Horim u’Chvodam 1:50). It is not clear whether this exemption applies to you, since it is possible to say that your parents indeed will benefit from your ability to gain the means to make your own livelihood and no longer depend on their financial support.

Fear and Respect Parents Without Infringing on Mitzvah Observance
So do you really have to give up your dream to learn Torah in Israel in order to keep the mitzvah of fearing your parents? “…But you shall keep my Shabbats…” – Scripture places the mitzvah of keeping the Shabbat immediately after that of fearing one’s parents in order to suggest the following: “Although I admonish you regarding the fear due to your parents, yet if they bid you to desecrate the Shabbat do not listen to them. The same is the case with any of the other mitzvot. This is evident, since Scripture adds, “I am Hashem your (plural) G-d,”– both you and your parents are equally bound to honor Me (Rashi, Vayikra 19:3). 

The Mitzvah of Learning Torah in Israel Overrides the Mitzvah to Obey Parents
From this we learn that a Jewish person must fear his Jewish parents only as long as respecting them does not infringe on mitzvah observance. For example, if your parents tell you to turn on a light for them on Shabbat, you may not obey. Likewise, you are not obligated to honor your parents by living outside of Israel in order to be geographically close to them, since it is a mitzvah in the Torah for every Jew to live in Israel. Yishuv HaAretz – Settling in the Land of Israel takes precedence over all mitzvot, for it is the only mitzvah that overrides a rabbinic ruling relating to the Shabbat. The Rabbis allow a Jew to purchase a home in Eretz Yisrael on Shabbat, if necessary, even if this entails violating the prohibition to tell a non-Jew to violate Shabbat on his behalf (Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 8b and Bava Kama 80b with Tosafot). Likewise, the mitzvah of learning Torah outweighs all other mitzvot (Mishna Peah 1:1). Therefore, although this goes against your parents’ wishes, the mitzvah of learning Torah in Israel overrides the mitzvah to obey them.

Three Partners in Creation
Although you are exempt from complying with your parents’ desires when doing so would disobey Hashem and His Torah, you still need to go about your life in the most respectful way possible. It is of utmost importance to respect our parents in in every possible way without transgressing the Torah. This is because the creation of a child includes the partnership between three: Hashem and both of our parents. Therefore, by disrespecting our parents we also disrespect Hashem, G-d forbid. Raising our voice and using insulting words towards our parents could border to the prohibition of cursing them, which is very serious, as it states in Parashat Kedoshim:

ספר ויקרא פרק כ (ט) כִּי אִישׁ אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יְקַלֵּל אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אִמּוֹ מוֹת יוּמָת אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ קִלֵּל דָּמָיו בּוֹ:
“For any person who curses (insults) his father or his mother shall be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon himself” (Vayikra 20:9).

רמב"ן על ויקרא פרק כ פסוק ט וטעם כי איש איש אשר יקלל את אביו ואת אמו יחזור לראש הפרשה שאמר איש אמו ואביו תיראו ואמר כאן כי איש איש אשר לא ישמע (וכו') [בקולי] ומקלל אביו ואמו מות יומת ועל דרך האמת, בעבור שאמר (פסוק ז) והתקדשתם והייתם קדושים כי אני ה' אלהיכם, ואמר (בפסוק ח) אני ה' מקדשכם, כי השם הנכבד הוא המקדש אותנו, כי הוא אבינו וגואלנו מעולם הוא שמו, אם כן המקלל את המשתתפין ביצירה חייב מיתה...
The reason that anyone who cursed his father or his mother is liable for the death penalty is connected to the beginning of the parasha commanding us to fear our mother and his father.  It states here, that anyone who does not listen to My voice but curses his father or mother shall die. We can understand this in light of the statement, “You shall sanctify yourself and be holy for I am Hashem” (Vayikra 20:7), and “for I am Hashem who sanctifies you” (Ibid. 8). For the honorable Hashem sanctifies us, he is our father and redeemer, His Name is eternal. Therefore, the blasphemer of any of the partners in his own creation is liable for the death penalty (Ramban, Vayikra 20:9).

Speaking Respectfully to Our Parents
We need to work on controlling ourselves and learn to speak in a respectful manner to our parents, even when they press our buttons. In the cases when we are exempt from doing their will, we still must try our hardest to avoid a confrontation with our parents. Make an effort not to contradict their words, but rather express yourself in the positive way. Thus, instead of saying, “There is no way I will go to college…” you may say something like, “I really want to go to Yeshiva in Israel for now, but it is likely I will go to college at a future time.” We are indeed indebted to our parents for bringing us into this world and for the struggles they had along the way. Denying this debt transgresses the will of G-d. Once we learn to really respect our parents we can move on to recognizing Hashem’s greatness and all he has done for us, bringing us into the world and fulfilling all our needs. When we engage in active appreciation for our parents, we will eventually realize how much physical, emotional, and spiritual support they have given us throughout our lives. Thus, we must respect our parents where respect is deserved (Based on Sefer HaChinuch 33:4).