Posts in Ask the Rabbi

My Wife Wants to be Cremated

September 12th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 37 comments

My wife has stage 4 cervical cancer and is not healthy enough for the standard treatments. We are preparing for the worst but praying for the best. 

She has expressed a desire to be cremated.  It’s cheaper, and when I pass I will  be interned at Arlington as I am a veteran.  It sounded OK to me at first but I’m having reservations.

Your thoughts, should a Jew or a Christian consider cremation?

Robert H.

Dear Robert,

We are moved by your words, “We are preparing for the worst but praying for the best,” and pray that God responds favorably to your prayers.

While we love teaching what the Torah says we aren’t comfortable telling you as a Christian how to act. We recommend that you discuss this with a respected mentor and/or clergy from your own faith.

We can tell you that in Torah Judaism, proper treatment of the body after death is defined as burial, just as God told Adam toward the end of Genesis chapter 3. This is so important that, for faithful Jews, even if one’s parents expressed their wishes to be cremated, their children may not carry out those wishes. The idea is that after death, the parents will have entered a World of Truth and will be appalled that they ever wanted to do something counter to God’s law. As such, giving them a proper burial is actually following their final wishes.

When the soul leaves the body at the time of death, the body’s purpose for being no longer exists. However, as the vehicle that allowed the soul to interact with the world it requires special treatment. Part of that treatment requires a gradual return to the earth via burial rather than the abrupt return via cremation.

You might find it interesting that a Torah scroll and other holy writings as well as printed prayer books and Bibles are never thrown out. They are also buried in the ground.

In addition, resurrection of the dead is a central tenet of Judaism. Choosing to treat the body as if it will never be needed again could be seen as rejecting that belief.

It sounds like two things might be troubling your wife. Is she upset that since you are a veteran and will be buried at Arlington, the two of you will not be together? Does she feel that no one will care where she lies?

You also mention that she is concerned with the cost. Perhaps she would feel differently if you assured her that you would rather have a cemetery plot to visit than more dollars in your pocket.

We pray that the two of you find moments of peace and joy during this difficult time,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Am I too intimidating to get married?

September 5th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 22 comments

I have listened to your analysis of romantic relationships and am left wondering what your best advice is to a charming, active, healthy, financially well off, single woman who is over 50 who dearly misses the intimacies of married life?

I am called intimidating and “a tough act to follow”.

Janet

Dear  Janet,

As always, we start with the disclaimer that without knowing you personally we might be way off the mark in our advice. However, we hope we can at least encourage you in the right direction.

You certainly have a lot going for you. At the risk of sounding completely politically incorrect (all right, we enjoy being politically incorrect but it still is risky in our “gotcha” society) perhaps you have too much going for you?

How can that possibly be? As hard as the social engineers have tried to change human nature, men still thrill to being needed. We don’t know who calls you intimidating and a “tough act to follow,” but whoever is doing so may be trying to point you in the right direction.

We aren’t suggesting that you give away your money or damage your health. We certainly would encourage you to stay charming and active. We don’t mean that you should hide your intelligence or conceal your competence. But perhaps you could nurture a softer side of yourself?

We have a suspicion that not only might this help your love life, but it could help friendships as well. Practice giving your point of view in a gentler way and allowing others to speak without pointing out their mistakes. Allow others to take care of you rather than always being in the leadership role. You might even try dressing in ways that are more feminine and soft.

We hope that you will rediscover a part of you that you might have suppressed and that will round out your character.  We sincerely wish you speedy success in meeting a worthy partner.

Gently yours,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Egypt- a place and also a situation. We’re all in Egypt at some time and need to get out.

Let My People Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges
and Escape Your Own Egypt

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I disagree with what you said

August 29th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 32 comments

(We received this comment in response to a recent Thought Tool, Egypt Made Me Do It, discussing the Biblical message not to focus on past evils. We felt that it was a worthy question for this format.)

I respectfully do not at all understand your belief that Jews do not focus on the past problems but focus on the future.

I love Jewish people and study the Bible through your perspective but it seems Jewish people and suffering go together like a dog and his bone.

I see many movies and TV shows, there are holy days reminding us of your suffering, and it seems one cannot talk about Jewish issues without bringing up the Holocaust. 

I’m not criticizing this observation and I do not feel it’s wrong, but to say Jews look toward to the future and do not think of the horrors of the past is just not so. Anyway that’s my take. Love your instruction and guidance as you have opened my eyes to truth and understanding. 

Lee S.

Dear Lee,

We appreciate your response and imagine that it is shared by many who may be less willing than you to pose challenging questions to us. We based that Thought Tool, as we do all our teachings, on God’s wisdom. Sadly, we human beings, and certainly Jews, often fail to follow His wisdom.

Imagine a future archeologist reports that 60% of American Jews of the early 21st century were registered Democrats. Does this mean that being a Democrat is a Jewish value? Of course not. Just because many Jews do something means it is average but not normal or necessarily correct. Most of the Jews chose not to leave Egypt with Moses but it was the wrong decision.

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Government Jobs

August 22nd, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

As you teach in your books and podcasts, to have money in my wallet is a sign that I pleased another human being, a sign of clear virtue. Since I work in private sector, I hold this to be self evident.

This clarity got severely shaken by a friend of mine. He has recently graduated, master in chemistry. Despite his little experience he cashes in extraordinary sums of money. How? Simple, he has 4 parallel jobs, all of them for the government funded university. These jobs are not demanding at all, while averagely paid. Since nearly NO results are required of him, he can manage 4 of them at the same time. Although averagely paid, four times average is still a great deal of money. And yes, it is legal.

What bothers me is, how does he know he pleased another human being? The university spends public money and cares not for the results as long as the money is spent. How should we look at the usefulness of government paid employees?

This example is from Europe, where about 50% of all the transactions are government related. There is a great deal of people who make their living this way.

May the lord bless you,

Martin

Dear Martin,

I (Rabbi Daniel Lapin) frequently speak in public about money. I sometimes ask everyone to take out a dollar bill and hold it in the air. I then ask anyone who got that dollar by mugging a little old lady on the way to my talk to put it away. I then ask those who got the dollar by robbing a convenience store to put it away as well. The rest of the people, I say, can know that they got the money by pleasing another person.

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Can I keep my children safe?

August 15th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 2 comments

Michelle Carter was just sentenced in the text message case [where she was found to encourage a young man to commit suicide and didn’t call for help when he did so]. Is there a moral equivalent in the Bible by which one could instruct their children so that they do not go down the path of either of the participants in this event? 

Is it possible that both were equally mentally disturbed and this is only an anomaly? Is social media distorting our mores and morals?

 How would a parent use scripture to keep their children on the correct path when young people are so absorbed in social media to the point it takes over their life, personality, and time?

Michael G. 

 

Dear Michael,

You actually asked four interesting questions tucked inside your letter. In the case you reference, a young woman was sentenced for encouraging her boyfriend’s suicide. It got attention because there was a trail of text messages detailing her words. Yet, from a moral perspective (rather than a legal one because of proof) there is no difference between this case and one that might have taken place decades ago with conversation substituting for texts. Urging someone to take his life, whether by letter, speech, texts or skywriting is wrong. The message is the problem, not the medium.

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How far does the 5th Commandment go?

August 9th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 14 comments

Does the 5th commandment also apply to relatives who had a major role in my life?

I am very new to the Jewish teachings. Pastor Larry Huch talked about you and said you were good friends so I looked you up on the internet and have been listening to you since. In all my 13 years in church, I have never heard anyone teach what you teach. I appreciate the materials you make available to all.

Here is a matter that I need to lay to rest.

I was born and raised in the Ivory Coast, a country with too many ethnic divisions. My mom told me in the tradition of their ethnic heritage the aunt (the mother’s sister) is really my mother. That’s what they have been believing for years. So that’s how in 1998, my aunt and her husband who had 3 sons, paid my way to come and live with them in the U.S. b/c “she doesn’t have any daughter” my mom told me. I was 15 and left my parents, siblings and friends back in the Ivory Coast.

My relatives paid my way through high school and college. At a price. I was the one doing all the household chores out of duty. Cooking, cleaning up after them, doing dishes on Christian holidays while her husband and sons play video games and surf the internet. In all honesty, I spent 10 miserable years living with them and do not remember a happy day. I don’t like their personalities and being around them. There was always the “you owe us” attitude.

Fast forward today, I live alone and The Good Lord has given me a job. I still have my mother in the Ivory Coast that I take care of on a regular basis. My dad is 73 and retired. They are divorced and both of them do not have any financial savings. So their financial help falls on me b/c my 2 siblings are not helping at all. The younger, 30 years old, has cut contact with the family and the older, 36 years old only cares about her.

I feel a financial obligation only toward my relatives (even though, I did not live with them for free) b/c they paid my way through school, along with food, housing, clothes, medical bills etc… so I send them some money, when I can on an irregular basis but according to them, it is not enough. My aunt doesn’t want to work so she stays home all day and her husband makes a six figure salary, more than me. Their 3 sons are living their own lives. My mom tells me I need to do what they are supposed to do and I refuse to shoulder their responsibilities toward their own parents.

I don’t have enough finances to take care of 2 sets of parents and build a life of my own. I don’t feel a “5th commandment” mandate toward my aunt and my uncle. They consider themselves as my parents but I do not. My mind has never accepted them as my mother and father according to their ethnic tradition. The 5th commandment only applies to my mother in the Ivory Coast and my 73 year old retired father.

What does the Torah and ancient Jewish wisdom have to say about this kind of situation? 

Thank you for helping.

Neal

Dear Neal,

We tend to shy away from letters as long as yours, but we found your story so riveting that we made an exception. We are also tremendously fond of Pastors Larry and Tiz Huch, and appreciate that you found us through them.

One of the issues you raise is the challenges that come up when someone replaces one cultural or religious tradition with another one. This is a common theme that plays out when a child immigrates to a new country with its own way of life. The pattern and understanding that an aunt is like your mother, isn’t one that you accept. While this may be painful for your family to hear, the “rules” they are holding over your head don’t apply to you.

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Too Many Gifts?

August 2nd, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 18 comments

A small coffee shop recently opened in my town and I visit them every day for coffee and sometimes a pastry. Because I enjoy the food and I appreciate being able to have a friendly conversation with the owner, and occasionally get a free refill on coffee, I like to leave a tip in the jar. Sometimes I’m even given free pastries, which are wonderful fresh-baked creations by the owner’s wife, typically sold for a few dollars. I’ve even been given whole loaves of bread for free. 

Here is where my dilemma comes in. I don’t like to go around looking for hand-outs or expecting gifts; I prefer to pay for whatever I receive. However, I understand and respect that people like to give gifts without expecting anything in return. I’m the same way.

I understand that the coffee shop owner and his wife are likely allowing me their extra goods because it creates customer loyalty and it is also a sign of their appreciation for my patronage. I tend to feel guilty for receiving as much as I do from them because I feel like I’m not doing anything to really deserve it. I’m not sure how to adequately express my genuine thanks in return. 

I want to give them more tips, but is that not being respectful of their act of giving a gift? What might be the best way to show my thanks, in addition to continuing to purchase my usual coffee and treats? 

Thank you very much for your time and consideration!

Elsa S.

Dear Elsa,

While you may very well live downtown in a major metropolis, in our minds we’re conjuring up a rural small-town atmosphere. Either way, your dilemma is a wonderful one to have.

We want to be clear that had you told us that a friend of yours worked for a cafe and kept on giving you freebies, that would be a completely different question. However, in your case, the owners are the ones giving you gifts. We think you are right to recognize their appreciation of your patronage as well as their desire to foster customer loyalty.

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Loans with no payback? The Shemitah Year

July 26th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 12 comments

I’ve read a lot of your books, yet didn’t see you ever speak about this particular thing: 

Reading the Books of Law, I see quite a few mentions about helping out the poor. Not by giveaways, but by lending them what they need (Deut. 15:7-8). It would seem to be logical to give away, But Scripture says, “Lend,” and then, every seventh year you should forgive the debt if that is not paid. 

My questions is: I’d never think that the Bible would endorse free-rides or parasitism, but I can’t find the Bible speaking harshly to the borrower. It is quite demanding—you must give, if they don’t pay—you must forgive. Seems like license for a free-ride. I borrow, do not pay, they must forgive, and then, when I come to borrow again, they must give again… Can’t believe it to be what the Bible means to say. Could you, please share more light on that? Thank you.

Victor

 

Dear Victor,

How should a society deal with money? After thousands of years of human history, we are still trying to figure this out. Should it be, “From each according to his ability to each according to his need,” as Karl Marx wrote? Should we follow Ayn Rand’s vision where only those who produce survive and charity is a vulgar concept?

In our opinion, the closer countries get to the Biblical vision, which neither of the above mentioned authors did, the stronger the society will be. Yet, the Biblical vision is complex, and while it includes the verses you quote, that is not by any means the entire story.

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Are Pets Animals Too?

July 19th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 15 comments

It says in the Bible that a good man cares for his “beast.” ‘Does this just mean animals that are “useful” such as cows that give meat and milk or does it mean all pets, such as dogs and cats.  

P.S. Like your show very much. We watch it every day when possible. There is so much knowledge and practical advice.

Titus R. 

 

Dear Titus,

There are certain topics that are almost guaranteed to lead to controversy, including vaccinations, the 2016 election results, and abortion. We have tackled all of those in various settings. But if you really want to get people’s emotions roiled, talk about their pets!

You don’t mention what Bible verse you are referencing, but there are many Scriptural references to treating animals well, among them Deuteronomy 25:4 with its prohibition on muzzling an ox while it is treading grain and verses that include animals in the Sabbath day of rest.

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Politics from the Pulpit

July 12th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 21 comments

My question relates to something you used to say often and perhaps still do – that is, “politics are merely the implementation of sincerely held religious belief”. I have probably butchered your exact quote, but the notion to me (a faith-filled Christian) that among my peers and in discussions with my pastor and other spiritual mentors, I can talk about faith and spiritual growth, but if the topic approaches the political arena, in this increasingly polarized society, I shouldn’t rock the boat too much! 

I am seeing some deeper divisions ‘within the church’ between right and left political opinion, and feel that the only way to “right the ship” is if more Pastors spoke the truth boldly (but kindly) to their congregations, without fear of reprisals and controversy.

Perhaps you can encourage me (make me courageous) again, as you have done so often in the past.

James G.

 

Dear James,

Your memory of the quote is very accurate. The sentence we use is, “Politics is nothing more than the practical application of your most deeply held values.”

While for many years we served and led a synagogue in Southern California, we have both also attended many other synagogues. As part of our ministry, we have known many pastors and priests. Invariably, we prefer those who are courageous to those who are cowardly and those whose words change lives to those who prefer to have lofty theological discussions that make no difference in the beliefs or behaviors of those who listen.

We must point out that we do not necessarily agree with the conclusions of the leaders we like. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, they vote differently than we do. However, the values that are propelling all our votes are the same.

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