Posts by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Should I quit my job?

June 7th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 17 comments

I have been listening to you for several months now and I have greatly appreciated the wisdom you share. However, I am currently struggling to apply some of it to my profession because I work at a public school.

Yes, I teach high school music in a GIC and thus am paid by the tax payers of my school district. As such, I do not have a ‘customer’ whom I serve in any direct manner. Additionally, my salary advancement is dependent upon taking more graduate and continuing education courses rather than my job performance.

That said, I try very hard to be conscientious in my work and diligent to serve my students and the community which is paying my salary. However, even I have found it difficult to be motivated at times to do my best work when I know it will make no difference in my paycheck.

I should note that I am a Christian who really believes God called me into this position five years ago, but I am not certain I should stay long term. Based on ancient Jewish wisdom, what would you recommend to someone in my situation? Should I stay in the teaching profession and attempt to counteract the ‘government indoctrination’ of which you speak? Or is my young family best served by me pursuing a different line of work?

Thank you for taking the time to consider my question!

David V.

Dear David,

We’re delighted that you have been finding value in the weekly podcast. You may have heard me (RDL) say that my job is not to massage listeners with warm butter but to tell them the truth. Since you asked this question about your professional life, we are going to show you respect by answering it honestly and directly without any sugarcoating.

You are most likely filling an important function at the GIC (Government Indoctrination Camps formerly known as public schools) where you teach. Not only are you exposing your students to music but you are also, we are confident, exposing them to an excellent example of a Christian man.

However, while you are doing your students some good, as the years go by you will probably not be doing the same for yourself or your family. There are a number of reasons why this is so and you have articulated one of them. (We are going to be incredibly non-politically-correct now and note that we are writing this answer for you as a man, husband and father. We would give a different answer to a woman, wife and mother.) When increasing your salary has nothing to do with how you perform your job, you will be very susceptible to gradual and incremental loss of self respect. As an honorable man you will strive to give your best at your job, but already you are beginning to feel the lack of motivation. As your family responsibilities grow along with your economic needs, you can already see the writing on the wall that will relegate your teaching to what energy you have left over. After all, your paycheck won’t change.

In addition, you will almost inexorably find yourself drawn to political positions that will selfishly serve you even if they hurt the community, such as increased taxation for teacher pensions and anti-charter school activity. As you claim more benefits through your job it will sometimes be at the cost of hurting the students and their families. Please understand, we never blame anyone for acting in their best economic interests as long as they act morally and honestly.  But we are questioning whether placing yourself in such a situation for the long term is in your best interests.

There is another problem that you didn’t mention. Your livelihood is not secure. Should budget cuts be necessary and the system cuts back on arts education you will be left high and dry. You are relying on others to ensure that you are employed rather than taking control of your future. Additionally, at the moment, you are basically being paid a wage dependent on your being in a certain place at a certain time. There is no way to grow that algorithm by having others work for you or by earning money when you aren’t on call. We believe every man should try and adjust his circumstances to be in business rather than being merely an employee.  In your case, we aren’t sure whether that might mean starting to develop a private music instruction business on the side or something else quite different.  But we encourage everyone, even the person pouring your coffee at the corner coffee shop, to consider himself to be an entrepreneur in the beverage business even though he currently might have only one “customer” for his services, namely his employer.

Lastly, have you considered what you will do if the GIC demand that you teach in a way that conflicts with your values? We can think of any number of events that the administration might want to celebrate with music that would run counter to your own ethics.

David, as you probably already know, we are ardent supporters of using some of one’s money, skills and time for volunteerism and charity. We recommend that you channel your desire to help youth into those activities.

Meanwhile, we do think you should be pursuing something (that may or may not be music related) that is more of a business rather than a position.  Growing a marriage and raising a family is ever so much easier when financial stability is part of the picture and when you respect the man in the mirror.

Keep making music,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Tesla’s Reality Check

June 5th, 2019 Posted by On Our Mind 4 comments

In an article about how far fewer people are buying Tesla cars and the subsequent decline of Tesla stock, the reporter quoted Tesla founder Elon Musk reassuring Wall Street analysts, “The inhibitor is affordability. It’s got nothing to do with desire.”   Musk was explaining that all is okay because countless customers still desire Tesla cars, they just can’t afford them. 

Well, that clear things up.

However, I’d like to add a few things to the wish list that I too desire, yet can’t afford. My husband and I would very much like to have homes in Jerusalem and a number of other Israeli cities. We’d also appreciate houses in a number of other places around the world including British Columbia. While we’re at it, if affordability is just a pesky side issue, let’s make some of these waterfront houses. 

That is just for a start. Desire can be an endless master.  The beauty of a price-based economy is that it helps people know what they can afford and helps keep them within their budgets.  One of the reasons that the private sector runs more effectively than government is that it only provides things that people can afford as well as desire. Our skyrocketing national debt, as well as cities and states whose budgets don’t balance, is a result of offering citizens and employees things they want (in exchange for votes) without worrying about whether they are affordable. Mr. Musk’s company received this kind of hand-out from the Obama administration. It’s time for him to re-enter the world the rest of us inhabit.

Didn’t the Levites retire? Why can’t I?

June 4th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 22 comments

In your teaching on ancient Jewish wisdom you say two words that are not in the bible but which are commonly used are retirement and coincidence. While coincidence implies God is not in control yet all things are clearly designed by Him, when I came across the age limit in priesthood I thought that is retirement. Please explain the 50 years limit of a priest. What does it say in Hebrew?

Simon M.

Dear Simon

If we can rephrase your question a bit for those who haven’t heard the teaching, we explain an ancient Jewish wisdom principle that that if a word doesn’t exist in Hebrew then the concept doesn’t exist. We are not speaking of “things” —obviously a telephone isn’t found in Biblical Hebrew—but of universal concepts. So there are words for the idea of communication but a telephone is just one example of a method of communicating.

One chapter in our book, Thou Shall Prosper, is entitled “Never Retire.” In it, we make the point that the word retirement is not Biblical, hence the concept is incorrect. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to elaborate on the seeming contradiction you noted in Numbers 8: 24-25.

To begin with, the Hebrew word is “yaShuv” from the verb “to return.” Although the English commonly translates that as “retire” it is more in the sense that a novel in the 1800s might have said that the man “retired to the country.” That did not mean he wasn’t going to be active the next day, simply that he was withdrawing from a certain place and going to another one.

If you read further in Numbers to verse 26, you can see that the Levite above the age of 50 is not heading off to play golf but simply switching tasks. Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the “retirement” refers to the specific job of carrying items on his shoulders in the Tent of the Meeting. However, he remains responsible for other jobs.

As a society it makes sense that certain jobs that require extreme physical skills such as fireman might have age restrictions.  The way in which the Biblical concept differs from that of our society is that as long as the person is mentally and physically capable of contributing to society in any form whatsoever, they should do so. Certainly, one might have to move from one function to another, but sitting at home waiting for one’s pension check and focusing only on pleasing oneself tends to hurt the individual as well as the society.

Hope this clears things up a bit,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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My church is emphasizing ‘social justice.’ Is that Biblical?

May 29th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

What are your thoughts on the word ‘mishphat’ (social justice)?

My church is currently undergoing a ‘replant’ with a new emphasis on community growth and ‘social justice’. However, Glenn Beck said to be wary when you hear ‘social justice’ in the church.

I know that ‘social justice’ is a term created by the far left in the 1800s(?). However, the term is now found in the Bible and is now considered mainstream and embraced by churches.

In addition, I recently came back from a trip to Israel with an Old Testament scholar. He said the real meaning of ‘mishphat’ is ‘a shared experience’.

Can you clarify?

Judy C.

Dear Judy,

We’d like to let two famous authors start off our answer to your question. In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott said, “I like good strong words that mean something…,” while Roald Dahl said in The BFG, “Don’t gobblefunk around with words.” Our thoughts exactly!

We generally distrust any terms that insert the word social in front. For instance, studies are good, but social studies?  Media we get but social media? Justice is good, but social justice?  What does that even mean?  In general, the word social in front means that the thing is undefined.  One thing is for sure and that is that ‘social justice’ is not the meaning of the Hebrew word mishpat.

Today in England, if you suggest tabling a motion it means bringing it up for discussion or vote. In the United States, those same words mean putting the motion aside and postponing discussion. Words that meant one thing in the 1800s may mean something very different today. Unless you are attending an academic convocation on the evolution of language, it is rather irrelevant what the phrase ‘social justice’ meant in the 18th or 19th century. It is very relevant to ask exactly, in precise and detailed language, it means to the elders of your church.

As Glenn Beck suggests, today it usually means a far-left radical agenda. When you say, “…it is now found in the Bible…” we don’t know what you mean. Our Bible is exactly the same, word for word, as the one given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It is exactly the same one that Joshua and all the kings of Israel kept with them at all times. It is exactly the same one that Jewish communities from Morocco to Poland have used for centuries and still use today. If you are saying that the English translation changes, then we can’t comment on that. The Hebrew is eternal and cannot be ‘adjusted’ to fit current political trends.

The word ‘mishpat’ first appears in Genesis 18:19, when God says that he will tell Abraham about the impending destruction of Sodom because He knows that Abraham will instruct his descendants to do ‘tzedakah and mishpat.’  Those two Hebrew words do not actually translate precisely into any language because they embrace a cultural understanding. Mishpat appears many, many times in Scripture and to get a full understanding one would need to look at each of those instances, along with the accompanying ancient Jewish wisdom. One can’t pick and choose among verses that seem to support one’s views.

We have no idea what your Bible scholar meant by the phrase ‘shared experience.’ However, we would caution you not to allow anyone (even us) to lead you down a path without doing your own hard work of asking whether what you are being told fits your understanding of God’s vision. That vision should mature as you learn more, but no catch-phrase, certainly not one that seems to conveniently fit an agenda that is often anti-Godly, should compel you to behave against your own conscience and understanding.

We aren’t certain what the technical definition of ‘gobblefunk’ is, but just in case it applies in this situation, we suggest asking your church leadership to define clearly what ‘social justice’ means to them.

“Death and life are in the hands of language” (Proverbs 18:21),

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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My colleague crossed the ‘acceptable behavior’ line at a company party.

May 21st, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 25 comments

Last weekend I went for my company’s trip. As part of the agenda, there were dinner, dance and drinks. So a colleague of mine (we are not close, just working level) who is of an opposite sex started dancing with me on the dance floor and then pulled me aside and danced solo with me. Once he pulled me to one side, he started confessing to say that he has been “checking me out without me knowing”; he treasured the one time lunch we went out together (it was a working lunch discussion) 2 years ago and he always finds me pretty. Immediately felt very uncomfortable and I pulled him back to rejoin the group for dancing.

Not long after, the function hall started turning off the lights and shutting down the AV. So a group of us adjourned to a nearby bar to join our other colleagues who were there earlier. Upon arrival at the bar, he started holding my shoulders and hands and once we reached the table where our other colleagues were, he tried holding my butt. I was so shocked I don’t know how to react  and didn’t want to make a scene, my immediate reaction was to flight. So I immediately left the scene and hid in the toilet of the bar. My friend noticed my disappearance and called me to ask where I was. I said I am in the toilet and will come shortly. We left the scene right after I came out from the toilet.

My question is, should I report this sexual harassment to the the company through the appropriate channel? My intention is not to humiliate/embarrass him,  but I don’t want other to fall as victim.

I didn’t tell anyone in the company yet because I don’t want this to spread as a mere gossip. At the same time, I felt obligated to report this incident and  share this other girls who closely work with him.  Help, I need wisdom. Thank you in advance.

Serene

Dear Serene,

It is a little jarring that the incident you describe is in opposition to your lovely namethat certainly wasn’t a serene encounter you underwent. What an unpleasant experience that must have been.

We need to preface our answer by saying that we are neither lawyers nor human resource experts. We did run our answer by someone who heads H.R. for a large company, but the words you are reading are ours, not hers. We are quite sure that you would get a very different answer if you asked this same question in a different venue.  And while we are not going to blame you for the incident, we would like to empower you in the future. Let’s start there.

If you are going to be at parties where liquor is flowing, we strongly advise you to practice extricating yourself from awkward situations. You say that this man, “started dancing with me on the dance floor and then pulled me aside and danced solo with me.” In front of a mirror or role-playing with a girlfriend, practice not letting yourself be passively led into this situation. As soon as you start feeling uncomfortable, you can forcefully say something along the lines of, “Excuse me. I’m going to sit down now,” and walk off the dance floor to join a friend. If he said something that makes you uneasy, tell him on the spot. The minute someone touches you, be it on the shoulder, elbow or anywhere else and you don’t want them to, you should feel perfectly comfortable saying, “Please don’t touch me again.”

As a side note, women often do need practice in being both pleasant and assertive. This is a skill that will stand you in good stead in many areas of your life, both personal and career-wise. At work, in particular, learning to set boundaries is necessary. If you don’t do so, others will take advantage of you, leaving you overworked and as such less efficient.

You may have decided for career reasons that you should be at parties with your co-workers, but if you are going to do so then we recommend you dress and act in a way that places an invisible shield of respectability and distance around you. We know feminists will shriek that women have no responsibility to do this, but quite frankly, there will need to be a new and different creation of humanity for that to be true.  You will be better off living in the real world.

You show great character by understanding the damage that gossip can do as well as by your concern for other women down the line. We also think that you are seeking the high road by not wanting to turn this into a potentially career-ending move for this man. We would like to encourage you to deal with this privately.

We recommend approaching this man in a public place (maybe the lobby of work) and saying something along these lines: “You may not remember because everyone was drinking, but at the party in XXX, you spoke to and touched me in an unacceptable way. I don’t want to ruin your career, but I do want you to know that this is not all right. I have documented it and should I see you behaving in a similar manner to any other woman in the company I will have no choice but to report this to HR. I’m sure it was an aberration and won’t happen again and I’d like to put this behind us with this conversation.” Then smile and walk away.

You should, meanwhile, document what happened so that if you need it in the future, you will have it. There is no question that this man acted badly, but if you can change his behavior rather than having him potentially fired for an act that occurred when he had been drinking, you will be operating on a higher plane and giving him a chance to self-correct. He may very well have misread your signals when you didn’t react and say something at the early stage of the encounter and not be a bad guy in general.

If it is at all possible, we suggest that if others agree with you, you might recommend to the office that rather than dancing parties with drinking, alternate entertainments can be safer and more fun. The situation as is, is an invitation for problems.

Wishing you serenity,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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How Far Does Faith Go?

May 14th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 14 comments

I was raised as a preacher’s daughter with strict Christian values and believing in faith and that God answers prayer.

I raised my daughter the same way.  I just wasn’t as strict as my father. 

My daughter wants to start her own Ice Cream/Bakery business. She has prepared her business plan and she even took a position in the same business learning everything she needed to know so when she is in place she has all the tools.

“We have a situation”…. she believes GOD is going to miraculously bring her the money she needs to open her business she has a lot of faith…and she is just praying and waiting for God to come and bring her everything she needs because right now she does not have it. All she has is faith…. What do I say to her when I raised her to believe God can do anything … and God answers prayers. 

Thank you,

Alley J.

Dear Alley J.,

It’s not quite clear to us if you are asking a business question, a parenting question or a faith question. It sounds like your daughter is taking steps to prepare herself for starting a business by working on a business plan and getting an “inside look” at a similar enterprise. It does not sound like she is putting herself in debt or behaving irresponsibly in the belief that God will guarantee her success. That is all to the good.

From what you said we are guessing that your daughter is a teenager or young adult. You seem concerned that she is not looking for investors or perhaps seeking an SBA loan but merely sitting tight, confident in getting Divine help in securing funds. It seems you may be fretting as to what will happen to her faith if those funds don’t appear.

We certainly believe that God answers prayers. We also know that God’s answers do not always align with our hopes. Part of faith, in our eyes, is accepting that God knows better than we do and that His rulings are just and best even when we don’t understand or like them. This is true for all situations, not just economic ones. Anyone who has lived for a while knows that pious people are not exempt from tragedy. Not all sick people recuperate and the world is, sadly, full of tragic victims of crimes and accidents.

It sounds to us like this may be a natural opportunity for your daughter—and perhaps for you—to develop a more mature picture of faith. Your job as a parent isn’t to undermine her faith, but rather to support her in knowing that disappointment and obstacles should not sever her faith in God. Furthermore, while we cannot succeed without His help, our own efforts do not show a lack of faith but rather a shouldering of responsibility that is part of His plan for human success.

We have done a lot of teaching on our television show, Ancient Jewish Wisdom, and in our Thought Tools, of how God brings His miracles in response to our taking the first step. We’ve addressed how the Red Sea didn’t split until Israel first walked into the water. We’ve shown how the prophet Elisha helped the widow but only after she searched and came up with the seeds of her own redemption, a tiny bottle of oil. Similarly, your daughter will see that prayer in addition to effort is far more effective than sitting around doing little except prayer.

You can certainly encourage her to continue gaining a greater understanding of business and economics in general and her own interests in particular.

Signed by two fans of both bakeries and ice-cream,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Listener feedback: Gratitude

May 8th, 2019 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

We wanted to share this lovely letter that came to our:

Dear Rabbi,

I recently came across your video on making money where you recommended starting a day with writing down five things that you are truly grateful for.

I got your message and now its 30 days since i began doing it.  Let me attest to it that my life has greatly changed and my perception about things has drastically changed from looking for negatives to positives.

One day our garden boy was slashing the grass outside and a stone hit the window of the car on the driver’s seat and it broke.  When I was called to see what had happened, I naturally wanted to storm out wanting to question him why he couldn’t wait until I moved the car for him to slash, but inside me came a smile and saw that the window on the driver’s seat was much easier to replace than the front windshield screen which was also vulnerable at the time the stone was flying towards the car.  I then couldn’t get angry at him but instead I said thank God it didn’t hit the front screen! In my small journal which I have entitled ”My Thank you Note to God” I wrote ”Thank you Lord that you spared the windshield””

Rabbi, this thing works! Today, I have found that the number of things that I am grateful about are way more than the things that are likely to bring worry.  The sound of the birds singing in the morning, the morning breeze, the flowers in the gardens, the beautiful artistic drawings of the skies that keep changing like themes. etc.

When you develop the spirit of gratitude, you can never run out of what to thank God for.

Thank you for your message Rabbi

Yours sincerely,

Mathews S.

P.S. I am 33 years aged Zambian, Married with 1 child.

My wife isn’t content with her life

May 7th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 7 comments

In reading a recent “Ask the Rabbi” you responded to a comment including the following statement “Sometimes, the wife wants to work out of the home not because the family needs the money but because she has been conditioned to believe that only such a job affirms her self-worth.”

Can you point me to information that will help me to better affirm my wife’s worth to the family regardless of her working/bringing in money. (We do well financially and our family does not want for anything.)

She stopped working shortly after we had our first child (Dec 2017) and has since mentioned in many tense discussions/arguments that she doesn’t feel to have “her own identity” since she no longer works. I feel that the conditioning, mentioned above, is the cause for her to believe she needs to work or that household responsibilities are somehow demeaning/waste of time.

I did search the “Ask the Rabbi” for similar questions but found it difficult to know keywords to search so I hope this is not a waste of your time. I really appreciate your words of wisdom on the podcast you do as well as the information you and Susan post here.

Thank you,

Nate M.

Dear Nate,

Thank you for picking up on the statement we made and giving us the opportunity to elaborate on it. We think that the question you are asking is an important one. As always in our answers to questions like these, we will try to give you and your wife a few avenues to explore. Since we don’t personally know you, we hope that at least one or two will resonate. (We are assuming that your wife is not one of those rare women who have a calling that is the equivalent of oxygen. In other words, almost everything else in life is secondary to that calling. Few men have a calling like that either.)

Just as one’s career should not completely subsume one, neither should the career of marriage and family. What are your wife’s interests and passions? Encourage her to take an art class one evening a week while you’re home with your son, attend a Bible study, volunteer with a literacy group, sign up for an adult-ed class in her area of expertise or interest—she should have the opportunity to cultivate her personality and talents for a few hours a week. She also can develop skills to use in the future or ones that can support and enhance your business.

Hopefully, the two of you have some back-up in the form of relatives or babysitters so that you are also spending time focused on growing your marriage separate from your role as parents. 

You don’t mention if your wife had a professional life before your son was born but there is a world of difference between making a conscious choice to stay home and subconsciously feeling like you had nothing else worthwhile to contribute. At this point, your son should be sleeping through the night and it is important that your wife is growing intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.  Do the two of you discuss current events, share what you read with each other, learn Bible together and stay stimulated in other ways? There are thousands of online classes today that will allow her to pursue areas of interest. Most importantly, there is so much garbage out there about raising physically, spiritually and emotionally healthy children (and marriages) that she should tap into some authentic wisdom on those topics and develop a sense of a “business plan” for your family. Being the CEO of a family today requires active study, assessment, decision making and preparation.

Does your wife feel that she is an intrinsic part of your business? Do you seek and value her input? Do the two of you honestly feel that your income is being earned by you as a couple? Here is an example of how that works in the financial area. You need to work out a plan that makes clear that the income you earn is the result of both of you. In effect, as a team you are earning money and building a home. Your son is not your wife’s son whom she shares with you and your salary is not your salary that you share with her. You are dividing responsibilities so that you can run a thriving enterprise known as your life.

Financial decisions, including individual spending money, charity allotments and budgeting should be considered by both of you in partnership as should major parenting and home decisions. While each of you has your area of expertise, think of yourself as two department heads with overlapping interests. You focus on one area and she focuses on another one, but neither of you can work unilaterally and simply inform the other of your decisions as they always affect the bigger project. Make sure that you sincerely express your appreciation  of her contribution to your life, both privately and publicly.

Here is possibly the most important thing we have to say. It is very hard to be out of step with your peer group. God created us as social animals and while there are times we simply have to resist the norms around us, for example, when the activity is immoral or illegal, it is never an easy thing to do so. How much more difficult it is when the trend is neither immoral or illegal, but simply out of style.

When one of our daughters was home full time with her first-born, she found it easy to be demoralized. If she took his stroller to the park, she was surrounded by babysitters and nannies, not other mothers. When she hosted a Friday night get-together for the young women in her building (she was new in town and took the initiative to meet her neighbors) they went around the room introducing themselves and each woman identified herself by her career. At that first gathering our daughter found herself embarrassed as she said, “I stay home with my son.”

Then a funny thing happened. As she got to know the other women better, many of them individually told her how many times they cried as they walked out every morning leaving  their babies and toddlers in the care of others. They told her of the pain they felt when a paid caregiver heard the baby’s first giggle and saw those first steps. They, in fact, had conflicting emotions. Yes, they were proud of their careers, but they were also jealous of her ability to be there for her son. The grass was not greener on the other side.

All this is to say that it makes a world of difference if your wife has friends who are making the same choice as she. This may mean cultivating a new group of friends. You can help her do so by trying a different church that has more families with compatible at-home moms and scanning local papers and the internet to find activities catering to these families. There are online sites where women support each other. At sixteen months, your son may be adorable, but he is not able to provide adult conversation and interaction, both of which would nurture your wife. You can help her not to draw her circle too narrowly and to recognize the absolute need for female companionship that applauds and values her choice.

Not being pulled in two directions (home and career) can be a tremendous gift. It allows one to cater not only to one’s family but to the neighborhood and community as well. Your wife’s life should be busy and overflowing. The trick is to overflow it with positive things that keep priorities straight. Society today rewards and recognizes the malcontent. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude for what we have rather than always assuming that something else is better is actually counter-cultural. Make sure that feeling permeates both your lives.

We hope at least some of these ideas hit the spot,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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My vegan relative really gets to me!

April 30th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

How do I convince my relative that she is wrong to be so concerned with animal rights & veganism?  She is a good person but its seems that she is more concerned w/animal welfare than people welfare.  Where did this attitude come from?

Bernadette

Dear Bernadette,

We have a two-word answer for you: You don’t. In general, it is usually ineffective and often destructive to try to persuade anyone to abandon their convictions and sign on to our own beliefs.  Trying to change the religious, political or social beliefs of others generally achieves nothing but damaged relationships.

Arguing about facts is fine because the answer can easily be discovered.  We could insist that Mount Rainier is 14,400 feet high and thus some 2,000 feet higher than Japan’s Mount Fuji, to anyone who claimed the opposite.  But arguing about beliefs is quite different. We would nod smilingly at the person who expressed the view that Mount Fuji is the most beautiful mountain visible from a major city.  We believe that this distinction belongs to Mount Rainier near Seattle but why would we argue?  We have different beliefs.

Your relative’s views are part of her belief system and have nothing to do with facts.  That said, it is not impossible to influence the beliefs of others but seldom by direct face-on confrontation.  When we watch our Christian friends successfully evangelize, it is never the result of sophisticated arguments and persistent debates.  Instead, we have seen atheists being brought into the church by warm empathy, compassion, and hospitality.  When we invite secular Jews to join our Shabbat meals, we don’t initiate arguments about God and His Bible.  We focus on being good hosts, we gently answer questions, and hope that exposure to our family and God-fearing lifestyle might eventually have some impact.  But setting out to convince someone that your beliefs or values are better is seldom a good idea.

Now, if you don’t mind, we would like to turn your question around and ask why you feel the need to change your relative’s ideas?

We agree with you that, while animals may not be treated with cruelty or abused, people’s welfare takes priority. We also happen to be fans of eggs, steak and cheese. We think that pets can be wonderful and farm animals are a blessing, but animals are not children. All of these convictions are based on the idea that people are not merely highly evolved animals but an entirely unique creation made in God’s image.

For the past five decades the belief that we human beings are on this planet as a result of a lengthy process of unaided materialistic evolution has been hammered into the culture.  Politics, entertainment and education joined forces in this quest to secularize society.  The natural consequence of this indoctrination is that people start believing that, like animals, we function on instinct and therefore have no moral obligation to lift ourselves above nature.  Clearly, it isn’t polite to eat your cousin or wear his skin, so the relative whom you describe is really just being a good disciple of society’s moral message.

While we oppose any government regulations equating people and animals and object to PETA’s violent tactics, when it comes to individuals we don’t feel a need to eradicate the personal beliefs of those who think differently. Why is this relative getting under your skin? Is it possible she makes you feel guilty or insecure?

Occasionally we have been asked by a friend or relative to donate to a cause that is not a priority for us. If the cause is not important to us but it is innocuous, we might give a token amount. If, for whatever reason, we object to the charity we might even explain that while we value the relationship, we aren’t comfortable attending that dinner or making a contribution. While we might hope that our friend or relative’s eyes get opened and perhaps that we have the opportunity to offer a counter-point, we can be firm in our own convictions even if others disagree with us.

We encourage you to focus on those areas where you and your relative agree rather than being hyper-sensitive to areas of disagreement.

May you be wise as an owl, (but don’t eat one),

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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What do you eat at a Passover feast?

April 23rd, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 8 comments

As a chef, I have a question pertaining to the traditional Passover meal. The traditional Seder dinner typically includes gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, brisket or roast chicken, potato kugel and carrot and prune tzimmes. Now, we know that none of these foods originated in ancient Israel – they’re from a later period in Jewish history during the diaspora and after the destruction of the Temple.

But my question is, what would have been a traditional Passover meal in ancient Israel? What would have been the traditional Passover meal for people living at the time of King Solomon or the Prophet Isaiah? What would have been the traditional Passover meal for people living in the time of Herod’s Temple?

Thank you,

Joshua F.

Dear Joshua,

Are you trying to start an international incident? A religious war? The foods you cite—gefilte fish, potato kugel, carrot and prune tzimmes and the other foods you mention are traditional foods only for Jews whose ancestors lived in eastern Europe. But, we Jews have been around for a long time and we have lived everywhere from China to Morocco, from Johannesburg to Gibraltar. Some of these communities lasted for a short time, others for thousands of years. Jews were expelled from Egypt, Libya and other Islamic countries during the second half of the twentieth century but a few still live in Iran and many other countries that would surprise you. A traditional Syrian or Yemenite Passover meal would have none of the foods you mentioned.

Even the ceremonial foods that are required as part of the Passover Seder will look different in different communities. For example, a vegetable from the ground is needed, but our own family uses potatoes while other families use leeks. The matzah itself, the centerpiece of the meal, looks quite different if baked by those from Arab countries vs. European ones.

Having said that, you ask what the meal would have looked like in the land of Israel when the 2nd Temple was standing. There would have been wine, roasted lamb (which we deliberately do not have at the Seder today) matzah and a vegetable. The spices and methods of cooking would have been those of the place and time. There certainly would not have been the plethora of kosher for Passover items that fill grocery stores today.

If you’re looking to recreate a historical meal, we would suggest looking in cookbooks from the Yemenite community, which dates back to the days of King Solomon. You might also look at the Roman Jewish community that pre-dates the destruction of the Temple.

The bottom line is that “Jewish” cooking is any cooking that follows the laws of kashrut, the basics of which are shared by all these communities. Other than that, each community adapted to what was available and popular in its own country. So, please, in the pursuit of peace, stop talking about traditional Jewish cooking!

Hearty appetite,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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