Posts in Ask the Rabbi

How much of a priority is paternity leave?

January 21st, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

The closing pitcher for tonight’s baseball playoff game is taking 3 days of paternity leave because of the birth of his daughter this morning. He will miss 2 games as a result.

Given that his wife had no medical issues with the birth, shouldn’t he be out there doing his job the next two nights?

Thomas P.

Dear Thomas,

We’re sorry to only get to your question now, although you submitted it closer to  October 2019, when Washington National player, Daniel Hudson, took paternity leave at the time of the National League Championship Series. However, the issue has cropped up before and since. This is not surprising when you consider that baseball teams are made up of men, many of an age when they are establishing families. In fact, baseball adopted an official paternity leave policy in 2011. Many players and officials made comments expressing the sentiment that baseball is important but family is more important.

That sounds warm and cuddly but it camouflages reality. These men are able to play professional baseball, not because it is important but because enough people enjoy watching them do so and are willing to pay for that privilege. As you suggested, this is a job.  Your local dry cleaner might close for a few days when his wife gives birth but he wouldn’t say, “Dry cleaning is important but family is more important.” The main reason he goes off to work each day is to support his family. If he has concerns that his livelihood might be imperiled if his store closes, then he will not take paternity leave but will stay open. If it came down to being with his wife and new baby for a few days or being able to provide them with a roof over their head and food on the table, there isn’t really a choice as to where his obligation lies. If baseball fans stopped attending games because their team, let’s say, loses the World Series because the star pitcher is off on paternity leave, the players will find themselves out of very lucrative jobs. That calculation should be an internal and unforced decision for the individual store owner or a baseball League to make. 

Having a baby isn’t the only time an emotional tug of war occurs. While birth is obviously a unique moment, understanding the intersection of money, marriage and family is a larger topic. One sometimes hears parents piously pronouncing that attending their child’s school or sports event is more important to them than being at work.  We do not automatically praise their priority.  If their economic situation is such that there are no financial costs to absenting themselves from work, they belong to the rarified ranks of the privileged few.  For many parents, being absent in the middle of a workday is just plain irresponsible.

As part of a Biblical understanding of marriage, the husband contractually commits to providing for his wife financially. That often gets overlooked in today’s society.  Though it may not sound either romantic or egalitarian, in reality, that remains one of the cornerstones of the relationship. She can support the family; he must support the family.

It doesn’t surprise us at all that as men opt out of financial responsibility and women shoulder career obligations, fewer people are marrying and having children. The percentage of American adults who have never married is now at an all-time historic high.  Those that do marry are having smaller families than ever before. Somehow, as family is elevated in theory and political polemic abounds promoting policies of maternity and paternity leave, fewer individuals are signing on to establishing a family in the first place.

Earning a living, of course, does not supersede everything else. The Jewish dry cleaner is obligated to close for Shabbat and various festivals regardless of the cost. In a similar vein, no one can conduct a fraudulent transaction and then claim moral kudos because the money was used to support his family.  Earning a living is not more important than family, it is part of having a family.

In general, the Biblical view leans towards what we call ‘ethical capitalism’. In other words, people should be free to make whatever commercial agreements they choose as long as they do not contradict any  Biblical or legal laws. Paternity leave is neither a religious obligation nor religiously forbidden. In that sense, it’s a choice best left to the individual employer and employee. We feel great concern at the government getting involved. Fans and customers, of course, have the power of controlling where and when they spend their own money. 

On this and so many other issues we do worry about a society focused on individuals obtaining more rights, entitlements and privileges while simultaneously insisting upon fewer obligations and responsibilities. Having a long-term view is essential so that what looks rosy today doesn’t bring a bleak tomorrow.

For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Is it time to go into debt?

January 14th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 8 comments

My wife and I are out of debt except for our mortgage which we are trying to quickly payoff. My business has some opportunity to expand but I am unsure if getting a business loan goes against Biblical or ancient Jewish wisdom.

Thank you for your time.

Bob F.

Dear Bob,

We’re certain that you and your wife have practiced admirable discipline and restraint over the years to have achieved the enviable position of being debt-free other than your mortgage. Congratulations!

Now, on the threshold of expanding your business, you are naturally concerned about perhaps having to take out a business development loan.  This can feel like a step backwards into debt especially after all your hard work ridding yourself of loans. 

Let’s try and understand God’s intentions with respect to money.  The very first time that God registers displeasure in the Bible is, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  (Genesis 2:18)  Because of His desire for us to connect with one another, God established two ways for strangers to become closely involved with one another and to care for one another’s welfare.  The first of these is marriage by means of which a man and woman who may not even have known one another a year or two ago now care deeply for each other and their families are interconnected as well.  

The second way we connect is through the magic of money.  It is because of money that a man starts wishing well on a stranger who happens to supply him with products or services that he needs.  Likewise, the storeowner, plumber, or lawyer, starts cherishing his regular customer whom he is happy to serve.  So we see that from a Biblical perspective, like family, one of the functions of money is to form and strengthen connections between people.  To be sure, many of our most important human connections are with our family, but money and commerce encourage unrelated people to interact in peace and harmony as they benefit each other.

There is one aspect of commerce that is fraught with the potential for causing bad feelings and troubled or sometimes even shattered relationships.  Of course, that is exactly what Shakespeare was alluding to when he put these words into the mouth of Polonius in Hamlet:  “Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend…”  Of course, we need hardly to depend only on Shakespeare for this advice.  Our own Bible warns:  “…the borrower is a servant to the man who loaned him” (Proverbs 22:7).  We totally understand your concern.

However, borrowing and lending money are practical parts of the vast tapestry of human economic networks and are legitimate as long as the many Biblical constraints are followed.  For instance, charging interest on a loan meant to help your financially stressed brother is wrong.   The Bible contains many other directives to both the borrower and the lender. For instance, we are warned not to borrow if we do not have a reasonable plan to pay back. At the same time, one who lends is urged to be gracious if the money to repay the loan isn’t immediately available: “The wicked man borrows and does not repay; the righteous is generous and keeps giving.” (Psalms 37:21)

Now, moving beyond personal loans occasioned by stress into the area of business whereby a loan will serve to expand and develop the enterprise, a loan may well be the prudent step.  Wherever possible, the Bible much prefers equity money to debt.  The reason for this preference is still the fundamental of human connection.  Debt can drive a wedge between the borrower and his banker.  However, the equity investor is a partner in the entrepreneurial activity he has helped fund. This is why we frequently find that investors often become advisors and board members.  However, often equity funding isn’t possible and the business professional makes a carefully calculated decision to assume debt for the purpose of growing.

This is the question you are asking; taking a loan from a financial institution for the purpose of expanding your business.  The main Biblical concern is that you must be sure that you are making the decision with your head and not your heart.  The reasons for the loan and its repayment plan must make sense to your accountant.

In other words, Bible-based ancient Jewish wisdom has no problem with interest-bearing debt for business purposes.  It is our understanding that depending on a necessarily limited translation from the Hebrew original, parts of Christianity eschewed such loans as did the Islamic world.  Partially for this reason, for much of medieval times up until the 19th century, most of banking was in the hands of Jews.  They were the only ones who were religiously comfortable with that business. 

Eventually, with decades of intense regulation, commercial banking around the world evolved into a quasi-governmental institution.  As such, it became less appealing to Jews who tended to move over to the investment banking side, making business development loans to growing companies.  These loans were beneficial to both borrowers and lenders, which is why so many Jewish-founded firms like Goldman Sachs, Rothschild, Warburg, Salomon Brothers, Lehman Brothers, Kuhn Loeb and many other smaller ones came into being.

Wishing you and your wife profitable times of many wonderful human connections,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Cheating thoughts vs. cheating actions

January 8th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 14 comments

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

Is cheating in thoughts as bad as bad as cheating in reality? And how does one drive away those sinful thoughts?

Kind regards,

Julia

Dear Julia,

A piece of useful parenting information is to avoid phrases such as, “You’re such a good girl.” Obviously, it is a terrible mistake to tell a child that she is a bad girl even if she has just used your favorite lipstick to draw a mural on the wall. She did something naughty, but it does not touch the essence of who she is.  But what is wrong with the reverse?

Let’s imagine that you just watched a toddler snatch a toy from your five-year-old son. Your son gets another toy, distracts the baby with it and reclaims his prized possession. Why wouldn’t you admiringly tell him that he’s a good boy? (No, Julia, this is not mistakenly a Practical Parenting column. It is all relevant to your question.)

Your son did a good thing, maybe even a great thing. He withheld anger and did some effective problem-solving. However, inside he may have felt angry with a strong urge to punch the toddler. Telling your son that he is good contradicts his feelings and confuses him. Complimenting his action (and maybe even rewarding him) is a better idea. Our ultimate  goal for him down the road,  is for him not to even feel angry, but acting correctly is a vital first step.

Back to adults. God does instruct us to control our thoughts. Here are two examples: Leviticus 19:17 tells us not to hate our brother in our hearts and the Tenth Statement (Commandment) tells us not to covet in both Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21. Clearly God expects us to control our thoughts and feelings.  My (RDL) mother, one time, reacted with a long, forceful and unforgettable lesson when as a child, I retorted to one of her admonitions with, “Well, I can’t help how I feel!”   I have never uttered that phrase since. 

Indeed, entertaining wrong feelings or bad thoughts may well damage our relationship with an individual, like our spouse in your example.  It also reveals a crack in our relationship with God, but it doesn’t harm society in the same way that bad behavior or a wrong action does.   However, doing the wrong thing damages our relationship with individuals, with society and with God.  We must recognize that doing something wrong is far more egregious than thinking something wrong, as bad as that may be.   Desiring someone else, contemplating adultery or even fantasizing about it are certainly harmful but not nearly the same betrayal of our spouse that committing adultery is.

Sinning in action is certainly a greater problem than sinning in our hearts however  we are expected to direct our thoughts correctly.  Telling ourselves not to think about something specific doesn’t help. We’re sure you’ve heard that the best way to get someone to think of a pink elephant is to tell them, “Whatever you do, don’t think of a pink elephant!”

What we can do, however,  is redirect our thoughts. When we catch a forbidden thought or negative emotion entering our consciousness we need to take action. Thoughts don’t control thoughts, only actions do.  For those  on a high level, studying Bible may be enough to divert negative thinking. For the rest  of us, something that requires  our concentration like doing a puzzle or singing a song out loud or making a phone call may work better. Physically changing our posture by going for a walk or exercising can be helpful as well. Even if it’s nighttime, getting out of bed and washing a few dishes may be the ticket.

Beating ourselves up for having the wrong thought in the first place is not a good idea. If anything, like the pink elephant example, it will simply make us focus on exactly what we are trying to eradicate. Obviously, if our thoughts center on one person, we must do what we can to minimize contact with that person and avoid interaction. But the best way to get a thought out of our head is to engage in activity that  replaces that thought with another one. In the case you mention, another idea is to do loving things for our spouse. As often happens, our feelings will follow our actions, leading us to feel more affectionate and focused towards them.

Happy thoughts,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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I want to be smart in my charitable giving. Can you help?

January 1st, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 17 comments

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

I have a question for you and I hope you can guide me through with ancient wisdom.

Let’s say that  I have decided to donate  a certain portion of my income to charitable causes… So one day while standing in the pharmacy I see a person in need to get medicines for $50. Would I be a better human being if I decide to use my 50 dollars helping one individual that I come across in person or by sending my 50 dollars to an overseas region where I could potentially help 50 people to get something like sandals or penicillin?

What is your insight into this?

Juan Manuel M.

Dear Juan Manuel,

We love this question for so many reasons. First of all, we think highly of our readers/listeners and your question provides  a wonderful example of why we are correct to do so. Not only do you want to be charitable, which is a good thing in and of itself, but you want to do so in the smartest way. Rather than simply trusting your emotions or giving just in order to feel virtuous, you want to ensure that you are actually helping the most you can.

Let’s make a case for each of your choices. There is something wonderful about a person-to-person connection.  Seeing someone in need and helping them directly and immediately is tremendous. The individual feels the concern of another human being and the knowledge that you made an impact on someone’s life has a positive effect on you, most likely making you more prone to give again. In the example you gave, you even know that the money is not going to support a drug habit or to buy liquor. You are providing someone with needed medicine. Furthermore, you are not burdening your gift with the administrative overhead which is an inevitable part of organizational charity.

On the other hand, perhaps there is an organization that works towards eradicating the disease from which this person suffers. Your money might help to save thousands from needing the medicine in the first place. Alternatively, perhaps a ministry not only helps to provide medicine, but also provides emotional and spiritual support so that the person in front of you will manage his life better. A healthier lifestyle could mean that he won’t even need as much medicine as before.

There is, of course, another side. It is possible that the person in front of you needing medicine cannot afford to pay for it because he gambles his earnings away or spends it on alcohol or drugs. Organized charities can be badly or fraudulently run so that your money does not help those in need. In other words, both opportunities for giving can be wonderful or wasteful.

What would we do?  In general we try to follow the Biblically-based rule that those closest to us have first claim on our discretionary charity dollars.  Family before strangers, our community before remote communities, etc.  However we don’t like turning anyone down entirely so we make small gifts in many circumstances to  personal pleas of those we do not know. If it’s a personal case where we do know the details or are assured by someone we trust that the money is truly needed, we respond as generously as we can. We also take the time to vet organizations. (Two organizations that can be  helpful are https://www.charitywatch.org/, https://www.charitynavigator.org/)

Another step is to choose some organizations whose missions resonate with you and support them on a regular basis. You still need to keep your eyes open. It hurts us terribly when we hear that people donate to anti-Biblical, Leftist groups because they see the word Jewish or Christian or Liberty in the name and assume it is a good group or because 25 years ago it was doing good work.

In the specific circumstance you describe, if you felt reasonably certain that the person in need was someone who was doing his best to help himself, you should help him, though not necessarily with all your available resources or to the full extent of his need.  Helping doesn’t necessarily mean providing a complete solution. This approach allows you to help the needy person God placed in your path, while also retaining larger reserves to help organizations with whose mission you resonate.

Finally, it is worth always thinking of the possible unintended consequences of giving money in the wrong way or in the wrong place.  For instance, it is possible to give money to someone in a way that destroys his dignity.  What he loses is probably worth more than what he got.  Or one might send clothing to a village in Africa and inadvertently destroy the local clothing manufacturing economy, as has indeed happened.  You are right to give much thought to your charitable activities. Being a wise person, including in the area of giving, takes active and continuous effort. 

With your loving care, you help to make the world  a better place and we’re proud to have you as a reader. 

Thanks for caring,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Should women be preaching?

December 25th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 37 comments

My question is very frequently asked in Christian circles and the answer is split. I must know what your response would be. 

The question is very simple. Are women allowed to pastor and preach? Yes or No? Please explain in detail and reference from verses. I appreciate all of your work. I look forward to your response!

Anthony

Dear Anthony,

We hope you enjoyed anticipating  our response because we are pretty sure you are not going to enjoy our answer. 

If you have followed our teachings for a while, you will know that while we treasure Scripture, we find simplistically seeking substantiating verses to be rather meaningless. Partially this is because one can easily find many seemingly incompatible verses that appear to contradict one another. That is why we peruse and base our answers upon the  ancient Jewish wisdom on the Bible that has been handed down for thousands of years rather than doing no more than simply reading the words themselves. So, as to your last demand, we can probably find verses making the case both for and against women pastoring and preaching, but they wouldn’t be so helpful.  

We also cannot answer with a clear-cut yes or no. How simple life would be if we could tackle life’s challenges in that way! We can answer only very few  questions with no more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and none of life’s most challenging and most important questions fall into that category. 

Our transmission of wisdom through the ages, from the Garden of Eden until the present, reveals  that a vital part of God’s plan includes a clear distinction between men and women and a partnership between the two called marriage. As such, we don’t dismiss concerns about women pastoring and preaching as automatically misogynistic, out-of-touch with reality or ridiculous.  We aren’t surprised that attempts at social engineering and forcing people to treat men and women as identical have failed so conspicuously. Notably for the question you raise, when women take over roles in churches or synagogues, men frequently become less involved. We don’t see this exodus of men as proof that they have not been socialized and trained properly to respect women but rather as a consequence of a deeply embedded and immutable part of human nature.  

At the same time, God created people to be dynamic rather than fossilized. As societies evolve, certain things do change. For example, there was a time when it was sufficient for boys to receive only the education that allowed them to follow in the same life work as their fathers. The Industrial Revolution among other advances necessitated thinking outside those boundaries. Similarly, lessons about girls’ education from the 1400s do not provide helpful  examples for us to follow.  

We should note that the only question we’re examining concerns  women pastoring and preaching to men. The idea of women teaching other women is relayed by ancient Jewish wisdom as far back as the matriarch Sarah, continues expressly through Miriam the prophetess and has always been a vital part of the community.  

When it comes to women teaching men, it is imperative to ask whether or not this is in line with God’s wishes. However, the answers will vary according to time and place. Just as taking the life of another human being is both forbidden and demanded depending on the circumstances, what public function women serve does depend on circumstances. We can only choose to do our best to understand God’s wishes and to choose a faith community that, as we understand it, aligns with those wishes. You must do the same. There is nothing that you or I can say or any verses we can find that will unequivocally prove that we are either right or wrong. Often, that becomes clear over time, but we need to live our lives today. 

We personally know of female faith leaders in both Judaism and Christianity who have done and continue to do amazing public work in the community, teaching both men and women.  This evidence does not necessarily make it right for everyone, every community or every situation. Sometimes things are right in exceptional circumstances that would not be correct in all circumstances. We  advise you to establish for yourself a relationship with a faith leader whose spiritual judgment you feel comfortable following.  

Sorry to disappoint you, 

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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How do we explain to our son why circumcision matters?

December 18th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 26 comments

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

Could you help me out? We are reading a Torah Sidra [portion] every Saturday evening as a family.  We happened to read the Sidra that included Genesis 17.  I have three children and the oldest is a boy of 9. I am sure you can guess where this is going.  He had many questions about circumcision. 

  Circumcision is very important to me. My father, brother, husband and son are all circumcised.  My brother’s wife and my brother changed their mind and chose not to circumcise their two boys when they were born. 🙁

I would love my son to be just as proud as we are that he his circumcised, not that he isn’t. But, I am sure someday when he may have awkward conversations with his cousins camping or sports friends.

I just want to make sure that we, as parents, have done everything that we should explaining this very Holy covenant to my children boys and girls.  I would be heartbroken if twenty years down the road my grandchildren were not circumcised just because I didn’t convey things to my children properly while they were in my care.

Thank you so much,

Gina

Dear Gina,

Your question is a very apt one for this time of year as Chanukah starts this coming Sunday evening. Among the Jewish observances that the Greek-Syrians outlawed, was circumcision.  They also made the  studying and teaching of Torah prohibited on penalty of death.   These acts of religious oppression led  to the rebellion of Chanukah.

So extreme was the Greek aversion to circumcision that the historian Josephus tells us that Hellenist physicians performed plastic surgery operations ‘restoring’ the foreskin. In a culture which extolled the gymnasium and athletic games one needed to “look the part” in order to fit in. This, of course, is the crux of the episode of Chanukah—it was most of all a battle between those Jews eager to shed their connection to God and Judaism and those Jews who remained faithful to their heritage.

Chanukah is the only festival in the Jewish calendar that lasts eight days. Notably, circumcision takes place on the eighth day of a Jewish boy’s life. In ancient Jewish wisdom, the number seven is associated with nature: 7 days of the week; 7 colors of the rainbow; 7 notes in a western musical scale. The number 8 is associated with partnering with God to transcend nature. Circumcision is a statement, both to the young boy and to the community, that the incredible power of sexuality is part of his connection to God and the ability to create life is holy.  We are commanded to overcome the animalistic impulse to act as if sex is solely physical.  This rejection of secularism is central to both circumcision and Chanukah. 

Secular society today, as in the time of the Greeks, elevates the physical over the spiritual. People shout, “It’s my body and I can do with it as  I wish.” God’s people disagree. God loaned us  wondrous bodies and we have the opportunity to improve our own lives and the lives of those among whom we live by choosing to harness the body’s powers and rise above the animalistic side of our nature. Circumcision is a statement of partnership with God to move beyond mere nature in order to attain our full physical and spiritual potential.

The soon-to-arrive stage at which your wonderful 9-year-old son begins to become aware of the power of his organ upon which his parents placed God’s sign, will also be the time he realizes that not all boys are fortunate enough to carry their own private covenantal reminder. That should open up the blessed opportunity for a parent-led conversation about male female relationships, intimacy and God’s plans for His people’s happiness and fulfillment. When that time arrives, you will find helpful material in the Thought Tools archives on our website. You can be sure that at a younger and younger age the culture will actively try to corrupt and ensnare him.

The time of Chanukah is so suitable for family discussions about the important willingness to be different from the ‘crowd.’  We do discuss these issues and many more  in greater detail in our audio CD Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life, but we hope this gives you the beginning of an understanding of how important your question is.

Continue to enjoy the thrilling challenge of raising unique  children with spiritual independence in an age of secular conformity.  It sounds as if you’re doing great.

Greeting of light,

Rabbi Daniel & Susan Lapin

What is the ongoing battle of Chanukah until today?
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I want to support everyone’s rights – should I support BDS?

December 11th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

I’m not sure if you’ve heard what’s going on in Ireland, and I’m trying to figure it out. [In Ireland and in many other places, attempts are made—often under the banner of the Palestinian led BDS  (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement to isolate Israel, especially when it comes to products made in the disputed territories.]

What I’m trying to understand is if there is any truth to this or if it’s a new form of ant-Semitism. But I also respect everyone’s right to disagree and to speak out when it comes to their beliefs even when I have a hard time with it.

I believe in standing for everyone’s freedoms and rights. I want to see no one hurt or rights suppressed. I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on if that makes sense. Is this good or bad; is this a new form of anti-Semitism?

Thank you!

Helen

Dear Helen,

In general we are not fans of accusations of “isms”. By that we mean sexism, anti-Semitism, racism and the like. We dislike these accusations because the terms are often undefined and used as cudgels with which to bludgeon and destroy people. Too often, there is absolutely no way in which to defend oneself against an “ism” allegation.

Having said that, we are also not fans of the double standard. When a double standard exists, two entities are treated differently based on a factor that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. If a professor demanded a 90% on a multiple choice exam from all students in order to earn an A, but demanded that those of a certain color, religion or nationality earn 95% to earn the same A, that would be an example of a double standard.

There is no question in our minds that Israel is continually held to a standard in a way that no other nation in the world is. For example, it is constantly condemned in the United Nation by nations who regularly commit egregious abuses of human rights with no censure.

There are dozens of land disputes in the world, including many hostile occupations.  In none of those (Russia-Crimea, Turkey-N. Cyprus, Morocco-Western Sahara, etc) do we find accusations or attacks on the occupying power from countries all around the globe.  In fact in just about every case, (including all of those mentioned above) the governments that condemn/sanction Israel are actually engaged financially through state owned companies, literally building the infrastructure for the belligerent occupier.  

We also know that much of the information shared about Israel is based on lies. The history of the Jewish State, the Palestinians and the neighboring Moslem-controlled Arab countries is complex and the story goes back centuries. There are grievances on all sides, many sinners and no saints—we are talking about people after all. There is also an entire story of different groups living together and flourishing in modern Israel today that is under-reported and ignored.

Anger stoked by the BDS movement is leading to attacks on Jews in many countries. Whether this is anti-Semitism or disseminating and encouraging hatred to achieve a political result, the bottom-line is that in today’s world the separation between criticism of Israel and hatred of all Jews is becoming invisible. This disappearing dividing line means that,  whatever the motivation, the BDS movement walks hand-in-hand with a desire to rid the world of a Jewish people. The fact that many of Jewish descent, and organizations that label themselves as Jewish,  are among the biggest haters of Israel and Judaism adds to the complexity but doesn’t change the reality.

Do your own research. Don’t limit your understanding by allowing yourself to be manipulated by newspapers and articles published by those who used to pride themselves on being unbiased. On this as on so many other issues today, it takes a great deal of effort to reach the truth.

Finally, we want to add that as admirable as it may be to “believe in standing for everyone’s freedoms and rights” as you do, in the real world that is not possible.  Trying to stand for everybody’s often means standing for nobody’s.  This is because in an imperfect world, imperfect humans often have different and incompatible ideas of their rights.  As hard as it is, being a morally responsible adult means making a decision about whose rights you will support even if it does necessarily mean not supporting those of someone else.

Hope this helps,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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When is the time to stop grieving?

December 3rd, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 21 comments

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin,

My church has been under grief for over a year, due to a lady in the church losing her baby girl just before she was born.The woman had to give birth to the baby even though the baby was going to be dead on arrival due to a blood clot that stopped the baby’s heart. 

Last night I attended a women’s meeting where the women of the church old and young got up and declared that grief is always a part of us, there is no expiration date, and we just need to grieve forever, allowing grief to be apart of us.And saying things like no one knows anything about grief unless they have experienced the same thing themselves.Talking about the physical debilitation it can do to your body and so on. 

Then after all this they had the woman who lost her baby get up and answer questions about her grief talking about it for 30 minutes or more. She proceeded to make angry remarks about people whose babies had been healed and how praying and putting your grief down to live a victorious life was all more harmful than good, because a life of faith is a hard life with no advantages except for the afterlife.

Needless to say I don’t feel like this is biblical at all.Yes, we have time to grieve,but it shouldn’t be for ever and one eventually needs to pick up the pieces and move on.

Please help! Thanks ever so much for your time.

Gina

Dear Gina,

As a student of our teachings, you  have most likely heard us often explain  that, as important as our emotions are, we must be in control of them rather than allowing  them to control us. You have successfully worked on yourself to “think Biblically”  and what you have learned is guiding you. We want  to validate that your instincts in this case are entirely correct.

As you say, ‘it shouldn’t be forever’ because if it is, added to other deaths in the church community, all of them also observed forever, eventually the church becomes overwhelmed by an incessant tsunami of grief in the midst of which no celebration of anything is ever possible.

The Bible does impose a time limit on (public) grief “and when the days of his grief were over” (Genesis 50:4) and “The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.” (Deuteronomy 34:8)  Privately, one observes an annual commemoration on the anniversary of death however, imposing one’s grief upon the entire community forever is wrong.

We do want to   warn you  that we don’t think that there is anything that you can say or do that will change the minds of the women in your church. They seem to be following today’s general culture that elevates feelings above all else.

Ancient Jewish wisdom has a great deal to say about grieving. This should come as no surprise. Life and death, and joy and sadness are huge parts of our lives. Ignoring death is unhealthy but so is letting those difficult periods overwhelm us.

The grief of this woman in your church seems to have turned into a bitterness against church teachings and God.  She needs wise and warm counseling from a faith leader. People who mean well sometimes say unhelpful things to those who are suffering. Among these are statements like, “If you truly had faith, nothing bad would happen,” or “You must be very special for God to choose you for such an affliction.” People are uncomfortable around grief and while trying to help, can cause a great deal of pain.

Unfortunately, by attempting to validate this woman’s pain (a good thing) it seems that, as a group, the women in your church are losing all perspective (a bad thing). As it says in Ecclesiastes 3, there is a proper time—and time limit—for all things. “A time to cry and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance”.

In Genesis 23:2 it says that Abraham cried after the death of his wife, the matriarch Sara. Not visible in translation is that, for all time in a proper Torah scroll, one of the letters in the word meaning ‘to cry for her’ is written small. This leads us to the ancient Jewish wisdom teaching that Abraham diminished his grief. While personally devastated at the loss of his loving partner, he recognized that his mission in life demanded both a proper mourning and then a return to active and joyful life. Learning to do so doesn’t mean forgetting or turning your back on your loss. If does mean that stopping to actively grieve is as important as actively grieving. Life has changed and we can never go back to what it was before this death, but our own life, filled with meaning and happiness, does need to go on.

We have written in a number of places about the Torah’s directives for dealing with the loss of a close relative, starting with seven intense days of mourning surrounded by friends and family and then an easing back into full life. A death in utero or delivering a stillborn baby follows a different path. In some ways that can be more difficult. There has been a trauma, but the mourning is private and less regimented. What we can learn, is that making this into a public, unending mourning is not helpful. Rather than supporting this poor mother’s healing, her grief (and anger) is becoming institutionalized. This is not good for her and it certainly isn’t good for the church family.

Perhaps what these church ladies need is for a pastor or church leader to offer a special class on how God calls upon us not to follow our hearts and emotions.  He would draw a distinction between secular culture in which talking about feelings has been elevated into a form of secular devotion and religious culture in which we learn to control our feelings and not be controlled by them. “Remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes,” (Numbers 15:39)

We hope that you can share your reservations with others especially those in leadership, Gina, but you will need to do so in a firm but sensitive way. This is no easy task.

Everything in its time and place,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Did you contradict yourselves, Rabbi and Susan?

November 27th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

I would like to say thank you very much Rabbi Lapin, your book Business Secrets From The Bible is a game changer. Changed my life. I do have one question though in regard to something you wrote in Secret #18. 

You make mention that students evaluating teachers is a backwards practice. I think I see your angle with this line of thought, but I also see that the students are the customers of the teacher, or at least one of the customers. If teachers don’t receive reviews from them sometimes, how will they know how to better improve the product that they are giving the students? 

I understand that under a certain age, students’ cognitive abilities are not developed enough to perform such reviews. However, for older students, especially those in university who are paying for the product the teacher is delivering, why is it a bad thing for the product the teacher delivers to get reviewed? Looking forward to your answer.

Kind Regards,

Emanuel E.

Dear Emanuel,

You are asking a wonderful question. We always appreciate being forced to question our own assertions. One of the problems with today’s society is how often people only read things that align with their beliefs. We rarely hear true debates of the old-fashioned variety where ideas, not people, are dissected and where honest questions rather than vicious attack is practiced.

You are pointing out that we often extol the idea of a free and ethical market where the usefulness of a business is recognized by the fact that it has customers. We seem to be suggesting that the same is not true for colleges. You are saying that surely, a teacher who receives good reviews and whose classes are oversubscribed is delivering proof that he or she is successful.

In a classical and honest college experience where education was paid for and delivered as a resource, this would be true. You yourself recognize that if students are not paying for their own education, their views lack credibility. They are, in fact, not the customer. The government and their fellow citizens are. 

Whenever a third party pays, quality falls and costs rise.  Imagine each time you visit the grocery market, the checkout cashier submits  your bill to be paid for by your fellow citizens. You would load up your cart with many more items than you really need and the supermarket would price them far higher than you would normally accept.  This is a little how our university system is working.

We aren’t familiar with colleges around the world. However, the United States has a broken system. Among other problems, higher education receives too much government money (which of course means money confiscated from fellow citizens) to be equated to a business. Too many universities offer meaningless degrees that allow students to spend wasted years and emerge uneducated, ignorant and often invested in destroying society. Students and their families often  sink heavily into debt to earn a degree that offers nothing real in terms of earning money or expanding their knowledge. Whereas eighteen-year-olds at times in history have often been mature adults, too many college students today expect the privileges of adulthood without any of the responsibilities. Colleges provide them with an opportunity to delay growing up. 

If you don’t like how the supermarket treats you, your best recourse is to shop elsewhere.   The university student has virtually no recourse since almost all higher education institutions conduct business in the same way.

Clearly, there are serious and dedicated students and fine educational institutions with worthy professors. These students are truly seeking knowledge and expect to emerge from their studies with skills that can benefit themselves and their fellow citizens. Under those circumstances, we agree that student reviews can be valuable. When we criticized the practice of students grading teachers, we should have noted that we were referring to educational venues where reviewing teachers means noting who gives an ‘easy A,’ and, even more so, rewarding those teachers whose politics align with the most extreme Leftist ideas while trashing those teachers who are independent thinkers. Reviews in this case are often used to encourage grade inflation and to censor speech.  We consider them an insidious aspect of modern so-called education.

In summary, our language was too broad. Were we to sit down with you in conversation, we feel sure that we would agree on when student reviews are valuable and when they are destructive. 

Thanks for keeping us on our toes,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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My Wife is Amazing – We’re Getting a Divorce

November 19th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 4 comments

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

I enjoy the wisdom that you show us, your happy warriors, through your many avenues of teaching. I’ll keep my question brief. Why is it, that when a celebrity couple decides they no longer wish to honor their matrimonial vows, they always praise the other person for being such a wonderful person and say they have the highest respect for him or her? If they have that respect and stated emotions, why not stay together? I won’t belabor the point. I’ll merely include a link to the story that prompted my thoughts.

I would love to hear your thoughts, even if it is merely to say that many of these marriages are based on “feelings” and not true love.

Eric B.

Dear Eric,

If you’ll excuse us, before answering your question we would like to explain the phrase you used, ‘happy warriors’.  This is how  I, (RDL) envision the listeners to my popular  podcast. One of those happy warriors, Andrew, started a growing Facebook page where listeners discussed the latest podcast. A short while ago, he agreed to morph that page into a new group, Friends of Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin, in order to broaden the conversation to those who may watch our TV show, read our books and columns or know us in other ways. It is fun to watch the group grow and to see our “friends” meeting each other. In this way the ‘happy warriors’ phrase has expanded beyond its original meaning.

Back to your question. Honestly, we had never heard of the couple featured in the magazine, but we did look at the link you sent. In a post on Instagram, the husband wrote, among other things, “With our hectic work schedules we could not be busier, and over the last few years have grown apart,” and spoke of his soon-to-be-ex-wife as, “one of the most incredible women I have ever met and the best mom to our kids.”

Your question seems to be that if that is how he feels about her, why are they getting divorced, especially as he says that their main focus is their two daughters. For loving parents, the logical solution to “growing apart” might be spending more time together.

(more…)

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