Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Date unknown: The members of a certain religious sect refuse to have blood transfusions. As a fundamental tenet of their creed, they maintain that, according to the Bible, blood should not be taken. Where does the Bible imply this prohibition and what is the Jewish position regarding life-saving by blood transfusions? So far as I know, the sect to which you refer base their theory on the ... Continue Reading ➨
'Ask the Rabbi'
Rabbi Louis Jacobs regularly contributed to the 'Ask the Rabbi' column in the Jewish Chronicle, responding to questions in succinct and straightforward manner on all sorts of subjects. They would appear in each journal issue in random order. We are pleased to offer below a wide selection of these pieces, arranged, for convenience's sake, thematically.
Editor's note: the responses offered in these pieces may not take into consideration factors and developments that occurred subsequent to their publication. We recommend that contemporary readers not rely exclusively on Rabbi Jacobs's answers below when in search of halakhic advice, and turn instead to their communal rabbi.
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. 9 August 1968: As a regular reader of the “Jewish Chronicle” I often get involved with fellow-Gentiles in discussion on Jews and Judaism. Can you please tell me whether a Gentile can become a Jew? If so, what would he be expected to do to become one? Judaism has not on the whole been a proselytising religion, but proselytes have always been accepted if his (or her) motives were found to be ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Date unknown: “All Israel have a portion in the world to come.” What does this mean? The saying is found in the Mishna (Sanhedrin 10, 1). It is not, however, as exclusive as it appears to be on the face, and presumably it is that which bothers you. For one thing the Mishna goes on immediately to declare that some classes of sinners, even though they are Jews, have no portion in the world to ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Date unknown: Many of the Psalms are headed “A song of degrees.” What does this mean? The New English Bible treats this and similar headings to the Psalms as later interpolations of which the meaning is uncertain and so does not give them at all. Such a procedure seems unwarrantable to me. After all they are in the Hebrew, however they came to be there. The Hebrew here is shir (a song of) ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Date unknown: I am confused by the report of the Israeli court case about the marriage of a Cohen with a divorced woman. Could you please explain the issues involved? Leviticus 21, 7, reads: “They (i.e. Cohanim) shall not take a woman that is a harlot, or profaned, neither shall they take a woman put away (i.e., divorced) from her husband; for he (the Cohen) is holy unto his God.” This is the ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Date unknown: Some of our religious leaders have now come out against discrimination on colour grounds. Can you give me precise references from the sources that this is abhorrent to Judaism? When Miriam and Aaron criticise Moses for marrying an Ethiopian (= dark-skinned) woman they are sternly rebuked by God (Numbers 12, 1-9). The prophet Amos says: “Are ye not as the children the Ethiopians ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Date unknown: Is it permitted to call a woman to the Reading of the Law? Contrary to what is generally assumed, there is no objection to a woman who has her period coming near to the Sefer Torah (see Berachot 42a), so whatever reason there is to prevent a woman being called to the Reading of the Law this is not it. We find the following in the Talmud (Megilla 23a): “Our rabbis taught: All ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Rosh Hashanah 28 August 1970: Why is the shofar blown during the month of Ellul? Ellul, the last month of the Jewish year, is traditionally the time of preparation for the new, leading up to Rosh Hashana, the Solemn Season and Yom Kippur. The shofar is blown in synagogue every day except Sabbath during that month as a reminder of the solemnity of the period. Psalm 27 is recited daily (until ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Date unknown: Some people say that persons both of whose parents are alive must not visit cemeteries. Is this superstition? I have been unable to find any reference to this in the sources so that it is probably based on superstition. It is possible that since persons with parents have no obligation to visit the cemetery as an act of filial piety the idea emerged that they should not visit ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Date unknown: I understand that there are various mystical rites connected with Lag b’Omer. Can you tell me about them? From the sixteenth century onwards, Lag b’Omer became identified with the day on which the second-century teacher, Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai (according to the Cabalists, the author of the Zohar), departed this life. The term used is hilula (“marriage”) of Rabbi Simeon ben ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Hanukah 18 December 197[?]: During the power-cuts some people used yahrzeit candles or Chanucah candles for illumination. Is this permitted? Both the Yahrzeit candle and the Chanucah candles may be used for the purpose you mention except that the Chanucah lights must not be used while they are actually burning on Chanucah. A distinction is made in the sources between things used for sacred ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Date unknown: I see that a Southend rabbi refused to attend a shiva for a person who was cremated. What is the reason? Reform and liberal congregations permit cremation if it is carried out in a reverential manner. Orthodoxy, however, is severely opposed to cremation for a number of reasons. (1) Cremation was a pagan practice in ancient times so that the memory of it is still taints it. (2) ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Date unknown: What is kosher cheese? Is it made of supervised milk without rennet? Yes, but it is the absence of rennet which really counts not the supervised milk. The reason for supervised milk (where this is still observed) is in order to prevent the introduction into the milk of milk taken from a forbidden animal (pig’s milk, for instance). The din says the milk of a forbidden animal ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Date unknown: What type of wine may be used for Friday evening kiddush? The details of the kinds of wine that may be used for kiddush are stated in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 272). Here it is recorded that although Nachmanides holds that white wine should not be used the ruling is that it can be used. However, some later authorities urge the use of red wine if this is available. 5 ... Continue Reading ➨
Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle. Passover 17 April 1970: Is it permitted to invite non-Jews to the Seder table? Why not? If you are thinking of Exodus 12, 43 (“no stranger shall eat thereof”), this obviously applies only to the Paschal lamb in Temple times. It is the practice nowadays in many Jewish homes to invite interested non-Jews to the Seder, and those interested in fostering good relations between Christians and Jews ... Continue Reading ➨