Originally published in The Jerusalem Post, 20 May 1999.
An ideal book for an easy browse on Shavuot night is Ask The Rabbi. Questions and Answers on Judaism by Louis Jacobs (London, Valentine Mitchell: 237 pp.; price not stated).
This collection of answers to questions posed by readers of the Jewish Chronicle would be interesting, if only to learn what their concerns are as mainly middle-of-the-road observant British Jews. Rabbi Jacobs presents the Orthodox view, and mentions the Reform and Conservative attitudes where they differ. He rarely refers to his own sometimes very controversial opinions. But he does refer to the “’fundamentalist view that every word of our present Torah was dictated by God.”
Many of the questions are standard, such as: why do we eat milky foods on Shavuot, and decorate the synagogues with greenery? But there are some more interesting ones, such as: what constitutes an Orthodox Jew? Rabbi Jacobs answers that the Hebrew term is haredi, which means God-fearing but is “perhaps too priggish.”
Other subjects include taking a fellow Jew to a civil court, the right to strike, what is glatt kosher (“religious upmanship for the ordinary Jew”), saying Amen to Kaddish heard on the radio, speaking to the dead, the question whether a tattooed Jew can be buried in a Jewish cemetery, bowing to a Sefer Torah, and faith healing.
I will not spoil it by giving the answers except to report that “some say that when you see the Queen on television, you should say the benediction on seeing a royal personage.”
Rabbi Jacobs comments that “debates and discussions, often vehement, have long been the lifeblood of Judaism. If this book generates a few more of these, all to the good.”