Saturday, February 5, 2011

Your Questions Answered

By Susan Esther Barnes

One of the fun things about getting website statistics for my blog is I get to see the search terms people use to get here. A lot of those search terms are questions. You have some great questions, and I think they deserve an answer. So below is a list of questions that have brought people here recently, and my answers to them:

Are Jews allowed in Space?
Not only are Jews allowed in space, there have already been Jews in space. You can read a somewhat outdated list of Jews in space here. Thanks to your question, I learned that the first Jew in space was a woman.

Can a Jew Change from Orthodox to Reform:
Yes, they can, and some do. This can be difficult, however, because many in the Orthodox community would find this upsetting, and the person changing from Orthodox to Reform will likely leave behind upset friends and family members. A Reform Jew can also change to Orthodox, with many of the same difficulties. This is mainly due to cultural differences and intolerance, which is very sad. I believe everyone should be free to worship in the way that works best for them personally, but unfortunately, not everyone feels that way.

Can a Person Eat Pork and Kiss a Jewish Person?
It's best to deal with this on an individual basis. An Orthodox Jew is not supposed to marry a non-Jewish person, and is not supposed to kiss someone to whom they are not married, so they shouldn't be kissing others who would be eating pork. There are other Jews who kiss - and marry - non-Jews, so before you kiss a Jewish person, you should probably ask whether they keep kosher, and how they would feel about you eating pork before kissing them.

Can Jewish People Kiss People of a Different Religion?
Yes! Again, an Orthodox Jewish person wouldn't, but the majority of Jews can. That being said, any time a person gets into a committed relationship with a person of another religion it can lead to tensions among friends and family, as well as disputes around the holidays and how to raise the kids, so think about the ramifications before you kiss someone of a different religion, whether or not they are Jewish.

Do Women Kiss the Mezuzah?
Yes! Jewish women of all denominations kiss mezuzahs.

How Big is a Mezuzah?
A mezuzah can come in many different sizes. Some are small enough to be worn as a pendant on a necklace. Some, like those on the gates leading to the Old City in Jerusalem, are quite large. I'd say the average mezuzah you'd see on most doorposts of modern-day houses are about 4 to 5 inches tall.

How is Intermarriage a Tragedy?
It isn't a tragedy. At all. The tragedy is when people treat intermarriage as a tragedy, thereby making other people feel bad when they shouldn't. Some people are afraid that intermarriage will lead to the kids of the marriage not being raised as Jewish, leading to there being fewer Jews, and possibly ultimately to the end of Jews altogether. I have never seen any statistics to show this is the case, and in fact I know of many intermarried couples who are successfully raising their children as Jews.

How do You Kiss a Mezuzah?
I kiss a mezuzah by touching the mezuzah with the tips of the fingers on one hand (usually my right hand), and then thinking of what kind of person I want to be in the world as I bring the fingers to my mouth and kiss them. Some people kiss their fingers first and then touch the mezuzah. Either way is fine.

Is it Disrespectful to Try Another Religion for a Day?
This is a hard one to answer. I don't know how one can "try" a religion for a day. You may want to consult with your clergy on this (if you are a member of a religion). It is certainly okay to attend a Jewish service (weekday service, Shabbat service, bar/bat mitzvah, wedding, funeral, etc.) if you are not Jewish. If you go to a synagogue, you may drink the wine no matter what religion you are (because in a synagogue the wine is just wine, and does not represent the blood of a religious figure, for instance).

If you are Jewish, it is okay to attend a service for another religion (Mass, wedding, funeral, etc.) as long as you don't break certain rules. For instance, you should not bow to an idol (and some may consider Christian statues to be idols) and you should not drink the wine or eat the wafers that are supposed to represent the blood and flesh of a religious figure.

For more information about attending services for another religion, see the book How to Be a Perfect Stranger edited by Stuart M. Matlins and Arthur J. Magida.

I hope this was as helpful to you as it was fun for me. I hope to answer more questions like this in the future, as I get more interesting questions from all of you. Feel free to post your questions in the comments section below, or just keep using those search engines!


  1. "If you are Jewish, it is okay to attend a service for another religion . . . "

    That depends on whom you ask. My understanding is that many Orthodox Jews consider it forbidden even to enter a church, much less to attend a service there.

    But *if* you choose to enter a non-Jewish house of worship, you should certainly avoid doing anything that makes it appear that you're a participant in the worship service, as opposed to being just a respectful guest.

  2. Shira -

    I'm sure there are some Jews who would disagree with several of my answers. This is not a surprise, because it's pretty hard to get all Jews to agree on just about anything.

    These answers are how I would answer someone who asked me directly for my opinion. I'm not a rabbi or a halachic scholar, but I do believe the opinions expressed here for the most part do not stray far from opinions that would be expressed be a majority of Jewish Americans.

    I am quite certain that no Orthodox Jew would, for a moment, consider following my opinion rather than the custom of his/her community or the ruling by his/her posek.

    That being said, the idea that a minority hold that you shouldn't even step into a church seems quite silly to me. Religions aren't diseases; you can't "catch" them by having a little exposure to them. And if you have strong beliefs in your own religion, even a fair amount of exposure to another religion isn't going to sway you.

    I wouldn't recommend that a Jew go to church every week, but I don't see any harm in attending a wedding or funeral of a colleague, family member or friend every once in a while.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Sorry about the deletion, but the editor in me just *had* to correct a spelling error. :)

    Ahem, as I was saying before I so rudely interrrupted, er, corrected myself:

    "Religions aren't diseases; you can't "catch" them . . . "

    Agreed. I, too, see no harm in an occasional visit out of respect for a loved one. I'm just reporting what I've heard. Don't shoot the messenger. :)

  5. I'm very sorry I made you feel like I was shooting the messenger. I very much appreciate your comments, and I would never shoot you. I hope you will accept my sincere apology. I want you to keep coming back with more messages!

  6. pookie:

    speaking of spelling errors, i can't imagine that the book you reference is entitled "How to Be a Perfect Stanger" - you must mean "Stranger"!



  7. Thanks! The typo has been corrected!

  8. I think this post is pure GENIUS! I think analytics are fascinating and the fact that you picked great questions and answered them? There's just no other word for it: GENIUS!