Monday, April 4, 2011

Your Questions Answered #2

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. In February I answered some of your questions. Below are answers to some of the questions you have asked since then:

Is there a chevra kadisha for women?
A chevra kadisha, or holy society, is a group of people who take care of others in their community. They do things like visit people who are sick, bring them meals, write get-well notes, and comfort people in mourning. They also usually perform shmirah, watching over the dead before they are buried; and taharah, ritually washing dead people, dressing them, and placing them in their coffin. Generally, a chevra kadisha will include both men and women.

What do you say when kissing a mezuzah?
There is nothing that is traditionally said when one kisses a mezuzah. Rather than saying anything, I like to use it as an opportunity to take a moment to think about what kind of person I want to be in the world.

Can Jewish people kiss people on Friday?
First of all, it's helpful to remember that the Jewish sabbath does not begin until sundown on Friday, and it runs through Saturday at sundown. So kissing someone on Friday morning or afternoon is no different than kissing someone on any other weekday. If the question is whether Jews kiss people on Shabbat (the sabbath), the answer is yes. In fact, it's a mitzvah for married couples to make love on Shabbat. It gives us a taste of the world-to-come.

Do Jews like kissing?
Jews are human beings just like all other human beings. We like kissing every bit as much as non-Jews do.

Can Jews step on the gounds of another religion?
Yes. Sometimes our rabbi speaks at a church. I have attended weddings, funerals, and meetings at churches. We do not take communion when visiting a church, nor do we genuflect, kneel or bow toward statues of Jesus or other such religious symbols.

Do Reform Jews follow the mitzvot?
There is nobody on this planet who follows all 613 mitzvot. (See my post here for more information backing up this statement). There are also very few people (Jewish or non-Jewish) who follow none of them. For example, most of us (and by "us" I mean human beings) don't murder people, most of us don't commit incest, most of us don't smite our mother or father, etc.

There are also some mitzvot that people with good intentions try to follow, but, as human beings, we sometimes fail to live up to our own high standards. For instance, some mitzvot many Jews (and many non-Jews) try to follow are refraining from gossip, not lying, and not blaspheming. It would be hard - maybe even impossible - to find a person who had never done any of things.

So yes, Reform Jews follow the mitzvot, but not all of them, and not all the time. The same can be said of Jews from every other denomination as well.

What happens if you don't follow the 613 mitzvot?
One answer: Nothing. See above. Nobody follows all 613 mitzvot.

Another answer: The Torah says if we follow God's commandments then rain will fall in the proper season and other good things will happen, and that bad things will happen if we don't follow them. However, I think anyone who tries to explain bad things that happen by claiming it's because somebody (or some group of people) broke one or more commandments, or did anything else wrong, is barking up the wrong tree.

A third way of looking at it: Many of the commandments have to do with how to treat other people. The more people who follow those commandments and treat each other well, the better off we all are, because we're living in a kinder, better world. Other commandments bring meaning to our lives in other ways.

If we explore those commandments that may bring meaning into our lives and try to find ways to do them, we enrich our lives. If we break commandments by doing things we know are wrong (such as stealing), we feel guilty.

So my real answer is: If we don't at least try to follow the mitzvot that we find morally compelling and/or that bring meaning into our lives, we're missing out on something important, and our lives are diminished.

Do Reform Jews put up mezuzahs?
Many Reform Jews do put up a mezuzah on the doorpost of the front door of their home. Some Reform Jews put up additional mezuzot (the plural of mezuzah) as well. My understanding is that Orthodox Jews usually put up a mezuzah on the doorpost of most of the doors of their home, excluding doors to closets and restrooms (but I haven't been in homes of Orthodox Jews to confirm this).

Are tefillin only for men?
No. Women are not required by halacha (Jewsih law) to wear tefillin; neither are women forbidden by halacha to wear them. The first time women wore tefillin at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem after the founding of Israel, the Orhtodox rabbi in charge of the Kotel at the time agreed that this is the case.

And my favorite "what were they thinking" search phrase was:

Vegetarian Mezuzah
We don't eat mezuzot. Mezuzot are incapable of eating. So there is no such thing as a vegetarian mezuzah.

Technically, the mezuzah is actually the scroll inside the case we see and kiss. To be kosher, the scroll must be made of parchment, which is made of animal skin. So I suppose the person who wrote "vegetarian mezuzah" was looking for a mezuzah which does not contain any animal parts. Unfortunately, they will not be able to find a kosher mezuzah without animal skin parchment.

Keep those questions coming!
I would love to answer more of your questions, so feel free to ask some in the comments section below, or just keep going with those interesting search terms.


  1. What a fun post I enjoyed reading the questions and your answers.

    "Orthodox Jews usually put up a mezuzah on the doorpost of most of the doors of their home, excluding doors to closets and restrooms"
    yes you are right Orthodox Jews put a mezuzah on doorposts of all the doors excluding the restroom and closets but some may put on walk in closets that are big enough to "live in".

  2. I wonder if you post this comment.

    A Hevrah Qadisha must include women. In a pinch women may be included in the tohara of a man. But a deceased woman may only be taken care of by women.

    There is no misswah to kiss a mezuzah.

    Jews may NOT go into the sanctuary of church, as it is a place of avaodah zarah.

    TIP: If a Jew drops something important in front of one of the above mentioned statues, s/he should bend down (in a modest manner) with back to the statue.

    Women may put on tefillin. Rashi's daughter put on tefillin, but she did so in private, for reasons of modesty, as woman may not reveal those areas where she were to put tefillin, and only because she felt they would help her kawanna, not for any political statement.

  3. Isreview -
    Thank you for the confirmation.

    Ben-Yehuda -
    I wonder why you would think I wouldn't allow your comment. You certainly didn't say anything ever bordering on being abusive.

    Perhaps Orthodox Jews are not permitted to go into the sanctuary of a church, but other Jews do. In fact, when the Conservative synagogue in our County was being rebuilt, the church down the street opened their doors to the temporarily homeless Jewish congregation, which held their Jewish prayer services in the church sanctuary every week until their new synagogue building was ready to reopen.

    By the way, when I, as a woman, wear tefillin I do it for religious reasons, not political reasons. The same is true for many of the Women of the Wall. If you're worried about seeing women's elbows, a tallit gadol will normally cover those.