Monday, October 3, 2011

Your Questions Answered #5

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 here is the latest installment of “Your Questions Answered.”

How to Respond to Lashon Hara
Lashon hara means “evil tongue.” Sometimes it is referred to as gossip, but it is anything harmful one person may say about another. The best way to determine whether something is lashon hara is to ask, “Is it true? Is it fair? Is it necessary?” If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you should not say it.

If someone speaks lashon hara about you, the best thing to do is to speak with that person privately. Tell the person how their words have hurt you, and ask them not to do it again. Unfortunately, the problem with lashon hara is that once the words are in the public square, some people will continue to believe them even if the original source recants.

If someone starts to speak lashon hara to you, you should tell them you don’t want to listen to such things, and if they persist, walk away. If you are consistent in not listening to this kind of talk, people will eventually get the picture, and will stop coming to you with it.

Can I place a mezuzah on a coffin?
A mezuzah is properly placed on the doorpost of a person’s home. It belongs on buildings where people live, sleep and eat (some synagogues have a mezuzah on the door, but others don’t because nobody eats or sleeps there).

A coffin contains a dead person. The person inside is not living, and can no longer sleep or eat. Therefore, it is not appropriate to put a mezuzah on a coffin.

What does “building a fence around the Torah" mean?
In the Torah, there are 613 laws. It is important to observant Jewish people to follow as many of those laws as possible. Therefore, the rabbis instituted some extra rules in order to try to make sure that nobody breaks a Torah law by mistake.

Making up those extra laws is called “building a fence around the Torah,” because if you don’t cross the line of that extra rule (or fence) then you can’t get close enough to the edge of the law to break it.

One example is the line in the Torah that tells us not to “boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” In order to be safe, the rabbis tell us not to eat any meat or dairy together. And in order to make sure we don’t eat meat and dairy together by mistake, the rabbis made a bunch of other rules about having separate dishes and cooking utensils for meat and dairy, waiting a certain amount of time before eating dairy after a meat meal, etc. These extra rules are the metaphorical fences around the Torah.

When God calls, do we have an option?
Great question. God gave us free will, so we always have an option. God may call, but we may choose not to follow that call.

That said, sometimes we feel compelled to do something, and we do it, and it isn’t until later that we realize God was calling us to do that thing. In that case, we had an option, but we may not have known at the time that we had chosen to do God’s will.

Also, in my experience, God is persistent. When God calls softly and we resist, God calls a little more loudly. The longer we resist, the stronger God’s call becomes. God can make things uncomfortable for us when we don’t answer the call. So, although we have the option not to do God’s will, in the end we’ll have a better life if we follow the call when it comes.

Why don’t Reform Jews follow the commandments?
Although there are many levels of observance among Reform Jews, many Reform Jews follow many of the commandments. In fact, whether they know it or not, many people who are not Jewish also follow many of the commandments.

The main difference between observant Reform Jews and observant Orthodox Jews is that the Orthodox Jews follow halacha, which consists of many “fences around the Torah” as described above. If one looks at the 613 commandments in the Torah, one will not find many that an observant Orthodox Jew follows which an observant Reform Jew does not.

On the other hand, in the Reform Jewish world, people who are less observant are not looked down upon by those who are more observant. Rather, we recognize that we are all on our own Jewish path, and that every person must decide for themselves what that path looks like. In the end, all Jewish paths lead to the same place.

What is the point of being a Jew if you are not Orthodox?
The point of being a Jew if you are not Orthodox is the same as the point of being a Jew if you are Orthodox.

The point is to bring oneself closer to God. The point is to continue beautiful traditions that have been practiced for hundreds, even thousands, of years. The point is to follow God’s commandments to the best of one’s ability. The point is to live a spiritual and moral life. The point is to be part of a sacred community and to pass on valuable traditions and values to future generations. The point is to learn from the Torah and to try to incorporate its teachings into one’s life. The point is to do God’s will and to be a light unto the nations.

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 coming here via interesting search terms.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I noticed a car mezuzah once which I thought was very strange. I do suppose many people eat in theirs cars but I hope they aren't also having to sleep in their cars.

  3. How tall mezuzah should be hung?
    If I have an inner courtyard entrance of the house, it's not a door, but a large glass window
    Are there too I have to put a mezuzah?
    My uncle says yes but my neighbor say no

  4. A mezuzah should be hung about one third of the way down from the top of the door, assuming it's a door of normal height. It should be within easy reach, close to shoulder height.

    For the courtyard entrance to your house, I don't see why you couldn't hang one there.