Friday, December 16, 2011

Your Questions Answered # 6

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.”

Are Orthodox Jews Respected in General by Other Jews?
This is a fascinating question. My first reaction is that I suspect that most secular and non-Orthodox Jews don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Orthodox Jews. Like any group of people, of course, it’s a bad idea to generalize. There are a wide range of opinions among non-Orthodox Jews regarding Orthodox Jews. Some people don’t respect the Orthodox at all, while others hold a deep respect for them. I’m sure every flavor along the spectrum in between those two extremes is represented as well.

I would say that, for many, Orthodox Jews are viewed as an anachronism, like the Amish. We respect that they want to live their lives that way, but we don’t want to live our lives that way, and we don’t like it when they try to force their views on us. I’d say the more they treat us with respect, the more we’re inclined to treat them with respect. Respect is, after all, a two-way street.

What does it mean when your mezuzah falls?
If your mezuzah falls onto the ground, it means you didn’t affix it properly to your doorpost. Seriously, there is no magic here. It is not a sign of anything bad. Pick it up, kiss it if you like, and affix to the doorpost more firmly. No worries.

What happens if a person dies during the Days of Awe?
The Days of Awe are the 10 days between, and including, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Under Jewish law, we don’t observe shiva (the seven days of mourning) and we don’t bury people during holidays. This includes the week of Pesach (Passover) as well, which affected me when my father, alav hashalom, died two days before Pesach.

You should always consult with a rabbi in a case like this, but if a person dies during the Days of Awe, I would suspect that the burial would take place as soon as possible after Yom Kippur ends, and shiva would start then.

What is the meaning of challah?
Challah is a special braided bread we eat on Shabbat. The practice goes back to the days of the original mishkan, the tent we carried with us in the desert, which housed the Ark of the Covenant, and had within it tables on which bread would be placed.

Unlike in Christian ceremonies, in which bread or wafers symbolize, or “become” the flesh of Jesus, challah in Jewish ritual is just bread.

What to do at a shiva minyan if you don’t read Hebrew
Having just attended a Sikh funeral this week, I know what it feels like to be at a service and to not understand the language being used. Some Hebrew prayer books contain a transliteration, which shows you how to pronounce all the Hebrew, using English letters. However, even lifelong Jews can have trouble reading a transliteration out loud if it is a prayer with which they are unfamiliar.

Therefore, if you’re not comfortable reading Hebrew and you don’t know the prayers, I would suggest you listen respectfully, and stand up and sit down when others around you do so. You do not need to genuflect, bow, or kneel at any time.

If you’re lucky, some of the service will be in English. The amount of Hebrew used will vary depending on the practices of that community, the leader, and the preferences of the family that is in mourning.

Why doesn’t my Orthodox colleague wash her hands?
If your Orhtodox colleague doesn’t wash her hands, it means she has poor hygiene. There is nothing, to my knowledge, in halacha (Jewish law) or Orthodox practice that would prevent an Orthodox Jew from washing his or her hands when appropriate, such as after using the restroom or when their hands are dirty.

In fact, Orthodox practice requires one to wash one’s hands on some occasions when secular people may not wash their hands, such as before eating a meal with bread, and upon leaving a cemetery.

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 those interesting search terms.


  1. I personally have great respect for the Orthodox.

  2. We Orthodox Jews are falling short of our designated task if we fail to garner respect far and wide. Our job is to sanctify the Name of Heaven constantly, in all we do. Not an easy job - but someone has to do it.