Thursday, February 23, 2012

Your Questions Answered #7

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 addition, it turns out these posts are among the most popular ones on my blog. So here is the latest installment of “Your Questions Answered.”

Can you touch someone else’s mezuzah?
Yes! Of course, some people wear a mezuzah as a pendant, and I wouldn’t go reaching for a mezuzah hanging on someone else’s neck. However, any mezuzah on a doorpost is fair game – go ahead and kiss it!

Can you use the word “devout” to refer to Jews?
Of course you can. I’m guessing this question comes up because we often hear the phrase, “Devout Christian.” My handy Webster’s dictionary defines the word “devout” as “Devoted to religion,” so as with any religious person of any faith, religious Jews can be referred to as “devout.”

Do you have to tell people you weren’t born Jewish after you convert?
The short answer is no. Once a person converts to Judaism, he or she is considered to be a Jew just like any other Jew, with all the same obligations.

However, under some circumstances, a person may be asked to prove he or she is Jewish. I think this is wrong, and a person should be taken at his or her word about whether he or she is Jewish, but others disagree. If a convert is asked to prove he or she is Jewish, then the fact that he or she is a convert will inevitably come out.

Circumstances in which you may be asked to prove your Jewishness include applying for membership at some (most likely Orthodox) synagogues, enrolling your child in a yeshiva (Orthodox religious school), making aliyah (moving to Israel), and getting married in Israel (where only Orthodox Jews can be married – non Orthodox Israeli Jews often travel to Cyprus to get married).

What statement is written on the seder plate?
It depends on your seder plate. The seder plate is used for Pesach, or Passover. The word seder means “order,” and it refers to several different types of food that we eat in a certain order for this holiday. Those special foods are put on the seder plate, so many of them have the names of the special foods written on them. Some may also say “Pesach” or something else on them in Hebrew, relating to the holiday. If you want to know what your seder plate says, ask a rabbi, or bring it into a Judaica store for a translation.

Why do people visit others when they are sick?
When we talk about visiting the sick, we don’t generally mean visiting people who have a common cold or flu, or people who are contagious. We don’t want to interrupt people who are trying to get some rest, and we certainly don’t want to catch anything, or to spread disease to others.

However, when someone is in the hospital or recovering at home from surgery or a non-contagious illness, it can be pretty lonely. A visit from a friend can help to pass the time, and can help keep the person’s mind off of their illness, at least for a while.

Jewish tradition says that when you visit someone who is sick, it takes away a small part of his or her illness. Also, just after Abraham was circumcised, God came to visit him. We visit the sick as one way to try to imitate what God does.

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. Thank you for your wonderful articles. I would like to make a small correction on this post. In Israel all Jews may be married, not only Orthodox ones. What I believe you were meaning to say was only marriages performed per Orthodox standards and by an Orthodox rabbi are allowed. The participants may be of any level of observance.

  2. Allan -

    Well, I don't know about that. When I was in Israel in 2010, one of our guides was engaged to be married, and she was going through the hassle of trying to prove she was Orthodox so she could get married in Israel, where she lived.

    Also, those who converted in non-Orthodox communities, and their children, grandchildren, etc. are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox rabbis, so they will not perform weddings for these folks, no matter how devout they are.