Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Your Questions Answered # 9

By Susan Esther Barnes

I love some of the search terms people use to get to my blog. A lot of those search terms are questions. Because they are such great questions, 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.”

Are there secular Jews who don’t observe shiva?

The word shiva means “seven” in Hebrew. It stands for the first seven days of mourning after the burial of a loved one. During shiva, observant Jews stay at home, people come over for prayer services, and several other customs may be followed.

I am certain there are secular Jews who don’t observe shiva. There are also non-Orthodox religious Jews who don’t observe shiva, and there are some who do follow some of the customs of shiva, but not for the entire seven days.

You never know when circumstances may get in the way with observing a traditional shiva period. For instance, when my father, alav hashalom, died last year two and a half days before Passover, had he been buried before the start of Passover, according to tradition the shiva period would have stopped when the Passover holiday started.

As it turned out, he wasn’t buried until after the end of Passover, allowing a full seven day shiva period, but I have to say that starting shiva 12 days after a death and thereby ending shiva almost three weeks after the death is far from ideal, and I didn’t do it even though I’m religious.

Do you attend Shabbat services every week?

I don’t know whether this question was for me specifically, or for Jewish people in general. I attend Shabbat services twice a week: on Friday night and on Saturday morning (Shabbat starts at sundown on Friday and goes until sundown on Saturday).

Observant Jews are expected to go to Shabbat services every week. In some Orthodox households, only the men (and boys who are old enough) go to Shabbat services.

Does the Torah say to kiss the mezuzah?

No. There is nothing anywhere in the Torah about kissing a mezuzah. It is a custom; it is not a commandment.

Do women have to kiss the mezuzah?

Nobody has to kiss a mezuzah. See above. It is a custom, and is not a commandment. Men, women, and children may all kiss a mezuzah if they want to, and it is the custom that Jewish men, women, and children all do so.

How do Jews follow commandments of the Temple?

There are 613 commandments in the Torah, and a whole section of them have to do with making sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem, and other related Temple activities. However, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed (twice) a long time ago, and has not been replaced. In fact, where the Temple once stood, there is now a Muslim mosque, so it’s unlikely the Temple will be rebuilt any time soon, even though Jewish people now have (at least some) access to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

As a result, no Jews follow the commandments that have to do with the Temple. This is one of the reasons why I say it is disingenuous for Orthodox Jews (or anyone else) to claim they follow all of the commandments in the Torah.

Interestingly, the ancient rabbis tried to preserve some of the Temple traditions, as best they could, in the diaspora. For example, the times for prayer services throughout the day are set in order to coincide with the times of the day when sacrifices were made in the Temple in ancient days. Also, Jews all over the world pray while facing in the direction of the Temple Mount.

How do Orthodox Jews travel on ships?

The same way everyone else does. They buy a ticket, board a ship, and get off after the ship reaches their destination.

Perhaps this question alludes to the fact that Orthodox Jews are not supposed to travel on Shabbat. That is why you won’t find an Orthodox Jew boarding a plane late Friday afternoon or during the day on Saturday. If it takes the ship more than six days to reach its destination, at least part of the journey will happen on Shabbat, and that may present a problem.

According to the Chabad website, apparently a Jew is allowed to travel on a ship over Shabbat as long as the Jew asks the ship captain to stop on Shabbat (even if the captain doesn’t actually stop), and as long as the crew members aren’t Jewish (since Jews aren’t supposed to work on Shabbat). This explains how many observant Jews were able to travel to the United States via ship from Europe and other distant lands.

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 comment:

  1. wow, i see the feedback here is great
    thank you for the thoughtful post, Susan!