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Reader's Question: Should I pray in Hebrew even though I don't speak or understand Hebrew?

Answer: There's a great book you can check out called: Why Is Hebrew Called the “Holy Tongue”? . One cannot minimize the importance and sanctity of the Hebrew language. It is the language of creation, prophecy and all spiritual energy. Additionally, the prayers were composed by the Men of the Great Assembly in Hebrew, and no translation is ever a perfectly accurate substitute for the original. So if you understand Hebrew, you should pray in Hebrew. And if you don’t understand Hebrew, you should at least try to learn the meaning of the prayers so you know what you’re saying.

There are two schools of thought on if you should pray in Hebrew even though you don't understand it:

Many, including most notably Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan (in his work Mishnah Berurah), are of the opinion that due to the holiness of prayer in its original Hebrew language, if one is able to pray in Hebrew, he should do so, even if he doesn’t understand what he is saying. Others, including the Magen Avraham2 and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (in his Shulchan Aruch Harav), take a different approach. While conceding that the common custom is to pray in Hebrew regardless of comprehension, Rabbi Schneur Zalman writes that if one does not understand the meanings of Grace after Meals, Shema, Amidah and Hallel, he should not recite them in the Holy Tongue, but in a language he does understand. And though there is room to allow the recitation of other blessings in the Holy Tongue, one should still preferably recite them in a language that he understands because “prayer without concentration is not considered prayer.”3

This view follows that of the earlier mystics, most notably Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid (“the Pious”), who writes regarding people who do not understand Hebrew: “Teach them to pray in the language that they understand, for ‘prayer is only in the heart,’ and if the heart does not understand what comes out of the mouth, what benefit is there? Therefore, it is proper that they pray in the language that they understand.”4

Indeed, this strong emphasis on prayer being the “service of the heart” over mere lip service is what led Rabbi Dovber (son of Rabbi Schneur Zalman Liadi, and whose birthday and yahrtzeit we celebrate on the 9th of Kislev) to write a work called Pirush Hamilot, an explanation of the words of prayer based on Chassidic teachings. This was in addition to arranging his father’s discourses around the text of his Siddur, and publishing it under the name “Siddur im Dach.”

FOOTNOTES


Reader's Question: Why is Hallel sometimes whole and sometimes only half?

Answer:  Hallel, which literally means “praise,” is composed of Psalms 113-118 and is recited in praise of G-d’s miracles and His salvation of the Jewish nation from a particular crisis.

The entire Hallel is added to the daily prayers on the following holidays:

● Passover (the first two days)

● Shavuot

● Sukkot

● Chanukah

We say a truncated version (known colloquially has “half-Hallel”) on the following occasions:

● Rosh Chodesh

● The intermediate and last days of Passover

(There are differences of opinion whether the recital of Hallel is a biblical1 or rabbinic2 obligation.)

Why these days, and why two different lengths? Let’s have a look.

It Is Said on Holidays

The Talmud explains that as a very general rule, Hallel is recited on days that are called a mo’ed (holiday) in the Torah, in addition to being days that one is prohibited to work.3 Thus, Hallel is recited on the three major festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.

Additionally, Hallel is also recited on days when miraculous salvation took place for our people. Many authorities limit this to miracles in which the entire Jewish Nation was saved, not just individual communities.4

Shabbat and High Holidays: The Exceptions

Although one is prohibited to work on Shabbat, it is not called a mo’ed in Scripture,5 and therefore Hallel is not recited then (we will get to Rosh Chodesh a bit later).

Although Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur would seem to fit the bill, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Abahu explains that the ministering angels asked this very question of G-d, who replied to them: “Is it possible that the King sits on the Throne of Judgment, and the Book of Life and the Book of Death are open before Him, and [the nation of] Israel sings before Me!?” 6

Passover vs. Sukkot

Although we have stated that Hallel is recited on both Passover and Sukkot, there is a difference between the two. On Sukkot, the entire Hallel is recited every day, while on Passover, the entire Hallel is only recited the first two days.7

Two reasons are given for this, one having to do with the uniqueness of Sukkot and the other of Passover.

FOOTNOTES


Reader's Question: Is it ok to wear a Mezuzah necklace?

Answer: The Talmud explains in a number of places that a mezuzah affords protection.1 However the mitzvah of mezuzah is indeed to affix it to your doorway. Using it for any other purpose is in no way the fulfillment of the mitzvah. Although there are records of people using mezuzot as amulets since ancient times. In fact, the Mishnah mentions that some had the custom to carry a hollowed-out staff containing a mezuzah for protection.2

On the outside of the mezuzah scroll, G-d’s name Shaddai (ש-ד-י) is written. The Kabbalists explain that, in addition to being G-d’s name, it is also the acronym for שומר דלתות ישראל, “guardian of the doors of Israel,” alluding to the protection that the mezuzah affords.3 In light of this, there is a lively discussion in post-Talmudic responsa whether protection can be obtained only through a properly placed mezuzah in fulfillment of the mitzvah, or whether it can come from any mezuzah.

Many are of the opinion that there is indeed some measure of protection from the mezuzah itself, even when not affixed to a doorway.4 Accordingly, the Lubavitcher Rebbe advised certain individuals who were dealing with health issues to carry a mezuzah with them (obviously in addition to having kosher mezuzot properly affixed to all the doorways of the house).5

(It should be noted that even when the mezuzah is on the doorway, the protection it affords is not necessarily quantifiable.6)

So yes, people have been known to carry mezuzot with them., but is it proper to have the mezuzah hanging around your neck?

Expounding on the verse “And your life will hang in suspense before you . . .,”7 the Talmud explains that this refers to one who hangs up his tefillin on a peg, which is seen as disrespectful.8 Would hanging a mezuzah around your neck be equally disrespectful?

Two preeminent halachic decisors of the last century, Rabbi MosheFeinstein9 and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef,10 both explain that the Talmud’s caution against hanging sacred items does not apply to hanging them from one's body. Indeed, in ancient times, the Jewish kings were commanded to constantly have a Torah scroll with them, so they would hang the scrolls from their arms.11

Wearing a mezuzah necklace presents some challenges. Unless it is covered by two opaque layers, a mezuzah (or any other sacred writing, for that matter) may not be brought into a bathroom or any unclean place,12 or be present in a room during intimate relations.13 Practically, this means that if you were to wear a mezuzah necklace, you would need to make sure to take it off anytime you walked into the bathroom or even just walked through an unclean place.

Though wearing a mezuzah necklace is permissible and may afford some protection, it is important not to lose sight of the mitzvah itself. Kosher mezuzot affixed properly throughout your home are much more potent than any necklace. To check if your mezuzot are kosher and affixed properly, visit our mezuzah mini-site and/or contact your local competent rabbi.

FOOTNOTES

1. See Talmud, Avodah Zarah 11a, Menachot 33b; see also Tur, Yoreh Deiah 285.

2. See Mishnah, Keilim 17:16, and Tosfot Yom Tov ad loc.

3. See Siddur HaArizal, Kavonot Mezuzah; Mishnat Chassidim 3:9; Kol Bo Hilchot Mezuzah; Darkei Moshe, Yoreh Deiah 288; see also Zohar 2:36a and Likutei Levi Yitzchak ad loc, where he explains the Zohar was alluding to this acronym (see, however, Likutei Sichot, vol. 19, p. 121, f.n. 7, for a discussion whether the Zohar was indeed alluding to this acronym).

4. See for example, Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:141; Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Halichot Olam, vol. 8, p. 216.

5. See, for example, Igrot Kodesh, vol. 4, p. 159; vol. 6, p. 254; vol. 10, p. 239.

6. See, for example, Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:141.

7. Deuteronomy 28:66.

8. Talmud, Berachot 24a.

9. Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:141.

10. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Halichot Olam, vol. 8, p. 216.

11. See Talmud, Sanhedrin 22a.

12. Although it is technically permitted to enter such a place with a mezuzah if it has a double opaque covering, ideally one should not do so, so that it be distinguished as a holy item. See Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:141:3.

13. See Magen Avraham, Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 40:2; Shulchan Aruch Harav 40:5-6; Mishnah Berurah 40:7.


Readers Question:  Does anyone have a source I can go to or know themselves what Deuteronomy 7:3 says in Hebrew? As well as having a good understanding of how it may or may not relate with Jeremiah 5:9? Trying to understand what Torah says on intermarriages, more through facts and the Hebraic mindset.


Answer: Deuteronomy 7:3 is an absolute prohibition for Jewish men and women from marrying non-Jews. The immediate context of the passage is regarding the non-Jews they will encounter when they come into the Land of Canaan, but this is understood to be a prohibition that applies universally to all intermarriage. We can see the Biblical opposition to intermarriage in Ezra chapters 9-10.

The passage in Jeremiah has nothing to do with intermarriage - it describes G-d's anger over Jewish people who strayed from Him to idolatry and mentions the sin of adultery. This is either speaking of adultery literally or as a metaphor for idolatry (which is a common form of expression in the Tanach)  From Rabbi Michael Skobac


Reader's Question:  This subject has been very difficult for me. I see many passages speaking about proclaiming and calling on the name etc... But can't actually do those things audibly. I've come to grips with learning from the Jews and following their guidance on this. Is it inappropriate or disrespectful to HaShem or other Jews to type out the 4 Hebrew letters also? I quit typing them in transposed English letters because of all of the arguments it brings up with the vav/waw. So hard because I love his name and want to proclaim it. Will this be something we will be able to do when the mashiach or Eliyahu comes and confirms a pronunciation?

Answer:  We're supposed to call upon the Name of Hashem as we were instructed to pronounce it. The Holy 4 Letter Name is ordinarily not pronounced. When we are reading the Tanach or praying, we are supposed to pronounce it as ADO'NOI and that is how we call upon the Name of God. When not reading scripture or praying, it is preferable to refer to Him as Hashem (the Name) or HaKadosh Baruch Hu (the Holy One, Blessed is He) etc. if using Hebrew or various acceptable English terms such as the Almighty, God, Our Master in Heaven, etc. Rabbi Michael Skobac


Reader's Question: Women's beauty routines (make up, skin care, personal hygiene, hair fixing) during Shabbat? If you wear make up on Erev Shabbat can you clean your skin on Leil Shabbat? How about the Shabbat day itself? I am not sure about all the details so if someone would enlighten me (and others) I'd be happy, thank you!

Answer:  Eye pencils are like drawing, brushing on eye shadow or foundation are like sweeping , classification of work.


Reader's Question:  Not being a Jew or a “Jew for Jesus,” I am confused by this “blood sacrifice” argument between the two groups. I am trying to understand. I believe in Christ and am a Christian. I agree with your assessment that the offering the Lord truly wants is a broken heart and contrite spirit full of repentance. I also believe that “blood sacrifice” is not necessary for forgiveness as you have, with excellent Scriptural support, stated very well.

My question is related to your beliefs in the atoning nature of the Messiah. Regardless of whether Jesus is THE Messiah or not, I am surprised that the arguments you present diminish the significance of the Messiah’s role. My Jewish friends have always impressed me with their strong reverence for the Messiah and his role in their future. If I have read you correctly, you do not accept the concept of expiation. Please help me understand.

I am also confused with the use of Ezekiel 18:1-4, 19-23 as proof against the ability of one to atone for another’s sins. This text was Click here to listen to Rabbi Tovia Singer’s fascinating lecture, “Sin and Atonement” not intended to be extrapolated to this point. It was simply as intended: A correction of those in that day who were propagating the idea that the sin of a father will rest upon his children. Ezekiel was dealing with those who teach that the sins of the father rest upon the children because the fall of Adam and Eve caused suffering on their children. It is clearly this false doctrine Ezekiel was trying to destroy.

Any clarification on these issues would be greatly appreciated and hopefully allow me to dispel confusion. I believe in asking the believer what he believes, not going to someone else and getting their “interpretation.” I hope you can appreciate this sincerity.

Answer:  I have been asked both of your questions by many Christians in the past, although not often with the earnestness and openness that comes across in your letter. You have essentially asked two questions, and I will address each separately.

Regarding your first question, the Bible is clear on the subject of the advent of the messiah.1 It should be noted, however, that although many sections throughout the Jewish Scriptures vividly describe how the world will be forever transformed with the arrival of the Messianic Age, very few discuss the messiah personally. The vast bulk of messianic Scripture in Tanach2 depicts the state of perfection that the world will achieve at the End of Days.

In contrast, parishioners pray to Jesus repeatedly, whom they venerate as God. How frequently is Jesus’ name mentioned during a typical Church service? Probably hundreds of times. Throughout the entire corpus of the Jewish Scriptures, there is not a single instance where we are encouraged to pray to or in the name of the messiah. This stunning, radical contradiction should inspire every parishioner to tremble, wonder, and seek out the truth.

The Tanach is clear that the significance of the messiah himself pales in comparison to the utopian age that his arrival will usher in. In a similar fashion, the status of Moses is overshadowed by the unprecedented events of the Exodus. Although Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, no Jew would even consider praying to or through Moses. Moses’ name is therefore virtually absent from the Passover Haggadah. Why is the lawgiver’s name missing from the Seder liturgy?

Because Judaism draws man’s eyes toward Heaven – the God of Israel. We are inspired by the saintly lives of great men like Abraham and Daniel, but the notion of worshiping them would not cross our minds. We worship the God for whom they were willing to die.

The reason Judaism does not accept the Christian messiah is because Jesus did not fulfill a single messianic prophecy clearly outlined in the Jewish Scriptures. The following is an overview of the central messianic prophecies outlined in the Jewish Scriptures that both Judaism and Christianity agree are messianic:

World Peace:  

Isaiah 2:4

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn of war any more.

Isaiah 11:6-8

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together. . . and the sucking child shall play on the hole of the cobra…

Universal Knowledge of God:

 Isaiah 11:9

…for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

Jeremiah 31:33

No longer shall one teach his neighbor or shall one teach his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know Me, from their smallest to their greatest,” says the Lord…

Zechariah 14:9

And the Lord shall be king over all the earth. In that day shall there be one Lord, and His name one.


Resurrection of the Dead

Isaiah 26:19

Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust, for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.

Daniel 12:2

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Ezekiel 37:12-13

Therefore, prophesy and say to them, “So says the Lord God, ‘Lo! I open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves as My people, and bring you home to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and lead you up out of your graves as My people.’”

Ingathering of Israel

Isaiah 43:5-6

I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, “Give up,” and to the south, “Keep not back, bring My sons from far, and My daughters from the ends of the earth. (see also, Jeremiah 16:15 23:3; Isaiah 11:12; Zechariah 10:6; Ezekiel 37:21-22)

Building of The Third Temple

Ezekiel 37:26-28

…and I will set My Sanctuary in the midst of them forevermore. My temple also shall be with them. Yes, I will be their God and they shall be My people. And the heathen shall know that I, the Lord, do sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary shall be in the midst of them forevermore. (See also 40-48; Isaiah 33:20)

Although fantastic messianic claims have been made by countless individuals and their enthusiastic followers throughout history, not one of these claimants fulfilled any one of the prophecies clearly outlined in the Jewish Scriptures.

When evaluating the claim of Jesus’ messiahship, it is clear that the very opposite events occurred during the period that the Christian religion emerged. For example, during this catastrophic epoch, the dead did not resurrect as Daniel and Isaiah prophesied. Quite the contrary, the Romans slaughtered many hundreds of thousands of Jews during this bitter century. The children of Israel were not gathered from the diaspora two thousand years ago. The Jewish people were exiled from their land and dispersed throughout the Roman Empire during this dark moment in history. Nor did the universal knowledge of God unfold as promised by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. As a result of the horrific wars with Rome and the dispersion that followed, the knowledge of Torah and its observance decreased. No temple was built in Jerusalem during the first century. The Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 C.E. – its remains, the Wailing Wall, wait with us till this day for the true redemption. Clearly, there is no relationship between what the Bible says about the messiah and what Christendom espouses about Jesus.

With regard to your second question, it is essential for you to understand that the Jewish people do not read their Bible as if it were a mere history book. Those teachings that are inscribed throughout the Jewish Scriptures were not only appropriate for the time they were recorded; rather, its prophecies are indispensable for all generations that would follow. Every edification and instruction of the Torah and the Prophets are as meaningful and timely today as they were the day they were first preached.

Scripture, therefore, provides few dates for reckoning Biblical chronology. While these dates do appear in certain passages in Tanach, one must be careful piecing the time periods together in order to stretch out a contiguous time line.

Moreover, the Bible is entirely silent on what had transpired over the course of many decades during the lives of men like Abraham and Moses. This does not suggest that Abraham did nothing spiritually valuable during those silent years. Rather, only those crucial events that provide eternal teachings and are relevant for all future generations were inscribed in the Bible.

Even the first Christians were well aware of this principle.

In II Timothy 3:16 Paul says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Bear in mind, at the time that II Timothy was written, the Christian Bible had not yet been written. Chronologically, the letters of Paul were among the earliest books in the New Testament. The author of this Pastoral Epistle was referring only to the Jewish Scriptures.

In the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet was teaching his people a fundamental Biblical principle: A righteous person cannot die vicariously for the sins of the wicked. This alien notion was condemned by Ezekiel. He taught that the belief that the innocent can suffer to atone for the sins of the wicked is pagan, and was to be purged from the mind of the Jewish people. This core tenet of Judaism is conveyed explicitly throughout the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel. In verses 18:20-23, the prophet declares that true repentance alone washes the penitent clean of all iniquities; every one of his sins are forgiven in Heaven. This chapter is so clear and unambiguous, there can be no other reading of these passages. Blood-sacrifices or the veneration of a crucified messiah are not mentioned or even hinted throughout Ezekiel’s thorough and inspiring discourse on sin and atonement.

Ezekiel’s teaching is not novel. The Jewish people were warned throughout the Torah never to offer human sacrifices. When Moses offered to have his name removed from the Torah in exchange for the sin that the Jewish people had committed with the Golden Calf, the Almighty abruptly refused Moses’ offer.3 Moses, who was righteous with regard to the golden calf, could not suffer vicariously for the sin of the nation. Rather, only the soul that sinned would endure judgment.

As Ezekiel explains chapters later,

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ 12 “Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, ‘The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness.’” (Ezekiel 33:11-12)

Regarding your comment on the sin in the Garden of Eden, the consequences of the fall of Adam and Eve are not to be appended to Ezekiel’s 18th chapter. The first iniquity is not mentioned in these passages. In fact, Ezekiel outlines many of the sins that the wicked routinely commit, and yet not one of them is eating from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. On the contrary, all of the sins outlined in the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel are those that were never committed in the Garden of Eden. As mentioned above, this monumental chapter is filled with fundamental principles of sin and atonement, and a vigorous rejection of the pagan belief in vicarious atonement.

Finally, I am puzzled by the fact that you have identified yourself as a Christian and yet at the end of your letter you refer to the teaching that the fall of Adam and Eve has affected and caused suffering to their future children as a doctrine that “Ezekiel was trying to destroy.” This comment surprises me because this is a foundational Christian doctrine.

The Church teaches that every person born into this world is infected with the stain of, and is spiritually lost as a result of the Original Sin. Accordingly, Christendom argues that man is incapable of achieving “salvation” through his own initiative. Man’s “totally depravity” is complete. His only hope of salvation is through the Cross. This is the cornerstone of Paul’s theology throughout his Epistles, especially in the Book of Romans.

I agree with your assessment that the doctrine of Original Sin is contrary to the teachings of the prophets. In fact, the Church’s doctrine of Original Sin and Total Depravity has no greater foe than the Prophet Ezekiel.

Thank you for your sincere questions.

Yours,  Rabbi Tovia Singer

1 - This subject is addressed at length in the letter entitled, The Christian Messiah? (see page 353)  

2 - The Hebrew word תנך (Tanach) refers to the entire corpus of the Jewish Scriptures, and is an acronym that stands for the Torah, Prophets, and the Writings.

3 - Exodus 32:31-33.

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