Question:  Are women allowed to do everything as a man can do?  What are their restrictions?

Answer: I assume that your question refers to the role of women in Jewish life and you are not asking if a woman can throw a 90 mph fastball!

From my perspective as a Conservative Rabbi, women have equal obligations, responsibilities, and privileges as men, and therefore can do anything that a man can do.  If you ask an Orthodox rabbi, you would get a different answer.  Feel free to resubmit your question specifying an Orthodox preference if you would like that answer.


Question:   I am in a slight disagreement with a friend of mine, she believes that women are not able to fufil the male obligation to hear the megilah, i am aware this is not common in an orthodox shul, but the opinion of conservative and orthodox would be appreciated.  I was under the impression that women and men alike were both required to hear the megilah, and because of this fact a women could fulfill the male mitzvah of hearing it.

Answer: You are correct that hearing the Megillah is one of the mitzvot in which men and women have an equal obligation.  In addition, since there is no requirement for a minyan to read the Megillah, the fact that from the Orthodox point of view women have a lesser obligation in minyan is irrelevent.

In an egalitarian Conservative synagogue, woman may read the megillah.  In an Orthodox synagogue, they may not.  It seems to me that the reason for this is because of “kol isha,” the principle that the “voice of a woman [singing]” should not heard by men because it might be sexually arousing.


Question:  My son has expressed an interest in becoming a Hazan.  How does one become a Hazan, and does one have to be a Kohein?

 

Answer: First of all, you do not need to be a Kohen to become a Hazan.

There are programs in Hazzanut at most major Jewish Seminaries.  They generally require a knowledge of music and commitment to a Jewish life before entry.  I cannot tell you the specific prerequisites, however.

To investigate the Conservative Cantorate, contact the Cantorial School at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, www.jtsa.edu.  The address/phone number of the Seminary is:

3080 Broadway
NY, NY  10027
212-678-8000


Question:  Please explain the differences between a Hazzan and a Rabbi.

Answer:  The rabbi is the spiritual leader of the congregation.  The rabbi may also lead services at times, but his/her main role is to act as a teacher, delivering sermons and divre Torah, teaching adult education and religious school classes, and planning and acting as a resource to those who are planning educational programs in the synagogue.  The rabbi also officiates at life cycle events - Brit Milah and baby naming, conversions, weddings, divorces, and funerals.  The rabbi, in addition, has a pastoral role within the congregation (which many Hazzanim share), visiting the sick and remaining in contact with older congregants and shut-ins.

Cantors work together with synagogue rabbis to lead and educate members of the congregation. The primary role of cantor is to lead prayer services, inspiring a community through the passion of music.  In addition to leading youth and adult choirs and instrumental ensembles, cantors are generally charged with teaching members of the congregation how to participate in prayer services and read from the Torah. In this role, they often prepare children for their bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies and teach adult education classes on a range of Jewish topics including spirituality and prayer.  Furthermore, professional cantors will often perform pastoral duties such as conducting weddings, baby namings, funerals and unveilings [from the Cantor's Assembly web site].


Question:  What happens if someone accidentally drops a Torah?

Answer: There is a widespread and accepted custom for a person who drops a Sefer Torah to fast -- some say for 40 days (during the day, and eating at night).  I have heard, however, of alternative customs such as having the entire community of people who were present if a Sefer Torah is dropped share the 40 day fast.

Rabbi David Golinkin, of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Masorti movement in Israel, writes that the custom of requiring a fast is late (late 17th century), and there is no clear basis to require fasting, even for the person who dropped the Torah.  Rabbi Golinkin suggests following other authorities who have ruled that one should atone by buying a new Torah mantle, giving Tzedakah, reciting Psalms, and/or studying certain passages of Torah or halakha.

Source:  Teshuvah by Rabbi David Golinkin, published in the Va’ad Halakha of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, Volume 6, 5755-5758.


Question:  What is the history and significance of reading the Haftorah from the Navi scroll?  Why do some congregations make it common practice, and others deem it unimportant?

Answer: The tradition of reading a Haftarah selected from the Prophets began in ancient times, sometime before the first century B.C.E.  In early times, it was read from a special Haftarah - or Navi (prophets) scroll containing only the excerpts from the prophets that were read as part of the weekly cycle.  In Babylonia, around the year 300, an attempt was made to prohibit such scrolls, on the grounds that taking excerpts from Scripture was generally prohibited.  The Haftarah selections from prophets are not read in any particular order; and sometimes one Haftarah will skip sections of the Prophetic book, or even combine section of two entirely different books.  The Talmud, however, ruled in favor of such scrolls.  Despite this, opposition to Navi scrolls remained.  Such scrolls, even when used, were not written in the same style as Torah scrolls - they had vocalization and trope markings.  Since they were not complete written copies of the Biblical books, but rather excerpts, they never attained anything near the level of holiness of a Torah scroll.  Although there are blessings before and after the Haftarah, the prophetic reading was designed to be of a lesser level of holiness than the Torah selection.

When the printing press was invented, it became common to read to read the Haftarah out of a printed book, rather than a scroll.  This was possible because the reading of prophets was not on the same level of holiness as the Torah reading.

Very few congregations today use a Haftarah scroll.  It is not halachically mandated, though it is also not prohibited.  I suppose that those who do use it want to stress the importance of the prophetic message alongside the importance of the Torah reading.  On the other hand, I do not believe that those who do not use a Navi scroll are doing so out of any prejudice against the prophets or that they find the Haftarah in any way unimportant - rather, they are simply following the accepted halachic practice of the last five or six centuries.

Source:  Jewish Liturgy, A Comprehensive History by Ismar Elbogen


Question:  Could you send me some information on Torah and Haftorah trope?

Answer: Your question is a bit too broad for me to answer without some further clarification.  Can you be more specific about the type of information you want?

You might check the Enclyclopedia Judaica for articles about trope, Ta’amim or Ta’amei Hamikra (the Hebrew words for trope).

Question:  Thank you for replying so quickly.  I want to know the names and way each of the trope sound.  If you could send that to me it would be great!

I’m sorry - I cannot send you that information over email.  However - there is a web page that you might try - ELLIE’S TORAH TROPE TUTOR, http://www.mat.net/~ewackerm/index.html .  I believe it has Haftarah trope as well.  You can also try contacting your local synagogue (I can help you if you let me know where you are), and ask the rabbi or cantor if they have a tape.


 

Question:  I know the written trope markings in the Chumash began as actual hand motions in Temple times, but I was unable to answer my student’s question:  How was it decided which “melody” would go with each hand motion/marking?

Answer: The tradition of chanting Torah, Haftarah, and other Biblical books is ancient, but the system of written trope found in the Chumash is much more recent - 6/7th century C. E.  The choice of a particular cantillation on a given word is related to the word’s grammatical significance.  Some trope accents are conjunctive, i.e., they connect words or together; and others are disjunctive, i.e., they function like commas, semicolons, colons, and periods, dividing words and phrases.  The music assigned to a trope carries out its grammatical function.  There are, however, many different systems for chanting trope.  Torah, Haftarah, Lamentations, Esther, Ruth/Song of Songs/Ecclesiastes, and High Holiday all have their own distinctive style.  In addition, Jews from different parts of the world have completely different sounding systems.

The system of hand signals is also ancient, though there is no way of determining if any of the numerous systems used today was used in Biblical times.

You might try asking your question to a cantor - he or she may have a better answer for you.  My information comes primarily from Jewish Liturgy:  A Comprehensive History by Ismar Elbogan, considered the most authoritative book on the development of Jewish liturgy.


Question:  How is one called to the Torah if one’s father is not Jewish?

Answer: If one’s father is not Jewish, one Jewish name mentions the mother, but not the father.  For example:  Rivka bat Sara.


Question: I am Jewish.  My wife is Catholic.  We have had our two daughters, ages 10 and 4 converted by the Rabbi of the Conservative synagogue I belong to.  Our eldest daugher attends Hebrew school at this same synagogue.  I have been informed that my wife’s name will not be used when my daughter is called to the Torah on her Bat Mitzvah.  Is this an individual synagogue decision or is this a rule from the Conservative establishment?  If it is not a rule, what arguments have been made to allow this?

Answer: There are two issues here.  First, a person’s Hebrew name reflects his or her Jewish identity, as well as the person or persons who gave him/her that Jewish identity.  A person with one Jewish parent received that identity from the Jewish parent, so it is appropriate that only that Jewish parent be included in the Hebrew/Jewish name.  Second, it would be impossible to call a converted child by the Hebrew/Jewish name of her non-Jewish mother, since a person who is not Jewish does not have a Jewish name.

This is a well established policy in Conservative synagogues.


Question:  We are a small congregation having services in various locations. Where can we find specifications and plans for a portable ark for a Sefer Torah?

Answer: I know that it is possible to buy portable Arks; however, I’m not sure where to send you.  The only place I can think of offhand would be a large Judaica gift shop.  Why don’t you try J. Levine, 800-553-9474.  You could also try Zerach Greenfield at Machon OT, 800-263-6445.  He is a sofer and also sells Judaica.

If you want to make your own portable Ark, I’d suggest finding a local woodworker or furniture maker, describe what you want, and have him/her build it.  There are no absolute requirements for an Ark.  You would probably want an eternal light over it; you might want curtains in addition to a door; and you definitely want something to keep the Torah from sliding out when you open the door or curtain.


Question:  Can a Jew in good standing, ie. pays his dues, in a Temple, be on the Board of Directors; then at the appropriate time, move through the chairs, and eventually become President of the Congreagation.  This is what our constitution says, however, the problem came up, when a member who is on the Board, is married to a non-jew. Do you think that such a person can move throught the executive chairs and eventually become president?

What do you think and what is recommended in these days when intermarriage is such a high percentage?

Answer: You have asked a very good question, but I am not going to answer it.  Each rabbi within a congregation has the autonomy to make decisions for his or her own congregation relating to matters of Jewish practice.  When I make a decision about a matter like this one, I take into account the entire picture of my community.  Since I don’t know anything about your congregation, it would be inappropriate for me to respond.  The correct person to speak with is your own rabbi.  He or she may give an answer to your question that you like, or may say something with which you completely disagree; in either case, it is your right to talk to the rabbi about it, find out why he/she made that decision, and ultimately, make up your own mind regarding whether you agree or disagree.

 


Question:  Do you think that a non Jewish person should be able to sit on a board of a synagogue?

Answer: The policy of synagogues affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) is that in order to be a member of a synagogue, one must be Jewish.  In order to be on a synagogue board, presumably one must first be a member of the synagogue.  Therefore, non-Jews could not be board members at any USJC congregation.

A synagogue is a religious Jewish organization, and as such, it is appropriate for any member of the synagogue to have a basic identification as a Jew.  A person who is not Jewish has the choice to convert, to tie his/her fate with the fate of the rest of the Jewish people, and thus by doing so, demonstrate a commitment to a Jewish life.  It would be inappropriate for persons who have not made this commitment to living a Jewish life to serve as leaders of the most basic institution of Judaism.


Question:  My son’s bar mitzvah is coming up and my very good friend is not jewish. Can a non-Jew perform any of the aliyahs or do you have to be Jewish to perform any of them. We would like to honor her in some way.

Answer: The basic answer to your question is that non-Jews are not allowed to take aliyot to the Torah.  However, there may be other honors that a non-Jew may take during a service.

Before I continue with my answer, I need to know whether your synagogue has a rabbi.  If you do have a rabbi, his or her opinion on this issue may be different than mine; and it would be inappropriate for me to make a halakhic ruling in his or her synagogue.

If you do not have a rabbi, I would be happy to elaborate on my answer to your question.

 


Question:  My grandfather has advised me when I was young that we were Kohen Jews, how can I get some information on this in more detail and is there some sort of DNA test that can now confirm this?

 

Answer: The status of Kohen is transmitted patralineally.  Therefore, if it was your paternal grandfather who was a Kohen, then you are a Kohen.  If it was your maternal grandfather, then you are not a Kohen.

There was a recent DNA study which showed that a high percentage of Kohanim have a certain genetic marker, but this study cannot be used to prove Kohan status.

The role of a Kohen today is very limited, and will depend on the policy of your own synagogue.  A Kohen may receive the first aliyah to the Torah, and may be invited to participate in duchenin, reciting the traditional Priestly blessing during Festival services.


Question:  Your explanation makes no sense.  Our paternal grandfather still has a genetic link to your paternal father who has direct influence on your genetic makeup, so why would a genetic trait not be transferred. I also requested to see if there is any other research projects that involve what other function the Kohen had in the Old Temple, I fully understand the role today.

I also realize that you are busy but I have 3 boy children  in a conservative Temple and they are asking me a lot of questions, Our temple is in Search of a full time Rabbi, or I would be speaking  to them .

Answer: I’m sorry if my explanation was incomplete.  I answered your question as you originally wrote it -- you did not ask specifically about the role of the kohen in the Temple, so I assumed you were asking about the role of a kohen today.

In the Temple, the Kohanim were responsible for accepting offerings, both fruit/grain and animal.  Depending on the offering, they were either burnt on the altar in full or in part; or they were eaten by the Kohen/Levites, or they were eaten by the lay person.  A Kohan also was the expert on matters of ritual purity and disease.  For a good Biblical summary of the job of a Kohen, see the book of Leviticus.

Regarding the genetic testing -- although fathers have a direct influence on the genes of their offspring, the children are not carbon copies!  Therefore, it is possible for a Kohen not to carry a particular gene even though his father did carry it.  Understand that I am not a scientist, but this is my best understanding of the genetics involved.  In any case, the transmission of Kohen is determined by tradition, i.e., fathers telling their sons that they are Kohen; I (along with, I imagine, all other rabbis and geneticists) would not accept a genetic test as determinative.


Question: My daughter is becoming bat mitzvah in June and we are looking for someone to assume the Cohen aliyah. Our questions are these -  are only people with the surname Cohen (or its variation), actually Kohanim? Is there a way of finding out if someone is a Kohen without asking them directly? Is it possible to use someone other than a Kohen for the first aliyah?

Answer: Not everyone with the surname Cohen (or one of its variants) is a kohen.  There are also people who have the surnames that sound nothing like Kohen who are kohanim.  The only way to know if someone is a kohen is to ask him (or her, in some congregations).  In any case, the particular policies of who may be called to the Torah for the first aliyah vary from congregation to congregation, so you need to address your question to the rabbi of your congregation.


Question:   I learned to read Torah about a year ago and have been given the honor to read the 7th Aliyah and Maftir of Matot = Numbers 31 - 42-54.  Could you please explain the significance of the Maftir, specifically, why the Maftir is a repeat of a part of the Aliyah before it?

Answer: The person who reads the Haftarah (Ba’al Haftarah) also gets the Maftir aliyah.  In Talmudic times the person saying the aliyah blessings would additionally read the portion.  The reason that the Ba’al Haftarah receives the additional maftir aliyah rather than one of the seven mandated aliyot is to avoid giving the impression that the Haftarah (which comes from the prophetic section of the Hebrew Bible) is of equal sanctity as the Torah portion.  By reading both a short repeat of the Torah reading and a section of Prophets (thus equating the Haftarah with a less important Torah portion), the Haftarah demonstrates that the Haftarah is less sacred than the main Torah reading.

As an aside, both ‘Maftir’ and ‘Haftarah’ mean the same thing -- concluding portion.


Question:  I am unable to get to the Shul for services, which makes me sad. Are there videos/cassettes that I may purchase, that would have Friday night services, and Rosh Hashannah/Yom Kippor services? Not being able to hear Kol Nidre is upsetting.

Answer: I can’t tell you specifically where to purchase such tapes.  However, I am sure that they must exist.  You might try calling a Jewish bookstore in your area, or doing a web search for an online Jewish bookstore.

You didn’t mention why you can’t get to shul.  If there is a shul in your area, perhaps you can call the rabbi and ask him/her if someone could pick you up or if they could arrange for a taxi service for at least part of the service.  Remember, you don’t need to stay for the whole service if you are physically unable.


Question:  I am studying morning prayers on my own, trying to become more comfortable with my private morning practice, but I know I would enter more deeply into the prayer if I could chant rather than recite; music is an important way to prayer for me.  Are there traditional chants for the at-home morning prayers, and how can I learn them?

Answer: There is a traditional chant, known as a nusah, for weekday morning services.  It is, by the way, the same whether one is praying in the synagogue or at home.

I believe that the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism book service might have a tape series by Cantor Saul Wachs that covers weekday nusah.  You can contact them at 212-533-7800 ext. 2003, or fax. 212-353-9439.  The USCJ also has a web site, www.uscj.org; you might be able to order it online.

Alternatively, you can contact a local Rabbi or Cantor who might be willing to make you a tape.  If you tell me where you are located, I can find refer to you a nearby Conservative Synagogue.


Question:  R. Lew quotes R Joel Roth in his discussions about the role of women leading the services, being on the bimah and his opinions about the length of waiting time before a married woman immerses in the mikveh.  I have been directed to ask questions of an orthodox rabbi in order to learn more about the laws of taharah but I cannot  square these teachings and references with the freedom and ease and familiarity  that all women are invited to the bimah and to have an aliyah.  Since I couldn’t think fast enough when invited to have an aliyah while in a state of niddah I did go up to the Torah.  Are conservative women expected, according to halakha, to stay away from the bimah, leading services etc.  I wonder how they can decline modestly when these things are often pre-set by months in advance because of Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies.  Where can I learn the thinking behind the Conservative viewpoint?

Answer: First, some background about tum’ah (ritually impurity) and taharah (ritual purity).  The most severe kind of tum’ah is that of coming in contact with a corpse.  The only means of purification from this kind of tum’ah, that of being sprinkled with the ashes of a red heifer, has not existed since the destruction of the Temple.  Thus every one of us is in a perpetual state of tum’ah.  The fact that women (and men, after a seminal emission) have a second reason for being tameh (ritually impure) on top of this does not increase our objective level of tum’ah.  Either one is tameh or tahor (ritually pure) -- there are really no degrees of tum’ah, there are only different means of being made tahor, depending on the kind of tum’ah.  If one was tameh, one could not participate in Temple offerings.  If one was tahor, one could participate.

Thus, were it the case that one could not touch the Torah if one were tameh, no one alive, man or woman, would be permitted to touch the Torah!  Rather, the Torah as an object cannot contract tum’ah -- it cannot be made ritually impure.  Therefore, women who are niddah may touch and kiss the Torah as it is carried around the sanctuary; may take aliyot; and may read Torah.


Question: Thank you so much for responding to this question which has been burning with me now for several weeks. Since I understand that the laws of Family purity are still on the books is it still true according to the Conservative halacha that with respect to one’s husband, one is ritually impure and therefore one refrains from intercourse until after immersion in the mikvah - according to the usual orthodox standards with respect to counting days of menses and “white days” and all the other details that pertain to uterine bleeding in other circumstances? The rabbi of my conservative synagogue was trained in the reform mode and therefore declined to help me with this since he said he has never studied the halakha.

Answer: Yes, it is true that the Conservative movement has issued no formal teshuvah modifying the traditional understanding of taharat hamishpaha.  However, the “usual Orthodox standards” contain a number of Rabbinic stringencies (on top of the Biblical prohibition) that may not be necessary.  I believe that there is a teshuvah before the Conservative movement’s Committee of Jewish Law and Standards discussing this very issue.


Question: What are the rights, obligations and restrictions on koheins?  Have they changed?

Answer: In many traditional synagogues, a kohen has the right to the first aliyah.  He may also be called up to bless the congregation during the Festival Musaf Amidah (called dukhenin).  In egalitarian synagogues, women whose fathers are kohanim also have these privileges.  However, there are some synagogues that no longer call up the kohen for the first aliyah, and many congregations that do not do dukhenin.

Kohanim are traditionally prohibited from going into cemeteries, and marrying converts and divorcees.  The Conservative movement has permitted kohanim to marry converts and divorcees, and enter a cemetery providing they do not walk on graves or lean over open graves.

 


Question: What suggestions would you have for starting a Jewish community in a small college town in rural southern Minnesota?  There are perhaps a dozen families, that we know of, in our town and the surrounding area who are Jewish.  At least half of them are young families with small children.  Most have come to the town because they are faculty at the college.  There does exist a Jewish students organization at the college, as well as a Jewish students house where 3-4 students live.  On Friday night, there are blessings made over candles, bread, and wine, and there is a light supper. However, despite having a Sefer Torah, there are no services in town, except on the High Holidays where the Torah is read. Levels of interest and background vary among the adult members of the community, but most grew up either reform or conservative.  The community already gets together informally for some of the holidays. There is, however, a feeling among some of us of wanting to do something!  More, yet at the same time we do not want to “turn off” other families, since the community is so tiny to begin with.  So, how would you go about creating a more coherent Jewish community given this scenario?

Answer: It’s interesting that your question was forwarded to me.  12 years ago, I was working for the University of Minnesota Hillel as the outreach program director -- my campuses included Carleton and Macalester colleges, so I am familiar with the community.

Organizing a community can be tough, but you want to start small and build into something bigger.  You would begin to do this by calling together a community meeting with the agenda of planning the programming year, and discussing expanding the scope of your current group.

I suggest putting together a havurah type organization (perhaps called Havurat S’deh Tzafon -- Field of the North!), similar to the informal gatherings you have now around holidays, but with a more formal structure.  In addition to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, make a commitment to come together for the other major holidays.  One of you should build a Sukkah and host a Sukkot gathering every year.  Have a Seder together, and a Shavuot study session and service.

You might start with monthly vegetarian pot-luck Shabbat dinners, preceded by a short service.  Next, you might add monthly Shabbat morning services and study sessions, followed by a pot-luck lunch.  Notice I mention food at every event.  Food is always a big draw!

If you are looking for a Siddur, you might be able to contact the National congregational organizations and see if any congregation has old Siddurim they would like to donate for the cost of shipping.  I’d suggest using a Conservative Siddur, which can be supplemented with English readings.  It keeps your options open, with respect to how traditional you ultimately will be.  If you use a Reform Siddur, you really lose the option of running a more traditional service.  But the again, I am a Conservative Rabbi, so what do you think I’d say!

As the organization adopts more formal programming, you might consider having “membership dues,” to cover things like printing and postage.

Eventually, you might consider registering as a non-profit organization, getting a phone number/voice mail, P.O. Box, and doing a little marketing and outreach.  I am certain that there are other Jews within 30 miles of Northfield who might be interested in participating, as well as non-Jews who might be interested in learning, ultimately for conversion.  Your group might even grow to the point where you could afford a part time Rabbi for High Holidays or occasional Shabbat weekends.

Most importantly, to get this kind of organization started takes one dedicated person, who is willing to devote a significant amount of time.  Once the ball get rolling, other people can and will help and eventually take over.


Question:  How can the Rabbinic Assembly allow our congregation to keep our rabbi in his job, after numerous women reported his “improper behavior” during pastoral counseling?

Answer: It would be lashon harah (evil language, gossip) of the worst kind for me to comment on your situation.  I know absolutely nothing of the situation, other than what I have read in your 2 1/2 line summary.  I do not even know if it is true.  I don’t know your congregation, and I don’t know your rabbi.  Please do not supply me with any details -- anything you say about your rabbi would be lashon hara.  Please do not think that I, as a Conservative rabbi, am just trying to cover up the possible misbehavior of one of my colleagues.  This is not the case.  I firmly believe that a member of the clergy who misuses his or her power should be fired.  But he or she also deserves due process, and does not deserve to have unproven accusations discussed over the internet.

That said, I will make one general comment.  If a rabbi’s behavior is proved to be morally repugnant (for any reason, e.g., fraud, assault, abuse, adultery, etc.), the congregation has the right to fire the rabbi.  A rabbi is hired by the congregation; the contract is between those two parties.  Neither the Rabbinical Assembly nor the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has anything to do with the contractual relationship.  The better question is, if a rabbi has been proved to have behaved improperly, why does the congregation allow him or her to remain as the rabbi?

Response:  Rabbi...thank you for your kind response to my brief inquiry about our rabbi who has transgressed. It was sage advice.   The congregation voted on Thursday (232-87) NOT to fire. The President & 4 trustees quit the temple,  etc., etc.   It’s a calamity. My grandson is to be Bar Mitzvah there on Nov.6.  We are 5th generation members, etc. etc.  But, thanks for your wise counsel, rabbi. It was appreciated.Question:  I have heard that there exists an hierarchy structure in Judaism and that some Jews are born at a higher status that others.  If so, I am interested to learn about the ones who bless the synagogue.  I am told they are a special sort and are called something.  Do you know about this?

If so, what is their background and what makes them so special that other Jews believe they are important to do the blessings?

Answer: Jews who are descendents of the tribe of Levi had special jobs in the Temple.  Jews who are descendants of Aaron (one of the families in the tribe of Levi) are Kohanim, priests.  They also had special jobs in the Temple, relating to receiving and making sacrificial offerings.  Kohanim were also given the instruction to bless the Israelites (see Numbers 6:22-27).

There is no hierarchical structure in Judaism similar to Catholicism.  The kohanim perform no intercessory function, and other than this blessing, which is still done in some traditional synagogues on Festivals (in Israel, every Shabbat) and being called to the Torah for the first aliyah, Kohanim are not more important than any other Jew.

 


Question:  If turned on before shabbat is it OK to use a sound system on shabbat, also where can I find that it says to wear a  yarmulkah or is it just tradition?

 

Answer: First of all, the halakhic category that applies to a discussion of using a sound system is the prohibition of lighting fires.  I consider electric lights and heating appliances to fall into the category of fire, since they generate heat and light.  Therefore, I would not turn on or off any electrical switch on Shabbat.  Human beings and their animals are obligated to rest on Shabbat; however, machines and automated processes are not obligated to cease on Shabbat.  Therefore, it is permitted to leave ovens, warming trays, and hot water urns on over Shabbat, and even to use timers to turn on and off appliances such as lamps.

I place a sound system in the same category.  As long as I do not turn it on or off on Shabbat, I am willing to let the system to amplify my voice.

Those who do not use sound systems on Shabbat argue that one’s voice causes the level of current to rise and fall, something akin to turning the dimmer switch on a light up and down.

Those who do use sound systems respond that a person raises and lowers a dimmer switch for the specific purpose of changing the amount of electricity being used in order to change the intensity of the light; while a person who speaks into a microphone intends to amplify his/her voice using the existing electricity that is flowing by itself through the wires, and the physics of how the current flow changes is an unintended consequence.

In addition, I would argue that electricity alone is not exactly fire.  When the electricity heats up a filament and produces light and heat, then it becomes fire; but electricity alone flowing through wires is not fire.  Therefore, while I would not turn on the microphone on Shabbat, since in general most electrical switches do produce heat and light, and most people would not distinguish between one form of electrical use and another; in the specific case of the use of the microphone on Shabbat, the changes in current flow while speaking into the microphone does not constitute a forbidden manipulation of fire.

There is no Biblical mandate to wear a kippah.

The Talmud relates that Rav Huna son of Rav Yehoshua would not walk four cubits (about 6 feet) with his head uncovered.  The implication is that it is forbidden to go our bare-headed as an measure of one’s piety (Tractate Shabbat 118b and Kiddushin 31a).

The position that it is an act of piety and modesty to cover one’s head when walking outside was codified in the Shulhan Arukh (Orakh Hayyim 91) by Joseph Karo and in the Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot De’ot 5:6) by Maimonides.  Further, Maimonides wrote in his “Guide to the Perplexed” (3:52) that it is forbidden to recite berakhot or prayers while bare-headed.

While the wearing of a head covering does not have the force of either Biblical or Rabbinic law, it has attained that status of a long standing custom.  The Talmudic principle of “Minhag avoteinu b’yadeinu,” the custom of our ancestor is in our hands,” a a strong force within Judaism to preserve custom and even elevate it to the status of halakha.  Currently, this is how the custom of head coverings is treated by the traditional forms of Judaism. 


Question:  My wife & I have become very disenchanted about the behavior of some of our synagogue’s lay leadership when it comes to what they feel is important. They seem to (in our eyes) lost contact with what a synagogue and Judaism is all about. Their attitudes towards the membership relative to money has become almost obsessive and they have lost touch with what it’s all about. What I am looking for is a quote from either Talmud or Torah that I can use to get my point across.

Answer: In general, I am uncomfortable involving myself in the internal affairs of another synagogue without the knowledge or consent of the synagogue’s rabbi.  A question such as yours makes me wonder if you have spoken with your own rabbi; if not, why not?  and if so, is your questions to me intended to bypass an answer given to you by your own rabbi?  I do not want my words used against a rabbi in his/her own community.

Possibly, you do not have a rabbi.  But if you do, I urge you to speak to him/her about your concerns.  The rabbi of a community can have a much more powerful impact on its members than an outsider (me!) providing a quotation from our tradition.

With trepidation, therefore, and a heartfelt plea to you to speak with your own rabbi, I can provide one quotation from Avot d’Rabbi Natan, chapter 29:

“One who honors one’s fellow for the sake of his/her wealth, is destined to part with him in disgrace.” - My interpretation:  If our sole goal as a synagogue is to pursue money, while ignoring the non-monetary contributions that our members make, without which the synagogue would not be viable, the glue that holds our community together will fall apart, leaving our synagogue in disgrace.


 

Question:  Is there a t'shuvah which addresses the question of permissibility of reading Torah from a printed sheet in order to ensure correct pronunciation, as opposed to reading Torah with multiple mispronunciations and few corrections?

If you had to make a choice between the two extremes of someone publicly reading from the Sefer Torah with an untold number of pronunciation errors (not to mention trope) as opposed to the same individual reading the Torah reading perfectly from a printed page in front of the Sefer Torah, what would be your "final say" and why?

Answer:  There is no teshuvah in the Conservative movement that addresses the question of reading Torah (with blessings) from a printed page. The traditional position, according to halakha, is that the when the Torah is read in public with berakhot, it must be read from a kosher Torah scroll.

There are certainly people who read Torah who make mistakes and need to be corrected. Nevertheless, I do insist that it is not only the correct halakhic response but it is also a greater honor for Torah and respect for God's voice in our tradition to read from the Sefer Torah than from a printed book. You are suggesting that there are only two possible choices - reading well from the Humash or reading poorly from the Sefer Torah. I suggest that there are other options. Torah reader can improve their skills, or failing that, they can be given one very short aliyah and more competent readers can read the rest.

I should also note that it is the job of the gabbai’im to judge when it is appropriate to correct the Torah reader.  Corrections shouted from the congregation are unnecessary and distracting, both for the reader and for the other congregants.

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