Project Genesis

Wigs, Makeup, and Modesty

Filed under: Modesty & Sexuality

Question: My understanding is that the reason for women covering their hair is modesty. So why are wigs permitted? I know a religious woman who got married recently and now wears a wig that is exactly like her natural hair. I am sure that most people don’t realize that her hair is covered. How can that be permitted? Also does modesty permit a woman to put make-up on her face and wear jewelry? If so, why?

Answer: As a (very talented) wig stylist, my wife gets asked this question all the time. She usually responds that regardless of how realistic a wig may appear, it certainly does not feel natural. A woman who wears a wig feels different, and this serves as a reminder to her that her interactions should be consistent with her status as a married woman. There is a subtle message in a wig-wearing-woman’s appearance that conveys that she is committed to a relationship, and certain things are off limits to everybody, save her own husband. That goes a long way in putting all her other relationships in context and is a safeguard against improper behavior. Additionally, most of us are accustomed to the “wig look”, and can tell if it’s a hairpiece or actual hair.

Modesty, contrary to what you might think, is not about making one’s self unappealing; rather it is about not calling attention to oneself. While there is nothing wrong with appearing presentable, there is something wrong dressing in a way that is provocative or alluring. While there are certain rules and guidelines, it is certainly possible to conform to the strict letter of the law while flaunting the spirit of the law. Modesty is as much about attitude and conduct as it is about regulations. Clothing that does not breach the rules of modesty, but is suggestive or evocative, definitely infringes on the concept of modesty. So, if indeed, a wig brings undue attention to a woman, it is no different from any other article of clothing that attracts interest, and while it technically may not violate anything, it contravenes the concept of modesty. However, if the wig merely enables the woman to maintain her appearance, it is perfectly acceptable (according to most opinions). By the way, if you know of anyone looking for a nice wig, send them our way!

All the Best,
Shlomo Soroka

Understanding “Love Your Neighbor”

Question: I have to write an essay on a few of the famous quotes in Leviticus. I am having a particularly troubling time on chapter 19, verse 18 and understanding the meaning of the different commentaries by Rashi and Rambam and one other of my choice of any prominent rabbi. If you could please help me understand the meanings of the commentary by those rabbi’s on the verse “Love your neighbour like you love yourself” that would be great!

Question: “Don’t take revenge or bear a grudge against your fellow Jew, and love your fellow as yourself, I am Hashem.” Rashi explains revenge: I asked you to borrow an ax, and you said no. When you ask me later to borrow something, I say no back. A grudge: When you ask me later, I say yes, but I add, “Not like you did!” Neither of these is an act of love, of bringing closeness between our people. If you love someone, especially if it’s “like yourself”, you can act lovingly toward the other even if he doesn’t always reciprocate. Loving like yourself doesn’t mean, as much as you love yourself – that doesn’t make any sense (Ramban). It means, as a part of yourself. Love is a recognition that I am connected to the other, and that what happens to him matters to me. (There’s an old saying: A mother is only as happy as the most unhappy of her children.) This is what Rabbi Akiva adds is a fundamental principle of the Torah; Jews are all connected.

The Ramban adds that included in this is a lack of jealousy. I want all the best for him, not: But of course, as long as I have a little bit more. Parents aren’t jealous of their children’s accomplishments. Their children are part of them, their successes are the parents’ successes too. We have to feel that way about our fellow Jew, because he’s part of us.Best wishes,

Michoel Reach

Communal Offerings and Synagogue Dedications

Question: In Numbers, ch.28, the laws of the Mussaf offerings [a form communal sacrifices] are discussed. How were the animals, flour, oil, and wine paid for? From Temple funds, or did people ‘bid’ on them, as many congregations do today for certain honors in the synagogue? [I know of a certain congregation that even had donations made for part of the electric bill each month, with the donor’s name posted!]

Answer: All of the communal sacrifices were purchased with communal funds. Every year, all Jewish males over the age of 20, from all over the world, had to donate half a shekel (a form of ancient currency) to the Temple. This money was used to purchase the mussaf offerings, as well as all other communal sacrifices, so that everyone would have an equal share in the Temple and its services. In fact, it was forbidden to bring a communal sacrifice from private funds because that would have disenfranchised the ‘common man’. In other words, bidding on sacrifices that were brought on behalf of everybody was not permitted. However, there were many other things in the Temple that were donated by individuals and were known by their name (the precursor of the modern plaque – “Donated by…”). For example, there was one gate in the Temple that was donated by the people of Shushan [a Persian city] and was called the “Shushan Gate.” Queen Helene donated a special, golden, sun reflector; and her son, Munbaz, paid to have the handles of some of the vessels made of gold. There are many other examples. So we see that donations, and giving credit to the donor, goes back at least to Temple times.

In more recent times (meaning several hundred years, rather than thousand), giving the money to pay for the lights in the synagogue or study hall was always an honor. By paying the electricity bill (or providing oil for the lamps, etc), the donor is providing the light that enables people to learn Torah. (This is especially apropos, as the Torah is likened to light – see Proverbs 6:23).

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Judging Judaism by Jews

Question: I’ve been told by a survivor of the concentration camps of the holocaust, that certain Kapos brutalized their fellow inmates. He even told about the evils perpetrated by a kapo from a religious background. How could a Jew do such a thing?

Answer: There is no defense for the horrible actions of these Jews. As you know there is evil in the world and in people, and the horrors of the holocaust brought out these terrible evils in man.

The issue of some Jews having acted in a horrible way is connected to the general question of why God allows any evil to exist. People make bad decisions every day, although certainly not as evil as some of those of made in the holocaust. We understand that G-d has given free choice to man, and with that freedom comes the possibility of evil. As Jews, and modern Americans, we can certainly appreciate the fact that freedom has certain dangers, but those dangers do not justify the destruction of freedom. The Western world embraces freedom and its dangers while the religious Muslim resists this freedom.

If the fact that “religious” Jews behaved in this horrible way troubles you, then I would encourage you to read about the thousands of religious Jews who acted with kindness in these horrible times. There are many stories of acts of compassion, self sacrifice, and faith. But does that confirm the value of religious Jews?

Rabbi Berel Wein, a wonderful teacher of mine, would often say, “Do not judge Judaism by Jews.” Human beings are unpredictable and flawed. We cannot judge G-d’s Judaism based of the mistakes of a small number of Jews.

Best wishes,

Rabbi Garfield

[Editor – See here for another analysis on the phenomenon of Jewish kapos.]

Atonement Without Blood

Question: I have a question about the Holiday Yom Kippur: I thought according to the Torah, there is only one way to receive atonement for our sins- through the blood that makes atonement for our sins. How do we do that on Yom Kippur?

Answer: Animal sacrifices done correctly are one way to atone for some sins, but not necessarily the best way. Furthermore, if a person knows something is a sin and does it anyway, there is actually no sacrifice that will give him atonement!

Here are a sampling of a few other forms of bloodless action for atonement that are spoken of by G-d in the Torah:

Exodus 22:1 – PUNITIVE DAMAGES -

“If a man steals an ox, or a sheep or goat, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five cattle in place of the ox, and four sheep in place of the sheep.”


Passover - Back to Back Celebrations

Question: I’m familiar with the Passover festival that begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nisan. Yet, the Bible (Leviticus 23:5-6 and other places) seems to indicate that Passover is on the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, and it is the holiday of the matzahs that begins on the 15th of that month (and extends for 7 days). Will the real Passover please stand up!

Answer: Thanks so much for your question. In fact, there are two celebrations, both under the umbrella of the holiday we know as Pesach (i.e. Passover).

The first celebration is the sacrifice of the Passover offering. This is mandated on the 14th day of Nisan. In one sense, this was a preparation for the eating of that sacrifice later that night (on the 15th of the month). But in another very real sense, as is clear from the description of the Sages of the events of the day, it was a celebration in its own right. Imagine all the Jews gathering in the Holy Temple to offer a sacrifice on the same day, with the Levites singing Psalms in the background. The 14th day is considered a special day in its own right, and the bible in Leviticus 23:5 (among other places) describes the events on this day: The sacrifice of the Paschal offering.

The second celebration is the formal holiday that we know as Passover, also described as Chag HaMatzot (i.e. holiday of matzahs) in the Torah. It begins on the 15th day of Nisan, and is described in Leviticus 23:6 (among other places).

Now, as far as the practice today, being that we don’t have the Holy Temple, we have no option of sacrificing the Pesach offering (well, the explanation is not quite that simple, but we’ll leave it at that for now). Therefore, the celebration of the 14th has lost some of its luster. But nonetheless, the day is a special one, and not just because the holiday itself begins later that night. The Torah indicates its uniqueness by singling it out in the verse you mentioned.

As far as the holiday of Passover, which begins on the 15th of Nisan, that practice is no less binding today than it ever was, and the celebration is in full force around the world. I would also mention that Passover is celebrated outside the state of Israel just as it is in the State—the only exception is that in Israel, the holiday is bookended by one day of Yom Tov (days with Sabbath like restrictions); while outside Israel, the holiday is bookended by two days of Yom Tov (and extended from 7 to 8 days).

I hope this helps clarify things.
Rabbi Yoel Spotts

A Modern Look at Animal Sacrifice

Filed under: The Temple

Question: Why are there so many details about animal sacrifice in the Torah? How should a modern Jew view animal sacrifices?

Answer: Animal sacrifices are indeed difficult to comprehend in the context of today’s society. In fact, it has come to the point that many espouse that the killing of animals is wrong even if it is for food or clothing. Clearly, that is not the view of the Torah, and we should not be quick to bend the eternal wisdom of Torah per the fleeting trends in society.

Animal sacrifice was meant as a way of intense confrontation with sin. The repentant would bring an animal for a sacrifice, lean himself upon the animal’s head, perhaps look into those large, shining eyes, and be forced to come to terms with the destruction that sin causes. When the animal was finally slaughtered and offered on the altar, one was supposed to feel that it really should have been him or her up on that altar. Today, with the absence of the Temple in Jerusalem, animal sacrifices are no longer practiced. A close reading of the Prophets reveals that this is due to the fact that insincere offerings became the norm during the end of the first Temple period. G-d does not want the destruction of His creations, and when the sacrifices ceased to elicit the internal response for which they were meant, the offerings themselves ceased. In their place, we offer tears and the sincere longing of heartfelt prayer.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

Is a Conversion Offering Required?

Filed under: Conversion

Question: From my understanding, today’s conversions are considered incomplete. The basis is that conversion consists of circumcision, immersion in the Mikvah (ritual bath), and bringing a special Temple offering. The issue is the lack of this offering which I understand is required for conversion according to the Rambam. If this is true, what should converts do? I completed an orthodox Jewish conversion over 9 years ago. 

Answer: Thank you for your question. The actual requirements for conversion are circumcision, Mikvah, and acceptance of all the commandments. There is no requirement to bring a sacrifice upon conversion. A person may choose to bring a voluntary Korban Todah – thanksgiving offering – in gratitude for having the opportunity to become a Jew, but it is certainly not a required step in the conversion process.

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Gift Bags on Purim?

Filed under: Purim

Question: Is there a traditional “gift bag” that is given to friends on Purim, and what is in it?

Answer: On Purim, Jews have a commandment to share gifts of food with each other, as a way of increasing kindness between us. In Hebrew, this commandment is referred to as Mishloach Manot, and you must give two or more kosher, prepared foods to one person. Of course, if you want to give Mishloach Manot to more than one person, you are certainly able to do so.

Have a Happy Purim!

Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

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