Project Genesis


Fishing for Sport

Question: Since fishing for food is permitted is fishing for sport permitted? When a fisherman goes fishing he can not determine if his catch is going to be kosher or not. Is he permitted to fish for sport (ie the fish is used for trophy purposes) if the fish is kosher? What if the fish is non-kosher? What if the fish can not be eaten because of safety reasons?

Answer: Thank you for your interesting question. It is forbidden by our Torah to cause unnecessary suffering to any animals or fish (Kosher or non-Kosher) based on the verses in Shemos/Exodus 23:5, and in Devarim/Deuteronomy 24:4. However, it is permitted to use them for constructive purposes, such as for eating or medical research, as long as no unnecessary suffering is caused to them. Regarding fishing and hunting for sport, although theoretically it might be argued that this is causing suffering for a “constructive purpose”, i.e. recreation for the human, the Nodeh BiYehuda (a great Halachic authority of the 18th century) writes that a Jew should not engage in these activities for purely recreational purposes, as it is a very cruel thing to do, and inappropriate for a Jew to engage in. However, if the purpose of the fishing is to eat or sell the fish, the fact that some of the fish are not Kosher or not safe to be eaten is not a reason to refrain from this.

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Proof of an Oral Torah

Filed under: G-d and Torah

Question: I know that there is the torah, the written one, but where does it say anything about the Oral Torah?

Answer: There is actually at least one clear reference to the Oral Law in the Written Torah:

“When the Lord your G-d will widen your borders as He promised you [i.e., bring you into Israel] and you will say ‘I will eat meat’ for you will desire to eat meat; according to all the desires of your soul, eat meat. When you will become distant from the place that the Lord your G-d will choose to place His name [i.e., Jerusalem and the Temple] and you will slaughter from your cattle and from your flock (that which G-d has given you) as I commanded you…”Deut. 12; 20, 21

Rashi comments:
“’As I commanded you:’ This teaches us that there is a (detailed) command concerning slaughter – how to slaughter – and these are the laws of slaughter that were taught to Moshe from Sinai (i.e., from G-d).”

So G-d, somewhere, transmitted detailed laws of ritual slaughter. I invite you to search the Written Torah from its beginning until its end and challenge you to find one single detail: there’s no mention of what type of tool to use (knife, hammer, poison…) nor where on the animal to make a wound (throat, back of the neck, major arteries…) nor who should do it, nor when or where it should be done. Yet all of these details are necessary for the proper observance of this command. We’re left with two possibilities. Either the author of the Torah was a bit scatter-brained and left out some details (intending, no doubt, to get back to it later), in which case, the Torah’s divinity – or even its coherence – becomes an impossibility. Or that the Author was in full control of His material and included these and countless other details in “footnotes.” If there’s one “footnote” there could easily be more…especially since there are so many passages in the Torah that are so unclear by themselves.

The Oral Law was largely committed to a partially written form nearly 2,000 years ago. The Mishnah, Talmud and many other works are the record of this law.

I hope this helps.

With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Centrality of Tanach

Question: As a teacher, how do I give my students an idea of how people of the Jewish faith perceive scripture? Is such a thing possible? What are the central texts for Judaism? I would very much like to impart to my students a sense of the feeling Jews have for the Tanach (Scripture)..

Answer: It’s a bit hard within the scope of one letter, to sum up the central (not to mention, heavily debated) pillars of the Jewish relationship with Tanach. Let me first of all explain that there is no uniformity of belief among Jews or even Jewish scholars. Plaut, for instance, stands at the very extreme liberal edge of modern Jewish life and expresses a more poetic than legal or Divine appreciation of the Bible. I, being an Orthodox rabbi, can only claim to represent orthodoxy. Take that as a disclaimer.

Having set the scene, I’ll answer your question with two observations. It’s not the whole story, nor would another rabbi necessarily do it the same way, but they might be a starting point.

First, the written Torah (especially the Five Books) was given with an oral twin and is incomplete by itself. To clarify:

“When the Lord your God will widen your borders as He promised you [i.e., bring you into Israel] and you will say ‘I will eat meat’ for you will desire to eat meat; according to all the desires of your soul, eat meat. When you will become distant from the place that the Lord your God will choose to place His name [i.e., Jerusalem and the Temple] and you will slaughter from your cattle and from your flock (that which God has given you) as I commanded you…” Deut. 12; 20, 21

Rashi: “’As I commanded you:’ This teaches us that there is a (detailed) command concerning slaughter – how to slaughter – and these are the laws of slaughter that were taught to Moshe from Sinai (i.e., from God).”

So God, somewhere, transmitted detailed laws of ritual slaughter. I invite you to search the Written Torah from its beginning until its end and challenge you to find one single detail: there’s no mention of what type of tool to use (knife, hammer, poison…) nor where on the animal to make a wound (throat, back of the neck, major arteries…) nor who should do it, nor when or where it should be done. Yet all of these details are necessary for the proper observance of this command. (more…)

To Annul a Vow

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Question: Generally speaking , what kind of vow cannot be annulled?

Answer: In Judaism, if a Jew makes a vow not understanding something about the vow he was making, AND, if he did understand he would never have made that vow, then, in general, it would be possible for such a vow to be annulled. That is the simple question to a not-so-simple subject.

Regards, Eliahu Levenson

Infanticide and Divine Justice

Question: Please forgive me if my question is impudent; I certainly do not mean to be disrespectful. My question is this: When Korach and his cohort got swallowed up by the earth (Numbers 16:31-33), did that include babies who were not involved in the rebellion? If so, why were they punished? (I have had a similar question about the death of the first-born (Exodus 12:29-30)—as a father, it has bothered me enormously to think of children dying…)

Answer: Thank you for your question. Please do not apologize for it; the question is not disrespectful at all. On the contrary, anyone who takes Torah seriously has to deal with difficult questions and not “brush them under the rug”, as they say. I only want to add a caveat: If my answers are not satisfying, keep struggling with the issue yourself and be patient. In the course of time, you will find a better understanding than mine. Very often, it takes me years to get things straight.

I want to expand the scope of your question. Whether or not children died in the story of Korach, children were certainly killed in other places in the Torah. For instance, there is a commandment to destroy the nation of Amalek—men, women, and children (see Samuel I 15:3). The nation of Midyan was similarly destroyed, with only baby girls, and not boys, being saved (see Nachmanides on Numbers 31:6). So too, the Jews were bidden, “Don’t leave a soul alive” (Deuteronomy 20:16), with regard to the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. This is all in addition to the death of the first-born in Egypt. None of these children and babies sinned.

Furthermore, we believe that God rules the entire world and everything in it. Our health and illness are in His hands, as well as our lives and deaths. When my three-month-old daughter Shulamis died, may she rest in peace, she obviously had had no chance to sin when God took her life. I don’t think that I see a difference in terms of judging God’s actions, so to speak, whether someone dies because a person is ordered to kill him, or if that person dies because God takes away his life directly.

It could be that I have expanded the question far enough so that we can now see how to deal with it correctly. We live in an imperfect world, full of a lot of joy—but also a lot of pain and sadness. This is actually our fault and not God’s, for the world He originally gave to Man lacked all the sadness. But, that is how the world has been ever since the sin of First Man, and it will remain so until it is finally perfected in the end.

People die. Children die. They die for a great number of reasons, some having to do with their circumstances, and some having to do with God’s larger purposes in this world. Generally, we don’t know one reason from another. We have no reason to complain; even when it hurts, we know that God is always acting only for our benefit—individually and collectively. He has absolutely no other goal in this world than to bring it back to the perfection it could have had originally, to give us all the kindness we can accept. And He keeps track. Whatever we deserve and can’t get now, he will give to us at another place and time, in a different way.   (more…)

What did Pinchas Do?

Question: The beginning of the Torah Portion of Pinchas begins with a reference to a great deed that Pinchas did. What great deed did he perform?

Answer: Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon HaKohain, appeased My anger against the Bnai Yisroel by taking My revenge amidst them, and so I didn’t have to destroy them with My vengeance.” (Bamidbar 25:11)

The portion of Balak ends with the daughters of Moav enticing the young Jewish men to sin. This quickly led to idol worship, and many Jewish men served the idol of Baal Peor.

At the height of the debacle, Zimri, one of the heads of tribe of Shimon, took a Moabite princess and brought her into the encampment of the Jews, making a public spectacle of the act. Because he was a leader of the Jewish people, this was a grave threat to the survival of the nation. A plague broke out, and thousands of Jews died.

Pinchas saw what was happening and ran to Moshe for advice. Moshe directed him to take action. At the risk of his life and against all odds, Pinchas walked into the mob and miraculously killed both Zimri and the Moabite woman. No sooner did their dead bodies hit the floor than the plague stopped. It was a clear and obvious sign that Pinchas had acted correctly. By acting with courage and alacrity, he saved the Jews from destruction.

All the Best,
Rabbi Meir Goldberg

Keturah’s Sons and Names Listed in the Torah

Question: In Genesis, Chapter 25, (Shishi of Chayei Sarah), the Torah begins by telling us that Avraham married Keturah and had six sons with her. It names them and then names the sons of two of them, the sons of Jokshan and the sons of Midian. It also lists the sons of one of the sons of Jokshan. Why does the Torah need:

a) To tell us the names of two of the sons of the sons of Keturah?
b) To tell us the names of the sons of one of the sons of one of the few sons of Keturah that the Torah does mention the sons of?

Answer: Hi! I think your question is a very good one. One place to start looking is in the Ramban (Nachmanides) on Parshas Pinchas in Bamidbar, where the families of the tribes of Israel are listed in detail. He goes through a number of questions there on why exactly this family was included and why that one was broken up into smaller ones, and I imagine the same issues apply here. Basically I think he says that some families and sub-families grew and became important and took on an independent identity, and others didn’t.

[I don’t know if you’ll find that kind of answer unsatisfying. There are parts of the Torah from which it is easy to see deep meanings and guidance for life, and others where it is harder. Certainly we’re more distant from understanding why we need to know the descendents of Yishmael or Esav. Sanhedrin 99b on King Menashe’s reaction to the verse “And Timna was the sister of Lotan” (end of Parshas Vayishlach) is interesting.

Maybe I’ll just add that the families of Israel were created by Hashgacha (deliberate guidance) from Hashem, not just happenstance. This is true of Yishmael’s descendants as well: there was an explicit prophecy to Hagar, and another to Avraham (Parshas Lech Lecha). These families are part of Hashem’s process of designing the structure of human civilization.]

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

Numbers in Wilderness — all to the tenth?

Question: Why are there no odd numbers in the Torah’s counting ( 637….2349…. ) of the Jewish people in the Torah Portion of Bamidbar, only round numbers ?

Answer: This question is very interesting. I’ve wondered about it for a long time. The numbers of the tribes are all even multiples of ten, both here and in the Torah Portion of Pinchas. Indeed, all but one (in both places) are multiples of one hundred. So too are the numbers of the Levite sub-tribes given later in the Torah portion.What is fascinating: Israel was commanded to redeem the firstborns against the Levites. The number of firstborns was counted down to the last one: 22,273. And to see how many need to be redeemed independently (by paying 5 shekels) – the Torah subtracts the two numbers! It’s hard to see how you can do that unless both counts are exact.

But if the numbers are indeed exact, it’s like a very weird kind of miracle – so many numbers should just happen to be exact multiples of ten or a hundred like this.

One more point that might help us: When the Torah talks about redeeming the firstborns, the word “b’chor” – firstborn – is always singular, and the Levites are always in the plural. Go and see; once you look for it it’s really striking. A paradigm shift was taking place. The individual service of a family’s firstborn was replaced by the communal service of the tribe of Levi. In that new setup, groups of ten and a hundred became the unit of counting. Only they, and not other individual Levites that might have been, could be used for the redemption.

I would assume that the same is true for the counts of Israel. They were in units of tens and hundreds, for practical purposes (army) and on a spiritual level as well.

There’s lots more to talk about on this subject. But this answer is quite long enough already.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

The Torah Portion Named after Pinchas

Question: Why is the Sedra (Torah Portion) Pinchas called Pinchas when the story of Pinchas was last week in [the Torah Portion of] Balak?

Answer: A Sedra is always known by a significant word that appears at the beginning of the parasha. Since Pinchas does not appear until the end of Balak, the next Sedra, which continues the story of Pinchas, had to be named for him.

All the Best,

Rabbi Azriel Shreiber 


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