Project Genesis

Is Circumcision Child Mutilation?

Filed under: Circumcision

Question: Do you have any explanation as to why God required males to have their foreskins cut off at 8 days old (Gen 17:12) as a sign of the covenant? I have tried to rationalize this in my own mind but cannot get away from the fact that this is child mutilation which caused agony to the infant in an intimate area. Please help me to understand the reasoning behind this. Many Thanks in advance

Answer: Your question is very legitimate, and I would like to start by addressing the bottom line answer which is:

We are finite human beings and we can not understand G-d’s thoughts. With that said we are open to conjecture.

First off, I am a practicing Mohel (ritual circumcision practitioner) and can vouch that the circumcision performed by a “Mohel” doesn’t cause much more agony than vaccinations that the baby receives in the hospital. (While you might counter that vaccinations are vital for the physical health of the child, so too a circumcision is vital for the spiritual health of a Jewish child).

If you haven’t you should make a point of witnessing a Jewish circumcision ceremony and you will see a happy occasion. It is celebrated. The procedure takes less than 30 seconds by an experienced “Mohel”. The baby quiets down shortly afterwards. In my personal experience as a parent of 4 children, I’ve seen nurses trying to draw blood from the heel of the baby pricking them repeatedly for 20+ min all the while holding down the baby screaming bloody murder.

Regarding your claim to “CHILD MUTILATION” this is far from the truth, unless you consider piercing ears “CHILD MUTILATION”.

There are no shortage of medical research studies that show that circumcised males have less risk of contracting HIV, infections due to poor hygiene (unclean foreskin), etc.

Complications as a result of a circumcision are rare. And extremely rare when performed by a “Mohel.” 

For religious believers in the Old Testament (Jews and Christians), we believe in one G-d that created the world. This G-d is omnipotent and all-knowing. Judaism not only encourages questioning “why?” it thrives on it. YET, we ultimately believe that we are engaging in a spiritual academic debate since ultimately if G-d commanded it, then it by definition is ultimate goodness whether we understand it or not. This goes for death, tragedy and utter devastation. We mourn, we cry, we agonize, but one who has faith in G-d knows that we don’t know why, but G-d does and even though it is beyond our comprehension it must be for the good.

Trying to be definitive about G-d’s thoughts is like trying to see the moon with a microscope. It is so magnificent and our scope is so minuscule. I hope this will help you start on your trek to appreciating that G-d’s ultimate will is beyond our grasp.

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Is the World Holy?

Filed under: Circumcision

Question: Did G-d create a holy world and does He want us to keep it holy or make it a holy place by our deeds?

Answer: Thanks for the great question. When Hashem created the world he created it with the intention in mind that His creations were perfect in that they were not yet spiritually tarnished. It was up to us to take the potential (good and bad) and create our own realities.

Man lowered himself in the Garden of Eden and caused us to have to be punished on this earth for our deeds through death. We control our own spiritual destiny. That is a major concept in Jewish thought called bechira, or free will. God is perfect in every way, and we have the potential to reach spiritual unity with Our Creator. The problem is that as humans, we have desires that sometimes override the inclination to do good. As a result we do not live up to our potential.

In short, God created a place for us to take care of and perfect in a spiritual way. That comes down to the deepest, most inner thoughts and intentions of a person’s being. He did create a “holy” place, but we can make the holy impure or that which is currently disgraceful into something holy.

This is a very deep and difficult concept to portray in a short correspondence.

Be Well,
Rabbi Litt (more…)

Marriage of Abraham and Hagar

Question: When Sarah gave Hagar to Abram in order to fulfill what she thought was the prophecy that she would have a child, was he committing adultery by taking Hagar or just custom?

Answer: Abraham was not committing adultery. Remember, the Torah was not given yet. There was no obligation to follow the commandments yet at all. It happened to be that Abraham was a man of truth, so he followed the Torah, which he knew inherently.

Also, the Torah does not prohibit having more than one wife. It is Rabbinically prohibited, but not forbidden from the Torah. Today, we are not allowed to have more than one wife. That did not apply to Abraham.

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel Shreiber 

“Brothers” and “Sisters”

Question: Does the Bible ever use the word “brother” or “sister” for more distant relatives?

Answer: Nieces and nephews were definitely sometimes called brothers and sisters. For example, Lot was Abraham’s nephew and Sarah was his niece (based on identifying Yiscah with Sarai and her father Haran with Abraham’s brother Haran in Gen.11:29), but Abraham refers to Lot as his brother (Gen.13:8,14:14), and told various kings that Sarah was his sister (Gen.Chs.12 and 20), Isaac and Rebekah were cousins once removed (Rebekah’s father Besuel was the son of Abraham’s brother Nachor, so he was Isaac’s first cousin; see Gen.22:23), so when Isaac tells the Philistines that Rebekah is his sister (Gen.26:7), he is referring to his cousin as his “sister”.

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

Abraham Taking Lot with Him

Question: When Abraham left his father’s house, was he allowed to take his nephew Lot with him?

Answer: Abraham was told in Gen.12:1 to leave his land, his MOLEDES, and his father’s house. It’s possible to translate MOLEDES (from the root YLD, meaning “born”) as “family” or “kindred”; but the commentators translate it as “birthplace”, which is what it clearly means in many other verses (e.g.,11:28). Thus Abraham was told to leave his father’s house, but not to leave all his relatives behind; nothing was said about whom he could or couldn’t take with him. In fact, he didn’t take his father, his brother Nachor, or his sister-in-law Milcah; they all stayed behind in Charan, where his father died 60 years later. Abraham’s nephew Lot went with him voluntarily (12:4).

Beginning of Idolatry

Question: How and when did idolatry start?

Answer: Since there are many ways to define idolatry, I could come up with a variety of answers. I could say that idolatry began the first time someone knowingly acted against the will of G-d. By doing so one is saying that G-d does not rule, and if G-d doesn’t rule, then something else must rule, often a person’s own self. Placing someone other than G-d as ruler is a form of idolatry, and under that definition idolatry began in Gan Eden (Garden of Eden).

If battling G-d is idolatry, then perhaps idolatry begins at Bavel (the Tower of Babel).

If worshiping intermediaries is idolatry, perhaps when people prayed to the Sun, Moon, stars, and nature to act on their behalf was the beginning of idolatry. From such beginnings, it doesn’t take long before people forget that intermediaries are intermediaries, and begin to worship them as gods in their own right.

Regards, Eliahu Levenson

Seven Noahide Laws

[A question was submitted asking for guidance in observing the Seven Noahide Laws. The following article provides a useful summary of the Laws.]

Noahide Commandments
by Rabbi Yoel Schwartz

Translated by Yitzhak A. Oked Sechter
Reviewed and corrected by Yechiel Sitzman in consultation with Rabbi Yoel Schwartz


This work deals mainly with the effort of defining the commandments that the non-Jewish nations should fulfill or make an effort to do so. In addition to the seven basic commandments, there are several other active commandments that have not been clarified and explained in depth in the scriptures and subsequent Torah literature. Just the same, according to what is written in the Torah the Talmud and the Midrash, we are able to learn something from the actions of those that existed before the Torah was given to Israel. According to the Talmud (Yomah 28b), the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob upheld more commandments than what the children of Noah were called upon to do. Even commandments that the sages turned into laws many generations later were kept by the Patriarchs. (more…)

Why did Hevel (Abel) have to die?

Question: Cain had murdered his brother. But considering that nothing can come about without G’ds permission, what sin did Hevel do to deserves being killed by his brother?

Answer: Hi! I am fascinated by your question, based, as it is, on your certainty that everything comes from Hashem.

The answer is that there are three categories in how Hashem (G-d) takes care of people. There are those who are such complete tzaddikim (righteous people) that they are under Hashem’s complete protection. No one can touch them. Such is the case, for example, with David being chased by Shaul hamelech. With all the power of the kingdom behind him, there was nothing Shaul could do to harm David; he was under Hashem’s protection.

There are others who have sinned so much that they deserve destruction. G-d may decree that they deserve to die, and take their lives in various ways; they may die of a heart attack, or a car accident, or be killed in a war – that is part of Hashem’s judgment.

But there is also a middle category, where the person is not worthy of complete protection, but is also has not sinned quite enough to be marked for execution. What G-d may decide to do, in his infinite wisdom, is to put the person into the hands of another human being’s free choice. That person will use his free will to decide the other man’s fate. This is also a judgment from G-d, and a painful one. This is what is alluded to in the verse (Ashkenazim) say every day in the Tachanun prayer (Shmuel-II 24(14)): David said to Gad, I am very distressed – let me fall into the hand of G-d, for his mercy is great, but don’t let me fall into the hand of man. The prophet Gad, you see, had offered David a choice of punishments for his people, one of which was a terrible plague, another was to fall into the hands of enemies. Each had its disadvantages. But David chose the plague, because the “hand of G_d” was a better place to be than when the “hand of man” is also involved. If you look at the Radak commentary there, you’ll see that this is how he explains the verse.

Back to your question: Hevel had not sinned enough to deserve death. However, he was not a perfect tzaddik either. Kain thought of the idea of bringing a sacrifice to Hashem. Hevel was just following his lead; he had not thought of doing it himself (though eventually he did it better than Kain did). This means that his essence was not really directed to serving G-d – he was not a servant. As such, he did not deserve the level of protection that would take him out of range of his brother’s free will.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach


Why not begin the Torah on Rosh Hashana?

Filed under: Sukkos, Rosh HaShanah

Question: If Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the year and the time of Adam’s birth why do we not start the cycle of reading the Torah until Simchat Torah? Shouldn’t Simchat Torah and Rosh Hashana technically occur simultaneously?

Answer: Thanks for your really excellent question. Everyone in the world, not just Jews, pass before G-d in review on Rosh Hashana. It’s the beginning, but it’s a general beginning for the whole world.

But as the Jewish month of Tishrei progresses, the process continues to unfold in a way that is specific for Israel. Yom Kippur for change and reconciliation, Sukkos for the joy and closeness that is now restored, and finally, Shemini Atzeres, which our Sages say represents G-d’s full attachment to Israel. “Then you will be fully joyful.” “Please stay with me for just one more day – it’s hard for me to let you leave!” Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah is the culmination of the process that Tishrei represents. It is only then that we can truly celebrate the Torah, the physical manifestation of our bond with G-d.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

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