Project Genesis


Ribis Interest on a Car Lease

Filed under: Business Law

Question: Is there a problem of violating the Jewish law against charging or paying interest when leasing a car from a Jewish owned leasing firm? 


Would it be better to avoid any questions and lease from a non-Jewish owned leasing firm?

Answer: Thank you for your question. If the lease is structured in a normal fashion, it is like any other rental and would not be a problem of Ribbis. There is no advantage of leasing from a non-Jew vs. a Jew.

Take care,

Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Ashkenazic Jews

Filed under: Jewish History

Question: I have been looking into my ancestry and just found that we are German Ashkenazic Jews. I don’t really understand what that means. I have read that Ashkenazic Jews aren’t of the Promise to Abraham. So what are Ashkenazic Jews exactly? I found that a lot of my ancestors died in the Holocaust but know little to nothing about the lineage. Please help

Answer: Thank you for asking this great question. Basically, “Ashkenazi Jew” just means that you are descended from Jews who lived in Europe, mainly Germany and surrounding areas. These Jews are just as much Jews as any other Jew in the world, with no difference at all. The only difference between Ashkenazi and other groups like “Sefardi” is where they are from, (Sefardi Jews descend from the Middle East, Spain, Morocco, etc). There are differences in customs, but they are relatively minor. All major philosophies are the same all of the basic beliefs are the same. Some of the custom differences include foods, clothing, and the like. The point is that all Jews are the same regardless of where they come from. All of these Jews were sent into the diaspora, out of the land of Israel at least 2,000 years ago and where they landed after that determined which of these titles they get, but we are all one big happy family.

Be Well
Rabbi Litt

The Tekiah Gedolah Shofar Blast

Filed under: Rosh HaShanah

Question: I have read that the sequence of the trumpet sounds on the Feast of Trumpets was first made about 300 CE in Rosh Hashanah 34. It does give a certain sequence of the shofar sounds, but the tekiah Gedolah is not mentioned in that reference…Do you know when the Tekiah Gedolah was added and where it is it written in any Jewish writings?

Answer: You are asking about the origin of the sequencing and not the beginning of the blowing. The blowing began at least as far back as Mount Sinai. The sequencing however is a little tougher. The Jewish sages, particularly around the time of the 2nd Temple, arranged precise orders on many things. The Jews were under barbaric threats and attacks, normal life was disrupted, and so the sages ordered things, to make it easier to remember.

I can’t tell you when the tekiah gedolah was ADDED. It seems to me that a lengthier and more powerful final blast would always have been the order of the day. Think of any firworks display. They always end it with the grand finale, do they not? I think it would be similar here.

Just my thoughts.

Good question, Eliahu Levenson

Confiscated Item Damaged in a Hurricane

Filed under: Laws of Damages

Question: If a teacher confiscated an item, placed it in the desk drawer and it was ruined in a flood – the room with the object was on the ground level (the school was warned by the government that they are in a flood zone and they will flood – and must evacuate). The Teacher told the student that they will return the item at a later time. The Item was not confiscated during a class time but during a recess – so it was not interfering with learning. It was also going to be returned – so obviously, it couldn’t have been spiritually damaging. Is the teacher obligated to pay or replace the item?

Answer: Thank you for your very interesting question. In Jewish law the teacher would have a status of Shomer Chinam(an unpaid watchman) for the item if he indicated that the confiscated item would be returned to the student. The issue here would be if the teacher was negligent in causing the loss of the item, which would obligate this teacher to compensate for the loss. If the teacher was in the school at the time of the evacuation, and had an opportunity to save the item under their care and did not, this would be negligence. If the teacher was home when the evacuation orders came, and could not have been expected to drop everything to run to the school to save the student’s item, this could not be considered negligence, rather an Onas (an unavoidable circumstance), for which a Shomer Chinam (as well as a Shomer Sachar, a paid watchman) is exempt.

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Question: Thanks for the quick response – however, in this case there was warning for many days prior regarding the Hurricane and that is why all schools in the City and in the flood areas already announced on the Friday before the storm that ‘due to the incoming hurricane the school will be closed on that Monday. So in reality the teacher had time and should have secured these items before taking leave for the weekend. (there is no school on Sunday). Therefore the Teacher in this case being a Shomer Chinam would be obligated to pay. Would it be ok to ask the Teacher and Student to come up with a compromise and settle the cost or do I leave it and let the Teacher pay in full? Once again Thank you.

Answer: Hi! Thanks for the clarification. I’m not sure what your role in this is, but it is certainly always better to resolve these issues via Peshara, compromise. If Peshara can’t work, while it seems based on the information provided that the teacher should pay, it isn’t appropriate to decide such a ruling without the teacher having the ability to present their side of the story. This should be done in front of a competent Rabbi or Jewish Court, in the presence of both parties.

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Accuracy of the Torah

Question: 2Kings 22.8-20 and 2Chronicles 34.15 speak about Jews finding forgotten book of the Mosaic Law. Thus if Jews managed to somehow lose and forget a set of the written law, how on earth could they have kept the Oral one in its accuracy?

Answer:  This is an interesting question that can be addressed by taking a good look at the verses themselves. What’s important is to note what both passages DON’T say. There is no mention of ALL Torah scrolls being lost or forgotten, or even of any kind of shortage of scrolls. All it says is that Chilkiya the Kohen (whose signet ring I once saw in an archaeological exhibit, by the way) FOUND a scroll and had it brought to the king who was deeply impressed by what he saw written there. Now, logically, it is POSSIBLE that this indicates the complete absence of Torah scrolls in that and previous generations, but is that the MOST LIKELY explanation? Let’s consider the larger textual context: King Yoshiayu was still a very young man at this point (likely only 18) and had been raised by both his grandfather and father to fanatically hate God’s Torah. It’s very likely that his education and general upbringing would have given him no exposure to Torah or Torah scrolls. It’s even possible that the royal neighborhoods of Jerusalem were places where Torahs might not be found.

Under the circumstances, Chilkiya – whose job description involved teaching Torah (Gen. 23:10) – would have seen the unusual discovery of a Torah within Jerusalem as an opportunity to introduce the young king to his heritage. This introduction would be especially powerful if, as seems likely, the Torah they found was the one that was normally kept in the Holy of Holies – the one that was written by Moshe himself more than a thousand years previously (Deut. 31:26). I think it’s obvious that, taking Occam’s Razor into account, the traditional interpretation that I just described is far more likely to be correct than the one you quote.

I hope this helps.

With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Prayers for Livelihood and Well-being

Filed under: Prayer and Blessings

Question: Is there a chapter of Psalms that is a  Segulah (spiritual remedy) for livelihood, to pay off credit cards bills? Also for health and finding a marriage partner? How can get my life unstuck? 

Answer: Sorry to hear about your difficulties. Psalm 23 is said to be appropriate for parnassah. Parshas HaMann (the section of the Torah describing the incidents with the Manna bread), which can find in the Artscroll prayer book, is also known as a Segulah for livelihood. Psalm 30 is said to be a Segulah for health. Shir Hashirim, Song of Songs, is said to be a Segulah for marriage.

However, in addition to these things, simple Emunah, faith, heartfelt prayer, combined with practical advice are also valuable.

With wishes for a good year,
Rabbi Yitzchak Kolakowski

Do we trust a woman’s testimony?

Question: Is it true that according to the Torah a woman can’t be a witness in court? Why?

It is certainly true that, under certain circumstances, women may not testify in a Jewish court.

I certainly can’t say that I fully understand the reasoning behind any Torah law, but I have come across a valuable observation that can help. There are many legal scenarios in which women’s testimony is believed – on occasion, even in court (for instance, on subjects with which women are especially likely to be familiar). So it can’t be said that the are any less trusted or reliable than men.

In a way, this seems similar to a hypothetical testimony delivered by Moses and Aaron, the high priest - who were, of course, brothers. No Jewish Court on earth would accept their testimony (in cases requiring two witnesses) despite the fact that no one would suspect them of lying or foolishness. Rather, the Torah says that two brothers may not testify together and that’s that.

So why did the Torah limit women? Remember, most people don’t want to testify, but are compelled by legal necessity. Perhaps, since being forced to appear in court and then to be subject to intense cross examinations runs counter to the Torah’s key value of modesty for women, the Torah exempted them from the more common examples of it.

Question: Is this still enforced today?

Yes. Although, as I said, there are instances where women’s testimony is sought and accepted.

With my regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Advice for Prosecutors

Question: What advice does the Talmud have for a prosecutor?

Answer: The Talmud’s statements about prosecution were made in the context of a legal system rather different from ours; they dealt with a judge who is arguing for conviction before his fellow-judges, not with a prosecuting attorney who is arguing before a court. A judge must try to determine the truth, and must take all the available information into account, even information that is not admissible as evidence; he must not suppress or ignore such information.

A classical quote on this subject can be found in the Talmud, Shevuos 30b: “How do we know that a judge must not defend his own view? Because it says ‘You shall distance yourself from falsehood.’ (Rashi: If he is judging a case, and in his heart he feels that he may be mistaken, he should not give arguments in support of his view because he is ashamed to retract it; rather, he should investigate all aspects in order to arrive at a true judgment.) And how do we know if a judge knows that a case is fraudulent (Rashi: He deduces from the words of the witnesses that their testimony is not true), he should not say ‘I will rule on this case, and the guilt will be on the witnesses’? Because it says ‘You shall distance yourself from falsehood.’” These statements are codified by the Rambam (Sanhedrin, Chs. 21-24) and the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, Chs. 15-17).

Waters in the Sky at Creation

Question: Please explain when God created the earth what it means when it is described as “Let there be a dome in the middle of the water; let it divide the water under the dome from the water above the dome; that is how it was, and God called the dome Sky.” Not an exact quote but, I think you get the idea. Thank you.

Answer: The waters above and below the firmamant/sky/dome (Rakia in Hebrew) is one of the areas where G-d has given us very little information and has left us guessing, essentially. In the beginning all was chaos, and the water which spread to everything was also chaos. G-d organized everything, including the waters, and separated the waters leaving a Rakia in between from which we have the sky above our world. The Jewish sage Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Nachmanides) says the idea of separating means a separation of the physical, meaning the entire Universe, from the spiritual, but man cannot really comprehend this.

Good question,
Eliahu Levenson


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