Project Genesis

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

Genetic Engineering and Kashrus

Filed under: Kosher Food

Question: What are the implications of genetic engineering for kashrus?

Answer: Transplantation of a few genes from a non-kosher creature into a kosher creature doesn’t make it unkosher, because its basic identity hasn’t changed. (Also, gene transplantation isn’t cross-breeding, and isn’t forbidden under the laws of kilayim (See Lev. 19:19).) The situation would be more problematic if the transplantation resulted in a hybrid creature, but this would require transplantation of very many genes, and won’t be feasible in the near future.

All the Best,

Rabbi Azriel Shreiber

Punishment of Children for the Parents’ Sins

Filed under: Reward and Punishment

Question: How do I understand “punishment of children for the parents’ sins”? If the parents aren’t good this should bring punishment for their children? Also, how can children honor those parents?

Answer: Children are not punished for the sins of the parents unless they continue in the parents evil ways. Generally, a child should honor parents even if they aren’t righteous unless they intentionally sin. Most people today don’t have a proper Jewish education and thus aren’t considered wicked even if they sin.

Question: Thank you very much for your answer. 

You said, “Most people today don’t have a proper Jewish education and thus aren’t considered wicked even if they sin.” But most Jews know about kashrut (Jewish dietary laws)  but only few of them keep kosher. Also, it is very hard for the children to reject their parents’ lifestyle and at the same time to honor them. 

How do we deal with that?

Answer: Even if they know about the concept of Kashrut, they were never taught that Judaism makes sense, or that the religion is based on historical evidence that G-d really gave us the Torah, etc. They were raised to think that this is “The opiate of the masses”. I don’t see why children can’t honor them just because the parents aren’t religious. The child should appreciate all that the parents have done for them and how they raised them to search for truth, meaning, etc. They should honor the parents for giving them the intellectual and emotional sustenance that helped the children to find Torah.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg

Jews as Vegetarians

Filed under: Kosher Food

Question: Wouldn’t it be better for us to be vegetarians?

Answer: Adam was in fact not permitted to eat meat (Gen. 1:30); but Noah and his descendants were given permission to eat animals after they are killed and their blood removed (Gen. 9:3-4). The Torah permits Jews to eat some types of animals and birds (the kosher ones), provided they are killed properly; kosher slaughter is a very painless process. As Maimonides (Hilchos Deos 3:1) puts it, “A person should abstain only from those things that the Torah prohibits; he should not forbid to himself things that are permitted”. Within the framework of the Torah, there are many ways to beautify and enhance our religious observances; we shouldn’t go so far as to avoid things that the Torah explicitly permits.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Sephardim, Ashkenazim, and Racism

Question: I come from a Sephardi family in Mexico and what I have seen in America is that Ashkenazim consider Sephardi people as 2nd class? Why is their so much racism between Sephardim and Ashkenazim if we all are descended from Abraham?

Answer: Thank you for your thoughtful question. There is no excuse for racism amongst Jews of any kind, at anytime or in any place. It is well known that the Rabbis attribute the destruction of the Holy Temple to be a result of baseless hatred. How can we imagine G-d’s pain when He sees some of His children hating others for no reason? It is therefore easy to understand how inconsistent the racism which you describe is with Torah values.

I live in an out-of-town setting where no such divide is felt. In our Orthodox synagogue there are Sephardic services which I personally attend form time to time. I have never heard a Rabbinic personality defending or promoting such racist behavior. I am sorry that this phenomena exits but do not see how it can be reflective of any Torah value.

As we pray from the coming of Mashiach (the Messiah) we have in mind that the Jewish people should be worthy of a Temple. This would include the abolishment of all hatred or animosity that exists within the Jewish people.

Best Wishes,
Rabbi Yerachmiel Garfield

What to do About My Mother, the Nazi

Question: I believe my mother of 90 years of age was/is a Nazi and she hid in a Jewish family – mine. What is the right thing to do? Report her or let her go? what is your suggestion? Thank You.

Answer: As I’m sure you know well, this is a really tough question for which I don’t believe there is an easy answer. One possible approach might be to consider the costs of trying to obtain justice: the effort would require an enormous emotional investment and, probably a great deal of your time. In addition, successful convictions are rare and take years: I remember how many years it took to extradite Helmut Rauca from Canada – and his case was pretty solid. You also don’t sound quite 100% convinced that your mother is, in fact, guilty.

Weigh these elements against our belief that our God of Justice knows all and forgets nothing and is perfectly capable of prosecuting all crimes. If your mother is indeed guilty, then she will indeed stand trial her crimes – in the only courtroom that really counts. I’m not saying that this is the last word on the subject, but that perhaps these thoughts might prove useful. With my best wishes,

Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Question: Hello, I want to thank you so much for your answer Rabbi Clinton. I knew that in my heart that I have no power to punish her but I wasn’t sure if letting her live out her life in a beautiful condo with my father’s money was right either. It is not for me to decide and I will, in peace (hopefully) let it go with your kind words of support. I stopped all contact with her about 10 years ago when it become clear what she was and, unfortunately, still is. However, I do have a follow-up question if I may. Doesn’t this make me half nazi? Does that have any bearing on me? My soul? Is there a prayer I can say, for her, for myself, for her victims? Thank you again, you have helped immensely! 

Question: Hello, Naziism is an ideology: it contaminates only those who adopt it. Since there isn’t even the tiniest trace of those beliefs in you, then you aren’t “half a Nazi” – you’re not a Nazi at all! And, while there do seem to be instances where guilt can be “inherited” (see Exodus 20: 5), that is only in a case where the children willingly continue their father’s legacy of crime (see Rashi to Deut. 24:16). That’s something of which no one could ever accuse you.

So I don’t believe that you have anything to worry about. You’ve done everything you should.

I wish you the very best,

Genesis 3:16 - “He Will Rule Over You”

Question: After Adam and Eve are sent out of the Garden of Eden, G-d informs them of the new social and physical order within which humanity will now exist. In this world, the ground is cursed and we will eat by our manual labor. Women will experience pain in childbirth, and women will be ruled over by their husbands. It is this last curse that has captured my curiosity the most. I had the impression that men and women had different roles in Judaism, but men did not rule women. Can you elaborate for me the differences between men and women, as understood by the Torah, and how this curse from G-d fits into this picture? It seems from my uneducated mind that G-d is explaining the new reality of existence, and in this new reality women will be compelled to submit to the rule of men, just as women will have no choice but to submit to pain in childbirth, and men must toil on the earth for sustenance.

Answer: Hi! It’s a very interesting question, and a hard one. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, and whatever I can say will barely scratch the surface.

Let me start with a general principle. As you know, G-d designed this world in the way that it would work best, with incredible order within order on every level. When we sin, we do damage to that order. It still runs, but now there’s “grit in the machinery”, so to speak; things that are supposed to mesh smoothly now rattle. The general setup must stay the same, though, or things wouldn’t work at all.

In the original plan of creation, there was a wondrous linkage between three parts of the creation: Man, Woman, and the land (Earth). They were all very closely bonded together, meshing perfectly. Each had its function, and part of the whole. None of the three would ever have caused problems for the other two, just as one would never imagine one hand fighting with another. (more…)

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