55 Questions on Judaism
Moshe Ben-Chaim
(The following is a list of questions posed to Mesora.
We felt it valuable to post our response so you may read them as well)
General Questions
1. What does it mean to be a good person?
It means following God's code of morality as outlined in the Torah.

2. Why be good?
God gave us each a soul. Our primary goal is to discover truths and use those truths to perfect ourselves. This is the will of God, as this is the "good".

3. Is it possible to be a good person and not be a member of your religion?
Not unless the Gentile in question is following the law God gave for gentiles, otherwise, one cannot have the objective "good".
4. Is it possible to be a good person and no longer believe in your religion i.e. can an apostate be a good person?
No, it is not possible. One must follow the objective "good", the "good" defined by the Torah.

5. Is there a difference between religious requirements and morality?
The source must be identical i.e., originating in God's commands found in the Torah.

6. What is the source of ethics?
God's Torah.

7. Can someone be a good person and be an atheist?
This is an impossibility as good means one partaking in God's will.

8. How do you decide what is right and what is wrong?
That which matches God's set of morality is right. Without an objective system, there is no way to define objective good. You are asking, "can there be objectivity without objectivity". A contradiction.

9. Why do bad things happen to good people?
This is a complicated subject and requires much reading, but see our article: Why the Good Suffer

10. Is there a difference between a religious offense and a moral/secular offense?
Both violate God's Torah, but there may be a difference in punishments. They also have their source in different parts of man's psyche: Religious offenders usually seek out security (idol worship secures rain, health, etc.), moral offenders seek to satisfy desires (viz., sexual impropriety).

11. Who enforces the moral rules of your religion?
If one cannot enforce them upon himself, then the courts and the police.

12. Should the moral rules of your religion apply to everyone?
To Jews only.

13. What role should religion play in secular society?
Judaism does not recognize "secular society" as an added consideration. Society was taken into consideration when God designed the Torah.

Use of Force
14. Is killing ever justified?
Yes for food, defense and destruction of evil.

15. Is war ever justified?
Yes, for defense and destruction of evil.

16. Is violence against innocent people justifiable?

17. Can someone be a conscientious objector?

18. Is force justifiable against children?
It does not have to be a "physical" force. "Verbal" force such as rebuke without anger is appropriate and can be used according to the level of a child's understanding and with the child's best interest in mind. This is
not so easy and a parent must be aware of his/her own motives of rebuke. If physical force is warranted, then it should be done. King Solomon taught, "spare the whip, ruin the child", which means to say that refraining from punitive measures will spoil children. It is for this very reason that in one passage, Adonyahu, King David's son, was described to have rebelled and had taken over the kingdom, he was also described as handsome, and that David never rebuked him. I believe it teaches us that due to his good looks, David pitied him and never rebuked him, and this resulted in a child who knew nothing of disappointment. He therefore rebelled without fear of punishment.

19. Is force justifiable against a spouse?
"Physical" force used against a spouse due to one's own anger is not justifiable. However, "verbal" force such as rebuke if done with the spouse's best interest in mind, is justifiable. Again, a spouse must be aware of his/her own motives regarding rebuke.

20. Is suicide ever justifiable?
No. Only the Giver of life may take it away.

21. To what extent is martyrdom acceptable? One is always required to die rather than worship idols, commit murder or engage in inappropriate sexual behavior, regardless of the motives of the person forcing him to choose. The only time the intent of the coercer factors in is when the Jew is commanded to violate one of the other mitzvot (not the 3 primary laws) of the Torah. In such a case, ten Jews must also be present for self-sacrifice to be required.

22. Is it right to kill an innocent person in order to save the life of another?
Only if the innocent person is the fetus, then it lacks full human status, and may be killed to spare the mother. But once its head exits the mother, you cannot kill it. It is a full human.

23. Is capital punishment acceptable; if so, for what offenses?
Many offenses require capital punishment as a means of deterring others, and ridding society of evil influences.

Science and Medicine
24. Under what circumstances, if any, is abortion allowable?
Safety of the mother.

25. Are autopsies allowable; if so, under what circumstances?
They are not, we demonstrate thereby that even our bodies are God's, and not ours to mutilate.

26. Are there rules about body modification e.g. tattoos, cosmetic surgery or amputations?
Health needs allow whatever operations are needed. Tattoos are prohibited as they are idolatrous in origin. Cosmetic surgery may be allowed if it eases a distraught state of mind.

27. Are transfusions allowed?

28. Should extraordinary means be used to prolong life?
Yes, in general.

29. Should family and/or patients have the right to end suffering?
No. But one may pray to God to end one's misery as the Rabbis had done on one such occasion.

30. Does anyone have the right to hasten death?
Only the courts as accepted punitive measures outlined by God's Torah, individuals in defense of one's life, he may kill another if that is what is needed.

31. In the case of conjoined twins when both will die if nothing is done to separate them but only one will live (and the other die) if the operation takes place, is the killing of one acceptable in order to save the life of the other?
I am not certain, as the question here is not simply can you save one, but can you kill another. Even though both will die later, perhaps you cannot kill one now. However we do learn that one who is about to die does not have full human status, therefore, killing him is not considered equal to killing another. But perhaps it might be permitted if you are not certain of the one you are killing.

32. Is genetic engineering permissible?
I do not know.

33. Is the theory of evolution compatible with your religion?
Man was created with eternal life. Animal was created from dust and returns to dust-there is nothing eternal in animals creation. Therefore, evolution from animal to man is not possible according to Judaism. (Hirsch)

34. Are environmental concerns part of your religious ethic?
Yes.We are not allowed to destroy produce trees with no cause, as an example.

35. Do animals have any moral standing?
Only that killing for pleasure (hunting) is not allowed. But animals do not have rights.

36. Does your religion predict an end of time? If so, when will that be and what will the world be like for humans?
We do not predict an end to time.

37. Is sex outside marriage permissible?

38. Is sex only for procreation?
No. After menopause sex is still permitted, as is when the woman is already pregnant.

39. Is masturbation allowed?
Not for men. Spilling seed is prohibited.

40. Is genital sex the only morally permissible type?
No, anal sex may be performed, but not as a regular practice.

41. Are there moral codes regarding dress and hairstyles?
Yes, we do not copy idolaters' styles. Many of our laws exist to distance us from violating monotheism.

42. Is transvestism immoral?
Yes. If we understand the basic idea that, "Male and female He created them" then transvestism has no appropriate place. It distorts the seperateness of God's two human creations and also leads to sexual promiscuity.

43. Is homosexuality immoral?
Just as in the above answer, homosexuality too, distorts human creation. In addition, the spilling of seed which is prohibited also leads to sexual promiscuity and no offspring can result from this union.

44. Should all people have equal rights under the law even if they engage in immoral behavior?
Yes. One violation is limited to its own sphere. But some violations require death, so equal rights would not exist in such a case.

45. Should gay marriages be recognized by the state?
No. The Jewish state should not recognize same sex marriage as it is contrary to the ideal that the union of man and woman is how marriage is defined.

. Is it immoral to have more than one spouse at time?
Permission from the original wife was always sought by our Patriarch's who took on additional wives. In the marriage framework of our Patriarch's, additional wives were taken and no violations were incurred. Are you asking if a person can have a male and a female spouse? Judaism does not allow for this. More than one spouse of the opposite sex? The Rabbi's in their most thorough investigation were against this.

47. Is divorce acceptable?
Yes, and needed many times.

48. Are the roles played by men and women a moral issue?
No, they are philosophical.

49. Are men and women separate but equal?

50. Is the use of drugs and/or alcohol allowable?
Drugs may not be prohibited in many cases but they do incapacitate one's thinking. Alcohol is not only permitted in acceptable quantities, but is even required for gladness on the holidays. But drunkenness is prohibited.

51. Should prayers be allowed in public schools?
Recognition of reality should be in all schools, and this must start with knowledge of the Creator. Otherwise, all knowledge loses its purpose without must culminate with the appreciation of the Designer.

52. Should the state subsidize religious schools or programs?
Not a Judaic issue.

53. Is the food a person eats a religious and/or moral concern?
Laws of Kosher exist to temper one's appetitive drive according to Maimonides. Such tempering sets the stage for one to be calm enough emotionally so as to spend hours engaged in study. The same applies to sexual laws.

54. Is gambling allowed?
Yes. No philosophical or moral violations exist. However, we learn that a regular gambler cannot act as a witness. Perhaps, his lifestyle is demonstrable of one who feels he is subjectively better than others, and entitled to more than other, thus, he gambles as he really believes he will win. This subjectivity is contrary to the requirements of testimony, to be an objective witness.

55. Is smoking allowed?
Yes. A single cigarette does no measurable bodily damage, and therefore each act of smoking a single cigarette cannot be prohibited.