Letters Dec. 2012

Talking to the Dead

Oliver: About your article (mesora.org/talkingtothedead5.html) I was wondering. If as you say, "Saul's seeing the deceased Samuel raised from the Earth was not prophetic, but Saul’s own imagination", why is it so well described in the, well, Scriptures? Could it be that it was a demon in the vision? I'm just doing some work on religion for school, could you help? Also, wouldn't the "talking with dead" prohibition include this prohibition too? 

Rabbi: The reason for its apparent "literal" treatment, is precisely to emphasize how real Saul imagined Samuel to be, although Samuel was dead. This was the lesson: to transmit to the Torah reader how people, even those such as Saul, a king, will succumb to imaginary things.

Witches are a separate violation from talking to the read, necromancy. Since witchcraft includes any act, not just necromancy.

Free Will

Oliver: I quote you: 

"Maimonides' principle discounts any truth to the false notion of "forces" which many people assume to have existence, will, and the ability to affect man. This is false. Man's life is in his own hands, "Hakol b'day shamayim, chutz mayiras shamayim; All is in God's hands, except the fear of God." This means man's will is his own, unaffected by anything but himself. Therefore, there cannot be anything in creation which could deter man from choosing to follow God (mesora.org/angels.html)."

Now, does that mean that everything that happens on Earth is part of God's plan for us, or can you still put your will to do something else with you life? For it sounds like either you are with God's plan or with nothing? Let's say someone died from a car accident and the driver who caused the accident had alcohol in his blood. Whose will was being fulfilled? Could you say it was driver's fault, or God's plan since everything is in God's hands? If it was not God's hand, could He save someone from an accident taking place?

Rabbi: "Hakol b'day shamayim, chutz mayiras shamayim; All is in God's hands, except the fear of God" means God controls all except free will. In a case of a drunk driver, he drank of his own free will, and he can either kill someone undeserving of God's salvation, or God can avert the disaster for a worthy pedestrian without affecting the drunk's free will.

Arrogant Rabbis

Reader: I heard a shiur by a hassidic Rabbi who criticized people who come to shul on shabbat with colorful shirts, as being akin to those Jews who accepted certain aspects of hellenic culture. Why are the ultra-orthodox so obsessed with dress? Do our true ancient Sages and Rabbis ban Jews from wearing any colors other than black and white? Plus, I keep hearing them make racist comments about black people calling them schvartzas and this seems to spill over into their attitudes toward dark Jews of middle eastern descent. Why do Rabbis encourage this and not speak out against this?

Rabbi:  The Rabbi is completely wrong, and arrogant, as seen in their remarks against black people. They feel dress indicates their pious level, while piety is internal and unrelated to dress. The Torah says that such acts were punished by God. The Prophet Tzefania 1:8 (see Radak's commentary) discusses how God punished certain Jews who dressed different than the rest of the people, they desired to look more distinct and pious. The Radak calls their ways “evil”. This makes sense that they were punished. As God did not command Jews in a certain dress other than cross-gender dressing, dressing in idolatrous garb, and immodest dress. This step taken by Chassidim and ultra-orthodox Jews to dress in black and white is not part of Judaism. Torah says not to add or subtract from God's words. And therefore we cannot add prohibitions that do not exist in Torah, like wearing colorful garments. Even Jacob made a beautiful coat for Joseph! 

As far as skin color goes, again the Torah does not judge a person based on external phenomena. Moses' wife was black, and so were many perfected individuals.

Objects of Mitzvah

Reader: If the shawl is of Christian origin, but made correctly, is it an acceptable item for Torah practice?

Rabbi: It is not an authentic Torah item and should be discarded. Objects of Torah law must be made by Jews who understand what God is, and what purpose the commands target. Even though this shawl might look identical to an authentic Jewish shawl, it possesses no sanctity or status as a religious item.