Ask The Rabbi

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Ask the Rabbi

Rabbi Rachlis addresses your questions on topics ranging from intermarriage to the Middle East, from Albert Einstein to Reconstructionism, from spirituality to Yiddish, and much more.  Check out our Frequently Asked Questions below and click the link at the bottom of the page for the answers.

  • What is the Reconstructionist approach to intermarriage?
  • There are practicing Jews and out-of-practice Jews.  I’m one of the latter.  I’ve forgotten most of my Hebrew and, other than Jewish novels, I’ve read almost nothing about Judaism in over 30 years.  Now, I want to study, but how do I get started?
  • How can I stop finding it so difficult to observe Jewish traditions at home and in synagogue—they seem so “Orthodox” to me?
  • What does the term “Tikkun Olam” mean and how important is it in Judaism?
  • My understanding is that Reconstructionists do not believe that God is a supernatural being.  If I do (or I find it more conducive to a happier outlook if I do), does that mean I’m not a Reconstructionist?  If not, and I enjoy the music and the services, but can’t accept Reconstructionism’s God tenet, where do I fit in?
  • Where can I read the best coverage on Jewish issues, including the Middle East?
  • One of the most famous blessings in Judaism is the “priestly blessing.”  Why and what does it mean?
  • What do I do when a death occurs?
  • If Reconstructionists believe in religious naturalism and humanism, why do we say prayers and blessings that speak of God as merciful, just, compassionate and so forth and as “creating” and “bringing forth?”  Doesn’t that personify the divine?
  • Why do Jews traditionally bow and bend in prayer and take steps back and forth?
  • What does Judaism say about the afterlife?
  • At Passover, I am bothered by the tenth plague – the death of the Egyptian first born children.  Why is no compassion shown for them?
  • Mazel tov on University Synagogue winning a STAR grant; it’s quite an honor!  What exactly did we do to win it and how has it been used?
  • As a Christian who has heard you speak at my church on the differences between Christianity and Judaism, I’m still not sure what being Jewish is.  Is it a religion or a culture or both?
  • I noticed, on the website, all of our synagogue’s charitable funds.  How I can establish one of my own?
  • Ever since I’ve been a child, I’ve learned that giving charity is such an important part of synagogue life.  Why?
  • Whenever I attend a service or event at University Synagogue building I am always struck by the design of the sanctuary—what’s the symbolism and how was it chosen?
  • What does Judaism say about stem cell research and cloning?
  • What is the Jewish view of war and self-defense?
  • What is a nigun, and why do we begin our services with a nigun each week?
  • How old is the Hebrew alphabet and why is it written from right to left?
  • I attend services fairly regularly because I enjoy singing the prayers, learning about Judaism and socializing with others.  But I don’t really know how the service fits together and why certain prayers are chanted.  Can you help me?
  • I recently read a book on Albert Einstein and I was impressed by how Jewishly identified Einstein was, although not in religious terms.  What really makes Einstein Jewish, if he didn’t believe, observe or belong to a synagogue?
  • I’m seriously involved with a non-Jewish woman and I’d like her to convert to Judaism, but I feel that she might resent it if I ask.  I really want to raise our future kids Jewishly, and I’m afraid that if we don’t resolve this issue before marriage, it will be a big problem for us in the future.  Although I know that I can’t guarantee the adult religious identity of my kids, I want to do everything I can to make them Jewish.  What should I do?
  • Is there a difference between “spirituality” and “religion?”  Do different religious beliefs separate people, while spiritual beliefs bring them together?
  • I’m 6 years old and I recently saw a show about Jewish kids living in New York who kept kosher.  I wonder why it’s important to keep kosher and why people still do it today?
  • I was deeply moved at Yom Hashoah/Holocaust Memorial services, learning about our Czech Torah and watching the video about the town from which it survived.  Could you share some more information?
  • I know that Hebrew is the official language of our prayers, but can you tell me more about Yiddish?
  • The New Year has arrived and I’m already feeling overwhelmed.  Will I break my Rosh Hashanah resolutions, and will I get upset too quickly at those I just forgave at Yom Kippur?  Do the High Holidays demand too much of us?
  • What’s the Jewish view of the separation of church/synagogue and state and pluralism and how does it differ from the Christian view?
  • I was fascinated by your post-Thanksgiving Shabbat talk on “The Torah of Food”; there was so much to absorb.  Could you summarize the main points?

Click here to see the answers to the questions above!