Saturday, October 16, 2010


Hello and Happy Saturday!

First up I'd like to thank Jake Collyer for his very interesting interview last week. Thank you so much for sharing with us Jake!

YMR has a new interview today so please welcome Chanan.
Chanan is Jewish and I know you're going to enjoy his post as well!

Here Is Chanan's Introduction:

My name is Chanan, and I’m currently living in Brooklyn, NY, though I’m originally from Minnesota. I got married about nine months ago to Elisheva, who is originally from Wisconsin. We’re only planning on living in New York for a few years, because we both miss grass and trees and the sky actually getting dark at night. At the same time, we’re trying to take advantage of all the exciting things to do in NY on our limited budget.

My blog:

1) What religion do you practice?
I am Jewish (orthodox), and am a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic group.

2) Did you convert or were you born into this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
I didn’t have much choice- I was born Jewish.

3) Would you consider yourself a moderate, conservative or other.
There are many streams of Judaism. The most conservative of these is orthodox, which itself is divided into many different levels of observance. In general, the Chassidic group I belong to, Chabad-Lubavitch, tries not to differentiate between different Jews. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, no matter their level of observance. At the same time, if you’re not Jewish, it doesn’t matter how observant you are, you’re still not Jewish. In general, I would consider myself to be ultra-orthodox, though as I wrote, this is only in terms of practice. I’m as Jewish as Moses, and as the Jew who practices nothing.

4) In your opinion, what makes you moderate/conservative/other?
In terms of observance of Jewish law, I’m ultra-orthodox. The word “Chassid” comes from the word “Chessed”, kindness, and it’s generally explained that it means someone who does “kindness” with their creator by being extra careful with everything they do. We try to be extra stringent with everything we do, and make sure to do the 613 Mitzvos, commandments, in the very best way possible.

5) In your opinion, what makes someone conservative? What makes someone moderate?
Someone can be conservative in practice but moderate in outlook, and vice-versa. It’s really difficult to label whole groups of people in an intelligent manner. The word “orthodox” means someone who believes in a conforming manner, while the word “orthoprax” means someone who acts in a conforming manner. The two are often not mutual. There is a Jewish saying, “The main thing is the deed.” This means what counts is the action, not the thoughts behind it. Giving charity for the wrong reason is far better than not giving charity, even if you have the best intentions. At the same time, Maimonides laid out thirteen principles of faith, without which a person can not be said to be an orthodox Jew. So it’s really a very complicated question, and I’m not sure there’s a good answer.

6) What's your heaven/paradise like?
Well, first of all, let me say that I’ve never been there, so how would I know? But seriously, we are taught that heaven is an entirely spiritual place (just like hell is an entirely spiritual place) where souls bask in the light of G-dliness. Heaven is not a reward for good deeds done on earth, but it’s more of a waiting room for the ultimate reward, when all the souls will come back down to earth in the Messianic era.

7) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?
As I said, making it to heaven is not the be all and end all of Judaism- it’s a nice place to be, but that’s about it. Judaism teaches that every action has a reaction, a consequence. It’s comparable to a diamond that becomes covered in grime (and worse), and needs to be cleansed. Once a person is cleansed of their sins, then they’re put into heaven. Once the Messiah comes, everyone will come back down to live again. But to answer the question more directly, yes, nearly everyone makes it to heaven. It’s taught that certain people’s sins were so heinous that they will not be resurrected, but in general, the gates of heaven are never closed to repentance.

8) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
Hmm, I’ve never really considered this question. I suppose that I was born into it, and though I’ve certainly questioned it many times, I’ve never felt that it didn’t have the answers. If I wasn’t born Jewish, would I have converted? I’m not sure. There are definitely many wonderful things about associated with being Jewish, but at the same time, there are many nice things associated with being not Jewish.

9) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them?
There are too many holy days to count! The most important one is Shabbos, Saturday, which we celebrate every week on Friday night and Saturday. Others would include the biblical holidays of Pesach, Sukkos, Shavuos, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. Each one has its unique observances. There are two rabbininc holidays, Purim and Chanuka, as well as four rabbinic fasts, the most solemn of which is Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month Av, when the Beis Hamikdash, the temple in Jerusalem, was destroyed, first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans. There are also many Chassidic holidays, which are celebrated with as much joy and fervor as all the others. The truth is, every single day is special, and has the potential to be the greatest day ever.

10) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?
I wouldn’t have a problem with being friends with people of other faiths, but honestly, I’ve never had enough time or contact with any single non-Jew to develop a friendship.

11) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
I would not, because I don’t believe there’s anything positive to be gained from it.

12) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?
It’s not my place to offer comments on other people’s religions. If it makes them happy, fine, but if they’re forcing it upon people, then I think that’s wrong.

13) What are your thoughts on women not being allowed to become priests?
Again, that’s the Catholic Church’s business, not mine. In Judaism’s case, I firmly believe that while women can and do have a place guiding and teaching, they can not be ordained as rabbis.

14) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you feel?
There is separate seating in my synagogue. I believe that it helps me concentrate on my prayer, and does the same for women.

15) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
I try to have everything I do reflect my belief in Judaism. It certainly has affected my beliefs regarding most, if not all the issues which currently face America. I believe that abortion, except in extremely limited circumstances (e.g. if the mother’s life is at risk) is wrong, and I believe that homosexuality is wrong in any form. I don’t condemn gays, and I wouldn’t treat them any differently than anyone else (who among us does not sin?), but I would certainly not want to condone in any way their lifestyle. Doing a sin (no matter how terrible) in private is one thing, but to advertise it to the world, to make it part of the country’s laws? I think this is wrong.

16) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your religion?
It would kill me. I wouldn’t ostracize them necessarily, but I’d certainly sit the traditional seven days of mourning which are done when a close relative dies.

17) In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to hell?
There are seven laws which apply to all people, called the Seven Noahide laws. They are: prohibitions against murder, forbidden sexual relations, theft, blasphemy, idol worship, eating meat taken from a living animal, blasphemy, and establishing courts of law. If a non-Jew keeps these laws, then they have a place in heaven and the world to come.

18) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why? ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not?
If someone keeps and believes the 613 commandments, then they’re a practicing Jew. I may not agree with all their opinions, but that’s the basic standard. If there is someone who doesn’t follow this standard, then they’re not entitled to speak in the name of Judaism.

19) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.
I have been called names out of passing cars, but that’s about it.

20) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?
I’m not sure what this question means exactly, but no, I don’t think my religion makes me any less of a person than I would be without it. In fact, I believe I’m more of a person because of it.

21) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
I’m not sure if the purpose of religion is to give peace of mind, or even to make you happy. I believe that my purpose is to make the world a better place through keeping G-d’s commandments. If this makes me feel fulfilled then great, but it’s not the point. Still, I’d have to say that when I do the right thing it makes me feel good, so I suppose that’s something.

22) Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?
The Jewish understanding of reincarnation is very different from other understandings thereof, much like the Jewish understanding of heaven is very different from others understanding thereof. In general, souls are reincarnated until they've fulfilled all 613 commandments, at which point they get to go to heaven. Heaven itself is merely a waiting room for the Messianic era, when souls will come back down to earth in bodies. Obviously every soul will have been divided into many hundreds of bodies at some time, and it's explained that each person to have had a part of this soul will come down as a unique individual. How is this possible? Each soul is literally a part of G-d. Since G-d is infinite, the soul is infinite, and you can divide infinity as many times as you want.


  1. I thought I had a pretty good understanding of Judaism, but your post has showed me that there were things I was quite clueless about. Like the Messianic era. That's something I'll have to look up more about, I think.

    Thank you for sharing! :)

  2. You may have heard about the Messianic Era by another term, the End Times.

  3. You will not find the Jewish Messianic era referred to as the End Times. "End Times" is a Christian term used to refer to the years immediately preceding the second coming of their Messiah.

    You may have heard the term "End of Days" used to refer to the messianic era but I doubt it since it is far less common.

  4. Chanan, would you observe the traditional seven-day mourning period if your kid left the religion, but didn't marry a non-Jew?

  5. This is making me angry.
    I respect people's religious choices, and I believe in learning about all religions, but...
    Being gay is sinning?

  6. No, being gay is not sinning. Having anal sex between two males is sinning.

  7. >> Being gay is sinning?

    Not the impulse, but acting on it is against the Bible.

  8. Anon: There's a reason the Old-Testament god has a bad reputation.

  9. When Chanan says gay people are sinning he is specifically referring to men who engage in a biblically prohibited act. Whether you agree with it or not - it's not like Chanan made up that prohibition.

  10. e: you mean, because of the whole “creating the world out of nothing and then telling the created beings what to do” thing?

  11. Correct. Just because he created me, does that mean I need to run my life around his whims? Did I agree to this bargain beforehand?

  12. you weren’t around to agree or disagree. you see G-d as an actor of a play with whom you can agree or disagree. but G-d is the essence of your existence.

    then there is gratitude to consider.

    also, the world belongs to G-d. so, if you’re doing something with the world that G-d doesn’t approve, you’re stealing.

  13. stealing shmealing! If I take you to my house, lock you in there without your consent, and circumscribe your every move, is it "stealing" if you don't behave? Must you cooperate with me out of "gratitude" for the favor I did for you by locking you into my house?

    God is supposedly the essence of my existence. Does that preclude the possibility that god can do horrible things that no human being would ever do (we hope)? Does that imply that I must be happy following his commands?

  14. Your questions assume that anything is right or wrong, in and of itself. But G-d is right and wrong. Therefore, by definition, yes, whatever he does is good. You can’t say: “He is creating me every second into a painful life, and therefore He is cruel.” G-d cannot by definition be immoral.

    (Although some people would disagree and say that G-d can be immoral, but is not. “Taste and see that G-d is good.” And whatever He does that seems like bad is actually good. But I disagree with them.)

  15. Also, your questions assumes that you have a choice. But there is no alternate existence beyond the one that you find yourself in. G-d brings you into reality out of nothing, and therefore, your obligations to him are simply obligations to your reality, to your definition, in some sense, to yourself.

  16. Precisely. Because I never had a choice, therefore you can't say that I "owe" god anything. He can try to make me do stuff, but I don't need to like it.

  17. Well, first of all, there is a concept that we owe something to our parents, even though we didn’t have a choice to be born through them (and actually, according to Judaism, we came into this world acc. to our decision, and the parents got the privilege from G-d to be parents of a child).

    But in any events, you owe to G-d the same way that you owe to the force of gravity. Towards G-d = good; away from G-d = bad. Just because G-d = good. It’s not owing in the traditional sense of the word. What your choice is is whether to do good or bad.

  18. well, when I say "good" I mean "doing what I want" and when I say "bad" I mean "not allowing me to do what I want."

  19. did choose to be born. You just don't remember. You think that you are doing what "you" want as opposed to what God wants, but actually you are doing what your animal soul wants as opposed to what your real self which is your eternal soul wants.
    You are a slave as long as you think that you want what your body wants. When you think that you want what God wants then you are also a slave - to him. So you have a choice between being His slave and the slave of a gross temporal mass of dirt. One wouldn't think it was such a difficult choice.