Ask the Orthodox Jew/ Amateur theologian

Because we haven’t had an “Ask The…” thread in, I dunno, weeks?

I’m a [del] Martian from outer space[/del] practicing Jew from a mostly-religious household.
I’m also an amateur theologian, of sorts. I read a lot about Judaism and Jewish philosophy, everything from why good people suffer to why minute details of ritual matter to why is this night different from all other nights. I can’t claim to have know all the answers, but I’m pretty good at memorizing what I’ve read. Since I’ve seen that a bunch of you have interesting and though-provoking questions on religion, I thought I might try to answer them via traditional Jewish thought.

Disclaimer: I am not a typical Jew, or human being, for that matter. I have a whole collection of psychological, neurological, and emotional disorders. I just want to make it clear that a) you shouldn’t draw conclusions about normal Jewish homelife from my personal background, and B) just because I’m a crazy religious person doesn’t mean that religion is making me crazy. My brain chemistry makes me crazy.

Ask away!

Please explain the Brown Cow (parah adumah). I’ve never understood it.

How now?

Whatever led Manischewitz to believe he could make wine?

Are you Ashkenazic or Sephardic?

I read in Erich Sigels Acts of Faith that an Orthodox Jew is commanded to make love to his wife on Sabbath (or the evening before?) Is that theologiocally correct?

Wow, you go right for the tough stuff, don’t you?

First of all, it’s a *red *cow (commonly referred to in English as the Red Heifer).

Now, this one’s kinda hard to explain because the whole point of it is that it doesn’t make sense. I’ll give it my best shot.

The ashes of the Red Heifer were used to purify a person who became ritually unclean from contact with a dead body. The cow chosen had to meet strict criteria, and the ashes were prepared in a special manner. All the people involved in preparing the cow became ritually unclean, and when they were done the ashes were used to make unclean people clean.

The Red Heifer is held up as the example par excellence of a chok, a ritual commandment which doesn’t make any human sense whatsoever. The point, apparently, is that we are supposed to yield our judgement of “common sense” to God’s. The rabbis say that only Moses ever understood it, and that no one else, not even the wise King Solomon, could figure out what was up with that cow.

The ashes of the Red Heifer, or lack thereof, is why religious Jews who go to the Western Wall don’t go on the Temple Mount itself. It is assumed that pretty much everyone nowadays is impure to some degree, and impure people were not allowed into the Temple. No ashes, no purifying ritual, no access to the Mount.

(Whew! Done!)

Anne, I’m as Ashkenaz as they come. My family’s been in America since forever, so I can’t trace my roots back to one country, but I apparently have ancestors from all over Europe.

More or less. It’s considered a mitzva to have sex with your wife most of the time anyway, but Sabbath is considered an especially good time. Holy day + holy act = lots of holy goodness.

Aren’t you a girl?

Is the life of a female orthodox jew different from a male OJ?

Hmm… I don’t know much about the male life, because I’m female. I’ll have to think about this one.

So I just realized that the end of Passover starts tonight, and I won’t be able to use my computer for the next day or so. Right now I don’t have time to think. But I’ll come back on Friday, and I will try to answer your question then.

Hey! Some of us prefer Manishewitz style wine!

I’m so ashamed.

Good gad! Do you keep an auto injector if insulin on hand? :slight_smile:

Well what’s the FEMALE life like actually? Because when I think of an orthodox jew, i ALWAYS think of a male person, and never a female, that’s why I kind of did a double take when I saw this thread as it never really struck me that a female person can be an orthodox jew too! :smack:
You only really see the males around in articles, media, etc. I never noticed female members of the church. So a female perspective would be the more interesting one to hear about.

Psssst . . . it’s not called a church.

I suppose it’s simply that the male dress code is so much more distinctive! Just like one can’t really identify Muslim men at a glance, either. And also because I don’t believe women are rabbis or scholars.

(My undergrad university had a fairly large number of Orthodox Jews and I remember that a lot of girls wore flannel pants under their skirts in the winter. When I first noticed this I instantly went from feeling bad for them wearing skirts in the Toronto winter to feeling rather jealous.)

:smack: I knew that. My bad.

Well, I’ve been thinking about gender differences. Also, I asked a friend with five brothers.

To start off with, “Orthodox” covers a large territory. Generally the Orthodox community is classified in two groups: Modern Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox. (In Israel, I believe, the equivalents are Mizrachi and Chareidi). MO Jews are the ones who are integrated with the modern world. They usually dress like any old American (although with longer sleeves and higher necklines), interact with the outside world, and raise boys and girls more or less equal.
UO Jews usually cloister themselves in all-Jewish communities. They usually have some sort of distinctive dress code. They tend to have very traditional gender roles. Most Hassidim are ultra-Orthodox, but not all ultra-Orthodox Jews are Hassidim.
Not everyone fits neatly into these two catagories, of course. I’m just painting the two extremes. But it’s a useful distinction.

I come from a Modern Orthodox community. As far as I know, girls and boys are pretty much treated the same, here. Maybe male education has more emphasis on Talmud and Torah study. But there’s no one stopping ladies from becoming scholars. I myself go to my rabbi’s summer Talmud class.
Some schools are co-ed. Some schools are single-sex. Some start out co-ed, then segregate the genders at a later grade. I went to a co-ed elementary school, a middle school that was co-ed for secular subjects and seperate for Hebrew subjects, a single-sex high school, and a single-sex college.

What I know about Ultra-Orthodox communities comes mostly from a high school field trip. We went around touring various Jewish communities and institutions, from the MO flagship Yeshiva University to the ultra-ultra-ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hassidim, and a lot of people in between. So what I’m telling you here is what I gathered from a bunch of hour-long lectures by UO women. I could possibly be wrong here.

So, in UO communities, they do things by traditional gender roles: men are scholars and women raise families. How much leeway people get (from all traditional roles) depends on which sect you’re dealing with. The women do go to school, but they don’t learn as extensively as the men. I don’t know how the ladies feel about this, but I remember the Satmar lecturer passionately defending her way of life.

Anyway, that’s what I know about gender distinctions. I’ve got to go think some more before I fully answer Ro0sh’s question. In the mean time, keep asking!

We are Conservative in Arkansas. We have a choice of a Modern Orthodox Synagogue and a Reform Temple. :rolleyes:
The Synagogue has a mehitzah, but my wife and I can sit together in the back.
How is that handled in your synagogue?

We’ve got a very pretty mechitza, with frosted glass and the hills of Jerusalem. The gals sit on the left, and the guys sit on the right. There is a space in the back with all the prayer books and bibles and stuff, but if you want to sit down you have to go to the male side or the female side.

The women’s side is smaller, but there’s usually more than enough seats, so that’s all right.

How do you define Jewish?