Living the Halachic Process, Volume 2
Questions and Answers for the Modern Jew
Edited by Rabbi Daniel Mann
By Eretz Hemdah Institute
Maggid, 2010, 381 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - August 8, 2010
This volume answers 130 questions about Jewish law. It is the second volume of the Eretz Hemdah Institute whose philosophy is "that it is not necessary to burden the Jewish people with unnecessary stringent rulings." The Institute combines Torah studies with Israeli army service. Its intensive post rabbinic ordination program "prepares its fellows for degrees as rabbinic justices and for other rabbinic roles." One of its many services to the general community is to answer questions that are submitted to them on its internet "Ask the Rabbi." This book's 130 questions and answers is a selection of these queries. It is accompanied with a companion CD. The following are some of the Institutes' solutions.
While Jews should respect the traditional language of the prayers, they may add short personal prayers in the middle sections of the shemoneh esrei, one of the principle prayers of each of the three daily services, a prayer that tradition ascribes to men living over two thousand years ago. The leniency only applies to the middle section of the shemoneh esrei because only the middle section contains petitions.
Although the Sabbath is important and should not be violated, and although driving on the Sabbath is forbidden, a woman who is expecting a child momentarily is not obligated to find a room near a hospital before the Sabbath to avoid needing to drive to the hospital on the Sabbath. One may start the Sabbath early, before night fall, during the summer months if this "brings sufficient enhancement to the (Sabbath) day." A person with a wheat allergy need not eat matzah on Passover despite this being an important biblically-required Passover observance. Even an individual who waits six hours after eating a meat product before eating or drinking dairy, need not wait at all after eating a non-meat dish cooked in a utensil used for meat, "even if there may have been a bit of residual (meat) gravy in the pot."
The volume's rabbis do not mention that Maimonides considered converts fully Jewish and, like all Jews, should say with the congregation "our Lord and the Lord of our fathers." They mention other sources, including views that are not as kind to converts. They say that Jews may violate the Sabbath to help an animal not have pain, but add that it is questionable if this "leniency applies to saving an animal's life if its death would not be painful." They rule that Jews may feed their own animals on the Sabbath, but not wild animals, such as ownerless birds: Jews, they say, should let God take care of them.
The rabbis quote a host of opinions on each subject, lenient and not lenient. They sometimes decide according to the lenient view, but advise their readers to follow the strict ruling. For example, one may cut the writing on top of a cake on the Sabbath, but shouldn't do it. One may give another a present on the Sabbath even though it is similar to transferring property, which is prohibited on the Sabbath, but should not do so.