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Frequently Asked Questions About Judaism

Part Two

Q: What is Shabbos / Shabbat?

A: Sabbath. Literally, inactivity. We keep Shabbos because G-d created Shabbos as a day of rest from certain types of creative activity.

It is not "work" or physical exertion per se that is forbidden. G-d did not "labor," nor exert Himself, neither did He need to rest to catch His breath. Thus, the defining factor of forbidden activity on Shabbos is not the difficulty of the act, nor the amount of exertion. Rather, what are forbidden are certain specific creative acts, as delineated by the Torah.

There are 39 categories of forbidden "creative" acts that are forbidden on Shabbos. Each of the 39 categories has at least 39 examples (or types) of forbidden acts. These particular acts are forbidden, not the various acts that the average person might consider work. It is not our own common sense that has determined which labors are forbidden: these Laws of Shabbos were taught by G-d to Moses at Mount Sinai.

Thus, it is sometimes permitted to move your couch a few inches even though this may make you sweat and exhaust you. Yet it is forbidden to carry a feather across the street during the Sabbath.

About the length of Shabbos: In the Jewish system, the night precedes the daytime. A full day's cycle starts with the night, and ends at nightfall the next day. Therefore Sabbath always starts Friday just before Sundown, and ends Saturday night. However, due to the difficult exile and persecution the Jews have suffered, a very important detail has become clouded. Does the nighttime start at sunset, or when it is fully night? (Full night is judged by when it is dark enough to spot three medium-sized stars.) Since the Sabbath is a Biblical Law, we act stringently. We do not wish to desecrate even one second of the Sabbath. So, we start the Sabbath at sunset, but Shabbos does not end until full night the following day, about twenty-five hours later. (The actual time will differ depending on the astronomical variations of each locale, and the season.)

Why does the daily cycle start at nighttime? Well, that is how the world began. According to the Book of Genesis, first there was darkness, and then came light. And each day is announced with the phrase "And it was evening and it was day . . ." Thus, we see that the nighttime precedes the daytime.

(Visit the Shabbat Website)

Q: Why don't Jews believe Jesus was the Messiah? Aren't the proofs convincing?

A: This is a sensitive issue, and it is hoped that no one will be offended by the candid answer provided here.

We do not believe that it is prophesied that the Messiah will be crucified. We do not believe that the Messiah will be the son of G-d. We do not believe that he will be raised from the dead any more than anyone else. We do not believe that he will appear twice, in what some Christians call a second coming. We do not believe that the Messiah will be our "savior" in the sense that he will redeem us from our sins.

These are all fascinating claims to make concerning anyone, but they are all irrelevant to the Messiah for whom the Jews have awaited these three thousand years. None of these things are prophesied in the Jewish Bible.

What then is this Messiah for whom we wait? The Messiah will be a mortal man, born of a normal man and woman. He will be of the undisputed scion of David through his father. He will become uncontested ruler in the Land of Israel over all the People of Israel, that is, all Twelve Tribes of Israel. He will have at least one son, who will be king after the Messiah dies a normal death at an advanced age.

He will be as described by the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 11:2-4): "full of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of G-d . . . he will smite the tyrant with the rod of his mouth, and slay the wicked with the breath of his lips . . ." (Maimonides explains this last as merely a parable, and not to be taken literally.)

Still, the Messiah will primarily be a prince of peace. As it says (Isaiah 52:7) "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace."

The Messiah will bring an end to all suffering and war. He will rescue the Children of Israel from exile. He will teach the world how to revere truth, and they will all return to G-d (though not necessarily to Judaism). All forms of warfare will be abolished.

The Torah will be strengthened by the teachings and practices of the Messiah. It will not be weakened nor changed in the slightest.

The Jews will no longer be subjugated nor oppressed by other nations. (In fact, there will be no oppression or subjugation anywhere in the world, by anyone against anyone.) The Jews will be free in the Land of Israel. We will have the Holy Temple once again. We will have the full body of the Law restored by the full Sanhedrin and all lesser courts. And the Messiah will do all this on his first try. Indeed, this is how we will know he is the Messiah.

It will be through these signs that he will be recognized. It will not be through miracles, nor through resurrection of the dead, nor through any new creation. It will be through the total Redemption we will undergo (as described in brief above) that we will know the Messiah. And in truth, it is not for the Messiah that we eagerly wait, but for the Redemption itself. The Messiah is merely G-d's messenger and vehicle for that Redemption.

The man the Christians worship may have been a good person, and he may have taught many good things. (Although I hasten to point out that there are many teachings in the Christian Bible that are completely unacceptable to Orthodox Jews, and incompatible to the teachings of the Torah.) But he was not the Messiah for whom we await and have long awaited. He may have been crucified, and that's a horrible thing. But that merely proves to us that he was not the Messiah.

He was not the son of G-d any more than we all are; precisely no more or less. The very thought is repugnant to a Jewish person. G-d having a son in that manner? We shudder at the suggestion.

Nor do we believe he was resurrected. But even if he was, that would not make him the Messiah.

All this that is claimed about Jesus is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the Messiah. There will indeed, come a time when all the dead will be resurrected, but not at the time of the Messiah's coming. That will be later. Much later. (You can read about that here.)

The Jewish faith has no place for most of the Christian Messiah beliefs. Nor is there any way to reconcile Jesus with the Jewish concept of the Messiah. The two concepts have very little in common.

We still await the Messiah, and our faith is still strong.

If you are a serious seeker of this knowledge, click here to see a list of web sites with proofs and discussions of this subject.

(At this point I must declare that if I get any more e-mail letters from people trying to convince me that Jesus was the Messiah, I will respond without being sensitive to the writer's feelings, and I will not worry about being offensive. I will say exactly what I feel, and you will not appreciate my candid response. Judaism does not tolerate proselytizing. We don't do it to you, so have the decency not to do it to us.)

One more thing: There is a common misconception that Jews supposedly hate Jesus. The truth is that we have no feelings about him at all for good or bad. It does not occupy our minds, because it is completely irrelevant to us and to our religion. We simply don't care at all. Jesus is about as relevant to us as Mithras, or Zeus, or Apollo, Osiris, Attis, Odin, Ishtar, Tammuz, Enlil, or any of the many other ancient gods of other civilizations. We don't hate them either. We simply don't care, and we never think about any of them too much either. Those of us who know a little more about the subject might on occasion wonder if Jesus really existed, but in any case we don't really attribute the creation of the christian religion to Jesus, but to Paul, about whom we don't much think about either. Our only emotion is invested against those who try to get Jews to believe in christian beliefs. Other than that, we really couldn't care less. We don't hate Jesus -- we don't see the point.

Q: Please explain the Jewish Calendar.

A: The Jewish Calendar is one of the most complex, precise calendars that exist today. The Jewish year is based on a "lunisolar" cycle. The months are lunar, but the year itself is adjusted to reconcile with the solar year, by the addition of leap months.

There is a complex nineteen year cycle that determines when we have leap years. There is also a seven year cycle to determine the Sabbatical years during which all land in Israel must remain unworked, and a fifty-year cycle to determine the Jubilees. There is a twenty-eight year cycle involving the solar term. And the complexities go deeper yet.

For example, each lunar month has a maximum of thirty days, and most have only twenty-nine. This means that a lunar year would have no more than 360 days, and usually only around 354 days. Since the solar year was known to be 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46 seconds long, each Jewish year would start earlier every solar year. If left as such, the months would skip around the seasons from year to year. However, the Torah has commanded us that the Holiday of Passover must take place during what the Torah considers it to be the "season of spring" in Israel. This "season of spring" does not actually coincide with the scientifically-determined solar spring -- it is determined by the wheat harvest in Israel. So, every few years, in the order prescribed by the nineteen year system, we add another month to the year.

The Jewish fiscal year starts on the Holiday Rosh Hashonoh, the first two days of the month of Tishre, which usually occurs somewhere during the Gregorian month of September. Rosh Hashonoh marks the day that Adam and Eve were created, thus it is the beginning of the year for humanity. The Rosh Hashonoh during the Gregorian year of '08 ushered in the Jewish year 5769. This means that it is 5769 years since Creation.

The Torah, however, counts the month of Nisan as the first month, since that was the month we became G-d's People, during Passover, which occurs in Nisan. Therefore, when the Torah says "the first month . . ." it refers to Nisan, the month that we became G-d's Chosen People.

Q: Why must Jewish women cover their hair, but are still allowed to wear wigs? Isn't that hypocritical?

A: No, not really. Bear in mind that the Law that a woman must cover her hair applies only once she has gotten married. A woman who has never been married may keep her hair revealed. Thus we see that it is very different than all the other parts of a person's body.

A woman may not reveal her own hair, but she is not required to look ugly. While a woman may not attempt to attract any man other than her husband, she is not required to look frumpy. A woman is encouraged to feel good about herself, and if she feels like dressing nicely there is no problem with that, as long as she keeps to the Laws of Tznius (modesty, chastity, etc.).

For a longer discussion of this and similar subjects, visit Kresel's Reader's Response Page.

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(Updated 12/03/08 -- 6 Kislev, 5769)