How long should you sleep?…ask the rabbi

November 17, 2015 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem…and answers your questions.

HOW MUCH SLEEP?

Q. How much should I sleep?

A. The answer is personal. Some people need seven to ten hours a day, others can get by on three. Some can only fall asleep if they listen to music, others can only fall asleep during sermons!

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Rabbi Raymond Apple

The real consideration is not how much sleep but how much wakefulness there is. Though Shir HaShirim says, “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (5:2), this doesn’t mean that one should never sleep deeply but that, by a Divine miracle, the body can be at rest whilst the heart continues to beat. That’s why one of God’s great gifts to His creatures is the ability to sleep and be refreshed (Heine said, “Sleep is the most precious of all inventions!”).

The important thing is that when you are fully awake, you should be alert and energetic and stir yourself when people need your interest, support and response.

The great curse is to waste good daytime hours in sleep: the Midrash noted the Biblical words, “Sleep to fall” (Gen. 2:21) and commented, “The beginning of a person’s downfall is (too much) sleep” (Gen. R. 17:5).

LIBEL

Q. What does Jewish law say about a person who libels another?

A. From the moment that man was created with the capacity for speech there was the danger that words would be used to harm other people. King Solomon said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).

The Torah deals with this possibility in a marriage, when it severely penalises a husband who slanderously accuses his newly wedded wife of unchastity (Deut. 22:13-21). It also records that Aaron and Miriam had to be punished for making slanderous comments about their brother Moses’ wife (Num. 12:1-13).

The Talmud states that someone who accuses another of being a slave is to be placed under a ban; if he calls someone a “mamzer” he is to receive lashes; and if he even merely calls another person a “rasha” (a wicked person) he is to suffer social sanctions (Kidd. 28a).

Damages for slander were already being imposed in Talmudic times (Sanh. 46a), and the Rosh (Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel, early 14th cent.) says it is customary in courts everywhere to fine “those who put others to shame with their words” (Responsum 101). This applies to both written and oral statements (Chafetz Chayyim 1:4).

Jews were often in particular danger from informers who went to the gentile authorities and told on their fellow Jews, and where possible the Jewish courts treated harshly those responsible.

This led to the acknowledgement by the Chafetz Chayyim (1838-1833) that Jewish law had a notion of group libel. Arguing that it was as wrong to slander the Jewish people as a whole as to libel an individual, he quoted Isaiah 6:5 (“Woe is me, for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips”), adding the rabbinic comment that God says, “You may speak evil of yourself, but not of My children”.

FEATHERS ON KOSHER CHICKENS

Q. When I buy a kosher chicken there are sometimes still traces of feathers. Why can’t the chickens be plucked better?

A. If plucked in warm water the feathers would come out more easily, but this would create a kashrut problem. As there is still blood in the body of the bird before the regulation soaking, salting and rinsing, using warm water for plucking would be like cooking the bird in its blood.

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