Ask the rabbi

July 15, 2014 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem


Q. Are there any Jewish laws about which parent should have custody of the children after a divorce?

A. You can of course leave it all to the lawyers and the courts but it is better all round for you to agree on these crucial issues between you.

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Rabbi Raymond Apple

There is a general principle in Jewish law that all children stay with the mother until they are two. Thereafter the girls stay with the mother and the boys with the father, though at the mother’s request the sons can stay with her until the age of six.

However, the rabbis would agree with the Rema (Rabbi Moses Isserles, the glossator on the Shulchan Aruch) that if a different arrangement seems better for the children, the Beth Din can rule accordingly.

In all circumstances, both parents should continue to show an interest in every child and not to use the child as a way to hurt the other party, and both should consider the other’s financial needs and not make impossible demands. Nor should the grandparents on either side feel frozen out.


Q. Why is the Mount of Olives called by this name?

A. It was certainly known by this name in Biblical times (Zech.14). However, in those days almost all the hills of Jerusalem had olive trees on their slopes, so every hill was more or less a Mount of Olives.

Possibly today’s Har HaZeitim grew finer olives than anywhere else. Or maybe the name reflects a midrashic tradition that it was from this location that the dove picked the olive leaf that it brought back to Noah in the Ark. There must also be a historic significance in the prophecy that the messianic redeemer will stand on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4).

It is considered a great privilege to be buried there, even though access these days is not always too safe. My own grandfather was also buried there, but his grave, like many others, was despoiled between 1948-1967 when the Jordanians ruled the area and took Jewish tombstones for the purpose of paving latrines – or at least they condoned this act of wanton desecration. After the Six-Day War an Israeli cousin took me to the Mount to look for our grandfather’s grave and a number of the family shared the expense of refurbishing the memorial and rebuilding the gravestone.


Q. Why do some people leave a section of the wall in their house bare?

A. The practice is not widely followed these days outside of Eretz Yisra’el, but it has much to commend it.

The idea is to leave bare a square cubit of the inside wall facing the door to recall the destruction of the Temple. In the past this section was painted black but today that might be self-defeating, as black is sometimes part of the internal décor. The rule about leaving a section bare applies if the house was built by a Jew for Jewish occupants.

Magen Avraham (Orach Chayyim 560:1) says that if a house bought or rented from Jews does not have an undecorated square one should peel off one to expose the brickwork.

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