The status of the father

January 12, 2015 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple explains the status of the father, why we sway when we pray and public service ethics.


Rabbi Raymond Apple

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. Everyone knows that the child of a Jewish mother is regarded as Jewish regardless of who the father is. If both parents are Jewish, does the father determine any aspect of the child’s Jewish identity?

A. The father determines whether one is a Kohen (one of the priestly group), Levite (a descendant of the tribe of Levi, of whom the Kohanim are a section), or an Israelite.

If the father is a non-Jew, the child is an Israelite even if the mother is from the family of a Kohen or Levi. If the father was born a Kohen but has compromised his status by entering into a union with, for example, a divorced person, he becomes a Halal and his son is not a Kohen.

The child of (a) parents who are within the forbidden degrees of incest, or (b) a Jewish woman who, though still married to a Jew, had relations with a Jewish man other than her husband, is a “mamzer”. The “mamzer” is Jewish but has certain disqualifications when it comes to marriage.

A child born out of wedlock – i.e. where the parents were not, but were eligible to be, married according to Jewish law – is not a “mamzer”.

Since in Jewish law a person cannot indict him- or herself, a woman’s confession of adultery is not evidence unless supported by legally acceptable indications. The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 2:2) says, “Those who are constantly disqualifying others as mamzerim are themselves under suspicion of being mamzerim, because people who are in the habit of disqualifying are only projecting their own defects onto others.”

It adds, “People who are arrogant, cruel and misanthropic and do not treat their fellows with loving kindness are of questionable lineage, for Jews are supposed to be characterised by modesty, compassion and loving kindness.”


Q. Why do people sway whilst they pray and learn?

A. Religious activity often goes with physical movement. When the Torah was given, “The people saw it… and they shook” (Ex. 19:15). The Psalmist says, “All my bones declare, ‘O Lord, who is like You?'” (Psalm 35:10). He also says, “Rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11).

Passages such as these illustrate the notion of bringing bodily rhythm into prayer.

Yehudah HaLevi adds a pragmatic consideration: when people studied from large folio books they leant over to see the words and developed the habit of swaying during Torah learning.


Q. What halachic rules apply to working in the public service?

A. The general principle is enunciated in the prayer for the congregation, which speaks of engaging in the service of the community “b’emunah”, reliably and honestly.

Service of the community in the narrower or wider sense requires that a person –
1. Concentrate on their official task. They must eat and sleep well, exercise regularly and look after their health in order to be able to work effectively. They must not engage in any private business or secondary occupation. Heart and mind must be on their work. The model is Moses who “went down from the mount to the people” (Ex. 19:14) – i.e. he did not let himself be deflected by private concerns.

2. Not use an official position for personal benefit. “Rorting the system” must not even be considered. Accepting a bribe or turning a blind eye to something untoward “distorts the words of the righteous” (Deut. 16:19).

3. Be patient and polite to the public: an official “must be known for his deeds, and all these deeds must be pleasant and appropriate” (Maimonides, Hilchot De’ot 5:1).

4. Be accountable to the public. When Moses went about the camp (Ex. 33:8), some of the people might have grumbled, “Whatever he eats and drinks comes from us; whatever he possesses comes from us”; hence Moses pledged, “When the task (of building the tabernacle) in complete, I will give a full account” (Midrash Tanchuma). The Mishnah (Sh’kalim 3:2) recognises that public officials might be suspected of pocketing public funds; hence such people were not to wear garments with pockets or long sleeves which might invite unfavourable comments.

5. Be accompanied by others when collecting public funds and when distributing moneys.

6. Leave a time gap between moving from a public to a private position or vice versa in order to avoid the suspicion that they are exploiting the contacts, information or expertise they gained in the previous position.

7. At all times, know that they are answerable not only to their immediate superior and to the public, but to the all-seeing eye of God.

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.


One Response to “The status of the father”
  1. ben gershon says:

    mamzerim are a classification that has been eliminated in the progressive stream.

    the sins of the father are not transmitted to the sons


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