The last question for Rabbi Apple – and a tribute from the Great Synagogue

January 22, 2024 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Q. Is there a Jewish view about women using make-up?     Ask the rabbi.

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Rabbi Raymond Apple has been answering questions relating to Judaism in J-Wire since 2014.

Sadly, he passed away in Jerusalem on Friday during Shabbat. This final column was prepared last week. Following the column is a tribute from The Great Synagogue in Sydney at which he was the spiritual leader for three decades.

Q. Is there a Jewish view about women using make-up?

A. Yes, and it is in favour despite a custom in Talmudic times of singing the bride’s praises for not using cosmetics (Ket. 17a).

This custom was probably a delicate compliment to the bride as being so beautiful that she needed no make-up.

However, it was an established obligation of a husband to provide his wife with cosmetics (Ket. 66b) ranging from face rouge to eye make-up (MK 9b).

A woman was also entitled to enhance her beauty by plaiting her hair and trimming her nails. Travelling salesmen would take their range of cosmetic preparations from community to community (BK 82a/b).

The only main problem with cosmetics is when they are used for wanton enticement – “walking and mincing as they go and making a tinkling with their feet” (Isa. 3:16-16).


Trees are a constant theme of our literature, both metaphorically (e.g. Psalm 1) and literally (e.g. Deut. 20:19).

Trees and human beings are often compared, The Psalmist (Psalm 1:3) likens man to a tree: both grow if they are properly nourished.

The Midrash says that the righteous, like a tree, is strong and solid and like a tree he produces results. The Maharal of Prague says that if well rooted, both humans and trees grow upwards.

Chassidic philosophy says that a tree grows quietly and gradually, and so does a human being. You can’t see a tree actually growing or see the human spurt of growth; but both have observable results.

Baruch Dayan Emet -Emeritus Rabbi, Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, of blessed memory.

For many people in our congregation, Rabbi Apple was an integral part of their Jewish lives for ten, twenty or even thirty years. He was there at their naming, bar or bat mitzvah, and wedding. He performed the funerals of their loved ones and inspired them in his sermons and articles.

So many of us have strong and warm memories of him, what he did for us and what he meant to us. In all of his work he was supported by Marian, who was a much-loved and widely respected leader of the congregation in her own right. She is in our thoughts today.

Rabbi Apple was involved in a huge range of activities, including academic writing and teaching, interfaith work, leading rabbinic bodies and advising lay bodies, as a member of the Sydney Beth Din, military chaplaincy, giving halachic guidance to the Sydney Women’s Tefillah Group, as a Freemason, founding Mandelbaum House, and endless acts of private advice and mentoring.

He became the primary rabbinic voice in Australia, filling a role that was held by Rabbi Porush before him but will probably never be found in one person again.

Yet none of this work distracted Rabbi Apple from his primary responsibilities as our Chief Minister. In the years after his arrival in 1972, The Great Synagogue reached its congregational peak, marked by events including the centenary celebrations in 1978 and the opening of the Education Centre in 1981.

When Rabbi Apple decided it was time to retire in 2005, the synagogue he bequeathed was large and strong, and he had tried to make it warmer and more progressive. Above all, he had been a faithful custodian of the congregation he had inherited.

His love for our synagogue was obvious from the care he took over every aspect of its activity and the research he undertook into its history, culminating in his 2008 history of the congregation.

Although mobility restraints means that Rabbi Apple had not been able to visit Sydney for some years, he remained a cheerful and responsive source of advice and information until the very last weeks of his life and yet he never interfered or intruded.

Rabbi Elton was delighted to spend time with him when he was in Jerusalem in July.

We were proud to issue a collection of his writings in the weekly Sedra last year, to mark fifty years since his Induction at The Great Synagogue in 1973.

We extend our deepest sympathies to Marian, their children and children-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

There will be a memorial service at The Great Synagogue with tributes to mark Rabbi Apple’s Shloshim (thirty days since his passing) on Thursday, 22 February, at 6:30pm. We hope you will attend as we pay our respects as a congregation in the place that was the centre of Rabbi Apple’s ministry.

We have lost the man who led and tended to our congregation with love and dedication for so long. May his example inspire us and may his memory be a blessing.

Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton, Chief Minister and David Lewis, President of The Great Synagogue.

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