Why do orthodox Jews always think they are right?…ask the rabbi

January 23, 2017 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple deals with questions on Judaism.


Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. When the Ark is opened, why do we sing a passage that sounds so warlike – “Rise up, O Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You”?

A. This is a verse from Num. 10:35. The context is, “When the Ark moved forward (in the wilderness), Moses said, “Rise up, O Lord, etc.”

The implication is that when the Ark moves forward and the Torah leads the people of Israel, there is no reason to fear the threats of any enemy.

What is it that Israel’s enemies sought to attack? Not simply the people of Israel but what they stood for, their faith, their principles, their teachings, their way of life.

An attack on our beliefs and tenets was an attack on the Torah, and an attack on the Torah was an attack on God. When we suffered injury at the hands of enemies it was as if the Torah and God Himself felt the pain.

But for so long as Jews believed in themselves, in their principles and their God, nothing could prevent their surviving.

Nations kept coming and going, trying to eradicate us and what we stood for; but as PM Raskin says of Israel in one of his poems, “Thou an eternal witness remainest, watching their burial, watching their birth”.


Q. Why do orthodox Jews always think they are right? Doesn’t the Talmud say, “These, and these, are the words of the living God”?

A. It is not that orthodox Jews think they are right, but that God and His Torah are always right.

When the sages said, “These, and these, are the words of the living God” (Eruvin 13b, Gittin 6b), they were speaking of two honestly held points of view within the halachah (Jewish law).

Rabbinic tradition is full of examples of differing halachic views, though in the end the halachic system decided to approve one rather than another.

But a non- or anti-halachic view cannot be accorded the same status as a halachic view.

It is not possible, for example, to claim that keeping kosher and not keeping kosher are equally valid. True, there are some Jews who belong to orthodox synagogues who do not (yet!) keep kosher, but they cannot argue ideologically that non-kashrut is as halachic as kashrut.

The word “ideologically” is in fact the key word. The moment one puts forward an ideological claim for non-halachah one has lost the right to be counted amongst the “these and these” of whom the Talmud speaks.


Q. How do you explain the puzzling verse (Gen. 4:1), “I have gotten a man, God”?

A. Eve’s words, “’kaniti’ (linked with ‘Kayin’, Cain) ish et HaShem”, “I have gotten a man with the Lord”, give rise to two questions.

Why does she say, “I have gotten a man”? Why does she say, “With the Lord”?

The first statement may mean that after the sin she committed which lost them the Garden of Eden, she has regained her husband’s love; or that she has given birth to a male child.

The second statement does not mean, “a God who is man” or “a man who is God”. Between “ish” (a man) and “HaShem” (the Lord) the verse has the word “et”, “with”. Hence Eve is saying, “I have given birth to a child with the help of God”.

Rashi quotes the Talmudic statement that husband and wife are partners with God in creating new life (cf. Niddah 31a).

Rabbi Raymond 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.


8 Responses to “Why do orthodox Jews always think they are right?…ask the rabbi”
  1. israel korn says:

    Dear Rabbi Apple
    Can you , please answer the following questions:
    1.If the husband decides to change his gender from male to female what should his wife do according to halakha?
    2. The same as 1 but the husband did not change his gender but became a homosexual.
    3. The same as one but the wife changes her gender , she wants to be a man. What should the husband do?
    4. The same as 3 only the wife decided to be a lesbian.
    Israel Korn

  2. Liat Kirby-Nagar says:

    Sorry, Eleonora, I misspelt your name.

  3. Liat Kirby-Nagar says:

    It seems you are confusing Torah with Talmud. Rabbi Apple was discussing Halacha, which is Jewish law in regard to practising Judaism. The Talmud provides commentary and interpretation of the 613 laws from the Torah. These findings as elaborated are not God’s words as such. The Mishna and the Rabbinic discussions (known as Gemara) comprise the Talmud. The beautiful thing about this is that one can read and explore the thoughts and findings over the years that have been added to the Talmud. This provides for an energetic and living tradition that is ongoing. As new situations develop in the modern world, obviously consideration is necessary in regard to Jewish law and findings necessary to elaborate. Hence additions in this regard are not blasphemous.

    However, with that said, I can in no way comprehend how the many and diverse rules that make up Kashrut can be so specifically aligned with the short passage in Torah, ‘Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.’ There are other issues I have with certain man-made rules as well, some quite small. This is not being disrespectful; rather it is using my brain and intellect, thinking about all aspects of the laws instead of unthinkingly accepting. For example, I agree with you insofar as being disconcerted about the Orthodox separation of men and women attending services, praying, dancing, etc. The reason I have been given in regard to it is that all temptation and/or distraction women might provide in the company of men must be avoided. This with sexuality as the main concern. I am contemptuous of this idea. If men and women go to synagogue to praise God as equal adults in worship, then that’s where the focus is and should be. And if it is thought men are so weak as to have to have this kind of artificial ‘protection’ by the removal of women, then the focus should be on developing their own discipline of mind and purpose, not removing women from their company. The same is the case for those Orthodox men who cross the street in Beit Shemesh or elsewhere rather than pass a woman on the footpath in case he might look at her, or refuse to sit next to a woman on a bus or aeroplane. For a woman, it is extremely offensive and negates her existence. It is a man-made rule I object to with vehemence.

    My discussion, and arguments, should not be seen as attacks on Rabbis or on Judaism, but as healthy discussion on Judaism as it has developed and is now developing. Nothing stays static. Judaism is for all Jews, and there should never be a smug elite who deny access to those who think differently while still maintaining their respect and love for God and the tradition.

  4. Debbie Scholem says:

    You forgot to mention that the Greek word orthodox means ‘correct’. I find that difficult to swallow and condescending to non orthodox Jews. Let’s get real.
    The Modern Orthodox community have softened Halachah and the result is they are more relevant to modern Jewry. The Progressive Jews have softened Modern Orthdoxy even more.
    The vast majority of those Jews that affiliate with a Modern Orthadox congregation are Progressive in Practice.Progressive Jews would never call themselves ‘correct’.

  5. Eleonora Mostert says:

    Q For Rabbi Apple. Why do the Jewish congregations separate men and women in their services. I noticed a screen between them in the remembrance service for those lost in Melbourne. Are we not equal in the eyes of God?? Do we not grieve the same? As a Messianic Hebrew I am trying very hard to understand Judaism but nobody seems to want toanswer questions… Why is this?

  6. Liat Kirby-Nagar says:

    Re ‘A Puzzling Verse’, surely it was Adam and Eve jointly who ‘lost them the Garden of Eden’? The Torah certainly makes it clear that Adam had responsibility to bear for the decision he made to partake of the fruit. He could have refused, but chose not to.

    This might seem pedantic, but as an Australian English speaker I can’t stand the Americanisation of ‘got’ to ‘gotten’. English and Australian usage is ‘got’. Better still, leave ‘got’ out of it altogether, as Rabbi Apple has done in his translation, ‘I have given …’. Although, I thought ‘kaniti’ meant ‘I bought’?

    Halachic views, while tested arduously initially with scholarship and argument before affirmation, still represent interpretations by man. It would be hoped therefore that there might be room for new thought, if rigorous and qualitative in kind. Adding to the Talmud over the years has made for a more energetic, living religion, rather than one set in concrete that is accepted and performed without thought. Although perhaps that is somewhat at risk in particular areas now. Mental torpor and rigid thinking can sometimes serve harsh judgement rather than humankind and G-d.

    • Eleonora Mostert says:

      You are even more confusing than Rabbi Apple Are we not to study Gods word. Is it not bordering on blasphemy to ADD to the Talmud. I really wish everyone word only use the word of God and dump all these additives that are confusing His word. God is not the Father of confusion! Rabbi Michael can you brin g some sense into all this?

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