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Kenneth Cohen

Ask Questions

It is always important to ask questions when we are told that we might be violating a particular Halacha. When someone tells us that something is forbidden, it is important to ask for an explanation.

“Why are you telling me that I am not allowed to do this? Is it a Torah prohibition? Maybe a Rabbinic law, or only a custom.” If that individual cannot explain why that particular law is forbidden, he has no business giving you instructions.

The correct way to analyze any Halachic question, is to first categorize it. Is it a Torah prohibition, or Rabbinic. If it is from the Torah, we must be very strict, as there is little room for compromise. If it is Rabbinic, there could be leniencies, under certain circumstances.

Often we see ignorance at play. People might get very upset about a custom, and then overlook a serious Torah prohibition.

For example, it is considered unnecessary exertion to feed a stray animal on Shabbat. This is why many feed the birds before Shabbat, when we acknowledge the birds on Parshat Beshalach, which is also Shabbat Shira. Many take this advice very seriously, and tell others not to feed the birds on that Shabbat.

These same people might own a pet, and unknowingly, might mix their pet’s food with a liquid. Such mixing could fall under the category of לישה, “Kneading dough,” which is one of the thirty-nine Melachot, that is a serious Torah violation.

The point of all of this is that it is perfectly okay and almost our obligation to ask questions. It is not only within our rights, but it will help give us a better understanding of the beautiful system of Jewish Law.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at www.cafehebrew.com