Teachings: Answer To Questions

Where's the Joy?

Dear Reb Shohama, It’s been such a difficult month, remembering 9/11, worrying about impending war, and sitting through Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, focusing on everyone’s sins. I want a religion that teaches me how to be happy. Can I find that in Judaism? Sincerely, Andy


Dear Andy, It has been a difficult month with all that has been happening in the world. And you are right, Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur are the most serious of our holidays.

Is It Jewish to Walk a Labryinth?

Jewish Labyrinth image is from Pardes Rimonim by Rabbi Moshe Cordevero, the RAMAK, drawn in about 1548 CE.

Does Circumcision Matter?

Dear Reb Shohama,

My husband and I are expecting a boy, and are struggling with the issue of circumcision. Our reading leads us to believe it is a barbaric and patriarchal remnant of Judaism, causing unnecessary pain to the child. Moreover, there seems to be no significant medical benefit. What can you tell me? Sincerely, Susan

Dear Susan,

I understand your dilemma. There is a body of literature that portrays circumcision in this way, and I, too, have struggled hard with this issue.

What's This about Messiah?

Dear Reb Shohama, This time of year the theme of Messiah rings in my ears constantly, due to the Christmas season. And then I notice that many of the prayers in my synagogue’s prayer book also talk about the coming of the Messiah. I am a modern person. How do I make sense of this idea? Puzzled in Omaha, Jeremy

Uncomfortable with God

Dear Reb Shohama, I feel so uncomfortable with the word God, yet I keep searching for a spiritual connection. The strange thing is that when I see a beautiful garden or even a beautiful flower, I find myself thinking “Thank you, God.” Does this make any sense to you? Thanks, Renee

Dear Renee,

Yes, it makes a great deal of sense to me. You probably were raised with a forbidding concept of God as a serious old King on a throne, and have not adequately explored Jewish theology as an adult.

A Jewish Soul in a Gentile Body?

Dear Reb Shohama,

All my life I have felt a warm connection to Judaism, although I was born and raised in a gentile home. It kinds of feels like I have a Jewish soul in a gentile body. Have you heard of such a thing?

Shalom, Joseph

Dear Joseph,

Can I Eat Soy on Passover?

Dear Reb Shohama, Your guidance would be greatly appreciated regarding the following. We maintain a traditional style Jewish home, and Passover is very important to us. As vegetarians, how do we incorporate soy into our diets during Pesach without compromising the holiday? Each year we struggle with this situation, because soy is the major staple for us, providing a natural source of protein in our heart healthy meals. Thank you for your advice! Respectfully, George

Dear George,

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Dear Reb Shohama,

I recently lost my mother, who was not only a wonderful mother, but also my best friend. She had a very hard life, but always prayed to God and did good things for everybody. I don’t understand why God didn’t let her live longer. Sincerely, Joe

Dear Joe,

I am so sorry about your loss. It has left a big hole in your life, and you, understandably are very angry with God. God can deal with your anger. Tell God how you feel, and ask God to heal your pain.

A Rabbi/Cantor for the Wedding

Dear Reb Shohama,

My fiancée and I are planning our wedding, and we want a ceremony that is traditional, but that feels like us. We know a rabbi, a friend of the family, who shares our desire for warmth and informality. This rabbi usually officiates by herself, as she has a nice voice. We also know a cantor who has served at our family’s synagogue since I was a child. We would like to include him, but are concerned that his formal operatic style will undercut the tone of the ceremony we are trying to plan. What should we do? Sincerely,Sharon

Does God Love Me?

Letter #1: August, 2002/Elul, 5762

Dear Reb Shohama, My Christian friends say God loves me, but where do I find that in Judaism? And even if I could find it, how can I believe that when there is so much suffering and hatred and greed all around?
Yours longingly, Sara  

Q: What is a fullness of Jewish Identity?

Q: I was brought up in a secular Jewish home. My grandparents were victims of the Holocaust. We celebrated the major holidays in a non-reigious way but with deep attachment to our Jewish identity, and perpetuating our family traditions. Can I consider myself Jewish in the full sense of the term?
Thank you for considering my question.

Answers to Questions of Spiritual Importance

Sent by Readers

Must I Believe?

Dear Reb Shohama,

I’ve finally found a synagogue where I feel joyful, peaceful, and at home. Problem is, the Rabbi really believes in God and I don’t. I feel like a fraud. What do you suggest? Sincerely, Louise

Sleepless and Worried about Work

Dear Reb Shohama,

I am a practicing Jew. I keep Kosher, attend Shabbat services regularly, and even attend morning minyan several times a week. Yet I find I cannot sleep well at night, because I am too worried about my responsibilities to my family and my business. What advice do you have for me? Sincerely, Bob

Dear Bob,

You are not alone in your dilemma. In fact, it is a common complaint.