What is the meaning of the “goodly fruit” of Lev. 23:40?

Q. What is the meaning of the “goodly fruit” of Lev. 23:40? Does it really refer to the citron as the rabbis teach? I have friend who is a Horticulture at Southern Florida College, who doubts this association.

“The “etrog” of the Jews, used in the Feast of Tabernacles, is not mentioned in the Bible. It probably did not reach Palestine until after the time of Alexander the Great, and was not used by the Jews in fulfilling the prescriptions as given in Lev. 23:40. One historian, Immanuel Löwe stated that its use had been recorded from the time of Alexander Jannaeus (107-78 BCE).”

So, its use is quite old, but not nearly as old as the passage in Leviticus. Is he correct?

A. Great question. For those who are unfamiliar with the subject, here is the biblical verse in question:

“On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.” (Lev. 23.40)

Your scholarly friend is most likely correct. The association of the “goodly fruit” with the citron (Citrus medica) is of a relatively late origin. The Mishnah, the Talmud and Onkelos, as you know, assumes the citron is was one of four species of plants used in the Feast of Tabernacles. (TB Sukkah 35a) Josephus Ant. xiii.13.5 [372] recorded that infuriated Jews threw citrons at Alexander Janneus while he served at the altar during this feast. A similar tradition is mentioned in the Tosefta of Tractate Sukkot 4:9;. The reference is probably to the Citrus medica var lageriformis Roem., which may have been imported from Babylon by returning exiles. Continue reading “What is the meaning of the “goodly fruit” of Lev. 23:40?”

Masonic Traditions and the Jews

Q. I am doing my PhD. in the field of Jewish Studies. In this connection I am interested in the history of Jews in masonic lodges. As – according to my knowledge – there is at least in the higher degrees of the Scottish Rite quite a lot of Christian symbolism, I wonder, if there is any halachic ruling concerning the membership of Jews in masonic lodges. Could you help me here?

A. Good question. Until now, I never really researched the significance of Freemasonry, but I must confess, that my father was a Mason, as were many of his Jewish friends. I was surprised to see that a number of my present synagogue’s congregants are also Masons. Even more remarkable is the existence of an Orthodox Synagogue in Westchester named Rosh Pina, whose membership consists of Jewish masons. Masonic lodges tended to help support the local businesses, and this was probably one of the main reasons these fraternies were so popular.  The name Rosh Pina is  based on the Biblical verse found in the Psalms: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22).

Despite the popularity of this international fraternity, there is no official or formal definition regarding what is a Freemason. Much of its history is shrouded in legend and ambiguity. Many of its members trace back its symbolism to the original builders of the Egyptian pyramids or Solomon’s Temple. The working tools of the Masons became a system of symbols for personal morality and initiation.

Most folks know  the Masons are a charitable organization which has secret rites and symbols.
In religious terms, their behavior and traditions strikes one as an American civil religion. Tthe fraternity believes in rendering homage to the Creator, which they regard as the duty of each of its members. Although Freemasonry only began as an institution in the seventeenth century, it has generated a mythology, or legendary history, according to which its followers claims dates back to  the biblical reign of Solomon and the building of the Temple.

Many of this country’s founding fathers were Masons. In this country and in Europe,  Freemasonry was linked to various programs of political and religious reform, programs that emphasized freedom of thought, worship, association, and the press and contributed considerably to the French and American revolutions.

Some Masonic lodges found it hard to give up their old prejudices with respect to the Jews.. In Germany and Austria, Masonic lodges barred Jews from belonging. There is also another dark history  to masonry. In the 19th century, American Freemasons, along with others of like mind, created the Know-Nothing party in the 1850s, the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War and again from 1915 onward, and the American Protective Association in the latter 1880s and early 1890s. All were even more anti-Catholic than they were anti-black or xenophobic, in addition to being anti-Semitic. In defense of the Masonic movement, these splinter groups did not reflect the values of the Masonic philosophy.

At any rate, Jews found the Masonic lodges to be open in a time when discrimination was rampant in  Western society. The Masonic constitution held that any good or honest person, regardless of his denomination or persuasion, was to be admitted. The constitution obliged the member only to hold “to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves,” a declaration of religious tolerance based on the current Deist trend, which postulated a Supreme Being who could be conceived of by any rational being. It remains a mystery whether Jews may have influenced the wording of the Masonic constitution, but its liberal doctrines made it easy for Jews to belong.  A Jewish lodge, the Lodge of Israel, was established in London in 1793, and the Knights of Aphesis to this day, is a Jewish lodge in the Masonic movement. Indeed, I am told that there are many Jewish Masonic lodges all around the world.

Concerning Masonic lodges in the land of Israel had as many as 64 lodges with over 3500 active members consisting of  Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze. The activities of the Grand Lodge and its several lodges include: a mutual insurance fund; the Masonic old age home at Nahariyyah; Masonic temples all over the country; and a museum and library. (Encyclopedia Judaica) . Israeli Masonic Lodges show the kind of healing power Freemasonry can produce in a society that is religiously divided. In fact there is a Jewish Masonic synagogue in New York called B’nai Boneh – Children of the Builders!

With respect to the rest of your questions, I would like to briefly examine some of the Masonic  teachings and rituals.

Curiously, many of its rituals and symbolism draw its roots from the Kabbalah.  In the Kabbalah, the interest in a knowledge of sounds, written letters, and words was intensified. Each sign was given a magical value that had a religious meaning and a numerical relationship. For example, the Hebrew letter alef became the symbol of mankind and the abstract principle of material objects.

Most importantly, Freemasonry taught that  they are building a spiritual temple in heaven. Each member  regardless of his religion must  fashion himself into a perfect living stone to fit into the spiritual temple of God. Indeed, this idea bears considerable similarity to the Tikkun Olam “Repairing the world” which the Kabbalists stress, is every human being’s duty. This concept is reffered to as the “Common Gavel.” The common gavel serves as a metaphor for the breaking off the rough and superfluous parts of the stone, so as to be fit for the Supreme Architect’s use.  Accepted Masons, are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of divesting their  hearts and consciences of all the vices and superfluities of life: thereby fitting the Mason’s  minds as living stones for that spiritual building. The Mason thus, makes himself fit for heaven by bettering himself through eliminating unwanted qualities. This spiritual lesson holds true for any Mason, regardless of his god or religious persuasion.

The Kabbalists also  refer to this same process as “etcafiyah” – bending the material impulses to the service of the Divine.

Another one of the building instruments Masons use involves a trowel, which they use to spread cement. Here too, the symbolism represents spreading  the cement of brotherly love and affection; that cement which unites people into one sacred band or society of friends and brothers, among whom no contention should exist, so that all people may work and exist in perfect harmony.

None of the rituals that I have seen violate any tenant of Judaism, and in fact reflects values that are healthy for any sane society. Since some of the lodges reflect more  the religious tenets of that given faith, I would encourage you to join a Jewish lodge to avoid any possible Halachic problems pertaining to the role of Jesus, the incarnation etc.

Let me conclude with the following passage from the Talmudic tractrate Berachot 64a:

R. Eleazar said in the name of R. Hanina: The disciples of the wise increase peace in the world, as it says, All your children shall be taught by the Lord,and great shall be the prosperity of your children (Isa. 54:11)   Read not banayik [your children] but bonayik [your builders]. Great peace have they that love Your Torah, and there is no stumbling for them. (Psa. 119:65)


Rabbi Dr. Michael Samuel

The War of Ideas and the Triumph of Light – A Modern Chanukah Message

The War of Ideas and the Triumph of Light – A Modern Chanukah Message

Historically, the holiday of Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday when compared to holidays like Passover or Yom Kippur, or the Sabbath.

Nevertheless, its significance should not be under-appreciated. This holiday celebrates the first triumph for religious freedom in the ancient history of late antiquity. Although the holiday celebrates the military victory of the Maccabees back in the latter half of the second century B.C.E., rabbinic tradition redefined its significance by stressing the spiritual dimension of the revolt.

Military battles may come and go, but it is the triumph of the human spirit that matters most when it comes to the spiritual evolution of humankind. The rabbis, by and large, viewed the militaristic tendencies of the State with grave suspicion. Hence, Hanukkah had to signify something other than just military prowess.

The prophetic verse from the Bible underscores this thought — ”Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). When the forces of war and impatience demand a punishing response, it is all the more important that sober minds demand a calmer and better, thoughtful approach.

The metaphor of light is significant. One little candle can create much light. The candle’s light reminds us that our mission in life is not to shake up the world but to fasten its pegs, not to ascend to the heavens with bravado, but to walk softly on the ground, not to create a storm but rather a dwelling, an earthly home for God’s reality to become the center of our reality.

The relevance of Hanukkah is especially relevant for today’s challenges we all face.

In our battle against religious terrorism, it is important to remember that wars must be fought not only with weapons, but with ideas. Physically destroying an enemy may have negligible value, but fighting backward ideas with progressive ideas will ultimately yield a victory everyone can savor — and with much less bloodshed.

The holiday of Hanukkah is a simple reminder that the forces of light and enlightenment can eventually triumph provided we start fighting on a more conceptual and spiritual plane.

There is a lovely story about a king who had three sons. Before he was going to turn over the leadership of his empire over, he wanted to see which son was truly wise to manage his kingdom. He put this problem before them: ”Only one of you is going to be qualified to be king. There are three identical rooms on the first floor of this palace. I want each of you to fill a room so that every nook and corner is filled. You may use any commodity you like, but the room must be filled by midnight.” One son tried using straw, which he thought would pack very nicely. Another son thought sand could fill the room completely. Both sons failed to finish before the midnight hour. The third son waited until about five minutes before midnight, and he called his father to step into the room. He took out a candle and filled the entire room. His father was pleased and said ”You my son have shown yourself worthy to inherit the throne of my kingdom.”

Polygamy and Halacha

Question: Rabbi: After reading some of the questions asked regarding marriage I could not find one that answered the question on my mind about a man and a women living together. Therefore, my question is: What does the Torah or Talmud say about a man and a women who have lived together for several years (say 7 or more) and who considered themselves married but have not gone through the “legal” process?

Not having much experience in what the Torah says, I was wondering where we might look for this information. So far I understand that there are two stages to a marriage, the Kiddusin (which by accepting the dowery/money, a contract or sexual intercourse effects a binding marriage) and Nisuin since I have a limited understanding of these processes I believe that this couple would be considered “married”?!! Furthermore, it is my understanding now that this “couple” is looking to “legally” marry. Should they continue to live together or separate until they perform the “legal” ceremony? Are there any books or teachings that we might be able to study regarding this matter. Thank you for taking the time to read this question.

A. You’ve asked a good question. The Talmud distinguishes between a concubine and a wife in the following way: Wives have Ketubah (marriage contract) and Kiddushin (formal marriage ceremony i.e., hupah) while concubines have neither (Sanhedrin 21a, Maimonides Hilchot Melachim 4:4, cf. Lechem Mishna and Radbaz, ad loc.).

Ibn Daud, in his notes to Maimonides, adds that any woman who does not dedicate herself to one man, is considered to be a harlot (Ibn Daud’s Glosses to Hilchot Ishut 1:4)

Rashi takes issue with this definition. According to him, even a concubine must have Kiddushin, but what she lacks is a Ketubah (which delineates the financial responsibilities a husband has for his wife). In fact, Jewish law insists that even a married woman must have a Ketubah, lest she betreated as a concubine. Rashi’s opinion draws support from the Jerusalem Talmud (J. Ketubot 5:2, 29d) Most Halachic authorities rule in accordance with Maimonides and the Babylonian Talmud.

Opinions differ with respect whether a concubine is permitted or forbidden. Some scholars say that neither biblical or rabbinical law prohibits it. All that matters is that the concubine go to the mikvah ( a ritual pool of water) so that the man is not guilty of having sex with a menstruating woman (EH 26:1). The majority of authorities of the Middle Ages argue that concubinage was formally forbidden by the rabbis as immoral. Radbaz for an example wrote back in the early 17th century, “Nowadays a woman is not sexually permitted to any man except through the formal marriage ceremony of Kiddushin, Chuppah,  Sheva Brachot (the seven marriage blessings) and Ketubah (Resp, Vol, 4 #225). Only one notable 17th century authority, Jacob Emden (Responsum no. 15), expresses the opinion that it should be permitted. Then again there some authorities that hold only a king is entitled to a concubine. Curiously, Emden’s rulings are often cited today by a number of Orthodox men who wish to justify having more than one spouse.

The New York Daily News writes in their December29th, 1996:

“A shadowy Brooklyn organization is recruiting married Orthodox Jewish men to enter extramarital relations by promoting the ancient biblical concept of concubines.

The organization, which calls itself Shalom Bayis (Household Peace in Hebrew), operates a telephone hotline through which men can meet women willing to serve as concubines kept mistresses.”


This issue obviously poses many serious problems for the Orthodox community, once which I am sure their rabbinic leaders are trying to solve.With professional help, many of these marriages might be saved; but should therapy prove unhelpful, divorce would certainly be preferable to a failed marriage.

However, the Tanakh clearly teaches that monogamy was the original ideal the biblical writers endorsed. Whenever polygamy occurs in the Tanakh, it invariably involves nothing but trouble (just examine the complicated lives of Abraham, Jacob and David for a clear example). The only serious exception is the law regarding the levirate marriage (i.e., where the brother dies without leaving an heir, the brother has a duty to marry his brother-in-law’s wife, see Lev. 25:23ff.; Num. 27:8–11; Jer. 32:6ff.).  In a Chinese pictogram for “trouble” it shows two women living under the same roof. The prophetical literature condemns polygamy; according to the prophetical imagination, only Israel as the sole bride of God (Isa. 50:1; 54:6–7; 62:4–5; Jer. 2:2; Ezek. 16; Hos. 2:4f.). And the rest is commentary.


Rabbi Dr. Michael Samuel

Did Jesus Believe in Original Sin?


Q. I know that Christians and Jews share many religious beliefs and are very close to each other in spiritual brotherhood. But Christians basically believe that they are created sinful and unclean and, therefore, need a Redeemer, Jesus, to take the sins of believers on Himself so that they may come to God’s Kingdom when they pass over.

Since Jews do not have this Redeemer, how do they become pure enough to enter God’s Kingdom? I realize there is the Law, but human beings, being who and what they are, cannot keep these laws sufficiently to reach purity and freedom from sin. Christians also believe that they are able to receive the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit directs their lives and brings them to true belief in God through Christ.

How does Judaism look at the Holy Spirit and is the Holy Spirit considered to be active in bring Jews to true belief? I can answer this question myself, from a Christian point of view, but that would be a one sided answer. I would very much appreciate learning what Judaism teaches in this matter.
Thank you very much.

Answer: You are correct in assuming that most Christians believe in Original Sin to a greater or lesser degree. As to whether Jesus himself really believed in Original Sin or not, I have some serious doubts. In one of the Gospels, we read about how Jesus’ disciples once asked Jesus, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (John 9:2-3).

As a Jew reading the Gospel narrative, it seems to me that Jesus explicitly disapproved of any idea that man suffers from an inherited sin. By extension, every human fault we are born with, serves a spiritual purpose so that we may glorify the Creator despite our natural shortcomings.

Please bear in mind that many scholars have considerable doubt as to what Jesus actually said, and I think that the work of the Jesus Seminar is most instructive in this manner. The theological notion that man is born in sin has more to do with the theological teachings of Augustine, who perhaps with the exception of Paul, formed the Christian doctrine of man and sin after his own personal image and likeness.

Regarding the question whether the “Law” (or “nomos” – which we Jews prefer to refer as “the Torah”), we believe very strongly that the Torah is not too difficult to observe and those who live by it are not “under a curse” (see Gal. 3:13).

The Book of Deuteronomy makes this plainly clear: “For this command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out . . . ”(Deut. 30:11-14).

Curiously, instead of interpreting this passage for its obvious meaning regarding the Torah, Paul alleges that these words refer to how Christians can come to faith and salvation in Christ (Romans 10:6-10).

Post-traumatic Stress and the American Soldier

Q. I have a very close friend who is Jewish (Conservative). He is deeply religious and his faith is the foundation of his entire life; it provides the context for his close relationship with his family and motivates his work. The Torah is very important to him.

As part of his duty he served and played a key role in the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and was on the ground there for several months. Since his return he has suffered from PTSD. He took the lives of innocent people by mistake, and he says he did other things during his work there which he won’t talk about, all for which he is sorry. He says he violated the Torah. He no longer believes he is a good person.

He has not been to synagogue since he returned. I know he does not believe he deserves to go and he is punishing himself. I have told him that God cannot be so unforgiving, and that it is not up to him to decide whether or not he should be forgiven, it is up to God. Everybody makes mistakes, surely that is to be expected. I’ve asked him to go to synagogue, even if his heart is not in it at first, in the hopes that it will open his heart back up to God.

But I am not Jewish; I do not have any religion. I need you to tell me what to tell him. I want his pain to ease and I want him to know he is still a good person, and he deserves to enjoy synagogue, even if he did violate the Torah. Please provide some wisdom for him. Thank you.

A. I think your friend is lucky to have you in his life.

For the benefit of our readers, PSTD is a psychological disorder affecting individuals who have experienced or witnessed profoundly traumatic events, such as torture, murder, rape, or wartime combat, characterized by recurrent flashbacks of the traumatic event, nightmares, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, forgetfulness, and social withdrawal.

It seems to me that you should have your friend visit a good psychologist, or a good pastoral therapist who is skilled in dealing with these issues. There is a variety of well-established relaxation techniques exist which is likely to be effective in reducing the autonomic arousal associated with the experience of anxiety. Many techniques have been utilized to help individuals elicit relaxation including yoga, meditation, progressive relaxation, hypnosis, and bio-feedback.

Whatever technique is used, the cultivation of a passive effortless attitude is essential. One does not make relaxation happen, but rather allows it to take place by creating the right conditions. Of primary importance is a sense of safety, security, and freedom from threat. Combined with therapy, I think he can eventually pull out of this. In addition there are support groups that may be able to help your friend. Needless to say, find a local rabbi you can relate to and have him spend time listening to your friend’s pain.

The therapist should have excellent empathic skills, and should allow your friend to vent his pain so that he does not implode in silence. I would make mention to your friend a special verse that I believe can give hope and perspective to what he is feeling. The passage is from the Book of Jeremiah and it reads:

And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not; for, behold, I am bringing evil upon all flesh, says the LORD; but I will give you your soul as a prize of war in all places to which you may go

(Jeremiah 45:5 ).

There is something profound in this passage. When we are engaged in a conflict–especially a conflict such as a war, – we must be careful not to let our soul be tainted or diminished. If you are fighting for something that is dear to you, then be careful to guard your soul.

Implore your friend, and tell him that he must not allow the war to take one more casualty— himself. A skillful counselor will help him salvage his soul, lest he become the final victim of the war. Needless to say, this process is never easy. I wish him well.