Jewish Rights to Name Child

Question to Rabbi Menachem M Bluming: We haven’t officially named our firstborn daughter yet. We have a problem. I always wanted to name her after my grandmother. But my wife doesn’t like that name. She wants some other name which is nice, but I think it lacks any real meaning for the family. Doesn’t it say somewhere that the father has the right to choose the firstborn’s name?

Here’s a thought:

I’m not sure you want to know the answer to that.

There is indeed a custom in some communities of alternating the right to name a child between the parents. According to one Ashkenazi custom, the mother names the firstborn child, the father the second and so on. But some Sefardi communities have the father choosing the name for the first son, and then the mother the second son, while all daughters are named by the mother.

In your case, following either system, your wife gets to name this child.

But there is a different approach. These systems were only enacted to avoid intractable arguments between parents. That’s not the ideal way to name a child. It is far better that both agree on a name together rather than one having to reluctantly concede to the other’s wish.

The need for consensus is indicated in the writings of Kabbalah, which state, “When a father and mother give a name to their child, they are given a prophecy to choose the right name to fit the soul of the child.” This implies that the prophecy comes when there is agreement between the parents, and both are happy with the name.

This is just the first of many disagreements you will have with your wife in parenting your child. Inevitably there will be times when you will want to do things one way, and your wife will have a different approach. You could alternate the decision making, so one day you get your way and the kids are allowed to drink Coke, and the next day your wife is in charge and they only get water. One day bed time is optional and the next it is strictly enforced.

But think what this will do to your child. She needs parents who are united and working as a team, with one voice and one standard. When there are cracks in the parents’ unity, kids slip between those cracks.

Consider your child’s needs before your own, and give her a name that is meaningful, comfortable, and acceptable to you both. May this be the first of many harmonious compromises you make for your children.

Menachem Mendel Bluming, Rabbi Moss and

Converting to Judaism

Menachem Mendel Bluming received this question this week:

I am angry. I was brought up Jewish, attended a Jewish school, and have only known Judaism as my religion. Now I am told I have to convert, because my mother never formally became Jewish. Isn’t it a little unfair that all my life I was more Jewish than my friends, was subjected to anti-Semitism, and then I am told I need to convert?!

Here’s a thought:

I completely understand your frustration. It can’t be easy to hear that you need to convert to your own religion. But please don’t take it personally. This is not a reflection on you. The entire Jewish nation went through exactly what you are going through now.

After leaving Egypt, where they suffered as slaves and were tormented for being Jewish, the Israelites reached Mount Sinai. There they were told they had to formally accept the Torah, and convert to Judaism by immersing in a mikvah.

They could’ve had the same complaint as yours. We’ve always been Jewish, we have even suffered for it, and now we’re told we need to become Jewish?!

Indeed they were already Jewish in the ethnic sense, they were born into the Jewish clan, but they had not yet committed to the Jewish mission. Only by sincerely accepting the Torah did they take on the complete Jewish identity in body and neshamah/soul.

The Israelites of old had a moment of truth. Am I ready to stand before G-d and commit myself to being Jewish? Not just for a day or a week or a yea but for generations. And they said yes.

That power of that moment still reverberates to this day. All Jews alive today are descended from a mother who converted to Judaism, who took that plunge, either at Mount Sinai or sometime since then.
Now you have your moment of truth. You can be culturally and ethnically Jewish, as you already are. Or you can stand at your own Sinai and say yes to G-d.

Put aside the frustration and take this decision seriously. If you don’t go ahead, you leave things hanging for your children and theirs. But if you do it, your commitment is forever, for all generations, once and for all.

Menachem Bluming, Rabbi Moss and

Question asked of Rabbi Menachem Bluming this week:

Many times in the Torah it says that we should not say or do something that is forbidden since that will make G-d very angry. What am I supposed to make of that? How can I respect a G-d who is on the edge of blowing up if we don’t follow what He says?

Here’s a thought:

Imagine being married to a man who never gets angry. Ever. About anything. You insult him and he shrugs. You are rude to him and he is nice back to you. You give attention to others and he isn’t the least bit jealous.

Would that be a wonderful marriage?

Well, on one level, yes, it would be fantastic. No tension, no issues, no arguments or fights or silent treatment.

But in truth, it wouldn’t be good at all. It wouldn’t be a relationship. If he never gets upset at you, it means that you don’t really matter to him. If nothing you do moves him, it means he doesn’t care enough to be impacted by you.

Being in a relationship means affecting each other. For better or for worse, your heart is intertwined with someone else’s. If you aren’t getting a reaction, then you aren’t connecting. You may be married, but you are really alone.

G-d created the world so He could have a relationship with us. He made a huge gamble, creating humans with free choice to do whatever we want, and He invested Himself in us, allowing Himself to be impacted by our actions.

So when the Torah says that G-d will get angry if we do wrong, that is the most beautiful statement of love. G-d is saying, “You matter to me. Your actions touch me. I have invested myself in you. This relationship is real.”

We only get upset at people who matter to us. You matter to G-d too.

Menachem Bluming, Rabbi Moss and

Is The Constitution Like The Torah?

The Constitution provides for its own amendment by a supermajority of the Legislature and States, whereas the Torah is eternal and immutable.

It seems to me that many Jews in the U.S. conflate these two documents. They have developed a ‘veneration’ of the transcendence of the humanly conceived Constitution and concomitantly advanced the idea that the Torah is adaptable, whereas the reverse is true. Irrespective of the debate about whether the Constitution is a ‘living document’ or to be understood from the perspective of ‘original intent’, the fact is that the Constitution is a utilitarian document which also itself legitimates change by amendment.

The Torah on the other hand was given to us by an omniscient G-d – as familiar with the future as we are of the past or present – who stipulated numerous times that the Torah is applicable for all future time.

Logic too supports this notion.

Governmental systems and structures must necessarily adapt to societal change. Values and morals however, are truths which transcend the vicissitudes of any particular age or milieu and must therefore not change.

Menachem Mendel Bluming, RSK and

Dying with Dignity

It often happens that foreign, secular ideas creep into the minds of even those who have faith. Usually, the way these concepts infiltrate is via catch phrases and clichés. First they enter our vocabulary, then they become a part of our mentality.

One example is “dying with dignity.”

That phrase is poison. It originates in the movement promoting euthanasia. This is a phrase that deserves to die.

True dignity comes from the soul, from living a life of goodness and holiness and meaning. Our body is a vehicle for that mission to be achieved. But the body is not our real self, and not our source of dignity.

At the end of a good and purposeful life, the body may be frail and weak, but the soul is as bright as ever, having accomplished its mission. If people have to do some unpleasant jobs to bring comfort to that body in its final years, it should be seen as an honor. There is no greater dignity than to serve another.

I am not belittling the pain of seeing a loved one suffer. And I am not saying that the body’s deterioration is easy to face. I am saying that a person’s dignity comes from their soul and their moral achievements. That is living with dignity.

We end our life in the same way we started it, dependent on the love of others. That is a most dignified departure from this world to the next.

Rabbi Moss and Menachem Bluming

Why Isn’t Shavuot Well Known?

Here’s a guess. The reason why Shavuos is the least celebrated Jewish festival is a startling one. It is the least demanding… The easier the festival, the less it is observed.

The most difficult festival to observe is Yom Kippur, on which we abstain from food and drink altogether and pray all day. And yet, this rather grueling holiday is the most widely observed. The easiest festival to observe is Shavuos. All that is expected of us is to have a day of rest and eat lots of cheesecake and receive a great gift from above (the Torah). How hard can that be? And this pleasurable festival is the most neglected.

There’s a surprising lesson there. We value things that require effort. If something comes too easy, it is taken lightly. But if it’s demanding, it is more compelling. A tough diet will be taken seriously. A difficult work project will be given more attention. We invest ourselves where we feel what we are doing actually matters. When we are given serious responsibilities we step up to the role.

You would expect the opposite to be true. Indeed, there have been well meaning voices in Jewish history that have suggested that the best way to stem the tide of assimilation is by easing the laws of Judaism to make it more appealing. It makes sense. Lower the bar, lighten the burden, and people will be more willing to stay Jewish. But the result was the opposite. The Jewish movements that demanded less from their constituents have more often than not been a gateway out of Judaism rather than a way in. Quite simply, if Judaism asks nothing of me, then that’s what Judaism will get.

We don’t need to dilute Judaism to make it attractive. We just need to make it accessible. Jewish souls are thirsting for a Judaism that will ask something of them, demand their allegiance to a higher cause, stretch their minds to think deeper, challenge them to live with a sense of purpose and mission.

Menachem M Bluming, Rabbi Moss and

Archaeological Proof for the Bible

Did you hear about the recent study on frogs? Scientists took a sample of over one hundred frogs of various species and did the following test:

They placed each frog on a table, crept up behind it and shouted, “Jump!” The frog jumped.

Then they cut off one leg, and again shouted jump. It jumped, although not as far.

They then cut off a second leg and told it to jump, and then a third, each time observing that the frog responded, but jumped smaller distances.

Finally they cut off the fourth leg and again shouted “Jump!” They were amazed to find that in every case the result was the same. The frog did not move at all.

The conclusion: When you cut off a frog’s legs, it goes deaf. It is scientifically proven.

We all come to the conclusions that we want to believe.

Many have tried to either prove or disprove the Torah’s divinity. Neither attempt will be successful. G-d wants us to have free choice. If we listen to His word, it is not by force. To maintain balance, there will always be valid arguments to discredit Him and His Torah. We can choose to buy those arguments, or see beyond them. Then, when we open ourselves to the Torah’s message, the choice to do so is coming from within.

G-d has given you a mission. How you respond is totally up to you. You can be as deaf as a legless frog, or you can take a leap in response to your higher calling.

Menachem M Bluming, Rabbi Moss and

Do We Have Miracles Today?

People often tell me that if they saw a real miracle like the splitting of the sea they’d believe but how can they be expected to when there are no miracles today.

This June we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the six day war (1967 – 2017). Do you vividly recall those fateful days? The fear and panic in the lead-up to the war and the subsequent jubilant euphoria of the miraculous swift victory.

Nobel Laureate Eli Wiesel wrote these words in an article published in the ‘Forverts’ (translated from the original Yiddish by Chana Pollack) in the after-math of the war:

“Future generations will probably never believe it. Teachers will have a hard time convincing their students that what sounds legendary actually occurred. The children will, naturally, swallow each word, but later on, as adults, they’ll nod their heads and smile, remarking that these were fantasies of history.”

There are great miracles in our days if we would only notice…

Menachem M. Bluming and

Passover Seder Modern Relevance

In every English version of the Haggadah that I have seen, there is one word that is always translated incorrectly.

When listing the Ten Plagues that smote the Egyptians, second one in Hebrew is called Tzefardeya. This is always translated as Frogs. But the original Hebrew is in the singular. The translation should be Frog.

Now indeed, it is a little awkward to translate it literally. One frog hopping around does not seem like much of a plague. And to be fair, in many languages the singular form can denote a group, so perhaps Frog can mean Frogs. But there must be a reason why the Haggadah calls this plague the plague of a frog. Lice is in plural, so why is frog singular?

The talmudic tradition answers that actually, the plague of frogs started with one single frog. A large frog emerged from the Nile River. The Egyptians saw it, and knowing that Moses had warned them there would be a plague of frogs, attacked the giant frog with sticks. As they struck the frog, it started spewing hundreds and thousands of little frogs, which quickly spread over the entire land. The more they hit, the more frogs appeared.

So indeed the plague started with a frog singular. It was the Egyptian reaction that caused frogs plural.

Those foolish Egyptians were attacking the frog, but ignoring its root cause. The plagues were only coming because the Egyptians refused to let the Israelites go free. But rather than taking a hard look at themselves and changing their cruel behavior, the Egyptians looked at this big frog and tried to kill it. Which only led to more frogs.

There is a deep message behind this rather odd episode. Because so often we do the same silly thing as those Egyptians did.

We lose patience with our kids who are misbehaving, while the main reason for their playing up is because we don’t have patience to really listen to them in the first place.

We exacerbate issues unnecessarily by replying to all… in ALL CAPS

You get my drift… We hit these frogs, and all we get is more frogs.

Rabbi Menachem M Bluming and Rabbi Moss

What Makes the Seder Night Different

The key to the powerful treasure of the Seder is shared in the Four Questions

On all other nights we don’t dip in but tonight we do, twice…

Some of us go through life without ever being present, without dipping in. We may be sitting in one place, but our mind is elsewhere. We are constantly focusing on what needs to happen next, or where we would rather be, and never experiencing the moment for what it is.

Hold on I’ve got to grab this call and get to this text, I’ll be right with you…

We can miss out on the magic of today, simply because we are distracted. Tonight will be different. Tonight we will immerse ourselves in the moment, and be totally transfixed by the Seder and its message. We will dip ourselves entirely in the words of the Haggadah.

Not once but twice – in time and in mind we will be fully present at the Seder to find freedom by remembering who we are and where we are going and what this life is all about…

Menachem M Bluming and