Adapted from the introduction to Oorah’s Ask the Rabbi book by Rabbi Chaim Mintz, a compilation of questions about Judaism, published by ArtScroll, this post introduces our Ask the Rabbi series included in the TorahMates Jewish Resources library.
Every thinking person — those on their way to becoming religious, as well as someone frum from birth — can have questions and concerns about Hashem, Judaism, Torah and mitzvos, as well as life in general. However, many people mistakenly assume that faith and questions can’t coexist, and everyone should just follow the Torah without asking why, brushing any questions they have under the rug.
But HaRav Chaim Mintz shlita, mashgiach (spiritual mentor) of Yeshiva of Staten Island, as well as the founder and spiritual leader of Oorah, has taught us that this is not the Torah-true way of life, and that the Torah actually encourages questions. Our rabbis tell us (Pirkei Avos 2:6): “A shy person cannot learn,” because he will be embarrassed to ask for clarification, and without questioning one cannot acquire a clear knowledge and understanding. Indeed, the entire Talmud is composed of questions, answers, arguments, and discussions, as well as multiple perspectives in all areas of Torah.
It was with this perspective that “Ask the Rabbi” was introduced, weekly, at Oorah’s Torah Spot in Staten Island, and at every Oorah Yom Tov event, ShabbaZone, and “TheZone” summer program. “Ask the Rabbi”, now live weekly on Zoom, provides a forum for people to raise any issues they may be struggling with, explore concepts they have taken for granted, or discuss any aspect of Judaism or Jewish practice they find confusing or that they are simply curious about. It’s Judaism 101! More than that, it places an emphasis on questions and encourages people to think a little deeper into Judaism, and indeed has become an exciting highlight of every Oorah event.
Why does a married woman cover her hair? Does Orthodoxy consider women inferior? Do we really know the age of the Earth? Why do children suffer? How could a terrorist attack occur in the middle of davening? These are some of the common issues and questions about Judaism raised by people from the secular world exploring Torah life.
For All Jews
But after “Ask the Rabbi” launched, we discovered something surprising: even our volunteers, men and women from Torah-observant backgrounds, found these discussions enlightening! They were hearing answers to questions they had been uncomfortable asking, or simply never thought about.
For both those new to Torah observance and the Oorah volunteers, “Ask the Rabbi” has become a tremendous tool for infusing and building their belief in Hashem, and gaining a deeper understanding of Torah and Judaism.
In addition, living as Jews in today’s confusing world, we need so much guidance in how to act according to Torah values. Can I go vegan? Should I seek help from a kabbalist? Is it a good idea to have a picture on a shidduch resume? Can I find out a baby’s gender before birth? And the list goes on.
There are many “experts” out there offering advice, but how much of what they say is rooted in the Torah, and how much is apologetic to Torah values or, even worse, coming from sources antithetical to the Torah? To navigate our journey through these turbulent times, it is crucial to turn to our Torah leaders for guidance.
HaRav Chaim Mintz shlita merited sharing a close relationship with many Torah sages of the previous generation — including HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, as well as HaRav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman zt”l, and HaRav Dovid Kronglas zt”l. He draws upon the guidance he received, as well as his own wellsprings of Torah wisdom, to give us a Torah-true outlook on life.
With the diverse audience it attracts, every week’s “Ask the Rabbi” session brings one unexpected question after another to the table, eliciting insightful answers and fascinating discussions. And now, with the publishing of this first volume of “Ask the Rabbi,” readers everywhere can experience the best of years of “Ask the Rabbi” sessions.
We share with you a sampling of the questions HaRav Mintz fields on these various topics, from the most basic to the most esoteric. With his Daas Torah (Torah-true outlook), common sense, and clarity, he responds with clear and concise answers, distilling the point down to its essence and bringing deep concepts within reach. For the beginner, it’s digestible. For a long-time observant Jew, it illuminates concepts not properly understood, making them crystal clear.
How to implement
This series can be used in many ways. It can be read as a book of hashkafah (worldview). Being easy-to-read and with “bite-size” Q&A, it is a great option for when a person has a few minutes to sit back and relax. It can also be a helpful tool for initiating discussion at the Shabbos table. You can choose an appropriate question to print out based on the audience, and go around the table, giving each person a chance to offer his or her perspective, thereby enhancing the Shabbos table with an intriguing Torah discussion.
Please note that this series is not meant to take the place of a teacher or mentor. As mentioned numerous times in the book, HaRav Mintz strongly encourages every person to have a personal Torah mentor, who can guide each person in his or her specific situation. In addition, we have tried to the best of our ability to properly present HaRav Mintz’s outlook — indeed he reviewed the entire book and spent much time clarifying, adding, and making changes. But if, for whatever reason, a mistake is found, it should be attributed to the writers.
We invite you to enjoy these fascinating questions about Judaism, and illuminating answers, and we hope that, just as many of our participants have turned their lives around, your life will be enriched and changed for the better. And of course, you can submit your very own questions, by emailing AskTheRabbi@oorah.org. You can also search the video archive of previous sessions and join the interactive discussion every Tuesday night at 9pm EST at oorah.org/asktherabbi.
We express our deepest feelings of gratitude first and foremost to Hashem for giving us the opportunity to present this series to the public. We would also like to thank the individuals who invested countless hours and tireless effort into this undertaking. Mrs. Chana Nestlebaum started this project and laid the groundwork for the entire work. Rabbi Shmuel Zitter enhanced the content and incorporated HaRav Mintz’s comments and corrections. Rabbi Nechemia Levi had much input in clarifying and polishing the content. Mrs. Rivka Kirwan assisted in facilitating and coordinating the many aspects of the project.
We also express our heartfelt thanks to the members of ArtScroll/Mesorah’s team of professionals who contributed to the original book, including Rabbi Avrohom Biderman, who offered us general guidance and important editorial input; Reb Mendy Herzberg, who managed the editing and production process; Reb Eli Kroen for the cover design; Mrs. Judi Dick, whose editing and incisive comments greatly enhanced the final product; Mrs. Mindy Stern, who proofread skillfully; and Mrs. Estie Dicker, who dealt with revisions and designed and laid out the pages.
With tremendous gratitude to Hashem for giving us the zechus and opportunity to share with the reading public these timeless questions and answers from our esteemed Rebbi, and with our fervent hope and prayer that this series will help bring Jews of all backgrounds closer to Hashem and His Torah,
Chaim Asher Reichman, Yehoshua B. Weinstein
Mar Cheshvan 5781/November 2020