Ear­li­er this week, Rab­bi Lawrence Hajioff wrote about the ben­e­fits of crowd­fund­ing one’s book. His book, Jew Got Ques­tions?, is now avail­able. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

Rab­bis get asked lots of ques­tions. In many cas­es the answers we pro­vide are not as good as the ques­tions we are asked. I have a say­ing, There’s no such thing as a stu­pid ques­tion,” but believe me there are some pret­ty stu­pid answers. Hence my con­cern with answer­ing three pret­ty big ques­tions that have either been trou­bling the­olo­gians for thou­sands of years or have become a con­cern only over the past few generations. 

In no spe­cif­ic order, here are some chal­lenges I faced when tack­ling these questions. 

Why do bad things hap­pen to good people?

This is the ques­tion that, in its many forms, I have been asked the most. It’s also the ques­tion I least look for­ward to answer­ing. The best answer to this ques­tion that I could give in the book was I don’t know.” To even attempt at answer­ing this ques­tion is the height of arro­gance; how­ev­er, my pub­lish­er was insis­tent that I pose and tack­le this ques­tion to the best of my abil­i­ty. As my pub­lish­er put it: How can you leave out such a ques­tion?” How indeed.

Com­pound­ing the prob­lem was the style of my book, which is com­posed of short answers to ques­tions. Can this dilem­ma be dealt with in a few para­graphs? Ulti­mate­ly, I added a long pref­ace dis­claimer and then gave a num­ber of pos­si­ble solu­tions to the answer. Regard­less, though, of what­ev­er answer I attempt­ed to give, the answer was not as good as the question. 

Accord­ing to Judaism, what is the age of the universe?

This ques­tion, although only tak­ing up a cou­ple of pages, set the dead­line on my book back around three months. This is a top­ic that is con­stant­ly chang­ing with new the­o­ries being pro­posed and new books being writ­ten from either a sci­en­tif­ic or the­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tive or both! While attempt­ing to answer this ques­tion a new book was pub­lished by a rab­bi in Israel which, despite being rather dis­ap­point­ing, still had to be read and some­how incorporated. 

After read­ing a num­ber of Jew­ish books on the top­ic, I felt I need­ed to read an updat­ed book or two from the sci­en­tif­ic world. Luck­i­ly my chavru­ta (learn­ing part­ner) is a doc­tor with a keen inter­est in this field. He select­ed books for me to read and end­ed up help­ing me write most of the answer, although I still had to deal with the pub­lish­er who had their own edi­tor they had cho­sen to review all of my answers. 

After much back and forth with the pub­lish­er we found a com­mon ground. I end­ed up tak­ing an approach which I felt would be best appre­ci­at­ed and, quite frankly, under­stood by any read­er from my tar­get audience. 

Why can’t I mar­ry my non-Jew­ish partner?

The chal­lenge here was that I know many of my read­ers are in fact inter­mar­ried or chil­dren of inter­mar­ried par­ents. The last thing I want­ed to do was offend them, or make them feel any less Jew­ish. Like the first ques­tion, answer­ing this ques­tion in a ratio­nal’ man­ner is a chal­lenge because the ques­tion is invari­ably emo­tion­al.’ In oth­er words, the ques­tion­er is real­ly say­ing I’m in love, why are you rab­bis against me mar­ry­ing the per­son I’m in love with?” No real answer was going to suf­fice on an emo­tion­al level. 

How­ev­er, with inter­mar­riage rates at 53% and with so many young Jew­ish men and women dat­ing some­one not Jew­ish, I felt I had to tack­le this ques­tion head on. Ulti­mate­ly, it was my work with many peo­ple who are dat­ing a non-Jew or who are mar­ried to one that led me to write an answer that I believe del­i­cate­ly but unapolo­get­i­cal­ly gave some per­spec­tives on this question. 

Orig­i­nal­ly from Lon­don, Eng­land, Rab­bi Lawrence Hajioff grad­u­at­ed with hon­ors in polit­i­cal sci­ence from Man­ches­ter Uni­ver­si­ty. After work­ing for MTV in news pro­duc­tion, and win­ning the nation­al com­pe­ti­tion Jew­ish Stand-Up Come­di­an’ of the Year, Rab­bi Hajioff trav­eled to study in Israel and then Mon­sey to receive his rab­bini­cal ordi­na­tion. Rab­bi Hajioff is the edu­ca­tion­al direc­tor of Birthright Israel Alum­ni in Man­hat­tan, New York.

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