A Guide to the Complex

By Shlomo M. Brody

Maggid Books, 2014, 429 pages

Paperback Cost: $26.02


Rabbi Shlomo M. Brody offers readers information about the origin of 134 Jewish practices and explains how and why they are practiced today in easy to read short, usually two and a half page chapters. Each essay stands alone. Ninety nine percent of Jews and non-Jews do not know what the rabbi reveals, and people of all religions will find his discussions informative and eye-opening. The 134 chapters are in nine sections dealing with medical ethics, technology, social and business issues, ritual, women, Israel, Kashrut (eating kosher food), Jewish identity and marriage, and Shabbat and holidays. He cites scholars across the ideological spectrum and offers some historical perspective.

Among the 134 discussions are: Is smoking justifiable, what is the Jewish view on assisted suicide and euthanasia, may one pray for the death of a relative who is suffering greatly, what day should a Jew observe as Shabbat when crossing the international date line and losing a day, may one experiment on animals, may one own a gun store, to whom is one praying when one prays at a grave, are women obligated to pray, can a woman be a rabbi, is it lawful for Israel to give up land for peace, is swordfish kosher, are Karaites Jews, intermarriage, why do Hasidic men grow sidelocks, is non-marital sex forbidden, and may Jews pray for the rebuilding of the temple without the restoration of animal sacrifices.

He tells, for example: There were rabbis who felt that truly righteous people should not rely on doctors but have faith that God will heal them. Some rabbis ruled that rabbis should not be paid for their services; indeed Talmudic rabbis earned their livelihood from various sometimes laborious trades such as farming, tanning, and wood chopping. While males wearing head coverings is thought to be a requirement today, the Jerusalem Talmud does not mention it and an eighth-century Gaonic text notes that in Israel priests said their blessings with their heads uncovered. “Collectively, these sources (Brody mentions other sources) suggest that male head coverings originated in Babylonia, spreading elsewhere in early medieval times.” Rabbi Moshe Feinstein “famously allowed American Jews to remove their kippot (head coverings) for work purposes.”

Also: Numerous medieval commentators said the obligation to pray is not biblical. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik “permitted a woman to recite (the mourner’s) kaddish even if she was the lone mourner.” “A number of medieval commentators – including Rashi…and Maimonides…- asserted that women may do so (read the Megillah, the book of Esther during the holiday of Purim) even for others, including men.” While Orthodox synagogues today have a physical structure separating men from women called a mechitza, “The first rabbinic text that explicitly forbids the intermingling of genders during prayer appears only in about the ninth century.” Jewish law does not require separate seating on a bus or a plane. The contemporary notion that rabbis need semicha (ordination) originated in medieval times and only certified that the holder of the ordination was competent to issue rulings in Jewish law in the holder’s areas of expertise.

In short, this book is in many ways a primer on Jewish history, practices, and laws, and shows that Judaism was not static, but developed and changed over the over the years.