No Stupid Questions

"No stupid questions when you're converting to Judaism???" you might say. "Have I got a story for you."


I was totally there. I get it. In fact, I still have that feeling on a regular basis, which I temper with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor before dropping the Stupid Question Bomb.

I'm here to help. Below you'll find some questions you have probably thought but were afraid to ask. I asked them for you, and have given you an answer below. Leave a comment if you think of another "stupid" question I can research for you!

Q: Do Jews have horns?
A: No. That is the result of a mistranslation of the Bible and subsequent Renaissance artwork based on that mistranslation.

Q: Do orthodox Jews have sex through a hole in the sheet?
A: No. Can you imagine the chaffing?!

Q: How do you pronounce Judaism?
A: Did you even know that there are multiple ways to pronounce it? It takes a keen ear to hear! I got your back, bro: How to Pronounce the Word "Judaism."

Q: Do you have to believe in "God" to convert orthodox?
A: Yes. However, surprisingly, you'll find that few (if any) rabbis will ask you anything about your religious faith and relationship with Gd. On paper, the conservative (and reform?) movement also require a faith in Gd as a prerequisite to converting. Like the orthodox conversion process, you will probably never be asked about it. But to turn the question around, why would you subject yourself to orthodoxy unless you believed it came from Gd? It's very hard to sustain long-term if you don't see a deeper meaning and cosmological purpose. That said, don't be too shocked when you come across frum people who are (or sound) atheist or agnostic. Among the FFB crowd, you'll certainly find a few. An argument I have always loved is that agnostic Jews are truly living up to the name Israel: wrestling with Gd.

Q: If I haven't converted, can I still drive to synagogue?
A: Sure, there's no rule against it. But don't expect to get far in your conversion process so long as you drive. However, if you live far away from the syngagogue for the foreseeable future (or a determined time period until you can move), don't stay away from shul even if you're otherwise Shabbat-observant. A lack of familiarity with shul services can also delay your conversion. Of course, you may feel more comfortable if you park a few blocks away and walk the rest of the way to the building. However, inevitably, someone will see you doing this. My preference after being "caught" was to be open about my driving to shul and why, especially because I was open about not yet being Jewish. I lived four miles away and it was 100+ degrees fahrenheit, of course I needed to drive if I wanted to ever go to shul!

Q: Can you flush a toilet on Shabbat?
A: Yes. There's nothing to prevent it, but I totally get where this question comes from. This is my number one "Why isn't this prohibited by anything?" question. You wanna talk about mastery over the physical world? Here it is.

Q: Can you take out the trash on Shabbat?
A: Yes, and you definitely should if it smells bad. But you don't have an eruv, you might say. That's not a problem if your trash "receptacle" is in the environs of your home. Most people keep the trash outside the backdoor or in the driveway. You are not "carrying" within your own property by taking out the trash to those areas. Obviously, things get more complicated if you want to take the trash to the sidewalk. But if stinky garbage is hampering your Shabbos experience, definitely find a way to get it outside!

Q: Can I feed my pet on Shabbat?
A: Yes.

Q: Can I pet my pet on Shabbat?
A: This sounds like a "stupid" question, but it's actually quite complicated. Funnily, people often think the answer is simple but give different answers. Many people, particularly in chareidi communities, say no. Rav Moshe Feinstein says yes. I say yes. The problem is whether a pet is muktzeh, having no use on Shabbat, and thus no something that should be touched on Shabbat. However, a pet is not in the same category as a cow or a goat. A pet exists for the purpose of being petted and loved and bringing you comfort. All those purposes can be met on Shabbat, so petting isn't an issue. You're not touching your cat in order to milk it to sell the milk (side note: you can milk a cow on Shabbat to ease its pain - but the milk must be spilled onto the ground or otherwise thrown away). You're not touching your dog to shear his fur for profit. So pet your turtle and guinea pig without using them to haul things, and we're all good. But don't tell anyone you don't have to. (Sidenote: a conversion beit din may require you to accept the no-touching ruling as a condition of your conversion if you have pets. That is more complicated.)

Q: Do I need separate meat and dairy shelves in the fridge?
A: No. Meat and dairy food can be on the same shelf, and they can even touch in the fridge! Assuming they're packaged, of course. Most importantly, everything in the fridge is cold, and heat is almost always required to transfer "taste." Also important, most meat and dairy in the modern age is refrigerated in a package from the grocery store. Often, the food is even double wrapped. If you have meat or dairy stored in the fridge without some kind of covering (which is questionable hygienically), don't place it beside or on top of food that is also not covered. If food accidentally gets on the packaging of another kind of food, wash it off before opening. Easy peasy.

Q: Do I need separate meat and dairy garbage cans?
A: No: it's trash now, not food. But I totally get what you mean. I asked that question myself.

Q: Can Jewish women use tampons?
A: Absolutely! You may find less women doing so (depending on the community), but those hangups get turned on their head after marriage, when bedikot are required to check the vaginal canal for bleeding. That's similar to inserting a tampon and immediately removing it. As a sidenote, you'll find much higher usage of pantyliners in the orthodox world than the secular one. I didn't understand the point of pantyliners before becoming orthodox (still don't really know why secular women would use them). There are many good reasons to wear them as a married orthodox woman. However, I need to do more research as to whether the new resurgence of reusable (cloth) pantyliners are useable in the taharat hamishpacha context.

Q: When does pikuach nefesh (saving a life) not apply (aka override halacha)?
A: In your daily life, never. Pikuach nefesh only has four exceptions, though some group them as three. You can't save a life by murdering another (even to save your own life), idolatry, incest, or adultery. You can read a more in-depth version here.

17 comments:

  1. Can you make a short skirt tzunis by wearing tights/leggings under it?

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    1. No, because the length of the skirt is in order to cover the shape of our legs (usually to 4" below the knee), not just to cover the skin. This is also why a skirt that reaches below the knees but is tight fitting is not tzniut. :)

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  2. How does one tell their parents about converting to Orthodox Judaism? How does one keep her parents in the loop?

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    1. Telling your parents is the easy part. Go out for dinner or something and say, "Mom, Dad...I'm becoming an Orthodox Jew." The real question is if you are ready to answer all of their questions and deal with the consequences. You might want to try hinting before dropping 'the big one.'

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  3. Is there any reason that someone approaching conversion should keep their chosen Jewish name to themselves and only use it after the gerus is complete?

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    1. None that I know of. Many people aren't sure what their name will officially be until the conversion or want to hold off on making it "official" until then. But you can go by your Hebrew name before if you want or you can still be debating names up until the mikvah. Depends on the person.

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  4. is there any reason it would be good for someone about to convert to fast on that day up until going to the mikvah?

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    1. It's not in any way a requirement, but my sponsoring rabbi recommended this to my husband and I on our mikva day. It's a sort of a synonymous personal fast with the one Ashkenazim do on the morning of their wedding: a 'blank slate' before a major commitment.

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  5. does a male convert fast on taanis bechorim (fast of the the first born sons)

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  6. Advice for a orthodox ger looking for a shidduch?

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    1. It's easier to date in areas where there are more Jewish people (like the tri-state area of NY, NJ, and Connecticut). The important thing is actually being able to find dates (whether you are dating in the Northeast or elsewhere in the world). It can be really tough for females (even for Jewish women that live in New York and were Orthodox their entire life). It is important to have people that can help you find dates. This can include friends, Rabbis, and professional matchmakers (shadchanim). There have even been marriages where a a non-Jew thought of the match (although it seems pretty uncommon in the Orthodox world). Some people use Jewish dating websites to find dates.
      I have a friend that used a Jewish dating website and is currently engaged.

      People will often set up a ger with another ger. There is no reason why it has to be that way, but many people will just automatically try setting up a ger with another ger. Try to find people that will set you up based on whether the match is suitable based on shared interests and not only on ger status. Marrying another ger is fine and marrying someone jewish from birth is also fine. One caveat. Cohen men aren't allowed to marry divorced women or converts.

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  7. Can one shower on Yontif? What about in preparation for Shabbos, such as the 2nd day of Succos this year?

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  8. How common is shatnez? Have you ever found a piece of clothing that you wanted, then realized that it was shatnez? Do you have to have all your clothing inspected?

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  9. Why can't converts hold positions of authority?

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  10. Why can't ger or converts hold positions of authority?

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  11. Who will be your symbolical Jewish parents as a convert to Judaism??

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