First of all, a Happy New Year to all my Jewish readers! Shana Tova.
Now onto the mailbag …
Q: I was in the hospital for 15 days due to congestive heart failure. It has taken me until now to return to my old self. I know when I came home I was not in my right mind. I said something about the Holy Spirit and have no idea what I said. If God cannot forgive me, should I just stop being a Christian? — T
A: Dear T, the only unforgivable sin in Christianity is, as I am given to understand it, blaspheming the Holy Spirit. I am not clear about what constitutes such blasphemy (readers help me out here), but I am confident that God will absolutely forgive you anything you might have said in the heat of fever and delusion caused by your illness. Your connection to God and to Christianity is a pillar of your life and your hope, and it is there for you always. God is with you particularly in your hardest moments, when you must endure your greatest burdens. God is not looking for reasons to abandon you, so you need not look for reasons to abandon God. I pray for the healing of your body and your spirit.
Q: If I stray from God's teaching, but then see the light and come back to him, will he welcome me back or would I be condemned forever? — P
A: Dear P, have you met T? (See above.) I am constantly amazed and disappointed at how many people think of God as a being who is looking for reasons to hurt them. I know that there are many biblical verses describing God's wrath at sinful people, and I do believe that one of God's main functions is to teach us that our actions have consequences and that we must, therefore, be deeply conscious of the impact of our behavior on others and our own soul. However, the passages in the Bible describing God's love and mercy, God's compassion and kindness, are so much more numerous. The proof that God's love for us is eternal and unshakable is that we were created in the image of God and that despite our sin God has agreed never to destroy the world and damn us to eternal perdition. We were also given by the Creator God a world that abundantly meets our needs and reveals to us the awe and majesty of nature. God has loved us, and God is our rock and our salvation. Amen Selah!
Q: Pork is unclean because the pig does not chew the cud. What is it about the cud that makes the pig unclean for us to eat? Hope this question isn't too stupid. — G
A: Dear G, no question is stupid. Every question is a seeking of the truth, and you are a seeker. In Jewish law and Islamic law, pork is not a permitted protein. Animals that are kosher or halal are basically nonpredatory animals that eat grass. They are called ruminants and they have multichambered stomachs that enable them to break down cellulose in grasses and plants so it can be digested.
Pigs are not ruminants, and so they are not kosher, but the reason they are not kosher is not actually related to their digestive tracts. Dietary restrictions in Judaism and Islam are simply commandments from God and that is enough of a reason for traditionally observant Jews and Muslims to observe the dietary laws. I have heard Jews who do not keep kosher say that the laws concerning swine were from a time when pork was often infested with trichinosis worms and so the laws were included for health reasons. Now that pork is as clean as other meat, they feel no need to observe the laws. This also is not true.
If the purpose of the law is to simply obey God's commandments then it does not matter what the reasons for the commandments might be. In my view, the strongest reason not to eat pork is that pork is meat and God wants us to avoid killing animals for food. However, the role of the traditional dietary restrictions in Judaism and Islam remains a very personal choice for every Muslim and Jew. Some do not want to be separated from friends in social settings where kosher food is simply not available. Some find religious concerns about what we eat to be outside God's concerns and purview. Since one can be an immoral person and observe the dietary laws or a moral person and violate these laws, it seems to many that focusing on moral virtue rather than ritual laws is a more inspiring spiritual choice.
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.