Chavurah Masarti

Lynchburg, VA                  Founded on 2 Cheshvan, 5766 

Local Responsa

These Rabbinical opinions were developed by Michael Gillette and they represent a trans-denominational perspective.  Readers who identify with a particular Jewish movement or congregation should consider their local Rabbi as the appropriate authority.  Please send questions to

Over the years, members have raised interesting questions either at Torah Study or during our Shabbat dinners.  I have gathered the responses to those questions here.

Marit Ha'ayin (For the Sake of Appearances): Should a Jew wear a medallion that contains a cross-like element even if the jewelry is not a Christian cross?  Click here for a complete discussion.

Shabbat in the Arctic: When does Shabbat begin and end if the sun never sets? Click here for a complete discussion.

Shivah On Yom Kippur: How should a person observe shiva if it coincides with Yom Kippur? Click here for a complete discussion.

Lashon Harah, Rechilut, and the Internet: Is it slander or gossip to share information found on the internet with a potential employee's potential employer? Click here for a complete discussion.

Jewish "Excommunication": Was Spinoza Jewish even after he was excommunicated?  Can a Jew ever become a non-Jew? Click here for a brief overview of 'cherem'.

Jewish Sources on Abortion: At our recent Torah study session, we discussed the beginning of the Samson story (Judges chapter 13).  A question came up regarding the Jewish view of the fetus.  As a result, I sent out an email confirming much of what we talked about.  The text of that email can be found here.

Defining Our Judaism in a Post-Denominational Age: How does Chavurah Masarti fit within the context of Jewish Denominations? Click here for a brief discussion.

A Brief Discussion of Intermarriage: How has the Jewish view of intermarriage evolved throughout history? Click here for a brief discussion.

JEWISH LETTER WRITING (Bet Hay):  A member of the Chavurah recently asked why many Jewish documents or correspondence from traditionally observant Jews often have a Bet Hay in the upper write hand corner.  The answer is simple, although there are three distinct traditions on this matter.  Many observant Jews will place B"H in the upper right hand corner, but you might also see Bet Samech Daled, and less commonly Bet Ayin Hay.  These are all variants on the same theme of asking for Hashem's blessing over the document, guidance in creating the document, or thanks for the good fortune of being able to send and receive the document.  Bet Hay (sometimes written Bet-slash-slash-Hay) stands for "Baruch Hashem", or "Blessed is Hashem".  Bet Samech Daled stands for an Aramaic phrase, "B'siata D'shamaya" which means "with heavan's guidance".  Bet Ayin Hay stands for "B'einei Haschina", translated as "in the eyes of G-d".

KENITES:  While reading the Song of Deborah at a recent study session, question emerged about the relationship between the Kenites and the Jews, and the lineage connection between the Kenites and the Moabites.  A quick scan of the literature indicates that the Kenites and Moabites were either identical groups, or that the Kenites were a subset of the Moabites who descended from Moses' father-in-law Jethro.  Throughout Jewish history, the Kenites have been somewhat friendly to the Jews and have even shared in the spoils of Jewish defeats over other Canaanite tribes.  Many argue that the Hebrew deity is an inheritance from the Kenites.  We may owe more to Jethro and Yael than we think!  For a brief discussion of these issues, see this article in the Jewish Encyclopedia.

NOAHIDE LAWS: A question was raised at one or our recent gatherings about the content of the Noahide Laws.  According to Jewish tradition, most of the commandments in the Torah are intended only for Jews, and are referred to as the Mosaic or Mosheanic laws.  Those laws that are intended for all people, Jews and non-Jews alike, are called the Noahide or Noitic Laws.  These seven commandments are discussed here.

PROSBUL:  We discussed the concept of legal fictions at a recent dinner and made mention of Hillel's device for allowing debts to survive the Shmita (every seven) and Jubilee (every 50) years.  According to Hillel's plan, a creditor could transfer his debts to the court, which, not being a person, could maintain the debt throughout the proscribed period.  We discussed the fact that this arrangement recognized the existence of a non-human entity that had legal rights and powers and might, therefore, be an early version of modern day corporations.  The prosbul was actually more of a legal fiction than a corporation, since it didn't create a new organization that held debts during shmita or jubilee years.  This link will take you to an article in the Jewish Encyclopedia that deals with the prosbul.

TORAH STUDY HANDOUTS: A variety of materials

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