Q. Why does Hebrew go from right to left and English from left to right?
A. One view is that a scribe would hold his papyrus in his left hand and use his right hand, which with most people is the stronger hand, to write each line. Since Semitic tongues antedated Greek, Latin and the European languages, this meant that the original style of writing went from right to left.
However, we are still left with the problem of why the left-to-right method developed. The answer may be that there was no fixed custom and people wrote both ways, starting, say, from right to left and continuing with the next line from left to right, until eventually two styles settled down, with some languages going one way and others going the other.
Q. Why do Orthodox synagogues not permit mixed seating?
A. In the Temple in Jerusalem the crowds that came to celebrate the festival of the water drawing ("simchat bet hasho’evah") on Sukkot were so large and boisterous that, as the Mishnah puts it (Sukkah chapter 5), a gallery was erected in the "ezrat nashim", the court of the women, as there was a fear that the overflow of men into the women’s section would lead to levity and immorality. Hence "it was enacted that the women should sit above and the men below" (Sukkah 52b).
It had, however, already been customary that men and women should pray separately: when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea (Ex. 15) Moses and the men, and Miriam and the women, sang their songs of thanksgiving separately.
The halakhic position is therefore that separate seating is both the long-established Jewish pattern and also, as Rav Soloveitchik puts it, required by "the Jewish spirit of prayer".
"Prayer," he writes, "means communion with the Master of the World and therefore withdrawal from all and everything. During prayer man must feel alone, removed, isolated…
"The presence of women among men, or of men among women, which often evokes a certain frivolity in the group, can contribute little to sanctification or to the deepening of religious feeling, nor can it help instil that mood in which a man must be immersed when he would communicate with the Almighty…
"Such a state of being will not be realised amid family pews."
But if prayer requires existential loneliness, why do we not pray on our own without a congregation? The answer is threefold.
1. King Solomon says, "In the multitude of people is the King glorified" (Proverbs 14:28), i.e. though each worshipper has an individual dialogue with God, all join in a chorus of acclamation of the Creator.
2. Yehudah HaLevi states that in a congregation each worshipper helps the others spiritually: one helps to overcome the spiritual defects or hesitancy of the other.
3. We are at one and the same time separate individuals and members of society.
Q. How Jewish was the Christian apostle, Paul?
A. Before answering this question we have to say something about Jesus. It is erroneous to believe that Jesus was a Christian and intended to start a new religion. Jesus was a Jew, and it was as a Jew that he lived and died.
The religion of Jesus was Judaism, though he felt that the God of Judaism had revealed a secret to him concerning the way to understand Jewishness. Jesus had his secret and his interpretation of Judaism, and believed that he was working in and for Judaism. The religion of Jesus was not Christianity, though Christianity developed into the religion about Jesus.
Our question is the extent to which Paul, whose original name was Saul, was responsible for constructing the religion about Jesus.
Did Paul, like Jesus, regard himself as a Jew within Judaism? The answer is yes – and no. Paul was inconsistent. He said he was a Jew "of the stock of Israel", "of the seed of Abraham", had been circumcised, observed Jewish practices, was a Pharisee and had persecuted the Jesus movement. But he came to believe that the Jews and Judaism were in error and the law of Moses was a source of bondage.
Paul seems to vary his message depending on the audience. The definitive picture he presents is hostile to rabbinic Judaism. He encourages gentiles to follow Jesus and is ambivalent as to whether they should come to the Jesus-religion through Judaism or without it.
He turned from persecuting Christians to becoming their champion. He appears more of a Christian than Jesus was.
Rabbi Dr. Raymond Applewas for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com