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Rabbi Pfeffer points out that at his site, there are no one-line answers. “We want to show the people we’re interested in their questions,” he says.

He laughs and says that one of his questioners was a non-Jew who posed questions about observing Jewish festivals and about Christianity and Judaism.

Rabbi Moti Seligson

“I was very patient,” he says, “and wrote some nice answers, but I also let him know that I’m not a pastor, and can’t be a substitute for one. But the questioner wrote back, ‘You’re so much better than my pastor. That’s why I’m asking you.”

“Ask the Rabbi” can have long-range effects. Rabbi Newman relates that he once received a question from a newly observant man who had just moved to Israel. He found out that his mother was dying of cancer and had asked to be cremated.

“He wrote and asked if he would be able to sit shiva and say kaddish for her if she was cremated,” he says. “I asked a local rabbi, and he said that it would be okay because she was a tinok shenishba.

“But the son wasn’t satisfied with the answer, so I went to a gadol with the question. He paskened that there would be no kaddish or shiva because cremation equals denying the afterlife.

“This bothered the son so much that he went back to the States and spent Shabbos with his mother. It was the first time she had ever experienced Shabbos. During the beautiful time they spent together, the son had heart-to-heart talks with her. He spoke about the eternity of the Jewish neshama and begged her not to be cremated.

“After Shabbos, she went to the lawyer and had her will changed, designating a kosher, Jewish burial.”

Rabbi Newman also relates a story about a newborn baby boy whose father wrote that there was no mohel in his community and he couldn’t take off work to travel. Could he use a doctor for the circumcision? After explaining that according to Jewish law a Jewish mohel is much preferred, the “Ask the Rabbi” staff contacted a mohel in St. Louis who flew out free of charge to perform a kosher milah on the newborn.

Rabbi Cohen of relates that someone submitted the following question: He lives on a non-religious kibbutz that often does not have a minyan and doesn’t have a Sefer Torah. Can the “sometimes-minyan” use a Chumash for krias haTorah?

“The rav answered his questions,” says Rabbi Cohen, “but then we posted the question on our halacha yomit daily email that we send to subscribers. Within 24 hours we got offers for three Sifrei Torah and a safe for the Aron Kodesh. The next caller bought siddurim and Chumashim and traveled down south to personally deliver them. A few contractors decided to renovate the Beit Knesset. Everyone involved cried from emotion.”


Personalization and Follow-Up

Some questions are too large and complex to be answered by email. That’s when the rabbis refer their questioners to others for additional help.

“Some personal questions are hard to answer,” says Rabbi Newman. “So we try to give them general information, such as about the importance of preserving family harmony. Then, we give them a contact person near them or the name and contact information of a posek.”

Rabbi Seligson says that will try to do whatever is necessary to help the questioner. “If it means shipping something to somewhere remote – we’ll try and do it. If they need a local rabbi, we’ll do that too. Our goal is to enrich the lives of our questioners in a meaningful way. And of course, the fact that Chabad has such a huge network of rabbis around the world plays a big role in how are we able to assist people – though depending on location and the nature of the question, we also refer many people for help outside of Chabad.”


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