Author Archives: Rabbi Steven Bayar

Rabbi Steven Bayar

About Rabbi Steven Bayar

Steven Bayar received his bachelor's degree and a masters in religious studies from the University of Virginia and was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. He serves as rabbi of Congregation Bnai Israel in Millburn, N.J., and is the author of Teens & Trust (Torah Aura), Ziv/Giraffe Curriculum (Righteous Persons), and Tikkun Olam (KTAV), & is co-founder of Ikkar Publishing.

Providing Food, Clothing, and Shelter

Over the generations, the three actions most associated with gemilut hasadim (acts of kindness) have been feeding the hungry, clothing those in need, and providing shelter for the homeless.

According to Jewish law, if a beggar approaches you on the street, and asks you for money, you are not required to give. The only time you must respond to his request is if he asks for food. Then you must feed him. Even if he is wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, a Rolex and blue suede shoes, his request must be met.

As a people with a strong tradition of providing for indigents within their own community, Jews feel that one hallmark of any healthy Jewish community is its ability to care for its poor. They may not be the most visible members of the Jewish community, but they are there. The elderly and single parents form two substantial demographic groups that often need support. And Jewish communities, by and large, do this well. They may even serve as models for many others to emulate. That is why we have hospitals, nursing homes, family and vocational services all sponsored by the Jewish community.

We would be mistaken however, if we thought those institutions released us from our own individual obligation to help. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Ideally, each person should be aware of his or her surroundings and find ways to help those who are hungry. There are people starving in the most affluent communities. It is the individual who makes the difference.

The stories are as many as they are varied. Clara Hammer is known as the “Chicken Lady of Jerusalem.” One Friday morning, waiting for her Shabbat meat order in the butcher shop, she noticed a small girl take a bag of chicken necks, skin and gizzards from the butcher. When asked, her butcher told her that both the girl’s parents were out of work. They had no credit left. The butcher gave them the discarded offal from the shop so that they could at least make a soup. Clara ordered the butcher to take care of them, at her own expense. Twenty plus years later, Clara helps hundreds of families in similar situations–all because she refused to hide her eyes.

Annulment of Marriages

American society and values are founded upon the rights of the individual. When individual rights come into conflict with communal values, we protect the rights of the individual. That is the purpose of the Bill of Rights, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union and many other organizations and lawmaking bodies of our country.


Traditional Judaism, on the other hand, is a community-oriented religion. When the rights of the individual come into conflict with the needs of the community, the community almost always takes precedence. In exploring the issue of annulment we will see how the different Jewish movements respond to the conflicts of community vs. the individual.

Torah Realistic About Divorce But Decidedly Non-Egalitarian

Judaism does not accept that marriage is a permanent sacrament. Our tradition has always recognized that not all marriages work and has sought uncomplicated ways to dissolve failed marriages. In fact, we find divorce mentioned as early as the Torah. However, because the Torah reflects the culture of its time, the laws of marriage and divorce were based upon the then-prevailing notion that women were considered property. Women were rarely allowed to have control of their own destinies. Thus, according to Torah law, only the husband can grant a divorce, and the woman has no say in the process. Under rabbinic law the woman can initiate divorce proceedings in some situations and obtain help from the beit din (rabbinic court) in doing so. But in the end, the husband must still give her the get (bill of divorce) for the divorce to be valid.

This practice continues to this day. Currently, the Orthodox and Conservative movements follow halakhic (Jewish legal) norms and will only process a religious divorce (get) if the husband initiates the procedure. Rabbis from these movements are not allowed to perform second marriages where there is no get. The Reform and Reconstructionist movements do not require a get, and will process a get initiated by the wife, but these alternative gittin (plural of get) are not accepted by the Orthodox or Conservative movements.