By Duke Helfand and Joanna Lin
February 2, 2009
Have you ever tried to define God? Or wondered whether it is ethical to eat meat? Or debated if pornography is a sin?
For a decade, AskMoses.com has been answering questions like these to a growing worldwide audience.
Rabbinic scholars from the Orthodox Jewish Chabad movement dispense the free advice online 24 hours a day, six days a week (they don't work on the Sabbath).
Last month, they announced a milestone: AskMoses has surpassed 1 million online chat sessions since it was launched by Chabad of California. The queries are fielded by rabbis and knowledgeable women in the United States, Argentina, Israel, Russia and elsewhere.
"The average person on the street does not have access to a rabbi," said Rabbi Yosef Loschak, AskMoses' "chief scholar," who is based in Santa Barbara. "Here is a way they can do that. If they have a question about Judaism, Moses is a pretty good source."
People of all stripes turn to the website, accounting for 350 to 400 live chats a day, Loschak said. A voluntary online survey has shown that 30% of AskMoses users are not Jewish. Among their questions: Why don't Jews believe in Jesus as the messiah? Answer: Jesus did not fulfill the promises of the messiah, as described by the prophets, of bringing world peace and global monotheism.
The website's library has cataloged answers to numerous questions about Jewish identity, philosophy, holidays, history and the Torah.
Loschak said the questions often reflect modern life. Questions popped up about the final scene of "Schindler's List," for example, in which Jews who were saved by Oskar Schindler place rocks on his grave in Israel. Why? Stones are a mark of respect to show that the grave was visited.
Questions often come from people facing crises. On one occasion, a pregnant teen wrote to ask whether she should get an abortion or tell her parents about her condition. The rabbi urged her to speak with her parents. Because the question was posed anonymously, though, he couldn't follow up.
As to the question about defining God, the answer, according to AskMoses: God cannot be defined. He is only known by the things he does.
And is pornography a sin? According to AskMoses, the answer is yes: It is "a corruption of the mind, as it forces us to think lustful and sinful thoughts."