National Security According to the Torah

Collaboration between Torah scholars and experienced administrators can enable proper security policy management guided by Torah * The mitzvoth of conquering and inheriting the Land of Israel for all generations according to Ramban * As indicated by Rambam, there is no mitzvah in all generations to inherit the Land, nevertheless, it is a mitzvah to dwell there and protect the residents * The difference between the two positions is not great * If Israel is forced to launch a defensive war, the opportunity will be utilized to fulfill the mitzvah of conquering the Land according to Ramban * Non-Jewish residents in the Land of Israel: The fundamental approach, and its actual realization in times when the non-Jewish residents threaten our sovereignty


Settlement and Security Policy According to the Torah

From time to time the question arises: Is it possible to learn from the Torah and halakha the proper security policy for the State of Israel, and can Torah scholars, those who dwell in the study halls, run the security policy of the State?

While the answer is extremely complex, it can be summarized in one sentence: the principles certainly should be learned from the Torah, but their implementation is contingent on the overall situation on the ground. Therefore, in order to implement the Torah’s vision, Torah scholars must first properly clarify the principles of the Torah. Alongside these Torah scholars, extremely intelligent people are required who understand the principles of Torah and believe in them, and at the same time, understand the political and military situation in all its elements, so they can examine how to implement the vision. And from within the ranks of those intelligent people, leaders who are capable of bringing the practical idea into reality must arise.

While the public is busy electing the practical leaders, we must endeavor to fulfill our task of clarifying the principles, without which it is impossible to realize the vision.

This is the first principle which must be learned from the Torah – think before you act. Learning comes before action. First we must know what we are striving for, because the less clear the goal is, the more difficult it is to achieve. This is the fundamental problem of Israel’s policies: on the one hand, they say that virtually the only goal is calm, peace and tranquility. On the other hand, below the surface and beyond the official statements abounds a longing for redemption, the ingathering of the exiles, and settling the Land – and when necessary, Jews are even willing to give their lives in order to achieve this vision. If you listen carefully to the statements of the key leaders of the State of Israel, this contradiction can almost always be found in their words.

Let’s begin clarifying the principles.

The Mitzvah of Settling the Land of Israel

The foundation of Israel’s policy lies in God’s promise of the Land to our forefathers, and the Torah mitzvah to settle it. Without the promise and the mitzvah, the Zionist movement would not have been initiated, and the State of Israel would not have been founded.

Ramban’s Position – Conquest and Settlement

The chief spokesman for the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land) is Ramban, who merited ‘preaching well and acting well’ by making aliyah and to Israel and founding a community in Jerusalem. To this day, the Ramban synagogues in Jerusalem bear his name.

He wrote: “We were commanded to take possession of the Land which the Almighty, Blessed Be He, gave to our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and not to abandon it to other nations, or to leave it desolate, as He said to them (Numbers 33:53-54): ‘You shall inherit the Land and dwell in it, for I have given the Land to you to possess it…’ (Supplement to the Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive commandment #4). The meaning of the word ve’horashtem (‘you shall inherit’) is to conquer – that there is Israeli sovereignty over the land, and the meaning of the word ve’yeshavtem (‘to dwell in’) is to settle the Land, so it won’t be desolate.

The mitzvah requires Israel to conquer the Land, “and this is what our Sages call a milchemet mitzvah [war by commandment](Sotah, perek 8, Mishna 6) …. and in the words of Sifri ‘ve’yarashta ve’yashavta ba‘ – in the merit of your inheriting (conquering), you will dwell …” and in order for us not to mistakenly think that the mitzvah referred only to the Jews who left Egypt in the times of Yehoshua bin Nun, Ramban emphasizes that the mitzvah requires all generations not to abandon the Land “to other nations at any time…behold, we are commanded with the conquest of the Land in every generation.” And by virtue of this positive commandment, every individual Jew is required to dwell in the Land of Israel, “even in the times of exile.”

Although, for many generations the Jewish nation was in a state oh’nes (forced against their will), stemming from being in exile in both body and mind, and we could not fulfill the general mitzvah; as a result, most individual Jews were negligent in making aliyah. But in recent times, by the grace of God, He began to cause our redemption to flourish, our situation changed, and we can now fulfill the mitzvah, both as a nation, and as individuals.

Furthermore, it is important to add that this mitzvah overrides pikuach nefesh (saving lives) of individuals, for we were commanded to conquer the Land and Torah did not intend for us to rely on miracles, and since in every war there are casualties, the mitzvah of kibush ha’aretz (conquering the Land) requires us to risk lives for it (Minchat Chinuch 425, 604; Mishpat Kohen, pg. 327).

Rambam’s Position – Settlement and Defense

However, Rambam did not write in his rulings that Israel is commanded to conquer the Land. In other words, in his opinion the mitzvah to conquer the Land was assigned to the generation olei Mitzrayim (those who left Egypt), and apparently, on the kings of Israel throughout history as well. Indeed, there is a general and basic mitzvah for every Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael, and for Am Yisrael to establish its nation-state in the land. The reason Rambam did not count this mitzvah in his six hundred and thirteen commandments, is because he set a rule in his counting that he would not include general mitzvoth on which other mitzvoth are reliant. And indeed, many mitzvoth are reliant on the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, including all the agricultural mitzvoth ha’teluyot ba’aretz, the mitzvah to establish the Beit HaMikdash, sanctification of the months, ‘lo techanem’, the prohibition of extraditing a slave who escaped to Israel, and the mentioning of the Land in birkat ha’mazone.

Nevertheless, according to the Rambam, if the Gentiles conquered the Land of Israel and exiled the Jews from it, there is no obligation for Israel to initiate a war to re-conquer the Land. Rather, the mitzvat ha’milchama (war) mentioned in the Torah currently applies only to “ezrat Yisrael me’yad tzar” (helping save Israel her enemy).

In other words, according to the Rambam, this is the realistic plan of settling the Land – that increasingly more Jews will settle in Israel and thus, the Jewish community will continue to develop. And then, one of two things will happen: either in a great process of teshuva (repentance), they will merit a miraculous redemption leading to full sovereignty, or, in a gradual process, Israel’s standing in their land will become established, and if there are nations that endanger their existence – the Torah mitzvah of going to war to save Israel will be reinstated. In such a situation, the mitzvah of going to war is not only for defensive purposes, but also to attack in order to defend. As our Sages said regarding Shabbat, that if Gentiles come to steal even minor things such as straw or hay from towns located on the border, it is a mitzvah to profane the Sabbath and go out with weapons to fight them, for if the residents do not react to the theft of straw and hay, in the end, the Gentiles will come to murder (Hilchot Shabbat 2:23). Consequently, out of the need to defend, sovereignty is achieved (Milumdei Milchma, sect. 1).

The Precedent of the First and Second Temples

It can be said that in the opinion of the Ramban, the compulsory example of fulfilling the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz for future generations is the conquest and settlement of the Land by Yehoshua bin Nun and his contemporaries. This is the mitzvah incumbent on Israel when they are in exile or under foreign rule – to strive with all their might to achieve sovereignty, and be willing to initiate a war to conquer the Land, and liberate it from foreigners.

The compulsory example according to Rambam is the way Israel acted during the Second Temple, where initially the Jews settled in Eretz Yisrael under the auspices of the ruling Gentiles, and eventually the community expanded to the point where the need to protect their existence, both spiritual and physical, forced them to fight the rulers, and restore sovereignty and kingdom to Israel. And as the Rambam writes: “ In [the era of] the Second Temple, the Greek kingdom issued decrees against the Jewish people, [attempting to] nullify their faith and refusing to allow them to observe the Torah and its commandments. They extended their hands against their property and their daughters; they entered the Sanctuary, wrought havoc within, and made the sacraments impure.

The Jews suffered great difficulties from them, for they oppressed them greatly until the God of our ancestors had mercy upon them, delivered them from their hand, and saved them. The sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priests, overcame [them], slew them, and saved the Jews from their hand.

They appointed a king from the priests, and sovereignty returned to Israel for more than 200 years, until the destruction of the Second Temple”(Hilchot Chanukah 3:1).

And for this we thank and praise God during Chanukah.

The Difference between the Two Approaches

In practice, the actual difference between the Rambam and Ramban is not vast. For even the Ramban would agree that the entire country should not be conquered all at once, and as prescribed by the Torah to conquer the essential areas of the country first and gradually expand, and that the war should be conducted according to rational considerations without relying on miracles. On the other hand, even Rambam, who holds that a milchemet mitzvah is only a defensive war, recognizes the historical reality that it is almost impossible for a large Jewish community to be able to defend itself without sovereignty, and that there is no defense without deterrence – including capturing the places from which the attackers come.

Nevertheless, in principle, there is a considerable difference between them: according to Ramban’s approach, conquering the Land must be actively pursued and afterwards settled, whereas the Rambam’s approach is to first strive to settle the Land, and subsequently protect its inhabitants, a reality which usually requires war for sovereignty.

In Practice

How great it would have been had we merited repenting completely and fulfilled the obligation to live in Israel according to the words of the Ramban – ‘even in a city of mostly non-Jews’, in the words of the Rambam. Had the Jewish people ascended to their land long before the Holocaust, in order to settle it and re-establish their sovereignty, consequently, millions of Jews would have been saved and the Final Redemption would have been brought closer.

Not having achieved this, the main ingathering of the exiles began only after the Holocaust – very few in number, and out of self-defense, Holocaust survivors and refugees from the Diaspora merited establishing the State of Israel.

Future Policy

It seems that in regards to what we have learned, the correct policy according to the Torah emerges, which includes a combination of all the principles presented by the Rambam and Ramban: aliyah, settlement, defense and conquest.

The basic declaration of the State of Israel should be that of the Ramban: as members of the Jewish nation, according to our holy Torah, we strive to settle all areas of our country – from the Nile River of Egypt to the Euphrates, on both sides of the Jordan. Only non-Jews who are lovers of Israel, believe in the Torah, and observe the Seven Noahide commandments are permitted to be citizens in our country (according to the laws of ger toshav [resident alien]).

However, being a peaceful people and having respect for all human beings, we restrain our aspirations and do not intend to initiate a war of conquest, and we also do not intend to deport foreigners who do not identify fully with our aspirations.

However, if God forbid, our enemies abroad dare to attack us, we will take advantage of every war to gradually expand the boundaries of our country. And if the non-Jews living with us dare to threaten our sovereignty, in addition to crushing the violence, we will work to gradually remove them from the country.

Incidentally, all normal countries act this way towards their sworn enemies, however, we are not like all other nations, and therefore only when we understand that a sacred value guides us to do so, will we be able to achieve this policy with wisdom, determination, and sensitivity.

From such a political position we can deal with international pressure in a much more successful manner, for a large amount of it is anchored in moral and historical considerations, without any awareness of Am Yisrael’s true vision.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Light the Chanukah Candles Together

Single people who have reached the optimum age for marriage but have yet to find their partner, should encourage others to marry at a young age * Although Ben Azzai himself never married, he expounded on the praises of the mitzvah puru u’revuru * Why it is wrong to marry before the age of twenty without consideration, and trust that God will take care of one’s livelihood * The importance of parental accompaniment and guidance in the marriage of their children * According to the Sephardic minhag where the head of the household lights the Chanukah candles, can children also light with a bracha? * Is it better to light the candles on time, or wait for a delayed spouse?

Reply to the Previous Article on Marriage

Q: I was extremely saddened to read your last article, Rabbi. I am a 29 year old single man. I have made every effort possible, both practical and spiritual, in order to find a partner. I feel that an article like yours discredits and demeans the importance of my fruitless efforts. It’s very easy to tell people “get married by the age of 24″. The underlying assumption behind such a ruling is that finding a partner is child’s play. In reality, it’s more like kriyat Yam Suf (the splitting of the Red Sea). As it is, I already drench my pillow every night with tears. And I do not think I am alone in this feeling.

A: Indeed, there are times when a person does merit finding a partner, but nevertheless, the validity of marrying by age 24 should not be weakened because of such situations.

The proper attitude towards this issue can be learned from Ben Azzai, who himself never married nor had children, and yet explicitly taught that anyone who does not engage in puru u’revuru (procreation) it is as if “he sheds blood and diminishes the Divine Image. They (the Sages) said to Ben ‘Azzai: Some preach well and act well, others act well but do not preach well; you, however, preach well but do not act well! Ben ‘Azzai replied: What can I do, seeing that my soul is in love with the Torah? The world can be carried on by others” (Yevamot 63b). Thus, although Ben Azzai felt he himself was ah’nuce (beyond one’s control) because, being so engrossed in his Torah study, he felt he would not be able to provide the proper attention to a wife – still, under no circumstances did he want people to diminish the importance of the mitzvah puru u’revuru because of him. In a similar fashion, it is proper for single people who have not yet found a partner to encourage others to marry when young, so they do not reach a later stage in life when it is harder to get married. On the contrary – by encouraging others, they will merit establishing their own homes quickly, with love and joy.

Reply to the Heter to Postpone Marriage until the Age of 24

I further wrote that although the instruction of Chazal was to marry by the age of twenty, since we have found that our Sages and later Jewish law arbiters (Maharshal, Chida) have written that b’sha’at ha’dachak (under pressing circumstances) marriage can be postponed, but no later than the age of twenty-four – this should be the instruction l’chatchilla (from the outset) for our times. This is because the very determination of the age of eighteen for marriage was to give young men sufficient time to prepare for a wedding by means of learning Torah and obtaining a profession (Kiddushin 29b; Sotah 44a), and nowadays, when preparations take longer – this period of time should be extended until the age of twenty-four. I added that today, any religious leaders who instruct young men to get married before the age of twenty “decrees a life of poverty on the majority of their followers, and prevents them from participating in yishuv olam (development of the world), using the talents God endowed them. And besides that, many of them tend to deny the great Torah mitzvah of serving in the army to protect the People and the Land.”


On this I received a number of replies, one of which summarized all of them in short: “The honorable Rabbi wrote: ‘Those who obligate young men to get married before the age of twenty, decree a life of poverty on the majority of their followers’. Rabbi, all my life my rabbis have taught me that the one who decrees a life of poverty or wealth is HaKodesh Boruchu, because parnasa (livelihood) comes only from Him, yitbarach (blessed be He). One gets the impression that the honorable Rabbi ignores this.”

Response Concerning the Importance of Work and Making a Living

Unfortunately, either you did not understand what you learned, or all of your life you have learned from rabbis who distort the words of the Torah. For indeed we find in the Torah that a person must make an effort to earn a living as common sense requires, and above and beyond this, comes God’s blessing. As it is said about those who fulfill the commandment of tithing: “God your Lord will then bless you in everything that you do” (Deuteronomy 14:29). Our Sages explained: “But lest it be thought that God’s blessing comes to a man who sits in idleness? The verse ends with the injunction ‘in everything that you do” (Tanna D’bei Eliyahu 15). In other words, even a person who works and gives tithes will not merit blessing if he does not continue to work, for only then will God bless him and the work of his hands. We have also found that our forefathers worked diligently – as shepherds and well-diggers, in order to add blessing to the world.

Our forefather Yaakov was praised for his diligent work, as it is written: “Twenty years I worked for you! All that time, your sheep and goats never lost their young…I never brought you an animal that had been attacked…by day I was consumed by the scorching heat and at night by the frost, when sleep was snatched from my eyes (working diligently to guard the sheep)… If the God of my father’s – the God of Abraham and the Dread of Isaac – had not been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed! But God saw my plight and the work of my hands. Last night, He rendered judgment!” (Genesis 31:38-42). Our Sages said: “Work is cherished even more than zechut Avot (merit of the forefathers), because zechut Avot rescued [Yaakov’s] possessions, while work rescued [his] life” (Genesis Rabbah, ibid). In other words, one’s very existence is dependent on his diligence at work; any blessings above and beyond are dependent on spiritual merits, in the sense of derech eretz kadma l’Torah (proper behavior precedes the Torah).

And thus Rambam (Maimonides) wrote: “The way of sensible men is that first, one should establish an occupation by which he can support himself. Then, he should purchase a house to live in and then, marry a wife…
In contrast, a fool begins by marrying a wife. Then, if he can find the means, he purchases a house. Finally, towards the end of his life, he will search about for a trade or support himself from charity” (Hilchot De’ot 5:11).

The Mistaken Belief

According to what you claim you learned from your rabbis, a person does not need to learn a trade from which he can support himself before getting married, because God will provide. And likewise, one doesn’t need to rush a gravely ill person to the hospital, because health comes from God, and one doesn’t need to enlist in the army, because security comes from God. All of this contradicts the Torah, which commands us to rescue the sick and enlist in the milchemet mitzvah of saving Israel from her enemies.

And so wrote Rabbi Joseph Albo in Sefer Ha’Ikarim: “Behold, it has been explained that the blessing of God comes with hishtadlut (making an effort). As the poet King David said, ‘Unless Hashem protects a city, sentries do no good’, but if Hashem protects a city – the sentries are befitting, for along with guard duty and human efforts, Divine help will come, but not without it. Therefore, it is worthy for a man to make an attempt in all things that can be obtained by his own efforts, after realizing that endeavors are useful in all circumstances and in all actions, as we have explained”(Sefer Ha’Ikarim 4:6).

The Argument Regarding Over-Early Marriages

Q: With all due respect, Rabbi … in what you have said, do you take responsibility for all the over-early marriages, for all the young adults who will get married to young, and then get divorced? Did you ever check the percentage of young people who divorce because they got married too young?

A: First, getting married before the age of twenty-four is not over-early. Second, experience shows that marriage at the appropriate age, namely, before the age of twenty-four, endures longer and provides more pleasure and joy to the couple. The reason for this is that as years go by, habits become increasingly fixed, and it is harder for spouses to be flexible and adapt to each other. Also, the intense love of young adults makes it easier for them to unite in complete harmony.

The Accompaniment of Parents

Nevertheless, the earlier young adults get married, the more parents need to be involved in consultation and guidance for their children. Due to the growing significance of the values of independence and free choice in modern society, some parents feel that it is not their duty to intervene in their children decisions. Indeed, the value of freedom is extremely important, and is the manifestation of God’s image in man; the Exodus from Egypt was intended to reveal this. However, freedom is primarily designed to enable a person to choose their own unique path, and not in order to fall and stumble in the potholes of life. Therefore, it is a mitzvah for parents to help their children marry, both by means of advice, and also through financial assistance (Kiddushin 29a; 30b).

Nonetheless, the decision rests with the bride and groom, and children are not obligated to listen to their parents on this important subject (R’ma, Y.D. 240:25). But from the fact that children are not obligated to obey their parents, this does not mean that parents should not get involved at all. On the contrary, it is a mitzvah for them to instruct their children and advise them. And children are obligated to listen seriously to their parents advice, both from the mitzvah of kibud av v’em (honoring parents), and out of common sense which necessitates listening to people who have experience, know them from the day they were born, and wish to help.

In most cases, after the expected initial unpleasantness, young people are happy to share their deliberations with their parents, and are very grateful for their participation in the consultation and guidance.

According to Sephardic Custom, Can Children Light Candles with a Bracha?

Q: The Sephardic minhag (custom) is that only the head of the household lights the Chanukah candles, but occasionally children are also eager to light a menorah. According to the Sephardic minhag, can they light candles? And are they allowed to recite a bracha (blessing) over the lighting?

A: Children are permitted to light their own candles, provided they light them in another place, so that it is evident how many candles are lit each day. As far as the blessing is concerned, the prevalent custom according to later day Sephardic poskim (Jewish law arbiters), children should not recite a blessing when lighting, because they fulfill the mitzvah through their father’s lighting. However, our teacher and guide, the Rishon L’Tzion, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l instructed that children up to the age of Bar Mitzvah were permitted to light candles with a blessing, and it is not considered a bracha she’ayna tzericha (an unwarranted blessing) because this is how they are educated in the mitzvah. And in the opinion of Rabbi Shalom Mesas ztz”l, boys over the age of Bar Mitzvah can have the kavana (intention) not to fulfill his obligation in the mitzvah through his father’s lighting, and light with a bracha (Yalkut Shemesh, O.C. 192).

Should One Wait for a Delayed Spouse?

Q: What should one do when either a husband or wife cannot return home from work before tzeit ha’chochavim (nightfall)? Is it better for whoever is at home to light candles at nightfall (17:00), or to wait for the other spouse to come home?

A: Seemingly, according to the strict halakha, it is better for whoever is at home to light candles at nightfall, and thus fulfill the other spouse’s duty. In practice, however, for various reasons, in most cases it is best to wait until the other spouse comes home, provided they light before nine in the evening (21:00), and refrain from achilat keva (eating a meal) beforehand. Only in a case where a spouse has a place to hear the lighting of the candles, and the delay is a one-time occurrence, is it preferable for the spouse at home to light the candles on time (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 13:7).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Marriage Age in Our Times

Various responses to last week’s column on postponing pregnancy * A person who reaches the age of marriage but has not found his partner does not have to settle for a less suitable spouse * Nowadays, Torah studies and acquiring a profession take longer. How does this affect the obligation to get married by a certain age? * The heter of delaying marriage until the age of twenty-four should be halakha in our times * Why men shouldn’t be required to marry by the age of twenty as in past generations * Why is the current view that one is allowed to postpone marriage until a later age wrong * Even under changing circumstances, the principles remain the same

Replies to Last Week’s Column

Last week I commented on the slanderous accusations hurled at the “the rabbis”, who, in an attempt to promote their social agenda, allegedly invented an issur (prohibition) lacking any halachic foundation against postponing marriage and pregnancy.

In order to refute this malicious slander against the rabbis, I quoted many sources showing that indeed our Chachamim (Sages) instructed that the mitzvah of puru u’revuru (procreation) requires a man to marry by the age of twenty, and no later than the age of twenty-four. The mitzvah is so crucial and binding that in principle Beit Din (law courts) is required to coerce one to marry, but in practice, they do not do so in order to avoid quarrels (S. A. and R’ma, E.H. 1:3). If halakha requires one to get married in order to procreate, it goes without saying that it is forbidden for married couples to postpone the fulfillment of the mitzvah puru u’revuru by means of preventing pregnancy. However, when there is a special difficultly, sometimes there is a heter (halachic permission) to postpone the mitzvah and so as to clarify the halakha, rabbis are asked – and not in order to strengthen the control of the “rabbinical establishment” over the lives of men and women, as they falsely accuse.

Last week’s column received numerous responses – some were in favor, others disagreed, and some were antagonistic.

Must One Compromise in Order to Marry on Time?

Some people asked: How can a young man be ordered to marry by a certain age? It depends on if he finds a suitable partner!

Answer: Indeed, a man surely cannot be required to marry a woman he does not like. Moreover, a question arose: What should one do if he’d found a young woman who really wanted to marry him, and in his eyes she was all right, but he thought he could find a more suitable partner. The question was whether despite having already reached the age of twenty, was he permitted to wait longer in order to find a more suitable partner? I answered that although he had reached the required marriage age, he was not obligated to marry someone who he did not feel was suitable for him (see, Yafeh Le’Lev. Section 4, E.H. 1:13).

Thus, determining a required age of marriage is designed to direct a person to the appropriate period in life to fulfill the mitzvah of marriage and procreation, for which the entire world was created.

The Considerable Question of Fulfilling this Halakha Today

Yet, we still have to deal with a major problem concerning this issue. Seemingly, after reaching the age of thirteen a young Jewish man becomes obligated in all the mitzvoth, nevertheless, our Sages said that a young man is obligated to marry at the age of eighteen, and not later than twenty. The reason is that before this time, he must prepare himself for the huge challenge of raising a family, specifically in two areas: first, learning the foundations of the Torah (Mishnah Avot 5:21; Kiddushin 29b; Y. D.246:3), and second – parnasa (earning a living). During the years in which the young men learned the fundamentals of Torah, they spent part of the day helping their father work, and in the process, learned the trade from which they were able to make a living, build a house, and save money to acquire means for a livelihood (Sotah 44a; Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 5:11).

Judging by this we are in an awkward position, because in recent times the world has changed drastically; life has become more complex, and preparations for the responsibility of starting a family takes longer. In the past, a simple understanding of Tanach, mussar (morality), halakha and its reasoning was sufficient to start a Jewish home. It was enough to work with one’s father a few hours a day until the age of eighteen to acquire the professional knowhow to make a living, and even save some money for a wedding and building a house, which usually consisted of just one room. But today, in order to cope with the challenges facing a person, one needs to learn a lot more Torah. To do so, the majority of young men must learn in a yeshiva framework for at least a year after the age of eighteen, and usually longer.

Another sacred duty rests upon young men – the task of protecting the Nation and the Land while serving in the army and the fulfillment of this mitzvah also causes postponing marriage. Similarly, obtaining a profession that suits one’s talents usually requires several years of academic studies, and follows military service. And perhaps gifted students who have the ability to become scientists should postpone getting married until after obtaining a doctorate degree, so they can advance in their profession for the benefit of their family, nation, and the entire world. In addition, even the houses we are accustomed to live in are more expensive, because they are larger and equipped with water and electricity, and in order to purchase one, a person must work several years.

The Dilemma and Conclusion

If we need to delay marriage until a person has finished learning all the foundations of Torah, completed his academic studies, and purchased a home, the majority of young people would have to postpone their marriage until the age of thirty or forty.

On the other hand, such a delay is impossible in practical terms, because even though the environment we live in has become more complex, complicated and challenging, man’s mental and physical nature has not changed, and the fitting time for him to get married is at an early age. As the years go by, a person loses a part of his vibrancy that is so characteristic for the initial stages of marriage. Beyond this, there’s a limit to how long a person can fate himself to live his life as half a person, without true love that gives rise to life.

Therefore, taking into account the overall considerations and a comprehensive view of reality, on the one hand, it is necessary to delay the marriage age for a few years, but on the other hand, it is crucial to limit this postponement. Indeed, we find in the words of Chazal that until the age of twenty-four a young man is still adaptable, and therefore our Sages instructed parents to make sure their children get married by this age (see, Kiddushin 30a, and the commentators). We also find that some of the eminent poskim (Jewish law arbiters) instructed that even those who had to delay marriage, not postpone it beyond the age of twenty-four (Maharshal, Chida, and others).

Consequently, we can conclude that today halakha requires one to marry by the age twenty-four, and in pressing situations, and under certain conditions, one may delay marriage beyond that time.

Arguments against Postponing Marriage Age

Nevertheless, there are those who do not accept this decision. Some of them insist on claiming that we shouldn’t take into consideration the difficulties and challenges that modern life presents us, rather, we should continue demanding all young men get married before the age of twenty, as they did in previous generations.

However, we must reject their opinion, for we have already learned that our Sages instructed postponing marriage due to the needs of derech eretz, namely, so young men would be able to prepare themselves to support their families (Sotah 44a). And indeed, those who obligate young men to get married before the age of twenty, decree a life of poverty on the majority of their followers, and prevent them from participating in yishuv olam (development of the world) using the talents God endowed them. In addition, many of them tend to deny the great Torah mitzvah of serving in the army to protect the People and the Land.

Those who Claim the Law is Void

Others, however, argue that today, there should be no set age for marriage. They claim the age set by our Sages applied to a time when young men could study the fundamentals of the Torah, learn a profession, and build a house by the age of eighteen. Therefore, today as well, a person can postpone marriage until he has completed all of his preparations in Torah study, acquired a respectable profession, and purchased an average-sized apartment. In spite of this, there is apparently no prohibition of marrying before completing this long process, but in contrast, there is also no obligation to get married beforehand. Consequently, the halakha concerning the age of marriage has disappeared from the world.

This position, however, is also unacceptable, because the principle that our Sages determined is that it is impossible to postpone the age of marriage indefinitely. And as Rosh (Rabbenu Asher) wrote in regards to the reason our Sages determined an age for the fulfillment of the Torah mitzvah: “It cannot possibly be that one be negligent in fulfilling the mitzvah of puru u’revuru all his life”(Kiddushin 1:42). Thus, the mitzvah does
have a limit, which is after the necessary preparations have been completed prior to marriage.

Moreover, as the years pass, so does the proper time for binding the marriage, because the appropriate time emotionally for marriage is around the age of twenty, and the more time passes, one’s enthusiasm decreases, and it is harder to connect in the everlasting covenant of marriage. Therefore, young people who postpone getting married have difficulty finding their spouse, and many of them remain single for several, extremely long years. This is one of the main reasons for the disintegration of the family unit in the West. One might say that just as it is hard for twenty-five year old men to undergo basic training in a combat unit suited for eighteen-year-olds, so too is it difficult for twenty-five year olds to find their partners.

Maintaining the Principles and Objectives

Indeed, we are living in a changing world, and some of the guidance that was appropriate for previous generations, is less appropriate today. However, the principles have remained the same, just as man’s basic nature has not changed. Our job, therefore, is to refine the values and principles set by the Torah and clarified by our Sages, in accordance with the circumstances of our generation.

The principles are that the mitzvoth of marriage and procreation are among the most important commandments, as our Sages said: “But was not the world only made to be populated, as it says ‘He created it not a waste, He formed it to be inhabited”(Mishnah Gittin 41b). Another principle is that this mitzvah has a limit, and it cannot be postponed indefinitely. Man’s biological and emotional nature also requires this. Another principle is that a person should prepare responsibly prior to getting married. And another important principle is that a person should be participate in yishuv olam; just as our forefathers dug wells and established marketplaces in the past, so too, one should engage today in the development of industry, science, economy and society.

Therefore, it is possible to determine as halakha that until the age of twenty-four, which was the age one could defer getting married in a pressing situation in the past, is the age until which a person can postpone getting married l’chatchila (from the outset) today. However, if one is able to get married earlier without harming the important principles previously mentioned, may he be blessed.

Indeed, this is not an easy challenge. In order to fulfill this joyful and wonderful mitzvah, young men should hasten to acquire a profession. To do this, they also should not prolong the years of study in yeshiva beyond what is necessary. In many cases a husband can share the burden of making a living with his beloved and loving wife in order to complete his studies for a profession. Also, it is a mitzvah for parents and society to assist in providing optimal conditions for the building of young families.

With God’s help, I will deal with this issue in the future.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Did the Rabbis Invent a Prohibition?

Recently, its’ been argued that the prohibition of preventing birth before fulfilling the mitzvah of having children is an invention of “the rabbis”, and not halakha * It is a mitzvah to marry by the age of twenty and no later than twenty-four * The duty to marry at a young age is mainly because of the mitzvah to procreate, while the prevention of sinful thoughts is only secondary * One who reaches the age marriage and avoids fulfilling the mitzvah of procreation negates a positive commandment * A woman is obligated to assist her husband to fulfill his mitzvah, and with this in mind, she agreed to marry him * Postponing pregnancy is similar to postponing circumcision to the ninth day * The slandering of rabbis

Accusations against Rabbis Concerning the Question of Postponing Pregnancy

In several media outlets there recently appeared accusations against “the rabbis” who, out of a desire to advance their social agenda, invented an issur hilchati (a prohibition of Jewish law), according to which it is forbidden for a young couple to prevent pregnancy before giving birth to their first child, and before they have fulfilled the mitzvah of puru u’revuru (procreation), when in fact, according to halakha, there is no such prohibition. According to the argument, the status of this mitzvah is the same as that of the mitzvah for a father to circumcise his son on the eighth day, namely, that although there is a hidur (embellishment of the mitzvah)
to circumcise one’s son early in the morning, we do not encourage people to have the brit at six in the morning, rather, most people delay it until the afternoon. Similarly in the case of puru u’revuru, the mitzvah indeed is to procreate, but there is no halakhic problem in delaying the fulfillment of the mitzvah for a couple of years. They claim that the rabbis use the halakha in order to promote a social agenda, and thus transgress the severe sin of hiding the truth from those who inquire.

They also claimed that the rabbis, as part of the “rabbinical establishment”, do this in order to extend their control over other issues, particularly in areas related to women’s lives’. Seeing as women are exempt from the mitzvah of procreation, they claim, a woman cannot be obligated to get pregnant in the name of halakha; rather, the rabbis’ are taking advantage of their status and authority without any halakhic justification.

In the wake of these accusations, it is important to clarify three questions: 1) Is there a specific age according to halakha in which one must fulfill the mitzvah of puru u’revuru, and anyone who postpones it past this age negates the mitzvah? 2) Are women exempt from the mitzvah of puru u’revuru? 3) Can a married woman tell her husband she is not interested in assisting him in fulfilling his duty of procreation?

Our Sages Determined an Age for Marriage

Seemingly, a young Jewish man should get married at the age of thirteen, for this is the age when he becomes obligated to fulfill the mitzvoth. However, our Sages instructed postponing marriage until the age of eighteen, and no later than the age of twenty, as they said in the Mishnah (Avot 5:21): “Eighteen [is the age] for the [wedding] canopy, Twenty [is the age] for pursuing [a livelihood]”. It is also explained in the Talmud Kiddushin (29b).

Two reasons for Postponement

There are two reasons for postponement:
1) In order to prepare for the enormous task of creating a family by means of Torah study, and this is the meaning of our Sages statement in the Mishnah of Pirkei Avot: “Five years [is the age] for [the study of] Scripture, Ten [is the age] for [the study of] Mishnah, Thirteen [is the age] for [observing] commandments, Fifteen [is the age] for [the study of] Talmud, Eighteen [is the age] for the [wedding] canopy
(Avot 5:21).Our Sage also said that one should study Torah before getting married, for if one marries first, the burden of raising a family may prevent him from learning Torah appropriately (Kiddushin 29b). And this halakha was codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 246:2).

2) Parnasa (livelihood). The custom was that in the years in which the young men learned the fundamentals of Torah, they spent part of the day working to help their father, and in the process, learned the trade from which they could make a living, and were also able to build a house and save money to purchase tools for making a living. Thus, our Sages said in the Talmud: “The Torah has thus taught a rule of conduct: that a man should build a house, plant a vineyard and then marry a wife”(Sotah 44a). This is also what Rambam has written (Hilchot De’ot 5:11), and is also explained in detail in Zohar Chadash (Breishit 8:2).


The Prohibition of Postponing Marriage on Account of Procreation

Incidentally, another claim hurled at “the rabbis” is that the main reason they encourage young men to get married at an early age is because of the yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) which overwhelms them. Instead of educating them to overcome their urges, they educate them to marry in their early twenties, and obviously, to also have children as soon as possible after the wedding, at the expense of women’s personal development.

Let’s examine the foundation of the halakhic obligation to marry by the age of twenty. It is explained in the Talmud: “Raba said, and the School of Rabbi Ishmael taught likewise: Until the age of twenty, the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and waits. When will he take a wife? As soon as one attains twenty and has not married, He exclaims, ‘Blasted be his bones!’ (Kiddushin 29b). The reason is because he negates the mitzvah of puru u’revuru, the importance of which our Sages said: “But was not the world only made to be populated, as it says ‘He created it not a waste, He formed it to be inhabited”(Mishnah Gittin 41b).

It is also explained in the Midrash: “A time to give birth, and a time to die,” our Sages also said: “From the moment a man is born, the Holy One, blessed be He waits for him until the age of twenty to marry a woman. If he reaches the age of twenty but has not married, He says to him: The time for you to give birth to a child has arrived, but you did not want to, it is nothing more for you than the time to die” (Kohelet Rabba 3:3). From here we see the reason why our Sages said “blasted be his bones” in regards to a man who does not marry, is because he was negligent in begetting children.

This was also codified in halakha, as Rambam wrote “The mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying is incumbent on the husband… If he reaches twenty and has not married, he is considered to have transgressed and negated the observance of this positive commandment” (Hilchot Ishut 15:2). And thus wrote Rosh (Rabbenu Asher) (Kiddushin 1:42): “It cannot possibly be that he is negligent of fulfilling the mitzvah of puru u’revuru all his life” – and therefore it is necessary to determine the age at which a young man can complete preparations for his wedding, and then must marry. And thus wrote S’mag (Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, Positive Mitzvah 49): “And since twenty years passed and he has not married – behold, he has transgressed and negated a positive commandment” (many other poskim have written similarly, such as Lavush, E.H. 1:3; Maharam Fadawah 45; Maharit Y.D. 47; Shiurei Knesset HaGadola Y.D.236 note 44; Yafeh L’lev sect.4 E.H.1:12. And even according to Rashba this is the halakha, but he is of the opinion that the obligation at the age of twenty is rabbinic, and an oath applies to a rabbinic mitzvah).

How Significant is the Fear of Sinful Thoughts?


Our Sages added another reason for postponing marriage – so a man’s yetzer (inclination) does not overcome him, as Rav Huna said: “If a man reaches the age of twenty, but has not married – his entire life is in thoughts of sin” (Kiddushin 29b). However, this point is not mentioned as an obligatory halachic reason, rather, it complements the main reason which is fulfilling the mitzvah of procreation. We are obliged to say so, for if not, a young man would have to get married at the age of fifteen, seeing as the yetzer has greater domination at the age of fifteen than at the age of twenty. Moreover, even if we are aware of a teenager who transgresses the sin of masturbation excessively – he is not instructed to marry before he is prepared in terms of Torah learning and responsibility for earning a livelihood.

The Status of the Mitzvah

The obligation to get married at the appropriate age is so severe that it falls under the category of a mitzvah in which Beit Din forces its fulfillment, as ruled in the Shulchan Aruch, “and under no circumstances should a man be older than twenty years without marrying a woman. And one who is older than twenty years and does not want to marry, Beit Din forces him to marry, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation” (E.H. 1:3). In the opinion of Rif (Rabbenu Alfasi) and Rambam ,the coercion is done by flogging of the whip, and according to the Ba’alei Tosefot and Rosh, rebuke and penalties are employed, i.e. not to trade with or hire him, but he should not be beaten or ostracized for it (S.A., E.H. 154:21). And this was agreed upon as halakha by all the Rishonim. Nevertheless, Rivash (paragraph 15), R’ma, and many other poskim wrote that in practice, marriage should not be forced, so as not to increase quarrels.

The Possibility of Postponing Marriage until the Age of Twenty-four

According to the explanation in the Talmud (Kiddushin 30a), several prominent Achronim wrote that when there is a need for a few more years of preparation before marriage, it can be postponed after the age of twenty, but no later than the age of twenty-four (Yam Shel Shlomo, Kiddushin 1, 57, according Rosh; Chida on Birkei Yosef E.H. 1, 9; Pitchei Teshuva, E.H. 1, 5; Rav Pe’alim Y.D., Section 2, 30).

This is the accepted teaching for our times, since our lives are more complex, and the preparations required for married life take longer. Furthermore, nowadays the mitzvah of military service delays the age of marriage for several years. But marriage should not be postponed beyond the age of twenty-four, because this was the final limit set by our Sages for postponing the tremendous mitzvah of marriage and procreation.

Nevertheless, a man who strives to marry by the age of twenty-four but fails to find an appropriate woman, is considered anus (beyond one’s control), and is not accused that he should have married a woman who is not appropriate for him.

The Separation between Man and Woman

Also, the argument that women are exempt from the mitzvah of procreation, and therefore a woman can postpone pregnancy despite it being forbidden for a man, is incorrect. First, a woman is also commanded to be fruitful and multiply – which I will write about, God-willing, at another time. Second, following the acceptance of the decree of Rabbeinu Gershom, which forbids a man to marry two wives, and forbids him from divorcing his wife against her will, man became totally dependent on his wife in the fulfillment of his obligation of the mitzvah, and by the wife agreeing to marry her husband, she agreed to be a partner with him in fulfilling the obligation of the mitzvah (Chatam Sofer, E.H. 20).


Thus, the blatant accusations against the rabbis are essentially slander. Anyone who studies the words of Chazal, the Rishonim and Achronim, will find that the rabbis faithfully fulfill their duty by teaching and instructing that the mitzvah of procreation requires marrying by the age of twenty, and in pressing situations, until the age of twenty-four. The same is true when they instruct young couples it is forbidden to prevent pregnancy, because it is forbidden to postpone the time of the mitzvah’s fulfillment. Nevertheless, in the case of a particular difficulty, occasionally there is a heter (permission) for postponing the mitzvah, and in order to clarify the halakha, rabbis are asked.

It is also clear that the delaying of a brit milah from the morning until the afternoon cannot be compared to postponing the mitzvah of puru u’revuru. For the mitzvah of brit milah is that it take place on the eighth day, and it is only a hidur to perform it in the morning. If in the afternoon the brit will be happier and more people will be able to attend, l’chatchila (from the outset) it is proper to perform it in the afternoon. However, the postponement of fulfilling the mitzvah of puru u’revuru is more like postponing brit milah to the ninth day, which is forbidden by the Torah. And in a certain aspect, the situation of one who postpones fulfilling the mitzvah of puru u’revuru is even more severe, for the curse of our Sages “blasted be his bones” applies to him.


Ashreinu (how fortunate we are), that God chose us from all of the nations and gave us His Torah, along with the mitzvah of raising a family, thanks to which it can be clearly seen how observant families merit establishing good and beautiful families, to the point where it is difficult to contain the pain and jealousy of those who do not fulfill the instructions of the Torah.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Inheriting the Land of Israel on the Temple Mount

Three reasons why it is correct to go up to the Temple Mount according to halakha * From the words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, it is implicit that he agreed to the prohibition of entering the Temple Mount only in the situation of unambiguous Israeli sovereignty on the Mount * The opposition of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook to Baron Rothschild’s ascending the Temple Mount did not address the reality of entering it in purity * Those who exaggerate halakhic concerns about entering the Temple Mount neglect the mitzvah of inheriting the Land at the location of the Temple, and repeat the mistake of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos * Imposition of Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, strict enforcement of the law, and the removal of the brazen Muslims inciters is the answer to the recent difficult security problems

The Reasons for the Mitzvah of Going Up to the Temple Mount

As I wrote last week, for three main reasons it is permitted and correct to go up to Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) in purity (after immersion in a mikveh): 1) the numerous testimonies that for over a thousand years after the destruction of the Holy Temple, Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis) used to pray on the Temple Mount. 2) For three hundred years, Jews were not allowed to enter the Temple Mount, which lead to doubts in regards to the exact location of the Temple (whose area is less than ten percent of the Temple Mount compound). However, following the liberation of the Temple Mount, it was possible to return and re-measure the area, and determine with certainty where the site of the Temple was, and as a result, know which areas are permitted to enter in purity. 3) The threat to Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount.

The Opinion of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook

In last week’s column I wrote: “In my humble opinion, it seems that had he known that the over-cautiousness of ascending Har Habayit would result in the loss of sovereignty and turning the Temple Mount into a focal point of hatred against Israel – he would have agreed with Rabbi Goren that it is permitted and a mitzvah to go up. In addition, in my humble opinion, he would have relied on Rabbi Goren’s halakhic inquiries with regards to areas permitted to enter.”

Some readers asked: On what basis can you say this? After all, it is well-known that Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah approved the warning of the Chief Rabbinate not to go up to the Temple Mount out of fear that people would enter the holy place without immersion in a mikveh.

Answer: What I wrote is based on study of his words. Here is what he wrote about the Temple Mount in a pronouncement from the 27th of Shvat 5737 (Feb.15, 1977):

“A clarification regarding Har Habayit – the enormous halakhic prohibition of entering [Har Habayit] because we are still, according to halakha, in a state of impurity, does not pertain, harm, or detract even in the slightest, the importance of our proprietary ownership over that area of the glorious, holy place. Our Chief of Staff, Mr. Mordechai Gur, together and in assistance with our honorable teacher and guide, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, foremost of Israel’s rabbis, merited liberating this holy place from non-Jewish authority, and it also, as all parts of our holy Land, is in our possession and ownership. Under our possession and ownership, they [the Muslims] organize for themselves prayer arrangements on Fridays. Groups of our soldiers stationed there, guard and supervise them by order of our government. Even if we are careful not to enter there, according to the attributes of Jewish law, in spite of this, and for this reason, our ownership over the entire area remains unequivocally permanent and binding, and the existence of non-Jews there is only with our permission, and under no circumstances are they owners of this place.”(Le’Netivot Yisrael, chap.2, Beit El Edition, pg. 282).

From this we see that for him, sovereignty was the most important point, for indeed, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) requires that Eretz Yisrael be in our possession and not abandoned to other nations – how much more so is this true concerning the Temple Mount, which is the holiest place in all the Land of Israel. All the comments of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah were said during a time when Israeli sovereignty was clear and regulated, as is evident from the extent he went to specify the symbols of sovereignty and rule.

Had he heard that in the wake of Arab rioting and various pressures – from home and abroad – that the Israeli flag no longer flew over the Temple Mount, and that the regular police station was removed, and there is no longer a permanent military presence on the Mount, and that police and soldiers are not allowed to enter the mosque, and the Arabs are no longer just “organizing for themselves prayer arrangements on Fridays”, but rather from that very place, incitement against Israel spreads to the entire world, that Arab youths have the audacity to mock and curse policemen and soldiers, that the Arabs hold parties and soccer games there and bury their dead in a show of contempt for the State of Israel, and that all the Jews who go up to Har Habayit must enter with the permission of the Waqf and with their close escort, while Arab gangs curse and swear at them. If Rabbi Kook had heard all this, he would have fainted from distress, and supported all legitimate means within the framework of Jewish law to strengthen the sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

It can be further observed from the wording of the pronouncement Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah’s attitude towards Rav Goren and his halakhic authority, and from this I was able to draw the conclusion that he would rely on his inquiries of Jewish law concerning the Temple Mount.

The Words of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook

Some people base their argument against going up to Har Habayit on the words of Maran Rav Kook ztz”l, who, with regards to this issue, wrote: “One nick in the sanctity of our Holy Temple costs us more than all the millions of practical communities”.

To fully understand the story, it must first be said that it relates to a letter (#677) that Rav Kook wrote on the 26th of Adar 5674 (March 24, 1914) to Rabbi Jonathan Benjamin Halevi ish Horowitz, one of the organizers of the rabbis’ journey to the moshavot (colonies) in Eretz Yisrael, and afterwards, edited the booklet ‘Eleh Masa’ay‘ (“These are the Journeys”) to describe the journey of the rabbis. Rabbi Kook wrote the introduction to the booklet, accompanied by a letter requesting that if the author added certain details, that he not let his lament over the religious breaches of the early pioneers obscure the outstanding friendly atmosphere of the meeting with them, “because for sure, only in this way of holiness, in which the light of God’s kindness shines, is the path of truth, a Torah of life and the love of kindness, which God implanted within us.”

Rabbi Kook also expressed support for the proposal to add to the booklet the story of the journey of Baron Rothschild, “the famous philanthropist,” and his great support of the new settlements after his visit to the country in 1914, but expressed regret that the Baron had entered the place of the Temple. It should be noted that the Baron was a traditional Jew.

This is what Maran HaRav Kook wrote: “It is a very good idea to add anecdotes about the journey of the Baron. Although I am greatly disheartened because of the chilul Hashem (desecration of God) of his entering the place of the holy Temple, and moreover, that no one told him that it was forbidden. One nick in the sanctity of our Holy Temple costs us more than all the millions of practical communities.” In view of that, apparently one might have thought that the honor due the Baron would be null and void, and consequently, there was no point in telling the praises of his journey. However, Rabbi Kook wrote further: “And although after all of this, nevertheless, he has not lost his great importance as the founder of the settlements, for perhaps it happened accidently, or he’s someone for whom everything happens inadvertently – the good Lord will atone, and take the good.” According to this, it is understandable why he agreed that “it was very good to add anecdotes about the Baron’s journey.”

A Prohibition Cannot be Learned from his Words

However, the prohibition of going up to Har Habayit after immersion in a mikveh cannot be learned from his words, for the Baron ascended the Temple Mount to the site of the Temple itself, without immersing in a mikveh, while those who go up to Har Habayit in purity are careful to first immerse in a mikveh, and following this, only enter the machaneh leviah, and not the site of the Temple, which is forbidden to enter even after immersion. We find, therefore, that their ascending Har Habayit carries no fear of transgressing a prohibition, and they are not rendering themselves defective at all, rather, the opposite is true.

Moreover, it is important to know that in the Torah we have both positive and negative commandments. There are some people who are fearful (in Hebrew, haredim) to keep the Torah because of the issurim (prohibitions), but are not so fearful about being inactive in fulfilling the positive mitzvoth. Therefore, in their opinion, as long as there is a distant fear that a Jew might ascend Har Habayit in contradiction to halakha, it is forbidden for all religious Jews to go up there. And even though they are told that secular Jews enter the site of the Temple in impurity in any case, and precisely upon seeing religious people who are careful about these matters, some of them join-up and are also cautious – still, their hearts remain full of fears and anxiety. But the main problem is that they have no fear of cancelling the positive mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), whose primary point is that Eretz Yisrael be in our possession, and not abandoned to other nations. And it all depends on the site of the Temple, from which the holiness and sovereignty spreads to all parts of the Land of Israel. Not unlike our Sages criticism of King David, who conquered Syria before he conquered the Temple Mount, and therefore its occupation is considered an individual occupation, and Syria was not sanctified with the holiness of the mitzvoth ha’teluyot b’aretz (the commandments dependent on the Land).

Concerning this type of position, our Sages said: “Through the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas, our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves exiled from our land” (Gittin, 56a). Because he had numerous fears of prohibitions, but failed to fear about the destruction of the Temple.

And today, when we see how avoiding going up to Har Habayit seriously damages Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, anyone to whom the mitzvoth of the Torah are dear, must fight for the right of Jews to ascend Har Habayit.

The Rabbis who are Mistaken in the Issue of Kareth

And concerning the rabbis who condemn Jews that go up to the Temple Mount in purity of transgressing the prohibition of kareth (excision), there is one of two possibilities: either they forgot the halakha concerning Har Habayit and failed to see the difference between machaneh shechina and machaneh leviah, and also forgot that there are poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who permit entering the site of the Temple itself, so that even someone who enters it is a safek kareth (doubtful kareth).

Or, they ignore the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz, which obliges all of Israel to fight for the country, so that it is under our sovereignty. And this mitzvah is obligatory in all generations, let alone our generation, who possesses the power to fulfill the mitzvah. And as the Ramban wrote concerning the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, whose primary point is that it “be in our possession and not abandoned to other nations for all generations…” He further added that it is “a positive commandment for generations that obligates each individual, and even during the exile.” Thus, it is incumbent upon us to work towards realizing our sovereignty over the Temple Mount, not to abandon it to any foreign nation, let alone our enemies and seekers of our doom.

The Solution to the Problem of Security and Sovereignty

This week, in which we accompanied with terrible pain the holy Jews who were murdered as they were praying, we must realize that there is one solution to the problem of security and sovereignty – the return of the rule of law to the Temple Mount. To do this, we must restore the police station on Har Habayit, increase the military presence there, and stand firmly on maintaining all applicable laws.

Each building that was built without a permit should be destroyed. Any activity that deviates from prayer, its’ members should be arrested. Anyone who curses, riots, or incites against the State of Israel, Jews, or members of other religions – should be removed permanently from the Temple Mount. And this includes, of course, the preachers who arouse the hatred of Israel in their sermons.

As in the past, hopes that concessions made to appease our enemies would bring us peace and quiet were proven wrong. On the contrary, every concession invites even more brutal and murderous violence. In contrast, the more resolutely we demonstrate our sovereignty over the Temple Mount by maintaining the law strictly and opening Har Habayit to Jews, thus we will warrant more respect, tranquility and peace.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

The Chief Rabbi’s War on Har Habayit

The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Goren ztz’l, acted firmly and tirelessly to preserve Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount * In his book about the Temple Mount, he explained why it is imperative to move up from the Kotel, and pray on the Temple Mount * Rabbi Goren’s struggle against the decision of the Government and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to relinquish the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf * The politicians used the rabbi’s prohibition of entering the Temple Mount as a pretext to hand it over to the enemy * Blessed are those who go up to the Temple Mount according to Jewish law, for they strengthen our sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the entire Land of Israel


Rabbi Goren’s Decision to Print his Book about the Temple Mount

Next week on the 24th day of the Jewish month Mar Cheshvan (Monday) will be twenty years since the death of the Chief Rabbi of Israel, the Gaon, Rabbi Shlomo Goren ztz’l. In these days, when Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) is in the headlines, it is worth mentioning segments from his book “Har Habayit”, which he published a year before his death. In his book, he investigates in detail the site of the Mikdash (Holy Temple) and the azarot (Temple courtyards), areas that are forbidden to enter even after immersion in a mikveh (a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism),
and areas that are permitted to enter after immersion.

The time was the days of the second Rabin government, which conducted agreements with the PLO terrorist organization, and handed over parts of the Land of Israel to our enemies. In his introduction to the book he wrote: “Currently, when Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount is in danger, Mount Moriah is liable to become the subject of negotiation between us and the Arabs, and unfortunately, there are politicians who are willing to negotiate our sovereignty over the Temple Mount, relying on the alleged prohibition of the Chief Rabbinate to enter Har Habayit. This prohibition is liable to be used as an excuse to hand over the nation’s Kodesh ha’Kodashim (inner sanctum) to the Muslims. Therefore, I decided to publish the book now, from which it will be proven that there are large areas of the Temple Mount which all Jews are permitted to enter, according to all halakhic opinions, after immersion in a mikveh…”(p.15).

The Reasons for the ‘Heter

The Temple Mount is composed of two areas. The first, which is the smallest area, includes the site of the Holy Temple and the courtyards, and is called machaneh shechina (the inner azara), which nowadays is forbidden to enter because we cannot be cleansed from tumat met (defilement of the dead). The second area, which includes the majority of the Temple Mount, is called machaneh levia, and it is permitted to enter these areas today after immersion. Indeed, in the years preceding the establishment of the State of Israel the rabbis, including Rabbi Kook ztz’l, instructed not to enter the Temple Mount at all, for fear that people might go beyond the permitted areas and enter forbidden places.

Three factors prompted Rabbi Goren to permit going up to the majority of areas on the Temple Mount: 1) the precise mapping of the Temple Mount conducted by the I.D.F. Engineer Corps under his orders after the liberation of the Temple Mount; with these maps, it was possible to accurately determine which areas were permitted to enter according to all halakhic opinions. 2) The many testimonies that for more than a thousand years after the destruction of the Holy Temple, Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis) used to pray on the Temple Mount in the permitted areas. 3) The threat to Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount.

There is room to add that one of the motivations for placing the warning signs not to enter the Temple Mount might have been so as not to provoke the Muslims and leaders who ruled Israel at the time, and in events of riots, did not properly protect the Jews.

Lowering Ourselves to the Kotel – The Result of the Sufferings of Exile

Rabbi Goren wrote about his feelings after the Six Day War: “I could not escape the feeling that from a historic perspective, assigning the Western Wall plaza for Jewish prayer was nothing but the result of the expulsion of the Jews from the Temple Mount by the Crusaders and Muslims together. Thus, an intolerable situation was created in which even after our liberation of the Temple Mount, the Muslims remained on top of Har Habayit, and we were down below; they were inside, and we were outside. The prayers at the Western Wall are a symbol of destruction and exile, and not of liberation and redemption, because Jewish prayers at the Western Wall began only in the sixteenth century – before that, Jews prayed for centuries on the Temple Mount … only about three hundred years ago, the Jews began praying at the Western Wall. And this the proof: in every reference in the Midrash where it is mentioned that the shechina (Divine Presence) has not moved from the Western Wall, and learns this from the verse in Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs): ‘Behold! There he stands behind our wall’ – this refers to the western wall of the azara, or the wall of the heichal, in other words, the wall of the Kodesh HaKodashim, and not the wall of the Har Habayit, which we call the Western Wall”(pg. 26).

The Necessity to Ascend from the Western Wall to Har Habayit

However, the intensity of the minhag (custom) based on over three centuries was considerable, and therefore after the Six Day War, the public at large thronged to the Western Wall to pray. Rabbi Goren himself wrote that one of the things that prevented him from acting quickly to regulate the ascent of Jews to the Temple Mount was his being “bound by the ‘chains of love’ for the remnant of our Holy Temple, the Western Wall, where I used to pray every Shabbat, holiday, and Rosh Chodesh evenings. Since my first visit to the Western Wall (as a child), my love and emotional affinity for the Wailing Wall has not faded… “,”but our shout …Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord”… aroused him to become stronger and clarify the heter to ascend Har Habayit (pg. 14). Consequently, he began organizing prayers on the Temple Mount (ibid, pg. 27).

The Canceled Prayer

Before the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av in 1967, Rabbi Goren publicly announced a mass, gala prayer to be held on the Temple Mount in the areas where entrance was permitted after immersion. However, by the orders of Prime Minister and Defense Minister the prayer was canceled. A few days later, the ministerial committee decided that the Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff order the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F., Rabbi Goren, not to arrange any more prayers on the Temple Mount (pg. 29-30).

The Shock

The order shocked Rabbi Goren, and he tried everything within his power to cancel it, including writing a long and detailed letter to the ministerial committee, in which he argued: How is it possible that precisely in the holiest place for Jews, it is forbidden for them to pray?! True, there are a limited amount of areas in which entrance is forbidden according to the Torah for Jews and Gentiles alike, but entrance to the majority of the Temple Mount is permitted. Towards the end of his letter, he called out: “Distinguished men! Save the Holy of Holies of the Jewish nation; do not hand over the Temple Mount to those who defile it …” (pp 30-33).

The Defense Minister

Unfortunately, Rabbi Goren’s call went unanswered. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan decided to transfer the responsibility for managing the Temple Mount arrangements to the Waqf, and ordered the Military Rabbinate to evacuate Har Habayit, and not to interfere in matters concerning the Temple Mount any more. Rabbi Goren responded with “rage and sorrow”, informing the Defense Minister that “this, God forbid, could lead to the destruction of the Third Temple, for the key to our sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza is the Temple Mount” (page 34).


Nevertheless, the Defense Minister implemented one of the most shameful acts in the history of Israel, and handed over the affairs of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf. For many years it was known that Moshe Dayan had both a dark and a light side jumbled together. On the one hand, he was a Jewish military hero, but on the other hand, an adulterer and a thief. Apparently, his adultery and thievery tipped the scales against him. That is when he began to lose his public status. His name will be remembered in infamy.


Still, when the Muslims closed the Mughrabi Gate to prevent Jews from entering the Temple Mount, at the request of Rabbi Goren, the I.D.F. broke through the gate to ensure free entry for Jews, thereby expressing sovereignty over the Temple Mount. However, this act did not change the order prohibiting Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Goren goes on to relate: “Whenever I warned about handing over of the Holy of Holies of the Jewish nation to the Waqf, the response of consecutive Prime Ministers was: ‘Look, in any case the Chief Rabbinate forbids Jews from ascending the Temple Mount, and we are prohibited from praying there.” As a result, he decided to write the book and explain the ways, places, and conditions under which it is permitted to enter the Temple Mount (pg. 35). Consequently “we must utilize to the fullest all sides of the heter, so we can demonstrate continuous Jewish presence there, and maintain Jewish sovereignty over the Mount, like the apple of our eyes” (pg. 46).

The Chief Rabbinate’s Sign

It has been claimed that during his tenure as Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Goren agreed to the prohibition of entering the Temple Mount, but this is not true. In the introduction to his book, he wrote: “During my tenure as Chief Rabbi of Israel, I brought a proposal to the Council of the Chief Rabbinate to remove the signs banning entrance to the Temple Mount as determined by the previous Chief Rabbis. Because there were a few members on the Council who had signed on the ban at the time, they requested delaying the decision to remove the signs prohibiting going up to Har Habayit until after I published the book …” For various reasons, the books’ publication was delayed, and the signs remained in place, “which, in effect, led to the handing over of Har Habayit to the Muslim Waqf” (ibid pg. 35).

Desecration of the Holy

Moreover, he wrote: “This shameful situation, where under Israeli rule a Jew does not have the right to pray on the mountain of God, cannot be tolerated under any circumstances. The debate over where it is permitted according to Jewish law to go on the Temple Mount, or where it is forbidden, has nothing to do with the government … These sacred places are not the private property of the Muslim Waqf, whose members have always been a source of bitterness and poison for the Jews, with their incitement from within the mosques on the Temple Mount to slaughter the Jews… had they closed the Temple Mount to Jews and non-Jews alike, I would have kept quiet, but to allow the Arabs to do there as they please while Jews are forbidden to even open up a Book of Psalms and pour out their hearts before the Creator of the world – this is a religious, historical, and legal scandal – nothing short of blasphemy! “(pg. 41).

He further added (pg. 42) that by abstaining from going up to the Temple Mount, the Torah prohibition of ‘lo techonem‘ (‘nor be gracious to them’), which may also be rendered ‘do not allow them to settle on the soil’ (Avoda Zara 20a) is transgressed, seeing as the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) have already established that the loss of sovereignty is similar to destruction (B.Y. and M.A., O.C. 561:1). Thus, when the government forbids Jews to go up freely, it destroys the place of our Holy Temple yet again.

The Words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook

Some people believe that our teacher and guide, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, agreed with the poskim who prohibited going up to Har Habayit. But in my humble opinion, it seems that had he saw that the over- cautiousness of going up to Har Habayit would result in the loss of sovereignty and turning the Temple Mount into a focal point of hatred against Israel – he would have agreed with Rabbi Goren that it is permitted and a mitzvah to go up. In addition, in my humble opinion, he would have trusted Rabbi Goren’s halakhic inquiries in regards to the areas permitted to enter.

Blessed are Those Who Ascend the Temple Mount

The continuation of the disgraceful situation on the Temple Mount brings our enemies hope, and motivates them to kill and riot throughout the country. In order to suppress the wave of terrorism and incitement from its roots, the government and the police must assert Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount in the most decisive manner.

Blessed are those who go up to Har Habayit according to halakha. Thanks to them, our sovereignty over the Temple Mount and all of the Land of Israel becomes clearer, and precisely as a result of this, we will merit security and peace.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

 Break Free from Materialism

The inhabitants of Sodom worshiped material wealth, and anyone who gave charity to the poor was considered a heretic * The pursuit of materialism is never satisfied * Today as well, some people value a person according to his wealth * The price paid by society for worshipping the rich * For those enslaved to materialism, their salaries will never be enough to cover their expenses * The solution is to break free from enslavement to materialism and live a more spiritual life; but to do so, a supportive environment is also needed  * A story of kindness, hospitality and the joy of Sukkot

The Sin of the People of Sodom – Materialism

The sin of Sodomites was that they believed materialism was man’s goal in life. They worshipped the material, offered sacrifices to it, and all their laws were designed for its sake. The life of the wealthy was considered valuable in their eyes, and therefore, it was only fitting for them to earn more and get richer. On the other hand, the life of the poor was considered valueless, and as a result, they made ​​sure the poor would die, or at the very least, disappear from their country. Consequently, anyone who gave charity to the poor was severely punished, and considered a heretic and a defiant against the gods of their money and gold.

In contrast to Avraham Avinu who would seek out guests, the people of Sodom said: “Who needs these strangers? They come only to take our money.” They decreed not to host any more guests, and if by chance a wealthy passerby was found within their midst, they would find a legal pretext to kill him and take his money, as they sought to do to the angels who came to visit Lot (see, Sanhedrin 109 a-b).

‘And Yet the Soul is not filled’

However, no matter how rich a person is – how much clothing, furniture, houses or cars he buys – his life will not be any better. His inner longing is for a life rich in spirituality and values. On the contrary, the pursuit after the incorrect challenge, which does not lead to true satisfaction, will only make his life hollower. The subsequent destruction of Sodom expressed the true reality of those whose entire lives revolve around materialism – they have no soul and perish; even the ground they leave behind remains desolate.

The Dross of Sodom in Our Days

In this day and age, after the values of the Bible have spread throughout the world, there are virtually no wicked people who would dare make vicious declarations like the people of Sodom, but a lot of residue from the Sodomites still remains. Many people believe that a person’s worth is measured according to his wealth, the house he lives in, the car he drives, and the brand-name clothing he wears. Flocks of sycophants and admirers surround the rich. The media covers their glittering events in detail – as  if that is the real life. Most of our elected officials worship them as well.

In the end, when the affluent damage natural resources and public interests, or oppress their employees – few dare to stand up against them. This is how they are able to purchase state-owned companies for a quarter of the price, create cartels, prevent fair competition, raise prices, and continue to get rich at the expense of the general public. That’s the price that the public pays for their stupidity of worshiping tycoons.

Living in Overdraft

A lot of people say: ‘We don’t revere wealthy people, and don’t judge a person by his income level’,  but nevertheless, they also are enslaved to the culture of materialism: the fact is, that at the end of the month, their bank accounts are overdrawn. They feel they need to constantly buy things, and no matter how much money they earn – they will always find reasons to spend all the money in their possession. When they made seven thousand shekels, they thought that if they could only make eight thousand, they would be satisfied. But lo and behold, when they make ten thousand shekels, they claim they need another two thousand a month; and even when their income rises to 15,000 shekels a month, it turns out they need more.

Life that revolves around materialism creates a sense of emptiness and a incompleteness. 

The Solution: Living a Life of Spirituality

The solution to this problem is understanding that man’s true purpose is spiritual. Money and possessions are important tools to assist a life of spirituality, but they are not the objective. When a person is constantly engaged with his money and possessions, he turns everything upside down. The tools become his goal, and as a result, his life does not have true meaning.

If he’s able to make an honest reckoning, he will realize that most of his money he spent on luxuries – and  neglected the important things. He didn’t invest enough in enlarging his family and providing a proper education for his children, and did not leave himself time to learn and do good deeds.


The problem is that even someone who manages to fill his life with spiritual content, enjoys learning, is happy to help friends, contributes to society and participates in the settlement of the Land of Israel – against his will, he is influenced by the materialistic culture surrounding him that dictates a standard of living in which a person who is unable to attain it, feels poor.

Society imposes too high a level of housing, and even in the field of religious education – society dictates excessively high costs. Only a society which sets for itself value-based ideals can create a solution to this problem. One of the principles that should guide such a society is that someone who earns a minimum wage should be able to live reasonably, without requiring charity and goodwill.

It doesn’t make sense that in a generation such as ours, in which the standard of living has risen remarkably, and even people who earn the minimum wage can live as the rich did fifty years ago, there are so many people who feel they cannot buy a house, raise children, and provide them with a quality education.

In order to completely break free from the bondage of materialism, it is necessary to build a society which places its spiritual values ​​in the forefront; a society which understands the great importance of the material as a tool, but does not turn it into a value that shoves aside and stifles spiritual values. This is the mission that was placed on the Nation of Israel to be an Am Segula(Chosen People), to reveal the Divine Presence in the world, and to be a role model for all nations – ‘until the earth is filled with the knowledge of Hashem as the waters cover the sea.’

A Story

On the Shabbat in which we learn about themitzvah of hachnasat orchim (hospitality), I thought to add a nice story about it.

My wife, Rabbanit Inbal, initiated a nice custom in the community of Har Bracha. On Chol HaMoed Sukkot, the women gather for a holiday party, and anyone who has a nice, enriching story about something that happened during the chag(holiday) or throughout the year, shares it with her friends. Not by chance the holiday of Sukkot was chosen for this party, because Sukkot is the festival of harvesting, where we gather all the good things that happened to us during the year, and therefore, it is a particularly joyous holiday.

The women relate exceptionally beautiful stories, and within a few days, the men in the community also hear about the interesting stories, and pass them on.

This year, a woman in her thirties related the following story: “My father passed away 15 years ago, about a month after the holiday of Sukkot, which he loved dearly. Since then, my siblings and I have tried to fill our mother’s void. My older married sisters always invited my mother to stay with them, but she preferred to stay at home. Being the youngest daughter in the family, I was left with my mother to celebrate the holiday at home. In order to fulfill the mitzvah of eating in the sukkah, we would go to the nearby synagogue sukkah on the holiday and Shabbat. After I got married, just like my sisters, I would continue the customary routine of inviting my mother to stay with us for chag, but as usual, she refused. So it was the case this year, as well.

As the youngest daughter, I did not feel it was my responsibility to try and change her minhag, but after lighting the holiday candles, my heart was flooded with feelings of grief. On the one hand, it is a mitzvah to be happy on the chag, but on the other hand, my thoughts drifted to my mother who was home all alone. Before my husband returned from prayers, I sat down and read the article by Rabbi Melamed in his column ‘Revivim’, which, among other things, dealt with our enormous mitzvah to cheer orphans and widows, and that hosting them in the sukkah is the true fulfillment of the mitzvah of ushpizin (a custom of “inviting” one of seven “exalted guests” into the sukkah).

I discussed this with my husband and we decidedwe would make every effort to invite my mother for Shabbat Chol HaMoed, so she could celebrate with us in our sukkah. We realized that what may have prevented her from coming were the difficulties of traveling, and also the problem of leaving her two best friends. These are two neighbors and good friends whom I’ve known since childhood, and are also widows. One is over the age of 80, and the other is in her 60’s, and was recently widowed. The three of them support each other, and eat most of the Shabbat meals together.

Immediately after Motzei Chag  (the conclusion of the first holiday), I called my mother and invited her and her friends for Shabbat, and I told her that in order to prevent the trouble of travelling for them, I would come pick them up by car, and take them back on Saturday night. My mother tried to dissuade me from my decision because of the difficulty of the trip and the hassle of preparing for Shabbat in one day (the Chag was on Thursday) – in addition to taking care of my young children. However, I remained steadfast in my decision. She admired this very much, and after realizing I was serious about inviting her two neighbors she was pleased, and agreed to pass on the invitation to both of them. Her friends were also very happy, and before long, she announced that they would be coming. My husband and I immediately began organizing the house and the cooking, so that the Shabbat would be full of joy and delicacies, with all the customary salads and dishes of immigrants from Morocco. On Friday morning we continued with the numerous preparations, and in the afternoon, I left my husband and kids, and went to pick them up.

Even as I arrived at my mother’s house, the women’s excitement and great joy was evident. The closer we got to Har Bracha, the joy and happiness grew, as they gazed at the landscape of Samaria and could not stop admiring the mountains and the Jewish settlements appearing along the way, happily looking forward to sharing Shabbat with us.

We got home, and rushed to finish the preparations for Shabbat. Candle lighting arrived, Shabbat entered, and with it, serenity, warmth and love that that enveloped us all together.

Throughout Shabbat, they were amazed by everything – by the scenery, by the fresh mountain air, by our children who were also excited to have them as guests, by the smell of the cooking, and by the amity between neighbors. In the morning I lingered in bed for a while, and all of a sudden, I heard the guests talking to each other in the living room, amazed at the peace and quiet, and that they were able to get a full night’s sleep. One of them said: ‘In my house, I always wake up at four in the morning, and here, in the quiet of the community, I slept till seven.’

To honor them, my husband took them to the Moroccan minyan in the  Yeshiva (instead of his usual Yerushalmi minyan), and they were so overwhelmed by the exact style of the prayers, and by the nice young boy who sang along with Cantor; they said that for decades, they had not heard such beautiful prayers – exactly like they had heard in their childhood – and this, despite the fact that they pray in a Moroccan synagogue every Shabbat.

When Shabbat was over, they could not stop praising the excellent atmosphere. Thus, they drove back with my husband, who they could not stop blessing all the way home, as well. They of course did not forget to tell everyone, their children and family members, about the joyous Shabbat they had.

After Shabbat departed, we were overjoyed by the great privilege we were so fortunate to have had. And without a doubt – more than we benefited from pleasing them – they pleased us.”

This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.


The Laws of ‘Brit Mila’

The First Commandment 

It is no coincidence that the very first commandment that the first  Jew in history was commanded to fulfill was the commandment of  religious circumcision, or in Hebrew, “brit milah.” This fact tells us something  about the value of this particular precept. And though the commandment  to procreate is mentioned in the Torah before the commandment of  circumcision, it is not directed specifically at the People of Israel;  rather, the injunction to procreate includes all of the living  creatures in the world – man, animals, and fish. The commandment  of circumcision, though, is the first commandment directed  specifically toward the Jewish people. And just as the first  commandment which our patriarch Abraham fulfilled was that of  circumcision, so too, the first commandment that each and every Jewish male  who reaches the tender age of eight days old fulfills is that of  circumcision. Indeed, this obligation symbolizes, more than any other  religious duty, the eternal bond between the Jewish People and their  God, a bond which is sealed upon a Jew’s very flesh. 

Through the commandment of circumcision we proclaim that it is not easy to  be Jewish. One must pay with his very blood for being Jewish, as the  verse which we recite in the course of the circumcision ceremony  states: “Through your blood shall you live” (Ezekiel 16:6). The mighty  task which Israel took upon itself is to reveal to a world full of darkness  and heresy, that there is a Creator and Overseer; to inform the  cruel and destructive nations that the true purpose of life is  to pursue kindness and show benevolence, and to lead a life of purity  and morality in a world of lies and hypocrisy. Accomplishing all of  this is no easy task. It is a job which will not be concluded until the  world is completely rectified – and the road is full of hardships and sacrifice. The act of removing the foreskin, which symbolizes the moral defect that attached itself to the world,  involves blood and pain – but there is no other path. For the only  other alternative would be to compromise and to become demoralized in  the impurity of the cruel and destructive nations, hence losing  our special value and national identity. 

From every page in the history of the Jewish people, from the  destruction of the Temple until the Holocaust, we learn that our  mission is a difficult one involving genuine self-sacrifice. This is  our destiny and responsibility. 

By way of ‘brit mila’ we declare to the entire world that we, the Jewish  people, continue to be firm in our faith and ready to sacrifice  ourselves until we have reached the fulfillment of all of our  upright and just aspirations. 

The Most Important Commandment 

The classic code of Jewish Law, the “Shulchan Arukh,” dedicates an  entire chapter to clarifying and emphasizing the fact that the  commandment of ‘brit milah’ is the most important of all practical,  positive commandments. Generally, each chapter of the “Shulchan Arukh”  is made up of a number of subdivisions, but chapter 260 of Yoreh Deah  contains only one law, which is entirely dedicated to emphasizing the  importance of ‘brit milah.’ And this is what is written there: “It is  a positive commandment for the father to circumcise his son, and this  commandment is of greater importance than all other positive  commandments.” 

It is no coincidence that this particular commandment is embellished  with great adornment by all Jews, regardless of affiliation to  movement or organization. Even if the Jew’s natural bond to some of  the commandments has been weakened, when it comes to ‘brit milah’ there is  a general consensus. This agreement is equivalent to the testimony of  a hundred witnesses regarding the true feeling of each Jew regarding  Jewish faith and the Torah. Incidentally, there are a number of other  central commandments regarding which there is wide general acceptance  among Jews. For example: love for one’s fellow, honoring parents,  honesty, the saving of life, and settlement of the Land of Israel. In  fact, if one takes into consideration the entire Torah and its 613  commandments, one finds that there is no clear line dividing  “religious” and “secular” Jews. In practice, there are many non-  observant Jews who fulfill abundant Torah commandments with great  adoration, while there are those who are termed “religious,” who,  in fact, fail to perform many of the commandments. However, the  precept of ‘brit milah’ is undoubtedly the most widely embraced of the  commandments, for more than any other ritual, it gives expression  to a sense of belonging to the Jewish people – the nation which has  been chosen for the task of revealing Divine ideals in the world. 

Yet, despite the great importance of this commandment, one must be  aware of the fact that a Jew is one whose mother is Jewish; and even  if he is not circumcised and he does not appear to be Jewish, if his  mother is Jewish, he too is Jewish. It is important for us to remember  this fact, for, lately, many uncircumcised Jews have been immigrating  to Israel, and there are some who mistakenly claim that any Jew who  has not been circumcised is like a non-Jew, and must convert in order  to join the Jewish people. The fact of the matter is that whoever was  born to a Jewish mother, or converted to Judaism according to Jewish  law, is Jewish. Judaism begins from the soul, from the fact that the  Almighty chose us from among all the nations and infused us with a  soul capable of giving expression to the Divine values of the Torah in  the world. The commandments are the instruments and the means through  which Judaism appears in the world, and the first of these  commandments is that of ‘brit milah.’ One who does not fulfill Torah  commandments fails to reveal and express the hallowed  Jewish soul within him. 

All of this is true regarding one who was born to a Jewish mother. A  non-Jew, though, who desires to join the Jewish people through  conversion, and thus establish a new Halakhic fact – i.e., that from  this time onward his offspring will be members of the Jewish people –  must accept upon himself the responsibility of fulfilling all of the  commandments. Our Sages teach that the ultimate source of the soul a  non-Jew who takes upon himself to convert to Judaism, is in fact  Jewish; yet, in order to get to this source, the convert must accept  upon himself to fulfill all of the commandments. In other words, one  who was born Jewish possesses a Jewish soul, and even if he does not  observe the commandments, his spiritual nature does not change; but,  regarding a convert, only the foundation of his soul is Jewish, and,  therefore, only by formally accepting upon himself the commandments  can a Jewish soul reside within him. True, these matters cannot be  proven scientifically, but I believe that a broad and all-encompassing  examination of the history of the Jewish people and of those converts  who did not earnestly accept upon themselves the Torah commandments  can help us understand these profound ideas. 

Abraham’s Offspring


Regarding the question of the circumcision of Abraham’s other children  besides Isaac, we find an interesting discrepancy among the early  authorities of Jewish law. When it comes to the rest of the nations of  the world there is agreement among rabbinic arbiters that they should  not be circumcised, for circumcision is a commandment incumbent upon the  children of Abraham alone. The source of this obligation lies in the  verse, “And you must keep my covenant (“brit”); you and your seed  after you for all generations” (Genesis 17:9). And our Sages of the  Talmud explain that the intention here is to Abraham’s seed alone –  “you and your seed” but not other people. Ishmael is not considered  the seed of Abraham, for it is written elsewhere (Genesis 21:12): “It  is through Isaac that you will gain posterity.” Esau, the son of  Isaac, is also not considered the seed of Abraham, for it is written,  “It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity” – of Isaac, but not  all of Isaac’s seed. In other words, only a portion of Isaac’s seed is  called the “seed of Abraham,” and that is the portion which was born  of the offspring of Jacob, and they are the ones commanded to fulfill  the commandment of ‘brit milah.’ 

Yet, because Abraham had other children besides Isaac and Ishmael – as  it is written, after the death of our Matriarch Sarah (Genesis 25:1):  “And Abraham married another woman whose name was Keturah,” and she  bore him six children – it is necessary to clarify the law regarding  them. According to Rashi (Sanhedrin 59b), even though all of Abraham’s  sons were commanded to perform circumcision, their sons – that is, the  offspring of Abraham’s additional children – are not bound by this  commandment, and it belongs solely to the Jews. 

According to the Rambam, though, Ishmael’s offspring was freed from  this commandment because the verse “It is through Isaac that you will  gain posterity” removes the seed of Ishmael from the category of  Abraham’s seed. The offspring of Keturah, though, had not yet been  born at the time when that verse was stated to Abraham. Concerning  them, then, there is no indication in the scriptures that they are to  be separated from Abraham’s seed. Therefore, even though they are  not Jews – for they are not progeny of the Patriarchs Isaac and Jacob  – they are none the less obligated to perform circumcision as the seed  of Abraham. Rambam also rules that, because the offspring of Keturah  have in the meantime become intermixed with the offspring of Ishmael,  and Keturah constitutes the majority, all of them are bound by this  commandment (Hilkhot Melakhim 10:8). 

It is worth mentioning here that there is a unique bond between the  statute of ‘brit milah’ and the Land of Israel, to the point where it  is an historical fact that nations which are not circumcised are not  capable of settling the Land of Israel. Our Sages even teach (Zohar  vol. 2, 23:1) that whoever is circumcised can inherit the land.  Indeed, in the days of Joshua, before the Children of Israel began  their conquest of Israel, all of the men who had not yet performed  ‘brit milah’ were called upon to do so. Only after this were the Israelites able to conquer the land. In addition, our Sages foresaw long ago that the Ishmaelites would gain control of the  Holy Land for an extended period of time, while the land was barren  and desolate. The reason for this is that the Ishmaelites practice  circumcision, and our Sages said they will therefore succeed in  delaying the return of Israel to its land. But because their ‘milah’  is itself “desolate”, i.e., worthless and defective (they do not  circumcise on the eighth day, and they also do not remove the thin  layer of skin, and whoever circumcises without removing the membrane  of the corona, it is as if he did not circumcise whatsoever. Therefore the Land  of Israel will remain barren and desolate while in their possession,  and in the end, the Land of Israel will become the possession of the  People of Israel. 

Removal of the Foreskin


When it comes to the commandment of ‘brit milah’ there arises a  justified question: Who are we to make adjustments which run counter  to nature? If man is born naturally with a foreskin, is it not best to  simply leave things as they are? And if the foreskin is so abhorrent  that God himself desires that we remove it, why did He create it to  begin with?  The truth of the matter is that this question was already asked ages  ago by the Rabbis of the Midrash (see Midrash Tanchuma, Tazriah 5):  Turnus Rufus, the wicked Roman general once challenged Rabbi Akiva,  asking him: “If the Almighty God so desires circumcision, why does the  newborn not enter the world already circumcised?” The Talmud also  tells us that on another occasion Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva a  similar question (Bava Batra 10a): “If the Almighty loves the poor –  for we see that he has commanded to give them charity – why does He  not provide for them Himself?” To this Rabbi Akiva responded that the  Almighty does not provide for them, in order that we ourselves are  allowed to merit fulfilling the commandment. In other words, certainly  God can provide for the poor, but He created the world with deficiency  so that man is granted the privilege of taking part in the perfection  of creation. The same is true regarding the foreskin. Certainly God  could have created man circumcised, without foreskin, and without any  evil inclinations, but this was not God’s desire in creating man in  His image. The desire was for man to be God’s partner in the creation  of the world. 

This is why the Creator left part of the creation incomplete – in  order that we complete the work. And in order to complete it, one must also  perform kind deeds like giving charity, and driving away the negative  tendencies in man’s nature. 

The foreskin represents the undesirable aspects of man’s nature. The  foreskin, which is skin that the body has no need for, represents  indulgence rather than necessity, the fleeting appetite which leaves  only a bad taste in its wake. It is the opposite of true love, which  constitutes the foundation of life. Removing the foreskin initiates a  process of individual refinement, and with the beginning of this  process a covenant is forged between the newborn child and the eternal  nation. The Jewish nation is forever being refined and made pure, and  together with it, the entire universe. 

On the Eighth Day – Even on Sabbath 

It is written in the Torah (Leviticus 12:3): “On the eighth day, the  child’s foreskin shall be circumcised.” The Torah says that the  commandment to circumcise the child must be carried out on the eighth  day, no sooner, and no later. And it is so important that the brit take  place on the eighth day that even if the eighth day falls on the  Sabbath, the brit supersedes the day of rest, and the circumcision is  performed. This is how it is done: Whatever is needed for the brit  milah must be prepared before the Sabbath, while the milah itself is  carried out on the Sabbath, for the Torah commands us to circumcise on  the eighth day even if it falls on the Sabbath. And clearly the brit  should not be delayed for other reasons, for example, in order to  allow relatives to arrive. Indeed, even if the father himself is  abroad, the brit must go ahead without him. 

Regarding the eighth day, Rabbi Yehudah Loew, the Maharal of Prague,  explains that the nature of the physical world is such that it lacks  perfection. It is limited and deficient. In order to attain the  spiritual level which suits the nature of our soul, we must perfect  it. This is the role of the brit mila. And it must necessarily be  performed on the eighth day, because, seeing as the world was created in  seven days, the natural world is characterized by the number seven.  After this, on the eighth day, we ascend to a level beyond nature. 

There is one reason alone for which we postpone the brit: illness of  the baby. In this regard we are very cautious. And if there is even  the slightest suspicion of endangerment to the baby’s life, the brit  must be postponed until the complete recovery of the baby. Under no  circumstances is it permitted to attempt to be stringent in this  matter. According to the Shulchan Arukh, one must be very cautious in  these matters, for it is forbidden to circumcise a baby who is  suspected of being ill, because protecting life takes precedence over  all. It is possible to circumcise the baby at some later date, but it  is impossible to ever replace even a single Jewish soul (Shulchan  Arukh, Yoreh Deah 263:1). 

In the event of a delayed Brit Mila due to danger, one waits until the  baby has healed completely. If the illness has taken hold of the  baby’s entire body, one must wait seven days after recovery before  performing the circumcision and then go ahead with the brit  immediately (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 262:2). In the case of a  postponed brit which falls on the Sabbath, it is delayed until Sunday,  for only a brit which is performed in its proper time – i.e., on the  eighth day – takes precedence over the Sabbath. A brit which has at  any rate been postponed does not override the Sabbath (Shulchan Arukh,  Yoreh Deah 266:2). 

This article was taken from Rabbi Melamed’s series of Jewish law books “Peninei Halakha”, and translated from Hebrew.  

Abortion of Fetuses with Severe Abnormalities in Jewish Law

A fetus is considered a living entity in regards to certain laws, but there is no penalty of death for taking its life * Is the prohibition of aborting a fetus derived from the severe prohibition of murder, or the prohibition of causing unnecessary physical harm to the human body? * The dispute among contemporary poskim (Jewish law arbiters) about whether it is permitted to abort a fetus suffering from serious illnesses * The opinion of those poskim who hold that abortion is permitted only when the mother’s life is in danger * The opinion of poskim who hold that abortion is forbidden because of the prohibition of causing unnecessary physical harm to the human body, and consequently, if the fetus has a severe defect, abortion is permitted * The instruction of the former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira to publicize the opinion of the lenient poskim * In practice, it is proper to be lenient * An account of how our teacher and guide, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook ztz”l, instructed to be lenient

Is it Permissible to Abort a Fetus Suffering from Severe Defects?

One of the difficult questions in Jewish law is when, during pregnancy, it becomes evident that a fetus suffers from severe defects: Is it permitted to terminate the pregnancy? In the past, such a question did not exist, because there was no way of checking the condition of the fetus. Yet, infants who suffered from significant defects usually died in infancy or childhood, since infant and child mortality was extremely high, and even among healthy children, over fifty percent of them did not reach their teens.

The Fetuses’ In-between Status

On the one hand, clearly it is forbidden to kill a fetus or cause it to die. Moreover, we are even commanded to desecrate the Sabbath in order to save a fetus – even if it has not yet reached the age of forty days. This is because the fetus will eventually become a living person, and as our Sages said (Yoma 85b), “Profane for his sake one Sabbath, so that he may keep many Sabbaths” (Bahag, Ramban, Peninei Halakha:Shabbat 27:3).

On the other hand, as long as the fetus is still in its mother’s womb, it does not have the din (legal status) of a living person, and therefore, although someone who kills a human being is deserving of death, one who kills a fetus is not. And since the fetus is not considered to be a living person, it does not have the right of inheritance as does a child already born, it is not defiled by the dead, and only from the moment of birth is it considered to be a human being (Nida 44a,b).

The Source for the Prohibition of Abortion

We learned in this week’s Torah portion: “He who spills human blood shall have his own blood spilled by man (in Hebrew, ‘ha’adam b’adam‘, literally, ‘the person within a person’), for God made man with His own image” (Genesis 9:6). From this verse, Rabbi Ishmael interpreted in a homiletic manner: Who is the person within a person? – This refers to a fetus, and one who kills it also deserves death (Sanhedrin 57b; Rambam Laws of Kings 9:4. It is important to note that the penalty of death referred to is only for B’nei Noah, in similar respect to a Ben Noah who steals a pruta (penny) is deserving of the death penalty; rather, this is the maximum punishment intended for deterrence, and is subject to the decision of the legal system of any given nation).

Nevertheless, the question is: What is the foundation of the prohibition of abortion? Is it because of murder, or the prohibition of chabalah (causing unnecessary physical harm to the human body)? Seemingly, the fact that the prohibition was mentioned in conjunction with the prohibition of murder means it is a derivative of murder. On the other hand, since the killing of a fetus had to be learned from a homiletic interpretation seemingly means that without this interpretation, we would not know that it is forbidden to kill a fetus, and hence, the prohibition of abortion is derived solely from the prohibition of causing unnecessary physical harm to the human body. Additionally, we have learned in the Torah (Exodus 21:22) that a person who arms a pregnant woman and causes her to miscarry is obligated to pay damages, implying that abortion is not considered murder.

The Stringent Opinion

In the opinion of Rabbi Unterman and Rabbi Feinstein abortion is forbidden indeed because of murder, and consequently, under no circumstances can a fetus be aborted, even if it is suffering from the most severe illnesses. Only in a situation when the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother is an abortion permitted, because her life takes precedence over the life of the fetus.

Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) instructed to forbid abortions because of the seriousness of the matter and the value of human life, but did not regard abortion as actual murder. This was the instruction of Rabbi Auerbach and Rabbi Elyashiv (Nishmat Avraham, Choshen Mishpat 425, 1:1).

In a similar manner, in the responsa ‘Shevet Halevi’ (7,208; 9, 266), Rabbi Wosner rejected the words of those who believe that abortion is forbidden because of the prohibition of murder, but nevertheless, permitted abortion only in a situation of safek nefashot (possible danger to life).

Some poskim were machmir (stringent) because they took something else into consideration – the difficulty of trusting doctors, who often assert that the fetus is deformed, but in the end, a healthy baby is born. This was the inclination of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Yebiah Omer, section 4, E.H. 1), since it is a safek issur d’oreita (a possible Torah
prohibition), and it is difficult to trust doctors.

The Lenient Opinion

Many poskim believe that abortion is forbidden because of the prohibition of causing unnecessary physical harm to the human body and hashchata (wanton destruction). So is it written the responsa ‘Maharit’ (1, 97) and responsa’ Chavot Yair’. Accordingly, in severe cases and to avoid great sorrow – there is room to consider permitting an abortion.

In the responsa ‘Rav Pealim’, the Ben Ish Chai was asked about a case of an ubar mamzer (a fetus conceived from a forbidden relation) in its fifth month – can it be aborted? He did not want to reply with an unequivocal ruling, but rather summarized for the rabbi who asked, that in the opinion of Chavot Yair, when there is no great need it is forbidden l’chatchila (from the outset). And in the opinion of Maharit (1, 97), abortion is prohibited because of chabalah, and is permitted when necessary. Apparently from his words, he was inclined to be lenient. And in the responsa ‘She’elat Yavetz’ (1, 43), Rabbi Emden permitted the abortion an ubar mamzer.

The responsa ‘Chesed Me’Lublin’ (E.H.) concluded that there is a difference of opinion among the Rishonim whether the prohibition of abortion is from the Torah or of rabbinic stature, and if in the opinion of those who believe it is from the Torah, it is permitted to abort in a case of a mother’s great need, even if there is no mortal danger.

In the responsa ‘Mishpatei Uziel’ (section 4, Choshen Mishpat 44), the question was asked about a woman who, in the opinion of the doctors, if allowed to continue her pregnancy would become deaf, and Rabbi Uziel answered that since deafness is a considerable impairment, she is allowed to abort.

And in the responsa ‘Seridei Aish’ (Choshen Mishpat 162), Rabbi Weinberg inclined to be lenient according to the opinion of the majority of Rishonim, that abortion is not considered murder, because the fetus is not yet considered a person.

Our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli (Amud HaYemini 32), also wrote in a similar manner. And this was also the instruction of Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg in his responsa ‘Tzitz Eliezer’ (chapter 9, 51, 3:3, and many other places), while basing his remarks on a broad and thorough discussion of all aspects of the matter.

The Reason for Past Conclusions

Some twenty-five years ago my sister, who worked as a nurse at Shaare Zedek Hospital, told me that majority of Jewish babies who were born with Down’s syndrome and other far more severe defects came from religiously observant families. This was because the public is unaware that there are poskim who are lenient regarding having an abortion in cases of illness, and consequently, many women do not perform tests while pregnant. And even for a woman who is tested and it turns out that her fetus suffers from severe defects, it is inconceivable to her that there might be room to ask a rabbi a halakhic question.

I was shocked to hear this sad fact, and just to be sure I checked with various doctors, and indeed, it turned out to be true. I thought there was immense value in publicizing the lenient opinion of the poskim in my daily halakha spot on Arutz Sheva, which I broadcasted at the time.

Yet, I knew that some people would argue that I shouldn’t publicize the lenient opinion, lest “the fences are breached” and some women determine the halakha leniently for themselves, to have an abortion for economic or social reasons, or because of minor defects, which are forbidden in the opinion of all poskim.

I went to my mentor and guide, Rabbi Avraham Shapira shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Mercaz Harav and Chief Rabbi of Israel, to ask his opinion. He was also sad to hear the data, and told me it was very important to publicize the opinion of the lenient poskim because their opinions could be relied on. And when I asked if I could quote his name and opinion, he did not want to determine in favor of one of the views, but instructed me to say that every family may decide whether to ask a rabbi who is inclined l’chumra (to be strict) or l’kula (to be lenient). (Later, I heard that after Rabbi Yisraeli and Rabbi Waldenberg died and he could no longer send questioners to them, he himself instructed to be lenient).

Indeed, for the benefit of the public at large, I taught this halakha in the framework of ‘Pinat Ha’Halacha‘ (‘the Halakha Spot’) on Arutz Sheva. Later on, I summarized these laws in detail in my book ‘Peninei Halakha‘ (Likutim Bet), and in my newspaper column ‘Revivim‘.

The Primary Opinion is that of Leniency

Over the last year I have re-examined this profound issue, and out of my studies, my belief that the lenient opinion is the primary one has strengthened. This is because from the issue in the Gemara, the words of the Rishonim and Achronim, it arises that the prohibition of abortion is because of hashchata, and not murder. Indeed, many poskim of the last generation inclined to be stringent; the minority of them because they believed that abortion is forbidden as murder, and the majority because of the great value of life inherent in the fetus. Some poskim instructed in this manner because they did not rely on the opinion of doctors.

And even though the issue is very severe, it seemingly, it would be appropriate to take into consideration the opinion of the stringent poskim, nevertheless, in this case it is proper to be lenient, because being stringent in such issues can cause terrible suffering to the parents and those born, and sometimes the suffering leads to the break-up of the family. Therefore, in an extremely pressing situation, such as when the fetus suffers from Tay-Sachs or other severe defects, or the fetus is known to a mamzer, or continuing the pregnancy could cause blindness or deafness to the mother – one can rely on the lenient opinion of the poskim, for their opinion is more well-founded. This was the inclination of my rabbis, Roshei Yeshivot (heads) of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva.

However, in any such serious questions, one must get the opinion of an honest doctor who relates reverently to the life of the fetus, and then ask a rabbi who is familiar with the field.

Ma’aseh Rav

I heard from my father and teacher, Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed shlita, that when he was a young teacher in the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva about forty-five years ago, he was approached by a married couple with a question: While pregnant, the woman became ill with German measles and according to the doctors, there is a twenty-five percent chance that the fetus will be deformed. At first, my father went to Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, one of the heads of the Yeshiva. However, despite the fact that in his book ‘Amud HaYemini’ he wrote abortion was permitted, he did not want to decide this question, and referred my father to his colleague, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who inclined to be strict in this matter. And indeed, Rabbi Elyashiv said there was no possibility of being lenient without the fear of pikuach nefesh (life endangering situation), but if there is a concern that the woman will become mentally unstable, it is possible to be lenient. My father asked him: And how can we know if there is such concern? He replied: Let the pregnant woman decide.

The woman was not able to decide, and the couple remained in tremendous sorrow. This being the case, my father went to his teacher and mentor, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ztz”l – who was nearly twenty years older than Rabbi Yisraeli and Rabbi Elyashiv, but was not accustomed to determine halakhic questions – and asked him what to do, given that Rabbi Yisraeli refrained from permitting, and Rabbi Elyashiv was stringent. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah said to rely on the written answer of Rabbi Yisraeli, and permit the abortion. End of story.

Apparently, Rabbi Yisraeli avoided permitting the abortion because he wrote his response that only when the majority of the chances are that the fetus is ill, is an abortion permitted, and since in the question at hand the risk was twenty-five percent, he abstained from permitting. What Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah instructed was in accordance with the principle written in Rabbi Yisraeli’s response, whereby abortion is forbidden because of the prohibition of causing chabalah,
and not because of murder, and in a situation of significant danger, and when the couple is also in a state of great sorrow, it is possible to rely on the foundations clarified in his written response.

This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Judgment on the High Holidays

In the opinion of many Jewish law authorities, the principal judgment on the High Holidays concerns the World to Come * Life in the World to Come is divided into two stages: the World of Souls, and the Resurrection of the Dead * “The reward of a mitzvah, is a mitzvah” – one who is judged for life on Rosh Hashanah will  have events occur during the year that help him continue ascending spiritually * In general, the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished, but the factors of  judgment are profound and complex * Why do the righteous sometimes suffer, and the wicked live the good life in this world * Reward and punishment is according to the intensity and effort of the test * The effect of the judgment of ‘Clal Yisrael’ on the individual

What is Man judged for during the High Holidays?

Prior to the ‘Yamim Nora’im’ (Days of Awe), I will dedicate this column to a deepening of the understanding of din (judgment). And although the topic is complex, studying it carries great benefit, because it involves attempting to arrange complex issues (a reader who wishes to understand these topics more thoroughly, can refer to ‘Peninei Halakha: Yamim Nora’im’, Chapter 1). Our Sages said that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the righteous are judged for life, and the wicked for death. And as we will learn further on, the meaning is life in this world and the World to Come, as well.

The Two Phases of the World to Come

Life in Olam Ha’Ba (the World to Come) is comprised of two phases. The first stage begins after one’s death, when his soul rises to the Olam HaNeshamot (World of Souls), which consists of Gan Eden for the righteous, and Gehinom for the wicked. The second phase will arrive after tikkun olam (perfection of the world) is completed with Techiyat HaMeytim (Resurrection of the Dead), when souls are reunited with the bodies, and together, ascend endlessly (Ramban, Sha’ar Ha’Gamul; Ramchal, Derech Hashem, Part 1, section III). The World to Come, in both its phases, is also called Olam HaEmet (the World of Truth), because in comparison to this world where falsehood prevails, and the external appearance hides the inner essence – in the World to Come the real status of a person and the true value of his actions becomes clear. And since the World to Come is immeasurably more important than this world, as our Sages said “This world is like a lobby before the World to Come” (Avot, 4:16), in the opinion of many Torah authorities, one’s principle judgment on Rosh Hashanah concerns the World to Come.

Two Components of the Judgment Concerning the World to Come

The first component of judgment is that every year, all of one’s actions during the year are taken into account. For the good actions one has performed reward is reserved for the World to Come, and for his bad actions, punishment. However, the judgment determined on Rosh Hashanah is not final, because if during the coming years one repents, he saves himself from the judgment of Gehinom, and increases his reward in the World to Come. And if, God forbid, a person has misgivings about his previous ways, and regrets having done good deeds, he will inherit Gehinom and lose the reward that had been reserved for him in the World to Come.

The Opportunity to Get Closer to God

The second part of judgment is the opportunity to come closer to God in the coming year. A person who is judged for life on Rosh Hashanah will be given opportunities during the year that will help him continue ascending in Torah and mitzvoth, meriting him life in the World to Come. While learning Torah – he merits added enlightenment and understanding; and when performing mitzvoth and good deeds – he merits added joy and blessing, a sort of taste of the World to Come. If, God forbid, one is judged for death, he is given tests and events in the coming year that are liable to turn him away from God, and forfeit the World to Come. And even if he studies Torah – he has difficulty absorbing its Divine enlightenment, and when performing mitzvoth – he will not be able to feel the holiness and pleasure of the commandments properly. This is the meaning of our Sages statement (Avot 4:2): “One mitzvah will lead to another mitzvah, and one sin to another sin. Because the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the wages of a sin, is sin (Nefesh Ha’Chaim 1:12).

Reward is Called ‘Life’ and Penalty ‘Death’

In general, reward is called ‘life’, and penalty is referred to as ‘death’. The definition of life is a closeness and connection with God, the Source of Life, and thereby man merits all the good that God abundantly provides in this world, in the World of Souls, and in the World to Come. And seeing as the source of all good and pleasure in this world stems from the life that God showers the world – the reward in the World to Come is immeasurably greater than all the pleasures of this world, which are but a pale reflection of the Source of Pleasure. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “One hour of spiritual bliss in the World to Come is worth more than the whole life of this world” (Avot 4:17). This is because in the World to Come a person can merit enjoying the splendor of the Divine Presence of God, his life force increasing and growing infinitely stronger, whereas in this world, the Divine aura reaches us through partitions and a great constriction (tzim’tzum). Nevertheless, by adhering to God through the study of Torah and performance of the mitzvoth, a person can merit sort of taste of the World to Come in this world as well, and enjoy devotion to God. In contrast to reward which is referred to as life, the general designation of punishment is death, which is defined as being distanced from the Source of Life, which causes an increase in troubles, until the eventual death of the body in this world, and the torments of the soul in Gehinom.

The Profundity and Complexity of Judgment

Although the rules of judgment are simple – for one who walks in the paths of God receives the blessing in this world and the next, and an evil person is punished in this world and the next – the details of judgment are profound and infinitely complex. Consequently, there are cases in which a righteous person suffers poverty, illness, and dies an early death, and in contrast, a wicked person who continues his evil ways, and is rich and healthy. The primary point is that everything is intended for tikkun olam. And I will now clarify a bit.

Free Choice

For the purpose of tikkun olam, it is essential for man to have bechira chofshit (freedom of choice). Therefore, so long as the world has not reached its perfection, it is impossible for all the righteous to enjoy the good and all the wicked to suffer, because then the choice would be predictable and dictated by the expectation of guaranteed, tangible reward, and fear of definite, tangible punishment, and not out of a free and true choice of good. Therefore, the implementation of judgment is extremely complex and its factors are numerous, so that there will always be righteous people who have to deal with suffering, and wicked people who seem to enjoy worldly pleasures. And thus, free will is not affected, and one who chooses well, merits correcting himself, and the entire world. In any event, when looking at the long-term, for example, family matters and true happiness in life, we usually find that in this world the righteous merit blessing, and the wicked are punished. And this is the key part of the test, for the yetzer hara (evil inclination) inclines one to observe the world superficially and in short-term, while the yetzer ha’tov (good inclination) arouses an individual to perceive the deeper side and the long-term. Therefore, despite the fact that even in this world and in the long-term righteous people generally merit good and the evil often suffer, free choice still remains, because in the short-term this is not evident.

When the Fate of a Person’s Destiny is Sealed

I will now begin to explain the details of judgment. There are people whose destiny is to be rich and to cope with the accompanying inclinations involved with wealth, and even if such a person sins a lot, he will remain wealthy. All the judgment of Rosh Hashanah in this issue concerns his life circumstances as a rich person – will he be happy in his wealth, or suffer worrying over it. This is also the case concerning his life in the World to Come – the judgment is whether his wealth will result in him being able to endure extremely hard or simple tests, or perhaps even help him in his service of God. On the other hand, there are those whose destiny is to cope with poverty, and even if such a person has numerous good deeds he will remain poor, and his verdict concerns whether his poverty will be dreadful, or bearable. And in regards to the World to Come, whether his circumstances of being poor will help him serve God, or interfere. And then occasionally, as a result of special good deeds or grave sins, a person can change the fate of his destiny.

 When the Fate of One’s Destiny is not Sealed

At times, a person’s determined fate is not completely sealed, but only sets the direction and still allows for certain changes, and in such a case the judgment on Rosh Hashanah can also affect a person whose destiny it is to be rich – will he be only comfortable, wealthy, or very rich; and the same goes for the poor – will one be tight for money, poor, or destitute.

Is Wealth a Reward?

And sometimes, a person has no particular destiny to be either poor or rich, and consequently, his fate is not determined. Since he chose to do good deeds in matters relating to money and charity, according to Divine judgment he deserves to be wealthy, and continues to prosper so he can grow further in his acts of righteousness and piety. Sometimes, it is apparent to the One who knows all mysteries, that if a person merits wealth, his evil inclinations will overcome him and there is fear of his sinning in pride, lust and stinginess, and losing his level of righteousness. And in such a case, since deveykut (clinging to God) is the most important feature, upon which his life in this world depends, Heaven has pity on him, and he is judged with hardships of making a living, in order to escape from the difficult test and merit life in the World to Come. And if one is not so deserving, he might merit wealth in this world, but will have to face difficult tests which are liable to lower him to the abyss.

According to the Enormity of the Test

There is another type of accounting: the intensity of coping and overcoming required of a person in order to choose good, and avoid evil. Some people’s destiny is that they were created with a very powerful evil inclination, or grew up in a difficult and bad environment, and even if they are able to learn only a little bit of Torah and do a few good deeds – this has significant value, and they will merit great reward. As said our Sages said “l’foom tzara agra” (the reward is according to the suffering) (Avot 5:23). On the other hand, some people have a strong good inclination and grew up in a good environment, and if they sin – they will be severely punished.

The Reward of the Wicked, and the Punishment of the Righteous, in This World

There is another type of accounting: sometimes, an evil person who did a few mitzvoth is judged to receive all the reward for his mitzvoth in this world, so he will be doomed to Gehinom. And sometimes a righteous person who had a few sins is judged to receive all his punishment in this world, so that he will ascend to Gan Eden clean and pure. And although reward and punishment in this world is incomparable to reward in the World to Come, such an accounting is proper and correct, because the evil person did the mitzvoth for external reasons – to be proud and boast, and therefore, it is also fitting that he be rewarded in this fleeting world, and not receive reward for it in the Olam Ha’Emet (World of Truth). This is also the case for a righteous person; since his main desire was to cling to God, if he accidentally sinned – just as his sin was exterior, so too it is fitting for his punishment to be exterior in this world, and thus, be purified until no blemish remains from the sin in the World to Come (Kiddushin 39b; Derech Hashem, Section 2, 2:6).

Judgment of the Clal and the Individual

It is also important to understand that although the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is for the nation as a whole and for each individual on his own, nevertheless, the judgment of an individual in this world is heavily influenced by the general condition of the nation – each nation according to its concerns. True, sometimes there is no contradiction between the judgment of the nation and that of an individual, for even when the nation as a whole merits receiving an abundance of blessing, the blessing is not affected by there being some individuals who are punished for their sins. Also, when the nation as a whole is punished, the punishment is not affected because some individuals merit reward. But sometimes a contradiction does exist between the judgment of the nation and that of an individual, for example, when the nation is sentenced a difficult verdict such as destruction and exile, and then, inevitably, the righteous are also punished. In any event, the judgment remains unchanged, for in the Olam Ha’Neshamot, in Gan Eden, the righteous will receive their full reward, and the full completion will be in the World to Come, at the time of Techiyat HaMeytim, when the souls return to be reunited with their bodies.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed