How Should Natural Gas Profits be Divided?

What does the Torah say about who gets the profits from gas – the public, or those who found it? * The principle set by the Torah: A person is entitled to enjoy the fruits of his own hard work, but natural resources and means of production should be shared equally * How can the idea of Yovel be fulfilled in our time * Today, knowledge and education are the main means of production, and care must be taken to provide them equally for all * What type of music is forbidden to listen to during the “Three Weeks” * Items over which the blessing “Shehechiyanu” is not recited can be purchased during the “Three Weeks”

The Question of Natural Gas

Q: Can we learn from the Torah what should be the fair arrangement – both morally and economically – in regards to the natural gas issue which has recently been the focus of public debate?

On the one hand, representatives of the companies who found the gas claim they deserve to earn large profits for the huge sums they invested in gas exploration at a high risk, and it’s unreasonable that after gas has found, State officials would violate the agreements that were signed before the start of the search. Such a violation could also harm the State of Israel, because capitalists and big companies avoid investing in countries that do not meet their agreements.

On the other hand, many public officials claim that the agreement is unfair, since the gas is a natural resource that belongs to the State, and not to those who found it. Moreover, the public invests a fortune in protecting the country’s borders – including the drilling rigs, as well – and therefore deserves a larger share of the profits. True, investors deserve to capitalize for finding the gas, but there should be limits on their gains as well.

A: In order to express an opinion regarding the current issue of natural gas, all its details must be verified: What were the initial agreements? Were they agreed upon and authorized, or perhaps pressure was placed on government decision-makers? Has the situation changed significantly since then? It would also be worthwhile to know how other countries act, while taking into account the higher security costs in our region. Nevertheless, I will try to clarify the basic position of the Torah.

The Basic Position

Unlike the Communist system, the Torah does not command us to divide profits equally between successful workers, and those who are not. On the contrary, the Torah secures property rights of the individual over his possessions, based on the position that a person is entitled to benefit from the fruits of his own efforts, talents, and God’s blessings. The Torah commanded to sustain the Kohanim, the Levites, and the poor by setting aside a certain percentage of the crop, but even in this matter, the Torah gave the owner of the fruits the right to choose which Kohen to give his terumot (heave offerings), and which Levi or poor person to give his ma’asrot (tithes) (albeit, the gifts to the poor,’ leket ‘, ‘shichacha‘, and ‘pe’ah‘ were made available to them without the owner of the field having the right to distribute them).

Nevertheless, there is an important element of equality in the Torah expressed by the mitzvah of Yovel (the Jubilee Year), whereby all the land in Eretz Yisrael must be divided equally among all of Israel. Even if a person was forced to sell his inheritance – in Yovel, his inheritance returns to him, or his heirs. Similarly, a destitute person who had to sell himself into slavery was released in the Yovel, so he could turn a new page and set out on a fresh path of his own free choice (it should be noted that in an economic situation such as ours, where no one is literally begging for bread, it is forbidden to sell oneself into slavery, and consequently, the institution of slavery is prohibited).

The Integration of the Two Ideas

It can be said that, indeed, both ideas – equality on the one hand, and free will and free enterprise on the other – ought to receive mutual expression. On the one hand, all human beings were created in the image of God and are equal before the law and before all else, lands, which are the means of production, should be divided equally. On the other hand, the most important expression of God’s image in man is his ability to choose and initiate. If he works hard and utilizes his talents – he will profit; if he is lazy – he will lose. And on a spiritual level: If one fulfills the Torah and mitzvot – he will be blessed in the present world, and receive good reward in the Hereafter. But if he chooses to sin – he will not see blessing in this world, and will be punished in the next.

The Significance of Yovel in Our Times

In the past, ninety percent of people made their living from agriculture. Land was the main means of production, and as a result, dividing it equally formed a basis of equality for everyone. Today, land is no longer the primary means of production, and earning a livelihood is dependent on many factors. Nevertheless, we should seemingly learn from the mitzvah of Yovel two foundations: First, just as farmland was divided evenly among all, similarly, we should divide other natural resources which God created equally, including land for construction, water, oil, gas, beaches, radio waves, air, and the sun. Second, just as the Torah commanded dividing the means of production equally, likewise, we should attempt to provide an education for all young people that will procure for them, as best as possible, an equal opportunity to earn a living from their talents and diligence. With effective planning, these two elements can be mutually integrated by diverting the money received from the natural resources towards professional education programs for all.

In this manner, we will have achieved realizing the vision of ​​dividing the land for the entire Jewish nation, together with the tikun (correction) that was made in the return of lands to their original owners in the Yovel, for granting quality education to everyone also allows the children of poor parents to obtain a respectable profession according to their talents and diligence.

It could be said that this is the purpose of Yovel – to restore the natural free-will of man created in the image of God, together with the distribution of the resources God created equally.

A Proposal of Yovel for Capitalists

Perhaps a further suggestion could be made that, just as in the Yovel the fields returned to their original owners and slaves were released to their homes, in a similar fashion, Torah scholars should possibly conduct an in-depth examination of the structure of modern economy, and consider whether it is appropriate that in the Yovel year, a certain percentage of the accumulated wealth be divided equally. For in addition to laws designed to prevent monopolies which harm free competition and stifle industry and trade, we should also avoid creating overly large gaps between the extremely rich and the remainder of the population. This idea also includes a measure of justice, because well-run public organization allows the major capitalists to become wealthy, and therefore, maybe it is fitting that once in fifty years, a portion of their accumulated wealth be once again distributed for education and public needs. This will not affect their quality of life – they will still have hundreds of millions of dollars, but it will grant a more important status to the value of equality, without harming the individual responsibility of every person to earn a living.

The ‘Three Weeks’

The ‘Three Weeks’ that start from the night of the seventeenth of Tammuz till Tisha B’Av are days of grief, about which the verse says: “All who pursue her have overtaken her, in the midst of her distress (in Hebrew, ‘bein hametzarim‘)” (Eicha 1:3). In order to signify the nature of these days, our Sages instituted the reading of Haftarah’s dealing with calamities on the three Sabbath’s of ‘Bein Hametzarim‘, and on the seven Sabbath’s following Tisha B’Av, to read seven Haftarah’s of comfort (S.A., 428:8, according to Pesikta).

The custom in most Jewish communities is not to perform marriages during the ‘Three Weeks’, but there are some Sephardic communities that avoid marriages only during the ‘Nine Days’.

Ashkenazi Jews and some Sephardic Jews, including those from Morocco and Jerba, and those who go according to the Ari HaKadosh, are custom not to take haircuts during the ‘Three Weeks’. Other Mizrachi Jews refrain from taking haircuts only during the ‘Nine Days’.

Dancing and Music

Although our Sages did not institute specific regulations to signify the grief and mourning of the ‘Three Weeks’, Jews are accustomed to avoid dancing and public celebrations for the entire period (M.A. 551:10).

Consequently, we do not listen to happy music during these days, and even music that is not happy should not be listened to at high volume, because doing so also involves a certain measure of festivity and joy. But during the ‘Nine Days’, it is even forbidden to listen to music that is not so happy, rather, only sad music is permitted (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 8:4-5).

The ‘Shehecheyanu‘ Blessing, and Other Purchases

During the days of ‘Bein Hametzarim‘, the custom is not to buy clothing or furniture upon which the ‘Shehecheyanu‘ blessing is recited, because these are days of calamity, and it is not fitting to say “shehecheyanu veqiyemanu vehigi’anu lazeman hazeh” (“who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion”).

However, up until Rosh Chodesh Av, it is permitted to purchase items upon which ‘shehecheyanu‘ are not recited. Therefore during these days, one is allowed to buy socks or undershirts, because since they are not so important, ‘shehecheyanu‘ is not recited over them. One is also permitted to buy clothes which still require repair, because ‘shehecheyanu‘ is not recited over them at the time of purchase, but rather, when first worn; instead, the clothes should be worn for the first time after Tisha B’Av, or the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Av, and the blessing should be recited. Someone whose custom is not to recite the ‘shehecheyanu‘ blessing at the time of purchasing clothes, but rather, while wearing them the first time, may buy new clothes during these days, and wear them for the first time after Tisha B’Av, or the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Av and recite the blessing.

Married couples are permitted to buy a piece of furniture because, seeing as they share the furniture, they recite the blessing “ha’tov ve’hameitiv” (“who is good and does good”) and not ‘shehecheyanu‘, and this blessing is permissible during ‘Bein Hametzarim‘. But an individual should avoid buying a piece of furniture, seeing as he would have to recite ‘shehecheyanu‘.

Someone who chances upon a new fruit, if it can refrigerated until Shabbat, he should wait until Shabbat and then recite the blessing ‘shehecheyanu‘ and eat the fruit. If there is concern that in the meantime the fruit will rot, one should recite the ‘shehecheyanu‘ even during the week, in order not to lose out on the blessing.

Shopping During the “Nine Days”

When the month of Av begins, business transactions are curtailed, and one should even avoid shopping for items upon which ‘shehecheyanu‘ is not recited. During the “Nine Days” it is also appropriate to refrain from doing one’s regular, monthly food shopping.

Trips and Swimming

Some poskim say one should avoid taking trips and bathing in the ocean or in a pool during the “Three Weeks”, in order to lessen one’s pleasure during the days of “Bein Hametzarim“. Additionally, these days have a history of being hazardous, and one should avoid doing things that could place one in danger.

However, according to halakha, there is no prohibition, because our when our Sages said “When the month of Av begins, we reduce our joy”, this refers only from Rosh Chodesh Av, but before that there is no prohibition to do things that are fun and pleasurable, and only particularly joyful events should be avoided, such as the parties, concerts and dances. Therefore, it is permitted to travel, swim, or take a vacation in a hotel until the end of the month of Tammuz.

As for the concern about matters of danger, this does not refer to a risk that would change the precautions necessary throughout the entire year. Therefore, it is permitted to conduct trips, etc., during the “Three Weeks”, and one should be extra careful about safety rules which are meant to be maintained all year long.

When the month of Av enters, we reduce our joy, and therefore trips and recreation which are mainly for pleasure and joy should be avoided. A trip or vacation designed primarily for study purposes or health reasons is permitted during the “Nine Days”. The same holds true for bathing in a pool or ocean – if the purpose is recreational – it is prohibited, but for someone who was instructed to swim for health reasons, it is permitted, and even during the “Nine Days”.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed, can be read at:
http://en.yhb.org.il/

An Illegitimate Boycott

The controversy against the ‘heter mechira’ as an expression of opposition to Zionism and secularism * The opposition of the Chazon Ish to the ‘heter’, and his claim that the sale falls under the category of ‘shlichut l’davar aveira’ * The Chazon Ish’s claim dishonors rabbis who disagree with it, completely invalidating their opinions * The severe affront of Haredi fanatics and rebels has caused distortions within Haredi society, and led to the fear of eminent rabbis to express their views * Those who hold that it is forbidden to eat heter mechira fruits lump one chumra speculation onto another, thus damaging the honor of the Gedolei Yisrael who were in favor of the ‘heter’

 

Last week I wrote about the history of the heter mechira, as was implemented by the Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis). I also mentioned that from the beginning of the second generation, the defining characteristic of the opponents to the heter was their antipathy to the Yishuv HaChadash, and their emphatic disapproval of the Zionist movement which, in the meantime, had been founded in 5657 (1897), and whose leaders and activists were predominantly non-observant.

Without such an explanation it is difficult to understand the reason for their strong opposition to the heter, seeing as according to halakha it is extremely well-founded – much more so than similar heters which all observant Jews rely on.

For in the opinion of an important group of eminent Rishonim (among them Ra’za, Raavad, Nimukei Yosef, Meiri, and others), there is no obligation to keep shmitta in our times. And even according to those poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who believe shmitta is obligatory, they agree that the obligation is merely of rabbinic status (except for a few Achronim, whose reasoning is problematic).

In addition to this, there is a genuine doubt as to when shmitta actually occurs: According to the opinions of Rashi, Rosh, and Tur, the Sabbatical year was in 5774 (2014); according to Raavad it was in 5772 (2012); and according to our custom, which follows the opinion of the Geonim – 5775 (2015). This safek (doubt) is so significant that Mahari Engel wrote that because of it, shmitta could have been cancelled entirely, because each possible year could be annulled by the two additional possibilities (Otzarot Yosef, Shevi’it, pg.96).

Indeed, upon analyzing the heter mechira, it tends to be a chumra (an obligation that exceeds the bare requirement of halakha) compared to what is customary in similar cases of sha’at dachak (times of distress).

The only explanation for the fierce Haredi opposition to the heter is that the machloket (controversy) against the Zionist movement kilkala et shurat ha’din (defied the rules of proper debate), to the point where they ignored all the well-founded sources of the heter, while assembling all the possible chumra arguments.

The Heter in the Third Generation

In the third generation of the new settlements in Eretz Yisrael, the Chief Rabbis, Rabbi Herzog and the Rishon L’Tzion Rabbi Uziel, along with Rabbi Frank, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and most of the city and community rabbis in the country, implemented the heter mechira.

In contrast, the opponents were led by the Chazon Ish, who immigrated to Israel in the year 5693 (1933). It should be noted that unlike the rest of the opponents of the heter, the Chazon Ish demonstrated responsibility and concern for the religious farmers, made an effort to guide them, and even introduced extreme kulot (leniencies) in the laws of shmitta so they could manage without the heter mechira. However, similar to the other machmirim, he also opposed the Zionist movement. It must also be pointed out that, regrettably, in his opposition to the heter, he raised the dispute to a grave level.

The Argument about the Validity of the Heter from the Prohibition of “Lo Techanem

One of the central claims of the Chazon Ish is that, since it is forbidden to sell land to a non-Jew in Eretz Yisrael because of the prohibition “lo techanem” (‘do not give them any consideration’, which may be rendered ‘do not give them a resting place in the land’), when farmers appoint rabbis as agents to sell the land, the rabbis become ‘shlichim l’davar aveira‘ (agents for a prohibition), and as such, their actions are invalid because their shlichut is void, for we have the principle “ain shaliach l’davar aveira” (there is no agency for prohibitions) (Chazon Ish, Shevi’it 24:4).

Of course, the rabbis in favor of the heter had a convincing answer, for the prohibition of “lo techanem” is designed to strengthen Israel’s presence in the land, as the verse says: “When God your Lord brings you to the land you are entering, so that you can occupy it, He will uproot many nations before you…When God your Lord places them at your disposal and you defeat them, you must utterly destroy them, not making any treaty with them or giving them any consideration“(Deuteronomy 7:1-2). If so, when selling the land is for a limited time and is intended to strengthen Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael, there is absolutely no prohibition (Yeshu’ot Malko, Y.D. 55; Aderet; Avnei Nezer, Y.D. 458).

Moreover, even if the mechira was needless for the strengthening of settling the land, the Rishonim explained that l’chatchila (from the outset), the prohibition of “lo techanem” only applies to a permanent sale, or at the very least when the non-Jew intends to act as the ba’al ha’bayit (owner) for a certain amount of time; but when the sale is for a limited amount of time and the non-Jew has no intention of acting as the ba’al ha’bayit, there is no prohibition of “lo techanem” (Ramban, and Chinuch 339, and so can be understood from the Rambam, Laws of Avoda Zara, 10:3-4).

The Difficult Argument against the Chazon Ish

Thus, in the opinion of the Gedolei poskim (eminent Jewish law arbiters), the rabbis conducting the mechira are fulfilling a mitzvah by assisting farmers settling the land. This being the case, even those who disagree with them cannot claim they are sinners – just as Sephardic Jews who follow the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch and refrain from warming-up soup on Shabbat cannot claim that Yemenite Jews who follow the Rambam and do warm-up soup, are sinners.

The claim of the Chazon Ish, therefore, is a huge insult to the Gedolei rabbanim (eminent rabbis) of Eretz Yisrael. Not only did he disagree with them, although they were the local rabbinic authorities and greater than him in wisdom, public responsibility and understanding of the situation – he went even further, claiming that their opinion counts for nothing, to the point where those following them are considered as having sinned.

The Harsh Consequences

Unfortunately, as a result of such severe and harsh positions against the Gedolei rabbanim, for three generations rabbis from the Haredi community have been afraid to clarify major issues appropriately. They fear that if they express an opinion that does not see eye-to-eye with the machmirim and the fanatics who support them, all of their opinions will be disqualified, and they will be denunciated and driven out of the camp, as being instigators and accomplices to sinful acts.

In this manner, Haredi society has deviated from the path of Torah in a number of issues, to the point where many of them have become used to degrading Gedolei rabbanim, such as Maran HaRav Kook and his students, despite the fact that in private, many of their Gedolei rabbanim oppose it. In a similar fashion, many of them became inclined to abolish the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), about which our Sages said it is equal to all the mitzvot, and many of them dare to publicly deny the great mitzvah the soldiers fulfill by defending the people and the country. They have even invented new prohibitions against secular studies and Sherut Leumi (national service), and various other chumrot that deviate from the letter of Jewish law. And in all of these issues there are numerous Haredi rabbis who privately oppose, but they do not clarify their views openly due to the risk of being attacked by the ba’alei machloket (‘masters of dissension’).

Limud Zechut

However, in regards to the Chazon Ish, there is room for a bit of limud zechut (benefit of the doubt), for he was extremely tenacious in nature, and everything he derived from his studies he wrote, paying no heed to those greater than himself. Furthermore, the Chazon Ish displayed particular honor to Rav Kook, by addressing him as, “his honor, Maran, shlita“.

A similar type of limud zechut can be given to the Ridbaz, one of the fiercest opponents of the heter, who by nature was fervent and impassioned and compelled by the fire of Torah that burned within him, and often expressed regret that he humiliated Rav Kook. For example, when a certain rabbi started to consider himself the Rabbi of Jaffa, while undermining the authority Rav Kook, the Ridbaz wrote that it was an act of villainy, “because it is ludicrous to think that a wingless fly can wage war against the Great Eagle, whose name is famous in the entire world…”

However, it is difficult to give benefit of the doubt to all those Haredi rabbis who are of normal character, and nevertheless, negated the opinion of the Gedolei rabbanim entirely. And certainly, limud zechut cannot be given to those who went further, adding obscenities and humiliation against the rabbis in favor of the heter, who were greater Torah scholars and more righteous than they were.

Those Who Boycott Heter Fruits

The continuation of their sin is that they boycott the fruits grown under the framework of the heter mechira. For in addition to their position being based on the sin of contempt for Torah scholars of the most severe level, it also runs contrary to the fundamental rules of halakha, for we know a dispute exists whether it is permissible to eat fruits that were grown and saved in a prohibited manner in the shmitta year. According to most poskim, fruits grown by means of work prohibited in the shmitta year are permitted to be eaten (R”Sh, Ramban, Rashba). The same holds true for shmitta fruits that were saved in a prohibited manner and not made hefker (abandoned) – according to most poskim, they are permitted to be eaten (Rambam). And although there are poskim who disagree and prohibit the fruit, since the opinion of the majority of poskim is to be maykel (lenient), and additionally, shmitta in our times is of rabbinic status – the halakha goes according to the lenient opinion – kal v’chomer (all the more so) when there are opinions that there is no obligation at all to keep shmitta nowadays, and there is also a doubt about when the shmitta year actually is.

Thus, the machmirim pasken contrary to the rules of halakha, kal v’chomer when the farmers are not working in a prohibited manner, but rather according to the rulings of the leading rabbis; therefore there is no room whatsoever to claim that the fruits are forbidden because they were grown b’issur (in a prohibited manner).

Crops of the Field

Indeed, some poskim argue that concerning crops grown in the field there is a special prohibition, because our Sages decreed that sifichim (grasses and vegetables that grew on their own accord in the Sabbatical year), are forbidden to be eaten, kal v’chomer is it forbidden to eat vegetables that were grown b’issur. All this would be true if the farmers planted the seeds without a heter, but since they planted the seeds according to the instruction of rabbis, there is no prohibition to eat the vegetables. And even those who disagree with the heter must agree with this, since the entire gezeira (decree) of sifichim is a rabbinic prohibition in order to prevent an issur, and therefore, when the farmers acted according to the directives of rabbis – there is no room to prohibit the crops.

Other Claims

Some argue that just as it is forbidden to buy fruit from those who are suspected of working in the Sabbatical year, in order not to l’sayea l’dvar aveira (assist a transgression), it is likewise forbidden to buy fruits grown under the framework of the heter mechira. However, since the farmers work according to a heter of the rabbis, there is no transgression in their actions whatsoever. And those who claim it is forbidden to assist them, completely annul the words of the rabbis who permit it, and transgress the severe prohibition of bizuy Talmedei Chachamim (contempt of Torah scholars), and asi’at machloket (causing a dispute).

The Sin of the Boycotters

Thus, those who believe that it is forbidden to eat fruits grown in the framework of the heter mechira, lump one sevara (speculation) onto another l’chumra (to be stringent), in contradiction to the rules of halakha. In addition, they undermine the honor of the Gedolei Yisrael who implemented the heter in accordance with the opinion of the majority of poskim, so as to assist the holy Jews returning to their Land.

This argument is not directed towards those who have studied the issue and concluded that it was not proper to employ the heter mechira, and therefore, they prefer to avoid eating fruits grown under the heter – provided they do so as a personal minhag chassidut (a desire to fulfill the mitzvah according to all opinions), and instruct the public at large that according to the letter of the law, it is permitted to eat fruits grown under the heter (as explained in Ma’adenei Eretz Shevi’it, 159:2).

This argument is directed against those who claim that heter fruits are forbidden to be eaten by one and all, and that one should not eat at the home of someone who relies on the heter, nor should one trust hechshers that rely on the heter mechira, and should even boycott public or family events because of this. Such people transgress the sin of bizuy Gedolei Yisrael (contempt for eminent Torah scholars), and raise their hand against the sanctity of Clal Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. And anyone who lends a hand to this boycott is partner to their sin.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/

The History of the Heter Mechira

The question of what to do in the first shmitta in the year 5649 (1888), after thousands of years in exile * The disagreement about the heter mechira between the eminent poskim of Europe and Eretz Yisrael, and the reliance of most farmers on the lenient opinion * Among the poskim who prohibited the heter mechira, some changed their positions when they saw how urgent the situation was * In the following generation, the fierce opposition to the heter was influenced by the opponents’ negative position to the Zionist movement, and the weakening of religious observance among the pioneers and farmers * The attacks and slander of fanatics against the rabbis in favor of the heter * Why the heter is associated with Rabbi Kook, even though it was introduced years before he immigrated to Israel

As a result of previous articles on the heter mechira, I received questions and complaints about the dispute over the heter. In order to reply to all of them together, I felt it necessary to relate the accounts of the heter chronologically.

When the Question Arose

During the long years of exile the Land of Israel remained desolate, and the few Jews who lived here did not engage in agriculture.

The Jews expelled from Spain who began immigrating to Israel five hundred years ago, and also the Hasidim and the Vilna Gaon’s disciples who began immigrating two hundred years ago, barely engaged in agriculture. Only about one hundred and forty years ago did Jews begin establishing agricultural communities throughout the country. The first were members of the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem who went out from the walls of the Old City, and together with new immigrants established small outposts, until in the year 5638 (1877) they established Petah Tikva. In 5642 (1881) the first aliyah of Chovevei Tzion (Lovers of Zion) began, giving rise to the establishment of seven additional moshavot (rural settlements), until the Sabbatical (shmitta)
year of 5649 (1889). They included: Rishon Lezion, Zichron Yaakov, Akron (Mazkeret Batya), Ness Ziona, Rosh Pina, Gedera and Yesod HaMa’alah.

This was the first time the question of keeping shmitta arose, and the problem was twofold – first, for the individual farmer, and second, for the public in general. As individuals, the farmers were barely able to exist and required support, and keeping shmitta would have brought them to a situation of severe duress, and even starvation. As far the public in general was concerned, keeping shmitta would have likely caused the destruction of the moshavot, for even if some of the farmers were able to exist, it was clear that many would not. In addition, many Jews in the Diaspora who considered immigrating to Israel would refrain from making aliyah after hearing about the difficulties of surviving in the shmitta year.

The Rabbis In Favor of the Heter

One of the Torah giants of the generation and a leader of the Chovevei Tzion movement, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, together with his European rabbi colleagues, Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutna ,and Rabbi Klapfish, the Av Beit Din of Warsaw, discussed the issue and decided to permit farmers to expropriate the fields from the obligation of shmitta by
selling them to a non-Jew, in a way that following the sale, the Jews would work in the fields as employees of the non-Jewish owner. The eminent posek (Jewish law arbiter), Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor of Kovno also supported the heter. In addition, the Sephardic rabbis in Israel, headed by the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Yaakov Shaul Elishar, supported the heter, relying on the judgments of Sephardic rabbis of previous generations who lived in Eretz Yisrael.

Opponents of the Heter

However, the Ashkenazi rabbis in Jerusalem, led by Rabbi Shmuel Salant and Rabbi Diskin, opposed the heter. In their estimation, keeping shmitta would not cause great harm, because at any rate, some agricultural techniques claimed it was beneficial to periodically allow the fields to lie fallow. Other rabbis believed it was possible to obtain financial support for the settlers who kept shmitta. Some argued that if the farmers were allowed to act leniently in keeping shmitta, they would continue to do so in other halachic matters. Still more, they feared that the heter would actually cause the destruction of the moshavot, because it is written in the Torah that the punishment for not keeping shmitta is exile. There were other important European rabbis, such as the Netziv of Volozhin and Rabbi Soloveitchik, author of “Beit Halevi”, who opposed the heter.

In general, the dispute hinged on two questions: First, whether the heter mechira was based on the majority of poskim, or the minority. Second, whether the situation was considered a ‘sha’at dachak‘ (a time of distress), for indeed, there is an accepted halachic rule that in times of distress it is possible to rely on individual opinions, and the more pressing the situation, the more appropriate it is to be lenient.

In Practice, the Heter Mechira was Adopted

In practice, most of the farmers and their supporters felt the need to rely on the heter. Guided by their rabbis from Europe, the farmers approached the Sephardic rabbis in Israel, and they performed the sale of the fields for them. This was also the position of the majority of the leading rabbis. But there were still many rabbis in the Diaspora, and Jerusalem, who opposed the heter, and the fanatics of the times stood by their side and fought fiercely against it, and opposed the rabbis who supported it.

Initially, Some Members of Chovevei Tzion Opposed the Heter

It is worth noting that initially, among the rabbis who were machmir (stringent), there were rabbis who felt civic responsibility towards the Yishuv HaChadash (the new community) and the farmers, as did the rabbis of Jerusalem. Among the rabbis who were machmir, there were also rabbis who enthusiastically supported the ‘Chovevei Tzion‘, like the Netziv of Volozhin and Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe. However, from one shmitta year to the next, it became clearer just how difficult it was for the pioneers to refrain from working for a year, and consequently, even among the rabbis who were against the heter, some changed their minds in favor. One of them was the ‘Aderet’ (Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim) who attested that while in the Diaspora, he was inclined towards the opinion of the machmirim. But after he immigrated to Eretz Yisrael to serve as the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, and viewed firsthand the great duress, he changed his mind in support of the heter (Iggrot HaRa’ayah 207). Rabbi Diskin from Jerusalem also opposed the heter in the first shmitta year, but in the second Sabbatical year, after recognizing the reality, agreed to the heter in some measure.

The Dispute in the Second Generation

In the year 5664 (1904), Rabbi Kook began serving as rabbi of Jaffa and the moshavot, and in the shmitta year of 5670 (1909), twenty-one years after the Gedolei Ha’dor (eminent Torah scholars) had introduced and implemented the heter, Rabbi Kook continued in their path, and enacted the heter mechira.

Over the years that passed from the beginning of the new settlements, the moshavot grew and expanded. Instead of hundreds of farmers, there were already thousands of families whose livelihood was dependent on agriculture. On the one hand, this fact made the heter even more necessary, but on the other hand, it also caused the opponents of it
to harden their position, since the heter became more comprehensive and involved a lot more people and land.

The Spiritual Situation of the Farmers

In the meantime, another significant change occurred: Most residents of the first moshavot, members of the First
Aliyah, were Torah observant and committed to the rulings of the rabbis. However, during the following generation, the rapid secularization process that swept over European Jewish communities was reflected in the composition of the young immigrants who came to Israel as part of the Second Aliyah. Thus, in the year 1909, many of the new farmers were not fully observant. Most of them were willing to cooperate with the rabbis on issues concerning Shabbat, orla and tithes, but it was impossible to persuade them not to work the fields for a full year. The pioneer’s distancing from Torah observance caused the opponents of the heter to escalate their struggle against it, and against the rabbis supporting it, but on the other hand strengthened the position of those in favor, who believed that by way of the heter, the pioneers would continue cooperating with the rabbis in matters of kashrut (Iggrot HaRa’ayah 291, 311).

The Struggle against the Zionist Movement

At that point in time, the hashkafa lines were clearly drawn. If initially there were rabbis who supported Chovevei Tzion but objected to the heter, in the second generation, all those who supported the new settlements, approved of the heter. On the other hand, the defining characteristic of the opponents was that they had reservations about the Yishuv HaChadash to one extent or another, and certainly disapproved of the Zionist movement which, in the meantime, had been founded in 5657 (1897), and most of its leaders and activists were non-religious.

Only in this light can the fierce opposition to the heter be understood. True, the first generation of rabbis who opposed the heter could still disregard the opinion of the lenient rabbis, seeing as it was a new matter which had not yet been adequately clarified, and the extent of the threat to the public by keeping shmitta was also unclear. But in the second generation, the opponents of the heter were already aware of its considerations, and could have known that its foundations were vastly firmer than similar heters, such as eating ‘chadash‘ in chutz l’aretz, which is accepted in times of sha’at dachak. Moreover, the rabbis who supported the heter tended to be more machmir (stringent) and cautious compared to what was common in similar cases of distress.

The only answer is that the machloket (controversy) of most of the opponents of the heter against the Zionist movement kilkala et shurat ha’din (defied the rules of proper debate among Torah scholars), to the point where they ignored all the reliable sources of the heter, while gathering together all the possible chumra arguments.

The Mitzvah of Settling the Land

In other words, if they believe there is no point in yishuv ha’aretz without keeping shmitta, and there is also no value in the fulfillment of the mitzvot of yishuv ha’aretz by someone who is not meticulous in mitzvot, it goes without saying there is no need to find a heter to work in the shmitta year.

However, the heter is based on the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, which our Sages said is equivalent to all the mitzvot. Not working the fields in the shmitta year was liable to cause great damage to the settlements, because apart from it, the difficulties of immigration and settlement were enormous, and only small numbers of Jews agreed to move to Israel; how much more so would their numbers have decreased if they had to stop working in the shmitta year. Therefore, the rabbis saw a great need to find a heter in order to expropriate the fields from the obligation of shmitta – which today is d’rabbanan (of rabbinic status) or midat chassidut (a pious and meritorious act), and fulfill the commandment of yishuv ha’aretz, whose obligation is d’oreita (of Biblical status). In time, it turned out that the necessity was much graver, because many of the Jews who remained in European exile were murdered by the Nazis or trapped under Communist persecution.

The Controversy

Life was not easy for the rabbis in favor of the heter. They had to withstand harsh attacks and slander from the fanatics of the times. There were even Gedolei Ha’dor who initially opposed the heter, but after hearing the explanations in favor, supported it, but refrained from openly expressing their opinions due to the dispute waged by the opponents of the heter (for example, the eminent posek, the Maharsham).

Rabbi Kook

When the Gedolei Ha’dor instituted the heter in 5649 (1888), Rav Kook was only twenty-four years old. In spite of this, many people associate the heter with Rabbi Kook, because he explained its foundations at length in his book ‘Shabbat Ha’aretz‘ and in numerous responsa and letters, and he was also responsible for its implementation as rabbi of Jaffa and the moshavot in the shmitta years of 5670 (1909) and 5677 (1916) (although he was not in Eretz Yisrael at that time). Later on, as Chief Rabbi of Israel, he also implemented the heter in the shmitta years of 5684 (1923) and 5691 (1930).

It is worth noting that by nature, Rav Kook was an extremely pious man who was inclined to enhance and embellish every mitzvah possible, and greatly regretted having to be forced to expropriate the mitzvot of shmitta by means of the heter mechira. Nevertheless, in practice, he determined that it was absolutely impossible to be machmir. And as he wrote, if we are overly machmir (stringent) in this matter, beyond what is required, the enormity of the chilul Hashem (desecration of God) and the destruction of the Torah it would cause would be inconceivable, for it would reinforce the heretics who claim that the Torah does not enable the Jewish People to survive, and therefore we must renounce its commandments (Iggrot 291, 311).

With God’s help, next week I will write about the harder line the opponents of the heter took, and the serious consequences it has until today.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Additional articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:
http://en.yhb.org.il/

When Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu Taught Halakha

Longing for the halakha classes of our mentor, Rishon Lezion Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu * Is one allowed to make carrot juice and eggplant salad from fruits and vegetables grown in the shmitta year * Rabbi Eliyahu on shmitta garbage cans: “What? Should we tell people to fill their houses with mosquitoes?!”* Is one allowed to extinguish a havdala candle with shmitta wine * Why it is important to present the position supporting the ‘heter mechira’ without apologies and self-justification * The great merit of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Meir shlita, for working to strengthen the status of the ‘heter mechira’ * The failure of IDF commanders in the pork-eating affair

Our Revered Teacher and Mentor, Rabbi Eliyahu ztz”l

The yarhtzeit of the Rishon Lezion, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l, will be on the 25th of Sivan (Friday).

Over the past year I was privileged to study in depth the laws of shmitta (the Sabbatical year), and with the help of God, I hope to publish a book on the subject next month, in the series of “Peninei Halakha”.

In the course of my studies, I listened to classes given by Rabbi Eliyahu ztz”l on the laws of shmitta (from the ‘Yeshiva‘ website).

I visualized his image, and longing flooded my heart. I remembered how he would give classes in majestic splendor and dignity, with a full sense of responsibility and mission of teaching Torah and halakha to the Jewish People; his entire milieu exuded respect and love for the Torah and its observers. While giving the classes, at times he would intertwine important points with humor and irony, adding joy and delight to his audience at large, and wisdom to the Torah scholars among them. I will try to put into words his speaking style, and anyone who remembers his classes can surely understand the underlying hints.

From the Laws of Shmitta

As is known, fruits grown in the shmitta year are holy and are meant to be eaten in their normal fashion, and anyone who changes them from their normal manner is considered as if he ruins them.

The question is, what constitutes a change in the normal manner of eating, which is forbidden to do with shmitta fruits?

This what Rabbi Eliyahu said: “Concerning carrot juice, people may argue that I changed my mind. In the past, I said it was forbidden to make carrot juice, and now I’m saying that it is permitted. But I have not changed my mind, rather, the reality has changed! In the past, no one would have imagined squeezing carrots for juice, therefore, someone who did so was considered as having misused it. But today, when this is the norm – it is permitted!”

On the question whether it is permissible to puree (‘ree’sook‘, in Hebrew) eggplants to in order to make eggplant salad, he said with a bit of irony: “Regarding eggplant salad, I saw four poskim (Jewish law arbiters). One said: ‘In my life, I’ve never eaten eggplant salad! This is not the way they are meant to be eaten! It is forbidden to puree eggplants!’ The second one said: ‘Myself? Every Shabbat I eat eggplant salad! This is the way they are meant to be ate! They can be pureed!’ The third said: ‘It depends: if you puree them well, until you cannot see the pieces of eggplant, then it’s forbidden. But if you don’t know how to puree well, and don’t use a mixer, then it is permissible, because it is not considered ‘ree’sook‘, but rather a tikun (improvement) of the food.’ The fourth posek came and warned: ‘No! Such a thing should not be done! This is considered an abnormal way of pureeing. It must be pureed in its normal way!’ “So, in short”, Rav Eliyahu ruled, “eggplant salad has become part of our meals, and therefore it is permitted to puree eggplants to make a salad.”

In Regards to Leftover Shmitta Fruit Scraps

As we know, Maran HaRav Kook (Mishpat Kohen 83) wrote that leftover shmitta fruits should not be thrown into a garbage can, because there they become rotten and ruined, to the point where they are inedible.

Concerning this halakha, Rabbi Eliyahu said: “So some say take a container, and put in it everything that has kedushat shevi’it (the sanctity of shmitta), wait till it stinks, until it rots, until it becomes putrid, and in the meantime you’ll have mosquitoes all over your house. And who knows? Maybe they’ll be mosquitoes from swamps infested with diseases! What? Shall we tell a person to fill his house with mosquitoes?! Certainly, this is not the correct thing to do! Rather, one should place the scraps in a bag, and take two coverings as a way of honor – one covering can be made of paper – for the main purpose is to cover the fruit.”

The second covering, although, is a hidur (embellishment of the mitzvah) that Rav Eliyahu added, and most poskim have not written that a second covering is needed.

Giving an Apple to a Child

Rav Eliyahu also explained that one is permitted to give an apple to a child, despite the fact that part of it may go to waste, and it is not considered as if one had ruined the apple, because this is the child’s normal way of eating.

In addition, there is no need to chase after the child and force him to finish the entire apple. Ideally, however, it is better to give him a slice of the apple, in order to reduce the chances that some of it will be thrown away (see, Ma’amar Mordechai 13:15).

Using Shmitta Wine for Havdala and the Seder Night

“Concerning wine of ‘Otzar Beit Din‘ (a framework wherein both the farmer and seller are agents for the local or national Beit Din for cultivating produce and its distribution): a person fills the havdala cup with wine, and his grandmother taught him that on Motzei Shabbat when you fill the cup, you must fill it until the wine spills onto the plate as a siman tov (a good sign)! Or another possibility: His father or mother taught him: If you want to put out the candle – do not blow it out with your mouth! It’s dangerous! Rather, take the candle and extinguish it with the wine that spilled from the cup on the plate. But in the shmitta year, our Sages warned that produce grown is ‘for food’ (to be eaten) – and not to be wasted. So there are Achronim (later authorities) who say, it is forbidden to pour shmitta wine onto the plate and extinguish the candle (so is the opinion of Maran Rav Kook). The second one says: The verse says ‘lachem‘, meaning – for all your needs; if this is one of his needs, he is allowed to pour wine onto the dish to put out the candle. And this is the practical halakha, because when one pours the wine onto the havdala plate and claims that it is for a blessing, this, in any case, entails some type of pleasure. The only problem would be the second cup of the Seder which is spilled while saying ‘Datzach, Adash, Ba’achab‘, which is forbidden. Because then, the wine is spilled because of our enemies. In that case, what type of pleasure does he get from that? Therefore it is forbidden”( Ma’amar Mordechai 13:44-45).

Heter Mechira

Rav Eliyahu believed that we have to use the heter mechira, otherwise, we encounter even larger halachic difficulties.

 And even if one wants to make use of the solution of Otzar Beit Din, he must combine it with the heter mechira, as he explained at length in his book ‘Ma’amar Mordechai,’ chapter 21.

Concerning the status of the Southern Arava and Eilat in the shmitta year, he ruled that they are included in the borders of ‘olei Mitzrayim’, and consequently, the fruits that grow there have the sanctity of kedushat shevi’it, and that it is forbidden to work there in the fields without the heter mechira.

Regarding Thos who Attack the Heter Mechira

In a number of recent articles I clarified the halachic fundamentals of the heter mechira.

There were some readers who attacked me on how I presented the issue. They are accustomed to the heter mechira being written about from an apologetic and self-justifying angle, whereas I place it on the high road, while raising serious questions regarding the opinions of those who dissent, who gathered all the machmir (stringent) opinions in order to prohibit the heter. Not only that, but many of them boycott the heter mechira fruits, in stark contrast to the rules of halakha, because only if they consider the opinions of those who permit the heter null and void, can it be said that the fruits are forbidden. But anyone who considers the opinion of those who permit the heter as being legitimate, has no halachic foundation to prohibit eating fruits from the heter mechira.

Indeed, one of the most prominent features on the way this issue is presented is that those who permit the heter were inclined to conduct themselves with modesty and piety, and out of respect of the for stringent opinion, presented the two opinions as being equal (as written, for example, in the book of Rabbi Tikochinsky ‘Sefer HaShmitta’, and Rabbi Zevin’s ‘L’Or HaHalakha’). In this way, they followed in the footsteps of Rav Kook ztz”l, who conducted himself personally with excessive piety. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l also acted in this same manner, and would interpret the verse “b’charish u’ve’katzir tishbot” (‘even in plowing time and harvest season you are to rest’) with a play on words: one should remain silent (‘charish‘ also means to be silent) on debates concerning shmitta, but if one must speak, do it briefly (‘katzir‘, in Hebrew can also mean ‘to make short’).

On the other hand, however, many of the machmirim, especially in recent times, tended to disqualify the position of rabbis who permitted using the heter mechira and humiliate them, even labeling them in extremely harsh terms such as heretics, destroyer’s of the Torah, etc., thus severely undermining the rules of proper debate among Torah scholars. And since the words of those who permit the heter are based on the foundations of Torah and the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), the machmirim, in their crusade, dragged themselves into disrespecting the honor of the Torah and the Gedolei Ha’dor (eminent Torah scholars), and the sanctity of settling the Land.

And since truth must seek redress for its insult, we are obligated to clarify the issue properly, without overly paying homage to the machmirim, rather, to criticize them honestly about not having treated this issue as was customary in Judaism for generations.

Thank You, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Meir shlita

In this matter we must give a big “thank you” to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Meir shlita, head of the halakha and research institute of Yeshiva Shvut Israel.

For years he has been awakening the public, both in his writings and lectures, to understand the necessity and importance of the heter mechira, and frequently protests against those who disagree to include it within the Mehadrin hechsher.

Truthfully speaking, I was also somewhat influenced by the harsh propaganda against the heter mechira. Of course I knew that it was valid and well-founded, for indeed, the Gedloei Yisrael determined it, lead by Maran HaRav Kook ztz”l. Nevertheless, I thought it was bediavad (acceptable after the fact). It should be noted that this also can be understood from the words of Rav Kook, who often emits a ‘sigh’ in his halachic answers and letters concerning the need for the heter. However, he did this out of his piety and holiness, for he tended personally to be machmir and l’ha’dare (enhance) any mitzvah possible. Therefore, only when the heter was strongly attacked, did he respond and explain that it is very well-founded, and that in truth, the it could have been far more lenient.

Now, after having studied the issue in depth, I realize that today, the heter is l’chatchila (best from the outset), and to a large extent, leans towards being a chumra (exceeding the bare requirement of halakha). In any case, all other halachic approaches are inferior, because they harm the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz, the livelihood of farmers, and other mitzvoth and halachot. A great deal of honor goes to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Meir, who encouraged and reinforces this matter.

The Honor of the Torah and the Nation in the IDF

Unfortunately, IDF commanders failed in their handling of the painful affair of the soldier who ate pork publicly, while offering it to his friends.

It is sad that they do not realize the affront of their position.

This of course adds to the Military Rabbinate’s decline in status, and its exclusion from the public sphere of the IDF, to dealing solely with religious soldiers and the practical details of Jewish law.

This is an opportunity to commend the former Chief Military Rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Weiss, who, out of a sense of responsibility of being a past IDF Chief Rabbi, lead a media campaign in which he criticized the army commanders, and explained on various radio and television stations, with logic and emotion, the gravity of the act and the obligation to guard the Jewish identity of the army.

Let’s hope the elected officials who took a moral stand on this issue will also know how to act properly to correct the situation and return Jewish values to the public sphere of the army, and also demand an apology from the commanders who cancelled the soldier’s punishment without his apologizing publicly for the insult he caused the honor of Israel and its Torah. And if he does not apologize, they should demand that his original sentence be reinstated. Hopefully, there will be some journalists with a sense of Jewish pride to monitor the story, who can inform us of how the matter is handled.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/

Do not Invalidate a Torah Scroll

The great merits of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who gave up on the good life in America and made Aliya in order to settle the Land, where he created exemplary institutions * Different approaches are part of the world of Halakha; even if our approach varies, it is forbidden to invalidate Rabbi Riskin’s position * Threatening his tenure is comparable to ripping entire sections out of a Torah scroll * Can the Chief Rabbinate obligate rabbis in general to accept its positions, and under what conditions? * As long as the Rabbinate looks the other way when it comes to Charedi rabbis, there is no justification for their treating Rabbi Riskin differently

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, shlita

Recently, it has been revealed that the Chief Rabbinate Council is debating whether Rabbi Riskin, shlita, Chief Rabbi of Efrat, should have his tenure extended despite reaching the retirement age of seventy-five.

The discussion should have been solely procedural. However, it seems that certain members of the council have grievances against Rabbi Riskin, and therefore decided to take the opportunity to put an end to his tenure. This is an opportunity to speak in praise of Rabbi Riskin, who is a tzadik, sage, and leader with tremendous merits.

Rabbi Riskin was born into a non-religious, poor family. As a result of a conscious, personal choice, and with the help of his grandmother, he began to forge a path towards Torah and mitzvot at a young age. Because he was a genius and excelled in his studies, he was accepted by the most prestigious university in the world, Harvard, and offered a full scholarship. Attending that esteemed institution would have guaranteed his professional and financial future, as all doors are open to graduates of Harvard. This was an unbelievable opportunity. Few would have been able to resist this temptation. Yet, Rabbi Shlomo gave up the scholarship and went to study at Yeshiva University. There too, the faculty recognized his immense talents and offered him a full scholarship. From that point on, he began dedicating his life to Torah.

As a young, talented, charismatic rabbi, and a gifted orator with the ability to spiritually inspire his listeners and draw them closer to Torah and mitzvot, Rabbi Riskin was very well established and respected in the United States. Successful and intelligent people also found his Torah teachings meaningful, and were privileged to draw closer to Jewish tradition thanks to him. The Torah of truth was in his mouth, and he helped many return to their roots. A brilliant future awaited him as one of the leaders of the Jewish community in America. Yet before turning forty, out of a pure belief in God and Torah, he gave up his position in America and chose to come to Israel and grace it with his presence. With this decision he also sacrificed one of the basic tools of his trade, the English language, in which he so exceled in America. He learned to speak Hebrew fluently as well, but people say that in English he is one of the best orators around.

Thanks to his vision, talents, and leadership, he was privileged to bring many members of his congregation to Israel and to establish a city, Efrat, whose spiritual life centers around Torah study and mitzva observance. Its residents tend to be financially successful and contribute to the development of Israel’s economy, science, and society in general. His Aliya influenced hundreds and thousands to follow in his footsteps, emigrants who moved to Efrat and all over the Land of Israel, and by doing so strengthened their connection to Torah and mitzvot. In due course, he was privileged to found schools and educational institutions in Gush Etzion and in Jerusalem for both boys and girls. He has done all of this with amazing energy – he personally visits all the institutions, teaches, tells stories, and generates enthusiasm in the hearts of the students for a life of Torah and mitzvot. However, when he chose to make Aliya, nothing was promised to him. Like our father Jacob, ‘he crossed the Jordan with only his stick in hand’.

Aliya from Western Countries

Sometimes we fail to remember, but much to our dismay the vast majority of emigrants to Israel in modern times arrived from lands where Jews suffered poverty and oppression. In contrast, Aliya from the West, especially from the United States, is perhaps the Aliya with the purest motivations of all. Most of the emigrants from the U.S. could have done very well for themselves financially and socially had they remained in America, the epicenter of economy, science, and culture. Yet, they decided to forgo all this in order to emigrate, to establish towns and communities, to send their children to the army, and alongside all of this, to seek out employment while having to deal with the difficulties of mastering a new language and adapting to a different culture. With God’s help, many have been blessed with success in both their personal and professional lives. Indeed, Member of Knesset Naftali Bennet is one of the blessed products of this Aliya.

Would We Have Withstood the Challenge

Sometimes students, who come from the United States to study for the year in a yeshiva in the Holy Land, visit Har Bracha. They often ask about the mitzva to live in Israel. I try to answer them in accordance with the halakha: yes, there is a mitzva to live in Israel. I add, however, that if completing their professional studies in the United States would be greatly to their advantage, or if their doing so would

make their parents happy (kibud horim), they may delay Aliya until they complete their studies. Still, I make sure to preface this by saying: I am answering you in accordance with the halakha, but to my sorrow, I cannot say to you with certainty that were I in your position, I would follow the halakha that I am presenting to you, for indeed, sometimes the challenges are enormous, and excuses abound. It is a known fact that there is a mitzva to settle the Land of Israel, yet not all observant people do so.

Therefore, I admire Rabbi Shlomo Riskin tremendously, together with all the immigrants from the United States.

Different Approaches

True, a variety of approaches exist in dealing with numerous halakhic issues. This has always been the case, and differences of opinions were prevalent among the Tanna’im, Amora’im, Ge’onim, Rishonim, and Acharonim. Sometimes these differences are a result of diverse personalities, as is the case with Hillel and Shamai. Other times, the differences result from a contrast in background or ways of thinking. Regarding this our Sages say: “The phrase ‘Masters of Gathering’ (ba’alei asufot) refers to Torah scholars who gather together and study Torah. These declare x impure, while those declare it pure; these forbid, while those permit; these invalidate, while those validate. A person might be tempted to say: ‘How in these circumstances can I learn Torah?’ Therefore, the verse goes on to state: ‘They were all given by one shepherd’ (Kohelet 12:11) – One God gave them; one leader stated them. They come from the mouth of the Lord of all creation, blessed be He. Thus it is written: ‘And God spoke all these words (Shemot 20:1).’ Make your ears like a funnel and acquire a perceptive heart so that you can understand the words of those who declare pure and to those who declare impure, those who forbid and those who permit, those who invalidate and those who validate” (Chagiga 3b).

American Judaism

Rabbi Riskin’s American background is very significant in his work. Jews living in the U.S. and those emigrating from there are on the frontlines in engaging with the challenges presented by Western culture — the ideals of liberalism and egalitarianism, as well as feminism. Rabbi Riskin and his associates are paving the way to deal with these critically important questions while retaining unwavering loyalty to Torah. Even among American Rabbis there are differences in approach in regards to general culture — how open we should be, and where to draw the line; which outside elements should be welcomed, and which rejected.

Occasionally, other rabbis, myself included, favor solutions different from those of Rabbi Riskin. Sometimes this preference is a result of common practice which we feel bound by; other times, we simply believe that a different solution is preferable. These differences of opinion mainly center on educational and social issues and not on significant halachic questions. Only with hindsight will we be able to properly evaluate the pros and cons of each approach. In any case, one may not invalidate Rabbi Riskin’s approach, which is one of the important conduits through which Torah is being revealed today.

A Complete Torah scroll

A Torah scroll which is missing even one letter is invalid. So, too, in the world of Torah, each true Torah scholar has a letter in the Torah. Anyone who excludes a Torah scholar from the community invalidates his Torah scroll. Threatening the tenure of Rabbi Riskin is the equivalent of ripping out entire sections from the Torah.

I assume that the Chief Rabbinate’s council is debating Rabbi Riskin’s future because it is not really familiar with him and his work. However, once they hear a bit about his fear of God, wisdom, and righteousness, I believe that most of the members of the council will stand by him.

If, God forbid, they decide otherwise, Rabbi Riskin’s honor will not be damaged one iota. The status of his community and his institutions will continue to rise, and his influence will increase. However, the status of the Chief Rabbinate as the flag bearer of Torah for the people of Israel will be weakened, as many will come to the realization that the Torah scroll it represents is lacking and thus invalid.

The Chief Rabbinate’s Policy

Some maintain that the Chief Rabbinate needs to establish guiding principles that all rabbis must accept, and that Rabbi Riskin has not been following them with regards to conversion and other matters.

Indeed, it is true that it would be appropriate for the Rabbinate to take a position regarding contemporary communal issues. However, to do so it must engage in a profound and serious analysis of each issue. The discussion needs to involve Gemara, Rishonim, and Acharonim, and an analysis of the reality being explored in all its complexity. In order to expedite the discussions, the Rabbis engaging the issues need to study and read a variety of articles dealing with the issues. Even after this groundwork is laid, the discussion of each issue would minimally need to extend over a number of days. To our dismay, there are no serious discussions taking place today about any significant issues, neither in the Rabbinate, nor in any other Torah organization. For example, Rabbi Chaim Amsalem shlita wrote a very serious book dealing with conversion, which deserves to be discussed. True, my conclusions differs from his, but most who disagree with him offer frivolous objections backed-up with attacks, as is customary in Charedi circles.

I must add that despite the importance of establishing an official position on every issue, this position must not negate the rights of individual rabbis to their opinions. Even when the Sanhedrin sat in the lishkat hagazit (the hewn chamber) on the Temple Mount, the local courts still retained a certain amount of authority. For the position is not merely a fine line, but rather a field, blessed by God — a wide field encompassing various practices and approaches, in whose merit the Oral Law is enriched and blessed. This is even truer today, when we have no Sanhedrin ordained in an unbroken chain from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu. The Rabbinate cannot demarcate a sharp line which leaves important Torah positions on the outside. When the status and authority of the Chief Rabbinate is weak, it must be even more careful to take into account a variety of opinions when it formulates its positions. This is longstanding rabbinic practice.

With Equal Justice for All

Leaving all of the above aside, there must be one law which applies to all. The Council of the Chief Rabbinate overlooks serious disrespect towards its honor and positions imposed by Charedi rabbis who boycott its kashrut and demean the Chief Rabbis, as well as city and community rabbis. Given that, they must certainly show tolerance and favor towards rabbis like Rabbi Riskin, who respect the Chief Rabbinate, but occasionally adopt differing positions.

Today, the Chief Rabbinate does not attempt to immediately fire Rabbis who, contrary to halakhic norms, invalidate conversions performed by the Rabbinate’s representatives. It still recognizes Charedi kashrut organizations, and their marriages and conversions, even though they dare to publicly uproot biblical commandments. These include the mitzva to settle the Land of Israel and to protect the people of Israel by serving in the army. These rabbis are also ingrates, refusing to recognize God’s goodness in establishing the State, and denounce those who recite Hallel on Israeli Independence Day. Yet they are recognized. In light of this reality, the Chief Rabbinate must certainly refrain from acting against a rabbi whose fear of God, good deeds, and wisdom are greater than those of the Charedi rabbis whose honor they over-zealously guard.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/

“Do not give them a Resting Place in the Land”

Does the sale of the Land of Israel to a non-Jew in the framework of the ‘heter mechira’ contradict the Torah prohibition “Lo -techannem”? * The purpose of the prohibition is to prevent non-Jews from getting a foothold in the Land of Israel * There is no prohibition of “Lo-techannem” when the sale is for a limited time * There is no prohibition when the purpose of the sale is to strengthen our foothold in the country * Challengers of the ‘heter mechira’ by reason of “Lo-techannem” are precisely the ones who are negligent in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz * Why Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi thought that after the destruction of the Holy Temple shmitta should be cancelled * Why the ‘heter mechira’ was not used in the period following the destruction of the Holy Temple

A Question about the ‘Heter Mechira

Rabbi, thanks to your article on the ‘heter mechira‘ (a halachic mechanism whereby agricultural lands in Israel are sold to non-Jews, allowing the lands to be cultivated and vegetables grown during the Sabbatical year), I realized for the first time just how firmly it is based in Jewish law. Previously, I had been influenced by the argument of the Haredim who belittled (to put it mildly) rabbis who accept the heter mechira. However, I still have a question: If it is forbidden to sell land to non-Jews in Eretz Yisrael, as it is written: “Lo-techannem“, or in English “nor show mercy to them”, which may be rendered “Do not give them a resting place in the land”, how can the land be sold to in order to preempt shmitta (the Sabbatical year)?

The Prohibition of “Lo- techannem

First, let us clarify the prohibition. Concerning the inhabitants of Canaan, the Torah states “ve’lo techannem“(Deuteronomy 7:2), and our Sages explained that this command includes three prohibitions: “lo-techannem” – 1) ‘Do not give them a resting place in the land’, 2) ‘Do not be gracious with them’, and 3) ‘Do not give them a free gift’ (Avoda Zara 20a).

Our Sages explained the prohibition ‘do not be gracious with them’ as meaning not to praise them, so that the Jewish nation would not learn to walk in their immoral ways. The prohibition ‘do not give them a free gift’ is so as not to strengthen them in their deeds, and in their control of the land.

The prohibition of selling them land in Eretz Yisrael is so they do not strengthen their foothold in the country, as Rambam determined: “It is forbidden to sell them homes and fields in Eretz Yisrael … Why is it forbidden to sell them land or anything attached to the land? Because it is stated in Deuteronomy 7:2: “Do not be gracious with them”, which can also be interpreted: “Do not give them a resting place in the land.” As long as they do not have a resting place in the land, their stay will be a temporary one” (Hilchot Avoda Zara 10:1-4).

It follows then that the prohibition of selling land in Eretz Yisrael to non-Jews is so as not to strengthen their hold on the country, and not to learn from their bad deeds. Consequently, all of these prohibitions are permitted for a ‘ger toshav‘ (resident alien) – i.e., a non-Jew who accepted upon himself the Seven Noahide commandments before a ‘Bet Din‘ (a Jewish law court), out of belief in Hashem the God of Israel, and by doing so, also believes that God promised the Land of Israel to the Jewish Nation. However, at the present time when the laws of Yovel (the Jubilee year) are not observed, according to the Rambam and most poskim (Jewish law arbiters) gerim toshavim cannot be accepted, but only a ger tzeddek (convert) who becomes a full Jew (Rambam, ibid., 10:6). However, in the opinion of Ra’avad, even today, it is permitted to sell land to a non-Jew who, in practice, behaves similar to a ger toshav.

Torah Verses

All these matters emerge and are clarified from the verses of the Torah in which the prohibition “lo-techannem” appears. As it is written: “When God your Lord brings you to the land you are entering, so that you can occupy it, He will uproot many nations before you – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites and Jebusites – seven nations more numerous and powerful than you are. When God your Lord places them at your disposal and you defeat them, you must utterly destroy them, not making any treaty with them or giving them any consideration. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons, and do not take their daughters for your sons. [If you do], they will lead your children away from Me, causing them to worship other gods. God will then display His anger against you, and you will quickly be destroyed… You are a nation consecrated to God your Lord. God your Lord chose you to be His special people among all the nations on the face of the earth”(Deuteronomy 7:1).

In the ‘Heter Mechira’ there is No Question of “Lo-techannem

Thus, there is absolutely no prohibition to sell fields to a non-Jew for a year or two, seeing as the purpose of the prohibition is to prevent non-Jews who are not gerim toshavim from establishing permanent residence in the country, and in this mechira there is nothing to fear, because it is for a limited time. And even for the period of time of the mechira, the non-Jew does not actually intend to inherit the field; on the contrary – the sole purpose of the non-Jewish purchaser is to help strengthen Jewish life in the Eretz Yisrael.

And thus wrote Rabbi Eliyahu-David Rabinovitz Teomim (also know by the acronym, “Aderet”), that he could not understand whatsoever the claim of those who disagreed with the ‘heter mechira‘, for what is the problem with a sale “for a few years, that certainly will return to us afterwards, apparently to which ‘lo-techannem‘ does not at all apply. For the very essence of the prohibition is obviously for us to have a foothold in the Holy Land and not them, and if we are overly machmir (stringent), it will be impossible, God forbid, for us to do so”(appears at the end of “Shabbat Ha’aretz” by Rabbi Kook). And thus wrote ‘Shemen HaMor’, Y.D. 4; Yeshu’ote Malko, Y.D. 55:59; Avnei Nezer, Y.D. 458; Rabbi Frank (Har Tzvi, Zera’im, 2:47).

There is No Prohibition of “Lo-Techannem” in a Limited Sale

Furthermore, even if the sale was unnecessary for the strengthening of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), a number of poskim have written that the prohibition is transgressed only when the sale is permanent, or at least when the non-Jew intends to operate as the owner for a certain amount of time. But in this case, when it is a short-term sale and the non-Jew has no intention of acting as the owner, there is no prohibition of “lo-techannem“. This is what the ‘Sefer HaChinuch’ wrote in Mitzvah 339, in the name of the Ramban.

Precisely for the Reason of “Lo-Techannem” Fields Should be Sold Temporarily

Therefore, indeed, the exact opposite is true: Precisely because of the mitzvah “lo techannem” we should sell the fields to a non-Jew in the shmitta year, so that Jews returning from Exile to the Eretz Yisrael will be able to be strong in their land, and not allow foreigners to get a foothold on to the ground by exploiting Am Yisrael’s work-stoppage in the Sabbatical year.

Precisely so we can properly keep the mitzvoth of shmitta according to the Torah, we must make use in the meantime of the ‘heter mechira‘. This is because the Torah mitzvah of shmitta applies only when all Jews reside in Israel, every tribe in its place. In order for us to continue strengthening ourselves in Eretz Yisrael against our enemies, and so that all the Jews living in the Diaspora can gather here and keep hold of the land, we must be as lenient as possible with regard to the farmers, so they can occupy as many fields and plant as many orchards as possible, for all the Jews who will be immigrating to Israel.

Additional Explanations

Other explanations have been proposed in regards to this issue as well, for example, that the prohibition is specifically directed towards idol worshipers; or that there is no prohibition when, in any case, a non-Jew already owns land in the country; or that in a sha’at dachak (time of distress) and for the sake of a Jew, it is permitted. However, despite the fact that the poskim and our teacher and guide, Rabbi Kook, engaged in these theories at length due to their love for Torah learning and in-depth study, nevertheless, these explanations are marginal. The main reason for the ‘heter‘ is as previously explained, that when the sale is for a short time, and there is no fear the non-Jew will gain a foothold in the country by doing so – but on the contrary, by selling the land temporarily, Jewish sovereignty over the land will become stronger, there is no transgression in selling the land; on the contrary – it constitutes a mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz. This is because “lo-techannem” is a branch of the general mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz. And the fact is that most of those who argue against the ‘heter mechira‘ by reason of “lo-techannem” were remiss and continue to neglect the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz, and there is no need to discuss this painful issue any further.

Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi’s Desire to Cancel Shmitta

After the destruction of the Holy Temple, there were years in which the situation of the Jews in Israel was unbearable. In addition to the malicious proceedings of the Romans who ruled the country and imposed high taxes on the Jews, often, in years of drought or war, the Romans demanded even higher taxes in order to supply the needs of their soldiers. When such times occurred close to the shmitta year, the burden was intolerable. Therefore, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (Rebbe) wanted to permit agricultural work in the shmitta year, for since it held the status of a rabbinic mitzvah, the Sages could permit it in a sha’at dachak. But Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair, who was known as one of the righteous men of the generation, refused to agree, because he believed that it was possible to survive with difficulty without working in the shmitta year, and Rebbe relented (Yerushalmi D’mai 1:3; Taanit 3a).

How Could Rebbe Want to Cancel Shmitta?

Seemingly, one could ask: How could Rebbe think of cancelling shmitta, for indeed, we have a general rule that one Bet Din cannot overrule the decision of another Bet Din unless it is greater in wisdom and numbers, and the Bet Din that determined the fulfillment of shmitta was the Bet Din of Ezra HaSofer which was superior, and in indeed, was labeled the “Knesset HaGadola” (the Great Assembly)? Nevertheless, Rebbe believed that since the need for this was urgent, and in any case, many Jews were violating the decree and working in the shmitta year – to the point where our Sages said: “Israel are suspect with regard to the Sabbatical year” (Gittin 54a), consequently, it was possible to cancel shmitta even by a lesser Bet Din. But since he did not receive full consent from the Torah scholars of his generation, Rebbe did not have the power to convene an important Bet Din to cancel the shmitta.

Rebbe’s Attitude towards those Who Worked in the Shmitta Year

Once, a person who worked in his field in the shmitta year was brought before Rebbe for condemnation, but Rebbe refrained from reproaching him, and said: ‘What should this poor man do? He acts this way to keep himself alive!” (Yerushalmi, Taanit 3:1). Our Sages further said that fasts and prayers are held in times of drought even when they occur in the shmitta year, ‘for the livelihood of others’. It was asked: Who are these “others” we fast for, so rain should fall? After all, Jews are meant to stop working their fields in the shmitta year? Some explained that the fast was for the non-Jews who worked during shmitta, for if there was no rain, produce would be more expensive, and Jews would suffer from it as well. Rabbi Zeira explained that they fasted for the Jews who were suspected of working in their fields in order to sustain themselves, and it was explained that Rabbi Zeira agreed with the opinion of Rebbe, who was lenient in regards to poor people who worked in the shmitta year (Yerushalmi, ibid., according to Korban HaEida, Pnei Moshe, Maran HaRav Kook, and not like Rash Serilio and Gra).

Our Present Situation

Q: If during the times of our Sages, when it was so difficult to keep shmitta,
the ‘heter mechira‘ was not used, why do we use it today?

A: Our teacher and guide, Rabbi Avraham Shapira of blessed memory, explained that seeing as the Roman’s who ruled at that time were attempting to uproot the Jews from their fields, it was impossible to perform any type of mechira, lest the enemies of Israel used the opportunity to dispossess the seller of his land.

In any event, there is no room for comparison between our times to that of the era immediately following the destruction of the Second Temple, because in that period, according to all halachic opinions, they were obligated to keep shmitta m’divrei Chachamim (rabbinic ordinance), and this is exactly what Rebbe tried to cancel. However, one hundred and fifty years after Rebbe’s time, a Bet Din that sanctified the months and counted Yovel (Jubilee year) was cancelled, and since then, in the opinion of several Rishonim, there is no obligation to keep shmitta at all. Additionally, a safek (doubt) arose as to when the Sabbatical year actually falls, and there are three different opinions among the Rishonim. Thus, even without the mechira, it is possible to be lenient in a sha’at dachak to work in the shmitta year – all the more so, together with the ‘heter mechira‘.

This article appears in the “Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/

Material and Spiritual Joy on Shavuot

The importance of joy on Chag Shavuot, in the material aspect as well * Avoiding prohibited preparations from Shabbat to Shavuot * Can one take foods out of the freezer on Shabbat for Chag? * How to prepare and light the candles for Chag Shavuot * Showering on Shabbat and Chag * ‘Birkot HaShachar’ for someone who remained awake all night * Eating and drinking during the night of Shavuot and before the morning prayers * A ‘shiva’ call to the house of Rabbi Moshe Levinger * Rabbi Levinger’s large and extensive family and their connection to his legacy

The Joy of Shavuot – Spiritual and Material

The joy of Chag Shavuot is immense and unique. Consequently, even Rabbi Eliezer who, in the Talmud, is of the opinion that people of virtue should dedicate Yom Tov to the study of Torah, and for them, eating on Yom Tov is merely so they are not considered as having afflicted themselves, he also agrees that on Shavuot, one must partake in an important festive meal since “it is the day in which the Torah was given” (Pesachim 68b). Seeing as the Torah comes to perfect both the spiritual and material worlds, the joy of the holiday must also spread to the material world by means of eating and drinking. This is the complete tikun (perfection), which encompasses both the soul and body, thus revealing that there is nothing either detached or distant from God Almighty. There is a deep and hidden essence in the physical body and its emotions, and only when they are united with the soul are we able to comprehend them. Therefore, complete d’veykute (attachment) to God includes both the soul and the body, as will be the case after techiyat ha’meytim (the resurrection of the dead), when the soul will return to the body, and Godliness will be revealed completely in all levels.

Therefore, one should greatly embellish the joy of Shavuot, so it is apparent that by means of the Torah the material aspect of life is also perfected. This foundation is alluded to in the fact that on Shavuot the offering of the two loaves of bread were brought in the Holy Temple, which were made of chametz (leaven), and as is well-known, chametz hints to the character traits of pride and the evil inclination, but by means of the Torah, the evil inclination is perfected, and thus, it is offered as a sacrifice on Shavuot.

Laws of Preparing from Shabbat to Yom Tov that Falls on Motzei Shabbat

When Yom Tov falls on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), one must be careful not to prepare anything from Shabbat to Yom Tov, since Shabbat is intended for holiness and rest, and not for preparations for another day. Therefore, anyone who troubles himself on Shabbat by preparing something for a weekday or a holiday – belittles its’ dignity (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 22: 15-16).

Consequently, it is forbidden to wash dirty dishes from Shabbat to use on Yom Tov; only after Shabbat has departed can they be washed in order use them on Yom Tov. It is also forbidden to clean the table on Shabbat in honor of the holiday, but the table can be cleaned so that it is tidy on Shabbat, even though this will be beneficial for the holiday.

Someone who goes to synagogue before Shabbat has departed is permitted to take a Yom Tov siddur (prayer book) with him, and should read from it a bit on Shabbat, thus making its taking for the sake of Shabbat as well.

There is disagreement among the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) concerning removing foods from the freezer on Shabbat for the evening meal on Yom Tov. In practice, b’sha’at ha’dachak (times of distress), when waiting for Shabbat to depart will cause anguish and a significant delay in the Yom Tov meal, it is permissible to take frozen food out of the freezer on Shabbat. However, without a tzorech gadol (great need), one should be machmir (stringent) not to take food out of the freezer for the holiday on Shabbat.

It is forbidden to place food on a platta (hot plate) on Shabbat to be eaten at the evening meal of Yom Tov, but only after Shabbat is over, and one says, “Baruch ha’mavdil ben kodesh l’kodesh” (“Blessed be He who distinguishes between holy and holy”). Only then is one permitted to start organizing the needs of ochel nefesh (food preparation allowed on Yom Tov), and to cook and heat the food.

When to Eat Seudah Shlisheet

L’chatchila (ideally), it is best to eat seudah shlisheet (the third Shabbat meal) earlier, before the last three hours of the Shabbat day. If one did not do so, he should nevertheless eat seudah shlisheet, even during the hours close to the beginning of Yom Tov, but should try to limit his eating, so as to have an appetite for the evening meal of Yom Tov.

Sleeping on Shabbat ahead of Shavuot

It is better for a person not to say that he is going to sleep on Shabbat in order to have strength to stay up all night learning Torah on Shavuot. Nevertheless, someone who wants to say it is permitted, since the main point of the prohibition is speaking on Shabbat about something that is prohibited to do on Shabbat itself, and there is nothing prohibited in the study of Torah on Shabbat, nor is such speech an insult to Shabbat, since it is for the sake of a mitzvah.

Candle Lighting

It is forbidden to light the holiday candles before tzait ha’chochavim (nightfall), rather, one should wait until the stars have appeared in the sky and Shabbat has departed, and then say, “Baruch ha’mavdil ben kodesh l’kodesh“, and light the candles.

Since it is prohibited to light a new fire on Yom Tov, one must prepare before Shabbat a candle that will burn for more than twenty-four hours, from which one can light the Yom Tov candles. If one did not prepare such a candle, he should transfer fire from one of his neighbor’s candles to light the Yom Tov candles.

It is permissible to push the candle forcibly into the candlestick holder, even though this causes the candle to be slightly crushed. Similarly, one may remove by knife the remaining wax in the candlestick which interferes with the placement of the new candle, and one is allowed to remove the metal disc stuck to the bottom of the glass cup in which neronim (candles that turn into oil) were used. It is also permitted to insert a floating wick into a floating cork. But it is forbidden to heat a wax candle to attach it to a candlestick holder, lest one transgress the rabbinic decree of ‘ma’rey’ach‘ (spreading or smearing), which is a toledah of ‘mi’ma’chake‘ (scraping/sanding a surface to achieve smoothness). It is also forbidden to cut or file the bottom of the candle to insert it into the candlestick because of the prohibition ‘mi’cha’taych‘ (cutting any object to a specific size).

Showering

Since Shabbat and Yom Tov are adjacent, and many people are used to showering every day, those who feel the need to shower on Shabbat afternoon are permitted to wash in warm water – i.e., water in which they do not suffer from its coldness, but on the other hand, is not hot. One should not wash in hot water because of the rabbinical decree of ‘mirchatz‘. But on the night of Shavuot, or during the day, one is allowed to wash even in hot water, on the condition that the water was heated in a permissible way, such as by a dude shemesh (solar heater), or by a Shabbat-timer (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 14:8; Moadim 5:10).

Furthermore, one should remember not to brush their hair, because brushing sheds hair, which is a Torah prohibition.

Birkot HaShachar for those who Remain Awake all Night

Even a person who remained awake all night recites Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings), because Birkot HaShachar were fixed as prayers of gratitude for the general pleasures which are constantly renewed every day for human beings, therefore, even if one does not receive personal gratification from a particular aspect – he recites a blessing over it. However, there are different customs concerning the number of blessings.

Washing Hands

In regards to nitilat yadayim (washing the hands), it is agreed that one should wash his hands before morning prayers, however, the poskim were divided on whether to recite a blessing over this washing or not. According to the Ashkenazi custom, it is best is to relieve oneself before prayer, and to touch one of the covered areas of one’s body which had become a bit sweaty since one’s last bathing, and thus, he is obligated to wash his hands with a blessing. However according to Sephardic custom, in any case, one does not recite a blessing over this washing of the hands.

Birkot Ha’Torah

It is agreed that if one slept during the previous day for at least half an hour, he recites Birkot Ha’Torah (Blessings over the Torah) in the morning. If one did not sleep at all during the day, according to the majority of poskim he recites Birkot Ha’Torah, but since there are a few authorities who hold that one should not recite the blessings, l’chatchila (ideally), it is good to hear the blessings recited by someone who slept, and have kavana (intention) to fulfill his obligation by hearing them.

Birkat “Alokei Neshama” and “HaMa’avir Sheyna”

Some poskim say that only a person who slept can recite these blessings, and therefore it is proper to hear them from someone who actually did sleep, and have kavana to fulfill his obligation. When there is no one to recite the blessings, according to most authorities, one should recite the blessings himself, and this is the custom of all Sephardim, and some Ashkenazim. There are other Ashkenazim whose custom is to be machmir (stringent), and due to the safek (doubt), recite the blessings without shem and malchut (“Hashem Elokenu Melech Ha’olam). An Ashkenazi who does not know what his custom is may act according to the custom of the majority of Israel, and recite all the blessings himself.

Summary

According to the custom of the majority of Israel, those who remain awake all night recite all Birkot Ha’Shachar and Birkot Ha’Torah. The mehadrin (those who embellish the mitzvoth), when able, fulfill the obligation of Birkat Ha’Torah and the blessings “Alokei Neshama” and “Ha’Ma’avir Sheyna” by hearing them from someone who slept at night.

The Time of the Blessings

According to halakha, Birkot Ha’Shachar and Birkot Ha’Torah are recited close to the morning prayers. And according to kabala, Birkot Ha’Shachar are recited after chatzot ha’layla (midnight), and Birkot Ha’Torah after amud ha’shachar (dawn).

Eating and Drinking at Night and Prior to the Morning Prayers

During the night, one may eat and drink without limitation. However, from half an hour before amud ha’shachar, it is forbidden to eat a seudah (a meal), lest one get over-involved in his meal. This includes the prohibition of eating bread or cakes whose size is equal to or greater than a beitza (an egg), however, one may eat without keviyut seudah (setting a meal) fruits and vegetables and cooked mezanot foods without limitations. From amud ha’shachar, it is forbidden to eat anything or to drink coffee or juice, and even one who had started eating or drinking beforehand – should stop. One is allowed to drink only water after amud ha’shachar.

Rabbi Moshe Levinger ztz”l

My wife merited paying a ‘shiva‘ call (a condolence visit) to the Levinger family home in Hebron. When she approached the grieving Rebbetzin, she immediately said to my wife: “Out of all the Batei Midrash (houses of Torah study), only the Beit Midrash of Rav Kook understood the importance of the Land of Israel. All of the settlements in Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights are by virtue of this Beit Midrash. The State of Israel has been rescued in the merit of these settlements. If not for all the yishuvim (communities), the entire area would be dominated by ISIS, and all of the country would be in danger.”

“When I made aliyah (immigrated) from America”, Rebbetzin Levinger told my wife, “I thought I had lost the zechut (merit) to be one of the pioneers taking part in the mitzvah of building the state, and then, after the Six Day War, Rabbi Moshe said to me: ‘Here, now you also have a chance to be a pioneer’.”

The Levinger family sits in mourning, but nevertheless, the house is full of energy. Grandchildren fill all the rooms. Whenever a consoler begins to speak about Rabbi Moshe ztz”l, one of the grandchildren immediately hastens to start the tape-recorder. On one side sits a granddaughter transcribing the eulogies, and on the other, another grandson types the words of the consolers on a laptop computer. At present, the Levinger children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren number 149, excluding the 23 husbands and wives of the Levinger’s children and grandchildren. And the Rebbetzin says with tears in her eyes: “Just thank God, just thank God for all the blessings!”

After they began settling Hebron, Rabbi Moshe would travel from city to city, from one high school to another, and in every place he spoke and taught about the importance of Torat Eretz Israel, and called to join the settlement enterprise. One of those who answered his call was a young woman, Tzipporah from Rechovot, who came to Hebron, married Menachem Livni, and established a house resplendent with chesed (kindness and charity) in Kiryat Arba. A few days ago, at the age of 63, she died from a malignant disease, leaving behind a wonderful family, which already numbers 45 people. Six children have already married, and their families are spread throughout Judea and Samaria.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Additional articles by Rabbi Melamed can be read at: http://en.yhb.org.il/

The Appearance of Holiness through Nature

Can we rely on the Torah’s promise of agricultural blessing in the sixth year nowadays? The blessing relates to a situation when all of Israel resides in the Land and the Sabbatical year is of biblical status, and not by relying on miracles * Agricultural communities that did not rely on the heter mechira did not merit financial blessing * In the Land of Israel, Divine blessing appears specifically in a natural manner * Outside of the Land of Israel holiness can be revealed only in supernatural ways * When the Children of Israel entered the Land the revealed miracles they experienced in the desert ceased * The greatness of King David in defeating his enemies conventionally, and without miracles

Why Not Trust the Divine Blessing of the Sabbatical Year?

Many people ask, why rely on the heter mechira (a halachic mechanism whereby agricultural lands in Israel are sold to non-Jews, allowing the lands to be cultivated and vegetables grown during the Sabbatical year) and expropriate the requirements of shmitta in the seventh year, when the Torah promised Israel a blessing if it keeps shmitta, as it is written (Leviticus 25: 20-21): “In the seventh year, you might ask, “What will we eat? We have not planted nor have we harvested crops.” I will direct My blessing to you in the sixth year, and the Land will produce enough crops for three years.” Moreover, as a punishment for the sin of canceling shmitta, Israel is exiled from their land, as it is written (Leviticus 26:34-35): “Then, as long as the land is desolate and you are in your enemies land, the land will enjoy its Sabbaths. The land will rest and enjoy its sabbatical years. Thus, as long as it is desolate, the land will enjoy the sabbatical rest that you would not give it when you lived there.” And our Sages said: “As a punishment for incest, idolatry, and non-observance of the years of shmitta and jubilee, exile comes to the world, they [the Jews] are exiled, and others come and dwell in their place” (Shabbat 33a).

The Simple Answer

The basic answer is twofold:

1) The promise of God’s blessing in the sixth year is when the shmitta year is of Biblical status, as numerous poskim (Jewish law arbiters) have written, among them: Sm”a (Choshen Mishpat 67:2), Haga’ot Ya’avetz, Hidushei Chatam Sofer (on Gittin 36), Pe’at HaShulchan (29:3), Yeshu’ot Malko, Mahari Engel, Maran HaRav Kook (Iggrot 555), and others (and not like the words of Chiddushei HaRim on Gittin ibid, and Hazon Ish, Shevi’it 18:4).

B) The Torah instructs us not to rely on miracles. And it should be pointed out that when all of Israel resides in their Land, every tribe in its place. and the requirement of keeping shmitta is of Biblical status, the miracle comes in a natural manner – i.e., according to common sense, when we see that it is possible to keep the shmitta. But when the obligation is of rabbinic status, at times realistic considerations indicate that keeping shmitta will cause great duress, and will affect the ability to fulfill other mitzvoth which are of Biblical status. In such a case, it is proper to expropriate the obligation of keeping shmitta in the fields by means of the heter mechira, in the same manner as we expropriate the mitzvah of cancelling all financial debts by means of the prozbul (a halachic mechanism that technically changed the status of individual private loans into the public administration, allowing the poor to receive interest-free loans before the Sabbatical year while protecting the investments of the lenders).

If One Wishes to be Precise

Besides this, if some insist on accuracy in regards to Divine blessing, then we have to acknowledge that reality has proved that the blessing does not exist nowadays, for the few communities that tried to abstain from agricultural labor in the Sabbatical year suffered numerous difficulties – over and above the normal difficulties of farmers who were made use of the heter mechira. This, despite them being righteous and hardworking people, God-fearing, and lovers of Eretz Yisrael.

In contrast, the religious kibbutzim and moshavim who worked within the framework of the heter mechira merited abundant blessing, and on top of that, they were virtually unaffected by the great crisis of the kibbutzim thirty years ago. This, in addition to meriting settling the Land on a large scale.

Within this Question Lies the Foundation of Jewish Faith

If we delve further, we find that the foundation of Jewish faith is dependent on this issue. People with superficial faith believe that Divinity is revealed through miracles – in the supernatural. As a result, working for a living is not so important to them, and they do not see a problem in the fact that a large sector of Israel’s society requires support from the State and private donors, because, in any case, everything depends on God, and if He so desires, even without working, they will merit abundant blessing. Therefore, they also see no value in the study of sciences and its development because it’s natural, and does not address things beyond reality. But the truth is that one of the main ways of revealing faith and Torah is by means of science and reason, as the Vilna Gaon said that secular wisdom is a vital adjunct to the Torah, to the extent that an individual lacking knowledge in secular wisdom, conversely, lacks one hundredfold in Torah wisdom.

For this reason, they also tend to believe that the farmers who abstain from working in the shmitta year will be blessed by a miracle, even when according to logic it is evident that not working will cause severe duress and result in a grave blow to the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel).

The Mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’aretz

Now we can understand the importance and centrality of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz. For this mitzvah forces us to reveal all the values ​​of the Torah within the actual, physical world, with all its earthly considerations and realities.

According to the superficial perception, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is supposed to be revealed without taking into account any real considerations whatsoever. If we are commanded to conquer the land, it should be conquered without any consideration of our military capabilities, and the forces we face. Since this perception contradicts reason and is unachievable, those who advocate it will argue that, in any case, the mitzvah will occur only when the Mashiach comes, and through an open miracle that is beyond any realistic consideration.

According to their view, there’s no need to work for the sake of the kibbutz galuyot (the ingathering of the exiles) and yishuv ha’aretz, because in their opinion the redemption will come in a miraculous manner that even the Jews who left Egypt did not merit. Rather, suddenly, millions of homes will fall from the sky, together with an infrastructure of roads, electricity, water and sewage, to absorb the masses of Israel who will make aliyah (immigrate) along with the Mashiach from the four corners of the earth. And at that exact moment, the country will be covered with orchards and cultivated fields to feed all the Jews, and industrial plants for the production of food, clothing and furniture, and stores in the cities will instantly arise, to satisfy all the needs of the millions of immigrants.

Such an attitude denies the Torah which commanded us to settle the Land, as Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer explained, we must act practically to bring about the redemption.

The Pagan Faith Outside of the Land of Israel

Now we can understand why our Sages said (Ketubot 110b): “Whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols”, because in chutz la’aretz, faith is revealed only through miracles, only through the supernatural. But in nature, as it were, the sitra achra (the ‘Other Side’) is in control, contrary to God’s divine guidance. However, Jewish faith declares that God is One in Heaven and Earth. The main revelation of faith is in all of nature, with all its rational considerations. This is also the Torah of Eretz Israel, which explains how the Divine blessing descends from the heavens to this world via human efforts of tikun olam (perfecting the world).

Therefore, when the Torah says that God will give His blessing in the sixth year, the meaning is that we will be able to understand logically how the blessing will come to Israel by way of our labor in the six years, and the cessation of work in the seventh year, as I clarified in my previous article according to the Safra, and Rabbi Pinchas Bal Ha’Hafla’ah.

Holiness Revealed in Nature

Maran Harav Kook wrote: “The holiness in nature is the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, and the Divine Presence which descended to Exile along with Israel, is the ability to place holiness in contrast to nature. But the holiness which fights against nature is not a complete holiness, etc.”(Orot Hatechiya 28).

Miracles are Bidieved, Nature is Lechatchila

Indeed, Israel’s existence in the Diaspora is dependent on a miracle that stands in opposition to nature, because customarily, ‘a lone sheep cannot survive among seventy wolves’. Therefore, miracles occupy a central place in the Torah of chutz la’aretz. However, since miracles depart from the regular order of life, they cannot create a praiseworthy reality. Miracles can save or indicate a certain direction, and in this sense, there is room for miracles in Israel as well. But miracles are not the central path through which God’s abundant blessings flow.

As a result, people who go to miracle-workers usually suffer more from illnesses, lack of making a living, and domestic harmony. And although sometimes they merit salvation, since they do not recognize God’s blessings which come naturally by means of practical efforts, most of the abundant Divine blessings are lost to them. And as the Torah says (Deuteronomy 14:29): “God your Lord will then bless you in everything that you do.”

Divine Blessing Flows via Nature

It is also explained in the Torah portion ‘Bechukothai‘ that the reward promised to Israel when we walk in the ways of God and His Torah will come naturally. The rains will fall in the right time, and the land will give off its harvest abundantly. And the curse, as well, comes naturally – through drought, disease, and enemies.

If God’s goal was for us to live by means of miracles, it would have been preferable to stay in the desert and eat the manna that fell from heaven, as the Spies desired. However, the Torah commanded Israel to enter into the Land and work its soil, and take pains to grow its holy fruits. This is the blessing promised us if we keep the Torah – that we will merit to labor and see the blessing of the work of our hands, until the point where we are busy harvesting the fruits and grapes for the entire summer.

How the Land of Israel Functions

In an ideal situation, there is no need for miracles in the Land of Israel, for holiness is revealed in the land itself; this is the hidden miracle which is greater than all other miracles. On the other hand, in Egypt and in the desert, signs and wonders abounded, whose goal was to indicate the path and direction of living a complete life in the Land of Israel. As a result, upon entering the Land the revealed miracles ceased – manna no longer fell from heaven, shoes and clothes wore-out as they normally do, the divine Pillar of Fire, the Cloud, and the Well no longer accompanied Israel. On the other hand, the entire Land of Israel sings the praises of God.

Therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded to count all the men from the age of twenty who were fit for military service, in order to prepare them for the conquest of the Land by natural means. And from the time the Jewish nation came into the Land of Israel, they began eating the produce that grew from the land and it was at that moment precisely when they became obligated to fulfill the mitzvoth ha’teluyot b’aretz (the commandments contingent on the Land).

Four Kings

Similarly, we have learned in the Midrash (Eicha Rabba Petichta 30): “There were four kings, each of whom requested different things. They were David, Asa, Yehoshaphat, and Chizkiyahu. David said: ‘I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them: neither did I turn back until they were consumed.’ God answered him, and he killed his enemies. Asa stood up and said: ‘I lack the strength to kill them; instead, I will pursue them, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies. Yehoshaphat stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them; instead, I will sing, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies. Chizkiyahu stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them or to sing; instead, I will sleep in my bed, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, as it is written: “And it came to pass that night that the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of Ashur.”

According to superficial perception of faith, in the sense of chutz la’aretz, it would seem that Chiziyahu was the greatest of all the kings, for the largest miracle was done for him. However, our Sages wanted to teach us that David, King of Israel, is the greatest of all them, for Divine blessing was revealed through his actions.

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

Stories of the Old and Good Israel

A new book filled with great love for the people, Land, and State of Israel, in particular, those who dedicated their lives to the rebirth of Israel * One hundred stories written in the good old spirit of classic, religious Zionism * The story of the “Children of Tehran”, who fled Poland during the war, wandered between countries for over three years, and suffered greatly until arriving in Israel * Despite the remaining scars, the “Children of Tehran” blended well into the fabric of Israeli life * Specifically Rabbi Kook’s speech at the inauguration of the Hebrew University, attacked by the secular press, was quoted by the Rector at a ceremony fifty years later

One Hundred Eretz Yisrael Stories

My uncle from my mother’s side of the family, Ze’ev Valk, recently published an important and pleasant book, filled with great love for the people and the Land of Israel, aliyah (immigration), settlement and the State, and particularly about the virtuous people who dedicated their lives to the rebirth of Israel.

He tells the story of the settlers and dreamers, and sheds light on characters and extraordinary events, opening a window into the life of the community and the nascent state. Among other stories, he tells about the first Zionist photographer, about the premature joy of finding oil, about the Jezreel Valley railroad and the establishment of the neighborhood of Rehavia, about the battalion of Hebrew language defenders, about Ben Gurion, who forced I.D.F. officers to Hebraize their family names, and about the admission of foreign workers into a Jewish village, and the problem of milking cows on Shabbat.

The stories are depicted with emotion, and while reading them, tears often swell-up spontaneously. Some of the stories are about the painful sacrifice of the ma’apalim (‘illegal’ immigrants) and fighters, but they too are enveloped with a thread of grace and comfort. The stories of sacrifice intensify in stages – from Rabbi Yehuda Halevi and Rabbi Haim Ben Attar who immigrated in order to cherish the soil of our Land, to Natan Elbaz, the soldier who sacrificed his life to save his friends from a hand-grenade. This is the same Natan Elbaz who, on a street named after him in S’derot, when a there was a missile attack fifty years later, a young woman named Ella Abuksis, may God revenge her blood, shielded her younger brother with her body and saved him from death. My uncle tells about the ma’apalim who sailed in rickety boats, and about the kedoshim (holy ones) who drowned in the depths on their way to the loved and desired Land of Israel. He tells about the last battle of the religious military unit, the heroism of the people of Kfar Darom, the fall of Gush Etzion, and its present-day resurrection.

The stories were written in the good spirit of classic religious Zionism, which underscores the best of all ethnic groups and whose criticism is hinted at gently, is partner with the public in its grief and joy, and with self-sacrifice, contributes to the building of the nation and the country. The book is particularly readable, interesting, enlightening and meaningful. It is published by Carmel Publishers, and is now in stores.

In honor of Israel Independence Day which we celebrated not long ago, I chose to share the story of the “Children of Teheran” from the book.

The “Children of Tehran”

The “Children of Tehran” is the nickname for about a thousand orphans from Poland, who fled with their families eastward from the threat of World War II (starting in 1939), traveled in many countries, and arrived in Tehran after more than three years. During the arduous journey they suffered hunger, Siberian cold, desert heat, anti-Semitic persecution, and disease. Many parents died on the way, and thus, these orphans arrived in Tehran. And although these children did not undergo the notorious horrors of the Holocaust, such as ghettos and death camps, they experienced similar sufferings on their own flesh and blood.

In Tehran, all the orphans were assembled in a tent camp called “the Jewish child home”, and prepared for aliyah with the help of young counselors from Poland sent from Israel. From Persia the refugees traveled to the port city of Karachi in Pakistan, from where they sailed to Egypt and continued by train to Israel.

This is what Sarah, a young girl, wrote in her diary: “It’s hard to believe that in one week we’ll be in Eretz Yisrael. Am I not dreaming? And how, how will my feet, which trampled on dead bodies, froze on the Siberian wilderness, burned on the hot Afghanistan soil – how will they stand on the soil of our homeland?”

When the train arrived in Israel, she said: “And here, the special sign ‘Palestine’ appeared. We jumped to our feet, clapped our hands, and cries of joy burst from our throats. And suddenly, a new landscape before our eyes: Green! Green! How green! Fences, trees, sown fields. My land is so beautiful! … I cannot stop myself, and jump from window to window. And in the window – my land! My land – roads, my land – villages, my land – orchards … my land – earth… and blue skies … I did not know you were so beautiful, my land. ”

On the thirteenth of Adar 1, 5703 (1943), the largest group of “Children of Tehran” arrived in Israel. It was the first meeting of the Jewish community in Israel with Holocaust survivors, and the excitement was enormous. The train passed the Rechovot and Hadera stations, and ended its journey in Atlit. In every place, crowds waited and cheered for the survivors. Many members of the community flocked to the orphanage camp hoping to find family members, but only a few were fortunate enough.

While in Karachi, they were given large, wide-brimmed hats to protect them from the sun, and upon their arrival to Israel, they all wore these helmets like little soldiers. The children found an effective use for those hats: upon reaching the piles of oranges prepared for them, they filled the deep hats with abundant fruit…

Davidi related: “One of my first, most vivid childhood memories is the reception held for the “Children of Tehran” who were welcomed into my childhood moshav, S’de Yaakov. Our humble school was decorated. In honor of their arrival, we sang over and over again, with all our might and enthusiasm, ‘heiveinu shalom aleichem‘. Although we were very young, we felt the enormity of the occasion.”

Yitzchak and Edna, “Children Tehran”, told about their first meeting with Israeli life: “Our eyes were spinning in their sockets looking at the vast amount of food on the table; we couldn’t believe our eyes – mountains of fresh bread, and everything in abundance. We stood and stared … ‘No, this is impossible, it cannot be…’ the table was covered with knives, forks, and salt shakers, the beds were covered in white sheets … toothbrush’s … For four years, we never believed we would have a warm home once again.”

But after the celebrations ended, everything returned to its regular routine. That’s when the real challenge of absorbing the ‘survivors of the fires’ began. Most of the young refugees were indeed disciplined, polite and grateful, but the years of agony and wandering took its toll. Many of them suffered from nightmares in which all the horrors re-surfaced. Some of them lost trust in others – even in their counselors – for they had learned firsthand that ‘man’s heart is evil from his youth’. Some of them found it difficult to adapt to a binding framework, in which there were tasks and a schedule. The indigenous, Israeli-born “pure sabra’s”, initially had a hard time absorbing the Yiddish-speaking children. But in the end, the children were acclimatized well, and participated in building the new state.

Benzion Tomer summed-up things well: “The “Children of Tehran” were superbly woven into the fabric of this country. Many of them were martyred defending it. Many held senior positions in the IDF, the sciences and medicine, in the fields of management, economics, and agriculture… It seems that missing a few school years was not an obstacle for them at all… How did they achieve this, and thanks to who? First and foremost, thanks to their own strength, but no less then this, thanks to the love that accompanied their first encounter with the country and its people.”

Rabbi Kook’s Speech at the Opening Ceremony of Hebrew University

Quite naturally, I have special affection for the description devoted to the speech of Rabbi Kook at the opening of the Hebrew University in the month of Nissan 5685 (1925), because the main points presented there are the words of the author’s father, my grandfather, Professor Joseph Valk z”l, who wrote an article about it entitled: “An Untimely Speech, or a Speech before its Time.”

Rabbi Kook explained in his speech that there are two historical intellectual trends in Judaism: one trend is insular and entirely sacred, designed to deepen its spirit; this is what is studied in yeshiva’s, which are designed to raise the banner of Torah and glorify it. Then there is the second trend which serves not only to delve deeper into the sacred, but also to draw concepts and values ​​from Judaism into the global world, to be a light unto the nations, to integrate general sciences into mankind, and adapt and purify its finest and most excellent aspects into the treasures of Jewish life. The insular-yeshiva trend poses little risk; however, the second trend that faces outwards, from our ‘reshut ha’yachid‘ (private domain) into the ‘reshut ha’rabim‘ (public domain) of the world at large, carries a great risk, because past experience has taught us that it could lead to assimilation – both spiritual and physical – among the nations. And as the spiritual emissary of observant Judaism, Rabbi Kook turned to those present, and said: “In this, my beloved friends, lies the danger.” In order to explain, he elaborated on the need to establish yeshiva’s based in all aspects of the Torah, and the need for the college (university) – both its’ teachers and students – to sanctify the name of God, Israel, and Eretz Yisrael, and in no way to desecrate them. As a result, we will merit the fulfillment of the Prophet Isaiah’s vision of Torah “going forth from Zion, and the word of God from Jerusalem.”

The Ceremony and the Condemnations of the Speech

As well-known, some Haredim vehemently attacked and slandered Rabbi Kook for his participation in the ceremony, claiming he had said in his speech that the university alone would bring redemption to Am Yisrael, the Torah, and the world. But as it turned out, even the “enlightened” public was not pleased with his appearance and speech.

The plan was that Rabbi Kook would open the ceremony with a welcoming speech, followed by the speeches of the honored guests – first, Lord Balfour, then the High Commissioner, and lastly, the poet Bialik was honored with the closing statements. In truth, the longest speech was delivered by Lord Balfour, but many people complained about the length of Rabbi Kook’s speech, claiming that because of him, the entire ceremony was thrown off schedule. Some also complained about his long, black coat and his big, archaic shtreimel which blocked the view of Lord Allenby sitting next to him. On the other hand, they praised the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, the scholar, Dr. Hertz, who auspiciously recited a short and exceedingly esteemed prayer, appropriate for the academic atmosphere. And then, there were those who even hinted that Rabbi Kook intentionally came to ruin the ceremony, so as to appease the Haredim, who were fasting and mourning on that same day because of the opening of the University.

In the newspaper ‘Do’ar Ha’Yom‘, journalist Avraham Elmaliach wrote: “On the one hand, what elation and endless excitement at hearing the speeches and prophetic vision of the High Commissioner and Lord Balfour; on the other hand, what bitter disappointment and how cursed is the day upon hearing the sermons and longwinded lectures of Rabbi Kook and Bialik. The ‘head rabbi’ stuffed his listeners with verses of Tehillim (Psalms), and the ‘head poet’ with fairy tales… The head of Israel’s rabbis gave the first blow in the celebration’s opening, and the head of the Hebrew poets gave the final blow … What’s the point of all of these drawn-out speeches, which forced even level-headed people among the crowd to erupt with cries of: ‘Enough! Enough!’ … All the same, I respect Rabbi Kook very much.”

Another journalist, Hannah Tone, wrote that out of the crowd of thousands that had gathered, “Ninety percent of the audience showed no real understanding of the rabbis undoubtedly true, religious enthusiasm…” but, in her words, there is absolutely no connection whatsoever between a religious ceremony and a national one, and combining them together creates an “extraordinarily bad taste, and as a result – a sense of shame among the serious participants, and a yawn, or a wink, among the cynics.” The purpose, in her estimation, was political – to appease and include the religious community’s representative to recite a blessing – which must be done in a hurry. But when it became evident that the rabbi intended to give a major speech upsetting the order of the ceremony, the crowd became resentful.”

Epilogue

Interestingly enough, as my grandfather pointed out, on the fiftieth anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the Hebrew University, the secular rector of the University, Nathan Rottenstreich, saw fit to conclude his address by quoting from Rabbi Kook’s speech at the opening ceremony. Apparently, only his words remained for generations.

Maybe in another ten years, at the centennial celebration of its founding, we will be able to say that the Hebrew University has begun to realize the great vision that Rabbi Kook set for it.

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

Don’t Discredit the Heter Mechira

The ‘heter mechira’ is not contrived by any means, and more lenient measures could have been implemented * According to most poskim, shmita nowadays is binding only by rabbinic decree, and some say it is only midat hassidut * The dispute among the poskim about when the Sabbatical year actually is * The heter of ‘amira l’nochri’ of a rabbinic prohibition in pressing situations * The majority of poskim are of the opinion that Jews are allowed to work the land sold to a non-Jew in the Sabbatical year * According to most poskim, fruit that grew in the Sabbatical year in a forbidden manner, or were not made ‘hefker’, are not prohibited from being eaten * Conclusion: The Haredi boycott of the ‘heter mechira’ is halachically baseless, and is an insult to the honor of the Torah of the rabbis who permit it

A Question about the Foundations of the Heter Mechira

Q: Rabbi, how can you rely on the heter mechira (a halachic mechanism whereby agricultural lands in Israel are sold to non-Jews, allowing the lands to be cultivated and vegetables grown during the Sabbatical year) in the shmita (Sabbatical) year, given that it is a highly contrived heter? The fact is that the Haredim do not accept it, they are not willing to eat fruits grown using the heter mechira, they do not rely on kashrut certificates that accept the heter mechira, and will not eat in the homes of Jews who rely on the heter?

A: The foundations of the heter mechira are sturdy and not contrived at all. It was determined by the eminent rabbis of previous generations, including: Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan from Kovno, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, Rabbi Yehoshua from Kutna, and the author of ‘Avnei Nezer’ (Rabbi Avraham Borenstein). In particular, it should be pointed out that all the rabbis who actually served as rabbis in Israel, who had the authority of mara d’atra (the local rabbinic authority), supported and administered the heter, including: The Rishon Lezion Rabbi Elyashar, Maran HaRav Kook, the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Uziel, Rabbi Herzog, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, and many more.

Moreover, the heter is not a kula (leniency), but, rather, tends more to being a chumra (stringency), because according to ikar ha’din (the essence of the law), in a sha’at dachak (time of distress), it is permissible to completely allow all agricultural work in the Sabbatical year, kal v’chomer (all the more so) when the work is done by a non-Jew. The rabbis were stringent by also necessitating the heter mechira, in order to expropriate the fields from Sabbatical obligations. And following the heter mechira, they were even more stringent by demanding that all work whose foundation was based in the Torah should be performed by non-Jews.

Therefore, the Haredim who boycott the heter mechira transgress the laws of halacha, and sin in contempt of the Torah and the eminent rabbis. This transgression stems from their basic sin with regards to the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel). I will begin to explain.

Is Shmita Binding Nowadays?

According to most poskim (Jewish law arbiters), the mitzvah of shmita nowadays is from divrei chachamim (rabbinic), because only when all Jews reside in Israel, every tribe in its place, do the mitzvoth of Yovel (Jubilee) and shmita apply from the Torah. But when the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh were expelled from their land by the king of Assyria, the mitzvah from the Torah was nullified. And only when Israel returns to their land, and the country is divided once again to all the tribes of Israel, will the Torah obligation of Yovel and shmita return to its place. This was the ruling of the majority of Rishonim and Achronim, led foremost by Rambam (Laws of Shmita and Yovel, 10:9).

There are a few poskim who believe that the obligation of shmita nowadays is from the Torah. In contrast, numerous poskim are of the opinion that nowadays there is absolutely no obligation to keep shmita, because after nearly three hundred years following the destruction of the Second Temple, the Beit Din HaGadol which sanctified the months, intercalated the years, and figured the Yovel (Jubilee) years, nullified it. In their opinion, since then, the obligation of keeping shmita was completely canceled, and only from the side of midat hassidut (a pious and meritorious act) are we custom to keep shmita nowadays. This is the opinion ReZaH, Raavad, Meiri, and is implicit in the words of other Rishonim.

As is well-known, in a sha’at dachak (time of distress), halacha permits relying on da’at yichidim (the opinion of individual poskim), even in a circumstance of a Torah prohibition – as was the custom of Jews in Northern Europe to be lenient in the prohibition of eating the new crop (chadash) to allow drinking of liquor, which was extremely necessary there (Taz, Y.D. 293:4). All the more so can we rely in a sha’at dachak on the da’at yichidim who hold that shmita nowadays is annulled, for even the machmirim (strict) hold that shmita is only of rabbinic prohibition. How much more so shmita could have been annulled in combination with the safek (uncertainty) concerning the counting of the shmita years.

The Uncertainty of Counting the Years

In addition to what I have mentioned, the poskim also disagree regarding the order of the years. There are three approaches as to when the Sabbatical year falls.

Tradition states that the Temple was destroyed motzei shmita – in other words, in the first year of the Sabbatical cycle. However, there is a disagreement in what year the destruction occurred. We follow the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam and most Rishonim, and as a result this year, 5775, is a shmita year. However, according to Rashi and Tur, the destruction was a year earlier, and therefore in their opinion, the Sabbatical year was last year, in 5774.

There is another opinion, according to which, the year of Yovel must be calculated separately. That is to say, after all seven Sabbatical years, one year is added, and then once again, the Sabbatical years are counted. This was also the opinion of Rambam, however, he deferred his opinion to the accepted practice according to which the Jubilee year is not added on to the counting of shmita years.

This issue has also emerged throughout the generations, however, the decision was always as we are custom today; nevertheless, the two dissenting opinions were never canceled. Therefore, some authorities are of the opinion that since there are three possibilities when shmita occurs, given that the obligation of shmita nowadays is rabbinic – m’ikar ha’din (from the essence of the law), there is no obligation to keep shmita, because each possible year is batel b’rov (nullified by the majority) of the two additional possibilities (see, Yabi’a Omer, Y.D. 42:8). And as ReZaH wrote, the very fact that there is a dispute about when the Sabbatical year occurs is proof that shmita was not kept in many places.

And although according to minhag (custom), we set aside ma’aser sheni in the first, second, fourth and fifth year, and recite a blessing, nevertheless, the halacha is that we recite a blessing over a minhag even though it is disputed.

Many people are also customary to be lenient and collect debts after the shmita year, despite the fact that according to the letter of the law, shmitat kesafim applies world-worldwide. A number of considerations were mentioned in order to permit this, and one of them was the uncertainly of the order of years (Maharil).

 Work done by Non-Jews

As known, the Sages forbade a Jew to ask a non-Jew to do work for him on Shabbat, and this prohibition is called ‘amira l’goy‘ or “shvut“. The Talmudic Sages, however, were uncertain whether the prohibition of amira l’goy also applies to Torah prohibitions that do not carry the severity of Shabbat, whose punishment is skila [stoning] (Bava Metzia 90a). In practice, the opinion of the majority of poskim is that in all other Torah prohibitions amira l’goy also has the status of a rabbinical prohibition (Rambam, Rosh).

However, all this concerns mitzvoth prohibited by the Torah. But in regards to mitzvoth whose prohibition is of rabbinical status, in the opinion of many poskim, there is no prohibition of shvut at all; rather, a Jew is permitted to ask a non-Jew to do it for him. And even if we say that the prohibition of shvut also applies to mitzvoth whose prohibition is of rabbinic status, all this is in a normal situation, but in a sha’at dachak or l’tzorech mitzvah (for the sake of a mitzvah) – even on Shabbat, shvut d’shvut is permitted. Kal v’chomer (all the more so) in regards to the mitzvah of shmita, whose status nowadays is rabbinic, is it permitted to ask a non-Jew to do work for us in the fields, both from the side of sha’at dachak for the needs of the farmer’s livelihood, and from the side of yishuv ha’aretz. All the more so would it be permissible if they made a deal with the non-Jew in which he earns a percentage from his work.

Nevertheless, the Gedolei rabbanim (eminent rabbis) preferred to be machmir (strict) and sell the fields to a non-Jew, and this is the heter mechira.

The Heter Mechira

I will not tire my readers with the details of the issue which is complicated, and whose foundation lies in the disagreement regarding whether a non-Jew who bought a field in the land of Israel expropriates it from the mitzvoth ha’teluyot b’aretz (the commandments dependent on the land). I will just mention that in fact, when the obligation is of rabbinic status, in the opinion of the majority of poskim, the obligation of shmita does not apply to land owned by non-Jews. Although, in the opinion of Mabit and those who agree with him, all of the shmita prohibitions apply even on land owned by non-Jews. However, in the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Karo, the Vilna Gaon, and Pe’at Ha’Shulchan, the obligations of shmita do not apply to land owned by a non-Jew. This was the minhag in the Land of Israel.

Indeed, it is possible to expand and deliberate this issue at length – to strengthen the opinion of matirim (the lenient), or the opinion of the machmirim (the strict). But in the end, everyone acknowledges that there is a dispute regarding this issue, and evidently, according to most Rishonim and Achronim, the sale of land to a non-Jew expropriates it from the prohibition of working in the shmita year. This is the basis of the heter (permit).

Nevertheless, the eminent rabbis also took into account the opinion of those who believe that even after a non-Jew bought the land it is subject to all the mitzvoth. Therefore, even after the mechira, they permitted Jews to do only work whose foundation is of rabbinic status, whereas work whose foundation stems from the Torah (planting and pruning, harvesting and plowing), they permitted it to be done only by non-Jews. Only in a sha’at dachak did they permit even those types of work to be done by Jews.

Summary of the Heter Mechira

As we have seen, from ikar ha’din (the essence of the law), the rabbis could have permitted work in the shmita year based on two important considerations: first – relying on the opinion of individual poskim who hold that the law of shmita does not apply nowadays, since even according to the machmirim, shmita is only of rabbinic status. And secondly – because of the uncertainty of when the Sabbatical year falls out.

In addition, the rabbis could have permitted work by non-Jews even without the sale of the fields, since it is a prohibition of shvut in a mitzvah whose foundation nowadays is of rabbinic status.

But as I wrote in the beginning, since it was possible, the eminent rabbis preferred to be machmir, and solve the problem in a more widespread fashion by selling the fields to non-Jews, and even after the sale of the land, to only allow the types of work whose foundation is of rabbinical status.

The Status of Fruits Grown during Shmita in a Forbidden Manner

There is controversy over the status of fruits grown in the Sabbatical year in a field owned by a Jew who locked his field and did not hefker (make ownerless) the fruits properly. Some authorities prohibit eating the fruit (Rabbeinu Tam, Raaved), but according to most poskim, the fruit is permitted, given that they belong to everyone, and an individual cannot forbid them (Rash, Ramban, Rashba). There is also a dispute concerning the status of fruit grown in the shmita year by Jews who performed all the work prohibited during the Sabbatical year: some authorities prohibit eating them, (Raaved, Ramban), but according to most poskim, the fruits are permitted, since they belong to all of Israel, and no individual can forbid them (Rambam, Rosh , Radbaz, and others).

Consequently, even if there was no option to permit work in the shmita year, and there was no heter mechira at all, and all the agricultural work performed by the farmers was done in a forbidden manner according to all of the opinions – the majority of poskim hold that the fruits are permitted. Not only that – the issue at hand is a rabbinic machloket (controversy), and safek d’rabbanan le’kula (a doubt concerning a rabbinic prohibition is treated leniently).

All the more so when the considerations of the heter previously mentioned are added, plus the heter mechira, there is simply no basis whatsoever for the boycott of many Haredim of fruits grown under the heter mechira. On the contrary, it is a serious insult to the Torah and honor of the eminent rabbis in recent generations, and a severe Torah transgression.

 A Closing Note

It is possible to discuss and deliberate every detail of what I have written, l’chumra and l’kula, but to my best understanding, this summarization represents a balanced representation of the issue. On the other hand, the Haredi position is to gather every speculation of chumra’s possible, contrary to the rules of Torah study and halacha.

This article appears in the Besheva newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other article by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed