Ashkenazi Stringency on Passover

Does the prohibition of kitniyot on Passover apply to quinoa? * All of the reasons Ashkenazim were customary not to eat kitniyot on Passover are still valid even today * Must Ashkenazim eat hard matzot specifically, and not soft matzot? * Jews who live abroad but are in Israel for Passover, under what conditions are they exempt from Yom Tov Sheni? * One should not rely at all on the small minority opinion of poskim who hold that a head covering for a woman nowadays is not mandatory * Women who rely on the lenient opinion of Rabbi Messas in regards to covering the head, ought to respect his strict opinion concerning family planning 

Quinoa for Ashkenazim on Passover

Q: Does quinoa fall under the general prohibition of kitniyot (legumes) on Passover according to the minhag (custom) of Ashkenazim?

A: Some authorities are machmir (stringent), because in appearance, they resemble types of kitniyot. Others are lenient, because the prohibitive custom does not apply to them, since people began eating them only in the last generation. In addition, their particles are much smaller than types of grains, and thus, are easily distinguishable.

In practice, someone who is stringent tavo alav bracha (pious conduct for which one is blessed for being strict), and one who wishes to act leniently has an authoritative opinion on which to rely on, provided he checks them well.

The Custom of Kitniyot Today

Q: Is there still room to be stringent about the custom of kitniyot today?

A: This question makes no sense. All of the reasons why people were customary to be stringent in the past remain firm and binding. If anything has changed, it would be in the direction of justifying the prohibition, because today, the concern of a mixture between grains and legumes is even greater, seeing as both are stored in the same place – at one time grains, and then kitniyot , and they are transported in the same containers continuously, without them being cleaned in the interval. Even the grinding of the two different species is done in the same place.

Nevertheless, since there is no source for this minhag in the Talmud, Sephardim who eat kitniyot should not be encouraged to be stringent.

As far as kitniyot restrictions and prohibitions are concerned, some authorities in recent generations were stringent beyond the requirement of the underlying principle of the minhag, however the halakha does not follow their opinions, as I have written in “Peninei Halakha: Pesach”, chapter nine.

Soft Matzah for Ashkenazim

Q: Are Ashkenazim allowed to eat soft matzah’s?

A: According to ikar ha’din (the essence of the law), there is no halakhic requirement for matzot to be hard. Nevertheless, Ashkenazim were customary to eat hard matzot for two reasons.

First, hard matzot can be kept fresh for a long time, and thus, can be prepared before Passover for the duration of the entire holiday. This is halakhically advantageous, because when baking matzot before Passover, even if chametz gets mixed in with them, as long as it is less than one-sixtieth of the whole, it is nullified, and may be eaten on Passover. But if such a mixture occurred on Passover, the matzot are forbidden, because on Passover, chametz is forbidden be’kol she’hu (even the slightest amount).

Secondly, the ability to know if the matzah was not baked properly and became chametz depends on stringiness of the uncooked dough. In hard matzot this is very evident, but in soft matzot, it requires more expertise.

Since this minhag also has halakhic advantages, it should not be abandoned unnecessarily. However, in pressing situations, since it has not been ruled as an obligatory custom, one can be lenient.

Second Day of Yom Tov for those who Live Abroad but Study in Israel

Q:  Do students who live abroad but are learning in Israel for a year have to keep two days of Yom Tov?

A: Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) are of the opinion that a ben Chutz La-Aretz (one who lives outside of Israel) who came to Israel for a visit, for the duration of his stay is considered a ben Eretz Yisrael  [a “resident” of Israel] (Chacham Tzvi, 167; Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 496:11). But according to most poskim, since his place of residence is in Chutz La-Aretz, even when visiting Israel, he is considered a ben Chutz La-Aretz (Birkei Yosef, 496:7; Mishna Berura 496:13). Since the minhag is to be stringent, this is the halakha.

However, this din (law) changes when there is an additional safek, such as when the visitor to Israel plans on staying for an extended period of time, or has plans to make aliyah (emigrate to Israel), or has children living in Israel. In such situations we take into consideration the opinion of those poskim who say a visitor to Israel should always observe one day, plus the fact that in recent generations, the chances of Jews visiting Israel deciding to make aliyah have increased; therefore, such a visitor is instructed to observe one day, according to the minhag of Eretz Yisrael.

Consequently, students who come to Israel for a study year (approximately ten months) are considered bnei Eretz Yisrael, and even if they have clear plans to return and live with their parents in Chutz La-Aretz, their lengthy stay in Israel makes them bnei Eretz Yisrael for the duration of their stay. Additionally, there is always a chance they will decide to emigrate.

Moreover, it appears to me that after this, whenever such students come to Israel for a visit, for the entire duration of their stay, they will be considered bnei Eretz Yisrael, because after spending a year in the country, to a certain extent, they are regarded as residents. Therefore, when they are in Israel, they should keep one day of Yom Tov. However, while abroad, seeing as that is their permanent home, they are required to keep two days of Yom Tov (see, Peninei Halakha: Mo’adim, chap. 9).

A Married Woman’s Obligation to Cover Her Head

Q: Is it true there is a heter (permission) for a married woman not to cover her head?

A: A married woman is obligated to cover her head. From the Talmud (Ketubot 72a) it emerges that the source for this is comes from the Torah, for in regards to a sotah (a woman suspected of adultery), the Torah says: “The priest shall stand the woman before God and uncover her hair” (Numbers 5:18) – so as to shame her, and hence, from the Torah, a married woman’s hair must always be gathered (Meiri, Rashbatz, Ri’az). Our Sages said that according to the Torah, it is sufficient for the woman’s hair to be gathered in a net or a small pouch, but the Sages added on to this, determining that gathering the hair in a netted kerchief was not sufficient; rather, it should be covered with a non-transparent kerchief. Some authorities say the law concerning covering the head is entirely of rabbinic status (Terumat Hadeshen, 242 in the interpretation of Rambam).

This is the opinion of all the poskim. However, there are a few individual poskim who are of the opinion that the basis of covering the head depends upon minhag, and after seeing that most of the woman where they lived stopped covering their heads and all the urging of their husbands did not help – in spite of those poskim expressing their regret about it, they opined it was not prohibited. This is the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Messas (Mayim Chayim 2:110) and Rabbi Moshe Malka (Ve’Haysheve Moshe 34). However, Rabbi Malka wrote that the heter applies only when the hair is gathered, but when it is unbound, it is a Torah prohibition. From the words of Rabbi Yosef Messas, he also agrees with this (Otzar Hamichtavim 3, 884).

It must be pointed out that they spoke in a time when it seemed that, as a result of the influence of French trends on the women of Morocco, the custom of covering the head was about to disappear from the world completely, and even the wives of the ritual slaughterers and rabbis no longer listened to their husbands and uncovered their heads – therefore, they were required to find a heter for the women’s practice. However, conceivably, if they were here with us today, and saw that the majority of religious women cover their heads and are proud of it – as well as senior doctors and scientists – they would reason that the minhag is binding for all married women, and its fulfillment entails a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God) and a safeguard before secular influences.

The Practical Halakha

In any event, the opinion of the rest of the poskim is that covering the head is absolutely obligatory. And although Rabbi Yosef Messas ztz”l was one of the eminent poskim in his generation, possessing a broad and deep Torah outlook – his opinion cannot be relied upon, even in pressing situations, because this is the position of thousands of poskim as opposed to a few individuals, and in such a case, the few individual opinions are not even taken into account.

The Opinion of Rabbi Messas Concerning Family Planning

It is worth noting here the position of Rabbi Yosef Messas concerning the question of family planning, according to which it is obligatory to have as many children as possible, and only when a God-fearing doctor feels there is a danger, can pregnancy be prevented (see further, Otzar Hamichtavim 3, 638):

“You asked: People who have four or more children, and have already fulfilled the mitzvah of ‘be fruitful and multiply’ with sons and daughters, and in all matters the economic situation is very difficult, and great weakness has descended to the world, and it is very hard to raise a lot of children, and even our Ashkenazi brothers make fun of our having a lot of children. Therefore, you ask if it’s permitted to use some modern-day ploys to prevent birth.

“Answer: Know, my son, even if a man has fulfilled the mitzvah of ‘be fruitful and multiply’, as long as they are healthy and able to have children, they are obligated by divrei sofrim (Rabbinical law) to give birth, as Rambam wrote in chapter fifteen of Hilchot Ishut, halakha 16:

Although a man has fulfilled the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying, he is bound by a Rabbinic commandment not to refrain from being fruitful and multiplying as long as he is physically potent. For anyone who adds a soul to the Jewish people is considered as if he built an entire world.”

This is also stated in the tractate Yevamot 62b.

“In my humble opinion, it seems as if it is a mitzvah from the Torah, for the verse says “Now be fruitful and multiply, swarm all over the earth and become populous on it” (Genesis 9:7) – what is the meaning of “swarm all over the earth”, if not as it is said – even if you have fulfilled ‘be fruitful and multiply’, you are not exempt from giving birth, rather, ‘swarm more all over the earth’…and Malbim z”l explains “swarm all over the earth” – this is additional procreation, “and become populous on it” – grow in strength and fortitude, end of quote.

“We have seen for ourselves how many people have had children after fulfilling “be fruitful and multiply” who were superior, both physically and spiritually. Therefore, we should not deceive ourselves with foolish claims. For if the claim is because of parnasa (making a livelihood), indeed we must have faith that God feeds and sustains all, as our Sages said ‘each baby comes with a loaf of bread in his hand’. And if the claim is about fatigue, one is not exempt because of this – only if an expert, religious, and God-fearing doctor decides that pregnancy is dangerous. Besides this, we cannot fabricate new claims from our own minds.

“And regarding the ridicule of our complacent Ashkenazi brothers concerning those who has a lot of children – the only ones mocking are the men and women bullies among them, who supervise and work in the medical and maternity clinics – may their tongues rot in their mouths! But the sincere Ashkenazim – in their eyes, the more children the better, and are praised with abundant blessings. And at the grand assembling of rabbis held in Jerusalem on Tuesday, 18th of Adar I (1967), the rabbis greatly condemned those who have fewer children, and praised and blessed those who have more…”

An Addition to His Comments

It should be noted that in this issue, Rabbi Messas was one of the machmerim (stringent), and there are authorities who are lenient on preventing pregnancy after having four or five children; the accepted instruction is that it is appropriate to prevent pregnancy after each birth for nine months to a year. With God’s help, I will clarify this issue in the future.

In any event, it would be fitting for women who rely on the opinion of Rabbi Messas in regards to covering the head, to honor his opinion about family planning, or at least encourage as best they can those who do have many children.

Redemption from Egypt and the Future Redemption

Our Sages said: “Just as Israel was redeemed from Egypt in the merit of proliferating, likewise, they will be redeemed in the future… Israel will be redeemed only if they proliferate and fill the entire the world, as it is said: “For you shall break forth on the right hand and on the left; and your seed shall possess nations, and cause desolate cities to be inhabited” (Eliyahu Zuta 14), speedily in our days.

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

Making the Kitchen Kosher for Pesach

Cleaning the kitchen for Pesach should be done more carefully than cleaning the house, to ensure that not even a small crumb of chametz remains * Solutions for baking on Pesach, seeing as oven baking trays used for chametz cannot be koshered * When koshering stovetop grates, we are more concerned about the prohibition of chametz than the prohibition of mixing meat and milk * It is forbidden to eat food that fell under the stovetop grates all year round * How to kosher the sink and countertops, and is it necessary to cover a marble countertop with aluminum foil * How to kosher a microwave and dishwasher * What to do with modern tables, where pouring boiling water on them ruins them

Cleaning the House

There is a significant difference between cleaning the house for Pesach, and cleaning the kitchen. When cleaning the house, the goal is that a crumb of chametz the size of kezayit (an olive) should not remain. But when cleaning the kitchen and its utensils, the goal is that no chametz whatsoever (kol she’hu) remain, lest it gets mixed in food for Pesach. And as is well-known, chametz on Pesach is forbidden even b’kol she’hu. And when it comes to cooking utensils, even the taste of chametz absorbed in them should not remain, lest the taste of chametz, kol she’hu, get mixed in Pesach foods while cooking or baking.

There are some people who do not realize this fundamental difference and clean their house very carefully, but afterwards, slack-off in cleaning the kitchen.

Koshering a Baking Oven

To kosher an oven, clean it thoroughly and run it at its highest setting for half an hour.

It is difficult to kosher baking trays. Because they absorb through fire, they require heavy libun (heating a vessel by fire to the point that absorbed taste is incinerated), but since heavy libun will cause them serious damage, they may not be koshered. One must therefore buy special baking trays for Pesach, while the chametz trays must be cleaned and put away like all other chametz utensils. If one does not have Pesach trays, he may use disposable trays.

With regard to baking trays, however, we are stringent and require heavy libun. However, if one conducts light libun on a tray, he may place a disposable tray inside of the multi-use tray, and certainly atop the racks. It is best to cover the racks with aluminum foil, so that if something spills onto them it will not connect the Pesach tray to the insufficiently koshered racks (see, Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11:4).

Grates and Burners

Throughout the year, people usually use the same stovetop grates for both meat and milk, because even if some meat or dairy food spills onto them, the flame incinerates and befouls whatever has spilled. However, people customarily perform light libun on such grates for Pesach, because of the seriousness of the chametz prohibition (Rema 451:4; MB ad loc. 34). Alternatively, one may wrap thick aluminum foil around the bars on which pots sit, so that there is a barrier between the Pesach pots and the parts of the grates that came into contact with chametzBe-di’avad (a level of performance that ex post facto satisfies an obligation in a less-than-ideal manner), the food remains kosher even if cooked on grates that did not undergo libun.

The areas of the grates that do not come into contact with the pots, the enamel cook top beneath the grates, and the burners must be cleaned well of all residual food. Since none of these parts come into contact with the pots, they need not undergo libun or be covered with foil. Generally, people turn on all the flames for half an hour.

The Law of Food that has Fallen under the Grates

It is also important to know that throughout the year one should be stringent and refrain from eating food that has fallen onto the enamel cook top under the grates, because meat and dairy foods spill there, and the enamel becomes not kosher. If one knows that the enamel has been cleaned thoroughly and that no meat and dairy foods have spilled on it in the past twenty-four hours, one may eat what falls there. But when these two conditions have not been met, one should be stringent and refrain from eating whatever comes into contact with this enamel, because it might have absorbed the taste of meat and milk. If a thick piece of food falls there, one may cut off the side that has come into contact with the enamel and eat the rest.

Stove-tops

Electric ranges: Clean thoroughly and run on the highest setting for half an hour.

Ceramic burners: These look like smooth and unbroken glass surfaces on which pots are placed directly. They are koshered by cleaning and then heating on the highest setting for half an hour. One should wait twenty-four hours between the last chametz cooking and beginning to cook for Pesach (this heating is considered light libun, which is sufficient for it according to the vast majority of poskim).

Sinks and Counter-tops

There are two accepted practices for koshering them: Those who are lenient clean them well and then pour boiling water all over them. Before pouring boiling water on a sink or counter-top, it must be dried well, so that the boiling water touches it directly and is not cooled by any cold water on its surface. For this reason, one must first pour the boiling water on the sink and then on the counter-top, starting with the areas closest to the sink and moving further away. To do so, one can also use a steam machine, whose steam heat reaches one hundred degrees (and has the status of pouring boiling water from a kli rishon, namely the vessel in which food was cooked).

Those who are stringent, in addition to pouring boiling water on the sink, put a plastic insert in it or line it with thick aluminum foil.

If the marble counter-top is fragile, and as a result, one is careful not to place boiling pots directly on it – even those who are stringent can suffice by pouring boiling water on it, without covering it with an oilcloth or aluminum foil (see, Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11: 1-2).

Warming Tray (Shabbat Platta)

It should be thoroughly cleaned, and heated on the highest heat for two hours, and covered with aluminum foil.

blekh (a metal sheet that is placed atop a gas range on Shabbat) can be koshered in one of two ways: 1) clean it, and perform light libun. 2) Clean it, heat it for two hours like on Shabbat, and in addition, cover it with aluminum foil (Peninei Halakha 11:5).

Microwave Ovens

The common practice is to kosher a microwave oven in four steps: 1) cleaning it thoroughly of any residual food resulting from spillage or vaporization; 2) waiting twenty-four hours so that the absorbed taste becomes foul; 3) heating a container of water in it for three minutes (since microwave ovens absorb chametz via vapor that rises from food as it is heated); 4) placing something as a barrier between the rotating plate and the food that will be heated in the microwave, because chametz may have spilled onto the rotating plate, and when using it on Pesach, place the food in a plastic container or a thick, perforated carton, separating between the rotating plate and the foods being heated on Pesach. If possible, it is good to change the rotating plate for Pesach (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11:6).

Dishwashers

The filter, where residual food often gets stuck, must be cleaned thoroughly. Then the dishwasher should be run at its hottest setting, so that any absorbed chametz is released, ke-bole’o kakh polto (taste is released from a vessel in the same manner that it was absorbed). Regarding the racks, le-khathila (a level of performance that satisfies an obligation in an ideal manner) they should undergo hagala (immersion in boiling water) or irui (“pouring”; one of the ways taste is transferred; an intermediate phase between kli rishon and kli sheni) with boiling water or be replaced. If it is difficult to kosher them through hagala or to replace them, one may perform hagala by running them through the dishwasher’s longest and hottest setting. Regarding the racks, le-khathila they should undergo hagala or irui with boiling water or be replaced. If it is difficult to kosher them through hagala or to replace them, one may perform   hagala by running them through the dishwasher’s longest and hottest setting.

In any event, one must wait twenty-four hours after the last load of chametz utensils before using the machine with Pesach utensils.

Some take a stringent approach to dishwashers and consider them to have the status of a kli rishon on a flame. This means that to kosher a dishwasher one must put a white-hot piece of metal in it in order to boil the water. However, those who follow the lenient approach have authorities on whom to rely (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11:7).

The Dining Table

In the past, people would kosher their tables by pouring boiling water over them, and some took the stringent approach of pouring boiling water onto a white-hot stone on the table, so that the koshering would be at the level of kli rishon. However, today’s tables are more delicate and fragile, and would be damaged, warped, or defaced by boiling hot water.

 

Therefore, the mainstream approach is to clean the table well and affix nylon or paper to it, creating a set barrier between the table and Pesach utensils and foods. In addition, a tablecloth should be spread over the nylon or paper, and it is a good idea to avoid placing boiling hot pots directly on the table (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11:8).

The Refrigerator

Because they are used with cold food, the only concern is that some chametz crumbs might remain there. Therefore, cleaning them is what koshers them. In hard to reach places where chametz crumbs may have gotten stuck, one must pour soapy water or some other substance that will befoul the crumbs and render them unfit for animal consumption.

Kitchen Cabinets

When kitchen cupboards were made of natural wood, they often had cracks that were difficult to clean completely from chametz that got stuck there. Acharonim therefore ruled that the shelves should be covered with paper or cloth (MB 451:115). However, there is no concern that chametz remained in smooth shelves like those used today. Therefore, once they have been cleaned properly, they need not be covered with paper or cloth. Nevertheless, many people are customary to cover the shelves with paper (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11:9).

Plastic Baby Bottles

It is better to replace them, but when necessary, one may clean them and perform hagala.

Electric water heaters

Electric water heaters and Shabbat water heaters (that are placed on the platta) must undergo hagala, because chametz crumbs may have fallen into them, causing their taste to be absorbed. Hagala in this case means filling the device to the top with water, boiling it, and then pouring it out through the opening generally used to dispense the water. Before hagala, it is good to clean out the stone deposits that accumulated inside. If one places challah loaves on the lid of the urn to warm them before the Shabbat meal, hagala should be performed on the kettle and its lid.

Thermos

After cleaning it properly, hagala should be performed on it. If this is difficult, pouring boiling water into it and around its opening is sufficient.

False Teeth

False teeth should be cleaned thoroughly before the onset of the chametz prohibition. They need not undergo hagala, because people do not normally put boiling foods or liquids in their mouths; just as they are used for both meat and dairy when cleaned in between, so can they be used on Pesach. (Some believe that due to the gravity of the chametz prohibition, they must be koshered in a kli rishon or kli sheni.

The status of braces is similar to that of one’s teeth; just as one thoroughly brushes his teeth before Pesach, so should he brush around the braces.

Selling One’s House does not Exempt Him from  Bedikat Chametz

There are some people who go away for all of Pesach, and wish to sell or rent their house to a non-Jew in order to be exempt from bedikat chametz (checking for chametz). However, according to halakha, this does not exempt them from bedika (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 4:11). Therefore, they must clean the house normally, as they do every week. And on the last night they spend in the house, they must check the house for chametz – namely, check to make sure that no crumb larger than a kazayit remains. Such a bedika in a normal-sized house after a normal cleaning should take approximately fifteen minutes. In a house with children, since they sometimes hide chametz in various places, the bedika should take more time. But if in such a house all the drawers and shelves were previously cleaned, the bedika should take about fifteen minutes, as well.

They must also normally clean the kitchen and its utensils of all substantial chametz , so they can use them after Pesach. However, they do not have to kosher the kitchen utensils that have absorbed chametz, since they do not plan on using them on Pesach.

 

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

Accepting the Mitzvoth: A Prerequisite for Conversion

The reasoning behind those calling for conversion without the acceptance of mitzvoth * The difference in conversion policy between Sephardic and Ashkenazi countries stemmed from differing realities, and not a halakhic dispute * The currently accepted procedure in the State religious courts examines the seriousness of intention of conversion candidates * Even if future observance of mitzvoth is uncertain, conversion should not be prevented * The format of conversion courts should be determined with the consent of the majority of rabbis, and via the Chief Rabbinate * The conversions of a court that does not require the acceptance of mitzvoth are invalid * If we strengthen ourselves in Torah and mitzvoth, the problem of conversions will also be resolved

The Issue of Conversion

Recently, the public debate concerning the policy of conversion resurfaced. Presently, in the State of Israel there are approximately a quarter of a million people who have roots in the seed of Israel, but in practice, are Gentiles, because their mother is not Jewish.

Some argue this represents a serious problem from a religious and national aspect, since these people are an integral part of Israeli society, and chances are secular Jews will marry them in contradiction to halakha (Jewish law), and thus produce another generation of Israeli’s who are not Jewish. In their opinion, the rabbis should convert these people without being strict about their acceptance of the mitzvoth. They claim this was position of rabbis coming from Sephardic countries, who were moderate, lenient, and ready to convert even without the acceptance of mitzvoth, and there is no reason why, in the serious situation in which we find ourselves, to adopt the strict approach of the rabbis from Ashkenazi countries.

Before we tackle the issue of the acceptance of mitzvoth it should be noted that in demographic terms, the problem is less serious than it appears, because women of reproductive age in particular are more inclined to convert and keep the main mitzvoth.

What Does ‘Accepting the Mitzvoth’ Mean?

It is written in the Shulchan Aruch:“He (the candidate for conversion) is taught some of the minor commandments and some of the major commandments, and he is taught some of the punishments for violating the commandments,” nevertheless, “we do not overburden him and we are not overly strict with him” (Y.D. 268:2).

The reason is that even if he is sincere, if suddenly confronted with all of the stringencies and fine details, he will recoil and change his mind about converting (Shach 268:4).

A tremendous difficulty stands in the way of a convert who wishes to observe mitzvoth. For a Jew familiar from childhood with prayers and blessings, the prohibitions of Shabbat and keeping kosher, things seem easy and simple. A traditional Jew, or even a secular Jew, knows when Pesach is, knows that on Pesach we eat matzah, are careful about chametz, and hold a Seder in the evening; on Yom Kippur we fast, on Chanukah we light candles, and on Shabbat we refrain from work. In contrast, the Gentile who comes to convert must learn everything all at once; if we wish to teach him all the halakhot one by one before converting – even if his intention is pure, he will recoil and not convert because of all the stringencies and details. Therefore, it was customary to convert a candidate after having been taught a few of the minor and major commandments, and after he undertook to keep all the mitzvoth.

Past and Present Practices

This was the custom in the past, seeing as the convert was joining a religious community. Consequently, it was clear that he agreed, in principle, to observe the commandments. In time, he would learn to fulfill all of them, even though at the moment of conversion he was only aware of part of them. This was how Hillel the Elder acted; he accepted three converts on the strength of an extremely basic acceptance of mitzvoth, assessing that later on, they would fulfill all the mitzvoth – and so it was (Shabbat 31a).

But when the Jewish communities weakened and many people stopped observing mitzvoth, it was no longer possible to assume that a convert who joined a Jewish community would fulfill all the mitzvoth in the future.

Is There a Difference between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Rulings?

This is the reason for the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic religious courts in recent generations. While Sephardic communities remained traditional in nature, the Ashkenazi communities, failing to discover a way to deal with modernity and its effects, began to fall apart and eventually reached the point where a significant majority of Jews no longer observed Torah and mitzvoth. Therefore, during that period of time, the Ashkenazi rabbinical judges made more detailed and scrupulous inquiries into the intention of the conversion candidate to fulfill mitzvoth, whereas in the Sephardic communities the judges inquired less, assuming that the mere act of joining of a traditional Jewish community ensured the convert would observe the mitzvoth for the most part.

The Practice of the State Religious Courts Nowadays

Consequently, in order to check the intention of conversion candidates today, they are required to learn the fundamentals of Torah and mitzvoth for almost a year in an ulpan giur (conversion study center), attending two weekly sessions of three hours each, in addition to reviewing their studies at home, and being tested. To familiarize themselves with the Jewish way of life, they are coupled with a religious “adopted” family that hosts them for Shabbat and holidays. If the potential convert has children, the parent is required to send them to religious schools. Only after this can they come before the religious court. And then, according to the testimony of their teachers and adoptive families, and compliant with the impression of the members of the court – the court determines its position. If the court is convinced the conversion candidate intends on observing the mitzvoth – he is accepted as a convert; if not, he is refused.

The Practice of Private Hareidi Courts

There is a religious Hareidi court in Bnei Brak which is headed by one of the eminent Lithuanian poskim (Jewish law arbiters) that also deals with conversions, and the Chief Rabbinate relies on its decisions. I asked a very serious and responsible religious person who voluntarily accompanies numerous converts through the process – some who converted in regular State religious courts and others in Hareidi courts – what the difference in approach is between the two. According to him, the State religious courts operate formally – requiring the conversion process take place for close to a year, include intensive study, a broad knowledge of halakhot (laws) and minhagim (customs), and learning blessings by rote. The Hareidi court, on the other hand, waives the formal rules, while attempting to discern the conversion candidate’s intention to observe mitzvoth.

Results of the Hareidi Courts Compared with the State Courts

I asked him which system yields better results. He answered that to his regret, among the converts he accompanied to the Hareidi courts who were accepted there, many are not religiously observant. The situation of people converted by the State religious courts is not exhilarating either, but nevertheless, a higher percentage of those converted there are observant.

My conclusion is that the Hareidi court indeed operates as was customary for generations, however in our reality, in which a convert finds it difficult to integrate into Hareidi society, the rules of examination must be changed, and it is forbidden to waive comprehensive studies in conversion centers with all the formal requirements of the State religious courts. In addition to the educational value of such a framework – one’s regular participation in it for a year, with all the accompanying requirements, expresses serious intentions.

Those Converted in the Army Compared to Civilian Life

It should be noted that a problem exists with the conversions performed in the army in accordance with the outlines of the Ne’eman Committee, compared to conversions performed in a civilian framework, along the lines of the Chief Rabbinate. In the civilian framework, those who come to convert devote several hours to Torah study in the ulpan and at home, at the expense of work or leisure time. In contrast, the soldiers who convert are released from training, guard duty and work, to study in preparation for conversion. This is in addition to the serious problem that on the teaching staff of I.D.F. conversions, Reform Jews are also included, in contradiction to the position the Chief Rabbinate.

The Obligation to Convert Even When Religious Observance is Doubtful

Some people argue that in the current situation in which a significant percentage of converts fail to observe mitzvoth, it is impossible to convert. Or possibly we need to place extremely difficult obstacles in the way of candidates, so the percentages of those who are observant will be higher.

However, in practice, it is forbidden to do so, because the opening of the gates to converts is a sacred Torah principle for all generations and all places (Yevamot 47a; Krithot 9a). Therefore, although according to the strict law of the Torah a convert must offer a sacrifice, and without doing so he cannot convert – following the destruction of the Holy Temple, our Sages learned from the verses that it is necessary to continue converting those interested, and accept them even without a sacrifice.

This also applies to the acceptance of mitzvoth. Since we do not have the ability to determine with certainty whether the convert will observe the mitzvoth, as long as the religious court estimates that he most likely will observe them – he should be accepted, even though due to the situation of society nowadays, there is a reasonable chance he will not fulfill them. In actuality, it appears that the majority of converts do basically observe the mitzvoth.

A Court in Which the Majority of Its Converts Do Not Observe Mitzvoth should not be Maintained

However, if we find that a specific tribunal of a religious court acted with excessive naivety, and the majority of its converts do not keep Shabbat, the holidays, and kashrut – even on a basic level, similar to Jews who today are termed seriously traditional – such a tribunal must be dismantled. But even in such a case, the conversion of those already converted by such a court remains in force, since at the time of conversion they accepted the yoke of mitzvoth upon themselves.

And should the State of Israel decide to maintain religious courts that accept converts without proof of serious intent to observe mitzvoth, a safek (a legal doubt) will emerge over all of their conversions. On the one hand, if such a convert sanctifies a Jewish woman in marriage and afterwards leaves her, she will not be allowed to re-marry without a get. On the other hand, religious or traditional Jews will not marry him until it becomes clear he indeed is observant (see, Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah, Chap. 13, halachot 15-18).

And should these courts decide on a deliberate policy of conversion without the acceptance of mitzvoth, all of their conversions would be disqualified, because they would be acting on a principle contradictory to halakha, in the same manner as all Reform conversions were entirely rejected (Iggrot Moshe, E.H. 3:3).

The Need for a Broad Consensus

Religious courts accept the convert by virtue of the Torah and nation of Israel, and therefore the agreement on determining courts of conversion should come from the majority of rabbis, with the Chief Rabbinate organizing the consensus. However, there are cases in which the Chief Rabbinate acts with unambiguous discrimination, such as preferring the Hareidi courts over the recognized religious courts of municipal rabbis, and by doing so, loses its status as an accepted and central institution.

Therefore, the Bayit HaYehudi party (Jewish Home) is acting properly by seeking to determine a law agreed upon by the majority of rabbis, and also the Chief Rabbis.

The Truly Serious Problem

Our serious problem is not the reality of a quarter of a million descendants of Jews who are not halakhically Jewish, rather, the deep and painful fact that the majority of Jews are not religiously observant. This is our most serious national problem. Even in terms of personal halakha, the prohibitions of nidah (intimate relations with a menstruating woman), for example, are not less severe than intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews. And in general terms as well, the chances this will lead to assimilation is not as severe as being married to an absolute non-Jew in chutz la’aretz (abroad).

The real solution is not making the rules of conversion more flexible, but rather for us to make an inner tikkun (repair) by studying Torah sincerely and in-depth, by fulfilling the mitzvoth seriously, and through devotion to tikkun olam (perfecting the world) by revealing the word of God, and His instructions in the Torah. Then, all the blessings of the Torah will be fulfilled through us, and as a result, all Jews will want to engage in Torah and observe the mitzvoth, and all adherents of Israel will long to convert and join the true and good life.

Those who propose taking on converts without the acceptance of mitzvoth, apparently think that the current reality, in which the majority of Jews are not religiously observant, will continue for generations. But this is a mistake. In the long term, there is no chance for secular Jews to survive as Jews. If only they would all repent! Sadly, it can be assumed that Jews who do not return to Torah and mitzvoth, will assimilate among the nations. A lenient conversion policy will not change this.

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

When to Get Married

According to Chazal, the age of marriage is eighteen, but no later than twenty * Learning the fundamentals of Torah, studying a trade, and building a house come before marriage * The permission of Jewish law authorities to delay marriage until the age of 24 in pressing circumstances, or to learn Torah * Learning the fundamentals of the Torah and professional training takes more time nowadays, therefore, the proper directive is to marry by the age of 24 * Insistence on marrying before the age of 20 in this day and age comes at the expense of professional training and military service * The damages of getting married only after establishing oneself professionally 

At What Age are Men Obligated to Marry?

Although young Jewish males become obligated to fulfill all the mitzvoth at the age of 13, our Sages said that a man should get married at the age of 18, but no later than 20. There are two main reasons for this:

A.  Torah Study

Before marrying, a young man must learn the fundamentals of Torah in order to shape his worldview and know how to live according to halakha. As our Sages said:

At five years (the age is reached for the study of) the Scripture; at ten (for the study of) the Mishna; at thirteen (for the fulfillment of) the mitzvoth; at fifteen (for the study of) the Talmud; at eighteen for marriage” (Mishna Avoth 5:21).

Our Sages also said that Torah study should precede marriage, for if one gets married first, the burden of making a living is liable to prevent him from studying Torah appropriately (Kiddushin 29b). This was also codified in the Shulchan Aruch:

A man should first learn Torah and then marry, for if he marries first, it will be impossible for him to engage in Torah study, because the millstone (the burden of making a living) will be on his neck” (Y.D., 246:2).

B. Livelihood

During the time in which young men studied the fundamentals of Torah, they spent part of the day working in order to build a house and save money to purchase the tools to make a living. From the order of the verses in the Torah (Deuteronomy 20:5-7):

Is there any man among you who has built a new house…planted a vineyard…betrothed a woman and has not married her”, our Sages learned:

The Torah has thus taught a rule of conduct: that a man should build a house, plant a vineyard and then marry a wife” (Sotah 44a).

And Rambam wrote:

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

Therefore, the Sages postponed the age of marriage for men till eighteen years of age, warning that in any case, they should not postpone getting married beyond the age of twenty.

The Prohibition of Postponing Marriage

Our Sages said: “Until the age of twenty, the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and waits. When will he take a wife? As soon as one attains twenty and has not married, He exclaims, ‘Blasted be his bones!’” (Kiddushin 29b) – an expression of condemnation for failing to perform the mitzvah of puru u’revuru (“be fruitful and multiply”).

Similarly, Rambam wrote: “The mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying is incumbent on the husband and not on his wife… If he reaches twenty and has not married, he is considered to have transgressed and negated the observance of this positive commandment” (Hilchot Ishut 15:2).

Other authorities, such as S’mag, Rosh, Rabbeinu Yerucham, and Tur Shulchan Aruch (E.H. 1:3) have also written likewise.

Regarding the verse: “A time to give birth, and a time to die,” our Sages also said: “From the moment a man is born, the Holy One, blessed be He waits for him until the age of twenty to marry a woman. If he reaches the age of twenty but has not married, He says to him: The time for you to give birth to a child has arrived, but you did not want to, it is nothing more for you than the time to die” (Kohelet Rabbah 3:3).

Additionally, our Sages said: “If a man reaches the age of twenty, but has not married – his entire life is in thoughts of sin” – because as long as getting married is not far off, he knows his passion is reserved for his future wife; but once bachelorhood continues beyond the appropriate time of marriage, and his passions cannot find their proper outlet – he becomes used to having sinful thoughts, and is unable to escape them all his life.

How Then did Some People get Married Earlier?

There were some young people who received help from their parents or were extremely talented, and were able to marry at an earlier age, and this was praiseworthy. As Rabbi Chisda commented about himself, that his superiority over his colleagues was not thanks to his talents or righteousness, but because he was privileged to get married at the age of sixteen, and consequently was able to learn Torah in purity, without the yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) taunting him. And had he married at the age of fourteen he would have been so protected from the yetzer ha’ra, he could have fearlessly provoked the Satan without worrying about sinning (Kiddushin 29b).

In Pressing Situations Marriage was Permitted until Twenty-four

The gedolei ha’poskim  (eminent Jewish law arbiters) wrote that although according to the strict law of the Gemara, it is forbidden to postpone marriage beyond the age of twenty, to study Torah, or in pressing times of edicts and financial hardships, marriage may be postponed until the age of twenty-four. For we have seen in the Talmud (Kiddushin 30a) that when sons neglect to fulfill the mitzvah of marrying, parents must encourage and spur them on to get married. Some authorities say the parents should do this until the age of twenty-two; others say until twenty-four. The reason for setting this specific age limit is that until then they can be persuaded, and they still possess the flexibility, openness and desire required for marriage.

Based on this, Rabbi Shlomo Luria gave the following ruling with regards to someone wishing to continue studying Torah diligently: “The final age for all who want to be lenient and not marry, should not be over twenty-four years of age” (Yam Shel Shlomo, Kiddushin 1:57). If this is the case for Torah study, all the more should marriage not be postponed beyond the age of twenty-four for the sake of secular needs. Likewise,Chida wrote: “In any case, it seems that one should not postpone [marriage] for external reasons beyond the age of twenty-four” (Birkei Yosef, E.H. 1:9).

Reasons for Postponing Marriage Nowadays

In recent generations life has become more complex and more time is required to prepare for it. In the past, learning Tanach and mussar (ethics) on a simple level and halakha and its’ reasons was sufficient to facilitate establishing a Jewish home. It was enough to work with one’s father for a few hours a day until the age of eighteen, in order to acquire the professional capability to work and make a living, and even save a little money for his wedding and build a house – which consisted of one room only.

But today, in order to deal with the challenges facing us, a lot more Torah must be learned. To do this, most young people need to learn in a yeshiva framework for at least a year after the age of eighteen – and usually, even more time. And today, an additional sacred duty rests on the shoulders of young men – serving in the army and defending the people and the land – and achieving this mitzvah also causes postponement of marriage. Also, acquiring a profession which suits one’s talents usually involves prolonged academic studies, and are done after serving in the army. Likewise, the houses we live in today are more expensive because they are larger and equipped with water and electricity, and in order to purchase it, one must work for a number of years.

If marriage is postponed until after a person finishes learning all the fundamentals of Torah, completes studies for a suitable profession, and buys a house – most young people would have to get married after the age of thirty. Such a postponement is impossible according to halakha, because although the environment in which we live has become more complex, complicated, and challenging – the emotional and physical nature of man has not changed, and the appropriate age for him to get married remains between the ages of eighteen and twenty. Therefore, the length of time for a possible postponement is until the age of twenty-four, and not beyond.

Those Who Insist on Marrying Earlier

And then there are some people who adamantly claim we should not take into consideration the difficulties and challenges that modern life presents us, but continue requiring all young men to get married before the age of twenty. However, their statements run contrary to the Torah instruction of acting with derech eretz (a desired mode of behavior) (Sotah 44a; Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 5:11). And by doing so, they decree upon their followers a life of poverty, and prevent them from taking part in the development of the world using the talents God endowed them. Such people also usually tend to deny the Torah mitzvah of serving in the army to defend the people and the country.

Those Who Claim Marriage Can Be Postponed until All Preparations are Completed, as in the Days of Yore

On the other hand, some people claim that a man should postpone getting married until after completing his studies and begins earning a decent living even if it takes several years, as is customary today among young individuals living in economically and scientifically developed countries. Their statements also run contrary to halakha, which sets a limit to postponing marriage. We have also found that young people who postponed getting married have great difficulty afterwards finding their partners, and several of them remain single for many years because the appropriate time emotionally and physically for marriage is around the age of twenty. And as time passes, young people’s enthusiasm decreases, and it is more difficult for them to make an everlasting covenant of marriage. This is one of the reasons for the disintegration of the institution of family in countries where young people postpone the age of marriage.

In Our Present Situation, Marriage Can be Postponed from the Outset until the Age of Twenty-four

The complex situation in which we live can be considered a sha’at ha’dachak (pressing situation). On the one hand, young people must be given a few more years so they can base themselves in Torah and shape their worldview, and have sufficient time to take their first steps towards acquiring a profession. On the other hand, one cannot go beyond the emotionally and physically appropriate time of marriage, so as not to lose the enthusiasm and joyful youth suitable for building a relationship in its early stages.

Moreover, the mitzvoth of marriage and procreation requires man to express himself fully and completely. As our Sages said, any man who has no wife is not a proper man (Yevamot 63a), and lives without joy, without blessing, without goodness, without Torah, without a [protecting] wall, and without peace (Yevamot 62b). There is a limit to how many years a man can continue living in such incomplete circumstances. Additionally, we have learned that delaying marriage beyond necessity causes a person’s yetzer (inclination) to overcome him, to the point where he cannot escape sinful thoughts all his life (Kiddushin 29b).

Consequently, the general instruction should be not to postpone marriage beyond the age of twenty-four. And one who can get married earlier without significantly harming his Torah study, serving in the army, and preparations for acquiring a profession suitable to his talents – will be blessed. In exceptional situations, like studying an extremely demanding profession such as medicine, if there is no other option, one is permitted to postpone marriage beyond the age of twenty-four, provided his yetzer does not overcome him (see, Beit Shmuel 1:5, in the opinion of Rambam).

Next week, with God’s help, we will deal with the age women should get married.

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

Drink on Purim Without Making a Fool of Yourself

The difference between drinking wine on Purim and other holidays * When to have the Purim festive meal, and what to eat * Get drunk, or just drink a bit more than usual? * The dispute on how much one should drink stems from the different impact excessive drinking has on various people * Practical instructions for sensible drinking ending in joy, and not frivolity and disgrace * The duty of parents and teachers to supervise the drinking of the youth * Women are also obligated in the mitzvah to drink * A married couple must send at least two mishloach manot, and give four matanot l’evyonim
 
A Day of Feasting and Gladness
 
The mitzvah to drink and be happy on Purim is greater than on other chagim (festivals), for in regards to all the chagim (PesachShavuot, and Sukkot) the Torah says: “You shall rejoice on your festival” (Deuteronomy 16:14), and seeing as most people take pleasure in drinking wine – it is a mitzvah to drink wine, but it is not a mitzvah to drink excessively (S.A., O.C. 529:1-3). As for Purim though, the mitzvah is to make it a day of feasting – in other words, the main point of the day is to drink and be happy, as it is written: “Days of feasting and joy” (Esther 9:22). Therefore, our Sages said: “A man is obligated to intoxicate himself on Purim, till he cannot distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai” (Megilah 7b).
The Mitzvah to Have a Festive Meal on Purim Day
 
Every individual should have a festive meal on Purim, seeing as this is the optimal way to drink joyfully – namely, in the course of a dignified meal together with a few alcoholic beverages. Without a meal, drinking is less joyful, and may also lead to negative side effects, such as headaches and hangovers. The meal should be held during the day; a person who ate a meal at night has not fulfilled his obligation, as it is written: “Days of feasting and joy” (Esther 9:22; Megilah 7b).
It is customary to have the meal in the afternoon, because in the morning, we are busy with the mitzvoth of reading the megilahmishloach manot, and matanot l’evyonim. After that, an enjoyable meal can be held. And even if the meal continues beyond nightfall, it is still considered a mitzvah, and ‘Al ha’Nissim’ is recited in the Birkat ha’Mazone, for the beginning of the meal is the determining point.
Is it a Mitzvah to be Especially Happy All of Purim?
 
Although the main point of the mitzvah to be happy takes place during the meal, during the entire length of Purim – both night and day – it is a mitzvah to be especially happy. The happier one is, the more he glorifies the mitzvah. Thus, it is customary for Jews to be especially happy throughout all of Purim, participating in singing and dancing, embracing friends, learning the joyful Torah, tasting appetizing foods, and drinking a few alcoholic beverages.
What should be eaten at the Purim Festive Meal?
 
In addition to wine and other beverages, one should prepare a meat dish for the meal, seeing as most people take pleasure in eating meat. A person who finds eating meat difficult should make an effort to eat chicken, for chicken is also considered enjoyable. If one does not have chicken, or does not like eating it, he can eat other appetizing foods – enjoying them accompanied by drinking wine.
The seudah (festive meal) should be eaten with bread, since in the opinion of some eminent poskim (Jewish law arbiters), a seudah without bread is not considered an important meal (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 16:9, footnote 10).
How Much Must One Drink on Purim?
 
Our Sages said: “A man is obligated to intoxicate himself on Purim, till he cannot distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai” (Megilah 7b). However, several opinions were mentioned concerning the specifics of the mitzvah. In general, the various opinions regarding the mitzvah of drinking on Purim can be arranged into two main points of view.
Those Who Believe One Must Get Drunk
 
Some poskim take the words of our Sages literally – that a man must get drunk to the point where he cannot tell the difference between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordechai” (Rif, Rosh). In other words, one must reach a state of simple joy – released from one’s natural inhibitions; laughing more, and also crying more. True, such a person finds it difficult to walk straight, cannot remember all the details and various promises he made to himself, but nevertheless, he’s in a good mood and hugs his friends. In such a state, “cursed be Haman” is indistinguishable from “blessed be Mordechai” – namely, everything is good – or at least everything is for the good. When drunk, a person behaves differently, in a way that normally would be considered improper. Many of the ‘Gedolei Yisrael’ (eminent Torah scholars) were accustomed to drinking large amounts of wine on Purim.
Tipsy but Not Smashed
Some authorities believe that the mitzvah is to drink more than one usually drinks, to the point where he is tipsy but not drunk. In other words, one feels slightly dizzy, is more relaxed and happy, but does not reach the level of drunkenness in which he is liable to behave indecently. The reason for this is that according to halakha, the opinion that holds one must drink “ad d’lo yada,” or, till he cannot distinguish (Rebbe Ephraim), is not accepted. Or possibly, the opinion that one must drink “ad d’lo yada” is accepted, however, the meaning is until a person cannot speak properly, and when asked to repeat frequently “aror Haman, baruch Mordechai” (cursed be Haman, blessed be Mordechai), he will sometimes get confused (Tosephot and Ran).
The Heart of the Dispute on How to Drink
It appears that the heart of the dispute stems from the different reactions people have when drinking wine. For some people, drinking large amounts of wine makes them happy, while others get depressed. For some, drinking is stimulating, while for others, it causes tiredness. Some people get wild after having a number of drinks, but for others, it causes them to be calm and cheerful. For some people, it causes them to throw-up, roll in their vomit, and humiliate themselves publicly, while for others, it arouses them to reveal their good-heartedness. And since the main point of the mitzvah is to drink and be happy, each person must examine himself: is he the type of person who is happier when drinking a lot, or a little; or perhaps he is the type of person who drinks, and then must go straight to bed.
Good Advice for Purim Drinkers
Fortunately, many of us are not in the habit of getting drunk, therefore it is advisable to acquaint ourselves a bit with the rules of drinking, for if not, one is liable to attend a neighbor’s Purim meal, but wake-up the next day in his own house without remembering how he got there. Later on, everyone will tell him how he danced on all four, threw-up, shouted, and then began asking for something unclear, and when no one answered his calls, he turned-over the table, and ten of his friends had to grab control of him, and drag him home.
In general, alcohol reaches its peak influence only about thirty minutes after consumption. However, someone who is unaware of this will drink a glass of wine or some other alcoholic beverage at the start of the meal, and after five minutes, seeing the drink had almost no effect whatsoever, thinks he must drink another glass in order to fulfill the mitzvah. And then, after another five minutes pass, still feeling just a little dizzy, but no more than that – thinks he has to drink another full glass. And then, after another ten minutes pass, now he begins to feel happy – finally, the wine is taking affect, and therefore, let’s up the happiness with another drink! Thus, within less than a half an hour, he drank four glasses, and all of a sudden – the alcohol goes to his head. He still makes an effort to control himself – to talk coherently, not to knock over things – but very quickly, falls dead drunk, reeling in his vomit, and, as it says in the Megilah “and there will be plenty of contempt and anger.
Therefore, one must know how to consume alcohol, and wait at least thirty minutes between each drink. It is also good to combine eating with drinking, and thus be able to continue being happy for many hours. In this way, the fine wine is absorbed properly; friends can embrace each other, reveal the goodness that lies in the depths of their hearts, and thank God for His great kindness and salvation.
Concerning Teenagers Revelers
Unfortunately, some teenagers are unruly and get drunk all year round; several claim they started behaving this way on Purim. In any event, in order to prevent such ugly phenomena, it is important to make sure that the youth are accompanied by their parents, or with rabbis and responsible counselors; without such supervision, they should not be given alcoholic beverages.
In any case, we must always remember that the main responsibility lies with the parents, who must supervise their adolescent children all year round, and also on Purim. And if their children are in yeshiva for Purim, they should talk to them beforehand about the proper way to have fun, and after Purim, ask them how it went, and draw conclusions.
The Taste of Drinking on Purim
Out of the sanctity of Purim, the holy spark that exists in simple and unrestricted happiness is revealed, and consequently, segulat Yisrael (the uniqueness of Israel) is revealed, a nation who is able to reveal kedusha (holiness) in physical joy, as well. “The Lord will rejoice with His works” (see, Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 16:12).
Women and the Mitzvah to Drink
Women are also obligated to fulfill all the mitzvoth of Purim. And although women are exempt from positive, time-bound mitzvoth, seeing as they also participated in the miracle, they too are obligated. This also includes the mitzvah for women to drink more wine than usual; however, they must be more careful not to get drunk and lose control, because drunkenness is a greater disgrace for women than for men, for it violates the laws of modesty in which women excel.
Modesty in Mishloach Manot
 
In view of tzniyut (modesty) it is important to make sure that, with regards to mishlochei manot, women send their gifts to other women, and men send their gifts to other men. However, regarding matanot l’evyonim, there is no need to be strict, because giving charity does not involve as much over-friendliness (Rema, 695:4).
A Married Couple
 
A married woman herself is obligated in the mitzvoth of Purim. Consequently, a married couple is obligated to send two mishlochei manot – one from the man, and one from the woman. And although concerning mishloach manot the main point is kiruv ha’da’at (friendship) between the sender and the recipient, it seems there is no need to explicitly tell the recipients that a specific gift is from the man, and the other from the woman; rather, the intention of the senders’ is sufficient. And this does not flaw the kiruv ha’da’at, for seeing as they are a married couple, it is clear the gift comes from the two of them, and the kiruv ha’da’at is done by both.
Concerning matanot l’evyonim, a married couple must give the shiur of four matanot – two matanot from the man, and two from the woman. And there is no need for the woman to give the matanot herself; rather, her husband can give them for her.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

The Hareidim and the Mitzvah to Serve in the I.D.F.

The two mitzvoth fulfilled by enlisting in the army: the mitzvah of fighting a war to assist Israel from an attacking enemy, and the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel * A mitzvah that cannot be performed by others, overrides Talmud Torah * In our current situation, the majority of yeshiva students must enlist, and only a few select students should be exempt * There is no room for tirades against the new law which exempts almost 20% of yeshiva students from army service * Anyone who says there is no mitzvah to serve in the army is not an eminent Torah scholar * The Hareidi community should join the struggle for the sanctity of the I.D.F. camp, so it will suit the absorption of Hareidi soldiers

 Must Yeshiva Students Enlist in the Army?

 Q: Do yeshiva students have to enlist in the army, or are all Torah students exempt from military service – no matter how many they number?

 A: The mitzvah to enlist in the army is based on two great mitzvothhaztalat Yisrael (saving Israel), and yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel). It should be noted that seventeen mitzvoth from the Torah relate to the army, as listed by Rabbi Zevin in his book ‘L’Ohr Ha’Halakha’, where he thoroughly clarifies the mitzvah to enlist in the army. This issue was also expounded upon at length by Tzitz Eliezer, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook in his book ‘L’Nityvote Yisrael’, and other gedolei Torah.

 Saving Lives

 It is well-known that it is a mitzvah for every Jew to save his fellow brother from danger, as the Torah says: “Do not stand still when your neighbor’s life is in danger” (Vayikra 19:16). And our Sages said in the Mishna: “Anyone who saves a single soul from Israel, he is deemed by Scripture as if he had saved a whole world” (Sanhedrin 4:5). We have also learned that in order to save a group of Jews, life is endangered and the Sabbath is desecrated (S.A., O.C. 329:6). How much greater the obligation is to participate in the rescue of the entire nation – namely, the mitzvah of fighting a war. Or as Rambam wrote: “What is considered as milchemet mitzvah? … To assist Israel from an enemy which attacks them” (Laws of Kings 5:1). The difference between the mitzvah of fighting a war, as opposed to the standard mitzvah of saving a life, is that the mitzvah of fighting a war requires mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice), and it overrides an individual’s obligation to protect his own life (Maran HaRav Kook, Mishpat Kohen 143; Responsa, Tzitz Eliezer 13:100).

 Settling the Land of Israel

It is written in the Torah: “Take possession of the land and settle in it” (Bamidbar 33:53-54), and our Sages said that the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is equal to all the mitzvoth (Sifre, Re’eh, Parsha 53). This mitzvah overrides pikuach nefesh (saving the life) of individuals, seeing as we were commanded to conquer the Land of Israel, and the Torah did not intend us to rely on a miracle. And as there is no war without casualties, it follows that the mitzvah to conquer the Land obligates us to endanger lives for it. (Minchat Chinuch 425 and 604; Mishpat Kohen, pg.327).

The claim cannot be made that this mitzvah is not in force today, for the halakha follows the opinion of Ramban and the majority of poskim (Jewish law arbiters), that the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz remains in effect at all times. True, there are some poskim who believe that in the opinion of Rambam, ever since the destruction of the Temple there is no mitzvah to conquer the Land of Israel. However, all agree that according to Rambam it is a mitzvah to live Eretz Yisrael, and consequently if after the Jewish nation is already living in the Land enemies come to conquer parts of it, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz obligates us to fight in order to protect it, because it is forbidden to hand over parts of the Land of Israel to the Gentiles (as explained in the responsa ‘D’var Yehoshua’, section 2, O.C. 58, by Rabbi Yehoshua Ehrenberg, a posek and dayan of Belze Hassidim). This, in addition to the prohibition of abandoning parts of the Land of Israel to Gentiles on account of defense and security reasons (S.A., O.C. 329:6).

 The Conflict between Talmud Torah and the Mitzvah of Army Service

Although the mitzvah of Talmud Torah is equal to all the mitzvoth, the basic rule is that any mitzvah that cannot be performed by others’ overrides Talmud Torah (Mo’ed Katan 9a). The same holds true for enlisting in the army. When there are not enough soldiers for Israel’s security, Torah study is cancelled to serve in the army. In regards to the Torah and our Sages explanation (Sotah 44b) concerning the case of a man who had built a new house and not dedicated it, etc., being exempt from army enlistment, this refers to a milchemet reshut (an optional war). But when it comes to a milchemet mitzvah (an obligatory war), such as a war to rescue Israel from an enemy – “the entire nation must go out to war, even a groom from his chamber, and a bride from her pavilion”. This is also the ruling of Rambam (Laws of Kings 7:4).

We have also found that the students of Yehoshua bin Nun and King David went out to war without relying on miracles, and were not concerned about the neglect of Torah study (bittul Torah). Regarding the statement in the Talmud (Bava Batra 8a) that Torah scholars do not require protection, it is not referring to a situation of safek pikuach nefesh (a doubtful life-threatening situation), rather, Torah scholars are exempt from protection intended primarily to prevent theft. But when the lives of Jews need to be defended, it is a mitzvah to rescue them from danger – and with regards to the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh – it is a mitzvah for the greatest talmedei chachamin to act first (M.B. 328:34).

 The Importance of Yeshiva Student’s Torah Study

 Nonetheless, it is essential to know that the most important mitzvah is Talmud Torah and no other mitzvah guards and maintains the Jewish nation to the extent of Torah study. Therefore, along with the mitzvah to serve in the army, every Jew must arrange a number of years in his life which he devotes to Torah study, to the best of his ability. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “The study of the Torah is superior to the saving of life” (Megilah 16b), because saving a life involves the momentary rescue of a human body, whereas Talmud Torah revitalizes the body and soul of the Jewish nation for the long duration.

 When Necessary, Enlist; When Not, Defer

 Practically speaking, when enlistment is necessary for the protection of the nation and the Land, the mitzvah of Talmud Torah does not override it, just as Talmud Torah does not override fulfilling the mitzvoth of marriage, tzedakah, and additional mitzvoth that cannot be performed by others. This was the instruction of our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook ztz”l during the ‘War of Independence’, that yeshiva students must enlist in the army, because the situation at the time required the mobilization of all young men.

However, when there is no necessity to recruit all young men, then it is the duty of the Jewish nation to exempt students who are worthy of developing into Torah scholars for the sake of Clal Yisrael, so they can grow and become rabbis and educators – provided they do so with respect and amity towards the soldiers protecting our nation and country. For only Torah learning which stems from such a position can make a full contribution to raising the spirit and courage of Clal Yisrael.

 In line with our rabbis teachings, and seeing as the State of Israel is surrounded by enemies, according to Torah instruction the majority of yeshiva students must perform a significant service in the army, similar to the service of Hesder yeshiva students or ‘Hesder Merkaz’, so they can integrate into the reserve forces, upon which the I.D.F. bases its primary strength in time of war. However, those few students worthy of becoming important Torah scholars, and whose going out to war is likely to harm their studies, should continue learning in yeshiva for several, unlimited years, for the benefit of Clal Yisrael. Somewhat similar to our Sages statement that one thousand students enter for mikra (Tanach). From there, only one hundred go forth and succeed to be worthy of Mishna (the simple understanding of halakha). Of these one hundred, only ten go forth for Gemara (in-depth study), and of these ten, only one goes forth for hora’ah (instruction) (Vayikra Rabbah 2:1).

 The New Law

 The law in question broadens the opportunity of learning in yeshivas at the expense of army service and the public coffers. This stems from recognition of the importance of Torah study, and the national need to give greater weight to Torah learning in yeshivas following the spiritual and physical crisis the Jewish nation experienced in recent generations. Accordingly, the law grants full exemption from military service to roughly 20% of all yeshiva students. For this, the representatives of the Hareidi community should have expressed gratitude to the Members of Knesset and the government, instead of crying needlessly, ranting, raving, and spreading lies, as if nowhere in the world were yeshiva students ever required to enlist in the army (haven’t they ever heard about the Cantonists, and the recruiting for the Russian-Japanese War, and for World War I, etc.?).

 Anyone Who Says There is No Mitzvah to Serve in the Army is Not a Gadol

 Q: Is it true you said that a gadol ba’Torah (an eminent Torah scholar) cannot possibly say it is not a mitzvah to serve in the I.D.F.?

 A: Indeed, anyone who says that it is not a mitzvah to serve in the I.D.F. cannot be considered a gadol ba’Torah. There might be a debate between gedolei ha’Torah about the number of yeshiva students who need to enlist; there could also be gedolei Torah who believe that in the present situation, which is not an immediate state of pikuach nefesh, it is better for Am Yisrael that all yeshiva students continue learning, including those who do not study diligently, because in the army they are liable to decline spiritually. And although we believe their opinion is mistaken, the debate remains within the framework of the details of the mitzvah and its obligation. But no gadol ba’Torah can possibly claim it is not a mitzvah to serve in the army, just as it is impossible to claim that a person who saves a human’s life, or settle’s the Land of Israel, does not fulfill a mitzvah. If he does make such a claim – this proves he is not gadol ba’Torah.

 According to my knowledge, the rabbis who are considered gedolei Torah in the Hareidi community, such as Rabbi Eliashiv ztz”l, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztz”l, and Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef ztz”l, agreed that it is a mitzvah to serve in the army, and only opposed compulsory enlistment for yeshiva students at the present time. In contrast to them, members of Satmar who claim there is no mitzvah whatsoever to serve in the army cannot be considered eminent Torah scholars.

 The Difficult Claim against the Hareidi Community

 This is the difficult claim against the Haredi community: why don’t they explicitly say that those serving in the army fulfill a mitzvah? Why don’t they pray for the welfare of the soldiers? One can argue about the need for yeshiva students to serve in the army, and claim that the mitzvah can be fulfilled by others, but how have they allowed themselves in heat of the debate to erase a mitzvah from the Torah?

This complaint is directed primarily to all the mashgichim (spiritual supervisors) and various spokesmen, however, the eminent Hareidi rabbis also bear responsibility. For various reasons, most of them avoid speaking about this great mitzvah, thereby giving room to the serious mistake of many of their students, who brazenly dare to claim that serving in the army is not a mitzvah. 

 Mobilization for Guarding the Sanctity of the Army Camp

 If the representatives of the Hareidi community would invest even a tenth of the effort they devoted in the fight against enlistment to the struggle of preparing the army for the absorption of members of their community, they would have been much more beneficial. Because then, the fear of the young men declining spiritually in the army would wane, and all those yeshiva students who do not study diligently could enlist in the army without fear; subsequently, most of the complaints against the Hareidi community would disappear. At the same time, they would assist all those frustrated young men who are unable to find their place, and thus strengthen the I.D.F. in terms of security and spirituality. Consequently, they would have a positive effect on the state of tzniyut (modesty) of all soldiers, and as a result on the entire country – not unlike the religious soldiers – the yeshiva students – that by means of their good example have already influenced the entire army today – until gradually the I.D.F. will become much more fitting for religious individuals. And as the number of serious, observant soldiers increases, so will we merit greater sanctity of our military camp, and as a result, be privileged to see the Final Redemption speedily in our days.

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

Explaining Mainly for Ourselves

The I.D.F. and the state would benefit if all soldiers chose the Hesder track * Yeshiva students vacations are shorter than university students * Explaining the importance of Hesder yeshivas to ourselves, is more important than explaining it to the secular * Is the Hesder track at risk if we do not agree to two years of service? * The excessive desire of representatives of the religious community to receive approval and consent from others * Factors on the left and the media are attacking the Hesder students because they are identified with the settlement of the Land of Israel * Those who seek to destroy the country, wish to destroy Jewish family values as well.
Hesder Yeshivas
 
I received a number of comments following my column on Hesder yeshivas, and since the issue continues to be on the public agenda, I think it is worth a further look.
The Argument of Equality
 
Q: Rabbi, do you really believe there is no preferential treatment in theHesder track, just because anyone who wants to can join? After all, if everyone were to serve in the Hesder track, the I.D.F. would be short on soldiers?
A: I believe that if everyone served in the Hesder track, the quality of the soldiers in the I.D.F. would increase tremendously, and the benefits derived from their shortened military service would surpass current gains. This, thanks to the charge of values they would receive in the yeshivas, which would also make it easier for the army to recruit soldiers necessary for permanent service from within their ranks.
And above and beyond this, when we are fortunate enough to have everyone learning in Hesder yeshivas, the State of Israel will flourish in all areas, because the yeshiva graduates imbued with these values will advance education, academia, industry, the economy, settlement and aliyah – and in addition, raise fine families. May we merit seeing the learning halls of Hesder yeshivas filled to overflowing capacity in the near future!
Why Yeshiva Students Vacations are Long
 
Q: If the Hesder yeshiva students are as beneficial to Israel as you say, and in addition, serve five years instead of three, why is it that while combat soldiers get two weeks’ vacation a year, yeshiva students get a break three times a year for ”bein ha z’manim”, three weeks at a time?
A: Every field has its own character. Study is more tiring mentally than physical labor, and the vast majority of people are not capable of learning continuously for an entire year. The fact is that in all universities, vacations are much longer – about four to five months a year. Even the most diligent academic students take longer vacations than yeshiva students (incidentally, the holidays of Passover and Sukkot are not periods of vacation, but rather appointed times, half of which should be spent learning Torah).
In my estimation, the yearly number of study hours of Hesder yeshiva students corresponds to the number of hours studied by the twenty percent of diligent students learning challenging subjects in universities (I am able to make this estimation because for fifteen years our yeshiva, Yeshiva Har Bracha, has run a continuation program – ‘Shiluvim’, which combines academic studies with yeshiva studies).
Convincing the Religious Community
 
Q: Rabbi, you wrote nice things about the importance of the Zionist yeshivas in general, and the Hesder yeshivas in particular, but the problem is you wrote them in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper for the religious public who at any rate are already convinced. You need to convince the secular public that attacks the Hesder yeshiva students.
A: Although it is important to explain Torah and values to the secular public, it is more important to explain it to the religious community, because it is an issue composed of a number of values which require finding the optimal way of integrating them – for the glory of the Torah, the nation, and the country. The integration should also be tailored to each individual: many are fit for the Hesder track, some are fit for Mechinot (pre-military preparatory programs) and afterwards to serve in the regular army,  and others are fit for a yeshiva gevo’ah (higher Torah academies) followed by a shorter military service.
All of them are beneficial for Israeli society. Those learning in the yeshivot gevo’ot help fortify the importance of Torah – for soldiers serving in the regular and standing army, as well; those serving in the army help the yeshiva students connect their studies to the practical world and the security of the nation. And the central axis which beautifully combines both these values is accomplished by the students of the Hesder yeshivas. Together, they all benefit Israeli society – the Haredim and secular alike.
The more the students of the Zionist yeshivas and Mechinot increase their understanding of the great task that lies before them, and the most effective way to realize it, their welcome influence on all of Israeli society will also increase, and the Haredim and secular Jews will do teshuva (repent) – each one, in their own required area.
I will continue and reveal that in essence, I am writing for myself. And when I manage to express things frankly, I am filled with satisfaction. Subsequently, I know there’s a chance that others will enjoy what I have written, and derive benefit from it. And as theba’alei mussar have already said, the most important thing is for a person to correct himself, for if he is successful, his words will benefit many people.
Are the Hesder Yeshivas at Risk?
 
Q: In recent days, the secular public was exposed to severe and daily attacks on theHesder yeshivas, even demanding that their students serve three full years in the army. Shouldn’t we compromise and extend the service to two years, and thereby save theHesder yeshivas?
A: There is no risk to the Hesder yeshiva track in the foreseeable future. The law is almost completed, and the coalition will pass it. Moreover, as long as the Haredi public is entitled to a larger exemption for yeshiva students, both in the number of young men who receive a full exemption from military service, and also in the number of those receiving conditions for deferred and shortened service, it is impossible to discriminate against the Zionist public and withhold from it from the possibility of learning in yeshivas under conditions that are far better and useful to the I.D.F. However, in the long-term there is cause for concern, or in other words – grasping the importance of the special combination in Hesder yeshivas in their present format, for all of Israeli society.
How to Convince
 
Q: Is it possible to continue the Hesder yeshiva track while the secular media keeps attacking it? Aren’t we promptly obligated to try and persuade the secular public about the importance of the track, for if not, its continued existence will be at risk?
A: The exaggerated desire of the religious communities’ representatives to receive approval and agreement from other authorities is one of the most difficult problems. The ability to explain a fundamental idea depends on one’s ability of identifying with its importance, and self-assurance in its truth and benefit for the sake of society.
Incidentally, this problem caused many leaders of the national camp to accept the delusional, dangerous, and evil position of “two states for two peoples”. In their youth they sang songs about “shtei gadot la’Yarden” (“two banks to the Jordan”, a poem written by Jabotinsky), and believed that all of Eretz Yisrael belonged to the Jewish nation. They hoped to gain power and explain to all the absolute truth and implement the vision. All they needed was to be appointed as senior ministers, immediately head off to foreign countries, meet the delegates of the great nations face-to-face, talk with them honestly, and convince them. Excitedly, they set forth on international advocacy campaigns to explain the validity of our path… and surprise! It turned out that the delegates of the nations had their own interests, and the great speeches did not affect them. Naturally, of course, they were left with no other choice but to capitulate. Just ask Ehud Olmert and Tzippy Livni.
The Mistake in Public Relations
 
The mistake of the majority of those who spoke on the issue of Hesder yeshivas was that they tried to depict the quality of their combat service in order to get sympathy and approval of their shortened army service. But it’s hard to explain to a secular person that it’s preferable for Hesder soldiers to serve less because of their military excellence. If they are so good, why shouldn’t they contribute more?
We must accept the fact that secular people do not appreciate yeshiva study as we wish they would. If they did, they would do teshuva. Attempting to convince them about this is doomed to failure. We should have explained our position without trying to persuade, describing the entire picture – the great contribution of the religious community to all of Israeli society, in all fields – including the army – and calmly explain that all of this stems from the study of Torah in yeshivas. Some would understand more, other’s less.
In any case, it should have been firmly clarified that in as much as we have a national responsibility, we have no intention of changing the Hesder track – one of the most beneficial tracks for the Jewish nation – but will try our best to expand it as much as possible.
It was also forbidden to agree to add a month to the service, because amid these pressures, it was perceived as a slight admission of fault, requiring the guilty to prove his righteousness.
The Second Mistake
 
One also cannot ignore the deep motivation of the media’s attacks on the Hesderyeshivas, whose graduates are the forerunners of the position supporting the settlement of Judea and Samaria, and live in all the communities located there in large numbers. Unfortunately, there are people in the country – especially in the media – for whom these things are anathema. They will do anything to harm anyone expressing this position.
We must recognize reality – this is the main motive of the resentment and attacks on the Hesder yeshivas. It is no coincidence that all the attackers of the Hesder yeshivas – without exception – are people who support giving portions of our homeland to the Arabs. They also fear that yeshiva graduates will refuse orders to expel Jews from their homes.
Some people try to play down the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, to distance the Hesderyeshivas and the religious community from this controversial position. But instead of running away from it, we must reveal the motive for the attacks, and thus, as supporters of Hesder, win over to our side all the Jews who are loyal to Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael who are not observant.
The ‘Civil Union’ Law
 
Just as Minister Tzippy Livni and her Knesset faction specifically attack the Hesderyeshiva students, and strive to establish a state for the Arabs in heart of the Land of Israel, they also want to promote the ‘civil union’ law, whose main gist is damaging the sacred status of marriage in Israel.
In a previous article I wrote that if the status of Jewish marriage was strengthened by means of a Basic Law, there would be room for granting all financial rights to anyone wishing to maintain a joint partnership. However, this is on the condition that it is not an institution with official status, similar to state-governed marriage, but rather in a framework whose essential feature is free will – the free will of two people to define their partnership, and their free will to dismantle it at any time, without the need of approval from any particular arrangement. The existing pool of lawyers will suffice to facilitate all the agreements.
The ‘civil union’ law does the exact opposite; it organizes an entire civilian system parallel to marriage according to Jewish law. Instead of granting free will, it creates a system that is meant to compete with the rabbinate and the batei din (courts of Jewish law).
Apart from damaging the status of sacred Jewish marriage, it is also likely to cause devastating damage to all those who “marry” according to it. Since it is a marriage-like system, according to the opinion of many poskim (Jewish law arbiters) it will be considered as marriage, which in order to annul, will require a get. And since the system they intend to establish will not require a get according to halakha, the number of women considered safek eshet ish (a women doubtfully married) will increase, and their children will be safek mamzerim (a child born out of a doubtful forbidden marriage). The destruction they wish to inflict on Eretz Yisrael, they also wish to inflict on family values.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Man and Woman in the Mitzvah of Marriage and Birth

The Greatest Mitzvah
 
It is a Biblical obligation to procreate, and in every child that parents give birth to, they fulfill a great mitzvah and merit participating with God in bringing life into, and saving, an entire world (Nida 31a; Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5). This is the initial purpose of Creation, for God desired the world be populated, as our Sages said: “And was not the world created for the sake of reproduction, as it says (Isaiah 45:18) “He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos” (Mishna Gittin 4:2).
The Need for a Binding Definition
 
Although, without a binding definition, this great mitzvah is liable to be extremely general, to the point where in many cases, it would not be implemented properly. After all, marriage is a complex matter which requires responsibility and courage, is dependent on the consent of husband and wife and economic means, and usually, the support of the parents. Concern exists that if the duty of this mitzvah is not an absolute requirement, despite its enormous importance, some people would delay it until it would be too late.
After marriage as well, the general mitzvah leaves many doubts. On the one hand, since the birth of every child is a great mitzvah, some could argue that one child is enough – seeing as he alone is like an entire world – and postpone his birth until the age of forty, when the parents are established and experienced. On the other hand, since the mitzvah is so immense and important, perhaps each individual must make an effort beyond his powers to have as many children as possible, and thus, get married at the youngest possible age, and even curtail the time of breastfeeding so as to have as many children as possible. Consequently, the Torah had to set binding definitions for this mitzvah, and our Sages added other definitions according to the principles explained in the Torah.
The General Mitzvah and the Obligation
 
The general Biblical mitzvah is to be fruitful and multiply, and one fulfills this mitzvahwith every child born. The Torah obligation is to have one son and one daughter, similar to God’s original creation of Adam and Chava, as it is written: “God [thus] created man with His image. In the image of God, He created him, male and female He created them. God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the land and conquer it…” (Genesis 1:27-28). Since, as clarified in the verse, the Torah desires we be fruitful and multiply and fill the land, our Sages determined as an obligatory mitzvah to have more children, according to one’s ability.
On the one hand, the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply is a more general and important mitzvah, to the point where it supersedes other mitzvoth, and in order to fulfill it, one is permitted to release a Canaanite slave, and sell a Torah scroll. On the other hand, the obligation is defined and more binding, but it is not more important than other mitzvoth (see, Gittin 41a, Megilla 27a; Tosefot Gittin ibid, Chagiga 2b).
Man and Woman’s Obligation and Mitzvah
 
The general mitzvah is relevant to both man and woman alike, and in a certain respect, a woman’s reward is even greater, because, as we have learned, reward is according to the suffering (Avot 5:23). But concerning the obligation, the Tana’imdiffered.
In the opinion of the Sages, man is obligated in the mitzvah, because he sanctifies his wife in marriage, and is the dominant partner in physical relations. This is what the verse “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and conquer it” hinted at – it is the nature of a man to conquer, but it is not the nature of a woman to conquer” (Yevamot 65b). Others explained that since the woman experiences the grief and danger of pregnancy and childbirth, the Torah – whose ways are ways of pleasantness – did not want to impose this mitzvah upon her as being obligatory (Meshech Chochma, Genesis 9:7).
On the other hand, according to Rabbi Yochanan ben Brokaw, women are also obligated in this mitzvah, because it is mentioned to Adam and Chava in the plural form, as it is written: “God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the land and conquer it” (Genesis 1:28).
The Amora’im were also divided on this question, and the halakha was determined that the obligation rests on the man, and not the woman.
The Meaning of the Halakha that Women are Commanded but not Obligated
 
The halakha determining that it is a mitzvah for a woman to have children but not an obligation does not affect a woman’s privilege to have children, for if it turned out that a woman married an infertile man and wanted to get divorced so she could have a son or daughter who could take care of her in her old age, her husband is required to divorce her and pay her ketubah (Yevamot 65b; S.A., E.H. 1:13; 154:6).
Moreover, since the general mitzvah is greater and more important than the personal obligation, halakha determines that a Torah scroll is sold for the purpose of a woman’s marriage just like that of a man (M.A. 153:9; M.B.24), and even precedes a man in such a case.
Accordingly, the halakhic difference is that a woman who did not want to get married, or wished to marry an infertile man – although she cancels herself from the mitzvah, nevertheless, she is not considered to have sinned, since she is not obligated to fulfill the mitzvah. Conversely, it is forbidden for a man to remain single, or to marry an infertile woman, and only after fulfilling the mitzvah of ‘be fruitful and multiply’ with his first wife, is he permitted to marry an infertile woman.
As in Torah study and prayer, we find that in this mitzvah the Torah addresses men in the imperative and command form, while women are addressed in the language ofreshut (optional) and mitzvah, and in this way, the mitzvah is fulfilled completely from both aspects – both as an obligation, and voluntarily.
The Obligation is Deferred until the Age of 18 for Torah and Livelihood
 
Since the mitzvah is binding for men, we must clarify from what age does it apply?
The poskim (Jewish law arbiters) have written that although a man becomes obligated to fulfill all the mitzvoth from the age of thirteen, our Sages postponed the age of marriage for men until eighteen. This is because a man needs to prepare for the big challenge of raising a family in two areas: First – studying Torah, in order to shape his worldview, and know how to act properly (Mishna, Avot 5:21; Kiddushin 29b). Second – parnassah (livelihood). During the years devoted to studying the fundamentals of the Torah, part of the day was dedicated to working, in order to build a house and save money to purchase instruments for earning a livelihood (Sotah 44a; Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 5:11).
Not Later than the Age of Twenty
 
Therefore, our Sages postponed the age of marriage for men until eighteen, but cautioned that in any event, not to postpone it beyond the age of twenty. Our Sages said (Kiddushin 29b): “Until the age of twenty, the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and waits. When will he take a wife? As soon as one attains twenty and has not married, He exclaims, ‘Blasted be his bones!’” –an expression of damnation for not having fulfilled the mitzvah of ‘Be fruitful and multiply’. In addition, our Sages said: “He who is twenty years of age and is not married spends all his days in sinful thoughts,” because as long as getting married is close at hand, a man knows that his passion is reserved for his partner, but when bachelorhood persists beyond the appropriate period of marriage, and his passion fails to find the proper channel, he becomes accustomed to having sinful thoughts, and is not able to escape them for his entire life.
Nowadays, the preparations necessary in respect to Torah and finances  are greater, and consequently, many men need to postpone marriage beyond the age of twenty, but in the opinion of many poskim, they should not postpone marriage beyond the age of twenty-four. With God’s help, I will clarify this matter next week. Now, I will continue dealing with men’s obligation to get married. God willing, I will also dedicate an entire column to the appropriate age for women to get married.
 
The Severity of the Obligation and Coercion of the Mitzvah
 
The law has been determined in the Shulchan Aruch: “It is incumbent on every man that they should marry a woman at the age of eighteen… but in any case he should not go beyond the age of twenty without marrying a woman. If twenty years go by and he does not want to marry, the courts can force him to marry in order to fulfill themitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying” (E.H. 1:3). How is this coercion achieved? According to Rif and Rambam, he is coerced with the use of a whip, and according to Tosephot and Rosh, he is coerced with harsh words and fines – i.e., no one should do business or hire him, but he should not be beaten or excommunicated for not getting married (S.A., E.H. 154:21).
How Can Marriage be Forced?
 
Seemingly, one could ask: How can this mitzvah be forced? After all, marriage must occur out of love and desire!
Indeed, it is clear that in practice, a man was not forced to marry a woman he did not choose. Rather, our Sages made this statement in order to express a fundamental position, that a person is obligated to get married by the age of twenty to fulfill themitzvah of procreation, and in principle, beit din should force him to fulfill thismitzvah. Although in practice, only rarely did beit din exercise its power. For example, in a case where the man had close relations with a certain woman and she wanted to marry him, and the man had even expressed his desire to marry her, but continues postponing the marriage on various pretexts – then the court can compel him to marry her (D’var Moshe Amirlio, Section 1:51).
Another example was presented in a question sent to Rivash, concerning a young man who wanted to marry an elderly, very rich woman. The beit din in that city wanted to prevent him from marrying her because with her, he could not fulfill the mitzvah of ‘Be fruitful and multiply’. However, Rivash answered them, stating that already from the times of the Rishonim, the custom was not to use coercion in matters of marriage, because coercion in such issues is liable to cause many fights.
In practice, the Shulchan Aruch ruled that we do coerce a person to fulfill themitzvah of ‘Be fruitful and multiply’, and it can be induced from his words that in his judgment, the main opinion goes according to those who maintain that coercion was done by lashes. However, as we have explained, it is clear that such actions were taken in rare cases of harsh violations of the mitzvah.
In contrast, in the opinion of Rema, the halakha goes according to Rivash, and even in rare cases, coercion is not used in regards to the mitzvah ‘Be fruitful and multiply’. And even if the beit din did use coercion, it was through harsh words and fines (S.A., E.H. 1:3; 154:21). This is the accepted practice.
Nevertheless, from this we learn just how great and binding is the mitzvah of marriage, that in principle, beit din would have to coerce its fulfillment.
Criticism on a Section of the Proposed Army Enlistment Law
 
In the proposed law concerning the Zionist yeshivas, both Hesder and higher yeshivas, a dangerous section was introduced, according to which the Defense Minister can arbitrarily set “standards” where he decides which yeshiva to confirm. Also, it would be under his authority to close a yeshiva if “other circumstances exist that justify, in the opinion of the Minister, negating the yeshiva’s recognition”.
This is a severe blow to the role of the Roshei yeshivot (heads of the Torah academies), who must be able to express their Torah views freely, without fear from any government body. This section of the proposed law must be changed.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

The Blessings of Hesder Yeshivot

Hesder Yeshivot
 
In recent years, various people have criticized and attacked the Hesder yeshivotbecause of its shortened military track. True, they acknowledge that the Hesderyeshiva students are good soldiers, but they claim that specifically because they are good soldiers, the argument is even stronger: Why shouldn’t they contribute three years like their secular brothers? Let’s go back to square one.
The Value of Torah Study
 
Israel’s existence depends on its connection to the Torah. When we kept the Torah, we flourished; when we abandoned the Torah, we were defeated by our enemies and exiled from our land. Even during the lengthy exile, we survived in the merit of Torah study.
The more straightforward the learning is, the greater positive influence it has. Some of the troubles stemmed from Torah study that was not properly oriented, for example, when studying Torah without first reciting a blessing (Nedarim 81a), in other words, without emunah (faith) in God who gave us the Torah, or without recognizing the specialness of Am Yisrael and its unique role, as we recite in the blessing: “Who chose us from among all the peoples, and gave us His Torah.”
In the Zionist yeshivot, Torah is studied straightforwardly, and as a result this type of learning showers blessings on all areas of national life. The quality of the soldiers is one example of this.
The Percent of Combat Soldiers
 
The percent of combat soldiers from Hesder yeshivot is especially high – approximately 85%. There is no other group with such a high percentage of combat soldiers. This figure is even more amazing when considering the basic data ofyeshiva students. We are not talking about guys with particularly combat qualities. Many young, religious men who are emotionally and physically fit for combat service, nowadays enlist for three years and serve in elite units. The young men who go toHesder yeshivot are regular guys, with a desire to learn Torah. In other circles, many of them would be considered nerds – medium-bodied with eyeglasses, preferring to avoid combat service. But in the framework of Hesder, they enlist for combat units. Despite their apparently inferior beginning figures, the Hesder platoons are usually the outstanding units in the battalions, and in most competitions, they come in first place – both in physical fitness, and in their level of professionalism. Ten percent ofHesder soldiers continue to become commanders and officers.
The Welcome Impact of the Learning
 
The welcome impact of the learning continues later on, as well. Among the graduates emerging from Hesder yeshivot are rabbis, educators, researchers, social activists, workers and businessmen helping to develop the Israeli economy.
Many of them earn above-average salaries, remain in the country, and pay taxes. Several merit establishing sizeable families – larger than their parents – and thanks to them, the Jewish nation continues to recover from the curse of the exile.
When people talk about the ‘brain drain’ of academics leaving Israel to go abroad, everyone knows they are not Hesder yeshivot graduates. They stay in Israel. Prof. Moshe Kaveh, former president of Bar-Ilan University, commented to me that these young men are worth investing in above all, because they will return the full investment.
Many of the yeshiva graduates settle Judea and Samaria, fulfilling the vision of the prophets, trying to save the people of Israel – survivors of the sword – from the terrible threat of withdrawal from our old-new homeland.
The vast majority continue serving for decades in reserve combat units – and this, while out of the total population, only ten percent serve in reserve duty.
Several educators, rabbis in Secondary and Higher yeshivot, rabbis in synagogues, communities and neighborhoods are Hesder yeshiva graduates. On a daily basis, they carry on their backs the mission of educating. Thanks to them, religious education is constantly advancing, developing generations of students loyal to the Torah, the Jewish people, and the Land of Israel.
The Welcome Impact on the I.D.F.
 
In the first decades of the State, the religious community was made up of good Jews who clung to the Torah under harsh conditions, but unfortunately, were not b’nai Torah (leading their lives according to Torah)Their positive influence was minimal. They raised youth ashamed of wearing a kippah, and many of their children left religion. They did not stand out in the army, and only a few reached elite units.
The main reason for the improvement of the level of military service among the religious is the Torah study in yeshivot. Out of the learning halls of Mercaz HaRavand Beit El yeshivot emerged Rabbi Eli Sedan and Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, who established the Pre-Military Academy (mechina) in Eli. And as a result, all the other preparatory academies were inspired by the great spirit blowing in the study halls of the yeshivot were Torah was learned straightforwardly – Torat Eretz Yisrael. Even the men who served in the army without studying first in a mechina, received a boost and inspiration from their peers who studied in yeshivot.
Until then, the majority of yeshiva students were Hareidim who learned the Torah ofchutz l’aretz and failed to appreciate the Israeli army; consequently, the religious who did serve, walked bent over. But as the Zionist yeshivot became stronger, the stature of those serving straightened out. They knew that in the sacred Zionist yeshivot they were very much appreciated, and their service was accompanied by love and prayer. The contribution of the religious soldiers intensified, until they became the leaders in all of the combat units.
The Claims of the Ignorant
 
Anybody observing the enormous blessings the Hesder yeshivot have produced realizes that the more students they have, the better off the State of Israel and the I.D.F. are. Still, there are some ignoramuses, who insist on harming the Hesder yeshivot by limiting the number of students, or by reducing the months spent learning Torah.
They fail to understand that the study of Torat Eretz Yisrael in the holy Zionistyeshivot – both in Hesder and higher yeshivot, is the reason for all this wonderful prosperity. Those who think that by shortening Torah study they will gain more months of combat service, are similar to a fool who slaughters the chicken that lays the golden eggs.
Those same ignoramuses also fail to understand that the difficulty of maintaining a religious way of life in the army caused many not to enlist and cross over to the Haredi community. Thanks to the yeshiva students the Jewish character of the army was strengthened – first in the Hesder divisions, and from there its influence spread throughout all of the I.D.F.
Harming the Dignity of Hesder Yeshivot
 
The criticism from the religious public causes the greatest harm, aiding and abetting the attacks of the secular public on the Hesder yeshivot. The person who actually led this assault more than anyone else is MK Elazar Stern. I believe his intention was good, but in practice, no one slandered the Hesder yeshivot and the religious public more than him. He began slandering Hesder when he was the head of Human Resources (Aka) in the I.D.F., and continues today.
The average secular Jew greatly appreciates the Hesder yeshiva students, but after a religious person with senior military status like himself sharply criticizes their shortened army service – it is hard to expect from a secular person to understand more than him, the importance of Torah study. Yet, many of them do understand, as evidenced by Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yiftach Ron-Tal.
 
The Claim of Equality
 
And still, there are those who ask: Isn’t this preferential treatment of the Hesder yeshiva students who serve only sixteen months, as opposed to the rest of the soldiers who serve thirty-two months?
The answer is: There is no preferential treatment whatsoever, because any young man who wants to study Torah in a Hesder yeshiva, can. To do so, he must commit to serve five years, of which sixteen months are spent in the army, and the rest of the time in yeshiva. Anyone who is willing to sacrifice another two years of his life for this purpose – welcome!
We recently hosted three soldiers for a Shabbat meal – two regular soldiers and their commander, a Hesder yeshiva student. I asked the two soldiers if they would prefer to continue on a Hesder track, and complete it two years later. Both of them preferred finishing the army in three years and to be freed of any obligation.
Ask soldiers yourself what they would prefer – serving for three years, or for five years with most of the time spent in yeshiva, and you will immediately realize there is no preferential treatment. After all, the teachers in yeshiva high schools try to convince the students to go to Hesder yeshivot, but many of them fail to be convinced, because despite understanding the importance of Torah study, the task is too difficult for them.
If Only Everyone Served in Hesder
 
If only all I.D.F. combat soldiers served in the Hesder framework! As a result, our security situation would be improved. Straightforward Torah study shapes one’s entire value system, and improves the soldiers in all respects – reliability, responsibility, professionalism, and above all else – high motivation.
If the majority of soldiers were to enter their army service after learning in a Hesder yeshiva, loaded with such values, military service could be streamlined, its duration could be shortened, and better results could be achieved. Incidentally, the Hesdermodel of army service is the only one that can cause a genuine recruitment of members of the Hareidi community.
 
The Proper Policy
 
The exaggerated yearning to receive approval and agreement from other authorities is one of the difficult problems of religious public representatives. They should have opposed adding even one month of service, calmly explaining the huge contribution Torah study has for Israeli society at large, and at the same time, work to increase the number of applicants to Hesder yeshivot for next year. Correcting the situation begins with an inner-belief in ideas and values, and the ability to maintain them even in difficult times.
In the face of all the attacks, it must be stated that we also have claims and proposals for change: for example, eliminating compulsory conscription of women, who’s national, economic, and moral damage outweighs its benefit. Likewise, a careful investigation should be made as to why the percentage of army evaders and yordim(emigrants) among the secular is so high. Isn’t it about time they put a little more genuine Jewish and Zionist education in the schools? Isn’t it about time they reinforced family values and modesty? If equality, then why only in the narrow area of the length of regular army service? Why not demand an equal percentage of recruits to all combat units from all groups and sectors? And why not demand an equal percentage of reserve duty soldiers? Why does the religious community have to contribute to the army several hundred percent more than its proportionate share?
The ‘Yesh Atid’ party arose out of the claim that the middle-class, which bears the burden of the State’s existence, could not be squeezed any further. The National-Religious community is therefore the quintessence of bearing the burden! More than anyone else, it enlists in the army en masse for both regular and reserve duty, guards the legacy of Torah study and mitzvoth, establishes large families, pays above-average taxes, frequently volunteers, encourages aliyah and prevents yeridah, settles the land, and sacrifices their lives in defense of the nation and the land beyond all others – as attested to by the kedoshim (holy ones), whose bodies lie in the cemeteries. There is a limit to how much more can be squeezed from it. All these contributions are thanks to the significant education and Torah study in the Hesder yeshivot.

Bringing Life into the World: The Privilege and the Mitzvah

“Be Fruitful and Multiply”
 
It is a great mitzvah from the Torah to be fruitful and multiply; this was the initial objective of Creation – revealing and adding life to the world. Therefore, it is the firstmitzvah mentioned in the Torah, as God said to Adam and Chava at the conclusion of Creation: “God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fertile and become many. Fill the land and conquest it. Dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every beast that walks the land” (Genesis 1:28). Also, following the Flood in the Torah portion of Noah, it is written: “God blessed Noah and his children. He said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). And after warning not to murder, God added: “Now be fruitful and multiply, swarm all over the earth and become populous on it” (Genesis 9:7).
Through this commandment, man emulates the ways of God: similar to God, who created and sustains the world, man also reproduces and brings life into the world. Thus, he becomes a partner with God, as our Sages said: “There are three partners in man, the Holy One, blessed be He, his father and his mother” (Nida 31a).
The Basic Divine Instruction
 
This was the first and most basic objective of Creation, as our Sages said in the Mishna: “And was not the world created for the sake of reproduction, as it says (Isaiah 45:18) “He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos” (Gittin 4b). This verse indeed teaches that yishuv ha’olam (populating and settling the world) is God’s most basic instruction, as it is written: “ For this is what the Lord says– he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited– he says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:18). Our Sages further said in the Mishna: “Anyone who saves a single soul from Israel, he is deemed by Scripture as if he had saved a whole world” (Sanhedrin 4:5). If this is what our Sages said about one who sustains a poor person from dying of starvation (Baba Batra 11a), all the more so parents who produce a child save an entire world – let alone, when they also feed and educate the child.
Forsaking this is Akin to Murder and Diminishing the Divine Image 
 
In the Talmud (Yevamot 63b), Rabbi Eliezer said: “He who does not engage in propagation of the race is as though he sheds blood”, for it is written: ‘He who spills human blood shall have his own blood spilled by man’, and this is immediately followed by the verse, ‘Now be fruitful and multiply, swarm all over the earth and become populous on it’ (Genesis 9:6-7). Man’s duty to have children and add life to the world is so profound and fundamental that whoever fails to fulfill this duty is considered as having killed his unborn children. Rabbi Yaakov said (ibid): “It is as though he has diminished the Divine Image”, since it is said, ‘For God made man with His own image’, and this is immediately followed by the verse: “Now be fruitful and multiply, swarm all over the earth and become populous on it” (Genesis 9:6-7). Every person is unique, and therefore each individual reveals an additional aspect of the Divine Image. Consequently, one who refrains from procreating “diminishes the Divine Image” – i.e., he diminishes the appearance of Divine revelation in the world.
King Hezekiah
 
At the time the mighty army of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, besieged Jerusalem seeking to destroy it, King Hezekiah fell ill, as it is written: “About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Set your affairs in order, for you shall die, and not live’” (Isaiah 38:1). We must realize that Hezekiah was well aware of the impending danger, since, as a result of Israel’s increasing sins, the kingdom of Assyria had already overcome the Kingdom of Israel in Samaria, and exiled the Ten Tribes from the land (Book of Kings II, Chapter 17), and thus, the threat to the kingdom of Judah was close and real. In an attempt to prevent the evil, Hezekiah commanded the entire nation to repent and strengthen their observance of Torah. “He planted a sword by the door of the learning hall and proclaimed, ‘He who will not study the Torah will be pierced with the sword.’ A search was made from Dan unto Beer Sheba, and no ignoramus was found; from Gabbath unto Antipris, and no boy or girl, man or woman was found who was not thoroughly versed in the laws of cleanliness and impurity” (Sanhedrin 94b).
Hezekiah’s Difficult Hour
 
And here, in his difficult hour, when the Assyrian army besieged Jerusalem and Hezekiah himself fell ill, the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and informed him: “Set your affairs in order, for you shall die, and not live” – meaning, ‘for you shall die’ – in this world, ‘and not live’ – in the World to Come.” Hezekiah cried out, asking: Why is the punishment so great?! The prophet answered: “Because you refrained from marrying and having children.” Hezekiah explained that he did so because he had been informed by ruach hakodeh that his children would not be righteous. The prophet rebuked him, saying: “What do you have to do with the secrets of Hashem? You have to do what is commanded of you. And what is fitting in Hashem’s eyes, He will do for Himself.”
Hezekiah’s Reply
 
Hezekiah realized he had sinned, and asked Isaiah to give him his daughter to marry – perhaps his merit and the merit of Isaiah combined would help them have righteous children. The prophet replied: “The doom has already been decreed.” The king said to him: “Son of Amoz, finish your prophecy and go. This tradition I have from the house of my ancestor (King David): Even if a sharp sword rests upon a man’s neck, he should not desist from prayer” (Berachot 10a). “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, ‘Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.’ Then he broke down and wept bitterly.” God heard his voice, and commanded Isaiah to inform Hezekiah that He had heard his prayers, had added fifteen years to his life, and would even save him from the Assyrian forces. During the night, an angel of God went out and smote all of Sennacherib’s forces, and Jerusalem was saved.
Hezekiah married the daughter of the prophet Isaiah, and Manasseh was born to them. He reigned after Hezekiah and did evil in the eyes of God, worshiped many idols, and also shed a great deal of innocent blood, until finally, the decree of the First Temple’s destruction was sealed (Book of Kings II, chapters 19-21). In spite of this, the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply remains unaffected, seeing as it is the foundation for the world’s existence. And even in the case of Hezekiah, through his evil son Manasseh the Davidic dynasty continued, from which will be born the Messiah, the son of David, may he come speedily in our days.
Ben Azai
 
On the other hand, we have learned about one of the greatTana’im (Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishna, from approximately 10-220 CE), Ben Azai, who did not marry and fulfill the mitzvah to have children. And thus it is told in the Talmud (Yevamot 63b), that Ben Azai derived from the verses that anyone who does not engage in procreation, “it is as though he has shed blood and diminished the Divine Image.” “The rabbis said to Ben Azai: Some preach well and act well, others act well but do not preach well; you, however, preach well but do not act well! Ben Azzai replied: But what can I do, seeing that my soul is in love with the Torah? The world can be carried on by others.” And accordingly, the halakha was determined that anyone whose soul desires to learn Torah and studies with tremendous diligence all his life, if he did not marry due to his immense studiousness, he has not sinned – provided he does not succumb to his temptations (Rambam, Laws of Marriage 15:3; S.A., E.H. 1:4). Still, to be precise – he has not sinned, but l’chatchilla (from the outset) one should not adopt such a practice (Taz 6).
Perhaps it is possible to explain as well, that since the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying depends on being married, which necessitates listening and setting aside time to create a deep bond of love, Ben Azai knew deep down that due to his enormous diligence in Torah, all his thoughts surrounded its’ study, to the point where he would not be able to satisfy his wife properly, and therefore, he did not get married. Unlike other commandments that do not require emotional involvement, such as sukkah or lulav which he could fulfill, despite his thoughts being focused on the Torah.
The Value of Torah
 
It follows that there is only one mitzvah which a person performs that can, in a time of distress, cancel the mitzvah of procreation – the mitzvah of Torah study. The possible reason for this is that Torah study adds life to the world. Despite the fact that Ben Azai did not engage in having children, nevertheless, he delved into the great importance of the mitzvah and expounded on its value, and surely, by virtue of his learning, many children were born. But Hezekiah, who wanted to make the mitzvahconditional that his children not be wicked, invalidated its sacred principle expressing the absolute value of life, and he therefore was liable to a horrible punishment in both this world and the next. From this we learn that the foundation of life is the primary value, since even the wicked can repent. Moreover, the righteous can learn lessons even from the actions of the wicked. But when the mitzvah is cancelled, the value of life this world and the commandments of the Creator to add life to it, is denied.
Bringing the Redemption Closer
 
Great is the mitzvah of procreation, for on its account Israel was redeemed from Egypt, as it is written: “The Israelites were fertile and prolific, and their population increased. They became so numerous that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). Our Sages said that all of Israel’s generations will consist of no less than sixty myriad, therefore, only after reaching this number did we become a nation, and were able to leave Egypt and receive the Torah (Zohar, Ra’aya Menhemna, Part 3, 216:2). Had the nation not strived to fulfill this mitzvah, and had there been even one person missing, they would not have merited receiving the Torah and leaving Egypt (D’varim Rabbah 7:8). Regarding this, our Sages said: “In the merit of the righteous women who lived in that generation were the Israelites delivered from Egypt” (Sotah 11b).
Each of us can imagine, if there were three million more Jews in Israel today, how vastly improved our situation would be against all the internal and external pressures. Incidentally, if every family since the establishment of the state had one more child, there would be another five million Jews in Israel today.
Regarding this, our Sages said: “Just as Israel was redeemed from Egypt in the merit of proliferating; likewise, they will be redeemed in the future. From where is this learned? Know it well, that Israel will be redeemed only if they proliferate and fill the entire the world, as it is said: “For you shall break forth on the right hand and on the left; and your seed shall possess nations, and make desolate cities to be inhabited” (Eliyahu Zuta 14).
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed