Understanding Selichot

The Custom of Reciting Selichot for the Salvation of the Clal    

 Since the times of the Geonim (589-1038), Jews have had the custom of rising in the early hours of the morning (‘ashmoret ha’boker‘) during the Ten Days of Repentance (‘Aserit Yamei Teshuva‘) to recite Selichot (penitential poems and prayers). Contrary to the popular misconception that the objective of Selichot is to pray for one’s individual life, the primary intention is to pray for Clal Yisrael, all of the Jews – to awaken to teshuva (repentance), to beg God to forgive us for our sins and have mercy on His People in their exile and tribulations.

We ask that He not focus on our transgressions and sins, rather, remember the covenant He made with our forefathers, and with us; remember the binding of Isaac, and the sacrifice of all the holy Jews who gave their lives to sanctify His name; and pray for the Ingathering of the Exiles, the building of the Land of Israel, Jerusalem, and the Holy Temple, and the return of the Shechina (Divine Presence) to Zion.

This is always the most favorable approach for an individual – to participate in the prayers of the tzibor (general public), and intensify one’s prayers over Clal Yisrael, the dwelling of the Shechina, and the sanctification of God’s name in the world. In this way specifically, one’s personal prayers will also be accepted.

Prophetic Origins   

In times of trouble, the Prophets awakened Israel to gather in fasting and prayer, begging God to spare His people and land, as it is written:

“Blow the shofar in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those who suckle: let the bridegroom go forth from his chamber, and the bride out of her pavilion. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare your people, O Lord, and give not your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them: Why should it be said among the peoples, Where is their God? Then the Lord was zealous for his land, and pitied his people” (Joel 2:15-18).

When are Selichot Recited?

In the times of the Geonim the custom was to recite Selichot during the Ten Days of Repentance; this was the minhag(custom) of the two great yeshivas in Babylon, and was also the prevalent custom during the period of the rabbis called Rishonim (1000-1450) (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva 3:4). In a few places, the custom was to recite Selichot all of the month of Elul.

Sephardic Custom

Towards the end of the period of the Rishonim, Sephardic communities accepted the custom of reciting Selichot all of the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance (S.A. 581:1). This is because all of these days are worthy of repentance, as we have seen that on Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Mount Sinai to ask forgiveness for Israel’s sin of the Golden Calf, and on Yom Kippur, God answered: “I grant forgiveness as you have requested.”

Ashkenazi Custom

In Ashkenaz, the accepted custom was to begin reciting Selichot on the Moetzei Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, provided there were four days on which to recite them before Rosh Hashana.

Various explanations were cited for this (M.B. 581:6). However, I will mention the reason cited in the book ‘Leket Yosher‘ (authored by Trumat Hadeshen), that Motzei Shabbat is a suitable time for Selichot because on Shabbat “everyone is accustomed to study Torah…” seeing as Shabbat and the Torah are as spouses, “and on Shabbat, Israel is free from work and study Torah. Therefore, it is good to start on Yom Rishon (Motzei Shabbat), because people are happy for having learned Torah on Shabbat, and also because of oneg Shabbat, and as was said in the Talmud: “The Divine Presence rests upon man neither through gloom, nor through laziness, save through a matter of joy in connection with a mitzvah…”(Shabbat 30b).

According to this, although the best time to recite Selichot is in the early hours of the morning, on the first day there is an advantage to reciting them on Moetzei Shabbat after chatzot (halakhic mid-night), while still dressed in Shabbat clothes.

At What Time of Day are Selichot Recited?

The best time to recite Selichot is in the early hours of the morning, i.e., towards the end of the night, because this is a time of compassion and grace, a time of anticipation just before the appearance of daylight and the revelation of the word of God in the world. At that very moment in time everyone is asleep, the world is quiet and unpolluted from thoughts and evil deeds, and prayer radiates from the depths of the heart, penetrates all barriers, and is accepted. In any event, the fitting time to recite Selichot begins after chatzot, because that’s when anticipation of daylight starts, and it is a time of favor and compassion.

In recent generations, people have become used to going to sleep late at night, and the regular time for rising is between 6:00 and 7:00 A.M. – approximately two hours after ashmoret ha’boker. If people were to get up at ashmoret, they would be tired all day long, and their work and studies would likely be affected. Consequently, today many people tend to get up for Selichot about an hour, or half an hour, before the time they usually pray Shacharit. And although dawn has already risen, bediavad (post factum) the time is still fitting for reciting Selichot. If they are able to reciteSelichot after chatzot at night, it is preferable.

Although the Rishonim did not fix the reciting of Selichot as mandatory, this is the minhag of Israel. However, someone who finds it difficult to wake up for Selichot is not obligated to do so during the month of Elul. During the Ten Days of Repentance, one should be more meticulous in reciting Selichot, because these days are more amenable for repentance and atonement (see, Rosh Hashana 18a; Rambam, Teshuva 2:6).

Selichot Juxtaposed with Fatigue at Work and Study 

Someone who cannot go to sleep early, and waking up for Selichot will result in fatigue and an inability to fulfill his duties at work – it is preferable for him not to wake up for Selichot even during the Tens Days of Repentance. Instead, he should try to increase his reciting of Tehillim (Psalms), and if he wants, during the day he can recite the sections ofSelichot that an individual is permitted to say.

The accepted practice is that it even for a Torah scholar accustomed to studying diligently, it is proper for him to devote the required amount of time to recite Selichot (Rokach 209; Birkei Yosef and Shaarei Teshuva 581:1).  It is the custom in all yeshivas to recite Selichot, even though it comes at the expense of learning. However, if rising early causes one to lose more learning time than the time dedicated in reciting Selichot, because afterwards, the change in schedule will cause a lack of concentration in his studies, it is preferable not to rise for Selichot.

The Wording of Selichot

Since our Sages did not explicitly institute the reciting of Selichot, hence, Selichot lack a standard nusach (wording), and every community added its own pleas and poems. Nevertheless, there is a general framework used in all the communities, as appears in the siddur (prayer book) of Rabbi Amram Gaon, with the reciting of the Yud Gimmel Midot(Thirteen Attributes of Mercy) being the focal point of the prayer.

Although the recitation of piyutim (poems) should not be cancelled on a regular basis, nevertheless, when the worshippers are short on time, they can skip some of them and say the main Selichot, making an effort to recite thoseSelichot which arouse one to greater teshuva.

Similarly, when teachers see that students find it hard to concentrate on all the Selichot, they may rearrange the order so the students can have better kavana (concentration). And when it is necessary for members of different communities to pray together, and they wish to recite Selichot jointly, they can arrange a combined version, as Rabbi Avraham Gisser shlita and Rabbi Shmuel Shapira shlita have done.

Selichot Nowadays Should Be Similar to the Prayers of Ezra

After having been privileged to witness the developing process of the In-gathering of the Exiles and the establishment of the State of Israel, we should be motivated to recite Selichot with even greater intensity, requesting that God continue having mercy on us, return us to Him in complete repentance, and redeem us completely.

Resembling our present situation, the olei Bavel (immigrants from Babylon) in the times of the first return to Zion, also faced serious spiritual difficulties, and by repenting, merited to build the Second Temple. As in the words of Ezra who, upon immigrating to Israel from Babylon, found that many Jewish inhabitants had taken non-Jewish women for themselves, and the ministers and their deputies were dishonest. When he heard this, he rent his garments, plucked his hair, knelt down on his knees, spread out his hands, and prayed:

And when I heard of this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down appalled. Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of them of the captivity; and I sat appalled until the evening offering.

“And at the evening offering I arose up from my fasting, even with my garment and my mantle rent; and I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God; and I said: ‘O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to you, my God; for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our guiltiness is grown up unto the heavens. Since the days of our fathers we have been exceeding guilty unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to spoiling, and to confusion of face, as it is this day.

“And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, which you have commanded by your servants the prophets, saying: The land, unto which you go to possess it, is an unclean land through the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, through their abominations, wherewith they have filled it from one end to another with their filthiness.

“Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their prosperity for ever; that you may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever. And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great guilt, seeing that you our God has punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and has left us such a remnant, shall we again break your commandments, and make marriages with the peoples that do these abominations? Would you not be angry with us till you had consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape?

“O Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous; for we are left a remnant that is escaped, as it is this day; behold, we are before you in our guiltiness; for none can stand before you because of this” (Ezra 9:3-15).

Ezra’s sorrow, fasting and prayers aroused the nation to repent, and thanks to this, the Second Temple was built and stood for hundreds of years. However, failing to repent completely – seeing as many Jews remained in Babylonian exile and failed to immigrate to Israel – the Shechina did not dwell in the Second Temple as it had in the First Temple, and ultimately, it too was destroyed due to our sins.

Is the Wording of Selichot Suitable for Our Times?

Indeed, in the wording of Selichot there are sentences fitting for times of galut (exile), and certain people find it difficult to identify with the content. Some even claim there is a bit of falsehood in reciting them today.

But when we view the Jews as one people having lived in all generations, with each one of us truly linked to all the Jews who lived in all the generations and in all the various countries, consequently, each and every one of us was actually together with all the Jews in every exile and all the terrible tribulations. Together with them we suffered terrible degradation, until we almost lost hope.

We were together with the holy Jews and martyrs in all the forced conversions; in the Crusades and the Inquisition; in the Muslim killings, and the Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648-1650; and the last and most horrendous of all – the dreadful Holocaust, which ended barely seventy years ago, with hundreds of thousands of survivors who underwent the death camps and ghettos still living among us.

How can we be calm, saying that the Selichot supplications are not suitable for us, when the world is still full of wicked people who openly declare their desire to continue the work of the Nazis? In view of this, the wording of Selichot can be recited out of a deep sense of identification.

Hold that Loan! – Shmittat Kesafim and Pruzbul

The mitzvah to lend money to a Jew in distress, without interest * The Biblical mitzvah refers to a small, short-term loan enabling one to buy food *The mitzvah of cancelling debts at the end of the Shmitta year *It is a mitzvah for a debtor who can, to return his loan – despite Shmitta * The prohibition of avoiding loans before the Shmitta year *Debts of high-risk loans can be secured through collateral * Why is the Biblical mitzvah of ‘shmittat kesafim’ valid only when the Yoval applies * The enactment of the ‘pruzbul’ by Hillel the Elder came in the wake of increasing numbers of poor people, and the fear that the rich would not be able to lend

The Shmitta year is coming to a close, and the period of ‘shmittat kesafim‘ is about to begin, so now is the time to clarify the mitzvoth and ideals associated with it, and thus, understand the logic behind the enactment of the ‘pruzbul‘.

The Mitzvah to Loan

It is a mitzvah from the Torah to lend someone money without interest in his time of need. This mitzvah is a branch of the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity), however, our Sages said that the mitzvah of loaning money is greater than tzedakah, because accepting charity degrades one’s dignity, whereas in a loan, the borrower’s honor is maintained, thus making it easier to re-establish himself (Shabbat 63a). Another advantage of the mitzvah is that loans are given to the poor and the rich, while tzedakah is given only to the poor (Sukkah 49b).

Which Type of Loans did the Torah Command

The type of loans the Torah spoke about were mainly short-term, small loans, which people needed in order to buy food. As our Sages said: “If one lends money to his friend without specifying a time for repaying, he may not demand repayment for at least thirty days” (Makkot 3b). For indeed, up until modern times when people living in advanced countries learned to produce food, clothing, and other household needs in large quantities and cheaply, poverty abounded and people labored strenuously to obtain food and clothing for their families. And although people worked hard for a living – often, they were left without money – either because they had not finished their work, had not yet been paid, or because they could not find a buyer for their goods – and in order to buy food, they were forced to ask for a loan. Such people weren’t poor and couldn’t work, about whom the Torah commanded us to give tzedakah, rather, they needed a temporary loan that would enable them to survive until they were paid. On occasion, even a person who was considered wealthy, owning a nice house, fancy clothes, and expensive furniture was left without cash to buy food for his family, and the Torah even commanded us to lend him money in his time of need. However, if a rich and a poor person came to ask for a loan, the poor person takes precedence, because his situation is more needy, whereas the rich person, if necessary, could sell some of his possessions cheaply in order to survive (Bava Metzia 71a; S.A., C.M. 97:1).

Loans Today

It is important to note that as a result of the rise in living conditions, many of the loans people take today are large loans mainly for investment purposes. For example, a loan to buy an apartment so as not to pay monthly rent, or to start a business that will generate profits, or to pay for professional studies enabling one to earn a respectable living. Since this is an investment and not a loan, the lender is entitled to receive a percentage of the profits for his investment. Ideally, it would be appropriate for the lender and the borrower to calculate the profits created thanks to the investment and split the profits as agreed between them from the start. However, seeing as such a calculation is very difficult and complex, we rely on the ‘heter iska‘ [a halachically approved way of restructuring a loan or debt so that it becomes an investment instead of a loan] (“Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it” 6:3).

The Mitzvah of Shmittat Kesafim

Let’s return to the mitzvah of loans, which the mitzvah of shmittat kesafim is an offshoot.

The Torah commands that in the end of the Shmitta year, all of Israel cancels debts that their fellow Jews owe them, and not require further payment. One who transgresses this, requiring repayment after Shmitta, annuls a positive mitzvah, and transgresses a negative one (Deuteronomy 15:1-3).

The goal of the mitzvah is to help the poor who were unable to pay their debts, so that once in seven years, they could untangle themselves from the burden of debts they had incurred. The Torah set the expiration date for debts at the end of the seventh year, so they could start over the seven-year cycle free from the yoke of monetary obligations.

Seeing as the goal of the mitzvah is to help the poor, a borrower who is able to repay his debts after the Shmitta year, despite being exempt according to the letter of the law – it is a mitzvah for him to repay the loan to the lender as a gift. If he exploited the cancelling of debts and did not pay, ‘ain ruach Chachamim nocha heh’menu‘ (the Rabbis disapproved), and such a person was considered ‘naval b’reshut ha’Torah‘ (despicable even within the parameters of halakha), and other people are even allowed to pressure him to pay his debt to the lender as a gift (Mishna Shevi’it 10:9; Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it 6:2).

The Warning Not to Avoid Loaning Before Shmitta Year

The Torah exceedingly warned not to avoid loaning money to needy people before the Shmitta year, as it is written: “Be very careful that you not have an irresponsible idea and say to yourself, ‘The seventh year is approaching, and it will be the Shmitta year.’ You may then look unkindly at your impoverished brother, and not give him anything. If he then complains to God about you, you will have a sin. Therefore, make every effort to give him, and do not feel bad about giving it, since God your Lord will then bless you in all your endeavors, no matter what you do” (Deuteronomy 15:9-10).

The Mitzvah to Lend Only to Trustworthy People

However, the mitzvah to loan money specifically refers to a trustworthy person, but when the person asking for loan is known to be unreliable, there is no mitzvah to lend him money at any time (S.A., C.M. 97:4), because the mitzvah of loaning money is intended to help people, and not to cause disputes over repayment of the loan.

By even greater force of logic, there is no mitzvah to lend money to a person who is unreliable before Shmitta, because the mitzvah is to lend, and not to give as a gift. An unreliable person who asks for a loan preceding the Shmitta year is essentially asking for a gift, because not being able to pay on time – when the Shmitta year ends, the loan becomes a gift.

Thus, the mitzvah is to lend to people who are trustworthy, who will most probably repay their debt. Even so, every loan carries a certain amount of risk – the borrower might encounter unexpected difficulties and not be able to repay his debt; this is the risk we are commanded to take in order to fulfill the mitzvah of loaning. And even preceding the Shmitta year, the Torah sternly warns us that we are commanded not avoid granting loans to trustworthy people, even though if they are unable to repay their debts by the end of the Shmitta year, we will have forgo them.

The Solution for High-Risk Loans

When trustworthy people were forced to ask for a large loan, and the risk they would be unable to repay it was substantial, the lender would require a pledge (‘mashkon‘) equivalent to the sum of the loan, or require land be mortgaged (“apotiki“) to guarantee the loan. In this manner, the lender assured repayment of his loan; even at the end of the Shmitta year, such a loan does not expire, since the debt is already considered having been paid by the means of the pledge or the land.

When it was not possible to mortgage land or give a pledge for the repayment of the debt, but nevertheless, the borrower was trustworthy in the eyes of the lender, the lender would give the bill of debt to Beit Din, and n this manner as well, the debt does not expire at the end of Shmitta.

It is a Mitzvah from the Torah only When Yovel Applies

The mitzvah of Shmitta from the Torah applies only when the entire Jewish nation lives in the Land of Israel as required – that is to say, every tribe in its inheritance, and every family on its land. Even if all of the Jewish nation lived in Israel but were mixed among themselves – i.e., some of the tribe of Binyamin resided in the inheritance of Yehudah, or vice versa, they are not considered as residing in the land as required, and the obligation of Shmitta from the Torah is annulled (Archin 32b).

The Logic in the Mitzvah

The logic of this mitzvah is clear. When the Yovel (Jubilee year) applied, every family in Israel owned a plot of land from which they could make a living, and consequently, poor people were few, and the risk of not repaying loans was slight. In this type of a situation, the Torah commanded every Jew who had money to spare, to give small loans for food to trustworthy people who encountered financial difficulties, and cancel the few debts of those who were unable to repay their loans by the end of the Shmitta year.

Similarly, the mitzvah to refrain from working the land in the Shmitta year from the Torah applies only when Yovel is observed, because only when all of Israel has land in the country and they all keep the Sabbatical year, are they able to manage the great challenge of Shmitta. But when only a portion own land, they are unable to bear the burden of Shmitta single-handedly. In addition, when all of Israel does not reside in the land, chances are the vacant areas will be filled with non-Jews who work their fields for seven years, creating competition that is difficult for those who do fulfill Shmitta to withstand.

The Enactment of Our Sages

After the tribe of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh were exiled from their land, about a hundred and fifty years before the destruction of the First Temple, the mitzvah of Shmitta from the Torah was annulled (Archin 32b). Nevertheless, our Sages determined to continue fulfilling the mitzvah. Our Sages also determined keeping Shmitta during the period of the Second Temple, in spite of the fact that Israel did not merit residing in the land as required, every tribe in its inheritance. And although under such circumstances fulfilling Shmitta was more difficult, our Sages determined we should make a greater effort and keep Shmitta, in order to safeguard the ideals of the mitzvoth of Shmitta, and thus, merit redemption and future fulfillment of the mitzvah from the Torah in its completeness.

The Enactment of Hillel the Elder

Towards the end of the Second Temple, the number of poor people requiring loans and failed to repay increased, to the point where the extent of the loss was too great for lenders to bear – above and beyond what the Torah and our Sages had intended through their enactment. A situation was created where, had the rich loaned their money to all needy people as the Torah commanded, then, at the end of each Shmitta year when required to cancel all debts, the lenders would have gone bankrupt. This was not the Torah’s intention for the mitzvah of giving loans; for that purpose, the mitzvah of tzedakah, which has a ceiling, is intended. As our Sages said, a person should not give more than a fifth of his assets and wages to tzedakah, so that his financial stability would not be affected (Ketubot 50 a).

Therefore, so the rich could continue lending to the poor without fear of going bankrupt at the end of Shmitta year, Hillel the Elder enacted the ‘pruzbul‘, thereby expropriating unpaid loans from the law of Shmitta, enabling the rich to continue fulfilling the mitzvoth of giving loans from the Torah, and allowing the poor to make use of loans prior to the Shmitta year, as well.

God willing, next week I will clarify the mitzvah of ‘shmittat kesafim’ and the ‘pruzbul‘ in practice.

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

Rabbi Kook: Halacha and the Rabbinate

The unique greatness and comprehensiveness of Rabbi Kook’s teachings, both in his personality and service of God * His approach in determining Jewish law: Taking into consideration divergent views wherever possible, and only in times of duress to rely on lenient opinions *Rabbi Kook’s regret over the ‘heter mechira’, and his deliberate avoidance of strengthening it *His ambivalent attitude towards his tenure in the Rabbinate * How Rabbi Kook administered the Rabbinate and the ‘heter mechira’, as compared to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef *The rare cases when Rabbi Kook fiercely opposed his dissenters *Rabbi Kook’s “shortcoming” was providing an opportunity for those who opposed him to reinforce their errors

Our Master, Rabbi Kook

In honor of the 80th  anniversary of the yahrzeit of Israel’s holy and illuminating Light, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook ztz’l, it is fitting to clarify his approach to the rabbinate and p’seekat halacha (determining Jewish law). On the one hand, we find in his halachic responses an inclination towards chumra (a prohibition or obligation in Jewish practice that exceeds the bare requirements of halacha), and personally, he was even more machmir (strict). On the other hand, in certain issues he was considered to be maykel (lenient). On the one hand, his followers view him as the highest standard of a rabbi, and in fact, he took pains to establish the Chief Rabbinate. On the other hand, we find that he himself deeply regretted having been forced to serve in the rabbinate.

The Complete Torah

There have been scores of Torah giants in recent generations, but the stature of none compares to that of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, ztz”l (1865 -1935). His genius was astounding – there was no field of Torah study that he had not mastered:Talmud and Halacha, the Bible and Midrash, Kabbalah and Hassidut, reason and belief. Usually, the experts in all aspects of rabbinic literature are not the deep-thinkers, and the deep-thinkers are not experts; those who focus on details do not have a broad and comprehensive perspective, and those with a broad perspective do not penetrate deeply into the details. Rabbi Kook, however, was an expert and sharp, a deep-thinker and had a comprehensive outlook. The words of Torah were alive and radiated within him in such a wondrous way, till his entire being was resplendent with Torah, and his complete focus from early childhood until his last day was devoted to clarifying the Torah in its completeness.

His teachings enlighten, guide, and revitalize the entire world: the sacred and secular, humanities and the sciences, the individual, society, nations and humankind, the diverse natural talents, and how all of this progresses towards rectification and redemption by means of the Jewish nation. His mind was full of ideas and innovations from all facets of the Torah which stood before his very eyes.

The foundation for all this was his unparalleled righteousness and piety; his entire life was devoted to serving God. The giants of Torah and Hasidism testified themselves that his regular weekday prayers were on the same level as their prayers on Yom Kippur.

His Tendency towards Hasidism and Enhancing Mitzvoth

Rabbi Kook saw the aspect of truth and light in every opinion, and therefore he tended to enhance and beautify mitzvoth, and thus, to act stringently according to all the various halachic opinions. This was not difficult for him at all, for he was happy with each hiddur (enhancement) that had a basis in halacha, provided that the stringency was not at the expense of others.

Sometimes he even tended to be strict in what seemed to be contradictory stringencies, because, in his breadth of knowledge, he saw how the two conflicting opinions actually complemented each other, and therefore, did not consider them to contradict. This can be seen, for example, in regards to his opinion on conversion (Daat Kohen 153-154).

Although, in times of duress (sha’at dachak), he decided in accordance with the rules of halacha to be lenient, similar to the rulings of all poskim (Jewish law arbiters) for generations – to rely on the lenient opinion of individual poskim. However, even situations of sha’at dachak differ, so at times he would be more lenient, and other times less – according to the extent of necessity, and no more. For example, in regards toshmitta (the Sabbatical year): on the one hand, he instituted the ‘heter mechira’ (ahalachic mechanism whereby agricultural lands in Israel are sold to non-Jews, allowing the lands to be cultivated and vegetables grown during the Sabbatical year), but on the other hand, whenever possible, he tended to follow the stringent opinion, trying as best as he could to maintain the mitzvoth of shmitta, and place Jewish residents of the country on the ideals of the Torah. Therefore, even after the mechira, he forbade Jews to perform the types of agricultural work specifically written in the Torah, even though according to the strict letter of the law, there is no difference between the various types of work, for today, shmitta is of rabbinic ordinance. Not only that, he even agreed to try and integrate ‘otzer Beit Din’ with the ‘heter mechira’, despite the apparent paradox between them (Igrot Ha’Ra’ayah 313-314, Mishpat Kohen 76).

The Ridbaz’s Testimony of Rabbi Kook’s Crying

As well-known, the Ridbaz (Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Wilovsky) conducted an ardent struggle against the ‘heter mechira’. Concerning the conflict over the shmitta year of 5670 (1909), Ridbaz hurled serious allegations against Rav Kook, and slandered him numerous times. In contrast, Rabbi Kook replied to him with respect and love.

In the introduction to his book “Beit Ridbaz”, he wrote several things that were not accurate, seeing as he was negligent in checking rumors he had heard. For example, as he wrote about Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan from Kovno, that he had allegedly retracted his support for the ‘heter mechira’. He also wrote inaccurate things about Rav Kook that he heard from Rabbi Yehuda Leib Zeltzer, who later had to write a letter of apology to Rabbi Kook, denying what had been said in his name (see the article by Rabbi Eitam Henkin in ‘Alonei Mamre” 121).

Nevertheless, we can apparently trust his own personal testimony, as he wrote: “I bear witness to the heavens and earth that the rabbi of Jaffa (Rabbi Kook) cried before me – he did not cry normally, but exceedingly warm tears”. However, the reason for Rav Kook’s crying was not due to a change of heart regarding the ‘heter mechira’ as Ridbaz implied, but simply because of the heavy pressure he was under to maintain the ‘heter’; for indeed, Rabbi Kook fully understood just how strong the halachic basis for the ‘heter mechira’ was – above and beyond all other ‘heter mechirot’ customary in Jewish law, as he clarified in his book and respones. Rather, he cried because of the machloket(dispute), and the stressful situation that forced the yishuv to forgo observing shmittaideally. Rabbi Kook’s crying was akin to the altar shedding tears for a married couple who gets divorced (Gittin 90b), even though in certain circumstances it is a mitzvah from the Torah to divorce.

His Rabbinate

It should be added that, in truth, from the beginning Rav Kook did not want to serve in the rabbinate. Until the end of his life, although aware of the considerable importance of the rabbinate in Israel, he suffered from it, for it shortened his days and embittered his life. The need to decide between different views, each containing a certain amount of truth, weighed on him, for he saw the truth and good in all opinions. He longed for an ideal world, and the need to instruct a ‘heter’ for Clal Yisrael because of the emergency situation hurt him. Therefore, even upon deciding in favor of the ‘heter’, to a certain extent he was pleased that others went out of their way to cite the stringent opinion.

As part of his responsibilities, a rabbi is also required to arouse and protest with regards to religious affairs, and Rabbi Kook fulfilled his duty in this aspect with great devotion. But in order to do so, he had to deal with the practical details of Kashrut, divorce, disputes and fights, while at the same time, his soul longed to study Torah in its entirety, to reveal the secrets of the Torah so as to bring redemption to the world. He most definitely appreciated the tremendous value of revealing the Torah in general with all its minute details, and the connection of the study of Talmud with the study of practical Jewish law. He explained how such study draws the redemption nearer, and on his own initiative, devoted a lot of time writing the book ‘Halacha Berura’ towards this purpose. However, the practical and instructional woes did not leave him enough spare time to deal with the lofty ideals his soul desired— ‘ma’aseh Breshit, veh’ma’aseh merkava’ (esoteric speculation about Creation and the Workings of the Chariot, based on Ezekiel I) [Sukkah 28a].

How He Assumed the Rabbinate

From the beginning, Rav Kook was reluctant to serve in the rabbinate. As was customary in those days, before marrying, his father-in-law, the ‘Aderet’ (Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim), who was one of the greatest Torah scholars of the generation and the Rabbi of Ponevezh, undertook to support him in his own house for several years so that he could study Torah. But the ‘Aderet’, a righteous and pious man, was required to collect money for the poor people of his congregation, and especially the hundreds of families whose homes were burned, and for that purpose, he even mortgaged his own property. This created a situation in which he had to give his daughter and son-in-law his own bed, while he himself slept on chairs in the study room. When the ‘Chofetz Chaim’, a good friend of his, heard about this, he asked Rabbi Kook to agree to accept the first rabbinate offered him. Thus, Rav Kook was forced to begin serving in the rabbinate at the age of twenty-three, contrary to his first plan.

Rabbi Kook’s financial situation never improved seeing as he donated all his money to poor people seeking help, and thus, was constantly compelled to serve in the rabbinate. And since he was a genius, righteous and beloved, and led the rabbinate as one of the most eminent rabbis in the country, he was constantly requested to serve as a rabbi in different communities.

The Regular Rabbinical Leader

In retrospect, however, it is apparent that Rabbi Kook was not a regular rabbinical leader. A regular rabbinical leader normally formulates a position and strengthens it, without providing any significant room for dissenting opinions. The less important leaders among them even override opinions of all those who disagree with them. However, our teacher and guide, Rabbi Kook, understood the point of truth in all the various approaches, from the right and the left, Haredim and heretics, and even those who opposed him viciously.

A regular posek, after determining halacha, does not allow any room for those who disagree, rather, patterns a clear guideline and strengthens it. An example of this can be learned from the Rishon LeZion, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ztz” l, who, after clarifying and strengthening the ‘heter mechira’ as  Rav Kook had done, no longer took into account the disagreeing opinion; he expressed no sorrow or pain over the need to rely on the ‘heter’, and came out in force against all the detractors of his halachic decision. This, despite the fact that he did not include the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) in his halachic considerations, but agreed to the ‘heter’ based solely on the financial strain of the farmers and consumers (Yebiyah Omer, Sect.10, Y.D. 37-44). A regular posek that would have also included the halachic consideration of yishuv ha’aretz, a commandment which is equivalent to all 613 mitzvoth, would have gone a step further and determined that in our present situation, it is a mitzvah and an absolute obligation to abide by the ‘heter mechira’, since thanks to it, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is strengthened.

Rabbi Kook’s Heavy Sigh About Granting the “Heter’

However, Maran HaRav Kook sighed and was pained over the need for a ‘heter’. And although at present the mitzvah of shmitta is of rabbinic ordinance, while some authorities are of the opinion that it should be observed only due to ‘midat chassidut’ (a pious and meritorious act), and furthermore, there is profound controversy about whenshmitta year actually occurs (currently, either 5772 (2011), 5774 (2013), or 5775 (2014)), and by selling the land, we can definitely rely on the lenient opinion, as he himself wrote in his letters (Igeret 311). Nevertheless, seeing as he envisaged the great light hidden in the mitzvoth of shmitta, even when today, in practice, its obligation is limited and uncertain – the need to expropriate the obligation of observing shmitta by means of the ‘heter mechira’ truly hurt him. This is one of the reasons he relented on his dignity to such an extent and understood those who disagreed with him, even though from a halachic perspective, their claims were tenuous (see, Orot HaTechiya 5).

Therefore, he wrote: “… I intentionally did not order everything concerning this matter (the ‘heter’) with complete comprehension, satisfactorily arranged and full of meaning, and several aspects and clear reasons I left out altogether, all in order that the matter of the ‘heter’ not be become too accustomed …” (Igeret 311). And at a later date, he added that even if those who oppose intensify their disagreement to the ‘heter’, forcing him to better explain just how firmly the ‘heter’ is based in halacha, nevertheless, “even then, with the help of the Almighty, I will not stop to always point out that it is a ‘heter’ of times of duress, and a matter of ‘hora’at sha’ah’ (a temporary order), however,l’chatchila (in the first place) better for me not to have to do so (to further clarify the foundations of the ‘heter’), and leave the issue in the relaxed manner I gave it in the introduction (to ‘Shabbat Ha’aretz’).”

Rabbi Kook’s Method of Study

Each section and sevara (deriving new results from logic) of the Torah were greatly cherished by Rav Kook, therefore, he loved to debate at length and discuss the less significant assertions as well, to the point where his listeners and students did not understand his teachings accurately. Thus, sometimes those who disputed him ignored his main claims, and questioned the ‘heter’ by attacking side issues which he wrote only as conjecture for discussion.

For example, in regards to the ‘heter’ itself, which according to the strict letter of the law contains no concern of “lo techanem” (‘do not give them any consideration’, which may be rendered ‘do not give them a resting place in the land’) since it is for a limited time and for the benefit of Clal Yisrael, as explained in the Rishonim (see, “Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it v’Yovel 7:6). However, in order to add ‘dikduk’ (preciseness) and ‘hidur’ (enhancement), he continued to discuss the matter and wrote that it is preferable to sell the land to an Ishmaelite who already owned land, and based this on the rendering of the ‘Bach’ – which later turned out to be erroneous. On this, the disputers had a field day, when in fact, all of the discussion there is a complete side issue (see the introduction to ‘Shabbat Ha’aretz’, chap. 12; Mishpat Kohen 63).

When Did Rabbi Kook Come Out Publically Against Those Who Opposed Him

Only when they damaged the livelihood and dignity of the farmers, or the general matter of yishuv ha’aretz by means of immigration and settlement, did Rav Kook come out strongly against the wicked actions of those who pretended to be righteous, and in fact, violated the principles of the Torah.

Thus, upon hearing that the opponents of the ‘heter’ in Jerusalem not only boycotted the fruits of the ‘heter mechira’, but went further and gave permission to market the fruits of the Gentiles in their place, he wrote: “My pen shakes in my hand at the despicable deed presently carried out against our brothers, residents of the moshavot. Because, after being strongly held until now, not to grant a hechsher (kashrut approval) to the Gentiles so as not to oust the oppressed and poverty-stricken Jewish farmers, whose eyes and livelihood are dependent on the proceeds from the grapes, and now, after the conflict over the question of shmitta has been settled, whose main goal is to help our fellow brothers the residents of the moshavot, seditious elements have been revealed, who secretly advised to buy specifically from the Gentiles, and lift the horn of our enemies who are laughing at our not working the fields! How we ourselves chase our brothers, our fellow Jews. Heavens above! One cannot imagine the enormity of shame, Chilul Hashem (desecration of God), and wickedness this contains. The blood of my heart boils, and my pain reaches to the heavens from this terrible situation, from the fall of Torah and true fear of Heaven in this matter …”

And when the chumra was weak and contrary to the rules of halacha, especially when it hurt people, he was emphatic about instructing the ‘heter’, to avoid the uprooting of the Torah, God forbid. For the Torah commands to make a fence around the Torah, and from this our Sages learned that it is forbidden to make a fence around a fence, and he wrote about his ‘heter’ of sesame oil on Passover. Although in that case he also acted with great honor for the elderly rabbis who were machmir, despite that in his opinion, they were completely wrong in halacha (Orach Mishpat, 112).

Rabbi Kook’s Exalted Approach Gave Room to Various Methods

With his great righteousness, piety and incredible talents, Rav Kook ztz”l devoted himself to the entire Torah, from the heights of its superior knowledge stemming from God’s supreme unity, to the entire scope of its revelations in all branches of methods and paths, thus making him a channel for the light of Torah for all generations. Out of all this he was able to see and understand the Divine historical process, and the progressing spirit of the Jewish nation and humanity towards tikun olam and redemption.

Notwithstanding, in all of his greatness and light, Rav Kook had a “shortcoming”: he could not restrict himself to the midat ha’din (attribute of Strict Justice) required for the leadership of a single method in all public affairs. Thus, he gave room to those who disagreed with him to reinforce their mistakes.

But apparently there was no choice. This was the path of revealing the light of Torah in its completeness, and the Divine guidance for these miraculous generations, where darkness and light serve in confusion. And it is our responsibility to continue in the path of his exalted teachings, to build frameworks and pave the way for public and practical revelation of the entire Torah, by all Am Yisrael, in all areas of the Land of Israel.

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

No to Both Murder and Discrimination

After the media attack has subsided, now is the time to respond to the two murders two weeks ago * The nerve of the criminals to wrap themselves in the cloak of zealousness for God is facilitated by the deep frustration of broad sectors of the population who are discriminated against by government institutions * Apart from punishing the criminals and educating about the value of life and human dignity , a Jewish vision must be outlined for the State of Israel, restoring our national honor *We must try to draw near and save transgressors from the sin of homosexual relations, nevertheless, the defiant parades against the sanctity of the family is in the realm of ‘to’evah'( abomination)

Two New Ambassadors

Two excellent ambassadors were recently chosen to represent the State of Israel. The first is Danny Dayan, former head of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria (‘Yesha’), who was appointed our ambassador in Brazil, the country with the fifth largest population in the world (more than two hundred million people), and the seventh largest annual gross domestic product (GDP). Danny Dayan is one of the long-standing ‘Land of Israel’ loyalists, dating back from his days as a key activist in the ‘Techiya’ party, is a full partner in the building of Judea and Samaria, and even became popular as one of Israel’s outstanding speakers in general, and of Judea and Samaria in particular.

The second appointee is Fiamma Nirenstein, who was chosen as ambassador to Italy, a country ranking 23rd in world population (approximately 62 million), and 12th in its annual GDP, slightly after France and Britain, but due to its high standing in science and technology, and its central status in the EU, Italy’s influence is very significant. Fiamma, who lived in Jerusalem for a period of time, worked for several years as an executive journalist, authored numerous books, and was recognized as an active fighter for Israel. She even managed to serve as a Member of Parliament in Italy, and chaired the committee for combating anti-Semitism.

In this regard, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzippy Hotovely are to be commended. Hopefully, these appointments mark a new direction in Israel’s stance and representation in foreign policy – a transition from a defensive and apologetic position, to a staunch perspective that attacks the lies, evil, and malicious claims of our enemies and their supporters in the West. A position that emphasizes the historical truth and justice of Israel, and presents the Jewish state as a country aimed at improving the world’s economy and society, science and ethics, in light of the Torah and the vision of the Prophets.

A Response to the Painful Events

Two weeks ago on Friday morning, following the two appalling events that ended in murder, I posted a response. I thought to expand upon the matter in last week’s column, but as I wrote: “Following the flood of enmity and hatred emanating in recent days from the official media establishment, I decided to postpone dealing with the subject until more relaxed and balanced times.” It seems that now, I am able publish the comment I wrote on that Friday, and clarify a few additional points.

It should be noted that at the time it was obvious to all reporters that Jews were the ones who threw the petrol bomb in the village of Duma. Today, some cast doubt on this. Nevertheless, I will reissue my original response, exactly as written two weeks ago, before the grave consequences were known in their entirety:

“Appallingly, in the last day there were two shocking and despicable acts of murder and attempted murder.

A man set out – allegedly in the name of the Torah, purity and holiness – to eliminate impurity by an act more horrible than all others, itself, the root of all impurities – premeditated murder. Thank God, his revolting scheme was not carried out in its entirety, and we hope that all the injured will have a speedy recovery and return to full strength.

Unfortunately, in the second incident of the Arab family, a baby was murdered and members of his family were very seriously injured – and who knows how much more pain they will have to agonize as a result of their severe wounds. Adding insult to injury, the perpetrators wrote graffiti on the wall of the house: “Long live the king the Mashiach forever,” as if for the sake of world peace in the days of the Mashiach, people must be killed in their sleep.

The truth is that in every society there are criminals, and public officials are obliged to deal with them. To this end, there are laws and government. But that these criminals have the audacity to wrap themselves in cloaks of zealousness for God and His Torah is made possible due to the fact that large sectors of society – Torah observant Jews, God-fearing and upright citizens, Haredim and Mitnachalim (settlers) – live in deep frustration and helplessness. They see how the government, State-run institutions, and media regularly discriminate against them and their values. This frustration is interpreted by the criminals as permission to carry out horrendous acts.

Alongside the standard education towards the value of life and the dignity of human beings, and vigorous measures against the criminals themselves, the time has come to “drain the swamp” by means of outlining a path and vision for the State of the Jewish people in its sacred land. Amongst other things, the State must act to strengthen Jewish culture, Torah study and observance in accordance to Jewish tradition throughout the ages, strengthen settlement in all parts of the country, and conduct a determined war against the enemies of Israel.

Most importantly, all this should be done for the sake of individual rights, but rather, as the duty of the public at large. Concurrently, to teach the value of life and respect for all individuals, and the freedom and right given by God for each and every individual to choose his own path, whether right or wrong. By so doing, we will draw closer the Days of Mashiach as written in the Books of our Prophets, and as our ethical path intended.”

Attacks on Arabs

Some argue that we are at war with all the Arabs, and therefore, Jews who attack Arabs cannot be criticized, for indeed, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: “One must kill the best among the Gentiles” (Mekhilta d’Rashbi, Beshalach).

First, it is important to explain that the words of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai were said in regards to an active state of war, as was the case when Israel left Egypt, or similar to the story of the soldiers in the convoy of the ‘Lamed Heh’ who, according to the account of events, while on their way to the besieged Gush Etzion, met an Arab shepherd and had mercy on his life, and after they continued on, he ran to alert the enemy. In the end, they were all killed and their bodies mutilated and discarded like manure on the ground. In another situation, that very shepherd could have hosted them with marvelous hospitality, and could then have been described as “the best among the Gentiles.” But in the time of war, he sided with the enemy against us, and therefore our Sages said to kill him in order to save our lives.

Still, the main point is that if we are at war, then we should be even more strict about guarding government instructions given via the Minister of Defense and the military command, because victory mainly depends on the unity of military operations, and accordingly, the penalty for breach of discipline during wartime is very serious, similar to the law of ‘mored b’malchut‘ (rebelling against the king) in our Biblical sources.

And even though on occasion, many people disagree with security policies, and often the claims are justified, it is a mitzvah and obligation to wage war against the enemy within the framework of the IDF, and the government’s policy agenda for it. Moreover, it is possible to say that Israel never had a perfect army, without any operational mishaps and moral failings. At times the army had more problems, and at other times, less. All the same, the mitzvah and duty to fight for the sake of the nation and the land pursuant to the framework of the malchut remained valid. And when we failed to fulfill this mitzvah, we were afflicted with terrible troubles. Therefore, when there is criticism of IDF policy, it must be voiced for the sake of improving the situation and fixing it, but all the criticism does not invalidate the obligation to fight only within the framework of the IDF.

Consequently, the status of one who kills outside of the framework of military operations or self-defense is similar to that of a murderer, who, in addition to transgressing the severe sin of murder, also harms our true war effort against the enemy.

The Terrible Frustration

I will briefly mention the causes of the deep frustration: the ban on planning and building settlements in Judea and Samaria, harming our ability to fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), which is equivalent to all 613 mitzvoth in the Torah, and deprives children the chance of living near their parents in the communities they love and grew-up in; the prohibition of prayer on the Temple Mount; the turning of a blind eye to Arab incitement, illegal construction, and crime. All this is extremely harmful to our national honor.

How to Relate to People with Opposite Gender Inclinations

The Torah defined the sin of homosexual intercourse as “to’evah” (an abomination), however, our attitude towards those who transgress this sin should not be more stringent than transgressors of other serious sins, such as desecrating Shabbat which is considered a more serious violation, rather, to a certain extent, we should even be more lenient, seeing as many of those who stumble in this transgression do so because their yetzer (inclination)
overpowers them. And although they transgresses the sin of homosexual intercourse, this does not exempt them from all the other commandments of the Torah, and each mitzvah that they fulfill, such as Talmud Torah (Torah study), tzedaka (giving charity) or keeping Shabbat, has supreme, divine value, just as for every other Jew. They are counted in a minyan, and if one is a kohen, he is obligated to perform the Priestly Blessing, and if he reads from the Torah, he helps others fulfill their obligation to hear the Torah reading. And it is a mitzvah for every Jew to love even a person who sins in this matter, and help him according to all the rules of chesed (kindness) and tzedaka (charity) customary towards every Jew.


Therefore, whenever possible, we must try and dissuade the sinners from transgressing in this matter. Nonetheless, we must love even someone who fails to overcome his yetzer, and realize there is great value in every mitzvah he fulfills. Therefore, we should be careful not to distance them from the synagogues, so they can strengthen themselves in Torah and mitzvoth as best as they can. And, as is well-known, the value of Evil is limited, whereas the value of Good is endless. Likewise, the severity of sins is limited, whereas the value of mitzvoth is endless. Therefore, even one who falters in these transgressions, merits life in the World to Come thanks to his mitzvoth and good deeds.

The Abominable Parade

All this is provided that the sin of homosexual intercourse does become a banner raised on high. But when they hold public parades in the city streets in support of such sinful behavior, openly defying family values ​​enshrined in the Torah, and rebel against the values ​​of modesty which are the basis for the existence of a healthy society, they insult the Torah and Jewish tradition, and one who participates in such a parade is considered a “mumar l’hak’is” (one who transgresses out of spite), and all the laws towards him change. There is no obligation to show him kindness, and he cannot be included in a minyan. Indeed, he is still considered a Jew, as our Sages said: “Even though Israel (a Jew) has sinned – they are still called Israel” (Sanhedrin 44a), and the gates of repentance are not locked before him. However, after defiantly removing himself from Jewish tradition, he has distanced himself from Clal Yisrael.

Had the purpose of the parade been to defend human dignity and those tormented by harsh insults for various reasons, including their sexual preferences, it would be understandable. But when the purpose of the parade is to draw attention to a topic that even when done according to the Torah, modesty is fitting, and moreover, openly defy family values ​​enshrined in Judaism and declare that the Torah prohibition is null and void – there is no more appropriate description of such a parade than that of the Torah – “a parade of abomination.”

It would be appropriate for State authorities to prohibit such parades as they violate Jewish tradition, alongside forcefully defending the life and dignity of every individual.

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

Far More than 13 Million Jews

I will not add my voice to the anti-Semitic choir exploiting the recent difficult events to malign those faithful to the Torah, the nation, and the country * When the majority of the Jewish people returns to live in Israel, the obligation to fulfill the mitzvoth of challa and tithes will be of Biblical status * According to our Sages, in the future Eliyahu HaNavi will restore the scattered Jews of Israel who were forcibly removed from nation * To the presumed number of 13 million Jews in the world, the millions of other assimilated people who can prove their Jewish ancestry should be added * This number might possibly be increased by the tens of millions of descendants of the Marranos and the Ten Tribes, who upon returning, will have to undergo giur l’chumra

Following the difficult events that took place last Thursday and Friday, I considered writing about the moderation required when debating controversial and disputed issues in the State of Israel, and relate to it both halachically and ideologically. However, due to the flood of enmity and hatred emanating in recent days from the official media establishment, I decided to postpone dealing with the subject until more relaxed and balanced times. Thus, my voice will not be added to the sickening, anti-Semitic choir which despicably exploits the difficult and shocking human tragedies of the murders of a girl from Jerusalem and an Arab baby, to malign an honest and decent sector of society, the most faithful and moral citizens in the State of Israel – the religious and traditional Jews, faithful to the Torah, the nation, and the country.

Instead, I will deal with the sanctity of the Land and its mitzvoth which are contingent on our national situation, for indeed the primary solution to all the ills and problems our nation suffers hinges on the Ingathering of the Exiles, the Rebirth of Israel, and a return to the eternal values ​​of the Torah.

Rov Yisrael” and the Obligation of Mitzvoth Dependent on the Land

Presently, we are obligated to fulfill the mitzvoth of Shmitta (the Sabbatical year), challa (separating a section of dough from kneading and giving it to a kohen),
terumot and ma’asrot (tithes) only rabbinicaly. When ‘rov Yisrael‘ (literally, ‘the majority of Jews’) live in the Land of Israel, as termed by our Sages “rov yoshvei’ha aley’ha” (“the majority of its inhabitants dwell in it”), we will merit being obligated in the mitzvoth of challa and tithes from the Torah. And when the Jewish nation lives in the Land of Israel as required, every tribe in its place, we will merit observing the mitzvah of Shmitta and Yovel (the Jubilee year) from the Torah.

The Number of Jews in the World

First, I will clarify the definition of “rov yoshvei’ha“: Many people claim that the number of Jews in the world today is roughly thirteen million, and when more than six-and-a-half million Jews live in Israel, the first condition will be fulfilled, and we will be obligated in the mitzvoth of challa and tithes from the Torah. Others mistakenly claim that at that point we will also be obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of Shmitta from the Torah, however, they have forgotten that in order for Shmitta to be obligated from the Torah, every tribe must reside in its inheritance, and Rambam wrote that this would occur in the Days of Mashiach (Laws of Kings 11:1).

However, it seems that in regards to the definition of “rov Yisrael” as well, further investigation is required, because the number thirteen million includes only the Jews who identify themselves as Jews today, but excludes two additional groups of descendants of Jews. Together with the first group the Jewish population numbers more than eighteen million, and including the second group – more than a hundred million.

Those who Left Judaism under Duress will Return to their Source

In order to understand the issue, we must first return to what Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Yehuda said in the Mishna that in the future, Eliyahu HaNavi will come to return to Israel all those Jews who were forcibly removed, i.e., were distanced from Israel due to coercion. As an example of this, the Mishna mentions the family of Beit Tzerifa who lived across the Jordan and was distanced by force by a violent man with connections to the authorities named Ben Tzion, and when Eliyahu HaNavi comes, he will return their descendants to Israel (Mishna
Eduyot 8:7).

On this Mishna, Rambam explains that this will fulfill the words of the Torah:”Even though you are banished to the ends of the earth the Lord your God will gather you from there and bring you back again.
The Lord your God will return you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will possess that land again. Then he will make you even more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors! The Lord your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live!” (Deuteronomy 30:4-6). How this will occur is written in the Book of Prophets: “Look, I will send to you Eliyahu the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible Day of God. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 3:23-24).

However, according to the opinion of Rabbi Shimon in the Mishnah, the role of Eliyahu is to make peace in the world, and not to return to Israel those who were forcibly removed. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that even Rabbi Shimon would agree that all Jews forcibly distanced from Judaism will return to their source, but in his opinion, this is not the purpose of Eliyahu HaNavi; perhaps a different prophet is designated for that purpose, or maybe genetic tests will be discovered to clarify this issue.

In summary: If even a family distanced from Israel due to a violent person is considered as having been forcibly removed, all the more so, Jews who were distanced from Israel as a result of the terrible decrees during the long exile will be considered as having been forcibly removed, and God will return them to their source. However, with regards to the number of Jews there are in the world, the question is: Who should be taken into account?

The First Group: Jews who Assimilated in Recent Times

The first group is Jews whose parents assimilated a few generations ago, and by means of fairly minor inquiries, it can be verified that their mother was Jewish. Including them, it is conceivable that today the Jewish people number at least eighteen million.

It is worth noting that this group includes people who despite being intelligent and highly informed, as a result of the terrible vicissitudes that the Jewish people have experienced in recent times, they are unaware of their Jewish origin. Take for example Madeleine Albright, who served as United States Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, and was the highest ranking woman in the U.S. administration up until then. She herself was born in Prague to two Jewish parents who had converted to escape persecution. She grew up Catholic, and only after many years learned of her Jewish ancestry, and that many members of her family were murdered in the Holocaust.

Incidentally, the parents of the father of the Secretary of State of the current U.S. administration, John Kerry, were also Jewish and converted to escape the fate of the Jews. He also did not know about it for years, and only as an adult learned about the origin of his family. These are just examples of the first group that with the help of relatively simple inquiries can be proven with certainty that they are Jewish according to halakha (Jewish religious law).

The Second Group: Jews who Assimilated during the Agony of Exile

The second group is much larger, and includes all the descendants of Jews who assimilated among the Gentiles under pressure from the throes of the ominous exile, but in keeping with halakha they are Jews, for they are descendants of Jewish mothers, and according to halakha, anyone whose mother was Jewish – even after a hundred generations, remains Jewish.

Anusim in Spain and Portugal

If we were to calculate statistically the Anusim (Marranos, or crypto-Jews), who are Jewish according to halakha, the world Jewish population would apparently be over a hundred million. For example, it is estimated that approximately ten percent of the population of Spain, and fifteen percent of Portugal, are descendants of Anusim. Seeing as all the descendants of the Jewish daughters are Jews, it follows that the percentage of Jews in the population is maintained. And seeing as it was the Spaniards and the Portuguese who established the Latin American countries, it follows that the descendants of Anusim alone now number about thirty to forty million. And who knows, maybe among the descendants of the Anusim the percent of immigrants to America was even higher, for by doing so, they escaped the terror of the Inquisition. 

Anusim in Europe

Even in Western Europe, for over a thousand years, many Jews were forced to convert, such that it can be estimated that at least ten percent of the population of Western Europe and those who immigrated to the United States, Canada, and Australia, are descendants of Jews. Thus, we are speaking about an additional thirty to forty million descendants of Jews.

The Rest of the Anusim

There are other descendants of Jews in Arab countries, Iran, and Eastern Europe where Jews were also forced to convert, albeit at a lower percent. Thus, after an initial assessment, we are speaking of more than a hundred million Jews, and who knows – maybe a lot more.

And this is without counting the descendants of the Ten Tribes, some of whom have surely returned and joined the Jewish nation, but others remained in their lands of exile. True, we do not know if the populations among whom they lived increased or diminished, because historical upheavals are liable to reduce or eliminate certain nations, or cause others to increase. But it is clear that the nations among whom the Anusim were assimilated after the destruction of the Second Temple, normally increased significantly.

Who is Included in Counting “the Majority of its Inhabitants”

If we go according to the opinion of those who believe that Jewish people number roughly thirteen million Jews, as is the estimated number of people who identify as Jews today, then in a few years, the majority of the world’s Jews will be living in Israel.

However, it seems that at the very least, the number of Jews in the world should include all the members of the first group, i.e., all people whose parents assimilated in recent generations – approximately the last hundred years – whom by fairly minor inquiries such as documents and testimonies, can be proven to be descendants of a Jewish mother, for according to halakha, it is impossible to ignore what can be determined relatively easily.

In contrast, regarding the members of the second group, the descendants of all the Anusim who assimilated amongst the Gentiles throughout the ages, there is room for doubt. Although it can be said that, in the end, all those removed from the Jewish people will return, in the meantime, since there is no way to find out who they are – they cannot be taken into account, but only those who can prove with certainty that they are Jewish. On the other hand, it can be argued that all those who are Jewish according to halakha should be taken into account even if in practice, it is impossible to ascertain their identity.

Practically speaking, it seems that this will have to be resolved by a Beit Din Gadol (Sanhedrin), that by virtue of all Jews living in Israel, they will decide the question of which Jews are reckoned in calculating “rov yoshvei’ha aley’ha“, and consequently, when we will be able to say that the majority of the Jewish people live in Israel. And perhaps we might have to wait for a prophet to guide us on this issue.

The Return of Anusim Descendants to Israel

Evidently, the more we advance in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land) and deepen our faith through Torah study and observance, the status of the Jewish nation will rise, and many descendants of the Anusim will awaken to seek their Jewish roots, return to their source, and observe the Torah and mitzvoth. Perhaps a genetic test will also be discovered that can prove the origin of the Jews. And although apparently we cannot rely on genetic testing alone, and the scattered returning to Israel will have to undergo giur l’chumra (conversions performed as precautionary measures), nevertheless, they will be considered the same as Jews required to undergo giur l’chumra (similar to what our Sages determined, that a Jew who converted and returned to Judaism, must undergo a sort of conversion, by immersion in a mikveh and accept the mitzvoth,
R’ma, Y.D. 268:12).

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

Time to “Drain the Swamp”

Regretfully, in the last day there were two shocking and despicable acts of murder and attempted murder.

A man set out – supposedly in the name of the Torah, purity and holiness, to eliminate impurity by an act more horrible than all others – itself, the source of all impurities – willful murder. Thank God, his abominable scheme was not fully carried out, and we hope that all the injured will have a speedy recovery, and return to full strength.

Unfortunately, in the second case of the Arab family, a baby was murdered and members of his family were very seriously injured, and who knows how much more pain they will have to agonize due to their severe wounds. Adding insult to injury, the perpetrators wrote graffiti on the wall of the house: “Long live the king the Mashiach forever,” as though for the sake of world peace in the days of the Mashiach, people must be killed in their sleep.

The truth is that in every society there are criminals, and public representatives are obligated to deal with them. For this purpose, there are laws and government. But that these criminals dare to wrap themselves in cloaks of zealousness for God and His Torah is possible because large sectors of society – Torah observant Jews, God-fearing and upright, Haredim and Mitnachalim (settlers) – live in deep frustration and helplessness. They see how the government, State-run institutions, and the public media frequently discriminate against them and their values. This frustration is interpreted by the criminals as permission to carry out horrendous acts.

Along with the regular education regarding the importance of life and the dignity of human beings, and vigorous actions against the criminals themselves, the time has come to “drain the swamp” by way of pointing out a path and vision for the State of the Jewish people in its sacred land. Amongst other things, the State must act to establish Jewish culture, Torah study and observance according to Jewish tradition throughout the ages, strengthen settlement in all parts of the country, and conduct a determined war against the enemies of Israel.

Most importantly, all this should be done not as the right of the individual, but as the duty of the public at large. Upon that, teach the value of life and respect for all individuals, and the freedom and right given by God for each person to choose his own path, whether right or wrong. By doing so, we will bring the Days of Mashiach closer, as written in the Books of our Prophets, and as morally intended.

A Sabbatical Year for All

Cessation from work in the Shmitta year has the same effect on Clal Yisrael as Shabbat has on the individual * Revealing one’s soul in the Shmitta year through additional Torah study out of pleasure and joy * In today’s world, the mitzvah of not doing agricultural work relates only to approximately two percent of the population * Extending the spiritual blessing of the Shmitta year to all professions * How will not working in the Shmitta year in non-agricultural professions look * The mitzvah of Shmitta educates towards financial saving, and frees us from dependency on luxuries * The spiritual blessing of the Shmitta year extends to the other six working years

The Vision of Shmitta

The purpose of the Shmitta year is that by not working, we remember God, the Creator of heaven and earth.

Regarding this, our Sages said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: Sow your seed six years but omit the seventh, that you may know that the earth is mine” (Sanhedrin 39a).

Our Sages said: “The Holy One, blessed be He created many things in the world, and He chose one of them. He created seven days, and chose Shabbat … He created years, and chose one of them, as it is written: ‘The land itself must observe a Sabbath rest before the Lord every seventh year… He created lands, and He chose one of them – the Land of Israel … He created nations, and chose one of them – these are Israel…”

The things that God chose for Himself are things meant to reveal the neshama (soul) and essence. Shabbat is the neshama of the entire week, Shmitta year is theneshama of the seven year cycle, the Land of Israel is the neshama of all lands, and Am Yisrael (the Jewish Nation) is the neshama of all nations.

Thus, the cessation of work is intended to reveal the inner neshama. All six days of the week man works hard and his neshama is hidden, but by means of Shabbat, his neshama receives expression, and he is able to take pleasure in God through the study of Torah and Shabbat meals, and consequently, come to understand the value and blessing of his work during the six weekdays.

Rabbi Kook ztz”l explains that the effect Shabbat has on each and every individual, the Shmitta year has for Clal Yisrael (all of Israel). By resting from hard work and constant striving, the Jewish nation becomes strengthened in their emuna (faith) in God, and is able to invest more time in Torah study. By declaring the fruits of the trees hefker (ownerless) and forgiving financial debts, the Jewish people are able to relax from the tension and competition that accompanies trade and business, and highlight the character traits of kindness and compassion between people. Thus, for an entire year, the collective neshama returns to illuminate the people of Israel, they are reminded of all the moral aspirations and yearnings for a world perfected by means of kindness and truth; love between neighbors’ grows, and societal life improves continually. As a result, blessing flows to the remaining six years of work (based on the introduction to Rabbi Kook’s “Shabbat Ha’aretz”).

Torah Study in the Shmitta Year

Revealing one’s neshama on Shabbat and in the Shmitta year is achieved, of course, by increasing Torah study – study conducted out of joy and happiness. This can also be learned from the wondrous description of our Sages in the Zohar (Kabala) regarding events which occur in the Upper worlds during the Shmitta year: “Come and see, in every Smitta year a proclamation goes forth from the Garden of Eden, saying: Assemble, all men and women and all people of faith, and go up from the lower Garden of Eden to the higher Garden of Eden; then they all remove their malbushim chitzonim (exterior garments), men and women, together with all the children and youths, and are elevated and enter the yeshiva shel rakia (study hall of the firmament); there, they take delight in the happiness of their elevated status, and joy abounds, words of Torah are spoken, new and old, and they are all exceptionally joyous” (Zohar, Section 3, 171b, with translation and interpretation).

The Change in the Percentage of People Engaged in Agriculture

As humanity progresses scientifically and technologically, work can be performed by a fewer amount of people. In the distant past, over ninety percent of people had to work in agriculture in order to provide their basic needs. Today, with the help of machines and other technical advances, only about two percent of Israel’s population is engaged in agriculture, and today, fewer farmers can grow much more fruit than many farmers grew previously. Nowadays, the rest of the population are free to pursue jobs enhancing man’s well-being in other areas, such as higher-quality food and clothing production, construction of more spacious and comfortable housing; the manufacturing of furniture and devices that improve the standard of living; creating efficient and convenient systems of transportation, including roads, cars, trains and planes; building an extensive and effective economic system; the creation of art and music, and the development of recreational enterprises. As a result, a situation has been created in which today, the mitzvot of Shmitta concerns only two percent of the population who are engaged in agriculture.

Cessation of Work in All Professions

Seemingly, it would be appropriate for the concept of refraining from work in the Shmitta year to be reflected in all professions. Just as not working the fields is intended to remind farmers that the land belongs to God so they can strengthen themselves in emuna and Torah and thereby receive blessing in the remaining  six years of work, likewise, it would be appropriate for workers in other professions to cease work in the Shmitta year, affording them the opportunity as well, to remember and recognize that the earth and everything in it belongs to God, and thus strengthen themselves in emuna and Torah, and consequently, be blessed in their other six years of labor.

Furthermore: Shabbat and Shmitta are a kind of Olam Ha’Ba (World to Come), intended to remind a person of his neshama, and that initially, man was created to be free, without being enslaved to work. As a result, Torah study in the Shmitta year deepens the value of freedom of the neshama, and frees one from being enslaved to the yetzer (inclination) of greed and the pursuit of money. Therefore, in my opinion, it appears that the Sanhedrin, which hopefully will be established speedily, will determine a cessation of work in all professions, based on the essential principle clarified in the Torah.

Similar to the Decree of Ma’aser Kesafim

Similarly, we learned that our Sages decreed that giving ma’aser kesafim (giving a tenth of one’s income to charity) is ‘b’ayin bein’o’nit‘ (the standard measure of fulfilling the mitzvah), while giving chomesh (a fifth of one’s income) is ‘b’ayin yafeh’– (with a good [generous] eye), for when the vast majority of Jews made their living from agriculture, the Torah commanded us in the framework of giving terumot and ma’asrot (tithes) to give between ten to twenty percent of our produce to thekohanim (priests), Levites, and the poor. In a similar way, ten to twenty percent of animals were also dedicated (bechorot, zeroa, lechayayim and keiva [first-born, foreleg, cheeks and stomach]. Since many people began earning a living from trade and other jobs, our Sages determined the giving of ma’aser kesafim from any profit, adding that a good measure was to give chomesh (this is in accordance with the majority of poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who are of the opinion that ma’aser kesafim is of rabbinic status, as explained by Taz, Y.D. 331:32. However, some poskim hold that the obligation has the status of minhag (custom), while others say it is of Biblical status).

A Proposed Amendment for Sabbatical in Other Professions

Just as in regards to the cessation of work in the fields the Torah forbade types of work designed to grow more fruit, such as sowing, pruning and plowing, so too the cessation of work in other professions should include work designed to improve the business, and “grow fruits” from it. And just as the Torah forbade the owner of the field to pick the fruits of his trees, similarly “fruits” which grow naturally from other professions should be hefker (ownerless) for all, without the business owner having priority over them. And just as the fruits of the Shmitta year are imbued with kedusha (sanctity), so too, it is possible to say that business profits yielded on their own accord, can be enjoyed by any individual, provided they are used in the best possible manner – not for trade, nor for bogus or wasteful purposes.

Also, just as in the fields one is permitted to do types of work designed to prevent damage that will last for years to come, likewise, in other professions – all work designed to prevent long-term damage will be allowed. And if it is necessary to continue production in order to maintain the share of the market, then all profits will go towards public welfare.

When Should Shmitta in Non-Agricultural Professions Be Held

It would be appropriate for the shmitta in non-agricultural professions to be held in the seventh, sanctified year, in which there is an obligation to cease work in the fields, so that the atmosphere of peace and tranquility can spread to all, and everyone will be able to study Torah together. However, in professions necessitating continuous work such as teaching, medicine and transportation, it would be proper that each year, one out of every seven workers in the industry will have a sabbatical, in which he can relax and gain strength from Torah learning, in preparation for the next six years. Already today, this is the custom in the teaching profession; inspired by the commandments of the Torah, the educational system instituted that every teacher is entitled to a sabbatical, when they are able to rest from their work and continue studying, so as to deepen and broaden their thoughts and knowledge.

Education towards Values ​​and Savings

The mitzvah of Shmitta teaches one to be a free person, and release himself from enslavement to the yetzer of greed that subjugates him to work himself to the bone all his life in order to make more money so he can buy himself as many things as possible. The education of shmitta provides a person with a real blessing, because although it is important for a person to work diligently, it is also important for him to realize that his happiness is not dependent on luxuries, but rather by living a life of values. Preparation for the Shmitta year teaches individuals to save, and as a result, one can then stop working, and strengthen himself in emuna and Torah. Consequently, he will also be able to set aside time for Torah study during his six years of labor, rejoice in his portion, not be tempted to spend his money on luxuries, and as a result,  be blessed and enriched.

The Revealing of the Soul and Contentment in the Shmitta Year

Just as the Sabbath day reveals the soul of the entire week by way of Torah study and taking pleasure in the goodness of God through our meals and relaxation, and as a result, blessing and inspiration to serve God is drawn into the weekdays, in a similar fashion, refraining from work in the Shmitta year is intended to reveal the soul of the other six years of work. In the Shmitta year a person rests from his toil, and delights in the blessings of God through the crops he saved in previous years, and in consequence of the relaxation and freedom, parents can spend more time together and add love and joy in their relationship, enhance their interaction with family and friends, give expression to their souls by means of setting plenty of time for Torah study, both personal study and attending classes – each person in the area close to his heart. At the same time, someone who takes interest in the sciences and humanities can broaden his knowledge in these fields, and thus, expand his understanding of the Torah.

The Blessing in the Sacred Cessation of Work

As a result of all this, one can rationally understand how abundant blessing can extend from Shmitta to the other six years of labor. Relaxation from backbreaking work frees the individual from the pressures accumulated in his body and soul. Torah study illuminates one’s soul, the strengthening of ties with family and friends enrich the body, and thus, one is able to return to work with renewed vigor.

 Continued Professional Education

Furthermore, a significant part of each person’s Torah study in the Shmitta year should be in the field related to his profession, so as to elevate the importance of his work. Likewise, it would be worthwhile that in the Shmitta year, each person attend a continuing education program in his profession: Farmers should hear from researchers about their investigations and new developments in agriculture; engineers about studies and new developments in their field; businessmen and financiers should hear courses on the economy. The academic researchers would also benefit from this, because most likely, when meeting with people who work in the field, they will hear new ideas and directions that they had not previously thought of. And who knows, the research and new developments which grow out of these Shmitta-year meetings alone, might prove to be more profitable than any profits that could have been earned by working in the Shmitta year.

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

Changing the Law as They See Fit

The Attorney General should be fired for attempting to render meaningless the Law against Fraud in kashrut * The Supreme Court allows the Karaites to present their meat as being kosher and under rabbinical supervision * With the food industry becoming increasingly complex and intricate, the supervisory authority of the Chief Rabbinate on all kashrut organizations is essential * The transition from Shabbat to the Fast of Tisha B’Av * How to make havdalah when Tisha B’Av falls on Motzei Shabbat * The halakha for pregnant and nursing women when Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, and is postponed to Sunday

The Kashrut Law

The 1983 Kosher Fraud Law stipulates that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, and the local rabbis ordained by it, are the only ones allowed to provide a certificate of kashrut for food in the State of Israel.

Recently, the Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, with his characteristic arrogance and that of the legal system, ruled that any person, whether rabbi or boor, whether religious or secular, is permitted to issue a certificate of kashrut supervision for a restaurant, a food chain, or for hotels. All they must do is indicate clearly that “this document does not constitute a kosher certificate from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel”, nor write that it is a “kosher” establishment.

In other words, any man in the street can issue a very dignified and impressive certificate on behalf of, let’s say, “Beit Din Tzedek ‘Shomrei HaTorah’, under the auspices of the Gaon John Doe”, and write in this certificate:” All the food sold or served in this store has been prepared in accordance with all the rules of halakha, Mehadrin min HaMehedrin, taking into account the opinions of all poskim, Rishonim and Achronim, Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Enjoy your food!” etc., and the bottom line will read: “This document was issued by the ‘Badatz of Shomrei HaTorah’ and not by the Chief Rabbinate.” The “rabbis” who grant the certificate can be either totally secular, naive tzadikim, or just plain people who received money for it – and this will not constitute any violation of the law whatsoever, because on their fancy certificate it will not be written that it was provided by the Chief Rabbinate, and the word “kosher” will not appear on it.

Even the Supreme Court, in a decision which harmed the authority of the Chief Rabbinate, agreed that “the objective and purpose of the law is to prevent fraud in relation to the kashrut of food in terms of its quality, preparation, and supervision” (Theodore Or, 05/27/90). And now, the Attorney General dares to strip the law of all its substance, in stark contrast to the lawmaker’s intent. It would be proper to demand his immediate dismissal. Let’s hope that, at any rate, such outrageous acts will bring us closer to the required changes in the entire judiciary system.

The Supreme Court and the Karaites

In the meantime, the legal system landed another blow to traditional and religious Jews who keep kosher. On Sunday, the Supreme Court accepted the position of the Karaites, allowing them to sell meat under the title “Kosher under the supervision of the Karaite Rabbinate.” Halachically, the meat is treif (not kosher), because the Karaites do not keep halakha according to the Oral Torah scholars. However, the Supreme Court judges permitted them to deceive the public, as though their meat is kosher and under some type of rabbinical supervision, in complete contradiction to the Kosher Fraud Law.

The Importance of the Kashrut Law

It’s impossible to provide kosher food for the masses of Jewish people without the Chief Rabbinate having the authority to supervise all the various kashrut organizations. As each year passes, the food industry becomes progressively more complex and intricate, leading to a need for broad, inclusive, and authoritative supervision. Without it, even rabbis with good intentions would falter in providing kashrut for foods that are not kosher – for various reasons: Either they would be unable to check if the fruits are orlah, or if the grain, most of which is imported, was harvested in contradiction to the prohibition of chadash, or if the meat comes from a factory where it was not slaughtered properly, etc. etc.. All the more so when we know that in the food market, vast economic interests are involved, and it is clear that there are elements who would abuse the gaping hole that the secular legal system opened before them, and find a way to buy a cheap “kashrut certificate”, and under it auspices, market treif food.

Just as there are general veterinary inspections of all foods, and general supervision for all doctors, so too, there is a need for general supervision of the kashrut system, and this is the purpose of the Kosher Fraud Law in kashrut. Let’s hope that the government will quickly find a way to block this loophole, and by doing so, put the legal system in its place.

The Laws of Tisha B’Av that Falls on Shabbat

When Tish’a B’Av falls out on Shabbat, we postpone the fast until Sunday, and on that Shabbat one may eat meat, drink wine, and even serve a meal like King Shlomo did in his day. We also sing Shabbat songs as usual, because there is no mourning on the Sabbath (concerning things done in private, see S.A. 554:19).

The Transition between Shabbat and Tish’a B’Av

However, there is an intermediate time between Shabbat and the fast, during which Shabbat has not yet ended but the prohibitions of the fast have already begun. This happens because we are unsure when one day ends and the next day begins – at sunset, or when the stars emerge. Therefore, the period between sunset and the emergence of the stars is ambiguous, being possibly day, and possibly night. It is called “bein hashmashot” (twilight). And since there is a mitzvah to add time onto Shabbat, Shabbat continues until a few minutes after the stars emerge, as listed on most calendars (in Jerusalem, sunset is at 19:45, and Shabbat ends at 20:21. In Tel Aviv, sunset is at 19:43, and the Shabbat ends at 20:23).

Consequently, the time between sunset and shortly after the emergence of the stars is both Shabbat and Tish’a B’Av. During that time, it is forbidden to do anything that would appear like a custom of mourning, because we do not mourn on the Sabbath. On the other hand, after sunset, we avoid doing anything that is not necessary for the sake of Shabbat, like eating, drinking, washing, and anointing.

Seudah Shlishit

Therefore, we eat the third Sabbath meal (seudah shlishit) like we do on any other Shabbat, including the singing of Sabbath songs. However, we stop eating and drinking before sunset, because there is no obligation – from a Shabbat perspective – to continue eating seudah shlishit after sunset. It is also fitting not to sing joyous songs after sunset, and doing so does not constitute an expression of mourning, for people do not generally sing happy songs every moment of Shabbat.

Washing During the Transition Period

We also refrain from washing and anointing ourselves after sunset; after all, we do not bathe or anoint ourselves on Shabbat in any case. However, one who relieves himself during bein hashmashot should wash his hands normally, for if he washes only part of his hands as required on the fast, he is, in effect, mourning on the Sabbath.

The Changing of Clothes and Shoes

We remain in our Sabbath clothing, keep our shoes on, and continue to sit on chairs and greet each other until a few minutes after three, mid-sized stars appear in the sky. Then, we say “Baruch ha’mavdil bein kodesh le’chol (‘Blessed is He Who separates between the holy and the mundane’), by which we take leave of the Sabbath. Afterwards, we remove our shoes, take off our Sabbath garments, and change into weekday clothes.

Some people have a custom to remove their shoes at sunset, seeing as wearing shoes is one of the prohibited actions on Tisha B’Av, and since in any case, there is no obligation to walk in shoes all of Shabbat, there’s no lack of respect for the Sabbath by doing so. However, if others take notice that one has removed his shoes for the sake of mourning, it is clearly forbidden. Therefore, the prevalent custom is to remove one’s shoes only after Shabbat has ended.

When changing from Shabbat to weekday clothing, one should wear clothing that was already worn the previous week, because one may not wear freshly laundered clothing on Tish’a B’Av.

Evening Prayer

Many communities have a custom to delay Ma’ariv until around fifteen minutes after Shabbat ends, in order to give everyone time to take leave of the Sabbath at home, remove their shoes, change their clothes, and come to the synagogue for Ma’ariv and the reading of Eichah in weekday clothes.

Havdalah in Speech and Over Wine

The fast begins immediately after Shabbat, making it is impossible to say havdalah over a cup of wine. Therefore, we postpone saying this form of havdalah until after the fast. Nevertheless, we say havdalah – “Ata Chonantanu” – in the Ma’ariv prayers, after which we are permitted to do work. Some say that women should pray Ma’ariv on such a Saturday night, in order to make havdalah in ‘Ata Chonantanu’. Women who do not follow this practice should say, ‘Baruch ha’mavdil bein kodesh le’chol’, after which they are permitted to do work.

The Blessing over the Candle

In addition, we recite the blessing over fire on such a Motzei Shabbat, because this blessing is not dependent on the cup of wine. Rather, it is an expression of thanks to God for creating fire, which was revealed to Adam on the first Motzei Shabbat. The custom is to recite the blessing after Ma’ariv, before the reading of Eichah, because people light candles at that time. Women also recite the blessing over fire. If they are in synagogue, they should hear the blessing of the chazan (cantor), and have benefit from the light of the candle lit in their vicinity so they can see it. If they are at home, they should light a candle and recite the blessing (see, Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 8:1, footnote 1).    

Havdalah over Wine after the Fast

At the end of the fast, two blessings are recited: Borei pri hagefen, and HaMavdil (‘He Who separates’). No blessing is made on spices or fire.

When the fast is over, it is forbidden to eat before making havdalah over the cup of wine, because saying “Ata Chonantanu” or “Baruch ha’mavdil bein kodesh le’chol” permits one to do work, whereas havdalah over a cup permits one to eat and drink.

Pregnant and Nursing Women

Since the fast is postponed from Shabbat until Sunday, if a pregnant or nursing woman feels weak or has difficulty fasting, she may eat or drink. The reason for this is that the status of a postponed Fast of Tisha B’Av is similar to that of the Minor Fasts, in which pregnant and nursing woman are completely exempt (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 10:20).

Havdalah for a Sick Person Who Needs to Eat on Tisha B’Av

A sick person who needs to eat on Tish’a B’Av, must say havdalah over a cup before eating. In such a case, it is proper to use chamar medinah, literally, a beverage containing alcohol, but is not wine, such as beer. In a sha’at dachak (time of distress), one may also make havdalah on coffee, for some poskim hold that it is also considered a mashkeh medinah (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 8:4). If one has no such beverage, he should say havdalah over grape juice, for since it has no alcohol content, it does not make one happy. And if even that is unavailable, he should say havdalah on wine and drink only a melo lugmav (a cheek full) [around 40 ml.].

A minor who eats on Tish’a B’Av need not say havdalah before eating.

The Laws of Mourning on the Day after Tisha B’Av

The majority of the Temple actually burned on the tenth of Av. Nevertheless, our Sages set the fast on the ninth of Av, according to when the fire began, but since in practice the majority of the Holy Temple was burned on the tenth, the People of Israel have a custom not to eat meat or drink wine on that date. In addition, many Jews are accustomed not to take a haircut or shower in hot water, do laundry, or wear laundered clothes on the tenth of Av.

This year, however, when Tish’a B’Av falls out on Shabbat and the fast is postponed until Sunday, the tenth of Av, the customs of mourning do not continue after the fast, and one is allowed to bathe in hot water, do laundry, and wear laundered clothes. As far as eating meat and drinking wine in the evening after the fast is over, someone who is machmir (stringent) tavo alav bracha (pious conduct for which one is blessed for being stringent), but one who wishes to be lenient is permitted.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found here:

“When Av Arrives, We Curtail Our Joy.” How?

The various expressions of ‘curtailing our joy’ * Avoiding trips, hotel vacations, and attending parties * Blessing ‘Shehechiyanu’ when meeting a dear friend during the Nine Days * “Joyous building” is forbidden during the Nine Days. What exactly does this include? * What should building contractors and construction workers do?* Shopping during the Nine Days * This year, Sephardic Jews are permitted to do laundry during the Nine Days, but should not take a haircut or shave * The prohibition of laundering and wearing laundered clothes, and what should one do if he forgot to prepare unlaundered clothes * Bathing in a pool for health purposes during the Nine Days

Pleasure Trips and Hotel Vacations

Our Sages state in the Mishnah (Ta’anit 26b), “When Av arrives, we curtail our joy,” because these are days of mourning over the Temple’s destruction. Therefore, one should not engage in joyous activities, like hikes, hotel vacations, and social gatherings. Only events whose main purpose is educational or communal may be held. Therefore, it is permissible to conduct educational tours and seminars even though they entail a certain amount of joy. In addition, someone who needs to relax for health reasons may take a vacation in a hotel or a retreat.

Blessing ‘Shehechiyanu‘ Over a Friend not Seen for Thirty Days

Q: If during the Nine Days someone meets a very dear friend at a seminar that he has not seen for thirty days and is happy to see him, should he bless ‘Shehechiyanu‘ as is customary during the rest of the year, or perhaps, since it’s the Nine Days, ‘Shehechiyanu‘ should not be recited?

A: In such a case, one should recite the Shehechiyanu blessing, for if he does not recite it immediately, he loses the opportunity to say the blessing afterwards.

As explained in Shulchan Aruch (551:17), one should be careful not to recite ‘Shehechiyanu‘ during the Three Weeks on a fruit or clothing, because blessing over a fruit or clothing can be postponed until after Tisha B’Av. But the R’ema wrote that if one cannot recite the blessing on the fruit after Tisha B’Av, such as if the fruit will rot by then, one should recite the blessing immediately so as not to lose the mitzvah (see, M.B. 551:101). 

Recruitment Party

Q: Is it permissible to hold a recruitment party during the Nine Days in honor of a friend going into the army?

A: Recruitment parties should not be held during the Nine Days, because these are days in which we curtail joy, and a recruitment party, as its name implies – is a festive occasion.

Nevertheless, it is permitted to get together and speak words of Torah and encouragement in honor of a friend who is enlisting during the Nine Days. If, however, the friend is enlisting a few days after Tisha B’Av, even such a get-together as this should not be held during the Nine Days because it entails an aspect of being a festive occasion, and therefore, it is proper to postpone it until after Tisha B’Av.

Building and Renovations

Since we curtail our joy from the beginning of Av, one may not build a “joyous building” during the Nine Days. For example, one may not extend one’s house or widen one’s porch, unless there is a vital need for it.

If, however, one began building before the Nine Days, he should make an agreement with the contractor to stop working during this period. If one failed to make such an agreement beforehand, he should ask the contractor to stop work during the Nine Days, but if he asserts his right to continue working, there is no need to break the contract with him.

However, one who lives with his family in a cramped apartment may build an additional room during the Nine Days. One may also do any type of construction that is designed to prevent damage. For example, if a wall is about to fall, one may knock it down in an orderly fashion and rebuild it, even if he does not need the room in which it is found and there is no danger involved, because doing it this way prevents damage (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 8:16-17).

Painting and Finishing Touches

It is also forbidden to plaster or paint one’s walls during the Nine Days, because these are considered luxuries that make a person happy. After all, one can live without them. Similarly, one may not do renovations that are designed to beautify or embellish one’s house, like replacing shutters (trissim), cabinets, curtains, or anything else that is costly, brings one joy, and is unnecessary.

For the Sake of a Mitzvah

It is permissible to build, plaster, or paint for the sake of a mitzvah, like building a synagogue or a school. Likewise, anything needed for the public good is considered a mitzvah-need and is permissible (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim, 8:16).

Contractors and Laborers

A Jewish contractor or Jewish construction workers may continue building apartments or houses during the Nine Days in order to sell them, because the units are designed as regular living quarters, and not for luxury purposes. Besides which, this is their livelihood, and in the Land of Israel there is a mitzvah in building houses. Plastering and painting, however, should be postponed until after the Nine Days, unless this will cause excessive losses.

Changing Place of Residence

Q: Is one allowed to move to a new residence during the Nine Days?

A: In general, one should not enter a new apartment, owned or rented, during the Nine Days – both due to the joy involved, and also because these days lack a good sign (siman tov). However, if delaying entrance will cause great financial loss, one may enter the apartment.

Joyous Transactions

During the Three Weeks we refrain from buying anything over which the blessing ‘Shehchiyanu’ is recited when purchased. When Av enters, we curtail our joy, including curtailing the purchase of joyous items. That is to say, one may not buy extraneous items such as jewelry, clothing, fancy utensils, new furniture, or a family car. It is also forbidden to order a new article of clothing from a tailor. However, a person who comes across an opportunity to buy something joyful at a special price, and is afraid that he will miss out if he waits until after Tish’a B’Av, may purchase the item during the Nine Days. It is best, though, to bring it home or begin using it only after Tish’a B’Av.

Merchants, who deal in luxury items such as jewelry and fancy clothing, may do business during the Nine Days, in order to avoid losing their customers and thereby incurring great financial loss. They should, however, try to engage mainly in preparations for transactions that will take place after the Nine Days. A storeowner who can close his store for the duration of the Nine Days without incurring significant financial loss should do so.

Transactions for the Sake of a Mitzvah

One may buy joyous items if they are needed for the sake of a mitzvah. Therefore, one may purchase tefillin or holy books during this period, because they are mitzvah accessories, and the standard custom is not to recite Shehechiyanu over them. However, someone who is extremely happy when purchasing such items would be required to recite Shehechiyanu,
and consequently, it is forbidden for him to buy them.

One who does not have canvas or rubber shoes for Tish’a B’Av may, be’di’avad, buy them during the Nine Days.

Other Transactions

It is preferable to curtail even ordinary, non-joyous transactions. For example, one who usually makes a big shopping trip and stocks up on food and household items only once every few weeks should ideally do so before or after the Nine Days (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim, 8:18).

The Prohibition of Laundering and Shaving for Sephardic Jews

The Rabbis forbade us to wash clothes during the week in which Tish’a B’Av falls. This is one of our expressions of mourning, for out of pain over and identification with the deceased or the destroyed Temple, we refrain from nurturing and pampering ourselves. Ironing and dry cleaning are included in this prohibition, and this is the Sephardic minhag (custom).

This year Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, and is postponed until Sunday. The poskim (Jewish law arbiters) are in disagreement as far as the din (law) concerning the previous week; in practice, the minhag is to be lenient, and in such a situation, there is no ‘shavua she’chal bo’ (week in which Tish’a B’Av falls), and consequently, Sephardic Jews are allowed to do laundry for the entire week without restrictions.

However, in regards to taking a haircut and shaving, it is appropriate for all Sephardic Jews to be machmir (stringent) in this year, and not shave during the week before Shabbat (see, Peninei Halakha: Z’manim, 8:23, footnote 7).

The Prohibition of Laundering According to Ashkenazi Custom

Ashkenazi Jews follow a stricter custom and refrain from washing clothes during all of the Nine Days, and only the clothing of babies and children who customarily get their clothes dirty are permitted to be washed.

Just as it is forbidden to wash clothing during this period, it is also forbidden to wear laundered clothing. This prohibition also includes spreading fresh linens on a bed and putting a freshly laundered tablecloth on a table.

Since the prohibition against wearing laundered garments lasts several days, it is customary to prepare a sufficient amount of “used” clothing for this period, as follows: Before the prohibited time begins, one wears a number of different articles of clothing, each one for an hour or more. In this way, the garments lose their status of “freshly laundered” and may be worn during the prohibited period. One who failed to do so, may take a laundered garment, place it on the floor, and even step on it, and by doing so, it is no longer considered freshly laundered, and may be worn.

During this period, one may wear clean underwear and socks and change filthy hand towels. Since people are accustomed, nowadays, to changing these articles frequently, changing them does not entail any aspect of pleasure; rather, simply the removal of something repulsive. A person who wishes to be machmir (stringent) can place them on the floor before wearing them.

In a time of need when one has no clean underwear left to wear, they may be washed – even for adults. When possible, it is preferable to add them to load of laundry being washed for young children.

Bathing During the Week of Tisha B’Av

Even though the Sages prohibited bathing on Tish’a B’Av alone, the Rishonim were custom to refrain from bathing on the days preceding Tish’a B’Av, as well. In Spain (S’farad), many were strict not to wash themselves with hot water during the week of Tish’a B’Av, while in Germany (Ashkenaz), where the climate was cooler and people sweated less, the custom was not to bathe at all during the Nine Days – not even in cold water. Only in preparation for Shabbat Chazon would they bathe themselves partially in cold water (S.A. 551:16, M.B. ibid. K.H.C. 186).

Thus, according to the Sephardic minhag, l’chatchila one may bathe during the week of Tish’a B’Av, provided one uses lukewarm water that causes neither suffering nor pleasure.

It seems that today, even according to the Ashkenazi minhag, one is permitted to bathe. Firstly, because it possible to rely on the Sephardic minhag, because their custom was established in a similar climate to that of Eretz Yisrael. Additionally, the habits of cleanliness and bathing in our times have changed completely. In the past, when people did not have running water in their homes, bathing was considered a special occasion of pleasure and indulgence. Nowadays, though, most people are accustomed to bathe regularly, and it has become a routine practice. If someone who is used to showering daily refrains from doing so, he will feel distressed.

Therefore, each person is allowed to bathe normally during the Nine Days and the week of Tisha B’Av, including shampooing one’s hair as usual, provided it is done in lukewarm water that is not a pleasure to remain in for a longer period of time, but on the other hand, the water does not have to be so cold that the bather will suffer from them.

A person who smells from foul body odor due to a lack of bathing is obligated to shower, and should be careful not to be machmir in this minhag, so as not to cause a desecration of God’s name.

Bathing in a Pool or Ocean

If the objective of the bathing is to have a good time, it is forbidden already from Rosh Chodesh, because we must curtail our joy.

Bathing or swimming that is designed primarily for health purposes, such as individuals accustomed to swimming everyday in a pool for a half hour, according to Sephardic custom it is permitted till Shabbat Chazon, and according to Ashkenazi custom, it is forbidden for all Nine Days.

However, if someone’s doctor instructs him to swim for health reasons, he may do so until the eve of Tisha B’Av.

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

Judge the Rabbi Fairly

The slander of Rabbi Riskin based on the YouTube video in English * Rabbi Riskin took upon himself the sacred mission of bringing non-Jews closer to understanding the Jewish faith * When speaking with members of other religions, it is inconceivable to demean their religion * Rabbi Kook said we should not seek to destroy other religions, but elevate them * A story about Rabbi Yisrael from Salant illustrating how overhearing a conversation intended for a specific public can be misleading * The prohibition of accepting ‘lashon ha’ra’, and the duty to judge favorably * The proper attitude towards Christian supporters of Israel

The Evil in Slander

Following my article in favor of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin shlita, I received a number of severely critical letters. The most hostile responses claimed that he is introducing heresy into Judaism, and encourages missionaries to seduce Jews to Christianity. The most moderate responder wrote: “I was shocked and embarrassed. I really admire you, Rabbi Melamed, and your books, etc … I simply think that you are unaware of Rabbi Riskin’s sympathetic views of Christianity and oto ha’ish (literally ‘that man’, or a euphemism for the Jewish founder of Christianity) … God have mercy … Rabbi, I suggest you have a look at the videos on YouTube where Rabbi Riskin speaks the praises of Christianity and oto ha’ish. The videos are in English. With this in mind, I’d be happy to understand how you could defend Rabbi Riskin.”
Since all the slanderers based their reactions on a certain video in which Rabbi Riskin speaks in English, I asked Rabbi Maor Cayam shlita, a rabbi in Yeshiva Har Bracha whose native tongue is English, to listen carefully to what Rabbi Riskin said, translate it word-for-word, and tell me what he thought.

His Opinion

“It should be pointed out that the section in question, which lasts for about eight minutes, was edited and censored from an hour-long conversation in which Rabbi Riskin familiarizes his Christian audience with the principles of Judaism, explicitly saying that any Jew who believes in Christianity betrays his own faith, and forfeits his portion in the world. At any rate, even in the edited version there were no expressions of support for Christianity, rather, he treats them with respect.
“Generally speaking, the impression I got from the conversation is that Rabbi Riskin is a fascinating and powerful speaker, who knows how to explain Jewish values even to the unacquainted. In this conversation, he attempts to familiarize Christians with the moral values ​​in Judaism, in particular world peace, and share with them the criticism of violent Islam which threatens Israel and the entire world. In his speech he draws his Christian audience closer to a love of Israel and universal values, and attempts to build a common basis for advancement. He talks about the common values ​​of vision, redemption, truth and love, paving the way to enable the People of Israel to be a light unto the nations.”


I will not quote from the transcript the sensitive points upon which Rabbi Riskin can be criticized, because the overall conclusion is clear: Out of absolute loyalty to the Jewish faith, Rabbi Riskin took on a sacred mission: to bring non-Jews closer to the principles of Judaism and to support the redemption process of the Ingathering of the Exiles, as expressed in the words of the Torah and the Prophets, and to elevate them from the typical Christian anti-Semitism which inflicted horrible disasters on the Jewish nation. True, there are definitely some rabbis who would prefer to phrase things differently, but this does not mean that Rabbi Riskin’s approach is inappropriate, and certainly there is no basis for making false accusations against him. 

Different Styles of Communicating

As well known, there is a vast difference in the manner in which one talks to religious Jews and those removed from Torah and mitzvoth – let alone, the right way to speak with Christians. In the same manner, Rabbi Kook once criticized a Torah scholar who wrote a booklet called ‘The Religion of Israel’ so as to explain Jewish faith in Japanese, that he erred by expressing disdain for ‘oto ha’ish’ and Muhammad. “It is impossible to offer supreme religious content to this nation by insulting the founders of [other] religions, whoever they may be. We must speak only about the holy, supreme advantage of God’s Torah, and the rejection will come of its own accord” (Igeret 557).

Our Goal in Relation to Other Nations and Religions

Rabbi Kook also wrote that in respect to other religions our objective is not to destroy them, but rather, to elevate and correct them. “It is not the goal of Israel’s light to uproot or destroy them, just as we do not aim for the general destruction of the world and all its nations, but rather their correction and elevation, the removal of their dross, and of themselves they will join the source of Israel, [where] dewdrops of light will flow over them. ‘And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his detestable things from between his teeth, and he, too, shall remain for our God’ (Zechariah 9:7). This applies even to idolatry, and therefore even more so to religions whose foundations are partly based on the light of Israel’s Torah” (Igeret 112).
The basic rule that emerges is that anyone who attempts to familiarize Christians with the light of Jewish faith must tip-toe through a minefield, so as on the one hand not to disgrace the positive aspects of their faith, but on the other hand, not to agree with opposing beliefs. Rabbi Riskin, in his rare talent, is one of the few people who function in this manner, and we should all be grateful to him for that. Those who slander him – their sins are too great to bear, and if someone has criticism about one method or another, he should respectfully present what, in his opinion, is a better approach.

A Story about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter

It is worthwhile to illustrate this idea with a story about one of the Gedolei Yisrael (eminent Torah scholars), Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, of blessed memory, whose main effort was the founding of the Mussar movement in Lithuania, and later in life, was active in Western Europe. In his book on theMussar movement, Rabbi Dov Katz related the following story: When Rabbi Salanter settled in Memel, many residents of the city worked as merchants, most of whose business was connected with the local port, and would load and unload their merchandise on Shabbat as during the week. The first time Rabbi Salanter came to the synagogue where the merchants and port agents prayed to preach about Shabbat, he asked whether there were any Lithuanian Jews (who were strictly observant) among the worshippers. When informed that indeed there were, he refrained from preaching about Shabbat. The following Shabbat, when told there were no Lithuanian Jews present in the synagogue, Rabbi Yisrael began preaching about the importance of keeping Shabbat, until he reached the conclusion: “Handling the cargo that arrived to the port on Shabbat may be necessary, but writing is not.” The merchants accepted this, and agreed not to write on Shabbat. After a few weeks, Rabbi Yisrael delivered another sermon in the synagogue, and said: “Unloading goods on Shabbat may be necessary – but loading goods – certainly is unnecessary.” The merchants also agreed to this. In time, he spoke once again, and cautioned about unloading as well. Thus, he influenced the community step-by-step, until ultimately he brought about a major change (T’nuat HaMussar, Sect. 1, pg. 174).
Imagine if some thoughtless people were present in the Memel synagogue, and afterwards, went to different rabbis and innocently told them that they heard with their own ears how Rabbi Yisrael Salanter permitted blatant and public desecration of Shabbat, for indeed, he said: “Handling cargo on Shabbat  may be necessary, but writing is not.” And if those rabbis were tempted to also believe them, they would have libeled him as a reformist, cautioned the public, and excommunicated him. Fortunately, that did not happen. Regrettably, however, this is the way many controversies start.

How to Draw People Closer

After all, in order to draw people nearer, one has to speak their language, preferring to talk about ideas they are able to grasp, while ignoring points that, in the meantime, they cannot accept. As our Sages said:  “Just as there is a mitzvah to say that which will be heard, so there is a mitzvah to avoid saying that which will not be heard” (Yevamot 65b). Moreover – those drawing closer and their views deserve respect seeing as they do not stem from spite, and if the detractors had been born in their situation, who knows if they could have reached their level. Anyone who falsely accuses a rabbi involved in outreach – taking his words out of context, as if he supports desecration of Shabbat, etc. – transgresses a severe Torah prohibition. True, initially it is best to make sure that different audiences hear what is fitting for them. However, today the reality is that anything can be recorded and heard by all, and consequently, one should always consider who the speakers’ audience was, and judge his word’s accordingly.

How to Relate to Rumors

It is a Torah prohibition to acceptlashon ha’ra (derogatory speech), as it is written: “Do not accept a false report” (Exodus 23:1), and our Sages said: “This is a warning to the recipient of lashon ha’ra” (Mekhilta d’R. Yishmael). The prohibition is to believe the derogatory things said about a particular person are correct, because, as proven by the video of Rav Riskin – upon examination, the malicious rumor turned out to be incorrect.
Our Sages also said that the punishment of one who acceptslashon ha’ra is equal to that of the person who spoke it (Pesachim 118 a), because on account of him, masters of lashon ha’ra are able to continue their sinful ways, arousing dissension and evil.
And if from the outset, the lashon ha’ra could have been interpreted in a positive way, as in the case of the video, nevertheless, one interpreted it in a negative way, he violates an additional Torah prohibition, as it is written: “Judge your people fairly” (Leviticus 19:15), and our Sages said: “Judge your neighbor favorably” [‘kaf zechut’](Shevu’ot 30a). And in regards to a God-fearing person who is known to be meticulous in the performance of mitzvot, the obligation to judge him favorably is even greater (Sha’arei Teshuva, 3:218; Chafetz Chaim, positive mitzvoth 3).
We cannot check every piece of information that comes to our attention, but based on past experience, it seems possible to determine that the vast majority of reports about people involved in drawing Christians closer to supporting Israel – are blatant lies.

The Evil in Christianity and its Tikun

Throughout history, anti-Semitic hatred of Christians towards Jews resulted in dreadful slander, incitement, blood libels, expulsions, extermination, campaigns of destruction, and the murder of entire communities. Until today, this hatred persists in most Christian organizations. Only recently, the Catholic Pope, who is considered relatively friendly towards Jews, acknowledged the rights of the Arab occupiers over Jerusalem, while ignoring our historical rights over the city, and ignoring the fact that the Arabs initiated all the wars against us. Likewise, we also hear about various churches organizing boycotts against Israel.
Precisely on this background should we view the upright choice of tens of millions of Christians, people of conscience and devotion to the Bible, who decided to support the Jews and the State of Israel. Not only that – many of them accept responsibility for the crimes of Christianity against the Jews, and seek to atone for them through volunteer work, donations, and political and public support worldwide – and this, even though they themselves were not involved in any crime against the Jewish people. Certainly, it is a mitzvah to appreciate, encourage, and draw them nearer.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:http://en.yhb.org.il/

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed