How to Identify a Ritually Clean Animal

The meat of ritually impure animals are no less healthy, but are harmful to the soul * Mammals and ritually clean birds are temperate creatures, and not predatory * Signs of ritual cleanliness are related to the traits plant-eating animals received in order to survive * We can learn from ritually clean animals that it is possible to exist in this world without attacking others * Regarding some species of ritually clean animals the tradition was lost, but we follow the signs of purity from the Torah, and our Sages * Which are the pure species according to the definition of zoologists today? The red deer is kosher according to halakha * Kosher fish are identified according to their scales visible to the naked eye

 

The Ritually Clean and Unclean Beasts and Animals

God created many animals in the world, and after permitting the sons of Noah to eat from the flesh of all of them, He separated us from all nations and sanctified us in His commandments, and permitted us to eat the ritually clean species and forbade us from eating the unclean species.

The Torah divided animals into four types: a) beasts and animals (mammals); b) fish; c) birds; d) vermin (including winged creeping things that swim in water and fly, from which come the kosher locusts). All these types have ritually clean and unclean species.

The Torah gave signs to distinguish between ritually clean and unclean beasts, fish, and vermin. The Torah also gave a list of unclean birds, to teach us that all other birds were ritually clean.

Explanations for the Prohibition

Some of the eminent Rishonim noted that there are typical features of the ritually clean mammals, namely, that they eat plant material (herbivores) and have a calm temperament, whereas the unclean animals are predators and hostile. Similarly, unclean birds are also predators. And since the food that man eats affects his soul, the Torah commands that we not eat species that are prone to cruelty (Ramban, Rabbeinu Bachaye, Abarbanel, Akeidat Yitzchak).

Some authorities have said that the ritually clean species are healthy to eat, whereas the impure species are unhealthy (Guide to the Perplexed 3:48), but many opposed mentioning this reason, claiming it is improper to reduce the Torah into a book of medical remedies. Moreover, we have not found that non-Jews who eat these species were less physically healthy than Jews. Rather, the commandments are intended to sanctify man and rectify his soul, and one who eats forbidden foods defiles his soul, and therefore the Torah calls the species that are forbidden to eat – impure (Akedat Yitzchak, Abarbanel).

The Signs of Ritual Purity for Mammals

Two signs were given by the Torah for ritually clean animals and beasts. One is ‘maphreseth parsah v’shosat shesa’ (“cloven hooves”). A ‘parsah‘ (hoof) is a hard coating, a kind of thick fingernail or soft bone that grows on the foot of the animal, by which it straddles the ground and prevents it from damage. ‘Shosat shesa’ (a cleft) is when the animals foot or hoof is split, that is, divided into two parts.

The second sign: ‘maalei gerah’ (ruminants, or animals that chew its cud). The ritually clean species have a unique digestive system consisting of four “stomachs”: 1) the rumen; 2) reticulum; 3) the omasum; 4) and the abomasum. At first, animals that chew their cud tear off grass quickly and chew it a bit. From there it goes down to the rumen, and goes through primary digestion. It then moves to the reticulum, and is regurgitated back into the animal’s mouth in the form of “cud” for it to chew on again and again. Afterwards, it goes down to the omasum, and from there, to the abomasum.

Our Sages gave another clear sign for the ritually clean species, namely, that they have no teeth in their upper jaw (Chulin 59a). Another sign is that the milk of the pure species can be curdled into cheese, while the milk of the impure species does not curdle (Avodah Zara 35a).

Ritually Clean Species that are not Predators

In general, the signs given by the Torah to the ritually clean species are signs of herbivores that are not predatory, and since plant material is hard to digest because of its large amount of cellulose, God created the possibility for animals to bring up their cud so that they can continue to chew the food for their digestion. And instead of claws to dig into prey, they have split hooves to help them run through mountains and rocks, in order to find plant material, and escape preying animals. Despite their difficulties, ritually clean species manage to exist nicely in the world, coming to teach us that if a person is willing to make an effort and be satisfied with less, it is possible to earn a decent living without devouring others.

The Ten Ritually Clean Species and their Characteristics

The Torah designated ten ritually clean species, as it is stated: “These are the mammals that you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the gazelle, the deer, the antelope, the ibex, the chamois, the bison, and the giraffe” (Deuteronomy 14: 4-5). The first three species are beasts, namely, domestic animals, and the seven remaining species are wild animals. Like all species found in nature, the ten pure species are also divided into different breeds.

Given that some of the animals are domesticated, their tradition was not forgotten, and their identity is known. As for the seven species of animals that breed in the wild, due to the many exiles and years that have passed, doubts arose regarding their identity, and presently, we can identify with certainty according to tradition only two species – the deer, and the gazelle. Nevertheless, according to halakha, the signs of ritual purity written in the Torah and the signs added by our Sages are the determining ones, and all animals that have these signs are kosher for eating.

The Division of the Species in Zoology

It is worth noting that there is a difference between the Torah’s division into ten species, and the definition of modern scientists, determined in accordance with a particular point of view.

According to current zoological classifications, all kinds of animals are divided into divisions (mammals, birds, fish, etc.). The divisions are divided into orders, the orders are divided into families, the families are divided into species, and the species are divided breeds. In general, same-sex breeds can mate and produce fertile offspring, whereas different species, even from the same family, are unable to mate with one another. In rare cases they are able to mate, but will produce an infertile offspring, such as a horse and donkey who are able to mate, but produce a mule that cannot reproduce.

All types of ritually clean beasts and animals a found in the division of mammals and in the order of ‘machpilei parsah’ (even-toed ungulate), that is, mammals that have an even number of toes, because only a species that has an even number of toes can have a split hoof which is one of the signs of ritual cleanliness. We will mention other series in which all its species are ritually unclean: the predatory series, which includes, among others, the cat family, bears, and dogs; the series of ‘mafritei parsah’(odd-toed ungulate), namely, species that have an odd-numbered amount of toes, such as the species of the horse family, zebras, and rhinos.

Let’s return to the ‘machpilei parsah’ order. All ritually clean species are found in this order, but not all species in this order are ritually clean, because there are non-grazing species in this order, such as the pig, which falls in the sub-class of ‘pseudo-pig’ (‘suidae‘, artiodactyl mammals), and the hippopotamus in the sub-class of ‘whippomorpha‘. The camel also belongs to the order of ‘machpilei parsah’, but it is unclean because its doubled-toes are not split, and they do not have a hoof, rather, they are covered with a leather coating, and they fall under the sub-class of ‘baalei ha’karit’ (‘possessors of humps’).’

The Sub-Class: ‘Maalei Gerah’

Indeed, all of the pure species are found in the order of ‘machpilei parsah’ and in the sub-class of ‘maalei gerah’, and as far as today’s animal researchers are aware, all species in this sub-class chew their cud and have cloven hoofs, and are kosher. However, since the divisions in zoology are liable to change, this definition cannot be relied on, but only on the signs given in the Torah, and the words of our Sages.

As mentioned, the orders are divided into families, and these are the families are found in the order of ‘machpilei parsah’, in the sub-class of ‘maalei gerah’, which, as mentioned above, are all pure species: cattle (in Latin they are called bovinae, meaning “hollow horns”), giraffe, deer, musk deer, chevrotains (mouse deer), and pronghorns. There are families that have few species, and there are families that have numerous species, such as the cattle family, due to which, all of the species included in it were divided into sub-families. These are: the impala, ibexes, bulls, antelopes, waterbucks, duiker (small African antelope), and rams. The three kosher animals also belong to the cattle family: the ox, in sub-family of bulls, and sheep and goats, in the sub-family of ibexes.

The Red Deer

Some authorities raised a question about the red deer which began to be bred in the Land of Israel. True, it has all the signs of ritual purity from the Torah and our Sages, but it has upper teeth where other animals grow fangs, and some say that the place of fangs is considered to be at the front of the jaw. Since our Sages said (Chulin 59a) that the ritually clean species have no teeth in the front part of the upper jaw, the red deer is forbidden to be eaten (Rav Mashash, Rav Amar, Rav Wozner).

However, this stringent opinion is very problematic, since our Sages said in the Gemara (Chulin 59a) that if one finds an animal whose mouth is mutilated, he should examine its hoofs, and if he finds that its signs are ritually pure, its flesh is kosher, because there is no animal with signs of ritual purity in its feet, and signs of uncleanliness in its mouth. Therefore, it follows that teeth located in area of fangs are not considered front teeth.

In addition, several Rishonim wrote that when one can examine the signs given by the Torah, one does not take into consideration the signs added by our Sages, which are intended only in a case where the signs of the Torah cannot be determined (Rabbeinu Gershom, Meiri).

This is the conclusion of Rabbi Eliyahu Malka, Rabbi Dr. Levinger, Rabbi David Teherani, and Rabbi Ari Zibotfsky. The research of Prof. Zohar Amar also clarified that the milk of the red deer curdles, which is also a clear sign of ritual purity.

Not only that, but like the red deer, there are other breeds of deer that have upper teeth instead of fangs, one of which is the Canadian deer (elk), which authorities in the United States determined kosher without doubt.

Ritually Clean and Unclean Signs of Fish

Any fish that has fins and scales is ritually clean. The fin is found on the side of the fish, and helps it to swim. The scales grow on the skin of the fish, and are used as an additional shield, with each scale attached to one side of the skin, and on the opposite side, lies on the skin without being firmly attached. Our Sages said: Any fish that has scales also has fins; thus, in practice, scales are the determining sign. If the scales are very thin, as long as they are visible to the naked eye, the fish is kosher.

Unlike mammals and birds, ritually clean fish are not known to be less predatory, and it would be interesting to assess whether, apart from Divine law, a fundamental difference between unclean and ritually clean fish can be discerned. If any of my readers has an explanation, I would appreciate hearing it.

The Swordfish

A feature of the scales is that they are attached to the skin of the fish but not very firmly, therefore, they can be easily removed by hand or with an instrument, leaving the skin beneath them intact. However, if in order to remove them they need to be cut off, and the underlying skin does not remain intact, it is a sign that they are not scales, but are part of the skin, and the fish is ritually impure (R’ma 84:1). Therefore, many authorities forbid swordfish, because the scales that appear on it are part of its skin.

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

How to Identify a Ritually Clean Animal

The meat of ritually impure animals are no less healthy, but are harmful to the soul * Mammals and ritually clean birds are temperate creatures, and not predatory * Signs of ritual cleanliness are related to the traits plant-eating animals received in order to survive * We can learn from ritually clean animals that it is possible to exist in this world without attacking others * Regarding some species of ritually clean animals the tradition was lost, but we follow the signs of purity from the Torah, and our Sages * Which are the pure species according to the definition of zoologists today? The red deer is kosher according to halakha * Kosher fish are identified according to their scales visible to the naked eye

 

The Ritually Clean and Unclean Beasts and Animals

God created many animals in the world, and after permitting the sons of Noah to eat from the flesh of all of them, He separated us from all nations and sanctified us in His commandments, and permitted us to eat the ritually clean species and forbade us from eating the unclean species.

The Torah divided animals into four types: a) beasts and animals (mammals); b) fish; c) birds; d) vermin (including winged creeping things that swim in water and fly, from which come the kosher locusts). All these types have ritually clean and unclean species.

The Torah gave signs to distinguish between ritually clean and unclean beasts, fish, and vermin. The Torah also gave a list of unclean birds, to teach us that all other birds were ritually clean.

Explanations for the Prohibition

Some of the eminent Rishonim noted that there are typical features of the ritually clean mammals, namely, that they eat plant material (herbivores) and have a calm temperament, whereas the unclean animals are predators and hostile. Similarly, unclean birds are also predators. And since the food that man eats affects his soul, the Torah commands that we not eat species that are prone to cruelty (Ramban, Rabbeinu Bachaye, Abarbanel, Akeidat Yitzchak).

Some authorities have said that the ritually clean species are healthy to eat, whereas the impure species are unhealthy (Guide to the Perplexed 3:48), but many opposed mentioning this reason, claiming it is improper to reduce the Torah into a book of medical remedies. Moreover, we have not found that non-Jews who eat these species were less physically healthy than Jews. Rather, the commandments are intended to sanctify man and rectify his soul, and one who eats forbidden foods defiles his soul, and therefore the Torah calls the species that are forbidden to eat – impure (Akedat Yitzchak, Abarbanel).

The Signs of Ritual Purity for Mammals

Two signs were given by the Torah for ritually clean animals and beasts. One is ‘maphreseth parsah v’shosat shesa’ (“cloven hooves”). A ‘parsah‘ (hoof) is a hard coating, a kind of thick fingernail or soft bone that grows on the foot of the animal, by which it straddles the ground and prevents it from damage. ‘Shosat shesa’ (a cleft) is when the animals foot or hoof is split, that is, divided into two parts.

The second sign: ‘maalei gerah’ (ruminants, or animals that chew its cud). The ritually clean species have a unique digestive system consisting of four “stomachs”: 1) the rumen; 2) reticulum; 3) the omasum; 4) and the abomasum. At first, animals that chew their cud tear off grass quickly and chew it a bit. From there it goes down to the rumen, and goes through primary digestion. It then moves to the reticulum, and is regurgitated back into the animal’s mouth in the form of “cud” for it to chew on again and again. Afterwards, it goes down to the omasum, and from there, to the abomasum.

Our Sages gave another clear sign for the ritually clean species, namely, that they have no teeth in their upper jaw (Chulin 59a). Another sign is that the milk of the pure species can be curdled into cheese, while the milk of the impure species does not curdle (Avodah Zara 35a).

Ritually Clean Species that are not Predators

In general, the signs given by the Torah to the ritually clean species are signs of herbivores that are not predatory, and since plant material is hard to digest because of its large amount of cellulose, God created the possibility for animals to bring up their cud so that they can continue to chew the food for their digestion. And instead of claws to dig into prey, they have split hooves to help them run through mountains and rocks, in order to find plant material, and escape preying animals. Despite their difficulties, ritually clean species manage to exist nicely in the world, coming to teach us that if a person is willing to make an effort and be satisfied with less, it is possible to earn a decent living without devouring others.

The Ten Ritually Clean Species and their Characteristics

The Torah designated ten ritually clean species, as it is stated: “These are the mammals that you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the gazelle, the deer, the antelope, the ibex, the chamois, the bison, and the giraffe” (Deuteronomy 14: 4-5). The first three species are beasts, namely, domestic animals, and the seven remaining species are wild animals. Like all species found in nature, the ten pure species are also divided into different breeds.

Given that some of the animals are domesticated, their tradition was not forgotten, and their identity is known. As for the seven species of animals that breed in the wild, due to the many exiles and years that have passed, doubts arose regarding their identity, and presently, we can identify with certainty according to tradition only two species – the deer, and the gazelle. Nevertheless, according to halakha, the signs of ritual purity written in the Torah and the signs added by our Sages are the determining ones, and all animals that have these signs are kosher for eating.

The Division of the Species in Zoology

It is worth noting that there is a difference between the Torah’s division into ten species, and the definition of modern scientists, determined in accordance with a particular point of view.

According to current zoological classifications, all kinds of animals are divided into divisions (mammals, birds, fish, etc.). The divisions are divided into orders, the orders are divided into families, the families are divided into species, and the species are divided breeds. In general, same-sex breeds can mate and produce fertile offspring, whereas different species, even from the same family, are unable to mate with one another. In rare cases they are able to mate, but will produce an infertile offspring, such as a horse and donkey who are able to mate, but produce a mule that cannot reproduce.

All types of ritually clean beasts and animals a found in the division of mammals and in the order of ‘machpilei parsah’ (even-toed ungulate), that is, mammals that have an even number of toes, because only a species that has an even number of toes can have a split hoof which is one of the signs of ritual cleanliness. We will mention other series in which all its species are ritually unclean: the predatory series, which includes, among others, the cat family, bears, and dogs; the series of ‘mafritei parsah’(odd-toed ungulate), namely, species that have an odd-numbered amount of toes, such as the species of the horse family, zebras, and rhinos.

Let’s return to the ‘machpilei parsah’ order. All ritually clean species are found in this order, but not all species in this order are ritually clean, because there are non-grazing species in this order, such as the pig, which falls in the sub-class of ‘pseudo-pig’ (‘suidae‘, artiodactyl mammals), and the hippopotamus in the sub-class of ‘whippomorpha‘. The camel also belongs to the order of ‘machpilei parsah’, but it is unclean because its doubled-toes are not split, and they do not have a hoof, rather, they are covered with a leather coating, and they fall under the sub-class of ‘baalei ha’karit’ (‘possessors of humps’).’

The Sub-Class: ‘Maalei Gerah’

Indeed, all of the pure species are found in the order of ‘machpilei parsah’ and in the sub-class of ‘maalei gerah’, and as far as today’s animal researchers are aware, all species in this sub-class chew their cud and have cloven hoofs, and are kosher. However, since the divisions in zoology are liable to change, this definition cannot be relied on, but only on the signs given in the Torah, and the words of our Sages.

As mentioned, the orders are divided into families, and these are the families are found in the order of ‘machpilei parsah’, in the sub-class of ‘maalei gerah’, which, as mentioned above, are all pure species: cattle (in Latin they are called bovinae, meaning “hollow horns”), giraffe, deer, musk deer, chevrotains (mouse deer), and pronghorns. There are families that have few species, and there are families that have numerous species, such as the cattle family, due to which, all of the species included in it were divided into sub-families. These are: the impala, ibexes, bulls, antelopes, waterbucks, duiker (small African antelope), and rams. The three kosher animals also belong to the cattle family: the ox, in sub-family of bulls, and sheep and goats, in the sub-family of ibexes.

The Red Deer

Some authorities raised a question about the red deer which began to be bred in the Land of Israel. True, it has all the signs of ritual purity from the Torah and our Sages, but it has upper teeth where other animals grow fangs, and some say that the place of fangs is considered to be at the front of the jaw. Since our Sages said (Chulin 59a) that the ritually clean species have no teeth in the front part of the upper jaw, the red deer is forbidden to be eaten (Rav Mashash, Rav Amar, Rav Wozner).

However, this stringent opinion is very problematic, since our Sages said in the Gemara (Chulin 59a) that if one finds an animal whose mouth is mutilated, he should examine its hoofs, and if he finds that its signs are ritually pure, its flesh is kosher, because there is no animal with signs of ritual purity in its feet, and signs of uncleanliness in its mouth. Therefore, it follows that teeth located in area of fangs are not considered front teeth.

In addition, several Rishonim wrote that when one can examine the signs given by the Torah, one does not take into consideration the signs added by our Sages, which are intended only in a case where the signs of the Torah cannot be determined (Rabbeinu Gershom, Meiri).

This is the conclusion of Rabbi Eliyahu Malka, Rabbi Dr. Levinger, Rabbi David Teherani, and Rabbi Ari Zibotfsky. The research of Prof. Zohar Amar also clarified that the milk of the red deer curdles, which is also a clear sign of ritual purity.

Not only that, but like the red deer, there are other breeds of deer that have upper teeth instead of fangs, one of which is the Canadian deer (elk), which authorities in the United States determined kosher without doubt.

Ritually Clean and Unclean Signs of Fish

Any fish that has fins and scales is ritually clean. The fin is found on the side of the fish, and helps it to swim. The scales grow on the skin of the fish, and are used as an additional shield, with each scale attached to one side of the skin, and on the opposite side, lies on the skin without being firmly attached. Our Sages said: Any fish that has scales also has fins; thus, in practice, scales are the determining sign. If the scales are very thin, as long as they are visible to the naked eye, the fish is kosher.

Unlike mammals and birds, ritually clean fish are not known to be less predatory, and it would be interesting to assess whether, apart from Divine law, a fundamental difference between unclean and ritually clean fish can be discerned. If any of my readers has an explanation, I would appreciate hearing it.

The Swordfish

A feature of the scales is that they are attached to the skin of the fish but not very firmly, therefore, they can be easily removed by hand or with an instrument, leaving the skin beneath them intact. However, if in order to remove them they need to be cut off, and the underlying skin does not remain intact, it is a sign that they are not scales, but are part of the skin, and the fish is ritually impure (R’ma 84:1). Therefore, many authorities forbid swordfish, because the scales that appear on it are part of its skin.

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

Not Everything Requires Kashrut

Tasteless medicine does not need to be kosher for Pesach, and is permitted even if it contains chametz * Cosmetics and soaps do not need kashrut, nor does dishwashing liquid * Toothpaste and lipstick do need to be kosher for Pesach because they are flavorful * Food products that are kosher for Pesach but look like chametz should not be eaten if they are not significantly different than their form throughout the year * Freedom is a fundamental value on which the Torah is built * A free person enslaved to his physical desires and social influences is not truly free * Attaining true freedom through the study of Torah, observance of the mitzvoth, and the Land of Israel

Medicines on Pesach

The general rule regarding medicine on Pesach is that if the medicine is tasty, such as a syrup or lozenges, it is necessary to find out if it is kosher for Pesach. As long as it is not known that it is kosher for Pesach, it is forbidden to be swallowed. Only someone who is dangerously ill, and whose medicine does not have a good substitute, is permitted to swallow it, because ‘pikuach nefesh’ (the saving of life) overrides the prohibition of eating chametz.

A tasteless medicine, however, does not require kashrut, because even if chametz that was previously edible was mixed in the medicine, since now it is not fit to be eaten even ‘b’shat ha’dachak’ (in times of distress), because it is unfit even for animal consumption, it no longer has the prohibition of chametz.

Some meticulously observant people try to avoid even bitter medicines that contain chametz. They show concern for the opinion of the few poskim who maintain that medicine is not considered unfit for animal consumption since we deem it significant, and it is thus rabbinically prohibited. But according to the opinion of most halakhic authorities, it is permitted to swallow without checking a medicine that is not fit to be eaten.

It should be added that the chances of medicines containing chametz are very slim, and even more so today when many people are sensitive to gluten, and ingredients containing grains are not mixed into medicines by drug companies without cause, rather, they prefer substitutes that are gluten-free.

Consequently, the thick pamphlets that the HMOs publish are superfluous, and instead, they should have sufficed focusing on the flavored medicines. By not doing so, they upheld the rule: “tafasta merubeh, lo tafasta” (“If you have seized a lot, you have not seized”). Because of their preoccupation with tasteless drugs, no effort is being made to clarify the composition of the flavored medicines, for which alone, clarification is important.

Body Lotions and Cosmetics

Poskim disagree whether body ointments that contain chametz may be used on Pesach. While soaps, shampoos, and creams are not made from chametz, they sometimes contain grain alcohol or other chametz derivatives, leading to queries about their status on Pesach.

Some say that applying an ointment is equivalent, by rabbinic enactment, to drinking. Consequently, even if the chametz in these products is not fit for a dog’s consumption, it retains the status of chametz because it is suitable for anointing, and thus it is forbidden to use them on Pesach. Accordingly, one must use soaps, shampoos, and creams that are kosher for Pesach.

Others maintain that the Sages only equated the application of ointment to drinking with regard to Yom Kippur and anointing with oil consecrated as teruma (priestly gift). All other Torah prohibitions relate to eating alone, not anointing. Although it is forbidden to derive benefit from chametz, the chametz in these products was rendered unfit for a dog’s consumption even before Pesach began and thus lost the status of chametz. It is therefore permissible to derive benefit from them and apply them to the body during Pesach.

In practice, even if we know that chametz not fit for a dog’s consumption was mixed in these products after Pesach commenced, since it is a ‘safek d’Rabbanan’ (doubtful rabbinic law), the halakha goes according to the lenient view. In practice, the vast majority of cosmetic products produced in Israel do not contain wheat-derived alcohol (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 8:9).

Toothpaste and Lipstick

Toothpastes and lipsticks must be certified kosher for Pesach because they are flavored, and thus like any other food product.

Be Careful of Products that Look like Chametz

Just as our Sages forbade baking bread with milk lest one come to eat it with meat and transgress the prohibition of the Sages (the prohibition from the Torah is only when meat and milk are cooked together), similarly it is forbidden to eat products whose ingredients are kosher for Pesach but look like chametz products – lest one err, and come to eat chametz products themselves.

Therefore, wafers and cookies, which do not have a very significant change in their shape, even if they have kashrut for Pesach, should not be eaten on Pesach. In this matter, credit goes to the kashrut department of the Chief Rabbinate, who insisted on clarifying the halakha, and applying it. However, sometimes it takes years for all the factories to comply with the directive, and in the meantime, consumers have to be careful in this matter.

Dishwashing Liquid

There is no need for kosher for Pesach dishwashing liquid. Although it comes into contact with food utensils, because its taste is completely foul, even if chametz was mixed in it, it is no longer prohibited. True, if a person intends to eat chametz that is unfit for a dog’s consumption, since he considers it as food, he thus transgresses a rabbinical prohibition; but in this case, since no one is interested in tasting the dishwashing soap, even if the dishes were not rinsed well and taste of the soap remains on the dishes, there is no prohibition.

Consequently, the kashrut bodies that provide kosher for Pesach certification for dishwashing liquid mislead the public and make their Torah “a spade with which to dig” for financial profits.

The Foundation of Freedom

Sometimes it seems that values ​​of religion clash with values of freedom, to the point where for many people the value of freedom seems alien to Judaism. But the truth is that the value of freedom is the foundation of the Torah, and the entire exodus from Egypt and Pesach – ‘z’man cherutainu’ (the time of our freedom) – is meant to reveal the value of freedom: that through freedom, the soul that God instilled in man can be revealed, and by means of it, one is able to choose good, reveal the image of God within him, and become a partner with God in repairing the world.

The value of freedom is so important that to be properly understood, the people of Israel had to emerge out of the terrible enslavement in Egypt, which the Torah describes as “the house of bondage”, in order to fulfill the great and awesome Divine mission – to redeem the world from its servitude, and repair it with kindness and truth.

Between Freedom and Free Will

However, the difference between ‘freedom’ and ‘free will’ must be understood. A free person is a person who has no external power forcing him to behave in a particular way, but in practice, such a person is not truly free because he is enslaved to his visceral inclinations and public opinion. He can be convinced that he himself has made all of his own decisions, but the decisive influence of his predispositions and that of public opinion on his decisions, can easily be detected. In contrast, a truly free person is one who is able to choose his path according to his own free will. The person with ‘free will’ is swept away with the flow, while the truly free person shows the way, and shapes the flow.

The Torah Grants Freedom

The Torah gives man the ability to be free, consequently, the follow-up of the Exodus is the giving of the Torah, as our Sages said (Avot 6: 2) concerning the verse: ‘The Tablets were made by God and written with God’s script engraved on the Tablets’ (Exodus 32:16): “Read not “engraved” (charut) but “liberty” (chairut) – for there is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the study of Torah.” Only through the absolute and eternal word of Hashem, which is engraved and fixed on the tablets, can man be released from the enslavement to his desires and public opinion.

However, it is not sufficient to simply fulfill the Torah, but it must also be learned, because as a result of such study a person renews himself, his soul is enlightened, and consequently, he receives inspiration and ideas on how to add good, and improve the world.

The Goal of the Exodus is to Enter the Land

Receiving the Torah and learning it are not enough – all this must take place in Israel. Therefore the goal of the Exodus and the giving of the Torah is for Israel to inherit the Land promised to our forefathers, for only in the Land of Israel can the nation of Israel live in freedom, and create its own unique lifestyle, and as a result, shower blessing to the entire world, as Hashem said to Moshe: “I have indeed seen the suffering of My people… I have come down to rescue them from Egypt’s power. I will bring them out of that land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey…” (Exodus 3:6-7). In contrast, in exile we are enslaved, as it is stated: “There you will serve gods that men have made out of wood and stone” (Deuteronomy 4:28).

Therefore, the vision of the exodus from Egypt is entirely related to the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel, as stated in the response to the wise son: “In the future, your child may ask you, ‘What are the rituals, rules and laws that God our Lord has commanded you?’ You must tell him, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand… to bring us to the land He promised our fathers, and give it to us” (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).

This is because in the Land of Israel the nation of Israel is able to reveal the unifying ‘emunah‘ (faith), to connect heaven and earth, faith and action, to reveal their talents and to be a blessing to all peoples, as God said to Abraham: “Go away from your land…to the land… I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you great. You shall become a blessing… all the families of the earth will be blessed through you”(Genesis 12: 1-3). The Torah also says: “Now Israel, listen to the rules and laws… so that you will remain alive and come to occupy the land… safeguard and keep these rules, since this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations. They will hear all these rules and say, ‘This great nation is certainly a wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:1-8). The Sages taught that “wisdom and understanding” refers to the secular knowledges that receive their positive blessing from ‘emunah’, Torah and mitzvot (Shabbat 75a).

Thus, precisely through the acceptance of the yoke of Torah and mitzvoth, the Jewish nation is capable of finding the true meaning of life in this world. This “yoke” does not entail the closing-off of possibilities, but rather, the opening of innumerable potentials, because Divine goodness is revealed in countless expressions and varieties, and man must choose which areas to invest his energies in ‘repairing the world in the Kingdom of God’.

Religious Institutions and Freedom

Sometimes, in an effort to preserve the path of Torah and mitzvot, we forget the value of freedom. This situation is a carry-over from the burden of ‘galut‘ (exile) and impulses. For many generations we had to direct almost all our energies to guard ourselves from any foreign influences, and we forgot how to reveal the good thoughts in our souls, for the glory of Torah and the world.

In order to free ourselves from the yoke of ‘galut‘, we must strengthen the vision of Israel’s life in its land, and as a result, the value of freedom will receive its important standing, and encourage initiative and creativity stemming from ‘emunah’ based on the goodness of Hashem, and a sense of mission to repair the world. The more successful the heroes and pioneers of ‘emunah‘ are, the more people will follow in their path. And all the people of the world will know and realize that precisely within a religious framework, true freedom emerges in its most profound and original way, redeems man from his material enslavement, visceral inclinations and distress, and gives him the opportunity to reveal his Divine soul. And as a result, we will merit complete redemption, speedily in our days.

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

Winning the Struggle for Religious Rights

Even after the meeting between Chief of Staff Eizenkot and leading Religious Zionist rabbis, as long as religious soldiers are forced to hear female singers, Eizenkot’s attitude towards Jewish tradition and religious soldiers cannot be trusted * Advice from a former army rabbi: Thorough knowledge of General Staff standing orders on religious matters protects rights, and prevents conflicts * Why it is wrong for religious soldiers to agree to shorten prayer times sanctioned by General Staff orders * The efficiency of filing a complaint as a means of preserving religious rights * Despite the difficulty of standing up to commanders, the mitzvah of rebuke obligates submitting a complaint, at the very least, when subordination to one’s commanders has ended

The Chief of Staff and his Responsibility

Reports about the meeting between the Chief of Staff and the rabbinical leadership of the religious Zionist sector are not reassuring. As long as the Chief of Staff leaves the order requiring religious soldiers to listen to female singers intact, in essence, the basic position of the Joint Chief of Staff that Jews can be forced to violate their halachic customs continues, and consequently, there is no more confidence in their ability to respect Jewish tradition and religious soldiers. The principle must be as clear as the afternoon sun: In the IDF, Jews are not forced to violate any religious law. From the time this principle was violated, all has been breached.

Informative Responses

From the scores of responses I received to my previous articles, it seems dealing with questions of soldiers in the army is vital. Since it is a broad subject, it is appropriate to present it from different angles in order to air the problems, and no less important – to gain assistance from the wisdom accumulated by numerous people (I cannot publish all of the letters due to a shortage of space, however, I learned something from all of them).

Important Guidance from a Reserve Army Rabbi

“Rabbi Melamed, Shalom! As one who served as a rabbi in the IDF, I would like to say that most of the problems could be solved if army orders and regulations were adhered to. The problem is no one is familiar with them, and as a result, constant grueling confrontations persist around religious issues, harming religious soldiers.

When I participated in a course for army rabbis, I was the only one out of all the soldiers and staff (!) who knew about the General Staff standing orders in matters of religion. After a lot of pressure on my part, they brought us a small, incomplete pamphlet of some of the General Staff’s orders. In practice, no classes were given on these orders – let alone a test that would ensure army rabbis in fact knew them!

People think that someone who makes use of General Staff standing orders is petty, and that if a soldier attempts to use them, officers will retaliate with other orders that will not be convenient for religious soldiers. In practice, the reality is the exact opposite. Anyone who knows his rights and is ready to fight them, will not have to fight. As in martial arts – the more skilled you are, the less you have to fight…

When I served as an army rabbi, the officer’s staff at the base knew that I was thoroughly acquainted with the General Staff orders, and that it wasn’t worth their while to tamper with religious issues. When a soldier ceases conducting negotiations and sticks to the General Staff orders, he attains all he needs, and tensions subside. At first, this takes courage; but in the end, it pays off. It is vital for army rabbis to know the orders thoroughly, and we also need to teach those preparing to enlist the orders, and how to use them.

I will re-count an incident I witnessed: A religious soldier at the beginning of his basic training, the atmosphere around him being secular, asked on the Tenth of Tevet (a Jewish day of fasting) to remain in the synagogue, participate in the Torah program that I had prepared, and rest in his room. His commander claimed that there were practical lessons in the classroom on that day, and there was no reason for him not participate in them – after all, in civilian life, people normally work as usual on fast-days. According to my instruction, the soldier replied that all orders must be obeyed, and the order states that a soldier who is fasting is exempt from any activity. If the commander treats General Staff orders as mere recommendations, his orders will also be treated as such. The commander was furious, and came to me demanding I find a breach in the orders to compel the soldier to attend classes. I explained to the officer – who was new at the base – that a few months beforehand, I had made sure that an officer was put on trial because he ordered a soldier to go to the weapons’ depository and sign-off on a rifle on a fast-day, and that if he was interested, I could arrange a similar trial for him as well.

The impact of my position, and that of the soldier who was willing to stand up for it, was dramatic. I accompanied numerous basic training courses over the years with a variety of commanders and soldiers, but that was the course that confronted all religious issues in the smoothest way – to the benefit of all sides.”

Another Example Concerning Prayer Times

“The commanders want the religious soldiers to return to the timetable as fast as possible. The soldiers want time to pray with ‘kavana’ (intent), and perhaps learn a little Torah. If not for the General Staff orders, religious soldiers would have to argue anew every morning about time for prayers. When there is a General Staff order, both the soldiers and the commanders know that there is no point in arguing. In the past, IDF generals and rabbis convened, investigated the subject in all its’ aspects, and reached a balanced (relatively speaking) standing order. The problem begins when recruits or lesser-ranking commanders think their perspective is more inclusive, and begin to tamper with the commands.

According to the General Staff Standing Order (# 34.0301), the time to be allocated for Shacharit (morning services) on weekdays is 40 minutes, and on Monday’s and Thursday’s – 50 minutes. For Mincha (afternoon prayers) and Ma’ariv (evening prayers) – 15 minutes for each prayer. On Chol HaMoed (Intermediate Days of the Festivals) – two hours for Shacharit, and 30 minutes for Mincha and Ma’ariv each. Clearly, the addition of ‘Ya’aleh ve Ya’vo’ (a short additional supplication) in the ‘Amida’ (Silent) prayers on Festivals takes less than 15 minutes, but in the all-encompassing view of the General Staff and Chief Rabbi at the time, they understood that at least some of the religious soldiers needed time to “recharge spiritually”. Therefore, the General Staff orders stipulated these times, so that once every six months there would be a few days when a soldier could pray calmly, and add a few halachot or nigunim (melodies) in preparation for prayer.

Often religious soldiers, and occasionally army rabbis, who have good intentions, tell the commanders that there is no need for the full amount of time for prayers stipulated in the orders. By doing so they cause immense damage. At the beginning of basic training, religious soldiers are not always aware of their emotional difficulties. Only over time, after having already waved their rights, do they try and safeguard themselves, but at that point, it is very difficult for them. When religious soldiers cut back on prayer time they create social pressure for the rest of the religious soldiers, making them out to look like “schemers”, and without noticing, cause many of them to suffer difficult religious or psychological crises. Anyone who was in the army knows that not everyone who enters the army religious or emotionally stable, comes out the same way. Is finding favor with one’s officers, or gaining an extra ten minutes of free time, worth the risk? ”

Another Example Concerning Modesty

“When I was at base X, there was a gym in which I wanted to work-out. According to IDF Order # 33.0207, since the base is defined as a ‘closed base’ (i.e., soldiers sleep there), the gym must operate each week for a minimum of four hours for men only and four hours for women only, and announce the hours.

“I went to the gym operator, a non-commissioned officer, and asked her to allocate a few separate hours so I could work-out. At first she advised me to come at times when the gym was usually empty. When I said that I wished to avoid unpleasant circumstances, and wanted defined hours, she answered that I was the only one at the base with such a request, and there was no reason to limit everyone else just because of me.

“I saw no point in arguing with her. I went directly to the commander in charge of training and education at the base, and I told him I was not asking for a favor, but rather, that orders be obeyed. The gym and its equipment belong to the army, and we are all soldiers obeying orders. The commander understood immediately, and ordered the non-commissioned officer to publish a list of separate hours within two days. I was elated to discover religious men and women soldiers who I did not know, and who were too embarrassed to ask, welcomed the opportunity and began working-out during the separate hours, and were even more determined than I was.”

Thus far, the wise words of a former army rabbi.

A Revealing Incident of Filing a Complaint

“In the wake of previous columns, we wanted to share with you, Rabbi, our story: We were two soldiers who performed our military service about ten years ago in the framework of a Hesder yeshiva, but not in a unit of ‘beinish’im’ (an acronym for “yeshiva students”). During our service, we encountered a lot of substantial and minor problems that are liable to trouble a religious soldier. We were able to solve most of the problems by turning directly to our personal commanders. However, there were a few serious problems that lacked sufficient willingness to resolve. We then found out about soldiers’ ombudsman for complaints, and we often used the services of this important organization. Contrary to what it seems, it’s a simple process that involves filling out a single form, free of charge.

We especially wanted to talk about one incident that surpassed all. We were two ‘beinish’im‘ in the operations room of our brigade, in an army base on the border between Israel and Egypt. True, the problem of infiltrators did not yet exist, and during routine hours our main preoccupation was training and contending with stray camels. The most difficult problem was Shabbat. Since we are talking about an active border, we found ourselves required to do countless tasks which at best, were not a matter of ‘pikuach nefesh’ (life-threatening situations where Shabbat laws are suspended), and at worst, were the result of the whim of one of the officers in the operation room, or in the field.

We made an attempt to complain, and tried to get solutions through our direct officers and those above them. After failing to receive a response, we turned to the IDF Rabbinate (at the brigade level, and at a higher level), but it took them a long time to answer, their response was extremely general, and it did not solve the problems on the ground.

In our distress, we decided to send a complaint to the ombudsman. Within a day and a half after sending the complaint, we were summoned to a meeting with the battalion commander, who shouted at us for about ten minutes, and in conclusion, informed us that he forbade us to complain in the future, unless the complaint passed through him first. The minute we left his office, we sent another complaint about the ‘chutzpah’ (brazenness) of the battalion commander, who dared to forbid us to complain without his permission. Following the first complaint, a solution had already been found to the ‘chilul Shabbat’ [desecration of Shabbat] – a solution that had not been taken into previous consideration – but the attitude of all the commanders towards us was extremely hostile. A few days later, when they came to check the second complaint, everyone began treating us respectfully, and creative methods were found to solve all the religious problems as well.”

Footnote to the Letter: A Summary of the Obligation to Rebuke

This indeed is the fitting and right way to act. However, it should be noted that most soldiers are unable to stand up to their commanders with such courage. Nevertheless, it is essential for them to consult with their parents and rabbis in order to solve the problems during their service, and fulfill the obligation to rebuke by filing a complaint – at the latest, after completing their service under those same commanders. If they do not submit a complaint, they have canceled a Torah mitzvah, and are also considered partners in all the harm their commanders caused in matters of religion.

And the heroes who manage to stand up to their commanders, thus build their personalities, and pave the way for their future. Today, one of the authors of the letter is about to complete a doctorate in physics, and the other one serves in a senior management position.

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

Publicize Religious Problems in the Army

The religious situation of in the army is a very important issue, however, also neglected and suppressed * The need to strengthen the awareness of the obligation to protest against violations of religious rights in the IDF * Modesty in the army is deteriorating, in accordance with its deterioration in society at large * A difficult story about a soldier who, due to religious harassment, reached a state of shell shock * The importance of soldiers sharing their distress with their parents * The army’s readiness to take into account a religious soldier is influenced by his degree of seriousness in Torah and mitzvot * The Chief of Staff’s responsibility for the situation * The focal point of the struggle – protection of the rights of the religious soldier

Deepening the Discussion on the Religious Situation in the Army

Following my column about the religious situation of the IDF and the obligation to protest in the army, a lively and informative discussion ensued. I received many letters, and the main thing I learned from them is that the subject is extremely important, and at the same time, also suppressed and neglected. Parents wrote that until now they felt silenced. Educators wrote to me, ‘yasher koach’ (all the power to you). The most painful letters were those of soldiers who recalled difficult memories of their service with secular men and women soldiers who made their lives miserable, and often jokingly tried to trip them up in serious religious transgressions. They wrote that as a result of my previous columns, they felt for the first time they could complain, and thus, reinforced my will to continue dealing with this important issue.

Raising the Problems, and the Duty to Protest

Consequently, I am fulfilling their request to raise the problems (while censoring the difficult and immodest stories) so that the soldiers, their parents, and their educators can prime themselves for service in the IDF, and also to strengthen the awareness of the duty to perform the mitzvah of rebuke in the army: First, by appealing to the commanders and the army rabbi of the unit, and in cooperation with parents and educators. And if the problem is not corrected – to file complaints with the Army Rabbinate, the Public Inquiries Office of the Manpower Branch, the Ombudsman of the Soldiers, the “Tzav Echad” organization, and in severe cases, to contact the supportive media.

The Situation in the Army in Short

It should be noted that overall, the letters indicate that the situation of modesty in the army is gradually deteriorating consistent with the situation in society in general. When many high school teens behave wantonly, and girls require means of birth control, unsurprisingly the need for contraception increases greatly in the army, and the atmosphere becomes more indecent and gloomy for the religious soldier.

There are, nonetheless, sections in the army where modesty is properly maintained, such as in rear units manned by high-quality individuals where soldiers return home every night, and in units where numbers of religious soldiers serve.

A Mother’s Painful Letter

“Rabbi, when I read your previous article, I cried. You do not know how right you are! The dilemma of whether to complain really does involve ‘pikuach nefesh’ (life-endangering situation)! My third son was less suited to studying in yeshiva, so he did not enlist in the Hesder yeshiva program. He served in an infantry brigade, and encountered commanders and soldiers who made his life miserable. At first he complained about the crude behavior between a commander and a female soldier, and also about the indecent pictures hung-up in the rooms; as a result, they began calling him a ‘rat’, mocked him for praying and keeping kosher, began talking more crassly in his presence, made the kitchen utensils non-kosher to annoy him, and on Shabbat, played songs loudly in his room. Every so often when he went to sleep, he also found that they had placed pictures of naked women on his bed.

At the same time, one of the operations in Gaza began. His relations with his commanders and fellow soldiers were so miserable that he lacked trust in them, and was afraid to sleep at night, lest they try to abandon him. And so, exhausted, he continued functioning for about a week, until one of his commanders and a soldier were seriously wounded right beside to him. He developed combat stress, and could not continue functioning. Only afterwards did he begin telling us what had happened to him in the army. Still, we had to make great efforts to persuade him to re-count his experiences to an army psychologist. Luckily for us, the army recognized its responsibility for the psychological damage he encountered.

It took him two years until he was able to get a full-night’s sleep. He is still in therapy, and we hope he will recover.

Two things are important for me to mention at the end of my letter: 1) soldiers should be encouraged to share all the problems with their parents so they can strengthen them emotionally, and so they can complain in their stead, because sometimes they are afraid to complain, lest they be harassed or have their promotion harmed. 2) Young men going into the army should be encouraged to enlist through the Hesder yeshiva program.”

An Informative Letter

The following letter was written by a Talmid Chacham (Torah scholar) with a background in psychology, and a talent for observing people and society:

“Thank you for inviting readers to participate in this important discussion. From my experience in the regular army and reserve duty, there are indeed quite a few religious soldiers who must deal with difficult situations. However, the army establishment is extremely large, and there are also religious soldiers who are not in the framework of Hesder who do not encounter serious problems, and are even satisfied during most of their army service.

The situation is usually determined by the nature of the soldiers, especially the officers. When some of the soldiers are inherently vulgar, they engage in obscenities and curse a lot, and it creates a hostile atmosphere throughout the entire unit, and affects everyone. On the other hand, many of the secular soldiers are modest by nature, do not enjoy joking about matters of indecency, and also respect the Shabbat. It is true that when there are female soldiers looking for attention, even if quite a few secular soldiers, both men and women, suffer from it, there is almost no chance to create a modest and dignified atmosphere.

Moreover, the situation of a religious soldier is largely determined by his character. Even when the atmosphere is difficult, soldiers who do not mind being alone, or spending a lot of time in the synagogue and ignoring the ridicule of their friends, are usually not affected. However, those who find such alienation difficult, will suffer.

Additionally, a soldier’s response to unpleasant situations greatly influences the response of his surrounding environment. A weak and hesitant soldier will suffer. A soldier with social skills and inner strength, will be respected. The more apparent his seriousness in Torah and fear of God is, the more the other soldiers will respect the religious soldier. Therefore, the advice that you wrote in the past, Rabbi Melamed, that soldiers should wear their tzitzit outwardly, is very helpful.

At one time in our army service we had a secular company commander who used to curse in an awful manner, and it affected all the commanders and soldiers. After I complained to him, and he realized that it bothered us greatly, he fervently ordered everyone to guard their tongue, and stop cursing. And so it was.

Although, at another time in my service, there was a company commander who was particularly interested in the company’s female clerk, and the atmosphere they imbued among all the commanders and soldiers was extremely immodest.

Company evenings and various entertainment events held for soldiers are very problematic. Usually there are female soldiers who inflame the atmosphere, and goad soldiers to interact with them, and then the atmosphere turns crude and immodest.

In reserve duty, the situation is more severe in terms of immodesty and kashrut because some individuals come to reserve duty to unwind, and they unload all their “garbage” in public, and army laws are less enforced. If possible, it is good to make sure that a few religious soldiers be together, and then their concerns are more readily taken into consideration.

To sum up, the army is comprised of numerous places and different situations. Problems will usually be determined by the soldiers and officers serving there, and by the character and strength of the religious soldier. It appears that most lower-ranking officers look after their religious soldiers, and want them to have a pleasant and comfortable time during their service. However, two situations are liable to cause a religious soldier to suffer a severe emotional crisis, or to stop being religious: 1) in places where the officers and soldiers are vulgar and inconsiderate. 2) Religious soldiers whose social skills are mediocre, and whose emotional strength is not firm (this comprises at least 20 percent of soldiers). Therefore, as you detailed in your articles Rabbi, it is important, and even essential, to complain through the various means, in order to improve the situation, and prevent disasters.”

A Letter from a Lawyer

“I wanted to strengthen the importance of filing complaints and grievances in the army, and their great benefit. Twice I complained to officials about problems in religious matters, and in both cases the impact was significant… The second case: at the end of my service, I submitted a complaint that at a dairy evening meals at the base, they put out several plates used for meat, and placed salt shakers designated for meat meals on the tables. I argued that it was inconceivable that there were six religious coordinators (‘mashak dat’) on the base, but there was never a mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) – not for breakfast, nor for dinner meals.

The complaint caused a huge headache for the entire administration in the camp for several weeks, to the point where when I wanted to return to visit the base during my discharge leave and take some things that I had left there, my commander recommended that I come back only after my discharge was final, because there were a number of officers who “wanted my blood” on account of the complaint… in actuality, the kashrut situation there improved greatly.

Regarding the statistics of complaints: in the year 2015, 6,371 complaints were received by the High Commission, of which 61.06% were justified. Complaints concerning religious issues were only 0.4% of the total complaints. In my estimation, if all religious soldiers were to complain about religious matters as they complain about other problems, the majority of complaints in the army would be about matters dealing with religion.

Is there a Time Limit for Filing a Complaint?

Concerning the question until when can a complaint be filed, from a purely legal perspective, there is no restriction. True, the law restricts the submission of a complaint for one year from the date of the act on which it is submitted (or six months from the date of a soldier’s release), but the law also allows the Ombudsman to accept complaints submitted after the deadline, if he finds a “special reason” for doing so. Fear of harassment of the system is such a reason.”

Who is Responsible? The General Staff!

There are rabbis who prefer to say that what is happening in the army stems from the takeover of the General Staff by external elements from the extreme left. However, I think they are mistaken. The guilty ones are the members of the General Staff – first and foremost, the Chief of Staff. They are not stupid enough to be fooled. Perhaps they use public figures from left-wing to communicate, but the values ​​are their own, as they publically declare. Therefore, the struggle must first start with them.

Means of Contesting

The struggle should be focused on defending the religious soldier. A basic rule of halakha is ‘hakarov, karov kodem’ (he who is closest comes first). The religious soldiers are crying out for this, are in need of it, and it is our duty to help them. It seems to me that by way of neglecting religious soldiers, and instead, trying to tackle the issue of Jewish consciousness in the IDF overall, a situation was created in which neither of them were successful. ‘Tafasta meruba lo tafasta’ (“If you have seized a lot, you have not seized”). If they were to focus precisely on helping those who are desperate for help, they could have a positive effect on the general atmosphere.

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

Difficulties of the Religious Soldier

The obligation for soldiers to complain about religious infractions in the army encounters difficulties that require additional thought * A letter from a soldier who served three years in the Armored Corps about the difficult problems he faced during his service * A soldier who files a complaint against his colleagues or superiors is deemed an informant and a “stinker”, and suffers harassment and ostracism * Strained relations between a soldier and his comrades and commanders may adversely affect operational functioning, and lead to life-threatening dangers * The obligation to protest defined: a soldier encountering a problem must inform his commanders; awareness of the problems will limit their scope * While the obligation to protest remains in force, it might be advantageous to postpone it

Fulfilling the Obligation to Protest in the Army

Following my column two weeks ago about the obligation for soldiers to protest religious infractions in the army, I received responses that shook my soul. I had written that every soldier who encountered problems in the areas of modesty and religion in the army that his commander refused to take care of, is obligated to protest with all the means at his disposal, including contacting the ombudsman of the Personnel Division, the hotline of the Military Rabbinate, civilian bodies that accompany soldiers such as the ‘Union of Hesder Yeshivas’ or the ‘Tzav Echad’ organization, and in severe cases, to contact media organizations ready to lend a hand, for example the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and ‘Arutz Sheva’.

I mentioned the halakha that one is required to admonish even hundred times (Bava Metzia 31a) – even if the admonishment is extremely unpleasant – until the person being rebuked is liable to strike back (Archin 16b; Rambam De’ot 6:7). Not only that, but even when there is very little chance that the admonishment will succeed, one must nevertheless rebuke. I also mentioned that our Sages said that anyone who does not admonish, even if he did not participate in the transgression itself, becomes a partner in the sin, and that regarding transgressions of public nature, one who refrains from rebuking is punished first (Shabbat 55a), and that when there is absolutely no chance the admonishment will be useful, is there a mitzvah to reprove once, and also a mitzvah not to continue admonishing (Yevamot 65b; Rema, O. C., 608:2, M.B. 9).

From the responses I received, I realized that additional thought was necessary. I will share the most detailed response from someone I know to be trustworthy and honest.

The Life of a Religious Soldier

“Rabbi, I studied carefully what you wrote about the obligation of a soldier to protest about any issue harming his ability to fulfill the mitzvot from the Torah. I am aware that other rabbis also think we should act in this manner, however, I feel compelled to say that the problem is much more difficult and complex. Rabbi, I would appreciate it if you could give this your consideration, and instruct us how to act in practice.”

“For three years I served in the Armored Corps, and I was extremely careful not to let anyone harm my religiosity. There were other soldiers who also felt the same way, and we tried to hold our ground. On the other hand, there were some observant soldiers who became weakened in their religious observance. This distressed some of them, but speculating they could not change the system, they consequently lowered their heads.

There were a lot of problems in matters of religion. Here are just some of the stories that came to mind while reading your column:

1) In one army outpost we had television room. Sometimes soldiers would turn on the television on Shabbat, and would often watch immodest shows. There was no other place for me to rest.

2) Many times women soldiers would walk around in the men’s quarters without uniforms, and half-naked.

3) Music played over the loudspeakers during breaks was generally inappropriate.

4) Several times practice exercises of enemy attacks on a convoy or the army base, were held on Shabbat. I refused orders, and by the grace of God, my commanders refrained from court-martialing me.

5) Food is brought to your outpost on Shabbat, even though they could have done so before the Sabbath.

6) Soldiers blast loud music on Shabbat.

7) Training begins very early in the morning without giving us time to pray. At the last minute, my direct officer does me a favor and gives me ten minutes to recite ‘Shema Yisrael’ and pray with tefillin.

8) For a few weeks, we were in a remote outpost – four men soldiers, and four women soldiers serving as lookouts. To say the situation was immodest is an understatement.

9) Once, a friend of mine, a soldier, brought a woman soldier to lie in bed with him. Afterwards, he respected my request not to do it again.

10) Even secular friends, who out of respect for us religious soldiers try to avoid talking crudely around us, regularly read newspapers full of obscenities, and often hang indecent pictures in their rooms and tanks. The bathrooms are full of obscene drawings and sayings on the walls. Occasionally, rumors spread about men and women soldiers sleeping together in one of the company’s rooms. In general, sex is what interests everyone in the platoon, and consequently, the soldiers and commanders speak about it often. The more women present, the more they talk about it, and with greater vulgarity.

Matters of Kashrut

1) At times during my regular service, drivers and Bedouin trackers hunted porcupines and cooked them in kitchen utensils.

2) A common phenomenon in reserve duty is that cooks prepare dishes using hard cheese, contrary to the stipulations of the Military Rabbinate.

3) After complaining about the violations of kashrut, they transferred us to another company. We had to adapt to the new company.

4) A year later while in reserve duty, a cook brought spices and non-kosher knives from his home.

Evening Events for the Platoon

1) Evening events for the platoon in regular and reserve duty, intended to solidify and unite the group, almost always have problems of kashrut involving the meat and the grill. All the secular soldiers eat to their heart’s content, while some of the traditional soldiers try to find a partial solution. And the observant soldiers, for whom kashrut is imperative, make do with pita and hummus.

2) For many of these evening events and outings they bring live entertainment shows including female singers who often dance on stage, and perform other immodest content.

3) For one evening event they bought non-kosher meat from an Arab village. Following my complaint to the Rabbinate, they bought kosher meat for the observant soldiers. Afterwards, my commander scolded me, asking why I got the Rabbinate involved, and didn’t close the issue between the two of us.

If I complain, I’ll be considered a “Stinker”

I can estimate that as a soldier, every other day I would’ve had a reason to send a complaint to the Rabbinate. Even if I did it only once a month, in the eyes of my fellow soldiers, I would have been considered a “stinker”, and an “informant”. In such a situation there are no words to describe the army service awaiting the “stinker” soldier. It would be like prison for him. He would feel isolated, alienated and hostility from all those around him. Chances are he would suffer violence (“hazing”) and his officers would wake him up in the morning by screaming at him (not very pleasant). There’s also a good chance his commanders would give him all the most annoying jobs. Over every little thing that commanders usually turn a blind eye to and do not punish, he would receive an even greater punishment. And he wouldn’t even have someone to talk to about it. Needless to say, promotion would be totally out of the question.

By nature, I’m the type of person who demands what’s coming to him. Usually, I preferred to solve the problems quietly, but when I encountered contempt, I did not capitulate, and demanded that my needs be respected, and when that did not work, several times I filed a complaint. But it was very hard.

After I filed a complaint about the problem of kashrut to the Rabbinate, I was summoned to a disciplinary hearing with the company commander. I told him “naively” that they simply had made all the kitchen utensils non-kosher therefore, I turned to the Rabbinate to make sure the utensils were returned to their kosher state. I did not dare tell him the truth that it was wrong for them to have fed the entire company treif, and as a result I had to turn the Rabbinate! Why didn’t I tell the truth? Because I didn’t want the nightmare of being called the “stinker” of the company, and also, I didn’t want to quarrel with the commander.

Every soldier wants to have friends in the army, therefore he prefers not to accentuate that which distinguishes himself from others, and certainly not to file complaints.

So what did I do? I tried to stay away from the general crowd; during breaks I went to the synagogue, or other quiet places. I tried to find religiously observant friends or those with good character, and talked to them.

Rabbi! There really are a lot of problems in the army. Yet, I do not understand how one can expect a soldier, who is so dependent on the individuals surrounding him and his commanders, to file complaints?!

Nevertheless, Rabbi, perhaps your advice will improve the situation, by the mere fact that more soldiers will be aware they can file a complaint. And also that within the religious community, people will begin to hear and understand the problems of religious soldiers, and maybe as a result, the political leadership will also be required to tackle the issue and try to solve it.

Rabbi, may the words of the Torah you write, continue illuminating all areas of life.”

My Shock and Grief

While reading this letter, tears swelled-up in my eyes. I realized that in essence, this issue is not just about ostracism, but ‘pikuach nefesh‘ (a life-threatening situation). After all, soldiers have to go out to battle relying on one another. Therefore, camaraderie is a supreme value in the army. How can soldiers rely on those they consider “stinkers”?! And how can such a soldier count on others when they ostracize him?!

I also thought to myself: these soldiers, who perhaps don’t behave with the greatest amount of modesty, and don’t observe Shabbat and kashrut meticulously – they are heroes who sacrifice their lives to protect the nation and the country. This is a tragic situation. How easy it would be for them to escape responsibility under such circumstances – to avoid military service as the Haredim normally do, or take a “vacation” from the mitzvot of the Torah for the duration of their service.

Now the immense importance of Hesder yeshivas can also be understood, for soldiers serving within that framework do not have to deal with most of these problems.

Another thought that came to mind: how heroic are those religiously observant soldiers who serve in the regular army, but nevertheless, maintain their religious and ethical level.

An Intermediate Summary

It’s worth noting that other soldiers wrote to me, that as far as the commanders are concerned, refusing an order is far superior to filing a complaint. Therefore, it is very difficult to set a directive that all soldiers must complain about everything that is not conducted properly.

We must clarify a few other aspects of the issue: how are complaints treated in other professions? What topics are acceptable to complain about? Till what point are complaints helpful? Can parents be more effective partners? What degree of responsibility do the army rabbis and government officials have? I hope to also be assisted in answering these questions by further comments I’m sure will come from my readers.

In the meantime, I will try to be more precise about the duty of protesting – an explicit mitzvah from the Torah – while adapting it to the present circumstances: a soldier who encounters a problem is obligated to speak to his commanders. Presumably, knowledge of the problems will limit their scope. Soldiers must also inform their parents and rabbis about all the problems they encounter. Such conversations will probably lead to helpful suggestions about how to remedy the situation.

Indeed, the obligation for sharp protest remains in force, however in most cases, it may be advantageous to postpone it until the end of army service, or when a soldier is transferred to another unit.

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

Annihilating Amalek is Different than Nazi Actions

The reason specifically Amalekites must be annihilated * The mitzvah to annihilate Amalek is also moral and logical – to deter the wicked * May an Amalekite repent or convert? * How did descendants of Haman become Torah scholars? * May the mitzvah be applied in our day?

The Mitzvah to Annihilate Amalek

There are those who question why the Torah commands to cruelly destroy an entire people. Is this not similar to the actions of the Nazis? On the other hand, others ask: Since Amalek as a nation no longer exists, should we learn from the commandment to wipe out Amalek a lesson for our times, and possibly even apply it to the wicked in every generation? Let us study the mitzvah, and consequently the answers to these questions will become clear.

The Historical Account

Apparently, Amalek was a tribe that did not engage in agriculture and industry, but rather, trained its’ youth to conduct surprise attacks against villages and convoys – to kill those they encountered, plunder their belongings, and sell the men, women and children who remained as slaves. It was difficult to wage war against them because they did not have a permanent base, and would suddenly and unexpectedly appear at enormously distant locations, with large attacking forces.

And so, right after we left Egypt, even before we had a chance to coalesce and organize ourselves, Amalek came and attacked us, without any provocation or reason. And who did he attack? Slaves who were going free after an extended period of servitude. Instead of realizing the greatness of the miracle of the exodus from Egypt, or having mercy on the newly-released slaves, the Amalekites saw before them easy prey, and taking advantage of Israel’s weakness, began attacking the stragglers in the rear, in order to capitalize from their sale as slaves, and plunder their possessions.

Even after Yehoshua, on behalf of Moshe Rabbeinu, fought and weakened them, it was clear this would not be the last battle; rather, every time Amalek would perceive signs of weakness, they would attack, kill, loot, and sit in wait for the next assault.

The Three Mitzvot Related to the Annihilation of Amalek

As a result, we were commanded three mitzvot in the Torah: the first is a positive commandment to remember what Amalek did to us, as it says: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt” (Devarim 25:17). The second is a negative commandment not to forget what Amalek did to us, as it says: “Do not forget” (ibid. 25:19). The third is a positive commandment to eradicate Amalek’s offspring from the world, as it says: “It shall be that when the Lord your God gives you rest from all your enemies around, in the Land that the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens” (ibid.).

In order to annihilate Amalek, a large army was needed to encircle all the widespread areas from which they operated, locate them, block their escape routes, encounter them face-to-face, and destroy them. To do this, the Jewish nation would first have to establish themselves in the land, be free of fear of attacks from surrounding enemies, and allocate large forces for long periods of time to conduct war against Amalek. Regarding this, our Sages said: “Three commandments were given to Israel when they entered the land; 1) to appoint a king; 2) to cut off the seed of Amalek; 3) and only after this, would they be able to fulfill the third mitzvah – to build the Holy Temple” (Sanhedrin 20b).

The History of Annihilating Amalek

Indeed, after the Jews merged together in their Land, they appointed King Shaul, and after his kingdom stabilized, the prophet Shmuel approached Shaul and said to him: “The Lord sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; therefore, hear now the voice of the Lord’s words. So says the Lord of Hosts, “I have remembered what Amalek did to Israel, how he set an ambush against him on the way, as he [Israel] went up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek and destroy everything he has; have no mercy on him; kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (I Shmuel 15:1-3).

However, King Shaul did not fulfill the mitzvah properly, taking pity on Agag, King of Amalek, and the best of the sheep and cattle. As a result, God took the kingdom away from him and gave it to David. Nevertheless, the damage was already done, and it was devastating. Because of Shaul’s weakness and compassion, many Amalekites survived, and they continued harassing Israel. A few years later, a band of Amalekites attacked Tziklag, where the families of David and his men lived, burning down the city and taking all the women and children captive. With God’s help, David and his men managed to rescue the captives and vanquish the marauders. But since David was not yet king and did not have the army of Israel at his disposal, he was unable to eradicate them. Four hundred youths rode on camels and escaped (I Shmuel 30). Apparently, other groups of Amalekites survived elsewhere, but despite his efforts David was unable to battle and destroy them all, even after he became king, because they were spread out far and wide.

Our Sages also tell us that because Shaul procrastinated in killing Agag, Agag’s seed was preserved – he impregnated a woman from his prison cell before being killed – eventually resulting in the birth of Haman the Aggagite, who attempted to wipe out the Jewish people (Megillah 13a).

The Moral Logic of the Mitzvah to Annihilate Amalek

The moral logic of the mitzvah is clear: ‘middah keneged middah’ (retributive justice). Just as Amalek had done to all the cities they looted, the same should be done to them. In truth, Amalek generally did not kill all the inhabitants of the cities they conquered; however, that was only because they hoped to capitalize from their sale as slaves. But when they found no buyers – they killed them.

Retributive justice is also essential in order to create a deterrent. For indeed, one who concedes to his enemies and fails to avenge them appropriately, encourages them to continue fighting. The great empires punished their foes severely, thus creating a deterrent that maintained their rule for centuries.

Amalek: The Root of Evil in the World

In total contrast to Amalek, Israel’s very essence is connected to the revelation of God’s word and tikkun olam (repairing the world). The idealistic, faith-based message that God destined to Israel incites all the evildoers of the world to go out and fight against us. No other nation has been persecuted as much as we have been – climaxing in the dreadful Holocaust. All this was started by Amalek immediately after we left Egypt, in order to prevent us from receiving the Torah, and repairing the world. Therefore, Amalek is the nation that embodies the root of evil in the world, hatred of Israel, and consequently, hatred of Torah and the godly concept of universal rectification through kindness and truth. This is why the verse says: “For the hand [of God] is on the throne (כס) of God (י-ה), [saying] the Lord will [wage] war against Amalek from generation to generation”(Shemot 17:16). Our Sages said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, swore that His name (י-ה-ו-ה) and His throne (כסא) will be incomplete until the name of Amalek is utterly obliterated” (Rashi, ibid.).

Amalekites May Repent

Although the Torah commanded to wipe-out the seed of Amalek, if an Amalek decides to undertake to keep the Seven Noahide laws, he is no longer judged as an Amalekite. Not only that, the Torah commanded that before we go to war against Amalek we offer them peace, i.e., to accept the Seven Noahide laws, to be subordinate to Israel, and to pay taxes. If they accept the offer – we do not wage war against them. If they refuse – we must go to war against them, until their complete destruction (Rambam, Laws of Kings, 6:1-4, Kesef Mishneh).

Thus, unlike the Nazi policy in which a person with even the slightest trace of Jewish origin was murdered, according to Jewish law Amalekites can save themselves by way of dismissing their heritage, and accepting the moral principles in the Seven Noahide laws. This right is reserved for all individuals, all families, and even all nations as a whole.

Accordingly, the ideal way to fulfill the mitzvah of wiping-out Amalek is for them to repent. Otherwise, there is an alternative way which is also l’chatchila (ideal) – to annihilate them in war.

In practice, the mitzvah has been fulfilled bediavad (in a less-than-ideal manner): over the years, the descendants of Amalek were scattered and assimilated among the nations, their trace of origin was lost, and the judgement of Amalek was annulled without their having repented. In practice, there is currently no way to annihilate them because they have assimilated amongst the nations; yet, their evil influence persists to a certain extent, and the only remaining way to amend the situation is for the entire world to repent, or for the onset of a major war, such as the war of Gog and Magog (Armageddon), in which all the wicked will perish.

The Descendants of Haman Learned Torah in B’nei Brak

Our Sages said that the descendants of Haman, who was an Amalekite, learned Torah in B’nei Brak (Gittin 57b; Sanhedrin 96b). This statement was made as praise for converts and the Torah, for it is inconceivable that the Sage’s intent was to insult those converts who learned Torah in B’nei Brak, because in addition to the prohibition of causing any Jew sorrow – including converts – there is an additional prohibition against upsetting a convert. In addition to the mitzvah of ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ which is directed towards all Jews, there is also an additional mitzvah to love the convert.

May an Amalekite Convert to Judaism?

The poskim (Jewish law arbiters) differed on the question: can an Amalekite convert to Judaism? According to the Rambam (Maimonides), an Amalekite may convert (Hilchot Isurei Be’ah 12:17). According to this opinion, the descendants of Haman converted, and learned Torah in B’nei Brak.

On the other hand, some authorities say that it is forbidden to accept an Amalekite as a convert. This is the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer in the Mekhilta (end of Parshat ‘BeShalach’), namely, that God swore on His throne that if an Amalekite came to convert, He would not accept him. Regarding the Sages statement that the descendants of Haman learned Torah in B’nei Brak, according to this opinion, it occurred out of error, for the Beit Din was unaware that the person coming to convert was from the seed of Amalek, and thus accepted him, and after having already been accepted, they did not reject him (Yeshuot Malko). It is also possible that initially an Amalekite assimilated among another nation, and after his judgement of being an Amalekite was annulled, he converted, and his descendants were those teachers of Torah in B’nei Brak (Chida). Or, they were descendants of an Amalekite from the sons of Haman who raped a Jewish woman, her son being Jewish, and he begot those Torah teachers from B’nei Brak (see, Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 14:8, footnote 10).

Lessons for Our Times

After Amalek’s trace of origin was lost there is no Beit Din that possesses the legal authority to apply the law of Amalek from the Torah – a severe and dreadful law – on any tribe, or other family. However, from the moral and rational aspect of the mitzvah, it is essential to learn that punishment for the wicked who chose evil should be measure-for-measure, both morally, and also to deter them in order to save the world.

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

The Duty to Protest in the Army

Despite disagreement on how to respond to the eroding Jewish character of the I.D.F., the confirmed halakha is that one is obligated to admonish * Admonishing others reflects love, and prevents anger and revenge * One who does not admonish is considered a partner in the transgression, and is punished * The obligation to admonish a number of times, so long as there is a chance the admonishment will help * The obligation also applies to unpleasant situations for the person giving admonishment* The obligation to admonish is greater when public organizations have procedures for receiving complaints in order to improve efficiency * Filing a complaint is customary in the IDF, and is not considered an affront to authority * The accepted and proper ways to admonish within the framework of the IDF

The Meeting of Rabbis

A week ago, I participated in a meeting of rabbis convened at the initiative of my father and teacher, Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed shlita, to discuss the continued erosion of the Jewish character of the IDF in various areas. This process, headed by the Chief of Staff and his deputy, is leading to the creation of an environment unsuitable for conducting a traditional Jewish lifestyle, primarily in the area of mixed-gender units, and non-observance of rules of modesty. Some rabbis who participated in the meeting thought we should set a red line, which if crossed, would obligate soldiers to refuse orders. Others felt that the problems were profound and complicated and therefore require a wide-ranging struggle about the overall objectives of the army, and to even declare that if the situation continues deteriorating, we will be forced to call for youth to postpone enlistment for a number of years until the situation is rectified. In contrast, some rabbis believed that although the means of rectifying the situation were unclear, there is no room for such a call. They also felt that defining a red line beyond which a soldier is obligated to refuse orders is also problematic, because the situation of a career soldier liable to lose his livelihood cannot be compared to that of a compulsory soldier, and as a general rule, the halachic boundaries in matters of modesty are less defined, and depend on the person, place and time.

The Obligation to Admonish is an Accepted Halakha

Within the range of opinions, I suggested we agree on one basic position, founded on the mitzvah of ‘tochacha‘, (admonishment): Every soldier encountering a significant problem in the field of halakha and ‘tzniyut‘ (modesty), is obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘tochacha‘, which is mandatory from the Torah, by filing a complaint through the appropriate channels of the army and the general public. Even if there are those who believe such a proposal is not the most effective, it is a Torah obligation whose fulfillment is widely neglected, and it is crucial to return it to its rightful place. Military officials to whom complaints have been raised concerning the severe damage to religious soldiers and the Jewish character of the army claimed there is no problem, because out of all of the soldier’s complaints about various matters, the percentage of complaints about religious matters is minimal. For that reason, meticulous observance of the mitzvah of ‘tochacha‘ will contribute to raising the awareness of the army high command, and will help improve the situation. The proposal was accepted, and I was asked to write a halachic article on the matter.

The Mitzvah to Protest

It is a mitzvah for a Jew who sees a fellow Jew sin, to admonish him. It is forbidden for the admonishment to stem from hatred, but on the contrary, it must emanate from love and responsibility for his well-being; just as a Jew must be concerned about his fellow not starving from hunger, so too, he must be concerned that he does not sin. And indeed, we find that the verses in the Torah regarding the mitzvah to love a fellow Jew and the mitzvah of admonishment appear in close proximity, as it is written: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Vayikra 19: 17-18). Thus, the Torah teaches us that by admonishing we express true love; in contrast, however, when we fail to admonish suppressed resentment accumulates, and in the end, people become hateful and vindictive. However, by admonishing the situation is rectified. And even if the situation is not resolved successfully, one’s frustration subsides, and realizes that perhaps it is very difficult for the sinner to change his ways.

When it comes to the transgression of a public entity the obligation to admonish increases, because the sin affects the masses and the character of the general public.

One who Abstains from Admonishing is Punished for the Sin

Our Sages said: “Whoever can forbid his household from committing a sin but does not, is punished for the sins of his household; if he can forbid his fellow citizens, he is punished for the sins of his fellow citizens; if the whole world, he is punished for the sins of the whole world” (Shabbat 54b). Thus, if a soldier can admonish a transgression but refrains from doing so, even though he himself did not sin, he becomes a partner in the transgression, and is punished.

The Talmud (Shabbat 55a) relates that Rabbi Zeira said to Rabbi Simeon, who was in contact with Resh Galuta: ‘Rebuke the members of the Resh Galuta for their misdeeds’. Rabbi Simeon replied: ‘They will not accept it from me; why should I rebuke them in vain?’ It is worth noting that government officials hate rebuke, and one who reproves them is liable to pay a personal price, therefore Rabbi Simeon felt that if in any case they would not accept his rebuke, it would be better to remain silent.

‘Rabbi Zeira said to him: Even though they will not accept, you are obligated to rebuke them. For Rabbi Acha the son of Rabbi Hanina said: “Never did a favorable word go forth from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, of which He retracted for evil, save the following.” In other words, after a good order is declared from Heaven, God does not go back on His word, except in the case of people who could have admonished the sinners but refrained from doing so, as was the case when God decreed the destruction of the Holy Temple: initially, He decreed punishment only on the wicked, but retracted, and sentenced the righteous to punishment for not admonishing, as it is written: “And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark (the Hebrew letter ‘tav‘) upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof,” etc. (Yehezkel 9:4). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Gabriel: Go and set a ‘tav‘ of ink upon the foreheads of the righteous, that the destroying angels may have no power over them; and a ‘tav‘ of blood upon the foreheads of the wicked, that the destroying angels may have power over them. The Attribute of Justice said before the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Wherein are these different from those?’ God replied: ‘Those are completely righteous men, while these are completely wicked’. ‘Sovereign of the Universe!’ the Attribute of Justice continued, ‘they (the righteous) had the power to protest but did not.’ God replied: ‘It was fully known to Me that had they protested they would not have heeded them.’ ‘Sovereign of the Universe!’ he said, ‘If it was revealed to You, was it revealed to them?’ Hence it is written: ‘Slay utterly the old and young… and begin at my Sanctuary. And it is written: ‘Then they began at the elders which were before the house’ (ibid.).” Rabbi Yosef explained that these elders with whom the calamity began were men who fulfilled the Torah from ‘alef‘ to ‘tav‘, but since they did not fulfill the mitzvah to protest – they were punished first.

An Ongoing Obligation

How many times must one rebuke? Our Sages said: “‘hokeah‘ (you shall surely rebuke) implies even a hundred times” (Bava Metzia 31a). This is on condition that there is a chance the reproach will be accepted, since the rebuke is directed towards a person who agrees to the principles upon which the protest is based; or in our case, when directed towards a public entity, when the number of complaints against it adds up to a certain amount, they begin to change themselves for the better.

When there is absolutely no chance the rebuke will be accepted, the mitzvah is to admonish only once, and not to continue rebuking beyond that. As our Sages of blessed memory said (Yevamot 65b): “As one is commanded to say that which will be obeyed, so is one commanded not to say that which will not be obeyed” (Rema, O.C., 608:2; M.B. 9).

Even in Unpleasant Situations

To what extent must one make an effort to reproach? The Amoraim (Torah scholars of the period from about 200 to 500 CE) differed on this question: In the opinion of Rav, the person rebuking must firmly admonish the sinner to the point where the sinner wants to hit him. In the opinion of Shmuel, the rebuke should be severe, but not to the point of striking, rather, until the sinner feels like cursing him. And according to Rabbi Yochanan, rebuke should be given until the sinner scolds him, saying harshly that he does not want to hear from him anymore (Archin 16b). The halakha was determined by Rambam (Maimonides) that reproach should be given until the sinner feels like hitting. He wrote: “Indeed, one is obligated to rebuke a colleague who does wrong until the latter strikes him and tells him: “I will not listen.” Whoever has the possibility of rebuking sinners and fails to do so is considered responsible for that sin, for he had the opportunity to rebuke the sinners” (Hilchot De’ot 6:7).

In a Democracy the Obligation to Protest is Heightened

Thus, the duty to rebuke obligates a soldier even when it involves entering into very unpleasant situations before his superiors. The obligation exists even when the odds are it will not be accepted, because there is always a chance it will help somewhat – even one out of a hundred reproaches. Whoever does not rebuke becomes partner in the sin of the entire chain of command, who harm the Jewish character of the IDF, and force soldiers to transgress halakha.

If this was the case in times when superiors were less considerate of complaints, all the more so today, when all public institutions create internal audit bodies and provide the general public with organized ways of appealing, in order to improve themselves by use of the complaints.

Many religious soldiers are under the impression that a complaint is considered a challenge to the authority of a commander, and perhaps even damaging to the army. However, it is important to realize that such an attitude is a remnant from the era of monarchies. Back then, a complaint was considered an affront to the monarchy, but nevertheless, the Torah instructed to protest against the sins of the empire. Today, in contrast, a complaint is considered meritorious civil behavior. This is how a democratic system involves the general public in shaping and improving its institutions.

The Manner of Fulfilling the Duty to Protest

First, a soldier should turn to his immediate commanding officer and to the military rabbi of his unit. If they solve the problem, all the better.

If the problem is not resolved, the protest should be directed to four different channels:

1) To the Ministry of Public Inquiries of the Personnel Division. Parents and family members can also contact them. This office is accustomed to working efficiently and quickly.

2) To the hotline of the IDF Rabbinate, it being the body directly responsible for Jewish affairs in the IDF.

3) To organizations that accompany soldiers in the army, such as the ‘Association of Hesder Yeshivas’ and the ‘Association of Higher Yeshivas’, and also public organizations such as the ‘Tzav Rishon’ and the like.

4) The IDF Soldiers’ Complaints Commissioner. This is a non-military body, whose work is extensive and systematic, and is intended for cases in which the army failed to rectify itself effectively.

For serious problems that do not receive a proper response, it is advisable to send a copy of the complaint to media outlets such as ‘Besheva‘ and ‘Arutz Sheva‘, who are more than willing to assist in such cases.

When it is difficult for a soldier to fulfill the obligation to protest, parents can substitute for him, and fulfill the duty of protesting in his stead.

The mitzvah to protest should be fulfilled as promptly as possible, because the closer to the time of the incident the complaint is lodged, the more benefit it bears. Nonetheless, even if a soldier was negligent and did not complain at the time of the incident, he should subsequently file a complaint – even after a year has passed – because having it on file in all four of the previously mentioned channels is still useful.

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

Honor Parents, Exercise Judgment

A clarification after last week’s column: In severe cases of parental abuse, children should not seek out a relationship with them * Dama ben Netina: Learning about honoring parents specifically from a cruel Roman army general * Respect for parents empowers children * In a case where not waking-up a father will likely cause him grief, he should be woken-up * If children do not honor their parents properly, the parents should overlook it * Children should exercise moral judgment, and not blindly obey all their parents’ orders * Do not ignore the negative behavior of parents, rather, honor their positive sides

A Painful Question

“Rabbi, words of Torah are very dear and important to me, but I was dumbfounded and extremely upset reading your previous column titled “Maintain a Relationship with Your Divorced Father”. I am terribly worried about the shock and damage it may cause to the youth and adults the article refers to. Therefore, I take the liberty of commenting.

Unfortunately, our family underwent a very difficult experience of divorce. The father of a young family mentally abused his wife and little children, abandoned the family, and fled. He never paid alimony; on the contrary, he wasted money and left behind debts, causing his wife and children to be subjected to long periods of harassment by creditors, day and night. He is a violent and dangerous person.

The children suffered greatly from the disgrace their father caused, and as a result, received prolonged and expensive psychological treatments for their rehabilitation. The Rabbinical Court that dealt with the matter condemned the father’s behavior as well, and imposed a harsh ban upon him, his parents, and other family members for cooperating with him.

Now I wonder: Is a newspaper that is open to all readers the appropriate platform for publicizing an article that children may read? Is this meant to be a public call to parents of children, and the children themselves, who worked so hard to break free from their mental stress? Can these hurt children, who have suffered so much, ease their mother’s grief by complying with the halachic decision and honoring their abusive and abandoning father? Isn’t this tantamount to abuse of the devoted mother, who is liable to be crushed in view of this? Isn’t there a danger that the children’s rehabilitation, obtained by indescribably hard work and a great deal of money, will go down the drain completely?

If it is obligated by halakha, including children taking the initiative to make contact with the father, then it seems to me that the rabbi of the family or the community should handle the matter sensitively, behind closed doors, and not in public.

I hope I was not too blunt or inappropriate, and apologize in advance if I was. With all due respect and appreciation.”

Answer: Treat an Evil Person as Such

Thank you very much for your moving letter. Obviously there are exceptional and shocking cases such you experienced. The situation I was referring to was less extreme, as described precisely in the question.

Moreover, in the case you spoke of, the Torah approach towards the situation was fully reflected in the exceptionally severe judgment, namely, the ‘herem‘ (ban) placed on the sinful father and his supporting family. Consequently, his children should also treat him as an evil person, until he atones for his misdeeds, and repents to the best of his ability.

Furthermore, if a relationship with the father causes emotional damage requiring psychological treatment, contact with him should be avoided until the children are emotionally stronger and out of such danger.

Clarifying the Mitzvah of Honoring Parents

I received many other responses to last week’s column. The majority of them were painful and identified with the estranged fathers, while some were from hurt women, angry at their divorced husbands.

In any case, from the various responses I realized the extreme importance to further clarify the mitzvah of honoring parents, as written in the Torah: “Honor your father and mother. You will then live long on the land that God your Lord is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

The Acts of Dama ben Netina

The Jerusalem Talmud (Peah 1:1) relates a story about Dama ben Netina, which holds many deep and hidden meanings. The importance of story can be learned from the fact that it also appears in the Babylonian Talmud (Kiddushin 31a) with a few changes. I will recount the translation of the story from the Jerusalem Talmud with some commentary:

“Rabbi Eliezer was asked by his students: ‘How far should one go in honoring his father and mother?’ He replied: ‘You are asking me? Go and ask Dama ben Netina!  Dama ben Netina was a Roman army general. Once, his mother hit him in the face with her sandal in the presence of all his soldiers, and he was silent, and did not react. Moreover, when her sandal with which she was hitting him fell from her hand, he picked it up and handed it back to her, so she would not be upset having to bend over to pick it up.”

“Rabbi Hezekiah said: He was gentile who lived in Ashkelon and was the head of the army there. He refrained from sitting on the same rock his father had previously sat on. When his father died, he made an idol out of the rock, due to the great respect he had for his father.”

“It happened once that one of the precious stones, the Jasper stone, representing the tribe of Binyamin, fell out of the High Priest’s breastplate, and was lost. Seeking a replacement, the Sages were referred to a certain Dama ben Netina who purportedly had the exact jewel they required in his possession. They offered him one hundred dinar, and Dama accepted their offer. When he went to fetch the jewel he discovered that he could not access it without waking his father. Some say that the key to open the chest of precious jewels was between his fingers, while others say his father’s foot was resting on the chest. Not wanting to wake his father, he returned and informed his clients that he could not provide them with the item they sought. Assuming that he was trying to renegotiate the price, they increased their offer to 200 dinar, and when he refused, they continued raising their offer until they reached a sum of 1,000 dinar. Since Dama still refused, they left. When his father finally woke up, he brought them the jewel, and they were still willing to pay him their final offer of 1,000 dinar. Dama, however, was only willing to accept their initial offer of one hundred, saying: “What? Do you think that I would sell the honor of my father for mere coins? I refuse to derive any tangible benefit from the honor of my father!” What heavenly reward did God repay Dama for such meritorious behavior? Rabbi Yossi ben Rabbi Bun said: On that very night a pure red heifer (essential for attaining ritual purity) was born to Dama’s cow, and so the Jews purchased this extremely rare item from him for a small fortune.”

Who was Dama ben Netina?

Dama ben Netina was the “patēr boulēs” – or general of the Roman army who ruled in Ashkelon. In other words, he was a strong and authoritative man, prepared to act brutally against any foe, as fitting Roman soldiers and rulers. Chances are, he had ordered the crucifixion of those who rebelled against Rome, in other words, to nail them alive to a tree so they would slowly bleed to death in agony for hours, and sometimes days, for all to see, so they too would realize what would happen to them if they rebelled. Others who violated orders were sold as slaves. Nevertheless, towards his parents, he acted with enormous honor and awe.

Presumably, if our Sages used him as an example, this implies he acted somewhat mercifully, but as a general in the Roman army, it is unimaginable that he did not behave callously and brutally, including executing people. Seemingly, one could ask: Why did our Sages chose to teach us about honoring parents from a non-Jew? The Maharal from Prague, (Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel 1520-1609) in his book ‘Tiferet Yisrael’ says that it comes to teach us that this commandment is common-sense. Fulfilling it is logical, and therefore, non-Jews can also understand its value.

Superficially, it seems that one who respects his parents minimizes and weakens his own standing, but in truth, we learned from this story that respect for parents actually gives a son power, for his parents are his roots, and when he respects them, he is in effect strengthening his own roots, and thereby empowering himself. Consequently, it’s no coincidence that specifically an army general honored his parents to such a great extent, for this strengthens his leadership, and affords him a moral basis. Thus, he merited respect and obedience, by force and morality alike.

A Mother Who Humiliates Her Son

When Dama ben Netina permitted his mother to hit him with her sandal, he actually empowered himself. He made it clear to himself and the officers under his command that despite his mother possibly having gone mad, her honor and standing remained. Her dignity was not dependent on her own personal level, but was absolute; she provided him life, and there is nothing greater and more sacred than that. The more honor bestowed upon her, the greater his esteem.

The Reward for Honoring Parents

It is worthwhile adding that according to halakha, when it is certain that a sleeping father will regret the fact that his son did not wake him up, and thus, he lost money, the son is required to wake him up, for this is what his father would want done (Sefer Hasidim 337; Be’er Heitev, Y.D. 249:16). However, Dama ben Netina honored his father to such an extent, that he didn’t even imagine considering doing so. And since he was so meticulous in honoring his father, the Heavens desired to increase his profits, and our Sages agreed to pay him ten times more for the Jasper stone that was in his possession, for honoring parents is one of the mitzvoth whose reward is received in this world. However, his father’s honor was so important to him, he even refused to accept any profit from it, thus opening himself to earnings way beyond all normal profits, and his cow gave birth to a red heifer, whose value was way higher.

Warning to Parents

The halakha was codified in the Shulchan Aruch: “It is forbidden for parents to be overly demanding of their children and to be scrupulous in demanding respect, as doing so will cause the children to not be able to adhere to all that is demanded of them and thus lead them to transgress the mitzvah of honoring parents. Rather, a parent should be ‘mochel‘ (forgive and forgo) on their ‘kavod’ (honor) and pretend to not see every infraction, for the halakha is that “parents may absolve a child of their duty to honor them” (Y.D. 240:19). If they do not forgo, the child will be punished because of them, and what good parent wants their children to be punished due to them?

Exercising Judgement

In contrast to Dama ben Netina’s absolute honor for his parents, to the point idolatry, according to the Torah it is forbidden to treat parents as idols. Therefore, if parents command their children to transgress the Torah, it is forbidden to listen to them (Yevamot 5b; Baba Metzia 32a). Thus, we see that children must exercise moral judgment. Not only that, but in his book ‘Shaarei Teshuva’ Rabbeinu Yona wrote that a person must even confess for the sins of his forefathers, as the Torah says: “They will then confess their sins and the sins of their fathers” (Leviticus 26:40). Otherwise, there is concern a person will continue in the ways of his forefathers, and be punished for them as well. In other words, a child must recognize the shortcomings of his parents.

Thus, honoring parents does not obligate a son or daughter to think that everything their parents say and do is justified; rather, they should treat them honorably and with awe, judge them favorably, look at the positive aspects of their personalities, and admire them.

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

Maintain a Relationship with Your Divorced Father

It is forbidden for a divorced mother to separate her children from her ex-husband, even if he hurt her, and considers him evil * The mitzvah to honor parents, even if they are evil, is disputed among the poskim, but by all accounts, it is forbidden to hurt them * A son whose mother separated him from his father is duty-bound to get in touch with him and honor him, despite his mother’s wishes * At the same time the son must also maintain his mother’s honor, express appreciation for her, and make clear that the move is not directed at her * It is also forbidden to sever children’s ties to their grandparents * A mother’s account of her ex-husband’s exploits should be taken into consideration, but it is forbidden and immoral to accept them as absolute truth

A Painful Question from a Son of Divorced Parents

“When I was ten my parents got divorced, and since then I’ve been raised by my mother along with my brother and sister. We almost never met our father. We don’t even know his new wife and children, who in essence, are our half-brothers. Currently I am twenty-three years old, and considering trying to make contact with my father. A number of times he sent me hints of interest, but this would be very upsetting for my mother who claims that he is an evil person, and that any contact with him would be detrimental and have a bad influence, and that there is absolutely no mitzvah for us to honor him since he is evil.”

“To make the entire picture clear, I must point out the few times I met him, he treated me nicely. His parents – in effect, my grandparents – were also pleasant and nice, but we really didn’t have any relationship with them. My mother harbored serious allegations against my father and his parents. She said he had been unfaithful while they were married, and that his parents, who should have denounced him, continued backing him. My mother also claims he is violent. I remember from time-to-time she would complain that he did not pay child support on time and tried to make it conditional on visitation rights, but that since he is a dangerous and violent man, he does not deserve to see us.”

“Presently, I am debating: On the one hand, I want to get in touch with my father and my grandparents (whom I have no idea how they’re doing). I want to live a normal life like others who have a father to accompany them to the wedding canopy, and I want my future children to have grandparents. On the other hand, I know that if my mother hears about this she will get angry and extremely hurt, leading to her becoming genuinely sick.”

The Obligation to Make Contact

This question is difficult and painful, but from the outset, should never have arose at all, because the mitzvah of ‘kibud horim’ (honoring one’s parents) forbids a son from severing ties with his father, and it is also forbidden for a mother to cut-off her son from his father, causing him to continuously violate the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents.

Therefore, you are obligated to make contact with your father, and the sooner the better, because the mitzvah of honoring parents requires a relationship based on honor and a willingness to help when necessary, and cutting off contact demonstrates absolute disrespect, and is a blatant violation of the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents. And even if it was clear that a father is considered a totally evil person, according to the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 240:18), his sons are obligated to honor him, i.e., to help him in all his needs. Even though according to the Rema (R. Moshe Isserles) sons are not required to honor an evil father, nevertheless, it is forbidden for them to offend him, and cutting-off ties with a father is considered a fatal blow to his honor.

While indeed in exceptional cases when a relationship with one’s parents constantly leads to clashes and difficult quarrels it is best to distance oneself a bit from them so as not to succumb to the serious prohibition of causing them physical harm, but even then, we are not talking about severing ties. In your case, however, there is absolutely no reason to assume that getting in touch with your father will lead to serious clashes.

Do Not Listen to Your Mother in Opposition to a Torah Mitzvah

Even if your mother asks you expressly not to contact your father, it is forbidden for you to listen to her. As the Torah says: “Every person must respect his mother and father, and keep My Sabbaths. I am God your Lord” (Vayikra 19:3). From this we learn that if one’s parents told him to desecrate the Sabbath, he should not listen to them, because both he, and his parents, are commanded to honor God (Yevamot 5b). Thus, our Sages learned (Baba Metzia 32a) that this also holds true for all other mitzvot from the Torah, that if a person’s parents told their son to transgress a mitzvah – even a mitzvah of rabbinic status – it is forbidden to listen to them (S.A. Y.D. 240:15).

All the more so when it comes to the mitzvah of honoring parents, which, owing to its greater virtue, was included in the Ten Commandments as one of the first five commandments dealing with the relationship between man and God. As our Sages said (Kiddushin 30b), Scripture compares the honor due to parents to that of God, as it is written: “Every person must respect his mother and father” (Vayikra 19:3); and it is also written: “Remain in awe of God” (D’varim 10:20). In addition, our Sages said: “There are three partners in man, the Holy One, blessed be He, the father, and the mother. When a man honors his father and his mother, the Holy One, blessed be He, says: ‘I ascribe to them as though I had dwelt among them, and they had honored Me.”

Placate Your Mother

Nevertheless, it is a mitzvah for you to dispel your mother’s fears that ties with your father will harm your relationship with her. You need to tell her most convincingly how much you appreciate her dedication towards you and your siblings, and for that, you will always be indebted. Try to describe in detail beautiful memories from your childhood days, and all the time and effort she has invested in you, and list the positive things you have learned from her. Repeatedly emphasize that your connection with your father is not an expression in any way of distancing yourself from her, and not a justification for any of his supposed bad behavior.

Nevertheless, if you are certain you will be unsuccessful in allaying her fears, and that she is liable to fall ill if she hears about the relationship with your father, presently you are allowed to deviate from the truth and hide from her your relationship with your father, for as we have learned, one is permitted to deviate from the truth in the interest of peace, (Yevamot 65b). When the appropriate time comes, you can tell her about it.

In any event, however, even if it is clear she will find out, get upset, and even become ill – you must contact your father and honor him, as the Torah says: “Honor your father and mother” (Sh’mot 20:11; D’varim 5:15). Your mother bears the responsibility for her own grief for improperly cutting you off from your father.

Honoring Grandparents

Severing ties with grandparents is also prohibited, since a derivative of the mitzvah to honor parents is honoring one’s grandparents. First, because one’s grandchildren are considered as his own children, and also, because included in the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents is to honor their parents.

However, among the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) there is disagreement about the requirements of the mitzvah: according to most authorities, the main obligation towards grandparents is to treat them with great respect, but grandchildren are not required to assist them with all their needs, in contrast to helping their parents. For example, if a grandfather is sick and needs help eating and getting dressed, even though by taking care of him grandchildren fulfill a great mitzvah, nevertheless, they are not obligated to stop working in order do so; rather, this obligation rests solely on the sons. Other authorities are of the opinion that the duty of honoring grandparents is exactly the same as honoring parents, only that regarding the order of priority, parents come first.

In any case, all poskim are in agreement that grandchildren are obligated to maintain a good relationship with their grandparents and respect and learn from them; but your situation of withdrawing from them – to the point where you don’t even know how they’re doing – is a terrible situation, in total contradiction of the mitzvah. Who knows? It could be they’ve been hoping you would get in touch with them for years, but by now, they are already old and forgetful, and will never be able derive pride and joy from a relationship with you.

The Mother’s Version: Loshon Ha’Ra

Regarding what you wrote about your mother saying that your father was cheating on her, and that his parents refused to condemn him but rather backed him, and that he’s violent – all this falls under the category of loshon ha’ra (derogatory speech) which is forbidden to believe. Namely, it is forbidden for you to believe the account is true, as the Torah says: “Do not accept a false report” (Sh’mot 23:1), and our Sages said (Mekhilta, ibid.): “This is a warning against believing loshon ha’ra” (Chafetz Chaim, Laws of Loshon Ha’ra 6:1). However, it is permitted to be concerned that perhaps it is true; consequently, if someone were to tell you that your father is liable to steal your money, it would be permissible for you to be careful about granting him a loan, etc. However, it is forbidden to believe loshon ha’ra, and decide that indeed, it is true (ibid, 6:10).

The Logic and Morality in the Prohibition of Believing Loshon Ha’Ra

Many people mistakenly believe that despite almost certainly the mother and her relatives are telling the truth, and that the father actually did commit adultery, nonetheless, the Torah commands us to hermetically seal our thoughts – in contradiction to all logic and rationale – and deny the story. However, if we delve deeper and examine the prohibition of believing loshon ha’ra, we will find its logic and morality.

First of all, every story has numerous details, and sometimes altering one detail can change the entire story. Therefore, in Beit Din (Jewish court of law), no story is believed to be true without hearing all versions and a thorough investigation of the witnesses. It could be, for example, that the person who testified the father betrayed his wife, meant that he was in a relationship with another woman, and perhaps even had physical contact with her, but did not actually commit the sin of adultery. Or perhaps there was evidence of contact with another woman during or after the divorce, but according to the assessment of those close to your mother, the relationship started even before that; in truth, however, it began only after the divorce. It is also clear that your mother’s hurt is likely to lead her to harsh conclusions about him.

Secondly, even if there was adultery, you do not know what type of tests and trials your father had to cope with. Some people’s yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) is so strong that it’s extremely difficult for them to fight it, and ‘Bochain Levavot’ (God, the examiner of hearts) judges them favorably, and punishes them leniently. Likewise, a person forced to cope with extremely difficult tests that only few are able to overcome, cannot be compared to someone who willfully sins.

Third, even if adultery was committed under severe circumstances, perhaps in the meantime your father did ‘teshuva‘ (repented), and as a result, is no longer the same person. As our Sages have said: “Great is repentance, for because of it, ‘zadanot’ (premeditated sins) are accounted as ‘shgagot’ (unintentional errors)” (Yoma 86b), and if it is done completely and out of love, repentance also turns ‘zadonot’ to ‘zechuyot‘ (merits); and in the place where penitents stand, even the wholly righteous cannot stand (Berachot 34b).

Consequently, the prohibition in believing loshon ha’ra is logical and moral.

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

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed