Concerning Former Minister Ya’alon

Criticism of military and security matters must be voiced because of the life-threatening concerns involved * For years, Ya’alon worked devotedly and courageously for the sake of Israel’s security, and even assisted in Jewish settlement, but failed in three fundamental areas * Complacency and unpreparedness in operation ‘Tzuk Eitan’ and in the period prior to the Second Lebanon War * Alienation of national values reflected in the onslaught against the soldier Elor Azaria, and in Ya’alon’s encouragement of the Deputy Chief of Staff * The harming of Torah values ​​and emuna in the IDF, while left-wing groups are allowed in undisturbed * Since the Oslo Accords the moral level of senior officers has declined, and this should be criticized

A Personal Preface

After the insulting directive was issued by the Defense Minister’s office calling for my banning a number of months ago, I thought to write the following article. However, I refrained from writing it, and even avoided dealing with related matters, lest I be overcritical due to my having been humiliated. At present, I feel I’ve “cooled off”, and yet I would not have published this article, seeing as it is not proper to cast a stone on someone who has fallen. However, in light of the flood of praises that have been showered on the former Defense Minister as a symbol of military success and a paragon of morality, I find myself obligated to publish it. As described below, such criticism is essential because of pikuach nefesh (the saving of lives) – physical and spiritual alike.

The Former Defense Minister

Former Defense Minister, Mr. Moshe Ya’alon, is a professional person with extensive experience, who worked dedicatedly and courageously over many years for the sake of Israel’s security. There are few people who are as intimately acquainted with Israel’s defense establishment as he is. Despite having been educated in leftist movements, he managed awakening to a certain extent from the Left’s delusions of “peace”, and even assisted in the building of Judea and Samaria. Nevertheless, unfortunately, he failed in three fundamental areas: in leading the defense forces in face of imminent threats; in causing damage to national morals, ​​and in undermining the values ​​of emuna (faith) and Torah.

Defense: The Disappointing Results of Operation ‘Tzuk Eitan

Since the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Gush Katif, the IDF was forced to conduct four rounds of fighting in Gaza (the data below was taken from Wikipedia).

The first conflict, ‘Geshmei Kiyetz’ (‘Summer Rain’), began in the summer of 2006 following the Second Lebanon War, and continued in low intensity for five months, during which daily life in communities surrounding the Gaza Strip was disrupted. Prime Minister – Ehud Olmert; Defense Minister – Peretz; Chief of Staff – Halutz; GOC – Galant. We suffered five casualties, and the enemy approximately 394 – 79 times more.

The second, ‘Oferet Yitzuka’ (Operation Cast Lead), began in the month of December 2008. Lasted 23 days, severely damaging daily civilian life in the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip, and causing slight damage to the economy of the South. The Prime Minister – Olmert; Defense Minister – Barak; Chief of Staff – Ashkenazi; GOC – Galant. We suffered 12 casualties, the enemy approximately 1,100 – 91 times more.

The third, ‘Amud Anan’ (Operation Pillar of Defense), in November 2012, lasted eight days while during that time, most of the communities in the South were completely paralyzed. The Prime Minister – Netanyahu; Defense Minister – Barak; Chief of Staff – Gantz; GOC – Russo. We suffered six casualties, the enemy approximately 223 – 37 times more.

Please note: now we come to the stage where Moshe Ya’alon served as Defense Minister.

The fourth, “Tzuk Eitan” (Operation Protective Edge), in the summer of 2014, lasted 50 days, causing severe and prolonged damage to daily life in all of the South, moderate damage in the Central region, and a severe blow to tourism, including the cessation of flights to Israel for two days, and an extremely heavy cost to Israel’s economy. Prime Minister – Netanyahu; Defense Minister – Ya’alon; Chief of Staff – Gantz; GOC – Turgeman. We suffered 73 casualties, the enemy approximately 2,100 – 28 times more.

Besides the heavy loss of life of our soldiers, and the severe damage caused to daily life and the economy, it became evident that the leadership attempted to ignore the threat of the tunnels, the army was unprepared for the challenges it faced, did not devise offensive plans for operations to eliminate Hamas or destroy their ability and leadership, and suffered heavier losses, over and above those suffered in previous operations and compared with enemy casualties.

The Second Lebanon War

The Second Lebanon War took place in the summer of 2006 and lasted 34 days, completely paralyzing the entire Northern area, with the majority of residents either in shelters, or evacuated to the center of the country. We suffered 165 casualties, the enemy approximately 900 – 5.4 times more. War costs were extremely heavy to Israel’s economy.

After the war it became evident that army leadership had acted with extreme complacency and negligence, and failed to identify the enemy’s capabilities. Thus, the war began without the military command having any operative programs – they even lacked updated maps. The soldiers were sent to the frontlines without proper equipment, and endangered their lives to save what the High Command had neglected. As a result of the severe conclusions of the Winograd Committee, the Defense Minister and Chief of Staff resigned, and along with them, numerous other officers.

Seeing as Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon concluded his tenure as Chief of Staff but a year before the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, ultimately, he also was a partner in the failures of preparing the army to face the threat of Hezbollah. The same thing happened in operation ‘Tzuk Eitan‘, when it became clear that those responsible for Israel’s security had not perceived the threat, and as a result, were not adequately prepared for it.

Apparently, when presented with a framework and clear objectives – Ya’alon excels; but as the head of a system, responsible for setting objectives, he is a failure.

National Values

In a series of events, the Defense Minister placed himself in a position hostile to basic, national values. It may be that Elor Azaria, the soldier who shot dead the wounded terrorist in Hevron, made a mistake according to army regulations, and he should bear responsibility for this. But we must not forget that his intentions were good. He was fighting the enemy, and wished to protect his comrades. He is not a murderer. When the Defense Minister dishonors his name in all of the media, denounces him as a murderer, and directs the legal battle against him, he causes damage to the people of Israel. Not only does he betray the soldier Elor Azaria, but all the troops he sent into battle, for they too are liable to make the same mistake on occasion.

After the Deputy Chief of Staff, Yair Golan, compared Israel to Nazi Germany in the 1930’s, Ya’alon should have fired him, or at the very least, demanded that he retract his words and publicly apologize for having said them. Instead, he chose to defend him, and moreover, encouraged other commanders to voice such blasphemy.

Underlying such an appalling attitude there has to be an overflowing degree of ignorance and wickedness. Despite everything, compliance with army law is constantly improving. Compared to the current situation, the behavior of the Palmach fighters and IDF combat units in its nascent days was infinitely wilder and crueler. Now of all times, the Deputy Chief of Staff detects symptoms reminding him of the Nazis?! And the Defense Minister marvels at his honesty and wisdom, and calls for officers to continue voicing such hideous and baseless things?!

Emuna and Torah Values

Under the tenure of Ya’alon, the status of the Military Rabbinate eroded. The ‘Jewish Awareness’ Department was transferred from the Military Rabbinate to the Department of Manpower, impairing its activities. Even the right to grant permission to grow a beard for religious reasons was taken away from the Rabbinate, and given to the Adjutant Corps. Meanwhile, with encouragement of the Defense Minister, and with infuriating audacity, female singers are increasingly participating in military ceremonies, and religious soldiers are required to take part in them, contrary to the ruling of the majority of rabbis.

Parallel to the directive banning me because of my basic position that orders to expel Jews from their homes should be refused, the IDF funds courses given by institutes with distinctly leftist positions, such as the ‘Hartman Institute’ and ‘Machon Bina’, for all army officers. If the lecturers speaking on their behalf were asked what a soldier should do if he receives an order to expel an Arab from his home, the majority of them would say that he should refuse the order. Yet, Ya’alon chose them to educate IDF officers to the values ​​of the extreme left, rather than heightening Jewish national awareness.

The command to take over the yeshiva in Yitzhar for a long period also reflects a severe blow to Israel’s sacred values. Ya’alon did not dare do that to any mosque, where violence, murder, and the destruction of the State of Israel is preached a thousand times more.

This coincides with his disgraceful treatment of his Deputy Minister, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan. Rabbi Eli is known as an affable person, able to cooperate with various parties. Despite signed agreements however, Ya’alon chose to ignore and humiliate him, and by doing so, demean his constituents, the religious Zionists.

The Connection between the Three Areas

These three areas are intertwined. True, there may be individuals who are highly successful in leading the army against the enemy yet neglect national ​​and faith-bound values, whose long-term impact on Israel’s security is crucial. If there are others who complement what they lack in the area of values, their professionalism in the field of defense can cover for their shortcomings. If there is no one else to complement their deficiency, then over a period of time, the lack of values ​​will prevail and lead to severe consequences, such as the Yom Kippur War.

As the functioning of Mr. Ya’alon in the field of defense was not particularly successful, his shortcomings in the field of values ​​makes things all the worse.

Left-wing Viewpoints

Despite understanding the impossibility of implementing Leftist aspirations to establish another Arab country, Mr. Ya’alon still clings to the values ​​of the Left, whereby national and religious factors are marginal or a hindrance. However, seeing as nationalism and religion in truth are the power base of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, it is preferable for a Defense Minister who does not understand this, to vacate his seat.

The Importance of Criticism of the IDF

It is important to examine another aspect. As a result of the Oslo Accords, the moral level of senior officers suffered a tremendous blow, and they were forced to associate with the most heinous murderers. Their loyalty to their own people and country became muddled. Devoid of a moral compass, advancement through the ranks became the most important thing. They began understanding and empathizing with the enemy more, and even took pride in this, because, as they learned from the Leftist lecturers, such understanding indicates a clarity of mind, and a purity of their hearts and weapons. So it happens that they often function like British Mandate officers, standing as an intermediary between the Jews and the Arabs.

On the battlefield, this is manifested in more casualties among our forces, as occurred in Jenin and the Second Lebanon War. Thanks to sharp public criticism of the army after the Second Lebanon War, senior commanders in the early rounds of war in Gaza who saw their comrades dishonorably discharged, began worrying more about the welfare of our soldiers. Instead of sending them on dangerous missions to avoid harming enemy civilians, they ordered to bombard and strike. This is why in the first operations the death toll was greatly to our advantage and deterrence against our enemies increased, as indicated by the data I mentioned above.

Over time, the fear of public criticism declined, and once again, senior officers returned to their sinful ways. This is how we reached the bitter results of operation ‘Tzuk Eitan’.

Therefore, when the defense establishment emerges from a war with poor results, it must be criticized. Failure to do so takes its toll in human life.

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

The Vision of Yovel for Our Generation

The mitzvah of tzeddaka teaches that the responsibility for making a living  lies with the individual, and only if one is unable to take care of himself, the responsibility passes on to others * The mitzvah of Yovel  complements this, determining that natural resources be divided equally among all * Thus, the Torah integrates both socialism and capitalism * Today as well, there is room to explore the equal distribution of resources and allotting a certain percentage of the capital to all citizens, once every Yovel * In mankind’s present situation competition is necessary; however, when the Divine light is revealed in the world – people will realize they are not competing with one another, but rather, improving and complementing each other

Choice and Equality: Yovel

Must society provide for all the needs of each and every individual, or is this the private responsibility of every person? Is it right to divide profits equally among all the people? Which economic system is correct: socialist, or capitalist? It seems the basic answers to these questions and inspiration to solve them can be found in the mitzvoth of Yovel (Jubilee year) and tzeddaka (charity).

The mitzvah of Yovel is for the Jewish nation to count seven years, seven times, and make the fiftieth year the Yovel year. In this year, Jewish slaves are freed to return to their homes, and fields are returned to their original owners and left to lie fallow as in the shmitta year (seventh year).

Ownership of Land and the Mitzvah of Yovel

God commanded Israel to divide the land among the tribes, and the inheritance of each tribe to be divided among the families and households of that tribe. Seeing as each individual has his own special mission in life – and in order to reveal that mission, he must live freely and independently – it is imperative for every Jew to reside on his land, and make a living from his own inheritance.

Nevertheless, God created man with both a good and an evil inclination. The tzaddikim (righteous people) who choose good, overcome their evil tendencies, work diligently in their fields, and prosper from their harvest; those drawn in pursuit of their evil inclinations seeking lust and laziness become addicted to various desires such as alcohol and other pleasures of idleness, and neglect their fields. They waste a great deal, earn little, sink into debt, and forfeit their future for the sake of the fleeting moment. Scarcity increases until they are forced to sell their crops and homes, thus decreeing a life of hardship upon their families, seeing as one’s fields was his main source of income. If they failed to pull themselves together and work diligently as a salaried employee, they would sink further into debt to the brink of starvation, and be forced to sell themselves into slavery.

True, some people became impoverished as a result of a disaster or illness beyond their control, but when our national situation was sound, the mitzvah of tzeddaka helped sustain such people without them having to sell their land, or themselves. However, it was difficult to assist those who became enslaved to greed and laziness, because even after receiving help, they continued to plummet. This is how some Jews ended up selling their fields, and themselves, into slavery.

God had mercy on them – and especially, on their families – and determined the mitzvah of Yovel in the fiftieth year, when we were commanded to free the slaves, and return the fields to their owners or heirs. By this means, the verdict of poverty did not haunt the families of Israel for generations, but every fifty years, each family could start a new life, begin to act responsibly, get out of poverty, and contribute to the improvement of society.

The Circles of Responsibility in Helping the Poor

From the mitzvah of tzedakka we learn that there are circles of responsibility, and only when the inner circle is unable to function does the responsibility of the outer circle come into play.

In the inner circle is poor person himself; he is primarily responsible for his own situation and that of his family. Therefore, if a person who was able to work but chose not to, throwing himself instead on the public, the gabba’ei tzedakka (charity managers) would make sure that he worked. Only on the condition that he worked as hard as possible, but nevertheless, it was still not enough, would they give him tzedakka. As it is written in the Torah: “Ha’kim ta’kim imo” (“You must ‘help him‘ pick up the load”) (Deuteronomy 22:4) – ‘together with him’ there is a mitzvah, but when he shirks his responsibility, there is no mitzvah to help him.

When a poor person is unable to take care of himself, the responsibility shifts over to the next circle which includes his relatives and the rule of “ha’karov, karov kodem” i.e., one’s closest relatives should be given priority in receiving tzedakka (as in redeemer’s of the field).

If family members are unable to help their relative, the responsibility is transferred to the third circle of neighbors and fellow residents of their town, with the responsibility of close neighbors preceding that of the overall residents of the city. And if the townspeople alone are unable to help the poor, responsibility is transferred to the fourth circle, namely, that of society as a whole in the country, as it is written: “When, in a settlement that God your Lord is giving you, any of your brothers is poor…do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy brother” (Deuteronomy 15:7). And it is also written: “To the poor man among you” (Exodus 22:24), those who close to you (‘among you’), precede those who are less close (Baba Metzia 71a).

And if there was a poor person whose family was able to help him, but evaded their duty and did not help, the gabba’ei tzedakka would have to force them to take care of him, and only if they were unable to meet his needs would they give the poor person charity from the public coffers of the city (Sh. A., Y. D., 251:4).

Empowerment of Personal Responsibility

Thus, we find that family, neighbors, and members of the community bore responsibility to help the poor, sick, elderly and frail who were unable to earn a living. But poor people who were able to make a living but due to laziness, negligence and greed had sunk into debt, would be helped to a limited extent, up until the point where if they continued to sink into debt, they would be forced to sell their fields and themselves. Such a position educates people to bear responsibility for their livelihood. In this way, the number of poor declined precipitously.

Choice and Equality

Thus, we find that it is essential for these two ideas to be expressed in parallel. On one hand – responsibility and free enterprise, and on the other, basic equality. From one standpoint, all human beings are created in God’s image, and consequently – one rule for all; from the beginning, lands, which are the means of production, had to have been divided equally. On the other hand, the main expression of God’s image in man is his ability to choose and initiate. If a person works diligently and skillfully, he will profit; if he is lazy, he will lose. How much more so is this true on a spiritual level: If one fulfills the Torah and mitzvot – he will be blessed in the present world, and receive good reward in the Hereafter. But if he chooses to sin – he will not see blessing in this world, and will be punished in the next.

Yovel’s Vision of Equality for Our Times

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

 

Thus, we will be able to realize the fundamental idea of dividing the land among all of Israel, together with the tikun (correction) made in the return of lands to their original owners in the Yovel. For indeed, granting quality education for everyone also gives the children of poor parents the opportunity to obtain a respectable profession, according to their talents and industriousness.

 

In other words, resources are divided into two groups: the land and all other natural resources; and man, with his talents and knowledge. Thus, we find that Yovel liberates natural resources by way of returning lands to their owners, and human resources in the emancipation of the slaves.

A Proposal to Reduce Gaps between the Wealthy and the Poor in Yovel

Perhaps a further suggestion might be made: Just as in the Yovel the fields returned to their original owners and slaves were released to their homes, there is room to suggest that Torah scholars explore in-depth the structure of modern economy, and consider whether it would be appropriate that in the Yovel year, a certain percentage of accumulated wealth be divided equally, and returned to the public. For in addition to laws designed to prevent monopolies that harm free competition and stifle industry and trade, we should also avoid creating overly large gaps between the extremely wealthy and the remainder of society. This idea also includes a measure of justice, because sound public institutions are what enable the super-rich to become wealthy, and consequently, perhaps it might be fitting that once in fifty years, a portion of their accumulated wealth be distributed once again towards education and public needs. This will not affect the quality of their lives – they will still have hundreds of millions of shekels, but all the same, it will reduce socio-economic gaps among society and provide a more important status to the value of equality, without damaging the personal responsibility of each individual earning a living.

The Light of Yovel

At present, jealousy and competition are needed to a certain extent for the purpose of the world’s existence, so man can learn to bear responsibility for his fate, and conversely, learn not to be manipulative, a liar, and a thief. Rivalry is also needed to create incentives for development and prosperity, as has been explained by capitalist philosophers. Without it, society would sink into moral degeneration, poverty, and scarcity. However, as the light of Yovel is increasingly revealed in Israel, and the higher levels we achieve in Torah and emuna (faith), the need for competition will decrease, until there will be no more necessity for envy and rivalry, and world peace will spread from the Land of Israel to the entire world. This does not mean that an oversimplified equality between the various talents and equal distribution of all wealth and functions will be created, to the point where all living beings will be exactly the same. Rather, each creature will persist in its own character: wolves will remain wolves, sheep will remain sheep; but nevertheless, owing to the abundance of Divine light which will pervade in the world, the Divine light in each and every creature will be revealed, and all will live together in peace. At that time it will become clear that differences between living beings does not cause competition and envy, but on the contrary, creates between them a deep connection of friendship and camaraderie, leading to enrichment, blessing, and reciprocity.

And then, we will fulfill the words of the prophet: “The wolf will live with the lamb; the leopard lie down with the kid; calf, young lion and fattened lamb together, with a little child to lead them. Cow and bear will feed together, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  An infant will play on a cobra’s hole, a toddler put his hand in a viper’s nest.  They will not hurt or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain, for the earth will be as full of the knowledge of God as water covering the sea… Efrayim’s jealousy will cease — those who harass Yehudah will be cut off, Efrayim will stop envying Yehudah, and Yehudah will stop provoking Efrayim… On that day you will say, “Give thanks to God! Call on his name! Make his deeds known among the peoples, declare how exalted his name is.  Sing to God, for he has triumphed — this is being made known throughout the earth.  Shout and sing for joy, you who live in Tziyon; for the Holy One of Israel is with you in his greatness!” (Isaiah 11-12).

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

The Blessing over Settling the Land of Israel

According to the vast majority poskim, the blessing ‘matziv gevul almana’ is recited when seeing a new community * Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook taught us not to be doubtful about the blessing, and would himself recite the blessing openly and in a loud voice * In which communities is the settling of the Land evident and awe-inspiring even today * Blessing over seeing a community for the second time after thirty days depends on how moved one is* In Jerusalem, a blessing is recited over all new construction * While on a tour of historical sites in established and large cities a blessing may be recited owing to the excitement provoked by their development

The Blessing on the Settlement of the Land of Israel

In honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut it is appropriate to once again review the halakha’s of the blessing our Sages fixed over the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz‘ – the settling and redemption of the Land of Israel.

Our Sages said: “On seeing the houses of Israel when inhabited, one says: ‘Baruch ata Hashem, Elokeinu Melech Ha’Olam, matziv gevul almana‘ (“Blessed be He who sets the boundary of the widow”) (Berachot 58b, S.A. 224:10). The intention of this blessing is to thank God for returning Israel to their land. After transgressing God’s commandments, we were exiled from our land and ridiculed and scorned among the nations – akin to a widow, wandering around broken and lonely, without any prospect of returning to our borders and building our house; Hashem took pity on us, returned us to our land so as to build houses there, inhabiting them with serenity and confidence. We began fulfilling the words of the prophet: “For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.  Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood” (Isaiah 54:3-5).

 

During the difficult years of exile, when Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel faced times of trouble, distress and humiliation, this blessing was not recited, because it was difficult to define Jewish settlement as being stable and reassuring. When Jewish settlement began to expand in the country with the departure of Jews from the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the aliyah of members of ‘Chibat Tzion’ (Lovers of Zion), this blessing once again began to be recited over the new settlements. It is related that Rabbi Shmuel Salant recited the blessing over Petah Tikva, and Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel-Yaffe over Yehud.

Do Not Hesitate to Recite the Blessing

From the words of Rif (Rabbi Yitzchak Alfsi) it seems that one who sees a Jewish synagogue specifically recites this blessing, therefore, l’chatchila, the blessing should be recited when one sees the synagogue from the outside or the inside. But even if one cannot see the synagogue, he should recite the blessing, since according to the vast majority of Rishonim, this blessing is not at all connected with synagogues, but is a blessing over Jewish houses built in Israel (Rabbeinu Chananel, Rashi, Rambam, and S.A., 244:10).

The Words of Our Teacher and Mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook

In his talks, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah said: “There are some who fear reciting the blessing because of the words of Rif. However… one can rely on these three “pillars of the world” (Rambam, Rashi and Shulchan Aruch), and bless. There are situations where fear of reciting a blessing in vain stems from a lack of complete emuna (faith). [If one has] doubts about blessings – [there are] doubts about faith. “Ha’vadai shemo, ken tehilato” (‘Certainty’ is His name; that is His praise). Several times I had the privilege of being invited to a new community for a gathering, or a celebration. Ideally, I should have blessed immediately because of ‘hidur mitzvah‘ (embellishing the mitzvah by performing it ideally). Nevertheless, I waited a bit because frequently I am asked to speak, and at that moment, I recited the blessing in a loud voice and openly, with ‘Shem u’Malchut’ (mentioning God’s name and kingdom) to publicize the matter, and I announced that anyone who wished to fulfill their obligation to bless, could do so with my bracha” (Sichot of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook” on Chumash ‘Vayikra’, page 289).

A Blessing is Not Recited over Places Inhabited for a Long Time

Seemingly, according to the takana (ordinance) of our Sages, one must recite the blessing “matziv gevul alamna” on all Jewish communities in Israel seen for the first time, and after that, as long as one did not see it for thirty days, recite the blessing once again, in keeping with the accepted rules of ‘berachot ha’re’iah’ (the blessings over seeing certain phenomena) (Shulchan Aruch 242:10; 13).

However, since one of the major stipulations of ‘berachot ha’re’iah’ is that the sight being viewed must be awe-inspiring (Shulchan Aruch 225:9-10), consequently, one should not bless over communities whose observation is not stirring because one has already seen it a number of times, or because the location had long been inhabited by a large Jewish population and forgotten that it was once desolate.

The Blessing is recited over Communities in Which the Redemption of the Land is Evident

Therefore, in areas not yet settled appropriately where efforts must still be made to fulfill the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz so that the Land remains in our hands and not in the possession of any other nation or left desolate – even if one sees an established community there, he should recite the blessing. This includes the following areas: Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights, the Negev, and parts of the Galilee and Jezreel Valley.

It seems that even those who are not so moved about seeing the community – the first time one sees it, he should recite the blessing, for anyone who sees houses in places where the redemption of the land is evident, is considered as ‘seeing the houses of Israel when inhabited’, i.e., settling the land, and setting the boundary of the widow.

After Thirty Days

One who sees an established community in which the redemption of the land is evident, such as Alon Shvut, Karnei Shomron and Katzrin, after thirty days have passed since seeing it last – if one marvels anew at their settling of the land – he should recite the blessing; if one is not moved, he should not bless. And if one returns to the community a second time and sees they have built an additional neighborhood, he should recite the blessing.

But in the new communities in those areas, or in established communities facing greater difficulties in settlement, such as the communities of Itamar and Elon Moreh in Gav Ha’Har, and Otniel and Ma’on in the southern Hebron hills, in all probability the excitement of seeing them is greater, and as long as thirty days have passed, one may recite the blessing. However, even in places such as these, if one is not moved, a blessing should not be recited the second time. But if in the meantime more houses were built, one who sees them should bless.

When in Doubt

Someone who has a doubt concerning these laws, should recite what is written in the Talmud: “Our Sages said: On seeing the houses of Israel when inhabited, one says: “Baruch ata Hashem, Elokeinu Melech Ha’Olam, matziv gevul almana.” In this way, there will be no worry about saying a ‘bracha l’vatala’ (a blessing said in vain), for indeed there is an opinion that while studying Talmud one is permitted to recite a complete blessing, and alternatively, seeing as the actual wording of the blessing is recited, one fulfills his obligation.

Inauguration of a House in a New Community

Years ago, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, of blessed memory, heard a class I gave on this topic in Har Bracha, and raised an accurate speculation that the blessing ‘matziv gevul almana’ should also be said at the dedication of a new home in community where the redemption of the land is evident, and maybe, even the builders themselves could recite the blessing. At any rate, in order to avoid doubt, it would be appropriate for one of the guests who has not seen the community for thirty days to recite the blessing.

Our Custom on Har Bracha

In an effort to strengthen the status of the blessing over ‘yishuv ha’aretz’ and the redemption of the Land of Israel about which, in spite of its enormous importance, many people tend to be negligent, I requested that the gabbai (sexton) of our synagogue, after every Shabbat evening prayer service, appoint one of the guests to recite the blessing “matziv gevul almana.” At the end of my sermon I pause for a moment, and then the guest stands up and recites the blessing out loud. Everyone answers ‘amen’, and as a result, this strengthens their gratitude to God for allowing us to witness the building of our country, and to participate in its settlement. It would be fitting to suggest this custom for all synagogues in communities engaged in the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz’ and its redemption.

Should the Blessing be recited over New Homes in Jerusalem?

According to what we have learned, regarding established cities inhabited with a large Jewish population, such as cities located along the Coastal Plain, the blessing ‘matziv gevul almana’ is not recited, because their resemblance to an widow and not having been settled has been forgotten. But in regards to Jerusalem, our glorious and holy city, for whose destruction we mourn, and for whose rebuilding we pray – even though it is established and inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Jews, there is room to recite the blessing ‘matziv gevul almana’ over every single neighborhood built there. And it seems that even over a few new buildings one can bless, for indeed, the rebuilding of Jerusalem expresses more than anything the ‘setting of the boundary of the widow’. One who is in doubt whether the blessing should be recited, should say the wording of the beraita in the Gemara.

Nonetheless, even in Jerusalem, one who scandalously does not take note of this and is not happy – does not bless. Also, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and its surroundings, who are fortunate to see its building on a daily basis, do not bless.

Visitors who come to see the Renewal of the Communities

Q: If one goes on a guided tour in order to study the history of the settlement of the country, such as in Jaffa and Tel Aviv, or in the museum of the chalutzim in Hadera, and marvels at the miracle of Israel returning to their land, can a blessing be recited?

A: It seems that in such a framework one can bless, because the entire reason a blessing is not recited over populated places is because the settlement within such areas is not evident, and therefore, there is no excitement in seeing them; but when the purpose of the tour is the study of this phenomena, it is obvious that the excitement over the miracle of Israel returning to their country is aroused, and it would be proper to thank God for this by reciting the blessing “matziv gevul almana.” Nevertheless, it seems that on other similar trips, one can bless only on the first time.

It also seems that a Jew who comes from chutz l’aretz to Israel and sees the major cities in Coastal Plain for the first time, if he is moved by the miracle of Israel’s return to their land, he should recite the blessing.

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


 

Customs of Mourning during the Omer Period

The Reason for These Customs

The days between Pesach and Shavu’ot are days of sorrow, because 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died then.  Therefore, we keep some of the customs of mourning during this period, postponing marriages, refraining from taking haircuts, and avoiding dancing, unless it is for the sake of a mitzvah.

We observe some customs of mourning and try to improve our interpersonal relationships, especially those between Torah students, during the period of Sefirat HaOmer.  And since this is based on Jewish custom, not an explicit rabbinic enactment, there are different customs among the various communities.

The Duration of the Mourning Period

There are many customs as to when the mourning period begins and ends.  We will mention the two primary ones:

The Sephardi Practice

According to the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 493:1-2), the customs of mourning begin on the first day of the Omer and last until the morning of the thirty-fourth.  This is based on the tradition that reads theGemara: “R. Akiva’s students died until “P’ros HaAtzeret,” meaning fifteen days before Shavu’ot.  This implies that we must continue mourning until the 34th day of the Omer.  However, the halachahdetermines regarding the seven-day mourning period for a close relative that part of a day is considered like a whole day.  Therefore, when a mourner sits on the ground for a short time at the beginning of the seventh day, he effectively completes that day and may terminate his mourning.  The same applies to the mourning of the Omer period, and one need not wait until the end of the 34thday.  Rather, all customs of mourning become null and void a few moments after daybreak on the morning of the thirty-fourth, because part of a day is considered like a whole day.

Actually, one is permitted to sing, play music, and dance on Lag B’Omer, in honor of the anniversary of R. Shimon bar Yochai’s death.  However, the other customs of mourning remain binding.  Thus, according to this practice, one is forbidden to get married or take a haircut on Lag B’Omer, and when the day ends, it is forbidden to play music or dance on the night of the thirty-fourth.  When morning comes, however, all practices of mourning are nullified.  (Those who follow the Ari’s customs act strictly and refrain from taking haircuts until the day before Shavu’ot).

Some Sephardi communities – like those from Turkey and Egypt – end all customs of mourning on Lag B’Omer.  And even though most Sephardim in Israel today do not follow this practice, if there is a great need to act leniently on Lag B’Omer or the night of the thirty-fourth, there is room to present the question before a wise Torah scholar.

The Ashkenazi Practice

The prevalent custom among Ashkenazi Jews today in Eretz Yisrael combines several traditions.  Most expressions of mourning last until Lag B’Omer, while some continue afterwards.  This is based on the tradition that although the plague ended on Lag B’Omer, those students who fell ill beforehand died between the 34th day of the Omer and Shavu’ot.  Therefore, Ashkenazim do not take haircuts, celebrate weddings, play music, or dance until Lag B’Omer.  Afterwards, however, they refrain only from weddings and very joyous affairs. From Rosh Chodesh Sivan, however, the custom is to permit weddings, because the holiday of Shavu’ot, which is already perceivable from the beginning of the month, cancels the mourning.  Some rule leniently and allow weddings from Lag B’Omer and on, avoiding only great celebrations that are optional in nature until Shavu’ot.

On the day of Lag B’Omer itself, one may get married and take a haircut.  There is a dispute, however, regarding the night.  Some say that these actions are permissible at night, as well, because the entire day of Lag B’Omer is joyous.  Others maintain that one is required to observe thirty-three consecutive days of mourning.  Therefore, it is permissible to get married and take a haircut only after morning has arrived and we can apply the rule: “Part of a day is considered like a whole day.”  The custom is to act strictly, le-chatchillah (ideally), but one may follow those who rule leniently, if necessary.  According to all customs, it is permissible to celebrate with music and dancing on the night of Lag B’Omer.

Weddings and Engagements during the Omer Period

According to the custom of most Sephardim, the prohibition against weddings lasts from the beginning of the Omer until the thirty-fourth day of the count.  That is, one may get married from the morning of the 34th and on.  Some Sephardic communities follow a more lenient custom, celebrating weddings already on Lag B’Omer (the thirty-third).  In pressing situations, one may follow this practice, in accordance with the ruling of a wise Torah scholar.

The Ashkenazi custom in Eretz Yisrael is to forbid weddings from the beginning of the Omer until the twenty-ninth of Iyar, allowing them only from Rosh Chodesh Sivan and on.  Some rabbis permit those who have yet to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation to get married from Lag B’Omer and on.  When there is a special need, a wise scholar should be consulted.  All Ashkenazi customs agree that one is allowed to get married on the day of Lag B’Omer, and some are even lenient on the night of Lag B’Omer.  Everyone also agrees that if a couple gets married on the day of Lag B’Omer, they may continue the celebrations into the night of the thirty-fourth.

Haircuts

Only regular haircuts, that entail an aspect of joy, are prohibited, but it is permissible to trim one’s mustache, if it interferes with one’s eating.  Similarly, one who gets headaches when his hair is overgrown, or one who has sores on his head, may cut his hair during this period.

Both men and women are included in this prohibition.  However, a woman may cut her hair for purposes of modesty.  For example, if her hair comes out of her head covering, she may cut it.  It is also permissible to cut or pluck hair in order to avoid embarrassment.  Therefore, women may pluck their eyebrows or remove facial hairs.

One may not cut children’s hair, as well, during this period, but if there is a great need – to prevent them from suffering – it is permissible.

Shaving

A question arises regarding the issue of shaving during the Omer period.  Is one who shaves regularly throughout the year allowed to shave during Sefirah?  Many authorities maintain that shaving is included in the prohibition of taking haircuts and whenever it is forbidden to cut one’s hair, it is also forbidden to shave.  Most yeshiva students follow this practice, to the point that refraining from shaving has become the most prominent and discernable sign of mourning during the Omer period.

Some poskim, however, hold that there is a fundamental difference between taking a haircut and shaving.  Haircuts are celebratory; it is therefore accepted that people get their hair cut before holidays and festive occasions.  Shaving, on the other hand, has become an ordinary task nowadays, done every day, or every few days, in order to remove the stubble that mars the faces of those who are accustomed to shaving frequently.  Therefore, the custom to refrain from cutting hair does not apply to shaving.  According to this opinion, it is especially appropriate to shave on Fridays, to avoid bringing in the Sabbath disgracefully.

Those who want to rely on the lenient opinion may do so, and one should not rebuke them for this.  In practice, however, everyone should follow his father’s custom or his rabbi’s instructions.  For even though, according to the letter of the law, one can rely on the reasoning of those who rule leniently, one cannot ignore the fact that the custom to abstain from shaving during Sefirah is an indelible expression of willingness to sacrifice for the sake of mitzvah observance, and there is room for concern that nullifying this custom will compromise one’s dedication to upholding customs.  Therefore, it is appropriate for everyone to do as his father does, or as his rabbi instructs him to do, because the issues of tradition and how one’s actions influence others are more important here than the specific question of whether or not shaving is included in the customs of mourning.

Dancing and Musical Instruments

Since the custom is not to celebrate too much during the Omer period, the Acharonim write that one is forbidden to engage in optional dancing as opposed to dancing for the sake of a mitzvah.  They also forbid playing or listening to musical instruments.

According to Sephardi custom, the laws of mourning last until the morning of the 34th of the Omer.  Nevertheless, in honor of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s Hillula (festivities marking the day of his passing), music and dancing are permitted on the 33rd (Lag) of the Omer.  Afterwards, however, the prohibition resumes and continues through the night of the thirty-fourth, until the next morning, when all customs of mourning expire.

According to Ashkenazi practice, the prohibitions last until the end of the 32nd day of the Omer, meaning that music, dancing, and rejoicing are permitted from the beginning of the night of Lag B’Omer, in honor of R. Shimon bar Yochai’s Hillula.  Most Jews of Ashkenazi descent refrain from large celebrations – like gala evenings of dance – until the holiday of Shavu’ot, but one may play and hear musical instruments.  It is also permissible to hold aerobic classes, because their main purpose is to provide exercise, not joyous dancing.

Listening to Music on Electronic Devices

Many poskim hold that there is no difference between listening to live music and listening to music on the radio, or by way of any other electronic device; both are forbidden during Sefirah (until Lag B’Omer) and the Three Weeks.  It is permissible, though, to listen to a cappella songs via electronic music players.  Some forbid even this, because the device is considered like a musical instrument.

On the other hand, some authorities hold that the prohibition against listening to musical instruments during these periods of mourning does not apply to listening to music on the radio or any other household, electronic device.  The rationale being that listening to music this way is not as festive as is listening to it live.  Furthermore, nowadays, everyone listens to music on electronic devices regularly, and since it has become so routine, the festiveness and joy associated with listening to music has disappeared.  This is similar to singing without musical accompaniment, which is permitted during the Omer.  In addition, a distinction should be made between joyous songs and regular songs.  Only regarding joyous songs is it logical to prohibit household devices, but one should not prohibit regular music – and certainly not sad tunes – during the mourning period of the Omer.  One who wishes to act leniently may rely on this opinion and listen to regular and sad songs on a household, electronic device.  He should not, however, listen to them loudly, because the force of the sound that fills the room generates a certain atmosphere of jubilation.

Apparently, everyone would agree that a driver who is worried that he might fall asleep at the wheel may listen to music in order to keep himself alert.

SheHechiyanu

During the Omer period, one is permitted to buy a new fruit, garment, or piece of furniture and recite the SheHechiyanu blessing over it.  True, after the Crusades and the horrific massacres that the Christians carried out during the Omer period, some rabbis in the Ashkenazi community began treating the mourning of the Omer period as strictly as that of Three Weeks.  And just as we refrain from saying SheHechiyanu during the Three Weeks – because it is inappropriate to say, “Who has kept us alive… and brought us to this time,” during the period in which the Temple was destroyed – so too, it is inappropriate to say SheHechiyanu during a time in which holy Jews were murdered.

In practice, however, the accepted halachah is that there is no prohibition against sayingSheHechiyanu during the Omer period, for these days are not comparable to the days between the 17th of Tammuz and Tish’a B’Av.  Nonetheless, one who wishes to act stringently and refrain from buying clothing and furniture during this period deserves a blessing.  If there is a special need, however, even such a person may act leniently.  For example, someone who needs an article of clothing or a piece of furniture may buy it.  Similarly, if someone comes upon an opportunity to buy one of these items at a reduced price, he may buy it.  Those who follow the stricter custom should wear the garment for the first time, and recite the SheHechiyanu blessing over it, on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, Yom HaAtzma’ut, or at a se’udat mitzvah.  Likewise, if one buys a new piece of furniture, he should try to begin using it on these joyous days.

 

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed, including all of his highly acclaimed series of books “Peninei Halakha” in Hebrew, and some in English, can be found at:
http://en.yhb.org.il/

Koshering the Kitchen for Pesach

The Principles of Koshering Utensils

Though the walls of pots and other vessels appear solid and impervious, they actually absorb the taste of food cooked in them. It is impossible to measure how much taste the walls of a pot absorb and how much they release back into the food; some vessels absorb more than others do, such as earthenware, and some less, such as utensils made of metal. However, according to halakha, we do not take into consideration the degree of taste the utensils absorbed; rather, any utensil in which non-kosher food was cooked, is forbidden to be used to cook kosher food without first koshering it by means of removing the minute taste absorbed in it. The same applies to utensils in which foods made of chametz was cooked; in order to use such utensils during Pesach, one must first remove the taste of the chametz.

In general, however, if one be-di’avad
(a level of performance that ex post facto satisfies an obligation in a less-than-ideal manner) forgot that the pot absorbed the taste of forbidden food and cooked another food in it, the food in question remains kosher, provided it was a mistake. But if one knows that a pot had absorbed a non-kosher taste, but cooks kosher food in it anyway, the food is prohibited.
Therefore, in practice,
anyone who wishes to use a pot in which chametz food was cooked, must first kosher it. Similarly, one must kosher the countertop, sink, oven and stove, before Pesach.

Releasing through the Same Method as Absorption (“Ke-bole’o Kakh Polto“)

 

The most basic principle of koshering cooking utensils is that forbidden taste is released from the vessel in the same manner that it was absorbed: “ke-bole’o kakh polto.” There are two principal media through which utensils absorb taste: 1) through direct heat of fire, without a liquid medium, requiring it be koshered by means of heavy libun, that is, heating the vessel by fire until it gives off sparks or becomes red hot, or 2) absorption through a liquid medium, requiring immersion in boiling water (hagala). This also entails differing degrees: liquids in a kli rishon on a flame, kli rishon not on a flame, irui from a kli rishon, and a kli sheni. ‘Ke-bole’o kakh polto’.

Another basic principle: If a utensil absorbed the taste of a prohibited food on two different levels, for example, a spoon that sometimes absorbed chametz in a kli rishon on a flame, and other times as a kli sheni, it is koshered according to its most intense usage – i.e., in boiling water. However, when it is difficult to do so, or if there is a concern that the utensil will be damaged, it can be koshered in accordance with its primary use. For example, a fork usually used with liquids or in a kli sheni, but sometimes is stuck into food in an oven, in which case it absorbs through fire, since libun is liable to damage the fork, we go according to the letter of the law, i.e., the fork is koshered according to its primary use – in boiling water.

Cleaning the House

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

There are some people who do not grasp this fundamental difference and clean their house meticulously, but arrive to Seder night completely exhausted; others compound their mistake – they are meticulous in cleaning their house, but are negligent in cleaning their kitchen.

Koshering a Baking Oven

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

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

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

Ovens that self-clean at a temperature of 500ºC need not be cleaned before koshering because such intense heat is considered heavy libun and is sufficient to kosher the oven for Pesach. The baking trays of such ovens may also be koshered at this heat.

Grates and Burners

Throughout the year, people usually use the same stovetop grates for both meat and milk, because even if some meat or dairy food spills onto them, the flame incinerates and befouls whatever has spilled. However, people customarily perform light libun on such grates for Pesach, because of the seriousness of the chametz prohibition. Alternatively, one may wrap thick aluminum foil around the bars on which pots sit, so that there is a barrier between the Pesach pots and the parts of the grates that came into contact with chametzBe-di’avad, the food remains kosher even if cooked on grates that did not undergo libun.

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

The Law of Food that has Fallen under the Grates

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

Stove-tops

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

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

Sinks and Counter-tops

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

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

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

Warming Tray (Shabbat Platta)

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

Microwave Ovens

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

Dishwashers

The filter, where residual food often gets stuck, must be cleaned thoroughly. Then the dishwasher should be run at its hottest setting, so that any absorbed chametz is released, ke-bole’o kakh polto (taste is released from a vessel in the same manner that it was absorbed). In any event, one must wait twenty-four hours after the last load of chametz utensils before using the machine with Pesach utensils.

Some take a stringent approach to dishwashers and consider them to have the status of a kli rishon on a flame. However, those who follow the lenient approach have authorities on whom to rely.

The Dining Table

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

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

The Refrigerator

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

Kitchen Cabinets

When kitchen cupboards were made of natural wood, they often had cracks that were difficult to clean completely from chametz that got stuck there. Therefore in the past, people would cover them with paper. However, there is no concern that chametz remained in smooth shelves like those used today. Therefore, once they have been cleaned properly, they need not be covered with paper or cloth.

Electric water heaters

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

Toaster: This requires heavy libun, and since it is liable to be damaged in the process, it should not be koshered. If it is a small toaster, it can be koshered in the same way as a baking-oven, and used on Pesach with disposable trays.

Various Utensils

Silver goblets: It is proper, le-khatĥila, to perform hagala on silver goblets used for Kiddush wine and other hard drinks, because crumbs sometimes fall into the goblet along with these strong drinks, which, according to some poskim, causes their taste to be absorbed into the goblet after eighteen minutes.

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

Thermos

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

False Teeth

False teeth should be cleaned thoroughly before the onset of the chametz prohibition. They need not undergo hagala, because people do not normally put boiling foods or liquids in their mouths; just as they are used for both meat and dairy when cleaned in between, so can they be used on Pesach.

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

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed, including all of his highly acclaimed series of books “Peninei Halakha” in Hebrew, and some in English, can be found at:
http://en.yhb.org.il/

Egg Matza and ‘Gebrokts’ on Pesach

‘Matza ashira’ and the sources for Ashkenazi and Sephardi customs * Today, cookies made from ‘matza ashira’ contain substances that might be considered like water, consequently there is disagreement among Sephardic poskim in regards to them * ‘Matza sheruya’ and the Hassidic custom not to eat it * Today, some Hasidim are lenient, because the process of baking matzos has changed and there is less room for concern * Milk produced before Pesach can be consumed, but milk of an animal owned by a Jew that ate chametz on Pesach should not be consumed * A further look at the joy of weddings: Tips on preventing older guests from being excluded from the dancing circles, and maintaining pleasant conversations without background music

Matza Ashira (“Egg Matza”)

Q: On Pesach, is one permitted to eat cookies made with ‘mei peirot‘ (“fruit juice”), or what is usually called ‘matza ashira‘ (“egg matza”)?

A: The chametz that the Torah forbids is comprised of flour and water. If flour was kneaded with fruit juice – even if the dough sits a full day and rises – it is not considered chametz since rising of this kind is different from the type forbidden by the Torah. The category of “fruit juice” (“mei peirot“) includes wine, honey, milk, oil, and egg, in addition to all juices squeezed from a fruit, like apple or berry juice. Since fruit juice does not cause dough to become chametz, one may knead, bake, and eat such dough on Pesach. Nevertheless, one would not fulfill the mitzva of matza on the first night of Pesach with it, because the Torah calls matza “lechem oni” (“poor man’s bread”), and matza made from fruit juice is “matza ashira (“rich matza” – colloquially known in English as “egg matza”), since it possesses more than the taste of just flour and water.

If a drop of water gets mixed in with the fruit juice, it can cause the dough to become chametz. Moreover, according to many poskim (Jewish law arbiters), the combination of water and fruit juice actually expedites the leavening process. Thus, in order to avoid such doubts, the Sages prohibited kneading dough with a mixture of fruit juice and water during Pesach (SA 462:1-3).

Ashkenazic Custom

The Ashkenazic custom is to avoid eating anything made of dough kneaded with fruit juice out of concern that water mixed with the fruit juice causes the dough to become chametz. Furthermore, it takes into account the opinion of Rashi, who disagrees with most Rishonim and maintains that fruit juice alone can cause something to become chametz on the rabbinic level. Although in principle it is possible to follow the lenient ruling of the vast majority of poskim, nevertheless the Ashkenazic custom is to be stringent, and this should not be altered.

Sephardic Custom

According to the Sephardic custom, one is permitted to prepare on Pesach cookies made with flour and ‘mei peirot’, but it is forbidden for water to be mixed-in, since such a mixture is liable to expedite the leavening process. Be-di’avad (a level of performance that ex post facto satisfies an obligation in a less-than-ideal manner), if water is mixed in, one should bake it immediately (SA 462:2).

In practice, cookies that get kosher-for-Pesach certification according to Sephardic custom are made on the basis of ‘mei peirot’ with care taken that water is not mixed-in, with other substances added instead. Those poskim who permit them to be eaten maintain that these substances are not considered like water. This is the psak of the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ztz”l, and the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Shlomo Amar shlita. In contrast, our guide and mentor the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l ruled very stringently, out of fear that the din of the other substances was like water, and that the din of these leavening agents may be even severer than water, so that even if the cookies are made under special supervision, they would be considered chametz, even be-di’avad. Therefore, in practice, even according to Sephardic custom, it would be proper for all to take on the Ashkenazi custom, and avoid eating these cookies. However, someone who’s Rav muvhak (primary rabbi) rules leniently, is permitted to act likewise.

Matza Sheruya (Soaked Matza; “Gebrokts”)

Q: Is there room to be stringent and not eat ‘matza sheruya’, i.e. matzah, or matzah crumbs, soaked in water?

A: Once matza has been completely baked, the flour in it loses the capacity to become chametz, even if it is soaked in water for a long time. An indication that the matza is fully baked is that a crust has formed on its surface and that it breaks cleanly, with no threads of unbaked dough extending from it. Thus, it is permitted to soak matza in soup, and an elderly or sick person who cannot eat dry matza on the Seder night may soften matza by soaking it in water (SA 461:4). Likewise, if the matza was ground into flour, it is permitted to knead it with water; one need not worry about it becoming chametz because, as mentioned, once it has been thoroughly baked, it cannot (SA 463:3). Therefore, one may bake cakes from the five species of grain during Pesach, or cook various dishes – such as gefilte fish and matza balls – that contain matza meal.

The Stringency of Hasidim

Yet there are some who avoid soaking fully-baked matza in water, lest some of the flour was not kneaded properly and remained unbaked, and soaking the matza will cause the unbaked dough to become chametz. They likewise fear that some flour may have stuck to the matza after the baking process, and if the matza is soaked in water, this flour will become chametz. There is yet another reason to be strict about matza meal: an unlearned person might confuse matza meal with real flour and end up violating the prohibition of chametz on Pesach. Hasidim accept this stringency and refrain from eating matza that has been soaked, or what is termed in Yiddish, “gebrokts”.

Halakha Regarding Matzah Sheruya

Nearly all poskim, however, unanimously agree that one need not be stringent, since it can be assumed that the kneading was thorough, leaving no flour un-kneaded or un-baked. This is the custom of Sephardic and non-Hasidic Ashkenazic Jews. Today, even some Hasidic Jews are lenient because, due to the popular practice of baking thin matzot, there is no longer any concern that some of the flour was not properly baked. Likewise, there is no concern that flour may have gotten stuck to the matza, since matza bakeries are careful to separate the area where flour is handled from the area where the matza comes out of the oven. The Mishna Berura (458:4) states: “Although in principle there is no reason for concern about this, and it is permitted to eat soaked matza, one should not mock conscientious people who choose to be stringent.”

The Law Concerning Hasidic Families

In practice, many people of Hasidic descent no longer observe the stringency of “gebrokts”. This is because modern-day matzot are extremely thin and our ovens are very strong. If one’s father was lenient in this matter, one need not perform hatarat nedarim (the annulment of vows), even if he is from a Hasidic family. However, if one’s father was stringent, and he wants to be lenient, he should perform hatarat nedarim, and also make sure not to insult his father.

However, one who accepted the stringency (without saying “bli neder“) because he wanted to go beyond the letter of the law and now wishes to be lenient, should first perform hatarat nedarim.
One who was stringent because he thought that this is the halakha erred, and may switch to the lenient practice without performing hatarat nedarim (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 8:2). 

Milk from an Animal That Ate Chametz

Clearly, milk produced by a cow before Pesach does not contain chametz, for the chametz eaten by the cow was digested and completely transformed to the point that it is no longer considered chametz whatsoever. Therefore, on Pesach, one is permitted to consume milk, or meat, from an animal that ate chametz before Pesach.

But if the animal ate chametz on Pesach, some poskim rule stringently, arguing that since on Pesach itself it is forbidden to derive benefit from chametz, as long as chametz is a factor causing the production of the milk, the milk is forbidden. Other poskim are lenient, since no direct benefit is derived from the chametz (according to the rule: “zeh ve-zeh gorem“).

In practice, if an animal owned by a Jew was fed chametz in violation of halakha, one should act stringently and not drink its milk; if the animal is owned by a gentile, one is permitted to drink its milk. The same applies to eggs and meat (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 8:5-6).

Good Advice for Weddings

Following my column concerning the joy of weddings published three weeks ago, I received a reply with another good piece of advice:

“Rabbi, in the column on weddings you dealt with the careless dancing of young people at weddings, that when they are a bit too boisterous, they do not allow older people to participate in the dancing. Even at my not so-old age of thirty, I’ve seen this problem at weddings in which I was a relative of the bride, wishing to dance and rejoice with her, but was repeatedly flung from the dancing circle.

“As a bride, I was worried that this would happen at my wedding as well; therefore, I assigned the responsibility to seven of my closest friends. I asked them to make sure that anyone who wished to dance, would be able to enter the dance circle. Given that this was their task, they took it very seriously. As a result, throughout the entire wedding (as can be seen in the pictures), there was joyous dancing, with young and older guests alike, able to participate in the dancing. This is good advice for a bride who wants to enable all women participating in the wedding to dance, without having to worry about it during the wedding.”

Quieting the Band during the Meal

In the same column, I wrote an important piece of advice – to silence the band during the meal, because pleasurable conversation between the guests is extremely important. Indeed, our Sages have said: “Agra d’bei hilulei – millei” (Berachot 6 b), namely, the merit of attending a wedding lies in the words – i.e., the cheerful bustle of good and pleasing conversation spoken between the guests. However, when the band plays, it is impossible to carry on a relaxed conversation.

Before our daughter’s wedding, I asked that a pre-condition be made – that the band agree not to play during the meal, which they did. When I got to the wedding-hall, I was approached by the band’s manager, a pleasant, God-fearing and educated man, who said that, of course, they would do as requested, but that he felt it would be preferable to play background music. I refused. Nonetheless, he urged amiably, suggesting they would play soft background music, and that I could appoint someone to listen and if the music interfered, they would stop. I agreed to a compromise: during the first course of the meal, they would not play any music at all; during the main course, they would play background music, with one of our guests making sure they were not interfering. The problem was that during the main course, we were all so busy and elated, and although subconsciously we sensed disturbing noise, we had no idea it was the background music causing everyone shout or lean over and speak into the ear of the person sitting next to them.

In practice, during the first course, all guests at the table were able to talk to each other, while during the main course, guests had to raise their voice in order to be heard. True, not as loudly as at weddings where the band actually plays, or where background music is played at a moderate level, but still, it was not as pleasant as we had hoped. We asked some guests, and they said that it was much more pleasant during the first course, without being able to identify the source of the problem. Apparently, since in any case there was a lot of noise in the hall, in order for the background music to be heard, it had to be played quite loud, and thus, relaxed conversation was made impossible.

The lesson I learned for future weddings is not to concede to affable band managers, but rather, insist that there be no music during the wedding meal.

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

The Joy of Judaism and Torah

Be as meticulous about being happy in the month of Adar, as you are about grieving in the month of Av * Happiness can be achieved by pondering and appreciating the magnitude of the miracle in the days of Mordechai and Esther * In the times of Achashverosh, Israel had sunk to the lowest of levels; nevertheless, the Jews preferred to die, rather than assimilate * The choice to remain faithful to the Torah confirmed its’ renewed acceptance – this time, out of complete freedom of choice * Purim reveals that every situation and every force has divine destiny * Happiness without giving gifts to the poor is turning a blind eye to, and evading reality; therefore, such joy is incomplete * How to drink properly on Purim

My father and mentor, Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed shlita, is used to saying that the times of year when several people ask rabbis questions are for the most part the days before Passover, and next, the days before the beginning of the month of Av, seeing as our Sages said: “When the month of Av enters, we reduce our joy”; consequently, numerous questions arise concerning how to reduce joy in matters of listening to music, taking pleasure trips, public events, purchasing new items, etc. But what about the month of Adar? Aren’t there any questions when the month of Adar enters? After all, our Sages paralleled the two months, saying: “Just as with the beginning of Av rejoicings are curtailed, so with the beginning of Adar rejoicings are increased” (Ta’anit 29a). In other words, just as we are careful about reducing joy when Av enters, we should be just as careful about adding joy in the month of Adar, asking just as many questions as we do when the month of Av begins. Most likely, everyone believes they know how to be happy. Nevertheless, it could be worthwhile delving further into the significance of happiness from a perspective presenting everyday life and reality in the light of joy.

At any rate, it is obvious that part of the mitzvah of increasing happiness is minimizing one’s involvement in distressing things, and attempting to look at the good and joyful side of life. For that reason, I will not remark on the insulting position the Ministry of Defense has taken towards me, and only attempt to be happy over my fortune of “having been apprehended for busying myself with Torah.”

The Difficult Crisis during the Time of Ahchashverosh

During the times of Ahchashverosh, the Jewish nation found itself in dire straits. Since the heyday of the Exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, conquering the Land of Israel, and the kingdoms of David and Solomon – for centuries, the nation spiraled downwards. Sins of idolatry, incest, and bloodshed spread throughout Israel. At first, the tribes living on the eastern side of the Jordan River were exiled, then the remaining tribes of the Kingdom of Israel, and finally, the Holy Temple was destroyed and the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi and all those joining them from the other tribes went into exile. Almost no Jews were left in the country. Indeed, the decree of Koresh (Cyrus) had already been declared, allowing the Jews to return to their land, but only a few of them ascended, and as a result of a hateful accusation, they were forbidden to build the Temple. The Persian Empire reigned supreme, and instead of going to Israel, the large Jewish population within the empire endeavored to assimilate amongst the Gentiles and behave like them, to the point where many of the Jews were willing to bow-down to an idol. In the capital of Shushan, Jews participated in a feast given by Ahchashverosh, seeing with their own eyes how the sacred utensils from the Holy Temple, which had been captured by the enemy during the destruction, were now being used profanely; but nevertheless, the Jews enjoyed themselves at the feast of this evil man. It seemed the hope for the return to Zion had vanished, within a few generations the Jewish people would assimilate amongst the Gentiles, and the great vision for which the Jewish nation was chosen would be lost.

The Decree

And then, the wicked Haman, a descendant of Amalek, arose and

instigated the Persian Empire to enact a terrible decree against the Jews, the likes of which had never been seen before: “To destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on a single day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month – that is, the month of Adar – and to plunder their possessions” (Esther 3:13).

It was the first time that the Jews faced such a terrible dilemma: to remain faithful to their identity and Torah with a willingness to pay a heavy price, or assimilate amongst the nations, and be saved from their Jewish fate.

Jewish Identity

And then, the unthinkable happened: Despite the generation’s weakness, the Jews withstood the trials, remained faithful to their identity, and did not assimilate. And God performed a miracle, ‘ve’nafoch hu’ (and vice versa) – rather than the enemies of Israel carrying out their attack, the Jews killed their enemies, and even hung Haman and his sons on the trees that he had prepared for Mordechai. As a result, determination to immigrate to the Land of Israel was aroused among the Jews, we merited building the Second Temple, and a door was opened for the increase of studying the Oral Torah, which was the main spiritual initiative during the Second Temple period.

Since then, the miracle of Purim has served as the model for the life of the Jewish people throughout its’ long years of exile. Our ancestors had thousands of opportunities to assimilate and shed from themselves the heavy burden of anti-Semitism; other nations failed to withstand even simpler ordeals. However, the Jewish nation, despite all the trials and tribulations, choose to continue bearing the word of God and His Torah, out of faith that we had a great destiny – to return to the Land of Israel, and bring redemption to the world.

Receiving the Torah Anew

The events of Purim were so momentous, the Sages stated that Israel accepted the Torah anew at the time of Ahchashverosh. In a certain sense, their renewed commitment at that time was greater than their original acceptance of the Torah on Mount Sinai. When the Torah was first given, Israel was forced to accept it, as it says: “They took their places at the foot of the mountain” (Shemot 19:17). The Sages comment:

“This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like a cask, and said to them, “If you accept the Torah – good; if not – there shall be your burial.” R. Aĥa b. Yaakov said, “This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah” (since they accepted the Torah under duress, they are not obligated to uphold it). Rava said,

“Even so, they re-accepted it at the time of Ahchashverosh, as it says, ‘The Jews upheld and accepted upon themselves” (Esther 9:27) – that is, they confirmed what they had accepted long before” (Shabbat 88a).

Nevertheless, the question still remained: Would the Jews stay connected to God and His Torah even afterwards, when they become detached from those miracles and wonders? Indeed, there were ups and downs, until the events of Purim took place. That is when it became clear that the people of Israel’s connection to their faith and to the Torah were absolute. The terrible decree made it clear that the price of belief might be unbearable, but the Jews still chose to adhere to their faith, repent, and pray to God, without any coercion. Not only did they return to observe the 613 mitzvot, they even instituted additional mitzvot after they were saved – the mitzvot of Purim. This was the receiving of the Torah anew.

The ‘Segulah‘ of Israel was Revealed on Purim

Thus, on Purim, the ‘segulah‘ (singular quality) of Israel was revealed, that even in the worst situations, they remain connected and faithful to God. This is what our Sages have said, that Jews, even when they sin, are called sons of God. It also became clear that God governs the world and alters events in Israel’s favor in order to save and redeem them.

This is what Purim is all about – taking joy in the sanctity of the Torah, and Israel. By reading of the ‘megillah‘ (scroll of Ester), we engage in Torah, and in the mitzvot of ‘mishteh v’simcha, mishloach manot, v’matanot l’evyonim’ (feasting and joy, sending of portions, and gifts to the poor), we engage in the sanctity of Israel.

The Torah in the Megillah

A wonderful ‘torah’, or teaching, was revealed in the Book of Esther – that even in the depths of darkness, God watches over His nation, and in the end, all the difficult and grave situations turn out to be stages leading towards redemption. In Megillat
Esther, God’s name does not appear. This expresses the darkness and concealment that was present at the time, but that nevertheless, incognito, God governs the world and watches over His nation, guiding and saving them.

Compared to the first stage in which the Torah was revealed with signs and wonders, in the days of Mordechai and Esther the Torah was revealed through physical reality, which at first, seems to conceal the Divine light, but the more devoted and dedicated we are to God, the more physical reality itself reveals its’ divine origin, this being the complete ‘tikun’.

All this is alluded to in the name ‘Megillat Esther’: the word ‘esther‘ stems from the Hebrew word ‘hester‘, or hidden, and ‘megillah‘ stems from the word ‘giluy’, or revealed. ‘Megillat Esther’, therefore, represents the revelation within concealment.

Joy in Food and Drink – ‘Ad d’lo Yada’

Consequently, it was revealed that the physical aspects of life which ostensibly conceal the Divine light, when they are performed ‘l’shem Shamayim’ (for the sake of Heaven), they also are holy. Instead of interfering with the service of Hashem, they are transformed for the better, and are very helpful in serving God with joy and vitality. Even in a certain state of ‘ebude ha’daat’ (loss of knowledge), Jews remain faithful to God. Just as Israel’s faith goes beyond accepted limits, with a devotion difficult to comprehend, so too, the joy of Purim expresses itself in drinking alcoholic beverages “ad d’lo yada’ (until one no longer knows the difference between “blessed be Mordechai” and “cursed be Haman”) – to a level of devotion that goes beyond ordinary, rational considerations.

This is complete happiness, which embraces all of man’s powers, both spiritual and material, to the point where it becomes clear that even drinking and drunkenness, which we generally view as being negative, is transformed for the better, and joins in with the happiness.

And of course, there is no real joy without camaraderie, because real joy is the diversification of life, and its’ extension to the love of others. Therefore, we are commanded to send portions to each other (‘matanot ish l’ray’ahu’), and the feast itself should also be held with friends and family.

‘Matanot L’Evyonim’

One should not be satisfied with increasing love between friends only, but must also take care of the poor who are unable to be happy; therefore, we are commanded to give ‘matanot l’evyonim’ (gifts to the poor), so that they too can participate in the joy of Purim. And anyone who ignores the pain of the poor, even if he thinks he’s having a good time with his friends, in truth, this is nothing but self-indulgency, because, in fact, he is disregarding real life. He escapes thoughts about the sorrows in the world, and only in this way is he able to make himself happy for a while. However, the harsh reality does not disappear while drinking wine and getting drunk; therefore, deep down, he knows he doesn’t really deserve to be happy, and remains sad. But someone who takes care to make the poor and unfortunate happy – his life has value, and he can truly and justifiably rejoice. This is why we are commanded to give gifts to the poor on Purim.

Advice on How to Prevent Drunkenness Ending in Sorrow

Fortunately, we are not used to drinking heavily, therefore, it is important to somewhat familiarize ourselves in the ways of drinking; otherwise, instead of being happy, we will be sorry. In general, alcohol reaches its’ maximum effect only after about thirty minutes. Someone who is not aware of this is liable to drink a glass of wine at the beginning of the meal, and when he realizes that after five minutes the wine has barely had an effect, he feels the need to drink another glass. And then, after another five minutes have passed and he still feels just a little tipsy, it crosses his mind that he should drink another full glass; and after another ten minutes, he begins feeling happy: the wine is taking effect, and if so, why not increase the joy with another glass? And thus, within less than half an hour, he has consumed four glasses, and all of a sudden, the alcohol goes to his head. He still tries to control himself, to talk normally, not to knock over bottles and dishes, but very quickly, he falls dead drunk, reeling in his own vomit. Therefore, it is proper to wait at least a half an hour between drinks; also, along with drinking, it is good to eat something, so that the good wine is absorbed in the body properly. In this way, it is possible to prolong the joy of the mitzvah for several hours.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed, including all his highly proclaimed books on Jewish law and thought in Hebrew, and a few in English, can be found at:
http://en.yhb.org.il/

How to Gladden a Chatan and Kallah

In Judaism, the wedding day is the most joyous day of one’s life * The large number of participants in a wedding reveals that it is not a private happy occasion, but part of the general objective of revealing the unity of Hashem * One should embellish the wedding meal and clothes bought for the wedding more than for Yom Tov * The wedding band should play at a level that allows people to converse, since conversing with friends and family is part of the joy * So as to make other’s happy, it is a mitzvah for wedding guests to be joyful themselves, viewing others with an ‘ayin tova’ (favorably) * It is a mitzvah to praise the kallah (bride) in the eyes of the chatan (groom), and vice-a-versa * When dancing, older participants should not be pushed out of the dancing circle, for precisely their participation increases the wedding’s virtue

 

The Significance of a Joyful Wedding

This week, my wife and I will merit leading our precious daughter to the wedding chuppah (canopy), and accordingly, this week I will deal with the joy of a wedding, which is the greatest joy in Jewish life.

Countless lyrics and melodies have been composed relating to weddings. Unlike Christians, who viewed the wedding as a submission to a person’s inferior inclinations, Judaism, out of its positive approach to life, views the wedding day as the happiest day of a person’s life. This is the day when the couple begins to completely fulfil the mitzvah which Rabbi Akiva said is a “clal gadol be’Torah” (an all-encompassing mitzvah) – the mitzvah of “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Vayikra 19:18, Sifra). And the Ari HaKadosh said that by fulfilling the mitzvah in its completeness, the couple fulfills in essence the entire Torah (Sefer HaLikutim, Ekev). It is also the day when the foundations are laid for future generations to be born, with God’s help, for the new couple.

Raising One’s Personal Joy to that of the ‘Clal

Ostensibly, one might ask: Why do people have to dance in front of the chatan and kallah (groom and bride) to make them happy? They’re already happy! Rather, the joy of the wedding is designed to expand and connect the joy of the chatan and kallah to that of ‘Clal Yisrael’ (all of Israel) – to all generations, past and future – so the chatan and kallah may realize the great virtue of their spiritual level, that by ‘kiddushin k’dat Moshe ve’Yisrael‘ (marriage according to the Law of Moses and Israel), God’s unity is revealed in the world, and love, peace and blessings extend to everything.

And this is Israel’s main undertaking in this world – to reveal to the world God’s unity, with love and joy, in the light of the Torah and according to the guidance of its mitzvoth, and thus, add blessing and life in the world, and elevate and improve it, until the coming of the Final Redemption.

This lofty idea is revealed through the union of the chatan and kallah, and consequently, the joy of the wedding is so important. Precisely as a result of elevating the joy and happiness from its private dimension to that of a general one, the personal love between the couple will be uplifted and grow stronger over the years and not fade away, as worldly passions normally do.

Revealing Unity

To better understand the importance of marriage, it must be explained that God desired to grant merit to mankind. Thus, He created the world incomplete so people could repair it and make the world pleasant and full of joy; consequently, they would be partners with God in all the good in the world, and as a result, their delight in it would be complete. Division is the most acute deficiency in creation. Indeed, God is One, but seeing as that He hid his light, His creations became separated from Him, and consequently, separated from one another – each person worrying for himself. This is what gives rise to all the quarrels, disputes, conflicts and wars. Therefore, this world is called “alma d’peruda” – a world of division. For the same reason it is also called “alma d’shikra” – a world of lies, where the root of unity goes unacknowledged, giving rise to all evils in the world. Therefore, the essence of Israel’s faith is the belief in unity – the belief in one God.

A wedding reveals the great unity in the world, for two separate individuals unite twice over: first, in the unity of man and wife, and second, in the unity of soul and body. Often, there exists a conflict between the soul and the body. The soul longs for spiritual pleasure and as a result is attracted to the good, whereas the physical body is attracted to material pleasures and thus, enticed to evil. The soul desires eternity, and the physical body seeks the fleeting here and now. By way of marriage, the soul and the body unify in holiness, and even the ‘yetzer ha’ra‘ (evil inclination) is transformed into the ‘yetzer ha’tov’ (good inclination). The noble idea of ​​loyalty and unity connects with the greatest pleasure, and the moral value of total dedication connects with the greatest joy. Therefore, the joy of a wedding should be especially great, more so than any other happy occasion.

The Mitzvah of Joy at Weddings: The Meal and Clothing

This is the order of levels of joy in Judaism: The mitzvah of joy on Yom Tov is greater than that on Shabbat, therefore the holiday meals should be finer than those on Shabbat, and it is a greater mitzvah to drink wine and eat meat on Yom Tov meals than on Shabbat. A wedding feast should be finer than meals on Yom Tov.

The same holds true regarding clothing: It is a mitzvah to buy new clothes for Yom Tov, in particular for women to have new clothes for the holiday, so they can fulfill the mitzvah of joy on Yom Tov. In advance of weddings of first-degree relatives, Jews are accustomed to embellish the mitzvah and buy nicer clothing than those they purchase for Yom Tov. And the custom is that if a Yom Tov is close to the wedding, there is no need to buy additional clothes for the Yom Tov; rather, pleasure is taken in the clothing bought for the wedding, on Yom Tov. It is also a mitzvah for all the guests at the wedding to dress in clothes they wear for Yom Tov, or at the very least, in clothes they wear for Shabbat.

The Wedding Feast

Since the wedding feast is especially important, in addition to bread, meat and wine should be served for they make people happy. Seemingly, chicken is also considered as gratifying as eating meat, as we find in the Talmud (Ketubot 5a), that chicken was prepared for weddings.

Efforts should be made in advance of the meal, and our Sages determined that one should toil in preparation of the meal at least three days in advance, because of ‘kavod banot Yisrael‘ (respect for women of Israel) (Ketubot 2a). Today, when catering is usually hired, there is no need to prepare the meal for three days, rather, it is sufficient to ensure that the meal is dignified.

Rejoicing and Making Others Happy

True joy is found in friendship with others – where a person is happy, and makes others happy as well (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1:11). For this to occur, all those participating in the wedding should view everything with an ‘ayin tova’ (favorably): the chatan and kallah, all the guests, and to take pleasure in the meal and clothing. As a result of one’s joy, he will be able to compliment everyone, and truly make them happy.

Joy in Conversation and Exchange

In the Tractate of Berachot (6b), our Sages emphasized the importance of the mitzvah to gladden the chatan and kallah, saying: “Whosoever partakes of the wedding meal of a bridegroom and does not gladden him transgresses ‘the five voices’ (for there are five voices mentioned in the verse dealing with the joy of weddings): ‘The voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that say, Give thanks to the Lord of Hosts’ (Yerimiyahu 33:11). And if he does gladden him what is his reward? — Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: He is privileged to acquire the knowledge of the Torah which was given with five voices. Rabbi Abbahu says: It is as if he had sacrificed a thanksgiving offering. Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak says: It is as if he had restored one of the ruins of Jerusalem.”

Some people are mistaken, thinking that all the joy of a wedding is in the dancing. This is not the case. True, the pinnacle of joy is expressed in the dancing, but the main point is in everyone taking pleasure in the meal, drinking wine, wearing nice clothing, and talking to one another with love and joy, as cited in the Talmud: “Rabbi Ashi said: Agra d’bei hilulei – millei” (Berachot 6 b), namely, the merit of attending a wedding lies in the words – i.e., the cheerful hubbub of good and pleasing conversation between the guests. To be able to fulfill this essential joy, it is proper for the band to refrain from playing music during the meal, so the guests can converse with one another.

The Maharsha added that the joy of such conversation is to gladden the chatan and kallah with words of mitzvah, thanking God for all his kindness. Indeed, this is the Jewish custom, that during the dancing the band plays religious songs with words of thanks and prayer to God.

The climax of the joyous conversation is designed to gladden the chatan and kallah themselves, as Rashi explains, and as our Sages said (Ketubot 17a), that one should dance before the kallah and say: ‘Kallah na’eh ve’chasuda‘ (beautiful and graceful bride). And even if it seems apparent that the kallah is not beautiful and graceful, the halakha goes according to Beit Hillel that one should praise her as being “beautiful and graceful”, for this is the inner truth regarding all brides. All the more so when in most cases, when one looks with an ‘ayin tova’, one can see that this the simple truth.

From this we learn that, within the limits of modesty, the relatives of the chatan and his friends should praise the kallah in front of him, and the more they praise her plausibly, they thus merit to fulfil the mitzvah of gladdening the chatan and kallah to an even greater extent, for when the chatan is happy with his kallah, he makes her happier. It is also a mitzvah for the kallah’s relatives to praise her chatan in front of her, and in this way, she will be happier with him.

Wedding Dancing

“It was told of Rabbi Yehudah bar Ila’i that he used to take a myrtle twig and dance before the bride and say: ‘Beautiful and graceful bride’ (Ketubot 17a). Owing to the very fact that a ‘Gadol be’Torah’ (an eminent Torah scholar) such as Rabbi Yehudah dismissed himself from Torah learning to go and dance before the kallah, the chatan and kallah realized just how illustrious their virtue was – for they were building a home faithful to the traditions of Israel. This wonderful memory from their wedding would remain with them forever, and even if difficult times were to appear, this happy memory would bring joy and encouragement.

In the Talmud it is also told about Rabbi Shmuel bar Rabbi Yitzchak that even in his old age it was his custom to dance in front of the kallah while holding three myrtle branches, tossing and juggling them. He was so skillful that even young men were ashamed of themselves for not being able to dance and cheer the chatan and kallah as he did. When Rabbi Shmuel bar Rabbi Yitzchak died, a pillar of fire fell from heaven, separating between the people and himself. The Sages understood that a pillar of fire falls only for one or two people in a generation. The Sages said that Rabbi Shmuel bar Rabbi Yitzchak attained his high standing in the merit of the myrtle branches he danced with in front of the kallah, for myrtles allude to multiplicity of children. Others explained he attained his high level in the merit of having constantly danced so before all brides, and others explained he attained his high level in the merit of being silly and demeaning himself in order to gladden the kallah.

From all of this we learn just how great and tremendous is the mitzvah of dancing before the chatan and kallah at a wedding, and making them happy.

The Participation of Older People in the Dancing Increases Joy

I must take this opportunity to reproach the young men and women who dance wildly, inadvertently kicking people older than themselves. It has gotten to the point where even thirty-year-old’s are shoved out of the circle – given the feeling that they are too old to participate in the dancing. In addition to the prohibition against harming anyone while dancing, let alone an older person for whom it is a mitzvah to respect, these young people also mar the joy of the wedding, because the more adults and elderly people participating in the dancing, the more significance the wedding possesses. And the young adults who merit respecting their elders, will be worthy to dance until a ripe old age, in the joy of mitzvot.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed, and his entire series of highly acclaimed books on halakha and Jewish thought, “Peninei Halakha” (in Hebrew, and a few in English), can be found at:
http://en.yhb.org.il/

The Struggle for a Jewish Army

In recent years I have written numerous articles warning about the erosion of the status of Judaism in the IDF * Had we previously stood firm against the violation of mitzvot and values, the order against growing a beard in the army would have been unthinkable * Many objectors to statements made in this column in the past, are now calling for a harsh response * Threats or calls to topple the government are wrong; instead, we must warn about every problem in the army * One cannot attack certain parties during the elections, and then expect them to act beyond their limited political power * We can learn from Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook over which issues should a government be disbanded

The Storm over Growing a Beard in the Army

Q: Rabbi, why didn’t you harshly criticize the army order stating that no soldier would be allowed to grow a beard without permission from their commanding officer? Shouldn’t soldiers be called to refuse orders, and rebel against this order?! Shouldn’t this be viewed as a serious trend of attempting to abolish religion, along with the transfer of the ‘Jewish Identity Branch’ from the Military Rabbinate to the Manpower Directorate, and the Government’s surrender to the Reform Movement regarding the Kotel?! Shouldn’t Members of Knesset be called to topple the government over these issues?!

A: Indeed, the order against growing beards is outrageous, and indicates an insensitivity and lack of respect on part of the members of the General Staff who issued it. The order causes a certain amount of damage to the Jewish character of the IDF, but more than that, it damages the status of the military rabbis who, up until now, were responsible for granting such approval, and even more so, damages the dignity of a soldier who is permitted to appear in a way consistent with his lifestyle, as long as he looks decent and respectable.

It is obvious that a soldier who receives such an order does not have to obey it, rather, he should act in acceptable methods to change the order. In the vast majority of cases he will succeed; but if he encounters an especially unyielding officer, he should explain to him that he is willing to go to jail over the issue, and as a result, maybe the officer will come to his senses and cancel the order.

Seeing as from the start I anticipated the issue would be solved through understanding, I did not find it necessary to voice my criticism publicly.

My Longstanding Position

However, I am amazed at many of those presently calling to fight and topple the government: How come during all the years when I wrote piercing critiques about the erosion of Jewish-national identity in various government frameworks they were silent, and at times, even came out against my views. True, throughout this period the principled influence of the religious community increased greatly, but at the same time, under the influence of the judicial system and academia, a process of erosion of values occurred ​​in the courts, in the educational system, in national security matters, in the status of the Israeli rabbinate, together with the status of the IDF Rabbinate and the Jewish character of the IDF. I will briefly mention the articles I wrote on the topic of insisting the IDF function as a Jewish army.

In the Summer of 2004, in two different articles, I wrote about the difficulty of cadets at the main IDF training base (Ba’had 1) to pray in a minyan, and demanded that religious and Haredi MK’s take action on their behalf (they did not, but the public criticism helped somewhat). Another article was devoted to soldiers strengthening themselves religiously, for their own sake, and on behalf of the Jewish character of the IDF, in line with the Torah’s command that our camp be holy.

In October 2005, I wrote about the limits of obeying orders that contradict halakha, both in relation to the expulsion of Jews from their homes, and the desecration of Shabbat (I also continued dealing with the subject the following week).

In November 2005, I warned that concessions on matters of halakha would cause erosion of the army’s status, from the aspect of moral soundness of the Jewish army, and because it would distance religious and Haredi soldiers from the importance of recruiting. In the summer of 2005, the expulsion from Gush Katif and northern Samaria occurred; at that time I wrote extensively against the expulsion, and about the mitzvah to serve in the army despite all.

In December 2005, I dealt with the military order preventing soldiers from wearing tzitzit outwardly (a mitzvah no less important than having a beard), and about the erosion of independence of the Military Rabbinate. I wrote that since it lacked the power to stand up to the military command, as was the case in the time of Rabbi Goren, it did not have the status of ‘mara d’atra’ (local rabbinic authority), and consequently, other rabbis also have a responsibility to respond to halachic questions of soldiers in the army. The following month I continued dealing with this subject, and in subsequent articles, warned about it at length.

In August 2006, I wrote that the dismissal of officers who cause damage to the sacred Jewish character of the IDF should be demanded, or in the words of Rabbi Goren, the founder of the IDF Rabbinate: “Any officer for whom the sanctity of Jewish tradition is not uppermost in his mind, is unfit to be a commander in the IDF and send troops to fight for the people of Israel. And therefore, he insisted that a commander who damaged Israel’s sacred traditions, be dismissed and expelled from the army.”

In January 2007, I devoted an entire article to the religious situation in the IDF, stating that on the one hand, it had become much more suitable for religious soldiers, but on the other hand, in key areas such as modesty and values, there had been a serious erosion. I wrote: “This is not an issue for religious soldiers alone; the army must strive to express, as best possible, the heritage and values ​​of the Jewish people. Without it, the IDF will become a U.N. peace-keeping force, with all the implications and serious bearings for the safety of Israel. The feelings of religious soldiers in the army is a reliable litmus test for the level of Jewishness in the IDF.” To reinforce this position, I devoted several articles over the years regarding the character and leadership of Rabbi Goren in the army. I continued devoting numerous articles to the state of Judaism and the observance mitzvoth in the army. In February 2008, I devoted an article about the erosion that had begun as a result of integrating women in all-male units, and I continued to write about this in two following articles.

In the meantime, I devoted numerous articles explaining the importance of the mitzvah to serve in the army, and that in spite of the essential struggle for its’ Jewish character, in no way should one evade this great mitzvah. I even defended my dear friend, the then Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Rabbi Avichai Rontsky, shlita, (may he have a complete recovery from his recent surgery) from attacks by elements in the Haredi world.

It seems to me the picture is clear, and even getting a little boring, so I will skip the review of articles I wrote from 2009 onwards (incidentally, these critiques, which did not find many supporters other than soldiers in the field, were the background for Yeshiva Har Bracha’s removal from the Hesder program in the Winter of 2009).

Past and Present

In all those years, many of those who now claim that orders should be disobeyed and the government toppled, said that tensions should not be provoked in the army. When I warned about the harm being done to the independence of the IDF Rabbinate, and that it should be more aggressive, many of those who are currently calling for the IDF Chief Rabbi to quit, claimed that my position was extremist and lacked respect for the IDF officers and army rabbis, and that demonstrations should be in favor, and not against – strengthening the government, and not weakening it. By doing so, they contributed to the weakening of the IDF Rabbinate, and firming-up the position that religious matters in the army are not so crucial.

Had the Defense Minister and Chief of Staff been made aware on a regular basis about the problems of modesty, kashrut, and prayers facing religious soldiers in the army, the basic tenet that the army maintain its’ Jewish character, and that the IDF Rabbinate must be independent and the leader in all areas of Judaism in the army – they never would have imagined removing the responsibility of approving beards for religious reasons from the IDF Rabbinate, and transferring the ‘Jewish Identity Branch’.

At any rate, precisely now when we have a Deputy Defense Minister who is a Torah scholar, honest, ethical, and knows how to get things done, it is inappropriate to create a stir, for obviously he will do everything within his powers to solve the problem, and will most probably succeed.

In the Future

From now on, instead of threating and demanding dismissals, or toppling the government, we must warn about every problem in the army on a regular basis, by means of the IDF Rabbinate, members of Knesset from the Likud and the Jewish Home party, and of course, via the Deputy Defense Minister. And maybe even the Haredi Knesset members will agree to join-in, and assist the religious soldiers. Parallel to these standard activities, we must also criticize those responsible for religious problems in the army through the media that is open to broadcast such criticism. In this way, in a gradual process, hopefully all these issues will be solved.

Why Have the Accusations become so Harsh All of a Sudden?

The serious accusations currently voiced against the government and the religious situation in the country and the IDF, raises concern that, in fact, it stems from a deep hostility directed specifically towards the religious and right-wing community and its representatives, because these impossible demands are being made precisely from them, while towards the leftist leadership and representatives of the Haredi community are treated with tolerance and exaggerated backing.

Some of those criticizing the representatives of the national religious public in the Knesset and the government, demanding they solve and advance all these issues immediately, are the one’s who discredited them, caused the loss of votes, and weakened their position in the Knesset. In practice, it is forbidden to develop unrealistic expectations beyond the power that the voters gave them. Whoever develops exaggerated expectations causes their failure, and perhaps even does it on purpose to justify themselves for discrediting them before the elections and weakening their power.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook: Over What Issue Should a Government be Toppled?

The most serious debate on issues of religion and state – far more serious than the argument over the Kotel – was over the issue of conversion. After the secular courts legalized Reform conversions, several prominent rabbis demanded everything be done to change the law, and determine that only conversions according to halakha be recognized in the State of Israel. In their opinion, it was forbidden to participate in a government that did not remedy this issue. However, our teacher and guide, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook was of the opinion that although the issue was important and should be vigorously fought for, it should not prevent the participation of the National Religious Party (Mafdal) in the government. Nevertheless, after the members of the Mafdal decided to resign from the government over this issue, Rabbi Kook maintained that they had to keep their word, and not crawl back into the government in disgrace.

On the other hand, when one of the Prime Ministers declared that he wouldn’t care if he had to visit Gush Etzion with a Jordanian visa, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah was shocked with great pain. For days, he repeated in his discussions, lessons, and even in his sermon for Independence Day (1974): “For himself – he doesn’t care, but we, and all of Israel, do care!” He added: “He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse!” And he repeatedly declared that a Prime Minister who could say such a thing, does not deserve to be the Prime Minister of Israel.

The Prime Minister’s standing at the time seemed firm. A few weeks later the government fell, due to the arrival of airplanes on Shabbat evening. I heard from my uncle, Rabbi Remer ztz”l, that Rabbi Goldwicht ztz”l, Rosh Yeshiva Kerem B’Yavneh, later said to Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah: “Divine inspiration has appeared in our Beit Midrash (study hall)?” Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah responded by saying that it was not Divine inspiration, just that one needed to distinguish between a shortcoming and decay. Sometimes the shortcomings are immense, but it is still possible to continue to live with them until they are amended; but when there is decay, it is much worse, making it impossible to continue.

Today our situation is much better, and may we merit to complete all of the shortcomings.

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

Reform Judaism is Not a Religious Denomination

A group that does not accept the fundamentals of Israel’s faith is not considered a stream of Judaism * As in academia and medicine, unauthorized titles and procedures should be fought * The Reform community in the United States is strong, but is less encouraging of Aliyah to Israel than the Orthodox, and mainly supports the position of the Israeli left * Alongside opposing the recognition of Reform Judaism as a religious stream, their welcome and important work for the people and the country should be acknowledged * Compliments to the Chief Rabbinate following the imposition of alimony obligations on both parents

Recently, the question concerning the Reform movement and its demand for full religious recognition, e.g., the Western Wall, conversions in all public mikva’s, and in the army, has once again resurfaced.

According to the claims of the Reform movement, they consider themselves as one of the religious denominations among the people of Israel, and consequently, their position should be equal to that of the status of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Just as the state assists the appointment of rabbis to cities and neighborhoods, and provides legal validity to rabbinical courts in matters of marriage, divorce and conversions, so too, they also should have the right to appoint rabbis to cities and neighborhoods, and maintain courts for marriage and conversion. And just as the IDF has its’ Military Rabbinate which invites rabbis to give talks and classes on Torah and Jewish values, the army must also invite representatives of the Reform movement as legitimate representatives of the Torah and Judaism (unfortunately, it seems the IDF high command has complied with this objective).

To strengthen their demands, the Reform movement argues that in the United States they are the largest faction, and discrimination in Israel against them offends all Reform Jews abroad. To this argument they add the threat that if they are not granted equality, the Reform community will stop supporting the State of Israel, a situation which may adversely affect Israel’s status in the United States – seeing as America is the strongest country in the world whose support of the State of Israel is important, if not critical.

Principles of Jewish Faith

Two fundamental principles underlie the Jewish faith: one is the divine source of Torah – ‘Torah min ha’Shamayim’ (Torah from Heaven). The second is the absolute validity of the mitzvot and halakha, a validity which, at times, obligates a Jew to sacrifice his life or wealth in sanctification of God.

This is not the place to expound on the importance and depth of these principles, but we shall touch only on their formal framework. Upon examining the position of the Reform movement, we find that they deny these principles. While there are various streams in Judaism, emphasizing different aspects of worshiping God, such as the Hasidim and Mitnagdim, members of the Mussar movement, the Torah and Derech Eretz movement, and even an ultra-orthodox, anti-Zionist stream, nevertheless, the common denominator of all of these groups is their loyalty to these principles, and their functioning solely within its framework. All of the fierce debates between the different factions are conducted precisely on the basis of these principles. But the Reform movement, who do not accept these principles, cannot be considered a religious stream of Judaism, just as the Karaites are not considered a stream of Judaism, or a legitimate Jewish community.

Preventing the Distortion

Since the impression the Reform movement presents as being a Jewish, religious movement is a distortion and misrepresentation of Israel’s sacred Torah, we must oppose any granting of religious authority to their representatives, as has been the custom of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel since its founding until today.

It appears that we can learn from academia how to deal with those who purport to confer academic degrees counter to the orderly and established academic process, as well as the medical establishment’s attitude toward those who profess to be considered as doctors without passing the accepted course of studies. Even when it comes to the broad movement of alternative medicine, which many people believe in, and have been helped by way of its recommendations, the medical establishment is vehemently opposed to granting the official status of doctor to someone who has not gone through the accepted course of studies in academia. And anyone declaring himself to be a doctor, is liable to be sued in a court of law.

The Damage to Jewish Identity

It should be noted that the Reform movement has existed for only about two hundred years, and historically speaking, was one of the causes of the disintegration of the Jewish communities in Europe and later in America, and caused damage to the national identity, both in respect to the Torah and halakha, and in respect to Israel’s uniqueness and the importance of the Land of Israel. In all generations there was never a group (if we don’t take into account the first Christians) that deleted from prayer books the mention of Jerusalem, Eretz Yisrael, and the Jewish nation’s hope of Redemption, aside from the Reform movement. By doing so, this movement undermined the very foundations of Jewish existence national uniqueness.

It’s no wonder that only in the framework of this movement are intermarriages between Jews and Gentiles performed, with a “rabbi” and a priest standing shoulder-to-shoulder under the canopy. Such a reality gives legitimacy to assimilation, which is the most dangerous threat to the existence of the Jewish people.

While today’s leaders of the Reform movement boast of their Zionist viewpoints, if we examine immigration from Western countries since the establishment of the State of Israel, we find that the vast majority of immigrants came from Orthodox communities. This is particularly evident among immigrants from the United States, where despite the claim of the Reform movement of representing the majority of Jews in America, close to 90% of the immigrants come from the ranks of Orthodox communities.

Apparently, the Reform movement leaders’ support of Israel also conforms to the position of the leftist minority in Israel. In this context, they encourage the U.S. administration to pressure Israel to uproot the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and establish an Arab state in the heart of our country. Had they been successful, everything that has happened close to the Gaza Strip in recent years, would have occurred all over the State of Israel.

The Positive Side

However, we are also compelled to remember that in times when Jewish life was unbearable, because it seemed as if the peoples of Western Europe were developing and advancing towards lives of prosperity and culture, science and freedom, while the Jews remained hated and discriminated against, and lacked the ability to acquire a prestigious profession and earn a decent living, the Reform movement chose not to forsake the Jewish people.

When the nations of Europe began to advance socially, scientifically and economically, gifted Jews had to choose between two options. On the one hand, they could be gabbai’s in the shtiebel (sextons in the synagogue), resolving fights between the Hasidim and Mitnagdim, or between the traditionalists and the modernists. On the other hand, they could have converted to Christianity and been accepted in the prospering society, and possibly even serve as Prime Minister (Benjamin Disraeli), or as an influential thinker (Edmund Husserl), a leading author (Heinrich Heine), or in the world of culture and art (Mendelssohn and Mahler), initiate a social revolution that would change the map of the world (Marx), or in general, participate in the scientific and industrial revolutions (countless Jews).

It seemed to many that Judaism’s hope had vanished; the world was advancing and developing, whereas the Jews who adhered to Torah and mitzvot were left behind, without a way to make a decent living, and with no hope of redemption. It was difficult then to see how the Torah and the mitzvot could benefit an individual Jew, or repair the world. Unfortunately, myriads of Jews chose to convert or assimilate, but the Reform movement sought to pave the way in which people could maintain their Jewish identity and Jewish values, in a way they could fit into the accepted values ​​of enlightened, Western society.

It turned out that for many Jews who wished to assimilate, the Reform movement was able to delay the process of assimilation; but on the other hand, among those lured to see in the Reform movement a worthy alternative to traditional Judaism, it accelerated the process of assimilation.

The Correct Attitude towards the Reform Movement

Thus, the Reform movement should be regarded as a movement whose members are Jewish, that engages in matters relating to education, culture, ceremonies and communal activities with a Jewish message, and feels a bond and responsibility towards all Jews, including the residents of the State of Israel. Such movements have existed for a long time in Israel and abroad, for example the World Maccabi movement, B’nai Brith, the Joint, the Kibbutz Movement, Hashomer Hatzair, and the various Jewish youth organizations. And just as we must appreciate all the positive actions these movements engage in, so too, all the Reform movement’s positive deeds in the fields of goodwill, morality, and strengthening of Jewish solidarity, should also be highly regarded.

Moreover, precisely because we are forced to oppose the Reform movement and prevent them from attaining the religious status they desire, we must find ways to express the basic, positive attitude towards them as our Jewish brothers, and towards all the good virtues in each and every one of them. As we have learned in the Torah, that together with the mitzvah of rebuking a Jew for his sins, comes the mitzvah to love, and not hate him, 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 your people. You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. I am God.” (Vayikra 19:17-18). After all, even when forced to admonish a sinner, the mitzvah to love and help him remains in effect. Not only that, but in a case where two people require assistance – one who has not sinned, and another who we were forced to rebuke, it is a mitzvah to first help the person we rebuked, so he realizes that the criticism concerned only that specific issue, but that in general, we are like loving brothers (see, Baba Metzia 32b; Tosephot, Pesachim 113b, Dh”M ‘L’kof yitzro’). The same goes for Reform Jews – after having been forced to quarrel with them, it is a mitzvah to search for ways to express our brotherhood and common destiny.

The Responsibility of Both Parents for Child Support

It is fitting to commend and bless the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and the Chief Rabbi, Rabbi David Lau, shlita, for the Chief Rabbinate Council’s resolution stating that the economic responsibility for children applies to both parents, and that the income of both parents must be taken into account in determining the obligation of child support.

To date, the prevailing view in the state-run Family Courts was that the economic responsibility for children should be imposed solely on the father, this being his obligation under religious law according to which marriages and divorces in the State of Israel are performed.

While in the past, when women were not accustomed to work and earn a decent living, this was the obvious ruling of all courts. However, when mothers also began to work, some of them earning higher wages than the fathers, the halachic position was that the mother must also take care of the economic needs of the children. Nevertheless, the courts exploited the previous position which was based on a different reality, and almost always obligated the fathers with full responsibility for all child support, ignoring the income of mothers. Unfortunately, there were also some dayanim (religious court judges) who also ruled in this fashion. Hopefully, from now on the courts and those same dayanim will not be able to rest on the halakha in their discrimination against fathers.

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

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed