The Attorney General, Candy, and Women’s Torah Study

The institution of Attorney General assumes supreme authority in an anti-democratic manner *The majority of deaf-mute people today know how to communicate, and therefore, should be obligated to perform mitzvot * One is permitted to read a list of invited guests or meals on Shabbat * Women are obligated, like men, to study Torah that is necessary for living a proper Jewish life, and any woman who desires additional theoretical study, will be blessed * The basic obligation of Torah study for women, which in the past centered around affairs concerning the home and its surroundings, has widened * When candy is widespread, it is inconceivable it be abolished just from the synagogue, nevertheless, healthier alternatives should be sought

The Tyranny of the Attorney General’s Office

Without any legal basis, the Attorney General and his aides exercise supreme authority over decisions, constraints and directives for elected officials, who are the sole representatives of the sovereign state – the public at large. Thus, officials profess to run the country without being duly elected, fulfilling the verse ‘a slave who becomes king’. They were appointed to serve the public and be loyal to the State of Israel and its laws, and not to impose upon it their will, worldview, and values – contrary to the position of the majority and its desires.

This is a method of a dictatorial, anti-democratic gain of control, unparalleled in any democratic country.

Part of the excessive power of the Attorney General’s Office stems from the corrupt and shoddy connection between the role of the Attorney General and the State Attorney. This is because many politicians are certain, or fear, that if they dare challenge the powers that the legal advisers procure for themselves, in the end, the legal establishment will find a way to take revenge – to prosecute them, ruin their public careers, and harass their private lives with investigations and legal processes lasting for years.

Lord Acton’s saying that “all power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely” is often quoted. Indeed, Israel’s legal establishment in general, and the office of the Attorney General in particular, provide a good example of this.

Ministers Yariv Levin and Ze’ev Elkin deserve special mention for not hesitating to fundamentally criticize the legal establishment. Quite a few people think that this is a clear sign their reputations are as pure as snow, otherwise the legal establishment would have found cause to prosecute them. Minister Miri Regev, who “dared” to represent her voters in the face of tyranny from the legal establishment, should also be commended. Many people believe that the legal establishment and their lackeys in the left-wing media are working day and night to find a shred of evidence of misdeeds on part of ministers who criticize it, in order to discredit, prosecute, and get them out of the way.

Apart from the need to restore the institution of the legal adviser to its original role, Torah scholars are obligated to establish batei midrash for the study of Torah law in connection to issues regarding the state and society. To this end, the students will need to be fully acquainted with society, the economy, and modern law, since Torah law must apply to them, and not to an abstract reality, or to a reality that has already passed from the world a few centuries ago.

The Status of a Deaf-Mute in Halakha

As we know, eminent rabbis and poskim who lived after the writing of the Shulchan Aruch (i.e., Achronim) disagreed about the status of a deaf-mute who was taught to communicate with his surroundings using sign language, and by reading and writing. The foundation of the issue upon which the Sages ruled, namely, that a deaf-mute is exempt from the commandments and cannot be counted in a minyan, was based on the hypothesis that since he cannot communicate with his surroundings, he is considered a shoteh (deranged person). The question is: What is the law regarding a deaf-mute who has been taught to communicate with his environment, by sign language, or by reading and writing?

Some poskim say that since they are able to communicate with their surroundings, and can learn and understand what is happening around them, they are considered competent people for all intents and purposes, and are obligated by the mitzvot (Maharasham, Nachalat Tzvi). On the other hand, some poskim believe that even if the deaf person is a very wise person, he is exempt from mitzvot, as the Chachamim determined (Tzemach Tzedek, Divrei Chaim). Others take into account both opinions, and therefore in a safek (doubt) of a Torah principle, they tend to be machmir (stringent), and in a doubt of rabbinic status, they rule leniently. And since being counted in a minyan is a rabbinic ruling, we may rely on their opinion and count him in (Nachalat Binyamin, Yechaveh Da’at 2:6). This is also what I wrote in “Peninei Halakha” (Tefilla 2:2), that he may be counted in a minyan.

However, after further study of the issue, it appears possible to determine that a deaf-mute who understands sign language is considered to be a pikayach (a clever person) in every respect, and it is possible those poskim who ruled stringently in the past, would agree with this today. Their position was determined when most deaf-mutes were still considered shotim, and therefore, they did not take into account the rare cases of deaf-mutes who were able to communicate with their surroundings. Moreover, there were no reliable tools to examine the level of such exceptions to the case. But today, when the absolute majority of the deaf and mute learn sign language, learn to read, and find a way to communicate with their environment, and it is also possible to know they understand everything, they are considered competent people. Based on this, I corrected the text in “Peninei Halakha“: “In recent generations, a method has been discovered to teach a deaf-mute to communicate in sign language, and to read and write, and since today almost all deaf-mutes can understand the words of Torah and mitzvot, consequently, they are obligated to obey the mitzvot like all others.”

Lists for Shabbat Meals

Q: At our guest house, we normally make a list of the guests, as well as a list of the foods to be served at each meal, but we’ve learned the halakha that it is forbidden to read lists on Shabbat. Are these lists also included in the general prohibition?

A: Our Sages forbade reading lists of guests for a meal, or a list of foods about to be served, for two reasons: 1) because reading such lists is similar to reading contracts. 2) there is concern that the host may wish to correct the list by writing or erasing, so as not to make a mistake in inviting too many people when there is not enough food to serve them (Shabbat 149a; SA 307:12-13). However, when reading a list is very necessary for the Sabbat meal, or to avoid insulting someone, it is permissible to use a list, because the prohibition of reading such a list is when it is not for the sake of a mitzva, but for the sake of a mitzva it is not prohibited, and many of the Achronim wrote that every Shabbat meal is a mitzvah (Lavush, Machatzit HaShekel, Toesphot Shabbat, and others). As far as the gezeira ‘shema yichtov‘ (the rabbinical decree ‘lest one come to write’), today when food is abundant, people do no prepare an exact number of portions according to the number of people eating, but rather more, and therefore anxieties concerning lists has diminished, and there is no concern that one will come to write. A similar response is brought in the name of Rabbi Elyashiv ztz”l (Shmirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata 29:133), or like in the past, when the poskim were lenient concerning servants who are not responsible for the meal (MB 307:47). However l’chatchila (ideally), if a host of the meal, or the head waiter, are very anxious, it is appropriate for them to read the list together with another person, so that they will not come to write by mistake (see, SA 275:2, Taz, Magen Avraham).

Women’s Obligation to Study Torah

Q: Is there a vast difference in the mitzvah of Torah study for men and women, and if not, why do so many people think there is?

A: There are two parts of the mitzvah of Torah study: the first is to know the Torah in order to live properly according to halakha, and the second is to widen and deepen one’s Torah study.

Men are obligated in both parts of the mitzvah, whereas women are obligated in the first part, namely, in learning everything that is needed to guide life in halakha, emunah (faith), and mussar (ethics). For women, the second part, involving additional theoretical study, is an optional mitzvah – if a woman desires such study ‘tavo aleyha bracha‘(this is pious conduct for which she is blessed for being strict), and a woman who does not have such a desire, is exempt. However, the more free time a woman has, the more appropriate it is for her to occupy herself in the second part as well.

In the past, when life transpired in one’s nearby and uncomplicated environs, study required to live a proper Jewish life was relatively limited, since many halachot were learned from living together at home. The foundations of emunah and mussar were also transferred mainly through parents’ conversations with their children, and they hardly had to contend with questions from foreign cultures. As the generations passed and the world became more complex, and all areas of study expanded – Torah study, the inner essence of all fields of knowledge, expanded as well.

In practice, the first part, in which women are obligated, greatly expanded, both from the variety of halakhic questions that each person encounters during his lifetime, and from the challenge of dealing with profound questions from different cultures and outlooks. Therefore, the first part, which obligates both men and women equally, includes within it a broad and profound study of the ideas of the Torah, emunah and mussar, as well as a thorough study of the principles of halakha, its rules, and its details. Thus, in practice, the difference between the obligation to study for men and women was greatly reduced, because many sections that had previously been optional for women became compulsory. Not only that, but even men are generally incapable of adequately encompassing the first part, in which they are obligated l’chatchila, to learn.

Handing Out Candies at Shabbat Prayers

For many years, after Shabbat evening prayers when children would come to me to say “Shabbat Shalom”, I used to give them candies in order to endear them towards a love for prayers, the synagogue, Shabbat, and the Torah. About half a year ago, realizing the harmful effects of excessive sugar, I began to wonder if, in fact, I was educating them towards an unhealthy diet, and perhaps I should stop giving them candy. On the other hand, I remembered the story about the ship that got caught in a dangerous storm, and the captain asked that each of the passengers throw some of his belongings into the sea, in order to make it easier for the ship to survive the storm. A Jewish passenger on the ship rummaged through his belongings, and out of all of his possessions, found his tefillin and siddur (prayer book) and threw them overboard into the sea. True, ‘pikuach nefesh‘ (the preservation of human life) overrides all of the mitzvot, but why are tefillin and the siddur the first things to be thrown away?! Couldn’t he have grabbed his suit and his boots, and thrown them overboard first?! Perhaps in our case as well – when so many parents give their children candy, and kids receive it at every party, should the candy that a Rabbi gives out to endear mitzvot be the first to be cancelled? Yet, my reservations grew, because a Rabbi’s actions serve as an example for the public; moreover, I had encouraged all the teachers who had asked, to enforce the new regulations prohibiting the provision of unhealthy foods in schools.

In the women’s class on Shabbat, I shared my dilemma with the participants, and requested that women serving on the Committee for Social Events decide how I should act. They decided to switch to dark chocolate, which is healthier than candy, because it has less sugar and fewer calories. Since then, I have been distributing dark chocolate candies, to the delight of the parents and children. I hope that, God willing, we will find a way to advance to the distribution of dates and nuts.

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

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