Rabbi Itamar HY”D Continues to Educate

Rabbis, MKs from the Right and Left, Samaritans and Arabs at the ‘shiva’ for Rabbi Itamar HY”D * The words of the Rabbis at the end of the ‘shiva’: Rabbi Itamar is alive and influential, and his family as well serves as a beacon of light for the nation * President Rivlin’s visit was a disappointment, while the Prime Minister’s wife conveyed solidarity and listened * A non-Jew from Holland who came to console: The settlers in Israel are like the little Dutch child, putting their finger in the dam of the world * Rabbi Itamar merited to be more than a head of a yeshiva; he serves as an educator to the nation * His concern, at the height of winter, for the students’ warm clothing * A question for the Torah scholars among the readers: Can an Arab be given the status of ‘ger toshav’ (alien resident) today?

Numerous people from various circles came to console the Ben Gal family during the ‘shiva‘ (week-long mourning period) for Rabbi Itamar HY”D, who was sanctified in his death for being a member of the Jewish people who, after 2,000 years of exile, returned to settle the Land of Israel as written in the words of the Torah and the Prophets. In his life, and in his death, he gave his heart, soul, and might for the sanctity of the Torah, the Nation, and the Land.

As appropriate for someone who dedicated himself to settle in the frontline of Jewish settlement in Har Bracha in the heart of Samaria and was killed in the sanctification of God’s name, many Rabbis, Ministers, and Members of Knesset arrived, as well as from the Zionist Union party (although no one from Yair Lapid’s ‘Yesh Atid’ party came). There were also groups of secular people not identified with the Right who came to console. Representatives of our Samaritan neighbors also came to participate, as well as Arabs who are in contact with the community of Har Bracha.

Words of Encouragement from Torah Scholars

At the end of the ‘shiva‘, Rabbis came to speak, and each added a level of their own. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu spoke about the prophecies being fulfilled today, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau, spoke about the ‘emunah‘ (faith) revealed through Purim. At the closing memorial meal at the end of the ‘shiva’, Rabbi Ben-Yishai, the father of Ruth Fogel HY”D, who was killed in the sanctification of God’s name together with her husband and three children in the community of Itamar, also participated in the memorial meal. With all his heart, he spoke about eternal life intensified through ‘mesirut nefesh’ (self-sacrifice), which radiates light and blessing over all the Jewish nation, and already now, they personify an aspect of ‘techiyat ha’maytim’ (Resurrection of the Dead), for sparks of their personality become part of the lives of many. His words were of deep comfort beyond description. Then his son-in-law stood up and added that the family of the ‘kedoshim’ (holy ones) who remain alive, are transformed into a beacon of light for the public at large, and when they are strong in their ‘emunah’, the public also grows stronger. Rabbi Druckman spoke about the life of man in this world, that in the end, even the greatest ‘tzaddikim‘ (righteous individuals) must die, but the question is: did a person really live his life to the fullest, or perhaps he was similar to the wicked, who are considered dead even in their while alive; but when a person clings to Torah and mitzvoth, and even killed for the sanctification of God’s name, he is alive. Truly alive. Rabbi Eyal Vered spoke about the saying ‘shavik chaim l’kol chai’ (he returned his soul to the Creator), that when the righteous die, they bestow their lives for all those left alive in the world, who can thus continue to advance and ascend. Once again, I marveled seeing how the Torah revives and sweetens, with each Rabbi adding a unique clarification to enlighten and elevate.

Concerning the President and Mrs. Netanyahu

Before President Rivlin’s visit, the community leaders asked me to come and honor him, but his visit was a great disappointment. He failed to empathize with the mourners, or their way of thinking and beliefs. I tried suggesting he recite the blessing of “matziv gevul almana” (“Blessed be He who sets the boundary of the widow”, the blessing recited upon seeing a new community in the Land of Israel), which in this context took on a double meaning – one, for the newly settled area of Har Bracha, and the other, a blessing for Miriam the widow – but the President interrupted me, and did not allow me finish. When the father of Rabbi Itamar, Rabbi Daniel, asked to speak a little about his son, the President interrupted him in the middle of his first sentence, saying that he had already heard about him. When the mourners spoke about the desire to settle the Land, he voiced reservations for all sorts of reasons. Firstly, he said it’s improper to build in the wake of a terror attack, but rather, to build the way his forefathers who made aliyah to Jerusalem did, without any terrorist attacks. Second, he said there are different opinions, and it’s a complex matter. Thirdly, if the situation is such, maybe citizenship should be given to others as well. In short, every time the mourners tried to speak, they were interrupted by “his honor the President” with disapproval and rebuke. The mourners were extremely distressed at the end of the visit. In order to console the mourners, I told them after he had left that the importance of the visit was the mere fact that it took place, for after all, he is the man serving as President of the State of Israel.

On the other hand, my wife told me about the visit of the Prime Minister’s wife, Sarah Netanyahu, who radiated warmth and love to the mourners, hugged the widow and mother, took an interest in their lives and their children, listened attentively as they talked while she caressed the widow, and was all kindness and empathy.

This can only come to teach us the extent of the secular media’s distortion of reality in order to advance its positions.

Incidentally, other public figures, including Ministers and Knesset members who came to console, willingly recited the blessing “matziv gevul almana“, including MK Eitan Cabel of the Zionist Union party.

The Dutch Consoler and the Finger in the Dam

A Righteous Gentile from Holland came to the ‘shiva’, and in front of everyone (including students of Rabbi Shlomi Badash the widow’s father, from the yeshiva high school in Karnei Shomron) mentioned the well-known story about the little Dutch boy who stopped a burst of water that threatened to bring down the dam, and thereby saved the city. He declared to all the listeners: “I came today to say on behalf of millions of people around the world – today, you are the finger of the child blocking the dam, and saves the world from the evil of Islamic terror.”

Already Head of a Yeshiva

Some time ago I met Rabbi Fruchter, the head of the yeshiva high school in Givat Shmuel, and when he mentioned Rabbi Itamar as being particularly successful in his educational mission, I told him my hopes that he would grow up to be the head of a yeshiva high school. He replied: He’s already like the head of the yeshiva now.

After Rabbi Shabtai Sabato, head of Yeshivat Mitzpeh Yericho, finished giving a shiur between the afternoon and evening prayers, his student Binyamin Badash, the brother of Miriam the widow, accompanied him and told him sorrowfully about the loss of the future expected for Rabbi Itamar HY”D. Rabbi Sabato comforted him, and said: I have been the head of a yeshiva for already tens of years, and have been privileged to raise thousands of students, but I have failed to achieve what Rabbi Itamar has achieved, having risen to become an educator for the entire nation, many of whom hear about his noble leadership and dedication to Torah and the teaching of students, and become stronger and elevated in the light of his personage.

What Captured the Heart of a Potential Student

Rabbi Elisha Henshke told us: When I came to check out Yeshiva Har Bracha in 12th grade – a doubting and wary 18 year old – I was afraid that the great honor I saw attributed in the yeshiva to the world of the workplace – to the holiness hidden in the secular – may lead to a lack of diligence in Torah and the revealed holiness. I was contemplating on this when suddenly, the tall figure of Rabbi Itamar, then a fourth year student, caught my eye. He sat down in his spot in the front of the Beit Midrash (yeshiva study hall), and delved into his learning. At that moment, I decided to study at Yeshiva Har Bracha. A few years later, he gave me his detailed summary of the laws of Shabbat, so I could use them to study for the rabbinate, which I often used.

A few years later, the days of the onset of winter, rain storms and gale winds periodically cause power outages in the community. One particularly bleak and bleary Friday morning, my cell phone vibrated. On the display – a message from R. Itamar had been sent to all the yeshiva students. I fail to recall the exact words, however, since in contrast to the cold and angry storm outside it particularly warmed my heart, I still remember its content – even though two or three years have passed: “A warm and healthy winter to all. Do not forget to stock up on warm clothes – if you need anything, let me know. Love, Itamar.” The SMS was something like that; the message itself was a little bit longer. A simple, motherly reminder. When I saw him a few minutes later, I wanted to compliment his devotion, and I told him he could be a “wonderful mother.” He chuckled as usual and changed the subject, but my winter melancholy was traded with a spring heat wave. Thus, in addition to his countless hours of Torah and deeds for the sake of the ‘Klal‘ (the public as a whole) which I witnessed during the eight years I was privileged to know him, I saw him on the one hand as the diligent idealist, courageously laboring over the Torah, and on the other hand, a loving and giving person.

The Question of an Arab Worried about Converting

An Arab, whose son had served in the army and was killed in the defense of Israel, came to console him as well, and expressed full solidarity with the Jewish people. Not only that, he even wanted to come consult with me about his conversion. Having studied physics he is used to learning, and has already studied books such as the ‘Kuzari’, listened to lectures on the Internet, and wishes to convert. He believes that he also has Jewish roots. However, his wife is not interested in converting, but if he does not divorce her, he cannot convert, since the Torah forbids a Jewish man to live with a woman who is not Jewish. He asked what he should do, whether to divorce his wife whom he loved? I answered that it would probably be better if he remained with his wife, and live his life as a Righteous Gentile who observes the Seven Noahide commandments.

However, I added that in the merit of his question, I would try to examine a very important issue: Is it possible at this time to reinstate the law of ‘ger toshav‘ (alien resident). A ‘ger toshav’ is a non-Jew who accepts upon himself in front of a ‘Beit Din’ (a Jewish court of law) faith in the God of Israel, and commits to fulfill the Seven Noahide commandments. Regarding the rest of the mitzvot – if he fulfills them, he is rewarded, and if he does fulfill them, he has not sinned. In terms of his status, he is a partner with the Jewish people, it is a mitzvah to reciprocate with acts of loving kindness as with Jews, and ‘l’chatchila‘ (from the outset) he is permitted to reside in the Land of Israel. The problem is that according to halakha (Jewish law), only a rabbinical court of ‘dayanim smuchim’, an unbroken chain of tradition and authority dating back to the time of Moshe Rabbeinu has the authority to accept a ‘ger toshav’ (Rambam, Laws of Avodah Zarah 10: 6). Indeed, even a regular ‘ger tzedek‘ (a true convert) according to strict law must be accepted by ‘dayanim smuchim’, however, since we have been taught a general rule that in all generations, there must be the possibility of conversion, even after ‘semicha‘ (rabbinical ordination) has been discontinued, we continue to accept converts. The question is: can a way be found to accept a ‘ger toshav‘ in our times? Such a status can serve as a solution for descendants of Jews who according to halakha are not Jewish; they can convert and be given the status of ‘ger toshav’ who, in all civilian aspects, is a full partner of the Jewish people.

It would be befitting to have some Torah scholars research this issue, to clarify the issue from the ground up. If there is anyone among the ‘lamdanim’ (scholars well informed in rabbinical literature) who can help clarify this issue, I would be happy to receive his opinion.

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

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