Writing of the Laws of Kashrut

The thoughts and decisions behind the new volume of ‘Peninei Halakha’ dealing with kashrut * The order in the new book differs from the order in the Shulchan Aruch: In the Land of Israel, the mitzvot dependent on the Land are once again the main laws * In exile we focused on prohibitions whose main concern was survival amongst the Gentiles, whereas the mitzvot that are dependent on the Land deal with society’s rectification, and the building of holy life * As long as most of the Jews live abroad – the mitzvot dependent on the Land are not applicable from the Torah, and the vision of overall redemption is far from realization * We are not close to a Jewish majority in Israel, because there are many Jews in the world who are not aware of their Jewishness, such as Madeline Albright and John Kerry, for example

The New Volume: Kashrut I

With the grace of God, last week, the book “Kashrut I: Vegetation and Animal” – was published as part of the ‘Peninei Halakha’ series. Since this column is personal, I thought that it would be appropriate to share the thoughts that accompanied the writing of the book (which appear for the main part, at the beginning of the book).

For years, I thought to arrange the laws of kashrut as they are arranged in the Shulchan Aruch, section Yoreh De’ah. In other words, to begin with the laws of shechita (ritual slaughter) and treifot (mortal injuries or physical defects that disqualify a member of a kosher species of mammal or bird from being kosher), the prohibition of blood, chelev (animal fat prohibited from eating), vermin, meat and milk, mixtures, cooking of Gentiles, tevilat kelim (immersion of vessels in a mikveh to make them kosher), and yayin nesech (wine poured in the service of idolatry) (S.A., Y.D. 1- 138), and afterwards, deal with the mitzvot dependent on the Land, and the laws of vegetation and animals (S.A., Y.D. 292-333). However, while studying the laws of shechita and treifot, mixtures, and meat and milk, I found that if one wishes to look at the laws of kashrut in full, one must precede the laws of vegetation to the laws of animals, since most of our food is from vegetation – grains, legumes, fruit, and vegetables. Moreover, since my plan was to preface every issue with a conceptual idea, I found that the basic ideas about kosher food are hidden in the commandments related to foods produced from plants, mainly the mitzvot dependent on the Land of Israel, because out of the sanctity of the Land, the holiness of the fruit that grows on it becomes apparent. The central expression of this is in the mitzvot of terumot and ma’aserot (tithes), challah, and matanot l’ani’im (gifts to the poor) – leket, shichichah and pe’ah, peret and ololot.

The Part Devoted to Vegetation

Therefore, I decided to begin with a clarification of the laws relating to the growing of vegetation, including the laws of chadash, orlah, kilei ilan and behama, kilei zera’im and kerem, and matanot l’ani’im (chapters 1 – 6). Afterwards, the laws of permitting vegetation to be eaten by means of the provision of separating terumot, ma’aserot, and challah (chapters 7-12). While dealing with vegetation, a chapter was devoted to the laws relating to the prohibition of “bal tashchit“, which is based on the preservation of fruit trees and foods (chapter 13). Thus, most of the book deals with the laws of vegetation (242 pages out of 375).

The Part Devoted to Animals

Afterwards, three chapters (14-16) were devoted to the basic attitude toward eating meat, and the way of raising animals, and in doing so I explained at length the laws of cruelty to animals and shiluach ha’ken. In chapter 17, the pure and impure species were detailed. Another two chapters (18-19) were devoted to the laws of ritual slaughter, the prohibition of oto v’et be’no (‘it and its son’), the covering of blood, and laws the Torah commanded to be given from animals – such as the zeroah, l’chaim, and keiva, bechorot, ma’aser behema, and reshit ha’gez. With this, I finished the first part of the laws of kashrut, which is titled ‘Ha’Tzomayach ve’Ha’Chai‘ (“Vegetation and Animals”) (some of the laws in this volume are explained briefly in ‘Peninei Halakha: Likutim’, part 1, chapters 12-13, and ‘Likutim’, part 3, chapters 9-12, and henceforth will not be printed anymore in the ‘Likutim’).

The Plan for the Upcoming Volume

In the second part, God-willing, I will explain the details of the halachot concerning the consumption of meat foods: the examination of treifot – glatt and kosher, the preparation of the meat by removing the blood, chelev and gid ha’nasheh, the laws of meat and milk and the separation between them. In addition, I will explain the laws of vermin and worms, the order of the kitchen, the preparation of vessels, and the distancing from the cooking of Gentiles, yiyin nesech, and the immersion of vessels. Therefore, the second part will be titled “Kashrut II – Food and the Kitchen.” On first thought, it seemed that the second part would be longer, but now, apparently, (most of it is already written), it will be shorter than the first, for concerning the number of mitzvot and halachot, the first part is much larger, and by far, broader. Its content relates to the majority of the Seder of Zera’im in the Mishna, which is one of the six orders that cover the entire Oral Law, and a few more chapters in Tractate Chulin; while the second part, although very practical, deals with less than two tractates in the Gemara (the majority of tractate Chulin, about half of Tractate Avodah Zarah, and a little of the tractate of Pesachim).

The Values ​​Revealed in the Laws of Kashrut

The attitude toward the food that Jews eat in the Land of Israel is one of the expressions of a faith-based life, as expressed in the commandment of the Torah to recite Birkat Hamazon after eating, the main portion being the blessing of the Land, as our Sages said: “There is no blessing more cherished than the blessing over the Land”, as is the plain meaning of the verse (Deuteronomy 8:10): ” When you eat and are satisfied, you must therefore bless God your Lord for the good land that He has given you.” (Bamidbar Rabbah 23:7; Peninei Halakha: Berachot 5: 1, 5: 4). In the Land of Israel, holiness is revealed within nature (Orot HaTikhiya 28), and therefore, food and eating in the Land are related to holiness. In the system of the mitzvot dependent on the Land, we express the totality of values ​​that are revealed in the food that Jews grow in Israel.

First of all, the mitzvoth of chadash and orlahchadash in grain, and orlah in the fruit of the tree. These two mitzvot are meant to sanctify the first crop, in grain – by the offering of the Omer to God each year, and in the fruits of the tree – by eating the fourth year’s fruit in holiness in Jerusalem. In both of these mitzvot we also learned the element of restraint. Kilayim express the uniqueness of each species, a uniqueness that expresses the unifying-faith and its revelation in the world by multiplicity of species, each with its own uniqueness. In the mitzvah of gifts to the poor, we learn how to reveal the values ​​of charity when we merit to reap the fruits of our labor. In terumot, ma’aserot, and challah, we learn how to uphold the values ​​of holiness and education in Israel, by maintaining the Kohanim (priests) and Levites dedicated to Torah and the education of Israel, and by connecting all of Israel to the Temple by eating ma’aser sheni in holiness in Jerusalem together with the poor, in joy. Thus, holiness is revealed within reality, and elevates the foods of the Land of Israel to the level of holiness, by virtue of which Israel is given the strength and vitality to reveal God’s word in the world, and thus rectify the entire universe.

In light of this, it is more understandable that it is indeed appropriate to open the laws of kashrut with the mitzvot of vegetation that grows in the Land of Israel, and with the basic laws pertaining to eating meat, which reveal the values ​​that should be revealed in food. From this we will continue to volume two, which will deal with prohibitions related to food from animals, and the separations from non-Jewish cooking. It is true that during the long exile, the central issues in the laws of kashrut were meat in milk and their mixtures, the prohibitions of yayin nesech and the cooking of non-Jews, because we dealt mainly with survival, which is halakhicly expressed in terms of caution of prohibitions and assimilation, and goes according to the order of halachot in the Shulchan Aruch – Yoreh Deah. However, now that we have been blessed with the Ingathering of the Exiles and the building of the Land, it is appropriate to return to the revised order, in which we first deal with the values ​​of holiness that are revealed in the mitzvot dependent on the Land, according to the order of the Mishna, which begins with the Order of Zera’im, beginning with Berachot Ha’Nehenim, and continuing with the mitzvot dependent on the Land.

Since most of the book deals with the mitzvot dependent on the Land, I have devoted a long chapter (chapter 12) to a review of all the mitzvot that have been dependent on the Land throughout Israel’s history – from the time of Israel’s entry into the land during the time of Yehoshua Bin Nun, through the destruction of the First Temple and the destruction of the Second Temple, and until God merited us with His great mercy to return to the Land of Israel and establish the State of Israel.

Spiritual Introductions are Unnecessary

In previous books I found the need to preface spiritual, faith-based introductions, sometimes in an entire chapter at the beginning of the book, and sometimes in the introductory sections at the beginning of the chapter. In this book, however, which opens with the mitzvot dependent on the Land, I find there is no need for this: the explanation of the mitzvah is itself the idea, and there is no need for any preamble.

There Is Room to Aspire for More

From the study of the many important mitzvot that deal with the kashrut of food grown in the Land of Israel, we can understand just how lacking our lives are: we have yet to gather all the exiles and the Temple is still destroyed, and therefore, we cannot properly observe the mitzvot dependent on the Land, and reveal holiness within all walks of life. Nevertheless, the observance of these mitzvot, according to the guidance of our Sages, gives us inspiration and guidance to reveal the values ​​of holiness within our lives, and thus, we will merit, with God’s help, to speedily fulfill them completely, and from the mitzvot related to agriculture, Torah instruction will spread to all the other areas.

When Will We Be Biblically Obligated to Fulfill the Mitzvot?

As is well known, the mitzvot of terumot, ma’aserot, and challah are binding from the Torah only when the majority of Israel live in the Land; but when most of Israel still lives abroad – the obligation to fulfill the mitzvot is only of rabbinical ordinance. Some believe that the Jewish people today numbers about thirteen million people, and if so, the majority of Jews will soon live in Israel and be obligated in these mitzvot from the Torah. But apparently, the number of people who can prove that they are Jews is at least twenty million. As an example, we can bring the case of George Osborne, who, for six years, was the British Minister of Finance; only recently, at the age of 46, did he discover that he is Jewish: his brother Theo had asked to convert properly to marry a Jewish woman named Justin Fischer, but it turned out that in fact, he was Jewish. His grandmother, the mother of his mother, was a Jewish woman, a member of a synagogue in Budapest who, because of the Holocaust, hid her Jewish roots, until recently, after a simple check, it became clear that she was Jewish. About two weeks ago, Theo married according to halakha, and his brother, the former finance minister, said that the entire family was happy to meet with its Jewish roots, and participated happily in the kosher Jewish wedding.

Professor Madeleine Albright, who served for four years as US Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, related a similar story. Her parents converted to Christianity to be saved from persecution, and only in adulthood did she learn that she was a Jew, and that her relatives were murdered in the Holocaust. This is similar to the story of John Kerry, who was a candidate for the presidency of the United States and served as Secretary of State in the Obama administration, and only at the age of sixty did he learn that his father’s family were Jews who had converted to be saved from persecution. His brother returned to his roots and converted. Therefore, we see that in spite of everything, even educated and astute people sometimes are unaware that their grandmothers and grandfathers were Jews. If we add to the account the descendants of Marranos from hundreds of years ago, we will reach more than 100 million. With God’s help, soon the words of the Torah will be fulfilled in us:” Even if your diaspora is at the ends of the heavens, God your Lord will gather you up from there and He will take you back… God will be good to you and make you flourish even more than your ancestors… God will remove the barriers from your hearts and from the hearts of your descendants, so that you will love God your Lord with all your heart and soul. Thus will you survive” (Deuteronomy 39:4-6).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Shavuot: Body and Soul

Shabbat is meant for holiness and rest, and it should not be used to prepare for the holiday that follows it * In order to maintain an appetite for the holiday meal, Seudat Shlishit should be held earlier on Shabbat * Dishes should not be cleaned or washed on Shabbat for the holiday, but if necessary you can take holiday dishes out of the freezer * On Shabbat one may bathe in lukewarm water, and on Chag, also in the water that was heated with permissibly * The laws of Birkat HaShachar for those who stay awake at night * Jews who live outside of Israel, but are celebrating the Chag in Israel – if they have family, an apartment, or intentions to live in Israel – are exempt from Yom Tov Sheni of the Diaspora

The Joy of Chag Shavuot – Spiritual and Physical

Chag Shavuot enjoys an exceptional status above and beyond that of other holidays; therefore, even those rabbis who are of the opinion that a person is permitted, if he desires, to spend the majority of his time on the holiday learning Torah, and minimize time spent on meals, on the holiday of Shavuot – according to all opinions – along with the study of the Torah it is obligatory to hold very substantial meals, because it is “a day in which the Torah was given” “(Pesachim 68b).

The unique virtue of the Torah is that it is designed to instruct the path of undivided emuna (faith), and continue blessing and vitality into all walks of life, both spiritual and physical. Therefore, the joy of Shavuot must be expressed both in Torah study, but also in eating and drinking. This is the complete ‘tikkun’ (perfection), which encompasses both the soul and body. At first, the revelation of Divinity through spiritual manifestations from above absorbed by the neshama (soul) which guides the body, and thus, the deep-rooted fabric of the human body and its feelings are revealed. Therefore, complete ‘d’vey’kute‘(attachment) to God encompasses both the soul and the body, as will be the case after ‘Techiyat Ha’Meytim’ (the Resurrection of the Dead), when the soul will return to the body, and Godliness will be revealed completely on all levels.

Seudat Shlishit on Shabbat

 Since this year Chag Shavuot falls out on Motzei Shabbat, ‘l’chatchila‘(ideally), it is best to eat ‘seudah shlishit’ (the third Shabbat meal) earlier, before the last three hours of the Shabbat day. Preferably, ‘seudah shlishit’ should be held a little after ‘chatzot Yom Shabbat‘(midday), i.e., at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. If one did not do so, he should nevertheless eat ‘seudah shlishit’, even during the hours close to the beginning of Yom Tov, but should try to limit his eating so as to have an appetite for the evening meal of Yom Tov.

Preparing from Shabbat to the following Yom Tov

It is forbidden to prepare anything from Shabbat to Chag, because Shabbat is intended for holiness and rest, and not for preparations made for another day, even if it is Chag (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 22:15-17).

Consequently, it is forbidden to wash dirty dishes from Shabbat to use on Yom Tov; only after Shabbat has departed (20:10) can dishes be washed in order use them on Yom Tov. It is also forbidden to clean the table on Shabbat in honor of the holiday, but the table can be cleaned so that it is tidy on Shabbat, even though this will be beneficial for the holiday.

It is forbidden to place food on a ‘platta‘ (hot plate) on Shabbat to be eaten at the evening meal of Yom Tov, but only after Shabbat is over (20:10) and one says, “Baruch ha’mavdil ben kodesh l’kodesh” (“Blessed be He who distinguishes between holy and holy”). Only then is one permitted to start organizing the needs of ‘ochel nefesh’ (food preparation allowed on Yom Tov), and to cook and heat the food.

‘B’sha’at ha’dachak’ (times of distress), on Shabbat one is permitted to perform routine actions that do not involve great effort, for the sake of the Chag. Therefore, when waiting for Shabbat to depart will cause a significant delay in the Yom Tov meal, it is permissible to take frozen food out of the freezer on Shabbat.

Candle Lighting for Chag

It is forbidden to light the holiday candles before Shabbat has departed (20:10), and one must first say, “Baruch ha’mavdil ben kodesh l’kodesh“, or recite the Havdalah within the Kiddush,

Since it is prohibited to light a new fire on Yom Tov, one must prepare before Shabbat a candle that will burn for more than twenty-four hours from which one can light the Yom Tov candles. If one did not prepare such a candle, he should transfer fire from one of his neighbor’s candles to light the Yom Tov candles.

It is permissible to push the candle forcibly into the candlestick holder, even though this causes the candle to be slightly crushed. Similarly, one may remove by knife the remaining wax in the candlestick which interferes with the placement of the new candle, and one is allowed to remove the metal disc stuck to the bottom of the glass cup in which ‘neronim‘ (candles that turn into oil) were used. It is also permitted to insert a floating wick into a floating cork.

But it is forbidden to heat a wax candle to attach it to a candlestick holder, lest one transgress the rabbinic decree of ‘ma’rey’ach‘(spreading or smearing), which is a ‘toledah‘of ‘mi’ma’chake‘(scraping/sanding a surface to achieve smoothness). It is also forbidden to cut or file the bottom of the candle to insert it into the candlestick because of the prohibition ‘mi’cha’taych‘(cutting any object to a specific size).

Bathing on Shabbat and Chag

Since Shabbat and Yom Tov are adjacent, and many people are used to showering every day, those who feel the need to shower on Shabbat afternoon are permitted to wash themselves in warm water – i.e., water in which they do not suffer from its coldness, but on the other hand, is not hot. One should not wash in hot water because of the rabbinical decree of ‘mirchatz‘. But on Chag, since bathing is ‘shavei l’kol nefesh‘(equal for all), one is allowed to wash even in hot water, provided the water was heated in a permissible way, such as by a ‘dude shemesh’ (solar heater), or by a Shabbat-timer (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 14:8; Moadim 5:10).

In addition, after showering one should remember not to comb or brush one’s hair, because doing so sheds hair, which is a Torah prohibition.

Those Who Remained Awake All Night

Washing hands: Even a person who remains awake all night must perform ‘nitilat yadayim‘ (washing of the hands) before morning prayers, however, the poskim were divided on whether to recite a blessing over this washing, or not. According to the Ashkenazi custom, it is best is to relieve oneself before prayer, and to touch one of the covered areas of one’s body which had become a bit sweaty since one’s last bathing, and thus, be obligated to wash one’s hands with a blessing. However, according to Sephardic custom, one does not recite a blessing over this washing of the hands in any case.

Birkat Ha’Torah: The prevalent custom is according to the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, that even one who did not sleep at all during the previous day – since he came to pray Shacharit in the morning of the new day, he must recite Birkat Ha’Torah. However, l’chatchila, whoever has not slept at all since he blessed the blessings of the Torah the previous day, in order to fulfill all opinions, he should hear the blessings from a friend, and have the intention to thus fulfill his obligation.

Birkot Ha’Shachar: Even those who remain awake all night recite ‘Birkot HaShachar’ (the Morning Blessings), because ‘Birkot HaShachar’ were fixed as prayers of gratitude for the general good in the world, and not just the self-interests of each and every individual. Therefore, even a blind person recites the blessing ‘po’kay’ach ivrim’ (‘Who gives sight to the blind’), and one who did not sleep recites the blessing ‘zokayf ke’fufim’ (‘Who straightens the bent’). However, regarding the blessings of ‘Elokei Neshama’ and ‘Ha’ma’avir Sheyna’, there are some authorities who hold that a person who did not sleep should not recite these blessings, because these blessings are recited in the singular, as individual thanks for the return of one’s soul, and the passing of sleep. Therefore, it is proper to hear them from someone who actually did sleep, and have ‘kavana’ to fulfill one’s obligation.

When there is no one to recite the blessings, according to the majority of poskim, one should recite the blessings himself, because although they are recited in the singular, they also contain thanks for the general good – that in the morning, God returns souls to those who have slept, and wakes them from their slumber. This is the custom of all Sephardim, and some Ashkenazim. There are other Ashkenazim whose custom is to be ‘machmir‘(stringent), and due to the ‘safek‘(doubt), recite the blessings without ‘Shem and Malchut’ (“Hashem Elokenu Melech Ha’olam). An Ashkenazi who does not know what his custom is, may act according to the custom of the majority of observant Jews, and recite all the blessings himself.

In summary, according to the custom of the majority of observant Jews, those who remain awake all night recite all ‘Birkot Ha’Shachar ’and ‘Birkot Ha’Torah’. The ‘mehadrin’ (those who embellish the mitzvoth), when possible, fulfill the obligation of ‘Birkot Ha’Torah’ and the blessings “Elokei Neshama” and “Ha’Ma’avir Sheyna” by hearing them from someone who slept at night.

When to Recite Birkot Ha’Shachar

According to halakha, ‘Birkot Ha’Shachar’ and ‘Birkot Ha’Torah’ are recited close to the morning prayers. According to kabala‘Birkot Ha’Shachar‘are recited after ‘chatzot ha’layla’ (midnight), and ‘Birkot Ha’Torah‘after ‘Amud Ha’Shachar’ (dawn).

Eating Prior to the Morning Prayers

During the night, one may eat and drink without limitation. However, from half an hour before ‘amud ha’shachar’, it is forbidden to eat a ‘seudah’ (a meal), lest one get over-involved in his meal. This includes the prohibition of eating bread or cakes whose size is equal to, or larger, than a ‘beitza‘(an egg), however, one may eat without ‘keviyut seudah’ (setting a meal) fruits and vegetables and cooked ‘mezanot‘ foods without limitations. From ‘amud ha’shachar’, it is forbidden to eat anything or to drink coffee or juice, and even one who had started eating or drinking beforehand – should stop. One is allowed to drink only water after ‘amud ha’shachar’. (This year on Chag Shavuot, ‘amud ha’shachar‘is at 4:06 A.M.).

Second Day Yom Tov For those who Live Abroad, but are in Israel

Our Sages instituted that in Chutz La-Aretz, all the Chagim must be observed for two days; however the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) differed about the halakha concerning a Jew who lives outside of Israel, but is visiting Israel. There are those who say that when he is in Israel, his status is that of one who lives in Israel, and should hold only one day of Yom Tov (Chacham Tzvi, 167; Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 496:11), but according to most halakhic authorities, since his place of residence is in Chutz La-Aretz, even when visiting Israel, he is considered a ben Chutz La-Aretz, and this is the accepted practice (Birkei Yosef, 496:7; Mishna Berura 496:13).

Even though according to the principle of the law, the halakha should have been lenient, since the second day of Yom Tov is of rabbinic ordinance, and the rule is safek d’rabanan l’kula (a rabbinic ordinance with a doubt is ruled leniently), nevertheless, the accepted minhag (custom) is to be machmir (strict), and since this is the minhag – the unique brachot for Yom Tov are even recited on Yom Tov Sheni. However, it seems that when the visitor has a deep attachment to the country, when he is in Israel, he should act according to the minhag of Eretz Yisrael.

Those Who Reside Outside of Israel but Have an Attachment to the Land

Therefore, 1) a person who comes to Israel for a year of study, his long stay in Israel turns him into ben Eretz Yisrael (a resident) for the duration of his stay. 2) One who occasionally comes to visit Eretz Yisrael, if his visits accumulate to a year, he is considered somewhat of a resident, and from that point onward, if during the Chagim he is in Eretz Yisrael, he should keep only one day.  3) Someone who comes to visit Israel and intends to immigrate when possible, even if he visits for a short period of time, and it will be many years before he can realize his plan, while he is in Israel he should act as ben ha’aretz, and keep one day. 4) A visitor who has children or parents who immigrated to Israel is considered to have an affinity to the country, and during his stay in Israel, should keep one day. 5) One who purchased an apartment in the Land of Israel in order to live there during his visits, even though his visits have not yet accumulated to a year, while he is in Israel, he is considered a ben Eretz Yisrael in the merit of his apartment. 6) A ‘yored‘ (one who has left Israel on a permanent basis) who determined his home is abroad, even if he lived there for decades, since for a significant period he lived in Israel – as long as there is any chance of his returning to Israel, when he visits Israel, he should act like b’nei Eretz Yisrael.

However, when such people are abroad, since in practice they have not yet immigrated to Israel, they are considered to be foreign citizens in every aspect, and it is their obligation to observe Yom Tov Sheni of the Diaspora (these laws are explained in ‘Peninei Halakha: Moadim’ 9: 8).

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

Return our Judges to the People’s Rule

The enactment of the ‘override clause’ is only the beginning – a revolutionary change is needed to restrain the power of the legal establishment * Judaism’s values are not supposed to be legislated by religious coercion, but they must be determined as Basic Laws * The composition of the Judicial Selection Committee must be changed so that it will stop strengthening the tyranny of the minority * If Netanyahu had restrained the Attorney General’s Office, he would not be suffering from their actions against him today * As long as the High Court of Justice rules out Knesset laws – it is essential for the Knesset to maintain the possibility of re-enacting them, without a majority of more than sixty-one

The Importance of Law

The status of law is of the utmost importance, because it is needed to bring the value system which society believes in, into practical actuality in the life of the individual and society. Today in Western countries law expresses a combination of values ​​of utilitarianism with certain values ​​of their cultural heritage and individual human rights. In order to express the values ​​of emunah (faith) and Torah, which are the basis of our national existence, and without which we would have no existence, we are commanded to judge according to the laws of the Torah, as it is written: “And these are the laws you must set before them” (Exodus 21: 1) – and not according to non-Jewish law (Tractate Gittin 88b). The reason for this is that law must express the idea of ​​Divine justice in the life of the people, society, and the individual.

Reform of the Legal Establishment

Over time, more people have come to realize the severe damage the legal establishment causes the vision of the Jewish state, and the actual lives of Jews living in the country. This is because the values ​​that guide it are foreign, and sometimes even contrary, to the values ​​of the Jewish people, its teachings, and its heritage. The recent campaign in the last few weeks – known as ‘hoke ha’hit’ga’brut’, or the ‘override clause’, is based on the ability of the legislative branch to overturn the High Court’s decisions. This is an important, but modest, beginning.

Action is vital in four areas: 1) Completion of Basic Laws that will express the Jewish identity of the state. 2) Changing the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee to reflect the public’s views. 3) Canceling the tyranny of the Legal Advisor’s institution. 4) Regulating the possibility of the Supreme Court or the Constitutional Court in special cases to disqualify laws, and the ability of the Legislative body to re-enact the laws after their disqualification.

In all these areas, it will be necessary to conduct a stubborn struggle against a specific public which possesses status and influence, feels alienated from the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, and to a certain extent, seeks to turn it into a state of all its citizens. This public bases its beliefs and values ​​on the liberal values ​​accepted today in academic circles in the West. In point of fact, however, even within these circles a process of disillusionment exists, and an attempt to understand and redefine the religious and national values, ​​without which the liberal values ​​system remains weak and hollow in face of the challenges and pressures from within and without.

Apparently, the battle will be decided in the next generation in favor of the Jewish vision of the State of Israel. But as always, there lies two paths before us: “If you follow My laws,” the tikkun (improvement) will be done in a positive way; and if not – it will be done through trials and tribulations. The positive way is to delve deeply into the values ​​of truth and goodness according to the guidance of the Torah, until their light shines forth, and many of our adversaries will be persuaded to a great, or to at least a small extent, that these laws are right and proper. The other way is to continue suffering from the heavy-handed judicial system, which repeatedly harms the fabric of life of the Jewish nation returning to its homeland, as exemplified, for example, by the disqualification of the laws for the expulsion of infiltrators, and as a result, due to all the trouble and grief the infiltrators will cause us, we will be forced to get rid of them.

Jewish Values ​​as Basic Laws

The first area that needs to be dealt with is establishing basic laws that will express the Jewish identity of the state. This does not refer to laws of religious coercion which harms the liberty of each and every individual, but rather, laws that express Jewish values ​​in public life, and allow for deep, original, and profound Jewish creativity. It is imperative to emphasize in the most definitive manner that this does not mean religious coercion, because there is nothing more harmful to the realization of the values ​​of the Torah than the assumption that they are intended to suffocate the individual’s freedom and creativity. In the Diaspora, we were primarily concerned with safeguarding Judaism and taking cautionary actions, and therefore the coercive side was more conspicuous. However, when we want to build Jewish life in the State of Israel, we must give each individual’s freedom an extremely respectable place – as a continuation of the freedom of choice God gave to mankind. And it is essential to strive to find a balance between general Jewish identity, and the full rights of the individual.

First off, the ‘Law of Return’ must be set in a Basic Law, and its application should be defined as a person who is indeed a Jew according to halakha, or a descendant of Jews possessing a Jewish identity. Since today it is not a Basic Law, the legal establishment gnaws at it in the name of the values ​​of democracy. Also, a Basic Law determining the value of traditional Torah study as one of the most important values ​​of the spiritual revival of Shivat Tzion (Return to Zion) should also be anchored in law.

In addition, the status of Shabbat must be set in a Basic Law, according to which it must be preserved in all governmental and public frameworks. It is inconceivable that such a central value in the life of our nation can be expressed in temporary agreements, or by municipal by-laws alone. Just as the value of human dignity and liberty is set in a Basic Law and is not based on the good will of any person or community, thus Shabbat should be set in a Basic Law. The preservation of kashrut in state and public institutions must also be set in a Basic Law. The Jewish character of the IDF must also be determined in a Basic Law.

The existing laws relating to personal status in marriage and divorce, according to which family ties or their permissibility are determined by rabbinic law in rabbinical courts as the tradition of Israel, should also receive a high status of Basic Laws. Afterwards, it will be possible to find solutions to individual and personal problems in various regulations, but the personal freedom of various groups of people must not interfere with the State of Israel in anchoring the sanctity of the family in a Basic Law. Without this Basic Law, the legal establishment will continue to erode the values ​​of the Jewish family, and the status of the rabbinic courts.

The Committee Strengthens the Minority

The second area that must be dealt with is changing the composition of the committee for the selection of judges. Currently, the judges of the Supreme Court have a central position in the judges’ selection committee. Any reasonable person knows that the positions of most of the Supreme Court justices fluctuate between the extreme left, and the ordinary left. Through their excess power in the committee they replicate themselves, and thus, against the will of the public, they continue to impose their positions on it. In order to correct the injustice and the resulting legal biases, it is necessary that the Judicial Selection Committee be composed of representatives of elected officials, as is customary in all democratic countries, in varying modes. If the Meretz party receives enough votes to win a representative, it can choose a retired judge, but sitting judges will not be able to participate in the committee in any manner whatsoever – they must concentrate on the judicial profession, and refrain from political pursuits and harmful interference in the work of the legislative branch, which is also responsible for selecting judges.

Super Powers of the Attorney

The third area: the abolition of the tyranny of the Attorney General. Without any legal basis, the Attorney General and his aides exercise supreme authority over decisions, restrictions, and instructions for elected officials, who are the sole representatives of the sovereign – the people themselves. Thus, officials pretend to run the state without being elected to do so, personally fulfilling the verse “a servant who becomes a king.” They were appointed to serve the public and to 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 will.

Part of the excessive power of the office of the Attorney General derives from the inferior and corrupt connection between the role of the Attorney General and the role of the Public Prosecutor. Many public figures are confident, or at least fear, that if they dare to challenge the powers that legal advisers usurp for themselves, the legal establishment will find the way to take revenge on them – to bring them to justice, to ruin their public careers, and to harass their private lives in investigations and legal processes lasting for years. This is a method of dictatorial takeover, unparalleled in any democratic country.

Many people are used to quoting Lord Acton who said: “Power – corrupts; absolute power – corrupts absolutely.” Indeed, the legal establishment in general, and the Office of the Attorney General in particular, provide a good example of this.

Netanyahu’s Blame in the Charges against Him

Many people hoped that with the appointment of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit as Attorney General, the status of the Attorney General’s Office would be curtailed, and his position would be separated. Prime Minister Netanyahu was already about to fulfill this hope, but in the end, withdrew. Perhaps because he was afraid of the vengeful arm of the legal establishment that would haunt him by opening countless old investigations, put him and his wife on trial, and eventually throw him in jail for misdemeanors usually settled outside of court.

In practice, however, when every Attorney General knows that his job will come to a conclusion after a few years, and sets his eyes on the next honorable post – a judge in the Supreme Court – he must take into account the position of the justices on the Supreme Court. This is a structured bribe, which is very difficult to ignore. Today, in the public state of affairs that has been created, if the Attorney General still wants to remain part of the legal establishment he almost has to put Netanyahu on trial. This creates a situation in which Netanyahu himself is to blame for the situation he is in – a problem which the whole country suffers from. The only way to get us out of this mess is that his colleagues in the Likud, and coalition partners in other parties, will force him to act against the legal establishment.

It should be added that as long as the legal establishment is immersed in this deep corruption, it would also be appropriate to establish a law that does not allow an incumbent Prime Minister to be prosecuted, except in cases of particularly serious offenses.

The ‘Override Clause’ – Even by a Simple Majority

Concerning the fourth subject: The passing of the ‘Override Clause’. In all the amendments, there is, of course, also a need to determine that if the Supreme Court has the ability to invalidate laws, then the Knesset has the power to re-enact them. Today, when the Supreme Court is slanted in its positions to the left, it is forbidden to enact the ‘Override Clause’ to require more than sixty-one votes. It is possible that after the Judicial Appointments Committee changes, the composition of the judges changes, and the Basic Laws relating to the identity of the State of Israel as a Jewish state are enacted – it will be possible to establish a constitutional court, which in exceptional cases will be entitled to annul laws, and to re-enact them, a majority of seventy Knesset members would be required. Today, however, it is better not to pass any law, than to pass a law that will require more than sixty-one votes to cancel the High Court’s decision.

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

Most Important: Increase Peace

The main purpose of mourning during the days of the Omer Counting is the honoring of Torah scholars from different circles * One can take a haircut for the purpose of removing bothersome hair, for essential aesthetic needs, or for modesty * Today, shaving is not considered a festive act, and therefore, one who does not have a family custom can go according to the custom of permitting shaving, in particular before Shabbat *One can listen to calm songs at low intensity on the radio and computer * In times of need, one can be lenient and purchase new items that require the ‘Shehechiyanu’ blessing * The main custom in Ashkenazic communities abroad is not to marry at the end of Sefirat Ha’Omer, and it is proper for Ashkenazi Jews in Israel to avoid getting married during these days

Peace among Torah Scholars

During the days of Sefirat Ha’Omer (the counting of the Omer), twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva died; consequently, Jews are accustomed to observe some mourning practices during these days, for example, not to get married, not to take a haircut, and not to hold public dances unrelated to a mitzvah. Our Sages said that the disciples died “because they did not respect one another,” and as a result, the world was desolate of Torah – to the point where many believed there was no hope for Israel. Rabbi Akiva, however, did not despair, and despite the severe calamity, he once again gathered new students and taught them Torah, “and it was they who revived the Torah at that time” (Yevamot 62b).

After gathering new students, Rabbi Akiva said to them, “My sons, the first students died because of jealousy among them – make sure not to do as they did” (Bereshit Rabba 61:3). From the fact that we are accustomed to remember their deaths and its cause, we should learn that during these days in particular, we must increase honor and respect between Torah scholars from different circles.

How Long does the Mourning Last?

According to the custom of Ashkenazi Jews in the Land of Israel, the customs of avelut (mourning) continues until Lag BaOmer, and since “mikzat ha’yom k’kulo” (mourning for part of the day is considered as if one had mourned the whole day), already from the morning of Lag BaOmer it is permissible to take a haircut and get married (some authorities are lenient and permit this from the night of Lag BaOmer). According to the Sephardic custom, mourning continues until the morning of the 34th. However, even according to the Sephardic custom, during the evening of Lag BaOmer and during the day, it is also permissible to sing, to play musical instruments, and dance in honor of the hilula celebration of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, but it is still forbidden to take a haircut and marry until the morning of the thirty-fourth day of the Omer (later on the Ashkenazic custom regarding the days after Lag BaOmer will be explained).

Which Type of Haircut is Forbidden?

According to Sephardic custom, haircuts are forbidden until the morning of the thirty-fourth day of the Omer, and according to the Ashkenazi custom, until Lag BaOmer. For those who go according to the Ari HaKadosh, haircuts are forbidden until the eve of Shavuot, but this is based on kabbalah, and not because of mourning.

The haircut that is forbidden during the days of mourning is a regular haircut that has an aspect of forbidden joy, but trimming one’s mustache is permitted if it interferes with eating. Also, someone whose hair has grown to the point where it causes him a headache, or has wounds on his scalp, may take a haircut during these days.

It is also permissible for a woman to cut her hair for the needs of modesty, such as a woman whose hair pokes out of her head-covering. Also, when there is a need to remove something distasteful, women are permitted to pluck their eyebrows, and remove facial hairs.

Even young children should not be given a haircut during these days, but for a ‘tzorech gadol‘ (a great need), to prevent sorrow, it is permissible to cut their hair (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 3: 6).

Brit Milah and Rosh Chodesh

In honor of a brit milah (circumcision), the main celebrants are allowed to take a haircut. The celebrants are the father of the son, the sandak (the one who holds the baby while being circumcised), and the mohel (the one who performs the circumcision) (Mishna Berura, 493:12).

When the Rosh Chodesh Iyar falls on Shabbat, according to the Ashkenazic custom it is permissible to take a haircut in its honor (M.B. 493: 5), and according to the custom of the Sephardim, only in pressing situations are they lenient (Kaf HaChaim 493:42).

Is Shaving Forbidden?

According to numerous poskim, shaving is included in the taking of a haircut, and on all the days when it is forbidden to take a haircut, it is forbidden to shave; only if one is liable to lose his livelihood if he does not shave is permitted to shave (Kaf HaChaim, Iggrot Moshe). This is the practice of most yeshiva students, who do not shave during the days of mourning of Sefirat HaOmer.

On the other hand, some poskim believe that there is a fundamental difference between a haircut and a shave. Taking a haircut involves an aspect of festivity, as it is customary for people to take haircuts before holidays and festive events; on the other hand, today shaving is routine, performed every day or every few days, and its goal is to remove the stubble that mars the faces of those who are accustomed to shave, and the custom of not taking a haircut does not apply to such a person. According to these poskim, particularly on the eve of Shabbat it is appropriate to shave, so as not to accept Shabbat in an undignified manner. Apparently, this is the opinion of some of the eminent Gedolei Achronim, that in honor of Shabbat, it would be appropriate to shave (Magen Avraham 551:14; Biur Halakha 551:3).

In practice, it is appropriate for every person to continue his father’s custom. For those who do not have a custom – it is preferable to shave before every Shabbat, as well as before Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Independence Day). And if one wishes, he can shave every day, because the lenient opinion seems more logical (Peninei Halakha, ibid 3: 7).

Joy and Trips

During these days, public dancing or sing-a-longs should not be held, and performances by singers or orchestras should not be held. Youth trips where the participants are accustomed to sing out loud and make noise should not be held, but a regular trip is permitted. It is also permissible to go on a vacation during these days.

The Joy of a Mitzvah

It is permitted to hold a seudat mitzvah (festive meal) and to sing and dance there as is customary throughout the year. For example, it is permissible to conduct seudat brit milah, pidyon ha’ben (redeeming the first born son), and a siyum masechet (concluding a tractate of Talmud) during the days of Sefirat HaOmer. And those who are accustomed at such meals to dance and play joyful music – may do so, because this is the joy of a mitzvah.

It is permitted to insert a new Torah scroll into a synagogue with song, melodies and dancing as is customary, because these are dances and melodies for the sake of a mitzvah.

The same applies to a seudat Bar Mitzvah that takes place on the day the boy reaches Bar-Mitzvah, which is permitted to be observed as is customary throughout the year. When the Bar Mitzvah party cannot be held on the day the boy reaches Bar-Mitzvah, it is permitted to hold the meal without playing music. And if they set to finish a Tractate or an Order of the Mishnah at the beginning of the party, they can play music as they are accustomed to at every Bar Mitzvah celebration (Peninei Halakha, ibid, 3: 9).

But a wedding, although it is a joy of a mitzvah, is not held, because the joy of a wedding is exceptionally splendid.

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) (Iggrot Moshe, Y.D. 2:137, Yechaveh Da’at 6:34).
On the other hand, some authorities hold that the prohibition against listening to musical instruments during this period 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. 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 (Peninei Halakha, ibid, 3:10). According to all opinions, a driver may listen to music in order to keep himself awake.

Buying New Products

Unlike “Yamei Bein Ha’Maytzarim” (The Three Weeks) when it is customary not to recite the ‘Shehecheyanu‘ blessing, during Sefirat HaOmer it is permissible to buy a garment, a new piece of furniture, or a new fruit, and to recite the ‘Shehecheyanu‘ blessing. Indeed, there are some poskim who, l’chatchila, (from the outset) are stringent not to recite the blessing; however, in practice, when necessary, it is possible to be lenient. And someone who wishes to enhance the mitzvah should attempt to wear or use the new product and recite “Shehecheyanu” over them in times of joy, such as Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, or Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Peninei Halakha 3:11).

Between Lag BaOmer and Shavuot

As we learned according to Sephardic custom, the customs of mourning cease on the thirty-fourth day of the Omer, because the rule is that fifteen days before Shavuot, the days of mourning cease. However, according to Ashkenazic custom, the rule is that 33 days of mourning can be observed at the beginning of the Omer until Lag BaOmer, or it is possible to observe them at the end of the days of Sefirat HaOmer from Rosh Chodesh Iyar until the eve of Shavuot.

In the past, most Ashkenazic communities preferred mourning at the end of the days of the counting, because during these days there were more catastrophes in Ashkenaz.  About 1,000 years after the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students, during the Crusades that began in the fifth millennium (1096), the Christians in Ashkenaz murdered tens of thousands of Jews, and most of these disasters occurred during the days of Sefirat HaOmer. About five hundred years later, in 1648 and 1649, terrible murders again took place in Eastern Europe. Tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered, and these riots also took place mostly during the days of the Omer.

Even though the principle is that when different communities gather, each community is permitted to continue its practice, l’chatchila (ideally), it is preferable not to increase divisions. Therefore, as a result of the custom of the Sephardim, almost all the Ashkenazim in Israel are accustomed to observe the days of mourning until Lag BaOmer. However, an Ashkenazi who wishes to do so may continue the custom of his family and observe the days of mourning at the end of the Omer.

Marriage and Joy after Lag BaOmer

According to Sephardic custom, after the thirty-fourth of Omer, there is no longer any custom of mourning, and it is permitted to hold marriages and celebrations without limitation.

However, according to the custom of the Ashkenazim, since the prevalent custom in the past was to practice mourning customs at the end of the Omer period because of the calamities that occurred in them, even today, when the main mourning customs end on Lag Ba’Omer, it is customary not to hold large celebrations such as musical performances and happy dance evenings until Rosh Chodesh Sivan. Nevertheless, an aerobic dance class and the like can be held, because it is mainly for exercise. On the 28th of Iyar, the day of the Liberation of Jerusalem, it is permitted to hold large celebrations and marriages even according to the custom of Ashkenaz.

Many Ashkenazic Jews do not get married during these days, but some poskim are of the opinion that Ashkenazic Jews are also permitted to get married during the days following Lag BaOmer, and when necessary, one should consult with the local rabbi, or one’s distinct rabbi, whether to rely on the lenient 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/

A Week of Torah and Joy

The purpose of Chol Hamoed is the study of Torah out of joy * One is permitted to do laundry on Chol Hamoed only for clothes that get dirty quickly, and only if one has no other clothes left to wear * Someone who shaves every day and shaved before the holiday – according to halakha he is permitted, and it is even a mitzvah, for him to shave on Chol Hamoed * Children’s hair can be cut, and a ‘chalaka’ can be performed * Only food stores can operate on Chol Hamoed; consequently, spending time in a mall that does not sell food is prohibited, and strengthens offenders of Jewish law * A trip is considered a purpose of the Moed, but only if it is short and does not harm the main purpose of the Moed – rest from every day work, and Torah study.

The Moed is intended for Joyful Torah Learning

The holidays were given to Israel so that they could study Torah with joy. Throughout the week a person is preoccupied with his work, and it is difficult for him to devote sufficient time to Torah study. Therefore, God gave us holy days in which we could engross ourselves in Torah study. Our Sages said in the Midrash: “These are My festivals” – when you, the Jewish nation, perform the mitzvot and sanctify the festivals by gathering the people at synagogues in order to study Torah, the Holy One, blessed be He, says: These are My festivals; if not, God says: These are not My festivals, rather, they’re your festivals. This is exactly what a wicked man once alleged against Rabbi Akiva – that there is no value to Israel’s festivals, for God said to the prophet: “Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them” (Isaiah 1:14). Rabbi Akiva answered him, saying that indeed, if the holidays are only meant for the enjoyment of one’s belly, they are hated. But when the holidays are designated for the worship of God, for the study of Torah, and the joy of the holiday, they are cherished and beloved festivals (Shlah HaKadosh, Talmud Sukkah, Ner Mitzvah 31).

Prohibition of Washing Clothes during Chol Hamoed

It is a mitzvah to wash one’s clothes before Chag, and in order for people not be negligent in this matter, our Sages prohibited washing clothes during Chol HaMoed. In other words, according to the strict law, it is permissible to wash clothes on Chol HaMoed in order to wear them on the Moed, because this is considered melechet hedyot l’tzorech ha’Moed (a layman’s work, for the purpose of the Moed); nevertheless, our Sages prohibited this, so there won’t be a situation where people postpone washing their clothes until Chol HaMoed – when they are off from work – and as a result, disgrace the holiday by entering it unkempt (dirty).

Clothes that Tend to Get Dirty

Included in the prohibition are shirts, pants, dress, skirt, suit, coat, and all the like. But clothes that get dirty often, like babies’ and children’s clothes, are permitted to be washed on Chol HaMoed for the purpose of wearing them on the Moed. This holds true for socks and underwear as well, since people change them on a daily basis because of sweat; after having used all the clean ones, one is permitted to wash what he will need for the rest of the Moed. This is because the reason for the prohibition is so that people will wash clothes before the holiday, but our Sages did not make a decree on clothes that even if washed before the holiday, would have to be washed again during the Moed. And there is no need to be discreet about these garments having been laundered, because everyone knows that it is permissible to wash such clothes.

Nevertheless, all baby clothes and socks and underwear should be washed before the holiday, and only after using all the clean clothes would it be permitted to wash the clothes needed for the Moed. One should be careful not to add clothes to be washed for the weekdays after the holiday (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11: 11-12).

Usually, children from the age of nine no longer dirty their clothes, and there is no heter (halachic permission) to wash their clothes on Chol HaMoed. However, if they are children who tend to get dirtier than normal, it is permissible to wash their clothes for the Chag, even when they are nine or ten years old (ibid.).

It is permissible to remove a stain by use of water and detergent, because the cleaning of a stain was not included in the gezeira (decree). Although there are those who act stringently in this matter, the opinion of the majority of poskim is to be lenient. However, as long as one still has a clean garment, it is better to wear it (ibid.).

A Person Who Has One Garment

A person who has only one garment and it got dirty during the Chag, our Sages permitted him to wash it on Chol HaMoed, because even if it was washed on the eve of Chag, it would probably get dirty again during the seven days of the festival, and the Sages did not want to make a gezeira that one would have to go around with a dirty garment on the Moed. Therefore, a person who has only one shirt and it gets dirty, or a woman who has only one dress and it gets dirty, they are allowed to wash it. In this case, one should make sure to wash the garment discreetly, i.e., in a household washing machine, and not to hang it outside to dry.

However, a person who has two garments, even if they get dirty and it causes him sorrow to wear them, it is forbidden for him to wash them on Moed, because two garments are supposed to be sufficient for the duration of the Chag. And even when one of the garments is not as nice looking, he is considered as having two garments. A woman who has a full dress, plus a skirt and a shirt, is considered to have two garments. And even if both of the garments got slightly dirty, it is forbidden to wash them, but must be worn as is.

A person who has one garment for Shabbat and Chag, and one for everyday use, if he is not used to wearing his everyday garment on Shabbat – he is considered as having only one garment for Shabbat and Chag, and if his Shabbat garment got dirty, it may be washed in a washing machine for Chag Sheni (second holiday).

When all of one’s clothes become so dirty that because of embarrassment, and without great need, a man or a woman would prefer to stay at home and not go out with such dirty clothes – it is permissible to wash the necessary clothes, so they will not be ashamed to leave the house.


It is permissible to iron clothes non-professionally in order to wear during the Chag, but it is forbidden to press folds in a professional manner (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11:7).

Shaving and Haircut

It is a mitzvah to take a haircut and shave before Chag. And so that people not be negligent and enter Chag disheveled and unshaven, reasoning that during Chol HaMoed there would be plenty of time and they can then get their hair cut and take shave, our Sages forbade shaving and haircutting on Chol HaMoed. In other words, despite the fact that on Chol HaMoed, melachot designed for bodily needs are permitted, our Sages forbade the cutting of hair and shaving on Chol HaMoed, so that everyone would be careful to cut their hair and shave before Chag, and not enter Chag disheveled and unshaven, and thus disgrace the Chag (Moed Katan 14a; Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11:9).

The prohibition applies only to the hair of one’s head and beard, which, when wildly grown beyond one’s norm, causes him to look unkempt and demeans the Chag. But the rest of the hair of one’s body was not included in the gezeira of our Sages, and therefore it is permissible to remove on Chol HaMoed any hair that causes sorrow, including the hair of one’s mustache (ibid).

A Haircut for a Child

If a child’s hair is long and it bothers him it can be cut, for since he has not yet reached the age of mitzvot, he does not have the obligation to prepare for Chag, and consequently, our Sages did not decree to refrain from cutting his hair on Chol HaMoed (S.A., O.C. 531:6). Those who celebrate the first haircutting of a three-year old boy, are permitted to cut his hair on Chol HaMoed, and even his birthday falls before the Chag, they are permitted to delay his haircut till Chol HaMoed in order to increase the joy of the Moed (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11:9).

Shaving on Chol HaMoed in Our Times

Many poskim are of the opinion that even men who are accustomed to shave every day, must not shave on Chol HaMoed. However, in practice it seems that the halakha goes according to the lenient opinion, which holds that anyone who shaved before the first Chag – is permitted to shave on Chol HaMoed, since he was not negligent in the honor of Yom Tov, and his shaving before Yom Tov is not beneficial for the entire Chag. And since it is permissible for him to shave, it is a mitzvah to shave in order to honor Chol HaMoed, and in particular, it is a mitzvah to shave in honor of Shabbat and the last Chag.

However, someone whose father is accustomed to be strict and not shave on Chol HaMoed, if the son’s shaving causes his father grief, it is proper for the son to act as his father does, and thus, merit the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11:9, footnote 4).

Trimming Nails, and Shining Shoes

It is a mitzvah to trim one’s nails before Chag. Indeed, be-di’avad (after the fact), according to the majority of poskim, even one who did not trim his nails before Chag, it is permissible for him to trim his nails on Chol HaMoed, just as it is permissible to do anything that benefits one’s body (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11:10). It is permissible to shine one’s shoes on Chol HaMoed (ibid, 11:7).

Commerce, Stores, and Malls

Commerce is forbidden on Chol HaMoed; only food needed for the Moed is allowed to be purchased or sold without restriction. Therefore, the only stores that are permitted to open on Chol HaMoed are food stores.

In principle, however, if a real need suddenly arises, it is permissible to purchase non-food items on Chol HaMoed, such as clothes, shoes, kitchen utensils, electrical appliances, or a book to study. But in practice, this heter is almost never implemented, and consequently, those who spend time shopping at malls desecrate the Moed, because apart from the food stores, it is forbidden to purchase things in stores there since they were opened in contradiction to halakha. There are two reasons for this:

1) Regarding things that are not food products, the heter to purchase during the Chol HaMoed is only for someone who did not know before Chag that they would need them on the Moed; but if one knew, and did not buy – it is forbidden for him to buy on the Moed, because he is leaving his everyday work to be done on the Moed.

2) Even if there is a sudden need during the Moed, it is forbidden to buy from a person who opens his shop in contradiction to halakha, so as not to assist transgressors. In practice, almost all stores that open publicly are open in contradiction to halakha. The whole heter is in order to buy from a shop of a non-Jew, or from a Jew who shuts down his shop on Moed but sells privately and discreetly to someone who asks for something he needs for the Chag (Peninei Halakha:Moadim 11:16).

Trips – Briefly, and Without Hassle

It is permitted to travel on Chol HaMoed for a trip. A trip is considered one of the needs of the Chag, and it is permitted to perform melechet hedyot (the work of a layman), such as a driving a car. However, it is forbidden to travel for purposes not connected to the Moed, such as taking driving lessons, or in order to see something on Moed for work purposes after Chag.

Someone who has to travel on Moed is permitted to perform minor car repairs that a layman knows how to perform. It is therefore permissible to change a wheel when necessary, and a small repair may be performed that does not require special tools, or the skill of a professional. But a professional repair is only allowed to avoid a major work loss.

It appears that the heter to take trips during Chol HaMoed is intended for short trips that are not draining and bothersome, but rather, blend in with the goal of Chol HaMoed – namely, to rest from every day work, enjoy festive meals, and study Torah – for one must devote approximately half the day to Torah study; consequently, room for trips is included in the second half of one’s time, in which he must also eat his meals. However, it seems that for a trip to go up to Jerusalem, the Holy City, and the City of the Holy Temple, one can take a long trip (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1:6; 11:15).

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

Koshering for Pesach Made Easy

Rules for simple koshering of the kitchen for Pesach * A utensil that rarely comes into contact with fire – if it is difficult to do ‘libun’, it can be koshered according to its main use * New self-cleaning ovens that clean themselves at high temperatures do not need additional cleaning and koshering * To kosher marble countertops and sinks, it is enough to pour boiling water on them, but many people have the custom of covering them * Today’s tables do not require boiling water poured on them * The main cleaning for Pesach is in the kitchen

“Ke-bole’o Kakh Polto”

The most basic principle of koshering cooking utensils is that forbidden taste is released from the utensil in the same manner that it was absorbed: “ke-bole’o kakh polto.”  In other words, the utensil must be koshered in the same way that it was used inadvertently, or with chametz. There are two main modes of by fire, and its koshering is done by heavy libun. 2) Boiling water, and its koshering is by ‘hagala’ in boiling water.

There are differing levels in this as well: kli rishon on the flame (the utensil in which the food is cooked), a kli rishon removed from the flame, irui (liquid poured from a kli rishon) and a kli sheni. ‘Ke-bole’o kack polto’.

When are Foods Prohibited?

Le-khatchila (from the outset), one should not use a utensil that was used in a prohibited way, or with chametz, without koshering it in the same way that it was used. However, be-di’avad (after the fact), if a pot that was not koshered was accidentally used, usually, the food in which it was cooked is kosher, since the prohibited taste is undetectable. The reason is that after twenty-four hours have elapsed, the prohibited taste absorbed in it does not taste good. But if one consciously used the utensil without koshering it, our Sages fined such a person – that the food cooked in it is forbidden. The same holds true for Pesach – anyone who unintentionally used a utensil or the marble countertop without koshering – it can be used be-di’avad, but if it was done intentionally – the food is forbidden (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 7: 5, footnote 5).

A Utensil that Absorbed Chametz on Two Levels

If a utensil absorbed chametz on two levels, such as a spoon that sometimes absorbed chametz in a kli rishon on the fire, and occasionally by way of a kli sheni – it is koshered according to its more severe use – i.e., in boiling water on the fire. However, when it is difficult or likely to cause damage, we go according to its majority use. For example, a fork that is usually used as a kli rishon or sheni, whose koshering is done in boiling water, but occasionally is used to check to see if a cake or pastry in the oven is cooked on the inside, in which case its absorption is by fire – since libun is liable to damage the fork, we go according to the letter of the law, and kosher the fork according to its majority use in boiling water.

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. Given that they absorb through fire, they require heavy libun, 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. However, he must also kosher the racks along with the oven and cover them with aluminum foil, and only then he may place the disposable trays on the 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.

A toaster that comes directly in contact with food placed in it, requires heavy libun, and since it is liable to be damaged in the process, it should not be koshered. If it is a small oven, it can be koshered the same way as a baking oven, and for Pesach, disposable trays should be used.

Koshering the Gas 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 (as is the case throughout the year with regard to meat and milk).

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.

Food that Falls On the Burners

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.

Electric Ranges and Ceramic Burners

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, based on the principle of ke-bole’o kakh polto.

Marble Countertops and Sinks

Kitchen countertops are generally cold, but sometimes hot chametz foods or boiling pots from the stove are placed on them, and if some sauce spills on the countertop, it is absorbed at the level of a “kli rishon removed from the flame.”

In order to kosher a countertop, one must first clean it well, paying special attention to crevices and making sure that no food remains stuck in them.

Marble countertops should ideally be koshered by pouring boiling water over them while placing a scalding hot stone or piece of metal on them. By doing so, the water is brought to a boil and reaches a koshering level of a kli rishon removed from the flame. However, it is difficult to bring metal to such a heat in private homes, and doing so could damage the countertop. Therefore, the general practice is to suffice with pouring boiling water on the countertop. In this case, one should make sure not to use the countertop for Pesach foods until twenty-four hours have elapsed since the last time hot chametz foods were on the countertops. Instead of pouring hot water, one may also cover the countertops entirely with oilcloth or thick foil in order to separate between the countertops and the Pesach utensils.

Those who are stringent do both – they pour boiling water on the countertop and then cover it with linoleum or thick foil.

Fragile countertops, on which boiling pots are never placed, can be koshered by merely cleaning and pouring boiling water on them.

Warming Trays (Shabbat “Plata”s)

 They must be cleaned thoroughly, heated for an hour, and then covered with aluminum foil to separate the plata from the Pesach pots.


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 turntable and the food that will be heated in the microwave, because chametz may have spilled onto the turntable.


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. Regarding the racks, le-khatchila they should undergo hagala or irui with boiling water or be replaced. If it is difficult to kosher them through hagala or to replace them, one may perform hagala by running them through the dishwasher’s longest and hottest setting.

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. This means that to kosher a dishwasher one must put a white-hot piece of metal in it in order to boil the water. However, those who follow the lenient approach have authorities on whom to rely.

Dining Room 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.


 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 people were accustomed to cover the shelves with paper or cloth. 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.

Other Utensils

 Silver goblets: It is proper, le-khatchila, 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 because they absorb tastes at a level of irui from a kli rishon. When necessary, one may clean them and perform hagala.

Electric water heaters, urns, samovars, and hot water kettles 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 puts 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. 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, Retainers, and Braces

 These 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.

Braces that are stuck on the teeth for a few months are like the teeth themselves, and just as one cleans his teeth well before Pesach, so too, must he clean with a toothbrush around the braces.

Cleaning the House

There is a huge difference between cleaning one’s house for Pesach, and cleaning the kitchen. In cleaning the house, the goal is not to leave a crumb of chametz the size of an olive, so that we will transgress by means of it the prohibitions of “bal yera’eh” or “bal yimatze“; whereas cleaning the kitchen and its utensils, the goal is not to leave even the smallest amount of chametz, lest it get mixed in with other Pesach food. As is known, chametz on Pesach is forbidden ‘b’kol she’hu’ (even the slightest amount). And when it comes to the utensils used to cook in, there should also be no trace of the taste of chametz stuck or absorbed in the utensils.

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

Family is Joy

Selling chametz via the Internet is a solution in a time of need * There is no need for thick pamphlets of medicines kosher for Pesach – only flavored medicines require kashrut certification * The Ashkenazi custom to eat hard matzos is a virtue, not an obligation * Modern and post-modern approaches attack family values ​​because they espouse individual choice to the extreme, reaching the point of egoism * The family does not harm one’s capabilities, rather, empowers them * Nowadays, precisely when one is able to live alone, the family is transformed from being an existential need, to an even higher value


From the Laws of Pesach: Chametz Absorbed into Utensils

One should not sell the chametz that is absorbed into utensils. Quite a few laws relating to mekhirat chametz were introduced in order to make it clear to all that it is an actual sale, but if one writes that he is selling the chametz absorbed in his utensils, the sale will appear to be lacking seriousness, since chametz absorbed in utensils has no value and nobody is interested in buying chametz absorbed in utensils. It is therefore correct not to indicate this in the sale contract. Indeed, if there was a halakhic need for this, the sale of the chametz absorbed in utensils would have been considered a serious issue, but according to halakha it is unnecessary, for it was ruled: “Ceramic dishes that have been used for chametz the whole year, even if they were used for oats or other grains, should be wiped well such that there is no noticeable chametz left, and then it is permitted to keep them until after Passover… they should be hidden on Pesach in a hidden place where one does not normally go, lest one come to use them on Pesach” (S.A.,O.C.451:1). After Pesach, one can go back to using them for chametz. Consequently, according to halakha there is no need to sell chametz utensils, or the chametz absorbed or stuck to them, and therefore, someone who sells them makes the halakha and the sale look silly and unserious.

The Sale of Chametz Online

If necessary, one may sell chametz over the phone, or via the Internet. Usually, the person selling chametz signs and performs a kinyan (act of acquisition) in order to empower the Rabbinate as a shaliach. Nonetheless, the kinyan is not crucial, as the most important thing is the transaction between the Rabbinate and the gentile when it makes the sale between the owners of the chametz to the gentile.

Medications on Pesach

Regarding a flavored medicine, like syrup, lozenges, or chewables, one must ascertain that it is kosher for Pesach, and as long as one is not sure it is kosher for Pesach, it is forbidden to eat. Only one who is seriously ill and his medicine does not have a good substitute, is permitted to eat it, because ‘pikuach nefesh’ (preservation of human life) overrides the prohibition against eating chametz.

However, a tasteless medicine does not require kashrut certification, because even if edible chametz was previously mixed in it, since it is not fit to eat even under pressing circumstances, because even for ‘achilat kelev’ (feeding it to a dog) is not fit, it no longer is forbidden to be eaten, and it permitted to swallow for any medical need.

However, there are some who are careful not to swallow even bitter medicines that contain a mixture of chametz, because they take into consideration the opinion of a few poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who believe that since the medicine is important to us, it is not considered unfit for ‘achilat kelev’, and it is forbidden to be eaten owing to ‘Divrei Chachamim’ (rabbinical decree). However, the halakha goes according to majority of poskim, and it is permissible to swallow a medicine that is not fit for eating without examining its kashrut first.

It should be added that the chances of a medicine containing chametz are very low, and even more so today when many people are sensitive to gluten, and grain is not mixed-in freely, rather, gluten-free substitutes are used.

Therefore, the thick guides that the HMOs publish are superfluous, and they should have focused their efforts on flavored medicines. They fulfilled the general rule: “Tafasta merubeh, lo tafasta” (“If you have seized a lot, you have not seized”). Due to the preoccupation with tasteless medicines, no effort is made to clarify the composition of the flavored medicines, which are the only ones whose clarification is important, and which are often neglected.

Medicines on Shabbat

Our Sages decreed that on Shabbat a mildly sick person should not take medicine, lest he come to pulverize herbal ingredients to prepare a medication and thereby violate the Torah prohibition of Tochen (grinding). However, with respect to medicines manufactured in factories, the poskim disagree, and therefore, for those truly in pain, it is permissible to take them. But if one is not in such great pain – it is forbidden. All this is on the condition that one is not used to taking medications such as Acamol (Paracetamol) or nasal drops from time to time. But if one usually takes such medications as the majority of people do in our times, if one feels that he needs it, he is permitted to continue taking the medicine on Shabbat, since he makes sure they are prepared in advance, there is no concern he will come to pulverize herbal ingredients to prepare a medication (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 28: 5-6).

Soft Matzot for Ashkenazim

Q: Can Ashkenazim eat soft matzot?

A: By strict law, there is no halakha that says matzot must be hard, but rather, it is a ‘minhag‘ (custom) of Ashkenazim to eat hard matzot. There are two reasons for this: one is that the hard matzot are kept fresh for a long time, and therefore before Pesach, matzot can be prepared for the entire holiday of Pesach. The second reason is that from a halakhic point of view, hard matzot have two virtues: 1) when the matzot are baked before Pesach, even if chametz is mixed in, as long as it is less than one-sixtieth it is null and void, and permissible for eating on Pesach. However, if this mixture is created on Pesach, the matzot are forbidden, because on Pesach chametz is forbidden be’kol she’hu (in any amount). 2) The ability to know whether the matza has become chametz depends on the ‘threads‘ that string from the baked matza. In hard matzot, this can be detected easily, while in soft matzot, it requires more expertise.

Since this ‘minhag‘ also has halachic virtues, it should not be nullified without reason. However, when necessary, since it is not prescribed as a binding ‘minhag’, it is possible to be lenient.

Pesach, Family, and the New Book

In the past few months, I have been busy preparing books for print. In my previous column, I wrote about the new and upgraded version of “Peninei Halakha: Ha’am ve’ Ha’Aretz” (“The Nation and the Land”); now I will talk about the new and upgraded book “Likutim” which deals with family matters.

Most of my work in the recent past has been writing and preparing ‘hilchot kashrut’ (dietary laws). At present with the help of God, I am finishing preparing the first volume (out of two), in which all the laws relating to vegetation and living creatures are explained, and therefore some of the laws that appear in the ‘Likutim’ books will not appear in the coming volumes. Consequently, ‘Likutim’ Volume 3 will end up devoted entirely to family matters. Since this is the case, I have added to it other laws I have written over the years in matters of marriage, modesty, laws of mourning and their meanings, and various other laws. Thus, more than seventy pages have been added to the book.

Since most of the halachot in this book have been printed in the previous edition, and those who purchased the older edition may feel deprived, I asked the publishers to sell the new book at cost price for three months to anyone who has an old edition of ‘Likutim: Mishpacha’ Volume 3.

The Attacks on Family Values

Family values ​​are at the center of a person’s world, and in keeping with their importance and centrality, they are under attack today from various directions. In modern society, and even more so in post-modernism, man is perceived as a loner and individual; family weighs down on him, impinging on his freedom of revealing his desires without restraint. This is the case with regard to parent-child relations, with the mitzvah to honor one’s parents under attack by the accepted psychological positions, to the point where parents are accused of all the emotional complications of their children. Even more so, the marriage framework is under attack, because it ostensibly violates the freedom and rights of women and children. Thus in actuality in Western secular society, most married couples get divorced, and the majority of people live for most of their adult lives without a stable relationship.

Changing from Existential Need, to an Exalted Value

In the past, family values ​​were an existential need, for without a family, a person could not provide for his own material needs, and protect himself. Therefore, all of human society extolled the nuclear and extended family values, ​​and established rules and regulations according to which the family was governed. On a higher, more sacred level, according to Torah instruction family life is guided in such a way that all members of a family are elevated to a spiritual life of holiness, Torah, and mitzvot. Contrasted with the situation in the past, in modern society an individual adult can take care of himself, achieving his material needs and the various social activities he enjoys. Not only is he not in need of family but family is liable to burden him down, delay his professional progress, interfere with his daily and nightly enjoyment as he sees fit, consume all his money, deprive him of his freedom, oblige him to take care of his parents in their old age, to be faithful to his wife, and to devote himself to his children’s education. The value of freedom is indeed sacred, but if misused, it reinforces the egoistic position that views man as a loner, and a serves a mortal blow to family values ​​- and ultimately, even in man, because loneliness is a complicated living situation, full of sadness and pain – especially when a person is enfeebled.

We must return to and deepen family values and the mitzvoth they entail in order to fulfill these commandments for their loftiest value, both in a person’s relationship with his parents, in relation to the sacred covenant of marriage with which he becomes a whole person, and in relation to his children. According to this view which we have learned from the Torah, man is not a loner, but part of a family, and this does not harm the revealing of his vitality and freedom, rather, it empowers them. In order for this to happen, we must study these commandments in a deep manner, and fulfill them.

In this book, as in ‘Peninei Halakha’, the volume of ‘Simchat HaBayit U’Verchato’, which was published in 2011, while studying the mitzvot and halachot, one is exposed to the elements of a good and exalted family life.

Seder Night and Family Values

​​The Seder and its mitzvot are intended to establish the tradition of Jewish faith, and this mitzvah must be done with joy as we are commanded to be happy on every holiday, and especially on Seder night, for which we were commanded to drink four glasses of wine, so that the whole order of the Haggadah be said over a glass of wine, by means of freedom and joy. Nevertheless, occasionally it is difficult for some people to be happy, and instead, they pout at each other, to the point where family gatherings causes tension and arguments.

The Torah teaches us that whenever a person is happy, he should share his joy with family and make them happy. In other words, true joy depends on the fact that one must first delight his family members (see ‘Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1: 11). From this, one can come to a very deep understanding: family is the opportunity to give love and joy in an orderly and stable manner. When a person arrives at Seder night with a feeling of a mission, and his intent is make others happy, to show them a happy face and compliment them, he is guaranteed to fulfill the mitzvoth of the holiday with extra joy, and he himself will leave the family reunion full of vitality and blessing for the entire year.

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/

When an Old Book Meets a Changing World

The decision to reprint the volume of “Ha’am ve’ Ha’aretz” (The Nation and the Land) in the “Peninei Halakha” series emerged as a complex challenge * Despite the vision to establish a well-organized doctrine in contemporary matters, as is the case in the rest of the world of halakha, the gap between matters still remains * Since the previous edition thirteen years ago, public discourse has changed rapidly, and required significant changes * Even the welcome change – the expansion of the circle of readers beyond Arutz Sheva followers – requires new clarifications * The new edition relates to new topics, but also explains the logic and morality of the commandments of the Land and the nation, for readers throughout Israel and the world

A New Edition – and Indecision

This week, as part of the “Peninei Halakha” series, a new edition of the ‘Likutim’ (anthologies) series “Ha’am ve’ Ha’aretz” (“The Nation and the Land”) was published, with many important additions, most of which are refinements and broadening of the halakha’s and clarifications that already existed, and some additional halakha’s. I would like to share with the readers the dilemmas that preceded the upgrading of the book.

From beginning, my hope and prayer was that I would be able to publish the halakha’s of ‘Ha’am ve’ Ha’aretz’ in an orderly and comprehensive manner, like the other books in the “Peninei Halakha” series, so as to explain the vision in its entirety, from the general to the details of the halakha’s, regarding the destiny of the Jewish People in its Land; the relationship between Israel and the nations; the order of government, kingdom and democracy; the Rabbinate, Education, and Community; society, and the degree of mutual responsibility of its various components; the order of law concerning laws between Man and his fellow Man, and the laws between Man and his Creator; the responsibility placed on the community and the leadership to determine the Jewish-religious identity of the state. This book, even after it’s updating, is very far from the vision.

On the other hand, there are very important issues relating to the destiny of the Nation and the significance of the Land; the borders of the Land and the order of its settlement; laws of the army, and laws of war; the status of settlement in Judea and Samaria; government regulations, and the status of law and order in the State of Israel.

Facing the Changing Reality

The previous edition, however, was printed thirteen years ago, in 2005, and in practice, most of the halakha’s were written about twenty-five years ago for the “Pinat Ha’Halakha” (the Halakha Corner) on the Arutz Sheva radio station, and were printed in the first ‘Likutim’ of “Peninei Halakha” from the years 1993-1998  (in a colored front cover). During the years since then, a dilemma arose whether to print additional editions, when the incompleteness of the style in the ‘Likutim’ series of books, compared to the rest of “Peninei Halakha” series, became more pronounced – especially because it deals with topical issues, and the writing style of ‘Likutim’ which were rewritten from the radio broadcast ‘Pinat Ha’Halakha’, and were directed at problems during the time of the writing – became less accurate and poignant for public discourse which changes from year to year. National values that were obvious even for some people on the political Left, have now become less understandable; consequently, it was necessary to clarify at greater length the mitzvoth of the Torah, so that its logic and morality would be crystal clear. In addition, the circle of listeners of Arutz Sheva and students of the original books of “Peninei Halakha” were from the group of residents of Judea and Samaria and their supporters. Today, however, the circle of those studying “Peninei Halakha” has expanded to other circles, and have even begun to be translated into four languages: English, Russian, French and Spanish, to the point where the number of books printed in the last thirteen years, is ten times greater than the books printed previously. When I referred to non-Jews or Arabs (in chapter five and eight), it was clear to the people of ‘Yesha’ (acronym for Judea and Samaria) that what I wrote was not written out of hatred of foreigners, but rather, as part of a conflict, a struggle, or a vision of a Jewish state, seeing as all the values of morality, kindness, and peace are also crystal clear. And as anyone who is familiar with reality knows, the settlers generally treat Arab neighbors and workers with respect – above and beyond what is customary in similar conflicts elsewhere. However, readers who live outside of Israel, and are influenced by the anti-Semitic libels broadcast in the media against the settlers, and even more so, those who study the translated books, are liable  to understand things in a completely different way.

Suiting “Ha’am ve’ Ha’aretz” to the General Public

Therefore, when a request arose to translate this book into Russian, I asked that they wait until I went over it again, and elaborated on a number of complex topics, with the intent of adding an additional clarification for deep learners, and also, to adapt it to those who are not familiar with the internal discourse of the ‘Beit Midrash’ (the Yeshiva study hall), and the settlers of Judea and Samaria.

In addition, I added more halakha’s that I have clarified over the years, such as the halakha of ‘eshet yaffet to’ar’ (a non-Jewish woman captured in battle), with the explanation of its moral rectification, as well as additional accuracy and broadening in regards to the borders of the Land of Israel, with the help of Rabbi Yair Weitz. I even refined the style – taking it from the spoken style of “Pinat Halakha”, and bringing it closer to written style.

Sample of Additions

In the first chapter I added a few elementary ideas about the Nation, in order to explain that the value of the Nation precedes that of the Land, and even the chapter’s headline was changed to “Nation and the Land.” This is one example of the fact that people who are familiar with the inner discourse, know that the Nation comes before the Land; but people detached from Torah Judaism, mistakenly or maliciously, prefer to claim that our position is that the Land is more important than the Nation.

In Chapter five, I elaborated on the attitude toward the residence of non-Jews in the Land of Israel (5: 1-5), so that it would be understood that these halakha’s are not xenophobic, but rather an expression of the vision of establishing an exemplary state, a light unto the nations, all of whose inhabitants share in the revelation of Godly ideals. At the same time, I also referred in detail to our present situation, and explained the moral solution that the idea of ‘ger toshav’ (foreign resident) holds for the dilemmas faced by the peoples of Europe. There was also a halakhic reference to the demolition of houses in Judea and Samaria, in accordance with the decision of the courts (5:13).

In Chapter 6 (7-8), I expanded my point of reference to the civil courts of the State of Israel, both in deepening the criticism towards them, in understanding the need for their existence, and also the role incumbent upon Torah scholars. At the end, a halakha was added regarding electing women as Ministers or Members of Knesset. In Chapter 7, I was more precise in the halachic ruling regarding a captured terrorist (7: 9), and another halakha on the responsibility and guarantee to benefit all human beings (7:10).

The Fulfillment of the Promise to Rabbi Goren

In this book, I also fulfilled my commitment to Rabbi Shlomo Goren ztz”l, who was the President of our Yeshiva in its early years. When I served as the secretary of the ‘Council of Rabbis of Yesha’, he wrote to me long and important answers regarding the Nation and the Land, the prohibition of withdrawal, and refusal of orders. At one point during the time when he was ill and distressed about the rabbis who had omitted his name from the matter of refusing orders, I promised to publish his positions, in order to appease and cheer him up. By the grace of God, I was able to fulfill my promise, and so far the book with his answers has been printed in about 25,000 copies. In the new edition I added a halachic answer written to me that I had omitted, and Rabbi Maor Horowitz had discovered. Indeed, he discovered another answer, but since it deals with a sensitive issue of the law of “rodef” (one who is “pursuing” another to murder him) concerning terrorist leaders, I chose not to publish it in the framework of this book, which is widely studied by the general public.

An Example of Elaboration: Jewish Labor

In the eighth chapter I made a special effort to explain the halacha’s of Jewish labor as a mitzvah, to prefer those close in expanding circles – first family, then neighbors, then people living in the same city, then people from the same nation, and then close countries, until finally, all people of the world – and all this, not as a result of alienation for foreigners. From a halachic point of view, this is what was written in the previous edition; however, a person who did not grow up on the foundations of morality in the Torah, is liable to understand this in a different light.

This is what I wrote in the new edition (8: 1):

“When two people ask someone for a loan, and he can lend to only one of them, he should give preference to the one closer to him. As it is said (Exodus 22:24): “When you lend money to My people, to the poor man among you” (in Hebrew, ‘among you’ is ‘imach‘). In other words ‘imach‘, is meant to be understood as ‘close to you’. Therefore, a family relative comes before a neighbor; a neighbor comes before someone who is not a neighbor; a fellow city-dweller comes before someone who does not live in the same city; a person from the same nation, comes before a person from another nation (Bava Metzia 71a).

Similarly, it is said (Vayikra 25:14): “Thus, when you buy or sell [land] to your neighbor, do not cheat one another.” Our Sages said (Sifra) that in the words “your neighbor” (in Hebrew, ‘amitecha’), the Torah intended to instruct that in every purchase or sale, a person should prefer his ‘neighbor’, i.e., the one closest to him – including giving preference to his nation over people of another nation. The novelty of this is that not only in matters of ‘chesed‘ (kindness) and ‘tzedakah‘ (charity) should one give preference to someone closer to him, but also in all economic spheres, one should prefer his relatives.

This halakha is not an expression of boycotting someone who is not a relative, neighbor, or foreigner. On the contrary, it is well-known that all of Israel has a responsibility to rectify the entire world, as God said to Avraham our forefather (Genesis 12: 3): “All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” And it was also said to Yaakov our forefather (Gen. 28:14): “All the families on earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.” Rather, this halakha is intended to express the brotherhood and the great responsibility incumbent upon each person towards his relatives, neighbors, and nation. Apparently, this is also the case for all the nations – that every person should give preference in all matters between man and his fellow man to his relatives, and then his neighbors, and then his nation.

The idea of ​​this general rule is simple and logical: in order to solve all the hardships in the world, and build a good and healthy society, it is necessary to start and correct in order, from the closer circle to the more distant one. Beyond the fact that brotherly love requires this, this principle allows society to rectify itself in a complete manner, with responsibility spreading logically in circles; the closer a person is to his friend, the more familiar he is with him, and knows better how to help him more efficiently. So too in matters of ‘tzedakah’, as well as in matters of labor – that in the long term, neighbors and fellow citizens know how to employ the worker in the most beneficial way for both of them.

The mitzvah to give preference to our fellow Jew, is even when the price he asks for is slightly higher … but when the difference between them is not small, there is no obligation give him preference.

The meaning of this is that there is no intention that the mitzvah of preference will damage the economic considerations of a person or business; rather, the intention of the mitzvah to create a certain preference for a relative, neighbor, or a member of his nation, while maintaining the profitability and worth of the business.

Out of this foundation, I continued in the following halakha’s to explain the parameters of preference for employment.

In Memory of Rabbi Itamar HY”D

During the days of preparation of the book for printing, on the 20th of Shevat, Rabbi Itamar Ben- Gal, HY”D was murdered in the sanctification of Hashem. He was one of the outstanding students of our Yeshiva. In his life, and in his death, Rabbi Itamar gave his heart, soul, and strength to the revelation of the Torah of the Land of Israel, the education of Torah and mitzvot, and the settlement of the Land, on the frontline of settlement in Har Bracha. This book, which deals with the Nation and the Land, is dedicated to the elevation of his soul.

Owners of the Previous Edition

Since the majority of the halacha’s in this book were printed in the previous edition, the people who bought the original edition might feel deprived. Therefore, I asked the publisher to sell the new book for three months at a cost of NIS 15 for anyone who affirms that he had an old edition of “Ha’am ve’ Ha’aretz.” For details and to obtain approval for the purchase, please contact: info@yhb.org.il

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/

The True Face of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook

Since the death of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook, efforts have been made to vilify his image, and present him as a nefarious fanatic * This character assassination was done deliberately by the secular Left, because he had thwarted their dream of ruling over the state, and society * Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda did indeed influence the borders of the state and the shaping of the image of religious Zionism, but all of this was achieved by means of clarifying ’emunah’ (faith) and love of Israel * There are those among the religious public who believe in this distorted image, adopting a dark and narrow outlook, and claiming that this is the path of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda * However, the evidence of his encounters with anti-religious groups, Reform Jews, and even Catholic priests, proves his openness and breadth of perspective

In honor of the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook ztz”l (14 Adar 5742, Purim 1982), it is fitting to recall the luminous figure of the man who merited to successfully continue his great father, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ztz”l, and clarify and establish the Torah of Redemption. As a result, he elevated the exalted virtue of Torah study among the national-religious public, to the point where tens of hundreds of yeshivot, mechinot (army preparatory yeshivas), midrashot and ulpanot (seminaries), for both men and women, were established on account of him and his disciples, and thus, the national-religious public became a major and influential factor in Israeli society, to the extent that it changed the map of the Land of Israel by means of the expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria, and the Golan Heights.

The Deliberate Vilification of His Image

Over the years his character has been tarnished. He was portrayed as narrow-minded, zealous nationalist, who constricted and distorted his father’s broad teachings. True, he was of firm character, but he was also of firm character in his broad-minded perspective and in the love of Israel and of man, and was uncommonly welcoming and generous.

Even so, he was an ideological opponent of the intellectuals on the Left, and in fact, his spiritual efforts disrupted their political plan to withdraw from Judea and Samaria, and thwarted their plot to uproot the Torah and all things sacred from Israel’s revived culture. In the course of his spiritual efforts, he did not have them in mind at all – he was engaged in Torah and ‘emunah‘ (faith) for the sake of ‘Klal Yisrael’ (all of the Jewish people), but his actions destroyed their plans for withdrawal and destruction. They knew that if it had not been for him, the State of Israel would have withdrawn from Judea and Samaria, the national-religious public would have remained marginal, and the ideas of ‘emunah’ would have been exploited as a meaningless ornament in the life of Israeli society. As a result, from their point of view, he was their enemy.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda was not adept at organization, but in his Torah greatness he clarified the foundations of ‘emunah‘ and determined the value of the mitzvah of settling the Land within the broad context of the Jewish people’s destiny – to reveal the Torah in all the actual spheres of life of the nation, in both the spiritual and material realms. From this, he determined that one must be ready to sacrifice his life for the settling of the Land of Israel. These fundamentals, after having been profoundly clarified by him, became a crucial factor on the national and international agenda.

Many years after he passed away, the false account of him being narrow-minded and an extremist man began to influence some of the religious society, who believes that Torah truth resides in the narrow-minded Haredi view, and all that needs to be inserted, in their opinion, is merely the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz’ (the commandment to settle the Land) in its restricted understanding, and nothing more. Today, such people are prone to conduct religious wars in his name. Therefore, it is fitting to go back and take look at his luminous figure, and at the less-known aspects of Rav Tzvi Yehuda to the general public.

His Position against Religious Coercion

From newspaper interviews he gave:

Q: Rabbi, it is known that you were a supporter of the ‘League for the Prevention of Religious Coercion’.

Rabbi Kook: “Correct. I said at the time to the members of the ‘League’ that they were absolutely right: I hate religious coercion. With what sort of justice, and with what kind of integrity can one impose religion on a person? … To my dismay, it later turned out that among the group were some who hated religion … but in the sense of opposing coercion, they are truly righteous, and there was a mutual understanding between us. Some good advice was given to the members of the ‘League for the Prevention of Religious Coercion’ around this table.”

Q: Rabbi, do you think that there is religious coercion in the state?

Rabbi Kook: “I once said that matters in the country are managed by the Knesset. There is no other democratic way to arrange matters. And if laws are passed by them – they should be honored; this is not coercion.”

Q: But nevertheless, as a result of the recent coalition agreement, the polarization between religious and secular has increased.

Rabbeinu: “We, thank God, increase love among Jews in our circles; this was the way of Abba ztz”l, which I continue. We need to increase ‘ahava‘(love) and ’emunah‘(faith) …”

Other things he said in an interview with Shivti Daniel (Hatzofeh, 10 Av 5733 (1973), quoted in “Maracha Ha’Tziburit” pg. 61-62):

“From my personal experience I am aware that intellectuals and people of mind and spirit are sending out feelers of ‘teshuva’ … Of course, the turning point doesn’t occur in one day… It is an internal and slow process, but it exists and influences, returning quite a few to the source of the Torah …I believe that the majority of Jews are connected to tradition, including those that seem to be the furthest away … If they saw in all Jews a model of faith and love of Israel, integrity, and benevolence, certainly the rapprochement would be immeasurably greater. Just recently, the Prime Minister (Golda Meir) said that if the tragedy of a split between religion and state occurs, the ultra-Orthodox Haredim from ‘Aguda’ would be guiltier than the secular Jews. To my great dismay, this is the situation: those people, in their narrow, faith-limited ‘Haredi-ism’, pushing for divisiveness – are delaying the return of Jews to Torah and mitzvoth”, from “Maracha Ha’Tziburit” edited by Rabbi Yosef Bramson, pg. 122).

A Principled Position that was Strongly Expressed

Seeing as this is a sensitive issue which must be dealt with precisely, I will bring additional quotes from another book “Mashmiya Yeshua”, written by leading rabbis who were Rav Kook’s students (p. 221):

“The ‘League for the Prevention of Religious Coercion’ was founded after the establishment of the State in order to fight religious coercion. When Rabbi Kook heard about it, he asked to join. He paid a membership fee of one lira – which was not a small sum of money in those times. The first receipt issued, number one, was in his name.

In regards to his participation in the group, Rabbi Kook addressed the issue in a meeting of hundreds of rabbis for the organization and functioning of the Chief Rabbinate as an independent body, he said: “As far as the Torah is concerned, there is no room in our current situation for any religious coercion whatsoever, let alone the Haredi terrorism of personal coercion.”

In another quote: “In internal conversations in the Yeshiva, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda explained that his membership in the league is based on his fundamental view that one must educate and bring Jews closer to Torah, but one should not force religious matters. After a few years, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda cancelled his membership in the League. He explained why by saying that it functions as a league for anti-religious coercion, and not as a league against religious coercion.”

In other words, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah’s support for the struggle against religious coercion was profound and fundamental, to the point where the first membership receipt to the ‘League against Religious Coercion’ was in his name.

When Rav Tzvi Yehuda Expressed Appreciation to the “Canaanites”

It is further written in the book “Mashmiya Yeshua” (page 221): “The author, Aharon Amir, said: “During the British Mandate, we established the ‘Young Hebrew’s Movement’, which advocated creating a new people in the Land whose outlook was directed to the future, without any connection to the past. A new nation that would influence all countries surrounding it. The resistance to our movement was great. The detractors called us ‘Canaanites’, and slandered us by saying that we danced naked in front of idols.”

“We began publishing a magazine called ‘Alef’, but we did not receive a license to publish it, and other newspapers called for the public to ignore this journal. After we published two issues, one in the year 1959, and the other in 1968, I received a letter from Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, saying that he was interested in meeting me. I arrived at his apartment bareheaded, without a kippa, but from what I saw, my appearance did not affect him, and he received me with great warmth. He explained to me that in our view of the Land of Israel as being a central point, he agreed with us … Rabbi Kook revealed to me an all-embracing worldview, and I, who found great interest in the ideological clarity, began visiting him every two months. On every occasion I came to see him, he received me warmly.”

“These meetings lasted for a number of years, until we stopped issuing ‘Alef’. But my impression of his personality, his broad and deep vision, and his actual and consistent worldview, has accompanied me to this day.”

Rabbi Menachem Froman added: “The members of the Canaanite group were educated people, among them poets, but they were anti-religious extremists … in one of our first meetings, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda described himself as having a certain affinity to the opinions of the Canaanites. I was amazed, because I knew how extreme they were. But Rav Tzvi Yehuda explained his position thoroughly. The fact that they were ‘apikorsim‘ (heretics), he claimed, was not a ‘chiddush‘ (novelty), because there were ‘apikorsim‘. However, the idea that a Jew living in the Land of Israel is completely different from a Jew living in exile, is a very important idea. They, the Canaanites, were the ones emphasizing this important matter of a Jew who lives in his country on his Land, and for this, they are worthy of appreciation.”

A Meeting with Priests in the Yeshiva

Several times, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda spoke in his classes about his meeting with Protestant Christian religious leaders. However, I do not wish to embrace the content of this issue, rather, to address the very openness of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda of holding such a meeting, and sharing it with his students. This is what he said: “A few years ago, I received a letter from the Jewish Agency informing me that a large group of non-Jewish professors from America was about to visit the Holy Land. They wanted to stay in Israel in order to get to know the State of Israel and meet with the residents. They asked me to meet with them. I responded willingly. After a while it turned out that they were professors of religion, Christian theologians and Protestants. I could not change my mind, because I had already agreed. They arrived – hundreds of them! Old and young, men and women. They filled the room in the old building of the Yeshiva, crowded, very respectable people. A friend of mine, Herbert Reinach, a Reform rabbi, served as a translator from Hebrew to English “(Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda”, volume “Am Yisrael”, pg. 167, pp. 167 ff.)

In order to put things in perspective, many of the guests actually served as priests, as Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda mentioned to us several times. After he learned that these were the guests, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda could have moved the meeting to another place. Nevertheless, he held the meeting in the old Yeshiva. He also did not refrain from telling his students that he had a friend – a “Reform rabbi”, who helped him with translating. The contents of the conversation are interesting as well, and Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda spoke of universal elements of Israel’s faith. Even when they asked sensitive questions, he answered honestly while respecting their honor, refrained from insulting their religion, and held a friendly atmosphere.

And Nonetheless – Firm in his Position

At the same time, he was firm, as Rabbi Professor Nachum Rakover testified: “At a meeting held at the home of Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, the son of Rabbi Nissim (Prof. Benayahu) introduced a well-known Kabbalah researcher to Rabbi Yitzchak. At that very moment, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah turned his face away, because of what our Sages said: “One should not look at the face of a wicked person.” The Rabbi Kook responded in this manner because of an item published in a newspaper in the name of that same researcher, who said that he does not believe in God” (‘Mashmiya Yeshua’, pg. 220).

In other words, although Rav Tzvi Yehuda was broad-minded and a loving a person, especially with regard to decent ​​and educated people, when a person engaged in Torah and Kabbalah chooses to publicly announce publicly that he does not believe – such disrespect and wickedness in his position cannot be forgiven. Surely, if he had met him long after that interview, or had heard a nod of remorse from him, he would have welcomed him graciously.

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/

Remembering Amalek

The Three Mitzvot Concerning the Obliteration of Amalek

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

The Amalekite people symbolize the root of evil in the world, and they introduced Jew-hatred to mankind. The Jewish people face a difficult struggle in this world. The idealistic, faith-based message that HaShem destined to Israel incites all the evildoers of the world to go out and fight against us. No other nation has been persecuted as much as we have been: from the destruction of the Temple through the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Chmielnicki Uprising of 1648-49, culminating in the horrific Holocaust that ravaged our nation. Amalek started it all.

Right after we left Egypt, even before we had a chance to coalesce and organize ourselves, Amalek came and attacked us, without any provocation or reason. And who did he attack? Slaves who were going free after an extended period of servitude. Amalek is the nation that embodies hatred of Israel, and consequently, hatred of Torah and the godly concept of universal rectification through kindness and truth. This is why the verse says, For the hand [of God] is on the throne (כס) of God (י-ה), [saying] the Lord will [wage] war against Amalek from generation to generation (Shemot 17:16). Rashi comments, “The Holy One, blessed be He, swore that His name (י-ה-ו-ה) and His throne (כסא) will be incomplete until the name of Amalek is utterly obliterated.”

Jews are naturally kind and compassionate, and many mitzvot in the Torah cultivate such traits within us. We would, therefore, be inclined to forgive Amalek [for his misdeeds], but the Torah commands us to remember what he did and obliterate him. This way, we will remember that there is evil in the world, against which we must fight to the bitter end, without compromise. Only then will we be able to perfect the world.


The Mitzvah to Wipe Out Amalek

The mitzvah to destroy Amalek is mainly incumbent upon Klal Yisrael (the Jewish nation as a whole). Thus, our Sages taught that the Jews were commanded to fulfill three mitzvoth upon entering the Land of Israel: first, to appoint a king over them; afterwards, to wipe out the seed of Amalek; and then, to build the Holy Temple (Sanhedrin 20b).

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

However, King Shaul did not fulfill the mitzvah properly, taking pity on Agag, King of Amalek, and the best of the sheep and cattle. As a result, HaShem took the kingdom away from him and gave it to David. Nevertheless, the damage was already done, and it was devastating. Because of Shaul’s weakness and compassion, many Amalekites survived, and they continued harassing Israel. A few years later, a band of Amalekites attacked Tziklag, where the families of David and his men lived, burning down the city and taking all the women and children captive. With God’s help, David and his men managed to rescue the captives and vanquish the marauders. But since David was not yet king and did not have the army of Israel at his disposal, he was unable to eradicate them. Four hundred youths rode on camels and escaped (I Shmuel 30). Apparently, other groups of Amalekites survived elsewhere, but despite his efforts David was unable to battle and destroy them all, even after he became king, because they were spread out far and wide. Chazal also tell us that because Shaul procrastinated in killing Agag, Agag’s seed was preserved – [he impregnated a woman from his prison cell before being killed] – eventually resulting in the birth of Haman the Aggagite, who attempted to wipe out the Jewish people (Megillah13a).

Even though the mitzvah to eradicate Amalek is mainly incumbent upon the community, every individual Jew is commanded to fulfill it, as well. Therefore, if a Jew meets an Amalekite, and has the ability to kill him, but refrains from doing so, he has neglected this mitzvah (Sefer HaChinuch 604). The descendants of Amalek are currently unknown, but if one would ascertain that a particular person is an Amalekite, who follows their ways, it would be a mitzvah to kill him.


Parashat Zachor

Our Sages instituted the reading of Parashat Zachor once a year in order to fulfill the biblical commandments to remember and not forget the evil deeds of Amalek. One is considered to have forgotten about Amalek only if a year goes by without remembering him. Therefore, we discharge our obligation by mentioning the matter once a year. We read Zachor on the Sabbath before Purim in order to juxtapose the remembering of Amalek to the destruction of his descendent, Haman.

According to biblical law, one must communicate this remembrance verbally. There is no need, however, for every individual to read Parashat Zachor from a Torah scroll; rather, everyone fulfills the mitzvah by hearing the reader chant the verses from the Torah.

According to some of the greatest Rishonim, the Torah commands us to read Parashat Zachor from the Torah scroll itself [as opposed to a printed Chumash]. Therefore, it is advisable to read it from an exceptional Torah scroll, and the reader must try to read it as meticulously as possible.

Preferably, everyone should hear Zachor read according to the melody and pronunciation to which his family is accustomed. From a halachic standpoint, however, members of all the communities may discharge their obligation by hearing it read according to any version accepted among the Jewish people, whether it be Sefardic, Ashkenazic, or Yemenite.

One who finds himself in a place where there is no minyan (a quorum of ten) should read Zachor from a Torah scroll without a minyan. And if no Torah scroll is available, he should read it from a Chumash or a Siddur.

Mitzvot require intent; therefore, one must have intention to fulfill the mitzvah of remembering Amalek’s deeds when reading or hearing Parashat Zachor. It is a good practice for the gabbai (synagogue attendant) or reader to announce this before commencing the reading.

Are Women Obligated to Hear Parashat Zachor?

According to most poskim (Jewish law arbiters), women are exempt from the mitzvah of remembering Amalek, because this mitzvah is connected to the mitzvah of annihilating Amalek, and since women are not commanded to wage war, they need not remember what Amalek did to us (Sefer HaChinuch 603). Others claim that the mitzvah to wage war applies to women, as well, for they are required to assist the soldiers. Therefore, they, too, are obligated to remember Amalek. And even though the Sages established a fixed time for reading Parashat Zachor – the Sabbath before Purim – it has no time limit according to Torah law. Thus, it is a mitzvah independent of time, and women are obligated to perform it (Minchat Chinuch, ibid.).

Practically speaking, women are exempt from hearing Parashat Zachor. Ideally (le’chatchilah), however, women should hear the reading, and many are accustomed to doing so. A woman who finds it difficult to attend the services, but nevertheless wants to fulfill the mitzvah, should read the parashah herself from a Chumash. After all, many authorities hold that this fulfills the biblical requirement to remember Amalek. If there is a class for women in the synagogue, a man may take out a Torah scroll and read Zachorfor them. Even though no minyan is present, it is commendable for them to hear the parashah from a kosher Torah scroll.

Can an Amalekite Save Himself or Convert to Judaism?

Even though the Torah commands us to wipe out the descendants of Amalek, if one of them agrees to keep the seven Noachide laws, he no longer has the status of an Amalekite, and it is forbidden to kill him. The seven Noachide laws are as follows: the prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, murder, theft, blasphemy, and eating the limbs of a live animal; and the obligation to set up a court system that will adjudicate all interpersonal disputes justly.

Moreover, even if the Amalekites do not volunteer to keep the seven Noachide laws, we are commanded to offer them peace before going to war with them. That is, we offer them the opportunity to adopt the seven Noachide laws and agree to be subservient to the Jewish people, including the payment of tributes. If they accept these conditions of peace, we do not wage war against them. If they refuse, however, we fight them to the finish. Even if they reconsider afterwards and beg for peace, we do not accept them, for once the war has begun we fight them until they are annihilated (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 6:1-4, with Kesef Mishnah).

The poskim dispute whether or not we accept an Amalekite who wants to convert to Judaism. The Rambam (Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 12:17) holds that he may convert. Accordingly, Chazal state that descendants of Haman, himself a descendant of Amalek, taught Torah in B’nei Brak (Gittin 57b, Sanhedrin 96b). Clearly, our forebears accepted converts from Amalek.

Others assert that we do not accept Amalekite converts. This is Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion in the Mechilta (end of BeShalach). He relates that HaShem swore by His glorious throne that an Amalekite who comes to convert will not be accepted. And what about Chazal‘s statement that Haman’s descendants taught Torah in B’nei Brak? We must say that this happened by mistake: a beit din (rabbinic court) converted someone without knowing that he was from Amalek. Alternatively, an Amalekite from the wicked Haman’s lineage raped a Jewish woman, and those Torah teachers from B’nei Brak descended from her son, who was considered a Jew (Resisei Laylah 38:5).

The Fast of Esther

All Jews have a custom, originating in the Gaonic period, to fast on the thirteenth of Adar in commemoration of the fasts that Esther observed before approaching King Achashveirosh to annul the decree (Esther 4:16) and the fast that the Jews observed on the thirteenth of Adar of that year. The wicked Haman decreed that all Jews – young and old, men, women, and children – be destroyed, killed, annihilated, and plundered on the thirteenth of Adar. Thanks to the Purim miracle, the hanging of Haman, and the rise of Mordechai and Esther, King Achashveirosh issued a second letter allowing the Jews to defend themselves and kill their enemies on that same day. The original decree, however, was not rescinded, because any decree written and signed by the king could not be annulled. Therefore, the enemies of Israel also had permission to kill the Jews. In other words, the kingdom established the thirteenth of Adar as the day on which the anti-Semites could destroy the Jews, but the Jews were permitted to fight back. And even though Mordechai was the king’s viceroy, the Jews were still in grave danger and in need of divine mercy, to help them overcome and kill their enemies. Therefore, the Jews who could not fight stirred themselves to repentance and fasted that day, as is Israel’s practice in times of trouble. And there is no greater penitence than that achieved by way of fasting, which purifies man’s material side and returns his spirituality to its natural, central place.

In commemoration of this fast, the Jewish people fast on the thirteenth of Adar every year. We still have enemies who want to destroy us and we still need to fast and repent every year anew.

In general, the laws of Ta’anit Esther (the Fast of Esther) are more lenient than those of the other minor fasts, because the other fasts were instituted by the Rabbis, while the Fast of Esther was established in consideration of Jewish custom. In practice, though, there is almost no difference between them.

The laws regarding the prayers and Torah-reading on Ta’anit Esther, for both Shacharit and Minchah, are the same as those of all the minor fasts. The only difference is that we omit Tachanun and Avinu Malkeinu from Minchah (according to Ashkenazim, who usually say Avinu Malkeinu on fast days in both Shacharit and Minchah), seeing that it is the day before Purim (M.B. 131:33). When the thirteenth of Adar coincides with Shabbat, we fast on the Thursday before, and since the fast is not on the eve of Purim, we pray Minchah as on all other fasts.

In Commemoration of the Half-Shekel

People customarily give charity in the month of Adar in commemoration of the half-shekel that the Jews used to donate to the Temple, in Adar, for the purpose of buying communal offerings. The best time to give this charity is immediately before Minchah on Ta’anit Esther, so that the charity can combine with the fast and achieve atonement (M.B.694:4, K.H.C. 25).

Some have a custom to give a coin that equals half of the local currency [e.g., half a dollar, half a pound, etc.], while others give three such coins, corresponding to the three times it says terumah (donation) in Parashat Shekalim (Rema 694:1). The common coin in Israel today is the shekel, so, according to this custom, one should donate three half-shekel coins.

Some are accustomed to giving the equivalent of the original half-shekel, which is approximately ten grams of pure silver (K.H.C. 694:20). All of the customs are valid, and the more charity one gives the more blessing he receives.

Some hold that this custom applies only to men above the age of twenty, because they were obligated in this mitzvah in Temple times (Rema). Others say that boys above the age of thirteen must uphold this custom, as well (Tosafot Yom Tov). A third opinion believes that one should give a donation in commemoration of the half-shekel for young children, too (Eliyah Rabbah, M.B. 694:5). Still others maintain that even women should give the half-shekel donation (K.H.C. 694:27). This is the most prevalent custom today, to donate at least one half-shekel for every member of the house, even an unborn fetus.

One should not use ma’aser kesafim money [one-tenth of one’s earnings set aside for charity] for this donation, for one is not allowed to fulfill an obligatory mitzvah or custom using ma’aser kesafim funds. However, one who has always performed the half-shekel commemoration according to the most stringent view and is now pressed for funds, making it difficult to uphold his custom without relying on ma’aser kesafim, may perform the mitzvah with his own money, according to the more lenient opinion – that is, a half-shekel per male above the age of twenty – and make up the rest with ma’aser kesafim money.


This article is taken from one of Rabbi Melamed’s books on Jewish law and thought, “Peninei Halakha: Z’manim”, which can be found online for free, along with all his books in the “Peninei Halakha” series in Hebrew, and a number of books already translated into French, Russian, Spanish, and English, at:
http://ph.yhb.org.il/en/ In addition, there is a Q&A site at: https://www.facebook.com/HalakhaQA/ We hope, please God, to complete the translations as soon as possible. Anyone who would like to take part in this monumental project can contribute at: https://www.jgive.com/en/external_pages/charity_donate?charity_organization_id=636&currency=USD