All posts by Yonaton Behar

Animals Should Be Used, Not Abused

Human needs precede those of animals * Nevertheless, it is a mitzvah to treat animals with mercy and compassion, and not to afflict them uselessly * Just as a person burdens himself and takes pain to earn a living, so too, he is permitted to afflict his animals when necessary * It is permitted to afflict animals for the sake of human or national dignity, and also for the sake of faith and the preservation of the Torah * The disputes among the poskim regarding raising animals under crowded conditions, and starvation * Even if the standard of living of animals has changed, in the same manner as that of human beings, any legislation on this issue must be responsible, and free of external pressures

Man’s Relation to Animals

It is permissible for a person to use animals for the sake of his work, just as it was customary in the past to load burdens on donkeys and mules, to plow with oxen and horses, to ride on horses, camels and donkeys, and even to eat the flesh of animals. Not only that, but it is a mitzvah to offer sacrifices from animals and birds, including the mitzvot of the ‘seir ha’mishtalayach‘ (the scapegoat of Yom Kippur), and the ‘eglah arufa’ (the decapitated calf). This is the meaning of our Sages statement, that animals were created to serve man (Kiddushin 82a; Sanhedrin 108a), including eating their flesh. It can be said that just as animals are permitted to eat vegetation, so too, man is permitted to eat animals.

Nevertheless, it is indeed a mitzvah to treat them compassionately and decently, and it is forbidden to cause them needless pain; consequently, we are commanded when we see a donkey lying under its burden, to help unload it (Exodus 23:5; Bava Metzia 32b); not to muzzle an ox when it is treading grain (Deuteronomy 25:4); and not to eat until we give them their food (Gittin 62a).

Thus, we see that striking a balance between the two values is essential: on the one hand, human needs precede those of animals, and on the other hand, we must try to the best of our ability not to afflict them.

The ‘Heter‘ (Permission) for the Sake of Earning a Living

It is permissible for a person to afflict animals (‘tzar ba’alei chayim’) when his purpose is not to cause them pain, but rather, for the sake of ‘parnasa‘ (livelihood), such as burdening them with loads, hitting them so they stride, riding horses and leading them by means of a painful bridle in their mouths, urging them to gallop quickly by whipping them with a lash, or sticking the spurs of one’s boots in their sides. True, the ‘Ba’alei Mussar‘ (the masters of Jewish ethics) warned to treat animals with compassion – not to burden them with heavy loads, or tug at their bridles and beat them unnecessarily. But just as man struggles, sweats, and demeans himself for the sake of his livelihood, his beast also shares in the burden along with him, and since animals’ standing and sensitivities are inferior, it can be subjugated to more difficult and agonizing work. However, afflicting animals beyond necessity is forbidden, and moreover, if an animal is suffering in vain, it is a mitzvah to rescue it from its suffering.

Affliction for the Sake of Human Dignity and Beliefs

Not only that, but just as human beings now and then are willing to bear great sorrow for their dignity and beliefs, in the same way – and even more so – at times, it is permitted to afflict animals for the sake of the dignity and beliefs of human beings. Thus, we find that God commanded Joshua before Israel’s war against the kings of the north, to ‘sterilize’ their horses and burn their chariots (Joshua 11: 6). ‘Sterilizing’ the horses meant the cutting off of their legs above their hooves, causing them to stumble on the stumps of their legs, in shame for having participated in the war against Israel. And even though the horses could have been captured as spoil or killed, Joshua was commanded to ‘sterilize’ them in order to leave them crippled, thus teaching the enemies, and Israel, not to put their trust in horses, and for all to see the horses that were once the pride of the fighters, limping in search of pasture to remain alive (Radak, Abarbanel). And although this ‘sterilization’ caused the horses’ tremendous pain, we learned from this that for the sake of a great moral purpose such as this, it is permissible to afflict animals.

In the same manner, after the death of a king, due to his honor, all his vessels would be burned, so that others would not use them; this included the ‘sterilization’ of his horses’ and animals’ legs, i.e. they would cut off their legs above their hooves, so they could not be used. And although this ‘sterilization’ caused them great pain, the honor of the king, which in effect is the honor of the nation, was more important (Avodah Zarah 11a, Tosfot “okrin”).

Similarly, we find that Rabbi Yehudah permitted the sale of roosters to non-Jews, and to prevent them from using it for idolatry, its’ finger would be cut off. Thus, we see that for financial profit, our Sages permitted the affliction of an animal by way of cutting off a finger (Mishna, Avoda Zara 13:2).

For the Purpose of Preventing a Transgression

We also find that our Sages fined someone who went to trade on a market day devoted to idolatry, that everything he bought there was destroyed, and if he bought cattle, they would cut off their legs above their hooves so the purchaser would not be able to derive benefit from them. And although this entailed ‘tzar ba’alei chayim’ (unnecessary suffering to animals), our Sages decreed to do so in order to distance Jews from idolatry (Avodah Zarah 13a; Tosfot, “amar Abaye”).

Similarly, the Sages ruled that if a person dedicated a beast to the Temple while the Temple was destroyed, to prevent him from stumbling in the sin of using a sanctified animal, they would place it in a fenced-off enclosure so that it would die there of starvation. The Sages did not propose it be slaughtered and thus minimize its suffering, lest someone mistakenly eat its flesh. And they did not suggest killing it in another manner, in order not to be perceived as imposing a defect on sanctified animals (Avodah Zarah 13b). We see then, that for the sake of preventing a person from sinning, our Sages instructed the affliction of an animal by starvation (Ramban, ibid).

The Prohibition of Benefitting or Earning a Living from Cruelty

Nevertheless, without an essential need for man, it is forbidden to afflict animals. Therefore, it is forbidden for a person who enjoys beating and torturing animals to do so, since this has no real purpose other than satisfying his instinct of cruelty. And even if there are cruel people who are willing to pay a dog owner a million shekels if he gives them his dog so they can torture it, it is forbidden for him to do so for any sum of money, because such torture has no essential need other than cruelty, which is forbidden from the Torah.

It is also forbidden for an edgy person in a bad mood to beat animals cruelly, and even if he claims that by beating them, it helps him calm his nerves, it is forbidden from the Torah (Igrot Moshe, Even HaEzer, sect. 4:92, and seemingly as well from the definition of the Chatam Sofer in Bava Metzia 32b).

Methods of Raising Cattle and Poultry for Food

The general rule is that anything a person does for his own benefit, and not out of cruelty, is permitted. Therefore, it is permitted to raise chickens and calves for meat in overly crowded conditions in order to save money on their growing costs. Similarly, it is also permissible to raise chickens for eggs and cows for milk in very crowded conditions, for just as a person is willing to suffer the hardships of working and living in overcrowded places in order to save costs, all the more so is he permitted to crowd animals in order to save costs.

Nonetheless, there are some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who are inclined to say that when it involves immense and terrible suffering it is forbidden, because the ‘heter’ (rabbinical permission)
to afflict great suffering on animals, such as the cutting-off of the horses legs above their hooves, was a rare ‘heter’ for a special purpose – for the honor of the monarchy or for the removal of idolatry, but it is forbidden to afflict great suffering on a regular and systematic basis for the sake of earning a living (Rabbi Eliyahu Klatzkin in ‘Imrei Shefer’ 34; Y.D. 196). Many poskim are inclined to say that as long as it is for the sake of earning a living, it is permitted to afflict animals with great suffering (Yam Shel Shlomo, Bava Kamma 10:37; Shvut Yaakov 3:71; Chatam Sofer, Bava Metzia 32b; Sulchan Aruch HaRav Tzar Ba’alei Chaim 4; Daat Kedoshim, Y.D. 24:12).

However, in practice, the questions are generally not based on the principle, rather, the debate is whether this is indeed considered immense and terrible suffering, for under normal circumstances, raising animals for their meat, milk, and eggs does not involve immense and terrible suffering.

An Example: Starving Chicken

Naturally, the chickens lay eggs from the age of six months until they reach the age of twenty months, and then, they are slaughtered. It is possible to extend the egg-laying period by starving them in the fifteenth month for ten days, and consequently, as a result of their starvation, their feathers fall off; then, upon feeding once again, their strength returns, their feathers re-grow, and they are able to lay eggs until they are twenty-eight months old. May chickens be starved and afflicted for this purpose? Some poskim say it is forbidden, because for the sake of earning a living one is only permitted to afflict animals with routine suffering, but there is no ‘heter’ to afflict them with immense pain for the sake of earning a livelihood, because this would already be considered cruelty (Shevet HaLevi 2:7). But in the opinion of Rabbi Goldberg, the rabbi of Kfar Pines, such a method of raising chickens is permitted since it is done for the benefit of the economy, and this is the purpose of raising birds. In addition, in the long run, starvation makes the chickens healthier – the fact is, they live longer (Ha’aretz ve’Mitzvotey’ha, and codified as well, in Minchat Yitzchak 6:145).

In practice, it seems appropriate to follow the lenient opinion, both from the side of its logic, and also because in such issues rabbis from agricultural moshavim have an advantage, for they are considered the ‘mara d’atra’ (“master of the locality”) because they are thoroughly familiar with the methods of raising animals and birds, and know how to properly weigh the benefits of growers, against cruelty to animals. On the other hand, those unfamiliar with the methods of raising birds and calves are sometimes shocked to see them. This is analogous to a city-dweller arriving at a remote village, and is shocked by the sight of people living in huts without electricity and water as their ancestors did for generations, or a countryman who comes to a city and is shocked by the overcrowding, congestion, noise, and pollution in which the locals live.

The Possibility of Change in the Definition of Affliction

There is room to say, however, that with the increase in the standard of living of human beings, both morally and economically, the concept of ‘tzar ba’alei chayim’ can also change. Just as in the past certain things were not perceived as affliction to human beings but today are, in a similar fashion, there may be things that in the past were not perceived as immense and terrible sorrow for animals, but in the future will be considered as such, and thus forbidden to be performed systematically for the sake of ‘parnasa‘. Such a position can have an impact on individuals who will abstain from eating the flesh of animals that are raised under conditions they consider cruel. This position can also affect the general public, whose representatives will responsibly weigh the totality of values, and establish laws that will reduce the suffering of animals and birds raised for the food industry, while at the same time, impose the additional economic costs of enforcing these laws on the general public, without harming the poor. In a less favorable scenario, Knesset members will be swayed by the public pressures of the representatives of animal rights organizations, and without profound moral consideration, determine laws appealing to those with influence, while ignoring the poor.

With God’s help, I will continue discussing this issue next week.

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:


The Enveloping Light of the Sukkah

The mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah is unique in sanctifying man’s daily routines. The eating and drinking, the chatting, and the sleeping which we do in the Sukkah are elevated and sanctified to the point where they are deemed mitzvoth.

It is specifically on Sukkot that we merit this, because Sukkot is ‘Chag HaAsif’ (the holiday of in-gathering). This is when both the physical and spiritual in-gathering of the year are completed – the in-gathering of grain and fruit, as well as the in-gathering of all our Torah study and all of our good deeds. Thanks to the repentance and atonement that we undergo during the month of Elul and Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (the ten days of repentance), this in-gathering is innocent and pure, and we can thoroughly enjoy it.

Sukkah and the Land of Israel

In this sense, the mitzvah to live in the Sukkah and the mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel are similar (Vilna Ga’on, cited in Kol HaTor 1:7). Both of these mitzvoth envelop us, and we immerse ourselves in their atmosphere of holiness. By doing so, even our mundane activities become sanctified.

By settling the Land, the Jewish people show the world that when life is illuminated by faith and Torah, everything becomes sanctified: eating, drinking, and sleeping; family life and interpersonal relationships; work and craft; business and scientific research.

The Sukkah of Peace

If we gather together all the different types and degrees of goodness, even those which seem to contradict each other, God spreads His Sukkah of peace over us, and the Jewish people stand united and with solidarity. If each positive quality stands alone, there is no unity. But on the holiday of in-gathering, when all positive qualities are gathered together, unity appears. Thus our Sages state: “It is appropriate for all Jews to sit in one Sukkah” (Sukkah 27b). Similarly, taking the four species together hints at the variety of Jews who join together on Sukkot.

The Land of Israel unites the entire Jewish people, including all its groups and subgroups; the redemption depends upon this. Therefore, it comes as no great surprise that all the evil in the world has risen up against the Jewish people, which has returned to rebuild its homeland in accordance with God’s word as conveyed by His servants the prophets.

Israel and the Nations of the World

Since Sukkot reveals the sanctity of all spheres of life, the holiday is relevant to non-Jews (who are traditionally referred to as the seventy nations of the world). Accordingly, our Sages state that the seventy bulls which we offered in the Temple over the course of Sukkot were offered on behalf of the seventy nations. (See Peninei HalakhaLaws of Sukkot 1:13).

Our relationship with non-Jews is complex. Throughout our long history, they often viciously abused us; nevertheless, our basic attitude towards them is positive.

The following two quotes from the Sages illustrate this attitude. The Talmud states, “Woe to the non-Jews, who lost something but do not know what they lost. When the Temple stood, the altar atoned for them. Now who atones for them?!” (Sukkah 55b). According to the Midrash, “The Jews said, ‘Master of the Universe, we offer seventy bulls [for the non-Jews]; they should love us, but they hate us.’ Thus we read in Psalms 109:4: ‘They answer my love with accusation, but I am all prayer'” (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:24).

Sukkot in the Future

Because Sukkot is the holiday which expresses the connection between Jews and non-Jews, in the future it will be the litmus test for the nations of the world. All who ascend to Jerusalem on Sukkot, to bow before God and to celebrate together with the Jewish people, will merit great blessing. This accords with what Zechariah says about non-Jews: “All who survive of all those nations that came up against Jerusalem shall make a yearly pilgrimage to bow to the King, Lord of Hosts, and to observe the holiday of Sukkot. Any of the earth’s communities that do not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to bow to the King, Lord of Hosts, shall receive no rain. . . It shall be afflicted by the same plague with which the Lord will strike the other nations that do not come up to observe the holiday of Sukkot” (Zechariah 14:16-18).

Attitude towards Philo-Semitic Christians

In modern times, we have witnessed increased support for Israel among evangelical Christians. Lord Balfour is probably the best-known among them. Thanks to his belief in the Bible, he spearheaded the British decision to establish a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Since the foundation of the State of Israel, the numbers of philo-Semitic evangelicals have increased. They see with their own eyes how the Jewish people is returning to its land after its awful, two-thousand-year-long exile, and is creating a prosperous country. They see new settlements and vineyards flowering in the very areas described by the Bible, and they are excited by our miraculous return to Zion. They are overwhelmed by the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies of the prophets of Israel.

However, Jews must deal with the question of how to relate to friendly Christians. For close to two thousand years, Christians have persecuted the Jewish people – murdering, debasing, expelling, or forcibly converting them. How is it that suddenly Christians love us? Furthermore, how do we handle the Rambam’s declaration that Christianity is idolatry?

The Attitude towards the Jews and the Torah Is the Litmus Test

It would seem that everything depends on their attitude towards the Jewish people and the Torah. The most serious problem we have with Christianity is its denial of God’s choice of the Jewish people and of the eternal relevance of the Torah. Christians have classically believed in supersessionism, maintaining that they have replaced the Jews and that the Torah and its commandments are no longer binding. Because of these beliefs, they caused us a tremendous amount of suffering. Additionally, they did as much as they possibly could to convert Jews to Christianity.

As Rabbi Kook puts it: “The primary poison contained in belief systems which deviate from the Torah, such as Christianity and Islam, is not in their concepts of God, even though they differ from what is correct according to the fundamental light of the Torah. Rather, [the poison] is in what results from them –abrogating the practical mitzvot and extinguishing the [Jewish] nation’s hope regarding its complete renaissance” (Shemonah KevatzimKovetz 1, #32).

Elsewhere, in discussing Jewish attitudes towards different religions, Rabbi Kook states that our goal is not to replace or nullify them, but rather to gradually elevate and correct them, so their dross will disappear. This will inevitably lead [the religions] to return to their Jewish source (Igrot HaRa’ayah, Vol. 1, p. 142). It seems that Christian philo-Semites are undergoing a very impressive process of elevation never previously experienced by Christianity. Therefore, with the appropriate caution, we are spiritually and ethically obligated to relate to this process very positively.

Tommy Waller

Recently, a troublemaker distributed libelous materials accusing Tommy Waller, an American Christian, of being a missionary. This despite the fact that Tommy has been actively recruiting Christian volunteers for Israel for ten years, and not a single Jew claims that Tommy or any of the thousands of people he has brought here have tried to undermine their faith. Therefore, I feel it is incumbent upon me to speak on his behalf.

Out of an abiding faith in the uniqueness of the Jewish people and in the Divine mission to settle the Land, Tommy has rallied support for Israel from American Congressmen and Senators. The (former) head of the Shomron Regional Council, Mr. Gershon Mesika, told me that Tommy’s activities have been very influential. Each year, through the summer, he organizes groups of Christians who love Israel to volunteer here. As he is a big believer in family values, many of the volunteers come with their entire families, including the young and the elderly. In recent years, at the request of the Regional Council, the Har Bracha settlement has hosted the volunteers on a hilltop near our community. From this base, the volunteers set out to work in vineyards and orchards throughout the Shomron.

Because of our difficult history with Christians, and due to concerns about possible missionizing, I felt it necessary to meet with Tommy. I wanted to have an upfront discussion with him about precisely what his positions were. At the same time, I wanted to convey a Jewish position without kowtowing or obsequiousness.

In the course of our conversation, I asked him: “If a Jew were to come before you and ask you whether it is better to be a Jew or a Christian what would you tell him?” He responded: “I would tell him to be a Jew!” Tommy added that he had not always thought this way. Originally, like other Christians, he was interested in everyone becoming Christian, but eventually he realized that this earlier position was the result of ignorance. Now, following his exposure to the Jewish renaissance in the Land of Israel, he wishes for all Jews to observe the Torah and mitzvoth.

I asked Tommy what led him to dedicate his life to bringing Christian volunteers to Israel. He told me that he read Isaiah 61:5: “Strangers shall stand and pasture your flocks; aliens shall be your plowmen and vine-trimmers.” This greatly moved him, and he said to himself: “Maybe I can be the one who is privileged to fulfill this holy verse!” Ever since then, he has encouraged people to visit Israel and to help Jews work the land.

Every summer Tommy brings hundreds of volunteers, some for a week and some for longer periods. They bring us greetings of peace and friendship from tens of millions of Americans who love us, and when they return home they serve as loyal ambassadors for Israel.

For the Sake of Heaven

When I began to look into this issue a number of years ago, I publicly declared that I would not accept any money for myself or my yeshiva from Christian friends of Israel, so that I could research the subject without a conflict of interest. I also made a statement to that effect in my column about two years ago.

In the meantime, at the initiative of a Jewish go-between, the Har Bracha settlement received such a donation, 120,000 shekels which it used towards building a park that cost over half a million shekels. When I heard about this, I asked the secretary general of Har Bracha to do me a favor and return the money. This was not because I felt there was any halakhic problem with accepting it, but because I wanted our positive attitude towards Christian philo-Semites to be purely for the sake of heaven. The righteous secretary general apologized and said he had not thought I had included the settlement in my commitment. (In truth, while I am the rabbi of the settlement, I cannot make commitments for it.) To my delight, he nevertheless responded positively to my request and returned the entire amount.

Hopes of Redemption

Sometimes I see these honored guests walking on our roads and paths, and I am filled with great love; I am deeply moved and have to hold back tears. How beautiful are these people, who volunteer enthusiastically, crossing oceans and continents to come express their wonderful connection with us. How they shine with joy at being privileged to see the miraculous return to Zion, to walk on holy ground, and to contribute to making the desert bloom. Perhaps they are the pioneers who begin to fulfill the words of the prophecy:


“In the end of days, the Mountain of the Lord’s House shall stand firm above the mountains and tower above the hills, and all the nations shall stream towards it. Many peoples shall go and say: “Let us go up to the Mountain of the Lord, to the House of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.” For Torah shall come forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge among the nations and arbitrate for the many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not take up sword against nation, and they shall never again know war” (Isaiah 2:2-4).


For related articles by Rabbi Melamed, see “Christians Who Love Israel” and “Make His Deeds Known Among the Nations.”

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

Return to Torah, Faith, and Intimacy

The Holy of Holies expressed the foundations of faith, and in its absence on Yom Kippur, we should return to the value of faith, and to the belief that the world can be repaired in its light * The Holy of Holies is also the place of the Torah, and now is the time to strengthen our bond to it * Similar to the daughters of Israel of old who danced in the vineyards on Yom Kippur, nowadays on Yom Kippur, it is also appropriate for single men and women to pray for their match, and to clarify their aspirations * Those who need to take pills during the fast can swallow them if they do not have a good taste * Comfortable shoes are forbidden comparable to leather shoes * Social protests: Many of the struggles cause more damage to society than good

Yom Kippur – the Holy of Holies

The essence of ‘teshuva‘ (repentance) lies in the uppermost of sources, and thus, the primary service of Yom Kippur in the ‘Beit Ha’Mikdash‘ (Holy Temple) took place in the ‘Kodesh HaKodeshim’ (the ‘Holy of Holies’, the Inner Sanctuary). The ‘Beit Ha’Mikdash‘ is the place where Godly values ​​are revealed, and are drawn from there to the entire world. In the ‘Heichal‘ (Sanctuary), entitled ‘Kodesh‘, was situated the ‘menorah‘ (candelabrum), symbolizing all of human wisdom; the ‘shulchan‘ (the ‘Table of the Showbread’) symbolizing all types of work with which man makes a livelihood; and the ‘mizbayach ha’ketoret’ (the ‘Altar of Incense’) symbolizing the prayers and yearnings for closeness to God. On a more exalted level, in the ‘Kodesh Ha’Kodeshim‘, the ‘Holy of Holies’, the foundation of Israel’s faith and Torah is revealed. Thus, the ‘Aron Ha’Brit‘ (the Holy Ark), in which the ‘luchot HaBrit’ (Tablets of the Law) and the Torah were placed, was situated in the ‘Holy of Holies’, and above it were the two ‘Cherubim’ symbolizing the covenantal connection and love between God and Israel. From the ‘Holy of Holies’, life force is drawn to the entire world, to all the various human wisdoms and types of work, and to all living beings and their longings. Only the Kohen Ha’Gadol (High Priest) himself, in the name of all of Israel, would enter the ‘Holy of Holies’ on Yom Kippur, so as to unite the entire world with its source, and thereby draw to it atonement, forgiveness, and life.

After the destruction of the Holy Temple and the subsequent exile, the sanctity of the ‘Holy of Holies’ is revealed by way of Israel’s desires and yearnings for God’s name to be sanctified on His nation of Israel, on His city of Jerusalem, on Zion the dwelling place of His glory, on the kingdom of the House of David, on His foundation and sanctuary, and God alone will reign King over all His works.

Return to the Values ​​of the ‘Holy of Holies’

The repentance of Yom Kippur is the return to the basic values ​​revealed in the ‘Holy of Holies’. First and foremost is the value of ‘emunah‘ (faith), which is compatible to Israel’s ideals. For indeed, the purpose of the Jewish people is to reveal faith in God and Divine ideals – in other words, the way to live in this world in the light of the Divine values according to the guidance of the Torah, until the world’s complete rectification. This ideal is expressed in the infinite belief that it is always possible to correct reality, and elevate it to a higher level. The tablets of the Ten Commandments placed in the Ark in the ‘Holy of Holies’ symbolized the covenant of faith between God and Israel, receiving expression through the commandments of the Torah – the essence of which is the Ten Commandments. The ‘Cherubim’ above the ark also hinted to the connection between God and ‘Knesset Yisrael’ (the Assembly of Israel).

Consequently, the main prayers on Yom Kippur concern ‘Clal Yisrael‘, in whose redemption the revelation of faith and redemption of the entire world depends.

Awakening to Torah Study

Inside the Ark were the Tablets of the Law, and a Torah scroll was also placed in the ‘Holy of Holies’. True, there is a dispute as to whether it was placed inside the Ark, or on its side. The opinion that the Torah scroll was placed inside the Ark is understandable, for the Torah is the foundation for all the revelation of God’s Word to the world and His guidance. The question is: What is the reasoning of those Torah scholars who believe that the Torah scroll was placed on the side of the Ark? Perhaps it can be explained that in their opinion the Torah is not only the tangible Torah scroll itself, i.e., the Written Torah alone, rather, the Torah includes both the Written and the Oral Torah; consequently, the Tablets of the Law, which symbolize the covenant between God and ‘Knesset Yisrael‘ expresses the entire Torah, and therefore only they were placed in the Ark.

As a continuation to the Yom Kippur service in the ‘Holy of Holies’, it would be appropriate on Yom Kippur for every man and woman, old and young, to connect to the Torah with greater drive and enthusiasm, and take upon ourselves to increase and deepen our Torah study in the coming year. Shabbat is the day on which one must be most diligent about increasing Torah study, because by learning on Shabbat, illumination is drawn from the ‘Holy of Holies’ and infused into the practical aspects of life. This is particularly appropriate for those engaged in ‘yishuv ha’olam’ (developing society practically), upon whose Torah study on Shabbat, ‘Tikkun Ha-Olam‘ and its redemption, depends.

Establishing Blessed Jewish Families

When the ‘Beit HaMikdash’ existed, after the service of the ‘Kohen HaGadol’ in the Temple, the daughters of Jerusalem would dance in the orchards, and in this manner, find their future husbands. Seemingly, one could ask: How could it be that on the sacred and awesome Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, they concerned themselves with finding their spouse? However, establishing a Jewish family is interrelated to the ‘Holy of Holies’, as our Sages said concerning a husband and wife who are loyal to each other, that the Divine Presence abides among them (Sotah 17a), for through their loyalty and love, Divine unity is revealed in the world. Similarly, the Ari HaKadosh said that the mitzvah to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), regarding which Rabbi Akiva said, “This is a great rule in the Torah” (Safra, ibid.), is fulfilled in its completeness between husband and wife. We also find that the shape of the ‘Cherubs‘ placed on the Ark in the ‘Holy of Holies’ was in the form of a man and woman fulfilling the mitzvah of conjugal relations. This comes to teach us that holiness does not diminish life, but rather, empowers it. And when Israel ceased to do the will of God, the ‘Cherubs‘ parted one another, turning their faces towards the Temple (Bava Batra 99a).

Think and Pray about Matchmaking

True, nowadays we do not engage in matchmaking on Yom Kippur. Perhaps because we do not deserve to do so when the Temple is destroyed. In any case, seeing as the sanctity of Yom Kippur is interrelated with the sanctity of the Jewish family, it is appropriate for all single men and women to think and pray about finding their respective partners. Often, the negative character traits of pride and greed prevent a person from finding a suitable match. On Yom Kippur, when one’s pure soul is revealed, he is able to reflect more accurately about his aspirations in life, and about a truly suitable match with whom he can fulfill a life of Torah and mitzvot, and together, increase joy and life.

Married couples should also repent on Yom Kippur for not having loved and cheered each other properly, and pray they will unite in love and joy, that the ‘Shekhina’ (Divine Presence) dwell between them, and merit raising sons and daughters engaged in Torah and mitzvoth.

Swallowing Medications on Yom Kippur

It is permissible for a person who regularly takes pills every day to swallow them on Yom Kippur, and likewise, a sick person experiencing discomfort due to his illness is permitted to swallow pills for medicinal purposes on Yom Kippur, provided the pills do not have a good taste and one makes sure to swallow them without water. A person who cannot swallow pills without water can mix a drop of soap into the water, thereby significantly spoiling its taste, and with this water, swallow the pill.

Also, someone who suffers from severe headaches due to a lack of coffee or for other reasons, is permitted to take pills containing caffeine, or pills to relieve headaches. Likewise, someone who knows that fasting is liable to cause an outbreak of pain, such as a one who suffers from migraine headaches, is permitted to take pills in advance to prevent the onset of such pain.

Shoes Made of Rubber or Cloth

It is forbidden on Yom Kippur to wear shoes or sandals that people regularly wear while walking outside in places where there are stones, no matter what material they are made of. But it is permissible to wear cloth slippers or very plain rubber shoes which people do not regularly wear outdoors in places where there are stones and gravel. True, in the past the practical instruction went according to the opinion of the Rishonim who were lenient and permitted one to wear any type of shoes and sandals that were not made of leather. However, these were sandals and shoes that were uncomfortable to walk in, because in the times of our Sages and the Rishonim, shoemakers did not yet know how to make sturdy, durable, and flexible shoes and sandals from materials other than leather. Therefore, it was possible to say that anything made of these materials was not considered shoes or sandals. But today, when sturdy shoes are regularly made from various non-leather materials, they are considered similar to ordinary shoes and sandals, and therefore, it is forbidden to wear them on Yom Kippur.

Indeed, in the previous generation when the production of shoes and sandals of reasonable quality from non-leather materials began, there were rabbis who nevertheless instructed leniently, permitting them to be worn on Yom Kippur because there was still a considerable difference between shoes made of leather and other materials. But as time passes, and the production of quality shoes from various materials becomes the norm, fewer poskim permit them to be worn on Yom Kippur (Peninei Halakha: Yamim Nora’im 9:5).

The Protests of the Disabled and Social Organizations

Q: Rabbi, with Yom Kippur approaching, I would like to ask you a question: Why is it that the religious public, who knows how to fight for national causes, does not participate in the social struggles of justice for disadvantaged groups, such as the disabled and single mothers?

A: These issues are complex, and the majority of people fighting for them are ignorant of the complexities, and as a result, their positions contain numerous moral flaws. Thus, often the damage of accepting the demands of the activists is greater than the benefits, both morally and socio-economically. Take for example the protest of the disabled: the majority of their claims are unjustified, mainly because they refuse to accept the government’s proposal to provide substantial assistance to those who are truly unable to make a living, and provide reduced assistance to those with disabilities who are able to earn a living (the definition of work disability is only a partial measure of physical work).

The principle is that a person should be responsible for his own life, and only when he incapable of doing so is it a mitzvah for society to assist him. The term “disadvantaged” is also fundamentally flawed, because it assumes that there are groups that have ‘deprived’ them, and as a result, are obligated to compensate them. In order to win these struggles, left-wing movements throughout the generations use methods of false propaganda, and implant misleading terms in the public discourse which unconsciously create a distorted picture of the world.

Yom Kippur is intended for ‘teshuva’ out of love, and the most severely immoral thing is to exploit the emotional motivation of ‘teshuva’ and love for foreign purposes that conform to the interests of various groups. Similarly, it is also forbidden to exploit the feelings of repentance in order to humiliate people who work and earn a living, and instill in them feelings of guilt for supposedly weakening other people, accusing them of being successful, healthy, and having functioning families, instead of praising them for their contribution to society, and to the state.

It should be noted that even a poor person, or one who suffers, should repent on Yom Kippur. He must cleanse his heart of feelings of jealousy, envy, and blaming others for his fate, and fill his heart with gratitude towards those who help him. Precisely on account of this, he will enjoy a good life, honor, and well-being.

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:

Three Days of Holiness

It is a mitzvah to rejoice on Rosh Hashanah and accept the yoke of Heaven with joy, out of fear and remorse * On these days we can atone for what we have failed to do for Am Yisrael, on condition we make our best efforts to fix the situation * Our main objective this year: changing in the legal system * According to halakha, it is permitted to wash in hot water on Rosh Hashanah * Caution not to accidently pull-out hairs and wring-out water while bathing * It is forbidden to prepare from the first day of Rosh Hashanah to the second day * By means of the ‘eruv tavshilin’, we can prepare from the second day of Rosh Hashanah for Shabbat

Rosh Hashanah and Accepting God’s Kingdom with Joy

Rosh Hashanah is one of the Jewish holidays in which it is a mitzvah to rejoice (Shevuot 10a), and therefore the eve of Rosh Hashanah is one of the four days when large numbers of animals were slaughtered, and consequently, those selling the slaughtered animals were required to warn purchasers against the prohibition of “it and its young”, namely, the prohibition against slaughtering an animal and its young on the same day (Chullin 83a). Rosh Hashanah is also “yom teruah,” (day of blasting the shofar), i.e., a day of fear and remorse, because on this day life of the previous year ends, and what we failed to do is lost. On this day God also creates life of the New Year, and consequently, it is a day of judgment. The teruah, which is a broken and disjointed sound, expresses the aspect of fear. However, the Torah commanded us to blow before and after the teruah a tekiah peshuta (a straight, flat sound) expressing joy, because the purpose of judgement and fear is for our correction, and therefore, it includes joy. Consequently, the essence of repentance on Rosh Hashanah is for us to accept upon ourselves God’s kingdom, and thus connect and become a partner in all Godly ideals; such an exalted matter as this, is accompanied by both joy and fear.

Accordingly, halakha determines that on Rosh Hashanah we should partake in choice and fine meals as a good sign for the entire year, but on the other hand, not to over eat, so as to maintain proper fear for the day (S.A, O.C. 597:1).

Reforming the Judicial System

Our Sages said (Tanchuma, Emor 22), that by way of the repentance and fasts of the righteous before Rosh Hashanah, the Holy One, blessed be He, waives a third of our sins, and by way of Yom Kippur of all of Israel, He waives the other two thirds. The Shelah HaKadosh, Rabbi Isaiah ben Avraham Horowitz, explained that God does not waive sins one transgresses himself, for concerning that our Sages said: “Anyone who says that God waives the execution of justice, his life will be waived” (Bava Kama 50a), and atonement for a sin that one transgressed must be done in detail. Rather, the intention is “on the transgressions that all of Israel are guarantors of one another” (Shevuot 39a). For there is room to argue against us that we failed to do everything possible to awaken the public to Torah and mitzvot, but by means of our repentance, it is proven that we really do want the name of the Almighty to be sanctified in the world, and as a result, we are not punished for the sins of our fellow Jews.

It is also important to add that when we are able to act, repentance is accepted provided we accept upon ourselves to do our best to correct the situation. In the coming year, the challenge before us is to reform the judicial system, which today is the governmental establishment most detrimental to the values ​​of the Jewish people, the Torah, and the Land of Israel. Only if we understand the depth of the problem and demand that the public’s representatives act efficiently and diligently to remedy it, will we be free from the mutual responsibility of each and every one of us for the grave damage the legal system causes to the dignity of Israel and the Torah.

Bathing on Yom Tov and Shabbat

This year we are blessed with three consecutive holy days and seeing as many people are accustomed to shower every day and if they refrain from bathing for three days, consequently, they will defile the honor of the holiday and Shabbat, it is worthwhile to review and study the laws of bathing on Shabbat and Yom Tov.

It is permitted to bathe in hot water that was heated on the eve of Yom Tov, or in hot water that was heated on Yom Tov by a dude shemesh (solar water heater) or a Shabbat clock. This is the difference between Shabbat and Yom Tov – on Shabbat, it is permitted to bathe in lukewarm water, but not hot water, whereas on Yom Tov, it is permissible to bathe in hot water (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 14:8).

There are, however, some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who are stringent, and are of the opinion that the halakha for Yom Tov is the same as Shabbat, and that even on Yom Tov, one is permitted only to bathe in lukewarm water. There are some poskim who are stringent and are of the opinion that on Shabbat and Yom Tov it is forbidden to bathe even in lukewarm water, and this is the custom of some Ashkenazi Jews. In practice, however, the halakha follows the majority of poskim, who are of the lenient opinion that it is permissible to wash in hot water on Yom Tov. And when refraining from bathing causes sorrow, such as on the two days of Rosh Hashanah, or on Yom Tov followed by Shabbat, it is appropriate to act according to the lenient poskim, in order to honor and enjoy the holiday.

Likewise on Shabbat, if a person suffers from not washing he may wash himself with lukewarm water, i.e., water in which one does not receive enjoyment from the warmth, but on the other hand, does not suffer from the cold.

Using a Solar Water Heater (Dude Shemesh)

If one has a solar boiler (dude shemesh), he may bathe in water that was heated up on Yom Tov. One who does not have a solar boiler may turn on his electric boiler before Yom Tov. So as not to waste electricity, he may connect the boiler to a timer so that it remains activated only for the amount of time necessary.

Unlike on Shabbat, on Yom Tov the hot water tap may be turned on, even if the water is boiling hot, and even if the heating element is working. This is because on Yom Tov there is no prohibition on cooking. However, one may not turn on an electric boiler on Yom Tov because doing so is considered lighting a fire. As we have already seen, it is forbidden to light a new fire on Yom Tov (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 5:10).

Soap and Hair Conditioner

It is permissible to use liquid soap on Shabbat and Yom Tov. But as far as bar or a thick liquid soap is concerned, many people are accustomed to be stringent and not use them, but those who wish to be lenient have an opinion to rely on (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 14:6).

It is permitted to wash one’s hair very gently with shampoo and conditioner (liquid). This is provided that there is no certainty that shampooing will pull out hair. Even if hair is found in the shower afterwards, as long as one washed his hair gently, there is no certainty that the shampooing caused the hair to be pulled out, because these hairs may have been removed from their source beforehand, and subsequently, were washed away with the water. However, if it is clear that shampooing will pull out even one strand of hair – it is forbidden to wash one’s hair.

For a woman with long hair who is used to combing it after washing, it is proper for her not to wash her hair on Shabbat or Yom Tov, so that she will not come to make a mistake afterwards and transgress the Torah prohibition of brushing or combing (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 14:3). A woman who feels a great need to wash her hair and is certain not to error after shampooing by combing her hair, is permitted to do so on Yom Tov as well.

It is also necessary to be careful while washing one’s hair or beard not to squeeze the hair, for such squeezing is forbidden because of the melacha of ‘dash‘ (threshing), because it removes from the hair water and soap that could be used for further washing. But one can dry his hair with a towel because seeing as he has no interest in the water wrung from the hair and absorbed by the towel, there is no prohibition of sechita (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 14:8).

The Prohibition of Preparing from the First Day of Rosh Hashanah to the Second Day

One should be careful not to do any preparatory actions from the first day of Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah to the second day, because the first day of Yom Tov is a Torah ordinance, while the second day is from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical status). Therefore, it is forbidden to cook or heat food, or to set the table from the first day of Yom Tov to the second day (S.A., O.C. 503:1). Likewise, it is forbidden to wash the dirty dishes used on the first day in order to use them on the second day; rather, only after tzeit ha’chochavim (emergence of the stars, or nightfall) which this year is at 7:00 P.M., it is permitted to prepare food and heat it up, wash the dishes, and set the table for the second Yom Tov evening meal.

This is the reason why, in practice, the second night meal is postponed for at least an hour after tzeit ha’chochavim. Some rabbis are accustomed to extend their second night’s sermon so that in the meantime, the food will be sufficiently warmed up.

Food should not be removed from the freezer on the first day to be eaten at the second night’s meal. In a sha’at dachak (extenuating circumstance), when waiting for the first day of Yom Tov to end will cause grievance and a significant delay of the meal, it is permissible to take the food out during the day (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 2:2, footnote 12).

Candle Lighting on the Second Night

It is proper to light the candles of the second Yom Tov after tzeit ha’chochavim, so as not to prepare from the first day of Yom Tov to the second day. A woman who lights bein ha’shmashot (the time between sunset and tzeit ha’chochavim) has an opinion to rely on, since at that time there is also a certain amount of honor and enjoyment from the candles. Since it is forbidden to kindle a new fire on Yom Tov, a candle should be prepared before the holiday that will remain lit for more than twenty-four hours from which one can light candles on the second night. If one did not prepare such a candle, he should seek assistance from neighbors who have a lit candle.

One may force the candles into the candlesticks even though this may shave off a bit of the candles. It is also permitted to use a knife to remove wax left in the candlestick, if it is getting in the way of putting in the new candles. Similarly, if one uses tea lights or votive candles, he may pry the little metal discs left over from the previous night out of the glass cup. If one uses floating wicks, they may be inserted into the cork disks that hold them. However, one using regular candles may not melt the bottoms to make them stay in the candlestick. Similarly, it is forbidden to cut the bottoms or sand them in order to stick the candles into the candlesticks (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 2:2).

Eruv Tavshilin

This year we are blessed in that Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat are linked, and thereby, we ascend from the sanctity of Yom Tov to that of Shabbat. Our Sages enacted that before Yom Tov we place an eruv tavshilin, and by doing so, we are reminded of the honor of Yom Tov and the honor of Shabbat.

By means of the eruv tavshilin we are permitted to make on Yom Tov any preparation that is required for Shabbat. This includes cooking and heating food for Shabbat, washing dishes used during Yom Tov before Shabbat, and to prepare the candles for the lighting of the Shabbat candles. As for the preparation of food, one must make sure that the dishes prepared for Shabbat are ready before sunset, so that in principle, food prepared on Yom Tov can also be eaten on Yom Tov by guests who may arrive.

Shabbat Candle Lighting

It is permitted to prepare candles for Shabbat as one prepares them for the second day of Yom Tov, and one is permitted to light the Shabbat candles from a lit flame. To do so, one must prepare a candle that will be lit throughout Yom Tov, and if the candle burned out, one should seek assistance from neighbors who have a lit candle.

One must be very careful to light Shabbat candles before sunset according to the times appearing on calendars since unlike on Yom Tov, on Shabbat it is forbidden to light a candle, and even before sunset, one should accept the Shabbat, and begin avoiding all Shabbat prohibitions.

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:

Fasting on Yom Kippur

A regular sick person who feels pain in his entire body but whose life is not in danger is obligated to fast, but may swallow tasteless pills * A gravely ill person is obligated to eat * Not all medical concerns are deemed life-threatening, therefore one should ask a religiously observant doctor * Eating in ‘shiurim’ or ‘measures’, is only for the gravely ill * For diabetics, it is preferable to eat more than a ‘shiur’, and pray in synagogue * Pregnant and nursing mothers are obligated to fast and not drink in ‘shiurim’ * Today, sick people and pregnant women are not considered weak as in the past, but are actually healthier * In the era of milk substitutes, shortage of milk cannot be considered a danger * Advice for nursing women before the fast

The Mitzvah to Fast

The most important aspect of atonement on Yom Kippur is contingent on fasting. By fasting, a person withdraws from all bodily actions, draws within his inner-self, his soul, and reveals his true, inner aspirations – to follow Torah and mitzvot, and thus participate in ‘tikkun olam’ (repairing the world). By doing so, his sins become external, and ‘zedonot’ (willful transgressions) are transformed into ‘shegagot‘(inadvertent errors). And if on account of Yom Kippur a person merits repenting deeply and completely, to the point where he amends all of his sins, he will also merit having his ‘zedonot’ transformed into ‘zechuyot‘(spiritual credits).

Consequently, the mitzvah of fasting is the only commandment intended for each and every Jew on Yom Kippur, as it is written: ” “[Each year] on the 10th day of the 7th month you must fast…this is because on this day you shall have all your sins atoned, so that you will be cleansed. Before God you will be cleansed of all your sins” (Leviticus 16:29-30).

A Sick Person Whose Life is Not in Danger is Obligated to Fast

Even one suffering pain from his illness, as long as his life is not in danger, it is forbidden for him to eat or drink anything. If necessary, he should lie in bed all day, rather than eat or drink something.

This is the difference between Yom Kippur and other fasts – namely, on the fast of Yom Kippur, ill people must also fast because it is a Torah prohibition; on the fast of Tisha B’Av, ill people are exempt from fasting; and on the minor fasts, pregnant and nursing mothers are also exempt.

Swallowing Medication

Nevertheless, a sick person who experiences discomfort from his ailment, or those who take medication daily, are permitted to swallow medicine on Yom Kippur, provided these pills do not taste good, and as such, are not considered food. One should take care to swallow them without water. Those who cannot swallow them without a liquid can mix a drop of soap in water, thus exceedingly impairing its taste, and swallow the pill with such water.

Headache Sufferers

If the fast causes a person great pain, he is permitted to take pills to relieve the pain. Similarly, individuals suffering from intense headaches due to not drinking coffee are permitted to take pills containing caffeine, or pills to relieve headaches.

The Gravely Ill

Someone who is gravely ill and the fast is liable to result in his death, is commanded to drink and eat as necessary, because ‘pikuach nefesh’ (saving a life) overrides the mitzvah of fasting, as is the case for all other mitzvoth from the Torah (Yoma 85b). A person in a state of ‘safek sakana’ (questionable risk of death) and is ‘machmir‘ (stringent) with himself not to drink or eat, sins, for He who commanded us to fast, also commanded us to eat and drink on Yom Kippur when the fast is likely to endanger life.

This holds true not only in a situation where as a result of fasting a significant percentage of sick individuals will die; rather, as long as there is a possibility the fast will cause an ill person’s death, or weaken his ability to cope with his dangerous illness, it is a mitzvah for him to eat as necessary. Similarly, if the fast is liable to hasten the death of a terminally ill person on the verge of dying, it is a mitzvah for him to eat and drink as needed because in order to save a life – even for a short period of time – it is permissible to eat and drink on Yom Kippur.

Not to Be Overly Concerned

On the other hand, however, one should not be overly concerned, for if we were to worry about ‘sakanat nefashot’ (endangering life) over every common illness, in effect, we cancel the halakha determining a sick person is obligated to fast on Yom Kippur.

Not only that, but if we overly exaggerate and worry about extremely remote dangers, we would have to hospitalize every sick person with the flu, and ban unnecessary car travel out of fear of automobile accidents, and the like.

Rather, the general rule is that any danger that people normally treat urgently, investing time and effort, such as rushing a sick person to a hospital in the middle of a work day, is considered ‘sakanat nefashot’, and in order to prevent it, it is a mitzvah to desecrate Shabbat and drink and eat on Yom Kippur. But dangers in which people do not rush and devote time and resources to deal with, is not considered ‘sakanat nefashot‘.

How to Evaluate ‘Sakanat Nefashot’

A doctor who is in doubt should contemplate what he himself would do if, on Yom Kippur, he became aware of a sick patient who was fasting. If he would get in his car and drive ten minutes in order to instruct the patient to drink and eat, thereby saving the patient from ‘safek sakana’, it is a sign that indeed it is a case of ‘safek sakanat nefashot’, and he should instruct an ill person coming to him to eat and drink on Yom Kippur. But if in spite of his responsibility for human life, he would not be willing to drive on Yom Kippur for ten minutes, it’s a sign there is no ‘safek sakana’, and he should instruct the patient to fast. This advice is beneficial for an ordinary doctor who, on the one hand, is not lazy, but on the other hand, does not particularly enjoy scurrying around between patients.

Ask an Observant Doctor

This halakha is entrusted to doctors, namely, that in accordance with the medical information at their disposal and their personal experience, they must determine when there is – or is not – a fear of danger. Still, a problem arises:  there are doctors who, due to excessive indecision or disregard of mitzvoth, inevitably instruct every sick person to drink and eat on Yom Kippur.

Therefore, in regards to this issue, people who are ill must take advice from a religiously observant doctor. And religious observance does not depend on the kippa one wears; rather, the most important thing is that the doctor be honest and ethical, and exhibit great responsibility towards both the sanctity of the fast and that of human life in his decision.

An ill person who mistakenly asked a doctor who is not observant and indeed was instructed to eat and drink, should hasten to ask an observant doctor before Yom Kippur. If one erred and did not ask an observant doctor, and has no opportunity to do so, he should drink and eat on Yom Kippur because although there is doubt whether the doctor replied correctly, the realm of doubt still remains, and in any situation of ‘safek nefashot’, one must be ‘machmir‘ (stringent) and eat and drink.

The Greatest Mistake in Eating in Measurements

A common and widespread misconception among doctors and the ill is the belief that the advice to drink in ‘shiurim‘ (measured quantities) is sort of a middle-path, suitable for sick individuals for whom the fast is not life-threatening. In truth, however, the status of ill people not in a life-threatening situation is similar to all others, and the severe Torah prohibition applies to them as well, i.e., it is forbidden for them to drink or eat anything.

Rather, the point about drinking in ‘shiurim’ is that even when a dangerously ill person needs to eat and drink on Yom Kippur, some authorities say it is preferable to eat and drink in ‘shiurim’. The ‘shiur’ for drinking is ‘k’mlo peev’ (a cheek-full of liquid), each person according to the size of his mouth. The ‘shiur’ for eating is ‘k’kotevet hagasa‘(a type of large date). In other words, eating and drinking less than a ‘shiur’ means drinking less than ‘k’mlo peev’, and eating less than ‘k’kotevet’, which is approximately 30 ml (S.A. 612:1-5, 8-10). The interval between drinking and eating is approximately nine minutes. Some authorities say that if the sick person is dangerously ill, he should drink and eat normally. And if there is a danger, even remote, that drinking and eating in ‘shiurim’ will cause even the slightest negligence in the strengthening of the dangerously ill person, he should drink and eat normally. For example, if a ‘yoledet‘ (a women after childbirth) is tired, it is better for her to drink normally so she can sleep uninterrupted, rather than having to stay awake in order to drink in ‘shiurim’.


For a person with diabetes, for whom fasting is life-threatening, it is better to eat more than a ‘shiur’ and pray in synagogue, than to stay at home and eat in ‘shiurim‘. There are two reasons for this: one, eating in ‘shiurim’ is a ‘hidur mitzvah’ (an enhancement of the mitzvah), while praying in a minyan is more important. Second, if we ask sick people to stay at home so they can eat in ‘shiurim’, some will nevertheless go to synagogue with the intention of eating there in ‘shiurim’ discreetly, but in practice, for various reasons will forget to eat as much as necessary, and as a result will blackout, become unconscious, or die, God forbid, as occasionally happens on Yom Kippur.

Pregnant Women are Obligated to Fast

Pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast on Yom Kippur (Pesachim 54b; S.A.617:1). Even on Tisha B’Av, pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast, kal v’chomer (all the more so) on Yom Kippur, whose requirement stems from the Torah.

There are some poskim (Jewish law authorities) who sought to permit pregnant women to drink in ‘shiurim’ because in their opinion, women have become weaker nowadays, and fasting may cause them to miscarry. However, from studies conducted in Israel and abroad, it was revealed that fasting does not increase the risk of miscarriage. Only in rare cases is fasting liable to induce labor in the ninth month of pregnancy and, in any event, this does not entail ‘sakanat nefashot’. Also, there is no evidence to the claim that nowadays women are weaker. On the contrary – today people are healthier than in the past, due to both the diversity and abundance of food, better hygiene, and medical advancements. This is also reflected in the rise of life expectancy by tens of years. Consequently, there is no room to be more lenient than in the past, and the halakha remains firm that pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast (Nishmat Avraham 617:1).

Therefore, even a pregnant woman suffering from vomiting, high blood pressure, low hemoglobin (iron) or various ailments is obligated to fast on Yom Kippur, and it is forbidden for her to drink in ‘shiurim‘. Only in exceptional cases where the pregnancy is at risk, and in accordance with the advice of a religiously observant doctor, should a pregnant woman be instructed to drink, and in such a case, preferably in ‘shiurim’.

Nursing Women are Obligated to Fast

A nursing woman is obligated to fast on Yom Kippur (Pesachim 54b; S.A. 617:1). Although nursing causes fasting to be difficult because it results in a further loss of fluids, there is no danger to the mother or the fetus. Some poskim sought to be lenient regarding nursing women because in their opinion weakness has descended upon the world, and today, without nursing, babies are at risk. However, their opinions are extremely puzzling, for although there are certainly positive benefits to nursing and mother’s milk, nevertheless, there are many women who do not nurse at all, and we have yet to hear of doctors conducting a crusade in support of women continuing to nurse in order to save their children from mortal danger. If in the past when numerous babies died in their first year of life and there were no good substitutes for mother’s milk, the unambiguous halakha was that a pregnant woman was obligated to fast – even on Tisha B’Av – how is it conceivable that nowadays when there are good substitutes, this issue has become one of pikuach nefesh?!

Good Advice for Nursing Women

Doctors we are familiar with advise nursing women to drink three days before Yom Kippur at least four liters per day, and on the eve of Yom Kippur – from morning until the fast begins – about five liters, in order to store fluids ahead of Yom Kippur, and thus, also increase milk. Experience has shown that if a woman does so not only will Yom Kippur not affect her nursing, but as a result, her milk supply will increase. Very possibly, she might even be able to extract surplus milk ahead of Yom Kippur.

Another piece of advice from my wife for the fast to be easier for both mother and baby: to alternately skip two feedings – one at noon-time on Yom Kippur, and another towards the end of the fast, and instead, feed the baby a milk substitute.

This article appeared in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

Day of Judgement for the Entire Nation

The reward written in the Torah portion, and fulfilled in this world, is primarily for Clal Yisrael * The individual receives his reward or his punishment after his death; his life in this world is dependent on the nation, as well * Judgment on Rosh Hashanah is recorded primarily in regards to the Clal – first for Israel, and afterwards for the nations * Our existence is eternal and our redemption is guaranteed, but the question of how it will occur depends on our actions * When the Temple exists, reward is fulfilled in this world, and as a result, Israel acts properly, and does not wait for everything to be resolved in the World to Come * If people traveling abroad on Rosh Hashanah neglect Clal Yisrael and the Holy Temple, their journey is considered a sin

Reward and Punishment – Primarily for the ‘Clal’

Many people erroneously think that the reward and punishment written in the Torah pertaining to life in this world are directed primarily to the individuals – that if one follows the path of Torah and mitzvoth, he will enjoy wealth and happiness and a good and healthy life. If so, an alarming question then arises: How are there righteous people suffering from poverty, disease and ridicule, while there are wicked people who enjoy prosperity, health and honor? In truth, however, the reward and punishment written in the Torah were written for ‘Clal Yisrael’ (the entire physical and spiritual community of Israel, past, present, and future), for indeed, the Torah speaks of reward as rain falling over all the Land, a blessing for the harvest of the entire country, economic welfare for the ‘clal’, a general state of health and fertility, peace in the Land, victories over our enemies, a respectable status in the world, and above all, the dwelling of the Shekhina (Divine Presence). On the other hand, punishment is represented as the cessation of rain and dew, the harvest of the Land is cursed, poverty and hunger, plagues, defeat at the hands of our enemies, concealment of the Divine Presence, enslavement to other nations, and exile. True, the blessings and curses in the Torah portion BeChuko-tai are written in the plural, while those in the portion of Ki Tavo are written in the singular, nevertheless in both forms the intention is for ‘Clal Yisrael’ (as explained by Rashi, Deuteronomy 28:23).

Reward and Freedom of Choice

If the bulk of the reward and punishment in this world were for the individual, we would have no freedom of choice, and no expression of the image of God in which we were created; for who would be a fool to sin if immediately afterwards, he would lose his reputation, money, and become ill? But when judgement is for the ‘clal’, it evolves over a long and complex process, and consequently, the fate of the individual is dependent to a large extent on his over-all destiny, and not on his individual decisions, and in this way, each individual chooses his path according to his beliefs and values.

At any rate, the judgement remains unchanged, for in the ‘Olam HaNeshamot’ (the ‘World of Souls’), ‘Gan Eden’ (Heaven), and ‘Gehinom’ (Hell), every individual will receive entirely what is due to him.

The General Prayer on Rosh Hashana

Since primarily the reward and punishment written in the Torah deal with ‘Clal Yisrael’, judgement on Rosh Hashana is mainly for ‘Clal Yisrael’, and the world at large. Therefore, in the ‘Amidah‘ (silent) prayer of Rosh Hashanah, in the blessing of the day, our primary request is for the dwelling of the Shekhina and the revelation of God’s kingdom in the world, upon which all blessing is dependent. “Our God and God of our ancestors, may your sovereignty be acknowledged throughout the world. May your splendor and majestic glory be reflected in the lives of all who dwell on earth. May all that you have made be aware that you are their Maker, and may all that you have created acknowledge that you are their Creator; and may all that breathe the breath of life proclaim: The Eternal, God of Israel, reigns and His sovereignty embraces everything in the universe.”

Israel’s Judgement

Israel’s judgement affects the entire world, for Israel is to the nations as the heart is to the limbs of man’s body, and the entire existence of the world is dependent on Israel, who are required to reveal in the world the light of the Torah, so as to guide it to its complete ‘tikkun‘ (rectification), as our Sages said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, stipulated with the Works of Creation and said to them: ‘If Israel accepts the Torah, you shall exist; but if not, I will turn you back into chaos and anarchy'” (Shabbat 88a). Thus, since the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, in the merit of Israel’s adherence to Torah and mitzvoth the world exists, and the redemption of the world is dependent on Israel’s repentance. Since the responsibility placed on the Jewish people is immense, Israel’s punishment for sinning is greater than that of the Gentiles for their iniquities. On the other hand, Israel’s reward for choosing good is greater, for by doing so, they bring blessing and redemption to the entire world.

Therefore, the beginning of judgment on Rosh Hashanah is for the nation of Israel, as it is said: “Sound the shofar at Rosh-Chodesh
and at full moon for the pilgrim feast, because this is a law for Israel,
a ruling of the God of Ya’akov”
(Psalms 81:3-5), and after Israel is judged, God judges all the other nations (Rosh Hashana 8: 1-2).

‘Netzach Yisrael’ – The Eternity of Israel

Ostensibly, according to the rules of judgement, if, God forbid, Israel were to chose evil, God would obliterate them and destroy the world. But God chose His people and made a covenant with them, and therefore, even if they sin exceedingly, He will not abandon them, but punish them with terrible suffering, and with poured-out fury reign over Israel so they return to the proper path. As stated at the end of the words of the curses: “Thus, even when they are in their enemies’ land, I will not grow so disgusted with them nor so tired of them that I would destroy them and break My covenant with them, since I am God their Lord. I will therefore remember the covenant with their original ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations, so as to be a God to them. I am God” (Leviticus 26:44-45).

We have also learned in the Torah portions of the blessings and curses in the book of Deuteronomy, that in the end, after all the torment, God will punish the wicked who persecuted Israel twice as much for their sins, redeem His people and reconcile them to His land, as it is written: “For He will avenge His servants’ blood. He will bring vengeance upon His foes, and reconcile His people to His land” (Deuteronomy 32:43), and, “For Hashem will not desert his people, he will not abandon his heritage” (Psalms 94:14).

Thus, we find that the judgement on Rosh Hashana is not about Israel’s existence in this world and the World to Come, but rather, about the how they will live – whether in peace and blessing, or vice versa, God forbid. Israel is also guaranteed of the Redemption’s arrival, however, if they repent, the Redemption will come quickly and calmly; if not, after a long exile painful and horrible agonies will occur, and subsequently the exiled will be gathered and the land built, and we will continue ascending spiritually, until we merit redemption and complete repentance (Sanhedrin 97b, 98a; Zohar 3, 66:2).

Judgment for Individuals on Rosh Hashana

Although the primary judgement and reward and punishment is for the ‘clal’, individuals are also judged on Rosh Hashana, but their judgement is vastly dependent on the judgement of ‘Clal Yisrael’. For example, when the nation finds itself in the course of destruction and exile, the assessment of each individual is whether his standing is at the lowest point, or, despite the harsh reality, he merits some reprieve. If the nation is on a course of aliyah, prosperity and redemption, the assessment is whether one will also be a partner in the blessing. Occasionally in times of grace, the wicked receive only an apparent blessing, which they lose over time; and sometimes in periods of calamity, the righteous are punished with apparent punishments that over time lead to blessings. Thus, on the one hand, the judgement is exact and precise, but on the other hand, strongly influenced by the times – all for the sake of maintaining freedom of choice, and ‘tikkun olam’.

The Need for the Beit HaMikdash

Consequently, we can understand the importance of focusing on the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple) and placing it at the top of the public agenda, because it expresses the sanctity of ‘Clal Yisrael’ – the ‘kodesh ha’clali’ (universal holiness) revealed in the world by way of Israel.

And should one ask: What’s so important about a particular place, or a specific building – after all, the most import thing is one’s heart and thoughts? To such a question, we will respond that without the tangible place – thoughts, ideals, and morality dissipate into thin air. For example, instead of actually helping the poor, it would be possible, so to speak, just to ensure them that they will be rewarded in the World to Come after they die. Instead of fighting the wicked, their punishment in hell would be enough. Instead of imposing the values ​​of morality and justice in the world, it’s enough to settle for a ‘victory of the spirit’, as it were.

Indeed, when there was no other option, and we were enslaved to evil kingdoms in the exile, all we had left was to believe that in the end, spirituality would triumph and the Beit HaMikdash would be rebuilt, as we mentioned in all our prayers and blessings – and this belief that we held, stood for us against all those who tried to destroy us.

However, when it is possible to act, believing in the “victory of the spirit” alone expresses a terrible heresy in the ability of holiness to influence and remedy life. And from here the path leading to idolatry is very short, specifically, to a foreign belief that the forces operating in the world are disconnected from the One God, and only a miracle, so to speak, can save the ‘tzaddikim’ (righteous), because nature itself is completely detached from the ‘Shekhina‘ (Divine Presence). This is what our Sages meant when they said that Jews living outside of the Land of Israel are considered idolaters (Ketubot 110b), because they cannot reveal the act of holiness in this world. This is the terrible despair that all our eminent and righteous Torah scholars warned of.

The Struggle for the Temple Mount

Today, if the appearance of the ‘kodesh ha’clali’ (universal sanctity) in the world is truly important to us we are obligated to make further progress, and the next stage required of us is to act with all our might to reveal the glory of the God of Israel on the Temple Mount, and to remove all signs of hatred and contempt for the sanctity of Israel. And as we say in the prayers of the ‘Yamim Nora’im’ (Days of Awe): “And therefore, Lord our God: Grant also, we pray, that your people Israel may live in dignity…grant joy to your land of Israel, and gladness to your holy city, Jerusalem…speed the time when those who love righteousness will behold these days and rejoice…when wickedness shall be silenced and every form of violence vanish like vapor, because you will cause the rule of arrogance to cease from the earth. And you will reign, you alone, over all humanity through Mount Zion, the place of your glorious shrine of old, and through Jerusalem, your holy city”.

Those Traveling Abroad to the Graves of the Righteous

Those traveling on Rosh Hashana to the graves of the righteous must be very cautious not to harm the awe-inspiring foundation of the sanctity of ‘Clal Yisrael’, which is revealed in Eretz Yisrael. Possibly, if they increase their prayers for ‘Clal Yisrael’, the building of the Beit HaMikdash, and Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and courageously rally to act for it when they return to Israel – perhaps it may be of benefit to them that their ‘yeridah‘ (descent) will be for the sake of ‘aliyah‘. But if they forget the Temple Mount and their duty to act for the building of the nation, the land, and the Temple, their descent from the Land of Israel to pray for themselves will be considered a sin.

When Religion is “Private” it Drives People Away

The abandonment of religion in recent generations is also dependent on the fact that souls are thirsty for the revelation of the ‘kodesh ha’clali’ (universal sanctity), and as long as religion is primarily reliant on the minute details – ‘tzav l’tzav, kav l’kav, ze’er po, ze’er sham’ (‘precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little’), it fails to arouse the hearts. But when we advance the idea of ​​the ‘kodesh ha’clali’, whose primary goal is the vision of ‘tikkun olam’ in the word of God, from the fountain of the ‘kodesh ha’clali‘, all springs will be filled with the living water.

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:

May Harmful Trees be Uprooted?

A comment concerning Israel’s judicial system: Instead of criticizing the High Court of Justice’s decision on infiltrators, the structure of the legal system should be changed from the ground up * The prohibition of destroying trees: Only a tree that produces a certain quantity of fruit is forbidden to be uprooted * Only the deliberate destroying of trees is prohibited, but uprooting in order to prevent damage is permitted, provided there is no other option * The cost of landscaping is not a reason to uproot a fruit tree * The dispute regarding uprooting trees for the purpose of expanding one’s house or renovating the garden * Some poskim are apprehensive of a Jew uprooting a tree even when halakha permits, therefore it is preferable to be done by a non-Jew

A Comment Regarding the Legal System

Recently, we have once again been informed that the Supreme Court has undermined the government’s policy regarding infiltrators. They have also frozen the ‘Formalization Law’ (‘Hok Ha-hasdara’) for an indefinite period, and all the efforts of Knesset members – representatives of the voting public, has gone down the drain. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, ministers and MKs voiced sharp objections and criticism about the legal system. However, the dismal situation of the judicial system has been apparent for a long time – from the justices of the Supreme Court, to the legal counsel and state attorneys – all of whom are committed to the rights of the individual, at the expense of Jewish national values. The complaints against them are futile – their views are clear, and they will not alter them.

Therefore, all the criticisms of the ministers and Knesset members are ineffectual; instead, they must utilize the power in their possession, and change the legal system from the ground up – this is what they were elected for! This will require a public and media struggle, including unambiguous legislation on national issues, changing the procedure for selecting judges, dividing the powers of the Attorney General, and restoring the role of legal counsel as advisers, and not policy makers. If there are ministers and Knesset members who feel that other MK’s in the government and Knesset are interfering with this change, they should publically condemn them, and not the judicial system, so the entire public will know who is critically violating their rights as a nation, and as an electorate.

Is it Permissible to Uproot Fruit Trees?

Q: “After we finished building our house, we planted 15 fruit trees in the garden. Over the years we have come to realize that in general, they have caused us grief. Most of the trees produce a small amount of fruit, and more often than not, the birds and insects eat them before we do. Two of the trees produce lots of fruits, but since we planted them near the window, the gnats and mosquitoes they attract, enter our house and cause us great sorrow. Our neighbors complain about the insects as well. Three of the trees hardly give any fruit. In addition, we want to expand our house, and in order to do so, we need to uproot at least two fruit trees. On top of all this, our garden looks inferior to those of our neighbors, because decorative trees and bushes look a lot nicer.

The question is, is it permissible to uproot all the fruit trees in order to expand the house, and in their place, plant decorative trees? In the present situation, the value of the fruit that grows on the trees is meager, and it is far more worthwhile for us to plant decorative trees instead – the fact being, that we are prepared to pay thousands of shekels to a gardener to renovate. If the answer is it is forbidden, is it permissible to at least uproot the trees that do not produce a lot of fruit, or those trees in areas where we intend to expand the house? And is it permitted to uproot all the trees by a non-Jew?”

What is a Fruit Tree?

Seeing as the subject is complex, there is room for a detailed explanation.

The prohibition of uprooting a fruit-bearing tree is on the condition that the tree actually yields fruit; but if the tree is old or sick, to the point where it produces less than a ‘kav’ of fruit per year (approximately one kilo and 200 grams, or more to be more precise, 1,200 Cc), its’ ruling of being considered a fruit-bearing tree is nullified, and can be uprooted. For an olive tree, because of its special importance, there is a ‘chumra‘ (a prohibition exceeding the bare requirement of halakha) that as long as it produces a quarter of a ‘kav‘ (approximately 300 grams) a year, it is forbidden to uproot it. In order to know how much fruit a tree produces, it must be surveyed for several years, in order to be certain that it does not yield more than the aforementioned amount.

This is measured according to the normal irrigation and treatment of the owner of the tree: if he waters and takes care of it regularly according to his understanding, and yet, it does not produce such a quantity of fruit, it is permitted to uproot it.

Even a young seedling that is still in the years of ‘orlah‘ (a tree during the first three years after planting) and does not yield fruit, is forbidden to uproot, because it is destined to produce a ‘kav‘ of fruit (Maharsham 7: 178).

A Fruit Tree that Causes Damage

The prohibition of uprooting a fruit tree is stated in the Torah in the language of destruction, as it is stated: “You must not destroy its trees” (Deuteronomy 20:19). It follows that it is permissible to uproot a fruit tree for the purpose of removing damage, since this uprooting is not for the purpose of destruction, but rather to remove damage. It is also told in the Talmud (Bava Kama 92a) that when the Amora Shmuel saw that the palm trees planted between the vines were harmful to the vines, he ordered his sharecropper to uproot the palms.

Therefore, it is permissible to uproot a fruit tree that overshadows a window and prevents light from entering the house, since this is considered significant damage for which people are usually meticulous about. However, if it is possible to prevent the damage by cutting the branches that overshadow the window, one should suffice with cutting them even though he will have to make an effort to cut them every few months, because preventing having to make such an effort does not permit the uprooting of a fruit tree (Chavot Yair 195).

This is also true in a case where one has to pay a gardener to cut the branches every few months. On the face of it, one could argue that just as it is permissible to uproot an orchard whose cost of operation is higher than its profits, so too, it is possible to uproot a fruit tree in a garden when the work of the landscaper minding the garden or cutting the branches is more costly than its value (for example, in a case where the tree produces five kilos a year of fruit worth 50 shekels, when the work of the gardener costs 200 shekels). However, such an argument cannot be made because planting a fruit tree in a private garden is not economically beneficial, since every intelligent person knows that the cost of growing fruit in a private garden (including work time) is far greater than the cost of growing fruit in a commercial orchard. Hence, according to the intent of those planting fruit trees in their garden – each kilo that grows in their garden, to them, is worth ten times the value of the fruit they would buy in a high-priced supermarket. Therefore, only when the prevention of damage involves an extremely great effort, or at a much higher cost than is customary in the treatment of fruit trees, is it permitted to uproot.

Therefore, when a fruit tree attracts gnats and flies that enter the house and cause great sorrow, one should first try to remove the damage by spraying pesticides, even though it involves effort and financial expenses. But if the attempts are not successful, it is permissible to uproot the tree.

Uprooting Trees for the Purpose of Expanding an Apartment or Garden

As we have learned, when uprooting is not for the purpose of destruction, but for an important benefit worth much more than the tree, it is not prohibited (Bava Kama 91b). Therefore, it is permissible to uproot fruit trees in order to build an apartment house in their stead.

However, some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) tend to be stringent, ruling that only for a vital need is uprooting a fruit tree permissible, such as in a case where a family has grown, and their apartment is overcrowded; but for purposes of luxury and extravagance, such as the expansion of a balcony without necessity, or the rearrangement of a garden in a more beautiful manner – fruit trees should not be uprooted (Shailat Yavetz, Zevchei Tzedek, Aruch HaShulchan). Some poskim tend to be lenient regarding uprooting trees for any need that is customary among the rich, or even to expand an empty space in a garden for the purpose of taking a stroll (Mahari Bassan, Chida, Shvut Yaakov).

In practice, those who want to be lenient have poskim to rely on, but l’chatchila (ideally), when possible, it is preferable to be stringent.

The Kabbalistic ‘Segulah’ Danger

Some poskim say that even when according to Jewish law it is permissible to uproot a fruit tree, all the same, one should be wary about doing so, because there is a tradition that anyone who uproots a fruit tree endangers his life, as Rabbi Chanina said: “My son did not pass away except for having cut down a fig tree before its time” (Bava Kama 91b). However, in the opinion of the majority of poskim, only when a tree is uprooted in contradiction to halakha is there a danger, but if it is done according to halakha, it does not pose any danger. On the other hand, there are some poskim who are apprehensive about uprooting a fruit tree even when it is permitted according to halakha; in particular, they learned this from the ethical will of Rabbi Yehuda HeHasid, who was one of the eminent Ashkenazi Rishonim kabbalists who warned not to uproot a fruit tree, and some poskim were very cautious about all of his warnings, saying that anyone who transgresses them, endangers his life (Ya’avetz 1:76; Chaim B’Yad). For this reason, even when according to halakha it was permissible to uproot a fruit tree, there were rabbis who were careful and apprehensive about giving such a ruling because of the danger. Several poskim advised that just to be sure, the uprooting should be carried out by a non-Jew for whom the prohibition does not apply, thereby saving the Jew from danger.

Uprooting by a Non-Jew

According to the majority of poskim, anything forbidden for a Jew to do from the Torah, is forbidden ‘me’divrei sofrim’ (from the words of the Sages), to request a non-Jew to do it for him. This prohibition is called “shvut“. However, in a situation of ‘safek issur’ (a doubtful prohibition), since the request from the non-Jew is forbidden only ‘me’divrei sofrim‘, and in a ‘safek d’rabbanan’ (a rabbinic doubt) one may act leniently, therefore, when there is doubt as to whether one is allowed to uproot a tree, it is permissible to ask a non-Jew to do it (as explained in “Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it” 5:9, footnote 9).

The Practical Halakha

One may uproot trees that cause damage by attracting insects, provided there is no other way to prevent this, and it is also permissible to uproot trees that prevent the expansion of a house. However, there is disagreement concerning the uprooting of fruit trees in order to create an attractive garden. Practically speaking, it seems that one who wishes to be lenient and uproot trees for decorative and luxury purposes has authorities to rely upon, on condition that one weighs his needs thoroughly and delays his decision, so that he will be sure it is a genuine desire, and not just a passing one. And it is proper to have a non-Jew uproot the tree.

An Apology for the Headlines of My Previous Article

As a footnote, I find it necessary to correct the mistaken impression that the editor who wrote the headlines, gave my previous article. Firstly, I made an effort in my article to explain the great weight of the ‘masoret’ (Jewish religious tradition) and ‘anshei emunah’ (people of faith) among all streams of Zionism. Therefore, the subtitle “Secular Zionism Succeeded in Establishing the State” is contrary to what I wrote. The ‘chiddush‘ (novelty) was that in order to lead the process forward, a deeper connection to ‘kodesh‘ (sacred ideals) is needed, and therefore, the main headline “No State without Faith” does not express the complex content of the article.

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:

No State without Faith

On the occasion of the passing of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook ztz”l, it is worthwhile recalling his position on the Zionist movement: It is important to take part in it, but it will succeed only out of holiness * Indeed, secular Zionism succeeded in establishing a state, but only after many crises * Had it not been not for the First World War and the lessons of the horrendous Holocaust, secular leadership would not have succeeded to stand-up boldly against the British in order to achieve a state * To this day, at every crossroad the political leadership has stumbled, and only Providence, with the help of people of faith, has advanced the redemption * Also in today’s challenges, and especially the war against radical Islam, we can succeed only from a standpoint of holiness

Rabbi Kook and Secular Zionism

Despite Rabbi Kook’s support for all those engaged in settling of the Land of Israel and the Ingathering of the Exiles, his assessment was that without a connection to the foundation of holiness, ‘emunah‘ (faith), observance of the Torah and mitzvoth, and the vision of redemption for Israel and the world – the secular Zionist movement would lack the ability to achieve its goal of rebuilding the Jewish nation in its land. He wrote about this in numerous letters, and spoke about it in conversations, sermons and speeches. Accordingly, he initiated the establishment of the ‘Degel Yerushalayim’ movement.

Rabbi Kook also realized that a central feature of righteous gentiles’ support of the Zionist movement was based on their faith in the Bible, and he feared that the more aware they were about the remoteness of the secular Zionist’s leaders from faith in God, they would remove their support for the Jewish people’s request to establish a state in their homeland (Igrot Haraya 3, pg.173). He wrote that a secular program for the Jewish nation could never achieve the fulfillment of Israel’s national objectives (Ma’amarei Haraya, 2, pg.298). “Nothing will be born of our labors if we do not attach to the importance of practical actions, the restoring of the vision of the idea embodied and concealed in them…Not only will it not be beneficial, but will further humiliate the idea, and in the end, cause the termination of the practical actions” (Orot Hatechiya 6).

Indeed, it must be noted that although some of the leaders and supporters of Zionism were totally secular, the Zionist movement as a whole did not detach itself from Jewish tradition. Among its constituents were entirely religious figures, such as the members of the Mizrachi movement, traditional Jews such as the members of Betar, segments of the Labor movement; even secular Jews within the Zionist movement accepted Judaism as the basic culture. Thus, faith and Jewish tradition undoubtedly carried great weight in Zionist activities. Nevertheless, Rabbi Kook estimated that without a deeper connection to Judaism, the Zionist movement would not be able to reach its goals.

The Danger of Detaching Zionism from Holiness

Even as the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa in 1908, Rabbi Kook called upon faithful Jews to build the land both spiritually and physically, combining Torah with ‘derech eretz‘ (worldliness), because all future growth of redemption is dependent on building the country out of true piety. “…for otherwise, it will be taken over by forceful people armed with promiscuity and the ways of the goyim, without a trace of Israel’s true holiness… which will ultimately turn into a destructive force and a monster, and in the end, hate of Jews and the Land of Israel as well, as we have experienced in the past. [If] this impure hand prevails, the magnitude of the disaster will be inconceivable. But I have trust in God, who will not allow our feet to slip, and all who fear the word of God, and desire the salvation of His nation and holy land, will rise to our call, and embark on establishing in Zion a precious cornerstone, revitalizing the ‘New Yishuv‘ on the foundation of purity of faith, connected to the joy of life and its justified desires, and God shall be with us, to rebuild the ruins of our nation for generations.”

Was Rabbi Kook Right?

On the face of it, reality has proven the opposite of Rabbi Kook’s words, for the State of Israel was established, and even continues developing and prospering, although its leaders are unfaithful to Judaism’s sacred beliefs.

Some people simply interpreted Rabbi Kook’s words as being similar to those of many other rabbis, who, in order to encourage their followers to engage in Torah and mitzvoth, always tell them their success is dependent upon it. When speaking with businessmen, they tell them that if they keep Torah and mitzvoth, their business will succeed. When they speak to public figures they tell them that if they keep Torah and mitzvoth, they will be successful in all their undertakings. When they speak to scientists, they tell them that if they study Torah and keep mitzvoth, they will succeed in their research. Indeed, their words are correct, however, they lack an in-depth analysis of reality; rather, they reflect a principled position that only through Torah and mitzvoth can one be truly successful – if not in this world, then in the World to Come. And if not in this generation, then in the End of Days.

Holiness is Essential to Zionism

However, the truth is that in his deep foresight, Rabbi Kook perceived the basic shortcomings of the secular Zionist movement, and even before the First World War, Rabbi Kook clearly understood that the secular Zionist movement would lack the moral strength required to deal with the complex difficulties. True, the secular Zionist movement has great merit for beginning the process of operating in the political sphere, and settling the land on a large, practical scale, but without a deep connection to holiness, its objectives cannot be achieved.

And indeed, Rabbi Kook was right. If not for the First World War, and even more so, the Second World War and the terrible Holocaust that transpired, the Zionist movement would not have achieved establishing the State.

Rabbi Kook, of course, did not count on the Holocaust; he spoke about the responsibility placed on the generation to advance the Jewish nation towards the establishment of a state, even devoid of a terrible tragedy. Therefore, he warned all who would listen that the national movement must be connected to the sacred, and work diligently for the revival of Israel. The plea was directed to both the secular Zionists, and also to the Haredi public, who stood-by idly and did not join the immigration and settlement effort.

Had we succeeded in connecting the holy and the secular, the Zionist movement would have been able to encourage millions of Jews to make aliyah, and as a result, would have been capable of making a significant and compelling claim to the nations of the world to support the realization of the Jewish people’s right to its land – without resorting to the lessons of the Holocaust.

The Failures of the Secular Leadership

Having not merited this, terrible catastrophes befell us, without which the State of Israel would not have been established. The First World War, a conflict more difficult than any previous wars, caused a great shock in the world. Tens of millions of casualties left nations bleeding. Great empires crumbled, and new countries were created. As a result, many people began to alter their way of thinking, and this led to the Balfour Declaration (Nov.2, 1917), according to which Britain received power over all the Land of Israel on both sides of the Jordan River in order to establish a national home for the Jewish nation, a declaration that was later approved by an international conference in San Remo (1920).

But the fact is that within a few years, the Zionist movement let almost all the enormous achievements slip through its hands. First, it agreed to abandon the continuation of the Jewish Legion, created during the First World War with the express purpose of initially helping the British effort to conquer the Land of Israel for the Jews, and afterwards, to serve as the nucleus of a Jewish army that would defend the national home. After that, they ceded the eastern side of the Jordan River to the Arabs. Then, they agreed to limit immigration to Israel, abandoning their claim to reach a Jewish majority and create a Jewish state. Given such a situation, there was no chance of establishing the State of Israel. Then, along came the Second World War, which was even more grueling than its predecessor and for the Jewish nation – the most difficult of all. Six million of our people were murdered with atrocious brutality. Only after the extent of the Holocaust became evident did the majority of the world recognize the right of the Jewish people to establish a state in the Land of Israel.

And yet, the official Jewish leadership did not have the courage to fight for it. It was only thanks to the breakaway organizations, the Irgun and Lechi who had a greater connection to the traditions and sacred values of Judaism, that were the British expelled from the country, enabling the establishment the State of Israel.

Even after the State was established, given that the religious connection to the holy areas of the land was not sufficiently rooted, the I.D.F. was halted in mid-action during the War of Independence, leaving Judea, Samaria, and the Temple Mount in Arab hands.

Years later, during the Six Day War, the leadership also did everything possible to avoid conquering the Temple Mount and Judea and Samaria. They begged Hussein not to join the war, and after conquering Judea and Samaria, they tried to give it back to the Jordanians in exchange for “peace”, and handed over management of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf.

If the position of the secular leadership after the Six-Day War would have been realized, the State of Israel would have withdrawn from Judea and Samaria, and all its population centers would have been constantly threatened by terrorist organizations of the type that arose in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon. The rise and development of the economy would have ceased, and the situation of the State of Israel would have been far worse than it is now because, aside from being threatened by terrorist organizations, the spiritual crisis of relinquishing the holy places would have left a moral and spiritual vacuum that would have undermined the motivation to remain in the country and continue to settle and develop it, as we have witnessed in those detached, secular Jews who are the first to leave the country – even to Berlin.

This is exactly what Rabbi Kook spoke about, and unfortunately, this is what we ourselves have witnessed over the last few generations: at almost every critical juncture in which spiritual strength was required, the secular leadership of the Zionist movement failed. Only by God’s providence, which at times directed events with ‘chesed‘ and ‘rachamim‘ (kindness and mercy), and at other times with ‘din‘ (justice), were we able to achieve the Ingathering of the Exiles, and settling the Land.

In the Merit of People of Faith

It is important to note the merit of ‘anshei emunah‘, the people of faith, who took part in the Zionist movement, many inspired by Rabbi Kook, who, at every crucial juncture, had influence. They did not allow the secular position to rend the bond with Israel’s sacred values, and directed the process towards continuing the building of the nation and the Land. This was the case with Rabbi Maimon in regards to the decision to establish the state, with Rabbi Goren in the Six Day War on the Temple Mount and the Cave of the Patriarchs, and with Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook and his students in settling Judea and Samaria.

Today, as global Islam poses a religious and moral challenge to Western culture in general, and to Judaism in particular, with the focus of the struggle being on the Land of Israel and the Temple Mount, all can understand that only by way of our sacred values can Jewish nationalism be strengthened, the militant Muslim religion be defeated, and faith and peace be brought to the world.

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

A Spiritual Vacation in the Temple

While the Temple existed, the mitzva of ‘ma’aser sheni’ and ‘neta revai’ prompted everyone to make the Festival Pilgrimage to the Holy Temple * The quantity of harvested crops is equivalent to the number of days of the festivals, thus affording a prolonged stay in Jerusalem that included fine, festive meals * The families who made the pilgrimage merited dwelling in the shadow of the Divine Presence, and learning Torah * In the future, thousands of hotels will be built near the Temple so that everyone can rejoice and receive relevant, spiritual guidance * Throughout the year, Jerusalem will serve as a spiritual center for all mankind

The Mitzvah of the Temple in Parashat Re’eh

In this week’s Torah portion ‘Re’eh‘, we repeatedly learn about the central role of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), by means of which the ‘kodesh ha’clali’ (universal holiness) is revealed in the world – a holiness that harmoniously unites all ideals, and gives value and meaning to all details of life. For too long we have forgotten to talk about the Temple. True, we were busy building the Land, which is the foundation for the establishment of the Temple, but it seems that neglecting the Temple had an adverse effect on the building of the Land as well. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to study matters regarding the Temple, and attempt to portray the revelation of its holiness in the world, in a vivid and visionary manner.

In a complete system of mitzvoth including ‘aliyah l’regel’ (Festival Pilgrimage), ma’aser sheni, neta revai (agricultural tithes), korban chagigah and nidavot shleimim (animal sacrifices), the Torah guides us how to partake in a spiritual vacation of Torah and prayer, joy and festive meals, all in the environs of the Temple.

I will elaborate a bit on the mitzva of ma’aser sheni explained in our Torah portion.

What is Ma’aser Sheni?

In four of the seven years of the shmitta (Sabbatical years), it is a mitzvah to set aside approximately nine percent of the fruit for ma’aser sheni (the second tithe). The unique aspect of ma’aser sheni is that although it contains kedusha (holiness), it remains in the possession of the owner of the fruit, and it is a mitzvah for him to eat it, with his family, within the walls of Jerusalem, in purity. As the Torah says: “Take a second tithe of all the seed crops that come forth in the field each year. You must eat this before God your Lord in the place that He will choose as dedicated to His name. There you shall eat the second tithe of your grain, wine and oil…you will then learn [by coming in contact with priests and scholars in Jerusalem] to remain in awe of God your Lord for all time” (Deuteronomy 14:22-23).

Those who find it difficult to bring the fruits of the second tithe to Jerusalem because of the distance and the abundance of fruits, are entitled to redeem the produce on a coin of equal value, thus making the fruit ‘chullin’ (de-sanctified), and the sanctity is transferred to the money. The money would be brought to Jerusalem where people would buy food, which they would eat in purity according to the laws of eating ma’aser sheni. As the Torah says: “If the journey is too great for you, and God your Lord has blessed you so that the place that God your Lord has chosen as a site dedicated to His name is too far for you to carry it there, you may redeem the tithe for silver. The silver in your hand must consist of coinage which you can bring to the place that God your Lord will choose. You may then spend the money on anything you desire, whether it be cattle, smaller animals, wine, brandy, or anything else for which you  have an urge” (Deuteronomy 14:24-26). At the time of redeeming the fruit, a fifth of its value must be added; poor people would perform the act of redeeming with the help of a friend, thereby absolving themselves of this additional charge.

A Fund for Spiritual ‘Continuing Education’

By way of the fruits of ma’aser sheni, all of Israel became stronger in the mitzvah of aliyah l’regel (the Festival Pilgrimage) – on Chag Ha’Matzot (Passover), Shavuot (Feast of Weeks), and Succoth (Feast of Tabernacles) for the mitzvah required eating approximately six percent of the total harvest of the fields in Jerusalem, and the most appropriate time for this was during the festive meals. The mitzva was to share meals with the Levites and the poor, and the more blessed a person was, the longer his family would be able to linger in the shadow of the Divine Presence in Jerusalem, and the more Levites and poor people he would be able to treat at his meal. And if he had children who could engage in Torah study, in consequence of the tithes, he would encourage them to stay in Jerusalem to study Torah there, and eat from the money of ma’aser sheni. This is what the Torah says: “You will then learn to remain in awe of God your Lord for all time” (Deuteronomy 14:23) – “This comes to teach that the tithes brings one to the study of Torah” (Sifre, Re’eh 106).

The Harvest was Adequate for the Entire Festival and More

I calculated the percentage of fruit that was allocated for ma’aser sheni from all of the fruit that the average person would eat for seven years, and compared it to the total number of days of the Pilgrimage Festivals. Something wonderful became apparent: the portion of the ma’aser sheni from the total crop corresponded to the number of days of the Pilgrimage Festivals from the seven years of shmitta.

The second tithe was approximately nine percent of the harvest, but it was only set aside in the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the six years that terumot and ma’asrot were allotted – altogether, it was approximately six percent. In the seventh year, the fruit was hefker (abandoned), and terumot and ma’aser was not taken. Thus, when the fruits of the second tithe were divided for eating over seven years, they rose to 5.14 percent of the harvest of the six years of work in the seven year cycle. If we calculate the days of the three Festivals in which it is a mitzvah to make the pilgrimage, and half a day before and a half a day after, it comes to 19 days, which is 5.2 percent of the average 365 days a year (in truth, the calculation is more complex because on Shavuot of a shmitta year, and Succot at the end of shmitta, there no longer remained fruits of ma’aser sheni, however, on the other hand, the void could be filled to a certain extent through the sacrifices of ma’aser behema [the animal sacrifices] on these festivals).

The Pilgrims Festive Meals

Thus, the fruits of the second tithe were sufficient for the oleh regel to maintain the level they were accustomed to while at home. Since in addition to this, the law concerning fruits that grew on trees in the fourth year – neta revai – is similar to that of the fruits of ma’aser sheni, consequently, each family had fruits that could be eaten during the fine meals of the holidays.

In addition, each male was commanded to bring a korban chagiga sacrifice, from whose flesh would be eaten at the festive meals, in addition ma’aser behamah, i.e., the tithe that he set aside from his beasts, which were also intended for the mitzva meals eaten in the environs of the Temple. Not only that, but there were people who were exempt from going on the pilgrimage, and consequently, the money of the second tithe and neta revai which were intended to satisfy their sustenance, remained as surpluses that could be eaten at the mitzvah meals in Jerusalem.

Thus, an average person who went to Jerusalem on all three Festivals would eat there far better meals than he ate during the year, and still have enough to share his feast meals with the Levi’im and the poor. Often, these funds from ma’aser would enable those family members who wanted, to remain in Jerusalem for a few months, or a whole year, to dwell in the shadow of the Divine Presence, and to grow in Torah and holiness.

Biur Ma’aserot

Since the pilgrimage to the Holy Temple was fraught with difficulties, and many people had reasons to avoid it, people could have thought of keeping the redeemed money from ma’aser sheni and neta revai indefinitely. Therefore, the mitzvah of biur ma’aserot (the elimination of the tithes) is very important. The ma’aserot cycle consists of two series of three years, and the mitzva of biur ma’aserot determines that until Pesach of the fourth year, and Pesach of the seventh year, the setting aside of terumot and ma’aserot must be completed, including the money redeemed from ma’aser sheni and neta re’vai.

This mitzvah required every Jew to plan his pilgrimages, for if he saw that the time of biur ma’aserot was approaching, he would hasten to observe the mitzvah of pilgrimage, and make an effort to arrange large meals and invite several people, in order to use the intended money. If, nevertheless, he still had surpluses, he would seek out relatives, and pay for their stay in Jerusalem, or at least give the money to Torah scholars to assist them during their stay in the learning halls in Jerusalem. If he was negligent, and not able to use these sacred funds before the time of biur, he had to destroy and eliminate them from the world.

Thus, as a result of the mitzvah of biur ma’aserot and neta re’vai, it was determined that one’s spiritual vacation had to be fulfilled within a maximum of three years (the mitzva of the offering of the ma’aser behema took place on the nearest Festival, or at the latest, within a year).

The Future Vision: A Spiritual Vacation

In accordance with these mitzvot, we can prepare the fulfillment of the vision in our times. Soon, the Temple will be restored, and numerous hotels will be built in the vicinity of the Temple. Masses of Jews will stay in these hotels during the days of the Festivals, going to see the Temple, watch the service of the Kohanim (priests), and hear the singing of the Levites. They will conduct their important festive meals in the hotel’s air-conditioned dining rooms, amidst singing and dancing. All of this will be accompanied, of course, with profound and meaningful Torah study, in all areas of life. For this purpose batei midrash (learning halls) and suitable classrooms will have to be built.

However, in order to make room for all the masses of pilgrims, whose numbers will reach several millions, it will be necessary to build hundreds and thousands of high-rise hotels around the Temple spread over many kilometers, and automated trains will take guests from the hotels to the Temple Mount. Since the trains will travel automatically, they can be used on Shabbat and holidays, similar to Shabbat elevators (there is no ‘shvut’ in the Temple).

Since in the past, agriculture comprised more than 90 percent of a person’s income, the Torah’s percentage of the agricultural produce needed to be allocated for the purpose of lodging in the vicinity of the Mikdash needs to be equated to the percentage that should be set aside from an individual’s current income (similar to ma’aser kesafim and chomesh that were determined in place of terumot and ma’aserot). The amount set aside from salaries for a spiritual vacation in Jerusalem should be sufficient for several days, beyond those of the Festivals. With this amount of money, each Jew will finance days of study, vacation, and joy in the environs of the Temple. To this end, a vast array of seminars and study times will be established in all areas of Torah and life, so that every Jew can choose to study subjects close to his heart.

Study Times for the Entire World

Needless to say, during the Jewish Festivals, the hotels will be filled to capacity; during the rest of the year, in addition to holding seminars for Jews, the hotels will open their gates to all the nations of the world, as the prophet said: ” In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of the mountains. It will be lifted above the hills; peoples will stream to it. Many nations will go and say, “Come, let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain, to the house of Jacob’s God so that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in God’s paths. Torah will come from Zion; the Lord’s word from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3).

Blessed be the men, women, and children who ascend in purity to the Temple Mount, and prayers for the revelation of the ‘kodesh ha’clali’ in their hearts.

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:

The Levitical Model of Supporting Torah

The Torah set a goal for Kohanim and Levi’im – to teach Torah, and educate the public * The ideal was for the firstborn to be sanctified, so each household would have a spiritual Torah member, but we have not yet reached that level * The Kohanim and the Levi’im established the model of the ‘garin Torani’: scattered throughout the country, but living in groups * The Israelites supported the Kohanim and Levi’im who studied Torah, and they in turn strove to teach the nation in a suitable manner * Israelites could also teach, supplementary to the stable foundation of the tribe of Levi * In our times, ma’aser kesafim for Torah scholars implements the goal of terumot and ma’asrot

The Continuation of Torah in Israel

Q: Why did the Torah grant special status to the Kohanim (priests) and Levi’im (Levites), and command us to give them terumot and ma’aser rishon (tithes)? Isn’t this discrimination towards the rest of the people?

A: These are not free gifts given to the Kohanim and Levi’im, but rather gifts that are meant to enable them to be Torah scholars and educators among the Jewish nation, as the Torah says: “They shall therefore teach your law to Jacob, and your Torah to Israel” (Deuteronomy 33:10). The Torah also says: “If you are unable to reach a decision in a case involving capital punishment, litigation, leprous marks, or any other case where there is a dispute in your territorial courts, then you must set out and go up to the place that God your Lord shall choose. You must approach the Levitical priests and other members of supreme court that exists at the time” (Deuteronomy 17:8-9).

Kohanim and Levi’im Not Engaged in Torah

Since the goal of terumot for the Kohanim and ma’aser to the Levi’im is to assist them in their spiritual role, it is a mitzvah to give these gifts to Kohanim and Levi’im ‘Talmidei Chachamim‘ (Torah scholars) who study and teach Torah. As King Hezekiah commanded: “Moreover, he commanded the people who dwelt in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites that they might adhere firmly to the Torah of the Lord” (Chronicles II, 8-9).

The poskim (Jewish law arbiters) disagreed as to what should be done in a place where there are no Kohanim or Levi’im engaged in Torah: some say that it is forbidden to give priestly gifts to a Kohen who is an ‘am ha’aretz’, i.e., someone uneducated in Torah; the opinion of most Rishonim is that it is indeed a mitzvah to give the priestly gifts to Kohanim and Levi’im who are Torah scholars, but if there aren’t any Torah scholars present, it is a mitzvah to give them to the uneducated Kohanim and Levi’im, and one is not obligated to go out of his way to give them to Kohanim and Levi’im who are ‘Talmidei Chachamim’ (Tosafot, Ramban, Rashba, Ran, Ritva, and Meiri, Tractate Chulin 130b, as well as being codified in the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 61:7).

Nationwide Deployment

In order for the Kohanim and Levi’im to be spread throughout the Land of Israel and available for their spiritual task – studying and teaching Torah – the Torah determined that they would not be given an inheritance in the Land, rather, each tribe would allot them cities within their own inheritance. As the Torah says: “God spoke to Moses… give orders to the Israelites, and have them give the Levites residential cities from their hereditary holdings. Also provide the Levites suburbs around their cities. The cities shall be their residence, while the suburbs shall be for their animals, property, and other amenities… the total number of cities that you shall give the Levites shall be 48 cities…more from a larger holding, and fewer from a smaller one. Each tribe shall therefore give the Levites cities in proportion to the hereditary property that it has been given” (Numbers 35:1-8). In other words, the Kohanim and Levi’im received places to live, and even plots for their belongings, but they did not have enough land to grow their own food, but were nourished by the terumot and ma’asrot they received from B’nei Yisrael. As the Torah says: “The Levitical priests and the entire tribe of Levi shall not have a territorial portion with the rest of Israel, and they shall therefore eat God’s fire offerings and their hereditary gifts. Since God shall be their heritage, as He promised them, they shall not have any territorial heritage among their brethren” (Deuteronomy 18:1-2).

And this is exactly what B’nei Yisrael did in the days of Yehoshua, as it is stated: “And the children of Israel gave to the Levites out of their inheritance, at the commandment of the Lord, these cities and their pasture lands…” (Yehoshua 21:3). Over the generations, the leaders of Israel designated additional cities to the Kohanim and Levi’im as needed, for example, the cities of Nov and Anatot.

The Vision of the Firstborn: A Kohen in Every Family

Initially, all bechorim (first-borns) were meant to be Kohanim, so that each extended family would have a distinguished member – firstborns – whose task was to engage in Torah, teach, and serve in the Temple, and thus, the entire nation would be connected to the worship of God and spiritual matters. But after the firstborns participated in the Sin of the Golden Calf as well, they fell from their exalted level, and in their stead, the tribe of Levi who did not participate in the sin, were chosen and sanctified. One can learn from this that the idea of ​​the birthright of the firstborn is still too lofty for us, and therefore, instead of the firstborn Kohanim influencing the public at large, the secular life of general society would have an influence them, and annul their spiritual uniqueness. In order to create a group of Torah scholars and educators responsible for religious observance among the nation of Israel, they need to belong to a tribe that is entirely engaged in matters of holiness. This became apparent in the Sin of the Golden Calf when the firstborns participated in sin, whereas the Levi’im, members of Moshe Rabbeinu’s tribe, stood in the breach against the sinners.

The Model for ‘Garinim Torani’im’

It is possible to learn from the Levite cities scattered throughout the country, an example and precedence for the ‘garinim Torani’im’ (Torah-based groups of idealistic, religious individuals and families, who settle in underdeveloped communities to help build up and strengthen the community through social and religious programming) which, on the one hand, should be scattered throughout the country, while on the other hand, needs to preserve themselves as a group, in order to strengthen each other in their sacred work, which at times can be difficult and fraught with trials and tribulations.

Parenthetically, an important piece of advice for the heads of the ‘garinim Torani’im’: in addition to educating towards Torah and mitzvot, they should set a goal for themselves to attract first-rate mathematics and English teachers to the schools under their influence, because these subjects are beneficial for acquiring respectable professions, and thus, their contribution and influence will be well-rounded, and will find pleasure in the eyes of both God, and man.

The Privilege to Choose a Kohen and Levi

Every Jew had the privilege to choose which Kohen and Levi he would give his gifts to. This privilege created a personal connection between the Israelites and the Kohanim and the Levi’im, and compelled the Kohanim to devote themselves to their sacred work among their communities, so that the members of the community would want to give them their gifts. Thus, a Kohen or Levy who went out of his way to teach Torah to children and adults, and the members of his community benefited from his good advice and resourcefulness, was given preference in receiving their gifts. On the other hand, a Kohen or Levy who alienated himself from the community – belittling those who worked for a living, claiming everyone should study in kollel, or refused to recite a “mi she’berach” (a public prayer or blessing for an individual or group, most often recited in synagogue when the Torah is being read) for young men enlisting in the army, or were lazy and did not teach Torah – they received similar treatment at the time of distribution of the gifts.

Nevertheless, there was no fear that the Kohanim or Levi’im that the public loved and respected for their wisdom and dedication would become overly wealthy while their friends would starve, because the gifts were food, and after the Kohanim and Levi’im received all their needs in abundance, there was no point in giving them more gifts that their family could not eat. In such a situation, it was preferable for the owner of the fruit to seek out other, more available Kohanim and Levi’im to create a spiritual and educational bond with those to whom they choose to give gifts. Thus, a continuous relationship was established between all Israelites and all the Kohanim and Levi’im, with the devoted Kohanim and Levi’im given preference in receiving all their needs abundantly, while those who were less affable, failing to make an effort to teach the students well, received fewer gifts. And in difficult years when the crops were scarce and there wasn’t enough gifts to sustain all the Kohanim and Levi’im, those who did not serve the members of their communities properly, suffered from scarcity.

Did Israelites also Teach?

In addition to the fact that the tribe of Levi was chosen to be responsible for Torah study and teaching in Israel, any Israelite also wishing to do so was of course entitled to devote his life to Torah – to study, and to teach (Rambam Shemittah and Yovel 13:13). Israelites wishing to do so had to curtail work in their fields and live modestly in order to have time to study Torah. Most probably, those choosing to do so possessed outstanding talent, diligence and virtue, and consequently, merited attaining higher levels of Torah knowledge, above and beyond the average member of the tribe of Levi, and as a result, many of them served as members of the courts and the Sanhedrin. Occasionally, their families would assist them with their livelihood, similar to the agreement between Zevulun and Issachar, and sometimes the public paid them unemployment benefits so they could dedicate their time to teaching or sitting in judgement. Nonetheless, the important role of the tribe of Levi remained, for they were given the overall responsibility for Torah observance in Israel, educating the young and older children, setting times for classes with adults, establishing peace between man and his fellow neighbor, and between husband and wife, providing emotional relief to the needy, and rehabilitating murderers and criminals. Beyond this solid foundation, the Israelites who devoted themselves to the Torah added an important element of magnifying and enhancing the Torah, in case law, in education, and in the enrichment of social life in all fields in which the members of the tribe of Levi were involved.

‘Ma’aser Kesafim’ – The Continuation of Tithes

In the distant past, more than 90% of the GNP was from agriculture and cattle, and as a result, terumot and ma’asrot from vegetation, first born animals, the zeroah, le’chaim, and keyvah (foreleg, cheeks, and maw of all non-sanctified, ritually slaughtered domestic animals), and reshit HaGez (the first shearing of the sheep’s wool) sustained Israel’s Torah scholars and educators. In the course of time, Israel’s livelihood expanded to industry and commerce, and other fields as well, and then, just as the Torah stipulated that Israelites give gifts in the sum of between 10% (ma’aser) to 20% (chomesh) to the Kohanim and Levi’im, our Sages determined the setting aside of ‘ma’aser kesafim’ (giving one-tenth of one’s wealth to tzedakah) as a medium measure, and ‘chomesh’ from one’s wealth as a good measure.

The Purpose of ‘Ma’aser Kesafim’

The main purpose of ‘ma’aser kesafim’ is to support Torah scholars and educators. In other words, the halakha is that in normal circumstances most of one’s ma’aser should be directed to supporting Torah scholars who study in order to teach and guide the people in the ways of Torah and mitzvot, morality, and derech eretz (common decency). However, in times when many poor people are in need of bread and clothing, the majority of one’s ma’aser kesafim should be allocated for the needs of the poor, and in such a situation, it then serves as a substitute for the mitzvot of ‘leket, shikhhah, and pe’ah’ (gleanings, forgotten produce, and the corners of the field), ma’aser ani (the pauper’s tithe), and tzedaka (charity).

It can be said that ideally, ma’aser is given as a preventive medicine. By way of the teachings and guidance of the Torah, the value of work and proper economic planning becomes common practice – young adults learn a viable profession, people work diligently and resourcefully, and as a result, blessing increases, there are less poor people, and thus, funds from tzedaka above and beyond ma’aser kesafim would be adequate for them. But when preventive medicine is ineffective, and Torah scholars fail to educate the public to work diligently and develop the economy properly, the majority of ma’aser must be devoted to the less fortunate themselves – namely, the poor, sick, and the rest of the needy.

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: