All posts by Yonaton Behar

Most Important: Increase Peace

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

Peace among Torah Scholars

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

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

How Long does the Mourning Last?

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

Which Type of Haircut is Forbidden?

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

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

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

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

Brit Milah and Rosh Chodesh

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

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

Is Shaving Forbidden?

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

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

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

Joy and Trips

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

The Joy of a Mitzvah

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

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

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

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

Listening to Music on Electronic Devices

Many poskim hold that there is no difference between listening to live music and listening to music on the radio, or by way of any other electronic device; both are forbidden during Sefirah (until Lag B’Omer) (Iggrot Moshe, Y.D. 2:137, Yechaveh Da’at 6:34).
On the other hand, some authorities hold that the prohibition against listening to musical instruments during this period of mourning does not apply to listening to music on the radio or any other household, electronic device. The rationale being that listening to music this way is not as festive as is listening to it live. Furthermore, nowadays, everyone listens to music on electronic devices regularly, and since it has become so routine, the festiveness and joy associated with listening to music has disappeared. In addition, a distinction should be made between joyous songs and regular songs. Only regarding joyous songs is it logical to prohibit household devices, but one should not prohibit regular music – and certainly not sad tunes – during the mourning period of the Omer. One who wishes to act leniently may rely on this opinion and listen to regular and sad songs on a household, electronic device. He should not, however, listen to them loudly, because the force of the sound that fills the room generates a certain atmosphere of jubilation (Peninei Halakha, ibid, 3:10). According to all opinions, a driver may listen to music in order to keep himself awake.

Buying New Products

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

Between Lag BaOmer and Shavuot

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

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

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

Marriage and Joy after Lag BaOmer

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

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

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

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

A Week of Torah and Joy

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

The Moed is intended for Joyful Torah Learning

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

Prohibition of Washing Clothes during Chol Hamoed

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

Clothes that Tend to Get Dirty

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

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

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

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

A Person Who Has One Garment

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

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

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

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


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

Shaving and Haircut

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

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

A Haircut for a Child

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

Shaving on Chol HaMoed in Our Times

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

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

Trimming Nails, and Shining Shoes

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

Commerce, Stores, and Malls

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

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

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

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

Trips – Briefly, and Without Hassle

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

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

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

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

Koshering for Pesach Made Easy

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

“Ke-bole’o Kakh Polto”

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

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

When are Foods Prohibited?

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

A Utensil that Absorbed Chametz on Two Levels

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

Koshering a Baking Oven

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

It is difficult to kosher baking trays. Given that they absorb through fire, they require heavy libun, but since heavy libun will cause them serious damage, they may not be koshered. One must therefore buy special baking trays for Pesach, while the chametz trays must be cleaned and put away like all other chametz utensils. If one does not have Pesach trays, he may use disposable trays. However, he must also kosher the racks along with the oven and cover them with aluminum foil, and only then he may place the disposable trays on the racks.

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

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

Koshering the Gas Burners

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

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

Food that Falls On the Burners

It is also important to know that throughout the year one should be stringent and refrain from eating food that has fallen onto the enamel cook top under the grates, because meat and dairy foods spill there, and the enamel becomes not kosher. If one knows that the enamel has been cleaned thoroughly and that no meat and dairy foods have spilled on it in the past twenty-four hours, one may eat what falls there.

Electric Ranges and Ceramic Burners

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

Ceramic burners: These look like smooth and unbroken glass surfaces on which pots are placed directly. They are koshered by cleaning and then heating on the highest setting for half an hour, based on the principle of ke-bole’o kakh polto.

Marble Countertops and Sinks

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

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

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

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

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

Warming Trays (Shabbat “Plata”s)

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


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


The filter, where residual food often gets stuck, must be cleaned thoroughly. Then the dishwasher should be run at its hottest setting, so that any absorbed chametz is released, ke-bole’o kakh polto. Regarding the racks, le-khatchila they should undergo hagala or irui with boiling water or be replaced. If it is difficult to kosher them through hagala or to replace them, one may perform hagala by running them through the dishwasher’s longest and hottest setting.

In any event, one must wait twenty-four hours after the last load of chametz utensils before using the machine with Pesach utensils.

Some take a stringent approach to dishwashers and consider them to have the status of a kli rishon on a flame. This means that to kosher a dishwasher one must put a white-hot piece of metal in it in order to boil the water. However, those who follow the lenient approach have authorities on whom to rely.

Dining Room Table

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

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


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

 Kitchen Cabinets

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

Other Utensils

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

Plastic baby bottles: It is better to replace them because they absorb tastes at a level of irui from a kli rishon. When necessary, one may clean them and perform hagala.

Electric water heaters, urns, samovars, and hot water kettles must undergo hagala, because chametz crumbs may have fallen into them, causing their taste to be absorbed. Hagala in this case means filling the device to the top with water, boiling it, and then pouring it out through the opening generally used to dispense the water. Before hagala, it is good to clean out the stone deposits that accumulated inside. If one puts challah loaves on the lid of the urn to warm them before the Shabbat meal, hagala should be performed on the kettle and its lid. Thermos: After cleaning it properly, hagala should be performed on it. If this is difficult, pouring boiling water into it and around its opening is sufficient.

False Teeth, Retainers, and Braces

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

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

Cleaning the House

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

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

Family is Joy

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


From the Laws of Pesach: Chametz Absorbed into Utensils

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

The Sale of Chametz Online

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

Medications on Pesach

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

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

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

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

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

Medicines on Shabbat

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

Soft Matzot for Ashkenazim

Q: Can Ashkenazim eat soft matzot?

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

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

Pesach, Family, and the New Book

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

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

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

The Attacks on Family Values

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

Changing from Existential Need, to an Exalted Value

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

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

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

Seder Night and Family Values

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

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

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

When an Old Book Meets a Changing World

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

A New Edition – and Indecision

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

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

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

Facing the Changing Reality

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

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

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

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

Sample of Additions

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

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

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

The Fulfillment of the Promise to Rabbi Goren

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

An Example of Elaboration: Jewish Labor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Memory of Rabbi Itamar HY”D

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

Owners of the Previous Edition

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

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 True Face of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook

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

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

The Deliberate Vilification of His Image

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

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

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

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

His Position against Religious Coercion

From newspaper interviews he gave:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Principled Position that was Strongly Expressed

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

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

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

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

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

When Rav Tzvi Yehuda Expressed Appreciation to the “Canaanites”

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

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

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

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

A Meeting with Priests in the Yeshiva

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

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

And Nonetheless – Firm in his Position

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

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

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

Remembering Amalek

The Three Mitzvot Concerning the Obliteration of Amalek

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

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

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

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


The Mitzvah to Wipe Out Amalek

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

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

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

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


Parashat Zachor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Women Obligated to Hear Parashat Zachor?

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

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

Can an Amalekite Save Himself or Convert to Judaism?

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

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

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

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

The Fast of Esther

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

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

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

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

In Commemoration of the Half-Shekel

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

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

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

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

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


This article is taken from one of Rabbi Melamed’s books on Jewish law and thought, “Peninei Halakha: Z’manim”, which can be found online for free, along with all his books in the “Peninei Halakha” series in Hebrew, and a number of books already translated into French, Russian, Spanish, and English, at: In addition, there is a Q&A site at: We hope, please God, to complete the translations as soon as possible. Anyone who would like to take part in this monumental project can contribute at:

Rabbi Itamar HY”D Continues to Educate

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

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

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

Words of Encouragement from Torah Scholars

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

Concerning the President and Mrs. Netanyahu

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

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

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

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

The Dutch Consoler and the Finger in the Dam

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

Already Head of a Yeshiva

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

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

What Captured the Heart of a Potential Student

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

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

The Question of an Arab Worried about Converting

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

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

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

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

The Eulogy for Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal HY”D

It is hard to believe, but recently Rabbi Itamar and his wife Miriam spoke about the possibility that one of them would be killed for the sanctification of God’s name, and agreed that they were prepared to courageously rise to this challenge. They did not speak this way because they were extremists who did not value life, but as Jews who loved life so much that they were willing to sacrifice everything to realize God’s vision for the Jewish people, to bring faith, blessing, and life to the world. All over the world, people die for all sorts of reasons. Happy is the one who merits dying for the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel

Suddenly, in the middle of the day, we were assaulted by the news; gray clouds of tears thickened the sky, and a dreadful voice spread throughout the world, and announced: Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal from Har Bracha was murdered. Suddenly, his wife Miriam is a widow; Avital, Daniel, Roni, and Avraham are orphans.

Our rabbis teach us that every Jew who is killed because he is Jewish is referred to as kadosh (holy), and is guaranteed a place in the World to Come. When someone dies because he is Jewish, he strips himself of his status as an individual, and wraps himself in the sanctity of Israel. If this is said about every Jew, how much truer is it when it comes to a Jew who chose to value the soil of our holy Land, living on the frontline of Jewish settlement. All the more so, when he is a talmid
chacham (a Torah scholar), who studied and taught, who upheld and fulfilled the Torah. All his mitzvot and good deeds become transcendent and consecrated, absorbed into the sanctity of Klal Yisrael, while he ascends to on high as a korban
tamim (an unblemished sacrifice) on the altar of the nation.

Dear and beloved Rabbi Itamar, we always knew that you were devoted to Torah, to the Jewish people, and to the Land of Israel. It has now become clear to us that you too, with all your good ways and deeds, have ascended to the holy and pure level of those who sacrifice their lives to sanctify God’s name.

For two thousand years, Jews were killed for the sanctification of God’s name while praying for the day when the Jewish people would return to its Land. There they would observe the Torah, perfect the world under the sovereignty of God, and bring blessing to all the nations of the world. To achieve this, they were willing to bear all the terrible torments. For they knew that the Torah, the Land of Israel and the World to Come are acquired through trials and tribulations, and that by means of their acquisition, this world is perfected and transformed into The World to Come.

The nations of the world tried to break us; they did not believe we would return to the Land, that the desolate Land would once again produce fruit, and that the biblical prophecy would be fulfilled: “God will then bring back your remnants and have mercy on you. God your Lord will once again gather you from among all the nations where He scattered you … bring you to the land that your ancestors occupied, and you too will occupy it. God will be good to you and make you flourish even more than your ancestors”(Devarim 30: 3-5). All the holy Jews in exile who died sanctifying God’s Name believed in this, but you, Rabbi Itamar, merited living it. Through you, the words of the prophet Ezekiel are being realized: “Therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God: Thus, says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, the watercourses and the valleys, the desolate wastes and the deserted towns, which have become a source of plunder and an object of derision to the rest of the nations all around… But you, mountains of Israel, will extend your branches and bear your fruit for my people Israel, because they will come home very soon. Look, I’m here for you, and I will turn toward you, and you will be farmed and sown.  I will populate you with human beings, the whole house of Israel, all of them. The cities will be inhabited, the ruins rebuilt. When I make people and animals increase on you, they will multiply and be fruitful. I will cause you to be inhabited as you were before. I will do more good for you than in the beginning, and you will know that I am the Lord”(Ezekiel 36).

You had not even reached the age of thirty, but you already dreamed big, and had begun to realize those dreams. In the few years you served as a rabbi and spiritual guide, you succeeded in getting young men excited about the Torah’s vision, which joins heaven and earth, and illuminates both the sphere of the intellect and the world of the workplace.

With love, determination, and authority, you demanded that your young students study, and they did. In the summer camps you ran, you insisted that Torah study be incorporated along with the hikes and fun and games. The campers were astonished to see just how challenging and enjoyable Torah study with you could be. It went so well, that they and their parents requested that you follow the same program the next year. And you agreed, because you were always willing to volunteer for sacred matters – and did it all responsibly and with appropriate seriousness.

You loved your new students in the yeshiva high school in Givat Shmuel. You praised the students and their parents for their attitudes towards their studies both religious and secular, which they approached seriously and worked on diligently.

We expected you to continue to grow in Torah – to study and teach. We were sure that as a natural leader, the day would come when you would be the Rosh Yeshiva at a yeshiva high school; now, all these dreams are lost. There is no one to fill your place; no one able to grasp the vision as you did, and be as diligent in its realization.

It is rare to see someone who appreciates and respects his parents as much as you did. At the brit
milah (circumcision) of your son Avraham, your father, Rabbi Daniel, spoke with great kindness about his father-in-law, Rabbi Avraham. You whispered in my ear: “If only I could be like my father — deeply understanding people, and being righteous and good to all.” You also told me a number of times about the constant kindness your mother showed to the entire family.

Once, on our way to a wedding with Itamar’s father-in-law Rabbi Shlomi, we were discussing whether a son-in-law should call his father-in-law, “father.” Itamar said it depends on their relationship – if the relationship is good and close, then certainly a son-in-law should refer to his father-in-law as ‘father.’
His father-in-law, Rabbi Shlomi, beamed with pleasure.

Itamar came to his wedding with a beautiful and unusual tie. I complimented him on his appearance, and on the tie which his father, with his good taste, had chosen for him. About two weeks later, he left a surprise gift at my house – an identical tie. With God’s help, I will wear it at the weddings of your children, Avital, Daniel, Roni, and Avraham.

“And I said to you through your blood you shall live, and I said to you through your blood you shall live.” You were killed on your way to a brit
milah. The fate of the Jewish people is to carry the banner of justice and morality in this world. Consequently, in every generation, the greatest of the wicked fight against us, and especially against the righteous among us. These wicked people are the ones who currently are responsible for spreading terror throughout the world and polluting its waters, while we bring good to the world. Similar to our holy ancestors who dug wells, we also lead in the desalination of seawater, and the recycling of waste water.

If our enemies were asked what they would prefer – that we kill 1,000 of them, or build a new neighborhood, they would prefer to sacrifice thousands of people – so long as we don’t continue settling the Land. Therefore, the best revenge is to keep building, to build another neighborhood and another neighborhood, and to turn Har Bracha into a city.

We have not returned to the Land in order to deprive decent Arabs of their property. However, since they have risen to destroy us, logic dictates that whoever wants to kill be killed, and whoever wants to expel, be expelled. How fortunate we are that we have a state and an army. With God’s help, everything that needs to be done, will be done.

Sometimes we are asked, “Why do you continue to hitchhike?” The simple answer is – we have no choice; there is no other way to live here. This is the risk that we, on the frontlines of the settlements, assume in order to fulfill the commandment to settle the Land of Israel which our Sages tell us is equivalent to all of the commandments. And when one of us attains holiness by sacrificing his life to sanctify God’s name, in his merit, we – all the settlers who travel all the roads, become holy.

Dear brothers and sisters, beloved settlers, who can tell you how great your small deeds are? How great you are as you continue your daily lives, as you continue travelling on the roads, and stand guard over our nation and our country. With your very bodies, you are realizing the vision of the prophets.

It is hard to believe, but recently Rabbi Itamar and his wife Miriam spoke about the possibility that one of them would be killed for the sanctification of God’s name, and agreed that they were prepared to courageously rise to the challenge. They did not speak this way because they were extremists who did not value life, but as Jews who loved life so much that they were willing to sacrifice everything to realize God’s vision for the Jewish people, to bring faith, blessing, and life to the world. All over the world, people die for all sorts of reasons. Happy is the one who merits dying for the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel

Not long ago, when Rabbi Itamar saw a mother crying and grieving too much for her son who had been killed, it occurred to him that perhaps one day he might also be killed, and that his mother would do the same. He told his wife Miriam that should this happen, she should tell his mother not to cry too much, but rather to be strong for the honor of the Torah, the nation, and the Land. He did not get a chance though to speak with his mother directly about this.

May it be Your will, He who hears the voice of crying – to collect our tears together with all the tears of the holy Jews who were murdered, slaughtered, and killed for the sanctification of your Holy Name; let the tears water the Land leading it to bring forth grains, wine, and oil, and console the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Transform the tears into life-giving dew. Let them remind us of the forgotten, lead to the flowering of ideas, and add blessing and life to all the nations of the world.

Master of the Universe, grant strength to the widowed Miriam to enable her to raise the orphans to Torah and mitzvot; grant health and strength to the grandparents to enable them to offer their grandchildren support, to nurture them, and to guide them to their wedding canopies.

Master of the Universe, grant honor to Your nation, glory to those who revere You, hope to those who seek You; grant joy to Your Land of Israel, and gladness to Your holy city, Jerusalem; 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. Gather our exiles from the four corners of the earth, and in the merit of this young rabbi, Itamar Ben Gal, murdered sanctifying Your Name, help us settle all the Land You promised to our forefathers and to us, and let us fulfill the words of the prophet: “I will rebuild your nation, O virgin of Israel. You will again be happy and dance merrily with the timbrels.  Again, you will plant your vineyards upon the mountains of Samaria and eat from your own gardens there… For the Lord says: ‘Sing with joy for all that I will do for Israel, the greatest of the nations! Shout out with praise and joy: The Lord has saved his nation, the remnant of Israel… For I will bring them from the north and from earth’s farthest ends, not forgetting their blind and lame, young mothers with their little ones, those ready to give birth. It will be a great company who comes. Tears of joy shall stream down their faces, and I will lead them home with great care. They shall walk beside the quiet streams and not stumble… They shall come home and sing songs of joy upon the hills of Zion and shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord… and all their sorrows shall be gone… and all their sorrows shall be gone'” (Jeremiah 31).


I returned from the cemetery, and on the sidewalk near my home were a throng of children walking home from the new school in the community. Soon they would eat lunch, and begin their many afternoon activities – studying Torah, and participating in extracurricular activities of almost every possible type. I said to myself: Who gave birth to all these children? We are bereaved and abandoned. We’ve been left alone. How can it be that suddenly, in each of the younger classes in Har Bracha there are nearly a hundred children who continue to do their own thing, laughing as if nothing had happened? All they know is that more Torah needs to be studied and more building needs to be done, because Rabbi Itamar was killed. “And I said to you through your blood you shall live, and I said to you through your blood you shall live.”

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:

Recruitment of Women: The Problem in the IDF Leadership

Although the IDF improved its attitude toward religious women soldiers, the recruitment of women remains problematic because of a dangerous processes in the army * The mixing of male and female soldiers creates situations of absolute Torah prohibitions * The cultural deterioration among the youth also weakens the level of modesty * Even if in certain communities rabbis are correct in directing girls in their community to enlist, such guidance is not proper for the general public * The problem of recruiting women may become even more severe as the trend of blurring of identities continues in the IDF * The double failure of the General Staff: distancing sectors of the public from the IDF, and praising women, while at the same time undermining the motivation of men

Military Service for Women

Q: 1) Are women permitted to serve in the IDF, and 2) are the claims against the Chief of Staff and the General Staff justified?

A: According to the opinion of the majority rabbis, the Torah instructs that women should not serve in the IDF. However, this prohibition is not absolute like the prohibition of eating meat and milk together, because, in principle, it is a mitzvah for every Jew, whether man or woman, to protect the nation and the country, and therefore, in times of national ‘pikuach nefesh’ (life-threatening danger) such as the 1948 War of Independence, women also have a mitzvah to serve in the army (Peninei Halakha: Ha’Am ve’ Ha’Aretz 4:11). But in practice, the instruction of the vast majority of rabbis is that women should not serve in the army. There are two reasons for this: One is the guarding of ‘tzniyut‘ (modesty), for specifically in the army the Torah commanded us to be stricter in the observance of the sanctity of the camp (Deuteronomy 23:10-15). The second reason is the fear of a decline in the religious-spiritual level of a young woman, situated in a secular framework under secular command. In combat units, the damage to the sanctity of the camp is so severe that apart from a situation of national ‘pikuach nefesh’, virtually, it can be said that serving in such units involves absolute Torah prohibitions. Regarding other units, the severity of the problems depends on several factors, and the closer women serve to a home and among decent individuals, the lesser the problems are, but nevertheless, the general instruction is that the women should not serve in the army.

In recent years there have been a few changes that have led to new circumstance that call for consideration.

Processes since the Establishment of the State

In the early decades after the establishment of the state, most observant women served in the army. And although the majority of rabbis and educators opposed this, the prevailing view among many of the religious public was that the need of maintaining the country’s security and integrating into the general public were supreme values for which endangering one’s religious level was worth the risk. In practice, during those years more than half of the graduates of the religious educational system abandoned the traditions of Torah and mitzvot.

Following the bitter results of this unchecked joining of the army, and thanks to the strengthening of Torah education through the establishment of yeshivas, ulpanot and Hesder yeshivot, and the growth of a new generation of rabbis and educators, both men and women, the values ​​of Torah and mitzvot became more central, and the percentage of those leaving the fold greatly diminished (approximately 20%). At the same time, the number of observant women serving in the army lessened, and the number of those serving in ‘Sherut Leumi’ (National Service) increased. In the year 2000, approximately 1,700 religious girls enlisted in the army out of a total of 7,000 girls, and in 2008 their numbers dropped to less than 1,300, which is less than 20% of the graduates of the religious educational system.

Changes in the Past Decade

In the past decade there have been significant changes: on the one hand, with the demographic growth, the number of young women wishing to serve in ‘Sherut Leumi’ increased, while the number of challenging opportunities of service failed to increase accordingly. For every prestigious position dozens of high-quality young women competed, and thus, many of them received rejections and became frustrated. In order to provide a response to all those who wished to serve, other tracks were opened in which it is difficult for young women to maintain a proper religious framework. Thus, even in the framework of ‘Sherut Leumi’, girls are forced to cope with difficult ordeals.

At the same time the army, which had come to recognize the value of female graduates of the religious educational system, began to make significant efforts in order to recruit observant women. To this end, the army opened challenging paths for them, agreed to provide them a framework of religious support, and with the army’s encouragement, midrashot preparing girls for military service and providing them with guidance and support were established. Consequently, the religious situation of women serving in the army improved. If in the past it was difficult to distinguish an observant woman soldier because, except for a few, they all dressed in pants as secular soldiers, today, there are many more observant women who are careful to dress modestly, and pray and recite blessings, and in this manner sanctify God’s name through their behavior.

Along with the improvement in the situation of observant women in the army, the number of recruits rose again to approximately 1,700 annually, and perhaps a bit more. Despite the army’s ugly propaganda campaign against rabbis and religious educational systems, it seems that the percentage of observant girls serving in the army has not changed significantly from the situation 20 years ago (in contrast to the false data of the IDF Spokesperson).

The Decline in the Level of Modesty

Along with the good treatment accorded to observant women soldiers, as well as the opening of special tracks for Haredi men soldiers, another process is taking place in the army – an increased integration of female soldiers into several units. Since the behavior of many of the secular youth has become more permissive over the years, this is also how they behave in the army in the mixed-gender units, which have become extremely unsuitable for an observant male soldier, and all the more so, for a observant female soldier. In the traditional combat units the situation has hardly changed, but in the semi-combat units and in combat supporter units, it is very difficult for an observant soldier to serve.

True, there are mixed-gender home-front units where the behavior is relatively decent because the male and female soldiers come from families that invested more in their education, and also their service is closer to home, and even this, provided the commanders enforce the military orders relating to modesty.

Those who enlist and the Instruction for the General Populace

There are rabbis, along with educators both male and female, who, out of close acquaintance with the girls in their circles (more liberal communities), claim that military service does not affect the religious level of the girls, according to their norms. A girl who is part of such a community and wants to join the units in which modesty is relatively maintained may rely on their opinion, since Torah guidance is also contingent upon one’s community and the individual himself. The fact is in recent years, rabbis of the liberal religious communities have succeeded in strengthening the religious identity of the young women and members of their communities.

However, the general instruction disapproving enlistment is not based on this group, which, despite its importance, does not characterize the entire religious public, and out of a broad assessment, the general ruling of the vast majority of rabbis is that girls should not serve in the army, including home-front units. Therefore, the policy of the ‘Hemed’ educational institutions (Hinuch Mamlachti Dati – Religious Public Education), which opposes military service for girls is correct, and their policy of not allowing army representatives to present the various paths of service to the girls is also correct. It should not be forgotten that thanks to this position the attitude towards observant girls who do enlist is much better, so the army can prove that military service does not harm them. However, if this phenomenon becomes widespread, there is reasonable concern that their conditions of service will change for the worse, as happened among the men.

Secular Leftist Positions have permeated the IDF

In addition, the secular left’s position which blurs gender and national identity, and sees all people as equal in everything without any substantive characterization, has permeated the IDF.

Despite the significant difference between your average man and woman in physical character and abilities, because there are exceptions, the left views gender separation as an injustice (contrary to the rules of sociology). In their view, each army unit must accept soldiers according to their suitability for the position without regard to their gender. On behalf of this position, IDF commanders and spokesmen are always careful to highlight the female soldiers who succeeded in positions that until recently were considered for men only, and often do so without mentioning that the requirements were lowered so that women would also be suitable for service in those same units.

The same holds true in regards to ‘tzniyut’ – since there are many soldiers for whom permissiveness is not a problem and some soldiers who by nature are easily disciplined and overcome their inclinations, the army rejects the demands of halakhic modesty. The leftists reinforce the army’s position by saying that the fact is that even among the religious public from time to time offenses occur, while on the other hand, even among the secular public there are those who behave in a moral and modest manner – by that very fact, there is no need to take into consideration the halakhic position directed at all people, since it does not apply to people on the fringe.

Although there is a point of truth in taking into consideration marginal individuals, the position that takes into account gender, national, and cultural identity, in most cases, is more just and on the mark. I hope to explain this on another occasion.

However, in such a situation, the fundamental position that disapproves of military service for women is reinforced, for even if currently there is a certain improvement in the situation of female observant soldiers, there is reasonable fear that secular attitudes will prevail, and many girls will go downhill religiously in the army.

The Failure of the General Staff

Apparently, the members of the General Staff are unaware of the depth of the dispute over gender and national identity and its implications, and therefore, despite their basic loyalty to their people and homeland, lacking an alternative, moral foundation, they adopt the left-wing positions prevalent in academia and the secular media, without noticing the inner contradiction in their position.

I will now address the second question about the harsh allegations against the Chief of Staff. I do not know how he has prepared the army for its security duties, but in the national-social sphere he has failed in the IDF’s two main challenges.

The first challenge is to encourage dedicated, military service to protect the people and the country. In the trial of Elor Azaria, as in other statements made by members of the General Staff, they turned their backs on the combat soldiers, and damaged motivation to volunteer for meaningful service.

Also, the granting of equal status to female combat soldiers on par with that of male combat soldiers, without them meeting the true threshold required of any combat soldier, harms the status and dignity of combat soldiers, and thus undermines the motivation of young men to “give their souls” for the sake of intense training.

The second challenge is involving all sectors of the nation in military service, with the main challenge directed toward graduates of the Haredi educational system, who in ten years from now will be more than a quarter of the candidates for enlistment. A process of mutual debate and influence exists between Haredi and religious societies, and in particular, the Chardal (National Haredi) society. When military service becomes more problematic from a religious standpoint, and army commanders harass and insult rabbis who encourage young men to serve in the army, many of them accept and maintain the Haredi position that one should not enlist.

These are the main challenges facing the IDF, in which the Chief of Staff has failed. If his resigning would bring about change, it would be proper to demand it. The problem is the candidates to replace him are also afflicted with the same blindness.

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: