All posts by Yonaton Behar

The Solution Lies in Samaria

The familiar reasons causing the steep rise in housing prices * The root causes of the rise in housing prices: Overpopulation and natural growth * The solution to the crisis: Widespread construction in Western Judea and Samaria close to the center of the country * The responsibility of political leaders and the settlers in delaying the pace of building in the communities * The need to repent for neglecting the mitzvah of settling the Land and contributing to the economy and society

The Housing Crisis

It is well-known that housing prices have risen considerably in recent years, mainly in the center of Israel. There are many known causes: First, severe bureaucracy that creates excessive red-tape in the process of preparing, approving, and planning land for construction – more so than usual in most developed countries. Those familiar say that ten different governmental ministries are involved in the obstacle course of planning, approval and execution of construction, not including the local authorities. Added to this was the strategic decision of the Olmert government in the summer of 2008, not to initiate construction planning in the center of the country in order to strengthen the periphery. This decision makes sense, provided that together with the freeze on construction in the center of the country comes an additional program strengthening the periphery with accelerated planning and construction, the establishment of industrial centers, the building of highways, and optimization of public transportation bringing the periphery closer to the center of the country. In actuality, construction planning in the center of the country was indeed frozen, but the periphery was not strengthened sufficiently, resulting in the construction of far fewer apartments than the market required.

Market rules are well-known: When demand outweighs supply, prices rise. Two years passed until the Netanyahu government revoked the freeze on construction plans in the center of the country, but the significant delay in the preparation of construction plans – along with the difficult bureaucracy and political disputes – created a significant shortage in housing supply, and prices continued to rise.

The Root Problem: More Overcrowding than Other Countries

This is all clear to the various analysts; however, they tend to ignore the root problem. Housing prices would have risen significantly in any event, and no proposal can fundamentally solve the continued rise in housing prices. The reason for this is that the State of Israel is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Not only that, the crowdedness in the country is increasing above and beyond the norm, because thanks to the Torah and Jewish tradition, which places the value of family on a ​​high level, the country’s population is growing at the fastest rate of all Western countries. Additionally, by the grace of God, Jews continue immigrating to Israel, and thus the density in the center of the country increases, prices get higher, and will continue to rise.

Even vigorous government intervention, which would also cause damage to the economy by harming the free market forces, can lower prices only for a short period. Normal forces will continue to push prices up.

The Solution: Widespread Construction in Western Samaria and Judea

There is a simple solution for the situation: To build in Judea and Samaria, especially in western Samaria. These areas are close to the center of the country, and land prices are still very cheap. Land reserves in western Judea and Samaria can broaden the central area, and multiply its’ capacity of absorption by three or four times. By means of widespread (urban) construction, young couples can be offered apartments close to the center of the country at a reasonable price. The construction that took place in the Modi’in bloc, which was very effective in moderating price increases in the past, can be achieved many times over in the areas of western Judea and Samaria. This is the natural area of expansion for population centers and industries – from the west, to the east. Such expansion will also create a logical distribution of the population in the center of the country, so that rather than crowding into a long, narrow strip, which distances residents living in the peripheries from the center of the country, settlement will expand simultaneously in all directions, shortening the distance between the periphery and the center. Such expansion will also reduce the security risk currently threatening millions of Jews all at the same time.

On top of such a huge population center, continuing from Gav Ha’Har (the mountain range) in Judea and Samaria to the Lower Plain area, the periphery could be significantly strengthened – from the south, north and east.

The Fear of Presenting Such a Solution

The problem is that too many people are afraid of this simple solution. The delusions of “peace” have not yet dissipated, and there still remain foolishly pious followers who are certain that with only one more withdrawal wonderful peace will prevail in the Middle East. The President of the United States and the leaders of the Israeli left still believe this. Even those who have sobered-up from the delusions of peace hesitate to present the public the simple and necessary solution – large-scale construction in Judea and Samaria.

For the same reason of fear of confronting Arab hostility, the Negev and the Galilee are also not being developed properly, and vast State-owned lands are being abandoned to illegal construction and criminal elements.

The Fault of the Settlers

We, the settlers, are also partly to blame. In almost every community settlement obstacles are raised against widespread construction due to overly stringent reception committees – or because they want to preserve the community character and the comfort of having a private house on a half acre of land, or because they want to maintain housing prices.

If in all the communities located near employment centers in Jerusalem and the center of the country which already have approved master plans would have started extensive and urban construction five years ago, at least another twenty thousand homes could have been built. Thus, we could have absorbed another hundred thousand residents in Judea and Samaria, while continuing to work on planning the expansion of communities into urban centers alongside luxury neighborhoods of old-timers living in private homes.

The National Mission

The main responsibility lies with the leadership of the country – first and foremost, all the Prime Ministers and Defense Ministers who are the main obstacles of construction plans in Judea and Samaria. After them, responsibility continues to the rest of the Ministers who could have advanced construction plans in Judea and Samaria and removed the barriers. But the responsibility also lies with us – all voters in general, and in particular, the settlers – who already grasped this fundamental solution.

This negligence, which occasionally borders on criminality, severely harms the fulfillment of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel). Had we been more diligent in fulfilling the mitzvah, we could have achieved removing the risk of further withdrawals from the State of Israel, and strengthened Israel’s Jewish identity by intensifying the connection to the holy places in which our forefathers, prophets, and kings lived.

Furthermore, we would have helped Israel’s economy by lowering the cost of housing and reaching out to young couples struggling so hard to buy an apartment. The housing crisis spreads to other areas – preventing couples from getting married, and raising the cost of living in general. Large-scale construction of housing in Judea and Samaria at decent prices would have freed-up money to the open market which would have been invested in education and economic development, and enabled people to accumulate significant savings for their old-age.

Construction techniques would also be perfected and improved, because the lowering of prices would create more competition, and force contractors to work harder in streamlining and accelerating the construction process, while improving quality.

I pray to God we will not be punished with severe sufferings in consequence of neglecting the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz. Perhaps if we hasten to wake up and repent, we will merit seeyata d’shmaya (help from Heaven), and accomplish in the coming years our shortcomings.

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

The Malady of Our Generation

The need to confront the accusations of LGBT community against the Torah and the religious community without fear * Should this issue be addressed publicly? * The prohibition of sodomy and its severity, and the obligation to refrain from it even when there is a strong tendency towards it * Jewish sources prove that over the generations the phenomenon of homosexuality was not widespread among the Jews * Why has the phenomenon become common in our generation? * The need to be careful not to insult those suffering from homosexual tendencies * Those sinning in homosexuality should not be treated more severely than desecraters of the Sabbath * Those who do not flaunt their orientation and are not defiant, should be called to the Torah, and should not be distanced from the religious community

The Need to Address the Issue of Homosexuality

Recently, we have witnessed serious accusations, public and blatant, from members of the LGBT community against the religious community and the Torah. Their position is adamant and defiant: they are not willing to accept the validity of a position opposing copulation with a member of the same sex. Their position is based on the liberal way of thinking currently dominating the global media. Outside of the religious sector, few dare to oppose them. Even senior politicians have filed ranks with their position, and refrained from attending the “Jerusalem Conference” organized by the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, who dared to schedule a discussion group on the possibility of helping people free themselves of this forbidden desire, so they can fulfill the mitzvah of marriage according to the Law of Moses and Israel.

It seems that many people are afraid to express the position of the Torah on this issue, and therefore, the wall of fear must be broken. Just as we knew how to face the pagans of old who denied the Torah, and thus advance the world morally, today as well, we must also oppose a type of liberal paganism which denies Torah from Heaven, and prevents the possibility of tikun (correction) that can benefit the many. In addition to this, in the media’s onslaught, libelous accusations against our holy Torah and its followers have been spread, and because we are silent, the slander is believed.

The Custom of Modesty versus the Need for Public Clarity

In past generations the custom was to deal with the issue of homosexuality in a very quiet way. Apparently, the Christian environment also had an influence on this. However, it seems that when the need arises, a thorough clarification of the Torah’s position should not be excluded. Some may argue that these issues should not be discussed in a newspaper, for perhaps adolescents may read them. But as I have heard from teachers, the youth want to know what the Torah has to say in these areas, and the only concerned parties about this are the adults. As for children, they do not read this column in any case, and even if they do – they will not be harmed, just as they are not harmed by studying Torah verses dealing with the issue. Nevertheless, I am still hesitant whether the need to clarify this issue in public outweighs the custom of dealing with it modestly, and this largely depends on the public’s feelings, so I would be delighted to receive responses from the public, especially educators.

I will therefore attempt to clarify some of the main issues in this matter.

The Prohibition of Homosexual Intercourse

The Torah determined that it is forbidden for a man to have sexual relations with another man, as it is written: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). This prohibition is so severe that the Torah set the punishment of death by stoning for one who transgresses it, as it is written: “If a man goes to bed with a man as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they must be put to death; their blood is on them” (Leviticus 20:13).

However, the punishment of stoning is only when they did it b’mayzid (deliberate violation of Jewish law), and before two witnesses who warned them not to do it, and that if they do, they will be punished by stoning, and nevertheless, they transgressed and sinned before them visibly. In practice, one would have to be completely insane to do so, because no one would dare commit a sin deserving of death before witnesses who warn him that if he continues to sin he will be punished by death. And if he dared, perhaps he really is insane and not responsible for his actions, and exempt from punishment.

Therefore, even though there are dozens of sins for which the penalty of death was determined by the Torah, in actuality, capital punishment by Beit Din (religious court) was very rare, to the point where our Sages said a Sanhedrin that effects a capital punishment once in seven years is branded a destructive tribunal, in other words, it tends to be stringent and decree the death penalty on people more often than it should. Others say that a Sanhedrin which effects capital punishment for one person in seventy years is called a destructive tribunal (Mishna, Makkot 1:10). And even in those rare cases where capital punishment was performed, apparently, they were not due to sins of fornication. Accordingly, the punishment set by the Torah is meant to teach the gravity of the sin, and is mainly intended to discourage people from transgressing it deliberately and brazenly in front of witnesses.

Factors Causing the Revelation of this Inclination

Amongst the secular public, many believe that homosexuals were born with this feature, and it cannot be changed. In their opinion, therefore, one whose tendency leans to homosexuality should follow his heart, and most definitely not be criticized for it. However, according to the Torah, even when a person has a strong tendency towards homosexuality, the prohibition remains in full effect, and he is obligated to overcome his yetzer (inclination), just as a man who desires to commit adultery with a married woman must overcome his yetzer.

True, in issues of dinei shamayim (heavenly courts) the difficulty a person faces in overcoming his yetzer is taken into consideration, and the stronger one’s yetzer is, the lighter his sentence will be.

Genetic Predisposition and the Social and Moral Environment

Even if we accept this phenomenon as an innate tendency, it is clear that the social and moral environment has no less of an influence. The fact is that this phenomenon was very common in past cultures, to the point where the majority of men had transgressed this sin. Amongst the Jewish nation, where environmental conditions encouraged normal sexual relations between husband and wife and condemned a relationship between men, this tendency was rarely manifested. As a result, our Sages did not prohibit two single men from sleeping together under one blanket, because Jews were not suspected of homosexual intercourse (Kiddushin 82a). And there is no possibility that this phenomenon existed in their times without our Sages knowing about it, because there are always chozrim b’teshuva (people who return to the fold) who repent and consult with rabbis. In addition, since it is a sin that occurs between two people, there are cases where one party has been hurt, and complains against the offender. Therefore, we must conclude that during the times of Chazal (our Sages), the phenomenon of homosexuality was not common.

True, in more recent times the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law) tended to be stringent, determining that two men should not be secluded together, given that the number of transgressors had increased (E.H. 24:1). In fact, his words were relevant to what was common in Islamic countries. But the eminent rabbis ofAshkenaz wrote that in their countries, Jews were not suspected of homosexuality, and there was no need to be stringent in the prohibition of yichud (seclusion) of two men (Bach). Not only that, but some authorities say that it is forbidden to be stringent in this matter, because it would then appear to be y’hora (arrogance) (Yam Shel Shlomo).

Since it is difficult to assume that the essential nature of people has changed since then, we must conclude that even a person who was born with a tendency towards homosexuality, in a social framework like that which was prevalent in Israel for many generations, these tendencies were not manifest.

Today’s Situation

We do not know what has changed in the last generation, to the point where some people are convinced that by their very nature, their passions are directed solely to their own species and have no other choice in the matter. Is it liberty, which has become a major factor in our lives, together with all its virtues, which also gave freedom to all the tendencies that were hidden in the depths of the soul to emerge, and once revealed, are harder to overcome? Or perhaps the feminist movement, which created tension and war between the sexes, caused an identity crisis among some men and a fear of connecting with women? There are dozens of other hypotheses and explanations for the increase of this phenomenon.

It is reasonable to believe that this difficult period of time will pass, and we will find the way to deepen the sacred bond of marriage, love and joy as the Torah commands, and as a result, the desire for this sin will be greatly diminished.

The Positive Attitude towards Sufferers

At any rate, this phenomenon in our generation has become more common, and it requires us to deal with it. First of all, it is important to be careful not to offend and hurt those who suffer from such tendencies. Sometimes, the grief, frustration, and shame that accompany such tendencies are so difficult, that some young people choose to commit suicide due to the great pain involved. Therefore, men and women who feel this tendency should be instructed to speak about it with their parents and a rabbi or counselor – both to relieve some of the suffering that accompanies them, and also to find the best way to deal with their tendencies. This truly is a matter of pikuach nefesh (saving of life).

The Attitude towards Sinners of Homosexual Intercourse

The Torah defined the sin of homosexual intercourse as ‘to’evah‘ (an abomination), and also defines the sin of eating forbidden foods in the same manner (Deuteronomy 13:3), and our Sages taught: ‘Toe’eh ata bah‘ [you error in respect of her, i.e., by forsaking the permitted and indulging in the forbidden] (Nedarim 51a). In other words, the purpose of this desire is for man to connect with his wife in holiness and joy, and by means of this connection, children are born and the world continues to exist. However, those who sin in homosexuality divert their desire towards their own sex, harming the sanctity of marriage and the existence of the world (and the same holds true for eating – its purpose is to add life and holiness, and one who eats prohibited foods is ‘toe’eh bah’).

In any case, our attitude towards those who transgress this sin should not be more stringent than people who transgress other serious sins, such as Sabbath violators. Just as Sabbath violators are called-up to the Torah, provided they do not do it out of spite, so too, sinners who transgress this sin should be called-up to the Torah as long as they do not do it out of spite. Kal v’chomer (all the more so), they should be called-up to the Torah when there is a possibility they are careful not to transgress the grave sin of homosexual intercourse.

Moreover, many of those who stumble in this transgression do not sin in defiance as do Sabbath violators, but out of regret that their yetzer compels them. And who knows:  were we to face such trials, would we overcome them? Only Hashem, the God of Heaven and Earth, the Creator of souls, who knows thoughts and examines hearts, who recognizes the yetzer of each individual, can judge truly and compassionately according to the magnitude of one’s trials and pain.

Not to Distance Homosexuals from the Religious Community

It must be emphasized: Even one who fails to overcome his yetzer and transgresses the sin of homosexual intercourse, is obligated in all the other commandments of the Torah, and should try his best to strengthen himself in whatever way he can. And even concerning this sin – everyday, and every time he manages to overcome his desires and avoids sinning, his reward is great.

We must accept the commandments of the Torah, which determined that homosexual intercourse is strictly forbidden, and when we can, we must try to dissuade those who transgress this sin. Nonetheless, we must love even someone who fails to overcome his yetzer, and realize there is great value in every mitzvahhe fulfills. And as long as he does not flaunt his homosexual inclination and is not defiant, we must bring him closer to the religious community, so he can become stronger in Torah and mitzvoth in whatever way he can.

And, as is well-known, the value of Evil is limited, whereas the value of Good is endless. Correspondingly, the severity of sins is limited, whereas the value ofmitzvoth is endless. Therefore, even one who falters in transgressions, merits life in the World to Come thanks to his mitzvoth and good deeds.

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

Slavery Leading to Freedom

The law of a Hebrew slave when the Jubilee is observed * The law of one who sells himself into slavery due to poverty, and the law of a thief sold by Beit Din * Why did the Torah allow the impoverished to be sold into slavery, instead of forcing the rich to support them? * The Torah does not interfere with human nature and economic processes, rather outlines a path and sets ethical boundaries * A master must not make his slave do degrading jobs * The standard of living of a Hebrew slave * Will slavery return when the Jubilee year is observed? * How the laws of slavery can teach us the correct way to rehabilitate thieves

Parshat Mishpatim

In honor of the weekly Torah portion Mishpatim, I will examine a commandment that is a bit difficult to understand in modern times.

The Commandment of Jubilee
and the Law of a Hebrew Slave

When Yoval (the Jubilee year, which is the year at the end of seven cycles of shmita [Sabbatical years]) was observed, a Jew was allowed to sell himself into slavery, and Beit Din (a religious court) was permitted to sell a person caught stealing and had no money to pay it back. However, when the Yovel is not observed, a Jew is not permitted to sell himself into slavery, because only when the foundation of freedom is established by means of the commandment of Yovel which frees all slaves, can the institution of slavery be used to solve difficult problems (Talmud Archin 29a).

First I will explain the biblical commandments, and then examine what will be when all of Israel returns to reside in their land and the commandment of Yovel is observed.

When was a Jew Sold into Slavery?

According to the Torah, there were only two ways a Jew could be sold as a slave:

1) If he was so sorely impoverished that he had no food to eat, the Torah gave him permission to sell himself as a slave.

2) A thief who was caught and could not pay back what he stole, Beit Din would sell him as a slave (Rambam (Maimonides), Laws of Slaves 1:1).

A person sold into slavery by Beit Din was sold for six years at the most, and if the Jubilee year arrived before the end of six years, he was set free in the Jubilee year.

If he worked for six years and wished to continue working as a slave, his ear is pierced with an awl before the Beit Din, and he continues working for his master until the Jubilee year, or until his master dies.

All this is in regards to a thief who was sold by Beit Din, but a person who sold himself due to poverty may sell himself for more than six years, however when the Yovel arrives, he is set free (Rambam ibid, 2:2, 4; 3:6-11), as it is written: “You shall sanctify the fiftieth year, declaring emancipation [of slaves] all over the world. This is your Jubilee year, when each man shall return to his hereditary property and to his family”(Leviticus 25:10).

Why does the Torah Agree to Slavery?

Freedom is a central foundation in the Torah, and therefore one could properly ask: How could the Torah agree with slavery? However, we must realize that the Torah does not force a person to go against nature, because nature, with all its faults, is a Divine creation that provides a person a platform on which he can correct and complete himself. The Torah does not intervene in economic market forces but allows them to flow independently, while setting moral boundaries and ethical direction indicating the path for improvement and spiritual elevation.

In times of severe shortage, without the framework of slavery, those same people who were unable to support themselves because either they were unproductive, inefficient, or because their land had been usurped, would starve to death. By way of slavery they were able to survive and have children, who today are free people. Occasionally, slaves actually managed to survive better than the poor people who were free. Therefore the Torah did not prohibit slavery, but set moral boundaries for it, as the Torah says: “If your brother becomes impoverished and is sold to you, do not work him like a slave. He shall be with you just like an employee or a resident hand. He shall serve you only until the Jubilee year, and then he and his children shall be free to leave you and to return to their family. He shall thus return to the hereditary land of his ancestors. This is because I brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and they are My slaves. They shall not be sold [in the market place] as slaves. Do not dominate [such a slave] to break his spirit, since you must fear your God”(Leviticus 25:39-43).

The Left-wing Social Purists

At this point, one would expect the left-wing purists to reprove the holy Torah, arguing: “The rich should have to support the poor, rather than agreeing to slavery!” In response, we must say that although the mitzvah of charity is indeed very important, nevertheless, if the rich were obligated to support the poor, the economy would be severely damaged (similar to Communist countries), to the point where people would starve. Even so, the left-wing purists would not budge from their position, saying:”Better they should die, but not accept discrimination and slavery”. But since our Torah is the Book of Life, and does not gamble on the lives of human beings and society like the left-wing purists’ have done until today, therefore the Torah guides the real lives of people on the path leading to redemption.

Laws of a Masters Behavior towards his Slave

The Torah, therefore, does not interfere with economic market forces, rather sets moral boundaries and ethical direction for advancement. I will mention the main laws relating to the relationship between a master and his servant:

It is forbidden to make any Hebrew servant perform excruciating labor. What is excruciating labor? Labor that has no limit, or labor that is unnecessary and is asked of the servant with the intent to give him work so that he will not remain idle. Based on the above, our Sages said that a master should not tell a Hebrew servant: “Hoe under the vines until I come,” for he has not placed a limit on the work asked of him. Instead, he should tell him: “Hoe until this and this time,” or “until you reach this and this place.” It is also forbidden to make him perform debasing tasks. Although it is permitted to hire a free person to perform such tasks, the servant, whose self-image is depressed because of his being sold, is more sensitive, and therefore it is forbidden to humiliate with such tasks (Rambam, 1:7, 8).

The Slave’s Standard of Living is Equal to that of his Master

A master is obligated to treat any Hebrew servant or maid servant as his equal with regard to food, drink, clothing and living quarters, as it is written: “For it is good for him with you” (Deuteronomy 15:16). The master should not eat bread made from fine flour while the servant eats bread from coarse flour. The master should not drink aged wine while the servant drinks fresh wine. The master should not sleep on cushions while the servant sleeps on straw. On this basis, our Sages said: “Whoever purchases a Hebrew servant purchases a master for himself” (Talmud Kiddushin 21a; Rambam ibid 1:9).

A master who purchases a married servant is obligated to provide for the sustenance of his wife and children equally, even though his wife and children are not obligated to work. This applies to a wife or children the servant had at the time he was sold, or a wife and children that he acquired after the sale, provided he married with the consent of his master (Rambam ibid 3:1-2). If, however, the servant married without the consent of his master, the master is not obligated to provide for her sustenance.

Being Sold to a Gentile

A Hebrew servant who is sold by the court is sold only to a native-born Israelite or to a convert to Judaism. Similarly, a person who sells himself as a servant due to poverty is not permitted to sell himself to a gentile, but if he transgresses and sells himself to a gentile, even if the gentile is an idol worshipper, the sale is binding (Rambam ibid 1:3). And although he has transgressed, it is a mitzvah for his relatives to redeem him, so that he will not become assimilated among the gentiles. If his relatives do not redeem him, and he does not attain the funds to redeem himself, it is a mitzvah for every Jew to redeem him, and they pay the master according to the number of years remaining till the Jubilee (Rambam ibid, 2:7-8). If he is not redeemed he is not released except in the Jubilee.

A Convert Is Not Sold into Slavery

A convert may not sell himself as a servant. This is derived from the verse: “And he shall return to his family” (Leviticus 25:41) – i.e., it is speaking about someone who has a family within the Jewish faith who he can return to when released in the Jubilee, and thus, even in his years of slavery, he would not lose the thread of hope of freedom, and then be able to rehabilitate. But the convert who has no family from his parents’ side to return to it, is not sold.

Perhaps this is why there is a double command in the Torah to love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19), that since he has no land inheritance and possibility of being a slave, a greater effort must be made to support him through charity. Furthermore, this does not violate the economic balance, in as much as they are a small minority of exceptions.

When the Jubilee Returns

Apparently, even when the Jubilee returns a person will not be permitted to sell himself into slavery, for we have already learned that only when a person has nothing to eat, is he permitted to sell himself into slavery. And today, as a result of the development of agriculture and the rise in living standards, society is able to ensure that a person will not go hungry.

Nonetheless, in regards to thieves who cannot pay back what they have stolen, in principle they could be sold as slaves. But as a result of the rise of the values of freedom and liberty, it is unlikely a slave would obey his master loyally, and as a result no one will want to buy slaves.

The Solution for Thieves

Perhaps there is room to offer a solution of partial imprisonment for thieves, combined with useful work. This will enable us to fulfill the Torah’s instruction regarding the sale of a thief into slavery, whereby the thief tries his best to return what he has stolen, and in the process rehabilitates himself by acquiring valuable work habits, while taking an example from hard-working, decent people.

Seemingly, to facilitate this there is no need to wait until the Jubilee returns, rather, such solutions of rehabilitating thieves should be implemented today – each inmate according to the field in which he can excel the most – whether it be cleaning, or high technology.

This proposal is preferable to today’s prison sentences, in which the prisoner gets used to a life of idleness and does not return even the slightest amount of his debts, on the contrary – he even learns from his fellow inmates how to be a more professional and sophisticated criminal. The mixing of thieves with rapists and murderers does not contribute to their rehabilitation, but rather the opposite. The guards themselves are also not selected for their lofty attributes, because their job is to impose order and not to be an employer who educates and motivates the thief to be diligent and efficient in his work, and in order to do so, must sometimes use punitive measures. 

Current Improvements

It should be noted that today there are already various programs to rehabilitate prison inmates, which most probably have been influenced by the spirit of the Torah, directly or indirectly.

For example, religious study halls were established in prisons, which although do not educate towards work from which the prisoner can make a living afterwards, but nevertheless, the prisoners are taught Torah there, and their subsequent rehabilitation is more successful.

Likewise, I must also mention with merit the option of inmates working within the prisons.

Nevertheless, this is still far from the point of view we have learned in the Torah, according to which the person being rehabilitated lives in a normative society, and part of his sentence is intense and difficult work, whose wages are directed to repaying his debts.

Preparation for a Life of Freedom

In summary: Quite unlike the conventional perception of slavery, the type of slavery the Torah speaks about is designed to educate the slave and form his personality into being a free man.

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

Desecration of God and the Torah

The words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook on the disrespect shown to the Chief Rabbis in the Ponevezh Yeshiva in its early years * The weakness of the heads of the yeshiva against brazen students * From the seeds of calamity grew the rotten fruit of contempt and violence against the present heads of the yeshiva * Whatever happened to the big talk of abiding by the Gedolei Ha’dor? * Reinstating the value of derech eretz in its broader sense in the Haredi community * The connection between religious and traditional Jews should serve as a bridge for deepening commitment to Torah study and observance, without coercion * Sharpening the frank criticism against secularism estranged from Jewish values, the nation, and the Land

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah’s Visit to the Ponevezh Yeshiva

My uncle, Rabbi Avraham Remer ztz”l related the following story: Once, our teacher and mentor Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ztz”l, planned to travel to the Ponevezh Yeshiva in order to examine the writings of his grandfather’s uncle Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim (the ‘Aderet’) which were archived there. Since I found out he was planning on going alone, I accompanied him. Upon entering the Yeshiva, he told me that Rabbi Kahneman (Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh and among its founders), had a great merit in building this Torah institution, but that an enormous stain rested on the yeshiva because its students dishonored two Torah scholars – Rabbi Herzog ztz”l and Rabbi Unterman ztz”l (both were Chief Rabbis), and the Yeshiva’s response was not harsh enough.

Rabbi Kahneman greeted Rabbi Kook with great honor and friendliness, but said to him: “Let’s go into the building by a side entrance and not near the Beit Midrash (study hall).” Later on, Rabbi Kook said to Rav Remer that he understood the reason was because he feared that zealous yeshiva students might humiliate him, and Rabbi Kahneman would be placed in an unpleasant situation. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah added that, unfortunately, Rabbi Kahneman did not possess the bravery to put the brazen students in their place.

Upon leaving, Rabbi Kahneman asked Rabbi Kook how he intended on returning to Jerusalem, and when Rabbi Kook said he was going to take a bus, Rabbi Kahneman said to him that ‘time is Torah’, and that he should take a taxi. When we arrived in Tel Aviv, I asked him, ‘how are we going back’? He replied: “It is a mitzvah to listen to the words of the Torah scholars”, and they took a taxi (“Gadol She’musha” 48).

The Seeds of Calamity Produced Rotten Fruit

It seems that that the seeds of calamity of humiliating the Torah and its scholars which were sown in the early years of Ponevezh Yeshiva, have now grown into the terrible rotten fruit of Chilul Hashem (desecration of God) in the beit midrash (yeshiva study hall). In the place where yeshiva students disgraced the Chief Rabbis ‘whose little fingers were wider than their waists’ in their exertion and knowledge of Torah and fear of Heaven, has now reached the point of lifting of a hand, degradation and abuse towards the heads of the yeshiva. In the Haredi and religious communities it is common to organize public prayer gatherings for all different types of issues. This is the most burning and important issue on which to pray for now, and in order to solve the problem, the Haredi leaders must take counsel.

Respect for Torah Scholars

Let me explain: The seed of calamity is not in the basic difference of opinion, because in the Torah world it is normal for there to be differing opinions resulting from different emphases. But the general rule is that Torah scholars have to respect one another, and as a result, out of the disputes peace increases in the world. In particular, this must be emphasized in the Land of Israel, for concerning the Torah scholars of Eretz Yisrael it is said “who treat each other graciously when engaged in halachic debates” (Sanhedrin 24a, and see Yevamot 62b). This is the way students should be taught, to respect Torah scholars. But in Ponevezh they were negligent and did not teach their students to do so; on the contrary, they chose to degrade and blaspheme important Torah scholars who held differing views. As a result, it is not surprising that the plague of feuding and discord has reached the Torah scholars of that same beit midrash and family, to the point where they are unwilling to accept upon themselves an agreed beit din (religious court) that can reach a compromise or decision between them.

Listen to the Gedolei Ha’Dor

Usually, when arguments arise between us and the members of the Haredi community, we argue in the name of the written and transmitted Torah, and they respond that “this is what the Gedolei HaTorah (the eminent Torah scholars) have instructed”, and since the Gedolei Ha’Dor have learned all there is to learn, know everything, and have decided such and such, our arguments do not prove out.

Besides it being impossible to learn Torah in this way, and their opinion is in opposition to that of the truly great Torah scholars – their claim is wrong as well. They are not truly faithful even to the Gedolei Torah who they allegedly accept. For instance in the argument at hand, how can it be that a community who goes according to Gedolei Ha’Torah cannot find a solution? Are there no religious courts in Israel? Have halachic authorities ceased to exist? Is it not possible for both sides to choose their own dayan (judge) and the two judges choose a third dayan, and resolve the situation properly? One way or the other, the bullies are the ones who determine. In the beginning it seemed as if they were helping by arguing against the Zionist rabbis, but now they control the Haredi street.

Derech Eretz

It seems that the tikun (correction) needs to be complete and wide-ranging, with emphasis on the proper attitude towards the importance of derech eretz (proper conduct), as our Sages said: “Without Torah there is no proper conduct, and without proper conduct there is no Torah” (Avot 3:17). Included in derech eretz is the responsibility of earning a livelihood, dignity, respect in inter-personal relations, and honor and appreciation for the good deeds of those with differing outlooks – soldiers, scientists, farmers, laborers, and developers of the economy.

Violence against the Foundations of Judaism and Torah

Usually when I write about reservations of the Haredi approach to matters of Torah, the Land of Israel and parnasa (livelihood), I receive numerous responses from members of the Haredi community. Most of the claims are that I am not familiar enough with the community, and indeed, there is presently a far-reaching processes occurring, with many people learning a profession and going out to work, and that the attitude towards the Land of Israel is much more positive than what is written in the Haredi newspapers and heard from their official spokespersons. They point out that these processes have received the quiet backing and support of prominent rabbis. This of course is encouraging and heartening, but why does the support of all these positive events need to be done secretly, while the violence and tirades against the foundations of Judaism and the Torah are done overtly, and under the pretext of holiness and the fear of God?

The foundations of Judaism and Torah I am speaking of are: the sanctity of the entire nation, including the “shovavim” (mischievous children, i.e. the non-religious) who are also called ‘sons’; the sanctity of the entire Land, as clarified in numerous sections of the Torah; the importance of mesirut nefesh (total devotion) to settle the Land and protect the nation; the building and improvement of the world as was the custom of our forefathers, as recounted at length in the Torah and Chazal. When estranged from these tenets, as a result, the study of Torah and understanding other areas in it, are also damaged.

Criticism of the Leaders

These painful words I write are not directed against the masses of pure and good Jews, God-fearing people engaged in Torah with love and dedication, meticulous in halachot (laws) and minhagim (customs), who rear wonderful families with love and everlasting faithfulness, devoting themselves to raise families blessed with several children, scrupulously fulfilling the mitzvah of honoring their parents, etc., etc. My comments are directed towards the leaders who shape a world-view in contradiction of the Torah’s instruction, or evade their duty to teach the path of the Torah, claiming it is forbidden to change any previous customs.

The Widening Gaps

It should be added: The gap between the positions of the Torah and the lifestyle of the Haredi community has grown over the years. True, from the very beginning the fundamental debate was already deep and profound, but in practice, the severe alienation of the Haredi community towards fundamental Torah values had yet to be established. When Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah honored Rabbi Kahneman and his colleagues, he was honoring rabbis who greatly valued the settlement of Eretz Yisrael and even the State of Israel, to one degree or another. They had a positive attitude towards people who worked, supported their families, and engaged in improving society. The majority of the Haredi community worked for a living, and most of them also enlisted in the army, participating in the wars with self-sacrifice. They obviously had serious and justified complaints towards the secular leaders of the State, but the fundamental attitude towards improvement of society was positive. For example, the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz), who we, of course, also value for his greatness in Torah, deeply loved Eretz Yisrael and respected its settlers and farmers. The Chazon Ish also showed respect for the great Torah scholars, such as Rabbi Kook and Rabbi Meshulam Roth, blessed be the memory of the righteous.

The Words of Torah Need Strengthening

“Our Rabbis taught: Four things require strengthening, namely, study of the Torah, good deeds, praying, and one’s worldly occupation” (Berachot 32b).
We have already dealt with the strengthening of derech eretz. Now we will discuss the strengthening of the Torah.

In view of the positive processes of rapprochement between religious and traditional Jews, we must now strengthen the love of Torah and the commitment to its complete fulfillment. The positive side which we have encountered to date is the strengthening of the love of Torah, which emerges out of love for Israel and Eretz Yisrael, and brotherhood and friendship between Jews who find common identity in the Torah.

However, this is not enough. How fortunate we are that God chose us to be His Chosen People out of all the nations and gave us His Torah, only through which the world can truly be repaired, curing its moral ailments, and allowing room for the existence of all important values.

The goal must be clear: The welcome relationship between all the communities should serve as a bridge for a growing commitment to Torah study and observance. Seemingly, no traditional Jew would object to such a position, provided there is no coercion, but rather, only out of the Torah’s deep wisdom and sweetness will a desire to fulfill it, be awakened. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Criticism of Secularism

As a follow-up, the overt criticism of secularism estranged from the national identity and Jewish religious culture must be sharpened. The criticism is not directed towards the secular Jews, but rather against the secular world-view which strives to undermine Jewish values, the Jewish people, and the Land of Israel. We have no intention whatsoever to coerce, because all of the upheavals we have experienced in recent generations were intended to awaken the desire to observe Torah out of complete free will. However, in order for this desire to be awakened, there is a need for a fundamental clarification, including an ideological debate with secular positions.

Basic Laws of the Jewish State

To this end, it is also worthy to continue working to determine Basic Laws that will define the Jewish identity of the State, including determining by Basic Law the importance of Torah study as a central concern of identity and vision for the State of Israel. This stems from the belief that through the study of Torah and its elucidation in relation to all the social and international issues on the agenda – we can bring abounding blessing to our nation, and to the entire world.

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

How binding is Minhag?

Should a person continue praying in the traditional style of his fathers’, or can he change? * When one’s custom is different than that of the congregation, how should he pray? * Obligatory minhagei avot are learned from deeds, not from books * When should one stick to his father’s minhag when there are differing opinions * Should one change residence in order to pray in his own nusach? * How to implement the mitzvah of giving a tenth of one’s assets to each child’s wedding nowadays * Educate children about the importance of marriage, and don’t stress the problems

Minhagei Avot

“Rabbi, the issue of mihagei avot (custom of one’s fathers) really bothers me, and I don’t know what to do.

My family emanated from Germany. The customs in our house followed the traditions of our ancestors – for example, to wash our hands before Kiddush on Shabbat, and keep three hours between meat and milk. As you know, Rabbi, these are sacred customs which the communities in Germany fought not to budge from. The same applies to prayers: we put on tefillin after reciting korbanot, the blessings over the Torah are said before korbanot, “Ain Kelokainu” is not said on weekdays, and numerous other accuracies in the prayer format.

But in many matters I’m afraid to act according to the custom of my fathers, since in Israel, the accepted minhag goes according to the renewed custom of the Parushim, disciples of the Gaon of Vilna (Gra). They challenge me by claiming that the minhag ha’makom is obligatory, and thus supersedes the various nusachim (versions). However, no other community follows these customs except the Ashkenazi-German community. No one objects to the Moroccans or Algerians for keeping their nusachim, as well as all the Hassidim who retain their unique customs.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the minhag of Ashkenaz is very old and clearly pre-dates the minhag of the Parushim, which, as is well-known, is not even the accurate minhag of the Gra, and it saddens me that our minhag is gradually being forgotten. Rabbi, should I move to a place where there is a minyan that follows my ancestor’s customs accurately?”

Reply

Compliments for your deep commitment to minhag avot, in particular for the ancient and accurate minhag of the sacred Jews who sacrificed their lives for the sake of God in Ashkenaz! Thus, it is worthy of you to continue keeping the customs of the meals, Kiddush, and all the like.

Incidentally, my mother’s family also kept Ashkenazi customs. Yet, from my great-great grandfather’s side of the family, who immigrated from the Ukraine, we are accustomed to wash our hands after Kiddush. However, I was once a guest at a family whose minhag is to wash their hands before Kiddush, and they asked me if I wanted them to alter their minhag in my honor. I answered them: “Quite the opposite! This is an opportunity for me to fulfill the minhag of my ancestors from my mother’s side of the family.”

Concerning the nusach of prayers the rule is that everything said privately, you should say according to the exact Ashkenaz custom. Only when you recite prayers out loud – do not isolate yourself from the tzibur (congregation), but rather, recite the prayers as they do; and when you are the chazan (cantor), if it is a synagogue that allows every chazan to pray according to his own minhag, than do so. However, when there are major differences between customs, you should recite the prayers as the majority of the congregation.

This is a balanced approach which maintains the community’s cohesion on the one hand, and the ancestral traditions on the other. Indeed, after the Sanhedrin is established speedily in our days, its members will be able to determine a standard minhag, but in the meantime, it is worthy to continue the diverse customs, for each one has special value. And the most important point is the importance of continuing the traditions of our ancestors, as this is the chain that connects us to all the earlier generations, going back to the fathers of the Jewish Nation and the Giving of the Torah.

What are the Obligatory Minhagei Avot

Nonetheless, it should be stressed that minhag avot applies only to known customs that one saw in his house, and does not apply to minhagim that one saw written in a book, which indeed possess the asset of safeguarding the variations, but lacks the main virtue of maintaining Jewish heritage. It should be added that devotion to nusach avot should be done pleasantly and in moderation, without burdening children or family members with rebukes over fine technicalities which will only distance them from minhag avot.

Disputed Minhagim

In regards to disputed minhagim that several Gedolei Yisrael were opposed to, if they are minhagei avot that are only written in a book and you do not recall them from your father’s house – you should not practice them, since they do not have the validity of minhag avot.

If you remember them from your father’s house, then, if the leading rabbis of the Ashkenazi community have responses to the claims, you should continue the minhag avot. This is the custom of all Ashkenazi Jews concerning the reciting of piyutim (poems) in the first three blessings of the High Holy Days.

Changing Residence

If for some reason you need to move, indeed it would be good to move to a place where there is a synagogue with your minhag. This is on the condition, however, that the community acts with a Torah attitude towards derech eretz, namely, they have a positive attitude towards parnasa (earning a living) and secular studies, or at the very least, do not object to it, as some Haredim mistakenly do. This is because the right attitude towards parnasa and secular studies is far more important and fundamental than the nusach of prayer.

Are Parents Required to Give Ten Percent of their Assets for their Children’s Weddings?

Indeed, it is a mitzvah for parents to give 10% of their assets to marry-off each of their children, as explained in the Gemara (Ketubot 52b): “And to what extent [are parents required to give for their daughter’s wedding]? Both Abaye and Raba ruled: Up to a tenth of his wealth.”
Therefore, if a father dies without expressing his opinion on how much he wished to give for his daughter’s wedding, a tenth of his assets are given (Ketubot 68a; S.A. 113:1), however, beit din (religious court) does not coerce the fulfillment of this mitzvah (Rema 70:1).

The same is true for the wedding of one’s son. Maharam Mintz wrote that it is forbidden for a father to give his daughter more than a tenth of his assets, so as not to discriminate against his sons (see, Responsa Maharam Mintz 1:31; Tosefot in the name of Rabbi Hananel, Ketubot 50b).

However, the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) wrote that often this was not the custom, because at times the economic reality was so hard-pressed that if parents did not give a fifth of their assets or even more, they wouldn’t be able to find a husband for their daughter, and she would have remained lonely all her life (Rema 113:1; Taz 1).

The Mitzvah of Giving Ten Percent of One’s Assets towards the Wedding Nowadays

Indeed, it is difficult to adapt the instruction of our Sages to our times. Our life expectancy has increased to an average of more than eighty years, of which the average person has to live on pension funds for 15 years. If one does not manage to save substantial sums to his pension plan, he will suffer from distress in his old age. In contrast, in the past the average life expectancy of an adult was about fifty or sixty years, and therefore the amount of time when one could not work was much shorter.

Another significant difference: In the past, one-tenth of a person’s assets were intended to build a house (one room), to provide the means to support the couple (such as a plot of land), and for the wedding feast. In contrast, the cost today of vocational training has increased and is far more expensive, but after a person has a profession, he can earn more than he needs, and live a life of comfort that previous generations could not have dreamed of.

In the past, a young man would start working with his father or with another craftsman, and while on the job would learn the profession and sustain himself, with no other cost to his parents. Today however, according to the law parents must support their children until the age of eighteen, and generally tend to support them for several additional years, in order for them to be educated, mature, and acquire a profession, and be able to stand on their own two feet, establish a family, and make a decent living.

What Size Family were Our Sages referring to?

Furthermore, it is essential to say that our Sages spoke about families who merited marrying-off at the most six or seven children. Even a person who did not suffer from infertility or other ailments did not merit marrying-off more children, because the majority of the children died in infancy and childhood. In practice, in most families no more than four children reached the wedding canopy. Thus, even after giving each child a tenth of their assets, most of the assets were left for the parents so they could continue living off them in dignity.

We must thank God for the blessing we have been allotted in recent times, because thanks to economic and medical advances, the average Torani or Haredi family has about eight children, while quite a few families have even more. In any event, it is clear that our Sages intention was not that parents who merited having ten children would divide up all their possessions in life, and remain impoverished for thirty years until they passed away.

In Practice

Let’s return to the halakha: Since our living conditions have changed quite a bit, and it’s difficult to calculate all of one’s assets (with funds, compensation, etc.), the goal of the mitzvah must first be clarified, which is to help children get married and have a family.

Therefore, the mitzvah incumbent upon parents is to help their children pay for their wedding and purchase the initial furniture according to their financial situation, and also help them acquire a profession that suits their skills with which they will be able to provide for their families in dignity and buy a house. And if they are capable – it would be commendable to help them in the purchase of a house.

Typically, the total investment in their children’s education and expenses while they learn a trade and the wedding costs can amount to one-tenth of the assets accumulated up to that point. But there is no need to calculate this in detail.

All that I have written about the mitzvah of parents helping their children in their wedding refers to children who get married by the age of 24, the appropriate age according to our Sages, for at this age, parent’s assistance is very important and helpful for the wedding. But the older children get, they should save their own money, and the parent’s obligation to help them decreases.

To Educate about the Importance of Marriage

And before all else, it is a mitzvah from the Torah for parents to educate their children towards Torah and mitzvot, as it is written: “Teach your children to speak of them” (Deuteronomy 11:19), and the intention is to teach them Torah, so they will keep the mitzvot. And one of the most major and important issues in the Torah is the importance of establishing a family, which embodies all of the values, such as: love your neighbor as yourself, fidelity, revealing unity, having children, mental and spiritual health, bringing the redemption closer, etc. And it is a mitzvah for parents to speak at length about the different values brought to light through marriage.

Occasionally parents lament their terrible grief and pain over their children not getting married. The problem is that when children are older, it is difficult to educate them. Parents should take preventative measures by educating their children in these matters when they are young. And before they reach the age of marriage, tell their children that they will stand beside them, and help them as best they can.

The Media

It should be added that the media’s heightened coverage of women who were refused a get (a religious divorce) and battered women is not helpful, to put it mildly, in encouraging marriage. When children and teenagers hear about all the problems, while in contrast, no one talks about the merits, value, and mitzvah of marriage, it’s no wonder they find it difficult to marry. Unfortunately, there are also religious institutions that throughout all the students’ high school years, often give lectures about women refused a get and battered women, and forget to devote ten times as much time discussing the importance of marriage.

True, it is our duty to fight these injustices and correct them as best we can, but we must not allow dealing with these issues to undermine all the good in life.

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

Marrying Young Successfully

A letter from a mother concerning children marrying no later than the age of 24 * Can a young man learning in yeshiva and serving in the army start a family at an early age without becoming a financial burden on his parents? * Yeshiva students who are not certain they are fit for teaching or the rabbinate, should immediately begin learning a trade after finishing the army * An reply to a mother’s letter: The obligation of parents, and the responsibility of society as a whole, to help young adults combine marriage and professional studies * The plight of divorced, religious women who suffer from a negative stigma, and find it difficult to get married after undergoing menopause

Marriage Issues

About a month ago I dealt with the precept of marriage, and I elaborated on the halakha that a person is obligated to marry by the age of twenty in order to fulfill the mitzvoth of marriage and procreation, and that the situation today is defined as a sha’at ha’dachak (pressing circumstances) in which, l’chatchilla (from the outset), it is permitted to postpone the mitzvah until the age of 24. Indeed, the intention of the mitzvah is not to obligate a person to marry an incompatible partner, but rather, to require he strives to get married by the age of 24.

In the wake of these articles I received many responses, one of which was a notable letter that came from the heart of a loving, worrying, and responsible mother, which I believe can benefit many.

A Mother’s Reply

“Shalom, Rabbi. I imagine that as a result of your article on the proper age of marriage, emotions ran high in many houses on Shabbat (the day after its publication). As a mother of sons and daughters who are essentially the same age as you spoke of (a few married, others not), I want to focus on the recommended age of marriage.

Rabbi, you cited the words of our Sages and the Rambam, etc., stressing that a young man should be well-prepared for the challenges of marriage, namely, to study Torah and learn a trade, so he can support his family. And yet, you wrote that nowadays one is permitted to postpone marriage until the age of 24, because preparations take longer and the mitzvah of serving in the army also causes a delay.

I cannot figure out how, by the age of 24, a young man can build himself spiritually, serve in the army (even an abbreviated service), and also learn a profession so he can support his family (as he obligated himself in the ketubah [Jewish marriage contract]!).

In practice, young men who are loyal to their rabbis in the various yeshivas, remain there to study and build themselves spiritually while postponing military service, and get married at a young age – at best, after finishing the army, and in many cases before, or while serving (which is also a problem for the woman). Only afterwards do they learn a trade – on the average, for about three years.

If all is well, the women get pregnant without delay – seeing as it’s forbidden to postpone – and have difficulty finishing their studies, or finding a job to support the family. And just who is supposed to provide for the young couple and their children? In many cases we, the parents, must help out with considerable and steady support for many years!

Rabbi, you cannot encourage young adults to marry at an early age and not postpone the mitzvah of “be fruitful and multiply”, without addressing in detail the implications thereof. The fact is that from the outset, a very large majority of young couples simply rely on the steady financial support of their parents, because they have no other source of income!

Clearly, this is not a healthy situation in any respect, and surely not all families are able to support all of their married children, and it doesn’t have to be the ideal solution to the situation.

In my humble opinion, the wording of the directive, or halakha, should be a little more moderate. It’s impossible to “toss the young adult into the water” at the maximum age of 24 in the hopes that God-willing things will work out, while in reality, knowing he is incapable of supporting his family.

Rabbis should also address the issues of earning a living, acquiring a profession, and prepare young men for overall family life.”

Reply

I agree with the main point of your argument, but my conclusion is that within this complex reality, we need to pave the way for the fulfillment of our Sages words.

For example, in regards to yeshiva study: A student who is uncertain whether he is fit to be a teacher or a rabbi, should start learning a trade immediately after finishing his army service. Incidentally, in Yeshiva Har Bracha, we do not allow students to continue learning in the yeshiva beyond this time. For that reason we created the ‘Shiluvim‘ (‘combination’, in Hebrew) program, in which students learn full academic studies in one of the universities, while at the same time, combine a few hours of study in the yeshiva every day, and for this, students receive a scholarship which helps them make ends meet during their years of learning.

On the other hand, when no attempt is made to get married by the age our Sages determined, many young adults experience tremendous difficulties in finding a partner, and get delayed for many years – over and above what they had planned – and in the end, get married with much less enthusiasm, joy and love, because the appropriate time of marriage is when people are younger (this week my wife lead a discussion for hundreds of parents and individuals who undertook to help single people get married. The sad stories she heard after the discussion is proof – out of pain and anguish – just how correct our Sages were in determining that a person should marry at a young age).

Indeed, the difficulties raised in your letter are true, and thus I would suggest you read a few paragraphs from my book, “Simchat Habayit u’Birchato“, in which I referred to these issues. Here are some excerpts:

The Obligation of Young Adults, Parents, and Society

Today, the mitzvah of marriage poses a major challenge for young adults, parents, and society. Within the span of a few years, young adults are required to establish their Torah worldview, acquire a profession that suits their capabilities, and start a family; in addition, young men are required to also serve in the army and further their Torah study.

The first duty lies with young adults, who are required to plan their paths well, and not waste time during these precious years. For even after having defined our times as a sha’at dachak, in which marriage can be postponed until the age of 24 – one who wastes his time during these years nullifies the fulfillment of themitzvah. Therefore, it is the duty of every young adult to pave a path in which they can integrate all of these ideals jointly – to get married at an early age, and at the same time, acquire a profession that suits their talents, so they can support their families and contribute to the improvement of society.

The second duty rest on the parents, as our Sages said (Kiddushin 29a; 30b), parents are obligated to marry-off their children, as it is written: “Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters” (Jeremiah 29:6). In other words, the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply does not end with a child’s birth, rather, it continues afterwards until they reach the age of marriage. At that point in time, parents should encourage their children to marry, and help with advice and financial assistance, thereby contributing to the continuation of the generations. Our Sages instructed parents to devote a tenth of their assets to each of their children’s weddings. It seems thattoday, a significant part of the parents’ assistance should be aimed at facilitating their children’s significant challenge of combining marriage together with professional studies.

Society as a whole is also obligated to create most favorable conditions for young adults to fulfill the mitzvah of marriage at the appropriate time. In order to do so professional studies should be streamlined as best as possible, young adults should be given assistance in finding affordable housing and dormitories, and women’s professional studies should start as early as possible so that in the first years of marriage they can offer greater support for their families.

It is important to know that together with the difficulties modern life presents, it also holds solutions. True, studying for a profession takes more time, but on the other hand – investing in it pays off, and as a result, banks are willing to grant students loans whose payment commences only after one begins working.

These are a few the sections I sent to her.

Her Response

“Rabbi, thank you very much for your detailed reply! The greatest novelty in my eyes is the parents’ obligation to help their children.

You spoke about your yeshiva, however in most yeshivas, unfortunately, the situation is different. Many yeshiva students learn in higher, Zionist yeshivas, in which each student enlists in the army at different times.

Additionally, in most yeshivas, even Hesder, the boys may continue studying as they please, even after their five year program of yeshiva studies and army service is over, and many of them do so with the encouragement of the rabbis, instead of learning a profession (I heard an interesting excuse from a yeshiva student who had not yet married: he did not want to go a university with a mixed student body while he was single).

Thank you and, yasher koach (a job well done)!”

A Painful Letter Concerning Divorced Women and Marriage

“Shalom, Rabbi. I gladly follow your enlightening words each week. Recently, you dealt at length with the marriage of young adults, and I wanted to arouse your attention to a painful problem: the marriage of divorced women in their fifties.

There is a stigma about religious, divorced women that they are improper and untrustworthy, and this is a shame. Not all of us betrayed our husbands, or behaved immodestly. Because of the prohibition of loshon ha’ra (defamation), the reasons for divorce are not publicized, and thus, many people are unaware that there are husbands who beat, abuse, and humiliate their wives, and the rabbis are unable to help. The problem becomes even more painful when we, women who are not so young, search for a suitable partner who we can grow older with, in dignity.

I tried to build a glorious marriage, but my husband did not love and respect me as much as he loved and respected himself, and happiness was nowhere to be found. The discourse was violent and disrespectful, and sadness prevailed in our family.

Regrettably, women like me can no longer have children, and this is what prevents us from the road to happiness. Most men prefer women nearly ten years younger than they are.

Our Sages said: “For a man who divorces his first wife, the very altar sheds tears”. I am one of those women for whom tears are shed, and I continue to shed my own tears because of society’s alienation – the same society from which I nurtured all my values and entire faith. And nevertheless, I still have hope they will not judge us negatively, and give us another chance.

I needed great courage to save my soul and that of my children. With the grace of God, I was liberated from my personal prison, and will no longer say “Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer”, but instead, “I will exalt you, God, for you lifted me out of the depths”. Also, I have no sorrow – but joy – for meriting blessing over the bad, as well as the good. But now, I want so badly to reciprocate, to be a compatible helper; to establish a home in which love, brotherhood, peace and friendship dwells. May we merit establishing a binyan shalem (a complete structure) from the ruins of Jerusalem, speedily in our days, amen.

Rabbi, can you give some encouragement or advice, and maybe even help calm the fears of men regarding religious, divorced women, whose only wish is to open a new page, and establish a blessed, binyan shalem?

A: Unfortunately, I have no useful advice. Perhaps the publication of this letter will arouse the hearts, and ascend as a prayer for all of the lonely who crave to build a relationship of love, holiness and joy.

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

Social Welfare According to Torah

The importance of caring for the poor and weak according to the Torah * The leftist theory: State and society are to blame for the situation of the poor * The Torah view: Responsibility for a person’s financial situation rests first and foremost on himself, and only when one cannot take care of himself are we obligated to assist him * The meaning of the mitzvah of Yovel (Jubilee): Natural resources should be divided equally, but an individual’s personal profits from his own hard work belongs to him * According to the Torah, concern for the weak rests first on a person’s immediate circles, and only afterwards on society * The numerous advantages of such a circular system of support and assistance

The Importance of Societal Mitzvoth

Love and care for others is the basic foundation of the Torah, as Rabbi Akiva said: “Love your neighbor as yourself – this is a great rule in the Torah” (Leviticus 19:18, Sifra, ibid). From this stems the enormous mitzvah of helping those in distress, and consequently, the mitzvah of tzedakka (charity) for the poor is one of the most important commandments in the Torah. Our Sages said: “Charity is equivalent to all the other commandments” (Bava Batra 9a) and, “Whoever turns away his eyes from one who appeals for charity is considered as if he were serving idols” (Bava Batra 10a).

Contrary to the Leftist Position

However, there is a profound difference between the Torah’s position and that of the secular leftist movements. The leftist movement’s concepts are based on the ideological foundations of communism and socialism, namely, that all property and money belongs to everyone equally. And even if they are willing to admit that the idea of communism has gone bankrupt economically, they still believe in its message, and therefore according to their view, every person has the natural right to live in relative comfort, as standard in society. If, for example, the majority of people live in apartments in major cities, every citizen has the right to demand that society makes certain that he also has an apartment there. The same goes for food, clothing, medicine, education and activities for children – it’s his right to demand that society makes sure he also has what most people have. If society fails to take care of the needs of the poor, it is guilty for their situation, and should be ashamed of it. The reason for the poor’s situation doesn’t matter – no excuse will be valid against the accusations leveled at society for having poor people in their midst. The reason for this is because, in principle, wealth belongs to everyone equally, and as long as there are people who live in relative comfort, they will be considered as oppressors of the poor and living at their expense.

The Torah’s Position

In contrast, according to the Torah’s instruction, the individual – as well as a poor person – is the first one responsible for his own financial situation. Only after one tries to take care of himself but is unable to make a living because of illness or old age, etc., only then is there an obligation to help him satisfy his needs. And even this duty is not imposed on society simultaneously; rather, it spreads from one circle to another – from the immediate family circle, to society at large.

This method is more moral, because free choice and individual responsibility are the moral foundations of man’s existence in the world – if one chooses good – he will merit a good life in this world, and in the World to Come; if he chooses evil – he will be punished in this world, and the next. This is also true in regards to money and property. If one is lazy – he will be poor, and if he is diligent – he will reap the fruits of his labor.

This method is also efficient, because it teaches a person to be responsible and hard-working, and it encourages competition promoting economic growth, which in the long run helps the poor. In addition, it is also the finest means of assisting the poor, for the highest level of charity is to help the poor stand on their own two feet, without the need of donations and benefits.

In contrast, the leftist methods never help, because they reinforce poverty and suppress the poor person’s motivation to take responsibility and advance on his own. On the other hand, by constantly raising taxes they punish the rich, the hard-workers and entrepreneurs, and hamper their attempts to continue working for economic development.

Equality in the Torah

Indeed, there is a fundamental commandment in the Torah which expresses the equality of all people – the mitzvah of Yovel (the Jubilee year). According to this commandment all land in the country is divided equally among all the people of Israel, and even a person who was forced due to poverty to sell his field, with the arrival of the Jubilee year, the land returns to him or his heirs without compensation.

It is fitting for us to learn from this commandment that just as the land should be divided equally among all, so too, all natural resources belong to all of Israel equally. This includes the air, water, minerals, gas, oil, etc. The proceeds of these resources should be spent on quality education for all. This is the foundation of equality which gives each individual the opportunity to take care of himself, according to his efforts and talent.

Indeed, natural resources should be divided equally, but the fruit of one’s hard work is his own. Alongside an individual’s privilege to work and get rich, he is commanded to help the poor; and so as not to detract from the principle of responsibility, this commandment is fulfilled by the circular system of responsibility.

The Circular Method of Responsibility in Helping the Poor

In contrast to the socialist concept in which society as a whole is equally responsible for the welfare of the poor, according to the Torah, there are parallel circles of responsibility.

Within the first circle is the poor person himself, who is initially responsible for his own situation and that of his family. Therefore, if a person was able to work but chose not to, casting himself on the public, gabbaei tzedakka (charity treasurers) would make sure he worked. Only in a situation where one worked as hard as he could, but was still unable to get by, would he be given charity, as Torah says, “You must help him pick up the load” (Deuteronomy 22:4) – to pick up the load together with him is a mitzvah, but when he shirks his own responsibility, there is no mitzvah to help him.

When a poor person is unable to take care of himself, the responsibility is shifted to his relatives (as is the rule in redeeming hereditary land that was sold). If they are unable to help their relative – the responsibility is shifted to the third circle, namely, his neighbors. And if they cannot provide all the needs of their poor nearby residents, members of the entire city must take charge, and only afterwards, the entire society, as the Torah says: ‘When, in a settlement in the land that God is giving you, any of your brothers is poor… do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy brother” (Deuteronomy 15:7). It is also written: “When you lend money to My people, to the poor man among you…” (Exodus 22:24) – your poor [sc. your relatives] and the [general] poor of your town — your poor come first (Bava Metzia 71a).

If there was a poor person who had relatives who were able to help but shirked their duty, the gabbaei tzeddaka would force them to do so, and only if they were unable to meet their poor relative’s needs, would they give him municipal public funds (S. A., Y.D. 251:4).

The Circular Method is Just, Moral and Effective

When the responsibility to provide for the poor rests on relatives and neighbors they will try their best to make him a partner in work, so he can make a living by himself and not always be a burden on them, and thus, they place him on his own two feet. But when the poor receive benefits, relatives absolve themselves from responsibility and do make enough of an effort to ensure he works and makes a living. The resulting damage is deep and extended, for in many cases, after a poor person becomes accustomed to accepting allowances and charities, he loses his dignity and ability to stand on his own; he also serves as a bad example for his children, and the odds of them escaping the cycle of poverty decrease.

Local Gabbi’s

According to today’s conventional method, the State is responsible for the overall handling of all poor people, and social workers are not familiar on a long-term basis with the community they handle. According to the Torah, assistance to the poor should be given by local gabbi’s who are familiar with them, because only they can help the poor in the most advantageous way. If possible, they will find him a job so he can make a living with dignity. If he is incapable of this, they will try to find him work in which he can at least make a little money, and thus maintain his dignity in his own eyes, and in the eyes of his family.

The halakha itself states that the most excellent, unparalleled type of charity is to give a person the possibility of working and earning a living by himself (Rambam, S. A., 249:6).

Preventing Impersonation

In addition, when the treasurers are local residents, it’s hard to fool them. This also is very important, for our Sages warned that the punishment for imposters posing as poor people in order to receive charity is that eventually they will truly be poor, and will not leave this world without having to beg for charity from others (Mishna Pe’ah 8:9). This punishment comes justly from Heaven, but in most cases, there’s no need for miraculous intervention to bring it about, because a person who is used to relying on assistance and charities, loses his ability to make a living on his own, and eventually truly becomes poor. This is the way the communist system led to poverty for nations who chose it.

Collective Responsibility

Another significant advantage of the circular method is that it places responsibility on the group to take care of the poor within their midst. In the Socialist system, components of which are practiced in Israel today, the State is responsible for the welfare of all citizens, and thus, entire groups of people are created who discard responsibility for their own livelihoods, and become accustomed to relying on financial benefits. Their representatives in the Knesset constantly demand reductions in payments for education, health, property taxes, supplementary funding for municipal budgets with state funds, etc., without their leaders accepting upon themselves the responsibility of correcting the situation. This is what happens in Arab society, and to differentiate, among our brothers, the Haredim.

In a well-administered situation according to halakha, when family and close neighbors are unable to help the poor, responsibility is shifted to the municipal circle, or the community among which the poor belong. This responsibility is the key to correcting the situation, because it goads the leaders of the society to make an assessment, to examine the causes of poverty, and seek advice on how to get out of it – for example, through the training of young people in professions in which they are able to make a decent living. But when the State is responsible for the situation of all poor people alike, the public and the leaders who are part of the problem remove all responsibility from themselves, and to boot, they argue society does not help enough, and even interferes in solving the crisis.

As a result, instead of the allowances helping the poor escape the cycle of poverty, they help them maintain the lifestyle that led them to poverty, and the problem keeps on growing.

The Attitude towards Charity

The leftist method declares to the poor: “Don’t be afraid to demand what rightly belongs to you, you have it coming!” In contrast, according to the Torah, a poor person is required to thank all those who help him. Indeed, the rich have to try their best not to embarrass the poor who were forced to receive tzedakka, but there is nothing wrong with the poor person, on his own part, to conduct a self-examination, and consider whether he might also be at fault for his situation. In any event, this will motivate him to encourage his children to pursue their studies, so that later on in life, they can learn a trade and live comfortably.

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