Changing the Law as They See Fit

The Attorney General should be fired for attempting to render meaningless the Law against Fraud in kashrut * The Supreme Court allows the Karaites to present their meat as being kosher and under rabbinical supervision * With the food industry becoming increasingly complex and intricate, the supervisory authority of the Chief Rabbinate on all kashrut organizations is essential * The transition from Shabbat to the Fast of Tisha B’Av * How to make havdalah when Tisha B’Av falls on Motzei Shabbat * The halakha for pregnant and nursing women when Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, and is postponed to Sunday

The Kashrut Law

The 1983 Kosher Fraud Law stipulates that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, and the local rabbis ordained by it, are the only ones allowed to provide a certificate of kashrut for food in the State of Israel.

Recently, the Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, with his characteristic arrogance and that of the legal system, ruled that any person, whether rabbi or boor, whether religious or secular, is permitted to issue a certificate of kashrut supervision for a restaurant, a food chain, or for hotels. All they must do is indicate clearly that “this document does not constitute a kosher certificate from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel”, nor write that it is a “kosher” establishment.

In other words, any man in the street can issue a very dignified and impressive certificate on behalf of, let’s say, “Beit Din Tzedek ‘Shomrei HaTorah’, under the auspices of the Gaon John Doe”, and write in this certificate:” All the food sold or served in this store has been prepared in accordance with all the rules of halakha, Mehadrin min HaMehedrin, taking into account the opinions of all poskim, Rishonim and Achronim, Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Enjoy your food!” etc., and the bottom line will read: “This document was issued by the ‘Badatz of Shomrei HaTorah’ and not by the Chief Rabbinate.” The “rabbis” who grant the certificate can be either totally secular, naive tzadikim, or just plain people who received money for it – and this will not constitute any violation of the law whatsoever, because on their fancy certificate it will not be written that it was provided by the Chief Rabbinate, and the word “kosher” will not appear on it.

Even the Supreme Court, in a decision which harmed the authority of the Chief Rabbinate, agreed that “the objective and purpose of the law is to prevent fraud in relation to the kashrut of food in terms of its quality, preparation, and supervision” (Theodore Or, 05/27/90). And now, the Attorney General dares to strip the law of all its substance, in stark contrast to the lawmaker’s intent. It would be proper to demand his immediate dismissal. Let’s hope that, at any rate, such outrageous acts will bring us closer to the required changes in the entire judiciary system.

The Supreme Court and the Karaites

In the meantime, the legal system landed another blow to traditional and religious Jews who keep kosher. On Sunday, the Supreme Court accepted the position of the Karaites, allowing them to sell meat under the title “Kosher under the supervision of the Karaite Rabbinate.” Halachically, the meat is treif (not kosher), because the Karaites do not keep halakha according to the Oral Torah scholars. However, the Supreme Court judges permitted them to deceive the public, as though their meat is kosher and under some type of rabbinical supervision, in complete contradiction to the Kosher Fraud Law.

The Importance of the Kashrut Law

It’s impossible to provide kosher food for the masses of Jewish people without the Chief Rabbinate having the authority to supervise all the various kashrut organizations. As each year passes, the food industry becomes progressively more complex and intricate, leading to a need for broad, inclusive, and authoritative supervision. Without it, even rabbis with good intentions would falter in providing kashrut for foods that are not kosher – for various reasons: Either they would be unable to check if the fruits are orlah, or if the grain, most of which is imported, was harvested in contradiction to the prohibition of chadash, or if the meat comes from a factory where it was not slaughtered properly, etc. etc.. All the more so when we know that in the food market, vast economic interests are involved, and it is clear that there are elements who would abuse the gaping hole that the secular legal system opened before them, and find a way to buy a cheap “kashrut certificate”, and under it auspices, market treif food.

Just as there are general veterinary inspections of all foods, and general supervision for all doctors, so too, there is a need for general supervision of the kashrut system, and this is the purpose of the Kosher Fraud Law in kashrut. Let’s hope that the government will quickly find a way to block this loophole, and by doing so, put the legal system in its place.

The Laws of Tisha B’Av that Falls on Shabbat

When Tish’a B’Av falls out on Shabbat, we postpone the fast until Sunday, and on that Shabbat one may eat meat, drink wine, and even serve a meal like King Shlomo did in his day. We also sing Shabbat songs as usual, because there is no mourning on the Sabbath (concerning things done in private, see S.A. 554:19).

The Transition between Shabbat and Tish’a B’Av

However, there is an intermediate time between Shabbat and the fast, during which Shabbat has not yet ended but the prohibitions of the fast have already begun. This happens because we are unsure when one day ends and the next day begins – at sunset, or when the stars emerge. Therefore, the period between sunset and the emergence of the stars is ambiguous, being possibly day, and possibly night. It is called “bein hashmashot” (twilight). And since there is a mitzvah to add time onto Shabbat, Shabbat continues until a few minutes after the stars emerge, as listed on most calendars (in Jerusalem, sunset is at 19:45, and Shabbat ends at 20:21. In Tel Aviv, sunset is at 19:43, and the Shabbat ends at 20:23).

Consequently, the time between sunset and shortly after the emergence of the stars is both Shabbat and Tish’a B’Av. During that time, it is forbidden to do anything that would appear like a custom of mourning, because we do not mourn on the Sabbath. On the other hand, after sunset, we avoid doing anything that is not necessary for the sake of Shabbat, like eating, drinking, washing, and anointing.

Seudah Shlishit

Therefore, we eat the third Sabbath meal (seudah shlishit) like we do on any other Shabbat, including the singing of Sabbath songs. However, we stop eating and drinking before sunset, because there is no obligation – from a Shabbat perspective – to continue eating seudah shlishit after sunset. It is also fitting not to sing joyous songs after sunset, and doing so does not constitute an expression of mourning, for people do not generally sing happy songs every moment of Shabbat.

Washing During the Transition Period

We also refrain from washing and anointing ourselves after sunset; after all, we do not bathe or anoint ourselves on Shabbat in any case. However, one who relieves himself during bein hashmashot should wash his hands normally, for if he washes only part of his hands as required on the fast, he is, in effect, mourning on the Sabbath.

The Changing of Clothes and Shoes

We remain in our Sabbath clothing, keep our shoes on, and continue to sit on chairs and greet each other until a few minutes after three, mid-sized stars appear in the sky. Then, we say “Baruch ha’mavdil bein kodesh le’chol (‘Blessed is He Who separates between the holy and the mundane’), by which we take leave of the Sabbath. Afterwards, we remove our shoes, take off our Sabbath garments, and change into weekday clothes.

Some people have a custom to remove their shoes at sunset, seeing as wearing shoes is one of the prohibited actions on Tisha B’Av, and since in any case, there is no obligation to walk in shoes all of Shabbat, there’s no lack of respect for the Sabbath by doing so. However, if others take notice that one has removed his shoes for the sake of mourning, it is clearly forbidden. Therefore, the prevalent custom is to remove one’s shoes only after Shabbat has ended.

When changing from Shabbat to weekday clothing, one should wear clothing that was already worn the previous week, because one may not wear freshly laundered clothing on Tish’a B’Av.

Evening Prayer

Many communities have a custom to delay Ma’ariv until around fifteen minutes after Shabbat ends, in order to give everyone time to take leave of the Sabbath at home, remove their shoes, change their clothes, and come to the synagogue for Ma’ariv and the reading of Eichah in weekday clothes.

Havdalah in Speech and Over Wine

The fast begins immediately after Shabbat, making it is impossible to say havdalah over a cup of wine. Therefore, we postpone saying this form of havdalah until after the fast. Nevertheless, we say havdalah – “Ata Chonantanu” – in the Ma’ariv prayers, after which we are permitted to do work. Some say that women should pray Ma’ariv on such a Saturday night, in order to make havdalah in ‘Ata Chonantanu’. Women who do not follow this practice should say, ‘Baruch ha’mavdil bein kodesh le’chol’, after which they are permitted to do work.

The Blessing over the Candle

In addition, we recite the blessing over fire on such a Motzei Shabbat, because this blessing is not dependent on the cup of wine. Rather, it is an expression of thanks to God for creating fire, which was revealed to Adam on the first Motzei Shabbat. The custom is to recite the blessing after Ma’ariv, before the reading of Eichah, because people light candles at that time. Women also recite the blessing over fire. If they are in synagogue, they should hear the blessing of the chazan (cantor), and have benefit from the light of the candle lit in their vicinity so they can see it. If they are at home, they should light a candle and recite the blessing (see, Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 8:1, footnote 1).    

Havdalah over Wine after the Fast

At the end of the fast, two blessings are recited: Borei pri hagefen, and HaMavdil (‘He Who separates’). No blessing is made on spices or fire.

When the fast is over, it is forbidden to eat before making havdalah over the cup of wine, because saying “Ata Chonantanu” or “Baruch ha’mavdil bein kodesh le’chol” permits one to do work, whereas havdalah over a cup permits one to eat and drink.

Pregnant and Nursing Women

Since the fast is postponed from Shabbat until Sunday, if a pregnant or nursing woman feels weak or has difficulty fasting, she may eat or drink. The reason for this is that the status of a postponed Fast of Tisha B’Av is similar to that of the Minor Fasts, in which pregnant and nursing woman are completely exempt (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 10:20).

Havdalah for a Sick Person Who Needs to Eat on Tisha B’Av

A sick person who needs to eat on Tish’a B’Av, must say havdalah over a cup before eating. In such a case, it is proper to use chamar medinah, literally, a beverage containing alcohol, but is not wine, such as beer. In a sha’at dachak (time of distress), one may also make havdalah on coffee, for some poskim hold that it is also considered a mashkeh medinah (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 8:4). If one has no such beverage, he should say havdalah over grape juice, for since it has no alcohol content, it does not make one happy. And if even that is unavailable, he should say havdalah on wine and drink only a melo lugmav (a cheek full) [around 40 ml.].

A minor who eats on Tish’a B’Av need not say havdalah before eating.

The Laws of Mourning on the Day after Tisha B’Av

The majority of the Temple actually burned on the tenth of Av. Nevertheless, our Sages set the fast on the ninth of Av, according to when the fire began, but since in practice the majority of the Holy Temple was burned on the tenth, the People of Israel have a custom not to eat meat or drink wine on that date. In addition, many Jews are accustomed not to take a haircut or shower in hot water, do laundry, or wear laundered clothes on the tenth of Av.

This year, however, when Tish’a B’Av falls out on Shabbat and the fast is postponed until Sunday, the tenth of Av, the customs of mourning do not continue after the fast, and one is allowed to bathe in hot water, do laundry, and wear laundered clothes. As far as eating meat and drinking wine in the evening after the fast is over, someone who is machmir (stringent) tavo alav bracha (pious conduct for which one is blessed for being stringent), but one who wishes to be lenient is permitted.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found here:

“When Av Arrives, We Curtail Our Joy.” How?

The various expressions of ‘curtailing our joy’ * Avoiding trips, hotel vacations, and attending parties * Blessing ‘Shehechiyanu’ when meeting a dear friend during the Nine Days * “Joyous building” is forbidden during the Nine Days. What exactly does this include? * What should building contractors and construction workers do?* Shopping during the Nine Days * This year, Sephardic Jews are permitted to do laundry during the Nine Days, but should not take a haircut or shave * The prohibition of laundering and wearing laundered clothes, and what should one do if he forgot to prepare unlaundered clothes * Bathing in a pool for health purposes during the Nine Days

Pleasure Trips and Hotel Vacations

Our Sages state in the Mishnah (Ta’anit 26b), “When Av arrives, we curtail our joy,” because these are days of mourning over the Temple’s destruction. Therefore, one should not engage in joyous activities, like hikes, hotel vacations, and social gatherings. Only events whose main purpose is educational or communal may be held. Therefore, it is permissible to conduct educational tours and seminars even though they entail a certain amount of joy. In addition, someone who needs to relax for health reasons may take a vacation in a hotel or a retreat.

Blessing ‘Shehechiyanu‘ Over a Friend not Seen for Thirty Days

Q: If during the Nine Days someone meets a very dear friend at a seminar that he has not seen for thirty days and is happy to see him, should he bless ‘Shehechiyanu‘ as is customary during the rest of the year, or perhaps, since it’s the Nine Days, ‘Shehechiyanu‘ should not be recited?

A: In such a case, one should recite the Shehechiyanu blessing, for if he does not recite it immediately, he loses the opportunity to say the blessing afterwards.

As explained in Shulchan Aruch (551:17), one should be careful not to recite ‘Shehechiyanu‘ during the Three Weeks on a fruit or clothing, because blessing over a fruit or clothing can be postponed until after Tisha B’Av. But the R’ema wrote that if one cannot recite the blessing on the fruit after Tisha B’Av, such as if the fruit will rot by then, one should recite the blessing immediately so as not to lose the mitzvah (see, M.B. 551:101). 

Recruitment Party

Q: Is it permissible to hold a recruitment party during the Nine Days in honor of a friend going into the army?

A: Recruitment parties should not be held during the Nine Days, because these are days in which we curtail joy, and a recruitment party, as its name implies – is a festive occasion.

Nevertheless, it is permitted to get together and speak words of Torah and encouragement in honor of a friend who is enlisting during the Nine Days. If, however, the friend is enlisting a few days after Tisha B’Av, even such a get-together as this should not be held during the Nine Days because it entails an aspect of being a festive occasion, and therefore, it is proper to postpone it until after Tisha B’Av.

Building and Renovations

Since we curtail our joy from the beginning of Av, one may not build a “joyous building” during the Nine Days. For example, one may not extend one’s house or widen one’s porch, unless there is a vital need for it.

If, however, one began building before the Nine Days, he should make an agreement with the contractor to stop working during this period. If one failed to make such an agreement beforehand, he should ask the contractor to stop work during the Nine Days, but if he asserts his right to continue working, there is no need to break the contract with him.

However, one who lives with his family in a cramped apartment may build an additional room during the Nine Days. One may also do any type of construction that is designed to prevent damage. For example, if a wall is about to fall, one may knock it down in an orderly fashion and rebuild it, even if he does not need the room in which it is found and there is no danger involved, because doing it this way prevents damage (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 8:16-17).

Painting and Finishing Touches

It is also forbidden to plaster or paint one’s walls during the Nine Days, because these are considered luxuries that make a person happy. After all, one can live without them. Similarly, one may not do renovations that are designed to beautify or embellish one’s house, like replacing shutters (trissim), cabinets, curtains, or anything else that is costly, brings one joy, and is unnecessary.

For the Sake of a Mitzvah

It is permissible to build, plaster, or paint for the sake of a mitzvah, like building a synagogue or a school. Likewise, anything needed for the public good is considered a mitzvah-need and is permissible (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim, 8:16).

Contractors and Laborers

A Jewish contractor or Jewish construction workers may continue building apartments or houses during the Nine Days in order to sell them, because the units are designed as regular living quarters, and not for luxury purposes. Besides which, this is their livelihood, and in the Land of Israel there is a mitzvah in building houses. Plastering and painting, however, should be postponed until after the Nine Days, unless this will cause excessive losses.

Changing Place of Residence

Q: Is one allowed to move to a new residence during the Nine Days?

A: In general, one should not enter a new apartment, owned or rented, during the Nine Days – both due to the joy involved, and also because these days lack a good sign (siman tov). However, if delaying entrance will cause great financial loss, one may enter the apartment.

Joyous Transactions

During the Three Weeks we refrain from buying anything over which the blessing ‘Shehchiyanu’ is recited when purchased. When Av enters, we curtail our joy, including curtailing the purchase of joyous items. That is to say, one may not buy extraneous items such as jewelry, clothing, fancy utensils, new furniture, or a family car. It is also forbidden to order a new article of clothing from a tailor. However, a person who comes across an opportunity to buy something joyful at a special price, and is afraid that he will miss out if he waits until after Tish’a B’Av, may purchase the item during the Nine Days. It is best, though, to bring it home or begin using it only after Tish’a B’Av.

Merchants, who deal in luxury items such as jewelry and fancy clothing, may do business during the Nine Days, in order to avoid losing their customers and thereby incurring great financial loss. They should, however, try to engage mainly in preparations for transactions that will take place after the Nine Days. A storeowner who can close his store for the duration of the Nine Days without incurring significant financial loss should do so.

Transactions for the Sake of a Mitzvah

One may buy joyous items if they are needed for the sake of a mitzvah. Therefore, one may purchase tefillin or holy books during this period, because they are mitzvah accessories, and the standard custom is not to recite Shehechiyanu over them. However, someone who is extremely happy when purchasing such items would be required to recite Shehechiyanu,
and consequently, it is forbidden for him to buy them.

One who does not have canvas or rubber shoes for Tish’a B’Av may, be’di’avad, buy them during the Nine Days.

Other Transactions

It is preferable to curtail even ordinary, non-joyous transactions. For example, one who usually makes a big shopping trip and stocks up on food and household items only once every few weeks should ideally do so before or after the Nine Days (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim, 8:18).

The Prohibition of Laundering and Shaving for Sephardic Jews

The Rabbis forbade us to wash clothes during the week in which Tish’a B’Av falls. This is one of our expressions of mourning, for out of pain over and identification with the deceased or the destroyed Temple, we refrain from nurturing and pampering ourselves. Ironing and dry cleaning are included in this prohibition, and this is the Sephardic minhag (custom).

This year Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, and is postponed until Sunday. The poskim (Jewish law arbiters) are in disagreement as far as the din (law) concerning the previous week; in practice, the minhag is to be lenient, and in such a situation, there is no ‘shavua she’chal bo’ (week in which Tish’a B’Av falls), and consequently, Sephardic Jews are allowed to do laundry for the entire week without restrictions.

However, in regards to taking a haircut and shaving, it is appropriate for all Sephardic Jews to be machmir (stringent) in this year, and not shave during the week before Shabbat (see, Peninei Halakha: Z’manim, 8:23, footnote 7).

The Prohibition of Laundering According to Ashkenazi Custom

Ashkenazi Jews follow a stricter custom and refrain from washing clothes during all of the Nine Days, and only the clothing of babies and children who customarily get their clothes dirty are permitted to be washed.

Just as it is forbidden to wash clothing during this period, it is also forbidden to wear laundered clothing. This prohibition also includes spreading fresh linens on a bed and putting a freshly laundered tablecloth on a table.

Since the prohibition against wearing laundered garments lasts several days, it is customary to prepare a sufficient amount of “used” clothing for this period, as follows: Before the prohibited time begins, one wears a number of different articles of clothing, each one for an hour or more. In this way, the garments lose their status of “freshly laundered” and may be worn during the prohibited period. One who failed to do so, may take a laundered garment, place it on the floor, and even step on it, and by doing so, it is no longer considered freshly laundered, and may be worn.

During this period, one may wear clean underwear and socks and change filthy hand towels. Since people are accustomed, nowadays, to changing these articles frequently, changing them does not entail any aspect of pleasure; rather, simply the removal of something repulsive. A person who wishes to be machmir (stringent) can place them on the floor before wearing them.

In a time of need when one has no clean underwear left to wear, they may be washed – even for adults. When possible, it is preferable to add them to load of laundry being washed for young children.

Bathing During the Week of Tisha B’Av

Even though the Sages prohibited bathing on Tish’a B’Av alone, the Rishonim were custom to refrain from bathing on the days preceding Tish’a B’Av, as well. In Spain (S’farad), many were strict not to wash themselves with hot water during the week of Tish’a B’Av, while in Germany (Ashkenaz), where the climate was cooler and people sweated less, the custom was not to bathe at all during the Nine Days – not even in cold water. Only in preparation for Shabbat Chazon would they bathe themselves partially in cold water (S.A. 551:16, M.B. ibid. K.H.C. 186).

Thus, according to the Sephardic minhag, l’chatchila one may bathe during the week of Tish’a B’Av, provided one uses lukewarm water that causes neither suffering nor pleasure.

It seems that today, even according to the Ashkenazi minhag, one is permitted to bathe. Firstly, because it possible to rely on the Sephardic minhag, because their custom was established in a similar climate to that of Eretz Yisrael. Additionally, the habits of cleanliness and bathing in our times have changed completely. In the past, when people did not have running water in their homes, bathing was considered a special occasion of pleasure and indulgence. Nowadays, though, most people are accustomed to bathe regularly, and it has become a routine practice. If someone who is used to showering daily refrains from doing so, he will feel distressed.

Therefore, each person is allowed to bathe normally during the Nine Days and the week of Tisha B’Av, including shampooing one’s hair as usual, provided it is done in lukewarm water that is not a pleasure to remain in for a longer period of time, but on the other hand, the water does not have to be so cold that the bather will suffer from them.

A person who smells from foul body odor due to a lack of bathing is obligated to shower, and should be careful not to be machmir in this minhag, so as not to cause a desecration of God’s name.

Bathing in a Pool or Ocean

If the objective of the bathing is to have a good time, it is forbidden already from Rosh Chodesh, because we must curtail our joy.

Bathing or swimming that is designed primarily for health purposes, such as individuals accustomed to swimming everyday in a pool for a half hour, according to Sephardic custom it is permitted till Shabbat Chazon, and according to Ashkenazi custom, it is forbidden for all Nine Days.

However, if someone’s doctor instructs him to swim for health reasons, he may do so until the eve of Tisha B’Av.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found here:

Judge the Rabbi Fairly

The slander of Rabbi Riskin based on the YouTube video in English * Rabbi Riskin took upon himself the sacred mission of bringing non-Jews closer to understanding the Jewish faith * When speaking with members of other religions, it is inconceivable to demean their religion * Rabbi Kook said we should not seek to destroy other religions, but elevate them * A story about Rabbi Yisrael from Salant illustrating how overhearing a conversation intended for a specific public can be misleading * The prohibition of accepting ‘lashon ha’ra’, and the duty to judge favorably * The proper attitude towards Christian supporters of Israel

The Evil in Slander

Following my article in favor of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin shlita, I received a number of severely critical letters. The most hostile responses claimed that he is introducing heresy into Judaism, and encourages missionaries to seduce Jews to Christianity. The most moderate responder wrote: “I was shocked and embarrassed. I really admire you, Rabbi Melamed, and your books, etc … I simply think that you are unaware of Rabbi Riskin’s sympathetic views of Christianity and oto ha’ish (literally ‘that man’, or a euphemism for the Jewish founder of Christianity) … God have mercy … Rabbi, I suggest you have a look at the videos on YouTube where Rabbi Riskin speaks the praises of Christianity and oto ha’ish. The videos are in English. With this in mind, I’d be happy to understand how you could defend Rabbi Riskin.”
Since all the slanderers based their reactions on a certain video in which Rabbi Riskin speaks in English, I asked Rabbi Maor Cayam shlita, a rabbi in Yeshiva Har Bracha whose native tongue is English, to listen carefully to what Rabbi Riskin said, translate it word-for-word, and tell me what he thought.

His Opinion

“It should be pointed out that the section in question, which lasts for about eight minutes, was edited and censored from an hour-long conversation in which Rabbi Riskin familiarizes his Christian audience with the principles of Judaism, explicitly saying that any Jew who believes in Christianity betrays his own faith, and forfeits his portion in the world. At any rate, even in the edited version there were no expressions of support for Christianity, rather, he treats them with respect.
“Generally speaking, the impression I got from the conversation is that Rabbi Riskin is a fascinating and powerful speaker, who knows how to explain Jewish values even to the unacquainted. In this conversation, he attempts to familiarize Christians with the moral values ​​in Judaism, in particular world peace, and share with them the criticism of violent Islam which threatens Israel and the entire world. In his speech he draws his Christian audience closer to a love of Israel and universal values, and attempts to build a common basis for advancement. He talks about the common values ​​of vision, redemption, truth and love, paving the way to enable the People of Israel to be a light unto the nations.”


I will not quote from the transcript the sensitive points upon which Rabbi Riskin can be criticized, because the overall conclusion is clear: Out of absolute loyalty to the Jewish faith, Rabbi Riskin took on a sacred mission: to bring non-Jews closer to the principles of Judaism and to support the redemption process of the Ingathering of the Exiles, as expressed in the words of the Torah and the Prophets, and to elevate them from the typical Christian anti-Semitism which inflicted horrible disasters on the Jewish nation. True, there are definitely some rabbis who would prefer to phrase things differently, but this does not mean that Rabbi Riskin’s approach is inappropriate, and certainly there is no basis for making false accusations against him. 

Different Styles of Communicating

As well known, there is a vast difference in the manner in which one talks to religious Jews and those removed from Torah and mitzvoth – let alone, the right way to speak with Christians. In the same manner, Rabbi Kook once criticized a Torah scholar who wrote a booklet called ‘The Religion of Israel’ so as to explain Jewish faith in Japanese, that he erred by expressing disdain for ‘oto ha’ish’ and Muhammad. “It is impossible to offer supreme religious content to this nation by insulting the founders of [other] religions, whoever they may be. We must speak only about the holy, supreme advantage of God’s Torah, and the rejection will come of its own accord” (Igeret 557).

Our Goal in Relation to Other Nations and Religions

Rabbi Kook also wrote that in respect to other religions our objective is not to destroy them, but rather, to elevate and correct them. “It is not the goal of Israel’s light to uproot or destroy them, just as we do not aim for the general destruction of the world and all its nations, but rather their correction and elevation, the removal of their dross, and of themselves they will join the source of Israel, [where] dewdrops of light will flow over them. ‘And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his detestable things from between his teeth, and he, too, shall remain for our God’ (Zechariah 9:7). This applies even to idolatry, and therefore even more so to religions whose foundations are partly based on the light of Israel’s Torah” (Igeret 112).
The basic rule that emerges is that anyone who attempts to familiarize Christians with the light of Jewish faith must tip-toe through a minefield, so as on the one hand not to disgrace the positive aspects of their faith, but on the other hand, not to agree with opposing beliefs. Rabbi Riskin, in his rare talent, is one of the few people who function in this manner, and we should all be grateful to him for that. Those who slander him – their sins are too great to bear, and if someone has criticism about one method or another, he should respectfully present what, in his opinion, is a better approach.

A Story about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter

It is worthwhile to illustrate this idea with a story about one of the Gedolei Yisrael (eminent Torah scholars), Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, of blessed memory, whose main effort was the founding of the Mussar movement in Lithuania, and later in life, was active in Western Europe. In his book on theMussar movement, Rabbi Dov Katz related the following story: When Rabbi Salanter settled in Memel, many residents of the city worked as merchants, most of whose business was connected with the local port, and would load and unload their merchandise on Shabbat as during the week. The first time Rabbi Salanter came to the synagogue where the merchants and port agents prayed to preach about Shabbat, he asked whether there were any Lithuanian Jews (who were strictly observant) among the worshippers. When informed that indeed there were, he refrained from preaching about Shabbat. The following Shabbat, when told there were no Lithuanian Jews present in the synagogue, Rabbi Yisrael began preaching about the importance of keeping Shabbat, until he reached the conclusion: “Handling the cargo that arrived to the port on Shabbat may be necessary, but writing is not.” The merchants accepted this, and agreed not to write on Shabbat. After a few weeks, Rabbi Yisrael delivered another sermon in the synagogue, and said: “Unloading goods on Shabbat may be necessary – but loading goods – certainly is unnecessary.” The merchants also agreed to this. In time, he spoke once again, and cautioned about unloading as well. Thus, he influenced the community step-by-step, until ultimately he brought about a major change (T’nuat HaMussar, Sect. 1, pg. 174).
Imagine if some thoughtless people were present in the Memel synagogue, and afterwards, went to different rabbis and innocently told them that they heard with their own ears how Rabbi Yisrael Salanter permitted blatant and public desecration of Shabbat, for indeed, he said: “Handling cargo on Shabbat  may be necessary, but writing is not.” And if those rabbis were tempted to also believe them, they would have libeled him as a reformist, cautioned the public, and excommunicated him. Fortunately, that did not happen. Regrettably, however, this is the way many controversies start.

How to Draw People Closer

After all, in order to draw people nearer, one has to speak their language, preferring to talk about ideas they are able to grasp, while ignoring points that, in the meantime, they cannot accept. As our Sages said:  “Just as there is a mitzvah to say that which will be heard, so there is a mitzvah to avoid saying that which will not be heard” (Yevamot 65b). Moreover – those drawing closer and their views deserve respect seeing as they do not stem from spite, and if the detractors had been born in their situation, who knows if they could have reached their level. Anyone who falsely accuses a rabbi involved in outreach – taking his words out of context, as if he supports desecration of Shabbat, etc. – transgresses a severe Torah prohibition. True, initially it is best to make sure that different audiences hear what is fitting for them. However, today the reality is that anything can be recorded and heard by all, and consequently, one should always consider who the speakers’ audience was, and judge his word’s accordingly.

How to Relate to Rumors

It is a Torah prohibition to acceptlashon ha’ra (derogatory speech), as it is written: “Do not accept a false report” (Exodus 23:1), and our Sages said: “This is a warning to the recipient of lashon ha’ra” (Mekhilta d’R. Yishmael). The prohibition is to believe the derogatory things said about a particular person are correct, because, as proven by the video of Rav Riskin – upon examination, the malicious rumor turned out to be incorrect.
Our Sages also said that the punishment of one who acceptslashon ha’ra is equal to that of the person who spoke it (Pesachim 118 a), because on account of him, masters of lashon ha’ra are able to continue their sinful ways, arousing dissension and evil.
And if from the outset, the lashon ha’ra could have been interpreted in a positive way, as in the case of the video, nevertheless, one interpreted it in a negative way, he violates an additional Torah prohibition, as it is written: “Judge your people fairly” (Leviticus 19:15), and our Sages said: “Judge your neighbor favorably” [‘kaf zechut’](Shevu’ot 30a). And in regards to a God-fearing person who is known to be meticulous in the performance of mitzvot, the obligation to judge him favorably is even greater (Sha’arei Teshuva, 3:218; Chafetz Chaim, positive mitzvoth 3).
We cannot check every piece of information that comes to our attention, but based on past experience, it seems possible to determine that the vast majority of reports about people involved in drawing Christians closer to supporting Israel – are blatant lies.

The Evil in Christianity and its Tikun

Throughout history, anti-Semitic hatred of Christians towards Jews resulted in dreadful slander, incitement, blood libels, expulsions, extermination, campaigns of destruction, and the murder of entire communities. Until today, this hatred persists in most Christian organizations. Only recently, the Catholic Pope, who is considered relatively friendly towards Jews, acknowledged the rights of the Arab occupiers over Jerusalem, while ignoring our historical rights over the city, and ignoring the fact that the Arabs initiated all the wars against us. Likewise, we also hear about various churches organizing boycotts against Israel.
Precisely on this background should we view the upright choice of tens of millions of Christians, people of conscience and devotion to the Bible, who decided to support the Jews and the State of Israel. Not only that – many of them accept responsibility for the crimes of Christianity against the Jews, and seek to atone for them through volunteer work, donations, and political and public support worldwide – and this, even though they themselves were not involved in any crime against the Jewish people. Certainly, it is a mitzvah to appreciate, encourage, and draw them nearer.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

How Should Natural Gas Profits be Divided?

What does the Torah say about who gets the profits from gas – the public, or those who found it? * The principle set by the Torah: A person is entitled to enjoy the fruits of his own hard work, but natural resources and means of production should be shared equally * How can the idea of Yovel be fulfilled in our time * Today, knowledge and education are the main means of production, and care must be taken to provide them equally for all * What type of music is forbidden to listen to during the “Three Weeks” * Items over which the blessing “Shehechiyanu” is not recited can be purchased during the “Three Weeks”

The Question of Natural Gas

Q: Can we learn from the Torah what should be the fair arrangement – both morally and economically – in regards to the natural gas issue which has recently been the focus of public debate?

On the one hand, representatives of the companies who found the gas claim they deserve to earn large profits for the huge sums they invested in gas exploration at a high risk, and it’s unreasonable that after gas has found, State officials would violate the agreements that were signed before the start of the search. Such a violation could also harm the State of Israel, because capitalists and big companies avoid investing in countries that do not meet their agreements.

On the other hand, many public officials claim that the agreement is unfair, since the gas is a natural resource that belongs to the State, and not to those who found it. Moreover, the public invests a fortune in protecting the country’s borders – including the drilling rigs, as well – and therefore deserves a larger share of the profits. True, investors deserve to capitalize for finding the gas, but there should be limits on their gains as well.

A: In order to express an opinion regarding the current issue of natural gas, all its details must be verified: What were the initial agreements? Were they agreed upon and authorized, or perhaps pressure was placed on government decision-makers? Has the situation changed significantly since then? It would also be worthwhile to know how other countries act, while taking into account the higher security costs in our region. Nevertheless, I will try to clarify the basic position of the Torah.

The Basic Position

Unlike the Communist system, the Torah does not command us to divide profits equally between successful workers, and those who are not. On the contrary, the Torah secures property rights of the individual over his possessions, based on the position that a person is entitled to benefit from the fruits of his own efforts, talents, and God’s blessings. The Torah commanded to sustain the Kohanim, the Levites, and the poor by setting aside a certain percentage of the crop, but even in this matter, the Torah gave the owner of the fruits the right to choose which Kohen to give his terumot (heave offerings), and which Levi or poor person to give his ma’asrot (tithes) (albeit, the gifts to the poor,’ leket ‘, ‘shichacha‘, and ‘pe’ah‘ were made available to them without the owner of the field having the right to distribute them).

Nevertheless, there is an important element of equality in the Torah expressed by the mitzvah of Yovel (the Jubilee Year), whereby all the land in Eretz Yisrael must be divided equally among all of Israel. Even if a person was forced to sell his inheritance – in Yovel, his inheritance returns to him, or his heirs. Similarly, a destitute person who had to sell himself into slavery was released in the Yovel, so he could turn a new page and set out on a fresh path of his own free choice (it should be noted that in an economic situation such as ours, where no one is literally begging for bread, it is forbidden to sell oneself into slavery, and consequently, the institution of slavery is prohibited).

The Integration of the Two Ideas

It can be said that, indeed, both ideas – equality on the one hand, and free will and free enterprise on the other – ought to receive mutual expression. On the one hand, all human beings were created in the image of God and are equal before the law and before all else, lands, which are the means of production, should be divided equally. On the other hand, the most important expression of God’s image in man is his ability to choose and initiate. If he works hard and utilizes his talents – he will profit; if he is lazy – he will lose. And on a spiritual level: If one fulfills the Torah and mitzvot – he will be blessed in the present world, and receive good reward in the Hereafter. But if he chooses to sin – he will not see blessing in this world, and will be punished in the next.

The Significance of Yovel in Our Times

In the past, ninety percent of people made their living from agriculture. Land was the main means of production, and as a result, dividing it equally formed a basis of equality for everyone. Today, land is no longer the primary means of production, and earning a livelihood is dependent on many factors. Nevertheless, we should seemingly learn from the mitzvah of Yovel two foundations: First, just as farmland was divided evenly among all, similarly, we should divide other natural resources which God created equally, including land for construction, water, oil, gas, beaches, radio waves, air, and the sun. Second, just as the Torah commanded dividing the means of production equally, likewise, we should attempt to provide an education for all young people that will procure for them, as best as possible, an equal opportunity to earn a living from their talents and diligence. With effective planning, these two elements can be mutually integrated by diverting the money received from the natural resources towards professional education programs for all.

In this manner, we will have achieved realizing the vision of ​​dividing the land for the entire Jewish nation, together with the tikun (correction) that was made in the return of lands to their original owners in the Yovel, for granting quality education to everyone also allows the children of poor parents to obtain a respectable profession according to their talents and diligence.

It could be said that this is the purpose of Yovel – to restore the natural free-will of man created in the image of God, together with the distribution of the resources God created equally.

A Proposal of Yovel for Capitalists

Perhaps a further suggestion could be made that, just as in the Yovel the fields returned to their original owners and slaves were released to their homes, in a similar fashion, Torah scholars should possibly conduct an in-depth examination of the structure of modern economy, and consider whether it is appropriate that in the Yovel year, a certain percentage of the accumulated wealth be divided equally. For in addition to laws designed to prevent monopolies which harm free competition and stifle industry and trade, we should also avoid creating overly large gaps between the extremely rich and the remainder of the population. This idea also includes a measure of justice, because well-run public organization allows the major capitalists to become wealthy, and therefore, maybe it is fitting that once in fifty years, a portion of their accumulated wealth be once again distributed for education and public needs. This will not affect their quality of life – they will still have hundreds of millions of dollars, but it will grant a more important status to the value of equality, without harming the individual responsibility of every person to earn a living.

The ‘Three Weeks’

The ‘Three Weeks’ that start from the night of the seventeenth of Tammuz till Tisha B’Av are days of grief, about which the verse says: “All who pursue her have overtaken her, in the midst of her distress (in Hebrew, ‘bein hametzarim‘)” (Eicha 1:3). In order to signify the nature of these days, our Sages instituted the reading of Haftarah’s dealing with calamities on the three Sabbath’s of ‘Bein Hametzarim‘, and on the seven Sabbath’s following Tisha B’Av, to read seven Haftarah’s of comfort (S.A., 428:8, according to Pesikta).

The custom in most Jewish communities is not to perform marriages during the ‘Three Weeks’, but there are some Sephardic communities that avoid marriages only during the ‘Nine Days’.

Ashkenazi Jews and some Sephardic Jews, including those from Morocco and Jerba, and those who go according to the Ari HaKadosh, are custom not to take haircuts during the ‘Three Weeks’. Other Mizrachi Jews refrain from taking haircuts only during the ‘Nine Days’.

Dancing and Music

Although our Sages did not institute specific regulations to signify the grief and mourning of the ‘Three Weeks’, Jews are accustomed to avoid dancing and public celebrations for the entire period (M.A. 551:10).

Consequently, we do not listen to happy music during these days, and even music that is not happy should not be listened to at high volume, because doing so also involves a certain measure of festivity and joy. But during the ‘Nine Days’, it is even forbidden to listen to music that is not so happy, rather, only sad music is permitted (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 8:4-5).

The ‘Shehecheyanu‘ Blessing, and Other Purchases

During the days of ‘Bein Hametzarim‘, the custom is not to buy clothing or furniture upon which the ‘Shehecheyanu‘ blessing is recited, because these are days of calamity, and it is not fitting to say “shehecheyanu veqiyemanu vehigi’anu lazeman hazeh” (“who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion”).

However, up until Rosh Chodesh Av, it is permitted to purchase items upon which ‘shehecheyanu‘ are not recited. Therefore during these days, one is allowed to buy socks or undershirts, because since they are not so important, ‘shehecheyanu‘ is not recited over them. One is also permitted to buy clothes which still require repair, because ‘shehecheyanu‘ is not recited over them at the time of purchase, but rather, when first worn; instead, the clothes should be worn for the first time after Tisha B’Av, or the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Av, and the blessing should be recited. Someone whose custom is not to recite the ‘shehecheyanu‘ blessing at the time of purchasing clothes, but rather, while wearing them the first time, may buy new clothes during these days, and wear them for the first time after Tisha B’Av, or the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Av and recite the blessing.

Married couples are permitted to buy a piece of furniture because, seeing as they share the furniture, they recite the blessing “ha’tov ve’hameitiv” (“who is good and does good”) and not ‘shehecheyanu‘, and this blessing is permissible during ‘Bein Hametzarim‘. But an individual should avoid buying a piece of furniture, seeing as he would have to recite ‘shehecheyanu‘.

Someone who chances upon a new fruit, if it can refrigerated until Shabbat, he should wait until Shabbat and then recite the blessing ‘shehecheyanu‘ and eat the fruit. If there is concern that in the meantime the fruit will rot, one should recite the ‘shehecheyanu‘ even during the week, in order not to lose out on the blessing.

Shopping During the “Nine Days”

When the month of Av begins, business transactions are curtailed, and one should even avoid shopping for items upon which ‘shehecheyanu‘ is not recited. During the “Nine Days” it is also appropriate to refrain from doing one’s regular, monthly food shopping.

Trips and Swimming

Some poskim say one should avoid taking trips and bathing in the ocean or in a pool during the “Three Weeks”, in order to lessen one’s pleasure during the days of “Bein Hametzarim“. Additionally, these days have a history of being hazardous, and one should avoid doing things that could place one in danger.

However, according to halakha, there is no prohibition, because our when our Sages said “When the month of Av begins, we reduce our joy”, this refers only from Rosh Chodesh Av, but before that there is no prohibition to do things that are fun and pleasurable, and only particularly joyful events should be avoided, such as the parties, concerts and dances. Therefore, it is permitted to travel, swim, or take a vacation in a hotel until the end of the month of Tammuz.

As for the concern about matters of danger, this does not refer to a risk that would change the precautions necessary throughout the entire year. Therefore, it is permitted to conduct trips, etc., during the “Three Weeks”, and one should be extra careful about safety rules which are meant to be maintained all year long.

When the month of Av enters, we reduce our joy, and therefore trips and recreation which are mainly for pleasure and joy should be avoided. A trip or vacation designed primarily for study purposes or health reasons is permitted during the “Nine Days”. The same holds true for bathing in a pool or ocean – if the purpose is recreational – it is prohibited, but for someone who was instructed to swim for health reasons, it is permitted, and even during the “Nine Days”.

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

An Illegitimate Boycott

The controversy against the ‘heter mechira’ as an expression of opposition to Zionism and secularism * The opposition of the Chazon Ish to the ‘heter’, and his claim that the sale falls under the category of ‘shlichut l’davar aveira’ * The Chazon Ish’s claim dishonors rabbis who disagree with it, completely invalidating their opinions * The severe affront of Haredi fanatics and rebels has caused distortions within Haredi society, and led to the fear of eminent rabbis to express their views * Those who hold that it is forbidden to eat heter mechira fruits lump one chumra speculation onto another, thus damaging the honor of the Gedolei Yisrael who were in favor of the ‘heter’


Last week I wrote about the history of the heter mechira, as was implemented by the Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis). I also mentioned that from the beginning of the second generation, the defining characteristic of the opponents to the heter was their antipathy to the Yishuv HaChadash, and their emphatic disapproval of the Zionist movement which, in the meantime, had been founded in 5657 (1897), and whose leaders and activists were predominantly non-observant.

Without such an explanation it is difficult to understand the reason for their strong opposition to the heter, seeing as according to halakha it is extremely well-founded – much more so than similar heters which all observant Jews rely on.

For in the opinion of an important group of eminent Rishonim (among them Ra’za, Raavad, Nimukei Yosef, Meiri, and others), there is no obligation to keep shmitta in our times. And even according to those poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who believe shmitta is obligatory, they agree that the obligation is merely of rabbinic status (except for a few Achronim, whose reasoning is problematic).

In addition to this, there is a genuine doubt as to when shmitta actually occurs: According to the opinions of Rashi, Rosh, and Tur, the Sabbatical year was in 5774 (2014); according to Raavad it was in 5772 (2012); and according to our custom, which follows the opinion of the Geonim – 5775 (2015). This safek (doubt) is so significant that Mahari Engel wrote that because of it, shmitta could have been cancelled entirely, because each possible year could be annulled by the two additional possibilities (Otzarot Yosef, Shevi’it, pg.96).

Indeed, upon analyzing the heter mechira, it tends to be a chumra (an obligation that exceeds the bare requirement of halakha) compared to what is customary in similar cases of sha’at dachak (times of distress).

The only explanation for the fierce Haredi opposition to the heter is that the machloket (controversy) against the Zionist movement kilkala et shurat ha’din (defied the rules of proper debate), to the point where they ignored all the well-founded sources of the heter, while assembling all the possible chumra arguments.

The Heter in the Third Generation

In the third generation of the new settlements in Eretz Yisrael, the Chief Rabbis, Rabbi Herzog and the Rishon L’Tzion Rabbi Uziel, along with Rabbi Frank, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and most of the city and community rabbis in the country, implemented the heter mechira.

In contrast, the opponents were led by the Chazon Ish, who immigrated to Israel in the year 5693 (1933). It should be noted that unlike the rest of the opponents of the heter, the Chazon Ish demonstrated responsibility and concern for the religious farmers, made an effort to guide them, and even introduced extreme kulot (leniencies) in the laws of shmitta so they could manage without the heter mechira. However, similar to the other machmirim, he also opposed the Zionist movement. It must also be pointed out that, regrettably, in his opposition to the heter, he raised the dispute to a grave level.

The Argument about the Validity of the Heter from the Prohibition of “Lo Techanem

One of the central claims of the Chazon Ish is that, since it is forbidden to sell land to a non-Jew in Eretz Yisrael because of the prohibition “lo techanem” (‘do not give them any consideration’, which may be rendered ‘do not give them a resting place in the land’), when farmers appoint rabbis as agents to sell the land, the rabbis become ‘shlichim l’davar aveira‘ (agents for a prohibition), and as such, their actions are invalid because their shlichut is void, for we have the principle “ain shaliach l’davar aveira” (there is no agency for prohibitions) (Chazon Ish, Shevi’it 24:4).

Of course, the rabbis in favor of the heter had a convincing answer, for the prohibition of “lo techanem” is designed to strengthen Israel’s presence in the land, as the verse says: “When God your Lord brings you to the land you are entering, so that you can occupy it, He will uproot many nations before you…When God your Lord places them at your disposal and you defeat them, you must utterly destroy them, not making any treaty with them or giving them any consideration“(Deuteronomy 7:1-2). If so, when selling the land is for a limited time and is intended to strengthen Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael, there is absolutely no prohibition (Yeshu’ot Malko, Y.D. 55; Aderet; Avnei Nezer, Y.D. 458).

Moreover, even if the mechira was needless for the strengthening of settling the land, the Rishonim explained that l’chatchila (from the outset), the prohibition of “lo techanem” only applies to a permanent sale, or at the very least when the non-Jew intends to act as the ba’al ha’bayit (owner) for a certain amount of time; but when the sale is for a limited amount of time and the non-Jew has no intention of acting as the ba’al ha’bayit, there is no prohibition of “lo techanem” (Ramban, and Chinuch 339, and so can be understood from the Rambam, Laws of Avoda Zara, 10:3-4).

The Difficult Argument against the Chazon Ish

Thus, in the opinion of the Gedolei poskim (eminent Jewish law arbiters), the rabbis conducting the mechira are fulfilling a mitzvah by assisting farmers settling the land. This being the case, even those who disagree with them cannot claim they are sinners – just as Sephardic Jews who follow the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch and refrain from warming-up soup on Shabbat cannot claim that Yemenite Jews who follow the Rambam and do warm-up soup, are sinners.

The claim of the Chazon Ish, therefore, is a huge insult to the Gedolei rabbanim (eminent rabbis) of Eretz Yisrael. Not only did he disagree with them, although they were the local rabbinic authorities and greater than him in wisdom, public responsibility and understanding of the situation – he went even further, claiming that their opinion counts for nothing, to the point where those following them are considered as having sinned.

The Harsh Consequences

Unfortunately, as a result of such severe and harsh positions against the Gedolei rabbanim, for three generations rabbis from the Haredi community have been afraid to clarify major issues appropriately. They fear that if they express an opinion that does not see eye-to-eye with the machmirim and the fanatics who support them, all of their opinions will be disqualified, and they will be denunciated and driven out of the camp, as being instigators and accomplices to sinful acts.

In this manner, Haredi society has deviated from the path of Torah in a number of issues, to the point where many of them have become used to degrading Gedolei rabbanim, such as Maran HaRav Kook and his students, despite the fact that in private, many of their Gedolei rabbanim oppose it. In a similar fashion, many of them became inclined to abolish the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), about which our Sages said it is equal to all the mitzvot, and many of them dare to publicly deny the great mitzvah the soldiers fulfill by defending the people and the country. They have even invented new prohibitions against secular studies and Sherut Leumi (national service), and various other chumrot that deviate from the letter of Jewish law. And in all of these issues there are numerous Haredi rabbis who privately oppose, but they do not clarify their views openly due to the risk of being attacked by the ba’alei machloket (‘masters of dissension’).

Limud Zechut

However, in regards to the Chazon Ish, there is room for a bit of limud zechut (benefit of the doubt), for he was extremely tenacious in nature, and everything he derived from his studies he wrote, paying no heed to those greater than himself. Furthermore, the Chazon Ish displayed particular honor to Rav Kook, by addressing him as, “his honor, Maran, shlita“.

A similar type of limud zechut can be given to the Ridbaz, one of the fiercest opponents of the heter, who by nature was fervent and impassioned and compelled by the fire of Torah that burned within him, and often expressed regret that he humiliated Rav Kook. For example, when a certain rabbi started to consider himself the Rabbi of Jaffa, while undermining the authority Rav Kook, the Ridbaz wrote that it was an act of villainy, “because it is ludicrous to think that a wingless fly can wage war against the Great Eagle, whose name is famous in the entire world…”

However, it is difficult to give benefit of the doubt to all those Haredi rabbis who are of normal character, and nevertheless, negated the opinion of the Gedolei rabbanim entirely. And certainly, limud zechut cannot be given to those who went further, adding obscenities and humiliation against the rabbis in favor of the heter, who were greater Torah scholars and more righteous than they were.

Those Who Boycott Heter Fruits

The continuation of their sin is that they boycott the fruits grown under the framework of the heter mechira. For in addition to their position being based on the sin of contempt for Torah scholars of the most severe level, it also runs contrary to the fundamental rules of halakha, for we know a dispute exists whether it is permissible to eat fruits that were grown and saved in a prohibited manner in the shmitta year. According to most poskim, fruits grown by means of work prohibited in the shmitta year are permitted to be eaten (R”Sh, Ramban, Rashba). The same holds true for shmitta fruits that were saved in a prohibited manner and not made hefker (abandoned) – according to most poskim, they are permitted to be eaten (Rambam). And although there are poskim who disagree and prohibit the fruit, since the opinion of the majority of poskim is to be maykel (lenient), and additionally, shmitta in our times is of rabbinic status – the halakha goes according to the lenient opinion – kal v’chomer (all the more so) when there are opinions that there is no obligation at all to keep shmitta nowadays, and there is also a doubt about when the shmitta year actually is.

Thus, the machmirim pasken contrary to the rules of halakha, kal v’chomer when the farmers are not working in a prohibited manner, but rather according to the rulings of the leading rabbis; therefore there is no room whatsoever to claim that the fruits are forbidden because they were grown b’issur (in a prohibited manner).

Crops of the Field

Indeed, some poskim argue that concerning crops grown in the field there is a special prohibition, because our Sages decreed that sifichim (grasses and vegetables that grew on their own accord in the Sabbatical year), are forbidden to be eaten, kal v’chomer is it forbidden to eat vegetables that were grown b’issur. All this would be true if the farmers planted the seeds without a heter, but since they planted the seeds according to the instruction of rabbis, there is no prohibition to eat the vegetables. And even those who disagree with the heter must agree with this, since the entire gezeira (decree) of sifichim is a rabbinic prohibition in order to prevent an issur, and therefore, when the farmers acted according to the directives of rabbis – there is no room to prohibit the crops.

Other Claims

Some argue that just as it is forbidden to buy fruit from those who are suspected of working in the Sabbatical year, in order not to l’sayea l’dvar aveira (assist a transgression), it is likewise forbidden to buy fruits grown under the framework of the heter mechira. However, since the farmers work according to a heter of the rabbis, there is no transgression in their actions whatsoever. And those who claim it is forbidden to assist them, completely annul the words of the rabbis who permit it, and transgress the severe prohibition of bizuy Talmedei Chachamim (contempt of Torah scholars), and asi’at machloket (causing a dispute).

The Sin of the Boycotters

Thus, those who believe that it is forbidden to eat fruits grown in the framework of the heter mechira, lump one sevara (speculation) onto another l’chumra (to be stringent), in contradiction to the rules of halakha. In addition, they undermine the honor of the Gedolei Yisrael who implemented the heter in accordance with the opinion of the majority of poskim, so as to assist the holy Jews returning to their Land.

This argument is not directed towards those who have studied the issue and concluded that it was not proper to employ the heter mechira, and therefore, they prefer to avoid eating fruits grown under the heter – provided they do so as a personal minhag chassidut (a desire to fulfill the mitzvah according to all opinions), and instruct the public at large that according to the letter of the law, it is permitted to eat fruits grown under the heter (as explained in Ma’adenei Eretz Shevi’it, 159:2).

This argument is directed against those who claim that heter fruits are forbidden to be eaten by one and all, and that one should not eat at the home of someone who relies on the heter, nor should one trust hechshers that rely on the heter mechira, and should even boycott public or family events because of this. Such people transgress the sin of bizuy Gedolei Yisrael (contempt for eminent Torah scholars), and raise their hand against the sanctity of Clal Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. And anyone who lends a hand to this boycott is partner to their sin.

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

The History of the Heter Mechira

The question of what to do in the first shmitta in the year 5649 (1888), after thousands of years in exile * The disagreement about the heter mechira between the eminent poskim of Europe and Eretz Yisrael, and the reliance of most farmers on the lenient opinion * Among the poskim who prohibited the heter mechira, some changed their positions when they saw how urgent the situation was * In the following generation, the fierce opposition to the heter was influenced by the opponents’ negative position to the Zionist movement, and the weakening of religious observance among the pioneers and farmers * The attacks and slander of fanatics against the rabbis in favor of the heter * Why the heter is associated with Rabbi Kook, even though it was introduced years before he immigrated to Israel

As a result of previous articles on the heter mechira, I received questions and complaints about the dispute over the heter. In order to reply to all of them together, I felt it necessary to relate the accounts of the heter chronologically.

When the Question Arose

During the long years of exile the Land of Israel remained desolate, and the few Jews who lived here did not engage in agriculture.

The Jews expelled from Spain who began immigrating to Israel five hundred years ago, and also the Hasidim and the Vilna Gaon’s disciples who began immigrating two hundred years ago, barely engaged in agriculture. Only about one hundred and forty years ago did Jews begin establishing agricultural communities throughout the country. The first were members of the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem who went out from the walls of the Old City, and together with new immigrants established small outposts, until in the year 5638 (1877) they established Petah Tikva. In 5642 (1881) the first aliyah of Chovevei Tzion (Lovers of Zion) began, giving rise to the establishment of seven additional moshavot (rural settlements), until the Sabbatical (shmitta)
year of 5649 (1889). They included: Rishon Lezion, Zichron Yaakov, Akron (Mazkeret Batya), Ness Ziona, Rosh Pina, Gedera and Yesod HaMa’alah.

This was the first time the question of keeping shmitta arose, and the problem was twofold – first, for the individual farmer, and second, for the public in general. As individuals, the farmers were barely able to exist and required support, and keeping shmitta would have brought them to a situation of severe duress, and even starvation. As far the public in general was concerned, keeping shmitta would have likely caused the destruction of the moshavot, for even if some of the farmers were able to exist, it was clear that many would not. In addition, many Jews in the Diaspora who considered immigrating to Israel would refrain from making aliyah after hearing about the difficulties of surviving in the shmitta year.

The Rabbis In Favor of the Heter

One of the Torah giants of the generation and a leader of the Chovevei Tzion movement, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, together with his European rabbi colleagues, Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutna ,and Rabbi Klapfish, the Av Beit Din of Warsaw, discussed the issue and decided to permit farmers to expropriate the fields from the obligation of shmitta by
selling them to a non-Jew, in a way that following the sale, the Jews would work in the fields as employees of the non-Jewish owner. The eminent posek (Jewish law arbiter), Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor of Kovno also supported the heter. In addition, the Sephardic rabbis in Israel, headed by the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Yaakov Shaul Elishar, supported the heter, relying on the judgments of Sephardic rabbis of previous generations who lived in Eretz Yisrael.

Opponents of the Heter

However, the Ashkenazi rabbis in Jerusalem, led by Rabbi Shmuel Salant and Rabbi Diskin, opposed the heter. In their estimation, keeping shmitta would not cause great harm, because at any rate, some agricultural techniques claimed it was beneficial to periodically allow the fields to lie fallow. Other rabbis believed it was possible to obtain financial support for the settlers who kept shmitta. Some argued that if the farmers were allowed to act leniently in keeping shmitta, they would continue to do so in other halachic matters. Still more, they feared that the heter would actually cause the destruction of the moshavot, because it is written in the Torah that the punishment for not keeping shmitta is exile. There were other important European rabbis, such as the Netziv of Volozhin and Rabbi Soloveitchik, author of “Beit Halevi”, who opposed the heter.

In general, the dispute hinged on two questions: First, whether the heter mechira was based on the majority of poskim, or the minority. Second, whether the situation was considered a ‘sha’at dachak‘ (a time of distress), for indeed, there is an accepted halachic rule that in times of distress it is possible to rely on individual opinions, and the more pressing the situation, the more appropriate it is to be lenient.

In Practice, the Heter Mechira was Adopted

In practice, most of the farmers and their supporters felt the need to rely on the heter. Guided by their rabbis from Europe, the farmers approached the Sephardic rabbis in Israel, and they performed the sale of the fields for them. This was also the position of the majority of the leading rabbis. But there were still many rabbis in the Diaspora, and Jerusalem, who opposed the heter, and the fanatics of the times stood by their side and fought fiercely against it, and opposed the rabbis who supported it.

Initially, Some Members of Chovevei Tzion Opposed the Heter

It is worth noting that initially, among the rabbis who were machmir (stringent), there were rabbis who felt civic responsibility towards the Yishuv HaChadash (the new community) and the farmers, as did the rabbis of Jerusalem. Among the rabbis who were machmir, there were also rabbis who enthusiastically supported the ‘Chovevei Tzion‘, like the Netziv of Volozhin and Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe. However, from one shmitta year to the next, it became clearer just how difficult it was for the pioneers to refrain from working for a year, and consequently, even among the rabbis who were against the heter, some changed their minds in favor. One of them was the ‘Aderet’ (Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim) who attested that while in the Diaspora, he was inclined towards the opinion of the machmirim. But after he immigrated to Eretz Yisrael to serve as the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, and viewed firsthand the great duress, he changed his mind in support of the heter (Iggrot HaRa’ayah 207). Rabbi Diskin from Jerusalem also opposed the heter in the first shmitta year, but in the second Sabbatical year, after recognizing the reality, agreed to the heter in some measure.

The Dispute in the Second Generation

In the year 5664 (1904), Rabbi Kook began serving as rabbi of Jaffa and the moshavot, and in the shmitta year of 5670 (1909), twenty-one years after the Gedolei Ha’dor (eminent Torah scholars) had introduced and implemented the heter, Rabbi Kook continued in their path, and enacted the heter mechira.

Over the years that passed from the beginning of the new settlements, the moshavot grew and expanded. Instead of hundreds of farmers, there were already thousands of families whose livelihood was dependent on agriculture. On the one hand, this fact made the heter even more necessary, but on the other hand, it also caused the opponents of it
to harden their position, since the heter became more comprehensive and involved a lot more people and land.

The Spiritual Situation of the Farmers

In the meantime, another significant change occurred: Most residents of the first moshavot, members of the First
Aliyah, were Torah observant and committed to the rulings of the rabbis. However, during the following generation, the rapid secularization process that swept over European Jewish communities was reflected in the composition of the young immigrants who came to Israel as part of the Second Aliyah. Thus, in the year 1909, many of the new farmers were not fully observant. Most of them were willing to cooperate with the rabbis on issues concerning Shabbat, orla and tithes, but it was impossible to persuade them not to work the fields for a full year. The pioneer’s distancing from Torah observance caused the opponents of the heter to escalate their struggle against it, and against the rabbis supporting it, but on the other hand strengthened the position of those in favor, who believed that by way of the heter, the pioneers would continue cooperating with the rabbis in matters of kashrut (Iggrot HaRa’ayah 291, 311).

The Struggle against the Zionist Movement

At that point in time, the hashkafa lines were clearly drawn. If initially there were rabbis who supported Chovevei Tzion but objected to the heter, in the second generation, all those who supported the new settlements, approved of the heter. On the other hand, the defining characteristic of the opponents was that they had reservations about the Yishuv HaChadash to one extent or another, and certainly disapproved of the Zionist movement which, in the meantime, had been founded in 5657 (1897), and most of its leaders and activists were non-religious.

Only in this light can the fierce opposition to the heter be understood. True, the first generation of rabbis who opposed the heter could still disregard the opinion of the lenient rabbis, seeing as it was a new matter which had not yet been adequately clarified, and the extent of the threat to the public by keeping shmitta was also unclear. But in the second generation, the opponents of the heter were already aware of its considerations, and could have known that its foundations were vastly firmer than similar heters, such as eating ‘chadash‘ in chutz l’aretz, which is accepted in times of sha’at dachak. Moreover, the rabbis who supported the heter tended to be more machmir (stringent) and cautious compared to what was common in similar cases of distress.

The only answer is that the machloket (controversy) of most of the opponents of the heter against the Zionist movement kilkala et shurat ha’din (defied the rules of proper debate among Torah scholars), to the point where they ignored all the reliable sources of the heter, while gathering together all the possible chumra arguments.

The Mitzvah of Settling the Land

In other words, if they believe there is no point in yishuv ha’aretz without keeping shmitta, and there is also no value in the fulfillment of the mitzvot of yishuv ha’aretz by someone who is not meticulous in mitzvot, it goes without saying there is no need to find a heter to work in the shmitta year.

However, the heter is based on the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, which our Sages said is equivalent to all the mitzvot. Not working the fields in the shmitta year was liable to cause great damage to the settlements, because apart from it, the difficulties of immigration and settlement were enormous, and only small numbers of Jews agreed to move to Israel; how much more so would their numbers have decreased if they had to stop working in the shmitta year. Therefore, the rabbis saw a great need to find a heter in order to expropriate the fields from the obligation of shmitta – which today is d’rabbanan (of rabbinic status) or midat chassidut (a pious and meritorious act), and fulfill the commandment of yishuv ha’aretz, whose obligation is d’oreita (of Biblical status). In time, it turned out that the necessity was much graver, because many of the Jews who remained in European exile were murdered by the Nazis or trapped under Communist persecution.

The Controversy

Life was not easy for the rabbis in favor of the heter. They had to withstand harsh attacks and slander from the fanatics of the times. There were even Gedolei Ha’dor who initially opposed the heter, but after hearing the explanations in favor, supported it, but refrained from openly expressing their opinions due to the dispute waged by the opponents of the heter (for example, the eminent posek, the Maharsham).

Rabbi Kook

When the Gedolei Ha’dor instituted the heter in 5649 (1888), Rav Kook was only twenty-four years old. In spite of this, many people associate the heter with Rabbi Kook, because he explained its foundations at length in his book ‘Shabbat Ha’aretz‘ and in numerous responsa and letters, and he was also responsible for its implementation as rabbi of Jaffa and the moshavot in the shmitta years of 5670 (1909) and 5677 (1916) (although he was not in Eretz Yisrael at that time). Later on, as Chief Rabbi of Israel, he also implemented the heter in the shmitta years of 5684 (1923) and 5691 (1930).

It is worth noting that by nature, Rav Kook was an extremely pious man who was inclined to enhance and embellish every mitzvah possible, and greatly regretted having to be forced to expropriate the mitzvot of shmitta by means of the heter mechira. Nevertheless, in practice, he determined that it was absolutely impossible to be machmir. And as he wrote, if we are overly machmir (stringent) in this matter, beyond what is required, the enormity of the chilul Hashem (desecration of God) and the destruction of the Torah it would cause would be inconceivable, for it would reinforce the heretics who claim that the Torah does not enable the Jewish People to survive, and therefore we must renounce its commandments (Iggrot 291, 311).

With God’s help, next week I will write about the harder line the opponents of the heter took, and the serious consequences it has until today.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Additional articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

When Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu Taught Halakha

Longing for the halakha classes of our mentor, Rishon Lezion Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu * Is one allowed to make carrot juice and eggplant salad from fruits and vegetables grown in the shmitta year * Rabbi Eliyahu on shmitta garbage cans: “What? Should we tell people to fill their houses with mosquitoes?!”* Is one allowed to extinguish a havdala candle with shmitta wine * Why it is important to present the position supporting the ‘heter mechira’ without apologies and self-justification * The great merit of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Meir shlita, for working to strengthen the status of the ‘heter mechira’ * The failure of IDF commanders in the pork-eating affair

Our Revered Teacher and Mentor, Rabbi Eliyahu ztz”l

The yarhtzeit of the Rishon Lezion, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l, will be on the 25th of Sivan (Friday).

Over the past year I was privileged to study in depth the laws of shmitta (the Sabbatical year), and with the help of God, I hope to publish a book on the subject next month, in the series of “Peninei Halakha”.

In the course of my studies, I listened to classes given by Rabbi Eliyahu ztz”l on the laws of shmitta (from the ‘Yeshiva‘ website).

I visualized his image, and longing flooded my heart. I remembered how he would give classes in majestic splendor and dignity, with a full sense of responsibility and mission of teaching Torah and halakha to the Jewish People; his entire milieu exuded respect and love for the Torah and its observers. While giving the classes, at times he would intertwine important points with humor and irony, adding joy and delight to his audience at large, and wisdom to the Torah scholars among them. I will try to put into words his speaking style, and anyone who remembers his classes can surely understand the underlying hints.

From the Laws of Shmitta

As is known, fruits grown in the shmitta year are holy and are meant to be eaten in their normal fashion, and anyone who changes them from their normal manner is considered as if he ruins them.

The question is, what constitutes a change in the normal manner of eating, which is forbidden to do with shmitta fruits?

This what Rabbi Eliyahu said: “Concerning carrot juice, people may argue that I changed my mind. In the past, I said it was forbidden to make carrot juice, and now I’m saying that it is permitted. But I have not changed my mind, rather, the reality has changed! In the past, no one would have imagined squeezing carrots for juice, therefore, someone who did so was considered as having misused it. But today, when this is the norm – it is permitted!”

On the question whether it is permissible to puree (‘ree’sook‘, in Hebrew) eggplants to in order to make eggplant salad, he said with a bit of irony: “Regarding eggplant salad, I saw four poskim (Jewish law arbiters). One said: ‘In my life, I’ve never eaten eggplant salad! This is not the way they are meant to be eaten! It is forbidden to puree eggplants!’ The second one said: ‘Myself? Every Shabbat I eat eggplant salad! This is the way they are meant to be ate! They can be pureed!’ The third said: ‘It depends: if you puree them well, until you cannot see the pieces of eggplant, then it’s forbidden. But if you don’t know how to puree well, and don’t use a mixer, then it is permissible, because it is not considered ‘ree’sook‘, but rather a tikun (improvement) of the food.’ The fourth posek came and warned: ‘No! Such a thing should not be done! This is considered an abnormal way of pureeing. It must be pureed in its normal way!’ “So, in short”, Rav Eliyahu ruled, “eggplant salad has become part of our meals, and therefore it is permitted to puree eggplants to make a salad.”

In Regards to Leftover Shmitta Fruit Scraps

As we know, Maran HaRav Kook (Mishpat Kohen 83) wrote that leftover shmitta fruits should not be thrown into a garbage can, because there they become rotten and ruined, to the point where they are inedible.

Concerning this halakha, Rabbi Eliyahu said: “So some say take a container, and put in it everything that has kedushat shevi’it (the sanctity of shmitta), wait till it stinks, until it rots, until it becomes putrid, and in the meantime you’ll have mosquitoes all over your house. And who knows? Maybe they’ll be mosquitoes from swamps infested with diseases! What? Shall we tell a person to fill his house with mosquitoes?! Certainly, this is not the correct thing to do! Rather, one should place the scraps in a bag, and take two coverings as a way of honor – one covering can be made of paper – for the main purpose is to cover the fruit.”

The second covering, although, is a hidur (embellishment of the mitzvah) that Rav Eliyahu added, and most poskim have not written that a second covering is needed.

Giving an Apple to a Child

Rav Eliyahu also explained that one is permitted to give an apple to a child, despite the fact that part of it may go to waste, and it is not considered as if one had ruined the apple, because this is the child’s normal way of eating.

In addition, there is no need to chase after the child and force him to finish the entire apple. Ideally, however, it is better to give him a slice of the apple, in order to reduce the chances that some of it will be thrown away (see, Ma’amar Mordechai 13:15).

Using Shmitta Wine for Havdala and the Seder Night

“Concerning wine of ‘Otzar Beit Din‘ (a framework wherein both the farmer and seller are agents for the local or national Beit Din for cultivating produce and its distribution): a person fills the havdala cup with wine, and his grandmother taught him that on Motzei Shabbat when you fill the cup, you must fill it until the wine spills onto the plate as a siman tov (a good sign)! Or another possibility: His father or mother taught him: If you want to put out the candle – do not blow it out with your mouth! It’s dangerous! Rather, take the candle and extinguish it with the wine that spilled from the cup on the plate. But in the shmitta year, our Sages warned that produce grown is ‘for food’ (to be eaten) – and not to be wasted. So there are Achronim (later authorities) who say, it is forbidden to pour shmitta wine onto the plate and extinguish the candle (so is the opinion of Maran Rav Kook). The second one says: The verse says ‘lachem‘, meaning – for all your needs; if this is one of his needs, he is allowed to pour wine onto the dish to put out the candle. And this is the practical halakha, because when one pours the wine onto the havdala plate and claims that it is for a blessing, this, in any case, entails some type of pleasure. The only problem would be the second cup of the Seder which is spilled while saying ‘Datzach, Adash, Ba’achab‘, which is forbidden. Because then, the wine is spilled because of our enemies. In that case, what type of pleasure does he get from that? Therefore it is forbidden”( Ma’amar Mordechai 13:44-45).

Heter Mechira

Rav Eliyahu believed that we have to use the heter mechira, otherwise, we encounter even larger halachic difficulties.

 And even if one wants to make use of the solution of Otzar Beit Din, he must combine it with the heter mechira, as he explained at length in his book ‘Ma’amar Mordechai,’ chapter 21.

Concerning the status of the Southern Arava and Eilat in the shmitta year, he ruled that they are included in the borders of ‘olei Mitzrayim’, and consequently, the fruits that grow there have the sanctity of kedushat shevi’it, and that it is forbidden to work there in the fields without the heter mechira.

Regarding Thos who Attack the Heter Mechira

In a number of recent articles I clarified the halachic fundamentals of the heter mechira.

There were some readers who attacked me on how I presented the issue. They are accustomed to the heter mechira being written about from an apologetic and self-justifying angle, whereas I place it on the high road, while raising serious questions regarding the opinions of those who dissent, who gathered all the machmir (stringent) opinions in order to prohibit the heter. Not only that, but many of them boycott the heter mechira fruits, in stark contrast to the rules of halakha, because only if they consider the opinions of those who permit the heter null and void, can it be said that the fruits are forbidden. But anyone who considers the opinion of those who permit the heter as being legitimate, has no halachic foundation to prohibit eating fruits from the heter mechira.

Indeed, one of the most prominent features on the way this issue is presented is that those who permit the heter were inclined to conduct themselves with modesty and piety, and out of respect of the for stringent opinion, presented the two opinions as being equal (as written, for example, in the book of Rabbi Tikochinsky ‘Sefer HaShmitta’, and Rabbi Zevin’s ‘L’Or HaHalakha’). In this way, they followed in the footsteps of Rav Kook ztz”l, who conducted himself personally with excessive piety. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l also acted in this same manner, and would interpret the verse “b’charish u’ve’katzir tishbot” (‘even in plowing time and harvest season you are to rest’) with a play on words: one should remain silent (‘charish‘ also means to be silent) on debates concerning shmitta, but if one must speak, do it briefly (‘katzir‘, in Hebrew can also mean ‘to make short’).

On the other hand, however, many of the machmirim, especially in recent times, tended to disqualify the position of rabbis who permitted using the heter mechira and humiliate them, even labeling them in extremely harsh terms such as heretics, destroyer’s of the Torah, etc., thus severely undermining the rules of proper debate among Torah scholars. And since the words of those who permit the heter are based on the foundations of Torah and the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), the machmirim, in their crusade, dragged themselves into disrespecting the honor of the Torah and the Gedolei Ha’dor (eminent Torah scholars), and the sanctity of settling the Land.

And since truth must seek redress for its insult, we are obligated to clarify the issue properly, without overly paying homage to the machmirim, rather, to criticize them honestly about not having treated this issue as was customary in Judaism for generations.

Thank You, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Meir shlita

In this matter we must give a big “thank you” to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Meir shlita, head of the halakha and research institute of Yeshiva Shvut Israel.

For years he has been awakening the public, both in his writings and lectures, to understand the necessity and importance of the heter mechira, and frequently protests against those who disagree to include it within the Mehadrin hechsher.

Truthfully speaking, I was also somewhat influenced by the harsh propaganda against the heter mechira. Of course I knew that it was valid and well-founded, for indeed, the Gedloei Yisrael determined it, lead by Maran HaRav Kook ztz”l. Nevertheless, I thought it was bediavad (acceptable after the fact). It should be noted that this also can be understood from the words of Rav Kook, who often emits a ‘sigh’ in his halachic answers and letters concerning the need for the heter. However, he did this out of his piety and holiness, for he tended personally to be machmir and l’ha’dare (enhance) any mitzvah possible. Therefore, only when the heter was strongly attacked, did he respond and explain that it is very well-founded, and that in truth, the it could have been far more lenient.

Now, after having studied the issue in depth, I realize that today, the heter is l’chatchila (best from the outset), and to a large extent, leans towards being a chumra (exceeding the bare requirement of halakha). In any case, all other halachic approaches are inferior, because they harm the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz, the livelihood of farmers, and other mitzvoth and halachot. A great deal of honor goes to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Meir, who encouraged and reinforces this matter.

The Honor of the Torah and the Nation in the IDF

Unfortunately, IDF commanders failed in their handling of the painful affair of the soldier who ate pork publicly, while offering it to his friends.

It is sad that they do not realize the affront of their position.

This of course adds to the Military Rabbinate’s decline in status, and its exclusion from the public sphere of the IDF, to dealing solely with religious soldiers and the practical details of Jewish law.

This is an opportunity to commend the former Chief Military Rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Weiss, who, out of a sense of responsibility of being a past IDF Chief Rabbi, lead a media campaign in which he criticized the army commanders, and explained on various radio and television stations, with logic and emotion, the gravity of the act and the obligation to guard the Jewish identity of the army.

Let’s hope the elected officials who took a moral stand on this issue will also know how to act properly to correct the situation and return Jewish values to the public sphere of the army, and also demand an apology from the commanders who cancelled the soldier’s punishment without his apologizing publicly for the insult he caused the honor of Israel and its Torah. And if he does not apologize, they should demand that his original sentence be reinstated. Hopefully, there will be some journalists with a sense of Jewish pride to monitor the story, who can inform us of how the matter is handled.

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

Do not Invalidate a Torah Scroll

The great merits of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who gave up on the good life in America and made Aliya in order to settle the Land, where he created exemplary institutions * Different approaches are part of the world of Halakha; even if our approach varies, it is forbidden to invalidate Rabbi Riskin’s position * Threatening his tenure is comparable to ripping entire sections out of a Torah scroll * Can the Chief Rabbinate obligate rabbis in general to accept its positions, and under what conditions? * As long as the Rabbinate looks the other way when it comes to Charedi rabbis, there is no justification for their treating Rabbi Riskin differently

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, shlita

Recently, it has been revealed that the Chief Rabbinate Council is debating whether Rabbi Riskin, shlita, Chief Rabbi of Efrat, should have his tenure extended despite reaching the retirement age of seventy-five.

The discussion should have been solely procedural. However, it seems that certain members of the council have grievances against Rabbi Riskin, and therefore decided to take the opportunity to put an end to his tenure. This is an opportunity to speak in praise of Rabbi Riskin, who is a tzadik, sage, and leader with tremendous merits.

Rabbi Riskin was born into a non-religious, poor family. As a result of a conscious, personal choice, and with the help of his grandmother, he began to forge a path towards Torah and mitzvot at a young age. Because he was a genius and excelled in his studies, he was accepted by the most prestigious university in the world, Harvard, and offered a full scholarship. Attending that esteemed institution would have guaranteed his professional and financial future, as all doors are open to graduates of Harvard. This was an unbelievable opportunity. Few would have been able to resist this temptation. Yet, Rabbi Shlomo gave up the scholarship and went to study at Yeshiva University. There too, the faculty recognized his immense talents and offered him a full scholarship. From that point on, he began dedicating his life to Torah.

As a young, talented, charismatic rabbi, and a gifted orator with the ability to spiritually inspire his listeners and draw them closer to Torah and mitzvot, Rabbi Riskin was very well established and respected in the United States. Successful and intelligent people also found his Torah teachings meaningful, and were privileged to draw closer to Jewish tradition thanks to him. The Torah of truth was in his mouth, and he helped many return to their roots. A brilliant future awaited him as one of the leaders of the Jewish community in America. Yet before turning forty, out of a pure belief in God and Torah, he gave up his position in America and chose to come to Israel and grace it with his presence. With this decision he also sacrificed one of the basic tools of his trade, the English language, in which he so exceled in America. He learned to speak Hebrew fluently as well, but people say that in English he is one of the best orators around.

Thanks to his vision, talents, and leadership, he was privileged to bring many members of his congregation to Israel and to establish a city, Efrat, whose spiritual life centers around Torah study and mitzva observance. Its residents tend to be financially successful and contribute to the development of Israel’s economy, science, and society in general. His Aliya influenced hundreds and thousands to follow in his footsteps, emigrants who moved to Efrat and all over the Land of Israel, and by doing so strengthened their connection to Torah and mitzvot. In due course, he was privileged to found schools and educational institutions in Gush Etzion and in Jerusalem for both boys and girls. He has done all of this with amazing energy – he personally visits all the institutions, teaches, tells stories, and generates enthusiasm in the hearts of the students for a life of Torah and mitzvot. However, when he chose to make Aliya, nothing was promised to him. Like our father Jacob, ‘he crossed the Jordan with only his stick in hand’.

Aliya from Western Countries

Sometimes we fail to remember, but much to our dismay the vast majority of emigrants to Israel in modern times arrived from lands where Jews suffered poverty and oppression. In contrast, Aliya from the West, especially from the United States, is perhaps the Aliya with the purest motivations of all. Most of the emigrants from the U.S. could have done very well for themselves financially and socially had they remained in America, the epicenter of economy, science, and culture. Yet, they decided to forgo all this in order to emigrate, to establish towns and communities, to send their children to the army, and alongside all of this, to seek out employment while having to deal with the difficulties of mastering a new language and adapting to a different culture. With God’s help, many have been blessed with success in both their personal and professional lives. Indeed, Member of Knesset Naftali Bennet is one of the blessed products of this Aliya.

Would We Have Withstood the Challenge

Sometimes students, who come from the United States to study for the year in a yeshiva in the Holy Land, visit Har Bracha. They often ask about the mitzva to live in Israel. I try to answer them in accordance with the halakha: yes, there is a mitzva to live in Israel. I add, however, that if completing their professional studies in the United States would be greatly to their advantage, or if their doing so would

make their parents happy (kibud horim), they may delay Aliya until they complete their studies. Still, I make sure to preface this by saying: I am answering you in accordance with the halakha, but to my sorrow, I cannot say to you with certainty that were I in your position, I would follow the halakha that I am presenting to you, for indeed, sometimes the challenges are enormous, and excuses abound. It is a known fact that there is a mitzva to settle the Land of Israel, yet not all observant people do so.

Therefore, I admire Rabbi Shlomo Riskin tremendously, together with all the immigrants from the United States.

Different Approaches

True, a variety of approaches exist in dealing with numerous halakhic issues. This has always been the case, and differences of opinions were prevalent among the Tanna’im, Amora’im, Ge’onim, Rishonim, and Acharonim. Sometimes these differences are a result of diverse personalities, as is the case with Hillel and Shamai. Other times, the differences result from a contrast in background or ways of thinking. Regarding this our Sages say: “The phrase ‘Masters of Gathering’ (ba’alei asufot) refers to Torah scholars who gather together and study Torah. These declare x impure, while those declare it pure; these forbid, while those permit; these invalidate, while those validate. A person might be tempted to say: ‘How in these circumstances can I learn Torah?’ Therefore, the verse goes on to state: ‘They were all given by one shepherd’ (Kohelet 12:11) – One God gave them; one leader stated them. They come from the mouth of the Lord of all creation, blessed be He. Thus it is written: ‘And God spoke all these words (Shemot 20:1).’ Make your ears like a funnel and acquire a perceptive heart so that you can understand the words of those who declare pure and to those who declare impure, those who forbid and those who permit, those who invalidate and those who validate” (Chagiga 3b).

American Judaism

Rabbi Riskin’s American background is very significant in his work. Jews living in the U.S. and those emigrating from there are on the frontlines in engaging with the challenges presented by Western culture — the ideals of liberalism and egalitarianism, as well as feminism. Rabbi Riskin and his associates are paving the way to deal with these critically important questions while retaining unwavering loyalty to Torah. Even among American Rabbis there are differences in approach in regards to general culture — how open we should be, and where to draw the line; which outside elements should be welcomed, and which rejected.

Occasionally, other rabbis, myself included, favor solutions different from those of Rabbi Riskin. Sometimes this preference is a result of common practice which we feel bound by; other times, we simply believe that a different solution is preferable. These differences of opinion mainly center on educational and social issues and not on significant halachic questions. Only with hindsight will we be able to properly evaluate the pros and cons of each approach. In any case, one may not invalidate Rabbi Riskin’s approach, which is one of the important conduits through which Torah is being revealed today.

A Complete Torah scroll

A Torah scroll which is missing even one letter is invalid. So, too, in the world of Torah, each true Torah scholar has a letter in the Torah. Anyone who excludes a Torah scholar from the community invalidates his Torah scroll. Threatening the tenure of Rabbi Riskin is the equivalent of ripping out entire sections from the Torah.

I assume that the Chief Rabbinate’s council is debating Rabbi Riskin’s future because it is not really familiar with him and his work. However, once they hear a bit about his fear of God, wisdom, and righteousness, I believe that most of the members of the council will stand by him.

If, God forbid, they decide otherwise, Rabbi Riskin’s honor will not be damaged one iota. The status of his community and his institutions will continue to rise, and his influence will increase. However, the status of the Chief Rabbinate as the flag bearer of Torah for the people of Israel will be weakened, as many will come to the realization that the Torah scroll it represents is lacking and thus invalid.

The Chief Rabbinate’s Policy

Some maintain that the Chief Rabbinate needs to establish guiding principles that all rabbis must accept, and that Rabbi Riskin has not been following them with regards to conversion and other matters.

Indeed, it is true that it would be appropriate for the Rabbinate to take a position regarding contemporary communal issues. However, to do so it must engage in a profound and serious analysis of each issue. The discussion needs to involve Gemara, Rishonim, and Acharonim, and an analysis of the reality being explored in all its complexity. In order to expedite the discussions, the Rabbis engaging the issues need to study and read a variety of articles dealing with the issues. Even after this groundwork is laid, the discussion of each issue would minimally need to extend over a number of days. To our dismay, there are no serious discussions taking place today about any significant issues, neither in the Rabbinate, nor in any other Torah organization. For example, Rabbi Chaim Amsalem shlita wrote a very serious book dealing with conversion, which deserves to be discussed. True, my conclusions differs from his, but most who disagree with him offer frivolous objections backed-up with attacks, as is customary in Charedi circles.

I must add that despite the importance of establishing an official position on every issue, this position must not negate the rights of individual rabbis to their opinions. Even when the Sanhedrin sat in the lishkat hagazit (the hewn chamber) on the Temple Mount, the local courts still retained a certain amount of authority. For the position is not merely a fine line, but rather a field, blessed by God — a wide field encompassing various practices and approaches, in whose merit the Oral Law is enriched and blessed. This is even truer today, when we have no Sanhedrin ordained in an unbroken chain from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu. The Rabbinate cannot demarcate a sharp line which leaves important Torah positions on the outside. When the status and authority of the Chief Rabbinate is weak, it must be even more careful to take into account a variety of opinions when it formulates its positions. This is longstanding rabbinic practice.

With Equal Justice for All

Leaving all of the above aside, there must be one law which applies to all. The Council of the Chief Rabbinate overlooks serious disrespect towards its honor and positions imposed by Charedi rabbis who boycott its kashrut and demean the Chief Rabbis, as well as city and community rabbis. Given that, they must certainly show tolerance and favor towards rabbis like Rabbi Riskin, who respect the Chief Rabbinate, but occasionally adopt differing positions.

Today, the Chief Rabbinate does not attempt to immediately fire Rabbis who, contrary to halakhic norms, invalidate conversions performed by the Rabbinate’s representatives. It still recognizes Charedi kashrut organizations, and their marriages and conversions, even though they dare to publicly uproot biblical commandments. These include the mitzva to settle the Land of Israel and to protect the people of Israel by serving in the army. These rabbis are also ingrates, refusing to recognize God’s goodness in establishing the State, and denounce those who recite Hallel on Israeli Independence Day. Yet they are recognized. In light of this reality, the Chief Rabbinate must certainly refrain from acting against a rabbi whose fear of God, good deeds, and wisdom are greater than those of the Charedi rabbis whose honor they over-zealously guard.

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

“Do not give them a Resting Place in the Land”

Does the sale of the Land of Israel to a non-Jew in the framework of the ‘heter mechira’ contradict the Torah prohibition “Lo -techannem”? * The purpose of the prohibition is to prevent non-Jews from getting a foothold in the Land of Israel * There is no prohibition of “Lo-techannem” when the sale is for a limited time * There is no prohibition when the purpose of the sale is to strengthen our foothold in the country * Challengers of the ‘heter mechira’ by reason of “Lo-techannem” are precisely the ones who are negligent in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz * Why Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi thought that after the destruction of the Holy Temple shmitta should be cancelled * Why the ‘heter mechira’ was not used in the period following the destruction of the Holy Temple

A Question about the ‘Heter Mechira

Rabbi, thanks to your article on the ‘heter mechira‘ (a halachic mechanism whereby agricultural lands in Israel are sold to non-Jews, allowing the lands to be cultivated and vegetables grown during the Sabbatical year), I realized for the first time just how firmly it is based in Jewish law. Previously, I had been influenced by the argument of the Haredim who belittled (to put it mildly) rabbis who accept the heter mechira. However, I still have a question: If it is forbidden to sell land to non-Jews in Eretz Yisrael, as it is written: “Lo-techannem“, or in English “nor show mercy to them”, which may be rendered “Do not give them a resting place in the land”, how can the land be sold to in order to preempt shmitta (the Sabbatical year)?

The Prohibition of “Lo- techannem

First, let us clarify the prohibition. Concerning the inhabitants of Canaan, the Torah states “ve’lo techannem“(Deuteronomy 7:2), and our Sages explained that this command includes three prohibitions: “lo-techannem” – 1) ‘Do not give them a resting place in the land’, 2) ‘Do not be gracious with them’, and 3) ‘Do not give them a free gift’ (Avoda Zara 20a).

Our Sages explained the prohibition ‘do not be gracious with them’ as meaning not to praise them, so that the Jewish nation would not learn to walk in their immoral ways. The prohibition ‘do not give them a free gift’ is so as not to strengthen them in their deeds, and in their control of the land.

The prohibition of selling them land in Eretz Yisrael is so they do not strengthen their foothold in the country, as Rambam determined: “It is forbidden to sell them homes and fields in Eretz Yisrael … Why is it forbidden to sell them land or anything attached to the land? Because it is stated in Deuteronomy 7:2: “Do not be gracious with them”, which can also be interpreted: “Do not give them a resting place in the land.” As long as they do not have a resting place in the land, their stay will be a temporary one” (Hilchot Avoda Zara 10:1-4).

It follows then that the prohibition of selling land in Eretz Yisrael to non-Jews is so as not to strengthen their hold on the country, and not to learn from their bad deeds. Consequently, all of these prohibitions are permitted for a ‘ger toshav‘ (resident alien) – i.e., a non-Jew who accepted upon himself the Seven Noahide commandments before a ‘Bet Din‘ (a Jewish law court), out of belief in Hashem the God of Israel, and by doing so, also believes that God promised the Land of Israel to the Jewish Nation. However, at the present time when the laws of Yovel (the Jubilee year) are not observed, according to the Rambam and most poskim (Jewish law arbiters) gerim toshavim cannot be accepted, but only a ger tzeddek (convert) who becomes a full Jew (Rambam, ibid., 10:6). However, in the opinion of Ra’avad, even today, it is permitted to sell land to a non-Jew who, in practice, behaves similar to a ger toshav.

Torah Verses

All these matters emerge and are clarified from the verses of the Torah in which the prohibition “lo-techannem” appears. As it is written: “When God your Lord brings you to the land you are entering, so that you can occupy it, He will uproot many nations before you – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites and Jebusites – seven nations more numerous and powerful than you are. When God your Lord places them at your disposal and you defeat them, you must utterly destroy them, not making any treaty with them or giving them any consideration. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons, and do not take their daughters for your sons. [If you do], they will lead your children away from Me, causing them to worship other gods. God will then display His anger against you, and you will quickly be destroyed… You are a nation consecrated to God your Lord. God your Lord chose you to be His special people among all the nations on the face of the earth”(Deuteronomy 7:1).

In the ‘Heter Mechira’ there is No Question of “Lo-techannem

Thus, there is absolutely no prohibition to sell fields to a non-Jew for a year or two, seeing as the purpose of the prohibition is to prevent non-Jews who are not gerim toshavim from establishing permanent residence in the country, and in this mechira there is nothing to fear, because it is for a limited time. And even for the period of time of the mechira, the non-Jew does not actually intend to inherit the field; on the contrary – the sole purpose of the non-Jewish purchaser is to help strengthen Jewish life in the Eretz Yisrael.

And thus wrote Rabbi Eliyahu-David Rabinovitz Teomim (also know by the acronym, “Aderet”), that he could not understand whatsoever the claim of those who disagreed with the ‘heter mechira‘, for what is the problem with a sale “for a few years, that certainly will return to us afterwards, apparently to which ‘lo-techannem‘ does not at all apply. For the very essence of the prohibition is obviously for us to have a foothold in the Holy Land and not them, and if we are overly machmir (stringent), it will be impossible, God forbid, for us to do so”(appears at the end of “Shabbat Ha’aretz” by Rabbi Kook). And thus wrote ‘Shemen HaMor’, Y.D. 4; Yeshu’ote Malko, Y.D. 55:59; Avnei Nezer, Y.D. 458; Rabbi Frank (Har Tzvi, Zera’im, 2:47).

There is No Prohibition of “Lo-Techannem” in a Limited Sale

Furthermore, even if the sale was unnecessary for the strengthening of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), a number of poskim have written that the prohibition is transgressed only when the sale is permanent, or at least when the non-Jew intends to operate as the owner for a certain amount of time. But in this case, when it is a short-term sale and the non-Jew has no intention of acting as the owner, there is no prohibition of “lo-techannem“. This is what the ‘Sefer HaChinuch’ wrote in Mitzvah 339, in the name of the Ramban.

Precisely for the Reason of “Lo-Techannem” Fields Should be Sold Temporarily

Therefore, indeed, the exact opposite is true: Precisely because of the mitzvah “lo techannem” we should sell the fields to a non-Jew in the shmitta year, so that Jews returning from Exile to the Eretz Yisrael will be able to be strong in their land, and not allow foreigners to get a foothold on to the ground by exploiting Am Yisrael’s work-stoppage in the Sabbatical year.

Precisely so we can properly keep the mitzvoth of shmitta according to the Torah, we must make use in the meantime of the ‘heter mechira‘. This is because the Torah mitzvah of shmitta applies only when all Jews reside in Israel, every tribe in its place. In order for us to continue strengthening ourselves in Eretz Yisrael against our enemies, and so that all the Jews living in the Diaspora can gather here and keep hold of the land, we must be as lenient as possible with regard to the farmers, so they can occupy as many fields and plant as many orchards as possible, for all the Jews who will be immigrating to Israel.

Additional Explanations

Other explanations have been proposed in regards to this issue as well, for example, that the prohibition is specifically directed towards idol worshipers; or that there is no prohibition when, in any case, a non-Jew already owns land in the country; or that in a sha’at dachak (time of distress) and for the sake of a Jew, it is permitted. However, despite the fact that the poskim and our teacher and guide, Rabbi Kook, engaged in these theories at length due to their love for Torah learning and in-depth study, nevertheless, these explanations are marginal. The main reason for the ‘heter‘ is as previously explained, that when the sale is for a short time, and there is no fear the non-Jew will gain a foothold in the country by doing so – but on the contrary, by selling the land temporarily, Jewish sovereignty over the land will become stronger, there is no transgression in selling the land; on the contrary – it constitutes a mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz. This is because “lo-techannem” is a branch of the general mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz. And the fact is that most of those who argue against the ‘heter mechira‘ by reason of “lo-techannem” were remiss and continue to neglect the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz, and there is no need to discuss this painful issue any further.

Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi’s Desire to Cancel Shmitta

After the destruction of the Holy Temple, there were years in which the situation of the Jews in Israel was unbearable. In addition to the malicious proceedings of the Romans who ruled the country and imposed high taxes on the Jews, often, in years of drought or war, the Romans demanded even higher taxes in order to supply the needs of their soldiers. When such times occurred close to the shmitta year, the burden was intolerable. Therefore, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (Rebbe) wanted to permit agricultural work in the shmitta year, for since it held the status of a rabbinic mitzvah, the Sages could permit it in a sha’at dachak. But Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair, who was known as one of the righteous men of the generation, refused to agree, because he believed that it was possible to survive with difficulty without working in the shmitta year, and Rebbe relented (Yerushalmi D’mai 1:3; Taanit 3a).

How Could Rebbe Want to Cancel Shmitta?

Seemingly, one could ask: How could Rebbe think of cancelling shmitta, for indeed, we have a general rule that one Bet Din cannot overrule the decision of another Bet Din unless it is greater in wisdom and numbers, and the Bet Din that determined the fulfillment of shmitta was the Bet Din of Ezra HaSofer which was superior, and in indeed, was labeled the “Knesset HaGadola” (the Great Assembly)? Nevertheless, Rebbe believed that since the need for this was urgent, and in any case, many Jews were violating the decree and working in the shmitta year – to the point where our Sages said: “Israel are suspect with regard to the Sabbatical year” (Gittin 54a), consequently, it was possible to cancel shmitta even by a lesser Bet Din. But since he did not receive full consent from the Torah scholars of his generation, Rebbe did not have the power to convene an important Bet Din to cancel the shmitta.

Rebbe’s Attitude towards those Who Worked in the Shmitta Year

Once, a person who worked in his field in the shmitta year was brought before Rebbe for condemnation, but Rebbe refrained from reproaching him, and said: ‘What should this poor man do? He acts this way to keep himself alive!” (Yerushalmi, Taanit 3:1). Our Sages further said that fasts and prayers are held in times of drought even when they occur in the shmitta year, ‘for the livelihood of others’. It was asked: Who are these “others” we fast for, so rain should fall? After all, Jews are meant to stop working their fields in the shmitta year? Some explained that the fast was for the non-Jews who worked during shmitta, for if there was no rain, produce would be more expensive, and Jews would suffer from it as well. Rabbi Zeira explained that they fasted for the Jews who were suspected of working in their fields in order to sustain themselves, and it was explained that Rabbi Zeira agreed with the opinion of Rebbe, who was lenient in regards to poor people who worked in the shmitta year (Yerushalmi, ibid., according to Korban HaEida, Pnei Moshe, Maran HaRav Kook, and not like Rash Serilio and Gra).

Our Present Situation

Q: If during the times of our Sages, when it was so difficult to keep shmitta,
the ‘heter mechira‘ was not used, why do we use it today?

A: Our teacher and guide, Rabbi Avraham Shapira of blessed memory, explained that seeing as the Roman’s who ruled at that time were attempting to uproot the Jews from their fields, it was impossible to perform any type of mechira, lest the enemies of Israel used the opportunity to dispossess the seller of his land.

In any event, there is no room for comparison between our times to that of the era immediately following the destruction of the Second Temple, because in that period, according to all halachic opinions, they were obligated to keep shmitta m’divrei Chachamim (rabbinic ordinance), and this is exactly what Rebbe tried to cancel. However, one hundred and fifty years after Rebbe’s time, a Bet Din that sanctified the months and counted Yovel (Jubilee year) was cancelled, and since then, in the opinion of several Rishonim, there is no obligation to keep shmitta at all. Additionally, a safek (doubt) arose as to when the Sabbatical year actually falls, and there are three different opinions among the Rishonim. Thus, even without the mechira, it is possible to be lenient in a sha’at dachak to work in the shmitta year – all the more so, together with the ‘heter mechira‘.

This article appears in the “Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

Material and Spiritual Joy on Shavuot

The importance of joy on Chag Shavuot, in the material aspect as well * Avoiding prohibited preparations from Shabbat to Shavuot * Can one take foods out of the freezer on Shabbat for Chag? * How to prepare and light the candles for Chag Shavuot * Showering on Shabbat and Chag * ‘Birkot HaShachar’ for someone who remained awake all night * Eating and drinking during the night of Shavuot and before the morning prayers * A ‘shiva’ call to the house of Rabbi Moshe Levinger * Rabbi Levinger’s large and extensive family and their connection to his legacy

The Joy of Shavuot – Spiritual and Material

The joy of Chag Shavuot is immense and unique. Consequently, even Rabbi Eliezer who, in the Talmud, is of the opinion that people of virtue should dedicate Yom Tov to the study of Torah, and for them, eating on Yom Tov is merely so they are not considered as having afflicted themselves, he also agrees that on Shavuot, one must partake in an important festive meal since “it is the day in which the Torah was given” (Pesachim 68b). Seeing as the Torah comes to perfect both the spiritual and material worlds, the joy of the holiday must also spread to the material world by means of eating and drinking. This is the complete tikun (perfection), which encompasses both the soul and body, thus revealing that there is nothing either detached or distant from God Almighty. There is a deep and hidden essence in the physical body and its emotions, and only when they are united with the soul are we able to comprehend them. Therefore, complete d’veykute (attachment) to God includes both the soul and the body, as will be the case after techiyat ha’meytim (the resurrection of the dead), when the soul will return to the body, and Godliness will be revealed completely in all levels.

Therefore, one should greatly embellish the joy of Shavuot, so it is apparent that by means of the Torah the material aspect of life is also perfected. This foundation is alluded to in the fact that on Shavuot the offering of the two loaves of bread were brought in the Holy Temple, which were made of chametz (leaven), and as is well-known, chametz hints to the character traits of pride and the evil inclination, but by means of the Torah, the evil inclination is perfected, and thus, it is offered as a sacrifice on Shavuot.

Laws of Preparing from Shabbat to Yom Tov that Falls on Motzei Shabbat

When Yom Tov falls on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), one must be careful not to prepare anything from Shabbat to Yom Tov, since Shabbat is intended for holiness and rest, and not for preparations for another day. Therefore, anyone who troubles himself on Shabbat by preparing something for a weekday or a holiday – belittles its’ dignity (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 22: 15-16).

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

Someone who goes to synagogue before Shabbat has departed is permitted to take a Yom Tov siddur (prayer book) with him, and should read from it a bit on Shabbat, thus making its taking for the sake of Shabbat as well.

There is disagreement among the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) concerning removing foods from the freezer on Shabbat for the evening meal on Yom Tov. In practice, b’sha’at ha’dachak (times of distress), when waiting for Shabbat to depart will cause anguish and a significant delay in the Yom Tov meal, it is permissible to take frozen food out of the freezer on Shabbat. However, without a tzorech gadol (great need), one should be machmir (stringent) not to take food out of the freezer for the holiday on Shabbat.

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

When to Eat Seudah Shlisheet

L’chatchila (ideally), it is best to eat seudah shlisheet (the third Shabbat meal) earlier, before the last three hours of the Shabbat day. If one did not do so, he should nevertheless eat seudah shlisheet, even during the hours close to the beginning of Yom Tov, but should try to limit his eating, so as to have an appetite for the evening meal of Yom Tov.

Sleeping on Shabbat ahead of Shavuot

It is better for a person not to say that he is going to sleep on Shabbat in order to have strength to stay up all night learning Torah on Shavuot. Nevertheless, someone who wants to say it is permitted, since the main point of the prohibition is speaking on Shabbat about something that is prohibited to do on Shabbat itself, and there is nothing prohibited in the study of Torah on Shabbat, nor is such speech an insult to Shabbat, since it is for the sake of a mitzvah.

Candle Lighting

It is forbidden to light the holiday candles before tzait ha’chochavim (nightfall), rather, one should wait until the stars have appeared in the sky and Shabbat has departed, and then say, “Baruch ha’mavdil ben kodesh l’kodesh“, and light the candles.

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

It is permissible to push the candle forcibly into the candlestick holder, even though this causes the candle to be slightly crushed. Similarly, one may remove by knife the remaining wax in the candlestick which interferes with the placement of the new candle, and one is allowed to remove the metal disc stuck to the bottom of the glass cup in which neronim (candles that turn into oil) were used. It is also permitted to insert a floating wick into a floating cork. But it is forbidden to heat a wax candle to attach it to a candlestick holder, lest one transgress the rabbinic decree of ‘ma’rey’ach‘ (spreading or smearing), which is a toledah of ‘mi’ma’chake‘ (scraping/sanding a surface to achieve smoothness). It is also forbidden to cut or file the bottom of the candle to insert it into the candlestick because of the prohibition ‘mi’cha’taych‘ (cutting any object to a specific size).


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

Furthermore, one should remember not to brush their hair, because brushing sheds hair, which is a Torah prohibition.

Birkot HaShachar for those who Remain Awake all Night

Even a person who remained awake all night recites Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings), because Birkot HaShachar were fixed as prayers of gratitude for the general pleasures which are constantly renewed every day for human beings, therefore, even if one does not receive personal gratification from a particular aspect – he recites a blessing over it. However, there are different customs concerning the number of blessings.

Washing Hands

In regards to nitilat yadayim (washing the hands), it is agreed that one should wash his hands before morning prayers, however, the poskim were divided on whether to recite a blessing over this washing or not. According to the Ashkenazi custom, it is best is to relieve oneself before prayer, and to touch one of the covered areas of one’s body which had become a bit sweaty since one’s last bathing, and thus, he is obligated to wash his hands with a blessing. However according to Sephardic custom, in any case, one does not recite a blessing over this washing of the hands.

Birkot Ha’Torah

It is agreed that if one slept during the previous day for at least half an hour, he recites Birkot Ha’Torah (Blessings over the Torah) in the morning. If one did not sleep at all during the day, according to the majority of poskim he recites Birkot Ha’Torah, but since there are a few authorities who hold that one should not recite the blessings, l’chatchila (ideally), it is good to hear the blessings recited by someone who slept, and have kavana (intention) to fulfill his obligation by hearing them.

Birkat “Alokei Neshama” and “HaMa’avir Sheyna”

Some poskim say that only a person who slept can recite these blessings, and therefore it is proper to hear them from someone who actually did sleep, and have kavana to fulfill his obligation. When there is no one to recite the blessings, according to most authorities, one should recite the blessings himself, and this is the custom of all Sephardim, and some Ashkenazim. There are other Ashkenazim whose custom is to be machmir (stringent), and due to the safek (doubt), recite the blessings without shem and malchut (“Hashem Elokenu Melech Ha’olam). An Ashkenazi who does not know what his custom is may act according to the custom of the majority of Israel, and recite all the blessings himself.


According to the custom of the majority of Israel, those who remain awake all night recite all Birkot Ha’Shachar and Birkot Ha’Torah. The mehadrin (those who embellish the mitzvoth), when able, fulfill the obligation of Birkat Ha’Torah and the blessings “Alokei Neshama” and “Ha’Ma’avir Sheyna” by hearing them from someone who slept at night.

The Time of the Blessings

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

Eating and Drinking at Night and Prior to the Morning Prayers

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

Rabbi Moshe Levinger ztz”l

My wife merited paying a ‘shiva‘ call (a condolence visit) to the Levinger family home in Hebron. When she approached the grieving Rebbetzin, she immediately said to my wife: “Out of all the Batei Midrash (houses of Torah study), only the Beit Midrash of Rav Kook understood the importance of the Land of Israel. All of the settlements in Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights are by virtue of this Beit Midrash. The State of Israel has been rescued in the merit of these settlements. If not for all the yishuvim (communities), the entire area would be dominated by ISIS, and all of the country would be in danger.”

“When I made aliyah (immigrated) from America”, Rebbetzin Levinger told my wife, “I thought I had lost the zechut (merit) to be one of the pioneers taking part in the mitzvah of building the state, and then, after the Six Day War, Rabbi Moshe said to me: ‘Here, now you also have a chance to be a pioneer’.”

The Levinger family sits in mourning, but nevertheless, the house is full of energy. Grandchildren fill all the rooms. Whenever a consoler begins to speak about Rabbi Moshe ztz”l, one of the grandchildren immediately hastens to start the tape-recorder. On one side sits a granddaughter transcribing the eulogies, and on the other, another grandson types the words of the consolers on a laptop computer. At present, the Levinger children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren number 149, excluding the 23 husbands and wives of the Levinger’s children and grandchildren. And the Rebbetzin says with tears in her eyes: “Just thank God, just thank God for all the blessings!”

After they began settling Hebron, Rabbi Moshe would travel from city to city, from one high school to another, and in every place he spoke and taught about the importance of Torat Eretz Israel, and called to join the settlement enterprise. One of those who answered his call was a young woman, Tzipporah from Rechovot, who came to Hebron, married Menachem Livni, and established a house resplendent with chesed (kindness and charity) in Kiryat Arba. A few days ago, at the age of 63, she died from a malignant disease, leaving behind a wonderful family, which already numbers 45 people. Six children have already married, and their families are spread throughout Judea and Samaria.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Additional articles by Rabbi Melamed can be read at: