The True Face of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook

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

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

The Deliberate Vilification of His Image

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

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

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

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

His Position against Religious Coercion

From newspaper interviews he gave:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Principled Position that was Strongly Expressed

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

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

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

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

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

When Rav Tzvi Yehuda Expressed Appreciation to the “Canaanites”

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

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

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

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

A Meeting with Priests in the Yeshiva

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

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

And Nonetheless – Firm in his Position

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

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

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

Remembering Amalek

The Three Mitzvot Concerning the Obliteration of Amalek

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

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

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

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


The Mitzvah to Wipe Out Amalek

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

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

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

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


Parashat Zachor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Women Obligated to Hear Parashat Zachor?

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

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

Can an Amalekite Save Himself or Convert to Judaism?

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

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

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

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

The Fast of Esther

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

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

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

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

In Commemoration of the Half-Shekel

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

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

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

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

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


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

Rabbi Itamar HY”D Continues to Educate

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

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

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

Words of Encouragement from Torah Scholars

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

Concerning the President and Mrs. Netanyahu

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

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

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

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

The Dutch Consoler and the Finger in the Dam

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

Already Head of a Yeshiva

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

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

What Captured the Heart of a Potential Student

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

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

The Question of an Arab Worried about Converting

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

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

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

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

The Eulogy for Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal HY”D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Recruitment of Women: The Problem in the IDF Leadership

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

Military Service for Women

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

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

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

Processes since the Establishment of the State

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

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

Changes in the Past Decade

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

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

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

The Decline in the Level of Modesty

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

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

Those who enlist and the Instruction for the General Populace

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

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

Secular Leftist Positions have permeated the IDF

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

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

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

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

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

The Failure of the General Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Borders of the Land of Israel

Map of the borders of the Land of Israel according to the Biblical verses, Jewish law arbiters, and commentators * The borders of the Land conquered by the Israelites when they ascended from Egypt are only the basis * The borders of the Land of Israel are broader, however, the generation entering the Land was not large enough, and therefore, were commanded to conquer the primary territory * The various borders have significance in the settlement of the Land: places located within the borders of ‘olei Mitzrayim’ have higher priority * The borders are also significant regarding the commandments dependent on the Land, but places under Israeli sovereignty are mitzvoth-bound in any case

Whenever we talk about the borders of the Land of Israel, we must pay attention to two types of borders: the borders of the entire Land, and the borders of ‘olei Mitzrayim‘ (the Jews who came into the Land from Egypt, led by Yehoshua). The first is the border of the entire Land, as the Lord promised Abraham our father, as it is written: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the Egyptian River as far as the great river, the Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18); and then there are the narrower boundaries presented in the Torah portion ‘Masei‘ (Numbers 34) that the ‘olei Mitzrayim’ were commanded to conquer. And why were they not commanded to conquer the entire Land? Because their numbers were insufficient to settle the entire Land, and consequently, the commandment was to first settle in the primary parts of the Land, on the western side of the Jordan River, and gradually spread to all parts of the country. After the sons of Reuven and Gad asked to receive their inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan River, Moshe agreed to their request ‘bedi’avad’ (reluctantly), however, the result was that the other tribes lacked the strength to fulfill the entire command, and conquer all the territories of the borders mentioned in the Torah portion ‘Masei‘.

The Southern Borders of the Entire Land

The southwestern boundary of the entire Land of Israel is ‘Nachal Mitzrayim’ (“River of Egypt”). It is agreed that ‘Nachal Mitzrayim’ is the eastern branch of the Nile, which is in the area of ​​the Suez Canal today. Regarding the southern border, it is said: “I will set your borders from the Red Sea to the Philistine Sea” (Exodus 23:31). In other words the entire Sinai Peninsula on the Israeli border, given that the Red Sea surrounds it, is set as the southern border.

It should be noted that there are commentators that Rambam (Maimonides), who lived in ancient Cairo in the eastern part of the Nile, considered himself as living within the borders of the Land of Israel, as Maharikash [Rabbi Yaakov Costaro (1525-1610]) wrote.

The Southern Border of ‘Olei Mitzrayim

However, the ‘olei Mitzrayim’ were commanded to conquer the border route which begins south of the Dead Sea to ‘Nachal Mitzrayim‘, as explained in the Torah portion ‘Masei’ (Numbers 34: 5), and only after they settled the primary part of the Land properly, would they spread to all borders of the Land. The ‘poskim’ (Jewish law arbiters) disagreed in regards to the southern boundary that the ‘olei Mitzrayim’ were commanded to conquer, and the dispute is contingent on identifying the places mentioned in the Torah portion ‘Masei’ from the southern Dead Sea to ‘Nachal Mitzrayim’. Some say that the border curves slightly south of the Dead Sea, including Yerucham and S’de Boker, and curves again north to the River of Egypt (Tevuot HaAretz); others say that it extends farther south to Ein Yahav in the Arava and Mizpe Ramon in the Negev, and from there it continues to ‘Nachal Mitzrayim’ (Admat Kodesh); and others say the border is even further south till Eilat, and from there continues to ‘Nahal Mitzrayim’ (Rabbi Tikochinsky, according to Rav Saadiah Gaon).

The ‘poskim‘ were also in disagreement about ‘Nachal Mitzrayim’. According to the majority of ‘Rishonim’ and some ‘Achronim’Nachal Mitzrayim‘ is identical to the “River of Egypt,” which is the eastern tributary of the Nile (Targum Yonatan and Yerushalmi, Rashi, Rambam, Tosafot, Rokeach, Radak, Gaon of Vilna), while many ‘Achronim’ according to some of the ‘Rishonim’, say that ‘Nachal Mitzrayim‘ is Wadi al-Arish (Rav Saadiah Gaon, Kaftor ve’Perach, Radbaz).

It should be noted that according to all opinions, the Gaza Strip and the area of Yamit are also included in the borders that ‘olei Mitzrayim’ were commanded to conquer, and they were included in the inheritance of Judah, as it is written: “And Gaza with its surrounding towns and settlements, as far as ‘Nachal Mitzrayim’ and the border at the Mediterranean Sea” (Joshua 15:47).

The significance of the discussion as to where the border of ‘olei Mitzrayim‘ is, is twofold: 1) The obligation to settle the Land there – whether it is of higher priority as the borders of the Torah portion ‘Masei’, or of lesser priority as the other borders of the Promised Land; 2) The obligation of the ‘mitzvot teluyot b’aretz’ (mitzvot dependent on the Land) when they are not under Israeli sovereignty. Nevertheless, a place that is under Israeli sovereignty and is within the borders of the entire Land in any case, is bound by the ‘mitzvoth teluyot b’aretz’, as the border of ‘olei Bavel’.

The Northern Borders – Mount Hor (Hor HaHar)

The northern boundary of the Torah portion ‘Masei‘ begins in the west, from the sea, in the place adjacent to Hor HaHar, as it is written: “This shall be your northern boundary. From the Mediterranean Sea, draw a line to Hor Mountain” (Numbers 34: 7). The question is: where is ‘Hor HaHar’, and whether it is the northern border of the entire Land of Israel, or only the northern border of ‘olei Mitzrayim’, who, once strengthened, conquered further on, till the Euphrates River.

There are five opinions:

  1. According to Targum Yonaton (Bamidbar, 34:7), Mount Hor is the place called Tavrus Umnus, north of the 36th latitude line.
  2. According to “Kaftor Ve’Perach,” it is the place called Akra, located on the 36th latitude line.
  3. According to the Rambam, the northern border is the 35th latitude line (Laws of Kiddush HaChodesh, 11:17), beginning from the western side in the place called Banyas (see Teshuvot HaRambam
    137, where he wrote that according to Chazal, it is called Amnas or Samnus. It is clear that his intention is not to the place we call the “Banyas” today, which is located at the bottom of the Hermon).
  4. According to the Radbaz (Sect. 4: 30) and Rabbi S. Serlio, Mount Hor is located slightly south of Tripoli, at the place called Batrun.
  5. According to ‘Admat Kodesh’ (Chapter 1) it is near Beirut on the eastern side, on a mountain today known as Hamna.

Seemingly, according to the fourth and fifth opinions, Hor HaHar is the border that ‘olei Mitzrayim’ were commanded to occupy and divide among the tribes; however, it is difficult to say that in their view it is the border of the entire Land, because it is impossible to draw a natural border between the Euphrates River and Hor HaHar according to their opinion. Therefore, it seems that in their view the border of the entire Land is similar to that of the first or second opinion.

On the other hand, according to the first opinion, Hor HaHar is indeed the border of the entire Land, and it is possible to stretch a natural border of about 180 kilometers to the Euphrates River, but what Israel was commanded to conquer in the Torah portion of ‘Masei’ apparently includes only the Lebanese mountains. Thus, there is no great dispute over the northern border, because the minimalist opinions refer to the border of the Torah portion of ‘Masei‘, whereas the maximalist opinion refer to the border of the entire Land. It appears to me that the border of the Torah portion ‘Masei’ is similar to the fifth opinion, and the border of the entire Land is similar to the first opinion. It also appears that the fact that Israel was unsuccessful in conquering the entire area of ​​Transjordan to the end of the northern boundary of the Torah portion ‘Masei’ was because two and a half tribes settled on the eastern side of the Jordan, and consequently, they were unable to take possession of the Lebanese mountains.

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

What’s So Special About Separating Challah?

In the past, separating ‘challah’ was the basic and most frequent gift given to the Kohanim, strengthening the connection between them and the rest of Israel * Bread is man’s unique food, because it requires labor and creativity * By separating ‘challah’, one is reminded to channel his creative powers to ‘Tikkun Olam’ * Our Sages expanded the mitzvah to apply outside of the Land of Israel as well, but from the Torah, the revelation of holiness in creative life is in the Land of Israel * In our days the mitzvah is of rabbinic status, and since Kohanim are impure, the ‘challah’ separated is rendered inedible instead of giving it to a Kohen * Nevertheless, the mitzvah continues to remind us of our calling, thus drawing blessing into one’s home

Q: Rabbi, what’s so special about the mitzvah of ‘hafrashat challah’ (the separating of ‘challah‘), to the point where some say it is a ‘segulah’ (a charm superseding logic) for blessings, and even women who do not observe all the mitzvoth meticulously, adorn the mitzvah of separating ‘challah’?

A: Upon explaining the mitzvah, the matter will become clear. ‘Challah‘ is one of the twenty-four gifts that Jews were commanded to give to the Kohanim (priests), so they could fulfill their sacred mission of educating the people of Israel to Torah, mitzvoth, and good behavior. The ‘challah‘ was given from dough intended for baking bread or cakes. Thus, the gift of ‘challah‘ held special importance, because from it, the Kohanim prepared the greater part of their food. In addition, by means of the mitzvah of ‘challah’, a constant connection was created between the Israelites and the Kohanim. Unlike ‘trumot‘ and ‘ma’asrot‘ (agricultural tithes) from fruits and grain, which field owner’s distributed several times a year in large quantities, ‘challah‘ from dough was given daily from every Jewish woman to her neighbor a Kohenet (mother, daughter, or wife of a Kohen). In this way all of Israel was connected on a daily basis while preparing their bread for a holy purpose, since from their very own bread they would give a part to the Kohanim who served in the roles of rabbis, counselors, and educators.

‘Challah’ does not have a ‘shiur‘ (a prescribed measurement to be given) from the Torah, however our Sages determined that every person should separate at the very least 1/24th of his dough, and a baker who makes a living from baking bread should give at least 1/48th (Mishna Challah 1:9). Thus, it turns out that twenty-four families of Israelites provided the bread needed for one family of Kohanim, and in urban localities with bakers, the amount they prepared for forty-eight families, supported one family of Kohanim.

The Sanctity of ‘Challah‘, and Strengthening Ties among the People

Once ‘challah‘ is separated it becomes sanctified as ‘terumah‘ (a tithing obligation), which Israelites are forbidden to eat, and the Kohanim must be careful to eat in purity. Therefore, Israelites must be careful not to defile the ‘challah‘, for if they do, it would be forbidden to be eaten. This posed a difficulty because the general rule is that fruits can be defiled only after they became wet from water meant to rinse them, or to be prepared for food or the like, but fruits that had not yet become wet cannot be defiled; therefore, there is no problem for Israelites to separate ‘terumot’ from fruits, because it is separated from fruits that had not yet become wet. But in regards to the mitzvah of ‘challah‘, one is obligated only after the flour was mixed with water and made into dough, and if someone who prepared the dough was impure, the dough becomes defiled with his hands, causing the ‘challah’ to become impure, and thereby rendering it inedible. Therefore, in a case where a woman who kneaded the dough was impure because of ‘niddah‘ (menstruation) or other impurities, she would ask her neighbor, the Kohenet, to knead the dough for her; the Israelite would recite the blessing of ‘hafrashat challah’, and the Kohenet would take her ‘challah’ and return home (Jerusalem Talmud 3: 1). In this way, the relationship between the Israelite women and the Kohenot (plural) would be greatly strengthened.

Bread and Man

And now to the specialness of the mitzvah: bread, which is man’s primary food, expresses to a great extent his character, namely, his ability to choose, create, and perfect. All animals eat natural foods such as herbs, leaves, grains, vegetables, fruits, and even meat; man, on the other hand, eats bread, whose preparation process is long, complex, and requires many tasks – plowing the earth, sowing the grain, harvesting the sheaves, separating the grains of wheat from the sheaves and waste by threshing, winnowing and sifting the grains, and grinding them into flour. Then comes the most complex stage – kneading the flour with water to make it into dough, and to bake it. Of all the foods man eats, the process of producing bread and cakes is the most complex and sophisticated.

The complex process of making bread is analogous to man himself: all the animals in the world instinctively and in a short time learn how to survive and reproduce, whereas man needs to learn how to obtain food, clothing, and shelter over the course of several years. While doing so, he learns to harness the enormous forces of nature in his service. The ability to learn, choose, create, and improve are expressions of the image of God in man. However, man is liable to use his forces detrimentally – to be egotistic, to lie and steal, to be corrupt and cheat others – all in order to increase his own desires and lust.

The Guidance and Blessing of the Mitzvah

By means of the prohibition of eating bread from which ‘challah‘ was not separated, a person remembers God who formed all his creative powers, and is careful not to use them for detrimental purposes. By way of the mitzvah to give the ‘challah’ to a Kohen, bread and its preparation process become linked to holiness, and those eating it are able to elevate themselves and direct their creative powers for good and blessing. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “One who fulfills the mitzvah of separating ‘challah’, it is as if he nullifies the worship of idols; while one who does not fulfill the mitzvah of separating ‘challah‘, it is as if he sustains the worship of idols” (Leviticus Rabbah 15: 6). The broader meaning of the concept of idolatry is all the evil deeds a person does for the gods of his money, lust, and pride. When man connects his most sophisticated creative act to God, blessing spreads throughout all the work of his hands and in his home, as it is stated: “The first portion of all the first fruits of every kind and every offering of any kind is to be for the priests. You are to give the priest the first portion of your grain. As a result, a blessing will rest on your household” (Ezekiel 34:30).

Man – The ‘Challah‘ of the World

Our Sages also said that man himself is the “challah of the world”: God created the earth and all its elements, kneaded it in rain water; from the “dough” formed, He created all the vegetation and animals, and from the “dough”, He separated ‘challah‘ – and from it, created man in His image in order to lead the world for the better. When Adam Ha’Rishon (first man) sinned, he defiled himself, and the entire world. In order to repair his sin, Jews were commanded to separate ‘challah’ for the Kohanim, so they would remember their mission of ‘Tikkun Olam’ (to repair the world). This mitzvah is more suited to a woman, because she is more capable of directing the powers within man, and thus, to correct the sin (see, Bereshit Rabbah 14: 1, 17: 7, 8).

In Israel and Abroad

The mitzvah of ‘challah‘, like ‘terumot‘ and ma’asrot‘, is dependent on the Land of Israel (Numbers 15:18). The meaning of this is that the Land of Israel is special in that it is possible to reveal within it the holiness of physical life. There is, however, a difference between the mitzvoth dependent on the Land – for the mitzvoth of ‘terumot’ and ‘ma’asrot‘ obligate all fruits that grew in Israel – even if they are taken abroad; whereas the mitzvah of ‘challah’ is dependent on the kneading of the dough – for if the dough was kneaded in Israel, even if the flour is imported from abroad, it requires the separation of ‘challah‘, but if the dough is prepared outside the Land, even if the flour is imported from the Land of Israel, it is exempt from the mitzvah of ‘challah‘ (Jerusalem Talmud, Challah 2:1).

From this we can learn that there is a special value to the works of Jews created in Eretz Yisrael even when the materials are imported from abroad, and thus, they must be sanctified by the separating of ‘challah‘.

An additional stipulation of the mitzvah is that the majority of Jews live in the Land of Israel (Ketubot 25a). Seemingly, the ability to reveal holiness in a complex human creation, which is reflected in bread, is dependent on ‘Clal Yisrael‘ (the whole of Israel), which includes all the various ideals in the world, and thus, each individual is able to reveal the sanctity of his creation, as expressed in the mitzvah of ‘challah‘.

In the wake of Israel’s exile during the destruction of the First Temple, the majority of Jews no longer lived in the Land of Israel, and the mitzvah became null and void. Even during the establishment of the Second Temple, the mitzvah was not applicable, since most of the Jews remained in exile. However, the ‘Anshei Knesset Ha’Gedolah’ (the Men of the Great Assembly), headed by Ezra Ha’Sofer (Ezra the Scribe), decreed that even when the majority of Jews were not in its Land, they would be obligated from ‘Divrei Chachamim’ (a precept of rabbinic origin). They also enacted that Jews living abroad would also be obligated to separate ‘challah’, so they would not forget the mitzvah. Why did they make this enactment concerning ‘challah‘ and not in ‘trumot’ and ‘ma’asrot’? Because the mitzvah of ‘challah’ is similar to a certain extent to mitzvot dependent on man, and not dependent on the Land, because one is obligated to fulfill the mitzvah while kneading the dough (Tosafot, Kiddushin 36b).

It seems that a profound idea can be learned from this enactment – thanks to the great period from the time of Yehoshua bin Nun until the destruction of the First Temple, in which Jews fulfilled the mitzvah of ‘challah’ in the Land of Israel, our Sages were able to continue the obligation of the mitzvah, and the revelation of holiness in the dough that Jews prepared outside of the Land of Israel, and thus connect all the creative activities that Jews do abroad to the vision of the revelation of holiness that spreads from Eretz Yisrael to the entire world.

The Mitzvah Today

Following the destruction of the Second Temple and the decline of the Jewish community in Israel, the ability to be purified by the ashes of the ‘Para Adumah’ (Red Heifer) was nullified, and consequently, all Kohanim are considered ritually impure, and are forbidden to eat ‘terumah’ and ‘challah‘. Nevertheless, the obligation to separate ‘challah’ remains in force, and it is to be burned or placed in a bag and disposed of respectfully so no one mistakenly eat it. But since the ‘challah’ in any case is going to be rendered inedible, there is no need to separate 1/24th of the dough, rather, it is enough to separate a small piece.

The Meaning of the Mitzvah In Our Times

Although the mitzvah today is of rabbinical status and the Kohanim are not permitted to eat the ‘challah‘, by way of the mitzvah of separating ‘challah’ we remember its original intention, our bread becomes connected to sacred values, ​​and the blessing is drawn into our home. When the majority of Jews live in Israel, we will merit the return of the mitzvah to its Torah status, and the blessing will increase. And when we merit the building of the Holy Temple and the restoration of the order of purification to Israel, the Kohanim will be able to reveal holiness in their very lives and Israel’s blessings will be strengthened, until it spreads to the entire world, and all the families of the earth will be blessed through us, and this is hinted at by the fact that our Sages enacted separating ‘challah’ outside of the Land of Israel as well.

Thus, we see that the mitzvah of ‘challah’ expresses the sanctity of the human creation that takes place inside the home, and consequently, it draws guidance and blessing for family life in all areas, including health, livelihood, ‘shalom bayit’ (peace in the home), children and their education.

In one of the following issues, I will explain the details of the laws of the mitzvah.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Raziel Shevach, HY”D, for whom the sanctity of the Torah, the People of Israel, the Land of Israel, and family, expressed in the mitzvah of ‘challah’, were the essence of his life and love.

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

Shabbat Legislation – Only Through Agreement

The Sanctity of Shabbat

Whenever disputes concerning Shabbat arise, terrible sorrow fills the heart. Surely, Shabbat is intended to reveal the ideals of ‘emunah‘ (faith) and ‘herut‘ (freedom), and consequently, Shabbat is a reminder of Creation and the Exodus from Egypt, and is a sign that God gave to Israel to be His Chosen People, as the Torah says: “It (Shabbat) shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel” (Exodus 31:17). Shabbat is the source of holiness and blessing, as it is written: “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy” (Genesis 2: 3). As a result of the sin of ‘Chilul Shabbat‘ (desecration of Shabbat) the Holy Temple was destroyed, and we were exiled from our Land (Jeremiah 17; Ezekiel 22; Talmud, Shabbat 119b), and in the merit of keeping Shabbat, we were privileged to have inherited the Land and will merit inheriting it in the future (Bereishit Rabba 46: 9), and Israel will achieve Redemption (Isaiah 56; Talmud Shabbat 118b). How then can so many of our brethren, the Children of Israel, not keep Shabbat according to Jewish law?

The Shabbat Crisis

Over the past few generations, the Jewish people underwent a great spiritual crisis, the gravest expression of which is Shabbat desecration, which leads to spiritual and national assimilation.

Until the modern era, a Jew who publicly desecrated Shabbat was considered to have removed himself from ‘Clal Yisrael’ (the entire physical and spiritual community of Israel, past, present, and future). Therefore, our Sages ruled that a Shabbat desecrater is halachically judged as a non-Jew who cannot be counted in a ‘minyan‘ (prayer quorum), any wine he touches is forbidden to drink, and there is no mitzvah to render him ‘chesed‘ (an act of kindness) as with other Jews. However, after Shabbat desecration became a common occurrence in recent generations, some of the leading ‘poskim’ (Jewish law arbiters) ruled that as long as the Shabbat desecrator does not do so defiantly, he should not be regarded as an idolater (Melamed Le’Hoil, O.C. 29; Binyan Tzion HaChadashot 23, Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 1:15). And although this ruling holds consolation for Shabbat desecraters, it reflects our appalling situation, namely, that Shabbat is no longer an expression of Jewish identity.

Religious Coercion Will Not Help

Despite the frustration and the pain, coercion will not help strengthen the status of Shabbat – neither in the individual nor in the public sphere. The value of freedom is one of the most important elements in the Torah. Without freedom, there is no room for ‘bechira chofshit’ (freedom of choice), and no room for the great destiny imposed on man. The value of freedom was revealed during the Exodus from Egypt and was strengthened in the Giving of the Torah. The value of freedom is perhaps the most important, positive value revealed in recent generations, for which people are ready to fight for, and for which people are willing to forfeit almost all other values. Therefore, when the issue becomes a question of coercion, even traditional Jews who cherish Shabbat but do not meticulously observe it, feel threatened and join the struggle against Shabbat.

The situation is difficult. Things that were understood by the secular public three generations ago are not understood today. In the past, even Jews who did not observe Shabbat in their own homes realized that on the streets of Israel Shabbat should be observed. This was the position of the mayor of Tel Aviv Dizengoff, Berl Katznelson, and most of the secular Zionist leaders. However, after three generations of distancing themselves from Jewish tradition, this position has greatly eroded. Their successors have forgotten Jewish tradition and have become completely secular, and they are the ones leading the struggles against Shabbat and Jewish tradition. While the traditional public is fond of Shabbat, they are not prepared to have it forced upon them.

Correcting the Situation: Education and Inner Repentance

In our current situation, there is no quick solution: the crisis is so great that only a very deep and profound education, which begins with our own inner ‘teshuva’ (repentance), will be able to elevate the status of Shabbat anew. If we see that the status of Shabbat has been harmed, we must first awaken ourselves to ‘teshuva’ – to examine how we can observe Shabbat in an ideal manner – through Torah and prayers, meals and rest, so that Shabbat will not be kept ‘ke’mitzvat anashim melumada’ in other words, obediently and without rationale, out of habit, and void of content. Rather, Shabbat should be filled with the deep content of meaningful, stimulating, and enjoyable Torah study whose inspiration continues throughout the week. We must diligently pay attention that prayers are uplifting and not burdensome, that the meals are pleasurable and not oppressive and unify the family, leaving time for study, and deep conversations. As a result, the effects of such education and inspiration will continue, and the significance of Shabbat will gradually spread to all of Israel.

Between Coercion and Agreed upon Legislation

While passing laws that have a broad consensus can be of some benefit, nevertheless, as long as they are carried out by representatives of the Haredi and religious parties through means of coercion by threatening to topple the government, they are liable to do more harm than good. The only way to establish laws strengthening Shabbat is by broad agreement with representatives of the traditional public, who represent the majority of the Israeli public. Religious members of the Knesset may be the catalysts of such laws, but any such legislation must be fully agreed upon by the representatives of the traditional public so that it will express a broad national consensus.

The Position of Our Rabbi and Teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook

Concerning this issue, it is important to relate the words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook ztz”l, in an interview with Avraham Naveh (Ha’aretz, 14 Av 5737 (1977), quoted in “Maracha Ha’Tziburit” edited by Rabbi Yosef Bramson, pg. 122):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other things he said in an interview with Shivty Daniel (Hatzofeh, 10 Av 5733 (1973), quoted in “Maracha Ha’Tziburit” pg. 61-62): “From my personal experience I am aware that intellectuals and people of mind and spirit are sending out feelers of ‘teshuva’ … Of course, the turning point doesn’t occur in one day… It is an internal and slow process, but it exists and influences, returning quite a few to the source of the Torah …I believe that the majority of Jews are connected to tradition, including those that seem to be the furthest away … If they saw in all Jews a model of faith and love of Israel, integrity, and benevolence, certainly the rapprochement would be immeasurably greater. Just recently, the Prime Minister (Golda Meir) said that if the tragedy of a split between religion and state occurs, the ultra-Orthodox Haredim from ‘Aguda’ would be guiltier than the secular. To my great dismay, this is the situation: those people, in their narrow, faith-limited ‘Haredi-ism’, pushing for divisiveness – are delaying the return of Jews to Torah and mitzvot.

“In a panel discussion held at my home a few years ago, one professor (Bar Hillel), a secular Jew, claimed that the Knesset’s resolutions on matters of religion are coercion of the minority over the non-religious majority. I replied to him that although these decisions were passed on the basis of coalition agreements, at their core, lay the shared responsibility for our existence as a people. The majority of Knesset members believe, like their constituents, that uprooting laws of the Torah in matters of marriage will divide the Jewish people, fuel serious controversy, and shake the foundations of our very lives. Marriage law is not coercion, but essential for life …”

These words, spoken some forty to forty-five years ago, in principle, are also appropriate today, in particular, the basic distinction between coercion and accepted legislation.

Legislation – with the Consent of the Traditional

Legislation that reflects the broad consensus of representatives of the majority of the public, whereas its harm to the minority that disagrees is marginal, is the correct way to regulate social order in all areas – including relations between religion and state. However, legislation based on pressures that fail to express broad agreement, or that have a wide agreement but severely harms the minority, and on the other hand, the majority will not be significantly harmed if not legislated, is considered coercive and intervention in the lives of individuals and groups who strongly reject it.

In order to find the right balance, the representatives of the traditional public must be full partners in all these legislative processes. And if possible, it would be preferable for them to even be the initiators of the legislation designed to express the character of Shabbat in the State of Israel.

The Passing of the Supermarket Law

In practice, even the representatives of the Haredi public themselves understood that it was impossible to implement Shabbat forcibly, and therefore the ‘Supermarket Law’ enacted is filled with holes and ambiguities in order to obscure its coercion, nevertheless, it left an impression of coercion that aroused strong opposition. In practice, the religious MKs had to support it, both in order to uphold the government and also because ultimately, they had to support Shabbat observance.

Support for Businesses that Observe Shabbat

In the current situation where many businesses in the fields of commerce and entertainment are open on Shabbat, the circumstances of businesses that observe Shabbat has become difficult – the unfair competition created against them is liable to destroy them financially. Therefore, those who cherish Shabbat have a moral duty to prefer buying from businesses of Shabbat observers. For this purpose, it would be useful to develop a user-friendly application that would allow anyone searching, to know which Shabbat-observing business is in the area.

‘Ger Toshav’: Obstacles and Aspirations

The Torah’s vision is that in the Land of Israel, besides the Jewish nation, only those who share in Israel’s mission of being a ‘light unto the nations’ may live here * The controversy surrounding the issue of non-Jews residing in the Land of Israel today, when the status of ‘ger toshav’ (resident alien) does not apply * The Druze meet the conditions of ‘ger toshav’, as opposed to those Arabs who support terrorists, and do not recognize Israeli sovereignty * Presently, fulfilling the mitzvah to expel the hostile minority is impractical * In spite of this, the concept of ​​’ger toshav’ should be studied in depth, and aspire to implement when possible * Once we delve deeper into the moral logic of the mitzvah, it will serve as a model for all countries coping with immigrants

Non-Jews Residing in the Land of Israel

The grand vision of the Jewish nation in its land is for the land to be inhabited by the Jewish people, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem the Holy Temple will stand, all forms of national life will be conducted according to the teachings of the Torah morally and with holiness and the people of Israel will be a light unto the nations who will come to visit Israel and receive inspiration for their nations’ betterment and that of the world, as expressed in the words of the prophet: “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of all— the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship. People from many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.’ For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem. The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2: 2-4).

In order to achieve this vision, the entire land must be inhabited by Jews, and only non-Jews wishing to be part of Israel’s grand vision will be able to join the Jewish people in the status of a ‘ger toshav‘, or technically, a ‘resident alien’. While the road to realizing the vision is still long, we should nevertheless strive to the best of our ability to achieve it.

Consequently, we need to study the two prohibitions mentioned in the Torah regarding the residence of non-Jews in the Land of Israel. The first prohibition is a general one obligating the people of Israel, as written in the Torah: “Do not allow them to reside in your land, since they may then make you sin to Me. You may even end up worshiping their gods, and it will be a fatal trap to you” (Exodus 23:33). The second prohibition is directed to each and every individual not to sell land to a non-Jew so as not to give him a resting place in the Land, as it is written: “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 (in Hebrew, ‘lo techonem’, which is interpreted by our Sages as ‘do not give them a resting place’). Do not intermarry with them… [If you do], they will lead your children away from Me, causing them to worship other gods” (Deuteronomy 7: 2-4).

Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) are of the opinion that these prohibitions apply to non-Jews who are not worthy of being considered a ‘ger toshav’; however, one who is worthy of being considered a ‘ger toshav’, i.e., one who observes the Seven Noahide Laws out of belief in the Lord, the God of Israel, and accepts the sovereignty of the Jewish people in its Land as decreed by the Torah, may reside in the Land of Israel (Kesef Mishneh in his commentary to Rambam (Maimonides) ‘Mizbach Adama’).

Others say that any non-Jew who was not actually accepted by a ‘Beit Din’ (rabbinic court) as a ‘ger toshav’, we are commanded not to settle in our Land, and not to give him a resting place in the Land of Israel. And when ‘Yovel’ (Jubilee year) does not apply, rabbinical courts lack the authority to accept a ‘ger toshav’ and thus today, there is no ‘heter’ (rabbinic allowance) to permit non-Jews to reside in the Land of Israel. The reason for this opinion is that the Torah sought to guide us in establishing a holy nation in the Land of Israel, and as long as a non-Jew does not accept in an official and orderly manner to live according to the principles of the Torah of Israel, he can adversely affect society (this is the opinion of Rambam according to ‘Magid Mishneh’ and ‘Minchat Chinuch’, and also Ritva and the Netziv).

The Halakha’s Attitude towards Arabs Residing in the State of Israel

At the time of the establishment of the State, the foremost Rabbis of the time discussed the status of the Arabs, and the question of whether we are commanded to actively work towards their expulsion from our Land, or to encourage their emigration. Several rabbis, led by Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, regarded the Arabs as observing the Seven Noahide Laws, and since they already lived in Israel and recognized the right of the Jewish people over their land, there was no mitzvah to expel them. Conceivably, even the poskim who adhere to the second opinion would agree that the prohibition is only in allowing a person who was not accepted as a ‘ger toshav’ before a ‘Beit Din’ to immigrate to the Land of Israel, but someone who already lives here, if in practice he is on the moral level of a ‘ger toshav‘, there is no need to expel him, or encourage his emigration.

Over the past decades it has become clear that the majority of the Druze community in practice, fulfill the Seven Noahide commandments, recognize the right of the Jewish people to their Land, and assist the Jewish people in its war against its enemies, and therefore, should be regarded as ‘gerim toshavim’ (plural).

On the other hand, however, many of the Arabs living in Israel do not accept Israel’s sovereignty over our Land. Additionally, many of them do not fulfill the Seven Noahide commandments – some, by assisting the terrorists who transgress the prohibition of “You shall not murder,” and others, by doing nothing to bring the terrorists to trial, as they are instructed to do in the seventh commandment of the Noahide laws – to establish a righteous, judicial system (see, Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars 9:14). It emerges then, that many of them are not considered ‘gerim toshavim’, and it is a mitzvah to expel them from the Land. When international and ethical reasons prevent us from expelling them, at the very least, we should encourage their immigration.

In addition to the question of which foreigners we are commanded not to settle in our Land so as not to be swayed after their way of life, when it comes to a national group liable of claiming sovereignty over the land, there is an additional consideration for them not to reside in our Land – so that we are able to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz’ (settling the Land of Israel).

Can the Halakha be Fulfilled?

For many reasons we are unable to expel the non-Jews who do not accept the Seven Noahide laws as commanded by the Torah.

First, the commandment is obligatory only when we have the power to fulfill it, but when ‘yad ha’goyim tikifa aleinu’ (when the Gentiles predominate), under duress, we are prevented from fulfilling the mitzvah (Rambam, Laws of Avodah Zara 10:6). Also, the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz’ does not require us to rely miracles and fight the entire world alone. It seems that today when the strongest countries in the world oppose it, and the State of Israel’s security and economic status to a large extent is dependent upon them, we are regarded as ‘yad ha’goyim tikifa aleinu’, and lack the power to expel Arabs who openly fight against us from the land – and undoubtedly, we lack the power to expel their families, and the Arab population hostile towards us.

‘Darchei Shalom’ (For the Sake of Peace)

Apart from this, we are also unable to expel the hostile Arab population because of “darchei shalom“, because such an action would violate the endorsed peace in international relations, and we have found that at times, mitzvot are overridden because of ‘darchei shalom’ (Gittin 59a; Rambam Matnot Aniyim 1: 9).

‘Chilul Hashem’ and ‘Kiddush Hashem’

Moreover, in recent generations thanks to the moral influence of Israel’s Torah, the nations of the world have undertaken laws protecting the rights of minorities, and because of ‘Chilul Hashem’ (desecration of the Name of God) it is forbidden for us to expel Arabs not defined as ‘ger toshav’. There is a halakhic rule that there is nothing permitted to a Jew, yet forbidden to a ‘B’nei Noach’ (non-Jew) (Sanhedrin 32a), and if according to the laws enacted by most civilized nations of the world it is forbidden to expel members of a minority population even if they are hostile, Israel must also take into account, to the extent possible, this moral position – all the more so in the case of binding international treaties.

The Mitzvah is Not Nullified

Nevertheless, the basic mitzvah of course is not nullified, and we must strive to find a way to fulfill the commandments of the Torah within the framework of the currently accepted moral perception. To this end, we must delve deep into the moral values ​​in such a way that it will be understood how the fulfillment of the mitzvah will lead to a moral, just, and improved situation for the entire world, and thus, we will find the appropriate ways to fulfill the mitzvah.

The Advantage of the Capitalist Position

The principle of the mitzvah must also influence our position on socio-economic questions. For example, there are different views regarding the responsibility of the state for the welfare of its residents, both morally, and economically. This issue is debated by theorists and economists. The capitalist position minimizes the responsibility of the state and emphasizes the responsibility of the individual for himself, his family, and his friends; on the other hand, the socialist position broadens the state’s responsibility, and minimizes the responsibility of the individual to himself, his family and friends. Additionally, some of them stipulate several of the rights granted by the state on the acceptance of obligations such as military service, while others don’t.

With the idea in mind that it is desirable for non-Jews who do not fulfill the Seven Noahide Laws to emigrate from Israel, the capitalist position which conditions most of the rights granted on the acceptance of obligations should be preferred, so that Arabs who are unwilling to serve in the army will receive less benefits from the state, thereby reducing their incentive to remain in Israel, and increasing their motivation to emigrate to countries whose identity suits them better.

The Jewish National Fund

This holds true with regard to the debate over the status of the Jewish National Fund as well. Since the state is being hindered from giving preference to Jewish settlement, the Jewish National Fund, which belongs to the Jewish people, should be strengthened as much as possible, so that it can encourage Jewish settlement to its fullest extent.

Military Policy Plans

We hope for peace, but we may still have to go through wars and crises. If, however, we keep in mind the goal of fulfilling the mitzvah, we can work to ensure that the outcome of the wars and crises will be the expulsion of hostile foreigners from our country, and the encouragement of emigration of those who do not support the State of Israel’s Jewish identity.

A Vision for Many Nations

Finding a profound solution to the fulfillment of this mitzvah and to the challenges of the identity and security of the State of Israel, will bring healing and blessing to many countries that are struggling with similar problems. The model of the mitzvah of ‘ger toshav’ can serve as a moral means for preserving their national identity, along with a fair and respectful attitude towards immigrants. A ‘ger toshav’ is required to accept upon himself two principles: The first is to recognize the national and religious identity of the native citizens, and to bear the burden of national challenges vis-a-vis the enemy or competing cultures. The second is the acceptance of the Seven Noahide commandments, which includes proper moral behavior.

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

Sign the New Organ Donor Card

The main points of the complex issue of organ transplants * The essential question: Determination of the moment of death – is brain death considered death, even though the heart continues beating? The Chief Rabbinate decided to allow transplants, but justifiably conditioned it on the presence of a God-fearing physician * The medical establishment, which for years attacked the Rabbinate, opposed the intervention of rabbis an thus prevented numerous transplants * Following the initiative of MK Schneller and a softening of the medical establishment, it was agreed that rabbis would authorize the transplants * Only recently have enough rabbis been trained to rule in this field, and the clause the Rabbinate requested has been added to donor cards * Today, it is a mitzvah to sign the organ donor card

Is it Permissible to Transplant an Organ from a Deceased Body into a Living One?

In principle, it is forbidden to take an organ from the body of a deceased person due to three prohibitions: 1) it is forbidden to benefit from a deceased body. 2) It is forbidden to desecrate a deceased body. 3) It is a mitzvah to bury the dead, and whoever takes a limb from a corpse, forfeits the mitzvah of burial of that specific organ.

Accordingly, there are poskim (Jewish law arbiter) who are of the opinion that it is forbidden to transplant an organ from a deceased person in order to save a life, because the deceased are exempt from mitzvot, and are not obligated to give up a limb to save a living person (Binyan Tzion). However, in the opinion of most halakhic authorities, it is permissible to take a limb from the deceased in order to save lives, because ‘pikuach nefesh’ (the saving of life) overrides the mitzvot of the deceased’s honor and burial (Noda B’Yehuda, Chatam Sofer, and many others). In practice, since this issue concerns the saving of lives, Rabbi Goren ztz”l wrote that it is a mitzvah to follow the opinion of the majority of halakhic authorities.

The Question of Brain Death

There are patients whose lives depend on whether organs will be found for them for transplantation. Today, it is possible to receive a heart or a liver for transplantation from someone who was severely injured, whose brain, including the brain stem, had died, but their hearts still beat with the help of a ventilator. If the heart were to stop beating, the blood and oxygen would stop flowing into the organs and they would degenerate, become irreversibly damaged, and not be transplantable; but since the blood system continues functioning, some organs remain vital, and can be transplanted.

The essential halachic question is: what is the status of a person who died of brain death, but whose heart is still beating? If he is considered alive, then the taking of his limbs is murder; if he is considered dead, then it is a mitzvah for his family members to donate his organs in order to save lives.

Disagreement among the Halachic Authorities

In principle, it is agreed that death is determined by breathing (Yoma 81a; Rambam Shabbat 2:19; S. A., O.C. 329:4), and since breathing is dependent on the brain, in the opinion of some of the eminent poskim, a person whose brain has been completely destroyed, including the brain stem responsible for breathing, and can no longer function and breathe independently, is considered dead, and organs may be removed from his body for transplantation (Rabbi Goren, Rabbi Yisraeli, and also, as testified in the name of Rabbi Feinstein).

In contrast, some eminent poskim maintain that as long as the heart beats a person is still considered to be alive, and one who takes organs from him for transplantation is considered as if he murdered him (Rabbi Waldenberg, Rabbi Wozner, and Rabbi Elyashiv).

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztz”l also forbade, and although he was of the opinion that in principle the brain determines death, nevertheless, he was apprehensive that the doctors’ measuring devices were not sufficiently accurate and based on their tests, doctor’s may conclude the brain died completely – while in truth, part of it was still alive.

Our Rabbis Decision

During the tenure of the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Shapira ztz”l and the Gaon Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l as Chief Rabbis, this question came before them. Together with their colleague Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli ztz”l and the other members of the Rabbinical Council, they delved deeply into the issue and in 1986 decided that death was determined by the brain, and consequently, it was permissible to take organs for transplant from a brain-dead person.

One of the sources of this is found in the Mishnah (Ohalot 1:6), according to which a person whose head was cut off is considered dead, even though his body convulses; and, as it turned out, if a beast’s head was severed and attached to a life-sustaining machine, its heart continued beating. Hence, the heartbeat after the brain dies is not a sign of life, but is like the convulsion of a dead person whose head was cut off.

In order to prevent any doubt, strict control conditions were established by which it would be possible to ascertain clearly that the brain was indeed dead, including the brain stem. The rabbis also agreed that one of the two doctors who would determine the death of the brain would be a God-fearing doctor whom they trusted.

Caution in Verifying Brain Death

It should be noted that our rabbis’ position of requiring the participation of a God-fearing physician in the death-determination team was not due to stubbornness, or a desire to intervene in the doctors’ work. The demand stemmed from a well-founded fear that there are doctors who believe it is permissible to take organs from a person – also from someone defined as being in a vegetative or terminal state although though his brain was not yet completely dead – because in any case, there is no longer a chance of his returning to life. While such a position stems from good intentions, according to Jewish law it is considered murder.

In addition, the concept of ‘brain-death’ is vague because it is a gradual process of degeneration, and determining the given moment when the brain is considered alive, and then dead, is difficult; rather, as time passes, the function of the brain stem cells gradually decrease. It was necessary to determine the stage at which the brain completely ceases to function, in such a way that there is no longer any possibility of activating the respiratory system even though some activity still occurs in certain cells within it. Since the question is complex, it was necessary to establish a strict and reliable control system.

The Ugly Face of the Medical Establishment

But then, the medical establishment’s ugly face was revealed. For years, people from the medical establishment alleged that the rabbis did not care about saving lives. Without recognizing the seriousness of the matter, and the difficulty in deciding on an action that could be either murder or life-saving, they accused the rabbis of being afraid to decide the halakha, and in the meantime, people needing transplants were dying. But then, when the rabbinate decided in favor of the lenient opinion, it suddenly became clear a more important value than human life was involved, namely, the honor of the medical establishment. True, the issue of transplants was important, but not to the point of agreeing to the Rabbinate’s request that one of the doctors determining the moment of death be appointed by the Rabbinate. Let all those requiring transplants die, so long as the Rabbinate does not participate in determining the moment of death. And so it was: dozens of people died as a result of the insistence of the medical establishment.

Testimony of a Senior Doctor

After I had given a lecture on this issue, a senior doctor approached me and said frankly, he himself would not trust the doctors on this question. First, because it is difficult to define definitively what exactly brain-death is. Second, being familiar with the medical system as he was, regrettably, some doctors would be willing to determine brain-death prematurely. Only after telling him that the Rabbinate had demanded a representative on its behalf would partner in determining the moment of death, was his mind set to rest.

MK Otniel Schneller’s Initiative

Twenty years later, MK Otniel Schneller delved into the issue, initiating and steering the enactment of the ‘Brain-Respiratory Death Law’ and the ‘Organ Transplantation Law’. Despite the opposition of various doctors, medical standards were set in law corresponding to the Rabbinate’s demands. It was also decided that two senior doctors who had absolutely no involvement in organ transplantations would participate in determining the moment of death. These doctors would not treat the patient, and would not represent the interests of another patient who needed a transplant. These doctors would undergo special training by a committee to be established for their accreditation. In addition, it was decided that a medical-halachic control committee would be established to examine all the death certificates of brain-death to check if they were done according to halakha and lawfully. In practice, Rabbi Avraham Steinberg told me that after examining more than 200 cases they didn’t find a case of a significant breach of the regulations, so that practically speaking, there was not even one case of removing a living patient from a ventilator for transplantation. Otniel Schneller deserves to be honored for this.

Continued Insistence

However, the Rabbinate’s demand had not yet been fulfilled because the medical establishment still insisted on not including expert rabbis in supervising the process of approving the moment of death. Over time, the medical establishment softened its position, and agreed to add a clause to the ‘Adi’ organ donor’s card, allowing religious people to state that the donation is contingent upon the consent of a “clergyman” agreed to by the family. It seemed that adding this clause would have solved the problem. But in practice, it turned out that the problem was not resolved because more than ninety-nine percent of the “clergy” were unfamiliar with the instruments meant to check the state of the brain and consequently could not permit a person to be disconnected from life-saving machines, thus, forfeiting the possibility of organ transplantation. Only when they found a way to contact one of the rabbis who was an expert in the matter, were they able to permit organ transplantation according to the rulings of our rabbis.

Mitzvah to Sign the New Organ Donor Card

Recently, a satisfactory solution was found. The Chief Rabbinate, in cooperation with the National Center for Transplantation, trained dozens of rabbis from all over the country, and additionally, the following clause compliant with the Rabbinate’s request was included in the ‘Adi’ card: “I request that my family consult with a rabbi who was trained and authorized by the Chief Rabbinate and the Ministry of Health concerning the halachic aspects of organ donation.”

It is a mitzvah to sign on an organ donor card with such a clause. And merely by signing on such a card, one is considered as having taken part in the saving of life, for indeed, our Sages have said: “If a person thought to fulfill a mitzvah and he did not do it, because he was prevented by force or accident, then Scripture credits it to him as if he had performed it” (Berachot 6a). May we all merit a good and long life.

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