All posts by Yonaton Behar

Medical Research? Read Carefully

The danger of distorted IDF values, reflected in the conviction of Elor Azaria and the terrorist attack in Armon Hanatziv * A response to the column on nutrition and health: alternative methods prevent illnesses * My reply: According to halakha, one must listen to conventional doctors * In a case of ‘pikuach nefesh’, if an alternative doctor offers a solution he says will save life, listen to him * Information posted on social networks is not always reliable and founded * Special care must be taken in regards to extreme medical and dietetic methods; approaches that exclude all other methods are particularly prone to errors * A person who feels that conventional medicine is not suitable for his physical and spiritual health, should investigate and adopt alternative approaches

Azaria and the Hypocrisy of Political Correctness

Anyone possessing a moral conscience and a Jewish heart could not remain apathetic upon hearing the conviction of the soldier Elor Azaria with manslaughter. The appalling feelings intensified after hearing the statements of self-righteous hypocrisy from leftists, especially from top military officials past and present, who were quick to determine that his conviction was an expression of the moral values ​​of the IDF. Ultimately, those very officers command soldiers to eliminate terrorists because they are deserving of death, but on the other hand, when speaking to the media, they hypocritically claim that eliminating a terrorist is murder! It could be the soldier severely transgressed military procedures, and deserves harsh disciplinary punishment. But from that to accusing him of brutal manslaughter – according to the judges – the gap is unbearable. His public denunciation harms the moral strength of the IDF and motivation of the soldiers, as witnessed immediately in the murderous terrorist attack in Armon Hanatziv, in which our holy soldiers – three women, and one male officers, were killed. Our hearts bleed for them and their families.

Indeed, according to the IDF spokesman’s account, everything was in order. The “IDF values” he voices, were expressed to the tee: “IDF values” that men and women should serve together – indeed, men and women were injured together. “IDF values” not to harm a suspected terrorist before it is absolutely clear he is indeed a terrorist, in the process of carrying out a terrorist attack and not after its conclusion – and in fact, the soldiers waited or fled until it was clear it was a terrorist attack. After it was certain that indeed it was a terrorist attack, despite the terrorist having been killed by the gunfire of the tour guide and male soldiers, it was absolutely essential to emphasize the value of gender equality in the shooting, and confirm that a woman officer had killed the terrorist (like they always are careful to note the handful of women who participate in the combat forces).

Nevertheless, since almost everything regarding this issue has already been said, let this suffice.

A Reply to the Column on Nutrition

Following the column dealing with matters of health and nutrition (Issue 718), I received responses from people passionate about this issue. I will present one response worthwhile of an answer. The following is an extremely abbreviated and edited version of the letter:

“Shalom Rabbi… the last two years we have made a big change in our diet. At first we investigated the existing literature about healthy eating habits in Hebrew and in English… the books were written by serious doctors who conducted clinical studies, and recommend a diet based mainly on fruits and vegetables – a wholesome, and healthy nutrition.

“I was glad to hear about health awareness being introduced into your community. I believe it is very important to understand the concept of vegetarianism, and the great power of such a diet… the food pyramid which they support is composed of whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds. I personally did the diet… and I lost thirty kilos in one year… (At this point in her letter, she shared fascinating insights she had read in books which, according to its authors, was based on extensive experience and knowledge accumulated in China). The basic concept is that the body can heal itself… but when loaded with so much harmful food, the body has great difficulty performing this task. When the things that interfere with the body’s functions are eliminated, and it is provided with a lot of food that helps the body in the healing process – fruits and vegetables – the body is able to heal itself from a myriad of ailments. I would be happy to hear your opinions, Rabbi, in respect to the issues I have raised.”

My Reply: Listen to Doctors

Thank you very much for your informative letter. Concerning my opinion – my opinion is not really important, because I do not pretend to be knowledgeable in the fields of medicine, nutrition, or physical exercise. Therefore, as the halakha mandates in such matters, I trust the doctors who are the experts in all matters of health.

A Follow-up Response: Should One Read Research Studies?

“Thank you for the reply. Actually, I believe that one of the significant advances of our generation is the ability to be a Renaissance man – the ability to easily explore any topic, easily reach scientific research, and easily read books written by scholars. I believe this requires us to change our perception, to understand that we can learn many things, even if we did not sit in university for seven years.

“Concerning illnesses, of course it is necessary to consult a doctor. But in a normal situation, when a woman investigates how best to feed one’s family, I believe there is certainly room for independent investigation. Precisely concerning the subject of nutrition, doctors testify that they learned very little about it during their medical studies, therefore they direct those who ask about it, to dietitians. The idea that nutrition based on a vegetarian diet is the best for man is increasingly growing in Western society… people are fed up with taking twenty different types of pills…

“I understand that the halakha instructs to go according to the expert, but the halakha also instructs “ve’nishmar’tem me’od l’naf’sho’tay’chem” (“therefore, watch out for yourselves very carefully”). Since today a lot of people die and are sick with diseases caused directly by the poor food we eat, despite the dedicated treatment of doctors… and since many illnesses, including the severe and difficult ones… can be cured by proper diet, isn’t a rabbi obligated to check these studies properly? Do you not believe there is truth in the words of alternative doctors, who studied conventional medicine, and found that it fails to provide correct answers to a significant portion of the problems?”

My Response: Conventional Medicine Determines

Although information is currently available in databases on the Internet, one must be an expert to examine its quality and credibility, particularly on issues where there are differences of opinion. The more serious and critical an issue is, the greater amount of responsibility in choosing information is required.

Therefore, today as well, the instruction of the halakha is to act in accordance with the accepted view of the majority of doctors, who are experts in the field of health. Such instruction holds true even for Shabbat and Yom Kippur, for if a doctor says one needs to violate the Shabbat, or eat on Yom Kippur – we listen to him. Not only that, but our Sages instructed that when someone is sick and requires treatment, if the person taking care of him goes to ask a rabbi how to treat him, or whether it is permissible to listen to a doctor, he is considered a murderer, because while asking, the patient is liable to be at risk. And the Rabbi who was asked is reprehensible, because he should have taught his students not to turn to him in a life-threatening situation, but to rush and treat the patient in the best way possible (Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 5:5).

When doctors disagree we follow the majority, for this is the rule concerning all doubtful questions – we follow the majority, as it is written: “Do not follow the majority to do evil” (Exodus 23:2). However, in certain situations, when a person believes that the minority is correct, he must act according to the minority position. These laws are clarified in detail regarding a sick person on Shabbat and Yom Kippur (see, S. A., O.C. 618; Peninei Halakha: Yamin Nora’im 8:4 footnote 5; Shabbat 27:2).


1) When there are disagreements between conventional medical doctors and alternative doctors, since the conventional doctors are the majority, and are also considered to be more proficient because their assertions are based on extensive studies, we follow the instructions of conventional medicine. 2) In a case of imminent and tangible danger to life and conventional medicine maintains a specific procedure is not beneficial, but on the other hand, is not damaging, and in the opinion of alternative doctors it could save the patient’s life, the alternative doctors should be listened to, provided they are known to be serious and responsible doctors (see, S.A., O.C., 618:4). Similarly, when a patient’s personal opinion is that the alternative doctors are correct, he should listen to them, even if their level of expertise is uncertain, for “lev yode’ah marat naf’sho” (“the heart knows its own bitterness”). This, provided their instructions do not contradict conventional medicine.

3) In a situation where there is no imminent and tangible danger to life, and when regular physicians do not take into consideration what alternative doctors have to say, even an ordinary person does not have to take their opinion into consideration, and should act according to conventional medical instructions. However, one who is convinced that the alternative doctors are correct, is permitted to act according to their instructions.

The Appropriate Approach to Alternative Methods

I will now address your question about how to relate to the various alternative methods. In principle, I assume that every position a serious person who honestly studied the subject has some truth, and most likely, his method is appropriate for some particular type of disease, or a certain types of people, and therefore, it is proper to investigate his method in earnest, so as to study the truth it contains, and consider how to incorporate it within the overall, accepted system. This is indeed how serious researchers and doctors work.

This position, which gives room for all the various methods, on the other hand also determines that the more extreme a method is, excluding a larger number of different opinions, the risk of it being misguided and damaging is greater. For just as most likely there is a point of truth in her words, similarly, there is also a point of truth in other alternative methods, and far more points of truth in the conventional method that was based on the experience of thousands of serious researchers. And since the extreme method excludes all these points of truth, consequently, it encompasses many errors that are liable to make it potentially dangerous.

Enrichment in Guidebooks

Therefore, it is beneficial for a healthy person and those suffering from various ailments that are not dangerous, to read guidebooks and hear lectures on healthy lifestyles, nutrition, exercise, relaxation and sleep, in accordance with the accepted ways of conventional medicine. However, one who does not find the guidelines of conventional medicine fitting for himself, it would be good to widen his knowledge by reading alternative guidebooks, and learn from them approaches that do not contradict accepted medical methods; but one should always remember that the more dissimilar and divergent the method is from conventional methods, the greater the risk it possesses serious errors, and should not be preferred. Nevertheless, if one feels that precisely these methods are extremely fitting for his body and soul, he can adopt them, because indeed, they may be beneficial for him, on the condition he checks and is sure they possess no real danger according to conventional methods.

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 Defeat of the Hasmoneans and the Tenth of Tevet

The fasts commemorating the destruction of the First Temple which were annulled during the Second Temple period, were reinstated after the collapse of the Hasmonean dynasty and the destruction of the Temple * The holidays celebrating the victories of the Hasmoneans were cancelled after their downfall – except for Hanukkah * The grandson of Matityahu inclined towards the Hellenist Sadducees, and his son Yanai continued the spiritual decline of the monarchy * The intermingling of the priesthood and kingdom contributed to the collapse * Incidents occurring close to the Tenth of Tevet – the day the Torah was translated into Greek, and the day of the death of Ezra – indicated the spiritual problems that were present during the Second Temple period * Hanukkah remains, reminding us of the spiritual light that flourished in the Second Temple, and the victory of Jewry in the long term

The History of the Fast Days and Rabbinic Festivals

After the destruction (churban) of the First Temple, the prophets and Sages instituted four fasts in commemoration of the destruction: the Seventeenth of Tammuz, Tisha B’Av, Third of Tishrei, and the Tenth of Tevet. Seventy years later, after meriting having the Second Temple built, these days of mourning became joyous festivals.

The Sages established many more holidays for the Jews during the Second Temple era, to thank God and rejoice over the salvations He performed for Israel. They are all mentioned in an ancient scroll called Megillat Ta’anit. Many of these holidays commemorate the victories of the Hasmoneans, for example: the 22nd of Shevat (167 BCE) when the evil Antiochus was forced to stop the siege of Jerusalem; the 3rd of Kislev the day the Hasmoneans removed the emblems of the Greek troops from the Holy Temple; the 24th of Av, when they reinstated Torah law as the law by which the Jews adjudicate themselves, instead of Greek law; the 27th of Iyar, the day the Hasmoneans abolished the signs of idolatry that hung upon the entrances of the houses and stores; the 15th and 16th of Sivan, when the Hasmoneans conquered Beit Sha’an and drove out the heathens who oppressed the Jews. The Sages also established holidays when the evil kings who persecuted them died: King Yannai on the 2nd of Shevat, and King Herod on the 7th of Kislev

When the Second Temple was destroyed, the original enactment was reinstated and the Jews once again observed the four fasts, but our Sages were divided over the status of the festival days enacted during the times of the Hasmonean kingdom. In practice, it was decided to cancel all of the festival days enacted during the times of the Hasmoneans except for Hanukkah, which was the only holiday that retained its special status and remained in effect throughout the generations. The Sages explain that this is because of the special miracle that took place with the oil-flask and the mitzvah of lighting the candles that the Rabbis enacted to publicize the miracle. In order to better understand the significance of Hanukkah and the miracle of the oil-flask – the only remnants of all the holidays that existed during the Second Temple era – we must elaborate a bit on the events that occurred in those days, and explain their meaning.

Thirty-one Years of Hasmonean Wars

From the time Matityahu HaKohen raised the banner of revolt until the end of his son’s efforts, thirty-one years passed. In the third year of the rebellion, they liberated Jerusalem and lit the menorah, and the miracle of the oil-flask occurred. Four years later, Yehudah the Maccabee was killed in battle, and the Greek’s returned to rule in Jerusalem. Yonatan the son of Matityahu ​​continued leading the remnants of the Maccabee’s camp, and for eight years waged guerrilla battles against the Greeks. As a result of internal wars in the Greek kingdom, and in exchange for an agreement of co-operation, one party agreed to give Yonatan autonomous rule in Jerusalem and its surroundings, and the Hasmoneans returned and cleansed the Temple, and deepened their influence. Ten years later, Diodotus Tryphon, one of the Greek rulers who opposed Yonatan’s increasing power in Jerusalem, lured him into joining him for friendly talks, and then murdered him (3618, 142 BCE). However Shimon, Matityahu’s last surviving son, wisely made a treaty with Tryphon’s rivals, in exchange for a tax exemption for the Jews of Judea. While the Greek kings were preoccupied with internal battles, Shimon cleansed the Land of the vestiges of Greek influence, conquered additional cities surrounding Judea, and fortified its political independence.

Seeds of Crisis

Together with their achievements, it is likely that already during the days of Shimon the son of Matityahu, the sin of the Hasmonean’s in his wake had already taken root, for they assumed both the priesthood and the monarchy, and did not fulfill their obligation to appoint a king from Yehudah (Ramban, Genesis 49:10). The goal of the Torah is to separate between kingdom and priesthood, so that each authority can secure its position separately, and together, provide Israel with twofold strength. Such an approach was necessary in those days, because the tiny ship of Judaism had to conduct a titanic struggle against the mighty ocean waves of Hellenistic culture swelling around them.

It’s possible to give Shimon the benefit of the doubt. For nearly two hundred years of Greek rule over the land until then, the Kohen Ha’Gadol (high priest) was the head of Jewish autonomy, and Shimon basically inherited this role, and strengthened its position. In practice, however, the weakness caused by the intermingling of these two different authorities eventually led to the downfall of the Hasmonean’s kingdom.

This sin further increased during the days of Shimon’s son, Yochanan (who reigned for 31 years), and reached its worst peak during the times of his grandson Yanai (who reigned for 29 years). Nevertheless, thanks to the fire of faith and sacrifice that still continued to burn and shine from the days of the uprising, from a nationalistic aspect, the Hasmonean kingdom still continued to progress. However, the spiritual crisis that developed in their days, led to the deterioration of the Hasmonean kingdom, until the destruction of the Second Temple.

The Rebellion against Shimon and the Rise of His Son Yochanan

Let’s return to the story: When Antiochus Sidetes defeated his enemies and no longer needed Shimon’s aid, he instigated a conspiracy against him, and indeed, Shimon’s son-in-law, Ptolemy, rose up and murdered Shimon, along with two of his sons (3625, 135 BCE). With Antiochus Sidetes’ help, Ptolemy tried to take control of Judea, but Yochanan Hyrcanus, Shimon’s faithful son, fought him. Then, Antiochus Sidetes came to assist Ptolemy the murderer, pillaging Judea and bringing Jerusalem under heavy siege. However, Sidetes was forced to retreat because of revolts that sprang up against him elsewhere. He accepted Yochanan’s peace proposal, which stated that the Jews would pay a heavy tax to the Greeks in exchange for partial autonomy. Yochanan was appointed High Priest and Nasi (President). Shortly thereafter, Antiochus Sidetes’ army was crushed by the Parthians and Sidetes himself was killed. At this time, Yochanan began conquering additional territory in Eretz Yisrael, in order to expand Jewish settlement at the expense of that of the Gentiles, and to cleanse the Land of idolatry. These conquests brought the Jews wealth and economic prosperity. 

Yochanan ruled Judea for thirty-one years (3625-3656, 135-104 BCE), and in the spirit of his grandfather, Matityahu, acted righteously most of his days, and strengthened the Sanhedrin. At the end of his life, however, he joined the Sadducees, who religiously and culturally tended towards the Hellenists, but nationalistically, identified with Israel. Concerning him, our Sages said: “Do not believe in yourself until the day of your death, for lo, Yochanan the High Priest officiated as High Priest for eighty years, and in the end he became a Sadducee” (Berachot 29a). The Sadducees were semi-Hellenists, who tried to integrate Greek culture into the Jewish national framework.

Yanai and His Successors

After the death of Yochanan Hyrcanus (3656, 104 BCE), troubles began. His heirs did not obey his last will; his oldest son, Yehudah Aristobulus, an ally of the Sadducees, acted like a Hellenist ruler, throwing his mother and brother in jail, and declaring himself King and High Priest. He died a year later, after which his brother Alexander Yannai reigned for 27 years. He was a Sadducee, who favored the Hellenists and fought against the Pharisees (rabbinic Jews). However, he continued to extend the borders of Israel. He repented towards the end of his life, realizing that his ties with the Sadducees undermined Jewish nationalism. He therefore commanded that his righteous wife, Shlomtzion, sister of Shimon ben Shetach, inherit his thrown. She reigned for nine years (3684-3693, 76-67 BCE).

After her death, a bitter civil war broke out between her two sons, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus (who were educated by their father, Yannai the Sadducee). In the year 3695 (65 BCE), the two brothers turned to Pompeius, the Roman delegate, to mediate between them. Two years later, Pompeius and his army invaded Judea, abolished the Hasmonean dynasty, and diminished the boundaries of the Land. He allowed Hyrcanus to retain his position of High Priest and leader of the Jews in Judea.

In the course of time, Antipater the Idumean (from Edom), who was one of Hyrcanus’ adherents, established ties with the Romans and became their trusted ally, eventually taking control of Judea. After he died, his son Herod continued in his ways. Since Herod helped Hyrcanus defeat his nephew, Hyrcanus gave him his granddaughter Miriam’s hand in marriage. This enabled Herod to eventually claim the Hasmonean throne. In the year 3720 (40 BCE), the Parthians conquered Eretz Yisrael and Aristobulus’ son seized control of Judea, all the while taking revenge on his uncle Hyrcanus. Herod fled to Rome, where he was officially appointed King of Judea. Armed with Roman troops, he returned to the Holy Land and reconquered it. This began his 36-year reign. He murdered his opponents and anyone else who might be a threat to his authority, including the members of the Hasmonean family, and even some of his own sons. When Herod died, in 3757 (4 BCE), the Sages established the day of his death – the seventh of Kislev – as a holiday.

The Fall of the Hasmonean Kingdom

Even though the Hasmonean rebellion impeded the process of Hellenization, it did not stop it entirely. A few decades later, Hellenism once again struck deep roots among the wealthy Jews and among those who came in close contact with the Gentiles. The descendants of Matityahu, who had sacrificed his life in the war against Hellenism, became Hellenists themselves. Abandoning their roots, their reign was weakened; eventually, servants of the Hasmoneans – foremost among them, Herod – overpowered their masters, annihilated the entire Hasmonean family, and ruled in their stead, to the extent that Chazal said, “Anyone who claims to be from the Hasmonean dynasty is either a slave or a liar” (Bava Batra 3b). This deterioration continued until the destruction of the Second Temple and the loss of all national achievements of the Hasmonean dynasty. Consequently, all the festivals enacted in commemoration of Israel’s salvation by their hand, were annulled.

The Tenth of Tevet

Not only that, but when the fast commemorating the destruction were reinstituted, our Sages added the noting on the Tenth of Tevet, two difficult incidents that occurred in close proximity during the Second Temple period: the death of Ezra the Scribe on the ninth of Tevet, and the translation of the Torah into Greek on the eighth of Tevet. The death of Ezra the Scribe expresses the inability to continue the tradition of the Torah in the framework of the clal (the community as a whole), and the translation of the Torah into Greek expresses the enticement after Greek culture.

Hanukkah and the Miracle of the Flask of Oil

Nevertheless, the days of the Hasmonean kingdom, including the times of Herod, were better than when the Gentiles ruled over us (Rambam, Hanukkah 3:1). Under their reign, Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel was greatly strengthened, study halls flourished in which the spiritual foundations of the Oral Torah were so deeply planted that, contrary to the laws of human nature, it continued to perpetuate the light of faith in the hearts of Israel throughout the lengthy years of exile. Not only that, but in a long process, Judaism crumbled most of the pagan tenets of Hellenistic culture, Jewish values ​​of faith and morals increasingly spread among the nations of the world – and in direct and crooked means (Christianity and Islam), have become the foundation of all that is good and pleasant in human culture. Thus, in truth, it became apparent that in the long-term, Judaism has triumphed over Hellenism, and this is reflected in the miracle of the flask of oil, which expresses the eternalness of the Torah, whose light overcomes the darkness.

Consequently, together with the fasts commemorating the destruction, in which we repent for all of our negligence in revealing the light of the Torah, to this day, we continue to celebrate Hanukkah.

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 Complex Story of Chanukah

We usually remember the gist of the Chanukah story; however, the story was much longer, complex and complicated, and we can learn from it a lesson for generations.


The Greek Empire


Over the course of hundreds of years, the Greeks developed a culture that achieved great advancements in science, philosophy, literature, art, architecture, military strategy, and politics. And its strength grew ever greater. After defeating his adversaries, Philippos, King of Macedonia, succeeded in uniting all of the Greek states under his rule. He invited the greatest Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle, to teach his son, Alexander. When Alexander the Great ascended the throne, he began a campaign of conquests, and within three years (3426-3429, 334-331 BCE), the Greeks conquered vast expanses of territory – Asia Minor, Eretz Yisrael, Egypt, and the entire mighty Persian Empire to India.

After Alexander of Macedonia died, the generals of the Greek army began fighting over the throne. In the end, they divided the vast territory under their control into several Greek kingdoms.

As a result of the conquests, Greek culture spread throughout the world, consuming all the other cultures and forming a singular, Hellenistic civilization. The system of government, language, culture, and sporting competitions in every country were Hellenistic. The rich and dignified people in every land assimilated with the Greeks and imitated their ways.

Greek Rule in Judea

Judea, as well, was ruled by the Greeks, and there, too, Hellenism spread. The Jews, however, were different from all the other nations, and the process of Hellenization proceeded relatively slowly in Judea. Nonetheless, over the course of 160 years of Greek rule, their influence grew stronger and stronger, mostly over the affluent. It reached the point where the High Priests, Jason and Menelaus, were leaders of the Hellenists, working to increase Greek influences in Judea. They built a wrestling stadium near the Holy Temple and preferred watching the matches over performing their sacrificial duties in the Temple.

Alexander the Great died in 3437 (323 BCE). At first, Ptolemy and Seleucus fought Antigonus, defeating him in a battle near Gaza in the year 3448 (312 BCE). The winners divided the spoils, and Ptolemy took Egypt, while Seleucus received Syria and Babylonia. Later on, the two fought each other over Eretz Yisrael, and the Ptolemy dynasty prevailed, taking control of the Holy Land for over a hundred years, starting in 3459 (301 BCE). In the year 3562 (198 BCE), Antiochus III, a descendant of the Seleucus dynasty, conquered Eretz Yisrael, but his power waned toward the end of his life. He attempted to conquer the Pergamon kingdom in Asia Minor, but the Romans intervened on their behalf and defeated Antiochus, who was forced to pay heavy compensation fees. Antiochus Epiphanes, the wicked king who enacted evil decrees against the Jews, took the reins of power after his namesake’s demise (3584-3596, 176-164 BCE). (Most of the information in this and the following footnotes is taken from Dr. Mordechai Breuer’s Divrei HaYamim LeYisrael U’leUmot HaOlam, Mossad HaRav Kook Publishers).

Evil Decrees of Antiochos


In the year 3591 from creation (169 BCE), around 160 years after the Greeks conquered Eretz Yisrael, Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) began oppressing the Jews. Under his rule, the Greeks despoiled the holy vessels of the Temple, breached the walls of Jerusalem, murdered thousands of Jews, and enslaved many others. In 3593 (167 BCE), Antiochus decreed that the Jews must forsake the Torah and its mitzvot and worship idols. He made it a capital crime to perform mitzvot, abolished the sacrificial service in the Temple, and turned the Temple into a place of idolatry. Torah scrolls were torn and burnt. Antiochus’ soldiers went from town to town forcing the Jews to eat pork and to erect altars for idol worship. Ritual circumcision was outlawed and Jewish women who insisted on circumcising their sons were executed. As a result of these decrees, many pious Jews fled to the deserts, caves, or other countries; and many were murdered in sanctification of God’s Name.


The Rebellion and the Miracle of Chanukah


The intense pressure that the Greeks exercised against the Jews kindled a spark in their souls, and when the Greeks arrived in the village of Modi’in, with the intention of forcing Matityahu, son of Yochanan the High Priest, to worship idols, Matityahu rose up and killed the Greek officer and his Hellenized collaborators. The uniqueness of his action was that instead of dying in sanctification of God’s Name, like the other pious Jews, he decided to kill the oppressor. By doing so, he, together with his sons, raised the banner of rebellion against the Greeks and Hellenism.

The war was difficult. Yehudah the Maccabee, the bravest of Matityahu’s sons, led the fighters. With courage and skill, the Hasmoneans overcame the Greek forces, and after two years of fighting, they succeeded in reconquering Jerusalem. On the 25th of Kislev, 3596 (165 BCE), they began purifying the Temple and restoring the sacrificial service to its original state. This is when the miracle of the Menorah took place.


Later on, the Greeks returned to Eretz Yisrael with reinforcements, conquered Jerusalem, and put Hellenized kohanim (priests) in charge of the Temple. However, in order not to increase tensions with the Jews, they abolished the evil decrees and allowed the Jews to keep the Torah and its mitzvot. But this did not stop the rebellion; the Hasmoneans continued to fight against the Greeks and Hellenism. The war effort knew ups and downs, but the Hasmonean brothers combined strength, diplomacy, and cunning to eventually gain political independence. Granted, the Jews lived under the aegis of the mighty empires – first the Greeks and then the Romans – but the governance of the Land was controlled by the Jews for the Jews.


It seems quite evident that had the Greeks been more patient, Judea would have succumbed to Hellenism, just like the other nations did. But the hand of God, which conceals itself in the historic process, was at work, fanning the flames of the conflict. Just as He hardened Pharaoh’s heart during the Exodus, so too, He hardened Antiochus’ heart, and in the process helped Israel reveal the faith, self-sacrifice, and courage hidden deep inside its collective soul.

On the thirteenth of Adar 3599 (161 BCE), the troops of Yehudah the Maccabee defeated the army of Nicanor; Nicanor was killed and the remnants of his troops retreated. This day was celebrated for generations. Immediately thereafter, the Greeks sent Bacchides at the head of a large army. Yehudah, unable to mobilize a great number of fighters, stood against him with a mere 800 soldiers. Yehudah was killed in this battle (3600, 160 BCE). Bacchides conquered the entire Land and awarded the position of High Priest to Alcimus, a Hellenist, who executed sixty of Israel’s elder sages. But the evil decrees of Antiochus were removed, so as not to escalate war with the Jews.


In practice, the miracle of the liberation of the Temple and its’ purification lasted for only four straight years. Indeed, during the Second Temple period, the days of Chanukah were not the only holidays Jews celebrated, for parallel to Chanukah, many other days in which great salvation was achieved, with God’s help, in battle against the Greeks, were celebrated. For example, such as the victory day over Nicanor on the 13th of Adar, the 24th of Av, the day on which Israel returned to judge according to the laws of the Torah, the 15th and 16th of Sivan un which they conquered Beit Shean and deported the Christians who had displaced Israel from their land . But all those holidays were cancelled with the destruction of the Temple, and only Chanukah remained for generations, because of the miracle of the oil, and our Sages ruling to light the candles (Rosh Hashanah 18b).

The Continuation of the Rebellion Combined with Diplomacy

Yonatan, Yehudah’s brother, assumed command of the remaining Hasmonean fighters, who fled and went into hiding. Over time, the Hasmoneans regained their strength and managed to harass the Greeks, but they were unable to reconquer Jerusalem. Then, a threat arose against King Demetrius’ rule, and, in order to maintain his power, he made a pact with the Hasmoneans, giving them Jerusalem and autonomy. Yonatan took advantage of the struggle for power in the Seleucid dynasty and received additional benefits from Demetrius’ rival. Thus, in the year 3608 (152 BCE), the Hellenist administrators of the Holy Temple were deposed and Yonatan began serving as High Priest. 

Diodotus Tryphon, one of the Greek rulers who opposed Yonatan’s increasing power in Jerusalem, lured him into joining him for friendly talks and then murdered him (3618, 142 BCE). 

Shimon inherited his brother’s command and made a treaty with Tryphon’s rival, in exchange for a tax exemption for the Jews of Judea. While the Greek kings were preoccupied with internal battles, during the seven years of his leadership, Shimon cleansed the Land of the vestiges of Greek influence, conquered additional cities surrounding Judea, and fortified its political independence. 

The life of Shimon, Matityahu’s last son, ended in tragedy. The Greeks united with his son-in-law, Ptolemy, who rose up and murdered Shimon and his two sons, and together with the Greeks, waged a difficult war against Yochanan Hyrcanus and his remaining son. Many Jews were killed, but in the end, in a tortuous and turmoil-filled diplomatic effort, Yochanan Hyrcanus gained power and ruled for 31 years. 

The Legacy of the Maccabean Wars

Numerous lessons can be learned from the history of the Hasmoneans and their wars, but the primary lesson is that, on the one hand, Matityahu and his sons were willing to give their lives for the nation and the Torah, but on the other hand, when there was no alternative, they consented to make degrading agreements (over the Land of Israel and its sovereignty), while constantly striving towards the broad goal: Israel’s redemption through settling the Land, and observance of Torah and mitzvot.

In the generations of grandchildren and great grandchildren, the Hasmonean kingdom deteriorated spiritually, and afterwards, also nationally. However, thanks to political independence, Jewish settlements sprung up throughout the country, Jews immigrated from the Diaspora, birthrates rose, and the Jewish nation, which had undergone destruction and exile, rehabilitated itself to a large degree. Torah learning halls also flourished and increased.

Next week, ahead of the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, with God’s help I will deal with the fall of the Hasmonean kingdom and the destruction of the Holy Temple, and we will learn that indeed, the miracle of the flask of oil expresses more than anything the main remaining legacy of the Hasmoneans for generations.

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

A Primer on the Laws of Chanukah

One should try to leave work early and light the Chanukah candles close to sunset * One who returns home late from work should make an effort to light candles no later than nine o’clock * When a spouse gets home late, should lighting be postponed? * According to Sephardic custom, can children light candles with a blessing? * Can Chanukah candles be lit with a blessing at parties and public gatherings? * One who lives on an upper floor in an apartment building should light the candles by the window facing the street * All types of candles are kosher, provided they remain lit for half an hour *
The halakha for a guest on Shabbat and Motzei Shabbat

Lighting Time

Our Sages determined that the Chanukah candles should be lit at an hour which allows for maximum publicity of the Chanukah miracle. In the past when there were no street lamps, people would begin gathering in their homes just before nightfall. At sunset, therefore, the streets were full of people returning home. For that reason, our Sages ruled that the time for lighting Chanukah candles is “from sundown until the marketplace has emptied out” (Shabbat 21b).

Even though today we have electric lighting and most people return home hours after nightfall, the ideal time for lighting Chanukah candles is still the time chosen by our Sages – tzeit ha’kochavim (when three medium-sized stars emerge). 

How nice it would be if on the days of Chanukah one could return home before five o’clock, and after lighting the candles, engage in Torah study and family gatherings centering on commemorating the miracle and the destiny of the Jewish nation.

What Comes First: Evening Prayers, or Lighting the Candles?

Those who customarily pray the Evening Prayer (Ma’ariv) at tzeit ha’kochavim, should pray the evening services before lighting the candles, according to the rule, “tadir v’she’eino tadir, tadir kodem” (that which comes more frequently takes precedence). At the end of the Ma’ariv, they should return home quickly to light candles as close as possible to tzeit ha’kochavim.

But someone whose custom is to pray Ma’ariv later, it is preferable to light candles at tzeit ha’kochavim and pray Ma’ariv as usual, so he can light candles at the ideal time, tzeit ha’kochavim.

However, in that case, one should take care not to eat dinner beforehand. If there is a concern that as a result of festivities following the lighting of the candles one might forget to pray Ma’ariv, it is preferable to pray at tzeit ha’kochavim, and light the candles after Ma’ariv.

Should Lighting be Postponed until Coming Home from Work?

If it is difficult for someone to return home at tzeit ha’kochavim because, for example, he has to work until seven o’clock, he may light candles with a bracha (blessing) upon returning home from work, because even in the past according to most poskim (Jewish law authorities), bediavad (after the fact), one could fulfill the mitzvah all night long – all the more so today, when many people are accustomed to return home after tzeit ha’kochavim.

In any case, latecomers should make an effort to light as early as possible, and to light no later than nine o’clock, because by that time even those people who work late, return home. Only in a sha’at dachak (pressing situation) is one permitted to light the candles all night, but reciting the blessing is permitted only on the condition that there is another person present who sees the candles (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 13:8, footnote 12).

A latecomer must be careful not to eat ‘achilat keva’ (a meal) before lighting the candles (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 13:6).

Should a Spouse Wait for Their Partner to Return Home?

In many families a question arises: in a case where one of the spouses cannot return home from work at tzeit ha’kochavim, when should the candles be lit? Should the spouse at home light candles at nightfall (about 5:00 P.M.), or wait for his or her partner to return home? 

Seemingly, according to the letter of the law, it is preferable for the spouse at home to light candles at nightfall and thus discharge his or her partner of the obligation. However, in practice, it is usually best to wait for the delayed spouse to return.

For if the other spouse is not able to hear the blessings over the candles elsewhere, one should wait for him. And if there is a chance he will be offended, or his connection to the mitzvah will be weakened, one should wait until he returns.

If the couple wishes, the spouse at home can light candles on time, and when the other spouse returns home, they can light candles once more with a bracha (see, Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 12:4, footnote 2).

Should Lighting be Postponed for Children Who Come Home Late?

According to Sephardic custom in which only one family member lights a candle for the entire family, one should wait for each member of the family for the same reasons mentioned above in regards to waiting for a spouse.

However, if the latecomer will arrive after nine in the evening, it is preferable not to wait for him, and to light earlier. The latecomer should take care to participate in a candle lighting and hear the blessings wherever he happens to be. If he cannot, and it is not a one-time occurrence, it is preferable for him to act according to the Ashkenazi minhag (custom), and have intention not to fulfill his obligation with his families’ lighting, and upon returning home, to light the candles with a bracha on his own.

According to Ashkenazic custom, lighting should not be postponed for children who are late, and when they arrive home – they should light their own candles with a bracha.

Can Children Light Candles with a Bracha According to Sephardi Custom?

According to Sephardi custom, only the head of the household lights Chanukah candles. If children are eager to light a menorah as well, they are permitted to light their own candles, provided they light them in another place, so that it is evident how many candles are lit each day.

As far as the blessing is concerned, the prevalent custom is not to recite a blessing when lighting, because they fulfill the mitzvah through their father’s lighting, and it is appropriate to continue this minhag. However, a person whose children are eager to recite the bracha, or genuinely wants them to recite the bracha as well, can rely on the opinion of the Rishon L’Tzion, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l  who permitted children up to the age of Bar Mitzvah to light candles with a blessing.

And in the opinion of Rabbi Shalom Mesas ztz”l, boys over the age of Bar Mitzvah can have kavana (intention) not to fulfill their obligation in the mitzvah through their father’s lighting, and light with a bracha (Yalkut Shemesh, O.C. 192).When necessary, one may rely on his opinion.

Candle Lighting at Parties and Public Events

Many people are scrupulous to publicize the miracle and light Chanukah candles wherever people gather, such as weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Chanukah parties, and lectures. The question is: is it permissible to recite a blessing over the lighting at such events?

Many poskim hold that one should not recite a blessing, because the blessings are customarily said only in synagogues, and we do not have the authority to invent new customs in other places. According to them, one who recites a blessing in places other than a synagogue is pronouncing a blessing in vein (Rav Orbach, Rav Eliyashiv).

On the other hand, several poskim maintain that one may light Chanukah candles with a blessing wherever there is a public gathering. After all, the reason we light in the synagogue is to publicize the miracle; therefore, one should light with a blessing wherever groups of people gather together (Rav Yisraeli, Rav Ovadiah). It is preferable, though, to pray Ma’ariv in such a place thus giving it the status of a synagogue to a certain extent, and then, a blessing may be recited as the custom dictates (Rav Eliyahu).

In practice, one who wishes to rely on those who hold that it is permissible to light with a blessing may do so, and it is proper to do so l’chatchila (from the outset) when people who are not meticulous in mitzvoth are present. In such a case, it is preferable to honor a non-observant person with lighting of the candles, for by doing so, it will be evident that the mitzvoth belong to all Jews, both observant and non-observant (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 12:18). 

Where to Light Chanukah Candles in an Apartment Building

Our Sages determined that ideally, one should light candles near the entranceway facing the street, in order to publicize the miracle to passers-by in the vicinity of the house. But there is a dispute as to where the entranceway is for someone living in an apartment building. Some authorities say the building’s entrance, but this opinion should not be adopted since other poskim say that by doing so, one does not fulfill his obligation because the mitzvah is to light the candles near his private house.

Therefore, it is preferable to light the candles in a window facing the public domain. And although some poskim say it is preferable to light on the left side of the door facing the hallway, it is preferable to light at the window, because ‘pirsum ha’nes’ (publicizing the miracle) is most important. And even those who live on the fourth floor and above should preferably light there. True, our Sages said that one who lights in a place higher than twenty cubits (9.12 meters) has not fulfilled his obligation, however they were talking about a person who lit the candles on a pole in the middle of his yard. But someone who lights the candles in the window inside his home, approximately a meter and a half from the floor, definitely fulfills his obligation. And since people are used to glancing at the windows of buildings, by lighting there, the miracle will be more publicized (Peninei Halakha 13:3).

If they follow the Ashkenazic custom in which children also light candles, it is preferable for the head of the family to light the candles on the window sill, and one of the children to light near the apartment door.

The Candles

All types of oils and wicks are kosher for Chanukah candles, provided it can stay lit for at least a half-an-hour. If many people see the candles from the street, it is best to light candles that will remain lit for many hours, in order to heighten the ‘pirsum ha’nes’.

The Chanukah candles lit on Erev Shabbat should burn at least an hour and a quarter because since they are lit before Shabbat begins, they must continue burning a half hour after tzeit ha’kochavim.

L’chatchila, it is best to use candles that shine radiantly in order to publicize the miracle. Therefore, many people choose to light candles made of wax or paraffin. Others say it is preferable to light with olive oil, whose light is also radiant, and also recalls the miracle of Chanukah which was performed with olive oil (Peninei Halakha 12:6).

Electric Lights

In practice, most poskim hold that one cannot use electric lights, because they do not have wicks and oil like conventional candles do.
Indeed, regarding Shabbat candles many poskim hold that one can fulfill the mitzvah with an electric lightbulb, because the main purpose of Shabbat candles is to increase light, whereas Chanukah candles are intended to remind us of the miracle that occurred with the menorah of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), therefore they should resemble the candles of the Holy Temple.

Candle Lighting for Guests

A family who are guests on Shabbat and also sleep at their host’s home, that Shabbat, their guest’s house is considered their residence. According to the Sephardic minhag where only one menorah is lit at home, the guest should give a shekel to the host, so as to be partners in his candles. Bediavad (after the fact), even if they did not give a shekel, they have fulfilled their obligation since they rely on their host for meals, and his lighting includes all guests. According to the Ashkenazi minhag, where each person lights a menorah, guests should also light candles with a bracha.

If the guests sleep in a separate apartment, according to all minhagim they should light candles there with a bracha.

Where to Light on Motzei Shabbat

A family who are guests on Shabbat and plan to return home immediately after Shabbat, it is preferable for them to light the candles in their own home. But if they plan to return home late, when people are no longer on the streets, it is better for them to fulfill their obligation of the mitzvah in the home of their hosts. And even though their intention is to return home and sleep there, since the previous night they slept at their hosts, as long as they have not departed, they are still considered as ‘members of the household’.

But if they do not intend to return quickly, but also, not that late, they may choose where to light their candles. As far as the previous day is concerned, they are still considered as guests of their host, and regarding the following day, they will be at home, therefore they are permitted to choose where they wish to light (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 13:10).

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

A Jewish Legal System Depends on Torah Scholars

The harm caused to the Jewish identity, security, and settlement of the Land of Israel is the result of the neglect of Torah law * As long as we fail to develop a Jewish legal system suitable for a modern state, don’t blame the secular system * Torah laws must be learned together with an understanding of the times, similar to Torah scholars throughout the generations who did not deliberate matters in a detached and theoretical way * An observant person may be appointed a judge nowadays, on the condition he strives to change the situation and attempts to rule according to the Torah when possible * Caution should be taken in regards to legal rulings suitable in the past, but today, cause injustice, for rabbis are required to enact ordinances in accordance with the present situation

The Legal Establishment – A Non-Jewish Court System

Last week I briefly reviewed the harmful and systematic damage the secular legal establishment causes to the Jewish identity, security, and settlement of the State of Israel. This is the punishment for neglecting the mitzvah (commandment) of the Torah – to appoint judges who decide the law according to the Torah, as it is written: “These are the laws that you must set before them” (Exodus 21:1). Certainly, public representatives have the authority pass laws and amend regulations, but this is only on the condition that the underlying commitment to the principles of the Torah remain unchanged; however, when the legal system derives its conceptions and values from non-Jewish sources, the courts are considered “Gentile courts”.

If so, as many rabbis have written, the harsh declaration of the Rambam seemingly also applies to our secular court system: “When any person has a judgment decided by Gentile judges and their courts, he is considered a wicked person. It is as if he disgraced, blasphemed, and lifted up his hand against the Torah of Moses our teacher” (Laws of Sanhedrin 26:7). In addition, Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog ztz”l, the Chief Rabbi of Israel at the time of establishment of the state, wrote: “Presently, when the Jewish nation dwells in its homeland and regretfully judges according to foreign laws, it is a thousand times worse than an individual or a Jewish community who brings their cases before non-Jewish courts…who knows what the results will be from such a shameful and humiliating situation” (“HaTorah ve’Ha’Medina” Volume VII). This was also the opinion of many rabbis, including Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank ztz”l, Tzitz Eliezer, Chazon Ish, the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l, and the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ztz”l.

At the time of the establishment of the state, there were still some devoted Jews who, according to various sevarot (logical insights), questioned the prohibition and its serious implications; however, after experience has accumulated over the years, the seriousness of the sin, and the extent of its punishment, is clearly evident.

We are Also Guilty

Nevertheless, we must be honest and admit the truth that we, too, the students of Torah, are to be held accountable.

Let’s suppose that tomorrow, the people of Israel awaken to do teshuva (repentance), wishing to fulfill its destiny of ‘repairing the world in the Kingdom of God’ (‘tikkun olam’), and the entire nation demands from its representatives in the Knesset and government: “Please! Rid us of all these Gentile laws, ‘restore our judges as before, and our counselors as at first’! Return Torah law to its proper standing, so the message of ‘tikkun olam’ can ring loud.” The Knesset members and government would then convene, deciding to change the legal system, and without delay, come to the rabbis and inform them: “Behold! We have decided to abandon the secular court system, and starting from next month, we request that you run the entire judicial system.”

Under present circumstances, the rabbis would have no choice but to ask the secular court system to continue managing all legal affairs, because, to our great dismay, we have yet to prepare the educational infrastructure needed to establish a legal system in accordance with the Torah. We have yet to train judges who can fill the place of the present judges, we still lack a coherent position regarding the rules of procedure, evidence, criminal prosecution, contract, labor and public laws, taxes, corporation laws, and so forth. In yeshiva’s, we study laws pertaining to the times of the Tanaim, Amoraim, Rishonim, and the first Achronim (10 CE till approx. 1600 CE). If someone were to come and ask a question about the Jewish community in the Middle Ages, we would have detailed answers; but unfortunately, we have not dealt sufficiently with laws pertaining to today’s society and economy (with the exception of a few institutions, which have clarified some of the issues).

Furthermore, in numerous issues there is a certain amount of confusion, seeing as the Rishonim were divided in their opinions, and as a result of the galut (exile), Torah scholars lacked the authority to decide the halakha; thus, any litigant can assert that he subscribes to a minority opinion ruling in his favor (‘kim li’), and because the halakha is inconclusive, it is impossible to decide who is right. In order to establish a legal system according to the Torah, first, we would have to decide the exact halakha in all fundamental issues.

‘Limmud Zechut’ for the Founders of the Israeli Court System

Thus, the Israeli jurists who did not willfully turn their backs on Torah law, but rather, believed it was impossible to successfully establish a modern society and economy in accordance with laws of the Torah, can be judged on a favorable basis (‘limmud zechut’). They turned to the legal system that was already prevalent in the country – a legal system beginning with Turkish laws, but mainly followed by British law. Thereafter, they continued building the court system in accordance with the vast experience acquired by legal systems of democratic countries, and together with the work of hundreds of thousands of lawyers, via inquiry, trial, error and correction, created a sophisticated system suitable for modern society.

Therefore, the Rambam’s declaration that “anyone who has a judgment decided by Gentile judges and their courts is considered a wicked person, and it is as if he disgraced, blasphemed, and lifted up his hand against the Torah of Moses our teacher”, does not apply to supporters of the secular legal system.

However, since in practice the secular court system derives its values ​​from Western society (along with all its various ills), it is impervious to the values ​​of Torah, the nation, and the Land (again, the court system can possibly be judged on a favorable basis claiming that in order not to confuse its legal considerations, they built a high dividing wall between the values ​​of the secular courts, and Jewish values of the Torah. In practice, the result is dreadful for the Jewish identity of the state). Time after time, the judicial system exploits the Jewish people of its values, rights, land, and national calling. Only by using arguments of mortal danger (such as the issue of Arab immigration to the State of Israel on the grounds of family reunification), have national claims narrowly been agreed to.

Gradual Change

It should be added that even if we had a systematic doctrine, and were able to promptly appoint a superbly organized court system, an interim period of time would still be needed, during which all contracts, agreements, and criminal cases could be judged in accordance with the current legal system, so as not to destabilize the social and economic frameworks based on it. Therefore, the transition to Torah law should be done gradually, in such a way that no one is adversely affected by the change.

The Study of Torah Law

Consequently, Torah students and teachers have a great obligation resting on their shoulders – to thoroughly clarify Torah law, and according to it, assess both the positive and negative aspects of the various legal systems in the world, examine the system of laws and regulations currently in force in the State of Israel, and consider what should be adopted, what needs to be changed, and what regulations to enact.

It should be noted that from the time of the Talmud until the early modern period, yeshiva students were proficient in the economic and legal doctrines which prevailed in their days. They knew how the Gentiles judged according to their laws, and how it was proper to rule according to halakha. Unfortunately, in recent generations a gap has been created between the world of Torah and the practical world; the Torah world has withdrawn into theoretical inquiries, to the point where some argue that any study concerning halakha or anything practical, is considered inferior compared to abstract ‘pilpul’.

If we continue the legacy of Torah study for generations, then today, students learning the tractates of ‘Nashim’ and ‘Nizikin’ in the Talmud and parts of ‘Choshen Mishpat’ and ‘Even Ha’ezer’ in the Shulchan Aruch should be proficient in knowledge of the legal system in all its various levels – criminal law, law procedures, systems of commerce, credit, investment, leverage, interest, taxes, labor laws, etc.

As a result, we would be able to provide a vision of a Jewish state acting according to Torah law, and set an example for all mankind how through the Torah, justice and moral values receive full expression, as it is written: “Safeguard and keep [these rules], since this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations. They will hear all these rules and say, “This great nation is certainly a wise and understanding people. What nation is so great that they have God close to it, as God our Lord is, whenever we call him? What nation is so great that they have such righteous rules and laws, like this entire Torah that I am presenting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:6-6).

May an Observant Jew be a Judge in a Secular Court?

There are rabbis who believe it is forbidden for a Jew to be appointed as a judge in a secular court. A God-fearing judge once told me that he refrained from signing as a witness on ketubah’s (Jewish marriage contracts), out of consideration for rabbis who were of the opinion that he was disqualified to testify.

On the other hand, there are rabbis who believe that since the public by way of its representatives in the Knesset accepted upon themselves the secular legal system, a person may be appointed a judge, seeing as he is not to blame for determining the Gentile judicial system.

In my humble opinion, it appears that everything depends on the judge’s positions. If he regrets that the system is not run according to Torah law, and tries his best to amend it, then his appointment as judge is valuable. Understandably, he cannot violate his obligation to rule according to the accepted law, but in cases where the law is subject to interpretation, it is a mitzvah for him to stretch the interpretation as far to the edge as possible in the direction of Torah law, in the same way secular judges sometimes tend to stretch their interpretation of the law radically in the secular direction. However, if he fits into the system, wholeheartedly accepting its moral yoke, even if from time to time he “decorates” his comments in verses from the Torah and words of our Sages, he is indeed a partner in the desecration of God (apparently, this was also the opinion of the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l, “Techumin” Vol.3, pg. 244).

Every now and then we hear of religiously observant lawyers who dismiss Israel’s basic right to its land, and even draw their arguments from the dubious authority of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which is undoubtedly a “Gentile court”. In such a case, even if they believe they are only following the prevailing international law, seeing as they could have chosen another option that is legitimate and compatible to the Torah (such as the Edmond Levy report), in practice, they are partners in the desecration of God which the Rambam spoke of.

The Authority to Enact Ordinances

I must add that sometimes, judges and dayanim (rabbinic judges) who rule according to formal Torah law (such as in the case of inheritances or alimony), will find themselves ruling contrary to the principles of the Torah. For indeed, it is clear that if Torah scholars had the authority, they would enact a regulation solving the distortion that is liable to occur from a simplistic understanding of Torah law.

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 Chief Culprit: The Supreme Court

All those who attacked the mitzvah of ‘yefat toar’, besides deriding the Torah, also damaged its’ moral influence on the world * The basic problem is the arrogance of Western culture, offering humanity shallow and dangerous worldviews, in contrast to the multifaceted guidance of the Torah * The Supreme Court is today’s most harmful factor of the Jewish state and its values * Concerning Amona, the courts favored the petitioners over the settlers, only because they are Arabs * A series of Supreme Court decisions against Jewish settlement of the country, and Israel’s security * It is also the responsibility of the religious public to offer an alternative


Last week, I dealt with the issue of clarifying the mitzvah of ‘eshet yefat toar‘ and the inherent moral ‘tikkun‘ (improvement) it embodies: on the one hand, as opposed to the conventional legal situation in the world where it was permitted to do anything with prisoners of war, the mitzvah of ‘eshet yefat toar‘ represented an enormous improvement; on the other hand, the Torah teaches us that it was a transgression permitted bediavad (after the fact), and seeing as ‘aveira goreret aveira’ (one sin leads to another) it was liable to cause conflicts in the family and result in bearing children who are rebellious (Tanchuma Ki Tayzeh 1). In regards to this, our Sages said: “The Torah only provided for human passions: it is better for Israel to eat flesh of animals about to die yet ritually slaughtered (a doubtful prohibition), than the flesh of dying animals which have perished (a definite prohibition)” (Kiddushin 21b). In this way, the Torah gradually elevates a person until he reaches a complete ‘tikkun‘.

In contrast, the several members of the media who ridiculed the Torah’s mitzvot, and the women members of Knesset who petitioned the High Court against the Chief IDF Rabbi’s appointment, defamed the Torah. Besides slandering the word of the living God with their remarks and actions and the tradition of their ancestors who sacrificed their lives to guard it – no less severe, they harmed the welcome moral influence of the Torah in ‘tikkun olam’.

Arrogance and Superficiality

Their behavior is a direct result of their arrogant and superficial worldview which, out of good intentions, offers the world “new religions” and “moral solutions”, that in practice, cause destruction and devastation. Consequently, in order to help the poor, one movement offered the world the “religion of communism” whose followers denounced property rights, initiated murderous wars, and created an evil, dictatorial regime.

Correspondingly, in order to strengthen the rights of the individual, another movement offered the world the “religion of liberal democracy” whereby, regardless of a country’s national character or social circumstances, come what may, the democratic system will always bring about peace and prosperity – and thus, out of blind devotion to the “religion of democracy”, America helped Khomeini establish an evil regime in Iran, and caused havoc and wars in every country they attempted to offer assistance (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, etc.).

At the same time, inwardly, the “religion of freedom and equality” caused the breakup of the family and community, decreeing loneliness and misery on countless numbers of people, demonstrated by the constant and alarming decrease in demographics.

The values ​​in whose name they speak, such as justice, brotherhood, equality and freedom are sacred values whose foundations stem from the Torah, but when they emerge out of a superficiality rooted in arrogance and contempt for other values ​​and cultures, as well as ignoring the infinite complexity of human life, they cause immense suffering to countless numbers of people.

It is precisely the Torah that is intended to guide all of us through the complexities of life, teaching us to choose well within a complicated reality.

The Fault of the Legal Establishment

Under normal circumstances a libel suit should have been brought against those who slandered the Torah and Rabbi Krim for allegedly not respecting moral values. But to whom can one appeal? Indeed, the entire legal establishment is contaminated! The Supreme Court judges accepted the petition on the grounds that presumably the allegation that Rabbi Krim supported attacking women during wartime was true. They should have rejected the petition out of hand for one of two reasons: a) it is not a matter for the court to intervene in administrative decisions, as long as there is no criminal allegations. B) There is no feasibility of truth in the actual petition itself. After all, at no time in history was there ever a Torah commentator who claimed that the taking of an ‘eshet yefat toar’ was a good thing, and it’s illogical to presume that precisely Rabbi Krim would all of a sudden say it was a mitzvah from the Torah. Instead, the judges agreed with the petitioners, accepting the libelous slander that perhaps the Torah actually says so, and consequently, a rabbi could give such a directive. Having not rejected the petition, they became partners in the slander, similar to what we have learned concerning those who hear loshon ha’ra (evil speech) that they are also considered sinners. For it’s not only the mouse that is a thief, but also the hole encouraging him to enter. The lawyer representing the government whose job it was to defend the Chief IDF Rabbi’s appointment, muttered some nonsensical arguments demonstrating ignorance, disrespect, and mistrust of the Torah and rabbis.

The aim of the petition was to humiliate the laws of the Torah and its adherents, and to show everyone that the secular law is above the Torah, and since the legal establishment volunteered to be part of this, the primary blame lies with them.

The Case of Amona

Also in regards to Jewish settlement in the community of Amona, the legal establishment acted similarly. Ignoring the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (the commandment to settle the Land) and the vision of its redemption in Torah, the Prophets, and Jewish heritage, from the very beginning the courts gave priority to the flimsy claims of the petitioners, which even if they do exist, not once did any of their family members ever purchase these lands, or settle them. The only advantage the petitioners have over the settlers is that they are Arabs, whereas the settlers are Jews; consequently, the court ordered the demolition of their homes.

Harm to the Jewish Identity of the State

In a continuous process, the legal establishment has gnawed away at the country’s Jewish identity. Let’s now recall their main decisions and orders in this issue: 1) In a series of decisions the courts weakened the importance of Shabbat, permitting increasing public desecration of Shabbat (cinemas, shopping centers in outlying areas, etc.); 2) Despite the Knesset passing the “Foundations of Law” statute, whereby in a case of any legal question undecided by Israeli law, the court must decide in accordance with the values ​​of Israel’s heritage – in practice, the Supreme Court depleted this law from all content; 3) the courts harmed Jewish family values by recognizing the adoption of children by same-sex couples; 4) they recognized Reform conversions performed outside of Israel; 5) the courts recognized in practice (de facto) civil marriage ceremonies conducted outside of Israel, including same-sex “marriages”; 6) They harmed the status of the Hebrew language as the official national language of the country by nearly equating Arabic to Hebrew; 7) they prevented the disqualification of the Balad party and anti-Zionist candidates for Knesset, and this, in opposition to the opinion of the Elections Committee who relied upon the Basic Law of the Knesset prohibiting a party that negates the Jewish identity of the state to run for election; 8) the court system forced the participation of women singers and actresses in official and semi-official ceremonies, without taking into account the position of halakha and the religious and Haredi communities.

Harm to the Rabbinate and Religious Courts

1) In a series of decisions, the Supreme Court intervened in the discretion of municipal Chief Rabbis regarding the provision of kosher certification; 2) they obligated the religious courts to decide according to secular law in monetary matters; 3) prohibited national religious courts from serving as arbitrators according to the Arbitration Law; 4) established courts dealing with family issues, designed to compete with the religious courts.

Harm to the Importance of Yishuv Ha’aretz

For over 150 years, a national struggle has ensued between the Jews and the Arabs over the Land of Israel. In order to redeem and settle the Land, the ‘Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael’ was established, and afterwards, the State of Israel. However in a gradual process, the Supreme Court has hindered the ability of the State of Israel to fulfill its mission. 1) The Supreme Court prohibited the government from allocating state-owned land for settlement exclusively by Jews. 2) Prohibited giving incentives to Jewish communities in the Galilee and Negev (“making the Galilee and Negev Jewish”), thereby invalidating the ideal which accompanied the Zionist movement from its inception. 3) Even in regards to the lands owned by the ‘Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael’ which were purchased exclusively with Jewish money, as a result of deliberations in the Supreme Court, the then Attorney General Mr. Mazuz, ordered not to give further preference to Jewish settlement. 4) As a result of petitions by leftist organizations, the Supreme Court hastened to intervene, demanding the evacuation of Jewish outposts in Judea and Samaria, while breaching the rules of deliberation obligating a legal process of clarification of ownership of the land before a District and Magistrates court. 5) The courts prohibited the state from crop-spraying to shower pesticides on illegally-planted plots of land by Bedouins in the Negev, despite this being a proven method of restraining their seizure of state-owned lands. 6) As a result of pressure from the courts, the Attorney General obligated the state to divert the route of Nahal Hevron in the northern Negev at the cost of 30 million shekels, claiming the sewage that the Palestinian Authority spilled into it, inconveniences the illegal Bedouin outpost ‘Um-Bitin’ located next to the path of the stream. 7) In the latter part of his first term, the courts prohibited Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from closing the ‘Orient House’, claiming that his government was a ‘provisional government’; on the other hand, they deferred a similar petition against the peace talks in Taba at the end of Ehud Barak’s tenure.

Harm to Israel’s Security

1) The courts prohibited the shaking-up of suspects interrogated by the Shabak (Secret Service), including cases of “ticking-bombs”. 2) They abolished the procedure of “human shields”, a method that has saved the lives of numerous soldiers. 3) The court placed severe restrictions on the IDF, tying their hands in the harming of terrorists about to carry out an attack; 4) The courts disqualified a law – despite being passed in the Knesset – allowing the incarceration of ‘hard’ terrorists for a period of two weeks without seeing a judge, despite the security needs for such a procedure in order to obtain information from them; 5) In opposition to the opinion of the defense establishment, the Supreme Court instructed the dismantling and relocation of sections of the ‘security fence’ and settlement’s security fences in several locations, and also the opening of roads and removal of roadblocks, in full knowledge that this would likely cause a security risk; 6) In a series of decisions, the courts and the legal establishment forced the IDF to enlist women soldiers in combat units, in opposition to the opinion of professional committees.

On occasion, the mere fact that the Supreme Court starts hearing a petition leads governmental agencies to cancel their plans. For example: the Supreme Court held discussions on petitions brought by leftist groups against reducing the supply of gas, electricity, and other goods to Gaza, and subsequently, the then Attorney General Mr. Mazuz, ordered the government to fold up its plans.

Strengthening those Loyal to the Nation and the Land

This short overview is as much as necessary to determine that the legal system is currently the most alienated and most harmful institution in Israel in its affront of Jewish and Zionist values.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that within the legal establishment there are also many positive aspects: in the field of ‘derech eretz’ which precedes Torah, it acts in a reasonable manner, and its very existence helps in keeping law and order, and the normal functioning of social and economic frameworks.

It should also be pointed out that we, members of the religiously observant community, are also guilty for the current situation, by not offering a proper alternative to the legal system. I hope to expand on this issue in my next column. In the meantime, let us thank those lawyers, judges and advisors who, out of a deep-seated loyalty to the values ​​of Torah, the nation and the Land, attempt to do their jobs within the existing legal system, thus paving the beginning of the path to correcting the situation.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed, including all his books on halakha and Jewish thought in Hebrew, and a few in English, can be found at:

‘Yefat Toar’ and Morality

Seeing as others having spoken slanderously about Rabbi Krim and the Torah, it is our duty to explain the morality and logic of the law of ‘yefat toar’ * Until modern times, even up to the last century, captives were cruelly abused, often ending in death * The Torah, in contrast to other cultures, demands total self-restraint from illicit relations * The permission to marry a ‘yefat toar’ is ‘bediavad’ under defined conditions, and with the Torah’s warning not to do so * In view of the world’s moral progress, the permission to marry a ‘yefat toar’ is completely null and void * Accusing the Torah of supporting rape is like accusing a doctor of supporting illness

Slander of the Torah and Israel

In recent months we have witnessed a libelous defamation of our holy Torah and the people of Israel who teach its’ values ​​to the world by the secular media, together with women MK’s from the leftist Meretz party, concerning the issue of ‘eshet yefat toar’ (a non-Jewish woman captured in battle) and the appointment of Rabbi Krim as the next Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F.

Although most of the blame lies with the slanderers who failed to delve into the Torah, we are also responsible to explain the Torah’s words and values ​​completely and precisely, while emphasizing its Divine vision and logic, so that any decent person is capable of understanding just how true and compassionate the Torah is, and to what extent tikkun olam (repairing the world) is dependent on its study and fulfillment.

The Status of Those Defeated in War in the Past

In ancient times, the victors of wars would do whatever they pleased with those they vanquished. Any type of abuse was considered acceptable, both legally, and morally. Those who fell in captivity were considered the property of the victors. Many of them were killed and publicly abused (for that reason, King Saul asked to be killed with his own the sword, rather than be captured by the Philistines). Some were slaughtered as a sacrifices on the altars of their gods, while others were taken for murderous games and used as gladiators in wars against wild beasts or between themselves, until death.

Usually, a large percentage of the men were killed, and the rest were sold as slaves. The beautiful and young women were “fortunate”: they weren’t killed, but rather, first the soldiers would rape them as they wished, and when they were finished with them, the women were thrown into a cage of prostitutes, or sold as slaves or concubines. This was the norm; therefore, it was common practice among the nations that when they saw defeat was imminent, the women would adorn themselves in order to be appealing to the victorious soldiers, and thus, save their lives. Many of them harbored the hope that perhaps one of the enemy soldiers would covet and safeguard her, wishing to use her as a concubine. And perhaps later on, she would even be able to improve her standing and be legitimately considered his second wife, or maybe even his first wife. And if not, then at the very least she might have been sold as a concubine to an old, sick and crippled man who would not abuse her as much, and if she was lucky enough to bear him a child – he might even support her, and save her from dying of starvation. Parents would even help their own daughters to adorn themselves seeing as it was the only chance to save them and possibly have their offspring continue to exist in the world because, as a general rule, the futile were killed so as to reduce the number of people needed to be fed, for in many instances wars were fought over means of sustenance, and consequently, one of the objectives was to kill the vanquished, and inherit their fields.

Some women even came to the throne in this manner, such as the captive Martha Skavronskaya. Initially, a soldier took her captive and she became his mistress; next, his commander coveted her, and took her as his mistress. Afterwards, the commander in chief took her for himself, and when the notable Minister Menshikov set eyes on her, he took her for himself. When the Caesar, Peter the Great – the symbol of Russian enlightenment, saw her – he craved her, and took her for himself. Not only that, but so that his first wife would not cause problems, he put her in a convent until the end of her life, officially married the captive woman, and renamed her Catherine the First. When he died, she became the governess of the Russian empire for two years until her death (1727).

The Custom in Europe after the Eradication of Slavery

For the last hundreds of years, along with the eradication of slavery in Europe, gradual progress was made in the legal status of individuals in developed countries. Captives from countries defeated in war were no longer sold as slaves, however, they could indeed be made to serve hard labor for the kingdom, or the conquering country. This helped the winning countries base their economies, as the Soviet Union did with hundreds of thousands of German prisoners after World War II.

As far as looting and rape was concerned, until the end of World War II it was customary that for three days following the occupation of a city, law and order was slightly overlooked so that soldiers were able to plunder and rape women freely, on the condition their brutality was not overly exaggerated. When the first three days were over, the laws of war against looting, rape and murder started to be enforced. Only in 1949, the Fourth Geneva Convention was agreed upon, establishing protection for civilian populations in times of war.

The Law of ‘Eshet Yefat Toar’

Following this primer, we can now address the law of ‘eshet yefat toar’ in the Torah, and understand to what extent the Torah uplifted the Jewish nation and mankind, by determining restrictions for the complicated and difficult situation of the cruelty of war.

Ideally, in times of war a soldier is required to guard himself against any thoughts of sexual immorality, and think only about saving Israel and victory in war (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Wars 7:16). This is included in the general mitzvah of guarding the sanctity of the camp, as it says: “When you go out as a camp against your enemies, you must avoid everything evil… because God your Lord makes His presence known in your camp, so as to deliver you and grant you victory over your enemy. Your camp must therefore be holy. Let Him not see anything lascivious among you, and turn away from you”(Deuteronomy 23:10-15).

After victory, during the process of taking women captive, a soldier must ideally guard himself from illicit thoughts. If, nonetheless, he desired one of the women captives, the Torah permitted him to have relations with her one time, provided he does so with the commitment to marry her afterwards, if she so wishes. Some of our Sages (Rabbi Yochanan and Shmuel) were of the opinion that in any event, only after she converted was the soldier permitted to have relations with her, and apparently, this was the l’chatchila (ideal) instruction; but in a bediavad (after the fact) situation, the halakha was determined that a soldier was permitted to have relations with the captive woman one time, with the aforementioned conditions (Rambam, ibid., 8:1; Kesef Mishneh).

The details of the law are as follows: the heter (permission) to have relations with the woman is only in the heat of the battle, at the same time she is taken from her dwelling to captivity; but after being taken captive, it is forbidden for any soldier to touch any captive woman.

The heter is on the condition that the soldier commits to marry her afterwards, as it says: “If you see a beautiful woman among the prisoners and desire her, you may take her as a wife” (Deuteronomy 21:11). Therefore, a soldier is allowed to take only one woman, and no more. Similarly, it is forbidden for him to take a woman for his brother or someone else; rather, only a soldier who coveted a particular woman is allowed to take her for himself.

After having relations with her one time, he is forbidden to have relations with her again until their marriage is arranged. In other words, if the woman captive agrees to enter under the wings of the Divine Presence and convert, and to marry him – she is immediately converted.

If she still had not agreed to convert and marry him, he leaves her to weep in his house for thirty days over her mother and father, and over her religion that she must forsake. And the Rambam added that she is even allowed to publicly worship the idolatry she was accustomed to worship, without talking to her about matters of Jewish faith during the entire month (Moreh Nevuchim III: 41).

After that month was over, if the man decided he did not want to marry her, she must agree to accept the seven Noahide laws and she is released, and it is forbidden for him to keep her as a servant, or sell her to others, as it is said: “If you do not desire her, however, you must send her away free. Since you have had your way with her, you may not sell her for cash or keep her as a servant” (Deuteronomy 21:14). In other words, if it turned out that he did not want her, retrospectively, the first time he had relations with her he violated her, and in order to compensate her, he must set her free.

If after this month he still desired her and she agrees to convert and marry him, she converts and marries. If she did not want to convert and marry him, she remains with him for twelve months, because maybe in the end she will change her mind. If after twelve months she has not consented, she must agree to accept the seven Noahide laws and is released.

A Bediavad Heter

From verses of the Torah, we have learned that the heter is a forced and bediavad approval, as our Sages said: “The Torah only provided for human passions: it is better for Israel to eat flesh of animals about to die yet ritually slaughtered (a doubtful prohibition), than flesh of dying animals which have perished (a definite prohibition)” (Kiddushin 21b). And although it is permitted bediavad, the Torah attempted to distance us from it as best as possible, thus hinting that such marriages will not be blessed and often cause family conflicts and disputes over inheritances, and situations in which the son born out of such a marriage is liable to be wayward and rebellious.

Our Sages termed this as “aveira goreret aveira” (one sin leads to another sin) (Tanchuma, Ki Taytzeh 1), and similarly, Rashi comments: “Scripture in permitting this marriage is speaking only against the evil inclination which drives him to desire her. For if the Holy One, blessed is He, would not permit her to him, he would take her illicitly. The Torah teaches us, however, that if he marries her, he will ultimately come to despise her…and he will ultimately father through, her a wayward and rebellious son. For this reason, these passages are juxtaposed.” Likewise, we find a similar matter occurred to King David with his son Amnon who raped Tamar, and Avshalom who rebelled against his father and sought to kill him (Sanhedrin 21a, Tanchuma, ibid.).

Today the Heter is Null and Void

Indeed, in Arab countries and similar ones, it is still common practice for soldiers to rape women and kill people, and even in Western armies, many soldiers break the law and rape women from occupied or controlled populations. In any event, seeing as the heter of eshet yefat toar is against the evil inclination so as to regulate the behavior of a soldier under cruel and evil societal conditions, thus saving him from transgressing more serious prohibitions, today, thanks to the positive influence of the Torah’s morality the laws of war among Western nations have changed for the better, both from the aspect of the status of members of defeated populations lives’ not being handed over as property to the occupiers, and also, given that military laws are enforced more effectively on soldiers – the heter of eshet yefat toar is null and void. The law has returned to its former position, that it is forbidden for a man and a woman to maintain sexual relations outside the framework of marriage in accordance with halakha.

The Slander and its Correction

Therefore, those who slandered the Torah as if it supports rape, are similar to slanderers of doctors who come to heal, accusing them of causing people to be sick by giving legitimacy to their illness.

Nevertheless, we have learned a great principle from the law of eshet yefat toar. Finding fault with something is easy; knowing how to correct things by means of planting good foundations within a harsh, cruel and complicated reality is called for, and this can be achieved precisely through the Jewish nation.

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 Implication of Ishmael’s Expulsion Today

Abraham and Sarah believed in Hagar and Ishmael, but they disregarded their status, with Ishmael even degenerating to appalling crimes * Their behavior prevented Abraham and Sarah from repairing the world, and Abraham was forced to drive them out * The expulsion succeeded: they repented, and returned to Abraham’s family * Israel also believed in the sons of Ishmael, but they abused our trust *A person who refuses to recognize the Jewish character of the state and Israel’s sovereignty over it will have to be expelled, but upon a change of attitude, we will be happy to accept him * Unlike other cultures, Judaism does not impose one idea on ​​all of humanity, rather, patiently refines people, each individual according to his beliefs

For over twenty years, every Rosh Hashana I am called-up to the Torah for “shlishi” (the third aliyah), for the reading of the story Ishmael’s expulsion (from the portion of Vayeira). Every year, my heart aches over the sorrow of Hagar and Ishmael, and the question arises: Wasn’t there any other solution? Every year anew, I am compelled to resolve matters. Before I specify this year’s additional thought, I will summarize what I have written in the past.

At First: Trust and Education

Seeing that God had prevented our matriarch Sarah from giving birth, she graciously decided to give her worthy maid servant to Abraham. This was both an act of kindness towards Abraham, who would merit having a son after so many years, and even more so, towards Hagar her maid servant, providing her the opportunity to come close to the righteous and honored Abraham, and for her children, the prospect of joining the great vision that Sarah and Abraham had founded in the world. It was clear to Sarah that Hagar who until then accepted her leadership submissively and with love would continue acknowledging her seniority, and the child born to her would be educated by Sarah. She hoped that in the merit of her generosity, God would hasten her salvation and grant her a son of her own, who, along with the son of Hagar, would fulfill the great vision they had established in the world while recognizing the seniority of Sarah’s future son – similar to the selection of the Kohanim (priests) to serve in the Holy Temple, as opposed to all other Jews.

However, the moment after Hagar became pregnant, “she looked at her mistress with contempt (Genesis 16:4)”. She stopped treating Sarah as she had in the past, thinking: “The hidden sides of this woman Sarah are not compatible with what she reveals: she shows off as if she is righteous, when she really isn’t; for she hasn’t merited becoming pregnant all these years, while I became pregnant immediately” (Rashi, Genesis 16:4).

Nevertheless, Sarah still believed in Hagar, but tormented and punished her in order to discipline her. Sarah did her utmost in this matter, to the point where, in the opinion of the Ramban and Radak, Sarah over did it. However, our righteous foremother Sarah had hoped that by doing so, Hagar would recognize her place, and everything would return to normal. Hagar, however, refused to accept Sarah’s authority, and fled the house. Only after the angel of God told her: “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her” (Genesis 16:9) – because through Sarah’s actions you are being trained – did Hagar return humbly, accepted Sarah’s authority, and gave birth to Ishmael, raising him on the knees of her master’s – Abraham and Sarah.

But deep in her heart, Hagar was no longer Sarah’s apprentice. Ishmael subconsciously realized this, and after the birth of Isaac, began mocking him. Some commentators say that in contrast to young Isaac who grew up righteously, Ishmael began leaning towards idolatry and incest, while other commentators say he played games with Isaac that endangered his life, thereby revealing his inner desire to murder him, because he hated Isaac for usurping his place. People would say: Take a look at Abraham the Ivri – all his life he’s been preaching about being careful of stealing, illicit relations, and murder, and here his son Ishmael is a wild ass of a man! (Genesis Rabbah 53:11).

The Decision to Expel

It was then that Sarah realized there was no longer any chance that Hagar and Ishmael could be partners in establishing the nation whose destiny was to perfect the world in the Kingdom of God. Hagar’s return was insincere. If Hagar and Ishmael were to remain in their house, Abraham and Sarah’s great vision would perish. “She said to Abraham, “Drive away this slave together with her son. The son of this slave will not share the inheritance with my son Isaac” (Genesis 21:10).This was very difficult for our forefather Abraham. All his life he had lovingly drawn people closer, and now he had to expel his beloved son. “But God said to Abraham, “Do not be troubled because of the boy and your slave. Do everything Sarah tells you. It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity (ibid, 21:12).” So to speak, God even had to tell Abraham that although his son Ishmael would be a great nation, his main mission would continue through Isaac, and he would be considered his successor.

The Expulsion was Painful but Justified

Had Hagar grasped the severity of her behavior towards Sarah, and had Ishmael understood the gravity of his deeds with respect to Abraham’s legacy and towards his brother Isaac, they would have parted in understandingly, for indeed, it was in their best interest to build their future elsewhere. The separation would have occurred naturally and easily, and all the mental anguish would have been alleviated. Apparently, however, even before this, Ishmael had already gone astray, was reckless and sinned, to the point where it was impossible for Abraham to remove him from his home in a dignified manner with gifts, as he had wished. Consequently, Hagar and Ishmael were expelled in disgrace, and even though Abraham had directed them on their way, they got lost in the wilderness, Ishmael fell sick and nearly died of thirst, and only a miracle saved them (see, Exodus Rabbah 1:1).

All this taken into consideration, we find no denunciation of Sarah our matriarch and Abraham our forefather. The proof is that on Rosh Hashana, the day where we are careful not to mention anything negative about Israel, our Sages decreed that the story of Hagar and Ishmael’s expulsion be read. In other words, the Heavenly decree to expel the maid servant and her son applies even when it is not pleasant. For the law is the law — Hagar, who denied Sarah’s kindness, and Ishmael, who, while still in the house of Abraham, dared to worship idols, steal, and threaten to murder – must receive their punishment. Indeed, on Rosh Hashana when Israel recognizes its uniqueness and specialness among all the nations, precisely then, they justifiably merit a good year.

Hagar and Ishmael Repented

After Hagar and Ishmael were expelled, it seemed as if Sarah had erred in her undue belief in Hagar, by giving her Abraham as a wife. But God, who governs the world, guards the steps of his righteous followers so that no mishaps occur through them, because since their intentions are good, in the end, they will be fulfilled. Specifically after they were expelled and made to suffer, Hagar and Ishmael realized their sin and repented. Hagar recognized Sarah’s preeminence, connected herself to the legacy of Abraham, no longer wandered after idolatry, nor had relations with anyone other than Abraham. For that, her that name was changed to Keturah (Zohar, Vol. 1, 133:2). Even Ishmael repented, acknowledging Isaac as Abraham’s main successor, and God’s promise to Abraham: “And you… will be buried at a good old age” (Genesis 15:15), was fulfilled, seeing his son Ishmael repented (Genesis Rabbah 30:4).

Underscoring Isaac’s Status

Although Hagar and Ishmael repented, as long as Sarah was alive, she opposed their returning home, so that it would be absolutely clear and final that Isaac was Abraham’s successor, and only he possessed the Heavenly destiny to inherit the Land of Israel, and perfect the world in the light of Torah faith and instruction. As time went by, matters became clearer, until matters reached the pinnacle at the binding of Isaac. Immediately after Isaac reached his supreme level, Sarah passed away – her mission in the world having come to an end.

Hagar’s Return to Abraham’s House

The miraculous end of the story of Hagar is that after Abraham ensured the continuation of the dynasty founded by Sarah and himself by sending his servant to find a wife for their son Isaac, Sarah’s very own son, Isaac, completed his mother’s actions by returning Hagar-Ketura to his father, Abraham (Genesis Rabbah 60:14). Keturah merited begetting six additional sons to Abraham, however, they honored Sarah’s legacy, that Isaac would be the sole heir of the Divine vision, and the Holy Land.

Afterwards, Rebecca arrived and entered the tent of Sarah; the candle that had burned from one Sabbath to the next while Sarah was alive, and would burn in the Sanctuary in future times, resumed. The cloud that was attached to Sarah’s tent returned, just as it would attach itself to the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting) in the desert, and a blessing was found in the dough (Genesis Rabbah 60:16).

Implication for Our Times

Our situation today is very similar to that of the past. We thought if we acted justly with our Arab neighbors the sons of Ishmael – if we made the land which under their hands was desolate, blossom; if we developed the economy, and their standard of living rose; if we awarded them rights that no Arab has in any Arab country – they would be appreciative. However, the more we contributed to their prosperity – their war against us grew. And even if we attempt to torment them, to defeat them in wars, they accuse us, and unite with our enemies. The only option of remedying the situation is to strengthen the Jewish character of the State, to make clear to all that this land is ours, and no other nation has a part or inheritance in it. Anyone who accepts this lovingly – can live with us here in great dignity, as a ‘ger toshav’ (resident alien). However, towards anyone who does not accept this, and attempts to oust us from our land, we must act with all ethical means at our disposal in order to expel him. Only then, when sitting in another place, will he be able to reflect on all the good we have brought to the sons of Ishmael, and the world. Then the sons of Ishmael will recognize our virtue — that we are the sons of Israel, the receivers of the Torah and inheritors of the land promised to Abraham, and they too will join us in perfecting the world in the Kingdom of God.

Improve the World, and Perfect it Patiently

This year, I continued contemplating that it is impossible for two kings to serve under one crown, and just as every organization has one manager, so too, it is imperative that amongst the nations, there be one nation that conveys the word of God to the world. To this end, it is appropriate for the nation that carries the word of God to have a special status among the nations. This is God’s choosing of Israel.

This choice is reflected in Israel’s nature, a people who wish to better the world. Had Ishmael been the senior brother, he most likely would have murdered Isaac, as was common among various nations, that the rulers murdered their brothers and even their sons, if they threatened their rule (this was always the case in ancient Egypt, and also in later-day Turkey).

It is also reflected in Israel’s approach to the world: Unlike other religions and cultures that wish to convert everyone to their religion and culture, we desire to empower all faiths and cultures by refinement of their beliefs and morals.

Morally superficial people aspire to fix everything instantly with a single idea – democracy, equality, or one religion or another – but Jews understand, in accordance with the Torah, that the world is way more complex and varied, patience is essential, the educational means are immeasurable, and occasionally distancing is required in order to bring closer and rectify.

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:

Rabbi Goren Demands an Honor Parade

Rabbi Goren, whose yahrzeit will be commemorated this week, served as an example of a rabbi who imposed authority and demonstrated forcefulness * Rabbi Goren made clear that in the event of a conflict between an officer’s command and halakha, if ‘pikuach nefesh’ is not involved, the order should be refused * The present IDF rabbis are doing holy work, but are subject to the secular, General Staff * The IDF Rabbinate can continue in this path, but lacking independence, it must clarify that it does not have the authority of mara d’atra * Rabbis should be involved in the appointment process of the Chief IDF Rabbi * In order to strengthen the IDF Rabbinate, we must recognize that its status has eroded, and take action to correct the situation

In continuation of my article two weeks ago about the IDF Rabbinate in which I wrote that in spite of all of its importance it lacks the authority of mara d’atra (the local rabbinic authority), and ahead of the yahrzeit of the Gaon, Rabbi Shlomo Goren ztz”l next week on the 24th of MarCheshvan, I will relate a story illustrating the model of mara d’atra in the army.

A Story about Rabbi Goren and His Authority

A few years ago, Yaacov Bloch from Kibbutz Sha’alvim, the grandfather of one of our Yeshiva graduates, Asa’el Reichman, sent me a nice story about Rabbi Goren (from his book “Shofar Gadol Taka“):

Once, a division of Nachal soldiers from the religious kibbutz ‘Chafetz Chaim’ arrived at Tse’elim Army Base for advanced training. Moshe Shinkolbski went to check the kitchen and found that the cooks were mixing meat and milk and had absolutely no desire to keep the kitchen kosher. On the contrary, the Sergeant in charge of the kitchen ordered him to be removed from the premises. Moshe Sachs, the secretary of the division, went to talk to the commanding officer of the base, a second lieutenant (in Hebrew, Segen Mishne) who happened to be a member of the anti-religious Hashomer Hatzair movement, but he laughed at him and was not willing to a raise a finger in order to kosher the kitchen.

The soldiers decided go without eating cooked food from the kitchen, but instead, get-by on army rations which they managed to obtain only following an unpleasant argument. On Friday morning, however, the rations ran out, and they were left without any food for Shabbat; they couldn’t eat the food from the kitchen because in addition to the mixture of meat and milk, it was obvious that food was also cooked on Shabbat. In their distress, they called the military rabbinate on Friday morning. The phone-call was transferred directly to Rabbi Goren, who notified them that he would arrive at the army base promptly, on the very same day, and asked that they notify the second lieutenant of the base of his expected arrival at noon. They passed the news on to the officer, but he laughed, saying: “Good for him, let him come!”

Shortly before noon, the IDF Chief Rabbi’s car pulled-up to the base. After a brief argument between the driver and the guard at the gate, the car stopped in front of the Officers Headquarters. General Rabbi Goren entered the headquarters with a frown on his face, and demanded that the officer report to him immediately. After a few minutes, the officer arrived with a smirk on his face. Rabbi Goren instantly ordered him: “Attention! Leave immediately, and come back the way a soldier is meant to appear before a General!” The smile disappeared from the officer’s face, he left the room in a panic, and stood at the doorway at attention. Rabbi Goren ordered him: “Left, right, left! Attention! Listen to me carefully, ‘segen mishuneh c’mocha’ (literally, ‘you strange lieutenant’, a play on words of the Hebrew word mishneh, meaning ‘second’, and ‘mishuneh‘, meaning ‘strange’). You do not know to honor a General. Today, I’m going to teach you how a General who announces his arrival to an army base is meant to be greeted! You have fifteen minutes to prepare an honor guard at the gate of the base. I command that when I enter the base, I am escorted by an honor guard, until I reach the Officer’s Headquarters. At the headquarters will be waiting for me the division of soldiers from ‘Chafetz Chaim’, prepared for line-up. In the meantime, I am going check the kitchen. I brought along with me an officer from the Rabbinate, and he will give you all the instructions about koshering the kitchen. Do you have any questions, segen mishuneh?!” The officer, of course, had no questions, and ran to prepare the honor guard at the gate of the base, and the division of soldiers from ‘Chafetz Chaim’ for line-up in front of the headquarters.

Fifteen minutes later, Rabbi Goren returned and re-entered the gates of the army base with an honor guard. When he arrived at the Officer’s Headquarters, he stood in front of the Nachal soldiers and said to them: “Shalom, soldiers! I came here to arrange the kashrut matters that have been utterly neglected. This is a serious offense in contradiction of General Staff regulations, and those responsible will be brought to account for it. I would like to point out that the ‘segen mishuneh‘ who fills the role of commanding officer here, learned today how to greet a General, and I hope he’ll remember it. Shabbat Shalom.” Rabbi Goren returned to his car, and drove off. From that time onwards, the kitchen remained kosher l’mehadrin (highest level of kosher supervision), and for a long time, all the soldiers of the base remembered his impressive arrival.

Appreciation for the Current Chief IDF Rabbis

As a post script to the story, the significant improvements in the field of kashrut and other religious matters that have taken place in the army since then, deserves praise. Those religious soldiers who stood bravely and were not ashamed to observe halakha in front of their commanders, also deserve admiration. Thanks to them, and thanks to the actions of Rabbi Goren and his successors – the generations of IDF Chief Rabbis until present, the kashrut situation and the ability to keep mitzvot in the army has vastly improved.

Along with the assertion that today’s IDF Rabbinate does not have the authority of mara d’atra, I must point out that I had the personal opportunity of becoming acquainted with the outgoing Chief IDF Rabbi, Rabbi Rafi Peretz shlita, and the incoming Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Eyal Krim, shlita. Both of them are distinguished rabbis with noble qualities, who have numerous merits in their work within the IDF Rabbinate. It may very well be that they lack the power to change the complicated and difficult situation the IDF has encountered in the field of Judaism, but what I have written is not intended to be critical of them, rather, to strengthen their standing, and remedy the situation.

The Conduct of the Mara d’Atra

In any case, the story of Rabbi Goren ztz”l teaches how a mara d’atra is meant to conduct himself. Not every mara d’atra is required to behave exactly as Rabbi Goren did, for indeed, he was particularly aggressive in nature. However, the result should be similar: the instructions of a mara d’atra in the army should be filled immediately, fully, and unchallenged; and it should be known by all that the IDF Chief Rabbi has the capability and authority to punish, and even to demonstrate this publically. For the army is a system based on commands, authority and power, and as expected, often there are cases of violation of discipline; if the army wants orders to be enforced, sometimes punishment is necessary. This is how Rabbi Goren ztz”l conducted himself – he discharged from the army several officers, including a Battalion Commander, due to the violation of orders of the IDF Rabbinate.

Conflict between Halakha and an Order

Accordingly, Rabbi Goren was wont to teach that in a case of a conflict between halakha and a military order, as long as it is not in battle or in a situation of fear of pikuach nefesh (a life-threatening situation), the order should be refused, and the halakha upheld. Rabbi Goren clashed with the Chief of Staff Haim Laskov over this issue, until the then Prime Minister and Defense Minister, David Ben-Gurion, decided in his favor and rebuked the Chief of Staff.

As president of the Yeshiva Har Bracha, we were fortunate to have Rabbi Goren prepare the first two classes of students ahead of their induction into the army with a series of lessons. We became aware just how fundamental this position was for him. The first lesson he dedicated to the mitzvah of serving in the army, and the second was dedicated to the duty to refuse orders when it contradicts halakha.

An Example of the Seriousness of the Problem

The most prominent example of deterioration in the status of the IDF Rabbinate was in relation to the commander of ‘Bahad Echad’ (Training Base 1) Eran Niv, and Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Uzi Kliger. They acted in contradiction to halakha and against orders of ‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Raui’
(Appropriate Integration), requiring cadets to hear female singers at an unofficial ceremony, and when some cadets did not listen to them, they sentenced them harshly, expelling them from the officers’ course. Even if in their mistaken opinion it was correct to sentence the cadets who refused orders, because their order wasn’t a blatantly illegal order requiring refusal – in any case, seeing as the commanders gave an order contrary to the orders of ‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Raui’, and in view of the fact that the issue became public, they should have been brought to trial and their advancement hindered. Instead, they became the cultural heroes of secular society by way of their successful imposition of secular values ​​on religious cadets, and their advancement was not halted.

The Order of ‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Raui’

The topic of modesty is currently the most problematic concern in the army. The Torah has already specifically warned about the sanctity of the military camp (Deuteronomy 23: 10 15) in order that that the Divine Presence can dwell in the camp of Israel (Rashi), and because in the army, people tend to discard rules of modesty (Ramban).

There were enormous struggles concerning the orders of ‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Raui’. If the Chief IDF Rabbi is the mara d’atra, he should determine what is appropriate according to the rules of morality and halakha. And even if the General Staff does not take his opinions into account, it he could still be considered the mara d’atra for stating the halakhic truth fearlessly, because by doing so, religious soldiers would be able to stand on their principles even if they had to pay the price of sitting in prison, and presumably as a result, the issue would be remedied. In practice, however, the IDF Rabbinate did not act as the mara d’atra, but rather, within the framework of leeway granted by the General Staff, worked to achieve the maximum possible. One can understand such a position – it might be of great benefit, but only on condition that it is accompanied by a disclaimer that these agreements do not have the halachic validity of a mara d’atra.

A Mara D’Atra is Appointed by Rabbis

God willing, in the future I will expound on the importance of the mara d’atra, designed to express the unity of the Torah, and the foundation of his authority being dependent on the community’s acceptance of the mara d’atra as a posek (Jewish law arbiter) compliant with the traditional rules of halakha.

For now, I will merely point out that the proper way of selecting a mara d’atra in the IDF should be with full participation of representatives of the rabbis, and representatives of the religious community. This was the case when Rabbi Goren was appointed. In a gradual process, however, the General Staff has become the main factor, whose objectives and considerations are outside the framework of halakha. True, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate still has to approve the nomination, but in practice, it does not participate in the process of finding candidates and their election. All this is extremely detrimental to the standing of the IDF Chief Rabbis who, in effect, derive their authority from the secular General Staff, whose members of late have openly expressed disdain for the sacred values of Judaism – aside from abandoning soldiers, and vilifying them.

The Key to Remedying the Situation: Recognizing the Problem

Some argue that this position weakens the IDF Rabbinate, but the truth is the exact opposite. Only after the reality is evident can the situation be remedied. Saying that the IDF Rabbinate is the mara d’atra a thousand times will not help when the Chief of Staff ignores them, and forces secular values on religious soldiers, such as hearing female singers at ceremonies.

When the revolt of Avshalom broke out, King David could have announced that he was the king, would never leave the palace, and declare all of the people as rebels. The result would have been that Avshalom would have destroyed Jerusalem, and killed David and all his allies. Instead, David chose to recognize reality, exited his palace, removed his crown, rent his clothes, and departed in grief – barefoot, and crying. After doing so, he planned the way to regain his kingdom (Samuel II, Chapter 15). His readiness to acknowledge his lowly situation was the turning point that reversed the hearts of the people, and on account of it, was able to establish his kingdom for generations.

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:

Our Generation’s Challenge: A Healthy Diet

Today’s reality of material abundance has created a norm of harmful eating habits, not seen in the past * Overeating on Shabbat causes a feeling of heaviness and depression, and impinges on Oneg Shabbat * Self-control at meals is not a reason for agony, but rather, for a positive feeling * Eating habits vary from one person to the next, consequently, be wary of radical diets * Determining the proper menu for a community kiddush, weddings, or refreshments served during Torah lectures, requires examination * Reproaching an unhealthy eater must be done gently * Happiness is essential to good health, therefore measures taken to improve one’s health should be done wisely, without causing emotional harm * How to handle a parent who asks for unhealthy food

Health and Nutrition in Our Times

In recent decades it has become increasingly evident that conventional eating habits are unhealthy. Our generation has to learn how to live with the material abundance that has been placed at our doorsteps. In the past, food was so expensive that the majority of an individual’s hard work was devoted to producing food in order not to starve from hunger. The mitzvot to set aside tithes from fruits, zeroa, lechayim and keiva (foreleg, cheeks and stomach) and bechorot (firstlings of a flock) which were all given to the Kohanim (priests) were not taxes placed on certain economic sectors, but rather personal mitzvoth for individuals to set aside twenty percent of their total profits for the Kohanim, Levi’im and the poor, and also for religious vacations spent in Jerusalem on Pilgrimage Festivals (ma’aser sheni, and ma’aser behema). Consequently, when the masses began earning a living in factories and through trade, the halakha was determined to set aside a tithe as midda benonit (moderate figure), and chomesh (one fifth) as midda tovah (a good figure).

Until a few generations ago, most people received their nutrition from foods containing about 1,500 calories a day – they simply didn’t have enough money to buy more than that. Even people who were able to eat more, were more active; there were no cars, people walked more, and jobs demanded more physical activity. Today, even unemployed welfare recipients can easily buy food containing tens of thousands of calories daily. The only limitation, fortunately, is that most people can’t eat that much! However, since there is so much food available, people who should eat about 2,500 calories a day eat way more than that, gain weight, and develop heart problems and diabetes.

Oneg Shabbat

Even the mitzvah of oneg Shabbat (the joy of Shabbat) is difficult to fulfill under such circumstances. In the past, people were used to eating moderately during the week; when Shabbat arrived, they ate till they were satisfied, allowing for a feeling of pleasure and well-being. Today, however, when a person eats nearly as much as his stomach allows every day, what will happen on Shabbat? How can one fulfill the mitzvah of oneg Shabbat? Such a situation is analogous to an opera singer who has to sing an operatic piece which, at its peak, requires him to reach a very high tone, but already at the beginning, started at such a high tone that he can barely sing – after that, how will he able to sing the main, higher portion of the song?

As a result, when people try to enjoy more sumptuous meals on Shabbat they eat so much that they start feeling heavy, and are unable to enjoy the meal. In spite of this, since the food is enjoyable – all the fine and tasty dishes are laid out on the table, and of course, the mitzvah of oneg Shabbat must be fulfilled; attempting to eat a little bit more, the heaviness intensifies, and later, one has no strength to study, or even hold a deep conversation. Moreover, no pleasure or joy is gained from such eating, because the burden placed on the digestive system is so great that all of the body’s energies have to be mobilized for the demanding work of digesting the food, draining the body the resources necessary to create a good feeling. As a result, many people feel tired and depressed after eating.

One of the Generation’s Challenges

One of the moral tasks we face today is finding a way to cope with the material abundance allotted to us; how to enjoy food in such a way that it adds joy, strength, and health.

To this end, we need to carefully study the different types of food and their effects on one’s health – the damage caused by excess sugar, fats, and salt. We must learn how to enjoy food; how to recite the blessings over food with joy, and also, how to delight in the self-control of ceasing to eat before reaching the point of complete satiety. In other words, it’s not enough for a person to think if he reduces his eating that in a few months he will be thinner and healthier; he must also feel good, satiated, lighter and more refreshed today. Perhaps in the course of a meal when a person should stop eating, he will feel a bit distressed; but he must be highly conscious that a half-an-hour later, he will already feel more comfortable. To do so, one must learn restraint and to enjoy the gentle feeling of partial satiety.

Caution from Extremism

One must also be ware of extreme methods. Although, most likely, they all possess a certain degree of truth, nevertheless, they can be appropriate for certain people, while for others harmful, seeing as people are very different. There are some for whom fats, sugar, or salt is extremely harmful, while for others, less so. As a result, sometimes refraining from a certain ingredient can cause damage, rather than benefit.

For example, for a long time – over sixty years – one of the main topics discussed was the risk of eating fatty foods. Entire countries in Western society reduced their animal fat intake, and surprisingly, the percentage of people suffering from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes greatly increased. Apparently, instead using oils to flavor foods, they substituted with sugar, which is no less detrimental.

Questions Concerning Organizing Meals and Celebrations

Of course, in wake of growing awareness of the damage caused by sugar and salt, trans fats, and saturated fats, halachic questions arise: Is it appropriate to serve someone burekas, or sweet cakes saturated with oil, or perhaps by doing so, one transgresses the prohibition of “Lifnei Iver” (the prohibition of misleading people by use of a “stumbling block”)? What should organizers of a community kiddush do, and is it proper to serve sugary soft drinks as refreshments during Torah lectures? And at children’s birthday parties – is it appropriate to serve cakes and sweets? Perhaps it’s best to serve a moderate amount, and not overdo it? And who determines what is over doing it? And perhaps certain foods should be completely removed from the menu?

Such questions also relate to a wedding feast which indeed should be the most important festive meal, seeing as the halachic order of precedence is: first Shabbat meals, above that – holiday meals, and surpassing all – a wedding feast. Nonetheless, is it proper to serve each wedding guest a meal that contains enough calories for an entire day?

These questions, of course, depend on the medical-scientific positions acknowledged by the majority of experts, and since their position is also unclear, it is difficult to determine a halachic position.

Community Health Teshuva

Here it should be noted that this issue has become an important one for me, because in the past few weeks, I began arousing the community (Har Bracha) towards physical teshuva (repentance) (in accordance with the words of Rav Kook in his book ‘Orot HaTeshuva’). This is reflected in regards to refreshments served at kiddush’s and Torah classes, and also refreshments served in educational institutions, kindergartens, primary schools, Ulpana, and the Yeshiva; encouraging the opening of additional classes for gymnastics, jogging clubs, and the like; and also, as to the degree of investment required to establish hiking trails, a swimming pool, and similar projects. If I have any important insights into these issues, I hope to share them with my readers in the future.

Be Careful Not to Upset People

In any case, even if a certain community decides to improve their eating habits and health, members should be very careful not to upset people who find it difficult to restrain themselves from eating, and wish to eat sweet and oily foods.

First of all, one should not judge his fellow man until he has been in his position, and who can say that if he was in his position, he would be able to restrain himself. Second, even if the food in question is definitely harmful, one should not comment in a way that is liable to offend another person. For indeed, even if one were to see his friend commit a sin, although it is a mitzvah to rebuke him, it is forbidden to do so in an insulting manner, as the Torah says: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him… Love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:17-18). And our Sages said: “From where do we know that if a man sees something unseemly in his neighbor, he is obliged to reprove him? Because it is said: You shall surely rebuke. If he rebuked him and he did not accept it, from where do we know that he must rebuke him again? The Torah states: ‘surely rebuke’. One might assume this to be obligatory even though his face blanched (i.e., he was insulted), therefore the text states: ‘You shall not bear sin because of him’.” Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah added: “I wonder if there is one in this generation who knows how to reprove!”

A Feeling of Joy – The Key to Health

Also from a health standpoint, feeling good is undoubtedly an important element of a person’s physical well-being; consequently, what good stems from upsetting and discouraging a person who loves to eat sweets and oily foods? There are studies suggesting that people who report being satisfied and happy in life, live an average of nearly ten years longer than people who are not happy. Therefore, although it is proper to encourage people to reduce their intake of unhealthy foods, one must find a way to do this in the most pleasant manner. And if a person cannot convince his friend in a nice way, he should respect him, and let him be. Who knows, perhaps the distress of dieting might cause him more serious health problems.

Cigarettes and Honoring One’s Parents

I also referred to such logic regarding the question of honoring one’s parents and cigarette smoking: Rabbi Haim David Halevy ztz”l, Rabbi of Tel Aviv, was one of the first rabbis who, in light of scientific studies, issued the halakha that it was forbidden to smoke cigarettes. Accordingly, he ruled that if a father asked his son to buy him cigarettes, it is forbidden for the son to fulfill his request, because by doing so, he places a stumbling block before his father, and is an accomplice to a sinful act.

In my book “Peninei Halakha”, I wrote that in principle, Rabbi Halevy is right. But if not buying the cigarettes will cause a major conflict, ultimately, the son will cause serious damage to the loving relationship and respect that should prevail between father and son, and his gain is cancelled by his loss. Therefore, it appears that in a case where avoiding buying cigarettes will not be understood by one’s father, and will cause stress and grief in the family, it is preferable for the son to buy cigarettes for his father, thus refraining from harming the relationship between himself and his father. Nevertheless, if smoking were to cause imminent danger to life, it would be forbidden to give him a cigarette; however, since cigarette smoking does not cause immediate danger, there is no prohibition to fulfill his father’s request, and buy him cigarettes.

Furthermore, there is a certain amount of doubt whether smoking will cause damage to the father. This is because the damage caused by cigarettes differs from one person to the next, while on the other hand, quitting smoking is sometimes liable to cause psychological harm, which can also indirectly lead to physical dangers. Therefore, although great efforts should be made to quit smoking, it should not be done with excessive force. Accordingly, one should refrain from causing a major conflict with his parents over such an issue. If a son is able to say he doesn’t want to cooperate, and with difficulty, his father understands, it is preferable; but if it will cause considerable tension, it is better to buy him the cigarettes.

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: