The Appearance of Holiness through Nature

Can we rely on the Torah’s promise of agricultural blessing in the sixth year nowadays? The blessing relates to a situation when all of Israel resides in the Land and the Sabbatical year is of biblical status, and not by relying on miracles * Agricultural communities that did not rely on the heter mechira did not merit financial blessing * In the Land of Israel, Divine blessing appears specifically in a natural manner * Outside of the Land of Israel holiness can be revealed only in supernatural ways * When the Children of Israel entered the Land the revealed miracles they experienced in the desert ceased * The greatness of King David in defeating his enemies conventionally, and without miracles

Why Not Trust the Divine Blessing of the Sabbatical Year?

Many people ask, why rely on the heter mechira (a halachic mechanism whereby agricultural lands in Israel are sold to non-Jews, allowing the lands to be cultivated and vegetables grown during the Sabbatical year) and expropriate the requirements of shmitta in the seventh year, when the Torah promised Israel a blessing if it keeps shmitta, as it is written (Leviticus 25: 20-21): “In the seventh year, you might ask, “What will we eat? We have not planted nor have we harvested crops.” I will direct My blessing to you in the sixth year, and the Land will produce enough crops for three years.” Moreover, as a punishment for the sin of canceling shmitta, Israel is exiled from their land, as it is written (Leviticus 26:34-35): “Then, as long as the land is desolate and you are in your enemies land, the land will enjoy its Sabbaths. The land will rest and enjoy its sabbatical years. Thus, as long as it is desolate, the land will enjoy the sabbatical rest that you would not give it when you lived there.” And our Sages said: “As a punishment for incest, idolatry, and non-observance of the years of shmitta and jubilee, exile comes to the world, they [the Jews] are exiled, and others come and dwell in their place” (Shabbat 33a).

The Simple Answer

The basic answer is twofold:

1) The promise of God’s blessing in the sixth year is when the shmitta year is of Biblical status, as numerous poskim (Jewish law arbiters) have written, among them: Sm”a (Choshen Mishpat 67:2), Haga’ot Ya’avetz, Hidushei Chatam Sofer (on Gittin 36), Pe’at HaShulchan (29:3), Yeshu’ot Malko, Mahari Engel, Maran HaRav Kook (Iggrot 555), and others (and not like the words of Chiddushei HaRim on Gittin ibid, and Hazon Ish, Shevi’it 18:4).

B) The Torah instructs us not to rely on miracles. And it should be pointed out that when all of Israel resides in their Land, every tribe in its place. and the requirement of keeping shmitta is of Biblical status, the miracle comes in a natural manner – i.e., according to common sense, when we see that it is possible to keep the shmitta. But when the obligation is of rabbinic status, at times realistic considerations indicate that keeping shmitta will cause great duress, and will affect the ability to fulfill other mitzvoth which are of Biblical status. In such a case, it is proper to expropriate the obligation of keeping shmitta in the fields by means of the heter mechira, in the same manner as we expropriate the mitzvah of cancelling all financial debts by means of the prozbul (a halachic mechanism that technically changed the status of individual private loans into the public administration, allowing the poor to receive interest-free loans before the Sabbatical year while protecting the investments of the lenders).

If One Wishes to be Precise

Besides this, if some insist on accuracy in regards to Divine blessing, then we have to acknowledge that reality has proved that the blessing does not exist nowadays, for the few communities that tried to abstain from agricultural labor in the Sabbatical year suffered numerous difficulties – over and above the normal difficulties of farmers who were made use of the heter mechira. This, despite them being righteous and hardworking people, God-fearing, and lovers of Eretz Yisrael.

In contrast, the religious kibbutzim and moshavim who worked within the framework of the heter mechira merited abundant blessing, and on top of that, they were virtually unaffected by the great crisis of the kibbutzim thirty years ago. This, in addition to meriting settling the Land on a large scale.

Within this Question Lies the Foundation of Jewish Faith

If we delve further, we find that the foundation of Jewish faith is dependent on this issue. People with superficial faith believe that Divinity is revealed through miracles – in the supernatural. As a result, working for a living is not so important to them, and they do not see a problem in the fact that a large sector of Israel’s society requires support from the State and private donors, because, in any case, everything depends on God, and if He so desires, even without working, they will merit abundant blessing. Therefore, they also see no value in the study of sciences and its development because it’s natural, and does not address things beyond reality. But the truth is that one of the main ways of revealing faith and Torah is by means of science and reason, as the Vilna Gaon said that secular wisdom is a vital adjunct to the Torah, to the extent that an individual lacking knowledge in secular wisdom, conversely, lacks one hundredfold in Torah wisdom.

For this reason, they also tend to believe that the farmers who abstain from working in the shmitta year will be blessed by a miracle, even when according to logic it is evident that not working will cause severe duress and result in a grave blow to the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel).

The Mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’aretz

Now we can understand the importance and centrality of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz. For this mitzvah forces us to reveal all the values ​​of the Torah within the actual, physical world, with all its earthly considerations and realities.

According to the superficial perception, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is supposed to be revealed without taking into account any real considerations whatsoever. If we are commanded to conquer the land, it should be conquered without any consideration of our military capabilities, and the forces we face. Since this perception contradicts reason and is unachievable, those who advocate it will argue that, in any case, the mitzvah will occur only when the Mashiach comes, and through an open miracle that is beyond any realistic consideration.

According to their view, there’s no need to work for the sake of the kibbutz galuyot (the ingathering of the exiles) and yishuv ha’aretz, because in their opinion the redemption will come in a miraculous manner that even the Jews who left Egypt did not merit. Rather, suddenly, millions of homes will fall from the sky, together with an infrastructure of roads, electricity, water and sewage, to absorb the masses of Israel who will make aliyah (immigrate) along with the Mashiach from the four corners of the earth. And at that exact moment, the country will be covered with orchards and cultivated fields to feed all the Jews, and industrial plants for the production of food, clothing and furniture, and stores in the cities will instantly arise, to satisfy all the needs of the millions of immigrants.

Such an attitude denies the Torah which commanded us to settle the Land, as Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer explained, we must act practically to bring about the redemption.

The Pagan Faith Outside of the Land of Israel

Now we can understand why our Sages said (Ketubot 110b): “Whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols”, because in chutz la’aretz, faith is revealed only through miracles, only through the supernatural. But in nature, as it were, the sitra achra (the ‘Other Side’) is in control, contrary to God’s divine guidance. However, Jewish faith declares that God is One in Heaven and Earth. The main revelation of faith is in all of nature, with all its rational considerations. This is also the Torah of Eretz Israel, which explains how the Divine blessing descends from the heavens to this world via human efforts of tikun olam (perfecting the world).

Therefore, when the Torah says that God will give His blessing in the sixth year, the meaning is that we will be able to understand logically how the blessing will come to Israel by way of our labor in the six years, and the cessation of work in the seventh year, as I clarified in my previous article according to the Safra, and Rabbi Pinchas Bal Ha’Hafla’ah.

Holiness Revealed in Nature

Maran Harav Kook wrote: “The holiness in nature is the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, and the Divine Presence which descended to Exile along with Israel, is the ability to place holiness in contrast to nature. But the holiness which fights against nature is not a complete holiness, etc.”(Orot Hatechiya 28).

Miracles are Bidieved, Nature is Lechatchila

Indeed, Israel’s existence in the Diaspora is dependent on a miracle that stands in opposition to nature, because customarily, ‘a lone sheep cannot survive among seventy wolves’. Therefore, miracles occupy a central place in the Torah of chutz la’aretz. However, since miracles depart from the regular order of life, they cannot create a praiseworthy reality. Miracles can save or indicate a certain direction, and in this sense, there is room for miracles in Israel as well. But miracles are not the central path through which God’s abundant blessings flow.

As a result, people who go to miracle-workers usually suffer more from illnesses, lack of making a living, and domestic harmony. And although sometimes they merit salvation, since they do not recognize God’s blessings which come naturally by means of practical efforts, most of the abundant Divine blessings are lost to them. And as the Torah says (Deuteronomy 14:29): “God your Lord will then bless you in everything that you do.”

Divine Blessing Flows via Nature

It is also explained in the Torah portion ‘Bechukothai‘ that the reward promised to Israel when we walk in the ways of God and His Torah will come naturally. The rains will fall in the right time, and the land will give off its harvest abundantly. And the curse, as well, comes naturally – through drought, disease, and enemies.

If God’s goal was for us to live by means of miracles, it would have been preferable to stay in the desert and eat the manna that fell from heaven, as the Spies desired. However, the Torah commanded Israel to enter into the Land and work its soil, and take pains to grow its holy fruits. This is the blessing promised us if we keep the Torah – that we will merit to labor and see the blessing of the work of our hands, until the point where we are busy harvesting the fruits and grapes for the entire summer.

How the Land of Israel Functions

In an ideal situation, there is no need for miracles in the Land of Israel, for holiness is revealed in the land itself; this is the hidden miracle which is greater than all other miracles. On the other hand, in Egypt and in the desert, signs and wonders abounded, whose goal was to indicate the path and direction of living a complete life in the Land of Israel. As a result, upon entering the Land the revealed miracles ceased – manna no longer fell from heaven, shoes and clothes wore-out as they normally do, the divine Pillar of Fire, the Cloud, and the Well no longer accompanied Israel. On the other hand, the entire Land of Israel sings the praises of God.

Therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded to count all the men from the age of twenty who were fit for military service, in order to prepare them for the conquest of the Land by natural means. And from the time the Jewish nation came into the Land of Israel, they began eating the produce that grew from the land and it was at that moment precisely when they became obligated to fulfill the mitzvoth ha’teluyot b’aretz (the commandments contingent on the Land).

Four Kings

Similarly, we have learned in the Midrash (Eicha Rabba Petichta 30): “There were four kings, each of whom requested different things. They were David, Asa, Yehoshaphat, and Chizkiyahu. David said: ‘I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them: neither did I turn back until they were consumed.’ God answered him, and he killed his enemies. Asa stood up and said: ‘I lack the strength to kill them; instead, I will pursue them, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies. Yehoshaphat stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them; instead, I will sing, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies. Chizkiyahu stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them or to sing; instead, I will sleep in my bed, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, as it is written: “And it came to pass that night that the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of Ashur.”

According to superficial perception of faith, in the sense of chutz la’aretz, it would seem that Chiziyahu was the greatest of all the kings, for the largest miracle was done for him. However, our Sages wanted to teach us that David, King of Israel, is the greatest of all them, for Divine blessing was revealed through his actions.

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

Stories of the Old and Good Israel

A new book filled with great love for the people, Land, and State of Israel, in particular, those who dedicated their lives to the rebirth of Israel * One hundred stories written in the good old spirit of classic, religious Zionism * The story of the “Children of Tehran”, who fled Poland during the war, wandered between countries for over three years, and suffered greatly until arriving in Israel * Despite the remaining scars, the “Children of Tehran” blended well into the fabric of Israeli life * Specifically Rabbi Kook’s speech at the inauguration of the Hebrew University, attacked by the secular press, was quoted by the Rector at a ceremony fifty years later

One Hundred Eretz Yisrael Stories

My uncle from my mother’s side of the family, Ze’ev Valk, recently published an important and pleasant book, filled with great love for the people and the Land of Israel, aliyah (immigration), settlement and the State, and particularly about the virtuous people who dedicated their lives to the rebirth of Israel.

He tells the story of the settlers and dreamers, and sheds light on characters and extraordinary events, opening a window into the life of the community and the nascent state. Among other stories, he tells about the first Zionist photographer, about the premature joy of finding oil, about the Jezreel Valley railroad and the establishment of the neighborhood of Rehavia, about the battalion of Hebrew language defenders, about Ben Gurion, who forced I.D.F. officers to Hebraize their family names, and about the admission of foreign workers into a Jewish village, and the problem of milking cows on Shabbat.

The stories are depicted with emotion, and while reading them, tears often swell-up spontaneously. Some of the stories are about the painful sacrifice of the ma’apalim (‘illegal’ immigrants) and fighters, but they too are enveloped with a thread of grace and comfort. The stories of sacrifice intensify in stages – from Rabbi Yehuda Halevi and Rabbi Haim Ben Attar who immigrated in order to cherish the soil of our Land, to Natan Elbaz, the soldier who sacrificed his life to save his friends from a hand-grenade. This is the same Natan Elbaz who, on a street named after him in S’derot, when a there was a missile attack fifty years later, a young woman named Ella Abuksis, may God revenge her blood, shielded her younger brother with her body and saved him from death. My uncle tells about the ma’apalim who sailed in rickety boats, and about the kedoshim (holy ones) who drowned in the depths on their way to the loved and desired Land of Israel. He tells about the last battle of the religious military unit, the heroism of the people of Kfar Darom, the fall of Gush Etzion, and its present-day resurrection.

The stories were written in the good spirit of classic religious Zionism, which underscores the best of all ethnic groups and whose criticism is hinted at gently, is partner with the public in its grief and joy, and with self-sacrifice, contributes to the building of the nation and the country. The book is particularly readable, interesting, enlightening and meaningful. It is published by Carmel Publishers, and is now in stores.

In honor of Israel Independence Day which we celebrated not long ago, I chose to share the story of the “Children of Teheran” from the book.

The “Children of Tehran”

The “Children of Tehran” is the nickname for about a thousand orphans from Poland, who fled with their families eastward from the threat of World War II (starting in 1939), traveled in many countries, and arrived in Tehran after more than three years. During the arduous journey they suffered hunger, Siberian cold, desert heat, anti-Semitic persecution, and disease. Many parents died on the way, and thus, these orphans arrived in Tehran. And although these children did not undergo the notorious horrors of the Holocaust, such as ghettos and death camps, they experienced similar sufferings on their own flesh and blood.

In Tehran, all the orphans were assembled in a tent camp called “the Jewish child home”, and prepared for aliyah with the help of young counselors from Poland sent from Israel. From Persia the refugees traveled to the port city of Karachi in Pakistan, from where they sailed to Egypt and continued by train to Israel.

This is what Sarah, a young girl, wrote in her diary: “It’s hard to believe that in one week we’ll be in Eretz Yisrael. Am I not dreaming? And how, how will my feet, which trampled on dead bodies, froze on the Siberian wilderness, burned on the hot Afghanistan soil – how will they stand on the soil of our homeland?”

When the train arrived in Israel, she said: “And here, the special sign ‘Palestine’ appeared. We jumped to our feet, clapped our hands, and cries of joy burst from our throats. And suddenly, a new landscape before our eyes: Green! Green! How green! Fences, trees, sown fields. My land is so beautiful! … I cannot stop myself, and jump from window to window. And in the window – my land! My land – roads, my land – villages, my land – orchards … my land – earth… and blue skies … I did not know you were so beautiful, my land. ”

On the thirteenth of Adar 1, 5703 (1943), the largest group of “Children of Tehran” arrived in Israel. It was the first meeting of the Jewish community in Israel with Holocaust survivors, and the excitement was enormous. The train passed the Rechovot and Hadera stations, and ended its journey in Atlit. In every place, crowds waited and cheered for the survivors. Many members of the community flocked to the orphanage camp hoping to find family members, but only a few were fortunate enough.

While in Karachi, they were given large, wide-brimmed hats to protect them from the sun, and upon their arrival to Israel, they all wore these helmets like little soldiers. The children found an effective use for those hats: upon reaching the piles of oranges prepared for them, they filled the deep hats with abundant fruit…

Davidi related: “One of my first, most vivid childhood memories is the reception held for the “Children of Tehran” who were welcomed into my childhood moshav, S’de Yaakov. Our humble school was decorated. In honor of their arrival, we sang over and over again, with all our might and enthusiasm, ‘heiveinu shalom aleichem‘. Although we were very young, we felt the enormity of the occasion.”

Yitzchak and Edna, “Children Tehran”, told about their first meeting with Israeli life: “Our eyes were spinning in their sockets looking at the vast amount of food on the table; we couldn’t believe our eyes – mountains of fresh bread, and everything in abundance. We stood and stared … ‘No, this is impossible, it cannot be…’ the table was covered with knives, forks, and salt shakers, the beds were covered in white sheets … toothbrush’s … For four years, we never believed we would have a warm home once again.”

But after the celebrations ended, everything returned to its regular routine. That’s when the real challenge of absorbing the ‘survivors of the fires’ began. Most of the young refugees were indeed disciplined, polite and grateful, but the years of agony and wandering took its toll. Many of them suffered from nightmares in which all the horrors re-surfaced. Some of them lost trust in others – even in their counselors – for they had learned firsthand that ‘man’s heart is evil from his youth’. Some of them found it difficult to adapt to a binding framework, in which there were tasks and a schedule. The indigenous, Israeli-born “pure sabra’s”, initially had a hard time absorbing the Yiddish-speaking children. But in the end, the children were acclimatized well, and participated in building the new state.

Benzion Tomer summed-up things well: “The “Children of Tehran” were superbly woven into the fabric of this country. Many of them were martyred defending it. Many held senior positions in the IDF, the sciences and medicine, in the fields of management, economics, and agriculture… It seems that missing a few school years was not an obstacle for them at all… How did they achieve this, and thanks to who? First and foremost, thanks to their own strength, but no less then this, thanks to the love that accompanied their first encounter with the country and its people.”

Rabbi Kook’s Speech at the Opening Ceremony of Hebrew University

Quite naturally, I have special affection for the description devoted to the speech of Rabbi Kook at the opening of the Hebrew University in the month of Nissan 5685 (1925), because the main points presented there are the words of the author’s father, my grandfather, Professor Joseph Valk z”l, who wrote an article about it entitled: “An Untimely Speech, or a Speech before its Time.”

Rabbi Kook explained in his speech that there are two historical intellectual trends in Judaism: one trend is insular and entirely sacred, designed to deepen its spirit; this is what is studied in yeshiva’s, which are designed to raise the banner of Torah and glorify it. Then there is the second trend which serves not only to delve deeper into the sacred, but also to draw concepts and values ​​from Judaism into the global world, to be a light unto the nations, to integrate general sciences into mankind, and adapt and purify its finest and most excellent aspects into the treasures of Jewish life. The insular-yeshiva trend poses little risk; however, the second trend that faces outwards, from our ‘reshut ha’yachid‘ (private domain) into the ‘reshut ha’rabim‘ (public domain) of the world at large, carries a great risk, because past experience has taught us that it could lead to assimilation – both spiritual and physical – among the nations. And as the spiritual emissary of observant Judaism, Rabbi Kook turned to those present, and said: “In this, my beloved friends, lies the danger.” In order to explain, he elaborated on the need to establish yeshiva’s based in all aspects of the Torah, and the need for the college (university) – both its’ teachers and students – to sanctify the name of God, Israel, and Eretz Yisrael, and in no way to desecrate them. As a result, we will merit the fulfillment of the Prophet Isaiah’s vision of Torah “going forth from Zion, and the word of God from Jerusalem.”

The Ceremony and the Condemnations of the Speech

As well-known, some Haredim vehemently attacked and slandered Rabbi Kook for his participation in the ceremony, claiming he had said in his speech that the university alone would bring redemption to Am Yisrael, the Torah, and the world. But as it turned out, even the “enlightened” public was not pleased with his appearance and speech.

The plan was that Rabbi Kook would open the ceremony with a welcoming speech, followed by the speeches of the honored guests – first, Lord Balfour, then the High Commissioner, and lastly, the poet Bialik was honored with the closing statements. In truth, the longest speech was delivered by Lord Balfour, but many people complained about the length of Rabbi Kook’s speech, claiming that because of him, the entire ceremony was thrown off schedule. Some also complained about his long, black coat and his big, archaic shtreimel which blocked the view of Lord Allenby sitting next to him. On the other hand, they praised the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, the scholar, Dr. Hertz, who auspiciously recited a short and exceedingly esteemed prayer, appropriate for the academic atmosphere. And then, there were those who even hinted that Rabbi Kook intentionally came to ruin the ceremony, so as to appease the Haredim, who were fasting and mourning on that same day because of the opening of the University.

In the newspaper ‘Do’ar Ha’Yom‘, journalist Avraham Elmaliach wrote: “On the one hand, what elation and endless excitement at hearing the speeches and prophetic vision of the High Commissioner and Lord Balfour; on the other hand, what bitter disappointment and how cursed is the day upon hearing the sermons and longwinded lectures of Rabbi Kook and Bialik. The ‘head rabbi’ stuffed his listeners with verses of Tehillim (Psalms), and the ‘head poet’ with fairy tales… The head of Israel’s rabbis gave the first blow in the celebration’s opening, and the head of the Hebrew poets gave the final blow … What’s the point of all of these drawn-out speeches, which forced even level-headed people among the crowd to erupt with cries of: ‘Enough! Enough!’ … All the same, I respect Rabbi Kook very much.”

Another journalist, Hannah Tone, wrote that out of the crowd of thousands that had gathered, “Ninety percent of the audience showed no real understanding of the rabbis undoubtedly true, religious enthusiasm…” but, in her words, there is absolutely no connection whatsoever between a religious ceremony and a national one, and combining them together creates an “extraordinarily bad taste, and as a result – a sense of shame among the serious participants, and a yawn, or a wink, among the cynics.” The purpose, in her estimation, was political – to appease and include the religious community’s representative to recite a blessing – which must be done in a hurry. But when it became evident that the rabbi intended to give a major speech upsetting the order of the ceremony, the crowd became resentful.”


Interestingly enough, as my grandfather pointed out, on the fiftieth anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the Hebrew University, the secular rector of the University, Nathan Rottenstreich, saw fit to conclude his address by quoting from Rabbi Kook’s speech at the opening ceremony. Apparently, only his words remained for generations.

Maybe in another ten years, at the centennial celebration of its founding, we will be able to say that the Hebrew University has begun to realize the great vision that Rabbi Kook set for it.

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

Don’t Discredit the Heter Mechira

The ‘heter mechira’ is not contrived by any means, and more lenient measures could have been implemented * According to most poskim, shmita nowadays is binding only by rabbinic decree, and some say it is only midat hassidut * The dispute among the poskim about when the Sabbatical year actually is * The heter of ‘amira l’nochri’ of a rabbinic prohibition in pressing situations * The majority of poskim are of the opinion that Jews are allowed to work the land sold to a non-Jew in the Sabbatical year * According to most poskim, fruit that grew in the Sabbatical year in a forbidden manner, or were not made ‘hefker’, are not prohibited from being eaten * Conclusion: The Haredi boycott of the ‘heter mechira’ is halachically baseless, and is an insult to the honor of the Torah of the rabbis who permit it

A Question about the Foundations of the Heter Mechira

Q: Rabbi, how can you rely on the heter mechira (a halachic mechanism whereby agricultural lands in Israel are sold to non-Jews, allowing the lands to be cultivated and vegetables grown during the Sabbatical year) in the shmita (Sabbatical) year, given that it is a highly contrived heter? The fact is that the Haredim do not accept it, they are not willing to eat fruits grown using the heter mechira, they do not rely on kashrut certificates that accept the heter mechira, and will not eat in the homes of Jews who rely on the heter?

A: The foundations of the heter mechira are sturdy and not contrived at all. It was determined by the eminent rabbis of previous generations, including: Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan from Kovno, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, Rabbi Yehoshua from Kutna, and the author of ‘Avnei Nezer’ (Rabbi Avraham Borenstein). In particular, it should be pointed out that all the rabbis who actually served as rabbis in Israel, who had the authority of mara d’atra (the local rabbinic authority), supported and administered the heter, including: The Rishon Lezion Rabbi Elyashar, Maran HaRav Kook, the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Uziel, Rabbi Herzog, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, and many more.

Moreover, the heter is not a kula (leniency), but, rather, tends more to being a chumra (stringency), because according to ikar ha’din (the essence of the law), in a sha’at dachak (time of distress), it is permissible to completely allow all agricultural work in the Sabbatical year, kal v’chomer (all the more so) when the work is done by a non-Jew. The rabbis were stringent by also necessitating the heter mechira, in order to expropriate the fields from Sabbatical obligations. And following the heter mechira, they were even more stringent by demanding that all work whose foundation was based in the Torah should be performed by non-Jews.

Therefore, the Haredim who boycott the heter mechira transgress the laws of halacha, and sin in contempt of the Torah and the eminent rabbis. This transgression stems from their basic sin with regards to the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel). I will begin to explain.

Is Shmita Binding Nowadays?

According to most poskim (Jewish law arbiters), the mitzvah of shmita nowadays is from divrei chachamim (rabbinic), because only when all Jews reside in Israel, every tribe in its place, do the mitzvoth of Yovel (Jubilee) and shmita apply from the Torah. But when the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh were expelled from their land by the king of Assyria, the mitzvah from the Torah was nullified. And only when Israel returns to their land, and the country is divided once again to all the tribes of Israel, will the Torah obligation of Yovel and shmita return to its place. This was the ruling of the majority of Rishonim and Achronim, led foremost by Rambam (Laws of Shmita and Yovel, 10:9).

There are a few poskim who believe that the obligation of shmita nowadays is from the Torah. In contrast, numerous poskim are of the opinion that nowadays there is absolutely no obligation to keep shmita, because after nearly three hundred years following the destruction of the Second Temple, the Beit Din HaGadol which sanctified the months, intercalated the years, and figured the Yovel (Jubilee) years, nullified it. In their opinion, since then, the obligation of keeping shmita was completely canceled, and only from the side of midat hassidut (a pious and meritorious act) are we custom to keep shmita nowadays. This is the opinion ReZaH, Raavad, Meiri, and is implicit in the words of other Rishonim.

As is well-known, in a sha’at dachak (time of distress), halacha permits relying on da’at yichidim (the opinion of individual poskim), even in a circumstance of a Torah prohibition – as was the custom of Jews in Northern Europe to be lenient in the prohibition of eating the new crop (chadash) to allow drinking of liquor, which was extremely necessary there (Taz, Y.D. 293:4). All the more so can we rely in a sha’at dachak on the da’at yichidim who hold that shmita nowadays is annulled, for even the machmirim (strict) hold that shmita is only of rabbinic prohibition. How much more so shmita could have been annulled in combination with the safek (uncertainty) concerning the counting of the shmita years.

The Uncertainty of Counting the Years

In addition to what I have mentioned, the poskim also disagree regarding the order of the years. There are three approaches as to when the Sabbatical year falls.

Tradition states that the Temple was destroyed motzei shmita – in other words, in the first year of the Sabbatical cycle. However, there is a disagreement in what year the destruction occurred. We follow the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam and most Rishonim, and as a result this year, 5775, is a shmita year. However, according to Rashi and Tur, the destruction was a year earlier, and therefore in their opinion, the Sabbatical year was last year, in 5774.

There is another opinion, according to which, the year of Yovel must be calculated separately. That is to say, after all seven Sabbatical years, one year is added, and then once again, the Sabbatical years are counted. This was also the opinion of Rambam, however, he deferred his opinion to the accepted practice according to which the Jubilee year is not added on to the counting of shmita years.

This issue has also emerged throughout the generations, however, the decision was always as we are custom today; nevertheless, the two dissenting opinions were never canceled. Therefore, some authorities are of the opinion that since there are three possibilities when shmita occurs, given that the obligation of shmita nowadays is rabbinic – m’ikar ha’din (from the essence of the law), there is no obligation to keep shmita, because each possible year is batel b’rov (nullified by the majority) of the two additional possibilities (see, Yabi’a Omer, Y.D. 42:8). And as ReZaH wrote, the very fact that there is a dispute about when the Sabbatical year occurs is proof that shmita was not kept in many places.

And although according to minhag (custom), we set aside ma’aser sheni in the first, second, fourth and fifth year, and recite a blessing, nevertheless, the halacha is that we recite a blessing over a minhag even though it is disputed.

Many people are also customary to be lenient and collect debts after the shmita year, despite the fact that according to the letter of the law, shmitat kesafim applies world-worldwide. A number of considerations were mentioned in order to permit this, and one of them was the uncertainly of the order of years (Maharil).

 Work done by Non-Jews

As known, the Sages forbade a Jew to ask a non-Jew to do work for him on Shabbat, and this prohibition is called ‘amira l’goy‘ or “shvut“. The Talmudic Sages, however, were uncertain whether the prohibition of amira l’goy also applies to Torah prohibitions that do not carry the severity of Shabbat, whose punishment is skila [stoning] (Bava Metzia 90a). In practice, the opinion of the majority of poskim is that in all other Torah prohibitions amira l’goy also has the status of a rabbinical prohibition (Rambam, Rosh).

However, all this concerns mitzvoth prohibited by the Torah. But in regards to mitzvoth whose prohibition is of rabbinical status, in the opinion of many poskim, there is no prohibition of shvut at all; rather, a Jew is permitted to ask a non-Jew to do it for him. And even if we say that the prohibition of shvut also applies to mitzvoth whose prohibition is of rabbinic status, all this is in a normal situation, but in a sha’at dachak or l’tzorech mitzvah (for the sake of a mitzvah) – even on Shabbat, shvut d’shvut is permitted. Kal v’chomer (all the more so) in regards to the mitzvah of shmita, whose status nowadays is rabbinic, is it permitted to ask a non-Jew to do work for us in the fields, both from the side of sha’at dachak for the needs of the farmer’s livelihood, and from the side of yishuv ha’aretz. All the more so would it be permissible if they made a deal with the non-Jew in which he earns a percentage from his work.

Nevertheless, the Gedolei rabbanim (eminent rabbis) preferred to be machmir (strict) and sell the fields to a non-Jew, and this is the heter mechira.

The Heter Mechira

I will not tire my readers with the details of the issue which is complicated, and whose foundation lies in the disagreement regarding whether a non-Jew who bought a field in the land of Israel expropriates it from the mitzvoth ha’teluyot b’aretz (the commandments dependent on the land). I will just mention that in fact, when the obligation is of rabbinic status, in the opinion of the majority of poskim, the obligation of shmita does not apply to land owned by non-Jews. Although, in the opinion of Mabit and those who agree with him, all of the shmita prohibitions apply even on land owned by non-Jews. However, in the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Karo, the Vilna Gaon, and Pe’at Ha’Shulchan, the obligations of shmita do not apply to land owned by a non-Jew. This was the minhag in the Land of Israel.

Indeed, it is possible to expand and deliberate this issue at length – to strengthen the opinion of matirim (the lenient), or the opinion of the machmirim (the strict). But in the end, everyone acknowledges that there is a dispute regarding this issue, and evidently, according to most Rishonim and Achronim, the sale of land to a non-Jew expropriates it from the prohibition of working in the shmita year. This is the basis of the heter (permit).

Nevertheless, the eminent rabbis also took into account the opinion of those who believe that even after a non-Jew bought the land it is subject to all the mitzvoth. Therefore, even after the mechira, they permitted Jews to do only work whose foundation is of rabbinic status, whereas work whose foundation stems from the Torah (planting and pruning, harvesting and plowing), they permitted it to be done only by non-Jews. Only in a sha’at dachak did they permit even those types of work to be done by Jews.

Summary of the Heter Mechira

As we have seen, from ikar ha’din (the essence of the law), the rabbis could have permitted work in the shmita year based on two important considerations: first – relying on the opinion of individual poskim who hold that the law of shmita does not apply nowadays, since even according to the machmirim, shmita is only of rabbinic status. And secondly – because of the uncertainty of when the Sabbatical year falls out.

In addition, the rabbis could have permitted work by non-Jews even without the sale of the fields, since it is a prohibition of shvut in a mitzvah whose foundation nowadays is of rabbinic status.

But as I wrote in the beginning, since it was possible, the eminent rabbis preferred to be machmir, and solve the problem in a more widespread fashion by selling the fields to non-Jews, and even after the sale of the land, to only allow the types of work whose foundation is of rabbinical status.

The Status of Fruits Grown during Shmita in a Forbidden Manner

There is controversy over the status of fruits grown in the Sabbatical year in a field owned by a Jew who locked his field and did not hefker (make ownerless) the fruits properly. Some authorities prohibit eating the fruit (Rabbeinu Tam, Raaved), but according to most poskim, the fruit is permitted, given that they belong to everyone, and an individual cannot forbid them (Rash, Ramban, Rashba). There is also a dispute concerning the status of fruit grown in the shmita year by Jews who performed all the work prohibited during the Sabbatical year: some authorities prohibit eating them, (Raaved, Ramban), but according to most poskim, the fruits are permitted, since they belong to all of Israel, and no individual can forbid them (Rambam, Rosh , Radbaz, and others).

Consequently, even if there was no option to permit work in the shmita year, and there was no heter mechira at all, and all the agricultural work performed by the farmers was done in a forbidden manner according to all of the opinions – the majority of poskim hold that the fruits are permitted. Not only that – the issue at hand is a rabbinic machloket (controversy), and safek d’rabbanan le’kula (a doubt concerning a rabbinic prohibition is treated leniently).

All the more so when the considerations of the heter previously mentioned are added, plus the heter mechira, there is simply no basis whatsoever for the boycott of many Haredim of fruits grown under the heter mechira. On the contrary, it is a serious insult to the Torah and honor of the eminent rabbis in recent generations, and a severe Torah transgression.

 A Closing Note

It is possible to discuss and deliberate every detail of what I have written, l’chumra and l’kula, but to my best understanding, this summarization represents a balanced representation of the issue. On the other hand, the Haredi position is to gather every speculation of chumra’s possible, contrary to the rules of Torah study and halacha.

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

Be Careful Regarding the Matzah

Does the prohibition of eating kitniyot (legumes) on Pesach for Jews of Ashkenazi descent apply to quinoa? * The mitzvah of making family members, the poor, the lonely, and teachers of Torah happy on the holiday * Keeping a pleasant and friendly family atmosphere * The importance of eating matzah shmurah at the Seder, and the hidur of hand-baked matzah *Matzot shmurot are prepared more carefully in regards to chametz, therefore it is best to eat them for the entire holiday of Pesach * The dispute between the poskim whether chametz before Pesach is batel b’shishim * Is it better to forgo buying expensive, mehudar matzot shmurot and instead, give the money to charity?

Quinoa for Ashkenazim on Pesach

Q: According to the minhag (custom) of Ashkenazim, is quinoa also included in the prohibition of kitniyot (legumes)?

A: There are poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who are machmir (stringent) because quinoa looks like kitniyot, and there are others who are meykel (lenient) because the minhag of prohibition does not apply to it, since only in the last generation people began to eat it. In addition, its granules are much smaller than other species of grain, and thus, can be easily differentiated.

In practice, someone who wishes to be lenient is permitted, provided he checks the grains carefully, and one wants to be stringent tavo alav ha’bracha (he who is stringent will be blessed).

The Mitzvah of Joy on the Holiday

The essence of the mitzvah on Chag is to be happy and make others happy, because true happiness is achieved only when efforts are made to please others, as it is written: “You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and the Levite, proselyte, orphan and widow within your gates” (Deuteronomy 16:14).


Upon further observation, we find that this mitzvah has two parts: First, to rejoice together with one’s family and household members. It should be pointed out that the word ‘ata’ (you) in the above mentioned verse, includes both husband and wife alike; one’s spouse always comes before all other relatives. Indeed, we find that the main feature of men’s simcha is the festive meal, which is customarily prepared by the woman, and the main aspect of women’s simcha is for her husband to buy her new clothes or jewelry. Both the man and the woman split the responsibility of sharing their joy with all the family members, for the simcha of the Chag is incomplete without their participation.


The second part of the mitzvah is bringing joy to neighbors and poor, lonely friends. The orphan and widow mentioned in the verse were typically poor, seeing as their main source of sustenance was shattered, and the mitzvah to gladden them is by means of giving them tzedakah (charity). And the ger (convert), who left his homeland and family, may very well suffer from loneliness, and the mitzvah to make him happy is achieved by inviting him to participate in the festival meal.


It should further be noted that the Torah commanded to include the kohanim and levi’im (priests and Levites) in the joy. Their task was to teach and instruct the Jewish nation – both young, and old. From this, we can learn that today, Torah scholars, who are the Rabbis and teachers, should be made happy on the Chag, as were the priests and Levites (Binyan Shlema, 1:33).


The Responsibility Lies on All Participants of the Meal


To fulfill the mitzvah properly, each member of the family must maintain a good atmosphere during the Chag, especially while dining. Everyone must try their best to avoid offensive speech and make an effort to cheer those gathered at the table with friendly words; this is the way to be truly happy.


On the other hand, there are some Jews who, having been influenced by secular culture, find family gatherings on the Chagim to be a burdensome and frustrating event. Cynically, they make snide remarks to their relatives about their appearance or behavior; suddenly out of nowhere, they remember past insults, and start bickering about them. Then, of course, everyone complains about their diet which, until Chag, they were so successful in maintaining … This is the unfortunate outcome of secularism alienated from the sanctity of the Chagim and family values. All of this is reflected in the words and writings of most of the secular journalists.


The stronger our understanding is of the sanctity of the holiday and of family values, the easier it will be to refrain from upsetting our family members. As a result, we will wish to compliment and gladden them, and thereby merit fulfilling the Chagim with happiness and peace, and draw blessing from them all year round.


Matzot Shmurot for the Seder Night


The Torah states, “And you shall observe (u-shemartem) the matzot” (Shemot 12:17). The Sages interpreted this to mean that the matza must be guarded from becoming chametz. This refers specifically to the matzot eaten on the Seder night in fulfillment of the mitzvah, for the very next verse states, “in the evening you shall eat matzot.

According to RifRambam, and other Rishonim, the wheat needs to be guarded from the time it is harvested; according to Rosh, Rashi and others, from the time that it is ground. In addition, the poskim differ on whether the guarding requires deliberate intention that the matza is to be used for the mitzvah (She’iltot, Rashba), or it is enough to guard the matza from becoming chametz, but requires no special intent while doing it (Ra’ah).

In practice, today’s custom is to be scrupulous about shmura matza; matzot that have been guarded from the time of harvest are used to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matza on the Seder night. Even though according to halakha, one can fulfill the mitzvah with matzot guarded from the time of grinding, nevertheless, l’chatchila (preferred), one should fulfill the mitzvot of eating matzah on Seder night with matzot whose grains were guarded from the time of harvest (Peninei Halakha 12:2-3).


Does One Need to Prepare Handmade Matzot for the Seder?


Many are scrupulous about fulfilling the mitzvah with handmade matzot that were baked under proper supervision, because some poskim say that the matza eaten on Seder night requires the entire process of kneading and baking be done with explicit intent that they are le-shem matzat mitzvah, and since a machine cannot have intentions, one would not fulfill the mitzva of eating matza on the Seder night with machine-made matza.


Most poskim maintain that one can fulfill the mitzva by eating machine-made matzot, for several reasons. Firstly, some explain that the mitzvah of guarding the matza only requires one to ensure that it does not become chametz, and it is irrelevant whether this is done while making the matza by hand or by supervising the activity of a machine. Furthermore, a human-being operates the machine, and if he operates it with the intent of making matzat mitzva, then automatically all of the machine’s operations are considered to have been done for the sake of the mitzvah.

In practice, machine-made matza may be used l’chatchila to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matza on the Seder night, and it is a hidur mitzvah (an embellishment of the mitzvah) to eat handmade matzot.


Should One Buy Matza Shmura for All of Pesach?

Q: Should I go all out and buy matza shmura for the entire holiday, or can I make do with regular matzot which cost about a third less of the price?

A: There are two sides to the question: 1) pertaining to the mitzvah of eating matzah. 2) Regarding the concern of chametz.

1) In the opinion of a few Achronim (Rosh, Gra) there is a mitzvah to eat a kazayit of matza at two meals every day of Pesach. To facilitate this, however, one can make do with regular matzot, because even though they are called non-shmura matzah, in truth, they are guarded from the time of grinding, and therefore, b’sha’at ha’tzorech (in times of need), they may also be eaten on Seder night; all the more so is one able to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matza during the seven days of Pesach with them.

2) However, in regards to the concern of chametz, there definitely is a hidur to be meticulous to eat particularly matzot shmurot from the time of harvest. This is because, in practice, the regular matzot contain a certain mixture of chametz, which, although according to most authorities is batel b’shishim (annulled when the amount of permitted food is sixty times more than the forbidden food), and therefore kosher, nevertheless there are poskim who are stringent and hold that on Pesach, chametz is not batel b’shishim, and therefore in their opinion, eating regular matzot is prohibited. Allow me to explain further.

Regular Matzot Compared to Shmura Matzot

The tendency with regard to the baking of non-shmura matza is to produce and sell it as cheaply as possible, so that the general public will be able to afford it, whereas shmura matzot are more carefully supervised.

The kernels used for shmura matza are harvested before they dry out to prevent any concerns of rainwater potentially making them chametz. The kernels are then stored in a dry place, preventing any kernels from puffing up or splitting, which would indicate that they have started to become chametz. On the other hand, wheat imported from abroad, from which all other matza is made, sometimes contains kernels that have already become chametz, either because of rain that fell on them after they dried but were still in the field, or because of the water that sometimes accumulates at the bottom of their warehouses.

Even during the kneading process there is a significant difference between the two types of matza. When baking shmura matzot, bakers are careful to perform all of the other steps in the most meticulous way possible: during baking, they stop the machines every eighteen minutes and clean them thoroughly; they constantly declare that they are working le-shem matzat mitzva; and they are more careful to supervise the entire process.

Conversely, the trend with regard to non-shmura matza is to produce and sell it as cheaply as possible, so that the general public will be able to afford it. Therefore, only the mixers used for kneading are changed every eighteen minutes, but the rollers are cleaned while they are running. Although they are cleaned in a way that ensures that every part is cleaned every eighteen minutes, seeing as the cleaning is done while the machines are running, it is more difficult to clean the machines thoroughly.

The Rules of Halakha to Consider

Apparently, according to this, everyone should be stringent to eat only shmura matza. However, in keeping with halakha, we have a rule that most prohibited foods are batel b’shishim, i.e., they are annulled when the amount of permitted food is sixty times more. Thus, the grains of chametz and particles of dough remaining in the machines are batel b’shishim.

And although our Sages were stringent and declared that chametz on Pesach is not batel (void) even in a thousand, nevertheless, according to the majority of poskim when the mixture occurred before Pesach, it was already batel b’shishim, and is no longer prohibited (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 447:4).

Nevertheless, there is room to be stringent, because some authorities are of the opinion that even chametz that was batel b’shishim before Pesach, chozer v’neor (the reawakening of the original non-kosher food) when Pesach arrives, and prohibits all mixtures (Rambam, Rashba). And although halachically one can rely on the lenient poskim who are the majority, and furthermore, this controversy is of rabbinical nature for it was the Sages who decided that chametz on Pesach is not batel even in a thousand – nevertheless, there is certainly a hidur to fulfill the mitzvah with matzot that comply with all opinions.

Summary of the Halakha

The regular, non-shmura matzot which were guarded from the time of grinding are kosher for all of Pesach l’chatchila, and even according to those authorities who are of the opinion that it is a mitzvah to eat matza all seven days of Pesach – by eating them, they fulfill the mitzvah. The mehedrin (those who embellish the mitzvah) eat matza shmura from the time of harvest, mainly because they are more carefully supervised in regards to chametz.

Which Mitzvah to Embellish: Shmura Matza, or Tzedakka?

There are some people who argue against those who embellish the mitzvah by purchasing shmura matzot, claiming that it is preferable to give charity to the poor than to buy shmura matza for the entire holiday. However, this argument can be made only by someone who does not waste money on luxuries – for such a person can indeed rightfully say that charity to the poor is more important than the hidur of matza shmura. On the other hand, someone who spends thousands of shekels lavishly on expensive furniture and clothing, why on hidurei mitzvoth should he so sparing by buying regular matzot?!

Ultimately, in practice, regular matza is kosher, and one may rely on the fact that the kashrut supervisors do their jobs properly. When it comes to fulfilling higher standards of mitzvot, one must decide if and how he wishes to go beyond the letter of the law.

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


Kosher for Passover Dish Soap?!

Soaps and Cosmetics

The Poskim (Jewish law arbiters) disagree whether body ointments that contain ĥametz may be used on Pesaĥ. While soaps, shampoos, and creams are not made from ĥametz, they sometimes contain grain alcohol or other ĥametz derivatives, leading to queries about their status on Pesaĥ.

Some say that applying an ointment is equivalent, by rabbinic enactment, to drinking. Consequently, even if the ĥametz in these products is not fit for a dog’s consumption, it retains the status of ĥametz because it is suitable for anointing, and thus it is forbidden to use them on Pesaĥ. Accordingly, one must use soaps, shampoos, and creams that are kosher for Pesaĥ.

Others maintain that the Sages only equated the application of ointment to drinking with regard to Yom Kippur and anointing with oil consecrated as teruma (priestly gift). All other Torah prohibitions relate to eating alone, not anointing. Although it is forbidden to derive benefit from ĥametz, the ĥametz in these products was rendered unfit for a dog’s consumption even before Pesaĥ began and thus lost the status of ĥametz. It is therefore permissible to derive benefit from them and apply them to the body during Pesaĥ.

The Practical Ruling

Since this dispute relates to rabbinic law, the halakha accords with the lenient opinion. Therefore, creams that are absorbed into the skin, flavorless lipstick, and perfumes that contain alcohol need not be certified kosher for Pesaĥ, in keeping with the lenient opinion, since they are not fit for consumption and generally do not contain ĥametz ingredients.  Moreover, the vast majority of cosmetic products produced in Israel do not contain wheat-derived alcohol. Even the majority of products produced abroad do not contain wheat-derived alcohol, since it is more expensive than potato-derived alcohol. Still, when one has a product and is not sure whether it contains wheat-derived alcohol, even if he is normally stringent he may be lenient, based on a combination of several uncertainties and doubts (See, ‘Peninei Halakha: Pesach’ 8:9).

Usually, after teaching this halakha, I am asked: “Rabbi, how do you personally hold?” My reply is: If there is soap or cream Kosher for Passover, we prefer to use it. But if there was no suitable cream in the store, or it was significantly more expensive, or if someone is sensitive to a special soap or shampoo, we use the products regularly used during the year.

Toothpaste and Lipstick

Toothpaste and lipstick must be certified kosher for Pesaĥ because they are flavored, and as a result, like any other food product.

Does Dishwashing Soap have to be Kosher for Passover?

Dishwashing soap does not need to be certified Kosher for Passover. And even though it comes in contact with dishes, since the taste is completely unfit for consumption – even if these substances were mixed with ĥametz, its taste was befouled before Pesaĥ and it is no longer considered ĥametz. Indeed, if a person had the intention of eating hametz unfit for consumption, since he considered it as food, he transgresses a rabbinic prohibition. But in this case, no one is interested in tasting the dishwashing soap on the dishes, and even if the dishes were not rinsed well and the taste of soap was left on them, there is no prohibition whatsoever.

Q: Why are there kashrut organizations that give certification for dishwashing soap?

A: This is a marketing gimmick of dishwashing soap manufacturers, who think that by doing so they gain an edge on their competitors, and it is extremely puzzling why the kashrut organizations collaborate with them by providing certification, thus using the Torah as a “spade to dig with.”

Medicines on Pesaĥ

Medicines are the subject of some of the most common questions on Pesaĥ. There is concern that pills contain wheat-based starch. The purpose of the starch is to solidify and harden the pills. Had the starch been produced from potatoes or kitniyot, there would be no problem even for Ashkenazim, as for medicinal purposes one may swallow pills containing kitniyot. But what about starch extracted from a type of grain that can become ĥametz?

Flavored Medicines must have Kosher for Pesach Certification

The answer depends on the taste of the medicine: if it is flavored, like syrup, lozenges, or chewables, then one must ascertain that it is kosher for Pesaĥ. In case of doubt, its use is forbidden. Only a dangerously ill person whose medicine does not have a substitute is permitted to take medicine containing ĥametz, because saving a life overrides the prohibition of eating ĥametz. 

The Custom of the Stringent not to Take Even Bitter Medicine Containing Hametz

Some meticulously observant people try to avoid even bitter medicines that contain ĥametz. They show concern for the opinion of the few poskim who maintain that medicine is not considered unfit for animal consumption since we deem it significant, and it is thus rabbinically prohibited. Other poskim permit bitter medicines that contain ĥametz starch for one who is bedridden or whose entire body is in pain, but rule stringently for one suffering from mild aches and pains.

The Majority of Poskim Rule Bitter Medicine is Permitted

However, most poskim maintain that bitter medicines containing ĥametz may be taken by any ill person, even only to reduce mild pain, as a prophylactic, or to fortify the body.

Practically speaking, if one is uncertain whether certain bitter or tasteless medicines contain wheat starch, he may swallow them without ensuring that they are free of wheat starch. As we have seen, most poskim maintain that medicines rendered unfit for animal consumption before Pesaĥ may be consumed during Pesaĥ even if they are known to contain ĥametz. Even one who prefers to comply with the stringent opinion on this issue need not be strict if he is uncertain whether the medicine contains ĥametz. This is especially true nowadays, when we know that potato and corn starch are used more widely than wheat starch. Thus, in practice, one may consume bitter or tasteless medicines on Pesaĥ without ascertaining whether they contain ĥametz.

Therefore, it is permitted to take bitter medicines containing wheat starch even for the purpose of easing mild pain, preventing illness, or strengthening the body.

Tasteless Medicines Do Not Require Inspection

From what we have learned, all drugs that are tasteless, even though they are listed as not kosher for Passover, according to the majority of poskim, are halakhically kosher. Practically speaking this is also true, for even the machmerim (stringent) admit that since they are tasteless, the prohibition is of rabbinic status, and as is well-known, in rabbinic controversies halakha goes according to the mekelim (lenient), in particular when they are the majority.

Moreover, this is especially true nowadays, when we know that potato and corn starch are used more widely than wheat starch.

So in effect, on Pesach, one can take bitter or tasteless medication designed to be swallowed, without checking lists to see if they kosher for Passover (‘Peninei Halakha:Pesach’, 8:7).

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

Waking to the Call: Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael

Aliyah in Recent Generations


Throughout all the years of exile, the Jewish Nation continued to yearn for its homeland. Notable figures amongst the giants of past generations, such as Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, the Rambam, and the Ramban even fulfilled the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz(settling the Land of Israel) and made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. However, the time of the final Redemption had not arrived, and the Jewish People also did not repent completely. Consequently, the Jewish community in the Land was not able to strengthen itself and become self-sufficient. In the face of economic hardship and physical danger, it was nearly impossible to sustain any kind of normal continuing settlement.


Approximately two-hundred years ago, a new awakening of aliyah to Eretz Yisrael began. Rabbi Chaim ben Atar, the leading rabbi of Morocco, author of the commentary “Ohr HaChaim” on the Torah, immigrated to Israel. In his writings, he expressly states that his aliyah represented a “bringing closer” of the Redemption (see also his commentary on Vayikra25:25). After this, in the year 5637 (1877), the foremost student of the Maggid from Mezrich, the AdmoreRebbe Menachem Mendel from Vetibsk, came on aliyah, accompanied by three hundred followers. This represented the foundation of the Hasidic community inEretz Yisrael.


However, the Torah giant who spoke most explicitly about immigrating to the Land of Israel, and its rebuilding, was the GaonRabbi Eliyahu from Vilna, also known as the Vilna Gaon, or the Gra. On numerous occasions, he spoke to his students emotionally, saying that the Redemption would be quickened only through the ingathering of the exiles and the building of the Land. He furthermore stressed that only through the resettlement of Eretz Yirael would we be saved from the terrible trials and tribulations inherent in the birth pangs of Mashiach. The Gaon foresaw what was likely to happen to the Jews of Europe. He himself began the journey to Israel, parting from his family after writing a stirring will and testament. However, from the Heavens, he was instructed to return. Nevertheless, he continued to encourage his students to immigrate in order to rebuild the Land.


In the year 5569 (1809), approximately ten years after the Vilna Gaon passed away, the first group of his students arrived in Safed, led by Rabbi Menachem Mendel from Shklov. About two years later, Rabbi Israel from Shklov, author of the “Pe’at HaShulchan,” also found his way there. Joining them were Rabbi Hillel from Shklov, and other Torah scholars, craftsmen, and farmers. Many of the pioneers settled in Jerusalem; others in Safed, and in budding agricultural communities. Although they faced dreadful difficulties, they nevertheless drew inspiration from the words of their great Rabbi, the Gaon of Vilna, concerning the supreme importance of the mitzvah to settle the Land. Thus, from one generation to the next, their settlements continued to grow, forming the core of the Ashkenazi “Old Yishuv.” From their ranks stemmed the builders of the first neighborhoods outside the walls of Jerusalem, and the moshavim of the “New Yishuv,” such as Petach Tikva. From a few hundred righteous Jews who immigrated to Israel with an unmatched spirit of miserut nefesh (self-sacrifice), the re-born settlement grew to tens of thousands. Unfortunately, the myriads of religious Jews living in the Diaspora failed to follow in their footsteps, and the difficulties and persecutions of the exile continued to increase.


Approximately fifty years after the aliyah of the students of the Gra, two outstanding Torah scholars of the generation, students of Rabbi Akiva Eiger – Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Kalisher and Rabbi Eliyahu Gutmacher – began to encourage mass immigration to Israel, in order to build the prophesized Jewish Kingdom in Eretz Yisrael. In the wake of their incentive, aliyah increased. However, the Nation was still far from reaching the over-all goal of its prayers for a massive ingathering from the distant corners of the galut, and consequently, the trials and tribulations of exile reached ever-alarming proportions. In addition to a frightening rise in anti-Semitism, Jews began to abandon the Torah, and many chose to assimilate in the Diaspora.


Tens of years later, a number of Gedolei Yisrael from Eastern Europe, including Rabbi Shmuel Mohaliver, Rabbi Mordechei Elishberg, and the Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhin, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (HaNatziv), arose and began to encourage aliyahto Israel within the framework of the “Chibat Tzion” (Lovers of Zion) movement. At that time, many Jews had already left the way of Torah and mitzvot. These Torah giants agreed to work together with the leaders of Jews who were not “especially meticulous” in guarding the commandments – for the sake of settling the Land. Their endeavors brought about what is called the “first aliyah” (circa 5642 [1882]). The majority of new immigrants were religious, if not top caliber Torah scholars like the students of the Gra. Nevertheless, there were important Torah personalities amongst the new pioneers, such as Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe, who became the Rabbi of the new community of Yehud. Even though the nascent settlements continued to grow, the great majority of Diaspora Jews still did not heed the call to return to Zion.


In Europe, anti-Semitism grew steadily, as did the number of Jews who strayed from the faith. Many of those who left the Torah hoped that by leaving Judaism, and assimilating amongst the non-Jews, their troubles would cease. Anti-Semitism, however, continued to spread. Some of the Jews who tried to assimilate, like Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, realized that Jewish nature was unique and inescapable. Only through the establishment of an independent Jewish State in the Land of Israel would it be possible to save the Jews from the menace of anti-Semitism. Spearheaded by Herzl, the Zionist movement rapidly spread throughout Europe. Originally, some Gedolei Yisrael supported them. This led to the formation of the “Mizrachi” movement. But there were other respected Gedolim who opposed the Zionist movement, mainly because they feared that many Jews would be swayed to follow the non-religious lifestyle of its secular leaders.


The widely discussed concept of Zionism, combined with growing anti-Semitism, aroused larger numbers of Jews to support the growing drive to settle the Land, and to establish a Jewish State. Nonetheless, the majority of Jews, whether religious or not, did not participate in the Zionist movement.


Only after the Holocaust did the necessity of establishing an independent Jewish State in the Land of Israel become clear to almost everyone. Myriads of refugees from Europe and Arabic lands immigrated to Israel, and thus the State of Israel arose and began to develop, accompanied by Divine favor and blessing, and the great self-sacrifice of the Jews who returned to the Land.



The Essential Return to Holiness


On numerous occasions, Hashem has knocked on the door of Knesset Yisrael to arouse us to return to our Land. If only we had heeded the call of the Gaon from Vilna and his students, who knows how many pogroms and disasters could have been averted? If the masses of Jews who stood facing an abyss of unspeakable persecution and murder had followed the urgings of visionaries like the holy Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, and the political leader, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who knows how many lives could have been saved? Additionally, the Nation’s connection to the Torah and mitzvot would have remained stronger, for multitudes of Jews would have witnessed how, through the merit of the Torah and its call for a national return to the Jewish homeland, multitudes would have been saved from the horrific persecutions which followed.


The abandonment of the Torah largely stems from the feeling that its adherents are remnants of the past. The entire world is busy building new technologies and innovations, while Judaism seems concerned with mere survival under increasingly harsh conditions. If only we had dedicated ourselves in redeveloping the Nation in Eretz Yisrael, in line with the grand vision of the ingathering of the exiles, then the resettlement of the Land, in accordance with the words of the Prophets, would have filled the hearts of our people with awe, and brought wanderers back to the fold. All of the talented Jews, who went astray and gave their strengths to foreign nations in the fields of science, culture, politics, economics, and art, not to mention marrying out of the fold, would have invested their energies here in the Land of Israel, for the sake of their own Jewish Nation and homeland. The Jewish State would have been established earlier – not as a result of trials and tribulations, but through allegiance to the Divine instructions of the Torah and the vision of the Prophets. Even the conflict with the Arab population would have been negligible, for had we arrived to the Land in overwhelming numbers, the whole situation of Arab immigration to “Palestine,” which has transpired over the last few generations, would have been forestalled.


After the aliyah of the students of the Gra, the Jews of the Diaspora had a number of opportunities to seize the occasion. While there were those who came, the vast majority tragically remained in galut. Only after the Holocaust did greater numbers awaken to the call of settling the Land. In reply, as if magically, the long-barren wastelands of Eretz Yisrael awakened to those who came back, and abundantly yielded its fruits to her children returning from afar.


History has proven that those who were active in the settlement and rebuilding of the Land of Israel over the last few generations, whether religious or not, participated in a miraculous renaissance of the Nation and the Land. From the Heavens, it became increasingly clear that the time had come to return to the Land. The State of Israel flourished in unprecedented ways, while assimilation in the galut swelled to staggering proportions. Many of those who pioneered in the building of Eretz Yisraelmerited distinction, despite the fact that they did not always act for the sake of Heaven, and occasionally even placed their undertakings in conflict with the Torah’s goals for the Nation. As time passed, the words of the prophet, which the Vilna Gaonand his students would constantly mention, became ever more real: “For in the mountain of Zion and Jerusalem there will be a refuge” (Joel 3:5).


Nevertheless, the merit of this precious mitzvah is not eternal. Without faith in God, and adherence to the Torah and mitzvot, we cannot continue to settle the Land with proper holiness and devotion, and calamities are liable to occur. Our teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, related that on numerous occasions he heard his father, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, weep and say, “I fear the words of our Sages are coming to pass concerning the three generations before the coming of the Redeemer, about which it is written, ‘You have grown fat; you have become heavy; you are covered with flesh.‘  This implies that due to a lack of devotion to holiness, the spirit of defilement and corruption increasingly grows, and consequently, the calamities of ‘the birth pangs of Mashiach‘ come to pass.”


Our prayer is that we be able to return to the holy, Divine Torah injunction of settling the Land, as was the goal of the Gaon from Vilna, his students, and their disciples, and dedicate ourselves to building the State of Israel in the light of the Torah and its teachings, thereby meriting the final and complete Redemption, speedily in our days, Amen.    


Excerpts from Rabbi Melamed’s book “Peninei Halakha: Ha’am v’Ha’aretz”.

The Solution Lies in Samaria

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

The Housing Crisis

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

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

The Root Problem: More Overcrowding than Other Countries

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

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

The Solution: Widespread Construction in Western Samaria and Judea

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

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

The Fear of Presenting Such a Solution

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

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

The Fault of the Settlers

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

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

The National Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Malady of Our Generation

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

The Need to Address the Issue of Homosexuality

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

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

The Custom of Modesty versus the Need for Public Clarity

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

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

The Prohibition of Homosexual Intercourse

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

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

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

Factors Causing the Revelation of this Inclination

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

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

Genetic Predisposition and the Social and Moral Environment

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

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

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

Today’s Situation

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

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

The Positive Attitude towards Sufferers

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

The Attitude towards Sinners of Homosexual Intercourse

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

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

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

Not to Distance Homosexuals from the Religious Community

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

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

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

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

Slavery Leading to Freedom

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

Parshat Mishpatim

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

The Commandment of Jubilee
and the Law of a Hebrew Slave

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

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

When was a Jew Sold into Slavery?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the Torah Agree to Slavery?

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

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

The Left-wing Social Purists

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

Laws of a Masters Behavior towards his Slave

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

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

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

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

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

Being Sold to a Gentile

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

A Convert Is Not Sold into Slavery

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

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

When the Jubilee Returns

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

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

The Solution for Thieves

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

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

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

Current Improvements

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

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

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

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

Preparation for a Life of Freedom

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

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

Desecration of God and the Torah

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

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah’s Visit to the Ponevezh Yeshiva

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

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

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

The Seeds of Calamity Produced Rotten Fruit

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

Respect for Torah Scholars

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

Listen to the Gedolei Ha’Dor

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

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

Derech Eretz

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

Violence against the Foundations of Judaism and Torah

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

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

Criticism of the Leaders

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

The Widening Gaps

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

The Words of Torah Need Strengthening

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

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

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

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

Criticism of Secularism

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

Basic Laws of the Jewish State

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

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