Category Archives: כללי

Today’s False Gods

Faith is rooted in man, thus he has always sought ways to express it * Idol worshippers created gods that identified with their base desires, preventing them from advancing morally and ethically * The Torah forbade any belief that restricts or limits God: only the One God who created everything is to be believed in, and He is above and beyond all * Today as well, people still put their trust in things that give them power, such as money and honor, or a variety of ideologies * An ideology that emphasizes one value while denying others, in the end, will cause destruction and be obliterated * Christianity and Islam can remain in the world, provided the pagan elements are removed

Man Seeks Expression of His Faith

All human beings possess the attribute of ‘emunah‘ (faith). The soul in its roots is connected to God, and draws its life from Him; consequently, man naturally believes his life is connected to eternity, and that it holds immense value – far beyond the ordinary routine of his earthly life. Therefore, everywhere humans ever existed, we find they had some type of religion.

In other words, on the basis of faith inherent in man, various human societies create a religion for themselves that provides a concrete framework for their faith, and gives meaning to their lives. Typically, the founders of these religions envisioned the gods in a relatively abstract way, but seeing as abstract ideas are difficult to grasp, they created statues and images that would express the higher forces in a tangible manner.

Since these gods were created from the consciousness of people who wished to give faith expression in their lives, they symbolized all the ideas that people valued, such as life, fertility, power, war, money, love, beauty, and others. As a result, a lethal combination of man’s selfish desires to achieve pleasures and honor and his heart’s sense of faith was created. Instead of faith elevating man, thereby changing his character for the better and improving his ways in order to add good and blessing in the world – ‘avodah zara’ (idol worship) came, attempting to give meaning to the world as it existed, thus blocking the way of true faith in the One God, the Source of all Life, whose purpose is the perfection of the world through the word of God. The faith of idol worshippers became a device designed to glorify man’s desires and pleasures in his existing state, and facilitate the fulfilment of his desires. An idol worshipper does not aspire to improve himself morally, rather, he wishes to satisfy his needs. To do so, he is ready to offer sacrifices, whisper incantations, and perform mystical actions that will help him become wealthy, defeat his enemies, or achieve other goals he desires.

Did People Really Believe Idols were Helpful?

Were the idols helpful? After all, they are merely wood and stone? How could people believe in them? Rather, these gods gave an answer to the question of faith. True, it was a false answer, but people did not have an alternative that gave expression to the faith that was so ingrained in their lives. And seeing as man expressed his faith in the gods, this faith gave him confidence and strengthened his powers to do as he wished – for he wasn’t acting only in his own name, but also in the name of larger and stronger forces than himself, who justified his aspirations and path.

The Mystical Power of Idolatry

Apart from that, many people interpret that just as forces of nature exist in the world that man can harness to his needs, likewise, beyond them exists spiritual forces called angels and demons that activate the forces of nature, and man can incline them to his needs by way of magical actions. In truth, all the spiritual forces that activate the forces of nature were created by God, and derive their existence from Him. However, the idol worshippers chose for themselves specific spiritual forces, connected with them, and were able to activate them for themselves, and thereby gain success. But since they related to the spiritual forces as being detached from their roots, they turned into forces of impurity which, in effect, gave them power for a certain period of time – but eventually, brought about their destruction, because they disconnected them from the Source of Life.

Negation of Defined Beliefs

When the sin of idolatry is committed, i.e., the Divine revelation is diminished into a particular statue or definition of a specific image both faith and consciousness remain limited, and consequently, it is impossible to truly rise above and beyond the finite realm of life, and faith cannot receive true expression. Since it is a narrowly defined idol, it arouses increasingly difficult questions, until the point where one is forced to disavow it. However, given that one is seeking faith, he will attempt to find a new idol to believe in. But because it is an idol as well, he will once again be disappointed, and reject it. Thus, humankind oscillates between faith and heresy, without finding rest for the soul.

Therefore, the Torah forbade making statues and pictures to describe faith. Additionally, it is also forbidden to define God with any intellectual or ethical-moral definitions, because each definition empowers one value over the others, and consequently, fails to express God’s limitlessness, which is above and beyond all restrictions and ethical definitions. A defined faith arouses questions about all the values ​​that are not included in it, and consequently, man is placed once again in the grueling turmoil between belief in idols, and heresy.

Only by the total negation of all idolatry can one reach faith in the One God who created everything, but He himself is beyond definition. Such a pure faith does not raise questions leading to heresy, motivates man to constantly progress and ascend in the ways of God, and enables the Jewish nation to accept the Torah and mitzvot, through which they can adhere to God’s ways and add life, until the world is perfected in the kingdom of God.

Idolatry Today

Over time, in a gradual process, the Jewish nation’s struggle against idolatry bore fruit, and many people no longer believe in statues; however, belief in different forces still exists, and this is the idolatry of our times. There are two main types of idolatry:

1) People who believe in money, honor, and physical lust: they believe that if they attain money or honor, or satisfy their various desires, they will have a truly good life. These people worship the gods of money, lust, honor, and the like. Such idolatry possess great power, for in the short term, it provides its followers satisfaction and vitality to strive for the realization of their dream, but ultimately, it disappoints. Even if for years such people deceived themselves, thinking they had succeeded in fulfilling their dream, deep down in their hearts, they know that all the achievements they had attained in this transient world had no real value. None of the ordinary, material objects in this world gives real value to their lives, and therefore, cannot offer them real satisfaction either. ‘Kohelet‘ (the Book of Ecclesiastes), written by King Solomon, describes this.

2) Those who believe in a particular ideology: this a higher belief that can give a person greater meaning to life, for it is a belief in values ​​or ideologies that will make the world better and more perfect, such as a belief in the value of love, truth, equality, nationalism, science, democracy, humanism, or feminism. Similar to idolatry, these beliefs also grant their followers vitality and help them succeed for a limited period of time, because they connect them to true values of importance, and acting on their behalf brings to light new forces in life. In the long term, however, such belief also disillusions.

Thus, for example, the believers of communism were sure that the rule of communism would redeem the world. Towards this end, they caused terrible suffering to countless people, until many of them became disillusioned with the agony their idolatry had brought to the world. Likewise, those who put their faith in democracy are certain that the rule of democracy will redeem the world, and to this end, are willing to offer innumerable human sacrifices, until in the end because of the great deal of agony, they come to understand that democracy on its own is also an idolatry that has failed.

The same hold true for all the various, different values: as long as they are not linked to the complete faith in God that includes all values, they are limited and idolatrous, and obstruct the path to complete faith, because they present an alternative that will take a long time until it turns out it will fail. It is important to note that belief in a particular religious leader or politician, even if he is a ‘tzadik’ (a righteous person), is liable to turn into idolatry in the heart of a believer.

Combining the First Two Commandments

Only through the combination of faith in the One God, and denial of all ‘avodah zara’ of a particular faith, ideology or personality, leads to the complete faith that connects man to the source of his life – a faith that includes all values ​​as one, and accepts the Torah’s guidance on how to reveal and combine them harmoniously, in a manner that will bring ‘tikun‘ (perfection) and blessing to man, and the world.

Christianity and Islam

Following the giving of the Torah and the deeds of Israel in the world, two notable religions arose which were directly influenced by Israel’s faith: Christianity and Islam. In spite of this, they are still in a compromise agreement with idolatry, because the very definition of God as ‘chesed‘ (compassion) in Christianity, or as ‘din‘ (strict judgement) in Islam, is a type of idolatry. In addition, Christianity personified God in the form of man, thereby deviating from pure unity, into a material trinity that restricts the scope of Godly values. For example, it qualifies the value of love, expressing it towards partners to the path, but towards others, it will often turn into terrible cruelty. In Islam, a deep drawback exists, for it reduces Godliness to Divine leadership revealed to a man from above, whose rule must be accepted by its followers with respect and submission, and imposed by force on all mankind. It does not see the great Divine value in human creation in all its components, which is a Divine revelation constantly being revealed by man, who was created in God’s image for this purpose.

Judaism’s Attitude towards the Various Religions

In principle, according to halakha (Jewish law), non-Jews are permitted to establish a religion for themselves that will provide a framework suitable for their unique character – provided it is free of idolatry – by being connected to the pure faith in Hashem that is revealed through the nation of Israel, not to force itself on others, and not to invalidate other values. In other words, the vision of the ‘Geulah‘ (Redemption) does not demand the eradication of the various religions, but rather, the removal of the pagan evil in them, that obstructs the revelation of the complete good, and leads to murderous domination. As it is written: “I will take away their abominable religious practices; then those who survive will become a community of believers in our God” (Zechariah 9: 7).

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

Underlying all Arguments: Disdain of the Land

Because the Spies did not love the Land of Israel, they found rational reasons to fear entering it * To this day, all rational considerations are based on a misunderstanding of the value of the Land * Rabbis do not give orders, rather, they engender processes in their students and in this way, build a bond to the country within them * The juxtaposition of settlements versus the needs of citizens is a lie – the settlements of Judea and Samaria are preventing the establishment of a terrorist state * The revelation of holiness in the physical is possible only in the Land of Israel * The settlements are Israel’s genuine ‘victory prize’ against Islam

What was the Actual Sin of the Spies?

Seemingly, the incident of the Sin of the Spies poses a difficulty: what sin did they actually commit? After all, the spies were sent to explore the land, to see whether the people living there were strong or weak, whether the inhabitants of the country were few or many. And behold, according to their best judgment, they concluded that the Canaanites living in the land were aggressive, the land’s cities were large and well-fortified, and if the Israelites were to try and conquer the land, the men would fall by the sword, and the women and children would be sold as slaves. This was their assessment, so what choice did they have – to sit silently and watch while the people of Israel strode to their destruction? They were morally obligated to warn against the danger! And even if the spies and the people erred in judgment, should the punishment have been so severe – to the point where all of them would die in the desert, the Jewish nation’s entry into the land be delayed for forty years, and if their sin was not rectified – on that same day, the two Temples would eventually be destroyed?

No Love, No Effort

The sin of the spies was that they did not understand the value, or love the Land of Israel, and as a result, lacked the desire to enter it, as it is written: “Moreover, they despised the pleasant Land, they did not believe His word” (Psalms 24:24). Consequently, they misjudged and exaggerated the power of the Canaanites facing Israel. For that reason, when Yehoshua and Calev tried to save them, they declared at the outset: “The land is very, very good.” Only afterwards, out of a recognition of the value of the land, did they call upon the people to strengthen their faith in their ability to defeat the Canaanites (Numbers 14: 9).

A person who does not love the land abhors the need to fight for it, and subsequently convinces himself that it is impossible to conquer and settle it, and finds a thousand reasons why. However, the main reason is – he simply does not care about the Land of Israel, and all his reasons are merely excuses. No one is willing to invest time and effort in something he does not value. For example, a person who does not value the importance of university studies will be incapable of finding the inner strength to pursue their completion. Someone who does not appreciate the significance of combat service will not be able to find the inner strength to withstand arduous training, preparing him to be a fighter. One who does not appreciate the value of family life will not be able to find the strength to seal a marriage covenant, and establish a family. Each one will find a thousand realistic reasons why the time is not right to study, to enlist in the army, or to get married, but the real reason is – they simply do not want to.

History Repeats Itself

Today as well, the vast majority of people who want to withdraw from Judea and Samaria do not love the Land of Israel and fail to understand its significance, and thus, do not feel a connection to Judea and Samaria. Even if there were absolutely no security or demographic problems whatsoever in these areas, they would not be willing to make an effort to settle them.

The Influence of Rabbis

We often hear misinformed people who believe that rabbis wield influence by imposing orders upon those who listen to them. However, they are missing the point. True influence does not stem from orders, but from the study of the essential values ​​of life. When parents and rabbis teach the importance of the Land of Israel by way of the weekly Torah portions and the halachot (laws) related to the mitzvah of settling the land, an internal process occurs among the students. They observe every aspect of life from the vantage point of ‘mitzvat yishuv ha’aretz’ (the mitzvah to settle the Land), and as a result, many of them move to the settlements, and numerous others support the settlers. In view of this, it would be advisable for rabbis to conduct a self-analysis: if they see that a large percentage of their students are negligent in the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz’, apparently, it is because they have not heard about the significance of the Land of Israel from their rabbis.

The Importance of Praising the Land

In order to inculcate the value of the Land of Israel among the people of Israel, the Torah lavishes her with praises: “The eyes of God your Lord are on it at all times, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year” (Deuteronomy 11:12); it is a land with “flowing streams, and underground springs gushing out in valley and mountain…a land not lacking anything” (Deuteronomy 8:7-10); and fifteen times the Torah repeats itself, saying it is a land flowing with milk and honey. Our Sages also frequently praised the Land, teaching us that in addition to the mitzvah to settle the Land, one must also understand its’ value, and to love and cherish her. Even the Rambam (Maimonides) in his Code of Jewish law emphasizes the importance of the general sentiment of love towards the Land, writing: “The great Torah scholars would kiss the borders of Eretz Yisrael, and embrace her stones, and roll in her dust, as the verse says, “For your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her very dust” (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:10).

We Have Not Forgotten the People, We are Protecting Them

Occasionally, the ‘yetzer ha’ra’ (the evil inclination) cloaks itself in righteous claims, with arguments such as: “The people of Israel come before the Land of Israel, and you, the settlers, have forgotten the people of Israel.” There are even some “tzadikim” (seemingly righteous people) who condemn the settlers, questioning: “What have you done for the people of Israel?” Are they blind? If not for the settlers, a terrorist state in Judea and Samaria would have been established years ago, and all the cities in the Coastal Plain region would have been under attack, and many of them would have been killed and wounded, God forbid. Can the Jewish people be helped more than that? We’re talking about the actual saving of lives! Only due to the fact that we merited loving the land and established settlements throughout Judea and Samaria does Israel still inhabit these holy areas, thus preventing the terrible dangers of the establishment of a terrorist state in Judea and Samaria! Be that as it may, our numbers in Judea and Samaria are only enough to withstand the current pressure, but should it increase, our ability to persevere is uncertain. We are still in need of tens of thousands of families to ensure our existence – for the sake of our nation, and redemption.

Arise, dear brothers and sisters! Come up to the mountains of Judea and Samaria, to settle the wilderness and build the ruined cities. And by virtue of this mitzvah, the Jewish nation will merit bearing sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters – as numerous as the sands of the sea, and the stars of the heavens. There are many houses that remain to be filled, and many houses that can be built; and as more families arrive, additional opportunities will open up for further building.

The Revealing of Faith Depends on the Land of Israel

We will continue explaining the value of the mitzvah to settle the land. Our Sages said: “The mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel is equal in weight to all the commandments in the Torah” (Sifri, Reah, 53). In halachic terms as well, this is the only mitzvah that in order to fulfill it, lives are endangered, for we were commanded to conquer the Land of Israel, and the Torah does not expect us to rely on miracles (Minchat Chinuch, 425, 604). Not only that, our Sages said: “One who lives outside of the Land is similar to one who worships ‘avodah zara’ (idols)” (Ketubot 110b). Seemingly, this is difficult: why is a person who lives outside of the Land of Israel considered an idolater?

The answer is that the fundamental sin of idolatry is that it divides and separates the world into different spheres, each belonging to separate forces and gods. The greatest separation existing in the world is the separation between spirituality and materialism, the soul and body, which is sometimes mistakenly thought of as a separation between good and evil. Since outside the Land of Israel a Jew can reveal holiness only in spirituality, alongside a certain alienation towards nature, it seems as if the word of God is revealed only in the spiritual realm; there can be no graver violation of Israel’s faith than when it appears as if the material realm in its entirety exists without Divine inspiration, and even in opposition to it. Therefore, a person who lives outside of the Land of Israel where faith is revealed in spiritual life alone, is considered as if he worships idols.

In contrast, the uniqueness of the Land of Israel is that it is ‘Eretz HaKodesh‘ (the Holy Land), where the word of God can be revealed in its’ physical realm as well. Therefore, it is a mitzvah to settle the Land, to build houses, and to plant trees. For that reason, Israel’s unified faith is revealed specifically in the Land of Israel.

The Situation of Jews Outside of the Land of Israel

Q: Is it categorically impossible to reveal holiness in the material realm of life in ‘Chutz L’Aretz’ (outside of the Land of Israel)?

A: It would seem that presumably, holiness can be revealed in the material side of life in ‘Chutz L’Aretz’, but in practice, this is not possible. Ostensibly, it was a positive achievement for Jews to develop the sciences of physics and chemistry for the benefit of mankind, and develop banking systems, and build railway tracks for the benefit of all. This is exactly what the Jews in Germany did, and the Nazis used their money to finance their government and army, and to wage a murderous world war. On the same railroad tracks that Baron Hirsch laid, Jews were transported to be slaughtered with gases developed by the discoveries of Jewish scientists. Similar “achievements” occurred in the Soviet Union, before that in Spain, and in every country where Jews resided. True, things are a bit more complex, but generally speaking, this is the curse of the exile. Only when Israel reveals the word of God in the Land of Israel is unifying faith revealed in the world, and from out of the Land of Israel, goodness and blessings spread to all nations and countries.

To My Brothers, the Settlers

Once again we are hearing potentially harmful proposals regarding Israel, and malicious thoughts about the settlements. The interests of countries to get along with the Arab states blinds their vision, and prejudices their opinions against us. The struggle today is not determined by the strength and quantity of weapons – the fact is we have more weapons than our enemies – but nevertheless, we have failed to defeat them. They demanded the release of a thousand terrorists in exchange for one soldier – and got them, despite Israel’s proclaiming for years that it would not give in to such demands. As far as the Arabs are concerned, whoever shows more patience will win, because they are ready to wait for decades or even centuries, whereas the Western mindset is incapable of such perseverance. Consequently, in all the military operations in Gaza and Lebanon, the fact that they survived is considered by them as a victory, and enables them to initiate further armed conflicts. The only thing they see as a loss is the settlements, and the settlers. Jewish attachment to the land is proof that the Jews are more heroic, more determined, more courageous, and more successful. This is the State of Israel’s only ‘victory prize’ which truly deters them. In consequence, enemies of Islam throughout the entire world admire the settlers, and hence, the State of Israel which stands behind them. They understand that the settlers are the clearest expression of the victory of truth, justice, and goodness over the violence and terror of the Muslims.

This is the appropriate moment to encourage and bless the settlers to grow stronger in settlement of the Land of Israel, and not be deterred by external malicious forces, or weaknesses from within.

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

The Guilt of the Elders of Israel

The sins spoken of in this week’s Torah portion were committed by evil members of the nation, but the elders were guilty for not objecting * In the wake of their silence the sins spread throughout the entire nation, and the decline in faith lead to the Sin of the Spies * Entry into the Land requires national responsibility and mutual concern, both spiritual and physical * Some laws of immersion for eating utensils: A utensil purchased from a Jewish-owned factory must be immersed in a mikveh, even if the workers are non-Jews, and vice versa *A utensil purchased by a Jew and non-Jew together is exempt from immersion * A utensil bought by the IDF or Israeli Police Force must be immersed because it passes into Jewish ownership * A convert is not required to immerse his old utensils

From the Desert to the Land of Israel: Hopes and Crises

In the Torah portion ‘Behaalotcha’, the renewed journey to the Land of Israel began. The first journey was interrupted by the sin of the Golden Calf; it then became clear that the road to the Promised Land was fraught with obstacles, and that the Jewish people must prepare in the best possible manner so they could withstand the anticipated battles with its external enemies, and more severely, with its internal enemy – the evil inclination casting doubt on faith and inclining the heart to physical desires, instead of making an effort to realize the vision.

In order to cross the difficult path, God commanded Moshe to place the Tabernacle in the center of the Israelite camp, to sanctify the tribe of the Levites, and to situate them around the Tabernacle so they could preserve the holiness of the sanctuary, enlist and order all men of army age – “each one in his own camp, and each one designated by the banner for his division” – heading towards the conquest and settlement of the Land, and to order the twelve tribes of Israel around the Tabernacle, and thus, with the entire camp revealing the grand vision – to prepare for the journey. And behold, the cloud of God rose above the camp, and the journey began. “And when the ark went forth, Moshe said, ‘Arise, O God, and scatter your enemies! Let your foes flee before You!’ (Numbers 10:35). God wanted to hasten their entry into the Land, and to bring them there quickly in three days, however, already at the first encampment, the wicked at the edge of the camp began to complain about the hardships of the journey, and the righteous did not rise up against them to object. “The people began to complain, and it was evil in God’s ears. When God heard it, He displayed His anger, and God’s fire flared out, consuming the edge of the camp” (Numbers 11: 1).

The Elders were Punished as Well

Who were the people consumed at the edge of the camp? Simply speaking, it was the most wicked, those who complained. However, on the other edge of the camp as well, among the most righteous, people were punished. These were the elders of the nation, those men who guarded the embers of faith in Egypt, who when Moshe returned from Midian, God commanded them to accompany him to Pharaoh, to demand he let Israel go; but out of fear, they slipped away, one by one. At the revelation at Mount Sinai, God chastised them by commanding that only Moshe would ascend the mountain, and they would have to remain with the nation at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 5: 1, and Rashi there). Instead of comprehending their sin and accepting its ‘tikun‘ (rectification) with humility, the elders did not pay enough respect at the giving of the Torah, and alongside flippantly eating and drinking, they gazed at the ‘Shekhina’ (Divine Presence) warranting death, however, God did not wish to disturb the rejoicing of the Torah, and postponed their punishment until the incident of the complainers. This was their last chance to rectify their sin: had they shown concern for the honor of Heaven, and protested against the complainers, they would have rectified their sins and saved themselves. But acting indifferently, they were punished, and consumed by the fire of God (Exodus 24:10-11, and Rashi).

The Situation Worsens

When the elders of the nation did not protest, the mixed multitude, the frivolous people, began yearning for meat and complaining. Once again, the great leaders of Israel did not rise up to object, and as a result, many of the Israelites joined in the crying. Seemingly, this did not demonstrate disrespect for the honor of Heaven, but in truth, their weeping was a harsh and offensive complaint. Instead of seeing all the good that God had done for them, they wept. “God became very angry, and Moshe also considered it wrong” (Numbers 11:10).

The Attempt to Rectify by the Seventy Elders

It was still possible to rectify the situation. For this purpose, God commanded the appointment of seventy elders, those same policemen who selflessly gave themselves up to be flogged in Egypt. When Pharaoh decreed Israel be forced to hard labor, he appointed foremen to strike the Israelites in order to expedite the completion of the work quota imposed upon them. However, those same foremen had mercy on their brethren and refrained from oppressing them, and as a result, the Egyptians beat the foremen, as written in the Torah: “The Israelite foremen, whom Pharaoh’s administrators had appointed, were flogged. They were told, ‘Yesterday and today you did not complete your quotas. Why didn’t you make as many bricks as before?” Because they bore Israel’s sorrow and bent their backs to suffer the lashes in their stead, God commanded Moshe appoint them to the Sanhedrin, and imparted some of the spirit which rested on him, to them: “When the spirit descended on them, they gained the gift of prophecy and did not lose it” (Exodus 5:11, Numbers 11:16 and Rashi).

With all their greatness, the seventy elders failed to rectify the sin, to protest against the complainers, and assist Moshe in leading the people. This is the communal responsibility required of the righteous in order to enter the Land, where all of Israel is dependent on one another. Though the new elders remained in their individual righteousness, they were unable to rise to a ‘Clal Yisrael’ level, and therefore did not receive further prophecies.

Only Moshe Stood in the Breach

The people continued complaining and hurling accusations towards Heaven, suggesting that God lacked the ability to feed and gratify them. God gave them flocks of quail to show that His power was not limited, and that same meat they petulantly requested, turned into an obstacle, for all those who fell upon the quail to eat it lustfully – were punished and died by the wrath of God.

Nevertheless, the basic sin was not rectified, and the righteous did not feel the responsibility to protest against the sinners. The cracks continued penetrating deeper, reaching the holier sections of the nation, to the point where even Aharon and Miriam spoke against Moshe, implying he was acting with excessive celibacy. Undoubtedly their intentions were for the good, but since complaining had become widespread amongst the people, they also failed to properly take into account the honor of Moshe Rabbeinu, the messenger of God. And there was no one to express opposition except God.

Even though the wicked were punished at the edge of the camp, and the mixed multitude and the lustful Israelites were punished, and Aaron and Miriam were reprimanded – the righteous did not wake up to accept that from then on they would stand against sinners. The people had become accustomed to blaming God and Moshe in times of crisis, instead of conducting a soul-searching aimed at self-correction.

The Climax of the Downfall – A Crying for Generations

Thus, the Children of Israel’s faith in God and Moshe Rabbeinu was fractured, and they asked to send spies before entering the Land. And when the spies returned, they spoke slanderously of the land, expressing their opinion that the people of Israel would not be able to conquer the Land, and at that moment, that generation stood before its greatest trial. At the last minute, Yehoshua and Calev tried to oppose the spies and save the nation from itself. But it was too late, their words fell on deaf ears. The righteous had become accustomed to God saving them, and having Moshe Rabbeinu stand alone against the wicked. But when the Divine response to the words of the spies did not come immediately, they too were filled with the fear of the challenge of entering the Land, and together with all the people, wept that night.

In this crying, they essentially despised the cherished Land, and turned their backs on the main challenge for which they had left Egypt – to reveal the word of God in the Land, as the Torah says: “I will bring you to the land regarding which I raised My hand, swearing that I would give it to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I will give it to you as an inheritance. I am God” (Exodus 6:8; 3:17).

It was then that the verdict of destruction for that entire generation was decreed, and the entrance into the Land was delayed for forty years, until all of their carcasses fell in the desert, and their sons could enter the Land. And since that generation was considered a ‘dor deiah’ (uniquely intellectual) – a generation that had experienced the enslavement of Egypt, the miracle of redemption, and the giving of the Torah – the night on which they sinned, the night of Tisha B’Av, became a night of crying for generations.

May it be God’s will that we merit bearing the national responsibility, to stand in the breach, to diligently strive for the revelation of the word of God through the settlement of the Land of Israel, both physically and spiritually, and thus rectify the sins that led to the destruction.

Immersion of Utensils Depends on Ownership

Q: A person who buys an eating utensil made in a factory that belongs to a Jew, but all the employees are non-Jews, does the utensil have to be immersed in a mikveh?

A: As a preface, when a Jew buys or receives an eating utensil made out of metal or glass, it is a mitzvah to immerse it in a mikveh to purify it, similar to a ‘ger‘ (convert) who is required to ritually immerse himself as part of his conversion. However, everything is contingent on ownership: if the Jew owns the factory, even if all the workers are Gentiles, the utensils do not require immersion. On the other hand, if the factory belongs to a non-Jew, even if all the workers are Jewish, the utensils require immersion.

Q: Does a merchant who purchases eating utensils from a Gentile with the intention of selling them, have to immerse them in a mikveh?

A: As long as he intends to sell them, he is not required to immerse them, since, as far as he is concerned, they are utensils intended for merchandise. But a Jew who buys them from him in order to use them, is obligated to immerse them.

Jewish and Gentile Partnerships

A utensil that was bought from a non-Jew, by a Jew and a gentile together – does not require immersion, since it has not been completely transferred to Jewish ownership. Jews are permitted to eat with these utensils, just as Jews are permitted to eat with the utensils of a Gentile, provided they were not used for ‘treif’ (un-kosher) foods in such a way that the taste of the ‘treif’ food was absorbed or stuck to the utensil. If afterwards the Jew purchases the Gentile’s share in the utensil, he would be obligated to immerse it with a ‘bracha’ (blessing).

IDF and Police Utensils

Eating utensils purchased by the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Police Forces, and other bodies belonging to the State of Israel, require immersion with a ‘bracha‘. And although there are non-Jewish citizens with full civil rights in the country, since the State of Israel is generally defined as a Jewish state, the utensils require immersion.

Utensils of a Convert

Q: About a year ago we were privileged to undergo conversion, sanctify ourselves, and join the people of Israel. The question suddenly came to us: Do we have to immerse all of our eating utensils?

A: A ‘ger‘ does not have to immerse his utensils, because when he performs ritual immersion and becomes a Jew, the utensils in his possession are also purified along with him. True, in recent generations, some authorities have voiced doubts about this (Darchei Teshuva 120:4 in the name of Chadrei De’ah; Meharashag 3:48), and in their wake, some rabbis of the last generation wrote that ‘gerim‘ are required to immerse their utensils without a ‘bracha’. However, the Rishonim and the Acharonim did not mention this seemingly essential halakha, and if ‘gerim’ are indeed required to immerse their utensils, it cannot be that they would have forgotten to mention such a halakha as part of the laws of conversion, or of the laws of ‘tevilat kelim’ (immersion of utensils). In light of this, we are compelled to say that the utensils of a ‘ger‘ do not require immersion, since they are purified along with his conversion. (Thus is written in ‘Shem M’Shmuel’, Matot 5678, in the name of his father ‘Avnei Nezer’; Nezer HaKodesh Yoreh Deah 17; Tzitz Eliezer 8:20; Minchat Asher 3:66).

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

‘Mincha’ and the Workplace

A letter from a high-tech employee: If workers eat and talk on the phone while at work, there is no reason for them to cut-short their prayers * Differences in rank in companies exist – junior level employees have time on their hands, but managers and senior executives are very anxious * In practice, those who are extremely busy should be permitted to daven an abbreviated ‘Mincha’, but it is desirable to split into two minyans when possible * In continuation of the issue of equality and gender differences: Today, Jewish law courts seldom take action against women who refuse to divorce * A way should be found to preserve – even in today’s reality – the halakhic objective of favoring the family

An Abbreviated ‘Mincha‘ Prayer at Work – Is it Possible?

In the past, I wrote an answer to workers in a high-tech company who were at odds as the ideal way to pray ‘Mincha‘ (the Afternoon prayer) – as usual, with ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ (the repetition of the prayer leader [‘shaliach tzibur’], or ‘chazan‘, cantor), or an abbreviated version without the repetition. I wrote that they should pray a shortened ‘Mincha’, without the repetition of the ‘chazan’.

In response, I received a question from an admirable man:

“Thank God, I have worked for eight years in various high-tech companies. Whenever I signed a contract, I asked the employer whether I could pray ‘Mincha‘ during work, and not at the expense of the lunch-time break given to each employee. They always responded positively, and did not set a time limit. I am therefore very puzzled by the claim of some workers: ‘since we are in the middle of work, we should ‘daven’ (pray) an abbreviated ‘Mincha‘ prayer.’ It’s hard for me to believe that an employer would be upset about a few more minutes of prayer. (True, in regards to an employee who normally doesn’t recite all the preliminary ‘korbanot’ (non-obligatory prayers recited by some before ‘Mincha’), there is room for scrutiny).

Moreover, all high-tech workers know that breaks are not fixed and under pressure. Employees do not work every minute of the day! Sometimes we chat, sometimes we go out to talk on the phone or, God forbid – to have a smoke … If so, why should prayer time alone be strictly scrutinized? Shouldn’t prayer at least enjoy the same status of work?

Furthermore, in workplaces where there is no ‘minyan’, and one must walk a few minutes to another place where there is a ‘minyan‘ – employers permit it, just as they allow thousands of high-tech employees a few minutes in the afternoon to go eat at a restaurant, and no one would dream of shortening their lunch break because of the time spent walking, ordering food, and the like. The most important point is that this treasured ‘pearl’ – the ‘Mincha‘ prayer – should illuminate all of our work, and raise the entire day to a higher level.

I write all this as a student discussing an issue before his rabbis, and from my work experience. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you Rabbi Melamed, for the wonderful things you write every week. I get a lot out of them!”

Different Levels in the Workplace

In order to explain my position, I must first say that the question I receive from various high-tech companies is usually this: senior executives and managers are anxious and busy, and interested in praying an abbreviated ‘Mincha‘. Concerning mid-level employees – some prefer a short prayer, and others prefer regular prayers. Workers at the junior level tend to prefer praying the regular ‘Mincha‘ prayer. Those who work as cleaners prefer to pray ‘Mincha‘ with ‘korbanot‘.

I asked myself: What would happen if the cleaning workers became executives? Then, would they prefer to pray ‘Mincha‘ with ‘korbanot‘, or would the pressures overcome them, and want to shorten ‘Mincha’, or perhaps even avoid praying at all? And what would happen if the executives were the cleaning workers – would they prefer a long prayer, and maybe even ‘korbanot’ – because, what difference would it make if they cleaned another half an hour, or less…? In short, it is difficult to assume that the more senior a person is, the less he cares about prayer; rather, it appears that the more senior a person is – the more responsibility and pressure is placed upon him, and the harder it is for him to leave everything for a long time. He may be able to eat lunch at length, because there, he takes his mind off things and relaxes, but in prayer, he finds it difficult to concentrate, because work difficulties constantly flood his mind.

The Validity of the Repetition of the ‘Chazan

There is a fundamental difference of opinion: When everyone knows how to read from the ‘Siddur‘ (prayer book), does the repetition of the ‘shatz‘ (an abbreviation of ‘shaliach tzibur’) need to be said, given that the ordinance of the repetition of the ‘shatz‘ was intended for someone who does not know how to pray himself? Indeed, Rambam in his responsa (Pe’er Ha-Dor 148), wrote that the ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ should be recited, because when our Sages fix an ordinance, they do not make a distinction between different places, and therefore, even in a place where everyone knows how to read, ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ is recited, and his words were brought down in halakha in the ‘Beit Yosef’ (124:3). However, Rambam himself ruled that in places where many people chattered during ‘chazarat ha’shatz’, the congregation should pray one prayer, without the repetition, and the ‘chazan‘ should say the prayer aloud; those who knew how to pray, would pray with him in a whisper, and those who did not know how to pray, would fulfill their obligation by listening, and thus ” the Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s Name) which has spread among the non-Jews who say that the Jews spit and chat during their prayers, will be removed” (Blau 258).

In practice, the custom of many communities was not repeat ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ in the ‘Mincha‘ prayer, and some communities did not repeat ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ in all weekday and ‘Mussaf’ (additional) prayers. This was the practice of Sephardim in North Africa, as well as in Yemen. Although, it is written in ‘Beit Yosef’ (paragraph 234) that this custom of the Sephardim is incorrect, and the proper way to pray is similar to that of the Ashkenazim who recite ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ in the ‘Mincha’ prayer, and this was the instruction of the sages of Safed, who even decreed ‘nidui’ (excommunication) on those who violated their rulings.

On the other hand, the lenient view is strong – the fact being that many communities continued acting in this manner, and there were also Ashkenazi communities in which they did not recite ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ in the ‘Mincha‘ prayer. Moreover, our Sages said in the Mishna: “He who makes his prayer a fixed task, it is not a genuine supplication” (Berakhot 28b), i.e., his prayer is like a heavy burden on him (ibid. 29b). And this in fact is what some Rishonim wrote, that when one is preoccupied and finds it difficult to concentrate, he should not pray at all (Tosafot, Maharam of Rothenburg). Therefore, when there is a ‘minhag’ (custom) consistent with the letter of the law that ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ is not recited, it is preferable to follow that ‘minhag‘, so that the prayer does not seem like a burden.

Rav Messas: Waive ‘Chazarat Ha’shatz’

Rabbi Yosef Messas (Responsa ‘Maim Hayim’ I, O.C. 41) writes that even in synagogues, it is preferable not to say ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ in the ‘Mincha‘ prayer: “For in truth, we are witness that for the general public ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ is like a sorrow on their souls, and a heavy burden for them, and although it is only for a short amount of time, nevertheless, because it seems superfluous to them, given that they have already fulfilled their obligation, consequently, they are becoming very disgusted with it.” Nevertheless, praying with a ‘minyan’ should never be annulled due to lack of intention, because one of the great foundations of “the existence of the Jewish nation and its connection to Torah is the assembly in synagogues to express gladness and prayer, for by doing so, they indicate that there is a great and awesome God in the world.. and the prayers are the source of life, and the spring of salvation for the remnants of religion that remains in the hearts of every Jew, for whoever is without prayer, you will find he is wildly devoid of all belief… therefore, even if prayer is said without intention, it is not grave – to what is this similar – to a person who makes sure his ceiling does not fall – if he can do so with iron bars – good; if not – he supports it even with wood beams. We are in a similar situation – our religion and our nation are presently being supported, even by prayers without intention.”

In Practice a Shortened Prayer Should be Permitted

In conclusion, employees who come to pray in a ‘minyan‘ despite their anxiety should be respected, and if one of them asks to shorten the prayer – all the more so, if he’s a senior executive – his request should be granted, because his anxiety is understandable, and since this method of shortened prayer has an important place in halakha, one should not compel him to pray at length. If there are enough people, two ‘minyans‘ should be held – one of them with ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ and the other without, and each person can chose whichever way he prefers to pray.

‘Igun’ (“Chaining”) of Men

Two weeks ago I wrote that halakha sets certain differences between the status of men and women – concerning issues of ‘igun’ (“chaining”) the status of women is weaker, whereas in financial matters the status of men is inferior – this, because the objective of halakha is not equality, rather, the good of the entire family – both the men, women, and children. When the main goal is equality, marriage is destroyed, the number of children born decreases in a way that causes crisis, to the point where most of the children born today in Western society grow up without a father present in their lives.

However, I received a well-informed response according to which the objective of halakha is not happening: “Rabbi, the things that you wrote are true on a halakhic level, but in actuality, and in Israel’s legal practice today, the reality is the opposite; the possibility of obtaining a ‘heter nisu’im’ (a ‘marriage permit’ involving the consent of one hundred rabbis) causes men who are refused divorces to receive less response from the legal system to their plight.

In order to deal with men who refuse to give a ‘get‘ (bill of divorce), the courts adopt various coercive measures, starting from preventing them the ability to have a bank account or a driver’s license, to denying them the opportunity of engaging in an certified profession such as a doctor or a lawyer, till the foreclosure of assets and the imposition of long prison sentences. The courts issue hundreds of such orders annually.

Seemingly, similar measures should be applied against women who refuse to divorce, but the Supreme Rabbinical Court ruled that the best way to deal with a woman’s refusal to receive a ‘get’ is by means of the husband’s ‘heter nisu’im’, and not by enforcing a ‘get‘ on a woman.

The ‘heter nisu’im’ could indeed have been a solution for men refused a ‘get’, and could have been an appropriate substitute over a woman who refuses to give her husband a ‘get‘, however, in light of the Supreme Court ruling and the Attorney General’s instructions, the use of a ‘heter nisu’im‘ as a solution to divorce refusal can only be granted in rare and exceptional cases.

Thus, the advantage a man refused a ‘get‘ by his wife had possessed, is now to his detriment, to the point where today the possibility of a man receiving a ‘heter nisu’im’, or significant enforcement measures in the form of imprisonment of his wife – are zero (to put things in perspective, in the last five years, 69 arrest warrants were issued against men who refused to give their wives a ‘get‘, and not one against an unwilling woman).

This discrimination is yet another example of how a certain advantage that a man had in the past has become his detriment as a result of the routine conduct of the rabbinical and civil courts, and serves as another way for women to blackmail men, without paying a price. In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons why today the number of men refused a ‘get‘ by their wives, is larger than the number of women refused a ‘get‘ by their husbands (427 men refused a ‘get‘ by their wives in the last five years, compared with 382 women refused a ‘get‘ by their husbands, according to a report by the Rabbinical Court).”

Realizing the Intention of Halakha

My response: Indeed, the changes in the fine balance established by halakha between men and women undermine the institution of marriage, as they cause more people to despise marriage, break their covenant, and harm their children. The rabbinic judges must find the golden path to express the practical intention of halakha in our generation, in which the social and economic status of men and women has changed.

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

Connecting Nationalism to Torah

While in Israel, foreign students studying in Israel and those living here temporarily or have relatives here, are exempt from second day of Yom Tov * Sefirat HaOmer connects the national side of the Jewish people to their spiritual side, and the basic, natural ’emunah’ (faith) to the way of Torah *Learning Torah all night on Shavuot is fabulous – similar to the adornment of a bride (the Torah) before her marriage, but it is not obligatory * Each person should assess what is more appropriate for him – to study at night and be awake during the day, or vice versa, provided his choice is for the sake of Heaven * The laws of the ritual washing of the hands, ‘Birkot HaShachar’, and eating before prayers for someone who remained awake all night

Second Day Yom Tov for those Visiting Israel, but Live Abroad

The Rabbis instituted that in chutz l’aretz, (outside of Israel) all the Chagim (festivals) must be observed for two days. However, the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) disagreed about a ‘ben chutz l’aretz’ (one who lives outside of Israel) who came to Israel for a visit. Some are of the opinion that for the duration of his stay, he is considered a ‘ben Eretz Yisrael’ [a “resident” of Israel] (Chacham Tzvi, 167; Sulchan Aruch HaRav, 496:11). But according to most poskim, since his place of residence is in chutz l’aretz, even when visiting Israel, he is considered a ‘ben chutz l’aretz‘, and this is the customary practice (Birkei Yosef, 496:7; M.B. 496:13). 

And although ‘m’ikar ha’din’ (according to the strict letter of the law) it would be possible to be lenient, since the law of second day Yom Tov is a Rabbinical decree, and the general rule is ‘safek d’rabbanan l’kula’ (leniency for a doubt of Rabbinic issues), the accepted minhag (custom) is to be strict, and therefore, one even recites the unique blessings for Yom Tov. However, it appears that if the visitor has a deep attachment to the land, and consequently, there is a certain chance that he will choose to immigrate to Israel, while he is in Israel, he should act according to the custom of the Land of Israel.

Those with Affinity Who are Exempt from Yom Tov

Consequently: 1) a student who comes to Israel for a year of study is considered a ‘ben Eretz Yisrael’ while in Israel. 2) A person who visits frequently, once his combined visits accumulate to a year, is already considered to be somewhat of a permanent “resident”, and from then on during the holidays he spends in Israel, should observe only one day. 3) A visitor to Israel who plans on making aliyah when possible, even if he visits for a short time and it will be years until he realizes his plans, for the duration of his stay in Israel, should act as a ‘ben Eretz Yisrael’, and observe one day. 4) A visitor with children or parents who made aliyah is considered as having a strong connection to the country, and for the duration of his stay in Israel, should act as a ‘ben Eretz Yisrael’. 5) A person who purchased an apartment or a house in Eretz Yisrael in which to live while visiting, even though his visits have not yet accumulated to a year, on account of his owning an apartment, he should act as a ‘ben Eretz Yisrael’ while in Israel. 6) A person who left Israel to live in chutz l’aretz, even if he has lived there for tens of years, since he previously resided in Israel for a long period of time, as long as there is even the slightest chance he might move back, he should act as a ‘ben Eretz Yisrael’ for the duration of his visit to Israel.

However, when these people are abroad, since in practice they have not yet immigrated to Israel, they are considered to be ‘b’nei chutz l’aretz’ (foreign citizens) in every respect, and they are obligated to observe second day Yom Tov (these laws are explained in ‘Peninei Halakha: Z’manim’ 9, footnote 8).

The Connection between Pesach and Shavuot

The holiday of Pesach expresses Israel’s national side, because in the Exodus from Egypt, Israel’s uniqueness was revealed, for God chose us from all the nations. On the holiday of Shavuot, we received the Torah, in which the spiritual side of Israel was expressed. Sefirat HaOmer (the counting of the Omer, the days between Pesach and Shavuot) connects the national side with the spiritual side, as we express in the blessing of the Torah: “He who chose us from among all the peoples” on Pesach, and accordingly “gave us his Torah” on Shavuot.

The world was created with the intention that through Israel and the Torah, the Divine ideals would be revealed in it, as our Sages expounded on the word ‘be’reishit‘ (in the beginning): the world was created for the sake of Israel, who are called ‘reishit‘ (beginning), and for the Torah, which is also called ‘reishit‘. The Torah cannot be revealed in the world without Israel, and Israel cannot be revealed in the world without the Torah. Therefore, the most serious sin is the separation between Torah and Israel, and hence, the importance of Sefirat HaOmer, which is intended to connect the national holiday of Pesach with Shavuot.

The Connection between ‘Emunah‘ and Torah

An additional explanation: On Pesach, the fundamental ‘emunah‘ (faith) hidden within Israel’s soul is revealed, and on Shavuot, we merited transcending to the level of a developed ‘emunah‘, enlightened and expanded by the Torah. Fundamental ‘emunah‘ is the basis of everything, but it lacks the ability to direct, and rectify life. By means of the Torah and its commandments, we are able to connect all components of our lives – the intellect, emotions, and the practical side of life, to ‘emunah’.

From the basic belief in God and Redemption which was revealed on Pesach, it is possible to ascend to Shavuot, to the level of the Torah, in which the vision and path to actual ‘tikkun olam’ (rectification of the world) are elaborated. Torah cannot exist without the foundation of fundamental ‘emunah‘, and ‘emunah‘ is unable to exist without Torah that teaches how to implement it. Therefore, each year anew, we return to fulfill the festivals of Pesach and Shavuot, and count Sefirat Ha’Omer which connects them.

Studying Torah on the Night of Shavuot

Q: Is it obligatory to stay awake on the night of Shavuot and study Torah all night, or is it better to go to sleep, and thereby pray the Morning prayers with proper concentration, and study Torah alertly?

A: There is no obligation to study Torah all night. Nevertheless, there are those who do so, in accordance with what is explained in the Zohar:
Chassidim Ha’Rishonim (the early pious ones) would not sleep on that night, but engage in Torah…and thus Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said to the ‘chaverim‘ (close students) at night when they gathered by him: Let us prepare the bride’s jewelry so that tomorrow, in the matrimonial service, she will appear before the king appropriately. Fortunate are the ‘chaverim’, when the king asks the queen: ‘Who arranged your jewelry, and adorned your crown?’ There is no one in the world who knows how to prepare the bride other than the ‘chaverim’. How happy is their portion in this world and the World to Come”. It is further related
in the Zohar: “Rabbi Shimon and all the ‘chaverim’ were joyously studying Torah. Every one of them brought forth a new discovery in the Torah. Rabbi Shimon was rejoicing together with all the friends. Rabbi Shimon said to them: My sons, how happy is your lot, because tomorrow the bride shall not approach the bridal canopy without you. Because all those who prepared the adornments of the bride during this night and rejoice with her, shall all be recorded and written in the ‘Sefer Ha’Zikaron’ (Book of Remembrance), and the Holy One, blessed be He, blesses them with seventy blessings and crowns from the Upper World”.

In order to understand the words of the Zohar, it must first be explained that the day of ‘Matan Torah‘ (Giving of the Torah) is described by our Sages as a wedding day on which God bonded Himself with ‘Knesset Yisrael‘ (the Nation of Israel), similar to a groom and his bride (Taanit 26b). Every year on ‘Chag Shavuot’, the idea of ‘Matan Torah continues to be revealed, and ‘Knesset Yisrael’ connects back with God, like a bride with her groom. The Kabbalists said that those who study Torah on the night of Shavuot are similar to the grooms and bridesmaids of the ‘kallah’ (bride), preparing ‘Knesset Yisrael’ to receive the Torah in the most beautiful way. Consequently, when the day arrives, ‘Knesset Yisrael‘ merits ascending to God, uniting and connecting with Him on a higher level. As a result, Israel merits abundance of Torah, life, and blessing for the entire year.

The ‘Minhag’ is Not Obligatory

Nevertheless, this ‘minhag’ (custom) is not obligatory, and there were eminent rabbis who preferred to sleep on Shavuot night, reasoning that if they remained awake all night they would not be able to concentrate properly in the Morning prayers, would not be able to study at night with sufficient alertness, would have to make-up lost sleep-time, thereby causing ‘bitul Torah‘ (a waste of Torah study time), or, as a result of their tiredness, would not be able to rejoice properly on Chag.

However, those who do remain awake believe that even if the learning at night is not of such high quality, and even if it is difficult to concentrate in the Morning prayers and the tiredness is liable to burden one’s happiness on the Chag, nevertheless, this ‘minhag‘ is a wonderful and deep expression of love for God and Torah, and an expression of a willingness to forgo the pleasure and comfort of sleep – in honor of Heaven, and in the honor of ‘Knesset Yisrael’. That too encompasses a great sense of happiness on the Chag. Ultimately, each person should chose his custom l’shem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven).

The Laws for Those Who Remained Awake All Night


‘Netilat Yadayim‘ (ritual washing of the hands): Even a person who remains awake all night must perform ‘netilat yadayim‘ before Morning prayers, however, the poskim were divided on whether to recite a blessing over this washing, or not. According to Sephardic custom, one does not recite a blessing over this washing of the hands in any case; according to the Ashkenazi custom, it is best is to relieve oneself before prayer, and to touch one of the covered areas of one’s body which had become a bit sweaty since one’s last bathing, and thus, be obligated to wash one’s hands with a blessing.


‘Birkot HaTorah’ and ‘Birkot HaShachar’


According to the vast majority of poskim, when one comes to pray Shacharit (the Morning Prayers) of a new day, he recites ‘Birkot HaTorah’ (Blessings over the Torah) and ‘Birkot HaShachar’ (the Morning Blessings), because a person should recite a blessing over the Torah every day, and thank God through ‘Birkot HaShachar’ for the general good He grants to the world.


Concerning ‘Birkot HaShachar’, some poskim are of the opinion that if one did not sleep at all from the time he recited the blessings the previous day, he is not required to recite them again. Also, regarding the blessings of ‘Elokei Neshama’ and ‘Ha’ma’avir Sheina’, there are some authorities who hold that a person who did not sleep cannot recite these blessings, because these blessings are recited in the singular.

In practice, one who wishes to recite these blessings is permitted to do so, for this is the ‘minhag‘ of all Sephardim, and many Ashkenazim. There are some Ashkenazim whose ‘minhag’ (in accordance with the Mishna Berura) is that if they do not hear the blessings from someone else, they recite these four blessings without ‘Shem and Malchut’ (“Hashem Elokenu Melech Ha’olam”). An Ashkenazi Jew who is uncertain of his ‘minhag‘ is, may act according to the custom of the majority of observant Jews, and recite all the blessings himself.


When to Say the Blessings: According to halakha, ‘Birkot HaShachar’ and ‘Birkot HaTorah’ are recited close to the Morning prayers. According to kabbala‘Birkot HaShachar‘ are recited after ‘Chatzot haLayla’ (midnight), and ‘Birkot HaTorah‘, after ‘Amud HaShachar’ (dawn).

Eating and Drinking before the Morning Prayers

During the night, one may eat and drink without limitation. However, from half an hour before ‘Amud HaShachar’, it is forbidden to eat a ‘seudah’ (a meal), lest one gets over-involved in his meal. This includes the prohibition of eating bread or cakes whose size is larger than a ‘beitza‘(an egg), however, one may eat without ‘keviyut seudah’ (setting a meal) fruits and vegetables and cooked ‘mezanot‘ foods without limitations. From ‘Amud HaShachar’ (approximately 04:00), it is forbidden to eat anything, or to drink coffee or juice, and even one who had started eating or drinking beforehand, should stop. One is allowed to drink only water after ‘Amud HaShachar’.


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

Equality, No; Family Unity, Yes

Although equality between men and women is a basic principle in halakha, in family-related laws, differences exist between the two * Each difference has a purpose – the unity of the family. * In the past, having two wives was necessary because many women required men to support them, but the Torah hinted that it was problematic * A man can also be an ‘agunah * Laws that ostensibly reinforce the status of the husband, actually maintain his connection to the family, and prevent him from abandoning his wife and children * Women today are also wage earners, but it is still the husband who commits to the ketubah, to avoid evading his responsibility as a parent

Q: Why does the Torah discriminate against women by allowing a man to marry two women, but does not allow a woman to marry two men? And why does the Torah decree the law of ‘agunah‘ on a woman, and not on a man? And why is the halakha more severe for a woman who betrayed her husband, than for a man who betrayed his wife? Isn’t the value of equality between the sexes important in Jewish law?

A: The basic principle in halakha is that there is equality between the sexes, “The Torah equated woman to man concerning all the laws in the Torah” (Kiddushin 35a). However, in family law there are basic halachot that lack equality: in marital law, the man has an advantage, and in matters of livelihood and sustenance, the woman has an advantage. The guiding principle is the good of the entire family. I will now explain.

The Torah’s Attitude Concerning Marrying Two Women

Although the Torah permits a man to marry two women, it hints to us that this is a problematic and undesirable reality, for indeed, in all the stories and discussions in the Torah about polygamy, we encounter problems. This is because the multiplicity of women hurts the complete love that should prevail between husband and wife, and provokes conflicts within the family, to the point where the Torah terms the additional woman as “tzara“, or trouble.

The permission to marry a few women, however, was a necessity that cannot be condemned, for at times when making a living was difficult and arduous, and quite a few people died at an early age because of poor nutrition and disease, the fate of unmarried women was sometimes unbearable. It was not by accident that the Torah commands us to help the widow, for after her husband died, she remained without her main source of income. Therefore, a well-to-do man who was able to support a number of women was permitted to marry more than one wife, provided he could support them properly, and give pleasure to both of his wives with tremendous joy as they deserve, according to the rules of the mitzvah of ‘onah‘ (marital relations).

Nevertheless, even over two thousand years ago, marrying two women was considered improper by our Sages, and thus we find that the Tannaim and Amoraim did not marry two women, as stated in the essay of Rabbi Reuven Margaliot ztz”l (Olelot 6).

Approximately 1,000 years ago, Rabbi’s in Ashkenaz, led by Rabbeinu Gershom Meor Hagolah, decreed a man should not marry two women. Gradually, their decree was accepted in additional communities, until it became accepted in all of Israel.


A married woman can be released from her marriage and marry another man in one of two ways – after her husband dies, or after receiving a ‘get‘ (bill of divorce) from him (Kiddushin 2a). Without this, she is considered a married woman forbidden to all men, and if, God forbid, she gives birth to a child from another man, the child is a ‘mamzer‘ (bastard). Occasionally, unfortunate incidents occur where a man is lost and no one knows if he is alive or dead, and consequently his wife remains an ‘agunah‘ (“chained” to her marriage). In such cases, great efforts are made to find evidence concerning the lost husband’s situation, and if it is possible to prove that he is dead, his wife is released from her status of ‘agunah‘, and allowed to marry.

Another type of ‘agunah‘ is in the event of a dispute between the spouses, and the Beit Din (Jewish law court) concludes that the woman is right in demanding a divorce, but the man refuses to release her by giving her a ‘get‘. According to halakha, the court is required to beat him until he willingly gives her a ‘get‘, i.e., he explicitly says that he gives the ‘get‘ on his own accord. Otherwise, they continue beating him until the woman is released – either by the husband giving her a ‘get‘ with full consent, or by his death…

However, some poskim are doubtful about the extent to which a ‘get‘ can be imposed, and due to the weakness of the rabbinic courts, the position of these poskim raises difficulties in obtaining a ‘get‘ in the case of particularly stubborn husbands. The problem has grown nowadays because under civil law, beating a husband is illegal. Nevertheless, attempts are made to find ways to enforce the court’s decision on recalcitrant men, and they almost always succeed. As cooperation between legislators and the religious courts increases, the more difficult cases of husbands refusing to grant a ‘get‘ will diminish.

A “Chained” Man

A woman can also “chain” her husband, since as long as she does not accept the ‘get‘, he cannot marry. In practice, the number of husbands who are refused a ‘get‘ from their wives is slightly higher than the number of woman refused a ‘get‘, and even in this matter for various reasons, the courts at times delay the imposition of sanctions on women, and the time men remain “chained” is lengthened. However, the “chaining” of men is easier than that of women, because in special cases through a long process involving the consent of one hundred rabbis, they will allow him to marry. In addition, if he begets a child without divorcing his wife, the child is not a ‘mamzer‘.

Jewish Laws in which the Status of Women is Weaker

In four laws, the status of women is weaker than that of a man: 1) A married woman who has not received a ‘get‘ and subsequently conceived from another man – the child is a ‘mamzer‘, whereas a married man who slept with a unmarried woman who conceived – the child is not a ‘mamzer‘. 2) A married woman who cheats on her husband, is forbidden to her husband and to man with whom she slept (in practice, a rabbi should be consulted with in such a situation), whereas a married man who betrayed his wife is not forbidden to his wife. 3) An ‘agunah’ whose husband is lost is not permitted to marry because she is a ‘safek nisuah’ (possibly married), whereas a husband whose wife was lost and was unable to be found is permitted to marry with a special permission of Beit Din, since according to the letter of the law in a pressing situation, a man is permitted to marry two women. 4) For this reason, a woman who does not agree to receive a ‘get‘, in a pressing situation and after a long process, her husband is permitted to marry another wife without divorcing her; but when a man does not agree to give his wife a ‘get‘, as long as he is alive, his wife is not permitted to marry another man. Therefore, if a recalcitrant husband was caught before trying to flee, he would be beaten until he gave a ‘get‘.

The Differences Maintain the Family

God’s laws are beyond our reach, and therefore we can never fully understand them, but one fundamental aspect cannot be ignored: a woman always knows who her child is, for he or she is born of her womb; on the other hand, a man is liable to doubt whether his wife conceived from him or, Heaven forbid, from another man. And if he is in doubt, he will not want to work and support his wife and children, will alienate himself from them, and certainly will not want to invest in their education. By means of the strict laws against a woman who betrayed her husband, and as a result of her inability to marry without a ‘get‘, the Torah guarantees a man that his wife is faithful to him, her children are his, and he can devote his life to his wife and children without concern. It is hard to imagine that without this, a stable family can be maintained.

Furthermore, a woman is naturally more devoted to her children: she carries them in her womb for nine months, breastfeeds them, and consequently, also takes more care of them. On the other hand, a man’s natural connection to his children exists only through love, devotion, and moral responsibility towards them. By means of these laws a man becomes attached to his wife and children, and dedicates himself to their livelihood and welfare.

The situation in secular society which did away with these laws in accordance with the notion of absolute equality, proves the importance of these laws, without which the family unit falls to pieces. It can be said that halakha does not deal with equality between man and woman, but rather, shapes the most appropriate way to benefit both man, woman, children, and the entire family.

Marriage Obligations and the Ketubah

When a man gets married, he obligates himself to support his wife and to take care of all her needs, as is standard in their surroundings. In addition, he takes upon himself in the ‘ketubah‘ that if he divorces her, he will pay her at least two hundred ‘zuz‘, an amount sufficient to exist for a year. Usually, much higher amounts of money are written in the ‘ketubah‘.

The obligation of earning a living is placed on the man, because until modern times, making a living involved hard, physical work, for which man had a greater advantage. In addition, housework and childcare took several hours, for everything was done by hand including drawing water, preparing bread and food, and sewing and knitting clothes.

In exchange for the man’s obligation to take care of all of his wife’s needs, the woman is obligated to take care of all the household needs and care for the children, and that all the money she earns and the assets she brings with her from her parents’ home would be in her husband’s possession. Since this agreement is for the benefit of the woman, if a wife so desires – she can cancel it, and say to her husband: “eini nizonet ve-eini osah“, or in English, “you do not have to feed me, and I will not turn over my earnings to you”.

When a Woman is Partner in Earning a Living

In recent generations, thanks to technological advances such as the ability to get water from the tap and to buy inexpensive food and clothing, the time required for housework decreased, and in their spare time, women began to work and earn a living. With the money they earned, they could buy additional help with the housework and pay for child care, thus creating additional time they could dedicate towards work. Concurrently, the educational system for boys and girls improved, providing women the tools to integrate into many more profitable sectors of the economy. Thus, in a gradual process, women’s salaries increased, to the point where today, some of them earn more than their spouses. In such a situation, a woman must also participate in providing for her children in accordance with her income.

In spite of all the dramatic changes in women’s economic and social status, even today, man’s obligation in the ‘ketubah’ is extremely important for two reasons. First, the basic structure of most families is that the man is still more responsible for earning a living, and the woman is more responsible for taking care of the children and the home. Second, the man’s commitment is also to his children, and if a man does not commit to his wife, there is fear he will escape parental responsibility. This commitment is no less important nowadays than in the past, because modern life has harmed the stability of the family unit, to the point where a large percentage of children growing up in Western countries today grow up with their mother alone, without their father present in their lives.

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

Honor the IDF, File Complaints

The Chief Rabbinate and Minister Bennett acted correctly by postponing the Lag B’Omer school vacation, and it would be fitting for those participating in the Meron celebrations to learn from them * Those who follow Ashkenazi minhag should take a haircut this Erev Shabbat * People with a ‘mamlachti’ outlook must also file a complaint when halakha is violated in the IDF, for the betterment of the army * With all the difficulty of filing a complaint, sometimes it is necessary * Children are not prohibited from eating before Kiddush, and therefore it is permissible to distribute candies at the end of prayers * Deaf-mutes who can communicate are obligated in mitzvot, and it is important to recognize and appreciate their efforts to fulfill them * A mute person is counted in a minyan even though he does not answer ‘amen’

The longstanding position of the Chief Rabbinate that on Lag Ba’Omer which falls out on Motzei Shabbat bonfires should be postponed until Sunday evening, is correct and should be endorsed. We find that our Sages annulled the mitzva of blowing a shofar and the taking of a lulav when Rosh Hashana or Sukkot fell out on Shabbat, lest there be people who desecrate the Shabbat by carrying the shofar or lulav in the public domain (Rosh Hashana 29b; Sukkah 43a). If this is the case with regard to mitzvot from the Torah, how much more so should the minhag (custom) of lighting bonfires be postponed, so as not to cause people to desecrate Shabbat in the preparation and lighting of the fires.

Furthermore, Minister of Education Naftali Bennett should be commended for accepting the Rabbinate’s request and postponing the day-off from school till Monday. Hopefully in the future this will become a permanent rule, namely, that Lag B’Omer bonfires not be lit on Motzei Shabbat. Hopefully, the Haredim will also conduct themselves as real ‘haredim l’dvar Hashem‘ (‘fearers of the word of God’), and postpone the lighting of fires in Meron and elsewhere, until Sunday night.

In any case, since the school vacation was postponed to Monday, lighting bonfires on Motzei Shabbat is also clearly forbidden because of ‘bitul Torah’ (wasting time when one could learn Torah), for it will cause many students to lose two days of study.

Haircuts and Shaving on Erev Shabbat

When Lag Ba’Omer falls out on Motzei Shabbat, according to Ashkenazic minhag and some Sephardim who customarily end mourning customs on Lag B’Omer itself, such people should shave and, if necessary, take a haircut in honor of Shabbat. This is because it is not respectful for the Shabbat that at its conclusion customs of mourning cease, while prior to it, no preparations are made. However, according to the minhag of most Sephardim who normally end their mourning customs at Lad B’Omer (the 34th day of the Omer), haircuts should not be taken until Monday morning (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 3: 2-3, footnote 8).

Concerning the Struggle of Religious Soldiers in the Army

Before Pesach, I dealt extensively with the growing difficulties of religious soldiers in the IDF, which in recent years has begun imposing a secular culture on its soldiers. The conclusion was that since the IDF’s rules were basically designed to provide the army with a Jewish character according to halakha, and to guarantee a convenient possibility of observing Torah and mitzvot – if the soldiers knew how to stand-up for their rights, demand their commanders carry out full orders, if need be file a complaint, and in pressing situations, involve public figures and the media as well – the majority of the problems would be resolved.

For example, the severe problems in Bahad Echad (officers’ training base) could have been resolved had one cadet filed a complaint about the systematic violation of the orders prohibiting the entry of male cadets into women cadet’s quarters and vice versa, certainly not in bathing suits! And all this with the knowledge of the commander of Bahad Echad, who even had the nerve to reprimand a religious cadet who complained about it. An organized complaint, accompanied by public and media pressure, could have gotten this insolent officer removed from the army.

Getting more soldiers to file complaints involves a profound and significant change of perception among the National-Religious public – a transition from a belief that a complaint constitutes an affront to the “malchut” (divine sovereignty of the State of Israel) – to a perspective that a complaint actually corrects and improves the system. There are some Roshei Yeshivot and Mechinot who agreed with this position, and indeed, in preparation for the upcoming draft in the summer, plan to prepare the recruits for problematic situations they are liable to encounter, to familiarize them with army orders and the proper, polite and assertive way to demand their implementation, and how to file a complaint when necessary.

In order to further strengthen this process, here is a letter from a soldier’s personal experience:

An Informative Letter Concerning Filing Complaints

“Shalom, Rabbi! Perhaps if one views things from “above”, like some of today’s critics of the IDF, it may seem that the convenient, correct, and ethical solution is to respond to every injustice in the IDF by filing a complaint. However, you must understand that from the lower side of the hierarchy – from one’s direct officer to the battalion commander – a complaint is considered ‘yahareg u’bal ya’avor’ (a sin one is commanded to die for, rather than commit). Any commander who is complained about will feel, and rightly so, that a personal war is being waged against him, because in the IDF system, there are many small processes that must be exhausted before filing a complaint.

Filing a complaint serves as a last resort, whereas for the most part, refusing to obey an order is seen as a more plausible and valid means of expressing dissatisfaction. For this reason, it seems fairer to the lower echelons not to complain about every religious problem.

On a personal level, during my service as an officer I had to refuse orders almost ten times (most of them because of religious issues), and in the eyes of my commanders, it was considered far more legitimate than filing a complaint.

Therefore, in my humble opinion, filing a complaint is legitimate only after an attempt to convince the commanders, together with a readiness to reach confrontation with them, but without involving other parties.

True, because of not being mentally prepared for the fact that sometimes one has to complain, there were two incidences for which I regret not filing a complaint. The first was in basic training, in the battery (an artillery company) when we were placed together with female soldiers. The company officer and the battalion commander of the battery deliberately failed to impose the proper dress orders for the female exercise trainers, despite our requests to enforce the order because of modesty.

The second incident: I had a sergeant who deliberately harassed me over religious matters. Despite my complaints to the company and battalion commanders, it was not taken care of.

Eating before Kiddush for Children

Q: Rabbi, last week you wrote that you distribute chocolate candies to children after Friday night services. Are you not concerned of leading the children astray, because they might eat the chocolate before Kiddush?

A: It is a mitzvah from the Torah to remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it, and our Sages determined fulfilling the mitzvah by reciting Kiddush over a glass of wine. Since the mitzvah already comes into effect upon the commencement of Shabbat, our Sages determined not to eat, or even drink water, before fulfilling the mitzva of Kiddush (SA OC 299:4).

However, this prohibition does not apply to children, since children must be educated not to eat forbidden foods that are intrinsically prohibited, such as neveilot and treifot, but there is no obligation to educate them not to eat kosher foods during a time when it is prohibited to eat, because it is more difficult for children to refrain from eating and drinking. Therefore, there is no mitzvah to educate children who have reached the age of chinuch (education) – age five or six – not to eat during the first hours of Yom Kippur, but only from the age of nine years old did our Sages say to begin teaching them to fast for a few hours. Therefore, it is also permissible to allow them to eat before prayers (MA 269:1).

When there is no difficulty, it is preferable to encourage children to restrain themselves from eating. But since they are not prohibited, if they are hungry, thirsty, or crave to eat chocolate – they are permitted (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 6:9). On the contrary, it is good for children to be familiar with the halakha, and then they can decide whether they want to refine and strengthen their power of restraint and not eat until after Kiddush, or to act according to the letter of the law and eat before Kiddush.

A Deaf-Mute Completing a Minyan

In my previous article, I wrote that a deaf-mute who understands sign language can be included in a minyan. Not only because this issue is disputed among the poskim, and since the minyan is of rabbinical law one can rely on the lenient opinion, but rather, because nowadays there is room to count him in the minyan even according to the opinion of poskim who were machmir (stringent) in the past. Perhaps a few generations ago when only a few deaf-mutes knew how to communicate, some poskim felt they should not be excluded from the vast majority of deaf-mutes who could not communicate, and as a result, they too were exempt from the mitzvot. However, after having merited in recent generations to see the majority of deaf-mutes learn how to communicate, we can say that even in the opinion of the stringent poskim, deaf-mutes have a new status, are obligated in all the mitzvot, and thus, are counted in a minyan.

In response to my article, I received a delightful letter from Mr. Avi Herman:

“Honorable Rabbi Melamed, shlita. Last Shabbat, we hosted a group of 20 deaf people in our home in Kochav Hashahar. The organizer and head of the group is Rabbi Yehoshua Sudkoff, a Chabad Hasid and a deaf rabbi himself, who is involved in Torah study and bringing the deaf community in Israel and abroad closer to Judaism. Incidentally, Rabbi Sudkoff studies in the “Ma’aseh Nissim Kollel” in Jerusalem, which is composed entirely of deaf people studying Torah.

Shabbat was very uplifting. The group participated in the prayers and heard Torah lessons with sign language translation performed by my wife Nannet, who is a certified sign language interpreter.

One of the most exciting aspects of Shabbat was to discover, totally by chance, your recognition of the halachic status of these deaf people in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper. It was exciting to read and feel that the difficult efforts made by deaf Jews to learn Torah and observe the mitzvot, are indeed being recognized in Jewish law.

Note: These deaf people are only deaf, they are not deaf-mutes – their difficulty in talking is because they do not hear. Some of them manage to overcome this difficulty, and express themselves in speech as well (although, sometimes it is difficult to understand), and some of them do not speak at all, but the problem is not in their vocal cords (and therefore, they are not mutes)”.

Although in halakha, they are called “deaf-mutes” according to actual reality.

A Mute Person who does Not Answer ‘Amen

Nonetheless, I also received the following question: “Ultimately, in a minyan of ten, nine have to answer ‘amen‘, so how can a deaf-mute be counted in the minyan if he can’t answer ‘amen‘?”

A: It was codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 55:6-8), that even someone who is asleep, or a deaf person, praying the ‘Amidah‘ participate in the minyan, even though they cannot answer ‘amen‘. On the other hand, concerning the repetition of the shaliach tzibbur, the Shulchan Aruch wrote (124:4): “If nine people are not paying attention his berachot are close to being l’vatalah (in vain)”.

According to the majority of poskim, a sleeping person and someone who is deaf are counted in a minyan, however, l’chatchila (ideally) it is better that there be nine answering, and therefore the Shulchan Aruch wrote his berachot are “close to being” in vain, in order to encourage the “dreamers” to answer ‘amen‘ (MA, Drisha, and others). Some poskim are machmir not to count in the minyan someone who does not answer (see, Taz). Others say that in the repetition of the shaliach tzibbur there must be nine people answering, but for other recitations of kedusha there is no need (Shulchan Arukh HaRav, Bach). However, if the deaf person reads lips and has kavana to answer ‘amen‘, it is possible that even in the opinion of the poskim who are machmir, he is counted.

In practice, the halakha goes according to the opinion of the majority of poskim, namely, that both someone sleeping and a deaf person are counted in the minyan, but ideally it is correct to be stringent in the repetition of the shaliach tzibbur, that if there are not nine people answering, they should daven once, without the repetition: At the beginning, the shaliach tzibbur recites the first three blessings aloud, so that they can answer kedusha. In Shacharit (the Morning Prayer), when there are kohanim present, he also recites the last three blessings aloud, and the kohanim pray on the duchan (podium), so they can recite ‘Birkat Kohanim‘.

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

The Attorney General, Candy, and Women’s Torah Study

The institution of Attorney General assumes supreme authority in an anti-democratic manner *The majority of deaf-mute people today know how to communicate, and therefore, should be obligated to perform mitzvot * One is permitted to read a list of invited guests or meals on Shabbat * Women are obligated, like men, to study Torah that is necessary for living a proper Jewish life, and any woman who desires additional theoretical study, will be blessed * The basic obligation of Torah study for women, which in the past centered around affairs concerning the home and its surroundings, has widened * When candy is widespread, it is inconceivable it be abolished just from the synagogue, nevertheless, healthier alternatives should be sought

The Tyranny of the Attorney General’s Office

Without any legal basis, the Attorney General and his aides exercise supreme authority over decisions, constraints and directives for elected officials, who are the sole representatives of the sovereign state – the public at large. Thus, officials profess to run the country without being duly elected, fulfilling the verse ‘a slave who becomes king’. They were appointed to serve the public and be loyal to the State of Israel and its laws, and not to impose upon it their will, worldview, and values – contrary to the position of the majority and its desires.

This is a method of a dictatorial, anti-democratic gain of control, unparalleled in any democratic country.

Part of the excessive power of the Attorney General’s Office stems from the corrupt and shoddy connection between the role of the Attorney General and the State Attorney. This is because many politicians are certain, or fear, that if they dare challenge the powers that the legal advisers procure for themselves, in the end, the legal establishment will find a way to take revenge – to prosecute them, ruin their public careers, and harass their private lives with investigations and legal processes lasting for years.

Lord Acton’s saying that “all power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely” is often quoted. Indeed, Israel’s legal establishment in general, and the office of the Attorney General in particular, provide a good example of this.

Ministers Yariv Levin and Ze’ev Elkin deserve special mention for not hesitating to fundamentally criticize the legal establishment. Quite a few people think that this is a clear sign their reputations are as pure as snow, otherwise the legal establishment would have found cause to prosecute them. Minister Miri Regev, who “dared” to represent her voters in the face of tyranny from the legal establishment, should also be commended. Many people believe that the legal establishment and their lackeys in the left-wing media are working day and night to find a shred of evidence of misdeeds on part of ministers who criticize it, in order to discredit, prosecute, and get them out of the way.

Apart from the need to restore the institution of the legal adviser to its original role, Torah scholars are obligated to establish batei midrash for the study of Torah law in connection to issues regarding the state and society. To this end, the students will need to be fully acquainted with society, the economy, and modern law, since Torah law must apply to them, and not to an abstract reality, or to a reality that has already passed from the world a few centuries ago.

The Status of a Deaf-Mute in Halakha

As we know, eminent rabbis and poskim who lived after the writing of the Shulchan Aruch (i.e., Achronim) disagreed about the status of a deaf-mute who was taught to communicate with his surroundings using sign language, and by reading and writing. The foundation of the issue upon which the Sages ruled, namely, that a deaf-mute is exempt from the commandments and cannot be counted in a minyan, was based on the hypothesis that since he cannot communicate with his surroundings, he is considered a shoteh (deranged person). The question is: What is the law regarding a deaf-mute who has been taught to communicate with his environment, by sign language, or by reading and writing?

Some poskim say that since they are able to communicate with their surroundings, and can learn and understand what is happening around them, they are considered competent people for all intents and purposes, and are obligated by the mitzvot (Maharasham, Nachalat Tzvi). On the other hand, some poskim believe that even if the deaf person is a very wise person, he is exempt from mitzvot, as the Chachamim determined (Tzemach Tzedek, Divrei Chaim). Others take into account both opinions, and therefore in a safek (doubt) of a Torah principle, they tend to be machmir (stringent), and in a doubt of rabbinic status, they rule leniently. And since being counted in a minyan is a rabbinic ruling, we may rely on their opinion and count him in (Nachalat Binyamin, Yechaveh Da’at 2:6). This is also what I wrote in “Peninei Halakha” (Tefilla 2:2), that he may be counted in a minyan.

However, after further study of the issue, it appears possible to determine that a deaf-mute who understands sign language is considered to be a pikayach (a clever person) in every respect, and it is possible those poskim who ruled stringently in the past, would agree with this today. Their position was determined when most deaf-mutes were still considered shotim, and therefore, they did not take into account the rare cases of deaf-mutes who were able to communicate with their surroundings. Moreover, there were no reliable tools to examine the level of such exceptions to the case. But today, when the absolute majority of the deaf and mute learn sign language, learn to read, and find a way to communicate with their environment, and it is also possible to know they understand everything, they are considered competent people. Based on this, I corrected the text in “Peninei Halakha“: “In recent generations, a method has been discovered to teach a deaf-mute to communicate in sign language, and to read and write, and since today almost all deaf-mutes can understand the words of Torah and mitzvot, consequently, they are obligated to obey the mitzvot like all others.”

Lists for Shabbat Meals

Q: At our guest house, we normally make a list of the guests, as well as a list of the foods to be served at each meal, but we’ve learned the halakha that it is forbidden to read lists on Shabbat. Are these lists also included in the general prohibition?

A: Our Sages forbade reading lists of guests for a meal, or a list of foods about to be served, for two reasons: 1) because reading such lists is similar to reading contracts. 2) there is concern that the host may wish to correct the list by writing or erasing, so as not to make a mistake in inviting too many people when there is not enough food to serve them (Shabbat 149a; SA 307:12-13). However, when reading a list is very necessary for the Sabbat meal, or to avoid insulting someone, it is permissible to use a list, because the prohibition of reading such a list is when it is not for the sake of a mitzva, but for the sake of a mitzva it is not prohibited, and many of the Achronim wrote that every Shabbat meal is a mitzvah (Lavush, Machatzit HaShekel, Toesphot Shabbat, and others). As far as the gezeira ‘shema yichtov‘ (the rabbinical decree ‘lest one come to write’), today when food is abundant, people do no prepare an exact number of portions according to the number of people eating, but rather more, and therefore anxieties concerning lists has diminished, and there is no concern that one will come to write. A similar response is brought in the name of Rabbi Elyashiv ztz”l (Shmirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata 29:133), or like in the past, when the poskim were lenient concerning servants who are not responsible for the meal (MB 307:47). However l’chatchila (ideally), if a host of the meal, or the head waiter, are very anxious, it is appropriate for them to read the list together with another person, so that they will not come to write by mistake (see, SA 275:2, Taz, Magen Avraham).

Women’s Obligation to Study Torah

Q: Is there a vast difference in the mitzvah of Torah study for men and women, and if not, why do so many people think there is?

A: There are two parts of the mitzvah of Torah study: the first is to know the Torah in order to live properly according to halakha, and the second is to widen and deepen one’s Torah study.

Men are obligated in both parts of the mitzvah, whereas women are obligated in the first part, namely, in learning everything that is needed to guide life in halakha, emunah (faith), and mussar (ethics). For women, the second part, involving additional theoretical study, is an optional mitzvah – if a woman desires such study ‘tavo aleyha bracha‘(this is pious conduct for which she is blessed for being strict), and a woman who does not have such a desire, is exempt. However, the more free time a woman has, the more appropriate it is for her to occupy herself in the second part as well.

In the past, when life transpired in one’s nearby and uncomplicated environs, study required to live a proper Jewish life was relatively limited, since many halachot were learned from living together at home. The foundations of emunah and mussar were also transferred mainly through parents’ conversations with their children, and they hardly had to contend with questions from foreign cultures. As the generations passed and the world became more complex, and all areas of study expanded – Torah study, the inner essence of all fields of knowledge, expanded as well.

In practice, the first part, in which women are obligated, greatly expanded, both from the variety of halakhic questions that each person encounters during his lifetime, and from the challenge of dealing with profound questions from different cultures and outlooks. Therefore, the first part, which obligates both men and women equally, includes within it a broad and profound study of the ideas of the Torah, emunah and mussar, as well as a thorough study of the principles of halakha, its rules, and its details. Thus, in practice, the difference between the obligation to study for men and women was greatly reduced, because many sections that had previously been optional for women became compulsory. Not only that, but even men are generally incapable of adequately encompassing the first part, in which they are obligated l’chatchila, to learn.

Handing Out Candies at Shabbat Prayers

For many years, after Shabbat evening prayers when children would come to me to say “Shabbat Shalom”, I used to give them candies in order to endear them towards a love for prayers, the synagogue, Shabbat, and the Torah. About half a year ago, realizing the harmful effects of excessive sugar, I began to wonder if, in fact, I was educating them towards an unhealthy diet, and perhaps I should stop giving them candy. On the other hand, I remembered the story about the ship that got caught in a dangerous storm, and the captain asked that each of the passengers throw some of his belongings into the sea, in order to make it easier for the ship to survive the storm. A Jewish passenger on the ship rummaged through his belongings, and out of all of his possessions, found his tefillin and siddur (prayer book) and threw them overboard into the sea. True, ‘pikuach nefesh‘ (the preservation of human life) overrides all of the mitzvot, but why are tefillin and the siddur the first things to be thrown away?! Couldn’t he have grabbed his suit and his boots, and thrown them overboard first?! Perhaps in our case as well – when so many parents give their children candy, and kids receive it at every party, should the candy that a Rabbi gives out to endear mitzvot be the first to be cancelled? Yet, my reservations grew, because a Rabbi’s actions serve as an example for the public; moreover, I had encouraged all the teachers who had asked, to enforce the new regulations prohibiting the provision of unhealthy foods in schools.

In the women’s class on Shabbat, I shared my dilemma with the participants, and requested that women serving on the Committee for Social Events decide how I should act. They decided to switch to dark chocolate, which is healthier than candy, because it has less sugar and fewer calories. Since then, I have been distributing dark chocolate candies, to the delight of the parents and children. I hope that, God willing, we will find a way to advance to the distribution of dates and nuts.

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

Hastening the Redemption

The Redemption can come in two fundamental ways: either from the Heavens and swiftly, or in a natural, and painful manner * Settling the Land of Israel was initiated by eminent Torah scholars, but the majority of Jews remained in the Diaspora. * Responsiveness to a movement calling for Aliyah, headed by leading Torah scholars and righteous individuals, would have advanced the process in a Torah path, and hastened the Redemption * In the end, it was only anti-Semitism that finally motivated the founding of Zionism, and the establishment of the State * Today as well, we have two options: to continue the path of trials and tribulations, or to awaken to the continued building of the nation and the Land directed by Torah * Accordingly, the focal point of Yom Ha’atzmaut must be Torah study in matters of Redemption and the State

Redemption Naturally and through Teshuva

We firmly believe in the words of the Torah and the prophets that the ‘Geula‘ (Redemption) will eventually come. However, it can come in two fundamental ways: “If they are worthy, I will hasten it: if not, it will come at its due time” (Isaiah 60:22). “If they are worthy” – ‘with clouds of heaven’, i.e., in a heavenly, and swift manner; “if not” – ‘lowly, and riding on a donkey’, i.e., slowly, and in a natural way involving suffering” (Sanhedrin 95a). If we awaken to do ‘teshuva‘ (repentance) appropriately, if we are able to understand the Torah properly, the Redemption will come swiftly, calmly, and joyfully. “Today, if only you will hear His voice” (Psalms 95:7). And even if we are not able to repent properly, the Redemption will come, in a natural and agonizing way. For this is how Hashem created His people, and His world – that when the Jewish nation behaves improperly, agony increases until, through a long and difficult process, the words of the Torah are eventually revealed – ‘here a little, there a little’ – a thought taken from one end of the Jewish world, an additional idea gained from the other end. Until finally, the growing agonies force the Jewish nation to return to their Land, to deal with the struggle of existence, and thus, as a result of trials and tribulations, return to their heritage, faith, and complete Torah.

A Combination of the Two Ways

As seen in recent generations, the Redemption appears to be developing in a combination of the two ways, as the plain meaning of the verse suggests: “I am the Lord; at the right moment, I will hurry it along” (Isaiah 60:22). In other words, in the midst of the natural and tormented course of events, there are various awakenings of repentance, which bring the Redemption closer, and lessen the sufferings.

The Dawn of the Awakening

Over two hundred years ago in 5537 (1777), a significant awakening of ‘aliyah‘ (immigration) to Eretz Yisrael, began. The most eminent disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, the Admore Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, immigrated with three hundred Chasidim, thus laying the foundation for the Hassidic community in Israel. However, there was still no specific mention of immigration for the sake of ‘yishuv ha’aretz‘ (settling the Land), and the ingathering of the exiles.

The Vilna Gaon was the first one to talk about this explicitly. His students related that he would often speak emotionally, saying that the ‘Geula‘ (Redemption) would be quickened only through the ingathering of the exiles and the building of the Land. He also stressed that only by means of building the Land would we be saved from the dreadful torments of the birth pangs of Mashiach. He himself began the journey to Eretz Yisrael, parting from his family after writing a stirring will and testament, however from the Heavens he was instructed to return. Nevertheless, he continued encouraging his students to immigrate, and 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 “Pe’at HaShulchan” also made ‘aliyah‘. Joining them were Rabbi Hillel from Shklov, and other eminent Torah scholars, craftsmen, and farmers. Many of the pioneers eventually settled in Jerusalem. Although they faced dreadful difficulties, they nevertheless drew inspiration from the words of their great Rabbi, the Gaon of Vilna, about the supreme importance of the mitzvah to settle the Land. Thus, from one generation to the next, they continued growing and establishing themselves in the Land, 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. 

The Missed Opportunity

If only the Jewish nation had heeded the call of the Gaon from Vilna and his students, who knows how many pogroms and disasters could have been prevented, and how many lives saved. The nation’s connection to the Torah and mitzvot would also have remained stronger, for multitudes of Jews would have witnessed with their own eyes how, thanks to the Torah’s instructions, life is properly established.  

The abandonment of the Torah stems largely from a feeling that those who adhere to it have remained behind the times. The entire world is engaged in creating new states and regimes, while Judaism deals merely with survival—under increasingly harsh conditions. Had we had dedicated ourselves in building the nation and the Land, the great prophetic vision of Israel’s redemption in light of the Torah, would have filled the hearts of our people. All of the talented Jews who went astray, giving all their strengths to foreign nations in the fields of science, culture, politics, and economics, would have invested their energies here in the Land of Israel, for the sake of their own nation and homeland. The Jewish State would have been founded earlier – not as a result of pressures from adversities, but from mitzvoth of the Torah, and the vision of the Prophets. The conflict with the Arab population as well, would have been negligible, for only because of our failure to immigrate to Israel in overwhelming numbers did the land begin to be populated by several Arabs who emigrated here to enjoy the flourishing land that had begun to give off its fruits in anticipation of the Jews who were expected to return home.

The Majority of Jews Remain in the Diaspora

Sadly, we did not merit immigrating owing to of the mitzvah of settling the Land and the vision of the Redemption, and the troubles increased. About fifty years after the awakening of the students of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher and Rabbi Eliyahu Gutmacher arose, and began encouraging the masses of the Jewish people to immigrate to Israel, and bring the Redemption closer. As a result the number of immigrants to Israel increased, but we were still far from achieving the overall goal, and the difficulties of the Diaspora grew. Anti-Semitism intensified, the abandonment of religion accelerated, and many Jews began to assimilate in the Diaspora.

Tens of years later, a number of eminent rabbis from Eastern Europe, among them, Rabbi Shmuel Mohaliver, Rabbi Mordechei Elishberg, and the Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhin, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (HaNatziv), began encouraging ‘aliyah’ to 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 in cooperation with the leaders of Jews who were not “especially meticulous” in guarding the commandments, for the sake of settling the Land. As a result of their endeavors, what was termed the First Aliyah” was inspired (beginning in 5642 [1882]). The majority of new immigrants were religious, but were far from the level of the students of the Vilna Gaon, who were led by eminent and righteous Torah scholars. Unmistakably, among the immigrants were also important Torah scholars, such as Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe (the great uncle of Rav Kook), who joined the agricultural community of Yehud and became its rabbi. But although the nascent communities continued to grow, the masses of the Jewish nation did not heed the call to return to Zion.

Anti-Semitism and the Establishment of the Zionist Movement

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, increased. Among the Jews who tried to assimilate, a few of them realized that Jewish nature was unique and inescapable, and only through the establishment of an independent Jewish State in the Land of Israel would it be possible to save the Jews from the growing menace of anti-Semitism. Thus arose the Zionist movement headed by Herzl. There were great Torah scholars who supported it, and eventually, organized as part of the “Mizrachi” movement. But there were other Gedolei Torah 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 Holocaust and the Establishment of the State 

The Zionist idea, coupled with growing anti-Semitism, prompted larger groups of Jews to support immigration to Israel and the expansion of Jewish settlement, and to demand the establishment of the Jewish state.

But the painful truth must be told: the majority of Jews, whether religious or not, did not participate in the Zionist movement, and remained in the Diaspora. The Jewish community in Israel lacked the strength to raise the banner of Jerusalem, and demand the establishment of the state. The abandonment of religion and assimilation in Europe and America had already turned into a terrible plague. It was nearly impossible to depict a realistic scenario whereby assimilation would stop, and the Jewish nation would repent and return to its homeland to establish a state.

Only after the horrific Holocaust, whose dimensions of monstrous catastrophe were unimaginable, did it become clear to many Jews that there was no alternative. We were compelled to establish an independent Jewish state in the Land of Israel. Masses of refugees from Europe and the Arab countries immigrated to Israel. Thus the State of Israel was established.

An Awakening to Repentance, Today as Well

We are still on the way, and we must learn from the Torah and the word of God revealed through history, that if we are able to act appropriately in settling the Land of Israel in accordance with Torah and mitzvot, we will merit bringing the Redemption closer, calmly and joyfully. But if we are negligent, according to the natural order of Redemption we are liable, God forbid, to suffer great torment in order to guide us in the right path.

May we merit to enlarge all the communities in Judea and Samaria, and that the land give forth its crops abundantly, and our brethren be gathered from all four corners of the world to our Land, and that we walk upright in it, and God will remove the heart of stone from our flesh, and give us a new heart and spirit to study Torah and observe the mitzvot. And that all the desolate mountains shall blossom and give forth their fruit, and all the cities that were destroyed will be settled and built, and filled with the ‘flock of men’, the flock of holy things, and we will all know Hashem.

The Character of Independence Day

Consequently, it is extremely important that on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day), to clarify for ourselves the great and awesome task placed upon us, so that the process of redemption may advance calmly, with joy and peace. In addition to the prayers of thanksgiving and praise, and the festive thanksgiving meal, it is essential to set time for studying issues of the day, analogous to what our Sages taught: “Moshe instituted for Yisrael that they study the laws of Pesach on Pesach, those of Atzeret (Shavuot) on Atzeret, and those of Chag (Sukkot) on Chag” (Megillah 32a).

The Four Levels of Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut

The lowest level are those people who go out to a park and have a barbeque. Although their actions are devoid of spiritual content, nonetheless, if they are happy to be part of Israel – Hashem’s nation – their festive meal can be considered a se’udat mitzvah.

On the second level are those who tour sites where the rebuilding of the State of Israel is evident, such as national institutions, museums about the history of Israel’s settlement, and I.D.F. bases.

The third level are those who take trips to visit the communities in Judea and Samaria, to see the building of the country, and to recite the blessing “matziv gevul almana” (the blessing thanking Hashem for returning Israel to its land).

The highest level are those who study Torah on Yom Ha’atzmaut in matters related to the mitzvah of settling the Land, and the development of the state and society in accordance with Torah. From the ranks of this level will emerge the inspiration and ideas which will advance us to our redemption, and that of the entire world.

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

How to Identify a Ritually Clean Animal

The meat of ritually impure animals are no less healthy, but are harmful to the soul * Mammals and ritually clean birds are temperate creatures, and not predatory * Signs of ritual cleanliness are related to the traits plant-eating animals received in order to survive * We can learn from ritually clean animals that it is possible to exist in this world without attacking others * Regarding some species of ritually clean animals the tradition was lost, but we follow the signs of purity from the Torah, and our Sages * Which are the pure species according to the definition of zoologists today? The red deer is kosher according to halakha * Kosher fish are identified according to their scales visible to the naked eye


The Ritually Clean and Unclean Beasts and Animals

God created many animals in the world, and after permitting the sons of Noah to eat from the flesh of all of them, He separated us from all nations and sanctified us in His commandments, and permitted us to eat the ritually clean species and forbade us from eating the unclean species.

The Torah divided animals into four types: a) beasts and animals (mammals); b) fish; c) birds; d) vermin (including winged creeping things that swim in water and fly, from which come the kosher locusts). All these types have ritually clean and unclean species.

The Torah gave signs to distinguish between ritually clean and unclean beasts, fish, and vermin. The Torah also gave a list of unclean birds, to teach us that all other birds were ritually clean.

Explanations for the Prohibition

Some of the eminent Rishonim noted that there are typical features of the ritually clean mammals, namely, that they eat plant material (herbivores) and have a calm temperament, whereas the unclean animals are predators and hostile. Similarly, unclean birds are also predators. And since the food that man eats affects his soul, the Torah commands that we not eat species that are prone to cruelty (Ramban, Rabbeinu Bachaye, Abarbanel, Akeidat Yitzchak).

Some authorities have said that the ritually clean species are healthy to eat, whereas the impure species are unhealthy (Guide to the Perplexed 3:48), but many opposed mentioning this reason, claiming it is improper to reduce the Torah into a book of medical remedies. Moreover, we have not found that non-Jews who eat these species were less physically healthy than Jews. Rather, the commandments are intended to sanctify man and rectify his soul, and one who eats forbidden foods defiles his soul, and therefore the Torah calls the species that are forbidden to eat – impure (Akedat Yitzchak, Abarbanel).

The Signs of Ritual Purity for Mammals

Two signs were given by the Torah for ritually clean animals and beasts. One is ‘maphreseth parsah v’shosat shesa’ (“cloven hooves”). A ‘parsah‘ (hoof) is a hard coating, a kind of thick fingernail or soft bone that grows on the foot of the animal, by which it straddles the ground and prevents it from damage. ‘Shosat shesa’ (a cleft) is when the animals foot or hoof is split, that is, divided into two parts.

The second sign: ‘maalei gerah’ (ruminants, or animals that chew its cud). The ritually clean species have a unique digestive system consisting of four “stomachs”: 1) the rumen; 2) reticulum; 3) the omasum; 4) and the abomasum. At first, animals that chew their cud tear off grass quickly and chew it a bit. From there it goes down to the rumen, and goes through primary digestion. It then moves to the reticulum, and is regurgitated back into the animal’s mouth in the form of “cud” for it to chew on again and again. Afterwards, it goes down to the omasum, and from there, to the abomasum.

Our Sages gave another clear sign for the ritually clean species, namely, that they have no teeth in their upper jaw (Chulin 59a). Another sign is that the milk of the pure species can be curdled into cheese, while the milk of the impure species does not curdle (Avodah Zara 35a).

Ritually Clean Species that are not Predators

In general, the signs given by the Torah to the ritually clean species are signs of herbivores that are not predatory, and since plant material is hard to digest because of its large amount of cellulose, God created the possibility for animals to bring up their cud so that they can continue to chew the food for their digestion. And instead of claws to dig into prey, they have split hooves to help them run through mountains and rocks, in order to find plant material, and escape preying animals. Despite their difficulties, ritually clean species manage to exist nicely in the world, coming to teach us that if a person is willing to make an effort and be satisfied with less, it is possible to earn a decent living without devouring others.

The Ten Ritually Clean Species and their Characteristics

The Torah designated ten ritually clean species, as it is stated: “These are the mammals that you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the gazelle, the deer, the antelope, the ibex, the chamois, the bison, and the giraffe” (Deuteronomy 14: 4-5). The first three species are beasts, namely, domestic animals, and the seven remaining species are wild animals. Like all species found in nature, the ten pure species are also divided into different breeds.

Given that some of the animals are domesticated, their tradition was not forgotten, and their identity is known. As for the seven species of animals that breed in the wild, due to the many exiles and years that have passed, doubts arose regarding their identity, and presently, we can identify with certainty according to tradition only two species – the deer, and the gazelle. Nevertheless, according to halakha, the signs of ritual purity written in the Torah and the signs added by our Sages are the determining ones, and all animals that have these signs are kosher for eating.

The Division of the Species in Zoology

It is worth noting that there is a difference between the Torah’s division into ten species, and the definition of modern scientists, determined in accordance with a particular point of view.

According to current zoological classifications, all kinds of animals are divided into divisions (mammals, birds, fish, etc.). The divisions are divided into orders, the orders are divided into families, the families are divided into species, and the species are divided breeds. In general, same-sex breeds can mate and produce fertile offspring, whereas different species, even from the same family, are unable to mate with one another. In rare cases they are able to mate, but will produce an infertile offspring, such as a horse and donkey who are able to mate, but produce a mule that cannot reproduce.

All types of ritually clean beasts and animals a found in the division of mammals and in the order of ‘machpilei parsah’ (even-toed ungulate), that is, mammals that have an even number of toes, because only a species that has an even number of toes can have a split hoof which is one of the signs of ritual cleanliness. We will mention other series in which all its species are ritually unclean: the predatory series, which includes, among others, the cat family, bears, and dogs; the series of ‘mafritei parsah’(odd-toed ungulate), namely, species that have an odd-numbered amount of toes, such as the species of the horse family, zebras, and rhinos.

Let’s return to the ‘machpilei parsah’ order. All ritually clean species are found in this order, but not all species in this order are ritually clean, because there are non-grazing species in this order, such as the pig, which falls in the sub-class of ‘pseudo-pig’ (‘suidae‘, artiodactyl mammals), and the hippopotamus in the sub-class of ‘whippomorpha‘. The camel also belongs to the order of ‘machpilei parsah’, but it is unclean because its doubled-toes are not split, and they do not have a hoof, rather, they are covered with a leather coating, and they fall under the sub-class of ‘baalei ha’karit’ (‘possessors of humps’).’

The Sub-Class: ‘Maalei Gerah’

Indeed, all of the pure species are found in the order of ‘machpilei parsah’ and in the sub-class of ‘maalei gerah’, and as far as today’s animal researchers are aware, all species in this sub-class chew their cud and have cloven hoofs, and are kosher. However, since the divisions in zoology are liable to change, this definition cannot be relied on, but only on the signs given in the Torah, and the words of our Sages.

As mentioned, the orders are divided into families, and these are the families are found in the order of ‘machpilei parsah’, in the sub-class of ‘maalei gerah’, which, as mentioned above, are all pure species: cattle (in Latin they are called bovinae, meaning “hollow horns”), giraffe, deer, musk deer, chevrotains (mouse deer), and pronghorns. There are families that have few species, and there are families that have numerous species, such as the cattle family, due to which, all of the species included in it were divided into sub-families. These are: the impala, ibexes, bulls, antelopes, waterbucks, duiker (small African antelope), and rams. The three kosher animals also belong to the cattle family: the ox, in sub-family of bulls, and sheep and goats, in the sub-family of ibexes.

The Red Deer

Some authorities raised a question about the red deer which began to be bred in the Land of Israel. True, it has all the signs of ritual purity from the Torah and our Sages, but it has upper teeth where other animals grow fangs, and some say that the place of fangs is considered to be at the front of the jaw. Since our Sages said (Chulin 59a) that the ritually clean species have no teeth in the front part of the upper jaw, the red deer is forbidden to be eaten (Rav Mashash, Rav Amar, Rav Wozner).

However, this stringent opinion is very problematic, since our Sages said in the Gemara (Chulin 59a) that if one finds an animal whose mouth is mutilated, he should examine its hoofs, and if he finds that its signs are ritually pure, its flesh is kosher, because there is no animal with signs of ritual purity in its feet, and signs of uncleanliness in its mouth. Therefore, it follows that teeth located in area of fangs are not considered front teeth.

In addition, several Rishonim wrote that when one can examine the signs given by the Torah, one does not take into consideration the signs added by our Sages, which are intended only in a case where the signs of the Torah cannot be determined (Rabbeinu Gershom, Meiri).

This is the conclusion of Rabbi Eliyahu Malka, Rabbi Dr. Levinger, Rabbi David Teherani, and Rabbi Ari Zibotfsky. The research of Prof. Zohar Amar also clarified that the milk of the red deer curdles, which is also a clear sign of ritual purity.

Not only that, but like the red deer, there are other breeds of deer that have upper teeth instead of fangs, one of which is the Canadian deer (elk), which authorities in the United States determined kosher without doubt.

Ritually Clean and Unclean Signs of Fish

Any fish that has fins and scales is ritually clean. The fin is found on the side of the fish, and helps it to swim. The scales grow on the skin of the fish, and are used as an additional shield, with each scale attached to one side of the skin, and on the opposite side, lies on the skin without being firmly attached. Our Sages said: Any fish that has scales also has fins; thus, in practice, scales are the determining sign. If the scales are very thin, as long as they are visible to the naked eye, the fish is kosher.

Unlike mammals and birds, ritually clean fish are not known to be less predatory, and it would be interesting to assess whether, apart from Divine law, a fundamental difference between unclean and ritually clean fish can be discerned. If any of my readers has an explanation, I would appreciate hearing it.

The Swordfish

A feature of the scales is that they are attached to the skin of the fish but not very firmly, therefore, they can be easily removed by hand or with an instrument, leaving the skin beneath them intact. However, if in order to remove them they need to be cut off, and the underlying skin does not remain intact, it is a sign that they are not scales, but are part of the skin, and the fish is ritually impure (R’ma 84:1). Therefore, many authorities forbid swordfish, because the scales that appear on it are part of its skin.

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