The Answer to the Horrific Accident – Saying the Travelers Prayer with Intention

When we experiencenational disasters such as this week’s serious accident, we must awaken and searchthe meaning of things * We must be diligent in adhering to the laws of tefilatha’derech, and saying it with kavana * Tefilat ha’derech is said in the plural,so that someone traveling will include himself with the public * There is noobligation to  add the words “roadaccidents” to the text of the prayer, but someone who wishes to add it ispermitted * There is doubt whether the prayer should be said for an inter-cityride, and therefore it should be said without the name of Hashem * In our daysit is correct to say tefilat ha’derech when one gets into the car, beforestarting to travel

Mourning and Repentance

In shock and mourning over the passing of the Atar family in a heavenly storm, Yariv and Shoshana and their six children, I dedicate the column for an aliyah to their souls. When such dear people abruptly leave this world, we all have to wake up and examine the meaning of life. The disaster occurred on election day, and the first thought is how small all the personal tensions surrounding the elections are in the face of life itself, and how much we must strive to live in the greatness worthy of the precious life God gave us. Out of this terrible shock, we will deal with the laws of the tefilat ha’derech (the traveler’s prayer) and arouse ourselves to say it with kavanah (intention).

Tefilat Ha’derech and its Meaning

The Sages instituted a prayer for the traveler, it is tefilat ha’derech (Berakhot 29b). The more protected place for people is their natural habitat, i.e., their house or their city. When a person disconnects from the city, his friends and neighbors, and leaves, he is exposed to a certain danger. If attacked, there would be fewer people to come to his aid. If he gets hurt, it will take longer to be taken to the hospital (see Maharal Nativ Gemilut Chasadim 5). Therefore, our Sages instituted tefilat ha’derech.

When we examine the tefillah, we find that the prayer is said in the plural, and this is not by chance. Spiritually, disengagement from the public is the root of the danger for traveling, and therefore anyone who sets out on the road must include himself with the public, thereby making his prayer more acceptable.

Since we are already standing in prayer before the Creator, and asking that our traveling will pass in peace, we continue to ask Hashem to succeed in our path. This is the text of the prayer: “May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe and ambush, from robbers and wild beasts on the trip, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to earth. May You send blessing in our handiwork, and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our humble request because You are God Who hears prayer requests. Blessed are You, Lord, Who hears prayer”. There are certain differences between the wording of the prayer of tefilat ha’derech, and all are worthy.

Is it Necessary to Mention in the Prayer “Road Accidents”

In the past, most of the dangers of the road stemmed from robbers and wild beasts, but today the main danger is from accidents, and the question arises as to whether it is correct to add a request for rescue from road accidents in the wording of tefilat ha’derech.

There are those poskim who say that it is proper to mention in tefilat ha’derech the danger of accidents, and this does not defy the wording of the Sages, for indeed Ha’Ravya wrote that it is permitted to add to tefilat ha’derech unique dangers for a certain road. Some say that one who wishes to add “road accidents” is permitted (Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach). There are also those who believe that since we are asking that God save us from “all manner of punishments that assemble to come to earth”, road accidents in general are included, and it is preferable not to change the text set by our Sages. In practice, everyone can do as he chooses.

A Blessing is Recited When One Travels a Parsah – Approximately Four Kilometers

Our Sages determined the reciting of tefilat ha’derech for a trip whose distance was more than a parsah (Berakhot 30a). A parsah is four mil, and each mil is 912 meters long. Consequently, the distance of a parsah is approximately four kilometers (3,648 meters). If the travel is shorter than a parsah, tefilat ha’derech is not said, since being close to the community, presumably it is not dangerous. There is no need to be meticulous in measuring the traveling distance – everyone should speculate according to what he considers to be a parsah.

Figured by Distance and Not Time

Some say that the rate of a parsah is meant to give us a period of time, that if the travel takes more than seventy-two minutes, which is the time it takes for an average person to walk a parsah on an unpaved road – tefilat ha’derech must be said. And if less, because the danger does not last for long – tefilat ha’derech is not said.

However, according to the majority poskim, our Sages’ intention was to determine the distance to which tefilat ha’derech should be recited. Their reasoning was, the longer the travel is, the farther away it is from the community, and the greater its dangers. Time is of no importance in this context, since even in the time of the Sages horse riders passed the rate of a parsah in less than ten minutes, and our Sages did not make a distinction between someone walking and a rider, but determined that in any case tefilat ha’derech should be said when travelling a parsah. Therefore, even in our times when there are fast cars, we measure the length of the road, and if it is more than a parsah, tefilat ha’derech must be said. This is even truer today, when road accidents are one of the main dangers to human life on the road.

A Particularly Dangerous Way, Even if it is Short

When the road is dangerous, even its length is less than a parsah, tefilat ha’derech should be said. Thus, when certain roads are considered dangerous due to the harassment of Arabs who throw stones, and sometimes even throw Molotov cocktails or shoot, tefilat ha’derech should be said even if travelling less than a parsah.

Should a Blessing be Recited on Urban Travel

Today, when many people travel long trips within urban areas, a big question arose: whether to say tefilat ha’derech on trips within the city. On the one hand, our Sages determined tefilat ha’derech to roads outside the city, and if so, a blessing should not be recited on a trip within the city. On the other hand, in our time the urban areas have grown extensively, and people can travel for hours without leaving them, such as traveling from Rehovot to Kfar Saba, and back. Today, there is also a danger in these trips, especially when traveling on highways (in fact, more than half of those killed by road accidents, including pedestrians, are killed in the cities).

Indeed, there are those poskim who believe that it is obligatory to say tefilat ha’derech in the city today, since the danger of accidents in the city is equal to the danger outside the city. It is also possible to say that urban roads are not considered an inhabited area, since they are meant for travel only.

On the other hand, there are those who believe that our Sages determined the prayer only for the way outside the inhabited areas, and we have no authority to continue to say tefilat ha’derech within the city. Apart from that, there are those who believe that it was possible to cancel the obligation of tefilat ha’derech outside the city, since it was based on much more dangerous ways, with robbers and wild beasts.

In Practice, It is Proper to Bless Without Saying God’s Name

Practically, it seems that although this is not obligatory, nevertheless it is good for every traveler in the city, who travels approximately four kilometers (a parsah), to say tefilat ha’derech without mentioning the name of God at the end, i.e., to say at the end of the prayer: “Baruch ata, shomay’ah tefilla”. This is what the Responsa Yaskil Avdi (7, Kuntres Acharon 3) wrote, and also what Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l told me.

It is Correct to Say Tefilat Ha’Derech before Beginning to Travel

The poskim are divided regarding where is the right place to say tefilat ha’derech. There are those who say that it is correct to recite tefilat ha’derch in the city when leaving the house (Ateret Zekanim 16: 7), but according to the majority of poskim, although bediavad one fulfills his obligation even when tefilat ha’derech is said in the city, l’chatchilla it is proper to say it after leaving the city, because it is then that the travelling upon which we pray for begins.

However, it seems that today, after we have reached the conclusion that it is good to bless over an urban journey, the correct place to say tefilat ha’derech is when one settles down in the car before the journey begins, so that tefilat ha’derech will apply to all the city travel as well. According to what we have written above, the traveler should act as follows: If the intention is to take an inter-city journey, before starting the trip, tefilat ha’derech should be said with mentioning God’s name. And if the intention is to travel within the urban areas, it is correct to say it without the name of God.

Until when can Tefilat Ha’Derech Be Said

If one forgot to say it upon his departure, if until his destination there remains a parsah (approximately four kilometers), he should say tefilat ha’derech, but if there remains less – he should say the tefilla without mentioning God’s name at the end.

If one travels a few times a day, it is sufficient to say the prayer for the first time, and have intention in his request for all the trips that he makes that day. But if he planned only one trip, and then decided to go again, then he has to say it again. When the travelling continues for a few days, each morning one should say tefilat ha’derech.

Why Doesn’t Tefilat Ha’Derech Open with ‘Baruch

There are those who questioned the text of tefilat ha’derech – why doesn’t it open with ‘Baruch‘, for we have a general rule: any bracha that is not a bracha ha’smucha l’chaverta (lit. a bracha adjacent to its companion – a bracha directly following another), it should open with a bracha?

There are those who believe that one should say tefilat ha’derech close to another bracha, if possible (Maharam of Rothenburg). However, the halacha is that it is possible to say tefilat ha’derech even without saying it close to a blessing, since it is not considered a blessing but a prayer. Others say that tefilat ha’derech is indeed a bracha – the bracha of “Shomaya tefillah” in the Amidah prayers – and since the main place in the Amidah prayer is close to the blessings before it, then even when it is said separately there is no need to open it with “Baruch“.

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

Yes, We Care about Other Peoples

Response to the arguments about the previous column, about the national movements in Europe: The struggle of the European right is important, because we desire the existence of nations * Rabbi Kook ztz”l taught us: We hate the evil of the nations, and love the image of God * We should also love the leftwing movements, but this is more difficult because they hate us * The love of man of the leftwing movements is directed toward an abstract person, but once he exhibits an identity, hatred towards him develops *HaGomel: Even if in the past women refrained from doing so, there is no reason for them not to recite the blessing in a minyan

A complaint on What I Wrote

Last week I wrote that it is correct to end the boycott imposed by the State of Israel, together with the Jewish communities in the Diaspora, on the right-wing movements in Europe. This was because these movements denounced anti-Semitic positions, expressed open support for the State of Israel and refined their national positions into a just and moral position demanding the preservation of their national, religious and cultural identity. On the correctness of their position, I wrote: “Just as the property of a private person must not be stolen, as the Communists did in the countries they took over, so it is forbidden to deprive people of their national and religious identity…”

There were those who argued: What do we care about the peoples of Europe, let them all be destroyed after what they did to us. There was a Torah scholar who attacked my words: “It is forbidden to rob European nations of their religious identity?! Forbidden?! Is it a Biblical prohibition? Rabbinic? Minhag? True, there is no obligation to chase after the non-Jews to leave their idols, but to say that it is forbidden to do so? On the contrary, he should be blessed! And that at the time of the redemption, God will not remove the exiles from the land, and there will be a serious faith crisis for all the nations that will remain alive? It seems that the word “forbidden” here is the secular equivalent of the word “forbidden” – that is, according to the democratic Western values ​​of live and let live, each one and his truth, one can understand that one must not deprive anyone of his religious identity. But our position is permitted and desirable. Western values have an impact on our society, even in this case where they clash head-on with the values ​​of the Torah. Though it’s not good, I can understand it, and it’s natural. But a well-known rabbi who writes in such a style seems to me out of place…”

To Benefit all Peoples

I did not write what I wrote accidentally or without thought, but from a well-established Torah position. To those who wonder why we care about the different nations, I will mention the words of Rabbi Kook: “Love of humanity must be alive in the heart and in the soul…to benefit all the nations…this character trait prepares Israel for the spirit of Moshiach. In all references where we find hints of hatred (towards the non-Jews), it is clear that the intention is only on the evil, which seizes the alliance of many nations today, and especially in the past, when the immorality of the world was far more repulsive. However, we must know that the aim of life – light and holiness – never moved from the Divine Image endowed to all of mankind, nation, and language…” (Midot HaRaya, Ahava, paragraph 5). And it is noted in the last chapters of the book of Jeremiah, concerning the nations punished for their wickedness, that Yirmiyahu in his prophecy laments them.

As Rav Kook wrote in relation to the various religions: “Our goal is not to uproot or destroy them, just as we do not aim for the general destruction of the world and all its nations, but rather their correction and elevation, the removal of their dross, and of themselves they will join the source of Israel, where dewdrops of light will flow over them: ‘And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his detestable things from between his teeth, and he, too, shall remain for our God’ (Zechariah 9:7). This applies even to idolatry, and therefore, even more so to religions whose foundations are partly based on the light of Israel’s Torah.” If in regards to absolute idol worshippers the goal is to remove the dross while retaining the general character of their faith and attitude towards good and virtue – all the more so concerning Christianity and Islam. Not their absorption and destruction is the goal of the light of Israel, just as we do not aim for general destruction to the world and all its nations, but to correct them and raise them, (Zechariah 9: 7), and this even applies to idolatry, and certainly to religions that rely on some of their foundations for the light of the Torah of Israel.”(Igrot HaRayeh, I, p. 142). The religions spoken of are religions such as Christianity and Islam, on which he wrote “that they are of great value”. Not only that, but hatred of Israel is a significant part of the evil in Christianity and Islam, and when groups within them change their attitude toward Israel for the better, their better part becomes clearer.

The claims against what I have written are based on a limited and superficial perception that developed abroad, as a defense against the terrible hatred and persecution. But we must return to the entire Torah that deals with the redemption of our people and all peoples, each nation according to its national, moral, spiritual and religious character.

We Love the left, but Receive Hatred

After what I wrote this time, I will probably get questions from the left: Can we also show respect and love for liberal leftist movements?

A: Respect certainly, love a little harder, and yet – yes.

Let me explain further: the basic position of the liberal left, according to which every person has absolute value, and therefore we must have respect for his personal rights to freedom, property and dignity, is a position that deserves great esteem. It is a great improvement to the situation in which tyrants and powerful individuals oppressed all types of people. And it must be supported as long as it does not trample on other important values, as the extreme left movements have done from their outset.

But loving those who completely hate us is hard. For love is mutual, and it is hard to love those who call us Nazis and curse us with baseless blood libels. Even if there is a grain of truth in their principled positions, their appearance in practice is evil, violent, and incites war.

If we delve deeper, leftist movements have no human love. Leftist movements love man as an abstract concept, lonely and naked from any gender, family, national and religious definition. But in practice they tend to hate people – for people are expressed through their identities, and these identities the left movements criticize sharply out of contempt and hatred. This is because they believe that these identities are the root of all evil, which harms equality, which is the goal to which they must aspire, for in it the redemption of man depends.

This creates the internal contradiction known to the left: on the one hand talk about the love of man, and in fact, hostility and hatred towards the vast majority of people, except those who share their fight for absolute equality, and against identities that they believe is false consciousness that leads to discrimination and damage to human dignity and liberty.

The person whom the leftists love the most is the weakened person, but there really is no such person, because every person is expressed through his identities, and the identities they treat with hatred or contempt. It is only because of his weakness that they can ignore his identity and define his identity as “weakened,” that when he has his full rights, the desired correction will come to the world. In practice, ignoring the identity of the weakened is one of the most severe injuries to it.

Nevertheless, as those with a Jewish identity who tend to believe and love the image of God in man, we also have a natural love for leftists, and naturally, when they do not directly harm us, we seek the points of good and truth in them and their opinions.

‘HaGomel’ for a Woman who Gave Birth

A woman who gives birth is considered as one who was dangerously ill and she must recite ‘HaGomel’. Seemingly, one could question: After all, a patient with pneumonia does not recite the Gomel when he recovers because today he has a treatment that eliminates the danger, and if so, a woman who gives birth should not have to recite HaGomel, since through the care she receives in the hospital, there is no danger in her giving birth. However, there is a difference between them that a patient with pneumonia does not desecrate the Sabbath, since there is no need to treat him urgently, but a woman who gives birth must be urgently taken to the hospital, and even on Shabbat. Therefore, she is considered a dangerously ill person who should recite the blessing.

Usually after seven days, the mother is already strengthened from birth and can recite the blessing. Sometimes the weakness of the birth lasts thirty days, and in any case, such a woman should recite HaGomel after thirty days.

The Gomel Blessing for Women

In the past, many women were not meticulous to recite the Gomel blessing. Many poskim were astonished at this, and explained that apparently because the blessing of HaGomel should be said before a minyan, out of modesty, many women felt uncomfortable standing in front of ten men and blessing the Gomel.  Some poskim suggested that the woman should stand in the ezrat nashim, and her husband should recite the blessing for her, and she would answer amen, and thus fulfill her obligation in his blessing. However, some say that a husband should not recite the blessing in his wife’s place, and therefore this advice should not be used, but rather a woman obligated in the blessing of HaGomel should recite the berakha herself in a minyan.

Therefore, a woman who is required to bless HaGomel should come to the synagogue for prayers, and inform the gabbai that she needs to recite HaGomel. Before or after prayers the gabbai should signal to the audience that they should wait in silence, and the woman from the women’s section will bless HaGomel, and the congregation will answer amen. If convenient for her, it is preferable to come to prayers that have the reading of the Torah, and bless after the reading of the Torah. If by chance she has another opportunity to have a minyan in another place, such as a women who gave birth to a baby boy at the brit milah of her son, she can recite the blessing in front of them and need not to come to synagogue.

HaGomel after a Miscarriage

However, after a miscarriage and gerida (scraping), even though the gerida is performed under full anesthesia, many women are customary not to bless HaGomel, so as not to reveal that they had a miscarriage, and they have what to rely on, for we have learned that ‘Great is human dignity, since it overrides a negative precept of the Torah’, i.e. the negative precept of “lo tasor” from the enactments established by the Sages, and the blessing of HaGomel is of rabbinic status. Perhaps this is the reason why many women did not bless HaGomel in the past, because of modesty they were ashamed to bless in front of men. But today it is not customary to be so ashamed, and the claim of shame does not exempt women from the blessing of HaGomel, except in special cases such as abortion or miscarriage.

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

The Right in Europe is no Longer Anti-Semitic

The time has come to re-examine the relations with the extreme right-wing parties in Europe, after they have removed all the haters of the Jews and are working in a practical and proper way to preserve the national identity of the peoples of Europe *It is proper to recite the ‘shecheyanu’ blessing on new shoes, on a promotion, and also on successfully passing a test if one is especially happy * In the wake of the article published in the last issue on wage withholding: The problem must be solved, but without the prohibition of ‘ribbit’ *Furthermore on ‘ribbit’: According to most poskim, ‘heter iska’ does not permit ‘ribbit’ of entering ‘minus’ in the bank

Reciting “Shehehyanu” on Joyful Purchases

Q: Does a person who owns many shirts have to bless “Sheheheyanu” over the purchase of a new shirt? And does one recite “Shehecheyanu” on socks and other minor things that a person buys for himself and is happy over them?

A: Two conditions are required for the “Shehecheyanu” blessing: one that the person reciting the blessing is happy over the garment or the new utensil; the second, that it is a garment or a utensil that many people are accustomed to rejoice over.

Thus, since most people are happy to buy ordinary clothes, such as a shirt, pants, a nice tie, a skirt, a small woolen prayer shawl, a nice hat, and pajamas, anyone who is happy when purchasing them should thank God and recite over them the blessing “Shehecheyanu.” But for buying simple clothes that people usually are not happy over, such as socks, underwear, a simple kerchief and a simple T-shirt, “Shehecheyanu” should not be recited. And even a poor person, who is very happy to buy them, in the opinion of the majority of the poskim, should not bless, for it is improper to recite a berakha over something simple which is not considered a joyful purchase in the eyes of many. But it would be appropriate to thank God in his own words or say the blessing without ‘shem u’malchut’.

It can be said that buying a garment, utensil, or a piece of jewelry in a regular store worth about NIS 50, which is the price of a nice shirt, is already considered important, and if the buyer or recipient is happy, he should recite the blessing “Shehecheyanu” (Peninei Halakha: Berachot 17: 4).

Q: What is the halakha when a person buys something that costs about NIS 50, but because he bought it online or at a special discount, he paid much less?

A: He certainly recites the blessing, because his joy is double – over the happy purchase, and that he managed to buy it at a low price.

Those who are not happy do not bless

It is true that wealthy or indifferent people, who are not happy with the purchase of a regular garment, cannot recite the blessing over them, for how can they bless “Shehecheyanu, v’keeyimanu, ve’higiyanu” when they are not happy? But on an important garment, like a suit or fancy dress that makes them happy – even a little – they recite the blessing. And for someone who even important clothes does not make them happy at all- they have forfeited the blessing.

It is Appropriate to Recite the Blessing on Shoes

In the past, it was not customary to recite the blessing over shoes, and apparently they were not important because they were intended solely to prevent injury to the legs. But it seems that today, when time and money are invested in the design of the shoes, their color and the like, and they are expensive and important, it is fitting that someone who takes joy in their purchase should recite the blessing.

Greeting on Good News

Those who have been informed that their salaries are going to be raised beyond the accepted increase, or have received an unexpected promotion, should recite the blessing “Shehecheyanu“.

Someone who hoped to be appointed to a certain position, and heard that they chose him – blesses “Shehecheyanu“. And if he forgot to bless when he heard about it, he can bless as long as he is very happy with the good news. If a party is held for him to take office, he can postpone the blessing from the time of the good news till the time of the party, when he is most happy.

Anyone who has been informed that he has successfully passed the driving test, or who received a high score on a psychometric test or another important test, if he is very happy about it, he may recite the blessing “Shehecheyanu“.

The Blessing on Shalva (sweet puffed wheat) and Granola – Mezanot

Over shalva, granola, and crispy rice cakes made out of wheat, seemingly, the ‘borei pri adama‘ blessing should be recited, for the general rule is that one who eats types of cooked wheats blesses “mezanot“, and if it is baked as bread – “ha’motzi“, but if grains of wheat are eaten as naturally grown, or roasted or cooked a little,” one recites “ha’adama“. This is because they were not eaten in their finest manner, and they are like other kinds of legumes, upon which the blessing “ha’adama” is recited.  After eating, a blessing is not recited, since there is doubt as to which blessing to recite, “borei nefashot” according to the halakha of any food that is first blessed with “ha’adama” (Ritva), or “al ha’michiya” according to the halakha of “she’vat minei dagan” (Rosh, Rashba). And since there is doubt, a blessing is not recited.

In practice, however, this is the halakha only in regards to the eating of grain in a strange manner, naturally and uncooked. But when prepared as an important dish, such as crispy wheat cakes, shalva, and granola, since they are ready for consumption, and people are used to eating them as an important food that is not inferior to cooked grain, their blessing is “mezanot” and “al ha’michiya“.

Amendment regarding ‘Ribbit‘ (interest)

In an article last week about the great importance of the fight against wage withholding in the economy, there was a proposal to charge interest for those who are behind payment. However, it is necessary to note that charging interest for delaying wages is forbidden by the Torah. The proper way to deal with withholding wages according to Jewish law is to set a fine in advance for those who are late to pay.

Prohibition of interest in overdraft

Since we have already mentioned the prohibition of ‘ribbit‘, I will touch upon an important question: Is it permissible for a person to be overdrawn in his bank account and to pay interest according to a ‘heter iska’?

A: According to most poskim, a person is not permitted to overdraft from a bank other than for business purposes. And despite the fact that the bank has a transaction permit (‘heter iska‘) for all its activities, it is not beneficial for overdraft for daily financing because the basis of the permit is based on the fact that the money is invested in profit transactions. But if the money is intended to buy food and clothing and other needs, this is an ordinary loan, which is not intended for investments, and therefore the percentage added to the principal is interest that is forbidden from the Torah.

However, there are poskim who permit this in times of distress, but since most poskim prohibit it, and it is a safek issur from the Torah, one should be machmir (stringent).

When is it Permitted to be in Overdraft

Although, someone who has a savings plan or an apartment, and for a period of time got caught in financial distress, and in order to finance his current needs, he has two options: one is to break the savings plan or sell the apartment, and the second is to withdraw money from the bank and then pay interest on it – In dire circumstances, he is allowed to enter overdraft and pay interest afterwards. This is because this action can be considered a business need, for if he had to break the savings plan or sell the apartment, it will cause a greater financial loss, so it pays to be in overdraft and pay a certain interest, thereby saving the loss involved in breaking the savings plan or selling the apartment. But this permit can only be used for a limited period of time. The reason is that in the case of a permanent deficit, it is impossible to say that it is better for him not to break a savings plan or not to sell the apartment because the interest he receives for his savings or the profit he receives for saving his apartment, is smaller than the interest he pays for a long period.

The Correct Attitude to the Right-wing Movements in Europe

Recently, we once again heard that the Israeli Foreign Ministry is debating how to treat the right-wing parties in Europe, especially the Austrian right-wing Freedom Party, whose leaders are now members of the government. For years, the traditional position was boycotting, because although most of the leaders and members of these parties repudiated the Nazis and the Holocaust, these movements served as incubators for Nazi supporters and Holocaust deniers.

In recent years, however, radical right movements have undergone a process of change. Leaders have arose who shook off the racist Nazi heritage and openly support the State of Israel. They removed anti-Jewish neo-Nazis from their movements in shame. They refined the national positions of the movements, and now they express a just position that demands the preservation of the national, religious and cultural identity of the peoples of Europe. Just as the property of a private individual must not be usurped, as the communists did in the countries they took over, people should not be deprived of their national and religious identity, as the liberals of the left, the Communist successors such as the British Labor Party, wish to do today.

In light of this, the moral stance, as well as considerations of benefit, oblige us to examine positively the ties with the right-wing movements in Europe, where each case must be examined on its merits. A movement that completely renounces anti-Semitism and racism deserves respect, encouragement and cooperation. The agreed position should be that the just struggle against violent and aggressive Islam, and anyone who threatens their national identity, is defined as a struggle for the rule of law and order and for the establishment of a clear national identity for the state, but in no way for xenophobia.

Strache and the Austrian Freedom Movement

Several years ago, leaders of the right-wing movements in Europe visited Israel. One of them was Heinz Christian Strache, the leader of the Austrian Freedom Movement. During their visit, they also came to Har Bracha, and after hearing from former MK Elyakim Haetzni that according to what he had inspected, they were decent people, and we received them with all due respect. At the meeting, Strache spoke in German, and Elyakim Haetzni translated it into Hebrew. It was an enthusiastic Zionist speech, of a man who appreciates the Jewish people and its tremendous achievements in the building of the Land of Israel, socially, culturally, economically and scientifically, and in the face of bravery against the Arab enemy. In his speech, he pledged to always stand for the right of Israel and the settlers who returned to the land of the Bible and stand bravely as a wall in the face of Arab terror and are considered the front line of defense in Europe’s security.

I later heard from Elyakim Haetzni, that a member of the Jewish community in Vienna had contacted him, claiming that there were other neo-Nazis in the Austrian Freedom Party, and how could we meet with them. Elyakim did not waste time, asked for the names of the anti-Semitic activists and transferred them to the leaders of the Austrian party. They were later removed from the ranks of the party. And even the Jew who complained, once again reported to Elyakim Haetzni that the party was now clean, without neo-Nazi activists.

It seems that in such a situation, it would be correct for the official representatives of the State of Israel to establish good relations with representatives of the Austrian Freedom Party and its leader.

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

When do we Recite “HaGomel” Today?

The criteria of ‘Birkat HaGomel’ were formulated in accordance with the reality in the past, in which every illness could have deteriorated to death, and every journey was life threatening * The rabbinic decree was to recite the Gomel after leaving a dangerous situation, and therefore today one should recite the blessing only in situations of exceptional risk * Even for those who go according to the Shulchan Aruch, the bracha should not be recited over ordinary patients who lie in bed because of their illness * Also on inter-city rides the blessing should not be recited, since the chance of road accidents does not make it a real danger * Regarding airplane travel, the poskim disagree, but for those used to flying – it is correct for them not to recite the blessing

Birkat HaGomel for Sephardi Minhag (custom)

Q: I practice Sephardic minhagim, and according to our custom, every patient – even a patient with a mild flu who has to lie down one day in bed – should recite the ‘HaGomel’ blessing after he has been cured, as codified in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 219:8), that anyone who is forced to lie down on his bed due to his illness, when he recovers and gets up from his bed, recites the ‘Gomel’. According to the Rema, the ‘Gomel’ is recited only after a certain life-threatening illness, for which Shabbat is profaned.

Similarly, anyone who travels on a road that takes more than seventy-two minutes should recite the ‘Gomel’ blessing, as is explained in the Shulchan Aruch (219:7), but according to the Ashkenazic custom one does not recite the ‘Gomel’ when travelling from city to city, “for only those who travel in deserts where there are wild animals or thieves is obligated to recite the ‘Gomel’. But according to Sephardi minhag it is customary to recite the blessing, because all roads are presumed to be dangerous. However, if the travel is less than a parsah, one does not recite the blessing.”  And since a parsah is approximately 72 minutes, according to the Sephardi minhag, the ‘Gomel’ blessing should be recited over any travel that takes 72 minutes.

However in practice, I have not encountered a situation in which a person who was ill for one day recites the ‘Gomel’, and even a person with the flu, I do not recall him reciting the blessing of “HaGomel”. As for the traveler on urban roads, where Rav Ovadiah Yosef ruled that if during the day a person traveled for seventy-two minutes, he should recite the ‘Gomel’, there is no one who does so in practice, since many people travel in this fashion to their work every day and do not recite the ‘Gomel’ every day. The question is: Does the minhag of the Sephardim who do not recite “HaGomel” have what to rely on?

A: Let us begin with the law concerning an ill person, and from there we will continue with the law of the traveler and the other laws of the “Gomel” blessing.

What Ill Person Should Bless

In practice, all Sephardim and Ashkenazim should recite “HaGomel” only after an illness that is in danger of justifying desecration of the Sabbath in order to heal the patient. And even though the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch states that every patient who is cured should recite “HaGomel”, this is because in the past, every person who fell ill was considered to be in a somewhat dangerous situation, because many times they did not know whether it was the flu, or heart disease, if the patient had angina, or was a diabetic patient who was in a dangerous condition. And as we sometimes find in stories from the past, people who functioned as perfectly healthy fell ill suddenly, and died the following day. Therefore, many of the Rishonim, led by Maimonides, Nachmanides and the Rashba, have instructed that anyone who fell ill – even if they thought that there was no danger in his illness – should recite the ‘Gomel’ when he recovers, for perhaps his illness was dangerous, as is brought down in the Beit Yosef from the words of the Yerushalmi: “All the roads are presumed to be dangerous…every illness is presumed to be dangerous” (Berachot 4:4). As the Ramban wrote, and in his language, quoted in the Shulchan Aruch:” In every sickness one must bless, even if he is not dangerously ill … rather, anyone who had to lie down on his bed and recovered, since he is similar to one who has been sent to the gallows to be judged”(219:8), and a person sent to the gallows naturally enters danger.” It is also explained from what was copied in the Beit Yosef the words of the Rashba in his teshuva (1: 82): “There is no difference between having a permanent ailment coming occasionally or regularly, and on the contrary, the more regular it is, the stronger it is. And even though miracles have been performed for him many times and he has been saved from them, from the heavens they have pitied him, and miracles do not occur at all times (Megillah 7b).” And thus ruled the Shulchan Aruch. We see that according to all opinions ‘Gomel’ was recited only because of the danger of an illness, but according to the Shulchan Aruch every illness to a certain extent is dangerous, whereas the Rosh and the Rama ruled that only a disease whose danger was known and acknowledged should be blessed upon.

It should be added that in recent generations we have become more spoiled, and many people lie on their beds because of diseases that in the past were considered only as ailments that do not require lying down. And perhaps this is why the Ben Ish Chai ruled that only someone who had been lying down for three days should recite “HaGomel”. However, many disagreed with him and wrote that even a patient who lied in bed less than three days should bless according to the customs of the Sephardim.  However, it seems clear that in the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch, in any case, a blessing should not be recited over an illness that was clearly not dangerous.

Only an Ill Person who was in Danger Blesses

Therefore, after medical science has developed, and it is now possible to diagnose a patient’s condition and determine whether there is a danger of his illness, the members of all communities, both Sephardim and Ashkenazim, should be instructed to recite the blessing only after an illness that had a certain danger. And the sign is that this is a disease that is permitted to violate the Sabbath in order to save the patient. True, sometimes we desecrate the Sabbath and drive a sick person to the hospital out of doubt, and in the end it turns out that the patient was not in danger, and obviously it is clear that he does not bless “HaGomel”; but after an illness in which the patient was in mortal danger to the point where the Sabbath should be desecrated for him, the ‘Gomel’ blessing should be recited.

Passengers on the Road are not in Danger

The same applies to travelers: All poskim agree that the blessing is for the saving from danger; rather, they disagreed about whether the blessing should be recited on the relatively distant danger of walking from city to city. Nevertheless, in the past there was a far greater danger than the danger of traveling on the roads in our time, for in the past when people walked or rode on animals, someone who damaged his leg or was injured by a fall might find it difficult to complete his trip and die of thirst, or an untreated infection. The danger of the robbers was great, too, and sometimes the robbers murdered the property owners or sold them as slaves. Therefore, it is said in the Yerushalmi: “All roads are presumed to be dangerous” (Brachot 4: 4). This was one of the reasons why people rarely traveled, and most people throughout their lifetimes did not leave their area of ​​residence, and consequently did not have to recite “HaGomel” as a traveler. According to this, the machmirim (stringent poskim) have ruled to bless on every travel on inter-urban roads.

However, today the roads are safe. This is one of the great achievements of the modern era that transportation and the moving of goods have been made easy and safe, and thus reduced the cost of food and clothing and other products, and it becomes more profitable to invest in further technological developments that can also be transported and marketed globally.

The Danger of Accidents is not considered to be a Danger to Life

There are those who wish to argue that today as well, because there are road accidents, the roads are very dangerous. However, although every accident is extremely painful, statistically speaking, this is a very low risk, which has been decreasing over the years. It seems that if we consider the time in minutes people go down stairs compared to the time they spend on the road, we will find that no less people are killed and injured on stairs, and no one would think of reciting the “Gomel” blessing after going down stairs. Similarly, if we consider the people who drown in the sea, or die because of slipping in a bath, we find that the danger of the roads is much smaller. Obviously, my words do not detract from the importance of education for road safety, because by virtue of this education the danger of accidents is indeed significantly reduced.

In conclusion, according to all minhagim, “HaGomel” should not be recited for trips between cities in progressive countries.

The Blessing of “HaGomel” is intended for Special Cases

It should be added that the “HaGomel” blessing is intended for special cases and not as a routine blessing. Proof for this is that some say that anyone who needed to recite “HaGomel” in the times of the Temple would have had to sacrifice a korban todah (thanksgiving offering). This is what the Rosh, Or Zaru’a, and S’mag wrote. And the ‘Chayei Adam’ went as far as writing the order of reciting the korban todah sacrifice for the four required to give thanks, and wrote that those who recite the Gomel should contribute tzedakah to those who study Torah equal to the value of sacrifice, because it is inconceivable that in the wake of the destruction of the Temple, the sinners should be rewarded. Nevertheless, according to many poskim, it was a mitzvah and not an obligation to bring a korban todah for those who needed to recite “HaGomel” (Rashi, Leviticus 7:12). In any case, one can understand that this is not a blessing that a person blesses frequently. (It should be noted that the main halachic rulings on “Ha-Gomel” blessing after a trip were written about 70 years ago by Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and Nitivei Am).

Should a Blessing be recited after a Flight

In recent generations a question has arose concerning those who fly in airplanes. Some poskim have ruled that they do not have to recite the blessing because air flight is not more dangerous than traveling in a car (Chelkat Yaacov, Be’ztel HaChochma; in the name of the Ga’on of Trzebinia, and the Rebbe of Belz. This is also the opinion of Rabbi Goren).

On the other hand, many poskim ordered to recite “HaGomel” after a flight. Rabbi Feinstein clarified that the blessing of “HaGomel” was based on the departure of man from the regular order to a dangerous situation, such as the seafarers, for example, that it is not natural for a person not to drown in the sea, and after having crossed the sea safely thanks to having been on a boat – when one arrives at his destination, he should recite “HaGomel”. Despite the fact that there are almost no disasters today with regards to ships, since a person leaves his home to the danger of being at sea, and is saved by virtue of being on a ship, he blesses. All the more so in regards to flying on an airplane, which is naturally more dangerous than sailing on a ship, for it is not natural for a person to remain in the air and not fall, and since there is a rescue from danger, “HaGomel” should be recited after the flight. (Thus is written in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Halichot Shlomo, and was stated in the name of Chazon Ish). However, some of the poskim wrote that only after a flight of at least seventy-two minutes should one recite the blessing (Tzitz Eliezer 11:13, and Yichivei Daat). In practice, it seems that it is correct for anyone who is accustomed to flying not to bless, since the “HaGomel” blessing was based on an exceptional situation. And even for those who are not used to flying – it is preferable not to bless, since today flights have become natural and routine for people, and are not more dangerous than car trips. If someone who is not accustomed to flying wants to recite the blessing, he can rely on those poskim who believe that one should recite a blessing, because for him a flight is a special event involving a certain fear (for the blessing “HaGomel” is not only dependent on danger, but also a traumatic event such as imprisonment, in which there is no danger).

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

Fasting – For Pregnant and Nursing Women as well

There is no reason to spend more time on Yom Kippur with detailed confessions than what is customary, since the main thing is the connection to the root and the inner will * The most important aspect of the day is atonement by fasting, and therefore whoever finds it difficult to fast – it is preferable to lie in bed all day and not come to synagogue to pray, so long as one does not eat * Today our body is not weaker than in the past, on the contrary, it is healthier and stronger, therefore pregnant and nursing women should not be lenient * The sick, pregnant, and nursing mothers who ask a doctor whether to fast, should ask a God-fearing physician who is not in a hurry to be lenient, and will respond in a practical manner whether or not they are in danger

Yom Kippur – Holy of Holies

The basis of teshuva is rooted in the most exalted reality, and consequently, the main service of Yom Kippur is performed in the Kodesh HaKodeshim (Holy of Holies). The Holy Temple is the place where all Divine values ​​are revealed, and from it, they flow to the entire world. In the ‘heichal‘(sanctuary) termed ‘Kodesh‘, rests the ‘menorah‘ symbolizing all categories of wisdom; the ‘shulchan‘(the Golden Table) signifies parnasah (livelihood); and the Mizbayach Haketoret (incense altar) denoting prayer and the longing for closeness to God. On a higher level in the Kodesh HaKodeshim, the foundations of Israel’s beliefs and teachings were revealed. Therefore, in the Kodesh HaKodeshim rested the Ark containing the Tablets and the Torah, and above it, two Cherubim which symbolized the bond of ‘brit‘(covenant) and love between God and Israel. Out from the Kodesh HaKodeshim flowed life to the entire world, hence its’ supreme importance, to the point where anyone who entered it is deserving of death by Heaven, and only the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) entered it on Yom Kippur on behalf of all Israel, so as to connect the entire world to its source, and draw atonement, forgiveness, and life to the whole world.

The Mitzvah to Fast – the Main Aspect of the Day

The most important aspect of atonement on Yom Kippur is contingent on fasting. By fasting, a person withdraws from all bodily actions, draws within his inner-self, his soul, and reveals his true, inner aspirations – to follow Torah and mitzvot, and thus participate in ‘tikkun olam’ (repairing the world). By doing so, his sins become external, and ‘zedonot’ (willful transgressions) are transformed into ‘shegagot‘(inadvertent errors). And if on account of Yom Kippur a person merits repenting deeply and completely, to the point where he amends all of his sins, he will also merit having his ‘zedonot’ transformed into ‘zechuyot‘(spiritual credits).

Consequently, the mitzvah of fasting is the only commandment intended for each and every Jew on Yom Kippur, as it is written: ” “[Each year] on the 10th day of the 7th month you must fast…this is because on this day you shall have all your sins atoned, so that you will be cleansed. Before God you will be cleansed of all your sins” (Leviticus 16:29-30).

Confession, Prayer, and Fasting

Some mistakenly believe that the main concern on Yom Kippur is to list all the possible sins and confess them, and to this end, print long versions of confessions. But the essence of Yom Kippur is deeper, and therefore the text of the confession that must be said on Yom Kippur is short and general: “Aval anachnu chatanu, avinu, pashanu” (Yoma 87b; Rambam, M.B. 607:12). It is customary to add a detailed version according to the order of the letters (Rav Amram Gaon): “Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu…” We continue to elaborate by saying “al chait sh’chatanu lefanecha” etc. All the confession versions therefore are general, because the essence of the day is for every Jew to gather into the root of his soul, to shake off all the sins subject to the body by way of the fast, and connect to the Holy of Holies, i.e., the covenant between God and Israel revealed by the Torah.

Therefore, despite the fact that as a result of the fast and the rest of the afflictions it is difficult for us to concentrate on our prayers as on other days, one deep knowledge becomes clear – that our true desire is to adhere to the God of Israel, and correct the world in light of the Torah and its guidance.

A Sick Person Whose Life is Not in Danger is Obligated to Fast

Even one suffering pain from his illness, as long as his life is not in danger, it is forbidden for him to eat or drink anything. If necessary, he should lie in bed all day, rather than eat or drink something.

This is the difference between Yom Kippur and other fasts – namely, on the fast of Yom Kippur, ill people must also fast because it is a Torah prohibition; on the fast of Tisha B’Av, ill people are exempt from fasting; and on the minor fasts, pregnant and nursing mothers are also exempt.

Swallowing Medication

Nevertheless, a sick person who experiences discomfort from his ailment, or those who take medication daily, are permitted to swallow medicine on Yom Kippur, provided these pills do not taste good, and as such, are not considered food. One should take care to swallow them without water. Those who cannot swallow them without a liquid can mix a drop of soap in water, thus exceedingly impairing its taste, and swallow the pill with such water.

Individuals suffering from intense headaches due to not drinking coffee are permitted to take pills containing caffeine, or pills to relieve headaches.

The Gravely Ill

Someone who is gravely ill and the fast is liable to result in his death, is commanded to drink and eat as necessary, because ‘pikuach nefesh’ (saving a life) overrides the mitzvah of fasting, as is the case for all other mitzvoth from the Torah (Yoma 85b). A person in a state of ‘safek sakana’ (questionable risk of death) and is ‘machmir‘ (stringent) with himself not to drink or eat, sins, for He who commanded us to fast, also commanded us to eat and drink on Yom Kippur when the fast is likely to endanger life.

How to Evaluate ‘Sakanat Nefashot’

A doctor who is in doubt should contemplate what he himself would do if, on Yom Kippur, he became aware of a sick patient who was fasting. If he would get in his car and drive ten minutes in order to instruct the patient to drink and eat, thereby saving the patient from ‘safek sakana’, it is a sign that indeed it is a case of ‘safek sakanat nefashot’, and he should instruct an ill person coming to him to eat and drink on Yom Kippur. But if in spite of his responsibility for human life, he would not be willing to drive on Yom Kippur for ten minutes, it’s a sign there is no ‘safek sakana’, and he should instruct the patient to fast. This advice is beneficial for an ordinary doctor who, on the one hand, is not lazy, but on the other hand, does not particularly enjoy scurrying around between patients.

Ask an Observant Doctor

This halakha is entrusted to doctors, namely, that in accordance with the medical information at their disposal and their personal experience, they must determine when there is – or is not – a fear of danger. Still, a problem arises:  there are doctors who, due to excessive indecision or disregard of mitzvoth, inevitably instruct every sick person to drink and eat on Yom Kippur.

Therefore, in regards to this issue, people who are ill must take advice from a religiously observant doctor. And religious observance does not depend on the kippa one wears; rather, the most important thing is that the doctor be honest and ethical, and exhibit great responsibility towards both the sanctity of the fast and that of human life in his decision.

An ill person who mistakenly asked a doctor who is not observant and indeed was instructed to eat and drink, should hasten to ask an observant doctor before Yom Kippur. If one erred and did not ask an observant doctor, and has no opportunity to do so, he should drink and eat on Yom Kippur because although there is doubt whether the doctor replied correctly, the realm of doubt still remains, and in any situation of ‘safek nefashot’, one must be ‘machmir‘ (stringent) and eat and drink.

The Greatest Mistake in Eating in Measurements

A common and widespread misconception among doctors and the ill is the belief that the advice to drink in ‘shiurim‘ (measured quantities) is sort of a middle-path, suitable for sick individuals for whom the fast is not life-threatening. In truth, however, the status of ill people not in a life-threatening situation is similar to all others, and the severe Torah prohibition applies to them as well, i.e., it is forbidden for them to drink or eat anything.

Rather, the point about drinking in ‘shiurim’ is that even when a dangerously ill person needs to eat and drink on Yom Kippur, some authorities say it is preferable to eat and drink in ‘shiurim’. The ‘shiur’ for drinking is ‘k’mlo peev’ (a cheek-full of liquid), each person according to the size of his mouth. The ‘shiur’ for eating is ‘k’kotevet hagasa‘(a type of large date). In other words, eating and drinking less than a ‘shiur’ means drinking less than ‘k’mlo peev’, and eating less than ‘k’kotevet’, which is approximately 30 ml (S.A. 612:1-5, 8-10). The interval between drinking and eating is approximately nine minutes. Some authorities say that if the sick person is dangerously ill, he should drink and eat normally. And if there is a danger, even remote, that drinking and eating in ‘shiurim’ will cause even the slightest negligence in the strengthening of the dangerously ill person, he should drink and eat normally.

Pregnant Women

Pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast on Yom Kippur (Pesachim 54b; S.A.617:1). Even on Tisha B’Av, pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast, kal v’chomer (all the more so) on Yom Kippur, whose requirement stems from the Torah.

There are some poskim (Jewish law authorities) who sought to permit pregnant women to drink in ‘shiurim’ because in their opinion, women have become weaker nowadays, and fasting may cause them to miscarry. However, from studies conducted in Israel and abroad, it was revealed that fasting does not increase the risk of miscarriage. Only in rare cases is fasting liable to induce labor in the ninth month of pregnancy and, in any event, this does not entail ‘sakanat nefashot’. Also, there is no evidence to the claim that nowadays women are weaker. On the contrary – today people are healthier than in the past, due to both the diversity and abundance of food, better hygiene, and medical advancements. This is also reflected in the rise of life expectancy by tens of years. Consequently, there is no room to be more lenient than in the past, and the halakha remains firm that pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast (Nishmat Avraham 617:1).

Therefore, even a pregnant woman suffering from vomiting, high blood pressure, low hemoglobin (iron) or various ailments is obligated to fast on Yom Kippur, and it is forbidden for her to drink in ‘shiurim‘. Only in exceptional cases where the pregnancy is at risk, and in accordance with the advice of a religiously observant doctor, should a pregnant woman be instructed to drink, and in such a case, preferably in ‘shiurim’.

Nursing Women

A nursing woman is obligated to fast on Yom Kippur (Pesachim 54b; S.A. 617:1). Although nursing causes fasting to be difficult because it results in a further loss of fluids, there is no danger to the mother or the fetus. Some poskim sought to be lenient regarding nursing women because in their opinion weakness has descended upon the world, and today, without nursing, babies are at risk. However, their opinions are extremely puzzling, for although there are certainly positive benefits to nursing and mother’s milk, nevertheless, there are many women who do not nurse at all, and we have yet to hear of doctors conducting a crusade in support of women continuing to nurse in order to save their children from mortal danger. If in the past when numerous babies died in their first year of life and there were no good substitutes for mother’s milk, the unambiguous halakha was that a pregnant woman was obligated to fast – even on Tisha B’Av – how is it conceivable that nowadays when there are good substitutes, this issue has become one of pikuach nefesh?!

Good Advice for Nursing Women

Doctors we are familiar with advise nursing women to drink three days before Yom Kippur at least four liters per day, and on the eve of Yom Kippur – from morning until the fast begins – about five liters, in order to store fluids ahead of Yom Kippur, and thus, also increase milk. Experience has shown that if a woman does so not only will Yom Kippur not affect her nursing, but as a result, her milk supply will increase. Very possibly, she might even be able to extract surplus milk ahead of Yom Kippur. Another piece of advice from my wife for the fast to be easier for both mother and baby: to alternately skip two feedings – one at noon-time on Yom Kippur, and another towards the end of the fast, and instead, feed the baby a milk substitute.

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

God’s Crowning – The Empowerment of Man and the Nation

Crowning Hashem as king, which stands at the center of Rosh Hashanah and its prayers, can be perceived as weakness of man * When Hashem’s kingdom is perceived as such in a lower type of faith, people seek to distance it from the army, government offices, and the family unit, so as not to dwarf them * However, the exact opposite is true: Lack of faith imposes weakness and feebleness on all aspects of life, and the crowing of Hashem gives power to the individual and national entities  * If we do not want to remain in a situation where it is difficult to pass the nation-state law, a situation in which the connection to Judaism and nationalism is weakening, we must raise faith and strengthen the crowning of Hashem upon ourselves

A Day of Remembrance, Judgment, and Trumpeting

On Rosh Hashanah, the life allowance that God gave to his world in the previous year ends, and He remembers his creations, and creates new life for them for the coming year, for God’s memory is a taking into account, and the giving of life. And so His kindness not be turned into evil by the wicked to be used for iniquity, God determined that on this day He would judge His world. Thus, Rosh Hashanah is a day of remembrance and judgment, in which the righteous and evil deeds that were performed during the year are remembered, and the Almighty sits on the throne of judgment and calculates his worldly account, and judges every nation and people in general, and each and every person as an individual.

The essence of the judgement of the entire world depends on the People of Israel and the Land of Israel, for Israel is the heart of the world, the nation of Hashem, and ‘tikkun olam’ (the correction of the world) depends on them. Therefore, Israel’s reward and punishment are greater than the reward and punishment of other nations. That is why God first judges Israel, and as a result of the judgement of the People of Israel, judgement spreads over all mankind and the world (Rosh Hashanah 8a, b; Ta’anit 10a).)

This is why Rosh Hashanah is called ‘Yom Teru’ah’ (day of blowing) for the teru’ah alludes to tribulation, weeping, anxiety and the breakdown of order. Tribulation and weeping – over what is finished, but incomplete; anxiety – towards the next stage, which has not yet been determined who will live and who will die, who will be at ease, and who will suffer. Therefore, even though the duration of the teru’ot is relatively short, the entire day is called the “Day of Teru’ah” – the day of tribulation and weeping. However, God commanded us to blow a simple ‘tekiah’ which expresses joy and stability before and after each ‘teru’ah’, for the whole purpose of the teru’ah is to correct and improve. Therefore, the day of the ‘teru’ah’ is also a festival day in which we are commanded to hold feasts, for the purpose of all of this is correction and joy.

Our Will – Revelation of Hashem’s Kingdom  

As a result of our great worries about the future of our lives in the coming year, we could presumably dedicate the entire Day of Judgment to private prayers about livelihood, health, and all the other things a man occupies himself throughout the year. However, this is the special virtue of Israel, whose deepest desire is for Hashem’s kingdom to be revealed and the entire world inevitably be repaired and redeemed – even if Israel has to endure suffering for this purpose.

The People of Israel chose this great and awesome path, starting from the forefathers of the world who accepted upon themselves to believe in God in the face of all the pagans around them, and concluding with the long exile in which the People of Israel, despite all the hardships, chose not to assimilate with the nations and continue bearing the banner of faith and Torah, in order to repair the world in the kingdom of God.

When Israel sets aside its own grief and occupies itself with His honor and the revelation of His kingdom, God says to the angels: “See my sons, my beloved ones, who set aside their sorrow and occupy themselves with my honor.” Thus, the claims of Satan who wishes to annul Israel from the world are blocked, and Israel is given a new year in which to progress another step towards ‘tikkun’ and redemption. And the more we merit accepting upon ourselves on Rosh Hashanah Hashem’s kingdom, with humility and awe, the greater our ability will be to merit a better and more blessed year.

The Kingdom of Hashem at the Center of Prayer

Therefore, the heart of the Rosh Hashanah prayer deals with the crowning of Hashem as king over us, and therefore in the signing of the third blessing of the Amidah, instead of saying “Ha K’el ha’kadosh” we say “ha’melech ha’kadosh”, and continue saying so for all Ten Days of Repentance. This matter is so important that those who err and forget to say “ha’melech ha’kadosh” have not fulfilled their obligation, and must pray again (S. A., O. C. 582:1).

Even the signing of the blessing of the holiday in all the Rosh Hashanah prayers is: “King over all the world, who blesses Israel and the Day of Remembrance.” And in the Musaf prayer, which is the main prayer of Rosh Hashanah in which the shofar is blown, our Sages determined three blessings: Malchuyot, Zichron’ot, and Shofar’ot, with the first and most important one being Malchuyot. To a great extent, even the blessings of Zichron’ot and Shofar’ot deal with Hashem’s kingdom.

Does God’s Kingdom Lower Man?

In a lower perception of faith, the more one believes in God and accepts His kingship over himself, the more he reduces himself. He is filled with anxiety, afraid to act in the world and correct it, pleading with God as a poor son and as a humble slave for Him to do everything for us, because we have no deeds. Faith makes him cowardly and soft-hearted. This type of belief, too, is needed, because fear of heaven serves as a barrier to man’s desires, which may erupt with murderous cruelty and with disgust and humiliation. When people succeeded in freeing themselves of faith (in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany), they murdered many more people than at times when faith was present.

However, man basically wishes to reveal his powers and therefore desires to be released from a lower type of faith that diminishes the image of God in himself, and to ascend to a higher faith that strengthens his soul and his powers. At such a level, the crowning of Hashem as king does not weaken man, but rather gives inspiration and meaning to his life, and elevates him to a level of courage and creativity that cannot be attained without faith (see ‘Midot HaRayah’, Emunah 29).

The Kingdom of Hashem Strengthens Nationalism

When most of the religious and ultra-Orthodox public live most of the time in a lower level of faith, many people do not desire such faith. And even those who give faith a place in their lives are interested in lowering its volume, and to occupy themselves with small personal matters, and not get involved in public life – not in science and industry, out of fear that it will delay any development and weaken any initiative; not in the army – for fear that it will bring us back to the days of exile, or for fear that since God ordered the conquest of the land, we must ignore all rational considerations, for what does man know? The main goal is to do the will of God, even if it poses a huge risk to the existence of the state. Thus we find many people who fear the influence of faith in matters of public life.

However, when there is no recognition of the kingdom of God, the soul is silent, and all human systems are emptied of meaning and remain hollow. Thus, even the gnawed ‘Chok Ha’Leum’ (nation-state law) people find difficult to pass and implement, and resultantly, weakness is found in the building and settlement of the Land, and a lacking of power to call aloud to all Jews in the Diaspora to immigrate to Israel. And in light of this weakness, the Arab representatives who should thank the Jewish people from morning till night for all the good Israel has brought them, spit into the well from which they drink, and proceed to spread slander of our good and moral state throughout the world.

The Kingdom of Hashem and the Nation-State Law

While in one of the army camps, I saw a giant banner on which the vision and values ​​to which the army educates were written in enormous letters. The list of values ​​was: “Love of man, professionalism, personal example, friendship, modesty, creativity and innovation, love of the Land.”

These values ​​are wonderful, but the Jewish people is not mentioned. The Zionist vision is erased. True, love of the Land was mentioned, but only because it could include the Druze and the Circassians – and the Arabs, if they were willing to enlist. It should be noted that the training commander who led the parade spoke balanced and correct. He mentioned the Bible and the suffering that our people have experienced throughout our long history, and the IDF’s mission to make sure events as difficult as those of our people in the past are no longer repeated, while maintaining the law and proper treatment for all. His words were both measured and moving.

But the shameful situation is that the IDF is no longer officially capable of writing that it is committed to the Zionist vision and the Jewish people, which proves how necessary it was to legislate the nation-state law, and how important it is to strive to integrate its values ​​in all spheres of society. For this we must return to faith in God’s kingdom, which is the foundation of our national existence.

In the opening speech of the First Zionist Congress, Herzl also said that first of all we must return to our Judaism, and from this, to our country.

Faith Gives Meaning to the Family

The crowning of Hashem as king in the lower level of faith maintains the family, so that a couple will remain faithful to each other and not betray one another. But since there is no vision and spirit in this type of relationship, many people prefer to look for different types of family that give them more freedom and personal expression. But without faith, these families fall apart.

The crowning of Hashem as king on the level of supreme faith gives the family the meaning of sanctity, of the revelation of the divine unity, in miniature, in the love between the couple. And as the joy between them grows, so the name of God is grows greater between them, Divine unity is revealed, and a great blessing and abundance spread throughout the worlds (see Zohar, sect.2, Pikudei 259:1; sect.3, Shlach 167:2).

When people realize that this is the proper family, many are eager to have similar families.

Reign Over the Entire World

The more a person merits faith in its higher level, the greater his powers become in freedom of choice, and feels a greater mission to reveal them in order to add blessing to the world.

In a similar vein, the honor of Jerusalem does not damage the honor of the other cities in Eretz Yisrael, but on the contrary, it exalts them, for how great and important they are that Jerusalem is the crown on their heads. And all the other countries do not suffer from the honor of the Land of Israel, for how great are the countries that dwell together in the same world that has a holy and wonderful land like the Land of Israel.

Similarly, a person’s dignity is not impaired by the fact that his friend ascends to higher levels, but on the contrary, having such a friend, he himself ascends. Similarly, the dignity of the nations is not diminished by the uniqueness of Jewish people, but on the contrary, all the nations are elevated by the fact that the People of Israel exist in their hearts.

This is the meaning of the Rosh Hashanah prayer: “Our God and God of our ancestors, may your sovereignty be acknowledged throughout the world. May your splendor and majestic glory be reflected in the lives of all who dwell on earth. May all that you have made be aware that you are their Maker, and may all that you have created acknowledge that you are their Creator; and may all that breathe the breath of life proclaim: The Eternal, God of Israel, reigns and his sovereignty embraces everything in the universe.”

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

No Return to the Diaspora, Remain in the IDF

Criticism against the problems of modesty in the IDF does not detract from the absolute obligation to enlist * The Haredi public is preoccupied with spiritual survival as in exile, but the Torah guides us to live in the Land of Israel and cope with its challenges * Revelation of holiness must be through the realms of reality – science, economy, and the arts * Our Torah portion teaches that through the life of Torah in the Land of Israel, it is possible to bring blessing to ourselves and to the entire world * The blessing can be realized in a realistic way: if we live properly, we will develop productivity and the economy, together with empowering family and birth, until we lead the world in terms of values ​​and economics

A Sharp Response to the Previous Column

Q: From the article on the problems of modesty in the army, it seems you understand that the Haredi public is right not to enlist – why do you not teach this to your students? Not only did you not reach the obvious conclusion, you raised the fear that if the problems were not solved, then there would be religious people who would move over to the ultra-Orthodox public. Is this a problem? Is it not better that they do so?

Torat Chutz L’Aretz – The Torah of Survival

A: As was the case of the Jewish nation in the Diaspora, and as the guidance of the Torah of chutz l’aretz (Diaspora), the ultra-Orthodox public deals in survival. However, the proper way is to immigrate to Israel and live there within a national framework, according to the Torah in its entirety, which guides the people of Israel to conquer and settle the Land. To this end, we must establish a state and an army and act in all spheres of life – including all fields of science and labor – in the light of our holy Torah. This is the way of the Torah of the Land of Israel, which is the essence of the Torah. Therefore, returning to the ways of the ultra-Orthodox constitutes a return to exile, and the lowering of the Torah to the realm of survival, rather than raising it to the great vision of the revelation of the Divine blessing over the ‘Land of Life’. One can understand the ultra-Orthodox public and its rabbis, fearing that the difficult and complex struggle with all the challenges that earthly life poses they prefer to ‘fence themselves in’, and excel in the ‘daled amot’ (four handbreadths) of the familiar Torah of chutz l’aretz. However, we believe that with all the necessary caution, we must study the Torah in its entirety, and strive to fulfill all its commandments.

Therefore, despite all the justified criticisms of the army, as long as it is not a matter of coercion to do things in complete contradiction to halakha, the mitzvah of army service overrides, and conversely, the denial of the IDF constitutes a serious offense. This is what we learned in the Torah about all aspects of life, that one is not told to refrain from going to work and raising a family and children because of the various trials and difficulties involved; rather, a person is guided to cope with the difficulties, and taught what to do in ideal situations, and how to react in problematic circumstances.

The Essence of Torah Observance is in Israel

As it is explained in the Torah, it is only in the Land of Israel that the people of Israel must observe the Torah, as it is stated: ” [You must do this] because you are crossing the Jordan to come to the land which God your Lord is giving you and occupy it. When you have occupied it and you live there you must carefully keep all the rules and laws that I am prescribing to you today. These are the rules and laws that you must carefully keep in the land that God, Lord of your fathers, is giving you so that you will be able to occupy it as long as you live on earth: (Deuteronomy 11:31-32; 12:1). On the other hand, however, it is written “Be careful that your heart not be tempted to go astray and worship other gods, bowing down to them. God’s anger will then be directed against you .And you shall soon be destroyed from the good land which God gives you… and you will rapidly vanish from the good land that God is giving you. (Nevertheless, even when you are in exile): Place these words of mine on your heart and soul. Bind them as a sign on your arm, and let them be an insignia in the center of your head” (Deuteronomy 11:16-18). Thus, we see that even in exile it is a mitzvah to observe the commandments. Our Sages explained that the mitzvot dependent on the Land are commanded to be performed in Israel alone, but that the mitzvot that are not dependent on the Land must be kept in exile as well, so that we will remember them and know how to fulfill them when we return to Israel. Moreover, through their fulfillment we will wake up to repentance, and merit bringing our redemption closer (Yerushalmi Shevi’it 6: 1; Kiddushin 1: 8; Bavli, Kiddushin 37a; Sifrei, Ekev 33-44).)

As our Sages said (Sifrei, Ekev 37):”Even after you have been exiled, make yourselves distinctive with My commandments so they will not be new to you when you return. This is similar to a king who was angry at his wife, and she returned to her father’s house. The king said to her: Continue wearing your jewelry, so that when you return, they won’t be new to you. Thus the Holy One blessed be He said to Israel: My sons, make yourselves distinctive with the commandments, so that when you return, they will not be new to you. This is what Yirmiyahu said: “Set up markers for yourself” (Jeremiah 31:20) (as in Rashi, Deuteronomy 11:18).

From this we see that the essence of the observance of Torah and mitzvot is in the Land of Israel, as explained by Ramban (Leviticus 18:25).

Realization of Faith in Monotheism – in Israel

Moreover, our Sages said: “Whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols” (Ketubot 110b). Our Sages also said: “Settling the Land of Israel is equivalent to all the mitzvot in the Torah” (Tosefta, Avodah Zara 4:3; Sifrei, Re’eh 53).

This is because the essence of Israel’s faith is the belief in monotheism: “Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One,” that Hashem is God in heaven above and on the earth below – there is no other. In other words, Godliness is revealed in all aspects of spiritual and physical life. As our Sages said: What short text is there upon which all the essential principles of the Torah depend? “In all your ways acknowledge Him” (Proverbs 3: 6) [Berakhot 63a]. Everything has value, in every area one must reveal the sanctity and the blessing. For this purpose, the Holy Land was created, in which we can reveal the values ​​of holiness in earthly life. And the revelation of the sacred will be in all spheres of life without exception: in science and all its fields, in the development of industry and economy in all areas that are advantageous and beneficial to life, in the arts and all of its manifestations – and all this out of faith, and in order to add Divine blessing from the holy source.

Holiness Revealed in Nature

Maran HaRav Kook ztz”l wrote: “The holiness in nature is the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, and the Divine Presence which descended to Exile along with Israel, is the ability to place holiness in contrast to nature. But the holiness which fights against nature is not a complete holiness” (Orot HaTechiya 28). In other words, there is a great deal of value to the sanctity that is revealed in the Diaspora, which the Haredi public deals with, because out of this sanctity rises criticism about all the shortcomings to be found in nature and reality. But criticism is not sufficient to correct reality and reveal the word of God. Therefore, it must join the supreme holiness, “which is the holiness of nature itself … and the holiness in the Diaspora will be connected to the Holy Land, and in the future, the synagogues and learning halls in Bavel will be established in the Land of Israel” (this matter is explained in detail in the new book published by my good friend Rabbi Ze’ev Sultanovitch on ‘Orot HaTechiya’).

The Natural Blessing in the Life of Torah

The Torah teaches us that if we follow in the ways of Hashem we will merit abundant good and blessing, which will reach us naturally. Part of our work in the study of Torah is to explain logically how the observance of the Torah and mitzvot gives value and meaning to every area of life, and thus, receives blessing. Even if it is a gain expressed by every individual by just a few percentage points, when talking about an entire public living according to the light of the Torah, each person has an effect on his fellow neighbor to multiply blessings and good, until a model society is established, finding itself a few levels above any other society.

In other words, if we understand the Torah correctly, we will have a greater understanding of the value of learning in general, and the development of science in particular (as explained by Maimonides, the Vilna Ga’on, and many more), and our children will, on average, achieve better scholastic achievements beyond the norm in developed countries. Thanks to the recognition of the value of work and the contribution to tikkun olam, we will be slightly more focused on the acquisition of a quality and beneficial profession, and on average, will reach a slightly better level than the norm in the developed countries. Thanks to setting times for Torah study each week, and especially on Shabbat, we will merit receiving slightly more inspiration in development and creativity. Thanks to modesty and frugality, each individual, relative to what the amount of money he has, will have the ability to spend more years studying a profession or science, so that more managers will become engineers, and more engineers will become researchers, and the quality of their work will be improved. Thanks to family values, more families will live with love and joy, and will be able to raise more children to Torah and mitzvot, and all other good deeds. And thanks to the greater willingness to contribute to the nation in the army and in settlement, the security situation of the state will improve, and even this improvement will, of course, affect all other areas.

The Vision of the State of Israel

However, because of the erroneous position of the Haredim, which rejects the mitzvah to enlist in the defense of the nation and the building of the land, and which denies, to a greater or lesser extent – science,  work, freedom and creativity – much of this blessing is lost.

The religious public loyal to the Torah, to the nation, and to the country is today the qualitative nucleus that expresses the totality of Torah values, which is the Torah of life, and therefore it is possible to find within it buds of the fulfillment of the blessing written in the Torah. Indeed, the road is still full of obstacles and trials, but the general direction is correct, and overall, the result is positive – time will tell.

If we merit continuing to rise and advance in the path of the Torah of the Land of Israel, and serve as an example of moral, social and economic success – naturally, the masses of the House of Israel will come closer to the path of Torah and mitzvot in its entirety, and we will merit establishing a model society, where Torah and morality direct its life, and then, all the blessings written in the Torah will be fulfilled in us.

Thanks to diligence and creativity at work, our annual GNP will be higher than that of other Western countries – assuming only 5 percent on average, and demographic growth will continue as it is in religious society – and then, within a few generations, the Jewish nation residing in its Land will number tens of millions, and lead the world in terms of values, science, and economics.

The Jews of the Diaspora will be eager to immigrate and join the success, and even those “lost in the land of Assyria, and those in the land of Egypt” will seek to clarify their roots and return to their people and their land. And a great and immense nation will herald faith and justice in the world, pave the way for moral education and intellectual development for the benefit of humanity, and innovate methods and technologies for longevity and quality of life. Thus we will naturally see the fulfillment of the vision of the prophets: “In the last days the mountain of the Hashem’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Hashem, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. ”The Torah will go out from Zion, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-4).

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

Why Modesty in the IDF is Critical

In contrast to the insulting claims against religious soldiers that they are afraid to be in the company of women, the Torah teaches a much broader goal meant to protect family and society * As long as the cases of adultery and betrayal are more prevalent among the secular public, the secular have no right to complain about the religious * According to testimonies of men and women soldiers, the religious in the army maintain a gentler and more respectful behavior toward women, thanks to their norms of modesty * If the army does not wake up, and religious leaders as well, there is fear that many in the religious public will not find their place in the IDF – and the rift will harm the entire society

The Issue of Modesty in the Army

The issue of modesty is one of the troubling issues in the army. So it is today, and so it was in the past. As the Torah states in this week’s parsha: “When you go out as a camp against your enemies, you must avoid everything evil… This is because God your Lord makes His presence known in your camp, so as to deliver you and grant you victory over your enemy. Your camp must therefore be holy. Let Him not see anything lascivious among you, and turn away from you” (Deuteronomy 23:10-15).

In general, the meaning of the Torah’s instruction to the camp to guard against “everything evil” refers to all the transgressions of the Torah, but a special emphasis is placed on prudence in matters of modesty, as it is written: “Let Him not see anything lascivious among you” (see, Avodah Zarah 20b).

Claims of the Secular

Occasionally we hear tough and insulting claims from secular people: Why are the religious so afraid of women? Is it impossible for them to be in the company of women without sinning?! Are they unable to hear them sing without thinking about transgressions?

Just recently, a parachutist female soldier was sent to demonstrate the process of parachuting to paratroopers, and the religious soldiers claimed that the incident was immodest. She could not understand what was immodest about it, and was insulted. Her mother, a senior left-wing media personality, publicized her daughter’s being insulted, and the secular media began attacking religious soldiers. It is worth noting that her father, Aharon Haliva, as a colonel and commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, once said of the Hesder yeshiva soldiers that served under him: “I hate and cannot suffer the Hesder program. I think it carries no value”. He did not apologize. Due to the helplessness of representatives of the religious public, both the ultra-Orthodox and the national religious – in the Knesset, and in the government – he is now a general.

Incidentally, a reservist army rabbi who had undergone a parachute training course told me that indeed, training a parachutist by a woman instructor is very immodest, and the fact that the army assigns a female guide to religious soldiers is a gross lack of consideration.

The Goal of Modesty

The goal of modesty is to safeguard family and social life, to protect the covenant between husband and wife, and to protect society from the multiplicity of adultery, betrayal, and feelings of profound disloyalty, which are among the worst problems that can overwhelm a person. Preventing these terrible troubles is not the only reason, but also to create a more pure social atmosphere that allows for a pleasant and polite relationship between people. For this purpose, the Torah ordered the restriction of relations between the sexes and the maintenance of modest attire, clean speech, and modest social behavior, with respect, politeness, and a certain distance between men and women.

In practice, the boundaries of modesty are rooted in the Torah and the words of the Sages, and their offshoots are found in the customs of the Jewish communities. Sometimes certain customs change and other practices arise, and when the Sages see that no breach is caused, they become accepted in Judaism. The general trend is one: to protect the values ​​of family and society.

In other words, the fear is not that any breach of the norm of modesty will immediately lead to an offense, but rather, the preservation of norms builds the proper framework for a suitable family and social life.

It is worth noting that the sense of modesty is an acquired one. A person who is accustomed to certain norms of modesty feels a jarring shudder in his heart when they are violated, and anyone who is not used to them will feel nothing. The halakha’s goal is for Jews to acquire this trait, and when the sense of modesty is improved, they will feel a shudder when it is violated, and return to proper behavior.

The Secular Have No Right to Preach

If the secular society in civilian life and in the army proved that it is possible to safeguard the family and society even when one does not observe all the norms of modesty accepted in Jewish tradition, their claims would have to be considered, for some of the norms of modesty depend on a custom that is contingent on a specific time and place, and when reality changes, indicating there is no need to observe a certain custom and its continued reality damages other values, with the consent of the Sages it is gradually abolished. However, in practice, when the reality is that the cases of infidelity, adultery and sexual harassment of all kinds are way more prevalent in the secular society than in the religious society, and consequently family values ​​are harmed – by the multiplicity of divorces and children growing up where one of the parents is not significantly present in their lives – the secular public is not morally entitled to demand a change in religious society. On the contrary, the secular public should return to its roots and learn from the Torah and the Sages of Israel how to safeguard the values ​​of the family.

True, even after placing the barriers of modesty, not all members of the religious public are able to maintain family values ​​and proper behavior at all times. On the opposite hand, even without the rules of modesty, not all members of the secular public breach them. But the rules of modesty are those that allow the religious public, in general, to be found in a much better place.

A Personal Story of a Soldier

In this context, a man wrote to me about his experiences in his regular army service: “In our armored company, about a third of the soldiers were religious, mostly yeshiva students. From time to time a female soldier or several female soldiers would come to ask for help or to be accompanied on a certain mission. They almost always asked religious soldiers to come with them.

Later, when we were talking to the platoon commander, one of the yeshiva students asked why the female soldiers were always asking for help from the religious… When the platoon commander began to answer “They prefer the ‘doss’im’ (religious) because…” one of the religious soldiers shouted, ‘Why? I’ll tell you why. They just want to cause us to sin! It’s just not right!’ The officer looked at him in amazement and said: ‘To cause you to sin? They say explicitly that they cannot stand the attitude of the regular soldiers, and they always claim that only the religious soldiers respect them, or at least are ashamed to be so rude to them.”

In other words, despite the fact that there are religious soldiers who behave improperly, and secular soldiers who behave properly, the norms of modesty shape men who act more politely and respectfully.

Why the Challenge is Specifically in the Army

The challenge of modesty in the army is particularly difficult, and therefore the Torah commands Israel to preserve the holiness of the camp with greater rigor, as it is stated: “Your camp must therefore be holy”. Apparently the soldiers, who are under the stress of hard training and danger, seek to release themselves from the pressure, and the easiest way is by light headedness, profanity and lewdness. In addition, the need to fight while risking lives breaches normal frameworks – suddenly a terrible thing such as killing people becomes permissible. All of a sudden, the soldier finds within himself emotional and potent powers that he did not recognize, and if he does not take care to fence himself in, these life forces can deviate in negative directions. Therefore the Torah comes to warn the soldiers to guard themselves from everything evil.

Apart from that, when a person is with his family, he safeguards himself from matters of incest and licentiousness, but when he goes into the army all the usual arrangements are infringed, and the fear of breaching frameworks grows. In addition, there is a fear that soldiers, who are mostly engaged in military matters, training, guard duty, and actions for the people and the country, will come to disregard personal mitzvot, such as guarding their tongues, and thoughts of transgression. Therefore the Torah comes to tell us that the camp of Israel must be holy, and precisely because of its holiness, we will be successful in battle. After war as well, soldiers must build their families, and if they violate their modesty and sanctity, they will inflict psychological harm on themselves and will not be able to fully love their partner, for which modesty and holiness are the basis for building love in the family.

The problems of modesty in the army are not bothersome only for religious soldiers and the wives of army officers. There are quite a few secular soldiers who suffer from the crude talk and the reality of the promiscuous relations between male and female soldiers. At times they also are involved in this, but they admit that it is inappropriate behavior.

Responsibility of the Leaders

In light of all this, it would be appropriate and desirable for society as a whole not to have compulsory recruitment for women, and even if there are women who want to join the army, there should not be mixed field units of male and female soldiers. And if the secular public insists on conscription for women and to create mixed combat units, at the very least, the leaders of the defense establishment must be asked to grant members of the religious public an equal right to serve with all due respect according to their values ​​and beliefs.

In the current situation, the religious public does not receive this, and the responsibility rests with the leaders of the religious and ultra-Orthodox public and their rabbis. And even if the heads of the defense establishment are not convinced of the justness of halakhic values of modesty, their fulfillment must be demanded at least within the framework in which religious soldiers serve.

The Social Danger

I recently participated in the inauguration ceremony of my son who enlisted in the Hesder yeshiva program. It is important to note that the secular male and female commanders did not intend to do anything wrong; on the contrary, their intentions are good and they try very hard to respect, consider, and take into account the religious soldiers. The event as a whole was also exciting – to see the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’, and the Israel Defense Forces prepare cycle after cycle of soldiers to protect the people and the Land. But I also saw how much the army is involving the mixture of men and women, thus creating frustration among members of the religious-Torah public, for whom halakha is a formative value, and that the mixed framework is not suitable for their way of life.

On the bench behind me sat the father of one of the yeshiva students, and as the female soldiers and officers entered the grounds, he whispered in my ear: “Rabbi Melamed, we lost the battle, the situation in the army is lost.” I knew that if that’s what he had to say, and his heart felt that way, with all the enormity of the mitzvah to serve in the army, if the situation does not change for the better, not only will the ultra-Orthodox public not enlist in meaningful service, but members of the Chardal public will move over to the ultra-Orthodox public, and there will be members of the Torani public who will stop sending their sons for meaningful service in the army.

In other words, this is not only a violation of the honor and faith of members of the Torah public, but a national-social danger, as this situation is liable to cause a wide public to move, out of disappointment and despair, from devoted and idealistic cooperation with members of the secular public, toward the ultra-Orthodox public – including refraining from military service – not to mention sabotaging the recruitment process of Haredi members into the army.

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

Rabbi Kook: Authoritative, Posek, Visionary

83 years after his death, it can be clearly seen that Rav Kook was not disconnected from reality, rather the exact opposite – he warned against dangers and crises * The Rav saw that distance from the holy source could damage Zionism, and that progress could lead to a deterioration in humanity – but he believed in our ability to save the situation, and paved the way for Tikkun in the light of the Torah * Rav Kook was very strict towards himself, and tended to be strict in his leadership of the public, but was against baseless ‘chumrot’ which could alienate the public from the Torah * His vision of the redemption of the Torah included initiatives to study the general rules of the Torah, in order to understand its methods and order

Realism and Faith

Some argue that Rabbi Kook was an incorrigible optimist who did not pay attention to reality. But the truth is the exact opposite: His letters show that he was very realistic, and recognized the dangers facing the Jewish people. He also wrote about the danger to humanity in the development of science and society while distancing itself from faith, as it resulted from the catastrophes inflicted on humanity by the communist and Nazi movements. Similarly, with his support for those involved in settling the Land and the Ingathering of the Exiles, he estimated that without connecting to the holy source, secular Zionism would not be able to cope with the difficulties and obstacles that would stand in its way. He was right: without the First World War, and even more so without the Second World War and the terrible Holocaust that had taken place in it, the Zionist movement would not have come to the establishment of the state. Rabbi Kook did not rely on the Holocaust – he spoke about the responsibility of the generation to advance the Jewish people to the establishment of the state without a terrible disaster. Therefore, he warned everyone who listened that the national movement had to be connected to the holy Jewish sources and to work energetically for the survival of Israel. The statement was both for secular Zionism and for the ultra-Orthodox public, which stood by and did not enlist in aliyah and settlement of the Land.

But Rav Kook was also very optimistic. He believed with complete faith in God who had chosen His people and promised to redeem them. Moreover, he also had a vision of how to advance the people of Israel in the process of its redemption, how to deepen the Torah and illuminate its light until all of Israel repented. In other words, the source of his optimism lay in the path in which he paved the way for progress, with the sharp knowledge that if we did not merit it, we could expect, heaven forbid, severe suffering, both spiritual and physical.

In this he was different from most of his fellow rabbis, who on the one hand were less concerned about the spiritual and national dangers facing the Jewish people, and on the other hand were less optimistic about the ability to act to change reality for the better.

It is not a coincidence that his books are called “Orot”, or ‘lights’, because they express the faith and the way of seeing the whole picture of the world in all its parts, and it is the light that illuminates the advantages and disadvantages in practice, and the way to enhance the advantages, and overcome the shortcomings and rectify them.

The Difficulty in Understanding Rabbi Kook’s Teachings

So great, wide and deep was the teachings of Rav Kook that even his greatest students found it difficult to understand it as one whole system. As Rav, the Nazir, Rabbi David Cohen, stated in the introduction to the “Orot HaKodesh” (p. 18). About seven years after he met Maran HaRav, when he was about thirty-five years old, knowledgeable in Torah, thought, Kabbalah, and general philosophy, he addressed the rabbi with a question: “Rabbi, there is holiness present here, within your spirit, and special influence. Rabbi, do you have an overall discipline? A specific teaching content? A philosophy? And the answer is: Yes, of course … Since then I have decided to clarify the Rav’s teachings as a complete Divine system, its foundations, and the fundamentals of the elements, and according to them, to choose his writings and arrange them in articles. He went on to say: “Rav Kook has handed over to me his holy writings, and encouraged me in his words, because he trusts me in my arrangements.”

His Halakhic Doctrine – For Himself, and For the Public

In the Talmudic and Halachic spheres it is difficult to understand his teachings, to the point where it seems there are three Rav Kook’s: one – a holy and strict Hasid, the other a conservative who tended to chumra (strict) and, when necessary, was maykel (lenient), and the third, one who innovated ideas about the redemption of the Torah and its teaching. However, when one understands his full personality, one realizes that we are talking about one extraordinarily eminent person, who encompassed complete and different worlds, which united into one world in his personality.

In his inner world, Rav Kook was a Hasid, a Parush (separated) and Kedosh (holy) who, having seen the point of truth and light in every opinion and custom, tended to go out of his way and be stringent according to all the different opinions. And he had no difficulty in that, because he was happy in any hidur that had a basis in halakha, provided that the chumra was not at the expense of others. For example, he would immerse himself in a mikveh every morning; he did not look at the figure of a woman, although he used to receive questions from women, and treated them with respect and politeness; even on vacations, which was customary among the rabbis, he was diligent in his studies, to the point where older rabbis told him that if he did so, he would not be able to rest properly on his vacation; and when he got out of the ocean, he was careful to abandon ownership of the towel that he used to dry himself off with, so that he would not enter into a distant halachic doubt, lest the towel required tzitzit. This was a chumra none of the great rabbis who were with him ever thought of. Similarly, he was meticulous about the details of minhagim (customs): before Tisha B’Av, he first removed his left shoe, because it is a halitzah of mourning, and before Yom Kippur, he first removed his right shoe, for it is the halitzah of a joyous mitzvah of Yom Kippur. Thus, in all his ways he was particular and meticulous.

However, he was forced to serve in the rabbinate, because of his poverty and public necessity, and under his rabbinic leadership he tended somewhat to chumra and orthodoxy, even though his rabbis (Rabbi Don Yechia Melocin, Rabbi Reuven Medinburg and the Netziv of Volozhin) did not. It was only in times of duress that he decided according to halachic rules to be lenient, as did all halakhic authorities for generations. In this, too, he ruled leniently only to the extent necessary, and beyond that, was machmir. It seems that there were two reasons for his tendency to be machmir: one, because of his being a Hasid and devoted to the sanctity of the commandment, he sought to preserve it as much as possible; and the second reason, so as not to increase the distance between the circles of the ultra-Orthodox and the religious and the traditional, and thus maintain the unity of Israel which is so necessary (unfortunately, this attempt was not so successful).

Heter Hamechira

For example, with respect to the heter ha’mechira (a halakhic means of allowing agriculture to continue during the Shmita year): On the one hand, Rabbi Kook established the heter mechirah, and on the other hand, when at all possible, he tended to follow the opinions of those who were machmir, and even after the mechira, he forbade Jews to perform the tasks written in the Torah, even though according to the letter of the halachic law, there is no difference between the melachot (types of agricultural work), for Shmita in our times is of rabbinical ordinance. He was even very upset in regards to what he was lenient about. But when rumors went out questioning the mechira, he wrote again and again that it was very well established, and indeed, it was possible to permit in times of distress – even without the mechira. Regarding those who slandered the mechira, he protested gently and lovingly in line with the custom of his Hasidut, while firmly protecting the farmers, so that their status would not be harmed, or the great mitzvah that they fulfilled, the mitzvah to settle the Land (see Igrot HaRaya 192, 241, 253, 310, 312).

I will not refrain from expressing my position here, that after the issue of Shemita has been in dispute for more than a century, it can be concluded that it is preferable to rely more on the heter mechirah, both because the mechira is highly based on halakha, and because the tendency to chumra and trying to organize an Otzer Beit Din has not prevented the dispute with the Haredi public, and did not bring the farmers of Israel closer to keeping Shmita, whose main purpose is to refrain from work. At the same time, progress must be made gradually towards fulfilling the Shmita, by encouraging farmers who are capable of refraining from work completely (as is the practice of the Ministry of Agriculture).

Rav Kook Was Opposed to Far-reaching Chumrot on the Public

Although when it came to customs that do not have a strong foundation, Rabbi Kook was meticulous not to weigh down with chumrot, and on that he had to argue with the rabbis as well, because due to the fear of secularization and reform, they tended to be overly stringent, as he wrote concerning sesame seed oil (Orach Mishpat 108-114), and went as far as to explain that one who adds on a gezeira (decree) to another gezeira transgresses a prohibition (Rashi, Beitzah 2b).

In his words there, against the stringent claim that if we do not become stringent the “fence will be breached”, his position appears for generations that the opposite is to be feared – if we become more stringent in what is not needed, the fence will be breached even more so: “I know clearly the characteristic of our generation, precisely by seeing that everything permitted we [the rabbis] do according to the depth of the law, they will understand that what we are not permitting is because of the truth of the law of Torah, and that many will be found who adhere to the Torah, who will listen to the voice of the teachers with the help of God. This is not true when it is revealed that there are such things, that according to the letter of halakha they deserve leniency, and rabbis did not feel the pain and sorrow of Israel, and left matters in their prohibitions, the result is, God forbid, a great desecration of God, until many people will be furious and say concerning certain major bodies of the Torah, that if the Rabbis want – they could be lenient, and this will result in perverted judgement” (ibid., page 126).

Teaches the General Rules of the Torah

Apart from his preoccupations and worries with the work of the rabbinate, Rabbi Kook was a great visionary who deeply understood the spiritual crisis in which the Jewish people were situated, and formulated ideas for the redemption of the Torah and its teachings, parallel to the redemption of the Jewish people upon its return to its Land. He spoke of the need to learn the halachic and intellectual rules of the Torah, so that the Torah can appear in its full and complete light, as one logical system, which draws blessing from heaven on the soul of Israel, and continues the blessing to the core of the Land – in the building of the nation in all orders of society and economy, and the life of every family and individual.

To this end he conceived the idea ‘Halakha Berura’ and ‘Biur Halakha’, to connect the Talmud and its commentaries with the learning of halachic works such as the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries. Thus, a straight and logical line would continue from the foundation of the explanations in the Talmud to the details of the halakhot. To this end he also formulated the idea of ​​the Talmudic Encyclopedia, in order to place all the issues as one system, from which the sub-rules diverge from the general rules. He also had ideas for writing general introductions to all the important tractates and books (these ideas are explained in “Orot HaTorah” and in many other letters).

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

Facing the LGBT Community – Education and Love

Since the Akeida, the binding of Isaac, the Jewish nation has dealt with trials in performing the Divine command – fulfilling the word of God also with sorrow and pain – believing that this is the moral way * Both contemporary and rabbinical evidence indicate that in a culture in which the family framework is strong, same gender inclination is less widespread * This implies that educating towards family values ​​can reduce the desire for same gender inclination * Concerning those with such inclinations – we must understand their sorrow and pain, and it is forbidden to exclude them from the community * Even those who fail and sin, as long as they do not defy the Torah, have a portion within in the religious framework, and even a portion in the World to Come

Questions from Religious LGBT’s

Q: I am a religious person, I grew up in religious institutions and was educated in yeshivas – but what can I do – God created me with an inclination for my same gender. I tried to struggle with it. For long nights I cried and suffered, but finally I accepted my inclination. I live with my partner, who also comes from a religious background. What is the position of halakha: Should I deny my feelings? Do we have to hide our relationship? Why can’t a way be found to allow us to get married and arrange our marital status like any man or woman? Is it possible that the Torah instructs a person to deny his natural feelings?

The Divine Source of the Torah

A: The uniqueness of the Torah as opposed to the other wisdoms is that its source is Divine. God gave it directly and openly to His people Israel at Mount Sinai. Therefore, even when we do not understand the reason for a particular commandment, we understand that the Creator’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and therefore we accept it even when it is difficult to fulfill. The most extreme case of a Divine command that is difficult to accept and understand is the commandment of Abraham to raise his only son Isaac as a burnt offering. Because Abraham was a great believer, despite his terrible sorrow, he fulfilled the commandment of the Creator.

This emunah (faith) does not deny the moral purpose. On the contrary, this is the essence of the aspiration of faith, to correct the world with justice and judgment, with grace and mercy, in order to benefit all creatures, as it is stated: ” God commanded us to keep all these rules, so that [we] would remain in awe of God for all time, so that we would survive, even as [we are] today” (Deuteronomy 6:24). Therefore, Abraham obeyed the Divine command and bound his beloved son on the altar, because he knew that God, his Creator and Source of his life and happiness, wanted their best, and although he did not understand how and why – this commandment was also intended for their own benefit.

Acceptance of the Mitzvah affects the Inclination

Therefore, even when it is extremely difficult, we must accept the commandments of the Torah, including the great commandment for every man and woman to marry according to the Law of Moses and Israel, to have a relationship with love and joy, and to multiply and be fruitful. And we must accept the severe prohibition of mishkav zakhur (sodomy).

Education is very useful, as it turns out that desire for the same gender can develop in many people at different levels, and the more we educate towards the acceptance of the yoke of Torah and mitzvot – and to identify with the values ​​and ideas inherent in them – thus, more people manage to overcome the desire for their same gender, manage to divert all their desire with joy and love for the woman who suits them, and build their family in holiness according to the Law of Moses and Israel.

Education is the reason for the significant differences in the percentage of men who feel a desire for their same gender within different circles. Although we do not have exact numbers, it is clear to every honest observer that the differences between the religious and secular public are enormous. If among the religious public, the percentage is low, among the secular-traditional population the percentages are higher, and among the secular-liberal population, the percentages are much higher, perhaps more than ten percent.

In other words, the appearance of the same gender inclination is influenced by various factors, such as genetic inheritance, environmental impact, and cultural and educational influence. The weaker the genetic and environmental orientation, the stronger the effect of education and culture.

Cultural Impact – Proven

Culture, that is, education and the environment, weighs heavily. It is a fact that there were cultures in the past, such as Egypt and ancient Greece, that this phenomenon was very common among them. On the other hand, among Jews, when environmental conditions encouraged proper marital relations between men and women and negated relations between men, this tendency was almost never expressed. So much so that even though the Sages set many restrictions on incest, the Sages did not forbid two men to sleep together without clothes under one blanket, for they were not suspected of reaching forbidden relations (Kiddushin 82a). Since there is no chance that this phenomenon existed without the Sages knowledge, one must conclude that in the times of Chazal, our Sags of blessed memory, the phenomenon of men’s desire for fellow men was not widespread.

True, in more recent times, Rabbi Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 24:1) tended to be strict for two men not to be secluded because violators abounded, and his words corresponded to the prevailing situation in the Islamic countries where this phenomenon existed in low percentages. However, during the same time in Ashkenaz, Rabbi’s wrote that we find that Jews were not suspected of this, and there is no need to be more stringent in the prohibition of yichud (prohibition of seclusion) between men (Bach). Not only that, but some say that it is forbidden to be stringent in this matter, because of yohara (haughtiness) [Yam Shel Shlomo].

Since it is difficult to assume that the basic nature of people has changed, one must conclude that even those who were born with a tendency towards homosexuality, in a social framework of the kind that had been prevalent in Israel for many generations, such tendencies almost never came to expression.

Even today, the environment has an impact. I read that it was found in a study that from relatives of AIDS patients, the percentage of men who attested to being attracted to men was lower than that of the general population. On the face of it, the situation should have been the exact opposite, since according to the theory that homosexuality has genetic roots, the percentage of those who have this tendency among their family members should have been higher. But fear of the disease, which in those days was incurable, caused some people to change their attitude toward the tendency that was suppressed in them (Tim Harford, ‘The Logic of Life’, p. 20).

It seems that the desire of those who have a same gender inclination to have children is stronger among Jews than in other Western nations because Jewish culture encourages marriage and children, and in connection with the Jewish tradition and the culture surrounding them, they seek to establish a family and have children in their own way.

To Educate towards the Mitzvah and its Light

Therefore, precisely in our time, when secular culture around us permits and encourages homosexuality, it is incumbent upon parents, educators and rabbis to strengthen the deepening of the education towards marriage in the framework of halakha, and explain at length all the good and light in the love between man and woman, and the tremendous value of establishing a family and raising children and their education. When we arrive at the order of prohibitions of incest in the Torah, including the prohibition of mishkav zakhur, we must clarify them clearly while maintaining the proper modesty.

The Positive Attitude towards Those Suffering from Such Inclinations

Along with the study of both the positive and negative mitzvot related to the family, one must be careful not to insult and hurt those who suffer from homosexual inclinations. Sometimes the pain of the sufferers is unbearable, to the point where some young people choose to end their lives due to their suffering. Therefore, men and women who feel so inclined should be instructed to discuss this with their parents and with a rabbi or counselor in order to relieve themselves of the suffering that accompanies them, and to find the best way to deal with it.

It is also important to emphasize that we should not act more stringently towards those who sin in the prohibition of mishkav zachur than with other serious sinners, such as desecrators of Shabbat. And just as we call to the Torah those who profane Shabbat as long as they do not do so l’hachis (to infuriate), so too, sinners of this prohibition should be called up to the Torah as long as they do not do so l’hachis. And even more so when it comes to people who try to keep Torah and mitzvot, who ostensibly are careful not to transgress the grave sin of mishkav zachur.

Moreover, many of those who fail in this sin do not do so for reasons of convenience, like those who profane Shabbat, but out of sorrow that their inclination compels them.  And although according to halakha they must overcome their inclinations, those who do not have to deal with this urge must not judge those who failed, for who knows if he himself would have succeeded in passing the test. Only the Lord of the heavens and the earth, the Creator of the souls, knower of thoughts and examiner of hearts, knows each person’s yetzer (inclination), and can truly judge him with mercy, according to the extent of his trials and pains.

Not to Distance from the Religious Community

It is important to emphasize that even one who fail to overcome his desires and sins in mishkav zachor – is obligated in all the other commandments of the Torah, and must strengthen himself as much as possible in whatever way he can. And even with regard to this sin, every single day and every time that he succeeds in overcoming his desire and avoids sin, he has a great reward.

Therefore, whenever possible, we must try and dissuade the sinners from transgressing in this matter. Nonetheless, we must love even someone who fails to overcome his yetzer, and realize there is great value in every mitzvah he fulfills. Therefore, we should be careful not to distance them from the synagogues, so they can strengthen themselves in Torah and mitzvoth as best as they can. And, as is well-known, the value of Evil is limited, whereas the value of Good is endless. Likewise, the severity of sins is limited, whereas the value of mitzvoth is endless. Therefore, even one who falters in these transgressions, merits life in the World to Come thanks to his mitzvoth and good deeds.

Honor for the Framework of Halakha

Since the environmental and cultural influence is strong, even those who feel that they cannot overcome their yetzer, must strive to respect the halakhic framework. Even if one has a permanent partner, he should define him as a close friend and roommate, and in this way religious society will be able to accept him, without having to confront him.

The Attitude towards the Protesters on Tisha B’Av

Q: How should we relate to the big demonstration held on the fast of Tisha B’Av against the surrogacy law?

A: This was a severe defiance of all that is sacred to Israel – starting from damage to the national religious mourning, and ending with the violation of the commandments of the Torah and the contempt for the various opinions in a disgraceful manner. It is true that in the past the public attitude towards such inclinations was humiliating and violent, but today, the public has already condemned the violence against them, while they themselves have become verbally violent towards holders of different views.

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