Jewish Marriage and Joint Partnership

The Concept of Family in Judaism
The value of marriage is sacred to the Jewish nation. The bond between a chatan(bridegroom) and a kallah (bride) is called kiddushin (sanctification), and the blessing: “Blessed are You Hashem, Who sanctifies His people Israel through Chuppah and Kiddushin is recited at the wedding ceremony.
By way of the mitzvah of marriage, the love and natural desire that Hashem created between man and woman is elevated and sanctified in a Divine covenant, and a Heavenly spark of unity is revealed in the world. In this manner, the world is continually redeemed from the torment of loneliness, separation and division within it.
In every wedding, the Divine ideal is revealed in the world, and it is another step towards the redemption of Israel and the entire world. In this regard, our Sages said: “Anyone who gladdens the bridegroom and the bride is privileged to acquire the knowledge of the Torah given at Sinai, and it is as if he had restored one of the ruins of Jerusalem” (Berachot 6b). Appropriately, the bond between God and His people Israel at the time of Redemption is likened to the relationship between the bridegroom and the bride, as it is written: “And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).
Similarly, our Sages said that the Shem Hakadosh (Shechinah) dwells in a proper Jewish marriage: “When husband and wife are worthy, the Shechinah abides with them; when they are not worthy, fire consumes them” (Sotah 17a). On this, Rashicomments: “[What is the meaning of the word] ‘worthy’ – to go in the straight path; neither he nor she should commit adultery”. Therefore, in times of crisis and suspicion between husband and wife, God commanded that His name – written in holiness – be erased, in order to make peace between them (Nedarim 66b). By means of erasing God’s holy name written on parchment, the Shechinah will continue dwelling in the couple’s lives’.
Out of the revelation of achdut (unity) and kedusha (holiness) within the framework of love and devotion between a married couple, subsequently, additional life is drawn into the world, and they merit fulfilling the mitzvah “be fruitful and multiply”.
Owing to the immense importance of marriage, over fifty mitzvoth from the Torah deals with its reinforcement. One of the six orders of the MishnaSeder Nashim, deals with the arrangement of married life between husband and wife. Therefore the wedding process inherently consists of many halakhot, as does the divorce process – in case, God forbid, their mutual home is shattered.
The Humane Problem
Today, there are many people living in the State of Israel who cannot marry kedat Moshe v’Yisrael (according to the Laws of Moses and Israel) – some of them because of their personal status, others due to lack of faith in the Torah of Israel. Having lived together for years, such couples are upset that their relationships are not officially recognized by the state. If they wish to buy an apartment, they are not given a mortgage. In a case where one of the partners is hospitalized and the companion requests to take care of him, since he is not officially recognized as being a spouse, they make it difficult for him to visit, and according to the rules of medical confidentiality, he is not provided information, and not included in decisions. He feels awful. And in the case of death, suddenly he becomes a stranger with no legal status.
True, some of the problems have been solved through regulations and various legal rulings. The problem can also be solved by marital registration in a foreign country like Cyprus. However, some people refrain from doing so because of the hassle involved, or the cost; others are offended for not being allowed to define themselves as a couple outside the framework of Jewish law. They wish to be recognized as a couple by civil registration only, as is the case in numerous countries.
The Current Bill: Eliminating the Jewish Character of the State of Israel
Recently, the ‘Yesh Atid’ Party proposed a law entitled ‘Brit HaNisuin’ (The Marriage Covenant), calling for the legalization of civil unions. The aim is to create a channel for civil marriage parallel to the currently accepted marriage procedure – with all its rights and obligations, laws and details. Towards this goal, the proposed law suggests that the State appoint a registry system and declare an application process for registration, while at the same time, allowing individuals to express opposition to a specific registration. The bill also stipulates divorce be resolved through a complex process, granting courts the authority to delay the dissolution of the “brit” (covenant) until the conclusion of all monetary disputes, or, if in their opinion, shalom bayit (a peaceful settlement) can be reached. In the absence of a mutual agreement, the process can take over a year.
This may not be their intention, but as the law is currently worded, its purpose is clear: to abolish the unique status of Jewish traditions in all matters regarding family life, and thus, eliminate the State of Israel as a ‘Jewish and democratic’ state. This law gives expression to idea of democracy while totally ignoring the Jewish vision, which is the primary motive for the willingness of Jews to give their lives in the struggle for the establishment and existence of the State. After all, Jews are permitted to hold Jewish weddings in every country in the world. If in the State of Israel civil unions are considered equal to the sanctity of Jewish traditional marriage, what makes it a Jewish state?
For the sake of full disclosure, I admittedly would prefer the State of Israel to be defined simply as a “Jewish state”, without the unnecessary addition of “democratic”, seeing as all values are included in the concept of ‘Jewish’.
How to Balance between the Values
Alongside our position that the State of Israel should be a Jewish state, we do not want to cause grief to anyone. Neither do we demand the authority to interfere in an individual’s personal life, and tell him whom to live with, or how. It is our religious and moral duty to criticize ways of life that are improper according to halakha and mussar(morality).  Nevertheless, out of respect and love for all people, and out of recognition of the importance of freedom based on the free choice given to man by God, we must recognize their right to choose their own lifestyle.
Some people may claim it a religious obligation to oppose and interfere with any type of relationship that fails to abide by halakha. I cannot expand upon this issue at this time, but it appears that this obligation existed when there was full public consensus to such a lifestyle, and even the few offenders agreed to it in principle, only their compulsions overcame them. But in a situation such as ours the principle of freedom prevails, and our remaining obligation is the duty to object to manifestations opposinghalakha. Moreover, an individual who fails to act according to halakha deserves to be judged l’kaf zechut (favorably), for there is no guarantee we would have turned out any better had we been brought up under the same conditions as he was.
The question therefore is: how do we strengthen the Jewish character of the state without harming people who do not wish to live according to halakha? This question is likely to trouble us for many years – even when the religious are a majority in the state – since the question is of a religious and moral nature, and not merely a question of political power.
A Proposed Solution
At first, a Basic Law should be enacted that there is one framework of marriage for Jews in the State of Israel – according to the Jewish law from time immemorial. In other words, marriage ‘kedat Moshe v’Yisrael’ is the only option for the establishment of a family in Israel, thereby ruling out any proposal for the creation a new legal/civilian institution of marriage. This is because marriage is a sacred concept based on the foundations of halakha for generations, and it is forbidden for the state to desecrate it with replacements or rituals that are not loyal to this tradition.
Additionally, it should be set in law that the State of Israel will work to strengthen family values ‘kedat Moshe v’Yisrael’, including strengthening the status of the batei din (religious courts), and increasing the number of judges so quick responses can be given to any need. In the educational system as well, family values based on Jewish tradition should be emphasized, without hurting or insulting anyone who acts or thinks differently.
At the same time, it should be determined that any two individuals are entitled to sign a joint partnership agreement, granting them all rights derived from common life – akin to a family. It would not be appropriate to call this agreement a “brit” because the word ‘brit’ expresses holiness and eternity, whereas the state should also enable partnerships devoid of holiness and eternal commitment. Consequently, the appropriate name for this would be “joint partnership”.
The Joint Partnership Agreement
The signing of a joint partnership agreement can be performed in front of any Notary Public. He will offer them a standard, monetary partnership agreement, with an option to broaden or lessen the partnership, according to their decision.
Approval of the agreement by the Notary Public will obligate the Interior Ministry to register their status on their Identity Cards as living in a “joint partnership”. With this approval, they will be entitled to all financial rights due a married couple. It is also their right to celebrate this partnership as they please.
Contrary to the current proposal which attempts to create a parallel system to the sacred marriage by burdening the process of registration and dissolution for the couple, and putting them into a halakhic status in which, according to some poskim(Jewish law arbiters), requires a get l’chumra (stricter requirements for a ‘possibly married’ couple) and provokes serious questions of mamzerut (illegitimacy) – a partnership agreement should be based on the concept of freedom. Therefore, each of the partners will be entitled to dissolve the partnership unilaterally by signing a document before a Notary Public and presenting it at the Interior Ministry. If freedom is desired – then complete freedom! No foot-dragging and mutual blackmail. Since the couple partnership is an expression of willingness by one partner for his fellow companion, without any obligation towards Heaven or towards Jewish tradition, when the willingness ends, so does the partnership.  Registration before a Notary Public and in the Interior Ministry is designed so they can be recognized as a couple, and not to create unnecessary burdens.
Of course, if the partners wish, they can sign an agreement that would be difficult to dissolve, but the state should not interfere in agreements between the parties.
In the event of monetary disputes they will be discussed in the courts, however, the dissolution of the partnership will not be delayed, but will take effect the moment one of the partners decides to do so. If there are disputes about raising children, they will be discussed in the courts according to the interests of the child.
The Proposal Hinges on Both Sides
This proposal is of value provided both sides feel they have gained something from it. The religious achieve the strengthening of the status of marriage according tohalakha in the State of Israel, by its implementation as a positive and central value in the educational system, and by the allocation of all necessary resources for the optimal functioning of the marriage and divorce system in the courts. The free will advocates (liberalism) gain in that the individual receives recognition of his right to define himself and his lifestyle, and this classification is honored by the state by granting him rights equal to those provided for couples married according tohalakha.
The Additional Struggles
If this proposal gains the support of the religious politicians, anyone who complains afterwards about the Jewish institution of marriage because of personal discrimination, his sole intention will be clear – to harm the status of Jewish tradition in the State of Israel, and not out of concern for anyone’s welfare.
Nevertheless, the religious establishment will still have to take steps to improve the work of the batei din, and clarify important issues such as kefiyat get (compelled divorce) and prenuptial agreements, according to the path of the Torah.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Modesty through Halakhic Discipline

Dealing with Immodest Dress in Ulpanot
Q: One of the problems bothering teachers in ulpanot (women’s seminaries) and public religious high schools is how to deal with girls who come to school dressed immodestly. The conventional approach is to deal with the problem through education and explanations. Stemming from a belief that our generation is an amazing generation, full of wonder, with lofty ideals, we discuss the value of modesty and its spiritual qualities with the girls, attempting to minimize our disciplinary comments which create an unpleasant atmosphere and a sense of remoteness and distrust by the girls of the teachers. The problem is it usually doesn’t work. The girls repeatedly ask: Why aren’t we allowed to wear these clothes? Why do you always lecture us about tzniyut (modesty)? We’re sick and tired of hearing the same thing all the time! What’s wrong with wearing short sleeves or a short skirt?
How should we answer them?
The Answer is: Because!
A: It appears that the most fitting answer to the question is: “Because”! In other words, that’s the halakha – without any additional spiritual explanations. Teachers and parents must get used to saying “because”.
In the study of Torah and emunah (faith), we explain numerous foundations, but faith in God and Torah also includes difficult matters which are hard to understand. The basic premise is that in spite of human intelligence, man cannot understand everything. And if he wants to connect with God and eternal values, he is required to say “nasay v’nishma” (first we will do, and then we will listen). This does not make a person less intelligent; on the contrary, he is then able to connect to Divine intellect, which deepens his human understanding.
The Power of Halakha
When all the stores in the shopping malls are filled with tons of clothes that do not meet halakhic standards, and it’s hard to find “kosher” clothes that can compete in beauty and style with the immodest clothing, and on top of that, the trends drifting from Western culture dictate immodest fashion – it is very difficult for a young girl exploring the limits to overcome the temptations.Therefore, the only way to deal with this is by means of commitment to halakha.
Do not underestimate the power of halakha. Try to persuade a heavy smoker to stop smoking one day a week. Use all the explanations, and see how difficult it is. But when halakha declares it is forbidden to smoke on Shabbat – people don’t smoke. And the amazement is that even heavy smoker’s don’t find it that difficult.
Children and teenagers really love to play on the computer, but on Shabbat – miraculously – they don’t play! Why? Is it because they were lectured about the importance of Shabbat, and given in-depth explanations about how playing games on the computer harms its sanctity? No. They don’t play because halakha forbids it. Afterwards, it is possible to go into detail about the sanctity of Shabbat.
True, when the foundations of emunah are rickety, halakha gradually loses its power. When the heart is weak, blood fails to properly reach the small capillaries. Therefore, a person is constantly required to diligently study emunah and mussar(ethics) as well, and strive to understand Am Yisrael’s mission in the world, and the unique destiny of each and every one of us. This is the purpose of derashot(sermons).
But in dealing with the temptations of the yetzer (desires), the power of halakha is greater than that of derashot.
The Role of Principals and Teachers in Religious Schools
It is the job of principals and teachers to chase after the girls when school is out. That is the responsibility of parents and the girls themselves. But during school hours, a religious institution must determine that the boundaries of halakha are binding, and enforce them vigorously and consistently. Whoever doesn’t come to school dressed according to the rules – is sent home. Discipline also carries an important educational message. It expresses commitment to halakha and mussar. Incidentally, dress codes have become customary even in secular high schools today, and since the rules are seriously enforced, there are no incidents of disobedience.
Unrelated to this, the values of family and modesty should be talked about, just as we discuss the values of honesty, kindness, faith and redemption.
The Parent’s Role
Parents must also set boundaries, and uphold them consistently. When this is done, dealing with a problem becomes relatively simple. Just as a religious person can walk past a non-kosher food store without buying something to eat, in this way, they can also refrain from buying “non-kosher” clothes.  Independent of this, it is important to discuss the role of Am Yisrael, the importance of Torah and halakha,  the Jewish way to start a family, and the immense advantage of living in a religious framework rather than a secular one in regards to marital relationships and true love.
People with Limited Faith and the Cucumber Miracle
Three weeks ago I wrote about individuals with limited faith who believe emunah is mainly based on miracles, and consequently, attempt to describe everything that happens as being a miracle. For example: “I got to the supermarket and all the cucumbers were almost gone, but miraculously, there were a few left – exactly what I needed, and even some more… and with the grace of God, I bought them! Blessed be the Lord, whose kindness has not abandoned me, and has performed this great miracle of cucumbers on my behalf!”
Science also poses a major problem for them, because it supposedly expresses the grandeur of nature’s wisdom at the expense of miracles. Thus, every so often we hear people say: “All the doctors said he had no chance of living; but in the end, miraculously, and contrary to the opinion of the doctors, he recovered”.
Why Shouldn’t One Try to Perceive Divine Providence?
In wake of this, I received a number of questions, primarily asking: “Why shouldn’t one try to observe Divine Providence in everything, like in the example of the cucumbers?” There were also family members of ill people who wrote about the recovery of their relatives, asking: “Why shouldn’t we view it as a miracle, and thank God for it?”
Thanking God Should be Complete and Balanced
A: It is a great virtue for an individual to see the goodness of God in everything that happens to him, and even to learn a moral lesson from it. The problem is that a person who is overly impressed by the “cucumber miracle” usually has no excitement left inside when it comes to the really important events in life. For example, he is less impressed by the actual creation of the cucumbers and other foods.
Similar to this, our Sages said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because the small and the great were made equal” (Shabbat 119b). When a minor event is turned into a miracle, the magnitude of the truly big miracles is diminished. There is room to suspect that a “cucumber miracle” person tends to ignore the miracle of kibbutz galiyot (Ingathering of the Exiles) and the establishment of the State of Israel – miracles unparalleled in the entire world.
Accordingly, our Sages fixed a detailed and categorized order of blessings of thanksgiving. The blessing “Who creates the fruit of the ground” is recited over cucumbers, and for each and every food, they fixed a blessing. Our Sages also fixed the order of praise, thanksgiving, and prayer in Psukei D’zimrahBirkot Kriyat Shema, and the Amidah prayer. That is also the place to give thanks for a sick person who was healed: “Heal us…Blessed are You, God, Healer of the sick of His people Israel”. If the sick person was seriously ill, upon recuperating he blesses “Hagomel” (the blessing of thanksgiving). And if the illness was severe and prolonged, when one recovers, it is fitting to prepare a thanksgiving feast.
Exaggeration Leads to a Reduction of Value
Similarly, we have learned in the Talmud Berachot (33b) about a certain person who prayed in the presence of Rabbi Hanina, and said: “O God, the great, mighty, terrible, majestic, powerful, awful, strong, fearless, credible and honored.” After he finished, Rabbi Hanina said to him: “Have you concluded all the praise of your Master?” Surely, there is no end to His praise. Rather, what the Anshei Knesset Hagadolah (Men of the Great Assembly) determined we should say in prayer is fitting, and should not be added to. “It is analogous to an earthly king who had a million coins of gold, and someone praised him for possessing silver ones. Would it not be an insult to him?!” In the same way, a person who is overly-impressed by “cucumber miracles” is comparable to someone who praises a king for his clay vessels, when he possesses expensive, gold ones.
The Definition of a Miracle and Nature in Halakha
In truth, there is no significant difference between a miracle and nature – everything comes from God. For that reason, we say in prayer “for Your miracles that are daily with us”, because natural existence is also a miracle. Usually, however, we call the normal order ‘nature’, and anything that goes against nature, we call a ‘miracle’ – whose function is to teach us something special.
The definition of a miracle can be learned from the blessing our Sages fixed for someone who was miraculously saved; when he revisits the place in which the miracle occurred, he blesses: “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has performed a miracle for me at this place”.
Some authorities are of the opinion that if a person’s life was physically in danger – such as surviving a car accident, or falling from a high place, or being attacked by robbers – seeing as he was saved, he is obligated to recite a blessing (Rivash). Other authorities say that only when the vast majority of people in a similar, dangerous situation die – is one obligated to recite a blessing (Rosh M’Lunil).
Given that the general rule is safek brachot l’hakel (leniency for a doubtful blessing) this is the halakha (S.A., O.C., 218:9). Therefore, someone who was in a large building that collapsed, and searchers dug through the rubble and found him alive, or a person who fell from a very high place, or an individual who was shot at and took several bullets to his upper body, or someone who suffered a serious car accident – if he was saved, he should recite a blessing with shem u’malchut (the name of God and His Sovereignty). But if the danger was such that only a majority of people die from it – but not the vast majority – one should recite the blessing without shem u’malchut.
A Woman Who Comes to Synagogue on Shabbat Right before the Amidah
Q: A woman who comes to synagogue for the morning prayers on Shabbat and finds the congregation about to pray the Amidah, is it better for her to skip Psukei D’zimraand Birkot Kriyat Shema in order to pray together with the congregation, or should she recite her prayers in order?
A: According to halakha, a woman is entitled to choose the way which fits her best. If she wants, she can pray the entire order of prayers on her own, or she can pray right away with the congregation. This is because women are exempt from reciting Psukei D’zimra and Birkot Kriyat Shema, and also from praying in a minyan with the public. Thus, in this case, there are two positive aspects, and every woman may choose whichever she prefers. The most important point of prayer is kavana (intention); whichever way she feels she can have more kavana is the proper way for her to act.
If, nevertheless, she asks for advice, apparently it is preferable for her to skip Psukei D’zimra and Birkot Kriyat Shema so she can pray the Amidah with the minyan. Seeing as a woman’s main obligation is just to pray the Amidah, it is preferable for her to pray it in the most enhanced way – with a minyan – and afterwards, she merits answering amen and kedusha to the repetition of the Chazan, and can hear the reading of the Torah. Still, she should be careful to recite Birkot Hashachar andBirkot HaTorah before praying the Amidah. And if she has more time, it is advisable for her to also recite Kriyat Shema and birkat “emet v’yatziv”, thus fulfilling themitzvah to remember the Exodus from Egypt, and link geula to tefilla (Peninei Halakha: Nashim 22:7).
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Financing the Vision of Torah Study

Financing the Vision of Talmud Torah
In my previous article, I attempted to portray the grand vision of Torah study among the Jewish people in its three levels, and the enormous tikkun (rectification) its fulfillment can bring to the Jewish nation and the entire world. In this article, I will deal with the financial aspects of this vision, according to the principles outlined in the Torah.
The Funding of the Levites and the Priests
Along with their work in the Temple, the Torah designated the tribe of Levi, including the Kohanim (priests), to engage in Torah study, education, practical halakhic teaching, and personal guidance. To facilitate dedicating their lives to this, the Torah commanded them not to participate in the distribution of the Land of Israel into inheritances, and not to engage in agriculture – the means of living for more than ninety percent of the people at the time – but rather, they were allocated forty-eight cities throughout the country by the Jewish nation, and from there, they disseminated Torah in Israel.
In return for their sacred work, the Levites received a tithe of all the crops, from which they set aside a tithe for the Kohanim. In addition to this, the Kohanim receivedterumah gedolah (“the great offering”), which is approximately two percent of the crops (Numbers 18). In other words, about twelve percent of the total agricultural yield was given to the Kohanim and Levites. Also, approximately the same amount was set aside from all non-sanctified, ritually slaughtered domestic animals for the Kohanim (the first-born, the foreleg, cheeks and maw).
It should be noted that for the entire time Israel resided in its Land, approximately ninety percent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) came from agriculture. It follows therefore, that in accordance with the Torah, approximately one-tenth of the GDP should be set aside for Torah study and education.
Israel’s Torah Scholars
Apart from this, Torah scholars from the other tribes did not receive their livelihood from public funds, but rather, would work in various trades, such as farming or breeding livestock, while concurrently reviewing and deepening their Torah studies. They were able to do so because the study of Oral Torah was done without books, and farming or tending to livestock usually did not require a great deal of attention; thus, they were able to engage in diligent study of Oral Torah while working. In their remaining time they could teach students, imparting to them the new insights they had arrived at while working. They also served as members of the batei din (courts of law) which convened twice a week in the mornings. As long as they did not need to spend a lot of time teaching students or sit in judgment, they were able to continue working. Occasionally, friends would agree to support them, similar to the agreement between Zevulun and Issachar, so they could engage in Torah and teach students without being disturbed.
In accordance with the instruction of the Torah, we find that the Kohanim and Levites bore the brunt of educating and instructing the people in Torah and halakha. The eminent Torah scholars of Israel were exempt from this, seeing as they were occupied in their various trades.
The Financial Arrangements after the Temple’s Destruction
Gradually, the status of the Kohanim and Levites weakened. After the Ten Tribes were exiled towards the end of the First Temple period, the Biblical obligation to set aside terumot and ma’aserot ceased (teruma is the portion of the crop dedicated to the priests, and ma’aser is the Levitical tithes), and only as a result of a rabbinic enactment are we commanded to continue setting aside terumot and ma’aserot, and under certain circumstances, the rabbis were lenient in this issue. From the timetahara (purification) ceased, Kohanim were no longer able to eat their teruma. Many people also stopped setting aside the Levitical ma’aser for various reasons – some permissibly, others negligently. Over time, the number of Jews working in agriculture also decreased. And in chutz l’aretz (outside of Israel), even those working in agriculture were not obligated to set aside terumot and ma’aserot. Thus, the funding of the Kohanim and the Levites – the students and teachers of Torah, ceased.
True, our Sages ruled it is a mitzvah to set aside ma’aser kesafim (money tithe) from all income, which is mainly intended for Torah students, so they can teach Torah to Israel. In practice, however, people did not set aside ma’aser for the maintenance of Torah in Israel. There are two main reasons for this: first, according to halakha, anyone whose earnings are scarce is exempt from setting aside ma’aser (unliketerumot and ma’aserot, in which the poor are obligated just as the rich). Secondly, in times of need, individuals gave their ma’aser kesafim money to support poor people. Moreover, because the obligation of ma’aser kesafim is a rabbinic enactment, some people were not meticulous in giving it.
Thus, it came to pass that in practice, the Jewish people gave a lot less than a tenth of its GDP to Torah study and education. All this, obviously, caused a decline in the status of Torah study in contrast to what it ought to be.
Nevertheless, despite the difficult conditions, righteous Jews placed Torah study on the top hierarchy of values, accompanied by a willingness to invest time and resources, and always made sure that in every community, there were individuals to teach the children Torah, and when necessary, their salaries were supplemented from the public coffers.
The Status of the Rabbis
Initially, in the times of the Amoraim (the Oral Torah scholars from about 200 to 500 CE in Babylonia and the Land of Israel) and the Geonim (589-1038), the majority of Torah scholars who taught the adults still earned their living by the work of their hands. Over the years it became clear that if the rabbis had to make a living by working, there would be no rabbis in Israel, because after writing the Oral Torah was permitted, the subject material needed to be studied increased, and in order to encompass it all, a lot of time was required to study the various writings. In such a situation, most of the Torah scholars were unable to engage in a livelihood, and at the same time, achieve a reasonable level of Torah knowledge. Thus, in the period of theRishonim, approximately 800 years ago, the majority of poskim (Jewish law arbiters) concurred that the public would inevitably have to support the rabbis, for if not, Torah would cease from Israel. In the period of the Achronim (1600 to the present), when the study material continued to multiply infinitely, it was ruled that students intending to be rabbis and teachers should also be supported from the public coffers. Thanks to this ruling, the Jewish people survived, continued to study Torah and observe the commandments, and retained faith in Israel’s redemption.
The Vision of the State of Israel
At present, it is impossible to arbitrarily restore the tribe of Levi to the role of educators. Also, the commandment to set aside terumot and ma’asrot is still a rabbinic enactment, and terumot cannot be used because of tumah (impurity). In regards to the Levitical ma’aser, there are differing opinions, due to the issue of clarifying the ancestry of the Levites. And in any event, in our modern economy, agriculture accounts for only about three percent of the GDP.
All the same, it seems it would be fitting to regulate that a tenth of the gross domestic product (GPD) be assigned to Torah and education, in its broad sense. It could be called ‘a tithe for Torah’, a worthy substitute for terumot and ma’asrot which were given to the Kohanim and Levites. Women’s Torah study should be included in this as well, as I briefly wrote in my previous article, and their teachers’ training and work in Torah and education should be funded from this ‘sacred tithe’.
Today’s Reality
Today, when our economic situation is immeasurably better than it was during the First Temple period, the national expenditure for the entire educational system in the State of Israel is about 8.4% of the GDP (of which about 80% comes from the state budget, and 20% from tuition fees and donations), while a significant portion of this expenditure is not related to Torah education, derech eretz (manners), and good deeds.
Consequently, even if all the children of Israel studied in the state-religious educational system, in religious high schools, in yeshivas, seminaries, and institutions of higher Torah education, the State of Israel would still not have fulfilled the vision of Torah, devoting much less than ten percent to Torah and education.
Let’s consider the disciplines suitable to be included, in accordance with the Torah, in the ten percent dedicated to Torah and education, and discover the enormous tidings which can grow from endorsement of this principle.
Funding for Primary and Secondary Education
The current educational budget includes the various secular subjects. Apparently, a number of the secular studies deserve to be included within the framework of the ‘sacred tithe’. For example, Hebrew and history, and even arithmetic and the foundations of the sciences, for we find that even in the Talmud scientific facts are included, since basic education is necessary to understand Torah. Nevertheless, advanced studies intended for professional careers and economic development should not be included in the ‘sacred tithe’.
Academic Funding
Seemingly, all branches of learning connected to the humanities should be included in the field of Torah study funded by the tithe. True, in academic institutions today, these studies are not taught according to the path of the Torah, and often, in open confrontation with the values of Torah and sacred ideals. But in an ideal situation, all the fields of humanities, such as literature, philosophy, education, history, language, sociology, etc., are intended for tikkun olam  (perfecting the world) in the light of the Torah, and thus, should be funded from the same ‘sacred tithe’.
As far as other subjects taught in academia are concerned, although their importance is greatly appreciated and their contribution to the economy is immense, they are not included in the funding intended to preserve the idea of terumot and ma’asrot. Indeed, there is room for discussion in regards to the status of theoretical research – perhaps it could be included in the ‘sacred tithe’ – for the Torah and secular wisdom are interconnected, as the Gaon of Vilna said. Nevertheless, a distinction must be made between the sacred and the profane, or between the Holy of Holies, where the ark with the Torah was located in the Temple, and the holy, which housed the seven-branched menorah (lamp) alluding to the seven branches of secular wisdom, and the golden table for the Showbread, alluding to parnasa (livelihood).
Funding for Counselors and Psychologists
Just as the teachers’ salaries should be paid from the ‘sacred tithe’ set aside for Torah, the salaries of the various psychologists and counselors should also come from the same tithe, including: social workers, and advisors and counselors in the fields of education, marital relations, mental health, and home economics, for it is fitting for Torah education to include these fields of guidance, as well. In the past, religious education also included instruction in proper behavior in all walks of life, and people consulted with the Kohain or Levite in these matters.
As I wrote last week, in order to reach this goal, all these areas must be studied in a most serious way, in the framework of yeshivas and michlalot (women’s seminaries). In this manner, the Torah and all fields of consulting  will be bound together, with both men and women consultants and advisors possessing a religious/spiritual status of basic-level Torah scholars, because in addition to counseling, they also teach Torah in the community.
By a conservative estimate, in accordance with the vision of the ‘sacred tithe’, it will be possible to increase the number of individuals working in these professions by at least three-fold, and thus provide a much broader response to the various problems.
It can be assumed that the combination of Torah and counsel will contribute greatly to the success of their mission, and our society’s situation will improve and advance. Presumably, it will significantly reduce public spending on unemployment and crime management, and allow more individuals to receive full benefit from work and family.
Substantial amounts of money would remain in the ma’aser fund to support rabbis, judges, and Torah lecturers – provided they contribute directly to their community – and, with God’s help, I will expand on this issue in the future.
The ‘Tzohar Law’
Q: Rabbi, do you support the law opening the areas of marriage registration approved in the Knesset this week?
A: In an ideal situation, there would be no room for such a law; but in the present reality, where there are official rabbis who fail to act properly – sometimes in their attitude towards new immigrants, converts, and secular Jews, and other times, towards Zionist rabbis, this law is necessary.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

A Basic Law: Torah Study

The Vision of Talmud Torah
When attempting to present a vision for the State of Israel, it is imperative to first address the mitzvah of Talmud Torah (Torah study), because the unique vision of the Jewish people is revealed in the Torah; the further we expand and deepen our study of it, the more we will understand our special role as a nation, as individuals, and as family and community members.
This mitzvah is so great that our Sages said it is equivalent to all the commandments.
Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders were once reclining in the upper storey of Nithza’s house, in Lydda, when this question was raised before them: Is study greater, or practice? Rabbi Tarfon answered, saying: Practice is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered, saying: Study is greater, for it leads to practice. Then they all answered and said: Study is greater, for it leads to action” (Talmud Kiddushin 40b).
There are two meanings to the conclusion of our Sages: First, that Talmud Torah is great. Second, that it leads to action. It follows that if Talmud Torah does not lead to action, it is not great. From this we also learn the importance of action which stems from the Torah.
The Three Levels
The Jewish nation’s study of Torah must take place on three levels:
1) Study aimed at promoting great Torah scholars who will elucidate issues for the benefit of the clal (general populace), including morei hora’ah (law deciders), community rabbis, dayanim (judges), and ramim (rabbis) for advanced yeshiva studies.
2) Study aimed at training rabbis working in the fields of education and counseling: teachers, instructors, counselors, psychologists, and social workers.
3) Torah study for all Jews, in order to know the basics of Torah – its general rules and details – so one can manage his life according to its path. To achieve this, a lot of study time must be dedicated in the formative years of one’s life, and later on throughout the years, to set times for Torah study.
Facilitating the Study of Torah Scholars
The first level is the study of Torah scholars, who delve into the Torah to understand its foundations and reasoning, and to reveal its illuminating light for the clal, the family, and the individual; to clarify its laws and instructions – what is permitted, and what is forbidden; what is commanded, and what is optional; the Sabbath, and the holidays; the administration of justice, personal and public conflict resolution, setting decent work procedures, and long-term planning for a sound spiritual, social, and economic life. These Torah scholars will also lead the communities, teach in yeshivas, and serve as judges in the rabbinical courts.
Subsequently, we will then be able to inspire the entire world with goodness and blessing. At present, the advanced technology and power placed in the hands of man are in desperate need of moral guidance. Today, mankind possesses enough bombs to destroy the world a number of times over. There are countries living in unprecedented abundance, but the people’s lives have become uninspiring and meaningless, to the extent that the nation’s future is in jeopardy. Bordering them are countries with countless desperately poor and frustrated people suffering from hunger and disease, while at the same time, a small number of their brethren are wealthy and have power over sophisticated weapons and all the wonders of technology.
Israel’s role is to spread the light of Torah and ethical behavior in the world. “For from Zion will go forth the Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem”.
For this purpose, we must advance Torah scholars who devote themselves to their studies and realize the responsibility placed upon them – to enlighten and guide the daily life of the individual and society.
Talmud Torah to Train Educators
The second level relates to the training of Torah scholars who will engage in education, teaching, counseling and therapy. There is no need to expand upon the importance of the field of education; however, it should be mentioned that the more Torah both men and women teachers know – in breadth and in depth – the higher quality their teaching will be.
Talmud Torah for Various Counselors
An additional challenge is that the various categories of counselors should also be Torah scholars. It would be fitting that within religious educational frameworks such as yeshiva’s and michlalot (colleges), alongside serious Torah study, suitable students should also study the human knowledge that has accumulated over recent generations. All the material that social workers and psychologists normally learn in university should be taught, but in the light of the Torah, and intended for tikkun and spiritual elevation. It appears that genuine b’nei Torah who are willing to faithfully serve the public as psychologists and social workers can bring great tidings to these important professions.
Currently, these fields are at odds. The rift is deep and stems from the academic mindset which divides up the fields into separate departments. And thus, we frequently find a child who suffers from learning disabilities and mental health problems; in addition, his parents also have marital problems, and on top of that, their finances are poorly managed. Even if they receive the best possible care, it is done by four different people who usually are not coordinated, and at times, have differing value systems. This is why so many problems reach the desk of the rabbis, who forced to engage in innumerable areas which are often far from their realm and expertise, and only because of their dedication to their community, do they take the time. And thanks to their wisdom, experience and intuition – along with the assistance of various experts, and with the help of God, they are usually more successful in helping people than the professionals.
If b’nei Torah were to engage in these fields in a professional manner, their approach will be a comprehensive one, whose objective is a complete tikkun. Even if they have to split up the care between different people, there will be a singular objective – to improve the patient’s situation, with Torah values serving them and their patients as a powerful motivator for tikkun, and as a foundation for shared, moral values.
The Immense Tikkun this Entails
According to the vision, those people entrusted by society with treating personal and social problems (psychologists and social workers), will be Torah scholars who constantly engage in Torah study, giving classes to adults and youth in their communities, accompanied by a eagerness to respond to the different needs in their environs. If no one comes to them, they will continue delving into the Torah and wisdom, with an emphasis on their various fields. Thus, each problem will be answered in the best possible way, the level of the counselors will constantly progress, and our society’s situation will be infinitely better.
Talmud Torah for All
The third level involves the mitzvah of Torah study required of every Jew, who must encompass all the foundations of the Torah – in halakhamussar (ethics), andmachshava (Jewish thought). In this aspect, the study of Torah is different from the study of science and the humanities, which are generally termed as ‘external wisdom’, as compared to the inner, central wisdom of the Torah.
In regards to the fields of external wisdom, not everyone must study them; it is sufficient that a group of talented people devote themselves to their studies and develop all of society’s needs, while the rest of the populace benefit from their work. Torah, however, must be learned by every Jew, because the study of Torah reveals the soul, perfects character traits, and leads a person to perform good deeds. Without this, it is impossible to live a proper life.
In this regards, Rambam (Maimonides) wrote:
“Every Jewish man is obligated in Talmud Torah ; whether poor or rich, whether healthy or afflicted; whether a young man or an old man whose strength is gone; even if he was a poor man taking his sustenance from charity and going door-to-door; even a family man is obligated to establish a time for Talmud Torah during the day and at night; as it says ‘vehagita bo yomam valayla’ [and you shall meditate upon it [Torah] day and night] (Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:8).
Each Person’s Torah Study Benefits All
Moreover, the benefit of each individual’s Torah study is not only in guiding his personal life, but it is directly related to the grand vision of tikkun olam. First, because it is impossible to create a good society without all its members being full partners in its vision. By way of the Torah study of each individual, all of one’s social circles – family, community, and work – are increasingly filled with substance, and constantly enhanced.
Furthermore, since no two people are alike, consequently, every Jew who learns Torah reveals a unique spark in it, and discovers a beneficial point all his own. Since some of the learning is done groups, people’s individual insights emerge as questions or answers, are integrated into the general learning, deepen the understanding, and join in the complete revelation of the Torah.
Unfortunately, in the religious educational system – including high school yeshivas and perhaps, even beyond this stage – the students are not adequately taught what they need to know to guide their lives according to the Torah. We must strive to improve the educational curriculum, and develop frameworks enabling adults to set times for Torah study.
Men and Women
Here, we must bear in mind the difference between men and women’s obligation to study Torah. Women are obligated to study the fundamentals of emunah andmussar (faith and ethics), and all the halakhot (laws) needed to guide one’s life. Beyond this, however, they are not obligated to learn Torah. As for men, even if they have learned everything needed to guide their lives according to Torah, they are still obligated, according to their capability, to continue going over and delving deeper into the words of the Torah limitlessly. Women who wish to do so fulfill a mitzvah, and the more society progresses and grows, the more women will want to study and deepen their Torah learning (see, Rambam, Yisodei HaTorah 4:14).
In any event, today, when life has become more complex and complicated and there is no field in which serious study is not required – above and beyond what was acceptable in the past – even the Torah study which women are obligated to learn is so vast that, regrettably, most religious men fail to adequately cover it. This is because all the practical halakhot must be learned, and in order to fulfill them properly, their explanations and foundations must be clearly understood. Furthermore, the fundamentals of emunah and mussar must be studied seriously and in depth, including the special role of each and every individual, and the Jewish nation as a whole (see, Pininei Halakha, Hilchot Nashim 7:2, footnote 1).
Even a woman who managed to learn everything must continue setting times for Torah study to refresh her knowledge, so they can continue enlightening and guiding her life – exclusive of her going beyond what women are obligated to study.
The required Torah study for women today essentially includes the subject matter associated with the training of teachers and therapists, but it is desirable for women who choose to work in these fields to continue deepening their knowledge in matters connected to their work.
The Basic Law
In order to secure this utmost national value in our public life, a Basic Law of Torah study should be enacted, affirming that “The State of Israel is committed to encourage and fund the study of Torah in Israel”, while detailing the three levels of study mentioned above.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Realism in Jewish Observance

Israel’s Vision – Revealing Holiness in the Land
The grand vision of the Jewish people is tikun olam (perfecting the world) by revealing the sacred value of all creation – from the spiritual realms to the practical, in all thoughts that preoccupy man’s mind, in all his emotions, and in all fields that interest him. Specifically in this way, complete faith is revealed – that Hashem is God in heaven above, and on the earth below, there is no other.
This, in contrast to the commonly accepted view among all nations and religions, that divinity is associated exclusively with the heavens, whereas earthly matters are detached from it. Consequently, according to their view, a person who wishes to spiritually purify himself, must abandon worldly matters in order to adhere to the Kingdom of Heaven. Israel’s role is to reveal that through the guidance of the Torah, holiness is also revealed in all earthly matters.
Israel’s Message
One of the chapters that best expresses the special role of the Jewish people as compared to other nations and religions, is Chapter 96 of the Book of Psalms: “Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name, announce His salvation from day to day”. This new song is one that is exposed in all restricted frameworks – in all places, and at all times. This is exactly how itbreaches all boundaries, for we are no longer talking about ohr ayn sofi (the “Infinite Light”) in which a person must attempt to separate himself from the world in order to cling to it – and this, without success, because, in spite of everything, man is limited and the ohr is infinite. Consequently, they are forced to define, in a limited and idolatrous manner, the ohr they are attempting to get close to. Israel’s message is that the heavenly “Infinite Light” is revealed in all various ways in the world – it sparkles in countless shades, in all places, and at all times.
This is Israel’s great message to the world, therefore, “tell of His glory among the nations, among all peoples His wonders. For the Lord is great and very much praised; He is feared over all divine powers. For all the gods of the peoples are naught, but the Lord made the heavens.” All faiths that view divinity as being restricted to the heavens, according to a defined and classified spiritual description – their heaven is fabricated, because the truth is that God commanded the Torah from the heavens to the practical world on earth.
Accordingly, God’s honor is revealed in his Temple, and all people are able to get close to Him in the splendor of holiness, in love, and in awe. “Beauty and splendor are before Him, strength and joy are in His presence. Give to God families of peoples – give to God glory and might. Give to God the glory due His Name, bring an offering and come before Him, prostrate yourselves before God in the splendor of holiness. Tremble before Him all peoples of the earth.”
And thus, all the nations will recognize God’s kingdom, and will accept His right and just laws and judgments. Faith and justice will be revealed in the world, and great joy will spread throughout the world. “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord has reigned.’ Also, the inhabited world will be established so that it will not falter; He will judge peoples with equity. The heavens will rejoice and the earth will exult; the sea and the fullness thereof will roar. The field and all that is therein will jubilate; then all the forest trees will sing praises. Before the Lord, for He has come, for He has come to judge the earth; He will judge the inhabited world justly and the peoples with His faith.”
Miracles and Nature
People with limited faith – a position which entails a certain degree of idolatry – believe that faith is mainly built on miracles – the more miracles occur, the stronger one’s faith will be. As a result, nature is problematic for them, because it interferes with their beliefs. Therefore, they try to describe everything as if it happened miraculously.
For example: “I was waiting for a ‘tramp’ (a hitch-hike), and was about to give up. No cars went by, and if they did, they didn’t stop. I had no idea how I was going to get to my destination. All of a sudden, miraculously, someone pulled up, and miracle-of-miracles, he had space for me, and by the grace of God, I made it on time.” Or, “I got to the store and all the cucumbers were almost gone, but miraculously, there were a few left – just what I needed, and even more… and with the grace of God, I bought them! Baruch Hashem, whose grace has not abandoned me, and has performed this great miracle of cucumbers for me!” This is limited faith. In their myopic, small-mindedness they believe that God is only revealed in things beyond nature, and therefore they attempt to invalidate the practical ways of nature. In truth, however, grave heresy emerges from their statements – according to which, nature is remote from Hashem, God forbid (see, Shabbat 53b, that it is easier to perform a revealed miracle than to change the set laws of nature).
Miracles, Science, and Medicine
Science is a big problem for people with limited faith, because in their opinion, it expresses the grandeur of nature’s wisdom at the expense of miracles. Consequently, sometimes we hear people say: “All the doctors said he had no chance of living, so we went to a certain kabbalist, and miraculously, he was healed. All the doctors were astonished, and on the spot, decided to become religious and wear a streimel…”  Perhaps I over exaggerated a bit – the doctors didn’t decide to wear a streimel, and unfortunately, they also did not decide to become religious. And perhaps they really weren’t so astonished, because, from the beginning, they never said he had no chance of living – the fact is, they tried to find a cure for his illness. All in all, out of politeness, they agreed with the person who said a miracle had occurred, and maybe even agreed there was a certain amount of truth to it – because, after all, without God’s assistance, no medicine will help.
In addition to the fact that people who seek out miracles frequently over  exaggerate the details of what actually took place, it achieves no benefit, but only disadvantages. For it was God who created the heavens and the earth; he is the one who gave man the wisdom to develop science and the medical profession – indeed, this is included in God’s mitzvah to Adam “to work it and watch it” (the Garden of Eden) – to extract the hidden forces in nature.
Indeed, because nature is logical, today some people are satisfied with limited explanations, without thinking about God and faith, and conversely, others attempt to emphasize miracles. Complete faith, however, views the whole of nature as God’s creation, and is not content with that, but, with the guidance of the Torah, aims to reveal the sacred value of everything found in nature.
The Mitzvah of Settling the Land of Israel
Thus, the importance and centrality of the mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel can be understood, since this mitzvah forces us to reveal all the values in the Torah in the physical world – with all its earthly, realistic considerations.
According to the limited view of faith, the mitzvah should be revealed without taking into account any realistic considerations – for if we are commanded to conquer the Land, indeed, we must conquer it without any considerations about our military capabilities or the forces facing us. Since this view is illogical and impractical, consequently, those advocating it claim the mitzvah can only be fulfilled with the coming of the Mashiach, and afterward, by means of a revealed miracle beyond all realistic considerations, we will conquer the Land.
The Torah, however, teaches us that in the Land of Israel we do not require miracles, because holiness is revealed in the Land. In contrast to the signs and miracles revealed in Egypt, in the land of Ham, and afterwards, in the revealed miracles in the desert – upon entering the Land of Israel, the miracles ceased – the manna and quail no longer fell, the people’s shoes and clothes started to wear out as normal, and the pillars of fire and cloud and the well no longer accompanied the camp of Israel. All the miracles that did occur in the Land of Israel were intended only to indicate certain ideas, but they are not the type of miracles one cannot live without.
Similarly, we have learned in the Book of Numbers that God commanded Israel to prepare for the conquest of the Land, and therefore commanded Moshe to count all those fit for service –men aged twenty years and older.
How He Sanctified God’s Great Name
We have also found in the Midrash: “There were four kings, each of whom requested different things…David said: ‘I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them: neither did I turn back until they were consumed’. God answered him, and he killed his enemies. Asa stood up and said: ‘I lack the strength to kill them; instead, I will pursue them, and You do what is necessary’. God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies. Yehoshaphat stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them; instead, I will sing, and You do what is necessary’. God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies. Chizkiyahu stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them or to sing; instead, I will sleep in my bed, and You do what is necessary’. God said to him “I will do it” (Eicha Rabba Petichta 30). People with limited faith might think that Chizkiyahu was the greatest among them, but the truth is the exact opposite. The Midrash expresses Israel’s terrible deterioration, from the days of King David until close to the time of destruction of the Holy Temple.
An Example from Our Forefather Avraham
We also find that that after our forefather Avraham made aliyah to Israel according to God’s command, there was a great famine in the Land, and he was forced to leave, and go down to Egypt. From this we learn something very important: this is the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz – a worldly mitzvah. If this was a miraculous mitzvah, even in a time of famine, one should seemingly rely on a miracle and remain in the land. But since it is a worldly mitzvah, indeed, when it is extremely difficult to live in Israel, one is permitted to leave. The mitzvah is to make an effort to settle the land in a manner that one can live here in a reasonably.
The Magnitude of a Mitzvah Fulfilled out of Realistic Consideration
Seemingly, if the realistic consideration is the deciding factor, it is no longer a mitzvah? But this is exactly the mitzvah – to remember the calling, and make every realistic effort to accomplish it. When, against our will, we are unable to fulfill the mitzvah, it is deferred until a time when it can be fulfilled; and then, we must immediately return and make an effort to conquer and settle the Land.
This is a mitzvah that must be revealed specifically in the land, with practical and realistic tools! Not like the hareidim, who are remiss in the need to fulfill this mitzvah in Israel, nor like the leftists, who ignore the importance of this great mitzvah.
The Divine revelation in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is deeper than in regular mitzvoth, whose actions are more pronounced in the Heavens. But through our efforts to fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, physical reality is gradually transformed. True, it remains physical, but the big chiddush (innovation) is that, by Israel engaging in Torah and observing the mitzvoth in the physical world, everyday reality is increasingly blessed. Pathways are opened, and Divinity is revealed in the world. At that time, the entire creation will sing praise; all of it acting as a tool to reveal the word of God. Let the Lord rejoice in his works.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Israel’s Vision Expressed in Hakafot

Israel’s Vision
In last week’s article, I dealt with the crucial need of establishing a vision for the State of Israel. With God’s help I will continue exploring this issue, but for now I will just mention briefly that the vision of the Jewish people is to reveal in compliance with the Torah’s instruction, the sacred value of everything in the world, thereby guiding, elevating, and perfecting it – “to perfect the world in the kingdom of God”.
This vision can be revealed only in Eretz Yisrael, seeing as it is the Holy Land, ‘the eyes of God your Lord are on it at all times, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year’, and any effort that contributes to its building is an absolute mitzvah.  The land with the potential to unify heaven and earth, where it can be revealed howemunah (faith) and Torah add life and blessing to the world, and from where blessing will extend to all peoples and countries, who will learn how to guide their lives according to the values of emunah, Torah, and morality.
The Allocation of Hakafot as an Expression of Values
Seeing as this is a personal column, I will share with you, my readers, how we allocated the hakafot (dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah) this year in Har Bracha, as members of the community celebrated Simchat Torah together with the Yeshiva students, in the presence of nearly 1,000 participants – men, women, and children. This allocation expresses the vision I previously mentioned.
Normally, the honor of carrying of the Torah scrolls is given to distinguished individuals, Torah scholars, community leaders, and notable donators – which of course, is fitting. But in this year’s allocation of hakafot, we thought to express the values which convey an all-embracing, Torah worldview.
The Evening Hakafot
As usual, in the first hakafa we honored the rabbis, because Simchat Torah is, first and foremost, their day of joy – and the Torah comes first, in the same way as the ark, which contained the tablets and the Torah, was situated in the Holy of Holies.
In the second hakafa teachers were honored – implying an important chiddush(novelty), because there is a need to elevate the status of teachers, who hold all our future in their hands. Therefore, we decided they would precede the other Torah scholars and yeshiva students, as well as donors and other distinguished community leaders.
In the third hakafa we honored those engaged in construction – from owners of construction companies, building-site managers, architects and engineers, to construction workers, electricians, and all others involved in building our holy land with their hands. This also expresses a moral statement about the importance of themitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land). Thank God, we had numerous people to honor – almost all of them graduates of our yeshiva. And since there were so many of them, we had to pass the ten Torah scrolls that had been brought to the Yeshiva from the various synagogues from one person to the next, in order to honor all of them. Fortunate are those who saw them dancing devotedly with the Torah, surrounded by the entire congregation, admiring and honoring their work.
In the fourth hakafa we honored high-tech employees, and other advanced technology industries – the vanguard of the Israeli economy, helping to fortify the status of the State of Israel in the international arena. From out of our Beit Midrash(learning hall) of Yeshiva Har Bracha, they embarked to gain a profession in the framework of the ‘Shiluvim’ program, which combines Torah and academic studies. Thank God, they are diligent workers, set prescribed times for Torah study, and raise splendid families. Once again, in order to honor each person, we had to pass the Torah scrolls from one person to another. How fortunate we are, and how good is our portion!
In the fifth hakafa, we honored those who work in business and finance, bank employees, lawyers, and the like. This is also a chiddush; they must also be connected to the Torah, to set fixed times for Torah study, and be honest and good people. Without them, the world cannot be perfected. Therefore, it is extremely important to give them a hakafa as well, so that all their dealings will be l’shem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven).
On the sixth hakafa we honored chatanim (grooms), i.e. anyone within his first year of marriage, and also, students who are engaged. This also carries an important message about the sanctity of marriage and family. And, thank God, every year we are worthy of several grooms who choose to live and build their homes in Har Bracha.
On the seventh hakafa, of course, we honored the cherished yeshiva students, for they are the future of everything – from their ranks come the rabbis and teachers, the builders of the country and its economy, and they will be the grooms raising blessed families. In addition, they are also young and have the strength left to dance on the seventh hakafa.
The Daytime Hakafot
On the first daytime hakafa, normally the rabbis were once again honored, but this time we honored avrachim (young, married Torah students) who are learning in order to grow in Torah, and also, students in the ‘Shiluvim’ program studying for a Masters or Doctorate degree in order to help develop science. There were two objectives in this decision: First, there was someone who might have thought, God forbid, that as a result of the recent debates concerning the issue of yeshivot and avrachim, the status of those diligently studying to grow in Torah had diminished – well, they take precedence. True, in our yeshiva they are not so numerous, because only the best suited students are allowed to continue learning in kollel, without having to proceed into the field of education or the ‘Shiluvim’ program (a framework in which approximately 70 yeshiva graduates choose to study an academic degree, combined with several hours of yeshiva studies). Secondly, alongside the avrachim, we honored their friends studying in university with the aim of developing science, in accordance with the teachings of the Gaon of Vilna, who taught that secular wisdom was a vital adjunct to the Torah, and to the extent that an individual lacked knowledge in secular wisdom, conversely, he lacked one hundredfold in Torah wisdom. And, as is well known, there is constantly the danger of detachment between the world of Torah and science, and therefore we chose to combine them in the first hakafa. God willing, out of their devotion for Torah, they will always remain connected.
In the second hakafa, once again we honored the teachers, because although we had already honored them with the second hakafa in the evening, there still remained a need to further honor them, for they bear the burden of educating the next generation. In spite of this, a principal of one of the schools insisted on the right of the husbands of teachers to be honored, because they also participate in bearing the burden; therefore, they were also permitted to carry the Torah scrolls – thanks to their wives, who are engaged in sacred work.
The third hakafa honored olim (immigrants). Sometimes, those of us born in Israel fail to appreciate individuals who left their country and language, and chose to makealiyah to Israel. But their virtue is enormous. Together, immigrants from four corners of the world carried the Torah scrolls: the U.S.A., South America, Russia, Ethiopia, France, England, and other countries. In their actions, they express the fulfillment of the words of the Prophets in the most superior way, and it is important to remember and mention this. Not only have they immigrated to Israel, but they continued ascending to the frontline of Jewish settlement – Har Bracha.
The fourth hakafa was devoted to piyutim (liturgical poems) from Eastern and North African countries, seeing that in our community there Yerushalmi and Moroccan style prayer groups, and on Simchat Torah, everyone celebrates together to fulfill the verse: “Israel camped opposite the mountain – as one person, with one heart”. And,Baruch Hashem, the entire community, from all backgrounds, is acquainted with all the piyutim, and participates in them with great joy.
The fifth hakafa was dedicated to Yemenite piyutim, seeing as we have quite a respectable Yemenite prayer group in the community and the Yeshiva, and they also participate in the hakafot.
The sixth hakafa was devoted to soldiers, namely, those in the regular army, and officers in reserve duty, to express the sacred value of the army, which fulfills two important mitzvoth that are equivalent to the entire Torah – yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), and protecting the Jewish people.
On the seventh hakafa, similar to the evening, the beloved yeshiva students were honored, for they possess all the virtues collectively.
A Conversation of the Chafetz Chaim
The great vision is also particularized in an individual’s life, for one can revealkedusha (holiness) in all of his ways. An example of this can be given from the life of the Chafetz Chaim, who was a giant in Torah, but also, unpretentious and friendly, concerned and involved in public affairs, who chose to earn a living from his own and his wife’s work, and not from the rabbinate. The general vision of bringing the Redemption was certainly important for him, and he engaged extensively in issues concerning the Holy Temple, and encouraged aliyah to Israel. But beyond this, he was the paradigm of sanctified human behavior.
Our master and teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook ztz”l, told us that people could have thought that the Chafetz Chaim, who wrote at length about the laws of lashon ha’ra  (evil tongue) in his book “Shmirat Halashon” (Guarding Your Tongue), would remain silent, and speak as little as possible. However, in reality, he was very friendly, open, and down-to-earth. He would speak a lot, talking about people and telling stories of the past – and all strictly “kosher”, and according to halakha. Concerning his down-to-earth behavior, Rabbi Kook told us that the Chafetz Chaim would wear a hat worn by middle-class people – not a plain hat, but not a respected rabbi’s hat either. Rather, an ordinary cap.
Rabbi Kook would position the Chafetz Chaim’s pleasant behavior in contrast to that of Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman H’YD, considered a student of the Chafetz Chaim, who’s every word was pensive, strained, spoken with a sigh and an effort – and nevertheless, after all this, he uttered some severely hostile remarks about people who were greater Torah scholars and more righteous than he was (he also dared to speak against Maran HaRav Kook ztz”l).
The Mussar Interpretation of the Chafetz Chaim’s Leadership
Incidentally, in the book “Reb Yaakov” about Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky ztz”l, it is written that Rabbi Yaakov “described the Chafetz Chaim as one who would always takeover a conversation whenever the topic was of mundane matters. He explained that in any other sin, a person is able to stop his fellow from sinning. For example, when in the company of someone about to eat non-kosher food, you could grab his hand. But when it comes to loshon ha’ra (evil tongue), it is completely impossible to know that a sin is about to be carried out before it reaches the ears of the listener. At that point, it’s too late. In order to prevent this – the Chafetz Chaim talked incessantly” (‘Reb Yaakov’, pg. 256). There is room for assumption that the description of the Chafetz Chaim’s conversation, and the explanation, was heard from R’ Yitzchak Elchanan H’YD. However, it seems more likely the way Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah explained, that the Chafetz Chaim was inherently sociable, welcoming, and loved to talk to with anyone. This was the behavior of Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky himself, but apparently, he accepted the explanation of a person considered one his outstanding students.
In any case, the book ‘Reb Yaakov’ is worthy of recommendation, for it is one of the finest books to be published about Gedolei HaTorah (Torah giants) in the last generation, as it is told in a rarely honest and objective way. Apparently, this is owing to Rav Kamenetsky’s unique personality, for he was accustomed to cling to the virtue of truth.
This article was written before the passing away of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef ztz”l, and was translated from Hebrew.

Israel Needs a Vision

The Wonder of Jewish Existence in Exile is Connected to the Vision of Redemption

The existence of the Jewish people for nearly two thousand years in galut (exile) is a huge miracle – unprecedented in the annals of the world. No nation survived more than a few generations outside of its land. On the other hand, the Jewish people survived and even revealed tremendous powers of vitality, evidenced in the continued deepening of Torah study. This is a great miracle, revealed through natural means. The fact that it occurred in a natural manner does not downplay the importance of the miracle, but rather, increases it. For a miracle that defies the laws of nature can occur in a particular place or a precise time, even as nature remains generally unchanged. However, here we are talking about a miraculous phenomenon which actually occurred for many years under natural circumstances, in the four corners of the world, and therefore, the miracle is infinitely greater. 

Seeing as the miracle is revealed in a natural manner, it is important to clarify how it occurs in practice. The explanation is that Israel’s vision of redemption is so huge and colossal that no exile or suffering can prevail over it. Or as our teacher Rabbi Kook ztz”l wrote: “The yearning for Salvation gives the Judaism of the Diaspora its power of stamina” (Orot, Eretz Yisrael 1).  Indeed, the Jewish people referred to life in Diaspora as ‘galut’, in other words, a temporary and unnatural situation that has no intrinsic value, but is merely a stage leading to the return to the Land of Israel (as explained by Maharal in ‘Netzach Yisrael’, chapter 1).


The Vision of Redemption is Connected to Torah and Mitzvoth

However, the yearning for redemption alone is not enough, because without Torah and mitzvoth, the vision of redemption would dissolve, lose its character and sink into the depths, or deviate in directions of idolatry as happened in Christianity and Islam. Therefore, the people of Israel were compelled to continue studying Torah and observe the mitzvoth in the Diaspora, even though the main purpose of the mitzvoth is connected to Eretz Yisrael (see, Ramban, Vayikra 18:25). Or as our Sages said: “Although I exile you from the Land of Israel to the Diaspora – be excellent in [observing] mitzvoth, so when you return [to the Land of Israel] they will not be new to you. This is analogous to a king who became angry with 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. This is what God said to Israel: My sons, be excellent in [observing] mitzvoth, so that when you return, they will not be new to you. This is what Yirmeyahu said: ‘Establish signposts for yourself’ – these are the mitzvoth in which Israel excels” (Sifre, Ekev 37). And on the verse “And you shall set these words of Mine” (Deuteronomy 11:18), Rashi comments: “Even after you have been exiled, make yourselves distinctive with My commandments: Put on tefillin and make mezuzoth, so that these will not be new to you when you return.”


The Terrible Crisis

In the modern era, we struggled with a terrible crisis. Within a few generations, the majority of the Jewish people stopped observing mitzvoth, accompanied by a willingness to assimilate amongst the Gentiles and forgo their Jewish identity. Before World War I, the vast majority of Jews still observed mitzvoth, whereas prior to World War II, a clear majority did not. In Western Europe, only 10% observed mitzvoth, while nearly half had already assimilated in practice. In Russia, which had already been ruled by communism, only a few elders continued observing mitzvoth devotedly. In Poland, where there were nearly three million Jews, approximately half of them had already stopped observing mitzvoth, while in Hungary, only about 20% still kept mitzvoth.  Even among the Jews who emigrated to America, the percentage of religiously observant was low, and among the younger people, no more than 10% were observant.

What happened suddenly? What led to the crisis? The simple answer is that modern development caused religion to become insignificant in life. However, it seems that Judaism, along with its wide-range of values, should not have been impaired by this, as it possess the capability of turning modernity into a tool for its spiritual content, and to be a tremendous impetus towards tikun olam. The truer answer is: the loss of a vision.


The Loss of a Vision

When all the Jews anticipate and prepare for the day they ascend to the Land of Israel and return to live an ideal life, that carries the message of tikun olam – only then do they have the strength to endure and cope with all the terrible sufferings and tribulations, which no other people survived – continuing to study Torah and perform mitzvoth, in order to fulfill them completely in Eretz Yisrael. But when the vision was lost, the strength to face the challenges disappeared.

In recent times the gates of Eretz Yisrael began to open, until after the World War I, in accordance with the decision of the League of Nations, the British Empire was given the mandate to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, the immigrants still faced many challenges, but life in the Diaspora wasn’t simple either, and despite all the difficulties, aliyah was possible. Presumably, as public pressure for mass aliyah mounted, the barriers would have fallen, and the gates would have opened wide. But at that fateful moment, the vast majority of our people preferred to remain in galut, without even giving a thought to making aliyah in the coming years. At that moment, it seemed as if the vision of the future nation of Israel was lost. If after efforts of generations, only a few hundred thousand people had gathered to Israel – only about 3% of the Jewish people, with all the rest refusing to heed the Divine command – is there still a chance for the nation to be redeemed?  

To this day, Haredi anti-Zionist preachers claim that the abandoning of religion was caused by Zionism, but the truth is the opposite. The majority of those who managed to stay alive and remain in the Diaspora after the Holocaust, distanced themselves from Torah and mitzvoth, and are in a process of accelerated assimilation.

When the hope of returning to the Holy Land was lost, religious life also lost its meaning, because the main motivation for keeping mitzvoth was “to remain a Jew”, but when it seemed to the Jews in galut that there was no more hope for national redemption – the dream became a universal vision, for example, communism or liberalism, which led to assimilation. 

 The Holocaust

With all the dreadful pain involved, it appears that out of a penetrating, historical examination, an awful truth arises: The awesome shock following the Holocaust saved the Jewish people from destruction. Without the Holocaust, the process of assimilation would have continued, and all the large communities in the Diaspora would have fallen apart. The process of assimilation which began in Western Europe continued in full force in Eastern Europe, and had already started to reach the capital cities of Islamic countries, to the point where, from a realistic viewpoint, there remained no hope or vision for the Jewish people. 

After the Holocaust, many people came to the realization that there was no other place for the Jews except Eretz Yisrael. The words of the Prophet were fulfilled in us: “And that which comes into your mind shall never come about, that you say, We will be like the nations, like the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone (in other words, to believe in all sorts of ideals people have invented). As I live, says the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with anger poured out, will I be king over you: and I will bring you out from the peoples and will gather you out of the countries in which you are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, with anger poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will remonstrate with you face to face” (Yehezkel 20:32-35).

The Words of a Yong Holocaust Survivor

On the 10th of February 1946, nearly a year after the end of World War II, the joint Anglo-American Committee arrived at the Bergen-Belson concentration camp to check the condition of the refugees who refused to return to their home countries. In the camp, the members of the committee encountered a small, skinny, pale boy about nine years old. They asked him: “How old are you?” He replied: “I’m 13 years old.” They kneeled down towards him, and continued to ask: “Where were you born?” He replied: “I was born in Kielce, Poland; there, they murdered my entire family. My only uncle who survived Treblinka returned to his hometown, but the Poles killed him there, his neighbors. I am the only one left.” “Well then, where would you like to go?” the committee members asked. The boy replied: “I…I want to go home. My only home is Eretz Yisrael, what you call Palestine.” “And if you can’t go to Palestine, where would you like to go?” they persisted. The boy then raised his head, and said: “I’ve had enough wandering from place to place. If you won’t allow me to go home – send me back to Auschwitz…” (From the book “Tikva Al Pi HaTehom”, by Masha Greenbaum).


Establishment of the State

The Holocaust and the State of Israel which arose in its aftermath preserved the existence of the Jewish people. Millions of Jews flocked to Eretz Yisrael and, to one extent or another, maintain their Jewish identity – infinitely more than any other community in the Diaspora. As a result, the Jewish communities abroad were also strengthened, for the enormous challenge the Jewish people embarked on – to establish a state, arouses all Jews in the world to consider their Jewish identity to one degree or another. The Hareidi communities were also empowered as a result of the establishment of the State – giving them the strength and courage to argue, and present an alternative position. They were able to say, ‘If the general public could establish a State – we can also keep the tradition in the way we think is right’.

Survival opposite the Great Vision

Unfortunately, however, instead of the great vision inspiring the Jewish people to gather to Israel and establish a state, we fled here from the galut because the alternative was returning to Auschwitz. In the interim, we were drawn into the huge challenge of building a country to save the Jews, and this task replaced the vision for several decades.

However, we still suffer from the same terrible crisis of the loss of a vision. Though we already live in the country, we have not yet truly decided to come to Israel to be a ‘kingdom of priests, and a holy nation’ – to connect heaven and earth, values and action – in order to reveal perfect faith in the world,  inspire all the nations with Torah and morality, and bring redemption to the world.

The Danger in the Lack of a Vision

Without a vision, it will be extremely difficult to withstand international pressures – political and cultural, alike.

Who knows, perhaps we are once again in a similar situation to that of a hundred years ago, when our people were called to realize the vision of the redemption, and the negligence was disastrous.

May we merit, with God’s help, to participate in the great challenge of setting a vision worthy of the State of Israel, and I hope to write about this in my future columns.

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

Treatment of Animals in Judaism

Treatment of Animals in Judaism

One issue that is important to determine morally is: What is the appropriate treatment, according to the Torah, towards animals? The main rule is that animals should be treated humanely and fairly, and the Torah prohibits causing harm to animals. In addition, it is not only forbidden to harm animals, but we are also commanded to take action in order to ease their suffering, as we learned from the commandments of unloading the donkey. A man, who sees a donkey lying under his burden, is commanded to unload the cargo off, in order to prevent him from sorrow. From this we learn that whenever a person sees an animal suffering, and he could help it, he is obliged to try and save it from its distress.
Seemingly, there is a conflict: If the above is true, how do we slaughter cattle, animals and birds, and eat their flesh? It seems there is no greater cruelty than this. However, the rule is that when a conflict arises between human and animal’s needs, human needs come first. Just as the animals can eat plants, people may eat animal products; however, for any non-essential need it is prohibited to harm animals. Therefore, since meat is very important for human nutrition, the Torah allows us to slaughter animals in order to eat. Also, there is doubt how much suffering slaughtering an animal causes. It is possible that the moment of slaughter is so short that the animal feels very little pain.
In the early generations, Adam was forbidden to eat meat. And even though it says, “ורדו בדגת הים ובעוף השמים ובכל חיה הרומשת על הארץ”, “and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth” the meaning is that according to the ideal of creation, the animals should be servants to mankind, for man is the crown of creation, but nevertheless, he is forbidden to be cruel towards them, and forbidden to kill them in order to eat them.
However, following the Sin of Adam and the sins of the Generation of the Flood, the whole world had fallen from its original virtue; people become less ethical, the nature of animals became less spiritual, they turned to brutality, and began devouring each other. Even the land was corrupted, and produced thorns and thistles. In this new situation, man is obligated to first correct the moral foundations of human relations – not to steal or rob, let alone not to kill – and only after the basic morality between men is correctly established, and wars and injustices cease to exist, only then may we continue to rise in morality, and seek the betterment our relationship with animals. For that purpose, it was necessary to draw a distinct line between the animals and man, who was created in God’s image, in order to highlight man’s purpose and responsibility, for it is only his duty to fix the world and raise it to a higher point. For that reason, after the flood, humans were allowed to eat animal flesh, as it is said to Noah: “כירק עשב נתתי לכם את כל” “As the green herb have I given you all.”
It must be further explained that following the sins of Adam and the generations before the flood, nature itself has changed. That is, the moral decline affected all aspects of life, including the nutrition system. Up to the generation of the flood, people could receive all their nutritional needs from plants. After the sin and the collapse of all systems of nature – plants were no longer sufficient for a person, and therefore, God allowed Noah and his sons to eat the flesh of cattle, birds, animals and fish. In other words, the moral decline of the world created a completely new eco-environment, in which we have to act contrary to the original ideal. Also, in the current state of the world, if we stop eating meat, it is not clear that it would be beneficial for those species we are used to eating their flesh. If we do not continue to raise and breed them for mankind, their numbers in population will decrease rapidly, because currently they breed under supervision; however, if all the oxen and chickens where set loose quite quickly very few of them would survive.
Nevertheless, we remember that the in the ideal situation, before the sin, Adam was commanded not to eat animal products. And therefore we know that in the future, after the world will be corrected, heaven and earth will be renewed, the nature of man and animals will change and become more spiritual; at that point, we will revert back to that ideal moral sensitivity, according to which it will be forbidden to kill animals to eat their flesh (Rabbi Kook, The Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, 2).

Compassion for Animals

The Talmud (Bava Metzia 85a) tells a wonderful story that helps in understanding the way we should treat animals. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi (Rebbe) was one of the greatest Torah scholars of all generations. His illustrious enterprise – editing the Mishnah – is the foundation of the study of Torah Shebe’al Peh, the oral tradition. It also said that he had “”תורה וגדולה במקום אחד Torah and greatness in one place, in that he was a great scholar in addition to being extremely rich and holding a high status in the eyes of the Roman kingdom. One day he saw a calf taken for slaughter. Having sensed what was about to take place, and in order to escape its fate, the calf fled and hid his head under Rebbe’s garment, bursting into tears. Rebbe said to the calf – ‘go to the butcher, for that is the purpose for which you have been created’. At that moment, it was declared in heaven that since Rebbe did not have mercy on the calf, he wouldl be doomed to anguish and suffering. Rebbe suffered for thirteen years from a severe tooth ache and pain during urination. One day while cleaning his house, Rebbe’s handmaid found little rat pups, and wanted to discard them. Rebbe told her – ‘leave them alone, for it is written: “ורחמיו על כל מעשיו” God has mercy over all his works (Psalm 145:9). At that moment, it was declared in heaven that since Rebbe had shown great mercy towards animals, he would be worthy of receiving mercy himself, and his pain and anguish was relieved.
Even though according to halakha we are allowed to slaughter animals to eat their flesh, our Sages came to teach us through this story that, at any rate, we should show a little regret for having to kill them, because in the world’s ideal situation, people could make do with vegetarian food, and only after the world was lowered from its original high caliber following Sin of Adam and the sin of the Generation of the Flood, the laws of nature changed, and humans began eating animals. But from the aspect of ideal truth, we should be a little bit disturbed when we see the suffering of animals. This is why Rebbe was punished with suffering when he failed to show pity towards a calf, for due to his important stature and righteousness, he should have shown mercy towards the calf, and let him hide for a little while under his garment until he calmed down and agreed to go. When Rebbe ignored his sorrow and drove him away, he was punished through suffering. In the same way, when he showed his compassion for the little rats, pity was shown on him from heaven. (According to Rabbi Kook’s “Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace”, 1).
It should be noted that precisely because Rebbe was such a great man – he received a more severe punishment. For all the desire and will of a great man is to attain a high moral state, and be pure and perfect. This is why the righteous rejoice in the suffering that comes to purify them and cleanse them. It is told that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi himself would pray that if it is seen in Heaven that he needs further refinement, he should receive more suffering. And because he suffered due to his moral virtue – to sanctify and purify himself – the Sages said that in all the years Rebbe suffered, the world did not experience drought (ibid, Bava Metzia).

For our purposes, we learned from the words of our Sages, that we should develop the natural feeling of compassion toward animals, and even though today we are accustomed to eating their flesh, we should know that this is not the ideal situation, and we should try to alleviate the sorrow of animals. In the future, when the world is corrected, we will rise to the level of Adam, and will not have to harm animals to eat their flesh.

Not to Educate towards Vegetarianism

After learning that the primordial ideal was for humans not to eat animals, naturally the question arises: Is it appropriate to encourage people to refrain from eating meat for moral and ethical reasons? Rabbi Kook writes that although ideally we were not meant to slaughter animals to eat their flesh, and this is even hinted in the Torah in the way it describes the matter of eating meat as a ‘passion’, as it is written: “כי תאוה נפשך לאכול בשר, בכל אות נפשך תאכל בשר” ” Because your soul desires to eat flesh; you may eat flesh, after all the desire of your soul ” (D’varim 12:20), nevertheless, presently the teaching is that while there still is a desire within man to eat meat, it is a sign  we still have not reached that higher moral level in which we should avoid killing animals (Rabbi Kook, Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace,4). Presently our main obligation is to fix all human relationships so they be moral and upright, for obviously, injuring a person seriously is infinitely more severe than an injuring an animal. Man is created in the image of God, and has thought and emotion; when someone does him injustice, he is sorry and hurt far more than an animal who does not have wisdom. And to properly emphasize the moral claim of “ואהבת לרעך כמוך”, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, the Torah ordered us to relinquish, for now, the supreme moral demand not to harm animals (Rabbi Kook, Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace 5;6).
Therefore, a person may slaughter animals to eat, and as our Sages said (Kiddushin 82a), all creatures were created to serve man, and in the current moral level of the world, this means one is allowed to eat them. Moreover, if we were to become overly concerned with educating towards compassion and love for animals, it could lead to dreadful human relations, for some people on a lower moral level might say to themselves: “Since we are not careful about killing animals and eating them, we can also kill people who stand in our way, and maybe even eat their flesh”. Others would express their kindness only towards animals, and given that in all evil there is also a spark of morality and good, after appeasing their conscience, would have no problem stealing, robbing and killing other people, for in their hearts, they could boast about their compassion towards their pets (Vision of Vegetarianism 6:11). Therefore, the Torah instructed us not to refrain from eating meat; this is the custom of almost all the Gedolei Torah, and only a few radical idealists refrain from eating meat.

In the future, however, the world will be  morally elevated, and as the Kabbalists say, the animals will also progress and evolve to the point where they will talk, and even their moral virtues will change completely, and as the prophet Isaiah said “וגר זאב עם כבש, ונמר עם גדי ירבץ, ועגל וכפיר ומריא יחדו, ונער קטון נוהג בם. ופרה ודב תרעינה יחדו ירבצו ילדיהן, ואריה כבקר יאכל תבן. ושעשע יונק על חור פתן ועל מאורת צפעוני גמול ידו הדה. לא ירעו ולא ישחיתו בכל הר קדשי, כי מלאה הארץ דעה את ה’ כמים לים מכסים”. “And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the basilisk’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9) At that time, all will understand that it is not fitting to kill animals to eat their flesh. In the words of the prophet Hoshea “וכרתי להם ברית ביום ההוא עם חית השדה ועם עוף השמים ורמש האדמה, וקשת וחרב ומלחמה אשבור מן הארץ” “And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground; and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the land, and will make them to lie down safely (Hoshea 2 20). (Rabbi Kook, Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace,12:32).

Special Righteous Customs Regarding Eating Meat

We learned in the previous halakha that according to the primordial ideal, man was not supposed to kill animals for eating, as explained in the Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin (59b). Only after the Sin of Adam, and sin of the Generation of the Flood, when the world descended from its original moral level and animals also became less spiritual, the laws of nature changed and animals began to devour each other, only then was man allowed to eat animal products. On Shabbat and Yom Tov there is even a mitzvah to eat meat as commanded in the Torah, to rejoice on a Yom Tov, and the vast majority of people experience happiness by drinking wine and eating meat (Beur Halacha 529:2, ‘keitsad’). And on Shabbat, there is a mitzvah to savor, and since most people relish eating meat and drinking wine, there is a mitzvah to eat meat on Shabbat (S. A. Orach Chaim 150:2; Mishna Brura 242:1). When the Temple existed, there was also a mitzvah to eat the meat of certain korbanot (sacrifices).
Seemingly, one might ask: Since we learned that originally humans were not permitted to eat meat, how did eating meat, which was forbidden by the initial ideal, now become a mitzvah? The simple answer is, given that our morality has changed, in practice, there is currently no ethical problem with eating meat, and since we are commanded to rejoice on the Shabbat and Yom Tov, and meat affects joy, we are ordered to eat it. But there is a deeper explanation in the Kabala, that in our current moral state, it is good for us to eat meat. According to the Arizal, as a result of the sin, the whole world fell from its original level – the inanimate, flora, fauna, and man all declined from their high level, and some evil got mixed in them. Therefore when a Jew meat in holiness, the evil separates from the good, and the good reverts back to its origin. When a man eats an animal, the evil within it comes out as waste, and the good part is absorbed in his body and converted into energy, giving power to do good deeds, and thus the animal rises to the level of man. The same concept is true with plants sucking their food from the inanimate, and thus uplifting the good in the inanimate world. And when an animal feeds off plants, it raises the good which is in flora, to the level of living. So when humans eat the animals and behave morally and get closer to G-d, through the food chain they return the world to its original moral state. This is especially true when we eat meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov, or a mitzvah meal such as a wedding, etc. The meat becomes a part of the joy of a mitzvah, and assists in its existence. In a regular dinner however, the Kabbalists say this is not necessarily the case, for if the person does not behave properly, then the consumption of meat was not part of any rectification and purification. Therefore, some righteous people avoid eating meat in regular meals, for they desire their eating to be only as a part of a mitzvah, and if it is not absolutely clear that the spark of good in the flesh is elevated by their eating, there is a moral problem with killing the animals for food.
Accordingly, we can understand our Sages when they said, that from a moral point of view, an am ha’aretz (an unlearned person) should not eat meat (Pesachim 49b). The reason is that a person without Torah and good morals, who despises Torah scholars and people of worth, is not considered to be superior to the animals, and therefore has no right to kill and eat them.
That is generally our Sages view on eating meat in our times. Although, there are some individuals who have a fine moral sense in their hearts, and have taken upon themselves not to eat meat at all, even though according to the Kabala, it is appropriate to eat meat in a seudat mitzvah. In any case there, were Kabalists who saw this in a positive light, in order to be extra pure, (“Sdei Hemed” Ma’arahat Achila, ‘eating meat’), and Rabbi Kook calls them radical idealists. But the general instruction for a person who desires to be blessed and serve G-d, is to occupy oneself mainly with correcting moral behavior between man and his fellow neighbor, and to eat meat at a seudot mitzvah.

This article was translated from Hebrew

The Enveloping Light of the Sukkah

The Enveloping Light of the Sukkah
The mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah is unique in sanctifying man’s daily routines. The eating and drinking, the chatting, and the sleeping which we do in the Sukkah are elevated and sanctified to the point where they are deemed mitzvoth.
It is specifically on Sukkot that we merit this, because Sukkot is Chag HaAsif (the holiday of in-gathering). This is when both the physical and spiritual in-gathering of the year are completed – the in-gathering of grain and fruit, as well as the in-gathering of all our Torah study and all of our good deeds. Thanks to the repentance and atonement that we undergo during the month of Elul and Aseret Yemei Teshuvah(the ten days of repentance), this in-gathering is innocent and pure, and we can thoroughly enjoy it.
Sukkah and the Land of Israel
In this sense, the mitzvah to live in the Sukkah and the mitzvah to settle the Land ofIsrael are similar (Vilna Ga’on, cited in Kol HaTor 1:7). Both of these mitzvoth envelop us, and we immerse ourselves in their atmosphere of holiness. By doing so, even our mundane activities become sanctified.
By settling the Land, the Jewish people show the world that when life is illuminated by faith and Torah, everything becomes sanctified: eating, drinking, and sleeping; family life and interpersonal relationships; work and craft; business and scientific research.
The Sukkah of Peace
If we gather together all the different types and degrees of goodness, even those which seem to contradict each other, God spreads His Sukkah of peace over us, and the Jewish people stand united and with solidarity. If each positive quality stands alone, there is no unity. But on the holiday of in-gathering, when all positive qualities are gathered together, unity appears. Thus our Sages state: “It is appropriate for all Jews to sit in one Sukkah” (Sukkah 27b). Similarly, taking the four species together hints at the variety of Jews who join together on Sukkot.
The Land of Israel unites the entire Jewish people, including all its groups and subgroups; the redemption depends upon this. Therefore, it comes as no great surprise that all the evil in the world has risen up against the Jewish people, which has returned to rebuild its homeland in accordance with God’s word as conveyed by His servants the prophets.
Israel and the Nations of the World
Since Sukkot reveals the sanctity of all spheres of life, the holiday is relevant to non-Jews (who are traditionally referred to as the seventy nations of the world). Accordingly, our Sages state that the seventy bulls which we offered in the Templeover the course of Sukkot were offered on behalf of the seventy nations. (SeePeninei HalakhaLaws of Sukkot 1:13.)
Our relationship with non-Jews is complex. Throughout our long history, they often viciously abused us; nevertheless, our basic attitude towards them is positive.
The following two quotes from the Sages illustrate this attitude. The Talmud states, “Woe to the non-Jews, who lost something but do not know what they lost. When theTemple stood, the altar atoned for them. Now who atones for them?!” (Sukkah 55b). According to the Midrash, “The Jews said, ‘Master of the Universe, we offer seventy bulls [for the non-Jews]; they should love us, but they hate us.’ Thus we read in Tehillim 109:4: ‘They answer my love with accusation, but I am all prayer’” (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:24).
Sukkot in the Future
Because Sukkot is the holiday which expresses the connection between Jews and non-Jews, in the future it will be the litmus test for the nations of the world. All who ascend to Jerusalem on Sukkot, to bow before God and to celebrate together with the Jewish people, will merit great blessing. This accords with what Zechariah says about non-Jews: “All who survive of all those nations that came up against Jerusalemshall make a yearly pilgrimage to bow to the King, Lord of Hosts, and to observe the holiday of Sukkot. Any of the earth’s communities that do not make the pilgrimage toJerusalem to bow to the King, Lord of Hosts, shall receive no rain. . . It shall be afflicted by the same plague with which the Lord will strike the other nations that do not come up to observe the holiday of Sukkot” (Zechariah 14:16-18).
Attitude Towards Philo-Semitic Christians
In modern times, we have witnessed increased support for Israel among evangelical Christians. Lord Balfour is probably the best-known among them. Thanks to his belief in the Bible, he spearheaded the British decision to establish a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Since the foundation of the State of Israel, the numbers of philo-Semitic evangelicals have increased. They see with their own eyes how the Jewish people is returning to its land after its awful, two-thousand-year-long exile, and is creating a prosperous country. They see new settlements and vineyards flowering in the very areas described by the Bible, and they are excited by our miraculous return to Zion. They are overwhelmed by the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies of the prophets of Israel.
However, Jews must deal with the question of how to relate to friendly Christians. For close to two thousand years, Christians have persecuted the Jewish people – murdering, debasing, expelling, or forcibly converting them. How is it that suddenly Christians love us? Furthermore, how do we handle the Rambam’s declaration that Christianity is idolatry?
The Attitude Towards the Jews and the Torah Is the Litmus Test
It would seem that everything depends on their attitude towards the Jewish people and the Torah. The most serious problem we have with Christianity is its denial of God’s choice of the Jewish people and of the eternal relevance of the Torah. Christians have classically believed in supersessionism, maintaining that they have replaced the Jews and that the Torah and its commandments are no longer binding. Because of these beliefs, they caused us a tremendous amount of suffering. Additionally, they did as much as they possibly could to convert Jews to Christianity.
As Rav Kook puts it: “The primary poison contained in belief systems which deviate from the Torah, such as Christianity and Islam, is not in their concepts of God, even though they differ from what is correct according to the fundamental light of the Torah. Rather, [the poison] is in what results from them –abrogating the practical mitzvot and extinguishing the [Jewish] nation’s hope regarding its complete renaissance” (Shemonah KevatzimKovetz 1, #32).
Elsewhere, in discussing Jewish attitudes towards different religions, Rav Kook states that our goal is not to replace or nullify them, but rather to gradually elevate and correct them, so their dross will disappear. This will inevitably lead [the religions] to return to their Jewish source (Igrot HaRa’ayah, Vol. 1, p. 142). It seems that Christian philo-Semites are undergoing a very impressive process of elevation never previously experienced by Christianity. Therefore, with the appropriate caution, we are spiritually and ethically obligated to relate to this process very positively.
Tommy Waller
Recently, a troublemaker distributed libelous materials accusing Tommy Waller, an American Christian, of being a missionary. This despite the fact that Tommy has been actively recruiting Christian volunteers for Israel for ten years, and not a single Jew claims that Tommy or any of the thousands of people he has brought here have tried to undermine their faith. Therefore, I feel it is incumbent upon me to speak on his behalf.
Out of an abiding faith in the uniqueness of the Jewish people and in the Divine mission to settle the Land, Tommy has rallied support for Israel from American Congressmen and Senators. The head of the Shomron Regional Council, Mr. Gershon Mesika, told me that Tommy’s activities have been very influential. Each year, through the summer, he organizes groups of Christians who love Israel to volunteer here. As he is a big believer in family values, many of the volunteers come with their entire families, including the young and the elderly. In recent years, at the request of the Regional Council, the Har Bracha settlement has hosted the volunteers on a hilltop near our community. From this base, the volunteers set out to work in vineyards and orchards throughout the Shomron.
Because of our difficult history with Christians, and due to concerns about possible missionizing, I felt it necessary to meet with Tommy. I wanted to have an upfront discussion with him about precisely what his positions were. At the same time, I wanted to convey a Jewish position without kowtowing or obsequiousness.
In the course of our conversation, I asked him: “If a Jew were to come before you and ask you whether it is better to be a Jew or a Christian what would you tell him?” He responded: “I would tell him to be a Jew!” Tommy added that he had not always thought this way. Originally, like other Christians, he was interested in everyone becoming Christian, but eventually he realized that this earlier position was the result of ignorance. Now, following his exposure to the Jewish renaissance in the Land ofIsrael, he wishes for all Jews to observe the Torah and mitzvoth.
I asked Tommy what led him to dedicate his life to bringing Christian volunteers toIsrael. He told me that he read Yeshayahu 61:5: “Strangers shall stand and pasture your flocks; aliens shall be your plowmen and vine-trimmers.” This greatly moved him, and he said to himself: “Maybe I can be the one who is privileged to fulfill this holy verse!” Ever since then, he has encouraged people to visit Israel and to help Jews work the land.
Every summer Tommy brings hundreds of volunteers, some for a week and some for longer periods. They bring us greetings of peace and friendship from tens of millions of Americans who love us, and when they return home they serve as loyal ambassadors for Israel.
For the Sake of Heaven
When I began to look into this issue a number of years ago, I publicly declared that I would not accept any money for myself or my yeshiva from Christian friends of Israel, so that I could research the subject without a conflict of interest. I also made a statement to that effect in my column about two years ago.
In the meantime, at the initiative of a Jewish go-between, the Har Bracha settlement received such a donation, 120,000 shekels which it used towards building a park that cost over half a million shekels. When I heard about this, I asked the secretary general of Har Bracha to do me a favor and return the money. This was not because I felt there was any halakhic problem with accepting it, but because I wanted our positive attitude towards Christian philo-Semites to be purely for the sake of heaven. The righteous secretary general apologized and said he had not thought I had included the settlement in my commitment. (In truth, while I am the rabbi of the settlement, I cannot make commitments for it.) To my delight, he nevertheless responded positively to my request and returned the entire amount.
Hopes of Redemption
Sometimes I see these honored guests walking on our roads and paths, and I am filled with great love; I am deeply moved and have to hold back tears. How beautiful are these people, who volunteer enthusiastically, crossing oceans and continents to come express their wonderful connection with us. How they shine with joy at being privileged to see the miraculous return to Zion, to walk on holy ground, and to contribute to making the desert bloom. Perhaps they are the pioneers who begin to fulfill the words of the prophecy:
In the end of days, the Mountain of the Lord’s House shall stand firm above the mountains and tower above the hills, and all the nations shall stream towards it. Many peoples shall go and say: “Let us go up to the Mountain of the Lord, to the House of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.” For Torah shall come forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge among the nations and arbitrate for the many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not take up sword against nation, and they shall never again know war (Yeshayahu 2:2-4).
For related articles by Rabbi Melamed, see “Christians Who Love Israel” and “Make His Deeds Known Among the Nations.”
 This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Fasting on Yom Kippur

The Mitzvah to Fast
It is a positive mitzvah to fast 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). One who transgresses and does not fast, in addition to negating a positive commandment, also transgresses a negative commandment.
And anyone who eats even one small sesame seed, or drinks even one drop of water, transgresses a Torah prohibition.
A Sick Person for Whom Fasting is Not Life-Threatening is Obligated to Fast
A person who suffers pain from his illness – as long as his life is not in danger, it is forbidden for him to eat or drink anything. This is because fasting on Yom Kippur is a Torah obligation, and therefore, only pikuach nefesh (the preservation of life) overrides it.
This is the difference between Yom Kippur and the 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.
Therefore, individuals sick with the flu, angina and the like – since their lives are not in danger, they are obligated to fast on Yom Kippur. It is preferable for an ill person to lie in bed all day and not go to the synagogue, than to eat or drink anything, because the main mitzvah of the day is fasting, for by doing so, God purifies Israel from its sins. And when an ill person is lying in bed, if possible, he should try to pray to the best of his ability, and if reading from the prayer book is too difficult, he should try to pray in his heart and move his lips in private prayers – but not to eat or drink anything.
Swallowing Medicine
While it is permitted for a sick person suffering from his illness to swallow pills – provided the pills do not taste good, and one takes care to swallow them without water. A person who cannot swallow pills without water should add a bit of soap to the water, thus causing it to taste bad, and with this water, swallow the pill.
Although we have learned that it is a Torah prohibition to eat or drink even the smallest amount, this refers specifically to something edible, but a medicine which is not intended to be eaten, is not considered food. True, there is a Rabbinical prohibition to eat or drink even something inedible (S.A. 612:6-8), but when the intention is medicinal, and not for the purposes of eating or drinking, there is also no Rabbinical prohibition.
Thus, the prohibition of taking medicine on Yom Kippur is equivalent to that ofShabbat, i.e., it is forbidden for one who experiences slight pain to take medicine, but if one is mitzta’er (distressed), it is permitted to take medicine (P’ninei Halacha, Shabbat 28:4-5, footnote 3).
Individuals required to take medicine on a daily basis, are also allowed to do so onYom Kippur.
Headache Sufferers
If the fast causes one great pain, he is permitted to take pills to relieve the pain. Similarly, individuals suffering from intense headaches due to not drinking coffee are permitted to take pills containing caffeine, or pills to relieve headaches.
In addition, someone who knows that the fast is likely to cause a painful attack, such as a migraine sufferer, is permitted to take pills in advance to avert the onset of a painful attack.
A Dangerously Ill Person
Someone who is dangerously ill and the fast is liable to result in his death, is commanded to drink and eat as needed, because pikuach nefesh overrides themitzvah 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, because he transgresses the commandment from the Torah to guard one’s life.
The intention is not merely in a situation in which, as a result of fasting, a significant percentage of sick individuals will die, rather, as long as there is a possibility the fast will cause an ill person’s death or weaken his ability to cope with his dangerous illness, it is a mitzvah for him to drink and eat as necessary. Similarly, if the fast is liable to hasten the death of a terminally ill person on the verge of dying, it is amitzvah for him to eat and drink as needed, because in order to save life – even for short period of time – it is permissible to eat and drink on Yom Kippur.
Not to Be Overly Concerned 
On the other hand, however, one should not be overly concerned, for if we worry about sakanat nefashot (endangering life) over every common illness, in effect, we abandon the halakha which determines that a sick person is obligated to fast onYom Kippur.
Not only that, but if we overly exaggerate and worry about remote dangers, we would have to hospitalize all sick people, prohibit all non-essential means of transportation for fear of accidents, and of course, prohibit all types of hikes and excursions, and so forth.
Rather, the general rule is: Any danger that people usually treat urgently – investing time and effort – such as rushing a sick person to a hospital, is considered sakanat nefashot, and to prevent it, it is a mitzvah to desecrate Shabbat, and drink and eat on Yom Kippur. But dangers in which people do not rush and invest time and resources to take care of, is not considered sakanat nefashot.
The Greatest Mistake in Eating and Drinking in Shiurim (Measurements)
A common and widespread misconception among doctors and the ill is the belief that the advice to drink l’shiurim (in measured quantities) is sort of a middle-path, suitable for sick individuals for whom the fast is not life-threatening. In truth, however, drinking even a little bit is a Torah prohibition, and a person whose life is not endangered as a result of fasting, is forbidden to drink anything.
Rather, the point about drinking l’shiurim is that even when a dangerously ill person needs and is permitted to eat and drink on Yom Kippur, in the opinion of Ramban, it is preferable to eat and drink l’shiurim, so as to reduce to some extent the severity of the prohibition, because one who eats or drinks less than a shiur, although he has transgressed a Torah prohibition, one is not obligated to bring a sin offering and is not punished with karet (having one’s soul cut off from Israel). However, manyRishonim including Rif and Rambam do not mention this instruction, because in their opinion, a dangerously ill person is allowed to drink and eat l’chatchila (from the outset) without any restriction, and this was also the opinion of a number of Achronim(Natziv, Ohr Sameach and others). Nevertheless, the Shulchan Aruch determined that, if possible, it is preferable to drink and eat less than a shiur (618:7-8).  All this, however, is on the condition the sick person’s life is in danger.
What is Eating and Drinking in Shiurim?
The shiur for drinking is k’mlo peev (a cheekful 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 30 ml (S.A. 612:1-5, 8-10). The interval between drinking and eating is approximately nine minutes.
Diabetics and a Woman After Giving Birth
However, when there is reason to believe that drinking and eating in shiurim is liable to cause the slightest negligence in the strengthening of the dangerously ill person, he must drink and eat normally. For example, when a yoledet (a woman after giving birth) is tired, it is best for her to drink normally so that she can sleep uninterrupted, and not have to remain awake in order to drink in shiurim.
Diabetics who have not found a reliable solution for their situation must be very careful about this. If there is concern that due to eating in shiurim they might be negligent and not eat as needed, they must eat normally.
Praying in a Minyan as Opposed to Eating in Shiurim
It is preferable for diabetics who need to eat on Yom Kippur to eat more than ak’shiur at one time and pray in synagogue, than to remain at home and eat in shiurim. There are two reasons for this: First, eating in shiurim is a hiddur (enhancement), and praying in a minyan is more important. Second, if ill people are required to remain at home in order to eat in shiurim, some will nevertheless go to synagogue, intending to eat there in shiurim privately, but in practice, due to various reasons, will forget to eat as necessary, and as a result, become unconscious, faint, and God forbid, die. Diabetics have been known to die on Yom Kippur because of this reason.
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 comes from the Torah.
There are some poskim (Jewish law authorities) who wanted 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 the around the world, 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 case, this does not entail sakanat nefashot. Also, there is no evidence to the claim that nowadays women have gotten weaker. On the contrary – today, people are healthier than in the past, both due to the diversity and abundance of food, and because of medical advancement. 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 (Tzitz Eliezer 17:20, footnote 4; Nishmat Avraham 617:1).
Thus, even a pregnant woman suffering from vomiting, high blood pressure, low hemoglobin (iron), and various ailments, is obligated to fast on Yom Kippur, and it is forbidden for her to drink in shiurim. Only in a special case where the pregnancy is at risk and a God-fearing doctor orders her, is a pregnant woman permitted to drink, and then, it is preferable for her to drink 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. The baby as well is not in danger, for if its’ mother is the type of woman whose milk does not decrease by fasting, the infant is not affected by the fast at all. And if its’ mother is the type of woman whose milk decreases due to fasting, she can supplement by feeding her baby oatmeal or water with glucose, and thus, the infant will not be affected by the fast.
Some poskim wanted to be lenient concerning nursing women, because in their opinion, weakness has descended upon the world, and today, without nursing, babies are at risk – however, their statements are extremely puzzling. For although surely there are positive benefits to nursing and mother’s milk, and many doctors encourage nursing, nevertheless, there are many women who do not nurse at all, and we have not witnessed doctors waging a war in support of women continuing to nursing in order to save their children for fear of 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 clear instruction was that a pregnant woman was obligated to fast – even onTisha B’Av – how is it conceivable that nowadays, when there are good substitutes, suddenly, this issue has become one of pikuach nefesh?!
Although this is clearly the halakha, one should not object to those who naively rely on rabbis who are lenient. But in regards to rabbis who instruct women to be lenient – the bewilderment is great.
Quite often, it seems that behind such opinions lies a worldview which ignores the positive aspects of modern living. According to their opinion, the past was wonderful, people were strong, pregnant and nursing women were amazingly healthy. Today, however, we are miserable, and can only cry and sulk over our bitter fate. In reality, though, our situation today is infinitely better than conditions were a hundred years ago. Life expectancy has increased dramatically, the mortality rate of infants dying within their first year of life is extremely low, and pregnant and nursing women are much healthier. In the past, twenty percent of women died in childbirth; today, not even one percent dies. Incidentally, this is the same outlook that believes we shouldn’t thank God for the In-gathering of the Exiles and the establishment of the State of Israel – as if the grief-stricken galut (exile) was superior.
When is it Permitted to be Lenient?
However, when a baby is weak and prone to illness and the doctor thinks he is especially in need of mother’s milk, and there is reasonable concern that as a result of the fast, the nursing mother’s milk will stop or significantly diminish – on orders of a God-fearing doctor, she should drink in shiurim (O.C. 617:1). However, this is a very rare case, because if on the day before the fast, a nursing woman drinks a lot of water, almost certainly her milk will not decrease as a result of fasting.
It is preferable for her to start drinking more three days before the fast and get more sleep, and thus, her milk supply will increase. In addition to this, she can express milk for a number of meals a few days before the fast, and thus, the baby will have plenty of milk on the fast. Based on the experience of several women, it is advisable to alternately skip two feedings in the afternoon and early evening, and instead, give the baby a substitute, and thus the fast will pass more easily for both mother and baby.
This article appears in the “Basheva” newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.