Annihilating Amalek is Different than Nazi Actions

The reason specifically Amalekites must be annihilated * The mitzvah to annihilate Amalek is also moral and logical – to deter the wicked * May an Amalekite repent or convert? * How did descendants of Haman become Torah scholars? * May the mitzvah be applied in our day?

The Mitzvah to Annihilate Amalek

There are those who question why the Torah commands to cruelly destroy an entire people. Is this not similar to the actions of the Nazis? On the other hand, others ask: Since Amalek as a nation no longer exists, should we learn from the commandment to wipe out Amalek a lesson for our times, and possibly even apply it to the wicked in every generation? Let us study the mitzvah, and consequently the answers to these questions will become clear.

The Historical Account

Apparently, Amalek was a tribe that did not engage in agriculture and industry, but rather, trained its’ youth to conduct surprise attacks against villages and convoys – to kill those they encountered, plunder their belongings, and sell the men, women and children who remained as slaves. It was difficult to wage war against them because they did not have a permanent base, and would suddenly and unexpectedly appear at enormously distant locations, with large attacking forces.

And so, right after we left Egypt, even before we had a chance to coalesce and organize ourselves, Amalek came and attacked us, without any provocation or reason. And who did he attack? Slaves who were going free after an extended period of servitude. Instead of realizing the greatness of the miracle of the exodus from Egypt, or having mercy on the newly-released slaves, the Amalekites saw before them easy prey, and taking advantage of Israel’s weakness, began attacking the stragglers in the rear, in order to capitalize from their sale as slaves, and plunder their possessions.

Even after Yehoshua, on behalf of Moshe Rabbeinu, fought and weakened them, it was clear this would not be the last battle; rather, every time Amalek would perceive signs of weakness, they would attack, kill, loot, and sit in wait for the next assault.

The Three Mitzvot Related to the Annihilation of Amalek

As a result, we were commanded three mitzvot in the Torah: the first is a positive commandment to remember what Amalek did to us, as it says: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt” (Devarim 25:17). The second is a negative commandment not to forget what Amalek did to us, as it says: “Do not forget” (ibid. 25:19). The third is a positive commandment to eradicate Amalek’s offspring from the world, as it says: “It shall be that when the Lord your God gives you rest from all your enemies around, in the Land that the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens” (ibid.).

In order to annihilate Amalek, a large army was needed to encircle all the widespread areas from which they operated, locate them, block their escape routes, encounter them face-to-face, and destroy them. To do this, the Jewish nation would first have to establish themselves in the land, be free of fear of attacks from surrounding enemies, and allocate large forces for long periods of time to conduct war against Amalek. Regarding this, our Sages said: “Three commandments were given to Israel when they entered the land; 1) to appoint a king; 2) to cut off the seed of Amalek; 3) and only after this, would they be able to fulfill the third mitzvah – to build the Holy Temple” (Sanhedrin 20b).

The History of Annihilating Amalek

Indeed, after the Jews merged together in their Land, they appointed King Shaul, and after his kingdom stabilized, the prophet Shmuel approached Shaul and said to him: “The Lord sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; therefore, hear now the voice of the Lord’s words. So says the Lord of Hosts, “I have remembered what Amalek did to Israel, how he set an ambush against him on the way, as he [Israel] went up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek and destroy everything he has; have no mercy on him; kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (I Shmuel 15:1-3).

However, King Shaul did not fulfill the mitzvah properly, taking pity on Agag, King of Amalek, and the best of the sheep and cattle. As a result, God took the kingdom away from him and gave it to David. Nevertheless, the damage was already done, and it was devastating. Because of Shaul’s weakness and compassion, many Amalekites survived, and they continued harassing Israel. A few years later, a band of Amalekites attacked Tziklag, where the families of David and his men lived, burning down the city and taking all the women and children captive. With God’s help, David and his men managed to rescue the captives and vanquish the marauders. But since David was not yet king and did not have the army of Israel at his disposal, he was unable to eradicate them. Four hundred youths rode on camels and escaped (I Shmuel 30). Apparently, other groups of Amalekites survived elsewhere, but despite his efforts David was unable to battle and destroy them all, even after he became king, because they were spread out far and wide.

Our Sages also tell us that because Shaul procrastinated in killing Agag, Agag’s seed was preserved – he impregnated a woman from his prison cell before being killed – eventually resulting in the birth of Haman the Aggagite, who attempted to wipe out the Jewish people (Megillah 13a).

The Moral Logic of the Mitzvah to Annihilate Amalek

The moral logic of the mitzvah is clear: ‘middah keneged middah’ (retributive justice). Just as Amalek had done to all the cities they looted, the same should be done to them. In truth, Amalek generally did not kill all the inhabitants of the cities they conquered; however, that was only because they hoped to capitalize from their sale as slaves. But when they found no buyers – they killed them.

Retributive justice is also essential in order to create a deterrent. For indeed, one who concedes to his enemies and fails to avenge them appropriately, encourages them to continue fighting. The great empires punished their foes severely, thus creating a deterrent that maintained their rule for centuries.

Amalek: The Root of Evil in the World

In total contrast to Amalek, Israel’s very essence is connected to the revelation of God’s word and tikkun olam (repairing the world). The idealistic, faith-based message that God destined to Israel incites all the evildoers of the world to go out and fight against us. No other nation has been persecuted as much as we have been – climaxing in the dreadful Holocaust. All this was started by Amalek immediately after we left Egypt, in order to prevent us from receiving the Torah, and repairing the world. Therefore, Amalek is the nation that embodies the root of evil in the world, hatred of Israel, and consequently, hatred of Torah and the godly concept of universal rectification through kindness and truth. This is why the verse says: “For the hand [of God] is on the throne (כס) of God (י-ה), [saying] the Lord will [wage] war against Amalek from generation to generation”(Shemot 17:16). Our Sages said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, swore that His name (י-ה-ו-ה) and His throne (כסא) will be incomplete until the name of Amalek is utterly obliterated” (Rashi, ibid.).

Amalekites May Repent

Although the Torah commanded to wipe-out the seed of Amalek, if an Amalek decides to undertake to keep the Seven Noahide laws, he is no longer judged as an Amalekite. Not only that, the Torah commanded that before we go to war against Amalek we offer them peace, i.e., to accept the Seven Noahide laws, to be subordinate to Israel, and to pay taxes. If they accept the offer – we do not wage war against them. If they refuse – we must go to war against them, until their complete destruction (Rambam, Laws of Kings, 6:1-4, Kesef Mishneh).

Thus, unlike the Nazi policy in which a person with even the slightest trace of Jewish origin was murdered, according to Jewish law Amalekites can save themselves by way of dismissing their heritage, and accepting the moral principles in the Seven Noahide laws. This right is reserved for all individuals, all families, and even all nations as a whole.

Accordingly, the ideal way to fulfill the mitzvah of wiping-out Amalek is for them to repent. Otherwise, there is an alternative way which is also l’chatchila (ideal) – to annihilate them in war.

In practice, the mitzvah has been fulfilled bediavad (in a less-than-ideal manner): over the years, the descendants of Amalek were scattered and assimilated among the nations, their trace of origin was lost, and the judgement of Amalek was annulled without their having repented. In practice, there is currently no way to annihilate them because they have assimilated amongst the nations; yet, their evil influence persists to a certain extent, and the only remaining way to amend the situation is for the entire world to repent, or for the onset of a major war, such as the war of Gog and Magog (Armageddon), in which all the wicked will perish.

The Descendants of Haman Learned Torah in B’nei Brak

Our Sages said that the descendants of Haman, who was an Amalekite, learned Torah in B’nei Brak (Gittin 57b; Sanhedrin 96b). This statement was made as praise for converts and the Torah, for it is inconceivable that the Sage’s intent was to insult those converts who learned Torah in B’nei Brak, because in addition to the prohibition of causing any Jew sorrow – including converts – there is an additional prohibition against upsetting a convert. In addition to the mitzvah of ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ which is directed towards all Jews, there is also an additional mitzvah to love the convert.

May an Amalekite Convert to Judaism?

The poskim (Jewish law arbiters) differed on the question: can an Amalekite convert to Judaism? According to the Rambam (Maimonides), an Amalekite may convert (Hilchot Isurei Be’ah 12:17). According to this opinion, the descendants of Haman converted, and learned Torah in B’nei Brak.

On the other hand, some authorities say that it is forbidden to accept an Amalekite as a convert. This is the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer in the Mekhilta (end of Parshat ‘BeShalach’), namely, that God swore on His throne that if an Amalekite came to convert, He would not accept him. Regarding the Sages statement that the descendants of Haman learned Torah in B’nei Brak, according to this opinion, it occurred out of error, for the Beit Din was unaware that the person coming to convert was from the seed of Amalek, and thus accepted him, and after having already been accepted, they did not reject him (Yeshuot Malko). It is also possible that initially an Amalekite assimilated among another nation, and after his judgement of being an Amalekite was annulled, he converted, and his descendants were those teachers of Torah in B’nei Brak (Chida). Or, they were descendants of an Amalekite from the sons of Haman who raped a Jewish woman, her son being Jewish, and he begot those Torah teachers from B’nei Brak (see, Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 14:8, footnote 10).

Lessons for Our Times

After Amalek’s trace of origin was lost there is no Beit Din that possesses the legal authority to apply the law of Amalek from the Torah – a severe and dreadful law – on any tribe, or other family. However, from the moral and rational aspect of the mitzvah, it is essential to learn that punishment for the wicked who chose evil should be measure-for-measure, both morally, and also to deter them in order to save the world.

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

The Duty to Protest in the Army

Despite disagreement on how to respond to the eroding Jewish character of the I.D.F., the confirmed halakha is that one is obligated to admonish * Admonishing others reflects love, and prevents anger and revenge * One who does not admonish is considered a partner in the transgression, and is punished * The obligation to admonish a number of times, so long as there is a chance the admonishment will help * The obligation also applies to unpleasant situations for the person giving admonishment* The obligation to admonish is greater when public organizations have procedures for receiving complaints in order to improve efficiency * Filing a complaint is customary in the IDF, and is not considered an affront to authority * The accepted and proper ways to admonish within the framework of the IDF

The Meeting of Rabbis

A week ago, I participated in a meeting of rabbis convened at the initiative of my father and teacher, Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed shlita, to discuss the continued erosion of the Jewish character of the IDF in various areas. This process, headed by the Chief of Staff and his deputy, is leading to the creation of an environment unsuitable for conducting a traditional Jewish lifestyle, primarily in the area of mixed-gender units, and non-observance of rules of modesty. Some rabbis who participated in the meeting thought we should set a red line, which if crossed, would obligate soldiers to refuse orders. Others felt that the problems were profound and complicated and therefore require a wide-ranging struggle about the overall objectives of the army, and to even declare that if the situation continues deteriorating, we will be forced to call for youth to postpone enlistment for a number of years until the situation is rectified. In contrast, some rabbis believed that although the means of rectifying the situation were unclear, there is no room for such a call. They also felt that defining a red line beyond which a soldier is obligated to refuse orders is also problematic, because the situation of a career soldier liable to lose his livelihood cannot be compared to that of a compulsory soldier, and as a general rule, the halachic boundaries in matters of modesty are less defined, and depend on the person, place and time.

The Obligation to Admonish is an Accepted Halakha

Within the range of opinions, I suggested we agree on one basic position, founded on the mitzvah of ‘tochacha‘, (admonishment): Every soldier encountering a significant problem in the field of halakha and ‘tzniyut‘ (modesty), is obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘tochacha‘, which is mandatory from the Torah, by filing a complaint through the appropriate channels of the army and the general public. Even if there are those who believe such a proposal is not the most effective, it is a Torah obligation whose fulfillment is widely neglected, and it is crucial to return it to its rightful place. Military officials to whom complaints have been raised concerning the severe damage to religious soldiers and the Jewish character of the army claimed there is no problem, because out of all of the soldier’s complaints about various matters, the percentage of complaints about religious matters is minimal. For that reason, meticulous observance of the mitzvah of ‘tochacha‘ will contribute to raising the awareness of the army high command, and will help improve the situation. The proposal was accepted, and I was asked to write a halachic article on the matter.

The Mitzvah to Protest

It is a mitzvah for a Jew who sees a fellow Jew sin, to admonish him. It is forbidden for the admonishment to stem from hatred, but on the contrary, it must emanate from love and responsibility for his well-being; just as a Jew must be concerned about his fellow not starving from hunger, so too, he must be concerned that he does not sin. And indeed, we find that the verses in the Torah regarding the mitzvah to love a fellow Jew and the mitzvah of admonishment appear in close proximity, as it is written: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Vayikra 19: 17-18). Thus, the Torah teaches us that by admonishing we express true love; in contrast, however, when we fail to admonish suppressed resentment accumulates, and in the end, people become hateful and vindictive. However, by admonishing the situation is rectified. And even if the situation is not resolved successfully, one’s frustration subsides, and realizes that perhaps it is very difficult for the sinner to change his ways.

When it comes to the transgression of a public entity the obligation to admonish increases, because the sin affects the masses and the character of the general public.

One who Abstains from Admonishing is Punished for the Sin

Our Sages said: “Whoever can forbid his household from committing a sin but does not, is punished for the sins of his household; if he can forbid his fellow citizens, he is punished for the sins of his fellow citizens; if the whole world, he is punished for the sins of the whole world” (Shabbat 54b). Thus, if a soldier can admonish a transgression but refrains from doing so, even though he himself did not sin, he becomes a partner in the transgression, and is punished.

The Talmud (Shabbat 55a) relates that Rabbi Zeira said to Rabbi Simeon, who was in contact with Resh Galuta: ‘Rebuke the members of the Resh Galuta for their misdeeds’. Rabbi Simeon replied: ‘They will not accept it from me; why should I rebuke them in vain?’ It is worth noting that government officials hate rebuke, and one who reproves them is liable to pay a personal price, therefore Rabbi Simeon felt that if in any case they would not accept his rebuke, it would be better to remain silent.

‘Rabbi Zeira said to him: Even though they will not accept, you are obligated to rebuke them. For Rabbi Acha the son of Rabbi Hanina said: “Never did a favorable word go forth from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, of which He retracted for evil, save the following.” In other words, after a good order is declared from Heaven, God does not go back on His word, except in the case of people who could have admonished the sinners but refrained from doing so, as was the case when God decreed the destruction of the Holy Temple: initially, He decreed punishment only on the wicked, but retracted, and sentenced the righteous to punishment for not admonishing, as it is written: “And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark (the Hebrew letter ‘tav‘) upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof,” etc. (Yehezkel 9:4). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Gabriel: Go and set a ‘tav‘ of ink upon the foreheads of the righteous, that the destroying angels may have no power over them; and a ‘tav‘ of blood upon the foreheads of the wicked, that the destroying angels may have power over them. The Attribute of Justice said before the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Wherein are these different from those?’ God replied: ‘Those are completely righteous men, while these are completely wicked’. ‘Sovereign of the Universe!’ the Attribute of Justice continued, ‘they (the righteous) had the power to protest but did not.’ God replied: ‘It was fully known to Me that had they protested they would not have heeded them.’ ‘Sovereign of the Universe!’ he said, ‘If it was revealed to You, was it revealed to them?’ Hence it is written: ‘Slay utterly the old and young… and begin at my Sanctuary. And it is written: ‘Then they began at the elders which were before the house’ (ibid.).” Rabbi Yosef explained that these elders with whom the calamity began were men who fulfilled the Torah from ‘alef‘ to ‘tav‘, but since they did not fulfill the mitzvah to protest – they were punished first.

An Ongoing Obligation

How many times must one rebuke? Our Sages said: “‘hokeah‘ (you shall surely rebuke) implies even a hundred times” (Bava Metzia 31a). This is on condition that there is a chance the reproach will be accepted, since the rebuke is directed towards a person who agrees to the principles upon which the protest is based; or in our case, when directed towards a public entity, when the number of complaints against it adds up to a certain amount, they begin to change themselves for the better.

When there is absolutely no chance the rebuke will be accepted, the mitzvah is to admonish only once, and not to continue rebuking beyond that. As our Sages of blessed memory said (Yevamot 65b): “As one is commanded to say that which will be obeyed, so is one commanded not to say that which will not be obeyed” (Rema, O.C., 608:2; M.B. 9).

Even in Unpleasant Situations

To what extent must one make an effort to reproach? The Amoraim (Torah scholars of the period from about 200 to 500 CE) differed on this question: In the opinion of Rav, the person rebuking must firmly admonish the sinner to the point where the sinner wants to hit him. In the opinion of Shmuel, the rebuke should be severe, but not to the point of striking, rather, until the sinner feels like cursing him. And according to Rabbi Yochanan, rebuke should be given until the sinner scolds him, saying harshly that he does not want to hear from him anymore (Archin 16b). The halakha was determined by Rambam (Maimonides) that reproach should be given until the sinner feels like hitting. He wrote: “Indeed, one is obligated to rebuke a colleague who does wrong until the latter strikes him and tells him: “I will not listen.” Whoever has the possibility of rebuking sinners and fails to do so is considered responsible for that sin, for he had the opportunity to rebuke the sinners” (Hilchot De’ot 6:7).

In a Democracy the Obligation to Protest is Heightened

Thus, the duty to rebuke obligates a soldier even when it involves entering into very unpleasant situations before his superiors. The obligation exists even when the odds are it will not be accepted, because there is always a chance it will help somewhat – even one out of a hundred reproaches. Whoever does not rebuke becomes partner in the sin of the entire chain of command, who harm the Jewish character of the IDF, and force soldiers to transgress halakha.

If this was the case in times when superiors were less considerate of complaints, all the more so today, when all public institutions create internal audit bodies and provide the general public with organized ways of appealing, in order to improve themselves by use of the complaints.

Many religious soldiers are under the impression that a complaint is considered a challenge to the authority of a commander, and perhaps even damaging to the army. However, it is important to realize that such an attitude is a remnant from the era of monarchies. Back then, a complaint was considered an affront to the monarchy, but nevertheless, the Torah instructed to protest against the sins of the empire. Today, in contrast, a complaint is considered meritorious civil behavior. This is how a democratic system involves the general public in shaping and improving its institutions.

The Manner of Fulfilling the Duty to Protest

First, a soldier should turn to his immediate commanding officer and to the military rabbi of his unit. If they solve the problem, all the better.

If the problem is not resolved, the protest should be directed to four different channels:

1) To the Ministry of Public Inquiries of the Personnel Division. Parents and family members can also contact them. This office is accustomed to working efficiently and quickly.

2) To the hotline of the IDF Rabbinate, it being the body directly responsible for Jewish affairs in the IDF.

3) To organizations that accompany soldiers in the army, such as the ‘Association of Hesder Yeshivas’ and the ‘Association of Higher Yeshivas’, and also public organizations such as the ‘Tzav Rishon’ and the like.

4) The IDF Soldiers’ Complaints Commissioner. This is a non-military body, whose work is extensive and systematic, and is intended for cases in which the army failed to rectify itself effectively.

For serious problems that do not receive a proper response, it is advisable to send a copy of the complaint to media outlets such as ‘Besheva‘ and ‘Arutz Sheva‘, who are more than willing to assist in such cases.

When it is difficult for a soldier to fulfill the obligation to protest, parents can substitute for him, and fulfill the duty of protesting in his stead.

The mitzvah to protest should be fulfilled as promptly as possible, because the closer to the time of the incident the complaint is lodged, the more benefit it bears. Nonetheless, even if a soldier was negligent and did not complain at the time of the incident, he should subsequently file a complaint – even after a year has passed – because having it on file in all four of the previously mentioned channels is still useful.

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

Honor Parents, Exercise Judgment

A clarification after last week’s column: In severe cases of parental abuse, children should not seek out a relationship with them * Dama ben Netina: Learning about honoring parents specifically from a cruel Roman army general * Respect for parents empowers children * In a case where not waking-up a father will likely cause him grief, he should be woken-up * If children do not honor their parents properly, the parents should overlook it * Children should exercise moral judgment, and not blindly obey all their parents’ orders * Do not ignore the negative behavior of parents, rather, honor their positive sides

A Painful Question

“Rabbi, words of Torah are very dear and important to me, but I was dumbfounded and extremely upset reading your previous column titled “Maintain a Relationship with Your Divorced Father”. I am terribly worried about the shock and damage it may cause to the youth and adults the article refers to. Therefore, I take the liberty of commenting.

Unfortunately, our family underwent a very difficult experience of divorce. The father of a young family mentally abused his wife and little children, abandoned the family, and fled. He never paid alimony; on the contrary, he wasted money and left behind debts, causing his wife and children to be subjected to long periods of harassment by creditors, day and night. He is a violent and dangerous person.

The children suffered greatly from the disgrace their father caused, and as a result, received prolonged and expensive psychological treatments for their rehabilitation. The Rabbinical Court that dealt with the matter condemned the father’s behavior as well, and imposed a harsh ban upon him, his parents, and other family members for cooperating with him.

Now I wonder: Is a newspaper that is open to all readers the appropriate platform for publicizing an article that children may read? Is this meant to be a public call to parents of children, and the children themselves, who worked so hard to break free from their mental stress? Can these hurt children, who have suffered so much, ease their mother’s grief by complying with the halachic decision and honoring their abusive and abandoning father? Isn’t this tantamount to abuse of the devoted mother, who is liable to be crushed in view of this? Isn’t there a danger that the children’s rehabilitation, obtained by indescribably hard work and a great deal of money, will go down the drain completely?

If it is obligated by halakha, including children taking the initiative to make contact with the father, then it seems to me that the rabbi of the family or the community should handle the matter sensitively, behind closed doors, and not in public.

I hope I was not too blunt or inappropriate, and apologize in advance if I was. With all due respect and appreciation.”

Answer: Treat an Evil Person as Such

Thank you very much for your moving letter. Obviously there are exceptional and shocking cases such you experienced. The situation I was referring to was less extreme, as described precisely in the question.

Moreover, in the case you spoke of, the Torah approach towards the situation was fully reflected in the exceptionally severe judgment, namely, the ‘herem‘ (ban) placed on the sinful father and his supporting family. Consequently, his children should also treat him as an evil person, until he atones for his misdeeds, and repents to the best of his ability.

Furthermore, if a relationship with the father causes emotional damage requiring psychological treatment, contact with him should be avoided until the children are emotionally stronger and out of such danger.

Clarifying the Mitzvah of Honoring Parents

I received many other responses to last week’s column. The majority of them were painful and identified with the estranged fathers, while some were from hurt women, angry at their divorced husbands.

In any case, from the various responses I realized the extreme importance to further clarify the mitzvah of honoring parents, as written in the Torah: “Honor your father and mother. You will then live long on the land that God your Lord is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

The Acts of Dama ben Netina

The Jerusalem Talmud (Peah 1:1) relates a story about Dama ben Netina, which holds many deep and hidden meanings. The importance of story can be learned from the fact that it also appears in the Babylonian Talmud (Kiddushin 31a) with a few changes. I will recount the translation of the story from the Jerusalem Talmud with some commentary:

“Rabbi Eliezer was asked by his students: ‘How far should one go in honoring his father and mother?’ He replied: ‘You are asking me? Go and ask Dama ben Netina!  Dama ben Netina was a Roman army general. Once, his mother hit him in the face with her sandal in the presence of all his soldiers, and he was silent, and did not react. Moreover, when her sandal with which she was hitting him fell from her hand, he picked it up and handed it back to her, so she would not be upset having to bend over to pick it up.”

“Rabbi Hezekiah said: He was gentile who lived in Ashkelon and was the head of the army there. He refrained from sitting on the same rock his father had previously sat on. When his father died, he made an idol out of the rock, due to the great respect he had for his father.”

“It happened once that one of the precious stones, the Jasper stone, representing the tribe of Binyamin, fell out of the High Priest’s breastplate, and was lost. Seeking a replacement, the Sages were referred to a certain Dama ben Netina who purportedly had the exact jewel they required in his possession. They offered him one hundred dinar, and Dama accepted their offer. When he went to fetch the jewel he discovered that he could not access it without waking his father. Some say that the key to open the chest of precious jewels was between his fingers, while others say his father’s foot was resting on the chest. Not wanting to wake his father, he returned and informed his clients that he could not provide them with the item they sought. Assuming that he was trying to renegotiate the price, they increased their offer to 200 dinar, and when he refused, they continued raising their offer until they reached a sum of 1,000 dinar. Since Dama still refused, they left. When his father finally woke up, he brought them the jewel, and they were still willing to pay him their final offer of 1,000 dinar. Dama, however, was only willing to accept their initial offer of one hundred, saying: “What? Do you think that I would sell the honor of my father for mere coins? I refuse to derive any tangible benefit from the honor of my father!” What heavenly reward did God repay Dama for such meritorious behavior? Rabbi Yossi ben Rabbi Bun said: On that very night a pure red heifer (essential for attaining ritual purity) was born to Dama’s cow, and so the Jews purchased this extremely rare item from him for a small fortune.”

Who was Dama ben Netina?

Dama ben Netina was the “patēr boulēs” – or general of the Roman army who ruled in Ashkelon. In other words, he was a strong and authoritative man, prepared to act brutally against any foe, as fitting Roman soldiers and rulers. Chances are, he had ordered the crucifixion of those who rebelled against Rome, in other words, to nail them alive to a tree so they would slowly bleed to death in agony for hours, and sometimes days, for all to see, so they too would realize what would happen to them if they rebelled. Others who violated orders were sold as slaves. Nevertheless, towards his parents, he acted with enormous honor and awe.

Presumably, if our Sages used him as an example, this implies he acted somewhat mercifully, but as a general in the Roman army, it is unimaginable that he did not behave callously and brutally, including executing people. Seemingly, one could ask: Why did our Sages chose to teach us about honoring parents from a non-Jew? The Maharal from Prague, (Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel 1520-1609) in his book ‘Tiferet Yisrael’ says that it comes to teach us that this commandment is common-sense. Fulfilling it is logical, and therefore, non-Jews can also understand its value.

Superficially, it seems that one who respects his parents minimizes and weakens his own standing, but in truth, we learned from this story that respect for parents actually gives a son power, for his parents are his roots, and when he respects them, he is in effect strengthening his own roots, and thereby empowering himself. Consequently, it’s no coincidence that specifically an army general honored his parents to such a great extent, for this strengthens his leadership, and affords him a moral basis. Thus, he merited respect and obedience, by force and morality alike.

A Mother Who Humiliates Her Son

When Dama ben Netina permitted his mother to hit him with her sandal, he actually empowered himself. He made it clear to himself and the officers under his command that despite his mother possibly having gone mad, her honor and standing remained. Her dignity was not dependent on her own personal level, but was absolute; she provided him life, and there is nothing greater and more sacred than that. The more honor bestowed upon her, the greater his esteem.

The Reward for Honoring Parents

It is worthwhile adding that according to halakha, when it is certain that a sleeping father will regret the fact that his son did not wake him up, and thus, he lost money, the son is required to wake him up, for this is what his father would want done (Sefer Hasidim 337; Be’er Heitev, Y.D. 249:16). However, Dama ben Netina honored his father to such an extent, that he didn’t even imagine considering doing so. And since he was so meticulous in honoring his father, the Heavens desired to increase his profits, and our Sages agreed to pay him ten times more for the Jasper stone that was in his possession, for honoring parents is one of the mitzvoth whose reward is received in this world. However, his father’s honor was so important to him, he even refused to accept any profit from it, thus opening himself to earnings way beyond all normal profits, and his cow gave birth to a red heifer, whose value was way higher.

Warning to Parents

The halakha was codified in the Shulchan Aruch: “It is forbidden for parents to be overly demanding of their children and to be scrupulous in demanding respect, as doing so will cause the children to not be able to adhere to all that is demanded of them and thus lead them to transgress the mitzvah of honoring parents. Rather, a parent should be ‘mochel‘ (forgive and forgo) on their ‘kavod’ (honor) and pretend to not see every infraction, for the halakha is that “parents may absolve a child of their duty to honor them” (Y.D. 240:19). If they do not forgo, the child will be punished because of them, and what good parent wants their children to be punished due to them?

Exercising Judgement

In contrast to Dama ben Netina’s absolute honor for his parents, to the point idolatry, according to the Torah it is forbidden to treat parents as idols. Therefore, if parents command their children to transgress the Torah, it is forbidden to listen to them (Yevamot 5b; Baba Metzia 32a). Thus, we see that children must exercise moral judgment. Not only that, but in his book ‘Shaarei Teshuva’ Rabbeinu Yona wrote that a person must even confess for the sins of his forefathers, as the Torah says: “They will then confess their sins and the sins of their fathers” (Leviticus 26:40). Otherwise, there is concern a person will continue in the ways of his forefathers, and be punished for them as well. In other words, a child must recognize the shortcomings of his parents.

Thus, honoring parents does not obligate a son or daughter to think that everything their parents say and do is justified; rather, they should treat them honorably and with awe, judge them favorably, look at the positive aspects of their personalities, and admire them.

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

Maintain a Relationship with Your Divorced Father

It is forbidden for a divorced mother to separate her children from her ex-husband, even if he hurt her, and considers him evil * The mitzvah to honor parents, even if they are evil, is disputed among the poskim, but by all accounts, it is forbidden to hurt them * A son whose mother separated him from his father is duty-bound to get in touch with him and honor him, despite his mother’s wishes * At the same time the son must also maintain his mother’s honor, express appreciation for her, and make clear that the move is not directed at her * It is also forbidden to sever children’s ties to their grandparents * A mother’s account of her ex-husband’s exploits should be taken into consideration, but it is forbidden and immoral to accept them as absolute truth

A Painful Question from a Son of Divorced Parents

“When I was ten my parents got divorced, and since then I’ve been raised by my mother along with my brother and sister. We almost never met our father. We don’t even know his new wife and children, who in essence, are our half-brothers. Currently I am twenty-three years old, and considering trying to make contact with my father. A number of times he sent me hints of interest, but this would be very upsetting for my mother who claims that he is an evil person, and that any contact with him would be detrimental and have a bad influence, and that there is absolutely no mitzvah for us to honor him since he is evil.”

“To make the entire picture clear, I must point out the few times I met him, he treated me nicely. His parents – in effect, my grandparents – were also pleasant and nice, but we really didn’t have any relationship with them. My mother harbored serious allegations against my father and his parents. She said he had been unfaithful while they were married, and that his parents, who should have denounced him, continued backing him. My mother also claims he is violent. I remember from time-to-time she would complain that he did not pay child support on time and tried to make it conditional on visitation rights, but that since he is a dangerous and violent man, he does not deserve to see us.”

“Presently, I am debating: On the one hand, I want to get in touch with my father and my grandparents (whom I have no idea how they’re doing). I want to live a normal life like others who have a father to accompany them to the wedding canopy, and I want my future children to have grandparents. On the other hand, I know that if my mother hears about this she will get angry and extremely hurt, leading to her becoming genuinely sick.”

The Obligation to Make Contact

This question is difficult and painful, but from the outset, should never have arose at all, because the mitzvah of ‘kibud horim’ (honoring one’s parents) forbids a son from severing ties with his father, and it is also forbidden for a mother to cut-off her son from his father, causing him to continuously violate the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents.

Therefore, you are obligated to make contact with your father, and the sooner the better, because the mitzvah of honoring parents requires a relationship based on honor and a willingness to help when necessary, and cutting off contact demonstrates absolute disrespect, and is a blatant violation of the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents. And even if it was clear that a father is considered a totally evil person, according to the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 240:18), his sons are obligated to honor him, i.e., to help him in all his needs. Even though according to the Rema (R. Moshe Isserles) sons are not required to honor an evil father, nevertheless, it is forbidden for them to offend him, and cutting-off ties with a father is considered a fatal blow to his honor.

While indeed in exceptional cases when a relationship with one’s parents constantly leads to clashes and difficult quarrels it is best to distance oneself a bit from them so as not to succumb to the serious prohibition of causing them physical harm, but even then, we are not talking about severing ties. In your case, however, there is absolutely no reason to assume that getting in touch with your father will lead to serious clashes.

Do Not Listen to Your Mother in Opposition to a Torah Mitzvah

Even if your mother asks you expressly not to contact your father, it is forbidden for you to listen to her. As the Torah says: “Every person must respect his mother and father, and keep My Sabbaths. I am God your Lord” (Vayikra 19:3). From this we learn that if one’s parents told him to desecrate the Sabbath, he should not listen to them, because both he, and his parents, are commanded to honor God (Yevamot 5b). Thus, our Sages learned (Baba Metzia 32a) that this also holds true for all other mitzvot from the Torah, that if a person’s parents told their son to transgress a mitzvah – even a mitzvah of rabbinic status – it is forbidden to listen to them (S.A. Y.D. 240:15).

All the more so when it comes to the mitzvah of honoring parents, which, owing to its greater virtue, was included in the Ten Commandments as one of the first five commandments dealing with the relationship between man and God. As our Sages said (Kiddushin 30b), Scripture compares the honor due to parents to that of God, as it is written: “Every person must respect his mother and father” (Vayikra 19:3); and it is also written: “Remain in awe of God” (D’varim 10:20). In addition, our Sages said: “There are three partners in man, the Holy One, blessed be He, the father, and the mother. When a man honors his father and his mother, the Holy One, blessed be He, says: ‘I ascribe to them as though I had dwelt among them, and they had honored Me.”

Placate Your Mother

Nevertheless, it is a mitzvah for you to dispel your mother’s fears that ties with your father will harm your relationship with her. You need to tell her most convincingly how much you appreciate her dedication towards you and your siblings, and for that, you will always be indebted. Try to describe in detail beautiful memories from your childhood days, and all the time and effort she has invested in you, and list the positive things you have learned from her. Repeatedly emphasize that your connection with your father is not an expression in any way of distancing yourself from her, and not a justification for any of his supposed bad behavior.

Nevertheless, if you are certain you will be unsuccessful in allaying her fears, and that she is liable to fall ill if she hears about the relationship with your father, presently you are allowed to deviate from the truth and hide from her your relationship with your father, for as we have learned, one is permitted to deviate from the truth in the interest of peace, (Yevamot 65b). When the appropriate time comes, you can tell her about it.

In any event, however, even if it is clear she will find out, get upset, and even become ill – you must contact your father and honor him, as the Torah says: “Honor your father and mother” (Sh’mot 20:11; D’varim 5:15). Your mother bears the responsibility for her own grief for improperly cutting you off from your father.

Honoring Grandparents

Severing ties with grandparents is also prohibited, since a derivative of the mitzvah to honor parents is honoring one’s grandparents. First, because one’s grandchildren are considered as his own children, and also, because included in the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents is to honor their parents.

However, among the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) there is disagreement about the requirements of the mitzvah: according to most authorities, the main obligation towards grandparents is to treat them with great respect, but grandchildren are not required to assist them with all their needs, in contrast to helping their parents. For example, if a grandfather is sick and needs help eating and getting dressed, even though by taking care of him grandchildren fulfill a great mitzvah, nevertheless, they are not obligated to stop working in order do so; rather, this obligation rests solely on the sons. Other authorities are of the opinion that the duty of honoring grandparents is exactly the same as honoring parents, only that regarding the order of priority, parents come first.

In any case, all poskim are in agreement that grandchildren are obligated to maintain a good relationship with their grandparents and respect and learn from them; but your situation of withdrawing from them – to the point where you don’t even know how they’re doing – is a terrible situation, in total contradiction of the mitzvah. Who knows? It could be they’ve been hoping you would get in touch with them for years, but by now, they are already old and forgetful, and will never be able derive pride and joy from a relationship with you.

The Mother’s Version: Loshon Ha’Ra

Regarding what you wrote about your mother saying that your father was cheating on her, and that his parents refused to condemn him but rather backed him, and that he’s violent – all this falls under the category of loshon ha’ra (derogatory speech) which is forbidden to believe. Namely, it is forbidden for you to believe the account is true, as the Torah says: “Do not accept a false report” (Sh’mot 23:1), and our Sages said (Mekhilta, ibid.): “This is a warning against believing loshon ha’ra” (Chafetz Chaim, Laws of Loshon Ha’ra 6:1). However, it is permitted to be concerned that perhaps it is true; consequently, if someone were to tell you that your father is liable to steal your money, it would be permissible for you to be careful about granting him a loan, etc. However, it is forbidden to believe loshon ha’ra, and decide that indeed, it is true (ibid, 6:10).

The Logic and Morality in the Prohibition of Believing Loshon Ha’Ra

Many people mistakenly believe that despite almost certainly the mother and her relatives are telling the truth, and that the father actually did commit adultery, nonetheless, the Torah commands us to hermetically seal our thoughts – in contradiction to all logic and rationale – and deny the story. However, if we delve deeper and examine the prohibition of believing loshon ha’ra, we will find its logic and morality.

First of all, every story has numerous details, and sometimes altering one detail can change the entire story. Therefore, in Beit Din (Jewish court of law), no story is believed to be true without hearing all versions and a thorough investigation of the witnesses. It could be, for example, that the person who testified the father betrayed his wife, meant that he was in a relationship with another woman, and perhaps even had physical contact with her, but did not actually commit the sin of adultery. Or perhaps there was evidence of contact with another woman during or after the divorce, but according to the assessment of those close to your mother, the relationship started even before that; in truth, however, it began only after the divorce. It is also clear that your mother’s hurt is likely to lead her to harsh conclusions about him.

Secondly, even if there was adultery, you do not know what type of tests and trials your father had to cope with. Some people’s yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) is so strong that it’s extremely difficult for them to fight it, and ‘Bochain Levavot’ (God, the examiner of hearts) judges them favorably, and punishes them leniently. Likewise, a person forced to cope with extremely difficult tests that only few are able to overcome, cannot be compared to someone who willfully sins.

Third, even if adultery was committed under severe circumstances, perhaps in the meantime your father did ‘teshuva‘ (repented), and as a result, is no longer the same person. As our Sages have said: “Great is repentance, for because of it, ‘zadanot’ (premeditated sins) are accounted as ‘shgagot’ (unintentional errors)” (Yoma 86b), and if it is done completely and out of love, repentance also turns ‘zadonot’ to ‘zechuyot‘ (merits); and in the place where penitents stand, even the wholly righteous cannot stand (Berachot 34b).

Consequently, the prohibition in believing loshon ha’ra is logical and moral.

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

​Insects: What, and How to Check

The Torah did not prohibit insects one cannot see; the question is, what is the halakha when an insect can be seen under certain conditions * Both the lenient and stringent approach have strong reasoning, but as far as the strict law is concerned, the halakha goes according to the lenient approach * In large kitchens it is preferable to be strict * Since today’s soaps remove insects it should be used, even though in the past some people relied solely on washing with water * Lettuce and cabbage leaves should be separated and soaked in water with soap, and preferably cut * According to the ‘mehedrin’ custom, vegetables should be checked against a light, or purchased from companies using the Gush Katif method * Cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, and corn-on-the-cob require checking

The Dispute about Tiny Insects

The question concerning insects in vegetables, fruits and other foods is one of the most difficult and complex issues in the field of kashrut. We are commanded in the Torah: ” Do not make yourselves disgusting [by eating] any small creature that breeds. Do not defile yourselves with them, because it will make you unclean” (Leviticus 11:43). The question is: what is the halakha in regards to vegetables, leaves, and fruits that often have on them, or inside, tiny insects that are very difficult to see. Clearly, there is no prohibition concerning tiny insects which the human eye cannot see, because the Torah commanded us to be careful about insects that can be seen naturally, with the human eye. The question is: what is the halakha in regards to tiny insects measuring about half a millimeter to two millimeters, which an ordinary person can see on a contrasting-color surface, but in leaves and fruits, most people do not see them without making a great effort, because their color is similar to the color of the leaves, or because the insects hide inside the cauliflower and the corn, or because they look like a grain of flour or a small grain of sand (Akrin), and an ordinary person realizes they are insects only if he sees them crawling?

Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) are of the opinion that since under certain conditions, experts can see these insects – every vegetable or fruit that most likely has tiny insects, is forbidden to be eaten without removing all the bugs. And when in a minority of cases, tiny insects can be found in them, one must make an effort to remove them, and bediavad (after the fact), if one mistakenly did not check, the food is kosher.

On the other hand, some poskim hold that although if one sees a tiny insect like this, it is forbidden to be eaten, nevertheless, when it is on a food that an ordinary person cannot see without making a great effort, or without auxiliary means – it is considered tafel and batel (secondary, and nullified) to the food, and there is no prohibition of eating the vegetable or fruit, which chances are, contains an insect.

My Desire to Resolve the Doubt

For years, I had hoped that upon reviewing and delving deeper into this issue, I would analyze the words of the Talmud, Rishonim and Achronim, and would be able to reach a clear conclusion as to the halakha. I have already dealt with the issue for two months, and after examination, I came to the conclusion that it is impossible to determine the halakha, because both sides have room in Jewish law.

The Halakhic Approach and the Mehedrin Approach

Indeed, according to accepted rules of halakha, the law goes according to the lenient opinion since it is a doubt of Rabbinical status (safek d’Rabbanan), for a person is not interested in eating the insect, but is compelled to eat it along with the food, against his will. Moreover, according to the majority of poskim, a tiny insect is batel b’shishim (nullified in sixty; that is, permissible so long as forbidden ingredients constitute no more than 1/60 of the whole) from the Torah, and it was only the Chachamim (Sages) who were stringent in declaring that a ‘briyah’ (a whole insect) is not batel (nullified) even in a thousand. Some poskim say that the Chachamim were stringent only in regards to an insect that has some importance, but if it is tiny and disgusting, even from rabbinical status, it is batel b’shishim. In addition, it’s also doubtful whether in actuality a tiny insect exists.

On the other hand the strict approach also has a strong argument for under certain conditions anyone can see the tiny bugs, and with great effort, even if it takes a few hours, since one can find the bug and remove it, it is not considered to be mixed-in, and is not batel even in a thousand.

Therefore, the halakha follows the lenient approach, and the mehedrin minhag (most stringent custom) is to be machmir (stringent).

The mehedrin minhag is clarified in detail in the books of Rabbi Moshe Vaya and Rabbi Schneur Zalman Revach, however, the claim that this is the binding halakha for all Jews, is not correct (see, Iggrot Moshe, Y.D. 4:2; Rabbi Kasar in “HaChaim v’Shalom”, Y.D. 16; Minchat Shlomo 2:61; Siach Nachum 45; Shma Shlomo Vol. 7, Y.D. 4; Rabbi Bigal in ‘Achol b’Simcha’, page 196; Rabbi Whitman ‘Emunat Etecha’ 37; and the book ‘Lachem Yihiyeh L’ochla’ by Rabbi Henkin, HY’D).

Act Stringently in Factories and Large Kitchens

It is important to point out that sometimes in factories and large kitchens it is more essential to act stringently according to the mehedrin approach than in a private homes. First, because a breach in a large kitchen is liable to lead astray hundreds and thousands of people. Second, the temptation to transgress halakha in a large kitchen is greater, both from the side of the business owner who can gain a lot of money by doing so, and by employees who want to dispense with making the required inspections and cleanings.

Therefore, large operations must often determine stringent protective measures such as the mehedrin approach, in order to reach the level of kashrut required by halakha, and sometimes benefit in that they rise to the level of Mehadrin Kosher.

Koshering Leafy Vegetables Used for Seasoning

Concerning leafy vegetables for seasoning such as parsley, dill, and coriander, there is a problem: tiny insects, such as thrips and aphids, are drawn to them while growing in the field, and washing with water does not remove all of them, because their legs have a sticky substance that may help some of the bugs to remain stuck to the leaves despite being washed in water. Indeed, a strong and focused stream of water presumably would rinse them off, but it is difficult to direct the water into every fold and crevice of the leaves.

In the past, the custom was to soak the leaves in water with salt and vinegar, and then wash them; however, since the salt and vinegar do not completely dissolve the sticky substance on the legs of the insects, not all of them are rinsed off, and those following the mehedrin approach had to carefully check each leaf of lettuce against the sun.

Soaking in Water before Washing with Soap

When people began soaking the leaves in water with soap, for example dishwashing soap, it became clear that the active material in the soap (detergent) was way more effective than vinegar or salt, for just as it dissolves fatty substances, it also dissolves the sticky substance on the insect’s legs, and after a good rinsing, they are completely removed. Therefore today according to halakha, leafy vegetables should be made edible by soaking them in soapy water for about three minutes, and afterwards, rinsed well. True, in the past many people, including Torah scholars, made do with rinsing leafy vegetables in water alone, and when concerns grew, soaked them beforehand in salt water or vinegar. Today, however, one should soak them in water with soap, because the halachic approach is based primarily on the difficulty of removing the tiny insects, but when it is possible without great difficulty to remove all the bugs by soaking them in water with soap, this is the proper approach.

Is Soap Healthy?

Indeed, some people claim that ingesting soap is unhealthy, nevertheless, even in terms of health, it is still preferable to soak the leafy vegetables in water with soap, because just as insects cannot be removed without soap, the same holds true for pesticides, which are far more harmful than soap. Thus, soaking leafy vegetables in water with soap and rinsing them is beneficial both in removing insects and in the removal of residual pesticides. In order to get rid of residual soap and the bugs, the leaves should be rinsed well.

In recent years, products effective in removing insects and pesticides comparable to soap but devoid of health concerns have appeared on the market such as ‘Sterili Teva’, and their use is recommended.

According to the mehedrin approach, in addition to this, one should carefully check the vegetables against the light. Another option is to use vegetables grown in greenhouses utilizing the Gush Katif method, or vegetables from other places that have been checked and found to be insect-free.

Preparing Lettuce and Cabbage

For lettuce and cabbage, the leaves should be separated and soaked in water with soap or ‘Sterili’ for about three minutes, so that the soap can dissolve the sticky substance on the insects’ legs. Afterwards, the leaves should be washed thoroughly with water, rinsing off the soap and the insects as well. Note should be taken while soaking the leaves in water with soap, and also when being washed, the water reaches all the folds and crevices of the leaves.

When planning to cut the leaves for salad, it is preferable to first cut them into the desired sizes, and afterwards, soak and rinse them, because the smaller the pieces are, the easier it is for the water to reach all the folds and crevices.

Since sometimes lettuce or cabbage leaves contain insects known in Hebrew as ‘z’voove ha’minharot’ (literally, ‘tunnel bug’), or ‘serpentine leafminer’ (Liriomyza huidobrensis), ideally, it is good to examine a few leaves against the light as a sample to see if they contain ‘tunnels’. If ‘tunnels’ are found, it is proper to examine all the leaves against the light, and remove the tiny insect at the end of every ‘tunnel’. However, according to halachic rules of kashrut, it is not mandatory to examine a sample of leaves to the light, because this phenomenon is quite rare, and additionally, there is an opinion that even if there is an insect, it is not prohibited.

The Mehedrin Approach for Lettuce and Cabbage

After rinsing, one should be careful to examine each leaf on both sides against the light, or soak the leaves in water with soap, and then rub them a loofah scrubbing sponge or something similar, so as to ensure the removal of all the tiny insects, and in addition, examine the leaf to the light in order to see if it has ‘tunnels’. Since such checking or cleansing is extremely difficult, the mehedrin custom is to use vegetables grown using the Gush Katif method, or vegetables grown in cold areas, where credible kashrut supervision has confirmed that they are presumed to be insect-free (‘b’chezkat niky’im me’charakim’). The vegetables should be washed well, because sometimes they still have a big flies that can be removed by rinsing. Preferably, they should be soaked in water with soap, in order to remove all residual pesticides. Those who use vegetables from the Gush Katif Company or similar brands without rinsing, fulfill the standard of regular kashrut, but not mehedrin.

Cauliflower, Broccoli, Strawberries, and Corn-on-the-Cob

Some poskim are of the opinion that regarding cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries and corn-on-the-cob, one must be stringent like the mehedrin approach, because these vegetables have concealed places where tiny insects can hide, and even after soaking and rinsing, there is concern they will remain. Nevertheless, according to the rules of halakha, these vegetables can also be made kosher like other leafy vegetables, by soaking them in water with soap for about three minutes, and then washing them thoroughly with water. For strawberries, one should first remove the stem and the leaf with a little bit of the strawberry itself.

Those who follow the mehedrin approach eat these vegetables only if they are grown in places in that are presumably insect-free. As per the mehedrin approach, all of the inflorescence (the complete flower head including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers – approximately 40% of the vegetable) of cauliflower and broccoli can be removed, the remaining part soaked and thoroughly rinsed, and then checked to make sure they are clean. Regarding corn-on-the-cob, those following the mehedrin approach are accustomed to remove the kernels from the cob, wash them thoroughly, and thus ensure there are no bugs in them.

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

Building the Land of Israel: A Solution for the World

Just as God smote the Egyptians in the Ten Plagues, He also smites other nations for their good * If we strengthen ourselves in faith and in the understanding of God’s governance, there will be no need for trials and tribulations, and the world will be saved from hardships thanks to Israel * On the other hand, if we fail to strengthen ourselves, the difficult situation in the world will also reach our doorsteps * The Arab countries demand for Israel’s withdrawal from Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights has brought upon them economic collapse and deadly revolutions * Western countries obsessions with Arab refugees in Israel brought upon them the plague of refugees in the United States and Europe * Divine processes happen by way of natural turns of events * The world’s healing depends on our faith and our settlement of the Land of Israel

The Reason for the Ten Plagues

As known, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to strike him and Egypt with the Ten Plagues and drown them in the Red Sea, as written in the Torah: “God said to Moses, Go to Pharaoh. I have made him and his advisors stubborn, so that I will be able to demonstrate these miraculous signs among them. You will then be able to confide to your children and grandchildren how I made fools of the Egyptians, and how I performed miraculous signs among them. You will then fully realize that I am God” (Exodus 10:1-2), and as written beforehand: “I will make Pharoah obstinate and will thus have the opportunity to display many miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt” (Exodus 7:3).

Our Sages expounded on this, explaining in the Zohar, (Parashat Bo, Vol.2, 36:1), that the Ten Plagues corresponded to the ‘eser sefirot’ (the ten emanations and attributes of God with which He continually sustains the universe) in order that God’s governance in the world would be revealed in every sphere: in each one of the ten spheres in which God governs the world, harsh judgement was revealed to Egypt, and mercy to Israel. “Tanna Rabbi Hezekiah, it is written: “And the Lord will strike Egypt, striking (in Heb., ‘nagof’), and healing (‘ve’rafo‘)” (Isaiah 19:22) – i.e., ‘nagof‘ (striking) for Egypt, and ‘rafo‘ (healing) for Israel… Tanna: At the same time the Egyptians were smitten, Israel was cured”(see, Pri Tzadik, Bo,2).

In other words, the Egyptians were required to receive ten plagues so that Israel could be completely cured. What did Israel need curing from? From the pagan belief that the world operates only according to physical nature, lowly interests of desire and honor, and “might makes right”. All this, so that Israel could strengthen their faith in God, and know that He judges the world justly, punishes the wicked and redeems the righteous, and so that Israel would be prepared to receive the Torah and repair the world in its guiding light.

As a result of the Ten Plagues that God struck the Egyptians, Israel and the entire world became aware that God governs the world in all of its existent spheres, for indeed, the number ten is a complete and perfect number, alluding to all aspects and realms, as our Sages said (Avot 5:1), God created the world by Ten Utterances, and through them, sustains and renews the world.

Israel’s Faith Benefits the World

From this, we learn an awesome lesson: had Israel successfully internalized all the foundations of ‘emunah‘ (faith) in God by means of a single plague, God would have dealt only one blow to the Egyptians.

No doubt, each and every plague the Egyptians received, they deserved; nevertheless, had Israel been able to strengthen their faith and understanding of God’s supremacy with less plagues, the Egyptians would also have been able to repent sincerely with fewer plagues.

This is what God said to Abraham our father: “I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you, I will curse. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). Israel has a great responsibility to understand and interpret lessons emerging from all of the world’s problems, and the greater Israel’s understanding is, the more blessings the world receives by way of them. But if Israel has difficulties understanding, the world’s calamities will escalate, as happened to the Egyptians. And if after ten plagues Israel still fails to understand, they will also be severely punished for refusing to listen to the word of God, as spelled out in the Torah portion of the curses.

The Logic and Justice in God’s Governance

At the time of Creation, God fixed in His world an intrinsic law that all matters of reward and punishment, success and failure, would be governed by way of nature and reason, and measure for measure. A person who chooses to lie – will falter by lies; a person who chooses to do evil – will fail through evil. In contrast, one who chooses to bless – will be blessed; one who chooses to act justly – will be judged justly; and a person who chooses to act kindly – will merit kindness. From a spiritual aspect, both in an individual’s soul while alive in this world, and also in the World to Come, these matters are revealed immediately; however, their manifestation in the physical world takes time. This is because everything in the world is composed of various sides and facets, and reward and punishment are gradually revealed according to the various factors.

On a broader scale, at times we find a nation which generally adopts evil, however in its initial stages, its positive aspects are revealed, and owing to them, achieves success. Over time, however, their negative side’s surface, until eventually, they receive their severe punishment, and vanish from the world. Other times, the exact opposite is true: at first, the nation’s negative sides are revealed and it is punished, but over time, its positive aspects are increasingly revealed, and the nation thrives. The more resolute the nation’s decision is, for better or worse, the quicker the reward or punishment are revealed. An example of this are the Nazis who chose extreme evil and within twelve years rose and fell, and were obliterated from the world.

The Centrality of Israel

Since Israel is the heart of the nations, having been chosen by God to reveal emunah and Torah to the world, each nation’s relationship to Israel is a crucial litmus test of their moral standing, as written in the Torah: “I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you, I will curse.”

The lower Israel’s status in the world, the harder it is for the nations to learn the ways of God from them, and disasters grow in number. On the other hand, the more ideal Israel’s situation is, the easier it is for all nations to choose good, as it is written: “All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”

Understanding Divine Governance

As in the past, God’s governance today is measure-for-measure, in order to teach us how to act in ways of faith, justice, and kindness in this world. If we merit understanding things properly and readily, the learning process will be pleasant. If we refuse to learn, we will be taught through suffering. First, ‘nagof’ (striking), and afterwards, ‘rafo‘ (healing). Initially, the wicked who created the problems will be tormented, so that Israel and those desiring faith and justice, will be healed; but if we continue refusing to learn, the guilt will rest on our shoulders as well, and the difficult afflictions will also arrive at our doorstep – and all this, for us to learn to correct our ways. Strike (‘nagof’), for the sake of healing (‘rafo’).

And now to the consequential issue facing us today: settling the Land of Israel in Judea and Samaria, as commanded by the Torah and the vision of our Prophets. For two generations, world leaders have dealt with this issue a hundred times more than any other national conflict on such a scale.

The Middle East Inferno

Arab countries threatened to destroy us if we do not withdraw from Judea and Samaria, and the representatives of the nations of the world promised that if we withdraw from Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, we will gain a secure peace and economic prosperity with the stable Arab countries in our region. As a result of the Arab states refusal to recognize our right to our land, God afflicted them: the stable countries acted corruptly and failed to build their societies and economies, for the sake of Israel to learn to ignore their political bravado, and vigorously build Judea and Samaria without even contemplating, God forbid, withdrawal. We still have not sufficiently learned the lesson, and as a result, the Arabs have had to receive more blows – the upheavals are destroying and threatening all of the Arab countries. ‘Nagof‘, and ‘rafo‘ – first the strike, and afterwards, the healing.

Politicians and Middle East experts claimed that the bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was the heart of the troubles in the region, and the world. When we tried to explain, we were accused of being cruel and ruthless, and the Arab world was compelled to receive additional blows, and now, they are bleeding a hundred times more – for all to realize that we are not guilty. Yet, there are still blind politicians, such as Obama and Kerry, who continue claiming that an Israeli withdrawal would lead to a solution. Consequently, the Arabs required further beatings, and the number of victims grows steadily. ‘Nagof’ and ‘rafo‘ – strike, and heal.

The West’s Refugee Plague

Representatives of Western countries, out of hatred of Israel, claimed that the plight of Palestinian refugees touched the depth of their hearts. On behalf of these refugees – who, in the 1948 War of Independence, sought to kill Holocaust survivors, or at the very least, throw them into the sea – the U.N. established UNRWA, through which they are spoiled with huge amounts of money, a hundred times more than refugees from anywhere else in the world. When Israel claimed that by doing so the U.N. was perpetuating the problem, and that their disproportionate treatment stemmed from anti-Semitism – they were offended. As a result, the Arabs were once again required to receive additional blows, and now the number of Arab refugees from their internal wars has already reached tens of millions. Huge refugee camps are springing up in front of our eyes, to the point where the treatment of the refugees from
1948 now seems absurd. ‘Nagof’ and ‘rafo’. Strike, and heal.

European countries still continue nurturing the “unique tragedy” of the 1948 refugees, and as a result they also were required to receive blows: now, they must contend with the millions of Arab and Muslim refugees who are fleeing from their brothers, and are knocking on the gates of Europe. ‘Nagof‘ and ‘rafo‘. Strike, and heal.

They claimed that Arab terrorism against us was because we conquered Judea and Samaria; consequently, they were forced to receive a beating, and suffer the Islamic terrorism in their own countries. ‘Nagof’ and ‘rafo’. Strike, and heal.

‘Mida Keneged Mida’: Measure-for-Measure

Up until now, I have described things as a punishment from Heaven, ‘nagof‘ – for the sake of healing Israel, and the world. Nevertheless, these matters descend from Heaven in a natural manner, as God fixed in the world.

When the nations of the world teach the Arabs, who were defeated in battle that it pays for them to continue on the path of terror and war against Israel, the Arabs learn to continue using terrorism and war with increasing force all over the world.

When European countries choose to ignore Israel’s moral religious and national claims – while minimizing the importance of religion and nationality – as a natural consequence of this, they ignore the dangers Muslim immigration to their countries is liable to cause, and now they are paying the price. This is the case in all these matters – for after all, ‘nagof’ and ‘rafo’ is a natural process.

Healing the Middle East Depends on Building Judea and Samaria

Israel’s healing, and that of the peoples of our region, is dependent on the building of Judea and Samaria. Today, many people have gained inspiration from the heroism of the settlers fulfilling the vision of the Prophets, and their standing boldly and faithfully in the face of Arab-Muslim terrorism. The further we expand construction in Judea and Samaria with increased vigor, the sooner the Arabs will come to understand that terrorism and threats do not pay, and maybe, they might even come to learn from Israel and invest their efforts in making the desert bloom and building society and the economy.

But if, God forbid, the State of Israel fails to learn a lesson from the fire and destruction surrounding our region, and is not wise enough to build Judea and Samaria, their suffering will grow and spread to us as well, so as to heal all of us – Israel, and the peoples’ of the region – for ultimately, all together, we are creatures of God.

“I will cut off nations…
I will devastate their streets. No one will pass through…
I said, “Surely, she will fear me; she will take instruction…
Therefore, wait for me, says the Lord, wait for the day when I rise up as a witness, when I decide to gather nations, to collect kingdoms, to pour out my indignation upon them, all the heat of my anger. In the fire of my jealousy, all the earth will be devoured. Then I will change the speech of the peoples into pure speech, that all of them will call on the name of the Lord and will serve him as one” (Zephaniah 3:6-9).


“The Lord will strike Egypt; striking and then healing. They will return to the Lord, who will hear their pleas and heal them…
On that day, Israel will be the third along with Egypt (the southern countries) and Assyria (the northern countries), a blessing in the midst of the land. The Lord of heavenly forces will pronounce this blessing: Bless Egypt my people, and Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance” (Isaiah 19:22-25).


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

Settling the Land Lowers Housing Prices

Israel’s political leaders must remove the obstacles preventing construction in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria * A construction boom is the best solution for reducing housing prices * The housing crisis reflects a spiritual problem: God brought us back to the Land of Israel, but we are not striving enough to settle it * Yehezkel’s prophecy is coming true, and we must continue it with action * The prophetic vision and reality complement one another; the more we identify with the vision, the more it will purify the practical world of politics and intrigue * The Haredim are correct in saying that our situation in Israel depends on the fulfillment of mitzvoth, but first and foremost, the mitzvah of settling the Land – a foundation of the Torah – must take precedence

The Building Challenge

Bureaucratic and political obstacles preventing building and the continued rise in housing prices has escalated into a national problem, as noted by Emanuel Shilo in his article in last week’s ‘Besheva’ newspaper. It’s difficult to understand how leaders possessing national responsibility are negligent in handling this issue – even personal interests of being reelected should have given them incentive to deal with the crisis. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced several times that if housing prices continue to rise, he would admit failure, and leave public office. Incidentally, some people argued in favor of threatening to topple the government if the Regulation Law nullifying the Supreme Court’s decision to destroy the community of Amona was not enacted, because, currently, Kahlon does not want to go to elections. However, their assessment may very well be mistaken, because it pays for Kahlon to go to the polls. If he waits another two years, in all probability, everyone will have realized he had failed. If he toppled the government now as a result of the attempt to enact the Regulation Law, he could claim that he had come close to lowering housing prices, but only due to his being forced to sacrifice himself in defense of the legal system, the promising process that had almost born fruit was nipped in the bud. Not only that, he could claim the exact opposite: after almost succeeding in lowering housing prices, he would have won twice as many Knesset seats, but only because of his noble spirit did he agree to sacrifice his “assured success” in order to defend the courts. Then, he would turn to all the decent voter’s, people capable of appreciating self-sacrifice and principles, asking them to grant him their votes so he can continue his glorious, political activism – even though in practice, he failed.

In short, he is on the verge of failure in this issue, and it is a resounding fiasco, because he had almost all of the tools in his hands, and still, prices continue rising. It could be the Prime Minister is helping him a bit in his failure, thinking he will be able to get rid of Kahlon without paying a price, explaining to the voters, as he has already explained to them a thousand times, that he himself could have solved all the problems to their satisfaction long ago – had it not been for Obama, Kahlon, Bennett, and the hostile media preventing him.

The Solution: Building in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria

It’ still not too late: the solution is at hand, and evident to all those willing to open their eyes: to build thousands of apartments in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. The vast areas of desolate land in Judea and Samaria are inexpensive, readily available, and close to the center of the country. If in the coming years, tens of thousands of homes for young couples are built there, it will offer them an ideal solution, and also contribute to the lowering of housing prices in the center of the country.

The Redemption has Begun; It is Our Turn to Make an Effort

As known, God created His world in a way that His governance over it takes place naturally, however, hovering above it lies hidden Divine direction. A deep and wonderful harmony exists between the two, and only by means of a combination of these two concepts – the human-rational concept, and the faith-based, idealistic concept – is it possible to understand the world in depth, and operate in it, for the better.

Thousands of years ago the Prophets prophesized about Israel’s Redemption and the Return to Zion, and even referred to the Land remaining barren without her son’s, teaching us that it is not enough for the Nation to be redeemed, because redemption of the Nation is dependent upon the redemption of the Land; for the Nation of Israel and their Land are a mirror image to one another, and when the Land is desolate, so are the souls of the Nation of Israel. And now, after terrible agonies, by the grace of God we have merited returning to the inheritance of our forefathers, and even merited returning to the heart of the Land – Judea and Samaria – in order to fulfill the commandment of the Torah to settle the Land. And if we do not strive to build the ruined cities and make the desolate mountains bloom – in the most holy areas of the country, where our forefathers and our Prophets walked – it seems as if the Heavens as well are not assisting us in building the places convenient for us to build.

It should be noted that not only do we suffer from delay in building the Land of Israel, but also the Gentiles who deny the vision of the Prophets and oppose the Return to Zion, are progressively being purged due to their iniquities. They could have enjoyed all the good and blessing coming to the world thanks to the return of Israel to its Land, but instead, they chose to fight it, to continue the wilderness and destruction, but they are in effect destroying themselves and all those associated with them, as the Prophets said.

The Words of the Prophet Yehezkel and their Fulfillment

It is written in Yehezkel (36): “You, human one, prophesy to Israel’s mountains and say, Hear the Lord’s word, mountains of Israel!  The Lord God proclaims: The enemy mocked you and said, “The ancient heights [the Land of Israel and the Temple Mount] belong to us” (i.e., we will inherit them)… Therefore, hear the Lord God’s word, mountains of Israel! The Lord God proclaims to the mountains and the hills, the watercourses and the valleys, the desolate ruins and the abandoned cities that were contemptuously looted by the surviving nations all around you. So now, says the Lord God, I will speak in my fiery passion against the surviving nations and against Edom…
Therefore, prophesy concerning Israel’s fertile land, and say to the mountains and to the hills, to the ravines and to the valleys, The Lord God proclaims: Because you endured the ridicule of the nations, my passion and fury lead me to speak. So now the Lord God proclaims: I myself swear that the nations round about you will themselves suffer ridicule.  But you, mountains of Israel, will extend your branches and bear your fruit for my people Israel, because they will come home very soon.  Look, I’m here for you, and I will turn toward you, and you will be farmed and sown.  I will populate you with human beings, the whole house of Israel, all of them. The cities will be inhabited, the ruins rebuilt.  When I make people and animals increase on you, they will multiply and be fruitful. I will cause you to be inhabited as you were before. I will do more good for you than in the beginning, and you will know that I am the Lord… The Lord God proclaims: On the day that I cleanse you of all your guilt, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the ruins will be rebuilt.  The desolate land will be farmed, and it won’t be like it was when it seemed a wasteland to all who passed by.  They will say, “This land, which was a desolation, has become like the Garden of Eden.” And the cities that were ruined, ravaged, and razed are now fortified and inhabited.  The surviving nations around you will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt what was torn down and have planted what was made desolate. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do it. The Lord God proclaims: I will also allow the house of Israel to ask me to do this for them: that I increase them like a human flock.  Like the holy flock, like the flock of Jerusalem at its festivals, the ruined cities will be filled with a human flock. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” 

This prophecy was said for our generations, as Rabbi Abba said (Sanhedrin 98a):”There can be no more manifest sign of redemption than this: viz., what is said, ‘But you, mountains of Israel, will extend your branches and bear your fruit for my people Israel, because they will come home very soon'” (Yehezkel 36:8). On this verse, Rashi comments: “When Eretz Yisrael gives forth its fruit in abundance the end will be near, and there is no clearer sign of the End of Days.” In recent times, the Land of Israel has returned to once again give forth its fruit generously, and the more agricultural and technological fruits it gives forth, the more Jews will immigrate and flock to Israel.

However, this process does not occur by itself. The Prophets teach us the Divine process aroused and directed from Above, but at the same time we must make an effort to achieve it with an awakening from below, by fulfilling the mitzvoth of the Torah practically in the Land. For only through a combination of Heaven and Earth, will the vision materialize.

Divine Vision and Practical Deeds: Com2plementary Levels

On the one hand, it is forbidden for leaders to rely on a miracle, and perhaps because of the terrible fear of relying on a miracle and failing, they go to the other extreme, making an effort to disregard the Divine vision. But it is their obligation – and all of ours – to remember the Divine vision, by virtue of which we returned to Eretz Yisrael, and the Divine destiny for which reason we are living in the Land, the foundation of which rests on the building of Judea and Samaria. But when we are remiss, the entire building process of the Nation and the Land is increasingly delayed. The two levels must complement one another, without one of them overriding the other; therefore, when I dealt with the practical level, I attempted to express it as it currently exists, with all its accompanying cynicism and interests. However, in an ideal situation, the practical level should receive inspiration from the Divine level, and implemented with pure and honest intentions.

Still, if devotion to the vision is reflected by a wave of construction in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, then the revelation of the great Divine vision will overshadow the human weaknesses and political intrigues of government leaders.

Building Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria will express in the most open way, the nation’s loyalty to the commandments of God (the Divine level), extricate the construction industry from crisis, and lead to a rise in aliyah, and the building of families. Thus, we will fulfill the words of the blessing of the Torah: “I broke your bonds and made you stand up straight [in Hebrew, ‘komimi’yut’, literally, ‘two levels’]” (Vayikra 26:13). Our Sages explained: “Similar to the two levels of Adam HaRishon” (Bava Batra 75a) – the Divine level, and the practical level.

Yishuv Ha’aretz – A Fundamental Mitzvah

Whenever I have written similar things in the past I usually receive replies from Jews identifying with the Haredi point of view who claim that I exaggerate in the importance of the Land of Israel and its building. They then continue their criticism by saying: After all, it’s clear that Divine blessing depends on Torah and mitzvoth, and not on Zionism and other national interests.

A: Clearly, this is not the claim of talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), but rather, the claim of amei ha’aretz (boors) and the ignorant, whose intention may be good, but who were extremely negligent in Torah study, to the point where the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land) vanished from their sight. After all, when I wrote that thanks to Shabbat, blessing is bestowed, they had absolutely no complaints, because it is understood that every mitzvah is a key to the rest of the mitzvoth and blessings, especially in regards to fundamental mitzvot constituting a worldview leading to further tikkun (improvement). How much more so regarding the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, for anyone who learns Torah knows that there is no other mitzvah the Torah devotes more verses to, because it is the mitzvah which expresses more than anything else, the revelation of emunah (faith) in this world. Therefore, through its fulfillment, God’s name is sanctified in the world more than all other mitzvot, particularly today, for all the nations of the world know from the Tanakh (Bible) that the basis of the revelation of Israel’s faith and redemption depends on the mitzvah of settling the Land.

Anyone who understands Torah realizes that only through the observance of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz can we achieve complete and proper fulfillment of all the mitzvot, and that’s why our Sages said that the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is equal to all the commandments (Sifri, Re’eh 53), and anyone who lives in the Land of Israel is similar to one who possesses a God, while one who lives outside of the Land is similar to one who worships idols (Ketubot 110b). “Rabbi Ishmael said: Jews who reside outside of the Land of Israel serve idols though in pure innocence”(Avoda Zara 88a).

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

Stay Healthy, Walk to Synagogue

Additional health-related issues: Better to throw out leftover food, than to harm one’s body * Having a set place in synagogue contributes to the stability of a person’s spiritual world, and prolongs his life * A person is rewarded for every step taken while walking to synagogue, even if there is a closer synagogue – provided there is a good reason to prefer the more distant synagogue * Women are also rewarded for every step * Modern man is extremely sedentary, and does not walk enough; prayer and Torah classes are an opportunity to walk for good health * An additional point regarding prayer: It is preferable to pray an abbreviated Mincha, than for people to forgo prayer in a minyan

To Finish one’s Food, or to throw it away – ‘Bal Tashchit’

Q: “Sometimes when I eat I feel full, but since there is more food left on my plate, I usually eat it instead of throwing it out. The question is: in such a situation is one permitted to throw out the food, or as our parents taught us, it is forbidden to throw away food due to the prohibition of ‘bal tashchit’ (“do not destroy”)?

A: It is preferable to throw out the unnecessary food, and not finish it. True, it is forbidden destroy a fruit tree, and from this we learned that it is forbidden to destroy any type of food (Sifre, D’varim 20:19), but as our Sages said: “You shall not destroy, as applied to one’s own person, is preferable” (Shabbat 140b). In other words, worrying about destroying one’s body comes before worrying about destroying food. Indeed, in times of poverty, it was preferable for a person to eat whatever he was served in order to accrue reserves for scarce times; subsequently, people used to be careful to finish all the food on their plate. Today, however, when even the poorest people suffer more from obesity than hunger, it is preferable to throw out the unnecessary food.

Ideally, of course, one should be careful not overload his plate beyond what he is able to eat, to avoid having to then throw out leftover food. In a similar vein, we have learned that one should be careful not to do things that will cause food to be destroyed, thus, one should not pass a full glass of liquid over bread lest it spill, and cause the bread to become repugnant and inedible (Berachot 40b; S. A., O.C. 171:1).

Walking to Synagogue Adds Life

Our Sages said: “Whoever has a synagogue in his town and does not go there in order to pray, is called an evil neighbor. As it is written: ‘Thus says the Lord, as for all My evil neighbors, that touch the inheritance which I have caused My people Israel to inherit.’ Moreover, such a person brings exile upon himself and his children. For it is said: ‘Behold, I will pluck them up from off their land, and will pluck up the house of Judah from among them” (Berachot 8a). This law was codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 90:11).

The Talmud further relates that initially, when Rabbi Yochanan heard that there were Jews who lived long lives in Babylon, he was astonished – after all, it is written (Deuteronomy 11:21): ‘That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, upon the land’ – but not outside the land of Israel! When they told him the elders came early to synagogue and left late, he said: “That is what helps them live long.”

Man’s existence depends on his connection to the Source of Life, and therefore our Sages said: “Whoever assigns a set place to pray, the God of Avraham helps him, and his enemies fall beneath him” (Berachot 6b). The designation of a place of prayer illustrates that one’s connection to Hashem is absolute. Everything else in the world can change, but one’s connection to Hashem is the most permanent and stable reality and should therefore transpire in a permanent place. On the other hand, when one does not go to the synagogue in his neighborhood, he disconnects from the Source of Life, loses his roots, and thus, causes exile for himself and his sons.

Preferring a Distant Synagogue

The poskim (Jewish law arbiters) wrote that if a person has the possibility of going to two synagogues in his community – it is a mitzvah to go to the one further away, for he is rewarded for every step he takes on his way to synagogue (in Hebrew, ‘sekhar pisi’ot’).

The source for this stems from the words of Rabbi Yochanan (Sotah 22a), who said: “We learned confidence in the bestowal of reward from a widow”, because despite there being a synagogue in her neighborhood, she would go to pray every day at the Beit Midrash (learning hall) of Rabbi Yochanan. Rabbi Yochanan said to her: ‘My daughter, is there not a synagogue in your neighborhood?’ She replied: ‘Rabbi, don’t I receive reward for the steps?” From this, Rabbi Yochanan learned that one who walks to synagogue receives reward for every step, and the further the synagogue is the greater the reward, for every step and stride taken to the synagogue, one is rewarded. Similarly, it is related elsewhere in the Talmud (Baba Metzia 107a), that in the opinion of the Amora Rav, the interpretation of the Torah blessing, “Blessed are you in the city” is: “That your house be near the synagogue” (so one can rush to come to synagogue, in order to be among the first ten worshippers to arrive – ‘Torat Chaim’); however, Rabbi Yochanan disagreed with Rav’s interpretation (instead, interpreting “Blessed are you in the city” – “That your bathroom be near your table”), because, as he had learned from the widow, when walking to a distant synagogue one receives reward for every step.

Go Further When There’s a Reason

Although, this poses a difficulty: Does this mean that everyone living on one side of the city should go pray in a synagogue located on the other side of the city, and vice versa? Wouldn’t this cause an affront to the nearby synagogue by ignoring it and going to the more distant synagogue? What’s more, if someone were to dispatch a messenger to go to a specific place and he takes a circuitous route to get there, could the messenger possibly ask to be paid more? By the same token, why should someone receive a reward for unnecessary steps he took on his way to a remote synagogue?

Indeed, I found that some Achronim explained that the meaning of receiving reward for every step one takes while walking to a distant synagogue is when there is a reason for going there specifically. For example, if from the outset one had assigned a set place to pray, and only afterwards, a closer synagogue was built; or due to the virtue of praying in a synagogue of the Gadol Ha’dor (the eminent Torah scholar of the generation) i.e., Rabbi Yochanan; or, because the synagogue of Rabbi Yochanan was also the Beit Midrash of Torah study, and there is additional virtue of praying in a Beit Midrash.

Therefore, I wrote in my book of Jewish law, “Peninei Halakha” (Laws of Prayer 3:3): “A person is rewarded for every step he takes on his way to synagogue. Therefore, even if the preferred synagogue is farther away from his house, he should not be concerned with the trouble that it takes to walk there, because he is rewarded greatly for each step.”

Reward for Walking – Not Driving

Understandably, the reward is for actual steps taken; however, someone who drives to synagogue in a car misses out on the reward of his steps, as written in the Responsa ‘Torah Le’shma’.

Ten Thousand Steps

It’s worthwhile considering another aspect of ‘sekhar pisi’ot’. About forty years ago, Dr. Yoshiro Hatano from Japan, examined the damages and ills caused to modern man by leading a sedentary lifestyle. In the past, people were accustomed to walk a lot, whereas today, people rely on cars and elevators; consequently, the average person only walks about 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day, whereas in order to maintain one’s health and weight, one should walk about 11,000 steps a day. Other researchers came to the conclusion that in order to maintain one’s health and weight, a person should walk 10,000 steps a day, and in order to lose weight moderately (1 to 2 kilo per year), one should walk 12,000 steps a day.

Over the past year, a number of my family and friends purchased a pedometer, and indeed, have discovered that the studies were correct: naturally, a person walks approximately 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day. This was true for the women in the family. However the men, who walk (and don’t drive) to the synagogue, ‘earn’ a few thousand more steps. For example, in our community the walk to synagogue for most people is between 500 to 1,000 steps; if we calculate three such walks a day, it turns out they gain an extra 3,000 to 6,000 steps per day. True, many of the men come to pray Mincha and Maariv services one after the other, but if they walk to a Torah class in the evening, they make up the difference.

Incidentally, this can explain a phenomenon that astonishes doctors in Israel. It turns out that the men in the dominantly Haredi city of B’nei Brak live longer lives compared to men in other cities in the country, despite there being cities where the awareness of living a healthy lifestyle is far more advanced. In contrast, women in B’nei Brak live as long as the average women in the country. It could possibly be that the elders of B’nei Brak, who make a point to walk to synagogue every day for prayers, merit reward for their steps – not only in the World to Come, but also in this world.

‘Sekhar Pisi’ot’ for Women

Older women should be encouraged to walk more frequently. How nice it would be if they were to walk on a regular basis to synagogue and Torah classes – the fact that we learned about ‘sekhar pisi’ot’ from a widow, was not coincidental.

Another story is related in the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Ekev, 471): Once, there was a woman who was so old that she became despondent with her life. She came before Rebbe Yossi Ben Halafta, and said to him: Rebbe, I have grown so old that my life has become abhorrent – I have lost all taste for food and drink, and I wish to depart from this world. He said to her: Which mitzvah do you keep meticulously every day? She said to him: My custom is that even if there is something I enjoy doing, I push it off, and unfailingly, rise-up early to go to synagogue every day. He said to her: Don’t go to synagogue for three consecutive days. She did so, and on the third day became ill, and died.

From this story we learn that coming to synagogue persistently, every day, leads to longevity, and women also have a share in this lofty virtue.

Abbreviated Prayer in the Workplace

Q: In my workplace (a hi-tech company), there is an afternoon Mincha prayer service, and a disagreement arose: Some workers say that since we are in the middle of work, it’s better to daven (pray) an abbreviated prayer, without the repetition of the ‘shaliach tzibbur’, while others say that we should daven the regular, longer prayer. Occasionally, when certain people are the chazzan (prayer leader), they begin prayers with korbanot, and prayers take about half an hour. As a result of this, some people daven individually, or don’t pray at all. How should we act?

A: It is better to daven an abbreviated prayer, because it is preferable for more people to daven in a minyan, than to recite the repetition of the shaliach tzibbur (see, the Responsa of Rabbi Yosef Mesas ‘Mayim Chaim’, Vol. 1, O.C., 41).

However, when there are a number of people, and two minyans can be easily organized, it is preferable for one minyan to recite the repetition in which the mehadrin (people who perform the mitzvot meticulously) can daven, without forcing the rest of the people to pray at length.

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

Medical Research? Read Carefully

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

Azaria and the Hypocrisy of Political Correctness

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

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

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

A Reply to the Column on Nutrition

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

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

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

My Reply: Listen to Doctors

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

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

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

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

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

My Response: Conventional Medicine Determines

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

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

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


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

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

The Appropriate Approach to Alternative Methods

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

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

Enrichment in Guidebooks

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

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

The Defeat of the Hasmoneans and the Tenth of Tevet

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

The History of the Fast Days and Rabbinic Festivals

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

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

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

Thirty-one Years of Hasmonean Wars

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

Seeds of Crisis

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

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

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

The Rebellion against Shimon and the Rise of His Son Yochanan

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

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

Yanai and His Successors

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

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

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

The Fall of the Hasmonean Kingdom

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

The Tenth of Tevet

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

Hanukkah and the Miracle of the Flask of Oil

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

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

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

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed