Connecting Nationalism to Torah

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

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

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

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

Those with Affinity Who are Exempt from Yom Tov

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

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

The Connection between Pesach and Shavuot

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

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

The Connection between ‘Emunah‘ and Torah

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

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

Studying Torah on the Night of Shavuot

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

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

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

The ‘Minhag’ is Not Obligatory

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

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

The Laws for Those Who Remained Awake All Night

 

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

 

‘Birkot HaTorah’ and ‘Birkot HaShachar’

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Eating and Drinking before the Morning Prayers

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

 

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

Equality, No; Family Unity, Yes

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

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

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

The Torah’s Attitude Concerning Marrying Two Women

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

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

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

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

Agunah

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

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

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

A “Chained” Man

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

Jewish Laws in which the Status of Women is Weaker

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

The Differences Maintain the Family

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

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

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

Marriage Obligations and the Ketubah

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

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

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

When a Woman is Partner in Earning a Living

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

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

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

Honor the IDF, File Complaints

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

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

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

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

Haircuts and Shaving on Erev Shabbat

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

Concerning the Struggle of Religious Soldiers in the Army

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

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

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

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

An Informative Letter Concerning Filing Complaints

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating before Kiddush for Children

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

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

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

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

A Deaf-Mute Completing a Minyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Mute Person who does Not Answer ‘Amen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tyranny of the Attorney General’s Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Status of a Deaf-Mute in Halakha

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

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

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

Lists for Shabbat Meals

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

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

Women’s Obligation to Study Torah

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

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

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

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

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

Handing Out Candies at Shabbat Prayers

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

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

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

Hastening the Redemption

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

Redemption Naturally and through Teshuva

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

A Combination of the Two Ways

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

The Dawn of the Awakening

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

The Vilna Gaon was the first one to talk about this explicitly. His students related that he would often speak emotionally, saying that the ‘Geula‘ (Redemption) would be quickened only through the ingathering of the exiles and the building of the Land. He also stressed that only by means of building the Land would we be saved from the dreadful torments of the birth pangs of Mashiach. He himself began the journey to Eretz Yisrael, parting from his family after writing a stirring will and testament, however from the Heavens he was instructed to return. Nevertheless, he continued encouraging his students to immigrate, and rebuild the Land.

In the year 5569 (1809), approximately ten years after the Vilna Gaon passed away, the first group of his students arrived in Safed, led by Rabbi Menachem Mendel from Shklov. About two years later, Rabbi Israel from Shklov, author of “Pe’at HaShulchan” also made ‘aliyah‘. Joining them were Rabbi Hillel from Shklov, and other eminent Torah scholars, craftsmen, and farmers. Many of the pioneers eventually settled in Jerusalem. Although they faced dreadful difficulties, they nevertheless drew inspiration from the words of their great Rabbi, the Gaon of Vilna, about the supreme importance of the mitzvah to settle the Land. Thus, from one generation to the next, they continued growing and establishing themselves in the Land, forming the core of the Ashkenazi “Old Yishuv.” From their ranks stemmed the builders of the first neighborhoods outside the walls of Jerusalem, and the moshavim of the “New Yishuv,” such as Petach Tikva. 

The Missed Opportunity

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

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

The Majority of Jews Remain in the Diaspora

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

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

Anti-Semitism and the Establishment of the Zionist Movement

In Europe, anti-Semitism grew steadily, as did the number of Jews who strayed from the faith. Many of those who left the Torah hoped that by leaving Judaism and assimilating amongst the non-Jews, their troubles would cease. Anti-Semitism, however, increased. Among the Jews who tried to assimilate, a few of them realized that Jewish nature was unique and inescapable, and only through the establishment of an independent Jewish State in the Land of Israel would it be possible to save the Jews from the growing menace of anti-Semitism. Thus arose the Zionist movement headed by Herzl. There were great Torah scholars who supported it, and eventually, organized as part of the “Mizrachi” movement. But there were other Gedolei Torah who opposed the Zionist movement, mainly because they feared that many Jews would be swayed to follow the non-religious lifestyle of its secular leaders.

The Holocaust and the Establishment of the State 

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

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

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

An Awakening to Repentance, Today as Well

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

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

The Character of Independence Day

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

The Four Levels of Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut

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

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

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

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

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

How to Identify a Ritually Clean Animal

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

 

The Ritually Clean and Unclean Beasts and Animals

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

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

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

Explanations for the Prohibition

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

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

The Signs of Ritual Purity for Mammals

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

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

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

Ritually Clean Species that are not Predators

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

The Ten Ritually Clean Species and their Characteristics

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

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

The Division of the Species in Zoology

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

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

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

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

The Sub-Class: ‘Maalei Gerah’

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

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

The Red Deer

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

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

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

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

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

Ritually Clean and Unclean Signs of Fish

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

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

The Swordfish

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

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

How to Identify a Ritually Clean Animal

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

 

The Ritually Clean and Unclean Beasts and Animals

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

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

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

Explanations for the Prohibition

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

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

The Signs of Ritual Purity for Mammals

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

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

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

Ritually Clean Species that are not Predators

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

The Ten Ritually Clean Species and their Characteristics

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

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

The Division of the Species in Zoology

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

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

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

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

The Sub-Class: ‘Maalei Gerah’

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

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

The Red Deer

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

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

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

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

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

Ritually Clean and Unclean Signs of Fish

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

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

The Swordfish

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

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

Not Everything Requires Kashrut

Tasteless medicine does not need to be kosher for Pesach, and is permitted even if it contains chametz * Cosmetics and soaps do not need kashrut, nor does dishwashing liquid * Toothpaste and lipstick do need to be kosher for Pesach because they are flavorful * Food products that are kosher for Pesach but look like chametz should not be eaten if they are not significantly different than their form throughout the year * Freedom is a fundamental value on which the Torah is built * A free person enslaved to his physical desires and social influences is not truly free * Attaining true freedom through the study of Torah, observance of the mitzvoth, and the Land of Israel

Medicines on Pesach

The general rule regarding medicine on Pesach is that if the medicine is tasty, such as a syrup or lozenges, it is necessary to find out if it is kosher for Pesach. As long as it is not known that it is kosher for Pesach, it is forbidden to be swallowed. Only someone who is dangerously ill, and whose medicine does not have a good substitute, is permitted to swallow it, because ‘pikuach nefesh’ (the saving of life) overrides the prohibition of eating chametz.

A tasteless medicine, however, does not require kashrut, because even if chametz that was previously edible was mixed in the medicine, since now it is not fit to be eaten even ‘b’shat ha’dachak’ (in times of distress), because it is unfit even for animal consumption, it no longer has the prohibition of chametz.

Some meticulously observant people try to avoid even bitter medicines that contain chametz. They show concern for the opinion of the few poskim who maintain that medicine is not considered unfit for animal consumption since we deem it significant, and it is thus rabbinically prohibited. But according to the opinion of most halakhic authorities, it is permitted to swallow without checking a medicine that is not fit to be eaten.

It should be added that the chances of medicines containing chametz are very slim, and even more so today when many people are sensitive to gluten, and ingredients containing grains are not mixed into medicines by drug companies without cause, rather, they prefer substitutes that are gluten-free.

Consequently, the thick pamphlets that the HMOs publish are superfluous, and instead, they should have sufficed focusing on the flavored medicines. By not doing so, they upheld the rule: “tafasta merubeh, lo tafasta” (“If you have seized a lot, you have not seized”). Because of their preoccupation with tasteless drugs, no effort is being made to clarify the composition of the flavored medicines, for which alone, clarification is important.

Body Lotions and Cosmetics

Poskim disagree whether body ointments that contain chametz may be used on Pesach. While soaps, shampoos, and creams are not made from chametz, they sometimes contain grain alcohol or other chametz derivatives, leading to queries about their status on Pesach.

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

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

In practice, even if we know that chametz not fit for a dog’s consumption was mixed in these products after Pesach commenced, since it is a ‘safek d’Rabbanan’ (doubtful rabbinic law), the halakha goes according to the lenient view. In practice, the vast majority of cosmetic products produced in Israel do not contain wheat-derived alcohol (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 8:9).

Toothpaste and Lipstick

Toothpastes and lipsticks must be certified kosher for Pesach because they are flavored, and thus like any other food product.

Be Careful of Products that Look like Chametz

Just as our Sages forbade baking bread with milk lest one come to eat it with meat and transgress the prohibition of the Sages (the prohibition from the Torah is only when meat and milk are cooked together), similarly it is forbidden to eat products whose ingredients are kosher for Pesach but look like chametz products – lest one err, and come to eat chametz products themselves.

Therefore, wafers and cookies, which do not have a very significant change in their shape, even if they have kashrut for Pesach, should not be eaten on Pesach. In this matter, credit goes to the kashrut department of the Chief Rabbinate, who insisted on clarifying the halakha, and applying it. However, sometimes it takes years for all the factories to comply with the directive, and in the meantime, consumers have to be careful in this matter.

Dishwashing Liquid

There is no need for kosher for Pesach dishwashing liquid. Although it comes into contact with food utensils, because its taste is completely foul, even if chametz was mixed in it, it is no longer prohibited. True, if a person intends to eat chametz that is unfit for a dog’s consumption, since he considers it as food, he thus transgresses a rabbinical prohibition; but in this case, since no one is interested in tasting the dishwashing soap, even if the dishes were not rinsed well and taste of the soap remains on the dishes, there is no prohibition.

Consequently, the kashrut bodies that provide kosher for Pesach certification for dishwashing liquid mislead the public and make their Torah “a spade with which to dig” for financial profits.

The Foundation of Freedom

Sometimes it seems that values ​​of religion clash with values of freedom, to the point where for many people the value of freedom seems alien to Judaism. But the truth is that the value of freedom is the foundation of the Torah, and the entire exodus from Egypt and Pesach – ‘z’man cherutainu’ (the time of our freedom) – is meant to reveal the value of freedom: that through freedom, the soul that God instilled in man can be revealed, and by means of it, one is able to choose good, reveal the image of God within him, and become a partner with God in repairing the world.

The value of freedom is so important that to be properly understood, the people of Israel had to emerge out of the terrible enslavement in Egypt, which the Torah describes as “the house of bondage”, in order to fulfill the great and awesome Divine mission – to redeem the world from its servitude, and repair it with kindness and truth.

Between Freedom and Free Will

However, the difference between ‘freedom’ and ‘free will’ must be understood. A free person is a person who has no external power forcing him to behave in a particular way, but in practice, such a person is not truly free because he is enslaved to his visceral inclinations and public opinion. He can be convinced that he himself has made all of his own decisions, but the decisive influence of his predispositions and that of public opinion on his decisions, can easily be detected. In contrast, a truly free person is one who is able to choose his path according to his own free will. The person with ‘free will’ is swept away with the flow, while the truly free person shows the way, and shapes the flow.

The Torah Grants Freedom

The Torah gives man the ability to be free, consequently, the follow-up of the Exodus is the giving of the Torah, as our Sages said (Avot 6: 2) concerning the verse: ‘The Tablets were made by God and written with God’s script engraved on the Tablets’ (Exodus 32:16): “Read not “engraved” (charut) but “liberty” (chairut) – for there is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the study of Torah.” Only through the absolute and eternal word of Hashem, which is engraved and fixed on the tablets, can man be released from the enslavement to his desires and public opinion.

However, it is not sufficient to simply fulfill the Torah, but it must also be learned, because as a result of such study a person renews himself, his soul is enlightened, and consequently, he receives inspiration and ideas on how to add good, and improve the world.

The Goal of the Exodus is to Enter the Land

Receiving the Torah and learning it are not enough – all this must take place in Israel. Therefore the goal of the Exodus and the giving of the Torah is for Israel to inherit the Land promised to our forefathers, for only in the Land of Israel can the nation of Israel live in freedom, and create its own unique lifestyle, and as a result, shower blessing to the entire world, as Hashem said to Moshe: “I have indeed seen the suffering of My people… I have come down to rescue them from Egypt’s power. I will bring them out of that land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey…” (Exodus 3:6-7). In contrast, in exile we are enslaved, as it is stated: “There you will serve gods that men have made out of wood and stone” (Deuteronomy 4:28).

Therefore, the vision of the exodus from Egypt is entirely related to the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel, as stated in the response to the wise son: “In the future, your child may ask you, ‘What are the rituals, rules and laws that God our Lord has commanded you?’ You must tell him, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand… to bring us to the land He promised our fathers, and give it to us” (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).

This is because in the Land of Israel the nation of Israel is able to reveal the unifying ‘emunah‘ (faith), to connect heaven and earth, faith and action, to reveal their talents and to be a blessing to all peoples, as God said to Abraham: “Go away from your land…to the land… I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you great. You shall become a blessing… all the families of the earth will be blessed through you”(Genesis 12: 1-3). The Torah also says: “Now Israel, listen to the rules and laws… so that you will remain alive and come to occupy the land… safeguard and keep these rules, since this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations. They will hear all these rules and say, ‘This great nation is certainly a wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:1-8). The Sages taught that “wisdom and understanding” refers to the secular knowledges that receive their positive blessing from ‘emunah’, Torah and mitzvot (Shabbat 75a).

Thus, precisely through the acceptance of the yoke of Torah and mitzvoth, the Jewish nation is capable of finding the true meaning of life in this world. This “yoke” does not entail the closing-off of possibilities, but rather, the opening of innumerable potentials, because Divine goodness is revealed in countless expressions and varieties, and man must choose which areas to invest his energies in ‘repairing the world in the Kingdom of God’.

Religious Institutions and Freedom

Sometimes, in an effort to preserve the path of Torah and mitzvot, we forget the value of freedom. This situation is a carry-over from the burden of ‘galut‘ (exile) and impulses. For many generations we had to direct almost all our energies to guard ourselves from any foreign influences, and we forgot how to reveal the good thoughts in our souls, for the glory of Torah and the world.

In order to free ourselves from the yoke of ‘galut‘, we must strengthen the vision of Israel’s life in its land, and as a result, the value of freedom will receive its important standing, and encourage initiative and creativity stemming from ‘emunah’ based on the goodness of Hashem, and a sense of mission to repair the world. The more successful the heroes and pioneers of ‘emunah‘ are, the more people will follow in their path. And all the people of the world will know and realize that precisely within a religious framework, true freedom emerges in its most profound and original way, redeems man from his material enslavement, visceral inclinations and distress, and gives him the opportunity to reveal his Divine soul. And as a result, we will merit complete redemption, speedily in our days.

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:
http://en.yhb.org.il/

Winning the Struggle for Religious Rights

Even after the meeting between Chief of Staff Eizenkot and leading Religious Zionist rabbis, as long as religious soldiers are forced to hear female singers, Eizenkot’s attitude towards Jewish tradition and religious soldiers cannot be trusted * Advice from a former army rabbi: Thorough knowledge of General Staff standing orders on religious matters protects rights, and prevents conflicts * Why it is wrong for religious soldiers to agree to shorten prayer times sanctioned by General Staff orders * The efficiency of filing a complaint as a means of preserving religious rights * Despite the difficulty of standing up to commanders, the mitzvah of rebuke obligates submitting a complaint, at the very least, when subordination to one’s commanders has ended

The Chief of Staff and his Responsibility

Reports about the meeting between the Chief of Staff and the rabbinical leadership of the religious Zionist sector are not reassuring. As long as the Chief of Staff leaves the order requiring religious soldiers to listen to female singers intact, in essence, the basic position of the Joint Chief of Staff that Jews can be forced to violate their halachic customs continues, and consequently, there is no more confidence in their ability to respect Jewish tradition and religious soldiers. The principle must be as clear as the afternoon sun: In the IDF, Jews are not forced to violate any religious law. From the time this principle was violated, all has been breached.

Informative Responses

From the scores of responses I received to my previous articles, it seems dealing with questions of soldiers in the army is vital. Since it is a broad subject, it is appropriate to present it from different angles in order to air the problems, and no less important – to gain assistance from the wisdom accumulated by numerous people (I cannot publish all of the letters due to a shortage of space, however, I learned something from all of them).

Important Guidance from a Reserve Army Rabbi

“Rabbi Melamed, Shalom! As one who served as a rabbi in the IDF, I would like to say that most of the problems could be solved if army orders and regulations were adhered to. The problem is no one is familiar with them, and as a result, constant grueling confrontations persist around religious issues, harming religious soldiers.

When I participated in a course for army rabbis, I was the only one out of all the soldiers and staff (!) who knew about the General Staff standing orders in matters of religion. After a lot of pressure on my part, they brought us a small, incomplete pamphlet of some of the General Staff’s orders. In practice, no classes were given on these orders – let alone a test that would ensure army rabbis in fact knew them!

People think that someone who makes use of General Staff standing orders is petty, and that if a soldier attempts to use them, officers will retaliate with other orders that will not be convenient for religious soldiers. In practice, the reality is the exact opposite. Anyone who knows his rights and is ready to fight them, will not have to fight. As in martial arts – the more skilled you are, the less you have to fight…

When I served as an army rabbi, the officer’s staff at the base knew that I was thoroughly acquainted with the General Staff orders, and that it wasn’t worth their while to tamper with religious issues. When a soldier ceases conducting negotiations and sticks to the General Staff orders, he attains all he needs, and tensions subside. At first, this takes courage; but in the end, it pays off. It is vital for army rabbis to know the orders thoroughly, and we also need to teach those preparing to enlist the orders, and how to use them.

I will re-count an incident I witnessed: A religious soldier at the beginning of his basic training, the atmosphere around him being secular, asked on the Tenth of Tevet (a Jewish day of fasting) to remain in the synagogue, participate in the Torah program that I had prepared, and rest in his room. His commander claimed that there were practical lessons in the classroom on that day, and there was no reason for him not participate in them – after all, in civilian life, people normally work as usual on fast-days. According to my instruction, the soldier replied that all orders must be obeyed, and the order states that a soldier who is fasting is exempt from any activity. If the commander treats General Staff orders as mere recommendations, his orders will also be treated as such. The commander was furious, and came to me demanding I find a breach in the orders to compel the soldier to attend classes. I explained to the officer – who was new at the base – that a few months beforehand, I had made sure that an officer was put on trial because he ordered a soldier to go to the weapons’ depository and sign-off on a rifle on a fast-day, and that if he was interested, I could arrange a similar trial for him as well.

The impact of my position, and that of the soldier who was willing to stand up for it, was dramatic. I accompanied numerous basic training courses over the years with a variety of commanders and soldiers, but that was the course that confronted all religious issues in the smoothest way – to the benefit of all sides.”

Another Example Concerning Prayer Times

“The commanders want the religious soldiers to return to the timetable as fast as possible. The soldiers want time to pray with ‘kavana’ (intent), and perhaps learn a little Torah. If not for the General Staff orders, religious soldiers would have to argue anew every morning about time for prayers. When there is a General Staff order, both the soldiers and the commanders know that there is no point in arguing. In the past, IDF generals and rabbis convened, investigated the subject in all its’ aspects, and reached a balanced (relatively speaking) standing order. The problem begins when recruits or lesser-ranking commanders think their perspective is more inclusive, and begin to tamper with the commands.

According to the General Staff Standing Order (# 34.0301), the time to be allocated for Shacharit (morning services) on weekdays is 40 minutes, and on Monday’s and Thursday’s – 50 minutes. For Mincha (afternoon prayers) and Ma’ariv (evening prayers) – 15 minutes for each prayer. On Chol HaMoed (Intermediate Days of the Festivals) – two hours for Shacharit, and 30 minutes for Mincha and Ma’ariv each. Clearly, the addition of ‘Ya’aleh ve Ya’vo’ (a short additional supplication) in the ‘Amida’ (Silent) prayers on Festivals takes less than 15 minutes, but in the all-encompassing view of the General Staff and Chief Rabbi at the time, they understood that at least some of the religious soldiers needed time to “recharge spiritually”. Therefore, the General Staff orders stipulated these times, so that once every six months there would be a few days when a soldier could pray calmly, and add a few halachot or nigunim (melodies) in preparation for prayer.

Often religious soldiers, and occasionally army rabbis, who have good intentions, tell the commanders that there is no need for the full amount of time for prayers stipulated in the orders. By doing so they cause immense damage. At the beginning of basic training, religious soldiers are not always aware of their emotional difficulties. Only over time, after having already waved their rights, do they try and safeguard themselves, but at that point, it is very difficult for them. When religious soldiers cut back on prayer time they create social pressure for the rest of the religious soldiers, making them out to look like “schemers”, and without noticing, cause many of them to suffer difficult religious or psychological crises. Anyone who was in the army knows that not everyone who enters the army religious or emotionally stable, comes out the same way. Is finding favor with one’s officers, or gaining an extra ten minutes of free time, worth the risk? ”

Another Example Concerning Modesty

“When I was at base X, there was a gym in which I wanted to work-out. According to IDF Order # 33.0207, since the base is defined as a ‘closed base’ (i.e., soldiers sleep there), the gym must operate each week for a minimum of four hours for men only and four hours for women only, and announce the hours.

“I went to the gym operator, a non-commissioned officer, and asked her to allocate a few separate hours so I could work-out. At first she advised me to come at times when the gym was usually empty. When I said that I wished to avoid unpleasant circumstances, and wanted defined hours, she answered that I was the only one at the base with such a request, and there was no reason to limit everyone else just because of me.

“I saw no point in arguing with her. I went directly to the commander in charge of training and education at the base, and I told him I was not asking for a favor, but rather, that orders be obeyed. The gym and its equipment belong to the army, and we are all soldiers obeying orders. The commander understood immediately, and ordered the non-commissioned officer to publish a list of separate hours within two days. I was elated to discover religious men and women soldiers who I did not know, and who were too embarrassed to ask, welcomed the opportunity and began working-out during the separate hours, and were even more determined than I was.”

Thus far, the wise words of a former army rabbi.

A Revealing Incident of Filing a Complaint

“In the wake of previous columns, we wanted to share with you, Rabbi, our story: We were two soldiers who performed our military service about ten years ago in the framework of a Hesder yeshiva, but not in a unit of ‘beinish’im’ (an acronym for “yeshiva students”). During our service, we encountered a lot of substantial and minor problems that are liable to trouble a religious soldier. We were able to solve most of the problems by turning directly to our personal commanders. However, there were a few serious problems that lacked sufficient willingness to resolve. We then found out about soldiers’ ombudsman for complaints, and we often used the services of this important organization. Contrary to what it seems, it’s a simple process that involves filling out a single form, free of charge.

We especially wanted to talk about one incident that surpassed all. We were two ‘beinish’im‘ in the operations room of our brigade, in an army base on the border between Israel and Egypt. True, the problem of infiltrators did not yet exist, and during routine hours our main preoccupation was training and contending with stray camels. The most difficult problem was Shabbat. Since we are talking about an active border, we found ourselves required to do countless tasks which at best, were not a matter of ‘pikuach nefesh’ (life-threatening situations where Shabbat laws are suspended), and at worst, were the result of the whim of one of the officers in the operation room, or in the field.

We made an attempt to complain, and tried to get solutions through our direct officers and those above them. After failing to receive a response, we turned to the IDF Rabbinate (at the brigade level, and at a higher level), but it took them a long time to answer, their response was extremely general, and it did not solve the problems on the ground.

In our distress, we decided to send a complaint to the ombudsman. Within a day and a half after sending the complaint, we were summoned to a meeting with the battalion commander, who shouted at us for about ten minutes, and in conclusion, informed us that he forbade us to complain in the future, unless the complaint passed through him first. The minute we left his office, we sent another complaint about the ‘chutzpah’ (brazenness) of the battalion commander, who dared to forbid us to complain without his permission. Following the first complaint, a solution had already been found to the ‘chilul Shabbat’ [desecration of Shabbat] – a solution that had not been taken into previous consideration – but the attitude of all the commanders towards us was extremely hostile. A few days later, when they came to check the second complaint, everyone began treating us respectfully, and creative methods were found to solve all the religious problems as well.”

Footnote to the Letter: A Summary of the Obligation to Rebuke

This indeed is the fitting and right way to act. However, it should be noted that most soldiers are unable to stand up to their commanders with such courage. Nevertheless, it is essential for them to consult with their parents and rabbis in order to solve the problems during their service, and fulfill the obligation to rebuke by filing a complaint – at the latest, after completing their service under those same commanders. If they do not submit a complaint, they have canceled a Torah mitzvah, and are also considered partners in all the harm their commanders caused in matters of religion.

And the heroes who manage to stand up to their commanders, thus build their personalities, and pave the way for their future. Today, one of the authors of the letter is about to complete a doctorate in physics, and the other one serves in a senior management position.

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:
http://revivimen.yhb.org.il/

Publicize Religious Problems in the Army

The religious situation of in the army is a very important issue, however, also neglected and suppressed * The need to strengthen the awareness of the obligation to protest against violations of religious rights in the IDF * Modesty in the army is deteriorating, in accordance with its deterioration in society at large * A difficult story about a soldier who, due to religious harassment, reached a state of shell shock * The importance of soldiers sharing their distress with their parents * The army’s readiness to take into account a religious soldier is influenced by his degree of seriousness in Torah and mitzvot * The Chief of Staff’s responsibility for the situation * The focal point of the struggle – protection of the rights of the religious soldier

Deepening the Discussion on the Religious Situation in the Army

Following my column about the religious situation of the IDF and the obligation to protest in the army, a lively and informative discussion ensued. I received many letters, and the main thing I learned from them is that the subject is extremely important, and at the same time, also suppressed and neglected. Parents wrote that until now they felt silenced. Educators wrote to me, ‘yasher koach’ (all the power to you). The most painful letters were those of soldiers who recalled difficult memories of their service with secular men and women soldiers who made their lives miserable, and often jokingly tried to trip them up in serious religious transgressions. They wrote that as a result of my previous columns, they felt for the first time they could complain, and thus, reinforced my will to continue dealing with this important issue.

Raising the Problems, and the Duty to Protest

Consequently, I am fulfilling their request to raise the problems (while censoring the difficult and immodest stories) so that the soldiers, their parents, and their educators can prime themselves for service in the IDF, and also to strengthen the awareness of the duty to perform the mitzvah of rebuke in the army: First, by appealing to the commanders and the army rabbi of the unit, and in cooperation with parents and educators. And if the problem is not corrected – to file complaints with the Army Rabbinate, the Public Inquiries Office of the Manpower Branch, the Ombudsman of the Soldiers, the “Tzav Echad” organization, and in severe cases, to contact the supportive media.

The Situation in the Army in Short

It should be noted that overall, the letters indicate that the situation of modesty in the army is gradually deteriorating consistent with the situation in society in general. When many high school teens behave wantonly, and girls require means of birth control, unsurprisingly the need for contraception increases greatly in the army, and the atmosphere becomes more indecent and gloomy for the religious soldier.

There are, nonetheless, sections in the army where modesty is properly maintained, such as in rear units manned by high-quality individuals where soldiers return home every night, and in units where numbers of religious soldiers serve.

A Mother’s Painful Letter

“Rabbi, when I read your previous article, I cried. You do not know how right you are! The dilemma of whether to complain really does involve ‘pikuach nefesh’ (life-endangering situation)! My third son was less suited to studying in yeshiva, so he did not enlist in the Hesder yeshiva program. He served in an infantry brigade, and encountered commanders and soldiers who made his life miserable. At first he complained about the crude behavior between a commander and a female soldier, and also about the indecent pictures hung-up in the rooms; as a result, they began calling him a ‘rat’, mocked him for praying and keeping kosher, began talking more crassly in his presence, made the kitchen utensils non-kosher to annoy him, and on Shabbat, played songs loudly in his room. Every so often when he went to sleep, he also found that they had placed pictures of naked women on his bed.

At the same time, one of the operations in Gaza began. His relations with his commanders and fellow soldiers were so miserable that he lacked trust in them, and was afraid to sleep at night, lest they try to abandon him. And so, exhausted, he continued functioning for about a week, until one of his commanders and a soldier were seriously wounded right beside to him. He developed combat stress, and could not continue functioning. Only afterwards did he begin telling us what had happened to him in the army. Still, we had to make great efforts to persuade him to re-count his experiences to an army psychologist. Luckily for us, the army recognized its responsibility for the psychological damage he encountered.

It took him two years until he was able to get a full-night’s sleep. He is still in therapy, and we hope he will recover.

Two things are important for me to mention at the end of my letter: 1) soldiers should be encouraged to share all the problems with their parents so they can strengthen them emotionally, and so they can complain in their stead, because sometimes they are afraid to complain, lest they be harassed or have their promotion harmed. 2) Young men going into the army should be encouraged to enlist through the Hesder yeshiva program.”

An Informative Letter

The following letter was written by a Talmid Chacham (Torah scholar) with a background in psychology, and a talent for observing people and society:

“Thank you for inviting readers to participate in this important discussion. From my experience in the regular army and reserve duty, there are indeed quite a few religious soldiers who must deal with difficult situations. However, the army establishment is extremely large, and there are also religious soldiers who are not in the framework of Hesder who do not encounter serious problems, and are even satisfied during most of their army service.

The situation is usually determined by the nature of the soldiers, especially the officers. When some of the soldiers are inherently vulgar, they engage in obscenities and curse a lot, and it creates a hostile atmosphere throughout the entire unit, and affects everyone. On the other hand, many of the secular soldiers are modest by nature, do not enjoy joking about matters of indecency, and also respect the Shabbat. It is true that when there are female soldiers looking for attention, even if quite a few secular soldiers, both men and women, suffer from it, there is almost no chance to create a modest and dignified atmosphere.

Moreover, the situation of a religious soldier is largely determined by his character. Even when the atmosphere is difficult, soldiers who do not mind being alone, or spending a lot of time in the synagogue and ignoring the ridicule of their friends, are usually not affected. However, those who find such alienation difficult, will suffer.

Additionally, a soldier’s response to unpleasant situations greatly influences the response of his surrounding environment. A weak and hesitant soldier will suffer. A soldier with social skills and inner strength, will be respected. The more apparent his seriousness in Torah and fear of God is, the more the other soldiers will respect the religious soldier. Therefore, the advice that you wrote in the past, Rabbi Melamed, that soldiers should wear their tzitzit outwardly, is very helpful.

At one time in our army service we had a secular company commander who used to curse in an awful manner, and it affected all the commanders and soldiers. After I complained to him, and he realized that it bothered us greatly, he fervently ordered everyone to guard their tongue, and stop cursing. And so it was.

Although, at another time in my service, there was a company commander who was particularly interested in the company’s female clerk, and the atmosphere they imbued among all the commanders and soldiers was extremely immodest.

Company evenings and various entertainment events held for soldiers are very problematic. Usually there are female soldiers who inflame the atmosphere, and goad soldiers to interact with them, and then the atmosphere turns crude and immodest.

In reserve duty, the situation is more severe in terms of immodesty and kashrut because some individuals come to reserve duty to unwind, and they unload all their “garbage” in public, and army laws are less enforced. If possible, it is good to make sure that a few religious soldiers be together, and then their concerns are more readily taken into consideration.

To sum up, the army is comprised of numerous places and different situations. Problems will usually be determined by the soldiers and officers serving there, and by the character and strength of the religious soldier. It appears that most lower-ranking officers look after their religious soldiers, and want them to have a pleasant and comfortable time during their service. However, two situations are liable to cause a religious soldier to suffer a severe emotional crisis, or to stop being religious: 1) in places where the officers and soldiers are vulgar and inconsiderate. 2) Religious soldiers whose social skills are mediocre, and whose emotional strength is not firm (this comprises at least 20 percent of soldiers). Therefore, as you detailed in your articles Rabbi, it is important, and even essential, to complain through the various means, in order to improve the situation, and prevent disasters.”

A Letter from a Lawyer

“I wanted to strengthen the importance of filing complaints and grievances in the army, and their great benefit. Twice I complained to officials about problems in religious matters, and in both cases the impact was significant… The second case: at the end of my service, I submitted a complaint that at a dairy evening meals at the base, they put out several plates used for meat, and placed salt shakers designated for meat meals on the tables. I argued that it was inconceivable that there were six religious coordinators (‘mashak dat’) on the base, but there was never a mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) – not for breakfast, nor for dinner meals.

The complaint caused a huge headache for the entire administration in the camp for several weeks, to the point where when I wanted to return to visit the base during my discharge leave and take some things that I had left there, my commander recommended that I come back only after my discharge was final, because there were a number of officers who “wanted my blood” on account of the complaint… in actuality, the kashrut situation there improved greatly.

Regarding the statistics of complaints: in the year 2015, 6,371 complaints were received by the High Commission, of which 61.06% were justified. Complaints concerning religious issues were only 0.4% of the total complaints. In my estimation, if all religious soldiers were to complain about religious matters as they complain about other problems, the majority of complaints in the army would be about matters dealing with religion.

Is there a Time Limit for Filing a Complaint?

Concerning the question until when can a complaint be filed, from a purely legal perspective, there is no restriction. True, the law restricts the submission of a complaint for one year from the date of the act on which it is submitted (or six months from the date of a soldier’s release), but the law also allows the Ombudsman to accept complaints submitted after the deadline, if he finds a “special reason” for doing so. Fear of harassment of the system is such a reason.”

Who is Responsible? The General Staff!

There are rabbis who prefer to say that what is happening in the army stems from the takeover of the General Staff by external elements from the extreme left. However, I think they are mistaken. The guilty ones are the members of the General Staff – first and foremost, the Chief of Staff. They are not stupid enough to be fooled. Perhaps they use public figures from left-wing to communicate, but the values ​​are their own, as they publically declare. Therefore, the struggle must first start with them.

Means of Contesting

The struggle should be focused on defending the religious soldier. A basic rule of halakha is ‘hakarov, karov kodem’ (he who is closest comes first). The religious soldiers are crying out for this, are in need of it, and it is our duty to help them. It seems to me that by way of neglecting religious soldiers, and instead, trying to tackle the issue of Jewish consciousness in the IDF overall, a situation was created in which neither of them were successful. ‘Tafasta meruba lo tafasta’ (“If you have seized a lot, you have not seized”). If they were to focus precisely on helping those who are desperate for help, they could have a positive effect on the general atmosphere.

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:
http://en.yhb.org.il/

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed