‘Yefat Toar’ and Morality

Seeing as others having spoken slanderously about Rabbi Krim and the Torah, it is our duty to explain the morality and logic of the law of ‘yefat toar’ * Until modern times, even up to the last century, captives were cruelly abused, often ending in death * The Torah, in contrast to other cultures, demands total self-restraint from illicit relations * The permission to marry a ‘yefat toar’ is ‘bediavad’ under defined conditions, and with the Torah’s warning not to do so * In view of the world’s moral progress, the permission to marry a ‘yefat toar’ is completely null and void * Accusing the Torah of supporting rape is like accusing a doctor of supporting illness

Slander of the Torah and Israel

In recent months we have witnessed a libelous defamation of our holy Torah and the people of Israel who teach its’ values ​​to the world by the secular media, together with women MK’s from the leftist Meretz party, concerning the issue of ‘eshet yefat toar’ (a non-Jewish woman captured in battle) and the appointment of Rabbi Krim as the next Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F.

Although most of the blame lies with the slanderers who failed to delve into the Torah, we are also responsible to explain the Torah’s words and values ​​completely and precisely, while emphasizing its Divine vision and logic, so that any decent person is capable of understanding just how true and compassionate the Torah is, and to what extent tikkun olam (repairing the world) is dependent on its study and fulfillment.

The Status of Those Defeated in War in the Past

In ancient times, the victors of wars would do whatever they pleased with those they vanquished. Any type of abuse was considered acceptable, both legally, and morally. Those who fell in captivity were considered the property of the victors. Many of them were killed and publicly abused (for that reason, King Saul asked to be killed with his own the sword, rather than be captured by the Philistines). Some were slaughtered as a sacrifices on the altars of their gods, while others were taken for murderous games and used as gladiators in wars against wild beasts or between themselves, until death.

Usually, a large percentage of the men were killed, and the rest were sold as slaves. The beautiful and young women were “fortunate”: they weren’t killed, but rather, first the soldiers would rape them as they wished, and when they were finished with them, the women were thrown into a cage of prostitutes, or sold as slaves or concubines. This was the norm; therefore, it was common practice among the nations that when they saw defeat was imminent, the women would adorn themselves in order to be appealing to the victorious soldiers, and thus, save their lives. Many of them harbored the hope that perhaps one of the enemy soldiers would covet and safeguard her, wishing to use her as a concubine. And perhaps later on, she would even be able to improve her standing and be legitimately considered his second wife, or maybe even his first wife. And if not, then at the very least she might have been sold as a concubine to an old, sick and crippled man who would not abuse her as much, and if she was lucky enough to bear him a child – he might even support her, and save her from dying of starvation. Parents would even help their own daughters to adorn themselves seeing as it was the only chance to save them and possibly have their offspring continue to exist in the world because, as a general rule, the futile were killed so as to reduce the number of people needed to be fed, for in many instances wars were fought over means of sustenance, and consequently, one of the objectives was to kill the vanquished, and inherit their fields.

Some women even came to the throne in this manner, such as the captive Martha Skavronskaya. Initially, a soldier took her captive and she became his mistress; next, his commander coveted her, and took her as his mistress. Afterwards, the commander in chief took her for himself, and when the notable Minister Menshikov set eyes on her, he took her for himself. When the Caesar, Peter the Great – the symbol of Russian enlightenment, saw her – he craved her, and took her for himself. Not only that, but so that his first wife would not cause problems, he put her in a convent until the end of her life, officially married the captive woman, and renamed her Catherine the First. When he died, she became the governess of the Russian empire for two years until her death (1727).

The Custom in Europe after the Eradication of Slavery

For the last hundreds of years, along with the eradication of slavery in Europe, gradual progress was made in the legal status of individuals in developed countries. Captives from countries defeated in war were no longer sold as slaves, however, they could indeed be made to serve hard labor for the kingdom, or the conquering country. This helped the winning countries base their economies, as the Soviet Union did with hundreds of thousands of German prisoners after World War II.

As far as looting and rape was concerned, until the end of World War II it was customary that for three days following the occupation of a city, law and order was slightly overlooked so that soldiers were able to plunder and rape women freely, on the condition their brutality was not overly exaggerated. When the first three days were over, the laws of war against looting, rape and murder started to be enforced. Only in 1949, the Fourth Geneva Convention was agreed upon, establishing protection for civilian populations in times of war.

The Law of ‘Eshet Yefat Toar’

Following this primer, we can now address the law of ‘eshet yefat toar’ in the Torah, and understand to what extent the Torah uplifted the Jewish nation and mankind, by determining restrictions for the complicated and difficult situation of the cruelty of war.

Ideally, in times of war a soldier is required to guard himself against any thoughts of sexual immorality, and think only about saving Israel and victory in war (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Wars 7:16). This is included in the general mitzvah of guarding the sanctity of the camp, as it says: “When you go out as a camp against your enemies, you must avoid everything evil… because God your Lord makes His presence known in your camp, so as to deliver you and grant you victory over your enemy. Your camp must therefore be holy. Let Him not see anything lascivious among you, and turn away from you”(Deuteronomy 23:10-15).

After victory, during the process of taking women captive, a soldier must ideally guard himself from illicit thoughts. If, nonetheless, he desired one of the women captives, the Torah permitted him to have relations with her one time, provided he does so with the commitment to marry her afterwards, if she so wishes. Some of our Sages (Rabbi Yochanan and Shmuel) were of the opinion that in any event, only after she converted was the soldier permitted to have relations with her, and apparently, this was the l’chatchila (ideal) instruction; but in a bediavad (after the fact) situation, the halakha was determined that a soldier was permitted to have relations with the captive woman one time, with the aforementioned conditions (Rambam, ibid., 8:1; Kesef Mishneh).

The details of the law are as follows: the heter (permission) to have relations with the woman is only in the heat of the battle, at the same time she is taken from her dwelling to captivity; but after being taken captive, it is forbidden for any soldier to touch any captive woman.

The heter is on the condition that the soldier commits to marry her afterwards, as it says: “If you see a beautiful woman among the prisoners and desire her, you may take her as a wife” (Deuteronomy 21:11). Therefore, a soldier is allowed to take only one woman, and no more. Similarly, it is forbidden for him to take a woman for his brother or someone else; rather, only a soldier who coveted a particular woman is allowed to take her for himself.

After having relations with her one time, he is forbidden to have relations with her again until their marriage is arranged. In other words, if the woman captive agrees to enter under the wings of the Divine Presence and convert, and to marry him – she is immediately converted.

If she still had not agreed to convert and marry him, he leaves her to weep in his house for thirty days over her mother and father, and over her religion that she must forsake. And the Rambam added that she is even allowed to publicly worship the idolatry she was accustomed to worship, without talking to her about matters of Jewish faith during the entire month (Moreh Nevuchim III: 41).

After that month was over, if the man decided he did not want to marry her, she must agree to accept the seven Noahide laws and she is released, and it is forbidden for him to keep her as a servant, or sell her to others, as it is said: “If you do not desire her, however, you must send her away free. Since you have had your way with her, you may not sell her for cash or keep her as a servant” (Deuteronomy 21:14). In other words, if it turned out that he did not want her, retrospectively, the first time he had relations with her he violated her, and in order to compensate her, he must set her free.

If after this month he still desired her and she agrees to convert and marry him, she converts and marries. If she did not want to convert and marry him, she remains with him for twelve months, because maybe in the end she will change her mind. If after twelve months she has not consented, she must agree to accept the seven Noahide laws and is released.

A Bediavad Heter

From verses of the Torah, we have learned that the heter is a forced and bediavad approval, as our Sages said: “The Torah only provided for human passions: it is better for Israel to eat flesh of animals about to die yet ritually slaughtered (a doubtful prohibition), than flesh of dying animals which have perished (a definite prohibition)” (Kiddushin 21b). And although it is permitted bediavad, the Torah attempted to distance us from it as best as possible, thus hinting that such marriages will not be blessed and often cause family conflicts and disputes over inheritances, and situations in which the son born out of such a marriage is liable to be wayward and rebellious.

Our Sages termed this as “aveira goreret aveira” (one sin leads to another sin) (Tanchuma, Ki Taytzeh 1), and similarly, Rashi comments: “Scripture in permitting this marriage is speaking only against the evil inclination which drives him to desire her. For if the Holy One, blessed is He, would not permit her to him, he would take her illicitly. The Torah teaches us, however, that if he marries her, he will ultimately come to despise her…and he will ultimately father through, her a wayward and rebellious son. For this reason, these passages are juxtaposed.” Likewise, we find a similar matter occurred to King David with his son Amnon who raped Tamar, and Avshalom who rebelled against his father and sought to kill him (Sanhedrin 21a, Tanchuma, ibid.).

Today the Heter is Null and Void

Indeed, in Arab countries and similar ones, it is still common practice for soldiers to rape women and kill people, and even in Western armies, many soldiers break the law and rape women from occupied or controlled populations. In any event, seeing as the heter of eshet yefat toar is against the evil inclination so as to regulate the behavior of a soldier under cruel and evil societal conditions, thus saving him from transgressing more serious prohibitions, today, thanks to the positive influence of the Torah’s morality the laws of war among Western nations have changed for the better, both from the aspect of the status of members of defeated populations lives’ not being handed over as property to the occupiers, and also, given that military laws are enforced more effectively on soldiers – the heter of eshet yefat toar is null and void. The law has returned to its former position, that it is forbidden for a man and a woman to maintain sexual relations outside the framework of marriage in accordance with halakha.

The Slander and its Correction

Therefore, those who slandered the Torah as if it supports rape, are similar to slanderers of doctors who come to heal, accusing them of causing people to be sick by giving legitimacy to their illness.

Nevertheless, we have learned a great principle from the law of eshet yefat toar. Finding fault with something is easy; knowing how to correct things by means of planting good foundations within a harsh, cruel and complicated reality is called for, and this can be achieved precisely through the Jewish nation.

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

The Implication of Ishmael’s Expulsion Today

Abraham and Sarah believed in Hagar and Ishmael, but they disregarded their status, with Ishmael even degenerating to appalling crimes * Their behavior prevented Abraham and Sarah from repairing the world, and Abraham was forced to drive them out * The expulsion succeeded: they repented, and returned to Abraham’s family * Israel also believed in the sons of Ishmael, but they abused our trust *A person who refuses to recognize the Jewish character of the state and Israel’s sovereignty over it will have to be expelled, but upon a change of attitude, we will be happy to accept him * Unlike other cultures, Judaism does not impose one idea on ​​all of humanity, rather, patiently refines people, each individual according to his beliefs

For over twenty years, every Rosh Hashana I am called-up to the Torah for “shlishi” (the third aliyah), for the reading of the story Ishmael’s expulsion (from the portion of Vayeira). Every year, my heart aches over the sorrow of Hagar and Ishmael, and the question arises: Wasn’t there any other solution? Every year anew, I am compelled to resolve matters. Before I specify this year’s additional thought, I will summarize what I have written in the past.

At First: Trust and Education

Seeing that God had prevented our matriarch Sarah from giving birth, she graciously decided to give her worthy maid servant to Abraham. This was both an act of kindness towards Abraham, who would merit having a son after so many years, and even more so, towards Hagar her maid servant, providing her the opportunity to come close to the righteous and honored Abraham, and for her children, the prospect of joining the great vision that Sarah and Abraham had founded in the world. It was clear to Sarah that Hagar who until then accepted her leadership submissively and with love would continue acknowledging her seniority, and the child born to her would be educated by Sarah. She hoped that in the merit of her generosity, God would hasten her salvation and grant her a son of her own, who, along with the son of Hagar, would fulfill the great vision they had established in the world while recognizing the seniority of Sarah’s future son – similar to the selection of the Kohanim (priests) to serve in the Holy Temple, as opposed to all other Jews.

However, the moment after Hagar became pregnant, “she looked at her mistress with contempt (Genesis 16:4)”. She stopped treating Sarah as she had in the past, thinking: “The hidden sides of this woman Sarah are not compatible with what she reveals: she shows off as if she is righteous, when she really isn’t; for she hasn’t merited becoming pregnant all these years, while I became pregnant immediately” (Rashi, Genesis 16:4).

Nevertheless, Sarah still believed in Hagar, but tormented and punished her in order to discipline her. Sarah did her utmost in this matter, to the point where, in the opinion of the Ramban and Radak, Sarah over did it. However, our righteous foremother Sarah had hoped that by doing so, Hagar would recognize her place, and everything would return to normal. Hagar, however, refused to accept Sarah’s authority, and fled the house. Only after the angel of God told her: “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her” (Genesis 16:9) – because through Sarah’s actions you are being trained – did Hagar return humbly, accepted Sarah’s authority, and gave birth to Ishmael, raising him on the knees of her master’s – Abraham and Sarah.

But deep in her heart, Hagar was no longer Sarah’s apprentice. Ishmael subconsciously realized this, and after the birth of Isaac, began mocking him. Some commentators say that in contrast to young Isaac who grew up righteously, Ishmael began leaning towards idolatry and incest, while other commentators say he played games with Isaac that endangered his life, thereby revealing his inner desire to murder him, because he hated Isaac for usurping his place. People would say: Take a look at Abraham the Ivri – all his life he’s been preaching about being careful of stealing, illicit relations, and murder, and here his son Ishmael is a wild ass of a man! (Genesis Rabbah 53:11).

The Decision to Expel

It was then that Sarah realized there was no longer any chance that Hagar and Ishmael could be partners in establishing the nation whose destiny was to perfect the world in the Kingdom of God. Hagar’s return was insincere. If Hagar and Ishmael were to remain in their house, Abraham and Sarah’s great vision would perish. “She said to Abraham, “Drive away this slave together with her son. The son of this slave will not share the inheritance with my son Isaac” (Genesis 21:10).This was very difficult for our forefather Abraham. All his life he had lovingly drawn people closer, and now he had to expel his beloved son. “But God said to Abraham, “Do not be troubled because of the boy and your slave. Do everything Sarah tells you. It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity (ibid, 21:12).” So to speak, God even had to tell Abraham that although his son Ishmael would be a great nation, his main mission would continue through Isaac, and he would be considered his successor.

The Expulsion was Painful but Justified

Had Hagar grasped the severity of her behavior towards Sarah, and had Ishmael understood the gravity of his deeds with respect to Abraham’s legacy and towards his brother Isaac, they would have parted in understandingly, for indeed, it was in their best interest to build their future elsewhere. The separation would have occurred naturally and easily, and all the mental anguish would have been alleviated. Apparently, however, even before this, Ishmael had already gone astray, was reckless and sinned, to the point where it was impossible for Abraham to remove him from his home in a dignified manner with gifts, as he had wished. Consequently, Hagar and Ishmael were expelled in disgrace, and even though Abraham had directed them on their way, they got lost in the wilderness, Ishmael fell sick and nearly died of thirst, and only a miracle saved them (see, Exodus Rabbah 1:1).

All this taken into consideration, we find no denunciation of Sarah our matriarch and Abraham our forefather. The proof is that on Rosh Hashana, the day where we are careful not to mention anything negative about Israel, our Sages decreed that the story of Hagar and Ishmael’s expulsion be read. In other words, the Heavenly decree to expel the maid servant and her son applies even when it is not pleasant. For the law is the law — Hagar, who denied Sarah’s kindness, and Ishmael, who, while still in the house of Abraham, dared to worship idols, steal, and threaten to murder – must receive their punishment. Indeed, on Rosh Hashana when Israel recognizes its uniqueness and specialness among all the nations, precisely then, they justifiably merit a good year.

Hagar and Ishmael Repented

After Hagar and Ishmael were expelled, it seemed as if Sarah had erred in her undue belief in Hagar, by giving her Abraham as a wife. But God, who governs the world, guards the steps of his righteous followers so that no mishaps occur through them, because since their intentions are good, in the end, they will be fulfilled. Specifically after they were expelled and made to suffer, Hagar and Ishmael realized their sin and repented. Hagar recognized Sarah’s preeminence, connected herself to the legacy of Abraham, no longer wandered after idolatry, nor had relations with anyone other than Abraham. For that, her that name was changed to Keturah (Zohar, Vol. 1, 133:2). Even Ishmael repented, acknowledging Isaac as Abraham’s main successor, and God’s promise to Abraham: “And you… will be buried at a good old age” (Genesis 15:15), was fulfilled, seeing his son Ishmael repented (Genesis Rabbah 30:4).

Underscoring Isaac’s Status

Although Hagar and Ishmael repented, as long as Sarah was alive, she opposed their returning home, so that it would be absolutely clear and final that Isaac was Abraham’s successor, and only he possessed the Heavenly destiny to inherit the Land of Israel, and perfect the world in the light of Torah faith and instruction. As time went by, matters became clearer, until matters reached the pinnacle at the binding of Isaac. Immediately after Isaac reached his supreme level, Sarah passed away – her mission in the world having come to an end.

Hagar’s Return to Abraham’s House

The miraculous end of the story of Hagar is that after Abraham ensured the continuation of the dynasty founded by Sarah and himself by sending his servant to find a wife for their son Isaac, Sarah’s very own son, Isaac, completed his mother’s actions by returning Hagar-Ketura to his father, Abraham (Genesis Rabbah 60:14). Keturah merited begetting six additional sons to Abraham, however, they honored Sarah’s legacy, that Isaac would be the sole heir of the Divine vision, and the Holy Land.

Afterwards, Rebecca arrived and entered the tent of Sarah; the candle that had burned from one Sabbath to the next while Sarah was alive, and would burn in the Sanctuary in future times, resumed. The cloud that was attached to Sarah’s tent returned, just as it would attach itself to the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting) in the desert, and a blessing was found in the dough (Genesis Rabbah 60:16).

Implication for Our Times

Our situation today is very similar to that of the past. We thought if we acted justly with our Arab neighbors the sons of Ishmael – if we made the land which under their hands was desolate, blossom; if we developed the economy, and their standard of living rose; if we awarded them rights that no Arab has in any Arab country – they would be appreciative. However, the more we contributed to their prosperity – their war against us grew. And even if we attempt to torment them, to defeat them in wars, they accuse us, and unite with our enemies. The only option of remedying the situation is to strengthen the Jewish character of the State, to make clear to all that this land is ours, and no other nation has a part or inheritance in it. Anyone who accepts this lovingly – can live with us here in great dignity, as a ‘ger toshav’ (resident alien). However, towards anyone who does not accept this, and attempts to oust us from our land, we must act with all ethical means at our disposal in order to expel him. Only then, when sitting in another place, will he be able to reflect on all the good we have brought to the sons of Ishmael, and the world. Then the sons of Ishmael will recognize our virtue — that we are the sons of Israel, the receivers of the Torah and inheritors of the land promised to Abraham, and they too will join us in perfecting the world in the Kingdom of God.

Improve the World, and Perfect it Patiently

This year, I continued contemplating that it is impossible for two kings to serve under one crown, and just as every organization has one manager, so too, it is imperative that amongst the nations, there be one nation that conveys the word of God to the world. To this end, it is appropriate for the nation that carries the word of God to have a special status among the nations. This is God’s choosing of Israel.

This choice is reflected in Israel’s nature, a people who wish to better the world. Had Ishmael been the senior brother, he most likely would have murdered Isaac, as was common among various nations, that the rulers murdered their brothers and even their sons, if they threatened their rule (this was always the case in ancient Egypt, and also in later-day Turkey).

It is also reflected in Israel’s approach to the world: Unlike other religions and cultures that wish to convert everyone to their religion and culture, we desire to empower all faiths and cultures by refinement of their beliefs and morals.

Morally superficial people aspire to fix everything instantly with a single idea – democracy, equality, or one religion or another – but Jews understand, in accordance with the Torah, that the world is way more complex and varied, patience is essential, the educational means are immeasurable, and occasionally distancing is required in order to bring closer and rectify.

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/

Rabbi Goren Demands an Honor Parade

Rabbi Goren, whose yahrzeit will be commemorated this week, served as an example of a rabbi who imposed authority and demonstrated forcefulness * Rabbi Goren made clear that in the event of a conflict between an officer’s command and halakha, if ‘pikuach nefesh’ is not involved, the order should be refused * The present IDF rabbis are doing holy work, but are subject to the secular, General Staff * The IDF Rabbinate can continue in this path, but lacking independence, it must clarify that it does not have the authority of mara d’atra * Rabbis should be involved in the appointment process of the Chief IDF Rabbi * In order to strengthen the IDF Rabbinate, we must recognize that its status has eroded, and take action to correct the situation

In continuation of my article two weeks ago about the IDF Rabbinate in which I wrote that in spite of all of its importance it lacks the authority of mara d’atra (the local rabbinic authority), and ahead of the yahrzeit of the Gaon, Rabbi Shlomo Goren ztz”l next week on the 24th of MarCheshvan, I will relate a story illustrating the model of mara d’atra in the army.

A Story about Rabbi Goren and His Authority

A few years ago, Yaacov Bloch from Kibbutz Sha’alvim, the grandfather of one of our Yeshiva graduates, Asa’el Reichman, sent me a nice story about Rabbi Goren (from his book “Shofar Gadol Taka“):

Once, a division of Nachal soldiers from the religious kibbutz ‘Chafetz Chaim’ arrived at Tse’elim Army Base for advanced training. Moshe Shinkolbski went to check the kitchen and found that the cooks were mixing meat and milk and had absolutely no desire to keep the kitchen kosher. On the contrary, the Sergeant in charge of the kitchen ordered him to be removed from the premises. Moshe Sachs, the secretary of the division, went to talk to the commanding officer of the base, a second lieutenant (in Hebrew, Segen Mishne) who happened to be a member of the anti-religious Hashomer Hatzair movement, but he laughed at him and was not willing to a raise a finger in order to kosher the kitchen.

The soldiers decided go without eating cooked food from the kitchen, but instead, get-by on army rations which they managed to obtain only following an unpleasant argument. On Friday morning, however, the rations ran out, and they were left without any food for Shabbat; they couldn’t eat the food from the kitchen because in addition to the mixture of meat and milk, it was obvious that food was also cooked on Shabbat. In their distress, they called the military rabbinate on Friday morning. The phone-call was transferred directly to Rabbi Goren, who notified them that he would arrive at the army base promptly, on the very same day, and asked that they notify the second lieutenant of the base of his expected arrival at noon. They passed the news on to the officer, but he laughed, saying: “Good for him, let him come!”

Shortly before noon, the IDF Chief Rabbi’s car pulled-up to the base. After a brief argument between the driver and the guard at the gate, the car stopped in front of the Officers Headquarters. General Rabbi Goren entered the headquarters with a frown on his face, and demanded that the officer report to him immediately. After a few minutes, the officer arrived with a smirk on his face. Rabbi Goren instantly ordered him: “Attention! Leave immediately, and come back the way a soldier is meant to appear before a General!” The smile disappeared from the officer’s face, he left the room in a panic, and stood at the doorway at attention. Rabbi Goren ordered him: “Left, right, left! Attention! Listen to me carefully, ‘segen mishuneh c’mocha’ (literally, ‘you strange lieutenant’, a play on words of the Hebrew word mishneh, meaning ‘second’, and ‘mishuneh‘, meaning ‘strange’). You do not know to honor a General. Today, I’m going to teach you how a General who announces his arrival to an army base is meant to be greeted! You have fifteen minutes to prepare an honor guard at the gate of the base. I command that when I enter the base, I am escorted by an honor guard, until I reach the Officer’s Headquarters. At the headquarters will be waiting for me the division of soldiers from ‘Chafetz Chaim’, prepared for line-up. In the meantime, I am going check the kitchen. I brought along with me an officer from the Rabbinate, and he will give you all the instructions about koshering the kitchen. Do you have any questions, segen mishuneh?!” The officer, of course, had no questions, and ran to prepare the honor guard at the gate of the base, and the division of soldiers from ‘Chafetz Chaim’ for line-up in front of the headquarters.

Fifteen minutes later, Rabbi Goren returned and re-entered the gates of the army base with an honor guard. When he arrived at the Officer’s Headquarters, he stood in front of the Nachal soldiers and said to them: “Shalom, soldiers! I came here to arrange the kashrut matters that have been utterly neglected. This is a serious offense in contradiction of General Staff regulations, and those responsible will be brought to account for it. I would like to point out that the ‘segen mishuneh‘ who fills the role of commanding officer here, learned today how to greet a General, and I hope he’ll remember it. Shabbat Shalom.” Rabbi Goren returned to his car, and drove off. From that time onwards, the kitchen remained kosher l’mehadrin (highest level of kosher supervision), and for a long time, all the soldiers of the base remembered his impressive arrival.

Appreciation for the Current Chief IDF Rabbis

As a post script to the story, the significant improvements in the field of kashrut and other religious matters that have taken place in the army since then, deserves praise. Those religious soldiers who stood bravely and were not ashamed to observe halakha in front of their commanders, also deserve admiration. Thanks to them, and thanks to the actions of Rabbi Goren and his successors – the generations of IDF Chief Rabbis until present, the kashrut situation and the ability to keep mitzvot in the army has vastly improved.

Along with the assertion that today’s IDF Rabbinate does not have the authority of mara d’atra, I must point out that I had the personal opportunity of becoming acquainted with the outgoing Chief IDF Rabbi, Rabbi Rafi Peretz shlita, and the incoming Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Eyal Krim, shlita. Both of them are distinguished rabbis with noble qualities, who have numerous merits in their work within the IDF Rabbinate. It may very well be that they lack the power to change the complicated and difficult situation the IDF has encountered in the field of Judaism, but what I have written is not intended to be critical of them, rather, to strengthen their standing, and remedy the situation.

The Conduct of the Mara d’Atra

In any case, the story of Rabbi Goren ztz”l teaches how a mara d’atra is meant to conduct himself. Not every mara d’atra is required to behave exactly as Rabbi Goren did, for indeed, he was particularly aggressive in nature. However, the result should be similar: the instructions of a mara d’atra in the army should be filled immediately, fully, and unchallenged; and it should be known by all that the IDF Chief Rabbi has the capability and authority to punish, and even to demonstrate this publically. For the army is a system based on commands, authority and power, and as expected, often there are cases of violation of discipline; if the army wants orders to be enforced, sometimes punishment is necessary. This is how Rabbi Goren ztz”l conducted himself – he discharged from the army several officers, including a Battalion Commander, due to the violation of orders of the IDF Rabbinate.

Conflict between Halakha and an Order

Accordingly, Rabbi Goren was wont to teach that in a case of a conflict between halakha and a military order, as long as it is not in battle or in a situation of fear of pikuach nefesh (a life-threatening situation), the order should be refused, and the halakha upheld. Rabbi Goren clashed with the Chief of Staff Haim Laskov over this issue, until the then Prime Minister and Defense Minister, David Ben-Gurion, decided in his favor and rebuked the Chief of Staff.

As president of the Yeshiva Har Bracha, we were fortunate to have Rabbi Goren prepare the first two classes of students ahead of their induction into the army with a series of lessons. We became aware just how fundamental this position was for him. The first lesson he dedicated to the mitzvah of serving in the army, and the second was dedicated to the duty to refuse orders when it contradicts halakha.

An Example of the Seriousness of the Problem

The most prominent example of deterioration in the status of the IDF Rabbinate was in relation to the commander of ‘Bahad Echad’ (Training Base 1) Eran Niv, and Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Uzi Kliger. They acted in contradiction to halakha and against orders of ‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Raui’
(Appropriate Integration), requiring cadets to hear female singers at an unofficial ceremony, and when some cadets did not listen to them, they sentenced them harshly, expelling them from the officers’ course. Even if in their mistaken opinion it was correct to sentence the cadets who refused orders, because their order wasn’t a blatantly illegal order requiring refusal – in any case, seeing as the commanders gave an order contrary to the orders of ‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Raui’, and in view of the fact that the issue became public, they should have been brought to trial and their advancement hindered. Instead, they became the cultural heroes of secular society by way of their successful imposition of secular values ​​on religious cadets, and their advancement was not halted.

The Order of ‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Raui’

The topic of modesty is currently the most problematic concern in the army. The Torah has already specifically warned about the sanctity of the military camp (Deuteronomy 23: 10 15) in order that that the Divine Presence can dwell in the camp of Israel (Rashi), and because in the army, people tend to discard rules of modesty (Ramban).

There were enormous struggles concerning the orders of ‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Raui’. If the Chief IDF Rabbi is the mara d’atra, he should determine what is appropriate according to the rules of morality and halakha. And even if the General Staff does not take his opinions into account, it he could still be considered the mara d’atra for stating the halakhic truth fearlessly, because by doing so, religious soldiers would be able to stand on their principles even if they had to pay the price of sitting in prison, and presumably as a result, the issue would be remedied. In practice, however, the IDF Rabbinate did not act as the mara d’atra, but rather, within the framework of leeway granted by the General Staff, worked to achieve the maximum possible. One can understand such a position – it might be of great benefit, but only on condition that it is accompanied by a disclaimer that these agreements do not have the halachic validity of a mara d’atra.

A Mara D’Atra is Appointed by Rabbis

God willing, in the future I will expound on the importance of the mara d’atra, designed to express the unity of the Torah, and the foundation of his authority being dependent on the community’s acceptance of the mara d’atra as a posek (Jewish law arbiter) compliant with the traditional rules of halakha.

For now, I will merely point out that the proper way of selecting a mara d’atra in the IDF should be with full participation of representatives of the rabbis, and representatives of the religious community. This was the case when Rabbi Goren was appointed. In a gradual process, however, the General Staff has become the main factor, whose objectives and considerations are outside the framework of halakha. True, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate still has to approve the nomination, but in practice, it does not participate in the process of finding candidates and their election. All this is extremely detrimental to the standing of the IDF Chief Rabbis who, in effect, derive their authority from the secular General Staff, whose members of late have openly expressed disdain for the sacred values of Judaism – aside from abandoning soldiers, and vilifying them.

The Key to Remedying the Situation: Recognizing the Problem

Some argue that this position weakens the IDF Rabbinate, but the truth is the exact opposite. Only after the reality is evident can the situation be remedied. Saying that the IDF Rabbinate is the mara d’atra a thousand times will not help when the Chief of Staff ignores them, and forces secular values on religious soldiers, such as hearing female singers at ceremonies.

When the revolt of Avshalom broke out, King David could have announced that he was the king, would never leave the palace, and declare all of the people as rebels. The result would have been that Avshalom would have destroyed Jerusalem, and killed David and all his allies. Instead, David chose to recognize reality, exited his palace, removed his crown, rent his clothes, and departed in grief – barefoot, and crying. After doing so, he planned the way to regain his kingdom (Samuel II, Chapter 15). His readiness to acknowledge his lowly situation was the turning point that reversed the hearts of the people, and on account of it, was able to establish his kingdom for generations.

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:

Our Generation’s Challenge: A Healthy Diet

Today’s reality of material abundance has created a norm of harmful eating habits, not seen in the past * Overeating on Shabbat causes a feeling of heaviness and depression, and impinges on Oneg Shabbat * Self-control at meals is not a reason for agony, but rather, for a positive feeling * Eating habits vary from one person to the next, consequently, be wary of radical diets * Determining the proper menu for a community kiddush, weddings, or refreshments served during Torah lectures, requires examination * Reproaching an unhealthy eater must be done gently * Happiness is essential to good health, therefore measures taken to improve one’s health should be done wisely, without causing emotional harm * How to handle a parent who asks for unhealthy food

Health and Nutrition in Our Times

In recent decades it has become increasingly evident that conventional eating habits are unhealthy. Our generation has to learn how to live with the material abundance that has been placed at our doorsteps. In the past, food was so expensive that the majority of an individual’s hard work was devoted to producing food in order not to starve from hunger. The mitzvot to set aside tithes from fruits, zeroa, lechayim and keiva (foreleg, cheeks and stomach) and bechorot (firstlings of a flock) which were all given to the Kohanim (priests) were not taxes placed on certain economic sectors, but rather personal mitzvoth for individuals to set aside twenty percent of their total profits for the Kohanim, Levi’im and the poor, and also for religious vacations spent in Jerusalem on Pilgrimage Festivals (ma’aser sheni, and ma’aser behema). Consequently, when the masses began earning a living in factories and through trade, the halakha was determined to set aside a tithe as midda benonit (moderate figure), and chomesh (one fifth) as midda tovah (a good figure).

Until a few generations ago, most people received their nutrition from foods containing about 1,500 calories a day – they simply didn’t have enough money to buy more than that. Even people who were able to eat more, were more active; there were no cars, people walked more, and jobs demanded more physical activity. Today, even unemployed welfare recipients can easily buy food containing tens of thousands of calories daily. The only limitation, fortunately, is that most people can’t eat that much! However, since there is so much food available, people who should eat about 2,500 calories a day eat way more than that, gain weight, and develop heart problems and diabetes.

Oneg Shabbat

Even the mitzvah of oneg Shabbat (the joy of Shabbat) is difficult to fulfill under such circumstances. In the past, people were used to eating moderately during the week; when Shabbat arrived, they ate till they were satisfied, allowing for a feeling of pleasure and well-being. Today, however, when a person eats nearly as much as his stomach allows every day, what will happen on Shabbat? How can one fulfill the mitzvah of oneg Shabbat? Such a situation is analogous to an opera singer who has to sing an operatic piece which, at its peak, requires him to reach a very high tone, but already at the beginning, started at such a high tone that he can barely sing – after that, how will he able to sing the main, higher portion of the song?

As a result, when people try to enjoy more sumptuous meals on Shabbat they eat so much that they start feeling heavy, and are unable to enjoy the meal. In spite of this, since the food is enjoyable – all the fine and tasty dishes are laid out on the table, and of course, the mitzvah of oneg Shabbat must be fulfilled; attempting to eat a little bit more, the heaviness intensifies, and later, one has no strength to study, or even hold a deep conversation. Moreover, no pleasure or joy is gained from such eating, because the burden placed on the digestive system is so great that all of the body’s energies have to be mobilized for the demanding work of digesting the food, draining the body the resources necessary to create a good feeling. As a result, many people feel tired and depressed after eating.

One of the Generation’s Challenges

One of the moral tasks we face today is finding a way to cope with the material abundance allotted to us; how to enjoy food in such a way that it adds joy, strength, and health.

To this end, we need to carefully study the different types of food and their effects on one’s health – the damage caused by excess sugar, fats, and salt. We must learn how to enjoy food; how to recite the blessings over food with joy, and also, how to delight in the self-control of ceasing to eat before reaching the point of complete satiety. In other words, it’s not enough for a person to think if he reduces his eating that in a few months he will be thinner and healthier; he must also feel good, satiated, lighter and more refreshed today. Perhaps in the course of a meal when a person should stop eating, he will feel a bit distressed; but he must be highly conscious that a half-an-hour later, he will already feel more comfortable. To do so, one must learn restraint and to enjoy the gentle feeling of partial satiety.

Caution from Extremism

One must also be ware of extreme methods. Although, most likely, they all possess a certain degree of truth, nevertheless, they can be appropriate for certain people, while for others harmful, seeing as people are very different. There are some for whom fats, sugar, or salt is extremely harmful, while for others, less so. As a result, sometimes refraining from a certain ingredient can cause damage, rather than benefit.

For example, for a long time – over sixty years – one of the main topics discussed was the risk of eating fatty foods. Entire countries in Western society reduced their animal fat intake, and surprisingly, the percentage of people suffering from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes greatly increased. Apparently, instead using oils to flavor foods, they substituted with sugar, which is no less detrimental.

Questions Concerning Organizing Meals and Celebrations

Of course, in wake of growing awareness of the damage caused by sugar and salt, trans fats, and saturated fats, halachic questions arise: Is it appropriate to serve someone burekas, or sweet cakes saturated with oil, or perhaps by doing so, one transgresses the prohibition of “Lifnei Iver” (the prohibition of misleading people by use of a “stumbling block”)? What should organizers of a community kiddush do, and is it proper to serve sugary soft drinks as refreshments during Torah lectures? And at children’s birthday parties – is it appropriate to serve cakes and sweets? Perhaps it’s best to serve a moderate amount, and not overdo it? And who determines what is over doing it? And perhaps certain foods should be completely removed from the menu?

Such questions also relate to a wedding feast which indeed should be the most important festive meal, seeing as the halachic order of precedence is: first Shabbat meals, above that – holiday meals, and surpassing all – a wedding feast. Nonetheless, is it proper to serve each wedding guest a meal that contains enough calories for an entire day?

These questions, of course, depend on the medical-scientific positions acknowledged by the majority of experts, and since their position is also unclear, it is difficult to determine a halachic position.

Community Health Teshuva

Here it should be noted that this issue has become an important one for me, because in the past few weeks, I began arousing the community (Har Bracha) towards physical teshuva (repentance) (in accordance with the words of Rav Kook in his book ‘Orot HaTeshuva’). This is reflected in regards to refreshments served at kiddush’s and Torah classes, and also refreshments served in educational institutions, kindergartens, primary schools, Ulpana, and the Yeshiva; encouraging the opening of additional classes for gymnastics, jogging clubs, and the like; and also, as to the degree of investment required to establish hiking trails, a swimming pool, and similar projects. If I have any important insights into these issues, I hope to share them with my readers in the future.

Be Careful Not to Upset People

In any case, even if a certain community decides to improve their eating habits and health, members should be very careful not to upset people who find it difficult to restrain themselves from eating, and wish to eat sweet and oily foods.

First of all, one should not judge his fellow man until he has been in his position, and who can say that if he was in his position, he would be able to restrain himself. Second, even if the food in question is definitely harmful, one should not comment in a way that is liable to offend another person. For indeed, even if one were to see his friend commit a sin, although it is a mitzvah to rebuke him, it is forbidden to do so in an insulting manner, as the Torah says: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him… Love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:17-18). And our Sages said: “From where do we know that if a man sees something unseemly in his neighbor, he is obliged to reprove him? Because it is said: You shall surely rebuke. If he rebuked him and he did not accept it, from where do we know that he must rebuke him again? The Torah states: ‘surely rebuke’. One might assume this to be obligatory even though his face blanched (i.e., he was insulted), therefore the text states: ‘You shall not bear sin because of him’.” Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah added: “I wonder if there is one in this generation who knows how to reprove!”

A Feeling of Joy – The Key to Health

Also from a health standpoint, feeling good is undoubtedly an important element of a person’s physical well-being; consequently, what good stems from upsetting and discouraging a person who loves to eat sweets and oily foods? There are studies suggesting that people who report being satisfied and happy in life, live an average of nearly ten years longer than people who are not happy. Therefore, although it is proper to encourage people to reduce their intake of unhealthy foods, one must find a way to do this in the most pleasant manner. And if a person cannot convince his friend in a nice way, he should respect him, and let him be. Who knows, perhaps the distress of dieting might cause him more serious health problems.

Cigarettes and Honoring One’s Parents

I also referred to such logic regarding the question of honoring one’s parents and cigarette smoking: Rabbi Haim David Halevy ztz”l, Rabbi of Tel Aviv, was one of the first rabbis who, in light of scientific studies, issued the halakha that it was forbidden to smoke cigarettes. Accordingly, he ruled that if a father asked his son to buy him cigarettes, it is forbidden for the son to fulfill his request, because by doing so, he places a stumbling block before his father, and is an accomplice to a sinful act.

In my book “Peninei Halakha”, I wrote that in principle, Rabbi Halevy is right. But if not buying the cigarettes will cause a major conflict, ultimately, the son will cause serious damage to the loving relationship and respect that should prevail between father and son, and his gain is cancelled by his loss. Therefore, it appears that in a case where avoiding buying cigarettes will not be understood by one’s father, and will cause stress and grief in the family, it is preferable for the son to buy cigarettes for his father, thus refraining from harming the relationship between himself and his father. Nevertheless, if smoking were to cause imminent danger to life, it would be forbidden to give him a cigarette; however, since cigarette smoking does not cause immediate danger, there is no prohibition to fulfill his father’s request, and buy him cigarettes.

Furthermore, there is a certain amount of doubt whether smoking will cause damage to the father. This is because the damage caused by cigarettes differs from one person to the next, while on the other hand, quitting smoking is sometimes liable to cause psychological harm, which can also indirectly lead to physical dangers. Therefore, although great efforts should be made to quit smoking, it should not be done with excessive force. Accordingly, one should refrain from causing a major conflict with his parents over such an issue. If a son is able to say he doesn’t want to cooperate, and with difficulty, his father understands, it is preferable; but if it will cause considerable tension, it is better to buy him the cigarettes.

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:

When the Chief IDF Rabbi Becomes a Religious Adviser

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

The IDF General Staff continues to erode Jewish tradition and those who abide by it * Because of pressure from the Left and feminists, the Military Rabbinate was forced to find a halachic allowance to hear female singers * According to the majority of halachic authorities it is forbidden to hear female singers; although a minority permit it, the army should be stringent and take into account all soldiers – as it does in other areas * Since army rabbis were denied independence, and are subject to their superiors, they do not have the authority of ‘mara d’atra’ (local rabbinic authority) * Nevertheless, their job is still extremely important – safeguarding the spirit of Torah and fulfillment of Halacha in the IDF * The obligation to oppose orders that harm Jewish tradition

The IDF’s Eroding Attitude towards Jewish Tradition

It was recently reported that further erosion has occurred in the rules of ‘Appropriate Integration’ (‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Ra’ui’) in the IDF; not only are religious soldiers forced to listen to female singers, but commanders are now allowed to force them to serve in mixed-gender units. Since the applicability of this command is still not clear to me, I will focus on the relatively simpler issue of forcing soldiers to hear female singers, from which one can learn about the negative attitude of the General Staff towards Jewish tradition, and towards soldiers who come from Torah educational frameworks in which the laws of modesty are meticulously maintained (and this being one of the reasons for the establishment of such schools).

The Issue of Female Singers

Almost all poskim (Jewish law arbiters) forbid men to hear a live performance by a female singer because of the laws of modesty. This has always been the custom of members of the Torani community, and the custom in the IDF was not to force religious soldiers to hear female singers. In 2011, when soldiers in an IDF officers’ course were ordered to hear female singers and some of them walked-out, the Commander of Bahad 1 (the well-known school for officers) Eran Niv, and the Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Uzi Kliger, decided to dismiss them from the course. The incident got wide coverage, and sparked a public uproar. The “high priests” of the Leftist faith and feminism resented the insult to women singers and the principle of equality, and demanded that it be unequivocally determined that henceforth, religious soldiers would be forced to participate in ceremonies where female singers appeared. All of the establishment, secular-leftist media took their side, demanding that in the name of “principles of freedom and equality”, the IDF General Staff compel religious soldiers to hear female singers.

The General Staff obeyed the media’s orders, and arranged a discussion on examining the integration of men and women in the IDF. It was decided that in official state events, such as memorial services and training completion, all soldiers would have to attend – even if women sang – and this, “without leaving room for the discretion of commanders.” The Chief of Staff also determined that “women soldiers will continue to sing at all IDF events.” Nevertheless, in other recreational events which included women singing, commanders would be allowed to permit soldiers not to participate. In other words, even in recreational events, if the commanders ordered a soldier to participate in an appearance of a female singer – if the soldier left the event, he would be punished for violating the order.

The Demand of the Military Rabbinate

In order to pass this decision, senior IDF officers requested from the Military Rabbinate to determine halakha that soldiers are permitted to hear women sing. The Military Rabbinate was put in an awkward position; public outcry was fierce, and the attacks against the Rabbinate increased. There was fear that insisting on the right of a soldier to walk out of a performance by a woman singer would lead to an enormous onslaught by the “high priests” of the Leftist faith and the media in opposition to the Military Rabbinate, and would thus jeopardize more important principles.

Members of the ‘Halakha Branch’ of the Military Rabbinate, headed by Rabbi Eyal Krim, found a heter (halachic permission), according to which religious soldiers could lower their eyes, and remain in their program while women sang.

The Halachic Issue

Our sages said: “A tefach (handbreadth) exposed in a woman constitutes sexual incitement”; and, “A woman’s voice is a sexual incitement” (Berachot 24a). In the opinion of the majority of Rishonim (leading poskim from 11th to 15th century) this refers to “fences” the rabbis set owing to modesty, in order to distance men and women from the serious sin of incest and the break-down of families. Some Rishonim are of the opinion that this is a special prohibition concerning devarim she’b’kedushah (matters involving sanctification) that when recited, one is required to avoid things that could distract his attention.

In practice, almost all Achronim (leading poskim from the 16th century to the present) are machmir (stringent), and this is the custom of all members of the Haredi and Torani communities. However, seeing as there are Rishonim whom those wishing to be lenient and hear women singing in a dignified and modest framework can rely upon, some religious people in civilian life act leniently, and they should not be opposed (see a summary of the issue on the website of Yeshiva Har Bracha). If many contemporary poskim were to lean towards the lenient opinion, in the future this position may become the accepted ruling. But only on condition that it is accepted for the right reasons, in other words, out of internal considerations and pressures of the religiously observant, wishing to clarify the correct and appropriate way to balance between modesty and the desire to give maximum expression to the talent of female singers. However, in no way can the pressure to be lenient come from secular coercion, let alone from military commands. On the contrary, the more tainted the ruling is by outside influences, so will its significance be reduced.

The Responsibility of National Frameworks

In a compulsory and enforced national framework such as the IDF, all categories of society, to the greatest extent possible, should be taken into account in order to create as common and as broad a base as possible. Thus, regarding the laws of kashrut for example, we tend to lean towards the side of chumra (stringency), in order to include the opinions of most halachic authorities. The same holds true concerning matters of hygiene and rules of conduct, in which we operate according to strict criteria despite the very high costs – including throwing out a lot of food for fear of it being damaged.

Likewise, the principles of the liberal Left are also taken into great consideration, as also reflected in decisions of the Supreme Court, according to which there are now many women soldiers integrated into combat units, despite all the difficulties and operational failures this type of integration causes.

At the very least, shouldn’t the same respect and treatment be given to Jewish tradition, which symbolizes the broadest and most solid basis for the state and the army, and for that reason, determine that even if ceremonies with women singers are held, at the very least, an observant soldier has the right not to attend the ceremony, or the segment which opposes his values ​​and way of life?

A Military Rabbi is Not the Mara d’Atra

As a result of the steady erosion of the status of the Military Rabbinate, which also reflects a dismissive attitude towards Jewish tradition, I wrote a number of times that unfortunately, the IDF Chief Rabbi no longer has the authority of mara d’atra (the local rabbinic authority), whose instructions and halachic rulings are binding, seeing as he does not have the independence required to be a mara d’atra. This does not mean that the role of Chief IDF Rabbi and other army rabbis are not important; on the contrary, their value is immense. The task of giving expression to the spirit of Israel in the army, helping soldiers observe the Torah and commandments, and preserving the sanctity of the military camp rests on their shoulders. Even from the perspective of halakha, military rabbis should ideally be asked all questions, since they are familiar with the subject, and with their answers, can also solve the problem from its core, seeing as they are in constant contact with the soldiers and commanders alike. And needless to say, I have no intention of marring the personal merits of the Chief IDF rabbis, to whom I have great respect as Torah scholars and men of virtue, and with whom I am friendly.

The job of Chief Rabbi of the IDF is not easy. For example, the present Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Peretz, has a particularly problematic Chief of Staff and IDF Chief of Human Resources (Rosh Aka) to deal with, yet thanks to the virtue of his personality, he has been very influential. But not all matters are in hands, because he is subordinate to them.

What is a Mara d’ Atra?

The literal meaning of mara d’atra is ‘master of the place’; in other words, the person who everyone listens to. In the past, the intention was a rabbi who was listened to in all matters of religious law and morality, including wage agreements and strikes. When the status of the rabbinate became weakened, the authority of the rabbi was reduced to the field of halakha alone. Nevertheless, when a community chose a rabbi, they undertook to abide by his halachic rulings. The Chief IDF Rabbi, however, is dependent on his superiors; it is forbidden for him to publish any halachic decision that has public implications without express approval of his superiors and the IDF spokesman. If he publishes a halakha in contradiction to the position of his superiors – he is discharged. In such a situation, he clearly lacks the authority of mara d’atra, rather, that of a senior officer and advisor of religious affairs to the Chief of Staff, as defined in the IDF commands. Moreover, a mara d’atra has to be chosen by God-fearing people with the purpose of strengthening Torah and observance of mitzvot, and not by secular officers whose interests are vastly different.

The Military Advocate General is Not Subordinate

One can learn about the status of the Chief IDF Rabbi by comparing it to that of the Military Advocate General. In an effort to strengthen the status and independence of the Military Advocate General, it was determined that in terms of matters of command, he is subordinate to the Chief of Staff, but in matters of law, he is not subject to him, but to the law. In addition, to strengthen his standing it was determined that he would be appointed by the Minister of Defense with the recommendation of the Chief of Staff, and that his rank would be Colonel, as opposed to the Chief IDF Rabbi who is appointed by the Chief of Staff, and has the lower rank of Brigadier General.

The Selection Process of Rabbi Krim

To our shame, this also happened in the election process of the next Chief IDF Rabbi, Rabbi Eyal Krim, shlita, who is a great Torah scholar and an outstanding combat officer, who served as a commander in the Sayeret Matkal (Special IDF Forces), and commander in the Sayeret Tzanchanim (Special Paratrooper Forces). For many generations the Jewish nation has waited for rabbis who combine safra and seifa (book and sword) as wonderfully as he does. However, the manner in which he was appointed shows just how subordinate he is to military leaders, and not free to express the position of Jewish law.

When allegations arose against his appointment to be the Chief IDF Rabbi, the head of Human Resources, Major General Hagai Topolanski, summoned him for a clarification discussion. As a soldier before his superior, the future Chief IDF Rabbi had to explain his remarks, and declare that he opposes the implementation of the law concerning eishet yifat toar (a non-Jewish woman captured in battle) in our times, and that he supports the service of women in the IDF (Arutz Sheva, 6 Tammuz, 5775).

When the complaints increased, Rabbi Krim had to publish a letter of clarification to all IDF soldiers, which stated in part: “The Chief Rabbi of the IDF, like all IDF soldiers and officers, is subject to the Chief of Staff and the military hierarchy. It is inconceivable that a soldier or commander go against orders. This is true both in non-combative times and in times of conflict…” Afterwards, the Chief of Staff summoned the future Chief Rabbi for an urgent clarification meeting, in which Rabbi Krim explained to the Chief of Staff that “he sees it as an obligation and necessity for women to serve in the IDF.” At the end of the conversation it was published, in the name of the Chief of Staff, that the appointment of Rabbi Krim remained in effect (Arutz Sheva and Channel 2, 3 Tammuz, 5775).

How Should Representatives of the Military Rabbinate Act?

It would be appropriate for representatives of the Military Rabbinate to say to their commanders: Being subject to military command, we have no authority to discuss this issue. Therefore, it is better we focus on fulfilling our role prescribed by law, to advise commanders on matters of religion. In other words, to describe the halachic issue to the General Staff, and the accepted custom among the various religious circles, to recommend not to force religious soldiers to hear female singers, and thus, conclude their share in the issue.

Therefore, it is important to emphasize that the Military Rabbi, however important, does not have the authority of mara d’atra. In the present situation, such a position will not weaken the status of the Military Rabbi, but enhance it, as a mediator between the IDF and independent rabbis free to represent Jewish tradition.

The Obligation to Rise in Opposition

For the sake of the Israeli army, which is obligated to honor Jewish tradition, it is our duty to rise up in opposition against these orders. This obligation is imposed on public officials, first and foremost, the Defense Minister and his deputy, and upon every soldier and officer.

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:

Shabbat: No Time for Games

Half of Shabbat should be devoted to Torah study and prayer, but is one permitted to play games during the remaining time? * Most Sephardic poskim prohibit playing games on Shabbat, while the majority Ashkenazi poskim permit it; nevertheless, Ashkenazim should also avoid playing games * Young children are allowed to play games, but should be trained to devote time to Torah study on Shabbat, and preferably, parents should learn together with them * Games that are prohibited due to Melakhot Shabbat: building a tent, molding with clay, forming shapes with moist sand, and musical instruments * Playing soccer, basketball, cycling and riding a scooter belittles the character of Shabbat * Children may play with balls and ride bikes designed for preschoolers

Games on Shabbat

Q: Are adults allowed to play chess, checkers, or household ball games on Shabbat?

A: There is a disagreement among the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) in this issue. All agree that one should not spend a lot of time playing games on Shabbat because of bitul Torah (wasting Torah study time), seeing as the main purpose of Shabbat is to study Torah and enjoy meals and sleep, as was determined by halakha, that Shabbat should be divided into two – half the time for physical pleasures of eating and sleeping, and half the time for the spiritual pleasure of Torah study and prayers. If a person spends his time playing games, he squanders the precious and sacred time of Shabbat on mundane matters, and will find it difficult to devote half of Shabbat to Torah study. However, the poskim disagree about whether it is prohibited to play games on Shabbat during the part of the day dedicated to physical pleasures.

Some poskim say that as long as the games are not for money they are permitted. Others even testified about Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars) who played chess on Shabbat. On the other hand, some Achronim (poskim from roughly the 16th century to the present) wrote that it is forbidden to play any games on Shabbat, and consequently, the pieces of the games themselves are muktzeh (items that are not properly designated for Shabbat use). As far as the rabbis who played chess on Shabbat are concerned, they did so because they suffered from depression, and in order to take their minds off their worries, they played chess, after which they were able to return to their Torah study (and perhaps they felt more depressed and a greater need to play precisely on Shabbat and Yom Tov). However, barring this situation, it is forbidden to play on Shabbat. 

Why was Tur Shimon Destroyed?

Our Sages in the Jerusalem Talmud asked: Why was the town of Tur Shimon, whose residents often gave charity and honored the Shabbat, destroyed? They answered that some Sages said it was because of sexual immorality, while others said it was because they played games with a ball on Shabbat.

Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (‘Ha’Rokeach’) [c. 1176–1238] explained that because they played games with a ball, they were “wasting Torah study time”. This is the foundation of the opinion prohibiting playing various games on Shabbat. And since it is forbidden to play such games, they are muktzeh.

The Gaon from Vilna explained their sin was that they carried the ball in the public domain, and consequently, the prohibition of playing games in one’s household cannot be construed from this.

The Practical Halakha According to Sephardic Custom

According to most Sephardic poskim, one should be machmir (stringent) not to play games on Shabbat at all, seeing as the Shulchan Arukh ruled that it is forbidden to play with a ball and that it is muktzeh, intending to say that all games are muktzeh. Indeed, some poskim are of the opinion that the Shulchan Arukh was machmir only in regards to a specific type of a ball played with outdoors and in very dirty conditions, that it specifically was muktzeh, but was not machmir concerning other types of games. Therefore Sephardi Jews who also wish to be lenient, have halachic authorities upon which to rely.

The Ashkenazi Custom

It is the custom of many Ashkenazi Jews to be lenient and play games on Shabbat, as the Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles) wrote, that as long as there is no money involved, games are not prohibited. However, Ashkenazi poskim also wrote that l’chatchila (ideally), it is preferable not to play games on Shabbat, partly because spare time on Shabbat should be devoted to Torah study , and also because it is proper to take into consideration the opinion of those poskim who believe that all games are forbidden on Shabbat.

It may very well be that because of the resolute stance of many Sephardic rabbinic authorities, many Sephardic balebatim (laymen) today are accustomed to studying more on Shabbat, while in Germany, where the directive was that only l’chatchila one should be machmir, many tend to be lenient and play games on Shabbat, and as a result, waste Torah study time. It would be appropriate for Ashkenazi Jews to also act according to the stringent opinion, and thereby increase Torah study on Shabbat.

The Halakha for Children

It is a mitzvah to educate children to study a great deal of Torah on Shabbat, and to minimize playing games so they will not get used to wasting the precious and holy time of Shabbat on mundane activities. The closer they get to the age of Bar or Bat Mitzva, the more they should be encouraged to increase Torah study and play less games. It is good for parents themselves to learn with their children, thus fulfilling the mitzvah of: “Teach them to your children” (Devarim 11:19). It is proper for each community to offer many Torah classes for children on Shabbat.

Still, according to most poskim, children are permitted to play games on Shabbat. Indeed, there are poskim who are of the opinion that according to the Sephardic minhag, it is forbidden for children who have reached the age of chinuch (6 or 7) to play games on Shabbat; on the other hand, however, some authorities believe that even according to the Sephardic minhag children are permitted to play games on Shabbat. Those who wish to be lenient have halachic authorities on which to rely (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 24:7).

Playing Games with Pretend Money (Monopoly)

Ideally, children should also avoid playing Monopoly and other games in which players win money or property, even if not real. Those who wish to be lenient have authorities to rely upon. But for adults, even if they tend to be lenient and play other games on Shabbat, they should be machmir and not play such games (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 24:7).

Wonder Blocks and Lego

Children may play with interlocking blocks, build with them, and take apart what they have built. Children may also make paper planes or boats. However, it is proper for adults to be stringent.
And although some authorities are machmir about this because it resembles the melakha of Boneh (building), since for children the entire obligation to keep Shabbat is of rabbinic ordinance in order to educate them in mitzvot, they can rely on the lenient opinion of poskim who say that because it is only a game, it does not constitute the prohibition of building. But for adults, even if they tend to be lenient and play games Shabbat, they should be machmir concerning such games.

Building a Tent

The Sages forbade making a temporary tent on Shabbat, therefore children may not drape a blanket over chairs in order to create a tent to play in. However, this is permissible if they hold the blanket horizontally in the air, and afterward place chairs underneath. It is also forbidden to use interlocking blocks to build a “house” or “garage” whose inside area is a square tefaĥ (7.6 cm) or more, but if they start by holding the roof up and then attach the walls from underneath, it is permitted.

Puzzles and Letter Games

All games that involve writing, pasting, cutting, or weaving are forbidden on Shabbat. However, minors may put together a jigsaw puzzle or form words by joining letters on a board. Even though adults must be stringent in these two cases, children may rely on those who are lenient. According to this opinion, there is no violation of Kotev (writing) since all the writing was already there, and the letters and puzzle pieces are simply being moved together temporarily.

Play-Doh or Modeling Clay

Children may not make shapes out of Play-Doh or modeling clay, as it constitutes Memare’aĥ (evenly applying a substance to an object in order to make it smooth). If they attempt to make shapes that have meaning, it also constitutes Kotev. Therefore, Play-Doh and modeling clay are muktzeh.


Sand is muktzeh unless it was set aside before Shabbat for children to play with. In that case, they may play with the sand as long as it is fine and dry enough that it cannot be used to fashion shapes. However, if the sand is wet enough that one can scoop out holes or fill them up, one may not play with it on account of the melakha of Boneh. One may not make sand wet, because of the melakha of Lash (kneading).

Toy Musical Instruments

Children may not play with toy musical instruments such as trumpets, pianos, guitars, bells, and noisemakers on Shabbat. Such toys are muktzeh. However, one may give a baby a toy that makes noise when it is shaken or a button is pushed. However, the adult himself may not cause the toy to make noise. 

Soccer and Basketball

Children may not play soccer or basketball on Shabbat seeing as such games usually involve a great deal of ceremony and have intricate rules and procedures, and are prohibited because of uvdin d’chol (a prohibited weekday activity). It is even prohibited to play with the balls associated with these sports at home or in a yard, because they are muktzeh, and because it is a weekday activity. For the same reasons, all of the above applies to tennis as well.

Children may play and run around for their enjoyment, but may not participate in exercise classes. 

Balls Designed for Young Children

Children may play with balls designed for young children, on condition that they play indoors or in a paved yard. However, they may not play on grass or on a dirt yard, out of concern that they will level the ground. They may play table tennis for fun, since that is generally played indoors. There is no need for concern that by allowing children to play with balls at a young age they will get in to the habit of doing so and continue as adults, since the permission is limited to balls designed for children, which, in any event, adults do not play with.


Children may not ride a regular two-wheeler bicycle, because this is a weekday activity. Even if a bicycle has training wheels, one may not ride it. However, small children may ride tricycles, because tricycles are only used by small children, and there is a significant difference between tricycles and bicycles. Therefore, riding them is not considered a weekday activity.

Scooters and Skates

Some poskim allow children to ride scooters and wear skates on Shabbat. According to them, just as children may run on Shabbat, they may use scooters and skates. Opposing them are those who feel that while children may run on Shabbat, that permission is limited to unassisted movement. In contrast, using equipment that makes one move faster and more effectively is considered a weekday activity.

Although those who are lenient in this matter have an opinion on which to rely be-di’avad (less than ideal), it is proper to be stringent, since the stringent opinion seems more compelling. Just as the widespread practice is to refrain from riding bicycles because this is a weekday activity that clashes with the spirit of Shabbat, it is similarly inappropriate to use scooters or skates on Shabbat. Additionally, by limiting younger children to simpler games, older children will learn to dedicate Shabbat to Torah study and rest.


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

How to be Happy on Chag

One should be happier on Chag than on Shabbat * It is a mitzvah to devote half of the Chag to Torah study, and to add something new, such as wine or clothes which will spread joy throughout the Chag * Buying clothes is more important than buying an etrog * It is a mitzvah to rejoice in other activities as well, each one according to what makes them happy * One of the most difficult mitzvot is to be in a good mood * One should rejoice with family, and be careful not to ruin the atmosphere of the Chag at home * Giving gifts to employees before the Chag is somewhat similar to the mitzvah of pleasing one’s servants * One should think about people they know who are in need, and try to please them

Happiness on Chag compared to Shabbat

Chagim (holidays), like Shabbat, are holy days which are called mikrei kodesh (sacred holidays). It is a mitzvah to sanctify them with fine meals and nice clothing, as our Sages said: “And with what do you sanctify the day? With eating, drinking, and nice clothes” (Safra, Emor 12:4). But on Chagim, there is an additional mitzvah – to rejoice, as it is written: “You shall rejoice on your festival” (Deuteronomy 16:14). Accordingly, the meals of the Chagim should be finer than on Shabbat, and one should be meticulous to wear nicer clothes on Chag than on Shabbat. Therefore, if one needs to buy new clothes he should buy them before the Chagim, and rejoice in them on the holiday.

Indeed, our Sages enacted that three meals be held on Shabbat, learning this from hints within the verses (Shabbat 117b) and corresponding to the unique level of Shabbat, whereas on Chag, the mitzvah is to hold only two meals only – one at night, and one during the day (Rosh and Tur); however, one of the explanations for this is that the meals on Chagim are larger, and as a result, there is no reason to hold a third meal, which would only weigh heavily and not increase joy (Lavush).

The Mitzvah of Torah Study on Chag

Torah study is the fundamental mitzvah of Shabbat and Chagim. As our Sages said: “Shabbat and Festivals were given to us for the sole purpose of engaging in Torah study” (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 15; 3). The mitzvah is based on three foundations: 1) on the constant mitzvah to learn Torah day and night, which in actuality cannot be fulfilled on weekdays because of the need to work and earn a living, but the Torah commanded us not to work on Shabbat and Chagim so we can fulfill the mitzvah of Talmud Torah. 2) On the kedusha (sanctity) of the holidays which is intended to be drawn in and absorbed through learning Torah that deals with Chag related issues. 3) On the mitzvah of joy, one of whose expressions is Torah study, this being the reason why it is forbidden to study Torah on Tisha B’Av and days of mourning (Taanit 30a; Sha’agat Aryeh 69; Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1:5).

Devote Half the Day to Hashem, and Half to Yourselves

It is a mitzvah to devote half of the day to Torah study (Pesachim 68b; S. A., 529:1). Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) say one should be very careful not to study less than half a day, and thus wrote Rabbi Haim Ben Attar, that someone who learns less than half a day has stolen from Hashem’s portion (Rishon Lezion, Beitza 15b). Others say there is no need to calculate the hours precisely, rather the mitzvah is to learn approximately half a day (Pri Megadim). Seeing as the matter of Torah study on Shabbat and Chag has weakened in recent past, it seems there is room to arrange so that Torah study and prayer time together works out to be about nine hours (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1:6).

The Four Components of the Mitzvah of Joy

In general, the mitzvah of joy on Chag is composed of four components: 1) doing something special that involves an additional aspect of joy, which will impart feelings of happiness throughout the entire holiday. 2) Seeing as there is an additional mitzvah of joy on Chag, the meals should be upgraded so they are superior to Shabbat meals, one should take care to wear his best clothes, and it is a mitzvah to learn Torah which brings joy. 3) To add additional joy by doing pleasurable things such as dancing or going on an outing. 4) To be in a good mood of joy and contentment. I will elaborate on the four components.

Added Joy in Drinking Wine at the Festive Meal

It is a mitzvah to do something special that involves additional joy which will spread happy feelings throughout the entire holiday. To do so, one should drink wine during the holiday meal. And although the time one spends eating the meal is limited, the joy of the meal radiates and spreads throughout the course of the entire holiday. There are some rabbis who are of the opinion that in the matter of drinking wine, both men and women fulfill the mitzvah of adding extra joy; others hold that by way of drinking wine only men fulfill the mitzvah, and this is the way the halakha was determined, as will be explained below. Nevertheless, a woman who enjoys drinking wine also fulfills a mitzvah.

A person who drinks grape juice does not fulfill the mitzvah because it does not contain alcohol, and consequently, does not make one happy. The amount of wine needed to effect happiness is an amount enough to make it a bit difficult for a person to concentrate, or in other words, until the point where it is forbidden for rabbis to instruct halakha. There were eminent Torah scholars who were used to drinking a lot of wine at the holiday feast, and refrained from instructing halakha from the time of the meal until the following day (Beitza 4a). Our Sages determined that in order to fulfill this mitzvah of joy, at the very least, one should drink a little more than a revi’it of wine (75 ml), and the majority of people require a good deal more than a revi’it to fulfill the mitzvah. However, one should not overdo it and get drunk.

Added Joy for Women

For the joy of women, it is a mitzvah to buy a new item of clothing, or a new piece of jewelry. The mitzvah is fulfilled through the purchase of one garment; the intention of the mitzvah is not that the woman has to wear the new outfit for the entire holiday, rather, that as a result of it, the added joy of the Chag receives expression.

There are some men who make the mistake of spending hundreds of shekels on an especially beautiful etrog and skimp on purchasing clothes for their wives, forgetting that buying clothing or jewelry for their wife is an unequivocal mitzvah from the Torah, whereas the purchase of an etrog costing ten times the price of a kosher etrog is a hidur (beautification of a mitzvah) that we are not commanded to fulfill.

Even an unmarried, divorced, or widowed woman must fulfill the mitzvot of joy in all of its components on her own, i.e., she should buy a new garment or piece of jewelry for the Chag, have joyful meals, attend happy events, and be careful to avoid depressing matters.

Joy in Festive Meals and Clothes

Besides the special meal which is the primary mitzvah for men, and buying new clothes or jewelry for women, we have learned that similar to Shabbat, the Chagim are called mikrei kodesh (sacred holidays), in which it is a mitzvah to sanctify them with superior meals and fine clothes. And because on Chag there is an additional mitzvah of joy, consequently, both men and women should beautify these mitzvot on Chag, more than on Shabbat.

Therefore, even though the primary additional joy for men is the festive meal during the day, it is a mitzvah for the evening meal on Chag to be superior to Shabbat evening meals. And although the primary additional joy for women is a new garment or a new piece of jewelry, it is a mitzvah for them to hold special and joyful festive meals on Chag, over and beyond those of Shabbat. It is also a mitzvah for them to drink wine if they enjoy it.

Also, it is not enough for a woman to buy new clothes or jewelry, but she must be more meticulous about her clothes on Chag than on Shabbat. The same holds true for men as well – although their additional joy is expressed in the festive meal during the day, they should also make sure their clothes for Chag are finer than those of Shabbat (S.A., 529:1; Sha’agat Aryeh 65).

Singing, Dancing and Outings

Anything that gladdens the heart is part of the mitzvah to rejoice on Chag, including singing, dancing, and outings. The more one sings and gives praise to God, the more praiseworthy he is, and indeed, Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis) composed liturgical poems and songs to give thanks and praise to Hashem on the Chagim.

Many people are accustomed to dance on Chag, and the source for this stems from the verse: “Celebrate to God your Lord for seven days” (Deuteronomy 16:15), where the Hebrew word for celebrate (ta’chog) can also mean to dance. Consequently, our Sages instituted dancing in the Simchat Beit Hashoeva [a special celebration held during the Intermediate days of Sukkot] (Ha’emek Davar, ibid; Pri TzadikSukkot 17).

Similarly, it is a mitzvah for someone who enjoys going on outings to do so for a short amount of time. Since this is considered a joyous event, the Rabbis permitted carrying a baby who needs to be lifted on Chag (Beitza 12a; R’ma 415:1).

However, in contrast to the festive meals, fine clothes and Torah study which one is obligated to enjoy on Chag, all the other joyful features are reshut (optional), in other words, a person who enjoys doing them, fulfills a mitzvah; someone who does not, is not obligated to do so. Each individual may choose how to enjoy the Chag – some people find greater enjoyment in singing and praising Hashem in the company of family members; others enjoy dancing at the Simchat Beit Hashoeva festivities;  while still others enjoy going on outings, or doing other enjoyable and meaningful things. In any case, one must make sure all these pleasurable events do not interfere with Torah study, because there is a mitzvah to devote half the day to Torah study and prayer. A person who enjoys learning Torah more than anything else – after fulfilling the mitzvah of simcha (joy) by eating fine meals, it is a mitzvah for him to learn Torah for more than half the day.

Festive Mood

It is a mitzvah to be in a good, joyous and content mood for the duration of the entire Chag. Seemingly, this is an easy mitzvah to observe; who doesn’t want to be happy?! In practice, however, this is a difficult mitzvah to fulfill. It is said in the name of the Gaon from Vilna that the mitzvah of simchat Yom Tov (being happy on the holiday) is the hardest
mitzvah to fulfill for in order to do so, one must put aside all types of sorrow, stress and worry, and be in a state of joy and good-heartedness for the entire holiday.

Nevertheless, this is the mitzvah incumbent upon us on Chag – to rise above the worries and troubles, overcome the anger, and rejoice in Hashem. To do so, we must reflect upon the amazing and wonderful fact that Hashem chose us from among all the peoples, and gave us His Torah, sanctified us in His commandments, and brought us into the good Land, so we can merit a full and good life filled with meaning, holiness, and helping to bring tikun olam (betterment of the world). Consequently, we bear in mind the great calling imposed on all of us, we remember all the good things in our lives, are strengthened in emunah (faith) and the realization that all of the sufferings and exiles were intended for the good – to improve and elevate us to our purpose in this world.

Rejoice with Family

One of the mitzvot of the Chag is to rejoice in the circle of one’s family, as it is written: “You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter” (Deuteronomy 16:14). In order to fulfill the mitzvah properly, each member of the family must maintain a pleasant atmosphere during the Chag, especially at mealtimes. Everyone must try their best to avoid offensive speech and make an effort to cheer those gathered at the table with kind words, and as a result, achieve true happiness. Our Sages said in the Zohar that mealtimes are a time of battle, because before meals begin, the evil inclination intensifies with the aim of stimulating fights and insults, and a person must be prepared for battle and defeat the evil inclination by means of increasing love and affection between family members.

The Mitzvah to Be Happy and Gladden Others

The primary mitzvah on Chag is to be happy and make others happy, because true happiness is achieved only when efforts are made to please others, as it is written: “You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and the Levite, proselyte, orphan and widow within your gates” (Deuteronomy 16:14).

From the Torah’s instruction to rejoice with one’s male and female slave, employers have learned that although their workers will be rejoicing with their families on Chag, nevertheless, they present them gifts before the holiday to make them happy.

In addition to that, before Chag, every family should think about which of their relatives and acquaintances are going through difficult times, and should cheer them up by inviting them to the meal on Chag. In particular, attention should be paid to new immigrants and converts, for often, specifically on the holidays, they feel lonelier, and it is a great mitzvah to include them in the joy.

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/

Fasting on Yom Kippur

A “regular” sick person, whose whole body is ill but whose life is not in danger, is obligated to fast but may take pills that have no taste * A gravely ill person is obligated to eat * Not all medical worries are considered life-threatening, therefore a religiously observant doctor should be asked * Eating in “measures” – only for the gravely ill * Diabetics – better to eat more than a “measure” and come to synagogue * Pregnant and nursing mothers must fast, and not drink in “measures” * Today, sick people and pregnant women are not considered weak like in the past, but are actually healthier * In the era of milk substitutes, shortage of milk cannot be considered a danger * Advice for nursing women before the fast

The Mitzvah to Fast

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

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

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

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

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

Swallowing Medication

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

Headache Sufferers

If the fast causes a person great pain, he is permitted to take pills to relieve the pain. Similarly, individuals suffering from intense headaches due to not drinking coffee are permitted to take pills containing caffeine, or pills to relieve headaches.

The Gravely Ill

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

The intention is not merely in a situation where as a result of fasting a significant percentage of sick individuals will die; rather, as long as there is a possibility the fast will cause an ill person’s death, or weaken his ability to cope with his dangerous illness, it is a mitzvah for him to eat as necessary. Similarly, if the fast is liable to hasten the death of a terminally ill person on the verge of dying, it is a mitzvah for him to eat and drink as needed, because in order to save life – even for a short period of time – it is permissible to eat and drink on Yom Kippur.

Not to Be Overly Concerned

On the other hand, however, one should not be overly concerned, for if we worry about ‘sakanat nefashot’ (endangering life) over every common illness, in effect, we cancel the halakha which determines that a sick person is obligated to fast on Yom Kippur.

Not only that, but if we overly exaggerate and worry about extremely remote dangers, we would have to hospitalize every sick person with the flu, and ban unnecessary car travel out of fear of automobile accidents, and so forth.

Rather, the general rule is that any danger that people usually treat urgently, investing time and effort, such as rushing a sick person to a hospital in the middle of a working day, is considered ‘sakanat nefashot’, and in order to prevent it, it is a mitzvah to desecrate Shabbat and drink and eat on Yom Kippur. But dangers in which people do not rush and devote time and resources to take care of, is not considered ‘sakanat nefashot‘.

How to Evaluate ‘Sakanat Nefashot’

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

Ask an Observant Doctor

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

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

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

The Greatest Mistake in Eating in Measurements

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

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


For a person with diabetes, for whom fasting is life-threatening, it is better to eat more than a ‘shiur’ and pray in synagogue, than to stay at home and eat in ‘shiurim‘. There are two reasons for this: one, eating in ‘shiurim’ is a ‘hidur mitzvah’ (an enhancement of the mitzvah), while praying in a minyan is more important. Second, if we ask people who are sick to stay at home so they can eat in ‘shiurim’, there will be some who nevertheless will go to synagogue, with the intention of eating in ‘shiurim’ in the synagogue discreetly, but in practice for various reasons will forget to eat as much as necessary, and as a result will blackout, become unconscious, or die, God forbid, as occasionally happens on Yom Kippur.

Pregnant Women are Obligated to Fast

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

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

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

Nursing Women are Obligated to Fast

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

Good Advice for Nursing Women

The doctors we are acquainted with advise nursing women to drink three days before Yom Kippur at least four liters per day, and on the eve of Yom Kippur – from morning, until the fast begins – about five liters, in order to store fluids ahead of Yom Kippur, and as a result, also increase milk. According to experience, if a woman does so, not only will Yom Kippur not affect her nursing, but as a result, her milk supply will increase. Very possibly, she might even be able to extract surplus milk ahead of Yom Kippur.

Another piece of advice from my wife for the fast to be easier for both mother and baby: to alternately skip two feedings – one at noon-time on Yom Kippur, and another towards the end of the fast, and in its place, feed the baby a milk substitute.

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/

Shofar, Blessings, and Glad Tidings

How many shofar blasts must one hear on Rosh Hashanah * Sitting and standing for the shofar blasts * Differences customs regarding blowing the shofar during the Silent Prayer * Someone who uses a hearing aid but can hear without it should remove it during the blowing of the shofar * When two prayer quorums are held at the same time and can hear each other, it is advisable not to blow the shofar at the same time * The custom of women to hear the shofar, and the difference of opinion whether to recite the blessing * The prohibition of preparing from the first day of Rosh Hashanah to the second day * When, and how to light the candles on the second night * The order of blessings over the ‘simanim’ * God’s blessing in the past year: growth and strengthening of the communities in Judea and Samaria

The Torah Mitzvah of Shofar

It is a mitzvah from the Torah to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and the intention of the mitzvah is to hear three teru’ot (blasts), and to sound before and after each teru’ah a simple tekiya. Thus, the Torah commandment is to hear nine shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah. Since there are three types of teruahshevarim, alluding to sighing, teruah, connoting crying, and shevarim-teruah, a combination of both – it follows that in order to fulfill the commandment in the most complete way, we need to hear thirty shofar blasts (shevarim-teruah are considered as two blasts) (Peninei Halakha:Yom’im Nora’im 4: 1-2).

Rabbinic Additions and Minhag

The fulfillment of the mitzvah in its finest way is to blow the shofar during the chazan’s repetition of the Mussaf prayer. Our Sages fixed an additional measure to adorn the mitzvah by also sounding the shofar before the Mussaf prayer in “Tekiyot Me’yushav” (the blasts sounded while sitting). On the one hand, the important blasts are the ones in the Mussaf prayer, and therefore, according to the strict law, one may sit during the blasts preceding the prayer, and this is the custom of Sephardim. On the other hand, since one fulfills his obligation by hearing these blasts, seeing as they are the first ones to be heard, the Ashkenazi custom is to stand.

There were some rabbis who went even further, adorning the mitzvah by sounding a hundred blasts, as written in the book “Aruch” according to the Jerusalem Talmud. But during the times of the Rishonim, only a few people were accustomed to do so, but after the Ari HaKadosh arranged kavanot (intentions) for one hundred tekiyot, the minhag (custom) spread to most Jewish communities (Peninei Halakha: Yom’im Nora’im 4:3-4).

Should the Shofar be blown during the Silent Prayer?

The minhag of Sephardim and Chassidim is to blow thirty blasts during the Silent Prayer of Mussaf as is done in the repetition of the chazan, because by combining the blasts during the prayers, the blasts and the prayers themselves are more acceptable. For those who follow this minhag, the person blowing the shofar determines the pace of prayer, and the worshipers try to pray at his speed, in order to hear the blasts in their proper place at the end of the blessing. To do so, the shofar blower should pray unhurriedly and in a steady pace, and it would be best for someone who completes the blessing before him to wait until he blows the shofar. Nevertheless, those who want to pray faster or slower may do so, and say, “Hayom Harat Olam” at the end of every blessing and when hearing the blasts, although in the middle of a different blessing, they should stop and hear the blasts and afterwards, continue their prayers. In order to complete a hundred blasts, ten more blasts are blown during the ‘Kaddish titkabal’.

According to the Ashkenazi minhag, blasts are not sounded during the Silent Prayer, so as not to interfere with the intentions of the worshippers, who would have to match the pace of their own prayers to that of the chazan. In order to complete a hundred blasts at the end of the chazan’s repetition, forty blasts are missing. Thirty are blown after “Aleynu l’Sha’bay’ach“, and another ten after “Anim Zemirot” (Peninei Halakha: Yom’im Nora’im: 4:4).

A Person with a Hearing Aid

Concerning a person who uses an electric hearing device, if he can hear the shofar without the device, it would be best for him to remove the device from his ear so as to hear the sound of the shofar naturally. This is because there are contemporary poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who are of the opinion that the sound emanating from the electrical device is not considered the sound of the shofar, rather, the device receives the sound as electrical signals and then converts them into a new sound, and thus, it is considered a mechanical sound (Rabbi Uziel, Rabbi Goren, Rabbi Auerbach). Additionally, some say that although for other mitzvoth hearing by means of an electrical device is fit for use, but regarding hearing the shofar one should be ‘machmir’ (strict) (Maran Rabbi Kook, Iggrot Moshe). However, those unable to hear the shofar without the use of a hearing aid should use the device, seeing as some poskim say one may fulfill the mitzvah in this fashion (Rabbi Orenstein, ‘Assiya’ 77-78; Yibeah Omer). In my humble opinion, it appears to me that, God-willing, when we are able to improve hearing aids (or a cochlear implant) to the point where by using it one can hear as naturally as others normally do, the halakha will be that hearing by means of an electrical device will be the same as normal hearing (see, Peninei Halakha: Yom’im Nora’im: 4, footnote 4).

Simultaneous Shofar Blasts

When two minyan’s (prayer quorums) pray in close proximity, if one minyan had started blowing the shofar, it would be advisable for the other minyan to wait until the first minyan finishes their series of blasts. This is because there are poskim who say that if one hears other shofar blasts in the middle of hearing blasts with which he fulfills his obligation, even though he has no kavanah (intention) to fulfill his obligation by hearing them, they invalidate the tekiyot. And although the halakha goes according to the opinion of most authorities that such blasts do not invalidate others, l’chatchila (from the outset), it is good to take their opinion into consideration (Peninei Halakha; Yomim Nora’im 4, footnote 4).

Shofar Blowing for Women

Men are obligated in the mitzvah of shofar, while women are exempt seeing as it is a positive commandment dependent on a specific time. Women who wish to hear the shofar fulfill a mitzvah, and receive reward for it. The minhag of most Jewish women is to voluntarily fulfill the mitzvah.

In regards to reciting the blessing, there are different customs. Some poskim say that the blessing was fixed only for men obligated in the mitzvah, but a woman who blows the shofar for herself does not recite the blessing, and if a man blows for women he does not recite the blessing. Others say that although women are exempt from the mitzvah, seeing as they fulfill a mitzvah by hearing the shofar, the woman blowing the shofar should recite the blessing. Also, when a man blows for a group of women, one of the women would recite the blessing for all of them (Peninei Halakha: Yom’im Nora’im ibid 4:6).

Women’s Prayer

Women are obligated to pray. Some halachic authorities say the intention is they are required to pray the Amidah (Eighteen Benedictions) once a day – Shacharit (Morning Prayer) or

Mincha (Afternoon Prayer). Others say they are required to pray twice a day – both Shacharit and Mincha; and according to all opinions, they are obligated to recite Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings). And although throughout the year a woman who wishes to be lenient and pray only one Amidah a day may do so, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur it is proper for every woman to pray the Amidah of Shacharit, Mussaf, and Mincha.

A woman who is scrupulous in the performance of mitzvoth and wishes to pray all of the High Holiday services in the synagogue – ‘tavo aleyha bracha‘(this is pious conduct for which one is blessed for being strict).

However, as long as a woman has young children to care for, it is preferable for her to remain at home, because in any event, the rabbis did not obligate women to pray with a minyan. If taking care of her children makes it difficult for her to concentrate on her Amidah prayers, she should suffice by reciting the Birkot HaShachar. How fortunate is her lot; taking care of her children is her prayers, and there is no better ‘siman tov‘(good sign) for the entire year than to take care of a small child, patiently and happily. And just as God provides life to all living things on Rosh Hashanah, so too, she takes care of her child and provides him life.
Nevertheless if a woman so wishes she can coordinate with a neighbor that each one watch their respective children for a certain amount of time, allowing them both to go to synagogue and pray.

The Transition from the First Day of Rosh Hashana to the Second

One must be careful not to make preparations for the meal, or set the table, from Yom Tov Rishon (the first day of Rosh Hashana) to Yom Tov Sheni (the second day). Therefore, it is forbidden to wash the dirty dishes from the first day in order to use them on the second night or day; rather, only after ‘Tzeit Ha’Kochavim’ (nightfall) arrives, and the first day has ended, may one wash the dishes to use them for the holiday meal, set the table, and heat-up the food.

This is why, in practice, the second night meal is delayed at least an hour after ‘Tzeit Ha’Kochavim’, and it is my custom to prolong the sermon on the second night so that in the meantime food will be able to heat-up.

Food should not be taken out of the freezer on the first day for the meal on the second night. In a “sha’at dachak” (time of distress), when waiting for Yom Tov Rishon to be over will cause anguish and a significant delay of the meal, the food may be taken out of the freezer during the day (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 2:2; 12).

Candle Lighting on the Second Night

Candles for the second night of Yom Tov should be lit after ‘Tzeit Ha’Kochavim’ (nightfall).

One should prepare before the first night of Yom Tov a candle that will burn for more than twenty-four hours from which one can light the candles for the second night of Yom Tov. If one did not prepare such a candle, he should transfer fire from one of his neighbor’s candles to light the Yom Tov candles.

It is permissible to push the candle forcibly into the candlestick holder, even though this causes the candle to be slightly crushed. Similarly, one may remove by use of a knife the remaining wax in the candlestick which interferes with the placement of the new candle, and one is allowed to remove the metal disc stuck to the bottom of the glass cup in which ‘neronim‘ (candles that turn into oil) were used. It is also permitted to insert a floating wick into a floating cork.

However, it is forbidden to heat a wax candle to attach it to a candlestick holder, and it is also forbidden to cut or scrape the bottom of the candle to insert it into the candlestick (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 2:2; 9:5).

When to Eat the ‘Simanim‘ and Their Blessings

On the first night of Rosh Hashana, it is customary to eat foods that symbolize a good ‘siman‘ (sign) for the upcoming year, such as apples, dates, pomegranates, beets, and carti (leek). Some people perform the minhag on the first night alone, but many also do it on the second night.

The correct minhag is to recite the blessing over bread first, due to its importance, and afterwards, to eat the ‘simanim‘.

One should recite the blessing “ha’etz” on one of the fruits of a tree, and thus exempt the rest of the fruits. This is because the blessing of “ha’motzi” over the bread exempts foods intended for satiety, which “come due to the meal”, but fruits of the tree used as ‘simanim‘ are intended to add flavor and are not part of the meal, and as such, require a blessing.

Although dipping an apple in honey is the most famous ‘siman‘, since dates are one of the Seven Species of the Land of Israel, it is proper to recite the blessing “ha’etz” over it, and with this blessing, exempt all other fruits grown on trees. The date comes before the pomegranate, because in the Biblical sequence of the Seven Species, it is closer to the word “eretz” (land). After reciting the blessing over the date, one should eat a little bit of it, and only then say the ‘yihi ratzon’ prayer normally recited, in order not to cause an interruption between the blessing and the eating.

Over the ‘simanim‘ whose blessing is “ha’adama” there is no need to recite a blessing because they are cooked, as are the salads eaten during the meal intended for satiety, and are therefore considered as “coming due to the meal”, and are exempted by the blessing of “ha’motzi“.

The minhag is to recite ‘yihi ratzon’ over each ‘siman’. One of the guests can say it out loud and everyone answer ‘Amen‘, and then eat it.

Cheerful Numbers from Samaria

Towards the new year, may it come to us for good, out of reverence and gratitude to Hashem, we are obliged to be thankful for the abundance of blessings we have merited receiving in the strengthening and intensification of settlement. I do not have data on all of Judea and Samaria, rather, only on the Samaria Regional Council where close associates of mine diligently toil on building its’ communities, and the blessings therein are incredible.

With God’s help, the number of residents grew approximately ten percent, and the number of students in the school system grew about thirteen percent.

The population continues to grow, evident in that the younger the grade levels are, the greater number of students there are in each class.

The statistics are for the Samaria Regional Council, not including Ariel, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron, Elkana, and Alfei Menashe.

This past year the number of students who started school in Grade 6 was nearly 700 students; in Grade 1 there were 1,150 students, and in pre-kindergarten (age 3), 1,327. Thus, during the period of eight scholastic years, with the grace of God, we merited growing almost two-fold!

Naturally, a large amount of the welcome increase occurred in the communities located in western Samaria, adjacent to the Dan region (Greater Tel Aviv), and therefore, we, the residents of the community Har Bracha, are doubly obliged to be thankful, because in spite of all the accusations, and the self-sacrifice required of those living on the frontline of settlement, we also merited growing and expanding in equal measures. As expected, every year in each community there are families who move in, and those who leave; last year, the number of families that left Har Bracha was the lowest in the past few years. And now, we are already approaching the stage where we will number over 2,000 people. Who would have believed this fifteen years ago, when we numbered only a few hundred?!

Our souls are extended in prayer for the new year, may it come upon us for good, that we merit to grow and expand in the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz’ (settling the Land), and alongside that, merit deepening study of Torah and “settling” the divine and sublime ideas here in the physical 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/

Torah Observant are More Successful

In the merit of Torah and mitzvoth, as explained in this week’s Torah portion, ‘Clal Yisrael’ receives blessings in real life * Mitzvoth and Jewish values ​​have an actual effect * Thanks to Jewish values, religious families are more stable * The Torah educates towards fertility which leads to demographic growth, as reflected even in secular society * Torah observant workers are less tempted to betray the trust of their employers * Torah study develops creative thinking also in industry * A person who receives religious education is more willing to help the weak in society * Moral values ​​can be taught in secular education as well, but in order for them to develop with vitality and passion, especially in an affluent society, faith is required

Blessing in This World

The reward and punishment written in the Torah is designed for ‘Clal Yisrael’ in this world (for all individuals, the main reward and punishment is in ‘Olam Ha’ba’ (the hereafter), as explained in the Talmud Moed Katan 28a; Kiddushin 39b). This reward and punishment does not violate the laws of nature, but rather, occur through them; for if they came miraculously, they would abolish free will, and individuals would not merit the opportunity to be partner in ‘tikun olam’ (repairing the world). In this article, with God’s help, I will try to explain how, by means of Torah observance, blessing comes naturally.

Since we will be dealing with comparisons between the religious and secular, it is important to first emphasize that there is no fundamental difference between observant and secular Jews – all wish to be good, and the level of talent in both groups is equal. However, when looking deeper, we find that when an entire group of people observes Torah and mitzvoth in a balanced manner, the cumulative blessing they receive is beyond belief. This is the destiny of the nation of Israel; in this way, it can be a light unto the world, elevating it to its ‘tikun’.

In analysis of the following indicators, I will attempt to assess the advantages of religious life in percentages. Indeed, the numbers are not exact (to say the least), and it would be fitting to investigate these important issues in greater depth. Nevertheless, since I am certain that the direction in principle is correct, in order to illustrate and help see the overall picture, I tried to approximate the advantages of Torah observance in percentages, according to things I’ve read in the past.

Obviously, the blessings written in the Torah come on the condition that its instructions are followed without diverting to the left or right – namely, prohibitions are not added, such as forbidding academic studies or acquiring a profession, while on the other hand, mitzvoth that are difficult to fulfill are not gotten rid of.

The Blessing of Marriage

When marrying, both secular and observant people alike hope they will remain committed forevermore. Nevertheless, enthusiasm eventually diminishes, and temptations increase. By means of Torah and mitzvoth, especially the mitzvoth between ‘adam le’chaveiro’ (between man and his fellow man) and mitzvoth ‘onah’ (laws of marital purity), observant people have a better chance of getting through crises, and continuing to deepen and elevate their love.

The phenomenon of infidelity is also lower among the observant public than the secular, thanks to education regarding commitment and modesty. Of course, we wish that religious education could prevent all infidelity, but to our great dismay, it exists; nevertheless, we can find comfort that thanks to religious education, the percentages are lower. Even after an act of unfaithfulness, thanks to the importance placed on the value ‘teshuva’ (repentance) ‘shalom bayit’ (reconciliation), the chances of an observant couple successfully rebuilding their lives is higher.

Thus in practice, observant people tend to have better marriages, which has a positive effect on the quality of their lives, their children’s education and on their livelihood, for on the whole, divorce harms all of these areas (it appears the divorce rate among the secular is over 50%, 10% among the observant, and somewhere in the middle among the traditional).

Children’s Education

The mitzvah of honoring parents and the framework of Shabbat and Chagim (holidays) stabilizes the religious family and the relationship between parents and their children to a great extent, and also provides an advantage in children’s education and guidance in the areas of ‘derech eretz’ (desired mode of behavior), such as persistence in studies, acquiring a profession, higher education, contributing to society and the nation, and establishing a family. Thus, if we compare families with equal education and knowledge, and an equal socio-economic status, the success rate of the observant will be slightly higher.

In the area of establishing a family the success rate of the observant is much higher, whereas in the other areas, it is not as high. However, even if this means only an additional ten percent in the success rate in scholastic studies and in acquiring an education and a profession, this is a very significant difference.

Children and Demographics

Secular families on the average have slightly more than two children per family. In contrast, thanks to family values ​​and the mitzvah ‘pru urvu’ (procreation), the average number of children in a religious family is approximately four, and in an ultra-Orthodox or Haredi family, about six or seven.

Since among the observant the proportion of sons and daughters who get married is higher and the age of marriage is earlier, the demographic growth rate is much higher. If we attempt to calculate the overall situation in the religious community, taking into account that about twenty percent leave religious life, it is possible to estimate the demographic growth of the religious community will be twice as high in twenty-five years, four times as high in fifty years, and sixteen times as high in one hundred years.

Incidentally, because the secular public we have discussed is not completely secular, but in many areas is essentially traditional, the percentage of marriages and the number of children among secular Jews in Israel is much higher than Western countries equal to Israel economically and educationally. As a result, the only population among Western affluent societies that has grown substantially, is Israel’s Jewish population.

Work Ethics and Productivity

Almost all people – both religious and secular, would like to work honestly and diligently, however the evil inclination, on the other hand, seduces one to be lazy, careless, and even to cheat and steal. It may be assumed that thanks to religious education, the percentage of those who work diligently and faithfully is higher among the observant by at least about ten percent.

Family stability provides a certain advantage at work as well, seeing as the phenomenon of infidelity, divorce and the fights involved with them, damage one’s ability to concentrate on his work.

Work Creativity

It is a mitzvah to fix specific times for Torah study every day, and thus, the percentage of observant people engrossed in study is higher than that of the secular, many of whom hardly open any type of academic book for even an hour a week. It can be assumed that study provides a person inspiration to develop new ideas, and find solutions to complex problems.

Even if we say that the cumulative effect of this is only five percent, it’s a very significant difference, because in free market competition success is often determined by an additional five percent of creativity. One could say that thanks to Jewish tradition and values of ​​learning, members of the secular public are also more creative than their peers in the West. Thus we find that in practice, the State of Israel is one of the world leaders in the field of high technology, thanks to a certain percentage of extra creativity.

Presumably, the more Jews who invest time in Torah study, without taking away from the importance ​​of science, work, freedom and responsibility, we will merit greater success in the development of science and technology.

Helping Others

It is a great mitzvah to help the poor, sick, crippled, deaf and blind. Presumably, a person who receives a religious education, on the average, is more inclined to enlist. These wonderful mitzvoth open a person’s heart and enriches the mind, and when many are willing to volunteer in order to lighten the suffering and hardships of others, there are those among them who are able to find solutions and impressive advancements for the sake of the suffering and society. Aside from the moral value of this, businesses also grow from these innovations. For example, as a result of this, the government and private corporations are also willing to invest more resources in the development of the various sciences, and in the long term, this is extremely beneficial for business.

Modesty and Frugality

Torah values ​​help a person to defer gratification, be pleased with one’s portion, and spend less on luxuries. Consequently, an average religious family is able to save more money and invest it for the long term – part of it for their children’s education until they acquire a suitable profession, and the other part for their old age, so as not to be a burden on the shoulders of their children or society. Some of this saved money is also directed through various funds to the development of science, technology, and the economy.

The Foundation: Faith

Q: Aren’t secular people correct when they claim that it’s possible to educate towards all of these values even without faith in God and the Torah, seeing as they are human values ​​that any decent person can understand?

A: First of all, ‘emunah’ (faith) is truth, and God is the source of all truth and good. Consequently, when these values are connected to their Divine origin, ‘emunah‘ provides them with vitality and strength, but when these values are not connected to their Divine origin, it is difficult to internalize them. For example, many people agree that observing the laws of family purity is extremely beneficial in preserving a marriage, but without ‘emunah‘, they cannot be fulfilled, and consequently, their blessing cannot be gained.

Apart from that, when a nation is in financial distress or at war, often it finds the power to accelerate the development of its economy and society, and thus, finds itself in an economic, national, and political upswing. But when society becomes satiated, gradually it degenerates. Indulgence and laziness increases, young people waste their parents’ inheritances, and individuals refrain from sacrificing themselves for the common good. This is how society crumbles, and how nations are defeated and vanish.

Regarding this, the Torah warns: “Be careful that you not forget God your Lord… lest you eat and be satisfied, building fine homes and living in them… and you amass much silver and gold… And your heart grows haughty, and you forget God your Lord… and say to yourself, “It was my own strength and personal power that brought me all this prosperity”… If you ever forget… I bear witness to you today that you will be totally annihilated” (Deuteronomy, 8:11-19).

Thus, for everything that occurs by natural means we must pray, give thanks, and ask Hashem to continue helping us, and that in spite of all the blessings, we do not deteriorate.

Development of the Will to Benefit

In order for the vitality, energy, and creativity to continue even in times of abundance, Torah must be learned. Because aside from the fact that Torah study deepens and inspires thought, it also turns a person into an idealist wishing to improve the world and make it better. Subsequently, vitality continues even in times of abundance, in order to improve the world and reveal all the Divine goodness.

The mitzvoth of helping the weak, disabled and sick also deepens the desire to benefit others, adding strength and vitality even in times of abundance, to take action with the aim of adding blessing and good in the world.

Therefore, it is essential for the Jewish nation to have Torah scholars and yeshivas, who will be the beacons of light, establishing the values ​​of the Torah and ‘chesed‘ (kindness), so as to add blessing in the world and improve it.

The Vision of the State of Israel

If the religious community merits ascending in the path of the all-embracing Torah, and serving as an example of moral, social and economic success, traditional Jews will naturally come closer to Torah and mitzvoth.

And if thanks to the diligence and creativity at work, Israel’s annual gross domestic product rises only five per cent on average beyond the rest of Western countries, and demographic growth rises about three percent a year as is usual in religious society, then within a few generations, the Jewish nation residing in its Land will number tens of millions, and will lead the world in terms of values, technology, and economics. Consequently, the Jews living in the Diaspora obviously will be eager make aliyah and take part in the success; the lost and exiled will inquire about their roots, and return to their people and country; a great and immense nation will proclaim faith and justice to the world, paving ways for moral instruction and intellectual development for the benefit of all humanity, and innovate methods and technologies for the longevity and quality of life. Thus, in a natural process, we will see the fulfillment of the prophetic vision: “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall go and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3).

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

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed