Building the Land of Israel: A Solution for the World

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

The Reason for the Ten Plagues

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

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

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

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

Israel’s Faith Benefits the World

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

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

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

The Logic and Justice in God’s Governance

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

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

The Centrality of Israel

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

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

Understanding Divine Governance

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

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

The Middle East Inferno

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

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

The West’s Refugee Plague

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

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

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

‘Mida Keneged Mida’: Measure-for-Measure

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

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

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

Healing the Middle East Depends on Building Judea and Samaria

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

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

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


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


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

Settling the Land Lowers Housing Prices

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

The Building Challenge

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

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

The Solution: Building in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria

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

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

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

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

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

The Words of the Prophet Yehezkel and their Fulfillment

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

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

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

Divine Vision and Practical Deeds: Com2plementary Levels

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

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

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

Yishuv Ha’aretz – A Fundamental Mitzvah

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

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

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

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

Stay Healthy, Walk to Synagogue

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

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

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

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

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

Walking to Synagogue Adds Life

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

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

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

Preferring a Distant Synagogue

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

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

Go Further When There’s a Reason

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

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

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

Reward for Walking – Not Driving

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

Ten Thousand Steps

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

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

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

‘Sekhar Pisi’ot’ for Women

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

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

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

Abbreviated Prayer in the Workplace

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

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

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

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

Medical Research? Read Carefully

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

Azaria and the Hypocrisy of Political Correctness

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

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

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

A Reply to the Column on Nutrition

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

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

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

My Reply: Listen to Doctors

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

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

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

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

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

My Response: Conventional Medicine Determines

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

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

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


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

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

The Appropriate Approach to Alternative Methods

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

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

Enrichment in Guidebooks

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

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

The Defeat of the Hasmoneans and the Tenth of Tevet

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

The History of the Fast Days and Rabbinic Festivals

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

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

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

Thirty-one Years of Hasmonean Wars

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

Seeds of Crisis

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

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

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

The Rebellion against Shimon and the Rise of His Son Yochanan

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

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

Yanai and His Successors

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

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

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

The Fall of the Hasmonean Kingdom

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

The Tenth of Tevet

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

Hanukkah and the Miracle of the Flask of Oil

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

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

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

The Complex Story of Chanukah

We usually remember the gist of the Chanukah story; however, the story was much longer, complex and complicated, and we can learn from it a lesson for generations.


The Greek Empire


Over the course of hundreds of years, the Greeks developed a culture that achieved great advancements in science, philosophy, literature, art, architecture, military strategy, and politics. And its strength grew ever greater. After defeating his adversaries, Philippos, King of Macedonia, succeeded in uniting all of the Greek states under his rule. He invited the greatest Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle, to teach his son, Alexander. When Alexander the Great ascended the throne, he began a campaign of conquests, and within three years (3426-3429, 334-331 BCE), the Greeks conquered vast expanses of territory – Asia Minor, Eretz Yisrael, Egypt, and the entire mighty Persian Empire to India.

After Alexander of Macedonia died, the generals of the Greek army began fighting over the throne. In the end, they divided the vast territory under their control into several Greek kingdoms.

As a result of the conquests, Greek culture spread throughout the world, consuming all the other cultures and forming a singular, Hellenistic civilization. The system of government, language, culture, and sporting competitions in every country were Hellenistic. The rich and dignified people in every land assimilated with the Greeks and imitated their ways.

Greek Rule in Judea

Judea, as well, was ruled by the Greeks, and there, too, Hellenism spread. The Jews, however, were different from all the other nations, and the process of Hellenization proceeded relatively slowly in Judea. Nonetheless, over the course of 160 years of Greek rule, their influence grew stronger and stronger, mostly over the affluent. It reached the point where the High Priests, Jason and Menelaus, were leaders of the Hellenists, working to increase Greek influences in Judea. They built a wrestling stadium near the Holy Temple and preferred watching the matches over performing their sacrificial duties in the Temple.

Alexander the Great died in 3437 (323 BCE). At first, Ptolemy and Seleucus fought Antigonus, defeating him in a battle near Gaza in the year 3448 (312 BCE). The winners divided the spoils, and Ptolemy took Egypt, while Seleucus received Syria and Babylonia. Later on, the two fought each other over Eretz Yisrael, and the Ptolemy dynasty prevailed, taking control of the Holy Land for over a hundred years, starting in 3459 (301 BCE). In the year 3562 (198 BCE), Antiochus III, a descendant of the Seleucus dynasty, conquered Eretz Yisrael, but his power waned toward the end of his life. He attempted to conquer the Pergamon kingdom in Asia Minor, but the Romans intervened on their behalf and defeated Antiochus, who was forced to pay heavy compensation fees. Antiochus Epiphanes, the wicked king who enacted evil decrees against the Jews, took the reins of power after his namesake’s demise (3584-3596, 176-164 BCE). (Most of the information in this and the following footnotes is taken from Dr. Mordechai Breuer’s Divrei HaYamim LeYisrael U’leUmot HaOlam, Mossad HaRav Kook Publishers).

Evil Decrees of Antiochos


In the year 3591 from creation (169 BCE), around 160 years after the Greeks conquered Eretz Yisrael, Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) began oppressing the Jews. Under his rule, the Greeks despoiled the holy vessels of the Temple, breached the walls of Jerusalem, murdered thousands of Jews, and enslaved many others. In 3593 (167 BCE), Antiochus decreed that the Jews must forsake the Torah and its mitzvot and worship idols. He made it a capital crime to perform mitzvot, abolished the sacrificial service in the Temple, and turned the Temple into a place of idolatry. Torah scrolls were torn and burnt. Antiochus’ soldiers went from town to town forcing the Jews to eat pork and to erect altars for idol worship. Ritual circumcision was outlawed and Jewish women who insisted on circumcising their sons were executed. As a result of these decrees, many pious Jews fled to the deserts, caves, or other countries; and many were murdered in sanctification of God’s Name.


The Rebellion and the Miracle of Chanukah


The intense pressure that the Greeks exercised against the Jews kindled a spark in their souls, and when the Greeks arrived in the village of Modi’in, with the intention of forcing Matityahu, son of Yochanan the High Priest, to worship idols, Matityahu rose up and killed the Greek officer and his Hellenized collaborators. The uniqueness of his action was that instead of dying in sanctification of God’s Name, like the other pious Jews, he decided to kill the oppressor. By doing so, he, together with his sons, raised the banner of rebellion against the Greeks and Hellenism.

The war was difficult. Yehudah the Maccabee, the bravest of Matityahu’s sons, led the fighters. With courage and skill, the Hasmoneans overcame the Greek forces, and after two years of fighting, they succeeded in reconquering Jerusalem. On the 25th of Kislev, 3596 (165 BCE), they began purifying the Temple and restoring the sacrificial service to its original state. This is when the miracle of the Menorah took place.


Later on, the Greeks returned to Eretz Yisrael with reinforcements, conquered Jerusalem, and put Hellenized kohanim (priests) in charge of the Temple. However, in order not to increase tensions with the Jews, they abolished the evil decrees and allowed the Jews to keep the Torah and its mitzvot. But this did not stop the rebellion; the Hasmoneans continued to fight against the Greeks and Hellenism. The war effort knew ups and downs, but the Hasmonean brothers combined strength, diplomacy, and cunning to eventually gain political independence. Granted, the Jews lived under the aegis of the mighty empires – first the Greeks and then the Romans – but the governance of the Land was controlled by the Jews for the Jews.


It seems quite evident that had the Greeks been more patient, Judea would have succumbed to Hellenism, just like the other nations did. But the hand of God, which conceals itself in the historic process, was at work, fanning the flames of the conflict. Just as He hardened Pharaoh’s heart during the Exodus, so too, He hardened Antiochus’ heart, and in the process helped Israel reveal the faith, self-sacrifice, and courage hidden deep inside its collective soul.

On the thirteenth of Adar 3599 (161 BCE), the troops of Yehudah the Maccabee defeated the army of Nicanor; Nicanor was killed and the remnants of his troops retreated. This day was celebrated for generations. Immediately thereafter, the Greeks sent Bacchides at the head of a large army. Yehudah, unable to mobilize a great number of fighters, stood against him with a mere 800 soldiers. Yehudah was killed in this battle (3600, 160 BCE). Bacchides conquered the entire Land and awarded the position of High Priest to Alcimus, a Hellenist, who executed sixty of Israel’s elder sages. But the evil decrees of Antiochus were removed, so as not to escalate war with the Jews.


In practice, the miracle of the liberation of the Temple and its’ purification lasted for only four straight years. Indeed, during the Second Temple period, the days of Chanukah were not the only holidays Jews celebrated, for parallel to Chanukah, many other days in which great salvation was achieved, with God’s help, in battle against the Greeks, were celebrated. For example, such as the victory day over Nicanor on the 13th of Adar, the 24th of Av, the day on which Israel returned to judge according to the laws of the Torah, the 15th and 16th of Sivan un which they conquered Beit Shean and deported the Christians who had displaced Israel from their land . But all those holidays were cancelled with the destruction of the Temple, and only Chanukah remained for generations, because of the miracle of the oil, and our Sages ruling to light the candles (Rosh Hashanah 18b).

The Continuation of the Rebellion Combined with Diplomacy

Yonatan, Yehudah’s brother, assumed command of the remaining Hasmonean fighters, who fled and went into hiding. Over time, the Hasmoneans regained their strength and managed to harass the Greeks, but they were unable to reconquer Jerusalem. Then, a threat arose against King Demetrius’ rule, and, in order to maintain his power, he made a pact with the Hasmoneans, giving them Jerusalem and autonomy. Yonatan took advantage of the struggle for power in the Seleucid dynasty and received additional benefits from Demetrius’ rival. Thus, in the year 3608 (152 BCE), the Hellenist administrators of the Holy Temple were deposed and Yonatan began serving as High Priest. 

Diodotus Tryphon, one of the Greek rulers who opposed Yonatan’s increasing power in Jerusalem, lured him into joining him for friendly talks and then murdered him (3618, 142 BCE). 

Shimon inherited his brother’s command and made a treaty with Tryphon’s rival, in exchange for a tax exemption for the Jews of Judea. While the Greek kings were preoccupied with internal battles, during the seven years of his leadership, Shimon cleansed the Land of the vestiges of Greek influence, conquered additional cities surrounding Judea, and fortified its political independence. 

The life of Shimon, Matityahu’s last son, ended in tragedy. The Greeks united with his son-in-law, Ptolemy, who rose up and murdered Shimon and his two sons, and together with the Greeks, waged a difficult war against Yochanan Hyrcanus and his remaining son. Many Jews were killed, but in the end, in a tortuous and turmoil-filled diplomatic effort, Yochanan Hyrcanus gained power and ruled for 31 years. 

The Legacy of the Maccabean Wars

Numerous lessons can be learned from the history of the Hasmoneans and their wars, but the primary lesson is that, on the one hand, Matityahu and his sons were willing to give their lives for the nation and the Torah, but on the other hand, when there was no alternative, they consented to make degrading agreements (over the Land of Israel and its sovereignty), while constantly striving towards the broad goal: Israel’s redemption through settling the Land, and observance of Torah and mitzvot.

In the generations of grandchildren and great grandchildren, the Hasmonean kingdom deteriorated spiritually, and afterwards, also nationally. However, thanks to political independence, Jewish settlements sprung up throughout the country, Jews immigrated from the Diaspora, birthrates rose, and the Jewish nation, which had undergone destruction and exile, rehabilitated itself to a large degree. Torah learning halls also flourished and increased.

Next week, ahead of the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, with God’s help I will deal with the fall of the Hasmonean kingdom and the destruction of the Holy Temple, and we will learn that indeed, the miracle of the flask of oil expresses more than anything the main remaining legacy of the Hasmoneans 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:

A Primer on the Laws of Chanukah

One should try to leave work early and light the Chanukah candles close to sunset * One who returns home late from work should make an effort to light candles no later than nine o’clock * When a spouse gets home late, should lighting be postponed? * According to Sephardic custom, can children light candles with a blessing? * Can Chanukah candles be lit with a blessing at parties and public gatherings? * One who lives on an upper floor in an apartment building should light the candles by the window facing the street * All types of candles are kosher, provided they remain lit for half an hour *
The halakha for a guest on Shabbat and Motzei Shabbat

Lighting Time

Our Sages determined that the Chanukah candles should be lit at an hour which allows for maximum publicity of the Chanukah miracle. In the past when there were no street lamps, people would begin gathering in their homes just before nightfall. At sunset, therefore, the streets were full of people returning home. For that reason, our Sages ruled that the time for lighting Chanukah candles is “from sundown until the marketplace has emptied out” (Shabbat 21b).

Even though today we have electric lighting and most people return home hours after nightfall, the ideal time for lighting Chanukah candles is still the time chosen by our Sages – tzeit ha’kochavim (when three medium-sized stars emerge). 

How nice it would be if on the days of Chanukah one could return home before five o’clock, and after lighting the candles, engage in Torah study and family gatherings centering on commemorating the miracle and the destiny of the Jewish nation.

What Comes First: Evening Prayers, or Lighting the Candles?

Those who customarily pray the Evening Prayer (Ma’ariv) at tzeit ha’kochavim, should pray the evening services before lighting the candles, according to the rule, “tadir v’she’eino tadir, tadir kodem” (that which comes more frequently takes precedence). At the end of the Ma’ariv, they should return home quickly to light candles as close as possible to tzeit ha’kochavim.

But someone whose custom is to pray Ma’ariv later, it is preferable to light candles at tzeit ha’kochavim and pray Ma’ariv as usual, so he can light candles at the ideal time, tzeit ha’kochavim.

However, in that case, one should take care not to eat dinner beforehand. If there is a concern that as a result of festivities following the lighting of the candles one might forget to pray Ma’ariv, it is preferable to pray at tzeit ha’kochavim, and light the candles after Ma’ariv.

Should Lighting be Postponed until Coming Home from Work?

If it is difficult for someone to return home at tzeit ha’kochavim because, for example, he has to work until seven o’clock, he may light candles with a bracha (blessing) upon returning home from work, because even in the past according to most poskim (Jewish law authorities), bediavad (after the fact), one could fulfill the mitzvah all night long – all the more so today, when many people are accustomed to return home after tzeit ha’kochavim.

In any case, latecomers should make an effort to light as early as possible, and to light no later than nine o’clock, because by that time even those people who work late, return home. Only in a sha’at dachak (pressing situation) is one permitted to light the candles all night, but reciting the blessing is permitted only on the condition that there is another person present who sees the candles (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 13:8, footnote 12).

A latecomer must be careful not to eat ‘achilat keva’ (a meal) before lighting the candles (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 13:6).

Should a Spouse Wait for Their Partner to Return Home?

In many families a question arises: in a case where one of the spouses cannot return home from work at tzeit ha’kochavim, when should the candles be lit? Should the spouse at home light candles at nightfall (about 5:00 P.M.), or wait for his or her partner to return home? 

Seemingly, according to the letter of the law, it is preferable for the spouse at home to light candles at nightfall and thus discharge his or her partner of the obligation. However, in practice, it is usually best to wait for the delayed spouse to return.

For if the other spouse is not able to hear the blessings over the candles elsewhere, one should wait for him. And if there is a chance he will be offended, or his connection to the mitzvah will be weakened, one should wait until he returns.

If the couple wishes, the spouse at home can light candles on time, and when the other spouse returns home, they can light candles once more with a bracha (see, Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 12:4, footnote 2).

Should Lighting be Postponed for Children Who Come Home Late?

According to Sephardic custom in which only one family member lights a candle for the entire family, one should wait for each member of the family for the same reasons mentioned above in regards to waiting for a spouse.

However, if the latecomer will arrive after nine in the evening, it is preferable not to wait for him, and to light earlier. The latecomer should take care to participate in a candle lighting and hear the blessings wherever he happens to be. If he cannot, and it is not a one-time occurrence, it is preferable for him to act according to the Ashkenazi minhag (custom), and have intention not to fulfill his obligation with his families’ lighting, and upon returning home, to light the candles with a bracha on his own.

According to Ashkenazic custom, lighting should not be postponed for children who are late, and when they arrive home – they should light their own candles with a bracha.

Can Children Light Candles with a Bracha According to Sephardi Custom?

According to Sephardi custom, only the head of the household lights Chanukah candles. If children are eager to light a menorah as well, they are permitted to light their own candles, provided they light them in another place, so that it is evident how many candles are lit each day.

As far as the blessing is concerned, the prevalent custom is not to recite a blessing when lighting, because they fulfill the mitzvah through their father’s lighting, and it is appropriate to continue this minhag. However, a person whose children are eager to recite the bracha, or genuinely wants them to recite the bracha as well, can rely on the opinion of the Rishon L’Tzion, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l  who permitted children up to the age of Bar Mitzvah to light candles with a blessing.

And in the opinion of Rabbi Shalom Mesas ztz”l, boys over the age of Bar Mitzvah can have kavana (intention) not to fulfill their obligation in the mitzvah through their father’s lighting, and light with a bracha (Yalkut Shemesh, O.C. 192).When necessary, one may rely on his opinion.

Candle Lighting at Parties and Public Events

Many people are scrupulous to publicize the miracle and light Chanukah candles wherever people gather, such as weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Chanukah parties, and lectures. The question is: is it permissible to recite a blessing over the lighting at such events?

Many poskim hold that one should not recite a blessing, because the blessings are customarily said only in synagogues, and we do not have the authority to invent new customs in other places. According to them, one who recites a blessing in places other than a synagogue is pronouncing a blessing in vein (Rav Orbach, Rav Eliyashiv).

On the other hand, several poskim maintain that one may light Chanukah candles with a blessing wherever there is a public gathering. After all, the reason we light in the synagogue is to publicize the miracle; therefore, one should light with a blessing wherever groups of people gather together (Rav Yisraeli, Rav Ovadiah). It is preferable, though, to pray Ma’ariv in such a place thus giving it the status of a synagogue to a certain extent, and then, a blessing may be recited as the custom dictates (Rav Eliyahu).

In practice, one who wishes to rely on those who hold that it is permissible to light with a blessing may do so, and it is proper to do so l’chatchila (from the outset) when people who are not meticulous in mitzvoth are present. In such a case, it is preferable to honor a non-observant person with lighting of the candles, for by doing so, it will be evident that the mitzvoth belong to all Jews, both observant and non-observant (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 12:18). 

Where to Light Chanukah Candles in an Apartment Building

Our Sages determined that ideally, one should light candles near the entranceway facing the street, in order to publicize the miracle to passers-by in the vicinity of the house. But there is a dispute as to where the entranceway is for someone living in an apartment building. Some authorities say the building’s entrance, but this opinion should not be adopted since other poskim say that by doing so, one does not fulfill his obligation because the mitzvah is to light the candles near his private house.

Therefore, it is preferable to light the candles in a window facing the public domain. And although some poskim say it is preferable to light on the left side of the door facing the hallway, it is preferable to light at the window, because ‘pirsum ha’nes’ (publicizing the miracle) is most important. And even those who live on the fourth floor and above should preferably light there. True, our Sages said that one who lights in a place higher than twenty cubits (9.12 meters) has not fulfilled his obligation, however they were talking about a person who lit the candles on a pole in the middle of his yard. But someone who lights the candles in the window inside his home, approximately a meter and a half from the floor, definitely fulfills his obligation. And since people are used to glancing at the windows of buildings, by lighting there, the miracle will be more publicized (Peninei Halakha 13:3).

If they follow the Ashkenazic custom in which children also light candles, it is preferable for the head of the family to light the candles on the window sill, and one of the children to light near the apartment door.

The Candles

All types of oils and wicks are kosher for Chanukah candles, provided it can stay lit for at least a half-an-hour. If many people see the candles from the street, it is best to light candles that will remain lit for many hours, in order to heighten the ‘pirsum ha’nes’.

The Chanukah candles lit on Erev Shabbat should burn at least an hour and a quarter because since they are lit before Shabbat begins, they must continue burning a half hour after tzeit ha’kochavim.

L’chatchila, it is best to use candles that shine radiantly in order to publicize the miracle. Therefore, many people choose to light candles made of wax or paraffin. Others say it is preferable to light with olive oil, whose light is also radiant, and also recalls the miracle of Chanukah which was performed with olive oil (Peninei Halakha 12:6).

Electric Lights

In practice, most poskim hold that one cannot use electric lights, because they do not have wicks and oil like conventional candles do.
Indeed, regarding Shabbat candles many poskim hold that one can fulfill the mitzvah with an electric lightbulb, because the main purpose of Shabbat candles is to increase light, whereas Chanukah candles are intended to remind us of the miracle that occurred with the menorah of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), therefore they should resemble the candles of the Holy Temple.

Candle Lighting for Guests

A family who are guests on Shabbat and also sleep at their host’s home, that Shabbat, their guest’s house is considered their residence. According to the Sephardic minhag where only one menorah is lit at home, the guest should give a shekel to the host, so as to be partners in his candles. Bediavad (after the fact), even if they did not give a shekel, they have fulfilled their obligation since they rely on their host for meals, and his lighting includes all guests. According to the Ashkenazi minhag, where each person lights a menorah, guests should also light candles with a bracha.

If the guests sleep in a separate apartment, according to all minhagim they should light candles there with a bracha.

Where to Light on Motzei Shabbat

A family who are guests on Shabbat and plan to return home immediately after Shabbat, it is preferable for them to light the candles in their own home. But if they plan to return home late, when people are no longer on the streets, it is better for them to fulfill their obligation of the mitzvah in the home of their hosts. And even though their intention is to return home and sleep there, since the previous night they slept at their hosts, as long as they have not departed, they are still considered as ‘members of the household’.

But if they do not intend to return quickly, but also, not that late, they may choose where to light their candles. As far as the previous day is concerned, they are still considered as guests of their host, and regarding the following day, they will be at home, therefore they are permitted to choose where they wish to light (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 13:10).

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:

A Jewish Legal System Depends on Torah Scholars

The harm caused to the Jewish identity, security, and settlement of the Land of Israel is the result of the neglect of Torah law * As long as we fail to develop a Jewish legal system suitable for a modern state, don’t blame the secular system * Torah laws must be learned together with an understanding of the times, similar to Torah scholars throughout the generations who did not deliberate matters in a detached and theoretical way * An observant person may be appointed a judge nowadays, on the condition he strives to change the situation and attempts to rule according to the Torah when possible * Caution should be taken in regards to legal rulings suitable in the past, but today, cause injustice, for rabbis are required to enact ordinances in accordance with the present situation

The Legal Establishment – A Non-Jewish Court System

Last week I briefly reviewed the harmful and systematic damage the secular legal establishment causes to the Jewish identity, security, and settlement of the State of Israel. This is the punishment for neglecting the mitzvah (commandment) of the Torah – to appoint judges who decide the law according to the Torah, as it is written: “These are the laws that you must set before them” (Exodus 21:1). Certainly, public representatives have the authority pass laws and amend regulations, but this is only on the condition that the underlying commitment to the principles of the Torah remain unchanged; however, when the legal system derives its conceptions and values from non-Jewish sources, the courts are considered “Gentile courts”.

If so, as many rabbis have written, the harsh declaration of the Rambam seemingly also applies to our secular court system: “When any person has a judgment decided by Gentile judges and their courts, he is considered a wicked person. It is as if he disgraced, blasphemed, and lifted up his hand against the Torah of Moses our teacher” (Laws of Sanhedrin 26:7). In addition, Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog ztz”l, the Chief Rabbi of Israel at the time of establishment of the state, wrote: “Presently, when the Jewish nation dwells in its homeland and regretfully judges according to foreign laws, it is a thousand times worse than an individual or a Jewish community who brings their cases before non-Jewish courts…who knows what the results will be from such a shameful and humiliating situation” (“HaTorah ve’Ha’Medina” Volume VII). This was also the opinion of many rabbis, including Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank ztz”l, Tzitz Eliezer, Chazon Ish, the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l, and the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ztz”l.

At the time of the establishment of the state, there were still some devoted Jews who, according to various sevarot (logical insights), questioned the prohibition and its serious implications; however, after experience has accumulated over the years, the seriousness of the sin, and the extent of its punishment, is clearly evident.

We are Also Guilty

Nevertheless, we must be honest and admit the truth that we, too, the students of Torah, are to be held accountable.

Let’s suppose that tomorrow, the people of Israel awaken to do teshuva (repentance), wishing to fulfill its destiny of ‘repairing the world in the Kingdom of God’ (‘tikkun olam’), and the entire nation demands from its representatives in the Knesset and government: “Please! Rid us of all these Gentile laws, ‘restore our judges as before, and our counselors as at first’! Return Torah law to its proper standing, so the message of ‘tikkun olam’ can ring loud.” The Knesset members and government would then convene, deciding to change the legal system, and without delay, come to the rabbis and inform them: “Behold! We have decided to abandon the secular court system, and starting from next month, we request that you run the entire judicial system.”

Under present circumstances, the rabbis would have no choice but to ask the secular court system to continue managing all legal affairs, because, to our great dismay, we have yet to prepare the educational infrastructure needed to establish a legal system in accordance with the Torah. We have yet to train judges who can fill the place of the present judges, we still lack a coherent position regarding the rules of procedure, evidence, criminal prosecution, contract, labor and public laws, taxes, corporation laws, and so forth. In yeshiva’s, we study laws pertaining to the times of the Tanaim, Amoraim, Rishonim, and the first Achronim (10 CE till approx. 1600 CE). If someone were to come and ask a question about the Jewish community in the Middle Ages, we would have detailed answers; but unfortunately, we have not dealt sufficiently with laws pertaining to today’s society and economy (with the exception of a few institutions, which have clarified some of the issues).

Furthermore, in numerous issues there is a certain amount of confusion, seeing as the Rishonim were divided in their opinions, and as a result of the galut (exile), Torah scholars lacked the authority to decide the halakha; thus, any litigant can assert that he subscribes to a minority opinion ruling in his favor (‘kim li’), and because the halakha is inconclusive, it is impossible to decide who is right. In order to establish a legal system according to the Torah, first, we would have to decide the exact halakha in all fundamental issues.

‘Limmud Zechut’ for the Founders of the Israeli Court System

Thus, the Israeli jurists who did not willfully turn their backs on Torah law, but rather, believed it was impossible to successfully establish a modern society and economy in accordance with laws of the Torah, can be judged on a favorable basis (‘limmud zechut’). They turned to the legal system that was already prevalent in the country – a legal system beginning with Turkish laws, but mainly followed by British law. Thereafter, they continued building the court system in accordance with the vast experience acquired by legal systems of democratic countries, and together with the work of hundreds of thousands of lawyers, via inquiry, trial, error and correction, created a sophisticated system suitable for modern society.

Therefore, the Rambam’s declaration that “anyone who has a judgment decided by Gentile judges and their courts is considered a wicked person, and it is as if he disgraced, blasphemed, and lifted up his hand against the Torah of Moses our teacher”, does not apply to supporters of the secular legal system.

However, since in practice the secular court system derives its values ​​from Western society (along with all its various ills), it is impervious to the values ​​of Torah, the nation, and the Land (again, the court system can possibly be judged on a favorable basis claiming that in order not to confuse its legal considerations, they built a high dividing wall between the values ​​of the secular courts, and Jewish values of the Torah. In practice, the result is dreadful for the Jewish identity of the state). Time after time, the judicial system exploits the Jewish people of its values, rights, land, and national calling. Only by using arguments of mortal danger (such as the issue of Arab immigration to the State of Israel on the grounds of family reunification), have national claims narrowly been agreed to.

Gradual Change

It should be added that even if we had a systematic doctrine, and were able to promptly appoint a superbly organized court system, an interim period of time would still be needed, during which all contracts, agreements, and criminal cases could be judged in accordance with the current legal system, so as not to destabilize the social and economic frameworks based on it. Therefore, the transition to Torah law should be done gradually, in such a way that no one is adversely affected by the change.

The Study of Torah Law

Consequently, Torah students and teachers have a great obligation resting on their shoulders – to thoroughly clarify Torah law, and according to it, assess both the positive and negative aspects of the various legal systems in the world, examine the system of laws and regulations currently in force in the State of Israel, and consider what should be adopted, what needs to be changed, and what regulations to enact.

It should be noted that from the time of the Talmud until the early modern period, yeshiva students were proficient in the economic and legal doctrines which prevailed in their days. They knew how the Gentiles judged according to their laws, and how it was proper to rule according to halakha. Unfortunately, in recent generations a gap has been created between the world of Torah and the practical world; the Torah world has withdrawn into theoretical inquiries, to the point where some argue that any study concerning halakha or anything practical, is considered inferior compared to abstract ‘pilpul’.

If we continue the legacy of Torah study for generations, then today, students learning the tractates of ‘Nashim’ and ‘Nizikin’ in the Talmud and parts of ‘Choshen Mishpat’ and ‘Even Ha’ezer’ in the Shulchan Aruch should be proficient in knowledge of the legal system in all its various levels – criminal law, law procedures, systems of commerce, credit, investment, leverage, interest, taxes, labor laws, etc.

As a result, we would be able to provide a vision of a Jewish state acting according to Torah law, and set an example for all mankind how through the Torah, justice and moral values receive full expression, as it is written: “Safeguard and keep [these rules], since this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations. They will hear all these rules and say, “This great nation is certainly a wise and understanding people. What nation is so great that they have God close to it, as God our Lord is, whenever we call him? What nation is so great that they have such righteous rules and laws, like this entire Torah that I am presenting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:6-6).

May an Observant Jew be a Judge in a Secular Court?

There are rabbis who believe it is forbidden for a Jew to be appointed as a judge in a secular court. A God-fearing judge once told me that he refrained from signing as a witness on ketubah’s (Jewish marriage contracts), out of consideration for rabbis who were of the opinion that he was disqualified to testify.

On the other hand, there are rabbis who believe that since the public by way of its representatives in the Knesset accepted upon themselves the secular legal system, a person may be appointed a judge, seeing as he is not to blame for determining the Gentile judicial system.

In my humble opinion, it appears that everything depends on the judge’s positions. If he regrets that the system is not run according to Torah law, and tries his best to amend it, then his appointment as judge is valuable. Understandably, he cannot violate his obligation to rule according to the accepted law, but in cases where the law is subject to interpretation, it is a mitzvah for him to stretch the interpretation as far to the edge as possible in the direction of Torah law, in the same way secular judges sometimes tend to stretch their interpretation of the law radically in the secular direction. However, if he fits into the system, wholeheartedly accepting its moral yoke, even if from time to time he “decorates” his comments in verses from the Torah and words of our Sages, he is indeed a partner in the desecration of God (apparently, this was also the opinion of the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l, “Techumin” Vol.3, pg. 244).

Every now and then we hear of religiously observant lawyers who dismiss Israel’s basic right to its land, and even draw their arguments from the dubious authority of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which is undoubtedly a “Gentile court”. In such a case, even if they believe they are only following the prevailing international law, seeing as they could have chosen another option that is legitimate and compatible to the Torah (such as the Edmond Levy report), in practice, they are partners in the desecration of God which the Rambam spoke of.

The Authority to Enact Ordinances

I must add that sometimes, judges and dayanim (rabbinic judges) who rule according to formal Torah law (such as in the case of inheritances or alimony), will find themselves ruling contrary to the principles of the Torah. For indeed, it is clear that if Torah scholars had the authority, they would enact a regulation solving the distortion that is liable to occur from a simplistic understanding of Torah law.

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 Chief Culprit: The Supreme Court

All those who attacked the mitzvah of ‘yefat toar’, besides deriding the Torah, also damaged its’ moral influence on the world * The basic problem is the arrogance of Western culture, offering humanity shallow and dangerous worldviews, in contrast to the multifaceted guidance of the Torah * The Supreme Court is today’s most harmful factor of the Jewish state and its values * Concerning Amona, the courts favored the petitioners over the settlers, only because they are Arabs * A series of Supreme Court decisions against Jewish settlement of the country, and Israel’s security * It is also the responsibility of the religious public to offer an alternative


Last week, I dealt with the issue of clarifying the mitzvah of ‘eshet yefat toar‘ and the inherent moral ‘tikkun‘ (improvement) it embodies: on the one hand, as opposed to the conventional legal situation in the world where it was permitted to do anything with prisoners of war, the mitzvah of ‘eshet yefat toar‘ represented an enormous improvement; on the other hand, the Torah teaches us that it was a transgression permitted bediavad (after the fact), and seeing as ‘aveira goreret aveira’ (one sin leads to another) it was liable to cause conflicts in the family and result in bearing children who are rebellious (Tanchuma Ki Tayzeh 1). In regards to this, 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 the flesh of dying animals which have perished (a definite prohibition)” (Kiddushin 21b). In this way, the Torah gradually elevates a person until he reaches a complete ‘tikkun‘.

In contrast, the several members of the media who ridiculed the Torah’s mitzvot, and the women members of Knesset who petitioned the High Court against the Chief IDF Rabbi’s appointment, defamed the Torah. Besides slandering the word of the living God with their remarks and actions and the tradition of their ancestors who sacrificed their lives to guard it – no less severe, they harmed the welcome moral influence of the Torah in ‘tikkun olam’.

Arrogance and Superficiality

Their behavior is a direct result of their arrogant and superficial worldview which, out of good intentions, offers the world “new religions” and “moral solutions”, that in practice, cause destruction and devastation. Consequently, in order to help the poor, one movement offered the world the “religion of communism” whose followers denounced property rights, initiated murderous wars, and created an evil, dictatorial regime.

Correspondingly, in order to strengthen the rights of the individual, another movement offered the world the “religion of liberal democracy” whereby, regardless of a country’s national character or social circumstances, come what may, the democratic system will always bring about peace and prosperity – and thus, out of blind devotion to the “religion of democracy”, America helped Khomeini establish an evil regime in Iran, and caused havoc and wars in every country they attempted to offer assistance (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, etc.).

At the same time, inwardly, the “religion of freedom and equality” caused the breakup of the family and community, decreeing loneliness and misery on countless numbers of people, demonstrated by the constant and alarming decrease in demographics.

The values ​​in whose name they speak, such as justice, brotherhood, equality and freedom are sacred values whose foundations stem from the Torah, but when they emerge out of a superficiality rooted in arrogance and contempt for other values ​​and cultures, as well as ignoring the infinite complexity of human life, they cause immense suffering to countless numbers of people.

It is precisely the Torah that is intended to guide all of us through the complexities of life, teaching us to choose well within a complicated reality.

The Fault of the Legal Establishment

Under normal circumstances a libel suit should have been brought against those who slandered the Torah and Rabbi Krim for allegedly not respecting moral values. But to whom can one appeal? Indeed, the entire legal establishment is contaminated! The Supreme Court judges accepted the petition on the grounds that presumably the allegation that Rabbi Krim supported attacking women during wartime was true. They should have rejected the petition out of hand for one of two reasons: a) it is not a matter for the court to intervene in administrative decisions, as long as there is no criminal allegations. B) There is no feasibility of truth in the actual petition itself. After all, at no time in history was there ever a Torah commentator who claimed that the taking of an ‘eshet yefat toar’ was a good thing, and it’s illogical to presume that precisely Rabbi Krim would all of a sudden say it was a mitzvah from the Torah. Instead, the judges agreed with the petitioners, accepting the libelous slander that perhaps the Torah actually says so, and consequently, a rabbi could give such a directive. Having not rejected the petition, they became partners in the slander, similar to what we have learned concerning those who hear loshon ha’ra (evil speech) that they are also considered sinners. For it’s not only the mouse that is a thief, but also the hole encouraging him to enter. The lawyer representing the government whose job it was to defend the Chief IDF Rabbi’s appointment, muttered some nonsensical arguments demonstrating ignorance, disrespect, and mistrust of the Torah and rabbis.

The aim of the petition was to humiliate the laws of the Torah and its adherents, and to show everyone that the secular law is above the Torah, and since the legal establishment volunteered to be part of this, the primary blame lies with them.

The Case of Amona

Also in regards to Jewish settlement in the community of Amona, the legal establishment acted similarly. Ignoring the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (the commandment to settle the Land) and the vision of its redemption in Torah, the Prophets, and Jewish heritage, from the very beginning the courts gave priority to the flimsy claims of the petitioners, which even if they do exist, not once did any of their family members ever purchase these lands, or settle them. The only advantage the petitioners have over the settlers is that they are Arabs, whereas the settlers are Jews; consequently, the court ordered the demolition of their homes.

Harm to the Jewish Identity of the State

In a continuous process, the legal establishment has gnawed away at the country’s Jewish identity. Let’s now recall their main decisions and orders in this issue: 1) In a series of decisions the courts weakened the importance of Shabbat, permitting increasing public desecration of Shabbat (cinemas, shopping centers in outlying areas, etc.); 2) Despite the Knesset passing the “Foundations of Law” statute, whereby in a case of any legal question undecided by Israeli law, the court must decide in accordance with the values ​​of Israel’s heritage – in practice, the Supreme Court depleted this law from all content; 3) the courts harmed Jewish family values by recognizing the adoption of children by same-sex couples; 4) they recognized Reform conversions performed outside of Israel; 5) the courts recognized in practice (de facto) civil marriage ceremonies conducted outside of Israel, including same-sex “marriages”; 6) They harmed the status of the Hebrew language as the official national language of the country by nearly equating Arabic to Hebrew; 7) they prevented the disqualification of the Balad party and anti-Zionist candidates for Knesset, and this, in opposition to the opinion of the Elections Committee who relied upon the Basic Law of the Knesset prohibiting a party that negates the Jewish identity of the state to run for election; 8) the court system forced the participation of women singers and actresses in official and semi-official ceremonies, without taking into account the position of halakha and the religious and Haredi communities.

Harm to the Rabbinate and Religious Courts

1) In a series of decisions, the Supreme Court intervened in the discretion of municipal Chief Rabbis regarding the provision of kosher certification; 2) they obligated the religious courts to decide according to secular law in monetary matters; 3) prohibited national religious courts from serving as arbitrators according to the Arbitration Law; 4) established courts dealing with family issues, designed to compete with the religious courts.

Harm to the Importance of Yishuv Ha’aretz

For over 150 years, a national struggle has ensued between the Jews and the Arabs over the Land of Israel. In order to redeem and settle the Land, the ‘Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael’ was established, and afterwards, the State of Israel. However in a gradual process, the Supreme Court has hindered the ability of the State of Israel to fulfill its mission. 1) The Supreme Court prohibited the government from allocating state-owned land for settlement exclusively by Jews. 2) Prohibited giving incentives to Jewish communities in the Galilee and Negev (“making the Galilee and Negev Jewish”), thereby invalidating the ideal which accompanied the Zionist movement from its inception. 3) Even in regards to the lands owned by the ‘Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael’ which were purchased exclusively with Jewish money, as a result of deliberations in the Supreme Court, the then Attorney General Mr. Mazuz, ordered not to give further preference to Jewish settlement. 4) As a result of petitions by leftist organizations, the Supreme Court hastened to intervene, demanding the evacuation of Jewish outposts in Judea and Samaria, while breaching the rules of deliberation obligating a legal process of clarification of ownership of the land before a District and Magistrates court. 5) The courts prohibited the state from crop-spraying to shower pesticides on illegally-planted plots of land by Bedouins in the Negev, despite this being a proven method of restraining their seizure of state-owned lands. 6) As a result of pressure from the courts, the Attorney General obligated the state to divert the route of Nahal Hevron in the northern Negev at the cost of 30 million shekels, claiming the sewage that the Palestinian Authority spilled into it, inconveniences the illegal Bedouin outpost ‘Um-Bitin’ located next to the path of the stream. 7) In the latter part of his first term, the courts prohibited Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from closing the ‘Orient House’, claiming that his government was a ‘provisional government’; on the other hand, they deferred a similar petition against the peace talks in Taba at the end of Ehud Barak’s tenure.

Harm to Israel’s Security

1) The courts prohibited the shaking-up of suspects interrogated by the Shabak (Secret Service), including cases of “ticking-bombs”. 2) They abolished the procedure of “human shields”, a method that has saved the lives of numerous soldiers. 3) The court placed severe restrictions on the IDF, tying their hands in the harming of terrorists about to carry out an attack; 4) The courts disqualified a law – despite being passed in the Knesset – allowing the incarceration of ‘hard’ terrorists for a period of two weeks without seeing a judge, despite the security needs for such a procedure in order to obtain information from them; 5) In opposition to the opinion of the defense establishment, the Supreme Court instructed the dismantling and relocation of sections of the ‘security fence’ and settlement’s security fences in several locations, and also the opening of roads and removal of roadblocks, in full knowledge that this would likely cause a security risk; 6) In a series of decisions, the courts and the legal establishment forced the IDF to enlist women soldiers in combat units, in opposition to the opinion of professional committees.

On occasion, the mere fact that the Supreme Court starts hearing a petition leads governmental agencies to cancel their plans. For example: the Supreme Court held discussions on petitions brought by leftist groups against reducing the supply of gas, electricity, and other goods to Gaza, and subsequently, the then Attorney General Mr. Mazuz, ordered the government to fold up its plans.

Strengthening those Loyal to the Nation and the Land

This short overview is as much as necessary to determine that the legal system is currently the most alienated and most harmful institution in Israel in its affront of Jewish and Zionist values.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that within the legal establishment there are also many positive aspects: in the field of ‘derech eretz’ which precedes Torah, it acts in a reasonable manner, and its very existence helps in keeping law and order, and the normal functioning of social and economic frameworks.

It should also be pointed out that we, members of the religiously observant community, are also guilty for the current situation, by not offering a proper alternative to the legal system. I hope to expand on this issue in my next column. In the meantime, let us thank those lawyers, judges and advisors who, out of a deep-seated loyalty to the values ​​of Torah, the nation and the Land, attempt to do their jobs within the existing legal system, thus paving the beginning of the path to correcting the situation.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed, including all his books on halakha and Jewish thought in Hebrew, and a few in English, can be found at:

‘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:

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed