Prayers of the General Public Take Precedence

Gilad Shalit

With extreme irresponsibility, various people are exerting public pressure “to free Gilad at any cost,” or in other words, at the cost of releasing numerous terrorists with blood on their hands. I don’t want to blame Gilad’s family, for “one is not to be made responsible for his words at a time when he is afflicted.” However, concerning all the other people – they definitely can be blamed.

If, God forbid, terrorists are released, and consequently, as can be expected, many Jews are killed, all those people who exerted pressure, together with the members of government who decide on the issue, will not be able to say “our hands have not spilled this blood.”  They will be part of it. The media is especially to be blamed, for in a terribly irresponsible way, they support the release of terrorists, without informing the public about the awesome danger it entails. And when the disasters happen, God forbid, they will claim that the “public wanted” the release of Gilad at any cost.

Demands can be made for harsher jail conditions for the terrorists, or that the government initiates a military operation for his release – such as the one in Entebbe. However, the demand to release terrorists is totally irresponsible. It will lead to bloodshed, strengthen the terrorist organizations, and severely harm the status of the State of Israel – which also leads to bloodshed.

The release of Gild from his captivity does not insure his safety until the age of 120. A person can be killed in an accident or die from an illness. For example, there was once a young woman who planned to be a counselor in a camp in one of the communities in the Shomron. At the last minute, her parents, who were worried about the dangers of a terrorist attack on the roads to the Shomron, vetoed her plans. Two days later she was killed in a car accident.

Individual Prayers vs. Public Needs

On Yom Kippur, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, he would utter a short prayer, asking for rain and livelihood, that pregnant woman give birth safely, and on the agriculture. He would implore God, saying: “Do not pay attention to the prayers of the travelers on the roads concerning rain when the world needs it.” This aroused amazement: at such a holy moment, this is what the High Priest has to say? But, indeed, it is a great danger when the distress of the individual overcomes the needs of the general public. When a person is in distress, he cries out to God from the depths of his heart. However, when the nation needs rain, people pray weakly, and in the end comes a drought followed by famine and harsh deaths. Therefore, the High Priest needed to pray that God hear the prayers of the general public, in spite of its weakness, and not hear the prayers of the individual traveler who cried from his heart over something inappropriate.

Distancing Ishmael for His Own Good

Good Intention

At first, the intention was very good. Seeing that God had prevented her from giving birth, Sarah our foremother decided graciously to give her fine maid servant to Abraham. This was both an act of kindness towards Abraham, who would merit having a son after so many years, and even more so towards Hagar her maid servant, providing her the opportunity to come close to the righteous and honored Abraham, and Hagar’s children, the prospect of joining the great vision which Sarah and Abraham had established in the world. It was clear to Sarah that Hagar, who, up until now, had accepted her leadership submissively and with love, would continue to recognize her seniority, and the child born to her would be educated by Sarah. She hoped that in the merit of her generosity, God would speed her salvation by giving her a son, who, along with the son of Hagar, would fulfill the great vision which they had established in the world – while at the same time, recognizing of the seniority of Sarah’s son.

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

Sarah our foremother tormented and punished Hagar in order to put her in her place. In the opinion of the Ramban and Radak, Sarah did not behave properly. However, Sarah our righteous foremother hoped that if Hagar the maid servant was tormented, she would recognize her place, and everything would return to normal. Hagar, however, did not agree to accept Sarah’s authority, and she fled from the house. Only after the angel of God told her “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her” (Genesis 16:9) did Hagar return humbly, accepting the authority of Sarah. She gave birth to Ishmael, raising him on the knees of her masters – Abraham and Sarah.

Even after the birth of Isaac, it seemed as if Hagar accepted the seniority of the son of her mistress. However, as Isaac grew up, Ishmael began to “play” with him. If Isaac attempts to be righteous, then he, Ishmael, will pave a different path. Some say that he began to follow after idol worship and promiscuity; others say that he played games with Isaac that endangered his life, thereby revealing his inner desire to murder him for taking his place. People would say: Take a look at Abraham the Ivri – all his life he’s been preaching to us to be careful about stealing, having forbidden sexual relations, and murder, and here his son Ishmael is a wild ass of a man.

The Decision to Expel

Consequently, Sarah our foremother realized that there was no chance Hagar and Ishmael would follow in the path of their masters. Hagar’s return was insincere, and in truth, she did not accept Sarah’s leadership, forgetting the kindness she had done by giving her her husband. In the meantime, Ishmael leaves the fold and falls into delinquency. If they remain in their house, Abraham and Sarah’s great vision of building a family and nation that will perfect the world, is liable to be destroyed. “She said to Abraham, “Drive away this slave together with her son. The son of this slave will not share the inheritance with my son Isaac!”

This was very difficult for Abraham our forefather. Abraham, who for all his life had drawn people closer out of love, was now required to expel his loved son. “But God said to Abraham, “Do not be troubled because of the boy and your slave. Do everything Sarah tells you. It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity.”

Expulsion Hurts

Had Hagar and Ishmael parted, accepting wholeheartedly that, indeed, it would be better for them to build their future in another place, the expulsion would have been easy, and the pangs of conscience would have been allayed to some extent. Seemingly, however, in the final days Ishmael destroyed things by going wild and sinning, until Abraham couldn’t remove him honorably with presents, as he had wished, but rather expelled him and Hagar shamefully (see Shmot Rabbah 1:1). And as if that wasn’t enough, although Abraham guided them on their way, they got lost; Ishmael became sick and almost died of thirst, and he and Hagar were saved only by a miracle.

The Expulsion was Justified

For all this, there is no denunciation of Sarah our foremother and Abraham our forefather. The proof is that on Rosh HaShana, the day where we are careful not to mention anything bad about Israel, the Sages decreed to read the story about the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael. In other words, God’s decree to expel the slave and her son applies even when it is not pleasant. For the law is the law — Hagar, who denied Sarah’s kindness, and Ishmael, who, while still in the house of Abraham, dared to worship idols, steal, and threaten to murder, must receive their punishment. And precisely when Israel recognizes its uniqueness and specialness amongst all the nations, they merit, justifiably, a good year.


Specifically after they were expelled and made to suffer, Hagar and Ishmael realized their sin and repented. The promise God made to Abraham, “And you will be buried at a good old age” was fulfilled, for he merited to see his son Ishmael repent (Bereishit Rabbah 30:4). This is what the verse states (Genesis 25:8): “His sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried him in Makhpelah Cave”, meaning that both of them were his sons, and Ishmael agreed that Isaac was the main successor of Abraham, and therefore he walked after Isaac (Tractate Baba Batra 16b).

Nevertheless, as long as Sarah was alive, she did not agree to have them return to their house, so that it would be absolutely and finally clear that Isaac was the successor of Abraham, and only he possessed the Heavenly designation to tell the praises of God in this world, and to reveal the Holy Presence in the Land of Israel. As time went by the matters became clearer, until they reached the pinnacle at the binding of Isaac. Immediately after Isaac reached this supreme level, Sarah passed away.

Like in the Past – So Today

Like in the past – so today; we thought that if we are nice to our Arab neighbors, the sons of Ishmael, if we make the land, which was desolate under their hands, blossom; if we develop the economy and their standard of living rises; if we award them rights that no Arab has in any Arab country – they would be appreciative. However, the more we contributed to their prosperity – the more their war against us grew. Even if we attempt to torment them, to beat them in war, we will be blamed (just as the Ramban and Radak denounced Sarah our foremother). The only option is to strengthen the Jewish character of the State, to make clear to all that this land is ours, and no other nation has a part or inheritance in it. Anyone who accepts this lovingly – can live here with us as a ‘ger toshav’ (resident alien). However, towards anyone who does not accept this, we must act with all the means at our disposal in order to expel him. Only then, when they are sitting in another location, will the sons of Ishmael be able to reflect on the good we brought them and the world, and recognize our virtue — that we are the sons of Israel, the receivers of the Torah and inheritors of the land that was promised to Abraham, and they too will join us in perfecting the world in the kingdom of God.

Who Is Bringing Politics into the Army?

The Protest at the Army Induction

Once again it has become clear that the non-religious, leftist media should be called ‘tishkoret’, or falsifiers, rather than ‘tikshoret’, or media. When the media reports on an isolated story, one assumes that probably they are reporting the facts as they actually occurred. However, when one is familiar with the story close-up, it becomes clear that there isn’t one case where the media does not purposely distort the basic facts.

The story of the protest by soldiers at their induction ceremony began with the vigorous actions of the Shimshon Brigade in expelling Jews from Homesh, sometimes while desecrating the Sabbath. As a result of this, the recruits from the Shimshon Brigade felt terribly uncomfortable; here they are, about to be sworn-in to the I.D.F., and their brigade conducts such evil actions. During their induction at the Kotel, two recruits held-up a sign saying: “The Shimshon Brigade Does Not Evacuate Homesh”. In the newspaper “Yediot Achranot” and on Chanel 10 News, it was prominently reported that I encouraged and instructed the recruits to protest. In actuality, I knew nothing about it.

Furthermore, had they asked my advice, I probably would have recommended not to do it, for only when a soldier is forced to assist in an expulsion must he disobey orders; however, he is not obligated to protest specifically at his induction ceremony. One who wants to excel in the mitzvah of protesting must act on his own, and if he needs to ask – it’s a sign that he’s not the one to do it. In addition, I probably would have dissuaded them because I could have imagined that such a protest would cause great anguish to their direct officers, amongst them, the platoon officer who is a God-fearing, Yeshiva student with lofty character traits, whose grandfather is an important rabbi. However, after they acted out of dedication for their nation and homeland, I honor their actions and recognize the benefit that results from such public protests. These are very highly motivated soldiers; the more we have of them in Israel and in the army, the better our situation will be.


Let’s return to the media (falsifiers). The reporters were clearly told that I was not aware of the protest, but, in an attempt to minimize its affect, they tried to create a false pretense, claiming that it was the rabbi’s who were inciting the soldiers, who, if left alone, are more than willing to expel Jews. In general, the media (falsifiers) love to portray the religious as being people who cannot think for themselves, and all their actions go according to the instructions of the rabbi’s. This is a sufficient reason to ignore the claims of the religious, and fight the rabbi’s who suppress them.

Not So Bad This Time

Nevertheless, it is important to point out that in this case, these media reports didn’t affect me personally, for in the opinion of many religious and right-wing people, this is an important and honorable protest – and it is an honor to be counted amongst those who support such soldiers. And in any case, amongst the non-religious, leftist public, they don’t differentiate between Yeshiva Har Etzion and Yeshiva Har Bracha, or between Rabbi Plony or Rabbi Almony. Anyone who supports the settling of Judea and Samaria is suspicious in the eyes of the Left of harboring extreme positions. Therefore, any time a Rabbi presents a view that is similar in one way or another to a leftist, non-religious position, people are surprised that “even though he’s a Rabbi, his views are enlightened.” In any case, they will still be suspicious that he is hiding his true opinions.

The Response of I.D.F. Officers

The responses of the I.D.F. officers excelled in hypocrisy. The Head of the Central Command asserted that “the I.D.F. should not be dragged into a political discussion, thereby creating factionalism in the midst of the army, which is the army of the entire nation.” This is how the person who, in fact, sends his soldiers to beat the settlers and destroy Jewish settlements, and carries out the most severe actions of factionalism, speaks?! The Chief of Staff also viewed the soldiers protest with severity, saying “not to use I.D.F. soldiers for ulterior motives.” Who is using I.D.F. soldiers for ulterior motives? This is exactly what the soldiers protested about, demanding not to be used for ulterior motives, but solely for the defense of the nation and land against its enemies.

Be Careful of Such Officers

When I.D.F. officers express themselves in such a manner, we must be watchful that they do not abandon our soldiers. In “Operation Cast Lead”, for the first time in a number of years, the I.D.F. took greater care for the security of its soldiers. In this way, together with good leadership, we might even win a war. However, our enemies, along with their friends from the extreme left, figured this out, and consequently, they are currently attempting to condemn the I.D.F. as being an army that carries out “war crimes.” When I.D.F. officers do not understand who the enemy is, the enemy which the soldiers enlisted in the army to fight against, there is a fear that such officers will prefer foreign interests over victory in battle. They will prefer receiving permission from “enlightened” countries to vacation in their hotels and exclusive shops over guarding the life of simple soldiers.

Between Israel and the Nations

The Children of Noah

We often ponder what our relationship to the non-Jewish world should be. Should we criticize their evil tendencies, namely, that they preferred to follow after all kinds of pagan religions instead of receiving the Torah which was given to Israel on Mt. Sinai — as our Sages have said, it was called ‘Sinai’ (the word ‘Sinai’, stems from the Hebrew root ‘hate’ in Hebrew), for “hate fell upon it to the nations of the world”, and it was also called Mt. Horeb because upon it “destruction fell to the nations” (Tractate Shabbat 89b). Or should we love the non-Jewish nations, for one should love all of creation, especially the most complex and wonderful of creation – human beings, who were created in the image of God.
Our teacher Rabbi Kook זצ”ל wrote: “Love of creation must be alive in the heart and the soul; love for all of man, specifically, and love of all of the worlds”. Consequently, a Jew should desire “their spiritual and materialistic elevation and revival”. “Hate should only be felt over the evil and filth in the world”. However, the basic position is one of love. This is the mission of the Jewish nation, to be a light unto the nations in order to perfect the world, together, in the word of God. “It is absolutely impossible to reach the spiritual heights of “Give thanks to God, proclaim His name; make His deeds known among the nations” without an inner-love, from the depths of one’s heart and soul, to benefit all the nations, to improve their possessions, to make their lives happy.” This is the hope of the Redemption, and this ambition brings it closer. “This quality makes possible the ‘spirit of the King Messiah’ to rest on
Israel .”
“In every place where we find hints of hatred, we clearly know that the intention is only concerning the evil, which powerfully restricts the union of many nations… but we must know that the point of life, light and holiness, never left the image of God which He endowed on man in general, and on every nation and language, each one according to its level, and this holy nucleus will elevate everything…” (Midot Ra’ayah ‘Ahavah’ 5).

In Spite of Differences of Opinion and Religions

We, however, are acquainted with reality. There is a difference between saying that the Jewish nation is the heart of the nations whose job it is to perfect the world together with them, and our actual relations with them. For in fact, the deep differences are liable to create a wide gap, especially when justified claims against the non-Jewish nations — that aggressiveness and physical desires are their main motivations – exist. Therefore, Rabbi Kook זצ”ל goes on to clarify: “Love of creation requires great care, despite the differences of opinions, religions, and faiths; despite all the divisions of race and climate.” It’s not enough to just express a fundamental position concerning a positive attitude towards all of creation; rather, the love must be realized through a true interest and a desire to assist. “It is appropriate to fully understand the different nations, to attempt to learn their characteristics and traits, in order to
understand how to establish the fundamentals of human love in a more practical way.”
This is the special virtue of the Jewish nation, who truly strives to perfect the world. Therefore, only a Jew who is partner to this great vision can truly love the Jewish nation – the heart of the nations. Conversely, the fostering of general hatred towards all of the non-Jewish nations destroys the foundations of Judaism.

True Love Increases Hate of Evil

Precisely because of this true love for mankind and a deep care for their well-being, hatred towards wicked people who damage and destroy the world is increased. If they can be corrected, it is preferable. However, if they continue their evil ways, they must be fought till their destruction. This is similar to King David, who called all the nations to “shout to God with the voice of triumph” (Psalms 47:2), but concerning the wicked he prayed: “I have pursued my enemies, and destroyed them; and turned not again until I had consumed them’ (Second Book of Samuel 22:38).

How Can One Love an Idol Worshipper?

Seemingly, one might ask: How can Rabbi Kook write that despite the differences in religions and faiths, we must study the characteristics and traits of the nations in order to understand how to love them, when Jewish law states that a “ben Noach” who worships idols must be killed?
However, only a “ben Noach” who worshipped idols willfully must be put to death (Rambam, Book of Kings 10:1). In order to sin willfully in this issue, one must be familiar with Jewish faith, for Judaism is the only abstract faith without any trace of idolatry. Therefore, nations who have not been properly exposed to Jewish faith are not judged severely for their mistake. Especially, when the Jewish nation was expelled from its land, it was very difficult for the nations to be familiarized with the greatness of the Jewish faith.
In general, it must be known that the litmus test for the nations concerning their level of faith and morality is their relation towards Israel – the bearers of the word of God in this world. Therefore, those Christians who, from the time the Jews returned to their land, began to recognize the attributes of Israel, and strive with all their hearts to fulfill the words of the Prophets who spoke well about Israel, they are the good and righteous non-Jews. And all those who fight against Israel , or attempt to proselytize them, are evil.
The more we merit sanctifying the name of God, the more the nations will call out in the name of God the Lord of Israel.

Sermon for Shabbat T'shuva

Why the Cry for Repentance is Not Answered

In the Torah portion ‘VaYelekh’, God reveals to Moshe Rabbeinu that
after his death the nation would stray after alien gods, violating the
covenant with God. “I will then display anger against them… and
abandon them. I will hide My face from them… and many evils and
troubles shall befall them.” Then, Israel will be aroused to repent,
realizing that all of the troubles were caused due to their leaving
God. “They will say, ‘It is because my God is no longer with me that
these evils have befallen us’. Seemingly, it would be expected that
after Israel is aroused to repent, God, who is merciful and
compassionate, would forgive their sins. However, God says to Moshe
that although Israel understood that all the troubles stemmed from Him
not being with them, nevertheless, He would not forgive them – on the
contrary – He would continue to severely punish them. “On that day I
will utterly hide My face because of all the evil that they have done
in turning to alien gods.” The question which arises is awesome: Is
this the appropriate response to Israel’s recognition of sin?! Indeed,
on numerous occasions Jews in the Diaspora questioned ‘why is God
hiding His face from us’? Why doesn’t He hear our cries?
Even more difficult is that in the Torah portion ‘Nitzavim’ we see
that after “there shall come a time when you shall experience all the
words of blessing and curse that I have presented to you. Here, among
the nations where God will have banished you, you will reflect on the
situation. You will then return to God your Lord, and you will obey
Him, doing everything that I am commanding you today. You and your
children [will repent] with all your heart and with all your soul
(D’varim 30:1-2). Now, from the following verses (6-8), it is
certainly clear that we are not talking about a complete repentance,
for only afterwards is it mentioned that Israel would return to
fulfill all the commandments. Nevertheless, in the merit of this minor
repentance, Israel is rewarded with the beginning of the Redemption:
“God will then bring back your remnants and have mercy on you. God
your Lord will once again gather you from among all the nations where
He scattered you. Even if your diaspora is at the ends of the heavens,
God your Lord will gather you up from there and He will take you back.
God your Lord will then bring you to the land that your ancestors
occupied, and you too will occupy it. God will be good to you and make
you flourish even more than your ancestors (D’varim 30:3-5).

Words Alone are not Enough

The answer is almost as awesome as the question. When we plead to God
to save us from the troubles of the Diaspora without making an effort
to ascend to the Land of Israel and settle it, the troubles increase.
However, when Jews begin to return to the Land – this is the true
beginning of repentance. Then, God answers and assists our actions by
gathering us from the four corners of the world to settle the Land and
merit its goodness and blessing.
For the most important thing is the honor of Heaven and the honor of
Israel, and when we ask that God be with us — without ascending to
the Land of Israel and settling it – all of our petitions to God are
solely for individual needs, (even if they be spiritual), while
disregarding the main goal of the Jewish nation – to sanctify the name
of God in the eyes of the nations, and to rectify the world in the
kingdom of God. This is what is written further on (D’varim 31:19):
“Now write for yourselves this song… make them memorize it, so that
this song will be a witness for the Israelites.” What do we learn from
the song of ‘HaAzinu’? That the most important thing is the honor of
Heaven and the honor of His nation, Israel; that the sin which causes
all the troubles is the desecration of God by forgetting His Heavenly
mission and following after alien gods. Also, the Redemption is
dependent upon honor of Heaven, so the nations do not say that they
are the mighty and that God cannot save His nation (D’varim 32:26-27).
Therefore, even if Israel does not repent properly, in the end the
Redemption will come, in order to reveal the word of God to the world.

Repentance through Settling the Land

When, however, Israel is awakened to ascend to the Land of Israel and
settle it, as is described in the Torah portion ‘Nitzavim’, God begins
to shower them with blessings and they merit the highest level of
repentance. Thus we find that the major punishment and reward revolves
around the issue of the Land of Israel. Before the section concerning
repentance in the portion of ‘Nitzavim’, the Torah describes the
punishment of destruction and wilderness of the Land of Israel; in
amazement, all the nations say: “Why did God do this to the land? What
was the reason for this great display of anger? They shall answer, “It
is because they abandoned the covenant that God, Lord of their
fathers, made with them when He brought them out of Egypt. They went
and served foreign gods, bowing down to them. These were gods alien to
them, something that was not their portion. God displayed anger
against this nation, bringing upon it the entire curse written in this
book. God drove them from their land with anger, rage and great fury,
and He exiled them to another land, where they remain even
today” (D’varim 29:21-27). It is clear then, that afterwards, the
repentance that Israel makes is by returning to the Land, settling it,
and making the wilderness blossom – thereby achieving great blessing.
Afterwards it is written: “God will remove the barriers from your
hearts and from the hearts of your descendants, so that you will love
God your Lord with all your heart and soul… You will repent and obey
God, keeping all His commandments, as I prescribe them to you
today” (D’varim 30:6-8). This is also what our mentor Rav Kook זצ”ל
has explained (Orot HaTeshuva 17:2).

Thus Says the Prophet

Additionally, we have learned from the Prophet Ezekiel (Chap. 36) that
there is no greater desecration of God than Israel being in the
Diaspora. “They profaned my holy name, in that men said of them, These
are the people of the Lord, and they are gone out of his land.” And
this is the main reason for the Redemption – “But I had concern for my
holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations,
into which they came. Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says
the Lord God; I do not do this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but
for my holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations.”
How is the desecration of God ended? – “For I will take you from among
the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you
into your own land.” First, the in-gathering of the exiles, and only
afterwards, when the settlement of the Land is strong, “Then I will
sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your
impurity” (Ezekiel 36:20-26). Therefore it is clear that the effort to
settle the Land of Israel and end the desecration of God is the key to
true repentance and the closening of the Redemption.

Negligence of Settling the Land – Source of Divine Punishment

Even during the times of the Rishonim, when it was very difficult to
ascend to the Land of Israel and settle it, according to the opinion
of Rabbi Yehudah HaLevy, one had to make an effort to move to Israel.
Thus he wrote in his pure and holy book “The Kuzari” (Chap. 2:24-25),
that the king of Kuzar asked the Rabbi: if the Land of Israel is so
holy and praiseworthy, and it’s a great mitzvah to live there, how
come the Jews remain in the Diaspora and don’t ascend to the Land? The
Rabbi responds: “Indeed, you have found my disgrace, king of Kuzar!
For surely it is because of this sin that God’s mission was not
fulfilled in the Second Temple.” Had all Israel answered the call and
ascended to Israel, we would have merited the complete Redemption. But
since only a few Jews made aliyah, with the majority of the important
and respected Jews remaining in the Diaspora, the Heavenly promises
concerning the redemption were only partly fulfilled (see Tractate
Yoma 9:b), until the Second Temple was destroyed and we descended to
an even harsher Diaspora.

The Conclusion of “The Kuzari”

Therefore, in the end of the book “The Kuzari,” the Rabbi parts from
the king in order to ascend to the Land of Israel. Since the parting
is difficult for the king, he attempts to persuade the Rabbi to stay
with him, claiming that he can also get close to God outside of the
Land of Israel, and besides, it is dangerous to move to there. The
Rabbi responds that the Land of Israel is the place of Divine
revelation, it is the God of Israel’s holy place, and only there is
the fulfillment of the commandments complete. As far as dangers of
travel are concerned, one shouldn’t worry so much, for even merchants
sail-off to such places to make money. Once again the king claims: but
God knows your good intentions to come closer to Him, why must you
make such a great effort to ascend to the Land of Israel? The Rabbi
responds that only when one does not have the capability to fulfill
the mitzvah is there value in arousing passion concerning the building
of the Land. But when the mitzvah can be actually fulfilled, it is
forbidden to be satisfied with just intentions. Indeed, this is
exactly what Rabbi Yehudah HaLevy did – he left all his honor and
status in Spain and with great self-sacrifice ascended to the Land of

In Our Times

Today, when we hear many of the world’s leaders deny our rights over
Judea and Samaria, while on the other hand, righteous Gentiles
strongly believe that God gave the Holy Land to His Chosen People, and
that everything stands and is dependent on the foundation of faith in
the God of Israel, we must be very strong in the holy mitzvah of
expanding Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. It’s not by chance
that the question of Judea and Samaria stands at the top of the worlds
agenda, because the foundation of Israel’s redemption, and the
redemption of the entire world, is dependent upon this great mitzvah
of settling the Land of Israel, which the Sages said is equal to all
the mitzvoth (Sifrei, Re’eh 53), and is the main foundation of
sanctification of God in the world.

The Sin of the Nations who Attempt to Steal Israel’s Inheritance

Everything is dependent upon the settling of the Land and the
sanctification of God in the eyes of the nations, as it is written
(Joel 4:1): “For behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall
bring back the captivity of Yehuda and Yerushalayim, I will also
gather all nations, and will bring them down to the valley of
Yehoshafat, and will enter into judgment with them there for my people
and for my heritage Yisrael, whom they have scattered among the
nations, and have divided up my land.” It’s a shame these verses
aren’t mentioned to the President of America and the rest of the
leaders of the world who demand we divide the Land. The Prophet
continues to describe the sin of the nations and the punishment that
will come upon them, their sons, and their lands. Unlike their demands
to freeze building in Judea and Jerusalem, “But Yehuda shall remain
for ever, and Yerushalayim from generation to generation. And though I
have acquitted them, those who shed their blood I have not acquitted;
and the Lord will dwell in Zion.”

Those who Scorn the Mitzvah of Settling the Land

There are those who mistakenly think that the most important thing is
to feel bitter about “Because our God is not among us,” therefore,
“are not these evils come upon us,” while ignoring the honor of Heaven
and Israel. They don’t care about the settlements, nor does their
heart ache over the terrible desecration of God when the nations of
the world claim: “you are robbers and have conquered the land of the
Palestinians”. They don’t care about the words of our Sages which
Rashi brings down in the beginning of the Bible, that the reason the
Torah begins with story of the creation of the world is to teach us
“the power of His actions,” that the entire world belongs to God, and
He inherited the Holy Land of Israel to our fathers and us. If,
however, the government were to hinder the fulfillment of the mitzvah
of keeping kosher or family purity, then all the so-called “righteous”
would rise-up and fight till the end, but over the greatest
desecration of God, which is being perpetrated in front of the entire
world, they completely ignore.

An Awakening for the Settlers

This is the time the righteous settlers must arise. If there is a
decree not to build more houses, then we must build second floors and
turn them into apartments. According to the over-all plans, private
houses are permitted to build for themselves a storeroom measuring 60
meters, and a parking space measuring 50 meters. One can add to it a
bathroom and a kitchen, and house in his ‘storeroom’ and ‘parking
space’ newly-married couples. Then there are some people who merited
building large houses, and with the grace of God, their children grew-
up and got married. They can make-do with less and build in their
houses an additional apartment or two for young couples. In this way,
thousands of apartments can be added to the community settlements.
This will be our test: just how truly important is the mitzvah of
settling the Land to us.

The Laws of Blowing the Shofar

The Order of the Shofar Blasts

According to the Torah, we are obligated to sound nine shofar blasts
on Rosh Hashanah. These blasts consist of three groups of three blasts
each, and each group consists of a “tekiyah” blast, a “teruah” blast,
and another “tekiyah” blast.
However, with the passing of time, uncertainty arose regarding the
nature of the ‘teruah’ blast. Clearly, the ‘teruah’ is supposed to
convey the sort of suffering and pain that allude to crisis and
iniquity, but we do not know how this should be done. Should the
‘teruah’ take the form of medium length blasts that resemble moaning,
or short blasts that resemble sobbing? Or perhaps the ‘teruah’ should
be a combination of these, so that it begins with ‘shevarim’ (medium
length blasts) and continues with ‘teruah’ (short blasts), like a
person who starts to moan and then suddenly begins sobbing.
Because of this uncertainty, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Abahu instituted
that blasts be sounded in each of the above possibilities: we begin
with three sets of three blasts in which the ‘teruah’ (the middle
blast in each set) consists of both ‘shevarim’ and ‘teruah’;
thereafter, we sound another three sets of three blasts in which the
‘teruah’ takes the form of a moaning sound, i.e., “shevarim”; and we
conclude with three sets of blasts in which the ‘teruah’ takes the
form of short blasts alone, i.e., “teruah.” So, instead of the nine
blasts mentioned in the Torah, today we sound thirty blasts (Tractate
Rosh Hashanah 34a).
The Rambam explains that in truth nine blasts alone would suffice, but
due to the hardships and the exiles, uncertainties arose regarding the
actual ‘teruah’, and because we lack the ability to reach a decisive
conclusion on this matter, we are compelled to blow all three types of
‘teruah’ on Rosh Hashanah, for if we leave out just one of them, we
may be leaving out the real ‘teruah’, and this would mean that we have
failed to fulfill our duty.
However, according to the Rambam’s explanation, before Rabbi Abahu
instituted blowing in the manner mentioned above, many communities
failed to fulfill their obligation to blow the shofar – and such a
situation is difficult to imagine.
Rabbi Hai Gaon, on the other hand, writes that all three types of
‘teruah’ are in keeping with Jewish law; therefore, before Rabbi
Abahu’s ruling, it was possible for each individual to choose for
himself the type of ‘teruah’ he wanted to blow. He would blow nine
blasts, and that was sufficient to fulfill his obligation.
What Rabbi Abahu wanted was for the entire Jewish people to blow the
shofar in a single manner, so there would not appear to be a
difference of opinions; and because each type of ‘teruah’ is distinct
and unique, Rabbi Abahu legislated that people blow all three types of
‘teruah’, thus making room for all of the customs and versions that
existed then. It follows that today, too, it is possible to fulfill
one’s Torah obligation with nine blasts, while rabbinic ordinance
calls for thirty blasts.

More on the Shofar Blasts

The Torah states (Numbers 29:1): “It will be for you a day of sounding
the shofar,” and from here we learn of the obligation to blow the
shofar on Rosh Hashanah day, not at night (Tractate Megillah 20b). The
sages went further by instituting shofar blasts that coincided with
the special blessings in the Rosh Hashanah prayers:
“Malchuyot” (Sovereignty), “Zichronot” (Remembrance), and
“Shofarot” (Shofar blasts), so that by doing this our prayers would be
favorably received (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 16a).
It would appear that, at first, people would recite the special Rosh
Hashanah blessings during the morning prayers and at that time they
would also blow the shofar, for “the fervent are quick to perform
their religious duties.” Some time later, in a period of persecutions,
the enemy outlawed the blowing of the shofar, and their soldiers would
lay in wait during the first six hours of the day to see if the Jews
would try to violate the decree.
At that time they, the Torah authorities ruled that the shofar be
blown during the Rosh Hashanah ‘Mussaf’ prayer (because it can be
recited after noon) and it was likewise instituted that the
“Malchuyot,” “Zichronot,” and “Shofarot” blessings be recited in the
Mussaf prayer. And even after the enemy’s decree was annulled, the
Jews did not go back to blowing the shofar in the morning prayers for
fear that the decree be reintroduced. This is how it became
established that the shofar be blown during the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf
The Jerusalem Talmud relates that the enemies once heard Jews blowing
the shofar during morning prayers. They thought it was a war cry and
attacked the worshipers, killing many of them. Therefore, the sages
instituted that the shofar be blown during the Mussaf prayers. Their
reasoning was that if the adversary saw Jews praying and reading from
the Torah, and then praying again and blowing the shofar, they would
understand that the Jews are occupied with prayer and religious
duties, not war cries. If, however, the shofar was blown earlier on in
the day, it is not recognizable that this is part of the prayer.
Later, the sages instituted another ordinance, that shofar blasts be
sounded just prior to the Mussaf service. These blasts are called
“tekiyot meyushav” (“sitting blasts”) because they are not the most
important blasts and therefore, according to the letter of the law, it
is permitted to sit during them.
In the Talmud (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 16a) a question is raised by
Rabbi Yitzchak: “Why do we sound a ‘tekiyah’ and ‘teruah’ while
sitting and then again sound a ‘tekiyah’ and ‘teruah’ while standing?”
He answers that we do this “to confuse the Satan.” Rashi explains that
when “the Satan” hears how Israel cherishes the commandments by
blowing more shofar blasts than required by the Torah, his accusations
will be silenced.

The Ran understands “the Satan” to be a person’s own evil inclination,
and by sounding many shofar blasts our hearts are humbled and we are
able to concentrate better on our prayers, for it is well known that
shofar blasts awaken a person to repentance. We have learned, then,
that already according to the Talmud, the custom was to blow sixty
shofar blasts. Later on, the Mystics of Safed began to adopt the
teachings of the Holy Ari, which call for 100 blasts.

Proper Intention During the Shofar Blasts

The sages mention numerous reasons and ideas behind the commandment of
the shofar blowing, from the most straightforward, i.e. that it stirs
the heart to repentance, and that we use a ram’s horn in order to
recall the binding of Isaac, to the most sublime Kabbalistic
I would like to mention here an explanation that contains both depth
and simplicity. The Redak (Rabbi David Kimchi) explains that the first
shofar blast in every order of blasts expresses the soul’s natural
goodness; it represents the newborn child, untainted by sin, clean and
pure. When the child grows, he becomes exposed to the complications
and the crooked ways of this world, he struggles and is tested; he
also falls and sins. This is expressed via the ‘teruah’, through
moaning and sobbing over the failures that taint our character and the
transgressions we become entangled in. The order finishes with a final
simple shofar blast, which again expresses man’s virtue and goodness,
but this time after repentance, after requesting forgiveness.

Finally, at the conclusion of all of the blasts, we blow a single long
blast that expresses the end of all struggles and hardships, the final
rectification. The greatness of a penitent is that after sin and
failure he achieves a state of completeness, as a person enriched by
trials, and despite everything, has succeeded in overcoming all
obstacles to refine his soul. In this regard, the sages say, “In the
place where penitents stand even the wholly righteous cannot
stand” (Tractate Berakhot 34b).

Various Laws

Men alone are commanded to hear the blowing of the shofar, and this is
because it is a positive, time-bound commandment. Even though,
strictly speaking, women are exempt from hearing the shofar, almost
all women make a practice of fulfilling this commandment voluntarily.
It is important to remember that in order to fulfill this commandment,
it is not enough to merely hear the blasts. One who hears the shofar
blasts must intend by so doing to fulfill the Torah commandment to
hear the shofar. This is because we follow the opinion that
commandments must be accompanied by proper intention.
It is forbidden to talk from the time the blessings are recited over
the shofar blowing until the completion of the blasts, so that speech
not constitute an interruption between the blessing and the
fulfillment of the commandment.
If one synagogue has a good prayer leader and a poor shofar blower,
and another synagogue has a poor prayer leader and a good shofar
blower, it is preferable to go to the synagogue where one will
unquestionably fulfill his obligation to hear the shofar blown in
keeping with Jewish law.

The Story of the "Unetaneh Tokef" Prayer (Part 2)

Rosh Hashanah in the Mainz Synagogue

“After these things, the holiday approached and Rosh Hashanah
arrived.” He rolled in torment. From one such wound it was difficult
to recover in those days because of infections, blood poisoning,
swelling, and abscesses. Yet he had twenty such wounds. This was no
quick death. For many days his body was inflamed, languishing,
bleeding, and he could see and feel everything. He writhed. This was
the punishment. The oppressors knew very well that a quick death would
be an act of compassion. And so, he lay this way, in his sickness, his
suffering, with the knowledge that his death was approaching. And
here, “the holiday approached and Rosh Hashanah arrived.”

“He asked his relatives to bring him to the synagogue with all of his
dismembered organs and place him by the prayer leader, and they did
this.” We can well image the atmosphere in the synagogue. Everybody
knew what had happened to Rabbi Amnon, and now, here, they were
bringing him in on a stretcher, and placing him next to the prayer
leader at the head of the congregation.

“And as the prayer leader was about to to say the Kedusha prayer,
‘VeChayot Asher Hena,’ Rabbi Amnon said, ‘Wait a moment and I will
sanctify the great God.’ And then he said in a loud voice, ‘And so the
Kedushah prayer shall ascend to you,’ i.e., that I have sanctified
Your name upon Your kingship and Your unification. Then he said
‘Unetaneh Tokef Kedushat Hayom,’ (‘Let us now relate the power of this
day’s holiness).” Now he was able to relate the power of this day’s

“Then he said, ‘It is true that You alone are the One Who judges,’ in
order to declare God’s acts as just, that God take note of these
dismembered fingers and toes and the whole episode. And he mentioned
‘and everyone’s signature is in it’ and ‘consider the soul of all the
living,’ because it was thus decreed upon him on Rosh Hashanah, and
when he finished the entire prayer (“siluk”), he passed away

A “siluk” is a liturgical poem. In Aramaic it means an ascension. Any
such poem in prayer is called a “siluk” because its purpose is to
elevate the supplicant to a higher level. “And when he finished the
entire prayer, he passed away.” “Nistalek” has a similar meaning,
i.e., that he ascended to the upper world.

“And he disappeared from the world before the eyes of all, for God
took him, and regarding him it says, ‘Oh how great is Your goodness,
which You have hidden away for those who fear You’ (Psalms 31:20).” It
would appear that immediately after he finished his prayer his soul
ascended to Heaven.

The plain description of this event is shocking. How is it possible to
torture an individual of such greatness who is completely innocent?
After all, he did not wish to be a king, ruler, governor, or
plantation owner. He merely wished to live according to his faith. For
having performed no injustice he was tortured in the most painful
manner. Yet he accepted this decree and sanctified God.

The Accurate Version

The congregation in the synagogue was no doubt startled. This man’s
prayer as he lay dying on his bed and his subsequent death left them
shaken, and they could not accurately recall all of his words.

“After these things, wherein Rabbi Amnon was elevated and called to
the Academy on High, on the third day after his sanctification, he
appeared in a dream of Rabbi Klonimos ben Rabbi Meshullam ben Rabbi
Moshe ben Rabbi Klonimos, and he taught him this prayer, ‘Unetaneh
Tokef Kedushat Hayom,’ and he commanded him to send it to the entire
Diaspora, that it should serve as a testimony and a remembrance. And
the rabbi did this.”

It is interesting to note that a version of the prayer “Unetaneh
Tokef” with minor differences was discovered in the Cairo Geniza.
Apparently this prayer was sent from Ashkenaz to many communities in
the exile, and it was even sent to Cairo. And indeed, the prayer also
reached the communities of Spain, though it did not commanded so
central a role in their prayers as it did in Ashkenazi liturgy.

Born of Torment

It is the torment itself that gives birth to the prayer “Unetaneh
Tokef Kedushat Hayom.” What depth of soul and what power of spirit are
called for in order to create such a wonderful prayer while in a state
of extreme pain. Sensitive, gentle, exact, and clear:

“Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness, for it is awesome
and frightening. On it Your kingship will be exalted.”

Not the kingship of the governor, not that of the king, and not that
of the kaiser. Sanctity is the kingship!

“And your throne will be firmed with kindness, and You will sit upon
it in truth. It is true that You alone are the One Who judges, proves,
knows, and bears witness; who writes and seals, (counts and
calculates); Who remembers all that was forgotten. You will open the
Book of Chronicles – it will read itself, and everyone’s signature is
in it.”

Rabbi Amnon can no longer sign his name, but his signature is in the
Book of Chronicles on high, Rabbi Amnon declares God’s actions as just
and accepts them lovingly, and sanctifies God:

“The great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin sound will be
heard. Angels will hasten, a trembling and terror will seize them –
and they say, ‘Behold, it is the Day of Judgment, to muster the
heavenly host for judgment!’ – for they cannot be vindicated in Your
eyes in judgment. All mankind will pass before You like members of the

One mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that these terrible killers
will be absolved, that God forgets. Everybody, from an angel to the
very last of creatures, will be judged. God is the seeing shepherd. It
is not the bishop, or “episcopus,” who oversees matters. It is not the
governor that rules and controls things.

“Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his
staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the
soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the fixed needs of all
Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.”

The Secret to Jewish Survival

The threat which hovered over the Jewish communities was terrible.
From period to period mass murders were carried out, and in the midst
of such events there were frightening stories not unlike that of Rabbi
Amnon. During the time of the Crusades, about seventy ears after the
death of Rabbi Amnon, terrifying massacres took place in Ashkenaz.
Jews were ordered to abandon their faith or face death, and thousands
died sanctifying God’s name. During the calamities, neither
possessions nor intellect were of any avail in helping the Jews save
their lives.

In the eyes of their foes, a Jew’s life was worthless. It did not
matter whether it was a man, woman, or child. Such harsh conditions
normally cause nations and communities to disintegrate and disappear,
or, at least, to be rendered an insignificant element. This, however
is not the case with the Jews. Jewry commanded a central position in
European culture, and also in the Islamic lands. Members of the Jewish
community were shining examples, full of intelligence and wisdom,
poetry and knowledge.

The secret of Jewish survival is connected to self-sacrifice in
sanctification of God. Attachment to faith until the end, spiritual
might beyond description. Rabbi Amnon’s story is not an exception;
there were hundreds and thousands like him. The willingness to receive
upon oneself manners of torture which are hard to even imagine, this
was the means to survival! This is the wonder of the sanctification of
God’s name. This is the secret of maintaining an existence full of

Who created this wonderful prayer? Not the handsome and striking Rabbi
Amnon, but the stricken, tortured, infected, and poisoned Rabbi Amnon,
as he lay on his deathbed. Could one imagine anything more astounding
than this? How is it possible that states of such darkness and terror
gave rise to the Tosafists, the commentators, the liturgical poets,
the Kabalists, the sages and the righteous, people who knew how to aid
and show compassion upon others.

This heritage has continued for thousands of years, since the Binding
of Isaac and the Egypt bondage, events which gave birth to the nation
which would stand at the foot of Mount Sinai and receive the Torah.
During the course of generations an especially unique Israeli identity
has crystallized with an inestimable capacity for perseverance,
capacity for creativity containing morality and greatness, vision and
anticipation of better days, the days of the Messiah.

This is the inner continuity of Jewish history, despite all of the
geographical and political twists and turns which the Jewish people
have experienced since the time it was settled on the soil of the Land
of Israel and throughout the long period of exile, dispersed and
dismembered amongst the nations – humiliated and contemptible, yet
towering and extraordinary.

Most of the above article was given as a lecture by my knowledgeable
friend, Rabbi Zeev Sultanovitch, at the Har Bracha Yeshiva. It will
appear in its entirety in the second volume of the “Bina Le-Itim”
series which will be published, God willing, this coming winter. This
volume will focus on the period following the Mishna until the end of
the period of the Early Authorities (“Rishonim”). After this, there
will appear two volumes on the modern era.

Translations of the “Unetaneh Tokef ” prayer in the above article were
take from the Artscroll Yom Kippur prayerbook.

Guest Article by Cherna Moskowitz

The following article, which recently appeared in the Jerusalem Post,
was written by Cherna Moskowitz, who, along with her husband Dr.
Irving Moskowitz, are long-time friends and supporters of Yeshiva Har
Bracha. The importance and timeliness of the article speaks for

This is Our Place, So Mind Your Manners
By Cherna Moskowitz

When my husband Irving was a young man he would go door-to-door around
Milwaukee with a Jewish National Fund blue box collecting money to
redeem property in the Land of Israel. Although it was during the
Depression, everyone put in what they could afford: pennies, nickels
and dimes.
In the 19th century, wealthy Jews like Rothschild were purchasing
large tracts of land for Jews to settle in the Holy Land. The
synagogue Ohel Yitzhak in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City,
abandoned in 1938 after waves of Arab violence – which we recently
rebuilt – was originally built and paid for by European Jews in the
1880’s. For thousands of years Jews dreamed of Israel and in the last
centuries all Jews took part in the effort to reclaim the land and
support Jews who lived there.
This is a part of the Jewish tradition: charity for the poor and
reclaiming the land of our country. It was perfectly normal for Irving
and me to continue to fulfill these mitzvoth. It was the driving force
behind Irving’s quest to work hard to continue the tradition.
How did this become world news, fodder for riots and outraged
pronouncements from foreign leaders?
We were both born in the United States and experienced anti-Semitism
while growing up. However, we were secure in the knowledge that our
government would ensure our equal rights to live in any neighborhood
in any part of the country we wished. We believed that if it was
legal, the full force of the government would protect us regardless of
the fact that we were Jews.
How is it then that President Barack Obama demands that the Israeli
government disallow the Shepherd Hotel a building permit because Jews
would live there? Christians and Muslims yes, Jews no. This is clearly
racist. Furthermore, this would deprive us as American citizens of our
constitutional rights to equal protection of the law.
It seems to be a continuation of a 2,000-year-old habit of Jews being
told where they can and cannot live. This spanned from the ghettos of
medieval Europe, to severe zoning restrictions in czarist Russia and
finally to the edicts of Nazism, where we were eventually told that we
could not live at all.
Can it be possible that we will accept any part of that today in our
own nation? Jews should be able to live anywhere in the world. The
question should be: “Is the purchase legal and are the permits in
order?” Not “what faith do the families living there follow?”
The British Consulate, located near the Shepherd Hotel, also objected
to Jews building on our property there. This while construction on
several nearby Arab-owned buildings is currently in progress. Someone
should remind the British Consulate that there is no longer a British
Mandate. I don’t mind if they don’t come over with a pot of tea, but
at least they should remember that they are guests of the Jewish state
and behave in a civilized and neighborly way.

The writer is the president of the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation and
serves on the board of numerous prominent organizations both in Israel
and abroad.

The Story of the "Unetaneh Tokef" Prayer (Part 1)

Transmitters of the Tradition of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz

The tragic story of the events leading up to the composition of the
liturgical poem “Unetaneh Tokef” is brought in the work Or Zarua,
which was written by one of Judaism’s leading early Torah authorities,
Rabbi Yitzchak ben Moshe of Vienna.

Rabbi Yitzchak of Vienna, who lived from 4940-5010 (1189-1250), was a
student of Rabbi Avraham ben Azriel and a number of other Tosafists in
Ashkenaz (Germany). He was considered one of the leading authorities
of his generation, disseminating Torah in Bohemia (today’s Czech
Republic), and, during his last years, in Vienna. It was there that he
died at the age of seventy. Amongst his many students was Rabbi Meir
ben Baruch, known as the Maharam of Rothenburg, who, in his later
years, was considered the leading rabbi in all of Ashkenaz.

The work Or Zarua is considered one of the most important books of
Jewish law written by early Ashkenazi scholars and often cites
preceding authorities. Chapter 276, the Laws of Rosh Hashanah, cites:
“From the handwriting of Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn ben Rabbi Yaakov [we
learn] that Rabbi Amnon of Mainz established ‘Unetaneh Tokef’ because
of the terrible incident which he experienced.”

Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn, born in 4893 (1133), was the student of Yoel
HaLevi and seceded him in his position as rabbinic chief justice. He
wrote Tosafot, legal responsa, and commentaries to blessings and other
customs. He also composed liturgical poems, of which about twenty-five
have come down to us. Rabbi Yitzchak of Vienna was too late to learn
directly from Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn, but he studied his legal
writings, which constituted a kind of collection of Torah lessons from
his mentors.

At the end of the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz mention is made of a
Rabbi who lived at that time and who received the exact version of
“Unetaneh Tokef” in a dream. This was “Rabbi Klonimos ben Rabbi
Meshullam ben Rabbi Moshe ben Rabbi Klonimos.” Rabbi Klonimos was
known to many, and his name is mentioned in books of Jewish law. Based
upon his name, the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz is estimated as
having taken place around 4780 (1020), about seventy years before the
decrees of 4856, during which the large massacres which accompanied
the First Crusade took place. In other words, Or Zarua recorded an
event which took place about two hundred years before his time.


The Mainz Jewish community was one of the three largest and oldest
communities in Ashkenaz, which were known collectively by the acronym
“Shum” – Speyer, Worms, and Mainz. Mainz was the oldest of the three
communities. The Klonimos family, which came from northern Italy,
established a large talmudic academy there, and from it grew the
Jewish community of Ashkenaz.

Non-Jewish sources from that period note that the city of Mainz was
controlled by a bishop-governor. This fact is confirmed by the account
of Or Zarua and lends strength to the accuracy of the narrative.

That city was ruled by a senior clergyman, and therefore the ruler was
known by the title of governor or bishop. Bishop is from the Greek
“episcopus” which means “overseer” and “watcher.” At that time, there
were quite a few cities that were given over to the control of the
church by one of the kings in return for a pardoning of sins, or in
order that the church pray for him. Only hundreds of years later was
secular rule reestablished in Mainz.

The Connection Between the Governor and Rabbi Amnon of Mainz

This is how Or Zarua relates what transpired:
“Here is the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz who was the leading Torah
sage in his generation, wealthy, of praiseworthy lineage, handsome,
and who the ministers and governors began to attempt to convert – yet
he refused to listen to them.”

It appears that the governor of Mainz at that time was interested in
attaining wisdom and in learning about the sources of Christianity.
Most clergymen were ignorant, and very few enjoyed attaining wisdom
and speaking with the Jewish scholars. The Jews had little choice but
to agree and to maintain good relations with the governor. And so they
would meet in order to talk from time to time. As time went by, the
governor and the ministers began speaking with Rabbi Amnon. They did
not use force; they “merely” requested that he abandon his faith:

“They spoke to him day after day, but he would not listen to them, and
the governor implored him. When they became insistent with him, he
replied, ‘Let me take council and consider the matter for three days.
He did this in an attempt to repel them.”

Such discussions were carried out in a calm and routine manner,
however, every such discussion involved repeated petition and request.
They met on a daily basis. The educated church leaders were looking
for company on their own level. The Jews, especially the Jewish sages,
were potential partners as far as they were concerned. Furthermore,
every governor considered it a challenge to cause a Jewish sage to
abandon his faith and convert to Christianity.

The church heads learned from their own sacred books that the founders
of the church, aware of the fact that the Jews are the people of God,
targeted the Jews for conversion, but the Jews rejected them. The
resulting frustration was great. Therefore, great efforts were
invested, sometimes by sweet enticement, sometimes by force, to cause
a Jew – and how much more so a Jewish scholar – to disparage his faith
and become Christian.

Rabbi Amnon is Forced to Establish Relations with the Governor

It is clear, then, what interest the governor had in forming relations
with Rabbi Amnon. He wanted the company of an educated man, and he
also harbored the hidden hope of convincing the rabbi to abandon his
faith. Yet what interest did Rabbi Amnon have? After all, he had no
need of the knowledge or wisdom of the governor.

It must be understood, however, that we are dealing with a small
Jewish community in the midst of a hostile non-Jewish environment. The
Jews had no choice but to depend upon the kindness of the ruler, for
he was the only individual who could defend them from the anger of mob
or the scheming of the knights. The Jews had no rights per se. There
were no soldiers or fighters in their midsts. They had no ministers
that could use their authority to protect the community. They were
few. They had no allies that would come to their defense from

The plight of the Jewish communities was dismal to say the least.
Their entire physical wellbeing was dependent upon the goodwill of the
ruler, for with the aid of his soldiers and by the laws which he laid
down, he was able to protect them. Therefore, it was to the benefit of
a Jewish sage or leader to see to it that relations with the governor
remain positive and stable. This is what allowed the community as a
whole to exist in relative tranquility: to pay their taxes and to lead
a normal life of commerce, craft, Torah study, and preservation of
community institutions.

Rabbi Amnon had to protect the community, and it followed that he
could not reject the governor in a harsh manner. Such relations, in
various places and in various periods, were extremely delicate, like
explosives. The fonder a leader was of his Jewish subjects, the
greater the pressure upon him to convert them. Noncompliance with the
imploring of such leaders would be interpreted as ungratefulness,
betrayal. The Jew would have to navigate with great skill, walk on the
razor’s edge; he could neither get too close nor distance himself too
greatly. The slightest slip could result in a serious blow to the
existence of the Jewish community.

The Pressure Mounts

After many days and repeated requests, the situation became worse. The
governor and his ministers applied much pressure and it was difficult
to reject them outright. Therefore, Rabbi Amnon asked to to be given a
number of days to take council and consider the offer. This is a
reasonable response. It is an acceptable request. Until now, the
course of things is understandable and expected, especially when we
take into account the stress of survival.

Jewish Survival

We now arrive at a most incredible development in our story. This
development can explain how it is that Judaism has succeeded in
surviving amidst a sea of hatred and scheming. Not only has Judaism
survived, but it has amassed great spiritual power.

Rabbi Amnon, in his personality, represents the entire Community of
Israel. He is wise, of praiseworthy lineage, handsome. He is a man of
many virtues. If he had agreed to convert, he himself could have
become a governor. He had all of the necessary traits. There is only
one thing he could not be even if he were to accept the governor’s
offer – he could not be himself. He could become a minister or an
important clergyman, but the Jew in him would not survive. The Jew
would not live. This is what rested on the balance:

“And it happened that as soon as he parted with the governor, he
reflected upon his having voiced uncertainty, that he was in need of
council or time to think over the question of disavowing the living

His Judaism was his complete essence, his entire being. How could he
have made such a statement? True, there is great importance in
securing the necessities of physical existence, peace and quiet. But
what does it involve? It is even possible that somebody in the world
should think that this matter calls for taking council or

“He Would Not Be Comforted”

“He returned home and he was unable to eat or drink, and he became
ill. All of his relatives and friends came to comfort him, but he
would not be comforted, for he said, ‘I will go down to the grave
mourning because of what I said.’ And he cried and became very
depressed. And it came to pass that on the third day, as he was
paining and distraught, the governor sent for him, and he responded,
saying, ‘I will not go.’ And the oppressor sent many additional
ministers, more prestigious than they, yet he refused to go to him.
And the governor said, ‘Go quickly and bring Amnon against his will.’
And they went quickly and brought him to the governor. And he said to
him, ‘What is this, Amnon? Why did you not come to me on the day that
you designated to me so that you could take council and give me an
answer and fulfill my will?

Note the words of the governor, “fulfill my will.” It is already clear
to him. If it is possible to consider and take council on this matter,
then the answer is clear. If it is possible to even think about
abandoning the Jewish faith, then there is every reason to arrive at
the “correct” conclusion. Why remain a persecuted minority, weak,
despised, denigrated, and subject to plunder when you possess wisdom,
good lineage, majesty? You have all of the important traits. Why be
satisfied with so little?

I Shall Determine My Own Sentence

“And Amnon answered, saying, ‘I shall determine my own sentence’” –
Indeed, I did not come to you, and I know that you are angry with me,
and because I have no intention of fulfilling your will, I know that
you will punish me. Yet, “I will determine my own sentence.” I will
decide what my punishment will be, because I misled you. I should not
have instilled false hope in you that I would abandon the Jewish
faith. True, I am to blame for this and I shall determine my own
sentence. Rabbi Amnon does not wish to endanger the entire community,
and therefore he endangers himself alone:

“The tongue which spoke and misled you shall be cut off” – now I
reveal to you that I only said what I did in order to repel you, and
this really was not correct, for you are the governor and ruler. This
tongue “shall be cut off.”

It is important to realize that under the tyrannies of that age such
punishments were accepted. They used to cut off people’s tongues,
noses, ears, and hands. But Rabbi Amnon had an additional reason to
decree such an awful punishment upon himself:

“For Rabbi Amnon desired to sanctify God for having spoken in such a
manner” – he wished to sanctify God in the eyes of the Jews, and,
indirectly, in the eyes of the non-Jews. He wished to make it clear to
all that a Jew who promises to somebody to consider abandoning his
faith can do nothing but disappoint. It is unthinkable. There is no
reason to think about such a thing. There is no point in trying to
persuade Jews into doing this.

The Decree of the Oppressor

“And the governor answered, saying, ‘No, the tongue shall not be cut
off, for you spoke well. Rather, the feet which did not come at the
time that you told me, they shall I cut off, and the rest of your body
I shall torture.’ And the oppressor gave the command and they cut off
his fingers and thumbs.”

Yet not all at once – “And with each finger they would ask him,
‘Perhaps now, Amnon, you would like to join our faith?’ And he
answered, ‘No.’” The axe was raised twenty times, on each finger and
toe. We are not talking here about the pain of the cut alone, but also
of the horrifying anticipation of the one to follow. And it is
possible to stop the process. He need just say the word. But Rabbi
Amnon repeats twenty times “No!” to the conversion proposal, twenty
times to continue with the cutting, to continue the torture, to
continue the irreversible damage to his body, and, in fact, the
hastening of his end.

“And when they finished the cutting, the wicked governor gave the
order to lay Rabbi Amnon in a bed and to place all of his dismembered
fingers and toes at his side and to send him to his home.” This was
done, of course, so that all see and become fearful. It was done to
show everybody what happens when one does not abide by the governor.

However, the transmitter of the story writes, “This is why he was
called Rabbi Amnon, for he had faith [“He’emin”; from the same Hebrew
root as “Amnon”] in the living God and suffered great torture lovingly
due to his faith, just because of that which left his mouth.

A Festival of Hate, Lies, and Falsification

Discrimination against the Settlers

Question: I usually agree with the logic in your words, Rabbi, but in
your last article I was surprised. How, from a discussion about the
rising violence in the streets of Israel, did you once again arrive at
the problems between the settlers and the Arabs? We’ve gotten used to
the Left, who twist every discussion and blame all the problems on the
settlers. Do we also have to act this way and blame the rising crime
rate on the discrimination against the settlers?

Answer: Indeed, in opposition to one another are the good and the bad,
and therefore, don’t be surprised that the claims of the evil are
similar, although in reverse, to the claims of the righteous.
The question is: how to differentiate between the good and the evil,
between the truth and the lies.
First of all, according to basic tendencies – the evil deny that God
chose Israel and commanded us to live in the Land of Israel, while the
righteous believe He did. The evil support terrorist organizations
whose goal is to murder and destroy; the righteous support the
settlers who are making the desolate land blossom.
Secondly, by checking the facts – who are lying, and who are telling
the truth. The damage that a small group of settlers cause the Arabs
doesn’t amount to even one percent of the crime carried out in the
Arab sector, therefore those who claim that this one percent is the
problem, while ignoring ninety-nine percent of the crimes, is lying,
for distorting reality is a lie.

Festival of Hate and Lies Surrounding the Olive Harvest

Soon the olive harvesting season will arrive, and people from the
Left, led by the Reform Rabbi Asherman, will once again begin their
festival of hate and lies against the settlers who disturb the
harvesting, and once again we will hear harsh curses in the media
against the settlers.
The story begins with the fact that the Arabs murdered hundreds of
settlers, and as a result of this, there are settlers who do not want
Arabs to come near the settlements without close guard by soldiers;
and there are those who want to prevent the harvesting as a punishment
for routine harassment of the settlements by the Arabs.
In any case, the cost of all the olives in discussion comes to no more
than 10 million shekels. On the other hand, every day and every hour,
Arabs carry out enormous amounts of robberies, at the cost of billions
of shekels a year. They steal from farmers herds of sheep, cows,
calf’s, beehives, tractors, fruit crates, plows, forklifts, irrigation
systems, water sprinklers, fences, banisters, electricity poles,
trees, seedlings, and anything they can grab. From the cities and
settlements they steal cars, motorcycles, bicycles, carriages, and
electronic devices; all this in addition to drug dealing, tax evasion,
and the trampling of building codes. Unfortunately, there are also
Jewish criminals; however the percentage of crime in the Arab sector
is approximately four times greater — the farmers who live next to
Arab villages can testify to this. And let no one try to play dumb and
claim that all this isn’t caused by nationalistic motives. This is
methodical crime which receives wide backing from the Arab street.
Therefore, when the discussion of the day centers around a few olive
orchards, but the systematic crimes against Jews at the cost of
billions of shekels is ignored, this can be called the annual festival
of lies, which wraps itself in a false cloak of ‘defending property’,
but in fact, its essence is to persecute the settlers who came to make
the desolate areas blossom, as God spoke through His Prophets.


If this was the order of preferences of only some Left-wing people, it
would be bearable. If it were only the media who joined them, it would
be difficult, but even then we could overcome. But when this becomes
the hierarchy of values for the Supreme Court and the chiefs of the
police, this is a sign that the deterioration has spread throughout
the system. It is only in the merit of some simple policemen who still
remember what justice is all about that a certain lawful conduct
remains in Jewish surroundings. But concerning farmers and business
owners who live next to Arab villages, the police are helpless. In
order to save their property, at least temporarily, Jewish farmers and
businessmen are forced to pay protection money to criminals. The
problem is that the price of protection only increases until it
becomes unaffordable. And after all this, the only thing left for the
judicial system, the media, and the Left-wing demonstrators to concern
themselves with is that the settlers are wild, and therefore must be
discriminated against and punished severely.

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed