The Torah on "Unilateral Disengagement" (Part 1)

The Commandment to Settle the Land

The commandment to settle the land of Israel requires that we conquer
the land. It is thus written, “Possess the land and settle it, for I
have given you the land in order that you take possession of
it” (Numbers 33:53), and our Sages explain the expression “possess” to
imply the conquest and establishment of Israeli sovereignty in the
land. Moreover, this commandment remains binding upon us in all
generations (Ramban, Hosefot LeMitzvat Aseh 4). Shulchan Arukh concurs
with this position (Even HaEzer 75), and Pitchei Teshuva (ad locum, 6)
adds that all authorities are in agreement upon this law.
It is true that for many generations we have not merited the privilege
of fulfilling this precept because we have lacked the military
capacity needed to conquer and defend the land. Yet, as soon as such a
capacity is achieved we are obliged to occupy the land. Hence, it goes
without saying that it is prohibited to relinquish any part of the
land to another people.
It is clear that the commandment to settle the land overrides the
possibility of any life-threatening danger to individual lives, for we
are enjoined by the Torah to conquer the land – and war, by its very
nature, involves loss of life. It follows that regarding the
obligation to settle the land of Israel any posed threat to individual
Jewish lives is not considered a deterrent (Minchat Chinnukh, 425).

“Do not allow them to reside in your land”

In addition to the more general Torah commandment to take possession
of the land of Israel, the Torah warns: “Do not allow them to reside
in your land” (Exodus 23:33). The Rambam (Hilkhot Avoda Zara 10:6)
explains that when we have the power it is forbidden to allow any non-
Jew to reside in our land (with the exception of a “Ger Toshav” – a
resident alien who has accepted some of the laws of Judaism).
Torah authorities, though, are divided over the question: To whom does
this prohibition apply? Some hold that only a non-Jew who, before a
court, professes faith in the God of Israel and takes upon himself to
observe the seven commandments of Noah’s descendants, is considered a
Ger Toshav who is permitted to live in Israel. Others are of the
opinion that even if one does not accept these responsibilities before
a court, so long as he does not worship idols and upholds the seven
Noahide laws, he is not prohibited from living in Israel.
According to the latter opinion, good and amiable Muslims are
permitted to live in Israel, because Islam does not embrace idolatry.
Arabs, though, who are hostile towards us clearly do not fulfill the
seven Noahide laws, for they fail to recognize the God of Israel who
has given us the land of Israel. In addition, such Arabs support
terrorists, thereby violating the Noahide prohibition against murder;
and they also refrain from establishing courts of law which will try
these terrorists, which is also one of the seven Noahide commandments.
While it is true that some early authorities are of the opinion that
the biblical injunction, “Do not allow them to reside in your land”
applies exclusively to the “seven nations” (Hittites, Girgashites,
Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites, and Yebusites), the majority
take it to apply to any gentile who fails to uphold the seven laws of
Noah’s descendants. This being the case, according to the two main
opinions brought above, it is forbidden for a ruling Jewish government
to allow Arabs who refuse to accept Jewish sovereignty to live in
Israel, and it goes without saying that it is forbidden to present
them with land where they will be able to increase the number of non-
Jews who do not uphold the Noahide laws.

“No Consideration”

The Torah also exhorts: “…do not give them any
consideration” (Deuteronomy 7:2), and the Sages interpret this to mean
that it is forbidden to provide non-Jews with any sort of foothold
upon the soil of the land of Israel (Avodah Zara 20a). This
prohibition compliments the previously dealt-with proscription against
allowing them “to reside in your land”: it is the obligation of the
entire Jewish people to uphold the “residence“ prohibition; the
“foothold” prohibition, on the other hand, warns each and every
individual Jew not to sell a house or lot of land to any non-Jew who
is not a Ger Toshav. It follows that it is forbidden to give any
portion whatsoever to Arabs who do not uphold the seven Noahide laws.
Regarding this interdiction there is consensus among authorities that
it applies to all non-Jews and not just to the “seven nations,” and if
it is forbidden to sell them a single house, how much more so to give
them large portions of the land of Israel.

"Saving Another's Life"

Thou shall not stand aside when mischief befalls your neighbor

The Torah commands one to save someone who is in danger. As the Torah
also obligates one to return lost items to a neighbor “and you shall
return it to him” (Dvarim 22:2), even more so is it a mitzvah to save
another persons life. The Talmud in Sanhedrim (73a) asks a question
“From where do we know that if your neighbor is drowning, or some wild
beast is about to devour him, or he is about to be murdered by bandits
that one is obligated to save him? The Torah says “Neither shall you
stand aside when mischief befalls your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:16).

The mitzvah of “Loving your neighbor as you love yourself” was
considered by Rabbi Akiva to be a fundamental principle in the Torah
because it is the basis for good relations between one another and
promotes a healthy society. In addition to this mitzvah the Torah
delineates two other mitzvoth pertaining to human relations: 1)”and
you shall return it to him” and 2)”Thou shall not stand aside when
mischief befalls your neighbor.” It is not enough for one to smile at
his neighbor and declare one’s good feelings toward him, the Torah
demands that one take this relationship a step further and assume a
concrete responsibility for his neighbor’s welfare.

Therefore, if a Jew is in mortal danger it is forbidden to stand aside
and be apathetic, rather one needs to take every possible action
necessary in order to save his life. If each Jew would act in this way
and all of the Jewish nation would feel a mutual dependence on and
responsibility for one another, the nation would subsequently be
better able to deal with the dangers it encounters from its enemies.
The goal of a united Jewish state would then be more easily
established which would provide the basis for a more perfect world, as
the prophets envisioned, and for the ultimate redemption.

Does The Rescuer Need To Endanger His Life?

An important question concerning “Thou shall not stand aside when
mischief befalls your neighbor” is: To what extent does one need to
carry out this obligation in order to fulfill the mitzvah? In other
words, what is the halacha (Jewish law) in regards to putting oneself
in danger in order to save the life of another person? Does the
mitzvah only apply when there is no danger to one’s own life? If, for
example, a person should see his friend drowning in the river and it
is clear to him that by trying to save his friend he will probably
drown himself, is he obligated to try to save him anyway?

There are two approaches to this question. The first approach includes
those who feel that the mitzvah “Thou shall not stand aside when
mischief befalls your neighbor” is the same as all the rest of the
mitzvoth in the Torah in that a Jew is meant to live by the Torah and
its mitzvoth and not to die by them. It, therefore, follows that just
as one need not endanger himself in order to fulfill other mitzvoth,
one is also not obligated to risk his life in order to save another
person’s life. However, it is clear that one should not be overly
cautious with this mitzvah at a time when someone else is in a life
threatening situation. Just as one is often willing to take calculated
risks for the sake of one’s profession or in order to make a living,
one should take some risk to save a fellow Jew. Some jobs require one
to climb to great heights, while others need to sail to the far seas
or handle dangerous substances. Still others will take small risks to
save their possessions from a fire. Even more so is it required to
take such risks with one’s life when attempting to save another from a
life threatening situation. The tractate in Sanhedrin (73a) confirms
that one should be willing to endanger himself to some extent in order
to save another’s life, by doing such acts as jumping in a river to
save someone who is drowning, or warding off wild predators or
bandits, even though all of these acts involve some form of danger.
The idea of not being too cautious with this mitzvah is carried even
further as it is stated in the Petchei Tshuva (Chosen Mishpat 426,
Mishne Brura 329:19) that one who is overly cautious will eventually
find himself in a similar dangerous and life threatening situation
(‘mida kneged mida’) with nobody willing to take even a small risk to
save him. A person is not obligated, however, to save his fellow Jew
if it puts him in great and possibly even mortal danger, for the
mitzvoth of the Torah are for the Jewish nation to “live by them.” A
great danger is defined as a situation where a normal person would not
be willing to risk his life, even to save all his possessions (Rabbinu
Yonah, Schulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 329:8).

The second approach to this question regarding “Thou shall not stand
aside when mischief befalls your neighbor” regards this mitzvah to be
different from the rest of the mitzvoth because it involves saving a
human life. It therefore obligates taking great risks and entering
into great danger in order to rescue another person from sure death.
This obligation would apply regardless of whether or not a normal
person would take great risks upon himself or enter into great danger
in order to save all of his possessions. For, in any case, if it is
necessary to put one’s life in danger to save a fellow Jew, one must
do so. However, the conditions for endangering one’s life for the sake
of saving another depends on if the chances are good that the rescue
will be successful and both will live. If, however, there is only a
fifty percent chance that both will live then one is not obligated to
save a fellow Jew’s life (Beit Yosef Choshen Mishpat 426).
According to the halacha that was determined for this mitzvah, one is
only required to risk his life in as much as any normal person would
do so in order to rescue his possessions. However, according to the
attributes in the performance of acts of kindness one should risk his
life to rescue another Jew if there is more than a fifty percent
chance he will succeed.

These opinions and laws relate to saving an individual’s life.
However, if the community is in great peril, one should not make these
considerations. In order to be victorious over the enemy one may need
to sacrifice one’s life regardless of the chance of success or failure
that is involved. At times, the individual is required to put his life
in great danger for the sake of the greater public’s well being. This
mitzvah is performed in times of war when each individual of the
Jewish nation is obligated to risk his or her life in order to save
the land of Israel from its enemies. (see “Btzava Kihalcha”, chap. 15,
Tzizt Eliezer 13:100).

Let us conclude by thanking God that we are witnessing the revealed
end of days in which the land of Israel brings forth its holy fruits,
the process of the ingathering of the exiles is being realized and the
land is being settled. All the trials and tribulations that the Jewish
nation is facing are just the pain that accompanies the process of
acquiring the land of Israel. Such troubles and pains help purify the
nation in reaching its ultimate goal of establishing a complete Jewish
existence in the holy land. Therefore, we need to learn and delve into
matters concerning the land of Israel and the different roles these
matters play in the world. The Jewish nation needs to use all its
capabilities to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel as
well as to continue to pray to God for a hastening of the redemption.
The prophecy will then be fulfilled: “For, lo, days are coming, says
the Lord, when I will bring back the captivity of my people Yisrael
and Yehuda, says the Lord: and I will cause them to return to the Land
that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it” (Jeremiah
30:3). “Therefore fear thou not, Oh my servant Yaakov says the Lord;
neither be dismayed , Oh Yisrael: for lo I will save thee from afar
and thy seed from the land of their captivity and Yaakov shall return,
and shall be quiet and be at ease, and none shall make him afraid
(Jeremiah 30,10). Thus, the Jewish nation’s true hidden nature will be
revealed, as it says: “Thy people shall be all righteous: they shall
inherit the land for ever.” (Isaiah 60:21).

"The Laws of Chanukah"

A FESTIVE MEAL?
When discussing the festival of Chanukah, it is very important to
relate to the unique character of the holiday. The halachah that will
perhaps help us best accomplish this is the law that deals with the
issue of meals on Chanukah – i.e. is there an obligation to serve a
festive Chanukah meal or not?

The Rishonim were divided on this issue. According to the Maharam of
Rotenburg, there is no mitzvah to serve a special Chanukah meal since
the holiday was not established as one of feasting and drinking – but
rather one of Thanksgiving and Praise alone. This is also how the
Shulchan Aruch rules. In contrast, both Rambam (Maimonedes) and
Maharshal maintain that there is a positive rabbinic obligation to
serve festive meals on Chanukah.

According to all opinions, there is clearly not the obligation on
Chanukah to eat and drink in the same manner as we are mandated to do
on Purim. The question, though, is why? Levush explains that Purim
involved a decree by Haman to completely physically obliterate the
Jewish people; as such, it is fitting to celebrate the physical
survival of our nation by engaging in the physical pleasures of eating
and drinking. Chanukah, however, is a celebration of the victory of
the Jewish spirit over the pressure exerted by Hellenistic culture
(the Greeks issued decrees against the performance of numerous Torah
commandments). Therefore, the main focus of Chanukah is spiritual, to
give thanks and praise Hashem, Who helped us preserve our religious
identity.

In practice, the later rabbis (“Acharonim”) ruled according the view
of the Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles), who ruled that there is a mitzvah
to serve festive meals on Chanukah, on condition that they are held in
a “spiritual” framework, i.e. a meal filled with words of Torah, songs
and praises to God…

HOW MANY LIGHTS SHOULD BE LIT?
Two separate customs – Ashkenazic and Sephardic – exist regarding the
lighting of Chanukah lights – or, more precisely, the number of
“Chanukiot” (candelabras) that should be set up in each home. It’s
interesting that in this instance, the general pattern of Jewish
custom is not followed; in this instance, the Ashkenazic communities
follow the view of one of the most prominent Sephardic rabbis, the
Rambam, whereas the Sephardim follow the approach of the school of the
Tosafot and the Ashkenazic scholars.

There is another point worthy of mention – and that is, that there are
three ways to fulfill the mitzvah: The performance of the basic
mitzvah, “Mehadrin” ( the practice of those who beautify the mitzvah),
and “Mehadrin min Hamehadrin.” (an even higher-level beautification of
the mitzvah.)

To fulfill the basic mitzvah, it is sufficient to light one candle per
home on behalf of all members of the family; even on the eighth and
final day of Chanukah, this practice is acceptable. But if one wishes
to beautify the mitzvah, each person in the home should light one
candle on each night.

To perform the mitzvah in the most ideal way (“Mehadrin min
Hamehadrin”) one must add one additional candle for each successive
day of Chanukah, to express the graduated intensification of the
miracle. This is to recognize that yet another day of the holiday has
passed, to commemorate the fact that a small vial of oil continued to
burn uninterrupted, and did so for eight days!

Differing customs developed regarding this practice: One custom
maintained that each member of the family should light a separate
Chanukiah, and add candles for each night; the other practice had only
one person, the master of the house, light a Chanukiah with an
additional candle on each night.

Sephardic custom determines that only the master of the house lights
the Chanukiah, adding a candle each night, while Ashkenazic
communities have each family member light a Chanukiah; in the latter
custom, family members are careful to distance their menorahs from one
another, so that each candelabra is distinctly visible, such that the
number of days that have passed since the beginning of the festival
can be clearly visible to the observer. In Ashkenazic custom, grown
women are not accustomed to light their own candles, but a woman is
permitted to if she so wishes; she can even recite a blessing when she
lights. Young girls are accustomed to light with a blessing.

REFRAINING FROM LABORS WHILE CANDLES BURN
Women have a unique custom of refraining from performing melacha –
acts of creative labor – while the Chanukah candles are burning. In
light of this custom, it has been asked whether or not women are
therefore allowed or prohibited from preparing the traditional jelly
donuts and potato pancakes immediately after candle-lighting.

(We should clarify that the question relates only to the first half
hour after the candles are lit, because, after that time, there is no
legal requirement for the candles to remain lit – and it is even
permissible at that point to extinguish them. Therefore, it is obvious
that a woman may do acts of melacha after the first half hour. The
question, however, remains about the permissibility of cooking
immediately after the candles are lit.)

Two reasons have been offered as to the basis of the custom that women
refrain from acts of melacha after candle-lighting: One is to prevent
them from using the light of the candles for their work. (The Chanukah
candles may only be observed, but not used for reading, work, etc.)
The second reason offered is that since the miracle of Chanukah was
initiated by a woman named Yehudit – whose courage led her to behead a
commander of the enemy forces – women have a higher-level obligation
to celebrate the holiday; for women, then, the holiday is elevated to
the level of a classic, Torah-commanded festival, during which melacha
is prohibited.

If the first reason cited is the main one for the prohibition of
melacha, then any labors that require the light of a candle would be
prohibited for the first half hour after the candles are lit; if the
second reason is the definitive one, the laws of Chanukah would not be
more serious than those of Chol Hamo’ed (the intermediate days of
Sukkot and Pesach) during which it is permissible to cook, but is
forbidden to do laundry or sew. Former Chief Shephardic Rabbi
Moredechai Eliyahu rules according to the second reason; in his view,
therefore, it is permissible for women to bake and cook while the
candles are burning.

However, families accustomed not to do melacha during this time period
should continue to follow their present custom, since they have
apparently taken upon themselves the custom according to the first
reason. One who does not know of an existing family custom may cook
right after candle-lighting, and refrain from melachot forbidden on
Chol Hamo’ed such as laundry, sewing, etc.

CHANUKAH CANDLES AND OILS
All oils and wicks are basically kosher for use on Chanukah, unlike
the rules governing Shabbat candles. Regarding the latter, the Mishna
asks, “With which wicks and oils can we light and with which can we
not?” The reason for the distinction is that the light of the Shabbat
candles is meant to be used; if the candles do not light well, there
is a concern that one will come to adjust the candles so that the
candles burn better; this would constitute a desecration of Shabbat.
Thus the sages forbade using, for Shabbat, wicks and oils that do not
burn well. Such is not the case with Chanukah candles, the light of
which may not be used, but only observed. Therefore, all that is
needed is a candle that will stay lit for a minimum of a half hour.

Nevertheless, the Rema writes that it is preferable to use olive oil
for Chanukah, since the miracle of Chanukah occurred with olive oil;
using olive oil, therefore, is a more accurate commemoration of the
miracle. Many still use regular wax candles since their light is
generally brighter and since such candles are often easier to work
with.

A new issue has been raised in modern times – Is it possible to
fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukiah with electric light
bulbs? The general consensus among the later rabbis is that electric
lights cannot be used. Various reasons were given for forbidding their
use – one of the central ones is that Chanukah lights must be similar
to those in the Beit Hamikdash (Temple), and an electric light is not
similar to the lights in the Temple Menorah.

PLACING THE CHANUKIAH
The place that the sages established for performing the mitzvah is the
left hand side of the entrance to one’s home, on the outside of the
house; the goal is that all passersby see the lights and remember the
miracle. This special location applies to a home whose door faces a
public thoroughfare. If a person, however, lives on the second storey
of an apartment block, though, it is preferable for him to light in
the window facing the street.

The Chanukiah must be placed at a height of three to ten handbreaths –
between 24 and 80 centimeters off the ground. Why? If the candles are
placed any higher, people may think that the candles were lit to light
the entry-way to the house. If one places the candles too low, it may
seem as if he has placed the candles there only temporarily, and plans
to soon move them. Placing them between 24 and 80 centimeters off the
ground, however, makes it clear to all who view the Chanukiah that the
candles were lit for the purpose of the mitzvah and to publicize the
miracle.

This is all the preferred way to perform the mitzvah, but if one
unwittingly placed the candles either lower than 24 or higher than 80
centimeters, he has still fulfilled the mitzvah.

There are some instances in which it is preferable to place the
Chanukiah higher than 80 centimeters; for instance, if a person does
not have the proper glass case that would allow him to place his
Chanukiah outside, a situation in which, if he places it less than 80
centimeters from the ground inside the house, only family members
inside the home will see the candles. If he places them on the window
ledge, however, the miracle will be publicized to all passersby. In
this case, it is advisable to place the candles on the window ledge so
that both family members and passersby may see them.

"Chanukah Candles and Domestic Peace"

Our sages have ruled that the Chanukah candles must be lit at that
hour which allows for maximum publicity of the Chanukah miracle. In
the past, there were no street lamps and people would begin gathering
in their homes just before nightfall. At sunset, then, the streets
were full of people returning home. Therefore, the 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 darkness, the best time for lighting Chanukah candles
is still the time chosen by the sages.

Lighting Late

Is it permissible, when necessary, to light the candles later than
this time? If it is difficult for a person to return home at nightfall
(e.g., where one must work until seven o’clock), he may light candles
and recite the accompanying blessings when he gets home from work. It
is true that according to the Rambam the time for lighting Chanukah
candles is specifically during the half hour after sunset. However,
according to most opinions, when the sages said that candles must be
lit after sundown, they meant ideally, but it is possible to light
candles after this time as well if necessary.
Furthermore, even those authorities who hold that in the past the
candles had to be lit precisely during the half hour after nightfall
explain that this was because everybody returned home from work at
that time and lit Chanukah candles in the entrances of their homes. In
those days the miracle could only be publicized at that hour. However,
since the period of the Rishonim (early Torah authorities, tenth-
fifteenth centuries, C.E.) when danger caused many to begin lighting
candles inside their homes, the real publicizing of the miracle takes
place in the presence of the family members, and it no longer matters
if one lights at nightfall or later.
In addition, in recent generations people have begun to return home
from work later, and as a result we find people walking around outside
for a few hours after nightfall. Therefore, even if a person lights
Chanukah candles at seven o’clock, passersby will be able to see. As a
result, when necessary, it is possible to light Chanukah candles later
than the time originally laid down by the sages.

However, great effort should be made not to delay the lighting of
Chanukah candles beyond nine o’clock, for very few people return home
from work after this time. One who lights candles late must be careful
not to eat a meal (achilat keva) until lighting the candles.

A Delayed Spouse

In many families the question arises, what should be done when one of
the spouses cannot return home from work at nightfall? Should the
other spouse light candles at nightfall (about 5:00 p.m.) or wait for
his or her partner to return?
According to the letter of the law, the spouse at home should light
candles at nightfall and discharge his or her partner of this
obligation. However, in practice, it is usually best to wait for the
tardy spouse to return. In general, any one of the following three
reasons justifies postponing candle lighting until the spouse has
returned:
1. Where the absent spouse will be unable to hear the candle lighting
blessings in a synagogue or elsewhere it is best to wait for him or
her to return home. According to the Rambam and Rashi, when lighting
candles at home one discharges all family members, even those not
present, of their obligation to light candles, but one who does not
hear the “She-Asah Nisim” blessing has not fulfilled his or her
obligation to thank God for His miracles. Therefore, if the tardy
spouse will not be able to hear the candle lighting blessings at all,
it is best to wait for him or her.
2. If a tardy spouse is liable to be offended or hurt if the candles
are lit without him, it is best to wait. Maintaining domestic
tranquility is more important than lighting Chanukah candles at the
choicest time.
3. Where there is reason to believe that if the spouse at home does
not wait for his or her partner, the absent partner’s attachment to
the commandments will be weakened, it is best to wait. This
consideration exists when a partner returns home late daily, for if he
or she misses the candle lighting every day or almost every day, his
or her connection to this religious obligation is liable to be
weakened.
In sum, then, only where the tardy partner can hear the candle
lighting blessings elsewhere, and his or her absence is a one time
occurrence, is it preferable for the spouse at home to light candles
at the choicest hour, nightfall.
Under other circumstances, though, it is best to wait for the partner
to return. At any rate, when waiting for the partner, the candle
lighting should not be put off until later than 9:00 P.M., and family
members must refrain from eating a meal (“achilat keva”) from half an
hour before nightfall until after the Chanukah candles have been lit.

According to Ashkenazi custom, the spouse at home may light candles at
nightfall and intend not to discharge the absent partner of his or her
obligation, so that upon returning the partner can light the candles
and recite the blessings on is or her own. However, it is not
necessary to do this, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with
waiting for the partner to return (for one or more of the reasons
mentioned above).

Tardy Children

Should the lighting be delayed for tardy children? The Sephardi custom
is that one family member lights for all of the others. Therefore, for
one of the three reasons mentioned above, it is necessary to wait for
any family member above bar- or bat-mitzvah age who is unable to reach
home at nightfall. According to the Ashkenazi custom, though, the
candles should be lit at nightfall, and when the tardy son or daughter
arrives, he or she lights the candles and recites the blessings on his
or her own.

"The Educational System's Failure and its Reasons"

Not too long ago, the results of a comparative study between the level
of education in Israel and in other advanced countries were published.
They were unimpressive to say the least. The educational level of
Israeli students is on the downfall in comparison to other advanced
countries.
In response to this report, popular media analysts focused their
attention, as usual, upon irrelevant factors. For the most part, they
opted to blame the impending cuts in the education budget rather than
make an effort to get to the roots of the problem. For one thing, cuts
have not yet taken effect, while the results of this study reflected
last years developments; furthermore, the education budget in Israel
is comparatively higher than those in most Western countries.

The truth of the matter is that the problem is a social-ideological
one, and not connected to Israel’s spending budget.
For generations upon generations, the Jewish people have given
scholarship precedence above all else. The scholar was considered the
most honored individual in society. The wealthy considered it a
privilege to have their daughters marry scholars. Jewish education was
never based upon schoolwork alone; it was first and foremost a family
affair – the Jewish family has traditionally related to scholarship as
the most important of values. Even non-observant Jewry, during its
first and second generations, continued to relate to study with honor.
Yet, now, in the third generation, things have changed.

When the life objective becomes going out on the town, buy clothing,
traveling abroad, gourmet restaurants, dancing all night, and
returning drunk in the early hours of the morning, it should come as
no surprise that the majority of our youth prefer television, movies,
drinking, dancing, partying, and unbridled freedom over study.

Parents who lead a life of freedom and irresponsibility, expressing
themselves in vulgar language and adorning themselves in immodest
clothing, chain-smoking, drinking beer and coffee, and wasting their
time with self-centered leisure and all sorts of nonsense, should not
expect their child to turn out modest, honest, educated, and
intelligent. The child merely imitates his parents. Adults who are
insolent towards those who are better and wiser than they and laugh at
jokes which desecrate all that is treasured and sacred, are later
shocked that their children are disrespectful toward them and their
teachers and are unwilling to accept authority. They do not hesitate
to blame the government for not investing enough money in “education.”

In the past, Torah teachers were poor. The children would gather in
the teacher’s house and he would educate them from morning until
night. This “classroom” also served as the bedroom, kitchen, and
living room of the teacher’s family. In the center of the room the
children sat and studied Torah, and on the side, the teacher’s wife
would sew, cook, and take care of the small children. Sometimes even
the goat and rooster would come inside the very same room in order to
warm themselves and eat the scraps of leftover food….In the midst of
all this, Jewish children studied Torah and grew to become learned,
pious, and gentle Jews. Though they lacked adequate formal conditions,
they possessed respect for scholarship.

"The Woman and Her Commandments" (Part 1)

Men and Women – Mutually Complementary

Essentially, men and women are created equal and both are graced by
the divine image through which every human being is created. Likewise,
the unalterable chosenness of the Jewish people and their innate
holiness embraces men and women alike. The Torah was given to the
entire nation of Israel regardless of sex. The Sages learn from the
verse, “These are the laws which you must place before them” (Exodus
21:1) that “Scripture made man and woman equal with regard to all of
the laws in the Torah” (Kidushin 35a).

However, one cannot disregard the specific differences between man and
woman. Physically and mentally, God made each unique, and their
obligations as far as religious observance is concerned are also
disparate (women, for example, are exempt from positive time-bound
commandments). These differences allow man and woman to compliment one
another.

In order to allow divinity to become manifest in the world, it is
necessary that there be two complementary channels at work. Each
individual creature is limited and therefore lacks the capacity to act
as a vessel for divine perfection. But through the body of the
congregation of Israel, divine perfection becomes disclosed in the
world. This is what makes the unity of Israel so important. Only the
nation of Israel with all of its component parts is capable of
receiving the Torah and using it to rectify the world.

Because of the difference between the souls of individuals different
meanings may be derived from the words of the Torah, as it is written,
“God spoke one, I heard it as two” (Psalms 62:12). It is also written,
“Like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces” (Jerimiah 23:29), and
on this verse the Sages explain that “just as [the rock] is split into
many splinters, so also may one biblical verse convey many
teachings” (Sanhedrin 34a). They also explain that “just as a hammer
is divided into many sparks, so every single word that went forth from
the Holy One, blessed be He, split up into seventy languages” (Shabbat
88b). And as they said with regard to the disputes between the schools
of Hillel and Shammai and all other disputes between the Sages, “Both
[opinions] are the words of the living God” (Eruvin 13b).

Existence’s most significant expression of reciprocation is that which
exists between male and female, by which man is able to reveal the
inner divine image and to achieve consummation. This is true not only
of humanity but of all realms of creation; from the most sublime and
lofty spheres down to our own worldly existence there is a division of
male and female and each sex is unable to exist independently without
being complemented by the other.

This fundamental principle is dealt with extensively in Kabbalistic
literature. This is what Rabbi Elazar meant when he said that “any man
who is without wife is not a man, as it is written ‘Male and female
created he them. He blessed them and named them Man’ (Genesis
5:2)” (Yevamot 63a). The Sages similarly teach us that “any man who is
without wife lives without joy, without blessing, without
goodness . . . without Torah . . . without a [protective]
wall” (Yevamot 63a).

Just as the differences between male and female are what allow them to
marry and reproduce, so do their spiritual and mental differences
allow them to unite, complement, and stimulate each other spiritually.
In light of all this, it is possible to understand somewhat the
fundamental reason for the differences between men and women with
regard to religious observance.

Exempt from Time-bound Positive Commandments

The plain and accepted explanation for the fact that women are exempt
from time-bound positive commandments is that this dispensation allows
them to fulfill their role – to build the family household. The woman
bears the great responsibility of building up and sustaining the
family, and it is the family upon which our individual and national
future rests. This responsibility stems from her inborn nature, the
woman’s capacity to give birth and breast-feed. Their feminine and
motherly nature also contains the special traits which make them
suited for building and nurturing the family.

Often, the responsibility of running the house and raising and
educating the children demands a devotion which continues all hours of
the day and the night. Were women given the responsibility of
fulfilling time-bound commandments, the fulfillment of which calls for
stopping one’s ordinary flow activities, they would not be capable of
duly caring for their families (Abudraham and Sefer Hasidim).

It is possible in this manner to explain also the reason that women
are exempt from the commandment to study Torah. Torah study demands
extreme self-sacrifice, both in the early years of life when one is
busy acquiring the fundamentals of study, and also later throughout
ones entire lifetime when one must set aside ample time each day for
studying Torah. Were women obligated to study Torah, they would not be
capable of dedicating themselves to the building of the family.

While clearly women must study so that they be able to live according
to the Torah, they are not obligated to learn Torah analytically and
scrutinizingly in order to achieve theoretical depth. Thus, women are
relieved of the ongoing pressure which accompanies the men who are
commanded to dedicate themselves to constant progress in the
understanding of Torah.

From here we can understand just how important the family is. Women
have been exempted of the obligation to study Torah and of all of the
positive time-bound commandments in order to nurture the family.

It should be added that the very ruling which declares women exempt
from the study of Torah and all of the positive time-bound
commandments implies that women are by their very nature less in need
of them, and that they are able to achieve spiritual consummation
without them (see Yalkut Shimoni, Shmuel 78). Accordingly, it is
possible to understand why even a woman who bears no domestic yoke is
released from these commandments

"Marriage, Plain and Simple"

When to Break the Glass

There is a Jewish custom to break a glass during the wedding ceremony.
This is done so that Jerusalem’s destruction not be forgotten in our
moment of joy. Regarding when exactly the glass should be broken there
are different customs. According to many opinions the time for
breaking the glass is at the conclusion of the seven marriage
blessings; i.e., at the end of the wedding ceremony.

Many later authorities, on the other hand, say that the glass should
be broken just after the actual consecration, before the reading of
the Ketuba (marriage contract).

The accepted custom, however, is to follow the majority opinion and to
break the glass after the blessings. There are some who express
surprise at this practice. They ask: How is it that we break the glass
at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony and then shout “Mazal Tov!”
How can we shout “Mazal Tov” just after recalling the Temple’s ruin?
My father and mentor once told me that this practice in fact makes
perfect sense. Only after we recall Jerusalem’s destruction are we
able to truly express our joy. If we forget Jerusalem our happiness is
not complete. Our joy is no more than wild behavior that divorces us
from the true meaning of life. With the Temple in ruins as it is and
so much suffering in the world, it would appear that there is no room
whatsoever for celebration. After all, God’s purpose in creating the
universe was to reveal Himself through creation. If God’s abode, the
Temple in Jerusalem, sits in ruins, then the purpose of creation
remains unfulfilled. In such a situation what can we possibly be happy
about?

God created the world so that He would be able to bestow some of His
goodness upon us. With so much suffering in the world, so much
falsehood, deception, exploitation and violence; in a world where the
evil succeed in getting the upper hand and the righteous are made to
suffer, what reason could we possibly have to be happy?

By recalling Jerusalem we attach our joy to the divine truth. Marriage
is not detached from the need to strive for perfection. To the
contrary, marriage itself contributes to the process of rectification
and perfection of the world. It constitutes a partial reconstruction
of Jerusalem. This being the case, it is most fitting that such joy be
expressed on behalf of the bride and groom. In addition, it makes
sense for us to wait until after the glass has been broken to shout
“Mazal Tov!”

“If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem..”

There is a very beautiful custom wherein all those gathered around the
wedding canopy sing, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand
forget its cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to
the roof of my mouth; if I do not place Jerusalem above my highest
joy” (Psalms 137:5,6). Incidentally, until recently there was a
certain tune to which everybody was accustomed to singing these
lyrics. Lately, though, the younger generation prefers a new tune
which was written by the acclaimed master of Jewish song, the late R’
Shlomo Carlebach.

Personally, I prefer the older tune. True, R’ Carlebach’s tune is
mellow and pleasant, and it expresses feelings of yearning and
longing, but it does not contain the dramatic emphasis of the old
tune. The dramatic emphasis of the older tune gives fitting expression
to the awesome splendor of the oath, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its cunning.. If I do not remember thee, let
my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.” It is like a kind of anthem
to which the entire congregation stands and repeats the oath.

I do not know what the feeling is like in the audience. I am usually
under the wedding canopy with the families. From what I have been able
to see, whenever the old tune is sung the eyes of those who stand
around the bride and groom well up with tears. People stand
attentively and seriously and recall Jerusalem. They recall the
destruction of the Temple, the hardships encountered on the path to
its reconstruction, the holy individuals who have been killed in wars
and terrorist attacks, the orphans and widows. Against the backdrop of
the wedding’s splendor, tears well up over every conceivable hardship;
prayers go up on behalf of Jerusalem’s speedy restoration and for the
rectification of God’s creation.

When the newer tune is sung, though, one does not encounter tears.
Neither the parents nor those gathered around the couple nor the
newlyweds shed any tears.
True, there is nothing that says that one must shed tears. The main
thing is not to appear outdated, conventional. The youngsters might
the impression that we are not “with it.” That, after all, is the main
thing, that people not suspect us of being old-fashioned.

Maybe in a few years even the new tune will take on an “old”
character, stirring up moving memories of weddings gone by; maybe it
too will bring tears to eye. Perhaps young brides and grooms will
again opt for a newer tune. At any rate, I am in favor of the old
tune, especially when it is sung at the wedding ceremony.

“Ayin HaRa’” – “The Evil Eye”

Some brides and grooms today wish to add a unique touch to their
wedding. For example, some grooms wish to sing a special song to their
bride. They may choose to do this when the crowd is on the dance
floor. I even heard of one groom who sang under the canopy during the
marriage ceremony.

When people ask my feelings about this, I advise the bride and groom
to avoid standing out and not to deviate from tradition. All eyes are
at any rate upon them. They at any rate occupy the center stage. Why
should they try and go out of their way to draw attention? The couple
should do their best to celebrate along with the guests and to receive
their abundant blessings and with love and humility. The more that one
is careful to uphold the traditions of the forefathers, the more one
merits becoming a significant link in the chain of generations.

Conspicuousness leads to what is known in Judaism as “Ayin HaRa’,” the
“Evil Eye.” When one person sees another standing out, he begins to
ask himself, “Is he really as fortunate as he makes himself appear?
Does he really deserve to be so happy?” After all, there are all sorts
of less fortunate individuals in the crowd looking on. There are
single men and woman who long to find a mate; there are widows and
divorced people. One ought to consider their feelings.

The danger of “Ayin HaRa’” is particularly great when the groom goes
out of his way to publicly demonstrate his undying love for the bride.
People begin to ask themselves, “Will his love continue to endure when
he begins to face the difficulties of marriage?”

As unpleasant as it is to admit, if one begins to do a little
investigating one finds that the very couples who were so eager to
demonstrate their love in public later encountered domestic problems.
Sometimes, when I see that the couple’s demonstration of love is
exceptionally conspicuous, I know that within a number of months they
will come to me with serious relationship difficulties. In short, it
is best for a couple not to make too prominent a show of their love
for one another. Love one another modestly and may God bless you with
many pleasant years together.

My father had the following to say about this issue of “Ayin HaRa’”:
It is not necessary to assert that the conspicuous behavior of the
groom at the wedding was what caused (“siba”) the problems which arose
later. It is enough to say that his behavior was an indication
(“siman”). I.e., the fact that he acted in an strange, eye-catching
manner indicated that he was likely to have problems later on.

Who Decides Where the Wedding Will Be Held?

Question: When there is a difference of opinion between the couple and
their parents over the location of the wedding, who has the final
word?
Answer: Obviously, the ideal situation is one in which everybody
agrees on one location. But, in cases where there is a difference of
opinion between the couple and their parents, the rule would appear to
be as follows: If the parents are the ones paying for the wedding (as
is the accepted practice when it comes to young couples), then the
parents must have the last word. They, in essence, are the hosts of
the meal. They invite the guest, they are the ones who sign the
invitations. Therefore, they are the ones to decide. They clearly want
nothing more than to arrange the wedding in a manner that befits the
honor of the bride and groom.

A bit of useful advice for young couples: Let the parents arrange the
wedding. Sometimes the bride and groom think that because they are the
ones getting married, they should be the ones to decide all of the
wedding arrangements. This is not true. It is true that it is the
bride and groom that are getting married; in this regard they cannot
be replaced by the parents. But if the parents are paying for the
meal, then they are the hosts of the banquet and the celebration.
Generally, most of the guest are friends of the parents, and it is
only fitting that they be allowed to feel at home with their
acquaintances. By following this advice the couple will merit starting
off their life together by fulfilling the commandment to honor their
parents. This will also allow them to arrive at the wedding calm and
happy. They are not responsible for everything. The weight of the
responsibility is not on them. Finally, following this path will bring
the parents more satisfaction.

Yet, if the bride and groom are financing the wedding themselves (a
scenario more common with older couples) they have the right to decide
where the wedding will be held, for they are the hosts. Of course, if
the parents voice a particular opinion and the couple accepts it, they
have fulfilled the commandment of honoring parents. All the same, they
are not obligated to follow their parents’ advice, for it is their
wedding and they are the ones paying for it (see Peninei Halakha vol.
4, pp. 154-156).

The Appearance of a Meticulously Observant Jew

Visible Tzitzis (Tassels)

Some time ago, I wrote about complaints voiced by IDF soldiers against
their officers who ordered them to tuck their tzitzis (fringes) into
their pants. Such an order runs counter to the Torah which rules that
the tzitzis should be ever viewable because they remind us at all
times of our Torah obligations. It is thus written , “That you may
look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do
them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes,
which incline you to go astray” (Numbers 15:39).

True, Kabbalistic works state, in the name of the Holy Ari, that the
tallit (small four-cornered garment) should be worn as an
undergarment, but the Magen Avraham (8:13) explains that this ruling
applies specifically to the garment; the tassels, however, must be
visible. And he adds that it is very unlikely that one who keeps his
tzitzis covered has actually fulfilled the commandment.

The soldiers continue, thank God, to fulfill this Torah commandment,
and their tzitzis hang freely from their uniform for all to see,
despite various threats.

The Sephardic Custom

Yet, I was asked: It is well known that the Sephardic custom is to
wear the tzitzis under one’s clothing (as R’ Ovadia Yosef rules in
Yachveh Daat 2:1). Why, then, did I not state that my ruling applies
to Ashkenazi Jews alone?

Answer: First of all, it should be pointed out that this is the ruling
of R’ Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 8:11): “Basically, the
mitzvah of wearing a small tallit involves wearing it over one’s
garments, so that one will see it continually and remember the mitzvot
(commandments). ”Furthermore, our mentor, R’ Tzvi Yehudah HaCohen
Kook, head of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshivah, would encourage his students
to wear their tzitzis outside of their clothing, and he made no
distinction between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews.

However, I was told by R’ David Chai HaCohen, one of R’ Tzvi Yehudah’s
leading students, that he once asked R’ Tzvi Yehudah if his ruling to
wear tzitzis outside of one’s garments applied to him as well, for his
family’s custom (R’ David Chai HaCohen’s uncle was an important Torah
scholar and a faithful follower of the Ben Ish Chai) was to wear
tzitzis under their garments. R’ HaCohen told me that it was clear to
him that he would abide by whatever ruling R’ Tzvi Yehudah gave. R’
Tzvi Yehudah told him that he did not have to wear his tzitzis outside
of his clothing. Based upon this ruling, R’ David Chai HaCohen
instructs his Sephardic students to wear their tzitzis under their
clothing.

However, in my own humble opinion, it appears to be proper, today,
even according to Sephardic custom, to wear one’s tzitzis outside of
one’s clothing. This is because, in previous generations, North
African and Eastern Jewry were accustomed to wearing a kind of large
shawl which did not allow them to cover their tallit and at the same
time display their tzitzis. They had to choose between wearing their
entire tallit on top of their clothing, revealing everything (in
accordance with Shulchan Aruch) or to conceal everything (in
accordance with the Holy Ari), and they adopted the latter path.

Today, though, we all wear shirts and pants, and there is no problem
concealing the tallit while at the same time revealing the tzitzis,
fulfilling the commandment according to all opinions. And this would
actually appear to be the opinion of the Holy Ari, for he writes that
a person must look at his tzitzis frequently during the course of the
day (Shaar HaKavanot 7:3). My own humble opinion is that because over
the generations people became accustomed to concealing both tallit and
tzitzis, many continue this practice even today. However, in truth, it
is proper to wear the tzitzis outside of one’s clothing.

Furthermore, practically speaking, there is great value in wearing the
tzitzis outside of one’s clothing, for by doing this a person
expresses his allegiance to the Torah and its commandments, and he is
reminded to perform the commandments. This is in keeping with the
plain meaning of the verse, “That you may look upon it, and remember
all the commandments of the Lord, and do them.”

In a secular environment, at work or in the army, it is very important
for an observant Jew to wear something which shows that he is
meticulous about fulfilling the commandments and that he is not
ashamed to perform them in the presence of people who are liable to
make fun of him. By doing this, it becomes easier for him to endure
trials.

A person who dresses in a Haredi (ultra-orthodox) fashion, with a
black hat and suit, is less in need of this distinction, for all can
see by his clothing that he is Haredi. In the army, however, this
changes; the tzitzis become important because everybody wears the same
uniform. In the workplace, as well, it is very important for a Jew to
make himself distinct through his tzitzis, the unique garment which
the Torah commands us to wear.

Conclusion

Even if a person generally upholds the Sephardic custom (which goes
back to the time when Sephardic Jews would dress in long shawls) of
wearing his tzitzis under his clothing, when serving in the army it is
best to wear one’s tzitzis outside of one’s clothing, in a manner that
they be clearly visible. The only time one must tuck them in is during
camouflaged training, and, of course, while carrying out operations in
enemy territory.

"The Laws of Brit Mila"

The First Commandment

It is no coincidence that the very first commandment that the first
Jew in history was commanded to fulfill was the commandment of
religious circumcision – “Brit Milah.” This fact tells us something
about the value of this particular precept. And though the commandment
to procreate is mentioned in the Torah before the commandment of
circumcision, it is not directed specifically at the People of Israel;
rather, the injunction to procreate is includes all of the living
creatures in the world – man, land animals, and fish. The commandment
of circumcision, though, is the first commandment directed
specifically toward the Jewish people. And just as the first
commandment which the patriarch Abraham fulfilled was that of
circumcision, so the first commandment that each and every Jewish male
who reaches the tender age of eight days old fulfills is that of
circumcision. Indeed, this obligation symbolizes, more than any other
religious duty, the eternal bond between the Jewish people and their
God, a bond which is sealed upon a Jew’s very skin.

Via the commandment of circumcision we proclaim that it is not easy to
be Jewish. One must pay with his very blood for being Jewish, as the
verse which we recite in the course of the circumcision ceremony
states: “Through your blood shall you live” (Ezekiel 16:6). The mighty
task which Israel took upon itself – to reveal to a world of darkness
and heresy that there is a Creator and Overseer; to inform the
bloodthirsty and destructive nations that the true purpose of life is
to pursue kindness and show benevolence, and to lead a life of purity
and morality in a world of lies and hypocrisy. Accomplishing all of
this is no easy task. It is a job which will not be finished until the
world is finally completely rectified. And the road is full of
hardship and sacrifice. The act of removing the foreskin, which
symbolizes the moral defect that attached itself to the world,
involves blood and pain – but there is no other path. For the only
other alternative would be to compromise and to become downtrodden in
the impurity of the bloodthirsty and destructive nations, hence losing
our value and national identity.

From every page in the history of the Jewish people, from the
destruction of the Temple until the Holocaust, we learn that our
mission is a difficult one involving genuine self-sacrifice. The is
our destiny and responsibility.

Through Brit Mila we declare to the entire world that we, the Jewish
people, continue to be firm in our faith and ready to sacrifice
ourselves until we have reached the materialization of all of our
upright and just aspirations.

The Most Important Commandment

The classic code of Jewish Law, the “Shulchan Arukh,” dedicates an
entire chapter to clarifying and emphasizing the fact that the
commandment of “Brit Milah” is the most important of all practical
positive commandments. Generally, each chapter of the “Shulchan Arukh”
is made up of a number of subdivisions, but chapter 260 of Yoreh Deah
contains only one law, which is entirely dedicated to emphasizing the
importance of “Brit Milah.” And this is what is written there: “It is
a positive commandment for the father to circumcise his son, and this
commandment is of greater importance than all other positive
commandments.

It is no coincidence that this particular commandment is embellished
with great adornment by all Jews, regardless of affiliation to
movement and organization. Even if the Jew’s natural bond to some of
the commandments has been weakened, when it comes to “Milah” there is
a general consensus. This agreement is equivalent to the testimony of
a hundred witnesses regarding the true feeling of each Jew regarding
Jewish faith and the Torah. Incidentally, there are a number of other
central commandments regarding which there is wide general acceptance
among Jews. For example: love for one’s fellow, honoring parents,
honesty, the saving of life, settlement of the land of Israel, In
fact, if one takes into consideration the entire Torah and its 613
commandments, one finds that there is no clear line dividing
“religious” and “secular” Jews. In practice, there are many non-
observant Jews who fulfill abundant Torah commandments with great
adoration, while there are those who are termed “religious,” yet who,
in fact, fail to perform many of the commandments. However, the
precept of “Brit Milah” is undoubtedly the most widely embraced of the
commandments, for, more so than any other ritual, it gives expression
to a sense of belonging to the Jewish people – the nation which has
been chosen for the task of revealing Divine ideals in the world.

Yet, despite the great importance of this commandment, one must be
aware of the fact that a Jew is one whose mother is Jewish; and even
if he is not circumcised and he does not appear to be Jewish, if his
mother is Jewish, he too is Jewish. It is important for us to remember
this fact, for, lately, many uncircumcised Jews have been immigrating
to Israel, and there are some who mistakenly claim that any Jew who
has not been circumcised is like a non-Jew, and must convert in order
to join the Jewish people. The fact of the matter is that whoever was
born to a Jewish mother, or converted to Judaism according to Jewish
law, is Jewish. Judaism begins from the soul, from the fact that the
Almighty chose us from among all the nations and infused within us a
soul capable of giving expression to the Divine values of the Torah in
the world. The commandments are the instruments and the means through
which Judaism appears in the world, and the first of these
commandments is that of “Brit Milah.” One who does not fulfill Torah
commandments fails to uncover and give expression to the hallowed
Jewish soul within.

All of this is true regarding one who was born to a Jewish mother. A
non-Jew, though, who desires to join the Jewish people through
conversion, hence establishing a new Halakhic fact – i.e., that from
this time onward his offspring will be members of the Jewish people –
must accept upon himself the responsibility of fulfilling all of the
commandments. The sages teach that the ultimate source of the soul a
non-Jew who takes upon himself to convert to Judaism is in fact
Jewish; yet, in order to get to this source, the convert must accept
upon himself to fulfill all of the commandments. In other words, one
who was born Jewish possesses a Jewish soul, and even if he does not
observe the commandments, his spiritual nature does not change; but,
regarding a convert, only the foundation of his soul is Jewish, and,
therefore, only by formally accepting upon himself the commandments
can a Jewish soul reside within him. True, these matters cannot be
proven scientifically, but I believe that a broad and all-encompassing
examination of the history of the Jewish people and of those converts
who did not earnestly accept upon themselves the Torah commandments
can help to understand these profound ideas.

Abraham’s Offspring

Regarding the question of the circumcision of Abraham’s other children
besides Isaac, we find an interesting discrepancy among the early
authorities of Jewish law. When it comes to the rest of the nations of
the world there is agreement among rabbinic decisors that they should
not be circumcised, for circumcision a commandment incumbent upon the
children of Abraham alone. The source of this obligation lies in the
verse, “And you must keep my covenant (“Brit”); you and your seed
after you for all generations” (Genesis 17:9). And the sages of the
Talmud explain that the intention here is to Abraham’s seed alone –
“you and your seed” but not other people. Ishmael is not considered
the seed of Abraham, for it is written elsewhere (Genesis 21:12): “It
is through Isaac that you will gain posterity.” Esau, the son of
Isaac, is also not considered the seed of Abraham, for it is written,
“It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity” – of Isaac, but not
all of Isaac’s seed. In other words, only a portion of Isaac’s seed is
called the “seed of Abraham,” and that is the portion which was born
of the offspring of Jacob, and they are the one’s commanded to fulfill
the commandment of “Brit Milah.”

Yet, because Abraham had other children besides Isaac and Ishmael – as
it is written, after the death of the Matriarch Sarah (Genesis 25:1):
“And Abraham married another woman whose name was Keturah,” and she
bore him six children – it is necessary to clarify the law regarding
them. According to Rashi (Sanhedrin 59b), even though all of Abraham’s
sons were commanded to perform circumcision, their sons – that is, the
offspring of Abraham’s additional children – are not bound by this
commandment, and it belongs solely to the Jews.

According to the Rambam, though, Ishmael’s offspring was freed from
this commandment because the verse “It is through Isaac that you will
gain posterity” removes the seed of Ishmael from the category of
Abraham’s seed. The offspring of Keturah, though, had not yet been
born at the time when that verse was stated to Abraham. Concerning
them, then, there is no indication in the scriptures that they are to
be separated from the Abraham’s seed. Therefore, even though they are
not Jews – for they are not progeny of the Patriarchs Isaac and Jacob
– they are none the less obligated to perform circumcision as the seed
of Abraham. Rambam also rules that, because the offspring of Keturah
have in the meantime become intermixed with the offspring of Ishmael,
and Keturah constitutes the majority, all of them are bound by this
commandment (Hilkhot Melakhim 10:8).

It is worth mentioning here that there is a unique bond between the
statute of “Brit Milah” and the Land of Israel, to the extent that it
is an historical fact that nations which are not circumcised are not
capable of settling the Land of Israel. The Sages even teach (Zohar
vol. 2, 23:1) that whoever is circumcised can inherit the land.
Indeed, in the days of Joshua, before the Children of Israel began
their conquest of Israel, all of the men who had not yet performed
“Brit Milah” were called upon to do so. Only after this step had been
taken were the Israelites able to conquer the land. In addition, the
Sages forecast long ago that the Ishmaelites would gain control of the
Holy Land for an extended period of time, while the land was barren
and desolate. The reason for this is that the Ishmaelites practice
circumcision, and, say the Sages, they will therefore succeed in
delaying the return of Israel to its land. But, because their “Milah”
is itself “desolate,” i.e., worthless, and defective (they do not
circumcise on the eighth day, and they also do not remove the thin
layer of skin, and whoever circumcises without removing the membrane
of the corona is as he did not circumcise at all. Therefore the Land
of Israel will remain barren and desolate while in their possession
and in the end the Land of Israel will become the possession of the
People of Israel.

Removal of the Foreskin

When it comes to the commandment of “Brit Milah” there arises a
justified question: Who are we to make adjustments which run counter
to nature? If man is born naturally with foreskin, is it not best to
simply leave things as they are? And if the foreskin is so abhorrent
that God himself desires that we remove it, why did He create it to
begin with?
The truth of the matter is that this question was already asked ages
ago by the Rabbis of the Midrash (see Midrash Tanchuma, Tazriah 5):
Turnus Rufus, the wicked Roman general once challenged Rabbi Akiva,
asking him: “If the Almighty God so desires circumcision, why does the
newborn not enter the world already circumcised?” The Talmud also
tells us that on another occasion Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva a
similar question (Bava Batra 10a): “If the Almighty loves the poor –
for we see that he has commanded to give them charity – why does He
not provide for them Himself?” To this Rabbi Akiva responded that the
Almighty does not provide for them, in order that we ourselves be
allowed to merit fulfilling the commandment. In other words, certainly
God can provide for the poor, but He created the world with deficiency
so that man be granted the privilege of taking part in the perfection
of creation. The same is true regarding the foreskin. Certainly God
could have created man circumcised, without foreskin and without any
evil inclinations, but this was not God’s desire in creating man in
His image. The desire was for man to be God’s partner in the creation
of the world.

This is why the Creator left part of the creation incomplete – in
order that we finish the work. And in order to complete, one must also
perform kind deeds like giving charity, and pulling away the negative
tendencies in man’s nature.

The foreskin represents the undesirable aspects of man’s nature. The
foreskin, which is skin that the body has no need for, represents
indulgence rather than necessity, the fleeting appetite which leaves
only a bad taste in its wake. It is the opposite of true love, which
constitutes the foundation of life. Removing the foreskin initiates a
process of individual refinement, and with the beginning of this
process a covenant is forged between the newborn child and the eternal
nation. The nation is forever being refined and made pure, and
together with it the entire universe is being purified.

On the Eighth Day, Even on Sabbath

It is written in the Torah (Leviticus 12:3): “On the eighth day, the
child’s foreskin shall be circumcised.” The Torah says that the
commandment to circumcise the child must be carried out on the eighth
day, no sooner and no later. And it is so important that the Brit take
place on the eighth day that even if the eighth day falls on the
Sabbath, the Brit supersedes the day of rest, and the circumcision is
carried out. This is how it is done: Whatever is needed for the Brit
Milah must be prepared before the Sabbath, while the Milah itself is
carried out on the Sabbath, for the Torah commands us to circumcise on
the eighth day even if it falls on the Sabbath. And clearly the Brit
should not be delayed for other reasons, for example, in order to
allow relatives to arrive. Indeed, even if the father himself is
abroad, the Brit must go ahead without him.

Regarding the eighth day, Rabbi Yehudah Loew, the Maharal of Prague,
explains that the nature of the physical world is such that it lacks
perfection. It is limited and deficient. In order to attain the
spiritual level which suits the nature of our soul, we must perfect
it. This is the role of the Brit Mila. And it must necessarily be
performed on the eighth day, for, because the world was created in
seven days, the natural world is characterized by the number seven.
After this, on the eighth day, we ascend to a level beyond nature.

There is one reason alone for which we postpone the Brit: illness of
the baby. In this regard we are very cautious. And if there is even
the slightest suspicion of endangerment to the baby’s life, the Brit
must be put off until the complete recovery of the baby. Under no
circumstances is it permitted to attempt to be stringent in this
matter. According to the Shulchan Arukh, one must be very cautious in
these matters, for it is forbidden to circumcise a baby who is
suspected of being ill, because protecting life takes precedent over
all. It is possible to circumcise the baby at some later date, but it
is impossible to ever replace even a single Jewish soul (Shulchan
Arukh, Yoreh Deah 263:1).

In the event of a delayed Brit Mila due to danger, one waits until the
baby has healed completely. If the illness has taken hold of the
baby’s entire body, one must wait seven days after recovery before
performing the circumcision and then go ahead with the Brit
immediately (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 262:2). In the case of a
postponed Brit which falls on the Sabbath, it is delayed until Sunday,
for only a Brit which is performed in its proper time – i.e., on the
eighth day – takes precedence over the Sabbath. A Brit which has at
any rate been postponed does not override the Sabbath (Shulchan Arukh,
Yoreh Deah 266:2).

"Honoring Adoptive and Divorced Parents"

The Commandment to Honor Parents

Question: Does the Biblical commandment to honor parents obligate an
adopted child to honor his adoptive parents?
Answer: The Biblical obligation to honor one’s parents applies only to
biological parents, not to adoptive parents (Sota 49a). All the same,
there is a moral obligation for him to relate to such parents as
biological parents because they treated him like their child. Indeed,
the sages teach that “Whoever raises an orphaned boy or girl in his
home is viewed by the Torah as if he himself had brought the child
into the world (Megila 13a).” In a sense, the moral obligation of the
adopted child is even greater than that of a biological child, for
there is nothing unusual in the fact that parents care for and raise
their own children, but when couples take in and care for orphaned or
abandoned children they perform a greater sort of kindness; it
therefore follows that the obligation to acknowledge such kindness is
much greater. In addition, the Midrash teaches that God possesses
treasuries from which he rewards the righteous, and amongst these
treasuries there is a special treasury reserved for those who take in
and raise orphaned children (Shemot Rabbah 456).

In light of the above it is clear that an adopted child is obligated
from a moral perspective to honor his parents in the same manner that
a biological child would have to honor his parents. Honoring them any
less than this would be very disrespectful.

The Question of Medical Treatment

However, because the adopted child’s obligation to honor his adoptive
parents is a moral one, he is only bound with regard to moral-based
matters. For example, a biological son is forbidden to perform any
sort of medical care upon his parents which might call for drawing
their blood. And though the son may have pure intentions and may boast
a reputation as an expert doctor, such a procedure is nonetheless
forbidden. This is because of the severity of the prohibition, for the
Torah explicitly states, “If one injures his father or mother [in a
way that causes bleeding] he must be put to death” (Exodus 21:15).
Even if the parents request the son to perform such an operation, he
must demure. The only exception would be where a parent’s life is at
stake, or nearly at stake (cf. Shulchan Arukh and Rema, Yoreh Deah
241:3).

An adopted child, however, is not prohibited in this regard, and if
his adoptive parents request of him to perform medical treatment up
them, and he is capable of carrying out such treatment successfully,
he is obligated to do so.

Marriage and Inheritance

According to Jewish law, adoption does not create family relations.
Hence, it is permissible for an adopted son to marry his sister, the
daughter of his adoptive parents. In contrast, it is forbidden for the
adopted son to marry his true sister, the daughter of his biological
parents, despite the fact that he may have never even met her
previously.

According to Jewish law, when adoptive parents die their adopted child
does not become an inheritor to them. The exception would be where
such a desire was expressed in the parents’ will.

Reciting Kaddish for Adoptive Parents

Question: Should an adopted child recite Kaddish over his adoptive
parents?
Answer: By pronouncing Kaddish for them he is fulfilling a
commandment. This is true especially where they have no biological
children to recite Kaddish for them. For Ashkenazi Jews, however,
there was a time when the custom was for only one person to recite
Kaddish at a time, and each mourner would have to wait his turn for
Kaddish. Under such circumstances, Jewish law authorities debated as
to whether or not an adopted son was alloted a turn among the other
orphaned mourners. According to Rema (Responsum 118), the adopted
child is given a turn among the other mourners; according to Chatam
Sofer (Orach Chaim 164), he is not.

Today, though, because the accepted custom is for mourners to recite
Kaddish in unison, there is no conflict, and even according to Chatam
Sofer the adoptive child says Kaddish with the rest of the bereaved.

Honoring Divorced Parents

Question: I am the son of divorced parents. I was three years old when
this separation took place. I grew up with my mother, and only on very
rare occasions did I spend time with my father. Regarding my mother I
have no qualms. She raised me selflessly and lovingly. All the same,
it appears to me that she instilled in me a bit of animosity toward my
father and tried to distance me from him. She would often complain
that he was late in sending her payments for me and that he did not
really care about me. However, from what I could tell on those few
occasions that I was together with him, my father was quite ordinary,
not so bad, and he worked and supported his family.

Today I am in my thirties. I have not been in contact with my father
for a long time. Even when he did call me, our conversations were very
short, so I do not even know if he is interested in maintaining
relations with me. For myself, I am uncertain. Is it advisable to
initiate contact with him? Should I visit him or arrange to meet with
him? I should note that if my mother were to discover that I took such
a step she would be greatly hurt.

Honoring Parents Calls for Maintaining Relations

You are obligated to maintain relations with your father. The Torah
commandment to honor parents calls for treating your father in an
honorable manner. Cutting off relations amounts to a complete lack of
honor.

True, in special cases, where interaction between father and son
always leads to fulminations and intense arguments, maintaining a
certain distance is advisable in order to avoid becoming guilty of
showing blatant disrespect toward the parents. Yet, even in such a
case, complete separation is not permitted.

At any rate, in your case there is absolutely no reason to assume that
visits with your father will lead to any sort of serious
confrontation. Perhaps your father actually desires your friendship
very much. It may be that his reason for not perusing more serious
relations with you is that you and your mother distanced yourselves
from him; he therefore feels unwanted and fears a negative reaction
from you. Perhaps he does not know how to build a relationship. At any
rate, by estranging yourself to your father you violate one of the Ten
Commandments: the commandment to honor you parents.

Even if your mother explicitly requests that you not make contact with
him, it is forbidden for you to heed her request; for, we have been
informed by the Sages that one is obligated to heed to his parents’
request on the condition that it does not involve violating one of the
Torah’s commandments. If, however, parents ask their son to violate
one of the commandments, it is forbidden to fulfill their request.

At the same time, you should do your best to alleviate your mother’s
worries, informing her that you very much appreciate her great self-
sacrifice on your behalf. Explain to her that you are well aware that
she raised you and gave her entire life for your sake. Tell her that
you lack words to express your feelings toward her, and that you will
forever be thankful to her. Explain to her that your desire to
establish relations with your father should not be construed as a
desire to distance yourself from her. In short, you should go out of
your way to appease her.

If you believe that you will not succeed in convincing her, it is
permissible for you to conceal your relations with your father. At any
rate, even if she is aware of these relations and refuses to come to
terms with the fact, you are obliged to build relations with your
father and honor him, in accordance with the verse, “Honor your father
and mother.”

Logic and Jewish Law

Logic too calls for this, for what could be more natural than a
healthy relationship between son and father. The relationship of an
offspring to his parents is essentially an expression of his
relationship with himself, for a person’s parents are his own roots
and if he cuts himself off from them he has, to a great extent, cut
himself off from himself.

How fortunate we are that God has given us the Torah. It paves a path
of truth and kindness even in complex situations and allows us to
attain fulfillment in both this world and the World to Come.

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed