Concern for Shatnez Nowadays?

The prohibition of shatnez applies only to wool and linen, and only if the cloth contains both * In the past, most clothing was made of wool and linen; later, cotton was used, and in recent generations, synthetic materials are most popular * Today, the rate of wool and linen used in the entire clothing industry has declined to only one percent * When buying clothing, if the label says is not made of wool and linen, the chance of shatnez is extremely low * In luxury suits and coats the chance of shatnez is low, but still requires inspection * Clothing sellers are still responsible for checking the clothes sold in their store

Q: Someone who buys clothes from a seller unfamiliar with the prohibition of shatnez, must he check the clothes for shatnez, or perhaps the obligation to check for shatnez is only in clothes made of wool or linen?

The Mitzvah

The Torah commanded not to wear a garment made of tzemer (wool) and pishtan (linen), as it is written: “Keep My decrees…do not wear a garment that contains shatnez [a forbidden mixture of wool and linen fabrics] (Leviticus 19:19). Wool is what grows on the species called keves (sheep), whose males are called aylim (rams), and females’ rechalim (lambs). However, what grows on other animals is not included in the prohibition, because it is not just called ‘wool’, but carries a by-name, such as “camel wool” or “rabbit wool.” In practice, from ancient times until today, most of the wool produced in the world came from sheep, because they naturally grow a lot of fine wool, and are easy to raise.

Linen (made from flax) is a long, single stem plant, within which there are fibers from which strong threads can be made, and with special processing, delicate threads can be intertwined for weaving fine white clothing. In the past, the most common clothing was made from wool or linen, so much so, some Sages held the opinion that when the Torah says “beged” (garment) without elaborating, its intention is that of a garment made of wool or linen (Menachot 39b).

The prohibition is to wear a garment that has wool and linen together, such as a woolen garment sewn with linen thread, or even only if its label is made of linen. However, there is no prohibition to wear two different pieces of clothing at once, one made of wool and the other linen, thus one is permitted to wear wool trousers and a linen shirt. It is also permissible to wear a woolen robe and fasten it with a linen belt, for as long as there is no bond of sewing, or a permanent joining between the woolen garment and the linen one, there is no prohibition. A combination of other threads made from various plants, such as hemp and cotton, is permitted. From Divrei Chachamim (rabbinic ordinance), it is also forbidden to sit on cloth that contains shatnez, lest a loose thread touch one’s bare body even slightly, or lest one mistakenly wraps himself with it. In order to prevent such mistakes, our Sages additionally decreed the prohibition of sitting or lying down on a couch-cover containing shatnez, even if there were ten “kosher” fabrics upon it (Beitza 14b; S.A., Y.D. 301:1).

The Nature of Wool and Linen Clothing

The special quality of wool clothing is that it insulates, maintaining body warmth in the winter. In addition, it tends to be more stain resistant, non-absorbent, and since it also retains heat, coats are usually made from it. Wool is also easily dyed, and retains the color as part of the thread. It is resilient, and thus if wrinkled, easily returns to its natural shape. For these reasons, woolen clothes preserve their relatively new look for a long time.

Linen fabrics were considered comfortable and high-quality fabrics because linen threads are strong, and when delicate threads are intertwined from them, very fine white clothing can be weaved from them. In addition, the lack of uniformity in the thickness of the linen thread, caused by its natural growth, gives linen clothing a beautiful and interesting look, to the point where our Sages said that it was a mitzvah for men in the Land of Israel to make their wives happy on holiday’s with the gift of ironed, linen garments, which they especially fancied (Pesachim 109a). A characteristic of linen fabric is that it is lightweight and does not insulate, and thus, suitable for the production of breezy, summer clothes. Their shortcomings are that they wrinkle easily, absorb stains, and are relatively difficult to clean. As a result, when a substitute for linen was found, its status greatly declined.

The Upsurge of Cotton

The substitute found for linen was cotton, which became widespread several centuries ago. Although clothing made from cotton is slightly warmer than linen, nevertheless it was preferable because cotton is easier to grow and produce thread from it, and because cotton clothes wrinkle less, and are easier to wash. Consequently, today, 80 times more cotton is produced in the world than linen, with the majority of linen being manufactured for the production of strong threads and other non-clothing purposes.

Since thick cotton clothing can be made for winter, by and large cotton has also replaced wool. The amount of cotton produced in the world today is twenty-five times that of wool. Additionally, there are also other threads produced from types of plants and animals, which also contribute to a certain reduction in the percentage of wool and linen used in the clothing industry.

Still, when manufacturers wanted to sew woolen fabrics with strong thread, they would sew it with strong linen threads. Therefore, wool suits and coats had to be checked for shatnez, as well as sofas and armchairs covered with woolen fabrics.

The Rise of Synthetic Threads

About three generations ago, the way was found to produce from by-products of crude-oil, synthetic goods such as plastic and nylon, and artificial threads from polyester and acrylic from which fabrics could be produced. Initially, synthetic clothing was impermeable and provided poor insulation, and those wearing them suffered from sweat and cold, and their main selling-point was they were inexpensive in comparison to regular clothing. However, as they improved, they became more breathable and provided better insulation, and seeing as they were also cheaper and easier to clean and iron, they became extremely popular. In recent years their improvement continued, to the point where more than 70 percent of all thread produced in the world is synthetic. That was the case in the year 2017, whereas ten years before that, they were 60 percent of all thread produced. In practice, the rate of clothes made from wool and linen in the entire clothing industry declined to just one percent, and their share is likely to continue to decline.

The Use of Wool and Linen Today

In practice, luxury linen shirts and suits are rarely found today. Linen threads and fabric are more frequently used due to their strength, as they are good for tying objects and weaving thick fabrics, and sometimes linen fabrics are used to bolster different parts of coats and suits, for example, bolstering the collar of a suit and strengthening places where buttons and loops are sewn. However, the use of linen threads is on the decline, as many manufacturers prefer to use synthetic threads which are stronger, cheaper, and easier to use.

For the reasons mentioned, wool clothing has also declined, but because of its warming and non-absorbent properties – people who prefer natural, breathable material, prefer wool sweaters, and because of wool’s luxury look, many prefer wool suits and coats.

The Practical Halakha

In the vast majority of clothing today there is no concern of shatnez because they are made of synthetic or cotton material. Therefore, whenever it is written on the label of a garment that it is mainly made of synthetic, cotton, or other non-woolen or linen materials, one should not be concerned they contain shatnez. Although in rare cases garments may have a wool or linen embroidery, or was sewed with linen thread, nevertheless, there will still be no mixture of wool and linen together. Only in very rare cases can one find both a linen thread and a wool decoration attached to a garment. However, since it is a very distant concern of less than one thousandth of a percent, it is enough to read the label on the garment, and if it is not written that it is made of wool or linen – one should not be concerned it contains shatnez.

In woolen or linen clothes, too, it is enough for the buyer to look at the clothing label. If it is written that the garment is made of wool or linen with other materials without a blend of wool and linen, it does not need to be checked. True, sometimes labels are inaccurate – or because a wool or linen garment made of less than a percentage or two does not need to be listed, or because in rare occasions, a garment can be mislabeled. However in practice, as long as it is not written on the label that there is both wool and linen in the garment, the likelihood that it contains shatnez is a fraction of a percent, much less than miut ha’matzuey (10%), therefore, one need not be concerned about it.

The Concern about Expensive Wool Suits

Nowadays, the concern for shatnez can be found in expensive, high-quality wool suits and coats, which once in a while are sewn by hand with linen thread. Sometimes the collar and button-downs are reinforced with strong linen fabrics, and sometimes linen fabric is placed in the shoulders and front lining. Therefore, someone who buys a very expensive wool suit or coat, since linen is used in more than 10% of them, one is obligated to check them for shatnez.

It is also appropriate for someone who buys a linen suit to check it, since there is somewhat of a concern that wool was placed in its collar.

Shatnez Testing Labs

In a shatnez test laboratory, a microscope is used to see the fibers from which the thread is made. Since each thread has its own shape, those familiar with the shapes of the threads can distinguish wool from linen, and amongst other types of threads. In general, the policy of examiners in the laboratories tends to take into consideration the methods of individual poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who are machmir (rule stringently), both in the laws of shatnez, and in the requirement of examination.

The Responsibility of Merchants

Everything we’ve learned so far concerns shoppers, but clothing store owners must be more machmir. Both because it is easier for them to check the manufacturers and suppliers and bring a sample to be examined, and also because their responsibilities are greater since they sell to the public. Therefore, whenever they receive wool or linen clothing that according to their familiarity may contain shatnez, even though it is less than miut ha’matzuey, they should give a sample of the clothing to be tested, and if the sample shows no signs of shatnez, they do not need to check other clothing from the same series. In cases where according to their experience there is no concern, they need not be examined. On the other hand, when there is great concern, such as in expensive suits and coats, all of them must be checked.

Likewise, buyers should prefer purchasing woolen or linen clothing from God-fearing shop owners, who are careful not to cause shoppers’ to transgress the prohibition of shatnez. However, if they bought clothing in a regular store, they are obligated to check only very expensive woolen suits and coats, and linen suits.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

The Role of a Rabbi

The main job of a rabbi is to teach Torah, for Torah learning elevates the learners’ souls, and corrects their middot * Torah should be taught in a way that respects and engages the learners, and thus, the learning is clarified for both the rabbi and the students * When necessary, a rabbi is also required to stand firm against opinions and attitudes that are liable to be harmful, but in a way that empowers people, and not the opposite * Struggles of rabbis against women who want to dance with a Torah scroll on Simchat Torah, or read the megillah in a women’s minyan, occasionally go beyond the desired bounds, and may provoke unnecessary controversies * And a letter about the impact of Torah on a nurses hospital shift

From time to time rabbis consult with me, asking what I think the main role of a rabbi is. I respond: to teach Torah, because the greatness of Torah study is that it elevates one’s soul and corrects one’s middot (character traits), making a person honest, dedicated, and diligent in his job, a good friend and neighbor, someone who knows how to contribute his talents to helping others, loves his people and his country, respects every honest and decent person, is faithful to Torah and tradition, observes and beautifies Shabbat joyfully with a significant amount of Torah study, donates maser kesafim to magnify Torah and glorify it and to help the poor. And all this, from Torah study.

Likewise, over the years I have attended several rabbinic meetings, and occasionally in various ways the question comes up about what the main role of a community rabbi should be. The prevailing opinion: to stand firm against destructive attitudes blowing in the winds of society that seek to harm tradition, and accordingly, they see the focus being to strengthen yirat shamayim (awe of God) and adherence to Torah. About a month ago, in a Shabbat sermon in Har Bracha, I shared this with the community. A week later, I received a booklet from one of the members of the community which captures my position on the appropriate influence of a rabbi on his community.

The Letter from a Member of the Community

“To our teacher and guide, Rabbi Melamed:

Rabbi, for about twenty years we have merited to take pleasure from your brilliance and Torah teachings. On various occasions, Rabbi, you have encouraged us to see the great value of our work, and learn to tell the great story of common people. So, as a simple person who still struggles between the ideal and reality in serving Hashem, and between man and his fellow man … I wanted to share with you, Rabbi, a preliminary and half-finished booklet I wrote in a personal style. A story of life’s complications and dealing with sickness, death and bereavement, along with hope and joy, faith and love, and a little Torah and redemption. This booklet was mostly written during my years of work as a hospital nurse.

On this occasion, I would like to say thank you, Rabbi, and bless you and your family to continue illuminating us and all of Israel with the light of Torah, the light of Torat Eretz Yisrael, out of good health, joy, happiness and abundance of all the best, for days and years to come.”

From the booklet, I collected some excerpts. Words written in brackets are my additions.

A Deep Cut in the Forehead

“The end of a 12-hour morning shift. A new patient. A 21-year-old woman after a motorcycle accident, who was admitted to the emergency room and put on respirator due to agitation and combativeness (acute mental upset) that did not allow treatment. Injuries – fractures in both arms, and a deep cut in the forehead and side of the eye. We received her anesthetized, on respirator, and covered with blood in her hair, and on her face. She is accompanied from the emergency room with a surgeon who wants to sew her forehead. The nurse on duty wishes to wait until her initial admission, connect the new patient to the instruments, and perform the initial tests. After a few minutes, another doctor arrives, an on-duty general surgeon, who wants to sew the young woman’s face. The nurse on duty continues to insist on finding a plastic surgeon. After all, we’re talking about the face of a young woman – the best aesthetics is also a significant, remedial objective …

To our delight, a plastic surgeon arrived, a senior, specialist surgeon. The sewing is done with fine thread, 0-6, for about half an hour. The doctors leave instructions for continued wound treatment. The unit’s deputy director notes the nurse in praise for the insistence (the nurse is the one writing these lines).

  1. was released the next day to the orthopedic department for continued treatment and surgery of fractures in her hands. It could be, she may never know how her face was saved…

And I pray I will be able to combine sensitivity and professionalism, and stick to my opinion – even against senior staff and doctors in similar cases.”

The Injured Motorcyclist

Erev Chag Shevi’ shel Pesach (the evening of the Seventh Night of Passover). Night. Lying in the unit, a motorcyclist after an accident. Depressed, and anxious. At first, he asked to die when he realized he would probably never stand on his legs again. Second time, he asked to die when his pain increased while changing his position after sedation had worn off. Just then the nurse from the night shift came in, and explained to his father that he couldn’t stay the night with his son, and the patients’ anxiety rose to insane levels…

Then … a wonderful and gentle nurse walked in to the room, and whispered in his ear: Don’t worry, tonight the outstanding nurse from Har Bracha is going to be taking care of you. I’ll also be here, and make sure to give you painkillers before any treatment.

Anxiety levels go down … and so we start the treatment, change his position with the lever, the analgesia (pain killers) and sedatatatzia (sedation) help, but still the pain is intense. But his head is being held by warm, gentle, caressing and soothing hands. Now, things are easier… at the end of the night the patient excitedly kisses the glove wrapped around the nurse’s hand, and without a sound, his lips whisper: ‘thank you’!!!”

A Letter Never Sent

“An open letter that was never sent to the patient’s family … Your loved one, 46 years old, married to a loving wife and an adorable toddler, came to us on a cold and rainy Shabbat, after a long bout of resuscitation, with faint signs of life … Miraculously, he left the unit after six weeks, alert, communicating with those around him, recognizing his family, breathing on his own, able to move his arms and legs, without pressure sores, and accompanied by his loving family…

You, his family, left our unit in anger – threating, gritting your teeth, and with endless grievances… nonetheless, you admittedly said it was a miracle! You should know, and it is important that we also remember, we are also an important part of the miracle! Every male and female nurse, every doctor, every cleaner and every intern, has a part in the miracle! A miracle of professional and effective care, of attention, of frustrating treatment, and sometimes of respiration and rehabilitation, of lung infections and inexplicable high temperature, of prolonged conscious sedation, muscle and joint stiffness, constipation and diarrhea, of severe liver and renal impairment, of sustaining emotional pressure, and allowing close and distant family members to remain for long periods of time.

We are partners in your miracle, even if you aren’t aware of it, and we will continue to strive to be partners in the miracle of every patient in need, if not above and beyond that!”

When a Rabbi Needs to Stand Firm

Unquestionably, a rabbi’s role is also to stand up against potentially harmful views and attitudes, even if they are voiced with good intentions, however, with two reservations: 1) The majority of effort should be directed to empowering a person out of his positives sides, out of his natural tendency of emunah (faith) and achva (brotherhood) and ma’asim tovim (doing good deeds), and to elevate and perfect his good tendencies through the study of Torah. 2) Even when one has to fight, the correct wars must be chosen, and not to fight against trends that are not so bad.

For example, I have heard from some rabbis that they are going to great lengths in the fight against the wishes of some women who want to dance on Simchat Torah with a Torah scroll, or to read the megillah on Purim by themselves. I asked: What’s so bad about that? After all, we’re not talking about profaning Shabbat, or something similar!? They replied: ‘This is a dangerous process stemming from ulterior motives that will eventually lead them to want to be called up to the Torah’. I asked: And what’s so terrible about that? After all, in principle, our Sages said that it’s possible, and only because of k’vode ha’tzibbur (respect for the congregation) we should not do so (Megillah 23a). They responded: ‘Because this leads to reform, and the Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis) have already banned the Reform Jews’. However, in my opinion, this is an unnecessary war. From here until reform, the road is very long, and in the meantime, there are countless important issues a rabbi can deal with.

The Attitude towards Reform Jews

Besides that, the Gedolei Yisrael did not ban the Reform Jews; only when the Reformers reached the point of kefira (heresy) in the Torah of Israel, the People of Israel, and the Land of Israel was a disconnect created, and even then, they did not ban and exclude them from Clal Yisrael. For example, my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, Rabbi Chaim Yehuda Aryeh Weil ztz”l, H’YD, who for forty years served as rabbi, twenty years in the Haredi community in Düsseldorf, Germany, cooperated with the Reform community in the building of a mikveh, providing kosher food for Jewish institutions, and expanding the Jewish cemetery. However, according to his youngest daughter, Hannah Paltiel, he became disappointed, because in practice, most of the burden fell on the small Haredi community. In any case, there was no banning whatsoever.

My Approach in the Community of Har Bracha

Incidentally, over ten years ago, when I heard that in certain synagogues there were arguments on Simchat Torah about women dancing with Torah scrolls in the Ezrat Nashim (women’s section), I said that in Har Bracha, if there were women who wanted to, they could dance with the Torah scroll. This, so as not to incite controversies and insults about unnecessary issues, and also, so there would be no woman who thought it was prohibited. Similarly, I was asked whether a women’s quorum could be organized to read the megillah on Purim, and I answered that although the choicest reading was be’rov am (with a lot of people) in the synagogue, nevertheless, since in the opinion of the vast majority of poskim (Jewish law arbiters) it is permitted, every woman is permitted to decide how she wishes to act, and women interested, are permitted to organize such a reading.

Nevertheless, it is important to note: There are communities where for many people, violation of the minhag (custom) is very disruptive, and if this is the case, they must be taken into consideration, and such initiatives should not be done in their synagogue. Not because this is the halakha, but rather, because a change of minhag sometimes causes a great deal of grief and is liable to destroy their world, and therefore in such cases we say – he who alters is at a disadvantage. But on the other hand, ways must be found in different frameworks to enable those interested to do what they wish if it is not halachically prohibited.

The Value of Torah Study

In summary: The rabbi’s role is to increase emunah, yirat shamayim (awe of God), middot tovot (good virtues) and ma’asim tovim (good deeds) – by means of meaningful Torah study for men and women. In such study, the various explanations and considerations of our Sages, Rishonim and Achronim, must be clearly and honestly clarified, and engage listeners with respectful thoughts, as much as possible. In this way, the study is deep and well-clarified, for both the rabbi and the students, and a genuine identification with, and commitment to, Torah, is created. And although seemingly this is not a novel idea, seeing as this is the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, the value of studying the Torah, which builds man, family, community and nation, needs to be repeatedly emphasized.

It is important to add that the way to do this is to strengthen Torah study on Shabbatot and holidays, as our Sages said: “Shabbatot and ‘Yamim Tovim’ (holidays) were given to Israel only to engage on them in the words of Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 15:3). Indeed, in practice, Shabbat is the time when significant Torah study, which elevates and guides life, can be held.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

The Obligation Nowadays to Wear a Kippah

The minhag of wearing a kippah was not obligatory in the days of the Amoraim, but was significantly strengthened in the times of Geonim and the Rishonim * In our times, the covering of the head has become an obligatory minhag * Today, wearing a kippah has become a substitute for wearing tefillin throughout the day as was customary in previous generations * It is proper to be machmir and wear a kippah that covers the majority of one’s head, but those who wish to settle for a small kippah are permitted, and God forbid, should not be considered unserious

Q: I studied the issue of wearing a kippah for men, and I realized that m’ikar ha’din (according to the letter of the law) it is not obligatory to wear a kippah, and that in the times of our Sages they did not wear a kippah. If so, seeing as this minhag (custom) has become a differentiating feature between religious and secular Jews, perhaps it is better to do away with it in order to remove unnecessary divisions?

A: Indeed, our Sages did not enact an obligatory mitzvah to wear a kippah, as we can see from the story told in the Talmud (Kiddushin 31a) about Rabbi Huna the son or Rabbi Yehoshua, who would not walk arba amot (four cubits) without a head covering, because he said, ‘the Shechinah (Divine Presence) is above my head, how can I possibly walk with my head uncovered’? It is also told (Shabbat 156b) about Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzhak that astrologers told his mother while he was still a baby that according to the stars  her son was definitely going to be a thief. To prevent this ill fortune from coming true, she instructed her son to wear a kippah at all times on his head so he would have fear of Heaven, and also instructed him to always ask for mercy in his prayer that the yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) would not overcome him. Rabbi Nachman did not understand why his mother was so fastidious about him wearing a head covering until one day it fell off his head and as he looked up, he saw a cluster of dates on a palm tree.  Although the tree was not his, temptation overcame him, he climbed the tree and bit off a cluster with his teeth. After experiencing the strength of his yetzer to steal, Rabbi Nachman understood why his mother was so careful about him always covering his head.

We see then that in the times of our Sages, it was not obligatory to wear a kippah, and only as a minhag chassidut (custom of extreme piety) were some of the Amoraim careful not to walk four cubits without covering their head (we have also learned in Talmud Berachot 60b that we begin saying Birkot HaShachar [The Morning Blessings] before covering our heads.  Also, it is apparent from Berachot 22b, and Pesachim 7b that it is possible to recite Kriyat Shema in a mikveh and recite a bracha (blessing) without a kippah).

The Minhag of Wearing a Kippah in the Times of the Rishonim

However, in the times of the Geonim (589 – 1040 CE) and Rishonim (1050 – 1500 CE), the minhag of wearing a kippah was strengthened, and some poskim ruled that during the time of prayer and upon entering a synagogue it was obligatory to wear a kippah. We also find a disagreement among the poskim in the Tractate Sofrim (compiled during the period of the Savoraim (500 – 600 CE), or at the beginning of the Geonim period in Eretz Yisrael), about whether someone whose head is uncovered can be a chazzan (cantor) (14:12). And about eight hundred years ago, Rambam (Laws of Prayer 5:5) already ruled that it is forbidden to pray without a head covering. However, it can be deduced from his words that it is permissible to recite a blessing or enter a synagogue without a head covering (Prayer 7: 3-9, ibid Chapter 11). Rashba, Rosh, and Trumat HaDeshen were also of the opinion that this was the ikar ha’din. On the other hand, in the opinion of Rabbeinu Peretz, it is forbidden to enter a synagogue without a head covering, and Rabbeinu Yerucham ruled that it was forbidden to recite a blessing without a head covering. In any event, the Rishonim did not write that it was forbidden to walk four cubits without a head covering.

Beginning with the Period of the Achronim the Minhag was accepted as Obligatory

However, about five centuries ago, it was accepted as an absolute minhag not to walk four cubits without a kippah. Thus, it was codified in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 301: 7) that it is permissible to enter a reshut ha’rabim (public domain) without a hat on Shabbat, and although the Chachamim decreed that it is forbidden to enter a reshut ha’rabim with a garment that may fall off lest it did, and someone transgressed and carried it in his hand four cubits in the reshut ha’rabim. This is permitted because it is inconceivable that if one’s kippah fell off his head he would carry it in his hand four cubits, even if there was strong winds, for one does not walk four cubits without a kippah (MB 153).

However, there is a safek (doubt) whether in the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch it is an absolute prohibition to walk four cubits without a kippah (as can be deduced from S.A., O.C. 2: 6), or that the prohibition is only when reciting a blessing, uttering verses, or entering a synagogue, but in other places it is a minhag chassidut (as can be deduced from S. A. 91:3; 206:3).

Poskim who believe the Minhag is Obligatory from the Torah

However, in the opinion of Taz (O.C. 8: 3) and before him Mahari Bruna, since the minhag had become a Jewish custom, someone who walked or sat in a house without a kippah, transgressed a Torah prohibition of halicha b’chukot ha’goyim (going in the ways of the Gentiles), as it is written: “Do not follow any of their customs” (Leviticus 18: 3). Nevertheless, in practice, the opinion of most poskim is that the custom of Gentiles to remove a hat or to walk without a head covering is not derived from religious worship and does not constitute pritzut (immodest behavior), thus, according to the principles of halakha, this does not contradict the prohibition of chukot goyim (Maharik 88; Ran, Avodah Zara 11:1; Rema, Y.D. 198:1; Igrot Moshe, O.C. 4:2).

Obligatory Minhag and Dat Yehudit

In summary, in terms of halakha, wearing a kippah began as a minhag chassidut, and over time the minhag spread to all Jews, to the point where it went from being a minhag chassidut to become an obligatory minhag not to walk four cubits without a kippah, and the minhag chassidut is not to walk even less than four cubits without a kippah (MA, 2:6; MB 11).

Moreover, since in recent generations the minhag of covering one’s head has become a distinct Jewish symbol and a sign of loyalty to Torah and mitzvot, it is regarded today as an obligatory minhag of Dat Yehudit (Netzer Matai 3; Igrot Moshe 1:1; Mayim Chaim, sect. 23; Y.O. 9, O.C. 1; and others), as written first by Mahari Bruna, Siman 34.

Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of God)

Although the foundation of wearing a kippah is a minhag that has become obligatory, it can be said that after the kippah has become the symbol of Jewish religious identification, someone who wears a handsome kippah, thus showing his loyalty to Torah and mitzvot, in doing so fulfills the Torah mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem (see, Rambam Yisodei HaTorah, 5: 5).

As as a Substitute for Tefillin

It seems the deep reason for the minhag of the kippah being so widely accepted among Jews is that it serves as a substitute for tefillin. For from the Torah, it is a mitzvah to wear tefillin throughout the six working days, because tefillin is an ote (sign) for Israel that they are connected to God, as written: “These words must also be a sign on your arm” (Exodus 13: 9). However, Shabbat and Yom Tov, which are called an ote, in their very sacredness, express the special relationship between God and Israel, and therefore tefillin are not worn on these days (S.A. 31:1).

However, since one must be careful about the sanctity of tefillin, not to flatuate or be distracted while wearing them, our Sages decreed not to eat a meal while wearing them lest one gets drunk, and not to wear them at night, lest one fall asleep (S.A. 30:2; 40:8).

Moreover, in the times of the Achronim, out of fear of harming their sanctity, the custom already was to fulfill the obligation of the mitzvah of tefillin by wearing them only during Tefillat Shacharit (the Morning Prayers), relying on what our Sages said: “Tefillin demand a pure body, like Elisha, the man of wings” (Shabbat 49a). And in the Jerusalem Talmud they went as far saying: “Anyone who is not like Elisha, the man of wings, should not wear tefillin” (Berachot 2: 3).

As a substitute for expressing fear of Heaven, Jews are accustomed to wear a kippah, for a kippah delineates the boundary of man, reminding him there is someone above him.

Poskim who are Machmir (Stringent) a Kippah Must Cover Most of the Head

Many people ask if there is a specified measurement for the size of a kippah. There are three methods in this issue.

Some poskim are machmir, and are of the opinion that since a kippah needs to cover one’s head it must cover the majority of the head, but if it only covers part of the head, it is not considered as if one’s head is covered (Rabbi Shlomo Kluger in the Responsa ‘HaElef Lecha Shlomo’ siman 3; Yaskil Avdi Vol. 6, Hashmatot O.C. 1; hearsay from Chazon Ish; Rabbi Mazuz).

Intermediate Opinion

Some poskim are of the opinion that during the day, and while reciting blessings or studying Torah, a kippah does not have to cover the majority of the head, rather, it is sufficient it be noticeable in a way people consider it to be covering one’s head. However, when praying and entering a synagogue, since the obligation to cover the head is more severe, it is obligatory to wear a kippah that covers the majority of the head (Tzitz Eliezer 13, 13; Or L’Tziyon, Vol.2, 7: 13; Aseh Lecha Rav 7: 76; Y.D. 4:1).

The Poskim who are Maykel (Lenient) a Kippah Does not have to Cover Most of the Head

There poskim who are maykel, and are of the opinion that there is no specific measurement for a kippah, and it is not necessary it cover the majority of the head, rather, it is sufficient for it to be seen by others and considered as having covered one’s head. And even while praying and entering the synagogue, one can settle for such a kippah as is the custom of many people, and God forbid, they should not be considered unserious in their observance (I.M., O.C. 1:1, according to Bach and MB 91:10, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and others).

The Practical Halakha

In practice, since the foundation of the law is in minhag, those who wish may settle for a kippah that does not cover the majority of the head even during prayer and entrance to a synagogue. However, it is appropriate to be machmir, since today the kippah is a symbol of identifying as an observant Jew, and anyone who covers the majority of his head with a handsome kippah, by doing so, fulfills the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, showing that, yes, here is another Jew who is not ashamed in his appearance to declare he is faithful to the ways of Torah and mitzvot.

Calculating the Majority of the Head

In practice, to cover the majority of a normal adult’s head a kippah needs to be at least 13 centimeters, and those with a large head need a kippah of at least 14.5 centimeters.

Calculation: From the size of hats, we learned that the average circumference of men’s heads is 57 centimeters, and consequently, the area is approximately 258 square centimeters. In order to cover about 130 square centimeters, which is the majority of the area of the head, one needs a kippah of at least 13 centimeters in diameter. And men with big heads wear hats 64 centimeters in circumference, and their kippah should be at least 14.5 inches in diameter.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

Does Birth Cause a Demographic Crisis?

Israel’s population is growing at a welcome rate, but there is no room for horror forecasts of resource scarcity * Such forecasts have been refuted repeatedly over the last few decades * The fact is that as the population grows, science and technology become more sophisticated, and more solutions to resource and environmental problems are found * There is room for warnings, as they encourage finding solutions; however, it should be done in a judicious way, and not by scare tactics, which cause moral distortions * There are three levels to the mitzvah of procreation, and there is room for consideration in fulfillment of the third level * The Jewish nation constitutes only 0.15% of the world’s population – we are in existential danger, and must grow

Question about Procreation and the Environment

“My name is Elyashiv Sagi. I grew up in the Golan, and studied in a Hesder Yeshiva. Today I live in a community in Samaria, and serve in Keva (professional corps) in the Israeli Air Force. I recently completed my Bachelor’s degree in Earth Sciences. The question is a personal one, out of genuine concern.”

“I would like to ask the rabbi a fundamental halachic question: In the Torah world, there is wall-to-wall agreement that beyond the Torah obligation to have a son and daughter, it is proper and correct to embellish this mitzvah as best as possible, as hinted in the verses “He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited” and “but in the evening your hands should not be idle.” I have also heard that after the dreadful Holocaust it is even more worthy to embellish this mitzvah and thereby increase the Jewish population.

Here are some statistics on the population in Israel: Currently living in Israel, there are approximately 9.1 million people (not including the Arabs in Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip). The State of Israel is one of the most densely populated in the world – about 440 people per square kilometer. The rate of reproduction in Israel resulting from natural increase and immigration of Jews to Israel is two percent a year, which means the population in Israel is doubled every 35 years. Hence, if the current rate of growth continues, we will reach 18 million within 35 years, and in 70 years, we are expected to reach approximately 36 million, with a density of about 1,800 people per square kilometer.

In our modern lifestyle, we are unaware of the processes preceding a product’s arrival at a store or water’s arrival at the tap, and what happens to garbage after being discarded. But these processes exist and affect us all. Such a growth in population will have far-reaching effects in many ways: presently, the State of Israel is already completely dependent on food imports – we are unable to feed ourselves. Today, the State of Israel already lacks sufficient rainwater. The natural resources we consume, the pollution, and the waste we produce are a simple multiplication of the average amount of waste per person of population size. And today, in a densely populated country such as ours, it is already difficult to find suitable solutions for mountains of waste and pollution of water, soil, and air. Developed areas are growing in direct proportion to population growth, and nature areas are shrinking respectively.

At a certain point, too large a population is not a blessing, but rather, big trouble. When we have 36 million people here, without open spaces, without hiking areas and forests, with mountains of debris, pollution, and countless buildings and roads – won’t it be clear we have to stop? Or maybe just 35 years later, when we will be 72 million?

Clearly, something needs to change – the only question is, when. At a certain point, it is impossible to continue encouraging procreation as we do today. Reality will force us to stop. And if so, shouldn’t we already be talking about it today?

I learned from what Rabbi Yosef Engel wrote in his book “Atvan D’Oreita”, Rule Number 13, that there are two parts to the mitzvah of puru u’revuru (procreation): The Torah mitzvah to have a son and daughter is a mitzvah between man and God, and the mitzvah to add more children as hinted in the verse “He did not create it to be empty” is to the benefit of the world. In light of this, in my humble opinion, we can say today that for the sake of the world, it is preferable not to excel in this mitzvah, because it causes serious harm to humans and the environment.

Also, it seems that in general, environmental issues such as global warming and the like are of no interest to the Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis), and this surprises me, because anyone who has eyes in his head and cares about the environment sees that in our generation, we consume natural resources at a much faster rate than their growth, and produce waste and air pollution in general and in particular carbon dioxide. The way I see it, we are similar to someone who has lived an impossibly high lifestyle for years at the expense of his parents’ inheritance, and leaves the debts to his successors.

This critical issue, fraught with several moral and ethical matters which in not so many years is liable to have a profound effect on all of us, cannot be ignored by society and its rabbis. I would appreciate to hear your opinion, Rabbi, on these issues.”

The Discussion about Environmental Issues

A: It is essential to preface that the conventional discussion about the depletion of natural resources is one full of empty clichés, which, for consecutive generations have turned out to be false. Since Europe’s population began to grow at a rapid rate, concern arose that natural resources would be depleted, and fertility, which was considered a blessing, would turn into a curse. The foremost advocate in this field was Thomas Malthus (1776 – 1834), who argued that the rate of population growth was higher than the rate of food production, and if it continued to grow at such a rate, early in the twentieth century humanity would sink into catastrophes of hunger and thirst, wars and epidemics. Today, there are already in excess of seven billion people, who produce far more food than required. However, because food is not properly distributed, there are starving people. If, for example, Africans used their natural resources efficiently and economically, they could produce several times more quality food, and no one would suffer from hunger.

Human Development is faster than Demographic Growth

The fundamental reason the gloomy projections are unfounded is because the more people there are, the more they develop science and technology, and in so doing, resources increase at a faster rate than population growth and as a result, the standard of living steadily increases.

Guardedly, it is possible to say that we are currently on the verge of scientific breakthroughs that will allow the production of clean energy from the sun, and the production of molecular-level food, so that from basic materials any type of food can be created to suit every palate. In recent years, scientists have been able to artificially develop meat by means of replication of stem cells from animal meat. If this development succeeds commercially, a revolution in the meat market could ensue: the raising of billions of cows and chickens for slaughter would come to an end, the price of meat would decrease, and the pollution associated with the raising of livestock would end. This will create tremendous savings in land, water, and all natural resources.

Academic Educators of Environmental Sciences

Apparently, academic teachers in the field of environmental sciences are not fulfilling their duty and are not presenting their students and the public the full picture, in addition to all their gloomy predictions pronounced with full confidence and accepted by the scientific community which have already been disproved. As scientists, they should have known that scientific progress is faster than population and consumption growth. This is especially true of a free-market, democratic society with fair competition, which produces innovations that far exceed consumption growth. For example, there is a lot of talk about the problem of mountains of “non-biodegradable” plastic, and lo and behold, we now hear about the development of a plastic-eating bacteria which converts it into energy that can be utilized. Another example can be given by the many and harsh arguments of the opponents to the natural gas plan of the Israeli government and Minister Yuval Steinitz, all of which have been refuted one by one, nonetheless, they refuse to learn a lesson. Like Don Quixote of old, they search for the next windmill to determine it a dragon, and declare war on it.

Crises Must Be Dealt with Moderation

While it is clear that in the process of development and progress there are also downsides and crises that need to be addressed, still, it must be done in a realistic and moderate way without intimidation. Still, the environmentalists’ shrill cries must also be taken into consideration, as they also encourage continued diligence on the developments required to deal with environmental pollution. Because in a free society when people are outraged they demand solutions, and as a result, it becomes more lucrative to invest in them. Take for instance recycling. Without their cries we might possibly have had to wait another decade until the demand for it naturally increased, and only then solutions would have been found.

The Danger of Intimidation

When adopting horror predictions, besides the very mistake, they are liable to result in moral distortions. For if indeed, if the situation is so severe, extreme measures must be taken, in the sense of “et la’asot” (‘the time for action has come’). Thus in China, the number of births was limited very cruelly. Similarly, as a result of the theories of Malthus and others like him, the holders of race theory strengthened their position that humanity should encourage races of productive people, and work to reduce others. Or more moderately, to formulate a public position that it is proper to scale down birth, and denounce large families, as is the common position in Western countries. In practice, as a result of this position, Western nations have found themselves in a severe demographic crisis, leading to serious socio-economic problems that place their future in question.

Returning to the Basics of the Mitzvah

However, there is some truth to your question, for at times, a superficial notion of the mitzvah of puru u’revuru leads to serious problems. Therefore, it is appropriate to briefly recapitulate the three levels of the mitzvah: 1) it is a Torah obligation to give birth to a son and daughter, and in order to fulfill the mitzvah, one must make great efforts, including utilizing all conventional medical treatments. 2) Average couples are obligated by Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance) to try and have about four children. However, if there are exceptional difficulties, physical or mental, they are exempt from this. 3) It is a mitzvah to have more children, but there is room for consideration in this level. If parents know they can raise more children and educate them towards Torah, mitzvot, and derech eretz (good manners), it is a mitzvah for them to continue having more children to the best of their ability. But if they know that with more children the burden will be too heavy, and their lives will be filled with anger and anxiety, there is room for them not to have more children, because although with every additional child they fulfill a mitzvah, on the other hand, in their terrible mental state they will commit sins, and this can adversely affect the education of children. Not only that, but also those who wish to direct their talents to other beneficial avenues in a way that will not leave them strength to raise more children, may do so (Peninei Halakha: Simchat Ha’Bayit U’Birchato 5:6).

It seems that these general rules also answer the problem you raised, for if numerous difficulties arise in providing for children, it is possible to settle for fulfillment of the mitzvah on the second level.

Concerning the issue of the density of the country and its borders, there is room to expand on this issue on another occasion. In the meantime, however, it is important to add that we, the Jewish people, currently comprise a total of only 0.15% of the world’s population. The persecutions, murders, and assimilation put us in existential danger that still remains till this day. And therefore, as you wrote, it is our great duty to encourage families to raise numerous children for the glory of the Torah, the Nation, and the Land, and for the blessing of all nations of the world, as the Torah says: “All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

Claims against the Mitzvah of Army Service

Even if the allegations about the difficult religious situation in the army are correct, they should be considered in the proper way – as specific claims * The Torah fundamentally distinguishes between general, overall mitzvot and specific mitzvot; particular questions and difficulties cannot override a general mitzvah * Just as the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is not null and void because of certain shortcomings among residents living in Israel, and yeshivas are not closed because some rabbis were suspected of improper conduct, likewise, specific inadequacies in the IDF do not override the monumental mitzvah of serving in the army * The significance of serving in the army must be studied, and at the same time problems must be rectified

I received a probing question about the mitzvah to serve in the IDF from a lamdan (a well-informed Torah student), who served in the army in a combat unit. He has a national religious background, but has changed his attitudes and is currently studying in a Haredi kollel. It seems his question painfully expresses all the allegations, therefore, I will refer to parts of it at length:

“To his honor, the Gaon, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed shlita. Shalom u’vracha. Recently, we have witnessed a campaign of incitement and anti-religious persecution in the country in general, and within the army in particular. I will present some of the chilling facts in the army: 1) a soldier who wished to advance to a position of commanding officer was not permitted to grow a beard because “future commanders are expected to shave.” 2) Bearded soldiers will not be allowed to participate in official ceremonies. 3) Soldiers in various units were forced to shave their beards, and were punished when they did not.

4) Upon enlisting, soldiers were given birth control measures in their gift packages. 5) Soldiers in an aviation course were made to go to a LGBT club and hear about their lifestyle and beliefs, and even to paint the club. 6) Soldiers were required to watch the most vulgar and obscene performances, which included acts of simulated sodomy, Nazi justification, etc. 7) Soldiers were forced to attend beach parties, including women in immodest swimsuits, and appalling obscenities. 8) Mixed-gender sleeping conditions. 9) Male soldiers were forced to carry women soldiers on their backs … to train in krav maga with female soldiers… 10) Women soldiers are allowed to enter the male soldiers’ quarters, and anyone who complains is thrown out of the course. 11) Soldiers are made to listen to women’s singing. 12) In a recently issued order (replacing the ‘Proper Integration Ordinance’), a male or female soldier cannot request to not serve in a mixed-gender battalion, and the IDF Chief Rabbi has no authority to decide in this matter, only the IDF Manpower Directorate. 13) The army is creating a new military camp for mixed-gender units with easier training, so as not to cause stress fractures to women soldiers. 14) Rabbi lecturers who speak against integration of women and men are kicked out of army bases, but leftist, anti-religious organizations are allowed to brainwash the soldiers with their destructive poison, and turn the IDF into a sin city. 15) Soldiers who studied in higher yeshivot cannot become Battalion Commanders and advance in the army. 16) Torah scroll donations to the IDF were frozen, but any other type of donations are permitted limitlessly. 17) The army expropriated from the IDF Rabbinatet the ‘Jewish Awareness Branch’, and gave it to those who compel young Jewish men to watch lewd performances… 18) At present, the IDF Rabbinate has no power in the army and IDF rabbis are used as a puppets in order give the impression a Rabbinate in the army does exist; IDF rabbis are dictated what to write and say about the recruiting women, and sexual misconduct in the IDF. 19) A soldier who shoots a terrorist is arrested, and possibly imprisoned. Therefore, soldiers are afraid to shoot at terrorists.

Many more examples can be given, but it seems to me the picture is clear: the army is undergoing a systematic, overall collapse of values, with the distorted principle of gender equality imposed in the army being one of the causes. I have presented here two main types of problems: security-ethical, and ethical-religious.

Concerning security-ethical problems, some say: “There’s no choice – we have to guard against the enemy…” but the difficult halakhic question is: who permits enlistment when the orders of the General Staff contradict the Torah? From where is the heter (halachic permission) derived to send a soldier to die on the battlefield because the commander has more mercy on Arabs than his soldiers? There are many stories of soldiers’ deaths due to having mercy on the cruel, such as when the army avoided shelling and instead entered on foot, or when the enemy exploited humanitarian truces to re-arm, or because of the order concerning the ‘arrest of suspects’ procedure. True, the Education Supervisor (תכ”ה) wrote that war orders require entering life-threatening situations, but this, provided it is a danger as a result of war, but not as the result of warped orders.

With regard to the second type, the ethical-religious problems, it was difficult for me to write down all the horrific facts I have given above, about everything  soldiers are forced to see today, may the All Merciful protect us. Everyone knows the halakha (Sanhedrin 74b), codified by Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch, that when a Jew is forced to commit a sin, without any gratification gained by the coercer, but merely for the sake of making him transgress his religion – yahareg, ve’al ya’avor (he must give his life up, and not transgress). But in the army, without any operational reason, the religious are forced to transgress their religion in order to “re-educate” them, and in such a situation, this is a matter of yahareg ve’al ya’avor.

According to all this, how can you, honorable Rabbi, still permit soldiers in your yeshiva, or anyone at all, to enlist in the army?! That is why I am fearful (almost like Rav Kahana crawling under the bed of Rav) – because it is a matter of Torah, and I am required to learn – and therefore, I will ask, k’vod ha’Rav: Do you, Rabbi, take responsibility for all the above prohibitions and dangers that, God forbid, can harm these tender students? How can they possibly not sin? Our Sages said in Sanhedrin (107a) that one should never intentionally bring himself to the test! Once again, I dare ask you Rabbi for sources that permit sending the ‘youngest of His flock’ to the army today, despite all of the above.

I do not deny the fact that this issue is complicated and complex, certainly such a halachic ruling is liable to dismantle governments, provoke wars, etc. This is truly hilchot tzibur (halacha for the public at large), pikuach nefesh of the public. Nevertheless, is there a halachic heter to throw these soldiers into a brothel of prostitutes because of the aforementioned future concern? In a place where they will be forced to deal with all of the above?!

True, it’s not all of the army. There’s also guard duties, food, and positive things. But we are not talking about a low-ranking soldier who decided on his own to force his subordinates to commit transgressions, but rather, a all-embracing set of change beginning with Jewish awareness, and continuing on to removing beards, hearing women sing, sleeping with women, preventing the promotion of commanders with beards,  up until beach parties and lierally being forced to watch actual lewd exploits. And all this, under the command of the Chief of Staff and under his direction – fact is, they did not oust the commanders who do all these things. Until what point will you continue to claim that there is a mitzvah to serve in the army? Until they force soldiers to bow-down to idols? Is that the limit?

P.S. This was written out of a storm of emotions about the situation and the spiritual holocaust our brothers experience in the army. A thousand forgiveness’s, if, unintentionally, I bluntly exaggerated things, and forgive me if what I said seemed disrespectful to you, Rabbi. Honorable Rabbi, you are held dearly by all, and everything I wrote is out of a desire to clarify halakha, and for knowledge of Torah. ‘It is a matter of Torah, and we are required to learn.’

Answer: Differentiating Between Clallim (General matters) and Pratim (Specifics)

The most important foundation of Torah study is the distinction between clallim and pratim, because equating them totally confuses understanding. A specific difficulty or question can override a specific position, but it cannot override a general one. The distinction between prat (specific) and clal (general) is both in quantity, and quality: in quantity – the amount of pratim (pl. of ‘prat) of mitzvot dependent on the clal, is infinitely greater than the amount of mitzvot dependent on the pratim. In quality – the magnitude of Kiddush Hashem (the sanctification of God) in the manifestation of the Clal, is infinitely greater than the Kiddush Hashem resulting from the pratim.

The Allegations against Yishuv Ha’aretz

The most prominent example of this is the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (the settling of the Land of Israel). In the past few generations, there were God-fearing Jews who opposed aliyah (immigration) to Israel out of fear the new immigrants would leave the path of Torah and mitzvot. However, these were prati concerns as opposed to a clali mitzvah, and therefore in practice, all those who encouraged Jews to remain in exile caused a far greater, decimating spiritual decline, for those who remained in the Diaspora assimilated and were murdered in an immeasurably higher percentage than those who immigrated to Israel. And it cannot be argued that it happened only because of external circumstances such as the rise of Communism and Nazism, because even those who survived the Holocaust and remained in Western countries, left Torah and mitzvot and assimilated in much higher percentages than those who immigrated to Israel. In those days as well, opponents of aliyah amassed individual stories of sins committed in Israel by the chalutzim (pioneers), and in the name of this self-righteousness, caused people stay in exile. Had those self-righteous understood the words of our Sages, who said the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is equal to all the mitzvot, they would not have mistakenly equated the significance  of pratim to the clal.

Allegations against Yeshivas

In a similar way, haters of yeshivas and rabbis make numerous prati allegations against them, filling newspapers with reports of rabbis who abused their students, who raped, stole, discrimitaed, cheated, and the like. As a result of this, someone who does not understand the value of Torah and yeshivas could argue it would be better if there were no yeshivas and rabbis, and how is it ethically permissible to put tender students to the test?! However, even if all the factual allegations are true – they are pratim, and must be dealt with in all seriousness and in privacy. They are negligible in comparison to the clali value of Torah study held by rabbis in yeshivas. If these “purists” had remembered the words of our Sages, that the mitzvah of Talmud Torah (Torah study) is equal to all the mitzvot, they wouldn’t have erred in their allegations.

The Mitzvah to Enlist in the Army

By the same token, all the claims you raised are of prati significance as opposed to the clali mitzvah of enlistment in the army comprised of two mitzvot, each of which are clali and equal to all the mitzvot in the Torah: saving the Jewish nation from the hand of her enemies, and the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz.

As for the allegations themselves, at least half of them are totally untrue, and the rest of them are only a half, a third, or a quarter true, and in general their severity is far from what you have described; for example, most of your allegations about tzniyut (modesty) are mainly at the level of prohibitions d’rabanan (rabbinic prohibitions). Indeed, they must also be dealt with, as I have often referred to the problems in the army, and the need to lodge complaints against the commanders and sometimes even refuse an order. Nevertheless, all of these allegations do not invalidate the great, clali mitzvah.

Fact is, when pratim and clallim are measured by the same criteria – the pratim will come out on top, because the clallim are abstract, and measuring the pratim is indeterminable. Therefore, a couple of difficult incidents paint the entire picture, whereas all the wars and mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice), the training and guard duty, comradery of the fighters, and above all, the enormous Kiddush Hashem of victory over the enemies and the return of Am Yisrael to its Land as written in the Torah and Prophets – don’t count.

Therefore, anyone studying Torah in truth, must learn about the greatness of the mitzvah of army service, which the youth of our generation merit to fulfill. And at the same time, we must work to rectify the prati problems. The more young Haredim enlist in the army, the more they will merit fulfilling the sacred, clali mitzvot, and consequently, the prati problems will be more easily rectified.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

Tzizit on a Synthetic Garment

The segulah (special virtue) pulsates in all Jews, even when they are far from Torah and mitzvot * The mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) is equal to all the mitzvot, and understandably why * In the past, the poskim were divided regarding the question whether a synthetic garment required tzitzit, and if a bracha should be recited over such tzitzit, however, today such garments are even more widespread than clothes made from natural materials, and there is no safek they should have tzitzit, and a bracha should be recited * Even the tzitzit distributed to IDF soldiers are ‘kosher’ for a bracha without safek * Regarding mesh tzitzit many poskim were hesitant, thus, it is correct not to recite a bracha

What is the Segulah of Israel?

On Chanukah, I wrote an article about the segulah (special virtue) of Israel, described by Maran HaRav Kook (Orot Ha’Techiya) as the pure oil found by the Hasmoneans in the Mikdash (Holy Temple) that the Gentiles did not have power over, and from its power, at that time redemption flourished, and continues to blossom today. This segulah is also reflected in Jews who are mistaken in their actions and opinions, as long as in general, they are desirous of Israel’s good and tikun olam (perfection of the world). And I explained that this segulah is expressed in “the deep desire to demand justice and truth, to add goodness and blessing to the world, and continue ascending in this endlessly… even modern-day Jews, scientists and activists working for the tikun (perfection) of society, their main goal to contribute to the well-being of humanity, in this way, are following in the path of our forefathers.”

Professor Sabin’s Remarks

As a supplement to this, Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Kerem Be’Yavneh Yeshiva, sent me two quotes to express this idea. One is a press interview conducted by Raphael Bashan with Professor Sabin, who defeated the polio disease through the serum he developed, for which he won the Nobel Prize. Professor Sabin was not connected to Torah, and it seems that he was even married to a Gentile. He said he had never been mistaken about the identity of Jewish scientists at international scientific conferences, and this, according to their willingness to volunteer in projects to aid failed states and societies. The Jews were always the first and most numerous of all scientists. End of quote. How superb: as long as Jewish identity is maintained, the desire to offer help to others is also preserved!

Freud’s Words

The second quote is from the renowned Jewish psychologist Sigmund Freud. In his introduction to the Hebrew translation of his book ‘Totem and Taboo’, Freud wrote of himself: “No reader of [the Hebrew version of] this book will find it easy to put himself in the emotional position of an author who is ignorant of the language of holy writ, who is completely estranged from the religion of his fathers-as well as from every other religion-and who cannot take a share in nationalist ideals, but who has yet never repudiated his people, who feels that he is in his essential nature a Jew and who has no desire to alter that nature. If the question were put ·to him: ‘Since you have abandoned all these common characteristics of your countrymen, what is there left to you that is Jewish?’ he would reply: ‘A very great deal, and probably its very essence.’ He could not now express that essence clearly in words; but some day, no doubt, it will become accessible to the scientific mind.”

Freud, the eminent scholar of the human psyche, believed that Jewish identity was perhaps the main component of his personality, but was unable to express its essence, and at the same time, believed that the central place of Jewish identity could not be ignored, and that almost certainly in the future, it would be researched and given a scientific definition.

The Leader of ‘Agudah’ on the Value of the Mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’aretz

In the weeks before Chanukah, I wrote about the value of the general mitzvot, including the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), and the mitzvah of serving in the army, which are above and beyond private mitzvot, or as our Sages said about the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, that it is equivalent to all the mitzvot, as well as milchemet mitzvah (a war commanded by the Torah) to save Israel from the hands of her enemies.

Also in connection to this I received an enlightening response from Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg shlita, which included words written by the leader of ‘Agudat Yisrael’ during the times of the establishment of the state, Rabbi Yitzchak- Meir Levin, who was the first Minister of Welfare in the first government, and brother-in-law of the then Rebbe of Gur.  He addressed a letter to the rabbis of ‘Agudah’, thus writing: “We have made a big mistake in considering the building and settlement of the Land of Israel as another normal mitzvah, and did pay attention that the Land of Israel is the heart of all Judaism, and all the scattered Jews, from all corners of the earth, are gathered and concentrated in it … only we have neglected the King’s metropolis, and did not make the proper and necessary efforts to instill the spirit of the ‘Agudat Yisrael’ idea in Eretz Yisrael… To the same extent, we have not understood that the main effect of ‘Agudat Yisrael’ needs to, and must be, concentrated in Eretz Yisrael … and it should be the torch of light to enlighten the entire Diaspora … It seems that we have come to terms with the idea that the building of Eretz Yisrael is the role of the Zionists and the ‘Mizrachim’, and ‘Agudat Yisrael’ merely serves the function of some type of a company to strengthen religion, etc. (“A Time for Action to Save the Jewish People”, Haim Shalem, 2007, pg.35).

The Existential Importance of the Mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’aretz

It is worth adding that when the new waves of immigration to Israel began, about a hundred and thirty years ago, the size of the Jewish people was equal to that of the Arabs, namely, the Jewish population of the entire world numbered close to 11 million, and the entire Arab population, from Morocco to Iraq, all speakers of Arabic, also numbered approximately 11 million. Thanks to worldwide economic prosperity, the Arab population has grown to over 400 million, whereas our people, who did not immigrate to Israel en masse, and endured harsh persecution – the Communist revolution, the Holocaust, and assimilation – number today about 14 million recognized Jews, and perhaps even a similar number of Jews who, due to the persecution, hid their Jewishness, to the point where they almost forgot they were Jewish. Had we merited fulfilling the mitzvah equivalent to all the mitzvot, and now we can also understand why, we would have immigrated to Eretz Yisrael, settled it, and today, merited to become a great and numerous nation in the State of Israel on both sides of the Jordan, and our national, religious, and security situation would be far better than it is today. Moreover, everything that we have today, is thanks to those who immigrated to the country with self-sacrifice, and fulfilled the mitzvah.

Synthetic Tzitzit Distributed in the Army

Q: I heard that there are problems with the tzitzit that are distributed in the army, because they are made of synthetic material. Are they ‘kosher’ according to halakha, and can a bracha (blessing) be made over them?

A: Let’s start with the basics: Any garment that has four corners requires tzitzit. Indeed, there are poskim who are of the opinion that only a garment made out of wool or linen is obligated from the Torah, and garments made from any other material is obligated from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance) (Rif, Rambam, and S. A. 9:1), while others say that all garments are obligated from the Torah (Tosafot, Rosh, and R’ma). In any case, whether the obligation is from the Torah or from Divrei Chachamim, one is obligated to place tzitzit on any garment, no matter the material it is made of, and recite a bracha over them when worn.

A Synthetic Garment

However, a leather garment is exempt from tzitzit, because it is not made by weaving as clothing is, rather, it is made out of one surface (S. A. 10:4; Levush, Shulchan Aruch HaRav). Also, nylon sheeting from which an apron or covering is made to protect workers while at their job, is exempt from tzitzit.

Some poskim say that a garment made of synthetic fiber is exempt from tzitzit, since it could have been made as a single casting like leather (Mahari Shteif 28; Iggrot Moshe, O.C. 2:1). However, in the opinion of the majority of Achronim, there is a difference between a leather garment, and a garment made of synthetic fiber. Leather is inherently not made like a garment, because it has no fibers, therefore, it is exempt from tzitzit. However, when a garment is made from synthetic fiber, it is obligated in tzitzit (Har Tzvi 1: 9). But as far as reciting a bracha is concerned, some poskim had reservations, and due to the safek (doubt), they instructed not to recite a bracha on such a garment (Tzitz Eliezer 12: 3; Ohr L’Tziyon 2:3).

However, in the opinion of most poskim, a bracha should be recited over tzitzit placed on a garment made of synthetic material (Rabbi Aurbach ztz”l in She’elot Shlomo 3:17; HaRav Eliyahu ztz”l in Ma’amar Mordechai, Yamot Ha’Chol 7: 67-68; Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, shlita in Milumdei Milchama 112, who testified that this was also the opinion of Rabbi Heinkin ztz”l).

Synthetic Clothing has become Standard

All the more so today should a bracha be recited over tzitzit placed on a synthetic garment, because over the decades, since the debate about synthetic garments began, the production of synthetic material has greatly improved. In the past, they were of poor quality – they were not warm enough in the winter, and caused sweating in the summer – only because of their low price was it used to make cheap clothing. In the meantime, however, their quality has improved amazingly, and today, quality clothing is made from it, sometimes even considered finer clothing than those made from natural materials. In practice, when discussions about synthetic clothing began, only a few percent of the clothing was made from synthetic materials, and they were worse looking than other clothing. But today, more than 70 percent of the world’s manufactured threads are made of synthetic material, and the majority of the world’s garments are made from synthetic materials, thus a typical piece of clothing is made from synthetic material. Therefore, a garment made of synthetic thread is considered a garment for all intents and purposes, and there is no safek one should recite a bracha over tzitzit placed on such a garment.

Tzitzit in the Army

Most of the tzitzit currently distributed in the army are from dri-fit fabric, which is a synthetic fabric woven by special technology, and used to make sports activity clothing. Its main advantage is that it is aerated and evaporates sweat, and therefore, is comfortable and pleasing to soldiers, and serves both as an undershirt, and a tallit katan.

These tzitziot arrived to the army with the help of Rabbi Yedidya Atlas (IDF Rabbi, res.). During Operation ‘Pillar of Defense’, when the soldiers spent long days in the field unable to wash or change clothes, sweat eroded the tzitziyot, and the army had to dispose of 10,000 tzitziyot. It was then that the initiative was made to produce talitot katanot from dri-fit.

In any event, these talitot are ‘kosher’ without safek for reciting a bracha. In addition, the army also distributes talitot made of cotton, and of course, there is no safek about them as well.

Mesh Tallit

In Judaica stores another type of tallit katan is sold, which is made of polyester, mesh material. In the distant past the army may have distributed them, but for at least twenty years, they are no longer distributed.

Regarding such mesh talitot, a more considerable safek arose, as they are not made like other garments woven from threads, but from cast threads. Nonetheless, in the responsa ‘Az Nidbaru’ (7: 52), Rabbi Binyamin Silber is of the opinion that one should recite a bracha over them, since in practice, they are made as a garment that has threads. This is also the opinion of Rabbi Rabinovich shlita. And although their reasoning seems compelling, since many poskim had their doubts about this, in practice, it is correct not to recite a bracha over them. This is what I wrote in ‘Peninei Halakha: Likutim Aleph’ 1:8, footnote 6.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated into Hebrew.

A Guest of a Secular Jew

While one may eat the food of a traditional Jewish host based on the five specific halachic questions mentioned in previous columns, this does not apply to a host who does not keep kosher * In such a case, one may eat foods from closed packages with a hechsher or from a kosher restaurant with disposable utensils * Whiskey without a hechsher * Those who are careful to eat glatt meat should do so even when hosted for this is the most important chumra in the halakhot of kashrut * However, not all Sephardic Jews need to be machmir in this issue, because the attitude towards this chumra was different from one community to the next – depending on the state of affairs between the Jews and Gentiles

Eating at the Home of a Traditional Jew

A few weeks ago I dealt with the question of whether an observant guest is allowed to eat the food of a masoriti (traditional) Jew who eats kosher, makes sure to separate dishes – namely, not to cook meat in a milk dish, or to cook milk in a meat dish – and he is known to the guest as being a reliable person who can be trusted. Since the host may not know the halakha properly, or is not exact in its observance, it is impossible to rely on his general statement that the food is kosher, consequently, I wrote that he must be asked five questions encompassing all the problematic issues of kashrut:

1) As for the meat, it must be clarified that it has a credible hechsher (kashrut certification). Those who are makpid (scrupulous) to eat glatt meat should do so when they are hosted.

2) With regard to fruits and vegetables, it must be clarified whether they were bought from a store, or a chain of stores, where terumot and ma’asrot (tithes) are taken, and if not – one should separate terumot and ma’asrot himself.

3) For vegetables that may contain tiny insects, it must be clarified whether they were rinsed well. Those who are mehadrin (enhance the mitzvah) should ask whether the vegetables were bought from insect-free produce, or soaked in water with soap, and then rinsed. If they were cooked, even those who are mehadrin may eat regular leafy vegetables that were routinely cleansed.

4) As for metal and glassware used for eating, such as metal cutlery and plates and glasses, one should ask the host if they were tovelled (immersed in a mikveh). If not, one should eat with plastic or disposable utensils.

5) As far as home-baked goods are concerned, it must be clarified whether there was a quantity of dough requiring hafrashat challah (separating challah from dough), and if it was not separated – one should separate a small bit himself.

Foods Prepared in a Secular Jew’s Kitchen

Q: Is a guest of a reliable secular Jew who does not keep kosher also permitted to eat his food based on these five questions, or similar ones?

A: It is impossible to eat foods prepared by a secular Jew in his kitchen based on certain questions, for two reasons: 1) Since he does not keep kosher, it is impossible to offer questions by which to check the kashrut of the foods, as it is difficult to foresee which problems may arise, and to go over all of the halakha’s of kashrut is impossible. 2) Since he is not makpid about kashrut, he occasionally cooks forbidden foods in his pots, and thus, it is forbidden to use them without hagalat kelim (immersing them in boiling water). And even if a complete day has passed since forbidden foods were cooked in them, in which case the taam (taste) emitted from them is pagum (off-tasting), our Sages penalized and forbade foods cooked in pots that need kashering for all those whom the foods were cooked for (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 32: 3, 3). In addition, the dishes they eat from were not tovelled, and in the opinion of most poskim, it is forbidden to eat with metal and glassware utensils that have not been tovelled (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 31:8).

How One May Eat the Food of a Secular Jew

Nevertheless, as guest of a secular Jew, one may eat packaged foods that have a kosher stamp, or foods prepared in recognized kosher restaurants. This is provided the foods are served on disposable dishes and utensils, for the dishes they eat off are prohibited to be used without hagalah and tevilah.

May Food be Heated?

If the secular host ordered cooked food from a kosher restaurant, the food may be heated in his oven, provided the food remains in a disposable container, and is wrapped in aluminum foil, to prevent steam from the oven entering the food.

If the food is heated in a microwave, it should be placed in a kosher vessel, such as a disposable plastic utensil, and wrapped in a plastic bag, to prevent steam from the cavity of the microwave entering into the food.

One may drink coffee or tea of a secular Jew in disposable cups, or in porcelain cups intended only for coffee or tea. In a pressing situation, glassware may be used, even though it has not been tovelled (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 31:8; 32:5).

Whiskey without a Kashrut Certification

Q: May one drink whiskey and other spirits without a hechsher?

A: Just as all foods and drinks need a hechsher, so do all kinds of liquor. However, regarding whiskey, since the method of its preparation from grains is known, many poskim permitted drinking it without a hechsher, and many people do so. And although some manufacturers age the whiskey in wooden barrels that have previously absorbed the taste of wine produced by non-Jews, and the taste may be absorbed in the whiskey, since the wine emitted from the barrels does not comprise a measurement that would render a sufficient taste, the poskim instructed to permit whiskey (Iggrot Moshe, Y.D. 1: 62; Minchat Yitzchak 2: 28; Mishneh Halakhot 10: 108; Minchat Asher 1: 44).

However, all this pertains to genuine, high-quality whiskey whose methods of preparation are known, and any violation would be considered damaging to consumers. But if it is cheap whiskey, or has other flavors mixed in, one may not drink it without a hechsher, lest the manufacturer added non-kosher ingredients (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 37: 9).

The Sephardic Minhag Concerning Glatt Meat

Q: Rabbi, you wrote that guests who are makpid to eat only glatt kosher meat, when hosted by religious or traditional Jews, should do so as well. Why didn’t you write that all Sephardi Jews should also be machmir in this issue?

A: Because in practice, most Sefardic communities were accustomed to eat regular kosher meat and not glatt. In other words, if there was a sircha (adhesion) on an animal’s lungs, they would peel the sircha, fill the lung with air, and place it in water. If there were bubbles of air coming out of the lung – it was a sign that there was a puncture in the lung, and the animal was treif, but if there wasn’t – it was kosher. This was the custom in Morocco, Libya, most of the communities in Tunisia, and the rest of the communities in North Africa, as well as in Thessaloniki and most of the communities in Turkey. In addition, this was also the custom in Yemen and Persia. The places where they were machmir to eat only glatt in accordance with the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch was (Y. D. 39: 10) in Eretz Yisarel, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. In Ashkenaz, as well, the custom of the majority was to be lenient, while some were machmir.

The Basis of Differences in Customs

Apparently, the differences of customs between the countries was largely due to the degree of monetary loss involved. Since there is dispute over sirchot among the Amori’im and Rishonim, and the safek (doubt) concerns a Torah prohibition, at first, the prevailing instruction was to be machmir. However, in a place where the treif animals could not be sold to a non-Jew, determining an animal treif could have caused a catastrophe for the owner, for the loss of an animal would have been equivalent to the loss of a month or a few months’ salary, and for the poor, the question could have involved life or death. Therefore, in such a great sha’at dachak (time of need), they relied on the lenient opinion.

In places where were Sunni Muslims lived, the Muslims were willing to buy the treifot, and therefore, all followed the opinion of the machmirim (strict), as Rambam testified (Shechita 11: 11). However, in places ruled by Shiite Muslims, such as Yemen and Persia, they considered food touched by a Jew as unclean, and were unwilling to buy the treifot, and as a result of the pressing circumstances, they acted according to the methods of the lenient poskim (Maharitz in Makor Chaim, 31: 96).

In the Christian countries of Ashkenaz, the situation of the Jews in the times of the Rishonim was precarious, and many times it was difficult for them to sell the treifot to the non-Jews, and therefore, they acted leniently to check thin and medium-sized sirchot by squeezing and touching them, but they were not lenient to peel thick sirchot and inspect them by placing them in water to see if air bubbled out.

In Spain, as long as the war between Christians and Muslims was unresolved, Christians generally acted with a certain tolerance towards Jews, and as a result, they were able to act in accordance with the opinion of the machmirim, as Rashba ruled (he lived in Barcelona, and ​​died in 1310). However, as Christians grew stronger, the hostility and hatred of the Jews increased, until Jews had to rely, be’sha’at ha’dachak, on the most lenient opinion, and would peel the sirchot and check them with the air-bubbling method (Beit Yosef, Y. D., 39: 22).

In North African countries, for many generations they went according to the machmirim opinion, but after the Christians expelled the Jews from Spain (1492), and many immigrated to North Africa, once again the discussion arose as how to act. In Morocco, where the largest Jewish community in Islamic countries developed, the dispute was fierce: the veteran residents wanted to be machmir as was their custom, and the Jews expelled from Spain were of the opinion that the halakha went according to the lenient poskim, and in addition, when it was not a sha’at dachak, all sirchot had to be checked by peeling and placing it in water to see if air bubbled. For about fifty years the controversy continued, until the rabbis of the expelled Jews came out on top, and the halakha was decided according to the lenient opinion. And this was the custom not only in Morocco, but wherever many of the Jews expelled from Spain arrived, their custom of acting leniently was accepted. As a result, the custom of almost all communities in North Africa was to be lenient, except for Algeria and Djerba. In addition, in the large Jewish communities of Salonika and Constantinople where many Jews expelled from Spain arrived, they also acted leniently.

Reasoning of the Lenient Poskim

In practice, in the era of the Rishonim, during the periods of Rambam and Rashba, most Jewish communities were machmir. But over time, due to the influence of the Jews expelled from Spain, the custom of the majority of communities was to act leniently. This is because at first, the lenient poskim were of the opinion that l’chatchila (ideally) it was correct to be machmir, and only in times of need was it possible to rely on the lenient opinion. However, at a later stage, the lenient poskim grew more secure, deeming that, l’chatchila, the halakha was to act leniently, seeing as the general rule is that a treif animal does not live longer than twelve months, but in practice, found that most sirchot of the lungs do not cause the death of the animals. Fact is that many times close to 80 percent of older cows are found to have sirchot, and it is understood that if they are not slaughtered, they will continue living for a few more years until they die of old age. And even in young calves, sometimes approximately 50 percent of them are found to have sirchot, and it is clear that if they are not slaughtered, they will continue to live for several years. And in the opinion of the majority of poskim, when there is a dispute among the poskim if a particular defect renders an animal treif, and it is found that in fact the animals do not die from it, it must be decided on the basis of reality that the halakha goes according to the lenient poskim.

The Most Important Chumra

About this claim, the machmirim respond that the halakha should not be decided on the basis of reality, for a defect determined with certainty as causing an animal to be treif – makes the animal treif even if it turns out that the animals do not die from it. In practice, since this is the most important chumra of the laws of kashrut, pertaining to a Torah prohibition, and many people are emphatically machmir about it, as well as entire communities, those who are always machmir – even when hosted, are machmir.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

The Pure Flask of Oil and Segulat Yisrael

The Greeks attempted to defile all the oils, in other words, to Hellenize the Jews and eradicate the concepts of holiness, but the inner segulah (unique virtue) of the Jewish people remained pure, survived all circumstances, and even illuminated humanity * One of the damages of the defilement: Hellenism caused kedusha (holiness) to be mistakenly regarded as something private, abstaining from physical pleasure, and detached from the world * The segulah of the Jewish Nation was revealed throughout the ages, beginning with our forefathers, in selfless concern and contribution to others * Accordingly, idealistic Jews, even if they are not observant, reveal segulat Yisrael

After the Greeks conquered vast territories including small areas of Judea, for the duration of one hundred and sixty years they ruled the entire area, until everything was Hellenized. Even in Judea, Hellenism spread, to the point where even the Kohanim Gedolim (High Priests) Jason and Menelaus were among the leading supporters of Hellenism – they set up a wrestling stadium near the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple), and the priests preferred to watch wrestling matches rather than perform their sacrificial duties in the Temple. It seemed as if the Jews, like all the other nations, would also be completely Hellenized. However, the inner segulah (unique virtue) of Israel remained pure. As a result, when the Greeks arrived in the village of Modi’in, with the intention of forcing Matityahu the son of Yochanan the High Priest to worship idols, Matityahu rose up and killed the Greek officer and his Hellenized Jewish collaborator. By doing so, he and his sons raised the banner of rebellion against the Greeks and Hellenization.

The Miracle of the Flask of Oil

True, the Second Temple was destroyed and all the political achievements of Hasmonean’s were nullified, but thanks to the miracle of the flask of oil, the virtue of the eternal connection between Israel and the Torah was revealed, which illuminates the darkness above and beyond the laws of nature, and thanks to it, we endured the darkness of the long exile. Over the years, it became clear that the miracle was even greater than we originally thought. Not only did we manage to survive the torrent of Hellenism that inundated the world, but Judaism shattered – through a long and complicated process – most of the pagan foundations of Hellenism. The abstract belief in one God, ethical values, the aspiration to fix the world – all fundamental principles of the Torah – increasingly spread among the nations of the world, eventually becoming, through means both direct and indirect (i.e., via Christianity and Islam), the foundations of all the good and beneficial aspects of human culture. The longer our exile lasted, the longer and brighter the light of Israel and its Torah shone. It will continue to illuminate the world until we merit bringing new and pure oil from the olives of Eretz Yisrael, from which we will light the Menora of the Holy Temple, and the world will be filled with the knowledge of God.

 

What is this Inner Purity?

Maran HaRav Kook explained: “The Gentiles defiled revealed Judaism with their touch; they touched the sacred oils and defiled them, the stones of the Mizbayach Ha’Kodesh were invalidated. But their holiness remains, the inner secrets hidden and sealed from foreign contact. And precisely the most internal. Because the outward expressions of these secrets have already been desecrated by corrupt thieves” (Orot HaTechiya 63). In other words, not only the external sides were defiled, but also the holy oils, the altar stones, and Torah expressions. For example, the concept of kedusha (holiness) in Christianity is perceived as being related to self-denial, death, and celibacy from life. This concept took root to the point where when Jews try to explain or imagine who is a tzadik (a righteous person), due to this impurity, they picture figures far removed from our holy forefathers, who are portrayed in the Bible and Chazal as brave warriors and achievers, who sanctified life.

However, the root of Israel’s soul cannot be changed or defiled; it is the basis by virtue of which the pure oil was found, from which salvation grew, or as Maran HaRav Kook explained: “This inner spirituality, which is the essence of the Supreme Soul, is permanent in Israel’s neshama ha’segulit (unique soul), and cannot be budged, as long as the connection to the nation as a whole and its character is alive within him; as long as he desires the overall good and success of the Israeli nation, even if he does not know how to identify or interpret the secrets of his heart, and even if he errs in his actions and opinions – his inner self is kodesh kodashim (holy of holies).”

The national ambition, which yearns for Israel’s honor and blessing in the ‘Land of Life’, stems from the segulah manifested in the pure oil. All the more so when this national ambition rises to the level of revealing Torat Eretz Yisrael.

Segulat Yisrael

What is segulat Yisrael? The deep desire to demand justice and truth, to add goodness and blessing to the world, and continue rising in this endlessly. When Avraham Avinu opened his tent to guests who looked like idol worshippers, he did not do so because he was commanded to, or hoped for a reward, rather, because he loved humanity. Thus, we find Avraham Avinu and his son Yitzchak Avinu engaged in digging wells, an act of blessing, for from the wells water would be drawn to preserve the lives of many. Thus, we find Yaacov Avinu worked diligently and faithfully in the pasture of flocks even when it was not for his own needs and profits, in order to add prosperity to the world. We also find that Yosef HaTzadik (Joseph the Righteous), the son of Yaacov Avinu, though he had every reason to despair and be disgruntled for being sold as a slave, he did not lose his vitality, and no matter where he found himself, endeavored to better the condition of those around him, until he saved the entire Egyptian kingdom from a terrible famine. Even modern-day Jews, scientists and activists working for the tikun (perfection) of society, their main goal being to contribute to the well-being of humanity, in this way, are following in the path of our forefathers.

When Moshe came out of Pharaoh’s palace and saw an Egyptian officer striking a Hebrew slave, although he knew that if he protected the slave he would risk his life, nevertheless, he struck the Egyptian and saved the slave. As a result, he lost his position as Prince of Egypt, and was forced to flee to Midian to save his life. Even in Midian, when he saw that the shepherds discriminated against Jethro’s daughters, he could not resist. While risking a melee with the locals, he fought for their right to receive their turn in watering the flock from the well. From that, he continued to rise until he was worthy to lead the People of Israel, and receive the Torah at Mount Sinai.

When Ruth the Moabite decided to join her mother-in-law Naomi on her way back to Beit Lechem in the inheritance of Yehudah, it was because she could not leave her forlorn and in terrible grief. Naomi, who was one of the privileged women of Yehudah, was about to return to her homeland defeated, widowed from her wealthy husband, and bereaved of her sons. Ruth felt a moral obligation to accompany her, and stand by her side. Owning to this, her heart opened to faith in God, and she converted and merited to become the mother of the House of David.

Segulat Yisrael Revealed in Idealistic Jews

Rabbi Kook explained that even when a Jew “erred in his actions and opinions, his inner self is kodesh kodeshim“, so long as “the connection to the nation as a whole and its character is alive within him; as long as he desires the overall good and success of the Israeli nation.” Because the best interests of the Israeli nation is to add goodness and blessing, justice and truth.

In a number of letters, Rabbi Kook gave educational advice to Rabbi Dov Milstein, a wealthy lumber merchant from Warsaw, whose sons left ways of Torah and mitzvot. The father debated whether to support them financially in their studies at the university and their businesses, or perhaps, since they were tainted with minut (heresy) for which there is no repentance, he should distance them, and sit shiva (mourned) over them, as was the advice of his Rabbi, the Admore of Parisov. Maran HaRav Kook wrote to him: “Were your children connected to the people of Israel, at least ideologically, and were for instance Chovevei Tzion or Zionists, it would be easier to bring them back to the steadfast way of God… In any case, even now that they have gone far astray, you should not despair of them completely. In the end, the effect of the light of God, which has appeared for thousands of years through our holy Torah, is that today we no longer have, as in early days, that accursed minut, for which there is no repentance. Today, even the most evil opinions are based on a search for righteousness and truth, which is, indeed, itself the way of the Lord, who commanded Avraham Avinu, of blessed memory, his sons, and his household to do what is just and right… For this reason, it is my opinion that, to fallen ones such as these, one must explain to them that, at its foundation, their goal is truly desirable” (Igrot 1:113).

In other words, although they were not Zionists, since they had good ideals, and as far as they were concerned they did not betray Judaism, rather, thought it to be their positive source of inspiration, their inner segulah remained in them.

Rabbi Ari Yitzhak Shvat looked into the story of these boys’ lives. One became chairman of the Polish National Bank, and after his father immigrated to Israel and became impoverished, he financially supported his father and older brother and family, who were religious and lived in Israel. He himself married a Gentile, and was murdered in the Holocaust. The other son worked in the Polish Foreign Ministry. In his second marriage, he got married in a religious ceremony with a Jewish woman from the Rothschild family. He managed to escape to the United States, and has grandchildren and great-grandchildren connected to Judaism. When the State of Israel was founded, Ben Gurion offered him to be Foreign Minister but he refused, claiming that “God did not designate Jews to grow orchards.”

The General Mitzvot

It also seems that the lack of understanding the general mitzvot, such as yishuv ha’aretz (settlement of the Land of Israel), the defense of Israel and military service, stems from the influence of the foreign impurity that clung to the superficial side of religion during exile, until the point where kedusha (holiness) is revealed only in the life of the individual, and in all general, national affairs, there is no kedusha and mitzvah, rather, everything is profane. However, the exact opposite is true: the main aspect of kedusha is revealed in Clal Yisrael, and consequently, is drawn into the life of the individual. Clal Yisrael received the Torah and mitzvot in order to fulfill and live according to them in Eretz Yisrael, and only then is it the obligation every Jew, and even Jews living abroad, to fulfill them, so as they would not be new to them when they returned to Eretz Israel.

Even in recent generations, those who saw only the details opposed the mitzvah of aliyah (immigration) to Israel, and because they refused to see the Clal, spread libels as if the Zionist movement caused the abandoning of Torah and mitzvot. However, the exact opposite is true: Although many kofrim (unbelievers) were active in the Zionist movement, and even sought to secularize the public, in fact, thanks to the Zionist movement and its activities on behalf of the mitzvoth of the Clal yishuv ha’aretz and kibbutz galuyot (Ingathering of the Exiles) – the Jewish nation was saved, both physically and spiritually. Secularism was caused by many reasons, the main one being our difficulty in dealing with the Enlightenment and modern environment. Immigration to Israel was not the cause of the problem, but the solution. Therefore, in all the Diaspora communities, the percentage of assimilated and secular Jews is infinitely greater than in Israel. Those who refuse to see this deny the sanctity of the general mitzvot, and also show a lack of gratitude towards the Jews who worked selflessly within the Zionist movement for the sake of immigration, settlement, and security.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

Between Yeshiva Students and the Tribe of Levi

One of the claims in the issue of recruitment of yeshiva students to the IDF is that according to Rambam, anyone who wants can be like a member of the Tribe of Levi, who did not participate in wars * From close examination of the Torah, Chazal, and Rambam himself, the Tribe of Levi’s role towards the nation is clearly indicated: to educate, judge, and even serve as police officers * Members of the Tribe of Levi would encourage the nation in war, release those exempted from service in a milchemet reshut, and pray for the success of the soldiers. When necessary, they would also fight * If that is the case, whoever wants to serve in the role of a Levi must devote his life to service of the nation, and in times of emergency, fight for it

The Torah’s Position Regarding Recruitment of Yeshiva Students

In response to my previous column, I was asked: “What is the source for the claim that yeshiva students must respect and pray for the soldiers, and that the postponement of enlistment for yeshiva students is appropriate only for students whom the public is in need of their study in yeshiva, so they can later become a teacher or rabbi?” These questions are based on what Rambam wrote about the Tribe of Levi: “Why did the Levites not receive a portion in the inheritance of Eretz Yisrael and in the spoils of war like their brethren? Because they were set aside to serve God and minister unto Him and to instruct people at large … Therefore they were set apart from the ways of the world. They do not wage war like the remainder of the Jewish people, nor do they receive an inheritance, nor do they acquire for themselves through their physical power. Instead, they are God’s legion, as written: ‘God has blessed His legion’ and He provides for them, as stated: ‘I am your portion and your inheritance.’ Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him… he is sanctified as holy of holies. God will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites (Laws of Shmitta and Yovel 13: 12-13).

The Choosing of the Tribe of Levi

In order to understand the Torah’s instruction, we must have another look at the Tribe of Levi and their intent. Since the Torah was given to all of Israel, at first, the roles of the Kohanim (Priests) and Levi’im (Levites) were intended to be entrusted to the bechor (firstborn male) of families in all tribes of Israel, so that in each family, there would be a bechor dedicated to Torah study, education, and service in the Mikdash (Holy Temple), and thus, the entire nation, among all its tribes, would be connected to Torah and the sacred service. However, after the firstborn also participated in the Sin of the Golden Calf, they fell from their high spiritual level, and in their stead the Tribe of Levi who did not participate in the sin, were chosen and sanctified – they even assisted Moshe Rabbeinu in putting a halt to the sin, and punishing the sinners.

From this event, it is possible to learn that the idea of the bechor​​a is too lofty for us, and as a result, instead of the firstborn acting as Kohanim and having a positive affect on their families and the public at large, the secular lifestyle of the general public influenced them, and annulled their uniqueness. Consequently, they failed to prevent the people from sinning in the Golden Calf. Therefore, there was a need to dedicate an entire tribe, all of whose members would strengthen each other against the winds of time and the various temptations, so they could fulfill their sacred mission.

The Role of the Tribe of Levi

Thus, God sanctified the entire Tribe of Levi, led by the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, “to serve God and minister unto Him and to instruct people at large in His just paths and righteous judgments to worship the Lord and to serve and teach his upright and righteous ways” as Rambam put it, and as written in the Torah (Deuteronomy 33:10): “They will teach Your judgments to Jacob and Your Torah to Israel.” They were also intended to serve in rabbinical and judicial positions, as written: “If you are unable to reach a decision in a case involving capital punishment, litigation, leprous marks, or any other case where there is a dispute in your territorial courts …You must approach the Levitical priests and other members of the supreme court that exists at the time. When you make inquiry, they will declare to you a legal decision.” (Deuteronomy 17: 8- 9). Likewise, the Prophet said: “And you will know that I have sent you this command so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty. “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace … True Torah was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. For the lips of a Kohen should safeguard knowledge, and people seek Torah from his mouth…” (Malachi 2: 4-7).

In order for the Kohanim and Levi’im to fulfill their duties, the Torah stipulated  they should not be given a portion in the Land, rather, all members of the tribe would be spread throughout all of Israel, and each and every tribe would assign them residential areas in their inheritance to dwell in (Numbers 35: 1-8). And this is what B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) did (Joshua 21: 3). We find then, that the Kohanim and Levi’im served the entire public, and in order for them to fulfill their duties, the Torah commanded that B’nei Yisrael support them with terumot and ma’asrot (tithes) (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 7: 3).

Police Officers

Many perceive the members of the Tribe of Levi as being gentle and frail people – all talk, but no action. But, in fact, they also served as shotrim (police officers) intended to govern law and order in Israel, as written: “David had now grown old; he had lived many years; so he made Shlomo his son king over Israel…a census of Levi’im thirty years old and over was taken… of these, 24,000 were to oversee the work on the house of God, while 6,000 were officers and judges” (1 Chronicles, 23: 1-4). It is also written: “From the family line of Yitzhar came Kenaniah and his sons. They were given duties that were away from the Temple. They were officers and the judges over Israel” (ibid. 26:29). And also in the days of Yehoshaphat: “The Levites will serve as your officials. Be brave. And may God be with those of you who do well” (2 Chronicles 19: 11). And also in the days of Josiah: “They supervised those carrying the loads and everyone doing any kind of work; and there were also Levi’im who were secretaries, officers, and gatekeepers” (ibid. 34: 13).

Our Sages said as well: “At first, (i.e., in the days of the First Temple) officers were appointed from the Levites only, for it is said, ‘And the officers of the Levites before you…” (Yevamot 86b). In addition, our Sages said that the Levi’im were the police officers who accompanied the judges to punish the sinners (Sifre, Deuteronomy 15). And Rabbi David Pardo explained that this role is ascribed to the Levi’im due to their spiritual root in the attribute of gevurah (strength) (Sifra debei Rav, Deuteronomy I: 15), and continued in this role in Egypt, and ever since stopping sinners and punishing them in the Sin of the Golden Calf (Meshech Chochma, Numbers 9: 9-10; Malbim, Exodus 32:27).

True, it appears that each and every tribe appointed officers (Deuteronomy 16:18), nevertheless, it’s possible to say that it refers to the members of Levi who lived among that same tribe. And there are meforshim (commentators) who explained that in addition to police officers from members of a tribe, the Levi’im were also police officers, with judicial powers (Be’er Sheva, Sotah 42a; Aseh Lecha Rav, 3:48).

Police Officers as Fighters

Rashi wrote: “I found in the Talmud Yerushalmi (quoted in other Midrashim), when Aaron died, the clouds of glory withdrew, and the Canaanites came to fight against Israel. The Israelites set their hearts on returning to Egypt, and they went back eight stages of their journey from Mount Hor to Moserah… and the Levites pursued them to bring them back, killing seven of their families. The Levites lost four families in the battle” (Rashi, on Numbers 26: 13).

Encouraging the Army and the Fighters

The Tribe of Levi had another most venerable role, to encourage the Israelite fighters. To this end, in addition to the Kohen HaGadol (the High Priest) who was in charge of the service in the Holy Temple, there was an additional Kohen, who was anointed with the anointing oil, and called the “Kohen Mashuach Milchama” (the Priest Anointed for War). His job was to go out with the fighters, and before the battle, say to them: “Listen, Israel, today you are about to wage war against your enemies. Do not be faint-hearted, do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not break ranks before them. God your Lord is the One who is going with you. He will fight for you against your enemies, and He will deliver you” (Deuteronomy 20: 2-4).

And the Kohanim were commanded to blow the trumpets in order to encourage the warriors to prayer and heroism, as written: “The priests who are Aaron’s descendants shall be the ones to sound the trumpets… When you go to war against an enemy who attacks you in your land, you shall sound a staccato on the trumpets. You will then be remembered before God your Lord, and will be delivered from your enemies” (Numbers 10:8-9).

War Officers

Along with the encouraging words of the Kohen Mashuach Milchama, in a milchemet reshut (optional war), the shotrim (police officers) would talk to the people, and exempt from enlistment the afraid and disheartened, vineyard-planters, home builders, and groomsmen in their first year.

After all those exempted had returned to their homes and the war had begun, the shotrim stationed brave guards amongst them to help those who fell in battle to rise, and break the legs of anyone who wanted to flee the battle, seeing as such a person was liable to endanger everyone, “because the beginning of falling in battle – is fleeing” (Mishnah Sotah 8:6).

The Carriers of the Holy Ark and the Prayers

The Kohanim also carried the Holy Ark that would go out with the fighters to war, to fulfill what is written in the Torah: “For it is the Lord your God that goes with you to fight” (Sotah 42b; Yeri’im 432; Binyamin Ze’ev 102, and others). And they did so also in Joshua’s war in Jericho, and Saul with the Philistines. The Tana’im and Rishonim disputed which ark went out with the fighters, but this is not the place to expound.

At the same time as the fighters went to battle, the Levi’im would sing and pray for the sake of the fighters armed for war, as was said in Yehoshaphat’s days: “Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice… as they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (2 Chronicles 20: 19-22). And some say that the Psalm “May Hashem answer you when you are in distress” in Psalms (Chapter 20) was written for the Levi’im praying for the warriors in battle (Meiri, Sotah 42b).

Is it conceivable that today there are Roshei Yeshivot (Heads of Yeshiva’s) who do not agree to pray for the peace of our soldiers?! And what’s more, in the name of the legacy of the Tribe of Levi?! And if they say that today the spiritual state of the leaders and soldiers is worse, then it is advisable for them to have a look at the Tanach and the words of the wicked kings of Israel, for all of these rules were valid in their days as well.

The Guard Corps of the King of Kings

We see then that the role of the Levi’im and Kohanim is to be the Guard Corps that secures Israel’s sanctity and nationalism. With courage and strength, they had to fulfill all policing duties, including standing up to criminals and violent people, as well as defecting soldiers. Therefore, in times of emergency, they were able to enlist in battle as elite combat fighters. This was the case during the times of shmad (apostasy), when the Greeks sought to turn Israel away from their religion – the Kohanim and the Levi’im were called to stand and fight valiantly to guard the Nation and the Land, and the Hasmonean Kohanim lifted the flag of rebellion against the Greeks, as we will relate during the coming days of Chanukah – they should be for a blessing.

The Roles of the Tribe of Levi Today

In conclusion: Those who want to fulfill the roles of the Tribe of Levi nowadays, must serve the entire nation, by teaching Torah, educating, policing, service in the Military Rabbinate, and the corps responsible for the terms of service and exemptions from the army. To do so, they must learn Torah diligently and be willing to devote their lives to Am Yisrael, and if an emergency arises – to join the campaign to protect Israel and its sacred ideals from the hands of her enemies. From this, I wish to send a blessing to my nephew, a student of mine and a Kohen, who enlisted last week for an exceedingly elite and extended combat service. May he, along with all his friends, merit to protect the Nation and the Land, and may they all merit to establish glorious families, according to the law of Moshe and Israel.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

Must Yeshiva Students Enlist?

Haredi rabbis are correct in their claim that Talmud Torah is of utmost importance, and that Am Yisrael needs people who will postpone their recruitment in order to grow in Torah and become teachers and Torah scholars * However, the majority of yeshiva students will not become rabbis, and therefore, they must fulfill the great mitzvah to enlist in the army * The Haredi claim of spiritual danger in the army is also correct – true,  keeping Shabbat and kashrut has improved immeasurably, but the mixing of male and female soldiers has worsened the state of modesty * The solution is not to avoid the mitzvah of army service, but rather to strengthen the army, and adapt it to the Haredi public and Clal Yisrael

Recently, the issue of recruitment of yeshiva students into the army has come up once again. It was disclosed that, in general, the Haredi public avoids enlisting in the army. Almost all recruits counted as being Haredi are either young men who left Haredi society, and usually religion as well, or older men who find their livelihoods in the army; men who grew up in marginal communities of Haredi society, such as baalei teshuva and olim chadashim (new immigrants) who have not adopted the full views of Haredi society, or young men from the Torani-Leumi public (Chardal).

At the same time, it was revealed that army authorities, maliciously or inadvertently, distorted the recruiting data, creating a misrepresentation as if the Haredi public was in the process of joining the army.

The Mitzvah to Serve in the Army

A question repeatedly asked: Are yeshiva students studying Torah exempt from enlistment in the army? Before addressing the very question, first, it must be clarified that it is a great mitzvah to serve in the IDF, and this mitzvah is one of the greatest and most sacred mitzvot of our generation, and is based on two mitzvot: saving Israel from the hand of her enemies, and settlement of the Land.

Saving Israel from the Hand of Her Enemies

Concerning saving the life of a single Jew, we are commanded: “Do not stand aside when trouble befalls your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16). To rescue someone, Shabbat is desecrated, as our Sages said in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4: 5): “Anyone who saves the life of a Jew, it is as if he saved an entire world.” How much more so is the great obligation to save an entire Jewish community, and in order to do so not only is it a mitzvah to desecrate Shabbat, but it is even a mitzvah to endanger lives, as we have learned that in order to save even the property of a community on the border – Shabbat is desecrated, and lives are endangered (S.A., O.C. 329:6). All the more so that this must be done to save Clal Yisrael. And this is a clear milchemet mitzvah (a war commanded by the Torah), as Rambam wrote (Laws of Kings 5: 1): “Which is a milchemet mitzvah? … and saving of Israel from those who rise up against her.” This mitzvah obligates mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice), and overrides the individual’s obligation to guard his life (Maran Rabbi Kook, Mishpat Kohen 143; Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 13: 100).

The Mitzvah to Settle the Land of Israel

The second mitzvah is the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (the commandment to settle the Land of Israel), as written (Numbers 33: 53-54): “And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. You shall inherit the land…” Our Sages said this mitzvah is equal in weight to all the mitzvot (Sifri, Re’ah 53). This mitzvah overrides pikuach nefesh (saving life) of individuals since we were commanded to conquer the Land, and the Torah did not expect us to rely on a miracle; since in every war there are fatalities, it is clear the mitzvah of conquering the Land requires us to risk lives (Minchat Chinuch 425 and 604; Mishpat Kohen pg. 327). All the more so must we fight to protect parts of the Land we already possess, and every soldier serving in the IDF takes part in this great mitzvah.

The mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is incumbent upon the Jewish people in every generation, as Ramban and many other poskim have written. Only due to oh’nes (forces beyond our control), seeing as we lacked the military and political capability to settle the Land, were we unable to fulfill this mitzvah throughout our long exile. Indeed, some poskim believe that in the opinion of Rambam, following the destruction of the Holy Temple, there is no mitzvah to conquer the Land, nevertheless, all agree that in Rambam’s opinion, there is a mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael, and thus, if after Jews are already living in Eretz Yisrael enemies come to conquer parts of the Land in our possession – the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz obligates us to fight in order to protect them, since it is forbidden to relinquish parts of Eretz Yisrael to non-Jews (D’var Yehoshua 2, O.C. 48; Milamdei Milchama 1; Peninei Halakha: Ha’Am ve Ha’Aretz 4:2).

Conflict between Talmud Torah and Enlistment in the Army

With all the immense importance of the mitzvah of Talmud Torah (Torah study), it does not override the mitzvah of enlisting in the army. This is not only because of the well-known halakhic rule that any mitzvah that cannot be carried out by others overrides Talmud Torah (Moed Katan, 1), as this rule also applies to individual mitzvot, such as the mitzvah to pray, to build a sukkah, to give a loan, and providing hospitality to guests. However, the mitzvah of enlisting in the army is far more important because all of Israel’s existence depends on it.

We have also found that the students of Yehoshua ben Nun and King David went out to war and were not concerned about bittul Torah (the neglect of Torah study). Moreover, Chumash BaMidbar (Book of Numbers) is called Chumash HaPikudim (The Book of the Two Censuses), because in it, all the soldiers who were about to conquer the Land were counted.

And regarding what our Sages said (Baba Batra 8a) that Torah scholars do not need guarding, the meaning is that they are exempt from the type of guarding primarily intended for prevention of theft. But when Jews needs to be protected, then there is a mitzvah to save them, as the Torah says (Leviticus 19:16): “Do not stand aside when trouble befalls your neighbor”, and in a situation of pikuach nefesh, the mitzvah is first incumbent on Talmedei Chachamim (M.B. 328:34).

The Importance of Torah Study of Yeshiva Students

With that being said, it is essential to know that the most important mitzvah is Talmud Torah, and there is no mitzvah that guards and sustains the People of Israel in the long run more than Talmud Torah. Therefore, together with the mitzvah to serve in the army, it is imperative to incorporate in the order of life of every Jew a number of years in which he devotes himself, to the best of his ability, to Torah study. And this is what our Sages said (Megillah 16b): “Talmud Torah is greater than saving lives,” because saving lives involves the momentary rescue of a physical body, while Talmud Torah revives the Israeli nation’s soul and body for the long term.

The Mitzvah to Enlist and the Mitzvah to Develop Torah Scholars

In practice, the mitzvah to enlist in the army applies to all Jewish men, including those who wish to study Torah in yeshiva. However, when it is not a security necessity to recruit all young men without exception, as was the case in the War of Independence, it is a mitzvah to postpone the enlistment of those interested and suitable for rabbinical and educational positions, so they will be able to study diligently and excel in Torah – and when they are rabbis and educators, contribute from their education and Torah knowledge to strengthen Jewish awareness of Israel’s security, and yishuv ha’aretz. And although there are genuine Torah scholars who combined enlistment into the army during their first years in yeshiva, nevertheless, many of those who are worthy of being rabbis can contribute more from their Torah knowledge to Am Yisrael if they postpone their enlistment, as long as they continue developing in their yeshiva studies. This was the role of the Tribe of Levi, who learned in order to teach, and were exempt from enlistment in the army. They did not receive a portion in the inheritance of the Land, so they would be unhampered and readily available for service in the Temple, and to educate and instruct. Only in a case of national pikuach nefesh did the Levites and Kohanim (priests) enlist in the army and, when necessary, even led the army as in the days of the Hasmonean priests.

It is important to point out: this contribution of Torah students can ensue provided the students treat the mitzvah of soldiers guarding our nation and land with great respect. Only Torah study stemming from this viewpoint can contribute to elevating the spirit and heroism of Clal Yisrael. On the other hand, Torah study that denies the sanctity of a soldier’s mitzvah is inherently absurd, similar to the study of someone who denies the mitzvah of Shabbat.

Consent and Criticism of the Haredi Position

In light of this, we do not have a fundamental disagreement with the Haredi public about the need to postpone enlistment of diligent yeshiva students who will become rabbis and educators – with teachers postponing enlistment for a few years, whereas rabbis should be able to postpone for several years, without restriction.

The criticism is in two areas: one – that those studying in yeshivas must learn Torah properly, and thus, respect the mitzvah of enlistment to the army. Second – the majority of yeshiva students who are not going to be rabbis, even if they are studying well and diligently, must fulfill the mitzvah of enlistment.

The Haredi Explanation for Not Enlisting

Nonetheless, the position of the Haredim is understandable, for they fear that army service will a cause spiritual decline, to the point of abandoning Torah and mitzvot. If this is the case, then this is an existential problem that cannot be compromised. Spiritual pikuach nefesh.

In practice, there are two parallel processes occurring in the army. On the one hand, over the last few decades the ability of an observant soldier to keep mitzvot, such as kashrut, prayers, Shabbat and holidays has improved. On the other hand, as the result of the mixing of male and female soldiers in the various units, the general atmosphere has become extremely immodest, such that a young man who grew up in religious circles, and all the more so Haredi, is faced with difficult challenges. In such a situation, the position of Haredi rabbis is that the promise of the young men’s spiritual future is preferable to the mitzvah of military service. Although the army is ready to create for Haredi recruits a framework suitable to their lifestyle, they are still concerned that over time, military service will cause them to become less religious.

Instead of Avoiding – Strengthen the Army

However, halachicly and in practice, their position is wrong. Instead of avoiding enlistment, they should be vigilant, and make certain the atmosphere in the army is as it should be for a machaneh kadosh (holy military camp). Already today, Hesder yeshiva students have reasonable conditions, adapted to the lifestyle of the national-religious public.

Incidentally, in recent years, I have consistently asked the young men returning to yeshiva after their military service in the Hesder framework, whether, as a result of army service, they have become religiously weakened, or strengthened. Almost all of them responded that they got stronger. It is important to note that in contrast, of those who went into regular army service, at least half responded they had weakened, and needed strengthening.

Effort must be made to Fulfill Mitzvot

The general rule is that one must make an effort in order to fulfill mitzvot, and not give up in advance for various reasons.

Suppose, for example, it turned out that Shabbat observers, seeing as on Shabbat they don’t have to work,  are lured to indulge in drunkenness, drugs, and other abominations. Would we stop observing Shabbat? God forbid! We would struggle to find ways to prevent them from such activity (incidentally, this is one of the explanations for the takanah (ordinance) of reading the Torah at Mincha on Shabbat; see, “Peninei Halakha: Shabbat” 5:8).

Similarly, an effort must be made to regulate the fulfillment of this great and holy mitzvah. With half the effort Haredi public representatives invest in exemption from enlisting, they could sucessfully regulate the terms of religious observance of army service for the members of the Haredi public, and Clal Yisrael.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. The Hebrew version can be found at: https://revivim.yhb.org.il/