Rosh Hashana in Lockdown – an Opportunity for Tikun

Rosh Hashana in Lockdown – an Opportunity for Tikun

The absence of mass prayers and family meals are liable to cause sorrow, but it is our duty to make an effort and take advantage of the holiday for a tikun (correction) that will be a sign for the entire year * The large amount of extra time made available should be used to study Torah with the entire family, each one according to his interest and level * Because of the emotional distress and the different reality, this year, special emphasis should be placed on increasing joy and sensitivity to others during the two days of Rosh Hashanah

 

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah in lockdown is a great challenge. One can bemoan the loss of the beautiful and impressive prayers in the glorious synagogues with large gatherings and exceptional cantors. Instead, we will have to pray in makeshift minyans, in courtyards and on balconies, and even those privileged to pray in synagogues will be faced with synagogues divided by nylon partitions that detract from the beauty and dignity of the ‘mikdash me’at’ (the Temple in miniature), and hardly recognize other worshippers through the masks covering their mouths and noses.

Many families used to having holiday meals with extended family members, friends and neighbors will have to suffice with meals limited only to the company of nuclear family members, without grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandchildren. Throughout the year they look forward to the holidays, the opportunity to celebrate together; and behold, as the holiday arrives the restrictions are tightened, sorrow over the remoteness from beloved family members fills the heart, and sadness, liable to grow into depression, spreads.

Passing the Challenge – A Good Sign for the Whole Year

This is the challenge we are faced with: will we succeed, under the conditions of lockdown, to fulfill the mitzvot of the holiday properly? This challenge is especially important when it happens on Rosh Hashanah, because everything we do on Rosh Hashanah has an impact on the entire year. As our Sages said, “siman – milta he” (K’riytot 6a), i.e., symbols are meaningful, and if there are signs of blessing on Rosh Hashanah, this opens spiritual conduits of blessing for the whole year.

Accordingly, the Gemara (ibid.) recommended eating foods that have a good sign for the whole year at the Rosh Hashanah meal: karti (leek), so that “our enemies may be cut down (yikartu); rubya (black-eyed peas), so that “our merits may be plentiful (yirbu)”; tamar (dates), to signify that “our enemies and sins may come to an end (yitamu)”; selek (beet), “so that our enemies may be removed (yistalku)”; and dela’at (pumpkin), which symbolizes blessing, as it is large and fast-growing (SA 583:1).

The First challenge is Torah Study

The most important challenge is to study a lot of Torah on Rosh Hashanah, in order to open the year with a sign of blessing for all the Shabbatot and Chagim, that they be filled with Torah. As a result, the blessing of the Torah and its guidance will illuminate the working days, to add blessing to the life of every individual, and to the tikun of society and the world. As our Sages said in the Jerusalem Talmud about one who sleeps on Rosh Hashanah, his mazal (the angel charged with bringing him good fortune) will sleep all year, and the meaning is to be awake and study Torah for a good sign because, as the poskim have said, one who sits idle, even though he is awake, is considered asleep (M.B. 583:9).

Shabbatot and Chagim are intended for Torah study

In addition to the fact that the mitzvah of Talmud Torah is equivalent to all the mitzvot, and its reward is also equal to that of all the mitzvot, this is the purpose of the sacred days God has given us, namely, that we learn Torah on them. On all the weekdays we must work for the purposes of earning a living and the welfare of society; consequently, God fixed for us Shabbatot and Chagim in which we can stop working and engage in Torah. As our Sages said: “The Sabbaths and Holidays were given to Israel in order that they might study Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 15:3). In practice, our Sages explained that the intention is to dedicate half of the day to Torah, and by doing so, the meals and rest are also considered absorbed with Torah, to the point where it can be said that in this way, “Shabbat is to be given over completely to Torah” (Tanna Debei Eliyahu Rabbah 1).

Their Holiness is Expressed in Torah Study

Moreover, the sanctity of the day should be reflected in the study of Torah, as our Sages learned from what is said about the holy days, that they are “holy to God,” and thus, half the day should be devoted to Torah study (Pesachim 68b; Beitza 15b). What’s more, the mitzvah of gaining pleasure (oneg) on Shabbat and Chagim is also fulfilled by Torah study, which is joyful, as it is said (Psalm 19: 9): “The precepts of the Lord are right, making the heart glad.” For this reason it is forbidden to study Torah on Tisha B’Av, and on days of mourning (Ta’anit 30a; Shaagat Aryeh 69). And one who has not yet succeeded to enjoy and rejoice in the study of Torah needs to make a cheshbon nefesh (an introspective reckoning) to find a way to learn Torah that will make him happy – perhaps he has chosen to study books that are less suitable for him, or maybe he is looking for external joy and quick gratification, and does not wait patiently for the deep pleasure and joy that gradually develops out of meaningful study.

Torah Lectures

Although ideally it is appropriate that part of the mitzvot of Torah study on Shabbat and Chagim be held in public this being the custom of Jews for generations, namely, to hold large drashot (sermons) and important classes on Shabbat and Chagim. And they were so fastidious about it, to the point where they forbade the study of the Prophets and Scriptures at a time intended for halakhic lessons (Shabbat 115a). And our Sages said that one of the reasons wealthy people become impoverished is because they do not participate in Torah lessons on Shabbat for blessing from study on Shabbat spreads to the six working days, and that there was a family in Jerusalem who set their meal at the same time of the drasha, and for this sin, became extinct (Gittin 38b).

Unfortunately in most communities – even without Corona – the status of Torah lessons on Shabbat has weakened – perhaps because care is not taken to devote their main thrust to practical halakha, as was the original directive. In any case, in the coming days of Rosh Hashanah, they should be for a blessing, the challenge that lies ahead for each of us is to study Torah diligently at home, in self-study, and in study with family members.

Advice for Studying at Home

In order to be able to study properly on Rosh Hashanah, it should be planned beforehand. Just as those who want to prepare joyful meals for the holiday need to plan what will be served at each meal for the first course, what will be served for the second course, and what for dessert, taking notice that each meal’s menu be slightly different so as not to bore the diners; and when there are diners with different tastes, two options are even prepared for some courses, so that each diner can choose the dish that suits him –  so too, no less, the study on Chag should also be planned with interesting and varied topics, in halakha and Aggadah, in Tanakh and Talmud, so that before people get tired of one subject, they will be able to switch to another. Also, when there are younger and older children in the house, a tailored study for all ages should be prepared. Every family is different; consequently, each family has the responsibility to plan very carefully the study that suits it, with part of the study taking place together, and some taking place by each one individually.

We all know that when we face a serious challenge, we need to prepare for it – to think about all the details. And if one does not prepare, the chances of success are greatly reduced.

The Long-term Tikun

This matter of study at home seems to have been neglected. It would be fitting for rabbis and rebbetzins, fathers and mothers, to invest a great deal of thought on how to institute meaningful study at home, because the Torah is our life, and if we do not set aside the sacred days for study, we will not merit to receive its blessing. But if we succeed in organizing ourselves in meaningful Torah study, we will merit all the blessings of the Torah, both in our national and individual lives.

Obviously, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ method; rather, different suggestions should be raised so that each family, inspired by the different tips, can design the way that suits them at every stage.

Here is the opportunity to offer families who have managed to find a formula that suits them, to send them to the email ask@yhb.org.il, and if suggestions are gathered that can benefit the public, with God’s help we will post them on the ‘Penieni Halakha’ Facebook page, and maybe publish some of them afterwards in this column.

The Joy of Chag

While Rosh Hashana is a yom teru’a (day of wailing) and a day of judgment, it is also a mikra kodesh (a sacred occasion), which we are commanded to sanctify through food and drink and honor with nice clothes (Sifra, Emor 12:4). Based on textual similarities in the Torah’s description of the various holidays, the Gemara concludes that the holidays share several features (Shevu’ot 10a), and just as there is a mitzvah to rejoice on the three pilgrimage festivals, so too, there is a mitzvah to rejoice on Rosh Hashana.

Thus, there is a mitzvah to serve two festive meals, one at night and one during the day, and joyfully consume meat and wine. However, Rishonim write that a person should not eat to satiety on Rosh Hashana, so that he does not come to act frivolously. Rather, he should stand in awe of God (SA 597:1). We see then that the meals on Rosh Hashana should be better and more joyful than those of Shabbat, but not as lavish as those of the pilgrimage festivals.

Seudah Shlishit (The Third Meal)

Since the first day of Rosh Hashanah is Shabbat, one must eat three meals. However, it is inappropriate to set seudah shlishit close to the end of the first day, because this third meal would be too close to the upcoming meal (supper of the second day). One option is to hold the second meal immediately after prayer, and even before four o’clock in the afternoon to hold a small meal for seudah shlishit. Second option, divide the big meal of Chag into two – in the first part, eat the first course, bless Birkat Hamazone, learn for about an hour, and then wash again and have the main course and dessert. The time of seudah shlishit is from half an hour after chatzot ha’yom onwards, i.e. after 13:15.

To Rejoice and Make Others Happy

The mitzvah of simcḥa (happiness) requires a man to include his entire family in his enjoyment, and to include the poor and despondent as well. This is not just a pious act, but is the simcḥa required by the Torah (Deuteronomy 16:14): “You shall rejoice in your festival with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow in your communities” (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1:11). This year we will not be able to entertain guests, and the challenge that lies ahead of us is to rejoice and make family members happy. To do so, each and every family member must overcome the bitterness resulting from the lockdown and maintain a good atmosphere especially during the meals – to avoid hurtful statements, and strive to delight those participating in the meal with words of friendship.

The challenge is great because often joy increases thanks to the large number of guests, and now, we all must be with the same relatives for many days to come. A sister might be tired of seeing her younger brother who annoys her, and he is tired of seeing her disgruntled face, angry that she is not allowed to meet her friends freely. It is a mitzvah for everyone to relax and overcome the tension and nervousness, and strive to imbue a pleasant atmosphere, volunteer to help wholeheartedly, and make each other happy with words of appreciation and compliments.

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

The Days of Awe in the Shadow of Corona

The courtyard and balcony minyans required this year due to Corona hold a great blessing * During prayers, the piyyutim (liturgical poems) and additions should be skipped, and focus on the essentials * In certain circumstances, repetition of the Shaliach Tzibbur should also be skipped * The remaining time should be utilized for Torah study in the family setting * The reason we do not occupy ourselves with soul-searching on the ‘Day of Judgement’ is to teach us that beyond all the personal mitzvot is their source, specifically, the word of God revealed in the world

This year, preparations for the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) are different. We won’t be able to hold the revered prayers b’rov am (in large groups) and comfortably as we were accustomed to, rather, we will have to split into medium and small-sized minyanim (quorums) in different places. But this should not get us down, for this also holds a great tikun (correction). This is an opportunity for us to return to the roots, and emphasize the essentials.

Instead of relying on sermons and long public prayers, every individual and every family, from all they have learned and understood, will channel the contents of the sacred day into the order of their lives. Individual responsibility will uplift and empower.

Organization within Community

Incidentally, issurei Shabbat (Shabbat prohibitions) also form specific family and neighborhood areas, and strengthens them. If it was permissible to go outside the Shabbat techum (boundary), to travel and use electrical appliances – rather than tens of thousands of synagogues, each with tens and hundreds of worshipers, large crowds would gather in huge halls and stadiums, only hazzanim (cantors) with the most beautiful voices would be appointed, and only those with the best rhetorical ability would give the sermons. The prayers and sermons would be impressive, but the intimate connection created in each community between the gabbaim, the hazzanim, rabbis, sermonizers and the public would be lost. Thanks to the Shabbat prohibitions, numerous communities are organized – not too small, but also not too large – many talents come to fruition, and the world is enriched with countless varieties of Torah, song, and organization, and a diversity of communities in which countless interpersonal connections are formed.

As a result of the Corona restrictions, additional talents will flourish and be revealed. Instead of one hazzan and one shofar-blower, five will arise. People normally lost in the crowd will now participate in organizing balcony minyans, and find they are able to lead a prayer and bring together neighbors who, until now, usually did not come to synagogue. The blessing that can grow from this is inconceivable, and will continue even after we return to the large synagogues, and even when we are privileged to ascend en masse for the Three Regalim (Pilgrimage Festivals) to the Beit HaMikdash (The Holy Temple).

Focus on the Essentials

Since in most minyans, prayer-time will have to be reduced, b’nei Torah (those who lead their lives according to Torah) in each minyan will have to decide what to forgo, and in consequence, the essence of prayer will be emphasized. From this, too, a blessing will grow, for sometimes, because of all the additional piyyutim (liturigical poems), the focal point is forgotten.

The free time will allow many families to add Torah study, and great blessing will stem from this as well, in the consolidation of the family, influence of parents on their children, and in the strengthening of the status of Torah study.

On the impending Chagim and Shabbatot, may they be for a blessing, it would be good for every family to get used to devoting a considerable amount of time to Torah study, in accordance with the words of our Sages who instructed dedicating half of Shabbat to Torah, and half to eating fine meals and additional rest. The convergence that Corona imposes on us, affords us an opportunity to establish Shabbat as a day for a great deal of Torah study, from which blessing will flow into the six working days. To this end, each family should determine in its home an appropriate place and time where members of the household can study without distractions.

Guidance for Courtyard and Balcony Minyans

More than a month ago, I received a request to offer an abbreviated order of prayer for the courtyard and balcony minyans. I chose not to, because I thought it was impossible to determine one order for all different types of minyans. On the contrary, it would be preferable that the b’nei Torah in each minyan plan the order according to what is right and appropriate for their own minyan.

Nevertheless, I will review the general principles, so as to help the various minyans tailor their approach.

When it is necessary to shorten, the essence of prayers should be kept, specifically: Pesukei D’zimra, the blessings of Kriyat Shema, the Amidah prayer without the piyyutim, the reading of the Torah, the blowing of the shofar, and the Mussaf prayer without piyyutim.

When there are participants who are not accustomed to praying, it is best to start prayers with Birchot HaShachar, and say them aloud and clearly, so that all listening can understand them, and answer amen. When necessary, it is preferable to shorten Pesukei D’zimra in order to include all those praying on the various balconies in Birchot HaShachar. And even this, at the discretion of the minyan leaders. When it is necessary to shorten Pesukei D’zimra, one must be careful to say ‘Baruch She’amar’, ‘Tehila l’David’ and all the Hallelujahs, and ‘Nishmat‘ until ‘Yishtabach‘.

Every courtyard or balcony minyan should give advance notice of the prayer arrangements, especially when there are men or women among those davening who are not accustomed to praying.

When Should Chazarat HaShatz be Waived

When there is a limited number of people in the minyan, and there is a reasonable chance that at times there will not be ten men answering, it is proper not to recite Chazarat HaShatz (the repetition of the Shaliach Tzibur). If all those praying know how to daven, the hazzan should say the first three blessings aloud, and those davening should say them together with him in a whisper, and when they come to Kedusha, they should answer after him. Following this, everyone should continue praying in a whisper. If there is a Kohen, then, when the hazzan reaches the blessing ‘Ratzeh‘, he should say the prayer aloud, so that the Kohen can duchen at the end of Modim. To do this, the Kohen must pray in the place where he will duchen, and when it’s time to recite the bracha, he should turn around and bless the worshippers.

In a limited minyan that has men or women worshipers who do not know how to pray, and wish to join the prayers by listening – it is preferable for the hazzan to say the entire prayer they are praying aloud. Those who know how to daven should say the prayer with him in a whisper, and those who are not accustomed to praying should listen, and by doing so, fulfill their obligation in the mitzvah of prayer, striving to answer amen at the end of each blessing.

In such a situation, it is important for the hazzan to say the words clearly and with emphasis – even at the expense of the singing and the melody – so that the prayer is well understood by those listening.

Definition of a Minyan

The requirement for a minyan is that there be ten men who see each other, and hear the hazzan. The minyan is also ‘kosher’ even when each of the participants is seen by the majority of the minyan, and everyone hears the hazzan.

L’chatchila (ideally), there should be ten men in one area, similar to a synagogue with all its divisions and sections, or one street or one yard, that are not divided by a fence. Then, additional people who are in other domains, such as in other yards, on balconies, or inside houses – if they see and hear them, fully join the minyan. And those who hear the minyan but do not see the members of the minyan, can fulfill their obligation by listening, and have a mitzvah by answering amen, but are not full partners in the minyan.

When the minyan is made up of people who are in different spaces, such as some on balconies, some on the street, and some inside a yard surrounded by a fence – even though they see and hear each other, some poskim are of the opinion they are not joined in a minyan. And although according to halakha, since they see each other they are considered joined, out of concern of the machmirim (stringent poskim), there is room to consider forgoing Chazarat HaShatz. However, regarding the rest of the prayers and recitations of Kaddish, there is no concern of bracha l’vatala (reciting a blessing in vain).

With regard to shofar blowing, there is no need for a minyan, and therefore anyone who hears the shofar blasts, even if there is a partition between himself and the shofar-blower, merits fulfilling the mitzvah, provided he has intention to fulfill the mitzvah.

Soul-Searching as Opposed to Accepting the Kingdom of God

Every year we are privileged to reach the Days of Awe, when we must make an annual cheshbon nefesh (reckoning), and do teshuva (repent) for all our sins.

Ostensibly, if the main goal is to arrange a chesbon nefesh, our Sages should have devised for us an orderly, annual inventory list which we could go through during Rosh Hashanah. The first section would be dedicated to Torah study, with subsections on diligence, concentration, hearing lessons, giving classes, studying halakha, machshava (abstract thought), Tanakh, and mussar (morals), etc; section two would involve examining our behavior in the field of family matters, with subsections on faithful, loving, and joyful marital relationships, honoring parents, educating children, relations with siblings and other family members; the third section would cover work, including subsections on diligence, work ethics, honesty, etc.; section four on the relationship between man and his fellow neighbor, including subsections on respect for others, helping people, tzedaka (charity) for the poor, neighborliness, loshon ha’ra (slander), etc.; a section on Shabbatot and Chagim, with subsections on oneg (pleasure) and simcha (joy) on a personal, and family level, on setting fixed times for Torah study, prayers, etc.; a section on tzedaka and maaser kesafim (money tithes), as well as chapters on all areas life and mitzvot.

But amazingly, although the cheshbon nefesh mentioned is extremely important, instead of arranging an annual inventory list for us, our Sages determined that one should engage in Malchut Hashem (the kingdom of God), and pray for its revelation in the world by way of Israel’s redemption, the Ingathering of the Exiles, the building of Eretz Yisrael, Yerushalayim, and the Beit HaMikdash. A halakha that expresses the essence of these days is that the main variation in the prayers of the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) is that in the bracha of Kedusha, we conclude ‘ha’Melech ha’Kadosh’ (the King, the Holy One), instead of ‘ha’El ha’Kadosh’ (the Almighty, the Holy One), and whoever made a mistake must return and start from the beginning.

Belief in God

In doing so, we learn an important foundation: Beyond all the mitzvot, all of which are precious and sacred, the most important thing is to return to the source, to the great vision of revealing the word of God and His blessing in the world. To remember that the purpose of the creation of the world is to bestow good, and as it is said in the six days of Creation, that all God created is good, and even very good. Accepting Malchut Hashem during the Yamim Noraim is to accept the obligatory and exalted yoke, express the image of God within us, and to act according to the guidance of Torah so as to reveal God’s values ​​in the world, in order to make it better, and more blessed.

The more we are able to internalize the value of Malchut Hashem, all our plans and actions will be uplifted and set straight – in fixing times for Torah study, in family ties, and in correcting relationships between man and his fellow neighbor. As a result, we will continue to advance in the proper understanding, deepening, and accuracy of all the mitzvot and deeds.

Festivity and Joy on Rosh Hashanah

In order to internalize this great value, we were commanded to open the year on a festive day, so that out of joy, we receive the yoke of His kingdom in awe and love, rejoice in the goodness of God, in His Torah and mitzvot, and pray for Israel’s redemption.

In light of this uplifting, overall outlook, we will make the annual cheshbon nefesh during Aseret Yemay Teshuva (The Ten Days of Repentance), confess all our sins, plan our days better, and merit a good and blessed year.

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

The Vision of Torah Study for Women

In principle, there is no impediment for women to engage in any field of Torah * Throughout the ages, theoretical and research study of Torah was the domain of men, due to the customary social arrangements * In a reality where women are knowledgeable in all fields, and strive for it in the Torah as well, this is an ideal that brings us closer to the vision of the prophets * The first act in implementing the vision: setting up ‘halakha teachers’ who will be proficient in halakha and answer questions

 

Q: Is it possible for women to study Torah at a high level, and be appointed to positions of spiritual leadership, Torah teachers, and halachic ruling as rabbis and judges?

A: A distinction should be made between two areas: principle, and practical. In principle, it is possible, and even desirable, for women to be talmidot chachamot (Torah scholars), to study Torah and halakha, and the appropriate ones be engaged in education to Torah observance and middot (good virtues), thereby increasing wisdom in Israel (it should be noted that the traditional role of ‘Rabbanit’ (Rebbetzin) as accepted in previous generations, included in it spiritual influence and even leadership, albeit covert, but nevertheless, often with great impact. This is not the place to expand on that).

In addition, in principle there is no field in Torah that is closed to women. And even if there is an impediment, such as areas exist where according to halakha there should be male judges, if the public wants, it may decide that learned and righteous women be appointed to positions of spiritual leadership and halakhic jurisprudence, and men will assist them and carry out what needs to be done specifically by men. Similar to the case of Deborah the prophetess, whom Israel accepted as a judge (see, Tosefot, Bava Kama 15a), and according to the Midrash, her husband was Barak ben Avinoam, and he went out according to her prophetic instruction to fight Sisera.

However, in practice, there are difficulties that hinder, as will be explained below.

Are There Differences between Men and Women

As a rule, men and women are equal in the laws of the Torah, as it is written (Exodus 21: 1): “These are the laws that you must set before [the Israelites],” and our Sages expounded (Baba Kama 15a): “Scripture has thus made woman and man equal regarding all the penalties of the Law.” In conjunction with this rule we have learned in the Torah that there are certain differences between men and women, which are expressed in the obligations of some of the mitzvot.

But since in the vast majority of areas men and women are equal and similar, the differences between them are not profound and decisive, nor do they encompass everyone equally. In addition, free choice is one of the most important foundations, and its power is immense to effect processes that change reality for better or worse. Consequently, each and every man and woman has the ability to decide to act to enhance their personality with additional and acquired traits and behaviors. All the more so is society able to act for changes in the manifestation of character traits and behavioral traditions of men and women. This is reflected, for example, in mitzvot aseh sh’ha’zman garman (positive, time-bound mitzvot), in which women fulfill a mitzvah, but are not obligated.

Parity and Differences in the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah

There are two parts in the mitzvah of Talmud Torah. One, to know the teachings of the Torah in order to live a full life, and this is the part where men and women are equally obligated. To this end, every man and woman need to study halakha, emunah (faith) and mussar (ethics) according to the level and depth needed to elevate their emunah and moral aspirations, and guide their lives. The second part is the one inclined to iyun (in-depth study), pilpul (argumentation) and mechkar (research), in which men are obligated, and women are not. The main explanation for this, is because women have a role that only they can fulfill, in childbirth and nurturing the family.

This difference caused a difference between yeshivot for men – in which the study of Gemara, in which the theoretical side is emphasized, and ulpanot and midrashot for girls – in which the study of halakha and emunah which are necessary studies for the guidance of one’s life, come first.

As the years go by, the gap between the obligations of men and those of women, has narrowed. Knowledge and wisdom has become open to all, and the challenges of life demand a higher Torah level. Consequently, women’s obligation to deepen Torah study, in halakha, emunah, and mussar is constantly expanding, to the point where even in men’s educational institutions, due to the emphasis on Gemara study which does not reach the conclusions of halakha, and the foundations of emunah and mussar they find it hard to even accomplish all the study women are obligated to learn, let alone in ulpanot.

The Enriching Differences

Although the difference between women’s obligations and those of men has narrowed, it remains the same in the field of theoretical study, in which men are obligated and women have a mitzvah, but not an obligation. This difference creates the diversity and completion between the obligatory side and volunteering. Thanks to this, we approach the great vision, as it is written (Jeremiah 31: 32-33): “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” And it is written (Isaiah 11: 9): “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

And as explained in Rambam (Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah 4: 13), that there is a mitzvah for every person to reach complete emunah, and love God and fear him. And the way to do this by studying Torah, first in the ‘debates of Abaye and Rava’ in the Gemara, in knowing the permissible and forbidden in all the mitzvot, and afterwards, in the “maasei Bereshit” (“work of Creation”) and “maasei Merkava” (“work of the Chariot”) [the esoteric doctrine of the universe], “which are the great good which the Holy One, blessed be He, has granted, to allow for stable living within this world and the acquisition of the life of the world to come. They can be known in their totality by the great and the small, man or woman, whether granted expansive knowledge or limited knowledge.” It emerges then that the ideal is that women too should study Torah in-depth of their own free will, and reach complete love and fear of Hashem.

In light of this, it is reasonable to believe that the more women enter the field of Torah education and the teaching of halakha, in the correct and desired way, the more Torah, wisdom and morality will increase in Israel and around the world.

The Difficulties in Realizing the Vision

Nonetheless, there are four difficulties hindering advancement of the vision. The more we become aware of them, the better we can progress, and in the process, we can also find good ideas for the benefit of Torah study among men as well.

1 – Talmudic Experience

The men’s beit midrash (yeshiva learning hall) have accumulated generations of experience in the way a Talmid Chacham is reared. The simplistic idea that anyone who studies Gemara will reach the same results, is wrong. In the beitei midrash, students are educated from an early age the way in which Torah is studied, in all its nuances and paths. The way rabbis are related to, and the way questions are asked. What significance is ascribed to the opinion of the Tanaim, Amoraim, Rishonim and Achronim, and how the weight of the majority and the minority is estimated. The difference between Torah law, rabbinic ordinances and guidance accepted among Israel and written in the Talmud, or the guidance or ordinances adopted in the period of the Rishonim. What is the significance of a minhag (custom) prevalent throughout all of Israel, or only in one ethnic community, or only in various communities. Which opinions carry decisive halakhic weight, and which opinions are insubstantial. The difference between shaat dachak (time of distress), be’diavad (acceptable after the fact), l’chatchila (optimal), and hidur (to adorn a mitzvah). All of these considerations, and many more like them, are taught in the beit midrash through shimush talmidei chachamim (serving Torah scholars), and for one who has not studied in the beit midrash, it is difficult to understand all this.

Because of the value of modesty and its halakhic boundaries – women cannot be admitted to yeshivot. And creating batei midrash for women at the level of the yeshivot is a complex challenge that requires many years of effort.

2 – Educational Experience

While studying in the beit midrash, the students learn from their rabbis how a Talmid Chacham behaves in his learning and prayer, in the observance of mitzvoth, and in his conversation with people. How his behavior will serve as an example to his students. And as our Sages have said, that there are things that a Talmid Chacham should not do since he represents the Torah, and is necessitated beyond what is required for others. This also includes appropriate clothing for a Talmid Chacham. And although it varies from one society to another, in general, there is a dress code and a code of behavior that when someone transgresses it, many people feel it incompatible, even though they themselves are not particular about it.

There is still no female beit midrash that educates towards this. For example, since clothing is conspicuous and noticeable to all, it is imperative that a rabbanit or teacher adhere to modest dress as is accepted by the majority of recent poskim. And although there are lenient opinions, and the rabbis instruct that one who wishes to rely upon them may do so, for themselves they are stringent, since they should serve as an example of love of the Torah, and hidur and exactness in the mitzvoth, somewhat like Kohanim who were commanded about additional warnings regarding matters of purity, intimate relations, and dress.

3 – Conditions for Diligence

There has been a tradition among the Jewish nation of devoting themselves for the sake of the diligence of Talmidei Chachamim over their Torah studies day and night for numerous years, with their righteous wives greatly devoting themselves to assisting them, in taking care of household matters, and in recent generations, even the burden of earning a living. Nevertheless, a family that would like the woman to devote herself in learning similar to the men, will have to pave its way for itself and future generations, without having anyone to learn from, or someone to emulate. True, in academia we find top female researchers, but they also admit that it is difficult to have a brilliant academic career alongside raising a family. In addition, in academia, outstanding scholars, both men and women, are rewarded with substantial scholarships, whereas in the Torah world, such scholarships do not yet exist even for men, and thus, families of Talmidei Chachamim are required to make many concessions.

4 – Conservatism

A religious society is fundamentally conservative, and consequently, it fears revolutions, because there is always the fear that while striving for a positive goal, institutions and traditions of immense value will be destroyed. Therefore every process, even a positive one, occurs carefully and gradually, with debate, criticism, and constant examination of the pros and cons at each and every stage. And sometimes, when found out that a particular change has caused harm, it is withdrawn from. Therefore, naturally the growth of rabbinical women leaders will be moderate and gradual, in a way acceptable to the various communities.

Although naturally, there will always be people and communities to whom this value will be more central, and consequently, will try to accelerate the processes in a way that is unacceptable to most of the public and rabbis, and provokes heated debates. However, the main path for the public to advance is in moderation and gradually.

It appears that the first practical step before us is in instituting ‘morot halakha’ (teachers of halakha) to women, who will be proficient in halakha, and know how to answer most current questions. The more blessing this brings in the fulfilment of Torah and mitzvot, the more those observant of Torah and mitzvot will want women to further participate in the leadership of Torah in the communities.

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

Rabbi Kook’s Essay “HaDor” (“The Generation”)

The essay “HaDor” (“The Generation”) in the book “Ikvei HaTzon” is undoubtedly one of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook’s most fundamental essays, in which he analyzes the special character of the generation, and outlines a path for its repentance and perfection. Rabbi Kook explains that Jews who abandoned the Torah in the previous generations were usually light-minded and immoral, whereas nowadays, high-quality people with beliefs and moral ambitions are leaving the Torah. They are searching for an absolute and lofty truth that carries a message of tikun (perfection) for Israel and the entire world. From what they have heard and studied about Judaism, it seems to them that the Torah deals with personal questions about kashrut and the like, but is unable to offer a way to address the significant questions of man, nation, and humanity. “Our generation is wonderful… it is extremely difficult to find an example [similar to it] in all our chronicles. It is composed of various upheavals, darkness and light serving in disorder. It is low and dejected, but also lofty and exalted. It is completely guilty and [at the same time] completely innocent” (pg. 108).

How to Address the Generation

The threat of punishment in this world or the World to Come does not affect them. “It cannot, even if it desires, be subordinated and bowed down… it cannot repent out of fear, however, it is very capable of repenting from love” (pg. 111).

The generation must be spoken to with grand ideas. “The less significant and simpler ideas, although filled with truth and integrity, will not suffice [the generation]” (pg. 112).

“We will not rob them [the generation] from all the light and good, all the radiance and intensity it has obtained, but rather increase and shed light upon them, from the light of Life, the light of Truth, illuminating from the Source of the Israel’s soul. Our sons will behold Him, and glow” (pg.109).

“To them, we must teach the living Torah, from the Source of Life, ethical ways filled with light and rejoicing, words of pleasantness and good wisdom, refined and purified… from the treasure of Life, of the living Torah.” “We do not desire to suppress them under our feet; we do not wish to place the young and fresh forces which rush forward and uplift, in shackles. Rather, we will illuminate the path before them; we will walk before them in a pillar of fire of Torah and Holy knowledge, and enormous power of the heart” (pg.115).

Is the Essay “HaDor” Relevant to our Times?

Many people who learn the essay “HaDor” believe it refers to the pioneers who immigrated to Israel with utter devotion, drained its swamp-lands, made its desert bloom by establishing communities, fought for the establishment of a Jewish State, and reared a young generation of pioneers and fighters. A question then arises: nearly 120 years after the essay “HaDor” was written, are the analyses and conclusions of our teacher, Rabbi Kook, still applicable today?

There are differing approaches to this question, and I will attempt to summarize them briefly.

The Pioneering Spirit Still Exists – It is Simply Veiled

Some people believe that the words of Rabbi Kook ztz”l are valid and binding. Even today, there are many people who love the Land of Israel and are willing to sacrifice their lives for her by settling the country and serving in the army. There are still kibbutzim and settlements, and even if their status has weakened, in practice, they are settling the Land, and have successors in the form of the settlers. And even if outwardly it seems that the majority of the population today is not concerned about the Land and its development, deep-down everyone is connected through mesirut nefesh (utter devotion) for the Nation and the Land. Likewise, soldiers who work night and day and risk their lives for the security of the State, represent the spirit of the generation that Rabbi Kook spoke of to a great degre.

Our Generation is Petty, Materialistic, and Needs Reproof

In contrast, some say: Nowadays, the public at large does not care about any ideals. The Land and the Nation don’t matter to them. They are secular because they are ignorant. They are content in their ways, and also think that in this way they will be able to satisfy their desires. In order to bring them closer, all the nakedness of the world they live in must be exposed. They must be shown how the pursuit of money and luxuries does not lead to true happiness. Sexual permissiveness, broken families, and public and personal corruption must be sharply criticized. The punishment of the wicked in this world and the next should be explicitly described. At the same time, they should be shown the beauty of Judaism: the tranquil Shabbat table, the well-behaved children honoring their parents, the beautiful candles lit by the faithful wife, and the husband who sets times for Torah study. To support their beliefs, they offer as proof the numerous baalei teshuva (repentant sinners) who love hearing simple mussar and have no connection whatsoever to Clal Yisrael ideas.

Our Generation Seeks the Meaning of Life (New Age)

Others say that today, people no longer believe in general ideals. Settlement of the Land does not interest them. Economic and social questions do not concern them either. Life is so complicated, complex and burdensome that people are content to seek meaning in their own personal lives. They are searching for meaning in life – a way to deal with all the confusing and burdening prosperity. The teachings of Hasidism, which delves deep into the individual soul and evokes emotion, speaks to them. The individualistic ideas in Rabbi Kook’s words also touch their hearts, but not the general ideas.

The Post-Modernists

Others say: today, people do not believe in absolute principles. There are no longer any idealists willing to give their lives for principles. The generation has matured and adopted a complex world-outlook, according to which truth does not belong to any one group, nor to any particular Torah perspective. If presented with the vision of tikun olam in the Torah, they will not be impressed or drawn closer, rather quite the opposite – they will loathe the over-confidence of the believers. They are wary of overly-idealistic movements. The students of Rabbi Kook, with all their “messianism,” also frighten them. This passion might have been siutable during the times of the First Aliyah to Israel and the draining of the swamps, but today, it is irrelevant. People nowadays are looking for a reasonable, decent and comfortable life.

In order to draw the generation closer, the foundations of the Torah and halakha must be integrated with modern-day life. The tension between Judaism and liberal democracy, between the claim to the absolute truth in the Torah and pluralism, should be reduced as much as possible.

The Essay “HaDor” Relates to the Entire Nation

Although there is a certain amount of truth in each one of the approaches mentioned, the full scope of the essay “HaDor” was misconstrued. Rabbi Kook refers not only to the pioneers who immigrated to Israel, but rather to the entire generation. The essay was published in the year 5666 (1906), two years after Rabbi Kook immigrated to Eretz Yisrael. In those times, less than 100,000 Jews lived in Israel, whereas in the Diaspora, there were approximately 12 million Jews – over 10 million of them living in Europe and America. When Rabbi Kook wrote his essay “HaDor” he had this enormous population in mind.

At that time, tremendous unrest took place amongst this large Jewish population. Many of them invested their talents and skills in the development of the various sciences and arts and promoting social ideas – and all this, with the belief that by doing so, they could repair the world. In regards to them, Rabbi Kook writes that “darkness and light serve them in disorder.” They have great aspirations, however, without Torah they will not achieve a real tikun.

HaDor” is the Modern Era

The essay “HaDor” speaks of modern times in which man began to believe that in the power of thought, creation, research, planning and initiative, he would be able to solve all problems and change the world for the better. Modernity began around two hundred and fifty years ago in Western Europe, then spread to Eastern Europe and the capital cities of Arab countries, and continues to this day. Rabbi Kook addresses the ‘young’ forces, even though in practice, some of them were already adults, but in a historical perspective, they expressed the new, youthful trend.

Although many of the early thinkers and scholars believed in God, the growing notion that man could take responsibility for his own destiny and future caused many to turn away from religion, which emphasized man’s minuteness and dependance. Many even argued that religion harms and inhibits the development of humanity, and instead of obeying the laws of religion, an effort should be made in social change, scientific research and technological development, thus redeeming man from poverty and deprivation, and allowing him to express his full potential.

In his essay “HaDor,” Rabbi Kook spoke about all the talented Jews who were active in the various movements for the sake of humanity. Some led social revolutions for liberalism and socialism, and many others led the development of science and art. One of the movements belonging to the modern era was the Zionist movement. Unfortunately, in terms of quantity, fewer Jews participated in it, and in terms of quality as well, its activists were generally less talented. The genius minds in science, economics and society gave their strengths to foreigners.

The Relevance of “HaDor” for Our Generation

Indeed it is true that today there is disappointment in ideological movements. Many dreams were dashed against the rocks of a grim reality. Scientific and cultural development in Germany did not prevent the Holocaust. The Communist revolution did not benefit humanity. Even the democratic and liberal values that have benefited humanity, are far from fulfilling the great expectations that were placed in them.

Despite all this, the vast majority of the public still believes that with the power of thought and planning, the world can be improved and corrected. This is the “totally intellectual movement” (pg. 110). In face of such a movement, which is the leading one to this day, a vision must be presented.

True, many people are unconcerned with general ideas about tikun olam and the world’s realistic redemption, rather, deal with personal questions concerning their lives and that of their community alone. Even if they have ingenious talents, they are not the ones leading the social processes in the world. They are trailing behind. And when involved in Torah, they are content to establish a religious ghetto on the fringes of society, and claim that the generation is petty and lustful, or looking for religious feelings, or comfortable compromises, to which they try to give answers.

However, those who determine the spirit of the generation are people who think of tikun olam for the entire world. To this end, they deal in philosophy, law, morality, science, society, economics, psychology, literature and art. Ultimately, the masses follow them, and even those in the ghetto are inevitably affected by them.

The great novelty in the words of Rabbi Kook is that despite the darkening shadows, he saw the point of truth and goodness in them, and determined it to be the main point. He taught us to appreciate all these movements, and called us to delve into the Torah in greatness, to draw from it enlightenment to all the forces revealed in the generation, in order to guide and elevate them for the tikun of the world and its redemption.

The Writing Process and Content of My New Book “HaMasoret HaYehudit”

The book “HaMasoret HaYehudit” (‘The Jewish Tradition’) was born out of deep pain at the detachment of a large portion of Jews from their heritage, but also out of a strong sense of brotherhood and a common destiny * At first, the book was meant for traditional Jews, but during the writing it became clear that it is of benefit to both the observant, and secular Jews * In contrast to traditional beliefs, the essence of Judaism is the duties between man and his fellow, his family, and his nation

 

All in good time, by the grace of God, this week my book ‘HaMasoret HaYehudit’ (‘The Jewish Tradition’) was published (for now, only in Hebrew), which is intended to convey the entirety of values, mitzvot and halakhot as expressed actually in Jewish tradition, in one book. Since this column is mostly personal, presumably, many readers would be interested in hearing about how the book was written.

My first thought about writing such a book arose in wake of Prof. Meir Buzaglo’s remarks in the framework of ‘Si’ach Shalom’, regarding the value of Jewish tradition and the hidden blessing in its accessibility and empowerment. I’m not sure I understood his full intent, but his words stirred me. From this, I noticed there was not a book that sums up and clearly explains Jewish tradition, neither the faith-value ​​side, nor the halakhic side. If I recall correctly, the first conversation with Prof. Buzaglo about the idea of ​​the book took place about ten years ago.

About five years ago, I received a request from the rabbis of the Conversion Institute, headed by Rabbi Chaim Druckman shlita, to write a book that would describe in clear language the tenets of the emunah (faith) and halakha of Judaism, in a manner similar to the style of “Peninei Halakha,” but much shorter. Thus, out of a deep sense of brotherhood for my fellow Jews that they can become acquainted with the spiritual treasures of Jewish tradition, and out of respect for those wishing to convert – I sat down nearly five years ago to write the book.

At first I thought of condensing the books ‘Peninei Halakha’, but after attempting to do so for a few weeks, it became clear that in this way the book would be over 1,500 pages. On the other hand, it was difficult for me to cut out essential parts, and omit halakhot and ideas. I returned to my usual study, concerning the continued writing of the ‘Peninei Halakha’ series.

For the next few years, after dealing with various issues and taking note of questions of public interest, I thought I could focus on the more central rules and halakhot. Once again, I devoted a few weeks to the book, however, from what I had prepared, it was already clear that the book would run to about eight hundred pages – far beyond what is necessary. Once more, I returned to my main studies in connection with ‘Peninei Halaklha’.

In the month of Elul last year, I participated in the “Our Common Destiny” conference, where the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and the Genesis Foundation joined forces to gather Jewish leaders from around the world to strengthen the mutual responsibility of the Jewish people. For the first time I met Jews from distant locations and various movements – having been separated by oceans. We found that we are close in our hearts, far apart in our opinions, and very much yearn for a true partnership. The encounter was disturbing and painful for me. My heart was torn with pain over the millions of adult Jews who had become so distanced from their heritage. There were those who condemned us – the Israelis, particularly the religious settlers – with terrible accusations, based on the vicious libels of our worst enemies. In spite of this, there was love in their hearts, and a willingness to talk. That was the reason all of them had attended – to find a common vision that would once again reunite the Jewish people.

Afterwards, in my prayers, I had to close my eyes tightly to stop the tears, and at times even in my talks. When I spoke about the enormous questions regarding the nation, the Torah, and tikun olam, I found it difficult to conceal my heart’s feelings, so in order to continue speaking, I talked about the laws of kashrut that I had been studying at the time.

After completing the second volume of the laws of kashrut just before Chanukkah 2019, I made two decisions. First, instead of trying to condense “Peninei Halakha,” I had to write a new, separate book, “HaMasoret HaYehudit”. Specifically, to first think about the principles, the halakhot, and the important values ​​in each field of study, and write them anew. Naturally, I drew on wording from “Peninei Halakha“, but the format is new. My second decision was to sit continuously until the completion of the draft of the entire book.

By the grace of God, after about two months I finished the first draft. I sent the book to various people for comments and insight, and immersed myself in studying the halakhot of Taharat HaMishpacha (family purity). At that time the Corona quarantine began, which helped me advance at a rapid pace. After receiving initial comments, I passed the book on to rabbis who are members of the Yeshiva Har Bracha Institute, headed by Rabbi Maor Kayam shlita, so they could scrupulously review the book, and with the help of all the comments and insights, I went back to polishing the book, over and over again, until it was published.

Target Audience

Although at first the target audience was mainly masoriti (traditional Jews), during the writing I found that I could not write a book only for a specific audience. Since in practice the book will be available to everyone, it is impossible to ignore any audience. Thus, I found myself striving to write the story of Jewish tradition also for observant Jews who want to see the basic concepts, mitzvot and halakhot they are familiar with collectively, paying attention to the principles underlying them, and on the other hand, also for those who see themselves as secular Jews who want to learn about Judaism just the same. Despite the need to condense things, I tried to write them with the utmost precision and clarity, until perhaps in the end, this is the essence of the book – to express the overall picture of Judaism in a balanced way, and in a way that the formative ideas are reflected in all of the mitzvot and halakhot, with the addition of a new idea every time. To a certain degree, this book is somewhat similar to ‘Sefer HaChinukh’.

The book is intended to present to those interested, a summary of the ways and ideas of Jewish tradition just as it is, in the hope they will find it beautiful, understandable, and profound. It is not my purpose in this book to conduct debates and disputes with those with other opinions and positions, or alternatively, to please them. At the same time, I do not ignore the challenges we face in the fields of morality, culture, and relations between Israel and the nations.

The Guiding Principles of the Book

Often, when trying to describe Jewish tradition, emphasis is placed on the mitzvot bein adam le’Makom (between man and God), with the addition of a folkloristic touch of different minhagim (customs). But in truth, the mitzvot between man and his fellow man, his family, and his nation – precede, and these are not just minhagim, but constitutive principles of tzedakah (charity) and mishpat (justice), chesed (kindness) and din (judgement), and ahava (love) and rachamim (mercy). Not for naught the Gedolei Yisrael (Torah giants) reiterated and emphasized the significance of the mitzvot between a man and his fellow man. Rabbi Akiva said: “Ve’ahavta l’reicha kamocha” (love your neighbor as yourself) – this is a great rule in the Torah”. And Hillel the Elder said, that all the Torah on one foot, is: “Ma she’sanua aleicha, al ta’aseh l’chavercha” (what you hate, do not do unto your friend), and all the rest is an elaboration of this rule.

Thus, in order to tell the true story of Jewish tradition, I have appropriately emphasized the mitzvot between a man and his fellow man, and between a man and his family. Therefore, immediately after the two opening chapters, I continued to the mitzvot between a man and his fellow man, including the system of tzedek (justice), tzedaka, and mishpat. Following that, the halakhot of the family and its values ​​are explained: marriage, its joy, a benevolent relationship and dealing with crises, mourning, honoring parents, and educating children. Needless to say, in the first chapter as well, which deals with the vision of Israel, and in the second chapter, which deals with Israel’s history from Genesis to the Giving of the Torah, the great vision of tikun olam is emphasized, whose primary objective is the good of man and the world, and its advancement. This completes the first third of the book.

The Second Third

I could have started the book with an explanation of the foundations of emunah (faith), but I chose to open it as the Torah does – with the story of the Jewish nation’s life, and the mitzvot between man and his fellow man. Consequently, at the beginning of the second third of the book the meaning of emunah and Torah is explained. In order to clarify the full meaning of emunah and Torah, it is necessary to clarify the central place of the nation, the Land, and the Mikdash (Holy Temple). This too is a novelty compared to many other books that try to describe Jewish tradition as a personal story concerning an individual’s private life, and at the very most his community, without properly emphasizing the place of the nation and the Land of Israel, which are connected to the great vision of the perfection of the entire world, heaven and earth, Torah and work. Thus, in practice, all the immense yearning that accompanies Judaism in its prayers and customs, in its holidays and fasts are deemphasized, and vast parts of the Tanakh and halakha are set aside and concealed.

It is impossible to talk about Jewish tradition without explaining the value of the Land and the Mikdash. From this, it is possible to proceed to the explanation of the halakhot of the Beit Knesset (synagogue), tefilla (prayer) and brachot (blessings), all of which express the values ​​of emunah and their revelation in the Land and the Mikdash. Subsequently, the halakhot of kashrut and mitzvot concerning the dignity of man and his treatment of animals and plants, are clarified.

The Last Third – Shabbatot and Moadim

The last third of the book deals with Shabbatot, Chagim (holidays), and the Fasts. It wasn’t easy postponing Shabbat and the Chagim to the last third of the book. However, since Shabbat and the Chagim are meant to express the full values ​​of Judaism throughout the year, it was appropriate to first clarify the entirety of the ideas, in order to make it easier to explain how they are reflected on Shabbat and Chagim, and how from the Shabbatot and Chagim, great blessing is drawn to all areas of life.

Appreciations

From the appreciations at the end of the book: “By the grace of God, I have been privileged to serve as rabbi in a glorious community of pioneering, Torah-learned people who merit fulfilling the vision of the prophets, blossoming the wilderness on the frontline of settlement, engaging in Torah and work, and establishing wonderful families. The learning with them is alive and profound, and connects the great ideals with practical life, to the point where it is impossible to be oblivious to the blessing that the words of Torah bring to their lives. Along with them are the yeshiva students, many of them graduates who are already prodigious rabbis and outstanding scientists, educators and top-notch public figures, who examine and test every idea I voice. By way of them, I am able to focus the ideas, and polish them. Thanks to them, the abstract belief that the Torah is meant to add life and blessing to all areas of life is fulfilled, until I can honestly write that indeed, in actuality, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael adds blessing. “How blessed are the people who experience these things. How blessed are the people whose God is the Lord” Psalms 144: 15). “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalms 34: 9). I must also give mention to the numerous women who regularly come to the Shabbat lesson at noon, and take an active part in clarifying the issues and the dilemmas on how to pen them in the book, and add insightful questions and suggestions.”

In Parting

In the farewell, I wrote: “In this book I have endeavored to present to my brothers and sisters the story of the ‘Jewish tradition’. From here, our gaze and prayers turn to the future, to the wondrous vision of the prophets, which describes the spiritual and moral revolution that will emerge from the Jewish tradition, its beliefs, concepts, values and laws. My hope is that this book will add a tier to the same foundation on which the Temple of the Future will be built, in which, will shine the wisdom of the generations and devotion of the souls of our holy fathers, who, even in the darkness of exile, and under the rule of evil empires, did not lose faith in tikun olam in the kingdom of God.”

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

Tithes and the Guaranteed Blessing

The guaranteed blessing for those who give maaser (tithes) from their earnings is dependent on the diligence with which they work * Those who set aside maaser for unworthy purposes will not receive the blessing of maaser kesafim (tithes from profits) * Maaser kesafim should not be used to pay for children’s tuition, even for enrichment classes * The National-Religious public must create an inexpensive and effective educational framework to assist families, and to enrich the children’s Torah world with study and lessons outside school hours

 

In this week’s Torah portion we learn about the mitzvah to give maaser kesafim (tithes from profits), as is written (Deuteronomy 14:22): “Aser taaser” (“Take a second tithe”). Our Sages said in a homiletic explanation: “Aser taaser’ – ‘Give maaser and you will be wealthy’ (Taanit 9a). Ostensibly, one could ask: Aren’t the mitzvot meant to be kept le’Shem Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven) and not to receive a reward? If so, how could our Sages say “‘Give maaser and you will be wealthy’’?

Rather, the enrichment of one who gives maaser from all his profits is itself a mitzvah, and there are a number of aspects to this: First, because from all of his profits – he continues to give maaser. Second, by giving maaser, one merits receiving inspiration and blessing that helps him use the rest of his money properly, in a way that will benefit establishing a family, strengthening his marriage, educating his children, creating good conditions for engaging in Torah and mitzvot, and bettering society. Third, there is a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God) in that a Jew who keeps the Torah merits revealed blessing. And, as we have learned throughout the Torah, that in the merit of Israel walking in the ways of God, they will be granted a nice livelihood from their labor.

Unfortunately, there Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars) who do not understand this Torah foundation, and instruct their students to degrade the value of avodah (work) and parnasa (earning a living), and thus we find Torah observant Jews who live in poverty, and this constitutes a chilul Hashem (desecration of God), for it is written in the Torah that those who observe Torah and mitzvot will merit blessing, and seemingly, the reality is contradictory.

One is Permitted to Test God in This

Our Sages said (Taanit 9a), that one may test God in this – that a person can give maaser, and see for himself that he will get rich. And although the Torah says “Do not test God your Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:16), this is the only mitzvah one is permitted to test God, as it is written (Malachi 3:10): “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (see, Peninei Halakha: Likutim 2: 6, 8).

The Blessing Comes Naturally

Like all the blessings written in the Torah, this does not mean that a person who gives maaser will become rich miraculously. Because freedom of choice is the foundation of human life in the world, and if all those who fulfill mitzvot were to merit revealed miracles – free choice would be eliminated. Therefore, the Divine blessing is revealed in the world naturally, in a way that man invests all his talents and energy in his work, and God sends him a blessing in the work of his hands, as the Torah says: “God your Lord will then bless you in everything that you do” (Deuteronomy 14:29).

However, a person who is negligent in his work – even if he gives maaser kesafim, he will not get rich. According to the effort a person makes at work, so is the blessing: one who works like others, neither lazily nor over-diligently, will receive a mediocre blessing in his mediocre work. But whoever works diligently, and puts a lot of thought into advancing his dealings – will merit great blessing by way of maaser kesafim.

Those Who Give Incorrectly

In practice, from what I have observed, the words of the Torah have been fulfilled by the vast majority of those who give maaser kesafim, and they receive the blessing of wealth. Admittedly, there were cases in which I was approached by people who tried giving maaser and were not negligent in their work, but nevertheless, did not merit blessing – the burden of earning a living was extremely difficult, and they came to consult with me about what to do.

However, in all these cases it turned out that they had not acted properly, and gave the maaser to purposes that are not considered tzedakah (charity), such as to relatives who were not really in need, or to dubious organizations, or they gave donations to yeshivas that educate their students improperly, and not in line with the parents’ worldview – for example, the parents recognized the sacred value of yishuv ha’aretz (the settlement of the Land of Israel), while the yeshiva to whom they donated, did not. How can they receive a blessing from a donation to study that rejects their way of thinking? Just as the Torah commanded that each person give his terumot and maasrot to Kohanim and Levites who guide him and whom he follows, so too a person should donate to yeshivas that share his views. And if a person gives tzedakah to unworthy purposes – he does not receive reward for it, and occasionally, there is even a side of transgression, because he helps ovrei aveira (assisting a transgresser) to continue to deceive the public (see Bava Kama 16b).

In addition, usually people who do not give maaser for the right purposes, also tend to spend their money negligently. Apparently, these things are interdependent: since they did not give tzedakah properly, they also did not merit spending their money properly, and ultimately, lose on both ends.

Children’s Education Should Not be Paid from Maaser Kesafim

Here we come to a painful problem. Many people are mistaken and think it is possible to use maaser kesafim for the education of children, and this is wrong. A person is not allowed to pay the costs of one of his mitzvot from maaser kesafim. For example, it is forbidden to buy tefillin from maaser kesafim, tzitzit, arba minim (the four species for Sukkot), and the like. It is also forbidden to pay for the Torah education of children from maaser kesafim, since it is a mitzvah from the Torah that parents make sure their children learn Torah and are educated to keep mitzvot and have good middot (virtues), and as long as they have not completed putting them on the path of Torah, they have not fulfilled the mitzvah. Today, education is more complex than in the past, and in order to put children on the traditional path of Torah-true Judaism, parents must look after their Torah study and education up to the age of eighteen, and for boys, up to the age of about twenty.

Thus, the payments that parents spend for their children during all those years cannot be accounted as maaser kesafim. It is true that in Shulchan Aruch Harav (Hilchot Talmud Torah 1: 7) it is written that if parents sent their child to study Torah in another city, then the payment for the study cannot be accounted as maaser kesafim, but payment for food costs could come from maaser. However, his remarks were made about young boys who were already used to bearing the burden of earning a living, and consequently, their upkeep beyond what was acceptable could come from maaser kesafim.  Today, however, the generally accepted practice is to support children up to the age of eighteen, and it is even required by law, and thus, cannot be paid for with maaser kesafim.

However, with regard to the post-eighteen-year stage, b’shaat ha’tzorech (when necessary), the amount relevant to his upkeep in dormitory can be considered as ‘maaser kesafim’.

Hidur of Education Should Not be Paid from Maaser

Some parents pay for Talmud Torah for their child from maaser kesafim, claiming that they could have sent him to a free State-Religious school, therefore the extra payment for Talmud Torah is calculated from maaser kesafim. However, this claim is also incorrect, and just as someone who can buy plain tefillin for a thousand shekels but chooses to buy mehudarot (highest level) tefillin for two thousand shekels – cannot pay the extra from maaser kesafim, so too, one cannot pay for the extra hiddur in education from maaser money. This is because maaser money is meant to support talmidei chachamim who study and teach the general public, and not their own children – similar to how in the past the Kohanim and Levites who would teach Torah to all of Israel were supported by terumot and maasrot, and not as a payment for the education of their children.

True, there are rabbis who permit paying for Talmud Torah from maaser money. However, beyond the fact that I think they are wrong as far as halakha is concerned, it seems clear that if we examine whether those who listen to them receive the blessing of wealth, we see they don’t. And since concerning the parsha of maaser it is said “test me in this,” and investigating shows there is no blessing, this is not the correct purpose of masaer kesafim.

The Poor are Exempt from Maaser Kesafim

Although a poor person is exempt from the mitzvoth of maaser, someone who has a reasonable salary, and even less than the average, is not considered poor, and consequently, is obligated to give maaser, and it is forbidden for him to pay for the education of his children from maaser money.

And who knows what damage has been caused by this mistake, that as a result of paying for Talmud Torah from maser money, numerous schools were forsaken, and thus Clal Yisrael was hurt, because many children did not receive a good education, and the parents also did not merit receiving the blessing of wealth in giving maaser. Perhaps if they had made sure to donate the maaser for Torah teachers to Clal Yisrael and for the poor, and had taken care to improve the State-run schools for the public at large, then the masses of Jews would have come closer to Torah and mitzvot, and all would have risen together, for “a few who fulfill the mitzvot of the Torah cannot compare with the many who fulfill the mitzvot of the Torah” (Sifra, Bechukotei 1:2).

However, when it is impossible to raise the school to the required level, and it is not possible to provide a suitable Torah education, there is no choice but to send the children to a private Talmud Torah, and if the parents are not able to pay for Talmud Torah and in addition, set aside maaser kesafim, then law for the parents is similar to that of the poor, who are exempt from maaser.  However, since in practice they do not give maaser, they will also not merit receiving the blessing of wealth. Therefore, if possible, it is better for them to move to a place where a good education can be provided within the school, and thus, they will be able to fulfill the mitzvah of maaser.

Reduce the Cost of Education

The Dati Leumi (National-Religious) public could make a kiddush Shem Shamayim (sanctify God) in the right combination of Torah and mitzvot with science and work and serve as an example and role model for the foreseeable blessing of those who walk in the ways of Torah – who are privileged to give value and meaning to parnasa (earning a living) and contribute to yishuvo shel ha’olam (the welfare of society), and as a result, are privileged to rejoice in all the good that God has created. However, the high costs of education sink many into a state of poverty and deprivation, preventing them from giving maaser and becoming wealthy. Incidentally, economic hardship can also cause children to leave religion. Therefore, we must strive to build an effective and inexpensive educational system based on State frameworks, that will be enriched by the community with numerous and varied Torah classes in all synagogues (today, via Zoom) before the Mincha and Maariv prayers, as is Jewish tradition. In this way, Torah knowledge will increase, as well as economic blessing, and parents will be able to provide their children with an excellent education, live well, and sanctify Shem Shamayim through their good lives.

For halakhic questions: ask@yhb.org.il

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

Decency and Morality in the Profession of Journalism

Although in the media there are journalists who act maliciously and rudely, the public makes allowance for weighs this, preferring this reality over authorities devoid of criticism * God-fearing people should not despise the profession of journalism, rather, enlist to do it in a decent way for the benefit of the public * Eight rules of morality for a journalist

In two articles in the last month, I explained the importance of having a free and diverse media, one which criticizes government institutions and individuals holding power and authority. This is because society as a whole has agreed that rather than appointing divisions of policemen and judges to oversee all government offices and all those in power, and then appoint more divisions of policemen and judges to oversee the policemen and judges, the media would have freedom to examine all those in power to deter them from breaking the law, and if they did, publicly condemn them, and encourage the police to search for incriminating evidence about them.

Admittedly, if we had a court system that all segments of society accepted, and it had the power to examine every claim and obtain evidence while keeping the witnesses unharmed – it would be possible to investigate each claim more reliably and fairly, and consequently, there would be no heter (halachic permission) to publicly criticize those in power. However, as long as society, including the religious and Haredi public, has failed to establish such a court system, it is right to accept public approval of the need to have a free media, because this approval actually creates a more moral situation than in one where there is no free media (see, Rabbi Naftali Bar Ilan’s book ‘Regime and State in Israel According to the Torah’ Chapters 79-80).

The Moral Responsibility of Journalists

Admittedly, by nature of the profession, quite a few journalists are of bad character; people who enjoy hurting others, or as Rabbeinu Yonah wrote about baalei lashon ha’ra (habitual slanderers), that they are like flies drawn to dirty places, in order to spread lashon ha’ra and hurt people (Shaarei Teshuvah 3: 217). And because of their lust to publish derogatory statements that cause harm to others, their reports often contain a lie, or at the very least, a severe bias. Despite this, society has chosen to let anyone who is willing to act according to the accepted rules to be a journalist, and search for offenses and crimes among those in power and authority. Not by chance, journalists are called by the unflattering term ‘watchdogs’, because quite often they resemble violent dogs, who, lacking humanity and compassion, viciously sink their teeth into the prey they have found. And nevertheless, because of the public benefit of doing so, society is in favor of releasing hunting dogs into the open, in order to seek and sniff out corruption and injustice, and save society from the hands of people with power and authority.

In other words, the license to have a free media does not absolve the journalist from the moral responsibility for his actions. And even if he acted according to the accepted rules of law – if he acted wickedly, cruelly enjoying to brutalize the victims caught in his net, and used the rules to harm them unjustly, he is a rasha (evil person), and in the World of Truth will be punished very severely, as baalei lashon ha’ra are judged.

God-Fearing Journalists

Despite this, the profession of journalism must not be treated as a despicable profession that every God-fearing person should loathe. Since having a free media is valuable and beneficial to the betterment of society, it is fitting that moral and God-fearing people engage in it, so that it fulfills its role in a helpful and benevolent way. Therefore, we must find out the moral path according to the Torah to work in the media, and the basis for this is the prohibitive rules of speaking lashon ha’ra (defamation), together with the heter and mitzvah to speak lashon ha’ra for constructive purposes.

A Journalists’ Doctrine

First of all, as in all professions, one’s initial intention should be le’Shem Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven) – to add goodness and blessing to the world. All the more so for one who chooses the profession of journalism which is liable to arouse bad and cruel qualities in a person, he should remind himself from time to time that the purpose of his work is to benefit society and people, and save them from those with power who might harm and exploit them (as stated in the book ‘Chafetz Chaim’, 10: 5, ibid, 10: 14, where the fifth condition is the main aspect upon which the heter rests).

Second, a journalist must adhere to the truth, and be careful that the desire to publish an interesting article will not cause him to waive the necessary inquiries, or to exaggerate in describing the case, or the condemnation of the subject. And whenever he has doubt, he should present things as they appear to him, honestly and humbly, without attempting to claim that it is the absolute truth (as quoted in ‘Chafetz Chaim’ 10: 2, in details 1, 2, 4).

Third, if it turns out that he was wrong in his criticism, he must be quick to apologize for it publicly, and in all sincerity. Yet, a journalist should not be ashamed of having to apologize from time to time, for indeed by nature of his work, since he has no authority to interrogate and summon witnesses, he will often err in his assessment and reporting, and as long as he tries to adhere to the truth – he performs his job faithfully, and all left to him is to quickly apologize for his mistake, in all sincerity and in full public.

Fourth, a journalist, as well as media consumers, must always remember that media reports are questionable, because media tasks are done at a rapid pace, without the ability to investigate and enforce, and it is possible that when additional facts are discovered, the whole story will change. Therefore, similar to the heter to speak lashon ha’ra for constructive purposes, a journalist is permitted to report, and media consumers are permitted to hear and read his reports, provided they accept these things as a warning worth taking into account, but nothing more.

Fifth, a God-fearing journalist must sometimes consider the subjects’ condition, and in rare cases, when it turns out that public criticism of the subject will cause him or his family terrible harm, while on the other hand the public benefit of publishing the criticism is not particularly important, he should avoid publishing it, and find more subdued ways to resolve the problem (similar to what is explained in ‘Chafetz Chaim’ 10: 1, in the seventh detail).

Sixth, he should make sure to criticize only public figures and those in power whose actions are liable to cause harm to the public, while avoiding criticizing offenses and failings of private individuals whose actions have no direct public impact. Correction of personal sins committed in a private setting should be done personally and in secrecy, between the sinner and his friends, and not by public condemnation in the media.

Seventh, he must judge the subject fairly, according to the commandment of the Torah (Leviticus 19:15): “Judge your people fairly.” In other words, it is not enough to look at the particular act being criticized and judge it honestly; rather, one must make an effort to familiarize himself with the subjects’ overall personality and his actions, and in light of this, examine the act being investigated. Devoid of this, fair judgement cannot be exercised. In this regard, the position of halakha is different from the usual. According to the superficial way of thinking, it is sufficient to examine the individual case that is being investigated; however, the truth is contingent on the entirety, and ignoring it, leads to error and injustice. Therefore, for example, a criticism of a person who is known as a tsaddik (a righteous person), should be made only after a multifold examination, for it is unlikely the testimony about his sin is correct (Rambam’s Commentary on Mishnayot, Avot 1: 6; Shaarei Teshuvah 3: 218).

Eighth, the intensity of criticism should be commensurate with the severity of the crime or injustice. Unlike many members of the media, who, whenever they find a shortcoming, even a minor one, and easy to correct – by virtue of the claim of din pruta ke’din meah (figuratively, a small case is just as important as a big case), they publicize it openly, and even disqualify a person because of it, despite all his rights. A God-fearing journalist must know that din pruta ke’din meah is stated about judges, but the media are not judges, rather, emissaries who are meant to benefit the public, and therefore it is their duty to distinguish between insignificant and significant cases.

For example, not to disqualify a senior and successful commander because he did not keep a certain procedure that is not so severe. Media criticism of this kind are more harmful to the public than beneficial, for they cause mediocre people to remain in the system who strictly observe the rules, but fail in battle and cause losses. Criticism of petty matters are liable to result in the dismissal of a senior bureaucrat who could prevent the unemployment of thousands of people, just because he was not meticulous in keeping a certain regulation. Although he deserves to be punished for violating the regulation, he should not be fired for it. Therefore, in the case of a non-serious violation of procedures, it is better to treat it in private, or at the very least, to emphasize in the media criticism the subjects’ virtues, and express a moral position that he should not be fired as a result, so that his superiors are not forced to fire him under pressure from the media, and thereby harm the public..

The Immense Responsibility

We find then, that the role of journalists is important and complex. As long as they have the public’s interest in mind, and are precise in their words, and fairly criticize decisions and actions of public figures – they fulfill a mitzvah.

If they criticized out of ridicule or hatred – even when their reports are beneficial to the public, they have transgressed.

If they exaggerate and tilt from the truth – they have transgressed a severe offense, because in their exaggeration, they also caused harm to the public.

Similarly, if they published negative information about a private individual that is of no benefit to the public – they have transgressed the severe sin of lashon ha’ra. And the greater the insult, the more severe the transgression.

And in spite of everything, in general, having a free media benefits the public, and even immoral journalists are indirectly beneficial, for people learn to be careful because “there is an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your deeds are written in a book.”

The Importance of Decent Journalists

When decent journalists condemn the wicked, in order to prevent them from continuing to transgress, they fulfill the mitzvah to rebuke the wicked, which is necessary for Tikun Olam. Without it, it is impossible to defeat the wicked, including delinquent journalists and media outlets. For ostensibly, every struggle between a tzaddik (righteous person) and a rasha (wicked person) is supposed to end in the victory of the rasha, because the rasha allows himself to use lies and all other improper means to defeat the tzaddik, whereas the hands of the tzaddik are bound by the rules of justice and fairness. Nevertheless, the tzaddik has one advantage: the moral advantage. He can define the views of the rasha as evil. And since values ​​carry crucial weight, this moral determination will lead to the victory of the tzaddikim. But if the tzaddikim neglect the media arena, and waive their right to define the views of the rashaim as evil and condemn them, they have no chance of defeating them.

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

A Crying for Generations

The notion that Torah and action can be separated is the root of the mistake that led to the Sin of the Spies * Those who refused to immigrate to Israel in the early days of Zionism were partners in the modern-day Sin of the Spies, for which we pay the price to this day * Baseless hatred, for which the Temple was destroyed, is also a reflection of the Sin of the Spies * When Tisha B’Av falls on Erev Shabbat, preparations for Shabbat may begin as early as the morning

On Tisha B’Av, the Generation of the Desert chose to believe the Spies, who claimed that the People of Israel would not have the power to conquer the Land: “The entire community raised a hubbub and began to shout. That night, the people wept” (Numbers 14:1). As a result of their sin, it was decreed that all men of military age would die in the wilderness and not get to see ha’aretz ha’tova (the good Land), and only after their corpses fell in the desert were their children able to enter the Land with Yehoshua son of Nun and Calev son of Yefuneh, who did not participate in the sin. At that moment God said, ” You have wept without cause: therefore will I appoint a weeping to you for future generations” (Sanhedrin 104b). In other words, if the Sin of the Spies was not rectified, the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) would be destroyed, Israel would be exiled from their Land, and the Jews would mourn for generations on Tisha B’Av (Taanit 26b; Tanchuma, ‘Shlach’).

The Root of the Sin

The root of their sin was that they did not understand the value of Eretz Yisrael, and did not love it, as stated: “They despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe His word” (Psalms 106:24). One who does not love the Land dodges the need to fight for it, and tends to be easily convinced it is impossible to conquer and settle it. He will find many reasons to strengthen his position, but in truth, the main motive is that Eretz Yisrael is not important to him, and consequently, he is not willing to dedicate himself to its settlement.

This is true in all areas of life. For example, one who does not appreciate Torah study will find it difficult to study it diligently, both in the early phase of learning the fundamentals, and also later on in life in when required to set times for Torah study, particularly on Shabbat Kodesh. Someone who does not value the importance of academic studies will be incapable of finding the inner strength to pursue their completion. One who does not appreciate the significance of combat service will not be able to find the inner strength to withstand arduous training, preparing him to become a fighter. A person who does not appreciate the value of family life will not be able to find the strength to seal a marriage covenant, and establish a family. All these people will find a thousand excuses for themselves, but the real reason is – they simply do not want to.

Heresy in Belief in the Unity of God

The unique value of Eretz Yisrael is that in it, complete emunah (faith) in the unity of God is revealed. In other words, in Eretz Yisrael, emunah is revealed in all areas of life: in Torah, in work, in science, in art, in the life of the individual and the community, the Clal, and the state. On the other hand, the sin of avodah zara (idol worship) is that it divides and separates the world into different domains and different idols. The greatest separation in the world is the separation between spiritual and material. Therefore, one who lives in Chutz L’Aretz (outside of Israel), in a place where there is no sacred inspiration of kedusha (holiness) in worldly life, is considered as one who serves foreign idols, and has no God (Ketubot 110b).

The sin of the Spies was that they thought that life in the desert was more sacred than life in Eretz Yisrael, and consequently, it would be better for Israel to remain in the desert and study in the ‘kollel’ of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Seventy Elders; in the morning, they would eat manna, and in the evening slav (quail). However, the Torah commanded us to enter the Land, because the entire purpose of the Creation of the World is to reveal the belief in God’s unity in all areas of life; to enjoy and rejoice in all the good that God created, and to further rectify and perfect it. For this purpose, God chose his nation, Israel, to declare the glory of God by entering the Land, and fulfilling the sacred values ​​in all areas of life, and consequently, the entire world will be rectified and redeemed.

The Terrible Price of the Sin of the Spies Nowadays

Today, just as in the past, the price of choosing not to make aliyah (immigrate) to Eretz Yisrael when possible, is grave. As I wrote three weeks ago, but nonetheless, is worth repeating a thousand times: about a hundred and twenty years ago at the time of the establishment of the Zionist movement, the Jewish people numbered approximately eleven million. The Arabs who lived in all areas of the Biblical borders, including Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, numbered a little more than five million, while on both sides of the Jordan, there was just a little more than half a million Arabs. At that time the Jewish nation had the opportunity to return to Eretz Yisrael, and flourish and multiply in it. However, almost all of the nation remained in the Diaspora, suffered the Holocaust, the rule of Communist oppression, and assimilation – whether under duress, or voluntarily. Today, there about fifteen million declared Jews throughout the entire world, and in Israel, approximately seven million. In contrast, the Arabs in the vicinity of Eretz Yisrael grew from five million to over eighty million.

The Breach Began with the Sin of the Golden Calf

The breach that led to the Sin of the Spies began with the Sin of the Golden Calf, which occurred a year earlier on the 17th of Tammuz. Moshe Rabbeinu failed to descend Mount Sinai at the expected time; the people were left with doubts and the need to establish an alternative to the previous leadership. In the Generation of the Desert, the sin was in the placing of a golden calf designed to express faith in a tangible way; had Moshe Rabbeinu not come down from the mountain and prevented the breach, the nation might have been scattered to fragments of pagan beliefs.

In contemporary times the tide of modernity has swept the world; the light of Moshe Rabbeinu’s Torah has hidden itself in the purity of the misty clouds, and the tendency to seek a substitute – a golden calf – once more, has arisen. The righteous holy souls stood guard over pure emunah without seeking go-betweens, while maintaining hope and commitment to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael. However, many Jews began to look for alternatives or additions to belief in God’s unity. Some were drawn after new ‘golden calves’ of rationalism, liberalism, communism, and a variety of reforms. On the opposing side, in the face of modernist leaders taking responsibility, there were those who tried to preserve religion by inventing new golden-calf ‘prohibitions’: not to immigrate to Israel, not to enlist in the Israeli army, not to study science, and not to engage in yishuvo shel olam (betterment of society). Even someone who was privileged to immigrate to Israel and in practice contributes to the multiplicity of the Jewish nation and yishuv ha’aretz – as long as his emunah does not match his actions and he considers the situation of the Jews in Israel as a state of galut (exile) – he is in need of profound repentance.

Baseless Hatred is Parallel to the Sin of Despising the Land

Parallel to the sin of despising the Land, there is also the sin of baseless hatred. Both stem from the same root – the idolatrous concept that holiness is revealed only in some areas of life. In consequence, involvement in yishuv ha’aretz is not considered important, segments of the nation are alienated – Haredi’s, settlers, seculars, leftists, socialists – and various circles, such as the Reform and Conservative, are boycotted.

Admittedly, involvement in yishuv ha’aretz and enlisting in the army encompasses difficulties. However, this is the challenge we face – to reveal emunah in all areas of life. Connection to all segments of the nation also involves difficulties and debates over the principles of the Torah, morality and our Jewish identity; however, the Torah teaches us that the entire nation of Israel were chosen to reveal God’s unity, and even the wicked are called sons of God. Someone who ignores this, who does not respect the various segments of the nation, denies the belief in the unity of God and the Torah, because only through the entire nation of Israel can the belief in the Unity of God be revealed. And when we are not worthy, Torah is revealed by way of arguments and sins, as we have learned that even from Israel’s sins, entire passages in the Torah were written. We find then, that one who separates himself from segments of the nation it is as if he uproots passages from the Torah, because only by dealing with the positive element in sin, and in groups that espouse this idea, can repentance and rectification be achieved.

Torah Study on Shabbat

The root of the Sin of the Spies lies in the aspirations of holiness. For although it is quite nice to speak loftily about the revelation of holiness in life, however, in practice, preoccupation with everyday life may distance a person from the Torah, and his Torah learning and observance of mitzvot is liable to be weakened.

This is why God gave us Shabbat, so that on it, we could engross ourselves in Torah study in conjunction with the pleasure of the meals and rest, and by doing so, we reveal the kedusha (sanctity) in both the soul and body, as our Sages stated: Shabbat should be divided “half for eating and drinking, and half for the Beit Midrash” (Pesachim 68b).

Similarly, our Sages said: “The Torah said to God, ‘When the Jews enter the Land of Israel, one will run to his vineyard, and another to his field. What will be with me?’ God replied, ‘I have a match for you, and its name is Shabbat. Because they are not working for a whole day, they have time to learn you.’” (Tur, O.C. 290). In other words, this is not just an excuse to appease the Torah, rather, like an educator, the Torah’s question is intended to inspire us to understand the deeper meaning of Eretz Yisrael and Shabbat. By studying Torah on Shabbat, out of oneg (pleasure) and peace of mind, which results from engaging in the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, the words of Torah will be revealed in their full meaning and blessing. Thus, yishuv ha’aretz does not cause bitul Torah (cancellation of Torah), rather, it provides a further understanding of Torah – to beautify and increase Torah, and sanctify God’s Name throughout the world.

Therefore, we must make every effort to dedicate half of Shabbat to Torah. The accusations against dedicating Shabbat as a day of Torah study are immense. However, our lives depend on it. This is the way to elevate work, and this is the way to fulfill the grand vision of Am Yisrael in revealing the Unity of God in the Land.

The Laws of the 10th of Av that Falls Out on Friday

Since the majority of the Temple actually burned on the tenth of Av, the people of Israel have a custom not to eat meat or drink wine on that date. According to Sephardic custom, the prohibition lasts the entire day, while Ashkenazim observe this custom only until midday.

Most Achronim maintain that, in addition to refraining from meat and wine, one may not wash clothes, wear freshly laundered garments, take haircuts, listen to joyous music, or bathe in hot water on the tenth of Av. One may, however, wash oneself with lukewarm water. Some authorities rule leniently, prohibiting only the consumption of meat and wine, while permitting bathing, haircutting, and laundering, without limitation. Ideally, one should follow the stricter opinion, but one may act leniently under pressing circumstances.

When the Tenth of Av falls out on a Friday, one is allowed to take a haircut, do laundry, and bathe, in preparation for Shabbat, starting from the morning. And if one is pressed for time, he may even start preparing immediately after Tish’a B’Av ends (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 10:19).

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

Freedom of Press and Constructive Lashon Hara

The conditions for speaking lashon hara for a constructive purpose does not apply in a situation where strict adherence to the conditions will completely offset its achievement * Media reporting is of greater importance in democratic states, than in small communities * The media was initially devised by people with leftist views, therefore it is especially important to balance it with positive values

In the previous article I explained the importance of a free and diverse media, to critique government institutions and people with power and authority. And although it involves admonishing others, and often the reports are inaccurate and sometimes even erroneous, nevertheless, based on two halakhic foundations, freedom of press is permissible, and even proper: 1) Because of the public benefit of the media, on account of which those in authority and power are reluctant to commit crimes in order to further themselves or those close to them at the expense of the public. 2) Recognizing the numerous benefits of having a free press, the public in democracies agreed to allow the media to operate, and consequently, it functions within the framework of the rule ‘dina d’malakhuta dina’ (the law of the country is binding).

Nevertheless, in order for the criticism to be within reasonable limits, basic rules of fairness were established: members of the press only deal with individuals and institutions that the public benefits by shedding light on information about them; the journalist must check the information in his possession, as well as give those criticized the right to respond; and of course, those censured have the right to recruit journalists to help them retaliate (somewhat like the ‘invisible hand’ of Adam Smith).

Following the previous article, I received a number of important comments and questions. I will present a few of the arguments, and attempt to contend with them.

The Rules of Lashon Hara (Defamation)

The main argument is that according to what is explained in the book ‘Chofetz Chaim‘ (Rule 10:1, 14), working in the media necessarily involves the prohibition of lashon hara. And although in principle it is permissible to speak lashon hara for a constructive purpose, there are seven conditions for this, and upholding them does not allow for a free press. These are the conditions: 1) The speaker must have witnessed the incident himself, rather than knowing about it from rumor. 2) The speaker should reflect thoroughly that he has indeed understood correctly what happened. 3) The speaker should first approach the transgressor privately and rebuke him with gentle language, and only if the transgressor does not listen, when it is beneficial, is it permissible to defame him. 4) Not to exaggerate or lie even a little. 5) The speaker must have pure intentions (“to’elet,” lit. “purpose”), and not out of hatred or revenge. 6) If the purpose of speaking lashon hara can be achieved in another way rather than speaking it, it is forbidden to speak lashon hara. 7) By speaking lashon hara, the transgressor should not be caused more damage than would be appropriate as determined by a Beit Din (court of Jewish law) reviewing the case.

Ostensibly, a journalist cannot uphold these rules, since his scoops are usually not based on cast-iron certainty, and consequently, it ends up he violates the first and second conditions. Seemingly, the third and sixth condition also cannot be met, since a journalist does not first try to admonish the offender, and does not check to see whether the damage can be prevented in another way. If he were to try, chances are the offender would apologize and commit to change his ways, or find another way to prevent the publication. But in practice, he may very well continue to break the law without the journalist having a way to continue monitoring him. Thus, if a journalist acts in accordance with the third and sixth conditions, he will betray his job as a journalist, and fail in deterring offenders. The seventh condition cannot be met either, since according to it, one can speak lashon hara only if the offender is not caused more damage than would be appropriate as determined by a Beit Din. In practice, there is no way to know what damage will be caused as a result of the publication, because it depends on the status of the offender, public opinion, the timing of publication, and numerous other factors.

The Heter According to Halakha

However, it seems that in principle, even according to what is explained in the book ‘Chofetz Chaim’, it is permissible to maintain a free press, because all the conditions are based on to’elet, and if the to’elet cannot be achieved according to the seven conditions – as long as the goal is for the benefit, the ‘Chofetz Chaim‘ also agrees that one may speak lashon hara without them.

I will illustrate with an extreme example: Reuven asked Shimon if he should do business with Nimrod. Simon does not know if it’s true or not, but he heard a rumor that Nimrod’s three former partners had been murdered and their bodies buried in the concrete foundations of high-rise buildings. If he were to tell this rumor, it would turn out that he transgressed most of the conditions, because the rumor is uncertain, and he also did not try to admonish Nimrod, etc. Could it be forbidden to tell this rumor?

A less extreme example: Nimrod’s three former partners, who were extremely wealthy, went bankrupt while Nimrod doubled his fortune every time. Nimrod is rumored to have deceived them and incriminated them unlawfully, and they remain silent because Nimrod promised them a salary for the rest of their lives in exchange for their silence. The rumors of course are unfounded. Could it be that for this reason Shimon is forbidden to warn Reuven about Nimrod?!

Another example: Reuven asks Shimon if he should make a shidduch for his daughter to x. Shimon believes that x is a con artist, corrupt, and violent. The problem is that Shimon hates x, and thus, according to the fifth condition that speaking the lashon hara be with pure intent, he is forbidden to tell this to Reuven. Could it be that according to halakha, Shimon should say nothing and allow Reuven’s daughter to marry x, who may be a violent criminal?!

To put it another way, the seven conditions lay down rules of principle, but the overriding condition of all of them is the consideration of benefit to others. Consequently, when it comes to a significant risk to others – even when the conditions are not met, the questioner must be saved from the concern of danger or damage.

Life in a Small Community versus a State Framework

All this refers to damage caused to a single person – how much more so when speaking of the media, which deals with saving the public. If we delve deeper into the examples given in the tenth rule in the ‘Chofetz Chaim’, we find that it is speaking about a framework of life in a small community where there is almost no need to speak lashon hara when it is uncertain, because everyone knows each other, and even without being told a rumor, people usually know to beware of cheaters and exploiters. In addition, even when the person asked remains silent because he does not know how to answer with certainty, the questioner can understand from his silence that there is room for concern. Also, since these are people who know each other personally, the possibility of first admonishing the transgressor or preventing the damage in other ways, is a reasonable possibility, and there is no need to spread the lashon hara publically.

Nowadays, however, thanks to means of transportation and communication, people live in much larger settings. If there was no free press, people would be able to lie and deceive a very large populace who are unable to get to know them personally. And one of the effective means against such individuals is a free and hard-hitting media. Thus, according to the basic principle of speaking lashon hara for benefit, in large settings it is necessary to have a media that blows the whistle and is critical, although, with a warning attached that matters reported on are indefinite, and only after a police investigation and legal inquiry can more reliable information be obtained. And this is indeed the credibility the public attributes to the media – limited trust.

Should There Be a Free Press in a Religious Society

Some argue that although a free press in secular society is valuable, but should be avoided in religious society. For in religious society, when a person has a claim against another, a public figure, or an institution, he must bring his claim before a Beit Din (court of Jewish law) or a rabbi, and not make it public. And since it is forbidden to have a free press in a religious society, consequently, it is also forbidden to read or pay attention to investigations dealing with the religious society.

This claim is important, and I wish we were able to act accordingly, but it seems to be possible only in an ideal society where the Beit Din has the authority to examine every claim, and all of the religious and Haredi public – with all their various factions – are obliged to accept the Beit Din’s exclusive jurisdiction. In our current situation, however, there is no Beit Din agreed upon, until quite often, the factions of the religious and Haredi public turn to the secular courts to resolve difficult disputes. Not only that, but since the Haredi and religious public does not have a free press according to the accepted format, it has problematic replacements, in the form of street ads or partisan newspapers that avoid any criticism of those close to them, and defame opponents disproportionately. A free press cannot prevent all the problems, but it could improve to some degree the ability to correct them. For in a state of partisan rivalry, the criticism leveled is sweeping, extreme, and one-sided, lacking the ability to focus on the real problems of good governance, and individual or institutional corruption. It turns out that sometimes people who are more committed to moral values, ​​are unable to overcome public or institutional fraudulence due to a lack of effective public criticism.

The Worldwide Problem of Conservatives

In general, those with a religious and conservative stance tend to criticize the free and critical press, because it harms the dignity of those in authority, and because it is recalcitrant and unsupervised. On the other hand, those with left-wing liberal positions willingly support the free press, since from the liberal side that advocates freedom, the value of freedom of expression is implicit, and from the leftist side fighting for equality, any harm of power or authority is a positive thing intended to promote equality. The upshot is that the media as a whole was built on the values ​​of the liberal left, and most journalists are predisposed to harshly criticize groups and personalities that represent values ​​of religion, nationalism, tradition, family and conservatism, which from their point of view endangers the values ​​of liberty and equality. In practice, the outcome is that the media throughout the world is very left-leaning.

The solution: understanding the positive value of the media and creating quality, right-wing and religious media which will utilize the media’s beneficial tools to reinforce positive values, ​​and for harsh criticism when these values ​​are harmed by movements, institutions, or individuals.

With the help of God, I will dedicate another article to the rules of morality worthy of journalists and media consumers in accordance with halakha.

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

The Media and Journalists in Halakha

Working in journalism almost unavoidably involves the publication of information prohibited under the dry rules of the laws of lashon ha’ra * Nevertheless, in a democratic state its role has been shown to be essential to maintaining the integrity of elected officials, and strengthening the rule of the people * Consequently, it appears that having a free press is permitted and even a mitzvah, both in terms of its usefulness, and its wide acceptance by the general public

The issue of the media is central to our public lives. There are two principle questions pertaining to it: 1) According to halakha, is there room for a free press that engages in criticism and publication of unfavorable things about people and organizations; or, in a state governed by halakha, due to the prohibition of lashon ha’ra (slander) a free press is forbidden? 2) Assuming that a free press is not prohibited, is being a journalist an unethical job, or acceptable under certain conditions? To answer these two questions, the prohibition of lashon ha’ra must first be defined, and conversely, the role of the media.

The Rules of Lashon Ha’ra and Rechilut (Gossip)

There are three parts to the prohibition: rechilut (gossip), lashon ha’ra (slander), and hotza’at shem ra (libel) (Rambam Hilchot De’ot 7: 2). The least severe of the prohibitions is rechilut, i.e., reporting on the private life of an individual, which does not necessarily have a negative side, but infringes on the person’s privacy. More severe is lashon ha’ra, i.e., a true report of bad deeds or bad behavior of an individual. The most severe is hotza’at shem ra, i.e., publishing evil lies about others.

There are three prohibitions included in the term lashon ha’ra, which is considered one of the most severe sins because it poisons society and all inter-personal relations, to the point where our Sages compared it to the three most severe sins all together – idol worship, incest, and bloodshed – and even worse than them, given that the First Holy Temple was destroyed because of the three sins for seventy years, while the Second Holy Temple was destroyed for baseless hatred and lashon ha’ra for an extremely long period of time (Yoma 9b; Archin 15b).

It is Seemingly Forbidden to be a Journalist

According to this, it would seem there is no heter (halakhic permission) to permit a free press, and no heter to work as a journalist, since this is a profession whose entire goal is to search out flaws in people or groups and publicize them, which is the prohibition of lashon ha’ra. What’s more, since naturally journalists are unable to investigate every story until the end, they will often transgress the sin of hotza’at shem ra. Beyond that, in order to interest media consumers, rechilut is often spoken about famous personalities and leading institutions.

Likewise, because the main job of journalists’ is to find fault with people and publicize it, they are considered baalei lashon ha’ra (habitual speakers of lashon ha’ra), about whom Rabbeinu Yonah wrote that they are like flies which are always attracted to filthy places, and see evil in their friends, and this is a sign that they themselves are evil (Shaarei Teshuvah 3, 217), in the same manner of our Sages statement: ‘Kol haposel, be-mumo posel’ – someone who makes accusations about others will invariably project his own problem on others” (Kiddushin 70a).

And although it is permissible to say things in condemnation of others when it is useful, such as to save a person from falling into a trap in a business deal with a dishonest partner or to marry an unsuitable spouse, after all, according to the explanation in rule ten of the book ‘Chafetz Chaim’ the conditions to speak lashon ha’ra are extremely limited. First, a person is allowed to speak lashon ha’ra only if he had firsthand knowledge of the incident and not to repeat what he heard from others, which is usually not the case with a journalist. Another condition is to rebuke the subject first, that is to say, if the speaker thinks that if he discusses the matter with the offending party directly, there will be a positive outcome, he must speak with him before publicizing the issue to others. If so, it is impossible to have a free press, since everyone who is rebuked will immediately declare he regrets what he did and intends to change his ways, but the journalist has no way to verify his intention. And another condition is that the speaker has constructive intentions, only to be helpful, whereas a journalist earns a living from his disclosures and benefits from them.

The Role of the Media in a Democratic Society

In contrast, we will move on to the positive value journalism: it is commonly agreed that a democratic state cannot exist without freedom of the press, and to that end, society and government must allow, and even encourage, a diverse, independent, and free press. In general, the media has three roles: 1) to inquire. 2) To express viewpoints that can bring about a change in public attitudes. 3) To serve the public by conveying information.

The first role, to inquire, is the most important of the three, and it touches on the question of lashon ha’ra. The media probes the government, which has the power to carry out important matters and even to hide them, and the more power the media has to publish criticism of the government’s actions, the more careful it is not to violate law and morality. The role of the media is also to probe powerful and influential agents such as manufacturers, dealers, leaders in the fields of religion, culture and society and public institutions, which sometimes mislead the public, and the free press can expose their lies, and thereby benefit the public.

In order for the media to fulfill its role, in democracies, it is stipulated by law or by an agreement enshrined in court rulings that except in extraordinary cases, journalists must be granted confidentiality so they will not be required to disclose the source of the information. In other words, even though they obtained the information illegally, out of improper motives of competition and retaliation, there is agreement to waive the enforcement of the law against the leaker of the information. Specifically, there is agreement to waive petty crimes in order to prevent significant damage to the public, and to thwart the major crimes of those in power that the media scrutinizes.

The Benefit in Journalistic Enquiry

The benefit of journalistic enquiry is both on the criminal and moral level. On the criminal level: 1) Instead of placing battalions of police in all places to enforce the law and prevent crime, in a democracy, freedom of press prevents many crimes through the deterrence of publication of investigations. 2) Even after committing crimes, although there is no evidence that can lead to a conviction in court, in consequence of journalistic inquiry, criminals refrain from continuing their actions. 3) Occasionally, thanks to the investigations, evidence emerges that matures into indictments.

And on the moral level: the media investigates acts that are not criminally culpable, but in practice, harm the public, such as investigations of useless products, drugs, and healers, or censure of fraudulent leaders or counselors, thus allowing the public to consider and choose whether to continue believing them.

The Aspect of Mitzvah in the Three Levels

According to this, from three aspects media conducted by halakha fulfills a mitzvah. First, the fear of the media is beneficial as a general rebuke designed to remedy sinners from their transgressions, as the Torah says: “You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). Second, saving people and society in general from corrupt people and groups, as written: “Do not stand still when your neighbor’s life is in danger” (Leviticus 19:16), and this mitzvah also includes the removal of obstacles, and the prevention of harm from others. Third, the moral value of condemning the wicked and acts of injustice, in order to rectify society (Shaarei Teshuvah 3: 218; Chafetz Chaim 10: 4).

The First Foundation for a Heter: The Public Benefit

We find then, there are two grounds for permitting a critical and free press, even when it cannot meticulously guard the conditions explained in the ‘Chafetz Chaim’.

The first foundation: the vast benefit to the general public, for the principle rule in all the laws of lashon ha’ra is that when there is significant benefit, it is permissible to say something derogatory about another person. For example, in order to save him from entering into a partnership with a person whose credibility is in doubt, or from a shidduch (match) with a person whose character traits are not adequate. Similarly, in a democracy, it is permitted for citizens to speak disparagingly of public figures or groups that are conducted improperly, because of the great public benefit of doing so. This benefit concerns everyone, because in a democracy, each individual is a partner in the management of public life, and if he hears that under the responsibility of a certain minister or mayor, acts of corruption or negligence have occurred, he can vote for another candidate (God-willing, on another occasion I will explain how these issues are also consistent with the ‘Chafetz Chaim’).

The Second Foundation: Public Consent

The second foundation: on top of the recognition of the great benefit of having a free press – something that has become clear over many years through trial and error – there has been widespread public agreement in all democracies in favor of a critical, independent, and incisive media. This public consensus holds similar validity to the weight of the well-known rule ‘dina de’malchuta dina’, according to which the government has the right to legislate and impose taxes on citizens, and to punish those who break the law or do not pay tax. And it should not be argued that the government robs the citizens by imposing a tax on them, and infringes on their rights while enacting laws and punishing those who violate them, because all citizens have agreed to waive some of their rights in order to have government rule, for if not, society would crumble, and every man would swallow his neighbor alive. Indeed, citizens who are harmed by the strong arm of the government resent it, still, they do not question its authority, as they also admit and agree that it is better to have a government than the chaos that is liable to prevail without it, and in doing so, give the government the right to legislate and collect taxes.

Similarly, society as a whole has agreed that in order to maintain a democratic government that gives more rights and freedoms to citizens and does less harm, it is necessary to have a free and incisive press, which will protect the citizens from those in power and control who are capable of harming them. And although almost always, those who are harmed by the media feel they have been wronged, they still agree with the principle that a free press is necessary. In such a situation, any person who decides to enter public life, thereby agrees to expose himself to media criticism, because these are the rules society has set.

Summary

In conclusion, even in a state governed by halakha, it is mutar (halachically permissible) and even a mitzvah to maintain a free, divulging, and investigative media – even if the journalists themselves do not fulfill their role out of good motives – provided the condemnation touches on individuals whose activities have a public impact, and the criticism concerns an aspect related to their public influence.

It is still worthwhile to clarify whether, and how, a God-fearing person can engage in such a free and critical media according to the rules of halakha. I will discuss that at another time.

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