Responses to criticism for not having chosen a woman with a large family to light a torch on Yom Ha’atzmaut * A mother of ten children: “The rabbi’s words were like cold water to a weary soul” * Leftist Prof. Ephraim Yaar’s arguments against large families * Is there a principled approach behind the Ministry of Culture’s avoiding honoring mother’s with large families? * Prof. Tzuriel’s research on the educational benefits of children from large families * Blessings over unusual sights: On which mountains and hills should the blessing “Who carries out the work of creation” be recited? * How many times should a blessing be recited when seeing a number of impressive sights on one trip?
Regarding the Affront to Mother’s of Large Families
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the significance of puru u’re’vuru (being fruitful and multiplying), and the immense importance it carries for Israel’s survival and consolidation in its land. At the same time, I criticized the members of the public committee who participated in choosing the torch-bearers for the Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony, that out of all of the fourteen women they chose, not one was a mother with a large family.
There were some women were extremely happy about the honor I bestowed upon those righteous women who dedicate themselves to raising large families. I was told of one woman who pointed out what I had written to her son, a graduate of Yeshiva Har Bracha serving as an officer in the I.D.F., while mentioning how much she enjoys reading the articles.
Another woman wrote me: “Rabbi, thank you so much for what you write about mother’s with large families. Your words are like cold water on a weary soul. As a mother who recently gave birth to her tenth child, ken yirbu, I feel that society often does not appreciate families who are willing to bear upon themselves the enlargement of Am Yisrael, and sometimes, even condemn us. Yasher koach, and thank you” (this reply also answers a young reader who wrote: “With all due respect, Rabbi, why do you constantly badger us with the mitzvoth of puru u’re’vuru and family values?”).
Some readers proposed that as a correction for this, the ‘Basheva‘ newspaper should grant an annual award to a number of mother’s with large families.
Other’s mentioned Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who knew how to be grateful for mother’s blessed with large families, and decided to grant 100 lira (pounds) to each mother giving birth to her tenth child (indeed, it was not an original idea of his, as this was also the practice in the Soviet Union, the homeland of world socialism, who crowned every mother of ten children as a ‘heroic mother’, and gave her privileges and a star of gold).
Those Who Criticized
Some people disapproved, claiming there is no importance whatsoever in having a large family, and on the contrary – by talking about it, men and rabbis adeptly manage to keep women at home, and maintain their rule.
Others argued that the Commission’s entire goal was to encourage equality between men and women, and to show that women can also be as successful as men, and consequently, it was obvious they did not choose a mother blessed with a large family.
Some people objected, claiming that large numbers of children encourages economic and cultural backwardness, and Israeli society does not need to encourage large families, rather, the opposite. There was one person who mentioned the article by the leftist Prof. Ephraim Yaar “Al Mishpachot Beruchot Yeladim” (“On Families Blessed with Many Children”) in which he concludes that it is preferable to call such families ‘mishpachot merubot yeladim’ (families with many children’). In his opinion, “in terms of both benefit and morality, there is no reason the state should encourage families to have large numbers of children and give them assistance through any type of incentives” – since children from such families are more academically, economically, and socially backwards.
The Ideological Basis
Indeed, there is an ideological basis as to why a mother blessed with a large family was not chosen to light a torch: it violates the feminists’ struggle for equality. It emphasizes national and religious values, as opposed to the idea that a person is measured solely by his economic and social accomplishments.
Needless to say, this approach ignores family values and the national importance of having many children, especially after the Holocaust and in view of our coping with a demographic problem. Apparently, leftists like to mention the demographic problem only when it involves encouraging giving parts of the Land of Israel away to the Arabs, and not when it comes to encouraging Jewish births.
The spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture should have clarified the office’s position – was the lack of a mother blessed with a large family among the torch-bearers in the ceremony’s theme ‘A Time for Women’, indeed a fundamental position, or perhaps, a regrettable error? And also, whether the Ministry of Culture intends on finding a way to make amends, by praising the contribution of these precious women, who are privileged to achieve the greatest value of all – dedicating their lives to bringing life into the world, and devoting their days and nights to raising and educating their children, for the glory of the nation and the country.
Breaking the Equation
Unquestionably, we must make an effort to prove that the equation determining that children from large families are more academically and socially backwards is incorrect.
Indeed, Prof. David Tzuriel has shown in his research that there are educational benefits for kids who grew up in a family blessed with many children because they acquire mediated learning, and thus are able to absorb information from different angles, which in turn, enriches their perception. Incidentally, Prof. David Tzuriel from Bar-Ilan University is a religious man who loves his nation and land, while Prof. Ephraim Yaar is a leftist and secular. Perhaps everyone prefers to research what is important to him.
The National Advantage
Most of the studies conducted in the world on the issue of large families are incompatible for the Jewish, religious population, who values learning and contributing to society. Nevertheless, together with having large families, we must strive to accomplish giving them the best possible education, both morally and academically.
In practice, it is clear that families blessed with many children from the religious community contribute greatly to the country. Their children are loyal to the Torah, the nation, and the land; they are full-partners in strengthening Israel’s economy, and the young men strive to serve in combat units. In contrast, Western countries are faced with a severe economic crisis, because together with scientific and economic development they neglected family values, and now they do not have enough young people to continue maintaining their factories and businesses. The situation will only grow worse, and those very people who had fewer children in order to better their economic situation, will have to cope with a significant decline in their standard of living as a result of the crisis in pension funds.
Blessings over Unusual Sights for Travelers
Since many schools conduct annual class trips at this time of year, it is worth mentioning the blessings recited over unusual sights during a trip.
And although lechatchila (ideally), it is appropriate for each traveler to recite a blessing himself, when there is concern that some might forget, one person can recite the blessing and thus fulfill the other traveler’s obligation. Beforehand, they should verify that the person reciting the blessing had not seen the unusual sight thirty days preceding the blessing, because if he had, he cannot bless, for there is no novelty in it for him.
Blessing over Impressive Views
On seeing five impressive landscapes, our Sages decreed the blessing should be recited: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who carries out the work of creation” (‘osheh ma’asey bereshit‘): on seeing mountains, hills, seas, rivers, and deserts (Berachot 54a), because while observing such special landscapes, a person can open up to contemplate on creation, and recite a blessing of praise. And even if someone is not excited about seeing these landscapes – as long as viewing them is considered moving by most people, one is obligated to recite a blessing.
Seas and Rivers
A blessing is recited on four bodies of water in the Land of Israel: the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the Red Sea, and the Dead Sea. But on a lake created by a man-made dam, even if it is extremely large, a blessing is not recited, since the blessing was fixed as praise for the creation of God, and not the works of humans.
A blessing is not recited over rivers in Israel because they are not large enough.
Mountains and Hills
The condition for reciting a blessing over mountains is that they be particularly high in relation to their surroundings. Regarding hills, the condition is their shape is particularly striking; for example, they have steep and sharp cliffs, such as the striking cliffs in the Judean Desert. But over the ordinary mountains in Judea, Samaria and Galilee, a blessing is not recited. However, upon seeing Gamla, Arbel, Masada, and Sartaba, a blessing is recited because of their unique appearance. A blessing is also recited over seeing Mount Tabor, for its height is striking, and its appearance is unique.
Mountains and Hills in Israel
To illustrate this halakha, I will point out the well-known mountains in the Land of Israel that travelers tend to visit. In the Golan Heights — Mt. Hermon, and Gamla. In the Galilee – Arbel, Mt. Hazon, Mt. Atzmon, Mt. Meron (especially from the north), and the Rosh Hanikra ridge (mainly the western part). In Samaria and Judea – Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Eval, Mt. Kabir, Mt. Tamon, Sartaba, Baal Hazor, Kochav Hashachar, Masada, and along the entire length of the Judean Desert cliffs, overlooking the Valley of the Dead Sea. In the Jezreel Valley – Mt. Tabor, and the Gilboa (particularly Mt. Saul); in the Carmel region — Mt. Carmel, in areas where it descends steeply into the Jezreel Valley or the ocean. In the Negev and Eilat – the Makhteshim (craters), looking into them, Mt. Ardon (Ramon Crater), Mt. Shlomo and Mt. Tzfachot.
The desert is a barren and desolate place, where little rain falls. A blessing is also recited over the Judean Desert, provided its appearance elicits an extraordinary reaction, such as while hiking in it and all the surrounding areas are deserted, or going to a lookout point to observe the arid expanses. But a person who sees the desert while routinely driving through, does not recite a blessing.
Seeing Several Sights in One Day
Seeing one large mountain does not hinder reciting a blessing upon seeing another one. For example, if one sees Mt. Hermon, and afterwards travels to the Galilee to see Mt. Meron, he should recite the blessing “oseh ma’aseh bereshit” once again. Only when one sees the same mountain within thirty days, is a blessing not recited.
A person who sees a number of impressive sights requiring a blessing at the same time, recites one blessing over all of them. For example, if a person is in a location where he can clearly see the Kinneret and Mt. Arbel, he recites one blessing over both.
Several Striking Mountains in One Area
A person hiking in an area with a number of unique, similarly shaped hills, seeing as they are all in the same surrounding area and have similar forms, even if he sees them one after the other, he fulfills his obligation for all of them with one blessing.
Concerning impressive landscapes one sees while riding in a vehicle – a person who is impressed by them should recite the blessing ‘oseh ma’asey bereshit‘, and someone who is not moved, should not bless. But if they stop traveling in order to look at them, a blessing must certainly be recited.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.