When Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu Taught Halakha

Longing for the halakha classes of our mentor, Rishon Lezion Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu * Is one allowed to make carrot juice and eggplant salad from fruits and vegetables grown in the shmitta year * Rabbi Eliyahu on shmitta garbage cans: “What? Should we tell people to fill their houses with mosquitoes?!”* Is one allowed to extinguish a havdala candle with shmitta wine * Why it is important to present the position supporting the ‘heter mechira’ without apologies and self-justification * The great merit of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Meir shlita, for working to strengthen the status of the ‘heter mechira’ * The failure of IDF commanders in the pork-eating affair

Our Revered Teacher and Mentor, Rabbi Eliyahu ztz”l

The yarhtzeit of the Rishon Lezion, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l, will be on the 25th of Sivan (Friday).

Over the past year I was privileged to study in depth the laws of shmitta (the Sabbatical year), and with the help of God, I hope to publish a book on the subject next month, in the series of “Peninei Halakha”.

In the course of my studies, I listened to classes given by Rabbi Eliyahu ztz”l on the laws of shmitta (from the ‘Yeshiva‘ website).

I visualized his image, and longing flooded my heart. I remembered how he would give classes in majestic splendor and dignity, with a full sense of responsibility and mission of teaching Torah and halakha to the Jewish People; his entire milieu exuded respect and love for the Torah and its observers. While giving the classes, at times he would intertwine important points with humor and irony, adding joy and delight to his audience at large, and wisdom to the Torah scholars among them. I will try to put into words his speaking style, and anyone who remembers his classes can surely understand the underlying hints.

From the Laws of Shmitta

As is known, fruits grown in the shmitta year are holy and are meant to be eaten in their normal fashion, and anyone who changes them from their normal manner is considered as if he ruins them.

The question is, what constitutes a change in the normal manner of eating, which is forbidden to do with shmitta fruits?

This what Rabbi Eliyahu said: “Concerning carrot juice, people may argue that I changed my mind. In the past, I said it was forbidden to make carrot juice, and now I’m saying that it is permitted. But I have not changed my mind, rather, the reality has changed! In the past, no one would have imagined squeezing carrots for juice, therefore, someone who did so was considered as having misused it. But today, when this is the norm – it is permitted!”

On the question whether it is permissible to puree (‘ree’sook‘, in Hebrew) eggplants to in order to make eggplant salad, he said with a bit of irony: “Regarding eggplant salad, I saw four poskim (Jewish law arbiters). One said: ‘In my life, I’ve never eaten eggplant salad! This is not the way they are meant to be eaten! It is forbidden to puree eggplants!’ The second one said: ‘Myself? Every Shabbat I eat eggplant salad! This is the way they are meant to be ate! They can be pureed!’ The third said: ‘It depends: if you puree them well, until you cannot see the pieces of eggplant, then it’s forbidden. But if you don’t know how to puree well, and don’t use a mixer, then it is permissible, because it is not considered ‘ree’sook‘, but rather a tikun (improvement) of the food.’ The fourth posek came and warned: ‘No! Such a thing should not be done! This is considered an abnormal way of pureeing. It must be pureed in its normal way!’ “So, in short”, Rav Eliyahu ruled, “eggplant salad has become part of our meals, and therefore it is permitted to puree eggplants to make a salad.”

In Regards to Leftover Shmitta Fruit Scraps

As we know, Maran HaRav Kook (Mishpat Kohen 83) wrote that leftover shmitta fruits should not be thrown into a garbage can, because there they become rotten and ruined, to the point where they are inedible.

Concerning this halakha, Rabbi Eliyahu said: “So some say take a container, and put in it everything that has kedushat shevi’it (the sanctity of shmitta), wait till it stinks, until it rots, until it becomes putrid, and in the meantime you’ll have mosquitoes all over your house. And who knows? Maybe they’ll be mosquitoes from swamps infested with diseases! What? Shall we tell a person to fill his house with mosquitoes?! Certainly, this is not the correct thing to do! Rather, one should place the scraps in a bag, and take two coverings as a way of honor – one covering can be made of paper – for the main purpose is to cover the fruit.”

The second covering, although, is a hidur (embellishment of the mitzvah) that Rav Eliyahu added, and most poskim have not written that a second covering is needed.

Giving an Apple to a Child

Rav Eliyahu also explained that one is permitted to give an apple to a child, despite the fact that part of it may go to waste, and it is not considered as if one had ruined the apple, because this is the child’s normal way of eating.

In addition, there is no need to chase after the child and force him to finish the entire apple. Ideally, however, it is better to give him a slice of the apple, in order to reduce the chances that some of it will be thrown away (see, Ma’amar Mordechai 13:15).

Using Shmitta Wine for Havdala and the Seder Night

“Concerning wine of ‘Otzar Beit Din‘ (a framework wherein both the farmer and seller are agents for the local or national Beit Din for cultivating produce and its distribution): a person fills the havdala cup with wine, and his grandmother taught him that on Motzei Shabbat when you fill the cup, you must fill it until the wine spills onto the plate as a siman tov (a good sign)! Or another possibility: His father or mother taught him: If you want to put out the candle – do not blow it out with your mouth! It’s dangerous! Rather, take the candle and extinguish it with the wine that spilled from the cup on the plate. But in the shmitta year, our Sages warned that produce grown is ‘for food’ (to be eaten) – and not to be wasted. So there are Achronim (later authorities) who say, it is forbidden to pour shmitta wine onto the plate and extinguish the candle (so is the opinion of Maran Rav Kook). The second one says: The verse says ‘lachem‘, meaning – for all your needs; if this is one of his needs, he is allowed to pour wine onto the dish to put out the candle. And this is the practical halakha, because when one pours the wine onto the havdala plate and claims that it is for a blessing, this, in any case, entails some type of pleasure. The only problem would be the second cup of the Seder which is spilled while saying ‘Datzach, Adash, Ba’achab‘, which is forbidden. Because then, the wine is spilled because of our enemies. In that case, what type of pleasure does he get from that? Therefore it is forbidden”( Ma’amar Mordechai 13:44-45).

Heter Mechira

Rav Eliyahu believed that we have to use the heter mechira, otherwise, we encounter even larger halachic difficulties.

 And even if one wants to make use of the solution of Otzar Beit Din, he must combine it with the heter mechira, as he explained at length in his book ‘Ma’amar Mordechai,’ chapter 21.

Concerning the status of the Southern Arava and Eilat in the shmitta year, he ruled that they are included in the borders of ‘olei Mitzrayim’, and consequently, the fruits that grow there have the sanctity of kedushat shevi’it, and that it is forbidden to work there in the fields without the heter mechira.

Regarding Thos who Attack the Heter Mechira

In a number of recent articles I clarified the halachic fundamentals of the heter mechira.

There were some readers who attacked me on how I presented the issue. They are accustomed to the heter mechira being written about from an apologetic and self-justifying angle, whereas I place it on the high road, while raising serious questions regarding the opinions of those who dissent, who gathered all the machmir (stringent) opinions in order to prohibit the heter. Not only that, but many of them boycott the heter mechira fruits, in stark contrast to the rules of halakha, because only if they consider the opinions of those who permit the heter null and void, can it be said that the fruits are forbidden. But anyone who considers the opinion of those who permit the heter as being legitimate, has no halachic foundation to prohibit eating fruits from the heter mechira.

Indeed, one of the most prominent features on the way this issue is presented is that those who permit the heter were inclined to conduct themselves with modesty and piety, and out of respect of the for stringent opinion, presented the two opinions as being equal (as written, for example, in the book of Rabbi Tikochinsky ‘Sefer HaShmitta’, and Rabbi Zevin’s ‘L’Or HaHalakha’). In this way, they followed in the footsteps of Rav Kook ztz”l, who conducted himself personally with excessive piety. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l also acted in this same manner, and would interpret the verse “b’charish u’ve’katzir tishbot” (‘even in plowing time and harvest season you are to rest’) with a play on words: one should remain silent (‘charish‘ also means to be silent) on debates concerning shmitta, but if one must speak, do it briefly (‘katzir‘, in Hebrew can also mean ‘to make short’).

On the other hand, however, many of the machmirim, especially in recent times, tended to disqualify the position of rabbis who permitted using the heter mechira and humiliate them, even labeling them in extremely harsh terms such as heretics, destroyer’s of the Torah, etc., thus severely undermining the rules of proper debate among Torah scholars. And since the words of those who permit the heter are based on the foundations of Torah and the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), the machmirim, in their crusade, dragged themselves into disrespecting the honor of the Torah and the Gedolei Ha’dor (eminent Torah scholars), and the sanctity of settling the Land.

And since truth must seek redress for its insult, we are obligated to clarify the issue properly, without overly paying homage to the machmirim, rather, to criticize them honestly about not having treated this issue as was customary in Judaism for generations.

Thank You, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Meir shlita

In this matter we must give a big “thank you” to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Meir shlita, head of the halakha and research institute of Yeshiva Shvut Israel.

For years he has been awakening the public, both in his writings and lectures, to understand the necessity and importance of the heter mechira, and frequently protests against those who disagree to include it within the Mehadrin hechsher.

Truthfully speaking, I was also somewhat influenced by the harsh propaganda against the heter mechira. Of course I knew that it was valid and well-founded, for indeed, the Gedloei Yisrael determined it, lead by Maran HaRav Kook ztz”l. Nevertheless, I thought it was bediavad (acceptable after the fact). It should be noted that this also can be understood from the words of Rav Kook, who often emits a ‘sigh’ in his halachic answers and letters concerning the need for the heter. However, he did this out of his piety and holiness, for he tended personally to be machmir and l’ha’dare (enhance) any mitzvah possible. Therefore, only when the heter was strongly attacked, did he respond and explain that it is very well-founded, and that in truth, the it could have been far more lenient.

Now, after having studied the issue in depth, I realize that today, the heter is l’chatchila (best from the outset), and to a large extent, leans towards being a chumra (exceeding the bare requirement of halakha). In any case, all other halachic approaches are inferior, because they harm the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz, the livelihood of farmers, and other mitzvoth and halachot. A great deal of honor goes to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben-Meir, who encouraged and reinforces this matter.

The Honor of the Torah and the Nation in the IDF

Unfortunately, IDF commanders failed in their handling of the painful affair of the soldier who ate pork publicly, while offering it to his friends.

It is sad that they do not realize the affront of their position.

This of course adds to the Military Rabbinate’s decline in status, and its exclusion from the public sphere of the IDF, to dealing solely with religious soldiers and the practical details of Jewish law.

This is an opportunity to commend the former Chief Military Rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Weiss, who, out of a sense of responsibility of being a past IDF Chief Rabbi, lead a media campaign in which he criticized the army commanders, and explained on various radio and television stations, with logic and emotion, the gravity of the act and the obligation to guard the Jewish identity of the army.

Let’s hope the elected officials who took a moral stand on this issue will also know how to act properly to correct the situation and return Jewish values to the public sphere of the army, and also demand an apology from the commanders who cancelled the soldier’s punishment without his apologizing publicly for the insult he caused the honor of Israel and its Torah. And if he does not apologize, they should demand that his original sentence be reinstated. Hopefully, there will be some journalists with a sense of Jewish pride to monitor the story, who can inform us of how the matter is handled.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/