The Value of Torah and of Secular Wisdom

In continuation of my column about the values ​​revealed in the Holy Temple – the Menorah represents worldly wisdom * The value of the Torah is independent, it being the direct word of God to the world, and teaches the purpose of creation and man * Secular wisdom receives its value from the Torah, and serves it * Since by means of the Torah the value of all secular wisdom and livelihoods are revealed, it is a mitzvah to honor Talmedei Chachamim * A Talmid Chacham is one who has learned Torah, and teaches and guides by it; but someone who does not know how to guide and instruct in practical, questions of life – is not considered a Talmid Chacham * Female students are required to rise before their teacher and Rabanit

Questions about the Value of Secular Wisdom and the Menorah

Following my column (two weeks ago) about holiness meant to empower life, and about the Temple vessels signifying sacred values ​​- including the Shulchan alluding to all professions and livelihoods, and the Menorah referring to all worldly wisdom, some readers asked: What’s the source that the Menorah alludes to worldly wisdom? Their question is based on the assumption that there is no sacred value in secular wisdom, for if there was, we would be obligated to study them, so how could it be that in Talmudei Torah and yeshivas, they boast that secular studies are not taught? For this reason, the value of secular wisdom must be explained.

The Value of Secular Wisdom

From the words of our Sages, we have learned that the study of the wisdom of Creation, called “Ma’asey Bereshit,” (Account of the Creation) is part of the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, but in studying it, one must be careful so as not to err (Mishna Chagigah 2: 1). On this Mishnah, Rambam explained that “Ma’asey Bereshit” refers to “the natural sciences, and research of the origins of Creation,” and the greater exalted wisdom, “Ma’asey Merkavah” (“Description of the Divine Chariot”) as “the Divine Science.” This is also what Rambam wrote in the introduction of ‘Guide for the Perplexed’: “Ma’asey Bereshit” is the Natural Sciences, and “Ma’asey Merkava” is Metaphysics.”

Additionally, our Sages enacted to recite a blessing upon seeing a brilliant non-Jewish secular scholar: “Baruch Atta Hashem, Melech HaOlam SheNatan MeChachmato LeBasar VeDam” (‘Blessed be He who has imparted of His wisdom to His creatures” (Berachot 58a; Peninei Halakha: Brachot 15:18). We see then that secular science is also considered a Divine wisdom given by God to humans. Nonetheless, the Torah is sacred and exalted above all the wisdoms, and therefore a special blessing was enacted upon seeing a Jewish Torah sage, because the foundation of the Torah is in the Kodesh HaKodashim (The Holy of Holies), whereas the foundation of secular wisdom in the Kodesh (Holy).

Maharal from Prague (Netiv HaTorah, Chap. 14) wrote similarly. Also, our Sages said (Shabbat 75a) that anyone capable of studying astronomy but does not, of him Scripture says: “But they do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or consider the work of His hands” (Isaiah 5: 12). And Rambam and Maharal explained that this refers to all wisdoms.

The Vilna Gaon also said that one is required to study secular wisdom, and whoever lacks the knowledge of a portion of the secular sciences, lacks a hundred (some say ten) portions of knowledge of the Torah, because the Torah and wisdom are in unison (also Maran HaRav Kook in his name, in the article “Drishat Hashem’ in the book “Ikvei HaTzone”).

The Menorah Alluding to Secular Wisdom

The idea that the pure Menorah in the Mikdash alludes to worldly wisdom is explained by the Rishonim and Achronim, the Kabbalists, and the literal Torah commentators. Accordingly, from the pattern of the Mikdash it emerges that the place of the Torah is in the Aron (Ark) of the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies), and consequently, the Menorah that was situated in the Kodesh (Holy) alludes to the Seven Worldly wisdoms. Nevertheless, since the Torah is the source of all wisdom, some Rabbis wrote that the Menorah itself alluded to the secular wisdoms, while the lamps lit upon represented the Torah, whereas others said that the middle or western lamp alluded to the Torah.

The Menorah alluding to the secular wisdoms was written also by Rabbeinu Bechayeh, Abarbanel (Exodus 25:31); Rabbi Yonatan Eibshitz (Ye’arot Devash, Vol. 2: 7), as well as Malbim in “Ramzey HaMishkan” in the beginning of Parshat Terumah, and Natziv (HaEmek HaDavar, Exodus 39: 19).

Rabbi Moshe Sofer, author of Chatam Sofer (Nedarim 81a) similarly wrote about the mistaken, who blaspheme the Torah, but boast of wisdom: “In truth, it is written: [‘’When you light the lamps, the seven lamps] shall shine toward the center of the Menorah‘ which is the light of the Torah, toward the Torah the seven lamps shall shine, all the wisdoms which are Seven, all of them will shine towards the Torah, and serve it like perfumers and cooks, as Rambam wrote.” This is also what he wrote in his chiddushim on Parashat Beha’alothekha. Rabbi Yosef Shaul Natanzon (author of Responsa ‘Sho’el U’Mashiv’) wrote similarly in his chiddushim on Tractate Shabbat (21b), that the Seven wisdoms alludes to the seven lamps, and the hint of the eight days of Chanukah, is that the Seven wisdoms serve the wisdom of the Torah.

The Torah’s Superiority over Secular Wisdom

However, the Torah is superior to all other wisdoms, for the foundation of all worldly wisdom is in the Kodesh, whereas the Torah is founded in the Kodesh HaKodashim, and therefore, all secular wisdoms are considered external in comparison to the wisdom of the Torah, which is the source of all of them. In other words, the value of the Torah is independent, because it is the direct word of God to the world, while all the other secular wisdoms explain the wisdom of the Creator revealed in creation, but not the purpose of creation and man. The meaning of this is that the Torah elucidates the great destiny set before man to repair the world in the kingdom of God, and its fundamental influence is in guiding man to correct himself, so that he is able to take control of the negative sides of his desires, and direct and elevate them for the good so he can add goodness and blessing to himself, and the entire world. In contrast, the different wisdoms do not clarify the purpose of man and the world’s rectification, but rather, help to understand and fulfill the purpose. Therefore, as long as the secular wisdoms are connected to the Torah, they are sacred, seeing as thanks to them, it is possible to understand the purpose in a complete way and realize it, but as long as they are not connected to the Torah – they are secular.

The Torah Empowers Secular Wisdom

One of the expressions of the superiority of Torah wisdom over other wisdoms, is that out of Torah study the sacred value of all wisdom is revealed, and by means of it, the importance of each wisdom and how it assists in tikun olam is revealed.  Therefore, the more connected we are to the truth of the Torah, the more we will understand the value of all the secular wisdoms. Conversely, if we connect with one of the external wisdoms, or even all of them, we will not be able to understand the importance of other wisdoms and values, because without the Torah – the sacred, inner side of the secular wisdoms vanishes, remaining hollow, lacking value ​​and meaning. Therefore, it is a mitzvah to honor Talmedei Chachamim (Torah scholars), because by means of the Torah, the great value of all the secular wisdoms and all the productivity made to improve the world, are revealed.

The Mitzvah to Honor Talmedei Chachamim

It is a mitzvah from the Torah to honor Talmedei Chachamim, as it is written: “You shall fear [‘et’] the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 6: 13) – “including Talmedei Chachamim” (Pesachim 22b). This mitzvah includes standing up in honor of a Talmid Chacham, even if he is a young, as written: “And give respect to the old [‘zaken’]” (Leviticus 19:32) – “’Zaken’ (reading zaken as an abbreviation, zeh kanah hokemah, literally, ‘this one has acquired wisdom’) means only one who has acquired wisdom” (Kiddushin 32b; Rambam, Laws of Talmud Torah 6:1). A Talmid Chacham is one who has learned Torah, and by its guiding light, understands life, teaches, guides and instructs according to Torah. However, someone who has studied, researched, and is very exacting but does not know how to educate, guide, and instruct on questions of life — is not considered a Talmid Chacham (see, Shach 244:11).

How to Rise, and For Who

The mitzvah is that it be evident that one’s rising is in honor of the Talmid Chacham, and therefore the mitzvah is to rise when the Chacham enters into one’s four amot (196cm), until he passes from in front of his face (S. A., Y. D. 244, 2:9). However, in honor of his Rav muvhak (any person from whom the student has received the majority of his Torah wisdom) the mitzvah is to rise when one sees him from afar, as long as it is evident that he is standing up for his honor, and continue standing until he sits down or until he passes from within his sight (Ran, Kiddushin 33a; S. A. 244, 9).

The mitzvah of honoring a Torah scholar is to fully stand up (Tur, 244; Taz, ibid. 4; Chayei Adam 69, 4). However, in practice, many people usually settle rising slightly in honor of a Talmid Chacham. Apparently, since rabbis have not taught students that the mitzvah is to fully stand up in their honor, seemingly, they agree to this, and a rabbi who forgives his honor – his honor is forgiven (S. A. 244:14).

However, in honor of one’s Rav muvhak, one is required to fully rise until he sits in his place. Similarly, during the period one learns Torah from a Rabbi, such as students learning from their rebbe, or from a Rav at a regular Torah class, it is a mitzvah for the students to fully stand in honor of the Rav when he is within their four amot. Also, it is a mitzvah to fully rise up in honor a local rabbi who teaches Torah to his community when he is within one’s four amot.

How Many Times a Day

The poskim disagree about students who study with a Rav in his home: some say they must rise up before him every time he enters and leaves the room – even a hundred times (Rosh; Birkei Yosef 242:21). Others say they have to stand up before him twice a day, one time in the morning, and a second time in the evening, so that the honor of his Rav should not be greater than that of Hashem (Rambam Laws of Talmud Torah 6: 8, according to Kiddushin 33b). Nevertheless, even according to the lenient poskim, in a place that is not the home of the Rabbi, one is required to stand up before him when he enters and leaves, because there may be other people who do not know that he had already stood up in the morning, or plans to stand up before leaving in the evening (Tosafot, Rama 242:16). And if, during the same session in yeshiva, or during the same gathering, the Rav leaves or enters, in the opinion of the lenient poskim there is no need to stand up before him, since everyone knows that one stood up before him when he first entered, and will stand up before him when he leaves. This is the common minhag, except for instances where the Rav rises to give a class, is called to the Torah, or turns to talk to someone who is sitting, in which case, although they had stood up before him at his entrance, they are required to stand up before him once again.

Workers are not obligated to stop and stand for a Talmid Chacham while they are working (S. A. 244:5).One is not required to stand for a Talmid Chacham in a bathroom, or in an inner room of a bathhouse, because standing up in such a place is not considered respect or honor (ibid., 4).

Between Two Torah Scholars

A Talmid Chacham is not required to stand up for another Talmid Chacham, but rather, it suffices to show him some form of respect (S. A. 244:8). Similarly, a Rabbi is not required to stand up before a student even if he is a very great Torah scholar, but it is good to show him some form of respect (Rama, ibid). Nevertheless, it seems that when called to stand before him, such as when he is about to give a class, he should rise.


One is obligated to stand for the wife of a Talmid Chacham, just as one is required to stand for the Talmid Chacham himself, because ‘eishit chaver, k’chaver’ (the wife of a Talmid Chacham should be treated with the same respect as her husband). Apparently, the intent is a Rabbanit who is a full partner in assisting his teaching and dissemination of Torah. And even if her husband passed away, as long as she did not re-marry, one is required to stand up (Shevuot 30b; Rishonim, ibid). Similarly, a Rabbanit or a teacher who imparts Torah, her students are obligated to stand up before her when she enters within their four amot, and all of them are obligated to stand up when she enters the room to teach them.

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

Should a Bar or Bat Mitzvah be Celebrated? If So, How?

The age of a girl or boy becoming obligated in mitzvot is mentioned in the Gemara, and codified in halakha * At that age, the yetzer ha’tov (good inclination) enters a person, in other words, the ability to accept responsibility, and act for the Clal * Parents who embellish the mitzvah prepare with their children towards the age of mitzvot, and initiatives such as journeys to discover family roots, or encounters with exemplary figures, are considered a mitzvah * True, in the past, Bat Mitzvah’s were not celebrated, but Bar Mitzvah celebrations were also rare * Today, when financial means have improved and the minhag is prevalent, it is appropriate to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah as well, and preferably, the Bat mitzvah girl should prepare a sermon, and even make a siyyum on an important book

The Questions Concerning Bat and Bar Mitzvahs

Bezrat Hashem, this Thursday evening we will celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of Yiska, our first granddaughter who turns twelve. We do have an older grandson, but since he has to wait until he is thirteen, his Bar Mitzvah celebration will only take place in another three months.

There are three questions worth exploring before the celebration. First, is it a mitzvah to celebrate? Second, why until the last few generations did observant Jews not have a Bar Mitzvah party? Third, is there a difference between boys and girls? In order to answer these questions, the foundation and significance of the mitzvah requires clarification.

The Change of Status upon Coming of Age

The time when all the mitzvot of the Torah become obligatory is when adolescents reach the age of mitzvot, however, before that, they are still considered ketanim (young), and the Torah did not obligate them in mitzvot. Indeed, before children reach the age of mitzvot, it is a mitzvah from the Torah to teach them Torah, in order to familiarize them with the Torah’s values ​​and so they will observe the mitzvot, as it is written: “Listen, Israel, to the rules and laws that I am publicly declaring to you today. Learn them and safeguard them, so that you will be able to keep them” (Deuteronomy 5:1). Therefore, our Sages said that together with the mitzvah to teach children Torah, they must be taught to observe the mitzvot. In other words, included in the mitzvah to teach them Torah, they must be trained to fulfill its mitzvot as best as they can (Sukkah 42a). However, in practice, the obligation to keep every mitzvah is derived from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance).

When they grow up and are able to take responsibility for their actions, they will be obligated to observe the mitzvot from the Torah – a daughter from the age of twelve, and a son from the age of thirteen (Nida 45b; S.A., O.C. 616:2). The very age at which youth are obligated in mitzvot is founded in ‘Halakha le’Moshe Mi’Sinai’ (a law given to Moses at Sinai).

Why Daughters Predate

Our Sages explained in the Talmud (Nida 45b), that a daughter becomes obligated in mitzvot a year before a son, since God “endowed woman with more understanding than man,” and therefore, she is able to bear responsibility and commit to mitzvot already at the age of twelve, whereas a son, only at the age of thirteen. However, this halakha is not agreed upon by all, and according to Rabbi Shimon Ben-Elazar, a son is obligated in mitzvot at the age of twelve, and a daughter, at the age of thirteen. The reasoning for this is because “as a boy frequents the house of his teacher” (to learn Torah and a profession) “his shrewdness (i.e., wisdom of life) develops earlier.” Tosefot explained, that even when he doesn’t have a rabbi or a teacher, since he is used to going out into the market-place and seeing the world, he becomes clever before a daughter who is not used to leaving her home. In practice, however, halakha goes according to the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, and as explained in the Mishnah, that girls enter mitzvot first at the age of twelve, and boys at the age of thirteens (S.A., O.C. 616:2).

The Entry of the ‘Yetzer Tov’ – The Acceptance of Responsibility

Our Sages said, from the time a person is born until he reaches the age of mitzvot, he has a yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination), but when he reaches the age of mitzvot, he also receives the yetzer tov (good inclination) (Avot de’Rebbe Natan 16). Seemingly, one could ask: usually, babies and little children are cute and good. Why then did our Sages say that they only possess a yetzer ha’ra? On the other hand, adolescents are the ones who occasionally tend to be brash and disobedient. Why did our Sages say precisely at that age the yetzer tov enters their being?

To be more precise, the essence of the yetzer tov is expressed in a person’s ability to understand the world and choose to perform good deeds in order to perfect it, whereas at the early stages of life, little children are self-concerned, and unable to understand the world and choose to act to make it better. Even when a little child performs good deeds, usually it is done to obtain a prize or a compliment, or out of fear of punishment for bad behavior. This is the meaning of the yetzer ha’ra in a young child, namely, an inclination of self-concern. As he grows older, he is instilled with the yetzer tov as well, and from then on, has the ability to be responsible for his actions, and becomes partner in Clal Yisrael’s responsibility to observe Torah and mitzvot. Therefore, from the time girls and boys reach the age of mitzvot, they are able to be shlichim (emissaries) for the fulfillment of mitzvot, such as attesting to tevilat keilim (the immersion of utensils in a mikveh), and they are also able to perform mitzvot and discharge other’s obligation of the mitzvah, such as saying kiddush on Shabbat, or lighting Chanukah candles for the family. And if they ate, they are able to recite a bracha out loud, and thus discharge the obligation of others (Peninei Halakha: Brachot 1:10).

The Mitzvah of Joy at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah

It is a great joy for a Jewish boy or girl to reach the age when they become obligated in mitzvot, because from then on, the virtue of the mitzvah’s observance is on a higher level (Baba Kama 87a). Therefore, it is mitzvah to have a seudah (ceremonial meal) on the day of entering mitzvot, which is a simcha (joy) of adherence to the mitzvot. The custom is that during the seudah, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah stands before those gathered, and gives thanks to Hashem for the merit of committing themselves to the mitzvot, and to be part of the great mission of the Jewish people. Words of Torah should also be spoken, as an expression of their full responsibility for the observance of the Torah. And even the parents should thank Hashem for the merit of raising their children, and bringing them to this point (Yam Shel Shlomo; M.B. 225:6). It is also customary for Talmedei Chachamim and relatives to say words of Torah at the seudah, and bless the Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

In a similar fashion, it is related in Zohar (Zohar Chadash, Vol.1, 18:2) that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai invited Torah scholars to eat at a great seudah that he made, and in which he was extremely happy. They asked him why he was so happy, and he replied: ‘Because on this day, my son Elazar has reached the age of thirteen, and a holy soul descends upon him.’ The meaning is that until the age of thirteen, only the nefesh is revealed, whereas from the age of thirteen, he is also able to absorb the neshama (soul), and this is the meaning of accepting the yoke of mitzvot, and the instilling of the yetzer ha’tov.

Even concerning the simcha that Avraham Avinu arranged for his son Yitzhak Avinu, some meforshim (commentators) say that it was on the day he reached Bar Mitzvah, as written: “The child grew and was weaned (ve’yigamel). Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned (higamel)” (Genesis 21: 8). They interpret the word higamel as meaning that he was “weaned” from bondage to the yetzer ha’ra, and instilled with the yetzer ha’tov (Berashit Rabbah 53:10, according to Matnat Kehuna). From this seudah, a great sanagoriah (defense) is stirred for the sake of Israel, “for militzei yosher (advocates in the Heavenly courts) say before HaKadosh Baruch Hu, ‘Ribono shel Olam (Sovereign of the world), look at your children, how glad they are to enter into the yoke of your mitzvot.”

The Customs of the Party

The mitzvah is to hold the seudah on the exact day of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah, which is the birthday of twelve year old girls and thirteen year old boys, which is the real day of joy. When it’s difficult to have the seudah on the exact birthday, it can be held a day or two later, since the joy of entering the age of mitzvot still continues. However, in order to strengthen the mitzvah at the seudah, even though it is not on the day of entering mitzvot, a lot of divrei Torah should be spoken (see, Yam Shel Shlomo in Baba Kama 7:37; Magen Avraham 225: 4). And it is also good for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah to make a siyum on an important book.

It is good to buy new clothes for the son or daughter entering mitzvot, and for them to recite the She’hechiyanu blessing on them, and also have in mind to give thanks for entering the yoke of mitzvot on that day (Ben Ish Chai, Re’ah, 17). Even when forced to postpone the party for a day or two, it is good for them to recite She’hechiyanu over the new clothes on their birthday, the day when they enter the yoke of mitzvot.

Customs Leading Up To the Simcha

Parents who mehadrim (embellish) the mitzvah, study with the boy or the girl before their Bar or Bat Mitzvah about the meaning of Torah and the acceptance of mitzvot. Some parents even embellish the mitzvah by planning a journey for their children in which they deepen their acquaintance with the roots of their family, their grandparents etc., thus linking their private joy to the glorious chain of generations of the Jewish nation. Some parents’ custom is to introduce their children to Talmedei Chachamim and educators, or Jews engaged in important mitzvot, such as settling the Land, helping others, or developing science for the benefit of humanity, thereby connecting their personal responsibility to keep the mitzvot to national responsibility and tikun olam (perfecting the world). In a similar way, it is related in the Tractate Sofrim (18: 7) that anshei Yerushalayim would take their Bar Mitzvah sons to be blessed by Talmedei Chachamim. Some have the custom for the boy or girl to speak about their family-root journey at the Bar or Bat Mitzvah seudah.

Bat Mitzvah

Some poskim argued against celebrating a Bat Mitzvah, a minhag that did not exist among Jews in the past, claiming it is a mimicry of Gentile customs, and a breach of tzniut (modesty) (see, Igrot Moshe, O.C. 1:104). Perhaps in the past there were grounds for their claims, but today there is no reason to take their opinions into consideration. The reason for this is that in the distant past, apart from individuals who embellished this mitzvah, most families did not even celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of their sons. Apparently, due to impoverishment and the burdens of work, many people did not celebrate joyous occasions when they did not have to. However, since it is appropriate to celebrate the day when a child enters the yoke of mitzvot, in recent generations when the workload decreased, and people became richer, are more easily able to pay for a simcha, and can free up the time needed to participate in it, the minhag of celebrating Bar Mitzvah’s spread to all Jews. And since in the past, the common practice in the world was that women were less likely to leave their homes out of modesty, even a Bat Mitzvah was noted only within a family’s home, by buying a new and festive garment (Ben Ish Chai, Re’ah 17). However, the more women began to work outside the house in various jobs, and take responsibility for public affairs as well, the more common was the need to celebrate the day of entering mitzvot with a large party, to the point where the minhag of celebrating a Bat Mitzvah with a seudat mitzvah became widespread (Sredei Aish 3: 93; Yaskil Avdi, Vol. 5, O.C. 28; Yabiah Omer, Vol. 6, O.C. 29).

Siyum of a Book at a Bat Mitzvah

Therefore, it is a mitzvah to celebrate the day of one’s daughter’s entering mitzvot, and just as boys are prepared to read and study Torah for their Bar Mitzvah, it is also appropriate for girls to study Torah and prepare a sermon on the value of the Torah and mitzvot for their Bat Mitzvah. And if possible, before the Bat Mitzvah celebration, it would be good for the daughter to study a book of halakha, or another important book, and make a siyum at the party.

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

Holiness Empowers the World

Some think that connecting to holiness implies a distancing from the world, and that when the Holy Temple is built, the insignificance of this world will be exposed * In truth, though, the purpose of the Beit HaMikdash is to bring blessing to the world, and accordingly, study of the Torah portions dealing with Mikdash adds blessing * In the Kodesh HaKodashim, the Brit between God and Israel is revealed, and in the Kodesh – chochmah, parnasah, and tefillah, which feed from the Kodesh HaKodashim * Like the Mikdash, Talmedei Chachamim in Eretz Yisrael are also supposed to bring blessing to the world through their studies * Torah scholars in the Diaspora need to oppose and condemn to maintain their independence, and fight assimilation. In the Diaspora this is important; the problem is, when ways of anger and accusation reach Eretz Yisrael

The Torah goes to great length in describing the Mishkan (Tabernacle), its vessels, and the priestly garments. Thus, it turns out that every year we study four Torah portions concerning the mitzvot of the construction of the Mikdash and its vessels. By studying the Mikdash, we connect to the totality of Divine values, and the more we study and delve deeper into them – the brighter they will shine the hearts of Jews, and draw light and blessing to all walks of life. And so, we will merit to build the Temple speedily in our days.

Holiness Adds Blessing to the World

Kedusha (holiness) adds life and blessing to the world. Therefore, in the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies), above the Aron (the Holy Ark) were the Keruvim (cherubs) resembling a male and female lover, which were intended to express the connection of love and life between God and Israel His nation, as written: “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).

In contrast, there are those who mistakenly think that the call to holiness means distancing oneself from the world, and the more of a tzadik (righteous person) one is, the less important all the world’s affairs are. As far as they are concerned, the more “holy” people there are, and upon the building of the Beit HaMikdash, everyone will realize the world’s insignificance – its emptiness of meaning and kedusha. However, their outlook is contrary to emunat ha’yichud (the belief that Hashem is One). God created the heavens and the earth, and over all of creation said “tov me’od” (it is very good). After all, God did not create the world in order to cause man to fail, or to put him to the test, rather, so that he could reveal the image of God within himself, and partner with God in building the world by developing and perfecting it, both practically and morally, until the time when the Shekinah (Divine Presence) dwells in a focused and visible manner in the Mikdash, and from there, the its inspiration emanates to the entire world, as it is written: “And may the pleasantness (‘noam’ in Heb.) of the Lord our God be upon us, and the work of our hands establish for us (in the Mishkan), and the work of our hands establish it (that blessing dwell in all of the work of our hands – Rashi)” (Psalms 90:17)

In other words, a world that has a Mikdash in it, is filled with Divine values, is sanctified, and comes to be pleasurable and blessed, similar to the way Talmedei Chachamim (Torah scholars) of Eretz Yisrael are called “noam.” The study of the purpose of ​​the Mikdash and the values ​​revealed in it as well, generates enlightenment and blessing.

Kodesh HaKodashim

The Mikdash was divided into two parts: the inner third was the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies), and the remaining two-thirds was the Kodesh (Inner Sanctuary). The Kodesh HaKodashim was intended to the reveal the brit (covenant) between God and Israel, and therefore, in its center was the Aron (Ark) containing the Tablets of the Covenant. This brit between God and His Chosen Nation Israel is fulfilled by means of the Divine instruction to the world – the Torah – and therefore, the Torah was also placed in the Kodesh HaKodashim. As previously mentioned, on top of the Aron were the two Keruvim, expressing the sanctity of marriage whose foundation is in the Kodesh HaKodashim – namely, that the love and joy between husband and wife, through whom life abounds in the world, reveal on a small-scale the idea of emunat ha’yichud in this world.

We find, therefore, that the two basic values ​​revealed in the Kodesh HaKodashim are the sanctity of emunah (faith), and the sanctity of Israel, which are expressed through the Torah and marriage.

The Three Vessels in the Kodesh

There were three vessels in the Kodesh (Inner Sanctuary): the Shulchan (Golden Table), the Menorah (lamp), and the Mizbe’ach HaKetoret (The Altar of Incense). The Shulchan expressed all types of work and matters of livelihood; the Menorah represented all types of wisdom in the world; and the Mizbe’ach HaKetoret, on which the incense was burned every morning and evening, expressed worship of the heart in prayer. A curtain was placed between the Kodesh and the Kodesh HaKodashim, in order to differentiate between the levels of holiness, for of the holiness of the Kodesh is derived from the Kodesh HaKodashim. In other words, the sanctity of work, science, and prayer stems from the sanctity of the brit between God and Israel.

The table on which the bread was sacrificed expressed the value of work and livelihood, for by means of man’s work, he partners with God in the world’s existence and development.

The Golden Menorah expressed the value of all of the world’s secular wisdoms and arts; it had seven branches, alluding to all the different types of wisdoms, all of which are Divine.

The Mizbe’ach Ha’Pe’nimi (The Golden Inner Altar) on which the ketoret (incense) was burned, expressed worship of the heart in prayer. The ketoret was made from eleven incenses, relating to the ten levels of sanctity upon which the world was created. The eleventh incense alluded to the sinners of Israel, who, as long as they still remain connected to the Clal (general public), join in with the kedusha (holiness), and their foul smell even becomes pleasant.

The Great Outer Altar and Sacrifice

The prerequisite for the existence of all these values ​​is willingness to commit oneself to them, to sacrifice for them. This was expressed by the Mizbe’ach Ha’Chitzon (The Great Outer Altar). It is impossible to attain Torah without willingness to sacrifice leisure time in order to study diligently. It is impossible to maintain the covenant of marriage without the willingness of husband and wife to devote themselves to one another, and readiness to compromise and sacrifice. It is impossible to succeed at a job without dedication and a willingness to make an effort, and occasionally, work overtime. Likewise, a scientist would never be able to discover the secrets of nature without devoting himself to his research.

Above all, Am Yisrael, whose roots stem from the Kodesh HaKodashim, cannot exist without the holy soldiers willing to sacrifice themselves for the sanctity of the Nation and the Land. And in every place where the soldiers of Israel stand on guard to protect their Nation and Land, spreads the sanctity of the Mizbe’ach, whose roots are in founded the brit between God and His Nation in the Kodesh HaKodashim.

When we are worthy, the mesirut is expressed in the offering of korbanot (sacrifices) – giving ma’aser kesafim (money tithe), readiness to sacrifice and help family and friends, and by studying Torah, even when difficult. However, from time to time difficult circumstances arise, when, if one wants to remain connected to eternal values, he must be prepared to sacrifice life itself. Without the Mizbe’ach, the Beit HaMikdash cannot exist, as well as all the sacred values ​​in the world.

The Centrality of the Mikdash to the World

Thus we find, the pattern of the Mikdash we picture is not intended to minimize the value of the world, rather, to enhance all the values ​​revealed in it, and to make it pleasant, and blessed. The Beit HaMikdash is the life force of the world, and consequently, it was erected on the “ev’en ha’she’tiyah” (the stone from which the world was founded). Our Sages said that the heavens and earth were created from Zion, as it is written: “From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth” (Psalms 50:2) – i.e., from it, the beauty of the world was perfected (Yoma 54b). Heaven express the ideas, and earth, the deeds, and it all stems from Zion.

Therefore, all worshipers are required to direct themselves towards Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash, so that their prayers will be for the purpose of tikkun olam (perfecting the world), and its blessing. As our Sages said: “If one is standing in Chutz le’Aretz, he should turn mentally towards Eretz Yisrael, as it says, ‘And pray to you toward the Land you gave their ancestors’. If he stands in Eretz Israel, he should turn mentally towards Jerusalem, as it says, ‘And when they pray to the Lord toward the city which you have chosen.’ If he is standing in Jerusalem, he should turn mentally towards the Beit HaMikdash, as it says, ‘And when they pray toward this house.’ If he is standing in the Beit HaMikdash, he should turn mentally towards the Kodesh HaKodashim, as it says, ‘When they pray toward this place.’ If he was standing in the Kodesh HaKodashim, he should turn mentally towards the Beit Ha’Kapporet. If he was standing behind the Beit Ha’Kapporet, he should imagine himself to be in front of the Kapporet… in this way, all of Israel will be turning their hearts towards one place” (Berachot 30a).

Drawing Kedusha from the Mikdash to the Land

The study of Torah in Eretz Yisrael is also different for the better than abroad, for Talmedei Chachamim in Eretz Yisrael are called “noam” (pleasant) – “because they treat each other graciously [man’imim] when engaged in halachic debates,” whereas Talmedei Chachamim in Chutz le’Aretz are called “chovlim” (injurers) – “for they hurt each other’s feelings [mechablim] when discussing halakha”(Sanhedrin 24a).

In Eretz Yisrael, emunat ha’yichud is revealed, whereby kedusha is revealed in all walks of life. Therefore, Talmedei Chachamim Eretz Yisrael’im are called “noam“, for they see the value of their friends’ words, and try to find ways to unite and join all values ​​and explanations. Not only that, but they are also gracious to all those engaged in work and the sciences, because anyone engaged in the building and prosperity of Eretz Yisrael, fulfills the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settlement of the Land of Israel), which is the mitzvah by which the Shechina dwells in the Land (Chatam Sofer, Sukkah 36a).

In contrast, Talmedei Chachamim in Chutz le’Aretz are called “chovlim” because in order to survive, they are forced to oppose all the evil reality of galut (exile), which subjugates and humiliates Jews, and as a result, they develop a trait of anger against the nations who act in this manner; otherwise, the only remaining option is to assimilate and disappear. In other words, opposition and negation of the surrounding reality maintains independence, which is the fine-line that connects Jews to the hope of Geulah (Redemption). This position also influences the study of Torah, which, in order to guard the remote tie that connects each group to holiness, feels it must clash with other views. Consequently, it is also difficult for Talmedei Chachamim in Chutz le’Aretz to see the sacred, self-value in work and in secular wisdom, because it blurs the fine-line that remotely maintains connection to holiness.

About the Angry and the Accusers

As long as this style of Talmedei Chachamim in Chutz le’Aretz is designed for survival, for necessities sake, it cannot be condemned. However, when such a position carries on to Eretz Yisrael, and is expressed in anger at other various values, even if they intone passionately about the exaltedness of holy purity, in truth, they are empty of Torah and holiness. Or, as Maran Ha’Rav Kook wrote: “We must hate anger in all the depths of our being. With great anger, but moderately and with a level-head, we must hate hot-headed anger, which jumbles and disrupts da’at (wisdom), and disqualifies all the great benefits of man – the individual, and the public. When we see a group or party always speaking angrily, it is an unmistakable sign that they possess no da’at or substance to fill their emptiness, and they are really angry with themselves, except that egoism comes and forces them to impose the venom of their anger on others. The supreme Torah scholars, who have reached the threshold of justice and kindness, are always full of desire, and grace and truth adorn them all day long” (Orot HaKodesh, Part III, p. 244).

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

Concern for Shatnez Nowadays?

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

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

The Mitzvah

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

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

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

The Nature of Wool and Linen Clothing

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

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

The Upsurge of Cotton

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

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

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

The Rise of Synthetic Threads

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

The Use of Wool and Linen Today

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

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

The Practical Halakha

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

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

The Concern about Expensive Wool Suits

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

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

Shatnez Testing Labs

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

The Responsibility of Merchants

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

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

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

The Role of a Rabbi

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

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

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

The Letter from a Member of the Community

“To our teacher and guide, Rabbi Melamed:

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

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

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

A Deep Cut in the Forehead

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

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

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

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

The Injured Motorcyclist

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

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

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

A Letter Never Sent

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

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

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

When a Rabbi Needs to Stand Firm

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

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

The Attitude towards Reform Jews

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

My Approach in the Community of Har Bracha

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

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

The Value of Torah Study

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

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

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

The Obligation Nowadays to Wear a Kippah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poskim who believe the Minhag is Obligatory from the Torah

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

Obligatory Minhag and Dat Yehudit

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

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

Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of God)

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

As as a Substitute for Tefillin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intermediate Opinion

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

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

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

The Practical Halakha

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

Calculating the Majority of the Head

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

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

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

Does Birth Cause a Demographic Crisis?

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

Question about Procreation and the Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Discussion about Environmental Issues

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

Human Development is faster than Demographic Growth

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

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

Academic Educators of Environmental Sciences

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

Crises Must Be Dealt with Moderation

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

The Danger of Intimidation

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

Returning to the Basics of the Mitzvah

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

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

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

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

Claims against the Mitzvah of Army Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Allegations against Yishuv Ha’aretz

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

Allegations against Yeshivas

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

The Mitzvah to Enlist in the Army

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

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

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

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

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

Tzizit on a Synthetic Garment

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

What is the Segulah of Israel?

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

Professor Sabin’s Remarks

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

Freud’s Words

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

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

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

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

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

The Existential Importance of the Mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’aretz

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

Synthetic Tzitzit Distributed in the Army

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

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

A Synthetic Garment

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

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

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

Synthetic Clothing has become Standard

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

Tzitzit in the Army

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

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

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

Mesh Tallit

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

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

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

A Guest of a Secular Jew

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

Eating at the Home of a Traditional Jew

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foods Prepared in a Secular Jew’s Kitchen

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

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

How One May Eat the Food of a Secular Jew

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

May Food be Heated?

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

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

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

Whiskey without a Kashrut Certification

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

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

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

The Sephardic Minhag Concerning Glatt Meat

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

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

The Basis of Differences in Customs

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

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

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

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

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

Reasoning of the Lenient Poskim

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

The Most Important Chumra

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

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