The Giving of Torah in Heaven and Earth

The World’s Existence Depends on Torah

From the beginning of Creation, the world was immersed in anxiety, for God had stipulated with His works of creation, saying: “If Israel accepts the Torah on the sixth day of the month of Sivan – you will continue to exist; if not – I will return you to chaos.” This is hinted at in the verse: “God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good…the sixth day (‘yom ha‘shishi’), whereas in all the other days of creation, the Hebrew definite article prefix ‘ha‘ (‘the’), is not used (Shabbat 88a).

Furthermore, we find that just prior to the arrival of that fateful day, Israel reached the number of six hundred thousand individuals – the compulsory number for the appearance of the Jewish nation as a whole. And although upon leaving Egypt, Israel was entrenched in forty-nine levels of impurity – exactly forty-nine days remained until that fateful day was to arrive, just enough time to cleanse themselves from the forty-nine levels of impurity, and to receive the Torah.

Thus, Israel arrived at Mount Sinai prior to that fateful day, exclaimed ‘na’aseh v’nishma‘ (‘first we will do, and then we will internalize’), and were ready to accept the Torah on the sixth day of Sivan – in keeping with the condition God had stipulated with the works of His creation.

The Torah was Actually Given the Following Day

However, in reality, the Torah was given to us on the seventh day of Sivan, the fifty-first day of Sefirat Ha’Omer (the Counting of the Omer). For when God commanded Moshe to inform the people of Israel to sanctify themselves for two days prior to the giving of the Torah, which would take place on the sixth day of the week (Friday), Moshe Rabbeinu added another day, ordering Israel to sanctify themselves for three days. God agreed with Moshe, and revealed Himself on Mount Sinai on the Sabbath day (Shabbat 86b, 87a).

From this amazing fact, the importance of the Oral Torah can be learned – without it, the Written Torah cannot be revealed, for the Oral Torah mediates between the uppermost Written Torah, and Israel. Therefore, even the Giving of the Torah was postponed a day in agreement with the Oral Torah – namely, according to Moshe Rabbeinu’s interpretation.

When is Shavu’ot?

Seemingly, though, this is problematic: Why do we say in the prayers of Chag Ha’Shavu’ot that it is ‘z’man Matan Torateinu’ [the time of the giving of our Torah] (S.A. 494:1)?  Chag Ha’Shavu’ot falls out on the fiftieth day of Sefirat Ha’Omer, while in fact, we received the Torah on the fifty-first day! But as it happens, upon completion of Sefirat Ha’Omer, the sacred day in which God granted us the Torah arrived; and so it was in the Heavens – already on the fiftieth day the Torah was given to us. We, however, needed another day to actually receive it. But for future generations, Yom Matan Torah was fixed in keeping with the day God sanctified for it – the day the Torah was given to us potentially (Maharal, Tiferet Yisrael Chap. 27. There are two additional opinions regarding the date of Matan Torah, see P’ninei Halacha: Moadim 13:1).

The Connection between Pesach and Shavu’ot

The calendar day of Chag Shavu’ot is unique, for all the other holidays fall out on a specific date of the month, but the date of Chag Ha’Shavu’ot is not dependent on a specific day, but is determined according toSefirat Ha’Omer. Nowadays, Shavu’ot always falls out on the sixth of Sivan, but that’s only because semikhah (rabbinical ordination) was cancelled, and we sanctify the months according to the calculations of the fixed Hebrew calendar. But in the times when betei din (courts) would sanctify the months according to the sighting of the new moon, Chag Shavu’ot could have also fallen out on the fifth or the seventh of Sivan.

Essentially, this means that the date of Chag Shavu’ot is dependent on Chag Pesach, and Shavu’ot andMatan Torah can only be arrived at, via Pesach.

Nationalism and Torah

On Chag Pesach the Jewish nation was born, and God made an eternal covenant with us that we would be His Am Segulah (Chosen People).On Chag Shavu’ot, God gave us the Torah. Both of these festivals are tied to each other, for Israel cannot exist without the Torah, and there is no Torah without Israel.

And although these two foundations are connected and mutually dependent, nevertheless, each one of them possesses its own importance, and it is forbidden for one to obscure the other. Therefore, we have two separate holidays – one featuring the national aspect of Israel, and the other, the Torah. 

Some people mistakenly think that the national aspect is unimportant, and consequently, they despise Zionism. They fail to notice that the idea of Chag Pesach is to give expression to the nationalistic aspect, which embodies Israel’s natural desire for tikkun olam (perfection of the world). True, without the Torah this ambition is obscure and liable to cause serious mistakes, as happened during our long history when Jews often dedicated their energies to foreign ideals. Nevertheless, the very desire for tikkun olam is our national character, and is the foundation without which it is impossible to receive the Torah, and properly fulfill its commandments.

 In order that Jews not come to belittle the national aspect of Israel, God gave us Chag Pesach. And so they would not demean the Torah, He gave us Chag Shavu’ot.

 And every year anew, we are required to return to these two values and join them together by way of Sefirat Ha’Omer, and in that way, merit the complete Redemption.

An Explanation for All-night Torah Learning on Shavu’ot

Many people are accustomed to learn Torah all-night on Shavu’ot. The basis for this minhag (custom) is explained in the Zohar:

Chassidim HaRishonim (the early pious ones) would not sleep on that night, and engage in Torah…and thus Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said to the chaverim (friends) at night when they gathered by him: Let us prepare the bride’s jewelry so that tomorrow, in the matrimonial service, she will appear before the king appropriately. Fortunate are the chaverim, when the king asks the queen: ‘Who arranged your jewelry, and adorned your crown?’ There is no one in the world who knows how to prepare the bride other than the chaverim. How happy is their portion in this world and the World to Come” (Part 3, 98:1).

It is also related in the Zohar:

“Rabbi Shimon and all the chaverim were joyously studying Torah. Every one of them brought forth a new discovery about the Torah. Rabbi Shimon was rejoicing together with all the friends. Rabbi Shimon said to them: My sons, how happy is your lot, because tomorrow the bride shall not approach the bridal canopy without you. Because all those who prepared the adornments of the bride during this night and rejoice with her, shall all be recorded and written in the Sefer Ha’Zikaron (Book of Remembrance). And the Holy One, blessed be He, blesses them with seventy blessings and crowns from the upper world” (Part 1, 8:1).

In order to understand the words of the Zohar, it must first be explained that the day of Matan Torah is described by our Sages as a wedding day on which God bonded Himself with Knesset Yisrael (the Nation of Israel), similar to a groom and his bride (Taanit 26b). Every year on Chag Shavu’ot, the encounter of Matan Torah continues to be revealed, and Knesset Yisrael connects back with God, like a bride with her groom. The Kabbalists said that studying Torah on Shavu’ot night prepares Knesset Yisrael to receive the Torah in the most beautiful way. And consequently, when the day arrives, Knesset Yisrael merits ascending to God, uniting and connecting with Him on a higher level. As a result of this, Israel merits abundance of Torah, life, and blessing for the entire year. 

Not an Obligation

Nevertheless, this minhag (custom) is not obligatory, and there were leading rabbis who preferred to sleep on Shavu’ot night, reasoning that if they remained awake all night, they would not be able to concentrate properly in the morning prayers, or would not be able to study at night with enough alertness, or would have to make-up lost sleep-time, thereby causing bitul Torah (a waste of Torah-study time), or being tired, they would not be able to rejoice properly on chag.

However, those who do remain awake believe that even if the learning at night is not of such high quality and it is difficult to concentrate in the morning prayers, nevertheless, this sacred custom is an expression of love for God and Torah, and possesses a special virtue of misirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) for the honor of Heaven and Knesset Yisrael. Ultimately, each person should choose his custom l’shem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven).

This article was translated from Hebrew.

Hard to Trust Netanyahu and Barak on Iran

The Need to Express a Position

I do not view myself as a military strategic expert, but since the question of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities is on the public agenda and discussed in all media forums, I feel the need – and even a civil duty – to express my opinion.

The Situation

In recent decades, a number of additional countries have joined the group of nations possessing nuclear weapons. All agree that this is a harmful process. Nevertheless, the state of war in various regions creates a huge incentive for additional countries to produce nuclear bombs. This is an inevitable process. Even if the State of Israel succeeds to destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities, such an action apparently will not cancel this dangerous phenomenon, but merely postpone the date of Iran and other hostile states acquiring nuclear weapons. Today, countries such as India, China, Pakistan, and North Korea already possess nuclear weapons. The entire world must learn to deal with threats of this magnitude, and in this respect, our situation is not significantly different from that of many other countries. Given this fact, the statements of the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister that Iranian nuclear weapons are an existential threat to the State of Israel are simply not true. They are one threat in a chain of many others.

Defense and Deterrence

We must deal with these serious threats in two complementary ways – defense and deterrence. The development of protective measures such as the ‘Arrow missile’ and the ‘Iron Dome’ should be promoted, as well as numerous other innovations that enable the interception of missiles by satellites, near their launching and while still in the enemy state. At the same time, it is necessary to create an unambiguous deterrent based on a firm position – directed both towards ourselves and our neighbors – that we are determined to settle our country, and strike the enemies who rise up against us.

Weakness of Israeli Deterrence

Regrettably, instead of responding appropriately and as promised to the shelling from Gaza and Lebanon, the political and military leadership is engaged in making threats against Iran, thereby eroding Israel’s power of deterrence. It was none other than Ehud Barak, serving as Prime Minister, who initiated the flight from Lebanon, while declaring that if gunfire is opened on Israel from Lebanon – “all of Lebanon will burn.” In reality, Israeli soldiers and citizens were kidnapped, murdered, and injured, but Lebanon did not burn. Previous to the withdrawal from Lebanon, approximately 20 to 25 soldiers a year were killed. After the withdrawal, for nearly 12 years, nearly 200 soldiers and civilians were killed (mostly in the Second Lebanon War). Even worse, as a result of the withdrawal, Hezbollah took control of Lebanon, the second intifada broke out in which more than 1,000 Israeli’s were murdered, we withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and Hamas came to power, creating a terrorist state that constantly threatens the State of Israel with missiles and rockets. In other words, precisely in regards to Iran’s main threat against us, via Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in Gaza operating on their behalf, the State of Israel reveals incompetence, eroding its deterrence to an absolute minimum, until our enemies have the nerve to liken the State of Israel to a “cobweb”. Our weak image was intensified as a result of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and our ongoing incompetence against the rocket attacks from there.

In order to deal with the threats and dangers, we have to create deterrence built less on the kind of bravado of Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Binyamin Netanyahu, and based more on determined actions against those who actually attack us.

Strengthening Our Control of the Land

Nevertheless, painful military punishment is not enough. As a result of a lack of clarity concerning our ambitions in the Land of Israel, we invite threats and dangers upon ourselves, leading our enemies to believe that we will continue to withdraw until the State of Israel is eradicated, God forbid. Therefore, the correct response to a missile attack from Gaza or Lebanon should also include applying Israeli sovereignty over additional parts of the Land of Israel, and strengthening construction in Judea and Samaria.

Such a step would convey our determination to strengthen the country, and constitute an extremely painful punishment for our enemies. Perhaps this would deter some of them from violence if they knew that the result of any attack would include applying Israeli sovereignty over additional territories, and the stimulation of construction in other areas.

Regrettably, the Prime Minister and Defense Minister still do not understand this.

Personal Motives

It is also impossible not to raise the suspicion of personal interests that affect the decision. It is obvious to me that, in principle, the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister are committed to the security of the State of Israel. Were they confronted by the difficult choice, they would be willing to give their lives for the country’s existence. However, since they are known to have inflated egos, there is fear that personal motives also spur them on to take action in Iran. The Prime Minister, despite being a capable and diligent person, is not perceived as being a great leader, owing to his serious credibility problems. He is liable to think that after a successful bombing in Iran, he will finally be considered a great leader, in the category of David Ben Gurion and Menachem Begin. The political career of the Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, is at an absolute low, in total contrast to his hopes of being an important leader, an outstanding expert on security issues and resolving international crises. His only chance to return to the political ring as a leader and winner is by means of a successful bombing of Iran.

In such a situation, it is highly recommended for all ministers and advisors who share responsibility in the decision-making process to be deliberate in judgment, and not get wound-up by the vigor of the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister.

The State of the I.D.F.

The state of the I.D.F. is also not first-rate. For decades, the I.D.F. has failed to overcome our enemies. The soldiers and field commanders are praiseworthy for their dedication and talents, but the leadership has been gripped with decay. Army commanders in the past were also not the most upright individuals, but at least they were Zionists in the old and good sense of the word – supporting the settlement of the Land in all its’ breadth and width, fighting the enemy, absorbing new immigrants, and possessing a strong national identity. Today, the “Zionist dream” of many senior military commanders is peace with the terrorists, retreat in order to achieve quiet, integration of women soldiers in all the troops, and most importantly – to emerge with a clean record from any possible investigations – in order to advance their careers.

Presumably, the mid-level officers who plan the various operations are highly professional, and most likely, perform their jobs properly. But the senior command, whose job is to think about the next stage, is prone to failure, suffers from excessive arrogance, and has a propensity to err in assessing the enemy. Perhaps the arrogance is intended to cover-up mediocrity, because more often than not, it is precisely commanders who are spineless and lack independent minds who are advanced through the ranks. With the top brass of the army in such a situation, it is better not to enter a military action that is not absolutely necessary, for even if the senior commanders know how to begin such an action, apparently, they are incapable of correctly planning its end. Furthermore, they lack the strength of mind required to reach a successful conclusion.

International Pressure

Obviously, it is extremely important to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but this is also a direct interest of the Sunni Arab states neighboring Iran, and an indirect interest of the U.S. who they regard as being the “Great Satan”, and the other Western countries. Why do we have to enter a formal war with Iran alone? Perhaps the best thing is to continue increasing economic pressure on Iran, as the U.S. and European countries are doing. Some people might argue that Netanyahu’s mere threat of attacking Iran was what caused the U.S. and Europe to wake-up and act, and that my comments, God forbid, may weaken this move. However, one who contemplates the situation will find that I actually strengthen the assessment that our leaders are interested in a heroic military operation in order to upgrade their status, and thus, the threat remains in place.


For the sake of full disclosure, I must note that my comments may also have been written out of a personal interest, given that as a result of a halacha which I published in connection to refusing orders to expel Jews from their homes, and the criticism I wrote in regards to the top military brass, Defense Minister Ehud Barak removed Yeshiva Har Bracha from the Hesder program. Nevertheless, it is my duty to put in writing doubts which should be raised concerning the plans of the Prime Minister and Defense Minister.

The Roots of the Crisis in the I.D.F.

Here, once again I quote the passage that was cited by the top security officials when they decided to cancel the Hesder program from Har Bracha. This section was written during the Second Lebanon War, when I doubted their ability to lead the war to its proper conclusion, and consequently, I suggested putting an end to the war as soon as possible to save the lives of our soldiers. This is what I wrote during the Nine Days of the month of Av, 5766: “Unfortunately, although we have a large army and brave soldiers, amongst them our students and friends, who are willing to endanger their lives for their people and country, and excellent weaponry – the political policies are so mistaken, that without a miracle, it difficult to expect a victory.” I based my position on the army’s poor preparation of equipment and tactical plans, and an inaccurate assessment of the enemy and their goals (at the time, the senior officers still denied the fact that the army was unprepared). I added: “It is impossible not to link all these failures to the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif and the destruction of their homes and communities. For three years, there has been one major consideration for the appointment of the top military brass – their unwavering support for the program of expelling Jews from Gush Katif, Judea, and Samaria. Outside of their regular security duties, the creative thoughts of the various commanders were directed at planning and executing the expulsion, while the main front was neglected, as if it posed no danger to the State of Israel… Those who had been cruel to their brothers, inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, did not accurately acknowledge the evilness of our enemies, and did not prepare the army for warfare against them.”

“The corruption of senior officers did not begin with the agenda of expulsion from Gush Katif. For years, the main objective of many officers has been their personal advancement. If in order to advance they needed to win on the battlefield, they would try their best to be successful. When the policies of the government began to degenerate, and instead of defeating Israel’s enemies, the goal turned into striving for peace with the most despicable people, and pleasing the Supreme Court and the media, the deterioration increased. When the settlers became semi-enemies, corruption had already become official, to the point of threatening Israel’s security. These are the cobwebs gripping Israeli consciousness, and damaging Israel’s ability to stand against its enemies.”

In view of the fact that what I wrote concerning the Second Lebanon War proved to be true, and in regards to the corruption of high ranking military officers details are gradually emerging – as was revealed to all in the affairs of the “Harpaz document” – I felt it was my duty to write my thoughts at this point as well.

A Happy and Holy Purim

A Day of Feasting and Joy

The mitzvah to be happy on Purim is greater than other holidays, for in regards to all the other holidays (Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot) it is written (Deuteronomy 16:14): “You shall rejoice on your festival”, and seeing as most people enjoy drinking wine, there is a mitzvah to so. However, there is no mitzvah to drink a large amount of wine (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 529:1-3). In regards to Purim, however, there is an explicit commandment to drink more than usual. Furthermore, this is the main purpose of the holiday of Purim – to be “days of feasting and joy” (Book of Esther 9:22). Therefore, the Sages said (Talmud Megillah 7b): “A man is obligated to intoxicate himself on Purim, till he cannot distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.”

The Purim Day Feast

Every person should have a festive meal including drinks on Purim, and while the entire night and day of the holiday is intended for joy, nevertheless, the pinnacle of enjoyment is the festive meal, since this is the way to express joy – with a large meal and drinks. Without food, drinking does not turn out well, and is not joyful. Therefore, one should arrange a special meal on Purim. The meal should be eaten in the afternoon. A person who eats the festive meal at night does not fulfill his obligation, because it is written: “days of feasting and joy” (Book of Esther 9:22; Talmud Megillah 7b).

Most people eat the meal in the afternoon, because in the morning they are busy hearing the ‘megillah’ reading, sending ‘mishloach manot’, and giving ‘manot l’evyonim’. After all this is done, they can have an enjoyable meal. Even if the meal continues till nightfall, they must still say ‘al ha’nissim’ in the ‘Birkat Ha’Mazone’, for we go according to when the meal began.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

Although the main part of the mitzvah occurs during the Purim festive meal, there is a mitzvah to be especially happy throughout all of Purim – both at night, and during the day. The happier one is, the more he glorifies the mitzvah. Thus, the Jewish people increase happiness throughout the entire holiday of Purim by means of singing and dancing, embracing friends, learning the joyful Torah, eating delicious foods and drinking tasty beverages. Every one should maximize his happiness according to his own personality.

What to Eat

In addition to wine and other drinks, one should prepare beef for the meal, seeing that most people enjoy eating meat. A person who finds it difficult to eat meat should make an effort to eat chicken, for it too is enjoyable. If one doesn’t have chicken or doesn’t like it, he should prepare other delicious dishes and rejoice in them together with wine.

The meal should be eaten with bread, because in the opinion of eminent ‘poskim’, a meal without bread is not considered important (Peninei Halacha Z’manim, 16:9 and 10).

How Much to Drink

The mitzvah is to turn Purim into “days of feasting and joy”, and the Sages said (Talmud Megillah 7b): “A man is obligated to intoxicate himself on Purim, till he cannot distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.” Yet, many opinions were stated in defining the mitzvah of ‘feasting’. In general, the various opinions can be ordered around two essential viewpoints.

Those Who Believe One Must Get Drunk

There are some authorities who say that the words of the Sages are meant to be taken literally, and that a person must get drunk until the point where he cannot distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai” (Rif, Rosh). That is to say, until he reaches a state of simple joy, free from his natural inhibitions; he laughs more, and he also cries more. True, he finds it difficult to walk straight, cannot remember all the details and various commitments he took upon himself, but his heart is good, and he loves his friends. In such a state, “cursed be Haman” is one and the same as “blessed be Mordechai”. In other words, although he knows that Haman is a ‘rasha’ (evil) and Mordechai a ‘tzaddik’ (righteous), nevertheless, when mentioning the two together, his feelings for them are the same. All is good, and all is for the best – in the end, in fact, everything did work out. Therefore, the happiness is not affected whatsoever. This is the nature of drunks – they cannot go into details, and everything seems the same to them, without any distinctions. In such a drunken and happy state, a person behaves in a way which would normally be considered improper. This was the custom of many ‘gedolei Yisrael’ (eminent Torah scholars), who would drink large amounts of wine on Purim.

Those Who May Get Wild

However, someone who knows that if he gets drunk, he is liable to get wild, hit friends, do ugly things, and terribly humiliate himself – even according to this opinion, he should avoid getting drunk, and be content with drinking a small amount. Some authorities say that the advice for such a person is to fulfill the mitzvah according to the Rambam – namely, to drink until he becomes intoxicated, and immediately go to sleep. While asleep, he won’t be able to distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.”

Intoxicated but Not Drunk

Some authorities believe that the mitzvah is to drink more than one is accustomed, to the point where he is intoxicated but not drunk. In other words, one feels slightly dizzy, is more relaxed and happy, but does not reach the level of drunkenness in which he is liable to behave indecently. The reason is that according to halacha, the opinion of Rebbe Ephraim which states that one must drink “ad d’lo yada” (till he cannot distinguish) is not accepted. Or possibly, the opinion that one must drink “ad d’lo yada” is accepted, however, it means until a person cannot speak properly, and when asked to repeat frequently “aror Haman, baruch Mordechai” (cursed be Haman, blessed be Mordechai), he will occasionally get confused (Tosephot and Ran).

The Root of the Disagreement on How to Drink

Apparently, in view of the fact that people react differently to drinking alcohol, there consequently are various opinions about how to fulfill the mitzvah of “feasting and joy” ‘l’mehadrin’ (strictly). For some people, large amounts of drinking cause them to get wild, while for others, it causes them to be calm and cheerful. Drinking a lot causes some people to throw-up, roll in their vomit, and humiliate themselves in front of all, while for others, drinking arouses them to reveal the best of themselves. Some people become tired, while others are stimulated. Therefore, each person should examine himself: is he a person who get’s happier when drinking a lot or a little; or is he similar to those who, after drinking, must immediately go to sleep.

Good Advice for Purim Drinkers

Given that many of us are not in the habit of getting drunk, it is advisable to learn a little about how to drink, for if not, one is liable to arrive sober to the Purim meal, but wake-up the next day in his house without remembering how he got there.

In general, the influence of alcohol reaches its peak only twenty minutes after being consumed. Therefore, to test the impact the alcohol has, one should wait at least thirty minutes between each drink. It is also good to combine drinking with eating, for then the wine is absorbed properly. By doing so, one can embrace his friends, reveal the goodness of his heart, and take joy in the salvation of Hashem.


Women are also commanded to drink more than usual, but they must be careful not to get drunk, because getting drunk is a greater disgrace for women than for men, for it violates the laws of modesty in which women excel.

It can also be said that due to their natural modesty, by drinking a small amount of wine, women can attain all of the virtues that men achieve by drinking a lot.

The Positive Side of Drunkenness is Revealed on Purim

Although in general drunkenness is disgraceful, nevertheless, its’ positive sides cannot be ignored. As a consequence of intoxication, basic happiness is revealed, expressing physical, unrestrained joy, filled with power and vitality. Normally, however, the lust and depravity of drunkenness obscures its positive side, and as a result, it causes wildness and numerous obstacles. But on Purim, when we drink and take joy in the salvation of Hashem, remembering the miracle that was done by means of the feast, the positive sides of drinking are revealed.

Revealing the Uniqueness of Israel

There is another profound meaning: On Purim, the eternal holiness of Israel is revealed, making clear that even what appears to be bad – is reversed for the good. The harsh decrees lead to repentance. By means of drinking wine for the sake of the mitzvah, the ‘sod’ (secret) is revealed, that even the material side of Israel – internally – is holy. And although the body and its physical sensations seem to interfere with serving Hashem, on the high level of Purim — “nahafach hu” (on the contrary), they greatly assist serving Hashem, in joy and vitality.

Joy in the Revelation of Perfect Faith

More profoundly: In general, the Torah and intellect should guide one’s life; when a person follows in this path he is happy, but his happiness is limited according to his knowledge. However, in the elevated level of faith, which we attain on Purim, we know that Hashem governs the world for the good, and although sometimes we do not understand His leadership, we discard our thoughts, and accept His leadership with joy. This is the level of “ad d’lo yada”, devotion to a level that is above all human perception, connected entirely to ’emunah’ (faith) and ‘mesirut nefesh’ (total devotion). And out of such supreme faith, which is the faith of Israel, we achieve boundless joy.

War against the Root of Evil

Remembering Amalek

In order to better understand our relation to the nation of Amalek and the great importance the Torah places on the remembrance of this nation’s evil acts, we must take note of the fact that there are three explicit Torah commandments regarding Amalek. The first commandment is to “remember that which Amalek did to you on the way, while you were leaving Egypt” (Deut. 25:17). In addition to being commanded to remember what they did to us, we are also commanded not to forget, as it is written: “Do not forget” (Ibid. 19). And finally there is a positive mitzvah to obliterate the entire nation of Amalek from the world, as it is written, “And when God allows you to rest from all of your surrounding enemies, in the land which the Lord your God has given you as an inheritance to possess, obliterate all memory of Amalek from under the sky” (ibid.)

What did Amalek do to cause the Torah to take such an extreme stand, commanding us to “obliterate all memory of Amalek from under the sky”?

Amalek was the first anti-Semite. The nation of Israel has a problem in this world. It appears that the faith-related and ideological message of the Jews causes all of the evil people in the world to attack us. This is not the place for an in-depth examination of the motives of anti-Semites throughout history, yet one thing is certain: There has never been a nation in the world so persecuted as the nation of Israel. From the destruction of the Temple, to the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms of Chmelnitzki, and finally, the terrible Holocaust which struck our people fifty years ago – all the ink and paper in the world would run out before all the stories of evil done to our people by the nations could be told.

And all of this began with Amalek. At the very birth of our nation while leaving Egypt, even before we had an opportunity to organize and unify ourselves, for no cause or reason whatsoever, Amalek came and attacked. And just who did they attack? Slaves on the path to freedom after hundreds of years of bondage!

Amalek is a nation which, by its very existence, gives expression to hatred of the People of Israel, and in turn, to hatred of the Torah and of the idea of perfecting the world through God’s kingship. Therefore, the Torah commands us to wipe out the nation of Amalek.

Why Israel Requires a Special Warning to Destroy Amalek

Jews are naturally merciful and kind people; there are even many commandments in the Torah educating them towards this goal. Therefore, the mitzvah to remember and not forget the evil actions of Amalek, and to eradicate them from the world, had to be emphasized in a particularly acute fashion. Only after evil is eradicated from the world can there be complete joy. Thus on Purim, after the obliteration of Haman and his sons, happiness is especially great.

The Communal and Individual Mitzvah to Destroy Amalek

The main mitzvah of obliterating Amalek rests upon the entire nation of Israel in general. Thus, the Sages said: “Upon entering the Land, Israel was commanded three mitzvoth: They shall appoint a king; they shall destroy the descendants of Amalek; they shall build a temple” (Talmud Sanhedrin 20b).

Although the main mitzvah of wiping-out Amalek rests upon the community in general, every individual Jew is also obligated to fulfill this mitzvah. Therefore, if one comes upon an Amalekite and has chance to kill him, but does not – he has annulled this mitzvah (Sefer HaChinuch, 604). Today, the seed of Amalek has been lost; however, if becomes clear that a certain person is an Amalekite, following in their ways, it would be a mitzvah to kill him (see, Kol Mevaser 2:42).

Is Amalek Capable of Nullifying His Death Sentence?

Though the Torah commands us to obliterate the nation of Amalek, if an Amalekite decides to take upon himself the fulfillment of the Seven Mitzvoth of Noah’s Sons, according to Jewish law, there is no longer an obligation to kill him. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, the Rambam, writes that it is forbidden to declare war on anybody without first attempting to settle things peacefully; if that nation agrees to our peace terms – the main condition of which is the acceptance of the Seven Mitzvoth of Noah’s Sons – it is forbidden to attack. This rule includes Amalek. Commenting on Rambam, Rabbi Yosef Karo adds that ‘If they take upon themselves these Seven Mitzvoth, they are no longer considered…Amalek – they are considered Children of Noah, and therefore acceptable.”

In other words, the obligation to kill every single Amalekite, only applies in a case where they refuse to accept the fundamental mitzvoth which the Torah places upon all of the Children of Noah, i.e., not to worship idols, not to commit adultery or incest, not to murder, not to steal, not to curse God, not to eat flesh from a living animal, and to establish courts of justice to rule ethically and justly in all that concerns relationships between individuals. If an Amalekite takes these mitzvoth upon himself, he is no longer considered an Amalekite, but a son of Noah.

All of this applies only if they accept these seven commandments when the peace offer is made, but if at first they did not accept the offer for peace, they are no longer given the opportunity to change their mind, and we must fight them till they are destroyed.

Can Amalek Convert?

There are conflicting opinions among Torah authorities regarding the question of Amalekite conversion to Judaism. In the Mechilta, Rabbi Eliezer teaches that God swore by his Throne of Glory that if an Amalekite should come to convert, he would not be accepted.

Yet, the Rambam appears to hold that it is permissible to receive a convert from the nation of Amalek, for, as the he explains in Mishneh Torah, any nation which converts, taking upon itself all of the mitzvoth of the Torah, becomes just like Israel… except for four nations: Ammon, Moab, Mitzrayim, and Edom. These nations are an exception, for though they can convert, restrictions are placed upon them when it comes to marrying Jewish women.

Perhaps we could say that all Torah authorities agree that it is preferable not to receive converts from Amalek, as is written in the Mechilta, yet, if a Torah court has already gone ahead and converted an Amalekite, the conversion is valid, and he is undeniably Jewish, as indicated by the Rambam.

In this light, it is important to take note of the words of the Talmud where it is told that “the grandchildren of Haman the wicked taught Torah in [the city of] Bnei-Brak” (Gittin 57b). It appears that the grandchildren of Haman converted and even became leading disseminators of the Torah. Some authorities explain that, indeed, this was a case in which the Torah court, by mistake, went ahead and accepted these people as converts, not knowing they were actually Amalekites. Once they were accepted as Jews, their conversion became completely valid, and from them came leading disseminators of Torah. Another possibility is that an Amalekite descendant of the wicked Haman raped a Jewish woman, and she gave birth to a child who, because his mother was Jewish, was, according to Jewish law, also considered Jewish. This opinion does not view the story of Haman’s grandchildren as proof that Amalekites may convert. Another possibility is that an Amalekite took upon himself the Seven Mitzvoth of Noah’s sons, leaving his people and joining another. After becoming integrated into this other nation, one of his children decided to convert to Judaism, and from him came leading disseminators of Torah.

Glatt or Kosher

Q: What should someone who makes a point to eat ‘chalak’ (glatt) meat do when invited to eat at another person’s house who is not meticulous about eating ‘chalak’, and feels uncomfortable asking whether the meat is ‘chalak’. Can he eat the meat or not?

A: He is allowed to eat the meat without asking whether it is ‘chalak’ or kosher, because this is a situation of ‘sefake sefayka’ l’hakel’ (a double uncertainty in which to be lenient). The first uncertainty is that perhaps the halacha goes according to the lenient opinion which holds that it is permissible to squeeze, manipulate, and peel ‘sirchot’ (adhesion of flesh) in order to check if there is a perforation underneath them. And even if we say that the halacha follows the stringent opinion, perhaps in actuality, the meat is in fact ‘chalak’ (D’var Shmuel Abuhav 320, Yibiyah Omer 5, Yoreah Deah 3).

Even when it is written ‘kosher’ on the meat, and thus seemingly there is no doubt that it is not ‘chalak’, it could be that it isn’t ‘chalak’ only because it had ‘sirchot’ requiring inspection according to the Ashkenazi ‘minhag’ (custom), but according to the ‘minhag’ of the ‘Bet Yosef’, such ‘sirchot’ are located in places that do not make the animal ‘treif’ and do not require inspection, and consequently, according to ‘minhag’ of ‘Bet Yosef’ the meat is ‘chalak’. Similarly regarding the Ashkenazi ‘minhag’ – perhaps the meat was determined not to be ‘chalak’ due to an excessive stringency with regards to very thin ‘sirchot’, but according to the letter of the law, such ‘sirchot’ are considered ‘chalak’ according to the Ashkenazi ‘minhag’. In addition to this, the words of the great Achronim – ‘Pri Chadash’ 39:3, and ‘Sha’agat Aryeh’ 64 – who wrote that nowadays the tendency is to declare many animals as being ‘treif’ because of fears and excessive stringencies, however, according to the letter of the law, the majority of animals are kosher without a doubt.

Consequently, ‘b’shat ha’dachak’ (in time of distress), when it is difficult to find out if the meat is ‘chalak’, a person who normally eats only ‘chalak’ meat, is allowed to eat meat which has only a ‘kosher’ certification.

Eating in a Restaurant

However, in regards to restaurants, those who are careful to eat ‘chalak’ must be meticulous not to eat in meat restaurants that do not have ‘mehadrin’ kashrut certification from a recognized kashrut institution. Even a person who normally eats only meat with a ‘kosher’ certification, should be careful to eat only in restaurants that have ‘chalak l’mehadrin’ certification, in order to insure that the meat he is eating is indeed kosher. For unlike large factories, which have standard kosher certification from a reliable rabbinate, can be trusted that, indeed, the foods are kosher, in restaurants, a standard kashrut certification does not guarantee that it is kosher, because without a permanent ‘mashgiach’ (supervisor), it is difficult to monitor a restaurant. And seeing as it is possible to receive a standard kashrut certificate without having a permanent ‘mashgiach’, one is unable to verify that the owner of the restaurant is careful to bring in only kosher meat. Incidentally, anyone who reads the fine print on the rabbinate certification of kashrut will find that often it is written that the kashrut is contingent on the worker’s being ‘shomerei mitzvoth’ (religiously observant), a condition which in practice, is not met.

However, in regards to a dairy restaurant where the problems of kashrut are less complicated, someone who is lenient and eats food with a standard kashrut certification from a reliable rabbinate has authorities he can rely on.

Kosher Certifications of Restaurants

Unfortunately, I must point out that in recent years, there are all sorts of Badatz’im (“high rabbinical courts”) giving fancy kashrut certificates to restaurants, attesting that they are “mehadrin lemehadrin” (strictly kosher), but in practice they lack a permanent ‘mashgiach’. At the very most, the ‘mashgiach’ acting on their behalf comes briefly once a day, and sometimes only once every few days, and occasionally only once a month in order to get paid. Therefore at best, such Badatz’im are considered like a standard rabbinate certification, and sometimes even less. And when it comes to meat, it is proper not to eat on the basis of their supervision. For example, in the center of Jerusalem, in the area of the shuk, almost all of the kashrut certificates are from these Badatz’im. Consequently, someone who wants to eat meat that is definitely kosher, should eat in a ‘kosher lemehadrin’ restaurant that has a permanent ‘mashgiach’ working on behalf of the Rabbinate, or a large and recognized kashrut institution, and who is present the majority of the day.

The Difference between 'Glatt' and Kosher Meat

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the prohibition of eating ‘treifa’ (the flesh of an animal attacked by a predator in the field), as it is written (Exodus 22:30): “Be holy people to Me. Do not eat flesh torn off in the field by a predator. Cast it to the dogs.” The intention of this verse is not to forbid the eating of an animal that was killed by a predator, because an animal that died without ‘shechita’ (the ritual slaughter of mammals and birds according to Jewish dietary laws) is already forbidden by the prohibition of ‘neveilah’, as it is written (Deuteronomy 14:21): “You may not eat any [mammal or bird] that has not been properly slaughtered.” Rather, it is referring to an animal that was attacked by a predator but managed to survive. In such a situation, Jewish law says that although the animal remained alive, given that it will eventually die as a result of being attacked, it is considered a ‘treifa’, and even if it is slaughtered according to Jewish law, it is forbidden to eat its flesh. However, one is permitted to gain benefit from it. Therefore, he can cast it to the dogs. Being attacked by a predator is only an example of a blow or a defect causing death; therefore any beast, animal or bird that has a defect or blow to their body that will eventually take their life are considered a ‘treifa’ and are forbidden to eat.

Difference between ‘Treifa’, Old Age and an Ailing Animal

Concerning an animal or bird about to die as a result of old age, seeing as they will die a natural death, they are not considered a ‘treifa’. However, if the animal has a defect or blow to one of its limbs which eventually will cause its death, since death had already been gnawing at its body it is considered a ‘treifa’, and ‘scheita’ is incapable of making its flesh edible.

What Type of Blow Makes an Animal ‘Treif’?

It is a ‘halacha l’Moshe mi’Sinai’ (law given to Moses from Sinai) that there are eight types of defects that cause an animal be ‘treifa’. The Sages enumerated this into eighteen categories, while the Rambam further specified seventy types of defects which make an animal ‘treifa’. The details of the laws of ‘treifot’ are explained in depth in the “Shulchan Aruch”, section Yoreah De’ah, over some thirty sections (29-60).

The Tana’im (Mishnaic Sages) had differing opinions about how long a ‘treif’ animal could continue living. Some said it could continue living up to thirty days, while on the other hand, others said up to two or three years. The opinion of the majority of the Sages is that an animal which has become ‘treif’ can live up to twelve months and not beyond (Talmud Chulin 42a; 57b). The halacha is that whenever there is a doubt if a certain animal has become ‘treif’, if it lives more than twelve months – this is a sign that it is not a ‘treifa’, because the vast majority of ‘treif’ animals cannot live more than twelve months. However, when it is clear that the animal or bird has received a blow that makes it ‘treif’, even if it continues to live more than twelve months, they are considered ‘treif’ (Shulchan Aruch 57:18).

Who Decides: The Veterinarian or Halacha?

Q: What is the halacha in a situation where veterinarians say that an animal with a certain type of ‘treif’ defect can live more than twelve months?

A: From the words of the ‘poskim’ (law arbiters), it seems that the time period of twelve months is not the most important point – the fact is that some Tana’im believed that a ‘treif’ animal could continue to live two or three years, while others thought such animals could not live more than thirty days. Rather, the laws of ‘treifot’ were set by the Sages according to the principles they learned from ‘halacha l’Moshe mi’Sinai, and anything they determined as being ‘treif’ is ‘treif’, and anything they determined as being not ‘treif’, is not. The reason for this is that the determining of halacha was transmitted to the Sages and the members of the Great Sanhedrin, as it is written (Deuteronomy 17:11): “You must keep the Torah as they interpret it for you, and follow the laws that they legislate for you. Do not stray to the right or left from the word that they declare to you.” This is also what the Rambam has written (Laws of Ritual Slaughtering 10:12-13, contrasting what was explained by Chazon Ish, Yorah De’ah 5:3; Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2, 73:4).

Must All Limbs be checked in Detail?

Any animal slaughtered according to halacha is presumed to be acceptable, and l’chatchila (from the outset), one is permitted to eat its meat without checking whether it has one of the seventy types of ‘treifot’ that the Sages listed. Although in a small percentage of animals there are defects which make it ‘treif’, as long as we are not aware of them – they are not forbidden. Only if there was concern about a particular organ must it be checked. This is what we learned in the Torah: “Do not eat flesh torn off in the field by a predator,” in other words, only an animal which has been attacked by a beast of prey requires checking.

Reason for Checking the Lungs

According to the basic law, there is no need to check the lungs either, because animals slaughtered in agreement with halacha are presumed to be kosher, since in the vast majority of animals there are no ‘treif’ defects. This is the practical ‘minhag’ (custom) as seen by the fact that we drink cow’s milk without worrying that perhaps its’ lungs have a defect, causing it to become ‘treif’. However, in the times of the ‘Gaonim’ (Babylonian Torah scholars 600-1000 C.E.), the directive requiring the checking of the lungs of all animals spread, seeing as ‘sirchot’ (adhesions), namely, growths on the lungs beneath which are a perforation which makes it ‘treif’, are prevalent. In truth, this directive is not a unique, because unlike other kinds of ‘sirchot’ – those on the lungs are prominent and evident to anyone who opens the animal’s body. And as we have learned, whenever a concern arises it must be checked; therefore in practice, anyone who saw a ‘sircha’ in a lung would have to check it. The innovation of the directive of the ‘Goanim’, then, is not to be satisfied with checking what one sees in any case, but to methodically check both lungs.

The Differences of Opinion

There are two major disagreements between the ‘Amora’im’ and ‘Rishonim’ concerning the law of ‘sirchot’, which are reflected in the practices of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews.

All agree that if a ‘sircha’ is found in certain area of the lungs, it does not make the animal ‘treif’. According to the Ashkenazi custom, this refers to isolated instances where the ‘sircha’ is hidden between the folds of the lung. As for the custom of the Sephardim, it refers to many more instances where the ‘sircha’ adheres to sections naturally attached to one and other. According to the Sephardic custom, there is absolutely no way to permit a ‘sircha’ located in an area that causes the animal to be ‘treif’, whereas according to the Ashkenazi custom, it is permitted to remove the ‘sircha’ by squeezing, manipulating, and peeling, and if it turned out that there was not a perforation underneath it – the animal is kosher. In this fashion, the majority of ‘sirchot’ are found to be kosher.

The Custom in Different Countries

The disagreement concerning the ruling of ‘sirchot’ of the lungs is equal – some of the ‘Rishonim’ were stringent, while others were lenient. Nevertheless, in practice, we have found that in every country where Jews could sell the meat of an animal that became ‘treif’ to a non-Jew, they were accustomed to be stringent in the law of ‘sirchot’. And in every place where the Jews could not sell ‘treif’ meat to the non-Jews, they relied on the lenient opinions, permitting the squeezing and manipulating of the ‘sirchot’ in order to check if underneath them there was a perforation.

Islamic clerics learned the mitzvah of ‘shechita’ from us, and according to their custom, they are permitted to eat meat slaughtered by a Jew. However, they do not follow the laws concerning ‘treifot’, and thus, it was possible to sell them slaughtered animals with ‘sirchot’ on their lungs. On the other hand, for the Christians, the custom of ‘shechita’ was strange and alien, and consequently, they did not agree to buy from the Jews slaughtered animals found to be ‘treif’. Since the financial loss in the Christian countries was huge, because the price of an animal could reach the equivalent of an entire year’s salary, or at least several months, the Jews in these countries relied on the lenient opinions.

Indeed, there were some important Jewish communities living in Islamic countries whose custom was to check the ‘sirchot’, such as North Africa, Persia, and Yemen. It seems that the Jews of Yemen and Persia suffered excessive hatred, and could not rely on the non-Jews buying their ‘treif’ meat; consequently, they acted according to the rule that in a situation of tremendous financial loss, it is possible to rely on the lenient opinion. In North Africa, in deed, there was an extremely heated argument between the veteran Jewish community who were stringent, and the Jews expelled from Spain who came from a Christian country and were accustomed to be lenient. In the end, the expelled Jews prevailed and the halacha was determined according to the lenient opinion.

Levels of Kashrut: ‘Glatt Chalak’ and Kosher

In practice, there are three levels of kashrut in the meat of animals: 1) kashrut according to the R’ma (Rabbi Moshe Isserles), whereby the ‘sirchot’ are peeled, and only if it turns out that there was a perforation underneath, the animal is ‘treif’. 2) Chalak ‘Bet Yosef’, according to which ‘sirchot’ are not checked at all, rather, in certain areas of the lung ‘sirchot’ do not make the animal ‘treif’. 3) Glatt according to the R’ma: in addition to the stringencies of the ‘Bet Yosef’ of not checking ‘sirchot’, there are ‘sirchot’ in areas which according to ‘Bet Yosef’ are not ‘treif’, but according to the R’ma, are.

Practically speaking, the kashrut of meat is presently divided into two levels: 1) kosher – namely, according to the custom of Ashkenaz, Morocco, and Yemen, where they would check ‘sirchot’. 2) ‘Chalak’, in which the stringencies of both the Shulchan Aruch and the R’ma are kept, because if only the stringencies of the ‘Bet Yosef’ are kept, there would be animals that are not ‘chalak’ according to the R’ma, and sometimes even ‘treifot’. This was the directive of the Rishon L’Tziyon, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l – that for ‘chalak’ kashrut, the stringencies of both the ‘Bet Yosef’ and the R’ma must be kept at the same time.

In Practice

In practice, the older an animal is, the more ‘sirchot’ are likely to be found in its’ lungs. In actuality, it turns out that from calves, approximately 10% percent of slaughtered meat ends up being ‘treif’, about 40% kosher, and around 50% ‘chalak’. In older cows, 35% are ‘treif’, about 55% are kosher, and 10% ‘chalak’.

The Halacha

Today, according to Jewish custom, there is a basis to act stringently and eat ‘chalak’ (‘glatt’), for we have found that in every country where it was possible to be stringent without great monetary loss, Jews would act according to the stringent practices. Also today, the difference in price between kosher meat and ‘chalk-glatt’ is not so great. However, someone whose family custom is to be lenient, is permitted, if he so chooses, to continue in his custom, for there are reliable authorities for him to depend on.

Several other halachic questions arise from this ruling, such as eating meat as a guest in someone’s house, or in a restaurant, which I will deal with next week.

Man is Like a Tree of the Field

Differences between Fruits and Vegetables

In honor of Tu b’Shvat, we will briefly discuss the virtues of fruits of the tree. First, the halacha: The blessing recited over fruits of the tree, such as grapes, pomegranates, apples, pears, walnuts, and almonds is “Borei pri ha’etz”. Over fruits of the ground, such as corn, lentils, peas, tomatoes, and cucumbers, the blessing “Borei pri ha’adama” is said.

Vegetables grow relatively fast. Within a few months from the time of planting they are ready for harvest, and the basic potency of the earth is more evident in them. In contrast, fruits undergo a complex procedure. In the first years, the tree needs to grow and take shape, and afterwards, in a relatively long process it receives food from the earth, absorbs it, and produces its’ fruit. One might say that earth-grown vegetables express the essentials and simplicity of life, whereas fruits grown on trees express enhancement and complexity, and usually fruits have a deeper and richer taste.

Trees are Comparable to Man

Trees are comparable to man – both must undergo a prolonged process until they reach maturity, but afterwards, their fruits are superior. And just like a tree whose fruit for the first three years is forbidden to eat due to the law of ‘orlah’, so too, a Jew must first learn Torah and be educated in the mitzvoth before he begins to accomplish things in this world.

Fruit of the Tree and Man

From the beginning, man ought to have eaten only fruit from the tree, as it is written (Genesis 2:16): “You may definitely eat from every tree of the garden.” Even grain, man’s most important food, grew on trees. And according the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah, the ‘etz ha’da’at’ (tree of knowledge) was wheat (Talmud Berachot 40a). On the other hand, animals were meant to eat vegetables and weeds. After the sin, man fell from his status and in order to rectify himself, was compelled to eat vegetables grown from the ground – or in other words, to make simpler and more fundamental ‘tikunim’ (rectifications). And even wheat fell from its original status and became a wild plant.

This is what our Sages said (Talmud Pesachim 118a): “When the Lord said to Adam “And thorns and thistles shall it (the earth) bring forth for you,” tears ran from Adam’s eyes, and he said: Creator of the Universe! Shall then I and my ass eat of the same crib?” But when he heard the Lord say: “In the sweat of your brow you will eat bread,” he felt relieved. In other words, upon realizing that although he was ordered to eat fruits of the ground, through his labor and efforts of plowing, planting, harvesting, grinding, kneading and baking, he could elevate the food of the ground and make it suitable for himself – he was reassured.

Today, although man’s main food comes from the fruit of the ground, there is still great importance to fruits of the tree, which raise and enrich the quality of man’s life, and connect him to a higher level. In the future, after the world is perfected, man’s food will once again be fruits, and he won’t have to bother planting every year. As our Sages said (Talmud 111b): “There will be a time when wheat will rise as high as a palm-tree…but in case you think that there will be trouble in reaping it (because of the height of the palm-tree)…the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring a wind from his treasure houses which He will cause to blow upon it. This will loosen its fine flour, and a man will walk out into the field, and from it, will take a mere handful which will be sufficient provision for himself and his family.” Concerning the Land of Israel, they said: “In the future, the Land of Israel will produce ‘gluska’ot’ (prepared cakes) and ‘klei milat’ (nice clothing)” (see “Pri Tzaddik”, Tu b’Shvat 1).

Manna – Educational Dietetic Food

“The Israelites were to eat the manna for forty years” (Exodus 16:35). The manna was educational bread – it taught belief in Divine supervision. Since the Israelites could not preserve the manna from one day to the next, everyday they had to believe that God would also make the manna fall the following day. The manna also educated towards proper eating (dietetic) habits, for the devourers who wanted to eat more than they needed, and thus gathered multiple pieces of manna, its husk became thicker, until in the end, they received only the amount they were meant to get for that day. The manna also educated towards Sabbath observance by means of a double portion falling on Friday. And since the Israelites were free from the concern of making a living, they could direct themselves to Torah study throughout the forty years. This is what Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said: “Torah was given to learn only to those who ate manna. How so? A person would sit and learn, and not know how he would have food to eat or liquids to drink, and how he would have clothes to cover himself” (Mechilta, B’Shelach).

The Spirituality in Food

The holy Arizal explained that every food has a spiritual source, and when a person eats, his body is nourished from physical substance within the food, while his soul receives its nourishment from the spirituality in the food. Consequently, it is obvious that the spiritual source of the manna which fell from the heaven was extremely high, giving Israel strength to engage in Torah and grasp its profound ideas.

Precisely because of the manna’s tremendous spirituality, there were some amongst Israel who complained about its taste being too subtle, and the spiritual tension they sensed as a result of eating it.

The Holy Fruits of Israel

Rabbi Natan Shapira, a student of the holy Arizal asked: Why was it that when our forefathers were in the desert, they merited eating the heavenly manna, but when they entered the Holy Land, it ceased to fall? He answered: The desert and ‘chutz l’aretz’ (lands outside of Israel) are impure places that are not able to absorb holiness into its fruit, and therefore it was necessary to shower manna from heaven so the Israelites could absorb the Torah. However, in Israel – the holy land – holiness is revealed and incorporated in the blessed fruits, and consequently, there was no more need to shower manna for them from the heavens. Rabbi Shapira’s companion, Rabbi Moshe Zechut, added that, on the contrary – the holiness in the fruits of the Land of Israel exceeds that of the manna; through eating them in holiness, a ‘tikun’ (rectification) and clarification of physical reality is made (from Rabbi Natan Shapira’s book “Tov Ha’aretz”).

Rabbi Kook explained that the holiness of the Land of Israel is revealed naturally, whereas the Divine Presence which descended with us to the Diaspora had the ability to place holiness in contrast to nature. This, however, is not a complete holiness. Our greater aspiration is to reveal holiness naturally in the Land of Israel (Orot 77).

Living Outside of Israel is Akin to Idol Worship

The Sages said (Talmud Ketubot 110b): “Anyone (Jewish) who lives in the Land of Israel – is like someone who has a God, and anyone who lives outside of the Land – is like someone without a God.” They also said: “Anyone who lives outside of the Land of Israel – it is as if he worships idols.”

Seemingly, this is extremely difficult: We see that there are tremendously dedicated, religious Jews living outside of Israel. Why would they be considered as being without a God and idol worshippers?

However, one must realize that the main foundation of faith is to know that God is one and is revealed both in heaven and on earth. The basic sin of idol worship is that it separates and divides the world into various domains. The foremost division is between heaven and earth, spiritual and material. And since outside of the Land of Israel holiness can be revealed only in spirituality, with certain alienation towards nature, the impression is given that the word of God is revealed only in the spiritual domain, and as if it cannot be revealed in the actual, physical reality. This is similar to someone who does not have a God and worships idols. In the Land of Israel, however, where settling the land is an intrinsic part of faith and mitzvoth, and where fruits are naturally holy – the unifying faith is revealed.

Consequently, the building of the Land of Israel is the foundation of the Redemption, for through it, holiness can be revealed in all its levels throughout the entire world, and thus there will be peace between the spiritual and the material, peace between nations, and peace between all of the various viewpoints.

A Holocaust Survivor’s Lecture

In one of the ‘ulpanot’ (girls seminary), the school invited a Holocaust survivor to tell about events she encountered during those terrible years. Before the lecture, the girls gradually filled the hall. The virtuous girls, who arrived first, sat in the middle. Those who followed sat in the back. Latecomers, some of whom were students with attention deficit disorders, were forced to sit in the front rows.

The lecture had a promising beginning. The presenter spoke vividly, and as expected, her story was emotional. However, when she started to open-up more and tell about the dreadful things she experienced, some of the girls who sat in front of her began chatting and playing with their cell phones. The Holocaust survivor was forced to stop speaking, and ask them to be quiet. She was able to get out a few more sentences, but once again the same girls began chatting, this time with other girls joining in. Thus, every few minutes, she had to stop the lecture and plead for a little quiet. She tried to speak fluently and with feeling, but without success. The teachers who were sitting on the sides, settled with sending frowns to the chatterer’s, and one teacher actually stood-up for a second and asked for silence, but she did not directly reprimand them, or instruct them to leave. Some girls felt terrible. We are talking about an eighty year old woman who had already experienced enough troubles in the Holocaust, nor did she deserve to suffer and be degraded before all the girls.

The end of the lecture was surprising. Without knowing what was going on in the auditorium, the social activities coordinator suddenly appeared, and while asking for forgiveness, turned to the Holocaust survivor and the girls and said it turns out that they did not plan the schedule very well, and the subject teachers are already waiting to start their classes. Therefore, with much regret and apologies to the Holocaust survivor who in no way whatsoever is to blame for the scheduling mishap, she is forced to ask her to finish speaking within five minutes.

Her insult could be felt in the air. The Holocaust survivor could barely utter a broken sentence, and thus finished speaking.


The fact that the chattering girls behaved in a dreadful way is obvious. The teachers are also guilty for this. They should have been careful about guarding the honor of a Holocaust survivor, and teach the girls ‘derech eretz’ (good manners) and morals. However, even the virtuous girls who arrived first and sat in the middle must know they should have sat in the front row, thereby expressing their full interest and desire to listen and honor the lecturer.

I heard this story a few years ago, and I changed some of the details. Please do not try guessing where it happened, because since then I have heard that similar incidents have occurred in various places, therefore, the hats on top of many heads should now be burning. It is not my intention to accuse, but to draw attention to this moral issue.

Sanctity of Human Life

Suffering Animals

Recently, I received a question from a veterinarian: “A pet owner brought me his cat which is suffering from extreme weakness and can barely move. We took x-rays and consulted with experts from America, and it turns out that the cat suffers from an incurable, extremely painful degenerative disease. This being the case, I advised the owner to put the cat out of his suffering with anesthesia. However, the owner claims he consulted with a religious advisor who told him that it is forbidden to put the cat to sleep. We agreed to ask you, Rabbi, what the ‘halacha’ (Jewish law) says, and act accordingly.”

Answer: It is a mitzvah from the Torah not to cause pain to animals (Mishna Berura 32:2; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 272:10). Nevertheless, it should be made clear that the approach towards the life of animals is completely different from that of human life. The approach towards human life is one of sanctity. Man was created in the image of God, who breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and placed upon him the responsibility of ‘tikun olam’ (perfecting the world). Therefore, every second that the Divine soul rests in man is precious, and by no means should his life be shortened. And even if a person is tormented with the pains of a serious ailment, it is forbidden to kill him.

On the other hand, the life of animals is not so precious; the most important thing is not to cause them pain. Consequently, a person who has a cat or dog suffering from an incurable illness or injury, and it is evident that they are in great pain – it is preferable to kill them in a painless way in order to prevent suffering and misery. On the contrary – by killing them, one fulfills the mitzvah of preventing pain to animals.

Treating a Seriously Ill Person who Wishes to Die

Q: Is it permitted to stop giving food or liquids intravenously to a seriously ill patient who wishes to die?

A: Stopping the supply of liquids is considered murder (Talmud Sanhedrin 77a; Rambam, Laws of Murderer 3:10). And even if the bag of liquids connected to the patient has run out, the caregivers are obligated to renew the supply. Likewise, insulin must be given to a diabetic patient requiring it. The reasoning behind this is that the morality of the Torah is of an active nature. Not only is it forbidden to cause the death of a person, but there is an obligation to save his life, as it is written (Leviticus 19:16): “Do not stand still when your neighbor’s life is in danger.”

The general rule is that all routine treatment must be given to the patient, even if he is in severe pain. But there is no obligation to give treatment that is considered extraordinary to a gravely ill patient who is suffering and wishes to die. For example, in the case of a seriously ill patient who suddenly stops breathing, or his heart stops beating, there is no obligation to perform resuscitation. Similarly, there is no obligation to give him medicines that might prolong his life (Minchat Shlomo 91:24, and this is also what Rabbi Goren wrote).

What to Decide

Q: What should a patient do in a situation where cancer has spread to many parts of his body to the point where his life cannot be saved, however, with chemotherapy or surgery, his life can be extended for another few days or weeks, but entailing great suffering? Is he obligated to receive the treatment and live a little longer in great pain, or is he permitted to avoid taking the medication?

A: A seriously ill patient is entitled to decide for himself what is most appropriate. If he is a God-fearing person with strength to accept agony, and asks what is preferable, he should be encouraged to take the life-extending medications, and told that one hour spent in repentance in this world is worth more than the whole life of the World to Come, and that he will be rewarded for taking them – living and enduring the pain a little longer in this world (Minchat Shlomo 91:24, Pininei Halacha Likutim, part 2, 15:4-7). It should be mentioned that today, there are effective sedatives that can make a seriously ill patient’s suffering tolerable.

Severe Sedatives

Q: Is it permitted to give a patient a severe sedative, such as a large amount of morphine, which will significantly alleviate his suffering, but on the other hand, there is some concern that it might hasten his death?

A: A distressed patient may be given these medications, provided that the intended goal is to calm his pain, and not to shorten his life. Given that there is no certainty the drugs will cause his death, the fundamental obligation to do everything possible to make it easier for the patient to endure his suffering remains in effect. Additionally, the patient’s relatively good feeling might give him the strength to cope with the disease, so that ultimately, the sedatives will result in prolonging his life and not shortening it (Tzizt Eliezer 13:87; Nishmat Avraham, Yore’ah De’ah 339:4, in the name of Rav Aeurbach).

The Meeting between the ‘Nazir’ and Professor Gershom Shalom

The gaon, Rabbi Sha’ar Yishuv Cohen, the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, told the story that once Professor Gershom Shalom, the renowned kabbalah scholar, came to see his father – Rabbi David Cohen, ‘The Nazarite’ ztz”l, and spoke for hours in a friendly and respectful atmosphere. At the end of the discussion, the Rabbi ‘Nazir’ turned to Professor Shalom, and with a smile said: “Reb Gershom, you could be an excellent ‘buchalter’ (bookkeeper) of kabbalah books, but you never will be a true ‘mekubal’ (kabbalist).

Incidentally, Professor Shalom apparently was not offended by this, because a number of times he wrote that the only living ‘mekubal’ in his generation was Rabbi Kook. All the rest were important and distinguished scholars of kabbalah, but not ‘mekubalim’ (like the Arizal, Ramchal, and so forth).

Professor Rivka Shatz

In regards to this, I will refer to Professor Rivka Shatz Oppenheimer z”l, who was one of the greatest scholars of kabbalah and Chassidut, and one of Professor Gershom Shalom’s most important students. For many years on a weekly basis she would visit our teacher and leader, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook ztz”l, and learn with him. I personally saw her there a number of times, waiting to enter the Rabbi’s room, and as a very young boy, I couldn’t understand why this women was always there. Incidentally, the doctor who performed surgery on me half a year ago is her son; he and his brother would take turns driving their mother to Rabbi Kook’s house.

My friend, Rabbi Ze’ev Sultanovich, told me that Prof. Rivka Shatz related to him that once, Prof. Shalom met her by chance in the university, and asked how she was doing. In passing, she mentioned that she learned with Rabbi Kook. Prof. Shalom thought for a moment, and said with a tinge of regret: “Rivka, you have merited something I never have.”

Prof. Shatz also related that she was aware of Rabbi Kook’s critical opinion of Prof. Shalom’s research, but nevertheless, she never heard a negative word about him from Rabbi Kook. She highly respected the extent of his valor, refraining from trying to influence her in the matter.

Professor Shatz’s acquaintance with Rabbi Kook resulted in an in-depth study of the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook ztz”l, and a series of lectures in the Hebrew University which were received enthusiastically by hundreds of students. She also related that other professors would say to her jealously: “Rivka, when we see a group of students standing in fervent debate and discussion, we know they came out of your lecture on Rabbi Kook.”

She had prepared a rough copy of a broad introduction to the teachings of Rabbi Kook, but did not manage to complete it before her disease overcame her. I asked her son, the doctor, if he knew where the draft was, but he could not find it.

Professor Yosef Ben Shlomo

Interestingly, a similar process occurred with Professor Yosef Ben Shlomo z”l, a friend of Rivka Shatz, and a fellow student of Prof. Shalom. He also became exceptionally devoted to the teachings of Rabbi Kook, which he taught at Tel Aviv University. For several years, these lectures received the highest mark in student opinion polls. The university management always knew that when Prof. Ben Shlomo gave his course on Rabbi Kook, they had to assign him the largest lecture hall. When he was asked in an interview who he thought was the greatest Jew in recent generations, he answered: “Rabbi Kook, without a doubt.”

As part of his identification with the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Prof. Ben Shlomo relocated to the community of Kedumim in Samaria. He paid a visit to us once here in Har Bracha, and I visited him twice at his home. He possessed a deep desire to write a comprehensive book on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, a work which he labored upon for thirty years. But as he told me, he always preferred lecturing over the job of writing. He had rough drafts intended for a sizeable book, but with deep regret he told me he would not be able to complete and publish the book. When I asked him why, he told me that he was terminally ill.

These two distinguished scholars were bold supporters of the Greater Israel idea, and settlement in Judea and Samaria. ‘Woe for those who are lost to us, for their like cannot be found’.

An Equal Inheritance

Leaving a Child Out of the Will

Q: Our son acts impolitely towards us, does not respect us, and is almost completely not religious. We are considering dispossessing him from our inheritance that we will leave for the rest of children after we pass on. Is this the proper thing to do?

A: The Sages do not look approvingly upon someone who dispossesses his children, or even one of them, from his inheritance. Accordingly, the ‘Amora’ (ancient Jewish scholar) Shmuel told Rabbi Yehudah, to be careful not to sign a will of a father who dispossessed one of his children from his inheritance. And even if the father has two children – one good, and one evil – Rabbi Yehudah was warned not to sign as a witness on a will that transfers the inheritance of the evil child to the good one (Talmud Baba Batra 133b). This law was codified in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] (Choshen Mishpat 282:1). The basis for this law is that even if one’s child is not good, nevertheless, his grandchild might end up being good. If his father deprives him of his inheritance, the child will be bitterly insulted and distance himself even further from the family, and consequently, the odds are even greater that he won’t educate his children properly. In difficult cases, it is best to consult with a ‘talmid chacham’.

Parents who show favoritism amongst their children arouse controversy and destroy their family. The disinherited child will accuse his siblings of flattering their parents in order to alienate him and take his share of the inheritance, and will bear a grudge for the rest of his life. His children will grow-up distanced from their relatives, and the family will be torn apart.

Additionally, chances are that in the long run, even the children who received a larger portion of the inheritance will feel estranged towards their parents. True, they will be happy about receiving a larger portion of the inheritance, but towards their parents they will feel a sense of alienation. The bond between children and their parents must be absolute and eternal, a connection independent of any specific factor. If the children see that the relationship with their parents is dependent on honoring or flattering them, they will not consider them as being good parents, but rather as people who cared more about their honor, to the point where even with their own children, they acted with pettiness and vindictively.

Nevertheless, a distinction must be made between a person who occasionally sins, but in general is connected to Jewish tradition, and someone who completely left the faith. It is proper not to disinherit a child who remains connected to Jewish tradition, for the chances are that he or his children will one day return to traditional Judaism. However, someone who completely left traditional Judaism and is likely to assimilate amongst the non-Jews, the chances of his children returning to traditional Judaism are minimal, leaving room to consider disinheriting him from all or part of the inheritance (see Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:50; Dinei Maimonot by Rav Batzri, part 3, gate 5:3; Pitchei Hachoshen, part 9, 4:1).

Can Preference be given to Religious Children?

Q: One of our children is slightly religious, but in general, considers himself as being secular. Isn’t there any way I can strengthen the religiosity of my family by means of the inheritance?

A: One suggestion might be to dedicate a certain portion of the inheritance towards payment for Torah education of your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In this manner all your children – without exception – will be encouraged to send their children to Torah institutions, and if one of them decides to send his children to a secular school, he loses his portion by himself. Nevertheless, it is advisable to divide a portion of the inheritance evenly amongst all the children, in order to convey the absolute connection between yourselves and your children.

Can Preference be given to a Child Who Teaches Torah?

Q: Is it permitted to give a larger portion of one’s inheritance to a son who teaches in yeshiva, has a relatively low salary, and has more children?

A: If the goal is to help maintain a ‘talmid chacham’ (Torah scholar), and his other siblings realize this and won’t become jealous – he can be given a larger portion of the inheritance. If, however, they will be jealous, it is forbidden to show favoritism. In a related fashion, we have learned in the Torah that our forefather Ya’acov favored Yosef more than his brothers, showing him slight preference. However, because his brothers did not appreciate his exceeding virtues, they became jealous of him, and a terrible rift was created in Ya’acov’s family. This is what the Sages have said (Talmud Shabbat 10b): “One should never show preference for one child above his other children, as for the sake of two selas’ weight of silk (the colorful coat), which Ya’acov bestowed on Yosef in preference to his other sons, the brothers became jealous of Yosef, and the development brought about our ancestors’ migration into Egypt.”

However, while still alive, parents are permitted to provide additional assistance to a son who learns Torah, and can even make an agreement with him, similar to that of Yissachar and Zevulon, [where the former would learn Torah full-time, and the latter would finance his brother’s studies, and in return, receive part of the reward]. Such an agreement the other siblings could probably understand, seeing that it is not an absolute declaration that the parents prefer this son over the others. But in the inheritance itself, which reflects the ultimate and final attitude toward the children, it is forbidden to discriminate without the matter being willfully agreed upon by all.

Mitzvah to Serve in the I.D.F., and If Necessary, To Refuse Orders

Q: In a situation where the General Staff of the I.D.F. makes a decision forcing soldiers to transgress halacha, is there a mitzvah to serve in the army? Is it proper to sign the petition not to enlist in the army until the issue is straightened out?

A: It is a great mitzvah to serve in the army for the purpose of defending the nation and the Land, a mitzvah which is equal to all the other mitzvoth combined, for two reasons. First, anyone who saves a life is regarded as having saved an entire world (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5), all the more so when dealing with saving the lives of the entire Jewish nation from their enemies. Second, the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel, of which serving in the army is an important component, is equal to all the other mitzvoth (Sifrei, Re’i, parsha 53).

Therefore, it is a mitzvah to enlist in the army, and when a soldier receives an order which contradicts halacha, he should refuse to obey. (Rambam, Laws of Kings 3:9). Nevertheless, in extreme cases, there is room to consider a temporary postponement of enlisting, with the intention of rectifying the situation, as the Sages said in regards to Moshe Rabbeinu breaking the tablets – “Sometimes the cancellation of the Torah, is its’ foundation” (Talmud Menachot 99b).

In practice, a large number of men from the Haredi sector and ‘ba’alei teshuva’ (newly religious) do not enlist, figuring that it is impossible to fulfill the mitzvoth properly in the army, and a decision similar to that of the General Staff, will likely strengthen this trend significantly. Consequently, on rare occasions there is room to consider postponing enlistment, so as to ultimately bolster recruitment. Has the time come for such a protest? I’m not sure. In every protest, there is room to weigh the advantages and disadvantages.

In any case, the high road is to enlist into the I.D.F. in order to defend the nation and the Land, and yet, to refuse orders that contradict halacha.

One thing is clear: It is incumbent upon the public leaders to do their utmost to publicly cancel the shameful decision of the General Staff, which was passed without any noticeable protest from the I.D.F. Rabbinate. Our great fear is that the public leaders will not act properly, and even obscure the public outcry, thus thwarting its impact, and in the end, the stain of this disgraceful decision forcing soldiers to transgress halacha will stick to the I.D.F., and the numbers of those abstaining from enlisting will increase.

Should We Oppose the Lenient?

Q: Should we oppose those who follow the lenient opinion of hearing a woman sing in a dignified performance?

A: There are a number of ‘poskim’ who hold that in the opinion of some ‘Rishonim’, the prohibition is only reciting words of holiness [i.e. She’ma Yisrael, etc.] while hearing a woman sing, but at other times, it is permitted to hear the voice of a woman singing (this is the opinion of a few of the ‘Rishonim’ according to the interpretation of some ‘Achronim’ – ‘Be’er Sheva’ and ‘S’redei Aish’). Therefore, one should not oppose those who are lenient in this matter because they have authoritative opinions to rely on. However, the halacha goes according to the vast majority of ‘poskim’ who instructed that, in practice, it is forbidden to hear women sing.

Yet, when a person or soldier is forced to act in contrast of the commonly accepted halacha, even those who are lenient must do their utmost to assist individuals wishing to act in accordance with the commonly accepted halacha. As our teacher, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook ztz”l, wrote (Igeret 237) to an officer of Baron Rothschild who wanted to force the settlers to act leniently and work the Land during a ‘Shmita’ (Sabbatical) year, according to the ‘heter ha’mechira’ (a halachic means of allowing agriculture to continue during the ‘Shmita’ year): “When there is a compelling and coercive force, whether it be from a Jew or a non-Jew, there is absolutely no difference between ‘kulot’ (Rabbinical decrees) and ‘chumrot’ (Torah decrees), and all of the mitzvoth collectively, in this regards, have the law of ‘chumrot’. Our history is replete with evidence, that when somebody wanted to force Jews to transgress even a seemingly insignificant detail of Judaism, they stood against the imposing power with all their might, and even sacrificed their lives…”

The Golden Days of the I.D.F. Rabbinate

Should I Resign?

Q: I am a military rabbi. After what you wrote in last week’s column, should I resign?

A: You do not have to resign, but you must realize that you do not serve in a rabbinical role, and you certainly are not a ‘mara d’atra’ (local halachic authority). Rather, you are a military chaplain whose job is to help soldiers fulfill mitzvoth and connect them to Judaism. On the other hand, the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F. himself should have resigned, or make amends by announcing publicly that in no way will there be coercion against Jewish law in the army, and any soldier who wishes to leave and not hear women sing in any army ceremony whatsoever, can do so with the full backing of the I.D.F. Rabbinate.

Criticizing the I.D.F. Rabbinate

Q: Aren’t you concerned that strong criticism of the I.D.F. Rabbinate will harm its status, and frustrate its capability to maintain religious life in the army?

A: On the contrary. Perhaps because of this criticism, the I.D.F. Rabbinate will be able to restore its previous status. Baruch Hashem, I was privileged to receive considerable backing from a number of former I.D.F. rabbis who are very familiar with the military framework, and they supported what I wrote. They told me that without a doubt, had the Chief Rabbi of the army threatened to resign, the General Staff would not have dared to force religious soldiers to transgress Jewish law. A perfect example is the case of Rabbi Ra’avad from the Air Force who only threatened to resign from a certain task the army had placed upon him – half a year before his compulsory retirement – and within two days, the heads of the army announced that Haredi soldiers would not be compelled to anything against their will, and all the terms guaranteed them would be fulfilled completely. Nonetheless, in the weakened condition of the I.D.F. Rabbinate, I am not sure who will oversee this.

In any case, by virtue of the former I.D.F. rabbis remarks and support, I will relate a few stories from the days when the military rabbis fought for their standpoints, and were able to instill in the army the proper approach to the sacred values of Judaism. And the conditions under which the rabbis operated back then were much more difficult, for there were relatively few religious soldiers, and almost no religious officers.

Rabbi Gad Navon ztz”l

Once, during tense days in the south of Israel, a large number of soldiers arrived at the command headquarters before Shabbat. The regional Commanding Officer, Moshe Dayan, ordered that food be cooked for them on Shabbat. However, Rabbi Gad Navon, the rabbi of the Southern Command, who was present at the base for Shabbat, opposed Dayan’s order because it was possible to provide the soldiers with ‘manot krav’ (C rations). Upon hearing this, Moshe Dayan entered the kitchen, and in front of Rabbi Navon, ordered the chefs to cook. Rabbi Navon argued with him. Meanwhile, as one of the cooks was about to place a pot on the burner, Rabbi Navon unhesitatingly grabbed the pot in order to spill its contents. Moshe Dayan then quickly came to the assistance of the cook, and the two attempted to place the pot on the burner. But Rabbi Navon persisted, and for a number of minutes they stood there arguing, pulling the pot from side to side, until Dayan gave up, let go of the pot, and stormed out of the kitchen. When the cooks saw what had happened, they handed out ‘manot krav’ to the soldiers and did not desecrate the Shabbat (‘Not by Might, Nor by Power’, pg. 141).

Are today’s military rabbis prepared to stand up in front of an I.D.F. commanding officer in order to defend Judaism’s sacred values and the Jewish character of the I.D.F., or would they claim that it is national ‘pikuach nefesh’ (life-threatening situation) not to quarrel with the regional Commanding Officer?

Another former senior I.D.F. rabbi told me that Rabbi Navon was wise and clever, and would not allow the Rabbinate to be humiliated. He was capable of making far-reaching ‘kulot’ (leniencies) in the private sphere, but publicly, he safeguarded the honor of the Rabbinate, not allowing it to be manipulated by external pressures. He also was a wise advisor to the Chief of Staff, preventing him from getting into trouble by making offensive statements towards the religious public and Jewish law, like the present Chief of Staff recently did.

Rabbi Goren ztz”l

In addition to his genius in Torah, Rabbi Goren ztz”l, the first Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F., was courageous. He publicly stated that every time a soldier receives an order contrary to a mitzvah, he must refuse the order. He was accustomed to reiterate and repeat this to the soldiers on numerous occasions.

Once, after publishing this position in the I.D.F. Rabbinate journal, he aroused the anger of the Chief of Staff, Chaim Laskov. The Chief of Staff claimed that this would undermine the foundations of discipline in the army, and ordered the immediate discontinuation of funding for the printing of the journal. But Rabbi Goren did not give in, involved the religious community leaders, by-passed the Chief of Staff, and demanded a hearing before the Minister of Defense and Prime Minister at the time – David Ben Gurion.

The Chief of Staff claimed that a soldier must first follow the order, even though it entails violating the Sabbath, and if he believes that the order contravenes Jewish law – after Shabbat he can file a complaint against his commander. Rabbi Goren answered that, in terms of halacha, this situation is similar to that of someone who was ordered to kill an innocent person; according to the words of the Chief of Staff, he should kill him first, and afterwards file a complaint with his commander. Just as the dead person cannot be brought back to life by means of a complaint, so too, the desecration of the Sabbath, whose punishment is as severe as killing a person, cannot be corrected retroactively.

Ben Gurion accepted Rabbi Goren’s position, and issued a reprimand in writing to the Chief of Staff. At that point, Rabbi Goren further complained that the Chief of Staff had discontinued funding for publishing the journal of the I.D.F. Rabbinate. Ben Gurion instructed the Chief of Staff to immediately return the funding for the publishing of the journal, and not only that, but ordered him to double its size!

Rabbi Goren would tell this story repeatedly, and would even describe in detail how the Chief of Staff Laskov entered Ben Gurion’s office with a salute, befitting a trainee of the British army, and how he meekly accepted Ben Gurion’s directives afterwards. Today, the students of Rabbi Goren can understand why he found it so important to tell this seminal story so many times.

Incidentally, it was clear to all that had the Chief of Staff interfered with the administration of religious life in the army, Rabbi Goren would have resigned, and this threat also served its purpose.

The Main Passover Seder

Once, when Moshe Dayan was the Chief of Staff, he brought to the main Seder ceremony a female singer, and requested that Rabbi Goren allow her to sing a few sections of the Passover hagadah. Rabbi Goren refused, saying that if she sings, he would leave and conduct his own Seder alone. Dayan got angry and threatened, but in the end he submitted, and Rabbi Goren conducted the Seder ceremony properly. (With a touch of irony, I must add that it’s interesting to note that despite Rabbi Goren’s stubborn refusal to accept the Chief of Staff’s orders, the I.D.F was not destroyed, and the State of Israel still exists…).

A Surprise Visit

Once, Rabbi Goren received an anonymous letter from a soldier who wrote that on the Air Force base, soldiers were being forced to drink milk after eating meat, because the doctors said that drinking milk helps solve the problem of dust that existed in the area. Rabbi Goren decided to make a surprise visit. Since the location of the base was secret, Rabbi Goren asked his driver to wait in a hidden place next to the base, and when an army vehicle arrived, he told his driver to follow the vehicle until they reached the base. When Rabbi Goren entered the kitchen, he was told that indeed, soldiers were ordered to drink milk after finishing a meat meal. Inquiring who gave the order, he reached the Battalion Commander, who told him that those were the orders, and there is no way to change them. Rabbi Goren told him that he is the one who dictates the orders, and seeing there was a medical reason, he permitted the soldiers to drink milk one hour after finishing a meat meal. Afterwards, he left the base and went to say tehillim at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Calculating that the soldiers had finished their lunch, he instructed his driver to return to the base, and found that once again, the soldiers were ordered to drink milk immediately after the meat meal. In the wake of this, Rabbi Goren summoned the Battalion Commander to a military trial in front of the Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin. The Battalion Commander informed Rabin that if he is made to stand trial, he would resign from the army. The Chief of Staff requested Rabbi Goren forgo the trial, and even noted that the Battalion Commander under question hailed from a very important family. But Rabbi Goren insisted that he be put on trial, even if as a result, he resigned. And thus it was, Yitzchak Rabin z”l tried the commander, and he resigned from the army (Rabbi Aryeh Shalom related this story).

Another Battalion Commander’s Dismissal

Another time, a Battalion Commander wanted to check to see if his religious soldiers would obey his commands, and instructed them to attend to their tanks at the time of the ‘seudat mafseket’ (meal before the fast) before Yom Kippur, and thus, they entered the fast without having eaten a proper meal beforehand. Rabbi Goren would not agree to any compromise other than the immediate dismissal of the Battalion Commander from the army. This is how Rabbi Goren always acted – together with the deep friendship he had with many officers, when mitzvoth and the Torah were at harm – he did not compromise. Quite a few officers were dismissed, or their professional advancement was stopped as a result of damage caused to the sacred values of Israel and the fulfillment of mitzvoth. Rabbi Goren’s position was that if the sanctity of Israel’s traditions is not foremost in the mind of an officer, he is unfit to be a commander in the I.D.F. and send soldiers to battle for the sake of the Jewish Nation.

Self Examination

It would be fitting for the I.D.F. Rabbinate to make a ‘cheshbon nefesh’ (reckoning): Why aren’t there rabbis today who are willing to confront the Chief of Staff? Would they be prepared to place a Battalion Commander on trial for harming the sacred values of Judaism? Why didn’t they demand the dismissal of the Brigade Commander in charge of the officer’s training base, Eran Niv, and the Battalion Commander, Lt. Colonel Uzi Kliger, who ordered the religious cadets, Yeshiva graduates, to hear female singers, and when they refused, dismissed them from the officer’s course? The Rabbinate did not concede on their individual honor, but rather on the honor of Israel’s heritage.

The present capitulation of the I.D.F. Rabbinate to the pressures of the Chief of Staff entails a serious accusation towards the secular public, as if to say the secular are unwilling to respect those who guard Israel’s heritage. However, the truth is that the vast majority of the secular public respects the religious, and had it been explained to them clearly that according to the opinion of the majority of ‘poskim’, hearing women sing is forbidden, similar to eating a meat and cheese sandwich, almost certainly they would agree that religious soldiers should be exempt from this. But in the army, being an aggressive organization by its very nature, a clear explanation is not always enough; therefore matters must be presented firmly and courageously, and rabbis must even be willing to resign – just as soldiers are willing to endanger their lives in war. Not having acted in this manner, the Rabbinate has achieved contempt and disgrace.

A Firm Stand Increases Admiration and Unity

Rabbi Goren’s firm stand did not prevent him from having good relations with secular officers. On the contrary, precisely because of his firm stand, they respected him and appreciated his friendship. For example, after Rabbi Goren’s struggles in the army, to which he recruited the religious leadership in the Knesset and the government, he set-up a ‘chevruta’ (a learning session) in Bible studies with Ben Gurion. And even with Moshe Dayan, with whom he had several confrontations, he had good relations. Incidentally, Rabbi Goren commended Yitzchak Rabin, for when he served as the Chief of Staff, he cooperated with the requirements of the Rabbinate without conflict.

In the Wake of the Oslo Accords

Following the Oslo Accords, Rabbi Goren ztz”l instructed that it was forbidden for a soldier to participate in the evacuation of a settlement or army base from the Land of Israel. Although personally he was very friendly with Mr. Rabin, he could not forgive him and his government for the Oslo Accords. His regret over this knew no bounds.

Rabbi Goren cast all of his public influence behind the campaign to save the Jewish communities of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. At that time, I served as the secretary for the Committee of Rabbis from Yesha, and Rabbi Goren published his opinions, ‘da’at Torah’, in our journal, that one is obligated to sacrifice himself for the conquering and defense of the Land, and is required to refuse any order which contradicts the mitzvah of settling the Land. Additionally, he ruled that the Rabin government, which relied on Arab votes, had no authority to decide on matters concerning the Jewish nation. His words sent shock waves through the country, and some even wanted to prosecute him for this. But his words, which emanated from a storm in his heart, stirred the hearts of many others.

Rabbi Goren’s family was worried that I was dragging him into difficult public debates, but as time went on, they realized that he was actually the one leading the campaign. Quite the opposite: on two occasions I asked him not to publish his sharp words, lest they be misunderstood. In his great wisdom, Rabbi Goren grasped the magnitude of the disaster in the Oslo Accords, and therefore spared no effort trying to foil the evil decree. I remember on the day of the signing of the accords in Cairo, when Arafat, yimach shmo, abused Rabin by not agreeing to sign, and finally of course did sign, I sat with Rabbi Goren in his house for close to four hours discussing Israel’s national situation and about the Torah world; he was pained and hurt as if he was in mourning. For him, the withdrawal from Yesha was a real destruction.

When I asked him how people who participated in the liberation of Judea and Samaria could be so willing to relinquish it, he replied sadly, that they never wanted it to begin with. It was from the heavens that we conquered Yesha, and from the start, they searched for any way to withdraw from there. With help from Heaven, they haven’t succeeded until now. Rabbi Goren was very bitter about the late Prime Minister, Mr. Begin, who opened the door to the Oslo Accords. He added: “I will no longer have the merit, but you might get to see the application of Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.”


After the possibility of evacuating Hebron’s residents from their houses was raised in the Rabin government, Rabbi Goren announced that we must fight about it with ‘misirut nefesh’ (utmost devotion), adding that he personally was willing to die to prevent the evacuation of Hevron. His statements were broadcast and caused shock waves. For a whole day, he gave interviews to radio and television networks from Israel and abroad. And when the reporters asked him if he was not afraid of inciting the public against the government, he opened his tail coat up to his heart, and declared that he was ready to be shot right now, but on his position he would not give in. For people who saw him in those days, it was clear that he was truly willing to give up his life wholeheartedly to save Hevron.

Following that turbulent day, he told me on the telephone that it had been an important day, and with God’s help, he was able to broadcast his statements far and wide, and hoped they succeed. There is evidence that as a result of his courageous statements, Rabin retreated from accepting the suggestion of his advisors, and the Jewish community of Hevron was saved from expulsion.

In spite of the difficult tensions surrounding the Oslo Accords, Rabin remained in personal contact with Rabbi Goren, and I heard that Rabin mentioned several times that Rabbi Goren was angry with him, and it upset him. After Rabbi Goren passed away, Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and his wife paid a ‘Shiva call’ to the Goren family.

Yeshiva Har Bracha

In those days, Rabbi Goren served as the Head of Yeshiva Har Bracha, and since the Union of Hesder Yeshiva’s did not want to certify it as a Hesder yeshiva, Rabbi Goren turned directly to Mr. Rabin, who served as Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, and he gave him the certification. After Rabbi Goren passed away, we joined the Hesder organization.

My Promise to Rabbi Goren

On one of the turbulent days surrounding the Oslo Accords, Rabbi Goren was pained by his fellow rabbis who published a ‘psak halacha’ saying that soldiers are obligated to refuse orders and not participate in the expulsion of Jews from the Land of Israel, without mentioning his name as being the first rabbi to clarify this issue, and base its ruling in Jewish law. He also talked about this in a radio interview. I immediately called him, attempting to appease him so he would not be angry with the rabbis, and especially not to speak about it publicly, because doing so harms the struggle for the Land of Israel. He was already ill at the time, and spoke to me openly. When I promised to do my best to publish his rulings properly he consented, while expressing great fondness towards me. He pointed out that only because of his trust in me, did he agree to my request. Baruch Hashem, I was privileged to publish his words many times in my newspaper column ‘Revivim’. Also, in ‘Pininei Halacha’, the volume entitled ‘Ha’am v’Haaretz’ (The Nation and the Land), I published seventy pages of Rabbi Goren’s halachic answers which he sent me.

Ehud Barak

At present, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is well-known for his rudeness, has severely damaged the I.D.F. Rabbinate, which has become a choir whose task is to respond ‘amen’ after secular orders. Barak also revoked the ‘hesder’ (agreement) with Yeshiva Har Bracha, students who follow in the path of Rabbi Goren ztz”l. Also, the controversy in the General Staff and the widespread corruption there, as it emerges from the case of former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Boaz Harpaz, is akin to Barak’s style of ‘leadership’. Thus, even the positive side of Yitzchak Rabin’s legacy, he demolishes.

Military Orders that Contradict Jewish Law

Is it Permitted to Hear a Woman Sing

Q: Rabbi, I heard that the ‘halacha’ (Jewish law) concerning hearing a woman sing is unclear, and some authorities are lenient. Isn’t the rabbi’s decision to be stringent and forbid hearing women sing, just stubbornness?

A: This is a complex issue, and I will attempt to sum it up concisely.

The Meaning of the Prohibition

The basis of the prohibition stems from the verse: “Let Him not see any nakedness among you” (Deuteronomy 23:15). This is foundation of the duty of modesty for men and women that it is forbidden to expose their nakedness. The Sages added to this, saying: “The voice of a woman is nakedness; a handbreadth of a woman is nakedness” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot 24a). In other words, the duty of modesty also applies to a handbreadth of a woman’s body that is normally covered, and also hearing a woman sing. This is what many authorities have written (Rosh, S’mag, R’id, S’mak, R’ah, R’yaz, and many others).

Indeed, some authorities say that the essence of the prohibition is for a man not to recite words of sanctity, such as ‘kriyat Sh’ma’, while he hears a woman sing (Rav Hai Gaon, Rav Yehudah Gaon, R’avyah, Hagaot Mimoniot). The Later authorities (15th Century to present) were divided in their interpretation: Some understood that according to the opinion of these ‘Gaonim’ and ‘Rishonim’, there is no prohibition to hear a woman sing (Be’er Sheva, S’ridei Aish), while others understood that even they would agree that it is forbidden for a man to hear a woman’s singing voice (Gra, Yad Aharon).

We see then, that according to the overwhelming majority of ‘Rishonim’ it is forbidden to hear a woman sing for reasons of modesty, and regarding the opinion of a few of the ‘Rishonim’ – the ‘Achronim’ are divided. Consequently, the ‘Shulchan Aruch’ (Code of Jewish Law) determined that it is forbidden to hear a woman sing because of modesty, and this is how all of the later ‘poskim’ (arbiters) ruled (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 21:1; Mishna Berurah 75:17).

When There is No Intention to Hear

However, a man at home who hears a woman singing, but has no intention or desire to hear her sing, does not transgress the prohibition (Meiri, HaChinuch, Rabbeinu Yona). Others say that even if he has no intention, it is forbidden (Eshkol); however, if it’s difficult for him to go somewhere else, then he is considered ‘anus’ (coerced) and exempt. (Yearim, Mishna Berura 75:17).

Relying on the lenient opinions, some rabbis who were obligated because of their position to participate in Memorial Day ceremonies in which women sang would not leave the event, in order not to offend the bereaved families. Rather, they would have intention not to gain pleasure from her voice. But in situations where there was no fear of insult, they would leave.

However, it is clearly impossible by virtue of a special consent intended for certain individuals so as to prevent insults, to cancel the halacha determined by the Sages, and permit all soldiers to participate in events where women sing, reasoning that in the army, everything soldiers participate in is against their will and opinion, having no intention to listen and enjoy the singing. And the fact that it is an command does not make the situation any better; on the contrary, it makes things worse, for it is an order that contradicts halacha (Rambam, Laws of Kings 3:9).

Female Lamentations

In the past, it was customary for women to sing lamentations at funerals while escorting the dead, bringing people to tears (Talmud Ketubot 46b). Their lamentations, however, were totally different from singing, devoid of any enjoyment or immodesty (Tifferet Yisrael, Talmud Moed Katan 3:9).

The Song of Deborah

As is well known, the prophetess Deborah sang a song to God after the victory over Sisera and Yavin (Book of Judges 5:1). How then did the Sages decree not to hear a woman sing? The Chida explained that the Divine Presence prevailed upon her, and consequently, there was no fear of immodesty. Others explain she recited the song, and did not sing it with a tune (Mateh Ephraim).

It can also possibly be said that, indeed, there are positive sides to a woman’s singing, and thus, according to the Written Torah, there is no prohibition in hearing it. But the Torah imposed upon the Sages to set regulations and restrictions to protect the Torah, and when they saw that openness between men and women causes serious problems, to the point where one of the sins that led to the destruction of the First Temple was forbidden sexual relations, they decreed a number of regulations of modesty, and thus successfully set boundaries for Israel, until these sins became extremely rare.

Religious Songs

There are a few ‘poskim’ who are of the opinion that men and woman are permitted to sing religious songs together, without a woman singing a solo. Perhaps they hold that since they are engaged in sacred matters, there is no fear they will come to sin. Accordingly, rabbis in Germany permitted all those sitting around the Sabbath table to sing religious songs together, and the author of the ‘Sridei Aish’ (2:8), Rabbi Yechiel Yaacov Weinberg, permitted boys and girls from the ‘Yeshurin’ youth movement in Paris to sing together, in order to bring them closer to Judaism. However, according to the vast majority of ‘poskim’, it is forbidden to sing even religious songs together (Tzitz Eliezer 7:28), but it customary not to be particular about the voices of women coming from the ‘ezrat nashim’ (woman’s section of the synagogue) (the Chatam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat 190, was stringent in this matter).

Hearing a Recording

The ‘Achronim’ are divided about whether the prohibition applies to hearing a woman sing by way of electronic devices. Some authorities are stringent, since the voice heard is exactly like singer’s original voice (Chelkat Yaacov, Orech Chaim 163; Oz Nidbaru, section 6, 69:8; Shevet Halevi 3:181; Avnei Yeshpeh2:5), while others are lenient when one is not familiar with the singer (Marachei Lev, Orech Chaim 5; Ohr L’tzion, section 2, 6:13; Asei Lecha Rav 1:28; Yibiyeh Omer 6:1). And then there are opinions according to which it is permitted to be lenient even when one is familiar with the singer, for the prohibition is only to hear her voice live (in accordance with R’avyah 1:76; it is also cited in Yibiyeh Omer 9, 108:43 in the name of Rabbi Eliyashiv; B’nei Banim, section 4, 7:6).

Although in a live concert the singer’s voice passes through the amplifying system, since she is present, it is also prohibited (see Pininei Halacha Berachot 5:10; 12:8. Also, Halichot Shlomo Auerbach, Tefillah 20:12).


Although there are certain sides according to which it is possible to be lenient, the opinion of the vast majority of ‘poskim’ forbids a man to hear a woman sing at a live concert. However, regarding hearing a female sing via an electronic device, someone who wishes to be lenient is permitted, because according to many authorities, the Sage’s prohibition does not apply to hearing a recording (further sources in Hebrew can be found at:

Should One be Lenient Today

Q: Maybe in the past, participating in an event where women sang was immodest, and as a result, the Sages prohibited it. But today, since a dignified performance of a female singer is considered a cultural event that enriches the soul, devoid of any immodesty or stimulation of evil impulses, it should be permitted.

Moreover, being stringent in this issue makes a bad name for the religious people, who ostensibly are not capable of controlling their ‘yeitzer ha’ra’ (evil inclination), and hearing the voice of any woman sing causes them sinful thoughts unknown to secular society. In addition, today, avoiding hearing a woman sing is considered an affront to her dignity. Given the circumstances, shouldn’t we seek out leniencies and rely on the opinion of a few of the ‘poskim’ who are lenient?

The Secular Example

A: If the enlightened secular society presented us with an example of normal family life, devoid of infidelity and pitfalls, there would be room to consider this idea. In practice, however, we see that the institution of the family within secular society is constantly being shattered. Various studies have found that three out of four men cheat on their wives, and two out of three married women cheat on their husbands. In addition, almost two-thirds of married couples get divorced. Can ways of modesty be learned from such a society?! Precisely now we can see just how great the wisdom and holiness of our Sages of blessed memory is, having set a protective boundary around the Torah, thereby fencing in the ‘vineyard of Israel’.

“Master of the Locality”

Q: Isn’t the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F. the ‘mara d’atra’ (master of the locality) of the army? If he instructed that hearing a woman sing is permitted, then we should comply. If not, we weaken the institution of the rabbinate which we labored to strengthen.

A: All of the basic conditions for a rabbi to be considered a ‘mara d’atra’ are not met in the I.D.F. Chief Rabbi. First, the definition of ‘mara d’atra’ is ‘the master of the locality’, in other words, a person who everyone listens to. In the past, this included all issues of halacha and ethics, including wage agreements and strikes. When the status of the rabbinate was weakened, the authority of the rabbi was limited only to the field of halacha. In any case, this was the significance of choosing a rabbi – that the community took upon itself to abide by his halachic instructions; the I.D.F. Chief Rabbi, however, must answer to his commanders. He isn’t even allowed to publicly state a Jewish law without express permission from his commanders and the I.D.F. spokesman. This is how his silence after the dismissal of the cadets was explained. And if he violates these instructions by publicly stating a Jewish law without permission – he’ll be fired. In such a situation, it is obvious he has no authority of ‘mara d’atra’, but only as a senior officer and advisor to the Chief of Staff on religious affairs.

Besides this, a ‘mara d’atra’ should be elected by God-fearing people, whose goal is to strengthen Torah and mitzvoth, and not by secular commanders whose interests are radically different.

When the I.D.F. was established, Rabbi Herzog contacted the army officers asking them to appoint a rabbi, and requested that Rabbi Goren be the representative of the Chief Rabbinate. This is the correct way of appointing a rabbi. And in deed, Rabbi Goren did not see himself subordinate to his commanders, and confronted them frequently, as I have written previously. Gradually, the status of the I.D.F. Chief Rabbi weakened. Therefore, it must sadly be declared that the I.D.F. Chief Rabbi presently has no halachic authority, and certainly has no authority to dispute a halacha commonly accepted by the vast majority of ‘poskim’.

Consequently, when a soldier is ordered to hear a woman sing, he should refuse, thereby strengthening the security of Israel, as it is written: “This is because God your Lord makes His presence known in your camp, so as to deliver you and grant you victory over your enemy. Your camp must therefore be holy. Let Him not see anything lascivious among you, and turn away from you” (Deuteronomy 23:15).