Beautify Kashrut, But Not at the Expense of the Host

A person who eats only Mehadrin and is hosted by a someone who keeps standard kashrut – should eat what the host serves him * Only in known minhagim identified with certain ethnic groups, such as kitniyot and glatt meat, should a person be machmir when being hosted * The Torah’s command is that Jews should trust each other, therefore, as long as a person is not known to disregard halakha, his kashrut should not be questioned * Those who refrain from eating food prepared by people who keep kosher according to halakha, sow discord and offend the Torah * A son who keeps Mehadrin, and his parents keep standard kashrut, must eat by them because of respect for parents

A Guest who keeps Mehadrin, Hosted by Someone who keeps Standard Kashrut

A question that troubles many people: Someone who meticulously keeps the halakha’s of kashrut and buys only products that are kosher l’mehadrin, how should he behave when he is a guest at his brother, relative, or friend who keeps kosher according to halakha, but perchases standard kosher products, and is not meticulous in the minhagim of mehadrin kashrut laws?

I will first open with the summary of the halakha, and then I will elaborate on its sources and reasons.

Trust the Host

Answer: The guest must trust the host and eat his food because standard kashrut is the halakha according to majority of poskim, and according to the rules of halakha. Although there is virtue in the various hidurim (beautifications of halakha) that take into consideration the opinions of the machmirim (poskim who rule strictly), it is more important to increase peace among Jews, and respect the halakha.

Admittedly, there are definite and unambiguous minhagim that are practiced by entire communities, and members of those communities do not budge from them unless forced to due to illness. For example, those who eat only “glatt” meat, are careful to do so even when they are guests at other people’s homes. Similarly, Ashkenazi Jews who do not eat kitniyot (legumes) on Passover, are meticulous to guard their minhag even when they are guests at someone else’s home. This is not considered an insult, since it is a recognized minhag. Also, many people who eat only leafy vegetables from special crops without insects, or soak the vegetables in water with soap and rinse well, are careful about this even when they are guests. Nevertheless, in a cooked dish that contains leafy vegetables, they should not be machmir, because it is a safek, safeka (a double doubt in a prohibition).

The Torah Commandment: Mutual Trust

The general rule is that Jews who believe in Hashem and His Torah are trustworthy in mitzvot, thus, anyone who is a guest at the home of a friend who observes kashrut should trust him and eat his food. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “One witness is relied upon in prohibitions” (Yevamot 87b), and Rashi explained that if not, “no one would be able to eat his friend’s food.” And even rabbis and righteous Jews should rely on a simple Jew who keeps kashrut according to halakha, as we learned from the Torah’s command that any Jew who slaughters his beast for himself, gives the Kohanim (priests) as a gift the zeroa, lechayim, and keiva (foreleg, cheeks and stomach). Thus, we see that even the Kohanim, men of holiness, relied on the slaughter of every Jew.

Nevertheless, all of this is provided that it is a person who knows halakha and does not disregard its fulfillment, just as it was customary to examine a person who began the trade of slaughtering to see if he knew how to do it according to halakha (Chulin 3b; S. A., Y.D. 1:1). And similarly, when our Sages in the Second Temple period found that due to the high price of ma’asrot (tithes), many amei ha’aretz (uneducated Jews) did not set them aside properly – they decreed that only those who pledged before three witnesses to be faithful to the laws could be trusted in matters of terumot and ma’asrot (Sota 48a; Yerushalmi, Sota 9:11; Rambam, Ma’aser 9:1).

However, this not to say that every Jew must be tested in his yirat Shamayim (fear of God) and knowledge of halakha. Rather, anyone who is known to be observant of mitzvot, is careful to buy kosher food, and knows the general rules of halakha – for example, as women knew from watching their mothers, and hearing from their fathers – is trustworthy regarding kashrut.

Peace is More Important

We also learned that when a person who is machmir in a certain detail is a guest in a place where they are not machmir, and their minhag is well-founded in halakha, the guest should act according to the local minhag. Only if his being machmir is not evident is he permitted to act according to the minhag of his place (Pesachim 51b). Some poskim say that even when something is prohibited according to the minhag of the machmirim based in Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance), the visitor should act leniently (Tosefot Rosh, Maharshdam), while others say that only in chumras rooted in minhag must one act leniently according to minhag ha’makom, but for things forbidden according to his minhag based in Divrei Chachamim, he should not act leniently (Rabbeinu Tam, Ramban, Shach 119:20).

In a similar way, we learned that our Sages instructed that in certain circumstances one should forgo tithing demai, because of aiva (hatred) and darchei shalom (ways of peace) (Mishna Demai 4:2; Jerusalem Talmud, ibid). Similarly, we learned that someone who is careful not to eat pat paltar goy (bread baked by a non-Jewish baker) in accordance with the enactment of the Chachamim, when he is with friends who follow the instructions of the poskim who were lenient about eating pat paltar goy – he should eat from their bread “mishum aiva ve’ketata” (to prevent hatred and quarrels).” This is because bread is the main part of the meal and refraining from eating it is clearly evident and may cause hostility (Rema S. A. 112:15, according to Maharil). Nevertheless, Rema added: “And we do not expand this concept to other forbidden acts.”

Should One Inform the Guest?

Corresponding to this, we learned that the poskim were divided on whether a host must tell his guests that the food he gives them is not kosher according to their minhag. Some say it is proper to inform them, but not obligatory (Ritvah; Pri Chadash 119:19), however in the opinion of many poskim, one is obligated to inform them (Ohr Zarua, Yam Shel Shlomo, Rema 119:7. Shach 20). According to this, Rema wrote that someone may eat at a friend’s house who knows his minhagim, as he will surely not feed him something “which he regards a prohibition.”

Seemingly, one might ask: Did we not learn that a guest should forgo his minhagim of chumrot and eat the host’s food, according to the accepted halachic ruling of the host?

However, this is with regard to recognized minhagim of chumrot, such as glatt meat, a fact that the host is aware of. In addition, we are not talking about a guest who has come to a community that has a definite, lenient minhag, that whoever violates it, appears to insult the dignity of the community and its rabbis.

The Practical Halakha

Therefore, when it comes to definite and recognized minhagim related to a prohibition, such as glatt meat and kitniyot on Passover, keeping these minhagim does not cause hostility, for doing so does not result in a person being totally unable to eat the food his friend normally eats at home. Regarding these prohibition-related minhagim, in the opinion of the majority of poskim, the host is obligated to inform his guest which of the foods he serves are prohibited according to his minhag, and some say it is only proper to inform him, but not obligatory.

Machmirim Who do Not Eat Standard Kashrut

Consequently, there is no basis for the minhag of those who eat kosher l’mehadrin products in their home to also be machmir even when they are guests. Their minhag, although, can be explained – as a result of the upheavals the Jewish nation underwent, and changes in modern lifestyles, guarding of the masoret (tradition) was harmed to the point where today it is difficult to discern who knows halakha, and who is careful to keep it properly; as a safeguard, they are meticulous to consume only mehadrin products, and by refraining from eating the food of someone not meticulous, they resolve most of the doubts.

However, their position is contrary to halakha, since “standard kosher” is kosher according to the rules of halakha, and the halakha is that one must trust every Jew as long as they are not known to be ignorant or belittle the mitzvot. Thus, those who are machmir when they are guests is contrary to the instruction of the Chachamim, and also an insult to the honor of Torah and halakha, in that they consider kosher products as if they are non-kosher.

The Aim of Separation

There is concern that the position of those refraining from eating kosher when they are guests has another essentially negative objective promoted by elements supporting the means of separation, who wish to segregate Haredi society from the general religious public so they won’t be influenced by them and their rabbis – for if they don’t even eat with them, clearly, their Torah positions are not to be taken seriously.

Moreover, our Sages enacted that a Jew should not eat bread and cooked dishes of non-Jews in order to create a fence between Jews non-Jews, and even in the prohibition of milk of non-Jews they were machmir to take into consideration remote concerns in order to distance Jews from non-Jews (Rabbi Shmuel Abuhav, Sefer HaZichronot 3: 3). Those who scrupulously refrain from eating kosher food by their fellow Jews, relate to them as if they were goyim, and separate themselves from Knesset Yisrael.

Extreme Chumras

While there were tzadikim (righteous people) whose personal custom was to refrain from eating outside their home, also because of kashrut concerns, they did so in a sweeping manner and did not determine to refrain from eating with Jews who ate standard kashrut, but would eat with those who ate mehadrin, for such a minhag is in contrast with the halakha stipulating that every “kosher” Jew should be trusted. Consequently, if they refrain from eating they insult the host’s honor, and the honor of the Torah, which, according to its rules, determined that standard kashrut is kosher.

Standard Kashrut is Kosher

Possibly, the mistake of many machmirim in this issue stems from ignorance, that they do not know the halakha and believe that in standard kashrut is lenient beyond the line of halakha. This is not so — rather, standard kashrut goes according to the line of halakha and even beyond, when there is no difficulty to be machmir.

I repeat my request from last week: If there is anyone who knows that I am mistaken, please inform me about a halachic issue in which the standard kashrut hechsher in a food-producing factory follows a method that is not in accordance with principle halakha, according to the rules of halakha.

When Eating at the Home of One’s Religious Parents

When a person is hosted by his religious parents, even if they hold by standard kashrut according to the lenient opinions, and even in definite and recognized minhagim, owing to kibud horim (respect for parents) he should eat their food. And even if he is accustomed to eat glatt meat and they do not, he should eat what they serve him, because the mitzvah of kibud horim is more important than this chumra, even though eating glatt is the most important in the halakha’s of kashrut. This was the instruction of our guide and teacher, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l to yeshiva students who took upon themselves to eat glatt, namely, that when they were at their parents, they should eat kosher meat according to the minhag of their parents.

The reason is that although the concern of eating glatt is important and the students took it upon themselves, since the mitzvah of kibud horim is more severe, their acceptance does not obligate them in the event of a conflict with the mitzvah of kibud horim. Even after they are married, if the concern of eating glatt would cause great anguish to their parents, it would be better for them to eat regular kosher meat, and not insult them. However, if possible, it would be proper to persuade them respectfully to buy glatt meat for them, nevertheless, it seems that in the case of hidurim that only go according to a few poskim, it is proper not to ask them to be machmir for them.

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

The Difference between Standard and Mehadrin Kashrut

Even strict hechshers do not take into consideration new chumras, which are liable to call into question previous generations who did not * Badatz kashrut organizations belonging to certain ethnic groups are stringent and lenient according to the minhag of their community. In Israel it would be appropriate to establish hechshers that answer to all opinions and customs * Kashrut that chooses not to rely on the Heter Mechira and to buy produce from non-Jews in the Shmitta year is not necessarily higher quality kashrut * Supervision in restaurants is more difficult than in factories, therefore it is advisable to choose a restaurant with mehadrin kashrut * Do not rely on a restaurant whose certificate is invalid * For those who desire higher quality kashrut , it is advisable to choose kashrut organizations that respect their competition

In the previous column, I explained the difference between standard and mehadrin kashrut, namely, that standard kashrut goes according to the rules of halakha, whereas mehadrin kashrut takes into consideration the strict opinions, beyond what is required by halakha.

Incidentally, if there are any readers who know differently, and indeed, there is a halachic issue in which the standard hechsher (a rabbinical product certification, qualifying items that conform to the requirements of halakha) follows a method that does not conform to the principle halakha, according to rules of halakha, please inform me.

To be more precise: There is no hechsher, even the highest quality mehadrin, which meets the requirements of all strict opinions, for if the hidur (embellishment) involves extremely high costs, the mehadrin are usually also lenient. In other words, the difference between standard kashrut and mehadrin is not absolute, for even in standard kashrut when it is not difficult, takes into consideration the strict opinions, even if it involves a disagreement in Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance), and most poskim permit. An example of this is the chumra (stringency) of the Chief Rabbinate in the Land of Israel regarding chalav nochri (milk not produced under Jewish supervision): Although the entire basis of the prohibition stems from Divrei Chachamim and in the opinion of most poskim when in practice there is no concern milk from an impure animal was mixed in, and furthermore, government regulation prevents this, the chalav nochri is not prohibited. Nevertheless, the Chief Rabbinate takes into consideration the opinion of the few poskim who prohibit such milk (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol.2, 30: 3-4. The volume will be published soon).

On the other hand, even in mehadrin hechshers, when it comes to extremely high costs, opinions of very individual poskim are not taken into consideration. For example, the opinion that flour harvesting for matzot mitzvah for Pesach should be done by hand, is not taken into consideration (see, Peninei Halakha: Pesach 12: 3).

And yet, the difference between standard and mehadrin kashrut is clear, and is expressed first and foremost in the level of supervision: standard kashrut suffices with occasional supervision suitable in accordance to the rules of halakha, while in mehadrin kashrut, supervision is closer and stricter, thereby reducing mishaps that are liable to occur.

New Stringencies

Another reason why even the most demanding mehadrin hechshers do not take into consideration all the chumrot (stringencies): if it is a chumra that righteous Jews of past generations did not take into consideration because they believed the strict opinion was rejected by the vast majority of poskim – it is improper to be machmir, lest it seem the dignity of former righteous Jews are underestimated. For example, the Jerusalem tradition of nikkor (the process of making an animal kosher by removing the chelev (forbidden fats) and the gid hanasheh (sciatic nerve) was established about a hundred and fifty years ago by Ashkenazi rabbis in Jerusalem who incorporated all the Sephardi and Ashkenazi chumrot, to the point where approximately 13 to 25 percent of the weight of the meat was removed from the hind of the animal. In the days of the establishment of the State of Israel, slaughterers from Hasidic areas immigrated to Israel, who, although their overall tradition of nikkur was more lenient, were more machmir about certain fats. However, despite their demands, their chumra was not taken into consideration. Firstly, because according to halakha they felt it was unnecessary, and secondly, because the addition of their chumra would seem as underestimating the dignity of former righteous Jews who established the Jerusalem tradition of nikkur (this is explained in “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol. 2, 21:9, footnote 8).

However, there are issues that righteous Jews of past generations were lenient about because the chumra involved a great loss of money or a great effort to fulfill, but if today, it is possible to embellish kashrut according to the stringent opinion without a great loss of money or a great effort – one should do so because it would not be considered underestimating the previous generations, just as today it is commonplace to embellish kashrut with mehadrin hechshers when it comes to produce containing tiny insects – above and beyond what was previously acceptable when refrigeration or running tap water to wash the produce did not exist.

Private Kashrut Bodies of Ethnic Groups

Today, as a result of ‘kibbutz galiyot’ (the ingathering of Jews from all over the world to Israel), a situation has been created where the chumras of ethnic groups differ from one another. Every Badatz serving a certain community are machmir in their own chumrot, and do not take into consideration the chumrot of other communities. Take for example the issue of bishulei goyim (food cooked by non-Jews). There are Badatz organizations of Ashkenazi immigrants who do not take into consideration the opinion of the machmirim, and also in the case of Ashkenazi chumrot on Pesach the Badatzim of Sephardic Jews do not take them into consideration.

The prime example of this is the chumra of chalita of meat after its salting: Although in the opinion of Rambam, Ra’Ah, and Ritva, it is obligatory to perform chalita on meat in boiling water after it’s salted in order to constrict the blood remaining in the meat and this is the minhag of Olei Teman (Yeminite immigrants), nevertheless, all the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Badatz kashrut bodies do not take this into consideration (this will be explained in “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol.2, 22:7, footnote 12). They should not be condemned, for as far as they are concerned, they carefully guard accepted customs of hidur of the eminent religious leaders of their community, and as long as they are defined as a Badatz of a particular ethnic community, the addition of a chumra would be considered an offence to them, and an underestimation of the previous eminent rabbis of their community.

It would be desirable for all Israeli mehadrin supervisory bodies to take into consideration the opinions of all the poskim and minhagim of all ethnic communities. This does not mean that in practice they need to be machmir in all the chumrot, including those whose cost is high; rather, that all opinions and minhagim should be taken into consideration, each kashrut according to the degree of hidur it wishes to enhance.

Fundamental Disagreements

There are issues where the disagreement concerns what actually is mehudar, such as the issue of fruit in the Shmitta year. Many Badatz kashrut bodies are meticulous not to eat fruit grown by Jews using the Heter Mechira, and this chumra is so vital to them, they prefer buying fruits and vegetables grown by non-Jews, and even enemies. On the other hand, as we have learned from our rabbis, it is more mehudar to buy fruit and vegetables grown by Jews in the Shmitta year by means of the Heter Mechira, for the Heter Mechira is a safek, safek, safeika of an issur d’Rabbanan (a triple uncertainty of a rabbinically ordained prohibition) (Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it 7:5), while buying from Jews rests on two Torah mitzvot: yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), and giving preference to our fellow Jews over a non-Jews. Therefore, when faced with two options in Shmitta – standard kashrut by means of the Heter Mechira, or kashrut mehuderet that prohibits fruit from the Heter Mechira – we prefer the hidur of buying Jewish produce over the other hidurs that take into consideration rabbinically ordained safekot.

Kashrut Certification in Factories

The classification of “kosher” and “kosher l’mehadrin” exists in factories that produce food and in restaurants, however, in practice, the ability to supervise large factories is easier compared to supervision needed for restaurants. This is because in the method of mass production, the mashgiach must first conduct a thorough examination of all the ingredients from which the food is produced, and afterwards, only make sure the factory continues to function as agreed. In addition, in a large factory it is easy to finance strict supervision, and thus, in practice, even standard kashrut of a factory is close to being considered kashrut l’mehadrin in terms of the level of supervision.

The Problem in Restaurants

However, in restaurants that involve different types of cooking supervision is more complex, since supervision must be over all types of food the restaurant purchases from suppliers who change now and then, and since cooking is done by people who usually are not well-versed in halakha – sometimes mistakes arise. In order to fully supervise a restaurant there must be a mashgiach on-hand, but most restaurants are unable to meet the cost of employing one. Therefore, the Rabbinate maintains basic supervision relying on trust of the restaurant owner and employees adhering to their prescribed kashrut procedures, and the mashgiach comes occasionally to check that the prescribed procedures are maintained. In contrast, mehadrin supervision is on-hand, ensuring a higher level of kashrut.

It is Recommended to Prefer Restaurants with Mehadrin Kashrut

Therefore, even someone not meticulous about eating kosher l’mehadrin, it would be a good idea to prefer restaurants that have mehadrin kashrut, or at least a restaurant that belongs to a kosher chain that maintains the quality of its products. This is especially true of meat restaurants, since the temptation to cheat in meat products is great, because the price of kosher meat is double that of treif meat, and on a monthly basis, it can be a very large profit. In addition, the prohibitions concerning meat are most severe.

Nevertheless, someone who wants to rely on standard kashrut food is permitted to do so, even in a meat restaurant. Although the risk of possibly eating treif is higher, as long as the restaurant has a kashrut certificate, supervision that in the vast majority of cases prevents it exists, and therefore, according to halakha, the food it serves is be’chezkat kasher (presumed kosher). And if a diner wishes to benefit himself and others, he should ask to call the mashgiach, and check to see the food is indeed kosher. A sign of such interest improves the level of kashrut, because it inspires the restaurant owner and the mashgiach to comply with the kashrut rules they are signed on to.

Reliability of a Restaurant Courier

Q: May I order for food from a restaurant when the courier who brings the food is not observant, and maybe not even Jewish?

A: When there is no incentive to cheat, as in the case of a restaurant courier, the kosher restaurant is trusted the courier it sends brings the kosher food ordered from it (Avodah Zara 34b; S.A. 118:10; Shach 1).

An Expired Kashrut Certificate

When a kashrut certificate expires, the restaurant owner must not be trusted when he says that the restaurant is still under supervision and they have not yet been given the new certificate, rather, one should call the rabbinate representative and hear from him that the restaurant is still properly supervised. Without that, one should not eat there.

Which Hechsher to Prefer

These are the considerations for someone who wants to maintain a higher level of kashrut, and someone who does not know how to judge this, should consult his rabbi. It should also be added that, naturally, there is competition and arguments between the various kashrut bodies, and as a rule, it is appropriate for those choosing to enhance the level of kashrut to prefer rabbinates or kashrut bodies that respect their competition, and do not boycott or slander. And although the foods they supervise may be flawless, it is proper to stay away from such ugliness and anything resembling it.

And after all, someone who does not want to enter into all the subtleties and differences between the various kashrut bodies and Badatzim – can rely on the fact that, in general, standard kashrut is indeed kosher, and mehadrin kashrut hechshers are indeed enhanced, and the more well-known and recognized the kashrut body is, the more one may rely on it.

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

Relying on Kashrut

Notwithstanding the basic trust of man, since people have a financial reason to cheat, supervision is required to permit food they sell * Supervision is based on deterrence, by means of surprise and punishment * In the kashrut system, both the Rabbinate and Badatz organizations, there are problems requiring improvement * Nonetheless, on the whole, the level of kashrut in Israel is good * In spite of flaws and forgeries now and then, if there is a kashrut certificate that has not been proven to be fake – one can rely on it, and if it turns out that the Rabbi or mashgiach was negligent in their job – the sin is on their head, and not on the purchaser

In this article I will discuss the kashrut system in Israel, and explain the need for a kashrut certificate for food, and the difference between a standard kashrut certificate and a mehadrin kashrut certificate (the most stringent level of kosher supervision).

The general rule is that when a business operator has a financial incentive to cheat, supervision is required to monitor he does not do so. For that reason, the Torah commanded that merchants be supervised to make sure their weights are accurate, so as not to deceive buyers (Deuteronomy 25:15; Baba Batra 89a). However, this does not mean venders and food manufacturers are not be trusted at all, for if so, supervision would be required at all times, and even the supervisors would have to be supervised lest they are dishonest, ad infinitum. Rather, the basis of everything is basic trust in people requiring reinforcement by means of supervision when they face financial temptation.

The Foundation of Supervision: Deterrence

Hashgacha (kashrut supervision) rests on the basis of deterrence, which is divided into two components – surprise, and punishment.

Surprise: When there is concern that a business owner or worker will do something that renders the food non-kosher, he must be aware that at any moment the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) might appear and observe him. To this end, a key must be given to the mashgiach so he can come to the factory at any time without prior coordination, and inspect everything done there (Avodah Zara 61a; S.A., Y.D. 129:1; 131:1).

Punishment: If a shochet (ritual slaughterer) or a business owner is caught selling non-kosher food, God forbid, his kashrut certificate must be revoked. As our Sages instructed, a shochet who sold treif (non-kosher) meat, is permanently disqualified. And even if he claims he did it inadvertently and will do teshuva (repent) by letting his hair and nails grow as an expression of grief for his wrong-doing, he is no longer trusted. Since he has lost his credibility, there is concern his teshuva was done for the purpose of obtaining a permit to sell meat, but when faced with temptation once again – he will fail, and cheat. Only if he moves to another location , and there a rare case occurs by which it becomes crystal clear he overcame his lust for money, can he be trusted to have done teshuva (Sanhedrin 25a; Rashbah 1:20; S. A. 119:15).

The Weakening of Deterrence, and the Increase of Supervision

At the beginning of the period of the Achronim some four hundred years ago, when the process of professionalization grew, there were families whose entire livelihood depended on the ritual slaughtering and selling of meat, and if a father was permanently disqualified from selling meat, his livelihood, and that of his family, was destroyed. Therefore, the rabbis instructed to judge him leniently and arrange a method for him to do teshuva by way of fasting and self-punishment, and after his punishment was completed, his credibility was re-instated (Rashal, Taz 119:16; Sho’el U’Mayshiv 141, 2, 170. See, Chulin 18a; Daat Kohen 2).

This is also the custom today: if it appears to the rabbis responsible for kashrut that someone caught cheating will change his ways for the better, they punish him by disqualifying his kashrut certificate for a certain amount of time and arrange for him a method of doing teshuva, and afterwards, return his kashrut certificate. Certainly, however, since general deterrence has been hampered by the fact that denial of kashrut certification is not permanent, the need was created to increase the importance of supervision of all food businesses, especially those who were caught cheating.

Kosher and Mehadrin

In kashrut organizations, it is customary to grant two types of certificates: a standard kosher certificate, and a mehadrin kosher certificate. The difference between them is in two areas: first – in mehadrin kashrut, when there is no great difficulty, the opinions of the machmirim (strict poskim) are taken into consideration even when they are a minority, and even when the law is based on Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance). Whereas in standard kashrut, they go according to the rules of halakha, namely, in a dispute of Divrei Chachamim, when necessary, they rule according to the lenient opinion, and in a dispute regarding an issur Torah (a Torah prohibition), if there is a clear majority of poskim who rule leniently – when necessary, they rely on their opinion, and if the dispute is equal – they are machmir (rule stringently). Only in the law of sirchot (scar tissue) of the lungs of animals – although considered an equally disputed law of a Torah prohibition – they rule leniently, and the reason for this is due to the high cost of the chumra (a stringency that exceed the bare requirements of halakha), and also because the lenient opinion seems more acceptable (since animals who have sirchot do not die within twelve months).

The second area concerns the degree of supervision. Standard kashrut follows the customary rules of halakha according to the majority of poskim, and they rely on the business owner to adhere to the system of kashrut practices they set for him; consequently, the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) visits the business periodically to check that everything is going as agreed. If they find he had cheated, they invalidate the kashrut, but as long as they did not find a significant problem, they continue trusting the owner. In contrast, mehadrin kashrut relies less on the business owner, and usually requires a mashgiach on-hand to oversee all food preparation.  In addition, a slight violation of the instructions can also invalidate the kashrut certificate.

As a general rule, the Chief Rabbinate and local rabbinates provide both standard and mehadrin kashrut, while the various private kashrut organizations usually provide one kashrut level. The recognized Badatz organizations in Israel only grant mehadrin kashrut.

Problems in the Kashrut System

For various reasons, the kashrut system suffers from a number of problems, in particular: 1) A lack of uniform procedures for defining kosher and mehadrin. 2) Lack of supervision of certain rabbinates and Badatz organizations who are sometimes negligent in their work. 3) Competition that sometimes becomes unruly, accompanied by defamation which unjustly harms the presumption of the kashrut of trustworthy people. 4) Often there is a conflict of interest that may cause mashgichim or kashrut organizations to turn a blind eye to problems in order to continue being paid for the kashrut.

Between the Rabbinate and the Badatz Organizations

One of the problems about kashrut in many local rabbinates is that the mashgiach receives his salary from the business owner, raising concern he will be afraid to voice disapproval. On the other hand, the Badatz organizations have an incentive to continue providing kashrut because they earn a living from it, while a local rabbi has a fixed salary and no incentive to continue granting kashrut, and as a result, his halachic ruling is impartial. In addition, the local rabbinate may be examined by the Chief Rabbinate and the State judiciary system, and in this way, the Rabbinate has an advantage (as Rabbi Moshe Bigel explained in the introduction to his book ‘Echol B’Simcha’). On the other hand, by fact that the Badatz organizations deal with higher-standard kashrut with closer supervision, this balances out their conflicts of interest. The fear of criticism from competing kashrut organizations also balances out conflicts of interest.

Striving for Improvement

It would be appropriate to attempt improving the entire kashrut system; establish uniform procedures for defining kosher and mehadrin and procedures reducing the concern of conflict of interests; require kashrut organizations to report transparently on their level of supervision so the buyer knows what they are strict about and what not; and have the Chief Rabbinate monitor all of this reliably.

In Spite of All, the Level of Kashrut is Good

Nevertheless, despite all the problems requiring correction, overall, the kashrut system in Israel is good. There are a few reasons for this: First, thanks to the basic yirat Shamayim (fear of God) of the vast majority of people involved in the field of kashrut. Second, the competition between the various kashrut organizations and the media exposure of faults, causes them to analyze themselves and improve. Third, the fact that most of the food produced in Israel is kosher, greatly helps maintain kashrut.

The Presumption of Kashrut for all Supervisions

Although rumors are occasionally spread about the kashrut of a particular rabbinate or Badatz being remiss and employing fraudulent or negligent mashgichim, and sometimes there are stores that sell treif (non-kosher meat) alongside their kosher certificate, and the media now and then reports about a store presenting a fake kashrut certificate – in spite of all this, as long as there is no clear evidence of exactly where the treif is being sold, one is permitted to buy food in all places that have a kashrut certificate from a rabbinate or private kashrut organization. There are two main reasons for this:

First: The basis of relying on kashrut is that “one witness is relied upon in prohibitions,” and consequently, we rely on the mashgiach who testifies verbally or by a kashrut certificate that the food is kosher. Although the mashgiach receives a salary for this, since the rabbis choose reliable mashgichim and supervise them, they may be trusted. And while sometimes people lie, including those considered particularly trustworthy, the minority of liars does not cancel out the general rule that “one witness is relied upon in prohibitions.” Just as two witnesses may sometimes lie, nevertheless, as long as it is not otherwise proven, we rely on two witnesses even in the most severe judgements (Rambam, Yisodei Torah 7: 7). In other words, the first foundation is the presumption of basic kashrut of the rabbinate granting the kashrut seal, which cannot be uprooted without thorough investigation.

We Follow the Majority

The second foundation: we go according to the majority, and most places that have a kashrut certificate are kosher. After all, the halakha is that even if food is found on the street, if in the area the majority of stores are kosher, although the minority of stores sell treif food, the food found on the street is kosher, for we go according to the majority (Chulin 95a; S. A., Y.D. 110:3). Kal v’chomer (a fortiori) it is permitted to buy food in stores that have a kashrut certificate (and it should not be argued that the fraudulent places are considered kavu’ah (permanent), because in the opinion of the majority of poskim, the law of kavu’ah applies only to a known place, or at the very least, a place that with little effort may be easily found, whereas in this situation, one does not know which place is fraudulent. And in the law of kavu’ah the opinion of the machmirim is not taken into consideration, since it is d’Rabbanan (rabbinical), and in any safek (doubt) concerning the law of kavu’ah, halakha goes according to the lenient opinion, as explained in ‘Peninei Halakha: Kashrut’, Vol. II, 16).

Standard Kashrut is Kosher, and Mehadrin Kashrut is Mehadrin

Therefore, in halakha and in practice, all foods that have kashrut supervision of the Chief Rabbinate and the local rabbinate are kosher, and foods having mehadrin kashrut of the Rabbinate or private kashrut organizations are usually kosher, or kosher l’mehadrin as appears on the kashrut certificate. If it turns out that the rabbi and mashgiach were negligent in their job, and the food a person ate was not kosher or not mehadrin as requested, the sin is entirely on the head of the rabbi and the mashgiach, whereas the buyer who was meticulous in purchasing food having kashrut supervision – is free of sin. If the rabbi and the mashgiach did their job faithfully, but the manufacturer cheated them, the sin rests entirely on the fraudulent manufacturer’s head.

All Together Now – On the Holiday of Sukkot

The Jewish nation was commanded to take the four species on the holiday of Sukkot, as it is written: “On the first day, you must take for yourself a fruit of the citron tree, an unopened palm frond, myrtle branches, and willows [that grow near] the brook. You shall rejoice before God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40).

The Sages taught that the four species are mutually indispensible, in other words, if one of the species are missing, the mitzvah is not fulfilled (Tractate Menachot 27a).

Le’chatchila, (at the preferred halachic level), they should be taken together, binding the lulav (palm frond) with the hadassim (myrtle branches) and the aravot (willows).

Bedi’aved, (ex post facto), if one took the four species separately, he has fulfilled his obligation, since, in the end, he took all of them (Shulchan Aruch 651:12).

A profound idea is hidden in this halakha concerning the unity of the Jewish nation, which is also connected to our preparations for Yom Kippur, since the primary aspect of kappara (atonement) is reliant upon our being a part of Clal Yisrael (the Jewish nation as a whole).

Four Species, Two Groups

The comparison of the four species to the four different groups of Jews is familiar to many. However, in the Talmud (Tractate Menachot 27a), the Sages arranged the four species into two groups, saying that just like in the four species, two of them yield fruits – the etrog (citron) and lulav (dates from the palm tree), while the other two – the haddas (myrtle) and aravot (willows) – don’t bear fruit.

So too, there are talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), and there are ordinary people. And just as one cannot fulfill his obligation of taking the four species if one of them is missing, this is also true concerning the Jewish nation – Torah scholars cannot exist without the help of the regular people who assist them in their livelihood, and the regular people cannot exist without the Torah scholars who connect them to the spiritual world and the World to Come (see Tractate Chulin 92a).

Compared to the Four Groups

In more detail, the Sages explained (Vayikra Rabba 30:12) that the four species allude to four types of people in the Jewish nation. The etrog, which possesses both taste and smell, is compared to Jews who are complete in Torah and good deeds. The lulav, which possesses taste but has no smell, is compared to Jews who have Torah but lack good deeds. The haddas, whose smell is pleasant but does not yield fruit, is compared to Jews who have good deeds but lack Torah. And the arava, which has neither fruit nor smell, is compared to Jews who lack both Torah and good deeds.

“What does God do with them (the Jews in the category of aravot)? To destroy them is impossible! Rather, God said: Let them all be tied together in a single bundle, and one will atone for the other.”

Etrog Jews

Jews compared to the etrog are complete in Torah and good deeds, and assist in the future tikkun (perfection) of the world. This is also exhibited in the halakha– we are more meticulous concerning the beauty of the  etrog than all the other species.

Although the etrog is indeed the most beautiful of all the species, nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that, as far as taste is concerned, the dates which grow on the palm tree are tastier, and the smell of the haddas is more pleasant. As if to say: True, the Jews compared to the etrog are indeed extremely beautiful and integrate the full range of qualities in their personalities, but they require the lulav and the haddas.

Lulav Jews: Torah Scholars

It is illogical to explain that the Jews compared to the lulav are people who  study Torah diligently but do not fulfill the mitzvoth; for what value is their Torah study if they don’t identify with its commandments (Tractate Yevamot 109b)? Rather, it refers to diligent Torah scholars who, as a result of their constant learning, do not merit fulfilling scores of good deeds, but nevertheless, give expression to the importance of Torah study more than others. Their level is especially high, for Torah study is tantamount to all the other mitzvoth combined. In practice, we also see that the lulav is taller than all the other species – implying that the level of the Torah is highest of all. Therefore, the blessing over the taking of the four species is “Blessed art Thou… and commanded us concerning the taking of the lulav.

Torah Study and Jewish Unity

The study of Torah contains a basic stipulation: it must stem from a connection to Clal Yisrael in unity. And although there are different opinions and diverse sides of the Torah, all come from one source, and are one.

As the Sages said (Tractate Chagigah 3b): “The men of assemblies,” which means the Torah scholars…some declare certain things pure, while others declare them impure; some prohibit, and others allow; some make valid, while others make invalid. But if one may say: If this is the case, how can I learn the Torah (due to the abundance of rifts and disagreements)? Therefore, it is written: “Given by one shepherd.” One God gave them, and one Master (Moses) said it from the mouth of the Lord of all creatures, blessed be He.”

The Lulav Shouts “Unity”!

The lulav, in its’ unique shape, expresses the quality of unity. Its leaves grow on two opposite sides, but they cling to the spine of the palm collectively. On the one hand, the lulav brims with many leaves; however, one leaf covers the next, with each leaf adding a little bit of its own, and all together, they envelop the spine of the palm in unity. And if the leaves split and are separated from the spine – the lulav is pasul (disqualified).

Also, every leaf is composed of two separate leaves clinging together via the tiyomet (twin middle leaf of the lulav), and if the tiyomet is divided – the lulav is pasul, not kosher. Even the lulav’s straight form expresses unity – aiming completely at one goal – but when it is bent, it curves in two different directions, and therefore, is pasul.

And thus the Sages said: “Just as the date (from the palm tree) has only one heart, so too, Israel has only one heart – to their Father in Heaven” (Tractate Sukkah 45b).

Similarly, the Sages said: “An unopened palm frond – these are the Torah scholars, who compel themselves to learn Torah from one another” (Vayikra Rabba 30:11) – for only through modesty and unity can Torah truly be learned.

Accordingly, Torah scholars must awaken to spread peace and unity, as the Sages said: “Torah scholars bring peace to the world” (Tractate Berachot 64a).

Haddas Jews: The Righteous

The haddas alludes to Jews who perform many mitzvoth and good deeds. Of course, Jews compared to the haddas are not disconnected from engaging in Torah, rather, they excel by doing numerous mitzvoth and good deeds, and as a result of these acts, holiness is revealed in the world.

Also, we have seen that the righteous have been called haddasim, and in their merit, the world survives and is not destroyed by sins (Tractate Sanhedrin 93a). Likewise, Queen Esther, in whose merit the Jewish nation exists in the world, was named Haddasah, in the name of her righteousness (Tractate Megillah 13a).

The Sages have said: “One who sees a haddas in his dream – his assets will be successful, and if he lacks assets – an inheritance will fall to him from somewhere else” (Tractate Berachot 57a).

Most Important – Good Deeds

In several respects, the greatest mitzvah is to marry and “be fruitful and multiply”. This mitzvah expresses piousness, for by means of it, holy souls are continued into the actual, physical world. And indeed, the Sages said that the multiplicity of the three -pronged leaves of the haddas alludes to the multiplicity of children.

Therefore, they said that the haddas is likened to our forefather Yaacov, and his wife Leah. “Just like the haddas is replete with leaves, so was Yaacov replete with children”, and “so was Leah replete with children” (Vayikra Rabbah 30:10).

The custom of chassidim to dance before the bride while holding branches of haddasim in their hands was not coincidental (Tractate Ketubot 17a).

The Arava – Simple Jews

On the face of it, the arava has no eminence whatsoever. It has no taste or smell, and the Jews compared to it lack both Torah and good deeds; they exist only by connecting themselves to Clal Yisrael.

However, the arava does have intrinsic value, for it possesses a tremendous growth force. If a large willow tree is pruned in the month of Nisan (spring), by Tishrei (fall) it will return to its fullness.

In this respect, the arava reflects tremendous vitality in this world. And amongst the nation of Israel, Jews likened to the arava express the idea that derch eretz (good manners) precedes the Torah, for although they do not engage in Torah study and mitzvoth, nevertheless, they act civilly and are productive individuals.

By virtue of their natural vitality, the Torah scholars and righteous people are strengthened in their work. And from this very same natural vitality, new Torah scholars and active individuals sprout amongst the Jewish nation, as we have witnessed numerous times, that important Torah scholars and achiever’s have come from simple families.

Therefore, it is essential to take the arava amongst the four species. And thus we learn that only through unity of all the resources can the Jewish nation fulfill its mission – to perfect the world through the word of God.

Arava: Our Matriarch Rachel

The arava alludes to beauty and the natural, practical forces in the world, and when watered properly, it grows strongly; on the other hand, if it is not attached to water, it quickly withers.

In a similar way, the Sages likened the arava to the Matriarch Rachel and Yosef Ha’Tzaddik, for on the one hand, both of them died relatively young, and had difficulties finding full expression in the Jewish nation; on the other hand, their vitality, beauty, and practical talents sustained Am Yisrael.

In the merit of Rachel, all the tribes were born, and in the merit of Yosef, Israel survived the famine and exile in Egypt.

The task of the arava Jews is extremely difficult. They are required to reveal the holiness contained within everyday-life in this, material world. Unlike the lulav Jews who engage in Torah and the haddas Jews who fulfill mitzvoth, the arava Jews are engaged in the regular duties of this world, “down to earth” – and to reveal holiness there is no simple task.

Therefore, in the meantime, they are fruitless and seem empty, but the vitality within them expresses high aspirations.

And in the future, when the world is filled with the knowledge of God, and even on the bells of the horses shall there be inscribed ‘Holiness to the Lord’ (Zechariah 14), and non-bearing fruit trees in the Land of Israel will give-off fruit (Tractate Ketubot 12b), the lofty virtue of the arava Jews will be revealed.

We Must Never Separate

In the meantime, it is forbidden to take leave of the aravot – firstly, so they don’t fall and get lost amongst the nations, and secondly – if they are missing from the Jewish nation, who will fulfill the great vision of revealing the word of God in this, material world?

It is precisely the arava Jews, like Rachel and Yosef Ha’Tzaddik, who upon connecting to the holy, will merit revealing the holiness in the natural, physical life — in beauty, and in all the talents revealed in the life of this world.

I Invite to My Meal Poor, Lonely Ushpizin

The mitzvah of joy on Chag includes concern to make one’s family happy, and the poor and needy * The primary concern of joy should be between husband and wife, and both of them together are responsible to make the rest of the family happy * The Ushpizin in the Sukkah are first and foremost the poor and lonely, as well as new immigrants, and it is a mitzvah to invite them to a meal on Chag. Anyone who invites such guests merits hosting the exalted Ushpizin, the righteous souls * The laws of kashrut for guests: A person can rely on a host’s kashrut even without supervision, provided he is sure the host is familiar with the halachot, and does not disrespect them

The Mitzvah to Rejoice and Make Others Happy

The primary mitzvah of simcha (joy) on the holiday of Sukkot is to be happy and make others happy, for true joy is achieved only when one strives to share the joy with others, as the Torah says: “You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and the Levite, proselyte, orphan and widow within your gates” (Deuteronomy 16:14).
Upon further observation, we find that this mitzvah has two components: First, to rejoice together with one’s family and household members. It should be pointed out that the word ‘ata‘ (you) in the above mentioned verse includes both husband and wife jointly – one’s spouse always comes before all other relatives. Also, we find indeed that a man’s primary simcha is the festive meal which his wife customarily prepares, while a woman’s primary simcha is for her husband to buy her new clothes or jewelry. The responsibility of imparting their joy with members of the family is equally shared, for the simcha of Chag is incomplete without the participation of the entire family. The time-honored custom of all Jews is sharing the joy of the holiday with the family.

The second component of the mitzvah is bringing joy to neighbors and friends, the poor and the lonely. The orphan and widow mentioned in the verse were typically poor having lost their main source of sustenance, and the mitzvah to gladden them is carried out by giving them tzedakah (charity). The ger (convert), having left his homeland and family is liable to suffer from loneliness, and the mitzvah to make him happy is achieved by inviting him to participate in the festival meal.

In recent generations, a special mitzvah has been added to natives of Israel: to host immigrants, who often feel lonelier specifically during the holidays, and it is a great mitzvah to include them in the joy.
It should further be noted that the Torah commanded including the Kohanim and Levi’im (Priests and Levites) in the joy. Their task was to teach and instruct B’nei Yisrael, both young and old. From this we can learn that today, Torah scholars – the rabbis and educators who teach Torah and instruct throughout the year similar to the Kohanim and Levi’im, should also be made happy on the Chag. (Binyan Shleima, 1:33).

Who are the Ushpizin According to the Holy Zohar

The lonely or poor guests are the special ones of the festival of Sukkot, who are called in Aramaic ushpizin, and the more guests one brings joy to in his sukkah, the more praiseworthy he is.

Consequently, our Sages said in the Zohar that one should also invite to the sukkah “ushpizin ila’in” (supreme and holy guests), namely, the souls of the seven tzadikim (righteous men), Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David, whose spiritual light shines on Chag Sukkot. In other words, having merited the mitzvah of sukkah and bringing joy to guests, particularly the poor and lonely, one is able to elevate spiritually and also invite supreme and holy guests to the sukkah, i.e., enlightenment from the souls of the tzadikim. Each day, the spiritual light of one the tzadikim shines bright, and he enters the sukkah first, followed by the other six tzadikim.

The Zohar also relates the custom of Rabbi Hamnuna Sabba, who, upon entering the sukkah, was extremely joyful and would stand inside the entrance of his sukkah and bless, saying: ‘Sit down, supreme and holy guests, sit down. Sit down, guests of Faith, sit down.’ He joyfully raised his hands and said: ‘Happy is our lot, happy is the lot of Israel who sit in the sukkah. For whoever has a share in the holy nation and the Holy Land, dwells in the shadow of Faith to receive the light of the seven tzadikim hosted in the sukkah, to rejoice in this world, and in the World to Come!’ (Zohar Emor, Vol.3, 103, 2-104:1, translation).

The Zohar Concerning Those Who Are Not Hospitable

In continuation, it is written in the Zohar (translation, and interpretation): “And although he merits receiving the souls of the righteous, he must be careful to gladden the poor, for the portion of the guests he invited to his meal, belongs to the poor. He sits in the shadow of Faith and invites these lofty guests, the guests of Faith, yet does not give them, namely the poor, their share of the meal, the tzadikim get up from his table because one should not be a guest of a kamtzan (miser)… for the table he set for a festive meal is a table made in honor of himself, and not in honor God, and of him it is written, “And spread on your faces, even the dung of your feasts” (Malachi 2:3). Woe to that man when the guests of Faith stand back from his table. Abraham , who throughout his life used to stand at the crossroads to invite guests and set the table for them, sees that this person who set his table did not give the poor their share, he stands up and says: “Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men” (Numbers 16:26), and the rest of the supreme guests walk away after him… one must not say, ‘First I will eat and drink, and whatever is leftover I will give to the poor’, rather, first and foremost he should give to the poor. If he acts properly and gladdens the poor and satiates them, The Holy One blessed be He is happy with him, and each of the faithful guests bless him…”

Basic Reliability in Kashrut

Q: Rabbi, I know it’s a mitzvah on Chag to have guests in one’s sukkah and also to visit family members and friends, but when eating at other people’s sukkah, can I trust that they are strictly observant of the laws of kashrut?

A: In general, Jews who believe in Hashem and his Torah can be trusted in mitzvot. Consequently, the Torah commanded that every Jew, whether man or woman, fulfill the mitzvoth of kashrut by himself – slaughter his beasts and kasher the flesh from chalavim (forbidden fats), gid ha’nasheh (displaced tendon) and blood, and also set aside trumot and ma’asrot (tithes) from his fruits – without the supervision of a Kohen or Rabbi, and anyone who is a guest at another Jew’s house can trust him, and eat from his food.

Not only that, but according to the mitzvoth of the Torah even the Kohanim trusted every Jew and ate from their shechita (ritual slaughter), for indeed it commanded that every Jew who slaughtered a beast for himself, give the Kohanim as a gift the zero’a (foreleg), leḥayayim (jaw) and kevah (maw, or stomach). This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “One witness is believed in matters concerning ritual prohibition”, in other words, that a man can testify that his foods are kosher (Rashi, Yevamot 88a, s.v. “ve’amar”; Chulin 10b, s.v. “eid”). We also find that every Jewish man trusts his wife concerning nida on her say so (Tosafot, Gitin 2b s.v. “eid”), and as well, our Sages said: “The laws of hekdesh, terumot, and tithes are indeed essential parts of the law, and they were entrusted to the ignorant” (Shabbat 32a).

Two Conditions of Reliability

However, this basic trust depends on two conditions: first – that it is a person who knows how to fulfill the details of the mitzvoth. Therefore, for example, although a Jew is trusted when he says that he slaughtered his beast according to halakha, when a young man wishes to be a shochet (ritual slaughterer), he is accompanied to see that he knows how to slaughter properly (Chulin 3b; S. A., Y.D. 1:1). Also, when our Sages realized that amei ha’aretz (unlearned individuals) were not well versed in the laws of taharot (purity) and tumot (impurity), they enacted not to rely on an am ha’aretz in issues of tumah and tahara, unless he accepts upon himself before three witnesses to strictly adhere to its laws (Rambam, Metamme’ey  Mishkav uMoshav 1: 1-5).

The second condition is that he does not disrespect the mitzvah. But if he is known to disrespect the mitzvah, he is not trusted. Therefore, when our Sages found in the Second Temple period that due to the high price of ma’asrot, many amei ha’aretz did not set them aside properly – they decreed that only those who pledged before three witnesses to be faithful to the laws could be trusted in matters of terumot and ma’asrot (Sota 48a; Yerushalmi, Sota 9:11; Rambam, Ma’aser 9:1).

In conclusion: When the hosts are known to be familiar with the rules of halakha and respect them, they can be trusted without asking questions.

The Need to Supervise Merchants

The basic trust of all Jews has to do with ordinary situations, such as a person hosted by his friend, who can rely on he is serving him kosher food. But when it comes to merchants, they need to be supervised, because of the economic temptation that could cause them to fail, as the Torah specifically warned merchants about measurements and weights that they be exact so as not to cheat with them, as written: “You must not keep in your house two different measures, one large and one small. You must have a full honest weight and a full honest measure. If you do, you will long endure on the land that God your Lord is giving you” (Deuteronomy 25: 14-15). Our Sages learned from the Torah’s emphasis “you must not keep” teaches that it is a mitzvah to appoint market inspectors (agradmin) to supervise the merchants measurements and weights, and to punish the scammers (Baba Batra 89a; Rambam, Geneva, 8: 20).

Even a Kohen, who mainly deals with matters of holiness, when confronted with a great temptation – he is not trusted. Therefore, our Sages instructed that if a bechor (first born kosher animal) attended to by a Kohen had a blemish that could be inflicted by a human, the bechor would not be permitted to be slaughtered and eaten without the Kohen bringing a witness to testify that the blemish had naturally developed. If there is no witness, the bechor is not permitted to be slaughtered, because there is concern that the Kohen may have inflicted the blemish to permit its slaughter, and to rid himself of having to look after it (S. A., Y. D. 314:1).

Also in the case of food sellers, where the merchant benefits from selling non-kosher food, he must be supervised. In recent generations, food production has become complex and segmented, to the point where it has become a resolute custom not to buy food whose kashrut is doubtful from a factory or a store that does not have a kosher certificate, even if the seller is known as someone who observes mitzvot (see, Meyshiv Davar 2:7, Igrot Moshe, Y.D. 4:1; Neharot Eitan 2:38; Minchat Asher 1: 37).

Indeed, there is no precise definition of the level of supervision required, but three basic rules guide the level of supervision. The first – the greater the temptation, namely, that by cheating the merchant profits more, the tighter supervision required. The second – the greater amount of people the merchant provides food for, the more rigorous his supervision must be, in order to prevent large-scale transgressions. Third – the greater the concern is about the severity of the prohibition, the tighter the supervision should be. Torah prohibitions are the most severe, followed by rabbinical prohibitions, and after them, prohibitions founded in minhag (custom). Consequently, the most stringent supervision is on meat where the temptation to deceive is huge since the price of kosher meat is double the price of non-kosher meat, and involves problems of Torah prohibitions. All the more so when it comes to a large-scale merchant.

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

The Secret of Yom Kippur’s Atonement

On Yom Kippur, the everlasting covenant between God and Israel is revealed, independent of our deeds, and continues despite sins * A central place in the service of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur is atonement of the Kodesh by way of the goat chosen by lot for God – this atonement is also important and relevant today* The values ​​revealed in the Holy of Holies reflected in the Ark, the Tablets, and the Kaporet is belief in God through the holiness of Israel, Torah, and love * Consequently, on Yom Kippur we should awaken to reflect on how to improve these matters: our attitude to Am Yisrael in all its diversities, Torah study, love of humanity, raising families, and settling the Land of Israel, on which all holiness rests

The foundation of Yom Kippur is in the brit (covenant) of love between God and His nation, Israel. Its origin is based in the brit God made with our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which took place through the mitzvah of brit milah (circumcision), was strengthened in the Exodus from Egypt, and sealed in the Giving of the Torah. This brit was revealed in particular on Yom Kippur, the day on which God completely forgave Israel for the Sin of the Golden Calf, and then, once again, gave Israel the Torah in the second Tablets and commanded to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) so his Shechinah (Divine Presence) could dwell among them (Pirkei De’Rabbi Eliezer 46; Tanchuma, Teruma 5, Ki Tisa 31). For generations as well, we were commanded to observe the service of Yom Kippur, in which the brit of love between God and Israel is revealed, and thus, Israel’s iniquities are atoned.

The Brit Is Not Dependent on Deeds

The brit does not depend on external circumstances, but rather on Divine choice, namely, that God chose his Nation of Israel as his Am Segula (a treasure out of all peoples), and created a special neshama (soul) for Israel which longs for Tikun Olam (perfection of the world) by means of revealing the Ohr HaEloki (Divine Light). As the Torah says: “You are a nation consecrated to God your Lord. God your Lord chose you to be His special people among all the nations on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). And as written in Tehillim: “Because the Lord chose Jacob as his own, God chose Israel as his treasured possession” (Psalms: 135:4). Therefore, even if Israel incurs immeasurable sins, the Divine brit will not be breached, as it is written: “The Lord will not reject his people; he will not abandon his very own possession” (Psalms 94:14).

Rules of Law and the Brit on Yom Kippur

In general, the world is governed according to the rules of law that God determined at the Creation of the World, namely, that the world would function according to the deeds of man: if they choose good – blessing will increase, and if they choose bad, blessing will diminish, and troubles will increase. Seemingly, according to this if Israel sins beyond a certain limit – they will destroy the entire world. However, on Yom Kippur, the Gates of Heaven are opened, the Uppermost Divine governance is revealed, Israel’s sins are forgiven at their root, and in merit of this, the world continues to exist and advance towards its redemption. As it is written in the Torah: “This is because on this day you shall have all your sins atoned, so that you will be cleansed. Before God you will be cleansed of all your sins” (Leviticus 16:30). Nevertheless, the rules of law are not cancelled, and for every sin and wrongdoing that is not perfected by teshuva (repentance), punishment will come. If the sins increase and multiply – the punishments will be unbearable; nonetheless, through them Israel is perfected and purified. Thus, even if Israel does not do teshuva, by virtue of the brit revealed on Yom Kippur, the Geulah (Redemption) God promised to our forefathers and us will transpire, but it will come by way of suffering. The more teshuva we do and choose well, by virtue of the kedusha (holiness) of Yom Kippur, we will merit bringing the Geulah closer in a pleasant way of teshuva and binyan (building). Each individual as well – the more teshuva one does on Yom Kippur, the more kedusha, kapara (atonement), and bracha (blessing) he will draw upon himself in his personal life throughout the year by means of revealing the Light of Israel.

The Goat and Atonement for the Holy Sanctuary

The main atonement of Yom Kippur is achieved by the two goats drawn by lots – one for God, and the other for Azazel. What is amazing is that the goat for Azazel atoned for all of Israel’s sins and that of the Kohanim (Priests), whereas the goat for God was meant to atone solely for Israel’s transgressions in Mikdash (the Holy Temple), and the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would also sacrifice a young bull for a sin offering to atone for the transgressions of the Kohanim in the Mikdash. Why was the bull and the goat whose blood was sprinkled in the Kodesh HaKodeshim (Holy of Holies) and afterwards in the Kodesh (Inner Sanctuary), intended only to atone for iniquities of the Mikdash, whereas the goat for Azazel alone atoned for all the remaining sins?

This however represents a very important idea: the root of all sins stems from our failing to fully identify with the sacred values. Consequently, atonement is mainly dependent on the tikun (repairing) of our relation to sacred values, and after this pivotal tikun is made, of its own accord it becomes clear that all of the sins are superficial, and one can release himself from them with relative ease. And this is why we were commanded to atone for all the rest of the sins with the goat sent to Azazel – to desolation.

Teshuva to the Values of the Mikdash

Therefore, the main effort of teshuva on Yom Kippur is to return to the system of Divine values ​​revealed in the Mikdash, according to their proper and balanced order. The Mikdash was divided into two parts – the inner third is the Kodesh HaKodeshim (Holy of Holies), and the remaining two-thirds is the Kodesh (Inner Sanctuary).

Inside the Kodesh HaKodeshim were placed the Aron HaBrit (Ark of the Covenant) containing the Luchot (Tablets of the Covenant) and the Torah; the significance the Kodesh HaKodeshim is the revelation of the brit between God and Israel by way of the Torah.

Inside the Kodesh there were three vessels: the Shulchan (the Table of Showbread), the Menorah (Candelabra), and the Mizbayach HaZahav (the Golden Altar). The Shulchan symbolizes the sacred value of all the types of work that people perform for yishuv ha’olam (the settlement of the world), the Menorah symbolizes the sacred value of all the wisdom in the world, and the Mizbayach HaZahav symbolizes the service of the heart in all of Israel’s prayers. Due to a lack of space, I will only deal with the values ​​revealed in the Kodesh HaKodeshim.

Kodesh HaKodeshim

Inside the Kodesh HaKodeshim was the Aron HaBrit which contained the Luchot HaBrit and the Torah given to Moses from Sinai, and by this, the connection of the brit between God and His Nation Israel was revealed.

Above the Aron was the Kaporet HaZahav (the golden lid of the Aron), and on it were the two cherubs which expressed the brit of ahava (covenant of love) between God and Israel, which is the root of all love in the world. Thus, the principal values ​​revealed in the Kodesh HaKodeshim are the emunah (belief) revealed by the holiness of Israel, the Torah, and love.

The first foundation of the revealing of emunah is the holiness of Israel, God’s nation, as we have learned in the book “The Kuzari,” that emunah is revealed in the world through Am Yisrael (the People of Israel). Indeed, this is what we say in Birkat HaTorah (the blessing of the Torah): “Who chose us from among all the peoples, and (thus) gave us his Torah.” And since on Yom Kippur the holiness of the Kodesh HaKodeshim is revealed, in which the holiness of Israel is revealed, on Yom Kippur we should awaken to the love of all of Israel, in all its groupings and factions. Therefore, the Yom Kippur prayer is performed in complete unity, including all of God’s beloved sons, tzadikim (righteous) and avarya’nim (sinners) alike.

The Torah

The second foundation is the Torah, and therefore on Yom Kippur, every Jew should connect more intensely and eagerly to Torah, and accept upon himself to increase and deepen his Torah study throughout the year. In particular on Shabbatot and Yamim Tovim which are intended for Torah study, as our Sages said: “Shabbat and Yom Tov were given solely to study Torah on them” (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 15: 3). For throughout the week, the people of Israel must spend a great deal of time engaging in sacred values rooted in holiness, namely, in all the works rooted in the Shulchan, and in all the studies of wisdom rooted in the Menorah. But on Shabbat, Torah study should be increased, along with the oneg (pleasure) of sleeping and eating – may’ain Olam HaBa (a taste of the World to Come) – and by doing so, draw enlightenment to the practical side of life. This advice is worthwhile particularly for people who are engaged in yishuvo shel ha’olam (welfare of society), upon whose study of Torah on Shabbat rests Tikun Olam and its redemption.

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

The third foundation is love, for emunat Yisrael (the faith of Israel) is the belief of yichud (unity), and the expression of unity-based faith in life, is through the love of all humanity. For that reason, Rabbi Akiva said: “Love your neighbor as yourself – this is a great rule in the Torah” (Leviticus 19:18, Sifra, ibid), for through love between man and his fellow man, Divine Unity is revealed on a small scale.

Seeing as love of humanity expresses emunat ha’yichud revealed in the Kodesh HaKodeshim, anyone who has sinned against his friend throughout the year should reconcile him before Yom Kippur, as our Sages said: “Yom HaKippurim does not effect atonement, until one has pacified his fellow” (Mishnah, Yoma 85b).

Family Values ​​in the Kodesh HaKodeshim

The culmination of the love of humanity is revealed in the brit and love between husband and wife – this was symbolized by the cherubim, which were placed in the Kodesh HaKodeshim on the Aron HaBrit in the form of a man and woman in their devotion and love (Baba Batra 99a) to imply there is a parallel between the love between husband and wife, and that of the relationship between God and Israel, as it is written: “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62: 5).

Thus, it is understandable why, while the Temple existed, after the service of the Kohen Gadol was completed in the Beit HaMikdash, the daughters of Jerusalem would go out to dance in the vineyards, and find their matches with the young men of Israel (Mishna Taanit 26b). For after the Kohen Gadol had entered the Kodesh HaKodeshim where the holiness of love and marriage is revealed, it was fitting to substaniate matches of love and holiness. As our Sages said, when a man and woman merit living in love and faithfulness, the Shechina (Divine Presence) dwells between them.

Today, however, when the Beit HaMikdash is destroyed, we do not feel worthy to engage in matchmaking on Yom Kippur. But nevertheless, since the holiness of Yom Kippur is connected to the sanctity of the Jewish family, it is proper for every single man and woman to pray on this day for his or her match, and to repent for the faults hindering them. Often, bad character traits, such as pride and lust prevent one from finding their suitable match. On Yom Kippur, the day on which a person’s pure soul is revealed, young men and women can consider more accurately  about their aspirations in life and about the match that truly suits them, the person with whom they can lovingly fulfill Torah and mitzvot, and together increase joy and life.

Married spouses also need to repent on Yom Kippur for all times they did not properly love and make each other happy, and pray that they merit to be reunited with love and joy so the Shechina dwell between them, and merit raising sons and daughters engaged in Torah and mitzvot.

Settlement of the Land

Another important foundation is revealed in the Kodesh HaKodeshim – namely, the holiness of the Land of Israel, because the holiness of the entire location upon which the Temple was built stems from the holiness of the Land of Israel. This is what our Sages said: “Settling the Land of Israel is equal to all the mitzvot in the Torah” (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah, 4: 3; Sifre, Re’eh 53). Consequently, the revealing of emunah depends on the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (the settlement of the Land), as our Sages said: “Whoever lives in the Land of Israel may be considered to have a God” (Ketubot 110b). Therefore, every Jew should awaken on Yom Kippur to contribute their part to the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz.

For lack of space I was unable to explain the values ​​revealed in the Kodesh; in essence, work is symbolized by the Shulchan, wisdom by the Menorah, prayer by the Mizbayach HaZahav, and mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) is symbolized by the Mizbayach HaChitzon (the Outer Altar) – through which the sacred values ​​are properly revealed. To merit complete teshuva and Geulah, we must give all the values ​​the correct and respectable place.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. To read the article in Hebrew, click here:

For what is Man Judged?

Alongside the judgement of Clal Yisrael, which is the central point of the High Holidays, every single individual is also judged * The individual’s judgement mainly concerns the World to Come, that is, the World of Souls and after the Resurrection of the Dead * The judgement on the World to Come also includes the path to it in this world – will one merit conditions in his life that will help him in Torah and Mitzvot, and what challenges will he face in order to fulfill his purpose * Reward is not evident in this world, in order to allow free choice. But for the most part, those who choose the good path and know how to take a deep look – realize that in the long run, they have been blessed

We learned in the previous column that the main judgement and prayer in the Yamim Nora’im (High Holidays) is for Clal Yisrael (the entire physical and spiritual community of Israel, past, present, and future), who reveal Malchut Hashem (the kingdom of God) in the world, thereby perfecting it. In this column we will examine the judgement of the individual, who’s ideal kavana (intention) should be to merit uniting with Clal Yisrael in Tikun Olam Be’Malchut Shadai (perfection of the world in the kingdom of God).

Our Sages said that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tzadikim (righteous) are judged for life, and rasha’im (wicked) for death, and as we will learn further on, the meaning is life both in Olam Ha’Zeh (this world), and Olam Ha’Ba (the World to Come) (Rosh Hashanah 16b).

The Two Stages of Olam Ha’Ba

Life in Olam Ha’Ba consists of two stages. The first stage begins after man’s death – then, his neshama (soul) ascends to Olam Ha’Neshamot (the World of Souls), where Gan Eden (Heaven) is for the tzadikim, and Gehinom (Hell) for the rasha’im. The second stage will come after Tikun Olam (perfection of the world) is completed with Techiyat Ha’Maytim (the Resurrection of the Dead), at which stage the souls will be reunited with the body, and together, will have an infinite elevation (Ramban, ‘Shaar Hagemul’; Ramchal, ‘Derech Hashem’ Part 1, Chap. 3).

Olam Ha’Ba in its two stages is also called Olam Ha’Emet (the World of Truth), because in contrast to Olam Ha’Zeh where falsehood prevails and the external image obscures the inner essence – in Olam Ha’Ba, the true status of man, and the true value of his actions, is clarified. Seeing as Olam Ha’Ba is infinitely more important than Olam Ha’Zeh because “this world is like a lobby before the World to Come” (Avot 4: 16), in the opinion of many Torah Sages, the main judgement a person is judged on Rosh Hashanah is on Olam Ha’Ba.

The Judgement of Olam Ha’Ba

There are two components of judgement concerning Olam Ha’Ba. One is that every year, all the actions a person does during the year is taken into account – for the good actions, reward is reserved for him in Olam Ha’Ba, and for the bad ones, punishment. However, the judgement on Rosh Hashanah is not final, because if one repents in the coming years, he will save himself from judgement in Gehinom, and his reward in Olam Ha’Ba will be increased. But if, God forbid, he changes his mind, and regrets the good deeds he did, he will inherit Gehinom, and lose the reward that was reserved for him in Olam Ha’Ba.

The second part concerns one’s ability to come closer to Hashem in the coming year. A person judged for life on Rosh Hashanah will be given opportunities throughout the year that will help him continue elevating in Torah and mitzvot, by way of which he will merit life in Olam Ha’Ba. When learning Torah, he will merit gaining additional enlightenment and understanding, and while fulfilling mitzvot and good deeds, merit gaining additional joy and blessing – me’ayn Olam HaBa (a taste of the World to Come). But if, God forbid, one is judged for death, he will encounter throughout the year challenges and events liable to distance himself from Hashem, and lose his Olam Ha’Ba. In such a situation, even when studying Torah, it will be difficult for him to absorb the Divine enlightenment in it, and even when performing mitzvot, he will not feel the kedusha (holiness) and oneg (pleasure) of the mitzvot properly.

What are “Life” and “Death”?

Overall reward is called chaim (life), and punishment is called mavet (death). The meaning of life is closeness and attachment to Hashem, the Source of Life, by which man merits all the good that Hashem showers in Olam Ha’Zeh, Olam Ha’Neshamot, and Olam Ha’Ba. Since the root of all goodness and pleasure in this world comes from life that Hashem showers to the world, the reward in Olam Ha’Ba is infinitely greater than all the pleasures of this world, which are only but a pale reflection of the source of pleasure. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “One hour of spiritual bliss in the World to Come is worth more than the whole life of this world” (Avot 4: 17). This is because in Olam Ha’Ba, one is able to enjoy the splendor of Hashem and revel in Him, and life in him becomes infinitely greater and intensified, whereas in this world, the Divine Light comes to us through screens and great reduction. Nevertheless, by adhering to Hashem in the study of Torah and observance of mitzvot, one can also gain a taste of Olam Ha’Ba in this world, and gain enjoyment from de’veykut (adherence) to Hashem.

In contrast to reward termed chaim, the general name of punishment is termed mavet (death), which means distancing from the Source of Life, which causes the increase of distress, until the death of the body in this world, and agony of the soul in Gehinom.

The Complexity of Judgement and Free Choice

Although the rules of judgement are simple, namely, that a person who walks in the ways of Hashem is blessed in this world and the next, and one who is evil is punished in this world and the next, the details of judgement are infinitely profound and complex. Consequently, there are incidences where a righteous person suffers from poverty and illness and dies at an early age, and an evil person who persists his wicked ways in prosperity and good health. The main point is that everything is aimed at Tikun Olam. I will explain this a bit.

In order to perfect the world, man must have free choice. Therefore, as long as the world has not yet reached perfection, it is impossible for all the righteous to enjoy the good, and the wicked, to suffer. Thus, the rule of judgement is extremely complex and detailed, and thus, there will always be righteous people having to deal with anguish, and evil people that seem to enjoy the pleasures of this world. In this way, free choice is not compromised, and the person who chooses goodness, merits perfecting himself, and the entire world.

At any rate, when the long-term is weighed, for example, family relationships and true happiness in life, we find that in general, righteous people merit blessing in this world as well, and the wicked are punished. And this is the main challenge, for the yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) inclines man to observe the world superficially and short-term, whereas the yetzer ha’tov (good inclination) encourages man to look deeply and in the long-term. Therefore, despite the fact that in general, even in this world the righteous usually merit favor and the wicked are tormented, free choice still remains, because in the short-term, things are not evident.

The Meaning of Judgement when Fate is Determined

I will explain a bit about the details of judgement: There could be a man whose destiny in life is to be rich and cope with the yetzer accompanying wealth – therefore, even if he sins a lot, he will be rich. All of the judgement on Rosh Hashanah in this matter is about the conditions of his life as a rich person – whether he will be happy with his wealth, or be agitated by worries because of it. Concerning his life in Olam Ha’Ba as well – judgement is whether his wealth will cause him to endure very difficult trials, easy trials, or may even assist him in serving Hashem. On the other hand, there could be a person destined to cope with poverty, and therefore, even if he has numerous merits, will remain poor – his judgement is about whether poverty will be unbearable or tolerable, and concerning Olam Ha’Ba – whether the conditions of his life as a poor person will benefit or hinder him in serving Hashem. In rare cases, as a result of special merits or severe sins, a person can change the fate of his destiny.

Judgement when Fate is Not Determined

Occasionally, a person’s destiny is not determined, but rather, sets the direction and allows for certain changes. In this case, the judgement of Rosh Hashanah can also affect a person destined to be rich – whether he will be well-off, wealthy, or extremely rich; for a poor person as well – whether he will be a little tight, downright poor, or destitute.

Sometimes a person has no special destiny to be poor or rich, and thus his fate is not permanent, but since he has chosen to act properly regarding money matters and tzedakah (charity), he justifiably deserves to be rich. In such a situation he will gradually become wealthier, so that he may continue growing in piety and righteousness. And other times it is revealed before the Knower of hidden thoughts, that if he were to gain wealth, his yetzer would overcome him, and he would be likely to sin in pride, lust, and greed, and lose his degree of righteousness. In this situation, since devotion to Hashem is the main factor, upon which his life depends, he is shown mercy and judged with difficulty in parnassa (earning a living) so that he can escape the difficult challenge, and merit life in Olam Ha’Ba. But if he was not so worthy, he may become rich in this world, but would have to face difficult challenges liable to relegate him to the worst of places.

According to the Extent of the Challenge

There is another consideration, namely, the degree of challenge it takes for a person to choose good and avoid evil. Some people, by the fate of their destiny, were created with a very strong evil inclination, or grew up in a harsh and bad environment, and even if they are able to learn a little Torah and do a few good deeds – it has tremendous value, and they will merit great reward. As our Sages said: “The reward is according to the suffering” (Avot 5: 23). On the other hand, there are people whose good inclination is strong, and grew up in a good environment, and therefore if they sin, they will be severely punished.

Reward for the Wicked in This World, and Vice Versa

There is an additional accounting, namely, that sometimes the judgement of a rasha who performed some mitzvot is to receive all the reward for it in this world, in order to be relegated to Gehinom. And at times the judgement of a righteous person who sinned a bit, is to receive all his punishment in this world, so that he will ascend to Gan Eden pure and clean.

Although reward in this world is incomparable to the reward in Olam Ha’Ba, such judgement is just and proper, because the rasha did his mitzvot for superficial reasons – to boast and brag – consequently, it is appropriate that his reward also be in this fleeting world, and not to receive reward for them in Olam Ha’Emet (the World of Truth). And similarly for a tzadik, seeing as his main desire is devotion to Hashem – if he sinned by mistake, just as his sin is superficial, it is only fitting his punishment be superficial in this world, and be cleansed until no stain remains from it in Olam Ha’Ba (Kiddushin 39b; Derech Hashem, Part 2, 2:6).

Judgement of the Clal and the Individual

Another point: Although judgement on Rosh Hashanah is for the nation as a whole and for each individual, judgement of the individual is greatly influenced by the general state of the nation – each nation according to its own state of affairs. Indeed, sometimes there is no contradiction between the judgement of the nation and that of the individual, for even when the nation as a whole merits to be inundated with blessing – the blessing is not hindered because some individuals are punished for their sins; likewise, when the nation as a whole receives punishment – the punishment is not hindered because some individuals merit reward. However, sometimes there is a contradiction between the judgement of the nation and that of the individual, such as when the nation is punished with destruction and exile, and in that case, it is inevitable that the righteous are punished as well. Even so, the judgement remains in force, for in Olam Ha’Neshamot, in Gan Eden, the tzadikim will receive their full reward, and the entire completion will be in Olam Ha’Ba, at the time of Techiyat Ha’Maytim (Resurrection of the Dead), when the souls will reunite with their bodies.

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

Hashem’s Blessing to the Nation in This World

The reward and punishments written in the Torah are intended primarily for the entire nation, and are meant to be fulfilled in this world * The blessing is realistic: A nation that lives a Torah and faith-based life – is wiser, invests more, has more families, and is more successful in all spheres of life * When the State of Israel lives according to the Torah, its security, scientific, and economic success will make it exemplary for the Gentiles * On Rosh Hashanah we pray primarily for the crowning of Hashem as King through the nation * In the exile, crowning of Hashem as king was expressed mainly in our cry that He save us; in the Land of Israel, the crowning of Hashem means accepting responsibility and building a society according to the ways of Torah

The Question of Reward and Punishment

It is widely believed that the reward and punishment written in the Torah in affairs concerning life in this world are mainly directed at the individual, who, if he follows the ways of Torah and mitzvot will merit wealth and happiness, and a good and healthy life. If so, a question arises – how is it that there are tzadikim (righteous people) who suffer from poverty, illnesses, and deprivation, and in contrast, rasha’im (evil people) who enjoy riches, good health, and esteem.

Indeed, our Sages said: “The length of one’s life, the number of children he will have, and his livelihood, depend not on merit, but rather on mazal (good fortune)” (Moed Katan 28a). All of these virtues are not dependent on one’s merit, but on his mazal, in other words, his fate, or the destiny he was assigned when born. The Gemara brings evidence of this from the lives of two of the great Amora’im – Rabbah and Rav Hisda, who were both tzadikim — in times of drought, both of their prayers were answered. Rav Hisda lived ninety-two years, and Rabbah lived only forty years. In Rav Hisda’s house, sixty weddings took place, and in Rabbah’s house, sixty cases of bereavement occurred. In Rav Hisda’s house wealth abounded – even the dogs were fed the purest wheaten bread (‘loshon guzma’ – not to be taken literally), while Rabbah’s house was poverty-stricken – they didn’t even always have cheap barley bread to satisfy their needs.

The Remuneration Spoken of in the Torah is intended for the Clal

Rather, the main reward and punishment for the individual are in Olam HaNeshamot (the World of Souls) and Olam Ha’Ba (the World to Come), whereas the reward and punishment written in the Torah are written for Clal Yisrael (the entire physical and spiritual community of Israel, past, present, and future), for the Torah talks of rainfall and economic blessing that descends from Heaven over the entire Land of Israel, and a general state of health, fertility and peace, victories over enemies and a praiseworthy status in the world, and above all, the dwelling of the Shekinah (Divine Presence). And as for punishment, in contrast, drought, a curse on the crops of the Land, poverty and famine, epidemics, defeat at the hands of our enemies, the concealment of the Shekinah, servitude to other nations, and exile.

A nation’s general situation, of course, greatly affects each and every individual, for indeed, even if an intelligent and industrious person is born in a poor country torn by wars, his life will be short and miserable. In contrast, someone born in a rich and developed country, even if he is not so talented and diligent, will live a comfortable life.

Freedom of Choice

If the main reward and punishment in this world was intended for the individual, we wouldn’t have bechira chofshit (freedom of choice), and no expression of the tzelem Elokim (image of God) in man, for if every sinner was punished on the spot – no one would ever sin, and if for every good deed a person received an immediate reward – everyone would be tzadikim. However, when the judgment is for the Clal, in any case, it progresses in a long and complex process, and an individual’s fate depends largely on his overall destiny, and not by his choice. Thus, each individual chooses his path according to his beliefs and values.

In any event, the precise and correct judgment remains unchanged, for, in Olam HaBa, each individual will receive exactly what he deserves.

A Glimpse of the World to Come in this World

All the same, a little bit of the reward in Olam HaBa descends from above and is revealed in this world, for indeed, a person who chooses the good path – merits emunah (faith), and consequently, everything that happens in his life, fills him with meaning; even when he suffers torment, Hashem is with him, and his anguish is eased. On the other hand, one who chooses evil, even if he enjoys the pleasures of this world, his life is empty and meaningless, and ultimately becomes loathsome. Besides that, the more we look at the longer term, we see that even in this world, the tzadikim usually merit greater blessing.

The Natural Blessing of Torah Life

Let’s return to the Torah’s guidance – if we follow the ways of Hashem we will merit receiving favor and blessing, that will come to us in a natural way. This is one of the most important objectives of Torah study – explaining the logic of how the observance of Torah and mitzvot gives value and meaning to all fields, and thus, is blessed. Even if such an advantage is indicated by a few percentage points on an individual basis, and consequently does not violate bechira chofshit, when it comes to an entire public living by the light of Torah – the blessing is wonderfully abundant.

In other words, if we comprehend the Torah properly, we will better understand the value of education in general, and the development of science in particular (as explained in Rambam, the Gaon of Vilna, and many more), and as a result, it would be reasonable to assume that our children will, on the average, reach better academic achievements by a few percentage points than is customary in developed countries. Thanks to recognizing the value of work and its contribution to tikun olam (perfecting the world), they will exert a bit more effort acquiring a quality and useful profession, and at their jobs, will probably reach a slightly higher level on the average than is customary in developed countries. Thanks to setting regular times for Torah study throughout the week, and in particular on Shabbat, they will merit a little bit more inspiration in development, creativity, and assimilating Torah values in their fields. Thanks to modesty and moderation, each individual relative to what he or she has, they can spend more years studying the profession or science they chose, and reach slightly better achievements in their fields.

Thanks to emunah and adherence to tradition, all these values ​​will continue to be strengthened, and will also add social cohesion and a sense of camaraderie. Thanks to the Torah guidance of family life, more families will live in love and happiness, and merit raising more children to Torah and mitzvot, and all other good deeds. Thanks to emunah, there will be greater willingness to contribute to the nation in the army and in settlement of the country; the security situation of the state will improve, and of course, this improvement will reflect on all other areas.

In order to realize all this goodness for the long-term, of course, everything has to be founded on the belief in Hashem and His Torah, with all its values and morals.

The Vision for the State of Israel

If indeed we do merit adhering to the proper path, we can assume that the State of Israel’s GNP (Gross National Product) will be, on average, higher than the other developed countries. We will continue advancing in the fields of social welfare, improve the educational system, and then, within two generations, the average wage in Israel will be twice as high as in the most developed countries. The Nation of Israel, living in its Land, will multiply, grow stronger, and lead the world in terms of ethics, science, and economics.

Diaspora Jews, of course, will long to make aliyah and take part in the success, and even those “lost in the land of Assyria, and those dispersed in the land of Egypt” will seek to discover their roots, and return to their People and their Land. And a great, powerful, and populous nation will proclaim faith and justice to the world, paving the way for moral education and intellectual development for the benefit of mankind, innovating methods and technologies for longevity and quality of life, and thus, in a natural way, we will merit seeing the fulfillment of the prophet’s vision: “In the end of days, the mount of the Lord’s Temple will be established above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.’ The Torah will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2: 2-3).

Rosh Hashanah Prayer

Consequently, our main prayers in the Yamim Nora’im (the High Holidays) concern the general condition of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, and this is the main judgment rendered on Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, in the Birkat Ha’Yom (blessing of the Day) in the Amidah (silent) prayer, our main request is for the dwelling of the Shekhinah and the revelation of His kingdom in the world, upon which blessing is contingent: “Our God and God of our ancestors, may your sovereignty be acknowledged throughout the world. May your splendor and majestic glory be reflected in the lives of all who dwell on earth. May all that you have made be aware that you are their Maker, and may all that you have created acknowledge that you are their Creator; and may all that breathe the breath of life proclaim: The Eternal, God of Israel, reigns and his sovereignty embraces everything in the universe.”

The Crowning of Hashem – Accepting Responsibility

A person may think that the foundation of emunah is self-effacement and the recognition of man’s uselessness as opposed to the greatness of Hashem, and thus, his whole prayer is just a cry for help, that Hashem will do everything, save and redeem us. However, according to everything we have learned in the Torah, from the ways of our Avot (our forefathers) and tzadikim, the meaning of crowning Hashem is the fulfillment of the Torah in all its glory, by means of which, all blessings in the Torah are continually revealed, and this is the way the kingdom of Hashem is revealed in the world.

In this manner, Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God) is much greater, since not only does Hashem bestow upon us plenty from above, but rather, by our following in the path of Torah and mitzvot – Divine abundance already inherent in man and the world is continually revealed. As it is said: “Truth springs up from the ground; righteousness gazes down from Heaven. Yes, Hashem gives what is good, and our Land yields its produce.” (Psalm 85:12- 13).

This is how Hashem is crowned in the world in the proper manner.

However, when God forbid, we are in terrible exile, all we have left is to cry out to Hashem, and this is the way we proclaim His kingdom – that we have not lost faith He will redeem us. But when He begins to redeem us, and we have the ability to act, then, it is our duty to fulfill the Torah in practice, and do all we can to realize its guidance and blessings. This is the true de’vaykut (devotion) to Hashem – that all of life is all revealed through our faith and actions.

We Forgot How to Crown

As a result of the agonies of exile, to a certain extent, we have forgotten how to reveal the kingdom of Hashem in the proper way. This is because, on account of the sins that led to exile, His kingdom is revealed to us through punishment, the most severe of which is exile with all its terrible sufferings, and consequently, all we have left is to cry out to Hashem. However, this is not the appropriate way, for the punishment came as a result of of the forsaking of Divine guidance in the world. In other words, the problem was not that we did not cry out to Hashem, but rather, that we went astray after idolatry, and sinned in murder, incest, the torment of orphans and widows, distortion of justice, baseless hatred, unethical behavior between man and his fellow man, desecration of Shabbat, and slave bondage. As a result of this, all the work in the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) was individual; society fell apart, and all the curses in the Torah came upon us. If we do not make an effort to be redeemed from exile on our, willingly, then: “This is what Hashem Elokim says: As surely as I live, with a strong hand, an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out, I will be your king!” (Ezekiel 20:33).

We must pray on the Yamim Nora’im, they should be for the good, that we merit working in conjunction with Hashem in the revelation of His kingdom, through the powers, talents, and initiative that Hashem has given us, and by doing so, we will merit receiving all the Torah’s blessings in a natural way, all of which are songs and glory to the King of the world.

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

Why Does Food Need Kosher Supervision?

A person’s basic loyalty to eating kosher is not applicable in the business world, where there is concern people will cheat to make money; therefore, food must be supervised * The list of ingredients shown on a product wrapper does not indicate its kashrut, because all food additives such as emulsifiers, stabilizers, flavor enhancers, etc., are not specified * Food additives can be problematic as far as kashrut is concerned, especially in two controversial substances – glycerin, and gelatin * Since the consumer is not familiar with all the additives, and is not aware of the complex controversies, all industrial food products must have kashrut supervision

Q: Is one obligated to buy food with kashrut supervision? Why can’t a person rely on the seller or manufacturer who testifies to his products, such as dairy products made from cow’s milk, and are obviously kosher anyway? And various sweets such as chocolate, why do they need kashrut supervision – after all, they’re made from cocoa and sugar and other kosher ingredients? Why worry they contain something prohibited?

Basic Loyalty and Supervision of Merchants

A: As a matter of principle, Jews are credible when it comes to mitzvot, therefore the Torah commanded that every Jew, whether male or female, fulfill the mitzvoth of kashrut himself: slaughter his beasts and kasher them from chalavim (fat portions), gid ha’nasheh, and blood, without a Kohen or Chacham supervising him, and separate terumot and ma’asrot (tithes) from his fruits without the supervision of representatives from a Beit Din. Thus, any Jew who is a guest at another Jew’s home may rely on him and eat his food – assuming that before the meat was prepared he slaughtered the animal according to halakha, that he did not mix meat and milk in his foods, that he made sure there were no insects in them, that he separated terumot and ma’asrot from his fruits, and that challah was taken from his dough-like batter. Not only that, but according to the mitzvoth of the Torah, even the Kohanim rely on every Jew and eat from the animals they slaughtered, for the Torah commanded Jews to give the zero’ah, lechaim, and keyva to the Kohanim to eat. Regarding this, the Chachamim said: “One witness is relied upon in prohibitions,” i.e., that one man may attest to his food that they are kosher (Rashi Yevamot 88a, s.v. ‘ve’amar’; Chulin 10b, s.v. ‘eid’). We have also learned that every Jewish man trusts his wife that she has cleansed herself of the impurity of nida (Tosafot, Gitin 2b, s.v. ‘eid’). However, this basic trustworthiness depends on two conditions: first, it is a person who knows how to fulfill the details of the mitzvot. Secondly, this person is not known as one who disrespects the mitzvah.

However, when it comes to a merchant who makes money from selling food, he is judged differently: just as Beit Din is obligated to supervise that the weights and measurements of merchants are accurate, and without supervision, there is fear their yetzer will overcome them (Baba Batra 89a), so too, food merchants must be supervised (Aruch HaShulchan, Y.D. 119:4). Therefore, food products produced in factories must also be supervised, since the factory owners make a living from them.

What Are Food Additives?

Q: Since the law requires factory owners to write the ingredients of each product, and if they cheat they are fined, thus, they already have supervision and the kashrut of each product can be determined by the ingredients contained therein. Why do we need the supervision of a rabbinate on products such as milk and candies, whose preparation does not involve halakhic acts such as shechita and the separating of terumot and ma’asrot?

A: In the modern food industry additives are used, such as emulsifiers, stabilizers, moisturizers, crystallizers, and flavor and color enhancers. In other words, when they want to mix two substances that do not naturally mix, such as water and oil, to produce chocolate or milk delicacies, they use an emulsifier that binds and congeals the two. Since sometimes even after using an emulsifier the two substances tend to separate, they use a stabilizer that keeps them combined. In order to preserve the moisture of products that tend to dry out, they use glazing agents. When they want to prevent food from gelling so it stays nice-looking, soft and flexible, they use anti-caking substances. When they want to make a liquid product thick, such as dairy products made from liquid milk, they use emulsifiers such as gelatin. When they want food products to be preserved for a long time, they use preservatives and antioxidants. Flavor enhancers are also used, whose purpose is to enhance certain flavors and to diminish the tastes of others.

Marking of the Additives

In many countries of the world, including Israel, food additives are labeled according to the European classification represented by the letter E (Europe), and the ingredients are classified according to their purpose. Each series of hundreds have a special designation. Ingredients used as edible food coloring are indicated by numbers 100 to 199, i.e., E100 to E199. Preservatives are given the next series, and their labeling is E200 to E299. Acidity regulators and antioxidants are labeled E300 to E399. Thickeners, emulsifiers, and stabilizers are marked E400 to E499. Gelatin is included in this series and is marked E441, and glycerin is marked E422. In the 500-599 series are anti-caking substances and acidity regulators. The series of flavor enhancers is 600-699. The series of 700-799 is antibiotics to prevent bacterial development. 900-999 is a series of glazing agents, gases, sweeteners, and others. These are the main ingredients used in the food industry.

In practice, every industrial product today has dozens of additives, and their kashrut requires supervision. The law does not require the labeling of all of them, but only the main ones.

The Kashrut of Food Additives

Almost all food additives are produced abroad, therefore, when they are plant-based, they do not involve halakhic questions, except for substances produced from stam yainum (wine which might have been poured for an idolatrous service). However, when they are produced from animals, they are usually prohibited, because they are produced from impure animals such as pigs, or from pure animals that were not slaughtered according to halakha. Additives noted as being problematic are glycerin, followed by gelatin.


Glycerin is one of the fatty substances in an animal’s body, and its purpose is to preserve energy for times of starvation. It is used in the food industry for emulsion, stabilization, thickening, sweetening, preservation, and other purposes. Its marking is E-422. In large factories around the world, it is produced from impure animals such as pigs, or from pure animals such as calves that have not been slaughtered according to halakha. Today there are plant and synthetic substitutes.

At first, about 150 years ago, glycerin was used for the purpose of thickening and sweetening liqueurs. It was produced by boiling, which did not make it inedible, and consequently, the poskim agreed that its use was prohibited (Darchei Teshuva 103:70; Yismach Levav, Y.D. 24). With the development of the food industry, glycerin also began to be used as a stabilizer, emulsifier, preservative, and as an anti-crystallization agent and other uses, so that sometimes it is enough to use just a minimal amount of it. In addition, an alternative method of distilling glycerin from fatty acids was developed by mixing caustic soda with fat. At that stage it is toxic and inedible, and afterwards, the glycerin is separated from the caustic soda, and is once again edible.

Some poskim say that since there was a stage in which the glycerin was inedible, its prohibition is void, and after becoming edible again, ‘panim chadashot ba’u l’kan’ (something entirely new), and it is not prohibited. In addition, many times the amount does not reach one-sixtieth, and in any case, is nullified. And it cannot be argued that it has the status of ma’amid (a gelling agent), because quite often its effect on a food product is not as evident as a regular ma’amid (Sridei Aish 2:21).

On the other hand, in the opinion of many poskim, glycerin is not considered a new product, since it is only separated from the fatty acids that were attached to it. In addition, it itself is edible, for only the addition of caustic soda made it inedible, and afterwards, when removed, the glycerin remains edible as it was initially. Therefore, when it is the sole ma’amid, it is prohibited, and even when it is not the only ma’amid, it is forbidden to be mixed-in deliberately, and if it was mixed-in, l’chatchila (ideally), it is forbidden to eat it (Minchat Yitzchak 5:5; Mishneh Halachot 9: 154). Since the reasoning of the machmirim (strict poskim) is convincing, and is the opinion of the majority of poskim, this is the practical instruction, that glycerin should be produced from pure animals that have been slaughtered according to halakha, or from vegetable oil.


Gelatin is produced from the collagen protein found in bones and skins. Its job is to stabilize and gel candy, ice cream, dairy products, and the like. Large factories produce it from impure animals such as pigs, or pure animals such as calves that were not slaughtered according to halakha. In the production process, the bones and skins are soaked in lime to extract liquid and additional substances, and the remains are ground into powder, which is the gelatin.

There are poskim who permit gelatin, since in its production process, the bones and skins lose all their taste to the point where they are no longer edible, and since panim chadashot ba’u l’kan, it is not prohibited. And if it is extracted from the hard part of the bones, there is another reason to permit it, because this part of the bone is never considered edible, and consequently, from the start, the prohibition does not apply to it (Achiezer 3:33; Har Tzvi, Y.D. 83; Yebiah Omer, Vol. 8, Y.D. 11).

On the other hand, there are poskim who prohibit gelatin, because the production of gelatin is not considered to be the creation of anything new, but merely the separation of collagen from the other substances, and consequently, the Torah prohibition applicable to the bones and skins of impure animals and nevilot remains on the gelatin separated from them. It is not batel be’shishim, since it has the din of a ma’amid that is not batel be’shishim (Iggrot Moshe, Y.D. 2:23, 27; Minchat Yitzchak 5: 5).

In practice, those who want to be maykel (lenient) are permitted since the controversy is in Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical), for in practice, gelatin has no taste, rather, it is a ma’amid and stabilizer, and the general rule that a ma’amid aino batel afilu  b’elef (a ma’amid is not nullified even in a thousand) is derived from Divrei Chachamim. Nevertheless, l’chatchila (ideally), it is proper to take into consideration the opinion of the machmirim (stringent poskim), in particular, today, when it is possible to obtain gelatin produced from kosher animals or to use alternative coagulants.

Every Product Requires Kashrut Certification

In practice, consumers are not familiar with all food additives (only a few of which have been mentioned in this column). They cannot know what is produced from prohibited animals, and what is produced from plants or synthetic materials, which food additive is considered a ma’amid which prohibits the food, and which additive is not considered a ma’amid. Therefore, responsible kashrut supervision of all industrial food products is required, and without such supervision, no industrial food may be eaten. Since in certain matters there are controversies, there are different levels of kashrut supervision. In regular kashrut, the opinion of individual poskim and sofakot d’Rabanan (uncertainty in rabbinical ordinance) are not taken into consideration, and kashrut is given according to ikar ha’halakha (the principal halakha), and there are kashrut organizations who take into consideration the approaches of all the machmirim, and give kashrut le’mehadrin.

As I wrote this column, I regrettably heard that Rabbi Oren Ben Zahara Duvdevani shlita, who contributed from his knowledge and experience to the inquiries presented in this column, is ill. May Hashem send him a complete recovery.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. The original article may found at:

The Secret of Rabbi Kook’s Greatness

Many people in Rabbi Kook’s generation, including Torah scholars, wondered how he managed to have command of so many different issues in Halacha and Aggadah – alongside his unceasing involvement in public affairs * The explanation is that for Rabbi Kook everything was Torah, and every field he encountered, he  addressed in a comprehensive fashion * More about Rabbi Kook’s greatness: Why the light in his house was on until late at night, what Agnon said about Rav Kook after studying with him for nine straight hours, and what would have happened if his seminal book “Orot HaTeshuva” had been translated into English

In honor of the 3rd of Elul which occurred this week, the yahrzeit of Rabbi Kook ztz”l, I will mention a bit of the greatness of the Gadol Ha’Dor of past generations.

His Diligence in Torah Study

Rabbi Kaniel ztz”l, the Rabbi of Haifa, wrote: “No less than his gift of genius, he had a genius of work, diligence, and perseverance to the point of mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) for Torah. When he studied at the Volozhin Yeshiva, his diligence was above and beyond human power (he would study be’iyun (in-depth) sixty pages of Gemara with meforshim (commentators) every day … I merited learning privately with Rabbeinu, and saw the aish ha’kodesh (the sacred fire) in his heart for love of Torah, as an endlessly rising flame, and only with great effort was it possible to drag him away from his studies to eat a little something to keep him going. Once, while walking with one of Jerusalem’s wise Torah scholars, I passed by Rabbi Kook’s house well after midnight, and we saw a light in the house. We wished to find out who was interrupting the rabbi’s rest so late at night, after he had dealt with so many difficult concerns the entire day. How astonished we were when we saw Rabbi Kook himself holding a large book, pacing back and forth across the hall, devouring page after page with unparalleled enthusiasm …”

The administrator of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Shabtai Shmueli, told: “Once, I had to enter his room during his studies to have him write a few lines of gratitude and blessings to a generous donator. I went in quietly not to disturb him, and waited until he realized I was there, but he was immersed in learning Tractate Sukkah, and it took a considerable amount of time until he “discovered” me. The amount of pages of Gemara he went through is etched in my memory. His concentration and the speed of his study amazed me greatly, and until today, I remember that experience” (Likutei Ha’Raya, Vol.1, pgs. 45-47).

The Greatness of his Personality

Rabbi Yisrael Porat ztz”l wrote: “Usually, people who have won a name for themselves also attain a sense of awe from distant people who have heard about them … but when they come to know them closely, their degree of admiration diminishes … after all, everyone has weaknesses and shortcomings that help diminish themselves. This is not the case with our great Rabbeinu – the more you stood before him, the more you had a chance to observe his leadership, and the more you heard him speak – the more you saw him transcend and rise above your reach; you became a fan and an admirer, wishing to sit at the dust of his feet, because you saw before you a spectacular phenomenon of true genius, a man with a comprehensive and penetrating mind, a good Jew in the fullest sense of the word, and a man of prominence.” “He was a spring which steadily increases its flow. He used to speak for several hours straight, spawning gems embedded with ornaments on the topics of Halakha, Aggadah, Kabbalah, and religious philosophy. His words were pure and refined, to the letter of the Talmud and Midrashim, Zohar and Moreh Nevuchim, and in all books of Judaism in all fields. When he sat down at the table to write he wrote endlessly, page after page, as long as he wasn’t interrupted…”

Rabbi Reuven Margaliot ztz”l asked Rabbi Aryeh Levin ztz”l: “What made Rabbi Kook so great?” Rabbi Aryeh replied, “I am not the one who knows how to estimate his greatness, but I can only say this: I have never seen any katnut (smallness) in him” (Likutei HaRaya Vol. 1, pages 17-24).

His Genius

Rabbi Karroll, Rabbi of Kfar Hasidim, said that when he came to Maran Rabbi Kook ztz”l, he intended to talk to him about some well-prepared issues, and to his great amazement, Rabbi Kook was well-versed in all of them, as if he had just studied them (Likutei Ha’Raya, p. 53).

Rabbi Dov Eliezerov said: “On one of the times I visited Rabbi Kook, the Rabbi of Teplyk was there, and we saw something that aroused in us great admiration. Rav Kook was asked a question in hilchot nashim (the laws of women), and behold, he began to recite from memory the words of the Gemara and Rambam, and the methods of the Rishonim and the Shulchan Aruch – everything was clear to him. Another time, I saw a Torah scholar who had written a book on the Tractate of Midot came to visit Rav Kook with drawings in his hand, and I was amazed to see Rav Kook make various clarifications and corrections on a subject that few people dealt with (ibid., P. 56).

Rabbi Bezalel Zolti ztz”l told that at the levaya (lit. ‘accompanying’; the funeral procession) of Rav Kook, he walked alongside the mashgiach, Rabbi Leib Hasman and the street next to Rav Kook’s house was filled with rabbis and heads of yeshiva’s and Talmedei Chachamim (Torah scholars) from Jerusalem and all over the country. Rabbi Hasman said to him in Yiddish: “You see here so many ‘heads’; well let me tell you, we are accompanying the greatest ‘head’ of all of the ‘heads’ put together” (ibid., P. 52).

Rabbi Zevin ztz”l, who was one of the great geon’im (Torah geniuses) himself, wrote: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that Maran, the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook ztz”l, was the only one of the Gedolei Torah in our generation who had a command of both halakha and aggadah. Rabbi Kook was without equal in niglei (the revealed side of Torah) and nistar (the hidden side of Torah)… in fact, in a sense, he personified halakha and aggadah… “(Ishim ve’Shitot, p. 210).

The Secret of His Greatness in Torah despite his Tasks

Many were amazed that Rabbi Kook was preoccupied with answering questions of numerous people in issues of halakha and public and personal leadership, and yet it seemed that he was constantly reviewing his learnings – in bekiut (broad familiarity with large swaths of data), and iyun (in-depth analysis). Usually, rabbis required to answer questions or heads of yeshiva’s engaged in giving in-depth classes specialize in the certain field they are dealing with, and in other areas, their greatness diminishes. But with Maran Rabbi Kook ztz”l, everything was Torah – in all issues asked, and in everything he heard or saw – he immediately thought of verses from the Torah, words of Chazal, Rishonim and Achronim, directly and indirectly related to that certain subject, and in this way, in his mind he would go over entire issues, and come up with chiddushim (new insights). Thus, along with providing answers on various topics, in his thoughts he would go over his learnings, and deepen them limitlessly. This was evident to the talmedei chachamim who met with him, that when they raised a topic and Rabbi Kook felt they could understand his thoughts, the lightening bolt of his chiddushim shined fiercely and proficiently in all areas related to the subject in question. Even great Torah scholars found it difficult to keep track of his ideas, because in order to so it required great proficiency and quick comprehension of deep ideas.

Our family tells of my grandfather’s uncle from my father’s side, the Rabbi and Gaon Shalom Melamed ztz”l, the Rabbi of Uman who at the end of his life made aliyah to Jerusalem and was a member of the Hasidic Beit Din in Jerusalem, that before he went to visit Maran Rabbi Kook – he made sure to prepare the issue he intended to talk about very well. He explained that to speak to Rabbi Kook, one had to be proficient in all sides of the issue, otherwise, it was difficult to understand him.

In a similar manner, the author Shai Agnon wrote: “I was fortunate that from the day I met him, in the beginning of the winter of 1907, he befriended me, and I merited hearing Torah classes from him in Rambam’s Hilchot Yisodei Torah (the laws of the foundations of Torah) and Hilchot De’ot (the laws of personality development), and there is no end to the things I got to hear from him – they all deserve to be written for future generations. One day I sat before him for nine straight hours – nine continuous hours without a break – he, ztz”l, would talk, and I would listen. I’m sorry I did not get what he said, but I knew they were extremely deep. I have seen many gaonim, chachamim and tzadikim, but a gaon, tzadik, or chacham who combined all these virtues like Rabbeinu HaGadol (our great Rabbi) ztz”l, I have not found” (‘Mi’Atzmi Al Atzmi’, pg.445). In the past when I read this, I thought that Agnon was joking as he often did, but after hearing how great rabbis prepared before meeting him, I realized he had written honestly.

An Abundance of Ideas

Rabbi Naftali Stern wrote: “His Torah teachings by memory, his speeches, his lectures, his conversations, and his words… this is a unique case of the greatness of a spring which steadily increases its flow orally, a torrent of Torah and wisdom that would continuously increase and gush forth from the breathe of his holy mouth. And without a doubt, anything spoken by Rav Kook was infinitely greater, broader, and more comprehensive than the writings of Rav Kook. Without exaggeration, one could say: if a typist, registrar, or a recorder had been by his side at all times… then Judaism would have been enriched in the wealth of dozens of volumes of supreme works, and words of thought and vision, in all areas of Jewish and universal spirit and thought. Anyone meriting to be in the presence of Rabbeinu ztz”l… felt and saw a celestial breathe flowing out of his mouth without any flaw or delay, with brilliancies and sparks of holy thoughts running back and forth, and his entire being brimmed with light, illuminating and warming the hearts of his listeners… “(Likutei Ha’Raya 1, page 29).

Orot HaTeshuva’ (The Lights of Repentance)

A memorable testimony from Prof. David Tamar in the name of my maternal grandmother’s uncle, Prof. Ber: “I was a student of Prof. Yitzhak Ber z”l. He was not only an in-depth historian, but also a comprehensive thinking man. Once, our conversation turned to Rabbi Kook ztz”l and his books. Professor Ber then said to me that if “Orot HaTeshuva’ had been translated into one of Europe’s languages, Rabbi Kook would have been regarded in the world of non-Jewish culture as one of the greatest thinkers of the last generations” (ibid., P. 30).

Regarding ‘Orot HaTeshuva’, Rabbi Neria recounted that the Gaon, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik said to him that he studies Rabbi Kook’s books, and in his opinion “His most theoretical and coherent book is ‘Orot HaTeshuva’, and its main chiddush is that teshuva is not necessarily related to sin, but rather that a person returns to himself, to his source.” Rabbi Soloveitchik also told him that he “also studies ‘Orot HaKodesh’ and draws ideas from it, however, I give them a different form” (ibid., Pp. 250-251).

In view of this, it would be appropriate for us to awaken before the upcoming High Holidays, they should be for good, and engage in this holy and wonderful book, ‘Orot HaTeshuva’.

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