Today’s Sin of the Golden Calf and the Spies

The Sin of the Golden Calf and the Sin of the Spies, which occurred during the days of ‘Bein Ha-metzarim’ which we entered this week, are the prototype of all other sins * As long as these sins are not rectified, and our faith and Torah is not exact, we will continue to pay their price * The fear of many Jews to immigrate to Israel in the early days of Zionism was the continuation of the Sin of the Spies, and consequently, we had to pay the terrible price of the destruction of our People

The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz was set because on that day the walls of Jerusalem were breached. The fighting continued in Jerusalem for three weeks, and at the end, on Tisha B’Av, the Temple Mount was conquered, the Second Temple burned, and the long exile began. Our Sages said in the Mishna (Taanit 26): “Five tragic events befell our forefathers on the seventeenth of Tammuz: the Tablets containing the Ten Commandments were broken, the continuous daily offering (Tamid) was terminated, the city of Jerusalem was breached, Apostomus burnt a Torah scroll, and an idol was erected in the Holy Temple.”

The Meaning of the Mishna and the Sin of the Golden Calf

Taking a look at the Mishna, we see there is an inner connection between the five events that occurred on t 17th of Tammuz. All of them express a crisis that harms spiritual roots, fractures the wall of faith, and causes severe damage that if not rapidly rectified, will subsequently, on Tisha B’Av, cause complete destruction.

The source of all the calamities of the 17th of Tammuz is rooted in the Sin of the Golden Calf. After the revelation on Mount Sinai, Moshe Rabbeinu was called to stay on the mountain forty days and forty nights to receive the Torah from God. On the day the people thought was the fortieth day – they waited for him to descend, and when he did not, they demanded Aaron HaKohen make a statue representing the God that had taken them out of Egypt. Aaron held them off, and asked them to bring the women’s jewelry to make a statue from it, in the hope they would refuse. However, many of them brought their wives’ golden jewelry. Aaron made a golden calf from them, but postponed the slaughtering of a sacrifice to it till the following day, in hope that in the meantime, Moshe would come down from the mountain. However, Moshe had not yet descended, but the people had already begun slaughtering sacrifices to the calf, and make a feast. At that moment, a great accusation in Heaven transpired, and God sought to consume the entire nation and rebuild it through Moshe Rabbeinu’s offspring. In the meantime, Moshe Rabbeinu came down from the mountain with the Tablets in his hands, and upon seeing the Golden Calf was angered, threw down the Tablets, shattered them, and punished the sinners. He then commenced an act of teshuva (repentance) and tikun (rectification), giving over his soul in prayer for Am Yisrael, until God agreed to forgive the people, and not destroy them.

The Two Great Sins – The Golden Calf and the Spies

The two fundamental sins noted in the Torah are the sin of the Golden Calf on the 17th of Tammuz, and the sin of the Spies on Tisha B’Av. In the sin of the Golden Calf the people still believed in God, however, they thought that intermediary powers were needed. However, since they desecrated the purity of emunah (faith) and the Torah – a year later, on Tisha B’Av, they lacked the strength to confront the Spies who dissuaded them from entering Eretz Yisrael, despised it, betrayed the word of God and the purpose of the Torah, and were punished in that the entire generation that had left Egypt, died in the wilderness. Not having corrected the sin, the punishment continued for several generations, as our Sages said of the sin of the Spies that occurred on Tisha B’Av: “God said to them: You cried for naught, and I will decree that you cry for generations” [Taanit 29a], for on Tisha B’Av the First and Second Temples were destroyed. In other words, the sin of the Golden Calf extends to the destruction of the Holy Temple.

It is no coincidence that these were the two most severe sins, because essentially, they are the prototype of all sins. The sin of the Golden Calf harms the principles of emunah and Torah, and if not rectified, it reaches the sin of the Spies, which impairs the Torah and Israel’s fulfillment of its purpose – the revelation of the Shekhina (Holy Presence) in Eretz Yisrael. And in every generation we have to guard ourselves from transgressing these sins, because every flaw in the purity of emunah and Torah has its source in the sin of the Golden Calf, and every flaw in yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) has its source in the sin of the Spies. If we achieve exactness in our emunah and Torah, striving to fulfill them in Eretz Yisrael, the blessing will be boundless. But if, God forbid, we are inexact in our emunah and its fulfillment, the price to be paid is unbearable. As our Sages said: “No retribution whatsoever comes upon the world which does not contain a slight fraction of the sin of the Golden Calf, as it is written (Exodus 32:34): ‘Nevertheless in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them’ (Sanhedrin 102a). And if we do not correct the sin of the Spies, we will continue paying for it in the prolonged destruction of the Temple and the Land, as our Sages said: “Any generation during whose days the Temple is not rebuilt is regarded as if it had destroyed it” (Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 1:1).

The Sin of the Golden Calf in Every Generation

In every generation the Jewish nation is compelled to deal with a challenge that is liable to lead to the sin of the Golden Calf. This is because the world changes from year to year, and at every stage, for a moment, it seems as if Moshe Rabbeinu is delayed; no one knows what happened to him, and there is no one to illuminate our path. And instead of strengthening our emunah and to the best of our ability, continue growing in Torah and mitzvot, there is a tendency to seek ‘golden calves’ to mediate between pure emunah, and contemporary life. This is especially true during times of crisis and significant changes in lifestyle; then, the absence of the guidance of Moshe Rabbeinu seems more pronounced, and at that time, even glorified souls like Aaron HaKohen are liable to be enticed by the public, and have no choice but to agree to some type of ‘golden calf’ to act as an intermediary (see Kuzari 1:97).

The Sin of the Spies in Every Generation

Similarly, in every generation we are compelled to face difficulties in fulfilling the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, for the settlement of the Land always presents challenges – whether it be external enemies rising up against us, or internal difficulties. In other words, in order to settle the Land properly, all ideas and mitzvot must be “settled” in everyday life, with all its difficulties. Claims then arise that the ideas are too lofty, obscure, and impractical. For instance, Shabbat observance, setting times for Torah study, and prayer will impede upon work and science; the values ​​of truth and morality – will hinder entrepreneurship. But just as difficult questions in the Gemara are ‘settled’ and resolved, so too, the Land’s difficult questions must be ‘settled’ according to the Torah’s guidance, and show how it is precisely walking in God’s way that settles the Land with additional blessing.

The Enormous Challenge of Recent Generations

In recent generations, the Jewish people have faced a new struggle, spiritually difficult than previous challenges. Out of philosophical and scientific development, accelerated social, economic and demographic development began, unparalleled to the past. Numerous questions began piling up on religious tradition as a result of all the scientific discoveries, and before one of them could be answered – seven new questions arose, which increasingly grew and intensified. Attempts were made to deal with questions from the exact sciences, and in the meantime, questions from the field of history arose. In the process, severe attacks on religious frameworks began to emerge from the values ​​of human freedom and rights. And, most difficult of all, opposing worldviews to religion developed, such as liberalism, communism, rationalism, capitalism, which offered realistic solutions to the world’s advancement, and to some extent, even its redemption, claiming that, at best, when religion restricts itself to the private domain, it can be tolerated; and at worst, when it attempts to influence society – it interferes with tikun olam (fixing the wrongs in the world).

The Sin of the Golden Calf Today

The great challenge of the sin of the Golden Calf reappeared in modern times in full force. Moshe Rabbeinu remained in the foggy mist of Mount Sinai, and we should have adhered to pure emunah, and delve into the Torah which teaches us that the essence of its fulfillment is in Eretz Yisrael, in the joining of heaven and earth, guiding us to see in galut (exile) a temporary state of punishment and illness, and asserting that all the observance of Torah and mitzvot in the Diaspora is intended that once possible, we immigrate to Israel and fulfill the Torah and mitzvot there; and by doing so, we also return the Shekhina from its exile, once again to dwell among Am Yisrael and in Eretz Yisrael. This was the way many of the great Sages instructed, including the Gaon from Vilna, the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, and after them, Rabbi Kalisher and Rabbi Alkalai, and other precursors of Zionism.

However, it was very difficult to stand the test. Jewish identity was attacked on all sides. The nation began to drown in questions, and there seemed to be a need for a ‘golden calf’ to help mediate. Thus, different conceptions began to develop. Some argued the Torah, or parts of it, should be abandoned in order to join the “golden calves” of the advancement process. On the opposing side, counter to the accountability of the leaders of modernity, there were rabbis and chassidim who argued in the name of religion that it was forbidden to change anything from the customs of the galut – not to immigrate to Israel, not to work for the betterment of society, not to engage in science. And to preserve the situation, a host of ideas were offered to enthuse peoples’ hearts, which in themselves are, in a sense, a ‘golden calf,’ disrupting the balanced way of Torah and mitzvot.

As a result, when it was possible to immigrate to Israel, there were not enough spiritual and religious resources left to inspire mass immigration to Israel.

The Result of the Sin of the Spies Today

About a hundred and twenty years ago, close to fifty years after Rabbi Alkalai and Rabbi Kalisher had initiated their activities, at the time of the establishment of the Zionist movement, the Jewish people numbered approximately eleven million, while the Arabs who lived in all areas of the Biblical borders, including Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, numbered a little more than five million, with a little more than half a million Arabs living on both sides of the Jordan. At that point, the Jewish nation had the opportunity to return to the Land of Israel, in which to flourish and multiply. However, the majority of our nation were afraid to uproot themselves from the Diaspora, to immigrate to Israel, and to take their fate in their own hands, as the Torah commands. Indeed, the challenge was immense; immigration to Israel in those days involved many difficulties. However, the refusal to fulfill the mitzvah to immigrate to Israel when it was possible to do so, was in a sense, a modern-day sin of the Spies, and as we were warned in the Torah, the price for it is dreadful. We suffered the Holocaust, the rule of Communist oppression, and assimilation. And thus today, there are about fifteen million declared Jews in the world, and in Israel, approximately seven million. In contrast, the Arabs in the vicinity of Eretz Yisrael benefited from the fruits of the industrial revolution, the growth of food production, and the improvement of medicine, and grew from five million to more than eighty million.

Nevertheless, it is not too late. It is still possible to unite around the national and divine mission, and correct. “Get ready! We’re going up to Zion to the Lord our God!” The Lord proclaims: Sing joyfully for the people of Jacob; shout for the leading nation. Raise your voices with praise and call out: “The Lord has saved his people, the remnant of Israel!”  (Jeremiah, 31: 5-6).

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

The Love of Eretz Yisrael and Diligent Torah Study of Rabbi Meshulam Rata ztz”l

The positive attitude to Zionism and the settlement of the Land of Israel was shared by Rabbi Meshulam Rata (Roth) and his rabbi, Rabbi Meir Arik * His diligent Torah study was exceptional, and he himself fulfilled the command ‘meditate on it day and night‘ in the plain sense of the words * When he fled Europe and arrived in Eretz Israel, he was received with respect and appreciation, and appointed to serve in the Great Beit Din

About a month ago, I began telling the story of the life of the great gaon, Rabbi Meshulam Rata (1875-1962), on the occasion of the publication of his book ‘Kol Mevasser’, in a well-designed and renewed edition. Since our teacher and mentor HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook ztz”l described him as the Gadol ha-Dor (eminent sage) of the generation after the passing of Maran HaRav Kook, we will continue relating the history of his life.

His Rabbi, Rabbi Meir AriK

As I mentioned previously, Rabbi Meshulam studied with the great sages in his surroundings, but his most prominent rabbi was Rabbi Meir Arik (Arak) ztz”l (1885-1926), author of “Minchat Pittim” on Shulchan Aruch, and the Responsa ‘Imrei Yosher’, as well as other books.

Rabbi Arik invested a great deal in his student, and was willing to spend a significant amount of time studying with him on the subjects his student chose, as Rabbi Meshulam wrote in a letter to his father when he was 17. He also said that his rabbi suggested that he put most of his effort “in the study of Shulchan Aruch aimed at halakha“, because he was about to marry, and unless he was proficiently versed in halakha, he would not be respected as a rabbi in his father-in-law’s house and in his community. Their friendly relationship and the understanding between them was very deep, and, as he wrote his father in his letter, his rabbi told him it was very rare for two people to be of the same mind in all their opinions and behaviors, but “our opinions and our views are generally consistent, not beyond a bowshot, and so our relationship is strong and rooted firmly and securely… therefore, how good and how pleasant it is for such brothers to dwell together in unity on Torah and mitzvot.”

Later on, when his rabbi sent him his book, “Minchat Pittim,” Rabbi Meshulam wrote him a long letter, from which I will cite a few lines indicating his special connection to his rabbi: “Your precious book came into my sight yesterday, shining like the sun of righteousness through spreading clouds, with tens of thousands of its glorious rays of light glowing… you have revived my soul, my master and teacher… Who would have created lips for me to express and articulate my heartfelt emotions that I sensed, which touched my memory of our soul-bound friendship! Oh, how I wish it was the pleasant months of the past, sitting in your shadow, listening to your lessons, back then I imagined that no one in the world could be as happy as I… I am writing this to you, my teacher and friend, and I envision seeing eye-to-eye the light of your face, speaking to you about everything my heart feels at the moment, and I love you with my soul, my pleasant teacher! … How fortunate you are, my friend and beloved guide! How joyful and prosperous you are!”

Their Attitude to the Settlement of the Land of Israel

Incidentally, in relation to Zionism as well, his rabbi was not far afield. Our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook said that when he had traveled to Europe, he met the illustrious gaon Rabbi Meir Arik, and he told him that he had formed a friendship with Rav Meshulam, and although he was thirty-five years older, he had great respect for him. Rav Tzvi Yehuda also said that in the great assembly of ‘Agudat Yisrael’ in Vienna at the time of the Balfour Declaration, a motion was made to oppose the Balfour Declaration, and to reject it with the legendary ultra-Orthodox claims. At that moment, two eminent Torah sages sitting in the presidency, Rabbi Meir Arik and Mahari Assad, studied the document and said that the hand that signs it should be cut off. And thus, the sinners’ initiative was dismissed.

Following In the Hasidic Path

Along with his greatness in Torah, Rabbi Meshulam continued in the path of his family and teachers and was a hasid, and in his youth for twenty years traveled to Rebbe David Moshe of Chortkov (1826-1904). After he passed away, Rabbi Meshulam was not a hasid of any particular rebbe, but was associated with great appreciation to the rebbes of Beit Ruzhin, the common side they all had was their commitment to Israel’s unity and the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, and some of them, such as the Hosiyatin Rebbe, were even professed supporters of religious Zionism (“Mizrahi”).

Once, in his old age, Rabbi Meshulam and the outstanding Rabbi Reuven Margaliot (also a Zionist, of course) were at the joyous Beit Ha-Sho’eva celebration at the house of the Rebbe of Sadigora in Tel Aviv, and as son’s of Hasidic families, both of them danced with joy. Sometime later, the Rebbe wrote to his brother-in-law that these two brilliant sages had visited him, and when they danced together “it seemed to him as if two Torah scrolls were dancing.”

From his Daughter’s Memories, the Rebbetzin Sarah

“Our family home was also the ‘beit ha-Rav’ (‘the rabbi’s house’), a concept that included respect for the Torah and its guardians, and awe and appreciation for the ancestral tradition. The Rav (Rabbi Meshulam) was accepted as rabbi to the Chorostkiv community when he was just twenty-four years old, and spent most of his life there. He was the sandak at the brit milah of the new born babies, was present when they arrived at the age of mitzvoth, and the first time they were called up to the Torah on their Bar Mitzvah, married them under the wedding canopy, and was even the sandak at the brit milah of their sons. The Rav was connected with all his heart and soul to the members of his congregation, participating in their sorrow and joy, and their grief and rejoicing. His home was a ‘house of meeting for the sages’, to which people came to consult about family matters, boys’ education and daughters’ marriage, matters of livelihood, and neighborly disputes. He was the confidant of all the townspeople (although, since the community was small, the vast majority of his time was focused on his Torah studies).

“The Rav’s father was a lover of Zion, a ‘Mizrachi’ man … The Rav’s house was a merging of Torah, wisdom, and derech eretz on the one hand, and religious Zionism and the love of Eretz Israel on the other. In this spirit he influenced the ba’alei batim and the youth in our town, and many of them made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. And when they came to say goodbye to him, he escorted them at length in honor of their aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.

“Human dignity was a sacred value for our father, and in this spirit he educated us – my late brother Ephraim, and myself. My father z”l showed special affection for the ‘Yad Harutzim’ corporation of crafts workers and manual laborers. They also showed him great affection and appreciation. I still remember the letter of recommendation that my father z”l wrote to the ‘Mizrahi’ in Lvov for a Jew preparing to immigrate to Israel, testifying about him, “that this dear and good Jew, is a laboring man, who, throughout his life has fulfilled the great mitzvah of ‘You will eat the fruit of your labor’…”

His Diligence

He was known for his tremendous diligence – during times of war, or at times of peace; during times of torment, or in days of calm. Of his persistence in learning, one of his students said: “I once had the opportunity to sleep with him in his room for four weeks (apparently, this was after his wife passed away), and I saw his night order: for the first third of the evening he learned continually , and when he went to rest for a few hours, he took numerous books with him to his room and put them on his desk next to his bed, and almost every half hour he would wake up, wash his hands, read the books, and go back to sleep. He repeated this several times during his few hours of sleep. When I asked him about this, he explained to me that whenever he thought of something the Sages or the Rishonim had said, and he wasn’t sure he had remembered their words orally – immediately he felt the need to go over their statements, so he could recite them exactly.” Thus, all his life, he literally fulfilled the command “meditate on it [Torah] day and night” in the plain sense of the words.

His Aliyah to Israel

When WWII reached Czernowitz (Tchernovitz), Rabbi Meshulam could have escaped as many of the city’s Jews did, but he did not want to leave the members of his community, and acted on their behalf with devotion during the war. Towards the end of the war, a week after his daughter and son-in-law, with the mercy of God he managed to escape and immigrate to Israel. In the summer of 1944, when he was about seventy years old, he settled in Jerusalem, was received with great respect, and was asked by the Chief Rabbis to join as a member of the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem, and as a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council.

Together With the Chief Rabbinate

The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog ztz”l, who was himself a tremendous gaon, would consult with him on difficult questions, and was used to saying: “Everyone acknowledges that in this generation there is no greater rabbi than Rabbeinu Meshulam Rata.” At times when Rav Herzog was asked to rule leniently on a halachic matter, he would say: “If Rabbi Meshulam is willing to do so, I will agree with both hands.” For example, when a species of cow with a hump was brought from Madagascar that was unknown at the time (zebu), the Chazon Ish ruled it was not kosher, but Rav Meshulam together with Rav Herzog ruled it was kosher, and their opinion was accepted as halakha for all of Israel (Kol Mevasser 1:9; see, Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 1:17, footnote 1). He also ruled to determine Israel Independence Day as a holiday, and to recite Hallel with a blessing. However, with regards to the blessing, he conditioned it on the consent of the majority of the great rabbinic leaders (Kol Mevasser 1: 21). In practice, it was agreed upon at the time to recite Hallel without a blessing, but after the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, it was decided to recite Hallel on Independence Day with a blessing.

For a while, the Chief Rabbis determined that he would be the examiner and the one to grant ordination to rabbis, however, even great Torah scholars failed his rigorous exam, and therefore, other examiners were selected.

When Rav Herzog was asked by Torah scholars of Jerusalem, how a rabbi like himself, who grew up on rulings of Lithuanian rabbis, paid such respect to a Galician rabbi and posek, he replied: “He is not a Lithuanian, and not a Galician; in his halakhic rulings he is similar to the ancient poskim, the one’s upon whom the principles of halakha are based.”

The End of his Life

After a few years of living in Jerusalem in order to improve his health, he moved to Bnei Brak. At the end of the Jewish year 5719 (1959), his second wife, Rebbetzin Leah Rubin, died. A few months later, on a dark night on Chanukah, Rabbi Meshulam was sitting in his chair near midnight, engrossed in Torah as usual, and suddenly he fell from his chair (apparently, bending down to pick something up), and broke his hip. From that day on, he failed to recuperate, and after hospitalization, he moved to Haifa to the home of his daughter and son-in-law, who served as a Major in the Navy. They faithfully fulfilled the mitzvah of kibud av (honoring one’s father), and arranged his library for him there, so he could continue studying Torah as usual.

On the 26th of Kislev 5723 (1962), the second candle of Chanukah, at the age of 88, his soul returned in purity to its Creator. His descendants continue in his path, engaged in the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, and settling the Land.

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

Attitude of the Great Sages of the Last Generation to the Reform Community

In Rabbi Kook’s yeshiva, it was clear that no Jews, including the Reformers and Conservatives, should be boycotted * Precisely the Great Sages of the last generation who lived in the U.S. and were very familiar with those communities, maintained relations of respect and cooperation with them * Testimony from the son of the Rishon Le’Tzion, Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim ztz”l , about his attitude toward the various streams of Judaism


For the past two weeks, I have explained that it is forbidden to impose boycotts on the leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements, and this prohibition involves collective pikuach nefesh, as the Netziv said: “Like swords to the body and existence of the nation.” On the other hand, the mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael applies to all Jews, and indeed because we have a fundamental debate on the foundations of faith and Torah with them – we must balance the reproach with public expressions of brotherhood. For too long we have not met. Oceans separated us. The longing intensified. Thank God, we now are able to meet. In opposition to my view, some argued that all the Gedolei Ha-Dor, the leading sages of the previous generation – including Rabbi Soloveitchik, the Chief Rabbis, and Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook – instructed to boycott them, i.e., not to meet with them publicly, and with dignity. This is simply false. Since these issues touch on two existential foundations – Ahavat Yisrael and its unity, and the truthful ways of studying Torah – I will make an effort to explain things properly.

Our Teacher and Guide, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ztz”l

Rabbi Eliezer Waldman shlita, the head and founder of Yeshiva Kiryat Arba and one of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook’s prominent students, read what I had written and the responses of my critics, and told me he was deeply shocked by the latter, and wished to support me and my position. He said that he was occasionally invited to speak with Reform communities and participate in panels with Reform rabbis, and he asked Rav Kook whether or not to attend. Rav Kook replied that if they wished to listen I must certainly speak with them, and even added that after the Holocaust and the establishment of the State, the Reformers had begun a positive process of coming closer to the values ​​of the nation and the land and the restoration of Zion and Jerusalem to prayers. Years after Rav Kook passed away, Rabbi Waldman once again consulted with Rabbi Avraham Shapira ztz”l and also the Rishon Le’Tzion Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l, and they both thought it appropriate to attend public meetings with them.

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s Fundamental Attitude

The position of the great rabbis of America is especially important, as they were personally familiar with the Reform communities and delved into this issue. In his usual manner, Rabbi Soloveitchik divided between brit yi’ud, (covenant of destiny) in which partners are those faithful to Torah observance, and brit goral, (covenant of fate), in which all Jews are partners, including the Reformers. Therefore, in his opinion, issues of halakha should not be discussed with the Reformers, but on issues broadly agreed upon and related to all Jews – it is desirable and even obligatory to cooperate with them (Ish Al Ha’eidah, pp. 180–183). Not only did he meet with them publicly and respectfully, but for decades until his passing, he was a key partner in the umbrella organization of Jewish congregations in America, the Synagogue Council of America (SCA) founded in 1926, which was comprised of two Orthodox organizations, two Conservative, and two Reform. The Orthodox organizations were the UOJCA (The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, later referred to as the OU) and the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America). Rabbi Soloveitchik was the head of the RCA halachic committee, and many of the other participants in the organizations were his students from Yeshiva University. These two organizations remained within the umbrella grouping even after the opposition of Rabbi Feinstein and Rabbi Kotler (in 1956), and this continued until after the passing of Rabbi Soloveitchik.

A Wonderful Letter in its Depth and Precision

An enlightening educational fact is Rabbi Soloveitchik’s friendship with Conservative Rabbi Joseph Shubow, whom he appreciated for his spiritual work as a Conservative community leader, and did not avoid calling him Rabbi. As part of their friendship, Rabbi Soloveitchik was invited to sponsor and participate in an event honoring Joseph Shubow at the Conservative Temple Bnai Moshe. His letter of reply to the invitation is instructive and worthy of study, and as he wrote, it was written after much thought to accurately express his complex position, which contains deep wisdom, derech eretz, precision, good heartedness, and humility. Thus he wrote to Philip Fleischer, President of Temple Bnai Moshe:

“I cherish my long association with Rabbi Shubow and I consider him a dear and distinguished friend whom I hold in great esteem because of his many talents and fine qualities. It is self-evident that if the dinner were being given only in honor of Rabbi and Mrs. Shubow I would consider it a privilege to serve as one of the sponsors.

“On the other hand, however, this reception, to my regret, will also serve as an occasion to celebrate the completion and dedication of the new temple. Let me say unequivocally that I do recognize the importance of this new house of worship for the Jewish population of Brighton as a means of communal organization and unification. I also appreciate the unselfish efforts on the part of the members and leaders which make such an undertaking possible. Their pride in having attained their goal is fully warranted. You in particular have manifested a strong sense of community awareness and devotion for Jewish causes for which you should be congratulated.

“Yet, all this does not justify my serving as a sponsor of a dinner at which the dedication of this temple will be celebrated since the latter will, in all probability, have a mixed seating arrangement which is in my opinion not in consonance with our time-honored Law. The requirement for separate seating is almost a truism in our religious code and I have neither the right nor the desire to sanction either by word or by silence a departure from this tradition. My presence at the celebration or the appearance of my name as a sponsor would be tantamount to a tacit approval of mixed seating (in the synagogue), a thing which would greatly disturb by conscience. Therefore, after I had given the matter considerable thought I arrived at the unavoidable conclusion that my role in connection with this affair would prove to be absurd, so I respectfully decline.

“I wish to impress upon you that my words are not to be interpreted in the sense of criticism or censure. I am not a preacher by nature and I have never tried to convert others who are committed to a different philosophy to my viewpoint. I write this letter with a sense of deep humility explaining to you my feelings on the matter. I hope that you realize and fully understand my position and appreciate my hesitance in accepting an honor which would be in direct opposition to my inner convictions… Please convey my best wishes to Rabbi Shubow and his wife, and wish them many years of joy and happiness” (Ish Al Ha’eida, pp. 165-16). This letter was written in 1954, when Rabbi Soloveitchik was already considered one of the leaders of Zionist Orthodoxy in America, and the rabbi and teacher of hundreds of rabbis who served in the Rabbinate.

Rabbi Yisrael Porath ztz”l

There is further evidence of Rabbi Yisrael Porath ztz”l (1886-1974). This verification is important as it represents the yeshiva of Maran Rav Kook ztz”l, as Rabbi Porath was one of the great Torah sages of Jerusalem, a friend of Rabbi Charlap and Rabbi Frank, and one of the most distinguished disciples of Rav Kook. In 1922 he was called to serve as a Rabbi overseas. When he took leave of Rav Kook, given that the Rav viewed him as a great and faithful talmid chacham, he asked him to write an introduction to Talmudic tractates, as part of the fulfillment of the vision of Torah study as cited in “Hartza’at HaRav.” Rabbi Porath fulfilled Rav Kook’s exhortation, and wrote seven volumes of introductions to the Talmudic tractates, called “Mavo’ ha’Talmud.” His great-grandson, Rabbi Yaacov Idels shlita, lives in our community of Har Bracha. He brought me the book about Rabbi Porath, ‘Mishkenotecha Yisrael,’ and I will quote from it, facts of his leadership in relation to the Reformers (pp. 82-85).

The Meetings and Respect for Reformers

“The path Rabbi Porath chose was not a path of war or disrespect. In his usual manner, Rabbi Porath acted with an extraordinary combination of firmness and moderation. Thus, a year after his arrival in Cleveland, he delivered a series of lessons on the difference between Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. In a newspaper publication about the planned lessons, it was written that Rabbi Porath states that the lessons will not be critical, but will deal with the question of the true difference between the different streams…..”

Thus, when Abraham Friedland, perhaps the most important educational figure in non-Orthodox Cleveland Jewry died, Rabbi Porath was among the eulogists.

Admittedly, rabbis from the ultra-Orthodox Telz Yeshiva, despite respecting Rabbi Porath as the Rabbi of the city, did not view his good relationship with the Reformers favorably. Once, after Rabbi Porath attended a conference with a representative of the Reform community, one of the ultra-Orthodox rabbis phoned him. “The Rebbetzin, who heard that the voice from the other side of the line was talking angrily, and that Rabbi Porath seemed uncomfortable, asked him at the end of the conversation whether everything was okay. Rabbi Porath answered: ‘This is a conventional war, not a nuclear one.’”

“A special relationship developed between Rabbi Porath and Abba Hillel Silver, perhaps the most important Reform rabbi in Cleveland and one of the most important in America in his generation … The relationship formed was a bond of friendship, founded on the two rabbis’ being zealous Zionists, and perhaps the relatively conservative-religious roots of Abba Hillel Silver, also contributed to the relationship.

“In addition, Abba Hillel Silver donated about $500 toward the expenditures of the Talmudic books ‘Mavo’ ha’Talmud’, and even sat on the book’s donation committee.

“In 1958, when the Jewish National Fund decided to plant a forest in honor of Rabbi Porath, Abba Hillel Silver was the keynote speaker at the ceremony … Rabbi Porath along with the Rebbetzin attended the funeral of Abba Hillel Silver.

“The good relations and great appreciation the Reform community had for Rabbi Porath led them to consult with him at times on matters of halakha…” and in the book, examples are even given of their consideration for him.

The Rishon Le’Tzion, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim

This was also the position of the first Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim ztz”l, who was especially appreciated by Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook. His son, Mr. Moshe Nissim, former Minister of Finance and Justice, read my remarks and requested to voice his support for my position. He affirmed that his father, as Chief Rabbi, occasionally held meetings with representatives of all streams of Judaism. Along with his staunch position that completely rejected the Reform, he was of the opinion that no group of Am Yisrael should be boycotted. He added that every Shabbat in his father’s house an open kiddush was held, in which Conservative and Reform leaders (and, of course, even distinguished personalities and groups from Israel and abroad) regularly participated. He mentioned, for example, Professor Moshe Davis, founder of the Institute of Contemporary Judaism at the Hebrew University. In conclusion, he said his father “believed that no Jewish representatives should be boycotted.” “This is the truth, and the truth must be made public.”

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

Avoid Boycotts

Boycotting an entire segment of the Jewish people demands great caution and constant re-examination * It cannot be asserted that the Reform community causes damage to an extent that justifies boycott, even if in the past there was justification * The perception that your righteousness is measured by your exclusion of others, which unfortunately has penetrated the National Religious public, is unacceptable and should be avoided

In my last column, I explained that it is a mitzva to maintain a warm relationship with fellow Jews from all movements and streams, including Reform and Conservative, and together with the mitzva to admonish against breaches of the Torah, we must also give expression to the mitzvah to ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself’ in our encounters with them, and thus oppose boycotting their representatives, for the prohibition of hate and the mitzvot of admonition and love are interconnected, as is written:

Do not hate your brother in your heart; you must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.

Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people; you must love your neighbor as you love yourself; I am God.” (Leviticus 19: 17-18)

Three claims have been raised against this view and in favor of boycotting representatives of these movements:

  • They encourage assimilation, which is the most serious threat to the Jewish people. Every encounter with them gives them legitimacy and intensifies assimilation;
  • They harm Torah tradition and the observance of mitzvot, and damage the status of the Chief Rabbinate;
  • All the great sages (“gedolim”) of the past agreed they should be boycotted, so it is forbidden for a rabbi to meet with them publicly, against the view of these sages.

Preface to the Discussion

Needless to say, we have strong disagreements with our Reform and Conservative brethren regarding Torah tradition and halakha. Therefore, unfortunately, we cannot acknowledge their halakhic authority vis-à-vis conversion, weddings, and the like, and owing to the obligation to protest, we are also unable to attend their prayers and weddings. In addition, for many years they estranged themselves from Eretz Yisrael and from Israel’s redemption, and even today many of them believe the libels our enemies spread against the State of Israel and against the settlers in Judea and Samaria. The question is whether these disagreements should lead to hatred and boycott, or whether we must find ways to increase peace, love, and mutual understanding to the degree possible.

The Premise

Before starting the discussion, we must establish the premise. The unity of the Jewish people is one of the supreme values ​​of the Torah, and upholding it is a matter of collective piku’aḥ nefesh. As our Sages said (Yoma 9b), the First Temple was destroyed because of the sins of idolatry, incest, and bloodshed. “But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they occupied themselves with Torah, observance of mitzvot, and the practice of kindness? Because there prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered equivalent to the three sins of idolatry, incest, and bloodshed together.” The controversy in the Second Temple era was between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. And this is what the Netziv (Responsa Meshiv Davar 1:44) meant when he address whether the God-fearers (“Orthodox”) should separate from the Reformers and establish their own separate community: “This suggestion is terrible, like swords to the body and existence of the nation,” for even when we were in the Holy Land, with a certain degree of autonomy, “the Temple was destroyed and Israel was exiled because of the controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” Similarly, our Sages said (Sifrei Naso 42):

Great is peace, for even if Israel worships idols, if they live in peace, the Holy One, as it were, says that the Accuser (‘Satan’) cannot touch them, as it is stated (Hosea 4:17) “Ephraim has bound himself to idols—leave him alone.” [I.e., the Ephraimites have bound themselves together, and so are left alone, even though they bonded together to serve idols.] But when they are divided, what is written of them? “Their hearts are divided—now they will be laid waste!” (ibid. 10:2).

And in the Tractate Kalla Rabbati (Chapter 5): “As long as they are joined together, even to worship their idols, leave them alone.” That is why the destruction of the Second Temple is more severe than the destruction of the First Temple.

Therefore, instituting a boycott against representatives of a Jewish movement is a grave and terrible method that endangers the nation. Only when there is no choice, when there is a present, palpable state of national piku’aḥ nefesh, can it be implemented. It would be like a situation where a diseased limb must be amputated to save the patient from a greater risk of life. Therefore, as long as there is some doubt that it is not a situation of certain national piku’aḥ nefesh, or that the nation can be saved in other ways, it is forbidden to employ a boycott, which is even more dangerous to the existence of the Jewish people. And even if it was necessary to take this terrible measure for a certain period of time, it must be examined periodically to see whether it is still necessary, for every year the boycott continues, another cohort of young Jews undergoes this dangerous and horrible surgical operation, which concerns millions of Jews who identify as such. In light of this, we will examine the three claims.

Encouraging Assimilation

Some argue that the Reform movement causes assimilation, and the only way to save the Jewish people is to boycott them. First, we must examine whether this is true. The argument can be made that in the early generations, when the Reform and Conservative movements attracted observant Jews, they thus increased the risk that those Jews would assimilate, for the assimilation rate in these movements was immeasurably higher. Yet the matter is still unclear, because the question is what those Jews would have done had they not gone over to the Reform or Conservative movement: If they would have remained observant, then indeed the chances of them remaining in the Jewish fold would have increased. However, if they had abandoned everything, as many did (20% of German Jews converted to Christianity in the wake of Emancipation), then joining these movements actually delayed the assimilation process.

Even today, some argue that as a result of the Reform movement’s willingness to officiate marriages between Jews and non-Jews, assimilation is increasing. Perhaps they are right. However, given present circumstances, where over 70% of non-observant Jews in America and about 80% in Europe marry non-Jews, it is more likely that the position of Reform leaders does not affect their decision. It would seem the phenomenon of assimilation preceded and caused the Reform decision to officiate marriages of Jews with non-Jews, so as to maintain their connection to Jewish identity. It appears that, indeed, affiliation with the Reform movement, and even more so with the Conservative movement, preserves, to a greater or lesser extent, the Jewish identity of assimilating Jews. I have met a number of Jews who told me that thanks to these movements, they retained their Jewish identity and over time became observant and immigrated to Israel. And they are grateful to the movement for that.

At any rate, the claim that they are causing masses of Jews in the Diaspora to assimilate is far from proven, and it consequently does not justify using the dangerous tool of boycott.

Legitimation of Transgressing the Torah

Another argument that has been raised is that a public meeting with Reformers gives them legitimacy, and as a result, some people will stop being observant or pick and choose which mitzvot they want to keep. It is also argued that meeting them increases their demand for equal status to the Chief Rabbinate, which would be dangerous and destructive for the Jewish people.

This claim, as well, must be questioned, for even without Reform, there are unfortunately many Jews who stop keeping mitzvot, for a variety of reasons. Moreover, today, anyone who wishes can join a Reform or Conservative community. On the other hand, it is likely that precisely the policy of boycotting strengthens their claim to a separate legal status, so perhaps it would be better for the Chief Rabbinate to treat them with dignity and friendship. Perhaps this would even improve the status of the Chief Rabbinate, because in the eyes of many traditional and secular Israelis, the boycott is despicable. It pushes them away from Torah and mitzvot and causes them to question and undermine the status of the Chief Rabbinate. Perhaps a positive attitude toward Reform and Conservative would bring more Jews closer to Torah and mitzvot.

In sum, it seems that the policy of boycotting does more harm than good to Torah observance, the status of the Chief Rabbinate, and Jewish identity. And even according to those who believe that the boycott is effective, it is not a matter of national piku’aḥ nefesh that justifies taking such severe and dangerous action.

Did the Gedolei Ha-Dor Decide to Boycott?

In light of what I have clarified, it is clear these Jewish movements should not be boycotted. However, opponents will still argue that the leading sages, the gedolei ha-dor, decided to boycott these movements, and their decision should not be altered. However, even if we accept this unproven argument (and ignore the position of the rabbis who opposed the boycott), since we are dealing with a public issue that depends on real-world circumstances that naturally change, we are obligated to reconsider it periodically. For with each additional year of boycott, another cohort of Jews undergoes a terrible and risky amputation. Therefore, anyone who quotes eminent rabbis from previous generations, if accurate, can contribute to the historical debate, but these quotes do not obligate us to adopt the same position nowadays.

In conclusion, given the present reality, it is forbidden to boycott the representatives of the Reform and Conservative movement. This does not demand or require everyone to meet people they do not wish to meet. It is only a determination that the boycott is forbidden.

The Boycott Method

The frequent use of boycotts against movements in recent generations has produced a frightful reality in which Jews think that the more meticulously they boycott, the more “righteous” they are considered. Instead of occasionally re-examining whether the boycott is justified, they become more entrenched in their error and apply it to other movements, thus stabbing the heart of the nation with more and more daggers. One group boycotts Zionists, another boycotts soldiers, others boycott Neo-reformers, and still others boycott the academic world. Then another group boycotts rabbis who do not boycott academia, or Zionism, or anyone who does not accept Rabbi X as the gadol ha-dor. Thus, we find Hasidic Rebbes or yeshiva heads who are brothers but have not spoken to one another for years. “God-fearing” people nod their heads in understanding that these methods are all very saintly, as though it is not a public breach of the Torah.

Recently, the boycott method has penetrated the national-religious public. The main Torah debate facing some distinguished rabbis is where to draw the line—that is, who to boycott. Ignoramuses stir the pot, whispering in the rabbis’ ears, speaking slander and libel, and creating a situation that for some rabbis, a “sacred” assembly must declare from the outset who they disqualify and who they boycott. Only then can they discuss the “fateful” question about the “new and dangerous developments” with which only the most terrible events in history can ever compare, who is to blame for it, and what measures to take against them.

At any rate, as for me, if God gives me strength, I will try to proceed in the opposite direction: Whenever there is an initiative to boycott well-intentioned people, even if I deem them dreadfully wrong, if I have the opportunity, I will meet with them publicly, with dignity and love. And if I am attacked for this, I will meet with them repeatedly, and thus include myself in the sanctity of Knesset Yisrael.

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

Attitudes toward the “Deal of the Century” and to our Reform Brothers and Sisters

The “Deal of the Century” is basically positive, but every effort must be made so that the application of sovereignty does not come at the expense of concessions on areas of Eretz Yisrael and the establishment of a Palestinian state * My decision to participate in a public meeting with a Reform woman rabbi this week was done deliberately to show that we do not boycott them * Despite our profound disagreements, we must see the positive in the Reform and Conservative movements and treat them with Ahavat Yisrael

Disagreements and confusion accompany the “Deal of the Century” promoted by President Donald Trump, a friend to our country and nation, in conjunction with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Those in favor rightly claim that applying sovereignty to Jewish communities with American support is a huge achievement, which will allow for an impetus of greater settlement in most of the communities. In addition, for the first time, the Arab claim to a state is contingent upon their adherence to guidelines and moral standards that run counter to their basic beliefs, which they are unlikely to meet. Those who oppose rightly claim that, in principle, it is forbidden to agree to the establishment of an Arab state in Judea and Samaria, both because of the prohibition of betraying Eretz Yisrael and because of the security risk involved. In addition, they argue against the building freeze that would apply to isolated communities and against the drawing of maps that, on one hand, apply Israeli sovereignty to some Arab villages, and, on the other hand, limit the area for the construction and expansion of Jewish communities.

It seems that as long as we Jews do not reach a broad consensus on our goals we will be forced to progress along a winding and bumpy path. However, so that we avoid confusion, it is proper to examine every plan in accordance with the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael in all its components. That is: Will the plan advance our fulfillment of the mitzva in both the short-term and long-term? Both from the perspective of expanding settlement and from the perspective of applying sovereignty?

It seems that, in our present situation, despite the mistake that the Prime Minister made when he put drafts of maps in the hands of unfit people, the plan, fundamentally, is a step forward. However, it is our duty to fight and push as hard as we can to improve the plan, so that building will be able to continue in all communities, and so that Israeli sovereignty is not applied to Arab villages as long as there are open areas that can be annexed first. Likewise, we must fight for the principle that we accept the plan as a basis for negotiations on advancing Jewish sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and regulating the status of Arabs, and not as a commitment to the concept of a “Palestinian state.” In this way, the plan can be accepted, as it advances us with respect to both sovereignty and settlement. Kudos to all those fighting at every step and over every clause to improve the plan.

Question about Meeting Reform Jews

Late last summer, I attended the “Our Common Destiny” conference in Jerusalem, attended by representatives from Jewish communities in Israel and around the world, from all streams of Judaism, to strengthen the mutual responsibility of all segments of our people for one another, based on our shared destiny. As a continuation, I held a Zoom conversation, in context of a virtual conference organized by the newspaper “Makor Rishon”, with the Reform Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur from France, moderated by Professor Gil Troy.

Some people have asked me: Is it not accepted that we boycott Reformers? Why did I breach that boundary and agree to participate in a dialogue with them? The answer, in fact, lies in the question. The year before last, there were several events in which major figures from the religious and Haredi public argued that Reform and Conservative Jews should be boycotted. These views were voiced in controversies about the Western Wall and in criticisms of former Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett, who amiably met with Reform and Conservative leaders abroad, and called them ‘brothers’. I was astonished to discover that in the wake of the bitter debate over Reform and Conservative ideology, the mistaken view that we must boycott Reform communities and their representatives emerged. As I considered this further, I found that a campaign of intimidation was being waged against those who think they should not be boycotted. Therefore, although I almost always refrain from attending meetings and conferences in order not to interrupt my studies, I resolved that the next time I was invited to meet with Reform or Conservative representatives, I would go. Thus, the question is the answer. It was not by chance I accepted the invitation, but with explicit intent to express the sacred obligation to maintain good relations among all Jews and their communities.

In order not to unfairly represent those who do boycott, it should be noted that the majority of them agree that individually, and preferably clandestinely, one may meet with Reform Jews. However, in their opinion, it is forbidden to meet with representatives of the Reform movement.

The Proper Way to Relate

It is true that we have profound disagreements about the fundamentals of Jewish faith and the Torah, to the extent that we do not consider Reform to be a stream of Judaism that expresses authentic Torah tradition. We cannot even accept Conservative Judaism, which is closer to us, as representing Torah tradition. However, these two movements represent large Jewish communities of adherents who practice Jewish customs, for whom the Jewish character of their lives is important, and who espouse important ideals of tikkun olam (repairing the world). In practice, they strengthen the Jewish identity of their members, thus hindering the process of assimilation occurring in the Diaspora.

Therefore, it is proper to treat their representatives as we treat representatives of major, important movements whose members are Jewish; who address matters of Jewish education, culture, ceremony, and community activism; who feel responsibility for, and solidarity with, all Jews, including residents of the State of Israel. Such movements have long existed in Israel and abroad: World Maccabi, B’nai Brith, the Joint Distribution Committee, the Kibbutz Movement, Hashomer Hatzair, and the various Jewish youth movements. And just as all the positive actions of these movements should be esteemed, so too we must show appreciation for all the positive accomplishments of the Reform and Conservative movements in the realms of philanthropy, morality, and the strengthening of Jewish solidarity.

Boycotting communities means boycotting their members

Those who claim that congregations and institutions should be boycotted is essentially boycotting the people. Just as, within a community, ties are forged among members, so too, ties between communities and congregations are forged by their representatives. Human beings, by nature, organize themselves into communities, and there is no way for the members of one community to make contact with members of another community without their representatives meeting. If we wish to strengthen the mutual responsibility of all Jews for one another, representatives of the various congregations must meet in friendship and respect.

Moreover, precisely because we are compelled to dispute them and deny them the religious status as they wish, we must find ways to express our fundamentally positive attitude toward them, to express the fact that we are Jewish brethren, and to learn to appreciate the good virtues of each and every one of them.

Because of the Struggle, we must Increase our Love

The Torah teaches us a similar lesson when it places the mitzva to reprove a fellow Jew who has transgressed with the mitzva to bear no hate toward him and even to love him:

Do not hate your brother in your heart; you must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.

Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people; you must love your neighbor as you love yourself; I am God.” (Leviticus 19: 17-18)

Thus, even when compelled to chastise or dispute someone who does not fulfill a mitzva, the mitzva to love and aid him remains in full force. Moreover, if we were to encounter two people, one who observes mitzvot and one who we have had to chastise and dispute for his non-observance, it is a mitzva to first help the one we reproved, so that he knows that the criticism is only about that specific issue, but that as a rule, we are loving brothers (see: Mishna Berura 32:2; Tosafot on Pesaḥim 113b, s.v. “lakhuf yitzro”). Thus, when it comes to Reform and Conservative leaders, after we have had to dispute them without compromise, we have a mitzva to seek ways to express our fraternity and our common fate and destiny, and even to learn from all the good in them and in their views.

It is Better to Bring Close than to Push Away

It is not sufficient merely to balance reproof with expressions of love. The loving side must outweigh the chastising and disputing side, as our Sages said: “Always let the left hand push away and the right hand draw near – not like Elisha, who pushed Gehazi away with both his hands, and not like Yehoshua ben Peraḥya, who pushed away one of his disciples (Jesus of Nazareth) with both hands” (Sota 47a). In other words, our Sages criticized the greatest rabbi of that generation, because by pushing Jesus away with both hands, he indirectly caused his separation from Judaism and the emergence of Christianity, with all the troubles it brought upon the Jewish people. Certainly, then, it is forbidden to boycott and push away Jews and movements who declare, in many of their principles, their loyalty to the Jewish people and its spiritual heritage.

The Mitzvah to Love a Fellow Jew

The view I articulate here is based on two important foundations: ahava (love) and the Brit (Covenant). Ahava is grounded in the mitzva, “you must love your neighbor as you love yourself,” which Rabbi Akiva called, “the main principle of the Torah” (Leviticus 19:18; Sifra, ad loc.). The Covenant refers to the covenant that God made with Israel, His nation – a Divine covenant that will never be broken, even if, God forbid, Israel worships strange gods. As Rabbi Meir said, even when Israel acts wickedly and worships idols, they are called God’s children (Kiddushin 36a). The halakha, in this case, follows Rabbi Meir (Responsa Rashba 1:194; Responsa Har Tzvi, Even Ha-ezer 97. This is also the meaning of the Sages’ conclusion that redemption is not contingent on repentance (Sanhedrin 98a).

Responsibility for Jewish Unity

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (“Netziv”) was asked about the formal separation of communities (“austrittgemeinde”), such that the God fearers (“Orthodox”) would form separate communities from Reform, so as not to be influenced by them, just as Avraham separated himself from Lot. He replied: “This suggestion is terrible, like swords to the body and existence of the nation” (Responsa Meshiv Davar 1:44). In other words, aside from being prohibited, it endangers the existence of the nation. Thus, the solution to prevent spiritual decline is increased Torah study.

Following World War I, some rebbes from the Ruzhin dynasty arrived in Vienna. The heads of the separatist Orthodox community asked the rebbes and their ḥasidim to join their community. The request was posed to Rabbi Yisrael of Chortkov. The Rebbe asked them, “How many Jews are there in your community?” They answered: “Ten thousand.” “And how many Jews are there in all of Vienna?” They responded: “Two hundred thousand.” The Chortkover Rebbe said to them: “You want me to reduce my ahavat Yisrael from 200,000 to 10,000!? This runs against the approach of my sainted ancestors. On the contrary! From your words I see that the religious condition of Judaism is broken and degraded in every respect. It is therefore necessary to invest great efforts in collective improvement” (Avir Ha-Malkhut, vol. 1, p. 258).

We thus see, based on the Torah’s guidance, that we should not boycott Jewish communities and their representatives. On the contrary, it is a mitzva to increase love and peace among all Jews.

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

The Gadol HaDor Rabbi Meshulam Roth

The persona and history of the Gaon Rabbi Meshulam Rata (Roth) ztz”l, are not sufficiently told, although Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda called him the Gadol HaDor after Rabbi Kook ztz”l * From an early age his genius in Torah was clearly evident, and the roles he performed in the Rabbinate carried great importance * Rabbi Rata was connected to Eretz Yisrael and the Mizrachi movement, and merited having his descendants serving as Rabbis in Judea and Samaria, and engaging in the defense of the Land

Recently, a new and elegant edition of the two volumes of the halachic Responsa “Kol Mevasser” by the true Gaon, Rabbi Meshulam Rata (1875-1962), was published by Mosad HaRav Kook (the Rabbi Kook Institution). One of the important additions to the new edition, is the summary of each answer in a detailed and accurate way, by Rabbi Elkana Segal, the son-in-law of the author’s granddaughter. Our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ztz”l, was asked who was the Gadol HaDor in the generation after Maran HaRav Kook ztz”l, and he answered: Rabbi Meshulam Rata. This is an opportunity to relate a little bit of his history.

His Childhood

Already as a young child, Rabbi Meshulam was a great shakdan (diligent Torah student), and thanks to his ingenious talents, he grew in Torah. His father was a Chortkov chassid, a branch of the Chassidic Dynasty of Ruzhyn. The first time his father took him to the Grand Rebbe, Rabbi David Moshe from Chortkov, Rabbi Meshulam was nine years old. Seeing as he was wise, he went with hundreds of chassidim to hear the drasha (sermon) of city Rabbi, who was a great Talmid Chacham. Following the in-depth drasha, some of the chassidim asked the child if he understood what was said, for they saw that he had shook his head in agreement during the drasha. The boy replied that he understood, and could even repeat it. The chassidim stood him on a table, and the boy repeated the drasha exactly, without missing a word. He even repeated the Rabbi’s movements exactly at the precise time – when the Rabbi stroked his beard, or held his forehead, the boy repeated these movements as well.

After the Rabbi of Zalzczyki tested him extensively, the Gaon Rabbi Leibella Bernfeld, said: “This child is similar to one who repeats his studies not a hundred and one times, but rather, a thousand and one times!” And even in books of machshava (Jewish thought) such as ‘Akedat Yitzchak’ he learned while he was a child, and when others had doubts, he was able to review and discuss the book. In his special genius, he was able to read and become acquainted with the subjects of nature, history and philosophy in a short time.

His Rabbis

Rabbi Meshulam studied with the eminent rabbis in his vicinity who were associated with courtyards of Beit Ruzhyn, among them Rabbi Ya’akov Weidenfeld author of ‘Kochav Me’Ya’akov (chassid Husiatyn), whose son, the Rabbi of Tshebin (1881-1965), honored Rabbi Meshulam as if he was a student before his rabbi, and said about him: “Rabbi Meshulam was considered one of the Gedolei HaDor while he was still an avreich (young yeshiva student).” Rabbi Meshulam also studied with Rabbi Avraham Steinberg, author of “Mechazei Avraham” (chassid Sadigora). However, his most prominent rabbi was Rabbi Meir Arik (Arak) ztz”l (1885-1926), author of ‘Minchat Pitim’ on Shulchan Aruch, and the Responsa ‘Imrei Yosher’, as well as other books.

His Family

Even before he reached the age of Bar Mitzvah, the wealthy Rabbi Shimshon Steinholtz from Melnitsa, chose him to groom his daughter Zippora, and she even embroidered the first pouch for his tefillin. During the long years between the engagement and the marriage, one of Russia’s wealthiest Jews offered his intended father-in-law a large sum of money, so that he would agree to hand over the match to his daughter. Rabbi Shimshon rejected the proposal, saying: “All the wealthy Russian Jews put together, do not have enough money to match the worth of such a groom.” And the rabbis who were present, agreed.

In 1894, almost at the age of twenty, he married Zipporah, and they lived in her parents’ home in Melnitsa where he served as rabbi – ‘without expectation of receiving an award’ – for approximately four years.

In a letter to his friend, he said of his wife: “I thank God the boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places for me… a pleasant wife, a lovely hind and a graceful doe, a dear soul, she has all the right and lofty character traits, she is honest and innocent, humble and gentle, wise and educated, perfect in most wisdom and science, gentle and sublime emotions will flow with her soul, good hearted and a precious and pleasing temperament, our souls imbued with delicacies … “.

Two children were born to them, the eldest Ephraim, and the second, Sarah. Ephraim had brilliant talents, and grew in Torah. Every week, Rabbi Meshulam would study the Torah portion of the week with Sarah, and on Shabbat eve, learned with her from the book ‘Ein Ya’akov’, and taught her to study a lot of Tanakh.

In 1918, when Ephraim was nineteen, he died of tuberculosis. His parents’ grief was immense. Rabbi Meshulam took comfort in his studies; the Rebbetzin, however, was grief-stricken, and suffered torment until her death. From Sarah the daughter, the family continued, and Rabbi Meshulam found pleasure and happiness in her, until his old age.

Rabbinate of Khorostkiv

Despite Khorostakiv being a small town, it merited having great rabbis serving there. In continuation of this tradition, Rabbi Meshulam was presented as a candidate for the town’s rabbinical office. As was customary in those days, the candidates for the rabbinate would give a drasha before the public on Shabbat, and that would determine who would be appointed rabbi. When Rabbi Meshulam’s Shabbat arrived, at two in the afternoon, everyone gathered in the Great Synagogue. The rabbi stood by the Holy Ark, holding a Tanakh, and gave a drasha for six consecutive hours. In the drasha he exhibited proficiency and acumen in Talmud and poskim, and everyone marveled at his greatness. He was elected rabbi of the town in 1898 at the age of twenty-four, and for approximately thirty years, served as the community’s rabbi.

A small group in the town, people who loved to quarrel, chose another rabbi. The controversy grew and was very distressing to Rabbi Meshulam, to the point where he wished to leave on account of the dispute. However, the townspeople, the vast majority of whom supported him, prevented him from leaving, and he had to endure bitterness for most of the years he spent there.

He was active in the organization ‘Mi’Tzion Taytzei Torah,’ and founded a school in the spirit of “Mizrachi” in Khorostkiv, and also founded a yeshiva and headed it. For this yeshiva, he wrote his famous curriculum. He was accustomed to test the younger students twice a week, and once a week gave an in-depth class to the older students. Knowing how to speak German and Polish, he would sometimes speak on behalf of the public and the rabbis with government officials.

In 1929, he was accepted as rabbi of Schatz in southern Bukovina, where he served for approximately six years. In his last year in Schatz, his wife passed away.

His Righteousness and Support for Zionism

In addition to his tremendous genius, he was also a tzadik (righteous), and his prayers were with devotion and the outpouring of his soul. He had a very pleasant voice, and it is said that anyone who heard him sing the prayer “Nishmat” on Shabbat Kodesh, would think about doing teshuva. The Admorim (Grand Rebbe’s) would also rise early in the morning, and go to his house to hear him speak words of Chassidut.

The Gaon, Rabbi Meshulam was active in the Mizrachi movement, and was also elected on its behalf as a representative to the Twelfth Zionist Congress in 1921. It should be noted that in his association with the Admorim of Beit Ruzhyn, his love of Eretz Yisrael and his support of Aliyah was not a great surprise, for among the Admorim of Ruzhyn, a number of them also supported Mizrahi.

The Chernovtsy Rabbinate

The gabbi’s (sextons) of Lamberg (Lvov) offered him the rabbinate of their important city, whose rabbis were Geonei Olam (great Torah geniuses), however, it was on condition he cease his activity for the Land of Israel. Of course, he refused. He was finally elected to the Czernowitz Rabbinate in the 1935, in which a large and important Jewish community of about fifty thousand Jews were active. There, he established a Beit Midrash for Rabbis. Apparently, his Zionist position saved him, for if he had been elected as Rabbi in Lamberg, he would have suffered the Holocaust like the rest of the Jews of Poland, for whom, only a small number were saved.

One of the candidates competing against him for the Chernovtsy Rabbinate was Rabbi Rubin, who suggested to Rabbi Meshulam, who was then a widower, to marry his sister Leah, who was also widowed by her rabbi husband. In the year 1936 they married, and she stood at his side, immigrated to Israel with him, and devoted herself to his well-being, until her last days. She died three years before him.

His Son-in-law, Daughter, and Their Offspring

The young yeshiva man who was sent to bring Rabbi Meshulam to Czernowitz to deliver the drasha for rabbinical election, was Rabbi Yisrael Heitner, who was orphaned from his father at an early age, and grew up with his mother and brother at the home of his maternal grandfather. He was a virtuous and upright man, and at that time, lived with his widowed mother, and was involved in teaching. During the trip, Rabbi Meshulam recognized his outstanding virtues, and matched him with his daughter. In the winter of 1936, Rabbi Yisrael was crowned as the Rabbi of Berland in Romania. He and his wife the Rebbetzin, also acted politely and respectfully towards their poor Gentile neighbors, and treated their Gentile maid generously. During World War II, when demonstrations against the Jews began, the Gentile neighbors assisted in their rescue. After making Aliyah to Israel, Rabbi Heitner, who changed his last name to ‘HaEitan’, served in the I.D.F. as a navy rabbi. Two children were born to them, Zippora and Yitzhak Meir, who later studied at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav under the tutelage of our teacher and mentor Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ztz”l.

His great-grandfather cherished his grandson, and in his introduction to the second volume of his Responsa ‘Kol Mevasser’, thanked his young, God-fearing Torah scholar grandson, Yitzchak Meir, who assisted him in the work of arranging the answers. Several years later, Rabbi HaEitan was appointed rabbi in the Moshav Beit Meir, and out of his love of Eretz Yisrael, joined the settlement movement, established his home in Kedumim in the Shomron, and served as the Regional Rabbi of the Shomron. As part of his rabbinical work, he and his wife would spend almost every Shabbat in one of the new, small communities, strengthening them with their enthusiasm and devotion. One of the special communities in which they frequently visited on Shabbat, was Har Bracha. When I applied to serve as Rabbi of Har Bracha, he was very pleased. He passed away in 1991.

The daughter of Rabbi Yisrael and Sarah, is Zafira Zipporah, who married Tzvi Camille, an engineer, who was a partner in building the State of Israel’s atomic power plant, and for that, received the Israel Security Award. Every day he would immerse himself in a mikveh, pray vatikin (prayers at sunrise), and give a shiur in Daf Yomi. Zafira was a teacher, and raised their five children. One of their sons-in-law is the educator and author, Rabbi Avi Ratt, who is also the great-grandson of Rabbi Meshulam’s brother. The name Ratt in Hebrew is the furtherance of the name Rata in Yiddish.

His Last Days

Even during his weakness in his last years, he did not cease to engross himself in Torah. Even in his last days, while suffering in agony, he sang shirei de’vay’kute (devotional songs) – ‘Ve’karev Pizureinu’ and ‘Nishmat Kol Chai’,” and while doing so, returned his soul in purity to its Creator, on the 26th of Kislev 1962. His funeral went forth from the Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav, and Gedolei HaRabbanim (eminent Rabbis) eulogized him.

With the help of God, I will dedicate another column to his greatness and Torah teachings.

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

From Bitter to Sweet – The Virtue of Torah and Am Yisrael

The custom of eating dairy foods on Shavuot symbolizes the virtue of the Torah, to turn the negative sides of the world into good * This virtue also depends on the virtue of the nation of Israel who study Torah, especially in the Land of Israel * Those who disregard the value of nationalism and the Religious Zionists who embrace it, err in a fundamental and essential point in the Torah

There is a precious custom dating back to the era of the Rishonim (1100 -1500), to eat foods made out of milk and honey on Shavuot. The source of this custom stems from communities in Ashkenaz and France, and from, there spread to many Jewish communities throughout the world. Nevertheless, there are Jews who do not practice this custom, such as many immigrants from Yemen, Libya, Djerba, Bukhara, and Persia.

The foundation of the custom stems from Divrei Chachamim (words of the Sages) who said that the Torah is compared to milk and honey, as the verse in Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) says: “Milk and honey are under your tongue,” and our Sages said: “As the Jewish nation stood before Mount Sinai and said: ‘All that the Lord spoke, we will do and listen (‘na’aseh ve’nishma’), at that same time, God said to them: ‘Honey and milk are under your tongue.” In other words, in the merit of Israel’s agreement to accept the Torah without doubt, the words of Torah would be sweet like milk and honey in their mouths.

Rabbi Kook further explained that milk and honey are two foods both produced from impure sources. Honey is produced from bees which are impure insects, and milk is produced from blood which is forbidden to be eaten. Precisely because they are transformed from impure to pure, they possess a unique taste, alluding to ‘tikun olam’ (perfecting the world). This is the virtue of Torah, which perfects the negative sides of the world, and turns them into good, as our Sages said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: ‘My children! I created the yetzer ha’ra (the evil inclination), but I also created the Torah as its antidote; if you occupy yourselves with the Torah, you will not be delivered into its hand.” In other words, the Torah does not eliminate the yetzer ha’ra, rather, it adds flavor to it, until it is transformed into good.

The Land of Milk and Honey

The main virtue of milk and honey, of course, is related to the Land of Israel, which, fifteen times in the Torah, is called “the land of milk and honey,” because by means of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (the settlement of the Land) it sanctifies the secular and earthly, and in doing so, also turns the ‘bad’ into an especially sweet ‘good’, similar to milk and honey which are pure, but created from the impure.

Torah and Israel

This segulah (unique virtue) of Torah to turn bad into good depends, of course, on Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel), who study Torah and perfect the world in its Light. Moreover, if Israel had not accepted the Torah, it would be empty of content to keep it in existence, and it would return to emptiness and formlessness, as our Sages said (Shabbat 88a): “The Holy One, blessed be He, stipulated with the Works of Creation and said to them: ‘If Israel accepts the Torah, you will exist; but if not, I will turn you back into emptiness and formlessness.” Similarly, our Sages said (Vayikra Rabbah 23:3): “God saw a single rose-colored flower, to wit, Israel. God took it and smelled it when God gave them the Ten Commandments, and God’s spirits were calmed when they said, na’aseh ve’ nishma, God said, “The orchard shall be saved on account of this flower. For the sake of the Torah and of Israel, the world shall be saved.”

The revelation of the Torah and Israel’s segulah depends on Am Yisrael inheriting and settling its Land, because all the mitzvot were given in order for us to fulfill them Eretz Yisrael in a national and governmental framework. And even though outside of Eretz Yisrael we must fulfill the individual mitzvot that are not dependent on the Land, all of their obligatory status abroad is so that we know how to fulfill them properly when we return (Jerusalem Talmud, Shevi’it 6:1; Kiddushin 1:8; Bavli  Kiddushin, 37a; Sifre 43-44).

Counting the Omer – Connecting Nationalism and the Torah

One of the manifestations of the connection between the Nation and the Land to Torah, is that Chag Shavuot –‘ Z’man Torateinu’, does not have its own date, rather, its date depends on Chag Pesach. On Chag Pesach, the purpose of the Nation and the Land were revealed, for God chose His nation, and took us out in order to give us the Land of Israel, as it is written (Exodus 3:7-8): “God said, ‘I have indeed seen the suffering of My people in Egypt… I have come down to rescue them from Egypt’s power. I will bring them out of that land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey…”(also in Exodus 6:4-8; 13:3-5; 13:11). And this is the intention of Sefirat HaOmer (the Counting of the Omer), to connect between Chag Pesach and Chag Shavuot; to connect the value of the Nation and the Land, to the value of Torah, for there is no Israel without Torah, and no Torah without Israel.

And although these two values ​​are interrelated and interdependent, it is imperative that each of them be expressed in its own right, so that they do not blur each other. Therefore, we have two separate holidays, one for the idea of Am Yisrael, and the other, for the Torah.

And thus, we find in Tanna De’bei Eliyahu (Parsha 15): “I was once going from one place to another, when an elderly man came to me and asked about matters in the Torah. He said to me: Rabbi, I have two things in my heart, and I love them both dearly: the Torah and Israel. But I don’t know which one comes first. I said to him: People say that the Torah precedes everything, but I would say the holy of Israel come first…”

Those Who Ignore the Sanctity of the Value of Nationalism

At times, I am amazed to read Haredi journalists and rabbis who speak disdainfully about the value of nationalism, claiming that those in the National Religious public err, in that they give it too much importance. It is incredible how people accustomed to reading the Torah can be so ignorant that they do not understand the value of Israeli nationalism. Apparently, this is the deep meaning of the words of our Sages (Chagigah 5b): “There is no greater bitul Torah (abrogation of the Torah) than when the Jews were exiled from their place.” This does not imply that they didn’t diligently study Torah in exile, rather, the meaning is that, as a result of the galut (exile), they do not comprehend the Torah properly, and all the mitzvot, instructions and ideas mentioned about Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael are understood in katnut (smallness of mind), and consequently, they do not understand that it is the main point of the Torah – to instruct Am Yisrael how to reveal the word of God in the life of the Clal (all of Israel) and the prat (individual Jews), within a national framework in Eretz Yisrael. When it was very difficult to immigrate to Israel, Jews who lived abroad could have been given benefit of the doubt. Today, however, it is hard to judge favorably those who insist on continuing making the same mistake. And the more of a baki (skilled) and palpalan (hairsplitter) such a person is in Torah, his lack of understanding is worse.

While it is clear that the challenge of fulfilling Torah within a national framework in Eretz Yisrael is accompanied with great complications, as we have learned in the Torah regarding the Sin of the Golden Calf and the Sin of the Spies, and as we have learned in the Prophets about all the complications that accompanied the Kingdom of Israel, the Mishkan, and the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple). Nevertheless, this is the manner in which the Torah determined we reveal the Word of God to the world.

May it be that out of the joy of Chag Pesach and Chag Ha’Atzmaut, we merit receiving the Torah on Chag Shavuot once again, and in doing so, its words will be pleasurable for us like milk and honey, and through its instructions, merit to sanctify the secular, and turn the bad into good.

Chag Shavuot This Year

This year, we are fortunate to have Chag Shavuot fall out on Friday, followed by Shabbat. This is a special occasion, for according to the accepted opinion, it was the same way in the year we left Egypt. The exodus from Egypt occurred on Thursday, and on Friday the 6th of Sivan, the 50th day arrived, the day intended for the Giving of Torah. However, Moshe Rabbeinu requested to add an additional day for preparing to receive the Torah, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu agreed with him, and postponed it to Shabbat, the fifty-first day of Sefirat HaOmer (Shabbat 86b- 87a).

Out of this amazing fact, we learned about the significance of Torah She-be’al Peh (the Oral Torah), that the Torah She-b’chtav (the Written Torah) cannot be revealed without it, and thus, even Matan Torah was postponed by a day in accordance with Torah She-be’al Peh, namely, according to Moshe Rabbeinu’s interpretation.

However, this would seem to present us with a difficulty. As Shulḥan Arukh (494:1) states, we refer to Shavuot as “Zeman matan Torateinu” (the season of the giving of our Torah). Why do we call it that if Shavuot is not actually the day the Torah was given? Shavuot takes place on the fiftieth day of the Omer, whereas we received the Torah on the fifty-first day! The answer is that in truth, from the heavenly point of view, right after the completion of Sefirat HaOmer the sacred day of the giving of the Torah arrived, and God blessed us with the Torah (in potential). It was only from the human point of view that we needed an additional day before we were capable of receiving it in actuality. Nevertheless, for future generations, the giving of the Torah is commemorated on the day that God had originally ordained and sanctified, when the Torah was given to us in potentiality (Maharal, Tiferet Yisrael ch. 27).

When Chag Shavuot falls on Friday, it turns out we celebrate two sacred days – first, Shavuot, which is the day when God had already given us the Torah in Heaven, and we continue celebrating on Shabbat, which is the day we actually received the Torah. It is especially important on this Shabbat to dedicate half of it to the Beit Midrash (a minimum of six hours of Torah study).

Eruv Tavshilin

When Yom Tov is followed by Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to set aside an eruv tavshilin before Yom Tov. Doing so makes it permissible to cook and bake on Yom Tov for Shabbat. The eruv consists of food that is prepared before Yom Tov for Shabbat. It is called an eruv (literally “merging”) because it merges or joins together the food of Yom Tov and the food of Shabbat. Once the eruv has been set aside, then just as it is permissible to bake and cook on Yom Tov for Yom Tov purposes, it becomes permissible to bake and cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat purposes as well. True, on the Torah level it is permitted to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat even without an eruv, but our Sages prohibited doing so, in order to preserve the honor and dignity of both Yom Tov and Shabbat (Beitza 15b).

The following is the procedure for setting aside an eruv tavshilin. Taking the cooked food and the bread, one recites the following berakha: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us concerning the mitzvah of eruv” (“asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu al mitzvat eruv”). Afterward, he should recite: “With this eruv it shall be permitted to us to bake, cook, light a flame, and do everything necessary on Yom Tov for the sake of Shabbat.”

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

Yovel – Property Rights beside Equal Opportunity

Man is unique in his freedom of choice and responsibility that comes with it, therefore, it is appropriate he should have exclusive right to his own property * Beside this value, stands the importance of equality, reflected in the return of land in the Jubilee year, and the opportunity given to start afresh *Man’s sense of gratitude for the blessing in his work, should be expressed in charitable giving * The circles of support expand from the inner circle of those close, to the remote, but in today’s global world, human responsibility is also growing

God created man in His image. The main expression of this, is man’s ability to choose, think, plan, and initiate, and as a result, he has a responsibility for his actions – if he chooses good, he will benefit, and so will the world; if he chooses bad, it will damage him, and the world. Just as a person has responsibility for his actions, so too, he has the right to enjoy the work of his hands, talent, and the blessing of God in his actions. This right creates ownership, and therefore, what one creates by using his talent and labor – belongs to him, as well as what he buys with money that he earned honestly, or received honestly from his parents, belongs to him.

Equality in the Division of the Land of Israel

In addition to the importance of freedom of choice, responsibility and property rights, seeing as God created all human beings in His image, the importance of equality also emerges. And since all the world belongs to God, and God promised the Land of Israel to the People of Israel – he commanded to equally divide all inheritance of the Land to all of B’nei Yisrael who left Egypt. In the past, over ninety percent of people made a living from agriculture, in other words, land was the main means of production, and its equal distribution created an equal basis for all (Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it ve’ Yovel 10:5).

This equality does not extend proportionately to all Jews, rather, the principle of equality in dividing the Land applies to the Israelites who suffered in Egypt, namely, that each one of them is entitled to an equal share in the Land. Overall mutual responsibility as well, such as enlisting in the army and paying taxes applies to the nation’s individuals, and not to people of other nations. And when it comes to an individual’s own inheritance, equality is implemented between his children, and not among other relatives.

Yovel (Jubilee Year)

After the Land was divided equally to all of Israel, those who chose well, worked diligently in their fields, raised several crops, and became wealthy. Those who chose badly were drawn after lust and laziness, neglected their fields, and suffered shortages. If they did not come to their senses and start working diligently, over time, they were forced to sell their fields and their homes, thus, decreeing a life of poverty upon their families as the fields were the main means of production. God had mercy on them, in particular their family members, and instituted the mitzvah of Yovel, occurring once every fifty years, in which we were commanded to return the fields to their owners. And if the seller of the field had already passed away, the mitzvah is to return the field to his heirs. By means of this, the decree of poverty did not chase Jewish families for generations, rather, every fifty years, each family was able to open up a new page, begin acting responsibly, and escape the cycle of poverty (Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it ve’ Yovel 10:3).

Equality and Property Rights

We find then that the two values, both equality and property rights, are expressed and rely on the creation of man in the image of God. The fact that man has free choice and responsibility for his actions and the ability to maintain and improve the world, necessitates that what he creates or purchase belongs to him. The fact that every human being is created in the image of God, necessitates that all Jews have equal rights and obligations in the division of the Land, and equal rights and obligations in the court of law, as it is written: “There shall be one law for you, for both the proselyte and the native born, for I am God, Lord of you all” (Leviticus 24:22).

Inspiration for Today

Today, however, land is not the main means of production – only about two percent of the Gross National Product comes from agriculture, and therefore, dividing the Land equally would not grant an equal basis for all. Apparently, though, we can learn two fundamentals from the mitzvah of Yovel. First, just as the agricultural land was divided equally to all, likewise it would be proper for us to equally divide the other natural resources God created. This includes land for construction, water, oil, gas, the beaches, radio waves, air, and sun. Second, just as the Torah commanded to equally divide the means of production, we should endeavor to provide all young people an education that will give them, as best as possible, an equal opportunity to earn a living from their talent and diligence.

With effective planning, these two foundations can be mutually incorporated by directing the money received from natural resources to the best possible professional education for each individual. In doing so, we will fulfill the idea of ​​dividing the Land to all Jews, including the tikun (rectification) that will be made by the return of the land to its owners in Yovel. For providing quality education for all, also affords the children of poor parents to acquire a good profession, according to their talents and diligence.

It may also be suggested that just as in Yovel, where the fields are returned to their owners and slaves released to their homes, there is room for Israel’s Torah scholars to examine, in depth, the structure of modern economy, and consider whether in Yovel, a certain percentage of the accumulated wealth be returned, so as to be invested in educational and vocational training systems, and in this manner, once again, be equally divided for all (Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it ve’ Yovel: 11: 9).

The Fairness in Tzedaka (Charity)

Alongside the fact that the Torah reinforced property rights and did not stipulate that all human beings share the fruit of their labor equally, the Torah commanded to help the poor with tzedaka. And even this is justified, for even when a diligent person sees blessing in his labors, he must remember that the earth and rain comes from God, his health and talent is also from God, and the fact that disease did not attack his crops – is from the mercy of God; additionally, the legal system, transportation, and educational system that have an effect on his success, are by the mercy of God, and society. And therefore, it is only just and appropriate for him to give from the blessing he received from God, to those who were not so fortunate. To this end, many mitzvot were established. However, since the property a person earned by working belongs to him – he has the right to choose the poor and the institutions to which he contributes.

Public Responsibility for Tzedaka and Helping Others

As a matter of principle, the responsibility to help the poor rests with his relatives, friends and neighbors. However, in times of need, when the tzedaka that people give of themselves is not enough to satisfy the existential needs of the poor, according to halakha, public leaders must compel the general public to contribute for maintaining the poor. In the framework of a country, the duty is to impose a tax in order to ensure the poor does not lack basic needs. But extreme caution must be taken that the public and the country do not substitute for the responsibility of those close to him because only they are truly able to help him, and public intervention is intended to supplement what they are unable to fulfill.

The Circles of Responsibility

The principle of the obligation for giving tzedaka and helping others is that the rich in the world do not have a shared responsibility to help all the of poor the equally, rather, the responsibility extends in expanding circles: in the first circle is the family; after this, friends and neighbors; then, people of the city; after that, the people of the country; and then, all of humanity.

Thus, we have learned concerning tzedaka and loans, that it is the responsibility of every person to first help his relatives, then his friends and neighbors, then his fellow city dwellers, and then, all his countrymen (M.B. 71:1; S.A., Y.D. 251:3).

Circles of Equality

The value of equality also appears in circles: when we are commanded to divide the Land, the division is for Jews only, and not for all of humanity. For the duties and rights are interrelated; therefore, someone who takes responsibility for upholding his Israeli identity, and accordingly, for preserving the army and paying taxes, is entitled to share the Land equally.

This holds true in a family as well. Inheritance must be divided equally, without discrimination (Baba Batra 133b; S.A., C.M. 382). But a neighbor, or even a cousin, does not have the right to share with family members equally.

The Status of Gerim (Converts)

The status of gerim is special among Jews. On the one hand, we do not try to persuade Gentiles to convert, and on the other, those who want to convert honestly, are accepted, and we are commanded to love them exceedingly, and to be extra careful about their honor (Peninei Halakha: Ha’Am ve’ Ha’Aretz 10:1).

As for the inheritance of the Land, gerim who joined the Jewish nation after the Exodus from Egypt were not entitled to inherit the Land, since they did not suffer with all of Israel in the terrible bondage in Egypt. Responsibilities and rights are bound together.

In the future as well, those gerim who joined the Jewish people while Jews were suffering, and join in bearing the burden of Israel’s existence and security – will settle the Land together with the Jews equally, as it is written: “This is the territory you are to divide among the tribes of Israel. You are to divide it by lot as an inheritance both to you and to the foreigners (gerim) living among you who give birth to children living among you; for you they are to be no different from the native-born among the people of Israel — they are to have an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel.  You are to give the foreigner an inheritance in the territory of the tribe with whom he is living,’ says Hashem Elokim” (Ezekiel 47: 21-23). And once again, for responsibilities and rights go hand-in-hand.

The Reward for Treating Gerim Favorably

When the Jewish people accept gerim with love and respect, they merit blessing. First of all, Moshe Rabbeinu, who married a convert, and after that, when her father, Jethro, sought to convert, the Israelites accepted him with respect, and by doing so, received his good advice written in the Torah portion ‘Yitro,’ named after him.

Boaz, as well, married Ruth the convert, and in the merit of this, a brave and righteous man, King David, was born to them, and he is the founder of the royal dynasty in Israel. In addition, Rabbi Akiva, the greatest Sage of Oral Torah, was a descendant of gerim.

The Expanding Circles of Responsibility

It is worth adding, that as ties between nations and peoples grow stronger, so does the responsibility for the benefit of all human beings. For the responsibility to help depends on the degree of connection between people. Therefore, a person’s commitment to his family is greater, because they are more connected to him. And the obligation towards friends and neighbors is greater than to unfamiliar people. And the obligation to the people of one’s own nation, is greater than the duty to another people. This is especially true among Am Yisrael, for the ties between all Jews are very deep, and have stood the test of our long exile to the four corners the world.

Today, consequently, when people and nations are becoming increasingly interdependent in information, commerce, science, culture, health, and environmental protection, the responsibility of each individual to humanity on the whole, is broader. Nevertheless, the broadening of the circles does not nullify the inner circles, because upon them, everything stands.

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


In Memory of Rabbi Eliezer Nachum Rabinovich ztz”l

Rabbi Nachum Eliezer Rabinovich, ztz”l was one of the greatest Gedolei HaDor in our generation, worthy of sitting on the Sanhedrin * His broad perspective included both the halakhic, spiritual, and scientific worlds as one, which afforded him a deep understanding of Torah * His great love for the Land of Israel prevented him from buying a home abroad until the age 55, when he immigrated to Israel to serve as head of the Ma’aleh Adumim Yeshiva * He devoted his last books to his wife, whom he loved and honored, and even was particular to take care of her himself during her illness

A True Gadol

Rabbi Nahum Eliezer Rabinovich, ztz”l was one of the true Gedolei HaDor (eminent Rabbis) of the generation. Had we been worthy to have the Sanhedrin, Rabbi Rabinovich would certainly be one of the first to sit there, however, because unfortunately there are hardly any true Gedolei HaTorah in our generation, we have not merited the establishment of the Sanhedrin.

Most Talmedei Chachamim (Torah scholars) view the Torah as a collection of details. The best of them know how be accurate and precise in every detail, convey it correctly and remember it orally, but are not able to see the connection between the details, and therefore their svara’s (explanations) are narrow and limited. They perceive all of the Torah, the halakha and machshava (thought), in a detailed way – one line here, one precept there – and the entire Torah appears to them as mystical instructions, with no profound or illuminating meaning.

The more outstanding ones are able to see the broader picture, for example, the halakhot of Shabbat as a unified system, with basic principles underlying all the halakha’s and mitzvot, and consequently, their svara’s are better. However, since they view each area of Torah separately – Shabbat alone, kashrut alone, marriage alone – they are unable to understand the depth of the fundamentals, and as a result, their understanding is limited.

Then, there are more outstanding Torah scholars, who are able to see the entire world of halakha, in its various fields, as one system with common foundations and principles, and in doing so, understand all the svara’s in a more profound way, and are already considered Gedolim (eminent Torah scholars). This is reflected in their ability to interpret the foundations, or when they have to deal with a new question. These are the great poskim (Jewish law arbiters), authors of the important shootim (Q&A in halakha), and the Roshei Yeshivot (heads of yeshivas) known for their deep Torah lessons.

And then, there are Gedolim even greater than them, who, in addition to all this, delve deeper in the realms of machshava and musar (morality) in the Torah, and also have knowledge of the world of science in its various fields – the exact sciences, and social and human sciences – and in doing so, have a greater understanding of the world in which we live, to which God gave His Torah. Consequently, they are able to see the entire Torah as one, unified system comprised of principles, foundations, branches, details, and fine points, can better discriminate between fundamental and sub-principles, and understand in depth, clarity, and straightforwardly the principles of Torah, and their worldly perspective becomes lucid and bright. They merit understanding the Word of God in His Torah, the plan, and the path. They are the true Gedolei HaDor, who are worthy to sit in the Sanhedrin, and teach Torah to Clal Yisrael (all of Israel). There are very few of them. Rabbi Rabinovich, ztz”l was a special one among them.

Members of the Sanhedrin

Our Sages said: “None are to be appointed members of the Sanhedrin but men of wisdom, of good appearance, of fine stature, of mature age, men with a knowledge of sorcery and who know seventy languages” (Menachot 65a). Thus, the Gedolei HaDor, members of the Sanhedrin, must be proficient in the wisdom found in the world, and someone who is not, cannot be considered a true Gadol, and cannot sit in the Sanhedrin. For even if he is punctilious and immensely knowledgeable, it would be impossible to discuss with him in depth, thoroughly and calmly on any matter, for since he does not know how to distinguish between ikar (primary) and tafel (secondary) – he would divert the deliberation, and disrupt it vociferously and with side-claims, and reject fundamental considerations. A Gadol be’Torah who guides the generation, must understand the processes that drive peoples and society, the economy and science, the weight of international relations, and the system of cultural influences existing in the world. This is the profound meaning today of knowing seventy languages.

Certainly, in every area of ​​the Torah, there are different methods of learning and in-depth analysis, and every Talmid Chacham has his own shita (method), and each shita has its advantages and disadvantages, but the principle is that gadlut (greatness) is measured by the magnitude of perception. Rabbi Nachum Eliezer Rabinovich ztz”l, who chose to devote his life to Torah, both on the deep theoretical side, and also in the dissemination of Torah to the public and yeshiva students, and additionally, also specialized in mathematics, was one of the true Gedolei HaDor. We must make great efforts in extolling him, so that his Torah teachings continue to shine their light on us.

His Vast Perspective

The very choice Rabbi Rabinovich made to engage in Rambam (Maimonides), indicates a broad and comprehensive viewpoint, as the teachings of Rambam. In his immense enterprise, the commentary “Yad Peshutah” on Rambam’s Mishnah Torah, his broad and comprehensive perspective is prominent as well. In every issue, he begins by setting out the principles and defining them, and then clarifies the details. Also, in his halachic responses, his wide-ranging perspective from which they are derived, is extremely evident. On public issues, as well, his all-encompassing Torah thought from which he molded his straightforward and clear positions in the fields of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), security, education and society, the Rabbinate and conversion, Israel and the nations, was evident. Such a comprehensive perspective gives inner certainty, which bestowed him the ability to voice his positions confidently and calmly.

The Rabbinate and Devotion

Rabbi Rabinovich served for many years as a community rabbi abroad, and during that time, he co-edited the journal of U.S. rabbis “Hadarom,” and was in touch with all the eminent rabbis who published their articles and halakhic rulings in it. Even in his youth, while studying in Yeshiva ‘Ner Yisrael’ in Baltimore, he served as a rabbi of a synagogue. After marrying, he served in the rabbinate in Texas, then for twelve years in Charleston, South Carolina, and another eight years in Toronto, Canada. In the rabbinate, he devoted himself to strengthening the educational system and kashrut, and, when necessary, knew to be firm and stand up for the rabbinate; once, he ordered to dispose of a shipment of meat because of ‘basar she’nitalem min ha’ayin’ (meat that was not under constant watch).

Before agreeing to accept the rabbinate in Charleston, he set a condition – namely, to have at his disposal the means to properly kasher the mikvah, and establish a proper Jewish school. There were numerous difficulties in founding the school – he had to knock on the doors of parents’ homes to convince them send their children to the Jewish school. When no first-grade teacher was found, he had to teach the first and second-grade children himself. Thanks to this school, which exists to this day, many families were able to return to Torah and mitzvot.

At the age of forty-three he moved to London, serving as the head of the Rabbinical Seminary for nearly eleven years. Nonetheless, he always yearned to immigrate to Israel. When he was nearly fifty-five, he received a proposal to head the Ma’aleh Adumim yeshiva, and thus, we were privileged of his immigrating to Israel to educate students, and illuminate his Torah teachings from Zion.

Yeshiva Ma’aleh Adumim

It was a great privilege for the deans of Yeshiva Ma’aleh Adumim, Rabbi Yitzchak Shilat, and Rabbi Chaim Sabato, who, in their righteousness and humility, approached Rabbi Rabinovich and asked him to preside over the yeshiva they had founded. Thanks to this, the yeshiva merited becoming a beacon for Torah and ingenuity, and raised knowledgeable and upright students, among them Gedolei Torah, scientists, and men of action. Naturally, Talmedei Chachamim have different opinions, and the willingness of Rabbi Sabato and Rabbi Shilat to place above them a tremendous Talmid Chacham indicates their greatness in Torah and midot (attributes). Regarding them, the words of our Sages are fitting: “One who flees from greatness, greatness follows after him; one who does not aim above his means (and forfeits becoming dean over a yeshiva as Rav Yosef did with Rabbah) will succeed in due course.”

About His Manner of Study

His student and assistant in writing and editing his books, Rabbi Eli Reif shlita related: “He had tremendous power of concentration… It was totally impossible to divert him to other matters outside of the subject at hand… Once, when I studied with him in the morning, we started at 9:30, and after three hours, he suddenly remembered he had not offered me a drink, and realized that we had been sitting for three straight hours. He deeply apologized for not having acted with ‘chachnasat orchim’ (accommodating guests), and also, that it was not healthy to sit for such a long time. From then on when I arrived, he would first offer me a drink so he would not forget, and we would set a time for a break to stand up, and that was when we spoke about matters other than our learning. When I used to have lunch with him, he would set the table for both of us, and refused my help (this was after the Rebbetzin’s death, or illness), so that I would not “steal” the mitzvah of chachnasat orchim from him. After some time I found a ploy: I said to him, ‘HaRav, after all, you call me a ‘ben bayit’ – therefore I’m allowed to help.’ He then agreed.”

About the Rebbetzin

His granddaughter’s husband, Rabbi Shmuel Yismach related: “Safta (grandmother) accompanied Saba (grandfather) in his many wanderings, and was a faithful partner in his numerous endeavors. Despite being a woman of refined taste, she gave up on having her own house, and agreed to wander from one location to the next, to help establish Jewish communities in America. They had excellent opportunities to purchase a home of their own, but they refused to buy one abroad, in expectation of building their home in Israel.”

“Safta took good care of Saba, and ran his house gloriously, and in good taste. Visitors to their home enjoyed her wonderful pastries, and she pampered her grandchildren with gifts. The phone at home constantly rang, one question after the other – sometimes at convenient hours, other times not – and Safta would answer. The feeling was that the house belonged Am Yisrael.”

“Safta adored Saba, and Saba deeply loved her. When she was ill at the end of her life, Saba took care of her by himself, with great dedication and patience, even though he was close to eighty at the time. When Safta passed away about seven years ago, Saba was depressed for a long time, but even then, continued to act nobly towards all, was concerned about others, and continued to perform all his duties. In time, with the help of God, he came back to himself, and began to smile.”

Nahman Rosenberg recounted: “A few years ago while studying at his home, HaRav said to me on a personal note: ‘You should know, there is no joy without a wife.’ Then he told me, he tried not to be the master of ceremony at weddings because the emotional event of marriage service caused him to miss his wife, and come to be very sad.”

A Dedication to Her Memory

At the opening of the books he published after the death of the Rebbetzin, he dedicated a page to her memory, and wrote: “If your Torah had not been my delight, I would have perished in my distress. I will never forget your precepts, for with them you have made me alive. Some… years ago, my world was darkened by the taking away from me the beauty of my home, a wise-hearted woman, Rebbetzin Rachel Malka, may her soul be bound up in the bond of life. About her, can be said the words of Rabbi Akiva: “What is mine and what is yours – is hers.” I pray to you, Hashem, to bless all my household members, for good days in health and comfort, and may we merit to see all of them, the seed that Hashem has blessed, growing up on the love of Hashem and His Torah, and fear of Hashem be their treasure. And He will illuminate our eyes in His Torah. As for me, Elokim, let my prayer to you come at an acceptable time; in your great grace, Hashem, answer me with the truth of your salvation.”

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

The Obligation to Immigrate to Israel

The mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel requires Clal Yisrael to inherit Eretz Yisrael, apply sovereignty over it, and settle it efficiently * The general mitzvah requires every individual to take part in its existence, and in addition, it is a mitzvah for every Jew to reside in Eretz Yisrael * Rambam did not list the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael because it is an general mitzvah, upon which many mitzvot depend, and actually, all of the Torah * In times of exile, living in Israel involved existential and economic dangers, and therefore Jewish law arbiters did not obligate Jews to immigrate to Israel, but nowadays, the mitzvah obligates every Jew

The Mitzvah of Settling the Land of Israel

Q: Is every Jew in the world obligated to immigrate to Israel?

A: The mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz (settling the Land of Israel) is a general mitzvah that obligates the entire nation of Israel to inherit the Land, namely, to apply sovereignty over it, and settle it best in all respects. As it is written (Numbers 33: 53-54): ” You shall dispossess the inhabitants of the Land and dwell in it, for I have given the Land to you to possess it…to inherit the Land…” or as Ramban defined the mitzvah: “We were commanded to take possession of the Land which the Almighty, Blessed Be He, gave to our forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Yaacov; and to not abandon it to other nations, or to leave it desolate” (Addendum to Sefer Hamitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Commandment 4).

The Mitzvah of the Clal Depends on the Individual

From the mitzvah of Clal Yisrael to settle the Land, stems the mitzvah obligating every individual Jew to live in the country, since it is impossible for Clal Yisrael to fulfill the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz without each individual being fully compliant with the obligation of the mitzvah, till practically all Jews actually reside in the country. Also, we learned that from the Torah, the obligation to fulfill the mitzvot  dependent on the Land which concern the public, such as challah, terumot and ma’asrot, depends on the majority of Jews residing in the Land, as it is written (Numbers 15:18): “When you come to the land to which I am bringing you.” Our Sages taught (Ketubot 25a): “‘When you come’ – I have spoken of the coming of all, and not of the coming of a portion of you,” and thus when Israel went up to Eretz Yisrael in the days of Ezra – their obligation in mitzvot was not from the Torah, but only from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical), since only a few came to Eretz Yisrael (Rambam, Hilchot Terumot 1:1-3; 26; Bikurim 5:5; Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 12: 10-11). In the mitzvoth of Shevi’it and Yovel, it is not enough for the majority of Jews to reside in the Land, but they also need to reside in their inheritances according to their tribes, as it is written (Leviticus 25:10): “Declare emancipation of slaves for the land and all who live on it” – ‘and all who live on it’ – only at the time when its inhabitants are there as where they should be, but not when they are intermingled” (Arachin 32b). The same is said of yovel, and the law of shevi’it depends on the yovel (Gittin 36a; Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it 5:3; 11:5).

The Obligation of the Individual to Live in Israel

In addition to the general mitzvah that the Land be under Israeli sovereignty and that practically all Jews live here, there is a mitzvah for every individual Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, even when the entire Land is completely ruled and populated by millions of Jews, from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates, the mitzvah for every Jew to live in Israel still remains intact. Even in times when the non-Jews ruled the Land, and, seemingly, the addition of one extra Jew living there would not help the general cause, nevertheless, the individual mitzvah for every Jew to live in Israel remained in force. As our Sages of the Talmud said (Ketubot 110b): “At all times, a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of its residents are idol worshipers, and not live outside of the Land, even in a city populated mainly by Jews, for anyone who lives in the Land of Israel is similar to one who possesses a God, while one who lives outside of the Land is similar to one who has no God.” And this was codified as halakha (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 5:12; Ishut 13:20).

Greater than Regular Mitzvot

Some claim that indeed, according to Ramban the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz is obligatory at all times, but according to Rambam, the mitzvah was obligatory only in the past, and for that reason, he did not count it as one of the 613 mitzvot. However, the truth is that Rambam did not count the mitvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz because it is more important than a regular mitvah, as he explained in the principles guiding his selection of the mitzvot in the Sefer HaMitzvot, namely, that it is not appropriate to enumerate mitzvot that encompass the entire Torah (as explained in “Eim Habanim Semeicha” Chap.3, Sect.7-10).

Indeed, the all-encompassing mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz underlies and is reflected in numerous mitzvot. The first is the mitzvah to appoint a king, which is fulfilled in the Land of Israel, and aims to establish a rule expressing the sovereignty of the people of Israel over their country, and to organize their lives in the best possible way (Deuteronomy 17: 14-20; the Natziv’s ‘Ha’emek Davar’ ibid.; Mishpat Kohen 144). As previously mentioned, the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz and the appointment of a king is contingent on the applicability of the public mitzvot dependent on the Land, such shevi’it and yovel, terumot and ma’asrot, challah, and others. The mitzvot of Yishuv Ha’Aretz and the appointment of a king, of course, depend on all the mitzvot associated with the building of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), and as our Sages said (Sanhedrin 20b):”Three commandments were given to Israel when they entered the land: 1) to appoint a king, 2) to cut off the seed of Amalek, and 3) to build themselves the Beit HaBechira (lit., the ‘Chosen House’, or the Holy Temple).” The entire system of mitzvot related to the role of the Kohanim and Levi’im, as well as the allocation of cities for them throughout the Land, is also dependent on the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz (Numbers 35). The entire system of mitzvot related to the arrangement of the judicial system – including the establishment of the Beit HaDin HaGadol located next to the Mikdash (Deuteronomy 17:10; Rambam, Hilchot Mamrim 1:1), as well as appointing judges and police officers in all the cities of Israel (Deuteronomy 16:18; Rambam, Hilchot Sanhedrin 1: 1- 4), and the semicha of the Sages, that took place only in Israel, and which is the basis of authority of the judiciary system (Rambam, ibid. 4: 4). The observance of the order of months and holidays also depends on the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz – the Beit HaDin HaGadol sanctifies the months, and when the Beit HaDin is cancelled, the months are established by the Jews who live in Eretz Yisrael and maintain the Hebrew calendar previously sanctified by dayan’im (judges) who received semicha in Eretz Yisrael (Rambam, Hilchot Kiddush HaChodesh 5:13; Sefer HaMitzvot 153).

Moreover, all of the Torah and mitzvot are meant to be fulfilled in the Land of Israel, because only through their fulfillment in the Land is the name of God revealed in the world. We learned this in the Torah and in our Sages’ statements in numerous places, to the point where they said that the observance of the mitzvot abroad was intended to remind us how to fulfill them when we return to the Land (Deuteronomy 11: 32; ibid., 12:1-2; Yerushalmi Shevi’it 6:1; Kiddushin 1: 8; Bavli Kiddushin 37a; Sifrei, Ekev 43-44).

The Claim of Igrot Moshe

However, in the Responsa Igrot Moshe (E. H. I:102), he wrote: “Concerning your question if there is a mitzvah nowadays to live in Eretz Yisrael … most poskim are of the opinion that it is a mitzvah. But plainly, at this time it is not a positive commandment on the body (that is, one who immigrates fulfills a mitzvah, but there is no personal obligation to immigrate). For if so (if it was compulsory to immigrate to Israel), consequently, we would find that it is forbidden to live abroad … and no mention was made of the prohibition; rather, that it is forbidden for someone who lives in Eretz Yisrael to leave in order to reside abroad (Rambam  Hilchot Melachim 5:9). And even if so, it certainly is not a Torah prohibition (rather, from Divrei Chachamim). And if it was also forbidden for people to live abroad, Rambam would simply have said – it is forbidden to live abroad, unless there is a severe famine in Eretz Yisrael; this means that only the residents of Eretz Yisrael have a prohibition, prohibited by the Sages, but as far as a positive commandment, it is not a mitzvah chiyuvit (obligatory), rather, one who lives there fulfills a mitzvah … and since it is not a mitzvah chiyuvit, one must take into consideration the concern of Rabbi Chaim in Tosafot (who believes that one should not immigrate to Israel without knowing) if he can be careful about the mitzvot that depend on the land.”

Why Poskim in the Past Did Not Obligate Immigrating to Israel

However, with all due respect to the great posek, possessor of compelling judgment, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ztz”l, his remarks are unsubstantiated from everything I have conveyed about the basic importance of the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz for the observance of all the Torah and mitzvot. We can see this from what our Sages, Rishonim and Achronim, instructed about when one spouse wishes to immigrate to Israel – the other must comply, and if not, immigration to Israel justifies a divorce (Rambam, Hilchot Ishut 13:20; S. A., E.H. 75:4). However, during the years of exile, Jews living in Eretz Yisrael were usually in greater danger than in the Diaspora, for the Gentiles who ruled Eretz Yisrael tended to persecute the Jews in Israel more than in the Diaspora. Initially, in the times of Roman rule, the reason was because they saw the Jews as a threat to their rule, and later in the days of Byzantium and Islam, to prove that the Jews had no right to the Land of Israel. In addition, over time, the Land had become desolate, and the difficulties of economic existence greatly increased. And this, not to mention the difficulty for anyone to immigrate to a different environment where the laws, language, and ways of making a living are different, and in the past, it was very difficult to learn them from afar.

In other words, to the perception of a Jew living in the Diaspora, there was fear that if he immigrated to Israel, one or several members of his family would die in an obscure plague, or die of poor nutrition as a result of difficulties in earning a livelihood. This was the picture presented to the Jews of the Diaspora, and in such a situation, it was impossible to determine immigrating to Israel as an obligatory halakha, because when there is a real danger to the life of one’s family due to severe famine and a deep and ongoing economic crisis that prevents people from securing their livelihoods even at a minimal level, even the residents of Eretz Yisrael are permitted to leave the country (and even then, it is midat chassidut to remain – Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 5:9). It seems clear to me that our Sages could not imagine a day would come and Jews would be able to exist in the Land of Israel, and simultaneously, some would claim that this was not an obligatory mitzvah. Consequently, all their discussions centered on a situation in which it is extremely difficult to exist in Eretz Yisrael. But even in such a situation, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (Kuzari 2: 24) wrote that Jews should have made much more of an effort to immigrate to Israel, and not doing so, our prayers are as “the chattering of the starling and the nightingale.”

But today, when it is possible to live in the Land, it is an absolute obligation for every Jew to immigrate to Israel. The immigration should be well planned, and for that, it can be postponed for a few years, but beyond that, it is forbidden.

Would I Stand the Trial

I must add: this is the halakha, but regrettably, I cannot guarantee that if I faced the trial the Jews in the Diaspora face, I would be capable of fulfilling the halakha. This is because even when it is possible to live in Israel, it is extremely difficult to leave a familiar place of residence, where one knows how to speak and express himself fluently, how to educate his children, and how to make a living, and move to a place where he needs to learn the language, and all the different ways of life. The obligation of immigration to Israel demands from people who are considered very successful, to abandon their achievements, and start rebuilding themselves anew. That is why I so admire immigrants from the U.S. and other prosperous countries.

Rabbi Rabinovich ztz”l

After I finished writing this column, I heard the tragic news of the passing of one of the true Gedolei Ha’Dor, Rabbi Nahum Eliezer Rabinovich ztz”l, who chose to emigrate from a prosperous country, Canada, and become a partner in the building of Torah and the Nation, in Eretz Yisrael. May this column be dedicated to an aliyah for his neshama.

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