Tzizit on a Synthetic Garment

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

What is the Segulah of Israel?

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

Professor Sabin’s Remarks

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

Freud’s Words

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

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

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

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

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

The Existential Importance of the Mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’aretz

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

Synthetic Tzitzit Distributed in the Army

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

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

A Synthetic Garment

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

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

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

Synthetic Clothing has become Standard

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

Tzitzit in the Army

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

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

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

Mesh Tallit

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

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

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

A Guest of a Secular Jew

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

Eating at the Home of a Traditional Jew

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foods Prepared in a Secular Jew’s Kitchen

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

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

How One May Eat the Food of a Secular Jew

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

May Food be Heated?

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

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

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

Whiskey without a Kashrut Certification

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

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

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

The Sephardic Minhag Concerning Glatt Meat

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

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

The Basis of Differences in Customs

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

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

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

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

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

Reasoning of the Lenient Poskim

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

The Most Important Chumra

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

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

The Pure Flask of Oil and Segulat Yisrael

The Greeks attempted to defile all the oils, in other words, to Hellenize the Jews and eradicate the concepts of holiness, but the inner segulah (unique virtue) of the Jewish people remained pure, survived all circumstances, and even illuminated humanity * One of the damages of the defilement: Hellenism caused kedusha (holiness) to be mistakenly regarded as something private, abstaining from physical pleasure, and detached from the world * The segulah of the Jewish Nation was revealed throughout the ages, beginning with our forefathers, in selfless concern and contribution to others * Accordingly, idealistic Jews, even if they are not observant, reveal segulat Yisrael

After the Greeks conquered vast territories including small areas of Judea, for the duration of one hundred and sixty years they ruled the entire area, until everything was Hellenized. Even in Judea, Hellenism spread, to the point where even the Kohanim Gedolim (High Priests) Jason and Menelaus were among the leading supporters of Hellenism – they set up a wrestling stadium near the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple), and the priests preferred to watch wrestling matches rather than perform their sacrificial duties in the Temple. It seemed as if the Jews, like all the other nations, would also be completely Hellenized. However, the inner segulah (unique virtue) of Israel remained pure. As a result, when the Greeks arrived in the village of Modi’in, with the intention of forcing Matityahu the son of Yochanan the High Priest to worship idols, Matityahu rose up and killed the Greek officer and his Hellenized Jewish collaborator. By doing so, he and his sons raised the banner of rebellion against the Greeks and Hellenization.

The Miracle of the Flask of Oil

True, the Second Temple was destroyed and all the political achievements of Hasmonean’s were nullified, but thanks to the miracle of the flask of oil, the virtue of the eternal connection between Israel and the Torah was revealed, which illuminates the darkness above and beyond the laws of nature, and thanks to it, we endured the darkness of the long exile. Over the years, it became clear that the miracle was even greater than we originally thought. Not only did we manage to survive the torrent of Hellenism that inundated the world, but Judaism shattered – through a long and complicated process – most of the pagan foundations of Hellenism. The abstract belief in one God, ethical values, the aspiration to fix the world – all fundamental principles of the Torah – increasingly spread among the nations of the world, eventually becoming, through means both direct and indirect (i.e., via Christianity and Islam), the foundations of all the good and beneficial aspects of human culture. The longer our exile lasted, the longer and brighter the light of Israel and its Torah shone. It will continue to illuminate the world until we merit bringing new and pure oil from the olives of Eretz Yisrael, from which we will light the Menora of the Holy Temple, and the world will be filled with the knowledge of God.

 

What is this Inner Purity?

Maran HaRav Kook explained: “The Gentiles defiled revealed Judaism with their touch; they touched the sacred oils and defiled them, the stones of the Mizbayach Ha’Kodesh were invalidated. But their holiness remains, the inner secrets hidden and sealed from foreign contact. And precisely the most internal. Because the outward expressions of these secrets have already been desecrated by corrupt thieves” (Orot HaTechiya 63). In other words, not only the external sides were defiled, but also the holy oils, the altar stones, and Torah expressions. For example, the concept of kedusha (holiness) in Christianity is perceived as being related to self-denial, death, and celibacy from life. This concept took root to the point where when Jews try to explain or imagine who is a tzadik (a righteous person), due to this impurity, they picture figures far removed from our holy forefathers, who are portrayed in the Bible and Chazal as brave warriors and achievers, who sanctified life.

However, the root of Israel’s soul cannot be changed or defiled; it is the basis by virtue of which the pure oil was found, from which salvation grew, or as Maran HaRav Kook explained: “This inner spirituality, which is the essence of the Supreme Soul, is permanent in Israel’s neshama ha’segulit (unique soul), and cannot be budged, as long as the connection to the nation as a whole and its character is alive within him; as long as he desires the overall good and success of the Israeli nation, even if he does not know how to identify or interpret the secrets of his heart, and even if he errs in his actions and opinions – his inner self is kodesh kodashim (holy of holies).”

The national ambition, which yearns for Israel’s honor and blessing in the ‘Land of Life’, stems from the segulah manifested in the pure oil. All the more so when this national ambition rises to the level of revealing Torat Eretz Yisrael.

Segulat Yisrael

What is segulat Yisrael? The deep desire to demand justice and truth, to add goodness and blessing to the world, and continue rising in this endlessly. When Avraham Avinu opened his tent to guests who looked like idol worshippers, he did not do so because he was commanded to, or hoped for a reward, rather, because he loved humanity. Thus, we find Avraham Avinu and his son Yitzchak Avinu engaged in digging wells, an act of blessing, for from the wells water would be drawn to preserve the lives of many. Thus, we find Yaacov Avinu worked diligently and faithfully in the pasture of flocks even when it was not for his own needs and profits, in order to add prosperity to the world. We also find that Yosef HaTzadik (Joseph the Righteous), the son of Yaacov Avinu, though he had every reason to despair and be disgruntled for being sold as a slave, he did not lose his vitality, and no matter where he found himself, endeavored to better the condition of those around him, until he saved the entire Egyptian kingdom from a terrible famine. Even modern-day Jews, scientists and activists working for the tikun (perfection) of society, their main goal being to contribute to the well-being of humanity, in this way, are following in the path of our forefathers.

When Moshe came out of Pharaoh’s palace and saw an Egyptian officer striking a Hebrew slave, although he knew that if he protected the slave he would risk his life, nevertheless, he struck the Egyptian and saved the slave. As a result, he lost his position as Prince of Egypt, and was forced to flee to Midian to save his life. Even in Midian, when he saw that the shepherds discriminated against Jethro’s daughters, he could not resist. While risking a melee with the locals, he fought for their right to receive their turn in watering the flock from the well. From that, he continued to rise until he was worthy to lead the People of Israel, and receive the Torah at Mount Sinai.

When Ruth the Moabite decided to join her mother-in-law Naomi on her way back to Beit Lechem in the inheritance of Yehudah, it was because she could not leave her forlorn and in terrible grief. Naomi, who was one of the privileged women of Yehudah, was about to return to her homeland defeated, widowed from her wealthy husband, and bereaved of her sons. Ruth felt a moral obligation to accompany her, and stand by her side. Owning to this, her heart opened to faith in God, and she converted and merited to become the mother of the House of David.

Segulat Yisrael Revealed in Idealistic Jews

Rabbi Kook explained that even when a Jew “erred in his actions and opinions, his inner self is kodesh kodeshim“, so long as “the connection to the nation as a whole and its character is alive within him; as long as he desires the overall good and success of the Israeli nation.” Because the best interests of the Israeli nation is to add goodness and blessing, justice and truth.

In a number of letters, Rabbi Kook gave educational advice to Rabbi Dov Milstein, a wealthy lumber merchant from Warsaw, whose sons left ways of Torah and mitzvot. The father debated whether to support them financially in their studies at the university and their businesses, or perhaps, since they were tainted with minut (heresy) for which there is no repentance, he should distance them, and sit shiva (mourned) over them, as was the advice of his Rabbi, the Admore of Parisov. Maran HaRav Kook wrote to him: “Were your children connected to the people of Israel, at least ideologically, and were for instance Chovevei Tzion or Zionists, it would be easier to bring them back to the steadfast way of God… In any case, even now that they have gone far astray, you should not despair of them completely. In the end, the effect of the light of God, which has appeared for thousands of years through our holy Torah, is that today we no longer have, as in early days, that accursed minut, for which there is no repentance. Today, even the most evil opinions are based on a search for righteousness and truth, which is, indeed, itself the way of the Lord, who commanded Avraham Avinu, of blessed memory, his sons, and his household to do what is just and right… For this reason, it is my opinion that, to fallen ones such as these, one must explain to them that, at its foundation, their goal is truly desirable” (Igrot 1:113).

In other words, although they were not Zionists, since they had good ideals, and as far as they were concerned they did not betray Judaism, rather, thought it to be their positive source of inspiration, their inner segulah remained in them.

Rabbi Ari Yitzhak Shvat looked into the story of these boys’ lives. One became chairman of the Polish National Bank, and after his father immigrated to Israel and became impoverished, he financially supported his father and older brother and family, who were religious and lived in Israel. He himself married a Gentile, and was murdered in the Holocaust. The other son worked in the Polish Foreign Ministry. In his second marriage, he got married in a religious ceremony with a Jewish woman from the Rothschild family. He managed to escape to the United States, and has grandchildren and great-grandchildren connected to Judaism. When the State of Israel was founded, Ben Gurion offered him to be Foreign Minister but he refused, claiming that “God did not designate Jews to grow orchards.”

The General Mitzvot

It also seems that the lack of understanding the general mitzvot, such as yishuv ha’aretz (settlement of the Land of Israel), the defense of Israel and military service, stems from the influence of the foreign impurity that clung to the superficial side of religion during exile, until the point where kedusha (holiness) is revealed only in the life of the individual, and in all general, national affairs, there is no kedusha and mitzvah, rather, everything is profane. However, the exact opposite is true: the main aspect of kedusha is revealed in Clal Yisrael, and consequently, is drawn into the life of the individual. Clal Yisrael received the Torah and mitzvot in order to fulfill and live according to them in Eretz Yisrael, and only then is it the obligation every Jew, and even Jews living abroad, to fulfill them, so as they would not be new to them when they returned to Eretz Israel.

Even in recent generations, those who saw only the details opposed the mitzvah of aliyah (immigration) to Israel, and because they refused to see the Clal, spread libels as if the Zionist movement caused the abandoning of Torah and mitzvot. However, the exact opposite is true: Although many kofrim (unbelievers) were active in the Zionist movement, and even sought to secularize the public, in fact, thanks to the Zionist movement and its activities on behalf of the mitzvoth of the Clal yishuv ha’aretz and kibbutz galuyot (Ingathering of the Exiles) – the Jewish nation was saved, both physically and spiritually. Secularism was caused by many reasons, the main one being our difficulty in dealing with the Enlightenment and modern environment. Immigration to Israel was not the cause of the problem, but the solution. Therefore, in all the Diaspora communities, the percentage of assimilated and secular Jews is infinitely greater than in Israel. Those who refuse to see this deny the sanctity of the general mitzvot, and also show a lack of gratitude towards the Jews who worked selflessly within the Zionist movement for the sake of immigration, settlement, and security.

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

Between Yeshiva Students and the Tribe of Levi

One of the claims in the issue of recruitment of yeshiva students to the IDF is that according to Rambam, anyone who wants can be like a member of the Tribe of Levi, who did not participate in wars * From close examination of the Torah, Chazal, and Rambam himself, the Tribe of Levi’s role towards the nation is clearly indicated: to educate, judge, and even serve as police officers * Members of the Tribe of Levi would encourage the nation in war, release those exempted from service in a milchemet reshut, and pray for the success of the soldiers. When necessary, they would also fight * If that is the case, whoever wants to serve in the role of a Levi must devote his life to service of the nation, and in times of emergency, fight for it

The Torah’s Position Regarding Recruitment of Yeshiva Students

In response to my previous column, I was asked: “What is the source for the claim that yeshiva students must respect and pray for the soldiers, and that the postponement of enlistment for yeshiva students is appropriate only for students whom the public is in need of their study in yeshiva, so they can later become a teacher or rabbi?” These questions are based on what Rambam wrote about the Tribe of Levi: “Why did the Levites not receive a portion in the inheritance of Eretz Yisrael and in the spoils of war like their brethren? Because they were set aside to serve God and minister unto Him and to instruct people at large … Therefore they were set apart from the ways of the world. They do not wage war like the remainder of the Jewish people, nor do they receive an inheritance, nor do they acquire for themselves through their physical power. Instead, they are God’s legion, as written: ‘God has blessed His legion’ and He provides for them, as stated: ‘I am your portion and your inheritance.’ Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him… he is sanctified as holy of holies. God will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites (Laws of Shmitta and Yovel 13: 12-13).

The Choosing of the Tribe of Levi

In order to understand the Torah’s instruction, we must have another look at the Tribe of Levi and their intent. Since the Torah was given to all of Israel, at first, the roles of the Kohanim (Priests) and Levi’im (Levites) were intended to be entrusted to the bechor (firstborn male) of families in all tribes of Israel, so that in each family, there would be a bechor dedicated to Torah study, education, and service in the Mikdash (Holy Temple), and thus, the entire nation, among all its tribes, would be connected to Torah and the sacred service. However, after the firstborn also participated in the Sin of the Golden Calf, they fell from their high spiritual level, and in their stead the Tribe of Levi who did not participate in the sin, were chosen and sanctified – they even assisted Moshe Rabbeinu in putting a halt to the sin, and punishing the sinners.

From this event, it is possible to learn that the idea of the bechor​​a is too lofty for us, and as a result, instead of the firstborn acting as Kohanim and having a positive affect on their families and the public at large, the secular lifestyle of the general public influenced them, and annulled their uniqueness. Consequently, they failed to prevent the people from sinning in the Golden Calf. Therefore, there was a need to dedicate an entire tribe, all of whose members would strengthen each other against the winds of time and the various temptations, so they could fulfill their sacred mission.

The Role of the Tribe of Levi

Thus, God sanctified the entire Tribe of Levi, led by the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, “to serve God and minister unto Him and to instruct people at large in His just paths and righteous judgments to worship the Lord and to serve and teach his upright and righteous ways” as Rambam put it, and as written in the Torah (Deuteronomy 33:10): “They will teach Your judgments to Jacob and Your Torah to Israel.” They were also intended to serve in rabbinical and judicial positions, as written: “If you are unable to reach a decision in a case involving capital punishment, litigation, leprous marks, or any other case where there is a dispute in your territorial courts …You must approach the Levitical priests and other members of the supreme court that exists at the time. When you make inquiry, they will declare to you a legal decision.” (Deuteronomy 17: 8- 9). Likewise, the Prophet said: “And you will know that I have sent you this command so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty. “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace … True Torah was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. For the lips of a Kohen should safeguard knowledge, and people seek Torah from his mouth…” (Malachi 2: 4-7).

In order for the Kohanim and Levi’im to fulfill their duties, the Torah stipulated  they should not be given a portion in the Land, rather, all members of the tribe would be spread throughout all of Israel, and each and every tribe would assign them residential areas in their inheritance to dwell in (Numbers 35: 1-8). And this is what B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) did (Joshua 21: 3). We find then, that the Kohanim and Levi’im served the entire public, and in order for them to fulfill their duties, the Torah commanded that B’nei Yisrael support them with terumot and ma’asrot (tithes) (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 7: 3).

Police Officers

Many perceive the members of the Tribe of Levi as being gentle and frail people – all talk, but no action. But, in fact, they also served as shotrim (police officers) intended to govern law and order in Israel, as written: “David had now grown old; he had lived many years; so he made Shlomo his son king over Israel…a census of Levi’im thirty years old and over was taken… of these, 24,000 were to oversee the work on the house of God, while 6,000 were officers and judges” (1 Chronicles, 23: 1-4). It is also written: “From the family line of Yitzhar came Kenaniah and his sons. They were given duties that were away from the Temple. They were officers and the judges over Israel” (ibid. 26:29). And also in the days of Yehoshaphat: “The Levites will serve as your officials. Be brave. And may God be with those of you who do well” (2 Chronicles 19: 11). And also in the days of Josiah: “They supervised those carrying the loads and everyone doing any kind of work; and there were also Levi’im who were secretaries, officers, and gatekeepers” (ibid. 34: 13).

Our Sages said as well: “At first, (i.e., in the days of the First Temple) officers were appointed from the Levites only, for it is said, ‘And the officers of the Levites before you…” (Yevamot 86b). In addition, our Sages said that the Levi’im were the police officers who accompanied the judges to punish the sinners (Sifre, Deuteronomy 15). And Rabbi David Pardo explained that this role is ascribed to the Levi’im due to their spiritual root in the attribute of gevurah (strength) (Sifra debei Rav, Deuteronomy I: 15), and continued in this role in Egypt, and ever since stopping sinners and punishing them in the Sin of the Golden Calf (Meshech Chochma, Numbers 9: 9-10; Malbim, Exodus 32:27).

True, it appears that each and every tribe appointed officers (Deuteronomy 16:18), nevertheless, it’s possible to say that it refers to the members of Levi who lived among that same tribe. And there are meforshim (commentators) who explained that in addition to police officers from members of a tribe, the Levi’im were also police officers, with judicial powers (Be’er Sheva, Sotah 42a; Aseh Lecha Rav, 3:48).

Police Officers as Fighters

Rashi wrote: “I found in the Talmud Yerushalmi (quoted in other Midrashim), when Aaron died, the clouds of glory withdrew, and the Canaanites came to fight against Israel. The Israelites set their hearts on returning to Egypt, and they went back eight stages of their journey from Mount Hor to Moserah… and the Levites pursued them to bring them back, killing seven of their families. The Levites lost four families in the battle” (Rashi, on Numbers 26: 13).

Encouraging the Army and the Fighters

The Tribe of Levi had another most venerable role, to encourage the Israelite fighters. To this end, in addition to the Kohen HaGadol (the High Priest) who was in charge of the service in the Holy Temple, there was an additional Kohen, who was anointed with the anointing oil, and called the “Kohen Mashuach Milchama” (the Priest Anointed for War). His job was to go out with the fighters, and before the battle, say to them: “Listen, Israel, today you are about to wage war against your enemies. Do not be faint-hearted, do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not break ranks before them. God your Lord is the One who is going with you. He will fight for you against your enemies, and He will deliver you” (Deuteronomy 20: 2-4).

And the Kohanim were commanded to blow the trumpets in order to encourage the warriors to prayer and heroism, as written: “The priests who are Aaron’s descendants shall be the ones to sound the trumpets… When you go to war against an enemy who attacks you in your land, you shall sound a staccato on the trumpets. You will then be remembered before God your Lord, and will be delivered from your enemies” (Numbers 10:8-9).

War Officers

Along with the encouraging words of the Kohen Mashuach Milchama, in a milchemet reshut (optional war), the shotrim (police officers) would talk to the people, and exempt from enlistment the afraid and disheartened, vineyard-planters, home builders, and groomsmen in their first year.

After all those exempted had returned to their homes and the war had begun, the shotrim stationed brave guards amongst them to help those who fell in battle to rise, and break the legs of anyone who wanted to flee the battle, seeing as such a person was liable to endanger everyone, “because the beginning of falling in battle – is fleeing” (Mishnah Sotah 8:6).

The Carriers of the Holy Ark and the Prayers

The Kohanim also carried the Holy Ark that would go out with the fighters to war, to fulfill what is written in the Torah: “For it is the Lord your God that goes with you to fight” (Sotah 42b; Yeri’im 432; Binyamin Ze’ev 102, and others). And they did so also in Joshua’s war in Jericho, and Saul with the Philistines. The Tana’im and Rishonim disputed which ark went out with the fighters, but this is not the place to expound.

At the same time as the fighters went to battle, the Levi’im would sing and pray for the sake of the fighters armed for war, as was said in Yehoshaphat’s days: “Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice… as they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (2 Chronicles 20: 19-22). And some say that the Psalm “May Hashem answer you when you are in distress” in Psalms (Chapter 20) was written for the Levi’im praying for the warriors in battle (Meiri, Sotah 42b).

Is it conceivable that today there are Roshei Yeshivot (Heads of Yeshiva’s) who do not agree to pray for the peace of our soldiers?! And what’s more, in the name of the legacy of the Tribe of Levi?! And if they say that today the spiritual state of the leaders and soldiers is worse, then it is advisable for them to have a look at the Tanach and the words of the wicked kings of Israel, for all of these rules were valid in their days as well.

The Guard Corps of the King of Kings

We see then that the role of the Levi’im and Kohanim is to be the Guard Corps that secures Israel’s sanctity and nationalism. With courage and strength, they had to fulfill all policing duties, including standing up to criminals and violent people, as well as defecting soldiers. Therefore, in times of emergency, they were able to enlist in battle as elite combat fighters. This was the case during the times of shmad (apostasy), when the Greeks sought to turn Israel away from their religion – the Kohanim and the Levi’im were called to stand and fight valiantly to guard the Nation and the Land, and the Hasmonean Kohanim lifted the flag of rebellion against the Greeks, as we will relate during the coming days of Chanukah – they should be for a blessing.

The Roles of the Tribe of Levi Today

In conclusion: Those who want to fulfill the roles of the Tribe of Levi nowadays, must serve the entire nation, by teaching Torah, educating, policing, service in the Military Rabbinate, and the corps responsible for the terms of service and exemptions from the army. To do so, they must learn Torah diligently and be willing to devote their lives to Am Yisrael, and if an emergency arises – to join the campaign to protect Israel and its sacred ideals from the hands of her enemies. From this, I wish to send a blessing to my nephew, a student of mine and a Kohen, who enlisted last week for an exceedingly elite and extended combat service. May he, along with all his friends, merit to protect the Nation and the Land, and may they all merit to establish glorious families, according to the law of Moshe and Israel.

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

Must Yeshiva Students Enlist?

Haredi rabbis are correct in their claim that Talmud Torah is of utmost importance, and that Am Yisrael needs people who will postpone their recruitment in order to grow in Torah and become teachers and Torah scholars * However, the majority of yeshiva students will not become rabbis, and therefore, they must fulfill the great mitzvah to enlist in the army * The Haredi claim of spiritual danger in the army is also correct – true,  keeping Shabbat and kashrut has improved immeasurably, but the mixing of male and female soldiers has worsened the state of modesty * The solution is not to avoid the mitzvah of army service, but rather to strengthen the army, and adapt it to the Haredi public and Clal Yisrael

Recently, the issue of recruitment of yeshiva students into the army has come up once again. It was disclosed that, in general, the Haredi public avoids enlisting in the army. Almost all recruits counted as being Haredi are either young men who left Haredi society, and usually religion as well, or older men who find their livelihoods in the army; men who grew up in marginal communities of Haredi society, such as baalei teshuva and olim chadashim (new immigrants) who have not adopted the full views of Haredi society, or young men from the Torani-Leumi public (Chardal).

At the same time, it was revealed that army authorities, maliciously or inadvertently, distorted the recruiting data, creating a misrepresentation as if the Haredi public was in the process of joining the army.

The Mitzvah to Serve in the Army

A question repeatedly asked: Are yeshiva students studying Torah exempt from enlistment in the army? Before addressing the very question, first, it must be clarified that it is a great mitzvah to serve in the IDF, and this mitzvah is one of the greatest and most sacred mitzvot of our generation, and is based on two mitzvot: saving Israel from the hand of her enemies, and settlement of the Land.

Saving Israel from the Hand of Her Enemies

Concerning saving the life of a single Jew, we are commanded: “Do not stand aside when trouble befalls your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16). To rescue someone, Shabbat is desecrated, as our Sages said in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4: 5): “Anyone who saves the life of a Jew, it is as if he saved an entire world.” How much more so is the great obligation to save an entire Jewish community, and in order to do so not only is it a mitzvah to desecrate Shabbat, but it is even a mitzvah to endanger lives, as we have learned that in order to save even the property of a community on the border – Shabbat is desecrated, and lives are endangered (S.A., O.C. 329:6). All the more so that this must be done to save Clal Yisrael. And this is a clear milchemet mitzvah (a war commanded by the Torah), as Rambam wrote (Laws of Kings 5: 1): “Which is a milchemet mitzvah? … and saving of Israel from those who rise up against her.” This mitzvah obligates mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice), and overrides the individual’s obligation to guard his life (Maran Rabbi Kook, Mishpat Kohen 143; Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 13: 100).

The Mitzvah to Settle the Land of Israel

The second mitzvah is the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (the commandment to settle the Land of Israel), as written (Numbers 33: 53-54): “And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. You shall inherit the land…” Our Sages said this mitzvah is equal in weight to all the mitzvot (Sifri, Re’ah 53). This mitzvah overrides pikuach nefesh (saving life) of individuals since we were commanded to conquer the Land, and the Torah did not expect us to rely on a miracle; since in every war there are fatalities, it is clear the mitzvah of conquering the Land requires us to risk lives (Minchat Chinuch 425 and 604; Mishpat Kohen pg. 327). All the more so must we fight to protect parts of the Land we already possess, and every soldier serving in the IDF takes part in this great mitzvah.

The mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is incumbent upon the Jewish people in every generation, as Ramban and many other poskim have written. Only due to oh’nes (forces beyond our control), seeing as we lacked the military and political capability to settle the Land, were we unable to fulfill this mitzvah throughout our long exile. Indeed, some poskim believe that in the opinion of Rambam, following the destruction of the Holy Temple, there is no mitzvah to conquer the Land, nevertheless, all agree that in Rambam’s opinion, there is a mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael, and thus, if after Jews are already living in Eretz Yisrael enemies come to conquer parts of the Land in our possession – the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz obligates us to fight in order to protect them, since it is forbidden to relinquish parts of Eretz Yisrael to non-Jews (D’var Yehoshua 2, O.C. 48; Milamdei Milchama 1; Peninei Halakha: Ha’Am ve Ha’Aretz 4:2).

Conflict between Talmud Torah and Enlistment in the Army

With all the immense importance of the mitzvah of Talmud Torah (Torah study), it does not override the mitzvah of enlisting in the army. This is not only because of the well-known halakhic rule that any mitzvah that cannot be carried out by others overrides Talmud Torah (Moed Katan, 1), as this rule also applies to individual mitzvot, such as the mitzvah to pray, to build a sukkah, to give a loan, and providing hospitality to guests. However, the mitzvah of enlisting in the army is far more important because all of Israel’s existence depends on it.

We have also found that the students of Yehoshua ben Nun and King David went out to war and were not concerned about bittul Torah (the neglect of Torah study). Moreover, Chumash BaMidbar (Book of Numbers) is called Chumash HaPikudim (The Book of the Two Censuses), because in it, all the soldiers who were about to conquer the Land were counted.

And regarding what our Sages said (Baba Batra 8a) that Torah scholars do not need guarding, the meaning is that they are exempt from the type of guarding primarily intended for prevention of theft. But when Jews needs to be protected, then there is a mitzvah to save them, as the Torah says (Leviticus 19:16): “Do not stand aside when trouble befalls your neighbor”, and in a situation of pikuach nefesh, the mitzvah is first incumbent on Talmedei Chachamim (M.B. 328:34).

The Importance of Torah Study of Yeshiva Students

With that being said, it is essential to know that the most important mitzvah is Talmud Torah, and there is no mitzvah that guards and sustains the People of Israel in the long run more than Talmud Torah. Therefore, together with the mitzvah to serve in the army, it is imperative to incorporate in the order of life of every Jew a number of years in which he devotes himself, to the best of his ability, to Torah study. And this is what our Sages said (Megillah 16b): “Talmud Torah is greater than saving lives,” because saving lives involves the momentary rescue of a physical body, while Talmud Torah revives the Israeli nation’s soul and body for the long term.

The Mitzvah to Enlist and the Mitzvah to Develop Torah Scholars

In practice, the mitzvah to enlist in the army applies to all Jewish men, including those who wish to study Torah in yeshiva. However, when it is not a security necessity to recruit all young men without exception, as was the case in the War of Independence, it is a mitzvah to postpone the enlistment of those interested and suitable for rabbinical and educational positions, so they will be able to study diligently and excel in Torah – and when they are rabbis and educators, contribute from their education and Torah knowledge to strengthen Jewish awareness of Israel’s security, and yishuv ha’aretz. And although there are genuine Torah scholars who combined enlistment into the army during their first years in yeshiva, nevertheless, many of those who are worthy of being rabbis can contribute more from their Torah knowledge to Am Yisrael if they postpone their enlistment, as long as they continue developing in their yeshiva studies. This was the role of the Tribe of Levi, who learned in order to teach, and were exempt from enlistment in the army. They did not receive a portion in the inheritance of the Land, so they would be unhampered and readily available for service in the Temple, and to educate and instruct. Only in a case of national pikuach nefesh did the Levites and Kohanim (priests) enlist in the army and, when necessary, even led the army as in the days of the Hasmonean priests.

It is important to point out: this contribution of Torah students can ensue provided the students treat the mitzvah of soldiers guarding our nation and land with great respect. Only Torah study stemming from this viewpoint can contribute to elevating the spirit and heroism of Clal Yisrael. On the other hand, Torah study that denies the sanctity of a soldier’s mitzvah is inherently absurd, similar to the study of someone who denies the mitzvah of Shabbat.

Consent and Criticism of the Haredi Position

In light of this, we do not have a fundamental disagreement with the Haredi public about the need to postpone enlistment of diligent yeshiva students who will become rabbis and educators – with teachers postponing enlistment for a few years, whereas rabbis should be able to postpone for several years, without restriction.

The criticism is in two areas: one – that those studying in yeshivas must learn Torah properly, and thus, respect the mitzvah of enlistment to the army. Second – the majority of yeshiva students who are not going to be rabbis, even if they are studying well and diligently, must fulfill the mitzvah of enlistment.

The Haredi Explanation for Not Enlisting

Nonetheless, the position of the Haredim is understandable, for they fear that army service will a cause spiritual decline, to the point of abandoning Torah and mitzvot. If this is the case, then this is an existential problem that cannot be compromised. Spiritual pikuach nefesh.

In practice, there are two parallel processes occurring in the army. On the one hand, over the last few decades the ability of an observant soldier to keep mitzvot, such as kashrut, prayers, Shabbat and holidays has improved. On the other hand, as the result of the mixing of male and female soldiers in the various units, the general atmosphere has become extremely immodest, such that a young man who grew up in religious circles, and all the more so Haredi, is faced with difficult challenges. In such a situation, the position of Haredi rabbis is that the promise of the young men’s spiritual future is preferable to the mitzvah of military service. Although the army is ready to create for Haredi recruits a framework suitable to their lifestyle, they are still concerned that over time, military service will cause them to become less religious.

Instead of Avoiding – Strengthen the Army

However, halachicly and in practice, their position is wrong. Instead of avoiding enlistment, they should be vigilant, and make certain the atmosphere in the army is as it should be for a machaneh kadosh (holy military camp). Already today, Hesder yeshiva students have reasonable conditions, adapted to the lifestyle of the national-religious public.

Incidentally, in recent years, I have consistently asked the young men returning to yeshiva after their military service in the Hesder framework, whether, as a result of army service, they have become religiously weakened, or strengthened. Almost all of them responded that they got stronger. It is important to note that in contrast, of those who went into regular army service, at least half responded they had weakened, and needed strengthening.

Effort must be made to Fulfill Mitzvot

The general rule is that one must make an effort in order to fulfill mitzvot, and not give up in advance for various reasons.

Suppose, for example, it turned out that Shabbat observers, seeing as on Shabbat they don’t have to work,  are lured to indulge in drunkenness, drugs, and other abominations. Would we stop observing Shabbat? God forbid! We would struggle to find ways to prevent them from such activity (incidentally, this is one of the explanations for the takanah (ordinance) of reading the Torah at Mincha on Shabbat; see, “Peninei Halakha: Shabbat” 5:8).

Similarly, an effort must be made to regulate the fulfillment of this great and holy mitzvah. With half the effort Haredi public representatives invest in exemption from enlisting, they could sucessfully regulate the terms of religious observance of army service for the members of the Haredi public, and Clal Yisrael.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. The Hebrew version can be found at: https://revivim.yhb.org.il/

Relying on the Kashrut of Traditional Jews

A person who does not observe Shabbat but says he keeps kosher and is careful not to cook meat and milk together, if he is known to be a reliable person – an observant Jew can eat by him, but first must ask five questions * The questions concern the kashrut of the meat, tithes, vegetables that might contain insects, were the dishes tovelled, and was challah taken * In some of the questions, even if the answer is negative there is a solution, such as separating tithes before eating, and eating with plastic utensils * There is no need for questions in other areas, but the required questions must not be waived.

 

Q: May an observant Jew who keeps kosher according to halakha, eat at the home of a masoriti (traditional) relative or friend who is not Shomer Shabbat, but says he keeps kosher in his home and is careful to separate dishes – he does not cook meat in milk utensils, or milk in meat utensils – but his knowledge of the halakhot of kashrut and his strict adherence to them are uncertain?

A: If he is known to be a reliable he may be trusted, however, since he may not be familiar with halakha or keep it precisely, you cannot rely on his general statement that the food is kosher. Consequently, if you want to eat his food, you must first ask five questions encompassing all problematic areas of kashrut. Needless to say, in order to avoid offending him unnecessarily, the questions should be asked before the meal.

The Five Questions

1) As for the meat, it must be clarified that it has a credible hechsher. Those who eat kosher meat may rely on standard kashrut, and those who are mehadrin (enhance the mitzvah) and eat glatt meat, may eat the cooked meat dishes provided the meat is glatt.

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

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

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

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

Questions about this Halakhic Instruction

Arguments about this halakhic instruction come from four different directions: 1) some people argue that the kashrut of a masoriti (traditional) Jew cannot be relied upon at all because he does not keep the mitzvot precisely. 2) Why not ask about other problems? 3) Conversely, some argue: Why not believe him when he says his food is kosher without asking questions? 4) Others claim these questions will cause unpleasantness, therefore it’s better not to eat, or ask. I will address the four claims.

A Reliable Traditional Jew May Be Trusted

Seemingly, one could ask: Since outside of his house a masoriti Jew is not careful to eat only kosher foods, or only in kosher restaurants, consequently, he is considered as someone who occasionally eats non-kosher food, and is not trustworthy to testify about the kashrut of his food (S. A. 119:1). Also, if he publicly desecrates Shabbat, he is not trustworthy to testify about any mitzvah (S. A. 119:7). According to this, how can we trust the credibility of a masoriti Jew who occasionally eats non-kosher food, and all the more so, when he sometimes publicly desecrates Shabbat?

However, there is a difference between Jews who were suspected of kashrut matters and chillul Shabbat in the past, and today. In the past, when society was traditional, familial, and ancestral, it was clear that those who violated these mitzvot were light-minded or extremely brazen people who broke customary practices, and consequently it was clear they could not be trusted. Today, however, there are those who are not observant but are known to be honest and reliable people – fact is, they are trusted when it comes to monetary matters. Therefore, an honest and decent person can be trusted in matters of kashrut, even if he himself is not careful to eat kosher all the time (as we have learned in Rabbi Kook’s essay “Ha’Dor” [“The Generation”]. This is also explained in “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut” Vol. 2, 29:13, in connection to public Shabbat desecrators. This is also written in practice in ‘D’var Chevron’, Y.D. 2:125, and ‘Echol B’Simcha’, pg. 155).

In addition, we have a general rule that when it is easy to obtain kosher foods, we rely on a person whose credibility is doubtful and says he bought his food from a kosher store, for why would he go and buy non-kosher foods when it is easy for him to buy kosher foods, or as in the words of our Sages: “Lo shavik hetera ve’achil isura” (‘one does not intentionally forsake the permitted and eat forbidden food’(Chullin 4a-b; S.A. 2:4).

The Claim Additional Questions are Needed

Some people claim that while in general a masoriti Jew is careful about separating between meat and milk, in practice, they may not be so meticulous about it. Indeed, a baal teshuva (a secular Jew who returned to Torah-Judaism) once told me that his family was considered masoriti, and yet, his mother would use the same pan once to fry meat, and another time to make an omelet with hard cheese. On account of this, I wrote: “A person hosted by a masoriti Jew, i.e., a Jew accustomed to eating kosher food and is careful to separate dishes – not to cook meat in milk dishes, and not cook milk in meat dishes” (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 38:9). In other words, this is the definition of masoriti, and such a definition is faced with five questions. One should not be concerned that maybe the masoriti erred in this matter, because bedi’avad (after the fact), stam keilim (normal utensils) are considered as not being bnei yomam (a vessel that has sat for 24 hours since a prohibited substance was cooked in it), and the taste of the previous meat or milk cooked in them are made foul, and in any case, the dish cooked in them is kosher (S.A., Y.D. 122:6).

There is no need to ask about non-kosher fish, for masoriti person who eats kosher is careful about that.

Some claim one needs to ask if they cooked in the pots on Shabbat, for if they did, in the opinion of Rashba, the pots are prohibited, and must be kashered by hagalah (immersing them in boiling water). However, even according to Rashba, the pots are prohibited only for those for whom the food was cooked for on Shabbat, whereas for everyone else, the pots are permitted. In addition, in the opinion of Rosh, even for the person who cooked on Shabbat, the pots are not prohibited (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 26: 8).

There are also some who ask about the third question, claiming it is not enough to ask whether the leafy vegetables were rinsed, but to also ask whether they were inspected after rinsing (as explained in Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol.2, 23: 10). However bedi’avad, rinsing, most likely accompanied by a general lookover, is sufficient.

The Claim that No Questions Should be Asked

On the other hand, some people claim that since in practice a large majority of the meat in Israel is kosher, terumot and ma’asrot are taken from most fruits and vegetables, and most people rinse leafy vegetables, one can rely on the host’s general statement that the food is kosher, without asking the five questions.

However, according to halakha, as long there is a safek (doubt) which can be clarified by asking a question one must do so, as we learned concerning bedikat chametz (Pesachim 4a; S.A., O.C. 437:2).  And Pri Chadash (437:2) explained that when the clarification process is extremely difficult, such as in the case of examining all seventy types of treifot, we rely on the majority. But when it is not difficult, such as asking a question, one is obligated to ask.

Therefore, in a situation where posing the five questions would be extremely insulting, such as when the host is an important relative, or a very distinguished person, and on the other hand, eating there cannot be avoided without causing a serious dispute, a masoriti host can be relied upon that his food is kosher without asking the five questions. And although chances are his metal and glassware were not tovelled, besha’at ha’dachak (in times of need) when asking a question about it would be extremely insulting, one can rely on the lenient poskim who permit eating off non-immersed dishes on a temporary basis (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol. 2, 31:8).

The Allegation of Unpleasantness

Some claim that asking the five questions is offensive, and therefore, it’s better not to eat. Indeed, one must examine and evaluate what the host would prefer, that they not ask him the five questions and not eat with him, or ask him the five questions and be able to eat with him. In my estimation, in most cases a masoriti Jew would prefer all questions be laid on the table, and that the guest feel comfortable and able to eat. Moreover, chances are that the answer to four of the questions will be satisfactory, and this will please the questioner and the person asked. Granted, as far as tevilat keilim is concerned, chances are the answer will be that the dishes were not tovelled. However, since there is a solution by using plastic or porcelain dishes, this will not cause great unpleasantness. In addition, it could be that as a result of this question, before the next visit, the host may tovel his dishes.

A Cake Made by a Traditional Jew

Q: At our workplace, where most of the employees are observant, one of the non-observant workers brought a cake that her mother made in honor of her birthday. She said her mother does not observe Shabbat, but is very careful about keeping kosher. In the end, the workers were apprehensive about eating it, and thus the cake remained untouched until it was finally thrown in the garbage. Did we do the right thing?

A: When a person brings a cake and says it is kosher because a masoriti person who is careful to keep kosher prepared it, if the person who brought the cake is a reliable person – he can be trusted. Nevertheless, one question should be asked: If the dough contained an amount requiring separating challah, was it taken? When there is a safek, a crumb can be separated. If there is fruit in the cake, one must also ask whether terumot and ma’asrot were taken, and if it is uncertain, terumot and ma’asrot should be set aside.

Concerning products from which cakes are made there are no questions, since in Israel, these products are kosher, and only someone who makes a great effort to search for non-kosher products can find them, and a masoriti is not suspected of doing so.

One need not ask whether the flour was sifted, since even if it was bought from the shuk (marketplace) and not sifted, the cake is kosher. The reason is that in most cases, there are no insects in flour, and in a case where it is no longer possible to check the flour, we go according to the majority (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol. 2, 23:15). And as for the eggs, me’ikar ha’din (according to strict halakha), it is not obligatory to check them for blood since they are not fertilized (ibid, 24: 2-3). And there is no concern that the cake was baked in a treif baking dish, seeing as he is masoriti.

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

Bringing Issues of Kashrut to Every Home

From the introduction of the new volume of “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut” Vol. II, “Food and the Kitchen” * In many ways, it was the most complex and complicated volume * The laws of kashrut should be clear to everyone, both in order to avoid frequent doubts, and because knowledge of Torah elevates man * Having merited the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’, we are obligated to learn the customs of all ethnic groups and poskim, understand the common halakhic foundations, and bring the halakhic divisions closer together, while maintaining the different traditions * More about kashrut and hospitality: When hosted, should one be meticulous to keep the minhag of chalita for meat

The New Book

With the grace of God, last week the second volume of “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut – Food and the Kitchen”, came off the printing presses. Thus, I merited completing the three books dedicated to the laws of kashrut: Volume I – ‘Vegetation and Animals’, this volume, and another book on the “Laws of Shivi’it and Yovel”, which also includes many laws in the field of kashrut.

Here are some of the main points I wrote in the introduction of my new book:

“The mitzvah of kashrut elevates our eating, so that in addition to our body’s health, it purifies our soul as well. Usually, spiritual people tend to disregard eating, relating to it as an inferior, physical matter that hinders a person’s spiritual attainment, and thus, matters of food and eating are valueless to them. However, according to Judaism and Torah guidance – everything has importance, and the physical body also possesses holiness, and consequently, many mitzvot deal with managing the body, and eating. Moreover, a profound connection exists between the body and the soul, and any perfection of the body affects the soul. The main goal of the mitzvot of kashrut is to prepare and purify our foods, so that by way of them, we can connect to the Torah’s values. How fortunate we are, how goodly is our lot, and how pleasant is our fate, that God sanctified us in His mitzvot, and commanded us to elevate our eating to a level possessing emunah, kedusha, and bracha (faith, holiness, and blessing), through which we can fulfill our mission of Tikun Olam (perfection of the world) in the Kingdom of God.”

The Complexities of Kashrut Issues

“In many ways, this book was the most complex and complicated. It deals with the most common issues rabbis have encountered for generations, and consequently, numerous books have been written on it, as well as many responses. Also, there are numerous commentaries on the explanations of the Shulchan Aruch particularly on this subject. On almost every chapter of my new book, entire works have been written in recent generations. As with all the previous books in the ‘Peninei Halakha’ series, my intention was to define the foundations of the halakha well, so that the details branching out from them would be understood on their own, in a way there would be no need to elaborate on details and examples.”

Halakha Should Be Understandable to All

“The general rule guiding me is that Torah mitzvot should be understandable to all Jews in a way they can fulfill them without all types of doubts and always having to ask rabbis impractical questions. Because if people always have to ask about every detail, only a few will fulfill the halakha correctly. That being the case for the entire Torah, all the more so in a practical and everyday matter that affects every family and individual. Beyond that, Torah knowledge elevates and inspires every Jew, enabling him to implement his full talents in all areas of all his pursuits – for the glory of Torah, the Nation, and the Land. This is the reason God gave his Torah to the entire nation of Israel, so the words of Torah would be understood by all, and not just scholars. Only in this way can the Jewish nation fulfill its mission to reveal the word of God in the world, and be a blessing to all families of the earth.”

The Need to Delve into the Fundamentals

“In some areas I had to delve deeper into the fundamentals of the issues, either because reality has changed, or because sometimes the poskim of previous generations referred mainly to their local traditions and the opinions of their ethnic group, and less to the traditions and poskim of different communities and distant places. Today, having merited the ingathering of millions of Jews from the four corners of the world, and the different ethnic groups are marrying one another, it is our duty to learn the minhagim (customs) of all ethnic groups and poskim collectively, to understand the common halakhic foundation, and while carefully safeguarding the various traditions, endeavor to join together the halakhic branches, in the tradition of the Talmedei Chachamim (Sages) of Eretz Yisrael, who treat each other graciously when engaged in halakhic debates (Sanhedrin 24a).”

The Yeshiva Har Bracha Institute

“By the grace of God, over the years, significant Torah scholars have developed in Yeshiva Har Bracha, who understand how to clarify revealed tradition from its very foundation till the offshoots of all its branches in recent generations. It is a great privilege for me to thank my close partners in examination of the issues, led by Rabbi Maor Kayam shlita, head of the Yeshiva Har Bracha Institute, who accompanies me throughout the learning. Thanks to his special talent and diligence, together with his deep understanding of my approach of halakha and its writing, his assistance in solving the issues is enormous. As head of the institute, he has taught and mentored members of the institute – Rabbi Yair Weitz, Rabbi Ephraim Shachor, Rabbi Danny Keller, and a recent participant, Rabbi Aharon Friedman – so they can also help clarify the issues. From the very first chapter of the laws of kashrut, their great contribution is evident. Thanks to them, it was possible to encompass and clarify complex issues, taking into account all the hundreds of explanations and responses they dealt with, especially in the issues of shratzim (insects) and the kashering of utensils.”

The Contribution of the Residents of Har Bracha

“A special thanks to the residents of Har Bracha. Thanks to them, I encounter practical questions from all areas of kashrut. In addition, in the regular classes I give every Shabbat to both men and women, hundreds of participants have learned along with me all the issues of kashrut, have heard the questions and the ambiguities, and contributed important ideas and information. Even the residents’ fathers and mothers who visit the community and participate in classes contributed from their personal experience, and from traditions of their predecessors according to their various ethnic groups. Likewise, over the years, a number of scientists and specialists in various academic fields have emerged within the Yeshiva and its academic/Torah study program ‘Shiluvim’, who also contributed to the book.

Readers of Revivim

“I also gained knowledge from responses of readers of my newspaper column ‘Revivim’, especially the contributions of scholars in various fields of science, who added important information in understanding the issues and actuality.”

Here, I will add that sometimes thanks to readers’ comments and questions, I realized that the explanation I had written was misunderstood, that it created confusion between related halakhic areas in which perhaps was a mistake, or a proof that I thought was clear, was not to various Torah scholars. Thanks to all of this, I endeavored in the book to explain the halakha’s more accurately, and to base them on stronger foundations.

A Memorial for Tzuri Hartuv z”l

I further wrote in the introduction: “This book is dedicated to the elevation of the soul of my beloved cousin, Tzur Hartuv, who passed away suddenly in the darkness of the night of Tevet 5779 at the age of fifty-eight. He left behind his widow Yehudit and their five children. Tzuri, who was born in Bnei Brak and established his home in Efrat, was a graduate of Or Etzion Yeshivot, Merkaz HaRav, and Har Etzion. He was a dedicated employee in the insurance field, beloved by his friends, a community volunteer, set times for Torah study, and like his father, may he live a long life, served as the shaliach tzibbur (cantor) on Shabbatot and Yamim Nora’im. He was fond of Hasidic and Israeli music, played organ at weddings and poetry evenings, and pleased God through his voice and actions. Tzuri was the first to encourage me to write the laws of kashrut, emphasizing that the public at large, and even graduates of yeshivas, do not properly understand the complex issues of kashrut. Almost every time we met, and after each book was published, he mentioned that he was still waiting for hilchot kashrut. When the first volume was published, he said that indeed it was a start, but he was still waiting for a clarification of the main issues. To our dismay, now that the book has been published, all we can do is dedicate it to his memory. May his soul be bound up in the bond of life, and may he continue to serve as a shaliach tzibbur in his prayer, for his entire family and Israel.”

Being Meticulous about Chalita when Hosted

Q: I am a Sephardic Jewish woman, married to a Yemenite. From what I understand, for Yemenites, chalita (koshering by boiling) of meat is an actual halakha, and not a minhag or chumra (stringency). For that reason, as a Rabbi instructed us, we are careful about this even when we are guests. Can we act leniently and fry schnitzel in deep oil on a stove, or does it require chalita specifically? And is the chumra necessary even when we are guests?

A: Yemenites who are meticulous to perform chalita at home, do not have to be machmir about it when they are guests. I will briefly discuss the issue.

In the opinion of Rambam, Ra’ah, and Ritvah, melicha (salting) is only effective in extracting blood from the outer side of meat, but not from the inner parts. Therefore, after melicha of meat and rinsing, the salted meat must be scalded in boiling water, so that all blood remaining in it will be solidified in the meat and can no longer be secreted while cooking, for as long as the blood cannot be secreted, it is considered dam averim she’lo parash (non-excreted blood of limbs) which is not prohibited. And if chalita in boiling water was not performed on the meat, the red liquid that issues out of it on its own, or as a result of cutting the meat, is prohibited due to the prohibition of eating blood. And if the meat was cooked, since in cooking liquids are secreted from the meat and re-absorbed, the meat would be prohibited.

However, in the opinion of the vast majority of poskim, after meat has been salted properly, the red mohal (sap) secreted is permitted, because it is not considered blood, but rather “chamar basar” (meat wine). Therefore, after salting, the meat is permitted to be cooked, because all liquids secreted are kosher.

In practice, as guests, even those who are machmir should act leniently for two reasons. First, the machloket (controversy) concerns a law based on Divrei Chachamim (rabbinic ordinance) since blood that has been cooked is forbidden from Divrei Chachamim alone, and therefore, when the vast majority of poskim are lenient in a law d’Rabananbe’sha’at ha’tzorech (in times of need) one should rely upon them and act leniently. And certainly, when one is a guest, it is considered a sha’at ha’tzorech.

In addition, some poskim say that the obligation of chalita according to the opinion of Rambam is only when melicha was done to the meat for only eighteen minutes, but if the meat is put in salt for an hour as is customary today – all the blood is secreted or solidified in the meat, and even according to Rambam, it is unnecessary to perform chalita on the meat in boiling water afterwards (Aruch HaShulchan, Y.D. 69: 36-40). And although many have disagreed with this s’vora (logical argument), since the law is from Divrei Chachamim, even Yemenites accustomed to be machmir and perform chalita on meat, may rely on it in times of need. And there are some who rely on this l’chatchila (from the outset).

The General Attitude towards Chalita

It is worthwhile noting that most of the Badatz kashrut organizations are lenient in regards to chalita, but it would be appropriate for the mehadrin hechers to be machmir, seeing as chalita is one of the most important chumra’s in the halakha’s of kashrut.

In our yeshiva, I asked the cook to always perform chalita on meat, so that everyone would be included in the enhancement of the mitzvah according to method of Rambam, and the Yemenite minhag.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. The article in Hebrew appears here: https://revivim.yhb.org.il/

Relying on the Kashrut of a Host

A clarification of last week’s article: In clear and firm minhagim practiced in entire communities, one should be machmir even when hosted by someone who does not hold by that minhag * There are three firm minhagim: eating only glatt kosher meat, Ashkenazim not eating kitniyot on Pesach, and eating only bug-free leafy vegetables grown in special crops, or soaking them in water with soap * Other minhagim, which are either a hidur or chumra, do not undermine the halakhic rule: when hosted by a “kosher” Jew who follows halakha, one should trust his kashrut * In the case of chalav nochri and avukat chalav nochri, the regular kashrut of the Rabbinate is in accordance with halakha

Summary of the Law Concerning Eating at a Friends House

Last week, I dealt with those who are accustomed to beautify the mitzvah of kashrut by buying products that have Mehadrin kashrut, how they should behave when hosted by a friend or relative who keeps kosher according to halakha, but does not meticulously buy products with Mehadrin kashrut, rather, settles for regular kashrut of the Rabbinate. I responded that the guest should rely on the host and eat his food, because regular kashrut follows halakha, according to halakhic rules. And although there is virtue in the hidurim (beautifications of the mitzvah) that take into account opinions of poskim who are machmir (stringent), we have learned from the words of our Sages on several issues that it is more important to increase peace among the Jewish people, and to respect halakha (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 38:8).

However, concerning clear and firm minhagim practiced by entire communities, and whose members do not budge from them unless forced to due to illness, there is room to be machmir even when they are guests. There are three firm minhagim: 1) those accustomed to always eat glatt meat, 2) Ashkenazim who do not eat kitniyot on Pesach, 3) those careful to eat only leafy vegetables from special insect-free crops, or to soak them in water with soap and rinse well. (In contrast, they should not be machmir with cooked food containing leafy vegetables because of safek safeika (a double uncertainty) (Rashba, as brought in Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 23:7)

Correction from Last Week’s Article

Some people asked questions stemming from a mistaken sub-heading, which stated that the firm minhagim a guest should keep are “well-known minhagim identified with certain ethnic groups, such as kitniyot and glatt kosher meat.” This title, however, is misleading, for I did not write that one should be machmir because of the minhag of an ethnic group, rather, because they are firm minhagim practiced by entire communities.

However, when people are machmir not to eat other products with regular kashrut certification, which according to the accepted halachic rules of all ethnic groups and poskim are kosher, they act in contradiction to halakha, and harm the honor of Torah and halakha, by treating kosher products as non-kosher.

What Distinguishes the Three Minhagim

Some readers asked: After all, in addition to the three minhagim, there are other chumra minhagim, for example avukat chalav nochri (dry milk powder derived from milk that has not been milked under the supervision of a Jew). Why shouldn’t a guest be machmir in these chumras as well?

Answer: I wrote three minhagim because of a combination of two considerations: one, the extent of the minhag’s firmness, and their halakhic weight. Indeed, the minhag of kitniyot on Pesach is relatively minor in weight halakhically, but from the aspect of the minhag’s validity, it is extremely firm, since for more than six hundred years all Ashkenazim are extremely careful to safeguard the minhag. On the other hand, from the aspect of its halakhic weight, eating glatt kosher meat is the most severe of the halakha’s of kashrut, therefore, although it is not so firm in the minhagim of ethnic groups, it is correct for those who are always careful to eat glatt to do so as well, even when they are guests. As for leafy vegetables, I debated, for on the basis of its halakhic weight, it is a chumra intended to solve a safek d’rabbanan (a rabbinical uncertainty), since from the Torah, shratzim (insects) are batel b’shishim (halakhic nullification of a substance if mixed into another which is sixty times greater in volume). And yet, since this is an important chumra that many people are always careful to keep, I added it.

Ignorance in the Chumra Not to Eat Regular Kashrut

However, the other minhagim of hidur and chumra, both on the basis of their halakhic weight and firmness, cannot undermine the halakha that regular kashrut certification is kosher, and cannot undermine the principle that a Jew who is hosted by a “kosher” Jew, should respect and rely on him in matters of kashrut.

Indeed, there were some readers who argued – how can we trust the kashrut of the Rabbinate “upon whom doubts have been raised”, and in the opinion of many poskim “should not be relied upon”, or a private kashrut body from abroad that the Rabbinate approves, although abroad, “many people refrain from relying on it.” However, once again the question must be asked: What exactly are the claims against regular kashrut? Are these claims that, in accordance with the rules of halakha, cause these foods not to be kosher?

To this end, I have turned to my readers twice, asking to inform me about problems they are familiar with. For the third time: Is there anyone who knows of a claim based on facts, as a result of which regular kashrut should be designated not kosher?

In the meantime, however, claims of the machmirim against products manufactured in factories with regular kashrut stem from ignorance, for such people do not know the halakha, and consequently believe that regular kashrut is lenient beyond the boundary of halakha. This is incorrect; regular kashrut is in accordance  and within the boundary of halakha.

Indeed, someone who beautifies the mitzvah of kashrut and takes into consideration the methods of the machmirim is clearly virtuous, however, it is forbidden for them to invalidate regular kashrut and undermine the rules of halakha, for if so, their gain is cancelled by their loss.

Example: The Claim about Chalav Nochri

Many readers wrote me that regular kashrut should not be relied upon, since it depends on opinions of individual poskim, for example Rabbi Feinstein’s opinion regarding chalav nochri, despite the fact that most poskim are machmir, and therefore it should not be relied upon except in sha’at dachak (time of need).

This is a clear example of ignorance. I will summarize the issue:

Our Sages forbade Jews to consume milk milked by a non-Jew, lest he mixed-in the pure milk, impure milk (Avodah Zara 35b). However, when a Jew supervises that the non-Jew does not mix impure milk in the pure milk – the milk is kosher. And the intention  is not that the Jew maintains absolute supervision, rather, that he supervise in such a way that the non-Jew fears mixing-in impure milk with pure milk (Avodah Zara 39b; S.A., Y.D. 115:1).

The Law When there is No Concern of Mixing Impure Milk

Is supervision required when there is no concern impure milk will be mixed-in? Many opinions were stated in this issue, but in general, they can be divided into three methods:

The first method is divided into several opinions. The lenient poskim claim that for a non-Jew who does not have an impure animal in his flock, the milk he milked is kosher (‘yesh omrim’ in Mordechai; Tashbetz 3:143). Some say that only if there is no impure animal in the entire city, or that impure milk is more expensive, the milk milked by a non-Jew is kosher (Pri Chadash 115:6; Chazon Ish, Y.D. 41:4). This was the custom in most of the communities of North Africa (Otzar Ha’Michtavim Vol. 3, 1,392).

The second method: The prohibition is practiced even when there is a very remote concern, and this was the custom in Eretz Yisrael and Turkey (Chida, Birchei Yosef 115:1, and so wrote Chochmat Adam (67:1): “Everything the Chachamim decreed, even in a situation of remote concern, nevertheless it is forbidden.” This is also what Beit Meir wrote, Avnei Nezer (Y.D. 101), Aruch HaShulchan (115:16), and others (and safek in Radbaz, 4:75, whether the first or second method).

The third method: In the opinion of Chatam Sofer (Y.D. 107), this prohibition was decreed for any milk milked by a non-Jew, consequently, even if there is no concern that it contains impure milk, milk that is milked by a non-Jew is prohibited. This is the opinion of Melamed L’Ho’eil (36:4). And in our times, this was the ruling of Chelkat Ya’akov (Y. D. 34), Minchat Yitzhak (9:25), and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l.

In summary, in the opinion of the vast majority of poskim, only when there is a real concern, or even a remote one, that the non-Jew will mix impure milk in the pure milk, the milk he milked without supervision is forbidden. Consequently, according to the rules of halakha, the halakha is in accordance with the matirim (lenient poskim), both because they are the majority, and also because the machloket (controversy) is in Divrei Chachamim (rabbinic), in which case halakha goes according to the lenient opinion.

Discussion on the Strict Opinion

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote (Igrot Moshe, Y.D. 1: 47-49) that even according to the strict opinion, in law-abiding countries, cow milk milked by non-Jews is kosher, since government supervision is as effective as Jewish supervision. And just as when a non-Jew fears that a Jew will catch him if he cheats – his milk is kosher, so too, a company that fears that if caught cheating will receive a fine and its reputation will be damaged – its milk is kosher. This is the accepted practice of the OU, the most widespread kashrut organization in the United States.

On the other hand, there are machmirim who argue that government supervision is not as effective as Jewish supervision, for two main reasons: 1) perhaps the supervision is not tight enough; 2) supervision must be done specifically by a Jew (Chelkat Yaacov, Y.D. 34; Mishneh Halakhot 4:103).

Discussion of the Strict Opinion on Avukat Chalav

Regarding avukat chalav nochri (non-Jewish milk powder), more poskim are of the opinion that even according to the strict method, there is no prohibition, since the entire basis of the method of the machmirim is that it is a decree of the Chachamim that applies even when there is no concern that the non-Jew will mix in impure milk, but the decree applies only to milk, and not milk powder. This was the opinion of Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank (Har Tzvi, Y.D. 103), Zaken Aharon (Vol. 2, Y.D. 44), D’var Yehoshua (Vol. 3, Y.D. 17-19), Beit Avi (Vol. 1, Y.D. 92), Yaskil Avdi (Vol. 5, Y.D. 4), and Tzitz Eliezer (16:25). On the other hand, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu (Ma’amar Mordechai, Vol.1, Y.D. 4) and Binyan Av (5:47) were machmir, and Shevet HaLevi also inclined to agree (5:59).

Summary

In light of what we have learned, since today there is absolutely no concern – even one in a thousand – that in the cow milk of large company’s impure milk will be mixed-in – in the opinion of the majority of poskim, the milk is permitted, and consequently, milk powder made from it is also permitted. And according to the rules of halakha, one does not have to take into consideration the opinion of the machmirim. First, because the opinion of the vast majority of poskim is to be lenient. Secondly, even within the opinion of the machmirim, some poskim hold that nowadays in supervised companies, and kal ve’chomer (all the more so) regarding avukat chalav, the lenient opinion should be followed. Third, even if the poskim were equally divided, since it is a din d’rabanan (rabbinic law), halakha goes according to the lenient opinion (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 30:4-6).

The Rabbinate Hechsher

What are the standards of the Rabbinate’s regular kashrut hechsher today? Regarding chalav nochri, since it is very easy to be machmir in Eretz Yisrael, they are accustomed to be stringent according to the opinion of the machmirim, and do not give kashrut to chalav nochrim, even when there is absolutely no concern that impure milk was mixed in. However, regarding avukat chalav nochri, in which there is a certain difficulty to be machmir, seeing as it is included in numerous products that come from abroad – the Rabbinate gives regular kashrut, according to the method of all the lenient poskim, and according to the method of the lenient poskim in the explanation of the method of the machmirim.

Here is an example of what I have written, namely, that the Rabbinate’s regular kashrut is in accordance with halachic law, and even beyond so when there is no difficulty to be machmir.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. The Hebrew version may be found at: https://revivim.yhb.org.il/

Beautify Kashrut, But Not at the Expense of the Host

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

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

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

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

Trust the Host

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

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

The Torah Commandment: Mutual Trust

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

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

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

Peace is More Important

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

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

Should One Inform the Guest?

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

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

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

The Practical Halakha

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

Machmirim Who do Not Eat Standard Kashrut

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

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

The Aim of Separation

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

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

Extreme Chumras

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

Standard Kashrut is Kosher

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

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

When Eating at the Home of One’s Religious Parents

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

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

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

The Difference between Standard and Mehadrin Kashrut

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Stringencies

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

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

Private Kashrut Bodies of Ethnic Groups

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

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

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

Fundamental Disagreements

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

Kashrut Certification in Factories

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

The Problem in Restaurants

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

It is Recommended to Prefer Restaurants with Mehadrin Kashrut

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

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

Reliability of a Restaurant Courier

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

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

An Expired Kashrut Certificate

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

Which Hechsher to Prefer

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

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

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