"The Twilight of Rabbi Kook" (Part 1)

His Personality

There have been scores of Torah giants in recent generations, but the
stature of none compares to that of Rabbi Avraham Isaac HaCohen Kook,
may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing. His genius was
astounding – there was no field of Torah study that he had not
mastered. His recall was astonishing – great scholars related that no
matter what Torah subject they discussed with him it would appear as
if he had just recently learned the issue in depth. Not only was he
versed, sharp, and innovative in the arenas of Talmud and Halakha, he
was at home in all areas of Jewish thought: Bible, Midrash,
philosophy, and mysticism. On top of all this, he was unmatched in
piety and righteousness, and his entire existence was dedicated to the
service of the Creator. Rabbi Kook was a mighty figure who fought for
truth and was willing to put himself on the line for the sake of Torah
It is not uncommon for extreme brilliance to result in strange
character traits, but Rabbi Kook was friendly and pleasant, so much so
that all who knew him were captivated by his warm character. He was
both intellectual and emotional, sharp and poetic. He possessed a rich
inner life, while at the same time was very active spiritually and
publicly on behalf of the Torah, the nation, and the land. That all of
these talents could reside together harmoniously in one soul is itself

The Respect of His Contemporaries

The descriptions brought thus far were not expressed by Rabbi Kook’s
disciples alone. The great Torah leaders of his time also attested to
these facts. Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer once said to the famed Rabbi
Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky from Vilna, “The two of us are considered Torah
giants until we reach the door of Rabbi Kook’s office.” When he
participated in rabbinic envoys within Israel and abroad, other great
rabbis joined him: Rabbi Epstein, Dean of the Slobodka Yeshiva and the
Rabbi MiKubna, author of “Dvar Avraham”, yet it was clear that Rabbi
Kook was the most prominent among them.
The Gerer Rebbe admitted that Rabbi Kook remembered the writings of
his father, the “Sefat Emet” even better than he himself. The renowned
and learned Kabbalist, author of “Leshem Shvo VeAchlama,” said of
Rabbi Kook that there was no Torah secret that he was not aware of.
It is told of a certain rabbi who was immersed in the study of
Kabbalah and was having trouble finding the source of certain writings
in his possession, that he turned to the leading mystics in Jerusalem
but they could not help him. He was surprised when they suggested that
he speak with Rabbi Kook, for he could not believe that Rabbi Kook,
who as Chief Rabbi was so busy with public issues and Halakhic
inquiries from morning until night, would be able to identify the
material at hand; but the rabbi did.

Once, a youngster who was studying at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva High
School was having doubts about his future direction of study and he
turned to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurbach for advice. The student said
that perhaps because the majority of Torah leaders do not agree with
the path taken by Rabbi Kook, it would be more appropriate for him to
follow the path of the majority. Rabbi Aurbach responded, saying,
“What are you talking about? In the time of Rabbi Kook, the majority
of Torah giants were all as if nothing compared to him.”
Rabbi Kook conducted the marriages of both Rabbi Shlomo Zalman
Aurbach, zt”l, and Rabbi Elyashiv, shlita. He was their rabbi. Rabbi
A.I. Kerlitz, the “Chazon Ish,” addressed Rabbi Kook as “our royal and
respected Rabbi.”

His Unique Path – Torah and Redemption

Going far beyond matters connected to the Rabbinate, Rabbi Kook
addressed the difficulties of the day. He was very familiar with the
philosophical and cultural winds of his generation and examined them
from the perspective of the Torah. With astounding depth and
comprehension, he knew how to size up the various philosophies
collectively, find the positive points in each one of them, and
uncover their holy roots. Rabbi Kook possessed a unified, all-
inclusive vision of things: he found harmony among the many sides of
the Torah, the many factions within the Jewish people, and the many
periods in history. Only a genius and righteous individual of his
stature, bound to the One God could truly see the unity in all, and,
as a result, pave wonderful paths and clarifications toward the
rectification of existence.
Many were aware of Rabbi Kook’s greatness and righteousness, but few
understood that his teachings contained a comprehensive solution for
contemporary crises. He understood the very sources of those forces
which were bursting forth and exploding in the modern age – the Jewish
Haskala (“Enlightenment”), nationalism, freedom, and creativity, and
he was able to discern the good and bad in them, forging a path for
correcting them.

The Torah on "Unilateral Disengagement" (Part 2)

“No land shall be sold permanently”

The Torah also warns us, “No land shall be sold
permanently” (Leviticus 25:23), and the Ramban, basing himself upon
the teachings of the sages, learns from here that it is forbidden to
sell to a gentile any land which belongs to a Jew. The reason that
this is forbidden is that such an act results in the land’s not
returning to its original Jewish owner in the Jubilee year (Ramban,
Mitzvoth Lo Ta’aseh 227). It follows that it is forbidden for the
state of Israel to give portions of our ancestral inheritance to non-

No ruler or government in the word has the right to displace even a
single Jew from his home in the land of Israel. The Almighty God has
given this land to the nation of Israel and every Jew has a portion in
it. No government in the world wields the authority to steal the lot
of even a single Jew, uprooting him from a home which he bought or
built in accordance with the law. It follows that any agreement which
calls for the eviction of Jews from their homes is prohibited.

Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that according to the Ran (see
Nedarim 28a) the rule “Dina D’Malkhuta Dina” (Lit., “the law of the
kingdom is the law”; a Halakhic principle which says that Jews must
obey the laws of the state in which they live) applies in the lands of
the exile alone. The reason for this is that in these countries the
land is the property of the kingdom, and one is hence obligated to
abide by the laws and ordinances of the country in which he resides.
But, says the Ran, in the land of Israel, which belongs to the entire
nation of Israel, there is no halakhically-based obligation to comply
with the laws of the government. Only under a Jewish state in the land
of Israel, because it has the status of a “King of Israel,” is there a
requirement to conform to the laws.

Most authorities, however, hold that “Dina D’Malkhuta Dina” applies
even in the land of Israel, for public consensus is what gives the
government its authority to rule and promulgate laws. This is the
opinion of both Rambam and Shulchan Arukh. Nevertheless, all agree
with the basic assertion of the Ran, that the land of Israel belongs
to the entire nation of Israel, and, hence, that no government
possesses the authority to uproot Jews from their ancestral

Life-Threatening Danger

According to the sages of the Talmud (Eruvin 45a) and the eventual
ruling of the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 329:6), any concession to an
enemy, even a slight one, constitutes an endangerment to life. The
sages therefore taught that in a situation where enemies attempt to
steal even “straw and stubble from a boarder settlement,” Jews must go
out and attack them. The reason for this course of action is that if
adversaries are allowed to get away with straw and stubble, our power
of deterrence will be weakened, and, in the end, neighboring peoples
will undertake to capture settlements and murder people. And even if
they come to steal on the Sabbath, the life-threatening danger
involved makes it necessary to desecrate the Sabbath and carry out an
armed response.
If, then, for mere straw and stubble the sages forbade making
concessions because of the eventual life-threatening danger involved,
it goes without saying that handing over entire settlements is out of
the question. Such behavior will greatly kindle the motivation of the
terrorists to murder. Indeed, the aftermath of the infamous Oslo
accords have unfortunately already proven the correctness of the logic
which underlies this ruling. The Oslo navigators promised peace for a
hundred years, and instead caused us more than a thousand deaths and
intensified worldwide anti-Semitism.

Desecration of God’s Name

Because the cession of territory which our enemies demand is backed by
strong international pressure, submitting to these forces and
relinquishing the land which God Himself bequeathed our ancestors and
ourselves will render us guilty of desecrating God’s name. We are
therefore enjoined to oppose all such anti-religious coercion.

Levels of Sanctification and Desecration

Any commandment which is carried out publicly has the effect of
sanctifying God’s Name. Such an act hence possesses great value, for
the entire purpose of creation is to reveal God’s majesty in this
world. On the other hand, transgressions carried out in public
constitute a desecration of God’s name and their severity is therefore
much greater than those carried out in private. There exist varying
degrees of sanctification and desecration of God’s name. The greater
publicity an act receives the greater the amount of sanctification or
desecration God’s Name receives.
The most famous Torah commandment in the world is the commandment to
settle the land of Israel. The nations have only a vague concept about
what is implied by kosher food or Sabbath observation, but they all
know that the Almighty has promised the land of Israel to the Jewish
people. It is written numerous time in the Bible, and the Bible is the
most important and popular book in the world. The entire world knows
that God promised the land of Israel to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and
their offspring. All are aware that God, through His prophets, has
declared that the Jews will eventually return to their land.
Therefore, when, thanks to God’s abundant kindness, the state of
Israel was established, God’s Name was sanctified greatly in the eyes
of the nations, for the words of the Prophets were fulfilled. When,
again, we merited liberating Jerusalem, as well as Judea, Samaria, and
Gaza, God’s name was once again sanctified; it was as if the entire
world heard the blast of the “shofar” (ram’s horn).
There could be almost no greater desecration of God’s Name than our
now relinquishing portions of our sacred homeland. All of the news
programs would focus in on it. The entire world would be made aware
that God’s children agreed to give away portions of the holy soil
which God Himself had given them as an eternal possession. Therefore
we must exert ourselves to the utmost so that the words of the
prophets be fulfilled and this terrible desecration of God’s Name be

May It Be God’s Will

May God bless all of the dedicated activists working to protect the
settlements in Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights, and may it be
God’s will that we all merit seeing the fulfillment of the words of
the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 65:18-24): “Be glad and rejoice forever in
that which I create, for, behold, I create for Jerusalem a rejoicing
and for her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem and joy in
My people and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor
the voice of crying…and they shall build houses and inhabit them;
and they shall plant vineyards and eat the fruit of them. They shall
not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat:
for as the days of a tree shall the days of My people be, and the
chosen ones shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not
labor in vain, nor bring forth for confusion, for they are the seed of
the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them. And it shall
come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are
yet speaking, I will hear.”

The Torah on "Unilateral Disengagement" (Part 1)

The Commandment to Settle the Land

The commandment to settle the land of Israel requires that we conquer
the land. It is thus written, “Possess the land and settle it, for I
have given you the land in order that you take possession of
it” (Numbers 33:53), and our Sages explain the expression “possess” to
imply the conquest and establishment of Israeli sovereignty in the
land. Moreover, this commandment remains binding upon us in all
generations (Ramban, Hosefot LeMitzvat Aseh 4). Shulchan Arukh concurs
with this position (Even HaEzer 75), and Pitchei Teshuva (ad locum, 6)
adds that all authorities are in agreement upon this law.
It is true that for many generations we have not merited the privilege
of fulfilling this precept because we have lacked the military
capacity needed to conquer and defend the land. Yet, as soon as such a
capacity is achieved we are obliged to occupy the land. Hence, it goes
without saying that it is prohibited to relinquish any part of the
land to another people.
It is clear that the commandment to settle the land overrides the
possibility of any life-threatening danger to individual lives, for we
are enjoined by the Torah to conquer the land – and war, by its very
nature, involves loss of life. It follows that regarding the
obligation to settle the land of Israel any posed threat to individual
Jewish lives is not considered a deterrent (Minchat Chinnukh, 425).

“Do not allow them to reside in your land”

In addition to the more general Torah commandment to take possession
of the land of Israel, the Torah warns: “Do not allow them to reside
in your land” (Exodus 23:33). The Rambam (Hilkhot Avoda Zara 10:6)
explains that when we have the power it is forbidden to allow any non-
Jew to reside in our land (with the exception of a “Ger Toshav” – a
resident alien who has accepted some of the laws of Judaism).
Torah authorities, though, are divided over the question: To whom does
this prohibition apply? Some hold that only a non-Jew who, before a
court, professes faith in the God of Israel and takes upon himself to
observe the seven commandments of Noah’s descendants, is considered a
Ger Toshav who is permitted to live in Israel. Others are of the
opinion that even if one does not accept these responsibilities before
a court, so long as he does not worship idols and upholds the seven
Noahide laws, he is not prohibited from living in Israel.
According to the latter opinion, good and amiable Muslims are
permitted to live in Israel, because Islam does not embrace idolatry.
Arabs, though, who are hostile towards us clearly do not fulfill the
seven Noahide laws, for they fail to recognize the God of Israel who
has given us the land of Israel. In addition, such Arabs support
terrorists, thereby violating the Noahide prohibition against murder;
and they also refrain from establishing courts of law which will try
these terrorists, which is also one of the seven Noahide commandments.
While it is true that some early authorities are of the opinion that
the biblical injunction, “Do not allow them to reside in your land”
applies exclusively to the “seven nations” (Hittites, Girgashites,
Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites, and Yebusites), the majority
take it to apply to any gentile who fails to uphold the seven laws of
Noah’s descendants. This being the case, according to the two main
opinions brought above, it is forbidden for a ruling Jewish government
to allow Arabs who refuse to accept Jewish sovereignty to live in
Israel, and it goes without saying that it is forbidden to present
them with land where they will be able to increase the number of non-
Jews who do not uphold the Noahide laws.

“No Consideration”

The Torah also exhorts: “…do not give them any
consideration” (Deuteronomy 7:2), and the Sages interpret this to mean
that it is forbidden to provide non-Jews with any sort of foothold
upon the soil of the land of Israel (Avodah Zara 20a). This
prohibition compliments the previously dealt-with proscription against
allowing them “to reside in your land”: it is the obligation of the
entire Jewish people to uphold the “residence“ prohibition; the
“foothold” prohibition, on the other hand, warns each and every
individual Jew not to sell a house or lot of land to any non-Jew who
is not a Ger Toshav. It follows that it is forbidden to give any
portion whatsoever to Arabs who do not uphold the seven Noahide laws.
Regarding this interdiction there is consensus among authorities that
it applies to all non-Jews and not just to the “seven nations,” and if
it is forbidden to sell them a single house, how much more so to give
them large portions of the land of Israel.

"Saving Another's Life"

Thou shall not stand aside when mischief befalls your neighbor

The Torah commands one to save someone who is in danger. As the Torah
also obligates one to return lost items to a neighbor “and you shall
return it to him” (Dvarim 22:2), even more so is it a mitzvah to save
another persons life. The Talmud in Sanhedrim (73a) asks a question
“From where do we know that if your neighbor is drowning, or some wild
beast is about to devour him, or he is about to be murdered by bandits
that one is obligated to save him? The Torah says “Neither shall you
stand aside when mischief befalls your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:16).

The mitzvah of “Loving your neighbor as you love yourself” was
considered by Rabbi Akiva to be a fundamental principle in the Torah
because it is the basis for good relations between one another and
promotes a healthy society. In addition to this mitzvah the Torah
delineates two other mitzvoth pertaining to human relations: 1)”and
you shall return it to him” and 2)”Thou shall not stand aside when
mischief befalls your neighbor.” It is not enough for one to smile at
his neighbor and declare one’s good feelings toward him, the Torah
demands that one take this relationship a step further and assume a
concrete responsibility for his neighbor’s welfare.

Therefore, if a Jew is in mortal danger it is forbidden to stand aside
and be apathetic, rather one needs to take every possible action
necessary in order to save his life. If each Jew would act in this way
and all of the Jewish nation would feel a mutual dependence on and
responsibility for one another, the nation would subsequently be
better able to deal with the dangers it encounters from its enemies.
The goal of a united Jewish state would then be more easily
established which would provide the basis for a more perfect world, as
the prophets envisioned, and for the ultimate redemption.

Does The Rescuer Need To Endanger His Life?

An important question concerning “Thou shall not stand aside when
mischief befalls your neighbor” is: To what extent does one need to
carry out this obligation in order to fulfill the mitzvah? In other
words, what is the halacha (Jewish law) in regards to putting oneself
in danger in order to save the life of another person? Does the
mitzvah only apply when there is no danger to one’s own life? If, for
example, a person should see his friend drowning in the river and it
is clear to him that by trying to save his friend he will probably
drown himself, is he obligated to try to save him anyway?

There are two approaches to this question. The first approach includes
those who feel that the mitzvah “Thou shall not stand aside when
mischief befalls your neighbor” is the same as all the rest of the
mitzvoth in the Torah in that a Jew is meant to live by the Torah and
its mitzvoth and not to die by them. It, therefore, follows that just
as one need not endanger himself in order to fulfill other mitzvoth,
one is also not obligated to risk his life in order to save another
person’s life. However, it is clear that one should not be overly
cautious with this mitzvah at a time when someone else is in a life
threatening situation. Just as one is often willing to take calculated
risks for the sake of one’s profession or in order to make a living,
one should take some risk to save a fellow Jew. Some jobs require one
to climb to great heights, while others need to sail to the far seas
or handle dangerous substances. Still others will take small risks to
save their possessions from a fire. Even more so is it required to
take such risks with one’s life when attempting to save another from a
life threatening situation. The tractate in Sanhedrin (73a) confirms
that one should be willing to endanger himself to some extent in order
to save another’s life, by doing such acts as jumping in a river to
save someone who is drowning, or warding off wild predators or
bandits, even though all of these acts involve some form of danger.
The idea of not being too cautious with this mitzvah is carried even
further as it is stated in the Petchei Tshuva (Chosen Mishpat 426,
Mishne Brura 329:19) that one who is overly cautious will eventually
find himself in a similar dangerous and life threatening situation
(‘mida kneged mida’) with nobody willing to take even a small risk to
save him. A person is not obligated, however, to save his fellow Jew
if it puts him in great and possibly even mortal danger, for the
mitzvoth of the Torah are for the Jewish nation to “live by them.” A
great danger is defined as a situation where a normal person would not
be willing to risk his life, even to save all his possessions (Rabbinu
Yonah, Schulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 329:8).

The second approach to this question regarding “Thou shall not stand
aside when mischief befalls your neighbor” regards this mitzvah to be
different from the rest of the mitzvoth because it involves saving a
human life. It therefore obligates taking great risks and entering
into great danger in order to rescue another person from sure death.
This obligation would apply regardless of whether or not a normal
person would take great risks upon himself or enter into great danger
in order to save all of his possessions. For, in any case, if it is
necessary to put one’s life in danger to save a fellow Jew, one must
do so. However, the conditions for endangering one’s life for the sake
of saving another depends on if the chances are good that the rescue
will be successful and both will live. If, however, there is only a
fifty percent chance that both will live then one is not obligated to
save a fellow Jew’s life (Beit Yosef Choshen Mishpat 426).
According to the halacha that was determined for this mitzvah, one is
only required to risk his life in as much as any normal person would
do so in order to rescue his possessions. However, according to the
attributes in the performance of acts of kindness one should risk his
life to rescue another Jew if there is more than a fifty percent
chance he will succeed.

These opinions and laws relate to saving an individual’s life.
However, if the community is in great peril, one should not make these
considerations. In order to be victorious over the enemy one may need
to sacrifice one’s life regardless of the chance of success or failure
that is involved. At times, the individual is required to put his life
in great danger for the sake of the greater public’s well being. This
mitzvah is performed in times of war when each individual of the
Jewish nation is obligated to risk his or her life in order to save
the land of Israel from its enemies. (see “Btzava Kihalcha”, chap. 15,
Tzizt Eliezer 13:100).

Let us conclude by thanking God that we are witnessing the revealed
end of days in which the land of Israel brings forth its holy fruits,
the process of the ingathering of the exiles is being realized and the
land is being settled. All the trials and tribulations that the Jewish
nation is facing are just the pain that accompanies the process of
acquiring the land of Israel. Such troubles and pains help purify the
nation in reaching its ultimate goal of establishing a complete Jewish
existence in the holy land. Therefore, we need to learn and delve into
matters concerning the land of Israel and the different roles these
matters play in the world. The Jewish nation needs to use all its
capabilities to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel as
well as to continue to pray to God for a hastening of the redemption.
The prophecy will then be fulfilled: “For, lo, days are coming, says
the Lord, when I will bring back the captivity of my people Yisrael
and Yehuda, says the Lord: and I will cause them to return to the Land
that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it” (Jeremiah
30:3). “Therefore fear thou not, Oh my servant Yaakov says the Lord;
neither be dismayed , Oh Yisrael: for lo I will save thee from afar
and thy seed from the land of their captivity and Yaakov shall return,
and shall be quiet and be at ease, and none shall make him afraid
(Jeremiah 30,10). Thus, the Jewish nation’s true hidden nature will be
revealed, as it says: “Thy people shall be all righteous: they shall
inherit the land for ever.” (Isaiah 60:21).

"The Laws of Chanukah"

When discussing the festival of Chanukah, it is very important to
relate to the unique character of the holiday. The halachah that will
perhaps help us best accomplish this is the law that deals with the
issue of meals on Chanukah – i.e. is there an obligation to serve a
festive Chanukah meal or not?

The Rishonim were divided on this issue. According to the Maharam of
Rotenburg, there is no mitzvah to serve a special Chanukah meal since
the holiday was not established as one of feasting and drinking – but
rather one of Thanksgiving and Praise alone. This is also how the
Shulchan Aruch rules. In contrast, both Rambam (Maimonedes) and
Maharshal maintain that there is a positive rabbinic obligation to
serve festive meals on Chanukah.

According to all opinions, there is clearly not the obligation on
Chanukah to eat and drink in the same manner as we are mandated to do
on Purim. The question, though, is why? Levush explains that Purim
involved a decree by Haman to completely physically obliterate the
Jewish people; as such, it is fitting to celebrate the physical
survival of our nation by engaging in the physical pleasures of eating
and drinking. Chanukah, however, is a celebration of the victory of
the Jewish spirit over the pressure exerted by Hellenistic culture
(the Greeks issued decrees against the performance of numerous Torah
commandments). Therefore, the main focus of Chanukah is spiritual, to
give thanks and praise Hashem, Who helped us preserve our religious

In practice, the later rabbis (“Acharonim”) ruled according the view
of the Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles), who ruled that there is a mitzvah
to serve festive meals on Chanukah, on condition that they are held in
a “spiritual” framework, i.e. a meal filled with words of Torah, songs
and praises to God…

Two separate customs – Ashkenazic and Sephardic – exist regarding the
lighting of Chanukah lights – or, more precisely, the number of
“Chanukiot” (candelabras) that should be set up in each home. It’s
interesting that in this instance, the general pattern of Jewish
custom is not followed; in this instance, the Ashkenazic communities
follow the view of one of the most prominent Sephardic rabbis, the
Rambam, whereas the Sephardim follow the approach of the school of the
Tosafot and the Ashkenazic scholars.

There is another point worthy of mention – and that is, that there are
three ways to fulfill the mitzvah: The performance of the basic
mitzvah, “Mehadrin” ( the practice of those who beautify the mitzvah),
and “Mehadrin min Hamehadrin.” (an even higher-level beautification of
the mitzvah.)

To fulfill the basic mitzvah, it is sufficient to light one candle per
home on behalf of all members of the family; even on the eighth and
final day of Chanukah, this practice is acceptable. But if one wishes
to beautify the mitzvah, each person in the home should light one
candle on each night.

To perform the mitzvah in the most ideal way (“Mehadrin min
Hamehadrin”) one must add one additional candle for each successive
day of Chanukah, to express the graduated intensification of the
miracle. This is to recognize that yet another day of the holiday has
passed, to commemorate the fact that a small vial of oil continued to
burn uninterrupted, and did so for eight days!

Differing customs developed regarding this practice: One custom
maintained that each member of the family should light a separate
Chanukiah, and add candles for each night; the other practice had only
one person, the master of the house, light a Chanukiah with an
additional candle on each night.

Sephardic custom determines that only the master of the house lights
the Chanukiah, adding a candle each night, while Ashkenazic
communities have each family member light a Chanukiah; in the latter
custom, family members are careful to distance their menorahs from one
another, so that each candelabra is distinctly visible, such that the
number of days that have passed since the beginning of the festival
can be clearly visible to the observer. In Ashkenazic custom, grown
women are not accustomed to light their own candles, but a woman is
permitted to if she so wishes; she can even recite a blessing when she
lights. Young girls are accustomed to light with a blessing.

Women have a unique custom of refraining from performing melacha –
acts of creative labor – while the Chanukah candles are burning. In
light of this custom, it has been asked whether or not women are
therefore allowed or prohibited from preparing the traditional jelly
donuts and potato pancakes immediately after candle-lighting.

(We should clarify that the question relates only to the first half
hour after the candles are lit, because, after that time, there is no
legal requirement for the candles to remain lit – and it is even
permissible at that point to extinguish them. Therefore, it is obvious
that a woman may do acts of melacha after the first half hour. The
question, however, remains about the permissibility of cooking
immediately after the candles are lit.)

Two reasons have been offered as to the basis of the custom that women
refrain from acts of melacha after candle-lighting: One is to prevent
them from using the light of the candles for their work. (The Chanukah
candles may only be observed, but not used for reading, work, etc.)
The second reason offered is that since the miracle of Chanukah was
initiated by a woman named Yehudit – whose courage led her to behead a
commander of the enemy forces – women have a higher-level obligation
to celebrate the holiday; for women, then, the holiday is elevated to
the level of a classic, Torah-commanded festival, during which melacha
is prohibited.

If the first reason cited is the main one for the prohibition of
melacha, then any labors that require the light of a candle would be
prohibited for the first half hour after the candles are lit; if the
second reason is the definitive one, the laws of Chanukah would not be
more serious than those of Chol Hamo’ed (the intermediate days of
Sukkot and Pesach) during which it is permissible to cook, but is
forbidden to do laundry or sew. Former Chief Shephardic Rabbi
Moredechai Eliyahu rules according to the second reason; in his view,
therefore, it is permissible for women to bake and cook while the
candles are burning.

However, families accustomed not to do melacha during this time period
should continue to follow their present custom, since they have
apparently taken upon themselves the custom according to the first
reason. One who does not know of an existing family custom may cook
right after candle-lighting, and refrain from melachot forbidden on
Chol Hamo’ed such as laundry, sewing, etc.

All oils and wicks are basically kosher for use on Chanukah, unlike
the rules governing Shabbat candles. Regarding the latter, the Mishna
asks, “With which wicks and oils can we light and with which can we
not?” The reason for the distinction is that the light of the Shabbat
candles is meant to be used; if the candles do not light well, there
is a concern that one will come to adjust the candles so that the
candles burn better; this would constitute a desecration of Shabbat.
Thus the sages forbade using, for Shabbat, wicks and oils that do not
burn well. Such is not the case with Chanukah candles, the light of
which may not be used, but only observed. Therefore, all that is
needed is a candle that will stay lit for a minimum of a half hour.

Nevertheless, the Rema writes that it is preferable to use olive oil
for Chanukah, since the miracle of Chanukah occurred with olive oil;
using olive oil, therefore, is a more accurate commemoration of the
miracle. Many still use regular wax candles since their light is
generally brighter and since such candles are often easier to work

A new issue has been raised in modern times – Is it possible to
fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukiah with electric light
bulbs? The general consensus among the later rabbis is that electric
lights cannot be used. Various reasons were given for forbidding their
use – one of the central ones is that Chanukah lights must be similar
to those in the Beit Hamikdash (Temple), and an electric light is not
similar to the lights in the Temple Menorah.

The place that the sages established for performing the mitzvah is the
left hand side of the entrance to one’s home, on the outside of the
house; the goal is that all passersby see the lights and remember the
miracle. This special location applies to a home whose door faces a
public thoroughfare. If a person, however, lives on the second storey
of an apartment block, though, it is preferable for him to light in
the window facing the street.

The Chanukiah must be placed at a height of three to ten handbreaths –
between 24 and 80 centimeters off the ground. Why? If the candles are
placed any higher, people may think that the candles were lit to light
the entry-way to the house. If one places the candles too low, it may
seem as if he has placed the candles there only temporarily, and plans
to soon move them. Placing them between 24 and 80 centimeters off the
ground, however, makes it clear to all who view the Chanukiah that the
candles were lit for the purpose of the mitzvah and to publicize the

This is all the preferred way to perform the mitzvah, but if one
unwittingly placed the candles either lower than 24 or higher than 80
centimeters, he has still fulfilled the mitzvah.

There are some instances in which it is preferable to place the
Chanukiah higher than 80 centimeters; for instance, if a person does
not have the proper glass case that would allow him to place his
Chanukiah outside, a situation in which, if he places it less than 80
centimeters from the ground inside the house, only family members
inside the home will see the candles. If he places them on the window
ledge, however, the miracle will be publicized to all passersby. In
this case, it is advisable to place the candles on the window ledge so
that both family members and passersby may see them.

"Chanukah Candles and Domestic Peace"

Our sages have ruled that the Chanukah candles must be lit at that
hour which allows for maximum publicity of the Chanukah miracle. In
the past, there were no street lamps and people would begin gathering
in their homes just before nightfall. At sunset, then, the streets
were full of people returning home. Therefore, the sages ruled that
the time for lighting Chanukah candles is “from sundown until the
marketplace has emptied out” (Shabbat 21b).
Even though today we have electric lighting and most people return
home hours after darkness, the best time for lighting Chanukah candles
is still the time chosen by the sages.

Lighting Late

Is it permissible, when necessary, to light the candles later than
this time? If it is difficult for a person to return home at nightfall
(e.g., where one must work until seven o’clock), he may light candles
and recite the accompanying blessings when he gets home from work. It
is true that according to the Rambam the time for lighting Chanukah
candles is specifically during the half hour after sunset. However,
according to most opinions, when the sages said that candles must be
lit after sundown, they meant ideally, but it is possible to light
candles after this time as well if necessary.
Furthermore, even those authorities who hold that in the past the
candles had to be lit precisely during the half hour after nightfall
explain that this was because everybody returned home from work at
that time and lit Chanukah candles in the entrances of their homes. In
those days the miracle could only be publicized at that hour. However,
since the period of the Rishonim (early Torah authorities, tenth-
fifteenth centuries, C.E.) when danger caused many to begin lighting
candles inside their homes, the real publicizing of the miracle takes
place in the presence of the family members, and it no longer matters
if one lights at nightfall or later.
In addition, in recent generations people have begun to return home
from work later, and as a result we find people walking around outside
for a few hours after nightfall. Therefore, even if a person lights
Chanukah candles at seven o’clock, passersby will be able to see. As a
result, when necessary, it is possible to light Chanukah candles later
than the time originally laid down by the sages.

However, great effort should be made not to delay the lighting of
Chanukah candles beyond nine o’clock, for very few people return home
from work after this time. One who lights candles late must be careful
not to eat a meal (achilat keva) until lighting the candles.

A Delayed Spouse

In many families the question arises, what should be done when one of
the spouses cannot return home from work at nightfall? Should the
other spouse light candles at nightfall (about 5:00 p.m.) or wait for
his or her partner to return?
According to the letter of the law, the spouse at home should light
candles at nightfall and discharge his or her partner of this
obligation. However, in practice, it is usually best to wait for the
tardy spouse to return. In general, any one of the following three
reasons justifies postponing candle lighting until the spouse has
1. Where the absent spouse will be unable to hear the candle lighting
blessings in a synagogue or elsewhere it is best to wait for him or
her to return home. According to the Rambam and Rashi, when lighting
candles at home one discharges all family members, even those not
present, of their obligation to light candles, but one who does not
hear the “She-Asah Nisim” blessing has not fulfilled his or her
obligation to thank God for His miracles. Therefore, if the tardy
spouse will not be able to hear the candle lighting blessings at all,
it is best to wait for him or her.
2. If a tardy spouse is liable to be offended or hurt if the candles
are lit without him, it is best to wait. Maintaining domestic
tranquility is more important than lighting Chanukah candles at the
choicest time.
3. Where there is reason to believe that if the spouse at home does
not wait for his or her partner, the absent partner’s attachment to
the commandments will be weakened, it is best to wait. This
consideration exists when a partner returns home late daily, for if he
or she misses the candle lighting every day or almost every day, his
or her connection to this religious obligation is liable to be
In sum, then, only where the tardy partner can hear the candle
lighting blessings elsewhere, and his or her absence is a one time
occurrence, is it preferable for the spouse at home to light candles
at the choicest hour, nightfall.
Under other circumstances, though, it is best to wait for the partner
to return. At any rate, when waiting for the partner, the candle
lighting should not be put off until later than 9:00 P.M., and family
members must refrain from eating a meal (“achilat keva”) from half an
hour before nightfall until after the Chanukah candles have been lit.

According to Ashkenazi custom, the spouse at home may light candles at
nightfall and intend not to discharge the absent partner of his or her
obligation, so that upon returning the partner can light the candles
and recite the blessings on is or her own. However, it is not
necessary to do this, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with
waiting for the partner to return (for one or more of the reasons
mentioned above).

Tardy Children

Should the lighting be delayed for tardy children? The Sephardi custom
is that one family member lights for all of the others. Therefore, for
one of the three reasons mentioned above, it is necessary to wait for
any family member above bar- or bat-mitzvah age who is unable to reach
home at nightfall. According to the Ashkenazi custom, though, the
candles should be lit at nightfall, and when the tardy son or daughter
arrives, he or she lights the candles and recites the blessings on his
or her own.

"The Educational System's Failure and its Reasons"

Not too long ago, the results of a comparative study between the level
of education in Israel and in other advanced countries were published.
They were unimpressive to say the least. The educational level of
Israeli students is on the downfall in comparison to other advanced
In response to this report, popular media analysts focused their
attention, as usual, upon irrelevant factors. For the most part, they
opted to blame the impending cuts in the education budget rather than
make an effort to get to the roots of the problem. For one thing, cuts
have not yet taken effect, while the results of this study reflected
last years developments; furthermore, the education budget in Israel
is comparatively higher than those in most Western countries.

The truth of the matter is that the problem is a social-ideological
one, and not connected to Israel’s spending budget.
For generations upon generations, the Jewish people have given
scholarship precedence above all else. The scholar was considered the
most honored individual in society. The wealthy considered it a
privilege to have their daughters marry scholars. Jewish education was
never based upon schoolwork alone; it was first and foremost a family
affair – the Jewish family has traditionally related to scholarship as
the most important of values. Even non-observant Jewry, during its
first and second generations, continued to relate to study with honor.
Yet, now, in the third generation, things have changed.

When the life objective becomes going out on the town, buy clothing,
traveling abroad, gourmet restaurants, dancing all night, and
returning drunk in the early hours of the morning, it should come as
no surprise that the majority of our youth prefer television, movies,
drinking, dancing, partying, and unbridled freedom over study.

Parents who lead a life of freedom and irresponsibility, expressing
themselves in vulgar language and adorning themselves in immodest
clothing, chain-smoking, drinking beer and coffee, and wasting their
time with self-centered leisure and all sorts of nonsense, should not
expect their child to turn out modest, honest, educated, and
intelligent. The child merely imitates his parents. Adults who are
insolent towards those who are better and wiser than they and laugh at
jokes which desecrate all that is treasured and sacred, are later
shocked that their children are disrespectful toward them and their
teachers and are unwilling to accept authority. They do not hesitate
to blame the government for not investing enough money in “education.”

In the past, Torah teachers were poor. The children would gather in
the teacher’s house and he would educate them from morning until
night. This “classroom” also served as the bedroom, kitchen, and
living room of the teacher’s family. In the center of the room the
children sat and studied Torah, and on the side, the teacher’s wife
would sew, cook, and take care of the small children. Sometimes even
the goat and rooster would come inside the very same room in order to
warm themselves and eat the scraps of leftover food….In the midst of
all this, Jewish children studied Torah and grew to become learned,
pious, and gentle Jews. Though they lacked adequate formal conditions,
they possessed respect for scholarship.

"The Woman and Her Commandments" (Part 1)

Men and Women – Mutually Complementary

Essentially, men and women are created equal and both are graced by
the divine image through which every human being is created. Likewise,
the unalterable chosenness of the Jewish people and their innate
holiness embraces men and women alike. The Torah was given to the
entire nation of Israel regardless of sex. The Sages learn from the
verse, “These are the laws which you must place before them” (Exodus
21:1) that “Scripture made man and woman equal with regard to all of
the laws in the Torah” (Kidushin 35a).

However, one cannot disregard the specific differences between man and
woman. Physically and mentally, God made each unique, and their
obligations as far as religious observance is concerned are also
disparate (women, for example, are exempt from positive time-bound
commandments). These differences allow man and woman to compliment one

In order to allow divinity to become manifest in the world, it is
necessary that there be two complementary channels at work. Each
individual creature is limited and therefore lacks the capacity to act
as a vessel for divine perfection. But through the body of the
congregation of Israel, divine perfection becomes disclosed in the
world. This is what makes the unity of Israel so important. Only the
nation of Israel with all of its component parts is capable of
receiving the Torah and using it to rectify the world.

Because of the difference between the souls of individuals different
meanings may be derived from the words of the Torah, as it is written,
“God spoke one, I heard it as two” (Psalms 62:12). It is also written,
“Like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces” (Jerimiah 23:29), and
on this verse the Sages explain that “just as [the rock] is split into
many splinters, so also may one biblical verse convey many
teachings” (Sanhedrin 34a). They also explain that “just as a hammer
is divided into many sparks, so every single word that went forth from
the Holy One, blessed be He, split up into seventy languages” (Shabbat
88b). And as they said with regard to the disputes between the schools
of Hillel and Shammai and all other disputes between the Sages, “Both
[opinions] are the words of the living God” (Eruvin 13b).

Existence’s most significant expression of reciprocation is that which
exists between male and female, by which man is able to reveal the
inner divine image and to achieve consummation. This is true not only
of humanity but of all realms of creation; from the most sublime and
lofty spheres down to our own worldly existence there is a division of
male and female and each sex is unable to exist independently without
being complemented by the other.

This fundamental principle is dealt with extensively in Kabbalistic
literature. This is what Rabbi Elazar meant when he said that “any man
who is without wife is not a man, as it is written ‘Male and female
created he them. He blessed them and named them Man’ (Genesis
5:2)” (Yevamot 63a). The Sages similarly teach us that “any man who is
without wife lives without joy, without blessing, without
goodness . . . without Torah . . . without a [protective]
wall” (Yevamot 63a).

Just as the differences between male and female are what allow them to
marry and reproduce, so do their spiritual and mental differences
allow them to unite, complement, and stimulate each other spiritually.
In light of all this, it is possible to understand somewhat the
fundamental reason for the differences between men and women with
regard to religious observance.

Exempt from Time-bound Positive Commandments

The plain and accepted explanation for the fact that women are exempt
from time-bound positive commandments is that this dispensation allows
them to fulfill their role – to build the family household. The woman
bears the great responsibility of building up and sustaining the
family, and it is the family upon which our individual and national
future rests. This responsibility stems from her inborn nature, the
woman’s capacity to give birth and breast-feed. Their feminine and
motherly nature also contains the special traits which make them
suited for building and nurturing the family.

Often, the responsibility of running the house and raising and
educating the children demands a devotion which continues all hours of
the day and the night. Were women given the responsibility of
fulfilling time-bound commandments, the fulfillment of which calls for
stopping one’s ordinary flow activities, they would not be capable of
duly caring for their families (Abudraham and Sefer Hasidim).

It is possible in this manner to explain also the reason that women
are exempt from the commandment to study Torah. Torah study demands
extreme self-sacrifice, both in the early years of life when one is
busy acquiring the fundamentals of study, and also later throughout
ones entire lifetime when one must set aside ample time each day for
studying Torah. Were women obligated to study Torah, they would not be
capable of dedicating themselves to the building of the family.

While clearly women must study so that they be able to live according
to the Torah, they are not obligated to learn Torah analytically and
scrutinizingly in order to achieve theoretical depth. Thus, women are
relieved of the ongoing pressure which accompanies the men who are
commanded to dedicate themselves to constant progress in the
understanding of Torah.

From here we can understand just how important the family is. Women
have been exempted of the obligation to study Torah and of all of the
positive time-bound commandments in order to nurture the family.

It should be added that the very ruling which declares women exempt
from the study of Torah and all of the positive time-bound
commandments implies that women are by their very nature less in need
of them, and that they are able to achieve spiritual consummation
without them (see Yalkut Shimoni, Shmuel 78). Accordingly, it is
possible to understand why even a woman who bears no domestic yoke is
released from these commandments

"Marriage, Plain and Simple"

When to Break the Glass

There is a Jewish custom to break a glass during the wedding ceremony.
This is done so that Jerusalem’s destruction not be forgotten in our
moment of joy. Regarding when exactly the glass should be broken there
are different customs. According to many opinions the time for
breaking the glass is at the conclusion of the seven marriage
blessings; i.e., at the end of the wedding ceremony.

Many later authorities, on the other hand, say that the glass should
be broken just after the actual consecration, before the reading of
the Ketuba (marriage contract).

The accepted custom, however, is to follow the majority opinion and to
break the glass after the blessings. There are some who express
surprise at this practice. They ask: How is it that we break the glass
at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony and then shout “Mazal Tov!”
How can we shout “Mazal Tov” just after recalling the Temple’s ruin?
My father and mentor once told me that this practice in fact makes
perfect sense. Only after we recall Jerusalem’s destruction are we
able to truly express our joy. If we forget Jerusalem our happiness is
not complete. Our joy is no more than wild behavior that divorces us
from the true meaning of life. With the Temple in ruins as it is and
so much suffering in the world, it would appear that there is no room
whatsoever for celebration. After all, God’s purpose in creating the
universe was to reveal Himself through creation. If God’s abode, the
Temple in Jerusalem, sits in ruins, then the purpose of creation
remains unfulfilled. In such a situation what can we possibly be happy

God created the world so that He would be able to bestow some of His
goodness upon us. With so much suffering in the world, so much
falsehood, deception, exploitation and violence; in a world where the
evil succeed in getting the upper hand and the righteous are made to
suffer, what reason could we possibly have to be happy?

By recalling Jerusalem we attach our joy to the divine truth. Marriage
is not detached from the need to strive for perfection. To the
contrary, marriage itself contributes to the process of rectification
and perfection of the world. It constitutes a partial reconstruction
of Jerusalem. This being the case, it is most fitting that such joy be
expressed on behalf of the bride and groom. In addition, it makes
sense for us to wait until after the glass has been broken to shout
“Mazal Tov!”

“If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem..”

There is a very beautiful custom wherein all those gathered around the
wedding canopy sing, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand
forget its cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to
the roof of my mouth; if I do not place Jerusalem above my highest
joy” (Psalms 137:5,6). Incidentally, until recently there was a
certain tune to which everybody was accustomed to singing these
lyrics. Lately, though, the younger generation prefers a new tune
which was written by the acclaimed master of Jewish song, the late R’
Shlomo Carlebach.

Personally, I prefer the older tune. True, R’ Carlebach’s tune is
mellow and pleasant, and it expresses feelings of yearning and
longing, but it does not contain the dramatic emphasis of the old
tune. The dramatic emphasis of the older tune gives fitting expression
to the awesome splendor of the oath, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its cunning.. If I do not remember thee, let
my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.” It is like a kind of anthem
to which the entire congregation stands and repeats the oath.

I do not know what the feeling is like in the audience. I am usually
under the wedding canopy with the families. From what I have been able
to see, whenever the old tune is sung the eyes of those who stand
around the bride and groom well up with tears. People stand
attentively and seriously and recall Jerusalem. They recall the
destruction of the Temple, the hardships encountered on the path to
its reconstruction, the holy individuals who have been killed in wars
and terrorist attacks, the orphans and widows. Against the backdrop of
the wedding’s splendor, tears well up over every conceivable hardship;
prayers go up on behalf of Jerusalem’s speedy restoration and for the
rectification of God’s creation.

When the newer tune is sung, though, one does not encounter tears.
Neither the parents nor those gathered around the couple nor the
newlyweds shed any tears.
True, there is nothing that says that one must shed tears. The main
thing is not to appear outdated, conventional. The youngsters might
the impression that we are not “with it.” That, after all, is the main
thing, that people not suspect us of being old-fashioned.

Maybe in a few years even the new tune will take on an “old”
character, stirring up moving memories of weddings gone by; maybe it
too will bring tears to eye. Perhaps young brides and grooms will
again opt for a newer tune. At any rate, I am in favor of the old
tune, especially when it is sung at the wedding ceremony.

“Ayin HaRa’” – “The Evil Eye”

Some brides and grooms today wish to add a unique touch to their
wedding. For example, some grooms wish to sing a special song to their
bride. They may choose to do this when the crowd is on the dance
floor. I even heard of one groom who sang under the canopy during the
marriage ceremony.

When people ask my feelings about this, I advise the bride and groom
to avoid standing out and not to deviate from tradition. All eyes are
at any rate upon them. They at any rate occupy the center stage. Why
should they try and go out of their way to draw attention? The couple
should do their best to celebrate along with the guests and to receive
their abundant blessings and with love and humility. The more that one
is careful to uphold the traditions of the forefathers, the more one
merits becoming a significant link in the chain of generations.

Conspicuousness leads to what is known in Judaism as “Ayin HaRa’,” the
“Evil Eye.” When one person sees another standing out, he begins to
ask himself, “Is he really as fortunate as he makes himself appear?
Does he really deserve to be so happy?” After all, there are all sorts
of less fortunate individuals in the crowd looking on. There are
single men and woman who long to find a mate; there are widows and
divorced people. One ought to consider their feelings.

The danger of “Ayin HaRa’” is particularly great when the groom goes
out of his way to publicly demonstrate his undying love for the bride.
People begin to ask themselves, “Will his love continue to endure when
he begins to face the difficulties of marriage?”

As unpleasant as it is to admit, if one begins to do a little
investigating one finds that the very couples who were so eager to
demonstrate their love in public later encountered domestic problems.
Sometimes, when I see that the couple’s demonstration of love is
exceptionally conspicuous, I know that within a number of months they
will come to me with serious relationship difficulties. In short, it
is best for a couple not to make too prominent a show of their love
for one another. Love one another modestly and may God bless you with
many pleasant years together.

My father had the following to say about this issue of “Ayin HaRa’”:
It is not necessary to assert that the conspicuous behavior of the
groom at the wedding was what caused (“siba”) the problems which arose
later. It is enough to say that his behavior was an indication
(“siman”). I.e., the fact that he acted in an strange, eye-catching
manner indicated that he was likely to have problems later on.

Who Decides Where the Wedding Will Be Held?

Question: When there is a difference of opinion between the couple and
their parents over the location of the wedding, who has the final
Answer: Obviously, the ideal situation is one in which everybody
agrees on one location. But, in cases where there is a difference of
opinion between the couple and their parents, the rule would appear to
be as follows: If the parents are the ones paying for the wedding (as
is the accepted practice when it comes to young couples), then the
parents must have the last word. They, in essence, are the hosts of
the meal. They invite the guest, they are the ones who sign the
invitations. Therefore, they are the ones to decide. They clearly want
nothing more than to arrange the wedding in a manner that befits the
honor of the bride and groom.

A bit of useful advice for young couples: Let the parents arrange the
wedding. Sometimes the bride and groom think that because they are the
ones getting married, they should be the ones to decide all of the
wedding arrangements. This is not true. It is true that it is the
bride and groom that are getting married; in this regard they cannot
be replaced by the parents. But if the parents are paying for the
meal, then they are the hosts of the banquet and the celebration.
Generally, most of the guest are friends of the parents, and it is
only fitting that they be allowed to feel at home with their
acquaintances. By following this advice the couple will merit starting
off their life together by fulfilling the commandment to honor their
parents. This will also allow them to arrive at the wedding calm and
happy. They are not responsible for everything. The weight of the
responsibility is not on them. Finally, following this path will bring
the parents more satisfaction.

Yet, if the bride and groom are financing the wedding themselves (a
scenario more common with older couples) they have the right to decide
where the wedding will be held, for they are the hosts. Of course, if
the parents voice a particular opinion and the couple accepts it, they
have fulfilled the commandment of honoring parents. All the same, they
are not obligated to follow their parents’ advice, for it is their
wedding and they are the ones paying for it (see Peninei Halakha vol.
4, pp. 154-156).

The Appearance of a Meticulously Observant Jew

Visible Tzitzis (Tassels)

Some time ago, I wrote about complaints voiced by IDF soldiers against
their officers who ordered them to tuck their tzitzis (fringes) into
their pants. Such an order runs counter to the Torah which rules that
the tzitzis should be ever viewable because they remind us at all
times of our Torah obligations. It is thus written , “That you may
look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do
them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes,
which incline you to go astray” (Numbers 15:39).

True, Kabbalistic works state, in the name of the Holy Ari, that the
tallit (small four-cornered garment) should be worn as an
undergarment, but the Magen Avraham (8:13) explains that this ruling
applies specifically to the garment; the tassels, however, must be
visible. And he adds that it is very unlikely that one who keeps his
tzitzis covered has actually fulfilled the commandment.

The soldiers continue, thank God, to fulfill this Torah commandment,
and their tzitzis hang freely from their uniform for all to see,
despite various threats.

The Sephardic Custom

Yet, I was asked: It is well known that the Sephardic custom is to
wear the tzitzis under one’s clothing (as R’ Ovadia Yosef rules in
Yachveh Daat 2:1). Why, then, did I not state that my ruling applies
to Ashkenazi Jews alone?

Answer: First of all, it should be pointed out that this is the ruling
of R’ Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 8:11): “Basically, the
mitzvah of wearing a small tallit involves wearing it over one’s
garments, so that one will see it continually and remember the mitzvot
(commandments). ”Furthermore, our mentor, R’ Tzvi Yehudah HaCohen
Kook, head of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshivah, would encourage his students
to wear their tzitzis outside of their clothing, and he made no
distinction between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews.

However, I was told by R’ David Chai HaCohen, one of R’ Tzvi Yehudah’s
leading students, that he once asked R’ Tzvi Yehudah if his ruling to
wear tzitzis outside of one’s garments applied to him as well, for his
family’s custom (R’ David Chai HaCohen’s uncle was an important Torah
scholar and a faithful follower of the Ben Ish Chai) was to wear
tzitzis under their garments. R’ HaCohen told me that it was clear to
him that he would abide by whatever ruling R’ Tzvi Yehudah gave. R’
Tzvi Yehudah told him that he did not have to wear his tzitzis outside
of his clothing. Based upon this ruling, R’ David Chai HaCohen
instructs his Sephardic students to wear their tzitzis under their

However, in my own humble opinion, it appears to be proper, today,
even according to Sephardic custom, to wear one’s tzitzis outside of
one’s clothing. This is because, in previous generations, North
African and Eastern Jewry were accustomed to wearing a kind of large
shawl which did not allow them to cover their tallit and at the same
time display their tzitzis. They had to choose between wearing their
entire tallit on top of their clothing, revealing everything (in
accordance with Shulchan Aruch) or to conceal everything (in
accordance with the Holy Ari), and they adopted the latter path.

Today, though, we all wear shirts and pants, and there is no problem
concealing the tallit while at the same time revealing the tzitzis,
fulfilling the commandment according to all opinions. And this would
actually appear to be the opinion of the Holy Ari, for he writes that
a person must look at his tzitzis frequently during the course of the
day (Shaar HaKavanot 7:3). My own humble opinion is that because over
the generations people became accustomed to concealing both tallit and
tzitzis, many continue this practice even today. However, in truth, it
is proper to wear the tzitzis outside of one’s clothing.

Furthermore, practically speaking, there is great value in wearing the
tzitzis outside of one’s clothing, for by doing this a person
expresses his allegiance to the Torah and its commandments, and he is
reminded to perform the commandments. This is in keeping with the
plain meaning of the verse, “That you may look upon it, and remember
all the commandments of the Lord, and do them.”

In a secular environment, at work or in the army, it is very important
for an observant Jew to wear something which shows that he is
meticulous about fulfilling the commandments and that he is not
ashamed to perform them in the presence of people who are liable to
make fun of him. By doing this, it becomes easier for him to endure

A person who dresses in a Haredi (ultra-orthodox) fashion, with a
black hat and suit, is less in need of this distinction, for all can
see by his clothing that he is Haredi. In the army, however, this
changes; the tzitzis become important because everybody wears the same
uniform. In the workplace, as well, it is very important for a Jew to
make himself distinct through his tzitzis, the unique garment which
the Torah commands us to wear.


Even if a person generally upholds the Sephardic custom (which goes
back to the time when Sephardic Jews would dress in long shawls) of
wearing his tzitzis under his clothing, when serving in the army it is
best to wear one’s tzitzis outside of one’s clothing, in a manner that
they be clearly visible. The only time one must tuck them in is during
camouflaged training, and, of course, while carrying out operations in
enemy territory.