Background music during Sefirat Ha-Omer

Q: What should a person do if there is background music playing at his work during Sefirat Ha-Omer?
A: He has no choice and he is not obligated to quit his job on account of this. It is called a "benefit which comes to a person against his will" (Pesachim 25b) or in simpler words: "an unintended act." He is not guilty if he hears, but he should not listen. There is a difference between hearing and listening. He may continue to work there.

Shut SMS #17

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner answers hundreds of text message questions a week. Some appear in the parashah sheets "Ma'ayanei Ha-Yeshu'ah" and "Olam Ha-Katan." Here's a sample:
Q: On Erev Pesach during the time for Birchat Ha-Chama (the blessing for the sun), I recited the blessing but did not look at the sun out of a lack of knowledge that this is what I should do? Did I fulfill my obligation?
A: Yes, after the fact.
Q: Is it permissible to get a haircut and shave on Yom Ha-Atzmaut?
A: Yes, it is a holiday. Responsa of Ha-Rav Yitzchak Nissim (former Chief Sefardic Rabbi of Israel).
Q: When should one get a haircut and shave for Yom Ha-Atzmaut?
A: Before Maariv.
Q: Is it permissible to get married on Yom Ha-Atzmaut?
A: Same answer as for getting a haircut and shaving.
Q: Should we recite Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzmaut? With a blessing?
A: Yes (Ruling of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel) with a blessing (Ha-Rav Shlomo Goren).
Q: Should we recite Hallel on the night of Yom Ha-Atzmaut?
A: This is the opinion of Ha-Rav Shlomo Goren, but the majority does not do so.
Q: Is it permissible to listen to music on Yom Ha-Atzmaut?
A: Yes, it is a holiday.
Q: Do our Sages have the authority today to establish new holidays? What is the source?
A: Yes. Shut Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 333. Orach Chaim 208.
Q: Why should we celebrate Yom Ha-Atzmaut when there is so much darkness in our State?
A: We give thanks to Hashem for the light in the State. We cry on Tisha Be-Av for the darkness which still remains from the Exile.
Q: Where is it possible to find halachic responsa regarding Yom Ha-Atzmaut?
A: The book "Hilchot Yom Ha-Atzmaut Ve-Yom Yerushalayim" of Ha-Rav Nachum Rakover.
Q: I am a manager in an international business company. I have a meeting tomorrow with a non-Jewish CEO of an Italian company to close a deal of great importance to my company. Is it permissible for me to shave during Sefirat Ha-Omer before the meeting so that I do not endanger the deal by appearing unkempt?
A: It is permissible.
Q: Is it permissible to shave in honor of Shabbat during Sefirat Ha-Omer?
A: No, but some authorities are lenient.
Q: Is it permissible to listen to music during Sefirat Ha-Omer? What about seeing a movie?
A: Music is forbidden. A movie is permissible if it is serious, kosher and contains appropriate content.
Q: Does a page with B"H in the corner have to be placed in the Genizah?
A: No. It is only an abbreviation.
Q: A couple that lives together is willing to be unofficially married (with being registered with the state). Is this permissible?
A: Private marriages are forbidden according to the Halachah based on the ruling of the Chief Rabbinate and according to the law.
Q: Is it obligatory to write B"H or BS"D at the top of each page?
A: No.
Q: Does one have to observe the mitzvot in space? Shabbat?
A: Yes according to the time and place of the point of departure.

Shir Ha-Ma'alot #3

Psalm recited before Birkat Ha-Mazon on Shabbat and Holidays
Shir Ha-Ma’alot - A Song of Ascents (Psalm 126)

There are those who explain this Psalm homiletically as a conversation between Jews who live in the Land of Israel and Jews who live in the Exile.
The Jews in Exile say: "A song of ascents. When Hashem will bring the exiles back to Zion, we will be like dreamers." We sing and dream for the very day when the Master of the Universe will return us to Zion.
The Israelis respond to them: But this is occurring now. It is already possible to sing. Blessed is Hashem, we are full of rejoicing, "Now, our mouth is filled with laughter, and our tongue with song."
The Jews in Exile comment: Surely, we have heard on the television and radio outside of the Land that the non-Jews praise the great achievements of the State of Israel, "Then it was said among the nations, ‘Hashem has done great things with these people.’"
The Israelis smile: You are telling us? We know. "Hashem has done great things for us, and we rejoice."
The Jews in Exile begin to be convinced: "We should return from our captivity, Hashem, like streams gushing through the Negev." If so, we ask the Master of the Universe to bring us back to the Land with a sudden miracle, like the streams of the Negev which were dry from water and suddenly a mighty stream flows. We are waiting for that moment.
That is not the way it is! Respond the Israelis: The Redemption comes little by little, sowing is laborious, difficult and backbreaking: "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy."
If so, respond the Jews in Exile: We do not concur, we are scared of the difficulties and hardships. "One goes out weeping when burdened with the full measure of seeds." – This is not for us.
Don’t exaggerate, smile the Israelis, it is not so tragic. In total, it is sufficiently pleasant here. "He shall surely come in joy, bearing his harvested sheaves."

Is This the Redemption?

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Tazria- Metzora 5769 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: I’m sick of this country! This isn’t the country we were waiting for. Even the army is no longer the “Israel Defense Forces,” but an operation based on alien ideologies that contribute nothing to the inhabitants’ security. A third of our youth dodge the draft – and not just the Charedim – and they’re right.

Answer: I don’t believe you really think it is fair for some to be killed as soldiers while others enjoy life. I don’t believe you really think we could survive even a moment without the army. And altogether, I don’t believe that you’ve really never heard that the redemption is meant to come gradually. Certainly you heard it, but perhaps you forgot:
“One time, Rabbi Chiya the Great and Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta were strolling through the Arbel Valley as morning approached, and they saw the breaking of dawn. Rabbi Chiya said to Rabbi Shimon, ‘Such is Israel’s redemption. At first it is gradual, but the further it moves along, the faster it is.” (Jerusalem Talmud, at the beginning of Berachot). Countless times I have passed through that area, during the seven years I lived on Kibbutz Lavi in the Lower Galilee, and now, as well, that my daughter lives there in Kfar Zeitim, near the Sea of Galilee. Were Rabbi Chiya to see all of this, he would burst with pleasure and pride at how gloriously Eretz Yisrael is being rebuilt and how plentifully it is bearing its fruits. Indeed, this is one of the points that distinguish the intelligent from the unintelligent: the understanding that there are phenomena that do not occur all at once but involve a prolonged, painful, gradual process.

To what may this be compared? To sunrise. The sun doesn’t suddenly appear out of total darkness. Rather, first comes dawn, the brightening of the east, sunrise, and at noon the sun appears in all its might. It is the same with the start of redemption. Light and darkness intermingle. There are ups and downs, crises and setbacks, difficulties and complications.

And why is that? Would it be too hard for G-d to bring redemption all at once, instantaneously? Certainly not, but such is G-d’s will, that we should be partners in redemption, and such is the nature of people, that they are not angels but just people with weaknesses, mistakes and oversights.

Therefore, if we see problems along the way, we mustn’t despair. We mustn’t think we have erred in our direction. All the questions only prove that our country does not constitute the complete redemption but only its first flowerings. Or, more precisely, we are already at an advanced stage of our redemption process.

One might say: “I can agree to the redemption’s proceeding gradually, but not to its regressing and to our losing what we have already gained.” If so, however, my response is that G-d does not need your consent. Moreover, you’ve forgotten that the Jerusalem Talmud brings as a first example of gradual redemption, the Purim miracle, which began with Mordechai’s exposing the plot against King Achashverosh. Yet one can ask: Wasn’t that success followed by a decree to exterminate all the Jews, men, women and children?

The commentary on Sefer Charedim provides an answer to this: The “gradualness” referred to relates to the increase in light, yet it is also possible that within this process there will be times of great darkness.

You’ve also forgotten that when Moshe came to redeem Israel, at first the situation deteriorated and Pharaoh hardened his decrees, as Ramban explains at the end of Shemot. The rule is this: the redemption is not a sudden burst of light like the moon at midday, but light and darkness in coexistence. We rejoice over that light on Israel Independence Day, and we weep over that darkness on Tisha B’Av, and struggle to rectify it.

Therefore, in the Pesach Haggadah, we seek a “day that is neither day nor night.” We certainly long for a situation of total day, but we know that there is an intermediate situation of neither day nor night, and even for that we cannot possibly offer enough thanks, in comparison to the previous situation that was total darkness. The source is the Prophets, from Zechariah 14:7: “There shall be one day which shall be known as Hashem’s, not day, and not night, but it shall come to pass that at evening time there shall be light.” It shall not be entirely like the future redemption, nor as difficult as the exile (Rashi, Radak).

Don’t worry. We are not stuck half-way through. “Shall I bring her there but not assist in the birth? Shall I begin to assist her but stop? – the word of G-d” (Isaiah 66:9). Rashi explains: “Shall I bring the woman to the birthing stone but not open her womb to remove her fetus? Shall I start something without being able to finish?” Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook writes [with Rav Aviner’s comments in square brackets], “In the end of days, a silent movement has arisen [the Zionist Movement, quietly working to influence hearts and minds] full of strengths and desires, full of contradictions and contrasts, full of light and darkness, and seeking to reach the shore of Jewish salvation. It represents a small light from the light of the Messiah [yet compared to the darkness of the exile, it is an enormous light]” (Orot, Yisrael U-Techiyato 20).

Is this the country we have been waiting for?
Absolutely! It’s not yet total light, but it has a lot of light, and it is getting brighter.

Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzmaut with a blessing

Q: Is it permissible to reciting Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzmaut with a blessing even though the Chief Rabbinate of Israel ruled that it should be recited without a blessing?
A: I heard with my own ears that the Chief Sefardic Rabbi of Israel, Ha-Rav Yitzchak Nissim, said that he once met with that a delegation from the Religious Kibbutzim. and they asked why the Chief Rabbinate ruled to recite Hallel without a blessing. He responded that in truth the Chief Rabbinate needed to do this in order to avoid increasing disputes amongst the Nation of Israel. It is better, he reasoned, that a majority recite Hallel without a blessing than a minority with a blessing; i.e. if we rule that Hallel should be recited with a blessing only a minority of the people will accept this ruling, whereas if we rule the opposite the majority will follow. The delegation then asked him: What about one who wants to recite it with a blessing? He responded: A blessing will come upon him. Ha-Rav Shlomo Goren also ruled that Hallel should be recited on this day with a blessing. Baruch Hashem – Blessed is Hashem, we therefore merit saying Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzmaut with a blessing.

Standing in silence during the siren for fallen soldiers of Tzahal

Q: Is it permissible to stand in silence during the siren on Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers of Tzahal?
A: Some say that it is forbidden on account of "Chukot Ha-Goyim" (following the practices of the non-Jews). This is not "Chukot Ha-Goyim." The Tosafot (Avodah Zarah 11a) define "Chukot Ha-Goyim" as an act rooted in idol worship or devoid of meaning and the Maharik (#88) says that it has a taint of heresy. But it is permissible to do something which non-Jews do if it does not have roots in idol worship and is logical, such as doctors wearing white coats or wearing glasses. Standing in silence for fallen soldiers is therefore not considered "Chukot Ha-Goyim," since it is to honor them. Furthermore, there are no other nations in which the entire nation stands in silence for fallen soldiers.
Others claim that this act is "Bitul Torah" (taking time away from learning Torah). But there is no problem to think about Torah or learn Torah by heart related to the self-sacrifice during that time.
I once saw in the name of the Kabbalist, Ha-Rav Ashlag, that the siren has an aspect of wiping out the memory of Amalek similar to making noise upon hearing Haman's name. If this is so, then there is certainly no problem. It is difficult to agree or disagree since it is not clearly exact how this wipes out the memory of Amalek.
Regardless, the entire community stands in silence for the fallen soldiers and one should not separate himself from the community. There are certainly better paths in our traditions for remembering the deceased – learning mishnayot, reciting "Kel Maleh Rachamim," etc… - but here one should not separate from the community.

Our Rabbi & Yom Ha-Atzmaut

Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook

Our Rabbi greatly valued going out into the streets of the city and participating in the dancing with "Amcha" (literally "your people," an affectionate term for "the masses"). At the end of the celebration he would go to dance in front of the President’s House in order to express his full identification with the Jewish governing body of the State.

On the night of Yom Ha-Atzmaut, our Rabbi would dance from the Yeshiva to Beit Ha-Nasi [the President’s House]. Even though the President was not awake at this late hour, our Rabbi would take this same path indefatigably each and every year. The students pointed out to him that each time that they arrived at Beit Ha-Nasi, the President was sleeping and did not come out to them! To this our Rabbi responded: "What does it matter to me if he is awake or asleep? We are honoring the Kingship, since we have a President!" Furthermore, he always asked the guards to deliver his blessing and the yeshiva’s blessing to the President. He did not pay heed to the fatigue of those around him, rather he emulated the exuberance of Eliyahu the Prophet who would gird his loins and run before the chariot of Achav until they reach Yizre’el, in order to honor of the Kingship (see Melachim 1 18:46 and Menachot 98a).

In the first years after the establishment of the State no party for Yom Ha-Atzmaut was held in the yeshiva. Our Rabbi said: "I am going out to the street to ask people why they are dancing, to initiate conversation, to create a connection with our people. A year does not go by without people returning to faith. This is an evening to be spent with the entirety of Israel." Our Rabbi eventually agreed to have a party in the yeshiva only on the condition that afterwards they would go out and dance together with everyone.

Customs & Laws of Yom Ha-Atzmaut

[Collected from the writings of Ha-Rav Aviner]

1. Tachanun on Erev Yom Ha-Atzmaut
It is proper to recite Tachanun at Minchah of Erev Yom Ha-Atzamaut, as the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has decreed this day "Remembrance Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Tzahal," which is a day of mourning.[1]

2. Standing in silence during the siren on Remembrance Day
This practice is a holy mitzvah of remembering the holy ones who fell.[2] There is no concern of "Chukot Ha-Goyim" (following the practices of the non-Jews) because standing to honor the fallen is a logical practice and has a clear meaning. One who is concerned about "Bitul Torah" (taking time away from learning Torah) during the siren should think about Torah related to the self-sacrifice. One also should not separate from the community.[3]

3. Shaving in honor of Yom Ha-Atzamaut
It is a mitzvah to shave in honor of Yom Ha-Atzmaut.[4] Some students once asked our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, before Yom Ha-Atzmaut if it is permissible to shave for this day. Our Rabbi did not answer. Later he responded: "Tomorrow there will be an exam on your faces." On Yom Ha-Atzmaut he saw that some students had been strict with themselves and had not shaved. He said of them: "Their faces show their character" (Yeshayahu 3:9, i.e. they had not absorbed the true joy of the day). He added: When there is faith, there is joy and when there is joy there are no halachic doubts. How long will we speak out of both sides of our mouths (see Melachim 1 18:21)?! Do we believe in the Revealed Redemption or not?!"[5] Furthermore, it is permissible for a son to shave for Yom Ha-Atzmaut against the will of his parents.[6]

4. Order of Davening
One should daven according to the order of the prayers that the Chief Rabbinate established for this holiday.[7] When a Rosh Yeshiva came to get advice from our Rabbi about hiring a particular Torah scholar in his yeshiva, our Rabbi instructed him to check the order of his davening on Yom Ha-Atzmaut.[8]

5. Hallel with a blessing
One should recite Hallel with a blessing on Yom Ha-Atzamaut.[9] There is no issue here of being disrespectful to the Chief Rabbinate.[10] A Sefardic Jew should say "ligmor" in the blessing instead of "likro" as is their practice on Chanukah.[11] It is permissible for a son to recite Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzmaut against the will of his parents.[12]

6. Reciting Selichot for the first Monday of the Fasts Behab
(Behab is custom in which some people fast on the Monday, Thursday and Monday following Pesach and Sukkot to atone for the possibility that they sinned while eating and drinking during the holiday)
Our Rabbi had the practice to say Selichot as well as Hallel (when Yom Ha-Atzmaut coincided with the fast). He did not see them as contradictory, but as complimentary, since the fast of individuals does not impinge on the joy of the community. Additionally, the Selichot provides an ethical dimension and a more serious character to this day.[13]

7. Singing "Ha-Tikvah"
There is no prohibition against singing "Ha-Tivkah," even though it does not contain a mention of Hashem. If the entire community is singing "Hatikvah" one should join them, since through this act they demonstrate their connection to the Land and State of Israel. Nonetheless, this song is not part of the order of prayers of the day which was established by Torah scholars.[14]

8. Festive Meal
One should eat a festive meal on Yom Ha-Atzmaut; and it is a mitzvah meal.[15]

9. "Magdil" in Birkat Ha-Mazon
In Birkat Ha-Mazon one should recite "Magdil" as on a weekday (since there is no Musaf sacrifice).[16]

10. Music at a Yom Ha-Atzmaut party
It is permissible to play music at a Yom Ha-Atzmaut party; it is also permissible for child to have rehearsals in preparation for Yom Ha-Atzmaut.[17]

11. Tzahal Parade
One should make an effort to attend the Tzahal Parade, as our Rabbi said that anything used for the mitzvah of conquering the Land and the mitzvah of establishing our authority over the Land is holy. There is no issue of "My strength and the might of my hand" (Devarim 8:17), i.e. we performed it and not Hashem. Hashem performed all of these acts through us. This was the practice of our Rabbi[18] [Today, the parade is much smaller on Mt. Herzl at the end of Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers of Tzahal and the beginning of Yom Ha-Atzmaut].

12. Motza'ei (Night after) Yom Ha-Atzmaut
On Motza'ei Yom Ha-Atzmaut, one is required to observe the mourning which is practiced during Sefirat Ha-Omer.[19]

13. Fifth of Iyar which falls on Friday or Shabbat
If the fifth of Iyar falls on a Friday, all of the festivities and holiday prayers for Yom Ha-Atzmaut are moved up to Thursday. According to all opinions, Tachanun is not recited on Friday, since the holiness remains on that day.[20] If the fifth of Iyar falls on Shabbat, everything is also moved up to Thursday, and some say that "Av Ha-Rachamim" and "Tzidkatcha Tzedek" are not recited on Shabbat.[21] Our Rabbi emphasized that a year in which Yom Ha-Atzmaut falls on a Friday or Shabbat (and is therefore moved up to Thursday) is a great sanctification of Hashem's Name, since this is proof that the Jewish State is preventing the desecration of Shabbat.

14. Yom Ha-Atzmaut after Explusions
One should rejoice on Yom Ha-Atzmaut for the Redemption which is already occurring, and one should cry on Tisha Be-Av for the destruction of Yamit, Gush Katif and Northern Shomron, and for all of the deficiencies which exist in the State of Israel.[22] The same applies if there are difficulties in the overall state of the State of Israel.[23]

[1] Iturei Cohanim #97, Shut She'eilat Shlomo 3:147, Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah: Medinat Yisrael #34 p. 7, Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah: Yom Ha-Atzamaut ve-Yom Yerushalayim p. 73, Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah: Eretz Yisrael pp. 264-265
[2] Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, in Techumin vol. 2, p. 388
[3] Shut She'eilat Shlomo 3:145
[4] Shut She'eilat Shlomo 2:144
[5] Iturei Cohanim #52, Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah: Medinat Yisrael #34 p. 4, Sefer Rabbenu p. 204
[6] Iturei Cohanim #186
[7] Shut She'eilat Shlomo 1:280 (first edition) and 2:144
[8] Iturei Cohanim #102
[9] Be-Ahava U-Be-Emunah vol. 1 #111-113
[10] Be-Ahava U-Be-Emunah vol. 1, p. 312. And see Iturei Cohanim #94, Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah: Yom Ha-Atzmaut pp. 69-71 and Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah: Eretz Yisrael pp. 261-263. The practice of our Rabbi was according to the directives of the Chief Rabbinate (he did not recite Hallel with a blessing, according to their ruling, until the time of Ha-Rav Goren when they ruled that a blessing should be recited).
[11] Iturei Cohanim #61 and Shut She'eilat Shlomo 3:148
[12] Iturei Cohanim #186
[13] Iturei Cohanim #30, Tal Chermon: Moadim pp. 147-148 and Shut She'eilat Shlomo 2:145
[14] Iturei Cohanim #44 and Am Ve-Artzo vol. 2 pp. 251-252
[15] Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah: Yom Ha-Atzmaut (5732) #4 and Sefer Rabbenu p. 204
[16] Personal question to Ha-Rav
[17] Shut She'eilat Shlomo 1:214 #6
[18] Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah:Bereshit pp. 382-383, Tal Chermon: Moadim p. 92, Sefer Rabbenu pp. 204-05 and Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah: Eretz Yisrael pp. 268-269
[19] Shut She'eilat 1:169 #1 (first edition) and 1:214 #11
[20] Iturei Cohanim #97 and Shut She'eilat Shlomo 3:146
[21] Talk of Ha-Rav in the yeshiva
[22] Tal Chermon: Moadim p. 210
[23] Iturei Cohanim #106

Shaving for Yom Ha-Atzmaut

Q: Is one obligated to shave before Yom Ha-Atzmaut (since there is a custom not to get a shave during the period of Sefirat Ha-Omer)?
A: Yes, just as one shaves all year long to honor Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to shave in honor of Yom Ha-Atzmaut. Obviously, if a person does not shave his beard at all, he does not do so, but if he generally does so for Shabbat, then he also shaves for Yom Ha-Atzmaut. The same applies to getting a haircut. I remember that some students once asked our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, before Yom Ha-Atzmaut if it is permissible to shave for this day. Our Rabbi did not answer. Later he responded: "Tomorrow there will be an exam on your faces." On Yom Ha-Atzmaut he saw that some students had been strict with themselves and had not shaved. He said of them: "Their faces show their character" (Yeshayahu 3:9, i.e. they had not absorbed the true joy of the day). He added: When there is faith, there is joy and when there is joy there are no halachic doubts. How long will we speak out of both sides of our mouths (see Melachim 1 18:21)?! Do we believe in the Revealed Redemption or not?!"
Q: When should one get a haircut or shave since Erev Yom Ha-Atzmaut is Remembrance Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Tzahal?
A: One should do so a little bit before the holiday begins. For example, if Ma'ariv is at 7:00 PM, he should shave at 6:00 PM.

Selling cigarettes

Q: As is known, smoking is forbidden according to Halachah. Is it permissible for a store owner to sell cigarettes? After all, if he does not do so, he will lose a lot of customers. And what about a worker who is not the owner, is it permissible for him to sell cigarettes?
A: Stores certainly should not sell cigarettes and there is no need to worry about losing business. This is not the only thing which attracts customers. One should not fear and sell items which kill people. Ten thousand people die every year in the State of Israel from smoking and hundreds of thousands are sick and suffer from smoking. Nonetheless, we give someone who does sell cigarettes the benefit of the doubt for various reasons:
1. If he does not sell them, others will. It is therefore not a violation of "Do not place a stumbling block before the blind" which is a Torah prohibition but a violation of "aiding someone who is committing a transgression" which is a Rabbinic prohibition.
2. Furthermore, since the customer is not smoking all of the cigarettes immediately upon purchase but at a later period, it is not considered "Do not place a stumbling block." This is similar to the halachah that it is forbidden to give food to someone who will not recite a blessing before eating. The halachic authorities ask: why doesn't the Halachah mention that it is forbidden to give food to someone who will not recite the Birkat Ha-Mazon, which is a Torah mitzvah (reciting a blessing before eating is a Rabbinic mitzvah)? Answer: The Birkat Ha-Mazon is recited at a later time.
3. There are some authorities who rule that the prohibition of "Do not place a stumbling block" does not apply in business.
4. There are also some authorities who say that that the prohibition of smoking does not apply to each and every cigarette but that smoking in general is a negative trait.
All of these reasons can be added together, and it is therefore impossible to throw stones at one who sells cigarettes. But if someone asks: tell him: Do not sell cigarettes and do not be concerned that on account of this you will not make a livelihood.

Shir Ha-Ma'alot #2

[From the Psalm Recited before Birkat Ha-Mazon on Weekdays
By the rivers of Babylon (Psalm 137)]

"Remember, Hashem, to the Edomites, the day of Jerusalem"
King David saw through the spirit of prophecy not only the destruction of the First Temple by the rivers of Babylon, but also the destruction of the Second Temple by the Edomites, who are the Romans (Midrash Shochar Tov 522 and Targum Yonatan). The “day of Jerusalem” was a horrible and bitter day, the day of the destruction of Jerusalem. How fortunate are we that we have merited the building of the Land of Israel and Jerusalem. The same expression "Yom Yerushalayim - Jerusalem Day," has been transformed from bitterness to sweetness, from darkness to light.

"Praiseworthy is he who will clutch and dash your infants against the rock"
How is it possible to do something so cruel!? Relax, the Children of Israel are the merciful ones, the children of merciful ones, and they never have and never will perpetrate such an act. But non-Jews have surely acted in this way. When the prophet Elisha came to Damascus to anoint Chazel to be king of Aram, he burst into weeping (Melachim 2 8:11). "And Chazel said: Why does my master weep? And he answered: Because I know the evil that you will do to the Children of Israel...and you will dash their infants" (verse 12). And this is indeed what the Babylonians did to infants during the destruction of the First Temple (Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra), as is mentioned in the kinot (lamentations recited on Tisha Be-Av). It is therefore possible to understand our sentiments. The Psalm does not say, however, that we would ever actually do this. In any event, it is better to transform feelings of distress to feelings of anger, and feelings of mourning into feelings of revenge. The Russian writer and thinker Tolstoy was an extreme pacifist. He thought that it was enough to merely have goodwill in order to bring peace into the world and not to use violence even in response to violence. A man asked him: And if you saw someone crushing a baby’s skull? He responded: This would never happen! He did not see the Nazis. With G-d's help, we now have an army, and one who tries to injure one Jewish baby, a million soldiers will rise up against him.

The Prayer for the State of Israel

Q: Is there are obligation to stand for the Prayer for the State of Israel after the Expulsion from Gush Katif?
A: There is clearly no source regarding this matter since it is a new prayer. One can stand or sit, it is unimportant. It does not strengthen the State if one stands and it does not weaken the State if one sits. Each place should act as it desires. It is obviously not connected to the Expulsion from Gush Katif. Even before the Expulsion, there were problems: violations of Shabbat, a problematic system of justice, etc… If the Government is acting inappropriately we should recite this prayer twice. If someone is sick, we pray for him. If he becomes sicker, we pray more. Maran (our revered teacher) Ha-Rav Kook wrote that our Nation is sick, but it will heal. Whether standing or sitting, what is important is that we pray for it to heal. Fortunate is the Nation who loves to argue in shul regarding proper practice instead of arguing over money, riches, glory, etc…

Shut SMS #16

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner answers hundreds of text message questions a week. Some appear in the parashah sheets "Ma'ayanei Ha-Yeshu'ah" and "Olam Ha-Katan." Here's a sample:
Q: What should I do if my baby is crying in bed and I am in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei?
A: It is permissible to go to him without talking.
Q: Is it permissible to travel outside of Israel for "Hitbodedut" (secluded meditation)?
A: Certainly not. It is possible to do so in Israel. Furthermore, one can have inner secluded meditation of closeness to Hashem in thought and emotion surrounded by others as our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, taught (Or Le-Netivotai 189).
Q: What should I do in order to avoid giving into temptation and touching my fiancée?
A: Meet in places where there are many people present.
Q: Is it permissible to learn Torah while I lay on my back?
A: One should learn with fear and awe, i.e. standing or sitting with an awe of holiness. But if a person is tired and needs to lie down, it is certainly proper to learn Torah at that time. One should lay on one's side as much as possible when doing so.
Q: Is there an obligation to kiss the mezuzah each time I pass?
A: No, but it shows a love of the mitzvah.
Q: Is it permissible to wear a piece of clothing made from non-kosher animals?
A: Yes.
Q: Is it permissible to put a backpack with holy books in it on the floor?
A: Yes, the bottom of the bag blocks them from being on the floor.
Q: How many prayers are women obligated each day?
A: Some say all of Shacharit and Minchah. Others say any prayer in any language and any formula each day, and it can be fulfill by reciting the Morning Blessings.
Q: Is it permissible to color Tefillin black with a magic marker?
A: Yes. It is not from a non-kosher animal.
Q: Am I obligated to wash "netilat yadayim" every time I enter the bathroom which contains a shower as well if I enter to do the wash or brush my teeth?
A: No. It is not considered a bathroom like in the times of the Gemara.
Q: Is it permissible to place a Tanach on a Chumash?
A: No. The holiness of the Chumash is greater.

Genuine Spiritual Aids

[from "Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah" – Parashat Shoftim 5769 – translated by R. Blumberg]

People often times turn to Rabbis asking for "segulot" [spiritual aids or shortcuts] to help the sick. Besides going to the doctor, they look for spiritual tricks, recitation of a particular verse, or an amulet, just so there is some change for the better. Unfortunately, they are searching in vain for something that does not exist.

Some will respond: “Who says? My aunt had no children, she used a 'segulah' and now, thank G-d, there are children around her table.” Yet someone else had a childless aunt who used no "segulah," and children were born to her anyway. The fact is that ten percent of barren couples experience spontaneous cures without knowing the cause.

It is impossible to build one’s life on "segulot!" If someone has financial, health, or family problems, the answer is this: “Repentance, prayer and tzedakah ward off the evil decree!” One should pray to G-d, recite psalms, recite the regular prayers printed in the prayer book with feeling, from start to finish. All of this takes great devotion. And, he should repent! Yet people then ask: “How should one repent? Should one pray at the Western Wall?” Certainly the Western Wall is a holy place, but a person has to repent for his sins, those between man and G-d and those between man and man. He should give tzedakah to the poor, increase his kind acts to everybody, to his friends and neighbors, near and far, and to his parents, his children and his spouse. He should give of his money and his advice, his time and his energy. He should visit the sick, etc...

“Repentance, prayer and charity ward off the evil decree!” These are our spiritual resources, and there is no need to look for all kinds of strange things. Where are all of these strange things mentioned? In the Torah? In the Tanach? In the Mishnah? Is it written that when our great Sages had troubles, they used "segulot," with mezuzot and amulets? Where have we heard of such a thing? Not in the Torah, not in the Mishnah and not in the Talmud. Rather, they prayed and they repented and performed kind deeds. “The iniquity of Eli’s house shall never be purged with sacrifice nor offering.” (Shmuel 1 3:14). The Rabbis ask how is it that Abaye and Rava, who were from the line of Eli, lived long lives? They answer that Rava learned much Torah and performed many kind deeds. “A living Torah and lovingkindness” have the power to ward off a decree as harsh as dying young. Torah learning is certainly a genuine spiritual aid.

Our Rabbi & Yom Ha-Shoah - Part 2

In preparation for Yom Ha-Shoah, a Rabbi in a yeshiva for younger students brought a film to show the students which included pictures which were shot by the evil ones during the Holocaust. There were those who sharply criticized the use of this medium to influence the student through images. When our Rabbi was asked about this matter, he responded that one must deepen awareness of the Holocaust in every possible way. (Gadol Shimusha pg. 80)

Our Rabbi said that it would have been appropriate to lay Eichman down on the ground and to have all of Israel step on him and trample him.

He once told his students that he recites "Av Ha-Rachamim" on every Shabbat and even Shabbat Yom Tov, Shabbat Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat Mevarchim (when we bless the new month). The Rabbis established this prayer over the decrees of Tach ve-Tat (Chelminiski Massacres - 5408-5409), and although these decrees were horrible, they were like nothing compared to those of the Holocaust. And although they refrained from saying it on special Shabbatot, after the Holocaust, it is surely appropriate to recite it every Shabbat. As was his way, he did not force the students but rather said: "I recite it, and if this is your desire, act this way." And this is in fact how they acted from then on in our Rabbi’s minyan. He would recite "Av Ha-Rachamim" with great emotion, and many times tears could be seen in his eyes. (Sefer Tzvi Kodesh pp. 240-241)

Changing musical ring on cell phone during Sefirat Ha-Omer

Q: Is it necessary to change a musical ring of a cell phone during the period of Sefirat Ha-Omer?
A: There are two sides to this question: 1. The one who owns the cell phone should ideally change to a ring without music. In the book "Doleh U-Mashkeh" (p. 193), Rav Chaim Kanievsky answers this question that it is best to be careful and change it. If he does not change it, however, it is not an eternal tragedy since it is only a few seconds of music. Furthermore, this is not exactly music, it is a short snipet. 2. If you call and you receive a musical ring, it is called a "benefit which comes to a person against his will" (Pesachim 25).

Naming a girl "Hagar"

Q: Is it permissible to name a girl "Hagar"? Rabbis are divided on the issue. On the one hand, she was righteous and the wife of Avraham Avinu. On the other hand, she is the mother of Yishmael, our bitter and eternal enemy. How then can there have been a Cohain Gadol named "Yishmael"?
A: We do not name children after evil people (Yoma 38b). Tosafot therefore point out that a certain Rabbi in the Gemara is named "Avishalom" and not "Avshalom" (Tosafot to Yoma 38b and Ketubot 104b). Ashkenazim and Sefaradim therefore do not name their children "Avshalom" but Yemenite Jews are not concerned. They thus have many children with the name "Avshalom." They explain that the only important factor is the name itself and the name "Avshalom" (father of peace) is a beautiful name. Why should one evil individual with that name ruin it for everyone else. The name "Yishmael" (may G-d hear) is also a nice name and there were many Torah scholars with that name. The reason is that Yishmael repented (Baba Batra 16b and Rashi on Bereshit 25:9). The Zohar also says that Hagar repented and became righteous, and she married Avraham after Sarah's death (see Bereshit 25a and Rashi). Since Yishmael and Hagar repented, their names are no longer the names of evil individuals and it is permissible to use those names.

Geniza and Recycling

Q: Because of the plethora of parashah sheets and photocopies from holy books, there is so much that must be put in the Genizah (a storage area for holy materials which may not be discarded). Wouldn't it be preferable to recycle them? If we do not, isn't it Bal Tashchit (wanton destruction)?
A: The solution of recycling is a problem since it is forbidden to erase holy works. There are some authorities who permit erasing such works in order to recycle them and to print other holy works. This is considered as erasing in order to write. But it is not certain that recycling paper is less expensive. One needs to remove all of the staples, which is a lot of work, then erase all of the ink and the erasing agent is then deposited in the earth which causes pollution and damage. Furthermore, when they create paper, it is not from regular forests but special forests planted for paper, so it is not Bal Tashchit. The Genizot are certainly packed and we need to find a way to bury them in a manner than does not take up a lot of space.

Tzitzit inside at work

Q: My boss asked me to tuck in my tzitzit claiming that the tzitzit negatively affect my outer appearance. I do not have any additional work opportunities and they will fire me if I do not comply. What should I do?
A: We do not commit a transgression even if we will loss our livelihood. But a person is not obligated to loss his income in order to fulfill a mitzvah. This is mentioned in regard to purchasing an etrog that one should not expend more than a fifth of his resources to purchase a beautiful etrog (Rama, Orach Chaim 656:1). In our case, he will fulfill the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit but not in its fullness since he will not wear them out. In such situations, we do not require one to lose his support of income. Therefore, he should compromise and put the tzitzit out a little in a non-conspicuous manner. For example, he can wrap them around his belt. After all, the authorities write that we should wear our tzitzit out but they do not specify how much. People often have to eat straw to earn a living.

Our Rabbi & Yom Ha-Shoah - Part 1

Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook

Our Rabbi was unable to mention the word "Holocaust" or to talk about the subject without shedding tears. He felt the great loss every time anew, even years after the Holocaust. (Yosi Bitan)

Students asked our Rabbi: The Chief Rabbinate of Israel established the 10th of Tevet as a remembrance of the Holocaust to recite Kaddish for the Kedoshim (holy ones) who perished in the Holocaust, but their date of death is unknown. If so, why did the Government of Israel establish the 27th of Nisan as Yom Ha-Shoah? Our Rabbi responded: One should mourn for the Holocaust every day.

A student who was caring for our Rabbi once sat next to his bed while he slept. Our Rabbi woke up in the middle of the night, sat on his bed and began to sob. The student asked him: "Why is Ha-Rav crying?" Our Rabbi answered: "I dreamt about the Telz Yeshiva which was destroyed in the Holocaust." The student asked: "But Ha-Rav always speaks about the Torah of the Land of Israel…?" Our Rabbi sobbed even harder and said: "What do you know? Where you in Telz? Did you see the greatness and power of Torah?!" Our Rabbi cried until he finally asked for a pen and paper, and he wrote a eulogy for the Telz Yeshiva. He then calmed down and went back to sleep. (Ha-Rav Eli Horvitz hy"d in Me-Emek Chevron, 2 Elul 5762, p. 94)

At times he said: You don’t know Lithuania and the other cities, the yeshivot and the Torah giants that were destroyed.

Once when our Rabbi mentioned the Holocaust he burst out in tears: "And what did it matter to the wicked one that Rabbi Menachem Zemba was alive?! And that Rabbi Hillel Zeitlin was alive?! (Gadol Shimusha pg. 46)

Shir Ha-Ma'alot #1

Rav Aviner's Commentary on Birkat Ha-Mazon

Psalm Recited before Birkat Ha-Mazon on Weekdays
By the rivers of Babylon (Tehillim 137)

Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz, author of the book Sheni Luchot Ha-Brit (known as the "Shelah" after the first letter of each word of his book), wrote: "On weekdays, we are accustomed to recite ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ before the blessing after eating to recall the destruction of the Temple, and on Shabbat and holidays, when we do not recite Tachanun [a prayer recited daily after the Shemoneh Esrei and omitted on joyous days], we recite the Psalm (126), ‘When Hashem will return the captivity of Zion’" (Otzar Ha-Tefillot, 482). Because of our sins we were exiled from our Land, and the purpose of the Exile was to eradicate transgression and to end sin. It is a tragedy when Jews become accustomed to exile, and they feel comfortable there, as occurred in the exile of Spain before the expulsion, or in Germany until the Holocaust. It is a good sign for a person the more he feels uncomfortable in exile, as Maran (our revered master) Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook writes: "All the more difficult it is to suffer the air outside the Land, all the more one feels the impure spirit of an impure land - this is a sign of a greater internal absorption of the holiness of the Land of Israel" (Orot 11).

The Shelah quotes the Zohar: One who has pleasure at his table, and has pleasure from the foods, he should remember and worry about the holiness of the Holy Land and the Palace of the King which is destroyed; and on account of the sorrow which he experiences at his table along with the same joy and feasting which is there, The Holy One, Blessed be He, will consider it as if he built His House and built all of the ruins of the Temple, fortunate is his lot (Zohar, Terumah 157b). There is sorrow over nothingness. There is sorrow which is a malignant illness which does not leave its good part in the soul. And there is supreme sorrow, noble sorrow, sorrow of yearning for the holy, which gladdens God and man.

The Redemption from Egypt and Today's Redemption

[Opening words from Rabbi Shlomo Aviner's radio program]

1. Similarity and Difference
We are fortunate that we have merited the Redemption from Egypt and the Redemption we are currently experiencing. There is both a similarity and a difference between these two Redemptions, as our revered teacher Ha-Rav Kook explained in the article "The Pesach of Egypt and the Future Pesach" which appears in the book "Maamrei Ha-Re'eiyah" (pp. 164-166). The similarity is the great wonder is which each of the Redemptions occurred. In Egypt, we were slaves, downtrodden and persecuted, and we were instantly transformed into an exalted, strong and courageous Nation. This is an historical wonder which has no parallel. The same applies to our Redemption: we were in Exile, a Nation scattered and separated among the nations, downtrodden, expelled, suffering pogroms, persecutions and the Holocaust. There are no words to describe the suffering we experienced. And we were suddenly transformed into a free Nation in our Land: a courageous Nation, a wealthy Nation, a Nation of Torah – an unbelievable wonder. This is similarity but there is also a difference. The Redemption from Egypt was performed "in haste" (Devarim 16:3). The Gemara in Berachot (9a) emphasizes that we were redeemed in an instance, a miracle of miracles. But the prophet Yeshayahu (52:11) writes regarding the Redemption of our time: It will not occur in haste. It will occur slowly, with difficulties, problems and complications. Our Redemption even goes backwards at times, occurs slowly, not a miracle of miracles, through natural means. Nature moves at its own pace, without revealed miracles.

2. Which Redemption is Greater?
It would seem that the Redemption from Egypt was greater with its revealed miracles and wonders. After all, our current Redemption seems like a pauper riding on a horse. Our Sages teach however that this is not so. They say that the future Redemption is much greater than the Redemption of Egypt. The Mishnah in Berachot 1:5 relates that Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah said: I am like a man of 70 years, but I never merited proving why one is obligated to mention the Exodus at night until Ben Zoma explained: It says in the Torah (Devarim 16:3), "In order that you shall remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt, all the days of your life" – "The days of your life" refers to the days; "All the days of your life" refers to the nights. Ben Zoma's proof is from the word "all." The Sages disagree and say that the extra word "all" refers to something else: "'The days of your life' refers to this world; 'All the days of your life' indicates the time of the Messiah." According to their opinion, we mention the Exodus from Egypt in this time and in the days of the Messiah, but not at night. Ben Zoma says to the Rabbis: But the prophet Yirmiyahu says: "Therefore, behold, days are coming, says Hashem, when they will no longer say, 'As Hashem lives, who brought the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt,' but 'As Hashem lives, Who raised and returned the seed of the house of Israel from out of the northern lands and from every country into which I had driven them, and they will dwell on their own Land'" (Yirmiyahu 23:7-8). We thus learn that in the days of the Messiah, we will not recall the Exodus, because the future Redemption will be so great that its light will hide the miracle of the Exodus. The Rabbis answer that these verses from Yirmiyahu do not mean that the remembrance of the Exodus will be forgotten, but the great miracle of liberation from the oppression of the kingdoms of the world will be the main remembrance, and the Exodus will be the secondary one (Bereachot 12b). Ben Zoma and the Sages therefore both agree that the future Redemption will be greater than the Redemption from Egypt. The only dispute is whether the Exodus from Egypt will be mentioned in the days of the Messiah.

3. The Future Redemption
Why is the Future Redemption so much greater than the Redemption from Egypt? – After all, the Exodus from Egypt is the miracle of miracles and our Redemption is through a natural process. This recalls the letter of Ha-Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap to Maran Ha-Rav Kook, found in the book "Hed Harim": I am disappointed by the Zionist movement. I greatly value the building of the Land and the return to Zion but we lost out on the miracle of miracles on account of them, since a person receives from heaven what he expects. Now that we have toiled to build the Land, we have lost out on the strength of miracles and only receive weakness. But – Ha-Rav Charlap says – I have seen that his honor does not agree. Maran Ha-Rav Kook responds to him in his letters (Igrot vol. 3, p. 20): His honor must be very careful regarding this thought that you had. The Redemption which comes "Kim'a Kim'a - slowly, slowly" is the strength of fortitude and not weakness. In truth, miracles show us that Hashem has the ability to perform anything beyond nature. But the Redemption through nature – through man - is greater. Hashem is not under "pressure." Hashem does not want to transverse nature. This is the strength of fortitude. Hashem performed the Redemption from Egypt and we were like babies for which everything was done. Now, we are no longer babies. The Master of the Universe brings the Redemption through us. There are therefore difficulties and complications. This is does not mean that it is not the Redemption, but because this is the Redemption through natural means. It is not that we are not on the right path. We are on the right path, but we are not at the end.

Shut SMS #15

Q: I do not like wine and it gives me a headache. Can I drink grape juice for the Four Cups on Pesach?
A: Yes. This is preferable in your case.
Q: I have diabetes. How do I fulfill the mitzvah for drinking the Four Cups?
A: Buy dry wine, dilute up to half with water and drink a majority of the cup. If your doctor permits it.
Q: Are women obligated to recline during the seder?
A: Yes.
Q: Can a soldier/cohain who killed an enemy recite the Birkat Cohanim?
A: Certainly. It is part of the mitzvah of waging war. Shut Yechaveh Da'at of Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef.
Q: Should one spit when he sees a priest?
A: No.
Q: What is the source for an "Amen Meal" and what is its purpose?
A: It is a new creation. It has a communal value.
Q: Do bad energies that negatively affect a family exist in a house?
A: Nonsense.
Q: It is permissible to pray for the soul of a friend who committed suicide?
A: Yes. He needs more mercy than others.

Just One Sacrifice & We'll All Be Free?

Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook
After the Six-Day War, students approached our Rabbi and quoted the words of Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher in the introduction to his book "Derishat Tzion" which repeats a tradition recorded in the name of the Vilna Gaon that if we will only leap and sacrifice one lamb, then everything will be ready for Redemption – then perhaps it is worthwhile to sacrifice one Pesach sacrifice? When our Rabbi heard this he became enraged: "We need to strengthen the Kingdom of Israel and return the Torah to those who learn it in Israel; to bring great repentance, and we will then ascend to the Temple Mount from the midst of this prophecy." He said these words emphatically and forcefully. Once, students brought him a book of research which contained measurements of the Temple Mount. He disassociated himself from it and hid the book. The Mishnah (end of Massechet Berachot) forbids spitting on the Temple Mount all the more so (than wearing shoes - since if wearing shoes, which is not disrespectful, is forbidden than spitting, which is disrespectful, is forbidden all the more so). He added that scientific research and halachic clarifications are included in "spitting all the more so." (From an interview with Rav Tzvi Tau in Sefer Le-Mikdashech Tuv of Rav Aviner p. 180).

Shut SMS #14

Rabbi Aviner answers hundreds of text message questions a week. Some appear in the parashah sheets "Ma'ayanei Ha-Yeshu'ah" and "Olam Ha-Katan." Here's a sample:

Q: Does someone who will be away from his house all of Pesach have to clean his house?
A: No. He should include everything in the sale of chametz and fulfill the mitzvah of searching for chametz in the place he will be for Pesach.
Q: Do we have to check every book, page by page, for chametz?
A: No, since the crumbs are smaller than a ke-zayit (volume of olive), but you should not place them on the table where you eat.
Q: Is quinoa considered kitniyot and forbidden for Ashkenazim?
A: Some authorities permit it, but one should not be lenient. It is permissible for Sefardim.
Q: Is Canola oil permissible for Ashkenazim?
A: It is permissible.
Q: Is it permissible to make a siyum for the Fast of the First-Born on one of the books of the Tanach?
A: Yes, with the condition that you learned it seriously.
Q: Can an Ashkenzic Jew be a guest at a Sefardic Jew's home on Pesach?
A: Yes, but he should not eat kitniyot. If some kitniyot fall into a dish and they are unrecognizable, it is nullified by the majority.
Q: If an Ashenazic Jew marries a Sefardic Jew, whose family custom is followed regarding kitniyot?
A: The husband, and the same applies for other matters.
Q: I am a soldier in Tzahal and there is no chametz for a few days before Pesach. What should I do about placing the pieces of bread around for Bedikat Chametz?
A: There is no need. The blessing is on the search (and not the finding).
Q: Is it permissible to search for chametz with a flashlight?
A: Yes, but a candle is preferable. Do not do so in a car.
Q: Is it permissible to sell chametz on the phone? What about the "kinyan" (act of acquisition)?
A: Yes, appointing an agent does not require a "kinyan." It can also be done by letter, internet or text message.
Q: Is the Redemption coming since "Birchat Ha-Chama" (the blessing for the sun returning to its original location during Creation at the same day of the week it was created, which is only recited every 28 years) is occurring on Erev Pesach?
A: This is not a unique occurrence, and no one knows the future.
Q: Is it permissible for Ashkenazim to eat the soft matzah made by the Sefardim?
A: Yes, it is not chametz or kitniyot.
Q: Can one fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah if it is wet?
A: Yes, but not (re-)cooked.
Q: Is there something special this year since we are reciting "Birchat Ha-Chama"?
A: No, we should always thank Hashem for the sun even if it is not a special year.
Q: Is it permissible to remove bottles from the recycle bins that the city puts out and return them for the deposit?
A: No, it belongs to the municipality.
Q: Can a Rabbi promise me that if I donate to an organization which aids people with certain illness, I will not be stricken with that illness?
A: He can give you a blessing, but only a prophet knows the future.

A Ba'al Teshuvah (newly-repentant Jew) and Kitniyot

Q: I am Sefardic and I am having a guest coming for Pesach who is Ashkenazic and a Ba'al Teshuvah who was influenced to become religious by Sefardic Jews and so he eats kitniyot. Can I serve him kitniyot?
A: You may serve it to him. He knows what he is doing and asked a Rabbi what is the correct way to act. I was once at a Rabbinic conference and Ha-Rav Mordechai Eliyahu – the Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Israel – was there and someone asked him a similar question: Chabad Chasidim have influenced many Sefardic Jews to become religious and they are now Sefardic Jews who have all sorts of Ashkenazic practices. Is this a problem? Ha-Rav Eliyahu responded: May it be Hashem's will that all Israel repents even if they become Ashkenazic!

Cleaning agents

Q: Do cleaning agents need to be kosher for Pesach?
A: No, since chametz which is inedible to a human being and a dog is not considered chametz. Therefore, cleaning agents are not chametz. We have the custom to use dish detergent which is kosher for Pesach. It is not necessary according to the basic Halachah, but we certainly do it anyway since it comes in contact with the dishes, utensils, pots and pans.

Reciting a Blessing on the Haggadah

[From Rabbi Shlomo Aviner's Commentary on the Haggadah]

Question: Why didn't our Sages establish a blessing on reciting the Haggadah, "Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarding the Haggadah"? The basis of reciting the Haggadah after all is a Torah mitzvah, counted among the 613 commandments, as the Rambam writes: "To relate the miracles and wonders that were performed for our ancestors in Egypt on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan" (Rambam, Hilchot Chametz U-Matzah 7:1).
Answer: Many answers have been suggested for this question:
a. The Rosh wrote: "And regarding the question of why we do not recite a blessing on reciting the Haggadah, The Holy One, blessed be He, commanded us to perform many acts as a remembrance of the Exodus and we do not recite a blessing on them." According to his opinion, there is not an independent mitzvah to recite the Pesach Haggadah. Only if someone asks you about the Exodus must you explain it to them, but if no one asks, there is no need to say anything. In such a case, you perform all of the acts of that night, i.e. eating matzah, etc…, and through these acts you will remember the Exodus. A difficulty on the Rosh's position: It is written in the Mechilta (a text which derives laws from the Torah) that even if no one asks you, you are still obligated to relate the story of the Exodus. A rejection of this difficulty: The Rosh explains that the Mechilta is discussing a rabbinic obligation, but connects it to a verse in the Torah.
b. The responsa "Besamim Rosh" explained that we do not recite a blessing on blessings and praises, just as we do not recite a blessing on the Birkat Ha-mazon (the blessing after eating). The Haggadah is composed entirely of praises. A difficulty on the position of the "Besamim Rosh": We recite a blessing on Hallel even though it is filled with praises.
c. Rabbenu Yerucham: The blessing on the Haggadah is included in Kiddush when we say, "a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt."
d. Rashba: We do not recite a blessing since this is a mitzvah which has no known limit. One can fulfill his obligation with one statement, and the more he relates the story of the Exodus, the more praiseworthy he is.
e. The Meiri: We do not recite a blessing since after we recited the Shema in Ma'ariv, we said "Emet Ve-emuna – True and Faithful" which ends "Blessed are You, Hashem who redeemed Israel," and this serves as the blessing. A difficulty on the last three answers: Since the mitzvah is reciting the Haggadah and relating the story of the Exodus, we do not fulfill our obligation by recited Kiddush or with a mere statement.
f. Shibulei Ha-leket: The blessing on the Haggadah is the blessing we recite before eating the matzah, which begins '"Who has redeemed us." The Rabbis placed this blessing at the end of relating the Exodus, since if we said "Who has redeemed us" at the beginning of the Seder, we would not go back and discuss the enslavement.

There are additional explanations. The Meiri actually quoted an opinion that we do recite a blessing at the beginning (See Ha-Moadim Be-Halachah by Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, p. 279 and Talmudic Encyclopedia vol. 8, p. 179).

Giving a little tzedakah to many or a lot of tzedakah to one person

Q: Is giving tzedakah to a large family considered giving tzedakah to many people?
A: It is written in Pirkei Avot (3:15): everything is according to the majority of one's actions. The Rambam explains there that it is preferable to give one shekel per person to ten people than give ten shekels to one person since every act refines a person's soul. This is all based on his performing many acts and this is not so if he gives money to ten people from the same family in one act. But one should also take something else into account: if I give a shekel to ten poor people, it is not much help since there is not much to buy with one shekels but if I give ten shekels to one person, it is worth something. Thus, from the perspective of the elevation of the giver, it is preferable to perform many smaller acts and from the perspective of the benefit of the recipient it is preferable to receive a larger one time sum. Therefore, giving to a large family is only considered one act.

Bedikat and Biur Chametz for someone who will be away all Pesach

Q: If someone will be away for all of Pesach, does he perform Bedikat Chametz (checking for chametz)?
A: A person can include all of his chametz in the sale of chametz. If I sell the chametz in my closet, I do not need to search for chametz in the closet. In our case, the entire house or apartment is like a closet and he is exempt from cleaning it and checking it. There are some who say however that the obligation to check chametz is the night of the 14th of Nisan and the sale of chametz only takes place during the day of the 14th. As a result, the chametz is mine at the time of Bedikat Chametz. But the Rabbis did not obligate one to clean and search for something which will not be his in the end. But this is all with the condition that one is not lending his home to a friend who is eating at a neighbor's. And there is an additional problem: if one does not perform Bedikat Chametz, he loses out on a mitzvah. Therefore, if I arrive at the place I will spend Pesach on the night on the 14th, I check there with a blessing. If I will not, in order not to lose the mitzvah, I can clean one room in my house such as the entrance way – which is not difficult – and I check there without a blessing.

Selling chametz for a house which does not have chametz

Q: If someone does not have any chametz in his house, does he still need to sell his chametz?
A: Yes, because maybe he had has some and forgot. Maybe he has some medicine which contains chametz, some alcohol which is chametz, or a package of biscuits stuck in some corner. It is impossible to be certain, and even if he is certain, he should sell it.

Kashering a barbeque for Pesach

Q: Is it permissible to use a barbeque for Pesach which I only used for meat during the rest of the year, but washed in the sink with chametz utensils?
A: You should clean it well and place it on the fire for an hour which will burn everything off.

"Body Worlds" museum exhibit

Question: Why are the Ultra-Orthodox and the Chief Rabbi trying to prevent the exhibit "Body Worlds," which is an exhibition of preserved human bodies from German citizens who donated their body for this purpose, from appearing at the Israel National Museum of Science in Haifa? Two petitions against the exhibit are already making their way to the High Court of Justice, and Ultra-Orthodox leaders in the country vowed to stage mass rallies against it. Rav Yona Metzger – the Chief Rabbi - unequivocally ruled that "such an exhibit has no place in the Holy Land, and I therefore recommend that you don't get involved in this…The Jewish people, who take great care to honor and bury their dead, must extend the same treatment to non-Jewish deceased, so as not to prompt animosity and hatred towards the Jewish people." The Chief Rabbi further wrote that in the event that such an exhibit was to be held in Israel, "Our outcry would reach the ends of the earth." What is Ha-Rav's opinion?
Answer: If the Chief Rabbinate has already ruled that it is forbidden, it is forbidden. They are the ones who decide. A discussion of this issue is not really connected to embalming. Embalming is done to honor the deceased so that the body does not decompose. According to the Halachah, embalming is forbidden. Authorities permitted it in the rare case that the deceased was being brought from far away – such as being brought to Eretz Yisrael – and there was a fear that the body would reek and decompose. This is the explanation of why Yosef embalmed Yaakov Avinu. Embalming is only to honor the deceased, but embalming a corpse to exhibit it in a museum is shaming the dead. The same strictures do not apply to non-Jewish corpses as they do for Jewish corpses, as Maran Ha-Rav Kook explained in Shut Da'at Cohain (#199): Just as a Jew has many strictures in life, he also has many strictures regarding his burial. There are many disputes regarding a non-Jewish corpse: if it is permissible to have benefit from a non-Jewish corpse, if there is a prohibition of "Bal Talin" (leaving the corpse unburied overnight), if there is a prohibition not to bury the corpse at all, if there is a prohibition of having an autopsy, etc… Many authorities permit an autopsy on a non-Jewish corpse for medical purposes and they rely on all of the lenient position, since medical needs are life-saving. But there is no medical need here! It is therefore not possible to rely on the lenient positions. Some people say that the goal of the exhibit is to teach the proper balance of one's body and proper health practices, and that this is a medical need. It is possible to compare them, but they are not the same. A medical student needs to learn on an actual corpse (although some argue that it is possible to learn on a plastic model), but there is no need for an actual corpse in order to teach the general public. In our days, it is possible to make excellent plastic models and they are even less expensive than using real corpses.

Our Rabbi & Pesach

Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook

If only my children would be in the Land of Israel
A certain Rav explained the line in the Haggadah, "If we received the Torah, but did not enter the Land of Israel – it would have been enough," that it would have been better for the non-religious pioneers to have remained outside of Israel rather than to commit sins in the Land of Israel. These words caused much consternation and when the students came to class, they told our Rabbi what they had heard. They thought he would discuss this issue at length, but he responded briefly: "See Yalkut Shimoni #1038" and taught the class as usual (The Yalkut Shimoni says: If only my children, my Nation, would be in the Land of Israel, even though they make it impure). (Iturei Cohanim #181)

Our Rabbi was particular to use machine-made matzah since it was decided by the halachic authorities that machine-made matzah is kosher, and there is, in fact, greater care regarding the concern of chametz than with hand-made matzah. (Haggadah with commentary of Rav Tzvi Yehudah arranged by Rav Aviner p. 93).

A student asked our Rabbi: Which is preferable, hand-made matzah or machine-made. Our Rabbi answered: In the same time that we exert ourselves to make one hand-made matzah it is possible to make Reb Noson’s (our Rabbi’s brother-in-law), his and many other people’s matzah for the entire holiday (Iturei Cohanim Nisan 5766 #259 in the name of Ha-Rav Achyah Amitai).