Shut SMS #64

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: Is it permissible to buy from Arabs if the price is much less inexpensive?
A: There are those who permit it – obviously, with the condition that they pay taxes (Shut She’eilat Shlomo 2:264).
Q: How do we relate to the Gemara in Bechorot (8) which discusses a fish which is half human?
A: It does not say that it exists, but what would theoretically be the law (see Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha-Torah, Netiv 14. And the book “Be’er Ha-Golah”).
Q: I am meeting a young man, and he claims that we can have sexual contact if I go to the Mikveh?
A: Immediate break off contact with this disgusting person, and inform the person who set you up (Shut Ha-Rivash #225).
Q: Is it permissible to take money from parents? It is somewhat uncomfortable.
A: It is permissible under two conditions: 1. It is not a financial burden on them. 2. They give it with a full heart.
Q: My mother asked me to help her with something, and my father told me not to help. What should I do?
A: Help. If one’s father tells him to perform a transgression, he should not obey (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 240:15).
Q: There is a man at work who has feelings for me and says all types of things to me. What should I do?
A: Put him in his place in a clear manner: Do not speak to me in this way (Sefer Ha-Chinuch, mitzvah 338).
Q: Which is preferable – to pray without proper concentration or not to pray at all?
A: Even prayer without proper concentration has incredible value (Shut Ha-Rashba 1:423).
Q: How do I know Hashem loves me?
A: The blessing recited before the Shema Shacharit and Ma'ariv.
Q: What verse does one say if he lost an object?
A: There is none (see Sefer Ta’amei Ha-Minhagim p. 564 in the footnotes).
Q: Is it permissible to erase Hashem’s Name from a computer screen or a cell phone?
A: Yes. This is not the type of writing discussed by the Torah (Shut Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 1:173. Shut She’eilat Shlomo 4:237).
Q: Is it permissible to chew gum while learning Gemara?
A: If it is required so that you do not fall asleep. You should therefore ask the Rosh Yeshiva (see Berachot 20).
Q: Is it preferable to give money to Tzedakah or to use it to travel to the Kotel?
A: Tzedakah. It is a definite mitzvah (Shabbat 156a).
Q: Rashi states that he comes to explain the simple meaning of the text. Why then does he quote Midrashim?
A: He explains that he brings Midrashim which explain the simple meaning (Rashi on Bereshit 3:8).
Q: Is it permissible for the State of Israel to receive donations from non-Jews?
A: We are not a Nation of Shnorrers or a country of beggars (Sanhedrim 26b with Rashi).
Q: It is permissible for a girl to learning parachuting with a male guide?
A: No, it is immodest.
Q: And it is permissible for a boy?
A: No, it is an unnecessary risk for pleasure. Such a risk is only allowed for a mitzvah or livelihood. It is obviously permissible in the army (Pitchei Teshuvah Yoreh Deah 157).
Q: Is it proper to take out life insurance?
A: Very much so (Shut Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 2:111 and Shut Yechaveh Daat 3:85).
Q: Is it obligatory to wash "Mayim Achronim"?
A: If one's hands are not clean (Shut She'eilat Shlomo 1:111).

Parashat Emor: Cohanim and Kivrei Tzaddikim (the graves of the righteous)

In this week's Parashah – Parashat Emor, we learn that it is forbidden for cohanim to become impure by coming in contact with the dead, except in the case of close relatives. A small minority of authorities hold that the Kivrei Tzaddikim do not transmit impurity (see Pitchei Teshuvah Yoreh Deah 372:2).
Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, told the following story about Maran Ha-Rav Kook (Le-Shelosha Ba-Elul vol.1 #76), that during his travels to oversee Jewish matters in the Galil, he did not visit Kivrei Tzadkim when he was in Tzefat, because he was a Cohain.
Ha-Rav Mordechai Eliyahu wrote (Parashah Sheet "Kol Tzofa’ich" #279), "In his time, I told Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, peace be upon him, that it is written in the book ‘Kuntres Yechi’eli’ that it is permissible for cohanim to enter Kever Rachel. He asked me: what do they say there? I said that they read the verses about our mother Rachel there. He travelled there, but only went as far as the door. When he returned, I asked him: why didn’t you enter? He answered: My father did not enter, therefore I did not enter."
In the book Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah - Eretz Yisrael (edited by Rav Shlomo Aviner, p. 142 note 1), it relates that after the Six-Day War, the students of our Rabbi organized a trip to the liberated areas in the Shomron. One of the places they visted was Kever Yosef. The students entered inside, but our Rabbi remained outside, because he was a cohain.
And on Maran Ha-Rav Kook's yahrtzeit, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, would visit his grave on the Mt. of Olives, but would stand at a distance since he was a cohain (Be-Derech Ha-Torah Ha-Goelet p. 170).
In Iturei Cohanim (Sivan 5766 #261), Rav Aviner was asked, is it permissible for a cohain to enter Ma’arat Ha-Machpelah? He answered that there is a dispute, but Maran Ha-Rav Kook did not enter. In Shut She’eilat Shlomo (vol. 3 #329), Rav Aviner also writes that although there are authorities who permit cohanim to enter "Kivrei Tzaddikim," since the righteous are called "living even in their death," the accepted halachah is that it is forbidden. There are also authorities who allow cohanim to visit Maarat Ha-Machpelah and Kever Rachel, because they were built in a way that the cohanim would not become impure; but the acceptable halachah for this is also that it is forbidden. Therefore, we say that cohanim should not enter "Kivrei Tzaddikim," but we can defend the practice of those who act in this way, especially entering Maarat Ha-Machpelah and Kever Rachel (note: Rav Aviner – who is also a cohain – has not and does not visit any of the "Kivrei Tzaddikim").

Our Rabbi and the Yeshiva Students – Part 5

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

Fatherly Concern
A student told our Rabbi that he was going home because he ran out of clean clothing. Our Rabbi took money out of his pocket, gave it to him and told him where he could do laundry. (Iturei Cohanim #35)

Married Students and Stipends
A number of students tried to refuse financial support from the Yeshivah (perhaps due to the opinion of Rambam that one should not receive money for learning Torah), yet our Rabbi was adamant that they receive a stipend.
In response to the claim that some married students received higher stipends than others, our Rabbi requested of Rav Noson (Rabbi Raanan Kook, Maran Ha-Rav Kook's son-in-law) to make all Yeshivah stipends equal so that there be no jealousy among students. In response to Rav Noson's, "Where will I come up with the money," our Rabbi responded, "From the place where there is for one, you will find for all."
When there came a request to increase stipends for students with larger families, our Rabbi said, "Mercaz Ha-Rav is not a Kollel. We help students until they find their place in life, with an emphasis being placed on the Rabbinate or education."

Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook was Right!

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Shmini 5770 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, was right! As is well-known, he did not force a set curriculum on the students of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. Obviously, there were set times intended for set topics, but he did not force anybody, but exercised patience. There was one exception: every day, between 12:45 and 1:15, there was study of Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan’s works, “Chafetz Chaim” and “Shemirat HaLashon” [dealing with avoiding “Lashon Ha-Ra”, unsavory speech]. On this, he would not concede. When this holy duty was not fulfilled, our master responded forcefully: he canceled all his lectures! Sometimes, he would sit at home, fasting and weeping over this, until the situation was rectified.
Certainly, he was right. We see with our own eyes that even God-fearing people who scrupulously fulfill even the lightest commandments, treat this area with abandon. And, it’s not a new phenomenon. Already, in the Talmud, the rabbis wrote: “Everyone daily verges on forbidden speech” (Baba Batra 165a). Ramchal [Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto] explained that people make excuses for themselves, deceive themselves and convince themselves that it is permissible, by all sorts of logical devices (Mesillat Yesharim chapter 11). The Chafetz Chaim opened a tiny crack regarding when it is occasionally permissible, as an exception, to use forbidden speech. Rav Tzvi Yehuda remarked that he was very sorry about that, because people came along and enlarged the crack and introduced into it a mountain of slander and wickedness. Likewise, enthusiastic gossips came along and permitted themselves to speak Lashon Ha-Ra regarding public matters, as though there were a blanket allowance in that regard. Quite the contrary, that is worse, as the Vilna Gaon states in his “Emuna Ve’Hashgacha”. Likewise, the Netziv teaches in his introduction to his “Ha’amek Davar” that this is what led to the destruction of the Second Temple, in other words, the phenomenon of people shedding one another’s blood by various libels. Yet elsewhere he writes that the destruction began with verbal bloodshed and ended up with actual bloodshed (Shut Meshiv Davar 1:45).
Indeed, our Sages long ago said that Lashon Ha-Ra is as weighty as bloodshed, idolatry and sexual sin combined (Arachin 15b). They further said that he who speaks Lashon Ha-Ra is as bad as “one who denies the essence”, i.e., an atheist (ibid.). Even the Gentile nations, who don’t necessarily pursue purity and holiness, understood that Lashon Ha-Ra means the destruction of society. In ancient Rome, the slanderer was punished with exile and backbreaking labor. Likewise, in our day, Lashon Ha-Ra is forbidden by international law. In Switzerland, one can be sentenced to three years in prison for it. In our country as well, there is a law prohibiting Lashon Ha-Ra: “Any statement whose publication is liable to humiliate a person in the public eye or to render him an object of hatred, scorn or ridicule, due to the deeds, behavior or traits attributed to him.” One can be sentenced to a year in prison over this. The law forbids Lashon Ha-Ra even against public figures. Quite the contrary, slandering such a person has a further stricture associated with it, since the man’s good name and public image constitute an asset that is very precious to him. In effect it is his life. And if public figures will be exposed to the libel of every leper and ne’er-do-well, people of quality will be deterred from undertaking public posts, for what do they need such suffering for? Indeed, if someone speaks Lashon Ha-Ra, he is the equivalent of a leper, and as is well-known, G-d punishes gossips with leprosy. G-d asks, “Is that how you spend your time? Spreading scandals and public accusations? Rejoicing over the downfall of others?” King Shlomo said, “He that is glad at calamity shall not be unpunished” (Mishlei 17:5). Even the philosopher Schopenhauer said, “To rejoice over the calamity of others is satanic.” Why rake others over the coals? Rake yourself over the coals!
Bear in mind that Cham was severely punished for publicizing Noach’s drunkenness, but Noach, himself, was not punished. The story is worse than the sin itself. Have you no better way to be interesting than to peddle gossip, like the peddler of unsavory wares?
“Do not go around as a gossiper among your people” (Vayikra 19:16) is followed by “Do not stand idly by when your brother’s life is in danger” (ibid.), and the one does lead to the other. It starts with speech and ends with bloodshed. You are scrupulous about so many things but not about Lashon Ha-Ra. You think guarding the tongue is just a stringency. Yet the Chafetz Chaim, in the preface to his work by that name, lists seventeen negative Torah precepts and fourteen positive precepts that one is liable to violate, i.e., thirty-one Torah violations. At the very least, one violates eight Torah prohibitions each time one speaks Lashon Ha-Ra. Besides that, one falls foul of eight Biblical curses, for example, “Cursed is he who strikes down his neighbor in secret” (Devarim 27:22).
Maybe you are doing all this, so to speak, “for the sake of the Jewish People”, but the Chafetz Chaim wrote in his preface that, quite the contrary, the Lashon-Ha-Ra speaker arouses the Great Prosecutor [Satan] against the Jewish People, and he contaminates the power of speech – not just his own, but that of all Israel. Therefore, that saintly and brilliant rabbi was sent as a special divine emissary, urged on by a spirit from On High, to purify the power of speech of the Jewish People. If you are still speaking Lashon Ha-Ra, you need urgent treatment. So, until you finish learning these books, quickly read Chapter 30 of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, or at least Rambam’s Hilchot De’ot, Chapter 7. In the meantime, there is even a rule of thumb: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman.”
Make no mistake. Guarding the tongue is not just some minor stricture. It is a severe, outright law, as the work “Chafetz Chaim” demonstrates. When Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan saw the wholesale use of Lashon Ha-Ra by our nation, he wrote two books about this. Whoever reads “Chafetz Chaim” will know the laws regarding Lashon Ha-Ra, and whoever reads “Shemirat HaLashon” will be so disgusted that he will no longer be able to speak Lashon Ha-Ra.
Be careful! Even one word of Lashon Ha-Ra is forbidden, and even speech verging on Lashon Ha-Ra is forbidden as well. For example, “It’s better that we not talk about So-and-So.” Even hinting at Lashon Ha-Ra is forbidden, and even wrinkling one’s nose [Hebrew “af”] in reference to a person, as in our sages’ exposition on the verse, “Through their anger [Hebrew “af”], they have killed a man” (Bereshit 49:6). Some people are exceedingly careful not to eat a single insect, a single worm, hence they check their beans and grains over and over, and they are right. Yet they are not deterred from eating a man alive with their poisonous tongues. In this regard King David said, “I am a worm, not a man” (Tehillim 22:7). Don’t eat me! Also, don’t think bad about your fellow man. If you don’t harbor such thoughts, you won’t talk about him. This is not a stringency but a straightforward Torah obligation to “judge your people fairly” (Vayikra 19:15). Likewise, the Prophet Zechariah said, “Let none of you devise evil in your hearts against your neighbor” (Zechariah 8:17). Consider how much suffering the righteous Yosef caused by gossiping about his brothers. Yet afterwards he repented, and he did not tell his father a single thing about their selling him. Binyamin as well remained silent and did not tell his father Yaakov. Our sages therefore note that his stone in the Temple breastplate is the jasper [Hebrew “yashpheh”, composed of the same letters as the words “yesh po”, “There is here”]. In other words, there was what to talk about here, but Binyamin remained silent. King David, as well, despite the public “lynching” to which he was subjected by Saul’s dynasty and by others, refrained from saying one evil word against Shaul or from speaking about how an unsavory spirit had befallen Shaul.
Be very careful! Flee all the excuses! Remember each day what G-d did to Miriam, that despite her holiness and purity and greatness and prophecy she was punished for Lashon Ha-Ra (Bamidbar 12). Don’t hurt people. “Don’t abuse one another. Fear your G-d, for I am the L-rd your G-d” (Vayikra 25:17). Don’t do it by way of speech, let alone by the medium of the Internet. Don’t disqualify people, for whoever disqualifies others is revealing something about himself. Our Sages, “Whoever speaks Lashon Ha-Ra deserves to be thrown to the dogs” (Makot 23a).
Instead, speak gently. Speak lovingly. Speak moderately. Speak admiringly. As our sages said at the end of Yoma 4, for one who learns Torah that is the greatest sanctification of G-d’s Name possible.

Shut SMS #63

Ha-Rav 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: My health clinic recommends that I receive immunization against Swine Flu. As is known, there is a lack of information regarding the side effects, and there are doctors who oppose it.
A: Nonsense. Besides a few, all of the doctors in Israel, as well as in Europe and America, recommend it, include the World Health Organization. And we follow the majority (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 618:1-4).
Q: Under what conditions is it permissible to use Homeopathic medicine?
A: Since it is not useful, only as a supplement and not a substitute (Shut She'eilat Shlomo 3:337).
Q: Is it permissible for a girl to daven in pants?
A: It is forbidden, but worse is not to daven at all. We do not say to a person who is transgressing to violate another mitzvah. Igeret Kiddush Hashem of the Rambam.
Q: Is it permissible to be a lawyer since the laws do not follow the Torah?
A: Yes. It is the way to help the exploited (She'al Na p. 148).
Q: Should a Brit Milah scheduled for Shabbat be postponed if the entire family will drive to get there?
A: It should be postponed. Yalkut Yosef (vol. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 260:171).
Q: Is it forbidden to use light drugs? What is the source?
A: There is no such thing as light drugs. They are all heavy, forbidden by the law, punishable by jail time, and forbidden according to the Halachah. Rambam, Deot chap. 4 (Shut Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:35).
Q: If I immerse in a mikveh every day will I merit life in the World to Come?
A: With repentance.
Q: Should I recite Shehechiyanu on new shoes?
A: Yes. But we do not say: "You should wear them out and get new ones" (Rama Orach Chaim 223:6).
Q: We met with the purpose of getting married and we acted inappropriately. What should we do?
A: Only meet in public places where there are many people.
Q: Is it permissible to write on my hand as a reminder to do something, or is it considered a tattoo?
A: It is permissible. It is not deep and it is temporary (Minchat Chinuch mitzvah 253).
Q: If a person overcomes his inclination and does not transgress, does he receive a reward?
A: Certainly. He sits and is not sinning… (see introduction to Sefer Ha-Chinuch. Introduction to Shelah).
Q: If a person eats and vomits is he obligated to recite Birchat Ha-Mazon?
A: No, only if he digests (Shut Har Tzvi Orach Chaim #163).
Q: If someone grows a beard during a period of mourning or the Three Weeks, can he continue to grow it afterwards?
A: Yes, there is no problem.
Q: Is it permissible to use a pocketknife with scissors on Shabbat?
A: Yes, it is one item. Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilchata (chap. 20).
Q: Must one refrain from touching his grandmother?
A: No. She is like a mother (Beit Shmuel on Even Ha-Ezer 21:14).
Q: Should I stay at a job which is not good for me?
A: Until you find another one (Rabbi Avraham ben Ha-Rambam, Ha-Maspik Le-Oved Hashem).
Q: Is it obligatory to give Maaser Kesafim?
A: It is obligatory based on a person's ability (Chafetz Chaim, end of Ahavat Chesed).
Q: Is it permissible for me to participate in a davening where women lead certain parts and read from the Torah, and if I do not attend people will be offended?
A: Certainly not. This will lend legitimacy. And they do not have a monopoly on being offended. They will be offended if you do not participate and you are offended by what they are doing. You therefore should not coerce them and they should not coerce you (Gittin 61a).
Q: My grandmother has a Philippine aide. Can she accompany her to shul?
A: Yes, but without wearing a cross (Shut Har Tzvi Orach Chaim 1:85. Shut She'eilat Shlomo 1:95).
Q: I do not believe that the Redemption will arrive today, since they are so many things to repair in the world, and when we fix them, it will arrive. Is this idea heretical?
A: The Redemption comes slowly and it has already begun. But a miracle is still possible (Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah vol. 1 p. 292).
Q: Is one required according to the Halachah to wear a seatbelt?
A: One is obligated according to the Halachah and the law (see Shut She'eilat Shlomo 2:414).
Q: But Hashem protects…
A: Hashem punishes those who are stupid. Mesilat Yesharim, chap. 9. This is a nonsensical – and dangerous – claim.

Herzl and Zionism

Q: It is known that Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook hung a picture of Herzl in his home. But I have heard that Herzl wrote horrible things about Judaism in his diary. How do these two things go together? And if Herzl and Secular Zionist are so opposed to Judaism, why are we called “Religious-Zionists”?
A: There are two questions here: on Herzl and on Zionism. Regarding Herzl, one must be extremely careful about spreading lies. All the negative things written about Herzl are incorrect and half-quotes. See the new book "Herzl: A New Reading" by Dr. Yitzchak Weiss which discusses all of these issues. One can find the true Herzl there.
Regarding, Zionism, it is not the creation of Herzl, it is the creation of the Master of the Universe. The definition of Zionism is the return to Zion, the building of our Land and the revival of our Nation in our Land. The entire Torah, all of the prophets and all of our Sages clearly state this idea. Zionism was true before Herzl and after Herzl, and even without Herzl, and although he was not religious, he awakened this idea. This can be compared to secular Jews encouraging performance of a kindness. Just because people who were not religious encouraged this idea, we would not perform the kindness?!
Nevertheless, the fact that people defame Herzl regarding Zionism is a good sign, since there is no connection between the two things. When people make claims having nothing to do with the issue, it is a sign that they have nothing to say about the issue itself. We must therefore certainly join in the revival and unification of our Nation in our Land.

Purchases during Sefirat Ha-Omer

Q: Is it permissible to receive something I ordered for my house during Sefirat Ha-Omer?
A: The issue during Sefirat Ha-Omer is not buying new items, but reciting the blessing of "Shehechiyanu." This is not a good time of the year (since 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students died during this period), how then can one say "Blessed is Hashem…Who has granted us life, sustains us and has brought us to this time"? Who is happy during this time? The Shulchan Aruch does not mention the practice of not reciting "Shehechiyanu" during Sefirat Ha-Omer, but mentions not reciting it during the period of "Bein Ha-Mitzarim" (the Three Weeks before Tisha Be-Av) (Shulchan Aruch, Aruch Chaim 551:17). Righteous people have the custom not to recite "Shehechiyanu" during the Three Weeks, but this practice did not transfer to the period of Sefirat Ha-Omer. We therefore have a double stricture: 1. During the Three Weeks, this practice is not obligatory, but an act of piety. 2. It is mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch during the Three Weeks, but not during Sefirat Ha-Omer. It was only mentioned by later authorities. Nonetheless, it is not even a question in our case, since you are buying items for your home. When you buy items for a group – such as for you, your husband and your children – you do not recite the blessing of "Shehechiyanu," but the blessing of "Ha-Tov Ve-Ha-Meitiv" (Hashem is good to me and does good for others). This means that it is not that there is a question and this is the answer, but there is no question at all.

Our Rabbi and the Yeshiva Students - Part 4

Once, a group of students from the Religious Kibbutz Movement was scheduled to come and study at Mercaz Ha-Rav for a month. Some of the Yeshivah students complained that the Yeshiva was unable to absorb so many students, and that in order to strengthen the study atmosphere the Yeshiva had to first become crystallized from within. Our Rabbi, though, was uncompromising in his desire to receive the group, exclaiming, "Any thought of divorcing our Yeshiva from the concrete settlement of the Land of Israel, will not come to be."

On another occasion our Rabbi instructed one student in a certain manner and another in an opposite manner. When asked why he contradicted himself our Rabbi explained that once upon a time there had been both Hillel and Shammai: Shammai chased away the prospective convert because there was Hillel, and Hillel taught the very same convert the "entire Torah" on one foot because there was Shammai. "What can I do - I have no choice but to be both Hillel and Shammai."

What do you want to do?
Ha-Rav Shlomo Aviner once asked our Rabbi what he should do with his life. Our Rabbi asked him: "What do you want to do?" His dedicated student responded: "I want to do what the Rav wants me to do." Our Rabbi repeated: "But what do you want to do?" Once again, Rav Aviner answered that he wanted to do whatever the Rosh Yeshiva advised. Patiently, our Rabbi asked him a third time, with a tone that demanded a more introspective response. Finally, the student revealed his heart's true desire. "Then do it!" Rav Tzvi Yehudah said. This was our Rabbi's way: to educate each student according to his natural direction, according to his individual talent and leaning, to encourage creativity and the free healthy development of each person's potential (see Mishlei 22:6). (Torat Eretz Yisrael – The Teachings of Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohen Kook, pp. 205-206)

The Fighter’s Spirit

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Tazria-Metzora 5770 – translated by R. Blumberg]
1. The fighter’s first trait is not to fear. As Rambam wrote at the end of Chapter 7 of Hilchot Melachim, this is in line with Devarim 20:3: “Do not be faint-hearted, do not be afraid, do not panic.”
One might ask: Do people really have control over their fear? Surely it enters one without knocking. Yet this is a question that one can ask about all the mitzvot associated with the heart and the emotions: Don’t hate, love your neighbor as yourself, don’t covet. People say, “That’s how I am. I have no control,” but the fact is that while it is true that we do not control our emotions, everyone but the emotionally ill do have control over their thinking. It’s true that for most people, thoughts jump into their heads, but here one’s free will appears and asks whether to accept those thoughts or to send them far away. Regarding those mitzvoth of the heart and emotions, one is obligated to think about things that strengthen good emotions, and one is forbidden to think about things that strengthen negative emotions.
Therefore, in war, Rambam wrote, a person should not start to alarm himself regarding what is liable to happen to him and what his family will then do. And if such thoughts surface, one should get rid of them. It is the same regarding all forbidden thoughts. There were great Torah luminaries who when forbidden thoughts surfaced, would cry out, “Get out of here!” Obviously, they didn’t do this in a loud voice in the presence of others. Ramak, Rabbi Moshe Cordovera, would study Torah all night, and when forbidden thoughts surfaced, he would burn them employing the Ineffable Name. Obviously, we are not on that level. Another great rabbi would pass his hands over his forehead to help him draw his evil thoughts out. One especially should not exaggerate the dangers facing the army. An officer from an elite unit told me: “In my life, I have seen death three times before my eyes… in car accidents.” Unfortunately car accidents kill countless more Jews than all the terror and all the wars of Israel. Still, nobody avoids traveling by car, or even walking on foot, considering that a third of the people killed in car accidents are pedestrian. This gives us a comparative yardstick. General Yitzhak Sadeh, founder of the Palmach, said, “A heroic person is not someone who doesn’t fear. Many heroes fear, but they overcome it knowing that they are on the right course.” Likewise, many fearless people are not heroic. For example, reckless drivers lack fear, but that does not make them heroic. There are war heroes who have fear. The emotion of fear enters, and they expel it from themselves. The main thing, according to Rambam, is not to alarm yourself. Likewise, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said, “Do not fear at all,” and the word he used for fear was not “lefached” but “lehit’pached”, which means causing fear to oneself. Avoiding destructive thoughts is right in all situations. For example, one certainly should repent, but one should not engage in excessive self-examination, which is liable to convince a person that he lacks worth. A person has control over this kind of thinking. A disciple once went to visit his Rebbe. He knocked on the door but his Rebbe did not answer. He only peaked at him through the window. The disciple slept outside and in the morning he entered his Rebbe’s home and asked him, “Evil thoughts pursue me and I cannot succeed in overcoming them.” His Rebbe responded, “I have already answered you. A man lets whomever he wants into his home.
2. The fighter’s second characteristic is brotherhood. Without brotherhood between fighters you could close down all the armies on earth. All for one and one for all! That is the unofficial State slogan of Switzerland. There were floods and suffering there, and they raised funds for aid with the help of that solidarity slogan. The phrase originated with Alexander Dumas, whose “Three Musketeers” knew they could always count on one another through fire and water.
Obviously, outside the army as well you need brotherhood, in work and in life, and especially between husband and wife. Unfortunately, a large portion of couples are not good friends. Thank G-d, in the army there is brotherhood, esprit de guerre, between comrades-in-arms. The Torah states, “When Moses was grown, he began to go out to his own people…. One day he saw an Egyptian kill one of his fellow Hebrews… he killed the Egyptian” (Shemot 2:11-12). He knew that all the police forces of Egypt would pursue him, but he realized that brotherhood is the foundation of all else.
In every nation, the foundation of all is brotherhood. The official slogan of France is “Liberty, equality, fraternity.” Yet in France, it’s not put into practice. Here in Israel, it is. By the way, this is also a major reason for not drafting girls. The presence of girls in combat units causes mixed feelings, confusing and corrupting that same brotherhood. And how does one achieve brotherhood? By not thinking thoughts that might ruin the brotherhood, but only thoughts that strengthen it. One should think, “My fellow soldier is similar to me. He is a good person.” Judge people by the majority of their deeds. 3. The third element is responsibility. You’ve got a mission to fulfill! People are relying on you! Even when you’re alone, you’ve got to follow the rules, and even if you’re just guarding the camp gate. The rules can include: Don’t fall asleep. Don’t listen to the radio. Don’t pray. Don’t eat. Don’t sit down. The guard bears responsibility. A guard once fell asleep and the enemy came in. At his trial he argued, “Thousands of times I guarded properly, and this just happened to me one time.” They answered him, “All those thousands of times were for this one time.”
Some Rabbis were arguing about whether a guard is exempt from prayer. One Rabbi argued, “He’s exempt, because one who is busy with one mitzvah is exempt from another.” Another Rabbi said, “He’s forbidden to pray. In the army one learns to be responsible so that you’ll be able to rely on him even if he fulfills a lowly role. Yet no task in the army is lowly. Everything is important.”
There’s the famous poem, “All because of a nail”. “For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost.
One has to be serious. This is a lesson for one’s entire life, like courage and brotherhood. 4. Another element is will. Some people lack will. Nothing interests them. Things have happened to them that they have broken their zest for life. You can’t blame such people, but they have to realize that their will to live can be rebuilt. How? Gradually. For a small mission, you need a small will in order to achieve success. Then, you slowly increase the challenges until the will becomes stronger. One does not receive a will to act as a gift from heaven, but by means of slowly increasing challenges. Therefore, when someone receives an oppressive, boring mission in the army, he should not complain, but should view it as a challenge. He should be happy. He should sing. He should not view it as a nuisance or a crisis, but as a test and a challenge.
By the way, somebody told me that there is no word in Chinese for “crisis”. In China, people work and slave and earn a pittance per day, and even an expert craftsman earns a dollar a day. So what happens if tragedy strikes and a Chinese worker’s beloved wife passes away? Now, besides his back-breaking labor, he must care for his little daughter. Will he consider himself to be facing a crisis? Certainly not. A “crisis” is a luxury enjoyed by the rich. If you ask him how he is doing, he will answer, “Nothing has changed. Things are just harder.” In the army one faces harder and harder challenges, and from that emerges one’s will. True, sometimes a soldier in the army feels that he is being oppressed and harassed. Quite the contrary, however, he should view it all as a challenge! By such means he will emerge with a strong will.
Read Mesillat Yesharim, Chapter 19, with its parable of the combat officer who becomes happier and happier the harder the missions he faces.
The key words are courage, brotherhood, responsibility, and developing will. Were there no need of an army, it would have to be invented just for this. That is how G-d orchestrated His world with wisdom and love.
Be strong and courageous!

Why was Yom Ha-Atzmaut established on the Fifth of Iyar?

[This year Yom Ha-Atzmaut was postponed until 6 Iyar]

There are those who ask why Yom Ha-Atzmaut was established on the 5th of Iyar in particular, since on that day no miracle occurred. The Jewish State was declared, and with it a life-threatening situation began (Chanukah and Purim were established on the day after the "war" ended). Our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, explained that the courage to declare the State is the miracle of miracles, the soul and root of all of the miracles and wonders (Le-Netivot Yisrael vol. 1, p. 179). The Talmud discusses a shepherd who abandoned his flock, leaving it prey to either a wolf or a lion to come and tearit to pieces. The Rabbis established that his responsibility for the slaughter depends on whether or not he would have been able to save the animals. If he would not have been able to overcome the attacking animal, he is exempt from all payment. The Talmud asks: Why is this so? Perhaps it would have happened as for David: "Your servant slew both the lion and the bear" (Shmuel 1 17:36)? Perhaps a minor miracle would have occurred (Baba Metzia 106a)? The Tosafot describe the miracle: "A spirit of courage and the knowledge to wage war" (Tosafot ibid.). So too in the matter of the declaration of the State: "The awakening, the exerting of effort, the philosophizing and the strengthening for the drive to rescue and revive [the Nation]," is a miracle from the Heavens, "with a supreme and inner stimulus of power." The fact that the Nation of Israel was filled with the spirit to fight and the knowledge to wage war is the foundation of all miracles (Le-Netivot Yisrael ibid.). From this act flowed all of the miracles which led to establishment and strengthening of the State of Israel.

The Obligation to Make Aliyah at this Time

Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook
[Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Bereshit p. 276]

The Pitchei Teshuvah (Even Ha-Ezer 75:10) wrote: "The obligation to fulfill this mitzvah applies at all times, and this is explained by all of the halachic authorities, the Rishonim and Acharonim, based on the ruling of the Ramban (Bemidbar 35:53 and additions to the Sefer Ha-Mitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Mitzvah #4).
There are those who have claimed that there is no mitzvah at this time because of the danger in traveling to Eretz Yisrael, as mentioned in the Tosafot (Ketubot 110b and see Mordechai ibid. and Shulchan Aruch Even Ha-Ezer 75:5). Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Eliyahu Klatzkin wrote a small book of Halachah called "Dvar Halachah" in which he dealt with this strange and even somewhat funny claim, since people make more dangerous trips for business (#38 p. 27a).
And there are those who claim that there is no mitzvah at this time based on what is mentioned in the Poskim that there is no mitzvah to make aliyah when one cannot find a livelihood in Eretz Yisrael (Pitchei Teshuvah ibid. in the name of Terumat Ha-Deshen and Tashbetz). Ha-Rav Klatzkin wrote regarding this idea that in practical terms it is not accurate to say that there is a livelihood outside of Israel but none in Eretz Yisrael. On the contrary, there is a "kosher" livelihood of working the Land in Eretz Yisrael, while the livelihood outside of Israel is through profiteering and the persecution of Israel.
And there are those who claim that there is no mitzvah to make Aliyah since there is a concern that one will become corrupt by being distanced from the Torah. But on the contrary, the Gemara and Poskim explain that one should live in Eretz Yisrael even in a city where the majority of residents are idol worshipers (Ketubot 110b. Shulchan Aruch Even Ha-Ezer 75:3), despite the potential negative influence. Although some authorities write that heretics are worse than non-Jews in this regard and there is a greater chance of negative influence, Ha-Rav Klatzkin explained that the same law applies in a city in Eretz Yisrael where the majority of residents are heretics. His proof is from the Gemara in Eruvin (61b-62a. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim #385) where the law appears that it is impossible to make an "Eruv Chatzerot" (lit. mixed [ownership of] courtyards, which allows one to carry within the courtyard on Shabbat) with a Tzeduki (Saducee, i.e. a heretic), and various options are given if one lives in the same house as a Tzeduki. But there is no mention of a prohibition of living in such a placeor that one is obligated to live in a place solely populated by observant Jews. He adds that one's failure to observe the mitzvot of Hashem based on a concern that spiritual damage will result is discussed by the Gemara in Berachot (10a) regarding King Chizkiyahu, who did not engage in the mitzvah of procreation since he saw through Divine intuition that unvirtuous children would issue from him. The prophet Yeshayahu said to him: "What you are commanded to do, you must do!" And Ha-Rav Klatzkin added (ibid.): As if there is permission to act wiser that Hashem's mitzvot!
There is a story that after the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews from North Africa and Yemen made aliyah and were abandoning traditional observance. The person who headed the Department of Aliyah at the Jewish Agency was a Torah scholar named Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Shragai, and he was being eaten up inside by this fact. He did not know whether it was proper to continue to bring Jews to Israel under such circumstances. He went to the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon Tzvi Pesach Frank, and asked him what to do. Rav Frank said to him: Can you do me a favor and hand me the Yalkut Shimoni? He opened it and showed him the words of the Yalkut Shimoni on Megillat Eichah (#1038): "Hashem says: If only my children, my Nation, would be in the Land of Israel, even though they make it impure." And he continued: What do you want from me - to transgress the words of our Sages?! You are not guilty for what is occurring. You must bring Jews to Israel and make every effort to connect them to Torah. Rav Shragai continued to bring Jews to Israel and he mentioned this story various times.
When the Belzer Rebbe (Ha-Rav Aharon Rokeach) made Aliyah, he came to Reb Noson (Ha-Rav Shalom Natan Ra'anan Kook, Maran Ha-Rav Kook's son-in-law) and said: You and we had differences regarding the way to bring Jews on Aliyah. We said that they should first be strengthened in Judaism outside of the Land and only then could they make Aliyah in order to build in holiness, and you said that every one of them should quickly come on Aliyah without calculation. After the Holocaust, it has become clear to us that we erred, and we are greatly distressed over this fact.

Shut SMS #62

Ha-Rav 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: My good friend is getting married in a civil ceremony and if I do not attend, he will be offended. Should I attend, and if I should not, how do I explain it?
A: One should not participate in something which is against the Torah. You should explain that he does not have a monopoly on being offended, and just as he is offended, so are you. I do not throw stones at those who desecrate Shabbat despite being offended, but if they invite me to an event which violates Shabbat, I will not come even if they are offended. I do not throw stones at those who eat Treif, but if they invite me to a non-kosher meal, I will not come even if they are offended. And may Hashem have mercy.
Q: I want to marry an Ethiopian man but my parents are opposed. They told me that will not help pay for the wedding and will not attend. Am I obligated to obey my parents because of the mitzvah of honoring father and mother?
A: No. You decide. There is no obligation of honoring parents to perform a transgression – like baseless hatred (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 240:14, 25).
Q: How does one clean strawberrys?
A: Cut off the top with a little bit of the fruit. Soak it for two minutes in soapy water. Rinse it with a strong flow of water (Chief Rabbinate of Israel).
Q: Is it permissible to give meat and milk cooked together to an animal to eat?
A: No, it is forbidden to get any benefit from it (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 87:1).
Q: Isn't it a problem to use the non-Jewish names brought from Babylonia for the Hebrew months?
A: They are a remembrance of the second Redemption (Ramban on Shemot 12:1).
Q: Is it possible that someone misses their Beshert?
A: Yes. If he meets a good woman and he rejects her for improper reasons (Re'im Ahuvim chap. 5).
Q: Does one fulfill the mitzvah of learning Torah by listening to a Torah class on a tape?
A: Certainly. But one does not recite a blessing on learning Torah until he says words of Torah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 47:4).
Q: Who takes precedence – my husband or my mother? If my husband comes home, is it permissible for me to stop talking to my mother on the phone?
A: Work it out with your husband beforehand.
Q: How big is a "Ke-Zayit"?
A: A box of matches (see Shut She'eilat Sholomo 1:103).
Q: Is a shower considered "Nine Kavim" for the sake of purity?
A: Yes, with a strong current (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 201:1).
Q: Why is it forbidden for women to serve in Tzahal?
A: It is immodest. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
Q: What should I do if my father drinks alcohol almost every day?
A: Ask him if he wants help freeing himself from it.
Q: My mother is sick. Should I go to a woman who can check if she has the evil eye or some type of sorcery which is causing it?
A: There is no such thing. She should repent, pray and give Tzedakah (Shut She'eilat Shlomo 3:196).
Q: Ha-Rav said that the claim that one need not wear a seatbelt because Hashem protects us is nonsense. Why – we pray for Hashem to protect us?
A: Hashem also protects us through our intellect. Mesilat Yesharim, chap. 9.
Q: What was the blessing on the manna?
A: Blessed is Hashem…who brings forth bread from the heavens (Sefer Chasidim #1640. And see Shut Yechaveh Da'at 6:12 in footnote).

Choosing a Name for a Baby – part 2

Q: Is it permissible to name a baby after a person who died young?
A: It is customary not to do so. If, however, he died in a plague that took not only his life but many other lives, then his name may be used. Similarly, if a soldier died in the fulfillment of his duty, or a Jew was killed by a terrorist, the name many be used. After all, these are not isolated instances.

Q: Can a non-Jewish name be used?
A: There is no prohibition, but a Jewish name is certainly preferable. As is well-known, our ancestors in Egypt earned praise because they did not change their names but kept Jewish names. Similarly, if someone has a non-Jewish name, it is proper for him to Hebraicize it, but there is no obligation to do so.

Q: Is one permitted to select a name that includes G-d's Name?
A: Yes. For example, when we call a child Michael, we do not mean "Who is like G-d?" (Hebrew: "Mi Ka-El"), it is simply the boy's name.

Q: Is it permissible to give a boy's name to a girl and vice versa?
A: According to the Halachah, there is no prohibition (see Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski's "Ta'ama De-Kera" pp. 119-121), but it is customary not to do so, and it is appropriate to follow that custom. If it is a name shared by boys and girls, like Simcha or Yona, then there is no problem. One should consider, however, whether it might not be hard for the child in terms of having an unclear gender identity.

Q: Can one give more than one name?
A: Although the Chazon Ish was not in favor of doing so, most authorities permit it and you can give one name, two names or three – it doesn't matter (Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 1:606).

Q: If one has troubles in life, should one change one's name?
A: It's written that if a person is seriously ill, it is customary to give him a new name (Yoreh Deah 335:10).

Q: If the parents have a difference of opinion, who decides?
A: They should work it out between them.

Our Rabbi and the Yeshiva Students - Part 3

When Yeshivat Mercaz Ha-Rav was in its original building on Rav Kook Street, to our embarrassment and disgrace, there was a specific place right outside where people would wait for prostitutes. Every time the student left the study hall for any reason, they encountered this disgusting behavior, which was the complete opposite of the sanctity and holiness of the Yeshiva. The students complained to Rav Tzvi Yehudah and asked him to move the Yeshiva to a different place, but he told them that at the present time it was not possible. He did however offer a solution: The students need to be strong, and even though he agreed to move the Yeshiva when it became possible, this was not because they were running away or avoiding the problem. Rather, it was because of self-respect and courage. Rav Tzvi Yehudah told the students not to go into seclusion. He advised them to continue to behave as normal, training themselves not to look at the behavior that was occurring outside. The Tur writes about this in his introduction to Orach Chaim: "'Be as light as an eagle' (Pirkei Avot 5:20), refers to avoiding immodest behavior and actions that your eyes can see - just as an eagle swiftly glides through the air, you must be swift to close your eyes to prevent yourself from seeing immodest behavior, because the sight of negative behavior constitutes the beginning of sin. The eyes see and the heart desires and the organs capable of action culminate the sin." (From Taharat Ha-Brit by Rav Aviner, translated into English "Pure Again" by Melech Peltz pp. 125-126).

On one occasion our Rabbi arrived at the Yeshivah for a class in Tanach, but no students showed up. The Rabbi immediately stepped forward and began to lead the Maariv service. He informed the students that he would no longer be coming to the Yeshivah. When they responded: "But Rabbi, you are the dean of the Yeshivah – let the students leave and the Rabbi stay!" The Rabbi said: "I do not believe in religious coercion!"

Our Rabbi and the Yeshiva Students - Part 2

Serving Torah Scholars
A student who was serving in our Rabbi's home was in doubt whether when Elisha poured water on Eliyahu's hands it was considered "serving Torah scholars" (Berachot 7b, Ein Aya – Berachot chap. 1:87). Once, when he brought our Rabbi a cup of tea, he asked: "Ha-Rav, is this serving a Torah scholar?" Our Rabbi was quiet for a long time and said: "It is unclear if I am worthy of being called a Torah scholar." He was quiet again and then added: "The essence of serving a Torah scholar is learning (halachic) reasoning as Rashi explains" (Berachot 47b). (Ha-Rav Eliyahu Mali)

Fear of Heaven
After the Yeshiva moved to the new building, our Rabbi noticed that there were students who were talking during davening, and he looked at them with a severe stare. The same occurred the next day, and then a third time. On that day after davening, he went to the library and cried. When he was asked about it, he responded: If my words are not heard, it is a sign that I do not have fear of Heaven (see Or Le-Netivotai 25, 308, 326). (Ha-Rav Yechezkel Greenwald)

Young students
When our Rabbi gave permission for students to attend a protest (since there are times when stopping learning Torah leads to greater observance of Torah), this ruling was for older students and not younger students. (Iturei Cohanim #57)

Get yourself a teacher (Pirkei Avot 1:6)
Our Rabbi said that "Get yourself a teacher" requires more toil than "acquire a friend for yourself." (Ha-Rav Yechezkel Greenwald – Iturei Cohanim #266)

We have Disagreements

I have many disagreements with my wife. It seems to be unpreventable. People have different appearances, different opinions, different feelings, different desires. This sometimes causes much tension. When this occurs, we sit facing one another, and hold hands, i.e. her left hand in my right hand and her right hand in my left hand. We look at each other in the eyes, and we smile. It is so sweet. This alone makes it worthwhile.
And then we talk, taking turns. We hold hands the entire time, and when we switch turns, we stop for a few moments and smile at each other. We go back and forth until we have solved the problem. To this day, we have always found a solution. We do not wait until it grows into a huge issue, but deal with it immediately. I ask forgiveness from the psychologists and marriage counselors who we have never needed. I am certain that they are happy. I promise that this method works. Just try.

Women Rabbis

[First half of Responsa translated by Aaron Zvi]

Question: Is it permissible for a woman to serve as a community rabbi? There's presently an upheaval in the US regarding this issue. Perhaps the Rabbi could provide his guidance, so that "the wise may hear and reap benefit." And if the honored Rabbi is inclined to demur, since he is located in the East [Israel] and this debate is in the far corners of the West -- [recall that] the words of the Rabbi-professor who granted rabbinic ordination to a woman also came forth from Jerusalem...
Answer: It is not a good idea, because: what's the purpose? Is the goal that women should be capable of providing guidance? If that's the objective, women throughout every the generations have already been providing guidance. Under the law, anyone who knows the Halachah can issue a halachic decision, and they have no need for rabbinic ordination (Rama on Yoreh Deah 242:17). There are many Rabbis who don't have formal ordination. As you know, the Chafetz Chaim never had ordination until he required it in order to obtain a visa, so
the Gaon, Ha-Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, granted it to him.
It is written in Pitchei Teshuvah (Choshen Mishpat 7:5) citing the book "Bri Af" that even though a woman is by default ineligible to [serve as a] judge, there is no question that a woman of wisdom may indeed issue decisions. That is to say: a woman who knows the Halachah may provide guidance -- which is how it has been done through the ages. It is written in Baba Batra (119b): "The daughters of Tzelofchad were [notably] wise." And in the Gemara, Bruria and Yalta were wise scholars. And it is the same way in our day. Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef stated in Shut Yechaveh Daat (3:72) that it is a mitzvah to stand in the presence of a woman who is wise with the wisdom of the Torah. One should rise in the presence of a scholar's wife, and there are halachic opinions that one should rise for any wise and learned woman (see all the sources cited ibid.).
How do people know whether to direct questions to such women (i.e. that they should come to such wise women with halachic/Torah inquiries)? In a natural way. The world just knew, naturally, that it was fitting to ask halachic questions of the Gaonim Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein and Ha-Rav Aharon Kotler. In the same way, a woman is capable of issuing a halachic decision. The majority of questions that Rabbis receive these days are not on new topics, but have already been decided in the earlier texts. In every girls' school, there are wise, scholarly women who teach Halachah to the students. This is nothing new.
Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein writes in Shut Igrot Moshe (Orach Chaim 4:49) that in principle a woman can fulfill the mitzvah of Tzitzit but it is entirely dependent on her motive: "However clearly this only applies when the woman desires to observe the mitzvah although she was not commanded, but when it is not due to this intention, but rather stems from her resentment toward G-d and His Torah, then it is not a mitzvah at all. On the contrary, it is a forbidden act of denial when she thinks that there will be any change in the laws of Torah that she took on, which is even more severe."
This is similar to what Ha-Rav Feinstein wrote regarding appointing a woman to serve as a Kashrut supervisor (ibid. Yoreh Deah 2:45). It is entirely dependent on her motive and the essence is if it strengthens the Torah. And even for the purpose of a mitzvah, one needs proper intentions. The Nation of Israel wanted a king, and appointing a king is a mitzvah, but they did not have proper intentions and wanted to be like the other nations (Shmuel I 8:20 and Sanhedrin 20b). There is therefore no need for a woman to serve as the Rabbi of a community. The intention is to equate the genders. "Every person at his camp, and every person at his banner" (see Bemidbar 1:52).
It is possible that there are women with proper intentions but they already have where to go. At Midreshet Nishmat, there is a program for Yoatzot Halachah. They do not receive Semichah but learn and teach Halachah.

In brief: There have been knowledgeable women through all generations who taught Torah but did not need the title "Rav" and did not act like the Reform Jews. And I should add that I am answering what I am answering if people had asked me in Israel but the Rabbis of America need to answer in America.

Shut SMS #61

Ha-Rav 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: People say that I am a lost case. What should I do?
A: Encourage yourself. One should never despair. Everything will work out. If you want, call me.
Q: Why do we place stones on graves?
A: As a sign of respect that we visited (Shut She'eilat Shlomo 1:418).
Q: Is it permissible to buy from someone who refuses to give a receipt?
A: No, just as it is forbidden to buy from a thief.
Q: What if I already bought something?
A: Donate the amount of the tax to the State, i.e. the army. (Shut She'eilat Shlomo 2:375)
Q: If I am sick, which Rabbi should I visit to receive a blessing?
A: A Rabbi who knows you, as it is written: "A Sage in the city" (Rama Yoreh Deah 335:10 and Shut Shevet Ha-Levi vol. 3 Yoreh Deah #163).
Q: What should I do if I am obligated to be in a place where people are smoking?
A: Ask them to stop smoking. If they do not listen, put a handkerchief in front of your mouth and nose, it helps a little bit.
Q: If we are eating at someone's house, is it permissible to ask if the vegetables are free from worms?
A: G-d forbid! This is insulting. Eat or don't eat, but don't ask.
Q: How did the Jews put on Tefillin in the desert for forty years – the mitzvah was given at Mt. Sinai but part of the sections which are put in the Tefillin where given in Devarim?
A: Either they put on the Tefillin with the sections which were already given and they fulfilled the mitzvah because this was what was given or all the sections had already been given, since there is no chronological in the Torah. See Gittin 60 on whether the Torah was given section by section or all at once. Tosafot ibid. And Malbim on Shemot 10:13.
Q: I have prayers and the Tanach on my cell phone. Is it permissible to enter into the bathroom with it?
A: Yes. When it is not on the screen, it is covered, and this is not the type of writing which the Torah spoke about (Shut Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 1:173 and Shut She'eilat Shlomo 4:237).
Q: I read that one should marry at the age of 18 and at least by 20. Why then should one marry afterwards?
A: This is not precise. There is a mitzvah to get married – and to remain married, and to remain married happily, and many people are not ready at that age (Re'im Hahuvim chap. 4).
Q: Is it permissible for a woman to have a piercing in her belly button which will be covered by a shirt?
A: No. It is a practice of the non-Jews (See Shut She'eilat Shlomo 1:398 #2).
Q: Is it permissible to put meat and milk at different times on a child's highchair?
A: Yes, since the food is not scalding hot (which would transfer the taste). It just needs to be cleaned in between.
Q: Is it permissible to daven with one's hands in his pockets?
A: No, he must stand as before a king (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 98:1).
Q: Is it permissible to take a picture of Bircat Cohanim or is it forbidden just as it is forbidden to look at the Cohanim while they recite the blessing?
A: It is permissible to look at the Cohanim during Bircat Cohanim since they are covered by their Talit, but the custom is not to do so (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 128. Mishnah Berurah #29). There is thus no obligation to add on to the custom, and it is permissible to take a picture.
Q: Is it permissible to dress up as one's Rabbi on Purim?
A: No, it is shaming a Torah scholar. Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, scolded someone who dressed up on Purim like the Chief Rabbi, Ha-Rav Shlomo Goren (Rabbenu p. 130).

Choosing a Name for a Baby – part 1

Q: Should one seek advice from a Rabbi when choosing a name for a baby?
A: No. And in previous generations, people didn't seek such advice the way they do today. In any event, the Arizal says that when parents name the baby, they are infused with a spark of Divine intuition.

Q: Does the name influence one's personality?
A: No. Yishmael is a nice name (G-d will hear), but Yishmael was an evildoer, and it works the other way as well. What determines one's behavior is one's freely made choices later on.

Q: Does one's name influence one's fate?
A: No. What is meant when our Sages state that one can change an evil decree by changing one’s name is explained by the Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 2:4) that by repenting in a serious way, a person’s name gets changed. This means, "I seriously repented and I am no longer the same person." This certainly changes the decree of a person. Rabbenu Nissim - The Ran – has the opposite approach (Rosh Hashanah 3b in the pages of the Rif). He said that if I change my name and every time I mention the new name, it inspires me to repent, I can change my situation. The essence of changing one's name is not a trick. The point is to say: I am not the same person, I am someone new.

Q: The Torah states that Noach was called by that name because he was destined to "make man's life easier" ("yanchenu" in Hebrew). It appears that names do have an influence.
A: Our Sages explain that in those times people had Divine intuition. They therefore named their children for future events. We, however, who lack this ability name our children after parents and grandparents to honor them. Ashkenazim wait until the honoree has passed away. Sefardim honor him in his life time.

Q: Is it permissible to name somebody after an evildoer?
A: Ashkenazim and Sefardim generally do not do so. For example, the Tosafot (Yoma 38b and Ketubot 104b) remark that the name "Avshalom" (King David's rebellious son) should not be used. Yemenite Jews, however, are not concerned by this since the name Avshalom (lit. father is peace) is a beautiful name. If Ashkenazim and Sefardim are naming after someone and an evildoer also has that name, it is permissible to use the name since the family has the other context in mind.

Encouragement for Converts

Question: There are many people who converted and have lived many years as Jews only to find out recently that their conversions are not recognized by rabbinical authorities in Israel and the US. What would you say to the people whom experience this and can you offer words of comfort or advice?
Answer: 1. We now understand why the Torah states 36 times: Do not oppress the convert. It is obviously forbidden to vex another person. So when we read over and over again "Do not oppress the convert" we think - we understand, enough already. Now we see that Hashem was correct in repeating this idea. 2. There is a new law that a Beit Din cannot nullify a conversion and only the Chief Rabbi has this authority. We hope that this will help to solve the problem.