Shut SMS #180

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a day!  Here's a sample:


Q: Is there a problem with reading newspapers?

A: It is complete "Bitul Torah" (neglecting Torah learning).  A person certainly wants to know what is happening, but there is no need to delve into the minute details as presented in newspapers.  This is especially true since many times there is also Lashon Ha-Ra, disputes, frivolity and a lack of modesty.  The Chafetz Chaim in Zachor Miriam, Chapter 23.


Permanent Makeup

Q: Is it permissible to have permanent makeup or is it forbidden on account of the prohibition against tattoos?

A: It is permissible on account of various reasons added together: 1. It is not writing or pictures but coloring.  2. It is not actually permanent but fades over the course of years since it is not so deep.  3. It is not for idol worship.  Taharat Ha-Bayit of Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef, part 3 (see Shut Shevet Ha-Levi 10:137.  Shut Le-Horot Natan 10:64).


Wedding Ring for a Man

Q: My wife really wants me to wear a wedding ring.  What should I do?

A: A Kosher man is one who fulfills his wife's will (see Shut Igrot Moshe Even Ha-Ezer 4:32 #2.  Shut She'eilat 1:426).


Red Clothing

Q: Is it permissible for a woman to wear red clothing at home when there are no men there?

A: It is a dispute among halachic authorities.  Malbushei Kavod, p. 19.


Bourdeaux Clothing

Q: Is it permissible to wear bourdeaux-colored clothing?

A: Yes.  Only red clothing is forbidden (see Shut Shevet Halevi 6:24 #2.  Shut Be'er Moshe 4:147 #13).


Davening with Weapon

Q: Is it a problem for a soldier to daven with his weapon?

A: One should not daven with a weapon.  He should put it down or cover it, unless there is no choice.

Q: Is it permissible for a Cohain to recite Birkat Cohanim with a weapon?

A: We have not found it written explicitly that it is forbidden (see Ha-Rav's commentary on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 13:2).


Separate Teachers' Room

Q: Is there a need to have separate teachers' rooms for male and female teachers?

A: Certainly.  And when there is no choice, they should sit on different sides of the room with a wide distance between them.  Besides the prohibition itself, the students will see this and learn hypocrisy (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 152:8-10).



Q: Is it permissible to wear high-heeled shoes?

A: If the shoes are wide, low and do not influence the regular way of walking.  Hashem criticized: "Because the daughters of Zion are haughty".  Yeshayahu 3:16.  Shabbat 62b.


Secular Months

Q: Is it permissible to use the secular date when there is no choice?

A: It is not the secular date, but the Christian date.  The Ramban (Shemot 12:2) writes that one must use the Torah's months.  It is permissible when there is no choice, but one should write "January" and not the number "1", and it is preferable to write an abbreviation "Jan.", and it is proper to add the Hebrew date.  Piskei Teshuvot 156:3.

Children -- Only Holiness

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Vayeilech 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Question: What is better for our dear children: Torah learning and secular studies together, or just Torah learning?

Answer: Just Torah learning! Such is Rambam’s ruling, that a small child should learn only Torah (Hilchot Talmud Torah, Chapter 2), and we find the same in Yoreh Deah 245. Such has been the ruling down through our people’s long history that children learn only Torah and nothing else. It is by virtue of this that the Jewish People have survived with all their greatness, reverence, Torah learning, purity and holiness intact.

And why not secular learning? Does it not include some very nice features? Certainly, very nice features indeed, very important and very essential. These features are interesting, they broaden the mind, expand the intellect, increase one’s understanding of the world and even one’s understanding of Torah. They are also a means of earning a living and a necessary vehicle for upholding the State. Our country needs physicians, engineers, soldiers and all kinds of professions. Secular knowledge is essential for enabling one to earn a living so that he does not become a parasite, and all the more so for enabling him to support and strengthen the Jewish State, which is great Mitzvah.

All this is very important, but not for children. Not every burden has to be laid upon children. It is very important to get married, and even so, the secrets of married life are not a topic for children. The time will come to teach them everything, but first comes the main thing, and afterwards the additions. The main thing is not broadening the mind with general knowledge, or acquiring a profession for the sake of earning a living. Rather, the main thing is good character, fear of G-d, goodness and integrity, and keeping Torah and Mitzvot (Igrot Ha-Re'eiyah, Igeret #170). All the rest constitute tools, tools towards there being a world, a Jewish State, towards a person’s surviving and succeeding. What could be better?  Yet why does a person want to succeed? Why is he alive? To serve G-d. Obviously, without people there can be no one to serve G-d, but the main thing is serving G-d, knowing

G-d, fearing G-d, having good character, amassing Torah knowledge, doing Mitzvot relating to G-d and to one’s fellow man. That is the essence of life, and that is what a child must be taught.

Afterwards we can add on the less essential matters, and then they, too, can serve as an auxiliary to what is really important. General knowledge can join together with one’s Torah knowledge, and a profession can help one to win life’s battles on behalf of what is important. The main thing, however, is to start out with what is important. Here is not the place to deliberate on how long childhood lasts -- until thirteen, fifteen or eighteen. This is something that changes with each generation. Nowadays, maturity is considered not to come until age twenty or twenty-two. Yeshiva students are called “Tinokot Shel Bet Rabban,” - “The children of our master’s school.”

We are not against secular studies. We are in favor of them. Yet yeshiva elementary school and high school should be devoted to G-d alone. Secular studies are not what children are about. Holiness is. Good character, a good heart, fear and love and devotion for G-d.

Afterwards, whatever secular studies a person learns, whether for his general knowledge or for his livelihood, will bring a blessing.

If the opposite happens, however, and a person ends up with neither good character nor a good heart, why should we develop his talents? What benefit will there be from talented people who lack a conscience? As the philosopher Rabelais said, “Knowledge without a conscience is the soul’s destruction.”

Of what use is a talented university student who breaks into the University computer system, changes his grades and erases the files of others? He is learned and knowledgeable, yet he is barbaric. One thinker called this the “techno-barbarian culture.” The wild man armed with technological knowledge is more dangerous than the primitive barbarian, because he holds in his hands the means and the tools to destroy.

We want good, ethical, upright children, and that is what we have to concentrate on.

Later on we can broaden our ambitions. With G-d’s help, life lasts a long time. We should let our children and our youth study Torah without distractions, in the Talmud Torah, the Yeshiva Ketana and the post-high school Yeshiva. Afterwards, if they wish, they can study Torah their whole lives and become rabbis, and if they wish, they can choose a different profession.

One might ask: At age twenty-five one should start studying secular professions? So suddenly? This is an appropriate remark in relation to anyone who has never learned anything, and his brain is rusty. Yet we are talking about people who have studied the Talmud, which is the profoundest field of knowledge there is, more so than any secular field.

For such people, secular fields are child’s play. Look around and see for yourself. At Machon Lev (The Jerusalem College of Technology) they opened a preparatory “Mechinah” for youths who have studied in Yeshivot Ketanot and have never touched secular studies. In one year, studying secular studies only half a day, they all passed their matriculation exams.

These youth have good study habits and are able to pace themselves. It is important for a person to know how to study on his own, to progress and to toil, to make an effort, to use learning tools and strategies, and not just to sit in class passively for hours and hours. That such students can be rapidly trained for a profession has been confirmed empirically. There are numerous examples of Yeshiva students successfully being integrated into various study programs.

When a boy is young, however, he should be allowed to learn Torah, so that he can grow up good and upright. Mathematics and Physics do not make a person good and upright, neither do they make him evil. They are irrelevant on this point.

Some people quote our Sages’ various utterances, that a man has to teach his son a trade (Kiddushin 29a); that many conducted themselves like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, studying only Torah, and were unsuccessful (Berachot 35b); that astronomy is our science in the eyes of the nations (Shabbat 75a), etc. Yet Rambam knew all these sources and they have no connection to the rules of educating children. The two issues must not be confused.

Should our Sages’ utterances about the Mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying make us marry off our children in early adolescence?

All of our Sages’ utterances regarding the value of secular knowledge are well-known and correct. Rambam, as well, knew these sources, and he incorporated them in various places in his works. Our children, however, should be left in peace. There’s no rush. It can wait. When they are young, what is important for them is to gain as much Torah and holiness as they can. That way they can become Torah-true, not half secular and half Torah-oriented, but totally of G-d. G-d alone is exalted.

I am not invalidating national-religious education or the Yeshiva high schools. I am not invalidating anything. Everyone must do what is best for him, on condition that he maintain holiness and purity. By the same token, we must not foster intolerance towards those who wish their children to study according to the pattern recorded in the Talmud, Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch, a pattern that was practiced down through the generations. After all, it was from that pattern that Torah luminaries and reputable children sprang forth. Don’t spread your wings over everyone, saying, “You all have to be like us.”

Quite the contrary, the child’s environment has to be one of holiness. The Torah must be his life, and he should love the Torah and be excited by it. It should be his whole world.

In Jerusalem there are several hundred Yeshivot Ketanot belonging to various streams, and in each of them are dozens of children studying with pleasure and enthusiasm. For the National-Religious population, there are almost none like this. This demonstrates an enormous lack of understanding. This has no connection to arguments about Eretz Yisrael and the Redemption. During the time of the Redemption, is there no need to fill ourselves with Torah and the fear of G-d? Quite the contrary, we need it all the more! We need still more Torah and fear of G-d, more Torah and Mitzvot than in the exile! Because of Zionism we have to weaken the Torah? We have to strengthen it more. In order to build a single individual you need a lot of Torah, and in order to build a state, which is so complicated a task, you need even more!

Over time, general knowledge can be introduced in limited doses to the main objective, which is Torah and serving G-d, for that is why we are on this earth. That is the revolution that lies before us now: to establish Yeshivot Ketanot. From these, real Torah scholars will emerge, both those for whom the Torah is their trade all their lives, and those who will choose a different profession in time. Through both will be fulfilled, “All your children shall be taught of Hashem” (Yeshayahu 54:13).

Haftarat Sukkot: The Universal Nation

[Zechariah 14:1-21]


The revival of the Nation of Israel in the Land of its Forefathers was in no way a “wholesome” process.  Zechariah warned us against this idea: "I will gather all of the nations to Jerusalem to wage war, the city will be conquered, the homes plundered" (Zechariah 14:2).  When we read these worrisome words of Zechariah, we can only hope that this prophecy is behind us, that it refers to our War of Independence, and that there is no need to fear such events occurring again.  However, it is incumbent upon us to be certain that in the end, universal peace will reign, "For Torah will come forth from Zion" (Yeshayahu 2:3) for all of humanity: "It will be on that day that living water will flow from Jerusalem…On that day Hashem will be One and His Name will be One" (Zechariah 14:8-9).


After the storm, the sun will shine.  "And it will happen that all who will be left from among all the nations that come upon Jerusalem, they will ascend every year to prostrate themselves before the King, Hashem, Master of Armies, and to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot" (ibid. v. 16).  The holiday of Sukkot will be transformed into a universal holiday, which it actually has always been, as our Sages point out: seventy bulls are sacrificed on the altar in the Temple of Jerusalem for the benefit of the seventy nations of the world (Sukkah 55b).


The notion of the Nation of Israel’s uniqueness Israel has never contradicted our deep aspiration for the physical and spiritual perfection of humanity.  We have never possessed the concept of proselytizing and missionizing in the Christian style, which aspires to convert every human being to their religion.  And even less so the concept of Islam, whose goal is to force their complete control over the nations of the world.  As is known, the World to Come is not solely designated for the Nation of Israel: Righteous Gentiles also have a place in this exalted future (Tosefta Sanhedrin 13.  Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah 3:5).


Our goal is to be a blessing to all of the nations.  We must respect their natural strengths, and purify and exalt them.  This was exactly the mission of Avraham Avinu: "And I will make you a great Nation…And all of the families of the world will be blessed through you" (Bereshit 12:2-3).  This is the reason that the Nation of Israel is defined by Yeshayahu as "A light unto the nations" (Yeshayahu 42:6, 44:6).  To a certain extent, this aspiration actually found fulfillment during the period of King Shlomo. Then all of the kings of the world, and especially Queen Sheba, could not deny the Kingship of Hashem, which was part and parcel of the kingship of King David's son (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 1:10).  This vision will come to fruition in the future hope: "For My house will be called a house of prayer for all of the nations" (Yeshayahu 56:7).  And even further: "At that time they will call Jerusalem the throne of Hashem, and all the nations will be gathered to it, to the name of Hashem, to Jerusalem, and they will no longer follow after the stubbornness of their evil heart" (Yirmiyahu 3:17).


Despite all of the prophetic promises, we are still occasionally subject to the media's message that "Jerusalem is holy to all the religions," and it must therefore be internationalized.  No!  While all of humanity may absorb its holiness, Jerusalem is ours, only ours, eternally.  After all, we are a universal Nation.  Every Jew finishes his daily prayers with "Aleinu," in which he pleads with the Creator to return all humans to the proper path and repair the world.


The Messiah is not a narrow chauvinist, but the bringer of peace for all nations.  "He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Yeshayahu 2:4).


All of humanity will then see in the Nation of Israel the source of its joys and the instrument of its success.  If the nations of the world would recognize this truth, they would help us instead of opposing us.  Regardless, this vision will materialize in the end, both for our Nation and for a perfected humanity.  Yeshayahu had the merit to reveal this to us in his prophetic vision: "In the last days, the mountain of Hashem's Temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.  Many nations will come and say: 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of Hashem, to the house of the G-d of Yaakov.  He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.'  In the end, universal peace will reign, "For Torah will come forth from Zion, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem" (Yeshayahu 2:2-3). 

Rav Aviner in the News: Time to Change Religious MKs

Shut SMS #179


Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a day!  Here's a sample:

First Shot

Q: I am in Tzahal, shot my gun for the first time and am extremely happy.  Can I recite the blessing of Shehechiyanu?

A: Yes.  A Good tiding.  Performing a Mitzvah for the first time (Shut Orach Mishpat #268-269).


Tzahal Uniform on Shabbat

Q: I put aside an army uniform to wear specifically on Shabbat, and I just received a new uniform.  Is it permissible for me to put aside the new uniform to wear on Shabbat and wear the older uniform on weekdays, or it is forbidden because it is a decrease in holiness?

A: It is permissible.  This is how Beit Shammai acted when they bought food and put it aside for Shabbat, but when they found better food, they ate the original food and left the better food for Shabbat (Beitzah 16a).


Drafting Yeshiva Students

Q: It is true that serving in the army is a Mitzvah, but it is a Mitzvah that can be performed by others, and learning Torah supersedes it (Moed Katan 9)?

A: Tzahal is currently lacking 8000 soldiers needed to fill all of its positions.  By the way, it is lacking 1000 Kashrut supervisors, which is a very important and holy job, and is perfect for students from Charedi Yeshivot.


Infringement on King Shaul's Honor

Q: I served as a Rabbi in America for many years.  I taught about King Shaul many times, and along with praising him, I also described him as having psychological problems and anger management issues, etc.  I am currently in the middle of Ha-Rav's book "Torat Emet" (on learning Tanach) and now understand that I impinged on King Shaul's honor and need to go to his grave with a Minyan and ask for his forgiveness.

A: Yashar Koach!  Unfortunately, the location of his grave is unknown.  Shmuel 2 21:14.



Q: Is it permissible to donate Ma'aser for Jonathan Pollard?

A: Yes.  Ma'aser is for the poor, and he is extremely poor from all perspectives.


Bar Mitzvah Meal

Q:  Can a Bar Mitzvah meal be dairy?

A: Yes.  Other meals for a Mitzvah may also be.  The essence is that the meal is respectable (see Piskei Teshuvot #194 in the notes.  Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 2:485, 3:294).


Non-Kosher Animals

Q: Is it permissible to raise a non-Kosher animal or bird in one's house?

A: Yes, if it is not a type eaten by non-Jews.  Beit Yosef, Yoreh Deah #117.  Shuchan Aruch ibid.  Birkei Yosef ibid.  



Q: Everyone calls me "Tzadik", but I know that I am not.  Can this cause the evil eye to be on me?

A: No.  There is no connection.  But learn a lot of Mesilat Yesharim.



Q: Will I get the evil eye if I write a will?

A: Certainly not.  Some authorities even hold that it is a Segulah for a long life.

Haftarat Minchah of Yom Kippur: Yonah: The Beloved and Courageous Prophet

[The Book of Yonah]


Yonah, a prophet of Hashem, received a Divine command to call for a spiritual awakening in Nineveh, the capital of the huge Kingdom of Ashur.  We would think that he would be overjoyed: what an amazing opportunity to help an entire empire repent! But his response is the exact opposite.


As is known, three times a day in the prayer "Aleinu" we say: "Therefore we put our hope in You, Hashem, our G-d, that we will quickly see Your mighty splendor…to perfect the world through the Almighty's kingdom.  Then all humanity will call upon Your Name."  Our deepest wish is that all of humanity will find the proper path.


And yet we read: "Yonah arose to flee to Tarshish from before Hashem.  He went down to Yafo and found a ship traveling to Tarshish.  He paid his fare and boarded it to travel with them to Tarshish from before Hashem" (1:3).  The first question which arises is: how can one flee "from before Hashem," since the earth is full of His honor?  "How shall I leave from Your Spirit and where shall I flee from Your Presence?" (Tehillim 139:7).  Is it really possible to run away from the Master of the Universe? 


The Radak, Rabbi David Kimchi, explained that Yonah knew that one cannot flee from Hashem.  This is made clear from the text itself, which does not in fact say that Yonah wanted to flee "from Hashem" but rather that he wanted to flee "from before Hashem" (Yonah 1:3). Yonah sought to distance himself from the place of prophecy, for it is only possible to receive prophecy in the Land of Israel.  The Radak said that if he left the Land of Israel, the spirit of prophecy – through which one is considered to be "before Hashem" - would not be able to rest upon him.  The Land of Israel is the Land of prophecy.  Our Sages were therefore surprised by the verse: "It was that the word of Hashem came to Yechezkel ben Buzi Ha-Cohain in the land of Kasdim" (Yechezkel 1:3)."  How did he prophesy outside of the Land?  The answer: "It was," meaning, "it already was" (Moed Katan 25a), i.e. Yechezkel began by prophesying in the Land of Israel and then continued to prophesy in the Exile.  


But an additional question arises: How then did Moshe Rabbenu prophesy in the land of Egypt and in the desert?  Rabbi Yehudah Halevi provides two answers to this question: 1. It is possible to prophesy not only in the Land of Israel but also about the Land of Israel, even when one is outside of the Land (Kuzari 2, 14).  2. The particular area where Moshe Rabbenu prophesied is part of the Land of Israel.  There is a disagreement regarding the southern border of Israel, which is called "the River-bed of Egypt" [Nachal Mitzrayim].  It is unclear whether this refers to the Nile or to Wadi El Arish.  According to the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi "the River-bed of Egypt" is the eastern offshoot of the Nile called "Pelusium" and thus the land of Goshen, where Moshe Rabbenu prophesied, is within the borders of the Land of Israel. 


Regardless, Yonah was well aware that Hashem's glory fills the entire world.  Therefore, according to the Radvaz, Rabbi David ben Zimra, who lived in Egypt four hundred years ago, Yonah still had not received the definite words to relate to the people, as it is written: "Call out to her" (1:2).  Yes, he had been "called," but the specifics of that call were as yet lacking.  Only after he was spit out of the fish was the exact prophecy revealed to him: "You should arise to Nineveh, the great city, and call out to it the announcement which I tell you" (3:2).  The Radvaz brought a proof from Targum Yonatan (the Aramaic translation) which explains the verse, "And Yonah arose to flee to the sea before he prophesied," i.e. before he received the prophecy (Shut Ha-Radvaz vol. 2 #842).


This brings us back to our original question: What did Yonah see that made him refuse to fulfill the Divine order?  Rashi explained that Yonah said: The non-Jews are close to repentance (Yonah 1:3) –  i.e. they repent easily.  The Nation of Israel, however, is not close to repentance.  They are stiff-necked.  The Nation of Israel had a myriad of prophets.  Our Rabbis relate that there were forty-eight prophets and eight prophetesses, and those were in addition to the hundreds and thousands of prophets who did not leave any writings (Megillah 14a).  There were so many prophets, and yet the Nation of Israel did not always heed their call.  The non-Jews, in contrast, repent quickly.  We see this clearly when Yonah, without exhibiting any desire or passion, arrives to the city and says: "Another forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Yonah 3:4).  He says the absolute minimum possible, and yet they begin repenting immediately!  So Yonah reasoned: if I help the non-Jews repent, the Nation of Israel (who will not heed the call) will be judged harshly.  I do not want to be part of this process.


There is, in truth, a very important question here: why do the non-Jews repent so quickly, while we, the treasured and holy Nation, are stiff-necked and do not listen to the prophets?  The answer is that the non-Jews repent quickly, but they also return to their old-ways quickly.  Their repentance is not whole hearted.  It is true that the people of Nineveh repented: the king, the citizens and even the animals fasted and put on sackcloth and ashes.  But it is also true that they returned to their sinful ways with the same alacrity.  The proof of this is that we have never heard that the city of Nineveh became a city of righteous people.  The opposite is true: Nineveh was the capital of Sancheriv, whose men destroyed the Kingdom of Israel and exiled the Ten Tribes who have disappeared to this very day.  We have heard that they waged difficult and cruel wars.  Their repentance was not sincere or true.  In contrast, although the Nation of Israel is stiff-necked, when they do repent, their repentance is true and not merely an act of momentary excitement.  The Maharal – Rabbi Yehudah Loew – explained that this character trait flows from the fact that the Nation of Israel examines every matter based on intellect.  Because the Nation of Israel argues over every issue and is not easily convinced, it is difficult to get them to repent (Netzach Yisrael, chapter 14).  The Nation of Israel is not easily moved because it is an intellectual Nation.  We see this already during the period of Moshe Rabbenu when the Nation of Israel argued with him constantly: "Were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the desert?" (Shemot 14:11).  They even tried to understand revealed miracles in various ways.  This is not a fundamentally negative trait; on the contrary, it testifies to their seriousness, depth, and intellectual search for truth.  The non-Jewish Nations, on the other hand, are more grounded in the physical rather than the intellectual world.  They are like a material which easily changes its form.  Thus, Yonah refused to help the people of Nineveh repent so that their repentance would not be used as an accusation against the Nation of Israel.   


Yonah loved Israel passionately and had a good role model for his actions: Moshe Rabbenu.  The sin of the Golden Calf was a horrible sin which our Sages compare to "a bride who engaged in extramarital relations during the wedding" (Shabbat 88b).  In the midst of Hashem's revelation on Mt. Sinai, Moshe went up to receive the Torah.  When he descended, the Jewish People were dancing around the Golden Calf.  The Master of the Universe informed him: "Leave Me alone, so that My anger will flare up at them and I may consume them, and I will make you a great nation" (Shemot 32:10).  Hashem promised to create a new nation from Moshe Rabbenu, with no need for those who are dancing around the Golden Calf.  But Moshe replied: No!  And if You do not forgive them "erase me from the book which You have written" (ibid. verse 32).   Moshe Rabbenu said: I do not want to be a great nation.  I only want this Nation as it is.  Moshe Rabbenu displayed enormous self-sacrifice when he, so to speak, gave an ultimatum to Hashem: either you forgive this Nation or "erase me from the book which You have written."  In the end, the Master of the Universe forgave them.  Yonah followed in Moshe Rabbenu's footsteps.  Our Sages summarize this idea in one brief statement: "Yonah demanded the honor of the son" (Mechilta De-Rabbi Yishmael, Bo, parashah #1).  Yonah demanded the honor of the son, i.e. the Nation of Israel.  For Israel's sake, he was willing to do anything, even to distance himself from the Master of the Universe. 


But, in the end, of course Hashem was correct.  In His great mercy, He was willing to accept even partial Teshuvah.  If only Nineveh would take a small step towards repentance and Hashem, even a fleeting one, Hashem would cancel the harsh punishment which He had planned.  Yonah learned this idea when he was in the belly of the fish.  He repented, and then agreed to fulfill his mission in Nineveh.


We will conclude with an interesting historical note.  A researcher named Olders wrote that in the year 5487 a whale was caught with the aid of a harpoon in the Falkland Islands, off the coast of South America.  The whale began to move around in a frenzy, flipped over the fishing boat and swallowed one of the sailors.  The sailor was found unconscious inside the whale three days later.  They succeeded in reviving him, but he suffered severe psychological damage from this experience for the rest of his life, and was never able to recover.  He survived because he was not in the digestive system of the whale, since its opening is too narrow to pass a full-grown man, but rather in its respiratory system.  The man was thus able to breathe and did not suffocate.  Nonetheless, he was obviously in an extremely stressful situation.  In contrast, when Yonah left the fish, he was completely revived! He helped the sinners return to Hashem, and taught a universal lesson which applies for all nations and all times. 

They’re “Head Tefillin” and Not “Forehead Tefillin”

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Nitzvaim 5772 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (10:3) teaches:

“As for the Torah’s dictum that the head Tefillin must be ‘between your eyes’ (Devarim 6:8), our Sages had a tradition that this does not mean ‘between the eyes’ literally, but corresponds to the spot between one’s eyes. The real spot starts at the hairline and stretches upward to the end of the soft-spot in an infant’s skull, which means that the lower edge of the head Tefillin should not be lower than the place where the hair begins to grow, and the upper edge not higher than the place where a child’s skull is soft. Great care should be taken to watch that the head Tefillin always lay in their proper place. Even if only a small part of those Tefillin are on the forehead where no hair grows, or if it inclines to the side and it is not exactly midway between the eyes, the precept is not fulfilled, and the blessing is pronounced in vain.”

Indeed one must place one’s head Tefillin where the hair starts to grow. If someone has bangs and he places the Tefillin on those bangs, it does not help. A lot of people wear their Tefillin too low. The “Chayei Adam” (Klal 14, Se’if 10) said that if someone places part of his head Tefillin on his forehead, he is adopting the approach of the Karaites.

In the booklet “Nefesh David” (Letter 15), The “Aderet”, the illustrious Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Te’omim, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and father-in-law of Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, wrote as follows:

“I have toiled hard to rectify the way the mitzvah of Tefillin is practiced, so that the head Tefillin should be set in their proper place. I have given many talks about this, and I have written flyers to be put up in the study houses and Shuls.”

Maran Ha-Rav Kook likewise wrote a short book about this called “Chevesh Pe’er” [Wearing Majesty], and he went from city to city encouraging people to recognize the importance of this topic.

The book “Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah” relates that Rav Kook, as is well-known, was nearsighted. He would customarily remark that this attribute was literally heaven-sent. He would then explain that some people do not place their head Tefillin in the right place during services. Were he able to see this, it would greatly disturb his own prayers.

The Chafetz Chaim wrote in his Mishna Berurah (27:33): “Many fall prey to this prohibition and erroneously say that the top edge of the Tefillin starts above the hairline, whereas the bulk of the head Tefillin lies on the forehead. They thereby violate a Torah prohibition, for one’s entire head Tefillin must be placed above the hairline. Even the bottom edge of the head Tefillin must lie above the hairline. As far as someone with bangs coming halfway down his forehead placing his head Tefillin over them, that is no better, because the bottom of the head Tefillin must still be the hairline, and it is better for it to be a little bit above that as well. After all, there is room on one’s head to put two head Tefillins!

Placing the Tefillin slightly above safeguards against its slipping down to the forehead. Whoever places his head Tefillin on his forehead is following the Karaite practice, and does not fulfill the Mitzvah. The scrupulously Torah-observant should warn their friends and teach them not to fall prey to this. Otherwise, those friends could be classed as 'Jews who sin with their bodies' (Rosh Hashanah 17a) by having 'Skulls that have never had Tefillin on them’ (ibid.).

Their blessing over Tefillin is likewise in vain, for Tefillin set in the wrong place are the equivalent of Tefillin still in their bag.”

Likewise, the straps get tugged during the service, causing the Tefillin to descend from their proper place, and the Tefillin should be readjusted.

If someone is totally bald, where does he put his Tefillin? He should hold on to pictures from his youth or when he started to go bald, and he should ascertain the precise location of his original hairline.

[From my commentary on the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch]

Mourning for a Secular Israeli

Q: Does one sit shiva for a secular Israeli?

A: It is true that we do not sit shiva for one who separates himself from the ways of the community (Rambam, Hilchot Avel 1:10 and Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 345:5).  The Rambam says (ibid.) that people who separate themselves from the community are "The people who cast off the yoke of the mitzvot from their necks and are not included among the community of Israel."  And the Shulchan Aruch writes (ibid.): "They are like free people for themselves like the rest of the nations."  This means that they are people who left the Nation of Israel, and one who leaves defines himself as an outsider.  But Maran Ha-Rav Kook makes an important clarification in his article "Al Bamotenu Chalalim" (Ma'amrei Ha-Re'eiyah, p. 89).  He discusses the exact same question about shiva for two members of the secular movement "Ha-Shomer" who were killed in the Galil.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook said that secular Jews are not defined as those who separate themselves from the ways of the community.  The separation which appears in the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch is comprised of two parts: separation from Judaism and separation from the Nation of Israel.  In the past, one went with the other: if one left the religion he also left the Nation, and he was thus “outside”.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook says that today this is not so.  Some people leave the religion but do not leave their connection to the Nation of Israel, and they display enormous self-sacrifice for the Nation, and are sometimes even killed for the Nation, as were the members of the "Ha-Shomer" movement.  Therefore, this law does not apply to them.  As is known, in the language of Halachah, they are like a "Tinok She-Nishba" (literally a Jewish child captured and raise among non-Jews).  The Rambam explains in Hilchot Mamrim (3:3) that a "Tinok She-Nishba" is a Jew who did not receive a proper Jewish upbringing and education.  In simple words, they are confused.  They do not separate themselves from the religion in order to destroy the Nation of Israel.  They separate themselves because they do not know any better.  The great authorities already ruled that these difficult halachot do not apply to secular Jews in our days, since they are "Tinokot She-Nishbu."  This is also the opinion of the Chareidi authorities.  For example, Nitei Gavriel (Hilchot Aveilut) quotes the Charedi authorities who rule that we do sit shiva for a "Tinok She-Nishba" – a category which today includes secular Israelis.

Letter from Rav Zev Shandalov: An Apology to King Shaul

Over the past many weeks, there has been much debate in both the secular and religious press about new guidelines from the Ministry of Education regarding the teaching of TaNach in schools. The program, referred to by many as "B'Gova Eynayim" generally means that some of the narratives of the Bible will be taught in a way that will bring these giants of our past "down to our level" in the way we look at them. In addition, there will be materials from Christian sources which will be used to contrast to some of the Torah subjects.

In a firestorm of protest, articles, pamphlets and books quickly appeared to attempt to either thwart this move or to give encouragement to teachers as to how to properly teach these various subjects.

Among those who have authored books on this subject is the prolific writer, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the Rabbi of Bet-El. Rav Aviner has been at the forefront of this battle, as he sees it, to maintain the proper respect for those of our past of whom we learn in the TaNach. I recently purchased his book Torat Emet and read it quickly cover to cover. After reading it, I began to shake.

Before making Aliya three years ago, I lived with my family in Chicago, where I served as a pulpit rabbi and a teacher in both Day School and High School. In the synagogue setting and in the school setting, I had the opportunity to teach the book of Shmuel (the prophet Samuel) many times, as I continue to this day, as well. During that time period, I consistently referred to the first king of Israel, King Saul, as being mentally unstable, deranged, bi-polar and perhaps many other very unflattering adjectives. At no point did I find this to be problematic, as these characterizations certainly seemed to "fit the bill."

And then, I read the book by Rav Aviner, and my entire perspective changed! While, indeed there may have been issues occurring in the life of Saul, nevertheless, we must not forget that he was personally chosen by God to be the first king! He was described in the early part of the Book of Samuel as one "hiding among the utensils." This was to lay the underlying foundation as to who he truly was deep down--a humble man with humble beginnings who rose to the position of the first king of Israel.
Was I present when he was anointed as king? Do his actions relative to King David negate the great leader and powerful man that he was? Do I, as a teacher have a right to denigrate one of the great leaders of Israel and to demean him in the eyes of my students?

The answer is a resounding "NO!" While indeed these giants of the Bible had their failings, it is a critical mistake to focus on the negatives and not stress the positives.

My intention is to go one day to the grave of our first king, King Saul, to ask for his forgiveness in the way I spoke about him publically. However, in the interim, I wish to publicly state that I apologize for not putting the proper forethought into my speech and therefore erred . I also wish to thank Rav Shlomo Aviner, for his insightful book that led me to this conclusion.

As we approach the time period of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we need to focus on change and growth both in our actions vis-a-vis God and our actions vis-a-vis our fellow man. I do hope that King Saul will accept my apology. May we all take the opportunity to execute proper judgment and proper action on a daily basis and we all merit being sealed in the Book of Life.


Rabbi Zev Shandalov is originally from Chicago where he served as a rabbi and teacher. He made Aliya in 2009 to Maale Adumim with his wife and three daughters. Rabbi Shandalov teaches both privately and in the local high school.