The Populist Rabbi

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


Many hold that in our world, which suffers from media overload, all aspects of life must be managed by those who are popular, the populists, the politically correct, etc., and if someone conducts himself with innocent integrity he will just make a mess of things.

This has resulted in the creation of a popular/populist Rabbi, who believes that only by doing what the people want can he bring them closer to our Father in Heaven.

Nonetheless, the populist Rabbi does not like being labeled as such, for the connotation is that he has low self-esteem, and that he therefore positions himself at the representative center.

Following are the characteristics of the populist Rabbi. Obviously, one populism is not the same as the next. All the same, we can distinguish several general characteristics that apply, more or less, in most cases.

1. Enlists support and admiration amongst a broad spectrum of the public, especially the secular and the liberal religious.

2. Gains this support by emphasizing frustration, adapting prejudices against certain Jewish laws, and promising overnight miracle solutions.

3. Emphasizes and focuses upon topics that are dear to the hearts of those populations, such as: democracy, academics and the status of women, and shows lenience regarding conversion, sexual modesty, and other matters

4. Wages a stubborn battle against Charedi Rabbis who possess political power due to their spiritual greatness or their genius in Jewish law, and seeks constantly to undermine them by sabotaging that power.

5. At the same time, makes selective use of isolated, lenient Charedi rulings, fleshing out those rulings, extending them and establishing them as representative examples.

6. Systematically blames Torah scholars, and the whole Charedi public, for numerous troubles in society and presents themselves as the bearers of light for the generation.

7. Repeatedly presents Torah scholars as extremists, far removed and cut off from the public, who distance the public from the Torah, while they themselves have a monopoly on the mainstream approach, and are connected to, friendly with and in touch with the people. By such means they claim glory for themselves at the cost of shaming others.

8. Renders moral messages shallow, glossing over them with their personal charisma. These Rabbis are not like Moshe, who testified about his own speech impediments. See Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook’s letter in this regard to his son, Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah in his youth.

9. Attempts to bring secular Jews closer to religion and liberal Jews to Torah by issuing less-demanding rulings. They gauge their rulings by asking themselves: Will the public be pleased when less demanding rulings are issued?

10. Without openly taking a stand against Halachah, but having learned Torah and speaking in the Torah’s name, avails himself of three magic formulas to neutralize Jewish laws that people find inconvenient.

11. ruse #1:  claiming  irrelevance. The Talmud and Rambam are not always relevant to our life circumstances. Rav Kook and the Chief Rabbinate are irrelevant.

If they lived in our midst, they would not say what they said then. Moreover, The Chief Rabbinate, itself, is no longer relevant. It goes without saying that the rulings of most Torah scholars and Torah luminaries, especially those who  are Charedi, are irrelevant since those authorities are accused of being cut off from the people. The Torah, originally considered the truth, is henceforth to be violated, the way a vow may be annulled. Such an approach jeopardizes the whole eternity of Torah.

It's like the story of the wagon driver who refused to obey the Rabbi’s ruling obligating him to pay for damage caused when he slipped on the ice. "The Torah was given in the summer” he argued, “Had it been given in the winter, it would exempt me."

12. The realm that merits the most sweeping stamp of "irrelevance" is the laws of sexual modesty, most of which disturb both the secular and liberal religious. This includes branding as irrelevant our Sages’ dictum that "there is no guardian against unchastity" (Ketubot 13b).

13. ruse #2: misusing our Sages’ ruling "Better they should err in ignorance than brazenly” (Beitza 30a). To their mind, this requires our contradicting or neutralizing anything that will be the least bit displeasing to the secular or half/third/quarter of religious Jews. This frees them from the heavy responsibility of giving rebuke, it crowns public opinion as a major factor in determining Jewish law, and renders the populist Rabbi a captive of the media.

14. ruse #3: spiritual pragmatism. If something is important, but not easy for the public to accept, then better not to teach it than to drive the “straddlers” to the side of the secular/Reform side or alienate the secular. That is: there are laws we do not teach because we need a Torah that one can communicate with and attach oneself to. The facts on the ground determine the “Truth” that is conveyed.

15. Due to this, the populist Rabbi is considered by great Torah scholars like a driver who drives on the white line and even commonly crosses over it. The populist Rabbi unrelentingly seeks to receive the legitimacy of the great Torah luminaries -- and he does not succeed. Yet since those great luminaries relate to him with love and brotherhood and peace and friendship, he very often interprets that position as agreement.

16. And in conclusion, his external appearance is that of "just plain folks". He dresses in a non-Rabbinic fashion, has a small yarmulke, and sometimes no beard, and if he has a beard, it is small and carefully trimmed. And he certainly does not have a beard like that of Ha-Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, which was not symmetric, but was longer on one side than the other.


Our Father our King, for the sake of Your Great Name, and for the sake of our ancestors who trusted in You, and to whom You taught the living Torah so that they might fulfill your wishes wholeheartedly, so shall You have mercy on us and teach us as well.

Seeing that Which Cannot be Seen

[Ashekanzim: Yeshayahu 6:1-7, 9:5-6

Sefardim: Yeshayahu 6:1-13

Yemenite Jews: Yeshayahu 6:1-13, 9:5-6]


"In the year of King Uziyahu's death, I saw Hashem seated on a high, elevated throne, and the hem of His robe filled the sanctuary" (Yeshayahu 6:1).  This is a most startling declaration.  How is it possible to see Hashem?  Isn't it clear that He does not have any form visible to the eye, as the Torah says: "For you saw no form" (Devarim 4:15).


The prophet Yeshayahu was asked this question by a person who we would hardly expect to be interested in this issue: King Menashe.  This cruel and blood-thirsty man, who spilled so much blood in his lifetime, turned to Yeshayahu with these words: "How dare you contradict the words of Moshe, your Rabbi!  He taught us that it is impossible to see Hashem!  'For man will not see me and live' (Shemot 33:20), and you said: 'I saw Hashem.'  Yeshayahu did not respond, and King Menashe ruled that he was to receive capital punishment for this blasphemy.  The prophet succeeded in fleeing, but was quickly captured and paid with his life for his prophetic declaration (Yevamot 49b).  


Why didn't the prophet bother to answer the king?  Because he knew that there would be not benefit to giving explanations that the king would definitely not accept (ibid.).  King Menashe was not bothered by the problems of pure theology.  He was simply looking for a reason to kill Yeshayahu, who disrupted his criminal plans by demanding holiness.


Nonetheless, the Talmud too raises this question: How was it possible for Yeshayahu to see Hashem when Moshe Rabbenu stated that this was impossible?  Was Yeshayahu's vision able to penetrate deeper than Moshe Rabbenu's?  The Talmud explains that just the opposite is true.  Every prophet is defined as a "seer" but Moshe Rabbenu's vision was the clearest of any. Our Sages relate that Moshe looked through a clear glass, while other prophets looked through glass that was dim, and their ability of discernment was thus less precise.  This is the reason that Moshe Rabbenu - with his clear sight - understood that there was nothing to see, while Yeshayahu - with his comparatively foggy sight - thought he saw something (Yevamot ibid.).


This analysis obviously precedes our central question: What is the meaning of Yeshayahu's vision?  In line with his general approach, the Rambam explained in "Moreh Nevuchim" (2, 42) that this vision, like all prophetic visions, was not seen by the human eyes of the prophet but through a dream.  The Torah teaches that all prophets besides Moshe Rabbenu received prophecy in a dream, whether they were asleep or not (Bamidbar 12:6-8).  The prophet received the prophecy in a dream through his imagination.  But Moshe Rabbenu's ability was totally different: his prophecy appeared through the intellect, and was thus immeasurably more clear and precise (Rambam, Hilchot Yesodei Ha-Torah 7:6).


In order to advance in our analysis, we will examine another Divine revelation in the first chapter of Yechezkel, known as the "Maase Merkavah" (the prophetic vision of the Divine Chariot).  Yechezkel also saw Hashem.  While Yeshayahu's description was summarized in three verses (6:1-3), Yechezkel's gives a much more detailed description.  This does not mean that Yechezkel was greater than Yeshayahu.  Just the opposite!  In the time of Yeshayahu, the Nation of Israel was still on its Land, had independence and a Jewish king as its leader.  In contrast, Yechezkel lived almost his entire life in the Exile, and the spiritual light was dimmed to a noticeable extent.  According to our Rabbis, the abundance of details given by Yechezkel is explained by the following parable: A king who lived in the city was described by a city-dweller and a villager.  The city-dweller, who regularly met the king, gave a brief and general description.  The farmer, in contrast, who was greatly impressed by the king's glory, gave a grandiose, detailed description.  "All that Yechezkel saw, Yeshayahu saw.  To what can Yechezkel be compared?  To a villager who saw the king.  And to what can Yeshayahu be compared?  A city-dweller who saw the king" (Chagigah 13b).


According to the Rambam, prophetic visions have their source in the imagination, influenced by Divine direction.  A large portion of the first part of his work "Moreh Nevuchim" is his lexicon for all of the parables used by the Tanach to discuss the Master of the Universe.  "The Torah speaks in the language of man" (Berachot 31b).  In relation to the giving of the Torah, it says: "And Hashem descended" (Shemot 19:20) to the Children of Israel.  The Master of the Universe uses our expressions and intellectual concepts in order to approach us, since we know nothing of His essence.  We only have human tools to understand Him.  In His great mercy, Hashem agrees to describe the ‘Upper World’ in the words of the ‘Lower World.’


Hashem is outside of time and space.  Not only is He beyond human concepts, but is a completely different type of existence.  Hashem is both transcendental and imminent.  Hashem is distant as distant can be and near as near can be.


Any Jew who recites a blessing notices that it begins in the second person, "You," i.e. He is close to us, but it ends in the third person, i.e. we acknowledge that He is immeasurably far away.      


Moshe Rabbenu is objectively correct: there is no possibility of seeing the spiritual realms, but with human subjectivity, it is possible to "see" with the help of our imagination.  It is obviously forbidden to create a statue or picture of Hashem.  This is idol worship.  The anthropomorphisms are only verbal in nature, and with the express purpose of bringing the creatures close to the Creator.  Hashem therefore reveals Himself in different forms.  During a time of war, He is described as a soldier who advances at the head of our army. On Mt. Sinai He reveals himself as an elder teaching Torah.  "Hashem is one and His Name is one," but He still reveals Himself in a thousand names.


Despite these revelations, the Master of the Universe is beyond any subjective concept through which we meet Him, and this is a fundamental element of our faith.  Our great, inner yearning for Hashem in the depths of our Divine soul helps us grasp a small amount of Hashem, who is the most supreme.

Shut Rabbenu Tam Tefillin

Putting on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin

Q: Who should put on both Rashi Tefillin and Rabbenu Tam Tefillin (the four Torah portions which mention the Mitzvah of Tefillin and are inside the boxes are placed in different orders according to these opinions)?

A: One who is known for his great piety (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 34:2-3.  Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein made an innovative ruling that there is another condition that the Rabbenu Tam Tefillin must be "Mehudar" [of supreme halachic quality].  And when he fled Russia, his Rabbenu Tam Tefillin were damaged and lost their "Mehudar" status, until the Lubavitcher Rebbe arranged to get him a "Mehudar" pair of Rabbenu Tam Tefillin in America.  Shut Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:9).


Beginning of Dispute regarding Rabbenu Tam Tefillin

Q: When was the beginning of the dispute regarding Rashi Tefillin and Rabbenu Tam Tefillin?

A: This dispute certainly began before Rashi and Rabbenu Tam.  They found both types Tefillin according to the opinion of Rashi and Rabbenu Tam in the Judean desert (from almost 2000 years ago).  This is an ancient dispute, but it is know by their names since they had a dispute in this matter and on account of their opinions this subject became famous.  Nonetheless, there a two ways of explaining how and when this dispute began: 1. Because of the Exiles, suffering, and so many hardships we forgot the correct order of placing the Parshiyot in the Tefillin. This is similar to the Rambam's explanation of why we have so many different Shofar blasts (Hilchot Shofar 3:2).  2. Hashem gave two opinions regarding Tefillin and the authorities were to decide, similar to Rav Hai Gaon's opinion brought in the Rosh also regarding the Shofar blasts (Rosh Hashanah 4:10).  

Q: Is it possible to decide which type of Tefillin is the correct one when ancient Tefillin is found?

A: The halachic authorities have already discussed this issue.  The Semag (Mitzvat Aseh #22) wrote that there is proof that we should follow the opinion of Rashi since very old Tefillin according to his opinion where found at the grave of Yechezkel Ha-Navi.  But the Derisha (34:1) comments that this is not conclusive proof since perhaps the Rashi Tefillin were buried because they themselves were invalid.  And the Bach (ibid.) writes that we can reject the Semag's explanation since if the Parshiyot were in an incorrect order, they need not be buried, rather they could be replace in the correct order.


Gedolei Yisrael and Rabbenu Tam Tefillin

Q: Did the Vilna Gaon put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin?

A: No.  Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin asked his teacher, the Vilna Gaon: "Perhaps I should put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin?  I am not asking for Ha-Rav since you wear Tefillin all day long and if you put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin, it would take away from the Mitzvah of wearing Rashi Tefillin which is the main Mitzvah.  But I do not wear Tefillin all day, so perhaps it would be worthwhile for me to put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin at a time when I would not be wearing Tefillin anyway."  The Vilna Gaon said: "Why are you asking specifically about Rabbenu Tam Tefillin?  There are twenty-four [some say: sixty-four] different opinions on the proper way to make Tefillin.  Are you going to put on twenty-four [sixty-four] different pairs?!"  Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin said: "But Rabbenu Tam Tefillin is special and perhaps they will ask me in the World to Come: why didn't you put them on?"  The Vilna Gaon responded: "We do not fulfill Mitzvot for the sake of the World to Come, we fulfill Mitzvot for the sake of serving Hashem."  Orchot Chaim Keter Rosh (#11.  And the Aderet related that he began to put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin after reading that the Chatam Sofer did so, but he regretted it after learning the Vilna Gaon's opinion.  Since he started putting them on, he could not stop doing so.  Nefesh David #41).  And following the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, Reb Chaim Brisker did not put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin (Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot vol. 4, p. 425) nor did the Chazon Ish (Orchot Rabbenu vol. 3, p. 193).

Q: Did the Chafetz Chaim put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin?

A: Reb Leib, the son of the Chafetz Chaim, relates that the reason his father put on both Rashi and Rabbenu Tam Tefillin was not because he had lived among Chasidim during the First World War and wished to act as they did, but because of the tractate of the Jerusalem Talmud that had been "discovered" which mentioned Rabbenu Tam's position.  When it later became known that this tractate of the Jerusalem Talmud was a forgery, he continued to put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin since he had already begun to do so (Michtavei Ha-Rav Chafetz Chaim, p. 27.  But see other explanations in Meir Einei Yisrael pp. 419-420.  A Chasid once asked Ha-Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky why he did not put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin, and he responded that it is not the Lithuanian Minhag.  The Chasid said: But the Chafetz Chaim put them on?  Ha-Rav Kamenetzky said that the Chafetz Chaim did not put them on until the age of 90, and if he reaches the age of 90 – he'll put them on as well.  And that is exactly what he did on his 90th birthday.  In the book "Rebbe Yaakov", pp. 424-425).      

Q: Did Maran Ha-Rav Kook put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin?

A: Yes, but in private (Le-Shelosha Be-Elul vol. 1, p. 32 and Tal Ha-Re'eiyah, p. 58).

Q: Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah?

A: No, on account of "Yehirut" (religious arrogance – Shulchan Aruch 34:3.  Mishnah Berurah #17), unless he did so inconspicuously.


Tefillin according to Other Opinions

Q: Why do some people put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin along with Rashi Tefillin but not Tefillin according to other opinions?

A: Because some Geonim hold like Rabbenu Tam. This not the case with Tefillin according to other opinions (only in extremely rare cases do some holy individuals put on other types of Tefillin.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe put on four types of Tefillin: Rashi, Rabbenu Tam, Ra'avad [same order as Rabbenu Tam but placed the opposite way] and Shimusha Rabba [same as Rashi but opposite].  The Lubavitcher Rebbe was in doubt about this practice until the previous Rebbe, his father-in-law, Rebbe Rayatz, told him to put on the four types of Tefillin and he will take this practice "on his shoulders".  Sha'arei Halachah U-Minhag vol. 1, pp. 73-77.  See the correct order of putting them on in Ha-Yom Yom… 19 Menachem Av).    


When Does One Begin

Q: One who puts on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin - when does he begin?

A: Some have the custom to begin to put them on immediately upon Bar Mitzvah just as Rashi Tefillin (Shut Divrei Yetziv 1:44).  Some have the custom to put them on upon getting married (Piskei Teshuvot, Chapter 34 note #11).  And some have the custom upon the end of the first year of marriage (Piskei Teshuvot ibid.).


Same Time or One after the Other

Q: Should one put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin together with Rashi Tefillin, or one after the other?

A: Some have the custom to put on Rashi Tefillin for the davening and  Rabbenu Tam Tefillin at the end, since our Tefillin is large and there is not enough space on one's head and arm for both (Shut Yabia Omer Vol. 1, Orach Chaim #3).  Based on Kabbalah, some have the custom to be particular to put them on at the same time.  And it is possible to find small Tefillin, since there is enough space on one's head for two pairs of Tefillin, as it says in the Gemara in Eruvin (95b.  Shut Yashkil Avdi Vol. 8, Orach Chaim #22 and Yoreh Deah #8. And see Shut Divrei Chaim Vo. 2 Orach Chaim #6 and Shut Divrei Yoel, Orach Chaim #4).


Paragraphs to be said with Rabbenu Tam Tefillin

Q: What should one recite while wearing Rabbenu Tam Tefillin?

A: People generally say the four paragraphs which mention the mitzvah of Tefillin (Shaarei Teshuvah 38:14.  Pri Megadim 25:6 Ashel Avraham).  And some add Parashat Tziztit.



Q: Should one recite the blessing for putting on Tefillin when putting on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin?

A: Some say that one should recite the blessing just as one does when putting on Rashi Tefillin (Sha'arei Teshuvah 25:1), but the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 34:2) rules that one only recites the blessing on Rashi Tefillin since the basic halachah follows Rashi, and therefore no blessing is recited for Rabbenu Tam Tefillin (Maharil brought in the Beit Yosef ibid.).  One should have both pairs of Tefillin in mind when reciting the blessing over Rashi Tefillin (Ashel Avraham Mi-Botshatsh #34).


Accidently Reciting Blessing on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin

Q: If someone accidentally says the blessing for Tefillin and puts on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin instead of Rashi Tefillin, does he have to say another blessing when putting on the Rashi Tefillin?

A: There is a dispute.  Some say that one must recite a blessing, since one does NOT have intention for both pairs of Tefillin during his blessing (Shut Chaim She'al #1).  And some say he need not recite another blessing since he DID have intention for both (Shut Divrei Chaim, Yoreh Deah 2:82 in the name of the Chozeh of Lublin.  The Shamash of the Belzer Rebbe – Ha-Rav Aharon Rokeach – once accidentally gave the Rebbe Rabbenu Tam Tefillin instead of Rashi Tefillin.  When it was discovered, the Shamash was greatly distressed.  The Rebbe comforted him and said: Rabbenu Tam acts so that every Jew will also put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin and will once in his life accidentally recite the blessing over his Tefillin.  Kedushato Shel Aharon, vol. 1 p. 579).


Rabbenu Tam Tefillin during Bein Ha-Shemashot of Rabbenu Tam

Q: One who was unable to put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin before sundown, is it permissible to put them on during twilight of Rabbenu Tam (which is later than the time accepted by most authorities), since they are both the opinions of Rabbenu Tam?

A: No.  There are some Geonim who hold like the opinion of Rabbenu Tam in Tefillin but argue regarding the proper time of nighttime (Ha-Rav Shammai Kehat Gross, author of Shut Shevet Ha-Kehati.  Eilim Li-Terufah – Gilyon 5748, Madur Alei Orach Ot #6).


Tefillin Bags

Q: Is it permissible to place both pairs of Tefillin in one Tefillin bag?

A: No.  One should have two separate bags and specify the Tefillin on each bag so that one does not mix them up, since the basic halachah follows Rashi and we recite the blessing on them (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 34:4.  Mishnah Berurah #18).

Q: Is it permissible to switch the Rashi Tefillin bag to a Rabbenu Tam Tefillin bag, or the other way around?

A: It is forbidden (Mishnah Berurah 34:20).  Some authorities permit switching the Rabbenu Tam Tefillin bag to a Rashi Tefillin bag, since the basic halachah follows Rashi (Ha-Rav Shlomo Kluger.  Sefer Sta"m Tefillin, p. 17).

Q: What is the law if the bags get mixed up and one does not know which is which?

A: Some say that they can be used for either type of Tefillin, but it is proper to only put Rashi Tefillin in them (Piskei Teshuvot 34:9 note #4).


Removing Rabbenu Tam Tefillin First

Q: If someone accidentally takes out Rabbenu Tam Tefillin before Rashi Tefillin, what should he do?

A: He should still put on Rashi Tefillin first, and it is not considered passing over a Mitzvah, since the basic halachah follows Rashi (Mishnah Berurah 34:20).


Different Tefillin at the Same Time

Q: What is the law if one puts on the hand Tefillin of Rashi Tefillin and the head Tefillin of Rabbenu Tam Tefillin, or the opposite?

A: He does not fulfill the Mitzvah of putting both of them on (Mishnah Berurah 34:5).


Rosh Chodesh

Q: When does one put on Rabbenu Tefillin on Rosh Chodesh, since we remove Tefillin before Musaf?

A: Some say that one should put them on after Musaf (Pri Megadim 25:16 – Mishbetzot Zahav).  But according to Mekubalim one should not put on Tefillin after Musaf, and one must therefore be careful to put them on before Musaf (Piskei Teshuvot 25 note #211).



Q: One who puts on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin - which Tefillin should he wear during the reading of the Megillah on Purim?

A: Some have the custom to wear Rashi Tefillin and some have the custom of Rabbenu Tam Tefillin (Nitei Gavriel – Purim, chapter 51 note #3).

Brit Milah

Q: For one with the custom to wear Tefillin during a Brit Milah for his son (Shach, Yoreh Deah 265:24.  Magen Avraham 25:28) and who has the custom to put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin, which Tefillin should he wear during the Brit Milah?

A: The custom is to wear Rabbenu Tam Tefillin (Brit Avot of Ha-Rav Shabetai Lifschitz #6.  Koret Ha-Brit in Petach Eliyahu #2).



Q: Does a mourner put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin?

A: Some say that for the time a mourner is permitted to put on Rashi Tefillin, he is also permitted to put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin (Birchei Yosef 38:4).  And others say that one should not put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin during the entire Shiva (Be'er Heitev 38:5).  And both state their opinion in the name of the Arizal.  Many therefore put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin in private (Nita'ei Gavriel – Avelut 82:16).


Sofer Stam who does not Put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin

Q: Can a Sofer Stam who does not put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin write Rabbenu Tam Tefillin?

A: The basic Halachah is that there is no problem (Mikdash Meat 34:4).  But some are strict to only buy Rabbenu Tam Tefillin from a Sofer Stam who puts on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin (Lishchat Ha-Sofer 26:1).


Rabbenu Tam Tefillin and Maaser Kesafim

Q: Is it permissible to buy Rabbenu Tam Tefillin with Maasar Kesafim?

A: No.  Maaser Kesafim is for the poor (And this is also the ruling of Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski.  Hilchot Maaser Kesafim, Chapter 14 #53).

Shut SMS #195

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

Open on Shabbat

Q: Is it preferable (on a weekday) to buy from a Jew who has his store open on Shabbat or from an Arab?

A: Certainly a Jew.  "When you buy from the hand of your fellow (Jew)" (Vayikra 25:14.  And this is also the ruling of Ha-Rav Shlomo Goren since a person who violates Shabbat today is doing so for his pleasure and not to rebel against Hashem, i.e. "Tinok Shenishba" [literally a Jewish child captured and raised among non-Jews; meaning a Jew who did not receive a proper Jewish upbringing and education].  As a result, it is clear that buying from a Jew is preferable on account of "Your brother should live with you".  Vayikra 25:36.  Terumat Ha-Goren vol. 1 #27).


Shehechiyanu on Voting in Israeli Elections

Q: I have heard Ha-Rav tell the story that the Chazon Ish was asked: Should one vote in the Israeli elections?  He answered: It is a Mitzvah.  They asked him: A Mitzvah like Matzah?  He said: No, a Mitzvah like Maror.  Ha-Rav says that it is indeed a Mitzvah like Matzah since we have independence and our own State.  Is it a Mitzvah to the extent that someone who votes for the first time in Israel should recite a Shehechiyanu?

A: It is permissible.  It is the first time he performs the Mitzvah (Shut Orach Mishpat, pp. 268-269).  And it is a good tiding.  The Bach opened a gate for one who is joyous to recite Shehechiyanu, since he said that one does not violate taking Hashem's name in vain by reciting it, even in a case where it is not certain that it should be recited (Orach Chaim #29.  However, it is brought in the name of Ha-Rav in Kuntres Oleh Chadash that one should not recite Shehechiyanu for two reasons: 1. The State of Israel is not the fulfillment of establishing the Kingdom of Israel, but rather a quasi-Kingdom of Israel, as stated by Maran Ha-Rav Kook in Shut Mishpat Cohain, p. 338.  We therefore do not recite a blessing on an act which is a quasi-Mitzvah.  2. And even if we say that it is a full-fledged Mitzvah, no one performs the entire Mitzvah by voting, but only a part of the Mitzvah, which is similar to building the Temple in which many people take a part.  In our ruling, however, Ha-Rav gives permission for one to recite the blessing if one wishes to do so).


Ashkenazic Pronunciation

Q: Did Maran Ha-Rav Kook and Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah daven and give classes in Hebrew with Ashkenazic pronunciation?

A: Davening – yes.  Classes: Maran Ha-Rav in Ashkenazic pronunciation, Rabbenu in modern Hebrew pronunciation.


Role of a Rabbi

Q: What is the role of a Rabbi?

A: To learn, to give Halachic rulings and to perform acts of loving kindness (To this question, R' Refael – Reb Chaim Brisker's father-in-law - said: A Rabbi should only sit and learn Torah day and night.  The Aruch Ha-Shulchan said: To give Halachic rulings.  And Reb Chaim Brisker: There are judges and halachic authorities to give halachic rulings, rather he should perform acts of kindness for his community.  See the commentators on Parashat Yitro.  Meged Givot Olam, p. 57).


Contradictory Rulings

Q: Ha-Rav is sometimes asked a question and gives a different ruling than appears in his books.  It is rare, but it happens.  How do we relate to this?

A: There are times when a question can be answered in various ways and a person is obligated to rule according to his intellectual inclination at that moment.  Sefer Ha-Chaim of Rebbe Chaim ben Bezalel, brother of Ha-Maharal (A halachic question once came to Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein and he gave a ruling which was unlike a ruling published in his Shut Igrot Moshe.  His family members asked in surprised: If Ha-Rav changed his mind then why do we republish Igrot Moshe each year without changing it?  Reb Moshe answered that there are two opinions, and both are the words of the Living G-d.  Meged Givot Olam, p. 56).

Haftarat Beshalach: A Woman at the Head

[Ashekanzim: Shoftim 4:4-5:31

Sefardim: Shoftim 5:1-31

Yemenite Jews: Shoftim 4:23-5:31]


When the Tanach tells us that the prophetess Devorah was our leader, it is not only to relate a unique chapter in our history, but to teach us a lesson about the future.


We know that not all prophecies were committed to writing.  "Many prophets stood for Israel, double those who left Egypt, but a prophecy which was needed for all generations was written, one which was not needed for generations was not written" (Megillah 14a).  The prophet is, before all else, a speaker and not a writer.  According to our Rabbis, there were hundreds of thousands of prophets whose teachings were passed down orally.  Contrary to the Torah, whose message is unchangeable, eternal, remains true from the beginning of time to its end and is applicable to all situations – prophecies were only stated for specific circumstances, times and places (Chulin 137a in Rashi d.h. Torah).  As a general principle, the prophecies were not written, and if there are rare circumstances when they are, it is because they contain a message for future generations.


We have a woman who stood as a leader of the Nation of Israel.  It is unusual for a woman to hold such a position, but the text is explicit: "Devorah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidot, judged Israel at that time.  She would sit under the palm tree of Devorah , between the Ramah and Beit El in Mt. Efraim, and the Children of Israel would go up to her for judgment" (Shoftim 4:4-5).  But Devorah was far from Joan of Arc riding on a horse in battle gear – though she was the leader, it was not her but Barak ben Avinoam who headed the army.  And according to tradition, he was Lapidot, her husband (Yalkut Shimoni 42).    Nonetheless, this prophetess was largely the head of the Nation of Israel and had a decisive influence upon it.


Her unique appointment is explained by the Tosafot in the following way: 1. She was a prophetess who received a unique prophetic ruling (Tosafot on Niddah 50a).  2. She was willingly accepted by The Nation of Israel for this reason (Tosafot on Baba Kamma 15a).  In fact, an individual who is usually unqualified to be a judge can be accepted as one for a special reason if both sides of a dispute agree.  In a rare case, even a family member of one of the sides, or a shepherd, who most consider unfit can serve as a judge in monetary (but not halachic) matters (Sanhedrin 24 and Chiddushei Ha-Ran on Shavuot 30a). 


Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, looked favorably upon the institution of the Knesset of Israel. He held that according to Halachah it was legitimate for the Knesset to rule on economic, national and societal matters but not on halachic matters such as Shabbat and Kashrut (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah 9, Ish Va-Isha 18).


Returning to Devroah…there are two reasons that justify her role as judge.  First, the Divine Presence rested upon her, which – on account of Hashem's kindness, transformed her into a leader.  Second, the consent of the community strengthened her authority.  Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, mentioned that even today the Nation of Israel has given the ruling authority to a woman as the Prime Minster, and it was quite successful (ibid.): Golda Meir's relationship to Torah was better than her predecessor's, she succeeded in raising up the honor of the Nation, and made a positive impression both within the Nation and among the surrounding nations. 


In the period described in the Book of Shoftim, our neighbors caused us great troubles, similar to that described in Tehillim: "All of the nations surrounded me…they surely surrounded me" (Tehillim 118:10-11).  But in the merit of the Divine Presence resting on that judge, the prophetess, we received amazing results: "The Land was quiet for forty years" (Shoftim 5:31). This allowed us to renew our strength for what was coming next.


How did Devorah attain such results?  It was not due to military talent, but to her being a spiritual hero: a prophetess!  This central figure of the Nation of Israel reached a high level of philosophical and ethical spiritually.  The spiritual greatness given to her influenced Barak ben Avinoam, the Chief of Staff, who feared going into battle.  Devorah taught him to attack the enemy, even though "it had nine hundred chariots of iron, and greatly oppressed the Children of Israel for twenty years" (Shoftim 4:3).  "And she sent and called Barak ben Avinoam of Kedesh Naftali and said to him: Hasn't Hashem, G-d of Israel, commanded, 'Go and gather people from Mount Tabor" (ibid. v. 6).  Barak, who feared competing with an enemy who instilled fear, responded to her: "If you go with me, I will go.  But if you do not go with me, I will not go" (ibid. v. 8).  Devorah said: "I will surely go with you" (ibid. v. 9).  She is the one who filled the Chief of Staff with strength and courage.


We learn from Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, that this type of prophecy still applies today, since spiritual strength is what provides the Nation with national, idealistic motivation, which in turn leads to military courage.  Spiritual weakness and a lack of Torah commitment endangers us on a military and national level.  We must increase our faith and connection to Hashem.  The more we develop ourselves in a spiritual sense, the more we dedicate ourselves for the sake of the Nation of Israel, the more we will influence the Nation (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah ibid.).


When we sanctify Hashem's Name before the nations, they will respond with exalted awe and respect towards us.  Our weaknesses, hesitations, yielding, compromises, degradations, humbling ourselves, will have no place and will completely disappear. 


The Song of Devorah points to an additional problem – one that we still have today: different factions were created within the Nation of Israel (Shoftim 15-16).  This problem must be fixed forcefully, because it is essential that a spirit of peace, unity, respect and mutual understanding rests among us.  Our Rabbis express this idea in a harsh manner: "Great is peace, for even if they worship idols and peace prevails, Hashem says: I am able to rule over them when there is peace between them" (Bereshit Rabbah 38:6), as it says: "Efraim is united in idol-worship, [lit. joined to idols] leave him alone" (Hosea 4:17). If the Tribe of Efraim is united, even if it is involved with idol worship, no harm will befall them.


So too, if the situation in our Land is extremely complex and problematic, but we live in peace with one another, we will merit a Divine blessing.  "Hashem will give strength to His Nation, Hashem will bless His Nation with peace" (Tehilim 29:10).  Hashem will send us His blessing, despite all of the international pressure which is upon us.