Halachot of Visiting Museum

Art Museums

Q: It is permissible to visit an art museum which displays both modest and immodest art, in order to see only the Kosher art?

A: It depends on the nature of the museum, and one must be certain that he will not stumble at all (Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote: "When I lived in London, I would visit the National Gallery and the pictures which were most beloved to me were from Rembrandt.”  Yovel Orot, p. 168.  And see further in Moadei Ha-Re'eiyah of Ha-Rav Neria, chap. 13 on Chanukah.  And the Lubavitcher Rebbe said about the Rebbe Rashab - the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe – that he spent many hours in the Louvre in Paris staring at a painting which stimulated many Chasidic ideas.  Igrot Kodesh, vol. 26, #9, p. 669.  Igrot Kodesh of the Rebbe Rayatz, pp. 397-398.  And in 5773, the Admor of Karlin-Stolin visited the Israel Museum in order to see an exhibition about Chasidic culture).

"Body Works" Exhibition?

Q: Is it permissible to visit the "Body Works" exhibition which presents dead bodies?

A: No. Shaming the deceased (This is the ruling of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.  See Shut Da'at Cohain #199.  Piskei Uziel #32).


Cohanim entering a Museum that has a Mummy

Q: Is it permissible for a Cohain to enter a Natural History museum that has a mummy?

A: There is a dispute if a non-Jewish corpse spreads impurity in an enclosed area (Tumat Ha-Ohel), and it is permissible to be lenient (Shulchan Aruch and Rama, Yoreh Deah 372:2.  And we have heard in the name of Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein that he permitted it, but he warned against a Cohain touching a mummy).  And there are those who are strict (Taharat Ha-Cohanim Ke-Halachah 5:6).


Cohanim in Yad Vashem

Q: Is it permissible for Cohanim to enter Yad Vashem, since there are ashes of victims there?

A: Ashes do not impart impurity (Shut Be-Mareh Ha-Bazek 5:105.  See Shut Chelkat Yaakov Yoreh Deah #217).

Israel Museum

Q: Is it permissible for Cohanim to enter the Israel Museum, since there are bones there?

A: Yes, they are not real bones, but imitations made from different materials.

Gush Katif Museum

Q: Is it permissible to visit the Gush Katif Museum in Yerushalayim?

A: Yes, while making sure that one guards his Ahavat Yisrael (see Sefer Ha-Tanya, Chapter 32).

Islamic Museum in Jerusalem

Q: Is it permissible to visit the Islamic Museum?

A: No. Islam is heresy, since it claims that the Torah has been nullified. We do not strengthen those who are transgressing (See Rambam, Hilchot Avodah Zarah 2:2.  Shut Tzitzit Eliezer 10:1, Chapter 9 #44. 14:91).


Wax Museum

Q: Is it permissible to visit a wax museum?

A: In Eretz Yisrael – no, since it is forbidden to make figures, but outside of Israel – yes (The basic Halachah is that it is only forbidden to make the form of a person's face.  Taz 141:15.  But at this time people do not worship figures and we do not suspect that they are used for idol worship.  Chochmat Adam 85:6.  Shach 141:23.  It seems that there is no prohibition to look at them.  Shut Aseh Lecha Rav 5:72 in the short Q&A.  Nevertheless, it is known that in the museum in Eretz Yisrael the figures of people are crafted by Jews. Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv therefore rules that it is forbidden to visit there since it is a desecration of Hashem's Name to benefit from a transgression, and attending the museum is aiding transgressors.  Brought in Shut Avnei Yeshpeh 1:51.  Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 3:263.  Shut Rivevot Ephraim 3:504.  And see Shut Da'at Kohain #65-66 at length.  Shut Yabia Omer 3:8).           


Q: It is permission to visit the museum of the Shomronim?

A: No, on account of strengthening transgressors (as our Sages defined the Kutim.  Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 267:47).


Entering Reform Institution in order to Enter Museum

Q: Is it permissible to enter the Reform institution on King David St. in Yerushalayim in order to enter the archeological museum located there?

A: Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ruled that it is permissible if it is for an educational purpose which cannot be attained in another way (Ve-Alehu Lo Yibol vol. 1, p. 67).

Visiting The Israel Museum on Shabbat

Q: Is it permissible to visit The Israel Museum on Shabbat if it is permissible to enter without paying or if one can pre-purchase a ticket before Shabbat?

A: It is forbidden since keeping it open involves Shabbat desecration (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 318:1).


Museum during 9 Days

Q: Is it permissible to visit a museum during the 9 Days?

A: Yes (see Shut Aseh Lecha Rav 2:35.  Shut She'eilat Shomo 1:207).


Natural History Museum

Q: Is it permissible to visit a Natural History Museum which has exhibitions about the Big Bang, Evolution, dinosaurs, etc.?

A: Yes.  These are not issues of faith but of science.  The Maharal says that the purpose of science is to describe reality, while the Torah describes what reality should be, i.e. what is good and what is bad (Netiv Ha-Torah, Netiv 14).  It is possible that there was a Big Bang: And in the beginning, G-d created heaven and earth through the Big Bang.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook said that Evolution does not contradict the Torah.  He also said that the theory of Evolution needs to evolve.  And regarding that the dinosaurs being a few million years old, when according to the Torah the world is 5773 years old, Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains that Hashem created worlds and destroyed them before creating our current world (Bereshit Rabbah 3:7, 9:2 and Kohelet Rabbah 3:11).  The worlds were destroyed but certain remnants remained (Igrot Ha-Re'eiyah vol. 1 #91.  "Derush Or Ha-Chaim" by the Tiferet Yisrael found in Mishnayot Nezikin after Massechet Sanhedrin).


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Tevilat Kelim after Mechirat Chametz

Q: There are dishes in the closet where I placed the Chametz which was sold to the non-Jew.  Do the dishes need to be immersed in a Mikveh after Pesach, since they were in the possession of a non-Jew?

A: No.  It is written in the sale of document that we are not selling the dishes but only the Chametz within them.  But even if it were written that we are selling the dishes, the majority of Poskim still exempt the dishes from immersion.  Chochmat Shlomo 448, Aruch Ha-Shulchan Yoreh Deah 120:52, Darkei Teshuvah ibid. #90.  This is the case since the buyer and seller both have in mind that the sale will not be permanent. The non-Jew therefore does not take possession of the dishes.


Rabbi Eliezer

Q: How is it possible that Rabbi Eliezer never said anything which he did not hear from his Rabbi (Sukkah 27b), when it is related that he gave a Dvar Torah which no ear had ever heard (Avot De-Rebbe Natan, Chapter 6)?

A: Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains that Rabbei Eliezer, with his deep ability to listen, understood things in his Rabbi’s words which others did not understand.  Maamarei Ha-Ree’eiyah, p. 204 (and Ha-Rav Avigdor Neventzal wrote that he heard the same difficulty and answer from his teacher, Ha-Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz.  Although he adds that in his humble opinion, there is no difficulty, since Rabbi Eliezer did not say anything which he did not hear from his Rabbi out of a concern that he would err and spread incorrect Torah.  But when Rabbi Eliezer delivered a Dvar Torah which no ear had ever heard, he did so in the presence of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, his Rabbi, since if he erred, his teacher would correct him.  In this case, therefore, there was no such fear.  Iturei Cohanim #104).


The Number of those who left Egypt

Q: How is it possible that in such a short time 70 people grew to 600,000?

A: 210 years is 10 generations of 20 years.  If each couple had 6 children – even not at one time – it is 3 to the power of 10 which is approximately 50,000 x 70 = 3.5 million.

Q: I heard that the number 600,000 who left Egypt means 600 families, since 1000 equals a family?

A: Nonsense.  “And they were numbered were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty”.  Bemidbar 1:46.


Adding a Name

Q: Our son is extremely short.  We asked a Chasidic Rebbe what to do and he recommended adding a name.  Is it enough to add it during an Aliyah to the Torah or do we need to do something else?

A: Ask the Rebbe directly, or ask his student.



Q: I am extremely short.  What can I do to grow taller?

A: If you are a child, ask a doctor.  If you an adult, I do not know of a solution.  You should know that many great Rabbis were short.


Learning Tanach with Chazal

Q: Is it permissible to teach children the simple meaning of the Tanach or must we teach them with Chazal?

A: Hashem gave the Torah with a commentary, i.e. the Oral Torah.  See the Rambam’s introduction to the Mishneh Torah (Ha-Rav Yosef Soloveitchik explains the same way.  When he was asked the same question, he said that without the Oral Torah, the Tanach is the “Bible of the Christians”.  He added that Ha-Rav Shimshon Rafeal Hirsch is an expert in fusing the Oral Torah with the teaching of Chumash.  Divrei Ha-Rav, p. 202).


Yahrtzeit Candle

Q: Is there are obligation to light a Yahrtzeit candle on the anniversary of a person’s death?

A: It is a custom, but it is not an obligation.  See Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanahgot 1:702 (It is brought there that the Vilna Gaon did not hold by the custom to light a Yahrtzeit candle on the Yahrtzeit).


"The Time of our Freedom"

[Ha-Rav's commentary on the Haggadah]
Question: What is the connection between freedom and the prohibition of chametz (leaven)?  The entire process of ridding ourselves of chametz seems like a heavy burden which robs a person of his freedom.  In fact, all of the mitzvot seem to deprive a person of his natural freedom of movement! 
Answer: Rav Kook explained that true freedom includes two aspects:
a. Freedom of the body: Physical freedom from any foreign subjugation: Anything which forces the image of G-d within a person to be subjugated to any other power lessens that person’s worth.
b. Freedom of the soul: Spiritual freedom from anything which turns it from the straightness which is its essential existence.  G-d created man upright, and He cleanses man from any refuse which sullies his inner holiness.
Each morning we recite the blessing, "who has not made me a slave."  The mitzvot are not foreign entities which are forced upon a person, rather they are commands that reveal his inner essence.  Before the mitzvot were engraved on the tablets that were given at Mount Sinai they were written on the “tablets” of every Jew's soul.  Our Sages therefore said: They were "charut" (engraved) on the tablets – do not read the word as "charut" (engraved) but as "cherut" (freedom) (Pirkei Avot 6:2).  By slightly changing the vocalization of the word, we learn an incredible lesson: in order to truly be a free people, it is not enough to be liberated from physical slavery.  On the contrary, it is possible to have an enlightened slave whose spirit is full of freedom, and a physically free person whose spirit is enslaved.  We were transformed into free people on Pesach, but we do not become truly free until we rid ourselves of anything which robs us of our natural essence.  This is the reason for destroying the chametz, which symbolizes the evil inclination and is called "the yeast in the dough," since it ferments in the heart of people and causes them to transgress (see Bereachot 17a).  The destruction of our internal chametz is what allows us to raise the flag of freedom (Olat Re'eiyah vol. 2, pp. 244-245).  

Religious Zionism between Two Worlds

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


Question: What is the path of Religious Zionism? How is it possible to be hanging between two worlds?

Answer: Seemingly, the one world is Zionism and the other world is religiosity, and Religious Zionists are torn between the two. It is true that in practical terms, these represent two different worlds. There are irreligious nationalists and there are non-nationalist religious Jews. Truthfully, however, it is all one world, for what is the essence of Zionism? The Jewish Nation’s rebirth in its Land. This includes the Jews’ moving to Israel, settling the Land and taking sovereignty over the Land. Obviously, sovereignty over the Land includes having an army. Yet all this is written in the Torah countless times – that Eretz Yisrael is our Land, that we have to live there, build it and occupy it. In other words, we must fashion national ownership over it, or in other words, a state and an army.

See Ramban in his Addenda to Rambam’s Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, Positive Precept 4, where Ramban reduces the Mitzvah of Eretz Yisrael to three parts: 1) living in the Land 2) not leaving the Land desolate, i.e., settling the Land, and 3) not leaving the Land in the hands of any other nation, i.e., occupying the Land and establishing a state.

The essence of Religious Zionism is the rebirth of the Jewish Nation in its Land, living according to Torah law. And truthfully, it is all one. Yet since we were prevented from dealing with the nation’s rebirth for two thousand years, we forgot. There is nothing new here. Rather, there is something old that has been forgotten. Our sages, at the beginning of Tractate Megillah coined such an expression: “They forgot about it, and then they once more established it.”

There is nothing new here. It is all old. It is just that we have to re-accustom ourselves to it, since we forgot it. It is true that at the start of the renewal of settlement in the Land, between the nationalists and the Charedim reigned not only hostility but apathy – what occupied the one did not interest the other.

Yet gradually, through their living together, they began to know each other and to admire each other, and to cooperate. The Zionists became more religious, and the religious became more Zionistic, and the Religious Zionists stand in the breach and represent the fulfillment of the Torah to perfection. Perfection! “All that G-d has said, we shall do and obey!” (Shemot 24:7).

Also in Religious Zionism, itself, there are various hues. Some are more Zionistic and some are more religious.

That is the proper path. It can be likened to the relationship between body and soul.

One cannot survive without a body, otherwise the soul will depart. Neither can one survive without a soul. The body will be lifeless.

The truth is, however, that when a Jew says, “I am religious,” that itself makes him a Zionist, even if he is unaware of it.

The Charedim are Zionists, even if they are unaware of it. And when someone says, “I am a Zionist,” that itself makes him religious, even if he is unaware of it.

All of this is explained in depth in Rav Kook’s work “Orot”.

Reciting a Blessing on Seeing the President of the United States

Question: If someone sees President Obama (who is visiting Israel) should he recite the blessing of "Baruch…she-natan michvodo le-vasar ve-dam - Blessed are You…who has given of His glory to flesh and blood"? (In the Gemara in Berachot 58a, our Rabbis teach that one who sees a non-Jewish king recites the blessing.  It is recorded in the Rambam, Hilchot Berachot 10:11 and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 224:8.   The Chatam Sofer, Orach Chaim #159, rules that even if one sees the king outside of his area of "rule," one must still recite the appropriate blessing).  

Answer: No, the President of the United States is not a king.  Halachic authorities mention four criteria in order to be considered a king for this purpose:

1. One must be the absolute ruler of his kingdom or country (Orchot Chaim in name of Sefer Ha-Eshkol, Hilchot Berachot #49, Shut Ha-Radvaz 1:296).  The President of the United States does not have absolute authority.  He must bend to the will of the Congress whether he likes it or not. 

2.  The king must have the ability to administer capital punishment (Shut Chatam Sofer ibid.).  The President does not possess this power.  While he does have the power to grant life by issuing a pardon, he does not possess the power of death (Shut Be’er Moshe 2:9).  If he issues a pardon to Jonathan Pollard, we can discuss this further… 

3.  The king must have royal clothing.  The President of the United States wears a suit like everyone else (Shut Yehaveh Da’at 2:28 and Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 2:139).  

4. The king must have an entourage (see Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot ibid.  Ha-Rav Sternbuch writes there that he heard that Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, the great Rav of Yerushalayim before the establishment of the State, once had a private meeting in a tent with the King of Jordan and he recited this blessing even though he was without his entourage).  While the President is traveling with 400 guards, it is for his protection.

The Satmar Rebbe similarly ruled that one does not recite a blessing over the President of the United States since he is not a king (see the book "Edut Bi-Yosef," p. 49 #76).  The Steipler Gaon also ruled that no blessing is recited over a President (Orchot Rabbenu vol. 1, pp. 93-94).

People get very scared about what the President says, but there is no need.  What he says does not mean that this is the way it is.  This is for two reasons: 1. The United States does not help us simply to be kind, but because they profit from it.  They need us militarily.  We handle this part of the world.  They need us technologically.  They make planes in the US, and then bring them here and the "chevra" makes them into super-planes.  The biggest plane manufacturer has a plant here.  It is not to be kind, but to profit.  They need us no less than we need them.  2. The President must bend to the will of Congress.  The Congress was pro-Israel even before the establishment of the State.  They are sometimes even more pro-Israel than we are because while in Exile we learned to be weak and frightened.  We need to add strength and courage and then the non-Jews will relate to us in a proper manner.  The Monroe Doctrine was stated by President James Monroe that Europe would no longer interfere with the affairs of the US: America for Americans.  Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, applied this doctrine to us: We will not interfere with what America is doing and America should not interfere with what we are doing here.

The President of the most powerful country, with the biggest army, the largest economy, the super-power of the world is visiting the tiny State of Israel, and yet some people say that this is not "Atchalta De-Geulah – the beginning of the Redemption."  Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in Shut Minchat Shlomo (the last responsum in vol. 1) wrote that one is obligated to recite four blessings when the Messiah arrives: 1. "Baruch…Chacham Ha-Razim – Blessed are You…Knowers of secrets" which is recited when seeing 600,000 Jews together and certainly at least this many Jews will go out to greet the Messiah.  2. "Baruch…she-chalak mechomato lirei'av - Blessed are You…who, using His knowledge, has appointed those who fear him" which is recited when seeing an outstanding Torah scholar and the Messiah will certainly fit this criteria.  3. "Baruch…she-chalak michvodo lirei'av- Blessed are You…who has shared His glory with those who fear him" which is recited when seeing a Jewish king.  4. "Shechechiyanu" – Blessing Hashem for having arrived at this moment.  We still are waiting for this time to arrive, but we are continuing to advance.  After all, the President of the United States is visiting the State of Israel.  Instead of reciting a blessing over the President, I recommend reciting two prayers for the Nation of Israel, two which we recite every day before the Shema, but now we should do so with extra proper intention: "Blessed are You, Hashem, who chooses His Nation Israel with Love" and "Blessed are You, Hashem, who love His Nation Israel."

Q: Should we try to see the President since he is the most honored person in the world?

A: You do not need to run to greet him.  The Gemara in Berachot (9b) says that a person should strive to see non-Jewish kings, so that he will be able to perceive the difference between the non-Jewish kings and the Messiah.  President Obama, however, is not a king.  It is possible to have a king who is not honored and an honored person who is not a king.  Our Sages established this decree for a king, and provided the definition of a king.  Don't worry.  We will be able to tell the difference between him and the Messiah!  

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Redemption without Teshuvah

Q: The Rambam rules in Hilchot Teshuvah that we will not be redeemed without Teshuvah.  If so, since there are still transgressions among us, isn’t it clear that we’re not in the Redemption?

A: 1. See Kesef Mishneh, who explains that Teshuvah brings us to Redemption.  2. It is not currently the Redemption, but Atchalta De-Geulah – the Beginning of the Redemption.  3. The Rambam writes that the Messiah himself will force all Jews to fulfill the Torah and Mitzvot.  If this is so, then we will not all be righteous when he arrives.  Hilchot Melachim 11:4 (see Alo Naale #24 at length).


Shidduch and Dentures

Q: Does a young woman have to tell on a Shidduch that she has dentures?

A: No.  This is something which lacks importance and is not considered fraud (This is also the ruling on Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, since a Cohain whose teeth fall out is not considered blemished.  Bechorot 37a.  Tosafot ibid.  And any blemish which invalidates a Cohain is considered a blemish in women.  Ketubot 72b.  Kav Ve-Naki #527).


Marriage Proposal

Q: What is the source for proposing marriage while down on one knee?  Is it permissible?

A: There is no source.  It is forbidden on account of "Chukot Ha-Goyim" (following non-Jewish practices).


One Shabbat Candle

Q: If a woman only has one candle to light for Shabbat, does she fulfill her obligation?

A: Yes (A woman once called Ha-Rav Pinchas Hirschprung – Chief Rabbi of Montreal – and asked: Since she only has one candle to light for Shabbat, is it possible to light it facing a mirror so it appears as two candles?  He answered that if this were the case, there would be two women in the mirror, and both would have to light… The booklet "Gedulat Pinchas", p. 83).


Book of Tehillim

Q: Should one sleep with a Book of Tehillim under his pillow?

A: No, rather he should recite Tehillim.  And see Rambam, Hilchot Zarah 11:12.


Evil Inclination

Q: How does one break the evil inclination?

A: Learning Torah.  "If this disgusting one (the evil inclination) encounters you, drag it to the Beit Midrash.  If it is stone - it will melt.  If it is iron - it will shatter".  Kiddushin 30b.


The Incident with Beruriah

Q: Rashi on Avodah Zarah 18b brings an incident with Beruriah and Rabbi Meir which is shocking and hard to understand.  How could Rabbi Meir do such a thing?  Was it permissible?

A: It is a complicated subject for a text message.  See my long article on the issue in Iturei Cohanim (#223 Iyar 5763, which explains it according to the opinion that the incident actually occurred).  Nonetheless, early editions of Rashi do not contain this incident.  Perhaps a mistaken student put it in (Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv also explains that this incident never happened.  Divrei Yaakov of Ha-Rav Yaakov Adas on the Teshuvot of Ha-Rav Elyashiv, p. 263).


Separate Seating at Wedding

Q: Must a wedding have separate seating?  I heard that Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein does not require separation and he is a great Gaon.

A: It is true that Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that a Mechitzah is only required for a public event which is out to the public, but not at a private event like a wedding.  Shut Igrot Moshe 1:41.  Yoreh Deah 4:24 #3.  And this is how many act in America.  But with all the greatness of Ha-Rav Feinstein, the Halachah does not always have to follow his rulings, and in our times, G-d-fearing Jews in Eretz Yisrael have a proper Mechitzah.  See Shut Az Nedberu of Ha-Rav Zilber 12:47.


Helping My Wife

Q: My wife in pregnant, and she wants to sleep while I watch the kids. If I do this, I will not be able to Daven with a Minyan.

A: You are also obligated to take care of your children, and one who is involved in a Mitzvah is exempt from another Mitzvah – in this case, Davening with a Minyan (Sukkah 26a).


What would Rav Soloveitchik say about “Creative Halachah”?

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


Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l related to "creative Halachah", "flexible Halachah", "new Halachah" and "meaningful Halachah", in his two lectures, “Zeh Sinai”, and “Sichah Le-Parashat Korach”, and it is as though they were just written today.

Here are a few of his comments:

“Our underlying foundation must be humility before the Master-of-the-Universe. A haughty person will never be able to become a great Torah scholar. We must accept G-d's will, without restraint, and not replace it with our own mundane, very utilitarian logic.”

“Our Sages use the expression ‘accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven’. What does the word ‘yoke’ add? “One who accepts the Kingdom of Heaven without its yoke can be doing so for convenience, or because it suits his own wishes. Undertaking the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven can sometimes be very inconvenient and burdensome.”

“In order to join the ranks of the Sages of our tradition, one must avoid trying to explain Torah law via external rationales. One must not judge or assess Torah laws according to a secular yardstick. Such an attempt, whether based on an historical or psychological interpretation, or deriving from a utilitarian approach, undermines the very foundation of Torah and tradition, and ultimately begets the most tragic results.”

“We must not surrender emotionally. We must not feel inferior. We must not develop an inferiority complex. Anyone suffering from such a complex is surrendering to the transient charm of modern, political or ideological slogans. I say that not only must we not compromise – certainly not that – but twe mustn’t even surrender emotionally or feel inferior. It is forbidden for anyone who undertakes the yoke of Heaven to ever think it is important to collaborate to the slightest degree with the modern, secular, philosophical trend.  I believe that Judaism has no need to apologize either before the modern woman or before the modern representatives of religious subjectivism (which argues for a ‘personal truth’).”  We mustn’t try to adapt the eternal halachic norm to the transient values of a neurotic society.”

“Undertaking the yoke of Heaven requires us to attain the traits of respect and love, and to admire the words of the Sages of our tradition, be they from the Mishnah, the Talmud or medieval times. In every case, they are the ultimate authorities. Irresponsible expressions against our Sages verge on heresy.”

“I bear witness to the fact that modern life is very complex. I know your problems…We are facing terrifying social, cultural, political and economic problems; problems within the family, the community; and problems of society in general. We sometimes feel as though we are swimming against the current, and that it is moving swiftly via an external force, in the opposite direction from our own… The vast majority have abandoned us. We face an enormous challenge, but if you think the solution lies in a reformist philosophy, or in an external interpretation of Halachah, you are making a heinous error.”

“Obviously, many problems cannot be solved… If we say to dissident Jews, ‘This is our position,’ they won’t like it. They will say that we are inflexible, that we are cruel. Yet they will admire us.”

“The Torah calls upon the Jew to lead a life of great valor, a life of self-sacrifice.”

“Yet to say that the Torah is inflexible regarding problems, that it does not respond to people’s needs, is absolutely false. Halachah is indeed responsive both to the needs of the community and to those of the individual, but proceeds along its own route…with its own criteria and principles.”

“Believe me, [my grandfather] Rav Chaim Soloveitchik used to do his utmost to be lenient. Yet there are limits even to the leniencies of Rav Chaim. When you reach the limit, all you can say is, ‘I surrender to the supreme will of Eternal G-d.’”

“To talk about Halachah as if it were fossilized, G-d forbid, is ridiculous… We are against changes, but novel thinking is certain the very backbone of Jewish law. Novel thinking is endemic to the system, not external to it.”

“Korach rebelled against the authority of Halachah. He said, ‘All Jews are equal!  Therefore, every Jew has the right to interpret Jewish law.’

“What Korach wanted, and what many Jews want now… is that the Torah’s exegetical tool should be common sense, the empirical knowledge of daily living, man’s normal intellect.”

“The Oral Law cannot be identified with common sense…. It has its own methodology… Anyone who knows what the Oral Law is knows this.  Are you familiar with the Women’s Liberation Movement? With complaints against the Oral Torah, against our Halachah, claiming that it deprives the woman, that the woman is unequal to the man in Jewish law? There are rabbis who are willing to surrender in order to appease several female knights of Women’s Liberation. Basically, anyone who has studied Torah as a child, and knows the Pentateuch well, anyone who has studied the Talmud, knows that this accusation constitutes slander, since the Torah states in Bereshit that G-d created man in G-d’s image, that He created man male and female. Thus, equality is a given."

"Let me explain the approach of those who advocate ‘common sense Halachah’. It doesn’t matter what they call it. Whether they call it ‘meaningful Halachah’, or ‘creative Halachah’, or ‘the new Halachah’… they are errantly being led by a simplistic philosophical doctrine that includes half-truths and false clichés. They are enlisting…a theory about subjective religiosity.   When I hear people talking about ‘meaningful Halachah’, about “ending halachic stagnation’, about ‘empirical Halachah’, I know what they mean… precisely what Korach and his followers had in mind.”

“Obviously, Moshe won…Korach’s congregation admitted in the end, “Moshe is the truth and his Torah is the truth’.”


Maran Ha-Rav Kook Returned Sefarim!

[Talk in the Yeshiva during Lunch]


Maran Ha-Rav Kook would quote a saying from earlier generations: "If you act according to my custom, you will attain what I attained" (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah 64 #14).  This means that in order to internalize someone's Torah, one must first follow his ways and act according to his positive traits.

Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah pointed out one of Maran Ha-Rav Kook’s positive traits: he would never burden another person to return Sefarim that he had taken from another place (ibid. #16). 

Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah hung a note in the Yeshiva that reflects this same idea: "Anyone who takes a Sefer belonging to the Yeshiva and does not return to its proper place is no longer allowed to use the yeshiva's Sefarim."  This is a condition for using the Sefarim.


This “ruling” is based on various considerations:

1. If the person does not return it, he places a burden upon another person who looks for the Sefer and cannot find it.  He wastes that person's time with a fruitless search: in the end, the book will not be found.  The librarian of the Yeshiva is also burdened with the returning of Sefarim instead of learning Torah.

2. Some explain that there is also an issue of subjecting a person to "Avodat Parech".  "Avodat Parech" is when a slave is forced to perform unessential labor.  When a person labors at creative and important work, he feels self-satisfaction, but when he works hard for no reason, he feels frustrated.  The Torah obviously only states this prohibition in connection to a slave, and not to a free person who has the choice to refuse to perform the labor.  Nonetheless, not returning Sefarim has an aspect of "Avodat Parech" to it.

3. There is also an issue of shaming Sefarim. When they are left around instead of shelved, they can easily be ripped or ruined (this is true all the more so in our Yeshiva, where the Beit Midrash is also where our meals are eaten). 


A person must therefore return a Sefer immediately after using it, or at the very least, at the end of the Seder of learning.  If it is the only copy of that Sefer in the Yeshiva, it should be returned immediately, since someone may need it.

If a person is sitting and learning and sees Sefarim which others left around, he is not obligated to return them, but it is a kindness if he does so.  If they are left around in a disrespectful way, however, he is obligated to return them.

It is written in the Sefer Chasidim that one of the signs that indicates a person’s level of fear of Heaven is his relationship to Sefarim.


This is the general rule: before a person learns Torah, he must have proper character traits, and only then will he merit Divine assistance in his learning.