Shut SMS #210

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

Chafetz Chaim and Zionism

Q: Did the Chafetz Chaim support Zionism?

A: No.  He was not in favor and he was not opposed (Ha-Rav Avraham Shapira said that the Chafetz Chaim did not express his opinion in writing on the subject of encouraging Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.  He was a Torah giant but did not make a declaration, although he knew that secular Jews lived in Eretz Yisrael.  He did not want to become entangled in speaking Lashon Ha-Ra against Eretz Yisrael! Rosh Devarcha, p. 409.  And regarding the Chafetz Chaim making Aliyah, the Chazon Ish related in the name of the Saba Kadisha - Ha-Rav Shlomo Eliezer Alfandari – that if the Chafetz Chaim had made Aliyah, when he arrived in our Holy Land he would have seen the fire of dispute between those close to Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld and those close to Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook.  The Chafetz Chaim would have said: Did I toil and write the books 'Chafetz Chaim' and 'Shemirat Ha-Lashon' for naught?  And he would have immediately yearned to make peace between them, and would have gone from one to the other, trying with all his will to mediate between them.  But the moment he entered Rav Kook's house, the zealots would have taken the Mishneh Berurah and thrown it under the table, and Hashem did not desire this.  He therefore did not make Aliyah.  Likutei Ha-Re'eiyah, p. 166).


Father and Daughter

Q: Is it permissible for a father to hug and kiss his grown daughter?

A: Yes, even if she is married (see Rambam, Hilchot Isurei Bi'ah 21.  Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 152:10).


Shiduch for a Blind Man

Q: Is it permissible for a blind man to touch the face of a woman on a Shiduch for purposes of becoming acquainted with her?

A: G-d forbid!  And if you are sending a text message, it seems you are not blind.  If so, why are you involving yourself with immodest questions?


Bnei Akiva

Q: Is it permissible to say 'Bnei Akiva', since it is forbidden to call a great Rabbi by his name, and it is named after Rabbi Akiva?

A: It is indeed a problem.  But it is not possible to change the name at this point (see Chinuch Be-Ahavah Vol. 2, pp. 308-311).



Q: What is the source for the Rambam's words that anyone who becomes angry is as if he worships idols (also in Hilchot Deot Chapter 2)?

A: Zohar 1:27b. 3:179a and other places there.  But this does not mean that the Rambam took it from there (since it is clear that the Rambam did not see the Zohar), but he certainly took it from Shabbat 105b and Nedarim 22a (Although the Rambam's language is not exactly like the wording of the Gemara, but rather like that of the Zohar).


Downloading Songs

Q: Is it permissible to download songs from You Tube?  After all, the singer knows that people do so?

A: It is only permissible if it is legal.  The knowledge that people break the law does not nullify the law (Shut Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:40 #19.  Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in Sim Shalom p. 23, printed at the end of Mishpat Ke-Halachah.  Shut She'eilat Shlomo 2:374, 3:463).


Smart Phone

Q: Is it permissible to have a Smart Phone?

A: Only on condition that you are 100% certain that you will not look at forbidden things.  Obviously, it is preferable to have a stupid phone.  It is extremely smart to have a not smart phone.  See Rebbe Nachman's tale "The Wise Man and the Simple One".

I am Mentally Ill

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


Question: I am worthless. I’ve got a serious mental illness. I’m just not worth anything. Occasionally I go to the hospital for treatment and then I come back a nothing. I’m a wretch, my wife is a wretch, my children are wretches. I don’t do anything of worth in life.

I see my friends who went to school with me. All of them are successful. They teach Torah, they are rabbis, educators, while I’m just a dishrag. I study Torah several hours a day. I barely understand anything, I forget it all, due to the treatments I receive. What am I worth?

What is the purpose of my whole life? Very often I am sunk in depression, and I ask myself what I am living for? I’m not worth a thing.

Answer: To answer this question, one has to determine man’s purpose on earth. Is it to be a Torah scholar? Is it to be important? Is it to have high status? No. Man’s purpose is to serve G-d, as is explained in the first paragraph of the book Mesilat Yesharim. There are different avenues and modes of serving G-d, each one in accordance with its nature and place. The rule of thumb is: “The greater the pain, the greater the reward.”

The Master-of-the-Universe is not an achievement-oriented elitist. Rather, He appreciates the effort we make: “When Naomi saw what an effort Ruth made to go with her, she ceased arguing with her” (Rut 1:18). The Jerusalem Talmud states, “One Mitzvah involving pain is worth a hundred painless Mitzvot.” In your case, every Mitzvah is very hard, hence it is as precious in G-d’s eyes as a hundred Mitzvot that anyone else might do.

And the same goes with your Torah learning.

Rambam writes that man is judged in accordance with the majority of his deeds. If most of his deeds are meritorious, he is a Tzadik [righteous]. If most are sinful, he is a Rasha [evildoer]. If his deeds are half and half, he is a Benoni [in between]. If most of one’s deeds are evil, he will immediately die for his wickedness (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:1-2).

We thus have a question against Rambam. Surely we see many people with many more sins than merits, yet they do not die immediately.

Obviously, Rambam was aware of this question and he answered it in advance: It is not we who appraise the value of each mitzvah. Neither are we talking about a mere numerical calculation. Rather, there may very well be one Mitzvah that is worth thousands of other Mitzvot, “Only the Master of Opinions knows how the comparison between sins and merits is made” (ibid.).

You, my dear friend, have a great many merits. Truly a great many.

How lucky you are! Every Mitzvah you perform and all of your Torah learning involve great toil. Surely, in the Supreme World, the World of Truth, there will be surprises…People who are considered important here will be considered worthless there, and people who are derided here will be highly important there. “The elevated ones will be down low, and the low down ones will be up high” (Pesachim 50a).

You, my friend, will be very important there. The main thing is there and not here. This world is a mere crumb, a minute spark of eternity. Moreover, this great and bright future is not just in the future, but in the present as well. The millions of fluorescent bulbs in the banquet hall light up the waiting room as well.

Do your best, and be aware that you are precious in G-d’s sight.


Shelach Lecha: The Sin which Haunts Us

[Tal Chermon]


On the way to Eretz Yisrael, traveling through the vast threatening desert, the Nation of Israel continued to experience crisis after crisis.  These crises taught them the values of the Torah and what it means to belong to the Nation of Israel.  The greatest crisis was that of the Spies: their failure revealed Israel's rejection of the Promised Land.  The severity of the sin may be deduced from the severity of the punishment: "Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness" (Bemidbar. 14:29).  All adults who accepted the evil report of the spies were to die in the desert.

But that was not the end. This sin has haunted us throughout the centuries.  The maxim, "The deeds of the fathers are a precedent for the sons" (see commentary of Ramban to Bereshit 12:6) holds in both positive and negative cases.  It is not merely a case of formal precedent-setting; the deeds of the fathers set a precedent for us because we are their continuation, cut from the same cloth.  We have inherited their character traits, and our deeds therefore reflect and repeat theirs, both positively and negatively.  The sin of the spies revealed a certain spiritual flaw, a lack of faith and of love for the Land, of indifference, emotional distance, and even rejection.  This flaw has passed from one generation to the next, infecting the sons and their sons after them.

Historically, the phenomenon of the rejection of Eretz Yisrael repeated itself during the Second Temple Period, when only a small fraction of the Nation chose to return to Eretz Yisrael.  In general it was the poor and underprivileged who followed Ezra.  The scholars, the wealthy, and the Levi'im chose to remain in Babylonia, a prosperous, flourishing Jewish community (See Ezra 2 with Rashi.  See Ketubot 25, Kiddushin 69a with Rashi).  According to the Kuzari (2:24): "Only a few of them responded to Ezra's call, most, including the important people, remained in Babylonia."

A similar phenomenon occurred in the past century when many great rabbis and leaders ignored the national revival and preferred to remain in the Exile.  Sadly, just as the spiritual flaw and the sin repeat themselves in history, so too does the punishment. The weeping which occurred that night, the eve of Tisha B'Av, has become "a weeping for all generations." (Ta'anit 29a).

Both the First and the Second Temples were destroyed on Tisha B'av.  The exile from Spain and World War I, among other catastrophes, began on Tisha B'Av.  Only partial punishment was meted out to the Generation of the Wilderness.  We have been receiving the remainder bit by bit ever since.

Who were the men who spoke evil of Eretz Yisrael?  "And Moshe sent them from the wilderness of Paran according to the word of G-d, all of them important personages, the leaders of the Children of Israel" (Bemidbar 13:3). "They were important men, and the righteous ones at that time" (Rashi ibid.).  There was no sudden change in their personalities. The weakness which had existed in potential simply now found its expression: "And they went ... and they came" (ibid. 13:26). "Just as they returned with bad intent, so too did they start out with bad intent" (Sotah 35a).  Were they wicked or were they righteous?

The answer is that there are different kinds of righteousness.  There are people who are personally Torah observant, but when it comes to national concerns, their behavior leaves much to be desired.  In contrast, there are those who are devoted with all their hearts to their Land and Nation, but are not personally devout.  King Shaul, for example, was more righteous in his personal life than King David (Yoma 22b and Moed Katan 22b), but he failed as a King when it came to leading the Nation in the war against Amalek.

This also explains the conclusion of the Chesed L'Avraham (Ma'ayan 3, Nahar 12) that anyone who lives in Eretz Yisrael may be considered righteous - otherwise the Land would expel him.

Superficially, this is hard to comprehend.  However, if this refers NOT to the righteousness of his private life - how observant he is of the 613 Mitzvot - but rather to how devoted he is to his Land and Nation, then it is quite reasonable.  Both types of righteousness are needed, and the Redemption will come when each type of person perfects himself by becoming wholly righteous (Orot of Maran Ha-Rav Kook, p.84).

The Spies, like many other righteous men, did not behave in such an admirable fashion in their public lives. The Zohar tells us about the special evil impulse reserved for the very (personally) righteous: "The Serpent nests in the highest mountain tops - i.e. the sages and the righteous" (Tikunei Zohar, end of Tikkun 13 and commentaries).  This evil impulse feeds on spiritual motivation.  Defense of Torah observance and the need to combat evil practices among those who build the Land become excuses for not supporting our national redemption.  This is the evil impulse disguised as Torah observance. "And the great leaders of Israel will have to stand trial in the Heavenly Court for this matter.  G-d will hold them responsible for humiliating His House" (Or Ha-Chaim Ha-Kadosh, Vayikra 25:25).

How could such great men commit such a sin? What were the spiritual and psychological elements which led them to do it?

An important factor in any sin is personal interest.  When a man imagines that he will suffer some personal setback, it is difficult for him to remain objective.  As Mesilat Yesharim teaches in chapter 11: "The heart may be deceived, and if we investigate, we discover that it had some slight unworthy desire…for man is by nature weak and it is easy to deceive him into permitting things in which he has a personal interest." According to our sages, the Spies had reason to believe that once they entered the Promised Land, they would no longer be the leaders of the Nation, as they had been in Egypt and in the desert.

There is another explanation: it was not personal wealth or honor which the spies sought, but rather spiritual wealth.  They did not share the vision of "Malchut Israel" [the Kingdom of Israel], as the only way to bring about the greatest sanctification of G-d's Name and the means by which G-d's rule in this world evidences itself, as we pray every day in "Aleinu".  According to the Kuzari (2, 24), the Holy One rebukes the righteous of each generation, saying: "You righteous!  Although the words of my Torah are dear to you, it is unseemly that you yearned for My Torah and not for My Kingship."

The Spies panicked at the idea of the Nation of Israel settling the Land.  They worried that preoccupation with politics, military and economic affairs would estrange them from the Torah.  It was the "Eidah," the Sanhedrin, who were responsible for the spiritual welfare of the Nation, who wanted to stone Moshe Rabeinu.  They claimed Eretz Yisrael was "a Land that devours its inhabitants," that the temptations there would spoil their character (Chidushei Ha-Rim).  This same claim reappears at the beginning of the Second Temple Period, when many of the great leaders of the Nation refused to leave Babylonia and go to Eretz Yisrael because Jewish life in Babylonia was much more established and secure (see Kuzari 2:22-24).  This is a negative phenomenon, even if motivated by spiritual considerations, as our Sages taught: "One should always try to live in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city where the majority are idol-worshippers, rather than live outside of Israel, even in a city where the majority are Jews (Ketubot 110b).

There is no doubt that it is difficult to sustain a spiritual existence while concurrently leading a public life, however, it is not impossible (see Rav Kook's introduction to Shabbat Ha-Aretz).  Although the spies, "the heretic Tzadikim" (see Sotah 48b), warned: "We cannot go up against the people [of Canaan], for they are stronger than us" (Bemidbar 13:31), Calev and Yehoshua were adamant that "We shall surely go up and possess it, for we are certainly able to" - Even if Eretz Yisrael were in the sky, and G-d had commanded us to build ladders and climb up, we would be able to do it! (ibid. v. 30, and Rashi's commentary there).  Eretz Yisrael is the ladder by which we reach heaven.  It is precisely the "earthly" preoccupation with settling the Land which raises us to the highest spiritual heights, by virtue of the sanctity of the Promised Land.

Shut SMS #209

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

Woman and Talit

Q: Can a woman wear a Talit?

A: No.  The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is "Yuhara – religious arrogance" (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 17:2).  And if it is a men's Talit, there is a problem of "Lo Yilbash" - the prohibition against cross-dressing (Targum Yonatan on Devarim 22:5).

Q: But Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein writes in Shut Igrot Moshe (Orach Chaim 4:49) that although she is not obligated a woman is permitted to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tzitzit, with two conditions: 1. Her intention is not to rebel against Hashem and His Torah, but for the sake of Heaven.  2. The garment is different from a male garment, to avoid the prohibition of "Lo Yilbash".

A: In order for this to be for the sake of Heaven and not "Yuhara", she needs to wear the Talit in private and no one should know.  And it needs to be a Talit specifically for women (It is told that a woman once asked Ha-Rav Yosef Soloveitchik if she could wear a Talit during davening.  He responded to her: "Since this is a major change in traditional practice, we must proceed gradually."  He suggested that she wear a four-cornered garment without Tzitzit for three months and then come back.  She returned after three months and said that this was the most meaningful religious experience of her life.  Ha-Rav Soloveitchik said: "For three months, you have been wearing a garment without any religious or halachic value, it is thus clear that your feeling comes from a source outside of the Mitzvah", and he did not grant her permission to wear a Talit.  Rav Aryeh Frimer and Rav Dov Frimer.  Tradition 32:2).     


Women and Tefillin

Q: Can a woman put on Tefillin, as did Michal bat Shaul (Eiruvin 96a.  See Tosafot, Rosh Hashanah 33a d.h. Ha Rebbe)?

A: You are not Michal bat Shaul.  In any event, it is written in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 38:1) that if a woman puts on Tefillin, we should protest.  Furthermore, Michal bat Shaul put on Tefillin in private and not in public in a protesting manner.  Besides all of this, there is a problem of "Lo Yilbash" - the prohibition against cross-dressing (Targum Yonatan on Devarim 22:5).  Before we add to our Mitzvot, we must fulfill the obligations we already have.  See Mesilat Yesharim (see also an interesting comment by the Kaf Ha-Chaim [ibid. #9], that based on the Kabbalah, one may not use Michal bat Shaul as a proof, since she had a unique soul!).

Q: I heard that Rashi's daughters put on Tefillin?

A: We have not seen a reliable source for this.  Nonetheless, there is a long way to go before we reach their level.


Teacher or Doctor

Q: I have the ability to be a doctor or a teacher.  I am in doubt.  Which is preferable?

A: Teacher.  A teacher is for the soul while a doctor is for the body.


Tax Evader as Witness

Q: If someone evades taxes is he invalid as a witness at a wedding?

A: No, since he deceives himself that it is permissible.  See Tosafot to Sanhedrin 25b d.h. Me-Ikra.  But it is in fact theft.  Shut Chatam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #175.  Shut Yechaveh Daat (4:60, 5:45.  Shut Aseh Lecha Rav 1:70.  And see Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 269).


Woman Delivering Dvar Torah in Shul

Q: Is it permissible for a woman to deliver a Dvar Torah during Davening?

A: Certainly not.  1. It is forbidden for men to gaze at a woman (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 152:8-9).  2. It is forbidden to change the accepted order of prayer (Shut Ha-Rashba 1:323.  See Orach Mishpat #35.  And Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein forbids it even not during Davening.  Shut Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 5:12.  And Professor Nechama Leibovitz strongly refused to deliver a talk in a Shul).


Teaching a Daughter a Profession

Q: Is a father obligated to ensure his daughter learn a profession?

A: Even regarding a son there is no obligation, since it is not brought in the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, rather it is a proper and important directive.  And the same applies to a daughter.


Kiddush by a Woman

Q: Can a woman recite Kiddush for her husband?

A: Yes.  If he is sick and unable to recite it himself (Mishnah Berurah 271:3).

Q: And if there are other men there?

A: Certainly not.  1. It is forbidden to gaze at a woman.  2.  It is forbidden to hear a woman sing.  3. It is forbidden to change the accepted order of prayer (see Mishnah Berurah ibid. #4.  Ha-Rav Yaakov Ariel also forbids this and adds that doing so is in inappropriate form of social protest.  Yeshivat Beit El website).


Kashrut of Toothpaste

Q: Does toothpaste require Kosher certification?

A: No. 1. If there is something not Kosher in it, the taste is spoiled and is within a mixture.  Shut Har Tzvi Yoreh Deah #95.  2. It is not eating, but rather tasting.  3. This is not the manner of eating (It is related that Ha-Rav Yosef Soloveitchik was once asked if toothpaste requires Kosher certification for Pesach.  He responded: No, it is inedible even to a dog.  The person said: But I gave it to my dog and he ate it!  Rav Soloveitchik said: Who are you going to believe, me or your dog?).


Conversion in our Day

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


Question: In our country, there are 300,000 immigrants who are non-Jews. It isn’t clear who was responsible for this bizarre phenomenon, but it’s a fact that we cannot ignore.  99% of them are uninterested in Mitzvah observance, so perhaps we must enact a mass conversion of whoever is interested in converting, rendering them part of the Jewish People, without Torah and Mitzvot, and make do with that.

Answer: Conversion in our generation is like conversion throughout the generations, for the Torah has not changed. Quite the contrary, according to the Torah, we have to be more careful about accepting converts in our generation than in previous generations, since the situation in our country is good, thank G-d. Hence we have to consider the possibility that whoever sets out to convert is not doing so out of love of the Torah of Israel, but for his own benefit. As Rambam said: “The correct way of effecting conversion, is that when a prospective convert approaches us, we investigate whether that candidate is seeking conversion for monetary benefits, power or even out of fear. And we also investigate whether or not that candidate has set his eyes on a Jewish person of the opposite sex… The  Rabbinical courts rejected converts throughout the entire time of King David and King Shlomo. During the time of the former, converts were rejected lest they were coming out of fear, and during the latter they were rejected lest they were attracted by the great monarchy and bounty that Israel enjoyed. Whoever applies for conversion out of ulterior motives is not considered a righteous convert” (Hilchot Isurei Bi'ah 13:14-15).

Indeed, in our own times, whoever sets out to convert is suspected of being insincere, making us wonder, “Why are you coming now? Why didn’t you come during the Crusades, during the Chelminski pogroms or during the Holocaust, but only to a fine, wealthy country?!” (see Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 268:2). It may very well be that the candidate is sincere, but he certainly should have to prove it.

There are discussions within Jewish law about whether or not Mitzvot have to be performed with sincere intent (Orach Chaim 60), but with conversion it’s different. It’s not enough to proclaim, “Your people are my people”. Rather, the candidate must say, “Your people are my people and your G-d is my G-d,” as Rut did (Rut 1:16). Otherwise, the candidate is referring to a different Jewish People, one that has no G-d that revealed Himself to them at Sinai and gave them Torah and Mitzvot. He is then not a “righteous convert” [Ger Tzedek], to use Rambam’s term. He’s got the wrong address. He has converted to a different Jewish People. Thus, changing the definition of a convert is tantamount to changing the definition of the Jewish People.

How then did Hillel the Elder accept the candidate who said to him, “Convert me with the intent of making me the High Priest” (Shabbat 31a). How could that be? Surely that candidate was seeking power and privilege! Rather, the Tosafot explain that Hillel knew that that convert was on his way towards being a total convert (Yevamot 109b, s.v., “Ra’a”).  It was clear to Hillel that his insincerity would develop into sincerity.

In our day as well, if a court is convinced and certain that the conversion candidate will ultimately be G-d fearing, the Rabbinic court justice can accept him on his own discretion (Beit Yosef 61, Yoreh Deah 268).

Nonetheless, in our day the reality is the opposite. In many cases, when someone sets out to convert, the court is convinced that he is not going to keep Torah and Mitzvot.

Moreover, if people seek to convert under such circumstances, we have to wait and see what is going to happen. As Rambam wrote: “And despite that [suspicion we harbor regarding the attractiveness of King David’s era], many converts still converted during the days of Kings David and Shlomo before laymen’s courts, and the Sanhedrin suspected them. All the same, since they had immersed in the ritual bath they wouldn’t reject them, but they would not accept them until they saw what became of them.” (Hilchot Isurei Biah 13:15)

Likewise, Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Avraham Shapira explained that it does not suffice for the convert to say that he accepts the yoke of Mitzvot. Rather, as long as it is not yet clear to us that he truly intends to keep Torah and Mitzvot fully, he is a “Safek Ger” [a convert of doubtful status] (Menachem Avraham 1, pp. 69-70. And if there is a clear assessment that he has not undertaken the yoke of Mitzvot, then there is no value to his declaration, and his conversion does not take hold (Shut Achiezer 3:26, at the start of paragraph 3. Shut Da’at Cohian 153, d.h. vatimhenu me’od).

Some argue that it says, “Love the convert” (Devarim 10:19). Certainly he must be loved, brought near and accepted graciously. Yet that does not mean that we should lie in the name of the Torah. Imagine someone telling his physician, “Please treat me nicely. Love me. Make no demands of me. Go lightly with me. Let your doctoring be friendly and indulgent.” If a physician conducted himself that way, against what he was taught, he would be expelled from the medical profession.

It is true that the first Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Ben Tzion Uziel wrote that in a great emergency, one can accept converts even if it is clear that they will not keep Torah and Mitzvoth (Piskei Uziel Bi-She’elot Hazman 65), and he was certainly a very illustrious rabbi. Yet his was a solitary view, and all the other halachic authorities rejected it (Achiezer ibid., Da’at Kohen, ibid. and 143, Igrot Moshe, Minchat Yitzchak, Shevet Levi, Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Auerbach, Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Elyashiv, et al).

Likewise Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Dichovsky expressed the novel idea that if the candidate declared that he accepts the Mitzvot, his conversion is in force even if his behavior afterwards contradicts this, because we have to accept the idea that at the very moment he made the declaration, there was a spark within him of intent to keep Torah and Mitzvot. Yet that, as well, is a solitary view, with which the other halachic authorities do not agree.

It is true that sometimes in an emergency we rely on solitary views, but here it’s the opposite. A convert has to be accepted as a Jew according to most opinions, even according to all opinions. Consider the following: Suppose I came to you suggesting that you marry a wonderful girl, but the chance that she was Jewish was only one percent? Would you agree to marry her? Even if there was a one percent chance that she was not Jewish, you would not agree.

Therefore, we don’t do mass conversions, but only individual conversions, based on investigating each candidate about whether or not he/she wishes to join the fold. True, the history books note that there were cases of mass conversions, but it is not certain whether this involved pristine, genuine conversion, or adoption of a few Jewish customs. Moreover, it is not made clear what came of that afterwards. Likewise, there is no support for any of this in our Talmudic or halachic literature. What is clear is that from a scientific perspective, the DNA of Jews from all ethnic groups is almost identical, which points to a low percentage of conversions.

The rule of thumb is this: If a non-Jew converts and does not undertake to keep Mitzvot, his conversion is no conversion (Da’at Kohen 148, Minchat Yitzchak 6:107, et al).

Moreover, even imagining that such a conversion would be considered valid, what benefit would we be bringing to that person who is not going to be keeping Mitzvot? We are no missionaries, and we do not say that the World-to-Come is only for Jews. That non- Jew, prior to his conversion, is one of the righteous gentiles who has a heavenly portion.

Now we are transforming him into a Jewish sinner who has no share in the World-to-Come! (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 157. Minchat Shlomo 35:3).

If so, you ask, what is the solution? There is no solution! It is an unsolvable problem!

After all, we have other serious, unsolvable problems in our national lives: the proliferation of our enemies from without and from within; large portions of our people being estranged from the Torah; educational and legal systems that do not conform with Jewish law; most of the Jewish People living in the Exile facing terrible spiritual dangers. And all this without mentioning the unsolvable problem of the Exile, which weighed heavily on us for two thousand years, and even so, it didn’t break us, and didn’t force us to abandon our religion.

Rather, we believed that this suffering would meet its end, and now our hope is being fulfilled.

In just the same way, the problem of large numbers of non-Jews in Israel will be solved. How? We don’t know. Perhaps it will happen the way our sages envision it, or perhaps in some other way: “In the future, idolaters will come and convert. Will we accept them? Surely we learned, ‘We don’t accept converts in the Messianic era,’ just as we did not accept them in the times of David or of Shlomo. Rather, they will become self-made converts, i.e., ‘they will push their way in, even though they are not accepted’ (Rashi on Avoda Zara 22a), and they will put Tefillin on their heads and their arms, Tzitzit on their garments and Mezuzot on their doorposts.

“When those converts see the War of Gog and Magog, they will ask Gog and Magog, ‘Why have you come?’ and the answer will be, ‘To attack G-d and His anointed,’ as it says, ‘Why are the nations in an uproar? Why do the peoples mutter in vain?’ (Tehillim 2:1). Every one of those converts will then pull off his Tefillin and leave, as it says, ‘Let us break their bands’ (v. 3), and G-d sits and laughs: ‘He who sits in heaven laughs.’” (Avoda Zara 3b)

Let us strengthen ourselves in the pathway of Torah. Let us not change or alter our Nation. Your people are my people and your G-d is my G-d.


Beha'alotecha: On the Way

[Tal Chermon]


The Book of Bemidbar is the book of transitions - the “on the way” book. As the People of Israel journey to the Promised Land, they encounter many dangers and must undergo many tests. In the first Parshiyot of Bemidbar, the Torah teaches us how they prepare for their journey: Each tribe is arranged in military fashion in its own specified area. In the heart of the encampment stands the Mishkan, where the Divine Presence rests. The question of those who, for one reason or another, are physically or spiritually estranged from the Camp (the physically impure, the thief, the Sotah, the Nazir) is dealt with in Parashat Naso. The Birkat Cohanim is received, the Mishkan is dedicated, and we arrive at Parashat Beha’alotcha.

We begin with man’s physical and spiritual work in this world as represented in the spiritual world of the Mishkan: Lighting the Menorah symbolizes enlightenment. The light kindled in the Mishkan brings a blessing to all cultural achievements world-wide. The Lechem Ha-Panim, on the other hand, symbolizes man’s economic achievements. “To become wise - go south, for the Menorah stands in the southern area of the Mishkan. To become rich - go north, for the Shulchan Lechem Panim is in the North” (Baba Batra 25b).

Care of the Mishkan and its utensils is entrusted to the Levi’im. This week’s Parashah teach us more about their work. It then goes on to the unique sacrifice brought by each Jew - the Korban Pesach.

The Nation is now ready to travel, led by the Pillar of Cloud in the daytime and the Pillar of Fire at night. Yitro, Moshe’s Midianite father-in-law, is invited to become a part of the Jewish People and to embark on the journey together with the whole Nation.

“A book of its own” is how our Sages designate the two short verses separating the above preparations from the onset of the actual journey. “And it came to pass, when the Aron set forth” (Bemidbar10:35-36): This Parashah teaches that the Divine Presence accompanies us “on the way.” The Aron contains the Torah through which the Master of the Universe reveals Himself to us, as the Gemara tells, “I gave myself in the written words” (Shabbat 105a). It is as if G-d Himself were in the Torah. The Aron containing the Torah accompanies us everywhere, whether we succeed or fail: “He who dwells in their midst in all their impurity”- “Even when they are impure, the Divine Presence remains in their midst” (Yoma 56b). This short passage is framed on both sides by an upside-down letter “Nun”. Nun is the letter of “Nefilah” - of falling and failing, and for that reason was left out of the “Ashrei” (Shabbat 116. Berachot 4b). Nevertheless, the Master of the World does not desert us. He is with us in our exile (Megilla 29a). |This concept deserves a ‘book of its own.’

No sooner do we start out on the way than troubles begin. First, “and the People were as if complaining; it displeased Hashem” (Bemidbar.11:1). Then they “desired a desire” (ibid. 4), followed by the Lashon Hara against Moshe, the sins of the spies, Korach, and so on - all internal crises. These are followed by enemies from without - Edom, Sichon, Balak and Bil’am. The way is fraught with danger and time after time we fall.

After the Six Day War, a conference of Muslim academics was held in the El-Azhar University near Cairo on the theological implications of the State of Israel. They agreed unanimously that the State must be wiped out. As to its Jewish population, there were two opinions. One was that they could be permitted to remain if they were faithful to the Palestinian State. The other held that they were incorrigible and must be totally eradicated. One professor wrote an article in which he attempted to prove the intrinsic corruption of the Jewish Nation as reflected in the ‘Old Testament’ itself, by the sins we committed in the desert.

There is no attempt here to hide our imperfections. However, mistakes are an inherently human characteristic. “There is no one so righteous on earth who does only good and never sins.” We stumbled, got up, and resumed our work. “Seven times does a righteous man fall, and he rises” (Kohelet 24:16). Through these failures, we learn to correct and perfect ourselves.

There are things that can only be comprehended through trial and failure. The trial of “Kivrot HaTa’ava” (the graves of desire) teaches us how to relate to materialism. Through the crisis with Miriam and Aharon we come to understand the vast difference between Moshe Rabbenu and all other prophets. Of course, it is unnecessary to fail purposely, there are sufficient opportunities without that. When we do fail, however, we must use that experience as a springboard for spiritual elevation. “No person can really comprehend the Torah’s teachings unless he has failed first” (Gittin 43a). Failure can actually help us reach perfection.


Shut SMS #208

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

Gemara Learning in Korea

Q: In South Korea, there is much interest in learning Gemara.  Is this worthwhile?

A: Certainly not.  It is forbidden to teach Torah to non-Jews and it is forbidden for a non-Jew to learn Torah.  The Torah is betrothed to us and not to them.  One does not learn Gemara for an intellectual experience – which is their interest – but out of Yirat Shamayim – fear of Heaven (Chagigah 13a).  


Reform and Conservative Conversions

Q: Are Reform and Conservative conversions valid?

A: Certainly not.  An essential element of the conversion is accepting the yoke of the Mitzvot, and this is lacking.  Shut Achiezer 3:26.  Shut Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:128, Even Ha-Ezer 3:3.  Shut Shevet Ha-Levi 10:224.  Shut Mishneh Halachot 12:193.


Matrilineal Descent

Q: Where is it written in the Torah that Judaism follows matrilineal descent?

A: Devarim 7:3-4.  Kiddushin 68b.

Q: I heard that some say that it was a later decree?

A: Nonsense.  It is explicitly mentioned in Ezra 7:3-4, and he did not invent it.


Staring at Women

Q: Is it forbidden for men to stare at women, or do women also have to be careful that men not stare at them?

A: Both.  "A woman needs to be modest and careful that men not stare at her, aside from her husband".  Rabbenu Yonah, Igeret Ha-Teshuvah 159.


Coca Cola

Q: Is Coca Cola Kosher in all countries?

A: Not necessarily.  There are many ingredients.  It requires certification (See the amazing Teshuvah regarding the Kashrut of Coca Cola in Shut Karnei Ha-Hod, end of Volume 2, of Ha-Rav Tuvia Gefen, who served as Rabbi in Atlanta, where Coke is produced in America.  He discusses the secret ingredient in Coke).

Q: Is it true that Coca Cola is unhealthy?

A: This is a medical question.  All soft drinks cause damage on account of the sugar.  And some claim that Coke causes damage on account of the phosphoric acid which causes continuing damage to one's kidneys.


Bill with Tchernichovski

Q: Is it appropriate for the State of Israel to put out a bill with the face of the poet Shaul Tchernichovski, who was married to a non-Jew?

A: It is not appropriate.


Tzedakah to a Criminal

Q: A person evaded taxes and is now having a trial which could end up in jail-time.  Is it possible to give him Tzedakah for an expensive attorney who could save him?

A: This has nothing to do with Tzedakah.  But it is a kindness.  Kindness is according to the need and ability.  But it seems that there are other persons who are more in need of a kindness (Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was once asked regarding a Jew who stole a significant amount of money and was serving a jail sentence in America.  Is it proper to collect large sums of money to help free him because of the Mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim – Redeeming Captives?  Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman said: "Pidyom Shevuyim?!  What does this have to do with Pidyon Shevuyim?  Pidyom Shevuyim is when non-Jews kidnap a Jew for no reason, and put him in jail.  According to my understanding, they don't kidnap Jews in America in order to extort money.  After all, the Torah says 'Do not steal', and he stole.  On the contrary, it is good for him to sit in jail a little and learn that it is forbidden to steal."  Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman added that if they wanted to collect money for his wife and children, however, it would obviously be a Mitzvah.  Ve-alehu Lo Yibol Volume 2, pp. 113-114).