Why postpone Lag Ba"Omer; Filing complaints about the IDF

Filing a complaint will lead to IDF improvement; refraining from Lag Ba'omer bonfires on Saturday night prevents Sabbath desecration.

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Rabbi Eliezer Melamed,

Har Bracha Yeshiva
Har Bracha Yeshiva
INN:HB

The longstanding position of the Chief Rabbinate that on Lag Ba’Omer which falls out on Motzei Shabbat bonfires should be postponed until Sunday evening, is correct and should be endorsed. We find that our Sages annulled the mitzva of blowing a shofar and the taking of a lulav when Rosh Hashana or Sukkot fell out on Shabbat, lest there be people who desecrate the Shabbat by carrying the shofar or lulav in the public domain (Rosh Hashana 29b; Sukkah 43a). If this is the case with regard to mitzvot from the Torah, how much more so should the minhag (custom) of lighting bonfires be postponed, so as not to cause people to desecrate Shabbat in the preparation and lighting of the fires.

Furthermore, Minister of Education Naftali Bennett should be commended for accepting the Rabbinate’s request and postponing the school vacation day to Monday. Hopefully in the future this will become a permanent rule, namely, that Lag B’Omer bonfires not be lit on Motzei Shabbat. Hopefully, the Haredim will also conduct themselves as real ‘haredim l’dvar Hashem‘ (‘fearers of the word of God’), and postpone the lighting of fires in Meron and elsewhere, until Sunday night.

In any case, since the school vacation was postponed to Monday, lighting bonfires on Motzei Shabbat is also clearly forbidden because of ‘bitul Torah’ (wasting time when one could learn Torah), for it will cause many students to lose two days of study.

Haircuts and Shaving on Erev Shabbat

When Lag Ba’Omer falls out on Motzei Shabbat, according to Ashkenazic minhag and some Sephardim who customarily end mourning customs on Lag B’Omer itself, such people should shave and, if necessary, take a haircut in honor of Shabbat. This is because it is not respectful for the Shabbat that at its conclusion customs of mourning cease, while prior to it, no preparations are made. However, according to the minhag of most Sephardim who normally end their mourning customs at Lad B’Omer (the 34th day of the Omer), haircuts should not be taken until Monday morning (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 3: 2-3, footnote 8).

Concerning the Struggle of Religious Soldiers in the Army

Before Pesach, I dealt extensively with the growing difficulties of religious soldiers in the IDF, which in recent years has begun imposing a secular culture on its soldiers. The conclusion was that since the IDF’s rules were basically designed to provide the army with a Jewish character according to halakha, and to guarantee a convenient possibility of observing Torah and mitzvot – if the soldiers knew how to stand-up for their rights, demand their commanders carry out full orders, if need be file a complaint, and in pressing situations, involve public figures and the media as well – the majority of the problems would be resolved.

For example, the severe problems in Bahad Echad (officers’ training base) could have been resolved had one cadet filed a complaint about the systematic violation of the orders prohibiting the entry of male cadets into women cadet’s quarters and vice versa, certainly not in immodest dress! And all this with the knowledge of the commander of Bahad Echad, who even had the nerve to reprimand a religious cadet who complained about it. An organized complaint, accompanied by public and media pressure, could have gotten this insolent officer removed from the army.

Getting more soldiers to file complaints involves a profound and significant change of perception among the National-Religious public – a transition from a belief that a complaint constitutes an affront to the “malchut” (divine sovereignty of the State of Israel) – to a perspective that a complaint actually corrects and improves the system. There are some Roshei Yeshivot and Mechinot who agreed with this position, and indeed, in preparation for the upcoming draft in the summer, plan to prepare the recruits for problematic situations they are liable to encounter, to familiarize them with army orders and the proper, polite and assertive way to demand their implementation, and how to file a complaint when necessary.

In order to further strengthen this process, here is a letter from a soldier’s personal experience:

An Informative Letter Concerning Filing Complaints

“Shalom, Rabbi! Perhaps if one views things from “above”, like some of today’s critics of the IDF, it may seem that the convenient, correct, and ethical solution is to respond to every injustice in the IDF by filing a complaint. However, you must understand that from the lower side of the hierarchy – from one’s direct officer to the battalion commander – a complaint is considered ‘yahareg u’bal ya’avor’ (a sin one is commanded to die for, rather than commit). Any commander who is complained about will feel, and rightly so, that a personal war is being waged against him, because in the IDF system, there are many small processes that must be exhausted before filing a complaint.

Filing a complaint serves as a last resort, whereas for the most part, refusing to obey an order is seen as a more plausible and valid means of expressing dissatisfaction. For this reason, it seems fairer to the lower echelons not to complain about every religious problem.

On a personal level, during my service as an officer I had to refuse orders almost ten times (most of them because of religious issues), and in the eyes of my commanders, it was considered far more legitimate than filing a complaint.

Therefore, in my humble opinion, filing a complaint is legitimate only after an attempt to convince the commanders, together with a readiness to reach confrontation with them, but without involving other parties.

True, because of not being mentally prepared for the fact that sometimes one has to complain, there were two incidences for which I regret not filing a complaint. The first was in basic training, in the battery (an artillery company) when we were placed together with female soldiers. The company officer and the battalion commander of the battery deliberately failed to impose the proper dress orders for the female exercise trainers, despite our requests to enforce the order because of modesty.

The second incident: I had a sergeant who deliberately harassed me over religious matters. Despite my complaints to the company and battalion commanders, it was not taken care of.

Eating before Kiddush for Children

Q: Rabbi, last week you wrote that you distribute chocolate candies to children after Friday night services. Are you not concerned about leading the children astray, because they might eat the chocolate before Kiddush?

A: It is a mitzvah from the Torah to remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it, and our Sages determined fulfilling the mitzvah by reciting Kiddush over a glass of wine. Since the mitzvah already comes into effect upon the commencement of Shabbat, our Sages determined not to eat, or even drink water, before fulfilling the mitzva of Kiddush (SA OC 299:4).

However, this prohibition does not apply to children, since children must be educated not to eat forbidden foods that are intrinsically prohibited, such as neveilot and treifot, but there is no obligation to educate them not to eat kosher foods during a time when it is prohibited to eat, because it is more difficult for children to refrain from eating and drinking. Therefore, there is no mitzvah to educate children who have reached the age of chinuch (education) – age five or six – not to eat during the first hours of Yom Kippur, but only from the age of nine years old did our Sages say to begin teaching them to fast for a few hours. Therefore, it is also permissible to allow them to eat before prayers (MA 269:1).

When there is no difficulty, it is preferable to encourage children to restrain themselves from eating. But since they are not prohibited, if they are hungry, thirsty, or crave to eat chocolate – they are permitted (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 6:9). On the contrary, it is good for children to be familiar with the halakha, and then they can decide whether they want to refine and strengthen their power of restraint and not eat until after Kiddush, or to act according to the letter of the law and eat before Kiddush.

A Deaf-Mute Completing a Minyan

In my previous article, I wrote that a deaf-mute who understands sign language can be included in a minyan. Not only because this issue is disputed among the poskim, and since the minyan is of rabbinical law one can rely on the lenient opinion, but rather, because nowadays there is room to count him in the minyan even according to the opinion of poskim who were machmir (stringent) in the past. Perhaps a few generations ago when only a few deaf-mutes knew how to communicate, some poskim felt they should not be excluded from the vast majority of deaf-mutes who could not communicate, and as a result, they too were exempt from the mitzvot. However, after having merited in recent generations to see the majority of deaf-mutes learn how to communicate, we can say that even in the opinion of the stringent poskim, deaf-mutes have a new status, are obligated in all the mitzvot, and thus, are counted in a minyan.

In response to my article, I received a delightful letter from Mr. Avi Herman:

“Honorable Rabbi Melamed, shlita. Last Shabbat, we hosted a group of 20 deaf people in our home in Kochav Hashahar. The organizer and head of the group is Rabbi Yehoshua Sudkoff, a Chabad Hasid and a deaf rabbi himself, who is involved in Torah study and bringing the deaf community in Israel and abroad closer to Judaism. Incidentally, Rabbi Sudkoff studies in the “Ma’aseh Nissim Kollel” in Jerusalem, which is composed entirely of deaf people studying Torah.

Shabbat was very uplifting. The group participated in the prayers and heard Torah lessons with sign language translation performed by my wife Nannet, who is a certified sign language interpreter.

One of the most exciting aspects of Shabbat was to discover, totally by chance, your recognition of the halakhic status of these deaf people in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper. It was exciting to read and feel that the difficult efforts made by deaf Jews to learn Torah and observe the mitzvot, are indeed being recognized in Jewish law.

Note: These deaf people are only deaf, they are not deaf-mutes – their difficulty in talking is because they do not hear. Some of them manage to overcome this difficulty, and express themselves in speech as well (although, sometimes it is difficult to understand), and some of them do not speak at all, but the problem is not in their vocal cords (and therefore, they are not mutes)”.

Although in halakha, they are called “deaf-mutes” according to actual reality.

A Mute Person who does Not Answer ‘Amen

Nonetheless, I also received the following question: “Ultimately, in a minyan of ten, nine have to answer ‘amen‘, so how can a deaf-mute be counted in the minyan if he can’t answer ‘amen‘?”

A: It was codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 55:6-8), that even someone who is asleep, or a deaf person, praying the ‘Amidah‘ participate in the minyan, even though they cannot answer ‘amen‘. On the other hand, concerning the repetition of the shaliach tzibbur, the Shulchan Aruch wrote (124:4): “If nine people are not paying attention his berachot are close to being l’vatalah (in vain)”.

According to the majority of poskim, a sleeping person and someone who is deaf are counted in a minyan, however, l’chatchila (ideally) it is better that there be nine answering, and therefore the Shulchan Aruch wrote his berachot are “close to being” in vain, in order to encourage the “dreamers” to answer ‘amen‘ (MA, Drisha, and others). Some poskim are machmir not to count in the minyan someone who does not answer (see, Taz). Others say that in the repetition of the shaliach tzibbur there must be nine people answering, but for other recitations of kedusha there is no need (Shulchan Arukh HaRav, Bach). However, if the deaf person reads lips and has kavana to answer ‘amen‘, it is possible that even in the opinion of the poskim who are machmir, he is counted.

In practice, the halakha goes according to the opinion of the majority of poskim, namely, that both someone sleeping and a deaf person are counted in the minyan, but ideally it is correct to be stringent in the repetition of the shaliach tzibbur, that if there are not nine people answering, they should daven once, without the repetition: At the beginning, the shaliach tzibbur recites the first three blessings aloud, so that they can answer kedusha. In Shacharit (the Morning Prayer), when there are kohanim present, he also recites the last three blessings aloud, and the kohanim pray on the duchan (podium), so they can recite ‘Birkat Kohanim‘.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:
http://en.yhb.org.il/