When an old book meets a changing world

Reprinting the volume of “Ha’am ve’ Ha’aretz” (The Nation and the Land) in the “Peninei Halakha” series was a complex challenge. The new edition has new topics, and explains the logic and morality of the commandments to the Land and nation.

Contact Editor
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed,

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

A New Edition – and Indecision

This week, as part of the “Peninei Halakha” series, a new edition of the ‘Likutim’ (anthologies) series “Ha’am ve’ Ha’aretz” (“The Nation and the Land”) was published, with many important additions, most of which are refinements and broadening of the halakha’s and clarifications that already existed, and some additional halakha’s. I would like to share with the readers the dilemmas that preceded the upgrading of the book.

From beginning, my hope and prayer was that I would be able to publish the halakha’s of ‘Ha’am ve’ Ha’aretz’ in an orderly and comprehensive manner, like the other books in the “Peninei Halakha” series, so as to explain the vision in its entirety, from the general to the details of the halakha’s, regarding the destiny of the Jewish People in its Land; the relationship between Israel and the nations; the order of government, kingdom and democracy; the Rabbinate, Education, and Community; society, and the degree of mutual responsibility of its various components; the order of law concerning laws between Man and his fellow Man, and the laws between Man and his Creator; the responsibility placed on the community and the leadership to determine the Jewish-religious identity of the state. This book, even after its updating, did not achieve that entirely.

On the other hand, there are very important issues relating to the destiny of the Nation and the significance of the Land; the borders of the Land and the order of its settlement; laws of the army, and laws of war; the status of settlement in Judea and Samaria; government regulations, and the status of law and order in the State of Israel.

Facing the Changing Reality

The previous edition was printed thirteen years ago, in 2005, and in practice, most of the halakha’s were written about twenty-five years ago for the “Pinat Ha’Halakha” (the Halakha Corner) on the Arutz Sheva radio station, and were printed in the first ‘Likutim’ of “Peninei Halakha” from the years 1993-1998  (in a colored front cover). Since then, a dilemma arose over whether to print additional editions, when the incompleteness of the style in the ‘Likutim’ series of books, compared to the rest of “Peninei Halakha” series, was pronounced – especially because Likutim deals with topical issues, and is rewritten from the radio broadcast ‘Pinat Ha’Halakha’, and directed at problems extant then – so that it became less accurate and relevant for constantly changing public discourse.

National values that were obvious even for some people on the political Left, have now become less so; consequently, it was necessary to clarify at greater length the mitzvoth of the Torah, so that its logic and morality would be crystal clear. In addition, the circle of listeners of Arutz Sheva and students of the original books of “Peninei Halakha” were residents of Judea and Samaria and their supporters. Today, however, the circle of those studying “Peninei Halakha” has expanded, and the books have even begun to be translated into four languages: English, Russian, French and Spanish, to the point where the number of books printed in the last thirteen years, is ten times greater than the books printed previously.

When I referred to non-Jews or Arabs (in chapter five and eight), it was clear to the people of ‘Yesha’ (acronym for Judea and Samaria) that what I wrote was not written out of hatred of foreigners, but rather, as part of a conflict, a struggle, or a vision of a Jewish state, since all the values of morality, kindness, and peace are also crystal clear. And as anyone who is familiar with reality knows, the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria generally treat Arab neighbors and workers with respect – above and beyond what is customary in similar conflicts elsewhere. However, readers who live outside of Israel, and are influenced by the anti-Semitic libels broadcast in the media against the settlers, and even more so, those who study the translated books, are liable  to understand things in a completely different way.

Suiting “Ha’am ve’ Ha’aretz” to the General Public

Therefore, when a request arose to translate this book into Russian, I asked that they wait until I went over it again, and elaborated on a number of complex topics, with the intent of adding an additional clarification for serious learners, and also, to adapt it to those who are not familiar with the internal discourse of the ‘Beit Midrash’ (the Yeshiva study hall), and the settlers of Judea and Samaria.

In addition, I added more halakhas that I have clarified over the years, such as the halakha of ‘eshet yaffet to’ar’ (a non-Jewish woman captured in battle), with the explanation of its moral rectification, as well as additional accuracy and broadening regarding the borders of the Land of Israel, with the help of Rabbi Yair Weitz. I even refined the style – taking it from the spoken style of “Pinat Halakha”, bringing it closer to writing style.

Sample of Additions

In the first chapter I added a few elementary ideas about the Nation, in order to explain that the value of the Nation precedes that of the Land, and  the chapter’s heading was changed to “Nation and the Land.” This is one example of the fact that people who are familiar with the inner discourse, know that the Nation comes before the Land; but people detached from Torah Judaism, mistakenly or maliciously, prefer to claim that our position is that the Land is more important than the Nation.

In Chapter five, I elaborated on the attitude toward the residence of non-Jews in the Land of Israel (5: 1-5), so that it would be understood that these halakhas are not xenophobic, but rather an expression of the vision of establishing an exemplary state, a light unto the nations, all of whose inhabitants share in the revelation of Godly ideals. At the same time, I also referred in detail to our present situation, and explained the moral solution that the idea of ‘ger toshav’ (foreign resident) holds for the dilemmas faced by the peoples of Europe.

There was also a halakhic reference to the demolition of houses in Judea and Samaria, in accordance with the decision of the courts (5:13).

In Chapter 6 (7-8), I expanded my point of reference to the civil courts of the State of Israel, both in deepening the criticism towards them, in understanding the need for their existence, and also the role incumbent upon Torah scholars. At the end, a halakha was added regarding electing women as Ministers or Members of Knesset. In Chapter 7, I was more precise in the halakhic ruling regarding a captured terrorist (7: 9), and another halakha on the responsibility and guarantee to benefit all human beings (7:10).

The Fulfillment of the Promise to Rabbi Goren

In this book, I also fulfilled my commitment to Rabbi Shlomo Goren ztz”l, who was the President of our Yeshiva in its early years. When I served as the secretary of the ‘Council of Rabbis of Yesha’, he wrote to me long and important answers regarding the Nation and the Land, the prohibition of withdrawals, and refusal of orders. At one point during the time when he was ill and distressed about the rabbis who had omitted his name from the matter of refusing orders, I promised to publish his positions, in order to appease and cheer him up. By the grace of God, I was able to fulfill my promise, and so far the book with his answers has been printed in about 25,000 copies. In the new edition I added a halakhic answer written to me that I had omitted, and Rabbi Maor Horowitz had discovered. Indeed, he discovered another answer, but since it deals with a sensitive issue of the law of “rodef” (one who is “pursuing” another to murder him) concerning terrorist leaders, I chose not to publish it in the framework of this book, which is widely studied by the general public.

An Example of Elaboration: Jewish Labor

In the eighth chapter I made a special effort to explain the halakhas of Jewish labor as a mitzvah, to prefer those close in expanding circles – first family, then neighbors, then people living in the same city, then people from the same nation, and then close countries, until finally, all people of the world – and all this, not as a result of alienation for foreigners. From a halakhic point of view, this is what was written in the previous edition; however, a person who did not grow up on the foundations of morality in the Torah, is liable to understand this in a different light.

This is what I wrote in the new edition (8: 1):

“When two people ask someone for a loan, and he can lend to only one of them, he should give preference to the one closer to him. As it is said (Exodus 22:24): “When you lend money to My people, to the poor man among you” (in Hebrew, ‘among you’ is ‘imach‘). In other words ‘imach‘, is meant to be understood as ‘close to you’. Therefore, a family relative comes before a neighbor; a neighbor comes before someone who is not a neighbor; a fellow city-dweller comes before someone who does not live in the same city; a person from the same nation, comes before a person from another nation (Bava Metzia 71a).

Similarly, it is said (Vayikra 25:14): “Thus, when you buy or sell [land] to your neighbor, do not cheat one another.” Our Sages said (Sifra) that in the words “your neighbor” (in Hebrew, ‘amitecha’), the Torah intended to instruct that in every purchase or sale, a person should prefer his ‘neighbor’, i.e., the one closest to him – including giving preference to his nation over people of another nation. The novelty of this is that not only in matters of ‘chesed‘ (kindness) and ‘tzedakah‘ (charity) should one give preference to someone closer to him, but also in all economic spheres, one should prefer his relatives.

This halakha is not an expression of boycotting someone who is not a relative, neighbor, or foreigner. On the contrary, it is well-known that all of Israel has a responsibility to rectify the entire world, as God said to Avraham our forefather (Genesis 12: 3): “All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” And it was also said to Yaakov our forefather (Gen. 28:14): “All the families on earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.” Rather, this halakha is intended to express the brotherhood and the great responsibility incumbent upon each person towards his relatives, neighbors, and nation. Apparently, this is also the case for all the nations – that every person should give preference in all matters between man and his fellow man to his relatives, and then his neighbors, and then his nation.

The idea of ​​this general rule is simple and logical: in order to solve all the hardships in the world, and build a good and healthy society, it is necessary to start and correct in order, from the closer circle to the more distant one. Beyond the fact that brotherly love requires this, this principle allows society to rectify itself in a complete manner, with responsibility spreading logically in circles; the closer a person is to his friend, the more familiar he is with him, and knows better how to help him more efficiently. So too in matters of ‘tzedakah’, as well as in matters of labor – that in the long term, neighbors and fellow citizens know how to employ the worker in the most beneficial way for both of them.

The mitzvah to give preference to our fellow Jew, is even when the price he asks for is slightly higher, but when the difference between them is not small, there is no obligation give him preference.

The meaning of this is that there is no intention that the mitzvah of preference will damage the economic considerations of a person or business; rather, the intention of the mitzvah to create a certain preference for a relative, neighbor, or a member of his nation, while maintaining the profitability and value of the business.

With this as a basis, I continued in the following halakhas to explain the parameters of preference for employment.

In Memory of Rabbi Itamar HY”D

During the days of preparation of the book for printing, on the 20th of Shevat, Rabbi Itamar Ben- Gal, HY”D was murdered in the sanctification of Hashem. He was one of the outstanding students of our Yeshiva. In his life, and in his death, Rabbi Itamar gave his heart, soul, and strength to the revelation of the Torah of the Land of Israel, the education of Torah and mitzvot, and the settlement of the Land, on the frontline of settlement in Har Bracha. This book, which deals with the Nation and the Land, is dedicated to the elevation of his soul.

Owners of the Previous Edition

Since the majority of the halakhas in this book were printed in the previous edition, the people who bought the original edition might feel deprived. Therefore, I asked the publisher to sell the new book for three months at a cost of NIS 15 for anyone who affirms that he had an old edition of “Ha’am ve’ Ha’aretz.” For details and to obtain approval for the purchase, please contact: info@yhb.org.il

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://revivimen.yhb.org.il/






top