Family Purity, the influence of Zionism on religiosity, and the use of bar soap on Shabbat

Zionism was a movement led by the secular, but it led to the preservation of religion and Jewish identity

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed ,

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
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Thankfully, this week my book “Taharat HaMishpacha” (family purity) on the laws of niddah will be published as part of the ‘Peninei Halakha’ series. At first, there was a dilemma whether to publish it like the other books in the series, or to differentiate it from the series by use of a different cover, such as the white cover of the book ‘Simchat HaBayit U’virkhato’ (“The Joy and Blessing of the Home”) on the joy of marital intimacy and reproduction, in order to conceal it from youth. In the end, we decided that just as these laws appear in the Talmud and Rambam and are not concealed, they should not be excluded from the “Peninei Halakha” series either. Not only that, but in the next printing, the book “Simchat HaBayit Uvirkhato” will also be published like the other books in “Peninei Halakha“.

Studying with Children

In a related matter, one of the residents of the community told me that as part of his family’s’ Torah study arrangements on Chag and Chol Ha-Moed, they complete learning one book of ‘Peninei Halakha’ every Chag. Before Pesach, they obtained a draft of ‘Taharat Ha-Mishpacha‘, and thus learned together with their children, boys and girls from fifth to twelfth grade, all the laws of niddah. Since these laws are associated more with women, he said that his wife led the studying. According to the practices of tzniyut (modesty) to which I am accustomed, parents do not talk about these laws with their children, and even adolescents refrain from learning these laws until their wedding. Nevertheless, he said the learning was excellent, and everyone was pleased.

I greatly admired them for fixing set times for Torah study, because they are working parents who merit to elevate the Chagim by studying Torah with their children. However, as for studying these laws with children, I had a doubt, because some of the customs of tzniyut depend on accepted norms, and apparently, the custom is changing. In addition to that, I was surprised the book was being studied even before it was published.

Crowdsourcing

In my Shabbat drasha after Pesach, I was curious to know how people felt about this question. Approximately 200 men participated in the class, and I presented three options: 1) these laws should be studied with children and adolescents within the framework of the family, 2) they should not be studied, 3) no opinion. As it turned out, approximately 20 to 30 people voted they should be studied, slightly less voted they should not be studied, more voted ‘no opinion’, and even more did not vote at all. The big chiddush (insight) for me was that the public did not rule out the possibility of studying these laws with their children. I learned from this that although the norm is to be reticent to talk about these issues with children, apparently, many are not so sure it is a good custom. At any rate, I learned that in this column, which is geared mainly for adults, it is sometimes fitting to engage in these laws as well.

Separating Close to Menstruation

Our Sages said (Tractate Shavuot 18b) that it is a mitzvah for a married couple to refrain from marital relations in the ‘ona’ (time period) in which the woman may get her veset (menses), as said in the Torah:

“You [Moses and Aaron] must warn the Israelites about their impurity, so that their impurity not cause them to die if they defile the tabernacle that I have placed among them” (Leviticus 15:31).

Consequently, our Sages determined that when the ona arrives in which a woman may anticipate her veset, a couple must avoid intercourse, lest her veset begin during intercourse. However, there is no need to avoid other forms of affection during that ona. In this context, ona is a day or a night.

The Connection to the Death of the Sons of Aaron

A few verses after the mitzvah of separating Israel from their impurity, the Torah says:

“God spoke to Moses right after the death of Aaron’s two sons, who brought an [unauthorized] offering before God and died” (Leviticus 16: 1), coming to teach us that even a great and righteous person is liable to be punished if he is not careful to separate close to his wife’s veset (see, Shavuot 18b). To understand the words of Chazal, we must first explain that the sons of Aaron had good intentions – they wanted to draw near to God, however, they breached the boundary and died, as written:

“Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his fire pan, placed fire on it, and then incense on it. They offered it before God, but it was unauthorized fire, which God had not instructed them to offer. Fire came forth from before God, and it consumed them, so that they died before God” (Leviticus 10: 1-2).

In a similar way, the mitzvah of ona, i.e., the connection between husband and wife in love and joy, is a mitzvah by means of which the Shechina (Holy Presence) dwells (Sotah 17a; Ramban, Iggeret HaKodesh). However, when performed without caution of the prohibition, it defiles them, and causes the Shechina to depart from between them. This is what the Torah warned: “Warn the Israelites about their impurity (to separate them), so that their impurity not cause them to die if they defile the tabernacle that I have placed among them”.

Has Zionism Caused Secularization?

Q: How can one rejoice on Yom Ha’Atzma’ut (Israel Independence Day) and celebrate the establishment of the state, when the Zionist movement caused the abandonment of Torah and mitzvot?

A: Your question is based on a false accusation. The opposite is true. Indeed, many unbelievers operated within the framework of the Zionist movement and naturally influenced it in the direction of secularization, however, in practice, thanks to the Zionist movement and its activities on behalf of the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’, the Jewish people were saved – both physically, and spiritually.

Numerous factors led to secularism, the main one being the difficulty of dealing with the Enlightenment and modernity. Anywhere in the world the Enlightenment reached, within about two generations most of the public became secular, and after another generation or two, less than ten percent remained observant. It started in Western Europe about two hundred years ago and spread to Eastern Europe, so that even before the Holocaust, a large majority of young adults became secular, and even before the establishment of the state, this process had reached the capital cities in Islamic countries. Thus, in practice, aliyah (immigration) to Israel was not the cause of the problem, rather the solution.

Let us compare the situation of the Jews who made aliyah to Israel, as opposed to those who remained in chutz le’Aretz (Diaspora): Among those living in Israel, approximately 30% are religiously observant, while about 40% define themselves as being traditional. Even the majority of secular Jews keep certain mitzvot – such as marriage, circumcision, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Hanukkah. In contrast, the majority of Jews who remained in Europe were murdered in the Holocaust, while those remaining under Soviet rule were forcibly distanced from keeping Jewish tradition – to the point where most of their descendants eventually married non-Jews. The situation of those who emigrated to America and England is not better off from a Jewish point of view. Less than 10% of their offspring are religiously observant, and of those who still define themselves as Jews, many are not and most of those defined as being traditional are, at best, as religiously connected as the secular in Israel.

Even among the Jews of North Africa, the situation of the immigrants to Israel under the influence of the Zionist movement is incomparably better than the situation of those who remained in exile and immigrated to France. The percentage of assimilation among them is more than 60 percent, while here, more than 80 percent are observant or traditional.

Demographically, as well, all of the Jewish communities in chutz le’Aretz are dwindling due to intermarriage and a low birth rate, while the number of Jews in Eretz Yisrael is constantly growing.

It can be estimated that without Zionism, the number of Jews declaring their Judaism in the world would be about half of their present number, and the number of observant would be about a quarter of their present number.

We find then that those who refuse to thank God on Yom Ha’atzma’ut – in addition to turning their backs on the great miracle of the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’ and the establishment of the state – also refuse to thank God for the spiritual salvation that arose for us thanks to the establishment of the state. The truth must be told: the refusal of religious and Haredim to immigrate to Israel in opposition to the Zionist movement caused much greater secularization than all the secular activists within the Zionist movement did. If they had encouraged immigration to Israel, in addition to saving more Jews from death, harsh decrees, and assimilation, almost certainly, they would have saved them spiritually, as well.

The Use of Solid Soap on Shabbat

Q: I have heard that Ashkenazim are forbidden to use hard soap on Shabbat, and Sephardim are permitted. Is this true, and if so, what do these laws have to do with Sephardim or Ashkenazim?

A: There is no difference between ethnic groups in these laws, and I will explain.

The general custom is not to use bar soap on Shabbat. There are two reasons for this. First, using bar soap or thick liquid soap resembles memaĥek (smoothing rough surfaces), since using a bar of soap smooths its surface, and thick liquid soap is spread on the hands or body. Second, when one uses these kinds of soap it looks as if he is producing something new, since the soap changes from solid to liquid.

Although according to many poskim this use is not technically prohibited, because the person using the soap does not intend to smooth it, and because the small amount of soap that is used is dissolved in the water, so it does not seem like anything new is being created, nevertheless, since there is some resemblance to memare’aĥ and molid, the accepted custom is to be stringent and avoid using bar soap or thick liquid soap.

The Reasoning for saying this is a Dispute between Ethnic Groups

Indeed, the Rishon Le’Tzion, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef wrote (Yehavei Daat, 2:50) that Ashkenazi Jews who go according to Re’ma should be machmir (stringent) and not use solid soap, but for Sephardim there is no concern. This is according to the controversy regarding the crushing of ice and the thawing of something solidified into a liquid, which in the opinion of Teruma and Rosh is forbidden, and Re’ma rules similarly, le-chatchila (ideally). On the other hand, according to the majority of Rishonim and Shulchan Aruch (318:16), it is permitted.

In truth, however, there is really no difference between Ashkenazim and Sephardim in this issue, for in practice, the Ashkenazi author of Mishnah Berurah (326:30) is of the opinion that there is no concern of nolad with soap, and only because of memare’aĥ is it forbidden. On the other hand, the Sephardi poskim, Ben Ish Chai (Yitro, Shana Sheni, 15) and Rabbi Ben Tzion Abba Shaul (Or Le’Tzion, Vol. 2, 35:5) forbade the use of soap because of nolad.

The same is true regarding the question of memare’aĥ in the use of solid soap – the controversy does not depend on minhagim (customs) of ethnic groups.

Not only that, but afterwards, the Gaon Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef himself wrote in his book Halikhot Olam (Vol.4, pg. 108) that it is good to be machmir not to use solid soap on Shabbat, as is customary.

In conclusion: the prevalent custom in all ethnic groups is not to use solid soap on Shabbat, and in a sha’at dachak (time of distress) it may be used, and those who are lenient have sources on whom to rely (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 14: 6, and in Harchavot).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.


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