Review Essay: And Beit Hillel Says (U’Beit Hillel Omrim)

ובית הלל אומרים

And Beit Hillel Says (U’Beit Hillel Omrim): Halakhic Rulings of the Rabbis and Rabbaniot of Beit Hillel (Yedioth Ahronoth/Chemed Books, 2018)

Introduction

December 2018 saw the launch of U’Beit Hillel Omrim (literally ‘And Beit Hillel Says’), which is a collection of halakhic rulings generated by members of the Beit Hillel organisation.

Beit Hillel is an organisation of over 200 Rabbanim and Rabbaniot who – according to their own description on their website[1] – was established to counterbalance the ‘inappropriately narrow-minded’ and ‘exclusionary’ attitudes and rulings disseminated by other rabbinic leaders and organisations in Israel. Instead, Beit Hillel seeks to present an ‘authentic, enlightened, [and] inclusive’ approach to Judaism while promoting halakhic positions that affirm how the ways of the Torah ‘are pleasant and peaceful’. It is in this spirit that the organisation decided to call themselves ‘Beit Hillel’ because ‘Chazal taught that the school of Beit Hillel conducted itself modestly’ while always being ‘respectful of its ideological opponents’.

Yet the choice of ‘Beit Hillel’ as the name of this organisation undoubtedly also conveys – consciously or otherwise – a nuanced meta-message not only with respect to its positive spirit towards halakhic dialogue with ideological opponents, but also towards a lenient and permissive approach with respect to halakhic ruling.

In terms of the organisation itself, members of Beit Hillel are in regular contact with one another through a variety of email lists and whatsapp groups, and they use this powerful network to seek and offer professional advice to one another. Moreover, members also meet on a semi-regular basis to analyse and discuss questions that they have encountered or which they feel deserve or require addressing. As a result of these online and in-person meetings, halakhic position papers are written by members and shared in the Beit Hillel journal. U’Beit Hillel Omrim contains 15 of these papers.

Piskei Halakha

The careful reader will note that I have used the term ‘halakhic position papers’, as opposed to the more classic rabbinic term ‘responsa’. Throughout history, distinctions have been drawn between halakhic codes found in the rabbinic library which have been generated by the theoretical study of halakha, and responsa that have been written in response to a practical need for halakhic guidance from particular individuals. Given this, some may be surprised that the title of this work is not ‘She’elot UTeshuvot (Responsa) U’Beit Hillel Omrim’. However, while the questions addressed in this book have undoubtedly been generated by real situations, ‘U’Beit Hillel Omrim’ does not contain specific questions from a specific questioner, nor a specific answer from a specific answerer. Given this detail, Beit Hillel has wisely chosen to describe these essays as ‘piskei halacha’ (halakhic rulings), rather than ‘teshuvot’ (responsa).

Collaborative Rulings

As mentioned, the halakhic rulings found in U’Beit Hillel Omrim reflect the views of the members of this organisation, with each psak halacha having been shaped by the views of numerous Rabbanim and Rabbaniot who participated in its discussion and formulation. In fact, it is this collaborative effort which is considered by many to be the strength of this work and this organisation.[2] At the same time, the very fact that these are piskei halacha and not responsa, and the very fact that each halakhic ruling has had to take into consideration a range of views, may be why some rulings are more broad and vague than they would necessarily have been were an individual decisor to have written a specific responsa to an individual questioner. Still, while there are deficiencies in such a carefully edited and curated volume, it is evident that much time and consideration has been invested both the content of each paper, and in the chosen structure of each halachic paper.

Format of Rulings

In terms of the format, each essay begins with a practical perspective providing the context (רקע) of the question and it is noteworthy that other than the three prefaces which will be discussed below, these brief perspectives are the only sections in the book whose individual authorship is identified. In almost all cases this is then followed by an introduction (מבוא) to the legal, ethical and moral values that have shaped the conversation leading up to the psak halacha. This is followed by an abstract (תקציר) of the psak halacha, and this is then followed by a detailed halakhic analysis (מקורות והרחבה) from which the abstract has been drawn. Though this may initially sound like an excessively complex way to lay out a halakhic ruling, this structure is very helpful as it enables the reader to get a clear snapshot of the issue being addressed and the solution being suggested, while maintaining a healthy balance between the human stories that have led to this discussion and the halakhic discussion generated in response.

Prefaces

As mentioned above, U’Beit Hillel Omrim contains 15 halakhic papers which have been organised into three sections: (a) Society and Community; (b) The Status of Women; (c) The State [of Israel]. Naturally, these categories themselves point to a particular set of priorities of the Beit Hillel membership. However, before addressing some of the halakhic rulings contained in this work, it is of value to make a number of brief observations about the three prefaces written by Boaz Ordman (Executive Director, Beit Hillel), R’ Meir Nehorai (Chairman, Beit Hillel) and R’ Amit Kula (Rosh Beit Midrash, Beit Hillel).

In his preface, Boaz Ordman explains that U’Beit Hillel Omrim seeks to “capture the world of the Torah and halakha with its encounter with the contemporary Jewish reality through the rulings of the Rabbinim and Rabbaniot of Beit Hillel”[3], and he concludes by quoting the prayer of Rabbi Nehunia Ben Hakana[4] recited before the study of Torah which expresses the hope that no error has been made in the halakhic conclusions that have been presented, and that the decisions reached should be pleasing to other halakhic decisors (וישמחו בי חברי).

In his essay, R’ Nehorai also explores this same prayer while contrasting it with a similar prayer composed by Rabbi Abba[5] who expressed the hope that his rulings would be accepted. Citing the Hatam Sofer[6], R’ Nehorai explains that Rabbi Abba was wrong in thinking that others would accept his rulings. In contrast, Rabbi Nehunia Ben Hakana only emphasised his desire that he not err in halakha, and merely aspired that his colleagues find his rulings to be pleasing. Given this, R’ Nehorai concludes by explaining that while U’Beit Hillel Omrim includes a variety of halakhic rulings which some may or may not agree with, the purpose of this book is not to force particular positions, but rather to present halakhic arguments which he hopes are representative of an acceptable and valid halakhic pathway that respond to the needs of the time, and if others find these rulings pleasing, then all the better.

Finally, a very similar theme is explored by R’ Amit Kula. Citing the Gemara[7] which states that “any judge who judges a true judgment of truth (אמת לאמיתו)… becomes a partner to the Holy One… in the act of Creation”, R’ Kula quotes Tosfot[8] who draws a distinction between a true judgement (אמת), and one which reflects a true judgement of truth (אמת לאמיתו). Quoting Rav Pinchas Zavichi[9], he explains that the former reflects a ruling that is true in theory, but the latter reflects a ruling that is true in practice. Simply put, he believes, and hopes, that the rulings found in U’Beit Hillel Omrim are reflective of this second category.

Personally, I find it fascinating that all three of these prefaces revisit the same message of reality-centric halachic rulings, of the concern shown by contributors regarding the pursuit of truth and the avoidance of error, and the hope that these rulings be pleasing in the eyes of others. What this suggests is that the authors are conscious of the fact that they may be breaking rank in terms of some of their rulings, but that they believe that such rulings are necessary in the pursuit of Emet L’Amito.

Rulings

As previously mentioned, U’Beit Hillel Omrim contains 15 halakhic position papers organised into three sections.

The first section addressing ‘Society and Community’ contains 7 halakhic rulings on: (i) A bar mitzvah for a child with intellectual disabilities; (ii) Marriage of those with intellectual disabilities; (iii) Halakhic rulings for the mentally ill; (iv) The community and those with same-sex attractions; (v) An invitation for Shabbat to someone who travels on Shabbat; (vi) Hospitality from someone who is not careful about Kashrut & (vii) the giving of charity and assistance to non-Jews.

The second section addressing ‘The Status of Women’ contains 4 halakhic rulings on: (viii) The reading of the Megillah by women; (ix) The recitation of Kaddish by a woman; (x) A woman as a poseket halakha (halakhic decisor) & (xi) Army and national service by women.

Finally, the third section addressing ‘The State of Israel’ contains 4 halakhic rulings on: (xii) Taxes and payments in the State of Israel; (xiii) Turning to the courts for monetary cases; (xiv) The relationship to other peoples who live in the State of Israel, & (xv) Changes in prayers in light of the redemption.

While it would be ideal to remark on each halakhic ruling, I have decided to analyse 3 rulings, while providing a short summary of the rest.

(v) An invitation for Shabbat to someone who travels on Shabbat

This halakhic ruling begins with a piece written by Rav Ronen Neuwirth about the Shabbat Yisraelit programme which involved religious families hosting secular Israelis for shabbat. As he explains – with specific reference to his daughter who forged a deep friendship with a secular Tel-Avivian over a shabbat meal – such experiences can be transformative – as supported by a lovely piece of R’ Hayim David Halevy. In light of this background, the introduction begins by asking whether it is permitted to invite guests for a Shabbat meal with the knowledge that they will likely travel on Shabbat? Put differently, where do we draw the halakhic shabbat lines within the meta-halachic framework of stimulating a greater appreciation and observance of shabbat?

Of course, this itself is not a new question, and as would be expected the authors make it clear that the ideal situation would involve inviting guests for the entire shabbat, and if this is not possible, an invitation for Friday night meal is halakhically preferable (given that the guests can arrive before Shabbat). Yet it is in the framing of this, as well as many of the other topics in this book, that we encounter a different, softer tone than can be found in the responsa of other contemporary halakhic decisors.

Rather than speaking of Hillul Shabbat (shabbat desecration) in harsh terms, the anonymous authors of this halakhic ruling frame this question as a negotiation between a ‘Mitzvah HaBa B’Aveirah’ (ie. the enjoyment of Shabbat generated by its transgression) and an ‘Aveirah Lishma’ (ie. a halachic transgression whose positive intentions may serve to justify its transgression) through their nuanced analysis of the boundaries of Lifnei Iver (do not put a stumbling block before the blind[10]), and the derivative rabbinic law of ‘assisting the hands of a transgressor’.

While noting that authorities like R’ Moshe Feinstein, R’ J. B. Soloveitchik and R’ Wozner would not permit such an invitation, the authors then cite R’ S. Z. Auerbach, R’ Yaakov Ariel, and a theoretical analysis by R’ Aharon Lichtenstein who would seemly permit such an invitation in one respect or another, while also citing an oral ruling of R’ Feinstein, received by R’ Shlomo Riskin, indicating that he was much more flexible on this issue than evident in his responsa.

Towards the end of the halakhic ruling, the authors cite a permissive – yet theoretical – ruling of R’ Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, along with a ruling that was rendered in practice by R’ Moshe Sternbuch, both of whom offer a bold re-reading of Lifnei Iver suggesting that if the intention such as this of the host is to positively inspire the invitee, then Lifnei Iver does not apply.

Though the authors cite the position of R’ Simcha Weiss who raises queries with the logic of R’ Sternbuch[11] and who challenges the contention that such an innovative reading strengthens the ‘mitzvah’ and weakens the ‘aveirah’ with respect to the overall ‘Mitzvah HaBa B’Aveirah’ calculation, th dismiss his challenge, while not even citing some further critiques of this ruling as mentioned by Rabbi J. B. Bleich.[12]

It is important for me to stress that I concur with the conclusions of this halakhic ruling. However, I have to admit that I find it to be methodologically inelegant. R’ Neuwirth’s introduction intimates that wider, national, and meta-halakhic considerations should be taken into consideration on these issues, but it is clear that a number of rabbinic authorities do not concur with such a reasoning. True, both R’ Yaakov Ariel and R’ Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg explicitly invoke such considerations in their analysis, but it is ultimately R’ Sternbuch’s elegant yet questionable meta-halachic rationale which is invoked to support the conclusions presented – which is ironic since R’ Sternbuch, who is the head of the Eidah HaChareidit, is the type of posek which some would presume to be ‘inappropriately narrow-minded’ and ‘exclusionary’ which is the impetus for Beit Hillel to explore alternative approaches.

To use a parable of the Dubno Magid, there was once a man who was walking in the forest where he saw tree after tree with a target drawn on it and an arrow at its centre. He then encountered a young boy with a bow in his hand and he asked him: “Are you the one who shot all these arrows?”. “Yes!”, replied the boy. “But how did you always hit the centre of the target?” he asked. To which the boy replied: “It’s simple! First I shoot the arrow, then I draw the target”.

As previously mentioned, I personally concur with the conclusions of this halakhic ruling. Nevertheless, I feel that this ruling reflects a classic case of halakhic target painting, where the destination was already decided, and where support – from wherever it could be found – has been invoked to justify this outcome.[13]

(vi) Hospitality from someone who is not careful about Kashrut

This halakhic ruling begins with a piece written by Rav Shmuel David explaining the challenge of visiting irreligious relatives and refusing their food, as well as the importance of outreach of secular Jews which could involve eating together. The key question being asked here is where do we draw the halakhic kashrut lines within the meta-halakhic framework of maintaining harmony in families and forging stronger ties with the less religious?

In truth, the answer to this question is already decided early on where we are told that this question involves a negotiation between stricture in kashrut laws and stricture towards the love of the other and drawing them near towards Judaism, and “we have prioritised being strict with respect to our pursuit of unity, friendship and increased love in Israeli society and within the family”[14].

Nevertheless, the reader will struggle to find many innovative rulings here. For example, we are told that if you wish to eat in such a home, food must ideally be wrapped up before heated in the oven. Ideally the food should be eaten on disposable plates, with the allowance to use real crockery or real cutlery if the food is lower than 45 degrees. In terms of fruit and vegetables, if there is a question regarding whether they were purchased through an establishment who removes terumot and ma’asrot, this should be taken by the guest either publicly or surreptitiously, and if someone is particular only to eat Glatt meat, it is correct to avoid eating meat that only has a basic level of kashrut supervision.

True, the authors cite the ruling of R’ Feinstein who argues that personal trustworthiness can take priority over halachic trustworthiness (which is only achieved by those who observe Shabbat etc.), and as they explain, the limited opportunities to buy non-kosher food in Israel means that we can presume that most of the food that has been purchased is kosher. Nevertheless, personal trust relies on the certainty that the individual being trusted has a basic familiarity with the kashrut laws, which is not always the case.

Overall, a knowledgeable and sensitive Jew will find few innovations in this halakhic ruling, and I personally see little evidence here of a strictness with respect to the pursuit of unity, friendship and increased love in Israeli society and within the family – unless the reader is truly ignorant of some basic kashrut laws and naturally insensitive to the feelings of others.

As previously mentioned, each halakhic ruling in U’Beit Hillel Omrim has been shaped by a range of voices, and it was this ruling that I had in mind when remarking that ‘this may be why some rulings are more broad and vague than they would necessarily have been were an individual decisor to have written a specific responsa to an individual questioner.’

(xi) Army and national service by women

This halakhic ruling begins with a piece written by Rav Ohad Taharlev recounting a conversation that he had with R’ Avraham Shapira. In response to the question that he posed whether religious women should serve in the army, R’ Shapira replied: “if the framework will add further yirat shamayim (fear of heaven) to a girl, then this is a worthy thing to do. Moreover, I would prefer that religious girls go together to the army, than to sit alone while doing Sherut Leumi”[15]. As R’ Taharlev explains, there has been a steady increase in religious girls going to the army, and today, around 30% make such a choice. Given this, the question appears to be that with this increase in number, should attitudes change on this topic within the Religious Zionist community?

In contrast to all the other piskei halacha, this ruling is introduced by a further introduction titled ‘Meaningful service for women in national service and the army: The Beit Hillel Position’. This piece begins by noting that the position of the Chief Rabbinate in the early years of the State sought to avoid women from serving in the army, and it then notes – in bold – that “this historic position has not changed until now”[16], while explaining how the construction of the national service (Bat Sherut) programme was a compromise reached in order to provide an alternative. It then continues, “Notwithstanding this, the progress in Israel society has not halted, and previous agreements are insufficient in addressing new conditions”[17].

We are told that “the general atmosphere in the army has changed since the early days of the State, especially with respect to women and the addressing of abuse towards female soldiers”[18], and that “the girls serving in the army are far more protected, and they have an address to go through if they have been disrespected. The army of today is a safer place for women, and in some instances, even safer than other workplaces in wider society”[19].

Given this, Beit Hillel lists 8 key principles informing their position: (1) That they see national and religious value in the fact that women play a role in meaningful service – either army service or national service; (2) They see great value in strengthening the national service programmes; (3) They encourage young women to consider which form of service will enable them to make a significant impact on society; (4) For those girls wishing to service in the army, they should receive training in grades 11-12; (5) All young women should dedicate time for Torah study in a Beit Midrash before their national or army service; (6) Religious leaders should give support and encouragement to those girls choosing army service; (7) The army should ensure that the conditions required for effective service by religious women are provided; (8) Girls who have not attended religious educational institutions should be allowed to do national service.

Following this general introduction is the halakhic ruling itself, and having argued that Israel is often engaged in Milchemet Mitzvah (a religiously obligatory war), the ruling makes the case – on the basis of a lengthy analysis of Rambam and others – that women are obligated to serve in a Milchemet Mitzvah while – at the same time – qualifying that such a duty can be fulfilled in a variety of ways. This is then followed by a discussion about women and weapons, along with the need to maintain sanctity in society and specifically in an army camp. Nonetheless, the conclusion reflects the previously cited sentiments.

However, before concluding, space is given to address the position of the Chief Rabbinate on this issue which, from the early years until now, has forbidden women to serve in the army. Though the authors explain that this has and continues to be a blanket ban, there have been numerous exceptions over the years, while individual Chief Rabbis like R’ Herzog have made it clear that the nuanced position of the Chief Rabbinate is not to force any girl to serve in the army, rather than to prevent any girl who wishes to do so.

Ultimately, while many halakhic sources are cited in this lengthy ruling, this is more a position paper than a halakhic ruling. Nevertheless, this important paper highlights a significant shift in attitude and policy within the Religious Zionist community and leadership, while seeking to offer some halakhic justification to substantiate this move.

Further brief remarks

In addition to these three halakhic rulings which I have analysed, there are – as noted – twelve further rulings. Below are some brief remarks, primarily based on the abstract provided, about each of them:

(i) A bar mitzvah for a child with intellectual disabilities

Opening with a perspective by Rav Shai Piron, this ruling calls upon all religious leaders to maximise opportunities for inclusion and it concludes by making it clear that in almost all instances, a boy with intellectual disabilities can receive an Aliyah for Maftir and both read and recite the brachot, while some rule that such an individual can receive one of the seven primary aliyot to the Torah but, in such a case, while they can recite the brachot, they may not read for the community.

(ii) Marriage of those with intellectual disabilities

Opening with a perspective by Rav Tzvi Koren, this ruling affirms that, in most cases (although an expert may need to confirm this is the case), someone with intellectual disabilities has sufficient halakhic status to affect a marriage and divorce, and they are not to be categorized as a ‘shoteh’. Moreover, on the basis of research cited, this ruling highlights a number of essential skills and qualities which would be markers indicating this level of halakhic status. At the same time, considerable emphasis is placed on the responsibility of the social circle and community surrounding such a couple to ensure that they can manage and can fulfil some of the basic Jewish laws such as the family purity laws.

(iii) Halachic rulings for the mentally ill

Opening with a perspective by Rabbanit Devorah Evron, this ruling affirms how those with more serious mental illnesses are at risk. Given this, everything can and should be done in order to protect them. Examples given include permitting someone with extreme anxiety disorder who cannot rest without listening to music to do so on Shabbat. Similarly, someone suffering from clinical depression who is eased by playing the flute may be allowed to do so on Shabbat. Finally, a woman suffering post-partum depression may, in very particular circumstances as delineated, be permitted to hug her husband even when she is considered a Niddah.

(iv) The community and those with same-sex attractions

Opening with a perspective by Rav Yuval Sherlow, this ruling – addressed primarily to Jewish communities rather than those attracted to the same sex – begins by emphasizing how the Torah is timeless and therefore, “there is no way to permit sexual relationship between members of the same sex”[20]. However, it then immediately distinguishes between forbidden actions and natural tendencies, writing that those who are attracted to the same sex “do not have any halakhic or moral blemish”[21]. For example, they are obligated to observe the commandments of the Torah, they can lead prayers and perform religious rituals – such that others can fulfil their obligations through them, and they can serve in any public office like any other member. The halakhic ruling then emphasizes the halakhic and moral impropriety of any form of teasing, taunting or rejection of those who are attracted to the same-sex, and that leaders direct their communities to be fully inclusive. Those who refrain from acting on their attraction to the same-sex are described as “those mighty in strength, who perform the word of God”[22], and those who are sexually active with those of the same sex “should find ways how to minimize their prohibitions and find a halakhic guide who is an expert in this area that should assist them”[23]. Ultimately, communities should not add any greater challenges and limitations to those who are attracted to the same sex than they do in relation to any other transgressor.

(vii) The giving of charity and assistance to non-Jews

Opening with a perspective by Rabbanit Dr. Tehilla Elitzur, this ruling addresses the moral and halakhic obligations of providing financial assistance to Syrian refugees and the right balance to strike between looking after the needy of your own and the needy other while invoking the halakhic principles of Darkhei Shalom and Kiddush Hashem. As the abstract concludes, “even though we are taught to prioritise donations to the needy members of our city and our country over other needy individuals, one should prioritise those who are dire situations who lack the basics in order to live. Similarly, there are times when there is special value in finding a way to assist those who may even be our enemies, with the hope of breaking the cycle of hatred. Nevertheless, one should maintain one’s regular charity gifting within Israeli society”[24].

(viii) The reading of the Megillah by women

Opening with a perspective by Sara Friedland Ben Arza, this ruling affirms what is common practice in many places that women read Megillat Esther for other women. At the same time, and in recognition of calls that such readings undermine the ideal of Megillat Esther being read to the entire community, it concludes that “opportunities should be created for women who are interested in having their own reading to do so, while one should avoid – wherever possible – disagreements and arguments within the community about this issue”[25].

(ix) The recitation of Kaddish by a woman

Opening with an incredibly moving perspective by Rabbanit Racheli Sprecher Fraenkel regarding her recitation of kaddish at the levaya of her murdered son Naftali, this ruling explains how “since the recitation of Kaddish by a woman has a foundation in halakhic writings, there is no justification to challenge a woman who does so. On the contrary, any form of challenge is a transgression of Hona’at Ra’ah (verbal harm). Still, in a place where the matter is certainly going to cause disagreement and thereby offend the sensitivities of the other worshippers, it appears that it is preferable to forgo and not say kaddish, and through doing so, this will bring a greater benefit to the soul of the departed than through the recitation of kaddish… Nevertheless, just as a woman should be sensitive towards the feelings of the community, the community should also show sensitivity towards the woman and her desire to recite kaddish”[26].

(x) A woman as a poseket halakha (halakhic decisor)

Opening with a perspective by Dr. Michal Tukachinsky, this ruling addresses the question of whether a woman can serve as a poseket halakha in areas such as the laws of Shabbat, Prayer and Issur V’Heter, and whether a woman can render halachic rulings on matters relating to Taharat HaMishpacha? In response we are told that “whoever has studied halakha is capable to transmit these laws which includes women who are knowledgeable in Torah and who have been trained to render halakhic rulings. Even in instances where the rendering of a halakha involves halakhic evaluation (shikul da’at) and the resolution of doubts (hachra’ah b’sfeikot)… a woman is accepted to render the halakha”[27]. Moreover, given the increase of higher Torah study by women in recent years, women are certainly capable of rendering halakha, and by doing so – especially in the area of Taharat HaMishpacha – serves to increase the number of women observing these laws.

(xii) Taxes and payments in the State of Israel

Opening with a perspective by Professor Aviad Hacohen, this ruling addresses the halakhic basis for a State to charge taxes, the corollary that citizens are halakhically required to pay taxes, and the severity of the transgression of avoiding the paying of taxes.

(xiii) Turning to the courts for monetary cases

Opening with a perspective by Rabbanit Yardena Kop-Yosef, this ruling begins with an introduction explaining how the Modern State of Israel is not run according to Jewish law, but how this generates an inner conflict within Religious Zionists who wish to turn to the courts of the State which represent – in their mind – the moral institutions of the State, while at the same time knowing that they don’t truly reflect the prophetic vision for the establishment of Courts that judge according to the Torah.

Though some Rabbis like Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriah and Rav Shlomo Goren proposed that since Israeli society accepted the authority of its State courts, they therefore carried some halakhic legitimacy, others like Rabbi Herzog rejected such reasoning, while others such as Rav Reuven Margaliot and Rav Nahum Eliezer Rabinovitch have claimed that such courts could be viewed as an extension of the Ran’s concept of Mishpat HaMelech. Either way, there is certainly no consensus on this point.

In terms of the conclusion, while it would be permitted to turn to State courts regarding cases that are not addresses by Dinei Torah, the ideal would be for the State to offer the possibility of judgement according to Torah principles in civil courts, that the legal process in Battei Din better reflect the structured and transparent legal process which is more evident in civil courts, and that we should use educate the public that the choices they make can enable the ideal, namely the support of civil courts and the respect for, and adherence to, Torah law.

(xiv) The relationship to other peoples who live in the State of Israel

Opening with a perspective by Rabbi Yitzchak Eisner, this ruling seeks to explore the ideal relationship that should exist in the State between its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Having identified four different approaches within Jewish thinkers and halakhic decisors on this question, the authors then consider three specific situations where such distinctions are often considered.

In response to the first situation of whether a non-Jewish soldier in the IDF be buried in an IDF military cemetery amongst his fellow Jewish soldiers, we are told that “justification can be found to permit the burial of non-Jewish soldiers who have given their lives for the sake of the Jewish people alongside their fellow Jews in a military cemetery”[28].

In response to the second situation concerning whether it is permitted to employ a non-Jew or to shop from non-Jews notwithstanding the priority as stated in halakhic sources to assist a needy Jew and to shop from them, we are told that “it is the duty of the State to ensure that its non-Jewish citizens can earn a livelihood and live with dignity”[29].

Finally, in response to the third situation concerning whether it is permitted to rent and sell homes to non-Jews, it is clear that this is halakhically permitted with respect to rentals, while there are conflicting views with respect to the sale of homes. Nonetheless, despite the priority as stated in halakhic sources to sell or rent homes to Jews, “it is the duty of the State to ensure that its non-Jewish citizens can procure a home with dignity” [30].

(xv) Changes in prayers in light of the redemption

Opening with a perspective by Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Ben David, this ruling begins by noting that a number of special prayers were penned in the early years of the State, these have had little impact on our daily prayers. Nevertheless, there are those who claim that some of our prayers do not reflect the reality of our experience in the Modern State of Israel and that historical developments have, and should, lead to changes in the prayer liturgy. Given this, and in order to avoid disagreement, “justification can be found to suggest to communities of worshippers specific minor changes that do not change the order of regular prayer but which affirm, in religious language and in the words that we utter before God, our recognition of the ingathering of the nations and the freedom of Israel”[31]. Moreover, greater emphasis and study should be placed on understanding that the prayers of ‘Ga’al Yisrael’ and ‘Mekabetz Nidchei Amo Yisrael’ reflect our current situation. Beyond this, it is not proper to recite verses that describe us as being in the depth of exile, and further consideration should be given to the texts of the ‘Nachem’ prayer recited on Tisha B’Av.

Conclusion

U’Beit Hillel Omrim is a fascinating book addressing a wide range of issues concerning Jewish life in the Modern State of Israel and beyond.

As should be clear from my more detailed reviews, as well as my summary of the other twelve ruolings, some conclusions found in U’Beit Hillel Omrim are reflective of what I have called ‘halakhic target painting’, some are well meaning but are more rigid than may find in a responsum addressed to a particular individual and situation, and some are very specific while highlighting significant shifts in attitude within the Religious Zionist community, especially with respect to its attitude to the Chief Rabbinate.

Yet though this is undoubtedly a book of piskei halakha (halakhic rulings), it is also a book of piskei hashkafa (ideological rulings) as its rulings and positions reflect a clear liberal Religious Zionist Orthodox outlook, which brings me back to the remarks of R’ Kula regarding the claim that U’Beit Hillel Omrim contains rulings that reflect Emet L’Amito – true judgments of truth.

In simple terms, and once again using the target painting parable of the Dubno Maggid, while some rulings in U’Beit Hillel Omrim hit their target as a result of halakhic analysis and discussion within a particular social and hashkafic context, others – as a result of their particular social and hashkafic context – appear to decide the halakha while then substantiating that conclusion and painting the target with a range of halakhic sources.

Given this, it would appear that while some rulings placed לא אכשל בדבר הלכה (that I not err in a matter of halakha) ahead of וישמחו בי חברי (and may my conclusions be pleasing to others), others appear to have prioritised וישמחו בי חברי as a halakhic consideration.

Nevertheless, U’Beit Hillel Omrim is an important book – both in terms of what it concludes, and what its conclusions imply in terms of the priorities and direction of the Religious Zionist community in Israel. Rather than shying away from issues, it addresses them directly. And for this, along with the many thoughtful insights and rulings it contains, Beit Hillel should be praised.

nb. This essay can be downloaded as a pdf format from http://bit.ly/2G32oUn

[1] https://eng.beithillel.org.il/vision/

[2] On this point, see the review by R’ Avraham Stav in Mekor Rishon (23rd January 2019) – https://www.makorrishon.co.il/judaism/108763/

[3] U’Beit Hillel Omrim p. 10

[4] Brachot 28b

[5] Beitzah 38a-b

[6] Responsa, Orach Chaim No. 208

[7] Shabbat 10a

[8] On Bava Batra 8b DH Din Emet L’Amito

[9] Responsa Ateret Paz Section 1, Vol. 3 Choshen Mishpat Ch. 3

[10] Vayikra 19:14

[11] See Tehumin Vol. 18 (5648) p. 184

[12] R’ J. D. Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems Vol. 4 pp. 97-98

[13] Nb. for more on this ruling, see https://www.torahmusings.com/2013/02/shabbos-invitations-to-the-non-observant/ and https://www.torahmusings.com/2013/04/beit-hillels-approach-to-halacha/.

[14] U’Beit Hillel Omrim p. 138

[15] Ibid. p. 211

[16] Ibid. p. 215

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid. pp. 215-216

[20] Ibid. p. 103

[21] Ibid.

[22] based on Tehillim 103:20

[23] U’Beit Hillel Omrim p. 104

[24] Ibid. p. 150

[25] Ibid. p. 182

[26] Ibid. p. 190

[27] Ibid. p. 199

[28] Ibid. p. 310

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid. p. 325


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