Parashat Yitro 5768

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24 Jan 2008

Parashat Yitro 5768

Parashat Yitro – The Fifth Commandment

[Questions from Iturei Yerushalayim #9]

Receiving money from parents

A cheating father

A convert honoring his parents

The color of one’s kippah

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Text Message Responsa

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a week. Some appear in the parashah sheets “Ma’ayanei Ha-Yeshu’ah” and “Olam Ha-Katan.” Here’s a sample:

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Stories of Rabbenu – Our Rabbi: Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook

The Land of Israel

Fruits of Israel

Our Rabbi would eat the fruits of the Land of Israel with great pleasure and would mention the words of the Bach (Orach Chaim 208 – that the fruit of the Land of Israel is imbued with the Divine presence). (Harav Tzefanyah Drori).

Separating Terumot and Ma’asrot (tithes)

Our Rabbi did not accept the abbreviated formula of the Chazon Ish for separating Terumot and Ma’asrot, since Ha-Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank and his Beit Din disagreed (because it does not specify the location of the tithes). The shortened formula was printed in our Rabbi’s siddur, and he wrote on the side that it should not be used. He also wrote this in communal siddurim. He once did this in a small shul in Meah Shearim, and someone asked him: Whose permission do you have to write in the shul’s siddurim? He responded: I am an agent of the Beit Din. (Harav Eliyahu Mali)


When a student asked our Rabbi which is the preferred profession, he said “agriculture” without hesitation. He saw agriculture and the mitzvot dependent of the Land as the central element in the mitzvah of settling the Land. He often participated in planting trees on Tu Bishvat. (Ha-Rav Yosef Bermson)

Beit Shean Valley

A group of religious kibbutzim in the Beit Shean Valley (northern Israel) wanted to fulfill the mitzvot dependent on the Land, because without them it marred the feeling of settling the Land of Israel. They asked our Rabbi, and he responded: Ha-Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank already ruled that the Beit Shean Valley is exempt from the mitzvot dependent on the Land (since it is not within the territory to which Jews returned after the Babylonian Exile). If you want to obligate yourself, it must be with the understanding that you are exempt. In the future, however, there will be an obligation in the entire Land of Israel.

Did you hear?

A student, who was serving our Rabbi, sat next to him while our Rabbi was sleeping. The student accidentally moved the chair and it made a loud noise. Our Rabbi woke up in alarm and said: “Did you hear?” “No, I did not hear anything.” “You did not hear? You do not hear the powerful voice of Hashem which gathers the downtrodden of His Nation to the Land of Israel?!” (Ha-Rav Eli Horowitz ztz”l hy”d in Me-emek Chevron 2, Elul 5763, 94).

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Shut She’eilat Shlomo – Questions of Jewish Law

Separate seating on buses

Were the Nazis Amalek?

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On Air

Every Tuesday and Thursday night Rav Aviner answers questions of Jewish Law and faith on the radio in Israel. On the Air presents a sample of these answers each week.

Seeing the President

Pictures of our forefathers

Removing Mezuzot

Forgiveness from the dead and bad dreams

Concentrating during prayer

Postponing a brit milah in order to prevent Shabbat desecration

Younger brothers

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Tu Bishvat Torah: Uprooting Fruit Trees in Kibbutz Lavi

[Shut She’eilat Shlomo vol. 2 #55]

QUESTION: Is it permissible to uproot fruit trees which did not grow properly, in order to plant other trees in their place?


1. “When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to seize it, do not destroy its trees by swinging an ax against them, for from it you will eat, and you shall not cut it down” (Devarim 20:19).

2. “We must not cut down fruit trees outside a city nor prevent an irrigation ditch from [bringing water to] them so that they dry up as it says, ‘Do not destroy its trees.’ Anyone who cuts down [such a tree], should be lashed. This applies not only during a siege, but in all situations. Anyone who cuts down a fruit tree in a destructive manner should be lashed. Nevertheless, it may be cut down if it causes damage to other trees, to fields belonging to others or if [its wood] can be sold for a high price. The Torah only prohibited [cutting down trees] in a destructive manner” (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 6:8).

3. “Shmuel’s field laborer brought him some dates. He ate them and tasted wine in them. He said to him: ‘What is this?’ He told him: ‘The dates were placed between vines and absorbed their taste.’ He [Shmuel] said to him: ‘Since they weaken the vines so much, bring me their roots tomorrow (i.e. uproot them).’ When Rav Chisda saw certain palm trees among the vines he said to his field laborers: ‘Uproot them. Vines are worth more than palm trees’” (Baba Kamma 92a).

4. “And so too if its place is needed it appears that it is permissible” (Rosh, Baba Kamma 8:15).

5. “Based on this, I permitted one person, who had land with trees, to cut down the trees even though they had fruit in order to build a house on it” (Taz, Yoreh Deah 116:6); if the house is worth more than the trees” (Shut She’eilat Ya’avetz vol.1 #76).

6. This implies that the law would permit uprooting in order to plant more profitable trees.

7. Furthermore, it is permissible to uproot a tree which does not produce a minimum yield: “One may cut down a fruit tree that has become old and produces only a slight yield which does not warrant the effort [required to care for it]. What is the yield that an olive tree must produce to warrant that it should not be cut down? A quarter of a kav of olives (approximately 52 ounces). A date palm which yields a kav of dates should not be cut down” (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 6:9). And perhaps a tree which does not grow properly is within the category of “which does not warrant the effort [required to care for it].”

8. The Achronim (Later Authorities), however, wrote that besides the prohibition of cutting down trees, there is also danger involved (Taz, Yoreh Deah 116:6) as is related in the Gemara. Rabbi Chanina said: “My son Shivcha only died [young], because he cut down a tree before its time” (Baba Kamma 91b). The Achronim wrote that even when it is permissible according to the basic law, as in the case where its space is needed to build a building, one should be cautious on account of the potential danger and avoid doing so as much as possible (Hagahot Maharsham on the Tzava’at Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Chasid #45).

9. In order to distance oneself from any doubt, there are those who suggest selling the tree to a non-Jew before cutting it down by means of an acquisition through money and a contract as we do when selling the “chametz” (leaven) before Pesach (brought in Makor Chesed, end of note 62).

10. A few years ago I wrote to Ha-Gaon Rav Avraham Dov Auerbach, Av Beit Din (Head of the Rabbinic Court) of Tiveria, with the following issue: “There is the intent to uproot a vineyard in Kibbutz Lavi (located in the Galil and where Rav Aviner served as Rabbi from 5731-5737), because it is not yielding a profit and, at times, even causes a loss, and to plant other vegetation in its place. It appears quite clear that it is permissible since the spot of the tree is needed (as explained in the Rosh, Baba Kamma 8:16 and Taz, Yoreh Deah 116:6). And perhaps it is even in the category of “It does not yield a quarter of a kav of olives” if the profit is less than the expenses. I nevertheless saw in Shut Meishiv Davar (by Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin – the Netziv – vol. 2 #56) that he disagrees with the Taz, since who says that it (i.e. the new planting) will succeed in the place of the tree, and if this occurs one will have transgressed a negative commandment. My heart also pounds on account of the potential danger involved in this act.”

11. This was Rav Auerbach’s response: “Regarding the uprooting of a vineyard, one should rule only according to the Rosh in the case when its space is needed and like the Taz. One must be certain, however, that the future planting will be more profitable. Ha-Gaon Rav Shlomo Kluger (Shut Tuv Ta’am Ve-Da’at, telita vol. 2 #8) was asked about this very case and he permitted it by means of a non-Jew. Even with all this, I am concerned about issuing a ruling and it is worthwhile to check with Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim (a religious kibbutz in the southern coastal plain of Israel) and similar places – perhaps they have a ‘paved road’ (clear ruling which they follow) from an outstanding halachic authority.”

12. This was part of my letter to Harav Meir Schelezinger, Rav of Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim: “17 Kislev 5734 (1974)…We have an issue regarding uprooting a vineyard…by means of a non-Jew…in any event, there is a concern about issuing a ruling.”

13. This was Rav Schelezinger’s response: “In general when we permit this act, it is preferable [to do so] by means of a non-Jew. I acted this way various times. The heart of the matter is that if the vineyard when it is not cared for will cause sicknesses which will damage the surrounding growth, it is permissible to uproot it according to the basic law. This is preferable to the leniency of “greater yield” [even though I presume that Kibbutz Lavi would not uproot over a doubt and risk danger over losses]. Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach told me that even though in such a case there is no doubt that it is permissible, there is a need, to try, however, to do so through the means of a non-Jew. Based on this, you learn that there is no possibility to forbid it according to the basic law, even by means of a Jew. For us in this area, the majority of the contractual work is performed by non-Jews, and I presume that non-Jews are also available in the Galil, and even more so than here. In a case where there are no non-Jews, the ruling to have it performed by a non-Jew is simply in the category of ‘good advice.’ And it therefore seems to me that one cannot prohibit it.”


It is permissible to uproot fruit trees which did not grow properly, in order to plant other trees in their place. And one should try as much as possible to perform it by means of a non-Jew.

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Rav Aviner’s article from this week’s parsha sheet “Be-Ahava U-Be-Emuna” of Machon Meir (Translated by Rafael Blumberg)

Vaccinations are a must!

QUESTION: I have heard many arguments against vaccinating infants, among them the following: There are numerous instances of infants being hurt by vaccinations. People say they serve no purpose. Quite the contrary, they weaken the infant’s natural immune system. Numerous illnesses such as autism have proliferated due to vaccinations. Numerous illnesses have disappeared not due to vaccinations but due to increased hygiene. Vaccinations only serve the economic interests of the drug companies. In fact, all they do is to introduce a dangerous poison into the infant’s body.

ANSWER: Obviously, the Torah does not write which illness should be treated with a vaccination, nor at what age, nor what drug and how much should be administered. The Torah is not a medical text in this sense. The Torah only says to listen to physicians, as it says, “Let them cure you” (Shemot 21:19). Obviously, this is referring to a real physician and not to someone who has decided to call himself a physician. Therefore, the question is: What do we do when there is a disagreement between physicians, with some claiming that vaccinations are dangerous, and bringing many arguments in support, and others claiming that not vaccinating is what is dangerous, and bringing arguments no less convincing. It’s like a case occurring in the Sanhedrin in which some of the sages say that someone deserves the death penalty while others say that he is exempt. The Torah has decreed that we “follow the majority” (Shemot 23:2). The same applies regarding physicians, that we follow the majority (for example, regarding the point at which a sick person can begin to eat on Yom Kippur (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 618). Most of the world’s physicians and those in Eretz Yisrael say vociferously that we have to vaccinate, and not just “most” but almost all. Therefore, this is the law. So ends the discussion. This is a halachah like any other, even more so, for there is the well-known principle that “a threat to life is more serious than a prohibition” (Chullin 10a). Therefore, what follows is not a halachic deliberation, for the ruling has already been passed down. Rather, it is an explanation to make the matter more palatable to our mind and heart.

As I said when I started, all these claims I brought, and their answers, were not meant as a debate on whether or not to vaccinate, but only as an explanation, for the matter was already decided by Him who miraculously heals all flesh. G-d commanded us to follow the mainstream of medical thought and to heed the physicians armed with the image of G-d and the scientific intellect, they being His emissaries. Feel well!

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Special thank you to Fred Casden for editing the Ateret Yerushalayim Parshah Sheet

Ha-Rav Shlomo Aviner is Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Yerushalayim. All material translated by Rabbi Mordechai Friedfertig. For more Torah:

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.