OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi

Written and Submitted by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple.



Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Ask the Rabbi on “G-d’s name in the Israeli Declaration of Independence”



Question.  What is the optimum size for a synagogue?

Answer.  The Talmud (Sukkah 51b) describes a grand synagogue in Alexandria, comparing its glory to the Holy Temple. But it was so big that the officiant could not be heard, and by a system of signals people were notified when to say “Amen”.

These days people in such large synagogues clamour for microphones on Shabbat and festivals and express their hearty disapproval when the request is denied. The fact is that a shule that is so big that worshippers are an audience with acoustic problems, has passed the limits of what is reasonable. The service tends to become a performance and the rabbi a master of ceremonies. I cannot quantify what I mean, but instinct should tell when the shule is big enough.

Eliyahu HaNavi Synagogue, Alexandria, Egypt

A second criterion is membership. A certain Sydney rabbi used to boast that he had the largest congregation in the country. I decided to check out his claim. By adding up the list of members of his shule and mine, I proved that I had more members than he did. I don’t know the situation today, nor does it matter. Both of these congregations are too big.

Over 500 members is too large to have a feeling of involvement with each other.




Question. Why does the name of God not appear in Israel’s Declaration of Independence?

Answer. The founders of the State in 1948 could not agree about whether to mention God or not.

Obviously the believers could not imagine leaving the Divine name out, but there were secularists who saw the establishment of Israel in earthly political terms and could not bring themselves to accept even a perfunctory reference to the Almighty.


In the end there was a compromise. The final paragraph commenced, “Mitoch Bittachon B’Tzur Yisra’el” – “With faith in the Rock of Israel” – which the believers understood in Biblical terms (see e.g. Isa. 30:29) as a reference to God, whilst the secularists satisfied themselves with a less spiritual interpretation.

One of the signatories, Rabbi JL Maimon (Fishman) incorporated his own personal expression of faith in the way he signed his name; he wrote the initials of “B’Ezrat HaShem Yitbarach” – “With the Help of the Lord, Blessed be He” – followed by his Hebrew signature.

It would be interesting to carry out a straw poll in the Knesset these days, over 60 years later, to find out how many would support a mention of God. My personal view is that the majority would have no problem.




Israel has been wracked recently by dissension about whether Charedim should perform military or national service. The Charedi-bashing is unpleasant, and it is not helped when Charedi spokesmen accuse others of wanting to harm the study of the Torah.

Actually this is not the issue at all. Nobody pretends that a Jewish state can continue to be Jewish without Torah study. The issue is whether it can be combined with national service –of whatever kind – without harming the Torah.

The following considerations – all of which can be handled relatively easily – are part of the answer:
· Some people are not is intellectually fitted for a demanding regime of study; for them practical activity might be more appropriate.
· National service sounds so threatening to some people that their personal equilibrium would suffer.
· Mixing in the “outside” world might threaten the intensely religious lifestyle.
· Time devoted to national service might affect the time available for study.


The decisive answer is ideological.   Just as the Talmud in Kiddushin decides that study leads to practice, so Yeshivah study should (and can) be taken out into and enhance life in the “outside” world.

A doctor with little if any Torah learning once sat with me in a Chabad school and saw the boys debating the Mishnah with their rebbe. The doctor’s incisive comment was, “They’re learning how to think!” That’s what should happen these days in Israel – the learning should enter the arena of where people are and how they think and act.


Rabbi Apple Blogs: at http://www.oztorah.com

Check Also

Whenever I feel afraid – Rosh HaShanah

Julie Andrews made it into a famous song – the notion that whenever I feel …