On the Origin of Species September 29, 2022 Q I cultivate aravos and other shrubs…
Coming to their Census
Excerpted and adapted from a shiur by Dayan Yitzhak Grossman
February 17, 2022
When you count B’nei Yisrael according to their numbers, let each man give to Hashem an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.
This pasuk implies that counting B’nei Yisrael should be done indirectly, using coins. Indeed, the Gemara in Yoma says that one may not count Jews directly (though the psukim it cites are from Sefer Shmuel). The Gemara in Brachos says that Dovid Hamelech was guilty of this sin, and it caused a terrible epidemic. This issur, though not codified in the Shulchan Aruch, is discussed by some Rishonim, who disagree about its parameters.
Recent poskim have debated whether the Israeli census violates the prohibition on counting Jews. According to the Steipler Gaon, it is entirely forbidden. The Sheivet Halevi held that the census may be a problem based on a responsum of the Chasam Sofer.
R’ Ovadia Yosef, R’ Shaul Yisraeli, and R’ Eliezer Waldenberg were lenient for a number of reasons, including:
- The Ralbag, followed by later poskim, holds that the issur does not apply to counting in writing.
- The Re’eim and the Chida maintain that only counting the entire nation is forbidden, and not all the world’s Jews are counted by the Israeli census.
- The Kli Yakar writes that the prohibition does not apply where the approximate total is already known.
- R’ Asher Weiss (Minchas Asher, Ki Sisa) argues that counting takes place in schools, shuls, and elsewhere, so it is not logical to forbid a census but allow other cases of counting.
 It is also mentioned by the Rambam (in Hilchos Temidin Umusafin in the context of the Bais Hamikdash), and also by the Magein Avraham (O.C. 156).
 In a later teshuvah, Rav Wosner seems to acknowledge the potential for leniency based on the fact that non-Jews are included in the census.