Between Yishtabach and Borchu

There are numerous references in this week’s parsha, Ki Savo, to blessings, praises and thanksgivings to Hashem. This provides excellent opportunity to discuss the brocha of Yishtabach and the Kaddish and Borchu that follow.

080512_1332_HowAreTefil1.pngQuestion #1: Between Yishtabach and Kaddish

Avraham asks: “In the shullen in which I used to daven, during the aseres yemei teshuvah we always recited the chapter of tehillim,Shir hama’alos mima’amakim,” right after Yishtabach. Someone recently told me that the reason why I do not see this custom practiced any more is because it is a hefsek in the davening. Is this true?”

Question #2: Between Kaddish and Borchu

Yitzchak queries: “Because of my work schedule, I must daven at a very early minyan. At times, we begin davening when it is too early to put on talis and tefillin, so we put on talis and tefillin after Yishtabach. Someone told me that when we do this, we are creating a problem with reciting Kaddish after Yishtabach. Is this true? And if it is true, what should we do?”

Question #3: Between Borchu and Yotzeir

Yaakov inquires: “If I need to use the facilities during davening, do I recite the brocha of Asher Yatzar after answering Borchu if I have not yet begun to say the brocha of Yotzeir Or?”

Introduction: Pesukei Dezimra, Yishtabach and Borchu

All of the above questions deal with the same general issue: what are the laws about making an interruption, a hefsek, between completing the recital of Yishtabach and prior to reciting the birchos kerias shema, the blessings that are recited before and after the shema, which begin with the brocha of Yotzeir Or. Let me begin by explaining the reason why we recite Yishtabach in our davening.

The Mishnah recommends contemplation as an introduction to praying (Brochos 30b). This experience is reflected when we recite or sing the Pesukei Dezimra, literally, Verses of Song¸ prior to Borchu and birchos kerias shema. To show how important this aspect of serving Hashem is, we find that the great tanna, Rabbi Yosi, yearned to receive the special reward granted to those who recite the Pesukei Dezimra daily (Shabbos 118b). Reciting Pesukei Dezimra properly helps elevate one’s entire tefilah to a completely different level. This has the potential to cause our prayer to soar!

Chazal established that we say two brochos, Baruch She’amar and Yishtabach, one before and one after Pesukei Dezimra. Baruch She’amar notes that we use the songs of David to praise Hashem. Since these two brochos are part of the Pesukei Dezimra introduction to our prayer, one may not converse from when he begins Baruch She’amar until after he completes the Shemoneh Esrei (Rif, Brochos 23a). This prohibition includes not interrupting between Yishtabach and the brocha of Yotzeir Or (Rabbeinu Yonah, ad locum, quoting a midrash).

The Tur (Orach Chayim 51), after citing this ruling, quotes, in the name of the Talmud Yerushalmi, that one who talks between Yishtabach and Yotzeir Or commits a sin serious enough that he loses the privilege of joining the Jewish army when it goes to war. According to halachah, prior to the Jewish army going into battle, a specially appointed kohen announces those who are exempt from warfare, which includes, according to this opinion, those who are concerned that their sins may cause them to become war casualties. The Jewish army is meant to be comprised of tzaddikim gemurim, the completely righteous, so that their merits will protect them on the field of battle. Those who are less righteous have no such guarantee, and the Torah therefore exempts them from fighting. Someone whose greatest sin is that he once spoke between Yishtabach and Yotzeir without having performed full teshuvah is too sinful a person to be allowed to serve in the Jewish army, out of of concern that he might become a casualty.

Interrupting between Yishtabach and Borchu

As I mentioned above, the questions introducing this article all deal with the laws of interrupting between Yishtabach and the beginning of the birchos kerias shema. The details of these halachos are not discussed in the Gemara, and, therefore, in order to establish what are the rules related to them, the halachic authorities needed to compare these laws to those of birchos kerias shema, which are discussed in the Gemara.

In general, it is prohibited to interrupt during the birchos kerias shema, although the Gemara mentions a few exceptions, including, at times, responding to a person’s greetings, so as not to offend him. The Rishonim dispute whether one may respond to Borchu, Kedusha, and Amen yehei shemei rabbah (in Kaddish) during the birchos kerias shema, the Maharam Rotenberg prohibiting, whereas his disciple, the Rosh, permitted it (Rosh, Brochos 2:5). The Maharam Rotenberg contended that these responses are prohibited during birchos kerias shema, because it is inappropriate to interrupt praise of Hashem in order to recite a different praise, even something as important as responding to Kaddish or Kedusha. The Rosh permitted this interruption, because he held that responding appropriately to Hashem’s praises should not be treated more strictly than responding to the greeting of a person, which is permitted under certain circumstances.

The poskim follow the opinion of the Rosh, concluding that one may answer the following responses while reciting the birchos kerias shema:

(1) Kaddish: one may answer “Amen, yehei shemei rabbah mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya,” and one may also answer “Amen” to the Chazzan’s da’amiran be’alma (at the point that we end what is called half-Kaddish. However, one may not respond to the other places in Kaddish (Chayei Adam 20:4).

(2) Borchu: One may answer “Boruch Hashem hamevorach la’olam va’ed.” This is true whether it is the Borchu that the chazzan recites before birchos kerias shema morning and evening, or whether it is the Borchu that the person receiving an aliyah recites prior to his aliyah (Magen Avraham 66:6).

(3) Kedusha: One may respond “Kodosh kodosh…” and “Boruch kevod Hashem mimkomo” to Kedusha, but one may not respond to the other parts of Kedusha we traditionally say, even the sentence beginning Yimloch (Ateres Zekeinim).

(4) Amen to Brochos: One may respond “Amen” to the brochos of Ha’Keil Hakadosh and Shema Koleinu (Rama 66:3), but not to other brochos.

Thundering applause

The poskim also dispute whether one may recite the brochos on lightning or thunder while in the middle of birchos kerias shema. The Magen Avraham 66:5 rules that one should, whereas the Bechor Shor (Brochos 13a) disagrees, contending that one should not interrupt one praise of Hashem with another. The Chayei Adam reaches a compromise, ruling that one should recite the brocha on lightning or thunder if he is between the brochos of keriyas shema, but not when he is in the middle of reciting one of the brochos. The dispute between the Magen Avraham and the Bechor Shor remains unresolved (Mishnah Berurah 66:19), and, therefore, someone who hears thunder while in the middle of one of the birchos kerias shema may choose whether to recite the brocha or not.

Between Yishtabach and Borchu

Now that we understand the accepted halachah concerning interrupting the birchos kerias shema, we can discuss the laws that apply between Yishtabach and Borchu. We should note that between the completion of Yishtabach and the beginning of Yotzeir Or can be subdivided into three points:

(1) Between Yishtabach and Kaddish.

(2) Between Kaddish and Borchu.

(3) Between Borchu and beginning the brocha of Yotzeir Or.

Although one might think that the birchos kerias shema do not begin until one begins reciting the words of the brocha, the early authorities rule that once one has said or responded to Borchu it is considered that he is already in the birchos kerias shema (Sefer Haminhag, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 57; Rama 54:3). Thus, one may not interrupt once one has recited Borchu, except for the list of four items mentioned above.

What interruptions are permitted?

Notwithstanding the fact that it is prohibited to speak between Yishtabach and Borchu, interrupting at this point is less severe than between Baruch She’amar and Yishtabach or during the birchos kerias shema. Therefore, under certain circumstances, some interruptions are permitted. For example, if one needs to recite a brocha, it is better to do so after completing Yishtabach before answering (or saying) Borchu then during the Pesukei Dezimra. For this reason, someone who did not have tzitzis or tefillin available before davening, and they become available during Pesukei Dezimra, should put them on immediately after Yishtabach and then recite the brochos on them.

The authorities discuss several other instances and whether they are permitted between Yishtabach and Borchu, even though none of these interruptions is permitted during the birchos kerias shema. All of these permitted interruptions qualify either as tzorchei mitzvah, mitzvah requirements, or community needs. To quote the Tur (Orach Chayim 54): “One may not interrupt between Yishtabach and Yotzeir if it is not for community needs or for someone who needs to be supported from charity.” Thus, the Tur rules that although it is prohibited to talk after Yishtabach, one is permitted to make an appeal for charity at this point. Although, as we will soon see, this position is not universally agreed upon, there were other early authorities who held this way (Rav Amram Gaon, quoted by Tur; Beis Yosef quoting Kolbo #4).  The Shulchan Aruch (54:3) quotes this opinion, although he considers it to be a minority view (see also Hagahos Maimoniyos 7:70). In many places, custom was to extend this leniency to include requesting personal assistance for other needs, as we will see shortly.

It is certainly permitted to recite the brocha upon hearing thunder at this point in davening, and most authorities permit one to recite Asher Yatzar at this point (Mishnah Berurah 51:8. However, see Chayei Adam [20:3], who prefers that one not recite Asher Yatzar until after Shmoneh Esrei.)

At this point, we can answer one of the questions we raised at the beginning of this article: “If I need to use the facilities during davening, may I recite the brocha of Asher Yatzar after answering Borchu, provided I have not begun to say the brocha of Yotzeir Or?”

The answer is that one may recite Asher Yatzar before answering Borchu, but if one has already answered Borchu, he should wait until after Shemoneh Esrei before reciting it.

Before Kaddish or after?

In a situation when one may interrupt after Yishtabach, is it better to interrupt before reciting Kaddish or after Kaddish and before Borchu? This exact question is discussed at length by the Darchei Moshe, the Rama’s commentary on the Tur (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 54:1):

“The custom is to make a mishebeirach for the ill between Yishtabach and Yotzeir; and occasionally, someone shouts [at this point in the davening to call attention to the need] to bring someone to justice, and these are considered mitzvah needs. (The Rama codifies this last practice in his comments to Shulchan Aruch 54:3.) However, I do not understand why the custom is to do so before Kaddish, and then after the interruption to recite Kaddish. Since this Kaddish refers back to Pesukei Dezimra, as I will explain in Chapter 55, we should not interrupt before it. Furthermore, one following this practice no longer has a basis to recite Kaddish afterwards, since it now no longer concludes the Pesukei Dezimra.” The Rama then quotes the Kolbo (6), who says that if one did, indeed, interrupt between Yishtabach and Kaddish, then one should say Borchu without Kaddish. The Kolbo suggests another option for someone who interrupted after Yishtabach — he should recite three or more pesukim of tehillim and then say Kaddish.

On the basis of this Kolbo, the Rama, with the agreement of other talmidei chachamim, changed the practice in his city. However, he subsequently retracted this decision, because he found a more authoritative source that followed the original practice of interrupting before Kaddish rather than afterwards. The Or Zarua quoted a teshuvas ha’geonim that someone who began davening when he did not yet have a talis should stop after Yishtabach, recite the brocha, and put on the talis. However, if the community had already begun Kaddish, he should not interrupt at all. Thus, we see that if one needs to interrupt at this point in the davening, it is better to do so before Kaddish than afterwards. The Rama continues that this position is in line with the kabbalistic works that hold that one should not interrupt between Kaddish and Borchu. (By the way, the Rama himself was heavily steeped in Kabbalah, and authored a work on the topic.)

The Rama then concludes that it is best to avoid any interruption at all, and he cites that, in Prague, they had stopped all interruptions after Yishtabach. In a community which has the custom to interrupt, the Rama concludes that the best procedure is to interrupt after Yishtabach and before Kaddish, and that the chazzan should recite a few pesukim after the interruption prior to saying Kaddish, combining the positions of the Or Zarua and the Kolbo (Darchei Moshe 54:1; Rama 54:3).

At this point we can now answer Yitzchak’s question that we mentioned above:

“Because of my work schedule, I must daven at a very early minyan. At times, we must begin davening when it is too early to put on talis and tefillin, so we put on talis and tefillin after Yishtabach. Someone told me that when we do this, we are creating a problem with reciting Kaddish. Is this true? And if it is true, is there a simple solution to the problem?”

The “someone” who corrected the procedure was familiar with the opinion of the Kolbo. However, the Rama concludes that this is not a halachic concern, and that the procedure followed in Yitzchak’s shul is fine.

Kaddish before Musaf

There is a very interesting side point that results from this above-quoted Rama:

In a place where the rabbi delivers a sermon prior to Musaf, the custom is to do so before Kaddish. Is there any problem with reciting Kaddish, although there is now a huge interruption between the recital of Ashrei and the Kaddish?

Whether the chazzan may immediately recite Kaddish should depend on the above-cited dispute between rishonim. Just as the Kolbo ruled that the chazzan may not recite Kaddish once he interrupted unless he recites a few verses prior to saying Kaddish, here to, the chazzan must recite a few verses prior to reciting Kaddish. According to the Or Zarua, an interruption after the recital of the verses does not pose any problem with saying Kaddish afterward. Since the Rama concluded this way, one does not need to be concerned, and that is the basis of the custom.

Az Yashir after Yishtabach?!

Prior to addressing the last remaining question, we need to discuss a curiosity. The last Biblical passage cited as part of Pesukei Dezimra is Az Yashir, the Shiras Hayam that the Jewish people sang as praise to Hashem, after witnessing the miracles at the crossing of the Red Sea, the Yam Suf. The Tur (51) and the Avudraham explain that this passage is included immediately before Yishtabach, because it contains fifteen mentionings of Hashem’s holy Name, thus corresponding to the fifteen praises of Hashem that are stated in Yishtabach.

Others cite a different, but similar, idea: that we complete Pesukei Dezimra with Shiras Hayam, because the four-lettered name of Hashem is mentioned eighteen times between the words Vayehi Be’ashmores (that precede Az Yashir in the Torah) until the end of the Shiras Hayam. This adds up to a total of 72 letters of Hashem’s name and, thereby, represents a very high level of kedusha (Beis Yosef, 51, explaining Orchos Chayim).

By the way, these two allusions are not conflicting, but complementary. One explains Az Yashir as the introduction to Yishtabach, and the other makes it a representative of the entire Pesukei Dezimra as an introduction to the Shemoneh Esrei.

Notwithstanding the fact that it is now standard practice to include Az Yashir, the earliest versions of Pesukei Dezimra did not include any recital of Az Yashir, and others recited it after Yishtabach. For example, the Rambam’s Seder Hatefillos (located at the end of Sefer Ahavah in his Yad Hachazakah) places Az Yashir after the recital of Yishtabach.

With this introduction, we can now address one of the questions asked above:

“In the shullen in which I used to daven, during the aseres yemei teshuvah, we always recited the chapter of tehillimShir hama’alos mima’amakim’ right after Yishtabach. Someone recently told me that the reason why I do not see this custom practiced any more is because it is a hefsek in the davening. Can that possibly be true?”

Here is the background: The Magen Avraham (54:2) quotes the Arizal that during the aseres yemei teshuvah one should add Shir hamaalos mima’amakim after Yishtabach. The Magen Avraham then asks why this is not considered a hefsek. In response to this concern, the Dagul Meirevavah notes the Rambam’s placement of Az Yashir after Yishtabach; thus, it is curious to understand what was bothering the Magen Avraham. (One could also mention the Tur and others, who noted the custom of making charity and other communal appeals after Yishtabach as proof that reciting Shir Hama’alos should not be considered an interruption.)

Presumably, the Magen Avraham feels that adding Az Yashir is not a hefsek, since it is praise of Hashem, which is the same theme as the entire Pesukei Dezimra. We may, therefore, add other praises to Pesukei Dezimra. However, Shir Hama’alos is being added as a supplication, and the Magen Avraham considers this to be an interruption at this point in davening. And, although the Tur and Rama mention a custom of interrupting for communal or mitzvah needs, today, the prevalent practice is to not interrupt, as the Rama himself preferred. We could then conclude that although one may add quotations and passages from Tanach that praise Hashem both to the Pesukei Dezimra and immediately afterwards, one should not add passages that are being used as supplication, and that this is the reason why some did not observe this practice. However, those who do recite Shir Hama’alos Mima’amakim are following the practice of the Arizal, and should continue to do so.

Conclusion:

The Ramban (Commentary to Shemos 13:16) explains: “All that Hashem desires from this world is that Man should thank Him for creating him, focus on His praise when he prays, and that the community pray together with concentration: Mankind should gather together and thank the Lord who created them, broadcasting: We are your creations!

 

Semicha and Sanhedrin Controversies of the 16th to 21st Centuries, Part II

This is the continuation of the article I sent out last week. Although the news story for which this was written is no longer a hot topic, the halachic information is still germane and relates directly to Parshas Ki Seitzei.

In part I of this article, we explained that the Sanhedrin, which is also called the Beis Din Hagadol, is the final authority on all matters of halacha and that the interpretation by its 71 members of Torah shebe’al peh is both exclusive and authoritative. Any halachic issue that is questionable and disputed by a lower beis din is referred to the Beis Din Hagadol for a binding decision. We also noted that the Sanhedrin fulfills several vital political and administrative roles, including the appointment of the Jewish King and the judges who serve on the courts of the tribes (the shevatim) and the cities. Furthermore, many other halachos require the participation or agreement of the Sanhedrin, including a decision to wage war, or any attempt to expand the boundaries of the Beis HaMikdash or of the city of Yerushalayim (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1). Thus, the Sanhedrin is not only the supreme authority in matters of halacha, but it is also, quite literally, the “power behind the throne,” “the power behind the courts,” – and, at the same time, the court of final appeal. It has the final say in all matters, both worldly and spiritual. The Sanhedrin is also in charge of supervising the Jewish calendar through the appointment of a specially-designated committee. (In the absence of a Sanhedrin or Beis Din Hagadol, Hillel Hanasi established a calendar over 1500 years ago, so that the calendar can continue to exist, even during the interim that there is no Sanhedrin.

We also noted that among the many technical requirements that all members of the Sanhedrin must meet, there is a basic one: they must all be superior talmidei chachamim and G-d fearing individuals. In addition, all members of the Sanhedrin and, indeed, of all the lower courts must also receive the special semicha that Moshe bestowed upon Yehoshua, authorizing him to rule on all areas of Jewish law. We noted that there are several levels of semicha, and that all members of the Sanhedrin are required to have the highest level of semicha –one that authorizes its recipient to rule on capital and corporal cases (chayavei misas beis din and malkus) and to judge kenasos, penalties that the Torah invoked. This semicha can only be given to someone who is an expert in all areas of halacha.

We also studied the question as to whether the semicha can be reintroduced by us, and the controversy that developed in the 16th century about this matter. We noted that the conclusion was that the attempt to reintroduce the semicha then was not accepted on halachic grounds, for several different reasons. One of those reasons  was that the person receiving semicha must be a talmid chacham with the scholarship to rule on any subject in Torah.

How, then, will the Sanhedrin be reestablished?

The Radbaz, gadol hador of that generation, concluded either that Eliyahu HaNavi will issue semicha to others, as the harbinger of Moshiach’s arrival; or, that descendents of shevet Reuven may reappear who have semicha. A third option he suggests is that Moshiach, himself, will grant semicha and thus create a Beis Din Hagadol.

At this point, we continue our discussion:

SEARCHING FOR SEMICHA IN THE 1830’S

In the 1830’s, a leading disciple of the Vilna Gaon who had settled in Yerushalayim, Rav Yisroel of Shklov, made another attempt to restart semicha. Rav Yisroel was interested in organizing a Sanhedrin, but he accepted the ruling of the Maharalbach and the Radbaz that we cannot create semicha by ourselves. Instead, he decided to utilize the suggestion of the Radbaz of receiving semicha from the tribes of Reuven. Rav Yisroel charted out where he thought the Bnei Reuven were probably located, and sent a certain Rav Baruch, as his emissary, to find them (see Sefer Halikutim, in the “Shabsei Frankel” edition of Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11). Unfortunately, Rav Baruch did not succeed in locating the shevet of Reuven, and the plan came to naught.

It should be noted that Rav Yisroel raised the following question: How could the Bnei Reuven have kept the semicha alive, considering the fact that they were outside Eretz Yisroel and the semicha can be granted only in Eretz Yisroel? He answered that since the Bnei Reuven had been distant from the rest of Klal Yisroel before the decision that semicha can be only in Eretz Yisroel had been accepted, there is no reason to assume that they accepted this ruling, and they were probably still issuing semicha!! It is odd that Rav Yisroel assumed that although we paskin that semicha can be given and received only in Eretz Yisroel, he still held that a semicha granted outside Eretz Yisroel is, nonetheless, valid.

Rav Yisroel’s vain search to locate a musmach was an attempt to reintroduce the Sanhedrin, a far more ambitious plan than the Mahari Beirav had considered. Apparently, Rav Yisroel understood from the Gemara (Eruvin 43b) that the Sanhedrin must exist before Eliyahu can appear, a position that almost all poskim reject, as we pointed out above.

NAPOLEON’S SANHEDRIN

In 5567 (1807), Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, decreed the opening of what he called “The Sanhedrin,” consisting of 71 Jewish leaders, mostly Rabbonim, but including many communal leaders, many not religious.

This group had nothing to do with being a Sanhedrin other than that Napoleon had given them this name. Napoleon presented this group with a list of 12 inquiries to answer, all of which questioned whether the Jews were loyal to the French Empire and its laws, and about the interactions between Jews and non-Jewish Frenchmen. Of course, the “Sanhedrin” had to be very careful how they answered Napoleon’s questions to make sure that they were not guilty of treason. This Sanhedrin met many times in the course of about a year and then disbanded. It was never called into session again.

THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

Those who call their modern organization the “Sanhedrin” base themselves on the Mahari Beirav’s opinion that we can recreate semicha today, based on the acceptance of most of the gedolei Yisroel. On this basis, they claim to have created semicha for one of the well-known poskim in Eretz Yisroel, who subsequently ordained a few others, who have ordained yet others, until they now claim several hundred “musmachim.

I spoke to one of the “dayanim” of the “Sanhedrin” about the procedure used to appoint their musmachim. He told me that the organization mailed letters to every shul and settlement in Israel requesting appointment of a certain well-respected Rav as musmach. They then counted the votes of those who responded and approved of their appointment. Since most of those who responded approved of the appointment, they have ruled that this Rav is now a musmach whose semicha qualifies people to serve on the Sanhedrin! To quote this “dayan,” “those who chose not to respond do not count. We have a majority of those who responded!?!”

Obviously, this system carries absolutely no halachic validity according to any opinion.

When I spoke to the “dayan,” he asked me if I was interested in becoming one of their musmachim. He told me that he would send me the information necessary for an appointment with their committee that approves musmachim. Consequently, I received a letter inviting me to the next meeting of their “Sanhedrin,” and a note that they had asked one of their members about me and, upon that basis, they were preparing a semicha with which to present me at the next meeting of the “Sanhedrin”!! I noted above that the Radbaz ruled that the person receiving semicha must be a talmid chacham with the scholarship to rule on any subject in Torah. Since I do not qualify for semicha on that basis, I am curious what criteria they are applying to determine a minimum standard for semicha. Unfortunately, I think I know the answer.

The group behind this “Sanhedrin” often implies that several different gedolim are behind their activities. This is highly misleading, since these gedolim refuse to be identified with this group’s activities. Any Jewish organization built upon falsehood is doomed to failure, even if it is well intentioned, since the Torah is Toras Emes.

When I spoke to the “dayan,” I told him that I had some questions about the halachic basis for their procedures. He answered that they prefer to reply to questions in writing, and he requested that I send my letters via e-mail. He promised that they would answer all my inquiries quickly. In a subsequent conversation, he told me that he had received my initial inquiry. I sent him two respectful letters, one asking several halachic questions about their procedures, the second asking for verification that some of the gedolim they have quoted have, indeed, endorsed their position. Although I sent each of these requests to them twice, I never received any reply from them.

Moreover, there are some serious issues that this “Sanhedrin” is delegating to itself. If I might quote from a list of their activities:

“Among the many topics the Sanhedrin intends to address are the bridging of the divisions between various communities of Jewish exiles who have returned to Israel; the establishment of authentic techeilet, the biblical blue thread Jews are commanded to wear amongst the fringes attached to four-cornered garments; the definition of the measurement of the ‘amah’ (the biblical cubit); the determination of the exact point of human death, so as to deal with the Jewish ethics of euthanasia; and the issue of agunot — women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce.”

I would like to point out that all these issues have been or are being dealt with by Klal Yisroel’s gedolei haposkim. (In other articles, I explained why most gedolei haposkim rejected the suggested sources of the techeiles dye.)

Recently, the group has gotten involved in several really serious issues. Apparently, they are exploring the location of the mizbeiach, the possibility of offering korban Pesach, and of appointing a king from the descendants of Dovid Hamelech. One of their meetings was, apparently, conducted on the Har Habayis itself! (Please note that most poskim prohibit ascending the Har Habayis.) The discussion about bringing korbanos is a well-trodden halachic discourse and, here also, all gedolei poskim have ruled that we cannot offer korbanos now. (Again, I refer the reader to an article on this subject that is available on this site.)

Based on what I have seen about this “Sanhedrin,” I pose the following questions to the reader:

Are the members of this “Sanhedrin” qualified to make decisions that affect Klal Yisroel? Are they qualified to make any halachic decisions at all? Is this not an attempt at arrogating halachic decisions from the Gedolei Yisroel and the Gedolei Haposkim? Are these the people who should be determining Klal Yisroel’s agenda? Doesn’t this organization cheapen the kedusha that the word Sanhedrin implies? Isn’t this organization an insult to anyone with Torah sensitivities?

The Gedolei Yisroel could organize a Sanhedrin today, if they considered it halachically acceptable. Clearly, they are of the opinion that the halachic foundation for such a move does not exist or, alternatively, that Klal Yisroel will not benefit from its creation.

We should all daven with more kavanah when reciting the bracha Hoshiva shofeteinu kivarishonah, “Return our judges like the ones we had originally,” as a result of Teka bishofar gadol licheiruseinu, “Blow the Great Shofar that will free us.”

Semicha and Sanhedrin Controversies of the 16th to 21st Centuries, Part I

This article was written a number of years ago. Although the news story for which it was written is no longer a hot topic, the halachic background included is still very germane and relates directly to Parshas Shoftim.

The Anglo-Jewish press has been carrying occasional coverage of a group in Eretz Yisroel that calls itself “The Sanhedrin,” a group of 71 rabbis convened in Teverya claiming that they had the semicha necessary to create a Sanhedrin as specified by the Rambam. The group chose Teverya because the original Sanhedrin last met there. The “semicha” that they received was based on a semicha granted to one well-known talmid chacham who had received semicha from “many prominent rabbis.” In the opinion of those organizing this “Sanhedrin,” this talmid chacham is now considered to have received semicha as handed down from Moshe Rabbeinu, and, therefore, he is now qualified to give this level of semicha to the others. The goal of the group is to have a body of rabbis who convene and issue rulings on pressing issues relevant to Klal Yisroel. The issues that the group plans to discuss and rule upon are: how to unify Jewish practice across the spectrum, to determine and reestablish halachic techeiles, to define the measure of an amah, to find ways to deal with agunos, to determine precisely the point of human death, so as to deal with issues of euthanasia, and to find a way to offer the Korban Pesach once again.

This group’s claims have generated some serious halachic issues pertaining to what the poskim have written about how the semicha and the Sanhedrin will be reestablished.

This article will be devoted to an explanation of the various halachic underpinnings of the Sanhedrin, including:

What are the roles and responsibilities of the Sanhedrin?

What exactly is semicha, and why is it such a central factor in the creation of the Sanhedrin?

What attempts have been made throughout history to reconvene a Sanhedrin and reestablish semicha?

Does this new organization fulfill its title?

WHAT IS THE SANHEDRIN?

The Sanhedrin, also called the Beis Din Hagadol, is the final authority on all matters of halacha. Their interpretation of Torah shebe’al peh is authoritative.

Any halachic issue that is questionable and disputed by the lower batei din is referred to the Beis din Hagadol for a binding decision.

The Sanhedrin also fulfills several vital political and administrative roles. It appoints the Jewish King, as well as the judges who serve on the courts of the tribes (the shevatim) and the cities. Each shevet and each city was required to have a beis din of 23 that the Sanhedrin appoints. Thus, the Sanhedrin is not only the supreme halachic authority but it is also, quite literally, the “power behind the throne,” “the power behind the courts,” and, at the same time, the court of final appeal. It has the final say in all matters, both worldly and spiritual.

Many other halachos require the participation or agreement of the Sanhedrin, including a decision to wage war and expanding the boundaries of the Beis HaMikdash or of Yerushalayim (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1). (We are permitted to eat many holy items, including certain korbanos and maaser sheini, only in halachic Yerushalayim, which has nothing to do with its current municipal boundaries. Expanding the city requires a special procedure that includes participation of the Sanhedrin.)

In addition, several types of adjudication require the participation of the Sanhedrin, including the laws of eglah arufah, and prosecuting a false prophet, a city that went astray (ir hanidachas), a sotah, and a zakein mamrei, an elder who ruled against the Torah shebe’al peh (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1).

The Sanhedrin is also in charge of supervising the Jewish calendar, through the appointment of a specially-designated committee. (In the absence of a Sanhedrin or Beis din Hagadol, Hillel Hanasi established a calendar over 1500 years ago, so that the calendar can continue to exist even during the interim that there is no Sanhedrin.)

WHERE AND WHEN DOES THE SANHEDRIN MEET?

The Sanhedrin was open daily in its main headquarters, called the lishkas hagazis, inside the Beis HaMikdash. When they are involved in litigation, the entire Sanhedrin is present. When not in session, there must still always be 23 members of the Sanhedrin in the lishkah.

WHO QUALIFIES TO BE IN THE SANHEDRIN?

There are many technical requirements that all members must meet, but as a basic requirement, they must all be superior talmidei chachamim and yirei shamayim (G-d fearing individuals). In addition, all members of the Sanhedrin, and indeed, of all the lower courts, must also receive the special semicha that Moshe bestowed upon Yehoshua, authorizing him to rule on all areas of Jewish law.

DOESN’T EVERY RABBI HAVE SEMICHA?

There are several levels of semicha. The most basic semicha, called yoreh yoreh, authorizes the recipient to rule on matters of kashrus and similar areas. A more advanced level of semicha, called yodin yodin, authorizes its recipient to rule as a dayan on financial matters. A higher level, no longer obtainable today, is called yatir bechoros and authorizes its recipient to rule on whether a first-born animal is blemished and no longer appropriate to offer as a korban (see Sanhedrin 5a).

There was also a qualitative different type of semicha that could be obtained from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until the time of the Gemara. This semicha authorized the recipient to rule on capital and corporal cases (chayavei misas beis din and malkus) and to judge kenasos, penalties that the Torah mandates. Only a beis din consisting exclusively of dayanim ordained with this semicha may judge whether a person receives lashes or the death penalty for his actions.

In earlier days, each city and shevet had its own beis din of 23 judges, all of whom were possessors of the highest level of semicha. In addition, all 71 members of the Sanhedrin must have this form of semicha.

HOW MANY DAYANIM GIVE OUT SEMICHA?

The highest level of semicha may be granted by a single judge who is, himself, a musmach of this level, although the grantor must be accompanied by two other people, who need not be musmachim themselves. He may grant semicha to as many qualified people as he chooses, The Gemara records that Dovid HaMelech (himself an expert judge and tremendous talmid chacham) once granted 30,000 semichos in one day!! However, semicha given by anyone is valid only when it is granted to someone who is an expert in all areas of halacha. Semicha given to a person who is not expert in all areas of halacha is not valid (Meiri, Sanhedrin 14a).

This highest level of semicha must be issued within Eretz Yisroel. Thus, even if a talmid chacham is highly qualified, he may not receive semicha unless the grantor of the semicha and the recipient are both in Eretz Yisroel (Sanhedrin 14a). For this reason, most of the Amora’im, the great talmidei chachamim of the times of the Gemara, never received this semicha, because they lived in Bavel and not in Eretz Yisroel.

THE STORY OF RAV YEHUDA BEN BAVA

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 13b) tells us the following fascinating story: The Roman Empire once decreed that issuing semicha was a serious crime, punishable by death for both the grantor and the recipient. Furthermore, they ruled that the town in which the semicha was issued would be destroyed, and the areas near it would be razed.

Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava realized that he was one of the last musmachim (recipients of this special semicha) alive after the execution of Rabbi Akiva, and that if he failed to grant semicha to some young scholars, the semicha would terminate. He therefore endangered himself and granted semicha to five surviving disciples of Rabbi Akiva: Rabbi Meir (the author of the original draft of the Mishnah), Rabbi Shimon (ben Yochai, author of the Zohar), Rabbi Yehudah (ben Ila’i), Rabbi Yosi (ben Chalafta) and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua – basically, to an entire generation of Torah leadership. In order not to endanger anyone else, Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava brought them to a place that was midway between two major cities and was between two mountains. Thus, for the Romans to fulfill their decree, they would need to level two mountains.

Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava succeeded in this mission, although he paid for it with his life. Because of his supreme sacrifice, the semicha continued among the Jewish people for several more generations.

With the increased persecution of the Jews by the Romans, the Jewish population of Eretz Yisroel decreased considerably, and with time, ordination through this semicha ended. Thus, no one received the semicha that qualifies someone to judge capital, corporal, or kenasos cases, and this aspect of halachic life came to an end.

CAN SEMICHA BE REINSTITUTED?

The Rambam writes: “It appears to me that if all the chachamim in Eretz Yisroel agree to appoint dayanim and grant them semicha, they have the law of musmachim and they can judge penalty cases and are authorized to grant semicha to others… If someone received semicha from someone who already has semicha, then he does not require authorization from all of them – he may judge penalty cases for everyone, since he received semicha from beis din. However, this matter requires a final decision” (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11).

Thus, the Rambam suggested a method whereby the semicha can be re-created. However, several issues need to be clarified before this project can be implemented:

  1. Did the Rambam rule this as a final decision or was it merely conjecture? What did he mean when he wrote in his closing words, “However, this matter requires a final decision”? Did he mean that he was uncertain about his suggestion, or was he referring to a different aspect of his comments?
  2. Assuming that the Rambam meant to rule definitely that semicha can be re-instituted, did he mean, literally, that this process requires all of the chachamim in Eretz Yisroel to agree, or does a majority suffice? Must the rabbonim involved all meet in one place, or is it sufficient if they are aware of the process and approve?
  3. Is the Rambam’s opinion on this subject universally held? And if not, do we rule like him?

THE 16th CENTURY CONTROVERSY- REINTRODUCING SEMICHA

After the Spanish expulsion, many Jews remained in Spain, practicing their Judaism in secret, while publicly appearing to be Christians. Thousands of these secret Jews eventually escaped to areas where they could return to the religion of their fathers, yet they were haunted by the sins that they had committed in their previous lives. Many were concerned that they would never escape the specter of their more serious aveiros, some of which carried the punishment of kareis. Although they had become true baalei tshuvah, they lived in fear of their ultimate day of judgment, when they would have to give a reckoning for their actions and face the serious consequences.

THE SOLUTION

The Mahari Beirav, Rav of Tzefas in the early sixteenth century, came up with an original solution to the problem. He proposed the creation of batei din that would carry out the punishment of malkos, lashes, which releases someone from the punishment of kareis (Mishnah Makos 23a).

There was one serious problem with this proposal. In order to create batei din that can exact these punishments, one must have dayanim who have received the special semicha that can be traced to Moshe Rabbeinu. Since this semicha had terminated over a thousand years before, the Mahari Beirav needed a different approach.

TZEFAS, 5298 (1538)

In 5298 (1538), based on the writings of the Rambam (Peirush Hamishnayos, Sanhedrin 1:3; Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11), 25 gedolim of Tzefas, at the time the largest Torah community in Eretz Yisroel, granted semicha to the Mahari Beirav. He then ordained four people with the new semicha, including Rav Yosef Karo, who had already written his monumental works Kesef Mishneh and Beis Yosef, and later authored the Shulchan Aruch, and Rav Moshe deTrani, the author of several major halachic works, including Beis Elokim, Kiryas Sefer, and Shu’t Mabit. Mahari Beirav also sent a semicha to the Rav of Yerushalayim, Rav Levi ibn Chaviv, known as the Maharalbach, who he assumed would be delighted to receive such a wonderful gift!

The Maharalbach was not happy with the gift and returned it. He took strong issue with their conferring semicha, for the following reasons:

  1. The Rambam’s closing words, “This matter requires a final decision,” show that he was not fully decided on this halacha, and therefore it cannot be relied upon.
  2. The Ramban (Sefer Hamitzvos, Aseh 153) disagrees with the Rambam, contending that semicha can not be reinstituted until Moshiach arrives. Thus, since the Rambam was uncertain about this halacha, and the Ramban was certain that there is no such thing, the halacha follows the Ramban.
  3. Even if we assume that the Rambam meant his ruling to be definitive, the Tzefas rabbonim had not fulfilled the procedure correctly, since all the gedolim of Eretz Yisroel must be together, in one synod. (This opinion is actually mentioned earlier by the Meiri, Sanhedrin 14a.)

Furthermore, Maharalbach is insistent that all the scholars must be involved in the active debate, and that all must agree. Furthermore, he argued that even if someone contends that a majority of gedolim is sufficient, the minority must be aware of the debate and participate in it. He further contended that creating such a synod now would not help either, since once the Tzefas rabbonim had ordained the Mahari Beirav, they now have a bias in their ruling (noge’ah bedin), which invalidates their opinion on the subject.

Maharalbach proved his opinion that the Rambam’s suggestion was not accepted as normative halacha from the fact that there had been numerous opportunities for gedolei Yisroel to create semicha , and yet, they refrained. Maharalbach concludes that semicha will not exist again until the arrival of Moshiach.

WHAT ABOUT THE CRYPTO-JEWS?

As for the baalei teshuvah that would be left without release from their kareis, the Maharalbach pointed out that if they performed sincere teshuvah, they would be forgiven for their sins, no matter how severe they were. Although it is possible that they may experience some suffering in this world for these aveiros despite their teshuvah, they would receive no punishment for their aveiros in the next world (Makos 13b).

On the other hand, the Maharalbach pointed out that he did not understand how semicha could accomplish what Mahari Beirav wanted, anyway, since beis din cannot punish someone for violating the Torah, unless several requirements are met, including:

The sinner must receive a warning immediately prior to his violating the commandment telling him that he is sinning, explaining to him that what he is planning to do is wrong, and what punishment he will receive if he sins. The sinner must acknowledge that he heard and understood the warning and then performed the sin anyway. Furthermore, beis din does not punish a sinner unless two adult male Jews witness the entire procedure and then testify in front of beis din. (Of course, consequently, this means that cases in which Beis Din punishes for violating a Torah mitzvah are quite rare.) Clearly, none of these crypto-Jews had received warning prior to performing the aveiros, and therefore they are not required to suffer malkus in beis din. Thus, how would these baalei teshuvah receive the malkus they desire, even if dayanim musmachim exist?

RESPONSE FROM TZEFAS

The Mahari Beirav responded to the Maharalbach’s arguments. As far as the punishment of malkus is concerned, the Mahari Beirav held that if someone voluntarily asks for malkus for his sin in the presence of an authorized beis din, the punishment is carried out, even though there were no warnings and no witnesses. Thus, the creation of a beis din of musmachim facilitates the atonement of these people.

As far as semicha is concerned, Mahari Beirav did not accept the Maharalbach’s criticism that his semicha program was invalid. Mahari Beirav explained that the Rambam’s ruling is definitive, not theoretical or suggestive, and he questions whether the Ramban disputes this opinion. Even if the Ramban does question it, the Mahari Beirav contends that the halacha follows the Rambam. Furthermore, the Mahari Beirav contends that a simple majority of gedolim living in Eretz Yisroel is sufficient to create semicha, since the halacha in all other cases of jurisprudence is that we follow the majority. Thus, since all the gedolim of Tzefas, who were a majority of the gedolim in Eretz Yisroel at the time, had appointed him as dayan, the semicha could be renewed on this basis. In addition, the Mahari Beirav contends that correspondence with the other gedolei Yisroel is a sufficient method to determine whether a majority favor renewing semicha, and that it is not necessary for all the gedolim to attend a meeting together for this purpose.

A lengthy correspondence ensued between the Maharalbach and the rabbonim of Tzefas, which is referred to as the Kuntros Hasemicha, and is appended to the end of the Shu’t Maharalbach.

Incidentally, the dispute between Maharalbach and Mahari Beirav as to whether the gedolim can reinstitute semicha dates back to the Rishonim. The Meiri (to Sanhedrin 14a) rules that semicha can be reintroduced by having all the gedolei Yisroel of Eretz Yisroel gather together and appoint someone to be a dayan. However, he rules that the gedolim must meet together in one group for this ruling, which precludes the Mahari Beirav’s method. The Rashba (Bava Kamma 36b) also cites Rambam’s opinion, although he rules the opposite, that renewal of semicha must await the arrival of Moshiach, following the opinion of the Ramban, as explained by Maharalbach. In addition, the Ritva and the Nemukei Yosef (both at end of Yevamos) state that semicha must await the arrival of the era of Moshiach.

Evidence to support the Mahari Beirav’s opinion, if not his method, can be drawn from the Gemara (Eruvin 43b), that states that Eliyahu will declare his arrival as the harbinger of Moshiach by coming to the Beis Din Hagadol. This Gemara implies that the Beis din Hagadol will precede the arrival of Eliyahu, and not the other way around (see Maharatz Chayes ad loc.). However, the Ritva and the Nemukei Yosef appear to hold that there will be no Sanhedrin until Moshiach comes.

THE RADBAZ GETS INVOLVED

Both sides appealed to the Radbaz, the acknowledged gadol hador, who lived in Egypt at the time, for a ruling. (The Radbaz later moved to Eretz Yisroel, but at the time of this dispute, he was outside of Eretz Yisroel and, therefore, had not been involved in the initial debate and discussion.)

The Radbaz ruled like the Maharalbach that the semicha was invalid, believing that the Rambam, himself, was not certain that semicha could be reinstituted by agreement of the Chachamim in Eretz Yisroel. Furthermore, universal acceptance of the semicha would be necessary, even according to Rambam’s approach. In addition, Radbaz felt that the person receiving semicha must be a talmid chacham with the scholarship to rule on any subject in Torah. He did not believe that his generation had any talmidei chachomim in this league.

HOW, THEN, WILL THE SANHEDRIN BE REESTABLISHED?

The Radbaz does discuss an issue: if we cannot create a new semicha, how, then, will we have a semicha in the future? As mentioned above, semicha is necessary to create a Sanhedrin, and the Sanhedrin is necessary to appoint the Jewish King and judges, and for many other community activities. Radbaz presents three methods whereby semicha can be re-established:

  1. Eliyahu HaNavi, who is a musmach (see Rambam, Introduction to Mishneh Torah), will issue semicha to others, when he arrives as the harbinger of Moshiach’s arrival. (Some poskim raise a question with this approach, pointing out that the Gemara [Eruvin 43b] reports that Eliyahu will announce to the Sanhedrin that his arrival is the harbinger of Moshiach. However, how could this happen if Eliyahu must first create the beis din? [Maharatz Chayes ad loc.] Many answers can be given to this question, but will have to be left for discussion another time.)
  2. Descendants of shevet Reuven who have semicha may reappear. Just because we are unaware of anyone with semicha, does not mean that members of other shevatim, who have been separated from us since before the time of the Churban, do not have semicha. (This approach creates a question. If semicha can only be given in Eretz Yisroel, how could members of these shevatim receive semicha, when we know that they were exiled from Eretz Yisroel? See below for an answer to this question.)
  3. Moshiach himself will grant semicha and thus create a Beis din Hagadol. Radbaz does not explain where Moshiach himself gets his authorization to grant semicha.

As noted above, Radbaz contends that no one in our generation qualifies in learning and yiras Shamayim to qualify. Specifically, he states that only someone who is qualified to paskin on any area of the Torah qualifies for this special semicha.

RESULTS OF THE TZEFAS SEMICHA

The Mahari Beirav passed away three years after the semicha project began. Although Rav Yosef Karo had received this semicha and actually ordained Rav Moshe Alshich (author of the Alshich commentary to Tanach), by all indications he never utilized the semicha in any other way. Nowhere does he refer to a renewal of semicha, and, furthermore, numerous places in Shulchan Aruch would be written differently, had its author assumed that a beis din of semuchim existed today. In all of these places, Rav Yosef Karo assumes that no beis din exists today that is authorized to rule on the laws of penalties and punishments. This is even more intriguing in light of the fact that, in his commentary Beis Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 295), he records as definitive halacha the Rambam’s opinion that semicha can be renewed.

Although Rav Moshe Alshich ordained Rav Chayim Vital (Birkei Yosef, Choshen Mishpat 1:7), who was renowned as the primary disciple of the Ari, z”l, the semicha trail appears to end at this point. There is no indication of anyone continuing the semicha project after this time. From all indications, we can assume that the psak of the Maharalbach and Radbaz, that we should not introduce semicha on our own, was accepted. Thus, the issue was left for the next two hundred years. We will continue our discussion on this topic in part II of this article.

Jews and Idols

man praying at KoselQuestion #1: May I pray while they meditate?

Yankel is in an overseas airport and would like to know:

“May I daven in the ‘meditation room’?”

Question #2: Idol art

“May one enter a house of idol worship to enjoy the artwork?”

Question #3: Converted church

“May we purchase for our shul an abandoned building that once was a church?”

Answer:

Parshas Re’eih includes several mitzvos that involve idol worship. In addition, when Pharoah asked Moshe to pray to end the plague of Hail, Moshe responded that he would pray as soon as he left the city. Rashi, quoting the Mechilta, notes that he could not pray in the city, because it was full of idols. Thus, we see that one should not pray in a place containing idols. The other questions above also relate to the halachic requirement to distance ourselves from idols and idolatrous practice. (As always, the purpose of this article is not to render halachic decisions, but to familiarize our readership with the background of the issues. We direct each reader to his own rav or posek to answer specific shaylos.)

In a similar context, the Gemara (Shabbos 127b) records that when Rabbi Yehoshua needed to speak to a Roman, he removed his tefillin (which he wore all day) before entering the house, so as not to expose the tefillin to the tumah of the idols that an upper class Roman would have.

Meditation room

Let us begin our discussion by explaining the first of our opening questions. Yankel is traveling on business, and his itinerary allows him to daven in the airport, between flights. However, the bustle of his fellow travelers makes it difficult to find a place where he can daven with any sort of kavanah. There is a “meditation room” in the airport, where he can find a quiet corner, but this room is probably used by idol worshippers for their prayers. May he daven there?

We can actually find a precedent for Yankel’s predicament in a responsum penned approximately six hundred years ago, by the great posek, Rav Yisroel Isserlin, who authored the Terumas Hadeshen (#6). His case is fairly similar to Yankel’s – despite the fact that none of the airports he used sported meditation rooms. The Terumas Hadeshen’s question concerns a traveler who needs to daven mincha. Our traveler sees that his two best options are:

(1) To go to a field that is alongside the road and pray there.

(2) To wait until he reaches the nearest inn, which will be one owned and operated by gentiles, and pray there.

Praying in an open field

The Gemara frowns strongly on someone who prays in an open area (Brachos 34b, Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:5). Thus, the Terumas Hadeshen suggests that perhaps it is better to wait until he arrives at the inn and pray there. On the other hand, he notes that praying in a non-Jewish inn, even should he find a quiet corner, involves its own halachic challenges, since the inn will =undoubtably be filled with idols and graven images. The Terumas Hadeshen quotes both the Mechilta and the Gemara mentioned above as proofs that one should not pray in a place containing religious icons. Therefore, the better choice is for our traveler to pray in an empty field, if he can find a place where he will not be distracted. However, if there is no place to daven outside without risking being bothered, he should wait until he arrives at the inn, hoping that he’ll find an undisturbed corner in which to daven.

Thus, we see that the Terumas Hadeshen understands that Moshe left the city to daven because he had an alternative place – but it is permitted to pray in a city containing idols, when there is no alternative.

Based on this Terumas Hadeshen, we should be able to answer Yankel’s inquiry. If there is no better place in the airport where he can daven undisturbed, it would seem that he may use the meditation room. Of course, I suggest that our readers refer this question to their own rabbonim and poskim.

Enjoying the artwork

At this point, let us discuss the next question raised above:

“May one enter a house of idol worship to enjoy the artwork?”

I found that this exact question was asked of two recent halachic authorities, Rav Eliezer Yehudah Valdenberg (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 14:91) and Rav Ovadyah Yosef (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:45). Both of these authorities prohibit entering a church as part of a tour, to enjoy the artwork, or to study history. Let us examine the sources on which this prohibition is based.

The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 1:4) states: It is permitted to be outside a city that contains avodah zarah. If there is avodah zarah outside it, inside the city is permitted.

The Mishnah implies that one may not be inside a city that “contains avodah zarah.” The question is: What is meant by the clause, a city that contains avodah zarah? This is the subject of a dispute among the early authorities. Most rishonim (e.g., Rashi, Avodah Zarah 11b; Raavad, to Hilchos Avodah Zarah 9:9) explain that the Mishnah is prohibiting entering a city on a day that there is a big festival in honor of a deity. One may not visit the city that day, because people may think that he is entering the city in order to buy or sell from those observing a holiday. This is prohibited, because his financial dealing with the idolaters may cause them to thank their god for the commerce that was provided, which means that the Jew caused a gentile to worship idols. According to this approach, one may enter a city that contains idols when no festival is being celebrated.

However, the Rambam understands the Mishnah differently, prohibiting entering any city that contains idols. To quote him:

You should be aware that it is prohibited to travel intentionally through any city in which there is a temple of avodah zarah, and it is certainly prohibited to dwell in such a city. However, we are under their control and we live in their lands against our will… if this is the law regarding the city, it is certainly so regarding the temple building itself. It is almost prohibited for us to see it, and, certainly, we may not enter it (Rambam, Commentary to Mishnayos, Avodah Zarah 1:4). The Rambam rules the same in his Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 9:9), stating that one may not enter a city that contains an idol.

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 149:1) rules according to the majority opinion, meaning that it is prohibited to enter a city containing a building intended for idol worship only on a day when there is a festival. The Shach, however, appears to disagree, quoting the Rambam’s opinion as normative halachah. The accepted practice follows the Shulchan Aruch.

However, the Shulchan Aruch is permitting entering only a city that contains an idol. All authorities prohibit entering the house of worship itself. This is based on a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 116a) that states that if someone is being pursued by either a person or a snake that is trying to kill him, he may enter a house of idol worship. Obviously, it is prohibited to enter such a building for any other reason (Shu’t HaRosh 19:17; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 157:3).

Abizraya de’avodah zarah

Thus, the halachic conclusion is that one may not enter a house of idol worship, except when it is a life-threatening emergency. There is an element of halachic novelty to this ruling. Usually, any prohibition associated with avodah zarah, even benefiting from idols, is prohibited under all circumstances, even to the extent that one is required to give up one’s life not to violate it, yeihareg =velo= yaavor. Clearly, although it is prohibited to enter a house of idol worship, it is not included to the extent that it is yeihareg velo yaavor. (The intrepid reader is referred to Shu’t Divrei Yatziv [#74 in the addenda], by the late Klausenberger Rebbe, who discusses why, indeed, the law is not yeihareg velo yaavor.)

We should note that there are authorities who rule that one may not enter a house of idol worship, even to save one’s life (Bach, end of Yoreh Deah 157, quoting Rashba). These poskim, indeed, consider this prohibition to be yeihareg velo yaavor.

Collecting your debt

An early authority, the Sefer Chassidim (Rav Yehudah Hachassid, early 13th century Germany), shared with us the following story, which bears out the same ruling: A priest owed a Jew a lot of money, and he knew that the Jew would not follow him into a church. Whenever the Jew went to collect the debt, the priest went into a church to avoid paying his debt. A different person who was owed money had entered a church to collect the debt, and now, feeling guilty about it, asked a posek how he should do teshuvah for his sin of entering the church. He was answered that on that date every year (the yahrzeit), he should fast, as atonement for the sin (Sefer Chassidim #435). Thus, we see how seriously Rav Yehudah Hachassid viewed the prohibition of entering a church.

In a similar, much later, ruling, the Maharash Engel (responsum #83) prohibited a Jewish carpenter from installing windows in a church (quoted by Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 14:91). As noted by Rav Ovadyah Yosef, this should be applied to any Jewish workman – such contract work is off-limits. In the above-referenced responsum, Rav Ovadyah speaks very strongly about how severe a prohibition it is to enter a church.

(Most early authorities conclude that Christianity qualifies as avodah zarah in halachah; see, for example, Rambam, Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 9:4 in the uncensored editions.)

Entering the courtyard

May one enter the courtyard of an avodah zarah, as long as one is careful not to enter the building? A corollary of this question is whether a workman may take a job that includes doing outdoor cleaning or repair work on a church.

The Rema (Yoreh Deah 149:2) rules that when the idolatrous worshippers are gathered outside for some religious observance, a Jew may not enter the courtyard, because of the prohibition of maris ayin: people might think that he is intending to join the worshippers.

At times when there is no such gathering, the Rema quotes a dispute as to whether one is permitted to enter the courtyard. When the courtyard leads somewhere else as well, it is permitted, according to all opinions, to traverse it to get somewhere that is permitted. Even so, it is exemplary practice to avoid entering a courtyard that includes a beis avodah zarah, when he has an alternative route that will not add significantly to the trip.

Converted church

At this point, let us discuss our next question above:

“May we purchase for our shul an abandoned building that once was a church?”

This actual question was asked of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim I #49). A Catholic church had suffered a fire over twenty years before, and the building was subsequently renovated for use as a school. Subsequently, the school building was destroyed, again, and all that remains of the building now is a shell, with no indication of its previous use. May one purchase the property for use as a shul?

As Rav Moshe notes, the background to the shaylah is not new. Let me provide an introduction.

The halachic authorities discuss the following question: A gentile donated wax candles to his church, but they were never used. May these candles be used in a shul? The Chasam Sofer ruled that they may, since they were never used for idolatrous practice (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #42, quoted by Mishnah Berurah 154:44).

What is the law if these candles had been used in the church, and were then sold by the priest? Is a Jew permitted to use these candles? The authorities rule that one is permitted to use the candles for private, non-mitzvah use, but they may not be used in a shul (Shulchan Aruch and Rema, Orach Chayim 154:11). Why is this so?

Although the candles were used for idolatrous purpose, the fact that the priest sold them constitutes this to be an act called bitul, nullifying the prohibition of avodah zarah, which permits using these candles for secular purposes. However, one may still not use them to perform a mitzvah, such as to kindle them in shul, for the Shabbos lights, the Chanukah lights or to enable someone to study Torah (Magen Avraham; Elyah Rabbah 154:15).

By this logic, it would seem that a converted church should not be used for any mitzvah, and certainly not for a shul. This is, indeed, the conclusion of Rav Moshe Feinstein, although he acknowledges that there are those who disagree, as I will now explain.

May one pray in a church?

A prominent, early acharon, Rav Eliyahu Mizrahi, was asked concerning the following: A shul had been used for some sinful activity, and now people were spreading a rumor that one is no longer permitted to daven there. The Mizrahi, as he is usually called, ruled that this was an error in halachah. In his responsum on this topic, he wrote the following: “What they think is in error. According to their mistaken notion, one would never be permitted to pray in the house of any of the Greeks (his way of referring to the Eastern Orthodox Christians, as opposed to the Moslem population where he lived), since they usually have in their homes statues of Jesus and his mother, with a fire burning underneath, and the smoke rises from the fire, which qualifies as straightforward idol worship… Nevertheless, it is permitted for us to rent houses from them and pray in the houses, notwithstanding the fact that we know that they had worshipped idols in the house previously. If this were prohibited, we would be forbidden to pray in the Beis Hamikdash, since the Greeks brought idols inside, prior to the Chanukah miracle (Shu’t Rav Eliyahu Mizrahi #81).

Indeed, why is it permitted to pray inside the Beis Hamikdash after it was made into a house of idol worship? The Magen Avraham (154:17) explains that this is permitted because the building itself was never worshipped. For the same reason, perhaps a church building can be treated more leniently than the leftover wax, which may not be used for a mitzvah, since the wax itself was used for avodah zarah worship.

However, other authorities prohibit using as a shul what was once a church building (Elyah Rabbah), contending that one may pray in such a building only on an occasional basis. Although the Beis Hamikdash was used on a permanent basis, there is a halachic difference between using a building that was originally intended for idol worship, which one may daven in only after it is no longer being used and, even then, only occasionally, and the Beis Hamikdash, which, although used for idolatry, does not lose its kedushah.

A further question is raised on the opinion of the Mizrahi from a Tosafos (Megillah 6a s.v. Teratiyos). The Gemara there states that the Roman teratiyos will become places used for the public teaching of Torah. Tosafos notes that some explained that these were buildings used for idol worship, and that the correct text of the Gemara should be tartachiyos, which means houses of shame. Tosafos, however, rejects this interpretation, explaining that it is prohibited to study Torah in houses used for idol worship. He explains that the word teratiyos to mean theaters, places that the Roman people gathered for social, but not idolatrous, purposes. This Tosafos appears to hold that a building used for idolatry should not be used for kedusha. (Obviously, the Beis Hamikdash is not the same, although Tosafos does not explain why.)

Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the great German nineteenth-century posek (often called by the title of his magnum opus, the Aruch Laneir, a classical commentary on much of Shas) was also asked a similar question, which is published in his collection of responsa, called Shu’t Binyan Tziyon. Aside from halachic interest, the teshuvah has historical interest, since it is dated 5618 (1858) to a Rav Avraham Asch of New York City, and would be an unusual instance of a pre-civil-war halachic correspondence.

A community requires the acquisition of a building to use as a beis medrash, and they are having difficulty finding an appropriate facility. They have found a building which was originally built as a residence, but was then sold for use as a church. The many years that it was used as a church, the worshippers did not bring any icon inside the building. The building has now been sold, and Rabbi Asch and his congregation would like to purchase this building for their beis medrash/shul.

The Binyan Tziyon notes that, according to the Mizrahi, this is surely permitted. Nevertheless, based on the opinion of Tosafos, the Binyan Tziyon is inclined to prohibit purchasing this building as a shul. However, he rules that if the situation is extenuating, they may use the building for their shul, relying on a combination of several lenient reasons: (1) the opinion of the Mizrahi, (2) the gentiles never brought an icon into the building, and (3) it was not built, originally, to be a church (Shu’t Binyan Tziyon #63).

The Mishnah Berurah writes that the accepted practice is to permit allowing a church building to be converted into a shul, but only when no icon or idol had ever been brought into the building (Biur Halachah s.v. Neiros). If an idol was ever brought into the building, one may not, subsequently, use this building as a shul.

Rav Moshe notes that although the prevalent practice in America was to purchase church properties and renovate them into shullen, he concludes that this is not permitted. However, he does permit this when the building will require a complete renovation, such that its original structure is no longer recognizable. In this instance, he concludes that the newly renovated building has no stigma.

Conclusion

Our belief in Hashem is the most basic of mitzvos. Praiseworthy is he who stays far from idols and their modern substitutes and directs his heart only to Hashem.

*Although this was an actual question, the name has been changed.

 

Where Does My Shemoneh Esrei End? Part II

clip_image002_thumb.jpgQuestion #1: A proper ending

“Someone told me that I am not required to say the prayer Elokei, netzor leshoni meira at the end of Shemoneh Esrei. Is this a legitimate practice?”

Question #2: Responding in kind

“If I am reciting the Elokai netzor at the end of Shemoneh Esrei while the chazzan is already beginning the repetition, should I be reciting ‘Amen’ to his brachos?”

Question #3: What do I Say?

“I finished Shemoneh Esrei, said the pasuk Yi’he’yu leratzon, but am still standing in the place and position I assumed for Shemoneh Esrei. What may I answer at this point?”

Question #4: Do I Repeat the Whole Thing?

“I just finished Shemoneh Esrei, but I did not yet back up the three steps, and I realize that I forgot to say Yaaleh Veyavo. What do I do?”

Answer:

In Part I of this discussion, we began discussing the question about inserting special individual supplications into our private Shemoneh Esrei, and we learned that there are several places that one may do so. We also discovered that the prayer that begins with the words Elokai, netzor leshoni meira, “My G-d, protect my tongue from evil,” which we recite at the end of the Shemoneh Esrei, is intended to be a voluntary, personal prayer. Although it has now become a standard part of our daily prayer, it is intended to be an individual entreaty to which one is free to add, delete, or recite other supplications instead.

We also learned in last week’s article that the early authorities dispute whether one should recite the verse that begins with the words Yihyu leratzon (Tehillim 19:15) before one begins reciting one’s personal requests. Some authorities ruled that it is required to do so, some ruled that it is optional and some held that it is preferred not to recite the verse Yihyu leratzon until after one completes one’s supplications.

Most of the questions of our introduction relate to the rules of interrupting the prayer during the recital of these individual supplications. During the recital of the Shemoneh Esrei itself, I am not allowed to interrupt to answer any part of our prayer. Since these supplications, including the prayer Elokai, netzor, are not technically part of the Shemoneh Esrei, am I permitted to respond during their recital? Am I considered to still be reciting Shemoneh Esrei while I am saying these personal requests? And does it make a difference whether I have yet recited the verse Yihyu leratzon, since its recital officially ends the Shemoneh Esrei.

To sum up

In last week’s article, we learned that there is a dispute whether one may answer the responses to Kedushah, Kaddish, and Borchu after having completed the nineteen brachos of Shemoneh Esrei, but before one has said Yi’he’yu leratzon. There are three opinions:

(1) One may not insert anything including any personal supplication before one recites Yi’he’yu leratzon (Raavad and Rashba).

(2) One may insert a personal supplication, but one may not answer Kaddish or Kedushah (Rabbeinu Yonah, as understood by Divrei Chamudos and Pri Chodosh).

(3) One may even answer Kaddish or Kedushah (Rabbeinu Yonah, as understood by Rama).

How do we rule?

Among the early codifiers we find all three approaches quoted:

(1) The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 122:1, 2) and the Bach conclude, like the Rashba and Raavad, that one may not insert or recite anything prior to saying Yi’he’yu leratzon.

(2) The Divrei Chamudos rules that one may recite personal supplications before one says Yi’he’yu leratzon, but one may not answer Kedushah or Kaddish.

(3) The Rama permits even answering Kedushah or Kaddish before saying Yi’he’yu leratzon. This is the approach that the Mishnah Berurah (122:6) considers to be the primary one and it is also the way the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (18:15) rules. The Rama mentions that some communities had the custom of not reciting Yi’he’yu leratzon until after they completed saying Elokai Netzor and whatever other personal supplications the individual chose to recite.

After saying Yi’he’yu leratzon

Thus far, we have discussed what one should do prior to reciting the verse Yi’he’yu leratzon. Now we will begin discussing the laws that are effective after one recites this verse.

All authorities agree that once a person has recited the verse Yi’he’yu leratzon, he may add personal prayers to the extent that he wishes. Many authorities hold that it is preferable not to recite supplications when, as a result, one will be required to respond to Kedushah or Kaddish while (Rashba and Shulchan Aruch, as explained by Maamar Mordechai).

Amen during Elokai Netzor

At this point, we will address one of the other questions asked in our introduction:

“If I am reciting the Elokai Netzor at the end of Shemoneh Esrei while the chazzan is already beginning the repetition, should I be reciting ‘Amen’ to his brachos?”

If this person was following the custom mentioned by the Rama and had as yet not recited Yi’he’yu leratzon, then he may not respond “amen” to someone else’s bracha. Even if he has recited Yi’he’yu leratzon, it is unclear whether he may respond “amen” to brachos, as I will explain.

First, an introduction: In general, the different parts of the davening have varying status regarding which responses are permitted. For example, it is prohibited to interrupt in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei, even to respond to Kaddish or Kedushah. On the other hand, the birchos kri’as shma, the blessings recited before and after we say the Shma, have less sanctity than does the Shemoneh Esrei. Therefore, according to accepted psak halacha, someone in the middle of reciting birchos kri’as shma may respond to Borchu, and to some of the responses of Kaddish and Kedushah. Specifically, he may answer amen, yehei shemei rabba… and the amen of da’amiran be’alma in Kaddish, and may answer Kodosh, kodosh, kodosh… and Baruch kevod Hashem mimkomo during Kedushah. In addition, he may answer amen to the brachos of Hakeil hakodosh and Shomei’a tefillah. He may not answer “amen” to any other bracha, to the other responses of Kaddish, or say Yimloch to Kedushah. (We should note that the above reflects the opinion of many rishonim and is the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, but it is not universally held.

The question at hand is: What is the status of davening after one has recited Yi’he’yu leratzon? May one answer Kedushah or say “amen” at this point? There are no allusions in Chazal to direct us what to do, but in a passage of Gemara discussing a different issue there is a oblique hint that may impact on this topic:

“If he erred and did not mention Rosh Chodesh [i.e., he neglected to say the passage of Yaaleh Veyavo, or neglected mention of Rosh Chodesh while reciting Yaaleh Veyavo] while reciting Avodah [i.e., the bracha of Shemoneh Esrei that begins with the word Retzei], then he returns to the bracha of Avodah. If he remembers during Hodaah [i.e., the bracha that begins with the word Modim], then he returns to the bracha of Avodah. If he remembers during Sim Shalom, then he returns to the bracha of Avodah. If he completed Sim Shalom [i.e., recited the closing bracha], then he returns to the beginning [of the Shemoneh Esrei]. Rav Papa, the son of Rav Acha bar Ada, explained that when it said, ‘If he completed, then he returns to the beginning [of the Shemoneh Esrei]’ it means that he uprooted his feet [i.e., he began to take three paces back, as we do prior to reciting Oseh Shalom]; but if he did not ‘uproot his feet’, he returns [only] to Avodah” (Brachos 29b).

The Gemara teaches that someone who forgot to say Yaaleh Veyavo at the appropriate place in Shemoneh Esrei must return to the words Retzei in order to say Yaaleh Veyavo. However, if he completed reciting the Shemoneh Esrei, then he repeats the entire Shemoneh Esrei. What is the definition of “completing the Shemoneh Esrei?

The Gemara presents three rules:

(1) If he took three paces back, he has completed the Shemoneh Esrei, and must start over again from the beginning.

(2) If he finished Shemoneh Esrei and whatever supplication he recites, then he must start over again from the beginning.

(3) If he is still reciting his supplications, he goes back only to Retzei (Brachos 29b).

We see from this Gemara that reciting the supplications at the end of davening is still considered to be part of the prayer. Does this mean that it has the same rules as being in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei itself as far as interrupting his davening is concerned?

The rishonim discuss this issue. The Rashba (Shu”t Harashba 1:807; 7:405) rules that once one said Yi’he’yu leratzon, the laws of hefsek follow the rules of someone who is in the middle of reciting the birchos kri’as shma. Therefore, he may answer amen, yehei shemei rabba… and amen to da’amiran be’alma in Kaddish, and may answer Kodosh, kodosh, kodosh… and Baruch kevod Hashem mimkomo during Kedushah. In addition, he may answer amen to the brachos of Hakeil Hakodosh and Shomei’a Tefillah.

Answering Amen

May one answer “amen” to any other bracha once one has recited the verse Yi’he’yu leratzon? The Taz (Orach Chayim 122:1) notes what appears to be an inconsistency in the position of the Shulchan Aruch on this matter. To resolve this concern, he explains that there is a difference between someone who usually recites supplications after completing his Shemoneh Esrei, who should not recite amen, and someone who does so only occasionally, who should. Someone who recites supplications only occasionally may interrupt to answer amen once he says Yi’he’yu leratzon, since for him reciting Yi’he’yu leratzon is usually the end of his formal prayer.

However, this ruling would probably not affect us. Since today it is common practice to include Elokai Netzor or other supplications at the end of our daily tefillos, we would be considered still in Shemoneh Esrei, and as a result, we will not be permitted to respond “amen” at this point (Mishnah Berurah 122:1). However, other authorities rule that once one has said Yi’he’yu leratzon, one may even answer “amen” to all brachos (Aruch Hashulchan; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch).

After completing his supplications

Once someone has completed reciting his supplications and recited Yi’he’yu leratzon, he is considered to have finished davening completely, and he may now answer any responses that one should usually recite, including even to answer Boruch Hu uvaruch Shemo when hearing a bracha (Maamar Mordechai; Mishnah Berurah). This is true, even though he has as yet not backed up the three steps.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch, in his commentary to the story of Kayin and Hevel in Parshas Bereishis (4:3), makes the following observation: “Two people can bring identical offerings and recite the same prayers and yet appear unequal in the eyes of G-d. This is made clear in connection with the offerings of these brothers. Scripture does not say: “G-d turned to the offering by Hevel, but to the offering by Kayin He did not turn.” Rather, it says: “G-d turned to Hevel and his offering, but to Kayin and his offering He did not turn.” The difference lay in the personalities of the offerers, not in their offerings. Kayin was unacceptable, hence his offering was unacceptable. Hevel, on the other hand, was pleasing, hence his offering was pleasing.”

The same is true regarding prayer: the Shemoneh Esrei itself, the Netzor leshoni addition, and the personal supplications that different people recite may appear identical in words, but they are recited with emotion, devotion and commitment. Tefillah should be with total devotion in order to improve ourselves, to enable us to fulfill our role in Hashem’s world.

 

Where Does My Shemoneh Esrei End? Part I

clip_image002_thumb.jpgQuestion #1: Slow on the draw

“The other day, I was finishing Shemoneh Esrei as the chazzan began Kedushah, but I had not yet recited the sentence beginning with the words Yi’he’yu Leratzon when the tzibur was already reciting Kodosh, kodosh, kodosh. Should I have answered Kedushah without having first said Yi’he’yu Leratzon?”

Question #2: A proper ending

“Someone told me that I am not required to say the prayer Elokei Netzor at the end of Shemoneh Esrei. Is this a legitimate practice? Why don’t the siddurim say this?”

Question #3: Responding in kind

“If I am reciting the Elokai Netzor at the end of Shemoneh Esrei while the chazzan is already beginning the repetition, should I be reciting ‘Amen’ to his brachos?”

Question #4: What do I Say?

“I finished Shemoneh Esrei, said the pasuk Yi’he’yu Leratzon, but am still standing in the place and position I assumed for Shemoneh Esrei. What may I answer at this point?”

Question #5: Do I Repeat the Whole Thing?

“I just finished Shemoneh Esrei but did not yet back up the three steps, and I realized that I forgot to say Yaaleh Veyavo. What do I do?”

Answer: Historical introduction

The Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, called in English The Men of the Great Assembly, were 120 great leaders of the Jewish people at the beginning of the Second Beis Hamikdash period and included such luminaries as Ezra, Mordechai, Daniel, and the last of the prophets, Chaggai, Zecharya and Malachi. To help us fulfill our daily obligation of praying, they authored the “amidah,” our main prayer. Since this prayer consisted, originally, of eighteen blessings we call it the “Shemoneh Esrei,”  a name which we also use when referring to the prayers of Shabbos, Yom Tov, and Rosh Chodesh Musaf, even though those tefillos are always only seven brachos (with the exception of Musaf of Rosh Hashanah, which is nine.) A nineteenth brocha, that begins with the word Velamalshinim (or, in the Edot Hamizrah version, Velaminim), was added later when the main Torah center was located in Yavneh after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, about 400 years after the original Shemoneh Esrei had been written (Brachos 28b).

Standardized versus subjective prayer

Tefillah includes both standardized and individualized prayers. This article will discuss both types of prayer.

People often ask why our prayers are so highly structured, rather than having each individual create his own prayer. This question is raised already by the early commentators, and there are a variety of excellent answers. One of the answers is that it is far more meaningful to pray using a text that was written by prophets and great Torah scholars. The Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, who authored the Shemoneh Esrei, included among its membership some of the greatest spiritual leaders of all history and also the last prophets of the Jewish people. An additional reason is that many, if not most, individuals have difficulty in structuring prayer properly, and therefore the Shemoneh Esrei facilitates the individual’s fulfilling the Torah’s mitzvah of prayer by providing him with a beautifully structured prayer (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 1:4).

Furthermore, our prayers are structured because of concern that when someone creates his own prayer he may request something that is harmful to a different individual or community, something that we do not want in our prayer (Kuzari 3:19). For example, someone might request that he receive a particular employment opportunity, but that prayer is harmful to another person. The Shemoneh Esrei is written in a way that it protects and beseeches on behalf of the entire Jewish community. We thereby link ourselves to the Jewish past, present and future each time we pray.

In addition, the halachos and etiquette of prayer require that one not supplicate without first praising Hashem, and that the prayer conclude with acknowledgement and thanks. When Moshe Rabbeinu begged Hashem to allow him to enter the Chosen Land, he introduced his entreaty with praise of Hashem. From this we derive that all prayer must be introduced with praise. We also learn that, after one makes his requests, he should close his prayer with thanks to Hashem. All these aspects of prayer are incorporated into the Shemoneh Esrei and may be forgotten by someone composing his own prayer.

When may I entreat?

There are several places in the organized prayer where one may include personal entreaties, such as during the brocha that begins with the words Shema koleinu (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 1:9). In addition to these different places in the Shemoneh Esrei, after one has completed Hamevarech es amo Yisroel bashalom, which is basically the end of Shemoneh Esrei, is an ideal place to add one’s own personal prayer requests. The Gemara (Brachos 16b-17a) lists many tefillos that different tanna’im and amoraim added in this place on a regular basis. Several of these prayers have been incorporated into different places in our davening – for example, the yehi ratzon prayer recited by Ashkenazim as the beginning of Rosh Chodesh bensching was originally the prayer that the amora Rav recited at the conclusion of his daily prayer.

Two of the prayers quoted in the Gemara Brachos form the basis of the prayer that begins with the words Elokai, netzor leshoni meira, “My G-d, protect my tongue from evil,” which has now become a standard part of our daily prayer. This prayer, customarily recited after Hamevarech es amo Yisrael bashalom and before taking three steps back to end the prayer, was not introduced by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, and, indeed, is not even halachically required. This prayer contains voluntary, personal entreaties that became standard practice. One is free to add to them, delete them, or recite other supplications instead.

The questions quoted as the introduction to our article relate to the laws that apply to the end of our daily prayer, the Shemoneh Esrei. Chazal established rules governing when we are permitted to interrupt different parts of our davening and for what purposes. Thus, there is discussion in the Mishnah and the Gemara concerning what comprises a legitimate reason to interrupt while reciting the blessings that surround the Shema or during Hallel. However, the status and laws germane to interrupting the supplications one recites at the end of the Shemoneh Esrei are not mentioned explicitly in the Mishnah or the Gemara. Rather, there is ample discussion germane to this issue among the rishonim and the later authorities. This article will provide background information that explains which rules are applied here, when they are applied and why.

Introducing and concluding our prayer

The Gemara (Brachos 4b and 9b) teaches that the Shemoneh Esrei must be introduced by quoting the following verse, Hashem, sefasei tiftach ufi yagid tehilasecha, “G-d, open my lips so that my mouth can recite Your praise” (Tehillim 51:17). The Shemoneh Esrei should be concluded with the verse Yi’he’yu leratzon imfrei fi vehegyon libi lifanecha, Hashem tzuri vego’ali, “The words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart should be acceptable before You, G-d, Who is my Rock and my Redeemer” (Tehillim 19:15). These two verses are considered an extension of the Shemoneh Esrei (tefillah arichta), a status that affects several halachos, some of which we will soon see.

Before or after Yi’he’yu Leratzon?

The first question we need to discuss is whether personal supplications recited after the completion of the Shemoneh Esrei should be included before one recites Yi’he’yu Leratzon or afterwards. When the Gemara rules that one should recite Yi’he’yu Leratzon after completing the Shemoneh Esrei, does this mean that one should recite this sentence before one recites personal requests?

This matter is debated by the rishonim. The Raavad prohibits uttering anything between the closing of the brocha, Hamevarech es amo Yisroel bashalom, and the recital of the verse Yi’he’yu Leratzon. In his opinion, reciting any supplication or praise at this point is a violation of the Gemara’s ruling, which implies that one must recite Yi’he’yu Leratzon immediately after completing the 19 brachos of the Shemoneh Esrei. This approach is quoted and accepted by the Rashba (Brachos 17a).

On the other hand, Rabbeinu Yonah (page 20a of the Rif, Brachos) notes that even in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei one may insert personal supplications – therefore, inserting personal requests before Yi’he’yu Leratzon is also not a hefsek, an unacceptable interruption.

Yet a third opinion, that of the Vilna Gaon, is that it is preferable to recite supplications before reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon.

What about Kedushah?

The later authorities discuss the following issue: According to the conclusion of Rabbeinu Yonah, who permits reciting personal supplications before one has recited Yi’he’yu Leratzon, may one also answer the responses to Kedushah, Kaddish, and Borchu before one has said this verse?

The Rama (Orach Chayim 122:1) rules that since one may insert personal requests before Yi’he’yu Leratzon, one may also answer Kedushah or Kaddish. Many disagree with the Rama concerning this point, contending that although inserting a prayer prior to reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon does not constitute a hefsek, one may not insert praise at this point (Divrei Chamudos, Brachos 1:54; Pri Chodosh, Orach Chayim 122:1). Their position is that one may insert entreaties at many places in the Shemoneh Esrei, but adding anything else that is unauthorized, even praise, constitutes a hefsek. It is for this reason that someone in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei may not answer Kedushah or the other important congregational responses.

The straightforward reading of the Tur agrees with the Rama’s understanding of the topic (Maamar Mordechai; Aruch Hashulchan 122:6; although we should note that the Bach did not understand the Tur this way.)

To sum up

Thus far, I have mentioned three approaches regarding what one may recite after having completed Hamevarech es amo Yisrael bashalom, but before one has said Yi’he’yu Leratzon.

(1) One may not insert anything (Raavad and Rashba).

(2) One may insert a personal supplication, but one may not answer Kaddish or Kedushah (Rabbeinu Yonah, as understood by Divrei Chamudos and Pri Chodosh).

(3) One may even answer Kaddish or Kedushah (Rabbeinu Yonah, as understood by Rama).

How do we rule?

Among the early codifiers we find all three approaches quoted:

(1) The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 122:1, 2) and the Bach conclude, like the Rashba and Raavad, that one may not insert or recite anything prior to saying Yi’he’yu Leratzon.

(2) The Divrei Chamudos rules that one may recite personal supplications before one says Yi’he’yu Leratzon, but one may not answer Kedushah or Kaddish.

(3) The Rama permits even answering Kedushah or Kaddish before saying Yi’he’yu Leratzon. This is the approach that the Mishnah Berurah (122:2) considers to be the primary one and it is also the way the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (18:15) rules.

The Rama mentions that some communities had the custom of not reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon until after they completed saying Elokai Netzor and whatever other personal supplications the individual chose to recite. Notwithstanding this custom, many authorities suggest reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon immediately after completing the words Hamevarech es amo Yisrael bashalom, since this procedure allows someone to answer Kedushah according to all opinions and avoids any halachic controversy (Divrei Chamudos; Magen Avraham). However, according to the opinion of the Gra, mentioned above, this is not the preferable way to add one’s personal supplications to the tefillah.

At this point, we can address the first question asked above:

“The other day, I was finishing Shemoneh Esrei as the chazzan began Kedushah, but I had not yet recited the sentence beginning the words Yi’he’yu Leratzon when the tzibur was already reciting Kodosh, kodosh, kodosh. Should I have answered Kedushah without having first said Yi’he’yu Leratzon?”

Most Ashkenazic authorities conclude that one who has not yet recited Yi’he’yu Leratzon may answer the first two responses of Kedushah, that is, Kodosh. kodosh, kodosh and Baruch kevod Hashem mimkomo. Sefardic authorities, who follow the ruling of the Rashba and the Shulchan Aruch, prohibit responding before saying Yi’he’yu Leratzon.

Notwithstanding that most Ashkenazic authorities conclude that one may answer the first two responses of Kedushah before one has said Yi’he’yu Leratzon, they still prefer that one recite Yi’he’yu Leratzon immediately after closing the brocha Hamevarech es amo Yisrael bashalom. Nevertheless, this last issue is still disputed, since the Gra rules that one should delay reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon until one finishes one’s supplications. In other words, whatever one chooses to do, he will be right with the Jews.

For Part II of this article, click here.

 

Of Umbrellas and Eruvs

umbrellasQuestion #1: Umbrellas and Eruvs

“Why can’t I use an umbrella on Yom Tov or on Shabbos within an eruv? Is it a mitzvah to get wet?”

Question #2: My Shabbos Nap

“May I shade an area for my Shabbos nap by throwing a blanket on top of some lawn chairs?”

Question #3: Cocktail Torah

“May I place a cocktail umbrella on top of a drink on Shabbos?”

Answer: The original sunscreen

The umbrella, or parasol, was invented in the eighteenth century and came into use very quickly as a simple and practical way to be protected from the rain and the harshest rays of the sun. Shortly after its invention, we already find discussion among great halachic authorities whether this “new apparatus” could be used on Yom Tov or Shabbos in a location where carrying is permitted. Before analyzing their positions, we need to discuss the laws regarding the construction of an ohel on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Building and roofing

One of the 39 melachos, categories of work that the Torah forbids on Shabbos, is boneh, constructing (Mishnah Shabbos 73a). A subheading, or toldah, of boneh is making an ohel kavua, which translates literally as creating a permanent roof or shelter (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:13). Constructing an ohel arai, a “temporary” roof, on Shabbos or Yom Tov, was not forbidden by the Torah, but was prohibited by Chazal, our early Sages. Now we need to define:

  1. What is considered a permanent ohel that is prohibited min hatorah?
  2. How do we define a temporary ohel, so that we know what is prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction?
  3. What type of covering, if any, is permitted?

What is an ohel kavua?

Based on how the Rif (Shabbos, beginning of Chapter 20), the earliest of the great halachic codifiers, presented the topic, most respected authorities understand him to rule in the following way: Virtually anything that covers an empty area at least a tefach (about three to four inches) long, a tefach wide and a tefach high is halachically considered a permanent ohel. This “roof” does not need to be connected to the ground in any way. According to this approach, assembling such a covering is a violation of Torah law, even if the ohel is intended to exist for only a short period of time. The defining line between a permanent ohel and a “temporary” one (ohel arai), which was not prohibited by the Torah but only by the Sages, is that an ohel kavua has a “roof” that is one tefach squared, whereas an ohel arai’s “roof” is narrower than a tefach.

If the ohel is not flat on top, but peaked, yet it widens to a tefach squared within three tefachim of its peak, it is also an ohel kavua that is prohibited, min hatorah, to assemble on Shabbos. Only if it is very narrow on top and does not widen at all, or only widens at a lower point, does it qualify as an ohel arai, whose construction is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction.

Thus, according to this opinion, throwing a blanket over a few lawn chairs so that you can crawl underneath to play or relax violates a Torah prohibition. Even those who hold that this does not violate a Torah law agree that it is prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction.

We can already answer one of the questions asked above: “May I shade an area for my Shabbos nap by throwing a blanket on top of some lawn chairs?”

According to all opinions, this is prohibited. Some opinions hold that this is prohibited min hatorah.

What is permitted?

When is it permitted to make a temporary ohel?

According to this opinion, there are two situations in which a temporary cover, roof or tent may be assembled on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

  1. When the area being covered is less than a tefach in height (see Shu’t Noda Biyehudah. Orach Chayim 2:30, s.v. Vehinei; Nimla Tal, Boneh, 15). Covering an area this low is not considered creating a “roof.”
  2. When the ohel is very narrow — less than a tefach wide — and it is attached to something to make it easier to open and close (see Shabbos 138a). Since the area being covered is less than a tefach wide, it is not considered an ohel area min hatorah. We mentioned above that covering such an area is usually still prohibited, because of a rabbinic injunction. However, when there is some form of hinge to make its opening and closing easier, or any other indication that the ohel is meant to be opened and closed frequently, Chazal permitted its use on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

In addition, if a temporary ohel exists from before Shabbos or Yom Tov, it is permitted to open and close it. It is also permitted to make the ohel wider (Eruvin 102a).

A differing approach

Not all authorities accept this approach that assembly of any “roof” over an area of a tefach squared is an ohel kavua prohibited min hatorah. Others rule that anything temporary is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction (Mishnah Berurah 315:34). This latter approach contends that any temporary ohel that is hinged, or has some other indication that it is meant to be opened and closed regularly, may be opened and closed on Shabbos, even when it covers an area a tefach squared. Thus, some authorities rule that one may open and close the hood of a baby carriage on Shabbos, since it is clearly meant to be closed temporarily, and it is hinged to facilitate its opening and closing (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 52:6). Other authorities are less lenient, requiring that opening the hood on Shabbos is permitted only when it was open the width of a tefach before Shabbos (Magen Avraham 315:4; Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:105:3; Ketzos Hashulchan 120:4).

London, 1782

One of the first internationally distinguished authorities to discuss whether one may use an umbrella on Yom Tov or Shabbos is the Noda Biyehudah, Rav Yechezkel Landau, renowned posek hador and Chief Rabbi of Prague (Shu’t Orach Chayim, 2:30). Sometime in late 1782, as the American Revolution was beginning to wind to a close, Rav Leib Hakohen, a talmid chacham in London, sent a missive to the Noda Biyehudah. Their correspondence was not about how the redcoats and their Hessian mercenaries were getting by in the western hemisphere, but about important halachic matters. Rav Hakohen wrote that he felt that one may not use an umbrella on Shabbos, but that he had sent the question to a different, unnamed posek who permitted it. Rav Hakohen was still not comfortable with the lenient approach and, therefore, wrote to the Noda Biyehudah, presenting the two reasons why the first rav had ruled leniently. (Based on his level of scholarship, we may assume that the first rav was not from the American colonies.)

The first reason to permit use of umbrellas on Shabbos and Yom Tov was this posek’s opinion that an ohel must cover a specific, defined area, and an item which is constantly being moved from place to place, such as an umbrella, does not qualify as an ohel. The permitting rabbi substantiated this position on the basis of his understanding of Rashi (Shabbos 138b s.v. ela) that an item meant only to cover a person does not qualify as an ohel for the purposes of the laws of Shabbos. This is based on the following:

The Gemara rules that a type of felt hat called a siyana may not be worn on Shabbos if its brim is a tefach wide. Rashi explains that the Gemara’s conclusion that a wide-brimmed siyana may not be worn on Shabbos is because of concern that it will be blown off, and when the wearer retrieves it he may come to carry it in a public area, thus desecrating Shabbos.

The posek questioned why Rashi did not prohibit wearing a siyana on Shabbos because of making an ohel arai on Shabbos, since the brim is a tefach wide. The posek answered that since a hat is meant only to shelter a person who moves, this does not qualify as an ohel, which he defines as something that shelters a location. He rallied further evidence substantiating the truth of this principle by noting that, regarding the laws of tumas ohel, the Mishnah mentions several items, a bird in flight, fluttering cloth, or a ship that is sailing, that are not considered an ohel because they are in motion (Ohalos 8:4).

The second reason to permit the umbrella was based on the fact that it is hinged, to ease opening and closing. The permitting rabbi held that any temporary covering cannot possibly involve a Torah prohibition — the issue with an umbrella is only whether opening and carrying it violates the rabbinic injunction of an ohel arai. Since an umbrella is hinged, he felt that there are two valid reasons to permit using an umbrella on Yom Tov and on Shabbos within an eruv, although he admitted that some of the evidence for his position might be refutable.

However, Rav Hakohen felt that the reasons to be lenient were not sufficient and therefore referred the question to the Noda Biyehudah.

First response: Prague, 1783

On the eighteenth of Shevat, 5543 (1783), the Noda Biyehudah responded to Rav Hakohen, disputing both reasons of the permitting rabbi. He pointed out that careful analysis of the sources would reach the opposite conclusion. The Noda Biyehudah explained that there are many other ways to understand what Rashi wrote, such that they do not prove that something covering only a person is not an ohel. Furthermore, most authorities disagree with Rashi and, indeed, understand that wearing a siyana is prohibited on Shabbos because of the laws of ohel.

The Noda Biyehudah reports that several years previously, when the umbrella was first introduced to Prague, he taught publicly that it is strictly forbidden to use it on Shabbos, and that the prohibition might be min hatorah. He bases his approach on the Rif’s opinion that it is forbidden, min hatorah, to create any ohel that covers an area that is a tefach squared, which will certainly forbid the use of an umbrella. The Noda Biyehudah mentions that the majority of the people of Prague do not use umbrellas on Shabbos, in accordance with his ruling. He contends that, notwithstanding the fact that other rishonim (Rosh, Shabbos 20:2) clearly dispute the Rif’s definition of ohel, the Rif’s opinion should not be disregarded. Furthermore, in this instance, the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 22:29) may agree with him. Thus, we have two of the three great halachic codifiers (the Rosh being the third) ruling that a roof or awning constructed for very short term use may be prohibited min hatorah, if it is more than a tefach squared. This description seems to fit an umbrella very accurately. The Noda Biyehudah concludes that, indeed, the Rosh may be the only early authority that disputes this conclusion of the Rif, and that even the Rosh would prohibit use of an umbrella on Shabbos, albeit only because of the rabbinic injunction on an ohel arai. Many other authorities accept the Noda Biyehudah’s analysis of the topic (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 301:113; 315:12; Shu’t Sho’el Umeishiv 3:2:42).

Nineteenth century Bratislava

On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #72) saw the responsum of the Noda Biyehudah and took issue with his analysis of the topic. In an undated halachic essay, the Chasam Sofer, posek hador of his generation and rav of Pressburg, concludes that although he does not recommend using an umbrella on Shabbos, he is not convinced that it is prohibited, and feels that if it is, it should be only because of rabbinic injunction, and not because it violates Torah law.

The Chasam Sofer first contends that no authorities hold that any type of temporary construction is prohibited min hatorah. Thus, he disputes those who interpret that the Rif and the Rambam hold that a temporary cover may be prohibited min hatorah. Second, the Chasam Sofer contends that something movable cannot be prohibited because of boneh, since all construction in the mishkan, which is the source of the melachos of Shabbos, was not movable. Third, there is no Torah concept of ohel unless the covering has walls that reach the ground. To sustain the last position, he notes that the Rif, himself, implies that this is a defining factor of an ohel kavua.

The Chasam Sofer contends that once he has established that an umbrella cannot possibly be an ohel according to Torah law, opening or carrying it on Shabbos is not even prohibited because of rabbinic injunction, because of its hinges, which are meant to facilitate its use. The Chasam Sofer thus concludes that although he does not advise using an umbrella on Shabbos, there is no technical violation in using it. He permits asking a gentile to open an umbrella on Shabbos for one to use, implying that he sees no problem at all with carrying it afterwards (obviously within the confines of an eruv). Several prominent halachic authorities follow this approach and permit use of an umbrella on Shabbos (Beis Meir, Orach Chayim 315; Daas Torah 301:40).

A lawn umbrella

We should note that the arguments raised by the Chasam Sofer as to why an umbrella is not an ohel may not apply to a lawn umbrella. This apparatus is meant for use in a backyard or garden, to provide shade against the sun. It is often left in its open position for months on end, or even indefinitely. Several prominent authorities contend that any ohel meant to remain open for more than a week is considered permanent, which would make it a Torah prohibition to open it (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 315:8; Eishel Avraham 315:1; Tiferes Yisroel, Kilkeles Shabbos 34:2).

In addition, since a lawn umbrella is not moved from one location to another, another of the Chasam Sofer’s reasons to permit a regular umbrella does not apply. Although one of the Chasam Sofer’s reasons, that an ohel is prohibited only when its “walls” reach the ground, applies to a lawn umbrella, it is difficult to rely only on this justification to permit opening a lawn umbrella on Shabbos. Therefore, there is strong reason to prohibit opening a lawn umbrella, even by a gentile, even according to the Chasam Sofer.

The position of the Chazon Ish

A third approach to the question of whether an umbrella may be used on Shabbos and Yom Tov is presented by the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 52:6). Although he concludes that it is prohibited to use an umbrella on Shabbos, his ruling is based on completely different considerations. He rejects the Noda Biyehudah’s position, contending that since umbrellas are meant for temporary use and are hinged for this purpose, opening them on Shabbos is not considered creating an ohel, just as opening and closing a door on Shabbos is not prohibited as an act of construction, since both are meant to be opened and closed frequently. The Chazon Ish rejects the position that any rishonim disagree with this definition of ohel. As I mentioned above, upon this basis, the Chazon Ish permits opening and closing the hood of a baby carriage on Shabbos. However, as I noted above, most authorities do not understand the Rif’s position as the Chazon Ish does, and consequently rule that one should leave the hood open at least a tefach before Shabbos.

Notwithstanding that the Chazon Ish rejects the Noda Biyehudah’s approach to the topic, he prohibits using an umbrella on Shabbos for two other, completely different reasons. First, he suggests that opening an umbrella might be prohibited because of tikun maneh, a general prohibition of completing items, which is a subcategory of the melachah of makeh bepatish. He then rules that opening an umbrella is forbidden as a takanas chachamim established by the Torah leadership of the recent generations to reinforce the sanctity of Shabbos.

Umbrellic conclusion

As I noted above, most authorities contend that there are rishonim who prohibit min hatorah creating a temporary ohel on Shabbos, if it is a tefach wide. It is indeed widespread custom to prohibit carrying an umbrella on Yom Tov or Shabbos, either because we are concerned about the prohibition of ohel, or, perhaps, because of the reasons advocated by the Chazon Ish.

A cocktail umbrella

At this point, I would like to discuss the last of our opening questions: “May I place a cocktail umbrella on a drink on Shabbos?”

A cocktail umbrella is a tiny umbrella used to decorate a glass. Since it does not resemble an ohel in any way, opening it on Shabbos is permitted.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s dominion as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11). By refraining from building for one day a week, we acknowledge the true Builder of the world and all that it contains.

 

The Mitzvah of Duchening (Birchas Kohanim)

In Parshas Naso, the Torah teaches about the beautiful mitzvah of Birchas Kohanim, wherein the kohanim are commanded to bless the people of Israel. This mitzvah is usually referred to by Ashkenazic Jews as “duchening” and by Sefardic Jews as Birchat Kohanim, or occasionally as Nesiyat Kapayim, which refers to the raising of hands that the kohanim do in order to recite the blessings.

Why Is This Mitzvah Called Duchening?

Duchen is the Aramaic word for the platform that is in front of the Aron Kodesh. The duchen exists to remind us of the ulam, the antechamber that stood in front of the Kodesh and the Kodshei HaKodoshim, the holy chambers in the Beis HaMikdash. The Kodshei HaKodoshim was entered on only one day of the year, on Yom Kippur, and then only by the Kohen Gadol. The Kodesh was entered a few times daily, but only to perform the mitzvos of the Menorah, the Golden Mizbayach (altar), and the Shulchan (the Holy Table that held the Lechem HaPanim). Before entering the Kodesh, one ascended into the Ulam as a sign of respect, so as not to enter the Kodesh immediately.

Similarly, in our shuls the Aron Kodesh represents the Kodesh, since we are permitted to open it and to remove the Sifrei Torah when we need to. But, before entering the Kodesh, one ascends the duchen, in this case, also, to show respect by approaching the Aron Kodesh after a preliminary stage.

The duchen also serves other functions, one of which is that the kohanim stand upon it when they recite the blessings of Birchas Kohanim. For this reason, this mitzvah is called duchening (duchenen in Yiddish). In the absence of a duchen, or if there are more kohanim in the shul than there is room on the duchen, the kohanimduchen” while standing on the floor in the front of the shul.

Basics of Duchening

There is a basic order to the duchening that occurs during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai. When the chazan completes the brachah of modim and the congregation answers “amen” to his brocha, someone (either the chazan or a member of the congregation, depending on minhag) calls out “kohanim” to inform the kohanim that it is time for them to begin the brachah. After the kohanim recite the brachah on the mitzvah, the chazan then reads each word of the Birchas Kohanim that is recorded in the Torah (Bamidbar 6:24-26) for the kohanim to recite, and the kohanim respond. The congregation responds “amen” after each of the three brochos. After the last brachah of Birchas Kohanim is completed by the kohanim, the chazan returns to the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai by reciting the brachahsim shalom“.

The Gemara and poskim teach that at each of these stages, one must be careful not to recite one’s part before the previous step has been completed. Thus, the person who calls out “kohanim” must be careful not to do so before the congregation has finished answering “amen” to the chazan’s brachah; the kohanim should be careful not to recite the words of the brachah before the chazan has completed saying the word “kohanim”; the chazan may not call out “yevarechecha” before the congregation has completed saying “amen” to the brachah of the kohanim, etc. It is important to be mindful of these halachos and allow each stage to be completed before beginning the next. Unfortunately, even well-learned people are sometimes not sufficiently careful and patient to wait until it is time for their part to be recited.

Wearing Shoes During Duchening

A kohen may not duchen while wearing shoes. The Gemara teaches that this was one of the nine takkanos that were instituted by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai (Sotah 40a). Although there would seem to be an obvious association with the halacha that the kohanim were barefoot when they performed the service in the Beis HaMikdash, the actual reason for this takkanah is unrelated. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was concerned that a kohen’s shoelace would tear while he was on the way to the duchen and, while stopping to retie his shoelace, he would miss the duchening. However, people who saw that he missed the duchening would not realize what happened. They might start a rumor that he did not duchen because he is not a valid kohen! For this reason, Chazal instituted that every kohen simply removes his shoes before duchening.

What if the Chazan is a Kohen?

The mishnah states that when there is only one kohen in shul, and he is the chazan, then he may (and should) duchen (Berachos 34a). In this instance, the kohen will remove his shoes and wash his hands prior to beginning repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai. There is a dispute among poskim whether a kohen may duchen when he is the chazan and there are other kohanim who will be duchening. The Shulchan Aruch rules that he should not duchen under these circumstances, because of a concern that he will become confused where he is up to in the davening and have difficulty resuming his role as chazan (Orach Chayim 128:20). Chazal instituted this prohibition even when we are certain that the chazan will not become confused, such as today, when he has a siddur in front of him (Mishnah Berurah 128:72).

However, the Pri Chodosh rules that he may duchen, and that the concern referred to by the Shulchan Aruch was only when the chazan might become confused (such as when he does not have a siddur to daven from). In most communities in Eretz Yisrael, the custom is to follow the Pri Chodosh’s ruling allowing a kohen who is the chazan to duchen. However, in chutz la’aretz the practice is to follow the Shulchan Aruch, and the chazan does not duchen (unless he is the only kohen).

In a situation where the chazan is the only kohen and there is a platform (the “duchen”) in front of the aron kodesh, there is a very interesting halacha that results. Since the duchening should take place on the platform, the kohen walks up to the duchen in the middle of his repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai. After completing the duchening, he returns to his place as chazan and completes the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai.

The Minyan Disappeared

What do you do if you started davening with a minyan, but in the middle of davening, some men left, leaving you with less than a minyan? Can you still duchen?

If the minyan started the duchening with ten men or more, and then some men left in the middle of the duchening, they should complete the duchening (Biur Halachah 128:1 s.v. bipachus).

What Happens if a Kohen Does Not Want to Duchen?

A kohen who does not want to duchen should stand outside the shul from before the time that the word “kohanim” is called out, until the duchening is completed.

The Days that We Duchen

The prevalent custom among Sefardim and other Edot Hamizrach is to duchen every day. There are many Ashkenazic poskim who contend that Ashkenazim should also duchen every day. However, the standard practice in chutz la’aretz is that Ashkenazim duchen only on Yomim Tovim. In most of Eretz Yisroel, the prevalent practice is that Ashkenazim duchen every day. However, in Tzfas and much of the Galil, the custom is that the kohanim duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Why do Ashkenazim duchen in Eretz Yisrael every day, and in chutz la’aretz only on Yom Tov?

Several reasons are cited to explain this practice. Rama explains that a person can confer blessing only when he is fully happy. Unfortunately, except for the Yomim Tovim, the kohanim are distracted from true happiness by the difficulties involved in obtaining basic daily needs. However, on Yomim Tovim, the kohanim are in a mood of celebration. Thus, they forget their difficulties and can bless people with a complete heart (Rama 128:44; cf. Be’er Heiteiv ad loc.). Thus, only on Yom Tov do the kohanim duchen.

In Eretz Yisroel, the practice is to duchen daily, because the Ashkenazim there followed the ruling of the Vilna Gaon. He contended that Ashkenazim everywhere should duchen every day.

Why do the kohanim in Tzfas duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov?

The reason for this custom is unclear. I was once told in the name of Rav Kaplan, the Rav of Tzfas for many decades, that since Tzfas had many tzoros over the years, including many serious earthquakes and frequent attacks by bandits,  the people living there did not have true simcha. However, they were able to achieve enough simcha on Shabbos and Yom Tov to be able to duchen. This reason does not explain why the other communities in the Galil duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

It should be noted that the Sefardim in Tzfas duchen every day, not only on Shabbos.

Placement of Shoes

As I mentioned before, Chazal instituted that a kohen should remove his shoes before duchening. Unfortunately, some kohanim leave their shoes lying around in the front of the shul when they go up to duchen. This practice is incorrect. The kohanim are required to place their shoes under the benches or in some other inconspicuous place when they go up to duchen. It shows a lack of respect to leave the shoes lying about (Mishnah Berurah 128:15)

Washing Hands

Prior to duchening, there is a requirement that the kohanim wash their hands. In some shuls, the Kohanim wash their hands in the front of the shul before they go up to duchen. What is the reason for this practice?

This custom has a source in Rishonim and Poskim and should definitely be encouraged. Tosafos (Sotah 39a s.v. kol) rules that one should wash one’s hands relatively near the duchen, whereas washing further away and then walking to the duchen constitutes an interruption, a hefsek, similar to talking between washing netilas yadayim and making hamotzi  on eating bread. (His actual ruling is that one should wash one’s hands within twenty-two amos of the duchen, which is a distance of less than forty feet.) Thus, according to Tosafos, we are required to place a sink within that distance of the duchen where the kohanim stand to duchen. The Magen Avrohom rules according to this Tosafos and adds that since the kohanim wash their hands before Retzei, the chazan should recite the brachah of Retzei speedily. In his opinion, the time that transpires after the kohen washes his hands should be less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos (128:9). Thus, Retzei must be recited in less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos. The Biur Halachah adds that the kohanim should not converse between the washing of their hands and the duchening, because this, also, constitutes a hefsek.

Duchening and Dreams

A person who had a dream that requires interpretation and does know whether the dream bodes well should recite a prayer at the time of the duchening (Berachos 55b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 130:1). It should be noted that the text of the prayer quoted by the Gemara is different from that quoted in the majority of siddurim. The Gemara cites the following text for this prayer:

“Master of the World, I am yours and my dreams are yours. I dreamed a dream that I do not understand its meaning — whether it is something I have dreamt about myself or it is something that my friends dreamt about me or whether it is something that I dreamt about them. If these dreams are indeed good, strengthen them like the dreams of Yosef. However, if the dreams need to be healed, heal them as Moshe healed the bitters waters of Marah, as Miriam was healed of her tzaraas, as Chizkiyahu was healed of his illness and as the waters of Yericho were healed by Elisha. Just as You changed the curse of Bilaam to a blessing, so, too, change all my dreams for the good.” According to the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, this prayer should be recited at the end of all three blessings, rather than reciting the “Yehi Ratzon” that is printed in most siddurim (Mishnah Berurah 130:5).

One should complete the prayer at the moment that the congregation answers Amen to the blessings of Birchas Kohanim. This prayer can be recited not only when one is uncertain of the interpretation of the dream, but even when one knows that the dream bodes evil (Mishnah Berurah 130:4).

Among Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz, where the practice is to duchen only on Yom Tov, the custom is to recite this prayer every time one hears the duchening, because there is a likelihood that since the last Yom Tov one had a dream that requires interpretation (Mishnah Berurah 130:1). This prayer is not recited on Shabbos, unless one had a bad dream that night (Mishnah Berurah 130:4). In Eretz Yisrael, where the custom is to duchen daily, the practice among Ashkenazim is to recite the prayer for dreams at the last of the three berachos of the duchening at musaf on Yom Tov, when it does not fall on a Shabbos. The custom is that the kohanim chant the last word of the brachah on these Yom Tov days to allow people sufficient time to recite this prayer.

In all places, the custom among Sefardim is not to recite the prayer unless the person had such a dream.

As a kohen, myself, I find duchening to be the most beautiful of mitzvos. We are, indeed, so fortunate to have a commandment to bless our fellow Jews, the children of Our Creator. The nusach of the brachah is also worth noting. “Levarach es amo Yisrael b’ahava” — to bless His nation Israel with love. The blessings of a kohen must flow from a heart full of love for the Jews that he is privileged to bless.

 

This Is the Way We Salt Our Meat

raw meatQuestion

“When I shopped in Israel, I noticed that all the chickens were split open. I like to roast my chicken whole and stuff the inside, but you can’t do this once the chicken is split open. When I asked the butcher for an explanation, he told me that all the mehadrin hechsherim split the chicken open before kashering. What does a split chicken have to do with kashrus?”

Introduction to Meat Preparation

In parshas Korach, the Torah calls the covenant of the kohanim a bris melach, a covenant of salt. In parshas Tzav, the Torah presents both a positive and a negative mitzvah requiring that we salt meat and all other offerings that are placed on the fire of the mizbeiach. These must be salted on all sides (Menachos 21a). Someone who places any offering on the mizbeiach without salting it first abrogates a mitzvas aseh, and furthermore is subject to malkus for violating a lo saaseh.

As long as our Beis Hamikdash remains destroyed, we unfortunately cannot fulfill this mitzvah. Nevertheless, I will use these opportunities to discuss the basic laws of kashering meat, notwithstanding that the salting of kosher meat accomplishes a completely different purpose than does salting korbanos.

In several places, the Torah proscribes eating blood. Blood is the efficient transporter of nutrients to the entire body and permeates the animal’s flesh while it is still alive. Thus, blood is absorbed throughout the meat. If so, how can we possibly extract the prohibited blood from the permitted meat?

The Gemara and the halachic authorities provide the guidelines how to properly remove the forbidden blood. The process begins during the butchering, when one is required to remove certain veins to guarantee that the blood is properly removed (Chullin 93a; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 65:1).

After these veins are removed, there are two methods of extracting the blood from the meat. One is by soaking and salting the meat, which is what we will discuss in this article. In practical terms, the first approach, usually referred to as kashering meat, involves soaking the meat for thirty minutes, shaking off the excess water, salting the meat thoroughly on all sides, and then placing it for an hour in a way that the blood can drain freely. A bird should be placed with its open cavity downward so that the liquid drains off as it is kashering; similarly, a piece of meat with a cavity, such as an un-boned brisket, should be placed with its cavity draining downward. One may stack meat that is being kashered high as one wants, as long as the liquid is able to drain off the meat properly. After the salting is complete, we rinse the meat thoroughly, in order to wash away all the blood and salt. The poskim instruct that one should rinse the meat three times (Rama, Yoreh Deah 69:7).

Until fairly recently, every Jewish daughter and housewife soaked and salted meat as part of regular meal preparation. Today, the kashering of meat is usually performed either in the factory or by the butcher. Still, every housewife should know how to kasher meat, before it becomes a forgotten skill, reserved only for the specialist!

Case in point: A talmid of mine is doing kiruv in a community without a lot of kashrus amenities, but that happens to be very near a kosher abattoir. Because of necessity, they are now proficient in the practical aspects of kashering their own meat, a skill that they were fortunate to learn. Thus, we see another example of the importance of being able to kasher meat yourself.

Another case in point:

I know a very fine Jew who, following the guidance of gedolei Yisrael, accepted a kabbalah before he married that he would only eat meat that was kashered at home. Someone wanted to invite him for a sheva berachos and wanted to be able to serve him what she prepared for all her guests, but was unable to do so because she never learned how to kasher meat. (Instead, she prepared him fish, but had to find out what brand and type of fish he would use.)

For these reasons, when I taught in Beis Yaakov, I made sure that the girls knew how to kasher meat, although frankly I was quite appalled to find out how little they knew about the process. In those days, most of their mothers still knew how to kasher meat, but today, even the mothers and teachers of Beis Yaakov students no longer know how to do so.

On the other hand, I am reminded of the time some Iranian talmidim of Ner Yisrael spent Pesach at a university in Oklahoma to be mekareiv Jewish students. Although the students, natives of Shiraz and Tehran, were no longer observing many mitzvos, they all assisted in the kashering of the chickens for the Seder. Every one of them remembered exactly how to kasher meat!

Why do we Soak our Meat?

Before addressing the question that I shared at the beginning of our article, we need to understand more thoroughly the process of kashering meat. The Gemara (Chullin 113a) teaches:

“Shmuel said: The meat does not rid itself of its blood unless it is well salted and well rinsed.” The Gemara subsequently explains that the meat must be rinsed both before the salting and afterwards. We well understand why we must rinse away the salt after kashering the meat, since it is now full of forbidden blood. But why does one need to rinse the meat before kashering the meat? And why emphasize that it must be “well rinsed”?

There are actually many different explanations for this law. Here are some approaches mentioned by the rishonim, as explained by the master of practical kashrus, the Pri Megadim (in his introduction to the laws of salting meat, Second Ikar, s.v. Va’atah):

(1) Soften the Meat

Soaking the meat softens it, so that the salt can now remove the blood, but if the meat is not saturated thoroughly with water, the salt will not successfully extract the blood from the hard meat, and the meat remains prohibited (Ran). According to this reason, the Gemara’s instruction that the meat is “well rinsed,” requires not simply rinsing the surface of the meat, but submerging the meat. The later authorities interpret that one should soak the entire piece of meat to be kashered for half an hour, to guarantee that it is soft enough for the salt to extract the blood (see Darchei Moshe 69:1; as explained by Gra, 69:4).

The authorities dispute whether one is required to submerge the entire piece of meat. Some contend that if part of the meat remained above the water, one is not required to submerge the meat that remained above the water line, since it will become softened by the water absorption of the lower part of the meat (Pischei Teshuvah 69:5). Others maintain that the upper part will not soften this way, and one must submerge it for half an hour before salting the meat (Yad Yehudah, Peirush HaAruch end of 69:10; Darkei Teshuvah 69:20).

(2) Remove the Surface Blood

A second approach to why the meat must be rinsed well contends that one must rinse blood off the surface of the meat, because, otherwise, this blood will impede the ability of the salt to remove the blood that is inside the meat (Mordechai). This approach, as well as all the others that the Pri Megadim quotes, does not require submerging the meat, but merely rinsing the surface well. However, according to this approach, if the meat was submerged for half an hour and then afterwards someone sliced into the meat, one must rerinse the area that was now cut. Failure to rerinse the newly cut area will result in making it impossible for the salt to remove the blood properly (Pri Megadim).

Case in point:

Once, when I was inspecting a butcher shop, I observed that after the meat was completely soaked, the mashgiach noticed that one piece had not been properly butchered – the butcher had failed to remove a vein that one is required to remove. The mashgiach took out his knife and sliced away the offending vein. But, is one now required to soak the meat for an additional half hour or to rinse it before kashering it?

The answer is that one must rinse the newly sliced area well to remove any blood, but one is not required to soak the meat for an additional half an hour, since the meat is now nice and soft and its blood will drain out freely.

(3) The Blood will Absorb into the Meat

A third opinion why the meat must be rinsed well before salting contends that salting meat when there is blood on its surface will cause the blood to absorb into the meat, thus prohibiting it. This approach also believes that the purpose for rinsing the meat before salting is to remove the blood on the surface. However, this opinion holds that not rinsing blood off the surface entails a more serious concern. If blood remains on the surface of the meat when it is salted, this blood will absorb into the meat and prohibit it. According to this reason, if someone salted the meat without rinsing it off, the meat is now prohibited, and resoaking it and salting it will not make it kosher. According to the other reasons we have mentioned, one who failed to soak or rinse the meat before salting it may rinse off the salt, soak (or rinse) the meat properly and then salt it.

The Shulchan Aruch (69:2) rules that if one salts meat without rinsing it first, he may rinse the salt off the meat and re-salt the meat. The Rama rules that one should not use the meat, unless it is a case of major financial loss.

(4) Moisten the Surface

Another Rishon, the Rosh, contends that the reason why one must rinse the meat before salting it is because the salt does not remove the blood properly unless the meat surface is moist. Although this approach may appear similar to the Ran’s approach that I mentioned first, the Ran contends that the entire piece of meat be soaked in order to soften it so that its blood will readily extract, whereas the Rosh requires only that the surface be moist at the time of the salting. Therefore, the Rosh does not require that the meat be soaked at all, certainly not for half an hour. On the other hand, if the meat soaked for a half-hour, and then was dried or sliced, the Rosh requires one to moisten the dry surface so that the salt will work. In this last case, the Ran does not require re-rinsing the surface, since the meat already soaked for half an hour.

In practical halacha, we, lechatchilah, prepare meat according to all opinions, and for this reason we soak all meat for half an hour before salting, but we drain off some of the water before salting it, so that the meat is moist but not dripping (Rama 69:1). If the meat is too wet, the salt will not do its job.

How thick must I salt the meat?

The Gemara quoted above states that one must salt the meat well, just as it mentions that one must wash it well. What does this mean, that I must salt it well?

Some authorities require that the meat be covered with salt, whereas others rule that it is satisfactory to salt it sufficiently that one would not be able to eat the meat without rinsing it off.

The Rishonim debate whether salting meat well means that it must be salted on all sides, or whether it is sufficient to salt the meat on one side. There are actually three different opinions on the matter:

  • The meat needs to be salted on only one side, and this satisfactorily removes the blood (Tur’s interpretation of Rashba).
  • One should preferably salt the meat on both sides, but if one failed to do so, the meat is kosher (Beis Yosef’s interpretation of Rashba).
  • If the meat is not salted on opposite sides, one will not remove all the blood and the meat is prohibited for consumption (Rama).

The Shulchan Aruch concludes that one should preferably salt the meat on both sides, but if one failed to do so, the meat is kosher. However, the Rama rules that under normal circumstances, one should consider the meat non-kosher. Under extenuating circumstances, or in case of great loss, the meat is kosher (Taz).

Stacking the Meat

According to all opinions, if one stacks two pieces of meat, one atop another, and salts only one of the pieces, the blood was not removed from unsalted piece. Even if one contends that salting meat on one side of a piece will draw out all the blood in that piece, it does not draw out the blood from a different piece that the salted piece is lying on.

Similarly, if one is kashering two organs, such as the heart and the lung, salting one piece does not draw the blood out of the other piece. This is true, even if the two organs are still connected together (see Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav end of 15).

Salting a bird only on the outside is similar to salting a piece of meat on only one side, because there is an open cavity in the middle. For this reason, one is required to salt a bird on the inside of the open cavity, also, and cannot simply salt the outside of the bird.

Splitting a Bird

At this point, we have enough information to address our opening question:

“When I shopped in Israel, I noticed that all the chickens were split open. I like to roast my chicken whole and stuff the inside, but you can’t do this once the chicken is split open. When I asked the butcher for an explanation, he told me that all the mehadrin hechsherim split the chicken open before kashering. What does a split chicken have to do with kashrus?”

How does one kasher a chicken or other bird? If one salts the outside of the chicken, one has salted the bird on only one side, since the inside cavity was not salted. The Shulchan Aruch answers that one places salt on the inside cavity of the chicken.

The Pri Megadim records a dispute among earlier authorities whether one is required to cut through the breast bone of a bird before kashering it. The Shulchan Aruch rules that one is not required to cut through the breast bone of a bird before kashering it, but can rely on placing salt inside the cavity. The Beis Hillel adds that cutting through the breast bone of the bird to make the cavity most accessible is not even considered a chumrah that one should try to observe. However, the Beis Lechem Yehudah rules that one is required to cut through the breast bone before kashering. His reasoning is that one who does not cut through the bone must rely on pushing salt into the cavity and that people tend not to push the salt sufficiently deep into the cavity. The Pri Megadim agrees with the Beis Lechem Yehudah, and mentions that he required his family members to cut through the breast bone to open the cavity before salting poultry, because it is impossible to salt properly all the places in the internal cavity without splitting the chicken open. (Although the Pri Megadim uses the term “split in half,” I presume that he means to open the chicken’s cavity. There seems no reason to require one to cut the entire chicken into two pieces.) Furthermore, several of the internal organs – including the lungs, kidneys, and spleen — are often not salted properly without splitting open the cavity. It is for this reason that mehadrin shechitos in Eretz Yisrael all cut through the bone before salting the chickens, although one can note from the Pri Megadim’s own comments that this was not standard practice.

Most hechsherim in the United States follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and the Beis Hillel and do not insist on splitting the chicken open before salting it. One hechsher I know requires that the kidneys be removed and discarded before sale, because of the concern raised by the Pri Megadim that they cannot be salted properly without opening the chicken. (In our large scale manufacturing today, the lungs, heart and spleen are always removed anyway, and usually not sold for food.)

By the way, we can also understand some of the reasons why someone would take on a personal chumrah to eat meat only if it was kashered at home. Among the reasons that he would be makpid is better control of the kashering, guaranteeing that the chickens are split before they are salted, and making certain that the chickens are placed with their cavities down.

Conclusion

At this point, I would like to return to our opening explanation, when I mentioned the mitzvah of salting korbanos that are burnt on the mizbeiach. As I alluded to above, although both items are salted in a similar manner, the purpose is very different. Whereas the salting of our meat is to remove the blood, this blood and salt is washed away. The salted offerings, on the other hand, are burnt completely with their salt. Several commentaries note that salt represents that which exists forever, and can therefore represent the mitzvos of the Torah, which are never changed. In addition, the salt used for the korbanos must be purchased from public funds, from the machatzis hashekel collection, demonstrating that this responsibility to observe the mitzvos forever is communal and collective (Rav Hirsch).

 

Shaving and Haircuts during the Three Weeks

barber poleQuestion #1: Bushy presenter

“My company sent me out of town to meet a new client, and I forgot to have my hair cut before Shiva Asar BeTamuz. May I have the bushier parts trimmed? Does it make a difference if I use a non-Jewish barber? May I shave?”

Question #2: Mixed shavers

“My son wrote me that in his yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel, the Sefardic bochurim shave during the Three Weeks. Is this permitted?”

Question #3: Celebrating a bris!

“Thank G-d, we will be celebrating the bris of a grandson during the Three Weeks, and I do not want to look disheveled for the bris photos. May I shave in honor of the occasion?”

Question #4: Tichel tattling

“My hair is sticking out beyond my tichel. May I trim it?”

The three-week period between Shiva Asar BeTamuz and Tisha B’Av is observed by klal Yisroel as a time of mourning. These three weeks heralded the beginning of the tragedies that took place prior to the destruction of both Batei Hamikdash. Prior to the destruction of the First Beis Hamikdash, the daily korban tamid ceased on Shiva Asar BeTamuz and did not resume until the Jews began constructing the Second Beis Hamikdash seventy years later (see Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 5:2). Before the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash, the walls of the city of Yerushalayim were breached on Shiva Asar BeTamuz, leading to the complete devastation that followed (Taanis 28b).

To commemorate these tragic events, the custom is to observe some mourning practices (aveilus) from the 17th day of Tamuz until Tisha B’Av (Rama, Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 551:5 and Hagahos 551:2; Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Devorim #4; Knesses Hagedolah; Sdei Chemed Vol. 5, pg. 279 #14). This three-week season is referred to by the Midrash Rabbah (Eicha 1:3) as the period of Bein Hametzarim. (It is noteworthy that neither the Mishnah nor the Gemara makes any mention of beginning the mourning period any earlier than Rosh Chodesh.)

WHAT ARE THE LAWS ABOUT HAVING HAIRCUTS AND SHAVING DURING THE THREE WEEKS?

The Mishnah (Taanis 26b) rules that it is prohibited to cut one’s hair from the Motza’ei Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av until Tisha B’Av. These days are referred to as shavua shechal bo Tisha B’Av, the week in which Tisha B’Av falls. This year, when Tisha B’Av is observed on Sunday, there is no shavua shechal bo Tisha B’Av. However, the Rama notes that the custom among Ashkenazim is that we do not cut our hair during the entire Three Weeks (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 551:5 and Hagahos 551:4). As a general rule, the halachos of shaving and cutting one’s hair are the same.

There are different customs among Sefardim as to whether they get their hair cut during the Three Weeks. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 551:3) prohibits only that which is recorded in the Gemara, cutting hair from Motza’ei Shabbos until Tisha B’Av, and this is the prevalent practice among Sefardim today in Eretz Yisroel (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:36), which means that there is no prohibition this year. Others shave and get haircuts until Rosh Chodesh, but stop after that point.

However, other Sefardic communities follow the Ashkenazic practice not to shave or get haircuts the entire period of Bein Hametzarim (Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Devorim #12). (Incidentally, the Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chayim 551:4] permits having one’s hair cut immediately after Tisha B’Av is over even when Tisha B’Av does not fall on Sunday, and does not require waiting until the next day.)

SEFARDIM LIVING IN AN ASHKENAZI COMMUNITY

May a Sefardi living in an Ashkenazi community be lenient, despite the prevalent custom?

This issue is discussed by contemporary authorities, involving the general halachic rule that a community should follow one established practice. This principle is referred to by the Gemara as “lo sisgodedu,” do not give the appearance that different Torah communities received different versions of the Torah, G-d forbid (Yevamos 14a, as explained by Rashi). This law prohibits a Jewish community from following two conflicting customs. Thus, it would seem that an Ashkenazi living in a Sefardic community or vice versa must observe the prevailing custom.

However, contemporary poskim rule that Ashkenazim living in Sefardic communities may observe Ashkenazic custom, and Sefardim living in Ashenazic communities may continue to follow Sefardic practice. Therefore, Sefardic bochurim studying in an Ashkenazic yeshiva are permitted to shave until Rosh Chodesh or during the entire Three Weeks, depending on their minhag. Even though most of the students in the yeshiva follow the Ashkenazic practice of not shaving during the entire Three Weeks, it does not violate minhag hamakom for the Sefardic bochurim to shave (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:36).

WHY DOES THIS NOT VIOLATE LO SISGODEDU?

Even though there is a general rule that a community should follow one halachic practice, this is true when the community has one rav or follows the guidance of one beis din. However, when there are two different batei din in a community, each beis din is free to rule as it sees fit and does not need to change its decision to avoid lo sisgodedu. Thus, the prohibition of lo sisgodedu applies only when there are two different practices in one beis din.

Similarly, when it is well-known that there are different communities, each may observe its own well-established practice, even if they are in the same location. Therefore, Ashkenazim and Sefardim following different minhagim is not a violation of lo sisgodedu. As a result, Sefardic bachurim may shave during the Three Weeks, even if they study in an Ashkenazic Yeshiva, since it is understood that they are following a different psak.

EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCES

There are several situations in which Ashkenazim are permitted to shave or take a haircut during the Three Weeks. For example, it is permitted to trim one’s mustache, if it interferes with eating (Ran; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 551:13). Some poskim rule that a person who usually shaves every day is permitted to shave during the Three Weeks in honor of Shabbos (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #348 s.v. Ve’i golach). Others permit a person to shave if his beard stubble makes him very uncomfortable (see Shearim Ha’metzuyanim Behalachah 122:5). However, since these last two psakim are not usually accepted, one should not rely on them without receiving a psak from a rav.

Someone who is in aveilos is not permitted to shave or have his hair cut until the end of the Sheloshim (30 days), and someone in aveilos for a parent, for several months. If the aveilos ended during the Three Weeks, he is permitted to have his hair cut, since he could not cut it before Shiva Asar BeTamuz (Be’er Heiteiv 551:18). Most poskim permit this even during the Nine Days, assuming his aveilos ended then (Bach; Taz; Mishnah Berurah 551:87; cf. however, Elyah Rabbah).

SHAVING BECAUSE OF FINANCIAL LOSS

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one may shave during the Three Weeks if he may lose his job or customers because he does not shave. However, if the only concern is that people will make fun of him, he is not permitted to shave. Rav Moshe Feinstein contends that since the prohibition not to shave the entire Three Weeks began as a minhag, the custom was originally established only when one would not suffer financially as a result. However, if he would suffer only embarrassment or harassment, but no loss of income, he is required to remain unshaven (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 1:93; Orach Chayim 4:102). Thus, someone who makes a business trip may shave, since making a bad impression on the potential customer could cost him business. Certainly, one is not required to jeopardize his employment by avoiding shaving during the Three Weeks.

SHAVING FOR A SIMCHA

If a bris occurs during the Three Weeks, the father of the baby, the mohel, and the sandek who holds the baby during the bris are permitted to shave or take a haircut in honor of the festive occasion (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #158). According to some poskim, the kvatter, who brings the baby to the bris, and the sandek meumad (also called amida lebrochos), who holds the baby while he is being named, are also permitted to shave or take a haircut (Shearim Ha’metzuyanim Behalachah, Kuntrus Acharon 120:8, based on Elyah Rabbah 551:27 and Beis Meir, Orach Chayim 551). Thus, the grandfather who asked whether he may shave or cut his hair in honor of his grandson’s bris during the Three Weeks may do so, if he receives the honor of being sandek. If he receives a different honor, he should ask a shaylah as to whether he may shave in honor of the occasion.

The poskim dispute whether the baalei simcha are permitted to shave even if the bris occurs during the Nine Days or only if it occurs before Rosh Chodesh. (The Chasam Sofer, Shu’t Noda Biyehudah 1:28, Shaarei Teshuvah, and Sdei Chemed 5:278:3 permit, whereas the Be’er Heiteiv 551:3 prohibits.)

CHOSON

Question: May someone who got married before the 17th of Tamuz shave during his Sheva Brachos week? May someone attending a Sheva Brachos shave in honor of the occasion?

The week after a couple gets married is considered a Yom Tov for them, and they should wear Yom Tov clothing and eat festive meals. Similarly, they are not permitted to go to work. Part of the celebration is that they should look like two celebrants. Thus, it would seem that the choson may shave during his Sheva Brachos week.

However, for the participant in the Sheva Brachos it is not a Yom Tov, so he would not be permitted to shave for the occasion.

Some poskim hold that a bar mitzvah bochur who needs a haircut may get one during the Three Weeks, as long as it is not during the week of Tisha B’Av. Others contend that it is better if he gets the haircut the day before he turns bar mitzvah and rely on the opinion that a minor may get a haircut during the Three Weeks, as I will discuss shortly (Shearim Ha’metzuyanim Behalachah, Kuntrus Acharon 120:8).

UPSHEREN

Although some poskim permit scheduling an upsheren (chalakah) during the Three Weeks if the child was born during the Three Weeks, the prevalent practice is to postpone the upsheren until after Tisha B’Av (Piskei Teshuvos 551:44; Chanoch Lana’ar, Chapter 21, ftn. 1).

Adults may not give children haircuts during the week of Tisha B’Av (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 551:14). There is a dispute whether a minor may get a haircut during the Three Weeks, some poskim contending that children were not included in the custom not to cut hair (Mishnah Berurah 551:82, quoting Chayei Odom), whereas others rule that one may not cut a child’s hair, just as one may not cut an adult’s (Elyah Rabbah 551:28).

There are different opinions among the poskim whether a woman may have her hair cut during the Three Weeks. The Mishnah Berurah rules that a woman may not have her hair cut during the week of Tisha B’Av, but he suggests that she may be permitted to trim the hair on her temples that sticks out from the tichel (Mishnah Berurah 551:79). Many poskim rule that a woman may tweeze her eyebrows and perform similar cosmetic activities, even during the week of Tisha B’Av (Halichos Beisah, Chapter 25, footnote 70; Piskei Teshuvos 551:43; however, see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:137, who appears to be more stringent).

MAY I CLIP MY FINGERNAILS DURING THE THREE WEEKS?

It is permitted to clip one’s fingernails during the Three Weeks and the Nine Days according to all opinions. There is a dispute whether one may clip one’s nails during the week of Tisha B’Av (Magen Avraham, 551:11 permits, whereas Taz 551:13 and Elyah Rabbah 551:7 prohibit).

FOCUS OF THE THREE WEEKS

The most important aspect of the Three Weeks is to focus on the tremendous loss we suffer because of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. The minhag among some Sefardic kehillos in Yerushalayim is to sit on the floor each day of the Three Weeks just after midday and to recite part of tikkun chatzos that mourns the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. To further convey this mood, Yesod Veshoresh Ha’avodah prohibits any laughing and small talk during these weeks, just as a mourner does not engage in laughter or small talk (Shaar 9, Ch. 11-12).

Although we may not be holding at such a madreigah, we certainly should contemplate the tremendous void in our spiritual lives in the absence of the Beis Hamikdash. Let us pray intently for the restoration of the Beis Hamikdash and the return of the Divine Presence to Yerushalayim, speedily in our days!