Is Swift the Way to Go?

Question: The Early Birds Avraham and Sorah Adler* are celebrating the bris of their firstborn son! Avraham knows that one should perform a bris as early in the morning as possible, and, therefore, he would like to schedule it for immediately after the “neitz” minyan, which begins the Shacharis Shemoneh Esrei exactly at sunrise. Sarah […]

A Shemittah Glossary

Question #1: Shemittah or shevi’is? “What is the difference between shemittah and shevi’is?” Question #2: Sefichin “What are sefichin?” Question #3: Heter otzar beisdin “I consider myself fairly well-educated, which may be a mistake. But I recently heard a term that I never heard before: heter otzar beis din. What does this term mean?” Answer […]

The Special Mitzvah of Reciting Hallel

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What Is the Bracha Magen Avos and Should We Recite It on Yom Kippur?

Question #1: Where? Where is the bracha of Magen Avos first mentioned? Question #2: What? What is the bracha Mei’ein Sheva? Question #3: When? On what occasions do we omit reciting the bracha Mei’ein Sheva? Answer: What is the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva? The bracha Mei’ein Sheva is recited by the chazzan after we conclude the […]

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Double Parshiyos and the Leap Year

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Holding the Torah Upright

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You Can’t Take It with You — Moving and Removing Mezuzos

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU!

Question #1: “We are moving residences, and I understand that I must leave the mezuzos in my old home. However, they are beautiful, mehudar mezuzos that I would like to use in my new dwelling. Is there any way that I can take these mezuzos with me?”

Question #2: “My landlord is not Jewish, but this is a neighborhood where only frum Jews are moving in. Do I remove my mezuzos when I leave?”

Question #3: As I was preparing this article, someone called me with the following actual shaylah:

“We will be spending a few days with my ailing father who lives in Israel in an assisted living facility. We can stay in an apartment in his building, but there are no mezuzos on the doors. I know that in Israel one must place a mezuzah on one’s residence, even if one stays only overnight. I can borrow mezuzos for our stay; however, may I remove them when we depart?”

Answer: The obligation of placing mezuzos is incumbent on the person living in the house; nevertheless, when vacating the premises, one is usually required to leave the mezuzos in place. If one wants money for the mezuzos that are being left behind, the new resident is required to pay for them (Rama, Yoreh Deah 291:2).

In explaining these laws, the Gemara teaches:

When a Jew rents a house to a fellow Jew, the tenant is responsible to affix the mezuzos. However, when the tenant vacates, he may not remove them. On the other hand, a Jew who rents a residence from a gentile removes the mezuzos when he leaves (Bava Metzia 102a).

The Gemara subsequently describes a horrible calamity that befell someone who removed his mezuzos when he was prohibited from doing so. (If you are anxious to know what happened, I refer you to the Gemara.) Thus, removing mezuzos involves not only a halachic violation, but also a significant safety concern (Tzavaas Rabbi Yehudah HaChasid,addendum #7).

BUT WHY NOT?

It is difficult to understand why halachah requires one to leave the mezuzah behind: When a resident vacates a dwelling, he has no obligation to guarantee that mezuzos remain on its doorways. So why can’t he take his mezuzos with him?

There are actually two reasons, each requiring its own introduction, why one may not remove the mezuzos.

APPROACH #1: DISDAIN OF MITZVOS – BIZUY MITZVAH

The first approach derives from the concept of bizuy mitzvah, treating a mitzvah object inappropriately: Removing the mezuzah is considered improper abandonment of a mitzvah object.

But if this is so, shouldn’t it apply to other mitzvos as well? For example, may I remove tzitzis from a garment without due cause?

REMOVING TZITZIS FROM A GARMENT

The Gemara debates whether one may remove the tzitzis of one garment to tie them onto another four-cornered garment. The Amora Rav prohibits moving tzitzis from one garment to another, contending that this is bizuy mitzvah. His contemporary, Shmuel, permits moving the tzitzis from one garment to another, since they are still utilized for a mitzvah (Shabbos 22a). Both Rav and Shmuel prohibit removing the tzitzis when he will not use them on another garment as an act of bizuy mitzvah (She’iltos, Shlach; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 15:1). That is, removing tzitzis from a garment without placing them onto another garment is considered disrespectful. We follow Shmuel’s ruling, and therefore one may remove tzitzis from one garment to place them on another. One may also replace tzitzis with more mehudar ones, even if he will not use the removed tzitzis, since upgrading to a higher standard demonstrates increased respect for the mitzvah, the exact opposite of bizuy mitzvah (Taz, Orach Chayim 15:2).

REMOVING THE MEZUZAH

Just as Shmuel ruled that one may remove tzitzis from one garment to place them on another, but one may not remove them if one is not planning to place them now onto another garment, we can now appreciate why one may not remove a mezuzah upon vacating a residence, since this demonstrates disrespect for the mezuzah that is being forcibly retired from its role (She’iltos, Parshas Shlach; Tosafos, Shabbos 22a, s.v. Rav; Ritva, Bava Metzia 102a). (It would seem that one can derive from this that it is prohibited to forcibly retire someone from a position, or that one should strongly reconsider laying off employees, but we will leave this topic for a different time.) We will soon discuss whether the prohibition applies, even when one intends to use the mezuzah elsewhere.

By the way, the authorities dispute whether the new tenant, entering a house with mezuzos already on the door, recites a bracha, Baruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu ladur babayis sheyesh bo mezuzah (Magen Avraham 19:1; Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger, end of #9). The reason why this bracha sounds so unfamiliar is that it refers not to placement of a mezuzah on the doorpost, but to entering a new dwelling where the mezuzah is already present. In practice, most late authorities follow the ruling of the Chida that one does not recite a bracha on a mitzvah if one is not actively performing the mitzvah (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 19:2).

MOVING THE MEZUZAH FROM ONE HOUSE TO ANOTHER

At this point, we should note an important factor. If the only reason that one may not remove the mezuzah is due to bizuy mitzvah, is one permitted to remove a mezuzah from the “old” building to install it in one’s new residence? Indeed, those authorities who prohibit removing the mezuzah only because of bizuy mitzvah explain that one may remove a mezuzah from one building to install it in a new place (She’iltos, Shlach; Ritva, Bava Metzia 102a).

APPROACH #2: DIVINE PROTECTION

Most authorities explain that there is an additional reason, unique to mezuzah, why one must leave the mezuzah behind even if one wants to use it elsewhere. Although the primary reason a Jew observes any mitzvah is to fulfill Hashem’scommandment, the mitzvah of mezuzah has an additional benefit because it protects our homes and our families from mishap. Removing the mezuzah eliminates this Divine shield, exposing one to tragedy and misfortune (Tosafos, Bava Metzia 101b s.v. lo; Shitah Mekubetzes, Menachos 41b, note 24; Tosafos, Shabbos 22a s.v. Rav in his second answer). Because of this, there is a widespread practice to check one’s mezuzos if, G-d forbid, one is experiencing difficulties in one’s home, since these problems might indicate that the mezuzos are not providing the adequate protection that they should.

This approach understands that even though someone vacating a house is no longer responsible for there being mezuzos on the doors, removing them reduces the Divine protection on the domicile for the next Jewish person moving in. We now comprehend why removing the mezuzah may expose someone to danger, as the Gemara records.

If the property belongs to a gentile, however, one may, and according to many authorities must, remove the mezuzah, since removing the mezuzah is not depriving it of fulfilling a mitzvah, and the protection provided is only for Jews. Similarly, one may remove tzitzis from a garment that will no longer be used to fulfill a mitzvah (Rama, Orach Chayim 15:1 and Magen Avraham ad loc.).

HOW DO WE RULE?

The accepted halachic practice recognizes both concerns, forbidding one from removing the mezuzah to a new location. However, in an extenuating circumstance where someone is moving to a new residence and has no access to a kosher mezuzah, one may rely on the first opinion and take the mezuzah with him (Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 291:2).

YOU CAN TAKE IT WITH YOU

Despite our conclusion that one should generally not remove the mezuzos when vacating a house, there are instances when one is required to do so. As I mentioned above, the Gemara notes that one who rents from a gentile should remove the mezuzos upon leaving (Bava Metzia 102a). The authorities dispute whether this is simply permission to remove the mezuzah, or whether one is required to do so. Rav Yaakov Emden (Shaylas Yaavetz 2:121) rules that one must remove the mezuzah, out of concern that the gentile will treat it inappropriately, whereas the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 291:3) implies that it is permitted, but not actually required, to remove the mezuzah under such circumstances.

CHANGING OWNERSHIP

What is the halachah if a Jew vacates a residence that he was renting from a gentile, but a different Jew is moving in? May/should the first Jew remove the mezuzah when he leaves, since the owner of the building is non-Jewish, or must he leave the mezuzah for the new Jewish resident?

Rav Yaakov Emden discusses a similar case: A Jew was renting a house from a gentile who then sold the house to a different Jew. The tenant will be moving out before the change of ownership takes effect. Should he remove the mezuzah before he leaves, since the house is still owned by a gentile, or is this forbidden, since a Jew will soon be acquiring the house and moving in? On the one hand, we do not want to leave the house mezuzah-less, yet there is a concern that the gentile owner may deface or steal the mezuzah before the Jew moves in.

Rav Emden rules that the tenant should remove the mezuzah before he vacates, out of concern that the gentile may treat the mezuzah inappropriately. He also quotes the Maharil, who requires removing the mezuzah because one may not give a mezuzah to a gentile. However, if the gentile’s sales contract with the purchasing Jew specifies that the mezuzah is included, the tenant should leave the mezuzah (Shaylas Yaavetz 2:121).

GENTILE LANDLORD, JEWISH TENANT

Rav Emden’s case is when the gentile has sold the property to a new Jewish owner. What is the halachah if the property remains the gentile’s, but he usually rents to Jews? Should one leave the mezuzah for the next Jewish occupant or not?

Beis Lechem Yehudah (Yoreh Deah 291:1) rules that one should remove the mezuzos, even if the gentile landlord usually rents to Jews, as long as the next Jewish tenant is not moving in immediately.

We can now answer one of our opening questions: “My landlord is not Jewish, but this is a neighborhood where only frum Jews are moving in. Do I remove my mezuzos when I leave?”

This depends. If a new tenant is moving in immediately, one should leave the mezuzos for him. However, if there will be a time lag before he moves in, one should remove the mezuzos — out of concern that, in the interim, they may be abused.

There are other instances when one is required to remove the mezuzah and, accordingly, no calamity will result from doing so. If there is concern that someone may damage or deface a mezuzah that is left behind, one must remove the mezuzah. For example, if the residence will be painted, the mezuzos must be removed to prevent their becoming invalidated. Even if the landlord is Jewish and the new tenant is also Jewish, if the apartment will be painted between residents, the vacating tenant should remove the mezuzos to save them from damage, which is certainly bizuy mitzvah, and no harm will befall him for doing so. Once he has removed the mezuzos for a legitimate reason, he is not required to return them. The new tenant is now responsible to affix new mezuzos.

Similarly, if there is concern that the mezuzah will be stolen or otherwise abused, one should remove it.

NEW RESIDENT HAS HIS OWN MEZUZOS

As I mentioned earlier, although the first resident is required to leave his mezuzos behind, he is technically permitted to charge the new tenant for them. What is the halachah if the new tenant wants to install his own mezuzos rather than purchase or receive gratis those of the previous tenant? Does this present any halachic problem, and is there any basis for a safety concern in this instance?

The contemporary authorities assume that if the new resident wants to install his own mezuzos, he may remove the “old” mezuzos owned by the previous tenant and put up his own. In this instance, one is not leaving the house unprotected, since new mezuzos are immediately placed on the doorposts. Based on this ruling, there is a common practice of having the new tenant, or his agent, remove the old mezuzos and install the new ones.

One should be careful to remove the “old” mezuzah before installing the new one, since having two mezuzos on one’s door violates the prohibition of adding to the Torah’s mitzvos, bal tosif (Pischei Teshuvah 291:2). Just as one may not add a fifth parsha to one’s tefillin when the Torah requires four, and just as a kohen may not add a fourth bracha to thethree brachos of duchening, so may one not add a second mezuzah to the doorpost when the Torah requires only one. For the same reason, one who moves to a house that has an old, painted over mezuzah on the door must remove that mezuzah, even if it is probably invalid, and not just affix a kosher mezuzah alongside it.

MEZUZAH SWITCH

At this point, we can now address our first question:

“We are moving residences, and I understand that I must leave the mezuzos in my old home. However, they are beautiful, mehudar mezuzos that I would like to use in my new dwelling. Is there any way that I can take these mezuzos with me?”

The answer: One may remove the nice mezuzos one has on his door and replace them with kosher, non-mehudar mezuzos. Since one is leaving the house with a kosher mezuzah, this suffices to protect the house (Da’as Kedoshim, Yoreh Deah 291:1).

At this point, we can discuss our third question, concerning someone using a house in Eretz Yisrael who borrowed a mezuzah. It is indeed true that Chazal required a person to place a mezuzah on his doorpost in Israel, even if he stays only overnight. However, may he remove the mezuzah when he vacates?

In this case, there is an interesting complication, since the person borrowed a mezuzah and must return it. Assuming that the landlord and/or future residents are/will be Jewish, he cannot leave the house without a mezuzah. He can, of course, resolve the problem by putting up replacement mezuzos for the borrowed ones, but this is a solution that he wants to avoid.

The problem was resolved by contacting the management of the building. The management was interested in having a mezuzah on the door of the residence and took care of the matter.

MEZUZAH REWARDS

Aside from fulfilling a mitzvah commanded by Hashem, the mitzvah of mezuzah serves to remind us constantly of His presence, every time we enter and exit our houses. In addition, the Gemara teaches that someone who is meticulous in his observance of the laws of mezuzah will merit acquiring a nice home (Shabbos 23b). We thus see that care in observing this mitzvah not only protects one’s family against any calamity, but also rewards one with a beautiful domicile. May we all be zocheh to be careful, always, in our observance of the laws of mezuzah and the other mitzvos, and reap all the rewards, both material and spiritual, for doing so!

What Happens When We Do Something Wrong?

Since the Aseres Hadibros which include the laws of Shabbos are in Parshas Va’eschanan, we have an opportunity to discuss what happens when we do something wrong on Shabbos.

Question #1: Cholent caper

Shimon looks rather sheepish when he asks this shaylah on Shabbos morning: During the night, he tasted the cholent and decided it needed some extra spices. Without thinking, he added some pepper and garlic powder, which is clearly an act of desecrating Shabbos. Can the cholent be eaten, or is it prohibited to benefit from this melachah?

Question #2: Bad advice

“My main mutual fund has performed wonderfully over time and I am very satisfied with it. However, I recently read a transcript in which the fund manager, who is probably Jewish, referred to investment discussions with his staff on Friday night. I am concerned that I may be benefiting from chillul Shabbos that he performs in the course of researching venture possibilities for the fund. Must I pull my money out and look for another investment vehicle?”

Question #3: The unrepentant knitter

Yehudis seeks guidance for a real predicament: “I have a non-observant relative who loves to knit and is presently knitting a baby blanket for my soon-to-be. I am certain that she is doing some of this on Shabbos. If we do not use her blanket she will be very upset — and she will notice if we fail to use it. What may we do to avoid antagonizing her?”

Each of these actual shaylos involves the same halachic issue: May one benefit from work performed on Shabbos? Although we certainly discourage any type of desecration of Shabbos, the current question is whether something produced on Shabbos may be used afterwards. This question is discussed in the Gemara in several places, which cites a three-way dispute among tanna’im concerning food cooked by a Jew on Shabbos. Each of the three opinions focuses on a different issue. The question in practical halachah is whether or not we are concerned about these reasons and to what extent. Briefly put, these are the three issues:

I. Intrinsically prohibited

Some contend that food cooked in violation of Shabbos becomes a substance that we are prohibited to eat min hatorah. Those who rule this way maintain that food cooked on Shabbos is non-kosher.

II. The sinner goes to the penalty box!

Others maintain that Chazal penalized a person who intentionally desecrated Shabbos by banning that individual from benefiting from his misdeed. Although the food is still considered kosher, there are restrictions as to who may eat it and when.

III. Defer benefit!

A third opinion contends that , to avoid profiting from the sin performed, one cannot benefit from an item created through Shabbos desecration until after Shabbos.

Let me explain the differences among these three approaches.

I. Intrinsically prohibited

Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar contends that not only does the Torah forbid desecrating Shabbos, but it also bans benefiting from something created in defiance of Shabbos. For example, food cooked on Shabbos is forbidden and will never become permitted for use by anyone. If this food subsequently became mixed into otherwise kosher food, the same laws apply as any situation when non-kosher became mixed into kosher food.

However, Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar prohibits the food only when it was produced in intentional desecration of Shabbos. An item created through negligent violation of Shabbos (shogeig) is treated more leniently.

II. The sinner goes to the penalty box!

Rabbi Yehudah follows a more lenient approach, prohibiting the sinner from using items made on Shabbos as a penalty created by the Sages, but not because the food is intrinsically non-kosher min hatorah. Chazal created this penalty so that the perpetrator should not benefit from his misdeed. For this reason, Rabbi Yehudah prohibits the item permanently but only to the person who desecrated Shabbos. Several authorities rule that this prohibition applies also to the members of his household (Graz, 253:24; Kaf Hachayim 318:11). Furthermore, the equipment used to cook the food on Shabbos must be koshered before it may be used again, since it has absorbed taste that is forbidden to him (Magen Avraham 318:1, quoting Rashba) and his household (according to the Graz and Kaf Hachayim). Other people may use the item after Shabbos is over.

Negligent desecration

Thus far, we have discussed what happens when something was prepared in intentional defilement of Shabbos. However, what is the halachah if someone violated Shabbos Shabbos unintentionally (beshogeig)?

According to Rabbi Yehudah, one may eat the food after Shabbos is over. If the sin was performed unintentionally, no distinction is made between the person who violated Shabbos and anyone else — we do not penalize the perpetrator after Shabbos is over. But Rabbi Yehudah requires that we defer the benefit until after Shabbos.

III. Deferring use

The third opinion, Rabbi Meir, is more lenient. He agrees that no one may benefit from an item created through intentional desecration of Shabbos on Shabbos itself. However, once Shabbos is over, the item may be used. Furthermore, only something produced in intentional defiance of Shabbos may not be used. The results of shogeig,negligent, violation of Shabbos are permitted for use and even for consumption. Although violating Shabbos is a most severe desecration, the Torah did not ban benefiting from the crime. The Sages did not prohibit a product that results from a misdeed, but merely postponed using it until after Shabbos so as not to benefit from the sin, and this, only when the sin was performed intentionally.

To review, Rabbi Meir makes no distinction between the violator himself and others. He also contends that there is no prohibition at all against using an item negligently prepared on Shabbos. Thus, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah are in dispute concerning two key points:

(1) Whether or not the results of negligent violation of Shabbos are permitted. Rabbi Meir permits their use immediately whereas Rabbi Yehudah prohibits their use until Shabbos is over.

(2) Whether or not food prepared in intentional desecration of Shabbos may be used after Shabbos by the desecrator. Rabbi Meir permits their use, whereas Rabbi Yehudah prohibits it.

How do we rule?

Most halachic authorities rule according to Rabbi Yehudah, although there are several who follow the more lenient opinion of Rabbi Meir (Gra, Orach Chayim 318). (Notably, the Rosh, in Bava Kamma 7:6, rules according to the stricter approach of Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar; however, in Chullin 1:18 he seems to conclude otherwise.)

What is the legal definition of “negligent”?

Before we rule on our opening cases, we need to know what defines whether an activity is considered shogeig (negligent) or whether it qualifies as meizid (intentional).

Negligent violation (shogeig) includes someone who forgot or was unaware that it is Shabbos, or forgot or was unaware that the activity being performed is forbidden on Shabbos. Someone who was told in error that the particular activity is permitted is also considered shogeig. Even if a competent scholar was asked and he erred and permitted something forbidden, the action is still considered a violation and one may not benefit from the results until Shabbos is over (Magen Avraham 318:3). As I mentioned above, in any of these situations, one may use the item after Shabbos ends.

Example:

Devorah discovered that she prepared food on Shabbos in a way that the Torah prohibits. Since she was unaware of the halachah, this is an act of shogeig, and the food may be eaten after Shabbos, but not on Shabbos, according to Rabbi Yehudah.

An Intended Beneficiary

As I explained above, Rabbi Yehudah maintains that a person who desecrated Shabbos intentionally may never benefit from the result, while others may benefit after Shabbos. Is the halachah different when the item was made to benefit someone specific? For example, if a Jew cooked for a guest on Shabbos, may the guest eat the food after Shabbos is over?

Why should the intended beneficiary be treated more stringently than anyone else?

To understand the background behind this question, we need to clarify some related issues. I mentioned above that Rabbi Yehudah prohibits the sinner from ever using an item that resulted from his desecration. This rule is not limited to Shabbos, but also applies to other areas of halachah. Here is an example:

Ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah

Although prohibited substances that spill into food are sometimes nullified,this applies only when the mixture occurred inadvertently. One may not deliberately add prohibited food to kosher food in order to nullify the banned substance. This prohibition is called ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah. Bitul is something that happens after the fact and cannot serve as a premeditated solution.

What happens if someone intentionally added a proscribed ingredient? Is the food now prohibited?

Indeed, the person who added the forbidden component may not consume it. This law is derived from the rules of Shabbos. Just as the intentional Shabbos desecrator may not benefit from his misdeed, so, too, the deliberate contaminator of kosher food may not consume the mixture (Gittin 54b). Therefore, if the CIA (Cashrus Intelligence Agency) detects the misdeed, the perpetrator will be banned from benefiting from the resultant product.

Already Added

Because of the above rule, if an amount of non-kosher food too great to be nullified fell into food, one may not add extra kosher food or liquid in order to nullify the prohibited substance. This act is also prohibited under the heading of ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah. Here, too, someone who knows that this act is prohibited and intentionally added permitted food to nullify the forbidden component may not consume it because he violated ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 99:5). However, if he did this negligently, he may use the finished product.

All these rulings derive from the laws of Shabbos that we discussed before. The person who added the product intentionally, knowing that this is prohibited, is comparable to someone who knowingly desecrates Shabbos, and may not benefit from his misdeed. However, the person who was unaware that his act is prohibited qualifies as a shogeig and may use the product. (Note that although on Shabbos we sometimes make a distinction between using the food on Shabbos and using it after Shabbos, no such distinction applies in the case of ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah.)

The following case explains this last situation more clearly. Mrs. Smallminded discovers that she inadvertently added a non-kosher ingredient to the huge pot of soup she is preparing for a family simcha. Realizing her error, she calls her rav, who concludes that the ratio of kosher to non-kosher in her soup is insufficient and that therefore the soup is not kosher. Unwilling to discard all her efforts and ingredients, Mrs. Smallminded adds water to the soup until there is sufficient kosher product to nullify the non-kosher ingredients. As mentioned above, this act is prohibited as a violation of the rule ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah. If Mrs. Smallminded was unaware that she was forbidden to add water, she qualifies as shogeig and may eat the soup. However, if she was aware that this was prohibited and she intentionally ignored the halachah, she may not eat the food, for this would allow her to benefit from her deliberate misdeed.

What about Her Guests?

Let us assume that Mrs. Smallminded realized that she was not allowed to add water, but did so anyway. Later, she has pangs of conscience about her misdeed. As I mentioned above, Mrs. Smallminded may not eat the soup. What about her guests? May they eat the soup because the non-kosher ingredient is indeed bateil, or are they also prohibited from eating it?

The halachah is that the intended beneficiaries may not eat the soup. Since all of Mrs. Smallminded’s family members and guests are intended beneficiaries, none of them may eat the soup (Rashba, Toras HaBayis 4:3, page 32; Tur Yoreh Deah 99). However, some authorities contend that this applies only if those people knew that the water was being mixed in for their benefit, as I will explain.

Not Aware of the Bitul

This leads us to a new question: What if the intended beneficiaries did not know that the item was being added for their benefit?

Some authorities rule that in this last situation the intended beneficiary may use the product (Maharshal; Taz 99:10). However, many authorities conclude that they are still prohibited from using it. Furthermore, most rule that if a store added prohibited substances to kosher food in order to sell it to Jewish customers, no Jewish customers may consume the finished product since they are all considered intended beneficiaries (Shu’t Rivash #498; Rabbi Akiva Eiger). According to this, Mrs. Smallminded’s guests would be forbidden from eating her soup even though they were unaware of what she did.

You might ask, why are they being penalized from eating the luscious soup when they were completely unaware of her intent to violate the law? After all, not only did they not intentionally violate any laws, they did not even know what Mrs. Smallminded was doing in the kitchen!

The Overambitious Butcher

It is easiest to explain this ruling by examining a case discussed by earlier halachic authorities. A town butcher had mastered the proper skills to be a qualified shocheit, but had never passed the next step – being licensed to be a bodeik, the person who checks after the shechitah to ascertain that the animal contains no imperfections that render it tereifah. Nevertheless, this butcher-shocheit performed the shechitah and the bedikah himself, thereby overextending his “license.” The shaylah was whether the meat could be eaten anyway, based on the halachah that if one cannot perform bedikah the animal is ruled kosher, since most animals are kosher.

The posek of the generation, the Rivash, ruled that no one may eat the meat. Although it is indeed true that if a bedikah cannot be performed the meat is kosher, one may not intentionally forgo the bedikah. The Rivash forbids the meat of the above-mentioned butcher-shocheit because of the principle of ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah, and rules that no one may use the meat, since all of the butcher’s customers are intended beneficiaries of his violation. This is true even though the customers certainly did not want the butcher to forgo a proper bedikah. We see that when prohibited food is prepared for someone else, the authorities forbid the intended beneficiary from eating the food, even when he did not want the bitul to transpire.

An Intended Shabbos Beneficiary

Having established that mixing food in violation of halachah prohibits the resultant product, we now need to determine the law on Shabbos. Does halachah ban the intended beneficiary from benefiting from the item produced on Shabbos, even if he/she did not want the item prepared on Shabbos?

The late halachic authorities dispute this question, some contending that since one cannot use the item until Shabbos is over, there is less reason to prohibit the intended beneficiary (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 318:2, based on Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 99). Others conclude that food cooked on Shabbos for customers remains prohibited forever since they are all intended beneficiaries (Shu’t Ksav Sofer, Orach Chayim #50). If this question happens to you, I refer you to your rav or posek.

Answering Our Shaylos

At this point, let us try to resolve the different shaylos that I mentioned before.

Question #1: Cholent caper

Shimon negligently added spices to the cholent on Shabbos. Can his family still eat the cholent, or is it prohibited due to the prohibition of benefiting from melachah performed on Shabbos?

According to most authorities, the halachah follows Rabbi Yehudah and therefore this cholent would be prohibited, but only until Shabbos is over. However, some late authorities rule that, under extenuating circumstances, one may rely on those who accept Rabbi Meir’s more lenient approach (Mishnah Berurah 318:7). According to this approach, one could permit even Shimon to enjoy his cholent on Shabbos if there is not enough ready food for the family.

Question #2: Bad advice

Our second question was: “My main mutual fund has performed wonderfully over time and I am very satisfied with it. However, I recently read a transcript in which the fund manager, who is probably Jewish, referred to investment discussions with his staff on Friday night. I am concerned that I may be benefiting from chillul Shabbos that he performs in the course of researching venture possibilities for the fund. Must I pull my money out and look for another investment vehicle?”

Although we do not want to encourage anyone to desecrate Shabbos, there is, strictly speaking, no violation incurred in benefiting from this investment for an interesting reason. The prohibition of using something made on Shabbos applies only to an item that was actually created or transformed because of the desecration of Shabbos. Thus, the question applies to food made edible or clothing manufactured because of the Shabbos desecration. However, the fund manager’s desecrating Shabbos does not create any object, so that even the strictest opinion of Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar would not prohibit the money earned by the fund.

Notwithstanding that there is no halachic concern here, one is still entitled to discuss what is really a hashkafah question: Do I want to make profit that results, albeit only partly, from a Jew being mechaleil Shabbos? After all, Hashem provides livelihood and perhaps I should steer away from building my nest egg from someone’s chillul Shabbos. I refer our readers who might have such a question to their own rav.

Question #3: The unrepentant knitter

Now let us now examine our third case above: Yehudis has a non-observant family member who has knit a baby blanket on Shabbos. May Yehudis use the blanket?

Assuming we follow Rabbi Yehudah’s approach, the main question here is whether an intended beneficiary is prohibited forever from use of an item made in violation of Shabbos. Since most later authorities permit this benefit, I ruled that she could use the blanket.

Conclusion

Observing Shabbos is our acknowledgement that Hashem created everything and brought the Creation of the world to conclusion on the seventh day. Shabbos is His statement that His creating the world was complete, and our observing Shabbos recognizes this. When we bring our workweek to a close, we thereby note Hashem’s supremacy and the message of Shabbos. Unfortunately, not all our brethren understand this message, thus leading to many of the shaylos that we discussed in this article. We hope and pray that all Jews soon understand the full beauty of Shabbos.

 

My Vows I Shall Fulfill

It is rather obvious why we are studying this topic this week – since the laws pertaining to vows are the first subject mentioned in Parshas Matos.

Question #1: Quiz question

Can performing a mitzvah become a liability?

Question #2: Is this a “klutz question?”

What does it mean that I am doing something “bli neder?”

Question #3: A sixty-thousand-dollar question

Yankel asks: “When I attended a Gemara shiur on Nedarim, I got the impression that performing hataras nedarim requires having a talmid chacham deliberate over the specific neder, until he concludes that there are grounds to release the neder. This seems to have no relationship to what we do on Erev Rosh Hashanah.”

Question #4: A frum question

“My friend Billy Nader* says bli neder on almost everything. Is this being too frum?

Answer: What Is a Neder?

Someone who recites a vow, an oath or a pledge is required to fulfill it (see Bamidbar 30:3). By virtue of the vow, oath or pledge, one creates a Torah obligation on oneself that one is, otherwise, not required to observe. For example, someone who declares that he will begin studying daf yomi every day is now obligated to do so, even on a day when it is inconvenient. Similarly, one who pledges tzedakah at yizkor or pledges a contribution to a shul upon receiving an aliyah becomes fully obligated min haTorah to pay the donation. In the case of a pledge to tzedakah¸ one must redeem it as soon as practical; otherwise, one risks violating an additional prohibition, bal te’acheir leshalmo, do not delay paying it (Devarim 23:22), as I will soon explain.

In general, one should be careful not to make vows or pledges. For one thing, he has now created a stumbling block for himself; since he runs the risk that he will not observe his commitment (see Nedarim 20a, 22a). Furthermore, one has created an accusation against himself, for by committing to observe something that the Torah did not require, he implies that he is so skilled at observing mitzvos that he can add a few of his own. The Satan can now level accusations against his occasional laxities in a much stronger fashion (see Nedarim 22a, based on Mishlei 20:25). (There are a few circumstances in which one is encouraged to make vows, but we will leave that topic for a different time.) For this reason, it is better not to pledge to contribute to tzedakah — if you have the money available, donate it; if it is not currently available, don’t pledge it! (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 203:4). It is very important that gabayim be in the habit of declaring that people’s pledges are bli neder, and a similar wording should appear on pledge cards.

Different Types of Obligations

There are six main ways that one may create an obligation upon oneself either to fulfill something or to abstain from doing something.

(1) Nedarim, vows

A neder, a vow, in which one declares that something otherwise permitted is now prohibited — such as, declaring that certain foods are prohibited.

Example:

In her desire to keep to her diet, Yaffah states: “I am going to prohibit all chocolate on myself.” Yaffah has now created a neder, which prohibits her, min haTorah, from eating chocolate.

(2) Shavuos, oaths

A shavua, an oath, in which one swears to fulfill or refrain from some activity — such as swearing that one will fast on a certain day, or that one will say Tehillim every day.

Example:

To repair his somewhat sloppy record at making it to minyan every morning, Shachar swears a shavua that he will be in shul for shacharis for the next three days. Should he fail to to make it to shacharis any of those days, he will be breaking his shavua, which contravenes a Torah prohibition.

Whether a specific declaration constitutes a neder or a shavua depends on halachic technicalities, usually contingent on how one makes the declaration. Several halachic differences result from whether someone made a neder or a shavua, including that violating a shavua is a more serious infraction (Ran, Nedarim 20a). Later in this article I will mention another important difference between them.

(3) Kabbalos mitzvah, declaring that one will perform a good deed

Someone who declares: I will arise early and study this chapter or that mesechta has declared a great vow to the G-d of Israel (Nedarim 8a). Someone intending to perform an exemplary act who expresses these plans has now obligated himself, even though he did not use the terms “vow,” “oath,” or “pledge” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 213:2).

Example:

Asking others to say certain chapters of Tehillim can create a stumbling block. One should be certain to specify that they are accepting bli neder.

(4) Kabbalas tzedakah, intending to donate charity

In the specific instance of contributing tzedakah funds, even deciding to give to tzedakah without verbalizing one’s intention creates an obligation to donate tzedakah (Rama, Yoreh Deah 259:13; see also Choshen Mishpat 212:8; based on Shavuos 26b).

(5) Performing a stringency

Someone who is aware that performing a certain hiddur in halacha is not obligatory, and begins doing so, intending to observe it regularly, becomes required to continue the practice as a form of vow. It becomes a binding obligation, requiring hataras nedarim, annulling vows, even if the individual fulfilled the practice only one time, and even if he did not declare that he intends to continue the practice (Nedarim 15a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 214:1).

Examples:

Someone who begins standing during keriyas haTorah, intending to continue the practice, becomes obligated to do so, unless he specified that he is doing so bli neder. He should perform hataras nedarim at the first opportunity, so as to avoid violating the prohibition of abrogating observance of a vow.

A woman began lighting a third Shabbos candle in her own home after her first child was born, and then did so the first time she visited her parents’ house. This now became an obligation. She asked a shaylah what to do and was advised to make hataras nedarim on the practice of kindling a third light, and, certainly, when she is a guest in someone else’s home.

(6) Three times

Someone who performs a stringent practice three times without saying bli neder must continue to fulfill the hiddur, even if he did not necessarily plan to always observe it (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:7).

Saying “Bli Neder

Should I not observe hiddurim? I want to do these mitzvos, but I certainly do not want to be punished if I fail to continue performing them! How do I avoid becoming responsible?

To avoid creating this liability, someone expressing intent to perform a good deed should be careful to say that he/she is acting bli neder, without accepting it as a responsibility (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:4). Similarly, someone who begins practicing a halachic hiddur should say that he is not accepting it as a responsibility.

Example:

Hadassah decides that she will eat only glatt kosher meat or will use only cholov Yisroel products, both meritorious activities. She should state that she is doing it “bli neder.”

Similarly, when pledging money during Yizkor, while making a mishebeirach or making any other oral commitment to donate charity, one should be careful to say bli neder. When others are pledging to tzedakah and one feels pressured to participate, specify that the pledge is bli neder (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 257:4).

Saying “Bli Neder” Even for a Non-mitzvah

Some authorities recommend saying bli neder on all one’s activities, even those that do not fulfill a mitzvah, so that the habit helps prevent one from inadvertently creating nedarim (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:4).

Example:

Chavah tells her husband, “I am planning to go to exercise class this morning, bli neder.” Although the statement that she plans to exercise does not create any obligation on her part, habituating herself to say bli neder is a good practice to develop.

We can now answer one of the questions asked above. “I have a friend who says bli neder on almost everything. Is this being too frum?” The answer is that your friend is being astutely cautious and following the advice of halachic authorities.

Don’t Delay in Paying

In addition to the above-mentioned concerns involved in pledging tzedakah, the Gemara rules that the mitzvah of bal te’achar, not to delay the donation of a korban, applies also to tzedakah (Rosh Hashanah 6a). This means that someone who pledges money to a charitable cause is required to pay the pledge as soon as he can.

To quote the Rambam: Tzedakah is included in the laws of vows. Therefore, one who says “I am obligated to provide a sela coin to tzedakah” or “this sela shall go to tzedakah” must give it to poor people immediately. If he subsequently  delays redeeming the pledge, he violates bal te’achar, since he could have given it immediately since there are poor people around. If there are no poor people, he should set aside the money until he finds poor people. However, if, at the time of his pledge, he specified that he is not intending to redeem the pledge until he locates a poor person, he is not required to set aside the money (Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 8:1).

Someone who declares that he will give tzedakah to a certain poor person is not required to give the money, until he sees that person (Rama, Yoreh Deah 257:3). However, someone who pledged to contribute to deprived people, without qualifying which poor people he meant, is required to fulfill his pledge immediately (Mordechai, Bava Basra 491).

What Is Hataras Nedarim?

Now that we realize that the obligations included in making vows is rather extensive, we want to find out, quickly, how to release ourselves from these vows.

Chazal derive from the Torah that there is a way one can be absolved from a vow, pledge or other such commitment, which is called hataras nedarim. Performing hataras nedarim does not in the slightest way diminish the reward that one receives for the good deeds one performed. It simply removes the continuing obligation to perform the vow from the individual who created it. Therefore, in the vast majority of circumstances, someone who made a neder should perform hataras nedarim, so that he does not violate the neder (see Nedarim 22a).

How Does One Perform Hataras Nedarim?

First, the person who made the vow or other commitment goes to three Jewish men who understand the logic of halacha and know the basics of how hataras nedarim operates (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:1 and commentaries). These three form a type of ad hoc beis din for the purpose of releasing vows. One of the three should be a talmid chacham proficient in the laws of hataras nedarim, including which vows one may not annul (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:14; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:8).

The nodeir, the person who made the vow, shares with the three (or, at least, the talmid chacham who is proficient in the laws of nedarim) the content of the vow, oath, or good practice from which he desires release and why he seeks relief. The talmid chacham will ask the nodeir several questions that must be answered truthfully. The talmid chacham thereby determines whether or not there are valid grounds to release the nodeir from the commitment (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:14). Only a talmid chacham who understands the very complicated laws of vows should undertake hataras nedarim, because there are many details that must be met for the hataras nedarim to be valid. (The details of what does and what does not constitute an adequate basis for hataras nedarim are beyond the scope of this article.)

Assuming that the talmid chacham feels that there are adequate grounds for hataras nedorim, the beis din declares the neder or other commitment annulled, by declaring mutar lach, mutar lach, mutar lach – the activities prohibited by the vow are now permitted. Of course, in the case of a vow to do something, the words mutar lach mean the reverse — you are no longer obligated to carry out the vow.

Someone who violated his vow prior to performing hataras nedarim has indeed sinned, and is required to perform teshuvah for his or her infraction.

The Difference between a Neder and a Shavua

There is a halachic difference between performing hataras nedarim to release someone from the obligation he created with a neder, and between performing hatarah after someone recited a shavua. Whereas in most instances one should arrange to release someone from a neder, one annuls a shavua only under extenuating circumstances (Rama, Yoreh Deah 203:3; Rambam end of Hilchos Shavuos). Explaining why this is so will need to wait for a future article.

May I appoint an agent to perform hataras nedarim for me?

No, one must ask directly to the beis din to release oneself from vows (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:16). If the members of the beis din do not understand the language that the nodeir speaks, they may use an interpreter to facilitate communication (Rama ad loc.).

There is one instance in which someone may make an agent to release nedarim. Sometimes, a husband may act as an agent for his wife to annul her nedarim. If a husband finds three people already gathered together — for example, they were performing hataras nedarim for him or for someone else — he may act as his wife’s agent to ask them to release her from her neder at the same time, if she appointed him to do so on her behalf (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 234:56).

How does a woman perform hataras nedarim?

A woman who has a specific oath, vow, or practice from which she wishes release should arrange to perform hataras nedarim with a talmid chacham or beis din. As I mentioned above, if she is married, she may ask her husband to be her agent to perform hataras nedarim at a time when he is doing so for himself (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 234:56).

Hataras Nedarim on Erev Rosh Hashanah

At this point, we can address Yankel’s question:

“When I attended a Gemara shiur on Nedarim, I got the impression that performing hataras nedarim requires having a talmid chacham deliberate over the specific neder, until he concludes that there are grounds to release the neder. This seems to have no relationship to what we do on Erev Rosh Hashanah.”

Indeed, Yankel’s question is extremely valid: hataras nedarim requires that one mention, specifically, the vow from which one seeks redress, and the beis din must deliberate whether this particular neder can be revoked. It is, therefore, unclear whether the generic hataras nedarim recited on Erev Rosh Hashanah, indeed, releases one from any commitments. The proper thing to do is to mention to an appropriate beis din every specific neder or practice that one wants annulled.

Mesiras Modaah

The Gemara mentions that should one declare at the beginning of the year that all the vows one makes in the course of the year are invalid; this pronouncement has some value. This declaration is called a mesiras modaah. The Gemara concludes that this statement has only limited value, and one should not, intentionally, rely upon it. In point of fact, the standard hataras nedarim procedure performed on Erev Rosh Hashanah includes a mesiras modaah.

Kol Nidrei

The Rishonim dispute whether the purpose of Kol Nidrei that we recite at the beginning of our Yom Kippur service is also meant to be a form of hataras nedarim, performed at a time when virtually everyone is in shul to include the maximum number of people, or whether it is a mesiras modaah. It is for this reason that there are three different versions of the text: one that has kol nidrei refer to the past year’s declarations, which means that it is hataras nedarim; one that refers to the coming year’s declarations, which means that it is a mesiras modaah; and one that mentions both the past and the future years, which means that it is meant to accomplish both.

There is another interesting difference in halachic practice that results from this last dispute: Should the congregation recite Kol Nidrei together with the chazzan? If it is a mesiras modaah, then one must declare it oneself, and each individual should read the Kol Nidrei together with the chazzan. On the other hand, if it is a form of hataras nedarim, then it should be declared by the chazzan alone accompanied by the two honored men alongside him who hold the sifrei Torah, so that they form a beis din that is annulling everyone’s nedarim. The Mishnah Berurah (619: 2) rules that we should consider it a mesiras modaah, and therefore concludes that each individual should recite Kol Nidrei softly along with the chazzan.

Conclusion

Now that we realize how serious our speech can be, we should reflect not only on the ideas of nedarim, but also on all the ramifications of our speech. As the pasuk (Mishlei 18:21) states, maves vechayim beyad lashon, Life and death are controlled by our tongues!

*Obviously, this is not his real name, but a nickname.

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This Torah Article is Dedicated

Leilui Nishmas
Devorah bas Yaakov ע”ה
Olga Simons
By Her Granddaughter

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