The Halachos of Book, Wine, and Restaurant Reviews

The entire story of Yosef being sold to Egypt was a result of a “critical review…”

Photo by EmZed from FreeImages

Someone once sent me the following email with the following series of shaylos:

Dear Rabbi Kaganoff,

1. Is a person allowed to write balanced reviews of books? This question concerns hashkafah-type works, halachic works, self-help books, as well as novels.

Obviously, there are many halachic ramifications, including lashon hora, etc. I would specifically like to know if one is allowed to review unfavorably a work that the reviewer finds seriously lacking.

2. May one write reviews of other products, such as wine or restaurants?

3. If a person asks my opinion of a book, a wine, or a restaurant, may I answer truthfully, even if my personal negative opinion may result in the person choosing another product?

With much thanks in advance, Aaron Bernstein

Before I answer Aaron’s question, I must first present the halachos of lashon hora that apply here.

Saying something true that may damage someone’s professional or business reputation, or causes him financial harm, constitutes lashon hora, even when nothing negative is intended.[1] Thus, random schmoozing about the quality of different workmen’s skills, the halachic prowess of different talmidei chachomim, or the quality of education provided by a certain school constitutes lashon hora.

However, when I need certain information, I may ask people who might know. For example, if I need to have some home repairs performed, I may “ask around” what experience other people have had with various professionals. I should tell them why I need to know, and they should tell me only what is relevant to my needs.

Examples:

1. Gilah hired a home-improvement contractor who was skilled and efficient, but inexperienced in certain plumbing work. Ahuva asks Gilah whether the contractor was good. Gilah should reply that he was skilled and efficient, but does Ahuva intend to include any plumbing? If the reply is negative, Gilah should say nothing, since Ahuva understands that if she changes her mind and decides to include plumbing, she should discuss it with Gilah first. If the reply is that there is plumbing to be done, Gilah should tell her that the contractor’s work was excellent and efficient, but that he seemed somewhat inexperienced in plumbing. Gilah should suggest that, perhaps, by now he has the experience, and Ahuva also has the option to ask him to subcontract the plumbing.

2. Yaakov moves to a new neighborhood and asks Michael who the local poskim are. Michael can mention one, some, or all of the local available poskim, but should not mention any disqualifying factors about them, such as, Rabbi X is curt, Rabbi Y is very machmir, or Rabbi Z’s shiurim are unclear. Michael may ask Yaakov what qualities he is looking for in a rav and then make recommendations, based on Yaakov’s answer.

What if I know that the mechanic is dishonest?

Yitzchok and Esther just moved to my neighborhood and mention to me that they are planning to bring their car, which is making an unusual noise, to Gonif’s Service Station. I have found the proprietor of Gonif’s to be very dishonest. May I say something to Yitzchok and Esther?

The halacha is that not only may I say something to them, but I am obligated to do so.[2] This is because I am responsible to make sure that Yitzchok and Esther are not hurt financially by the crooked repair shop. This is included in the mitzvah of lo saamod al dam rei’echa, do not stand by idly while your friend becomes injured.[3]

However, exactly how I impart this information to Yitzchok and Esther depends on the circumstances.

Why is this so?

In any situation where I must protect someone from harm, whether it is a potentially harmful shidduch, damaging chinuch or a bad business deal, there are five rules that govern what I may say:

1. Is it bad?

Be certain that what may transpire (if I do not intercede) is, indeed, bad. Often, one assumes that something is worse than it really is. Later in this article, I will describe a case that appears bad, while halachically it is not considered so. In the case at hand, I am responsible to see that Yitzchok and Esther are not deceived by the repair shop. By warning them, I have fulfilled the first rule.

2. No exaggerating

Do not exaggerate, describing the situation as worse than it is. In this case, even if I need to describe Gonif’s dishonesty (which I can probably avoid, as we will explain later), I should describe only what I personally know, and I must be careful not to embellish or include hearsay.

3. Appropriate motivation

One’s motivation must be to protect the innocent person from harm, not to bring retribution on the person responsible for causing the harm. In our case, this means that my goal is to protect Yitzchok and Esther from harm, not to “get back” at Gonif’s. The reason for this condition is that one violates the prohibition of saying lashon hora if one has evil intent, even in a case when one may otherwise transmit the information.[4]

4. No other choice

Can I accomplish what I need to without saying lashon hora? The answer to this question depends on the situation. What do I need to accomplish? In the case of the crooked repair shop, my goal is that Yitzchok and Esther not be victimized by the shop. I can accomplish this in several different ways, some of which do not require tarnishing the repair shop’s reputation. For example, if Yitzchok and Esther will heed my advice to take their car to “Careful and Honest Repairs” instead, I have no need to tell them that Gonif’s is a dishonest shop. In this instance, I have accomplished my purpose, without mentioning the dishonest acts I have witnessed.

5. Too damaging

Will the result of my sharing the negative information be more harmful to the perpetrator than what he should suffer according to halacha? For example, I know that Reuven’s professional work is sometimes substandard, and I discover that Shimon, who is known to back out on deals he has committed to, contracted Reuven to do work. Although under other circumstances I would not only be permitted, but even required, to notify someone of Reuven’s lack of professional skill, in this situation, I may not notify Shimon, because he may back out on Reuven in a way that contravenes halacha.

When is something not really bad?

In condition #1 above, I mentioned that there are situations that someone considers bad, but which are not considered bad, according to halacha. The background behind this shaylah will impact directly on our original shaylah about reviewing books, wines, and restaurants.

What is an example of this situation?

Chani sees Miriam, who is new in the neighborhood, about to enter a grocery store that Chani knows is expensive. May Chani tell Miriam that groceries in this store might cost more than at the competition? The Chafetz Chayim rules that one may not reveal this information.[5]

Why is it not permitted to save Miriam from overpaying?

The Chafetz Chayim rules that overpaying slightly for an item is not considered a “bad thing,” provided the storekeeper is within the halachic range of what he may charge. (A full explanation of how much the storekeeper may charge is beyond the focus of this article.)

Why is being overcharged not considered being harmed?

Since the storekeeper who charges higher prices is not doing anything halachically wrong, one may not hurt his livelihood by encouraging someone to purchase elsewhere. And if one does, this is lashon hora, which includes hurting someone’s livelihood.

Thus, there is a major difference between a dishonest repair shop and one that is more expensive. It is a mitzvah to steer someone away from a dishonest store, but it is forbidden to steer him away from a Jewish store that charges more, when the store is halachically permitted to do so.

What happens if someone moves to town and asks me where he can find kosher groceries?

You should tell him which local groceries sell kosher products that have the hechsherim he wants. You do not need to supply a complete list of the stores in the neighborhood, but it is permissible to mention only the stores that are less expensive. However, you may not tell him which stores are more expensive.

If someone knows that a third party plans to purchase an item from a store that tends to be expensive, do not say anything. Even though the purchaser could save money by buying elsewhere, the storekeeper is losing from your actions. One should not get involved in saving one person’s money at someone else’s expense.[6] However, if the proprietor of the store is not an observant Jew or not Jewish, you may tell the purchaser that there is a less expensive place to make his purchase.

On the other hand, if the storekeeper is doing something that is halachically prohibited, such as selling defective or misrepresented products, you should warn a person intending to make a purchase there.

Book reviews

With this background, we can now discuss Aaron Bernstein’s first shaylah: “Is a person allowed to write balanced reviews of books?”

What does the review accomplish?

This depends on the type of book being reviewed. Let us begin with one category: Jewish novels.

Why do secular sources review books?

So that people can decide whether they will enjoy the book, and whether they should spend the money to purchase it.

May I do this? What “harm” am I protecting someone from by telling him to avoid purchasing this book? On the other hand, by warning people away from the book, I am hurting the livelihood of those who have invested time and money, intending that this book will provide them parnasah.

This is parallel to the case where one Jewish storeowner, in his desire to make a living, charges a bit more than his competitors. The halacha there is that I may not tell someone to avoid his store, since I am harming the storekeeper. Similarly, I may not tell people to save money by avoiding the purchase of a book. One may, however, publish a review that describes the positive aspects of a book.

Of course, this means that the most standard book reviews and other reviews common in secular circles contravene halachic guidelines. One may include a book review column only if it merely informs people of new publications, but does not provide negative critical review.

However, if a work contains flaws in hashkafah, one is required to refute the author’s mistakes.

Similarly, if a halacha work is flawed, one should write a review to clarify that the work contains errors.

Example:

Many years ago, I was asked by a well-known Jewish publication to review a particular halachic work. When I read the work, I felt it sorely lacking in certain areas — particularly hashkafah, and that it could easily be used as a resource for someone who would then behave in a questionable or non-halachic fashion. I pointed out these concerns of mine in the review, because, in this situation, it was very important to avoid serious halachic mishaps.

If the work reflects an approach to halacha different from one’s own, then it depends: if the halacha quoted is reliable, one may draw the reader’s attention to the fact that it reflects a different halachic approach.

Now we can look at the second question:

“2. May one write reviews of other products, such as wine or restaurants?”

We already know the answer to this question. If the purpose of the review is to discourage people from buying a product or eating in a restaurant, one may not write the review. But one may publish a review that contains the positive aspects of the product.

What if someone asks me my opinion of a certain wine or restaurant?

If you have a poor opinion of the wine, restaurant or book, you should inquire, “What are you looking for?” Then, when the questioner clarifies what he wants, direct him to the product that most satisfies his needs and interests. If the wine or restaurant in question may not be what he wants, explain to him what aspects would meet his needs, and what might not. This is permitted, because they have come to you to ask for information about the item. However, one may not simply put this information in the media for everyone, including readers who have no need of, or interest in, the information.

For example, you do not have a positive opinion of a restaurant. Why? You think the service is poor. Would that be a factor to this person? If you are not certain, but you think there are other redeeming reasons why this person may want to eat there anyway, say it in a way that does not reflect too negatively upon the restaurant, such as, “Once, when I was there, the service was a bit slow. But I don’t dine there very often.”

One of the rabbonim to whom I sent this article for his opinion wrote me the following: “I don’t agree with what you wrote about restaurants. If one has a criticism that doesn’t necessarily make it an undesirable place for the one asking, I think that it is better to just say that ‘I don’t go there too often.’ The person won’t suffer by trying, and he will decide if he is happy with it.”

Could there be a frum kosher wine review?

Possibly, but only if its readership was limited to people who are shopping for wines and looking for advice.

Consumer Reports

According to halacha, may one publish a magazine like Consumer Reports?

Although the editors of this magazine have not sought my opinion, I think that they may publish the results of their research, if it is read only by people interested in purchasing these items and not by a general audience.

In conclusion, we see that the halachic approach to this entire issue is very different from that of contemporary society. We must remember that we examine our behavior through the prism of halacha and not from that of society.


[1] Rambam, Hilchos Dei’os 7:5

[2] Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 9:1

[3] See Be’er Mayim Chayim ad loc.

[4] See Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 9:3

[5] Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus, 9:27

[6] See Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 9:27 and commentaries

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Using Hashem’s Name

The posuk in parshas Vayeishev (Bereishis 39:3) says that Yosef’s master, Potifar, recognized that Hashem was with Yosef. Rashi, quoting the Bereishis Rabbah, explains that this means that Yosef frequently referred to Hashem, thus introducing our topic for this week.

Question #1: Nasty Neighbor

Mrs. Goodhearted asks: “I have a disturbed neighbor who often spews out abusive invective. I am concerned that her cursing may bring evil things upon me. What should I do?”

Question #2: A Friend in Vain

Mr. Closefriend inquires: “A close friend of mine often makes comments like ‘for G-d’s sake,’ which I know are things that we should avoid saying. I wanted my friend to be one of the witnesses at my wedding, but an acquaintance mentioned that my friend may not be a kosher witness because he uses G-d’s name in vain. Is this really true?”

Introduction

Although both words “swear” and “curse” are often used to mean “speaking vulgar language,” for this entire article, I will not be using these words in this sense, but “swear” in the sense of “taking an oath,” and “curse” to mean “expressing desire that misfortune befall someone.”

Ten prohibitions

The Rambam counts a total of thirteen different mitzvos, ten mitzvos Lo Sa’aseh and three mitzvos Aseh, which are included within the context of our discussion. The ten Lo Sa’aseh prohibitions are:

  1. Not to break an oath or commitment that one has made. The Torah’s commandment concerning this law is located at the beginning of parshas Matos. It is counted and discussed in the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos as Lo Sa’aseh #157 and in the Sefer Hachinuch as Mitzvah #407.
  2. Not to swear falsely (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #61; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #227). This is derived from the words, lo sishav’u bishmi lashaker, “you shall not swear falsely in My Name,” which appear in parshas Kedoshim.
  3. Not to deny, with an oath, that one owes money. This mitzvah is also located in parshas Kedoshim and is derived from the words lo seshakru ish ba’amiso, “do not lie to your fellowman,” which Chazal interpret as a prohibition against swearing a false oath denying that one owes money (Bava Kama 105b; Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #249; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #226).
  4. Not to swear an oath that has no purpose (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #62; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #30). This mitzvah is derived from the words of the Aseres Hadibros: You shall not take the Name of Hashem, your G-d, in vain.
  5. Not to cause someone to swear in the name of an idol (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #14; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #86). This mitzvah is derived from the words, vesheim elohim acheirim… lo yishama al picha, “You should not cause the names of other gods to be used in an oath” in parshas Mishpatim (23:13; see Sanhedrin 63b).
  6. Not to curse Hashem (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #60; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #70).
  7. Not to curse one’s parents (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #318).
  8. Not to curse the king of the Jewish people or the head of the Sanhedrin, who is called the Nasi (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:1; Sefer Hamitzvos 316; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #71). This mitzvah is derived from the words, venasi be’amecha lo sa’or in parshas Mishpatim.
  9. Not to curse a dayan, a judge presiding over a beis din proceeding (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #315; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #69; Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:1). This mitzvah is derived from the words, Elohim lo sekaleil in parshas Mishpatim.
  10. Not to curse any Jew (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:1; Sefer Hamitzvos 317; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #231). This mitzvah is also derived from a verse in parshas Kedoshim, since it is included under the Torah prohibition do not curse someone deaf. As the Sefer Hachinuch explains the mitzvah, “do not curse any Jewish man or woman, even one who cannot hear the curse.”

Four in one

We should note that the above-mentioned mitzvos are not mutually exclusive, and one could violate several of them at the same time. For example, the son of the Nasi of the Sanhedrin who curses his father violates four different Lo Sa’aseh prohibitions: for cursing (1) a Jew, (2) his father, (3) a dayan, (4) the head of the Sanhedrin (Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #231).

As we will see shortly, violating most of these prohibitions is punishable by 39 malkus, lashes (Temurah 3b). This is highly surprising, since usually violating a Torah mitzvah through speech does not lead to this sentence (Temurah 3a). However, these laws are exceptions to the usual rule, which demonstrates the severity of these prohibitions.

Three positive mitzvos

In addition to the ten Lo Sa’aseh mitzvos that this topic covers, there are also three positive mitzvos involved:

1. A mitzvah to fulfill something that one has accepted to do, located at the beginning of parshas Matos (Sefer Hamitzvos, Mitzvas Aseh #94; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah # 406).

2. Fearing Hashem, which includes treating His Name with respect (see Temurah 4a).

3. The Rambam counts a positive mitzvah of taking an oath (Sefer Hamitzvos #7).

What does a curse accomplish?

At this point, I would like to explain a very important and often misunderstood concept. When someone curses an innocent person, the curse causes no harm. To quote Rav Moshe Feinstein, “when someone curses his fellowman, the prohibition is not because it causes harm to the other person. First of all, Heaven will ignore a curse that was performed in violation of the Torah. Second of all, a curse without basis does not bring harm.” Rav Moshe refers to the verse in Mishlei (26:2): an unjustified curse affects only the one who uttered it. a curse of this nature causes no harm.”

Furthermore, even the curses and evil intended by sorcerers (kishuf) do not affect Jews, since we are directly connected to Hashem, and therefore not affected by kishuf (Ramban, Bamidbar 24:23).

Rav Moshe concludes that although a curse of this nature does no harm to its intended target, the one who cursed a fellow Jew is punished because he embarrassed someone, and because he acted with disdain for Hashem’s Holy Name.

Based on this, Rav Moshe explains that there is a difference in halacha between cursing someone else and cursing oneself. When the Gemara (Shavuos 35a) states that cursing oneself is prohibited min HaTorah, Rav Moshe explains that, in this instance, the sinful act of cursing will bring upon himself punishment and harm (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:78).

Based on Rav Moshe’s analysis of the mitzvah, we can now understand several other halachos of cursing. Cursing a child old enough to understand what was said is liable to the same level of punishment as cursing an adult. This is because it is prohibited to hurt a child’s feelings, just as it is forbidden to insult an adult. However, cursing a dead person is exemptfrom the punishment of malkus (Toras Kohanim on Parshas Kedoshim; Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:1-2). This is because the dead feel no pain when someone curses them.

In one situation, cursing a dead person is indeed punished — cursing one’s parents after their demise is a fully culpable crime (Sanhedrin 85b, quoted by Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:2).

Cursing without using Hashem’s Name

Cursing a person without using G-d’s Name does not incur the punishment of malkus. However, the beis din has the halachic right and responsibility to punish the offender in a way that they feel is appropriate (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:5).

Having seen Rav Moshe’s explanation of the mitzvah, we can now explain why someone who curses without using Hashem’s name is not liable. The most severe violation, which incurs the punishment of malkus, is violated only if one committed both aspects of the sin – he demonstrated total disregard both for G-d and for man, by desecrating G-d’s Name and by offending someone. However, one who cursed without desecrating Hashem’s Name is spared from receiving corporeal chastisement, because his infringement was not of the highest level.  This is similar to cursing a dead person, as explained above.  Although Hashem’s Name has been desecrated, no living person is offended; hence, there is no malkus.

At this point, we can address our first question above. Mrs. Goodhearted asks: “I have a disturbed neighbor who often spews out abusive invective. I am concerned that her cursing may bring evil things upon me. What should I do?”

I would advise her to avoid her neighbor when she can, but for a different reason. Mrs. Goodhearted is concerned that she will be damaged by the neighbor’s curses – but according to Rav Moshe, there is no cause for concern. However, if her neighbor is sane enough to be responsible for her actions, the neighbor will be punished for cursing and for hurting people’s feelings. Mrs. Goodhearted should try to avoid giving her neighbor an opportunity to sin.

Cursing in English

Does cursing using G-d’s Name in a language other than Hebrew violate this prohibition? The Rambam rules that cursing someone using a vernacular Name of G-d is also prohibited min haTorah and is chayov malkus (Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:3; see also Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 27:1).

What type of oath?

Having discussed the prohibitions against cursing one’s fellow Jew, let us now discuss the prohibitions against swearing in vain. What type of oath did the Torah prohibit taking?

In general, the Torah prohibits taking any type of oath, even when the oath is true, because it is an oath that has no purpose (Temurah 3b). For example, someone who swears truthfully that he did not eat anything today violates the Lo Sa’aseh, You shall not take Hashem’s Name in vain, since this oath accomplishes nothing.

Someone who swears an oath that is false, such as one who falsely swears that he did not eat breakfast that day, violates both the proscription for swearing a false oath and also for swearing a vain oath, since it serves no purpose.

Two exceptions

There are two instances when the Torah permits someone to swear a truthful oath (Temurah 3b). This is derived from the fact that the Torah says in two different places (Devarim 6:13; 10:20), uvishmo tishavei’a. We will see shortly that the halachic authorities dispute whether the words uvishmo tishavei’a should be translated as “in His Name you shall swear” or as “in His Name you may swear.”

Encouraging mitzvah observance

What are the two exceptional instances in which the Torah permits swearing?

(1) The first is when someone swears an oath as an incentive to support his efforts at growth and self-improvement. One may take an oath to encourage himself to perform a mitzvah that he might otherwise not perform (Temurah 3b). For example, one may swear to donate to tzedakah or to say a chapter of Tehillim every day.

Bear in mind that in general, although permitted, it is not a good idea to create oaths or vows upon oneself (see Nedarim 22a). Someone who takes an oath or a vow is now bound to observe it, and failure to do so is a grievous sin. Therefore, although reciting such an oath (that has a purpose) does not violate the Torah’s prohibition against taking Hashem’s Name in vain, it is usually recommended not to do so.

A better approach is to accept the new practice bli neder, which means that one is hoping and planning on it, but without the obligation and inherent problem of making it an obligation on the level of a shavua or a neder, a vow.

When required in litigation

(2) The second situation in which the Torah permits swearing an oath is within the framework of halachic litigation. There are instances in which the psak halacha, the final ruling of a beis din, requires a litigant to take an oath in order to avoid paying or to receive payment. When the beis din rules that one is required to take an oath, the Gemara (Temurah 3b) concludes that the person swearing does not violate the Torah’s prohibition against swearing unnecessarily.

Permitted or a mitzvah?

It is important to note that in this last situation, the authorities dispute whether the halacha is that one may take an oath, but there is no mitzvah to do so, and we would discourage the oath, or whether, in this situation, it is a mitzvah to swear an oath. The Rambam (Hilchos Shavuos 11:1 and Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvah #7) contends that someone who swears because of a din Torah fulfills a positive mitzvah of the Torah, uvishmo tishavei’a, “in His Name you shall swear.” Others contend that this verse means simply “in His Name you may swear,” but that there is never a mitzvah of taking an oath (Ramban, Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvah #7). Still others contend that even though the verse says, “in His Name you may swear,” this does not mean it is permitted to swear, but that one who swears is not punished for taking an oath (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #90). However, this last authority contends that one should avoid taking an oath even under these circumstances, and thereby explains why the custom is to pay large fees or fines rather than swear an oath that is fully truthful.

Testimony without oaths

It is worthwhile to note that testimony in halacha does not require one to swear an oath. This can be juxtaposed to the secular legal system, in which one must take an oath or pledge; otherwise, one’s testimony cannot be considered perjury. This is not true in halacha. A Jew’s word is sacrosanct, and any time he testifies or makes a claim in court, whether as a litigant, a witness or an attorney, he is halachically bound to tell only the truth. It is therefore a serious infraction of the Torah for someone to file a legal brief that includes false statements. In addition, filing these statements may involve many other violations, including loshon hora, rechilus, motzi shem ra, machlokes and arka’os.

Oath without G-d

Does swearing an oath without mentioning Hashem’s Name qualify as an oath? This question is discussed extensively by the rishonim, who conclude that someone who commits himself to doing (or refraining from doing) something, using terminology that implies an oath, is now bound to observe the pledge, whether or not he mentioned Hashem’s Name (Rambam, Hilchos Shavuos 2:4; Rashba, Shavuos 36a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 137:1). Nevertheless, according to most authorities, swearing an oath that mentions Hashem’s Name is a more serious Torah violation (Rambam, Hilchos Shavuos 2:4).

Taking Hashem’s Name in vain

It is also prohibited min haTorah to use Hashem’s Name unnecessarily, even when one is not taking an oath. This is prohibited as a mitzvas Aseh, since it violates the words of the Torah, es Hashem Elokecha tira, “You shall fear Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 6:13). Thus, it is prohibited min haTorah for someone to say as an expletive, “For G-d’s sake,” “Oh, my G-d in Heaven” or similar exclamations.

In this context, the following halachic question is raised:

“Is there anything wrong with saying: ‘Just as G-d is True, so this is true!’ Does halacha consider this to be an oath?”

This question is discussed almost five hundred years ago by the Radbaz (Shu”t #17), who writes that these types of declarations are serious infractions of the Torah and are considered blasphemous. Anyone who makes such statements should be severely reprimanded and punished, so that he realizes how sinful this is and will take it upon himself to do teshuvah on his crime. The Radbaz states that it is very wrong to compare the existence and truth of anything else to Hashem’s existence and truth. Furthermore, someone who makes such a declaration about a falsehood denies the Creator and forfeits his share in the World to Come.

A friend in vain

At this point, we have enough information to examine Mr. Closefriend’s question posed above:

“A close friend of mine often makes comments like ‘for G-d’s sake,’ which I know are things we should avoid saying. I wanted my friend to be one of the witnesses at my wedding, but an acquaintance mentioned that my friend may not be a kosher witness, because he uses G-d’s name in vain. Is this really true?”

Although Mr. Closefriend should convince his close friend that this irreverent referring to Hashem and His holy Name is prohibited, this use does not qualify as making an oath in vain, but as a violation of the mitzvas Aseh of fearing Hashem (Temurah 4a). As such, there is a difference in halacha:

Two categories of people are disqualified as witnesses because they are sinners.

One is someone who has demonstrated that he will compromise halacha for monetary benefit (Rambam, Hilchos Edus 10:4).

The other category is someone who violates a sin so severe that, during the time of the Sanhedrin, he could be punished with malkus (Rambam, Hilchos Edus 10:1-3; Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh 286; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 75). Therefore, someone who curses people using G-d’s Name or one who swears is not a valid witness at a wedding ceremony. However, although it is highly sinful to violate mitzvos Aseh, one who violates them is not invalidated as a witness.

Conclusion

In addition to the above-mentioned reasons why one should be careful how and when one uses Hashem’s Name, the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 231) mentions other reasons not to curse people. Cursing creates conflict, something we certainly want to avoid.  Furthermore, we want to learn to develop our self-control.

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The Paw, the Jaw and the Maw

When Yaakov sent Eisav all those animals, he did not include instructions that the kosher ones required giving certain parts to a kohein. So, we need to fill in the rest of the picture.

Question #1: Four leg or foreleg?

Why does the kohein receive the femur, if, in any instance, we are accustomed not to eat the hindquarters?

Question #2: Tongue in cheek!

Can the kohanim really corner the market on kosher tongue?

Question #3: The jaw and the maw!

How many of a cow’s stomachs does a kohein receive?

Introduction:

There are a total of 24 different gifts that the Torah requires be given to the kohein (Chullin 132b). Many of these, such as bikkurim and the meat and hides from various korbanos, are applicable only when we have the Beis Hamikdash. Others, such as terumah, pertain only to produce that grows in Eretz Yisroel, or, because of a rabbinic requirement, on lands near Eretz Yisroel, such as Egypt and Jordan. On the other hand, other mitzvos, such as pidyon haben, challah, petter chamor (the redemption of a firstborn donkey) and the firstborn kosher animal, are relevant everywhere and at all times. Although challah is applicable everywhere today, since a kohein may eat challah only when he is tahor, prevalent practice is that it is burnt or allowed to spoil, rather than given to a kohein. Therefore, in the contemporary world, the kohein does not end up benefiting from this mitzvah.

Among the gifts the kohein receives are three parts of every slaughtered animal. (As we shall see later, whether this mitzvah applies only in Eretz Yisroel or also in chutz la’aretz is the subject of a dispute between Tanna’im.) The pasuk states: “And this shall be the allocation to which the kohanim are entitled of the people, from those who slaughter animals, whether species of cattle or of flock: they must give the kohein the zero’a (the arm), the lecha’ya’yim (the cheeks or jaws) and the keivah (the fourth of an animal’s stomachs, called the abomasum)” [Devorim 18:3]. We will discuss shortly exactly what parts are included in “the arm, the cheeks and the abomasum.”

Of the people

The pasuk leads us to several questions that we will address. Why does it emphasize that the kohanim receive these gifts because they “are of the people”? It would be highly unusual for the animals themselves to give these portions to the kohein, or for anyone other than “people” to do so!

I will answer this question shortly, but will first present a different, but related, issue. Does the mitzvah of giving away the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah apply to a kohein’s own animal? In other words, must a kohein give the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah to another kohein?

The Tosefta (Peah 2:13) states that not only may a kohein keep the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah for himself, but a Levi, also, may keep them for himself. The Gemara (Chullin 131a) cites that the great amora,Rav, was uncertain as to whether the Levi is obligated to give zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah or not.

Why does the Tosefta exempt a Levi from giving zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah?

In true Jewish style, we are going to answer this question with a question: Why does it emphasize that the kohanim receive these because they “are of the people”?

The answer is that the word the Torah uses for “of the people”, העם, am, implies “the common people,” not the top echelons of the Jewish people, who are always called Bnei Yisroel.The pasuk implies that the mitzvah to give zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah applies only to the “commoners.” A Levi may contend that he is not part of the “ordinary” people, but of special stock. Thus, the word עם, in this pasuk, should probably not be translated as “the people,” but the “common people.”

By the people

Who is obligated to perform this mitzvah?

The pasuk states that the mitzvah is observed by “those who slaughter animals,” implying that it is the shocheit who is obligated to perform the mitzvah. But, is it not the owner of the animal who is obligated to give away part of his animal to a kohein, and not the person he hired to shecht it for him?

The Gemara rules that the obligation of the mitzvah falls on the shocheit, even when someone else owns the animal (Chullin 132a). On the other hand, the owner of the animal, not the shocheit, has the right to choose which kohein or kohanim receive the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah (Tosefta, Peah 2:13; Rema, Yoreh Deah 61:28). In other words, whereas the owner may decide which kohein receives the matanos, the shocheit is the one who actually presents them. He asks the owner to which kohein he should give them (Taz, Yoreh Deah 61:29 and Pri Megadim ad loc.).

If the owner of the animal has a grandson who is a kohein, he may instruct the shocheit to give the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah to his grandson.

For the people

What if there is no kohein nearby when I shecht the animal? This question was a more acute problem in the era before refrigeration, particularly in hot climates where meat will spoil if it is not consumed immediately after slaughter (unless salted heavily). The Tosefta explains that if no kohein is available, the Yisroel should evaluate what the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah of this animal are worth and keep them for himself, and then compensate a kohein, when he locates one, the value of the three pieces of meat (Chullin 9:7).

Share the wealth!

Although the Torah mentions giving three different parts of the animal, the act is counted as only one mitzvah — by the Rambam as mitzvas aseih #143 and by the Sefer Hachinuch as mitzvah #506. Notwithstanding that giving the three parts constitutes one mitzvah, they may be given to more than one kohein, as the Gemara states: Rav Chisda says, “The zero’a to one, the lecha’ya’yim to two and the keivah to one,” which means that the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah are divided to be given to a total of four different kohanim.

The Gemara then challenges Rav Chisda: “Is this really true? Did not Rav Yitzchak bar Yosef teach that, in Eretz Yisroel, the practice is to divide the zero’a into its two component bones,” giving each one (with its attached meat) to a different kohein! Thus, the custom in Eretz Yisroel was to divide the zero’a between two different kohanim, unlike Rav Chisda’s ruling.

The Gemara answers that when giving the zero’a from a bull, each bone and the meat on that bone may be given to a different kohein – thus, you are splitting the zero’a between two kohanim. Rav Chisda was discussing a sheep, goat or calf, which are much smaller, where splitting the zero’a between two kohanim would provide each kohein with a portion too small to be a meaningful gift (Chullin 132b; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 61:9). Thus, when donating matanos of a bull, they can be given to five different kohanim, and when donating those of a smaller animal, they can be given to four kohanim.

Dividing the matanos

The Rambam permits giving all three matanos to the same kohein (Hilchos Bikkurim 9:17). Although, in general, the Gemara discourages giving all of one’s matanos to the same kohein, preferring that one “spread the wealth” among the kohanim, this applies only when all of one’s matnos kehunah are provided to the same individual. However, giving the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah to one kohein, while giving terumah to a different kohein, is certainly not a problem, even should one always give the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah to the same kohein (Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 61:15), and certainly not a concern if done on an occasional basis.

Fowl play!

Does this mitzvah apply to fowl?

The Mishnah (Chullin 11:1) indicates that it does not. The wording of the Mishnah is that “the mitzvah of zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah has a stringency over the mitzvah of reishis hageiz, in that zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah apply to cattle and flock… whereas reishis hageiz applies only to sheep.” This is implied by the pasuk when it rules that the mitzvah applies to “species of cattle or of flock.” In other words, when shechting a bird, there is no mitzvah to give away part of it, and all a kohein can do is “cry fowl!”

What’s gnu?

The inference of the Gemara (Chullin 132a, 135a; see also, Rashi, Devorim 18:3) and the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 61:17) is that the mitzvah of zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah does not apply to chayos, including, for example, deer, giraffe, pronghorn and wildebeest. Again, this is implied by the pasuk, when it states that the mitzvah applies to species of cattle or of flock. So, now you know that the next time you shecht a giraffe, you can keep and pickle that long tongue for yourself!

Barbecued and with mustard!

The kohein is supposed to eat these parts as would a wealthy man. The Gemara suggests that he “barbecue them and eat them with mustard” (Bechoros 27a). These are not requirements, but suggestions: they should be eaten in a royal, honorable manner.

One or two?

Why is the word zero’a, foreleg, in the Torah singular and lecha’ya’yim plural? Obviously, since an animal has only one keivah, this word must be singular – but an animal has two forelegs and four jaw bones, an upper one and a lower one on each side. So why does the Torah teach that the kohein receives zero’a (singular) and lecha’ya’yim (plural)?

The answer is that the kohein receives only one of the two forelegs, and the conclusion is that he receives the right foreleg, which corresponds to the human right arm (Tosefta, Chullin 9:12; Chullin 134b). We will discuss shortly how much of this foreleg he receives. But the kohein receives both jaws, right and left, and everything included, as we will soon see.

Four leg or foreleg?

At this point, let us examine our opening question: “Why does the kohein receive the femur, if, in any instance, we are accustomed not to eat the hindquarters?”

Our questioner has erred, not realizing that although animals have four legs, they are not equivalent. The femur is the extension of the hind leg, corresponding to the human thigh bone. Just as we have no femur in our anterior appendages, which we refer to as our hands and arms, neither do animals. Thus, the answer to this question is that the zero’a is a foreleg and not in the hindquarters, and, in fact, has no femur.

An arm and a leg?

How much of the animal’s foreleg does the kohein get? The Mishnah (Chullin 134b) teaches that it includes from the “joint of the arkuvah until the palm of the foreleg.” From the Mishnah’s description, we know that one border is a joint; but which joint? If you look at the foreleg of an animal, you will notice that it has several joints. Cattle have no fingers, but, from the ground up, the bones of an animal’s joint can be described as the phalanges (corresponding to the human fingers), the metacarpus (the hand), the carpus (the wrist), the radius and ulna (which together form the lower arm), the humerus (the upper arm) and the shoulder blade. The bones at the very bottom have no meat (“muscle” and “meat” are two ways of referring to the same thing) attached to them; as we go up the leg, the meat increases, both in quality and quantity.

What is the joint of the arkuvah?

The Gemara (Chullin 76a, 122b) uses an expression arkuvah hanimkeres im harosh, which literally means “the joint sold with the head.” This market term meant that parts of the animal that contain little in the way of edible meat were sold together. Just as the head contains little muscle, the bones beyond this joint contain little meat and were sold “together with the head.”

The early authorities dispute what is included in this gift to the kohein; in other words, what is meant by the Mishnah’s words: From the joint of the arkuvah until the palm of the foreleg. There are three basic opinions:

1. According to the Rambam, the kohein receives the metacarpus and the radius/ulna bones and the meat attached to them. Unless you are a veterinarian or a butcher, you are not familiar with these as cuts of meat. Even in large cattle, there is no meat to speak of on the metacarpus, and little meat on the radius/ulna; what is there is usually thrown into the butcher’s ground beef pile.

2. According to the Shulchan Aruch, the two parts are the humerus and the radius/ulna. The metacarpus is considered beyond the palm of the foreleg, and the the perek shel arkuvah is the shoulder blade. The muscle on the humerus does include some quality meat that is considered shoulder roast or shoulder steak – not as good as ribeye or brisket, but certainly quality meat cuts.

Both opinions we have quoted above contend that the zero’a includes two bones and the meat on those bones, and the Tosefta (Chullin 9:3) adds also the joint above the bone.

3. According to the disciples of the Vilna Gaon, he held that the mitzvah included only one bone and the meat on that bone.

The halacha is that the kohein receives the bone, plus the meat attached to it.

JAWS!

The pasuk said “jaws” plural, which could mean two jaw bones, or all four. This is the subject of an ancient dispute among halachic authorities, since the Targum Yonasan explains that the kohein receives both the upper and lower jaw, an approach to which the Vilna Gaon concurs, maintaining that this is the correct girsa in the Sifrei (Shoftim #165). Those who rule this way, which include the Gra and the Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 61:12), conclude that the kohein receives both sides of the upper jaw in addition to the lower jaw. This approach means that the kohein receives all of the “cheek meats” of the animal.

However, most poskim (Rashi, Chullin 134b, s.v. haperek shel lechi; Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 61:5; Yad Efrayim to Yoreh Deah 61:3) rule that the kohein receives only the lower jaw, and this is the girsa that we have in the Sifrei. According to this approach, the kohein receives only the meat attached to the lower jaw, but not what is attached to the upper jaw.

Jawed down

How much is included with the lecha’ya’yim? The Mishnah states that it includes from “the joint of the jaw until the pikah of the throat” (Chullin 134b). The “pikah” is the top of the trachea (see Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 61:5). The lecha’ya’yim includes, therefore, the tongue, some meat, hide, bone, hair, and, on sheep, a small amount of wool (Chullin 134b).

Since the lower jaw includes the tongue (Rashi; Rav), this means that, indeed, where these mitzvos are observed, the kohanim have a virtual monopoly on the tongues.

Why did I write “in places where these mitzvos are observed?” The answer is that there is a dispute among tanna’im whether this mitzvah applies in chutz la’aretz, notwithstanding that it is not one of the mitzvos ha’teluyos ba’aretz, a mitzvah dependent on the land. There is a major discussion among halachic authorities how we rule in this dispute.

The maw?

What is the keivah? Several of the chumashim I have seen translate the word as “maw,” but this translation is neither professional nor accurate, since the word maw simply means a stomach, mouth or other opening. (The origin of the word maw is a “bag” or other receptacle, and it later came to mean “mouth” or “stomach,” since these are “bag” functions of the body — areas that receive food.) To translate keivah as maw is, therefore, inaccurate, because the word “maw” does not refer to a specific stomach or compartment of the stomach, and, if it did, it would refer to the first stomach of cattle, the rumen or paunch. The keivah, however, is the fourth, and last, stomach.

Can’t stomach it!

At this point, we can examine the last of our opening questions: How many of a cow’s stomachs does a kohein get?

All kosher beheimos are ruminants, and all of them have several stomachs, or more technically accurate, a four-chambered stomach. The four parts are called the rumen, reticulum, obasum, and the abomasum. As I mentioned above, the keivah is the abomasum. Although today the keivah has limited value, in earlier days, it was the natural source of the enzyme called rennet, which is used to curd milk into cheese. How kosher rennet, which is halachically meat, may be used to curd milk into kosher cheese is beyond today’s topic, but rennet can be used, and, in earlier times, had much commercial value.

There are several questions germane to this mitzvah that we have not yet discussed; we will leave them for a future article.

Conclusion

Why does the Torah give the kohein these three, unusual parts of the animal?

The Gemara (Chullin 134b), quoted by Rashi (Devorim 18:3), explains that these three remind us of Pinchas’s courageous and zealous act, when he sanctified Hashem’s Name during the Midyan debacle – he grabbed his spear with his hand, he prayed with his mouth (Tehillim 106:30), and he plunged his weapon into the stomach of the dishonorable woman Kozbi, who brought Zimri to sin (see Bamidbar 25:8). Thus, every kohein is rewarded in Pinchas’s merit, or, more accurately, all the Bnei Yisroel are constantly reminded of what Pinchas did to save the Jewish people.

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Do I Have to Tell the Truth?‎

Question #1: The Truth

May I take credit for something that I did not do myself?

Question #2: The Whole Truth

Must I make a full disclosure when it may cause a negative outcome?

Question #3: Nothing but the Truth!

Is it permitted to “add” to the truth?

Introduction:

A person must maintain total integrity in all his dealings – after all, we are commanded to act as Hashem does in all our deeds, and Hashem’s seal is truth (Shabbos 55a). Furthermore, someone meticulously honest and truthful will merit receiving the presence of the Shechinah.

Conversely, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 103a) teaches that habitual liars will not merit to receive the Shechinah’s presence. This is derived from the pasuk, Dover shekarim lo yikon leneged einai, “He who speaks lies will not be established in My sight” (Tehillim 101:7). A person who gains nothing from his lies and simply has no regard for telling the truth is included in the “kat shakranim” (pack of liars) who will not merit to meet Hashem (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:181, 186). This category also includes people who fail to keep their word (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:183).

Truth is so important that the Gemara teaches, Hafoch bineveilasa velo seifoch bemilei, “Turn over a carcass and do not turn over your words” (Pesachim 113a). This means that it is preferable to do unpleasant, malodorous work rather than talk deceitfully.

Therefore, the Torah warns, Midevar sheker tirchak, “Keep distant from a false matter” (Shemos 23:7). Nowhere else does the Torah command that we must “keep distant” from an activity (Sefer Hachinuch #74), which emphasizes how far we must keep from falsehood (Mesilas Yesharim, Chapter 11). Even taking credit for something that one did not do is considered a falsehood (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:184).

Truth in education

Regarding chinuch, we are taught, “Do not promise something to a child without giving it to him, because this teaches him to lie” (Sukkah 46b).

In addition to the halachic requirement of being meticulously honest, there is also a tangible benefit in being known as someone who always tells the truth. As the Gemara notes: “Someone who lies is not believed even when he tells the truth” (Sanhedrin 89b).

The whole truth

Despite the importance of telling the truth, there are situations where the Torah allows one to be imprecise because of a greater good. It is of paramount importance not to hurt people’s feelings, harm their reputation, embarrass them or create machlokes (Bava Metzia 23b with Rif and Tosafos). When placed in a situation in which full disclosure will cause one of these negative outcomes, one should avoid fabricating a story, but should omit the harmful information (see Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 1:8). However, if machlokes may result if one answers truthfully, one must modify the truth, rather than create ill feeling.

Why?

Why is it permitted to alter the facts in order to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?

In general, the Torah does not accept that the end justifies the means. Thus, one is generally not permitted to do something halachically wrong in order to accomplish a positive result. However, altering the truth to avoid machlokes or to save someone from hurt is an exception to this rule.

Even in these situations, changing the truth should be a last resort. When the situation can be resolved without resorting to untruth, one must do so. Furthermore, it is preferable to give a truthful answer that omits the harmful information, rather than modify the truth (see Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 1:8). However, when there is no choice other than modifying the truth, one is required to do so.

When should the truth be modified?

There are five categories of cases when modifying the truth is permitted. They are:

1. Shalom

One is required to avoid dispute or ill feeling even if it requires distorting the truth. This also includes situations where telling the truth will result in loshon hara. Therefore, if someone is asked, “What did so-and-so say about me?” and the true answer to this question will result in loshon hara or ill feeling, one may not give a complete answer. As mentioned above, it is preferable to answer in a way that is not an outright untruth, such as telling part of the story that has no negative ramifications. If there is no choice, one should resort to fabrication rather than telling the truth that includes loshon hara or creates machlokes (Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 1:8).

It should be noted that when there is no way to avoid modifying the truth for the sake of shalom, it is not only permitted but obligatory in order to avoid machlokes or hurting someone’s feelings (Rif, Bava Metzia 23b).

Here is an example: Reuven refused to lend Shimon money, because he felt that Shimon was a credit risk.Shimon discovered that Reuven loaned money to someone else, whereupon Shimon asked Reuven why his (Shimon’s) request was turned down. To avoid hurting Shimon’s feelings or creating machlokes, Reuven may tell him that, at the time, he had no money available to lend. As mentioned above, this approach should be used only as a last resort. It is preferable for Reuven to change the subject or respond to the answer in a different, inoffensive way that is not a fabrication.

For the same reason (to avoid hurting a person’s feelings), it is permitted to praise a person’s performance to make him feel good, even if the performance was actually mediocre (Kesubos 17a). Similarly, one should tell the purchaser of a new garment that it looks great, even if he thinks the opposite.

What is the halacha when a woman who values your judgment asks you how her new dress looks? If the dress does not look nice, and the situation can be modified (such as, the dress can be tailored or exchanged), you should give the appropriate advice. However, if there is no option to do anything with the dress, you should remark that it looks nice. After all, there are certainly some people who will think it looks nice on her.

2. Modesty

It is advisable to act humbly and to answer questions modestly. For example, a Torah scholar who is asked how much he knows of Shas (the entire Talmud) is permitted to say that he is familiar with a few mesechtos, even when he knows the entire Shas thoroughly (Rashi, Bava Metzia 23b). This statement is permitted, even though it is technically not true. It should be noted that modifying the truth in this situation is not required (Rif, Bava Metzia 23b). For example, Sefer Hassidim (#1061) states that it is preferable not to say a lie in order to be modest, but instead to change the subject.

Likewise, one should be careful not to boast or advertise the chesed that one performs. A person who is asked about his chesed activities should downplay his role and understate his involvement.

If a posek (halachic authority) is asked whether he is qualified to pasken a certain shaylah, he should answer truthfully, but not boastfully. He can say something like, “There are people who ask me shaylos,” or “Rav so-and-so told me that I may pasken,” which, if said in a humble tone of voice, is informative and not boastful. In this situation, underplaying his knowledge is counterproductive, since the person who has a shaylah will not feel comfortable that he can ask (Tosafos, Bava Metzia 23b s.v. bemesechta).

A person heavily involved in chesed projects is permitted to describe his full role, in order to encourage other people to be involved in chesed.

Someone who observes a halachic stringency must try to keep it a secret. One is even permitted to give a false reason for his behavior, rather than explain that he observes a chumrah (see Brachos 53b). For example, while attending a simcha where one’s chumrah is not observed, he should hide the fact that he is not eating. If someone notices that he is not eating, he may say that he already attended another simcha and ate there. He may say this, even if he did not attend a simcha that night and ate at home, since his statement is true (he has attended other smachos previously). This is better than saying that one’s stomach is upset (when it is not), which is an outright untruth. However, if he feels that the only excuse he can use is that he has an upset stomach, he may say so, even if he is feeling fine.

It should be noted that, in such cases as well, modifying the truth to act modestly is not required, but merely permitted (Rif to Bava Metzia 23b; Sefer Hassidim #1061).

3. To save embarrassment

If necessary, one may modify the truth to save from an embarrassing situation or to protect privacy. Therefore, if someone asks me a question that infringes on my privacy, I may give him an untrue answer, if there is no other way to avoid the situation without being offensive (Bava Metzia 23b). It is usually better to give an untrue answer than to point out that the question was inappropriate, which might embarrass the person asking the question. Similarly, if asked about someone’s personal habits, I may modify my answer, if the truth reveals private information that the person does not want divulged (Maharal, Bava Metzia 23b).

It is permitted to modify the truth to save someone from embarrassment, even if it is myself that I am saving and I also created the uncomfortable situation. For the same reason, if asked a question on a Gemara to which I do not know the answer but should, I may reply that I have not learned that Gemara recently, even if I have (see Rambam, Hilchos Aveidah 14:13and Lechem Mishneh).

Although it is permitted to modify the truth to save oneself from embarrassment, it is not preferred behavior (Orach Meisharim). Of course, the best thing is to know the Gemara adequately enough to answer the question (Kiddushin 30a).

It is forbidden to be untruthful if it causes financial harm. For example, it is prohibited to deny having damaged someone’s property — even if the goal is to avoid embarrassment — if this may exempt him from compensating the owner. Similarly, it is prohibited to tell the boss that one is late to work because of a fictitious traffic tie-up.

Similarly, one may not deceive someone about a shidduch by providing misinformation that might affect the other party.

Truth in litigation

There is no heter, whatsoever, to mislead a Beis Din, even if I know that the other side is misrepresenting the facts. I may set the record straight and say that information is being fabricated.

Money received through a din Torah because of misrepresentation is considered stolen. Furthermore, a lawyer or to’en rabbani (rabbinic legal adviser) who suggests withholding relevant information in order to win a case violates several serious prohibitions.

4. Protecting someone

One may modify the truth to protect a person from harm or to prevent him from sinning. Again, the halachic principle is that, in this instance, the ends (avoiding sin) justify the means (altering the facts).

A few examples will clarify what we mean. An unsavory or untrustworthy person asks you where you were a guest last Shabbos, because he wants to invite himself to the same host. Since the results may be detrimental, you may tell the untrustworthy person that you ate at home, even if this is not true. Early poskim describe the following situation: “Someone who is asked how he was received as a guest may lie, to protect the host from becoming inundated with more guests than he can afford” (Rashi, Bava Metzia 24a).

Similarly, if I am asked by someone who is a poor credit risk where he can borrow money, I may tell him that I don’t know, rather than putting potential lenders in an uncomfortable position or placing them at risk.

It is permitted to modify the truth to prevent someone from sinning. In this context, there is a halacha that many people find surprising. Someone thinks that what he is doing is permitted, but you know that it is forbidden. You know that the perpetrator will not accept your halachic opinion, unless you quote it in the name of a well-known posek. It is permitted (but not required) to quote the psak in the name of a well-known posek, even if you have no basis to say that he said this, so that the person accepts the halacha and, therefore, does not sin (Shabbos 115a).

The Gemara records several instances of this ruling (Eruvin 51a; Pesachim 27a; see Magen Avraham,Chapter 156). Here is one example: In pre-refrigeration days, vegetables cut up before Yom Kippur would spoil before the fast ended. Rav Yehudah noticed that the vegetables were being cut up on Yom Kippur in a way that violated the halacha, but was uncertain whether he would be obeyed if he told them to stop. To put an end to the practice, he told the perpetrators that he had received a letter from Rabbi Yochanan prohibiting it.

Under the category of protecting people from undesirable situations, the Gemara tells us a very interesting story about the great tzaddik, Iyov. When he heard about a widow who wanted to remarry but was not receiving any shidduch suggestions, Iyov would invent a family relationship with the woman, in order to improve her shidduch prospects (Bava Basra 16a).

If I am asked questions that will lead in an undesirable direction, it is permitted to modify the truth in order to politely cut off the questioning. The Gemara tells us the following story: Alexander the Great once met the Talmudic scholars of the Negev and asked them several philosophic questions. When he asked them whether light was created first or darkness, they responded that this question cannot be answered. The Gemara points out that it states clearly that darkness existed before light(Bereishis 1:2-3). Nevertheless, the scholars refrained from answering Alexander, to forestall his asking other questions that might lead to blasphemy (Tamid 32a). Therefore, when you suspect someone may turn the conversation into a topic that you do not wish to discuss, you may change the subject or say that you do not know the answer to the question.

5. Exaggeration

It is permitted to exaggerate, even though the literal meaning of one’s words is inaccurate. So long as one’s intent is clear, this is neither deceptive nor dishonest, but simply idiomatic. Therefore, it is permitted to say that something has happened “millions of times,” since everyone understands that this is an exaggeration. Similarly, it is permitted to call a fellow Jew “my brother,” since all Jews are related and, furthermore, we are all brothers in mitzvos. It is also permitted to call a student “my son,” since the pasuk refers to our students this way (Shabbos 31a).

Some contemporary poskim justify the widespread practice of printing wedding invitations knowing that the time on the invitation is earlier than the simcha will take place. Since this is intended to give people a sense of when the simcha will actually transpire, it does not violate the mitzvah of being truthful.

There are a few other instances where one is permitted to say something, even though the literal meaning of one’s words is not exactly true. Following a halachic discussion with his disciples, Rabbi Akiva said that the halacha accorded with the opinion of one of his students, although it was obvious that the halacha was otherwise. Stating that the halacha was like this student meant that the student’s reasoning was very solid, and the compliment would encourage the students to study with more enthusiasm (Eruvin 13a).

An opposite pedagogic usage is found in a different passage of Gemara (Moed Katan 16a). Bar Kappara, one of Rebbe’s disciples, once said something disrespectful about Rebbe. Realizing that he had a halachic responsibility to reprimand Bar Kappara, the next time Bar Kappara came to visit Rebbe, Rebbe told him eini makircha mei’olam, “I have never met you.” Bar Kappara understood that Rebbe meant that he did not want to have anything to do with Bar Kappara. Bar Kappara repented and Rebbe befriended him once again.

However, how could Rebbe make an untruthful statement? Because Bar Kappara understood Rebbe’s intent, this was not regarded as an untruth. Furthermore, Rebbe’s words, eini makircha mei’olam, could also mean “I do not truly know who you are,” words that are actually very truthful — does one human being ever really know another? (Orach Meisharim 9:ftn 2) Incidentally, we see that even a statement like this, which was fully understood, should preferably be expressed in a way that has a truthful meaning, as well.

From the foregoing, it is apparent that the halachos of telling the truth are far more complex than most people realize. Those who tell the truth will receive the presence of the Shechinah. Many special blessings are bestowed on someone who is meticulous about telling only the truth, as required by halacha.

The Gemara tells about the community of Kishuta where everyone was very careful never to lie. In reward for this, none of them ever died prematurely (Sanhedrin 97a).

Conclusion

Rav Yaakov Kamenetski was once asked why he lived so long. (Several Gemara discussions imply that it is proper to try to answer this question accurately.) After contemplating the question for a while, Rav Yaakov reluctantly answered, “Probably in the merit of the fact that I have never told a lie.”

Why is telling the truth a merit for longevity?

As mentioned earlier, someone who is meticulously honest and truthful will merit receiving the Shechinah’s presence (Orach Meisharim 9:ftn 3). The pasuk in Mishlei (16:15) teaches, be’or pnei Melech chayim, “Those who are in the light of the King will live.” Furthermore, Hashem’s brachos rest on those who imitate His ways, and His essence is truth (Sefer Hachinuch #74). Therefore, those who live with meticulous honesty are rewarded with long, productive lives. May we all merit this reward!

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A Layman’s Guide to Marriage ‎

Question #1:

“A friend’s son in Yeshiva in Israel got engaged to a local girl, and my friends were told that there will be a tena’im. I thought only chassidishe families do this.”

Question #2:

“I was told that I should not include quotations from pesukim on my daughter’s wedding invitation. Yet, I see that ‘everyone’ does! Could you please explain the halacha?”

Question #3:

“I wish someone could walk me through all the halachic steps that we need in planning our daughter’s wedding. I am afraid I’ll forget to take care of something.”

From the engagement to the wedding

Mazel tov!! Mazel tov!! Your daughter just became engaged to an amazing yeshivah bachur from a wonderful family. You are in seventh heaven!

Virtually everyone plans some type of formal celebration when his or her child becomes engaged. Some call it a “lechayim,” others a “vort,” still others a “tena’im,” and in Eretz Yisroel today it is usually called an “erusin.” Since these differences are not inherently halachic, I am going to note only one point about this part of the simcha: does one sign a tena’im shortly after announcing the engagement? In chassidishe circles, and, in Eretz Yisrael, even among “Israeli Litvishe” families, it is accepted that one finalizes the engagement by signing tena’im, which is an agreement between the two sets of parents as to what each will provide to their child before the wedding and to conduct the wedding before a certain agreed-upon date. The climax of the engagement celebration is when this document is signed, parts of it are read aloud, and the two mothers break a plate together. The halachic authorities discuss why we break a plate at a tena’im and a glass at the chupah (see Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 560: 4; Keser Rosh, #114).

In “American,” non-chassidishe circles, these arrangements are more informal, and the two parties usually do not sign any formal tena’im. Some sign a type of a tena’im at the wedding, prior to the chupah.

Invitations

There are, actually, some halachos germane to invitations. One may not quote any pesukim in invitations and, according to most authorities, the lettering of an invitation should not use kesav ashuris, the Hebrew writing used for Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzos (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim, Yoreh Deah 4:32). This is because kesav ashuris has sanctity and should not be used for mundane matters (Shu”t Radbaz 1:45; Rema, Yoreh Deah 284:2; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 283:3). We should note that the Kesav Sofer writes that his father, the Chasam Sofer, permitted using kesav ashuris in wedding invitations and did so himself, contending that, since making a wedding is a mitzvah, the invitation to the seudas mitzvah is not considered a mundane use. Nevertheless, the Kesav Sofer concludes that it is better not to use kesav ashuris for invitations (Shu”t Kesav Sofer, Even Ha’ezer #22 at end).

Shomrim

Why do the choson and kallah require shomrim? From what time do the choson and kallah require shomrim?

The Gemara says that three people require a shomer: an ill person, a choson and a kallah Berachos 54b). Although many people have the custom of providing shomrim from the ufruf Shabbos, technically the choson and kallah require shomrim only from the wedding through the week of sheva berachos. The prevalent practice is that this includes only when they leave their house. This means that during sheva berachos week, the choson may attend minyan only if someone escorts him from his house, although some hold that a choson can go to shul without a shomer (told to me in the name of Rav Moshe Feinstein).

It is common practice to provide them with shomrim on the day of the wedding also.

Things to bring to the wedding

The following can function as a useful checklist of items that should be brought to the wedding:

(1) Kesubah

From personal experience, I suggest bringing not only the kesubah one intends to use, but also several blank extra forms.

(2) Kittel

If the choson will be wearing a kittel under the chupah, remember to bring it.

(3) Candles and matches

Four candles for the shushbinin, who are the two couples that will escort the choson and kallah, and matches with which to light the candles. The matches are also useful in the creation of ashes that will be placed on the choson’s forehead before he walks to the chupah.

(4) Wine

Many deliberately bring a bottle of white wine, a position that I advocate, to avoid concerns of red wine staining a white wedding dress. (I am aware of some poskim who prefer that one use red wine at a chupah. However, I prefer white wine, since it spares the worry of a stained gown.)

(5) Berachos

Cards, or something similar, with all the berachos for the various honorees.

(6) Ring

The wedding ring. This should be a ring without a precious stone (Even Ha’ezer 31:2). Some rabbonim prefer that it have no design at all. It is important that the ring be the property of the choson. In other words, the choson must either purchase it with his own money, or whoever purchased it must give it to the choson as a gift and the choson must pick it up to acquire it. So, if the bride wants to use her late great-grandmother’s wedding ring, they should make sure that the current, rightful owner of that ring gives it to the choson, with no strings attached, prior to the wedding.

(7) Glass

A well-wrapped glass that will be broken. (Note that the Rema [Even Ha’ezer 65:3] states that the choson should break the glass that was used to hold the wine of the wedding beracha. Although I have seen this actually practiced, it is definitely not the common, contemporary custom.)

(8) Key

Make sure that someone has the key to the yichud room!

Wow!! We have actually gotten all the way to the wedding! What happens next?

The choson tish

If the tena’im were not performed earlier, some people make a tena’im now. If the tena’im will take place at the wedding, then one should also have a plate that one intends to break.

The kesubah is filled out and signed at the choson tish. (In Eretz Yisrael, many follow the practice of not signing the kesubah until the choson and kallah are under the chupah.)

At this point, we will introduce the mesader kiddushin, the talmid chacham who is honored with making certain that the halachic aspects of the wedding are performed correctly.

Kabalas kinyan

Following the instructions of the mesader kiddushin, the choson lifts up a pen, handkerchief, or other itemas a means of kinyan in the presence of two witnesses. By doing this, he assumes the financial responsibilities of a husband and future father.

Should we use the same witnesses?

There are two prevalent practices regarding the witnesses, usually dependent on the preference of the mesader kiddushin. The more common American practice is that each part of the ceremony — the signing of the kesubah, the kiddushin itself, and the yichud — are witnessed by different sets of witnesses, in order to honor more people. In Eretz Yisrael, the common practice is to have one set of witnesses for all the stages. The Tashbeitz (2:7) explains that once one honored someone with performing a mitzvah, we encourage that he perform the rest of the mitzvah (hamaschil bemitzvah omrim lo gemor). Other reasons for this custom are provided by the Eizer Mikodesh (end of Even Ha’ezer 42) and Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach.

Signing of kesubah

After the choson makes the kabbalas kinyan, the witnesses carefully read through the kesubah and then sign it (Rema, Even Ha’ezer 66:1 and Choshen Mishpat 45:2). If they are attesting to something by signing, they must know what it is.

Choson signing kesubah

Many have the practice that the choson also signs the kesubah, beneath the witnesses’ signatures. This practice dates back to the times of the rishonim and demonstrates that the choson approves what the witnesses are signing (Rashba, Bava Basra 175; Eizer Mikodesh 66:1 s.v. hayah ta’us).

Bedeken

The choson, escorted by the two fathers and accompanied by the celebrants, now goes to badek the kallah, by pulling the veil over her head. At this point, the kallah’s father and perhaps others bless her. The celebrants then proceed to the chupah.

The Chupah

The chupah itself should, ideally, be open on all four sides (Eizer MiKodesh). This is reminiscent of the tent of Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu, whose tent was accessible from all four directions of the globe, so as not to inconvenience any potential guests. We are conveying blessing upon the bride and groom that the house they build together be as filled with chesed as the house of Avraham and Sarah was.

Immediately prior to walking to the chupah, the mesader kiddushin places some ashes above the choson’s forehead. The ashes are placed where the choson wears his tefillin, and are immediately removed, and serve to remind the choson that even at this moment of tremendous joy, he should remember that our Beis Hamikdash lies in ruins. This, literally, fulfills the verse in Yeshayah (61:3), To place on the mourners of Zion and to give them splendor instead of ashes, where the Navi promises that in the future we will replace the ashes that currently remind us of the churban (Even Ha’ezer 65:3).

Chupah under the Stars

The prevalent Ashkenazic practice is that the chupah is conducted outdoors or under an open skylight, in order to provide a beracha for the marrying couple that their descendants be as numerous as the stars (Rema, Even Ha’ezer 61:1). However, if a couple prefers to hold their chupah under a roof, the mesader kiddushin should still perform the wedding ceremony for them, since there is no violation to perform the chupah this way (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 1:93).

Jewelry at the Chupah

There is a common custom that the kallah removes all her jewelry before she goes to the chupah. Some explain that this custom is based on the Mishnah that after the churban of the Beis Hamikdash, Chazal decreed that the choson and kallah should no longer wear the crowns that they were accustomed to wearing before that time (Sotah 49a). Although removing jewelry may be associated with this idea, most authorities contend that this is only a custom borrowed from this idea, but is not required. If it were required, then wearing jewelry would be prohibited from the night before the wedding, until the end of sheva berachos (see Mishnah Berurah 560:17).

Accepted practice is to prohibit only silver, gold or jewelry of precious stones that are worn on the kallah’s head, and only at the chupah (Mishnah Berurah 560:17, quoting Pri Megadim). However, some authorities prohibit a kallah from wearing any silver or gold jewelry the entire sheva berachos week (Yam shel Shelomoh, Gittin 1:19).

Wearing a Kittel

The common practice among Eastern European Jews is that the choson wears a kittel at the chupah. The reason for wearing the kittel is tied closely to the wedding day as his personal day of atonement, and is to encourage the choson to do teshuvah on this day.

When does he put on the kittel? There are two common practices: some have the choson wear the kittel folded up under his suit jacket, whereas others have the kittel placed on top of his suit as soon as he stands under the chupah, and remove the kittel either immediately after the chupah or in the cheder yichud.

The accepted practice is that the shushbin places the kittel on the choson. His “dressing” the choson reinforces the idea that the wedding day is a day of teshuvah and atonement – it should remind the choson, when he puts on the kittel for the first time, of the day when he will be wearing his kittel for the last time (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 147:4).

Who walks them down?

The choson and kallah are escorted by two couples, called the shushbinin, who are usually their parents. There was an old custom that the shushbinin should both be couples who are married in their first marriage (cited by Eizer Mikodesh 68:2, who says that he is uncertain of the origin of this custom). Some have a custom that a woman who is visibly pregnant should not serve as a shushbin (Shearim Hametzuyanim Bahalacha 147:12). Since these practices are custom and not halacha, when following them may create a dispute, shalom is more important.

There are two common practices as to who, specifically, escorts the choson and who escorts the kallah. Some have the custom that the choson is escorted by the two male shushbinin, and the kallah by the two female shushbinin, whereas others have each escorted by a couple. To decide what to do, I quote a well-known practice of Rav Yaakov Kamenetski, who at three of his children’s marriages had the shushbinin walk as couples and at the other three had the fathers escorting the choson and the mothers escorting the kallah. His rule: I did whatever the mechutan preferred.

Kallah on the Right

Based on a verse in Tehillim (45:10) that teaches that the place of honor for a princess is to be stationed on the right, the kallah stands to the right and the choson to the left.

Standing at the Chupah

In America, the guests usually sit throughout the chupah ceremony, whereas, in Eretz Yisrael, the standard practice is that everyone stands throughout the chupah. The latter practice, or, more specifically, that everyone stands while the sheva berachos are recited, is quoted in the name of the Zohar (see Shu”t Ha’elef Lecha Shelomoh, Even Ha’ezer #115).

Erusin and Nesuin

There are two stages to a Jewish wedding. The first stage is called kiddushin or erusin (not to be confused with the Modern Hebrew word erusin, which means “engagement”), and is focused on the choson giving the wedding ring to the kallah. The second step is called nesuin. In Talmudic times, these two stages were conducted separately – often as much as a year apart. After kiddushin, the couple is married, but do not yet live together.

Today, the two stages are conducted as one long ceremony.

Is the Kallah’s face covered?

The Rema (31:2) cites an old Ashkenazic custom that the kallah’s face is covered at her chupah. The Rema does not say how thick the veil is, although we find a dispute among later authorities about this. Some authorities object strongly to the kallah wearing a veil that is so thick that the witnesses cannot identify her (Mabit, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah 31:5). Others rule that it is not problematic for the veil to be this thick, and, therefore, in many places the custom is that the kallah wears a very thick veil.

The mesader kiddushin recites the beracha of borei pri hagafen on behalf of the choson and the kallah. They should have in mind to be included in his beracha and not to interrupt before they drink the wine (see Afikei Yam 2:2). According to some opinions Shu”t Noda Beyehuda, Even Ha’ezer #1), the choson should also have in mind to be included in the birchas erusin¸ but most contend that he is not required to recite this beracha (see Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim #44, who quotes this from the Tevuos Shor, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, and several other authorities). The choson and kallah then sip from the cup. The most common practice is that the mesader kiddushin gives the choson to drink, and then hands the cup to the kallah’s mother, who gives her to drink. The choson and kallah need to drink only a small sip of the wine (Be’er Heiteiv, Even Ha’ezer 34:6; Amudei Apiryon page 71).

Yichud Eidim

On behalf of the choson, the mesader kiddushin appoints the two witnesses, and then asks the witnesses, within earshot of the kallah, whether the ring is worth a perutah, which is worth only a few cents. The reason for this strange conversation is so that the kallah agrees to be married, even if the ring is worth so little (Rema, Even Ha’ezer 31:2).

According to many authorities, the witnesses must see the choson place the ring on the kallah’s finger (Shu”t Harashba 1:780; Rema, Even Ha’ezer 42:4). Although most authorities rule that this is not essential, the accepted practice is to be certain that the witnesses see the actual placing of the ring on the kallah’s finger (Pischei Teshuva, Even Ha’ezer 42:12).

Reading the kesubah

At this point, the kesubah is read to interrupt between the erusin and the nesuin, and then the sheva berachos are recited. Although some authorities question how one can divide the sheva berachos, the accepted practice is to divide them among six, and in some places seven, honorees (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer #94; cf. Har Tzvi).

Out of order

One should be careful to make sure that each person being honored knows which beracha he is supposed to recite. If the berachos are recited out of order, one should not repeat a beracha, but recite the skipped beracha and then proceed to recite the remaining berachos. Similarly, if the honoree began reciting the wrong beracha, including Hashem’s Name, he should complete the beracha he has begun, after which the remaining berachos are recited. If someone began reciting either the beracha of Sos tasis or Samayach tesamach, which do not begin with Hashem’s Name, out of order, he should stop and the correct beracha should be recited (Amudei Apiryon page 76).

Putting his foot down

After the sheva berachos are completed, the choson smashes a glass (Rema, Even Ha’ezer 65:3). (According to an alternative practice, the choson smashes the glass earlier in the ceremony, immediately after the kiddushin are completed.) Many have the custom that prior to breaking the glass, the choson or the audience sings the pasuk,im eshkacheich Yerushalayim… .” This custom has sources in rishonim (Sefer Hachassidim #392).

The choson and kallah are then escorted with music and dancing to the yichud room. Two witnesses, called the eidei yichud, make sure that there is no one else in the yichud room, and then remain posted outside for the amount of time that the mesader kiddushin instructs them.

Conclusion

Having studied the basic customs of our weddings, let us examine an observation of the Noda Biyehudah germane to the priorities people use for checking out shidduchin: “I am astonished that most people have no concern about marrying their daughter to a halachic ignoramus, notwithstanding the words of Chazal about the importance of marrying her to a Talmudic scholar… yet they are concerned about having her marry someone whose name is the same as her father’s, which has no Talmudic basis or source” (Shu”t Noda Biyehudah, Even Ha’ezer 2:79). Thus, we see what factors are significant in a marriage: The choson should be a Torah scholar, and his bride, a ye’rei’ah Shamayim.

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Who Was Eliezer?

Question #1: Who

Who was the greatest talmid chacham in history to have been born in Syria?

Question #2: Was

Was Eliezer a tzadik or a rosha? What difference does it make to us?

Question #3: Eliezer?

What halachos do we derive from Eliezer’s actions?

Introduction:

The Jewish community of Syria has been home to some of the greatest gedolei Yisroel the world has ever known, such as Rav Chayim Vital, the primary disciple of the Arizal and the source of virtually all our knowledge of the Arizal’s kabbalistic teachings. Rav Chayim’s son, Rav Shmuel Vital, the major conduit of kabbalistic teaching in his day, lived most of his life in Damascus. And yet, for most of its Jewish history, Damascus has played less prominence than its northwestern neighbor, Aleppo, famed as Aram Tzovah, home of generations of gedolei Yisroel. And these two Jewish communities, which share a massive diaspora spreading from Argentina, through Panama, Mexico, New Jersey, New York, and Jerusalem, are only two of the major Torah communities that once thrived in the northern part of the Levant. At one time in history, there were literally hundreds of proud Jewish communities scattered throughout what are today Syria, Lebanon, Kurdistan, and southern Turkey; each was justifiably proud of its own minhagim, Jewish traditions and Torah scholars; each had its own Jewish language or dialect.

But this discussion is taking us afield from today’s topic. One of the greatest individuals who hailed from Syria to have walked the face of the earth may have been Eliezer, Avraham’s servant. In its only reference to any personal data about him, the Torah calls him Eliezer the Damascene. (By the way, the chief rabbinate position there, once a highly coveted post, is unfilled at the moment, should you happen to know someone looking for a rabbinical post with a prestigious history.)

The Midrash Rabbah explains that Eliezer was in total control of himself, meaning that he was a highly spiritual individual, a big tzadik, who had mastered his yeitzer hora, his personal inclination to do evil. To quote the midrash, “Eliezer ruled over himself on the same level that Avraham ruled over himself” (Bereishis Rabbah 59:8; see also Yerushalmi Berachos 9:5; Shir Hashirim Rabbah 3:5). The Gemara’s description of Eliezer certainly sustains this impression of his personal greatness. In Yoma (28b), the Gemara describes him as an elder who spent his unoccupied time studying in the yeshivah.

This statement is even more unusual, in that we have a general rule that a gentile is forbidden to study Torah, and, if he does so, he is chayov misah, understood to mean that he will incur the punishment of misah bidei shamayim, a premature death (see Tosafos, Yevamos 2a s.v. Va’achos). Presumably, because Eliezer lived before the Torah was given to the Jewish people, his achieving massive Torah scholarship is viewed favorably by Chazal.

The same passage of Gemara creates a drosha on the reference to him as a Damascene, Damasek. The Gemara explains the word to mean that Eliezer “ladled” liberally from the Torah of Avraham and taught others. In other words, not only was he a regular participant in the yeshivah’s Torah discussions, he was a lecturer and a meishiv in the yeshivah, what we would call a ra’m (rosh mesivta) in the greatest yeshivah of his era, that was established by Avraham Avinu and attended by his disciples. Without question, this Gemara bills him as the greatest Torah scholar in history to have hailed from Syria. Prior to the birth of his sons, who does Avraham consider his worthy heir, as he tells Hashem in parshas Lech Lecha (Bereishis 15:2)? According to Chazal, who accompanies Avraham and Yitzchak on their way to the Akeidah? This is the individual whom Avraham employed to find a shidduch for his cherished son Yitzchak, and for virtually all his endeavors. And whom does Avraham use as his lieutenant commander, when he fields his army to save his nephew Lot?

Germane to this war, the posuk says that Avraham had 318 men in his army when he went to fight the victorious, powerful and world-conquering four armies of Kedorla’omer (Bereishis 14:14). The Gemara (Nedarim 32a) notes that the gematriya of the word Eliezer is 318. Based on this hermeneutical source, the Gemara interprets that Avraham Avinu’s winning battalions contained only two soldiers – Avraham and Eliezer. In other words, Avraham and Eliezer vanquished the Kedorla’omer dragon with the archetypical, traditional Jewish army of only generals and no soldiers. I will continue to explain this midrash later, but, for our purposes now, suffice it to say that this demonstrates Eliezer’s tzidkus and his level of faith and confidence in the Almighty. Who else would attack an army with only one associate, particularly if that associate’s commanding officer is so well-trained and experienced in military tactics as Avraham?

Avraham’s resources

Eliezer is referred to as the “elder of Avraham’s household, who rules over all that he owns.” He was a fully trusted, senior manager of all of Avraham’s property, including all his employees, his servants and slaves. Eliezer was what we would call the CEO or COO of Avraham’s extensive business and personal holdings.

How wealthy was Avraham? Chazal tell us that he owned the entire world (Bereishis Rabbah, 43, 5 and Shemos Rabbah 15, 8). That Avraham entrusts all his worldly possessions to Eliezer reflects one of two things: either that Avraham has little concern for his physical property – he realizes that “you can’t take it with you” — or, alternatively, Avraham has such confidence in Eliezer’s total commitment to fulfill what Avraham asks that he trusts Eliezer completely and has no need to verify what is done. (The likelihood is that both of these factors are true.) History is replete with individuals who were given this amount of trust, and employers and rulers who learned to regret this decision. But not Avraham…

Yitzchak’s shidduch

This incredible tzadik, Eliezer, was then given virtually complete control over the most important matter in Avraham’s life. Avraham has a son, born when his parents are quite aged and, therefore, almost certainly destined for early-orphaned status. Avraham defies all odds and is still alive and alert to direct Yitzchak’s shidduch search.

Yitzchak will clearly continue Avraham’s legacy, that to which he has devoted his entire life. Yitzchak follows in his father’s footsteps perfectly, and even looks exactly like his father, notwithstanding that Avraham is his senior by one hundred years [until Avraham requests that his appearance reflect his age] (Bava Metzia 87a).

For Yitzchak to fulfill his legacy, he needs a wife capable of being his life’s partner, one who can proudly and boldly challenge the entire world. To quote Chazal, Avraham is called “ha’ivri,” not because he descended from the great Torah scholar and Rosh Yeshivah, Eiver, and also not because he was the original “Hebrew,” but because he stood alone opposed to the values of the entire world at his time. As Chazal express it, the entire world stood on one side and Avraham on the other. This mission can be continued only by Yitzchak, who must have descendants devoted to the family business, and for this he needs a wife appropriate to her role.

Who gets entrusted with making sure that this legacy will be perpetuated? Eliezer. Yet, it seems that Eliezer should be the least likely candidate for the position. As Rashi notes, he himself has a daughter for whom he is desperately trying to find an appropriate shidduch – and, to Eliezer, Yitzchak appears as the perfect shidduch! This sounds like the classic case of appointing a fox to guard the chicken coop!

Why is Avraham sending someone to carry out a difficult assignment, when this agent has a vested interest in its collapse? Furthermore, Avraham provides Eliezer with an excuse for failure of the mission – a claim, verified or not, that he located an appropriate girl, but she refused to travel with a group of unknown men, preferring that her suitor come for her. Is this not the accepted approach in all societies until modern times, and, certainly, the seemingly most appropriate and tzeniyus-dik way to do things?!

Tzadik or rosha?

At this point, let us discuss the second of our opening questions: “Was Eliezer a tzadik or a rosha?”

How can we even ask such a question? Did we not already demonstrate that he was one of the greatest tzadikim of all time!

This brings to mind a criticism leveled at Rabbi Akiva, who identified the mekosheish (the person who violated the laws of Shabbos – Bamidbar 15:32) as Tzelofchad, even though the Torah does not mention his name.: “Akiva, either way, you will be punished in the future. If you are correct, the Torah hid this information and you are revealing it. If you are wrong, you are libeling that tzadik” (Shabbos 96b).

Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer

This criticism can be leveled equally at Rabbi Akiva’s great rebbe, the tanna,Rabbi Eliezer ben Harkinus (no relation to Eliezer of Damascus, our protagonist). Although several passages of Gemara and numerous midrashim indicate that Eliezer was an incredible tzadik, we find other midrashim that provide a very different perspective about Eliezer, painting him in a very nasty way. The primary midrash source for this latter approach is Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer (Chapter 15 ff.), which states that Eliezer was quite evil and was rewarded with much respect and access to wealth as Avraham’s right-hand man in order to receive recompense for his good deeds in this world, leaving his nefariousness deeds to be punished in the next!

Is this not strange? Where else do we find such a major dispute regarding whether a Tanach personality was righteous or evil? Even regarding Noach, about whom we find two disputing approaches in Chazal, all agree that he was a “great tzadik in his generations.” Since Noach performed some questionable acts, Chazal dispute whether to interpret the term, “in his generations” as a compliment, or as a limiting factor: considering the generations in which he lived, he was, indeed, relatively speaking, a great tzadik, but would not have been considered anything unusual had he lived during Avraham Avinu’s(and Eliezer’s) era, when there were such great tzadikim.

Regarding Eliezer, the fact is that no posuk describes him as a tzadik. He is clearly a very devoted servant, and the level of trust placed in him by Avraham implies that Eliezer is a very righteous individual. However, Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer implies that, although trusted by Avraham, Eliezer had major personal faults. We might want to compare him to Do’eig, Achitofel or Elisha ben Avuyah, all of whom were great Torah scholars, but whose shortcomings led them to become major sinners.

What difference?

Let me complete the second of our opening questions. What difference does it make to us whether Eliezer was a tzadik or a rosha? In other words, is there a practical difference whether one or the other of Chazal’s interpretations of Eliezer’s character is accepted?

The answer to this question is halachic. If Eliezer was a great tzadik and talmid chacham, as understood by the Gemara and Rashi, we can derive halacha from his actions. After all, studying the behavior and conversation of great people teaches the proper way to act and speak. To quote Chazal, “the conversation of the servants of our forefathers is more valued than the Torah of their descendants” (Bereishis Rabbah 24, 34).

On the other hand, when we study the behavior of Do’eig, Achitofel and Elisha ben Avuyah, we must proceed with caution. Although Chazal are replete with instances in which we derive insights into proper conduct from resha’im¸ we must be hesitant when we do so. Should we be analyzing Eliezer’s deeds to understand the proper way to act? Thus, whether we can learn from Eliezer’s actions depends on this dispute between the Gemara and Rabbi Eliezer ben Harkinus.

Eliezer’s approach to shidduchim

Upon arriving in the city of Nachor, the Torah describes Eliezer’s prayer to Hashem to send the chosen woman, in the following way: The lass should appear at the well. Eliezer will ask her to provide him with a small amount of water, and she will respond, “I will also provide water for your camels.” This is absolute proof that this girl is to be Yitzchak’s bride, without any other questions or research (Bereishis 24:14). The contemporary equivalent would be that, when looking for a shidduch for your son, obviously the best available bochur in his yeshiva, you appear at the local watering hole and ask one of the available young ladies for a drink. Should she offer refreshment to your thirsty, humped entourage, she is certainly the future mate to make your son happy and build a Torah house together. It is time to arrange the vort and coordinate schedules, so that his rosh yeshivah can be mesadar kiddushin.

This system certainly simplifies arrangements, saves a lot of time and spares discovering sordid details about others. So, perhaps it has much merit. However, halachically this is not the correct approach. It is our responsibility to research potential shidduchin very carefully.

What about nichush?

Furthermore, Chazal question whether Eliezer’s method is indeed permitted, as this might violate the Torah’s prohibition against nichush, sorcery! The Gemara (Chullin 95b), quoting the great amora, Rav, states that what was performed by Eliezer, the slave of Avraham, constituted nichush!

Let me explain:

In parshas Kedoshim (Vayikra 19:26) and parshas Shoftim (Devorim 18:10-11), the Torah forbids any form of nichush, practicing the use of omens. It is prohibited to employ methods that are outside Torah to determine whether to pursue or avoid a particular course of action. According to the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:37), these practices are forbidden because they are similar to idol worship. Our relationship with Hashem may not be diluted by placing confidence or decision-making in the hands of superstitions, or worse.

Despite the issue of nichush, many commentators discuss Eliezer’s actions, thereby implying that they consider Eliezer a knowledgeable tzadik worthy of emulation, whose actions serve as a basis to learn how one should act. How can this be?

One technical answer is that, perhaps, Eliezer did not feel that the prohibition against nichush applied before the Torah was given, or that it does not apply to non-Jews (see Sanhedrin 56b).

Genealogy

Aside from the problem of nichush, there is another concern about Eliezer’s actions. He had been instructed to choose a wife from Avraham’s kin, but not every resident of Nachor was related to Avraham. So, how could Eliezer make the decision contingent on whether the anticipated young lady happened to be in the right place, at the right time, and generously offered to provide water?

Tosafos suggests that Eliezer did not rely exclusively on Rivkah’s offering the water to propose the marriage, but first verified that she, indeed, held the correct pedigree (Chullin 95b s.v. Ke’eliezer).

Dispute regarding nichush

According to many rishonim (see Ra’avad Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11:4, 5; Radak (Shmuel I 14:9), only practices founded on superstition, sorcery, idol worship or similar nefarious bases are prohibited because of nichush. Thus, according to the Ra’avad and the Radak, Eliezer’s condition did not violate the prohibition of nichush.

However, the Rambam does not accept this distinction, prohibiting using anything without a logical or halachic basis to make a decision or follow a plan of action (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11:5). The Rema (Yoreh Deah 179:4) cites both opinions, without reaching a clear conclusion, and then closes by saying that one who lives his life sincerely and is confident in Hashem’s ways will be surrounded by kindness, implying that it is better not to follow such signs.

Nevertheless, we can justify Eliezer’s actions, even according to the Rambam, based on a beraisa, quoted by the Gemara (Sanhedrin 65b-66a), that allows deciding what to do based on a logical reason for the planned course of action (see Ran ad loc.). In other words, to cancel travel plans today because it appears that it will rain is not a violation of nichush. All opinions agree that nichush does not prohibit undergoing a medical procedure that appears beneficial (Moreh Nevuchim; Meiri, Shabbos 67a), even if no one understands why it helps. Similarly, demonstrating chesed the way Eliezer asked is a good indication that the young lady has the qualities to be Yitzchak’s wife.

Conclusion

I quoted above a passage of Gemara that stated that the entire army that vanquished the four powerful kings led by Kedorla’omer consisted of two soldiers, Avraham and Eliezer. Although this passage is certainly intended to be a midrash and not to be taken literally, the concept the midrash is conveying is that, to Hashem, He Who wages all wars, there is no difference between an army of two (or one, for that matter) and an army of two million. If they have absolute trust in Hashem, He can have them win, even if they are two unequipped and untrained octogenarians, and if He is not interested in their success, two million highly trained Navy SEALS will suffer defeat.

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The Words of the Prophets

Question #1: Just This Once

“Obviously, I never met either the Chofeitz Chayim or Rav Aryeh Levin, but there is a great tzadik in our neighborhood, a big talmid chacham and a mekubal, who is never involved in what is going on. Today, he came to me, quietly, and told me that Hashem appeared to him in a vision and instructed him to tell me that this coming Shabbos, but only this Shabbos, I am supposed to drive him somewhere in my car. Am I supposed to listen to him?”

Question #2: Untruthful Prophets?

The brocha we recite prior to reading the haftarah states ve’rotzeh be’divreihem ha’ne’emarim be’emes, that Hashem “desired the words of the prophets that are said in truth.” This brocha requires explanation: Of course, Hashem desires the words of the prophets – He was the One Who sent them the message in the first place! What does this brocha mean?

Answer:

To answer the above questions thoroughly and correctly, we need to study the entire halachic issue of prophets, beginning from the Chumash, through the Gemara, rishonim and poskim. Even if we do not happen to have a neighbor in shul who meets all the requirements of a navi, we should know these laws:

(1) From a perspective of mitzvas Talmud Torah.

(2) So that we can observe them properly when we again have the opportunity.

(3) So that we can understand the verses that are germane.

(4) A proper understanding of the thirteen ikarei emunah of the Rambam is contingent on comprehending these laws.

How prophetable?

We will start with the Torah’s discussion in parshas Shoftim about the topic:

 “You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d… A prophet from among you, from your brothers, like me (Moshe), will Hashem, your G-d, establish for you. You shall listen to him…. Then, Hashem said to me… ‘I will establish for you a prophet from among your brothers, like you, and I will put My words in his mouth – everything that I will command him. Whoever will not listen to My words that the prophet will speak in My name – I will exact punishment from him. However, any prophet who will have the audacity to speak in My name that which I did not command him to say, or any prophet who will speak in the name of foreign gods – that prophet shall surely be put to death.’ And should you ask in your heart, ‘How am I to know which statement was not said by Hashem?’ (The answer is): That which the prophet says in the name of Hashem (that it will miraculously happen) and the matter does not transpire, this is, for certain, something that Hashem never said. This prophet has violated the Torah intentionally: Do not be afraid of him.” (Devorim 18: 13, 15, 18-22).

We see in these pesukim the following laws:

A.    If a prophet demonstrates that he is, indeed, a prophet that Hashem sent, we are required to obey whatever he tells us that Hashem commanded. Based on the pesukim and some relevant passages of Gemara and halachic midrash, the Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos) explains as follows: “Mitzvah #172 is that we were commanded to listen to every prophet and to obey what he commands, even if it contradicts a mitzvah… as long as it is temporary, not a permanent change either to add or subtract… The words of the Sifrei are ‘to him shall you listen’; even if he tells you to violate temporarily one of the mitzvos that are written in the Torah, listen to him.”

B.     Someone who does not follow the commandment of the prophet – Hashem will exact punishment from him. Chazal tell us that the punishment is quite severe.

C.     If the prophet claims to speak in Hashem’s Name and he had received no such commandment – such a “prophet” should be executed.

D.    Someone who meets all the requirements of a true prophet, but relates a prophetic vision in the name of an idol or other foreign god (anything that qualifies as avodah zarah) — this “prophet” should also be executed.

In the Rambam’s opinion, there is also another place in the Torah where this mitzvah is discussed. At the end of parshas Va’eschanan, the Torah writes, “Lo senasu es Hashem Elokeichem, do not test Hashem your G-d” (Devorim 6:16), which the Rambam explains to mean: Do not test the promises or warnings that Hashem sent to us via His prophets, by casting doubt on the veracity of a prophet after he has proven his authenticity. This mitzvah is similarly quoted by the Sefer Hachinuch, who calls this mitzvah (#424 in his count): “Not to test a true prophet more than necessary.”

This leads us to the following question: What are we to do when someone seems to have the right qualifications for a prophet, and he tells us that he received a prophetic vision? The prohibition just described is only after he has demonstrated adequately that he is, indeed, a navi. How does he prove that he is an authentic navi?

Who is prophetable?

First, we need to establish that there are pre-requisite qualifications that must be met by a navi. The Gemara (Nedarim 38a) states: “Hashem places his presence only on someone who is physically powerful, wealthy, wise and humble.” The Gemara proceeds to prove that we know these factors from the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu was physically strong enough to assemble the Mishkan on his own, and that he was extremely wealthy from the trimmings of precious stone that he collected when he chiseled out the second luchos.

The Rambam adds a few other qualities that a prophet must always exhibit: “Among the most basic concepts of religion is to know that Hashem communicates with people. Prophecy happens only to a very wise talmid chacham who is in total control of his personality traits, whose yetzer hora never controls him – rather, he is in control of his yetzer hora, always. He must also be someone with tremendous and correct understanding. Someone filled with all these qualities, who is physically complete and healthy, when he begins studying the deeper aspects of Torah and is drawn into these great topics, develops great understanding, becomes sanctified and continues to grow spiritually, separates himself from the ways of common people who follow the darkness of the time, and instead, he is constantly growing and spurring himself onward. He teaches himself to control his thoughts so as not to think of things that have no value. Rather, his thoughts should always be engaged with the ‘Throne of Hashem’, in his attempts to understand holy and pure ideas.… When the spirit of Hashem rests upon him, his soul becomes mixed with that of the angels… and he becomes a new person who understands that he is no longer the same as he was before, but that he has become elevated beyond the level of other talmidei chachamim” (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 7:1).

Net prophets

When the prophet reveals his first prophecy, the posuk that we quoted above teaches: “How am I to know which word was not said by Hashem?” (The answer is): “That which the prophet says in the name of Hashem (that it will miraculously happen) and the matter does not transpire, this is for certain something that Hashem never said.”

This posuk teaches that, in addition to having all the requisite personal qualities, a navi must foretell the future in the Name of Hashem in order to qualify as a navi. There is a dispute between Rav Sa’adiyah Gaon and the Rambam what type of “prophecy” must be demonstrated to prove that he is a prophet. According to Rav Sa’adiyah, the prophet must perform something that is supernatural, such as Moshe did when he turned water into blood, or the stick into a snake. This is because the navi, functioning as a messenger of Hashem, would have been provided by Him with a sign that only Hashem could accomplish, such as preventing water from running downhill, or stopping a heavenly body in its course (Emunos Udei’os 3:4). (This is also the opinion of the Abarbanel in parshas Shoftim.)

On the other hand, the Rambam (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 10:2) disagrees, stating:

“Any prophet who arises and says that Hashem sent him does not need to produce a sign on the level of what Moshe Rabbeinu did, or Eliyahu or Elisha, which was completely supernatural. It is sufficient that he prophesy, saying that something will happen in the future, and his words come true.… Therefore, when a man appropriate to being a navi comes… we do not tell him, ‘Let us see you split the sea, or bring the dead back to life, or anything similar, in order that we can believe you’. Rather, we tell him: ‘If you are indeed a prophet, foretell something that will happen.’ When he foretells, we then wait to see if it happens. If it does not happen, even if something small of his prophecy does not happen, we know for certain that he is a false prophet. If his words are entirely fulfilled, you should consider him to be truthful. We then proceed to check him several times; if each time his words are exactly fulfilled, we consider him a true prophet.”

According to some acharonim (Arba’ah Turei Aven), we test him three times, just as Moshe Rabbeinu was given three signs. If he meets all the requirements of a navi and foretells the future, perfectly and accurately, three times, we are required to follow what he tells us to do, and, when we do so, we accomplish the mitzvah of the Torah.

If he predicts that something will happen and it does not, we know that he is a false prophet. In any of these cases where we are not permitted to obey his words, the Sanhedrin would subject him to capital punishment as a false prophet.

Prophets on prophets

There is another way that a navi can be verified as such, without his producing a miracle or foretelling the future. If someone we already know to be a prophet testifies that an individual who meets the personal requirements of a prophet is indeed a navi, the second individual should be accepted immediately as a prophet (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 10:5). The proof for this is that Yehoshua became accepted as a prophet on Moshe Rabbeinu’s say-so, without producing any miracles or foretelling the future. (The miracles he performed were done later, after he already had been accepted as a navi.)

Gross prophet

What is the halacha if someone who clearly does not meet the personal requirements that we have described tells us that Hashem spoke to him. Let us even assume that he foretells the future successfully, or that he performs miracles. What is the halacha?

The halacha is that he is considered a false prophet. When the batei din had the ability to carry out capital punishment, he would be executed by them. Since our batei din do not have this ability today, we can excommunicate him or banish him, to mitigate the harm he causes. This was done many times in our past, when we were confronted by false prophets. In other words, it is non-prophetable to have him among the Jewish people.

Highly prophetable

The halacha is that once he proved he is a prophet, we are required to obey him, even if he tells us to do something that is counter to a mitzvah or is usually prohibited. The two exceptions are if he tells us that he is changing something of the Torah permanently, or if tells us to violate the prohibition of avodah zarah. In either of these two situations, the Torah tells us that he is a false prophet, even if his tests were true.

Is this a prophetable venture?

At this point, we can analyze our opening question: “Obviously, I never met either the Chofeitz Chayim or Rav Aryeh Levin, but there is a great tzadik in our neighborhood, a big talmid chacham and a mekubal, who is never involved in what is going on. Today, he came to me, quietly, and told me that Hashem appeared to him in a vision and instructed him to tell me that this coming Shabbos, but only this Shabbos, I am supposed to drive him somewhere in my car. Am I supposed to listen to him?”

Let us assume that this talmid chacham/mekubal meets all the requirements that the halacha requires, as quoted above. He now needs to meet the next challenge: According to Rav Sa’adiyah and the Abarbanel, he must perform a miracle that defies nature as we know it. According to the Rambam, he must successfully predict future events several times, without a single detail varying from his description and without any incorrect prediction. If his prophecy is inaccurate even in a slight detail, he is subject to the death penalty, if Sanhedrin can carry out this ruling. Since we have no Sanhedrin today, he would be ruled as a rosho, notwithstanding his other fine qualities.

Personally, I would think that he is probably suffering from some mental illness, and I would recommend that he have a full psychiatric evaluation. I do not think that he is evil; I think that he is ill.

Prophetable brochos

At this point, let us examine our second opening question: The brocha we recite prior to reading the haftarah states that Hashem “desired the words of the prophets that are said in truth.” This brocha requires explanation: Of course, Hashem desires the words of the prophets – He was the One Who sent them the message in the first place! What does this brocha mean?

We can answer this question by realizing the following: With the exception of Moshe Rabbeinu, Hashem communicated to the prophets in a vision, not in words. The prophet, himself, put the ideas he had seen, heard and understood into his own words. It is for this reason that the Midrash teaches that ein shenei nevi’im misnabe’im besignon echad, it will never happen that two prophets recite the exact same words of prophecy (Pesikta and Midrash Seichel Tov, Parshas Va’eira 9:14). Each prophet still maintains some of his own personality and upbringing that will reflect itself in the way he describes what he saw. Yet, the final words, which are the words of the prophet, “their words,” are still “said in truth” – meaning that notwithstanding the personal imprint of the prophet on what he said, the words all convey Hashem’s absolute intent.

Conclusion

In the Sefer Hachinuch, mitzvah #424 is: “Not to test a true prophet too much.” He explains that, if we test the navi after he has adequately proved his veracity, those jealous of him or pained by his success may use excessive testing as an excuse not to listen to his commandments. In other words, they will deny his authenticity unjustifiably, by claiming that he has as yet not been tested sufficiently. Thus, we see that even something so obvious as the ability of a great tzadik to foretell the future can be denied by people, when they don’t want to accept the truth!

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The Talis Exchange and Other Lost Stories

Chazal teach us that in the merit of Avraham saying to the king of Sodom that he would not accept even a thread from him, his descendants received the mitzvah of tzitzis.

Question #1: THE TALIS EXCHANGE

Dovid asked me the following shaylah: “I put down my talis in shul and, upon returning, discovered that it had been replaced with a similar-looking talis. I left the talis undisturbed, and hung up a sign noting the exchange. Unfortunately, no one responded, and, indeed, the owner may not even realize that he has my talis. Should I take his talis home? May I use it, or must I purchase a new one and leave his until he claims it, which may never happen?”

Question #2: THE LAUNDRY EXCHANGE

A laundry returned the correct quantity of items that had been brought originally; however, the customer, Reuvein, later realized that one sheet was not his. A different customer, Shimon, picked up his laundry and was missing some items; however the laundry insisted that it had returned whatever was brought. Shimon subsequently discovered that Reuvein had one of Shimon’s missing sheets and he clearly identified his missing sheet. Reuvein claimed that the sheet was a replacement for his sheet that was lost and that he is therefore not required to return it. Must he return the sheet?

Question #3: THE WEDDING EXCHANGE

Someone went to a wedding wearing one coat and mistakenly returned home with a different one. May he use this coat and assume that the other party is agreeable to the exchange? Does this depend on which coat is more valuable?

Question #4: AN UMBRELLA ON THE SUBWAY

On the subway you see a frum, unfamiliar person rush off the car, forgetting her umbrella. May you keep or use the umbrella, knowing that the owner will soon realize her loss?

SHO’EL SHELO MIDAAS

The concern in all these situations is that one is using someone else’s property without permission. This is called sho’el shelo midaas, borrowing without the owner’s knowledge, which is usually halachically equivalent to stealing(Bava Metzia 41a; 43b)! In general, one may not use an item until one receives permission from the owner.

CAN’T I JUST ACCEPT THE TRADE OF THE TWO ITEMS?

Since the loser is wearing my talis, why can’t I simply assume that we have traded taleisim; I’ll keep his talis and allow him to keep mine? (Although the correct Hebrew plural is taliyos or talisos, I will use the colloquial taleisim.)

Although Dovid may grant permission to the other person to use his talis,can he assume that he has permission to use the other person’s talis? Let us examine a relevant discussion:

EXCHANGED ITEMS AT THE TAILOR

Someone whose clothes were replaced with someone else’s at a tailor may use what he received until his garment is returned. However, if the exchange transpired at a shiva house or a simcha, he may not use the garment he received but must hold it until the owner claims his property. What is the difference between the two cases? Rav answered: “I was sitting with my uncle, and he explained to me, ‘Sometimes people tell the tailor to sell the item for them’” (Bava Basra 46a).

We see from this case that if I exchanged a coat with someone else at a simcha or at a shiva, I may not wear the coat,since I am “borrowing” it without permission. The fact that the other person is using my garment, knowingly or unknowingly, does not permit me to use his. I may have to purchase a replacement, even though a perfectly nice garment is sitting unused in my closet, since the garment is not mine.

However, if the exchange happened in a tailor shop, I may use the replacement.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TAILOR AND A WEDDING?

Why is the tailor shop different? The Gemara presents a rather cryptic answer to this question: “Sometimes people tell the tailor to sell the item for them.” What does this mean?

The early poskim explain that when the exchange transpired in a repair shop, one may assume that the following situation occurred:

Someone brought a garment to the tailor, asking him to sell it for him. The tailor erred and sold your garment instead and then paid the money received (minus his sales commission) to the original owner of that garment. When you came to claim your garment, the tailor realized his error, and also realized that he must compensate you for your item, since he probably has no way to retrieve it. However, he had no cash available,so he gave you a replacement instead – the garment that he was supposed to sell (Tur and Sma, Choshen Mishpat 136:1). Since the tailor already paid the original owner for his garment, he now owns it and he is fully authorized to give it to you as a replacement for your lost garment. This case is referred to as nischalfu keilim beveis ha’uman (items that were exchanged in a craftsman’s shop).

The next passage in the Gemara’s discussion is now almost self-explanatory:

Rav Chiya the son of Rav Nachman explained that the ruling of nischalfu keilim beveis ha’uman applies only if the repairman himself gave you the different garment, but not if his wife or children gave them to you.

Obviously, if the tailor’s wife or child gave you the wrong garment, you cannot assume that this was because of the tailor’s earlier error. It is more likely that they simply mistakenly gave you the wrong garment, which needs to be returned.

Similarly, the following concluding passage of this discussion is clear.

Rav Chiya the son of Rav Nachman continued: The halacha of nischalfu keilim beveis ha’uman applies only if the repairman told you, “Here is a garment.” However if he said “Here is your garment,” we assume that he erred, since he is not giving you your garment.

If the tailor had sold your garment in error and is now sheepishly providing you with a replacement, he would not tell you, here is your garment. Therefore, if he says here is your garment, we assume he must have mistakenly given you the wrong garment, and you must return it.

We see clearly that the ruling of nischalfu keilim beveis ha’uman applies only when I can assume that a tailor or other repairman inadvertently sold or disposed of my item and can legitimately offer me the replacement. Otherwise the situation is comparable to the case of garments exchanged at a simcha, where one may not use the received garment without permission.

At this point we can analyze Question #2.

A laundry returned to Reuvein the same number of items he had brought originally; however, one sheet is not his. Shimon claims to be missing some items, which the laundry denies. Shimon proves that the sheet is his, yet Reuvein claims that the laundry gave it to him as a replacement for what they lost and that he is therefore not required to return it. Must he return the sheet?

Answer: Shimon did not give the sheet to the laundry to sell. Therefore, the laundry gave Shimon’s sheet to Reuven without authorization and he must return it to its rightful owner, even if Reuven has no other way of being compensated for his loss (Terumas Hadeshen #319; one of the interesting and surprising aspects of this shaylah is that this actual case was asked over 600 years ago!!).

The reason for this is obvious: Laundries do not usually act as agents to sell people’s clothing, and in any case, Shimon clearly denies ever making any such arrangement.

SO, WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE TALIS?

Let us return to our original question. Someone took Dovid’s talis and left behind a similar-looking one. The owner has not responded to any of his notices, and Dovid suspects that he does not even realize that an exchange transpired.

Based on the above discussion, it would seem that Dovid has no choice but to consider purchasing a new talis. However, there is another Gemara discussion that affects our case, so don’t run to the store just yet. Let us examine the following passage:

Shmuel said, “Someone who finds tefillin in the street should estimate their worth and may wear them himself” (Bava Metzia 29b). If the finder has no need for a pair of tefillin, he may sell them and put the money aside for the owner. The Rosh (Bava Metzia 2:16) rules that the finder may even use the money in the interim.

Shmuel’s statement presents some obvious questions:

His ruling seems to contradict the principle that borrowing an item without permission is tantamount to theft. Why can the finder wear (or sell) these tefillin? As we are all aware, one of the Torah’s mitzvos is to return a lost object to its owner (Devorim 22:1-3; Shemos 23:4). How does the Gemara permit the tefillin finder to wear them and not return them to the owner? And even if we correctly assume that “estimating their worth” means that he is responsible to return the value of the tefillin to its owner if and when he locates him, why is this case different from the normal obligation of returning the actual lost item itself to its owner? Obviously, there must be something about tefillin that permits the finder to keep them and simply repay their estimated value.

Some poskim contend that this ruling applies only to a mitzvah object, where the owner wants someone else to use his tefillin rather than have them sit unused (Shach 267:16, in explanation of the Rambam, Hilchos Gezeilah 13:14). However, most authorities imply that this ruling also applies to non-mitzvah items, in cases where the owner is satisfied with simply receiving back their value (see Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 267:21). The basis for this second opinion is the continuation of the Gemara’s discussion:

TEFILLIN VERSUS SEFORIM

The Gemara asks why someone finding tefillin may wear them, since this ruling appears to contradict a statement that someone who found books may not use them, but must hold them for the owner. Why are tefillin different from seforim? The Gemara answers that a person wants to receive back his own books, whereas he can always purchase new tefillin. This implies that people have no strong attachment to any specific pair of tefillin, whereas they have tremendous interest in seforim that are difficult to replace. From this one could infer that there is a difference between finding an item that the owner does not mind replacing and finding an item that he does not want to replace, and this would seem to have ramifications for someone who finds a talis, an umbrella, or some other easy to replace item.

Although this seems to be the obvious point of this Gemara, elsewhere the Gemara seems to rule otherwise. If someone found coins placed in a deliberate fashion, the finder may not spend this money and replace it with other coins, but must hold these very coins and return them to their owner (Bava Metzia 29b). Obviously, the owner is not concerned about receiving back these specific coins, and would be very satisfied with receiving replacement money. Why is it not sufficient to simply return coins of the same value? We see that returning replacement value is not satisfactory, even when the owner does not care.

The answer is that in the case of lost tefillin, two factors must be met before one may use them. In addition to the point mentioned above, another consideration is that someone who finds tefillin must occasionally air them out and ensure that they are kept dry (Rosh, Bava Metzia 2:18). (When a person wears tefillin daily, he automatically airs them out at the same time, which benefits them.) Thus, the owner of the tefillin actually benefits more if the finder sets aside money, since the tefillin will become ruined if no one takes proper care of them. This is qualitatively different from finding lost coins, which require no care other than storing them in a secure place.

We can therefore derive the following principles:

If taking care of a lost item requires some effort, and the owner does not care whether he receives back the original item, the finder may estimate the value of the lost item and plan to repay the owner this amount. Otherwise, the finder should hold the lost item and await the owner’s return.

Having established the rule, let us see which cases fit the rule and which do not. Clothing does not usually fit this rule, since people are interested in receiving back the same garment. A person is comfortable with his own clothes, and often purchasing something to one’s taste is not a simple matter. Therefore, someone finding a lost garment may not sell it and hold the money for the owner.

ARE UMBRELLAS AND TALEISIM LIKE TEFILLIN?

On the other hand, the average person does not develop a personal attachment to his umbrella and is perfectly satisfied to have a usable replacement umbrella. Similarly, a man is usually not that concerned about his specific talis and is satisfied with a replacement. In addition, both of these items are comparable to tefillin and not to coins, since if they are never used they become musty. (Normal use of an umbrella airs it out.) Therefore, someone who locates a lost umbrella may use it after estimating its value.

We are now prepared to answer Question #1 and also Question #4. I will answer Question #4 first: On the subway you see a frum but unfamiliar person rush off the car, forgetting her umbrella. May you keep or use the umbrella, knowing that the owner will soon realize her loss?

Clearly, she will despair of recovering her umbrella as soon as she realizes her loss (yi’ush), and if pick it up after she realizes that she left it on the subway, you are not responsible to return it or its value. Nevertheless, in this subway scenario, you will be picking up the umbrella before she realizes her loss.  In that case,  the umbrella is still the property of the person who lost it and someone picking it up is responsible to return it.

However, a person is usually not concerned about owning a specific umbrella, but is satisfied with money to purchase a replacement. (Indeed, if the umbrella that was lost appears to be a designer umbrella, the halacha will be different.) Therefore, even though the owner still owned the umbrella when you found it, you may claim the umbrella as your own, and simply make a mental note how much it is worth. Should you ever meet its owner and she proves that the umbrella was hers, you must compensate her.

And now our analysis of our opening question, The Talis Exchange

Dovid had put down his talis in shul, and it was replaced by a similar-looking talis. His attempts to alert the owner were unsuccessful, and, indeed, the owner may not even notice the exchange. May Dovid use the other talis or must he purchase a new one?

I believe that most men do not feel attached to their particular taleisim, and this case is therefore comparable to the tefillin case of the Gemara. Assuming this to be true, someone who finds a lost talis may estimate its value and then either wear it or sell it. Either way, he should record the value of the talis and intend to return it to the owner, should the owner ever return for it. When I first published this article, I received several responses disagreeing with me, contending that most people are more possessive of their taleisim than I felt.

PECULIARITIES

The careful reader may have noted that our discussion is heading to an unusual conclusion.Although the Gemara’s rules that the owner is less concerned about retrieving his tefillin than retrieving his seforim, today the opposite is generally true – an owner is usually not concerned about receiving backthe same sefer since one can usually purchase it again in a bookstore. (However, the Gemara’s halacha would remain true if he had written notes in the sefer, or it is a special edition that the owner would not be able to readily replace.)

On the other hand, many people own hand-picked tefillin and want their specific pair back (Minchas Elazar 4:9; see Pischei Choshen, Aveidah 6:ftn23). They may have purchased tefillin whose parshi’os were written by a specific sofer who no longer writes, or made by a specific batim macher who has a long waiting list. After analyzing the principles of the above-mentioned Gemara, the Minchas Elazar decides that the original owner gets his tefillin back. Thus, although the principles of the Gemara are infinite, the specific cases that match them change with society.

Returning lost items is a beautiful and important mitzvah. As we now see, the details of observing this mitzvah are often very complicated – and can vary from item to item.

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May a Non-Jew Own a Nectarine Tree?

Photo by Philipp Pilz from FreeImages

For that matter, may a Jew?

I once received the following query:

“I am not Jewish, but I observe the laws of Noahides as recorded in the writings of Maimonides, which I have read in the Yale University translation. I am aware that a gentile may not graft one species of tree onto another. Does owning a nectarine tree violate this prohibition? I would be greatly appreciative if you could answer this question, since I have just purchased a house with a nectarine tree in the yard.

Sincerely,

Jacqueline Baker

250 Washington Blvd.

Asheville, NC” (name and address have been changed)

Many of us reading the title of this article may have wondered, “If I am permitted to eat nectarines, why shouldn’t I own a nectarine tree?” Although the answer to this question is fairly straightforward, there are many other issues that need clarification, before we can answer Jacqueline’s shaylah.

First, let us explain the halachos of tree-grafting applicable to Jews. Sadly, because many Jews are unfamiliar with these halachos and unaware of the prevalence of grafted trees, they often, unwittingly, violate these laws.

Also, most people misunderstand the prohibition against kelayim, which is often translated as “mixed species.” People often understand this to mean a prohibition against hybridization or cross-breeding. Although it is true that the Torah prohibits crossbreeding different species of animal, virtually all other types of forbidden mixtures have nothing at all to do with hybridization. We list here the six types of prohibited mixtures, called kelayim.

1. Wearing shatnez, which is a mix of wool and linen.

2. Cross-breeding two animal species.

3. Using two animal species to haul or work together. This mitzvah is usually called lo sacharosh, do not plow with an ox and a donkey together.

4. Grafting different tree species. A sub-category of this prohibition is planting one species on top of or inside another species, a process that is virtually non-existent in contemporary agricultural practice.

5. Planting other crop species in a vineyard. For this purpose, “crop” refers to an annual (grows for only one year and then dies) edible plant. Examples are: seeds that are eaten, like beans, wheat, and sesame; root vegetables, like radish; leaves, such as lettuce; or fruit, such as tomatoes or melons.

6. Planting two crop species together or near one another. This prohibition applies only to species that are eaten.

Although we usually assume that the word kelayim means “mixture,” some commentaries explain that this word originates from the same Hebrew root as the word “prison,” beis ke’le. Thus, Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 19:19) explains that the root word כלא means to keep or hold something back, and that the plural form kelayim is similar to yadayim or raglayim and means a pair. Therefore, the word kelayim means to pair together two items that should be kept apart.

In order to explain the prohibition against grafting trees, the subject of our article, I will first provide some scientific background for city dwellers like myself, who know almost nothing about gardening and horticulture. Having been a city slicker almost my whole life, I freely admit that I knew little about this subject until I did some research in order to understand the halacha.

Hybridization (cross-breeding) of plants occurs when one pollinates the flower of one species with pollen from a different species. However, most of the prohibitions of kelayim have nothing to do with cross-breeding species. In the case of “herbaceous plants,” that is, plants other than perennial (live for many years) trees and shrubs, kelayim is a prohibition against planting two crop species close together. Halacha prohibits planting a crop species inside a vineyard, planting one species too close to another already planted species (distances vary according to how many plants are growing together), planting one species on top of or inside another species, and sowing the seeds of two species together. Incidentally, these prohibitions apply only in Eretz Yisrael, with the exception of planting a crop species in a vineyard (Kiddushin 39a) and, possibly, of planting one species inside another (see Gemara and Tosafos, Chullin 60a; Rambam, Hilchos  Kelayim 1:5 and Radbaz). Thus, someone in chutz la’aretz may plant his backyard garden with a wide variety of vegetables and other edibles without any halachic concern, whereas in Eretz Yisrael, someone planting a garden patch must be very careful to keep the different species separate. The complicated question of how far apart to plant them, and what qualifies as a valid separation if one plants them close together, is beyond the scope of this article (see Chazon Ish, Hilchos Kelayim 6:1).

(By the way, the halachic definition of a species often differs from scientific definition. For example, although some scientists consider wolves and dogs to be the same species, halacha does not; therefore, one may not crossbreed them or use them to haul a load together [Mishnah, Kelayim 1:6]. On the other hand, the Chazon Ish [3:7] discusses whether all citrus fruits are the same species regarding the laws of kelayim, which would permit grafting a grapefruit branch onto a lemon rootstock, whereas scientists consider them to be two distinct species.)

HARKAVAS ILAN – CROSS-GRAFTING

The laws of kelayim also prohibit grafting a branch of one species of tree onto the root stock, or lower trunk, of another species. Although a town dweller may feel that this is a rare occurrence, in fact, contemporary plant nurseries and tree farmers usually graft branches of a species that produces delicious fruit onto the hardier stock of a different species.

For example, most modern peach and nectarine trees are produced by grafting a peach or nectarine branch onto the stock of a hardier, botanically-related tree, such as an almond. As I will explain, someone who performs this, either in Eretz Yisrael or in chutz la’aretz, violates a Torah prohibition. According to many authorities, a non-Jew is also commanded regarding this mitzvah. This latter opinion contends that a Jew who causes a non-Jew to graft such a tree, or even to prune or water it after grafting was done, contravenes lifnei iveir, causing someone else to violate a prohibition.

Because so many trees are grafted nowadays, someone who owns a peach tree should have a horticultural expert check whether its rootstock is also a peach tree, or whether it is of a different species. If the stock is peach, even of a different variety, he may keep the tree; if the stock is of a different species, he should chop off the tree below the point of the graft. (Nobody has suggested that George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree because it was grafted onto a different species. Since George always strove for truth, however, this was, nonetheless, an additional good deed, at least according to some opinions.) As we will see shortly, there is no violation of bal tashchis in cutting down a grafted tree.

Often, even a non-expert can detect if a tree was grafted onto a different species by simply scrutinizing the tree. If the bark somewhere near the bottom of the tree looks very different from the upper part of the tree, this indicates that the upper part of the tree was grafted, possibly onto a different species. Before purchasing a new tree at a nursery, examine the trunk carefully for signs of grafting. If, indeed, this tree is the product of a graft onto a different species, then watering or pruning it violates a Torah law, as I will explain. Furthermore, one may not use a sprinkler to irrigate the rest of the lawn on which the tree stands, if this tree will benefit.

NECTARINE TREES

Nectarine trees are susceptible to a host of plant diseases, and, as a result, are usually grafted onto the stock of peach, plum, almond or other trees. It is unclear whether peach and nectarine are halachically considered the same species, but the other species are not the same, according to halacha. Therefore, watering a nectarine tree grafted onto a different species stock probably violates halacha.

By the way, according to halacha, one may plant or maintain different species of trees in close proximity, presumably because grown trees do not look mixed together but stand distinct.

DOES THE PROHIBITION AGAINST GRAFTING APPLY IN CHUTZ LA’ARETZ?

Although most agricultural mitzvos (mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz), such as terumah, maaser, and shmittah apply only in Eretz Yisrael, some of these mitzvos apply also in chutz la’aretz, such as the mitzvah of orlah, which prohibits using fruit that grows on a tree before it is three years old.

Although the laws of orlah differ when the tree grows in chutz la’aretz, the fruit produced before the tree is three years old is nevertheless prohibited.

Where does kelayim fit into this picture? Of course, some kelayim prohibitions, such as shatnez, cross-breeding animals and lo sacharosh are not agricultural and, therefore, apply equally in Eretz Yisrael and in chutz la’aretz. Among the agricultural prohibitions of kelayim, some apply in chutz la’aretz also, whereas others apply only in Eretz Yisrael.

Planting vegetables and other edible crops together applies only in Eretz Yisrael, grafting trees applies equally in chutz la’aretz and in Eretz Yisrael min hatorah, while planting in a vineyard applies in chutz la’aretz, but only miderabbanan (Kiddushin 39a).

MAY I OWN KELAYIM?

The Gemara (Moed Katan 2b) cites a dispute whether maintaining kelayim in a vineyard (in Eretz Yisrael) is prohibited min hatorah. Rabbi Akiva contends that building a fence to assist the growth of the two different species together violates a Torah law, whereas the Sages contend that it does not (Rashi to Avodah Zarah 64a).

Most poskim conclude that one may not own kelayim in a vineyard, but must remove the plant that is causing kelayim (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 297:2). The Rambam (Hilchos  Kelayim 1:2) paskins that owning kelayim is prohibited only miderabbanan, whereas the Rosh (Hilchos  Kelayim #3) prohibits this min hatorah. (We should note that Shu’t Chasam Sofer [Yoreh Deah #282] contends that Tosafos [to Avodah Zarah 64a s.v. Rabbi Akiva] permits owning kelayim.)

WHAT ABOUT OWNING A GRAFTED TREE?

Most poskim assume that one may not own a kelayim tree, just as one may not own kelayim in a vineyard. Furthermore, they contend that this halacha applies, whether the tree is in Eretz Yisrael or in chutz la’aretz (Rosh, Hilchos  Kelayim Chapters 1& 3; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 295:2, quoting many poskim).

However, in times past, many observant Jews purchased agricultural properties that contained kelayim trees, and they did not cut down those trees. Was there any justification for their actions? Many halachic responsa discuss what was, apparently, a widespread practice in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Whereas most poskim rule that these Jews violated the halacha, some authorities justify the practice of owning grafted trees, at least in chutz la’aretz (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #288; cf. Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 295:17-18). Even these opinions agree that it is preferred to follow the stricter approach and cut down the grafted part of the tree.

I THOUGHT THAT ONE MAY NOT CUT DOWN A FRUIT-BEARING TREE?

Although it is usually prohibited to chop down a tree that bears enough fruit to be profitable, this prohibition does not exist when owning the tree involves a prohibition. Furthermore, bal tashchis, generally, does not exist when one is trying to enhance one’s observance of mitzvos.

Nevertheless, it is preferred to have a non-Jew chop down the tree, since he has no mitzvah of bal tashchis.

DOES THE MITZVAH OF KELAYIM APPLY TO NON-JEWS?

In general, a non-Jew is required to observe only seven mitzvos. However, there are many opinions that require non-Jews to observe certain other mitzvos. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 56b) quotes a dispute concerning whether a non-Jew must observe certain of the kelayim mitzvos. According to the Sages, no aspect of the prohibition of kelayim applies to bnei Noach, whereas Rabbi Elazar contends that they are included in some of the kelayim prohibitions, but not others. Specifically, they are prohibited from mating different animal species and from grafting one species of fruit tree onto another, but they may plant different species together or in a vineyard, and they may wear shatnez.

Why are they included in some prohibitions but not others?

Describing the creation of plants, the Torah says: “And G-d said, ‘The earth shall sprout forth vegetation, herbage that produces seed; edible trees that produce fruit of their own species…’ And the earth produced vegetation, herbage that produces seed of its own species and trees that bear seed-bearing fruit of their own species” (Bereishis 1:11-12).

Reading the pasuk carefully, we see that Hashem ordered only the trees, and not the herbaceous plants, to “produce fruit of their own species.”

Even though the herbage did, in the end, produce “seed of its own species,” this was not because it was commanded. The Gemara derives from other sources that, just as the earth was commanded to keep tree species distinct, so, too, Adam harishon and all his descendants were commanded to keep these species distinct. But since the herbaceous world was never commanded to keep its species distinct, Adam was not commanded concerning this halacha. Therefore, although Jews may not plant different species together, bnei Noach may (Yerushalmi Kelayim 1:7, quoted by Gra, Yoreh Deah 295:2).

WHICH OPINION DO WE FOLLOW?

Do we rule like the Sages that a non-Jew is not included in the prohibition of harkavas ilan, or like Rabbi Elazar, that he is? The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 10:6) rules like Rabbi Elazar, that a non-Jew may not graft one species of tree onto another, whereas the Ritva (Kiddushin 39a s.v. amar Rabbi Yochanan) and the Shach (Yoreh Deah 297:3) are lenient.

Although we usually follow the Rambam’s opinion, some poskim suggest that we might be able to rule leniently, if only a rabbinic prohibition is involved, such as where the grafted tree exists already and one is not watering or pruning it (Chazon Ish, Kelayim 1:1).

MS. BAKER’S SHAYLAH

I mentioned earlier that a Jew who prunes or waters a kelayim tree violates the Torah prohibition, whether in Eretz Yisrael or in chutz la’aretz. According to most authorities, one may not even own this tree, and one is required to cut down the grafted part. However, since this last prohibition is only miderabbanan, according to most poskim, non-Jews may allow a grafted tree to survive and may even build a fence around it, since they are not required to observe rabbinic prohibitions. (Compare, however, Shu’t Mahari Asad, Yoreh Deah #350 and Shu’t Maharsham 1:179.) Ms. Baker may not water or prune a grafted tree, because that is halachically equivalent to planting it, which is prohibited according to most opinions. In my opinion, she may also not operate her sprinkler system to irrigate her lawn, if the kelayim tree will benefit as a result.

May Ms. Baker ask another non-Jew to water her tree? The poskim dispute whether a non-Jew may ask or hire someone else to violate a mitzvah. Most contend that this is permissible, because the mitzvah of lifnei iveir, causing someone else to violate a mitzvah, does not apply to non-Jews (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 16b s.v. lenachri). Other authorities (Ginas Veradim, Klal 43) prohibit this, basing themselves on earlier sources that prohibit a ben Noach from violating a transgression that logic tells us to avoid (Rabbeinu Nissim, Introduction to Shas).

MAY WE EAT THE FRUITS OF A GRAFTED TREE?

One may eat the fruits of a grafted tree (Rambam, Hilchos  Kelayim 1:7, based on Yerushalmi). One may even take the shoot of a grafted tree and plant it, after it has been severed from the original tree.

SEPARATION OF SPECIES

In all six types of kelayim mentioned above, the general criterion is to avoid the appearance of different species being intermingled.

Concerning this, Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 19:19) writes, “The Great Lawgiver of the world separates the countless numbers of His creations in all their manifold diversity, and assigns to each one of them a separate purpose and a separate form for its purpose.”

In addition, observing the laws of kelayim helps us remember how various species obeyed Hashem’s instructions to remain separate during their creation (the source for some halachos of kelayim, as we saw above). This reminds the contemplative Jew that if the plants heeded Hashem’s word during the Creation, how much more are we obligated to obey all His instructions.

The author thanks Dr. Joshua Klein of the Volcani Institute and Rabbi Shmuel Silinsky for their tremendous assistance in providing horticultural information for this article.

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Food Coloring and Shabbos

Question #1: Mixing drinks

“May I mix red and white wines on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Cake decorating

“May I decorate a cake on Shabbos?”

Answer:

One of the 39 melachos, prohibited activities, of Shabbos is tzovei’a, dyeing. Tzovei’a was performed during the construction of the Mishkan when they dyed the rams’ hides red, as well as when they dyed the woolen threads used in the curtains and the clothing of the kohanim (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 7:2, referring to Shemos 25:5, 26:14, 35:7,23; 36:19, 39:34). Staining furniture, dyeing cloth or painting a rustproof finish on a metal trim (see Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 32:15) on Shabbos or Yom Tov all violate this melacha. Someone who paints a house on Shabbos is punishable for two different melachos, tzovei’a and boneh, construction (Tiferes Yisrael, Kalkeles Shabbos #15).

Dyeing food

The opening questions concern the following topic: May one color food on Shabbos or Yom Tov? As we will see shortly, many halachic authorities contend that the melacha of tzovei’a does not apply to edible items. Why should food be treated differently from furniture or clothing?

Egging on your mustard!

To begin, let us note a Talmudic passage that implies that tzovei’a does not apply to food. The Mishnah (Shabbos 139b) rules that one may add egg to mustard seeds on Shabbos, which the Gemara (140a) explains to mean even when the goal is for the yolk to color the mustard more yellow than it is naturally. Why is this not prohibited as dyeing on Shabbos?

An early authority, the Shibbolei Haleket (#86), explains that adding egg to mustard is permitted because of a halachic principle that he calls ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, the melacha of dyeing does not apply to food. Because of this principle, he permits dipping bread into fruit juice on Shabbos in order to color it. Since the position of the Shibbolei Haleket is the only opinion on the subject quoted by the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 320), we are not surprised to find that Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Beis Yosef, ruled in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 320:19) that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, without even mentioning that some authorities reject this ruling. Because of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, the Shulchan Aruch permits using saffron to color food on Shabbos.

Although we have now established a halachic precedent for ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, we still do not know a rationale why this principle should be true. Among the later authorities, we find several approaches to explain why ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin.

Dyeing is forever!

The first approach requires a bit of an introduction, because we will be comparing dyeing to other melacha activities that do not apply to food. The Gemara cites a dispute whether salting meat heavily so that it will not spoil, as was done commonly in earlier generations, violates the melacha of tanning (me’abeid) on Shabbos (Shabbos 75b). Rabbah bar Rav Huna contends that salting meat on Shabbos to preserve it for a long trip is prohibited min hatorah, whereas Rava maintains that salting meat or any other food can never violate this melacha min hatorah, a position he explains as ein ibud ba’ochlin, the melacha of tanning does not apply to food.

Both Rabbah bar Rav Huna and Rava agree that the salting of meat to remove its blood, what we call kashering, does not violate the Torah prohibition of tanning (Shabbos 75b). According to Rava, even the heavy salting done to preserve meat for months is not comparable to the salting that preserves hides, which is prohibited min hatorah. The goal of tanning hides is to make leather that will last as long as wood does, which is not the goal when salting food, even for preservation purposes.

The Chasam Sofer explains that the reason for ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin is closely related to the principle of ein ibud ba’ochlinthe melacha of tanning does not apply to food. He contends that the melacha of dyeing applies only to items that one can dye permanently (Chasam Sofer, Shabbos 75a, s.v. Rav). The coloring on food is never meant to be forever, since one’s goal is that the food is eaten.

Following this approach, we find that some authorities understand ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin in a very broad way. The Chacham Tzvi (Shu”t Chacham Tzvi 2:92) implies that the principle of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin permits using fruit juice or other edible dye to paint one’s hands on Shabbos. Since the source of the dye is edible, as long as one does not use it to color clothing and other items where the color may set in a permanent way, it is permitted to do so. We should note that later authorities reject this broad heter of the Chacham Tzvi (see, for example, Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 320:25).

Rabbinic limitations

Others note that the comparison of dyeing to tanning should have us conclude that dyeing food does not constitute a violation min hatorah, because it is not permanent, but it should still be prohibited on Shabbos and Yom Tov because of a rabbinic injunction. The same is true regarding kashering meat on Shabbos. Although it does not violate any Torah prohibition, it is prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction, as noted by Tosafos (Shabbos 75b). Yet, we see that it is permitted lechatchilah to color mustard seeds with yolk on Shabbos. According to what we have just said, this should be prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction.

The Chayei Adam answers that using an item that is commonly viewed as a colorant is prohibited because of rabbinic injunction, but coloring food with an item not usually considered a colorant, such as egg yolk, is permitted lechatchilah (Chayei Adam 24:5, Nishmas Adam 24:3).

A difference in practical halacha results between the two opinions we have quoted: the approach of the Chasam Sofer, that painting food is never considered tzovei’a, and that of his contemporary, the Chayei Adam. According to the Chasam Sofer’s approach, any food coloring may be added on Shabbos, even something commonly used to add color, such as saffron. According to the Chayei Adam’s approach, ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin is limited to items that are not usually considered colorants, such as fruit juice or egg yolk. The Chayei Adam expressly disputes the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, quoted above, who permitted using saffron on Shabbos as a food color, contending that saffron may not be used, since it is a commonly used colorant (Nishmas Adam).

Color is like flavor

There is yet a third way to understand why ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin. The Kehillas Yaakov (Shabbos #40) explains that the melacha of dyeing is violated only when one intends to create a beautiful item. One adds color to food not so that the item should be more beautiful, but to make it more appetizing to eat. As any caterer or restaurateur will tell you, serving food in a colorful and eye-catching way is an important factor in making a repast a pleasant experience. According to this approach, coloring food on Shabbos is permitted, just as one may flavor food, even if one uses a colorant, such as saffron. Thus, we can explain why the Shulchan Aruch permitted using saffron on Shabbos, either according to the approach of the Chasam Sofer or according to the approach of the Kehillas Yaakov.

On the other hand, the approach of the Kehillas Yaakov permits tzovei’a ba’ochlin only when one’s goal is to make the food more palatablee. However, dyeing food to demonstrate that the colorant creates a permanent hue desecrates Shabbos. It is prohibited, perhaps min hatorah, to use food color when your goal is to create an exhibition, and not simply to encourage people to eat (Pri Megadim; Eishel Avraham 320:25). Similarly, one may not color water when one does not intend to serve it, since the purpose of the dyeing is not to make it more attractive as a food (Chayei Adam 24:4; Tiferes Yisrael, Kalkeles Shabbos #15).

We should note that one major authority rules that the last instance of tzovei’a, mixing food color and water, is not prohibited min hatorah, but for a totally unrelated reason. The Rogatchover Gaon explains that the definition of tzovei’a requires that pigment is placed on the surface of an item, such as is done when painting or dyeing (Commentary to Hilchos Shabbos, 9:14). However, in his opinion, mixing dye with water is not placing a color atop an item, but an act of diluting pigment, and, therefore, does not qualify as tzovei’a.

Cake decorating

May one decorate a celebratory cake with various food colors on Shabbos? On the one hand, this is food that will soon be consumed, so perhaps this should be included under the rubric of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin. On the other hand, one can argue that, in this instance, the purpose of the coloring is not to attract people to eat the cake. Rather, the decorating is to use the cake as a means of conveying good wishes to the celebrant, and the color, therefore, does not serve a food purpose. Therefore, according to the Kehillos Yaakov, this is similar to coloring food on Shabbos as part of an exhibition, which is prohibited.

Adding red wine to white

Here is another case which might be affected by the dispute why ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin. Based on a pasuk in Mishlei (23:31) that implies that red wine is preferred, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 472:11) rules that it is preferred to use red wine for the four cups of wine at the Seder (based on Bava Basra 97b). The question is raised by early authorities: If one has reasons to use a white wine for the seder, but wants to provide a reddish tinge to fulfill this halachic preference, may he mix red and white wines together on Shabbos or Yom Tov? Is this permitted because of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin?

The Darchei Moshe (end of Orach Chayim 320) quotes a dispute between the Agur and Rav Avraham Mintz. The Agur quotes that he heard from Rav Avraham Mintz that mixing the wines is prohibited because of tzovei’a, whereas the Agur himself permits it, because of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, just as one may add egg yolk to mustard seeds.

According to the first two approaches to explain ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, it should be permitted to mix the wines. The blended wine will soon be consumed, and, therefore, this coloring is certainly not permanent. Furthermore, wine is not usually considered a colorant. So why did Rav Avraham Mintz prohibit it?

We can suggest the following: Perhaps he understood the halacha similar to the way the Kehillas Yaakov did – that the reason we permit coloring food on Shabbos is to make it attractive and this is considered equivalent to flavoring it. This halacha is true only when the coloring is to encourage people to eat the food. However, blending red and white wine because he wants the wine to fulfill those opinions that hold that red wine is halachically preferable is an act of coloring and forbidden. This, reasoned Rav Avraham Mintz, is not included under the heter of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin (see Mishnah Berurah 320:56). (We should note that the Nishmas Adam 24:3 presents a different approach to explain the position of Rav Avraham Mintz.)

A challenge

Notwithstanding the extensive discussion I have presented of the concept ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, many authorities challenge the conclusion that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, based on the following Talmudic passage:

The Gemara (Shabbos 75a) cites a dispute between Rav and Shmuel germane to the question of how many melachos of Shabbos someone violates if he slaughters (shechts) an animal on Shabbos. Shmuel rules that he has violated only one melacha, that of taking a life. Rav contends that he violates two, one for taking a life and a second for dyeing, since one desires that potential purchasers see that the meat is fresh (see Rashi ad locum). Since Rav contends that coloring the meat red with blood is prohibited min hatorah as an act of dyeing, he presumably disputes the ruling of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin!

In terms of halacha lema’aseh, the question becomes even stronger, since the majority of authorities rule according to Rav (Semag; Yerei’im; Semak; Or Zarua; Meiri; Rashi, Bava Kama 34b s.v. betzarich). [We should note that several authorities, including the Chasam Sofer, the Nishmas Adam (24:1), and the Avnei Neizer, understand that the Rambam ruled according to Shmuel.] Indeed, we should be aware that, on the basis of this Gemara, one major rishon disputes the entire principle of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin and rules that it is prohibited to color foods on Shabbos (Tosafos Rid, Shabbos 75b; see also Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 1:173). It is possible that Rav Avraham of Mintz held this way also, and that this is the reason he prohibited mixing red and white wine on Shabbos. However, most authorities conclude that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, which means that we must have some way of explaining why Rav prohibited shechting an animal because it violates tzovei’a.

Meat or hide?

It is possible that Rav does not dispute the principle of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, and that he ruled that one violates tzovei’a when slaughtering an animal only when the hide is bloodied, but not for the bloodying of the meat. Hide is not food, and coloring it has the halachic status of dyeing leather, which is certainly forbidden min hatorah. Indeed, there are rishonim who explain that Rav contends that one violates tzovei’a only when he wants the hide to look red (Sefer Yerei’im; Or Zarua).

Although this approach has much merit, there must be another way to explain the difference between Rav’s case and the principle of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin. This is because Rashi explains that Rav ruled that one violates tzovei’a even when he wanted only the meat to look red. According to Rashi, we must look further to find an answer why Rav ruled that providing fresh meat with a bloody surface violates tzovei’a min hatorah, notwithstanding that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin.

Meat versus mustard!

Indeed, many authorities contend that there is a qualitative difference between coloring mustard seed with yolk and coloring meat with blood. In the meat case, one is not trying to make a ready-to-eat food more attractive, which is halachically equivalent to flavoring food and therefore permitted. Rather, the slaughterer’s interest is to sell the meat, and reddening the meat is to make it more attractive for purchase. This may be no different from painting a house that one is selling, which is done to make it more aesthetically pleasing and attractive to a potential buyer. Both activities are prohibited min hatorah on Shabbos (Nishmas Adam 24:3).

An alternative approach to explain why Rav considered bloodying meat an act of dyeing min hatorah is because ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin applies only to food that can be eaten immediately. However, the freshly slaughtered meat that Rav describes requires soaking and salting to make it kosher for the Jewish table (Shu”t Chacham Tzvi 2:92; Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 1:173).

Food color to whiskey

Would adding colorant to hard liquor on Shabbos to make it more salable violate a Torah prohibition of dyeing? According to the last reason we have cited, it would, and, indeed, the Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 320:25) prohibits adding colorant on Shabbos to whiskey or mead that is for sale, contending that the heter of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin does not apply in this instance.

In conclusion

Most, but not all, authorities rule that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, at least when one is using something that is usually not considered to be a pigment. For example, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach (Shulchan Shelomoh to 320:19) rules that one may add syrup (petel) to water on Shabbos, even if the syrup contains food coloring that adds no taste, since the purpose is to make the beverage attractive for people to drink. However, someone desiring a specific variety of petel, because of an affinity for its particular color, should not mix it on Shabbos. It seems that this is not adding color to encourage people to drink the beverage, but it is considered producing a particular shade for aesthetic reasons.

Hashkafah

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly assume 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 melacha, which implies work with purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from altering the world with our own creative acts and, instead, emphasize Hashem’s all-encompassing role (Rav Hirsch’s Commentary to Shemos 20:11).

Our current discussion provides an excellent example to prove this point. Whether someone violates the Shabbos melacha of dyeing is not at all dependent on how hard he worked, but on abstract principles that determine whether this act is considered a creative act of man or not. Thus, understanding the laws of tzovei’a on Shabbos provides greater insight into how the true Builder and Creator of the world wants us to understand the beauty of Shabbos.

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