Double Parshiyos and the Leap Year

Question #1: When is it a good idea to have doubles?

Question #2: Disproportionate readings

Why are the last four parshiyos of the Torah so short? Would it not make sense that the weekly readings be more evenly divided?

Question #3: Why does is take them so long to catch up?

Sometimes the weekly reading in Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz are a week apart for months on end. Why don’t we coordinate things better?

Answer

Most doctors and other health professionals agree with the Rambam’s assessment that taking a double portion is not good for our health. Nevertheless, in most calendar years, our policy is to have several weeks of the year when we read a double parsha, and this is definitely good policy; otherwise, we would have difficulty completing the Torah every year and making a Siyum HaTorah on Simchas Torah. This year 5774 adds an unusual feature, in that there is only one parsha doubled the entire year, and that is not until the very last week of the year – almost as if we need to break the no-hitter in the ninth inning. Although this happened exactly three years ago, the time before that this happened was almost thirty years ago — back in 5744/1983/4, and we will not see this phenomenon again for another 21 years. Those who deplore long Shabbos davenings, and those curious to find out why this year was so singular – stay aboard.

There are a total of seven potential “double parshiyos,” meaning parshiyos that can sometimes be read as one reading on a Shabbos, but we rarely double them all in the same year. The reason for the doubling of most parshiyos is to accommodate the extra Shabbosos that are missing in a common (non-leap) year, which is a month shorter than a leap year; but, this is not the only reason for doubled parshiyos. Since the doubling of most parshiyos is to accommodate the four extra weeks of the leap year (or the four missing Shabbosos of the common year, depending on whether you look at the year as half-full or half-empty), four of the doubled parshiyos are at the end of Sefer Shemos or in Sefer Vayikra (Vayakheil-Pekudei; Tazria-Metzora; Acharei-Kedoshim and Behar-Bechukosei) – all of them falling between Adar, the new month added because of a leap year, and Shavuos.

Why do we want to “catch up” in time for Shavuos? This is so that we can fulfill a decree of Ezra, as presented in the Gemara:[1]

Ezra decreed that the Jews read the curses of the Tochacha in Vayikra before Shavuos and those of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah. [The Gemara then queries:] Why? In order to end the year together with its curses! [The Gemara then comments:] We well understand why we read the Tochacha of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah because the year is ending, but why is that of Vayikra read before Shavuos? Is Shavuos the beginning of a year? Yes, Shavuos is the beginning of a new year, as the Mishnah explains that the world is judged on Shavuos for fruit.” Tosafos (ad loc.) explains the Gemara to mean that the tochacha should be completed two weeks before each “New Year,” to allow there to be one Shabbos as a buffer between the Tochacha and the beginning of the year.[2] Therefore, the parsha of Bechukosei, which includes the tochacha, should be read at least two weeks before Shavuos, thus necessitating combining the parshiyos in a way that we complete them and are able to read Bamidbar before Shavuos. As a result, in most years there is one Shabbos between the tochacha of Bechukosei and Shavuos, when we read Parshas Bamidbar. In some leap years, there are two Shabbosos between Bechukosei and Shavuos; in those years, Naso is also read before Shavuos.

There are three other “double parshiyos” that do not come out during this part of the year, and each has its own reason for doubling the parshiyos, a reason that is unrelated to whether it is a leap year.

The “Double Parsha of the Exile”

Chukas-Balak is a double parsha that exists only outside Eretz Yisrael. I once heard it jokingly refered to as “Parsha Sheniyah shel Galiyus,” The Double Parsha of the Exile, a takeoff on the halachic term “Yom Tov Sheini shel Galiyus,” the second day of Yom Tov that is observed outside Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, the two days of Yom Tov in chutz la’aretz is the reason for combining Chukas and Balak into one parsha. When Shavous falls on Friday, its second day is on Shabbos, and, therefore, the communities of the exile read Aseir te’aseir in Parshas Re’eih, because it discusses the Yom Tov, whereas in Eretz Yisrael the next week’s parsha, Naso, is read, since it is no longer Shavuos. When this phenomenon occurs, the Jewish communities of Eretz Yisrael and of the Golah are reading different parshiyos for four weeks, from Parshas Naso through Parshas Chukas, with Eretz Yisrael always reading the parsha a week earlier, until the Golah “catches up” on the Shabbos that falls on the 12th of Tamuz, by reading both Chukas and Balak on one Shabbos, while in Eretz Yisrael they read only Parshas Balak. Thus, the following week, both communities read Parshas Pinchas.

The doubling of Matos and Masei

There are two other parshiyos, Matos and Masei, which are almost always read together, and are separated only when the year requires an extra Shabbos reading, as it did this year. Although we treat Matos and Masei as separate parshiyos, we should really view them as one long parsha (making the combination the largest parsha in the Torah), that occasionally needs to be divided to accommodate the need for an extra Torah reading.

In the occasional years when Matos and Masei are read separately, Parshas Pinchas falls before the Three Weeks — and we actually get to read the haftarah that is printed in the chumashim for Parshas Pinchas, Ve’yad Hashem, from the book of Melachim. In all other years, Parshas Pinchas is the first Shabbos of the three weeks, and the haftarah read is Divrei Yirmiyahu, the opening words of the book of Yirmiyahu, which is appropriate to the season. The printers of chumashim usually elect to print Divrei Yirmiyahu as if it is the haftarah for Parshas Matos, and then instruct you to read it on most years, instead, as the haftarah for Pinchas. What is more logical is to label this haftarah as the one appropriate for the first of the three weeks, and to print both after Pinchas; one for the occasional year when Pinchas falls before the 17th of Tamuz, and one for the far more frequent year when it falls after, and instruct people that when there is a haftarah to be read just for Parshas Matos, that they should read the second haftarah printed after Parshas Pinchas. But, alas, the printers do not usually consult with me, but look at what other printers have already done.

When do they go alone?

In what years are Matos and Masei separated? Only in leap years and only when there are no parshiyos doubled together from Simchas Torah until the week before Rosh Hashanah. (I will explain shortly why Parshas Netzavim is treated differently.) There are two types of leap years that require Matos and Masei to be separated:

(1) A leap year that begins on a Thursday.

A leap year adds an extra month, which is thirty days, not 28. Thus, a leap year sometimes adds five extra Shabbosos, not just four, and there is a need to add an extra reading. This occurs when a leap year begins on a Thursday. In calendar jargon, these years are called החא and השג, which both mean that Rosh Hashanah falls on Thursday. In these years, to accommodate the extra Shabbos, the parshiyos of Matos and Masei are separated. As we can imagine, this is not a very common occurrence – a leap year that begins with Rosh Hashanah on Thursday. However, not only did this happen this year, but it also continued an interesting and quirky streak: This was the fourth leap year in a row to begin on a Thursday. Leap years 5765 (the eighth year of the current cycle), 5768 (the eleventh year of the current cycle), and 5771 (the fourteenth year of the current cycle) all began on Thursday. Thus, Matos was separated from Masei this year for the fourth time in ten years. This streak is broken, finally, in the next leap year, 5776, when Rosh Hashanah occurs on a Monday, and Matos and Masei are again combined. At this point, one will have to get used to long davenings in the middle of the summer, since the next time that Matos and Masei are separate is not until 5795, the secular year 2034, which means that 21 years will pass before Matos and Masei are again read on separate Shabbosos.

(2) What I have said until now is accurate only if you are outside Eretz Yisrael. There is one other situation in Eretz Yisrael in which the parshiyos of Matos and Masei are read on separate weeks, because, otherwise, there are simply not enough readings for every Shabbos of the year. When Rosh Hashanah of a leap year falls on a Tuesday, or in some leap years, even when it falls on a Monday, Eretz Yisrael has to read every possible separate parsha from Rosh Hashanah until the next Rosh Hashanah to accommodate all the Shabbosos of the year. In these years, in Eretz Yisrael, there are no doubled parshiyos, and, therefore, Matos and Masei are separated.

Why is this dependent on being in Eretz Yisrael? The year is the same length no matter where you are, and there seem to be just as many Shabbosos in Eretz Yisrael as there are outside?

The difference is that in these years, the Eighth Day of Pesach, Acharon shel Pesach, falls on Shabbos. On this Yom Tov day, observed only outside Eretz Yisrael, the special Yom Tov reading in chutz la’aretz is Aseir te’aseir, whereas in Eretz Yisrael this Shabbos is after Pesach (although the house is still chometz-free!), and the reading is Parshas Acharei. Thus, in chutz la’aretz there is a need to double a parsha, and, according to what is today common practice, that parsha is Matos and Masei.

The practice I just mentioned however creates a very unusual phenomenon:

The subsequent Shabbos, the Jews of Eretz Yisrael are already reading Parshas Kedoshim, whereas outside Eretz Yisrael the reading is Parshas Acharei. The communities outside Eretz Yisrael ignore the opportunity of doubling up parshiyos Acharei and Kedoshim, Behar and Becholosai and Chukas and Balak, all of which are doubled together upon other occasions, and wait until the very last parsha of Bamidbar to combine Matos with Masei. Thus, the disparity between Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz lasts for over three months, until Parshas Masei, which, as I mentioned above, outside Eretz Yisrael is doubled into MatosMasei. By the way, this phenomenon is fast approaching. Hebrew year 5776, to be here in two years, follows this pattern, so those who return to chutz la’aretz after spending Pesach in Eretz Yisrael will find that they have missed a parsha. Unless, of course, they decide to stay in Eretz Yisrael until the Nine Days.

The Long Wait to Double

This leads to a very interesting question: Why is the disparity between Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz allowed to last for such a long period of time? There are three potential doubled parshiyos that are passed before one gets to Parshas Matos – all weeks in which those in chutz la’aretz could combine two parshiyos in order to catch up.

As you can imagine, we are not the first to raise this question, which is indeed raised by one of the great sixteenth-century poskim, the Maharit (Shu’t Volume II # 4). He answers that Shavuos should ideally fall between Bamidbar and Naso, and that combining either Acharei with Kedoshim, or Behar with Bechokosai would push Shavuos until after Parshas Naso. Indeed, in these years, this is what happens in Eretz Yisrael, but there is no option there, since there are simply not enough Shabbosos for all the parshiyos. In chutz la’aretz, since one can have the readings occur on the preferred weeks, we delay the combined parshiyos until after Shavuos.

However, the Maharit notes that this does not explain why the parshiyos of Chukas and Balak are not combined, although he notes that the Syrian communities indeed follow this practice — that is, on leap years when Acharon shel Pesach falls on Shabbos, they combine parshiyos Chukas and Balak, but read Matos and Masei on separate weeks, as is done in Eretz Yisrael.

To explain why the parshiyos of Chukas and Balak are not combined in other communities, the Maharit concludes that once most of the summer has passed and the difference is what to read on only three Shabbosos, we combine Matos with Masei, which are usually combined, rather than Chukas and Balak, which are usually separate.

NetzavimVayeilech

We have now explained the reason for every time we read a double parsha, with one important and anomalous exception – the two tiny parshiyos of Netzavim and Vayeilech. Tosafos already asks why we often combine the two huge parshiyos of Matos and Masei, and in the very same year, read the two tiny parshiyos of Netzavim and Vayeilech on separate weeks. His answer is based on his explanation to the Gemara that we quoted earlier:

Ezra decreed that the Jews read the curses of the Tochacha in Vayikra before Shavuos and those of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah. [The Gemara then queries:] Why? In order to end the year together with its curses, which Tosafos understood to mean that the tochacha should be completed two weeks before Rosh Hashanah to allow a week as a buffer between the tochacha and the beginning of the year.

That buffer parsha is Netzavim, which must always be read on the last Shabbos of the year; but, ultimately, this means that only a small part of the Torah is left to be read between Rosh Hashanah and Simchas Torah. This small part left is divided into three small parshiyos, Vayeilech, Haazinu, and Vezos Haberacha. Vezos Haberacha is, of course, read on Simchas Torah, and Haazinu on the last Shabbos of the cycle, which is either Shabbos Shuva or the Shabbos between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, if there is one. Thus, whether Vayeilech merits its own Shabbos or is combined with Netzavim depends on only one factor: if there is more than one Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos. When there are two such Shabbosos, Vayeilech is read on Shabbos Shuva, and Haazinu the week afterwards. When there is only one Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos, Vayeilech is combined with Netzavim on the week before Rosh Hashanah, and Haazinu is read the week of Shabbos Shuva.

Conclusion

From all of the above, we see the importance that Chazal placed on the public reading of the Torah and of completing its cycle annually. It goes without saying that we should be concerned with being attentive to the words of the Torah as they are being read, and that the baal keriah should make every effort to read them accurately.

 

[1] Gemara Megillah 31b; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 13:2

[2] The Levush explains that without the week as a buffer, the Satan could use te Tochacha as a means of prosecuting against us on the judgment day

Holding the Torah Upright

According to some rishonim, the mitzvah to raise the Torah (hagbahah) is mentioned in parshas Ki Savo.

Question #1: Holy Roller

“I was in a shul, and when they took out the sefer Torah, they opened it and carried it all around the shul, showing everyone with a yad where the beginning of the keri’ah is. I had never seen this before, and was wondering if this is a common practice. Is it mentioned in halachic sources, or does it simply manifest someone’s enthusiasm?”

Question #2: Reversing the Trend

Is there any halachic basis for the custom on Simchas Torah of reversing the sefer Torah so that the writing faces away from the magbiah?

Answer: Needing a Lift

The mitzvah of hagbahah is to raise the sefer Torah and show it, so that everyone in the shul can see the writing of the sefer Torah. The prevalent, but not exclusive, tradition among Ashkenazim is that this mitzvah is performed after each sefer Torah is read, whereas the exclusive practice among edot hamizrach (Jews of Middle Eastern and Sefardic descent) is that this lifting is performed prior to reading from the Torah. Among the edot hamizrach, some open the sefer Torah and lift it up immediately upon removing it from the Aron Kodesh, whereas others first bring the sefer Torah to the shulchan and then perform hagbahah, prior to calling up the kohen for the first aliyah (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). Some even perform hagbahah both before and after the reading (ibid.; Kaf Hachayim 134:17) As a matter of curiosity, it is interesting to mention that some Chassidim and Perushim in Eretz Yisrael observe the practice of the Sefardim and perform hagbahah before the Torah is read. When following this procedure, the magbiah does not sit down with the sefer Torah after he has completed his job, but places it down on the shulchan from which it is read.

As we will soon see, both customs – performing hagbahah before the reading and performing it after the reading – can be traced back to antiquity.

The earliest description of hagbahah

The earliest extant description of the procedure of hagbahas haTorah is found in Masechta Sofrim, as follows:

“One must raise the sefer Torah when reciting the words Shema Yisrael… and then raise it again upon reciting Echad Elokeinu Gadol Adoneinu Kadosh Shemo… Immediately, [the person performing the mitzvah] opens the sefer Torah to a width of three columns and lifts the sefer Torah — showing the writing to all the people standing to his right and his left. Then he moves the sefer Torah in a circular motion before him and behind him — because it is a mitzvah incumbent on all the men and women to see the text of the sefer Torah, to bow, and to say Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael” (Masechta Sofrim 14:11-14).

What are the sources for the divergent customs?

As noted by the Beis Yosef and the Gra, the Masechta Sofrim describes performing hagbahah before keri’as haTorah. Nevertheless, the venerated practice of the Bnei Ashkenaz is to do hagbahah after we read the Torah (see Darkei Moshe 147:4; the practice is quoted at least as early as the Sefer HaItur, who lived over eight hundred years ago). This custom is based on the Gemara (Megillah 32a) that states, “After ten people read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll up the Torah,” which refers to hagbahah and implies that it is performed after the Torah has been read. Similarly, a different passage of Gemara (Sotah 39b) mentions that the person reading the haftarah should be careful not to begin until the rolling of the Torah is complete. This implies that the hagbahah and subsequent rolling closed of the Torah is performed immediately prior to the haftarah, and not before the Torah is read.

Two places in Shulchan Aruch

This difference in practice resulted in an anomalous situation. Because the Tur was an Ashkenazi, he included the laws of hagbahas haTorah after the reading of the Torah, in Chapter 147 of Orach Chayim. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch, who follows Sefardic practice, mentions hagbahas haTorah before the rules of the reading of the Torah in Chapter 134:2, yet he also discusses the laws of hagbahas HaTorah where the Tur placed the halachah in Chapter 147. As a result, the halachos of hagbahas haTorah are located in two different places in Shulchan Aruch, some in Chapter 134, others in Chapter 147, with the laws of keri’as haTorah sandwiched between.

Why do Ashkenazim do hagbahah afterwards?

Logically, it would seem that we should display the text of the sefer Torah prior to reading the Torah, so that people observe the section that is about to be read, as, indeed, the Sefardim do. Why do Ashkenazim delay displaying the words of the Torah until after the reading is concluded?

The authorities present the following basis for what seems to be an anomalous practice: In earlier generations, there were unlettered people who mistakenly assumed that it was more important to see the words of the Torah during the hagbahah than it was to hear the reading of the Torah. As a result, many of these people would leave shul immediately after the hagbahah and miss the reading. Therefore, the practice was introduced to postpone the hagbahah until after the reading was concluded — which now caused these people to stay in shul and hear the reading of the Torah (Shiyarei Keneses Hagedolah 134:2, quoted by Kaf Hachayim 134:17).

Are there any other ramifications to this dispute?

Indeed, there is another interesting ramification that results from the Ashkenazic practice of delaying the hagbahah until after the reading is concluded. Should one notice a pesul in the sefer Torah that does not require taking out another sefer Torah, but precludes reading from this sefer Torah until it is repaired, one should not recite the words Vezos HaTorah and Toras Hashem temimah when being magbiah the sefer Torah (Kaf Hachayim 134:17, quoting Shu’t Adnei Paz #13).

What is the proper way to do hagbahah?

A sefer Torah is written on sections of parchment that are stitched together. The person who is performing hagbahah should make sure that the stitching is in front of him before he lifts the Torah, so that if the sefer Torah tears from the stress of the lifting, the stitching, which is easy to repair, will tear and not, G-d forbid, the parchment itself (Megillah 32a, as explained by the Tur; see esp. Aruch HaShulchan 147:13; cf., however, how Rashi explains the Gemara).

“Reading” the Torah

When the sefer Torah is raised, each person in shul should try to actually read the letters of the sefer Torah. This causes a bright, spiritual light of the Torah to reach him (Arizal, quoted by Magen Avraham 134:3). Some have the practice of looking for a word in the sefer Torah that begins with the same letter as their name (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). In most Sefardic communities, someone points to the beginning of the day’s reading while the sefer Torah is held aloft for all to see. Some congregations consider this a great honor that is given to the rav or another scholar (Kaf Hachayim 134:13). This may be the origin of the custom that some people have of pointing at the sefer Torah during hagbahah (cf. Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, Parshas Ki Savo, 27:26).

In order to make sure that everyone sees the text of the sefer Torah, some Sefardic congregations have the magbiah carry the open sefer Torah around the shul to display its holy words to every attendee (Kaf Hachayim 134:13).

In which direction is the Torah held?

The usual Ashkenazic practice is that the magbiah holds the sefer Torah with its writing facing him. Some congregations have the practice that, on Simchas Torah, the sefer Torah is lifted in the reverse way, so that the writing is away from the magbiah. Most people think that this is a “shtick” as part of the Simchas Torah celebration, but this is not halachically accurate.

The Bach (147) contends that the original approach was to hold the sefer Torah with the writing visible to the people — as we do on Simchas Torah. This is because when the magbiah lifts the sefer Torah the way we usually do, his body blocks the view, and for this reason, the Maharam and other great Torah leaders held the Torah with its text away from them when they performed hagbahah. Presumably, the reason this practice was abandoned is because it is much more difficult to do hagbahah this way, and there is concern that someone might, G-d forbid, drop the sefer Torah while doing it. Nevertheless, in places where the custom is to perform hagbahah this way on Simchas Torah, the reason is to show that on this joyous occasion we want to perform hagbahah in the optimal way.

The more the merrier!!

The above-quoted Masechta Sofrim requires that the magbiah open the sefer Torah three columns wide. The authorities dispute whether the magbiah may open the sefer Torah more than three columns. In other words, does Masechta Sofrim mean that one should open the sefer Torah exactly three columns, or does it mean that one should open it at least three columns, so that everyone can see the words of the Torah, but that someone may open it wider, should he choose? The Magen Avraham (134:3) suggests that one should open it exactly three columns, although he provides no reason why one should not open the sefer Torah more, whereas the Mishnah Berurah says that it depends on the strength of the magbiah — implying that if he can open it more, it is even better. It is possible that the Magen Avraham was concerned that opening the sefer Torah wider might cause people to show off their prowess and cause the important mitzvah of hagbahas haTorah to become a source of inappropriate pride — the exact opposite of the humility people should have when performing mitzvos.

Lift and roll!?

Most people who perform the mitzvah of hagbahah roll open the sefer Torah to the requisite width and then lift it, whereas others unroll it while they are lifting it. Which of these approaches is preferred?

The Shaar Efrayim discusses this issue, and implies that there is no preference between the two approaches, whereas the standard wording of Masechta Sofrim is that one should unroll the sefer Torah first.

Reciting Vezos HaTorah

When the sefer Torah is elevated, everyone should bow and recite the pasuk Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael (Masechta Sofrim 14:14). Indeed, the Chida cites sources who hold that since Chazal mention saying Vezos HaTorah, it has the status of a davar shebekedushah and can be said even if one is in the middle of birchos keri’as shema (Kenesses Hagedolah, quoted by Birkei Yosef 134:4). Subsequently, the Chida wrote a lengthy responsum in which he concluded that reciting Vezos HaTorah does not have the status of a davar shebekedushah, and therefore should not be said in a place where it interrupts one’s davening (Shu’t Chayim She’al 1:68).

Vezos HaTorah should be said only while facing the words of the sefer Torah (Be’er Heiteiv 134:6, quoting several earlier sources). If one began reciting Vezos HaTorah while facing the writing of the sefer Torah, one may complete the pasuk after the text of the sefer Torah has been rotated away from one’s view (Shaar Efrayim).

In many siddurim, after the sentence Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael, five words are added: Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe (Bamidbar 9:23), as if this is the continuation of the verse. Many halachic authorities question adding the words Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe, since these words are from a different passage of the Torah (Aruch Hashulchan 134:3). Others are concerned for a different reason, because these last five words are not an entire verse and they question the practice of reciting partial verses of the Torah. Indeed, many old siddurim do not quote this addition, and many halachic authorities contend that one should not recite it.

Who should be honored with hagbahah?

The Gemara (Megillah 32a) states “Ten people who read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll the Torah,” which refers to the mitzvah of hagbahah, since the magbiah rolls the Torah both prior to displaying it, and when he closes it, afterwards. The Baal HaItur quotes two opinions as to whom the “ten people” refers. Does it mean the attendees of the current minyan, and that the greatest of this group should be the one who is honored with the mitzvah of lifting and displaying the Torah? Or, does it means according the honor of lifting and displaying the Torah to the greatest of the ten people who were involved in that day’s reading (the seven who had aliyos, the maftir, the baal keriyah, and the person who recited the Targum after each pasuk was read, which was standard procedure at the time of the Gemara).

The halachic authorities rule according to the first approach, that one should honor the greatest person in the shul (Gra; Mishnah Berurah 147:6). They also refer to another practice, which was to auction off the mitzvah of hagbahah to the highest bidder (Tur; Shulchan Aruch). However, where the hagbahah is not auctioned, one should provide the honor to the greatest Torah scholar in attendance (Machatzis Hashekel). The prevalent practice of not necessarily offering hagbahah to the greatest scholar is in order to avoid any machlokes (Shaar Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah). Nevertheless, in a situation where no machlokes will develop, one should certainly accord the mitzvah to the greatest talmid chacham who can properly perform hagbahah. Whatever the situation may be, the gabbai is responsible to give hagbahah only to someone who is both knowledgeable and capable of performing the mitzvah properly.

The importance of performing hagbahah correctly

The Ramban, in his commentary on the verse, Cursed be he who does not uphold the words of this Torah (Devarim 27:26), explains that this curse includes someone who, when performing hagbahah, does not raise the sefer Torah in a way that everyone in the shul can see it properly. Apparently, there were places that did not perform the mitzvah of hagbahah at all out of concern that someone will be cursed for not performing hagbahah properly (Birkei Yosef, Shiyurei Brachah 134:2; Kaf Hachayim 134:15; Encyclopedia Talmudis, quoting Orchos Chayim). Although I certainly do not advocate eliminating the mitzvah of hagbahah, a person who knows that he cannot perform the mitzvah correctly should defer the honor, and the gabbai should offer the honor only to someone who fulfills the mitzvah properly.

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

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU!

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

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

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

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

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

In explaining these laws, the Gemara teaches:

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

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

BUT WHY NOT?

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

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

APPROACH #1: DISDAIN OF MITZVOS – BIZUY MITZVAH

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

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

REMOVING TZITZIS FROM A GARMENT

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

REMOVING THE MEZUZAH

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

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

MOVING THE MEZUZAH FROM ONE HOUSE TO ANOTHER

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

APPROACH #2: DIVINE PROTECTION

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

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

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

HOW DO WE RULE?

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

YOU CAN TAKE IT WITH YOU

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

CHANGING OWNERSHIP

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

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

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

GENTILE LANDLORD, JEWISH TENANT

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEW RESIDENT HAS HIS OWN MEZUZOS

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

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

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

MEZUZAH SWITCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEZUZAH REWARDS

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

What Happens When We Do Something Wrong?

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

Question #1: Cholent caper

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

Question #2: Bad advice

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

Question #3: The unrepentant knitter

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

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

I. Intrinsically prohibited

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

II. The sinner goes to the penalty box!

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

III. Defer benefit!

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

Let me explain the differences among these three approaches.

I. Intrinsically prohibited

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

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

II. The sinner goes to the penalty box!

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

Negligent desecration

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

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

III. Deferring use

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

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

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

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

How do we rule?

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

What is the legal definition of “negligent”?

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

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

Example:

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

An Intended Beneficiary

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

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

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

Ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah

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

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

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

Already Added

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

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

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

What about Her Guests?

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

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

Not Aware of the Bitul

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

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

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

The Overambitious Butcher

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

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

An Intended Shabbos Beneficiary

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

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

Answering Our Shaylos

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

Question #1: Cholent caper

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

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

Question #2: Bad advice

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

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

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

Question #3: The unrepentant knitter

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

My Vows I Shall Fulfill

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

Question #1: Quiz question

Can performing a mitzvah become a liability?

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

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

Question #3: A sixty-thousand-dollar question

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

Question #4: A frum question

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

Answer: What Is a Neder?

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

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

Different Types of Obligations

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

(1) Nedarim, vows

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

Example:

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

(2) Shavuos, oaths

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

Example:

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

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

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

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

Example:

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

(4) Kabbalas tzedakah, intending to donate charity

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

(5) Performing a stringency

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

Examples:

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

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

(6) Three times

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

Saying “Bli Neder

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

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

Example:

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

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

Saying “Bli Neder” Even for a Non-mitzvah

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

Example:

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

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

Don’t Delay in Paying

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

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

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

What Is Hataras Nedarim?

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

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

How Does One Perform Hataras Nedarim?

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

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

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

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

The Difference between a Neder and a Shavua

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

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

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

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

How does a woman perform hataras nedarim?

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

Hataras Nedarim on Erev Rosh Hashanah

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

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

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

Mesiras Modaah

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

Kol Nidrei

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Bill’s Saga or The Power of a Single Word

Since parshas Pinchas discusses many of the relationships of Hashem and His people, I’ll share with you the following true story:

Bill’s Saga or The Power of a Single Word

There was a knock on the door to my shul office. I knew Bill, an active member of one of the large Conservative temples in the city. Bill and his wife were respected members of the non-observant Jewish community; involved Jews, they kept a kosher home, made kiddush and ate Shabbos meals, although they certainly were not Shabbos compliant.

The matter that brought Bill to my office this morning was obviously disconcerting. Usually a very relaxed and jovial fellow, Bill was today uncharacteristically agitated.

“Rabbi,” he hesitantly began, “I have a matter I want to discuss with you that I want absolutely no one to know about.” I assured Bill that I always assume matters I am told are confidential unless specified otherwise.

Reassured that his big secret would remain as confidential as he wanted, Bill blurted out his issue. Bill had been raised as a reform Jew; furthermore, he was unaware of any ancestors of his who had been shomrei mitzvah. He had gradually been finding his way towards more observant Judaism, and had married a woman who kept a kosher home and a semblance of a traditional, although certainly not fully observant, Shabbos.

“Rabbi,” he now got to his point, “I do not think I am Jewish according to halacha! I am fairly certain that my mother’s mother was not born Jewish. Since the family was never observant, how could she have had a proper halachic conversion? And, if she was not Jewish, neither am I.” With this confession accomplished, Bill breathed a sigh of relief.

After relaxing from the trauma of his introduction, Bill continued with his request. He wanted me to help him proceed with the path of becoming a proper Jew according to halacha, and he meant a 100%, correct halachic conversion. He made it quite clear that he was not pressuring anyone to convert him quickly; that would defeat his purpose. He was asking me to direct and guide him as to how to convert to Judaism in a way that I would be comfortable. He was quite frank that I should not proceed with steps for conversion until I felt he was ready.

I marveled at Bill’s honesty. Unfortunately, many people who are aware of this type of information choose to ignore it, pretending to be Jewish, although they realize deep inside that they are not. Bill realized, intellectually, the truth of Torah, and was eager to observe many mitzvos, such as brachos and tefillah. However, he was not ready to observe a fully Torah-observant life. He was in the spiritual throes of someone in the process of becoming observant: intellectually convinced of the truth of Torah, able and eager to observe some mitzvos, but not ready for others. This is the typical and healthy route for someone moving towards greater observance of halacha.

At the same time, Bill wanted his status to be kept an absolute secret. He did not mind people knowing that he was studying with the Orthodox rabbi in town, but he did not want ANYONE to know that his Jewishness was in question, and that he was thinking about pursuing an Orthodox conversion.

In the interim, since conversion to Yiddishkeit requires accepting all mitzvos, Bill was clearly not a candidate for geirus kehalacha. This led us to many interesting shaylos.

STUDYING TORAH

Since Bill was not Jewish, what Torah and halacha could he study? The Gemara (Sanhedrin 59a) prohibits a gentile from studying Torah, one opinion contending that since the Torah belongs to the Jewish people, a gentile studying it is “stealing” Jewish property. Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one is permitted to teach Torah to Jews while a non-Jew is listening (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:132). Thus, I would not violate any halacha if Bill attended a class I was delivering. However, although Rav Moshe permits giving the class under those circumstances, if the gentile involved asks a shaylah, he should be told not to attend, since he is still “stealing” Torah that he should not be studying.

HALACHOS THAT APPLY TO A GENTILE

A gentile may study Torah in order to observe the mitzvos in which he is obligated, and he may study the basics of Jewish belief (Meiri, Sanhedrin ad loc.). This includes a rather extensive list of mitzvos, and according to many opinions even requires him to know all the laws of Choshen Mishpat, the entire body of halachic civil law, so that he can observe these mitzvos correctly. This is because many poskim contend that a gentile’s requirement to keep halachic civil law (dinim) requires him to keep the laws as the Torah instructed them (Shu’t Rama #10; Tumim 110:3; Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #91). However, other authorities contend that non-Jews are not required to observe Choshen Mishpat, but instead to create their own legal rules and procedures (HaEmek Shaylah #2:3; Chazon Ish, Bava Kamma 10:1; see Shu’t Maharam Schick, Orach Chayim #142; Shu’t Maharsham 4:86; Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Choshen Mishpat #55, all of whom contend that this is a dispute between amora’im in the Gemara). According to the latter opinion, one may not teach a gentile halachic civil law.

STUDYING FOR CONVERSION

The poskim dispute whether one may teach a non-Jew Torah if he is planning to convert. Meiri (Sanhedrin 58b) and Maharsha (Shabbos 31a s.v. amar lei mikra) rule that one may, whereas Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Shu’t #41) forbids it.

Was Bill really studying for conversion at this point? Although he strongly desired to be Jewish, he was not prepared to observe all the mitzvos. Since one cannot select which mitzvos one wants to observe, Bill was not really a candidate for conversion. Thus, teaching him Torah might be a problem, even according to the lenient opinions noted above.

Yet, Bill was very eager to study the laws of tefillah and brachos, both areas of halacha he was already observing to the best of his knowledge. Could I teach him these laws?

There is a basis to permit teaching him these halachos: One may teach a non-Jew the laws of offering korbanos if he intends to bring them, even though he has no requirement to observe this mitzvah. Nevertheless, once he decides to observe it, he should fulfill it correctly, and a Jew may instruct him how to proceed (Zevachim 116b; Rambam, Maasei HaKorbanos 19:16). Since a non-Jew may pray and recite brachos it follows that he may learn the laws of these mitzvos, to know how to observe them correctly (Meiri, Sanhedrin 58b).

COMING TO SHUL

At this point, Bill presented the following question:

“I once heard that Jews may not daven with a non-Jew in attendance. Would this present a problem?”

The authorities rule that someone outside a shul who can hear the prayers recited there may answer Amen and the other appropriate responses to their brachos and thus fulfill his responsibilities (Tur Orach Chayim 55). However, some authorities contend that one may not respond or fulfill the mitzvah if something ill-smelling or an idol is between the shul and the person listening (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 55, quoting Mahari Abohav). The idea is that the sanctity of the bracha becomes interrupted by something that prevents one from reciting prayer or learning Torah, and one may not recite a prayer near an idol or something with an unpleasant odor. The original sources imply that not only an idol, but also an idol worshipper, prevents the prayer from spreading beyond this point (Elyah Rabbah 55:18; cf. Magen Avraham 55:15, who is lenient).

However, it seems that only an idol worshipper is a problem, not a G-d-fearing person who is not Jewish. An idol worshipper ignores G-d’s presence, and thus, the prayer to   G-d is blocked; a G-d-fearing gentile is made in the image of G-d, and certainly does not block a prayer to Him from passing through (Shu’t Nimla Tal).

And so, life continued. Bill slowly increased his commitment to Judaism, yet was unable to make the commitments necessary to consider true geirus. In the meantime, I studied with him. It was a good lesson to me in working on my own middos; I tend to be impatient and like to have projects completed quickly. Here, I needed to resign myself to the fact that Bill might never become sufficiently committed for proper geirus, and certainly needed to proceed at his own pace, without any encouragement. For his own part, Bill seemed satisfied with his direction and had no timetable.

THE FAMILY HISTORY

One day Bill called, asking to see me as soon as possible.

We met, and he told me the following story:

He had decided to press his mother for the details of the Jewishness of her family history. His mother told him what she knew about the background, which was not a lot, but then shared with him an interesting tidbit: “You know, the rabbi who performed my sister’s wedding was Orthodox, and I know that she never had an Orthodox conversion.”

By now, Bill knew enough not to rely on his mother’s description of a rabbi as Orthodox; and his mother’s older sister, Susan, was long deceased, thus making it difficult to verify the story. However, Bill’s uncle, Susan’s husband, was alive and well and living in town. Bill decided to have a chat with Uncle, who was an eccentric sort of fellow, a bit of a recluse and also a notorious packrat. Bill’s idea proved to be wise, as we will see.

Uncle told Bill that indeed, he and his late wife had been married by an Orthodox Rabbi, a Rabbi Leibel Tabachnik*, an old Eastern European rabbi who had been the rabbi in the shul where Uncle’s parents had davened. “If it’s important to you, I’ll see if I can find some verification.” Bill wasn’t sure what information Uncle would locate, but decided to press his uncle for details anyway. Uncle promised to sift through his memorabilia that he stored in his massive basement and see what he could find.

A few days later, presented Bill with two very interesting pieces of memorabilia. The first was a copy of his late wife’s kesubah, a withered, sixty-five-year-old document that appeared to have been perfectly valid. The kesubah was indeed signed in Hebrew by Rabbi Leibel Tabachnik, who, apparently, had signed on the document with another witness of his own choosing to guarantee that the ceremony was 100% kosher. The rav had served as one of the witnesses, not an uncommon procedure when performing a wedding in a community of nonobservant people. He and the other witness had affixed their signatures, complete with family name and position.

Uncle produced another interesting tidbit; a fifty-year-old newspaper obituary of Rabbi Tabachnik. From the obit and the accompanying photo, it was apparent that we were discussing a bearded rav who had studied in the citadels of Torah in Eastern Europe. Moreover, he had clearly remained committed to Torah and mitzvos throughout his illustrious rabbinic career, notwithstanding the challenges of the profession in America in that era.

Bill was uncertain whether any of this information had any ramifications to his own status, but eagerly presented me with the data.

I carefully examined the data. Although newspaper obituaries are not primary sources for halachic decisions, this one corroborated the information of the kesubah. Rabbi Tabachnik had apparently been a knowledgeable rav who followed halacha meticulously, as one would expect from someone with his education. The importance of this fact was a significant and surprising bit of information that the kesubah supplied: The kesubah referred to the bride, Susan (Bill’s aunt), as a besulah, a designation which is halachically inappropriate to use, unless she had been Jewish at birth. However, this information conflicted with the original assumptions Bill had presented me. According to Bill’s information, Susan’s mother was a non-Jewish woman who had married a Reform Jew who, presumably, would not have had any reason to ask her to convert to Judaism according to the Torah. Thus, their children would not have been Jewish, according to halacha. If Susan had become Jewish at some point, the kesubah would say that she was a geyores, a convert to Judaism. The pieces of the puzzle did not fit together!

There was one obvious answer. Maybe Rav Tabachnik, esteemed scholar that he was, was unaware of Susan’s family background. Perhaps Susan was not halachically Jewish, or had converted to Judaism, and the rav was unaware of this.

There was another possibility: Bill’s information was completely wrong and his mother’s mother was in fact Jewish, either born Jewish or converted according to halacha, sometime before her daughters were born. Thus, the kesubah was perfectly accurate, and Bill was, indeed, Jewish! I stored this information but was uncertain what to do, based on the new evidence.

THE P’SAK

Shortly thereafter, I saw a well-known posek and eagerly discussed with him the details that I had. After hearing me out, the esteemed posek turned to me and said, “Rav Tabachnik would have known if this woman was not born Jewish. If he wrote in the kesubah that she was born Jewish, then she was born Jewish. End of discussion.”

If Susan, Bill’s mother’s older sister, was born Jewish, then Bill’s mother was also definitely born Jewish, and Bill was born Jewish, although we did not know any other details. To make sure I understood the ramifications of the psak I had just heard, I repeated:

“Does that mean, that Bill is 100 percent Jewish?”

The rav replied, “Absolutely.”

Suddenly I realized the power of a single written word. Somehow, Rabbi Tabachnik knew that Bill’s grandmother was Jewish, and he had conveyed this message to us through the carefully written kesubah.

Suddenly, Bill came out of hiding! He could now proudly count himself as a member of a minyan, and was obligated to keep all the mitzvos of a Jew – and to learn all parts of the Torah!

 

*all names in this article have been changed*

The Right Type of Help

Since one of the sources for the prohibition of bishul akum is in Parshas Chukas, this presents an ideal time to review these laws.

Household Help

Shirley* asks me: “We hired a very nice Polish lady to help around the house, keep an eye on the kids and do light housekeeping. Can we have her cook a bit for the kids while I am away at work?”

Commuter Crisis

Mrs. Goldman is stuck in a typical commuter predicament. The traffic is not moving, and it is well past the time that she should be putting up supper. She calls the non-Jewish babysitter, Jenny, to apologize for the delay and asks her to find something in the freezer to warm and serve the kids. Jenny finds some blintzes and some fish sticks, places them on ceramic cookware and pops them into the toaster oven.

That evening, when Rabbi Goldman returns from kollel, Mrs. Goldman tells him about her frustrating commute home. Rabbi Goldman realizes that they may now have a kashrus concern in their house, as I will soon explain.

Surprise Sous-chef

I received a phone call from Rabbi Black: “Our seminary has girls employed in work-study programs. We just discovered that a girl who was working as our cook is not halachically Jewish. Do we need to kasher the kitchen?”

Each of these cases that actually happened  shows the prevalence of bishul akum questions.

Sichon’s Folly

It is noteworthy that the Gemara tries to find a source for the prohibition of bishul akum in this week’s parsha. When the Bnei Yisrael offered to purchase all their victuals from Sichon and his nation, Emori, they could purchase only food that was unchanged through gentile cooking (see Devarim 2:26- 28; and Bamidbar 21:21- 25). Any food altered by Emori cooking was prohibited because of bishul akum (Avodah Zarah 37b).

Although the Gemara rejects this Biblical source and concludes that bishul akum is an injunction of the Sages, early authorities theorize that this proscription was enacted very early in Jewish history; otherwise, how could the Gemara even suggest that its origins are Biblical (see Tosafos s.v. vehashelakos)? Chazal instituted this law to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which may lead to intermarriage, and also to guarantee that kashrus is not compromised (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s. v. vehashelakos; 38a s.v. miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.).

Food prepared in violation of the laws that Chazal instituted becomes prohibited as bishul akum and is fully non-kosher. The early authorities dispute whether equipment used to cook bishul akum becomes non-kosher. The Shulchan Aruch concludes that the equipment, indeed, becomes non-kosher and must be kashered, although the halachah for kashering from bishul akum is sometimes more lenient (Yoreh Deah 113:16).

Please note that throughout the article, whenever I say that something does not involve bishul akum, it might still be forbidden for a variety of other reasons.

Three Cardinal Rules

When Chazal prohibited bishul akum, their prohibition was not all-inclusive, but covered only foods where the gentile’s cooking is significant. For example, there are three major groupings of foods cooked by a gentile that are nevertheless permitted, because the gentile’s contribution is not considered significant. One might find the following acronym useful to remember these permitted categories: YUM, Yisrael, Uncooked, Monarch.

I. Yisrael – A Jew Participates

If a Jew contributes to the cooking in a significant way, the food is categorized as bishul Yisrael, cooked by a Jew, and is therefore permitted, even when a gentile did most of the food preparation. For example, if Mrs. Goldman had asked Jenny to warm food that was already cooked, there would be no bishul akum problem. I will soon explain some of the extensive details about this law.

II. Uncooked – Edible Raw

A food that could be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum, even when a non-Jew cooked it completely. This is because cooking such an item is not considered significant (Rashi, Beitzah 16a). For example, if Mrs. Goldman had asked Jenny to bake apples or cook a fruit soup, there would be no problem of bishul akum, assuming that these fruits are all edible raw. However, baking potatoes does present a bishul akum concern, because potatoes are not eaten raw (Chachmas Odom 66:4; cf. Aruch HaShulchan 113:18).

III. Monarch

Bishul akum applies only to food that one would serve on a king’s table alongside bread. Chazal did not prohibit bishul akum when the food is considered commonplace, because one would not invite a guest for such a meal, and, therefore, there is no concern that inappropriate social interaction may result (Rambam, Hil. Maachalos Asuros 17:15).

Bishul Yisrael

At this point, I want to explain in more detail one of the rules I mentioned above: When a Jew participates in the cooking, the food is permitted, even when a gentile performed most of the cooking. For example, if a non-Jew placed a pot of meat on the fire, and a Jew stirred the pot, this act is significant enough to permit the food, because it is considered bishul Yisrael (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:7). Similarly, if a Jew placed food in the oven and it baked until it became edible, and then the food was removed from the oven and returned later by a gentile to complete the cooking, the food is kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:10, 11).

Ashkenazim versus Sefardim

How much Jewish participation is necessary to avoid bishul akum? The answer to this question depends on whether one is Sefardi or Ashkenazi, since Ashkenazim are more lenient in these laws than are Sefardim. For example, Ashkenazim rule that if a Jew ignited the fire that is being used to cook, or even if all he did was add to a flame that the gentile is cooking with, this participation is sufficient to permit the food as bishul Yisrael. Sefardim rule that it is insufficient for a Jew to simply ignite the fire – the Jew must be involved in the actual cooking of the food. Either the Jew must place the food onto the fire or must participate in some other significant way; but if all the Jew did was ignite the fire and a gentile placed the food on the fire, the food is prohibited. Thus, an Ashkenazi household that utilizes non-Jewish help in the kitchen must have a Jew turn on or adjust the fires to avoid bishul akum. In a Sefardi household, someone Jewish must place the food on the fire to cook, or stir it once it is cooking.

Food Service Cooking

This dispute is especially germane to restaurants, caterers and other institutional cooking, where the kitchen help is often all non-Jews, thus potentially creating a bishul akum concern. According to Ashkenazim, to avoid bishul akum, it is sufficient if the Jew turns on the fire that is used to cook, or even for him to adjust the temperature setting upward. Thus, if the gentile already turned on the oven, but no food was finished cooking yet, the Jew can simply lower the setting and reset it, and all the food cooked is considered bishul Yisrael. However, according to Sefardim, a Jew must actually place the food on the stove to cook. If the food is already on the fire, but is not yet minimally edible, it suffices for a Jew to stir the food to make it into bishul Yisrael.

This shaylah often affects the kashrus arrangements germane to restaurants and caterers. Since most Jews in North America are Ashkenazim, most hechsherim simply arrange that a Jew turn on the fires so that the food is considered bishul Yisrael, an approach that does not satisfy some Sefardic authorities, although some permit the food after the fact, because of a combination of other heterim that we will discuss below (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 5:54).

On the other hand, proper Sefardic hechsherim insist that the mashgiach place all food into the oven or on the stove.

A More Lenient Approach

Some Ashkenazi authorities are even more lenient than described above; they permit food when the Jew lit a flame and the gentile used the Jew’s flame to ignite a second flame that was used for cooking. According to this approach, it is sufficient if a Jew lights the pilot light that is then used to ignite all the stove and oven lights. Although pilot lights are now uncommon in household appliances, they are more common in industrial kitchens.

Partly Cooked

Here is another case in which Sefardim and Ashkenazim differ in accepted bishul Yisrael practice. If a gentile began the cooking and it became minimally edible, Sefardim consider the food already prohibited because of bishul akum. Following this approach, if a gentile cooks the food at the beginning until it is edible, and a Jew then completes the cooking and makes it quite tasty, the food is still prohibited, unless there is an extenuating circumstance, such as a major financial loss (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:9).

However, Ashkenazim rule that if a Jew cooked it past the point where it became minimally edible, it is permitted, since the product’s delicious taste was created by a Jew.

Not Yet Edible

In the reverse case, one where a Jew cooked the food until it was barely edible and then the gentile cooked it past this point, the food is permitted according to both approaches (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:8). However, if the food was not edible when the Jew’s cooking ended, and subsequently a gentile cooked it without any Jewish participation, the food is prohibited as bishul akum according to all authorities.

Bishulei Blintz

At this point, we can explain the concerns created by Jenny’s warming the blintzes. Kashrus organizations usually make no arrangements to see that frozen blintzes or fish sticks are bishul Yisrael for a very simple halachic reason: The products are still inedible at the time the company freezes them, and therefore nothing is accomplished halachically by having a Jew cook them at this early stage. When you remove these products from your freezer and heat them, you are cooking them, whether you realize it or not. However, when Jenny warmed these foods, she not only cooked them, but she also made them into prohibited bishul akum, thus rendering the foods and the equipment non-kosher, although she meant no harm.

We will find out more about the saga of Goldman family’s kashrus situation next week…

*Although these stories are true, names have been changed to maintain privacy.

The Numbers Game

Because this article explains some basics of how Torah is taught by Chazal, I think it is appropriate to the week of Shavuos.

Question #1: Pie r squared

Yanki is supposed to be watching his weight and therefore needs to figure out how many calories are in the pie he beholds. To figure out how big the pie is, he measures the diameter of the pie, and divides it in half to get the length of its radius. He then multiplies the length of the radius by itself to get “r squared,” and multiplies the result by three so that he knows the area of the pie’s surface. Is there anything wrong with his calculation?

Question #2: Puzzled by the pasuk

“How can the pesukim tell us that the relationship between the circumference of a circle to its diameter is three-to-one, when simply taking a string and measuring around it demonstrates that it is noticeably longer?”

Question #3: Performing mitzvos accurately

“How accurate a calculation must I make when determining the size of an item to be used for a mitzvah?”

Introduction

In numerous places, both Tanach and Chazal approximate certain mathematical values, such as evaluating the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter as three to one. The problem is that we can demonstrate mathematically that the ratio is greater than three and is almost 3 1/7. This leads to the following questions:

(1) Why would Chazal calculate using inaccurate approximations?

(2) When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate?

(3) A corollary question is: when providing an estimate, one must allow for a margin of error. Does halachah require a margin of error, and, if so, how much?

The Slide Rule versus the Calculator

Let me begin our discussion with a modern analogy, if something I remember can still be considered “modern.” When I first studied sophisticated mathematical estimates, I learned to use a slide rule, which today is as valuable to an engineer as an abacus. Relative to the calculator, a slide rule does not provide accurate measurements, and someone using a slide rule must allow a fairly significant margin of error in one direction or the other, depending on the situation.

Today, complex computations are made with calculators, which provide far more accurate results that can be rounded off, as necessary, to the nearest tenth, millionth, quadrillionth or smaller. Of course, using a calculator still requires one to round upward or downward, but because it is much more precise, the margin of error is greatly reduced.

How Irrational Are You?

Numerous halachic questions require mathematical calculations, involving what we call “irrational numbers.” An irrational number means one that cannot be expressed in fractional notation. Another way of explaining an irrational number is that its value can never be calculated totally accurately, but can only be estimated.

The two most common examples of irrational numbers that show up in Chazal are:

(1) Pi

The ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which we are used to calling by the Greek letter ∏ (pronounced like the word “pie,” and spelled in English “pi”). Since the 19th century, the letter pi has been used to represent this number, because the Greek word for peripheryis peripherion, which begins with the letter ∏. Hundreds of years earlier, the Rambam (Commentary to the Mishnah, Eruvin 1:5) noted that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is an irrational number that can only be approximated, and that the scientists of his era used an estimate of 3 and 1/7, which is actually slightly greater than the value of ∏. The Rambam explains that since there is no accurate ratio, Chazal used a round number, three, for this calculation.

(2) The diagonal of a square

The length of a diagonal of a square, which is equal to the side of the square multiplied by the square root of two (√2). Chazal calculated the length of a diagonal of a square to be 1 and 2/5 times its side, which is slightly smaller than the value of √2. (Another way of expressing this idea is that the ratio between the diagonal and the side is 7:5.) The fact that Chazal’s figuring is somewhat smaller than the mathematical reality is already proved by Tosafos (Sukkah 8a s.v. kol).

Since both pi and the square root of two are irrational numbers, they can only be estimated, but can never be calculated with absolute accuracy.

Based on the above-quoted statement of the Rambam, we can already address one of our earlier questions: “Why would Chazal calculate using inaccurate approximations?” The answer is that any computation of the correlation of the circumference of a circle to its diameter will be an estimate. The only question is how accurate must this estimate be for the purpose at hand.

Chazal or Tanach?

Although the Rambam attributes the rounding of pi to Chazal, in actuality, there are sources in Tanach that calculate the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter as three-to-one. Both in Melachim (I 7:23) and again in Divrei Hayamim (II 4:2), Tanach teaches that the Yam shel Shlomoh, the large, round pool or mikveh that was built in the first Beis Hamikdash, was thirty amos in circumference and ten amos in diameter, which provides a ratio of circumference to diameter of three-to-one. Thus, we can ask a question of the Rambam: Why does he attribute this ratio to Chazal, rather than the source for Chazal’s calculation, the pesukim?

In fact, the early commentaries to these verses already ask how the verse can make a calculation that we know is not accurate. The Ralbag suggests two options: either that the numbers used are intended to be a very broad estimate, or, alternatively, that the diameter is measured from the external dimensions of the mikveh, whereas the circumference is measured from its inside, which makes the estimate closer to mathematical reality.

According to the second approach of the Ralbag, no Biblical source uses an estimate of three-to-one as a substitute for pi. This will explain why the Rambam attributed the estimation of pi as three to Chazal, rather than to the Tanach. The Rambam was fully aware that one could interpret the verses according to the second approach of the Ralbag, in which case, there is no proof from the verse. He, therefore, attributed this estimate to Chazal.

Gemara Eruvin

The Ralbag’s approach reflects an earlier passage of Gemara. The Mishnah in Eruvin (13b) states that if the circumference of a pole is three tefachim, its diameter is one tefach, which means that the Mishnah assumes a ratio of three-to-one. The Gemara questions how the Mishnah knows that the ratio is three-to-one, and then draws proof from the above-quoted verse that the Yam shel Shlomoh was thirty amos around and ten amos across. The Gemara then debates whether the calculations of the Yam shel Shlomoh indeed result in a ratio of three-to-one, because one must also include the thickness of the poolitself, which offsets the computation. The Gemara eventually concludes that the verse was calculating from the inside of the pool, not its outside, and therefore the thickness of the pool’s containing wall is not included in the calculation (Eruvin 14a).

Nevertheless, this Gemara’s discussion leaves the mathematician dissatisfied, a question already noted by Tosafos. If the internal diameter of the Yam shel Shlomoh was ten amos, its circumference must have been greater than thirty amos, and if its circumference was thirty amos, then its internal diameter must have been less than ten amos.

A Different Question

The Rosh, in his responsa, is bothered by a different question, based on Talmudic logic rather than on mathematical calculation. He finds the Gemara’s question requesting proof for the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter to be odd. The ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter is a value that one should calculate. By its nature, this is not a question that requires a Biblical proof or source.

In the literature that we have received from the Rosh, he asks this question in two different places. In his responsa (Shu’t HaRosh 2:19), we find a letter that he wrote to the Rashba, in which he asked the Rashba a series of questions that the Rosh notes bother him tremendously, and to whom he has no one else to turn for an answer. One of the questions the Rosh asks is: “Why does the Gemara ask for a Biblical source for a mathematical calculation?”

It is curious to note that a later commentary mentions that, in all the considerable literature that we have received from the Rashba, we have no recorded answer of the Rashba to this question of the Rosh (Cheishek Shlomoh to Eruvin 14a).

Another Comment of the Rosh

The Tosafos HaRosh commentary to Eruvin, which was published for the first time relatively recently, is the second place where the Rosh asks why the Gemara wanted a Biblical source for a mathematical calculation.  There, the Rosh provides an answer to this question:  Since the calculation of three-to-one is not accurate, the Gemara wanted a biblical source as proof that we are permitted to rely on this estimate.

(The Cheishek Shlomoh, whom I quoted above, provides the same answer to this question as does the Rosh in his Tosafos. The Cheishek Shlomoh never saw the Tosafos HaRosh, which had not yet been printed in his day.)

Curiosity about the Tosafos HaRosh

There is an interesting historical point that can presumably be derived from the fact that, in the Tosafos HaRosh, the Rosh answers the question that he raised and accredits this answer to himself. This should be able to prove which work the Rosh had written earlier, and also whether he ever received an answer to his question from the Rashba. This analysis is based on the following question: Why did the Rosh cite an answer in his Tosafos¸but not in his responsum, which was addressed as a question to the Rashba. There are three obvious possibilities:

(1) Although the Rosh wrote this answer in his Tosafos, he was dissatisfied with it, and therefore wrote a question to the Rashba. I would reject this answer because, if it is true, then, in his correspondence to the Rashba, the Rosh would have mentioned this answer and his reason for rejecting it.

(2) The Rosh indeed received an answer, either this one or a different answer, from the Rashba. I reject this approach also, because, were it true, the Rosh would have quoted the Rashba’s answer in his Tosafos and, if need be, discussed it.

(3) Therefore, I conclude that the Rosh, indeed, never received an answer to the question he asked of the Rashba and subsequently reached his own conclusion as to how to answer the question, which he then recorded in the Tosafos HaRosh. This would lead us to conclude that the Tosafos HaRosh was written later in his life than his responsa, or, at least, this responsum.

Mathematical Accuracy

At this point, we can address one of earlier questions.When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate? We might be able to prove this point by noting something in the Mishnah in Eruvin quoted above. The Mishnah there ruled that, under certain circumstances, an area that is fully enclosed on three of its sides and has a beam a tefach wide above the fourth side is considered halachically fully enclosed, and one may carry inside it. The Mishnah then proceeds to explain that if the beam is round and has a circumference of three tefachim, one may carry inside the area because, based on the calculation that the relationship of its circumference to its diameter is three-to-one, the beam is considered to be a tefach-wide. However, as the Rambam notes, a beam that has a circumference of three tefachim is actually less than a tefach in diameter, and therefore one should not be permitted to carry in this area!

The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 363:22; Yoreh Deah 30:13) notes this problem and concludes that one may carry in this area. He contends that this is exactly what the Gemara was asking when it requested Scriptural proof for a mathematical calculation. “Upon what halachic basis may we be lenient in using this estimate of three-to-one, when this will permit carrying in an area in which the beam is less than a tefach wide? The answer is that this is a halachah that we derive from the verse.”

To clarify this concept, the Chazon Ish notes that the purpose of mitzvos is to draw us nearer to Hashem, to accept His reign, and to be meticulously careful in observing His laws. However, none of this is conflicted when the Torah teaches that we may use certain calculations, even if they are not completely mathematically accurate. In this instance, relying on these estimates is exactly what the Torah requires (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 138:4). As expressed by a different author, the Gemara (Eruvin 4a; Sukkah 5b) teaches that the measurements, the shiurim, required to fulfill mitzvos are all halachah lemoshe misinai, laws that Moshe Rabbeinu received as a mesorah on Har Sinai. Similarly, these estimates of irrational numbers mentioned above are all halachah lemoshe misinai that one may rely upon to fulfill mitzvos, whether or not they are mathematically accurate. The same Torah takes these calculations into consideration when instructing us which dimensions are required in order to fulfill specific mitzvos (Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:165).

In the context of a different halachah in the laws of Eruvin, the Mishnah Berurah makes a similar statement, contending that we can rely on Chazal’s estimates, even when the result is lenient. However, the Mishnah Berurah there vacillates a bit in his conclusion, ruling that one can certainly rely on this when the issue is a rabbinic concern (Shaar Hatziyun 372:18). In a responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein questions why the Mishnah Berurah limits relying on this approach, and Rav Moshe rules unequivocally that one may rely on these estimates even when it involves leniency in de’oraysa laws (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah Volume3 #120:5).

How Straight Are My Tefillin?

Personally, I find the context of Rav Moshe’s teshuvah very interesting. There is a halacha lemoshe misinai that requires that the boxes of the tefillin, the batim, must be perfectly square. Rav Moshe was asked whether there is a halachic preference to use scientific measuring equipment to determine that one’s tefillin are perfectly square. Rav Moshe rules that there is neither a reason nor a hiddur in measuring the tefillin squareness this accurately. Since Chazal have used the calculation of 1.4 or a ratio of 7:5, which we know is an estimate, to determine the correct diagonal of a square, there is no requirement to make one’s tefillin squarer than this, and it is perfectly fine simply to measure the length of each of the sides of one’s tefillin and its two diagonals to ascertain that the ratio between the diagonal and the side is 7:5.

In the above-cited responsum, Rav Moshe notes that he had heard that the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchak Zeev Soloveichek, had ruled that it was preferable to check one’s tefillin in the most scientific method available. Rav Moshe writes that he finds this suggestion very strange and disputes its being halachically correct (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah Volume3 #120:5).

When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate?” The answer is that, indeed, the purpose of Chazal’s making these estimates was that observing halachah does not require that these calculations be mathematically precise, provided they meet the criteria that the halachah established.

An Alternate Approach

Although the majority of late authorities conclude that the calculations of Chazal are, indeed, part of the halachos of shiurim, this is not a universally-held position. The Tashbeitz, a rishon, wrote a lengthy responsum on the topic, in which he presents two ways to explain why Chazal used estimates that are not precisely accurate. His first approach reaches the same conclusion as we have already found in the later poskim, that these measurements are included within the halachos of shiurim that are part of the halachah lemoshe misinai.

The second approach of the Tashbeitz, however, differs with the above-mentioned halachic conclusion. In his second approach, he contends that all the above estimates were meant for pedagogic, but not halachic purposes. The rounding of pi to three and the diagonal of a square to 1.4 were provided to make the material easily comprehensible to all students, since every individual is required to know the entire Torah. Thus, when Chazal used these estimates in calculating the laws, their intent was to enable the average student to comprehend the halachic material, not to provide the most accurate interpretation. When an actual halachic calculation is made, it must be totally accurate. Any halachic authority involved would realize that he must use a highly accurate mathematical computation and then round either upward or downward as necessary for the specific application. (A similar position is held by Chiddushim Uviurim, Ohalos 5:6.)

Conclusion

Certainly, the majority of late halachic opinions conclude that the estimates of Chazal are meant to be halachically definitive and not simply pedagogic in nature. However, I leave it to the individual reader to ask his or her posek what to do when a practical question presents itself.

 

May I Participate in the Census?

In honor of this week’s Haftarah, I present the following halachic discussion:

Question #1: Counting sheep

Why would someone count sheep when he is trying to stay awake?

Question #2: Counting from a list

Is it permitted to count people from names on a list?

Question #3: Ki Sissa or Hoshea?

The Gemara bases the prohibition to count the Jewish people from the opening words of this week’s Haftarah: And the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea that cannot be measured and cannot be counted (Hoshea 2:1). Why does the Gemara attribute the prohibition to this source in Hoshea, when the prohibition is mentioned in the Torah in the beginning of Parshas Ki Sissa?

Answer: Analyzing the Sources in Chazal

The Mishnah teaches that to determine which kohen would be awarded the mitzvah of removing ashes from the mizbei’ach, a lottery procedure was used, whereby the kohanim interested in performing the mitzvah extended their fingers, which were then counted. The person in charge picked a number much greater than the assembled kohanim, and then counted fingers until they reached that number. The kohen on whom the number landed performed the mitzvah (Rashi ad loc.).

The Gemara asks why they didn’t simply count the kohanim themselves, and answers that it is prohibited to count Jews (Yoma 22b) — counting fingers is permitted, counting people is not (Rambam, Hilchos Temidim Umusafim 4:4). We are aware of one common application of this mitzvah: when counting people for a minyan, one counts words of a ten-word pasuk, rather than counting the people directly (Sefer HaItim #174; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 15:3).

Here is another application: to determine how many places one needs to set at a table, one should not count heads, but one may count sets of legs (Shu’t Torah Lishmah #386).

The Gemara cites three Biblical sources for this prohibition:

1. When the nation of Ammon threatened the Jewish community of Yaveish-Gilad, Shaul gathered a large Jewish army (Shmuel I 11:8). According to one opinion in the Gemara, Shaul counted the members of his army by having each soldier throw a piece of broken pottery into a pile. Thus, even to fulfill a mitzvah, one may count Jews only in an indirect manner.

2. Before attacking Amalek, Shaul gathered the Jewish people and had each person take a sheep from Shaul’s herds. By counting the sheep, he knew how many soldiers he had (Shmuel I 15:4, see Rashi). Again, we see that he used an indirect method to count them.

3. And the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea that cannot be measured and cannot be counted (Hoshea 2:1). Taking the verse not only as a blessing, but as a commandment, the Gemara derives a prohibition against counting the Jewish people.

Isn’t the Torah a Clearer Source?

The obvious question is, why does the Gemara not quote the pasuk in the Torah as a source for the prohibition?

When you will take the headcount of the children of Israel to determine their numbers, each man should give atonement for his life to Hashem when being counted. Thereby, no plague will result from the counting. This is what whoever is counted should give: a half shekel (Shemos 30:12 -13).

This pasuk implies that the only permitted way to count Jews is indirectly, by having each one donate a half-shekel and then counting the coins. This seems to be the source of Shaul’s knowing to count the Jews indirectly. It is indeed odd that the Gemara quotes Shaul’s practice as the source for the prohibition, rather than Shaul’s own source, the Torah itself!

Before answering this question, I want to analyze a different point that we see in the pasuk. The Torah says: each man should give atonement for his life to Hashem when being counted. Thereby, no plague will result from the counting. In the discussion of no other mitzvah does the Torah say, “fulfill this commandment so that no plague results.” Why, suddenly, does the Torah apply such an expression in this case?

Rabbeinu Bachya (ad loc.) explains that when we count an individual separately, it causes the heavenly tribunal to note all his deeds, and this may result in his being punished for his sins, which otherwise would not be punished now.

Others explain the concern in terms of ayin hora. Abarbanel, for example, explains that counting people by head causes ill to enter through their eyes and mouth into their body, whereas counting fingers does not cause the ayin hora to enter them. I leave to the reader to decide whether he is referring to physical or metaphysical harm.

Why the Prophets?

So, indeed, if we see from the Torah, itself, that counting Jews is prohibited and potentially very harmful, why did the Gemara base its comments on the deeds and words of the Prophets?

The commentaries present several approaches to answer this question. Here is a sample of some answers:

(1) The Gemara is proving that one may not count Jews, even for the purpose of performing a mitzvah, something that the Torah did not expressly say (Sfas Emes to Yoma ad loc.). The practices of Shaul and the verse in Hoshea make clear that one may not count Jews directly, even for the sake of a mitzvah.

(2) The Gemara needs to prove that we may not count even a small group of Jews, whereas the pasuk in Ki Sissa may be prohibiting only counting the entire people (Mizrachi; Sfas Emes).

(3) The verse in Ki Sissa could mean that one may count the Jews in a normal census, but that, afterwards, they all provide a half-shekel as an atonement to make sure that no one suffers (Makom Shmuel, quoted by Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 7:3). This last approach suggests that the verse When you will take the headcount of the children of Israel according to their numbers be explained in the following manner: When you take a regular census of the children of Israel, each man should give atonement for his life to Hashem when counting them – after you conduct your census, each person should give a half-shekel, to make sure no harm results. Indeed, the census could cause harm, but that does not necessarily mean that the Torah prohibited it. However, the stories of Shaul and the verse in Hoshea prove that the Torah prohibited counting Jews directly, since Shaul counted the people by counting sheep, rather than conducting a census and then having them all donate a half-shekel as atonement.

(4) One can interpret the verse in Ki Sissa to mean that the generation of the Desert, who had worshipped the eigel hazahav, the Golden Calf, was at risk, and that counting them might cause a plague (Maharsha to Yoma ad loc.; see also Ohr Hachayim to Shemos 30:2). However, one cannot prove from Ki Sissa that there is an inherent prohibition or risk in counting Jews when they have not violated such a grievous sin. However, the stories of Shaul or the verse in Hoshea prove that one may not count Jews, even when they have not violated serious prohibitions.

Thus, we see several possible ways to interpret why the Gemara did not consider the Torah source as adequate proof to prohibit counting the kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash, but instead rallied proof from later sources. As we will see shortly, there are actual distinctions in practical halacha that result from these diverse explanations. But first, a different question:

Counting from a List

For the purposes of fulfilling a mitzvah, may one count Jews by listing their names and then counting their names? Is this considered counting people indirectly, since one is counting names and not people, or is this considered counting the people themselves?

Advertising Campaigns to Help the Needy

Creative advertising campaigns aimed at generating tzedakah funds did not originate with modern organizations, such as Oorah or Kupat Ha’ir. About 200 years ago, Rav Yisrael of Shklov, a major disciple of the Vilna Gaon and an author of several scholarly Torah works (including Taklin Chadtin on Shekalim and Pe’as Hashulchan on the agricultural mitzvos), was organizing a fundraising campaign for the Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael in which he wanted to link donors to individual beneficiaries by listing the needy of Eretz Yisrael by name. Rav Yisrael held that this fundraising approach =did not violate the prohibition of counting Jews[MSOffice1] , since counting names on a list is an indirect way of counting people, and, furthermore, it was for the sake of fulfilling a mitzvah. He held that this is similar to Shaul’s method of counting his soldiers.

However, the Chasam Sofer disagreed, contending that counting names on a list is considered counting people directly. Even though one is not looking at their faces, counting from a list is considered counting the person and is therefore halachically different from counting fingers, legs, half-shekels, lambs or pottery shards (see Koveitz Teshuvos Chasam Sofer #8; Shu’t Kesav Sofer, Yoreh Deah #106). We will see shortly that this dispute exists to this day.

The Census

Is the State of Israel permitted to conduct a census of its population? Does an individual violate the mitzvah by working as a census taker or by providing the census takers with information?

This question was hotly debated by halachic authorities, even when the pre-state Zionist organizations began counting the Jewish population, and continued with the censuses of the State of Israel. Those who permitted the census provided a variety of reasons to justify it, the primary one was that servicing the medical, educational, economic, and safety needs of a large population requires knowing how many people there are. These authorities accepted that this qualifies as a dvar mitzvah, and that counting by list, or via computer and machine calculation is considered indirect counting (Shu’t Mishpatei Uziel 4:2; Noam XV=).

On the other hand, several prominent poskim prohibited taking the census or participating in it (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 7:3). On the 27th of Iyar, 5732 (May 11, ’72), the Steipler Gaon released a letter stating the following:

In the coming days, census takers will be counting the Jewish people. One should be careful not to answer them at all, to inform them that it is forbidden to take a census, and that it is possible that this is a Torah violation, as explained in the Gemara Yoma 22, the Rambam in the fourth chapter of Temidim and Musafim, and the Ramban in Parshas Bamidbar. Furthermore, the Tosafos Rid in Yoma writes that it is prohibited to do so even indirectly, unless one is accomplishing a mitzvah. It is explained in Kesav Sofer… that it is prohibited to do so even through writing. Furthermore, taking a census involves the possibility of danger.

At the same time, the Beis Din of the Eidah Hachareidis also issued a letter prohibiting participating in the census or answering any questions from the census takers, and reiterated that they had banned this ten years before at the previous census.

Subsequent to his publishing a responsum in which he prohibited participating in the census, the Tzitz Eliezer (7:3) was asked whether someone wishing to determine the numbers of people who made aliyah may count how many people there are. He answered that for the purposes of a mitzvah, one may count indirectly. However, we should note that such figures are often counted simply for curiosity or publicity, which the Tzitz Eliezer prohibits (22:13).

In a more recent responsum dated Elul 24, 5755 (September 19, ’95), Rav Vozner (Shu’t Shevet Halevi 9:35) writes that the heter of taking a census because of divrei mitzvah applies only when the statistics are used solely for divrei mitzvah. However, he permits the census for a different reason — because the census counts the entire population of Israel and not specifically Jews. Furthermore, even though the census in Israel includes a breakdown into religious groups, since thousands of those who are listed by the government as Jewish are not, Rav Vozner does not consider this as counting Jews. He adds that since no one is counted by name or family and the data does not correlate at all to the number of Jews, he does have any halachic objection to participating in the census.

On the basis of Rav Vozner’s responsum, there certainly should be no difficulty in participating in the United States census, since this also counts people and not Jews.

Conclusion

As Rav Hirsch points out, the census conducted in this week’s parsha is performed in the desert, demonstrating that its purpose was not for economic or political reasons. Rather, just as last week’s parsha closed with the counting of the flocks by their shepherds, so too, this week’s parsha begins with counting G-d’s flock by its Shepherd. Every individual is counted as an independent member of that flock to demonstrate the importance of his individual commitment and contribution.

What Is a Temurah?

Question: Two Temurahs

“Why does the Torah mention the mitzvah of temurah twice at the end of this week’s parshah, Bechukosay, once at the beginning of Chapter 27 and again at its end?”

Answer:

The concept of offering korbanos is foreign to us, since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash still remains in ruin and we are neither required nor permitted to offer korbanos anywhere else. Precisely because this topic is so unfamiliar, we should utilize every opportunity to familiarize ourselves with these laws. There are numerous reasons that underscore the importance of this topic, including:

(1) When our Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt — may it be speedily in our days — we will have to know all the laws about offering korbanos.

(2) It is part of the Torah we are required to know, and will also help us better understand this week’s Torah reading.

(3) The concept of uneshalmah parim sefaseinu (Hoshea 14:3), that when we are unable to offer korbanos, our reading and studying these Torah sections fulfills our requirement to offer the korbanos.

(4) There are some very important and little known laws that affect us today. We will soon study them.

What Is Temurah?

Towards the end of this week’s parshah, the Torah mentions a very unusual concept called temurah. Someone who had consecrated an animal to be his korban subsequently changes his mind and decides to substitute a different animal for the korban. By doing so, he violates the Torah’s prohibitions of lo yachalifenu velo yamir oso, “do not exchange it and do not substitute in its stead.” The Torah teaches that as a result of his declaration, both animals now have the sanctity of that korban (Vayikra 27:10). This means that the declaration succeeded in creating sanctity on the new animal, but failed to remove the sanctity from the original animal. Now, use of either animal for personal benefit is prohibited min hatorah. The animal that attained sanctity because of the second declaration is itself called a temurah (pl., temuros), so the word temurah refers both to the prohibited act and to the animal that is now affected by that act.

What Happens to the Animal?

What ultimately happens to an animal that has just become a temurah?

Each of the several types of korbanos has specific details as to how it is offered. Consequently, although every temurah animal has sanctity, its status will be determined by the specific korban for which it was dedicated.

Shelamim

One of the most common types of consecrated korbanos is the shelamim, whose name comes from the word shalom, peace. Rashi (Vayikra 3:1) explains two approaches for its name:

(1) The purpose of a shelamim is to bring peace to the world.

(2) The meat of a korban shelamim is divided: most of it is eaten by the owner in Yerushalayim. He may share it with any tahor person he chooses. A portion of the shelamim, the breast meats and the right thigh, is given to the kohen to eat in Yerushalayim and share with whomever he desires. The mizbei’ach (the altar) receives much of the fat of the animal, the kidneys, its diaphragm meat (which butchers often call the “skirt steak”), and a small part of the liver. Thus, “everyone” is made happy by this korban, and it brings peace to the world.

No Gender Discrimination

Shelamim is unique among the commonly consecrated korbanos in that one may offer an animal of either gender of any of the three types of kosher beheimah (domesticated animal — bovines, sheep or goats) and that there is no age restriction once the animal is seven days old. Of the other three main types of common consecrated korbanos, chatas must be female, whereas both olah and asham must be male. Both chatas and asham have other requirements as far as species, and asham has specific age requirements.

Temuras Shelamim

Now that we understand some of the basics of shelamim, our question is what happens to a temuras shelamim. This is the subject of a dispute in the Mishnah (Temurah 17b, 18a), but the halachic conclusion is that a temuras shelamim is treated just as a shelamim. It is offered as a korban and its meat is then divided: part eaten by the kohen and his family, a small part burnt on the mizbei’ach and the majority eaten by its owner.

Temuras Olah

The other very common type of consecrated korban is the olah, which is completely burnt on the mizbei’ach. In the case of olah, both the original korban and its temurah are offered in the Beis Hamikdash with all the details of the appropriate halachos observed. In this way, a temuras olah is treated similarly to temuras shelamim.

There is, however, one case when this cannot be done, which is when the temuras olah is a female animal. Since an olah must be male, the female temurah cannot be offered. This creates a very interesting predicament, since the female now has the sanctity of an olah, yet it cannot be offered as such because of its gender.

To resolve this difficulty, the temurah is sent out to pasture temporarily. The plan is that, left to her own devices, she will eventually develop a blemish that invalidates her as a korban. This requires a bit of explanation:

The Torah requires that all animals offered in the Beis Hamikdash be unblemished. There is an extensive list of physical shortcomings that invalidate an animal from being offered as a korban. For example, an animal whose legs are of uneven length is invalid as a korban, even though the animal is otherwise perfectly healthy. Also, an animal that shows evidence of damage, such as a split lip, is invalid as a korban. A blemish is called a moom and an animal bearing such a blemish is called a baal moom.

In the case of most korbanos, a consecrated animal that has become blemished is redeemed with the redemption money used to purchase a replacement korban. After the baal moom korban is redeemed, it may be slaughtered and eaten, but one may not work it.

This is what happens to a female temuras olah. She is sent out to pasture with the hope that she will eventually develop a moom that will invalidate her as a korban. When that happens, she will be redeemed, the redemption money being used to purchase a new korban olah.

It is prohibited min hatorah to blemish a korban intentionally (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Mizbei’ach 1:7); however, one may release the animal to the pasture in the hope that it becomes blemished.

Temuras Chatas

There are other instances when one cannot offer the temurah animal in the Beis Hamikdash. For example, both chatas and asham korbanos are offered to atone for specific sins. If someone creates a temurah of either a chatas or an asham, the temurah has sanctity that will preclude its being used any more by the owner, although it will be invalid for offering in the Beis Hamikdash. Exactly what one does with these animals is discussed by the Gemara and the rishonim but includes too many details to discuss in this article.

Bechor

The temurah of another korban, bechor, has yet a third status. A bechor is a firstborn male animal of a kosher species whose mother is fully owned by a Jew or Jews. An unblemished firstborn male was given to a kohen who brought it as an offering in the Beis Hamikdash. Its meat was eaten by the kohen and his family anywhere in Yerushalayim when they were tahor, and the kohen was able to share it with any tahor person, similar to the laws of a shelamim.

If the bechor is blemished, the halachah is unlike other korbanos, where the blemished animal is redeemed with redemption money that is used to purchase a replacement korban. The owner of a blemished bechor gives the animal to a kohen, who now owns it as his personal property, although he is still forbidden to work the animal and may use it only to slaughter for meat. It is one of the matanos kehunah, the gifts provided to the kohen, so that he can devote himself to his responsibilities as a teacher of the Jewish People. Should the kohen choose to, he may sell it to someone else. There are some other specific laws regarding where it may be slaughtered and how it may be sold, but it may be eaten by anyone, even a person who is tamei.

Temurah of Bechor

We have now seen that the korban of bechor is unusual, in that a blemished bechor loses some of its sanctity as a korban and as a result is slaughtered and eaten. The temurah of a bechor, therefore, also has halachic status different from other temuros. The owner gives the temuras bechor to a kohen, who sends the animal to pasture until it develops a blemish, at which point he may slaughter it and consume it (Mishnah Temurah 21a).

Temuras Maaser

When the Beis Hamikdash stood, every farmer was required to gather all his newborn kosher animals three times a year and send them though the opening of a pen, one at a time. The farmer counted each animal aloud, and marked each tenth animal exiting the pen with a red mark (Mishnah Bechoros, Chapter 9). This tenth animal has the halachic status of maaser, which is a type of korban. One could not work this animal. Instead, the owner was required to bring it to the Beis Hamikdash, where it was offered as a korban. The owner received most of the meat of this korban, which he was required to eat in Yerushalayim.

This korban shares many halachos with the bechor mentioned above. For example, just as a blemished bechor is not redeemed but is slaughtered and eaten, so too, a blemished maaser is slaughtered and eaten.

There is a difference between the bechor and the maaser, in that the owner is required to give the bechor to a kohen, whereas the maaser he keeps for himself.

There is a similarity between the temurah of bechor and that of maaser in that the temurah is not offered, although it, also, may not be worked, but one waits until it develops a blemish, at which point it can be slaughtered and eaten. In the case of maaser, the owner keeps the animal which he now may eat.

With this information, we can now answer the question asked above:

“Why does the Torah mention the mitzvah of temurah twice at the end of this week’s parshah, once at the beginning of Chapter 27 and again at its end?”

Checking the two pesukim, one will see clearly that the first verse (Vayikra 27:10) is addressing temurah of most korbanos, whereas the second verse (Vayikra 27:33) is addressing the temurah of a maaser animal. As Rashi explains on the latter verse, the halachah of temurah for maaser is different from that of other korbanos, which are usually either offered as a korban or redeemed. Whereas it has the sanctity of a korban, the temurah of a maaser prohibits only working the animal. One awaits its developing a blemish, and then slaughters it for its meat.

Who Can Make Temurah?

A person cannot create a temurah unless he is the owner of a korban. This means that if Jerry walks down the street one day and decides that he wants to substitute a different animal for Yosef’s korban, no temurah has happened. Yosef has to make the temurah for his own korban, or, alternatively, authorize someone to make temurah on his korban.

Who Is the “Owner” of a Korban?

Technically, the person who creates the temurah does not have to be the person who originally declared the animal to be a korban, although temurah can be declared only with the authority of the “owner” of the korban, meaning the person who is to benefit from its offering. If one person declared an animal to be a korban for the benefit of another, it is the beneficiary of the korban who is considered its “owner,” not the donor. Therefore, if the beneficiary of the korban subsequently decided to substitute a different animal, he will violate temurah and both animals will become sanctified, whereas if the donor did so, he did not violate temurah, and only the original animal has the sanctity of the korban. In the latter case, the replacement animal has no sanctity at all and can be worked with or used as one chooses.

Temurah on Birds?

The laws of temurah apply only to animal korbanos and not to korbanos of birds or of flour (Mishnah Temurah 13a). Therefore, if someone who has turtledoves set aside for his offerings decided to substitute something, whether a bird, an animal or anything else for the turtledoves, he has not violated the prohibition of creating temurah. Since the declaration was totally ineffective, the original turtledoves will be offered and the substitute animal or bird has no sanctity whatsoever.

Unusual Temurah Laws

There are several curious aspects to the laws of temurah and sanctifying offerings. One can create a temurah only when the original offering is owned by an individual, but not when it is a communal offering (korban tzibur) or even when it is a korban owned by two or more partners (Mishnah Temurah 13a). Notwithstanding the fact that one cannot make such a temurah, the Rambam (Hilchos Temurah 1:1) rules that one who attempts to substitute an animal for a communal korban violates the Torah’s prohibition and incurs the punishment of malkus. Nevertheless, since the temurah is completely ineffective, the new animal has no sanctity whatsoever. (The original animal is also, of course, not affected, and it is offered as the korban for which it was intended.)

Multiple Temurah

Someone can even create several temurah animals at the same time. For example, if the owner tried to remove the sanctity of the original animal by substituting two or more animals in its place, all the new animals become consecrated as korbanos, and the original animal still retains its korban status (Mishnah Temurah 9a).

Negligent Temurah

One of the interesting laws of temurah is that someone can create temurah even though he did not intentionally violate the Torah’s prohibition (Temurah 17a; Rambam, Hilchos Temurah 1:2; Tosafos, Temurah 2a s.v. Ha). For example, someone who did not realize that temurah is prohibited will still have created two animals that are holy.

Minor Temurah

Here is another unusual aspect to the laws of Temurah. The Gemara teaches that, under certain circumstances, an eleven-year-old girl or a twelve-year-old boy can declare an animal to have the sanctity of a korban, provided that he or she is the owner of the animal (Temurah 2b). This is true even though they are halachically minors and not obligated to observe mitzvos.

The Gemara (2b) discusses whether a minor who can consecrate a korban can also create a temurah. This is highly surprising; a minor cannot violate the prohibition of creating temurah, one would think that he cannot create a temurah either. Evidently, the creation of a temurah is not dependent on violating the prohibition of temurah.

Conclusion

Do we live with a burning desire to see the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days? Studying the halachos of the korbanos should help us develop our sensitivity and desire to see the Beis Hamikdash again in all its glory. May we soon merit seeing the kohanim offering all the korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash in purity and sanctity and Klal Yisrael in our rightful place in Eretz Yisrael as a light unto the nations!