Blemished in Our Day

Since parshas Balak mentions that Balak and Bil’am offered korbanos, it is appropriate to discuss the details of these mitzvos.

Question #1: Not Politically Correct?

“Why does the Torah ban ‘blemished’ people and animals from the service in the Beis Hamikdash? Does this not convey the incorrect message that people with disabilities are inferior in Hashem’s Eyes?”

Question #2: Are We Affected by Blemishes?

“Do the halachos defining which animals are blemished affect us before the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt?”

Question #3: Selling a Bechor that is Treif

“May I sell a bechor that is treif to a non-Jew?”

Question #4: In the Midst of Calf-Birth

“May I sell an animal that is in the process of calving?”

Foreword

In parshas Emor, the Torah discusses the laws of blemishes mumim (singular, mum) that affect both kohanim performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash and animals that can be brought for korbanos. Notwithstanding that we daven three times a day for the Beis Hamikdash to be rebuilt, most people do not focus on the laws of korbanos, assuming that they have no need to know these laws. Yet, if we truly want the Beis Hamikdash to be rebuilt, we should familiarize ourselves with the relevant halachos. Doing so demonstrates that we indeed anticipate the reinstating of the korbanos every minute. In addition, there are applications of these halachos that affect us even when the Beis Hamikdash lies in ruin.

Here is an example: What is the halacha if someone has an animal that has the sanctity of a korban? Although many people assume that this cannot happen in today’s world, this is a mistake – it can happen with any kosher beheimah. The question is even more germane to the laws of bechor, a firstborn animal (Shulchan Aruch Yorah Deah, 306:1).

Torah farm

Many years ago, I was asked about the following situation: A couple, whom we will call the Brauns, purchased a farm. They planned to use it to develop a Torah educational museum to teach about many less-known or less-understood mitzvos – such as the laws of mixing species (kelayim) of plants, mesorah of kosher bird species, orlah, different varieties of wool and plants that will and will not constitute shatnez, reishis hageiz — the mitzvah of giving to the kohen a percentage of the shearing — and so on. (I strongly encourage anyone who would like to entertain such an educational process to do so, since people learn much more from seeing and experiencing than from textbooks.)

A question came up when one of the Brauns’ heifers became pregnant for her first time. If this heifer would give birth to a male offspring, the calf would be a bechor, which has the halachic status of a korban. When the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, the bechor of a kosher animal is given to a kohen, who brings it as a korban and then eats its meat. Someone who ignores the sanctity of this bechor and uses, slaughters or sells it violates a serious Torah prohibition.

Today’s bechor

When there is no Beis Hamikdash, what do you do with a kosher beheimah that is a bechor?

It is strictly forbidden to use the animal in any way while it is still alive. The custom is to avoid any contact with the bechor animal, in order to make sure that no one mistakenly uses it.

Regarding using the animal, the only solution is to wait until the animal injures itself to the point that it becomes permanently blemished. At that point, the bechor that now has a mum may be shechted and eaten; however, it is still prohibited min haTorah to use it in any other way.

It is prohibited to place impediments in the animal’s way or to cause the bechor to injure itself (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 313:1). The halacha is that should the owner tell a non-Jewish employee that the animal cannot be shechted until it becomes injured, and the non-Jew then chops off its ear, knowing that this benefits his employer, one may not shecht the animal on this basis. This is considered as if you instructed your employee to damage the bechor (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah (313:3).

Ruling it permitted

Assuming the bechor “successfully” injured itself, whose authority can be used to permit shechting it? In other words, how do we know that the injury it has sustained is indeed permanent, and meets the halachic status of a mum?

In this context, we have a fascinating passage of Gemara (Sanhedrin 5a-b): Rabbah bar Channah was planning to return to Bavel, his birthplace, after attending Rebbe’s yeshivah in Eretz Yisroel for many years. Rav Chiya, Rabbah bar Channah’s uncle, asked Rebbe to give his nephew semicha covering three distinct areas of halacha: the most basic level, the laws of kashrus (subsequently called yoreh yoreh); a more advanced semicha on money matters (subsequently called yadin yadin); and the highest level, to rule that firstborn animals are blemished sufficiently and permanently to permit their slaughter, called yatir bechoros. Rebbe granted Rabbah bar Channah all three levels of semicha. Subsequently, Rav, who was also a nephew of Rav Chiya and a first cousin of Rabbah bar Channah, and who was known for being a much bigger talmid chacham than Rabbah bar Channah (which does not detract from Rabbah bar Channah’s greatness in Torah learning), applied for the same levels of semicha. Rebbe granted him only the lower two levels, yoreh yoreh and yadin yadin, but did not grant him authorization to permit blemished firstborn animals. When asked why Rav was not granted the highest level, Rebbe answered because Rav was so experienced with the subject that he would permit blemishes in cases where other people would not understand how he was able to be so lenient!

We see from this Gemara that only a properly authorized expert may rule that an animal is permanently blemished. Today, when we lack this expertise, three scholars may rule a blemish to be very obviously permanent, and, on this basis, permit shechting and eating the bechor (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 309:1). Even if it has an obviously permanent blemish, we do not allow it to be shechted until a ruling to this effect has been issued (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 310:1).

Once the animal is blemished, the owner gives it as a gift to a kohen, who arranges for the animal to be shechted. Anyone may eat the meat of this bechor, which the Gemara (Temurah 8b) mentions is very nutritious.

Tereifah

Our firstborn calf, lamb or kid has successfully injured itself so that it is now a baal mum, which permits its shechitah. We are not yet finished with its saga. After it is shechted, it is permitted to be eaten only if it completely kosher and is not a tereifah¸which means that it has internal damage that prohibits it from being eaten. There is a stringency that applies to bechor that does not apply to other animals. Any other animal that is a tereifah may be sold to non-Jews as non-kosher, or may be given to animals to eat, since they are not required to keep kosher. A bechor is different. It is prohibited for any benefit until it becomes permitted for a Jew to eat, by having a blemish and yet still being kesheirah. However, if it became a tereifah, and therefore cannot be eaten by a Jew, it remains prohibited for benefit (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 4:4).

Selling a Bechor that is Treif

At this point, we can begin to discuss the third of our opening questions. “May I sell a bechor that is treif to a non-Jew?”

Since the heter to shecht the bechor is only to allow it to be eaten, slaughtering this bechor is not permitted. If it found to be a tereifah after shechitah, as is usually the case, the meat may not be given or sold to a non-Jew, nor given to an animal to eat.

Avoiding the problem

Having figured out what to do with a bechor after it damages itself permanently, we are faced with a new question: Is there a simpler and safer method to avoid having a firstborn animal running around on your property?

Leg of lamb

There is a simple solution to the problem. The halacha is that, as long as a non-Jew owns some part of the mother at the time that it gives birth, its firstborn has no sanctity whatsoever. Therefore, we arrange a sale, similar to the mechiras chometz we perform before Pesach, in which the Jewish owner sells part of the mother, such as a leg, to a non-Jew. (When the Beis Hamikdash exists and we have a mitzvah of offering korbanos, such a sale would constitute an attempt to evade the performance of a mitzvah, and would be forbidden. However, when we cannot offer the korban, and the bechor becomes a potential michshol –  a stumbling block that might cause people to sin — we avoid creating the sanctity of bechor by selling part of the mother to a non-Jew.)

In the midst of calf-birth

In this context, we can now address another of our opening questions: “May I sell an animal that is in the process of calving?”

Your cow is in labor, and you realize that you have not yet sold it to a non-Jew. The Gemara (Chullin 69b) discusses this case where the calf is in the process of being born, to the point in which one third of it has already emerged, and at the moment there is a transaction that makes the mother the property of a non-Jew. When the rest of the calf is born, do we say that it has sanctity or not? The Gemara (Chullin 69b) quotes a dispute among amora’im. Rav Huna rules that the calf is holy, because once its birth begins, it is already considered a bechor. Rabbah disagrees, ruling that it is not considered a bechor until the birth is complete (or, more technically, when more than half has emerged), at which point its mother was already sold. It is unclear what the halachic conclusion is (Maharit Algazi, Bechoros 3:33).

In the situation at hand, the Braun family asked a local rabbi to take care of the sale, so that it would be performed correctly according to halacha. However, Nellie, the cow, had no interest in waiting for either the rabbi or the vet to show up, nor did she inquire who owned her leg. Nellie and her newborn son were both doing fine, notwithstanding the unattended farm birth. Thus, we now had a bechor to deal with. Unlike the mitzvos of pidyon haben, peter chamor, maaser sheini and reva’i,whose sanctity can be redeemed, the sanctity of a bechor cannot.

Not politically correct

At this point, let us discuss the opening question: “Why does the Torah ban ‘blemished’ people and animals from the service in the Beis Hamikdash? Does this not convey the incorrect message that people with disabilities are inferior in Hashem’s Eyes?”

Certainly, Hashem and His Torah do not look down on someone whose abilities or appearances are irregular. Rav Hirsch explains that non-Torah religions thrive on people who suffer, and on fears of the unknown. Their temples become gathering points for those whom life appears to have treated unfairly, or who suffer from illness, injury or worse. Religion, for them, becomes something to comfort the pained and the oppressed.

Torah’s purpose, on the other hand, is to be a guide to teach every person how to use their limited years on this world to grow. Serving Hashem, whether in His Mikdash or outside, demands that man is completely devoted to serving Hashem and to growing.

With this introduction, Rav Hirsch explains many concepts of the Torah, including such diverse ideas as tumah, baalei mum and kehunah. The only reason that those with blemishes cannot perform the service is to demonstrate that all people, certainly even the healthy, have their place in serving Hashem.

Erasing on Shabbos

Photo by t a from FreeImages

Question: Erasing off my hand

On Friday, I wrote a short reminder on my hand. May I rub it off on Shabbos?

Introduction:

In a previous article, we analyzed the prohibition of writing on Shabbos. We discovered that this melacha was performed in the process of building the mishkan – either when they marked the boards, to make sure that they were placed in the proper location, or, according to another opinion, when they kept records. This does not explain why the activity of erasing, mocheik, is a melacha. Rashi (73a) explains that erasing is a melacha because sometimes the person doing the marking made an error that required correction. Thus, the erasing was in order to write the correct numbering. This leads directly to our next point:

Erasing in order to write

When the Mishnah lists the various melachos of Shabbos, it states, “There are 39 categories of melacha: Someone who plants, or plows, or reaps, or gathers, or threshes, or winnows, or selects, or grinds, or sifts, or kneads, or bakes. Someone who shears wools, or launders it, or cards it, or dyes it, or spins… someone who traps a deer, or slaughters it, or skins it… or tans the hide, or smooths it, or cuts it to size, or writes two letters, or erases with the intent of writing two letters, or builds, or razes, or extinguishes, or someone who kindles.” The amount of detail for the melacha of erasing, relative to the other melachos, stands out; most of the melachos are described in Hebrew by one word, without referencing another melacha or a quantity. Yet, when mentioning the melacha of mocheik, erasing, the Mishnah limits the melacha to someone who “erases with the intent of writing two letters.” To explain why the Mishnah uses this unusual way of describing mocheik requires some introduction:

1. When discussing the laws of Shabbos, Chazal were careful to use two terms: chayov, culpable, and patur, exempt. Chayov means that, when the Sanhedrin was fully functional, these acts were punishable, and, when performed negligently, require the offering of a korban chatos.

2. A principle germane to all the laws of Shabbos is that someone violates Shabbos min haTorah only when the action has a direct, positive result. If the act appears to be unconstructive, it is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction and not min haTorah. For example, digging a hole because of a need for fill dirt to cover a spill or the exposed roots of a plant is exempt min haTorah from violating the melacha of choreish, plowing. This is because creating this hole in the ground is not a positive act. Digging a holeis a Torah violationonly when it is either part of an act of plowing – in order to plant or otherwise benefit a plant –  in which case it constitutes the melacha of choreish;or when it is part of a construction, in which case it constitutes the melacha of boneh, building. In both of these instances, the hole is itself beneficial.

Erasing does not, in and of itself, provide benefit. It is considered beneficial when (1) you are interested in writing on the paper and to do so you need to erase something, or (2) when there is a mistake on the paper that you need to correct by erasure. When the erasing itself does not provide benefit, the act violates Shabbos only because of a rabbinic injunction. This is why the Mishnah states that erasing is chayov when it is performed in order to write. This type of erasing is a positive act and, therefore, a Torah violation.

–When the erasure is “positive,” but you do not intend to write anything – as in the second case mentioned above – is that chayov for the melacha of erasing? That is a dispute among poskim that we will discuss shortly.

Why two letters?

The Mishnah states that violating the melacha of erasing requires the intention to write two letters on the erasure. As the Mishnah states, someone is chayov for violating the melacha of koseiv only when he writes two letters. Writing less than two letters is not substantive enough for a person to be culpable. Since erasing alone is not considered a constructive act, the person is liable only when the erasure clears enough area to write two letters.

Note that it does not state in the Mishnah how many letters must be erased to violate the melacha. It states how much space must be erased – enough space to write two letters.

What is the halacha if someone erased just one letter, but it was large enough to write two letters in its place? Is the person who performed this act guilty of violating the melacha? The Mishnah implies that this act would be chayov.

This question is raised by the Tosefta, which states that, indeed, someone who erased a letter large enough to write two letters, is culpable for violating the melacha when his intention is to write two letters in its place. The Tosefta (Shabbos 12:7, quoted by the Gemara) notes that this results in an anomalous conclusion: “Someone who writes one large letter, even though it is as big as two letters, is exempt from having committed a transgression on Shabbos, whereas someone who erases one letter that is as big as two letters desecrates Shabbos. Rabbi Menachem berabbi Yosi said: This is a stringency of erasing that does not exist with writing.”

Erasing stricter than writing?!

The Tosefta is emphasizing that although, in general, there are more ways of violating the melacha of writing than there are of violating the melacha of erasing, this is an instance in which someone could be chayov for erasing, whereas a parallel act of writing would not be chayov.

Erasing scribble

Actually, there are at least two other instances when erasing is treated more strictly than writing. One situation is that of someone who erased scribble in order to write in its place. Since the goal of the melacha of erasing is to write, it makes no difference whether someone erased letters or scribble – in both instances he is chayov for violating the Torah’s melacha (Rosh, Shabbos 7:9; Tur, Orach Chayim 340). On the other hand, someone who scribbles does not violate the melacha of writing min haTorah, since he did not write any form of communication.

Left-handed erasing

Here is yet another case in which erasing is treated more strictly than writing. Although we learned in a previous article that someone who writes with his non-dominant hand has not violated the Torah prohibition of writing, since this is not the usual way to write, this rule applies only to melacha activities that require dexterity. According to most authorities, erasing is not considered a melacha that requires such dexterity, and, therefore, someone who erases with his non-dominant hand violates the melacha min haTorah, assuming that he is erasing for the purpose of writing two letters (Chayei Odom 9:2; Mishnah Berurah 340:22; Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 209:9). We should note that one early acharon, the Elyah Rabbah (340:11), appears to disagree, suggesting that there is no difference between writing and erasing in this regard.

Permanence

Germane to writing, the Mishnah (Shabbos 104b) teaches: “Someone who writes two letters… is chayov, whether he writes with ink, with a paint pigment, with sikra [a red dye], with tree-exudate gum, with ferrous sulfate, or with anything else that makes a permanent impression.”

This requirement – that one is chayov for the melacha only if performed with, or on, an item that results in permanent writing – holds true both for the melacha of writing and for the melacha of erasing. In other words, someone who erased writing that is temporary, or that was written on material that is not lasting, does not violate the melacha of erasing min haTorah. For example, if someone erases writing on a leaf that soon will dry up, he violates a rabbinic injunction but is not chayov (see Tosefta, Shabbos 12:7).

There is a halachic curiosity here: Since the melacha of erasing is for the purpose of writing, or alternatively, when the erasing itself creates something positive, why is this melacha violated only when erasing permanent writing? Erasing temporary writing is also necessary, sometimes, to accomplish a positive result, whether it is to write in its place or for a different positive purpose.

I have not found this question asked by the traditional authorities. It seems to me that the answer is that erasing something temporary is not significant enough to constitute a violation of a Torah law.

Erasing one letter

I mentioned above that the Mishnah implies, and the Tosefta states explicitly, that someone who erases one letter that is large enough to write two letters in its place, with the intent of writing two letters there, is liable for erasing on Shabbos. The Sefas Emes (Shabbos 75b) queries whether someone who erased a space large enough to write two letters, but his intention is to write only one letter, is chayov or not. He does not reach a definite conclusion.

Correction fluid

Using correction fluid (often called “Wite-Out,” which is the brand name of one such product), when done to enable rewriting, is prohibited min haTorah.

Coating white

The Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 340:1) rules that if someone takes a dark piece of wood or other material and whitewashes its surface so that he can write on it, he violates mocheik min haTorah – because this act is equivalent halachically to erasing a dark surface for the purpose of writing on it.

Erasing a tattoo

One acharon discusses whether erasing a tattoo on Shabbos violates the melacha of mocheik. He rules that to do this on a Jew is a violation of Shabbos min haTorah – according to the authorities who hold that an erasure for a positive benefit other than writing is chayov. However, erasing a non-Jew’s tattoo is not a violation of mocheik, according to the Minchas Chinuch. (I am unsure how a tattoo can be erased. I have been told that there are several methods, such as using lasers to break down the ink, or rubbing salt or lemon juice and then applying some ointment.)

Ink on sikra

The Gemara (Gittin 19a) teaches that someone who writes with dark ink on top of writing that was red violates two melachos: erasing and writing. His act is considered to have erased the original red writing and then to have written in dark ink on top of the erasure.

Ches and two zayins

In the Ashkenazi script used for sifrei Torah, the letter ches is written as two zayins with a tiny cap (similar to an upside-down “v”) connecting them. The Gemara rules that someone who removes this “cap,” thereby creating two zayins, is chayov. The Bavli (104b) rules that he violated one melacha, whereas the Yerushalmi (7:2) rules that he violated both koseiv and mocheik in doing this. Similarly, the Yerushalmi holds that someone who scraped off the corner of a dalet, thereby making it into a reish, violated both melachos, koseiv and mocheik.

Crying over spilled ink

Someone spilled ink intentionally onto a written passage so that it can no longer be read. Does this constitute the melacha of erasing min haTorah? It would appear that it violates the melacha only as a rabbinic injunction, since no improvement resulted from his action (Shu”t Maharshag 2:41).

Erasing wet ink

The authorities disagree as to whether erasing ink or other pigment that has not yet dried violates the melacha of erasing min haTorah. Some contend that this is not chayov, because the writing is not yet permanent; at this stage, it can easily smear and become illegible (Minchas Chinuch, Koseiv #10; Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:65).

Erasing on Yom Tov

Writing and erasing are both prohibited on Yom Tov, although kindling a fire for warmth or cooking is permitted. This has an interesting application: Is it permitted to use newspaper to kindle a fire on Yom Tov? Is burning the writing on the paper considered erasing? Certainly, this does not constitute erasing min haTorah, since you will not have any paper to write on when you are finished, and therefore the results are not considered positive, as explained above. Despite that fact, the Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 511:2) prohibits burning paper that has lettering on it on Yom Tov, because it is considered mocheik miderabbanan.Although cooking and related food preparatory melachos are permitted on Yom Tov, erasing for a non-food purpose is not.

Only in order to write?

Above, I quoted a statement of the Tosefta that erasing a large letter so that you can write two letters in its place is chayov. As a rule, erasing violates Shabbos min haTorah because it is a preparatory melacha to writing. Is this a concept unique to the melacha of erasing, or is it part of the general rule that a melacha must have a positive result to be chayov, and erasing does not usually have, in and of itself, a positive result?

This question appears to be the subject of a dispute between major authorities.

Here is an example of a case that is affected by this dispute. Someone has a mezuzah, sefer Torah or Tefillin in which an extra letter is written. As is, it cannot be used until the extra letter is erased, but once the letter is removed, it is perfectly kosher. Thus, erasing the letter is not for the purpose of writing, but renders a tikun, a positive result. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 340:7), suggests that erasing the letter is prohibited min haTorah, whereas, according to Tosafos, as explained by Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Gilyon Hashas, Shabbos 73b s.v. Vetzarich), it is not. Tosafos appears to understand that since the melacha of mocheik in the mishkan was in order to rewrite, that is the only category of erasing that is prohibited min haTorah; the Pri Megadim assumes that any erasing that produces a positive result is included in the Torah violation.

Evidence to the Pri Megadim’s position can be rallied from a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 149a) which prohibits reading a list of guests that you intend to invite on Shabbos or a list of courses that you intend to serve. This prohibition is because of a rabbinic concern that the host may realize that he invited too many guests (or have too many courses) and decide to erase a name from the list, so that the butler does not go to invite that guest. (Apparently, invitations were neither printed nor delivered before Shabbos, but were delivered orally via courier on Shabbos itself.)

The Gemara’s statement implies that the erasing would be prohibited min haTorah because it produces a positive result. If not, and the erasing is prohibited only miderabbanan, we would not make a gezeirah in this instance since the concern is only that someone will violate a rabbinic prohibition (Chazon Yechezkel 12:7; see there that he endeavors to answer the question).

Wiping ink off your hands

Is wiping ink off your hands prohibited because of mocheik?

There is a dispute among late poskim whether wiping writing or even smudges off your hands is prohibited because of mocheik. The Chayei Odom (Hilchos Netilas Yadayim 40:8) rules that if your hands are smudged on Shabbos, say, from pots, and there is a concern that washing netilas yadayim upon arising in the morning or prior to eating bread might remove the stains, it is still permitted to wash them since you are not trying to remove the smudges and it is not definite that they will be erased. (This is referred to in halachic parlance as eino miskavein without a pesik reisha.) The Chayei Odom forbids scrubbing your hands clean, because this constitutes mocheik – although he agrees that this does not violate mocheik min haTorah, but only miderabbanan, because you are not wiping off the smudge in order to write on your hands. (Indeed, if you were wiping your hands clean in order to write on them, this scrubbing would be prohibited min haTorah as mocheik.)

In a similar vein, the Minchas Shabbos (80:199) rules that on Friday you should be careful not to use ink or dyes that will remain on your hands on Shabbos. If you did use such ink or dye, and it is still on your hand on Shabbos, and you are embarrassed by it, he permits you to remove it on Shabbos because of kavod haberiyos, the basic dignity to which human beings are entitled. He quotes other authorities who prohibit removing the ink from your hands and even prohibit washing the stained parts of your hands under these circumstances, ruling that you should wrap the writing in cloth or bandages. (From a netilas yadayim perspective, this is permitted when you have an injury that you want to keep clean. It is a chiddush to apply that law to this case.)

However, the Maharsham (Kuntrus Ahavas Shalom, end of Minchas Shabbos #4) disagrees with both the Chayei Odom and the Minchas Shabbos, contending that although it is prohibited miderabbanan to erase any ink or smudges, even when you have no intent to write on that place, the rabbinic prohibition applies only to removing ink or dye, but not to removing dirt, which would usually be considered cleaning and not erasing.

Conclusion

The Torah commanded us concerning the halachos of Shabbos by giving us the basic categories that are prohibited. Shabbos is a day on which we refrain from altering the world for our own purposes; instead, the rule of Hashem becomes the focus of all of creation. We contribute to this by refraining from any activity that implies that we have control over the universe (Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch’s Commentary to Shemos 20:10).

By demonstrating Hashem’s rule even over non-exertive activities, such as erasing, we demonstrate and acknowledge the true Creator of the world and all it contains.

Writing on Shabbos

Question #1: Writing with my mouth!?

Is writing with a pen in my mouth considered writing?

Question #2: Disappearing ink

May I use disappearing ink on Shabbos?

Introduction:

Writing was one of the 39 melachos performed in the construction of the mishkan. According to most opinions, writing was performed when the boards of the mishkan were marked (see Shabbos 103a,b; Rashi 73a). The Mishnah (103a) mentions that the boards were marked in order to remember exactly in which location each board was placed.

Why mark?

The question is: Since the mishkan’s boards were identical, what difference should it make where each board is placed? This question is already raised by the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbos 12:3), which explains that there is halachic importance that each board be in the exact same place whenever the mishkan was reassembled.

Recordkeeping

There is a minority opinion that contends that the melacha of writing is derived from the recordkeeping performed for the mishkan (see Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 199:10).  Since the Mishnah already mentions the marking of the boards as a source for the melacha, how and why can any commentary suggest a different reason?

The answer is that this approach was suggested in order to resolve a conundrum. There are rishonim who clearly did not use the Mishnah’s example of marking the mishkan boards as the source of the melacha of writing. The acharonim who discuss this question note the following:

When the Mishnah states that the melacha of writing is derived from the labeling of the boards, it is explaining the opinion of a minority tanna, Rabbi Yosi, who holds that there is a melacha called rosheim, or marking. The Avnei Neizer demonstrates that there are rishonim who definitely hold that the tanna kamma who disagrees with Rabbi Yosi did not derive the melacha of writing from the boards; therefore, these rishonim must have another option from which the melacha of writing is derived. The Avnei Neizer suggests that the melacha was derived from the necessity of keeping good records regarding the contributions donated to the construction of the mishkan.

Minimum shiur

In general, there are two levels for violating any of the melachos of Shabbos. There is a greater degree of violation, called chayov, which includes performing a melacha with the minimum amount necessary, called the shiur. There is also a lesser degree of violation, called patur, which includes performing the melacha activity but in a quantitatively smaller way, called pachus mi’keshiur, literally, less than the minimal amount. Patur also includes activities that are forbidden to perform because of rabbinic injunction.

What difference does it make whether something is chayov, punishable, or patur, non-punishable? There are several halachic differences that result. Here are three:

1. At the time that the Sanhedrin existed, a special beis din, composed of 23 judges, would take forceful legal action against someone who desecrated Shabbos in a punishable way, but they would not take action if the act was non-punishable.

2. Is someone who violates Shabbos negligently required to offer a korban chatos as atonement? If the act is chayov, the perpetrator is obligated to offer a korban chatos. If not, it did not cross the threshold required to offer a korban chatos, notwithstanding that it violated a Torah law.

3. Under certain circumstances, it might be permitted to ask a gentile to perform the act.

Two letters

Regarding the melacha of writing, the violation of the higher degree is when someone writes two letters of the alphabet. Someone who writes only one letter has performed a non-punishable offense, unless his one letter completed a work, such as it was the last letter of a sefer Torah (Shabbos 104b).

Someone who writes one letter is not chayov for violating the melacha even when it is an abbreviation of a word. For example, in the time of the Mishnah, someone might mark a bin containing maaser produce with a single letter mem מ. Despite the fact that everyone seeing this single מ on a bin will realize that this is a code for an entire word, someone who marked the bin with a letter מ is not chayov for Shabbos desecration, but is guilty of a lesser prohibition, that of writing pachus mi’keshiur.

Notwithstanding that writing less than the shiur is deemed non-punishable, it is forbidden, and its violation should not be treated lightly.

Writing with my mouth!?

At this point, we can discuss our opening question: Is writing with a pen in my mouth considered writing?

The Mishnah (Shabbos 103b) mentions other instances in which the act is not chayov; for example, someone wrote two letters in different places in a way that they cannot be read together, or he wrote in a way that people usually do not write, such as by holding the pen in his mouth.

Writing with your mouth

We have all heard of extremely talented artists who succeed in doing things that we would consider well-nigh impossible, such as drawing paintings with their toes or with a quill held between their teeth.

Actually, this incredible skill is not new. In the days of the Rama of Fanu, an early- seventeenth century Italian gadol, mekubal, and posek, there was a scribe who wrote sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos by holding the quill in his mouth. He wrote gorgeous sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos, but the halachic question was whether they were kosher. Some background to the issue is necessary:

Write right

The Mishnah (103b) lists many cases that are not prohibited min haTorah, including writing by holding the pen between the toes, with one’s mouth, by holding it in the joint between his forearm and upper arm (the opposite side of the elbow), or by holding a pen upside-down (thus, writing by twisting your arm backwards – don’t try it, it is a rather uncomfortable way to write). The Gemara adds that someone who writes with his weaker hand, such as a right-handed person who writes with his left hand, is patur from performing a punishable melacha.

Our opening question is now clearer. The poskim rule that just as writing in an unusual fashion does not qualify as an act of writing to desecrate Shabbos (min haTorah), sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos written this way are not written correctly and are invalid. Similarly, the Rama of Fanu ruled that the beautiful sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos written by holding the quill in the sofer’s mouth are not kosher.

Can you write by erasing?

There are circumstances in which a letter is created by erasing. For example, the Hebrew letter reish needs to be written, and at the moment its place is taken by a dalet or a tav. If you erase the extra piece and thus create a reish, have you desecrated Shabbos?

Let me explain this question in more detail: There is a principle germane to the laws of sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos that the letters must be written and cannot be scraped into existence. This case shows a perfect example: someone wrote a dalet where a reish is required, then scraped off the extension and point of the dalet to construct a reish. This is referred to as chok tochos and, unfortunately, sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos so made are invalid.

The question is: Does the creation of a letter on Shabbos by chok tochos constitute writing germane to the laws of Shabbos, or does it constitute only a rabbinic violation?

The answer:

Several authorities, both rishonim and acharonim, rule that a letter written by erasing violates the melacha of writing on Shabbos min haTorah (Ran, Or Zarua, Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim #207).

How were the boards marked?

I mentioned above the Mishnah that teaches that the boards were marked to be able to tell where each board should be placed when the mishkan was reassembled.

There is an interesting dispute between Rashi and the Rambam regarding how the boards of the mishkan were marked. According to Rashi (Shabbos 73a), each board was marked with a letter or symbol, with the two boards that were to be inserted into the same silver socket carrying the same symbol. The melacha is derived from the juxtaposition of two letters providing knowledge how to place the two boards.

The Rambam’s opinion is that the boards were numbered consecutively, using the same system we would use today to write numbers using Hebrew letters. Thus the eleventh board was mark יא and the nineteenth יט (Commentary to Mishnah Shabbos 12:3). He does not explain why we cannot derive that writing even one letter is chayov, since the first ten boards were identified with only one letter. It seems that, in his opinion, Chazal understood that one letter, which does not form a word in Hebrew, cannot be enough writing to be chayov. According to Rashi, the requirement to write two letters to be chayov is itself derived from the construction of the mishkan.

Writing other than Hebrew

Some rishonim contend that the prohibition against writing on Shabbos is violated min haTorah only when using Hebrew characters (Rabbeinu Yoel Halevi, quoted by Or Zarua, Hilchos Shabbos #76, and Hagahos Maimoniyos, Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:40 and Hilchos Tefillin, 1:70). According to these rishonim, writing in other alphabets is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction. Although most rishonim, including both Rashi (Shabbos 103a) and the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 11:10), clearly dispute this, contending that writing in any alphabet is prohibited min haTorah, the Rema (Orach Chayim 306:11) rules according to the Or Zarua that writing in other alphabets is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction (cf. Beis Shmuel 126:1 and Magen Avraham 340:10). Upon this basis, some later poskim permit having a non-Jew use a western alphabet on Shabbos for the benefit of a Jew (See Shu’t Noda Biyehudah, Orach Chayim 2:29).

Permanence

A requirement of most melachos is that the act involved must have a lasting result. For example, tying a knot that can last for only a matter of hours is not prohibited on Shabbos.

Germane to the melacha of writing, the Mishnah (Shabbos 104b) discusses this topic:

Someone who writes with ink, with a paint pigment, with sikra (a red dye), with tree-exudate gum, or with ferrous sulfate, or anything else that makes a permanent impression (is chayov).

The Tosefta (Shabbos 12:6) and other authorities add several other instances that are considered permanent: writing with pencil, coal, paint, shoe polish, tree sap, pomegranate peels, or congealed blood. (It is perhaps significant that the Rambam omits the case of congealed blood, a point raised by the Biur Halacha [340:4 s. v. bamashkin]. Biur Halacha leaves this issue unresolved.)

Temporary writing:

On the other hand, the Mishnah also mentions several types of writing that are deemed temporary and therefore only rabbinic violations of Shabbos. The Mishnah (103b) records the following instances of writing that qualify as temporary: “Someone who wrote with liquids (Rashi explains this to mean a berry juice with a black color), with fruit juices, with mud (or, alternatively, he used his finger to mark lettering in dust [Rashi]), with the residue left in an inkwell, or with any other substance that does not last is patur.”

How permanent?

Two great recent authorities apparently were involved in debating this exact question. Sometime in 1977, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach paid a house visit to the posek of the eidah hachareidis, Rav Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss, and the two great authorities began discussing the question concerning how long a period of time must writing last to be considered permanent. Notwithstanding that both great leaders viewed one another with utmost respect, they disagreed very strongly over the halachic conclusions to be drawn from the evidence.

In a previous article discussing the laws of dyeing, we discussed how permanent you must color something to violate the laws of Shabbos min haTorah. Most authorities contend that violating the law min haTorah requires that the color last only to the end of Shabbos. Germane to the laws of writing, many authorities rule that the definition of permanent is the same: Any writing that will last until Shabbos is over is prohibited (see Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 7:13-15). However, other authorities rule that writing is more lenient than dyeing, which means that the length of time that a written message needs to last to violate a Torah prohibition is longer than the length of time required for a dye (Minchas Shlomoh 1:91:11; Rashba, Shabbos 115b; Biur Halacha, 340:4 s. v. Bemashkin).

Why should writing require a longer amount of time to be prohibited min haTorah than dyeing?

In writing, the goal is to provide communication, either to yourself as a reminder, or to someone else. If a person is writing a reminder, he probably needs the information to last for a few days, and therefore writing in a way that will not last this long does not violate the Torah prohibition.

The Shab-eit

I have in my possession a pen called a Shab-eit. This product was manufactured to assist security or medical personnel who are required to write on Shabbos because of pikuach nefesh situations. The instructions on the pen quote the words of the Mishnah, “Someone who wrote with liquids, with fruit juices, with mud, with the residue left in an inkwell, or with any other substance that does not last is patur,” with the notation that usage of the Shab-eit is prohibited miderabbanan on Shabbos. The package insert explains that state that anything written with the pen will become hard to read and will completely disappear within a few days, depending on the type of paper on which it is written. They note that, based on the company’s experience, the writing will remain on regular writing paper for about three days, and therefore use of the Shab-eit is advised for medical and security personnel required to write things on Shabbos because of life-threatening emergencies. The recommendations are to write on Shabbos in as limited a way as one can using this marker, and after Shabbos to rewrite or photograph what was written. They also suggest checking before Shabbos to see how long it lasts on the type of paper that will be used. As I discovered, on some types of paper this ink will disappear within hours, potentially rendering it useless.

The package includes a note that using this pen on Shabbos in the above-mentioned circumstances is based on piskei halacha of Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, whose responsa on the subject they reference.

Prickly writer

The Mishnah (104b) teaches: “Someone who writes on his own skin is chayov. Someone who scratches on his skin: Rabbi Eliezer rules that he is chayov, whereas the Sages rule that he is patur.”

What is the dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages?

According to most opinions (Rashi on Rif, Ran, Reshash), they are discussing someone who took a pin or thorn and “wrote” by scratching some letters or a brief message into his skin. Rabbi Eliezer considers this to be an act of writing, whereas the Sages rule that he is exempt from a Torah violation for writing since this is not considered a normal way to write (Rambam, Ran). The halacha follows the Sages that he is exempt from a Torah violation (Rambam), although this is prohibited on Shabbos as a rabbinic injunction. It is also a valid question why this is not chayov for the Shabbos violation of drawing blood. I hope to answer this question in a future article.

Conclusion

The Torah commanded us concerning the halachos of Shabbos by giving us the basic categories that are prohibited. Shabbos is a day that we refrain from altering the world for our own purposes, but instead allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch’s Commentary to Shemos 20:10). By demonstrating Hashem’s rule even over non-exertive activities such as writing, we demonstrate and acknowledge the true Creator of the world and all it contains.

The Twentieth of Sivan

Question:

“I noticed that the back of my siddur contains a large section devoted to selichos for the 20th of Sivan, yet I have never davened in a shul that observed this day. What does this date commemorate?”

Answer:

The Twentieth of Sivan was established in Ashkenazi communities as a day of fasting and teshuvah to remember two major tragedies of Jewish history. Let us begin by discussing the halachic basis for the observance of commemorative fasts.

Biblical Source

When the two sons of Aharon — Nadav and Avihu — died, the Torah says, “And Moshe said to Aharon and to Elazar and Isamar, his sons, ‘You shall not allow your heads to remain unshorn nor shall you rend your clothes — so you shall not die and cause that He become angry with the entire community. Rather, your brethren, the household of Israel, will weep for the inferno that Hashem ignited’” (Vayikra 10:6). From this description, we see that the entire Jewish community bears responsibility to mourn the loss of great tzadikim.

Communal Teshuvah Observances

The Rambam (Hilchos Taanis 1:1-3) explains: “It is a positive mitzvah of the Torah to cry out and to blow the trumpets whenever any danger afflicts a Jewish community, as the Torah says, ‘When you go to war… against an adversary who creates troubles for you, you shall blow the trumpets (Bamidbar 10:9).’ On any matter that afflicts you, such as food shortages, plague, locusts or anything similar, you should cry out in prayer and blow the trumpets. This is part of the procedure of doing teshuvah, for when difficulties occur and people come to pray, they realize that these happenings befell them because of their misdeeds, and doing teshuvah will remove the troubles.

“However, if they do not pray, but instead attribute the difficulties to normal worldly cycles — this is a cruel approach to life that causes people to maintain their evil ways.

“Furthermore, the Sages required a fast on the occasion of any menace that afflicts the community, until Heaven has mercy” (Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 1:4).

The History of the 20th of Sivan

This date is associated with two major tragedies that befell European Jewry. The earlier catastrophe, which occurred in the 12th Century, was recorded in a contemporary chronicle entitled Emek Habacha, and also in a selicha entitled Emunei Shelumei Yisrael, from which I have drawn most of the information regarding this tragic event.

One night in the city of Blois, which is in central France, a Jew watering his horse happened upon a murder scene in which a gentile adult had drowned a gentile child. The murderer, not wanting to be executed for his crime, fled to the local ruler, telling him that he had just caught a Jew murdering a child!

The tyrant arrested 31 Jewish leaders, men and women, including some of the baalei Tosafos who were disciples of the Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson. The tyrant accused his prisoners, several of whom are mentioned by name in Emunei Shelumei Yisroel, of killing the gentile child to obtain blood for producing matzah.

After locking his captives in a tower, the despot insisted that they be baptized. He told them that if they accept baptism, he would forgive them, but if they refused, he would execute them in a painful way. None of them considered turning traitor to Hashem’s Torah. On the 20th of Sivan 4931 (1171), they were tied up and placed on a pyre to be burned alive. At the fateful moment, the Jews sang in unison: Aleinu leshabayach la’adon hakol, “it is incumbent upon us to praise the Lord of all.”

The fires did not consume them! The undeterred tyrant commanded his troops to beat them to death and then burn their bodies. However, the fires were still unable to consume their bodies, which remained intact!

Banishment from France

This libel was a major factor in the banishing of Jews from France that occurred ten years later. (Although the King of France declared that they must be exiled from the country, he did not, in fact, have sufficient control to force them out completely. This transpired only a century later.)

As a commemoration of the sacrifice of these great Jews and as a day of teshuvah, Rabbeinu Tam and the other gedolei Baalei Tosafos of France declared the 20th of Sivan a fast day. Special selichos and piyutim were composed to memorialize the incident, and a seder selichos was compiled that included selichos written by earlier paytanim, most notably Rav Shlomoh (ben Yehudah) Habavli, Rabbeinu Gershom, and Rabbi Meir ben Rabbi Yitzchak, the author of the Akdamus poem that we recite on Shevuos. Each of these gedolim lived in Europe well before the time of Rashi. Since most people know little about the earliest of this trio, Rav Shlomoh Habavli, I will devote a paragraph to what is known about this talmid chacham who lived in Europe at the time of the Geonim.

Rav Shlomoh Habavli, who lived around the year 4750 (990), was descended from a family that originated in Bavel, today Iraq (hence, he is called Habavli after his ancestral homeland, similar to the way people have the family name Ashkenazi or Pollack although they themselves were born in Flatbush). He lived in Italy, probably in Rome, and authored piyutim for the Yomim Tovim, particularly for Yom Kippur and Shevuos, and many selichos, about twenty of which have survived to this day. The rishonim refer to him and his writings with great veneration, and the Rosh (Yoma 8:19) quotes reverently from the piyut for the seder avodah in musaf of Yom Kippur, written by “Rabbeinu Shlomoh Habavli.” The Maharshal says that Rabbeinu Gershom, the teacher of Rashi’s rabbei’im and the rebbe of all Ashkenazic Jewry, learned Torah and received his mesorah on Torah and Yiddishkeit from Rav Shlomoh Habavli (Shu’t Maharshal #29). (Rav Shlomoh Habavli’s works are sometimes confused with a more famous Spanish talmid chacham and poet who was also “Shlomoh ben Yehudah,” Rav Shlomoh ibn Gabirol, who lived shortly after Rav Shlomoh Habavli.)

Instituting the Fast

When Rabbeinu Tam instituted the fast of the 20th of Sivan, the selichos recited on that day included one that was written specifically to commemorate the tragedy of Blois. The selicha that begins with the words Emunei Shelomei Yisroel actually mentions the date of the 20th of Sivan 4931 in the selicha and describes the tragedy.

The Crusades

Since this tragedy took place during the general period of the Crusades, the 20th of Sivan was often viewed as the mourning day for the murders and other excesses that were committed during that era, since each of the early Crusades resulted in the horrible destruction of hundreds of communities in central and western Europe and the killing of thousands of Jews. In actuality, the blood libel of Blois occurred between the Second Crusade, which occurred in 4907-9/1147-49 and the Third Crusade, which was forty years later, in 4949/1189.

Gezeiros Tach veTat

The fast of the 20th of Sivan memorializes an additional Jewish calamity. Almost five hundred years later, most of the Jewish communities of eastern Europe suffered the unspeakable massacres that are referred to as the Gezeiros Tach veTat, which refer to the years of 5408 (Tach) and 5409 (Tat), corresponding to the secular years 1648 and 1649. Although this title implies that these excesses lasted for at most two years, the calamities of this period actually raged on, sporadically, for the next twelve years.

First, the historical background: Bogdan Chmielnitzky was a charismatic, capable, and nefariously anti-Semitic Cossack leader in the Ukraine, which at the time was part of the Kingdom of Poland. Chmielnitzky led a rebellion of Ukrainians against their Polish overlords. Aside from nationalistic and economic reasons for the Ukrainians revolt against Polish rule, there were also religious reasons, since the Ukrainians were Greek Orthodox, whereas the Poles were Roman Catholic. Chmielnitzky led the Ukrainians through a succession of alliances, first creating an alliance with the Crimean Tatars against the Polish king. The Cossacks’ stated goal was to wipe out the Polish aristocracy and the Jews.

When the Tatars turned against Chmielnitzky, he allied himself with Sweden, and eventually with the Czar of Russia, which enabled the Ukrainians to revolt successfully against Polish rule.

The Cossack hordes swarmed throughout Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania in the course of a series of wars, wreaking havoc in their path and putting entire Jewish communities to the sword. Hundreds of Jewish communities in Poland and Ukraine were destroyed by the massacres. The Cossacks murdered unknown thousands of Jews, including instances in which they buried people alive, cut them to pieces and perpetrated far more horrible cruelties. In sheer cruelty, many of their heinous deeds surpassed even those performed later by the Nazis.

These events were chronicled in several Torah works, including the Shach’s Megillas Eifa, and Rav Nosson Nota Hanover’s Yevein Metzulah. The title, Yevein Metzulah, is a play on words. These words are quoted from Tehillim 69:3, where the passage reads, tavati biyevein metzulah, “I am drowning in the mire of the depths,” which certainly conveys the emotion of living in such a turbulent era. In addition, the author used these words to allude to Yavan (Greece), indicating the Greek Orthodox religion of the Cossack murderers.

Chmielnitzky, the National Hero

By the way, although Chmielnitzky was a bloodthirsty murderer and as nefarious an anti-Semite as Adolf Hitler, to this day he is a national hero in the Ukraine, on a level similar to the respect accorded George Washington in the United States. The Ukrainians revere him as the father of Ukrainian nationalist aspirations, notwithstanding the fact that he was a mass murderer.

The cataclysmic effect on Jewish life caused by the Gezeiros Tach Vetat was completely unparalleled in Jewish history. Before the Cossacks, Poland and its neighboring areas had become the citadels of Ashkenazic Jewish life. As a result of the Cossack excesses, not only were the Jewish communities destroyed, with the Jews fleeing en mass from place to place, but virtually all the gedolei Yisrael were on the run during this horrifying era of Jewish history. Such great Torah leaders as the Shach, the Taz, the Tosafos Yom Tov, the Kikayon Deyonah, the Magen Avraham, the Nachalas Shivah, and the Be’er Hagolah were all in almost constant flight to avoid the Cossack hordes.

Among the many gedolei Yisrael who were murdered during these excesses were two sons of the Taz; the father of the Magen Avraham; Rav Yechiel Michel of Nemirov, and Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia.

Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia

Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia was a great talmid chacham, mekubal and writer of many seforim, whose Torah ideas are quoted by such respected thinkers as the Ramchal and the Bnei Yisaschar. It was said that he was so holy that he was regularly visited by an angel, a magid, who would study the deep ideas of kabbalah with him. (Whether one accepts this as having actually happened or not, it is definitely indicative of the level of holiness that his contemporaries attributed to him.)

Rav Nosson Nota Hanover writes in Yevein Metzulah that, during the bleak days of the Cossack uprising, the magid who studied with Rav Shimshon forewarned him of the impending disaster that was to befall klal Yisrael. When the Cossacks laid siege to the city, Rav Shimshon went with 300 chachamim, all of them dressed in tachrichim (burial shrouds) and taleisim to the nearby shul to pray that Hashem save the Jewish people. While they were in the midst of their prayers, the Cossacks entered the city and slaughtered them all.

Rules of the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos

After this tragic period passed and the Jewish communities began the tremendous work of rebuilding, the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos, which at the time was the halachic and legislative body of all Polish and Lithuanian Jewry, banned certain types of entertainment. Strict limits were set on the types of entertainment allowed at weddings, similar to the takanos that the Gemara reports were established after the churban of the Beis Hamikdash. Selichos were composed by the Tosafos Yom Tov, the Shach, and other gedolim to commemorate the tragedies.

The Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos further declared that the 20th of Sivan should be established forever as a fast day (Shaarei Teshuvah 580:9). The fast was declared binding on all males over the age of 18 and females over the age of 15. (I have not seen any reason to explain the disparity in age.)

Why the 20th of Sivan?

Why was this date chosen to commemorate the atrocities of the era? On the 20th of Sivan, the Jewish community of Nemirov, Ukraine, which was populated by many thousands of Jews, was destroyed by the Cossacks. The rav of the city, Rav Yechiel Michel, passionately implored the people to keep their faith and die Al Kiddush Hashem.  The Shach reports that, for three days, the Cossacks rampaged through the town, murdering thousands of Jews, including Rav Yechiel Michel.  The shul was destroyed and all the Sifrei Torah were torn to pieces and trampled. Their parchment was used for shoes and clothing.

Merely five years before, the community of Nemirov had been proud to have as its rav the gadol hador of the time, the Tosafos Yom Tov, who had previously served as the rav of Nikolsburg, Vienna and Prague. At the time of the Gezeiros Tach veTat, the Tosafos Yom Tov was the rav and rosh yeshivah of Cracow, having succeeded the Bach as rav and the Meginei Shlomoh as rosh yeshivah after they passed away.

An Additional Reason

The Shaarei Teshuvah (580:9) quotes the Shach as citing an additional reason why the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos established the day of commemoration for the gezeiros Tach veTat on the 20th of Sivan: this date never falls on Shabbos and, therefore, would be observed every year.

The Selichos

The style of the selichos prayers recited on the 20th of Sivan resemble the selichos recited by Eastern European Jewry for the fasts of Tzom Gedalyah, Asarah beTeiveis, Shiva Asar BeTamuz (these three fasts are actually all mentioned in Tanach), Taanis Esther and Behab (the three days of selichos and fasting observed on Mondays and Thursdays during the months of Marcheshvan and Iyar). The selichos begin with the recital of selach lanu avinu, and the prayer Keil erech apayim leads into the first time that the thirteen midos of Hashem are recited. This sequence is the standard structure of our selichos.

However, the selichos for the 20th of Sivan are lengthier than those of the other fast days. Whereas on the other fast days (including behab) there are four selichos, each followed by a recitation of the thirteen midos of Hashem, the selichos for the 20th of Sivan consist of seven passages and seven recitations of the thirteen midos of Hashem, which is comparable to what we do at neilah on Yom Kippur. Thus, in some aspects, the 20th of Sivan was treated with more reverence than were the fast days mentioned in Tanach!

In addition, one of the selichos recited on the 20th of Sivan is of the style called akeidah, recalling the akeidah of Yitzchak. The incorporation of the akeidah is significant, since these selichos were included to commemorate the martyrdom of Jews who were sacrificed for their refusal to be baptized. To the best of my knowledge, these selichos are recited only on the 20th of Sivan, during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, and on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

The Prayers for 20th of Sivan

During the repetition of shemoneh esrei at both shacharis and mincha, the aneinu prayer was recited, as is the practice on any public fast day. For Shacharis, selichos were recited, Avinu Malkeinu and tachanun were said, and then a sefer Torah was taken out and the passage of Vayechal Moshe that we read on fast days was read (Shaarei Teshuvah, 580:9).

At mincha, a sefer Torah was taken out and Vayechal Moshe was read again. Each individual who was fasting recited aneinu in his quiet shemoneh esrei.

Bris on the 20th of Sivan

The halachic authorities discuss how to celebrate a bris that falls on the 20th of Sivan. The Magen Avraham (568:10) concludes that the seudah should be held at night after the fast is over, so that it does not conflict with the fast. Thus, we see how seriously this fast was viewed.

Why don’t we observe this?

“It is customary in the entire Kingdom of Poland to fast on the 20th of Sivan.” These are the words of the Magen Avraham (580:9). I do not know when the custom to observe this fast ended, but the Mishnah Berurah quotes it as common practice in his day in Poland (580:16). Perhaps it was assumed that the custom was only required as long as there were communities in Poland, but that their descendants who moved elsewhere were not required to observe it. Most contemporary siddurim do not include the selichos for the 20th of Sivan, which implies that it is already some time since it was observed by most communities.

Conclusion

We now understand both the halachic basis for why and how we commemorate such sad events in Jewish history. We also have a glimpse of how we should react to other calamities whenever they occur, be they pandemics, riots, or financial chaos. May Hakadosh Baruch Hu save us and all of klal Yisrael from further difficulties!

Birkas Kohanim

Question #1: Why is this brocha different?

“Why is the brocha for duchening so different from all the other brochos we recite before we perform mitzvos?”

Question #2: Hoarse kohein

“If a kohein is suffering from laryngitis, can he observe the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim?”

Question #3: The chazzan duchening

“If the chazzan is a kohein, may he duchen?”

Answer:

For the next several weeks, the Jewish communities of Eretz Yisroel and of chutz la’aretz are reading different parshiyos, and I am choosing topics that are applicable to both areas. This week I chose the topic of duchening, partly because I have not sent an article on the topic in many years, and because the mitzvah is in parshas Naso, and kohanim feature significantly both in parshas Naso and in parshas Beha’aloscha. Since I have discussed this topic in the past, this article will deal with issues not previously mentioned, and, therefore, not already on the website RabbiKaganoff.com.

First of all, I should explain the various names of this beautiful mitzvah. Ashkenazim usually refer to the mitzvah colloquially as duchening. The word “duchen” means a platform, and refers to the raised area in front of the aron hakodesh, on which the kohanim traditionally stand when they recite these blessings. However, in many shullen today, there is no platform in front of the aron hakodesh, and, even when there is, in many shullen there are more kohanim than there is room on the duchen. In all these instances, the mitzvah is performed with the kohanim standing on the floor alongside or in front of the aron hakodesh, literally “with their backs to the wall” facing the people.

There are at least two other ways of referring to this mitzvah. One way of referring to the mitzvah is  Birkas Kohanim, which is very descriptive of the mitzvah. I will use this term throughout this article in order to avoid confusion.

Nesi’as kapayim

The Mishnah and the Shulchan Aruch call this mitzvah by yet a third term, nesi’as kapayim, which means literally “raising the palms,” a description of the position in which the kohanim hold their hands while reciting these blessings. According to accepted halacha, the kohanim raise their hands to shoulder level, and each kohein holds his hands together. (There are some mekubalim who raise their hands directly overhead while reciting the Birkas Kohanim [Divrei Shalom 128:2]. However, this is a very uncommon practice.) Based on a midrash, the Tur rules that while he recites the Birkas Kohanim, the kohein should hold his hands in a way that there are five spaces between his fingers. This is done by pressing, on each hand, the index finger to the middle finger and the small finger to the ring finger. This creates two openings — one between the middle finger and the ring finger on each hand. Another two openings are created between the index finger and thumb on each hand. The fifth opening is between the thumbs. There are various ways for a kohein to position his fingers, such that he has a space between his thumbs. I know of several different methods, and I have never found an authoritative source that states that one way is preferable to any other. Most kohanim, myself included, follow the way that they were taught by their father.

By the way, the Gra is reputed to have held that the kohanim should not hold their hands in this position, but with all their fingers spread apart.

An unusual brocha

Immediately prior to beginning the brocha, the kohanim recite a birkas hamitzvah, as we do prior to performing most mitzvos. The text of the brocha is: Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, ve’tzivanu levareich es amo Yisroel be’ahavah. “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon, and commanded us to bless His people, Yisroel, with love.”

Two aspects of this brocha are different from the standard structure of brochos that we recite prior to fulfilling mitzvos. The first change is that, instead of the usual structure that we say, asher kideshanu bemitzvosav ve’tzivanu, “Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us,” the kohanim leave out the reference to “His mitzvos” and instead say “Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon.” The second change is that the kohanim not only describe the mitzvah they are performing — that Hashem “commanded us to bless his people Yisroel” – but they also add a qualitative description “with love.”

The fact that the kohanim make reference to Aharon’s sanctity is, itself, not unusual. It is simply atypical for us to recite or hear this brocha since, unfortunately in our contemporary world, we have no other mitzvos for which we use this text. However, when we are again all tehorim and when we have a Beis Hamikdash, every time a kohein performs a mitzvah that only a kohein can perform, such as eating terumah, korbanos or challah, donning the bigdei kehunah in the Beis Hamikdash (Artzos Hachayim, Eretz Yehudah 18:1, page 81b), or performing the mitzvos of offering korbanos, he recites a brocha that includes this reference. Unfortunately, since we are all tamei and we have no Beis Hamikdash, a kohein cannot perform these mitzvos today, and therefore we do not recite this structure of brocha at any other time.

“With love”

The second detail in this brocha that is highly unusual is the statement that the mitzvah is performed be’ahavah,“with love.” No other mitzvah includes this detail in its brocha, and, in general, the brochos recited prior to performing mitzvos do not include details about how the mitzvos are performed. For example, the brocha prior to kindling the Shabbos or Chanukah lights says, simply, lehadlik neir shel Shabbos or lehadlik neir shel Chanukah,and does not add that we do so “with wicks and oil.” Similarly, note that the brocha recited before we pick up and shake the lulav and esrog does not even mention the esrog, aravos and hadasim, and says, simply, al netilas lulav. Again, the brocha for washing our hands is simply al netilas yadayim, without mentioning any of the important details of the mitzvah. Yet, the brocha recited prior to Birkas Kohanim includes the word be’ahavah, with love. Why is this so?

Let us examine the original passage of the Gemara (Sotah 39a) that teaches us about the text of this brocha: “The disciples of Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua (who was a kohein) asked him, ‘Because of what practices of yours did you merit longevity?’ He answered them, ‘I never used a shul as a shortcut; I never stepped over the heads of the holy nation (Rashi explains this to mean that he never walked over people who were sitting on the floor in the Beis Hamedrash, as was common in his day — either he arrived before everyone else did, or he sat outside); and I never performed nesias kapayim without first reciting a brocha.’”

The Gemara then asks, “What brocha is recited prior to Birkas Kohanim? Answered Rabbi Zeira, quoting Rav Chisda, asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, ve’tzivanu levareich es amo Yisroel be’ahavah.

Thus, the text of the brocha that we recite prior to Birkas Kohanim is exactly the way the Gemara records it, and that the word “be’ahavah” is part of the original text. Why is this required?

The Be’er Sheva, a European gadol of the late 16th-early 17th century, already asks this question. To quote him (in his commentary, Sotah 39a): “Where is it mentioned or even hinted in the Torah that the kohein must fulfill this mitzvah ‘with love?’ The answer is that when the Torah commanded the kohanim concerning this mitzvah, it says Emor lahem, ‘Recite this blessing to the Jewish people,’ spelling the word emor with a vov, the full spelling of the word, although it is usually spelled without a vov. Both the Midrash Tanchuma and the Midrash Rabbah explain that there is an important reason why this word is spelled ‘full.’ ‘The Holy One, blessed is He, said to the kohanim that they should bless the Jewish people not because they are ordered to do so, and they want to complete the minimum requirement of that “order,” as if it were “forced labor” and, therefore, they say it swiftly. On the contrary, they should bless the Jews with much focus and the desire that the brochos all be effective – with full love and full heart.’”

We see from this Gemara that this aspect of the mitzvah — the kohanim blessing the people because they want to and not because it is required — was so important to Chazal that they alluded to the idea in the text of the brocha, something we never find elsewhere!

Brochos cause longevity

There are several puzzling questions germane to this small passage of Gemara quoted above. What was unique about Rabbi Elazar’s three practices that he singled them out as being the spiritual causes of his longevity? The commentaries explain that each of these three acts were personal chumros that Rabbi Elazar, himself one of the last talmidim of Rabbi Akiva and a rebbe of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, practiced (Keren Orah, Meromei Sadeh et al). Since our topic is Birkas Kohanim, we will address only that practice: What was unique about Rabbi Elazar’s practice of reciting a brocha before performing the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim? Didn’t every kohein do the same? So, why did the other kohanim not achieve the longevity that he did?

The Keren Orah commentary notes that the amora, Rav Zeira, is quoted as the source for the brocha on Birkas Kohanim, implying that the brocha on this mitzvah was not yet standardized until his time, and he lived well over a hundred years after Rabbi Elazar’s passing. This implies that a brocha on this mitzvah was not necessarily recited during the era of the tanna’im and early amora’im. (The Keren Orah suggests this might be because Birkas Kohanim itself is a blessing, and that we do not make a brocha on a brocha, similar to the mitzvos of birkas hamazon or birkas haTorah.) Rabbi Elazar was so enthusiastic about blessing the people that he insisted on reciting a brocha before its performance. This strong desire to bless people was rewarded by his having many extra years to continue blessing them (Maharal).

Notwithstanding that the mitzvah is such a beautiful one, technically, the kohein is required to recite the Birkas Kohanim only when he is asked to do so, during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. We will see shortly what this means in practice.

Hoarse kohein

At this point, we will discuss the second of our opening questions: “If a kohein is suffering from laryngitis, can he fulfill the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim?”

Let us examine this question thoroughly, starting from its sources in the Gemara: “One beraisa teaches: Koh sevarchu (‘this is how you should bless’): face to face… therefore the posuk says Emor lahem (say to them), as a person talks to his friend. Another beraisa teaches: Koh sevarchu, in a loud voice. Or perhaps Koh sevarchu means it can be said quietly; therefore, the posuk says Emor lahem, as a person talks to his friend” (Sotah 38a).

The passage that we quoted derives two different laws from the words of the posuk Koh sevarchu and Emor lahem. First,that the audience receiving the kohanim’s brocha should be facing them during the Birkas Kohanim. (In error, some people turn around while the kohanim recite Birkas Kohanim, in order to make sure that they do not look at the kohanim’s hands during the Birkas Kohanim.) The second is that the kohein should recite the brochos loud enough that the people can hear him. Although there are kohanim who shout the words of the Birkas Kohanim, the continuation of the Gemara explains that bekol ram, in a loud voice, means simply loud enough for the people to hear the kohein. However, someone whose voice is so hoarse that people cannot hear him is not permitted to recite Birkas Kohanim; he should leave the sanctuary part of the shul, before the chazzan recites the word retzei in his repetition of shemoneh esrei (Mishnah Berurah 128:53).

Why retzei?

Why should the kohein leave the shul before retzei?

Some mitzvos aseh, such as donning tefillin daily, making kiddush, or hearing shofar, are inherent requirements. There isn’t any way to avoid being obligated to fulfill these mitzvos. On the other hand, there are mitzvos whose requirement is dependent on circumstances. For example, someone who does not live in a house is not obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah. Living in a house, which most of us do, creates the obligation to install a mezuzah on its door posts. Someone who lives in a house and fails to place a mezuzah on the required doorposts violates a mitzvas aseh.

Similarly, the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim is not an inherent requirement for the kohein. However, when someone asks the kohein or implies to him that he should perform the Birkas Kohanim, the kohein is now required to do so, and, should he fail to, he will violate a mitzvas aseh.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:2) rules that a kohein who remains in shul is required to recite Birkas Kohanim if (1) he hears the chazzan say the word kohanim, (2) someone tells him to ascend the duchen, or (3) someone tells him to wash his hands (in preparation for the Birkas Kohanim). These three actions summon the kohanim to perform the mitzvah, and that is why they create a requirement on the kohein. A kohein who is weak such that it is difficult for him to raise his arms to recite the Birkas Kohanim, should exit the shul before the chazzan says the word kohanim (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 128:4 and Mishnah Berurah). The Magen Avraham and the Elyah Rabbah conclude that it is preferred if he exits before the chazzan begins the word retzei. The Shulchan Aruch mentions that the custom is for any kohein who is not reciting Birkas Kohanim to remain outside until the Birkas Kohanim is completed.

Washing hands

The Shulchan Aruch we quoted above rules that telling a kohein to wash his hands creates the same obligation to recite Birkas Kohanim as directly summoning him to recite the Birkas Kohanim. Why is that so?

This is because the Gemara rules that “any kohein who did not wash his hands should not perform nesias kapayim.” The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah Uvirkas Kohanim 15:5) rules that the washing before Birkas Kohanim is similar to what the kohanim do prior to performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash. For this reason, he rules that their hands should be washed until their wrists. We rule that this is done even on Yom Kippur, notwithstanding that, otherwise, we are not permitted to wash this much on Yom Kippur (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 128:6). Several acharonim rule that since the washing as preparation for Birkas Kohanim is because it is considered a form of avodah, there are other requirements, including washing with a cup, with clear water and with at least a revi’is (about three ounces) of water (see Magen Avraham, Yeshuos Yaakov, Shulchan Shelomoh and Mishnah Berurah).

In many shullen, a sink is installed near the duchen, so that the kohanim can wash immediately before Birkas Kohanim. Others have a practice that water and a basin are brought to the front of the shul for this purpose. These customs have a source in rishonim and poskim and should definitely be encouraged. Tosafos (Sotah 39a s.v. Kol) concludes that the kohein should wash his hands immediately before ascending the duchen. Herules that the kohein should wash his hands within twenty-two amos, a distance of less than forty feet, of the duchen. The Magen Avrohom (128:9) rulesaccording to this Tosafos, and adds that, according to Tosafos, since the kohanim wash their hands before retzei, the chazzan should recite the brocha of retzei rapidly. In his opinion, the time that transpires after the kohein washes his hands should be less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos, and, therefore, retzei should be recited as quickly as possible. The Biur Halacha (128:6 s.v. Chozrim) adds that the kohanim should not converse between washing their hands and reciting Birkas Kohanim, because this constitutes a hefsek.

The chazzan duchening

At this point, let us examine the third of our opening questions: “If the chazzan is a kohein, may he duchen?”

This question is the subject of a dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Pri Chodosh. According to the Shulchan Aruch, if the chazzan is a kohein, he should not recite Birkas Kohanim, unless he is the only kohein. The reason he should not recite Birkas Kohanim is out of concern that he might get confused and not remember the conclusion of the davening, when he returns to his role as chazzan. The Pri Chodosh disagrees, concluding that this concern was only when the chazzan led the services from memory, which, although very common in an earlier era, is today quite uncommon. If the koheinchazzan is using a siddur, which should assure that the Birkas Kohanim will not confuse him from continuing the davening correctly, he can recite Birkas Kohanim.

In chutz la’aretz, the accepted practice in this halacha follows the Shulchan Aruch, whereas in Eretz Yisroel, customs vary in different locales. In Yerushalayim and most other places, the accepted practice follows the Pri Chodosh, and the chazzan performs Birkas Kohanim.

Conclusion

As a kohein myself, I find duchening to be one of the most beautiful mitzvos. We are indeed so fortunate to have a commandment to bless our fellow Jews, the children of Our Creator. All the more so, the nusach of the bracha is to bless His nation Israel with love. The blessings of a kohein must flow from a heart full of love for the Jews that he is privileged to bless.

More on the Laws of Yom Tov

Photo by Rene Cerney from FreeImages

There are several articles on the various topics germane to Shavuos available on this website. Search for dairy bread, Eruv Tavshillin, Nat, Shavuos, and Yom Tov.

Question #1: Plan-overs on Yom Tov

“I have been told that there is a way to cook more than you need on Yom Tov in order to have plenty of leftovers for Chol Hamoed or for after Yom Tov. How does that work?”

Question #2: Muktzah Grill

“I own a portable, charcoal-fired grill. Is it muktzah on Yom Tov?”

Question #3: Fireplace on Yom Tov?

“May I use my fireplace on Yom Tov?”

Answer:

When discussing the laws of Yom Tov, the Torah teaches kol melacha lo yei’aseh bahem, ach asher yei’acheil lechol nefesh hu levado yei’aseh lachem,“No work should be performed on these days; however, that which is eaten by everyone (kol nefesh), only that may be prepared for yourselves” (Shemos 12:16). We see from the posuk that although most melachos are forbidden on Yom Tov, cooking and most other food preparations are permitted. Yet, we also see that this posuk does not provide a blanket approval for all food preparations, but limits it to that which is eaten by everyone (kol nefesh), and furthermore permits only performing melacha “for yourselves” as the beneficiaries. We will see, shortly, what these pesukim include and exclude.

This article is not a full review of the rules of Yom Tov observance; rather, it focuses on some details of the laws of preparing food on Yom Tov, with which many people are unfamiliar. As always, this article is not meant to provide halachic guidance for our readers – that is the role of the individual’s rav or posek. The purpose of this article is to provide background and to explain concepts.

Kol nefesh

The posuk permits cooking and food preparation. Certain other activities are also permitted, even though they are not food preparatory, such as carrying, but these activities are permitted only when there is a Yom Tov purpose or benefit (Tosafos, Beitzah 12a). Nevertheless, activities such as burning incense are forbidden on Yom Tov, because the Torah permits only that which kol nefesh,“everyone,” appreciates; not everyone appreciates the smell of burning incense (Mishnah, Beitzah 22b; Kesubos 7a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 511:4). On the other hand, it is permitted to add a pleasant fragrance to food that will be eaten, since this is considered tzorach ochel nefesh, a food purpose (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 511:4 and Mishnah Berurah ad locum).

Most authorities prohibit smoking on Yom Tov, because many people do not appreciate its “benefits.” Even in earlier generations, when the dangers of smoking tobacco were not known, there was a large discussion among halachic authorities whether smoking is permitted on Yom Tov, because of the concern that it does not qualify as something that kol nefesh enjoys (Magen Avraham 514:4, Pri Megadim and Chasam Sofer ad locum; Mor Uketziyah, 511; Pnei Yehoshua, Shabbos 39b s.v. Ve’omer R”I; Korban Nesanel, Beitzah 2:22:10 et al.)

Cooking that is prohibited

Even cooking and other food preparations are not always permitted on Yom Tov. For example, it is permitted to cook and prepare food on Yom Tov only when that food will be served on Yom Tov, but it is forbidden to cook on Yom Tov for Chol Hamo’ed, on the first day of Yom Tov for the second day, or on either day of Yom Tov for after the holiday is over. Even cooking on a Yom Tov that falls on a Friday for Shabbos is permitted only when one first makes an eruv tavshillin, a topic for a different time. Similarly, preparing the meals of the second night of Yom Tov may not take place on the first day of Yom Tov. For this reason, a common custom in Eastern Europe was to delay maariv on the second night of Yom Tov in order to discourage beginning the meal preparations before the first day of Yom Tov was over. (Remember that, in those days, preparing the meal before Yom Tov and freezing or refrigerating it so that it could be warmed up was not an option.) The davening was delayed intentionally, so that by the time the men returned home from shul, the women would have had sufficient time after the first day of Yom Tov had ended to prepare the meal.

Cooking on Yom Tov for a non-Jew is prohibited (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 518:2). Furthermore, Chazal forbade inviting a non-Jew for a Yom Tov meal, out of concern that a Jew might cook specifically for him on Yom Tov (Beitzah 21b). It is permitted to invite non-Jewish domestic help for a Yom Tov meal, since you would not prepare for them a special dish (Rosh; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 512:1). However, you may not cook for them on Yom Tov.

Similarly, it is forbidden to cook or do other melacha on Yom Tov for an animal. Thus, although it is permitted to mix baby cereal on Yom Tov, even in a way that is prohibited on Shabbos because of the melacha of losh, kneading, this can be done on Yom Tov only for a Jewish child. To prepare this product for a non-Jew or for a pet is not permitted on Yom Tov, since this involves a melacha activity. Similar to cooking and other food preparatory melachos, losh is permitted on Yom Tov, but only to provide food for someone Jewish.

Plan-overs

At this point, we can begin discussing the answer to our opening question: “I have been told that there is a way to cook more than you need on Yom Tov in order to have plenty of leftovers for Chol Hamoed or for after Yom Tov. How does that work?”

Adding more

One type of cooking that is permitted on Yom Tov is called marbeh be’shiurim, literally increasing the quantities, which means that, while preparing food on Yom Tov, it is permitted to include a greater quantity while cooking, provided no additional melacha act is performed. For example, if you need to heat a small amount of water for a cup of tea, you may place a large pot of water on the fire, since only one act of heating water — placing a pot on the fire — is being performed.

However, this is prohibited if an additional melacha action is performed. For example, if the pot is already on the fire, you may not add extra water to it, since this involves a new melacha activity.

Here are other examples. If you are making a cholent or cooking soup, you may add into the pot greater quantities of meat, beans or other ingredients than you will need for your Yom Tov meal before it is placed on the stove, because you place the entire pot onto the fire at one time.You may fill a pot with meat on the first day of Yom Tov, even though you need only one piece for the first day.

However, it is prohibited to prepare individual units of a food item, knowing that you are preparing more than can possibly be eaten on Yom Tov. For this reason, you may not fry more schnitzel or similar items than you will possibly need for a Yom Tov meal, since these involve separate melacha actions. Similarly, it is forbidden to bake more than necessary for the day (Beitzah 17a). Adding water or meat before putting the pot on the fire simply increases the quantity cooked, but does not increase the number of melacha acts. Shaping each loaf or roll is done separately, which is forbidden on Yom Tov as unnecessary work.

Why is this permitted?

Why is it permitted to cook extra on Yom Tov by use of marbeh be’shiurim? We would think that cooking extra on Yom Tov is forbidden, just as in a situation of pikuach nefesh, when it is forbidden to cook more than what is necessary for the needs of the ill person. So, why is it permitted to cook extra on Yom Tov, as long as no extra melacha actions are performed?

The Ran (Beitzah 9b in Rif pages, s.v. Umiha) explains that there is a qualitative difference between the performance of melacha actions on Shabbos (or Yom Tov) to save someone’s life, versus cooking on Yom Tov. Although saving lives is a huge mitzvah, even if it involves desecrating Shabbos, the act performed is still a melacha on Shabbos. The Torah permitted this melacha, because saving lives is more important.

On the other hand, when the Torah defined prohibited activities on Yom Tov, it defined the prohibition as melachos that are not food preparatory. Preparing food on Yom Tov involves no melacha activity whatsoever, and is as permitted on Yom Tov as it is to set the table on Shabbos. Since no melacha activity is performed, there is nothing wrong with adding more to cook in the course of preparing the Yom Tov meal, provided that no additional actions are done.

Muktzah on Yom Tov

In general, the laws of muktzah apply on Yom Tov, although there are many situations in which the laws are different from the way these laws are applied on Shabbos. First we will review the basic categories of muktzah, so that I can explain how the rules are different on Yom Tov.

There are three levels of muktzah:

A         Kli she’me’lachto leheter is an item whose primary use is permitted, such as a chair or pillow. Such an item can be moved on Shabbos or Yom Tov in order to accomplish one of three purposes:

(1) To use it.

(2) To use the place where it is located.

(3) To avoid it becoming stolen, lost or damaged.

However, it may not be moved without any reason (Shabbos 123b-124a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 308:4).

Therefore, if you left a pillow on your open porch and you are afraid that it will rain, you can bring the pillow indoors. You are also permitted to use it for a pillow fight, assuming the other person is agreeable to the pillow fight. (If they are not, it would be prohibited to use it for this purpose even on a weekday.) However, it is not permitted to move a pillow without any purpose at all.

B         Kli she’me’lachto le’issur is an item whose primary use is forbidden, such as a hammer or a needle, although you might have a permitted reason to use it. An item in this category may be moved to accomplish one of two purposes:

(1) To use it. If there is a need to use it for a purpose that is permitted, and there is no kli she’me’lachto leheter readily available to do the job (Shabbos 124a). For example, it is permitted to use a hammer on Shabbos or Yom Tov to open a coconut, or a needle to remove a splinter. (In the latter case, you should try to avoid causing bleeding.)

(2) To use the place where it is located.

Under normal circumstances, it may not be moved for any other purpose. It may not be moved when your reason to move it is concern that it may be stolen, damaged or lost.

C         Completely muktzah

These are items that may not be moved for most purposes on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

Differences between Yom Tov and Shabbos

Because it is permitted to cook and prepare food on Yom Tov, the definitions of what fits into the above categories on Yom Tov are not necessarily the same as they are on Shabbos. For example, utensils used to cook are usually categorized as kli she’me’lachto le’isur on Shabbos and, therefore, can be moved only if you have a Shabbos use for them, or you need their place for something else. However, these same items are kli she’me’lachto leheter on Yom Tov, since it is permitted to cook with them, and therefore they can be moved on Yom Tov, even if your only reason to move them is that you are afraid that they might become damaged.

Here is another example of a type of item that is muktzah on Shabbos, but not necessarily so on Yom Tov. Charcoal, pieces of wood and other items that can be used as fuel are completely muktzah, because they have no use on Shabbos. However, on Yom Tov, when cooking is permitted, these types of fuel may not be muktzah, as I will explain.

Lighting candles

A candle is another example of an item that is not muktzah on Yom Tov, although it is muktzah on Shabbos. Although it is prohibited to strike a match on Yom Tov (see below), it is permitted to kindle a candle.

Lighting a candle that has no purpose is prohibited. But it is permitted to light a candle to put on the table, even if its illumination is not noticeable, since this enhances the honor of Yom Tov (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 514:5). Similarly, it is permitted to kindle a candle in shul, even in the daytime, since it enhances the honor of Yom Tov (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 514:5 and Mishnah Berurah 31).

Moving muktzah to cook on Yom Tov

There is another leniency that applies on Yom Tov that does not apply on Shabbos. It is permitted to move a muktzah item on Yom Tov in order to enable the preparation of food or to enhance simchas Yom Tov (Rema, Orach Chayim 509:6 and 518:3). For example, a muktzah item was left or placed on top of a stove or a counter that you need to prepare food. You are permitted to pick up the muktzah item with your hands and move it in order to cook and prepare food (Mishnah Berurah 509:31; 518:23). Since, on Yom Tov, it is permitted to cook and prepare food, if the prohibition of muktzah would disturb the ability to cook or otherwise prepare food, it is permitted to move the muktzah item.

New fire

Creating a new fire on Yom Tov is forbidden (Mishnah Beitzah 33a). Therefore, it is prohibited to create a flame by using a flint, rubbing stones together, or striking a match. Similarly, it is prohibited on Yom Tov to light the stove by using the electric igniter.

Muktzah Grill

At this point, we are in a position to address the second of our opening questions: “I own a portable, charcoal-fired grill. Is it muktzah on Yom Tov?” The answer is that, even if you have no intention to use the grill, on Yom Tov it has the status of kli she’me’lachto leheter. As a result, not only can it be moved if you need the place where it is currently located for some other item or purpose, but it can be moved even when the only concern is that it will get damaged or stolen.

Fireplaces on Yom Tov

Many people are surprised to discover that it is permitted to use a fireplace on Yom Tov, either for cooking or warmth, and that it is also permitted to barbecue on Yom Tov. As we noted above, the fireplace or grill must be kindled from an existent flame – but once it is kindled, you may add lighter fluid, charcoal or wood to the fire as needed. It is even permitted to take a burning piece of wood from one side of the fire and move it to another side, to have the fire burn stronger (Rema, Orach Chayim 502:2). The Rema rules that we are not concerned about extinguishing the flame on this piece of wood, because your intent is to make the fire burn better. It is permitted to place food on the grill or fireplace, even though you extinguish the flame a bit with the food or with the drippings. If you add wood to the fire, it must be wood that is assumed to be used for adding to a fireplace or wood-burning stove, as opposed to adding something such as construction lumber, which is not permitted because it is mukztah.

It is not permitted to split the wood, if you can use it without doing do (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 501:2). This is prohibited because this tedious work is unnecessary. There are many detailed halachos regarding use of fallen wood on Yom Tov (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 501:3-6), and the simplest solution is to use only wood that you have set aside from before Yom Tov for this purpose.

Conclusion

The Torah refers to the Yomim Tovim as mo’ed. Just as the word ohel mo’ed refers to the tent in the desert which served as a meeting place between Hashemand the Jewish people, so, too, a mo’ed is a meeting time between Hashem and the Jewish people (Hirsch, Vayikra 23:3 and Horeb). Although on Shabbos we are to refrain from all melacha activity, on Yom Tov the Torah permitted melacha activity that enhances the celebration of the Yom Tov as a mo’ed. Permitting the preparations of delicious, freshly prepared meals allows an even greater celebration of the festivities of the Yom Tov, as we celebrate our unique relationship with Hashem.

May I Participate in the Census?

This year, Rosh Chodesh Sivan falls on Sunday, and therefore the haftarah for Shabbos parshas Bamidbar is mochor chodesh. However, the usual haftarah for parshas Bamidbar begins with the pasuk that serves as the basis for the prohibition to count Jews. Since the United States is attempting to conduct a census this year, as required in the Constitution, I present the following halacha 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 Jews by counting their 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 the “official” haftarah for parshas Bamidbar: 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 a less obvious source in Hoshea, when there appears to be an obvious Torah source for this prohibition, in the beginning of Parshas Ki Sissa?

Answer: Analyzing the Sources in Chazal:

The Mishnah (Yoma 22a) describes that in order to determine which kohen would be awarded the mitzvah of removing ashes from the mizbei’ach, the kohanim 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 the 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, to which it answers that it is prohibited to count Jews (Yoma 22b). Counting fingers is permitted; counting people is not (Rambam, Hilchos Temidim 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 Ha’itim #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 quotes 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 and counted them in an indirect manner (Shmuel I 11:8). According to one opinion in the Gemara, Shaul counted the members of his army by having each throw a piece of broken pottery into a pile. Thus, we see that even to fulfill a mitzvah, one may count Jews only in an indirect manner.

2. Before attacking Ameleik, 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 following pasuk in the Torah as a source for the prohibition?

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

This pasuk certainly implies that the only way one may count Jews is indirectly, by having each one donate half a shekel and then counting the coins. This seems to be the source of how Shaul knew that he should count the Jews the way he did. It is indeed odd that the Gemara quotes the incidents of Shaul as the source for the prohibition, rather than Shaul’s 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 counting them, so that there is no plague as a result of 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 say this in regard to this mitzvah?

Rabbeinu Bachya (ad locum) explains that when we count individuals, 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. The Abarbanel, for example, explains that when counting people by head, the counting causes ayin hora and therefore illness enters their bodies hrough their eyes and mouths, whereas counting fingers does not cause the ayin hora to enter them. I leave to the reader to decide whether he means in a physical way or a metaphysical one.

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 itself on verses 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.). However, from the incidents of Shaul and the verse in Hoshea, it is 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 afterward, they all must provide half a 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 provide 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 having them all donate half a 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 therefore 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 did not violate serious prohibitions.

Thus, we find several answers to explain 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 count 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

The idea of having creative advertising campaigns in order to generate tzedakah funds did not originate with 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 Yerushalmi 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 did not violate the prohibition of counting Jews, since it involved an indirect count by counting names on a list, for the sake of fulfilling a mitzvah. 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 when counting them, counting people from a list is considered counting the person, and not counting their finger, leg, half-shekel, lamb or pottery shard (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 being a census taker, or by providing the census takers with his 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. Several reasons are provided by those who permitted taking a census, the primary one being that determining how to provide proper medical, educational, economic and safety servicing for 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, there will be census takers counting the Jewish people. One should be careful not to answer them at all, to tell them that it is forbidden to take a census, and that there is the possibility of 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 when no mitzvah is accomplished. The Kesav Sofer explains… that it is prohibited 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, reiterating that they had banned this practice ten years earlier.

After publishing a responsum in which he prohibited participating in the census, the

Tzitz Eliezer (7:3) was asked whether someone calculating 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 from Rav Vozner (Shu’t Shevet Halevi 9:35), dated Elul 24 5755 (September 19, ’95), he writes that the heter of taking a census because of divrei mitzvah applies only if the statistics are used exclusively for divrei mitzvah, something that is not followed. However, he permits the census for a different reason — because they count the entire population of Israel, 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, but there is simply raw data collected, and the data does not correlate at all to the number of Jews, he has no halachic objection to participating in the census.

On the basis of Rav Vozner’s responsum, there certainly should be no objection to participating in the United States census, since this involves counting people and does not count Jews.

Conclusion

Parshas Ki Sissa, which should appear to be the Torah source for this mitzvah, begins with the words “Ki sissa es rosh bnei Yisrael.” Although the explanation of this pasuk is “When you count the members of Bnei Yisrael,” literally, the words can be translated as “When you lift up the heads of Bnei Yisrael.” The question is why did the Torah use this expression rather than say more clearly that it is defining how to count the Jewish People.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Darash Moshe, Ki Sissa) explains as follows: When someone realizes that he did something wrong, that individual may justify what he did by saying, “I am not important. What difference does it make if I do not do what is expected of me?” Unfortunately, this type of mistaken humility can become a person’s undoing.

Ki Sissa” – “When you lift up” counteracts this way of thinking. Every Jew is as important as the greatest of all Jews: The biggest tzaddik and the seemingly unimportant Jew both give the same half-shekel. This “lifts up” every individual – you do count, and what you do is important!

The Origins of a Siyum?

Question #1: Friday Finish

May I make a siyum on a Friday?

Question #2: Biblical Finish

May I use a siyum on a book of Tanach to avoid fasting on erev Pesach?

Question #3: No One Finished

A chaburah of which I am a member is completing a mesechta in the Nine Days.  Everyone of us has missed the shiur at times, so none of us has actually completed the entire mesechta.  Can we eat meat when we celebrate this siyum together?

Introduction:

At the end of this week’s double parshiyos of Behar and Bechokosai, we celebrate the siyum of the completion of another chumash of the Torah. Since, unfortunately, most of us have been unable to hear the reading of the Torah, I though it would be a good time to reflect on the halachic background of making a siyum.

Several Talmudic and Midrashic passages serve as sources for the simcha and celebration appropriate for completing an important learning project or other mitzvah activity. As always, our goal is not to issue halachic rulings for any individual; that is the role of each individual’s rav or posek. Our purpose is to provide educational, halachic background on the topic at hand.

The most obvious Talmudic passage about the concept of siyum on studying Gemara is a quotation in which Abayei stated, I will be rewarded because whenever I heard that one of our young Torah scholars completed a mesechta, I made a seudah for all the other scholars (Shabbos 118b). As Rashi explains, Abayei was the rosh yeshiva and made a siyum for his yeshiva when one of his talmidim completed a mesechta.

Shehasimcha bi’me’ono

The Maharshal considers a siyum mesechta such a great celebration that he writes that the introduction of the bensching after the seudah in its honor should warrant the addition of the words shehasimcha bi’me’ono, “that this celebration is in His Presence.” We usually recite this passage only at a wedding or at a sheva brachos. The Maharshal, however, felt that a siyum and a pidyon haben also warrant this recital. His reasoning is straightforward:

The Gemara (Kesubos 8a) cites a dispute whether shehasimcha bi’me’ono is recited at a bris, concluding that it is not recited for an interesting reason. Since, at a bris, the child suffers some pain, we should not imply that it is a moment of simcha for everyone in attendance. The Maharshal reasons that a siyum is a greater celebration than a bris, because all the participants are be’simcha. A similar line of reasoning may be applied to a pidyon haben. As a result, we should recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono when bensching after either of these smachos.

We actually find this issue discussed earlier than the Maharshal, who lived in sixteenth-century Poland. The Abudraham, who lived in Spain during the thirteenth century, cites an opinion that one should recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono at a pidyon haben, but he rejects this for the following reason: Sometimes, there could be a very tragic situation in which the pidyon haben is performed after the infant has died, in which case there would not be a simcha, but additional grief for the parents, and, as a result, no recital of shehasimcha bi’me’ono. (Explaining this halachic scenario requires a lengthy discussion of the laws of pidyon haben, which is not the topic of this article.) Since this situation can happen, it was decided never to recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono at a pidyon haben.

The Abudraham does not discuss whether we should recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono at the bensching of a siyum. Standard practice is not to recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono after either a siyum or a pidyon haben. The likely reason for this practice is that there is a difference between a seudas mitzvah that is also a simchas mitzvah,such as those celebrating a wedding, a bris or a sheva brachos, and a seudas mitzvah that does not qualify as a simchas mitzvah, such as a meal celebrating a bar mitzvah, siyum or pidyon haben. Although the meals served in celebration of a siyum and a pidyon haben are seudos mitzvah, and, according to some opinions, a seudas bar mitzvah is also, none of these qualify as a simchas mitzvah. The recital of shehasimcha bi’me’ono is appropriate for a simchas mitzvah, not a seudas mitzvah.

There are other differences affected by whether an event qualifies as a seudas mitzvah or also as a simchas mitzvah. For example, an aveil may not attend a simchas mitzvah, and therefore he is precluded from attending a wedding or sheva brachos. However, he is permitted to attend a seudas mitzvah, and, for this reason, he may attend a siyum, and, according to most authorities, a pidyon haben.

Another source for a siyum

Returning to our theme of a siyum for completing a learning project, here is a second source for the practice of celebrating the achievement of a mitzvah. When the construction of the Beis Hamikdash was completed, the celebration lasted for fourteen consecutive days. The Gemara notes that this celebration was so significant that Yom Kippur was not observed that year in Yerushalayim, since they were all celebrating the dedication of the Beis Hamikdash (Moed Katan 9a). How can a celebration be so important that they actually ate in its honor on Yom Kippur?

That this celebration superseded fasting on Yom Kippur was derived from a kal ve’chomer. When the mishkan was dedicated, for the first twelve days, private korbanos of each of the nesi’im were offered (Bamidbar Chapter 7), which means that some of these korbanos were offered on Shabbos. Yet, we know that korbanos of an individual never supersede Shabbos. The only possible conclusion to be reached is that dedicating the mishkan was so important that it superseded Shabbos.

Dedicating the Beis Hamikdash has greater significance than the dedication of the mishkan, since the Beis Hamikdash was a permanent structure. And since Shabbos, which is holier than Yom Kippur, was superseded by the celebration of the dedication of the mishkan, certainly proper celebration of the Beis Hamikdash supersedes Yom Kippur. Since observing the fast on Yom Kippur would take away from the immense simcha and celebration involved in inaugurating the Beis Hamikdash, the fast of Yom Kippur was set aside that year!

Obviously, celebrating the inauguration of the Beis Hamikdash is a much greater simcha than a siyum on a mesechta, or even the siyum hashas of all the daf yomi shiurim around the world. Nevertheless, this Gemara conveys the value of completing a mitzvah, which includes the completion of a learning project.

A third source

Yet another source for the festivity of a siyum is based on the following passage of Gemara (Taanis 31a). There the reason provided for the gala festival of the 15th of Av was because it was the annual date on which Klal Yisroel completed chopping the wood necessary for the Beis Hamikdash. Since this was the culmination of a long mitzvah, finishing it every year required a major celebration, similar to completing the Torah (Tosafos Yom Tov, Taanis 4:8).

We should note that this event was celebrated by the entire community, not only by those who actually participated in chopping, gathering and processing the wood. In the same spirit, the Maharshal writes that it is a mitzvah to participate in a siyum, even if you did not participate in the learning (Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 7:37; see also Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 444:9).

This reminds me of an observation that I heard many times from my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Ruderman, that when one person completed Shas in a town in Eastern Europe, it was commonplace that the entire town wore their Shabbos clothes that day – to demonstrate their happiness that the town now boasted another Jew who had completed Shas!

Simchas Torah

The tremendous rejoicing of Simchas Torah is also an extension of this idea, since we are celebrating that we have completed a cycle of reading the Torah (Or Zarua and Hagahos Ashri, end of Sukkah). In earlier generations, this included inviting the entire community to a festive meal, sponsored by the chassan Torah, in which fine delicacies were served (ibid.).

For this reason, I know that some gedolim emphasize that hashkafah droshos on Simchas Torah should not discuss future commitments to learning – the goal on Simchas Torah is to celebrate what has been accomplished, and discussing future commitments detracts from the celebration!

On the other hand, this creates a question: At the time of the Gemara, there were different customs regarding how often the reading of the Torah was completed (Megillah 29b). Today, it is universally accepted that we complete the Torah reading every year; but at the time of the Gemara, there were communities that completed the Torah only every three years, or three-and-a-half years (twice in a shemittah cycle), as explained by the Maharshal (Kol chilukei dinim… #48, printed in Yam shel Shlomoh after mesechta Bava Kama).

Notwithstanding that those following this custom did not complete the Torah annually, the Gemara (Megillah 31a) teaches that the reading for Simchas Torah begins with Vezos Habracha, the last parsha of the Torah. For those communities that read the entire Torah every year, the reading of Vezos Habracha is very appropriate on Simchas Torah, because this is the day that the annual reading of the Torah is completed. But why did those who completed the Torah reading only every three years read Vezos Habracha on Simchas Torah — they were only a third of the way through the cycle of reading the Torah?

This question is raised by the Meshech Chachmah (end of Vezos Habracha), who provides a fascinating answer to the question.

There are two different reasons why we read Vezos Haberacha on Simchas Torah:

(1) Because it completes our reading the Torah.

(2) Because the beginning of parshas Vezos Haberacha alludes to the fact that Klal Yisroel accepted the Torah from Hashem sight unseen, whereas the other nations rejected the Torah (Rashi at the beginning of Vezos Haberacha).

This symbolism is reflected in the offerings of the bulls as public korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash on Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres, the latter being the same Yom Tov as Simchas Torah. (In Eretz Yisroel, this one day Yom Tov is universally called Simchas Torah.) Cumulatively, through the seven days of Sukkos, we offer seventy bulls, one for each of the nations of the earth. On Simchas Torah, we offer only one bull, which represents the unique relationship that Klal Yisroel has with Hashem (Rashi at the end of parshas Pinchas). For this reason, Vezos Haberacha is an appropriate reading for Simchas Torah, even in places where they did not complete the reading of the Torah that day, since it commemorates the special relationship that exists between Hashem and the Jewish people, which we celebrate enthusiastically on Simchas Torah. (See also the Collected Writings of Rav Hirsch, Volume III, page 106, where he explains the celebration of Simchas Torah in a similar way.)

A fourth source

Returning to the gala festivities associated with a siyum, another Midrash is quoted as a source for this celebration. The posuk reports that when Hashem appeared to Shlomoh Hamelech in a dream and offered him his preference for a present, Shlomoh requested wisdom. Upon awaking he discovered that he had now been given colossal understanding. He then went to Yerushalayim, stood near the aron of Hashem, brought many korbanos to thank Hashem for his new knowledge and made a party for the entire nation to join in his celebration. The Midrash concludes that this teaches that we should make a seudah upon attainment of a Torah milestone (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:9).

Fridays

At this point, we can discuss our opening question: “May I make a siyum on a Friday?”

Allow me to explain the question: The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 249:2) prohibits having a fancier meal on Friday than is usual, because this takes away from the honor due Shabbos. The Rema contends that a bris or a pidyon haben that falls on a Friday is an exception to this rule and can be observed on Friday, which, he notes, is the accepted custom.

What about a siyum on a Friday

In a note that is all of four words long, the Biur Halacha (249:2 s.v. Oh) writes that, just as a bris or a pidyon haben may be celebrated on a Friday, so may a siyum. Presumably, he feels that the celebration of a siyum should not be delayed, even to complete the learning until Shabbos or Sunday, in order to celebrate it in a timely fashion.

However, other authorities disagree with the Biur Halacha’s conclusion, contending that the completion of the learning should, indeed, be delayed in order to avoid holding the siyum on Friday, noting that even regarding a pidyon haben, not all authorities agreed with the Rema’s conclusion to hold it on Friday (Ketzos Hashulchan 69:7 in Badei Hashulchan). (We should note that an early authority, the Maharam Mintz, ruled that you can delay the completion of a mesechta to an appropriate time that you wish to celebrate, and complete the mesechta at that time [cited by Shach, Yoreh Deah 246:27].)

Tanach or Mishnah?

At this point, we can discuss the second of our opening questions: “May I use a siyum on a book of Tanach to avoid fasting on erev Pesach?” In other words, completing what type of learning project qualifies as a siyum?

The halachic authorities discuss this question in the following contexts. Does attending such a siyum exempt a firstborn from fasting on erev Pesach? Does it permit people to eat meat or drink wine during the Nine Days? These questions are discussed by several halachic authorities, among whom I found the following rulings:

The Pnei Yehoshua (Brochos 17a) understands that when Rabbi Yochanan, the amora, completed studying the book of Iyov, he made a seudas siyum, similar to that made when completing a mesechta. This implies that completing a book of Tanach qualifies as a siyum, but it does not teach us to what depth it must be studied, since Rabbi Yochanan certainly studied Iyov in great depth.

Some rule that someone who has a proper seder studying a book of navi may celebrate a siyum on erev Pesach, even if it is a small sefer, and may use it as a basis to avoid fasting. However, if he was studying it primarily to be able to avoid the fast, he may rely on such a siyum only if he studied a large sefer of Tanach, but not a small one (Shu”t Ha’elef Lecha Shelomoh #386). Others rule that one can use a book of navi as a siyum for these purposes only if it was studied in depth (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim #157).

We should also note that the Elyah Rabbah (551:26) rules that you should not speed up or slow down your learning in order to use a siyum as a reason to eat meat during the Nine Days. The Elyah Rabbah also suggests that, if this individual does not usually make a siyum when he completes a mesechta, he may not make a siyum during the Nine Days for the purpose of allowing people to eat fleishig.

No one finished

At this point, we can discuss the third of our opening questions: “A chaburah of which I am a member is completing a mesechta in the Nine Days.  Everyone of us has missed the shiur at times, so none of us has actually completed the entire mesechta.  Can we eat meat when we celebrate this siyum together?”

Many authorities quote a passage of Gemara (Bava Basra 121b) and the commentary of Rashbam thereon to demonstrate that this is a valid siyum. There the Gemara explains that the immense celebration associated with the 15th of Av was because this was the date when the chopping and gathering of the wood used in the Beis Hamikdash was completed every year. These authorities note that it was not one individual, nor even one group that participated in this holy and extensive project, but it was a large, joint effort completed by the last group on that date. This approach allows us to answer the third of our opening questions: “A chaburah of which I am a member is completing a mesechta in the Nine Days.  Everyone of us has missed the shiur at times, so none of us has actually completed the entire mesechta.  Can we eat meat when we celebrate this siyum together?

Rav Reuven Margaliyos explains why this qualifies as a valid siyum, even though no individual finished the entire mesechta. He compares it to the following two halachic concepts. First, there is a halachic principle that when two people together perform a melacha that each could not do on his own, they are culpable as if each performed the melacha by himself. This halachic concept is called zeh eino yochol ve’zeh eino yochol. Rav Margaliyos notes that if this provides sufficient reason to make someone culpable, it certainly qualifies as a reason to benefit, because of the halachic principle of merubah midah tovah mimidas pur’anus, that a positive attribute is greater than something harsh (see Yoma 76a et al).

A second proof rallied by Rav Margaliyos is the halacha that if two people own a bull together that kills someone, both owners are obligated to pay the kofer, the atonement money, as if they were the sole owner. Thus, we see that a financial obligation can be created by my being part of a group. If so, it is certainly true that I can celebrate something that was accomplished by a group (Nefesh Chayah, Orach Chayim 551:10, quoted in Daf al Daf).

Conclusion

From all the above, we see the beauty and celebration that is associated with completing a large mitzvah project, and particularly, the achievement of completing a siyum after studying something in appropriate depth. I wish everyone my brochos of cheilecha le’oraysa, always use your strengths and talents to study and observe the Torah!

When Is It Not Shatnez? Part II

For part I of this article, click here.

Question #1: Nullifying shatnez

“Can a garment contain wool and linen and not be shatnez?”

Question #2: The tryout

“May I sell clothes without first checking to see if they are shatnez?”

Answer:

This week, we will continue our discussion on the topic of shatnez; more specifically, can something be made of wool and linen and not be shatnez? As we learned in the previous article, there are ways this could happen. We noted that if the linen and wool do not touch, there are rishonim who contend that the garment is not shatnez, although other opinions contend that it is shatnez min haTorah. According to the Rambam, this is shatnez min haTorah, whereas according to the Rash (Kelayim 9:1, 9) and the Rosh (Hilchos Kilei Begadim #5), it is permitted to wear this garment.

We now continue the article:

The majority rules

There is another way that a garment could contain both linen and sheep’s wool and still not be shatnez! How could this be?

When a thread is spun from a mix of fibers, the halachic status of the thread is determined by what constitutes most of the thread’s fiber content and ignores the existence of other fibers inside the thread (Mishnah, Kelayim 9:1). Halachically, the minority fiber is bateil, nullified, to the majority fiber content in the thread. Thus, threads spun from a mix of mostly cotton fiber with some linen fiber are considered cotton and may be used, lechatchilah, in a woolen garment. Similarly, if a garment consists of threads made of a blend of mostly mohair (which is goat’s hair and not wool; see previous article) and a minority of sheep’s wool fiber, and the garment is woven or sewn with linen threads, the garment is not shatnez and may be worn.

Hanging by a thread

It is important to note that linen or wool fiber is bateil only as fiber. However, a thread of linen that is woven or otherwise attached into a woolen garment renders the garment shatnez, and there is no bitul (Rosh, Hilchos Kilei Begadim #5, quoting Tosefta; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 299:1). Once the fiber has been spun into thread, even a single linen thread woven into a large woolen garment renders the entire garment shatnez. In addition, if a spun thread is mixed into a larger thread (a process called twisting, plying or cabling), then there is a shatnez problem min haTorah, even if there is only one linen thread in a large woolen garment or vice versa.

The authorities dispute whether shatnez exists when there is noticeable wool fiber in a thread that is made mostly of a different fiber. The Rosh (Shu’t Harosh 2:5), Mishnah Rishonah and Tiferes Yisrael (both to Kelayim 9:1) seem to consider this shatnez, since the wool is noticeable. However,  the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 181:9) rules that this is not shatnez, contending that the definition of a thread is its majority component, and that the minority wool component of the thread is bateil. This dispute will have the following application, which is not uncommon among today’s textiles: The thread of a garment contains a small amount of lamb’s wool in a blend that contains mostly non-wool type fibers. Thus, the wool is noticeable, although it is a minority component of the thread. According to the Chazon Ish, a garment containing this thread and linen is not shatnez, even if the threads touch, since the thread that contains the wool fiber is not considered to be a woolen thread. On the other hand, according to the other authorities mentioned, since the wool is noticeable, this garment is shatnez.

Reprocessed fibers

Many garments, quilts and other items contain “reprocessed fibers,” or “recycled fibers,” which is a nice way of saying that used or unsold clothes or fabrics were chopped up and used as stuffing. Also, sometimes used cloth and leftovers from processing are shredded down to be used as an inexpensive replacement in “cotton” garments (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 2:25; 6:114). Another example is baseball gloves and sometimes oven mittens, which are often stuffed with recycled fibers. Since one can never be certain what material is included in the recycled fibers, are they automatically prohibited because of shatnez?

This actually depends on two factors:

Thread or fiber?

Are the “reprocessed fibers” reduced to the fiber stage, or are there actual threads remaining? If they are fibers, then they will probably become bateil in the thread. On the other hand, as we mentioned above, threads are not bateil.

Sewn or pressed?

The second significant factor is whether the recycled materials are sewn, woven or glued into the garment or simply pressed together and inserted. If the recycled fibers are threads and are then woven or sewn into the material, the entire garment may be shatnez. If there are linen and woolen threads sewn together at any point, it is shatnez according to all opinions. If the wool and linen do not touch, but are in different parts of the garment, then the garment is shatnez according to the Rambam, but not according to the Rash.

Rav Chayim Kanievski quotes, in the name of the Chazon Ish, that one could permit clothing using recycled fiber on the basis of a sefek sefeika, a double doubt concerning the prohibition. (The same approach is suggested by Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 2:25.) The possibility exists that this garment contains no shatnez, it is possible that the stitching process did not attach wool directly to linen, which is therefore not shatnez according to many authorities, as I mentioned above (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Kelayim, 10:2, Biurei Halachah, s.v. Levadim). Although Rav Chayim concludes that a G-d-fearing person should avoid use of this heter to wear garments made with reprocessed fiber, he concludes that one may use a mattress stuffed with reprocessed fiber, since lying on shatnez is permitted min haTorah, and is only prohibited miderabbanan. The same rationale permits using baseball gloves, which are also usually stuffed with reprocessed fibers, since the rawhide surface of a baseball glove does not provide any warmth to the hand. Since the hand is not warmed by the glove, the prohibition of shatnez is only miderabbanan. Thus, although you could corner the market by providing a hechsher on glatt kosher baseball gloves by guaranteeing that they contain no linen or reprocessed fibers, those who are lenient not to use your hechsher would have the Chazon Ish’s psak to rely upon.

I want to mention that the heter mentioned by the Minchas Yitzchak and Rav Chayim may apply only to Ashkenazim, since the Rema and many other Ashkenazi authorities rule according to the Rash. However, since the Shulchan Aruch rules according to the Rambam, Sefardim may not be able to rely on this sefek sefeika. I leave this for the individual to discuss with his halachic authority.

So, what is a consumer to do?

Although we have now learned that there are several instances in which a garment may contain wool and linen and yet not be shatnez, according to the shatnez experts I have consulted, these instances are rare. Practically speaking, any garment that may contain either wool or linen should be checked by a knowledgeable, experienced shatnez tester. In addition, men’s suits should always be checked, even if they are 100% polyester. Also, any garment that appears similar to linen or that lists “other fibers” should be checked.

The first step in checking for shatnez is to read the label. Although this cannot ascertain that the garment is not shatnez, it may tell you that it is.

I share with you the following story, which I know is true because I was there when it happened.

As a curious type of fundraiser, a frum shul conducted a men’s fashion show. Haberdashers are usually quite eager to supply the “goods” for such a show because it is free advertising, and sometimes even generates immediate sales.

While the men parade with their garments, the announcer pitches the qualities of the clothing being displayed. One fine, knowledgeable and very frum gentleman was wearing his suit while the announcer read that the garment being worn was 70% merino wool and 30% linen. Another way of describing this garment is 100% shatnez, according to all opinions.

Similarly, at one point, a popular manufacturer of quality men’s socks advertised the fact that their wool socks were reinforced with linen thread in the toe. Yet another shatnez issue exists in certain countries whose uniforms are proudly made of “linsie-woolsie”, which is a blend of – you guessed it – linen and wool!

The second step is to have garments checked by a knowledgeable shatnez checker or laboratory. Most communities have one, and if there is none available locally, one should research becoming one himself. There are also options of using UPS or registered mail to ship a garment for checking, or arranging a community visit by a certified shatnez checker.

The tryout

At this point, we can discuss one of our opening questions: “May I sell clothes without first checking to see if they are shatnez?”

In the addendum to a question on another topic, Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked whether a haberdasher is required to ascertain that any merchandise he might sell to a Jewish customer is not shatnez. Rav Moshe rules that if shatnez is commonly found in the particular type of garment, one may not sell it. It is insufficient to tell the consumers that the garments might be shatnez, since one cannot assume that the customers will have their purchases checked. Rav Moshe rules that the fact that there are other stores where they could purchase such garments does not permit selling them. However, if a particular garment is unlikely to be shatnez, he rules that one may sell it without first having it checked. He explains that although one should check such a garment, the major financial cost for the haberdasher to check every garment precludes his requirement to check them. However, the customer is required to have them checked (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:72).

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Chumash, Vayikra 19:19) provides a very deep explanation of the mitzvah of shatnez, definitely required reading for everyone. Because of space constraints, I will oversimplify his approach, to provide our readers with a bit of a taste: Clothing is a feature of our existence that distinguishes man from animal. For man to achieve G-dliness, he must subordinate his lower faculties to his intelligence. The Divine spirit within man is to elevate all the forces within him to the nearness of Hashem, provided that man uplifts himself to Hashem with his whole being. Requiring that we separate wool from linen in our clothing symbolizes that man’s perception and willpower should not service his animal element. Man must separate the nourishment aspect of himself, represented by the vegetable part of the world, from his perceptions, represented by the animal element. The discipline of separating wool from linen in clothing reminds man to follow the laws of Hashem. For further understanding of these ideas, please see Rav Hirsch’s commentary.

When Is It Not Shatnez? Part I

Question #1: Counter-logical

“Can a garment contain both wool and linen and still not be shatnez?”

Question #2: Woolly hair?

“What is the difference between hair and wool?”

Question #3: Checking sweater

“Must I have my sweater checked for shatnez?”

Question #4: Lehisateif beshatnez?!

“May the atarah on a talis be shatnez?”

Question #5: Controversial shatnez

“May something be shatnez min haTorah according to one opinion, and be permitted to wear according to another?”

Answer:

Since the mitzvah of shatnez is mentioned in parshas Kedoshim (Vayikra 19:19), we should certainly spend a few minutes reviewing some of its interesting laws.

Wool, linen and not shatnez?

Can something be made of wool and linen and not be shatnez? Actually, there are several ways this could happen.

The English word “wool” means any soft hair that can be used as cloth, regardless of which species of animal is the source. However, the prohibition of shatnez exists only if the garment is made from a blend of sheep’s wool and linen. Wool made from the hair of other animals — such as camel, llama, alpaca, yak, rabbit or goat — mixed with linen does not become shatnez (see Mishnah, Kelayim 9:1 and Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 10:2). The Mishnah (Kelayim 9:2) prohibits wearing garments made of a blend of silk and wool and other similar combinations because of maris ayin, which prohibits doing something that may raise suspicion that one has violated halachah. However, the Rosh (Hilchos Kilei Begadim #7) concludes that this concern exists only when the fabric is not commonly available. Once people become familiar with the textile, no prohibition of maris ayin exists.

Cashmere

Most people are surprised to discover that, at least in theory, a blend of mohair or cashmere and linen is not shatnez! Why is this? Because proper mohair and cashmere are not made of the wool of sheep, but of goats! Mohair is processed from the hair of an angora goat, which was originally bred in Asia Minor, today the Asian part of Turkey. (The name of the capital of Turkey, Ankara, used to be pronounced Angora.)

Cashmere is the wool of the Kashmir goat, which was originally native to the area of central Asia that bears this name. Although the possession of Kashmir has been disputed by India and Pakistan since these two countries came into existence, both sides agree that Kashmir is a variety of goat and not a sheep. Thus, if no sheep’s-wool thread was mixed into the mohair or the cashmere, the presence of linen in the garment will not make it shatnez.

However, please note that I wrote above that mohair and cashmere are not shatnez “at least in theory.” According to what I have been told by shatnez checkers, it is commonplace that garments labeled as mohair or cashmere include less expensive sheep’s wool. From a manufacturer’s vantage point, including merino wool (from a breed of sheep that produces high-quality wool) will not affect the feel of a cashmere coat, and customers will never know the difference.

What about the label?

May one rely on a label that says a garment is made from 100% cashmere?

According to the information I have received, there are two different reasons why not to rely on such a label without having the garment checked. The first is that the label is intended to describe only the material of the main fabric of the garment, but does not tell anything about the button-threads, backing, linings, ornaments, loops and fillings, all of which could render the garment shatnez. Thus, a coat could, indeed, be 100% cashmere, yet include a woolen lining sewn together with linen thread and thus be shatnez.

A second reason why not to rely on labels: Manufacturers of food items are usually, but not always, concerned with the accuracy of the labels on their products. (I will note that, during my many years of working in kashrus,I found instances in which companies did not feel responsible for the accuracy of their labels; but these were the exception. Most American companies that I inspected were basically concerned that the labels on their food products be accurate.) One reason for this is the potential liability that can result should someone react adversely to a food item that was omitted from the label. However, since fabric allergies are less common and, usually, less serious than food allergies, clothing manufacturers and distributors are less interested in truth in labeling. Combined with the fact that most garments are manufactured in labor-cheap, third-world countries, it should come as no surprise that it is commonplace to find mislabeled clothing.

Here is an example that demonstrates how inaccurate clothing labels are: The label of a woman’s sweater purchased in a store in Boro Park did not indicate any wool or linen. Yet, in actuality, the exterior contained wool thread, and the shell beneath it was linen, making it 100% shatnez min haTorah.

Checking sweater

At this point, we can address our third question above: “Must I have my sweater checked for shatnez?”

If it is a simple pullover sweater made from acrylic material (a synthetic fiber), without decorative ornaments, paddings, linings or buttons, there is probably no need to have it checked for shatnez. But, if the sweater has either linen or wool in it, it should be checked. Even if it appears to contain no obvious wool or linen, but there are ornaments, paddings, or linings, the possibility of shatnez increases, and one should have it checked (see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:72).

Fabricated fabric

The following true story demonstrates an example of a misrepresentation with major halachic ramifications: “The importer told me that the garment was made of a blend of hemp and wool, which should involve no shatnez concern. As there was no authorized shatnez-tester in town, I did what I thought was the next best thing. I brought the garment to a shomer mitzvos tailor to check. He carefully checked the threads and guaranteed me that the garment contained no linen. Only after I wore the garment many times did I meet a Torah scholar and mentioned this incident, in passing. The talmid chacham told me that I should not be so certain, and he offered to compare the material in my garment to linen threads he had available. Indeed, he was correct: the threads in my garment were made of wool and linen, not hemp, and I had been violating a Torah prohibition the entire time!”

Does this story sound contemporary? As a matter of fact, this story happened in Vilna in 1650, as recorded in the commentary Beis Hillel to Yoreh Deah. In those days, the only “scientific” means of checking whether a material was linen or hemp was to take a sample and see if a candle would get it to burn, since hemp is more flammable than linen (Rema, Yoreh Deah 302:2). Whether one may rely on this test is disputed by the authorities (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 302:2, quoting Shu’t Penei Yehoshua), and, practically speaking, today’s blends are complicated, and the burn test should not be used to guarantee that a garment is shatnez-free. In any instance, we see that shatnez problems are not exclusively a result of modern manufacture, although they are certainly complicated in contemporary textiles.

Wool, linen and not shatnez?

Having established that shatnez applies only to a garment that includes sheep’s wool, can one assume that every garment containing both sheep’s wool and linen is shatnez? Actually, there are possibilities whereby a garment may contain both sheep’s wool and linen and still not necessarily be shatnez.

What if they do not touch?

If one end of a garment contains wool thread and the other end contains linen — such that the wool and linen do not touch — is the garment shatnez? Is having both wool and linen in the same garment enough reason to make it shatnez?

This question is disputed by the Rishonim, the Rash (Kelayim 9:1, 9) and the Rosh (Hilchos Kilei Begadim #5) contending that it is not shatnez, whereas the Rambam rules that it is. Based on the Rash’s approach, many attach a linen atarah decoration to a woolen talis by having a piece of cotton cloth act as the “mechitzah” between the wool and the linen.

However, the Rambam rules that wool and linen threads on different parts of a garment constitute shatnez min haTorah. In his opinion, the Torah prohibited a garment containing both wool and linen, even if the linen and wool do not touch. Thus, according to the Rambam, the separating cotton does not change the garment from being shatnez, and wearing the above-mentioned talis is a mitzvah haba’ah be’aveirah, meaning that the attempt at fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis is preempted by the violation of shatnez incurred when wearing it. According to the Rambam’s opinion, reciting a brocha on this talis constitutes a brocha levatalah, one recited in vain.

Thus, whether this method of separating linen and sheep’s wool in the same garment avoids a prohibition of shatnez is controversial – some permitting it, lechatchilah, and others holding that it involves a Torah prohibition and preempts fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis!

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 299:2) rules according to the Rambam, that a garment is shatnez even if the wool and the linen threads are separated by other materials. Thus Sefardim, who follow the Shulchan Aruch’s rulings, are prohibited from wearing such a garment. Among Ashkenazi authorities, the Rosh, the Rema (Yoreh Deah 299:2), the Magen Avraham (9:8) and the Elyah Rabbah (Orach Chayim 9:6) rule according to the Rash, whereas the Mishkenos Yaakov (Yoreh Deah Shu’t #70), the Artzos Hachayim and the Shenos Eliyahu of the Gra (Kelayim 9:1) rule like the Rambam. (We should note that, in his notes to Shulchan Aruch [Yoreh Deah 299:8], the Gra appears to accept the Rash’s approach.) Rav Chayim Kanievski notes that the prevalent practice is to follow the lenient opinion (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Kelayim 10:41).

For part II of this article, click here.

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