Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto, part II

This article is for the occasion of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s yahrzeit, on the 27th of Teiveis.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto, part II

Last week, I presented the first part of this article, which was an introduction to the commentaries on Chumash of the Malbim, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, and Hakesav Vehakabalah, by Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg. We continue our review of Rav Hirsch’s commentary from where I left off.

Rav Hirsch’s commentary has a component that the other two do not. The focus of his commentary was not only to prove the accuracy or authenticity of Chazal’s understanding of Torah, but, also, to demonstrate how Torah provides for man’s growth in spirituality, the development of his personality, and his worldview. Thus, he rarely comments simply for the sake of explaining a difficult verse.

Ta’amei hamikra

Rav Hirsch emphasized that his commentary is based on a careful reading of the words of Chumash. Included in this was his study of the ta’amei hamikra, which are meant to teach how to break a pasuk into smaller units for proper understanding. As an example, his interpretation of the pasuk in shiras Ha’azinu, shicheis lo lo, banav mumam, reflects the accentuation implied by the ta’amei hamikra, whereby this is one sentence with only a small break (a tipcha) after the second word lo (with an alef). Thus, disagreeing with all the previous commentaries that I have seen, he translates the sentence as: Their moral frailty has corrupted it to become non-children.

Grammar — Dikduk and shoresh

Rav Hirsch developed an understanding of Torah ideas upon the principle of shorashim where there are phonetic cognates. This idea, which has sources in Chazal and the rishonim,[i] is that different consonants that are articulated by using the same part of the mouth are related to each other.[ii] Thus, there is a relationship among the guttural consonants (א ה ח ע) that can be used to explain the meaning of related roots in which they appear. The same is true for the palatals (ג י כ ק), the dentals (ד ט ל נ ת),[iii] the sibilants (ז ס צ ר ש), and the labials (ב ו מ פ).[iv] Based on similar roots, Rav Hirsch develops a philosophic underpinning of the comparative roots, and then creates an associative meaning for each root. For example, the roots ברא (to create, which means to bring into reality that which previously existed only in one’s mind), ברח, to escape, פרא, to be undisciplined, פרח, to flower and פרה, to reproduce, seem to be unrelated verbs. However, the first letter of the root in each instance is a labial, the second is ר , and the third is a guttural. There is an underlying idea in all of these roots – getting out of a state of being constrained.

Often included within this system is a relationship pattern between similar consonants. For example, the tzadi often reflects a more intensive version of the other similar sounds, such as the sin. Thus, there is a conceptual relationship between יצר, which means to limit something for a specific purpose, and יסר, which educates, shapes and disciplines the spirit. In literally hundreds of applications of these ideas, Rav Hirsch demonstrates an entire world of educational themes.

In Rav Hirsch’s view, the shoresh of a word can often provide educational and religious lessons. For example, in describing Avraham Avinu’s travels in Eretz Canaan, the Torah uses the unusual word ויעתק, which Rav Hirsch translates as He gave orders to move on.[v] Rav Hirsch notes that the common thread of the usage of this root in Tanach is that someone or something is moved unexpectedly or forcibly to another setting. Rav Hirsch thereby explains that Avraham realized that in order to succeed in educating his followers, they needed to be isolated from the society around them, but he needed to overcome their resistance in doing so. Thus, the root of the word used teaches us about Avraham’s pedagogic approach.

Controversial Aspects

Probably the most controversial aspect of Rav Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash is his view that even our greatest leaders are not beyond reproach, and that a late Torah commentary can include lessons for us to learn from their shortcomings and errors. Indeed, the Ramban, whom Rav Hirsch quotes in this context, also felt that we have the right to criticize our greatest Torah leaders, even in places where Chazal did not. Rav Hirsch’s critiques of Yitzchak and Rivkah’s raising of Eisav, of Yosef’s relationship with his brothers, of Moshe, Tziporah, and others have certainly raised more than one eyebrow. Yet Rav Hirsch’s position in all these cases is clear. Only Hashem is perfect. The fact that the Torah goes out of its way to show the errors made by our greatest leaders demonstrates that Torah is true and Divine. Man’s purpose in this world is to learn and to grow, and we can do so both by emulating the great actions of our greatest leaders and also by noting their errors.

Did Rav Hirsch Use the Hakesav Vehakabalah or Hatorah Vehamitzvah?

In his beautiful essay introducing the first edition of the first English translation of Rav Hirsch’s commentary to Chumash, Dayan Dr. Isaac Grunfeld writes: “When Samson Raphael Hirsch began his commentary in 1867, he had the works of Mecklenburg (Hakesav Vehakabalah) and Hatorah Vehamitzvah of Malbim in front of him.” I presume that Dayan Grunfeld has some mesorah to substantiate his comment. However, from my work on Rav Hirsch’s commentary, and after comparing this work to the other two, I, personally, am not convinced that this statement is accurate, for the following reasons.

When Rav Hirsch felt indebted to an earlier commentator, he always quoted his source. In the course of his commentary of Chumash, he quotes a wide variety of sources, including the rishonim, his rabbeyim, Chacham Bernays and Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the Aruch Laneir, and works published shortly before his time, such as Harechasim Levik’ah and the writings of the highly controversial Naftali Wessely. Yet, there is not a single reference anywhere in his commentary to either Hakesav Vehakabalah or Hatorah Vehamitzvah.

There are places in which Rav Hirsch presents no explanation, while Hakesav Vehakabalah presents approaches that lend themselves perfectly to Rav Hirsch’s style of commentary. For example, Rav Hirsch offers almost no commentary to the lengthy list of travels that the Bnei Yisroel made through the desert. Yet, Hakesav Vehakabalah has a beautiful explanation of the place names along the route of these travels. Had Rav Hirsch read Hakesav Vehakabalah, I presume that he would have used his approach here to develop musar haskeil, just as Rav Hirsch, himself, does in explaining the list of names of the descendants of Sheis. Had he been as familiar with Hakesav Vehakabalah as Dayan Grunfeld suggests, it is indeed puzzling why he would not use the opportunity to include these lessons in his Torah commentary, and attribute them to Hakesav Vehakabalah. Although it is always difficult to prove anything on the basis of it not being present, Rav Hirsch’s omission of any musar haskeil here, when use of Hakesav Vehakabalah would provide this, certainly implies that he did not use the commentary on any regular basis.

On the other hand, Hakesav Vehakabalah used approaches to explain pesukim that Rav Hirsch would never accept. For example, Hakesav Vehakabalah explains that the source for the word asheirah is yashar, straight, and suggests that it was originally used to mean a straight, tall tree.[vi] Rav Hirsch provides a much deeper insight into the meaning of the word asheirah and its apparent root א ש ר, which means growth and striving. Thus, the word asheirah means a tree “that was considered to be under the special protection of a god, whose presence and influence supposedly could be obtained through the growth and thriving of this tree.”[vii]

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch viewed his commentary as a means of showing how to use Chumash as a springboard for mussar and hashkafah. From a mussar perspective, Rav Hirsch’s Torah commentary can provide a complete life-instruction manual on its own. One can learn from it a Torah perspective of hashakafah, and detailed lessons in mussar.

We understand well why Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz told his students at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas that it would be worth their investment of time to learn to read German, just for the sake of being able to read Rav Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash, which, at the time, was not available in translation.

 

[i] For example, see Rashi, Vayikra 19:16, where he explains that the word רכיל stems from the word רגל. See, similarly, Ra’avad, Eduyos 4:3; Ramban, Shemos 15:10; Vayikra 19:20, Devorim 7:12; Rash, Peah 6:1

[ii] Language specialists use the term homorganic consonants to describe these words.

[iii] While I was preparing this article for publication, a reviewer noted to me that a rearrangement of these letters ד נ ט ל ת  can be read as dentals.

[iv] Those interested in seeing a systematic dictionary of Rav Hirsch’s work in this area are referred to Matityahu Clark’s Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, Feldheim Publishers, which Rabbi Clark writes is “based on the commentaries of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.”

[v] Bereishis 12:8. Translation is from the Haberman edition.

[vi] Hakesav Vehakabalah, Devorim 16:21.

[vii] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Shemos 34:13. Translation is from the Haberman edition, page 809.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto

This article is for the occasion of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s yahrzeit.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto

With the falling of the ghetto walls that had kept the Jews in central Europe isolated from the world around them, many Jews began to assimilate into the surrounding environment and distance themselves from Judaism. Although it was far more difficult for Jews in Eastern Europe to assimilate fully into non-Jewish society, different forces, the haskalah, socialism, Communism and various other movements similarly severed many Jews from keeping mitzvos. Among those who abandoned Torah observance were Jews who felt that Chazal’s interpretation of the mitzvos was not based on the Written Torah.

In response, several new and original commentaries on Chumash appeared. Among them, we find Hakesav Vehakabalah, by Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, the commentaries[i] of the Malbim to Tanach, the commentary of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, and the Ha’ameik Davar, the commentary of Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (also known as the Netziv). All four of these commentaries, although very different from each other in important ways, were written to explain the Written Torah in the spirit of Chazal.

Hakesav Vehakabalah

Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva Eiger and served as the rav of Koenigsberg, Prussia (today, Kaliningrad, Russia), for thirty-four years. Koenigsberg was in the far east of Germany, giving Rav Mecklenburg a clear view of the challenges posed by the rise of the Reform movement in Germany and the haskalah and other anti-religious movements in Eastern Europe. Hakesav Vehakabalah, first published in 1839 and followed by three more editions in the author’s lifetime, was intended as a response to attacks on Chazal’s understanding of the Torah.

Hakesav Vehakabalah carefully analyzes the root meanings and grammar of the words of the Chumash, using them to provide a clear interpretation of the pesukim. Although his approach is highly original, he also often cites the different approaches of the earlier commentaries, opting for the one that he demonstrates to be the most accurate.

The Malbim

Rav Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel, known by his acronym, Malbim, served as the rav of many different Eastern European communities. A brilliant talmid chacham and a warrior against the haskalah, his magnum opus is his commentary to Tanach and accompanying essays. [ii] His first work, a commentary on Yeshayah, includes an introduction in which he elucidates the principles that form the basis for his commentary to Tanach as a whole.

Two such principles are that no two words in Tanachic Hebrew have precisely the same meaning, and that there are no repeated phrases or clauses — each word in Tanach was chosen to provide a very specific nuance of meaning.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch held rabbinic positions in Oldenberg and Emden, Germany, and as Chief Rabbi of Moravia, before returning to Germany to establish a modern, Torah-committed community in Frankfurt. Toward the end of his life, he produced his commentaries to the Chumash, Tehillim and the Siddur.

The Netziv

Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin married the daughter of Rav Yitzchak of Volozhin, the son and successor of the founder and Rosh Yeshivah of the famed yeshivah in that city, Rav Chayim of Volozhin, the esteemed disciple of the Vilna Gaon. The Netziv eventually became Rosh Yeshivah of the yeshivah in Volozhin, a position he held for almost forty years, until its closing in 1892. The Netziv authored many works, including responsa and commentaries on Chumash, Shas, the She’iltos of Rav Achai Gaon, the halachic midrashim.

Linking Torah shebiksav to Torah shebe’al peh

Both Hakesav Vehakabalah and Malbim write that a major purpose of their commentaries is to demonstrate the unity of Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh. In the introduction to the first volume of commentary he wrote on Chumash, Vayikra, the Malbim mentions specifically the tragedy of the Reform convention that had taken place in 1844 in Braunschweig (called Brunswick in English), a city in Germany about 40 miles southeast of Hanover. The Malbim writes that when he heard of the disgraceful attitude toward Torah that had been demonstrated there, he realized that klal Yisroel required a new commentary on Tanach, written according to the mesorah. He notes many rules that he will be following in his commentaries, one of which is to show the unity of Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh.

Although Rav Hirsch’s very brief introduction to his commentary does not emphasize this relationship between Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh, this foundation shows up literally hundreds of times in his commentary.[iii] Rav Hirsch, too, maintained that proper study of Torah shebiksav leads directly to the conclusions of Torah shebe’al peh. Among examples where he demonstrates this are when he explains that Chazal’s understanding of “an eye for an eye” as financial remuneration (Shemos 21:24) is indeed the only proper way to understand the pasuk, and that no halachic requirement exists to name the firstborn child of a levirate marriage (yibum) for the deceased brother (see Devorim 25:6).

Rav Hirsch noted that the Torah shebe’al peh was actually taught to the Jews first.[iv] Moshe received all the laws of Torah shebe’al peh at Har Sinai and taught them to the Jewish people gradually. The completed Torah shebiksav, by contrast, was not received by the Jews until the very end of Moshe’s life, immediately prior to the Jews’ entering Eretz Yisroel, or forty years after they had received the Torah shebe’al peh. This explains numerous passages in the Torah, including the commandment to slaughter animals ka’asher tzivisicha “as you were instructed,” meaning the sets of regulations that had been transmitted to Moshe at Har Sinai and previously taught to the Bnei Yisroel.

Uniqueness of Rav Hirsch’s commentary

The most obvious difference between Rav Hirsch’s commentary and the others is the language in which it was written. Whereas the other commentaries are written in traditional rabbinic Hebrew, Rav Hirsch published his commentary on Chumash and, indeed, all of his works, in German. Long before Rav Hirsch’s time, many Torah works had been authored in the vernacular, such as all of Rav Saadiya Gaon’s writings and those of the Rambam, with the exception of the Mishneh Torah.

Yet, sefarim in the vernacular had fallen into disuse in the hundreds of years since the era of the rishonim. As a young rabbi in Oldenberg, however, Rav Hirsch recognized the need to present Torah teachings in German, in order to reach his generation and impress upon them Torah’s eternal relevance.

In Rav Hirsch’s commentary, there are various instances in which he includes a comment in Hebrew. Invariably, these are the comments of a Torah scholar on a point in Talmudic discussion which was not appropriate to make for the general audience for whom his work was intended. Yet, he was concerned that posterity not lose the important halachic point he had realized. To accommodate this, he chose to write these points in scholarly, rabbinic Hebrew.

Aside from his use of the vernacular, there are many other novel features in Rav Hirsch’s approach. Beyond being an interpretation of Chumash, Rav Hirsch uses his commentary to demonstrate how to use the Torah as the primary educational tool for man to grow as a human being. There is virtually not a comment of his on the Torah that does not provide a moral lesson, or musar haskeil.

Indeed, there are many occasions when he did not comment upon questions about pshat in a verse where it would appear appropriate for him to have done so. Clearly, he refrained from providing commentary where the conclusion would not provide any lesson one can utilize for personal growth.

Rav Hirsch called his Torah hashkafah by the term Torah im Derech Eretz, the details of which he developed in different places in his commentary.[v] Although the expression is often misunderstood, Rav Hirsch used it to mean that Torah and its observance must always be the primary focus of a Jew’s life, and that this can and must pervade a Jew’s behavior in all places, times and situations. Everything else that this world has to offer, including livelihood, education, culture, and social mores, must be subsumed within a Torah framework.

Reasons for mitzvos

One of Rav Hirsch’s great innovations is his explanation of the ta’amei hamitzvos. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that the term ta’amei hamitzvah means the taste of a mitzvah, not its reason, and it is this taste that Rav Hirsch sought to provide.

The concept of deriving educational reasons for mitzvos was certainly not originated by Rav Hirsch. Rav Hirsch himself quotes dozens of places where Chazal discuss what lesson one can derive from the observance of the mitzvos, and rishonim like the Rambam in his Moreh Nevuchim, Ramban in his commentary on the Torah, and the Sefer Hachinuch devote much space to this study.

However, Rav Hirsch added several dimensions to the concept of ta’amei hamitzvah. For Rav Hirsch, an explanation of a mitzvah must always fit in with every detail of the halachos of that mitzvah. For this reason, Rav Hirsch first develops and explains all the halachic details of the mitzvah and then weaves an explanation for the mitzvah that comports with all those details. At times, this required him to first resolve halachic details regarding the laws of the mitzvah.

Here is an example in which we see the difference between the approach of Rav Hirsch and that of his predecessors. The Ramban explains that the reason for the mitzvah not to mix meat and milk together is because cooking a newly slaughtered kid in the milk of its mother will create cruelty in the person who does this.[vi] However, this reason for the mitzvah has little to do with the halachos of this mitzvah, which prohibit any meat and any milk of two kosher species cooked together.

Rav Hirsch, on the other hand, first explains the laws of the mitzvah, and then demonstrates why the Torah’s description of cooking a goat in the milk of its mother is the simplest way to express these ideas. He subsequently proceeds to explain a philosophic reason for the mitzvah that we can appreciate and that can teach us a moral lesson, while observing the mitzvah. In this instance, Rav Hirsch provides a brilliant and extensive seven-page essay presenting why this prohibition is limited to the meat and the milk of kosher, domesticated animal species, and why it includes not only the consumption, but also the cooking of and benefit from this mixture.[vii]

Here is another example. The Torah forbids planting any trees near the mizbei’ach.[viii] As an explanation of this mitzvah, the Ramban explains that even though one is planting a shade tree that will enhance the area of the Beis Hamikdash, this is still prohibited, since it was the custom of the idol worshippers to plant trees near the entrance to their temples.

Rav Hirsch is not satisfied with approaches like this to explain mitzvos. Instead he notes that the thriving of a tree near an idol was considered a sign of the influence of the god. This idea fits very appropriately to the heathen notion that gods are primarily forces of nature, whose rule manifests itself in the phenomena of the physical world. However, such notions are diametrically opposite to the Jewish concept of G-d. A Jew is obligated to subordinate all his aspirations, including his moral and spiritual world, to the sphere of G-d’s sovereignty. Only through this can he expect to succeed in the physical world.[ix]

Frequently, Rav Hirsch presents highly original approaches to ta’amei hamitzvos, such as his explanations for the mitzvos of arayos, keifel, arachin, and tum’ah and taharah, and the disqualification of blemished animals and blemished kohanim from the service of korbanos. Regarding tum’ah, for example, he notes that the foundation of most religions is the fear of death, and it is at this time that the priest assumes his greatest role. The Torah, in contrast, bans the kohen from being involved with the dead, to demonstrate that the Torah’s goal is that we grow and develop throughout life – when we are in our best health. To emphasize this, the kohen, whose role is to educate how to live as a Jew, is distanced from death.

Rav Hirsch uses the same concept to explain why a kohen with a physical blemish or injury is forbidden to serve in the Beis Hamikdash and why a similarly impaired animal is prohibited as a korban. This emphasis on physical beauty or selectivity seems to run counter to the Torah’s idea of equal access for all to a relationship with Hashem.

Rav Hirsch explains that religions generally become the home of the marginalized and alienated in society. By prohibiting the physically impaired from performing the service in the holiest of places, the Torah emphasizes that its goal is to foster in all Jews the development of a relationship with Hashem, rather than to simply provide a refuge for the disenfranchised.

For the continuation of this article, see here.

 

[i] I refer to the commentaries of the Malbim because, although he wrote on almost the entire Tanach, a rare accomplishment, his treatment of different parts of Tanach is so varied as to make it difficult to refer to it as one commentary.

[ii] On Chumash, the Malbim follows two different styles. As I mention in the article, his commentary on Vayikra and parts of Devorim is an explanation of the midrashei halachah, the Sifra and the Sifrei, in which he delves into Chazal’s method of understanding Torah Shebiskav. On the other hand, his commentaries to other parts of Chumash bear close similarity to the commentary of the Abarbanel, which, as he says himself, he used. He presents many questions on the topic at hand, and then weaves an explanation to answer them. Yet another style is presented in his commentaries to Esther and Shir Hashirim, in which he presents his own midrashic-style approach to these works.

[iii] This point is the main thrust of Dayan Isaac Grunfeld’s introduction to Rav Hirsch’s commentary, which I will quote in the sequel of this article.

[iv] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Bereishis 1:19.

[v] See, for example, commentary of Rav Hirsch to Vayikra 18:4.

[vi]  Ramban, Devorim 14:21.

[vii] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Shemos 23:19.

[viii] Devorim 16:21.

[ix] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Devorim 16:21. Based on the Haberman translation.

Observing a Colorful Lifestyle

With the several references in the parsha to wine and grapes, I thought an article dealing with some practical grape skin problems might be in order.

Observing a Colorful Lifestyle

Question #1:

Are there any non-kosher food colorings?

Question #2:

Why would a hechsher insist on a recall of a product?

Quiz Question #1, or Question #3:

How can a non-kosher ingredient be noticeable, and yet the finished product is kosher?

At one point in my life, when I worked as a kashrus supervisor, I made a surprise inspection of a company that produced juice drinks – let’s call it Generic Juices, Incorporated. I was surprised to discover that the plant was not following the instructions it had received from its hechsher and was bottling beverages containing enocianina, a coloring derived from grape skins. This product was not on the list of approved ingredients, and for good reason, as I will explain shortly. The kashrus concerns involved now created a serious problem for the hechsher, the company, and most of all, the unsuspecting consumer. Before discussing what happened, I must present the halachic issues involved.

THE FOOD COLORING INDUSTRY

Whether we like it or not, many of our foods are colored with a host of coloring agents. Some are derived from food items, such as beets, berries, sugar (caramel coloring), turmeric and annatto, whereas others are derived from inedible materials whose sources most consumers would prefer to ignore. Although processing colorants can compromise the kashrus of the finished product, few food colors are themselves obtained from non-kosher materials. However, there are two common food pigments that originate from non-kosher substances: One is carmine red, also called cochineal, which is a very common color used to color fruits, yogurts, juice drinks, maraschino cherries and more. Cochineal is extracted from an insect that is native to South America. A closely related dye color, kermes, is a shade of scarlet derived from scale insects, which may have been the source of the tolaas shani dye used in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash. We should note that the Hebrew word tola’as, which is usually translated worm, may include insects and other small invertebrates. Thus, it may indeed be that the tola’as of the verse is a scale insect that produces a red dye.

The verse (Yeshayah 1:18), “if your sins will be like shanim, they will become as white as snow; though they be red as the tola, they will become white like wool,” clearly indicates that tola’as shani is a red color. On this basis, some authorities identify tola’as shani as kermes (see Radak to Divrei HaYamim II 2:6). One can rally support for this approach from the verse in Divrei HaYamim (II 3:14), which describes the paroches curtain as woven from techeiles, argaman, karmil, and butz, which is linen; whereas the Torah describes the paroches as made of techeiles, argaman, tola’as shani, and sheish, which is linen (Shemos 26:31). The words karmil and kermes certainly seem to be cognate. Similarly, the Rambam explains tola’as shani to mean “wool dyed with an insect” (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13). Thus, karmil appears to be another word for tola’as shani. The ancients derived a red dye from the dried bodies of the species called Kermes ilices, which served as one of the most important pigments for thousands of years. As a matter of fact, the English word crimson derives from this ancient dye.

(Without going into the subject in detail, it is appropriate to mention that some responsible rabbinic authorities rule that cochineal is kosher, since it comes from an inedible part of the insect. However, I am unaware of any major kashrus organization today that treats cochineal as kosher.)

GRAPE SKIN EXTRACT

The other common non-kosher source is called enocianina, colloquially often called simply eno, a red or purple natural food color derived from grape skin extract, and commonly used in beverages, fruit fillings and confections. After the juice has been squeezed out of the grapes, the remaining pulp is processed into a commercial coloring agent. Although one could produce kosher eno from kosher-processed grape skins, grape skin color available today is produced in non-kosher facilities. After the grapes have been squeezed and the juice has been separated from the pulp, at which time they become subject to the halachos of stam yeinam, which means that they have probably become non-kosher. Thus, we assume that eno is not kosher.

GENERIC JUICE DRINKS

Unfortunately, when I discovered the problem, Generic Juices had already produced and shipped tons of product using either carmine or eno – and all of it bearing the kosher certification symbol on the label! Is the kashrus agency halachically required to insist on a recall of the product from the supermarket shelves?

RECALL

Companies hate having their products recalled, for technical reasons, because of the major expense involved, and because it is a public relations nightmare. On the other hand, if the product now in the marketplace is prohibited according to halacha, we must be concerned that a consumer may use the product, because he assumes that it is kosher! Although a recall is never a foolproof method, it is the best we can do to avoid people unwittingly consuming a non-kosher product.

The policy of this particular hechsher was not to require a recall, unless the product could not be used even after the fact, bedei’evid. It was now the responsibility of the hechsher’s poskim to decide whether the product is prohibited after the fact, and, therefore, to require a recall, or whether bedei’evid the product is permitted. Although we would insist that all labels bearing the hechsher on this product be destroyed, or at least the kashrus symbol be obliterated, the hechsher would not require the product that had already been shipped to be recalled. (There would also need to be further clarification as to whether the hechsher would allow distribution of the product that had been labeled but was still in the company’s control.)

Why should the finished product be kosher, if the colorant was not?

The basis for this question follows:

Coloring agents are used in very minute amounts. Indeed, when the Spaniards discovered carmine red, they sold the concentrated powdered pigment at a higher price per ounce than gold! Thus, the amount of coloring used to color a juice drink, maraschino cherry or strawberry-flavored yogurt is significantly less than the amount that we usually say is bateil (nullified) in a finished product. Although one may never add treif product to a food and rely on its becoming bateil, if a non-kosher product was added inadvertently in minute quantities, the finished product is usually permitted.

The primary criterion to determine whether the treif ingredient is bateil is:

Can the non-kosher product be tasted, either because of its quantity or because it is a flavoring agent?

In our instance, this test is passed with flying colors! None of these colors can be tasted in the finished product.

However, there is, or might be, another criterion:

Is the treif product noticeable?

If one can see a treif ingredient floating inside a food, one may not consume the food without first removing the treif item.

COLORS ARE NOTICEABLE

The boldness of a color announces its existence. Can we say that a color is bateil when we see clear evidence of its existence?

On the other hand, the Vilna Gaon argues that determining whether the food is kosher depends on whether one can taste the treif ingredient (Yoreh Deah 102:6). In our instance, although the color is noticeable, no one tastes the colorant, and, therefore, the finished product is permitted, assuming that the admixture was made in error. An earlier authority, the Minchas Yaakov (74:5), also espouses this position.

According to this approach, we have answered our opening Quiz Question #3, which was: How can a non-kosher ingredient be noticeable, and yet the finished product is kosher?

A COMPROMISE POSITION – IN WHOLE CLOTH

Some authorities compromise between these two positions, comparing our question to a Gemara that discusses whether someone who stole dye and cloth and now returns the dyed fabric fulfills his mitzvah of returning what he stole. The Gemara rules that this depends on whether the dye is considered to still exist after it has been used, because its color is still noticeable (Bava Kamma 101a). Is the color on the cloth treated as if the dye itself still exists, or did the dye become bateil and no longer exists? If the dye no longer exists, then it was not returned, whereas if the dye still exists, then it was returned.

CONCLUSION

By this time, I presume most readers want to know what the hechsher did. The deciding posek ruled in accordance with the last position mentioned, and contended that the carmine coloring might be prohibited min haTorah, and therefore the company must recall the beverages containing carmine. Since eno, the grape skin extract, involves only a rabbinic prohibition, he did not require the company to recall the items containing this ingredient, contending that, according to most authorities, the eno is considered nullified in the final mix.

We should always pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands with no controversial shaylos.

 

Raisin Juice and Wine

While traveling to Egypt, what could Yaakov and his family have used for kiddush and havdalah…

Raisin Juice and Wine

Question: Traveling Kiddush

“Is there a simple way to make wine for kiddush when I travel in the Orient, where there is no kosher wine to be had?”

Answer

Every special event – kiddush, havdalah, weddings, sheva brochos, brisin, pidyon haben, the seder – includes wine. And halachah mentions the special role of wine in celebrating Yom Tov. Our question is whether there is a simple way to produce wine for kiddush and havdalah when you are traveling in a place that has no readily-available kosher wine. I believe I have found a simple solution, other than carrying along small bottles of wine in your luggage.

One option that a friend of mine uses when traveling is to go to a local fruit market or grocery, purchase a couple of pounds of grapes, squeeze them into juice, filter the finished product through a freshly laundered handkerchief, and use some of the juice for kiddush Friday night, some for Shabbos morning and the remainder for havdalah. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, this juice is preferable even to commercially-produced grape juice.

For those of us who do not see ourselves squeezing our own grape juice, halachah presents other options when grape wine is not available. One of the preferred choices is to use a product called yein tzemukim, which literally translates as “raisin wine.” Extensive literature on the subject indicates that raisin wine was often substituted as a practical alternative to grape wine.

Commercial use of raisin juice and wine

While researching this topic, I discovered that the non-Jewish world uses both raisin juice and raisin wine as specialty products. I also discovered that non-alcoholic raisin juice and alcoholic raisin wine are used in very different ways.

Raisin juice is rarely sold retail, although one might find it in a health food or other specialty store. It is used predominantly in the bakery and condiment industries as a sweetener, but since raisins contain significant levels of propionic acid, their juice functions also as a natural, mild preservative. Raisin juice can serve also as both a colorant and a humectant, which means that it helps keep the product moist. Thus, there are many different reasons why raisin juice might be added to a product, particularly since the manufacturer is not required to list on the label that humectants, preservatives, colors or flavors were added.

Raisin wine has an ancient history as an alcoholic beverage. Indeed, raisins contain all the ingredients to make wine that grapes have, except for water, which one can usually supply easily. Since the skins contain the yeasts that naturally convert sugar into alcohol, and approximately 2/3 of the weight of raisins is natural sugar, raisin juice can be fermented easily into alcohol. Production of raisin wine involves soaking the raisins in water with a few other winemaking ingredients and then allowing the product to age. Specialty and boutique raisin wine producers, like grape winemakers, prefer to kill off the natural yeasts and then inoculate with their own yeast to produce a more predictable product, but the other basic ingredients for producing wine are all in the raisins. Quality raisin wines are usually aged for years before they are drunk.

Both raisin wine and raisin juice can be made either by steeping the raisins in water until it absorbs the raisins’ flavor or by cooking the raisins. By the way, both raisin juice and raisin wine produced by non-Jews will involve the prohibition of stam yeinam, a topic I have discussed in other articles.

Is it grapy enough?

Both raisin juice and raisin wine are specialty – almost boutique – products, and therefore quality is usually the main consideration, not price. In contrast, the halachic authorities discussed a situation where, for the most part, people were more concerned with finding an inexpensive way to fulfill the mitzvah of kiddush than they were with product quality. From the extensive literature on the subject, it appears that yein tzemukim was often used as an economical alternative to costly wine. One of the main issues was whether there is enough grape in the final product for it to be considered wine. This means that much of the halachic literature about yein tzemukim discusses a product that is qualitatively different from what is sold today as raisin juice or raisin wine. Nevertheless, there is much germane halachah to be learned here, and its application arises in surprising circumstances, as we will soon see.

Halachic ramifications of yein tzemukim

The halachic authorities discuss yein tzemukim in the following specific contexts:

  1. Which brocha does one recite before and after drinking it?
  2. Can one use it for the mitzvah of kiddush?
  3. May one use it to manufacture non-seder matzoh (matzoh ashirah) for Pesach? (Ashkenazim follow the practice of using matzoh ashirah only for the elderly, ill and children, so it would be germane for them in these matters. Space considerations do not allow us to discuss this particular topic in this article.)
  4. Is it non-kosher if a gentile handles it? I examined this topic in a different article, entitled The Kashrus of Raisin Juice and Wine.
  5. Does pouring it on the mizbeiach fulfill the mitzvah of nisuch hayayin, pouring wine on the altar?

The last question is mentioned briefly in the Gemara, where it states that, lechatchilah, one should not use yein tzemukim for nisuch hayayin, but one who did so has fulfilled the mitzvah. We will soon discuss the first two issues in more detail. But first, let us trace the background of these questions from their initial sources.

Juice from marc

The earliest halachic reference to a raisin juice product is in the Mishnah (Maasros 5:6), which discusses whether one who creates a form of raisin juice, called temed, by soaking the residue of the grape crush (called marc in English) is required to separate maasros from the resultant product. Halachah requires separating maasros (of produce grown in or near Eretz Yisroel) only when the fruit is ready for consumption, which, in the case of wine grapes, means that they have been crushed, aged and filtered. Thus, maasros on wine grapes are usually separated from the completed juice or wine and not taken from the marc, which is a byproduct. The Mishnah’s question is whether the product created by soaking the marc in water and stirring the mixture until it becomes drinkable is considered wine, requiring the separating of maasros.

Wine from sediment

A passage of Gemara (Bava Basra 96b) quotes a dispute concerning when and whether one recites hagafen prior to drinking a different type of temed, in this case made by steeping wine sediment in water. When the yield is no greater than the amount of water initially used to soak the sediment, the brocha is shehakol, because there is insufficient grape product in the beverage. When the yield is four units for every three units of water used initially, then the temed is considered a grape product, and its brocha is hagafen. The Gemara states that when the resultant beverage contained less than four but more than three units per every three units of water used originally, there is a dispute among the tana’im as to which brocha one should recite. The first opinion rules that the percentage of grape product soaked out of the sediment is insignificant and considered nullified in the water. Therefore, the brocha is shehakol. The second opinion considers the grape presence significant in this instance; therefore, the brocha is hagafen. The halachic conclusion follows the first opinion – the brocha on this product is shehakol (Tosafos ad loc. s.v. Ein; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 204:5, 6).

Remember that this passage of Gemara was discussing temed made from soaking wine sediment. Tosafos (ad locum) discusses what is the proper brocha on wine produced by fermenting marc (the residue of the grape crush) and concludes that no distinction should be made between marc temed and sediment temed – unless the finished product contains four units for every three units of water supplied at the beginning, the brocha is shehakol.

Marc brandy

As a curious aside, it appears that Jews were not the only people interested in producing spirits from marc. According to my desktop dictionary, one of the definitions of “marc” is the brandy produced by distilling the residue of grape skins and seeds after the juice has been expressed. If the dictionary has a word for this beverage, we know that a number of people were producing it, and it does not appear that their interest was to produce a beverage serviceable for kiddush. Interestingly, since this product is distilled and not simply fermented, most authorities rule that its brocha is shehakol, even if the resultant product is four units for every original three units of water.

Types of marc

When the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 204:6) discusses the correct brocha to recite prior to drinking temed, it notes that there is a difference between marc produced in a press and marc produced the old fashioned way – by stepping on the grapes to crush them. It notes that the marc obtained from this latter method retains a high percentage of original grape product. Therefore, the correct brocha for the temed produced by soaking this marc in water is hagafen, even when the yield is no greater than the amount of water originally used.

What about kiddush?

Is temed produced from either marc or wine sediment acceptable for kiddush? The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 272:7) rules that when the correct brocha on the temed is hagafen, it may be used for kiddush, and when the correct brocha is shehakol, it cannot.

What constitutes yein tzemukim?

Yein tzemukim is not the same product as marc wine, since raisins contain more grape flavor than marc does (Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:57). For this reason, most authorities rule that one may recite kiddush on yein tzemukim even when there is no increase in volume (Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:57; Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 462; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 272:6). One major authority, the Mishkenos Yaakov (Shu’t Orach Chayim #106), disagrees, contending that one recites hagafen only on juice squeezed out of raisins, but not on the wine or juice created by steeping or cooking them. According to this opinion, raisin wine may be used for kiddush only when the liquid that leaves the raisins is at least one quarter of the final product.

How many raisins?

What is the minimum ratio of raisins to water for the finished product to be considered yein tzemukim? I found four opinions on this question. I am listing them from the most lenient to the most stringent.

  1. The most lenient position I found contends that as long as the product has a grapy taste, the brocha is hagafen and it can be used for kiddush (Tashbeitz, mentioned by Rabbi Akiva Eiger in his comments to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 272:6).
  2. Most opinions hold that the mix must be at least 1/7 raisins by volume – but we then find two widely divergent ways of understanding how we calculate 1/7. The Bechor Shor (comments to Bava Basra 96b) contends that we calculate based on how much the raisins would swell after sitting in the water, which means that the actual ratio is much smaller.
  3. The Yad Efrayim and the Derech Chayim (quoted by Mishnah Berurah 272:16) both contend that the ratio is 1/7 raisins by volume but calculated using the original, dried raisins.
  4. The above-mentioned opinion of the Mishkenos Yaakov that there must be significant juice squeezed out of the raisins. According to this opinion, raisin wine may be used for kiddush only when the liquid that leaves the raisins is at least one quarter of the final product.

How long?

Let us now consider another question: How long must raisins soak for the product to be considered wine?

The Mishnah Berurah (272:15) rules that if you crush the raisins, add water and stir, then after three days you may use the product for kiddush.

If one cooks the mixture of raisin and water, the blending takes place much more quickly, and can produce a halachically acceptable raisin wine immediately (see Chayei Odom 6:7).

Microwave kiddush

Based on the last ruling, I’ll share with you an interesting anecdote. Someone traveling for business who did not want to use challah for kiddush asked me for a suggestion as to what to do. Since he had access to a microwave, we came up with the following solution: He purchased raisins, placed them in a pitcher with water, and microwaved the mixture until it produced a very drinkable juice.

In the locale that he was visiting, insect infestation is a big problem in raisins. To resolve this problem for his raisin juice, he packed along cheesecloth and placed the raisins inside this prior to boiling them. Thus, the flavor of the raisins cooked into the water, but the infestation did not. The use of the cheesecloth had the added advantage of making it very easy to remove the raisins after he had produced the juice. The entire procedure took this very busy businessman only a few seconds to prepare.

Flavored raisin juice

Is there any problem with reciting kiddush on flavored raisin juice or wine? Although this product sounds like a modern creation – the brainchild of some research and development lab – the question was apparently common two hundred years ago. I found the issue discussed by the Tzemach Tzedek, the third rebbe of Lubavitch, in his responsa (Shu’t Orach Chayim #27). After explaining that raisin wine may be used for kiddush, he notes that the standard product available where he lived was seasoned with honey and other spices. He is concerned that this particular flavored product does not qualify as wine, since the flavor may come from the seasonings and not from the grapes. Thus, although raisin wine and yein tzemukim may be used for Kiddush, this is true only as long as its flavor is made by grapes and not some other additive. Even a product labeled “natural grape flavor” may not meet this requirement halachically since “natural grape flavor” does not mean that the flavor comes from grapes, but that the flavor comes from a natural source. If the contribution of the grapes is insufficient, an added boost from a non-grape source does not make this into a beverage on which one can recite hagafen.

Obviously, situations vary and it is not an absolute rule that one cannot use flavored raisin wine for kiddush. However, should kosher, flavored raisin-wine become available, one would be required to ascertain whether the flavor comes from the grapes in the product (in which case the brocha is hagafen and it may be used for kiddush) or from other sources, in which case the brocha is shehakol.

Conclusion

Although many people would prefer to either pack along their wine, locate the nearest Chabad house or make kiddush over bread, I believe the solution, for those who have access to a microwave oven, of packing cheesecloth and purchasing raisins is indeed a solution that some people might find more palatable and convenient.

 

 

The Stuff of Dreams

Question #1: Which approach is best?

“I had a bad dream. Should I fast, go to the nearest Sefardi shul and pray while the kohanim are duchening, or perform the hatovas chalom ceremony?”

Question #2: Fast again?

“I was told that if someone fasts for a bad dream, he is supposed to fast again. Why?”

Question #3: Strange dreamer

“I often have strange dreams. Should I be concerned?”

Answer

This week’s parsha begins with the famous story of Pharaoh’s dreams, certainly providing an opportunity to discuss the many passages of Gemara relating to dreams.

Before we discuss these Talmudic passages, let me explain some of the ideas mentioned in the opening questions. The Gemara mentions three different solutions to guarantee that disturbing dreams have pleasant results. The first is to daven while the kohanim bless the people, the second is a procedure called hatovas chalom – literally, rectifying the dream, and the third is to fast on the day that the person wakes up with the disturbing dream.We will cite these three approaches in the course of this article.

The first question we need to address is whether one should place any weight at all on dreams. In the following passage, the Gemara itself implies that one should not:

Rav Shmuel bar Nachmeini said, quoting Rav Yonasan, “You dream at night what you think about during the daytime” (Brachos 55b). As proof, the Gemara notes that people do not dream of palm trees made of gold or of elephants climbing through the eyes of needles. Since no one thinks about these things during the day, one does not dream about them at night.

In this context, the Gemara shares the following anecdote: The emperor of Rome, in the midst of one of his wars with the Persians, asked Rabbi Yehoshua what he would dream about the coming night. Undaunted, Rabbi Yehoshua answered him, “You will dream that the Persians will be serving you as their king” (Brachos 55b). We can all guess what the emperor dreamed the following night. We call this the power of suggestion.

Thus, the Gemara’s view is that dreams should not be relied upon. A corollary of this idea is that one need not take action when one wakes with a disturbing dream. Following this approach, the Gemara quotes the prophet Zecharyah (10:2), who stated, “Dreamers speak falsehood.”

Prophetic dreams

On the other hand, both Tanach and the writings of Chazal contain numerous instances wherein dreams are taken very seriously. Let us begin with Chumash. Aside from the dreams of the officers of Pharaoh discussed in last week’s parsha, and those of Pharaoh himself this week, we have Yaakov’s dream at the beginning of parshas Vayeitzei, and those of Yosef at the beginning of parshas Vayeishev. Furthermore, in Bamidbar (12:6), Hashem tells Miriam and Aharon, regarding most prophets, “In a dream, I speak to him.” Obviously, these dreams are prophetic.

Also in Nach, we have numerous examples of prophecy occurring through dreams. In the second perek of Daniel, we are told about Nevuchadnetzar’s terrifying and forgotten dream; he tests Daniel by demanding that the latter discover and reveal it – and the dream is fulfilled. Again, we have the pasuk (Shmuel I, 28:6) which says, “And Shaul asked of Hashem, and Hashem did not answer him, not with dreams, nor with the Urim, nor with prophets.” Thus, we see that Shaul’s dreams included communication from Hashem.

In this context, the Gemara reports that dreams are one-sixtieth of prophecy (Brachos 57b). This expression means that although many aspects of a dream are fictitious or represent one’s imagination, there is a kernel of prophecy in the dream.

Moreover, an extensive discussion in the Gemara (Brachos 55b-57b) mentions numerous lessons and messages, both positive and negative, that can be derived from dreams.

The Gemara even tells us how to guarantee a good result from a dream. It states that the spoken interpretation of a dream determines its outcome (Brachos 55b), and implies that one can even pay the interpreter of the dream in order to gain a favorable consequence (Brachos 55b). This means that if someone has a dream, he can hire someone to provide a favorable interpretation, which will indeed come true as fulfillment of the dream.

In this context, Rav Binah said that in his day, there were 24 dream interpreters in Yerushalayim. “Once I had a dream, and I went to all of them and received 24 different interpretations – and all 24 interpretations happened!” According to the Maharsha, this means that all 24 approaches lay within the dream, and therefore they were all true.

The Gemara also states that one could wait up to 22 years for a good dream to be fulfilled (Brachos 55b). The proof is from Yosef, since what he dreamed when he was 17 was not fulfilled until his brothers came down to Egypt, 22 years later.

Meaningless parts

Although the main part of the dream might be prophetic, the Gemara concludes that just as all grain includes chaff, every dream includes meaningless parts (Nedorim 8a and Brachos 55a).

Dreams to motivate teshuvah

Rav Huna said that a good man never has a good dream, and a bad man never has a bad one (Brachos 55b). Rashi explains that the good person is motivated by a bad dream to do teshuvah, whereas with a good dream the bad person receives his reward in this world for the mitzvos he performed. The specific examples cited are Dovid Hamelech, who never had a good dream, and Achitofel, who never had a bad one.

Worrisome dreams

In a deep medical-psychological evaluation, the Gemara notes that a bad dream is worse for the body than receiving a brutal physical beating, because the worry about what the bad dream means harms a person in a much greater way than being beaten (Brachos 55a). This helps us understand our previous comment about dreams being used to encourage a person to do teshuvah.

Selective interpretation

A different passage of Gemara (Sanhedrin 30a) relates an event and the resultant halachic ruling. A person knew that his father had hidden money but didn’t know where his now-deceased father had placed it. A “baal hachalom” – apparently someone who either could have a prophetic dream or had the ability to interpret one – told him where the money was located, how much was there, and also that the money had the sanctity of maaser sheini, which may be used only to purchase food that must be eaten in Yerushalayim. The Gemara concludes that the heir is permitted to ignore the statement that the money is maaser sheini, notwithstanding the fact that the very same interpreter successfully located the money and named the sum! This Gemara is quoted as the final halacha by the authorities (Rif and Rosh, ad locum; Rambam, Hilchos Ma’aser Sheini 6:6). The words of the Gemara are “divrei chalomos einan ma’alin v’einan moridin – dreams are meaningless and neither help nor hinder” (Sanhedrin 30a).

The Gemara reports that when the amora Shmuel had a bad dream, he would quote the above-referenced verse of Zecharyah that dreams lie; yet, when he had a good dream, he would refer to Chumash as proof that this was a good indication. The Gemara notes that these two statements of Shmuel appear contradictory, to which the Gemara responds that it depends whether the dream was conveyed by an angel or by a demon (sheid). A dream conveyed by an angel is considered a form of prophecy, whereas one from a demon or other questionable source should be ignored. Many halachic authorities explain that when one cannot attribute the dream to an angel, this is the same as blaming it on a demon, and one may ignore the dream (see, for example, Shu”t Tashbeitz, vol. II, #128; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 220:1).

Later dream interpretation

The Jewish literature and history involved in dream interpretation did not end with the closure of the Gemara. Some rishonim discuss other specific events that were governed by dreams, as in the following story: Some people were building a wooden coffin for a meis, and someone wanted to take a piece of leftover wood and make a harp out of it. This individual was warned by the others not to do so, but he disregarded them. The meis for whom the coffin was made came in a dream and warned him that if he persisted in making the harp, he would be punished. He ignored this admonition and made the harp. He then had another dream, in which the meis told him that if he does not break the harp, he will be in danger. This was also ignored, and the man got sick. When he became very ill, his son took the harp and broke it on the grave of that particular meis, leaving the pieces on top of the grave. After this, his father recovered (Sefer Chassidim #727).

Which dreams?

So far, we see that dreams can foretell the truth, at least in part, and can also be used to encourage someone to do teshuvah. On the other hand, we have statements in the Gemara implying that dreams can be ignored. Is there a dispute in the Gemara as to whether dreams should be interpreted or not? The Gemara’s presentation does not imply this.

Rather, the Gemara and its commentaries suggest that there are different types of dreams, some of which are simply a reflection of what one experienced during the previous day, and others that are, indeed, prophetic or potentially prophetic.

I had a dream

As I mentioned above, the Gemara has many discussions about dreams, and also provides advice on how to counteract the harm foretold by disturbing ones. The Gemara teaches that if someone had a dream that disturbed him in a major way, he should perform the procedure called hatovas chalom in the presence of three people. The hatovah is performed by asking three friends to recite together a series of statements and pesukim. The Mishnah Berurah (220:3) comments that it is a mitzvah to be one of these three people, as they give confidence to the discouraged person to move on in life. The Gemara presents the structure of hatovas chalom: It should include three verses of Tanach that mention “reversal” (meaning that they will “reverse,” or annul, the message of the dream), three that mention redemption, and three that mention peace. The Gemara proceeds to enumerate which pesukim to use (Brachos 55b). (The text of hatovas chalom is printed in many siddurim.)

The Pri Megadim and the Mishnah Berurah (220:1) comment that the criterion for hatovas chalom is not the nature of the dream but the extent to which the dreamer finds it disturbing. By the way, hatovas chalom may be performed even on Shabbos (Elyah Rabbah; Mishnah Berurah).

We should note that if the dreamer had been fasting the previous day, heard bad news or anything similar, and then had a troubling dream, he should not be concerned about the dream and no hatovas chalom is necessary (Shaar Hatziyun ad locum).

Duchening and Dreams

A second suggestion mentioned in the Gemara regarding dreams is that someone who had a dream that requires interpretation and does not know whether the dream bodes well should recite a prayer at the time of duchening (Brachos 55b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 130:1). Some authorities prefer that one not recite this prayer while the kohanim are actually reciting the words of the duchening (see Rema, Orach Chayim 128:45; Mishnah Berurah 130:3). For this reason, Ashkenazic practice is that when the kohanim duchen on Yom Tov, they chant a tune prior to the completion of the brocha to give people the opportunity to recite the prayer. This prayer can be recited not only when one is uncertain of the interpretation of the dream, but even when one knows that the dream bodes ill (Mishnah Berurah 130:4).

In chutz la’aretz, where the practice among Ashkenazim is that bircas kohanim is recited only on Yom Tov, the minhag is that everyone recites this tefilah during the duchening on Yom Tov, as it is likely that every person had such a dream since the previous Yom Tov (Mishnah Berurah 130:1).

But since Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz duchen only on Yomim Tovim, this suggestion does not provide an immediate solution for someone whose bad dream did not schedule itself on the night of Yom Tov. At this point, let us examine one of our opening questions: “I had a bad dream. Should I fast, go to the nearest Sefardi shul and pray while the kohanim are duchening, or perform the hatovas chalom ceremony?”

The basis of the question is that the person is an Ashkenazi in chutz la’aretz, and he does not want to wait until Yom Tov to ameliorate his dream. Thus, he is asking whether he should find a Sefardic shul where the kohanim duchen daily (even in chutz la’aretz) and say his tefillah there. I refer our reader who has this question to his rav or posek for halachic guidance.

Fasting

A third suggestion to blunt the potential damage of a disturbing dream is to fast on the day that one wakes up with the dream (Shabbos 11a). This procedure is called taanis chalom. This fast is effective in nullifying any negative outcome foretold by the dream, but only when one fasts the day immediately following the dream. Note that there is no obligation to observe this fast – it is simply a suggestion to countermand whatever bad consequence was warned about in the dream (Mishnah Berurah 220:7).

The Gemara reports that this fast may be observed even on Shabbos, although an individual who does so is then required to fast another day (sometime in the future) for having compromised the sanctity of Shabbos by fasting. Thus, although the taanis chalom, itself, is effective to protect against harm, it is still considered a violation of the sanctity of Shabbos.

We can now address the second of our opening questions: “I was told that if someone fasts for a bad dream, he is supposed to fast again. Why?”

Someone here misunderstood the law. The halacha of fasting a second time is only for someone who fasted a taanis chalom on Shabbos, and now we know the reason for the second fast.

In our day

In our day, one should not be overly concerned about dreams, both with regard to fasting and with regard to reciting hatovas chalom. This is because, as we mentioned earlier, most dreams are either a product of things that a person thinks about during the day or are due to overeating or another experience (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 220:1, 4). Additionally, one who suffered from some pain or anguish and then had a bad dream need not be concerned, as the dream resulted from his anguish (Sha’ar Hatziyun 220:1).

One of the talmidim of the great mekubal, Rav Yaakov Hillel, told me the following: “Rav Yaakov Hillel told us many times not to pay attention to dreams. He explained that the statements of Chazal explaining the messages of dreams are significant only when they are messages from Above. Our thoughts are polluted by the media, technology, and extremely unnatural stimuli that bombard us all day. Our dreams reflect what we saw or heard during our waking hours. They might even be triggered by an ad or a newspaper headline we saw in passing. Rav Hillel tells people who come to him with disturbing dreams not to pay attention to or be bothered by them.”

One might ask: If this is so, why do we still recite the prayer while the kohanim duchen? There are several ways to resolve this question, but explaining them properly is beyond the scope of this article.

Conclusion

A dream is the first step of any new venture. We see a vision for our lives, our families, our community and the world we live in. We dream about how the world can be improved, and of the contribution that we can make.

In this context, I want to share an anecdote told about the Ponevizher Rov standing over the vacant hill and fields that today are the center of the city of Bnei Brak. Upon hearing the Rov’s visions of the future that would be there, someone turned to him and said, “The Rov is dreaming.” The Rov responded, “I may be dreaming, but I am certainly not sleeping!”

 

 

What Makes Bread Jewish?

Since the end of our parsha discusses Pharaoh’s non-Jewish baker, I thought it appropriate to discuss some of the laws of pas akum, pas Yisroel and pas paltar.

What Makes Bread Jewish?

Question #1: No Bagels

“Where I live, the local frum bakery does not make bagels. Am I permitted to purchase brand name bagels that are not pas Yisroel?”

Question #2: Commercial versus bakery

“On Shabbos, am I required to use exclusively pas Yisroel, which is hard to get in my town?”

Question #3: Who is a Jew?

“What defines my bread as being Jewish?”

Basic background

In the days of the disciples of Hillel and Shammai, Chazal forbade eating bread made by non-Jews, called pas akum – even when there are no other kashrus concerns, neither about the ingredients nor about the equipment used to prepare the bread (Avodah Zarah 36a). To quote the Mishnah: “The following items of a non-Jew are forbidden to be eaten, but are permitted for benefit: milk milked by a non-Jew without a Jew supervising; their bread and their oil — although Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil — and their cooked items” (Avodah Zarah 35b). This article is concerned primarily with pas akum, but also touches on another takanah mentioned in this Mishnah: the prohibition against eating food cooked by a gentile. The Mishnah refers to this food as shelakos – literally, cooked items – but the prohibition is usually called bishul akum.

Pas akum glossary:

To facilitate our understanding of the prohibition of pas akum, I will now define some of the terms germane to the subject.

Pas Yisroel – bread baked by a Jew, or where a Jew participated in its baking.

Pas baalei batim – bread baked by a non-Jew for his personal use, which is almost always forbidden.

Pas paltar – bread baked by a non-Jew for sale. Notwithstanding the above quote from the Mishnah, the halachah is that pas paltar may be eaten, at least when certain conditions exist.

Bishul akum glossary

Although bishul akum has its own glossary of terms, the only term we need for our article is oleh al shulchan melachim, which means “something that would be served on a king’s table.” The halachah is that the prohibition of bishul akum applies only when the food is something that would be served on a king’s table.

Dispute about pas paltar

As our title and opening questions indicate, most of our article will discuss the laws of pas Yisroel and the extent to which pas paltar is permitted. As I explained in another article, the Rishonim understand that pas paltar is permitted under some circumstances. There is a basic dispute among halachic authorities as to what those conditions are. According to the Shulchan Aruch and the Shach, it is permitted to use pas paltar only when there is no comparable pas Yisroel available. However, if the pas paltar tastes better, or one wants to eat a variety of bread that is not available in his locale as pas Yisroel, one may use pas paltar. Nevertheless, according to this opinion, one must constantly assess whether pas Yisroel is available before using pas paltar.

Some authorities permit purchasing pas paltar even when pas Yisroel is available, in a situation where there would not be enough pas Yisroel for everyone if there were no pas paltar available (Kaf Hachayim 112:30). They also permit pas paltar when purchasing exclusively pas Yisroel would drive up its price (Kaf Hachayim 112:30).

On the other hand, other authorities are more lenient, ruling that pas paltar is always permitted (Rema). This heter was so widespread that the Rema, in Toras Chatas, his detailed work on the laws of kashrus, wrote: “Since the custom in most places is to be lenient, I will therefore not expound on it at length, because the widespread practice is to permit this bread and eat it, even when there is pas Yisroel available. Therefore, one who is careful about pas Yisroel may choose to be machmir to the extent that he wants.”

Brand-named bagel

At this point, we can answer the first of our opening questions: “Where I live, the local frum bakery does not make bagels. Am I permitted to purchase bagels manufactured by a large company that are not pas Yisroel?”

The answer is that, according to all accepted opinions, one may use these bagels when no pas Yisroel bagels are available locally.

Hechsherim and pas Yisroel

Based on the opinion of the Rema, most hechsherim in North America do not require that the bread products that they supervise are pas Yisroel. Of course, this does not resolve the matter for Sefardim, who should use pas paltar only when no comparable pas Yisroel is available. Mehadrin hechsherim in Eretz Yisroel are, in general, stringent and require their products to be pas Yisroel.

It should be noted that the primary commentary on the Toras Chatas, the Minchas Yaakov, written by seventeenth-century posek and Gadol Rav Yaakov Breisch, points out that someone who has been machmir to follow the approach of the Shulchan Aruch, and then decides that he wants to be lenient and follow the Rema, is required to perform hataras nedorim before he may use pas paltar.

Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

The Rema in the Toras Chatas writes further: “However, during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Rosh and the Mordechai wrote that one should be stringent.” This ruling is accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 603) and all later halachic authorities.

Pas akum on Shabbos

The authorities dispute whether the heter of using pas paltar applies on Shabbos. The Darchei Moshe (Orach Chayim 603:1) and the Magen Avraham (242:4) rule that one should not use pas paltar on Shabbos, whereas the Elyah Rabbah (242:10) rules that one may use pas paltar on Shabbos, just as one may on weekdays. Most later opinions follow the approach of the Darchei Moshe and the Magen Avraham that on Shabbos one should use only pas Yisroel, when available (see, for example, Chayei Adam, 1, 4; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 242, 45; Mishnah Berurah 242:6). This is considered an aspect of kavod Shabbos, honoring the sanctity of Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Hagraz, 242:13; Mishnah Berurah 242:6). However, when no pas Yisroel is available, or it is not comparable to the pas paltar, one may use pas paltar, even on Shabbos.

At this point, we can examine the second of our opening questions: “On Shabbos, am I required to use exclusively pas Yisroel, which is hard to get in my town?”

According to accepted halachic approach, one should use pas Yisroel on Shabbos when available, unless the pas paltar tastes better.

Breading for Shabbos

Many people do not realize that although they bake all their Shabbos bread at home, or purchase it only from Jewish bakeries, that when they bread their chicken or use croutons for Shabbos, they may be using pas paltar. Although this breading is certainly kosher and carries reliable hechsherim, according to most halachic authorities, one should use only pas Yisroel breading for Shabbos foods.

To justify those who are lenient, I can share two heterim. One heter was mentioned above: If all Jews would begin using pas Yisroel, there would not be enough for everyone, and this would cause prices to rise. A second heter is that there are authorities who permit pas paltar in a large commercial bakery, where the customer will never meet the employees (Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 112:9, quoting Maharit Tzalon. Note that the Birkei Yosef, himself, rejects this heter.) Disciples of Rav Moshe Feinstein relate that Rav Moshe held this latter reason to be a legitimate basis to be lenient. I leave to each reader to discuss with his or her own Rav or posek whether he personally should be stringent in this matter, particularly since there are simple solutions to the question, as we will soon see.

We should be aware that an earlier authority, the Tashbeitz (1:89), states that, even when technically speaking, the halachah is that one may find reasons to be lenient and use pas paltar, it is appropriate for a person to be machmir in these halachos. He continues that one certainly should be machmir not to use pas paltar for pleasure items – such as pastry. The Tashbeitz advises that a rav should pasken for others that they are permitted to use pas paltar, but he, himself, should refrain from relying on the heterim.

True Jewish rye

At this point, we will examine the third of our opening questions: “What defines my bread as being Jewish?”

The entire issue of whether, and under which circumstances, a Jew may eat bread baked by a non-Jew is problematic only when the entire baking procedure is done without any participation of a Jew. However, if a Jew participated in the baking, the resultant bread is considered pas Yisroel.

What does it mean that a Jew “participated” in the baking? To answer this question, let us begin by quoting the following Talmudic passage:

Ravina said: “Bread made by having the oven lit by a gentile and baked by a Jew, or the oven was lit by a Jew and the bread was baked by a gentile, or even if it was lit by a gentile and baked by a gentile and a Jew stirred the coals, the bread is fine” (Avodah Zarah 38b). Rashi explains that the stirring of the coals increases the heat. The Ran explains Rashi to mean that this is considered that the Jew participated in the baking in a noticeable way. He notes that, according to Rashi, tossing a splinter of wood would not be sufficient to make the bread pas Yisroel, since the Jew’s participation does not make a noticeable difference. The Ran quotes this position, also, as that of the Ramban, and this approach was held also by the Rosh.

The Ran then suggests another possibility: If a Jew brings a hot coal or other source of fire, and the fire of the oven is kindled from this flame, the baked goods thereby produced are considered pas Yisroel. Although the Ran, himself, ultimately rejects this approach, others consider it acceptable to make the bread pas Yisroel, considering this to be that the Jew made a noticeable change, since without the original coal or flame, no bread would be produced.

The Ran concludes, as do Tosafos and the Rambam, that if a Jew simply tosses a splinter of wood into the fire, this is sufficient to consider the bread pas Yisroel, since the Jew symbolically participated in the baking of the bread.

Thus, we have a dispute among the early authorities as to whether the Jew’s participation in the baking of the bread must have some significance to make it pas Yisroel or whether a symbolic involvement is sufficient. The conclusion of most authorities is that a symbolic act, such as tossing a splinter into the oven, is sufficient (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:9).

How many rabbis does it take to change a light bulb?

Some contemporary rabbis have suggested an innovative way to accomplish having commercial bread be considered pas Yisroel. The method is having a light bulb installed inside the oven that is turned on by a mashgiach. They reason that this adds more heat to the oven than does a splinter tossed into the fire. Other rabbonim disagree, contending that the splinter becomes part of the fire, and, therefore, the entire fire is influenced by the Jew, which then renders the bread pas Yisroel. A light bulb, on the other hand, provides insignificant heat and does not become part of the fire that bakes the bread. According to the latter approach, this bread remains pas akum.

Other heterim

The halachic authorities are lenient, ruling that even if the bread was already edible when a Jew added some fuel to the flame, it is still considered pas Yisroel, despite the fact that all the Jew added was some heat that made the bread a bit more tasty (Shaarei Dura; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:12; Toras Chatas 75:3).

The Shulchan Aruch (112:10) also concludes, based on a statement of the Mordechai, that if the non-Jew baked a few times in one day, and the Jew did not throw a splinter into the fire on one of the occasions, the bread is still considered pas Yisroel, on the basis of his earlier participation. The Rema follows an even more lenient interpretation, in that he rules that if a Jew added to the flame once, all the bakings made in that oven are pas Yisroel, until the oven is off for 24 consecutive hours. The rationale behind this last approach is that the heat from the previous bakings, which had a halachah of pas Yisroel, is still considered as having been added by the Jew.

Contemporary ovens

In most contemporary ovens, there is no way to add a splinter to the flame. However, it is still very easy to make baked goods into pas Yisroel. All that is necessary is that, once in a great while, a Jew adjusts the flame downward for a second, until he sees that this has stopped or decreased the flow of fuel, and then he resets the thermostat to its original setting. The product quality is not affected at all, and this accomplishes that all the baked goods produced by this bakery are pas Yisroel. This is a very easy way to make all bread baked in large kosher bakeries in the United States into pas Yisroel. The mashgiach can simply adjust the flames of the ovens in the bakeries when he makes his regular inspections.

When is it bread?

The Mishnah quoted above discusses two different prohibitions: one that the Mishnah called bread, which has heretofore been our topic of discussion, and one that the Mishnah called shelakos, to which we usually refer as bishul akum, meaning food that was cooked by a non-Jew. There are several major halachic distinctions between these two prohibitions. The most obvious is that whereas pas paltar is permitted when pas Yisroel is unavailable (and according to the Rema, even when pas Yisroel is available), no such heter exists in the case of bishul akum. In other words, if the only food available is bishul akum prepared for commercial sale, it remains prohibited. (According to some authorities, there is one exception: A non-Jew cooked food on Shabbos for someone who is ill. According to the Rema [Yoreh Deah 113:16], there is no prohibition of bishul akum on this food, which means that after Shabbos even a healthy person may eat it. However, the later authorities rule that this food is prohibited, and that after Shabbos one should cook fresh food even for the ill person [Taz, Gra].)

Rice bread

The Rishonim explain that the law of pas akum applies exclusively to breads made of one of the five crops that we consider grains: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats (Tur, quoting Rosh; Shulchan Aruch). Some authorities contend that in a place where these grains are not available and, therefore, it is common to make bread from rice or similar grains, there would be a potential bishul akum issue (Pri Chodosh 112:5). This approach is implied by the Rosh and by the Toras Chatas (75:11). Others contend that there is no bishul akum concern, because rice bread is not oleh al shulchan melachim (Bach; Shach; Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Yoreh Deah 92:7).

What types of bread?

Although our article is about pas and not about bishul, we need to determine whether certain food items are considered bread or whether they are considered cooked foods. If they are bread, then the heter of pas paltar applies. On the other hand, if they qualify as shelakos, this heter does not apply.

One of the earliest responsa on this topic dates back to the days of the Rishonim. The Rivash was asked whether certain dough foods prepared on a stovetop may be purchased from non-Jews because they are considered pas paltar, or whether they are prohibited as shelakos. He concludes as follows: If the product is made from dough, called belilah avah in Hebrew, as opposed to a batter, and it is baked on a stovetop, it is considered bread and the heter to use pas paltar applies. However, if it is considered a batter (a belilah rakah), and it is fried or baked on a stovetop, then it depends on the following: If it is cooked on a stovetop or griddle using a liquid (such as oil), then it is considered a cooked item; the laws of bishul akum apply, and there would be no heter of pas paltar. However, if the liquid is used only to prevent it from burning, or so that it can be removed easily from the pan or griddle (called a “release agent”), it is considered bread, and not shelakos, and is permitted as pas paltar (Shu”t Harivash #28).

Thus, the heter of pas paltar would not apply to blintzes, pancakes or crepes, all of which involve frying a batter on a griddle or stovetop, but it would apply to waffles, which, according to the definition just given, would be considered baked.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. In this context, we can explain the vast halachic literature devoted to understanding this particular prohibition, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from major sins.

 

Slowly Positioned

Since our parsha shares with us Yaakov’s Avinu’s prayer prior to his confrontation with Eisav, I thought it appropriate to discuss some laws of tefillah.

Slowly Positioned

Question #1: Why windows?

Why does a shul have windows? Does this not create a distraction that one should avoid?

Question #2: A ruined davening!

When traveling, is it better to daven inside the ruins of a building or to pray outdoors?

Question #3: Strange title!

What does the title of this article have to do with its topic?

Answer:

At the beginning of parshas Vayishlach, the Torah teaches that one of the ways that Yaakov prepared for his encounter with Eisav was through prayer. This provides ample reason to discuss some of the laws regarding tefillah.

In Chapter 5 of Hilchos Tefillah, the Rambam discusses many important aspects of prayer that he terms “non-essential components,” meaning that if they were not done, one has still fulfilled his mitzvah to pray. Furthermore, someone unable to fulfill these laws is required to daven without observing them.

Correct location

The Rambam groups many of these rules under a heading he calls “the proper location in which to pray” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 5:6). We can organize these laws into the following mnemonic heading:

Set place

One should have a set place where he davens.

Low

When standing to daven shemoneh esrei, one should stand in a low place. Certainly, one should not pray while standing on top of something.

Outdoors

One should not daven outdoors.

Wall

When praying, one should face a wall.

Lodging

One should not pray in a destroyed building, called, in Hebrew, a churvah.

Yerushalayim

In the room where one is davening, some windows or doors should face Yerushalayim and should be open.

As I mentioned above, these are all categorized as non-essential components of prayer. This means that although meeting these requirements is important, circumstances may dictate that one daven without observing them. We will now discuss the details of these six categories.

Set place

A person should daven regularly in the same place, as the Gemara states: Whoever establishes a place for his prayer, the G-d of Avraham will assist him. Furthermore, upon his passing, they will say about him that he was exceedingly humble and exceedingly righteous and a disciple of Avraham Avinu (Brachos 6b). This passage of Gemara is subsequently quoted verbatim by the Rif and the Rosh, and its conclusion is quoted by all the halachic authorities.

What does the Gemara mean when it says one should pray in an “established place”? This is disputed by the rishonim. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that the main thrust here is that one should pray in a place that is specially set aside for prayer, such as a shul. On the occasions when one cannot daven in shul and one must pray at home, he should have a set place at home where he prays. This should be a place where he will not be disturbed (see Magen Avraham 90:33). However, Rabbeinu Yonah rules that there is no requirement to daven in the same place in shul, which is usually referred to as a makom kavua, since the entire shul is established for prayer. Furthermore, according to Rabbeinu Yonah, it does not seem to make any difference which shul one attends, since one is, in any event, davening in a place that has been established for prayer. According to this approach, the reason why one who establishes a place for his prayer is promised such special rewards is because he was always careful to daven in a shul. On this basis, many rishonim note that someone who is unable to join the tzibur should still opt to daven in a shul, rather than at home (Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchos Tefillah 5:6, based on Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

However, other rishonim have a different interpretation of “a set place” to pray. For example, the Rosh contends that even in a shul, one should have a set place where he prays. Rabbeinu Manoach explains that someone who has several shullen in his neighborhood from which to choose should not randomly daven at different ones. He implies that one should always daven in the same shul, and that this is included in the Gemara’s recommendation that one “establish a place for one’s prayer.” If we combine these two approaches, to be rewarded with the special brocha, it is insufficient for one always to be careful to daven in shul – one also must be careful to daven in the same place, in the same shul, at all times. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 90:19) concludes that one should always have a set place to daven, whether at home or in shul. By the way, this law applies equally to women – a woman should have a set place in the house, out of the way of household traffic, where she can daven undisturbed.

Low

Daven from a low place

From the well-known words of Tehillim (130:1) Mima’amakim kerasicha Hashem, “from the depths I call out to You, Hashem,” the Gemara (Brachos 10b) derives that whenever one prays, one should endeavor to do so from a low place. For this reason, in many old shullen, the place from which the chazzan davened was somewhat sunk into the floor. This is also hinted at in the words of the Gemara (Brachos 34a) when it says that the chazzan is yoreid lifnei hateivah, descends when he leads the services.

There are two reasons why one should not stand on something while praying (Mahari Abohav, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 90):

  1. Acting this way shows a degree of haughtiness.
  2. It is distracting to do so, because the person is afraid he may fall.

Because of the second reason, the Mahari Abohav prohibits davening while standing atop furniture, even when it is less than three tefachim high, which is a subject of dispute. The Rema and the Elyah Rabbah (90:1), follow the approach of the Mahari Abohav and prohibit praying even while standing atop something lower than three tefachim. On the other hand, the Bach, the Taz and the Pri Chodosh permit this, although the Pri Chodosh qualifies that this is permitted only if the person himself will not be distracted because he is standing on something.

Under extenuating circumstances, or if the chazzan wants to daven from an elevated surface so that people can hear him, one may daven from atop a piece of furniture, as long as one is in a secure position (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 90, quoting several authorities).

Outdoors

One of the scholars of the Gemara, Rav Kahana, declared that praying in an exposed agricultural area is viewed as being an act of chutzpah (Brachos 34b). Based on this Gemara, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch rule that one should not pray in an open area, such as a field (Orach Chayim 90:5).

Why is praying in a field considered arrogant? Rashi explains because praying in a secluded place is more conducive to humility and being in awe of G-d. This is explained by the Mahari Abohav (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 90) as meaning that, inherently, man should be inhibited about talking to G-d, and this should manifest itself in wanting to pray in a place where one has privacy. One who davens where there is nowhere to hide implies that his relationship with G-d is chummy.

An alternative explanation why it is considered chutzpah-dik to pray outdoors is that one who does so implies that, although there are distractions outdoors, he is confident that his concentration will not be affected. This attitude implies arrogance (Magen Avraham 90:6, in his explanation of Tosafos, Brachos 34b s.v. Chatzif).

The dispute how to explain this law has halachic ramifications. For example, may one, lechatchilah, daven outdoors in a place where he will not be disturbed?

According to the Magen Avraham’s reason, this is permitted, whereas according to the Mahari Abohav, it is prohibited when he has somewhere else to daven.

According to both approaches, one may pray under the heavens, provided that he is in an area surrounded by walls, even if there is no roof (Shaarei Teshuvah 90:1, quoting Batei Kehunah, Birkei Yosef, and Mizbach Adamah).

Yitzchak in a field

The commentaries (Tosafos, Levush, Bach) ask: If the Gemara rules that it is arrogant to daven outdoors, why did Yitzchak daven in an open field (Bereishis 24:63, see Rashi)? There are many different answers to this question. According to the Bach (Orach Chayim 90), Yitzchak davened between the trees, and this is considered similar to praying in an enclosed, unroofed area. Others explain that since he was praying on Har Hamoriah, the same holy place where the Beis Hamikdash would ultimately be built, this is not considered the same as davening in an open field (Tosafos, Brachos 34b s.v. Chatzif). A third approach is that Yitzchak davened in a place where no one would disturb him (Tosafos, second answer). This last answer implies that it is permitted to daven outdoors in a place where one will not be disturbed, which, as I mentioned above, corresponds only to the second opinion in the dispute as to why one should not daven outdoors. Some later authorities prohibit praying outdoors even in an area where one will not be disturbed, because they rule according to the other reason, that of the Mahari Abohav (Mishnah Berurah, 90:11).

The Magen Avraham (90:6) rules that the halachic assumption is that travelers may daven outdoors. The Mishnah Berurah (90:11) writes that if they have an option to daven under trees, that is preferable.

Wall

The verse in Melachim II 20:2 emphasizes that Chizkiyahu, the king of Yehudah, turned to the wall to pray. Based on this, the Gemara (Brachos 5b) derives that one should not pray with something intervening between himself and a wall. The Gemara’s example is that one should not pray facing a bed. Tosafos (s.v. Shelo) explains that this law does not apply to davening facing a piece of furniture that is not regularly moved, such as a bookcase (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:21; cf., however, Taz 90:5, who explains this idea in a different way).

Why did Chazal advise that one not pray with something intervening between himself and the wall? The Rambam explains that this is so that one not daven facing something that will distract him (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 90). For this reason, it does not apply to something being used to help one daven, such as a shtender, table or desk (Taz, Orach Chayim 90:5). It is also permitted to daven facing something lower than 10 tefachim or less wide than four tefachim (Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchos Tefillah 5:6; Rema 90:21, quoting Avudraham), although there are authorities who disagree with this (Pri Chodosh; Maamar Mordechai 90:25). It is also permitted to pray facing people (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:21 and 98:4).

Since the Rambam rules that this law is in the category of things that are preferred but not vital, one who davened facing a bed has fulfilled his mitzvah. Furthermore, one who has nowhere to daven other than facing a bed or some other piece of furniture may do so. The Taz (90:5) rules that if the only convenient place to create a minyan requires davening with something intervening before the wall, one may do so. He contends that since the reason not to have something intervening is only to avoid distraction, one may disregard this problem when it is the best option. The Mishnah Berurah (90:63) rules according to this Taz.

Lodging

One should not pray in a churvah, a partially destroyed building. In the context of this halachah, the Gemara (Brachos 3a) presents the following anecdote. Rabbi Yosi said: Once, when I was traveling, I entered one of the wrecked hovels of Yerushalayim to pray. Eliyahu, may he be remembered for good, arrived and remained at the door of the hovel to protect me, until I completed my prayer. When I completed my prayer, I greeted him as one greets one’s teacher…

Eliyahu proceeded to ask Rabbi Yosi why he had entered a destroyed remnant of a building. Rabbi Yosi replied that he had entered in order to pray in a place that he would not be distracted by other travelers. Eliyahu answered him that he should have recited an abbreviated prayer, rather than enter a churvah to pray!

The Gemara proceeds to explain that there are three reasons why one should not enter a churvah.

Someone might suspect him of using the ruins for sinful activity.

The building might collapse.

Evil spirits might be there.

The Gemara (Brachos 3a-3b) explains that all three reasons are valid, and then elaborates on when some of the reasons apply, but not others. The halachic conclusion is that when there are at least two people and the structure looks stable, none of the three reasons apply, and they may enter the churvah. Therefore, a married couple may enter ruins that look stable, since none of the reasons apply (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 90: 8). Also, one may enter a churvah in a case of life-threatening emergency, such as when it is the only place available to provide necessary shelter from the elements.

We should note that all three reasons mentioned for not entering a churvah have nothing to do with praying. A person alone may not enter ruins unless there is a life-threatening emergency, such as the need to rescue people from an imminent building collapse.

Outdoors or in a churvah?

If someone has two options for davening, outdoors or in a churvah, where should he daven? We see from the conversation between Eliyahu and Rabbi Yosi that it is better to daven outdoors than in a ruin (Magen Avraham 90:7).

Yerushalayim

When praying in a room, some windows or doors should face Yerushalayim and should be open, as implied by the verse in Daniel (6:11): “He had windows open, facing Jerusalem, in the upper story of his house and, three times a day… he prayed to Hashem.” From this verse, the Gemara (Brachos 31a) and the Rambam derive that one should pray in a building that contains windows. It is interesting to note that the Kesef Mishneh quotes a responsum of the Rambam that the requirement that there be windows applies only to someone davening at home, but not to a shul. However, the custom is to have windows in a shul. The later authorities note that this is implied by the Zohar, and contend that the Shulchan Aruch, the author of the Kesef Mishneh, himself, followed this approach (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 90:4; Kaf Hachayim 90:19).

We should note that there appears to be a dispute among early authorities as to whether the primary reason that one should pray in a room with windows is so that one can see the heavens, or whether it is so that one look in the direction of Yerushalayim (see Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 90:4). This question will be discussed shortly.

Windows or outdoors?

What should a person do if he has two places in which he could daven, one outdoors and the other indoors in a room without windows. Since the Gemara states that it is a chutzpah to daven outdoors, the Pri Megadim rules that someone with this choice should pray indoors, in the building without windows (Eishel Avraham 90:4). This ruling is subsequently followed by the Mishnah Berurah (90:10).

Twelve windows

There is a practice that a shul has twelve windows. This is based on a Zohar (parshas Pekudei), which is quoted by the Beis Yosef (90) and the Shulchan Aruch (90:4), who says that “it is good” to have 12 windows. As long as at least one of these windows faces Yerushalayim, it does not matter in what the direction the other windows face (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 90:4; Mishnah Berurah 90:9). Some windows or doors that face Yerushalayim should be open (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:4).

This ruling prompts the following question of the Magen Avraham (90:4): Why should a shul have windows? After all, one is supposed to daven by looking downward, to avoid distraction. The Magen Avraham answers that the windows are there so that if one is having difficulty concentrating while praying, he can look heavenward for inspiration. The Machatzis Hashekel explains, differently, that one is not supposed to look out the windows. He explains that the reason for the windows is so that one realizes that, wherever he is, the tefillah travels first to Yerushalayim and then to heaven.

Conclusion

Having studied many of the laws about proper positioning in davening, let us also use the above mnemonic to realize that we should always daven slowly and meaningfully. Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points: the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.

 

How Is Our Maariv Structured?

Question #1: “Why is maariv structured differently from shacharis? In the morning, we start Shmoneh Esrei immediately after Ga’al Yisroel, whereas maariv includes two additional brochos.”

Question #2: “Why do we recite a kaddish immediately before Shmoneh Esrei in maariv, but not in shacharis?”

Answer:

The Gemara (Brochos 26b) teaches that Avraham Avinu initiated the daily morning prayer of shacharis, Yitzchak established mincha and Yaakov instituted maariv. The source that Yaakov introduced maariv is in the second verse of this week’s parshah, where it says vayifga bamakom, which is interpreted as meaning he prayed in that place. This provides ample opportunity to discuss the structure and laws of our maariv prayers.

What we call “maariv” actually fulfills four different mitzvos. The Gemara quoted above refers to only one of these mitzvos: tefillah, the prayers we recite as Shmoneh Esrei. The other three mitzvos are: reading shma (kri’as shma), required min hatorah every morning and night; remembering yetzi’as mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt; and birchos kri’as shma, reciting the blessings that Chazal instituted to surround the shma with brochos (Mishnah, Brochos 11a). These brochos, together with the shma, constitute the part of the davening between borchu and the Shmoneh Esrei.

In the morning, the birchos kri’as shma consist of two brochos prior to shma and one afterward. Birchos kri’as shma at night consist of four brochos, two before shma and two afterward. (The various places that we pause for the chazzan in the middle of these brochos do not indicate new brochos.) On weekdays, Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz add another brochah at the end of maariv that begins with the words Baruch Hashem le’olam. This brochah consists of a selection of pesukim which mention Hashem’s name at least eighteen times, corresponding to the eighteen brochos of the original Shmoneh Esrei, followed by a brochah. The chazzan then recites a half-kaddish, after which everyone begins the Shmoneh Esrei.

The Avos did not establish the Shmoneh Esrei itself, but rather the concept that one should daven three times a day. The original text of eighteen brochos, from which the term Shmoneh Esrei was derived, was created by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah. What we call the Shmoneh Esrei includes an additional brochah, Velamalshinim, which was added later and is a topic for a different time.

Order of maariv

This above order reflects how we daven maariv today. However, at the time of the Gemara, there was a dispute concerning when one should recite the kri’as shma and its brochos – before or after the Shmoneh Esrei. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi contended that the Shmoneh Esrei of maariv should be recited first, and only then should one recite kri’as shma and its brochos. Our structure follows Rabbi Yochanan, who ruled that since the blessings surrounding the kri’as shma include one that closes with the words Ga’al Yisroel –  He Who redeemed Israel, this should be recited before Shmoneh Esrei. This is because of the concept of masmich geulah latefillah, meaning that one should mention the redemption immediately prior to beginning prayer (Brochos 4b). To quote the Gemara: “Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘Who will merit the World to Come? One who recites the brochah of the redemption immediately before he recites the prayer in the evening.’ Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, ‘The prayers are in the middle’” (Brochos 4b).

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi contends that one recites the blessings after the Shmoneh Esrei because the redemption from Egypt did not take place at night. Although Hashem smote the Egyptian firstborn at night, since the full redemption, that is, leaving Egypt, did not occur until the following morning, there is no compelling reason to mention the redemption prior to the evening prayer. In addition, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi notes that since the Torah states that one should recite kri’as shma when one goes to bed in the evening and when one rises in the morning, these two recitals should not have tefillah between them. Rabbi Yochanan contends, however, that although the Bnei Yisroel did not leave until morning, we consider the redemption to have begun at night. Therefore, even at night, the geulah should be mentioned before the prayer.

How do we rule?

Although in this instance we follow the decision of Rabbi Yochanan, this is very unusual, since we usually rule according to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi when he disagrees with Rabbi Yochanan (Tosafos, Nedarim 45a and Chullin 97a; Ramban, Eruvin 46a). Yet, in this instance, virtually all halachic authorities rule according to Rabbi Yochanan (Rif; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 7:18; Rosh; Tur, Orach Chayim Chapters 235 and 236; Shulchan Aruch ad loc. Chapters 235:1 and 236:2. However, cf. the Shiltei Giborim quoting Rav Amram Gaon.) This is because the Gemara cites a beraysa, an earlier source of the tanna’im, which concurs with Rabbi Yochanan (Rif; Tosafos, 4b s.v. Da’amar).

Olam haba

Rabbi Yochanan’s original statement was: “Who will merit the World to Come? One who recites the brochah about the redemption immediately before he recites the prayer in the evening.” The rishonim raise the following inquiry: Does such a seemingly small act alone guarantee olam haba?

Rabbeinu Yonah provides two approaches to explain this curious statement: Hashem took us out of Egypt in order that we become His servants. One who recites the brochah of Ga’al Yisroel thereby acknowledges the tremendous kindness that Hashem performed. If an individual follows this immediately with prayer, he shows that he recognizes that the chesed that Hashem performed requires us to serve Him with total commitment. Prayer demonstrates that we recognize the good that Hashem has done for us, and that we are His servants. Internalizing and actualizing this mindset are what gains a person a place in olam haba.

A second reason is that when the Jewish people saw the miracles of the Exodus, they trusted in Hashem. Reciting the geulah describes the faith that the Jews placed in Hashem, and praying immediately thereafter demonstrates understanding that everything is because of Hashem, and that we should place our total trust in Him. Fearing Hashem and only Hashem results from having this total trust in Him. Thus, with these actions a person internalizes the qualities that will earn him olam haba.

Although the Gemara attributes this idea to Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi agrees that one who proceeds directly from mention of redemption to prayer merits olam haba. He disagrees only as to whether one should strive to accomplish this only with his morning prayers, or if he should do so also with his evening prayers. In the evening, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi prefers that one pray first and only afterward recite shma and its attendant brochos (based on Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah).

Why do we have interruptions?

This discussion leads us to a series of questions: As opposed to the morning prayers, where we recite the closing words Ga’al Yisroel and then immediately begin reciting the Shmoneh Esrei, three additional prayers are recited between the evening brochah Ga’al Yisroel and the Shmoneh Esrei. First, the brochah of Ga’al Yisroel is not the last brochah of the brochos that surround shma – it is followed by a brochah commencing with the word Hashkiveinu. Second, after Hashkiveinu, Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz add the brochah that begins with the words Baruch Hashem le’olam. Both these brochos are recited between Ga’al Yisroel and the Shmoneh Esrei. If it is so important to recite Shmoneh Esrei immediately after the brochah of Ga’al Yisroel, why are there “interruptions” between them?

Furthermore, in the evening, the chazzan recites “half-kaddish” before beginning the Shmoneh Esrei. This kaddish is not recited in the morning, when nothing is allowed to interrupt between geulah and tefillah. Why are these three insertions not considered interruptions between the brochah of Ga’al Yisroel and the beginning of Shmoneh Esrei?

The first of these three questions (Why is the brochah Hashkiveinu recited between Ga’al Yisroel and the Shmoneh Esrei?) already surfaces in the Gemara (Brochos 4b). There, the Gemara explains that once Hashkiveinu was established as a brochah after Ga’al Yisroel, the two brochos together, Ga’al Yisroel and Hashkiveinu, are considered one long recitation of redemption. Therefore, Hashkiveinu does not constitute an interruption between geulah and tefillah.

What does this Gemara mean?

Some rishonim explain that while Hashem brought the Angel of Death upon the Egyptian firstborn on the first night of Pesach, the Jews were afraid and prayed to Him to save them from the fate of the Egyptians. This is considered an act of righteousness, not lack of faith, because tzaddikim always think that they have sinned and, therefore, are not deserving of Divine intervention. To remember these supplications, Chazal implemented the recital of Hashkiveinu, an appeal that Hashem protect us from all misfortune. Since this entreaty originated as part of the Exodus, it retains aspects of salvation and therefore does not constitute an interruption between geulah and tefillah (Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah ad loc.).

Another interruption

Although we have now explained why Hashkiveinu is not considered an interruption between geulah and tefillah, we still do not know why the brochah beginning with the words Baruch Hashem le’olam is not considered an interruption. The rishonim devote much discussion to this question and to the origins of this brochah altogether, since it is not mentioned in the Gemara.

Tosafos (4b s.v. Da’amar) explains that, at some point in post-Talmudic history, this brochah was instituted to lengthen the davening. The reason for doing this was so that someone who arrived late for maariv would have time to catch up and finish davening and still be able to leave shul with everyone else. As the Rosh (Brochos 1:5) explains, at the time this brochah was implemented, the shullen were in the fields, and it was dangerous to walk home alone at night after maariv.

Other approaches

Other rishonim explain the origin of the brochah of Baruch Hashem le’olam somewhat differently. The approach presented by Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah requires a bit of an introduction.

The Gemara (Brochos 27b) quotes a dispute whether tefillas arvis reshus or tefillas arvis chovah, which seems to be a disagreement over whether davening maariv is required or optional. The halachic conclusion is tefillas arvis reshus. But is maariv really optional? Can one decide every night whether he wants to skip maariv?

The rishonim already note that the Gemara states that one who missed maariv must recite a make-up prayer, called a tefillas tashlumim, after the next morning’s shacharis. If maariv is optional, why must one make up the missed prayer?

In response to this difficulty, Tosafos explains that when the Gemara states that maariv is reshus, it does not mean that it is optional, but rather that it is less mandatory than other requirements. Should one need to choose between fulfilling two different mitzvos, maariv is set aside in favor of the other mitzvah (Tosafos, Brochos 26a s.v. Ta’ah). However, in all other circumstances, one is obligated to recite maariv.

The Rif resolves the problem differently, contending that, indeed, maariv is not obligatory. However, once one has decided to daven maariv, he must do so properly, meaning that, in the event that he did not daven, he would need to pray a “make-up” prayer.

Baruch Hashem le’olam

Returning to Baruch Hashem le’olam: Since reciting a tefillah for maariv was originally voluntary, Rabbeinu Yonah explains that the eighteen mentions of Hashem’s Name that constitute the prayer of Baruch Hashem le’olam were substituted for maariv and qualified as adequate fulfillment of the requirement to daven at night. A closing brochah beginning with the words yiru eineinu was then recited, followed by kaddish, and one thereby fulfilled the requirement of maariv without reciting Shmoneh Esrei. (A similar approach is presented by the Tur in the name of Rav Natrunai Gaon.)

The prayer of Baruch Hashem le’olam and the subsequent half-kaddish remained part of the maariv liturgy, even after davening a maariv Shmoneh Esrei became accepted as an obligation, and they are now followed by Shmoneh Esrei, the full kaddish and Aleinu. Reciting Baruch Hashem le’olam is not considered an interruption between geulah and tefillah, since it was originally adopted as a halachic obligation whereby one fulfills the mitzvah of prayer.

Later rishonim combine both the approach of Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah and that of Tosafos to explain the origins of the blessing Baruch Hashem le’olam. For example, the Tur explains that since the shullen were in the fields, people completed the maariv that they recited as a group while it was still daylight and ended their tefillah with kaddish. Everyone then recited the Shmoneh Esrei individually, in their own homes, after dark.

I found a similar approach in a commentary by a different rishon, Rabbeinu Manoach (commentary on the Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah, 7:18), who suggests that Baruch Hashem le’olam was instituted at a time when the Jews were not permitted to pray while standing. To avoid this, the Jews recited the verses of Boruch Hashem le’olam while sitting, recited kaddish, completed the service, and went home. Beyond the watchful eyes of the persecuting government, they recited the Shmoneh Esrei at home, while standing.

A tangential point is that we see from the writings of the various rishonim that in their era both Sefardim and Ashkenazim recited Baruch Hashem le’olam as part of the daily maariv. This practice is mentioned even in Shulchan Aruch, despite the fact that he discusses usual Sefardic practice. There were individual gedolim, both Ashkenazim and Sefardim, who did not recite Baruch Hashem le’olam (Rashba, Brochos 4b, quoting Rashbam; Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, quoting Ramban; Rambam also makes no mention of it). However, the common practice today of Sefardim and the minhag Eretz Yisroel not to recite Baruch Hashem le’olam are both customs of later origin.

Should one stand for Boruch Hashem le’olam?

Thus, we see that according to all approaches, the brochah beginning with the words Boruch Hashem le’olam was included as a substitute for the Shmoneh Esrei, or, in other words, to fulfill the mitzvah of prayer. If that is so, should it be said standing?

The Rema 136:2 writes that people who are meticulous in their observance stand while reciting these pesukim, since they are a replacement for the Shmoneh Esrei. However, the Magen Avraham cites several authorities who disagree and contend that they should deliberately be said sitting. The Taz explains that if one intends to say Shmoneh Esrei, since he would fulfill his chiyuv with the 18 pesukim if he says them standing, he will be considered as having recited Shmoneh Esrei twice, which one is not permitted to do under ordinary circumstances. Therefore, he should recite the pesukim sitting, which demonstrates that he is reciting them only to fulfill the custom and not to fulfill his mitzvah to daven maariv.

However, if he has already said Shmoneh Esrei, such as if he skipped Baruch Hashem le’olam in order to start the Shmoneh Esrei together with the tzibur, one should recite these verses standing (Magen Avraham 236:2).

Kaddish at night

At this point, we can answer one of the questions mentioned at the beginning of the article:

“Why do we recite a kaddish immediately before Shmoneh Esrei in maariv, but not in shacharis?”

This practice dates back to the post-Gemara takkanah, when half-kaddish was recited after Baruch Hashem le’olam to end the public tefillah at this point, or to demonstrate that the requirements of tefillah had been fulfilled. Although today, one cannot fulfill his requirement to daven maariv with this brochah, the brochah of Baruch Hashem le’olam and the subsequent half-kaddish were left in place.

I also found an alternate answer to this question: We say kaddish in the evening, because we paskin that maariv is reshus, and therefore we need not be concerned about the interruption, whereas in shacharis, which is definitely a required prayer, we are concerned about the interruption (Tosafos, Brochos 4b s.v. Da’amar, quoting Rav Amram Gaon).

Interrupting maariv

Notwithstanding this last statement, the halachah is that one may not interrupt between the birchos kri’as shma of maariv and the Shmoneh Esrei (Tosafos, Brochos, 4b s.v. Da’amar). However, for important purposes, the halachic authorities allowed certain interruptions. For example, the Rashba (Shu”t 1:293) rules that on Rosh Chodesh, we may announce that people should not forget to say Yaaleh Veyavo, and the Mishnah Berurah (236:7) extends this heter to include that one may announce Al Hanissim on Chanukah and Purim, something that is not permitted in shacharis.

Conclusion: Was Yaakov’s prayer second rate?

The question is obvious: If each of the three prayers was established by one of our forefathers, why are two of these prayers obligatory, whereas the Gemara concludes that maariv is optional? Even if we understand the Gemara to mean, as some rishonim explain, that it is only relatively optional, meaning that one is required to daven maariv but it is more easily deferred, why does Yaakov’s prayer seem to get a second-rate standing? After all, he is considered the most chosen of the forefathers, bechir shebe’avos, so why should his prayer be considered of lesser importance?

The Pnei Yehoshua (Brochos 26b s.v. Mihu) explains that Yaakov never intended to create a new prayer at night – he meant to daven mincha! Suddenly, Hashem made the sun set and darkness fell early, in order to force Yaakov to stop at that place. Thus, Yaakov’s prayer was because he had missed mincha, not because he was trying to institute a prayer in the evening.

 

Do I say Yaaleh Veyavo, Retzei or both?

Since Rosh Chodesh falls on motza’ei Shabbos, I thought it appropriate to discuss:

Do I say Yaaleh Veyavo, Retzei or both?

Question #1: Is it Shabbos versus Rosh Chodesh?

“When Rosh Chodesh begins on motza’ei Shabbos, do I say Yaaleh Veyavo in bensching at seudah shelishis?”

Question #2: Why is this night of Chanukah different from all other nights?

“Chanukah begins this motza’ei Shabbos. If I finish seudah shelishis after nightfall, do I include Al Hanissim in bensching?”

Introduction

When we recite birchas hamazon on Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol Hamoed, Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and Purim, we include special prayers to commemorate the holiday: on Shabbos, a passage beginning with the word Retzei; on Yom Tov, Chol Hamoed and Rosh Chodesh, the opening words are Yaaleh Veyavo; and on Chanukah and Purim, Al Hanissim.

In a different article, I discussed whether one recites these additions when one’s meal was divided between a holiday and a weekday – i.e., one ate part of his meal on the holiday and part before or after; or when the change of date transpired between the eating of the meal and the bensching. Does one recite the special addition to commemorate the holiday when this happens, or does one omit it? We discovered that there are several opinions as to what to do. These are the earliest opinions that I found:

  1. When one bensches

The Rosh rules that one recites the version of birchas hamazon appropriate to when one bensches, regardless as to when one ate the meal. In his opinion, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall does not recite Retzei. Similarly, one whose Purim seudah ends after Purim does not recite Al Hanissim. The Rosh also holds that someone who completed a meal before Rosh Chodesh and bensches after it is dark should recite Yaaleh Veyavo.

  1. The beginning of the meal

The Maharam, as understood by the Bach and the Aruch Hashulchan, maintains that the text of the bensching is established according to what was correct when the meal began. Therefore, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall recites Retzei, since his meal began on Shabbos. (There is an exception – if he did something to declare that Shabbos is over, such as reciting havdalah, davening maariv, or even simply answering borchu, he does not recite Retzei any more, as it is therefore inconsistent to mention Shabbos in bensching.)

  1. All of the above

The Maharam, as understood by the Taz, contends that one adds the special prayer if either the meal began on the holiday or one is bensching on the holiday. Thus, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall recites Retzei, and someone who completed a meal before Rosh Chodesh and bensches after it is dark should recite Yaaleh Veyavo.

The halachic conclusion

The halachic consensus regarding someone who began his meal on Shabbos or Purim and continued it into the night is that one recites Retzei or Al Hanissim, following the position of the Maharam and not the Rosh.

Conflicting prayers

The topic of our current article adds a new aspect to this question – what to do when Rosh Chodesh or Chanukah begins on motza’ei Shabbos, and seudah shelishis started on Shabbos and was completed on Rosh Chodesh or on Chanukah. According to the Rosh, one should recite Yaaleh Veyavo or Al Hanissim, whether or not one ate on Rosh Chodesh or on Chanukah. However, the consensus of halachic opinion is that the Maharam’s opinion is accepted, in this topic, over that of the Rosh. According to those who understand that the Maharam ruled that one should always recite the text of birchas hamazon appropriate to the beginning of the meal, one should recite Retzei. Yet, many authorities follow the second interpretation of the Maharam mentioned above, that one adds the special prayer if either the meal began on the holiday or one is bensching on the holiday. What complicates our question is that there may be a requirement to recite both Retzei and either Yaaleh Veyavo or Al Hanissim, yet mentioning both in the same bensching might be contradictory in this instance, since the holiday begins after Shabbos ends. As we will soon see, whether or not this is a problem is, itself, debated by the authorities.

The earliest authority that I found who discusses this predicament is the Bach (end of Orach Chayim, 188). Regarding what to recite when seudah shelishis continues into Rosh Chodesh, he concludes that one should say Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo, because the beginning of a meal determines the exact text of its birchas hamazon. As I mentioned above, this is precisely the way the Bach understands the Maharam’s position – that the proper bensching is always determined by the beginning of the meal. Since the halacha follows the Maharam’s position, the Bach comfortably rules according to his understanding of the Maharam, that one recites Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo.

The Magen Avraham (188:18; 419:1) analyzes the issue differently from the way the Bach does. First, he considers the possibility that one can recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. This is based on his understanding of the Maharam’s position that ending a meal on Rosh Chodesh or a different festival is reason to recite the holiday additions, even if the meal started on a weekday. However, the Magen Avraham concludes that one cannot recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo in this instance, because this is an inherent contradiction: If it is already Rosh Chodesh, it is no longer Shabbos, and if it is still Shabbos, it is not yet Rosh Chodesh. Since this is now a conundrum, the Magen Avraham concludes that one should follow the Rosh’s opinion, that one recites whatever is appropriate to be said at this moment, which means to recite only Yaaleh Veyavo. Magen Avraham contends that this practice is followed only when one ate bread on Rosh Chodesh. If he did not eat bread on Rosh Chodesh, then he should say only Retzei, following the Maharam’s opinion that the special prayers are determined by the beginning of the meal.

Chanukah on motza’ei Shabbos

The Magen Avraham also rules that there is a difference in halachah between Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah. When Chanukah begins on motza’ei Shabbos and seudah shelishis extended into the beginning of Chanukah, he rules that one should recite only Retzei and not Al Hanissim, even if he ate bread on Chanukah.

Why is Chanukah different from all other nights?

The Magen Avraham explains that, whereas when reciting Yaaleh Veyavo on a weekday Rosh Chodesh bensching is required, reciting Al Hanissim in bensching of a weekday Chanukah is technically not required, but optional. Therefore, when his meal began on Shabbos (which was as yet not Chanukah) and he is, therefore, required to recite Retzei, even if he continued the meal into Chanukah and ate bread then, the optional addition of Al Hanissim does not cancel the requirement to recite Retzei.

More opinions

Thus far, we have seen two opinions concerning what to do for the bensching of a seudah shelishis that extended into Rosh Chodesh that begins on motza’ei Shabbos:

(1) The Bach, that one should recite Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo.

(2) The Magen Avraham, that if he ate bread on motza’ei Shabbos he should recite Yaaleh Veyavo, but otherwise he should recite Retzei.

A third position is that, once it is Rosh Chodesh, one should recite Yaaleh Veyavo and not Retzei (Maharash of Lublin, quoted by Shelah and Taz 188:7). The Maharash maintains that since at the time he bensches it is Rosh Chodesh, the requirement to recite Yaaleh Veyavo is primary and preempts the requirement to recite Retzei, which he considers to be secondary, since it is no longer Shabbos.

Why not both?

The Taz (188:7) disagrees with all the above-mentioned positions, challenging the assumption that one cannot recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. He concludes that since Yaaleh Veyavo is recited after Retzei there is no contradiction, since Rosh Chodesh begins after Shabbos ends. Therefore, one who ate on Shabbos and is bensching on Rosh Chodesh should recite both additions.

To sum up, someone whose meal began on Shabbos and is bensching on Rosh Chodesh, should:

  • recite Yaaleh Veyavo, according to both the opinion of the Rosh and that of the Maharash,.
  • recite Retzei, according to the opinion shared by the Bach and the Aruch Hashulchan.
  • recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo, according to the conclusion of the Taz,.

According to the ruling of the Magen Avraham, if he ate bread after Rosh Chodesh arrived, he should recite Yaaleh Veyavo. If he did not, he should recite Retzei.

Rabbi, what should I do?

The Mishnah Berurah (188:33), when recording what to do, implies that one should follow the position of the Magen Avraham. He then mentions the Taz as an alternative approach – that one should say both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. This is consistent with the Mishnah Berurah’s general approach of following the Magen Avraham, except when the latter’s position is opposed by most later authorities.

The Aruch Hashulchan, on the other hand, concludes neither as the Magen Avraham nor the Taz, but that what one recites is always determined by the beginning of the meal. Therefore, in this situation, he rules to recite Retzei and omit Yaaleh Veyavo, regardless of whether one ate on Rosh Chodesh.

Since there are many conflicting positions as to which additions to recite when Rosh Chodesh begins on motza’ei Shabbos, many people avoid eating bread after nightfall. They eat all the bread that they intend to eat towards the beginning of the meal, and upon completing the seudah, recite bensching including Retzei and omitting Yaaleh Veyavo. This approach follows the majority of halachic authorities (Bach, Magen Avraham, Aruch Hashulchan, Mishnah Berurah [according to his primary approach]), although it runs counter to the opinions of the Maharash and the Taz. Those who want to avoid any question recite birchas hamazon before the arrival of Rosh Chodesh.

Conclusion

In our daily lives, our hearts should be full with thanks to Hashem for all He does for us. Birchas hamazon provides a regular opportunity to elicit deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done in the past and does in the present. All the more so should we should acknowledge Hashem’s help on special holidays.

 

 

Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra, part II

A few weeks ago, we began reading about Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra. This is a continuation of that article.

Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra, part II

Question #1: The Right Bensch

“What is the correct text of our bensching?”

Question #2: Contract Law

“I signed a five-year employment contract, and now, three years later, I have an offer that is much better for me. Am I halachically required to turn down the new offer?”

Question #3: Pidyon Haben

“When should I schedule the pidyon haben of my son?”

Question #4: Touching Kuf

“If a sefer Torah was written in which the two parts of the letter kuf touch, is the sefer Torah invalid?”

Question #5: What is going on?

What do the previous questions have to do with one another, and with the title of this article?

Introduction:

Rav Avraham ibn Ezra, one of the early rishonim, is known as a commentator on Tanach, for his massive knowledge of Hebrew grammar (dikduk), philosophy, mathematics and astronomy, and for his skills as a paytan, a poet. In the first installment of this article, we discussed what we know of his personal history and his scholarship. At this point, we will discuss other aspects of ibn Ezra’s many contributions to Torah knowledge and observance.

Ibn Ezra and Kalir

One of ibn Ezra’s controversial positions was his strong opposition to the piyutim of Rav Elazar Kalir, the preeminent, prolific and perhaps earliest of the paytanim. In an essay incorporated in his commentary to Koheles (5:1), ibn Ezra levels harsh criticism against the piyutim authored by Rav Kalir. He divides his arguments into four categories.

Simplicity of language

Ibn Ezra notes that prayers should be recited in simple language. After all, a person should understand the prayers he utters. Since piyutim are usually intended as a form of prayer, one should not recite piyutim whose intent is not clear. Because of this, ibn Ezra advises reciting the piyutim written by Rav Saadyah Gaon, which can be understood literally.

Mixed language

Ibn Ezra’s second criticism of Kalir is that he mixed the Hebrew of his piyutim with vocabulary whose basis is in the Gemara, treating Talmudic language as if it were on the same level as the Hebrew of Tanach. As ibn Ezra notes, the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 58b) says “loshon Torah le’atzmah, loshon chachamim le’atzmo” which he understands to mean that the Hebrew used by the Gemara should be treated as a different language from that of Tanach. Therefore, one should not mix these two “languages” when reciting prayers.

Grammatical creativity

The third criticism of ibn Ezra is that he is unhappy with Kalir’s creative approach to Hebrew grammar and structure, allowing poetic style to influence the Hebrew that he used. Ibn Ezra also criticized Kalir’s creation of new words by changing masculine words to feminine, and vice versa, for poetic effect or to accomplish his allusions.

Use of midrashim

Ibn Ezra’s fourth criticism of Kalir is that his piyutim are filled with midrashim, which ibn Ezra contends should not be included in prayers.

Ibn Ezra notes that when Rav Saadyah wrote piyutim, he steered clear of these four problems. In fact, Sefardim do not recite piyutim of Rav Kalir, whereas among Ashkenazim he is the most commonly used paytan.

Ibn Ezra notes that there were those who took issue with him for criticizing Kalir, since the latter had passed on many years before and was unable to respond.

Response to ibn Ezra

We should note that Shibbolei Haleket quoted very selectively from this essay of ibn Ezra, omitting any mention of ibn Ezra’s criticism of Rav Kalir’s writings.

Furthermore, none of ibn Ezra’s criticisms should be taken as casting aspersion on Rav Elazar Hakalir’s greatness. Shibbolei Haleket records that when Rabbi Elazar Hakalir wrote his poem Vechayos Asher Heinah Meruba’os (recited in the kedusha of musaf of Rosh Hashanah), the angels surrounded him with fire (quoted by the Magen Avraham at the beginning of Siman 68). Similarly, Rav Chaim Vital writes that his teacher, the Arizal, recited only the piyutim written by the early paytanim, such as Rav Elazar Hakalir, since they are based on Kabbalah.

Mules, Megillas Esther and ibn Ezra

The Book of Esther uses a few words that appear to be transliterated terms of Persian origin. In some instances, the commentaries grapple with understanding the meaning of these words. For example, the Megillah describes how the “achashteranim benei haramachim” were sent to deliver an urgent message. But what do these words mean? The Gemara (Megillah 18a) mentions that the amora’im were unaware of the exact translation of these words. One of the halachic rishonim, the Rivash, concludes that the word achashteranim is a composite word meaning “mules whose mothers are mares,” citing ibn Ezra as his source (Shu”t HaRivash #390).

Ibn Ezra and halachah

Although ibn Ezra is noted primarily for his abilities in language, commentary, mathematics and astronomy, there are many places where he is cited by later authorities as a halachic source. For example, he is quoted authoritatively by the Avudraham, the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 188) and later authorities regarding a controversy surrounding the correct text of our bensching. He is also quoted by authorities in regard to the correct pronunciation of the name of Hashem (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 124).

Here are some other areas of halachah in which the ibn Ezra is quoted:

Contract law

“I signed a five-year employment contract, and now, three years later, I have an offer that is much better for me. Am I halachically required to turn down the new offer?”

There is discussion among halachic authorities about this topic, including several rishonim, the Rema (Choshen Mishpat 333:3) and the Shach (ad locum 333:17). In this context, ibn Ezra’s comments on Chumash are quoted as halachic authority. He understands that an eved Ivri, a Jewish slave, who is purchased for a maximum of six years, has worked mishneh s’char sachir, twice the amount of time usually allowed for a worker to commit himself. This means that the Torah does not recognize an employment contract that is longer than three years. His exact words are: “We find written ‘three years as the duration of a hired hand’ (Yeshayahu 16:14), and this is proof that a person does not have authority to hire himself out for more than three years. Furthermore, the one paying the wages cannot hire him [for more than three years]. And this is the reason [in the pasuk regarding the eved Ivri] for the word ‘mishneh – double’” (commentary to Devorim 15:18), since a Hebrew slave can be purchased for up to six years, or twice as long as an employment contract normally allows.

Inheritance of positions

In an interesting discussion germane to the laws of inheriting positions, ibn Ezra is quoted as supporting the right of a son-in-law to his late father-in-law’s rabbinic position, where no direct descendants are appropriate for the post (Shu’t Doveiv Meisharim Vol. 4). This is based on ibn Ezra’s comment that, at times, a son-in-law is referred to as a son (Bereishis 19:12).

When to redeem?

There is a discussion among halachic authorities as to whether the proper time to perform the mitzvah of pidyon haben is on the 31st day after birth, or after a lunar month equivalent (29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3.3 seconds) has passed since birth. In this context, some authorities quote ibn Ezra in support of the second approach (Shu’t Shevus Yaakov 2:87).

When is nightfall?

Ibn Ezra is perhaps the earliest authority to determine when nightfall occurs on the basis of astronomical calculation. He notes that the length of time between sunset and nightfall varies from place to place and is dependent on how long it takes the sun to reach a certain point beyond the horizon – what is called today the solar depression angle.

Matzoh and Hagadah

Ibn Ezra is quoted among the list of authorities who contend that eating matzoh on Pesach after the first night fulfills some level of mitzvah. Another halachah quoted in his name is the mitzvah of reciting the Hagadah the entire night of Pesach. Ibn Ezra cites an approach that the words leil shimurim, describing the Seder night, mean that we are supposed to be shimurim, not that we are the ones being protected. He explains this to mean that one should be alert and “on guard” throughout the night, using the night exclusively to thank Hashem and to retell the wondrous deeds He performed leading to and including our exodus from Egypt. This interpretation is also quoted in his name by poskim (Shu’t Seridei Eish 1:47).

Ibn Ezra and the physician

Another interesting halachic insight is quoted in his name. The Avnei Neizer, one of the greatest poskim of the late nineteenth century, was asked the following: A person is seriously ill, and the physicians have recommended that he take a medication that is non-kosher. Granted that this is pikuach nefesh, a life-threatening emergency, and therefore supersedes the requirement to keep kosher, is the patient permitted to be stringent and not take the medicine, or does this violate the Torah’s laws?

Ibn Ezra contends that the Torah’s instructions to heed medical opinion apply only to external injuries, but not to an internal medical condition. He states that in the era of prophecy, a prophet’s opinion about what was happening inside the body was more accurate than a physician’s. A result of this idea is that one is not required – and perhaps, according to ibn Ezra, not permitted – to violate a mitzvah for an internal remedy advised by a physician.

Together with other halachic reasons and bases, the Avnei Neizer rules that the individual does have the right to rely on these opinions and not consume non-kosher (Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Choshen Mishpat #193).

It should be noted that the late Klausenberger Rebbe ruled that today, since we now have various methods for checking what is going on inside our bodies, what would have been considered an internal matter in earlier days is now under the heading of something that doctors should treat, even according to ibn Ezra – and that, therefore, a person should definitely follow doctor’s orders (Shu’t Divrei Yetziv, Likutim #114).

Aliyah la’regel

In an interesting responsum of Rav Moshe Feinstein to the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Moshe rules that the mitzvah of being oleh regel, to visit the Beis Hamikdash grounds on the Yomim Tovim and offer korbanos, does not require that one walk to the har habayis, but that one may travel there in a different way (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Kodoshim #21. This responsum is located at the end of the first volume of Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim I). Rav Moshe brings support for this approach from the commentary of ibn Ezra.

Ibn Ezra and the kuf

One of the rishonim quotes ibn Ezra as the halachic authority to resolve the following question: If a sefer Torah was written in which the two parts of the letter kuf touch, is the sefer Torah invalid? The Tashbeitz, who was asked this question (Shu”t Tashbeitz 1:51), brings evidence from ibn Ezra that he held that it is perfectly fine, and even preferable, to write a sefer Torah this way. Although we do not follow this ruling, the Tashbeitz, based on ibn Ezra, did.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we see that ibn Ezra made many contributions to the halachic knowledge of Klal Yisroel. The main lesson to be learned from his life is that one should strive to grow in prayer and in studying and teaching Torah to the extent of one’s ability, notwithstanding the adversity of personal circumstances.